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George MacDonald.

Mary Marston. A novel online

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struction that goes to make a slave — the slave in heart, who
serves without devotion, and serves unworthily. Yet in this,
and much more such poverty-stricken, swine-husk argument,
Lctty seemed to hear a gospel of liberty, and scarcely needed
the following injunctions of Tom, to make a firm resolve not
to utter a word concerning him. To do so would be treacher-
ous to him, and would ])c to forfeit the liberty he had taught
her ! Thus, from the neglect of a real duty, she became the
slave of a false one.

"If you do," Tom liad said, "I shall never see you again :
they will set every one about the place to watch you, like so
many cats after one poor little white mousey, and on the least
suspicion, one way or another, you will be gobbled up, as sure
as fate, before you can get to me to take care of you."

Letty looked up at him gratefully.

" But what could you do for me if I did ? " she asked. " If
my aunt were to turn me out of the house, your mother v/ould
not take me in ! "

Letty was not herself now ; she was herself and Tom — by
no means a healthful combination.

"My mother won't be mistress long," answered Tom.
"She will have to do as I bid her when I am one-and-twenty,



THE UEATH AXD THE HUT. S5

and that will be in a few months.'' Tom did not know the
terms of his father's will. "In the mean time we must keep
quiet, you know. I don't want a row — we have plenty of row
as it is. You may be sure / shall tell no one how I spent the
happiest hour of my life. How little circumstance has to do
with bliss !" he added, with a philosophical sigh. ^*Here we
are in a Avretched hut, roared and rained upon by an equinoctial
tempest, and I am in paradise I "

*'I must go home," said Letty, recalled to a sense of her
situation, yet set trembling with pleasure, by his words. " See,
it is getting quite dark I *'

''Don't be afraid, my white bird,'' said Tom. " 1 will sec
you home. But surely you are a,s well here as there anyhow !
Who knows when we shall meet again ? Don't be alarmed ;
I'm not going to ask you to meet me anywhere ; I know your
sweet innocence would make you fancy it wrong, and then you
would be unha])py. But that is no reason why I sliould not
fall in with you when I have tlie chance. It is very hard tliat
two people who understand each other can not be friends with-
out other people shoving in their ugly beaks I Where is the
harm to any one if we choose to have a few minutes' talk to-
gether now and then ?*'

"Where, indeed ? '' respondeil Letty shyly.

A tall shadow — no shadow either, but the very person of
Godfrey Wardour — passed the opening in the wall of the hut
where once had been a window, and the gloom it cast into the
dusk within was awful and ominous. The moment he saw it,
Tom threw himself Hat on the clay floor of tiie hut. (Jodfrey
stopped at the doorless entrance, and stood on the threshold,
bending his head to clear the lintel as he looked in. Ix^tty's
heart seemed to vanish from her body. A strange feeling
shook her, as if some mysterious transformation were about to
pass upon iier whole frame, and she were about to be changed
into some one of the lower animals. The question, where was
the harm, late so triumphantly put, seemed to have no heart
in it now. For a moment that had to T^etty the air of an a^on,
Godfrey stood peering.

Not a little to his displeasure, he hud lieard from his moth-



86 MAEY MARSTOK

er of her refusal to grant Letty's request, and had set out in
the hope of meeting and helping her home, for by that time it
had begun to rain, and looked stormy.

In the darkness he saw something white, and, as he gazed, it
grew to Letty's face. The strange, scared, ghastly expression
of it bewildered him.

Letty became aware that Godfrey did not recognize her at
first, and the hope sprung up in her heart that he might not
see Tom at all ; but she could not utter a word, and stood re-
turning Godfrey's gaze like one fascinated with terror. Pres-
ently her heart began again to bear witness in violent piston-
strokes.

*^Is it really you, my child ?" said Godfrey, in an uncer-
tain voice — for, if it was indeed she, why did she not speak,
and why did she look so scared at the sight of him ?

*^ Cousin Godfrey ! " gasped Letty, then first finding a
little voice, " you gave me such a start ! "

''Why should you be so startled at seeing me, Let-
ty ?" he returned. "Am I such a monster of the darkness,
then?"

''You came all at once," replied Letty, gathering courage
from the i^layfulness of his tone, " and blocked up the door
with your shoulders, so that not a ray of light fell on your
face ; and liow was I to know it was you, Cousin Godfrey ? "

From a paleness grayer than death, her face was now red as
fire ; it was the burning of the lie inside her. She felt all a lie
now : there was the good that Tom had brought her ! But
the gloom was friendly. AVith a resolution new to herself, she
went up to Godfrey and said :

"If you are going to the town, let me walk with you.
Cousin Godfrey. It is getting so dark."

She felt as if an evil necessity — a thing in which man must
not believe — were driving her. But the poor child was not
half so deceitful inside as the words seemed to her issuing from
her lips. It was such a relief to be assured Godfrey had not
seen Tom, that she felt as if she could forego the sight of Tom
for evermore. Her better feelings rushed back, her old con-
fidence and reverence ; and, in the altogether nebulo-chaotic



THE HEATH AXD THE HUT. S7

condition of lier mind, she felt as if, in his turn, Godfrey had
just appeared for her deliverance.

'^lam not going to the to^n, Letty," he answered. "I
came to meet you, and we will go home together. It is no use
waiting for the rain to stop, and about as little to put up an
umbrella. 1 have brought your waterproof, and we must just
take it as it comes."

Tlie wind was up again, and the next moment Letty, on
Godfrey's arm, was struggling with the same storm she had so
lately encountered leaning on Tom's, while Tom was only too
glad to be left alone on the floor of the dismal hut, whence ho
did not venture to rise for some time, lest any the most im-
})robable thing should happen, to bring Mr. Wardour back,
lie was as mortally afraid of being discovered as any young
thief in a farmer's orchard.

lie liad a dreary walk back to the i)ublic house where lie
had stabled his horse ; but he trudged it cheerfully, brooding
with delight on Lctty's lx?auty, and her lovely confidence in
Tom Ilelmer — a i)ersonagc whom he had begun to feel nobody
trusted as ho deserved.

" Poor child I *' he said to himself — he as well as Godfrey
patronized her — *' what a doleful walk home she will have with
that stuck-up old bachelor fellow I"

Nor, indeed, was it a very comfortable walk home she had,
although Godfrey talked all the way, as well as a head-wind,
full of rain, would permit. A few weeks ago she would have
thought the walk and the talk and everything delightful. But
after Tom's airy converse on the Siime level with herself, God-
frey's sounded indeed wise — very wise — but dull, so dull ! It
is true the suspicion, hardly awake enough to be troublous, lay
somewliere in her, that in Godfrey's talk there was a value of
which in Tom's there was nothing ; but then it was not wis-
dom Letty was in want of, she thought, but somebody to be
kind to her — as kind as she should like ; somebody, though
she did not say this even to herself, to pet her a little, and
humor her, and not require too much of her. Physically,
Letty was not in the least lazy, but she did not enjoy being
forced to think much. She could think, and to no very poor



88 MAJ^r MARSTOK

purj^ose either, but as yet slie had no hunger for the possible
results of thought, and how then could she care to think ?
Seated on the edge of her bed, weary and w^et and self-accused,
she recalled, and pondered, and, after her faculty, compared
the two scarce comparable men, until the voice of her aunt,
calling to her to make haste and come to tea, made her start
up, and in haste remoye her drenched garments. The old
lady imagined from her delay she was out of temper because
she had sent for her home ; but, when she appeared, she was
so ready, so attentive, and so quick to help, that, a little re-
pentant, she said to herself, ^* Really the girl is very good-na-
tured ! " as if then first she discovered the fact. But Thorn-
wick could never more to Letty feel like a home ! Not at
peace with herself, she could not be in rhythmic relation with
her surroundings.

The next day, the old manner of life began again ; but,
alas ! it was only the old manner, it was not the old life ; that
was gone for ever, like an old sunset, or an old song, and could
not be recalled from the dead. We may have better, but we
can not have the same. God only can have the same. God
grant our new may inwrap our old ! Letty labored more than
ever to lay hold of the lessons, to his mind so genial, in hers
bringing forth more labor than fruit, which Godfrey set before
her, but success seemed further from her than ever. She Avas
now all the time aware of a weight, an oppression, which
seemed to belong to the task, but was in reality her self-dis-
satisfaction. She was like a poor Hebrew set to make brick
without straw, but the Egyptian that had brought her into
bondage was the feebleness of her own will. Now and then
would come a break — a glow of beauty, a gleam of truth ; for
a moment she would forget herself ; for a moment a shining
pool would flash on the clouded sea of her life ; presently her
heart would send up a fresh mist, the light would fade and
vanish, and tlie sea lie dusky and sad. Not seldom reproach-
ing herself with having given Tom cause to think unjustly of
her guardians, she would try harder than ever to please her
aunt ; and the small personal services she had been in the way
of rendering to Godfrey were now ministered with the caro of



THE HEATH AND THE HUT. 89

a devotee. Not^once should he miss a button from a shirt or
find a sock insufficiently darned I But even this conscience of
service did not make her happy. Duty itself could not, uhere
faith was wanting, where the heart was not at one with those
to whom the hands were servants. She would cry herself to
sleep, and rise early to be sad. She resolved at last, and seemed
to gain strength and some peace from the resolve, to do all in
her power to avoid Tom ; and certainly not once did she try
to meet him. Not with him, she could resist him.

Thus it went on. Her aunt saw that something was amiss,
and watched her, without attempt at concealment, which added
greatly to Letty's discomfort. But the only thing her keen-
ness discovered was, that the girl was forward ly eager to please
(rodfrey, and the conviction began to grow tluit she was in-
dulging the impudent presumption of being in love with her
])eerless cousin. Then maternal indignation misled her into
the folly of droj)ping hints that should put (iodfrey on his
guard : men Avere so easily taken in by designing girls ! She
(lid not say much ; but she said a good deal too much for her
own ends, when she caused licr fancy to present itself to the
mind of Godfrey.

lie had not failed, no one could have failed, to observe the
dejection that had for some time ruled every feature and ex-
l)rcssion of the girl's countenance. Again and again he had
asked himself whether she might not be fancying him displeased
with her; for he knew well that, becoming more and more
aware of what hecounted his danger, he had kept of late stricter
guard than ever over his behavior ; but, watching her now with
the misleatling light of his mother's lantern, nor quite unwill-
ing, I am bound to confess, that the thing might ])e as she im-
plied, he became by degrees convinced that she wa.s right.

So far as this, perhaps, the man was pardonable — with a
mother to cause him to err. But, for what follov.ed, i)unish-
ment was inevitable. He had a true and strong affection for
the girl, but it was an affection as from conscious higli to low ;
an affection, that is, not unmixed with patronage — a bad thing
— far worse than it can seem to the heart that indulgxjs it. He
still recoiled, therefore, from the idea of such a levelimr of him-



90 MAHY MAR8T0N.

self as he counted it would be to show her anything like the
loye of a lover. All pride is more or less mean, but one pride
may be grander than another, and Godfrey was not herein proud
in any grand way. Good fellow as he was, he thought much
too much of himself ; and, unconsciously comparing it with
Letty's, altogether overvalued his worth. Stranger than any
bedfellow misery ever acquainted a man v/ithal, are the heart-
fellows he carries about with him. Noble as in many ways
Wardour was, and kind as, to Letty, he thought he always was,
he was not generous toward her ; he was not Prince Arthur,
"i\\Q Knight of Magnificence." Something may perhaps be
allowed on the score of the early experience because of which
he had resolved — pridefully, it is true — never again to come
under the power of a woman ; it was unworthy of any man,
he said, to place his peace in a hand which could thenceforth
wring his whole being with agony. But, had he now brought
himself as severely to task as he ought, he would have discov-
ered that he was making no objection to the little girl's loving
him, only he would not love her in the same way in return ;
and where was the honor in that ? Doubtless, had he thus
examined himself, he would have thought he meant to take
care that the child's love for him sliould not go too far — should
not endanger her peace ; and that, if the thing should give her
trouble, it should be his business to comfort her in it ; but de-
scend he would not — would not yet — from his pedestal, to meet
the silly thing on the level ground of humanity, and the re-
lation of the man and the woman ! Something like this, I say,
he would have found in his heart, horrid as it reads. That
heart's action was not even, was not licalthy.

When in London he had ransacked Holywell Street for
dainty editions of so many of his favorite authors as would
make quite a little library for Letty ; and on his return, had
commissioned a cabinet-maker in Testbridge to put together a
small set of book-shelves, after his own design, measured and
fitted to receive them exactly ; these shelves, now ready, he
fastened to her wall one afternoon when she was out of the
way, and filled them with the books. He never doubted that,
the moment she saw them, she would rush to find him ; and,



TUB nEATII AXD THE HUT. 91

when he had done, retreated, therefore, to his study, there to
sit in readiness to receive her and her gratitude with gentle
kindness ; when he would express the hope that she would
make real friends of the spirits whose (luintessence he had thus
stored to her hand ; and would introduce her to what Milton
says in his " Areopagitica " concerning good books. There, for
her ^;ake, then, he sat, in mental state, expectant ; but sat in
vain. AVlien tliey met at tea, tlien, in the presence of liis
mother, with embarrassment and broken utterance, she did
thank liim.

"O Cuu



Online LibraryGeorge MacDonaldMary Marston. A novel → online text (page 8 of 40)