AUTHOR OF "ANNALS OF A QUIET NEIGHBORHOOD," "ROBERT FALCONER," ETC., ETC.
I.-THE SHOP II.-CUSTOMERS III.-THE ARBOR AT THORNWICK IV.-GODFREY WARDOUR V.-GODFREY AND LETTY VI.-TOM HELMER VII.-DURNMELLING VIII.-THE OAK IX.-CONFUSION X.-THE HEATH AND THE HUT XI.-WILLIAM MARSTON XII.-MARY'S DREAM XIII.-THE HUMAN SACRIFICE XIV.-UNGENEROUS BENEVOLENCE XV.-THE MOONLIGHT XVI.-THE MORNING XVII.-THE RESULT XVIII.-MARY AND GODFREY XIX.-MARY IN THE SHOP XX.-THE WEDDING-DRESS XXI.-MR. REDMAIN XXII.-MRS. REDMAIN XXIII.-THE MENIAL XXIV.-MRS. REDMAIN'S DRAWING-ROOM XXV.-MARY'S RECEPTION XXVI.-HER POSITION XXVII.-MR. AND MRS. HELMER XXVIII.-MARY AND LETTY XXIX.-THE EVENING STAR XXX.-A SCOLDING XXXI.-SEPIA XXXII.-HONOR XXXIII.-TUB INVITATION XXXIV.-A STRAY SOUND XXXV.-THE MUSICIAN XXXVI.-A CHANGE XXXVII.-LYDGATE STREET XXXVIII.-GODFREY AND LETTY XXXIX.-RELIEF XL.-GODFREY AND SEPIA XLI-THE HELPER XLII-THE LEPER XLIII.-MARY AND MR. REDMAIN XLIV.-JOSEPH JASPER XLV.-THE SAPPHIRE XLVL-REPARATION XLVII.-ANOTHER CHANGE XLVIIL-DISSOLUTION XLIX.-THORNWICK L.-WILLIAM AND MARY MARSTON LI.-A HARD TASK LII.-A SUMMONS LIII.-A FRIEND IN NEED LIV.-THE NEXT NIGHT LV.-DISAPPEARANCE LVI.-A CATASTROPHE LVII.-THE END OF THE BEGINNING
It was an evening early in May. The sun was low, and the street was mottled with the shadows of its paving-stones—smooth enough, but far from evenly set. The sky was clear, except for a few clouds in the west, hardly visible in the dazzle of the huge light, which lay among them like a liquid that had broken its vessel, and was pouring over the fragments. The street was almost empty, and the air was chill. The spring was busy, and the summer was at hand; but the wind was blowing from the north.
The street was not a common one; there was interest, that is feature, in the shadowy front of almost each of its old houses. Not a few of them wore, indeed, something like a human expression, the look of having both known and suffered. From many a porch, and many a latticed oriel, a long shadow stretched eastward, like a death flag streaming in a wind unfelt of the body—or a fluttering leaf, ready to yield, and flit away, and add one more to the mound of blackness gathering on the horizon's edge. It was the main street of an old country town, dwindled by the rise of larger and more prosperous places, but holding and exercising a charm none of them would ever gain.
Some of the oldest of its houses, most of them with more than one projecting story, stood about the middle of the street. The central and oldest of these was a draper's shop. The windows of the ground-floor encroached a little on the pavement, to which they descended very close, for the floor of the shop was lower than the street. But, although they had glass on three oriel sides, they were little used for the advertising of the stores within. A few ribbons and gay handkerchiefs, mostly of cotton, for the eyes of the country people on market-days, formed the chief part of their humble show. The door was wide and very low, the upper half of it of glass—old, and bottle-colored; and its threshold was a deep step down into the shop. As a place for purchases it might not to some eyes look promising, but both the ladies and the housekeepers of Testbridge knew that rarely could they do better in London itself than at the shop of Turnbull and Marston, whether variety, quality, or price, was the point in consideration. And, whatever the first impression concerning it, the moment the eyes of a stranger began to grow accustomed to its gloom, the evident size and plenitude of the shop might well suggest a large hope. It was low, indeed, and the walls could therefore accommodate few shelves; but the ceiling was therefore so near as to be itself available for stowage by means of well- contrived slides and shelves attached to the great beams crossing it in several directions. During the shop-day, many an article, light as lace, and heavy as broadcloth, was taken from overhead to lay upon the counter. The shop had a special reputation for all kinds of linen goods, from cambric handkerchiefs to towels, and from table-napkins to sheets; but almost everything was to be found in it, from Manchester moleskins for the navy's trousers, to Genoa velvet for the dowager's gown, and from Horrocks's prints to Lyons silks. It had been enlarged at the back, by building beyond the original plan, and that part of it was a little higher, and a little better lighted than the front; but the whole place was still dark enough to have awaked the envy of any swindling London shopkeeper. Its owners, however, had so long enjoyed the confidence of the neighborhood, that faith readily took the place of sight with their customers—so far at least as quality was concerned; and seldom, except in a question of color or shade, was an article carried to the door to be confronted with the day. It had been just such a shop, untouched of even legendary change, as far back as the memory of the sexton reached; and he, because of his age and his occupation, was the chief authority in the local history of the place.
As, on this evening, there were few people in the street, so were there few in the shop, and it was on the point of being closed: they were not particular there to a good many minutes either way. Behind the counter, on the left hand, stood a youth of about twenty, young George Turnbull, the son of the principal partner, occupied in leisurely folding and putting aside a number of things he had been showing to a farmer's wife, who was just gone. He was an ordinary-looking lad, with little more than business in his high forehead, fresh-colored, good-humored, self-satisfied cheeks, and keen hazel eyes. These last kept wandering from his not very pressing occupation to the other side of the shop, where stood, behind the opposing counter, a young woman, in attendance upon the wants of a well-dressed youth in front of it, who had just made choice of a pair of driving-gloves. His air and carriage were conventionally those of a gentleman—a gentleman, however, more than ordinarily desirous of pleasing a young woman behind a counter. She answered him with politeness, and even friendliness, nor seemed aware of anything unusual in his attentions.
"They're splendid gloves," he said, making talk; "but don't you think it a great price for a pair of gloves, Miss Marston?"
"It is a good deal of money," she answered, in a sweet, quiet voice, whose very tone suggested simplicity and straightforwardness; "but they will last you a long time. Just look at the work, Mr. Helmer. You see how they are made? It is much more difficult to stitch them like that, one edge over the other, than to sew the two edges together, as they do with ladies' gloves. But I'll just ask my father whether he marked them himself."
"He did mark those, I know," said young Turnbull, who had been listening to all that went on, "for I heard my father say they ought to be sixpence more."
"Ah, then!" she returned, assentingly, and laid the gloves on the box before her, the question settled.
Helmer took them, and began to put them on.
"They certainly are the only glove where there is much handling of reins," he said.
"That is what Mr. Wardour says of them," rejoined Miss Marston.
"By the by," said Helmer, lowering his voice, "when did you see anybody from Thornwick?"
"Their old man was in the town yesterday with the dog-cart."
"Nobody with him?"
"Miss Letty. She came in for just two minutes or so."
"How was she looking?"
"Very well," answered Miss Marston, with what to Helmer seemed indifference.
"Ah!" he said, with a look of knowingness, "you girls don't see each other with the same eyes as we. I grant Letty is not very tall, and I grant she has not much of a complexion; but where did you ever see such eyes?"
"You must excuse me, Mr. Helmer," returned Mary, with a smile, "if I don't choose to discuss Letty's merits with you; she is my friend."
"Where would be the harm?" rejoined Helmer, looking puzzled. "I am not likely to say anything against her. You know perfectly well I admire her beyond any woman in the world. I don't care who knows it."
"Your mother?" suggested Mary, in the tone of one who makes a venture.
"Ah, come now, Miss Marston! Don't you turn my mother loose upon me. I shall be of age in a few months, and then my mother may— think as she pleases. I know, of course, with her notions, she would never consent to my making love to Letty—"
"I should think not!" exclaimed Mary. "Who ever thought of such an absurdity? Not you, surely, Mr. Helmer? What would your mother say to hear you? I mention her in earnest now."
"Let mothers mind their own business!" retorted the youth angrily. "I shall mind mine. My mother ought to know that by this time."
Mary said no more. She knew Mrs. Helmer was not a mother to deserve her boy's confidence, any more than to gain it; for she treated him as if she had made him, and was not satisfied with her work.
"When are you going to see Letty, Miss Marston?" resumed Helmer, after a brief pause of angry feeling.
"Next Sunday evening probably."
"Take me with you."
"Take you with me! What are you dreaming of, Mr. Helmer?"
"I would give my bay mare for a good talk with Letty Lovel," he returned.
Mary made no reply.
"You won't?" he said petulantly, after a vain pause of expectation.
"Won't what?" rejoined Miss Marston, as if she could not believe him in earnest.
"Take me with you on Sunday?"
"No," she answered quietly, but with sober decision.
"Where would be the harm?" pleaded the youth, in a tone mingled of expostulation, entreaty, and mortification.
"One is not bound to do everything there would be no harm in doing," answered Miss Marston. "Besides, Mr. Helmer, I don't choose to go out walking with you of a Sunday evening."
"For one thing, your mother would not like it. You know she would not."
"Never mind my mother. She's nothing to you. She can't bite you. —Ask the dentist. Come, come! that's all nonsense. I shall be at the stile beyond the turnpike-gate all the afternoon—waiting till you come."
"The moment I see you—anywhere upon the road—that moment I shall turn back.—Do you think," she added with half-amused indignation, "I would put up with having all the gossips of Testbridge talk of my going out on a Sunday evening with a boy like you?"
Tom Helmer's face flushed. He caught up the gloves, threw the price of them on the counter, and walked from the shop, without even a good night.
"Hullo!" cried George Turnbull, vaulting over the counter, and taking the place Helmer had just left opposite Mary; "what did you say to the fellow to send him off like that? If you do hate the business, you needn't scare the customers, Mary."
"I don't hate the business, you know quite well, George. And if I did scare a customer," she added, laughing, as she dropped the money in the till, "it was not before he had done buying."
"That may be; but we must look to to-morrow as well as to-day. When is Mr. Helmer likely to come near us again, after such a wipe as you must have given him to make him go off like that?"
"Just to-morrow, George, I fancy," answered Mary. "He won't be able to bear the thought of having left a bad impression on me, and so he'll come again to remove it. After all, there's something about him I can't help liking. I said nothing that ought to have put him out of temper like that, though; I only called him a boy."
"Let me tell you, Mary, you could not have called him a worse name."
"Why, what else is he?"
"A more offensive word a man could not hear from the lips of a woman," said George loftily.
"A man, I dare say! But Mr. Helmer can't be nineteen yet."
"How can you say so, when he told you himself he would be of age in a few months? The fellow is older than I am. You'll be calling me a boy next."
"What else are you? You at least are not one-and-twenty."
"And how old do you call yourself, pray, miss?"
"Three-and-twenty last birthday."
"A mighty difference indeed!"
"Not much—only all the difference, it seems, between sense and absurdity, George."
"That may be all very true of a fine gentleman, like Helmer, that does nothing from morning to night but run away from his mother; but you don't think it applies to me, Mary, I hope!"
"That's as you behave yourself, George. If you do not make it apply, it won't apply of itself. But if young women had not more sense than most of the young men I see in the shop—on both sides of the counter, George—things would soon be at a fine pass. Nothing better in your head than in a peacock's!—only that a peacock has the fine feathers he's so proud of."
"If it were Mr. Wardour now, Mary, that was spreading his tail for you to see, you would not complain of that peacock!"
A vivid rose blossomed instantly in Mary's cheek. Mr. Wardour was not even an acquaintance of hers. He was cousin and friend to Letty Lovel, indeed, but she had never spoken to him, except in the shop.
"It would not be quite out of place if you were to learn a little respect for your superiors, George," she returned. "Mr. Wardour is not to be thought of in the same moment with the young men that were in my mind. Mr. Wardour is not a young man; and he is a gentleman."
She took the glove-box, and turning placed it on a shelf behind her.
"Just so!" remarked George, bitterly. "Any man you don't choose to count a gentleman, you look down upon! What have you got to do with gentlemen, I should like to know?"
"To admire one when I see him," answered Mary. "Why shouldn't I? It is very seldom, and it does me good."
"Oh, yes!" rejoined George, contemptuously. "You call yourself a lady, but—"
"I do nothing of the kind," interrupted Mary, sharply. "I should like to be a lady; and inside of me, please God, I will be a lady; but I leave it to other people to call me this or that. It matters little what any one is called."
"All right," returned George, a little cowed; "I don't mean to contradict you. Only just tell me why a well-to-do tradesman shouldn't be a gentleman as well as a small yeoman like Wardour."
"Why don't you say—as well as a squire, or an earl, or a duke?" said Mary.
"There you are, chaffing me again! It's hard enough to have every fool of a lawyer's clerk, or a doctor's boy, looking down upon a fellow, and calling him a counter-jumper; but, upon my soul, it's too bad when a girl in the same shop hasn't a civil word for him, because he isn't what she counts a gentleman! Isn't my father a gentleman? Answer me that, Mary."
It was one of George's few good things that he had a great opinion of his father, though the grounds of it were hardly such as to enable Mary to answer his appeal in a way he would have counted satisfactory. She thought of her own father, and was silent.
"Everything depends on what a man is in himself, George," she answered. "Mr. Wardour would be a gentleman all the same if he were a shopkeeper or a blacksmith."
"And shouldn't I be as good a gentleman as Mr. Wardour, if I had been born with an old tumble-down house on my back, and a few acres of land I could do with as I liked? Come, answer me that."
"If it be the house and the land that makes the difference, you would, of course," answered Mary.
Her tone implied, even to George's rough perceptions, that there was a good deal more of a difference between them than therein lay. But common people, whether lords or shopkeepers, are slow to understand that possession, whether in the shape of birth, or lands, or money, or intellect, is a small affair in the difference between men.
"I know you don't think me fit to hold a candle to him," he said. "But I happen to know, for all he rides such a good horse, he's not above doing the work of a wretched menial, for he polishes his own stirrup-irons."
"I'm very glad to hear it," rejoined Mary. "He must be more of a gentleman yet than I thought him."
"Then why should you count him a better gentleman than me?"
"I'm afraid for one thing, you would go with your stirrup-irons rusty, rather than clean them yourself, George. But I will tell you one thing Mr. Wardour would not do if he were a shopkeeper: he would not, like you, talk one way to the rich, and another way to the poor—all submission and politeness to the one, and familiarity, even to rudeness, with the other! If you go on like that, you'll never come within sight of being a gentleman, George—not if you live to the age of Methuselah."
"Thank you, Miss Mary! It's a fine thing to have a lady in the shop! Shouldn't I just like my father to hear you! I'm blowed if I know how a fellow is to get on with you! Certain sure I am that it ain't my fault if we're not friends."
Mary made no reply. She could not help understanding what George meant, and she flushed, with honest anger, from brow to chin. But, while her dark-blue eyes flamed with indignation, her anger was not such as to render her face less pleasant to look upon. There are as many kinds of anger as there are of the sunsets with which they ought to end: Mary's anger had no hate in it.
I must now hope my readers sufficiently interested in my narrative to care that I should tell them something of what she was like. Plainly as I see her, I can not do more for them than that. I can not give a portrait of her; I can but cast her shadow on my page. It was a dainty half-length, neither tall nor short, in a plain, well-fitting dress of black silk, with linen collar and cuffs, that rose above the counter, standing, in spite of displeasure, calm and motionless. Her hair was dark, and dressed in the simplest manner, without even a reminder of the hideous occipital structure then in favor—especially with shop women, who in general choose for imitation and exorbitant development whatever is ugliest and least lady-like in the fashion of the hour. It had a natural wave in it, which broke the too straight lines it would otherwise have made across a forehead of sweet and composing proportions. Her features were regular—her nose straight—perhaps a little thin; the curve of her upper lip carefully drawn, as if with design to express a certain firmness of modesty; and her chin well shaped, perhaps a little too sharply defined for her years, and rather large. Everything about her suggested the repose of order satisfied, of unconstrained obedience to the laws of harmonious relation. The only fault honest criticism could have suggested, merely suggested, was the presence of just a possible nuance of primness. Her boots, at this moment unseen of any, fitted her feet, as her feet fitted her body. Her hands were especially good. There are not many ladies, interested in their own graces, who would not have envied her such seals to her natural patent of ladyhood. Her speech and manners corresponded with her person and dress; they were direct and simple, in tone and inflection, those of one at peace with herself. Neatness was more notable in her than grace, but grace was not absent; good breeding was more evident than delicacy, yet delicacy was there; and unity was plain throughout.
George went back to his own side of the shop, jumped the counter, put the cover on the box he had left open with a bang, and shoved it into its place as if it had been the backboard of a cart, shouting as he did so to a boy invisible, to make haste and put up the shutters. Mary left the shop by a door on the inside of the counter, for she and her father lived in the house; and, as soon as the shop was closed, George went home to the villa his father had built in the suburbs.
The next day was Saturday, a busy one at the shop. From the neighboring villages and farms came customers not a few; and ladies, from the country-seats around, began to arrive as the hours went on. The whole strength of the establishment was early called out. Busiest in serving was the senior partner, Mr. Turnbull. He was a stout, florid man, with a bald crown, a heavy watch-chain of the best gold festooned across the wide space between waistcoat-button-hole and pocket, and a large hemispheroidal carbuncle on a huge fat finger, which yet was his little one. He was close-shaved, double-chinned, and had cultivated an ordinary smile to such an extraordinary degree that, to use the common hyperbole, it reached from ear to ear. By nature he was good-tempered and genial; but, having devoted every mental as well as physical endowment to the making of money, what few drops of spiritual water were in him had to go with the rest to the turning of the mill-wheel that ground the universe into coin. In his own eyes he was a strong churchman, but the only sign of it visible to others was the strength of his contempt for dissenters—which, however, excepting his partner and Mary, he showed only to church-people; a dissenter's money being, as he often remarked, when once in his till, as good as the best churchman's.
To the receptive eye he was a sight not soon to be forgotten, as he bent over a piece of goods outspread before a customer, one hand resting on the stuff, the other on the yard-measure, his chest as nearly touching the counter as the protesting adjacent parts would permit, his broad smooth face turned up at right angles, and his mouth, eloquent even to solemnity on the merits of the article, now hiding, now disclosing a gulf of white teeth. No sooner was anything admitted into stock, than he bent his soul to the selling of it, doing everything that could be done, saying everything he could think of saying, short of plain lying as to its quality: that he was not guilty of. To buy well was a care to him, to sell well was a greater, but to make money, and that as speedily as possible, was his greatest care, and his whole ambition.
John Turnbull in his gig, as he drove along the road to the town, and through the street approached his shop-door, showed to the chance observer a man who knew himself of importance, a man who might have a soul somewhere inside that broad waistcoat; as he drew up, threw the reins to his stable-boy, and descended upon the pavement—as he stepped down into the shop even, he looked a being in whom son or daughter or friend might feel some honest pride; but, the moment he was behind the counter and in front of a customer, he changed to a creature whose appearance and carriage were painfully contemptible to any beholder who loved his kind; he had lost the upright bearing of a man, and cringed like an ape. But I fear it was thus he had gained a portion at least of his favor with the country-folk, many of whom much preferred his ministrations to those of his partner. A glance, indeed, from the one to the other, was enough to reveal which must be the better salesman—and to some eyes which the better man.
In the narrow walk of his commerce—behind the counter, I mean— Mr. Marston stood up tall and straight, lank and lean, seldom bending more than his long neck in the direction of the counter, but doing everything needful upon it notwithstanding, from the unusual length of his arms and his bony hands. His forehead was high and narrow, his face pale and thin, his hair long and thin, his nose aquiline and thin, his eyes large, his mouth and chin small. He seldom spoke a syllable more than was needful, but his words breathed calm respect to every customer. His conversation with one was commonly all but over as he laid something for approval or rejection on the counter: he had already taken every pains to learn the precise nature of the necessity or desire; and what he then offered he submitted without comment; if the thing was not judged satisfactory, he removed it and brought another. Many did not like this mode of service; they would be helped to buy; unequal to the task of making up their minds, they welcomed any aid toward it; and therefore preferred Mr. Turnbull, who gave them every imaginable and unimaginable assistance, groveling before them like a man whose many gods came to him one after the other to be worshiped; while Mr. Marston, the moment the thing he presented was on the counter, shot straight up like a poplar in a sudden calm, his visage bearing witness that his thought was already far away—in heavenly places with his wife, or hovering like a perplexed bee over some difficult passage in the New Testament; Mary could have told which, for she knew the meaning of every shadow that passed or lingered on his countenance.
His partner and his like-minded son despised him, as a matter of course; his unbusiness-like habits, as they counted them, were the constantly recurring theme of their scorn; and some of these would doubtless have brought him the disapprobation of many a business man of a moral development beyond that of Turnbull; but Mary saw nothing in them which did not stamp her father the superior of all other men she knew.
To mention one thing, which may serve as typical of the man: he not unfrequently sold things under the price marked by his partner. Against this breach of fealty to the firm Turnbull never ceased to level his biggest guns of indignation and remonstrance, though always without effect. He even lowered himself in his own eyes so far as to quote Scripture like a canting dissenter, and remind his partner of what came to a house divided against itself. He did not see that the best thing for some houses must be to come to pieces. "Well, but, Mr. Turnbull, I thought it was marked too high," was the other's invariable answer. "William, you are a fool," his partner would rejoin for the hundredth time. "Will you never understand that, if we get a little more than the customary profit upon one thing, we get less upon another? You must make the thing even, or come to the workhouse." Thereto, for the hundredth time also, William Marston would reply: "That might hold, I daresay, Mr. Turnbull—I am not sure—if every customer always bought an article of each of the two sorts together; but I can't make it straight with my conscience that one customer should pay too much because I let another pay too little. Besides, I am not at all sure that the general scale of profit is not set too high. I fear you and I will have to part, Mr. Turnbull." But nothing was further from Turnbull's desire than that he and Marston should part; he could not keep the business going without his money, not to mention that he never doubted Marston would straightway open another shop, and, even if he did not undersell him, take from him all his dissenting customers; for the junior partner was deacon of a small Baptist church in the town—a fact which, although like vinegar to the teeth and smoke to the eyes of John Turnbull in his villa, was invaluable in the eyes of John Turnbull behind his counter.
Whether William Marston was right or wrong in his ideas about the rite of baptism—probably he was both—he was certainly right in his relation to that which alone makes it of any value—that, namely, which it signifies; buried with his Master, he had died to selfishness, greed, and trust in the secondary; died to evil, and risen to good—a new creature. He was just as much a Christian in his shop as in the chapel, in his bedroom as at the prayer-meeting.
But the world was not now much temptation to him, and, to tell the truth, he was getting a good deal tired of the shop. He had to remind himself, oftener and oftener, that in the mean time it was the work given him to do, and to take more and more frequently the strengthening cordial of a glance across the shop at his daughter. Such a glance passed through the dusky place like summer lightning through a heavy atmosphere, and came to Mary like a glad prophecy; for it told of a world within and beyond the world, a region of love and faith, where struggled no antagonistic desires, no counteracting aims, but unity was the visible garment of truth.
The question may well suggest itself to my reader—How could such a man be so unequally yoked with such another as Turnbull?—To this I reply that Marston's greatness had yet a certain repressive power upon the man who despised him, so that he never uttered his worst thoughts or revealed his worst basenesses in his presence. Marston never thought of him as my reader must soon think—flattered himself, indeed, that poor John was gradually improving, coming to see things more and more as he would have him look on them. Add to this, that they had been in the business together almost from boyhood, and much will be explained.
An open carriage, with a pair of showy but ill-matched horses, looking unfit for country work on the one hand, as for Hyde Park on the other, drew up at the door; and a visible wave of interest ran from end to end of the shop, swaying as well those outside as those inside the counter, for the carriage was well known in Testbridge. It was that of Lady Margaret Mortimer; she did not herself like the Margaret, and signed only her second name Alice at full length, whence her friends generally called her to each other Lady Malice. She did not leave the carriage, but continued to recline motionless in it, at an angle of forty-five degrees, wrapped in furs, for the day was cloudy and cold, her pale handsome face looking inexpressibly more indifferent in its regard of earth and sky and the goings of men, than that of a corpse whose gaze is only on the inside of the coffin-lid. But the two ladies who were with her got down. One of them was her daughter, Hesper by name, who, from the dull, cloudy atmosphere that filled the doorway, entered the shop like a gleam of sunshine, dusky-golden, followed by a glowing shadow, in the person of her cousin, Miss Yolland.
Turnbull hurried to meet them, bowing profoundly, and looking very much like Issachar between the chairs he carried. But they turned aside to where Mary stood, and in a few minutes the counter was covered with various stuffs for some of the smaller articles of ladies' attire.
The customers were hard to please, for they wanted the best things at the price of inferior ones, and Mary noted that the desires of the cousin were farther reaching and more expensive than those of Miss Mortimer. But, though in this way hard to please, they were not therefore unpleasant to deal with; and from the moment she looked the latter in the face, whom she had not seen since she was a girl, Mary could hardly take her eyes off her. All at once it struck her how well the unusual, fantastic name her mother had given her suited her; and, as she gazed, the feeling grew.
Large, and grandly made, Hesper stood "straight, and steady, and tall," dusky-fair, and colorless, with the carriage of a young matron. Her brown hair seemed ever scathed and crinkled afresh by the ethereal flame that here and there peeped from amid the unwilling volute rolled back from her creamy forehead in a rebellious coronet. Her eyes were large and hazel; her nose cast gently upward, answering the carriage of her head; her mouth decidedly large, but so exquisite in drawing and finish that the loss of a centimetre of its length would to a lover have been as the loss of a kingdom; her chin a trifle large, and grandly lined; for a woman's, her throat was massive, and her arms and hands were powerful. Her expression was frank, almost brave, her eyes looking full at the person she addressed. As she gazed, a kind of love she had never felt before kept swelling in Mary's heart.
Her companion impressed her very differently.
Some men, and most women, counted Miss Yolland strangely ugly. But there were men who exceedingly admired her. Not very slight for her stature, and above the middle height, she looked small beside Hesper. Her skin was very dark, with a considerable touch of sallowness; her eyes, which were large and beautifully shaped, were as black as eyes could be, with light in the midst of their blackness, and more than a touch of hardness in the midst of their liquidity; her eyelashes were singularly long and black, and she seemed conscious of them every time they rose. She did not use her eyes habitually, but, when she did, the thrust was sudden and straight. I heard a man once say that a look from her was like a volley of small-arms. Like Hesper's, her mouth was large and good, with fine teeth; her chin projected a little too much; her hands were finer than Hesper's, but bony. Her name was Septimia; Lady Margaret called her Sepia, and the contraction seemed to so many suitable that it was ere long generally adopted. She was in mourning, with a little crape. To the first glance she seemed as unlike Hesper as she could well be; but, as she stood gently regarding the two, Mary, gradually, and to her astonishment, became indubitably aware of a singular likeness between them. Sepia, being a few years older, and in less flourishing condition, had her features sharper and finer, and by nature her complexion was darker by shades innumerable; but, if the one was the evening, the other was the night: Sepia was a diminished and overshadowed Hesper. Their manner, too, was similar, but Sepia's was the haughtier, and she had an occasional look of defiance, of which there appeared nothing in Hesper. When first she came to Durnmelling, Lady Malice had once alluded to the dependence of her position—but only once: there came a flash into rather than out of Sepia's eyes that made any repetition of the insult impossible and Lady Malice wish that she had left her a wanderer on the face of Europe.
Sepia was the daughter of a clergyman, an uncle of Lady Malice, whose sons had all gone to the bad, and whose daughters had all vanished from society. Shortly before the time at which my narrative begins, one of the latter, however, namely Sepia, the youngest, had reappeared, a fragment of the family wreck, floating over the gulf of its destruction. Nobody knew with any certainty where she had been in the interim: nobody at Durnmelling knew anything but what she chose to tell, and that was not much. She said she had been a governess in Austrian Poland and Russia. Lady Margaret had become reconciled to her presence, and Hesper attached to her.
Of the men who, as I have said, admired her, some felt a peculiar enchantment in what they called her ugliness; others declared her devilish handsome; and some shrank from her as if with an undefined dread of perilous entanglement, if she should but catch them looking her in the face. Among some of them she was known as Lucifer, in antithesis to Hesper: they meant the Lucifer of darkness, not the light-bringer of the morning.
The ladies, on their part, especially Hesper, were much pleased with Mary. The simplicity of her address and manner, the pains she took to find the exact thing she wanted, and the modest decision with which she answered any reference to her, made Hesper even like her. The most artificially educated of women is yet human, and capable of even more than liking a fellow-creature as such. When their purchases were ended, she took her leave with a kind smile, which went on glowing in Mary's heart long after she had vanished.
"Home, John," said Lady Margaret, the moment the two ladies were seated. "I hope you have got all you wanted. We shall be late for luncheon, I fear. I would not for worlds keep Mr. Redmain waiting.—A little faster, John, please."
Hesper's face darkened. Sepia eyed her fixedly, from under the mingling of ascended lashes and descended brows. The coachman pretended to obey, but the horses knew very well when he did and when he did not mean them to go, and took not a step to the minute more: John had regard to the splendid-looking black horse on the near side, which was weak in the wind, as well as on one fired pastern, and cared little for the anxiety of his mistress. To him, horses were the final peak of creation—or if not the horses, the coachman, whose they are—masters and mistresses the merest parasitical adjuncts. He got them home in good time for luncheon, notwithstanding—more to Lady Margaret's than Hesper's satisfaction.
Mr. Redmain was a bachelor of fifty, to whom Lady Margaret was endeavoring to make the family agreeable, in the hope he might take Hesper off their hands. I need not say he was rich. He was a common man, with good cold manners, which he offered you like a handle. He was selfish, capable of picking up a lady's handkerchief, but hardly a wife's. He was attentive to Hesper; but she scarcely concealed such a repugnance to him as some feel at sight of strange fishes—being at the same time afraid of him, which was not surprising, as she could hardly fail to perceive the fate intended for her.
"Ain't Miss Mortimer a stunner?" said George Turnbull to Mary, when the tide of customers had finally ebbed from the shop.
"I don't exactly know what you mean, George," answered Mary.
"Oh, of course, I know it ain't fair to ask any girl to admire another," said George. "But there's no offense to you, Mary. One young lady can't carry every merit on her back. She'd be too lovely to live, you know. Miss Mortimer ain't got your waist, nor she ain't got your 'ands, nor your 'air; and you ain't got her size, nor the sort of hair she 'as with her."
He looked up from the piece of leno he was smoothing out, and saw he was alone in the shop.
THE ARBOR AT THORNWICK.
The next day was Sunday at last, a day dear to all who do anything like their duty in the week, whether they go to church or not. For Mary, she went to the Baptist chapel; it was her custom, rendered holy by the companionship of her father. But this day it was with more than ordinary restlessness and lack of interest that she stood, knelt, and sat, through the routine of observance; for old Mr. Duppa was certainly duller than usual: how could it be otherwise, when he had been preparing to spend a mortal hour in descanting on the reasons which necessitated the separation of all true Baptists from all brother-believers? The narrow, high-souled little man—for a soul as well as a forehead can be both high and narrow—was dull that morning because he spoke out of his narrowness, and not out of his height; and Mary was better justified in feeling bored than even when George Turnbull plagued her with his vulgar attentions. When she got out at last, sedate as she was, she could hardly help skipping along the street by her father's side. Far better than chapel was their nice little cold dinner together, in their only sitting-room, redolent of the multifarious goods piled around it on all the rest of the floor. Greater yet was the following pleasure—of making her father lie down on the sofa, and reading him to sleep, after which she would doze a little herself, and dream a little, in the great chair that had been her grandmother's. Then they had their tea, and then her father always went to see the minister before chapel in the evening.
When he was gone, Mary would put on her pretty straw bonnet, and set out to visit Letty Lovel at Thornwick. Some of the church- members thought this habit of taking a walk, instead of going again to the chapel, very worldly, and did not scruple to let her know their opinion; but, so long as her father was satisfied with her, Mary did not care a straw for the world besides. She was too much occupied with obedience to trouble her head about opinion, either her own or other people's. Not until a question comes puzzling and troubling us so as to paralyze the energy of our obedience is there any necessity for its solution, or any probability of finding a real one. A thousand foolish doctrines may lie unquestioned in the mind, and never interfere with the growth or bliss of him who lives in active subordination of his life to the law of life: obedience will in time exorcise them, like many another worse devil.
It had drizzled all the morning from the clouds as well as from the pulpit, but, just as Mary stepped out of the kitchen-door, the sun stepped out of the last rain-cloud. She walked quickly from the town, eager for the fields and the trees, but in some dread of finding Tom Helmer at the stile; for he was such a fool, she said to herself, that there was no knowing what he might do, for all she had said; but he had thought better of it, and she was soon crossing meadows and cornfields in peace, by a path which, with many a winding, and many an up and down, was the nearest way to Thornwick.
The saints of old did well to pray God to lift on them the light of his countenance: has the Christian of the new time learned of his Master that the clouds and the sunshine come and go of themselves? If the sunshine fills the hearts of old men and babes and birds with gladness and praise, and God never meant it, then are they all idolaters, and have but a careless Father. Sweet earthy odors rose about Mary from the wet ground; the rain-drops glittered on the grass and corn-blades and hedgerows; a soft damp wind breathed rather than blew about the gaps and gates; with an upward springing, like that of a fountain momently gathering strength, the larks kept shooting aloft, there, like music- rockets, to explode in showers of glowing and sparkling song; while, all the time and over all, the sun as he went down kept shining in the might of his peace; and the heart of Mary praised her Father in heaven.
Where the narrow path ran westward for a little way, so that she could see nothing for the sun in her eyes, in the middle of a plowed field she would have run right against a gentleman, had he been as blind as she; but, his back being to the sun, he saw her perfectly, and stepped out of her way into the midst of a patch of stiff soil, where the rain was yet lying between the furrows. She saw him then, and as, lifting his hat, he stopped again upon the path, she recognized Mr. Wardour.
"Oh, your nice boots!" she cried, in the childlike distress of a simple soul discovering itself the cause of catastrophe, for his boots were smeared all over with yellow clay.
"It only serves me right," returned Mr. Wardour, with a laugh of amusement. "I oughtn't to have put on such thin ones at the first smile of summer."
Again he lifted his hat, and walked on.
Mary also pursued her path, genuinely though gently pained that one should have stepped up to the ankles in mud on her account. As I have already said, except in the shop she had never before spoken to Mr. Wardour, and, although he had so simply responded to her exclamation, he did not even know who she was.
The friendship which now drew Mary to Thornwick, Godfrey Wardour's place, was not one of long date. She and Letty Lovel had, it is true, known each other for years, but only quite of late had their acquaintance ripened into something better; and it was not without protestation on the part of Mrs. Wardour, Godfrey's mother, that she had seen the growth of an intimacy between the two young women. The society of a shopwoman, she often remarked, was far from suitable for one who, as the daughter of a professional man, might lay claim to the position of a gentlewoman. For Letty was the orphan daughter of a country surgeon, a cousin of Mrs. Wardour, for whom she had had a great liking while yet they were boy and girl together. At the same time, however much she would have her consider herself the superior of Mary Marston, she by no means treated her as her own equal, and Letty could not help being afraid of her aunt, as she called her.
The well-meaning woman was in fact possessed by two devils—the one the stiff-necked devil of pride, the other the condescending devil of benevolence. She was kind, but she must have credit for it; and Letty, although the child of a loved cousin, must not presume upon that, or forget that the wife and mother of long- descended proprietors of certain acres of land was greatly the superior of any man who lived by the exercise of the best- educated and most helpful profession. She counted herself a devout Christian, but her ideas of rank, at least—therefore certainly not a few others—were absolutely opposed to the Master's teaching: they who did least for others were her aristocracy.
Now, Letty was a simple, true-hearted girl, rather slow, who honestly tried to understand her aunt's position with regard to her friend. "Shop-girls," her aunt had said, "are not fitting company for you, Letty."
"I do not know any other shop-girls, aunt," Letty replied, with hidden trembling; "but, if they are not nice, then they are not like Mary. She's downright good; indeed she is, aunt!—a great deal, ever so much, better than I am."
"That may well be," answered Mrs. Wardour, "but it does not make a lady of her."
"I am sure," returned Letty, bewildered, "on Sundays you could not tell the difference between her and any other young lady."
"Any other well-dressed young woman, my dear, you should say. I believe shop-girls do call their companions young ladies, but that can not justify the application of the word. I am scarcely bound to speak of my cook as a lady because letters come addressed to her as Miss Tozer. If the word 'lady' should sink at last to common use, as in Italy every woman is Donna, we must find some other word to ex-press what used to be meant by it."
"Is Mrs. Cropper a lady, aunt?" asked Letty, after a pause, in which her brains, which were not half so muddled as she thought them, had been busy feeling after firm ground in the morass of social distinction thus opened under her.
"She is received as such," replied Mrs. Wardour, but with doubled stiffness, through which ran a tone of injury.
"Would you receive her, aunt, if she called upon you?"
"She has horses and servants, and everything a woman of the world can desire; but I should feel I was bowing the knee to Mammon were I to ask her to my house. Yet such is the respect paid to money in these degenerate days that many a one will court the society of a person like that, who would think me or your cousin Godfrey unworthy of notice, because we have no longer a tithe of the property the family once possessed."
The lady forgot there is a Rimmon as well as a Mammon.
"God knows," she went on, "how that woman's husband made his money! But that is a small matter nowadays, except to old- fashioned people like myself. Not how but how much, is all the question now," she concluded, flattering herself she had made a good point.
"Don't think me rude, please, aunt: I am really wishing to understand—but, if Mrs. Cropper is not a lady, how can Mary Marston not be one? She is as different from Mrs. Croppor as one woman can be from another."
"Because she has not the position in society," replied Mrs. Wardour, enveloping her nothing in flimsy reiteration and self- contradiction.
"And Mrs. Cropper has the position?" ventured Letty, with a little palpitation from fear of offending.
"Apparently so," answered Mrs. Wardour. But her inquiring pupil did not feel much enlightened. Letty had not the logic necessary to the thinking of the thing out; or to the discovery that, like most social difficulties, hers was merely one of the upper strata of a question whose foundation lies far too deep for what is called Society to perceive its very existence. And hence it is no wonder that Society, abetted by the Church, should go on from generation to generation talking murderous platitudes about it.
But, although such was her reasoning beforehand, heart had so far overcome habit and prejudice with Mrs. Wardour, that, convinced on the first interview of the high tone and good influence of Mary, she had gradually come to put herself in the way of seeing her as often as she came, ostensibly to herself that she might prevent any deterioration of intercourse; and although she always, on these occasions, played the grand lady, with a stateliness that seemed to say, "Because of your individual worth, I condescend, and make an exception, but you must not imagine I receive your class at Thornwick," she had almost entirely ceased making remarks upon the said class in Letty's hearing.
On her part, Letty had by this time grown so intimate with Mary as to open with her the question upon which her aunt had given her so little satisfaction; and this same Sunday afternoon, as they sat in the arbor at the end of the long yew hedge in the old garden, it had come up again between them; for, set thinking by Letty's bewilderment, Mary had gone on thinking, and had at length laid hold of the matter, at least by the end that belonged to her.
"I can not consent, Letty," she said, "to trouble my mind about it as you do. I can not afford it. Society is neither my master nor my servant, neither my father nor my sister; and so long as she does not bar my way to the kingdom of heaven, which is the only society worth getting into, I feel no right to complain of how she treats me. I have no claim on her; I do not acknowledge her laws—hardly her existence, and she has no authority over me. Why should she, how could she, constituted as she is, receive such as me? The moment she did so, she would cease to be what she is; and, if all be true that one hears of her, she does me a kindness in excluding me. What can it matter to me, Letty, whether they call me a lady or not, so long as Jesus says Daughter to me? It reminds me of what I heard my father say once to Mr. Turnbull, when he had been protesting that none but church people ought to be buried in the churchyards. 'I don't care a straw about it, Mr. Turnbull,' he said. 'The Master was buried in a garden.'—'Ah, but you see things are different now,' said Mr. Turnbull.—'I don't hang by things, but by my Master. It is enough for the disciple that he should be as his Master,' said my father.—'Besides, you don't think it of any real consequence yourself, or you would never want to keep your brothers and sisters out of such nice quiet places!'—Mr. Turnbull gave his kind of grunt, and said no more."
After passing Mary, Mr. Wardour did not go very far before he began to slacken his pace; a moment or two more and he suddenly wheeled round, and began to walk back toward Thornwick. Two things had combined to produce this change of purpose—the first, the state of his boots, which, beginning to dry in the sun and wind as he walked, grew more and more hideous at the end of his new gray trousers; the other, the occurring suspicion that the girl must be Letty's new shopkeeping friend, Miss Marston, on her way to visit her. What a sweet, simple young woman she was! he thought; and straightway began to argue with himself that, as his boots were in such evil plight, it would be more pleasant to spend the evening with Letty and her friend, than to hold on his way to his own friend's, and spend the evening smoking and lounging about the stable, or hearing his sister play polkas and mazurkas all the still Sunday twilight.
Mary had, of course, upon her arrival, narrated her small adventure, and the conversation had again turned upon Godfrey just as he was nearing the house.
"How handsome your cousin is!" said Mary, with the simplicity natural to her.
"Do you think so?" returned Letty.
"Don't you think so?" rejoined Mary.
"I have never thought about it," answered Letty.
"He looks so manly, and has such a straightforward way with him!" said Mary.
"What one sees every day, she may feel in a sort of take-for- granted way, without thinking about it," said Letty. "But, to tell the truth, I should feel it as impertinent of me to criticise Cousin Godfrey's person as to pass an opinion on one of the books he reads. I can not express the reverence I have for Cousin Godfrey."
"I don't wonder," replied Mary. "There is that about him one could trust."
"There is that about him," returned Letty, "makes me afraid of him—I can not tell why. And yet, though everybody, even his mother, is as anxious to please him as if he were an emperor, he is the easiest person to please in the whole house. Not that he tells you he is pleased; he only smiles; but that is quite enough."
"But I suppose he talks to you sometimes?" said Mary.
"Oh, yes—now. He used not; but I think he does now more than to anybody else. It was a long time before he began, though. Now he is always giving me something to read. I wish he wouldn't; it frightens me dreadfully. He always questions me, to know whether I understand what I read."
Letty ended with a little cry. Through the one narrow gap in the yew hedge, near to the arbor, Godfrey had entered the walk, and was coming toward them.
He was a well-made man, thirty years of age, rather tall, sun- tanned, and bearded, with wavy brown hair, and gentle approach. His features were not regular, but that is of little consequence where there is unity. His face indicated faculty and feeling, and there was much good nature, shadowed with memorial suffering, in the eyes which shone so blue out of the brown.
Mary rose respectfully as he drew near.
"What treason were you talking, Letty, that you were so startled at sight of me?" he said, with a smile. "You were complaining of me as a hard master, were you not?"
"No, indeed, Cousin Godfrey!" answered Letty energetically, not without tremor, and coloring as she spoke. "I was only saying I could not help being frightened when you asked me questions about what I had been reading. I am so stupid, you know!"
"Pardon me, Letty," returned her cousin, "I know nothing of the sort. Allow me to say you are very far from stupid. Nobody can understand everything at first sight. But you have not introduced me to your friend."
Letty bashfully murmured the names of the two.
"I guessed as much," said Wardour. "Pray sit down, Miss Marston. For the sake of your dresses, I will go and change my boots. May I come and join you after?"
"Please do, Cousin Godfrey; and bring something to read to us," said Letty, who wanted her friend to admire her cousin. "It's Sunday, you know."
"Why you should be afraid of him, I can't think," said Mary, when his retreating steps had ceased to sound on the gravel. "He is delightful!"
"I don't like to look stupid," said Letty.
"I shouldn't mind how stupid I looked so long as I was learning," returned Mary. "I wonder you never told me about him!"
"I couldn't talk about Cousin Godfrey," said Letty; and a pause followed.
"How good of him to come to us again!" said Mary. "What will he read to us?"
"Most likely something out of a book you never heard of before, and can't remember the name of when you have heard it—at least that's the way with me. I wonder if he will talk to you, Mary? I should like to hear how Cousin Godfrey talks to girls."
"Why, you know how he talks to you," said Mary.
"Oh, but I am only Cousin Letty! He can talk anyhow to me."
"By your own account he talks to you in the best possible way."
"Yes; I dare say; but—"
"I can't help wishing sometimes he would talk a little nonsense. It would be such a relief. I am sure I should understand better if he would. I shouldn't be so frightened at him then."
"The way I generally hear gentlemen talk to girls makes me ashamed—makes me feel as if I must ask, 'Is it that you are a fool, or that you take that girl for one?' They never talk so to me."
Letty sat pulling a jonquil to pieces. She looked up. Her eyes were full of thought, but she paused a long time before she spoke, and, when she did, it was only to say:
"I fear, Mary, I should take any man for a fool who took me for anything else."
Letty was a rather small and rather freckled girl, with the daintiest of rounded figures, a good forehead, and fine clear brown eyes. Her mouth was not pretty, except when she smiled—and she did not smile often. When she did, it was not unfrequently with the tears in her eyes, and then she looked lovely. In her manner there was an indescribably taking charm, of which it is not easy to give an impression; but I think it sprang from a constitutional humility, partly ruined into a painful and haunting sense of inferiority, for which she imagined herself to blame. Hence there dwelt in her eyes an appeal which few hearts could resist. When they met another's, they seemed to say: "I am nobody; but you need not kill me; I am not pretending to be anybody. I will try to do what you want, but I am not clever. Only I am sorry for it. Be gentle with me." To Godfrey, at least, her eyes spoke thus.
In ten minutes or so he reappeared, far at the other end of the yew-walk, approaching slowly, with a book, in which he seemed thoughtfully searching as he came. When they saw him the girls instinctively moved farther from each other, making large room for him between them, and when he came up he silently took the place thus silently assigned him.
"I am going to try your brains now, Letty," he said, and tapped the book with a finger.
"Oh, please don't!" pleaded Letty, as if he had been threatening her with a small amputation, or the loss of a front tooth.
"Yes," he persisted; "and not your brains only, Letty, but your heart, and all that is in you."
At this even Mary could not help feeling a little frightened; and she was glad there was no occasion for her to speak.
With just a word of introduction, Godfrey read Carlyle's translation of that finest of Jean Paul's dreams in which he sets forth the condition of a godless universe all at once awakened to the knowledge of the causelessness of its own existence. Slowly, with due inflection and emphasis—slowly, but without pause for thought or explanation—he read to the end, ceased suddenly, and lifted his eyes.
"There, Letty," he said, "what do you think of that? There's a bit of Sunday reading for you!"
Letty was looking altogether perplexed, and not a little frightened.
"I don't understand a word of it," she answered, gulping back her tears. He glanced at Mary. She was white as death, her lips quivered, and from her eyes shot a keen light that seemed to lacerate their blue.
"It is terrible!" she said. "I never read anything like that."
"There is nothing like it," he answered.
"But the author is a Unitarian, is he not?" remarked Mary—for she heard plenty of theology, if not much Christianity, in her chapel.
Godfrey looked at her, then at the book for a moment.
"That may merely seem, from the necessity of the supposition," he answered; and read again:
"'Now sank from aloft a noble, high Form, with a look of uneffaceable sorrow, down to the Altar, and all the Dead cried out, "Christ! is there no God?" He answered, "There is none!" The whole Shadow of each then shuddered, not the breast alone; and one after the other all, in this shuddering, shook into pieces.' —"You see," he went on, "that if there be no God, Christ can only be the first of men."
"I understand," said Mary.
"Do you really then, Mary?" said Letty, looking at her with wondering admiration.
"I only meant," answered Mary—"but," she went on, interrupting herself, "I do think I understand it a little. If Mr. Wardour would be kind enough to read it through again!"
"With much pleasure," answered Godfrey, casting on her a glance of pleased surprise.
The second reading affected Mary more than the first—because, of course, she took in more. And this time a glimmer of meaning broke on the slower mind of Letty: as her cousin read the passage, "Oh, then came, fearful for the heart, the dead Children who had been awakened in the Churchyard, into the temple, and cast themselves before the high Form on the Altar, and said, 'Jesus, have we no Father?' And he answered, with streaming tears: 'We are all orphans, I and you; we are without Father!'"— at this point Letty gave her little cry, then bit her lip, as if she had said something wrong.
All the time a great bee kept buzzing in and out of the arbor, and Mary vaguely wondered how it could be so careless.
"I can't be dead stupid after all, Cousin Godfrey," said Letty, with broken voice, when once more he ceased, and, as she spoke, she pressed her hand on her heart, "for something kept going through and through me; but I can not say yet I understand it.— If you will lend me the book," she continued, "I will read it over again before I go to bed."
He shut the volume, handed it to her, and began to talk about something else.
Mary rose to go.
"You will take tea with us, I hope, Miss Marston," said Godfrey.
But Mary would not. What she had heard was working in her mind with a powerful fermentation, and she longed to be alone. In the fields, as she walked, she would come to an understanding with herself.
She knew almost nothing of the higher literature, and felt like a dreamer who, in the midst of a well-known and ordinary landscape, comes without warning upon the mighty cone of a mountain, or the breaking waters of a boundless ocean.
"If one could but get hold of such things, what a glorious life it would be!" she thought. She had looked into a world beyond the present, and already in the present all things were new. The sun set as she had never seen him set before; it was only in gray and gold, with scarce a touch of purple and rose; the wind visited her cheek like a living thing, and loved her; the skylarks had more than reason in their jubilation. For the first time she heard the full chord of intellectual and emotional delight. What a place her chamber would be, if she could there read such things! How easy would it be then to bear the troubles of the hour, the vulgar humor of Mr. Turnbull, and the tiresome attentions of George! Would Mr. Wardour lend her the book? Had he other books as good? Were there many books to make one's heart go as that one did? She would save every penny to buy such books, if indeed such treasures were within her reach! Under the enchantment of her first literary joy, she walked home like one intoxicated with opium—a being possessed for the time with the awful imagination of a grander soul, and reveling in the presence of her loftier kin.
The property of which Thornwick once formed a part was then large and important; but it had, by not very slow degrees, generation following generation of unthrift, dwindled and shrunk and shriveled, until at last it threatened to disappear from the family altogether, like a spark upon burnt paper. Then came one into possession who had some element of salvation in him; Godfrey's father not only held the poor remnant together, but, unable to add to it, improved it so greatly that at length, in the midst of the large properties around, it resembled the diamond that hearts a disk of inferior stones. Doubtless, could he have used his wife's money, he would have spent it on land; but it was under trustees for herself and her children, and indeed would not have gone far in the purchase of English soil.
Considerably advanced in years before he thought of marrying, he died while Godfrey, whom he intended bringing up to a profession, was yet a child; and his widow, carrying out his intention, had educated the boy with a view to the law. Godfrey, however, had positively declined entering on the studies special to a career he detested; nor was it difficult to reconcile his mother to the enforced change of idea, when she found that his sole desire was to settle down with her, and manage the two hundred acres his father had left him. He took his place in the county, therefore, as a yeoman-farmer—none the less a gentleman by descent, character, and education. But while in genuine culture and refinement the superior of all the landed proprietors in the neighborhood, and knowing it, he was the superior of most of them in this also, that he counted it no derogation from the dignity he valued to put his hands upon occasion to any piece of work required about the place.
His nature was too large, however, and its needs therefore too many, to allow of his spending his energies on the property; and he did not brood over such things as, so soon as they become cares, become despicable. How much time is wasted in what is called thought, but is merely care—an anxious idling over the fancied probabilities of result! Of this fault, I say, Godfrey was not guilty—more, however, I must confess, from healthful drawings in other directions, than from philosophy or wisdom: he was a reader—not in the sense of a man who derives intensest pleasure from the absorption of intellectual pabulum— one not necessarily so superior as some imagine to the gourmet, or even the gourmand: in his reading Godfrey nourished certain of the higher tendencies of his nature— read with a constant reference to his own views of life, and the confirmation, change, or enlargement of his theories of the same; but neither did he read with the highest aim of all—the enlargement of reverence, obedience, and faith; for he had never turned his face full in the direction of infinite growth—the primal end of a man's being, who is that he may return to the Father, gathering his truth as he goes. Yet by the simple instincts of a soul undebased by self-indulgence or low pursuits, he was drawn ever toward things lofty and good; and life went calmly on, bearing Godfrey Wardour toward middle age, unruffled either by anxiety or ambition.
To the forecasting affection of a mother, the hour when she must yield the first place both in her son's regards and in the house- affairs could not but have often presented itself, in doubt and pain—perhaps dread. Only as year after year passed and Godfrey revealed no tendency toward marriage, her anxiety changed sides, and she began to fear lest with Godfrey the ancient family should come to an end. As yet, however, finding no response to covert suggestion, she had not ventured to speak openly to him on the subject. All the time, I must add, she had never thought of Letty either as thwarting or furthering her desires, for in truth she felt toward her as one on whom Godfrey could never condescend to look, save with the kindness suitable for one immeasurably below him. As to what might pass in Letty's mind, Mrs. Wardour had neither curiosity nor care: else she might possibly have been more considerate than to fall into the habit of talking to her in such swelling words of maternal pride that, even if she had not admired him of herself, Letty could hardly escape coming to regard her cousin Godfrey as the very first of men.
It added force to the veneration of both mother and cousin—for it was nothing less than veneration in either—that there was about Godfrey an air of the inexplicable, or at least the unknown, and therefore mysterious. This the elder woman, not without many a pang at her exclusion from his confidence, attributed, and correctly, to some passage in his life at the university; to the younger it appeared only as greatness self- veiled from the ordinary world: to such as she, could be vouchsafed only an occasional peep into the gulf of his knowledge, the grandeur of his intellect, and the imperturbability of his courage.
The passage in Godfrey's life to which I have referred as vaguely suspected by his mother, I need not present in more than merest outline: it belongs to my history only as a component part of the soil whence it springs, and as in some measure necessary to the understanding of Godfrey's character. In the last year of his college life he had formed an attachment, the precise nature of which I do not know. What I do know is, that the bonds of it were rudely broken, and of the story nothing remained but disappointment and pain, doubt and distrust. Godfrey had most likely cherished an overweening notion of the relative value of the love he gave; but being his, I am certain it was genuine—by that, I mean a love with no small element of the everlasting in it. The woman who can cast such a love from her is not likely to meet with such another. But with this one I have nothing to do.
It had been well if he had been left with only a wounded heart, but in that heart lay wounded pride. He hid it carefully, and the keener in consequence grew the sensitiveness, almost feminine, which no stranger could have suspected beneath the manner he wore. Under that bronzed countenance, with its firm-set mouth and powerful jaw—below that clear blue eye, and that upright easy carriage, lay a faithful heart haunted by a sense of wrong: he who is not perfect in forgiveness must be haunted thus; he only is free whose love for the human is so strong that he can pardon the individual sin; he alone can pray the prayer, "Forgive us our trespasses," out of a full heart. Forgiveness is the only cure of wrong. And hand in hand with Sense-of-injury walks ever the weak sister-demon Self-pity, so dear, so sweet to many—both of them the children of Philautos, not of Agape. But there was no hate, no revenge, in Godfrey, and, I repeat, his weakness he kept concealed. It must have been in his eyes, but eyes are hard to read. For the rest, his was a strong poetic nature—a nature which half unconsciously turned ever toward the best, away from the mean judgments of common men, and with positive loathing from the ways of worldly women. Never was peace endangered between his mother and him, except when she chanced to make use of some evil maxim which she thought experience had taught her, and the look her son cast upon her stung her to the heart, making her for a moment feel as if she had sinned what the theologians call the unpardonable sin. When he rose and walked from the room without a word, she would feel as if abandoned to her wickedness, and be miserable until she saw him again. Something like a spring- cleaning would begin and go on in her for some time after, and her eyes would every now and then steal toward her judge with a glance of awe and fearful apology. But, however correct Godfrey might be in his judgment of the worldly, that judgment was less inspired by the harmonies of the universe than by the discords that had jarred his being and the poisonous shocks he had received in the encounter of the noble with the ignoble. There was yet in him a profound need of redemption into the love of the truth for the truth's sake. He had the fault of thinking too well of himself—which who has not who thinks of himself at all, apart from his relation to the holy force of life, within yet beyond him? It was the almost unconscious, assuredly the undetected, self-approbation of the ordinarily righteous man, the defect of whose righteousness makes him regard himself as upright, but the virtue of whose uprightness will at length disclose to his astonished view how immeasurably short of rectitude he comes. At the age of thirty, Godfrey Wardour had 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 conscious 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 notwithstanding gave him 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 AND LETTY.
Godfrey, being an Englishman, and with land of 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 justified 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 be 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-span condition alone to his mind. It might then well happen there was no one near to help him, and there be nothing for it but to put 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 importantly engaged.
One night, meaning to start for a long ride early in the morning, he 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 stirrups: 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 polish 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 somewhere 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 pleased as well as annoyed; 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, displeased, for she touched here a sensitive spot.
"Oh, don't be angry with me!" she said, letting the stirrup 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! Does my mother—?"
"She doesn't want to make a fine lady of me, and I shouldn't like it if she did. I have no head, but I have pretty good hands. Of course, Cousin Godfrey, I didn't read a word of the poetry. I daredn't do that, however much I might have wished."
A childlike simplicity looked out of the clear eyes and sounded in the swift words of the maiden; and, had Godfrey's heart 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 puzzled how 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 proper way of thanking her, scarcely an adequate mode of revealing his estimate of the condescension of her ladyhood. For, although Letty did make beds and chose to clean harness, Godfrey was gentleman enough not to think her less of a lady—for the moment at least— because 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 service 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, rubbing 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 discoveries.
"There must be something in the girl!" he said to himself —then suddenly reflected that he had never seen a book in her hand, except her prayer-book; how was 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 desired 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!" Perhaps, 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 uncultured 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 himself, her face was at the time much too earnest, and her hands much too busy; he must find out whether she had any instincts, 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 rambling 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 him feel she had been gone some time. He 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 irregular slabs, mostly of green serpentine, polished into smooth hollows by the feet of generations of mistresses and dairy-maids. Its only light came through a small window shaded with shrubs and ivy, which stood open, and let in the scents of bud and blossom, weaving a net of sweetness in the gloom, through which, 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.
Godfrey came softly to the door, which he found standing ajar, and peeped in. There stood Letty, warm and bright in the middle of the dusky coolness. She had changed her dress since he saw her, and now, in a pink-rosebud print, with the sleeves tucked above her elbows, was skimming the cream in a great red-brown earthen pan. He pushed the door a little, and, at its screech along the uneven floor, Letty's head turned quickly 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 have just come upon 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, childish fashion, letting the skimmer dive like a coot to the bottom of the milk-pool, and hastily wiping her hands in her apron. 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 me time to thank you."
"That will do when you are certain you care for it," he returned.
"I care for it very much!" 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 door.
Letty stood motionless, the book in her hand illuminating the dusk with gold, and warming its coolness with its crimson 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 her 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, however, 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 have 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 discovered 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 discovery he set himself in earnest to the task of developing her intellectual life, and, daily almost, grew more interested in the endeavor. His main object was to make her think; and for the high purpose, chiefly but not exclusively, he employed verse.
The main obstacle to success he soon discovered to be Letty's exceeding distrust of herself. I would not be mistaken 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," I reply. "You must follow the truth, and, in that pursuit, the less one thinks about himself, the pursuer, the better. Let 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 essential to us is the healthiest of mental conditions. One has to look to his way, to his deeds, to his conduct—not to himself. In such losing 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 think yourself clever, set yourself to do something; then you will have 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 teacher. 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 misunderstand me, my reader. If I say anything grows to a passion, I mean, of course, the passion of that thing, not of something else. Here I no more mean that her 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. Wardour, 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 strength.
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 persons in the tales she read. Any remotest suggestion of its existence in her relation to Godfrey she would have resented as the most offensive impertinence—an accusation of impossible irreverence.
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 toward 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 intellectually 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 possibility of the revival of feelings he had supposed for ever extinguished, 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 ho had any dread of such a catastrophe, certain it is that he behaved to her more as a pedagogue than a cousinly tutor, insisting 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 otherwise. The 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, refusing, it may be, to regard the 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 question has yielded to history. In the mean time, Mrs. Wardour, who would have been indignant at the notion of any equal bond between her idolized son and her patronized cousin, neither saw, nor heard, nor suspected anything to rouse uneasiness.
Things were thus in the old house, when the growing affection of Letty for Mary Marston took form one day in the request that she would make Thornwick the goal of her Sunday walk. She repented, it is true, the moment she had said the words, from dread of her aunt; but they had been said, and were accepted. Mary went, and the aunt difficulty had been got over. The friendship of Godfrey also had now run into that of the girls, and Mary's visits were continued with pleasure to all, and certainly with no little profit to herself; for, where the higher nature can not communicate the greater benefit, it will reap it. Her Sunday visit became to Mary the one foraging expedition 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 eternal 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. But 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 in that person the one of that sect who, in the midst of its darkness 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 way 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 Richard Crashaw, with old Mason, not to mention Milton, and afterward our own Father Newman and Father Faber.