George MacDonald.

Mary Marston. A novel online

. (page 5 of 40)
Online LibraryGeorge MacDonaldMary Marston. A novel → online text (page 5 of 40)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

spring of her own peace, which, deeper than anger could reach,
soon began to rise again fresh in her spirit, fed from that water
of life which underlies, all care. In a few moments it had
cooled her cheek, stilled her heart, and washed the wounds of



Wheit Tom Helmer's father died, his mother, who had
never been able to manage him, sent him to school to get rid
of him, lamented his absence till he returned, then writhed
and fretted under his presence until again ho went. Never
thereafter did those two, mother and son, meet, whether from
a separation of months or of hours, without at once tumbling
into an obstinate difference. When the youth was at home,
their sparring, to call it by a mild name, went on from morn-
ing to night, and sometimes almost from night to morning.
Primarily, of course, the fault lay with the mother ; and things
would have gone far worse, had not the youth, along with the
self-will of his mother, inherited his father's good nature. At
school he was a great favorite, and mostly had his own way,
both with boys and masters, for, although a fool, he was a
pleasant fool, clever, fond of popularity, and complaisant with
everybody — except always his mother, the merest word from
whom would at once rouse all the rebel in his blood. In per-
son he was tall and loosely knit, with large joints and extremi-
ties. Ilis face was handsome and vivacious, expressing far



more than was in him to express, and giving ground for expec-
tation such as he had never met. lie was by no means an ill-
intentioned fellow, preferred doing well and acting fairly, and
neither at school nor at college had got into any serious scrape.
But he had never found it imperative to reach out after his
own ideal of duty. He had never been worthy the name of
student, or cared much for anything beyond the amusements
tlie universities provide so liberally, except daljbling in litera-
ture. Perhaps his only vice was self-satisfaction — which few
will admit to be a vice ; remonstrance never reached him ; to
himself he was ever in the right, judging himself only by his
sentiments and vague intents, never by his actions ; that these
had little correspondence never struck him ; it had never even
struck him that they ought to correspond. In his own eyes
he did well enough, and a good deal better, ((iifted not only

Iwith lluency of speech, that crowning glory and ruin of a fool,
but with plausibility of tone and demeanor, a confidence thatl
imj)Osed both on himself and on others, and a certain dropsical >
impressionableness of surface which made him seom and lxlit've(
himself sympathetic, nobody could well help liking him, and
it took some time to make one accept the disappointment ho /
caused. ,

lie was now in his twenty-first year, at lunne, pretending
that nothing should make him go back to Oxford, and enjoy-
ing more than ever the sport of plaguing his mother. A soul-
doctor might have j)rescril)ed for him a course of small-pox, to
be followed by intermittent fever, with nobody to wait upon
him but Mrs. (J amp : after that, his mother might have had a
])ossible chance with him, and he with his ifiother. But, un-
hai)i)ily, he had the best of health — supreme blessing in the
eyes of the fool whom it enables to be a worse fool still ; and
was altogether the true son of his mother, who consoled her-
self for her absolute failure in his moral education with the
reflection that she had reared him sound in wind and limb.
Plaguing his mother, amusing himself as best he could, riding
about the country on a good mare, of which he was proud, he
was living in utter idleness, alTording occasion for much won-
der that he liad never yet disgraced himself. He talked to


everybody who would talk to liim, and made acquaintance with
anybody on the spur of the moment's whim. He would sit on
a log with a g3qosy, and bamboozle him with lies made for the
purpose, then thrash him for not belieying them. He called
here and called there, made himself specially agreeable every-
where, went to every ball and evening party to which he could
get admittance in the neighborhood, and flirted with any girl
who would let him. He meant no harm, neither had done
much, and was imagined by most incapable of doing any. The
strange thing to some was that he staid on in the country,
and did not go to London and run up bills for his mother to
pay ; but the mare accounted for a good deal ; and the fact
that almost immediately on his late return he had seen Letty
and fallen in love with her at first sight, accounted for a good
deal more. Not since then, however, had he yet been able to
meet her so as only to speak to her ; for Thorn wick was one of
the few houses of the middle class in the neighborhood where
he was not encouraged to show himself. He was constantly,
therefore, on the watch for a chance of seeing her, and every
Sunday went to church in that same hope and no other. But
Letty knew nothing of the favor in which she stood with him ;
for, although Tom had, as we have heard, confessed to her
friend Mary Marston his admiration of her, Mary had far too
much good sense to make herself his ally in the matter.



IiT the autumn, Mr. Mortimer of Durnmelling resolved to
give a harvest-home to his tenants, and under the 2:)rotcction of
the occasion to invite also a good many of his neighbors and of
the townsfolk of Testbridge, whom he could not well ask to
dinner : there happened to be a political expediency for some-
thing of the sort : America is not the only country in which
ambition opens the door to mean doings on the part of such as


count themselves gentlemen. Xot a few on -whom Lady Mar-
garet had never called, and whom she would never in any way
acknowledge again, were invited ; nor did the knowledge of
what it meant cause many of them to decline the questionable
honor — which fact carried in it the best justification of which
the meanness and insult were capable. Mrs. Wardour accepted
for herself and Letty ; but in tlieir case Lady Margaret did
call, and in person give the invitation. Godfrey positively re-
fused to accompany them, lie would not be patronized, he
said ; " — and by an inferior," he added to himself.

Mr. ]\Iortimer was tlie illiterate son of a literary father who
liad reaped both money and fame. The son spent the former,
on the strength of the latter married an earl's daughter, and
thereupon began to embody in his own behavior his ideas of
how a nobleman ought to carry himself ; whence, from being
only a small, he became an objectionable man, and failed of
being amusing by making liimself olTensivc. lie had never
manifi'sted the least ajjproach to neighl)orliness with (lodfrey,
altlioiigh their houses were almost within a stone's throw of
each other. Had Wardour been an ordinary farnuT. of whose
presuming on the acquaintance there couhl have Ijeen no dan-
ger, Mortimer would douljtless have behaveil dilTerently ; l)ut
as Wardour had some pretensions — namely, old family, a small,
tliough indeed very snudl, proi)erty of his own, a university
education, good horses, and the habits and manners of a gentle-
man — the men scarcely even saluted when they met. The
Mortimer ladies, indeed, had more than once remarked — but
it was in solemn silence, each to lierself only — how well the
man sat, and how easily he handled the hunter he always rode ;
but not once until now had so much as a greeting passed be-
tween them and Mr-. Wardour. It wad not therefore Avonderful
that Godfrey should not choose to accept their invitation.
Finding, however, that his mother was distressed at having to
go to the gathering without him, and far more exercised in
her mind than was needful as to what would be thought of his
absence, and what excuse it would be becoming to make, he
resolved to go to London a day or two before the event, and
pay a long-promised visit to a clerical friend.


The relative situation of the houses — I mean the stone-and-
lime houses — of Durnmelling and Thorn wick, was curious ;
and that they had at one time formed part of the same .prop-
erty might have suggested itself to any beholder. Durnmelling
was built by an ancestor of Godfrey's, who, forsaking the
old nest for the new, had allowed Thornwick to sink into a
mere farmhouse, in which condition it had afterward become
the sole shelter of the withered fortunes of the Wardours. In
the hands of Godfrey's father, by a continuity of judicious
cares, and a succession of partial resurrections, it had been
restored to something like its original modest dignity. Durn-
melling, too, had in part sunk into ruin, and had been but
partially recovered from it ; " still, it swelled important beside
its antecedent Thornwick. Nothing but a deep ha-ha separated
the two houses, of which the older and smaller occupied the
higher ground. Between it and the ha-ha was nothing but
grass — in front of the house fine enough and well enough kept
to be called lawn, had not Godfrey's pride refused the word.
On the lovv^er, the Durnmelling side of the fence, were trees,
shrubbery, and out-houses — the chimney of one of which, the
laundry, gave great offense to Mrs. Wardour, when, as she
said, wind and wash came together. But, although they stood
so near, there was no lawful means of communication between
the houses except the road ; and tlie mile that imjilied was
seldom indeed passed by any of the unneighborly neighbors.

The father of Lady Margaret would at one time have pur-
chased Thornwick at tAvice its value ; but the present owner
could not have bought it at half its worth. He had of late
been losing money heavily — whence, in part, arose that anxiety
of Lady Margaret's not to keep Mr. Redmain fretting for liis

The house of Durnmelling, new compared Avith that of
Thornwick, was yet, as I have indicated, old enough to have
passed also through vicissitudes, and a large portion of the
original structure had for many years been nothing better than
a ruin. Only a portion of one side of its huge square was
occupied by the family, and the rest of that side was not
habitable. Lady Margaret, of an ancient stock, had gathered


from it only pride, not reverence ; tlierefore, while she valued
the old, she neglected it ; and what money she and her hus-
band at one time spent upon the house, was devoted to addition
and ornamentation, nowise to preservation or restoration. They
had enlarged both dining-room and drawing-rooms to twice
their former size, when half the expense, with a few trees from
a certain outlying oak-plantation of their own, would have
given them a room tit for a regal assembly. For, constituting
a portion of the same front in which they lived, lay rootless,
open to every wind that blew, its paved tloor now and then in
winter covered with snow — an ancient hall, whose massy south
wall was pierced by three lovely windows, narrow and lofty,
with simple, gracious tracery in their pointed hciids. Tliis hall
connected the habitable portion of tlie house with another
]):irt, less ruinous than itself, but containing only a few rooms
in occasional use for household purposes, or, ui)on necessity,
for quite inferior lodgment. It was a glorious ruin, of nearly
a hundred feet in length, and about half that in width, the
walls entire, and broad enuugh to walk round upon in safety.
Their top wa.s accessible from a tower, which formed part of
the less ruinous portion, and cnntaint-d the stair and some
small rooms.

Once, the hall was fair with portraits and armor and arms,
with fire and lights, and state and merriment ; now tlic sculp-
tured chimney lay open to the weather, and the sweeping
winds had made its smooth hearthstone clean as if fire had
never been there. Its tloor was covered with large Hags, a
little broken : these, in pros|>ect of tlio coming entertainment,
a few workmen were leveling, jiatching, replacing. For the
tables were to be set hero, and here there was to be dancing
after the meal.

It was Miss Yolhind's idea, and to lier was committed the
responsibility of its preparation and adornment for the occa-
sion, in which Ilesper gave her active assistance. With colored
blankets, with carpets, with a few pieces of old tapestry, and
a quantity of old curtains, mostly of chintz, excellent in hues
and design, all cunningly arranged for as much of harmony as
could be had, they contrived to clothe the walls to the height


of six or eiglit feet, and so gave the weather-beaten skeleton
an air of hospitable preparation and respectful reception.

The day and the hour arrived. It was a hot autumnal
afternoon. Borne in all sorts of vehicles, from a carriage and
pair to a taxed cart, the guests kept coming. As they came,
they mostly scattered about the place. Some loitered on the
lawn by the flower-beds and the fountain ; some visited the
stables and the home-farm, with its cow-houses and dairy and
piggeries ; some the neglected greenhouses, and some the
equally neglected old-fashioned alleys, with their clipped yews
and their moss-grov/n statues. No one belonging to the house
was anywhere visible to receive them, until the great bell at
length summoned them to the plentiful meal spread in the
ruined hall. ^'The hospitality of some people has no roof to
it," Godfrey said, when he heard of the preparations. *^Ten
people will give you a dinner, for one who will offer you a bed
and a breakfast."

Then at last their host made his appearance, and took the
head of the table : the ladies, he said, were to have the honor
of joining the company afterward. They were at the time —
but this he did not say — giving another stratum of society a
less ponderous, but yet tolerably substantial, refreshment in
the dining-room.

By the time the eating and drinking were nearly over, the
shades of evening had gathered ; but even then some few of
the farmers, capable only of drinking, grumbled at having
tlieir potations interrupted for the dancers. These were pres-
ently joined by the company from the house, and the great
hall was crowded.

Much to her chagrin, Mrs. "Wardour had a severe headache,
occasioned by her working half the night at her dress, and was
compelled to remain at home. But she allowed Letty to go
without her, which she would not have done had she not been
so anxious to have news of what she could not lift her head to
see : she sent her with an old servant — herself one of the in-
vited guests — to gather and report. The dancing had begun
before they reached the hall.

Tom Helmer had arrived among the first, and had joined


the tenants in their feast, faring well, and making friends, such
as he knew how to make, with everybody in his vicinity. When
the tables were removed, and tlie rest of the company began to
come in, he went about searching anxiously for Letty's sweet
face, but it did not appear ; and, when she did arrive, she stole
in without his seeing her, and stood mingled with the crowd
about the door.

It was a pleasant sight that met her eyes. The wide space
was gayly illuminated with colored lamps, disposed on every
shelf, and in every crevice of the walls, some of tliem gleaming
like glow-worms out of mere holes ; while candles in sconces,
and lamps on the window-sills and wherever they could stand,
gave a light the more pleasing that it was not brilliant. Over-
head, the night-sky was spangled with clear pulsing stars, alloat
in a limpid blue, vast even to awfulness in the eyes of such —
were any such there ? — as say to themselves that to those worlds
also were they born. Outside, it Wiis dark, save where the
light streamed from the great windows far into the night. The
moon was not yet up ; slie would rise in good time to see tlie
scattering guests to their homes.

Tom's heart liad been sinking, for lie could sec Letty no-
where. Now at last, he had been saying to liimself all the day,
had come his chance ! and his chance seemed but to mock him.
More than any girl he IkhI ever seen, had Letty moved him —
perhaps because she was more unlike his mother. He kiu'W
nothing, it is true, or next to nothing, of her nature ; but that
was of little consequence to one who knew nothing, and never
troubled himself to know anything, of his own. Was he
doomed never to come near his idol? — Ah, there she was!
Yes ; it was she — all but lost in a humble grouj) near the door I
His foolish heart — not foolish in that — gave a great bound, as
if it would leap to her where she stood. She was dressed in
white muslin, from which her white throat rose warm and
soft. Her head was bent forward, and a gentle dissolved smile
was over all her face, as with loveliest eyes she watched eagerly
the motions of the dance, and her ears drank in the music of
the yeomanry band. lie Seized the first opportunity of getting
nearer to her. He had scarcely spoken to her before, but that


did not trouble Tom. Even in a more ceremonious assembly,
that would neyer have abashed him ; and here there was little
form, and much freedom. He had, besides, confidence in his
own carriage and manners — which, indeed, were those of a gen-
tleman—and knew himself not likely to repel by his approach.

Mr. Mortimer had opened the dancing by leading out the
wife of his principal tenant, a handsome matron, whose behav-
ior and expression were such as to give a safe, home-like feel-
ing to the shy and doubtful of the company. But Tom knew
better than injure his chance by precipitation : he would wait
until the dancing was more general, and the impulse to move-
ment stronger, and then offer himself. He stood therefore
near Letty for some little time, talking to everybody, and mak-
ing himself agreeable, as was his wont, all round ; then at last,
as if he had just caught sight of her, walked up to her where
she stood flushed and eager, and asked her to favor him with
her hand in the next dance.

By this time Letty had got familiar with his presence, had
recalled her former meeting with him, had heard his name
spoken by not a few who evidently liked him, and was quite
pleased when he asked her to dance with him.

In the dance, nothing but commonplaces passed between
them ; but Tom had a certain pleasant way of his own in say-
ing the commonest, emptiest things — an off-hand, glancing,
skimming, swallow-like way of brushing and leaving a thing,
as if he ^^ could an' if he would," which made it seem for the
moment as if he had said something : were his companion capa-
ble of discovering the illusion, there was no time ; Tom was
instantly away, carrying him or her with him to something else.
But there was better than this — there was poetry, more than
one element of it, in Tom. In the presence of a girl that
pleased him, there would rise in him a poetic atmosphere, full
of a rainbow kind of glamour, which, first jiossessing himself,
l^assed out from him and called up a similar atmosphere, a sim-
ilar glamour, about many of the girls he talked to. This he
could no more help than the grass can help smelling sweet
after the rain.

Tom was a finely projected, well-built, unfinished, barely


furnished house, with its great central room empty, wliere tlie
devil, coming and going at his pleasure, had not yet begun to
make any great racket. There might he endless embryonic
evil in him, but Letty was aware of no repellent atmosphere
about him, and did not shrink from his advances. He pleased
her, and why sliould she not be pleased with him? Was it a
fault to be easily pleased ? The truer and sweeter any human
self, the readier is it to be pleased with another self — .-ave,
indeed, something in it grate on the moral sense : that jars
llirough the whole harmonious hypostasy. To Tom, there-
fore, Letty responded with smiles and pleasant words, even
grateful to such a fine youth for taking notice of her small

The sun had set in a bank of cloud, which, as if he had
been a limij) of leaven to it, immediately began to swell and
rise, and now hung dark and thick over the still, warm night.
Even the farmers were unobservant of the change : their crops
were all in, they had eaten and drunk heartily, and were merry,
looking on or sharing in the multiform movement, their eyes
lilled with light and color.

Suddenly came a torrent-sound in the air, heard of few and
heeded by none, and straight into the hall rushed upon the gay
company a deluge of rain, mingled with hirge, half-melted hail-
stones. In a moment or two scarce a light was left burning,
except those in the holes and recesses of the walls. The mer-
rymakers scattered like flies— into the house, into the tower,
into the sheds and stables in the court behind, under the trees
m front — anywhere out of the hall, where shelter was none
from the perpendicular, abandoned down-i>our.

At that moment, Letty was dancing with Tom, and her
hand happened to be in his. He clasped it tight, and, as
cpiickly as the crowd and the confusion of shelter-seeking would
permit, led her to the door of the tower already mentioned.
But many had run in the same direction, and already its lower
story and stair were crowded with refugees — the elder bemoan-
ing the sudden change, and folding tight around them what
poor wraps they were fortunate enough to have retained ; the
younger merrier than ever, notwithstanding the cold gusts that


now poked their spirit-arms hither and thither through the
openings of the half-ruinous building : to them even the de-
struction of their finery was but added cause of laughter. But
a few minutes before, its freshness had been a keen pleasure to
them, brightening their consciousness with a rare feeling of
perfection ; now crushed and rumpled, soiled and wet and
torn, it was still fuel to the fire of gayety. But Tom did not
stay among them. He knew the place well ; haying a turn for
scrambling, he had been all over it many a time. On through
the crowd, he led Letty up the stair to the first floor. Even
here were a fev/ couples talking and laughing in the dark.
With a warning, by no means unnecessary, to mind where they
stepped, for the floors were bad, he passed on to the next

^'Let us stop here, Mr. Hclmer," said Letty. ^' There is
plenty of room here."

*^ I want to show you something," answered Tom. ^^You
need not be frightened. I know every nook of the place."

**Iam not frightened," said Letty, and made no further

At the top of that stair they entered a straight passage, in
the middle of which w^as a faint glimmer of light from an oval
'aperture in the side of ifc. Thither Tom led Letty, and told
her to look through. She did so.

Beneath lay the great gulf, wide and deep, of the hall they
had just left. This was the little window, high in its gable, ^
through which, in far-away times, the lord or lady of the man-
sion could oversee at will whatever went on below.

The rain had ceased as suddenly as it came on, and already
lights were moving about in the darkness of the abyss — one,
and another, and another, was searching for something lost in
the hurry of the scattering. It was a waste and dismal show. 7
Neither of them had read Dante ; but Letty may have thought /
of the hall of Belshazzar, the night after the hand-haunted l^
revel, when the Medes had had their will ; for she had but (
lately read the story. A strange fear came upon her, and she )
drew back with a shudder.

"Are you cold? "said Tom. *^0f course you must be.


with nothing but that thin muslin ! Shall I run down and get
you a shawl ? "

''Oh, no! do not leave me, please. It's not that,'' an-
swered Letty. *' I don't mind the wind a bit ; it's ratlier pleas-
ant. It's only that the look of the place makes me miserable,
I think. It looks as if no one had danced there for a hundred
years. "

''Neither any one has, I suppose, till to-night," said Tom.
" What a line place it would be if only it had a roof to it I I
can't think liuw any one can live beside it and leave it like

that : " .

Ikit Tom lived a good deal closer to a worse ruin, and never ^
/ spent a thouglit on it.

Letty shivered again.

"I'm quite asliamed of myself," she paid, trying to speak
cheerfully.. "I can't think why I should feel like this — just
as if sumething drea

Online LibraryGeorge MacDonaldMary Marston. A novel → online text (page 5 of 40)