George MacDonald.

Mary Marston. A novel online

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enforcing tlieir loveliness of sound and shape ; while the poem.


the really important thing, the drift of the whole — it was her
own hear.t and conscience that revealed that to her, not the ex-
position of one who at best could understand it only with his
brain. She kept to her resolve, nevertheless ; and, although
Tom, leaving his horse now here now there, to avoid attracting
attention, almost every day visited the oak, he looked in vain
for the light of her ai)proach. Disappointment increased his
longing : what would he not have given to see once more one
of those exquisite smiles break out in its perfect blossom I lie
kept going and going — haunted the oak, sure of some blessed
chance at last. It was the first time in his life he liad followed
one idea for a whole fortnight.

At length Godfrey came. But, although all the time he
was away Letty had retained and contemplated with tolenible
calmness the idea of making her confession to him, the moment
she saw him she felt such confession impossible. It was a sad
discovery to lier. Hitherto (Jodfrey, and csiHJciully of late, liad
been the chief source of the j)eace and interest of her life, that
j)ortion of her life, nanuly, to which all the rest of it looked
as its sky, its overhanging betterness — and now she felt before
him like a culprit : she had done what he might be displeased
with. Xay, would that were all I for she felt like a hyi)ocritc :
she had done that which she could not confess. Again and
again, while Godfrey was away, she had llattorod herself that
the help the objectionable Tom had given her with her task
would at once recommend him to (iodfrey's favorable regard ;
but now that she looked in (Jodfrey's face, she was aware — she
\ did not know why, but slip was aware it would not be so. lie-
\ sides, she plainly saw that the same fact would, almost of
necessity, lead him to imagine there had been much more
between them than was the case ; and she argued with herself,
that, now there was nothing, now that everything was over, it
would be a pity if, because of what she could not help, and
what would never be again, there should arise anything, how-
ever small, of a misunderstanding between her cousin Godfrey
and her.

The moment Godfrey saw her, he knew that something was
the matter ; but there had been that going on in him which



put him on a false track for the explanation. Scarcely had he,
on his departure for London, turned his back on Thornwick,
ere he found he was leaying one whom yet he could not leave
behind him. Every hour of his absence he found his thoughts
with the sweet face and ministering hands of his humble pupil.
Therewith, however, it was nowise revealed to him that he was
in love with her. He thought of her only as his younger sis-
ter, loving, clinging, obedient. So dear was she to him, he
thought, that he would rejoice to secure her happiness at any
cost to himself. Any cost ? he asked — and reflected. Yes,
he answered himself — even the cost of giving her to a better
man. The thing was sure to come, he thought — nor thought
without a keen pang, scarcely eased by the dignity of the self-
denial that would yield her with a smile. But such a crisis was
far away, and there was no necessity for now contemplating
it. Indeed, there was no certainty it would ever arrive ; it was
only a possibility. The child was not beautiful, although to
him she was lovely, and, being also penniless, was therefore not
likely to attract attention ; while, if her being unfolded under
the genial influences he was doing his best to make powerful
upon her, if she grew aware that by them her life was enlarg-
ing and being tenfold enriched, it was possible she might not
be ready to fall in love, and leave Thornwick. lie must be
careful, however, he said to himself, quite plainly now, that
his behavior should lead her into no eiTor. He was not afraid
she might fall in love with him ; he was not so full of himself
as that ; but he recoiled from the idea, as from a humiliation,
that she might imagine him in loye with her. It was not
merely that he had loved once for all, and, once deceived and
forsaken, would love no more ; but it was not for him, a man
of thirty years, to bow beneath the yoke of a girl of eighteen —
a child in everything except outward growth. Not for a
moment would he be imagined by her a courtier for her

Thus, even in the heart of one so far above ordinary men
as Godfrey, and that in respect of the sweetest of child-maidens,
pride had its evil place ; and no good ever comes of pride, for
it is the meanest of mean things, and no one but he who is full


of it thinks it grand. For its sake this wise man was lirmly
resolved on caution ; and so, when at hist they met, it was no
more with that abandon of simple pleasure with which he had
been wont to receive licr wlien .she came knocking at the door of
his study, bearing clear question or formless perplexity ; and his
restraint would of itself have been enough to make I^tty, whose
heart was now beating in a very thicket of nerves, at once feel
it impossible to carry out lier intent — impossible to confess to
him any more than to his mother ; wliile Godfrey, on his part,
perceiving her manifest shyness and unwonted embarrassment,
attributed them altogether to his own wisely guarded behavior,
and, seeing therein no sign of loss of inlluence, continued his
caution. Thus the pride, whicli is of man, mingled witli the
love, wliich is of God, and j)olluted it. From tliat liour lie be-
gan to lord it over the girl ; and this change in his behavior
immediately reacted on himself, in the obscure perception that
there might be danger to her in continued freedom of inter-
course : he must, therefore, he concluded, order the way for
both ; he must take care of her a.s well as of himself, l^ut wius
it consistent with this resolve that he should, for a whole
month, spend every leisure moment in working at a present for
her — a written marvel of neatness and legibility ?

Again, by this meeting askance, as it were, anotlicr disin-
tegrating force was called into ojxjration : the moment Ixjtty
knew she could not tell Godfrey, and that therefore a wall had
arisen between him and her, that nuunent woke in her the
desire, as she had never felt it before, to see Tom Ilelmer.
She could no longer bear to be shut u]) in herself ; she must
see somebody, get near to somebody, talk to somebody ; her
secret would choke her otherwise, would swell and break her
heart ; and who was there to think of l)ut Tom — and Mary
Marston ?

She had never once gone to the oak again, but she had not
altogether avoided a certain little cobwel>bed gable-window in
the garret, from which it was visible ; neither had she withheld
her hands from cleaning a pane in that window, that through
it she might see the oak ; and there, more than once or twice,
now thickening the huge limb, now spotting the grass beneath


it, she had descried a dark object, which could be nothing else
than Tom Helmer on the watch for herself. He must surely
be her friend, she reasoned, or how would he care, day after
day, to climb a tree to look if she were coming — she who was
the veriest nobody in all other eyes but his ? It was so good of
Tom ! She ivould call him Tom ; everybody else called him
Tom, and why shouldn't she— to herself, when nobody was
near ? As to Mary Marston, she treated her like a child ! When
she told her that she had met Tom at Durnmelling, and how
kind he had been, she looked as grave as if it had been wicked
to be civil to him ; and told her in return how he and his
mother were always quarreling : that must be his mother's
fault, she was sure — it could not be Tom's ; any one might see
that at a glance ! His mother must be something like her aunt !
But, after that, how could she tell Mary any more ? It would
not be fair to Tom, for, like the rest, she would certainly begin
to abuse him. What harm could come of it ? and, if harm did,
how could she help it ! If they had been kind to her, she would
have told them everything, but they all frightened her so, she
could not speak. It was not her fault if Tom was the only
friend she had ! She would ask his advice ; he was sure to ad-
vise her just the right thing. He had read that sonnet about
the wise virgin witli such feeling and such force, he must
know what a girl ought to do, and how she ought to behave to
those who were unkind and would not trust her.

Poor Letty ! she had no stay, no root in herself yet. Well
do I know not one human being ought, even were it possible, to
be enough for himself ; each of us needs God and every human
soul he has made, before he has enough ; but we ought each to
be able, in the hope of what is one day to come, to endure for a
time, not having enough. Letty was unblamable that she de-
sired the comfort of humanity around her soul, but I am not
sure that she was quite unblamable in not being fit to walk a
few steps alone, or even to sit still and expect. With all his
learning, Godfrey had not taught her what William Marston
had taught Mary ; and now her heart was like a child left
alone in a great room. She had not yet learned tliat we must
each bear his own burden, and so become able to bear each the


burden of the other. Poor friends we are, if we are capable
only of leaning, and able never to support.

But the moment Letty's heart had thus cried out against
Mary, came a shock, and something else cried out against her-
self, telling her that she was not fair to her friend, and that
Mary, and no other, was the proper person to advise with in
this emergency of her affairs. She had no right to turn from
her because she was a little afraid of her. Perhaps Letty was
on the point of discovering that to be unable to bear dis-
approval was an unwortliy weakness. But in her case it came
nowise of tlic pride which blame stirs to resentment, but
altogether of the self-depreciation wliich disapproval rouses to
yet greater dispiriting. Praise was to her a jirecious thing, in
part because it made her feel as if she could go on ; blame, a
misery, in part because it made her feel as if all was of no use,
she never could do anything right. She had not yet learned
that the right is the right, come of praise or blame what may.
The riglit will produce more right and bo its own reward — in
the end a reward altogether inthiito, for (rod will meet it with
what is deeper than all right, namely, perfect love. But the
more T^otty thought, the more she was sure she must tell Afary ;
and, disapprove as she might, Mary was a very dilTerent object
of alarm from either her aunt or her cousin Godfrey.

The first afternoon, therefore, on which she thought lior
aunt could spare her, she begged leave to go and see Mary.
Mrs. Wardour yielded it, but not very graciously. Slic jiad,
indeed, granted that Miss Marston was not like otluT shop-
girls, but she did not favor the growth of the intimacy, and
liked Letty's going to her less than Mary's coming to Tiiorn-



Letty seldom went int^ the shop, exce})t to buy, for she
knew Mr. Turnbull would not like it, and Mary did not
encourage it ; but now her misery made her bold. Mary saw


the trouble in lier eyes, and without a moment's hesitation
drew her inside the counter, and thence into the house, where
she led the way to her own room, up stairs and through pas-
sages which were indeed lanes through masses of merchandise,
like those cut through deep-drifted snow. It was shop all
oYcr the house, till they came to the door of Mary's chamber,
which, opening from such surroundings, had upon Letty much
the effect of a chapel — and rightly, for it was a room not un-
used to having its door shut. It was small, and plainly but
daintily furnished, with no foolish excess of the small refine-
ments on which girls so often set value, spending large time
on what it Avould bo waste to buy ; only they have to kill the
weary captive they know not hov.^ to redeem, for he troubles
them with his moans.

"Sit down, Letty dear, and tell me what is the matter,"
said Mary, placing her friend in a chintz-covered straw chair,
and seating herself beside her.

Letty burst into tears, and sat sobbing.

"Come, dear, tell me all about it," insisted Mary. "If
you don't make haste, they will be calling me."

Letty could not speak.

"Then I'll tell you vfhat," said Mary; "you must stop
with me to-night, that we may have time to talk it over. You
sit here and amuse yourself as well as you can till the shop is
shut, and then we shall have such a talk ! I will send your
tea up here. Beenie will be good to you."

"Oh, but, indeed, I can't!" sobbed Letty; *^my aunt
would never forgive me."

"You silly child! I never meant to keep you without
sending to your aunt to let her know."

"She won't let me stop," persisted Letty.

"We v/ill try her," said Mary, confidently; and, withoitt
more ado, left Letty, and, going to her desk in the shoji, wrote
a note to Mrs. Wardour. This she gave to Beenie to send by
special messenger to Thornwick ; after which, she told her,
she must take up a nice tea to Miss Lovel in her bed-
room. Mary then resumed her place in the shop, under the
frowns and side-glances of Turnbull, and the smile of her


father, pleased at her reappearance from even siicli a short ab-

But the return, in an liour or so, of tlie boy-messenger,
whom Beenie had taken care not to pay beforehand, destroyed
the hope of a pleasant evening ; for he brought a note from
Mrs. Wardonr, absolutely refusing to allow Letty to spend the
night from home : she must return immediately, so as to get
in before dark.

The rare anger flushed Letty's cheek and Hashed from her
eyes as she read ; for, in addition to the ])rime annoyance, her
aunt's note was addressed to her and not to Mary, to wliom it
did not even allude. Mary only smiled inwardly at thi-, l)ut
Letty felt deeply hurt, and her disi)leasure witli her aunt
added yet a shade to tlic dimness of lier judgment. She rose
at once.

"Will you not tell mc first what is troubling you, Letty ?'*
said Mary.

*'No, dear, not now," replied I^tty, caring a good deal
less about t!ie right ordering of her way than wlien she entered
the house. Why should she care, slio Siiid to herself — but it
was her anger speaking in her — how she bi-haved, when she
was treated so abominably ?

"Then I will come and see you on Sunday," said .Mary ;
"and then we shall manage to have our talk.''

They kissed and parted — Letty unaware thai she had given
her friend a less warm kiss than usual. Tiiere can hardly be
a plainer proof of the lowness of our nature, until we have laid
hold of the higher nature that belongs to us by birthright,
than this, that even a just anger tends to make us unjust and
unkind : Letty was angry with every person and thing at
Thornwick, and unkind to her best friend, for whose sake in
part she was angry. With glowing cheeks, tear-fdled eyes,
and indignant heart she set out on her walk home.

It was a still evening, with a great cloud rising in the
southwest ; from which, as the sun drew near the horizon, a
thin veil stretched over the sky between, and a few drops came
scattering. This was in h.armony with Letty's mood. Her
soul was clouded, and her heaven was only a i)lace for the rain


to fall from. Annoyance, doubt, lier new sense of constraint,
and a wide-reaching, undefined feeling of liomelessness, all
wrought together to make her mind a chaos out of which mis-
shapen things might rise, instead of an ordered world in which
gracious and reasonable shapes appear. For as the place such
will be the thoughts that spring there ; when all in us is peace
divine, then, and not till then, shall we think the absolutely
reasonable. Alas, that by our thoughtlessness or unkindness
we should so often be the cause of monster-births, and those
even in the minds of the loyed ! that we should be, if but for
a moment, the demons that deform a fair world that loves us !
Such was Mrs. Wardour, with her worldly wisdom, that day
to Letty.

About half-way to Thornwick, the path crossed a little
heathy common ; and just as Letty left the hedge-guarded
field-side, and through a gate stepped, as it were, afresh out
of doors on the open common, the wind came with a burst,
and brought the rain in earnest. It was not yet very heavy,
but heavy enough, with the wind at its back, and she with no
defense but her parasol, to wet her thoroughly before she
could reach any shelter, the nearest being a solitary, decrepit
old hawthorn-tree, about half-way across the common. She
bent her head to the blast, and walked on. She had no desire
for shelter. She would like to get wet to the skin, take a vio-
lent cold, go into a consumption, and die in a fortnight. The
wind whistled about her bonnet, dashed the rain-drops clang-
ing on the drum-tight silk of her parasol, and made of her
skirts fetters and cliains. Slie could hardly get along, and
was just going to take down lier parasol, when suddenly,
where was neither house nor hedge nor tree, came a lull. For
from behind, over head and parasol, had come an umbrella,
and now came a voice and an audible sigh of pleasure.

" I little thouglit when I left home this afternoon," said the
voice, "that I should have such a happiness before night !"

At the sound of the voice Letty gave a cry, which ran
through all the shapes of alarm, of surprise, of deliglit ; and it
was not much of a cry either.

*' Tom ! " she said, and clasped the arm that held the


umbrella. How her foolish heart bounded I Here was help
when she had sought none, and where least she had hoped for
any ! Her aunt would have her run from under the umbrella
at once, no doubt, but she would do as she pleased this time.
Here was Tom getting as wet as a spaniel for her sake, and
counting it a ha])piness I Oh, to have a friend like that — all to
herself ! She would not reject such a friend for all the aunts
in creation. Besides, it was her aunt's own fault ; if she had
let her stay with Mary, she would not have mot Tom. It was
not her doing ; she would take what was sent her, and enjoy
it ! But, at the sound of her own voice calling him Tom, tlie
blood rushed to her cheeks, and she felt their glow in the heart
of the chill-beating rain.

''What a night for you to be out in, Lotty," responded
Tom, taking instant advantage of the riglit she had given him.
"How lucky it was I chose the riglit j)lacc to watch in at last !
I was suri', if only I jiiT-cvcrtd l(»n"- «nnii"1i, T -Imuld be re-

** Have you been waiting for nie long .■' " a.-Lid Letty, with
foolish accej)tance.

''A fortnight and a day,*' answered Tom, witli a laugh.
'' But I would wait a long year for Fuch another chance as
this.'' And he ])ressed to liis side the hand upon liis arm.
'Tate is indeed kind to-night."

''Hardly in the weather," said Ix'tty, fast recovering her

"Not ?'' said Tom, with seeming pretense of indignation.
"Let any one but yourself dare to say a word against the
weather of tliis night, and he will liave me to reckon with.
It's the sweetest weather I ever walked in. I will write a
glorious song in praise of showery gusts and bare com-

" Ho," said Letty, careful not to say Tom tliis time, but
unwilling to revert to ^Mr. Helmer, "and mind you bring in
the umbrella."

" That I will I See if I don't ! '' answered Tom.

" And make it real poetry too ? " asked Letty, looking
archly round the stick of the umbrella.


^' Thou shalt thyself be the loyely critic, fair maiden ! "
answered Tom.

And thus they were already on the footing of somewhere
about a two years' acquaintance — thanks to the smart of ill-
usage in Letty's bosom, the gayety in Tom's, the sudden wild
weather, the quiet heath, the gathering shades, and the um-
brella ! The wind blew cold, the air was dank and chill, the
west was a low gleam of wet yellow, and the rain shot stinging
in their faces ; but Letty cared quite as little for it all as Tom
did, for her heart, growing warm with the comfort of the
friendly presence, felt like a banished soul that has found
a world ; and a joy as of endless deliverance pervaded her
being. And neither to her nor to Tom must we deny our
sympathy in the pleasure which, walking over a bog, they
drew from the flowers that mantled awful deeps ; they will
not sink until they stop, and begin to build their house upon
it. Within that umbrella, hovered, and glided with them,
an atmosphere of bliss and peace and rose-odors. In the
midst of storm and coming darkness, it closed warm and
genial around the pair. Tom meditated no guile, and Letty
had no deceit in her. Yet was Tom no true man, or sweet
Letty much of a woman. Neither of them was yet of the

At the other side of the heath, almost upon the path, stood
a deserted hut ; door and window were gone, but the roof
remained : just as they neared it, tlie Avind fell, and the rain
began to come down in earnest.

"Let us go in here for a moment," said Tom, "and get our
breath for a new fight. "

Letty said nothing, but Tom felt she was reluctant.

"Not a soul will pass to-night," he said. "We mustn't
get wet to the skin,"

Letty felt, or fancied, refusal would be more unmaidenly
than consent, and allowed Tom to lead her in. And there,
within those dismal walls, the twilight sinking into a cheerless
night of rain, encouraged by the very dreariness and obscurity
of the place, she told Tom the trouble of mind their interview
at the oak was causing her, saying that now it would be worse


than ever, for it was altogether impossible to confess that she
had met him yet again that evening.

So now, indeed, Letty's foot was in the snare : she had a
secret with Tom. Every time she saw him, liberty had with-
drawn a pace. There was no room for confession now. If a
secret held be a burden, a secret shared is a fetter. But Tom's
heart rejoiced within him.

**Let me sec I — How old are you, Lctiy j'" he asked gayly.

*^ Eighteen past,'' she answered.

" Then you arc lit to judge for yourself. You ain't a child,
and they are not your father and motlicr. What right have
tliey to know everytliing you do ? I wouldn't let any such
nonsense trouble me."

"But they give me cvcrytliin;:, you know — food, and
clothes, and ull."

''Ah, just so I " ret 11 rued Toin. '"And what ihj you do
for tliem ? "


'* Why ! wliat arc ytni about all day ? ''

Letty gave him a brief sketch of her day.

''And you call that nothing ?" exclaimed Tom. "Ain't
that enough to ])ay for your food and your clothes ? Does it
want your })rivate alfairs to make up the dilTeronce ? Or have
you to pay for your food and clothes with your very thoughts ?
- What pocket-money do they give you ? "

"Poekct-money ?" returned Letty, ;vs if she did not quite
know what he meant.

''Money to do what you like with,'' exi»lained 'J'om.

Letty thought for a moment.

"Cousin (Jodfrey gave me a sovereign last Christmas," she
answered. "I have got ten shillings of it yet.'*

Tom burst into a men-y laugh.

" Oh, you dear creature ! " he cried. " What a sweet slave
you make ! The lowest servant on the farm gets wages, and
you get none : yet you think yourself bound to tell them every-
thing, because they give you food and clothes, and a sovereign
last Christmas ! "

Here a gentle displeasure arose in the heart of the girl.


hitherto so contented and grateful. She did not care about
money, but she resented the claim her conscience made for
them upon her confidence. She did not reflect that such claim
had never been made by them ; nor that the fact that she felt
the claim, proved that she had been treated, in some measure
at least, like a daughter of the house.

^^Why," continued Tom, ^^it is mere, downright, rank
slavery I You are walking to the sound of your own chains.
Of course, you are not to do anything wrong, but you are not
bound not to do anything they may happen not to like."

In this style he v/ent on, believing ho spoke the truth, and
was teaching her to show a proper spirit. Ris heart, as well as
Godfrey's, was uplifted, to think he had this lovely creature to
direct and superintend : through her sweet confidence, he had
to set her free from unjust oppression taking advantage of her
simplicity. But in very truth he was giving her just the in-

Online LibraryGeorge MacDonaldMary Marston. A novel → online text (page 7 of 40)