George MacDonald.

Mary Marston. A novel online

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joined himself, right or wrong in themselves, Marston, after
having comi)lied with what seemed to him the letter of the law
concerning baptism, gave himself no further trouble. He had
for a long time known — for, by the power of the life in him,
he had gathered from the Scriptures the finest of the wheat,
where so many of every sect, great church and little church,
gather only the husks and chafT — that the only baptism of any
avail is the washing of the fresh birth, and the making new
by that breath of God, which, breathed into man's nostrils,
lirst made of him a living soul. When a man Jchoivh this, po-
tentially he knows all things. But, juH therefore, he did not
stand high with his sect any more than with his customers,
though — a fact which Marston himself never suspected — the
inlluence of his position had made them choose him for a


One evening George liad had leave to go home early, be-
cause of a party at the villa, as the TurnbuUs always called
their house ; and, the boy having also for some cause got leave
of absence, Mr. Marston was left to shut the shop himself,
Mary, who was in some respects the stronger of the two, assist-
ing him. When he had put up the last shutter, he dropped
his arms with a weary sigh. Mary, who had been fastening
the bolts inside, met him in tlie doorway.

^^You look worn out, father," she said. '^ Come and lie
down, and I will read to you."

"I will, my dear," he answered. ^^I don't feel quite my-
self to-night. The seasons tell upon me now. I suppose the
stuff of my tabernacle is wearing thin."

Mary cast an anxious look at him, for, tliough never a
strong man, he seldom complained. But she said nothing,
and, hoping a good cup of tea would restore him, led the way
through the dark shop to the door communicating with the
house. Often as she had passed through it thus, the picture of
it as she saw it that night was the only one almost that returned
to her afterward : a few vague streaks of light, from the cracks
of the shutters, fed the rich, warm gloom of the place ; one of
them fell upon a piece of orange-colored cotton stuff, which
blazed in the dark.

Arrived at their little sitting-room at the top of the stair,
she hastened to shake up the pillows and make the sofa com-
fortable for him. He lay down, and she covered liim with a
rug ; then ran to her room for a book, and read to him while
Beenie was getting the tea. She chose a poem with which
Mr. Wardour had made her acquainted almost the last time
she was at Thornwick — that was several weeks ago now, for
plainly Letty was not so glad to see her as she used to be — it
was Milton's little ode ^^On Time," written for inscription oi>
a clock — one of the grandest of small poems. Her father
knew next to nothing of literature ; having pondered his New
Testament, however, for thirty years, he was capable of under-
standing Milton's best — to the childlike mind the best is al-
ways simplest and easiest — not unfrequently the only kind it
can lay hold of. When she ended, he made her read it again.



and then again ; not until she had read it six times did he
seem content. And every time she read it, Mary found her-
self understanding it better. It was gradually growing very

Her father had made no remark ; but, when she lifted her
eyes from the sixth reading, she saw that his face shone, and,
as the last words left her lips, he took up the line like a re-
frain, and repeated it after her :

" ' Triuraphing over deatli, and cluinco, and thee, O Time I '

*'That will do now, Mary, I thank you/' he said. '• I
have got a good hold of it, I think, and shall be able to com-
fort myself with it when I wake in the night. The man must
liave been very like the apostle Paul."

He said wo more. The iQi\ was brought, and he dnnik a
cu]) of it, but could not eat ; and, as he could not, ncitlier
could Mary.

*' I want a long sleep," ho said ; and the words went to his
ciiild's heart — she dared iu)t question herself why. AVhcn the
tea-tilings were removed, he called her.

"Mary," he said, "come here. I want to speak to you."

She kneeled beside him.

"Mary," he said again, taking her little hand in his two
long, bony ones, " I love you, my child, to that degree I can
not say ; and I want you, I do want you, to be a Christian."

"So do I, father dear," answered Mary simply, the tears
rushing into her eyes at the thought that i)erha}).s she was not
one ; '' 1 want me to be a Cliristian."

"Yes, my love," he went on ; "but it is not that I do not
lliink you a Christian ; it is that I want you to be a downright
real Christian, not one that is but trying to feel as a Christian
ought to feel. I have lost so much precious time in that
way ! "

"Tell me — tell me," cried Mary, clasping her other hand
over his. " What would you have me do ? "

"I will tell you. I am just trying how," he responded.
"A Christian is just one that does what the Lord Jesus tells
him. Neither more nor less than that makes a Christian. It


is not eyen understanding the Lord Jesus tliat makes one a
Christian. That makes one dear to the Father ; but it is be-
ing a Christian, that is, doing what he tells us, that makes us
understand him. Peter says the Holy Spirit is given to them
that obey him : what else is that but just actually, really, do-
ing what he says— just as if I was to tell you to go and fetch
me my Bible, and you would get up and go ? Did you ever
do anything, my child, just because Jesus told you to do

Mary did not answer immediately. She thought awhile.
Then she spoke.

*^Yes, father," she said, *^I think so. Two nights ago,
George was very rude to me — I don't mean anything bad, but
you know he is very rough."

**I know it, my child. And you must not think I don't
care because I think it better not to interfere. I am with you
all the time."

^' Thank you, father ; I know it. Well, when I was going
to bed, I was angry with him sfcill, so it was no wonder I
found I could not say my prayers. Then I remembered how
Jesus said we must forgive or we should not be forgiven. So
I forgave him with all my heart, and kindly, too, and then I
found I could pray."

The father stretched out his arms and drew her to his
bosom, murmuring, "My child ! my Christ's child !" After
a little he began to talk again.

"It is a miserable thing to hear those who desire to believe
themselves Christians, talking and talking about this question
and that, the discussion of which is all for strife and nowise
for unity — not a thought among them of the one command of
Christ, to love one another. I fear some are hardly content
with not hating those who differ from them."

"I am sure, father, I try — and I think 1 do love everybody
that loves him," said Mary.

" Well, that is much — not enough though, my child. We
must be like Jesus, and you know that it was while we were
yet sinners that Christ died for us ; therefore we must love all
men, whether they are Christians or not."


" Tell me, then, wlnit you want me to do, father dear. I
will do whatever you tell me.''

*'I want you to be just like that to tlie Lord Clirist, Mary.
I want you to look out for his will, and find it, and do it. I
want you not only to do it, though that is the main thing,
when you think of it, but to look for it, that you may do it.
I need not say to you that this is not a thing to be talked
about much, for you don't do that. You may think me very
silent, my love ; but I do not talk always when I am inclined,
for the fear I might let my feeling out that way, instead of
doing something he wants of me with it. And how repulsive
and full of offense those generally are who talk most ! Our
strength ought to go into conduct, not into talk — least of all,
into talk about what they call tlie doctrines of tlie gospel. The
man who does what God tells him, sits at his Fathcr^s feet, and
looks up in liis Father's face ; and men had better leave him
alone, for he can not greatly mistake his Father, and certainly
will not displease liim. Look for the lovely will, my cliild,
that you may be its servant, its priest, its sister, its (pieen, its
slave — as Paul calls himself. How that man did glory in his
Master ! ''

'* I will try, father," returned Mary, witli a burst of tears.
*' T do want to be good. I do want to be one of his slaves, if I

'' Mdij ! my child ? . You are bound to be. You have no
choice but choose it. It is what we are jnado for — freedom,
the divine nature, (Jod's life, a grand, pure, open-eyed exist-
ence ! It is what Christ died for. You must not talk about
mail ; ^^ ^"^ '^^' niusl.''

Mary had never heard her father talk like this, and, not-
withstanding the endless interest of his words, it frightened
her. An instinctive uneasiness crept up and laid hold of her.
The unsealing hand of Death was opening the mouth of a dumb

A pause followed, and he spoke again.

" I will tell you one thing now that Jesus says : he is un-
changeable ; what he says once ho says always ; and I mention
it now, because it may not be long before you are specially


called to mind it. It is this : ' Let not your heart he trou-

"But lie said that on one particular occasion, and to his
disciples — did he not ? " said Mary, willing, in her dread, to
give the conversation a turn.

"Ah, Mary !" said her father, with a smile, '^ivill you let
the questioning spirit deafen you to the teaching one ? Ask
yourself, the first time you are alone, what the disciples were
not to be troubled about, and why they were not to be trou-
bled about it. — I am tired, and should like to go to bed."

He rose, and stood for a moment in front of the fire, wind-
ing his old double-cased silver watch. Mary took from her
side the little gold one he had given her, and, as was her cus-
tom, handed it to him to wind for her. The next moment he
had dropped it on the fender.

"Ah, my child !" he cried, and, stooping, gathered up a
dying thing, whose watchfulness was all over. The glass was
broken ; the case was open ; it lay in his hand a mangled crea-
ture. Mary heard the rush of its departing life, as the wheels
went whirring, and the hands circled rapidly.

They stopped motionless. She looked up in her father's
face with a smile. He was looking concerned.

"I am very sorry, Mary," he said ; "but, if it is past re-
pair, I will get you another. — You don't seem to mind it
much ! " he added, and smiled himself.

"Why should I, father dear ?" she replied. "When one's
father breaks one's watch, what is there to say but ^ I am very
glad it was you did it ' ? I shall like the little thing the better
for it."

He kissed her on the forehead.

"My child, say that to your Father in heaven, when he
breaks something for you. He will do it from love, not from
blundering. I don't often preach to you, my child — do I ? but
somehow it comes to me to-night. "

"I will remember, father," said Mary; and she did re-

She went with him to his bedroom, and saw that every-
thing was right for him. When she went again, before going


to her own, he felt more comfortable, he "s^id/and expf;C.ed'to
have a good niglit. Relieved, she left him'; out her heart
would be heavy. A shapeless sadness sef-ine^d prossm^ it 'down ;
it was being got ready for what it had to bear.

When she went to his room in the middle of the night, she
found him slumbering peacefully, and went back to her own
and slept better. When slie went again in the morning, he lay
white, motionless, and without a breatli.

It was not in Mary's nature to give sudden vent to her feel-
ings. For a time slie was stunned. As if her life had rushed
to overtake her departing parent, and beg a last embrace, she
stood gazing motionless. The sorrow was too huge for en-
trance. The thing could not be ! Not until she stooped and
kissed tlie pale face, did tlie stone in her bosom break, and
yield a torrent of grief. But, although she had left her father
in that very spot the night before, already she not only knew
but felt that was not he which lay where she had left him. lie
was gone, and she was alone. She tried to l>ray, but her heart
seemed to lie dead in her bosom, and no j)rayer would rise
from it. It was the time of all times when, if ever, prayer
must be the one reasonable thing — and j)ray she couM not.
In her dull stupor she did not hear I3eenie\s knock. The old
woman entered, and found her on her knees, with her forehead
on one of the dead hands, while the white face of her master
lay looking up to heaven, as if praying for the living not yet
ju'ivileged to die. Then first was the peace of death broken.
IJoenie gave a loud cry, and turned and ran, as if to warn the
neighbors that Death was loose in the town. Thereupon, as if
Death were a wild beast yet lurking in it, the house was filled
with noise and tumult ; the sanctuary of the dead was invaded
by unhallowed presence ; and the poor girl, hearing behind her
voices she did not love, raised herself from her knees, and, with-
out lifting her eyes, crept from the room and away to her own.

'•Follow her, George," said his father, in a loud, eager
whisper. ^' You've got to comfort her now. That's your busi-
ness, George. There's your chance I "

The last words he called from the bottom of the stair, as
George sped up after her.


"'J'iM^iiry ! Maryjj^-'cleaif/' lie called as he ran.

. 3ut Mar;^ had the instinct — it was hardly more — to quicken
he^ pa^iey&nd'lock t^e-doc»r;of her room the moment she entered.
As she tnrned from it, her eye fell upon her watch — where it
lay, silent and disfigured, on her dressing-table ; and, with
the sight, the last words of her father came back to her. She
fell again on her knees with a fresh burst of weeping, and, while
the foolish youth was knocking unheard at her door, cried,
with a strange mixture of agony and comfort, *^0 my Father
in heaven, give me back William Marston ! '' Never in his life
had she thought of her father by his name ; but death, while
it made him dearer than ever, set him away from her so, that
she began to see him in his larger individuality, as a man be-
fore the God of men, a son before the Father of many sons :
Death turns a man's sons and daughters into his brothers and
sisters. And while she kneeled, and, with exhausted heart,
let her bi*ain go on working of itself, as it seemed, came a
dreamy vision of the Saviour with his disciples about him,
reasoning with them that they should not give way to grief.
'^Let not your heart be troubled," he seemed to be saying,
"although I die, and go out of your sight. It is all well.
Take my word for it. "

She rose, wiped her eyes, looked up, said, "I will try,
Lord," and, going down, called Becnie, and sent her to ask Mr.
Turnbull to speak with her. She knew her father's ideas, and
must do her endeavor to have the funeral as simple as possible.
It was a relief to have something, anything, to do in his name.

Mr. Turnbull came, and the coarse man was kind. It went
not a little against the grain with him to order what he called
a pauper's funeral for the junior partner in the firm ; but, more
desirous than ever to conciliate Mary, he promised all that she

"'^Marston was but a poor-spirited fellow," he said to his
wife when he told her ; "tlie thing is a disgrace to the shop,
but it's fit enough for him. — It will be so much money saved,"
he added in self-consolation, while his v/if e turned up her nose,
as she always did at any mention of the shop.

Mary returned to her father's room, now silent again with


the air of that which is not. She took from the table the old
silver watch. It went on measuring the time by a scale now
useless to its owner. She placed it lovingly in her bosom, and
sat down by the bedside. Already, through love, sorrow, and
obedience, she began to find herself drawing nearer to him than
she had ever been before ; already she was able to recall his last
words, and strengthen her resolve to keep them. And, sitting
thus, holding vague companionship with the merely mortal,
tlie presence of that which was not her father, which was like
him only to remind her tliat it was not he, and which must so
soon cease to resemble him, there sprang, as in the very foot-
])rint of Death, yet another flower of rarest comfort — a strong
feeling, namely, of the briefness of time, and tlie certainty of
the messenger's return to fetch herself. Her soul did not sink
into peace, but a strange peace awoke in her spirit. She heard
tlie spring of the great clock that measures tlie years rushing
rapidly down with a feverous whir, and saw the hands that
measure the weeks and months careering around its face ;
while Death, like one of the white-robed angels in the tomb of
the Lord, sat watching, with ]iatient smile, for the hour when
he should be wanted to go for her. Thus mingled her broken
watch, her father's death, and Jean Paul's dream ; and tho
fancy might well comfort her.

I will not linger much more over the crumbling time. It
is good for those who are in it, specially good for those who
come out of it chastened and resolved ; but I doubt if any pro-
longed contem})lation of death is desirable for those whoso
business it now is to live, and whose fate it is ere long to die.
It is a closing of God's hand upon us to squeeze some of the
bad blood out of us, and, when it relaxes, we must live the more
diligently — not to get ready for death, but to get more life. I
will relate only one thing yet, belonging to this twilight time.



M A E T ' S D E E A j\r.

That night, and every night until the dust was laid to the
dust, Mary slept well ; and through the days she had great
composure ; but, when the funeral was oyer, came a collapse
and a change. The moment it became necessary to look on
the world as unchanged, and resume former relations with it,
then, first, a fuller sense of her lonely desolation declared itself.
When she said good night to Beenie, and went to her chamber,
over that where the loved parent and friend would fall asleep
no more, she felt as if she went walking along to her tomb.

That night was the first herald of the coming winter, and
blew a cold blast from his horn. All day the wind had been
out. Wildly in the churchyard it had pulled at the long grass,
as if it would tear it from its roots in the graves ; it had struck
vague sounds, as from a hollow world, out of the great bell
overhead in the huge tower ; and it had beat loud and fierce
against the corner-buttresses which went stretching up out of
the earth, like arms to hold steady and fast the lightliouse of
the dead above the sea which held them drowned below; de-
spairingly had the gray clouds drifted over the sky ; and, like
white clouds pinioned below, and shadows that could not
escape, the surplice of the ministering priest and the garments
of the mourners had flapped and fluttered as in captive terror ;
the only still things were the coffin and the church — and the
soul which had risen above the region of storms in the might
of Him who abolished death. At the time Mary had noted
nothing of these things ; now she saw them all, as for the first
time, in minute detail, while slowly she went up the stair and
through the narrowed ways, and heard tlie same wind that
raved alike about the new grave and tlie old house, into which
latter, for all the bales banked against tlie walls, it found many
a chink of entrance. The smell of the linen, of the blue cloth,
and of the brown paper — things no longer to be handled by
those tender, faithful hands — was dismal and strange, and


haunted her like things that intruded, things which she liad
done with, and which yet would not go away. Everything had
gone dead, as it seemed, had exhaled the soul of it, and re-
tained but the odor of its mortality. If for a moment a thing
looked the same as before, she wondered vaguely, unconscious-
ly, how it could be. The passages througli the merchandise,
left only wide enough for one, seemed like those she had read
of in Egyptian tombs and pyramids : a sarcophagus ought to be
waiting in her chamber. When she opened the door of it, the
bright fire, which Beenie undesired had kindled there, startled
her : tlie room looked unnatural, nnccninijy because it was
cheerful. She stood for a moment on the hearth, and in sad,
dreamy mood listened to the howling swoops of tlie wind, mak-
ing the house quiver and shake. Xow and then would come a
greater gust, and rattle tlie window as if in fierce anger at its
cxchision, then go shrieking aiul wailing through tlie dark
heaven. Mechanically she took her New Testament, and, seat-
ing herself in a low chair by the fire, tried to read ; but she
could not lix lier thoughts, or get the moaning of a sentence :
when she had read it, there it lay. looking at Iut just the same,
like an unanswered riddle.

The region of the senses is the unbelieving part of the hu-
man soul ; and out of that now began to rise fumes of doubt

Online LibraryGeorge MacDonaldMary Marston. A novel → online text (page 9 of 40)