George MacDonald.

Mary Marston. A novel online

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disclose to his astonished view how immeasurably short of rec-
titude he comes. At tlie age of thirty, Godfrey Wardour liad
not yet become so displeased with himself as to turn self-roused
energy upon betterment ; and until then all growth must be of
doubtful result. The point on which the swift-revolving top
of his thinking and feeling turned was as yet his present con-
scious self, as a thing that was and would be, not as a thing
that had to become. Naturally the pivot had worn a socket,
and such socket is sure to be a sore. His friends notwitli-
standing gave liim credit for great imperturbability ; but in
such willfully undemonstrative men the evil burrows the more
insidiously that it is masked by a constrained exterior.



Godfrey, Ijcing an Knglishman, and with land uf his own,
could not fail to be fond of horses. For his own use he kept
two — an indulgence disproportioned to his establishment ; for,
although precise in his tastes as to equine toilet, he did not
feel justitied in the keeping of a groom for their use only.
Hence it came that, now and then, strap and steel, as well as
hide and hoof, would get partially neglected ; and his habits
in the use of his horses being fitful — sometimes, it would bo
midnight even, when he scoured from his home, seeking the
comfort of desert as well as solitary places — it is not surprising
if at times, going to the stable to saddle one, he should find its
gear not in the spick-and-si>an condition alone to his mind.
It might then well hapi)en there was no one near to help him,
and there be nothing for it but to j)ut his own hands to the
work : he was too just to rouse one who might be nowise
to blame, or send a maid to fetch him from field or barn,
where he might be more imi)ortantly engaged.

One night, meaning to start for a long ride early in the


morning, lie had gone to the stable to see how things were ;
and, soon after, it happened that Letty, attending to some duty
before going to bed, caught sight of him cleaning his stir-
rups : from that moment she took upon herself the silent and
unsuspected supervision of the harness-room, where, when she
found any part of the riding-equipments neglected, she would
draw a pair of housemaid's gloves on her pretty hands, and jdoI-
ish away like a horse-boy.

Godfrey had begun to remark how long it was since he had
found anything unfit, and to wonder at the improvement some-
where in the establishment, when, going hastily one morning,
some months before the date of my narrative, into the harness-
room to get a saddle, he came upon Letty, who had imagined
him afield with the men : she was energetic upon a stirrup
with a chain-polisher. He started back in amazement, but she
only looked up and smiled.

*' I shall have done in a moment. Cousin Godfrey," she said,
and polished away harder than before.

'*But, Letty! I can't allow you to do things like that.
What on earth put it in your head ? Work like that is only
for horny hands. "

" Your hands ain't horny. Cousin Godfrey. They may be
a little harder than mine — they wouldn't be much good if they
weren't — but they're no fitter by nature to clean stirrups. Is
it for me to sit with mine in my lap, and yours at this ? I
know better."

" Why shouldn't I clean my own harness, Letty, if I like ? "
said Godfrey, who could not help feeling j^lcased as well as an-
noyed ; in this one moment Letty had come miles nearer him.

^' Oh, surely ! if you like. Cousin Godfrey," she answered ;
*^but do you like ?"

^^ Better than to see you doing it."

^' But not better than I like to do it ; that I am sure of.
It is hands that write poetry that are not fit for work like this."

" How do you know I write poetry ?" asked Godfrey, dis-
pleased, for she touched here a sensitive spot.

" Oh, don't be angry with me ! " she said, letting the stir-
rup fall on the floor, and clasping her great wash-leather gloves


together ; '^ I couldn't help seeing it was poetry, for it lay on
the table when I went to do your room."

^' Do my room, Letty I Does my mother — ? ''

" She doesn't want to make a fine lady of me. and I
shouldn't like it if she did. I liave no head, but I have })rctty
good hands. Of course, Cousin Godfrey, I didn't read a word
of the poetry. I daredn't do tliat, however much I miL,dit liave

A childlike simplicity looked out of the clear eyes and
sounded in the swift words of the maiden ; and, had Godfrey's
lieart been as hard as the stirrup she had dropped, it could not
but be touched by her devotion. He was at the same time not
a little })uzzled liuw to carry himself. Letty had picked up
the stirrup, and was again hard at work with it ; to take it
from her, and turn her out of the saddle-room, would scarcely
be a ])roper way of thankin;^ her, scarcely an adecjuate mode
of revealing his estiinati' of the condescension of her ladyhood.
For, although Ix'tty did make beds and choso to clean harness,
Godfrey was gentleman enou.udi not to think her less of a lady —
for the moment at least — lK?cause of such doings : I will not
say he had got so far on in the great doctrine concerning the
washing of hands as to be able to think her more of a lady for
thus cleaning his stirrups. But he did see that to set the
fire-engine of indignant respect for womankind playing on the
individual woman was not the part of the man to whose ser-
vice she was humbling herself. He laid his hand on her bent
head, and said :

"I ought to be a knight of the old times, Letty, to have a
lady serve me so. "

'^You're just as good, Cousin Godfrey," she rejoined, rub-
l)ing away.

He turned from her, and left her at her work.

He had taken no real notice of the girl before— had felt
next to no interest in her. Neither did he feel much now, save
as owing her something beyond mere acknowledgment. But
was there anything now he could do for her— anything in her
he could help ? He did not know. What she really was, he
could not tell. She was a fresh, bright girl— that he seemed


to have just discovered ; and, as she sat polishing the stirrup,
her hair shaken about her shoulders, she looked engaging ;
but whether she was one he could do anything for that was
worth doing, was hardly the less a question for those discov-

'* There must be something in the girl ! " he said to himself
— then suddenly reflected that he had never seen a book in her
hand, excejot her prayer-book ; how luas he to do anything for
a girl like that ? For Godfrey knew no way of doing people
good without the intervention of books. How could he get
near one that had no taste for the quintessence of humanity ?
How was he to offer her the only help he had, when she de-
sired no such help ? ^^But," he continued, reflecting further,
" she may have thirsted, may even now be athirst, without
knowing that books are the bottles of the water of life ! " Per-
haps, if he could make her drink once, she would drink again.
The difficulty was, to find out what sort of spiritual drink
would be most to her taste, and would most entice her to more.
There must be some seeds lying cold and hard in her uncul-
tured garden ; what water would soonest make them grow ?
Not all the waters of Damascus will turn mere sand sifted of
eternal winds into fruitful soil ; but Letty's soul could not be
such. And then literature has seed to sow as well as water for
the seed sown. Letty's foolish words about the hands that
wrote poetry showed a shadow of respect for poetry — except,
indeed, the girl had been but making game of him, which he
was far from ready to believe, and for which, he said to him-
self, her face was at the time much too earnest, and her hands
much too busy; he must find out whether she had any in-
stincts, any predilections, in the matter of poetry !

Thus pondering, he forgot all about his projected ride, and,
going up to the study he had contrived for himself in the ram-
bling roof of the ancient house, began looking along the backs
of his books, in search of some suggestion of how to approach
Letty ; his glance fell on a beautifully bound volume of verse
— a selection of English lyrics, made with tolerable judgment —
which he had bought to give, but the very color of which, every
time his eye flitting along the book-shelves caught it, threw a


faint sickness over his heart, preluding the memory of old pain
and loss :

*'It may as well serve some one," he said, and, taking it
down, carried it with him to the saddle-room.

Letty was not there, and the perfect order of the place
somehow made liim feel she had been gone some time. lie
went in search of her ; she might be in the dairy.

That was the very picture of an old-fashioned English dairy
— green-shadowy, dark, dank, and cool — floored with great ir-
regular slabs, mostly of green seri)entine, polished into smooth
hollows by the feet of generations of mistresses and dairy-
maids. Its only light came througli a small window shaded
witli shrubs and ivy, which stood open, and let in the scents of
bud and Ijlossom, weaving a net of sweetness in the gloom,
through whicli, like a silver thread, shot the twittering song of
a bird, which had inherited the gathered carelessness and bliss
of a long ancestry in God's aviary.

(iodfrey came softly to the door, which he found standing
ajar, and i)eeped in. There stood Ix'tty, warm and bright in
the middle of the dusky coolness. She had changed her dress
since he saw her, and now, in a i)ink-n)S(.'bud j)rint, with the
sleeves tucked above her elbows, was skimming the cream in a
great red-brown eartlieii pan. He pushed the (hjor a little,
and, at its screech along the uneven floor, Ix'tty's heatl turned
([uickly on her lithe neck, and she saw Godfrey's brown face
and kind blue eyes where she had never seen them before. In
his hand glowed the book : some of the stronger light from
behind him fell on it, and it caught her eyes.

'* Letty," he said, *'I liave just come u})on this book in my
library : would you care to have it ? "

*' You don't mean to keep for my own, Cousin Godfrey ?"
cried Letty, in sweet, cliildish fashion, letting the skimmer
dive like a coot to the bottom of the milk-pool, and hastily
wii)ing her hands in her a])ron. Her face had flushed rosy
with pleasure, and grew rosier and brighter still as she took
the rich morocco-bound thing from Godfrey's hand into her
own. Daintily she peeped within the boards, and the gilding
of the leaves responded in light to her smile.


'^Poetry !" she cried, in a tone of delight. ^^Is it really
for me, Cousin Godfrey ? Do you think I shall be able to
understand it ? "

^^ You can soon settle that question for yourself," answered
Godfrey, with a pleased smile— for he augured well from this
reception of his gift — and turned to leave the dairy.

*'But, Cousin Godfrey — please!" she called after him,
'^ you don't give m^e time to thank you."

** That will do v/hen you are certain you care for it," he re-

^' I care for it very tmwh I " she replied.

^^ How can you say that, when you don't know yet whether
you will understand it or not ? " he rejoined, and closed the

Letty stood motionless, the book in her hand illuminating
the dusk with its gold, and warming its coolness with its crim-
son boards and silken linings. .One poem after another she
read, nor knew how the time passed, until the voice of her
aunt in her ears warned lier to finish her skimming, and carry
the jug to the pantry. But already Letty had taken a little
cream off the book also, and already, between the time she
entered and the time she left the dairy, had taken besides a
fresh start in spiritual growth.

The next day Godfrey took an opportunity of asking her
whether she had found in the book anything she liked. To
his disappointment she mentioned one of the few commonplace
things the collection contained — a last-century production, dull
and respectable, which, surely, but for the glamour of some
pleasant association, the editor would never have included.
Happily, liowever, he bethought himself in time not to tell her
the thing was worthless : such a word, instead of chipping the
shell in which the girl's faculty lay dormant, would liave
smashed the whole egg into a miserable albuminous mass.
And he was well rewarded ; for, the same day, in the evening,
he heard her singing gayly over her work, and listening discov-
ered that she was singing verse after verse of one of the best
ballads in the whole book. She had chosen with the fancy of
pleasing Godfrey ; she sang to please herself. After this dis-


covery he set himself in earnest to the task of developing her
intellectual life, and, daily almost, grew more interested in the
endeavor, llis main object was to make her think ; and for
the high purpose, chiefly but not exclusively, he employed

The main obstacle to success he soon discovered to be
Letty's exceeding distrust of herself. I would not be mis-
taken to mean that she had too little confidence in herself ; of
that no one can have too little. Self -distrust will only retard,
while self-confidence will betray. The man ignorant in these
things will answer me, '* But you must have one or the
other." '^You must have neither,"! reply. *' You must
follow the truth, and, in that jiursuit, the less one thinks about
himself, the })ursuer, the better. Ix't him so hunger and
thirst after the truth that the dim vision of it occupies all his
being, and leaves no time to think of his hunger and his thirst.
Self-forgetfulness in the reaching out after that which is essen-
tial to us is the healthiest of mental conditions. One has to
look to his way, to his deeds, to his conduct — not to liimself.
In such lo^ng of the false, or merely reflected, we find the
true self. There is no harm in being stupid, so long as a man
does not think himself clever; no good in being clever, if a
man thinks himself so, for that is a short way to the worst
stupidity. If you tliink yourself clever, set yourself t do
sometluHg ; then you will liave a chance of humiliation.

With good faculties, and fine instincts, Letty was always
thinking she must be wrong, just because it was she was in it
— a lovely fault, no doubt, but a fault greatly impeditive to
progress, and tormenting to a teaclier. She got on very fairly
in spite of it, however ; and her devotion to Godfrey, as she
felt herself growing in his sight, increased almost to a passion.
Do not misunderstiind me, wiy reader. If I say anything
gi'ows to a passion, I mean, of course, the passion of that
thing, not of something else. Here I no more mean that h(fr
devotion became what in novels is commonly called love, than,
if I said ambition or avarice had grown to a passion, I should
mean those vices had changed to love. Godfrey Wardour was
at least ten years older than Letty ; besides him, she had not


a single male relative in this world — neither had she mother
or sister on whom to let out her heart ; while of Mrs. War-
dour, who was more severe on her than on any one else, she
was not a little afraid : from these causes it came that Cousin
Godfrey grew and grew in Letty's imagination, until he was
to her everything great and good — her idea of him naturally
growing as she grew herself under his influences. To her he
was the heart of wisdom, the head of knowledge, the arm of

But her worship) was quiet, as the worship of maiden, in
whatever kind, ought to be. She knew nothing of what is
called love except as a word, and from sympathy with the per-
sons in the tales she read. . Any remotest suggestion of its ex-
istence in her relation to Godfrey she would have resented as
the most offensive impertinence — an accusation of impossible

By degrees Godfrey came to understand, but then only in
a measure, with what a self-refusing, impressionable nature
he was dealing ; and, as he saw, he became more generous to-
ward her, more gentle and delicate in his ministration. Of
necessity he grew more and more interested in her, especially
after he had made the discovery that the moment she laid
hold of a truth — the moment, that is, when it was no longer
another's idea but her own perception — it began to sprout
in her in all directions of practice. By nature she was not in-
tellectually quick ; but, because such was her character, the
ratio of her progress was of necessity an increasing one.

If Godfrey had seen in his new relation to Letty a pos-
sibility of the revival of feelings he had supposed for ever ex-
tinguished, such a possibility would have borne to him purely
the aspect of danger ; at the mere idea of again falling in love
he would have sickened with dismay ; and whether or not he
had any dread of such a catastrophe, certain it is that he be-
haved to her more as a pedagogue than a cousinly tutor, insist-
ing on a precision in all she did that might have gone far to
rouse resentment and recoil in the mind of a less childlike
woman. Just as surely, notwithstanding all that, however,
did the sweet girl grow into his heart : it could not be other-


wise. Tlie idea of her was making a nest for itself in his soul
— what kind of a nest for long he did not know, and for long
did not think to inquire. Living thus, like an elder brother
with a much younger sister, he was more than satisfied, refus-
ing, it may be, to regard tlie probability of intruding change.
But how far any man and woman may have been made capable
of loving without falling in love, can be answered only after
(luestion has yielded to history. In the mean time, Mrs. War-
dour, wlio would have been indignant at the notion of any
equal bond between lier idolized son and her patronized cousin,
neither saw, nor heard, nor suspected anything to rouse un-

Tilings were thus in the old liouse, wiien t!ie growing affec-
tion of Letty for Mary ^larston took form one day in the re-
quest tliat slie would make Thorn wick tlie goal of lier Sunday
walk. She repented, it is true, the moment she had said the
words, from dread of her aunt ; but tliey luid been said, and
were accepted. Mary went, and the aunt ditliculty liad been
got over. The friendship of (iodfrey also had now run into
that of the girls, and Mary's visits were continued with ])lea-
sure to all, and certainly with no little profit to herself ; for,
where the higher nature can not communicate the greater bene-
fit, it will reaj) it. Her Sunday visit brcaine to Mary the one
foraging ex})edition of the week — that which going to church
ought to be, and so seldom can be.

The beginning and main-stay of her spiritual life was, as
we have seen, her father, in whom she believed absolutely.
From books and sermons she had got little good ; for in neither
kind had the best come nigh her. She did very nearly her
best to obey, but without much perceiving the splendor of the
thing required, or much feeling its might upon her own eter-
nal nature. She was as yet, in relation to the gospel, much as
the Jews were in relation to their law ; they had not yet
learned the gospel of their law, and she was yet only serving
the law of the gospel. lUit she was making progress, in simple
and pure virtue of her obedience. Show me the person ready
to step from any, let it be the narrowest, sect of Christian
Pharisees into a freer and holier air, and I shall look to find iij


that person the one of that sect who, in the midst of its dark-
ness and selfish worldliness, mistaken for holiness, has been
living a life more obedient than the rest.

And now was sent Godfrey to her aid, a teacher himself far
behind his pupil, inasmuch as he was more occupied with what
he was, than what he had to become : the weakest may be sent
to give the strongest saving help ; even the foolish may mediate
between the wise and the wiser ; and Godfrey presented Mary
to men greater than himself, whom in a short time she would
understand even better than he. Book after book he lent her
— now and then gave her one of the best — introducing her,
with no special intention, to much in the way of religion that
was good in the wa^ of literature as well. Only where he
delighted mainly in the literature, she delighted more in the
religion. Some of my readers will be able to imagine what it
must have been to a capable, clear-thinking, warm-hearted,
loving soul like Mary, hitherto in absolute ignorance of any
better religious poetry than the chapel hymn-book afforded
her, to make acquaintance with George Herbert, with Henry
Vaughan, with Giles Fletcher, with Eichard Crashaw, with
old Mason, not to mention Milton, and afterward our own
Father Newman and Father Faber.

But it was by no means chiefly upon such that Godfrey led
the talk on the Sunday afternoons. A lover of all truly imagi-
native literature, his knowledge of it was large, nor confined
to that of his own country, although that alone was at present
available for either of his pupils. (His seclusion from what is
called the world had brought him into larger and closer con-
tact with what is really the world. The breakers upon reef
and shore may be the ocean to some, but he who would know
the ocean indeed must leave them afar, sinking into silence^/
and sail into wider and lonelier spacesj Through Godfrey,
Mary came to know of a land never promised, yet 02)en — a land
of whose nature even she had never dreamed — a land of the
spirit, flowing with milk and honey — a land of which the fash-
ionable world knows little more than the dwellers in the back
slums, although it imagines it lying, with the kingdoms of the
earth, at its feet.


As regards her feeling toward her new friend, tliis opener
of unseen doors, the greatness of her obligation to him wrought
against presumption and any possible folly. Besides, Mary was
one who possessed power over her own spirit — rare gift, given
to none but those who do something toward the taking of it.
She was able in no small measure to order her own thoughts.
Without any theory of self-rule, she yet ruled her Self. She
was not one to slip about in the saddle, or let go the reins for a
kick and a plunge or two. There was the thing that should be,
and the thing that should not be ; tlic thing that was reason-
able, and the thing that was absurd. Add to all this, that she
believed she saw in Mr. Wardour's behavior to his cousin, in
the careful gentleness evident through all the severity of the
schoolmaster, the jjresence of a deeper feeling, that might one
day blossom to the bliss of her friend — and we need not won-
der if Mary's heart remained calm in the very floods of its
gratitude ; while the truth she gathered by aid of the inter-
course, enlarging her strength, enlarged likewise the compos-
ure that comes of strength. She did not even trouble lierself
much to show (Jodfrey her gratitude. We may spoil gratitude
as we offer it, by insisting on its recognition. To receive hon-

^estly is the best thanks for a good thing.

^ Nor was Godfrey without payment for what he did : the re-
vival of ancient ])enerits, a new spring-time of (ild flowers, and
the fresh (piickening of one's own soul, are the spiritual wages
of every spiritual service. In giving, a man receives more than
he gives, and the mure is in ])roj)ortion to the worth of the
thing given.

Mary did not encourage T^etty to call at the shop, because
the rudeness of the TurnbuUs was certain to break out on her
departure, as it did one day that Godfrey, dismounting at the
door, and entering the shop in quest of something for his
mother, naturally shook hands with Mary over the counter.
No remark was made so long as her father was in the shoj), for,
with all their ]u-ofessed contempt of him and his ways, the
Turnbulls stood curiously in awe of him : no one could tell
what he might or might not do, seeing they did not in the least
undersiand him ; and there were reasons for avoiding offense.



But the moment lie retired, which he always did earlier than
the rest, the small-arms of the enemy began to go off, causing
Mary a burning cheek and indignant heart. * Yet the great de-
sire of Mr. Turnbull was a match between George and Mary,
for that would, whateyer might happen, secure the Marston
money to the business. Their evil report Mary did not carry
to her father. She scorned to trouble his lofty nature with her
small annoyances ; neither could they long keep down the well-

Online LibraryGeorge MacDonaldMary Marston. A novel → online text (page 4 of 40)