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´╗┐Title: Mary Marston
Author: MacDonald, George, 1824-1905
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Mary Marston" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



MARY MARSTON

A NOVEL.

BY

GEORGE MACDONALD

AUTHOR OF "ANNALS OF A QUIET NEIGHBORHOOD," "ROBERT FALCONER," ETC.,
ETC.



CONTENTS.


   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
   XLVI.--REPARATION
   XLVII.--ANOTHER CHANGE
   XLVIII.--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



CHAPTER I

THE SHOP


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."

"Why not?"

"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.



CHAPTER II.

CUSTOMERS.


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.



CHAPTER III.

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--"

"But what?"

"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.



CHAPTER IV.

GODFREY WARDOUR.


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.



CHAPTER V.

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 he 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.

But it was by no means chiefly upon such that Godfrey led the talk on
the Sunday afternoons. A lover of all truly imaginative literature, his
knowledge of it was large, nor confined to that of his own country,
although that alone was at present available for either of his pupils.
His seclusion from what is called the world had brought him into larger
and closer contact with what is really the world. The breakers upon
reef and shore may be the ocean to some, but he who would know the
ocean indeed must leave them afar, sinking into silence, and sail into
wider and lonelier spaces. Through Godfrey, Mary came to know of a land
never promised, yet open--a land of whose nature even she had never
dreamed--a land of the spirit, flowing with milk and honey--a land of
which the fashionable world knows little more than the dwellers in the
back slums, although it imagines it lying, with the kingdoms of the
earth, at its feet.

As regards her feeling toward her new friend, this opener of unseen
doors, the greatness of her obligation to him wrought against
presumption and any possible folly. Besides, Mary was one who possessed
power over her own spirit--rare gift, given to none but those who do
something toward the taking of it. She was able in no small measure to
order her own thoughts. Without any theory of self-rule, she yet ruled
her Self. She was not one to slip about in the saddle, or let go the
reins for a kick and a plunge or two. There was the thing that should
be, and the thing that should not be; the thing that was reasonable,
and the thing that was absurd. Add to all this, that she believed she
saw in Mr. Wardour's behavior to his cousin, in the careful gentleness
evident through all the severity of the schoolmaster, the presence of a
deeper feeling, that might one day blossom to the bliss of her
friend--and we need not wonder if Mary's heart remained calm in the
very floods of its gratitude; while the truth she gathered by aid of
the intercourse, enlarging her strength, enlarged likewise the
composure that comes of strength. She did not even trouble herself much
to show Godfrey her gratitude. We may spoil gratitude as we offer it,
by insisting on its recognition. To receive honestly is the best thanks
for a good thing.

Nor was Godfrey without payment for what he did: the revival of ancient
benefits, a new spring-time of old flowers, and the fresh quickening of
one's own soul, are the spiritual wages of every spiritual service. In
giving, a man receives more than he gives, and the _more_ is in
proportion to the worth of the thing given.

Mary did not encourage Letty to call at the shop, because the rudeness
of the Turnbulls was certain to break out on her departure, as it did
one day that Godfrey, dismounting at the door, and entering the shop in
quest of something for his mother, naturally shook hands with Mary over
the counter. No remark was made so long as her father was in the shop,
for, with all their professed contempt of him and his ways, the
Turnbulls stood curiously in awe of him: no one could tell what he
might or might not do, seeing they did not in the least understand him;
and there were reasons for avoiding offense.

But the moment he retired, which he always did earlier than the rest,
the small-arms of the enemy began to go off, causing Mary a burning
cheek and indignant heart. Yet the great desire of Mr. Turnbull was a
match between George and Mary, for that would, whatever might happen,
secure the Marston money to the business. Their evil report Mary did
not carry to her father. She scorned to trouble his lofty nature with
her small annoyances; neither could they long keep down the wellspring
of her own peace, which, deeper than anger could reach, soon began to
rise again fresh in her spirit, fed from that water of life which
underlies all care. In a few moments it had cooled her cheek, stilled
her heart, and washed the wounds of offense.



CHAPTER VI.

TOM HELMER.


When Tom Helmer's father died, his mother, who had never been able to
manage him, sent him to school to get rid of him, lamented his absence
till he returned, then writhed and fretted under his presence until
again he went. Never thereafter did those two, mother and son, meet,
whether from a separation of months or of hours, without at once
tumbling into an obstinate difference. When the youth was at home,
their sparring, to call it by a mild name, went on from morning to
night, and sometimes almost from night to morning. Primarily, of
course, the fault lay with the mother; and things would have gone far
worse, had not the youth, along with the self-will of his mother,
inherited his father's good nature. At school he was a great favorite,
and mostly had his own way, both with boys and masters, for, although a
fool, he was a pleasant fool, clever, fond of popularity, and
complaisant with everybody--except always his mother, the merest word
from whom would at once rouse all the rebel in his blood. In person he
was tall and loosely knit, with large joints and extremities. His face
was handsome and vivacious, expressing far more than was in him to
express, and giving ground for expectation such as he had never met. He
was by no means an ill-intentioned fellow, preferred doing well and
acting fairly, and neither at school nor at college had got into any
serious scrape. But he had never found it imperative to reach out after
his own ideal of duty. He had never been worthy the name of student, or
cared much for anything beyond the amusements the universities provide
so liberally, except dabbling in literature. Perhaps his only vice was
self-satisfaction--which few will admit to be a vice; remonstrance
never reached him; to himself he was ever in the right, judging himself
only by his sentiments and vague intents, never by his actions; that
these had little correspondence never struck him; it had never even
struck him that they ought to correspond. In his own eyes he did well
enough, and a good deal better. Gifted not only with fluency of speech,
that crowning glory and ruin of a fool, but with plausibility of tone
and demeanor, a confidence that imposed both on himself and on others,
and a certain dropsical impressionableness of surface which made him
seem and believe himself sympathetic, nobody could well help liking
him, and it took some time to make one accept the disappointment he
caused.

He was now in his twenty-first year, at home, pretending that nothing
should make him go back to Oxford, and enjoying more than ever the
sport of plaguing his mother. A soul-doctor might have prescribed for
him a course of small-pox, to be followed by intermittent fever, with
nobody to wait upon him but Mrs. Gamp: after that, his mother might
have had a possible chance with him, and he with his mother. But,
unhappily, he had the best of health--supreme blessing in the eyes of
the fool whom it enables to be a worse fool still; and was altogether
the true son of his mother, who consoled herself for her absolute
failure in his moral education with the reflection that she had reared
him sound in wind and limb. Plaguing his mother, amusing himself as
best he could, riding about the country on a good mare, of which he was
proud, he was living in utter idleness, affording occasion for much
wonder that he had never yet disgraced himself. He talked to everybody
who would talk to him, and made acquaintance with anybody on the spur
of the moment's whim. He would sit on a log with a gypsy, and bamboozle
him with lies made for the purpose, then thrash him for not believing
them. He called here and called there, made himself specially agreeable
everywhere, went to every ball and evening party to which he could get
admittance in the neighborhood, and flirted with any girl who would let
him. He meant no harm, neither had done much, and was imagined by most
incapable of doing any. The strange thing to some was that he staid on
in the country, and did not go to London and run up bills for his
mother to pay; but the mare accounted for a good deal; and the fact
that almost immediately on his late return he had seen Letty and fallen
in love with her at first sight, accounted for a good deal more. Not
since then, however, had he yet been able to meet her so as only to
speak to her; for Thornwick was one of the few houses of the middle
class in the neighborhood where he was not encouraged to show himself.
He was constantly, therefore, on the watch for a chance of seeing her,
and every Sunday went to church in that same hope and no other. But
Letty knew nothing of the favor in which she stood with him; for,
although Tom had, as we have heard, confessed to her friend Mary
Marston his admiration of her, Mary had far too much good sense to make
herself his ally in the matter.



CHAPTER VII.

DURNMELLING.


In the autumn, Mr. Mortimer of Durnmelling resolved to give a
harvest-home to his tenants, and under the protection of the occasion
to invite also a good many of his neighbors and of the townsfolk of
Testbridge, whom he could not well ask to dinner: there happened to be
a political expediency for something of the sort: America is not the
only country in which ambition opens the door to mean doings on the
part of such as count themselves gentlemen. Not a few on whom Lady
Margaret had never called, and whom she would never in any way
acknowledge again, were invited; nor did the knowledge of what it meant
cause many of them to decline the questionable honor--which fact
carried in it the best justification of which the meanness and insult
were capable. Mrs. Wardour accepted for herself and Letty; but in their
case Lady Margaret did call, and in person give the invitation. Godfrey
positively refused to accompany them. He would not be patronized, he
said; "--and by an inferior," he added to himself.

Mr. Mortimer was the illiterate son of a literary father who had reaped
both money and fame. The son spent the former, on the strength of the
latter married an earl's daughter, and thereupon began to embody in his
own behavior his ideas of how a nobleman ought to carry himself;
whence, from being only a small, he became an objectionable man, and
failed of being amusing by making himself offensive. He had never
manifested the least approach to neighborliness with Godfrey, although
their houses were almost within a stone's throw of each other. Had
Wardour been an ordinary farmer, of whose presuming on the acquaintance
there could have been no danger, Mortimer would doubtless have behaved
differently; but as Wardour had some pretensions--namely, old family, a
small, though indeed _very_ small, property of his own, a university
education, good horses, and the habits and manners of a gentleman--the
men scarcely even saluted when they met. The Mortimer ladies, indeed,
had more than once remarked--but it was in solemn silence, each to
herself only--how well the man sat, and how easily he handled the
hunter he always rode; but not once until now had so much as a greeting
passed between them and Mrs. Wardour. It was not therefore wonderful
that Godfrey should not choose to accept their invitation. Finding,
however, that his mother was distressed at having to go to the
gathering without him, and far more exercised in her mind than was
needful as to what would be thought of his absence, and what excuse it
would be becoming to make, he resolved to go to London a day or two
before the event, and pay a long-promised visit to a clerical friend.

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

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

The house of Durnmelling, new compared with that of Thornwick, was yet,
as I have indicated, old enough to have passed also through
vicissitudes, and a large portion of the original structure had for
many years been nothing better than a ruin. Only a portion of one side
of its huge square was occupied by the family, and the rest of that
side was not habitable. Lady Margaret, of an ancient stock, had
gathered from it only pride, not reverence; therefore, while she valued
the old, she neglected it; and what money she and her husband at one
time spent upon the house, was devoted to addition and ornamentation,
nowise to preservation or restoration. They had enlarged both
dining-room and drawing-rooms to twice their former size, when half the
expense, with a few trees from a certain outlying oak-plantation of
their own, would have given them a room fit for a regal assembly. For,
constituting a portion of the same front in which they lived, lay
roofless, open to every wind that blew, its paved floor now and then in
winter covered with snow--an ancient hall, whose massy south wall was
pierced by three lovely windows, narrow and lofty, with simple,
gracious tracery in their pointed heads. This hall connected the
habitable portion of the house with another part, less ruinous than
itself, but containing only a few rooms in occasional use for household
purposes, or, upon necessity, for quite inferior lodgment. It was a
glorious ruin, of nearly a hundred feet in length, and about half that
in width, the walls entire, and broad enough to walk round upon in
safety. Their top was accessible from a tower, which formed part of the
less ruinous portion, and contained the stair and some small rooms.

Once, the hall was fair with portraits and armor and arms, with fire
and lights, and state and merriment; now the sculptured chimney lay
open to the weather, and the sweeping winds had made its smooth
hearthstone clean as if fire had never been there. Its floor was
covered with large flags, a little broken: these, in prospect of the
coming entertainment, a few workmen were leveling, patching, replacing.
For the tables were to be set here, and here there was to be dancing
after the meal.

It was Miss Yolland's idea, and to her was committed the responsibility
of its preparation and adornment for the occasion, in which Hesper gave
her active assistance. With colored blankets, with carpets, with a few
pieces of old tapestry, and a quantity of old curtains, mostly of
chintz, excellent in hues and design, all cunningly arranged for as
much of harmony as could be had, they contrived to clothe the walls to
the height of six or eight feet, and so gave the weather-beaten
skeleton an air of hospitable preparation and respectful reception.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tom's heart had been sinking, for he could see Letty nowhere. Now at
last, he had been saying to himself all the day, had come his chance!
and his chance seemed but to mock him. More than any girl he had ever
seen, had Letty moved him--perhaps because she was more unlike his
mother. He knew nothing, it is true, or next to nothing, of her nature;
but that was of little consequence to one who knew nothing, and never
troubled himself to know anything, of his own. Was he doomed never to
come near his idol?--Ah, there she was! Yes; it was she--all but lost
in a humble group near the door! His foolish heart--not foolish in
that--gave a great bound, as if it would leap to her where she stood.
She was dressed in white muslin, from which her white throat rose warm
and soft. Her head was bent forward, and a gentle dissolved smile was
over all her face, as with loveliest eyes she watched eagerly the
motions of the dance, and her ears drank in the music of the yeomanry
band. He seized the first opportunity of getting nearer to her. He had
scarcely spoken to her before, but that did not trouble Tom. Even in a
more ceremonious assembly, that would never have abashed him; and here
there was little form, and much freedom. He had, besides, confidence in
his own carriage and manners--which, indeed, were those of a
gentleman--and knew himself not likely to repel by his approach.

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

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

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

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

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

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

At that moment, Letty was dancing with Tom, and her hand happened to be
in his. He clasped it tight, and, as quickly as the crowd and the
confusion of shelter-seeking would permit, led her to the door of the
tower already mentioned. But many had run in the same direction, and
already its lower story and stair were crowded with refugees--the elder
bemoaning the sudden change, and folding tight around them what poor
wraps they were fortunate enough to have retained; the younger merrier
than ever, notwithstanding the cold gusts that now poked their
spirit-arms higher and thither through the openings of the half-ruinous
building: to them even the destruction of their finery was but added
cause of laughter. But a few minutes before, its freshness had been a
keen pleasure to them, brightening their consciousness with a rare
feeling of perfection; now crushed and rumpled, soiled and wet and
torn, it was still fuel to the fire of gayety. But Tom did not stay
among them. He knew the place well; having a turn for scrambling, he
had been all over it many a time. On through the crowd, he led Letty up
the stair to the first floor. Even here were a few couples talking and
laughing in the dark. With a warning, by no means unnecessary, to mind
where they stepped, for the floors were bad, he passed on to the next
stair.

"Let us stop here, Mr. Helmer," said Letty. "There is plenty of room
here."

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

"I am not frightened," said Letty, and made no further objection.

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

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

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

"Are you cold?" said Tom. "Of course you must be, with nothing but that
thin muslin! Shall I run down and get you a shawl?"

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

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

But Tom lived a good deal closer to a worse ruin, and never spent a
thought on it.

Letty shivered again.

"I'm quite ashamed of myself," she said, trying to speak cheerfully. "I
can't think why I should feel like this--just as if something dreadful
were watching me! I'll go home, Mr. Helmer.".

"It will be much the safest thing to do: I fear you have indeed caught
cold," replied Tom, rejoiced at the chance of accompanying her. "I
shall be delighted to see you safe."

"There is not the least occasion for that, thank you," answered Letty.
"I have an old servant of my aunt's with me--somewhere about the place.
The storm is quite over now: I will go and find her."

Tom made no objection, but helped her down the dark stair, hoping,
however, the servant might not be found.

As they went, Letty seemed to herself to be walking in some old dream
of change and desertion. The tower was empty as a monument, not a trace
of the crowd left, which a few minutes before had thronged it. The wind
had risen in earnest now, and was rushing about, like a cold wild
ghost, through every cranny of the desolate place. Had Letty, when she
reached the bottom of the stairs, found herself on the rocks of the
seashore, with the waves dashing up against them, she would only have
said to herself, "I knew I was in a dream!" But the wind having blown
away the hail-cloud, the stars were again shining down into the hall.
One or two forlorn-looking searchers were still there; the rest had
scattered like the gnats. A few were already at home; some were
harnessing their horses to go, nor would wait for the man in the moon
to light his lantern; some were already trudging on foot through the
dark. Hesper and Miss Yolland were talking to two or three friends in
the drawing-room; Lady Margaret was in her boudoir, and Mr. Mortimer
smoking a cigar in his study.

Nowhere could Letty find Susan. She was in the farmer's kitchen behind.
Tom suspected as much, but was far from hinting the possibility. Letty
found her cloak, which she had left in the hall, soaked with rain, and
thought it prudent to go home at once, nor prosecute her search for
Susan further. She accepted, therefore, Tom's renewed offer of his
company.

They were just leaving the hall, when a thought came to Letty: the moon
suddenly appearing above the horizon had put it in her head.

"Oh," she cried, "I know quite a short way home!" and, without waiting
any response from her companion, she turned, and led him in an opposite
direction, round, namely, by the back of the court, into a field. There
she made for a huge oak, which gloomed in the moonlight by the sunk
fence parting the grounds. In the slow strength of its growth, by the
rounding of its bole, and the spreading of its roots, it had so rent
and crumbled the wall as to make through it a little ravine, leading to
the top of the ha-ha. When they reached it, before even Tom saw it,
Letty turned from him, and was up in a moment. At the top she turned to
bid him good night, but there he was, close behind her, insisting on
seeing her safe to the house.

"Is this the way you always come?" asked Tom.

"I never was on Durnmelling land before," answered Letty.

"How did you find the short-cut, then?" he asked. "It certainly does
not look as if it were much used."

"Of course not," replied Letty. "There is no communication between
Durnmelling and Thornwick now. It was all ours once, though, Cousin
Godfrey says. Did you notice how the great oak sends its biggest arm
over our field?"

"Yes."

"Well, I often sit there under it, when I want to learn my lesson, and
can't rest in the house; and that's how I know of the crack in the
ha-ha."

She said it in absolute innocence, but Tom laid it up in his mind.

"Are you at lessons still?" he said. "Have you a governess?"

"No," she answered, in a tone of amusement. "But Cousin Godfrey teaches
me many things."

This made Tom thoughtful; and little more had been said, when they
reached the gate of the yard behind the house, and she would not let
him go a step farther.



CHAPTER VIII.

THE OAK.


In the morning, as she narrated the events of the evening, she told her
aunt of the acquaintance she had made, and that he had seen her home.
This information did not please the old lady, as, indeed, without
knowing any reason, Letty had expected. Mrs. Wardour knew all about
Tom's mother, or thought she did, and knew little good; she knew also
that, although her son was a general favorite, her own son had a very
poor opinion of him. On these grounds, and without a thought of
injustice to Letty, she sharply rebuked the poor girl for allowing such
a fellow to pay her any attention, and declared that, if ever she
permitted him so much as to speak to her again, she would do something
which she left in a cloud of vaguest suggestion.

Letty made no reply. She was hurt. Nor was it any wonder if she judged
this judgment of Tom by the injustice of the judge to herself. It was
of no consequence to her, she said to herself, whether she spoke to him
again or not; but had any one the right to compel another to behave
rudely? Only what did it matter, since there was so little chance of
her ever seeing him again! All day she felt weary and disappointed,
and, after the merrymaking of the night before, the household work was
irksome. But she would soon have got over both weariness and tedium had
her aunt been kind. It is true, she did not again refer to Tom, taking
it for granted that he was done with; but all day she kept driving
Letty from one thing to another, nor was once satisfied with anything
she did, called her even an ungrateful girl, and, before evening, had
rendered her more tired, mortified, and dispirited, than she had ever
been in her life.

But the tormentor was no demon; she was only doing what all of us have
often done, and ought to be heartily ashamed of: she was only emptying
her fountain of bitter water. Oppressed with the dregs of her headache,
wretched because of her son's absence, who had not been a night from
home for years, annoyed that she had spent time and money in
preparation for nothing, she had allowed the said cistern to fill to
overflowing, and upon Letty it overflowed like a small deluge. Like
some of the rest of us, she never reflected how balefully her evil mood
might operate; and that all things work for good in the end, will not
cover those by whom come the offenses. Another night's rest, it is
true, sent the evil mood to sleep again for a time, but did not
exorcise it; for there are demons that go not out without prayer, and a
bad temper is one of them--a demon as contemptible, mean-spirited, and
unjust, as any in the peerage of hell--much petted, nevertheless, and
excused, by us poor lunatics who are possessed by him. Mrs. Wardour was
a lady, as the ladies of this world go, but a poor lady for the kingdom
of heaven: I should wonder much if she ranked as more than a very
common woman there.

The next day all was quiet; and a visit paid Mrs. Wardour by a favorite
sister whom she had not seen for months, set Letty at such liberty as
she seldom had. In the afternoon she took the book Godfrey had given
her, in which he had set her one of Milton's smaller poems to study,
and sought the shadow of the Durnmelling oak.

It was a lovely autumn day, the sun glorious as ever in the memory of
Abraham, or the author of Job, or the builder of the scaled pyramid at
Sakkara. But there was a keenness in the air notwithstanding, which
made Letty feel a little sad without knowing why, as she seated herself
to the task Cousin Godfrey had set her. She, as well as his mother,
heartily wished he were home. She was afraid of him, it is true; but in
how different a way from that in which she was afraid of his mother!
His absence did not make her feel free, and to escape from his mother
was sometimes the whole desire of her day.

She was trying hard, not altogether successfully, to fix her attention
on her task, when a yellow leaf dropped on the very line she was poring
over. Thinking how soon the trees would be bare once more, she brushed
the leaf away, and resumed her lesson.

   "To fill thy odorous lamp with deeds of light,"

she had just read once more, when down fell a second tree-leaf on the
book-leaf. Again she brushed it away, and read to the end of the sonnet:

"Hast gained thy entrance, virgin wise and pure."

What Letty's thoughts about the sonnet were, I can not tell: how fix
thought indefinite in words defined? But her angel might well have
thought what a weary road she had to walk before she gained that
entrance. But for all of us the road _has_ to be walked, every step,
and the uttermost farthing paid. The gate will open wide to welcome us,
but it will not come to meet us. Neither is it any use to turn aside;
it only makes the road longer and harder.

Down on the same spot fell the third leaf. Letty looked up. There was a
man in the tree over her head. She started to her feet. At the same
moment, he dropped on the ground beside her, lifting his hat as coolly
as if he had met her on the road. Her heart seemed to stand still with
fright. She stood silent, with white lips parted.

"I hope I haven't frightened you," said Tom. "Do forgive me," he added,
becoming more aware of the perturbation he had caused her. "You were so
kind to me the other night, I could not help wanting to see you again.
I had no idea the sight of me would terrify you so."

"You gave me such a start!" gasped Letty, with her hand pressed on her
heart.

"I was afraid of it," answered Tom; "but what could I do? I was
certain, if you saw me coming, you would run away."

"Why should you think that?" asked Letty, a faint color rising in her
cheek.

"Because," answered Tom, "I was sure they would be telling you all
manner of things against me. But there is no harm in me--really, Miss
Lovel--nothing, that is, worth mentioning."

"I am sure there isn't," said Letty; and then there was a pause.

"What book are you reading, may I ask?" said Tom.

Letty had now remembered her aunt's injunctions and threats; but,
partly from a kind of paralysis caused by his coolness, partly from its
being impossible to her nature to be curt with any one with whom she
was not angry, partly from mere lack of presence of mind, not knowing
what to do, yet feeling she ought to run to the house, what should she
do but drop down again on the very spot whence she had been scared!
Instantly Tom threw himself on the grass at her feet, and there lay,
looking up at her with eyes of humble admiration.

Confused and troubled, she began to turn over the leaves of her book.
She supposed afterward she must have asked him why he stared at her so,
for the next thing she remembered was hearing him say:

"I can't help it. You are so lovely!"

"Please don't talk such nonsense to me," she rejoined. "I am not
lovely, and I know it. What is not true can not please anybody."

She spoke a little angrily now.

"I speak the truth," said Tom, quietly and earnestly. "Why should you
think I do not?"

"Because nobody ever said so before."

"Then it is quite time somebody should say so," returned Tom, changing
his tone. "It may be a painful fact, but even ladies ought to be told
the truth, and learn to bear it. To say you are not lovely would be a
downright lie."

"I wish you wouldn't talk to me about myself!" said Letty, feeling
confused and improper, but not altogether displeased that it was
possible for such a mistake to be made. "I don't want to hear about
myself. It makes me so uncomfortable! I am sure it isn't right: is it,
now, Mr. Helmer?"

As she ended, the tears rose in her eyes, partly from unanalyzed
uneasiness at the position in which she found herself and the turn the
talk had taken, partly from the discomfort of conscious disobedience.
But still she did not move.

"I am very sorry if I have vexed you," said Tom, seeing her evident
trouble. "I can't think how I've done it. I know I didn't mean to; and
I promise you not to say a word of the kind again--if I can help it.
But tell me, Letty," he went on again, changing in tone and look and
manner, and calling her by her name with such simplicity that she never
even noticed it, "do tell me what you are reading, and that will keep
me from _talking_ about you--not from--the other thing, you know."

"There!" said Letty, almost crossly, handing him her book, and pointing
to the sonnet, as she rose to go.

Tom took the book, and sprang to his feet. He had never read the poem,
for Milton had not been one of his masters. He stood devouring it. He
was doing his best to lay hold of it quickly, for there Letty stood,
with her hand held out to take the book again, ready upon its
restoration to go at once. Silent and motionless, to all appearance
unhasting, he read and reread. Letty was restless, and growing quite
impatient; but still Tom read, a smile slow-spreading from his eyes
over his face; he was taking possession of the poem, he would have
said. But the shades and kinds and degrees of possession are
innumerable; and not until we downright love a thing, can we _know_ we
understand it, or rightly call it our own; Tom only admired this one;
it was all he was capable of in regard to such at present. Had the whim
for acquainting himself with it seized him in his own study, he would
have satisfied it with a far more superficial interview; but the
presence of the girl, with those eyes fixed on him as he read--his
mind's eye saw them--was for the moment an enlargement of his being,
whose phase to himself was a consciousness of ignorance.

"It is a beautiful poem," he said at last, quite honestly; and, raising
his eyes, he looked straight in hers. There is hardly a limit to the
knowledge and sympathy a man may have in respect of the finest things,
and yet be a fool. Sympathy is not harmony. A man may be a poet even,
and speak with the tongue of an angel, and yet be a very bad fool.

"I am sure it must be a beautiful poem," said Letty; "but I have hardly
got a hold of it yet." And she stretched her hand a little farther, as
if to proceed with its appropriation.

But Tom was not yet prepared to part with the book. He proceeded
instead, in fluent speech and not inappropriate language, to set forth,
not the power of the poem--that he both took and left as a matter of
course--but the beauty of those phrases, and the turns of those
expressions, which particularly pleased him--nor failing to remark
that, according to the strict laws of English verse, there was in it
one bad rhyme.

That point Letty begged him to explain, thus leading Tom to an
exposition of the laws of rhyme, in which, as far as English was
concerned, he happened to be something of an expert, partly from an
early habit of scribbling in ladies' albums. About these surface
affairs, Godfrey, understanding them better and valuing them more than
Tom, had yet taught Letty nothing, judging it premature to teach
polishing before carving; and hence this little display of knowledge on
the part of Tom impressed Letty more than was adequate--so much,
indeed, that she began to regard him as a sage, and a compeer of her
cousin Godfrey. Question followed question, and answer followed answer,
Letty feeling all the time she _must_ go, yet standing and standing,
like one in a dream, who thinks he can not, and certainly does not
break its spell--for in the act only is the ability and the deed born.
Besides, was she to go away and leave her beautiful book in his hand?
What would Godfrey think if she did? Again and again she stretched out
her own to take it, but, although he saw the motion, he held on to the
book as to his best anchor, hurriedly turned its leaves by fits and
searching for something more to his mind than anything of Milton's.
Suddenly his face brightened.

"Ah!" he said--and remained a moment silent, reading. "I don't wonder,"
he resumed, "at your admiration of Milton. He's very grand, of course,
and very musical, too; but one can't be listening to an organ always.
Not that I prefer merry music; that must be inferior, for the tone of
all the beauty in the world is sad." Much Tom Helmer knew of beauty or
sadness either! but ignorance is no reason with a fool for holding his
tongue. "But there is the violin, now!--that can be as sad as any
organ, without being so ponderous. Hear this, now! This is the violin
after the organ--played as only a master can!"

With this preamble, he read a song of Shelley's, and read it well, for
he had a good ear for rhythm and cadence, and prided himself on his
reading of poetry.

Now the path to Letty's heart through her intellect was neither open
nor well trodden; but the song in question was a winged one, and flew
straight thither; there was something in the tone of it that suited the
pitch of her spirit-chamber. And, if Letty's heart was not easily
found, it was the readier to confess itself when found. Her eyes filled
with tears, and through those tears Tom looked large and injured. "He
must be a poet himself to read poetry like that!" she said to herself,
and felt thoroughly assured that her aunt had wronged him greatly.
"Some people scorn poetry like sin," she said again. "I used myself to
think it was only for children, until Cousin Godfrey taught me
differently."

As thus her thoughts went on interweaving themselves with the music,
all at once the song came to an end. Tom closed the book, handed it to
her, said, "Good morning, Miss Lovel," and ran down the rent in the
ha-ha; and, before Letty could come to herself, she heard the soft
thunder of hoofs on the grass. She ran to the edge, and, looking over,
saw Tom on his bay mare, at full gallop across the field. She watched
him as he neared the hedge and ditch that bounded it, saw him go flying
over, and lost sight of him behind a hazel-copse. Slowly, then, she
turned, and slowly she went back to the house and up to her room,
vaguely aware that a wind had begun to blow in her atmosphere, although
only the sound of it had yet reached her.



CHAPTER IX.

CONFUSION.


Then first, and from that moment, Letty's troubles began. Up to this
point neither she herself nor another could array troublous accusation
or uneasy thought against her; and now she began to feel like a very
target, which exists but to receive the piercing of arrows. At first
sight, and if we do not look a long way ahead of what people stupidly
regard as the end when it is only an horizon, it seems hard that so
much we call evil, and so much that is evil, should result from that
unavoidable, blameless, foreordained, preconstituted, and essential
attraction which is the law of nature, that is the will of God, between
man and woman. Even if Letty had fallen in love with Tom at first
sight, who dares have the assurance to blame her? who will dare to say
that Tom was blameworthy in seeking the society and friendship, even
the love, of a woman whom in all sincerity he admired, or for using his
wits to get into her presence, and detain her a little in his company?
Reasons there are, infinitely deeper than any philosopher has yet
fathomed, or is likely to fathom, why a youth such as he--foolish,
indeed, but not foolish in this--and a sweet and blameless girl such as
Letty, should exchange regards of admiration and wonder. That which
thus moves them, and goes on to draw them closer and closer, comes with
them from the very source of their being, and is as reverend as it is
lovely, rooted in all the gentle potencies and sweet glories of
creation, and not unworthily watered with all the tears of agony and
ecstasy shed by lovers since the creation of the world. What it is, I
can not tell; I only know it is _not_ that which the young fool calls
it, still less that which the old sinner thinks it. As to Letty's
disobedience of her aunt's extravagant orders concerning Tom, I must
leave that to the judgment of the just, reminding them that she was
taken by surprise, and that, besides, it was next to impossible to obey
them. But Letty found herself very uncomfortable, because there now was
that to be known of her, the knowledge of which would highly displease
her aunt--for which very reason, if for no other, ought she not to tell
her all? On the other hand, when she recalled how unkindly, how
unjustly her aunt had spoken, when she confessed her new acquaintance,
it became to her a question whether in very deed she _must_ tell her
all that had passed that afternoon. There was no smallest hope of any
recognition of the act, surely more hard than incumbent, but severity
and unreason; _must_ she let the thing out of her hands, and yield
herself a helpless prey--and that for good to none? Concerning Mrs.
Wardour, she reasoned justly: she who is even once unjust can not
complain if the like is expected of her again.

But, supposing it remained Letty's duty to acquaint her aunt with what
had taken place, and not forgetting that, as one of the old people, I
have to render account of the young that come after me, and must be
careful over their lovely dignities and fair duties, I yet make haste
to assert that the old people, who make it hard for the young people to
do right, may be twice as much to blame as those whom they arraign for
a concealment whose very heart is the dread of their known selfishness,
fierceness, and injustice. If children have to obey their parents or
guardians, those parents and guardians are over them in the name of
God, and they must look to it: if in the name of God they act the
devil, that will not prove a light thing for their answer. The causing
of the little ones to offend hangs a fearful woe about the neck of the
causer. It were a hard, as well as a needless task, seeing there is One
who judges, to set forth how far the child is to blame as toward the
parent, where the parent first of all is utterly wrong, yea out of true
relation, toward the child. Not, therefore, is the child free;
obligation remains--modified, it may be, but how difficult, alas, to
fulfill! And, whether Letty and such as act like her are _excusable_ or
not in keeping attentions paid them a secret, this sorrow for the good
ones of them certainly remains, that, next to a crime, a secret is the
heaviest as well as the most awkward of burdens to carry. It has to be
carried always, and all about. From morning to night it hurts in
tenderest parts, and from night to morning hurts everywhere. At any
expense, let there be openness. Take courage, my child, and speak out.
Dare to speak, I say, and that will give you strength to resist, should
disobedience become a duty. Letty's first false step was here: she said
to herself _I can not_, and did not. She lacked courage--a want in her
case not much to be wondered at, but much to be deplored, for courage
of the true sort is just as needful to the character of a woman as of a
man. Had she spoken, she might have heard true things of Tom,
sufficient so to alter her opinion of him as, at this early stage of
their intercourse, to alter the _set_ of her feelings, which now was
straight for him. It may be such an exercise of courage would have
rendered the troubles that were now to follow unnecessary to her
development. For lack of it, she went about from that time with the
haunting consciousness that she was one who might be found out; that
she was guilty of what would go a good way to justify the hard words
she had so resented. Already the secret had begun to work conscious
woe. She contrived, however, to quiet herself a little with the idea,
rather than the resolve, that, as soon as Godfrey came home, she would
tell him all, confessing, too, that she had not the courage to tell his
mother. She was sure, she said to herself, he would forgive her, would
set her at peace with herself, and be unfair neither to Mr. Helmer nor
to her. In the mean time she would take care--and this was a real
resolve, not a mere act contemplated in the future--not to go where she
might meet him again. Nor was the resolve the less genuine that, with
the very making of it, rose the memory of that delightful hour more
enticing than ever. How beautifully, and with what feeling, he read the
lovely song! With what appreciation had he not expounded Milton's
beautiful poem! Not yet was she capable of bethinking herself that it
was but on this phrase and on that he had dwelt, on this and on that
line and rhythm, enforcing their loveliness of sound and shape; while
the poem, the really important thing, the drift of the whole--it was
her own heart and conscience that revealed that to her, not the
exposition of one who at best could understand it only with his brain.
She kept to her resolve, nevertheless; and, although Tom, leaving his
horse now here now there, to avoid attracting attention, almost every
day visited the oak, he looked in vain for the light of her approach.
Disappointment increased his longing: what would he not have given to
see once more one of those exquisite smiles break out in its perfect
blossom! He kept going and going--haunted the oak, sure of some blessed
chance at last. It was the first time in his life he had followed one
idea for a whole fortnight.

At length Godfrey came. But, although all the time he was away Letty
had retained and contemplated with tolerable calmness the idea of
making her confession to him, the moment she saw him she felt such
confession impossible. It was a sad discovery to her. Hitherto Godfrey,
and especially of late, had been the chief source of the peace and
interest of her life, that portion of her life, namely, to which all
the rest of it looked as its sky, its overhanging betterness--and now
she felt before him like a culprit: she had done what he might be
displeased with. Nay, would that were all! for she felt like a
hypocrite: she had done that which she could not confess. Again and
again, while Godfrey was away, she had flattered herself that the help
the objectionable Tom had given her with her task would at once
recommend him to Godfrey's favorable regard; but now that she looked in
Godfrey's face, she was aware--she did not know why, but she was aware
it would not be so. Besides, she plainly saw that the same fact would,
almost of necessity, lead him to imagine there had been much more
between them than was the case; and she argued with herself, that, now
there was nothing, now that everything was over, it would be a pity if,
because of what she could not help, and what would never be again,
there should arise anything, however small, of a misunderstanding
between her cousin Godfrey and her.

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

Thus, even in the heart of one so far above ordinary men as Godfrey,
and that in respect of the sweetest of child-maidens, pride had its
evil place; and no good ever comes of pride, for it is the meanest of
mean things, and no one but he who is full of it thinks it grand. For
its sake this wise man was firmly resolved on caution; and so, when at
last they met, it was no more with that _abandon_ of simple pleasure
with which he had been wont to receive her when she came knocking at
the door of his study, bearing clear question or formless perplexity;
and his restraint would of itself have been enough to make Letty, whose
heart was now beating in a very thicket of nerves, at once feel it
impossible to carry out her intent--impossible to confess to him any
more than to his mother; while Godfrey, on his part, perceiving her
manifest shyness and unwonted embarrassment, attributed them altogether
to his own wisely guarded behavior, and, seeing therein no sign of loss
of influence, continued his caution. Thus the pride, which is of man,
mingled with the love, which is of God, and polluted it. From that hour
he began to lord it over the girl; and this change in his behavior
immediately reacted on himself, in the obscure perception that there
might be danger to her in continued freedom of intercourse: he must,
therefore, he concluded, order the way for both; he must take care of
her as well as of himself. But was it consistent with this resolve that
he should, for a whole month, spend every leisure moment in working at
a present for her--a written marvel of neatness and legibility?

Again, by this meeting askance, as it were, another disintegrating
force was called into operation: the moment Letty knew she could not
tell Godfrey, and that therefore a wall had arisen between him and her,
that moment woke in her the desire, as she had never felt it before, to
see Tom Helmer. She could no longer bear to be shut up in herself; she
must see somebody, get near to somebody, talk to somebody; her secret
would choke her otherwise, would swell and break her heart; and who was
there to think of but Tom--and Mary Marston?

She had never once gone to the oak again, but she had not altogether
avoided a certain little cobwebbed gable-window in the garret, from
which it was visible; neither had she withheld her hands from cleaning
a pane in that window, that through it she might see the oak; and
there, more than once or twice, now thickening the huge limb, now
spotting the grass beneath it, she had descried a dark object, which
could be nothing else than Tom Helmer on the watch for herself. He must
surely be her friend, she reasoned, or how would he care, day after
day, to climb a tree to look if she were coming--she who was the
veriest nobody in all other eyes but his? It was so good of Tom! She
_would_ call him Tom; everybody else called him Tom, and why shouldn't
she--to herself, when nobody was near? As to Mary Marston, she treated
her like a child! When she told her that she had met Tom at
Durnmelling, and how kind he had been, she looked as grave as if it had
been wicked to be civil to him; and told her in return how he and his
mother were always quarreling: that must be his mother's fault, she was
sure-it could not be Tom's; any one might see that at a glance! His
mother must be something like her aunt! But, after that, how could she
tell Mary any more? It would not be fair to Tom, for, like the rest,
she would certainly begin to abuse him. What harm could come of it?
and, if harm did, how could she help it! If they had been kind to her,
she would have told them everything, but they all frightened her so,
she could not speak. It was not her fault if Tom was the only friend
she had! She _would_ ask his advice; he was sure to advise her just the
right thing. He had read that sonnet about the wise virgin with such
feeling and such force, he _must_ know what a girl ought to do, and how
she ought to behave to those who were unkind and would not trust her.

Poor Letty! she had no stay, no root in herself yet. Well do I know not
one human being ought, even were it possible, to be enough for himself;
each of us needs God and every human soul he has made, before he has
enough; but we ought each to be able, in the hope of what is one day to
come, to endure for a time, not having enough. Letty was unblamable
that she desired the comfort of humanity around her soul, but I am not
sure that she was quite unblamable in not being fit to walk a few steps
alone, or even to sit still and expect. With all his learning, Godfrey
had not taught her what William Marston had taught Mary; and now her
heart was like a child left alone in a great room. She had not yet
learned that we must each bear his own burden, and so become able to
bear each the burden of the other. Poor friends we are, if we are
capable only of leaning, and able never to support.

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

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



CHAPTER X.

THE HEATH AND THE HUT.


Letty seldom went into the shop, except to buy, for she knew Mr.
Turnbull would not like it, and Mary did not encourage it; but now her
misery made her bold. Mary saw the trouble in her eyes, and without a
moment's hesitation drew her inside the counter, and thence into the
house, where she led the way to her own room, up stairs and through
passages which were indeed lanes through masses of merchandise, like
those cut through deep-drifted snow. It was shop all over the house,
till they came to the door of Mary's chamber, which, opening from such
surroundings, had upon Letty much the effect of a chapel--and rightly,
for it was a room not unused to having its door shut. It was small, and
plainly but daintily furnished, with no foolish excess of the small
refinements on which girls so often set value, spending large time on
what it would be waste to buy: only they have to kill the weary captive
they know not how to redeem, for he troubles them with his moans.

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

Letty burst into tears, and sat sobbing.

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

Letty could not speak.

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

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

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

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

"We will try her," said Mary, confidently; and, without more ado, left
Letty, and, going to her desk in the shop, wrote a note to Mrs.
Wardour. This she gave to Beenie to send by special messenger to
Thornwick; after which, she told her, she must take up a nice tea to
Miss Lovel in her bedroom. Mary then resumed her place in the shop,
under the frowns and side-glances of Turnbull, and the smile of her
father, pleased at her reappearance from even such a short absence.

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

The rare anger flushed Letty's cheek and flashed from her eyes as she
read; for, in addition to the prime annoyance, her aunt's note was
addressed to her and not to Mary, to whom it did not even allude. Mary
only smiled inwardly at this, but Letty felt deeply hurt, and her
displeasure with her aunt added yet a shade to the dimness of her
judgment. She rose at once.

"Will you not tell me first what is troubling you, Letty?" said Mary.

"No, dear, not now," replied Letty, caring a good deal less about the
right ordering of her way than when she entered the house. Why should
she care, she said to herself--but it was her anger speaking in
her--how she behaved, when she was treated so abominably?

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

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

It was a still evening, with a great cloud rising in the southwest;
from which, as the sun drew near the horizon, a thin veil stretched
over the sky between, and a few drops came scattering. This was in
harmony with Letty's mood. Her soul was clouded, and her heaven was
only a place for the rain to fall from. Annoyance, doubt, her new sense
of constraint, and a wide-reaching, undefined feeling of homelessness,
all wrought together to make her mind a chaos out of which misshapen
things might rise, instead of an ordered world in which gracious and
reasonable shapes appear. For as the place such will be the thoughts
that spring there; when all in us is peace divine, then, and not till
then, shall we think the absolutely reasonable. Alas, that by our
thoughtlessness or unkindness we should so often be the cause of
monster-births, and those even in the minds of the loved! that we
should be, if but for a moment, the demons that deform a fair world
that loves us! Such was Mrs. Wardour, with her worldly wisdom, that day
to Letty.

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

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

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

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

"What a night for you to be out in, Letty," responded Tom, taking
instant advantage of the right she had given him. "How lucky it was I
chose the right place to watch in at last! I was sure, if only I
persevered long enough, I should be rewarded."

"Have you been waiting for me long?" asked Letty, with foolish
acceptance.

"A fortnight and a day," answered Tom, with a laugh. "But I would wait
a long year for such another chance as this." And he pressed to his
side the hand upon his arm. "Fate is indeed kind to-night."

"Hardly in the weather," said Letty, fast recovering her spirits.

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

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

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

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

"Thou shalt thyself be the lovely critic, fair maiden!" answered Tom.

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

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

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

Letty said nothing, but Tom felt she was reluctant.

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

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

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

"Let me see!--How old are you, Letty?" he asked gayly.

"Eighteen past," she answered.

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

"But they give me everything, you know--food, and clothes, and all."

"Ah, just so!" returned Tom. "And what do you do for them?"

"Nothing."

"Why! what are you about all day?"

Letty gave him a brief sketch of her day.

"And you call that nothing?" exclaimed Tom. "Ain't that enough to pay
for your food and your clothes? Does it want your private affairs to
make up the difference? Or have you to pay for your food and clothes
with your very thoughts?--What pocket-money do they give you?"

"Pocket-money?" returned Letty, as if she did not quite know what he
meant.

"Money to do what you like with," explained Tom.

Letty thought for a moment.

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

Tom burst into a merry laugh.

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

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

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

In this style he went on, believing he spoke the truth, and was
teaching her to show a proper spirit. His heart, as well as Godfrey's,
was uplifted, to think he had this lovely creature to direct and
superintend: through her sweet confidence, he had to set her free from
unjust oppression taking advantage of her simplicity. But in very truth
he was giving her just the instruction that goes to make a slave--the
slave in heart, who serves without devotion, and serves unworthily. Yet
in this, and much more such poverty-stricken, swine-husk argument,
Letty seemed to hear a gospel of liberty, and scarcely needed the
following injunctions of Tom, to make a firm resolve not to utter a
word concerning him. To do so would be treacherous to him, and would be
to forfeit the liberty he had taught her! Thus, from the neglect of a
real duty, she became the slave of a false one.

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

Letty looked up at him gratefully.

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

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

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

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

"Don't be afraid, my white bird," said Tom. "I will see you home. But
surely you are as well here as there anyhow! Who knows when we shall
meet again? Don't be alarmed; I'm not going to ask you to meet me
anywhere; I know your sweet innocence would make you fancy it wrong,
and then you would be unhappy. But that is no reason why I should not
fall in with you when I have the chance. It is very hard that two
people who understand each other can not be friends without other
people shoving in their ugly beaks! Where is the harm to any one if we
choose to have a few minutes' talk together now and then?"

"Where, indeed?" responded Letty shyly.

A tall shadow--no shadow either, but the very person of Godfrey
Wardour--passed the opening in the wall of the hut where once had been
a window, and the gloom it cast into the dusk within was awful and
ominous. The moment he saw it, Tom threw himself flat on the clay floor
of the hut. Godfrey stopped at the doorless entrance, and stood on the
threshold, bending his head to clear the lintel as he looked in.
Letty's heart seemed to vanish from her body. A strange feeling shook
her, as if some mysterious transformation were about to pass upon her
whole frame, and she were about to be changed into some one of the
lower animals. The question, where was the harm, late so triumphantly
put, seemed to have no heart in it now. For a moment that had to Letty
the air of an aeon, Godfrey stood peering.

Not a little to his displeasure, he had heard from his mother of her
refusal to grant Letty's request, and had set out in the hope of
meeting and helping her home, for by that time it had begun to rain,
and looked stormy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He had a dreary walk back to the public house where he had stabled his
horse; but he trudged it cheerfully, brooding with delight on Letty's
beauty, and her lovely confidence in Tom Helmer--a personage whom he
had begun to feel nobody trusted as he deserved.

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

Nor, indeed, was it a very comfortable walk home she had, although
Godfrey talked all the way, as well as a head-wind, full of rain, would
permit. A few weeks ago she would have thought the walk and the talk
and everything delightful. But after Tom's airy converse on the same
level with herself, Godfrey's sounded indeed wise--very wise--but dull,
so dull! It is true the suspicion, hardly awake enough to be troublous,
lay somewhere in her, that in Godfrey's talk there was a value of which
in Tom's there was nothing; but then it was not wisdom Letty was in
want of, she thought, but somebody to be kind to her--as kind as she
should like; somebody, though she did not say this even to herself, to
pet her a little, and humor her, and not require too much of her.
Physically, Letty was not in the least lazy, but she did not enjoy
being forced to think much. She could think, and to no very poor
purpose either, but as yet she had no hunger for the possible results
of thought, and how then could she care to think? Seated on the edge of
her bed, weary and wet and self-accused, she recalled, and pondered,
and, after her faculty, compared the two scarce comparable men, until
the voice of her aunt, calling to her to make haste and come to tea,
made her start up, and in haste remove her drenched garments. The old
lady imagined from her delay she was out of temper because she had sent
for her home; but, when she appeared, she was so ready, so attentive,
and so quick to help, that, a little repentant, she said to herself,
"Really the girl is very good-natured!" as if then first she discovered
the fact. But Thornwick could never more to Letty feel like a home! Not
at peace with herself, she could not be in rhythmic relation with her
surroundings.

The next day, the old manner of life began again; but, alas! it was
only the old manner, it was not the old life; that was gone for ever,
like an old sunset, or an old song, and could not be recalled from the
dead. We may have better, but we can not have the same. God only can
have the same. God grant our new may inwrap our old! Letty labored more
than ever to lay hold of the lessons, to his mind so genial, in hers
bringing forth more labor than fruit, which Godfrey set before her, but
success seemed further from her than ever. She was now all the time
aware of a weight, an oppression, which seemed to belong to the task,
but was in reality her self-dissatisfaction. She was like a poor Hebrew
set to make brick without straw, but the Egyptian that had brought her
into bondage was the feebleness of her own will. Now and then would
come a break--a glow of beauty, a gleam of truth; for a moment she
would forget herself; for a moment a shining pool would flash on the
clouded sea of her life; presently her heart would send up a fresh
mist, the light would fade and vanish, and the sea lie dusky and sad.
Not seldom reproaching herself with having given Tom cause to think
unjustly of her guardians, she would try harder than ever to please her
aunt; and the small personal services she had been in the way of
rendering to Godfrey were now ministered with the care of a devotee.
Not once should he miss a button from a shirt or find a sock
insufficiently darned! But even this conscience of service did not make
her happy. Duty itself could not, where faith was wanting, where the
heart was not at one with those to whom the hands were servants. She
would cry herself to sleep, and rise early to be sad. She resolved at
last, and seemed to gain strength and some peace from the resolve, to
do all in her power to avoid Tom; and certainly not once did she try to
meet him. Not with him, she could resist him.

Thus it went on. Her aunt saw that something was amiss, and watched
her, without attempt at concealment, which added greatly to Letty's
discomfort. But the only thing her keenness discovered was, that the
girl was forwardly eager to please Godfrey, and the conviction began to
grow that she was indulging the impudent presumption of being in love
with her peerless cousin. Then maternal indignation misled her into the
folly of dropping hints that should put Godfrey on his guard: men were
so easily taken in by designing girls! She did not say much; but she
said a good deal too much for her own ends, when she caused her fancy
to present itself to the mind of Godfrey.

He had not failed, no one could have failed, to observe the dejection
that had for some time ruled every feature and expression of the girl's
countenance. Again and again he had asked himself whether she might not
be fancying him displeased with her; for he knew well that, becoming
more and more aware of what he counted his danger, he had kept of late
stricter guard than ever over his behavior; but, watching her now with
the misleading light of his mother's lantern, nor quite unwilling, I am
bound to confess, that the thing might be as she implied, he became by
degrees convinced that she was right.

So far as this, perhaps, the man was pardonable--with a mother to cause
him to err. But, for what followed, punishment was inevitable. He had a
true and strong affection for the girl, but it was an affection as from
conscious high to low; an affection, that is, not unmixed with
patronage--a bad thing--far worse than it can seem to the heart that
indulges it. He still recoiled, therefore, from the idea of such a
leveling of himself as he counted it would be to show her anything like
the love of a lover. All pride is more or less mean, but one pride may
be grander than another, and Godfrey was not herein proud in any grand
way. Good fellow as he was, he thought much too much of himself; and,
unconsciously comparing it with Letty's, altogether overvalued his
worth. Stranger than any bedfellow misery ever acquainted a man withal,
are the heart-fellows he carries about with him. Noble as in many ways
Wardour was, and kind as, to Letty, he thought he always was, he was
not generous toward her; he was not Prince Arthur, "the Knight of
Magnificence." Something may perhaps be allowed on the score of the
early experience because of which he had resolved--pridefully, it is
true--never again to come under the power of a woman; it was unworthy
of any man, he said, to place his peace in a hand which could
thenceforth wring his whole being with agony. But, had he now brought
himself as severely to task as he ought, he would have discovered that
he was making no objection to the little girl's loving him, only he
would not love her in the same way in return; and where was the honor
in that? Doubtless, had he thus examined himself, he would have thought
he meant to take care that the child's love for him should not go too
far--should not endanger her peace; and that, if the thing should give
her trouble, it should be his business to comfort her in it; but
descend he would not--would not _yet_--from his pedestal, to meet the
silly thing on the level ground of humanity, and the relation of the
man and the woman! Something like this, I say, he would have found in
his heart, horrid as it reads. That heart's action was not even, was
not healthy.

When in London he had ransacked Holywell Street for dainty editions of
so many of his favorite authors as would make quite a little library
for Letty; and on his return, had commissioned a cabinet-maker in
Testbridge to put together a small set of book-shelves, after his own
design, measured and fitted to receive them exactly; these shelves, now
ready, he fastened to her wall one afternoon when she was out of the
way, and filled them with the books. He never doubted that, the moment
she saw them, she would rush to find him; and, when he had done,
retreated, therefore, to his study, there to sit in readiness to
receive her and her gratitude with gentle kindness; when he would
express the hope that she would make real friends of the spirits whose
quintessence he had thus stored to her hand; and would introduce her to
what Milton says in his "Areopagitica" concerning good books. There,
for her sake, then, he sat, in mental state, expectant; but sat in
vain. When they met at tea, then, in the presence of his mother, with
embarrassment and broken utterance, she did thank him.

"O Cousin Godfrey!" she said, and ceased; then, "It is so much more
than I deserve, I dare hardly thank you." After another pause, with a
shake of her pretty head, as if she would toss aside her hair, or the
tears out of her eyes, "I don't know--I seem to have no right to thank
you; I ought not to have such a splendid present. Indeed, I don't
deserve it. You would not give it me if you knew how naughty I am."

These broken sentences were by both mother and son altogether
misinterpreted. The mother, now hearing for the first time of Godfrey's
present, was filled with jealousy, and began to revolve thoughts of
dire disquietude: was the hussy actually beginning to gain her point,
and steal from her the heart of her son? Was it in the girl's blood to
wrong her? The father of her had wronged her: she would take care his
daughter should not! She had taken a viper to her bosom! Who was _she_,
to wriggle herself into an old family and property? Had _she_ been born
to such things? She would teach her who she was! When dependents began
to presume, it was time they had a lesson.

Letty could not bear the sight of the books and their shelves; the very
beauty of the bindings was a reproach to her. From the misery of this
fresh burden, this new stirring of her sense of hypocrisy, she began to
wish herself anywhere out of the house, and away from Thornwick. It was
torture to her to think how she had deceived Cousin Godfrey at the hut;
and throughout the night, across the darkness, she felt, though she
could not see, the books gazing at her, like an embodied conscience,
from the wall of her chamber. Twenty times that night she started from
her sleep, saying, "I will go where they shall never see me"; then rose
with the dawn, and set herself to the hardest work she could find.

The next day was Sunday, and they all went to church. Letty felt that
Tom was there, too, but she never raised her eyes to glance at him.

He had been looking out in vain for a sight of her--now from the
oak-tree, now from his bay mare's back, as he haunted the roads about
Thornwick, now from the window of the little public-house where the
path across the fields joined the main road to Testbridge: but not once
had he caught a glimpse of her.

He had seated himself where he could not fail to see her if she were in
the Thornwick pew. How ill she looked! His heart swelled with
indignation.

"They are cruel to her," he said; "that is plain. Poor girl, they will
kill her! She is a pearl in the oyster-maw of Thornwick. This will
never do; I _must_ see her somehow!"

If at this crisis Letty had but had a real friend to strengthen and
advise her, much suffering might have been spared her, for never was
there a more teachable girl. She was, indeed, only too ready to be
advised, too ready to accept for true whatever friendship offered
itself. None but the friend who will strengthen us to stand, is worthy
of the name. Such a friend Mary would have been, but Letty did not yet
know what she needed. The unrest of her conscience made her shrink from
one who was sure to side with that conscience, and help it to trouble
her. It was sympathy Letty longed for, not strength, and therefore she
was afraid of Mary. She came to see her, as she had promised, the
Sunday after that disastrous visit; but the weather was still uncertain
and gusty, and she found both her and Godfrey in the parlor; nor did
Letty give her a chance of speaking to her alone. The poor girl had now
far more on her mind that needed help than then when she went in search
of it, but she would seek it no more from her! For, the more she
thought, the surer she felt that Mary would insist on her making a
disclosure of the whole foolish business to Mrs. Wardour, and would
admit neither her own fear nor her aunt's harshness as reason
sufficient to the contrary. "More than that," thought Letty, "I can't
be sure she wouldn't go, in spite of me, and tell her all about it! and
what would become of me then? I should be worse off a hundred times
than if I had told her myself."



CHAPTER XI

WILLIAM MARSTON.


The clouds were gathering over Mary, too--deep and dark, but of
altogether another kind from those that enveloped Letty: no troubles
are for one moment to be compared with those that come of the
wrongness, even if it be not wickedness, that is our own. Some clouds
rise from stagnant bogs and fens; others from the wide, clean, large
ocean. But either kind, thank God, will serve the angels to come down
by. In the old stories of celestial visitants the clouds do much; and
it is oftenest of all down the misty slope of griefs and pains and
fears, that the most powerful joy slides into the hearts of men and
women and children. Beautiful are the feet of the men of science on the
dust-heaps of the world, but the patient heart will yield a myriad
times greater thanks for the clouds that give foothold to the shining
angels.

Few people were interested in William Marston. Of those who saw him in
the shop, most turned from him to his jolly partner. But a few there
were who, some by instinct, some from experience, did look for him
behind the counter, and were disappointed if he were absent: most of
them had a repugnance to the over-complaisant Turnbull. Yet Marston was
the one whom the wise world of Testbridge called the hypocrite, and
Turnbull was the plain-spoken, agreeable, honest man of the world,
pretending to be no better either than himself or than other people.
The few friends, however, that Marston bad, loved him as not many are
loved: they knew him, not as he seemed to the careless eye, but as he
was. Never did man do less either to conceal or to manifest himself. He
was all taken up with what he loved, and that was neither himself nor
his business. These friends knew that, when the far-away look was on
him, when his face was paler, and he seemed unaware of person or thing
about him, he was not indifferent to their presence, or careless of
their existence; it was only that his thoughts were out, like heavenly
bees, foraging; a word of direct address brought him back in a moment,
and his soul would return to them with a smile. He stood as one on the
keystone of a bridge, and held communion now with these, now with
those: on this side the river and on that, both companies were his own.

He was not a man of much education, in the vulgar use of the word; but
he was a good way on in that education, for the sake of which, and for
no other without it, we are here in our consciousness--the education
which, once begun, will, soon or slow, lead knowledge captive, and
teaches nothing that has to be unlearned again, because every flower of
it scatters the seed of one better than itself. The main secret of his
progress, the secret of all wisdom, was, that with him action was the
beginning and end of thought. He was not one of that cloud of false
witnesses, who, calling themselves Christians, take no trouble for the
end for which Christ was born, namely, their salvation from
unrighteousness--a class that may be divided into the insipid and the
offensive, both regardless of obedience, the former indifferent to, the
latter contentious for doctrine.

It may well seem strange that such a man should have gone into business
with such another as John Turnbull; but the latter had been growing
more and more common, while Marston had been growing more and more
refined. Still from the first it was an unequal yoking of believer with
unbeliever--just as certainly, although not with quite such wretched
results, as would have been the marriage of Mary Marston and George
Turnbull. And it had been a great trial: punishment had not been
spared--with best results in patience and purification; for so are our
false steps turned back to good by the evil to which they lead us.
Turnbull was ready to take every safe advantage to be gained from his
partner's comparative carelessness about money. He drew a larger
proportion of the profits than belonged to his share in the capital,
justifying himself on the ground that he had a much larger family, did
more of the business, and had to keep up the standing of the firm. He
made him pay more than was reasonable for the small part of the house
yielded from storage to the accommodation of him, his daughter, and
their servant, notwithstanding that, if they had not lived there, some
one must have been paid to do so. Far more than this, careless of his
partner's rights, and insensible to his interests, he had for some time
been risking the whole affair by private speculations. After all,
Marston was the safer man of business, even from the worldly point of
view. Alone, it is true, he would hardly have made money, but he would
have got through, and would have left his daughter the means of getting
through also; for he would have left her in possession of her own peace
and the confidence of her friends, which will always prove enough for
those who confess themselves to be strangers and pilgrims on the
earth--those who regard it as a grand staircase they have to climb, not
a plain on which to build their houses and plant their vineyards.

As to the peculiar doctrines of the sect to which he had joined
himself, right or wrong in themselves, Marston, after having complied
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 chaff--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, first made of
him a living soul. When a man _knows_ this, potentially he knows all
things. But, _just therefore_, he did not stand high with his sect any
more than with his customers, though--a fact which Marston himself
never suspected--the influence of his position had made them choose him
for a deacon. One evening George had had leave to go home early,
because of a party at _the villa_, as the Turnbulls 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, assisting 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 the 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 myself 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, though 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 comfortable for him.
He lay down, and she covered him 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
tune 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 on 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 understanding Milton's best--to the childlike mind the best
is always 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 herself understanding it better. It was
gradually growing very precious.

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 refrain, and repeated it after her:

"'Triumphing over death, and chance, and thee, O Time!'

"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 comfort myself with it when I wake
in the night. The man must have been very like the apostle Paul."

He said no more. The tea was brought, and he drank a cup of it, but
could not eat; and, as he could not, neither could Mary.

"I want a long sleep," he said; and the words went to his child's
heart--she dared not question herself why. When the tea-things 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 perhaps she was not one; "I want me to be
a Christian."

"Yes, my love," he went on; "but it is not that I do not think 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 even understanding the Lord
Jesus that makes one a Christian. That makes one dear to the Father;
but it is being 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, doing 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 it?"

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 still, 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 I 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, what you want me to do, father dear. I will do whatever
you tell me."

"I want you to be just like that to the Lord Christ, 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
the doctrines of the gospel. The man who does what God tells him, sits
at his Father's feet, and looks up in his Father's face; and men had
better leave him alone, for he can not greatly mistake his Father, and
certainly will not displease him. Look for the lovely will, my child,
that you may be its servant, its priest, its sister, its queen, its
slave--as Paul calls himself. How that man did glory in his Master!"

"I will try, father," returned Mary, with a burst of tears. "I do want
to be good. I do want to be one of his slaves, if I may."

"_May!_ my child? You are bound to be. You have no choice but choose
it. It is what we are made for--freedom, the divine nature, God's life,
a grand, pure, open-eyed existence! It is what Christ died for. You
must not talk about _may;_ it is all _must._"

Mary had never heard her father talk like this, and, notwithstanding
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 prophet.

A pause followed, and he spoke again.

"I will tell you one thing now that Jesus says: he is unchangeable;
what he says once he 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 be troubled.'_"

"But he 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, "_will_ 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 troubled about it.--I am tired, and
should like to go to bed."

He rose, and stood for a moment in front of the fire, winding his old
double-cased silver watch. Mary took from her side the little gold one
he had given her, and, as was her custom, 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 creature. 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 repair, 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 remember.

She went with him to his bedroom, and saw that everything was right for
him. When she went again, before going to her own, he felt more
comfortable, he said, and expected to have a good night. Relieved, she
left him; but her heart would be heavy. A shapeless sadness seemed
pressing 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
she went again in the morning, he lay white, motionless, and without a
breath.

It was not in Mary's nature to give sudden vent to her feelings. For a
time she 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 entrance. The thing could not be! Not until
she stooped and kissed the pale face, did the 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. He was gone, and she
was alone. She tried to pray, but her heart seemed to lie dead in her
bosom, and no prayer would rise from it. It was the time of all times
when, if ever, prayer must be the one reasonable thing--and pray she
could not. In her dull stupor she did not hear Beenie'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 privileged to die. Then
first was the peace of death broken. Beenie 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, without 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 business, George. There's
your chance!"

The last words he called from the bottom of the stair, as George sped
up after her. "Mary! Mary, dear," he called as he ran.

But Mary had the instinct--it was hardly more--to quicken her pace, and
lock the door of her room the moment she entered. As she turned 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, "O 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 before 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 brain 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 Beenie, 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 wished.

"Marston was but a poor-spirited fellow," he said to his wife when he
told her; "the 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 wife 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, the
presence of that which was not her father, which was like him only to
remind her that it was not he, and which must so soon cease to resemble
him, there sprang, as in the very footprint of Death, yet another
flower of rarest comfort--a strong feeling, namely, of the briefness of
time, and the 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 the spring of the great clock that measures the 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
patient 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 the 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 prolonged contemplation of
death is desirable for those whose 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.



CHAPTER XII.

MARY'S DREAM.


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 over, 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
lighthouse of the dead above the sea which held them drowned below;
despairingly 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 the same wind that raved alike about the
new grave and the old house, into which latter, for all the bales
banked against the 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
had done with, and which yet would not go away. Everything had gone
dead, as it seemed, had exhaled the soul of it, and retained but the
odor of its mortality. If for a moment a thing looked the same as
before, she wondered vaguely, unconsciously, how it could be. The
passages through 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: the room looked unnatural, _uncanny_, because it was
cheerful. She stood for a moment on the hearth, and in sad, dreamy mood
listened to the howling swoops of the wind, making the house quiver and
shake. Now and then would come a greater gust, and rattle the window as
if in fierce anger at its exclusion, then go shrieking and wailing
through the dark heaven. Mechanically she took her New Testament, and,
seating herself in a low chair by the fire, tried to read; but she
could not fix her thoughts, or get the meaning of a sentence: when she
had read it, there it lay, looking at her just the same, like an
unanswered riddle.

The region of the senses is the unbelieving part of the human soul; and
out of that now began to rise fumes of doubt and question into Mary's
heart and brain. Death was a fact. The loss, the evanishment, the
ceasing, were incontrovertible--the only incontrovertible things: she
was sure of them: could she be sure of anything else? How could she?
She had not seen Christ rise; she had never looked upon one of the
dead; never heard a voice from the other bank; had received no certain
testimony. These were not her thoughts; she was too weary to think;
they were but the thoughts that steamed up in her, and went floating
about before her; she looked on them calmly, coldly, as they came, and
passed, or remained--saw them with indifference--there they were, and
she could not help it--weariedly, believing none of them, unable to
cope with and dispel them, hardly affected by their presence, save with
a sense of dreariness and loneliness and wretched company. At last she
fell asleep, and in a moment was dreaming diligently. This was her
dream, as nearly as she could recall it, when she came to herself after
waking from it with a cry.

She was one of a large company at a house where she had never been
before--a beautiful house with a large garden behind. It was a summer
night, and the guests were wandering in and out at will, and through
house and garden, amid lovely things of all colors and odors. The moon
was shining, and the roses were in pale bloom. But she knew nobody, and
wandered alone in the garden, oppressed with something she did not
understand. Every now and then she came on a little group, or met a
party of the guests, as she walked, but none spoke to her, or seemed to
see her, and she spoke to none.

She found herself at length in an avenue of dark trees, the end of
which was far off. Thither she went walking, the only living thing,
crossing strange shadows from the moon. At the end of it she was in a
place of tombs. Terror and a dismay indescribable seized her; she
turned and fled back to the company of her kind. But for a long time
she sought the house in vain; she could not reach it; the avenue seemed
interminable to her feet returning. At last she was again upon the
lawn, but neither man nor woman was there; and in the house only a
light here and there was burning. Every guest was gone. She entered,
and the servants, soft-footed and silent, were busy carrying away the
vessels of hospitality, and restoring order, as if already they
prepared for another company on the morrow. No one heeded her. She was
out of place, and much unwelcome. She hastened to the door of entrance,
for every moment there was a misery. She reached the hall. A strange,
shadowy porter opened to her, and she stepped out into a wide street.

That, too, was silent. No carriage rolled along the center, no
footfarer walked on the side. Not a light shone from window or door,
save what they gave back of the yellow light of the moon. She was
lost--lost utterly, with an eternal loss. She knew nothing of the
place, had nowhere to go, nowhere she wanted to go, had not a thought
to tell her what question to ask, if she met a living soul. But living
soul there could be none to meet. She had nor home, nor direction, nor
desire; she knew of nothing that she had lost, nor of anything she
wished to gain; she had nothing left but the sense that she was empty,
that she needed some goal, and had none. She sat down upon a stone
between the wide street and the wide pavement, and saw the moon shining
gray upon the stone houses. It was all deadness.

Presently, from somewhere in the moonlight, appeared, walking up to
her, where she sat in eternal listlessness, the one only brother she
had ever had. She had lost him years and years before, and now she saw
him; he was there, and she knew him. But not a throb went through her
heart. He came to her side, and she gave him no greeting. "Why should I
heed him?" she said to herself. "He is dead. I am only in a dream. This
is not he; it is but his pitiful phantom that comes wandering hither--a
ghost without a heart, made out of the moonlight. It is nothing. I am
nothing. I am lost. Everything is an empty dream of loss. I know it,
and there is no waking. If there were, surely the sight of him would
give me some shimmer of delight. The old time was but a thicker dream,
and this is truer because more shadowy." And, the form still standing
by her, she felt it was ages away; she was divided from it by a gulf of
very nothingness. Her only life was, that she was lost. Her whole
consciousness was merest, all but abstract, loss.

Then came the form of her mother, and bent over that of her brother
from behind. "Another ghost of a ghost! another shadow of a phantom!"
she said to herself. "She is nothing to me. If I speak to her, she is
not there. Shall I pour out my soul into the ear of a mist, a fume from
my own brain? Oh, cold creatures, ye are not what ye seem, and I will
none of you!"

With that, came her father, and stood beside the others, gazing upon
her with still, cold eyes, expressing only a pale quiet. She bowed her
face on her hands, and would not regard him. Even if he were alive, her
heart was past being moved. It was settled into stone. The universe was
sunk in one of the dreams that haunt the sleep of death; and, if these
were ghosts at all, they were ghosts walking in their sleep.

But the dead, one of them seized one of her hands, and another the
other. They raised her to her feet, and led her along, and her brother
walked before. Thus was she borne away captive of her dead, neither
willing nor unwilling, of life and death equally careless. Through the
moonlight they led her from the city, and over fields, and through
valleys, and across rivers and seas--a long journey; nor did she grow
weary, for there was not life enough in her to be made weary. The dead
never spoke to her, and she never spoke to them. Sometimes it seemed as
if they spoke to each other, but, if it were so, it concerned some
shadowy matter, no more to her than the talk of grasshoppers in the
field, or of beetles that weave their much-involved dances on the face
of the pool. Their voices were even too thin and remote to rouse her to
listen.

They came at length to a great mountain, and, as they were going up the
mountain, light began to grow, as if the sun were beginning to rise.
But she cared as little for the sun that was to light the day as for
the moon that had lighted the night, and closed her eyes, that she
might cover her soul with her eyelids.

Of a sudden a great splendor burst upon her, and through her eyelids
she was struck blind--blind with light and not with darkness, for all
was radiance about her. She was like a fish in a sea of light. But she
neither loved the light nor mourned the shadow.

Then were her ears invaded with a confused murmur, as of the mingling
of all sweet sounds of the earth--of wind and water, of bird and voice,
of string and metal--all afar and indistinct. Next arose about her a
whispering, as of winged insects, talking with human voices; but she
listened to nothing, and heard nothing of what was said: it was all a
tiresome dream, out of which whether she waked or died it mattered not.

Suddenly she was taken between two hands, and lifted, and seated upon
knees like a child, and she felt that some one was looking at her. Then
came a voice, one that she never heard before, yet with which she was
as familiar as with the sound of the blowing wind. And the voice said,
"Poor child! something has closed the valve between her heart and
mine." With that came a pang of intense pain. But it was her own cry of
speechless delight that woke her from her dream.



CHAPTER XIII.

THE HUMAN SACRIFICE.


The same wind that rushed about the funeral of William Marston in the
old churchyard of Testbridge, howled in the roofless hall and ruined
tower of Durnmelling, and dashed against the plate-glass windows of the
dining-room, where the three ladies sat at lunch. Immediately it was
over, Lady Malice rose, saying:

"Hesper, I want a word with you. Come to my room."

Hesper obeyed, with calmness, but without a doubt that evil awaited her
there. To that room she had never been summoned for anything she could
call good. And indeed she knew well enough what evil it was that to-day
played the Minotaur. When they reached the boudoir, rightly so called,
for it was more in use for _sulking_ than for anything else, Lady
Margaret, with back as straight as the door she had just closed, led
the way to the fire, and, seating herself, motioned Hesper to a chair.
Hesper again obeyed, looking as unconcerned as if she cared for nothing
in this world or in any other. Would we were all as strong to suppress
hate and fear and anxiety as some ladies are to suppress all show of
them! Such a woman looks to me like an automaton, in which a human
soul, somewhere concealed, tries to play a good game of life, and makes
a sad mess of it.

"Well, Hesper, what do you think?" said her mother, with a dull attempt
at gayety, which could nowise impose upon the experience of her
daughter.

"I think nothing, mamma," drawled Hesper.

"Mr. Redmain has come to the point at last, my dear child."

"What point, mamma?"

"He had a private interview with your father this morning."

"Indeed!"

"Foolish girl! you think to tease me by pretending indifference!"

"How can a fact be pretended, mamma? Why should I care what passes in
the study? I was never welcome there. But, if you wish, I will pretend.
What important matter was settled in the study this morning?"

"Hesper, you provoke me with your affectation!"

Hesper's eyes began to flash. Otherwise she was still--silent--not a
feature moved. The eyes are more untamable than the tongue. When the
wild beast can not get out at the door, nothing can keep him from the
windows. The eyes flash when the will is yet lord even of the lines of
the mouth. Not a nerve of Hesper's quivered. Though a mere child in the
knowledge that concerned her own being, even the knowledge of what is
commonly called the heart, she was yet a mistress of the art of
self-defense, socially applied, and she would not now put herself at
the disadvantage of taking anything for granted, or accept the clearest
hint for a plain statement. She not merely continued silent, but looked
so utterly void of interest, or desire to speak, that her mother,
recognizing her own child, and quailing before the evil spirit she had
herself sent on to the generations to come, yielded and spoke out.

"Mr. Redmain has proposed for your hand, Hesper," she said, in a tone
as indifferent in her turn as if she were mentioning the appointment of
a new clergyman to the family living.

For one moment, and one only, the repose of Hesper's faultless upper
lip gave way; one writhing movement of scorn passed along its curves,
and left them for a moment straightened out--to return presently to a
grander bend than before. In a tone that emulated, and more than
equaled, the indifference of her mother's, she answered:

"And papa?"

"Has referred him to you, of course," replied Lady Margaret.

"Meaning it?"

"What else? Why not? Is he not a _bon parli?_"

"Then papa did not mean it?"

"I do not understand you," elaborated the mother, with a mingled yawn,
which she was far from attempting to suppress, seeing she simulated it.

"If Mr. Redmain is such a good match in papa's eyes," explained Hesper,
"why does papa refer him to me?"

"That you may accept him, of course."

"How much has the man promised to pay for me?"

"_Hesper!_"

"I beg your pardon, mamma. I thought you approved of calling things by
their right names!"

"No girl can do better than follow her mother's example," said Lady
Margaret, with vague sequence. "If _you_ do, Hesper, you will accept
Mr. Redmain."

Hesper fixed her eyes on her mother, but hers were too cold and clear
to quail before them, let them flash and burn as they pleased.

"As you did papa?" said Hesper.

"As I did Mr. Mortimer."

"That explains a good deal, mamma."

"We are _your_ parents, anyhow, Hesper."

"I suppose so. I don't know which to be sorrier for--you or me. Tell
me, mamma: would _you_ marry Mr. Redmain?"

"That is a foolish question, and ought not to be put. It is one which,
as a married woman, I could not consider without impropriety. Knowing
the duty of a daughter, I did not put the question to _you_. You are
yourself the offspring of duty."

"If you were in my place, mamma," reattempted Hesper, but her mother
did not allow her to proceed.

"In any place, in every place, I should do my duty," she said.

It was not only born in Lady Malice's blood, but from earliest years,
had been impressed on her brain, that her first duty was to her family,
and mainly consisted in getting well out of its way--in going peaceably
through the fire to Moloch, that the rest might have good places in the
Temple of Mammon. In her turn, she had trained her children to the
bewildering conviction that it was duty to do a certain wrong, if it
should be required. That wrong thing was now required of Hesper--a
thing she scorned, hated, shuddered at; she must follow the rest; her
turn to be sacrificed was come; she must henceforth be a living lie.
She could recompense herself as the daughters who have sinned by
yielding generally do when they are mothers, with the sin of
compelling, and thus make the trespass round and full. There is in no
language yet the word invented to fit the vileness of such mothers;
but, as time flows and speech grows, it may be found, and, when it is
found, it will have action retrospective. It is a frightful thing when
ignorance of evil, so much to be desired where it can contribute to
safety, is employed to smooth the way to the unholiest doom, in which
love itself must ruthlessly perish, and those, who on the plea of
virtue were kept ignorant, be perfected in the image of the mothers who
gave them over to destruction. Some, doubtless, of the innocents thus
immolated pass even through hideous fires of marital foulness to come
out the purer and the sweeter; but whither must the stone about the
neck of those that cause the little ones to offend sink those mothers?
What company shall in the end be too low, too foul for them? Like to
like it must always be.

Hesper was not so ignorant as some girls; she had for some time had one
at her side capable of casting not a little light of the kind that is
darkness.

"_Duty_, mamma!" she cried, her eyes flaming, and her cheek flushed
with the shame of the thing that was but as yet the merest object in
her thought; "can a woman be born for such things? How _could_
I--mamma, how could any woman, with an atom of self-respect, consent to
occupy the same--_room_ with Mr. Redmain?"

"Hesper! I am shocked. _Where_ did you learn to speak, not to say
_think_, of such things? Have I taken such pains--good God! you strike
me dumb! Have I watched my child like a very--angel, as anxious to keep
her mind pure as her body fair, and is _this_ the result?" Upon what
Lady Margaret founded her claim to a result more satisfactory to her
maternal designs, it were hard to say. For one thing, she had known
nothing of what went on in her nursery, positively nothing of the real
character of the women to whom she gave the charge of it;
and--although, I dare say, for worldly women, Hesper's schoolmistresses
were quite respectable--what did her mother, what could she know of the
governesses or of the flock of sheep--all presumably, but how certainly
_all_ white?--into which she had sent her?

"Is _this_ the result?" said Lady Margaret.

"Was it your object, then, to keep me innocent, only that I might have
the necessary lessons in wickedness first from my husband?" said
Hesper, with a rudeness for which, if an apology be necessary, I leave
my reader to find it.

"Hesper, you are vulgar!" said Lady Margaret, with cold indignation,
and an expression of unfeigned disgust. She was, indeed, genuinely
shocked. That a young lady of Hesper's birth and position should talk
like this, actually objecting to a man as her husband because she
recoiled from his wickedness, of which she was not to be supposed to
know, or to be capable of understanding, anything, was a thing unheard
of in her world-a thing unmaidenly in the extreme! What innocent girl
would or could or dared allude to such matters? She had no right to
know an atom about them!

"You are a married woman, mamma," returned Hesper, "and therefore must
know a great many things I neither know nor wish to know. For anything
I know, you may be ever so much a better woman than I, for having
learned not to mind things that are a horror to me. But there was a
time when you shrunk from them as I do now. I appeal to you as a woman:
for God's sake, save me from marrying that wretch!"

She spoke in a tone inconsistently calm.

"Girl! is it possible you dare to call the man, whom your father and I
have chosen for your husband, a wretch!"

"Is he not a wretch, mamma?"

"If he were, how should I know it? What has any lady got to do with a
man's secrets?"

"Not if he wants to marry her daughter?"

"Certainly not. If he should not be altogether what he ought to be--and
which of us is?--then you will have the honor of reclaiming him. But
men settle down when they marry."

"And what comes of their wives?"

"What comes of women. You have your mother before you, Hesper."

"O mother!" cried Hesper, now at length losing the horrible affectation
of calm which she had been taught to regard as _de rigueur_, "is it
possible that you, so beautiful, so dignified, would send me on to meet
things you dare not tell me--knowing they would turn me sick or mad?
How dares a man like that even desire in his heart to touch an innocent
girl?"

"Because he is tired of the other sort," said Lady Malice, half
unconsciously, to herself. What she said to her daughter was ten times
worse: the one was merely a fact concerning Redmain; the other revealed
a horrible truth concerning herself. "He will settle three thousand a
year on you, Hesper," she said with a sigh; "and you will find yourself
mistress."

"I don't doubt it," answered Hesper, in bitter scorn. "Such a man is
incapable of making any woman a wife."

Hesper meant an awful spiritual fact, of which, with all her ignorance
of human nature, she had yet got a glimpse in her tortured reflections
of late; but her mother's familiarity with evil misinterpreted her
innocence, and caused herself utter dismay. What right had a girl to
think at all for herself in such matters? Those were things that must
be done, not thought of!

    "These things must not be thought
  After these ways; so, they will drive us mad."

Yes, these things are hard to think about--harder yet to write about!
The very persons who would send the white soul into arms whose mere
touch is a dishonor will be the first to cry out with indignation
against that writer as shameless who but utters the truth concerning
the things they mean and do; they fear lest their innocent daughters,
into whose hands his books might chance, by ill luck, to fall, should
learn that it is _their_ business to keep themselves pure.--Ah, sweet
mothers! do not be afraid. You have brought them up so carefully, that
they suspect you no more than they do the well-bred gentlemen you would
have them marry. And have they not your blood in them? That will go
far. Never heed the foolish puritan. Your mothers succeeded with you:
you will succeed with your daughters.

But it is a shame to speak of those things that are done of you in
secret, and I will forbear. Thank God, the day will come--it may be
thousands of years away--when there shall be no such things for a man
to think of, any more than for a girl to shudder at! There is a
purification in progress, and the kingdom of heaven _will_ come, thanks
to the Man who was holy, harmless, undefined, and separate from
sinners. You have heard a little, probably only a little, about him at
church sometimes. But, when that day comes, what part will you have had
in causing evil to cease from the earth?

There had been a time in the mother's life when she herself regarded
her approaching marriage, with a man she did not love, as a horror to
which her natural maidenliness--a thing she could not help--had to be
compelled and subjected: of the true maidenliness--that before which
the angels make obeisance, and the lion cowers--she never had had any;
for that must be gained by the pure will yielding itself to the power
of the highest. Hence she had not merely got used to the horror, but in
a measure satisfied with it; never suspecting, because never caring
enough, that she had at the same time, and that not very gradually,
been assimilating to the horror; had lost much of what purity she had
once had, and become herself unclean, body and mind, in the contact
with uncleanness. One thing she did know, and that swallowed up all the
rest--that her husband's affairs were so involved as to threaten
absolute poverty; and what woman of the world would not count damnation
better than that?--while Mr. Redmain was rolling in money. Had she
known everything bad of her daughter's suitor, short of legal crime,
for her this would have covered it all.

In Hesper's useless explosion the mother did not fail to recognize the
presence of Sepia, without whose knowledge of the bad side of the
world, Hesper, she believed, could not have been awake to so much. But
she was afraid of Sepia. Besides, the thing was so far done; and she
did not think she would work to thwart the marriage. On that point she
would speak to her.

But it was a doubtful service that Sepia had rendered her cousin--to
rouse her indignation and not her strength; to wake horror without
hinting at remedy; to give knowledge of impending doom, without poorest
suggestion of hope, or vaguest shadow of possible escape. It is one
thing to see things as they are; to be consumed with indignation at the
wrong; to shiver with aversion to the abominable; and quite another to
rouse the will to confront the devil, and resist him until he flee. For
this the whole education of Hesper had tended to unfit her. What she
had been taught--and that in a world rendered possible only by the
self-denial of a God--was to drift with the stream, denying herself
only that divine strength of honest love, which would soonest help her
to breast it.

For the earth, it is a blessed thing that those who arrogate to
themselves the holy name of society, and to whom so large a portion of
the foolish world willingly yields it, are in reality so few and so
ephemeral. Mere human froth are they, worked up by the churning of the
world-sea--rainbow-tinted froth, lovely thinned water, weaker than the
unstable itself out of which it is blown. Great as their ordinance
seems, it is evanescent as arbitrary: the arbitrary is but the slavish
puffed up--and is gone with the hour. The life of the people is below;
it ferments, and the scum is for ever being skimmed off, and cast--God
knows where. All is scum where will is not. They leave behind them
influences indeed, but few that keep their vitality in shapes of art or
literature. There they go--little sparrows of the human world,
chattering eagerly, darting on every crumb and seed of supposed
advantage! while from behind the great dustman's cart, the huge
tiger-cat of an eternal law is creeping upon them. Is it a spirit of
insult that leads me to such a comparison? Where human beings do not,
will not _will_, let them be ladies gracious as the graces, the
comparison is to the disadvantage of the sparrows. Not time, but
experience will show that, although indeed a simile, this is no
hyperbole.

"I will leave your father to deal with you, Hesper," said her mother,
and rose.

Up to this point, Mortimer children had often resisted their mother;
beyond this point, never more than once.

"No, please, mamma!" returned Hesper, in a tone of expostulation. "I
have spoken my mind, but that is no treason. As my father has referred
Mr. Redmain to me, I would rather deal with him."

Lady Malice was herself afraid of her husband. There is many a woman,
otherwise courageous enough, who will rather endure the worst and most
degrading, than encounter articulate insult. The mere lack of
conscience gives the scoundrel advantage incalculable over the honest
man; the lack of refinement gives a similar advantage to the cad over
the gentleman; the combination of the two lacks elevates the husband
and father into an autocrat. Hesper was not one her world would have
counted weak; she had physical courage enough; she rode well, and
without fear; she sat calm in the dentist's chair; she would have
fought with knife and pistol against violence to the death; and yet,
rather than encounter the brutality of an evil-begotten race
concentrated in her father, she would yield herself to a defilement
eternally more defiling than that she would both kill and die to escape.

"Give me a few hours first, mamma," she begged. "Don't let him come to
me just yet. For all your hardness, you feel a little for me--don't
you?"

"Duty is always hard, my child," said Lady Margaret. She entirely
believed it, and looked on herself as a martyr, a pattern of
self-devotion and womanly virtue. But, had she been certain of escaping
discovery, she would have slipped the koh-i-noor into her belt-pouch,
notwithstanding. Never once in her life had she done or abstained from
doing a thing _because_ that thing was right or was wrong. Such a
person, be she as old and as hard as the hills, is mere putty in the
fingers of Beelzebub.

Hesper rose and went to her own room. There, for a long hour, she
sat--with the skin of her fair face drawn tight over muscles rigid as
marble--sat without moving, almost without thinking--in a mere hell of
disgusted anticipation. She neither stormed nor wept; her life went
smoldering on; she nerved herself to a brave endurance, instead of a
far braver resistance.

I fancy Hesper would have been a little shocked if one had called her
an atheist. She went to church most Sundays--when in the country; for,
in the opinion of Lady Margaret, it was not decorous _there_ to omit
the ceremony: where you have influence you ought to set a good
example--of hypocrisy, namely! But, if any one had suggested to Hesper
a certain old-fashioned use of her chamber-door, she would have
inwardly laughed at the absurdity. But, then, you see, her chamber was
no closet, but a large and stately room; and, besides, how, alas!
_could_ the child of Roger and Lady M. Alice Mortimer know that in the
silence was hearing--that in the vacancy was a power waiting to be
sought? Hesper was not much alone, and here was a chance it was a pity
she should lose; but, when she came to herself with a sigh, it was not
to pray, and, when she rose, it was to ring the bell.

A good many minutes passed before it was answered. She paced the
room--swiftly; she could sit, but she could not walk slowly. With her
hands to her head, she went sweeping up and down. Her maid's knock
arrested her before her toilet-table, with her back to the door. In a
voice of perfect composure, she desired the woman to ask Miss Yolland
to come to her.

Entering with a slight stoop from the waist, Sepia, with a long, rapid,
yet altogether graceful step, bore down upon Hesper like a fast-sailing
cutter over broad waves, relaxing her speed as she approached her.

"Here I am, Hesper!" she said.

"Sepia," said Hesper, "I am sold."

Miss Yolland gave a little laugh, showing about the half of her
splendid teeth--a laugh to which Hesper was accustomed, but the meaning
of which she did not understand--nor would, without learning a good
deal that were better left unlearned. "To Mr. Redmain, of course!" she
said.

Hesper nodded.

"When are you going to be--"--she was about to say "cut up" but there
was a something occasionally visible in Hesper that now and then
checked one of her less graceful coarsenesses. "When is the purchase to
be completed?" she asked, instead.

"Good Heavens, Sepia! don't be so heartless!" cried Hesper. "Things are
not quite so bad as that! I am not yet in the hell of knowing that. The
day is not fixed for the great red dragon to make a meal of me."

"I see you were not asleep in church, as I thought, all the time of the
sermon, last Sunday," said Sepia.

"I did my best, but I could not sleep: every time little Mowbray
mentioned the beast, I thought of Mr. Redmain; and it made me too
miserable to sleep."

"Poor Hesper!--Well! let us hope that, like the beast in the
fairy-tale, he will turn out a man after all."

"My heart will break," cried Hesper, throwing herself into a chair.
"Pity me, Sepia; _you_ love me a little."

A slight shadow darkened yet more Sepia's shadowy brow.

"Hesper," she said, gravely, "you never told me there was anything of
that sort! Who is it?"

"Mr. Redmain, of course!--I don't know what you mean, Sepia."

"You said your heart was breaking: who is it for?" asked Sepia, almost
imperiously, and raising her voice a little.

"Sepia!" cried Hesper, in bewilderment.

"Why should your heart be breaking, except you loved somebody?"

"Because I hate _him_," answered Hesper.

"Pooh! is that all?" returned Miss Yolland. "If there were anybody you
wanted--then I grant!"

"Sepia!" said Hesper, almost entreatingly, "I can not bear to be teased
to-day. Do be open with me. You always puzzle me so! I don't understand
you a bit better than the first day you came to us. I have got used to
you--that is all. Tell me--are you my friend, or are you in league with
mamma? I have my doubts. I can't help it, Sepia."

She looked in her face pitifully. Miss Yolland looked at her calmly, as
if waiting for her to finish.

"I thought you would--not help me," Hesper went on, "--that no one can
except God--he could strike me dead; but I did think you would feel for
me a little. I hate Mr. Redmain, and I loathe myself. If _you_ laugh at
me, I shall take poison."

"I wouldn't do that," returned Miss Yolland, quite gravely, and as if
she had already contemplated the alternative; "--that is, not so long
as there was a turn of the game left."

"The game!" echoed Hesper. "--Playing for love with the devil!--I wish
the game were yours, as you call it!"

"Mine I'd make it, if I had it to play," returned Sepia. "I wish I were
the other player instead of you, but the man hates me. Some men
do.--Come," she went on, "I will be open with you, Hesper; you don't
hang for thoughts in England. I will tell you what I would do with a
man I hated--that is, if I was compelled to marry him; it would hardly
be fair otherwise, and I have a weakness for fair play.--I would give
him absolute fair play."

The last three words she spoke with a strange expression of mingled
scorn and jest, then paused, and seemed to have said all she meant to
say.

"Go on," sighed Hesper; "you amuse me." Her tone expressed anything but
amusement. "What would a woman of your experience do in my place?"

Sepia fixed a momentary look on Hesper; the words seemed to have stung
her. She knew well enough that, if Lady Malice came to know anything of
her real history, she would have bare time to pack up her small
belongings. She wanted Hesper married, that she might go with her into
the world again; at the same time, she feared her marriage with Mr.
Redmain would hardly favor her wishes. But she could not with prudence
do anything expressly to prevent it; while she might even please Mr.
Redmain a little, if she were supposed to have used influence on his
side. That, however, must not seem to Hesper. Sepia did not yet know in
fact upon what ground she had to build.

For some time she had been trying to get nearer to Hesper, but--much
like Hesper's experience with her--had found herself strangely baffled,
she could not tell how--the barrier being simply the half innocence,
half ignorance, of Hesper. When minds are not the same, words do not
convey between them.

She gave a ringing laugh, throwing back her head, and showing all her
fine teeth.

"You want to know what I would do with a man I hated, as you _say_ you
hate Mr. Redmain?--I would send for him at once--not wait for him to
come to me--and entreat him, _as he loved me_, to deliver me from the
dire necessity of obeying my father. If he were a gentleman, as I hope
he may be, he would manage to get me out of it somehow, and wouldn't
compromise me a hair's breadth. But, that is, _if I were you_. If I
were _myself_ in your circumstances, and hated him as you do, that
would not serve my turn. I would ask him all the same to set me free,
but I would behave myself so that he could not do it. While I begged
him, I mean, I should make him feel that he could not--should make him
absolutely determined to marry me, at any price to him, and at whatever
cost to me. He should say to himself that I did not mean what I
said--as, indeed, for the sake of my revenge, I should not. For that I
would give anything--supposing always, don't you know? that I hated him
as you do Mr. Redmain. He should declare to me it was impossible; that
he would die rather than give up the most precious desire of his
life--and all that rot, you know. I would tell him I hated him--only so
that he should not believe me. I would say to him, 'Release me, Mr.
Redmain, or I will make you repent it. I have given you fair warning. I
have told you I hated you.' He should persist, should marry me, and
then I _would_."

"Would what?"

"Do as I said."

"But what?"

"Make him repent it."

With the words, Miss Yolland broke into a second fit of laughter, and,
turning from Hesper, went, with a kind of loitering, strolling pace
toward the door, glancing round more than once, each time with a fresh
bubble rather than ripple in her laughter. Whether it was all
nonsensical merriment, or whether the author of laughter without fun,
Beelzebub himself, was at the moment stirring in her, Hesper could not
have told; as it was, she sat staring after her, unable even to think.
Just as she reached the door, however, she turned quickly, and, with
the smile of a hearty, innocent child, or something very like it, ran
back to Hesper, threw her arms round her, and said:

"There, now! I've done for you what I could: I have made you forget the
odious man for a moment. I was curious to know whether I could not make
a bride forget her bridegroom. The other thing is too easy."

"What other thing?"

"To make a bridegroom forget his bride, of course, you silly
child!--But there I am, off again! when really it is time to be
serious, and come to the only important point in the matter.--In what
shade of purity do you think of ascending the funeral pyre?--In
absolute white?--or rose-tinged?--or cream-colored!--or
gold-suspect?--Eh, happy bride?"

As she ceased, she turned her head away, pulled out her handkerchief,
and whimpered a little.

"Sepia!" said Hesper, annoyed, "you are a worse goose than I thought
you! What have _you_ got to cry about? _You_ have not got to marry him!"

"No; I wish I had!" returned Sepia, wiping her eyes. "Then I shouldn't
lose you. I should take care of that."

"And am I likely to gain such a friend in Mr. Redmain as to afford the
loss of the only _other_ friend I have?" said Hesper, calmly.

"Ah, Hesper! a sad experience has taught me differently, The moment you
are married to the man--as married you will be--you all are--bluster as
you may--that moment you will begin to change into a wife--a
domesticated animal, that is--a tame tabby. Unwilling a woman must be
to confess herself only the better half of a low-bred brute, with a
high varnish--or not, as the case may be; and there is nothing left her
to do but set herself to find out the wretch's virtues, or, as he
hasn't got any, to invent for him the least unlikely ones. She wants
for her own sake to believe in him, don't you know? Then she begins to
repent having said hard words of the poor gentleman. The next thing, of
course, will be, that you begin to hate the person, to whom you said
them, and to persuade yourself she drew them out of you; and so you
break off all communication with the obnoxious person; who being, in
the present instance, that black-faced sheep, Sepia Yolland, she is
very sorry beforehand, and hates Mr. Redmain with all her heart; first,
because Hesper Mortimer hates him, and next, but twice as much, because
she is going to love him. It is a great pity _you_ should have him,
Hesper. I wish you would hand him over to me. _I_ shouldn't mind what
he was. I should soon tame him."

"You ought to be ashamed of yourself," said Hesper, with righteous
indignation. "_You would not mind what he was!_"

Sepia laughed--this time her curious half-laugh.

"If I did, I wouldn't marry him, Hesper," she said. "Which is
worse--not to mind, and marry him; or to mind, and marry him all the
same? Eh, Cousin Hesper Mortimer?"

"I _can't_ make you out, Sepia!" said Hesper. "I believe I never shall."

"Very likely. Give it up?"

"Quite."

"The best thing you could do. I can't always make myself out. But,
then, I always give it up directly, and so it does me no harm. But it's
ten times worse to worry your poor little heart to rags about such a
man as that; he's not worth a thought from a grand creature like you.
Where's the use, besides? Would you stand staring at your medicine a
whole day before the time for taking it comes? I wouldn't have my right
leg cut off because that is the side my dog walks on, and dogs go mad!
Slip, cup, and lip--don't you know? The man may be underground long
before the wedding-day: he's anything but sound, they tell me. But it
would be far better soon after it, of course. Think only--a young
widow, rich, and not a straw the worse!"

"Sepia, I can't for the life of me tell whether you are a Job's
comforter or the devil's advocate."

"Not the latter, my child; for I want to see you emerge a saint from
the miseries of matrimony. But, whatever you do, Hesper, don't break
your heart, for you will find it hard to mend. I broke mine once, and
have been mad ever since."

"What is the use of saying that to me, when you know I have to marry
the man?"

"I never said you were not to marry him; I said you were not to break
your heart. Marriage is nothing so long as you do not make a heart
affair of it; that hurts; and, as you are not in love, there is no
occasion for it at all."

"Marriage is nothing, Sepia! Is it nothing to be tied to a man--to
_any_ man--for all your life?"

"That's as you take it. Nobody makes so much of it nowadays as they
used. The clergy themselves, who are at the bottom of all the business,
don't fuss about every trifle in the prayer-book. They sign the
articles, and have done with it--meaning, of course, to break them, if
they stand in their way."

Hesper rose in anger.

"How dare you--" she began.

"Good gracious!" cried Sepia, "you don't imagine I meant anything so
wicked! How could you let such a thing come into your head? I declare
you are quite dangerous to talk to!"

"It's such a horrible business," said Hesper, "it seems to make one
capable of anything wicked, only to think about it. I would rather not
say another word on the subject."

A shudder ran through her, as if at the sight of some hideously
offensive object.

"That would be the best thing," said Sepia, "if it meant not think more
about it. Everything is better for not being thought about. I would do
anything to comfort you, dear. I would marry him for you, if that would
do; but I fear it would scarcely meet the views of Herr Papa. If I
could please the beast as well--and I think I should in time--I would
willingly hand him the purchase-money. But, of course, he would scorn
to touch it, except as the proceeds of the _bona-fide_ sale of his own
flesh and blood."



CHAPTER XIV.

UNGENEROUS BENEVOLENCE.


As the time went on, and Letty saw nothing more of Tom, she began to
revive a little, and feel as if she were growing safe again. The tide
of temptation was ebbing away; there would be no more deceit; never
again would she place herself in circumstances whence might arise any
necessity for concealment. She began, much too soon, alas! to feel as
if she were newborn; nothing worthy of being called a new birth can
take place anywhere but in the will, and poor Letty's will was not yet
old enough to give birth to anything; it scarcely, indeed, existed. The
past was rapidly receding, that was all, and had begun to look dead,
and as if it wanted only to be buried out of her sight. For what is
done is done, in small faults as well as in murders; and, as nothing
can recall it, or make it not be, where can be the good in thinking
about it?--a reasoning worse than dangerous, before one has left off
being capable of the same thing over again. Still, in the mere absence
of renewed offense, it is well that some shadow of peace should return;
else how should men remember the face of innocence? or how should they
live long enough to learn to repent? But for such breaks, would not
some grow worse at full gallop?

That the idea of Tom's friendship was very pleasant to her, who can
blame her? He had never said he loved her; he had only said she was
lovely: was she therefore bound to persuade herself he meant nothing at
all? Was it not as much as could be required of her, that, in her
modesty, she took him for no more than a true, kind friend, who would
gladly be of service to her? Ah! if Tom had but been that! If he was
not, he did not know it, which is something to say both for and against
him. It could not be other than pleasant to Letty to have one, in her
eyes so superior, who would talk to her as an equal. It was not that
ever she resented being taught; but she did get tired of lessons only,
beautiful as they were. A kiss from Mrs. Wardour, or a little teasing
from Cousin Godfrey, would have done far more than all his intellectual
labor upon her to lift her feet above such snares as she was now
walking amid. She needed some play--a thing far more important to life
than a great deal of what is called business and acquirement. Many a
matter, over which grown people look important, long-faced, and
consequential, is folly, compared with the merest child's frolic, in
relation to the true affairs of existence.

All the time, Letty had not in the least neglected her houseduties;
and, again, her readings with her cousin Godfrey, since Tom's apparent
recession, had begun to revive in interest. He grew kinder and kinder
to her, more and more fatherly.

But the mother, once disquieted, had lost no time in taking measures.
In every direction, secretly, through friends, she was inquiring after
some situation suitable for Letty: she owed it to herself, she said, to
find for the girl the right thing, before sending her from the house.
In the true spirit of benevolent tyranny, she said not a word to Letty
of her design. She had the chronic distemper of concealment, where
Letty had but a feverish attack. Much false surmise might have been
corrected, and much evil avoided, had she put it in Letty's power to
show how gladly she would leave Thornwick. In the mean time the old
lady kept her lynx-eye upon the young people.

But Godfrey, having caught a certain expression in the said eye, came
to the resolution that thenceforth their schoolroom should be the
common sitting-room. This would aid him in carrying out his resolve of
a cautious and staid demeanor toward his pupil. To preserve his
freedom, he must keep himself thoroughly in hand. Experience had taught
him that, were he once to give way and show his affection, there would
from that moment be an end of teaching and learning. And yet so much
was he drawn to the girl, that, at this very time, he gave her the
manuscript of his own verses to which I have referred--a volume
exquisitely written, and containing, certainly, the outcome of the best
that was in him: he did not tell her that he had copied them all with
such care and neatness, and had the book so lovelily bound, expressly
and only for her eyes..

News of something that seemed likely to suit her ideas for Letty at
length came to Mrs. Wardour's ears, whereupon she thought it time to
prepare the girl for the impending change. One day, therefore, as she
herself sat knitting one sock for Godfrey, and Letty darning another,
she opened the matter.

"I am getting old, Letty," she said, "and you can't be here always. You
are a thoughtless creature, but I suppose you have the sense to see
that?"

"Yes, indeed, aunt," answered Letty.

"It is high time you should be thinking," Mrs. Wardour went on, "how
you are to earn your bread. If you left it till I was gone, you would
find it very awkward, for you would have to leave Thornwick at once,
and I don't know who would take you while you were looking out. I must
see you comfortably settled before I go."

"Yes, aunt."

"There are not many things you could do."

"No, aunt; very few. But I should make a better housemaid than most--I
do believe that."

"I am glad to find you willing to work; but we shall be able, I trust,
to do a little better for you than that. A situation as housemaid would
reflect little credit on my pains for you--would hardly correspond to
the education you have had."

Mrs. Wardour referred to the fact that Letty was for about a year a
day--boarder at a ladies' school in Testbridge, where no immortal soul,
save that of a genius, which can provide its own sauce, could have
taken the least interest in the chaff and chopped straw that composed
the provender.

"It is true," her aunt went on, "you might have made a good deal more
of it, if you had cared to do your best; but, such as you are, I trust
we shall find you a very tolerable situation as governess."

At the word, Letty's heart ran half-way up her throat. A more dreadful
proposal she could not have imagined. She felt, and was, utterly
insufficient for--indeed, incapable of such an office. She felt she
knew nothing: how was she to teach anything? Her heart seemed to grow
gray within her. By nature, from lack of variety of experience, yet
more from daily repression of her natural joyousness, she was
exceptionally apprehensive where anything was required of her. What she
understood, she encountered willingly and bravely; but, the simplest
thing that seemed to involve any element of obscurity, she dreaded like
a dragon in his den.

"You don't seem to relish the proposal, Letty," said Mrs. Wardour. "I
hope you had not taken it in your head that I meant to leave you
independent. What I have done for you, I have done purely for your
father's sake. I was under no obligation to take the least trouble
about you. But I have more regard to your welfare than I fear you give
me credit for."

"O aunt! it's only that I'm not fit for being a governess. I shouldn't
a bit mind being dairymaid or housemaid. I would go to such a place
to-morrow, if you liked."

"Letty, your tastes may be vulgar, but you owe it to your family to
look at least like a lady."

"But I am not scholar enough for a governess, aunt."

"That is not my fault. I sent you to a good school. Now, I will find
you a good situation, and you must contrive to keep it."

"O aunt! let me stay here--just as I am. Call me your dairymaid or your
housemaid. It is all one--I do the work now."

"Do you mean to reflect on me that I have required menial offices of
you? I have been to you in the place of a mother; and it is for me, not
for you, to make choice of your path in life."

"Do you want me to go at once?" asked Letty, her heart sinking again,
and her voice trembling with a pathos her aunt quite misunderstood.

"As soon as I have secured for you a desirable situation--not before,"
answered Mrs. Wardour, in a tone generously protective.

Her affection for the girl had never been deep; and, the moment she
fancied she and her son were drawing toward each other, she became to
her the thawed adder: she wished the adder well, but was she bound to
harbor it after it had begun to bite? There are who never learn to see
anything except in its relation to themselves, nor that relation except
as fancied by themselves; and, this being a withering habit of mind,
they keep growing drier, and older, and smaller, and deader, the longer
they live--thinking less of other people, and more of themselves and
their past experience, all the time as they go on withering.

But Mrs. Wardour was in some dread of what her son would say when he
came to know what she had been doing; for, when we are not at ease with
ourselves, when conscience keeps moving as if about to speak, then we
dread the disapproval of the lowliest, and Godfrey was the only one
before whom his mother felt any kind of awe. Toward him, therefore, she
kept silence for the present. If she had spoken then, things might have
gone very differently: it might have brought Godfrey to the point of
righteous resolve or of passionate utterance. He could not well have
opposed his mother's design without going further and declaring that,
if Letty would, she should remain where she was, the mistress of the
house. If not the feeling of what was due to her, the dread of the
house without her might well have brought him to this.

Letty, for her part, believed her cousin Godfrey regarded her with
pity, and showed her kindness from a generous sense of duty; she was a
poor, dull creature for whom her cousin must do what he could: one word
of genuine love from him, one word even of such love as was in him,
would have caused her nature to shoot heavenward and spread out
earthward with a rapidity that would have astonished him; she would
thereby have come into her spiritual property at once, and heaven would
have opened to her--a little way at least--probably to close again for
a time. Now she felt crushed. The idea of undertaking that for which
she knew herself so ill fitted was not merely odious but frightful to
her. She was ready enough to work, but it must be real, not sham work.
She must see and consult Mary! This was quite another affair from Tom!
She would take the first opportunity. In the mean time there was
nothing to be done or said; and with a heavy heart she held her
peace--only longed for her own room, that she might have a cry. To her
comfort the clock struck ten, and all that now lay between her and that
refuge was the usual round of the house with Mrs. Wardour, to see all
safe for the night. That done, they parted, and Letty went slowly and
sadly up the stair. It was a dark prospect before her. At best, she had
to leave the only home she remembered, and go among strangers.



CHAPTER XV.

THE MOONLIGHT.


It was a still, frosty night, with a full moon. When she reached her
chamber, Letty walked mechanically to the window, and there stood, with
the candle in her hand, looking carelessly out, nor taking any pleasure
in the great night. The window looked on an open, grassy yard, where
were a few large ricks of wheat, shining yellow in the cold, far-off
moon. Between the moon and the earth hung a faint mist, which the thin
clouds of her breath seemed to mingle with and augment. There lay her
life--out of doors--dank and dull; all the summer faded from it--all
its atmosphere a growing fog! She would never see Tom again! It was six
weeks since she saw him last! He must have ceased to think of her by
this time! And, if he did think of her again, she would be far off,
nobody knew where.

Something struck the window with a slight, sharp clang. It was winter,
and there were no moths or other insects flying, What could it be? She
put her face close to the pane, and looked out. There was a man in the
shadow of one of the ricks! He had his hat off, and was beckoning to
her. It could be nobody but Tom! The thought sent to her heart a pang
of mingled pleasure and pain. Clearly he wanted to speak to her! How
gladly she would! but then would come again all the trouble of
conscious deceit: how was she to bear that all over again! Still, if
she was going to be turned out of the house so soon, what would it
matter? If her aunt was going to compel her to be her own mistress,
where was the harm if she began it a few days sooner? What did it
matter anyhow what she did? But she dared not speak to him! Mrs.
Wardour's ears were as sharp as her eyes. The very sound of her own
voice in the moonlight would terrify her. She opened the lattice
softly, and gently shaking her head--she dared not shake it
vigorously--was on the point of closing it again, when, making frantic
signs of entreaty, the man stepped into the moonlight, and it was
plainly Tom. It was too dreadful! He might be seen any moment! She
shook her head again, in a way she meant, and he understood, to mean
she dared not. He fell on his knees and laid his hands together like
one praying. Her heart interpreted the gesture as indicating that he
was in trouble, and that, therefore, he begged her to go to him. With
sudden resolve she nodded acquiescence, and left the window.

Her room was in a little wing, projecting from the back of the house,
over the kitchen. The servants' rooms were in another part, but Letty
forgot a tiny window in one of them, which looked also upon the ricks.
There was a back stair to the kitchen, and in the kitchen a door to the
farm-yard. She stole down the stair, and opened the door with absolute
noiselessness. In a moment more she had stolen on tiptoe round the
corner, and was creeping like a ghost among the ricks. Not even a
rustle betrayed her as she came up to Tom from behind. He still knelt
where she had left him, looking up to her window, which gleamed like a
dead eye in the moonlight. She stood for a moment, afraid to move, lest
she should startle him, and he should call out, for the slightest noise
about the place would bring Godfrey down. The next moment, however,
Tom, aware of her presence, sprang to his feet, and, turning, bounded
to her, and took her in his arms. Still possessed by the one terror of
making a noise, she did not object even by a contrary motion, and, when
he took her hand to lead her away out of sight of the house, she
yielded at once.

When they were safe in the field behind the hedge--

"Why did you make me come down, Tom?" she whispered, half choked with
fear, looking up in his face, which was radiant in the moonshine.

"Because I could not bear it one day longer," he answered. "All this
time I have been breaking my heart to get a word with you, and never
seeing you except at church, and there you would never even look at me.
It is cruel of you, Letty. I know you could manage it, if you liked,
well enough. Why should you try me so?"

"Do speak a little lower, Tom: sound goes so far at night!--I didn't
know you would want to see me like that," she answered, looking up in
his face with a pleased smile.

"Didn't know!" repeated Tom. "I want nothing else, think of nothing
else, dream of nothing else. Oh, the delight of having you here all
alone to myself at last! You darling Letty!"

"But I must go directly, Tom. I have no business to be out of the house
at this time of the night. If you hadn't made me think you were in some
trouble, I daredn't have come."

"And ain't I in trouble enough--trouble that nothing but your coming
could get me out of? To love your very shadow, and not be able to get a
peep even of that, except in church, where all the time of the service
I'm raging inside like a wild beast in a cage--ain't that trouble
enough to make you come to me?"

Letty's heart leaped up. He loved her, then! Love, real love, was what
it meant! It was paradise! Anything might come that would! She would be
afraid of nothing any more. They might say or do to her what they
pleased--she did not care a straw, if he loved her--really loved her!
And he did! he did! She was going to have him all to her own self, and
nobody was to have any right to meddle with her more!

"I didn't know you loved me, Tom!" she said, simply, with a little gasp.

"And I don't know yet whether you love me," returned Tom.

"Of course, if you love _me_," answered Letty, as if everybody must
give back love for love.

Tom took her again in his arms, and Letty was in greater bliss than she
had ever dreamed possible. From being a nobody in the world, she might
now queen it to the top of her modest bent; from being looked down on
by everybody, she had the whole earth under her feet; from being
utterly friendless, she had the heart of Tom Helmer for her own! Yet
even then, eluding the barriers of Tom's arms, shot to her heart, sharp
as an arrow, the thought that she was forsaking Cousin Godfrey. She did
not attempt to explain it to herself; she was in too great confusion,
even if she had been capable of the necessary analysis. It came,
probably, of what her aunt had told her concerning her cousin's opinion
of Tom. Often and often since, she had said to herself that, of course,
Cousin Godfrey was mistaken and quite wrong in not liking Tom; she was
sure he would like him if he knew him as she did!--and yet to act
against his opinion, and that never uttered to herself, cost her this
sharp pang, and not a few that followed! To soften it for the moment,
however, came the vaguely, sadly reproachful feeling, that, seeing they
were about to send her out into the world to earn her bread, they had
no more any right to make such demands upon her loyalty to them as
should exclude the closest and only satisfying friend she had--one who
would not turn her away, but wanted to have her for ever. That Godfrey
knew nothing of his mother's design, she did not once suspect.

"Now, Tom, you have seen me, and spoken to me, and I must go," said
Letty.

"O Letty!" cried Tom, reproachfully, "now when we understand each
other? Would you leave me in the very moment of my supremest bliss?
That would be mockery, Letty! That is the way my dreams serve me
always. But, surely, you are no dream! Perhaps I _am_ dreaming, and
shall wake to find myself alone! I never was so happy in my life, and
you want to leave me all alone in the midnight, with the moon to
comfort me! Do as you like, Letty!--I won't leave the place till the
morning. I will go back to the rick-yard, and lie under your window all
night."

The idea of Tom, out on the cold ground, while she was warm in bed, was
too much for Letty's childish heart. Had she known Tom better, she
would not have been afraid: she would have known that he would indeed
do as he had said--so far; that he would lie down under her window, and
there remain, even to the very moment when he began to feel miserable,
and a moment longer, but not more than two; that then he would get up,
and, with a last look, start home for bed.

"I will stop a little while, Tom," she offered, "if you will promise to
go home as soon as I leave you."

Tom promised.

They went wandering along the farm-lanes, and Tom made love to her, as
the phrase is--in his case, alas! a phrase only too correct. I do not
say, or wish understood, that he did not love her--with such love as
lay in the immediate power of his development; but, being a sort of a
poet, such as a man may be who loves the form of beauty, but not the
indwelling power of it, that is, the truth, he _made_ love to
her--fashioned forms of love, and offered them to her; and she accepted
them, and found the words of them very dear and very lovely. For
neither had she got far enough, with all Godfrey's endeavors for her
development, to love aright the ring of the true gold, and therefore
was not able to distinguish the dull sound of the gilt brass Tom
offered her. Poor fellow! it was all he had. But compassion itself can
hardly urge that as a reason for accepting it for genuine. What rubbish
most girls will take for poetry, and with it heap up impassably their
door to the garden of delights! what French polish they will take for
refinement! what merest French gallantry for love! what French
sentiment for passion! what commonest passion they will take for
devotion!--passion that has little to do with their beauty even, still
less with the individuality of it, and nothing at all with their
loveliness!

In justice to Tom, I must add, however, that he also took not a little
rubbish for poetry, much sentiment for pathos, and all passion for
love. He was no intentional deceiver; he was so self-deceived, that,
being himself a deception, he could be nothing but a deceiver--at once
the most complete and the most pardonable, and perhaps the most
dangerous of deceivers.

With all his fine talk of love, to which he now gave full flow, it was
characteristic of him that, although he saw Letty without hat or cloak,
just because he was himself warmly clad, he never thought of her being
cold, until the arm he had thrown round her waist felt her shiver.
Thereupon he was kind, and would have insisted that she should go in
and get a shawl, had she not positively refused to go in and come out
again. Then he would have had her put on his coat, that she might be
able to stay a little longer; but she prevailed on him to let her go.
He brought her to the nearest point not within sight of any of the
windows, and, there leaving her, set out at a rapid pace for the inn
where he had put up his mare.

When Tom was gone, and the bare night, a diffused conscience, all about
her, Letty, with a strange fear at her heart, like one in a churchyard,
with the ghost-hour at hand, and feeling like "a guilty thing
surprised," although she had done nothing wrong in its mere self, stole
back to the door of the kitchen, longing for the shelter of her own
room, as never exile for his fatherland.

She had left the door an inch ajar, that she might run the less risk of
making a noise in opening it; but ere she reached it, the moon shining
full upon it, she saw plainly, and her heart turned sick when she saw,
that it was closed. Between cold and terror she shuddered from head to
foot, and stood staring.

Recovering a little, she said to herself some draught must have blown
it to. If so, there was much danger that the noise had been heard; but,
in any case, there was no time to lose. She glided swiftly to it. She
lifted the latch softly--but, horror of horrors! in vain. The door was
locked. She was shut out. She must lie or confess! And what lie would
serve? Poor Letty! And yet, for all her dismay, her terror, her despair
that night, in her innocence, she never once thought of the worst
danger in which she stood!

The least perilous, where no safe way was left, would now have been to
let the simple truth appear; Letty ought immediately to have knocked at
the door, and, should that have proved unavailing, to have broken her
aunt's window even, to gain hearing and admittance. But that was just
the kind of action of which, truthful as was her nature, poor Letty,
both by constitution and training, was incapable; human opposition,
superior anger, condemnation, she dared not encounter. She sank, more
than half fainting, upon the door-step.

The moment she came to herself, apprehension changed into active dread,
rushed into uncontrollable terror. She sprang to her feet, and, the
worst thing she could do, fled like the wind after Tom--now, indeed,
she imagined, her only refuge! She knew where he had put up his horse,
and knew he could hardly take any other way than the foot-path to
Testbridge. He could not be more than a few yards ahead of her, she
thought. Presently she heard him whistling, she was sure, as he walked
leisurely along, but she could not see him. The way was mostly between
hedges until it reached the common: there she would catch sight of him,
for, notwithstanding the gauzy mist, the moon gave plenty of light. On
she went swiftly, still fancying at intervals she heard in front of her
his whistle, and even his step on the hard, frozen path. In her eager
anxiety to overtake him, she felt neither the chilling air nor the fear
of the night and the loneliness. Dismay was behind her, and hope before
her. On and on she ran. But when, with now failing breath, she reached
the common, and saw it lie so bare and wide in the moonlight, with the
little hut standing on its edge, like a ghastly lodge to nowhere, with
gaping black holes for door and window, then, indeed, the horror of her
deserted condition and the terrors of the night began to crush their
way into her soul. What might not be lurking in that ruin, ready to
wake at the lightest rustle, and, at sight of a fleeing girl, start out
in pursuit, and catch her by the hair that now streamed behind her! And
there was the hawthorn, so old and grotesquely contorted, always
bringing to her mind a frightful German print at the head of a poem
called "The Haunted Heath," in one of her cousin Godfrey's books! It
was like an old miser, decrepit with age, pursued and unable to run!
Miserable as was her real condition, it was rendered yet more pitiable
by these terrors of the imagination. The distant howl of a dog which
the moon would not let sleep, the muffled low of a cow from a shippen,
and a certain strange sound, coming again and again, which she could
not account for, all turned to things unnatural, therefore frightful.
Faintly, once or twice, she tried to persuade herself that it was only
a horrible dream, from which she would wake in safety; but it would not
do; it was, alas! all too real--hard, killing fact! Anyhow, dream or
fact, there was no turning; on to the end she must go. More frightful
than all possible dangers, most frightful thing of all, was the old
house she had left, standing silent in the mist, holding her room
inside it empty, the candle burning away in the face of the moon!
Across the common she glided like a swift wraith, and again into the
shadow of the hedges.

There seems to be a hope as well as a courage born of despair:
immortal, yet inconstant children of a death-doomed sire, both were now
departing. If Tom had come this way, she must, she thought, have
overtaken him long before now! But, perhaps, she had fainted outright,
and lain longer than she knew at the kitchen-door; and when she started
to follow him, Tom was already at home! Alas, alas! she was lost
utterly!

The footpath came to an end, and she was on the high-road. There was
the inn where Tom generally put up! It was silent as the grave. The
clang of a horseshoe striking a stone came through the frosty air from
far along the road. Her heart sank into the depths of the infinite sea
that encircles the soul, and, for the second time that night, Death
passing by gave her an alms of comfort, and she lay insensible on the
border of the same highway along which Tom, on his bay mare, went
singing home.



CHAPTER XVI.

THE MORNING.


At Thornwick, Tom had been descried in the yard, by the spying organs
of one of the servants--a woman not very young, and not altogether
innocent of nightly interviews. Through the small window of her closet
she had seen, and having seen she watched--not without hope she might
be herself the object of the male presence, which she recognized as
that of Tom Helmer, whom almost everybody knew. In a few minutes,
however, Letty appeared behind him, and therewith a throb of evil joy
shot through her bosom: what a chance! what a good joke! what a thing
for her to find out Miss Letty; to surprise her naughty secret! to have
her in her power! She would have no choice but tell her everything--and
then what privileges would be hers! and what larks they two would have
together, helping each other! She had not a thought of betraying her:
there would be no fun in that! not the less would she encourage a
little the fear that she might, for it would be as a charm in her bosom
to work her will withal!--To make sure of Letty and her secret, partly
also in pure delight of mischief, and enjoyment of the power to tease,
she stole down stairs, and locked the kitchen door--the bolt of which,
for reasons of her own, she kept well oiled; then sat down in an old
rocking-chair, and waited--I can not say watched, for she fell fast
asleep. Letty lifted the latch almost too softly for her to have heard
had she been awake; but on the door-step Letty, had she been capable of
listening, might have heard her snoring.

When the young woman awoke in the cold gray of the morning, and came to
herself, compunction seized her. Opening the door softly, she went out
and searched everywhere; then, having discovered no trace of Letty,
left the door unlocked, and went to bed, hoping she might yet find her
way into the house before Mrs. Wardour was down.

When that lady awoke at the usual hour, and heard no sound of stir, she
put on her dressing-gown, and went, in the anger of a housekeeper, to
Letty's room: there, to her amazement and horror, she saw the bed had
lain all the night expectant. She hurried thence to the room occupied
by the girl who was the cause of the mischief. Roused suddenly by the
voice of her mistress, she got up half awake, and sleepy-headed; and,
assailed by a torrent of questions, answered so, in her confusion, as
to give the initiative to others: before she was well awake, she had
told all she had seen from the window, but nothing of what she had
herself done. Mrs. Wardour hurried to the kitchen, found the door on
the latch, believed everything and much more, went straight to her
son's room, and, in a calm rage, woke him up, and poured into his
unwilling ears a torrent of mingled fact and fiction, wherein floated
side by side with Letty's name every bad adjective she could bring the
lips of propriety to utter. Before he quite came to himself the news
had well-nigh driven him mad. There stood his mother, dashing her cold
hailstorm of contemptuous wrath on the girl he loved, whom he had gone
to bed believing the sweetest creature in creation, and loving himself
more than she dared show! He had been dreaming of her with the utmost
tenderness, when his mother woke him with the news that she had gone in
the night with Tom Helmer, the poorest creature in the neighborhood.

"For God's sake, mother," he cried, "go away, and let me get up!"

"What can you do, Godfrey? What is there to be done? Let the jade go to
her ruin!" cried Mrs. Wardour, alarmed in the midst of her wrath. "You
_can_ do nothing now. As she has made her bed, so she must lie."

Her words were torture to him. He sprang from his bed, and proceeded to
pull on his clothes. Terrified at the wildness of his looks, his mother
fled from the room, but only to watch at the door.

Scarcely could Godfrey dress himself for agitation; brain and heart
seemed to mingle in chaotic confusion. Anger strove with unbelief, and
indignation at his mother with the sense of bitter wrong from Letty. It
was all incredible and shameful, yet not the less utterly miserable.
The girl whose Idea lay in the innermost chamber of his heart like the
sleeping beauty in her palace! while he loved and ministered to her
outward dream-shape which flitted before the eyes of his sense, in the
hope that at last the Idea would awake, and come forth and inform
it!--he dared not follow the thought! it was madness and suicide! He
had been silently worshiping an angel with wings not yet matured to the
spreading of themselves to the winds of truth; those wings were a
little maimed, and he had been tending them with precious balms, and
odors, and ointments: all at once she had turned into a bat, a
skin-winged creature that flies by night, and had disappeared in the
darkness! Of all possible mockeries, for _her_ to steal out at night to
the embraces of a fool! a wretched, weak-headed, idle fellow, whom
every clown called by his Christian name! an ass that did nothing but
ride the country on a horse too good for him, and quarrel with his
mother from Sunday to Saturday! For such a man she had left him,
Godfrey Wardour! a man who would have lifted her to the height of her
nature! whereas the fool Helmer would sink her to the depth of his own
merest nothingness! The thing was inconceivable! yet it was! He knew
it; they were all the same! Never woman worthy of true man! The poorest
show would take them captive, would draw them from reason!

He knew _now_ that he loved the girl. Gnashing his teeth with fellest
rage, he caught from the wall his heaviest hunting-whip, rushed
heedless past his mother where she waited on the landing, and out of
the house.

In common with many, he thought worse of Tom Helmer than he yet
deserved. He was a characterless fool, a trifler, a poetic babbler, a
good-for-nothing good sort of fellow; that was the worst that as yet
was true of him; and better things might with equal truth have been
said of him, had there been any one that loved him enough to know them.

Godfrey ran to the stable, and to the stall of his fastest horse. As he
threw the saddle over his back, he almost wept in the midst of his
passion at the sight of the bright stirrups. His hands trembled so that
he failed repeatedly in passing the straps through the buckles of the
girths. But the moment he felt the horse under him, he was stronger,
set his head straight for the village of Warrender, where Tom's mother
lived, and went away over everything. His crow-flight led him across
the back of the house of Durnmelling. Hesper, who had not slept well,
and found the early morning even a worse time to live in than the
evening, saw him from her window, going straight as an arrow. The sight
arrested her. She called Sepia, who for a few nights had slept in her
room, to the window.

"There, now!" she said, "there is a man who looks a man! Good Heavens!
how recklessly he rides! I don't believe Mr. Redmain could keep on a
horse's back if he tried!" Sepia looked, half asleep. Her eyes grew
wider. Her sleepiness vanished.

"Something is wrong with the proud yeoman!" she said. "He is either mad
or in love, probably both! We shall hear more of this morning's ride,
Hesper, as I hope to die a maid!--That's a man I should like to know
now," she added, carelessly. "There is some go in him! I have a
weakness for the kind of man that _could_ shake the life out of me if I
offended him."

"Are you so anxious, then, to make a good, submissive wife?" said
Hesper.

"I should take the very first opportunity of offending him--mortally,
as they call it. It would be worth one's while with a man like that."

"Why? How? For what good?"

"Just to see him look. There is nothing on earth so scrumptious as
having a grand burst of passion all to yourself." She drew in her
breath like one in pain. "My God!" she said, "to see it come and go!
the white and the red! the tugging at the hair! the tears and the
oaths, and the cries and the curses! To know that you have the man's
heart-strings stretched on your violin, and that with one dash of your
bow, one tiniest twist of a peg, you can make him shriek!"

"Sepia!" said Hesper, "I think Darwin must be right, and some of us at
least are come from--"

"Tiger-cats? or perhaps the Tasmanian devil?" suggested Sepia, with one
of her scornful half-laughs.

But the same instant she turned white as death, and sat softly down on
the nearest chair.

"Good Heavens, Sepia! what is the matter? I did not mean it," said
Hesper, remorsefully, thinking she had wounded her, and that she had
broken down in the attempt to conceal the pain.

"It's not that, Hesper, dear. Nothing you could say would hurt me,"
replied Sepia, drawing breath sharply. "It's a pain that comes
sometimes--a sort of picture drawn in pains--something I saw once."

"A picture?"

"Oh! well!--picture, or what you will!--Where's the difference, once
it's gone and done with? Yet it will get the better of me now and then
for a moment! Some day, when you are married, and a little more used to
men and their ways, I will tell you. My little cousin is much too
innocent now."

"But you have not been married, Sepia! What should you know about
disgraceful things?"

"I will tell you when you are married, and not until then, Hesper.
There's a bribe to make you a good child, and do as you must--that is,
as your father and mother and Mr. Redmain would have you!"

While they talked, Godfrey, now seen, now vanishing, had become a speck
in the distance. Crossing a wide field, he was now no longer to be
distinguished from the grazing cattle, and so was lost to the eyes of
the ladies.

By this time he had collected his thoughts a little, and it had grown
plain to him that the last and only thing left for him to do for Letty
was to compel Tom to marry her at once. "My mother will then have half
her own way!" he said to himself bitterly. But, instead of reproaching
himself that he had not drawn the poor girl's heart to his own, and
saved her by letting her know that he loved her, he tried to
congratulate himself on the pride and self-important delay which had
preserved him from yielding his love to one who counted herself of so
little value. He did not reflect that, if the value a woman places upon
herself be the true estimate of her worth, the world is tolerably
provided with utterly inestimable treasures of womankind; yet is it the
meek who shall inherit it; and they who make least of themselves are
those who shall be led up to the dais at last.

"But the wretch shall marry her at once!" he swore. "Her character is
nothing now but a withered flower in the hands of that woman. Even were
she capable of holding her tongue, by this time a score must have seen
them together."

Godfrey hardly knew what he was to gain by riding to Warrender, for how
could he expect to find Tom there? and what could any one do with the
mother? Only, where else could he go first to learn anything about him?
Some hint he might there get, suggesting in what direction to seek
them. And he must be doing something, however useless: inaction at such
a moment would be hell itself!

Arrived at the house--a well-appointed cottage, with out-houses larger
than itself--he gave his horse to a boy to lead up and down, while he
went through the gate and rang the bell in a porch covered with ivy.
The old woman who opened the door said Master Tom was not up yet, but
she would take his message. Returning presently, she asked him to walk
in. He declined the hospitality, and remained in front of the house.

Tom was no coward, in the ordinary sense of the word: there was in him
a good deal of what goes to the making of a gentleman; but he confessed
to being "in a bit of a funk" when he heard who was below: there was
but one thing it could mean, he thought--that Letty had been found out,
and here was her cousin come to make a row. But what did it matter, so
long as Letty was true to him? The world should know that Wardour nor
Platt--his mother's maiden name!--nor any power on earth should keep
from him the woman of his choice! As soon as he was of age, he would
marry her, in spite of them all. But he could not help being a little
afraid of Godfrey Wardour, for he admired him.

For Godfrey, he would have rather liked Tom Helmer, had he ever seen
down into the best of him; but Tom's carelessness had so often
misrepresented him, that Godfrey had too huge a contempt for him. And
now the miserable creature had not merely grown dangerous, but had of a
sudden done him the greatest possible hurt! It was all Godfrey could do
to keep his contempt and hate within what he would have called the
bounds of reason, as he waited for "the miserable mongrel." He kept
walking up and down the little lawn, which a high shrubbery protected
from the road, making a futile attempt, as often as he thought of the
policy of it, to look unconcerned, and the next moment striking fierce,
objectless blows with his whip. Catching sight of him from a window on
the stair, Tom was so little reassured by his demeanor, that, crossing
the hall, he chose from the stand a thick oak stick--poor odds against
a hunting-whip in the hands of one like Godfrey, with the steel of ten
years of manhood in him.

Tom's long legs came doubling carelessly down the two steps from the
door, as, with a gracious wave of the hand, and swinging his cudgel as
if he were just going out for a stroll, he coolly greeted his visitor.
But the other, instead of returning the salutation, stepped quickly up
to him.

"Mr. Helmer, where is Miss Lovel?" he said, in a low voice.

Tom turned pale, for a pang of undefined fear shot through him, and his
voice betrayed genuine anxiety as he answered:

"I do not know. What has happened?"

Wardour's fingers gripped convulsively his whip-handle, and the word
_liar_ had almost escaped his lips; but, through the darkness of the
tempest raging in him, he yes read truth in Tom's scared face and
trembling words.

"You were with her last night," he said, grinding it out between his
teeth.

"I was," answered Tom, looking more scared still.

"Where is she now?" demanded Godfrey again.

"I hope to God you know," answered Tom, "for I don't."

"Where did you leave her?" asked Wardour, in the tone of an avenger
rather than a judge.

Tom, without a moment's hesitation, described the place with
precision--a spot not more than a hundred yards from the house.

"What right had you to come sneaking about the place?" hissed Godfrey,
a vain attempt to master an involuntary movement of the muscles of his
face at once clinching and showing his teeth. At the same moment he
raised his whip unconsciously.

Tom instinctively stepped back, and raised his stick in attitude of
defense. Godfrey burst into a scornful laugh.

"You fool!" he said; "you need not be afraid; I can see you are
speaking the truth. You dare not tell me a lie!"

"It is enough," returned Tom with dignity, "that I do not tell lies. I
am not afraid of you, Mr. Wardour. What I dare or dare not do, is
neither for you nor me to say. You are the older and stronger and every
way better man, but that gives you no right to bully me."

This answer brought Godfrey to a better sense of what became himself,
if not of what Helmer could claim of him. Using positive violence over
himself, he spoke next in a tone calm even to iciness.

"Mr. Helmer," he said, "I will gladly address you as a gentleman, if
you will show me how it can be the part of a gentleman to go prowling
about his neighbor's property after nightfall."

"Love acknowledges no law but itself, Mr. Wardour," answered Tom,
inspired by the dignity of his honest affection for Letty. "Miss Lovel
is not your property. I love her, and she loves me. I would do my best
to see her, if Thornwick were the castle of Giant Blunderbore."

"Why not walk up to the house, like a man, in the daylight, and say you
wanted to see her?"

"Should I have been welcome, Mr. Wardour?" said Tom, significantly.
"You know very well what my reception would have been; and I know
better than throw difficulties in my own path. To do as you say would
have been to make it next to impossible to see her."

"Well, we must find her now anyhow; and you must marry her off-hand."

"Must!" echoed Tom, his eyes flashing, at once with anger at the word
and with pleasure at the proposal. "Must?" he repeated, "when there is
nothing in the world I desire or care for but to marry her? Tell me
what it all means, Mr. Wardour; for, by Heaven! I am utterly in the
dark."

"It means just this--and I don't know but I am making a fool of myself
to tell you--that the girl was seen in your company late last night,
and has been neither seen nor heard of since."

"My God!" cried Tom, now first laying hold of the fact; and with the
word he turned and started for the stable. His run, however, broke
down, and with a look of scared bewilderment he came back to Godfrey.

"Mr. Wardour," he said, "what am I to do? Please advise me. If we raise
a hue and cry, it will set people saying all manner of things, pleasant
neither for you nor for us."

"That is your business, Mr. Helmer," answered Godfrey, bitterly. "It is
you who have brought this shame on her."

"You are a cold-hearted man," said Tom. "But there is no shame in the
matter. I will soon make that clear--if only I knew where to go after
her. The thing is to me utterly mysterious: there are neither robbers
nor wild beasts about Thornwick. What _can_ have happened to her?"

He turned his back on Godfrey for a moment, then, suddenly wheeling,
broke out:

"I will tell you what it is; I see it all now; she found out that she
had been seen, and was too terrified to go into the house again!--Mr.
Wardour," he continued, with a new look in his eyes, "I have more
reason to be suspicious of you and your mother than you have to suspect
me. Your treatment of Letty has not been of the kindest."

So Letty had been accusing him of unkindness! Ready as he now was to
hear anything to her disadvantage, it was yet a fresh stab to the heart
of him. Was this the girl for whom, in all honesty and affection, he
had sought to do so much! How could she say he was unkind to her?--and
say it to a fellow like this? It was humiliating, indeed! But he would
not defend himself. Not to Tom, not to his mother, not to any living
soul, would he utter a word even resembling blame of the girl! He, at
least, would carry himself generously! Everything, though she had
plunged his heart in a pitcher of gall, should be done for her sake!
She should go to her lover, and leave blame behind her with him! His
sole care should be that the wind-bag should not collapse and slip out
of it, that he should actually marry her; and, as soon as he had handed
him over to her in safety, he would have done with her and with all
women for ever, except his mother! Not once more would he speak to one
of them in tone of friendship!

He looked at Tom full in the eyes, and made him no answer.

"If I don't find Letty this very morning," said Tom, "I shall apply for
a warrant to search your house: my uncle Rendall will give me one."

Godfrey smiled a smile of scorn, turned from him as a wise man turns
from a fool, and went out of the gate.

He had just taken his horse from the boy and sent him off, when he saw
a young woman coming hurriedly across the road, from the direction of
Testbridge. Plainly she was on business of pressing import. She came
nearer, and he saw it was Mary Marston. The moment she recognized
Godfrey, she began to run to him; but, when she came near enough to
take notice of his mien, as he stood with his foot in the stirrup, with
no word of greeting or look of reception, and inquiry only in every
feature, her haste suddenly dropped, her flushed face turned pale, and
she stood still, panting. Not a word could she utter, and was but just
able to force a faint smile, with intent to reassure him.



CHAPTER XVII.

THE RESULT.


Letty would never perhaps have come to herself in the cold of this
world, under the shifting tent of the winter night, but for an outcast
mongrel dog, which, wandering masterless and hungry, but not selfish,
along the road, came upon her where she lay seemingly lifeless, and,
recognizing with pity his neighbor in misfortune, began at once to give
her--it was all he had that was separable--what help and healing might
lie in a warm, honest tongue. Diligently he set himself to lick her
face and hands.

By slow degrees her misery returned, and she sat up. Rejoiced at his
success, the dog kept dodging about her, catching a lick here and a
lick there, wherever he saw a spot of bare within his reach. By slow
degrees, next, the knowledge of herself joined on to the knowledge of
her misery, and she knew who it was that was miserable. She threw her
arms round the dog, laid her head on his, and wept. This relieved her a
little: weeping is good, even to such as Alberigo in an ice-pot of
hell. But she was cold to the very marrow, almost too cold to feel it;
and, when she rose, could scarcely put one foot before the other.

Not once, for all her misery, did she imagine a return to Thornwick.
Without a thought of whither, she moved on, unaware even that it was in
the direction of the town. The dog, delighted to believe that he had
raised up to himself a mistress, followed humbly at her heel: but
always when she stopped, as she did every few paces, ran round in front
of her, and looked up in her face, as much as to say, "Here I am,
mistress! shall I lick again?" If a dog could create, he would make
masters and mistresses. Gladly would she then have fondled him, but
feared the venture; for, it seemed, were she to stoop, she must fall
flat on the road, and never rise more.

Slowly the two went on, with motion scarce enough to keep the blood
moving in their veins. Had she not been, for all her late depression,
in fine health and strength, Letty could hardly have escaped death from
the cold of that night. For many months after, some portion of every
night she passed in dreaming over again this dreariest wandering; and
in her after life people would be puzzled to think why Mrs. Helmer
looked so angry when any one spoke as if the animals died outright.
But, although she never forgot this part of the terrible night, she
never dreamed of any rescue from it; memory could not join it on to the
next part, for again she lost consciousness, and could recall nothing
between feeling the dog once more licking her face and finding herself
in bed.

When Beenie opened her kitchen-door in the morning to let in the fresh
air, she found seated on the step, and leaning against the wall, what
she took first for a young woman asleep, and then for the dead body of
one; for, when she gave her a little shake, she fell sideways off the
door-step. Beenie's heart smote her; for during the last hours of her
morning's sleep she had been disturbed by the howling of a dog,
apparently in their own yard, but had paid no further attention to it
than that of repeated mental objurgation: there stood the offender,
looking up at her pitifully--ugly, disreputable, of breed unknown, one
of the _canaille!_ When the girl fell down, he darted at her, licked
her cold face for a moment, then stretching out a long, gaunt neck,
uttered from the depth of his hidebound frame the most melancholy
appeal, not to Beenie, at whom he would not even look again, but to the
open door. But, when Beenie, in whom, as in most of us, curiosity had
the start of service, stooped, and, peering more closely into the face
of the girl, recognized, though uncertainly, a known face, she too
uttered a kind of howl, and straightway raising Letty's head drew her
into the house. It is the mark of an imperfect humanity, that personal
knowledge should spur the sides of hospitable intent: what difference
does our knowing or not knowing make to the fact of human need? The
good Samaritan would never have been mentioned by the mouth of the
True, had he been even an old acquaintance of the "certain man." But it
is thus we learn; and, from loving this one and that, we come to love
all at last, and then is our humanity complete.

Letty moved not one frozen muscle, and Beenie, growing terrified, flew
up the stair to her mistress. Mary sprang from her bed and hurried
down. There, on the kitchen-floor, in front of the yet fireless grate,
lay the body of Letty Lovel. A hideous dog was sitting on his haunches
at her head. The moment she entered, again the animal stretched out a
long, bony neck, and sent forth a howl that rang penetrative through
the house. It sounded in Mary's ears like the cry of the whole animal
creation over the absence of their Maker. They raised her and carried
her to Mary's room. There they laid her in the still warm bed, and
proceeded to use all possible means for the restoration of heat and the
renewal of circulation.

Here I am sorry to have to mention that Beenie, returning,
unsuccessful, from their first efforts, to the kitchen, to get hot
water, and finding the dog sitting there motionless, with his face
turned toward the door by which they had carried Letty out, peevish
with disappointment and dread, drove him from the kitchen, and from the
court, into the street where that same day he was seen wildly running
with a pan at his tail, and the next was found lying dead in a bit of
waste ground among stones and shards. God rest all such!

But, as far as Letty was concerned, happily Beenie was not an old woman
for nothing. With a woman's sympathy, Mary hesitated to run for the
doctor: who could tell what might be involved in so strange an event?
If they could but bring her to, first, and learn something to guide
them! She pushed delay to the very verge of danger. But, soon after,
thanks to Beenie's persistence, indications of success appeared, and
Letty began to breathe. It was then resolved between the nurses that,
for the present, they would keep the affair to themselves, a conclusion
affording much satisfaction to Beenie, in the consciousness that
therein she had the better of the Turnbulls, against whom she cherished
an ever-renewed indignation.

But, when Mary set herself at length to find out from Letty what had
happened, without which she could not tell what to do next, she found
her mind so far gone that she understood nothing said to her, or, at
least, could return no rational response, although occasionally an
individual word would seem to influence the current of her ideas. She
kept murmuring almost inarticulately; but, to Mary's uneasiness, every
now and then plainly uttered the name _Tom_. What was she to make of
it? In terror lest she should betray her, she must yet do something.
Matters could not have gone wrong so far that nothing could be done to
set them at least a little straight! If only she knew what! A single
false step might do no end of mischief! She must see Tom Helmer:
without betraying Letty, she might get from him some enlightenment. She
knew his open nature, had a better opinion of him than many had, and
was a little nearer the right of him. The doctor must be called; but
she would, if possible, see Tom first.

It was not more than half an hour's walk to Warrender, and she set out
in haste. She must get back before George Turnbull came to open the
shop.

When she got near enough to see Mr. Wardour's face, she read in it at
once that he was there from the same cause as herself; but there was no
good omen to be drawn from its expression: she read there not only keen
anxiety and bitter disappointment, but lowering anger; nor was that
absent which she felt to be distrust of herself. The sole
acknowledgment he made of her approach was to withdraw his foot from
the stirrup and stand waiting.

"You know something," he said, looking cold and hard in her face.

"About what?" returned Mary, recovering herself; she was careful, for
Letty's sake, to feel her way.

"I hope to goodness," returned Godfrey, almost fiercely, yet with a
dash of rude indifference, "_you_ are not concerned in
this--business!"--he was about to use a bad adjective, but suppressed
it.

"I _am_ concerned in it," said Mary, with perfect quietness.

"You knew what was going on?" cried Wardour. "You knew that fellow
there came prowling about Thornwick like a fox about a hen-roost? By
Heaven! if I had but suspected it--"

"No, Mr. Wardour," interrupted Mary, already catching a glimpse of
light, "I knew nothing of that."

"Then what do you mean by saying you are concerned in the matter?"

Mary thought he was behaving so unlike himself that a shock might be of
service.

"Only this," she answered, "--that Letty is now lying in my room,
whether dead or alive I am in doubt. She must have spent the night in
the open air--and that without cloak or bonnet."

"Good God!" cried Godfrey. "And you could leave her like that!"

"She is attended to," replied Mary, with dignity. "There are worse
evils to be warded than death, else I should not be here; there are
hard judgments and evil tongues.--Will you come and see her, Mr.
Wardour?"

"No," answered Godfrey, gruffly.

"Shall I send a note to Mrs. Wardour, then?"

"I will tell her myself."

"What would you have me do about her?"

"I have no concern in the matter, but I suppose you had better send for
a doctor. Talk to that fellow there," he added, pointing with his whip
toward the cottage, and again putting his foot in the stirrup. "Tell
him he has brought her to disgrace--"

"I don't believe it," interrupted Mary, her face flushing with
indignant shame. But Godfrey went on without heeding her:

"And get him to marry her off-hand, if you can--for, by God! he _shall_
marry her, or I will kill him."

He spoke looking round at her over his shoulder, a scowl on his face,
his foot in the stirrup, one hand twisted in the mane of his horse, and
the other with the whip stretched out as if threatening the universe.
Mary stood white but calm, and made no answer. He swung himself into
the saddle, and rode away. She turned to the gate.

From behind the shrubbery, Tom had heard all that passed between them,
and, meeting her as she entered, led the way to a side-walk, unseen
from the house.

"O Miss Marston! what is to be done?" he said. "This is a terrible
business! But I am so glad you have got her, poor girl! I heard all you
said to that brute, Wardour. Thank you, thank you a thousand times, for
taking her part. Indeed, you spoke but the truth for her. Let me tell
you all I know."

He had not much to tell, however, beyond what Mary knew already.

"She keeps calling out for you, Mr. Helmer," she said, when he had
ended.

"I will go with you. Come, come," he answered.

"You will leave a message for your mother?"

"Never mind my mother. She's good at finding out for herself."

"She ought to be told," said Mary; "but I can't stop to argue it with
you. Certainly your first duty is to Letty now. Oh, if people only
wouldn't hide things!"

"Come along," cried Tom, hurrying before her; "I will soon set
everything right."

"How shall we manage with the doctor?" said Mary, as they went. "We can
not do without him, for I am sure she is in danger."

"Oh, no!" said Tom. "She will be all right when she sees me. But we
will take the doctor on our way, and prepare him."

When they came to the doctor's house, Mary walked on, and Tom told the
doctor he had met Miss Marston on her way to him, and had come instead:
she wanted to let him know that Miss Lovel had come to her quite
unexpected that morning; that she was delirious, and had apparently
wandered from home under an attack of brain-fever, or something of the
sort.



CHAPTER XVIII.

MARY AND GODFREY.


Everything went very tolerably, so far as concerned the world of talk,
in the matter of Letty's misfortunes. Rumors, it is true--and more than
one of them strange enough--did for a time go floating about the
country; but none of them came to the ears of Tom or of Mary, and Letty
was safe from hearing anything; and the engagement between her and Tom
soon became generally known.

Mrs. Helmer was very angry, and did all she could to make Tom break it
off--it was so much below him! But in nothing could the folly of the
woman have been more apparent than in her fancying, with the experience
of her life before her, that any opposition of hers could be effectual
otherwise than to the confirmation of her son's will. So short-sighted
was she as to originate most of the reports to Letty's disadvantage;
but Tom's behavior, on the other hand, was strong to put them down; for
the man is seldom found so faithful where such reports are facts.

Mrs. Wardour took care to say nothing unkind of Letty. She was of her
own family; and, besides, not only was Tom a better match than she
could have expected for her, but she was more than satisfied to have
Godfrey's dangerous toy thus drawn away beyond his reach. As soon as
ever the doctor gave his permission, she went to see her; but,
although, dismayed at sight of her suffering face, she did not utter
one unkind word, her visit was so plainly injurious in its effects,
that it was long before Mary would consent to a repetition of it.

Letty's recovery was very slow. The spring was close at hand before the
bloom began to reappear--and then it was but fitfully--in Letty's
cheek. Neither her gayety nor her usual excess of timorousness
returned. A certain sad seriousness had taken the place of both, and
she seemed to look out from deeper eyes. I can not think that Letty had
begun to perceive that there actually is a Nature shaping us to its own
ends; but I think she had begun to feel that Mary lived in the
conscious presence of such a power. To Tom she behaved very sweetly,
but more like a tender sister than a lover, and Mary began to doubt
whether her heart was altogether Tom's. From mention of approaching
marriage, she turned with a nervous, uneasy haste. Had the insight
which the enforced calmness of suffering sometimes brings opened her
eyes to anything in Tom? The doubt filled Mary with anxiety. She
thought and thought, until--delicate matter as it was to meddle with,
and small encouragement as Godfrey Wardour had given her to expect
sympathy--she yet made up her mind to speak to him on the subject--and
the rather that she was troubled at the unworthiness of his behavior to
Letty: gladly would she have him treat her with the generosity
essential to the idea she had formed of him.

She went, therefore, one Sunday evening, to Thornwick, and requested to
see Mr. Wardour.

It was plainly an unwilling interview he granted her, but she was not
thereby deterred from opening her mind to him.

"I fear, Mr. Wardour," she said, "--I come altogether without
authority--but I fear Letty has been rather hurried in her engagement
with Mr. Helmer. I think she dreads being married--at least so soon."

"You would have her break it off?" said Godfrey, with cold restraint.

"No; certainly not," replied Mary; "that would be unjust to Mr. Helmer.
But the thing was so hastened, indeed, hurried, by that unhappy
accident, that she had scarcely time to know her own mind."

"Miss Marston," answered Godfrey, severely, "it is her own fault--all
and entirely her own fault."

"But, surely," said Mary, "it will not do for us to insist upon desert.
That is not how we are treated ourselves."

"Is it not?" returned Godfrey, angrily. "My experience is different. I
am sure my faults have come back upon me pretty sharply.--She _must_
marry the fellow, or her character is gone."

"I am unwilling to grant that, Mr. Wardour. It was wrong in her to have
anything to say to Mr. Helmer without your knowledge, and a foolish
thing to meet him as she did; but Letty is a good girl, and you know
country ways are old-fashioned, and in itself there is nothing wicked
in having a talk with a young man after dark."

"You speak, I dare say, as such things arc regarded in--certain strata
of society," returned Godfrey, coldly; "but such views do not hold in
that to which either of them belongs."

"It seems to me a pity they should not, then," said Mary. "I know
nothing of such matters, but, surely, young people should have
opportunities of understanding each other. Anyhow, marriage is a heavy
penalty to pay for such an indiscretion. A girl might like a young man
well enough to enjoy a talk with him now and then, and yet find it hard
to marry him."

"Did you come here to dispute social customs with me, Miss Marston?"
said Godfrey. "I am not prepared, nor, indeed, sufficiently interested,
to discuss them with you."

"I will come to the point at once," answered Mary; who, although
speaking so collectedly, was much frightened at her own boldness:
Godfrey seemed from his knowledge so far above her, and she owed him so
much.--"Would it not be possible for Letty to return here? Then the
thing might take its natural course, and Tom and she know each other
better before they did what was irrevocable. They are little better
than children now."

"The thing is absolutely impossible," said Godfrey, and haughtily rose
from his chair like one in authority ending an interview. "But," he
added, "you have been put to great expense for the foolish girl, and,
when she leaves you, I desire you will let me know--"

"Thank you, Mr. Wardour!" said Mary, who had risen also. "As you have
now given a turn to the conversation which is not in the least
interesting to me, I wish you a good evening."

With the words, she left the room. He had made her angry at last. She
trembled so that, the instant she was out of sight of the house, she
had to sit down for dread of falling.

Godfrey remained in the room where she left him, full of indignation.
Ever since that frightful waking, he had brooded over the injury--the
insult, he counted it--which Letty had heaped upon him. A great
tenderness toward her, to himself unknown, and of his own will
unbegotten, remained in his spirit. When he passed the door of her
room, returning from that terrible ride, he locked it, and put the key
in his pocket, and from that day no one entered the chamber. But, had
he loved Letty as purely as he had loved her selfishly, he would have
listened to Mary pleading in her behalf, and would have thought first
about her well-being, not about her character in the eyes of the world.
He would have seen also that, while the breath of the world's opinion
is a mockery in counterpoise with a life of broken interest and the
society of an unworthy husband, the mere fact of his mother's receiving
her again at Thornwick would of itself be enough to reestablish her
position in the face of all gainsayers. But in Godfrey Wardour love and
pride went hand in hand. Not for a moment would he will to love a girl
capable of being interested, if nothing more, in Tom Helmer. It must be
allowed, however, that it would have been a terrible torture to see
Letty about the place, to pass her on the stair, to come upon her in
the garden, to sit with her in the room, and know all the time that it
was the test of Tom's worth and her constancy. Even were she to give up
Tom, satisfied that she did not love him, she could be nothing more to
him, even in the relation in which he had allowed her to think she
stood to him. She had behaved too deceitfully, too heartlessly, too
ungratefully, too _vulgarly_ for that! Yet was his heart torn every
time the vision of the gentle girl rose before "that inward eye,"
which, for long, could no more be to him "the bliss of solitude"; when
he saw those hazel depths looking half anxious, half sorrowful in his
face, as, with sadly comic sense of her stupidity, she listened while
he explained or read something he loved. But no; nothing else would do
than act the mere honest guardian, compelling them to marry, no matter
how slight or transient the shadow the man had cast over her reputation!

Mary returned with a sense of utter failure.

But before long she came to the conclusion that all was right between
Tom and Letty, and that the cause of her anxiety had lain merely in
Letty's loss of animal spirits.

Now and then Mary tried to turn Tom's attention a little toward the
duty of religion: Tom received the attempt with gentle amusement and a
little _badinage_. It was all very well for girls! Indeed, he had made
the observation that girls who had no religion were "strong-minded,"
and that he could not endure! Like most men, he was so well satisfied
with himself, that he saw no occasion to take trouble to be anything
better than he was. Never suspecting what a noble creature he was meant
to be, he never saw what a poor creature he was. In his own eyes he was
a man any girl might be proud to marry. He had not yet, however, sunk
to the depth of those who, having caught a glimpse of nobility, confess
wretchedness, excuse it, and decline to allow that the noble they see
they are bound to be; or, worse still, perhaps, admit the obligation,
but move no inch to fulfill it. It seems to me that such must one day
make acquaintance with _essential_ misery--a thing of which they have
no conception.

Day after day Tom passed through Turnbull and Marston's shop to see
Letty. Tom cared for nobody, else he would have gone in by the
kitchen-door, which was the only other entrance to the house; but I do
not know whether it is a pity or not that he did not hear the remarks
which rose like the dust of his passage behind him. In the same little
sitting-room, where for so many years Mary had listened to the slow,
tender wisdom of her father, a clever young man was now making love to
an ignorant girl, whom he did not half understand or half appreciate,
all the time he feeling himself the greater and wiser and more valuable
of the two. He was unaware, however, that he did feel so, for he had
never yet become conscious of any _fact_ concerning himself.

The whole Turnbull family, from the beginnings of things
self-constituted judges of the two Marstons, were not the less critical
of the daughter, that the father had been taken from her. There was
grumbling in the shop every time she ran up to see Letty, every one
regarding her and speaking of her as a servant neglecting her duty. Yet
all knew well enough that she was co-proprietor of business and stock,
and the elder Turnbull knew besides that, if the lawyer to whose care
William Marston had committed his daughter were at that moment to go
into the affairs of the partnership, he would find that Mary had a much
larger amount of money actually in the business than he.

Of all matters connected with the business, except those of her own
department, Mary was ignorant. Her father had never neglected his duty,
but he had so far neglected what the world calls a man's interests as
to leave his affairs much too exclusively in the hands of his partner;
he had been too much interested in life itself to look sharply after
anything less than life. He acknowledged no _worldly_ interests at all:
either God cared for his interests or he himself did not. Whether he
might not have been more attentive to the state of his affairs without
danger of deeper loss, I do not care to examine or determine; the
result of his life in the world was a grand success. Now, Mary's
feeling and judgment in regard to _things_ being identical with her
father's, Turnbull, instructed by his greed, both natural and acquired,
argued thus--unconsciously almost, but not the less argued--that what
Mary valued so little, and he valued so much, must, by necessary
deduction, be more his than hers--and _logically_ ought to be
_legally_. So servants begin to steal, arguing that such and such
things are only lying about, and nobody cares for them.

But Turnbull, knowing that, notwithstanding the reason on his side, it
was not safe to act on such a conclusion, had for some time felt no
little anxiety to secure himself from investigation and possible
disaster by the marriage of Mary to his son George.

Tom Helmer had now to learn that, by his father's will, made doubtless
under the influence of his mother, he was to have but a small annuity
so long as she lived. Upon this he determined nevertheless to marry,
confident in his literary faculty, which, he never doubted, would soon
raise it to a very sufficient income. Nor did Mary attempt to dissuade
him; for what could be better for a disposition like his than care for
the things of this life, occasioned by the needs of others dependent
upon him! Besides, there seemed to be nothing else now possible for
Letty. So, in the early summer, they were married, no relative present
except Mrs. Wardour, Mrs. Helmer and Godfrey having both declined their
invitation; and no friend, except Mary for bridesmaid, and Mr. Pycroft,
a school and college friend of Tom's, who was now making a bohemian
livelihood in London by writing for the weekly press, as he called
certain journals of no high standing, for groom's man. After the
ceremony, and a breakfast provided by Mary, the young couple took the
train for London.



CHAPTER XIX.

MARY IN THE SHOP.


More than a year had now passed from the opening of my narrative. It
was full summer again at Testbridge, and things, to the careless eye,
were unchanged, and, to the careless mind, would never change,
although, in fact, nothing was the same, and nothing could continue as
it now was. For were not the earth and the sun a little colder? Had not
the moon crumbled a little? And had not the eternal warmth, unperceived
save of a few, drawn a little nearer--the clock that measures the
eternal day ticked one tick more to the hour when the Son of Man will
come? But the greed and the fawning did go on unchanged, save it were
for the worse, in the shop of Turnbull and Marston, seasoned only with
the heavenly salt of Mary's good ministration.

She was very lonely. Letty was gone; and the link between Mr. Wardour
and her not only broken, but a gulf of separation in its place. Not the
less remained the good he had given her. No good is ever lost. The
heavenly porter was departed, but had left the door wide. She had seen
him but once since Letty's marriage, and then his salutation was like
that of a dead man in a dream; for in his sore heart he still imagined
her the confidante of Letty's deception.

But the shadow of her father's absence swallowed all the other shadows.
The air of warmth and peace and conscious safety which had hitherto
surrounded her was gone, and in its place cold, exposure, and
annoyance. Between them her father and she had originated a mutually
protective atmosphere of love; when that failed, the atmosphere of
earthly relation rushed in and enveloped her. The moment of her
father's departure, malign influences, inimical to the very springs of
her life, concentrated themselves upon her: it was the design of John
Turnbull that she should not be comfortable so long as she did not
irrevocably cast in her lot with his family; and, the rest in the shop
being mostly creatures of his own choice, by a sort of implicit
understanding they proceeded to make her uncomfortable. So long as they
confined themselves to silence, neglect, and general exclusion, Mary
heeded little their behavior, for no intercourse with them, beyond that
of external good offices, could be better than indifferent to her; but,
when they advanced to positive interference, her position became indeed
hard to endure. They would, for instance, keep watch on her serving,
and, as soon as the customer was gone, would find open fault with this
or that she had said or done. But even this was comparatively
endurable: when they advanced to the insolence of doing the same in the
presence of the customer, she found it more than she could bear with
even a show of equanimity. She did her best, however; and for some time
things went on without any symptom of approaching crisis. But it was
impossible this should continue; for, had she been capable of endless
endurance, her persecutors would only have gone on to worse. But Mary
was naturally quick-tempered, and the chief trouble they caused her was
the control of her temper; for, although she had early come to
recognize the imperative duty of this branch of self-government, she
was not yet perfect in it. Not every one who can serve unboundedly can
endure patiently; and the more gentle some natures, the more they
resent the rudeness which springs from an opposite nature; absolutely
courteous, they flame at discourtesy, and thus lack of the perfection
to which patience would and must raise them. When Turnbull, in the
narrow space behind the counter, would push his way past her without
other pretense of apology than something like a sneer, she did feel for
a moment as if evil were about to have the victory over her; and when
Mrs. Turnbull came in, which happily was but seldom, she felt as if
from some sepulchre in her mind a very demon sprang to meet her. For
she behaved to her worst of all. She would heave herself in with the
air and look of a vulgar duchess; for, from the height of her small
consciousness, she looked down upon the shop, and never entered it save
as a customer. The daughter of a small country attorney, who,
notwithstanding his unneglected opportunities, had not been too
successful to accept as a husband for his daughter such a tradesman as
John Turnbull, she arrogated position from her idea of her father's
position; and, while bitterly cherishing the feeling that she had
married beneath her, obstinately excluded the fact that therein she had
descended to her husband's level, regarding herself much in the light
of a princess whose disguise takes nothing from her rank. She was like
those ladies who, having set their seal to the death of their first
husbands by marrying again, yet cling to the title they gave them, and
continue to call themselves by their name.

Mrs. Turnbull never bought a dress at the shop. No one should say of
her, it was easy for a snail to live in a castle! She took pains to let
her precious public know that she went to London to make her purchases.
If she did not mention also that she made them at the warehouses where
her husband was a customer, procuring them at the same price he would
have paid, it was because she saw no occasion. It was indeed only for
some small occasional necessity she ever crossed the threshold of the
place whence came all the money she had to spend. When she did, she
entered it with such airs as she imagined to represent the
consciousness of the scion of a county family: there is one show of
breeding vulgarity seldom assumes--simplicity. No sign of recognition
would pass between her husband and herself: by one stern refusal to
acknowledge his advances, she had from the first taught him that in the
shop they were strangers: he saw the rock of ridicule ahead, and
required no second lesson: when she was present, he never knew it.
George had learned the lesson before he went into the business, and
Mary had never required it. The others behaved to her as to any
customer known to stand upon her dignity, but she made them no return
in politeness; and the way she would order Mary, now there was no
father to offend, would have been amusing enough but for the irritation
its extreme rudeness caused her. She did, however, manage sometimes to
be at once both a little angry and much amused. Small idea had Mrs.
Turnbull of the diversion which on such occasions she afforded the
customers present.

One day, a short time before her marriage, delayed by the illness of
Mr. Redmain, Miss Mortimer happened to be in the shop, and was being
served by Mary, when Mrs. Turnbull entered. Careless of the customer,
she walked straight up to her as if she saw none, and in a tone that
would be dignified, and was haughty, desired her to bring her a reel of
marking-cotton. Now it had been a principle with Mary's father, and she
had thoroughly learned it, that whatever would be counted a rudeness by
_any_ customer, must be shown to _none_. "If all are equal in the sight
of God," he would say, "how dare I leave a poor woman to serve a rich?
Would I leave one countess to serve another? My business is to sell in
the name of Christ. To respect persons in the shop would be just the
same as to do it in the chapel, and would be to deny him."

"Excuse me, ma'am," said Mary, "I am waiting on Miss Mortimer," and
went on with what she was about. Mrs. Turnbull flounced away, a little
abashed, not by Mary, but by finding who the customer was, and carried
her commands across the shop. After a moment or two, however,
imagining, in the blindness of her surging anger, that Miss Mortimer
was gone, whereas she had only moved a little farther on to look at
something, she walked up to Mary in a fury.

"Miss Marston," she said, her voice half choked with rage, "I am at a
loss to understand what you mean by your impertinence."

"I am sorry you should think me impertinent," answered Mary. "You saw
yourself I was engaged with a customer, and could not attend to you."

"Your tone was insufferable, miss!" cried the grand lady; but what more
she would have said I can not tell, for just then Miss Mortimer resumed
her place in front of Mary. She had no idea of her position in the
shop, neither suspected who her assailant was, and, fearing the woman's
accusation might do her an injury, felt compelled to interfere.

"Miss Marston," she said--she had just heard Mrs. Turnbull use her
name--"if you should be called to account by your employer, will you,
please, refer to me? You were perfectly civil both to me and to this--"
she hesitated a perceptible moment, but ended with the word "_lady_,"
peculiarly toned.

"Thank you, ma'am," said Mary, with a smile, "but it is of no
consequence."

This answer would have almost driven the woman out of her
reason--already, between annoyance with herself and anger with Mary,
her hue was purple: something she called her constitution required a
nightly glass of brandy-and-water--but she was so dumfounded by Miss
Mortimer's defense of Mary, which she looked upon as an assault on
herself, so painfully aware that all hands were arrested and all eyes
fixed on herself, and so mortified with the conviction that her husband
was enjoying her discomfiture, that, with what haughtiness she could
extemporize from consuming offense, she made a sudden vertical
gyration, and walked from the vile place.

Now, George never lost a chance of recommending himself to Mary by
siding with her--but only after the battle. He came up to her now with
a mean, unpleasant look, intended to represent sympathy, and,
approaching his face to hers, said, confidentially:

"What made my mother speak to you like that, Mary?"

"You must ask herself," she answered.

"There you are, as usual, Mary!" he protested; "you will never let a
fellow take your part!"

"If you wanted to take my part, you should have done so when there
would have been some good in it."

"How could I, before Miss Mortimer, you know!"

"Then why do it now?"

"Well, you see--it's hard to bear hearing you ill used! What did you
say to Miss Mortimer that angered my mother?"

His father heard him, and, taking the cue, called out in the rudest
fashion:

"If you think, Mary, you're going to take liberties with customers
because you've got no one over you, the sooner you find you're mistaken
the better."

Mary made him no answer.

On her way to "the villa," Mrs. Turnbull, spurred by spite, had got
hold of the same idea as George, only that she invented where he had
but imagined it; and when her husband came home in the evening fell out
upon him for allowing Mary to be impertinent to his customers, in whom
for the first time she condescended to show an interest:

"There she was, talking away to that Miss Mortimer as if she was Beenie
in the kitchen! County people won't stand being treated as if one was
just as good as another, I can tell you! She'll be the ruin of the
business, with her fine-lady-airs! Who's she, I should like to know?"

"I shall speak to her," said the husband. "But," he went on, "I fear
you will no longer approve of marrying her to George, if you think
she's an injury to the business!"

"You know, as well as I do, that is the readiest way to get her out of
it. Make her marry George, and she will fall into my hands. If I don't
make her repent her impudence then, you may call me the fool you think
me."

Mary knew well enough what they wanted of her; but of the real cause at
the root of their desire she had no suspicion. Recoiling altogether
from Mr. Turnbull's theories of business, which were in flat
repudiation of the laws of Him who alone understands either man or his
business, she yet had not a doubt of his honesty as the trades and
professions count honesty. Her father had left the money affairs of the
firm to Mr. Turnbull, and she did the same. It was for no other reason
than that her position had become almost intolerable, that she now
began to wonder if she was bound to this mode of life, and whether it
might not be possible to forsake it.

Greed is the soul's thieving; where there is greed, there can not be
honesty. John Turnbull, it is true, was not only proud of his
reputation for honesty, but prided himself on being an honest man; yet
not the less was he dishonest--and that with a dishonesty such as few
of those called thieves have attained to.

Like most of his kind, he had been neither so vulgar nor so dishonest
from the first. In the prime of youth he had had what the people about
him called high notions, and counted quixotic fancies. But it was not
their mockery of his tall talk that turned him aside; opposition
invariably confirmed Turnbull. He had never set his face in the right
direction. The seducing influence lay in himself. It was not the truth
he had loved; it was the show of fine sentiment he had enjoyed. The
distinction of holding loftier opinions than his neighbors was the
ground of his advocacy of them. Something of the beauty of the truth he
must have seen--who does not?--else he could not have been thus moved
at all; but he had never denied himself even a whim for the carrying
out of one of his ideas; he had never set himself to be better; and the
whole mountain-chain, therefore, of his notions sank and sank, until at
length their loftiest peak was the maxim, _Honesty is the best
policy_--a maxim which, true enough in fact, will no more make a man
honest than the economic aphorism, _The supply equals the demand_, will
teach him the niceties of social duty. Whoever makes policy the ground
of his honesty will discover more and more exceptions to the rule. The
career, therefore, of Turnbull of the high notions had been a gradual
descent to the level of his present dishonesty and vulgarity; nothing
is so vulgarizing as dishonesty. I do not care to follow the history of
any man downward. Let him who desires to look on such a panorama,
faithfully and thoroughly depicted, read Auerbach's "Diethelm von
Buchenberg."

Things went a little more quietly in the shop after this for a while:
Turnbull probably was afraid of precipitating matters, and driving Mary
to seek counsel--from which much injury might arise to his condition
and prospects. As if to make amends for past rudeness, he even took
some pains to be polite, putting on something of the manners with which
he favored his "best customers," of all mankind in his eyes the most to
be honored. This, of course, rendered him odious in the eyes of Mary,
and ripened the desire to free herself from circumstances which from
garments seemed to have grown cerements. She was, however, too much her
father's daughter to do anything in haste.

She might have been less willing to abandon them, had she had any
friends like-minded with herself, but, while they were all kindly
disposed to her, none of the religious associates of her father, who
knew, or might have known her well, approved of her. They spoke of her
generally with a shake of the head, and an unquestioned feeling that
God was not pleased with her. There are few of the so-called religious
who seem able to trust either God or their neighbor in matters that
concern those two and no other. Nor had she had opportunity of making
acquaintance with any who believed and lived like her father, in other
of the Christian communities of the town. But she had her Bible, and,
when that troubled her, as it did not a little sometimes, she had the
Eternal Wisdom to cry to for such wisdom as she could receive; and one
of the things she learned was, that nowhere in the Bible was she called
on to believe in the Bible, but in the living God, in whom is no
darkness, and who alone can give light to understand his own intent.
All her troubles she carried to him.

It was not always the solitude of her room that Mary sought to get out
of the wind of the world. Her love of nature had been growing stronger,
notably, from her father's death. If the world is God's, every true man
ought to feel at home in it. Something is wrong if the calm of the
summer night does not sink into the heart, for the peace of God is
there embodied. Sometime is wrong in the man to whom the sunrise is not
a divine glory for therein are embodied the truth, the simplicity, the
might of the Maker. When all is true in us, we shall feel the visible
presence of the Watchful and Loving; for the thing that he works is its
sign and symbol, its clothing fact. In the gentle conference of earth
and sky, in the witnessing colors of the west, in the wind that so
gently visited her cheek, in the great burst of a new morning, Mary saw
the sordid affairs of Mammon, to whose worship the shop seemed to
become more and more of a temple, sink to the bottom of things, as the
mud, which, during the day, the feet of the drinking cattle have
stirred, sinks in the silent night to the bottom of the clear pool; and
she saw that the sordid is all in the soul, and not in the shop. The
service of Christ is help. The service of Mammon is greed.

Letty was no good correspondent: after one letter in which she declared
herself perfectly happy, and another in which she said almost nothing,
her communication ceased. Mrs. Wardour had been in the shop again and
again, but on each occasion had sought the service of another; and
once, indeed, when Mary alone was disengaged, had waited until another
was at liberty. While Letty was in her house, she had been civil, but,
as soon as she was gone, seemed to show that she held her concerned in
the scandal that had befallen Thornwick. Once, as I have said, she met
Godfrey. It was in the fields. He was walking hurriedly, as usual, but
with his head bent, and a gloomy gaze fixed upon nothing visible. He
started when he saw her, took his hat off, and, with his eyes seeming
to look far away beyond her, passed without a word. Yet had she been to
him a true pupil; for, although neither of them knew it, Mary had
learned more from Godfrey than Godfrey was capable of teaching. She had
turned thought and feeling into life, into reality, into creation. They
speak of the _creations_ of the human intellect, of the human
imagination! there is nothing man can do comes half so near the making
of the Maker as the ordering of his way--except one thing: the highest
creation of which man is capable, is to will the will of the Father.
That _has_ in it an element of the purely creative, and then is man
likest God. But simply to do what we ought, is an altogether higher,
diviner, more potent, more creative thing, than to write the grandest
poem, paint the most beautiful picture, carve the mightiest statue,
build the most worshiping temple, dream out the most enchanting
commotion of melody and harmony. If Godfrey could have seen the soul of
the maiden into whose face his discourtesy called the hot blood, he
would have beheld there simply what God made the earth for; as it was,
he saw a shop-girl, to whom in happier circumstances he had shown
kindness, in whom he was now no longer interested. But the sight of his
troubled face called up all the mother in her; a rush of tenderness,
born of gratitude, flooded her heart. He was sad, and she could do
nothing to comfort him! He had been royally good to her, and no return
was in her power. She could not even let him know how she had profited
by his gifts! She could come near him with no ministration! The bond
between them was an eternal one, yet were they separated by a gulf of
unrelation. Not a mountain-range, but a stayless nothingness parted
them. She built many a castle, with walls of gratitude and floors of
service to entertain Godfrey Wardour; but they stood on no foundation
of imagined possibility.



CHAPTER XX.

THE WEDDING-DRESS.


For all her troubles, however, Mary had her pleasures, even in the
shop. It was a delight to receive the friendly greetings of such as had
known and honored her father. She had the pleasure, as real as it was
simple, of pure service, reaping the fruit of the earth in the joy of
the work that was given her to do; there is no true work that does not
carry its reward though there are few that do not drop it and lose it.
She gathered also the pleasure of seeing and talking with people whose
manners and speech were of finer grain and tone than those about her.
When Hesper Mortimer entered the shop, she brought with her delight;
her carriage was like the gait of an ode; her motions were rhythm; and
her speech was music. Her smile was light, and her whole presence an
enchantment to Mary. The reading aloud which Wardour had led her to
practice had taught her much, not only in respect of the delicacies of
speech and utterance, but in the deeper matters of motion, relation,
and harmony. Hesper's clear-cut but not too sharply defined consonants;
her soft but full-bodied vowels; above all, her slow cadences that
hovered on the verge of song, as her walk on the verge of a slow aerial
dance; the carriage of her head, the movements of her lips, her arms,
her hands; the self-possession that seemed the very embodiment of
law--these formed together a whole of inexpressible delight,
inextricably for Mary associated with music and verse: she would hasten
to serve her as if she had been an angel come to do a little earthly
shopping, and return with the next heavenward tide. Hesper, in response
all but unconscious, would be waited on by no other than Mary; and
always between them passed some sweet, gentle nothings, which afforded
Hesper more pleasure than she could have accounted for.

Her wedding-day was now for the third time fixed, when one morning she
entered the shop to make some purchases. Not happy in the prospect
before her, she was yet inclined to make the best of it so far as
clothes were concerned--the more so, perhaps, that she had seldom yet
been dressed to her satisfaction: she was now brooding over a certain
idea for her wedding-dress, which she had altogether failed in the
attempt to convey to her London _couturiere_; and it had come into her
head to try whether Mary might not grasp her idea, and help her to make
it intelligible. Mary listened and thought, questioned, and desired
explanations--at length, begged she would allow her to ponder the thing
a little: she could hardly at once venture to say anything. Hesper
laughed, and said she was taking a small matter too
seriously--concluding from Mary's hesitation that she had but perplexed
her, and that she could be of no use to her in the difficulty.

"A small matter? Your wedding-dress!" exclaimed Mary, in a tone of
expostulation.

Hesper did not laugh again, but gave a little sigh instead, which
struck sadly on Mary's sympathetic heart. She cast a quick look in her
face. Hesper caught the look, and understood it. For one passing moment
she felt as if, amid the poor pleasure of adorning herself for a hated
marriage, she had found a precious thing of which she had once or twice
dreamed, never thought as a possible existence--a friend, namely, to
love her: the next, she saw the absurdity of imagining a friend in a
shop-girl.

"But I must make up my mind so soon!" she answered. "Madame Crepine
gave me her idea, in answer to mine, but nothing like it, two days ago;
and, as I have not written again, I fear she may be taking her own way
with the thing. I am certain to hate it."

"I will talk to you about it as early as you please to-morrow, if that
will do," returned Mary.

She knew nothing about dressmaking beyond what came of a true taste,
and the experience gained in cutting out and making her own garments,
which she had never yet found a dressmaker to do to her mind; and,
indeed, Hesper had been led to ask her advice mainly from observing how
neat the design of her dresses was, and how faithfully they fitted her.
Dress is a sort of freemasonry between girls.

"But I can not have the horses to-morrow," said Hesper.

"I might," pondered Mary aloud, after a moment's silence, "walk out to
Durnmelling this evening after the shop is shut. By that time I shall
have been able to think; I find it impossible, with you before me."

Hesper acknowledged the compliment with a very pleasant smile. If it be
true, as I may not doubt, that women, in dressing, have the fear of
women and not of men before their eyes, then a compliment from some
women must be more acceptable to some than a compliment from any man
but the specially favored.

"Thank you a thousand times," she drawled, sweetly. "Then I shall
expect you. Ask for my maid. She will take you to my room. Good-by for
the present."

As soon as she was gone, Mary, her mind's eye full of her figure, her
look, her style, her motion, gave herself to the important question of
the dress conceived by Hesper; and during her dinner-hour contrived to
cut out and fit to her own person the pattern of a garment such as she
supposed intended in the not very lucid description she had given her.
When she was free, she set out with it for Durnmelling.

It was rather a long walk, the earlier part of it full of sad reminders
of the pleasure with which, greater than ever accompanied her to
church, she went to pay her Sunday visit at Thornwick; but the latter
part, although the places were so near, almost new to her: she had
never been within the gate of Durnmelling, and felt curious to see the
house of which she had so often heard.

The butler opened the door to her--an elderly man, of conscious dignity
rather than pride, who received the "young person" graciously, and,
leaving her in the entrance-hall, went to find "Miss Mortimer's maid,"
he said, though there was but one lady's-maid in the establishment.

The few moments she had to wait far more than repaid her for the
trouble she had taken: through a side-door she looked into the great
roofless hall, the one grand thing about the house. Its majesty laid
hold upon her, and the shopkeeper's daughter felt the power of the
ancient dignity and ineffaceable beauty far more than any of the family
to which it had for centuries belonged.

She was standing lost in delight, when a rude voice called to her from
half-way up a stair:

"You're to come this way, miss."

With a start, she turned and went. It was a large room to which she was
led. There was no one in it, and she walked to an open window, which
had a wide outlook across the fields. A little to the right, over some
trees, were the chimneys of Thornwick. She almost started to see
them--so near, and yet so far--like the memory of a sweet, sad story.

"Do you like my prospect?" asked the voice of Hesper behind her. "It is
flat."

"I like it much, Miss Mortimer," answered Mary, turning quickly with a
bright face. "Flatness has its own beauty. I sometimes feel as if room
was all I wanted; and of that there is so much there! You see over the
tree-tops, too, and that is good--sometimes--don't you think?"

Miss Mortimer gave no other reply than a gentle stare, which expressed
no curiosity, although she had a vague feeling that Mary's words meant
something. Most girls of her class would hardly have got so far.

The summer was backward, but the day had been fine and warm, and the
evening was dewy and soft, and full of evasive odor. The window looked
westward, and the setting sun threw long shadows toward the house. A
gentle wind was moving in the tree-tops. The spirit of the evening had
laid hold of Mary. The peace of faithfulness filled the air. The day's
business vanished, molten in the rest of the coming night. Even
Hesper's wedding-dress was gone from her thoughts. She was in her own
world, and ready, for very, quietness of spirit, to go to sleep. But
she had not forgotten the delight of Hesper's presence; it was only
that all relation between them was gone except such as was purely human.

"This reminds me so of some beautiful verses of Henry Vaughan!" she
said, half dreamily.

"What do they say?" drawled Hesper.

Mary repeated as follows:

  "'The frosts are past, the storms are gone,
  And backward life at last comes on.
  And here in dust and dirt, O here,
  The Lilies of His love appear!'"

"Whose did you say the lines were?" asked Hesper, with merest automatic
response.

"Henry Vaughan's," answered Mary, with a little spiritual shiver as of
one who had dropped a pearl in the miry way.

"I never heard of him," rejoined Hesper, with entire indifference.

For anything she knew, he might be an occasional writer in "The
Belgrave Magazine," or "The Fireside Herald." Ignorance is one of the
many things of which a lady of position is never ashamed; wherein she
is, it may be, more right than most of my readers will be inclined to
allow; for ignorance is not the thing to be ashamed of, but neglect of
knowledge. That a young person in Mary's position should know a certain
thing, was, on the other hand, a reason why a lady in Hesper's position
should not know it! Was it possible a shop-girl should know anything
that Hesper ought to know and did not? It was foolish of Mary, perhaps,
but she had vaguely felt that a beautiful lady like Miss Mortimer, and
with such a name as Hesper, must know all the lovely things she knew,
and many more besides.

"He lived in the time of the Charleses," she said, with a tremble in
her voice, for she was ashamed to show her knowledge against the
other's ignorance.

"Ah!" drawled Hesper, with a confused feeling that people who kept
shops read stupid old books that lay about, because they could not
subscribe to a circulating library.--"Are you fond of poetry?" she
added; for the slight, shadowy shyness, into which her venture had
thrown Mary, drew her heart a little, though she hardly knew it, and
inclined her to say something.

"Yes," answered Mary, who felt like a child questioned by a stranger in
the road; "--when it is good," she added, hesitatingly.

"What do you mean by good?" asked Hesper--out of her knowledge, Mary
thought, but it was not even out of her ignorance, only out of her
indifference. People must say something, lest life should stop.

"That is a question difficult to answer," replied Mary. "I have often
asked it of myself, but never got any plain answer."

"I do not see why you should find any difficulty in it," returned
Hesper, with a shadow of interest. "You know what you mean when you say
to yourself you like this, or you do not like that."

"How clever she is, too!" thought Mary; but she answered: "I don't
think I ever say anything to myself about the poetry I read--not at the
time, I mean. If I like it, it drowns me; and, if I don't like it, it
is as the Dead Sea to me, in which you know you can't sink, if you try
ever so."

Hesper saw nothing in the words, and began to fear that Mary was so
stupid as to imagine herself clever; whereupon the fancy she had taken
to her began to sink like water in sand. The two were still on their
feet, near the window--Mary, in her bonnet, with her back to it, and
Hesper, in evening attire, with her face to the sunset, so that the one
was like a darkling worshiper, the other like the radiant goddess. But
the truth was, that Hesper was a mere earthly woman, and Mary a
heavenly messenger to her. Neither of them knew it, but so it was; for
the angels are essentially humble, and Hesper would have condescended
to any angel out of her own class.

"I think I know good poetry by what it does to me," resumed Mary,
thoughtfully, just as Hesper was about to pass to the business of the
hour.

"Indeed!" rejoined Hesper, not less puzzled than before, if the word
should be used where there was no effort to understand. Poetry had
never done anything to her, and Mary's words conveyed no shadow of an
idea.

The tone of her _indeed_ checked Mary. She hesitated a moment, but went
on.

"Sometimes," she said, "it makes me feel as if my heart were too big
for my body; sometimes as if all the grand things in heaven and earth
were trying to get into me at once; sometimes as if I had discovered
something nobody else knew; sometimes as if--no, not _as if_, for then
I _must_ go and pray to God. But I am trying to tell you what I don't
know how to tell. I am not talking nonsense, I hope, only ashamed of
myself that I can't talk sense.--I will show you what I have been doing
about your dress."

Far more to Hesper's surprise and admiration than any of her
half-foiled attempts at the utterance of her thoughts, Mary, taking
from her pocket the shape she had prepared, put it on herself, and,
slowly revolving before Hesper, revealed what in her eyes was a
masterpiece.

"But how clever of you!" she cried.--Her own fingers had not been quite
innocent of the labor of the needle, for money had long been scarce at
Durnmelling, and in the paper shape she recognized the hand of an
artist.--"Why," she continued, "you are nothing less than an
accomplished dressmaker!"

"That I dare not think myself," returned Mary, "seeing I never had a
lesson."

"I wish you would make my wedding-dress," said Hesper.

"I could not venture, even if I had the time," answered Mary. "The
moment I began to cut into the stuff, I should be terrified, and lose
my self-possession. I never made a dress for anybody but myself."

"You are a little witch!" said Hesper; while Mary, who had roughly
prepared a larger shape, proceeded to fit it to her person.

She was busy pinning and unpinning, shifting and pinning again, when
suddenly Hesper said:

"I suppose you know I am going to marry money?"

"Oh! don't say that. It's too dreadful!" cried Mary, stopping her work,
and looking up in Hesper's face.

"What! you supposed I was going to marry a man like Mr. Redmain for
love?" rejoined Hesper, with a hard laugh.

"I can not bear to think of it!" said Mary. "But you do not really mean
it! You are only--making fun of me! Do say you are."

"Indeed, I am not. I wish I could say I was! It is very horrid, I know,
but where's the good of mincing matters? If I did not call the thing by
its name, the thing would be just the same. You know, people in our
world have to do as they must; they can't pick and choose like you
happy creatures. I dare say, now, you are engaged to a young man you
love with all your heart, one you would rather marry than any other in
the whole universe."

"Oh, dear, no!" returned Mary, with a smile most plainly fancy-free. "I
am not engaged, nor in the least likely to be."

"And not in love either?" said Hesper--with such coolness that Mary
looked up in her face to know if she had really said so.

"No," she replied.

"No more am I," echoed Hesper; "that is the one good thing in the
business: I sha'n't break my heart, as some girls do. At least, so they
say--I don't believe it: how could a girl be so indecent? It is bad
enough to marry a man: that one can't avoid; but to die of a broken
heart is to be a traitor to your sex. As if women couldn't live without
men!"

Mary smiled and was silent. She had read a good deal, and thought she
understood such things better than Miss Mortimer. But she caught
herself smiling, and she felt as if she had sinned. For that a young
woman should speak of love and marriage as Miss Mortimer did, was too
horrible to be understood--and she had smiled! She would have been less
shocked with Hesper, however, had she known that she forced an
indifference she could not feel--her last poor rampart of sand against
the sea of horror rising around her. But from her heart she pitied her,
almost as one of the lost.

"Don't fix your eyes like that," said Hesper, angrily, "or I shall cry.
Look the other way, and listen.--I am marrying money, I tell you--and
for money; therefore, I ought to get the good of it. Mr. Mortimer will
be father enough to see to that! So I shall be able to do what I
please. I have fallen in love with you; and why shouldn't I have you
for my--"

She paused, hesitating: what was it she was about to propose to the
little lady standing before her? She had been going to say _maid_: what
was it that checked her? The feeling was to herself shapeless and
nameless; but, however some of my readers may smile at the notion of a
girl who served behind a counter being a lady, and however ready Hesper
Mortimer would have been to join them, it was yet a vague sense of the
fact that was now embarrassing her, for she was not half lady enough to
deal with it. In very truth, Mary Marston was already immeasurably more
of a lady than Hesper Mortimer was ever likely to be in this world.
What was the stateliness and pride of the one compared to the fact that
the other would have died in the workhouse or the street rather than
let a man she did not love embrace her--yes, if all her ancestors in
hell had required the sacrifice! To be a martyr to a lie is but false
ladyhood. She only is a lady who witnesses to the truth, come of it
what may.

"--For my--my companion, or something of the sort," concluded Hesper;
"and then I should be sure of being always dressed to my mind."

"That _would_ be nice!" responded Mary, thinking only of the kindness
in the speech.

"Would you really like it?" asked Hesper, in her turn pleased.

"I should like it very much," replied Mary, not imagining the proposal
had in it a shadow of seriousness. "I wish it were possible."

"Why not, then? Why shouldn't it be possible? I don't suppose you would
mind using your needle a little?"

"Not in the least," answered Mary, amused. "Only what would they do in
the shop without me?"

"They could get somebody else, couldn't they?"

"Hardly, to take my place. My father was Mr. Turnbull's partner."

"Oh!" said Hesper, not much instructed. "I thought you had only to give
warning."

There the matter dropped, and Mary thought no more about it.

"You will let me keep this pattern?" said Hesper.

"It was made for you," answered Mary.

While Hesper was lazily thinking whether that meant she was to pay for
it, Mary made her a pretty obeisance, and bade her good night. Hesper
returned her adieu kindly, but neither shook hands with her nor rang
the bell to have her shown out Mary found her own way, however, and
presently was breathing the fresh air of the twilight fields on her way
home to her piano and her books.

For some time after she was gone, Hesper was entirely occupied with the
excogitation of certain harmonies of the toilet that must minister
effect to the dress she had now so plainly before her mind's eye; but
by and by the dress began to melt away, and like a dissolving view
disappeared, leaving in its place the form of "that singular
shop-girl." There was nothing striking about her; she made no such
sharp impression on the mind as compelled one to think of her again;
yet always, when one had been long enough in her company to feel the
charm of her individuality, the very quiet of any quiet moment was
enough to bring back the sweetness of Mary's twilight presence. For
this girl, who spent her days behind a counter, was one of the
spiritual forces at work for the conservation and recovery of the
universe.

Not only had Hesper Mortimer never had a friend worthy of the name, but
no idea of pure friendship had as yet been generated in her. Sepia was
the nearest to her intimacy: how far friendship could have place
between two such I need not inquire; but in her fits of misery Hesper
had no other to go to. Those fits, alas! grew less and less frequent;
for Hesper was on the downward incline; but, when the next came, after
this interview, she found herself haunted, at a little distance, as it
were, by a strange sense of dumb, invisible tending. It did not once
come close to her; it did not once offer her the smallest positive
consolation; the thing was only this, that the essence of Mary's being
was so purely ministration, that her form could not recur to any memory
without bringing with it a dreamy sense of help. Most powerful of all
powers in its holy insinuation is _being_. _To be_ is more powerful
than even _to do_. Action _may_ be hypocrisy, but being is the thing
itself, and is the parent of action. Had anything that Mary said
recurred to Hesper, she would have thought of it only as the poor
sentimentality of a low education.

But Hesper did not think of Mary's position as low; that would have
been to measure it; and it did not once suggest itself as having any
relation to any life in which she was interested. She saw no difference
of level between Mary and the lawyer who came about her marriage
settlements: they were together beyond her social horizon. In like
manner, moral differences--and that in her own class--were almost
equally beyond recognition. If by neglect of its wings, an eagle should
sink to a dodo, it would then recognize only the laws of dodo life. For
the dodos of humanity, did not one believe in a consuming fire and an
outer darkness, what would be left us but an ever-renewed _alas_! It is
truth and not imperturbability that a man's nature requires of him; it
is help, not the leaving of cards at doors, that will be recognized as
the test; it is love, and no amount of flattery that will prosper;
differences wide as that between a gentleman and a cad will contract to
a hair's breadth in that day; the customs of the trade and the picking
of pockets will go together, with the greater excuse for the greater
need and the less knowledge; liars the most gentleman-like and the most
rowdy will go as liars; the first shall be last, and the last first.

Hesper's day drew on. She had many things to think about--things very
different from any that concerned Mary Marston. She was married; found
life in London somewhat absorbing; and forgot Mary.



CHAPTER XXI.

MR. REDMAIN.


A life of comparatively innocent gayety could not be attractive to Mr.
Redmain, but at first he accompanied his wife everywhere. No one knew
better than he that not an atom of love had mingled with her motives in
marrying him; but for a time he seemed bent on showing her that she
needed not have been so averse to him. Whether this was indeed his
design or not, I imagine he enjoyed the admiration she roused: for why
should not a man take pride in the possession of a fine woman as well
as in that of a fine horse? To be sure, Mrs. Redmain was not quite in
the same way, nor quite so much his, as his horses were, and might one
day be a good deal less his than she was now; but in the mean time she
was, I fancy, a pleasant break in the gathering monotony of his
existence. As he got more accustomed to the sight of her in a crowd,
however, and at the same time to her not very interesting company in
private, when she took not the smallest pains to please him, he
gradually lapsed into his former ways, and soon came to spend his
evenings in company that made him forget his wife. He had loved her in
a sort of a way, better left undefined, and had also, almost from the
first, hated her a little; for, following her cousin's advice, she had
appealed to him to save her, and, when he evaded her prayer, had
addressed him in certain terms too appropriate to be agreeable, and too
forcible to be forgotten. His hatred, however, if that be not much too
strong a name, was neither virulent nor hot, for it had no inverted
love to feed and embitter it. It was more a thing of his head than his
heart, revealing itself mainly in short, acrid speeches, meant to be
clever, and indubitably disagreeable. Nor did Hesper prove an unworthy
antagonist in their encounters of polite Billingsgate: what she lacked
in experience she made up in breeding. The common remark, generally
false, about no love being lost, was in their case true enough, for
there never had been any between them to lose. The withered rose-leaves
have their sweetness yet, but what of the rotted peony? It was
generally when Redmain had been longer than usual without seeing his
wife that he said the worst things to her, as if spite had grown in
absence; but that he should then be capable of saying such things as he
did say, could be understood only by those who knew the man and his
history.

Ferdinand Goldberg Redmain--parents with mean surroundings often give
grand names to their children--was the son of an intellectually gifted
laborer, who, rising first to be boss of a gang, began to take portions
of contracts, and arrived at last, through one lucky venture after
another, at having his estimate accepted and the contract given him for
a rather large affair. The result was that, through his minute
knowledge of details, his faculty for getting work out of his laborers,
a toughness of heart and will that enabled him to screw wages to the
lowest mark, and the judicious employment of inferior material, the
contract paid him much too well for any good to come out of it. From
that time, what he called his life was a continuous course of what he
called success, and he died one of the richest dirt-beetles of the age,
bequeathing great wealth to his son, and leaving a reputation for
substantial worth behind him; hardly leaving it, I fancy, for surely he
found it waiting him where he went. He had been guilty of a thousand
meannesses, oppressions, rapacities, and some quiet rogueries, but none
of them worse than those of many a man whose ultimate failure has been
the sole cause of his excommunication by the society which all the time
knew well enough what he was. Often had he been held up by would-be
teachers as a pattern to aspiring youth of what might be achieved by
unwavering attention to _the main chance_, combined with unassailable
honesty: from his experience they would once more prove to a gaping
world the truth of the maxim, the highest intelligible to a base soul,
that "honesty is the best policy." With his money he left to his son
the seeds of a varied meanness, which bore weeds enough, but curiously,
neither avarice nor, within the bounds of a modest prudence, any
unwillingness to part with money--a fact which will probably appear the
stranger when I have told the following anecdote concerning a brother
of the father, of whom few indeed mentioned in my narrative ever heard.

This man was a joiner, or working cabinet-maker, or something of the
sort. Having one day been set by his master to repair for an old lady
an escritoire which had been in her possession for a long time, he came
to her house in the evening with a five-pound note of a country bank,
which he had found in a secret drawer of the same, handing it to her
with the remark that he had always found honesty the best policy. She
gave him half a sovereign, and he took his leave well satisfied. _He
had been first to make inquiry, and had learned that the bank stopped
payment many years ago._ I can not help wondering, curious in the
statistics of honesty, how many of my readers will be more amused than
disgusted with the story. It is a great thing to come of decent people,
and Ferdinand Goldberg Redmain must not be judged like one who, of
honorable parentage, whether noble or peasant, takes himself across to
the shady side of the road. Much had been against Redmain. I do not
know of what sort his mother was, but from certain embryonic virtues in
him, which could hardly have been his father's, I should think she must
have been better than her husband. She died, however, while he was a
mere child; and his father married, some said did not _marry_ again.
The boy was sent to a certain public school, which at that time,
whatever it may or may not be now, was simply a hot-bed of the lowest
vices, and in devil-matters Redmain was an apt pupil. There is fresh
help for the world every time a youth starts clean upon manhood's race;
his very being is a hope of cleansing: this one started as foul as
youth could well be, and had not yet begun to repent. His character was
well known to his associates, for he was no hypocrite, and Hosper's
father knew it perfectly, and was therefore worse than he. Had Redmain
had a daughter, he would never have given her to a man like himself.
But, then, Mortimer was so poor, and Redmain was so _very_ rich! Alas
for the man who degrades his poverty by worshiping wealth! there is no
abyss in hell too deep for him to find its bottom.

Mr. Redmain had no profession, and knew nothing of business beyond what
was necessary for understanding whether his factor or steward, or
whatever he called him, was doing well with his money--to that he gave
heed. Also, wiser than many, he took some little care not to spend at
full speed what life he had. With this view he laid down and observed
certain rules in the ordering of his pleasures, which enabled him to
keep ahead of the vice-constable for some time longer than would
otherwise have been the case. But he is one who can never finally be
outrun, and now, as Mr. Redmain was approaching the end of middle age,
he heard plainly enough the approach of the wool-footed avenger behind
him. Horrible was the inevitable to him, as horrible as to any; but it
had not yet looked frightful enough to arrest his downward rush. In his
better conditions--physical, I mean--whether he had any better moral
conditions, I can not tell--he would laugh and say, "_Gather the roses
while you may_"--heaven and earth! what roses!--but, in his worse, he
maledicted everything, and was horribly afraid of hell. When in
tolerable health, he laughed at the notion of such an out-of-the-way
place, repudiating its very existence, and, calling in all the
arguments urged by good men against the idea of an eternity of aimless
suffering, used them against the idea of any punishment after death.
Himself a bad man, he reasoned that God was too good to punish sin;
himself a proud man, he reasoned that God was too high to take heed of
him. He forgot the best argument he could have adduced--namely, that
the punishment he had had in this life had done him no good; from which
he might have been glad to argue that none would, and therefore none
would be tried. But I suppose his mother believed there was a hell, for
at such times, when from weariness he was less of an evil beast than
usual, the old-fashioned horror would inevitably raise its dinosaurian
head afresh above the slime of his consciousness; and then even his
wife, could she have seen how the soul of the man shuddered and
recoiled, would have let his brutality pass unheeded, though it was
then at its worst, his temper at such times being altogether furious.
There was no grace in him when he was ill, nor at any time, beyond a
certain cold grace of manner, which he kept for ceremony, or where he
wanted to please.

Happily, Mr. Redmain had one intellectual passion, which, poor thing as
it was, and in its motive, most of its aspects, and almost all its
tendencies, evil exceedingly, yet did something to delay that
corruption of his being which, at the same time, it powerfully aided to
complete: it was for the understanding and analysis of human evil--not
in the abstract, but alive and operative. For the appeasement of this
passion, he must render intelligible to himself, and that on his own
exclusive theory of human vileness, the aims and workings of every
fresh specimen of what he called human nature that seemed bad enough,
or was peculiar enough to interest him. In this region of darkness he
ranged like a discoverer--prowled rather, like an unclean beast of
prey--ever and always on the outlook for the false and foul;
acknowledging, it is true, that he was no better himself, but
arrogating on that ground a correctness of judgment beyond the reach of
such as, desiring to be better, were unwilling to believe in the utter
badness of anything human. Like a lover, he would watch for the
appearance of the vile motive, the self-interest, that "must be," _he
knew_, at the heart of this or that deed or proceeding of apparent
benevolence or generosity. Often, alas! the thing was provable; and,
where he did not find, he was quick to invent; and, where he failed in
finding or inventing, he not the less believed the bad motive was
there, and followed the slightest seeming trail of the cunning demon
only the more eagerly. What a smile was his when he heard, which truly
he was not in the way to hear often, the praise of some good deed, or
an ascription of high end to some endeavor of one of the vile race to
which he belonged! Do those who abuse their kind actually believe they
are of it? Do they hold themselves exceptions? Do they never reflect
that it must be because such is their own nature, whether their
accusation be true or false, that they know how to attribute such
motives to their fellows? Or is it that, actually and immediately
rejoicing in iniquity, they delight in believing it universal?

Quiet as a panther, Redmain was, I say, always in pursuit, if not of
something sensual for himself, then of something evil in another. He
would sit at his club, silent and watching, day after day, night after
night, waiting for the chance that should cast light on some idea of
detection, on some doubt, bewilderment, or conjecture. He would ask the
farthest-off questions: who could tell what might send him into the
track of discovery? He would give to the talk the strangest turns,
laying trap after trap to ensnare the most miserable of facts, elevated
into a desirable secret only by his hope to learn through it something
equally valueless beyond it. Especially he delighted in discovering, or
flattering himself he had discovered, the hollow full of dead men's
bones under the flowery lawn of seeming goodness. Nor as yet had he, so
far as he knew, or at least was prepared to allow, ever failed. And
this he called the study of human nature, and quoted Pope. Truly, next
to God, the proper study of mankind is man; but how shall a man that
knows only the evil in himself, nor sees it hateful, read the
thousandfold-compounded heart of his neighbor? To rake over the
contents of an ash-pit, is not to study geology. There were motives in
Redmain's own being, which he was not merely incapable of
understanding, but incapable of seeing, incapable of suspecting.

The game had for him all the pleasure of keenest speculation; nor that
alone, for, in the supposed discovery of the evil of another, he felt
himself vaguely righteous.

One more point in his character I may not in fairness omit: he had
naturally a strong sense of justice; and, if he exercised it but little
in some of the relations of his life, he was none the less keenly alive
to his own claims on its score; for chiefly he cried out for fair play
on behalf of those who were wicked in similar fashion to himself. But,
in truth, no one dealt so hardly with Redmain as his own conscience at
such times when suffering and fear had awaked it.

So much for a portrait-sketch of the man to whom Mortimer had sold his
daughter--such was the man whom Hesper, entirely aware that none could
compel her to marry against her will, had, partly from fear of her
father, partly from moral laziness, partly from reverence for the
Moloch of society, whose priestess was her mother, vowed to love,
honor, and obey! In justice to her, it must be remembered, however,
that she did not and could not know of him what her father knew.



CHAPTER XXII.

MRS. REDMAIN.


In the autumn the Redmains went to Durnmelling: why they did so, I
should find it hard to say. If, when a child, Hesper loved either of
her parents, the experiences of later years had so heaped that filial
affection with the fallen leaves of dead hopes and vanished dreams,
that there was now nothing in her heart recognizable to herself as love
to father or mother. She always behaved to them, of course, with
perfect propriety; never refused any small request; never showed
resentment when blamed--never felt any, for she did not care enough to
be angry or sorry that father or mother should disapprove.

On the other hand, Lady Margaret saw great improvement in her daughter.
To the maternal eye, jealous for perfection, Hesper's carriage was at
length satisfactory. It was cold, and the same to her mother as to
every one else, but the mother did not find it too cold. It was
haughty, even repellent, but by no means in the mother's eyes
repulsive. Her voice came from her in well-balanced sentences, sounding
as if they had been secretly constructed for extempore use, like the
points of a parliamentary orator. "Marriage has done everything for
her!" said Lady Malice to herself with a dignified chuckle, and
dismissed the last shadowy remnant of maternal regret for her part in
the transaction of her marriage.

She never saw herself in the wrong, and never gave herself the least
trouble to be in the right. She was in good health, ate, and liked to
eat; drank her glass of champagne, and would have drunk a second, but
for her complexion, and that it sometimes made her feel ill, which was
the only thing, after marrying Mr. Redmain, she ever felt degrading. Of
her own worth she had never had a doubt, and she had none yet: how was
she to generate one, courted wherever she went, both for her own beauty
and her husband's wealth?

To her father she was as stiff and proud as if she had been a maiden
aunt, bent on destroying what expectations from her he might be
cherishing. Who will blame her? He had done her all the ill he could,
and by his own deed she was beyond his reach. Nor can I see that the
debt she owed him for being her father was of the heaviest.

Her husband was again out of health--certain attacks to which he was
subject were now coming more frequently. I do not imagine his wife
offered many prayers for his restoration. Indeed, she never prayed for
the thing she desired; and, while he and she occupied separate rooms,
the one solitary thing she now regarded as a privilege, how _could_ she
pray for his recovery?

Greatly contrary to Mr. Redmain's unexpressed desire, Miss Yolland had
been installed as Hesper's cousin-companion. After the marriage, she
ventured to unfold a little, as she had promised, but what there was
yet of womanhood in Hesper had shrunk from further acquaintance with
the dimly shadowed mysteries of Sepia's story; and Sepia, than whom
none more sensitive to change of atmosphere, had instantly closed
again; and now not unfrequently looked and spoke like one feeling her
way. The only life-principle she had, so far as I know, was to get from
the moment the greatest possible enjoyment that would leave the way
clear for more to follow. She had not been in his house a week before
Mr. Redmain hated her. He was something given to hating people who came
near him, and she came much too near. She was by no means so different
in character as to be repulsive to him; neither was she so much alike
as to be tiresome; their designs could not well clash, for she was a
woman and he was a man; if she had not been his wife's friend, they
might, perhaps, have got on together better than well; but the two were
such as must either be hand in glove or hate each other. There had not,
however, been the least approach to rupture between them. Mr. Redmain,
indeed, took no trouble to avoid such a catastrophe, but Sepia was far
too wise to allow even the dawn of such a risk. When he was ill, he
was, if possible, more rude to her than to every one else, but she did
not seem to mind it a straw. Perhaps she knew something of the ways of
such _gentlemen_ as lose their manners the moment they are ailing, and
seem to consider a headache or an attack of indigestion excuse
sufficient for behaving like the cad they scorn. It was not long,
however, before he began to take in her a very real interest, though
not of a sort it would have made her comfortable with him to know.

Every time Mr. Redmain had an attack, the baldness on the top of his
head widened, and the skin of his face tightened on his small, neat
features; his long arms looked longer; his formerly flat back rounded
yet a little; and his temper grew yet more curiously spiteful. Long
after he had begun to recover, he was by no means an agreeable
companion. Nevertheless, as if at last, though late in the day, she
must begin to teach her daughter the duty of a married woman, from the
moment he arrived, taken ill on the way, Lady Malice, regardless of the
brusqueness with which he treated her from the first, devoted herself
to him with an attention she had never shown her husband. She was the
only one who manifested any appearance of affection for him, and the
only one of the family for whom, in return, he came to show the least
consideration. Rough he was, even to her, but never, except when in
absolute pain, rude as to everybody in the house besides. At times, one
might have almost thought he stood in some little awe of her. Every
night, after his man was gone, she would visit him to see that he was
left comfortable, would tuck him up as his mother might have done, and
satisfy herself that the night-light was shaded from his eyes. With her
own hands she always arranged his breakfast on the tray, nor never
omitted taking him a basin of soup before he got up; and, whatever he
may have concluded concerning her motives, he gave no sign of imagining
them other than generous. Perhaps the part in him which had never had
the opportunity of behaving ill to his mother, and so had not choked up
its channels with wrong, remained, in middle age and illness, capable
of receiving kindness.

Hesper saw the relation between them, but without the least pleasure or
the least curiosity. She seemed to care for nothing--except the keeping
of her back straight. What could it be, inside that lovely form, that
gave itself pleasure to be, were a difficult question indeed. The bear
as he lies in his winter nest, sucking his paw, has no doubt his
rudimentary theories of life, and those will coincide with a desire for
its continuance; but whether what either the lady or the bear counts
the good of life, be really that which makes either desire its
continuance, is another question. Mere life without suffering seems
enough for most people, but I do not think it could go on so for ever.
I can not help fancying that, but for death, utter dreariness would at
length master the healthiest in whom the true life has not begun to
shine. But so satisfying is the mere earthly existence to some at
present, that this remark must sound to them bare insanity.

Partly out of compliment to Mr. Redmain, the Mortimers had scarcely a
visitor; for he would not come out of his room when he knew there was a
stranger in the house. Fond of company of a certain kind when he was
well, he could not endure an unknown face when he was ill. He told Lady
Malice that at such times a stranger always looked a devil to him.
Hence the time was dull for everybody--dullest, perhaps, for Sepia,
who, as well as Redmain, had a few things that required forgetting. It
was no wonder, then, that Hesper, after a fort-night of it, should
think once more of the young woman in the draper's shop of Testbridge.
One morning, in consequence, she ordered her brougham, and drove to the
town.



CHAPTER XXIII.

THE MENIAL.


Things had been going nowise really better with Mary, though there was
now more lull and less storm around her. The position was becoming less
and less endurable to her, and she had as yet no glimmer of a way out
of it. Breath of genial air never blew in the shop, except when this
and that customer entered it. But how dear the dull old chapel had
grown! Not that she heard anything more to her mind, or that she paid
any more attention to what was said; but the memory of her father
filled the place, and when the Bible was read, or some favorite hymn
sung, he seemed to her actually present. And might not love, she
thought, even love to her, be strong enough to bring him from the
gracious freedom of the new life, back to the house of bondage, to
share it for an hour with his daughter?

When Hesper entered, she was disappointed to see Mary so much changed.
But when, at sight of her, the pale face brightened, and a faint, rosy
flush overspread it from brow to chin, Mary was herself again as Hesper
had known her; and the radiance of her own presence, reflected from
Mary, cast a reflex of sunshine into the February of Hesper's heart:
had Mary known how long it was since such a smile had lighted the face
she so much admired, hers would have flushed with a profounder
pleasure. Hesper was human after all, though her humanity was only
molluscous as yet, and it is not in the power of humanity in any stage
of development to hold itself indifferent to the pleasure of being
loved. Also, poor as is the feeling comparatively, it is yet a reflex
of love itself--the shine of the sun in a rain-pool.

She walked up to Mary, holding out her hand.

"O ma'am, I am so glad to see you!" exclaimed Mary, forgetting her
manners in her love.

"I, too, am glad," drawled Hesper, genuinely, though with
condescension. "I hope you are well. I can not say you look so."

"I am pretty well, thank you, ma'am," answered Mary, flushing afresh:
not much anxiety was anywhere expressed about her health now, except by
Beenie, who mourned over the loss of her plumpness, and told her if she
did not eat she would soon follow her poor father.

"Come and have a drive with me," said Hesper, moved by a sudden
impulse: through some hidden motion of sympathy, she felt, as she
looked at her, that the place was stuffy. "It will do you good," she
went on. "You are too much indoors.--And the ceiling is low," she
added, looking up.

"It is very kind of you," replied Mary, "but--I don't think I could
quite manage it to-day."

She looked round as she spoke. There were not many customers; but for
conscience sake she was trying hard to give as little ground for
offense as possible.

"Why not?--If I were to ask Mr.--"

"If you really wish it, ma'am, I will venture to go for half an hour.
There is no occasion to speak to Mr. Turnbull. Besides, it is almost
dinner-time."

"Do, then. I am sure you will eat a better dinner for having had a
little fresh air first. It is a lovely morning. We will drive to the
Roman camp on the top of Clover-down."

"I shall be ready in two minutes," said Mary, and ran from the shop.

As she passed along the outside of his counter coming back, she stopped
and told Mr. Turnbull where she was going. Instead of answering her, he
turned himself toward Mrs. Redmain, and went through a series of bows
and smiles recognizant of favor, which she did not choose to see. She
turned and walked from the shop, got into the brougham, and made room
for Mary at her side.

But, although the drive was a lovely one, and the view from either
window delightful, and to Mary it was like getting out of a tomb to
leave the shop in the middle of the day, she saw little of the sweet
country on any side, so much occupied was she with Hesper. Ere they
stopped again at the shop-door, the two young women were nearer being
friends than Hesper had ever been with any one. The sleepy heart in her
was not yet dead, but capable still of the pleasure of showing sweet
condescension and gentle patronage to one who admired her, and was
herself agreeable. To herself she justified her kindness to Mary with
the remark that _the young woman deserved encouragement_--whatever that
might mean--_because she was so anxious to improve herself!_--a duty
Hesper could recognize in another.

As they went, Mary told her something of her miserable relations with
the Turnbulls; and, as they returned, Hesper actually--this time with
perfect seriousness--proposed that she should give up business, and
live with her.

Nor was this the ridiculous thing it may at first sight appear to not a
few of my readers. It arose from what was almost the first movement in
the direction of genuine friendship Hesper had ever felt. She had been
familiar in her time with a good many, but familiarity is not
friendship, and may or may not exist along with it. Some, who would
scorn the idea of a _friendship_ with such as Mary, will be familiar
enough with maids as selfish as themselves, and part from
them--no--part _with_ them, the next day, or the next hour, with never
a twinge of regret. Of this, Hesper was as capable as any; but
friendship is its own justification, and she felt no horror at the new
motion of her heart. At the same time she did not recognize it as
friendship, and, had she suspected Mary of regarding their possible
relation in that light, she would have dismissed her pride, perhaps
contempt. Nevertheless the sorely whelmed divine thing in her had
uttered a feeble sigh of incipient longing after the real; Mary had
begun to draw out the love in her; while her conventional judgment
justified the proposed extraordinary proceeding with the argument of
the endless advantages to result from having in the house, devoted to
her wishes, a young woman with an absolute genius for dressmaking; one
capable not only of originating in that foremost of arts, but, no
doubt, with a little experience, of carrying out also with her own
hands the ideas of her mistress. No more would she have to send for the
dressmaker on every smallest necessity! No more must she postpone
confidence in her appearance, that was, in herself, until Sepia,
dressed, should be at leisure to look her over! Never yet had she found
herself the best dressed in a room: now there would be hope!

Nothing, however, was clear in her mind as to the position she would
have Mary occupy. She had a vague feeling that one like her ought not
to be expected to undertake things befitting such women as her maid
Folter; for between Mary and Folter there was, she saw, less room for
comparison than between Folter and a naked Hottentot. She was
incapable, at the same time, of seeing that, in the eyes of certain
courtiers of a high kingdom, not much known to the world of fashion,
but not the less judges of the beautiful, there was a far greater
difference between Mary and herself than between herself and her maid,
or between her maid and the Hottentot. For, while the said beholders
could hardly have been astonished at Hesper's marrying Mr. Redmain,
there would, had Mary done such a thing, have been dismay and a hanging
of the head before the face of her Father in heaven.

"Come and live with me, Miss Marston," said Hesper; but it was with a
laugh, and that light touch of the tongue which suggests but a flying
fancy spoken but for the sake of the preposterous; while Mary, not
forgetting she had heard the same thing once before, heard it with a
smile, and had no rejoinder ready; whereupon Hesper, who was, in
reality, feeling her way, ventured a little more seriousness.

"I should never ask you to do anything you would not like," she said.

"I don't think you could," answered Mary. "There are more things I
should like to do for you than you would think to ask.--In fact," she
added, looking round with a loving smile, "I don't know what I
shouldn't like to do for you."

"My meaning was, that, as a thing of course, I should never ask you to
do anything menial," explained Hesper, venturing a little further
still, and now speaking in a tone perfectly matter-of-fact.

"I don't know what you intend by _menial_," returned Mary.

Hesper thought it not unnatural she should not be familiar with the
word, and proceeded to explain it as well as she could. That seeming
ignorance may be the consequence of more knowledge, she had yet to
learn.

"_Menial_, don't you know?" she said, "is what you give servants to do."

But therewith she remembered that Mary's help in certain things wherein
her maid's incapacity was harrowing, was one of the hopes she mainly
cherished in making her proposal: that definition of _menial_ would
hardly do.

"I mean--I mean," she resumed, with a little embarrassment, a rare
thing with her, "--things like--like--cleaning one's shoes, don't you
know?--or brushing your hair."

Mary burst out laughing.

"Let me come to you to-morrow morning," she said, "and I will brush
your hair that you will want me to come again the next day. You
beautiful creature! whose hands would not be honored to handle such
stuff as that?"

As she spoke, she took in her fingers a little stray drift from the
masses of golden twilight that crowned one of the loveliest temples in
which the Holy Ghost had not yet come to dwell.

"If cleaning your shoes be menial, brushing your hair must be royal,"
she added.

Hesper's heart was touched; and if at the same time her _self_ was
flattered, the flattery was mingled with its best antidote--love.

"Do you really mean," she said, "you would not mind doing such things
for me?--Of course I should not be exacting."

She laughed again, afraid of showing herself too much in earnest before
she was sure of Mary.

"You would not ask me to do anything _menial_?" said Mary, archly.

"I dare not promise," said Hesper, in tone responsive. "How could I
help it, if I saw you longing to do what I was longing to have you do?"
she added, growing more and more natural.

"I would no more mind cleaning your boots than my own," said Mary.

"But I should not like to clean my own boots," rejoined Hesper.

"No more should I, except it had to be done. Even then I would much
rather not," returned Mary, "for cleaning my own would not interest me.
To clean yours would. Still I would rather not, for the time might be
put to better use--except always it were necessary, and then, of
course, it couldn't. But as to anything degrading in it, I scorn the
idea. I heard my father once say that, to look down on those who have
to do such things may be to despise them for just the one honorable
thing about them.--Shall I tell you what I understand by the word
_menial_? You know it has come to have a disagreeable taste about it,
though at first it only meant, as you say, something that fell to the
duty of attendants."

"Do tell me," answered Hesper, with careless permission.

"I did not find it out myself," said Mary. "My father taught me. He was
a wise as well as a good man, Mrs. Redmain."

"Oh!" said Hesper, with the ordinary indifference of fashionable people
to what an inferior may imagine worth telling them.

"He said," persisted Mary, notwithstanding, "that it is menial to
undertake anything you think beneath you for the sake of money; and
still more menial, having undertaken it, not to do it as well as
possible."

"That would make out a good deal more of the menial in the world than
is commonly supposed," laughed Hesper. "I wonder who would do anything
for you if you didn't pay them--one way or another!"

"I've taken my father's shoes out of Beenie's hands many a time," said
Mary, "and finished them myself, just for the pleasure of making them
shine for _him_."

"Re-a-ally!" drawled Hesper, and set out for the conclusion that after
all it was no such great compliment the young woman had paid her in
wanting to brush her hair. Evidently she had a taste for low
things!--was naturally menial!--would do as much for her own father as
for a lady like her! But the light in Mary's eyes checked her.

"Any service done without love, whatever it be," resumed Mary, "is
slavery--neither more nor less. It can not be anything else. So, you
see, most slaves are made slaves by themselves; and that is what makes
me doubtful whether I ought to go on serving in the shop; for, as far
as the Turnbulls are concerned, I have no pleasure in it; I am only
helping them to make money, not doing them any good."

"Why do you not give it up at once then?" asked Hesper.

"Because I like serving the customers. They were my father's customers;
and I have learned so much from having to wait on them!"

"Well, now," said Hesper, with a rush for the goal, "if you will come
to me, I will make you comfortable; and you shall do just as much or as
little as you please."

"What will your maid think?" suggested Mary. "If I am to do what I
please, she will soon find me trespassing on her domain."

"I never trouble myself about what my servants think," said Hesper.

"But it might hurt her, you know--to be paid to do a thing and then not
allowed to do it."

"She may take herself away, then. I had not thought of parting with
her, but I should not be at all sorry if she went. She would be no loss
to me."

"Why should you keep her, then?"

"Because one is just as good--and as bad as another. She knows my ways,
and I prefer not having to break in a new one. It is a bore to have to
say how you like everything done."

"But you are speaking now as if you meant it," said Mary, waking up to
the fact that Hesper's tone was of business, and she no longer seemed
half playing with the proposal. "_Do_ you mean you want me to come and
live with you?"

"Indeed, I do," answered Hesper, emphatically. "You shall have a room
close to my bedroom, and there you shall do as you like all day long;
and, when I want you, I dare say you will come."

"Fast enough," said Mary, cheerily, as if all was settled. In contrast
with her present surroundings, the prospect was more than attractive.
"--But would you let me have my piano?" she asked, with sudden
apprehension.

"You shall have my grand piano always when I am out, which will be
every night in the season, I dare say. That will give you plenty of
practice; and you will be able to have the best of lessons. And think
of the concerts and oratorios you will go to!"

As she spoke, the carriage drew up at the door of the shop, and Mary
took her leave. Hesper accepted her acknowledgments in the proper style
of a benefactress, and returned her good-by kindly. But not yet did she
shake hands with her.

Some of my readers may wonder that Mary should for a moment dream of
giving up what they would call her independence; for was she not on her
own ground in the shop of which she was a proprietor? and was the
change proposed, by whatever name it might be called, anything other
than _service_? But they are outside it, and Mary was in it, and knew
how little such an independence was worth the name. Almost everything
about the shop had altered in its aspect to her. The very air she
breathed in it seemed slavish. Nor was the change in her. The whole
thing was growing more and more sordid, for now--save for her part--the
one spirit ruled it entirely.

The work had therefore more or less grown a drudgery to her. The spirit
of gain was in full blast, and whoever did not trim his sails to it was
in danger of finding it rough weather. No longer could she, without
offense, and consequent disturbance of spirit, arrange her attendance
as she pleased, or have the same time for reading as before. She could
encounter black looks, but she could not well live with them; and how
was she to continue the servant of such ends as were now exclusively
acknowledged in the place? The proposal of Mrs. Redmain stood in
advantageous contrast to this treadmill-work. In her house she would be
called only to the ministrations of love, and would have plenty of time
for books and music, with a thousand means of growth unapproachable in
Testbridge. All the slavery lay in the shop, all the freedom in the
personal service. But she strove hard to suppress anxiety, for she saw
that, of all poverty-stricken contradictions, a Christian with little
faith is the worst.

The chief attraction to her, however, was simply Hesper herself. She
had fallen in love with her--I hardly know how otherwise to describe
the current with which her being set toward her. Few hearts are capable
of loving as she loved. It was not merely that she saw in Hesper a
grand creature, and lovely to look upon, or that one so much her
superior in position showed such a liking for herself; she saw in her
one she could help, one at least who sorely needed help, for she seemed
to know nothing of what made life worth having--one who had done, and
must yet be capable of doing, things degrading to the humanity of
womanhood. Without the hope of helping in the highest sense, Mary could
not have taken up her abode in such a house as Mrs. Redmain's. No
outward service of any kind, even to the sick, was to her service
enough to _choose_; were it laid upon her, she would hasten to it; for
necessity is the push, gentle or strong, as the man is more or less
obedient, by which God sends him into the path he would have him take.
But to help to the birth of a beautiful Psyche, enveloped all in the
gummy cerecloths of its chrysalis, not yet aware, even, that it must
get out of them, and spread great wings to the sunny wind of God--that
was a thing for which the holiest of saints might well take a servant's
place--the thing for which the Lord of life had done it before him. To
help out such a lovely sister--how Hesper would have drawn herself up
at the word! it is mine, not Mary's--as she would be when no longer
holden of death, but her real self, the self God meant her to be when
he began making her, would indeed be a thing worth having lived for!
Between the ordinarily benevolent woman and Mary Marston, there was
about as great a difference as between the fashionable church-goer and
Catherine of Siena. She would be Hesper's servant that she might gain
Hesper. I would not have her therefore wondered at as a marvel of
humility. She was simply a young woman who believed that the man called
Jesus Christ is a real person, such as those represent him who profess
to have known him; and she therefore believed the man himself--believed
that, when he said a thing, he entirely meant it, knowing it to be
true; believed, therefore, that she had no choice but do as he told
her. That man was the servant of all; therefore, to regard any honest
service as degrading would be, she saw, to deny Christ, to call the
life of creation's hero a disgrace. Nor was he the first servant; he
did not of himself choose his life; the Father gave it him to
live--sent him to be a servant, because he, the Father, is the first
and greatest servant of all. He gives it to one to serve as the rich
can, to another as the poor must. The only disgrace, whether of the
counting-house, the shop, or the family, is to think the service
degrading. If it be such, why not sit down and starve rather than do
it? No man has a right to disgrace himself. Starve, I say; the world
will lose nothing in you, for you are its disgrace, who count service
degrading. You are much too grand people for what your Maker requires
of you, and does himself, and yet you do it after a fashion, because
you like to eat and go warm. You would take rank in the kingdom of
hell, not the kingdom of heaven. But obedient love, learned by the
meanest Abigail, will make of her an angel of ministration, such a one
as he who came to Peter in the prison, at whose touch the fetters fell
from the limbs of the apostle.

"What forced, overdriven, Utopian stuff! A kingdom always coming, and
never come! I hold by what _is._ This solid, plowable earth will serve
my turn. My business is what I can find in the oyster."

I hear you, friend. Your answer will come whence you do not look for
it. For some, their only answer will be the coming of that which they
deny; and the _Presence_ will be a very different thing to those who
desire it and those who do not. In the mean time, if we are not yet
able to serve like God from pure love, let us do it because it is his
way; so shall we come to do it from pure love also.

The very next morning, as she called it--that is, at four o'clock in
the afternoon--Hesper again entered the shop, and, to the surprise and
annoyance of the master of it, was taken by Mary through the counter
and into the house. "What a false impression," thought the great man,
"will it give of the way _we_ live, to see the Marstons' shabby parlor
in a warehouse!" But he would have been more astonished and more
annoyed still, had the deafening masses of soft goods that filled the
house permitted him to hear through them what passed between the two.
Before they came down, Mary had accepted a position in Mrs. Redmain's
house, if that may be called a position which was so undefined; and
Hesper had promised that she would not mention the matter. For Mary
judged Mr. Turnbull would be too glad to get rid of her to mind how
brief the notice she gave him, and she would rather not undergo the
remarks that were sure to be made in contempt of her scheme. She
counted it only fair, however, to let him know that she intended giving
up her place behind the counter, hinting that, as she meant to leave
when it suited her without further warning, it would be well to look
out at once for one to take her place.

As to her money in the business, she scarcely thought of it, and said
nothing about it, believing it as safe as in the bank. It was in the
power of a dishonest man who prided himself on his honesty--the worst
kind of rogue in the creation; but she had not yet learned to think of
him as a dishonest man--only as a greedy one--and the money had been
there ever since she had heard of money. Mr. Turnbull was so astonished
by her communication that, not seeing at once how the change was likely
to affect him, he held his peace--with the cunning pretense that his
silence arose from anger. His first feeling was of pleasure, but the
man of business must take care how he shows himself pleased. On
reflection, he continued pleased; for, as they did not seem likely to
succeed in securing Mary in the way they had wished, the next best
thing certainly would be to get rid of her. Perhaps, indeed, it was the
very best thing; for it would be easy to get George a wife more
suitable to the position of his family than a little canting dissenter,
and her money would be in their hands all the same; while, once clear
of her haunting cat-eyes, ready to pounce upon whatever her soft-headed
father had taught her was wicked, he could do twice the business. But,
while he continued pleased, he continued careful not to show his
satisfaction, for she would then go smelling about for the cause!
During three whole days, therefore, he never spoke to her. On the
fourth, he spoke as if nothing had ever been amiss between them, and
showed some interest in her further intentions. But Mary, in the
straightforward manner peculiar to herself, told him she preferred not
speaking of them at present; whereupon the cunning man concluded that
she wanted a place in another shop, and was on the outlook--prepared to
leave the moment one should turn up.

She asked him one day whether he had yet found a person to take her
place.

"Time enough for that," he answered. "You're not gone yet."

"As you please, Mr. Turnbull," said Mary. "It was merely that I should
be sorry to leave you without sufficient help in the shop."

"And _I_ should be sorry," rejoined Turnbull, "that Miss Marston should
fancy herself indispensable to the business she turned her back upon."

From that moment, the restraint he had for the last week or two laid
upon himself thus broken through, he never spoke to her except with
such rudeness that she no longer ventured to address him even on
shop-business; and all the people in the place, George included,
following the example so plainly set them, she felt, when, at last, in
the month of November, a letter from Hesper heralded the hour of her
deliverance, that to take any formal leave would be but to expose
herself to indignity. She therefore merely told Turnbull, one evening
as he left the shop, that she would not be there in the morning, and
was gone from Testbridge before it was opened the next day.



CHAPTER XXIV.

MRS. REDMAIN'S DRAWING-ROOM.


A few years ago, a London drawing-room was seldom beautiful; but size
is always something, and, if Mrs. Redmain's had not harmony, it had
gilding--a regular upholsterer's drawing-room it was, on which about as
much taste had been expended as on the fattening of a prize-pig.
Happily there is as little need as temptation to give any description
of it, with its sheets of glass and steel, its lace curtains,
crude-colored walls and floor and couches, and glittering chandeliers
of a thousand prisms. Everybody knows the kind of room--a huddle of the
chimera ambition wallowing in the chaos of the commonplace--no
miniature world of harmonious abiding. The only interesting thing in it
was, that on all sides were doors, which must lead out of it, and might
lead to a better place.

It was about eleven o'clock of a November morning--more like one in
March. There might be a thick fog before the evening, but now the sun
was shining like a brilliant lump of ice--so inimical to heat,
apparently, that a servant had just dropped the venetian blind of one
of the windows to shut his basilisk-gaze from the sickening fire, which
was now rapidly recovering. Betwixt the cold sun and the hard earth, a
dust-befogged wind, plainly borrowed from March, was sweeping the
street.

Mr. and Mrs. Redmain had returned to town thus early because their
country-place was in Cornwall, and there Mr. Redmain was too far from
his physician. He was now considerably better, however, and had begun
to go about again, for the weather did not yet affect him much. He was
now in his study, as it was called, where he generally had his
breakfast alone. Mrs. Redmain always had hers in bed, as often with a
new novel as she could, of which her maid cut the leaves, and skimmed
the cream. But now she was descending the stair, straight as a Greek
goddess, and about as cold as the marble she is made of--mentally
rigid, morally imperturbable, and vacant of countenance to a degree
hardly equaled by the most ordinary of goddesses. She entered the
drawing-room with a slow, careless, yet stately step, which belonged to
her, I can not say by nature, for it was not natural, but by ancestry.
She walked to the chimney, seated herself in a low, soft, shiny chair
almost on the hearth-rug, and gazed listlessly into the fire. In a
minute she rose and rang the bell.

"Send my maid, and shut the door," she said.

The woman came.

"Has Miss Yolland left her room yet?" she asked.

"No, ma'am."

"Let her know I am in the drawing-room."

This said, she resumed her fire-gazing.

There was not much to see in the fire, for the fire is but a reflector,
and there was not much behind the eyes that looked into it for that
fire to reflect. Hesper was no dreamer--the more was the pity, for
dreams are often the stuff out of which actions are made. Had she been
a truer woman, she might have been a dreamer, but where was the space
for dreaming in a life like hers, without heaven, therefore without
horizon, with so much room for desiring, and so little room for hope?
The buz that greeted her entrance of a drawing-room, was the chief joy
she knew; to inhabit her well-dressed body in the presence of other
well-dressed bodies, her highest notion of existence. And even upon
these hung ever as an abating fog the consciousness of having a
husband. I can not say she was tired of marriage, for she had loathed
her marriage from the first, and had not found it at all better than
her expectation: she had been too ignorant to forebode half its horrors.

Education she had had but little that was worth the name, for she had
never been set growing; and now, although well endowed by nature, she
was gradually becoming stupid. People who have plenty of money, and
neither hope nor aspiration, must become stupid, except indeed they
hate, and then for a time the devil in them will make them a sort of
clever.

Miss Yolland came undulating. No kiss, no greeting whatever passed
between the ladies. Sepia began at once to rearrange a few hot-house
flowers on the mantel-piece, looking herself much like some dark flower
painted in an old missal.

"This day twelve months!" said Hesper.

"I know," returned Sepia.

"If one could die without pain, and there was nothing to come after!"
said Hesper. "What a tiresome dream it is!"

"Dream, or nightmare, or what you will, you had better get all you can
out of it before you break it," said Sepia.

"You seem to think it worth keeping!" yawned Hesper.

Sepia smiled, with her face to the glass, in which she saw the face of
her cousin with her eyes on the fire; but she made no answer. Hesper
went on.

"Ah!" she said, "your story is not mine. You are free; I am a slave.
You are alive; I am in my coffin."

"That's marriage," said Sepia, dryly.

"It would not matter much," continued Hesper, "if you could have your
coffin to yourself; but when you have to share it--ugh!"

"If I were you, then," said Sepia, "I would not lie still; I would get
up and bite--I mean, be a vampire."

Hesper did not answer. Sepia turned from the mirror, looked at her, and
burst into a laugh--at least, the sound she made had all the elements
of a laugh--except the merriment.

"Now really, Hesper, you ought to be ashamed of yourself," she cried.
"You to put on the pelican and the sparrow, with all the world before
you, and all the men in it at your feet!"

"A pack of fools!" remarked Hesper, with a calmness which in itself was
scorn. "I don't deny it--but amusing fools--you must allow that!"

"They don't amuse me."

"That's your fault: you won't be amused. The more foolish they are, the
more amusing I find them."

"I am sick of it all. Nothing amuses me. How can it, when there is
nothing behind it? You can't live on amusement. It is the froth on
water an inch deep, and then the mud!"

"I declare, misery makes a poetess of you! But as to the mud, I don't
mind a little mud. It is only dirt, and has its part in the inevitable
peck, I hope."

"_I_ don't mind mud so long as you can keep out of it. But when one is
over head and ears in it, I should like to know what life is worth,"
said Hesper, heedless that the mud was of her own making. "I declare,
Sepia," she went on, drawling the declaration, "if I were to be asked
whether I would go on or not--"

"You would ask a little time to make up your mind, Hesper, I fancy,"
suggested Sepia, for Hesper had paused. As she did not reply, Sepia
resumed.

"Which is your favorite poison, Hesper?" she said.

"When I choose, it will be to use," replied Hesper.

"Rhyming, at last!" said Sepia.

But Hesper would not laugh, and her perfect calmness checked the
laughter which would have been Sepia's natural response: she was
careful not to go too far.

"Do you know, Hesper," she said, with seriousness, "what is the matter
with you?"

"Tolerably well," answered Hesper.

"You do not--let me tell you. You are nothing but a baby yet. You have
no heart."

"If you mean that I have never been in love, you are right. But you
talk foolishly; for you know that love is no more within my reach than
if I were the corpse I feel."

Sepia pressed her lips together, and nodded knowingly; then, after a
moment's pause, said:

"When your hour is come, you will understand. Every woman's hour comes,
one time or another--whether she will or not."

"Sepia, if you think that, because I hate my husband, I would allow
another man to make love to me, you do not know me yet."

"I know you very well; you do not know yourself, Hesper; you do not
know the heart of a woman--because your own has never come awake yet."

"God forbid it ever should, then--so long as--as the man I hate is
alive!"

Sepia laughed.

"A good prayer," she said; "for who can tell what you might do to him!"

"Sepia, I sometimes think you are a devil."

"And I sometimes think you are a saint."

"What do you take me for the other times?"

"A hypocrite. What do _you_ take _me_ for the other times?"

"No hypocrite," answered Hesper.

With a light, mocking laugh, Sepia turned away, and left the room.

Hesper did not move. If stillness indicates thought, then Hesper was
thinking; and surely of late she had suffered what might have waked
something like thought in what would then have been something like a
mind: all the machinery of thought was there--sorely clogged, and
rusty; but for a woman to hate her husband is hardly enough to make a
thinking creature of her. True as it was, there was no little
affectation in her saying what she did about the worthlessness of her
life. She was plump and fresh; her eye was clear, her hand firm and
cool; suffering would have to go a good deal deeper before it touched
in her the issues of life, or the love of it. What set her talking so,
was in great part the _ennui_ of endeavor after enjoyment, and the
reaction from success in the pursuit. Her low moods were, however, far
more frequent than, even with such fatigue and reaction to explain
them, belonged to her years, her health, or her temperament.

The fire grew hot. Hesper thought of her complexion, and pushed her
chair back. Then she rose, and, having taken a hand-screen from the
chimney-piece, was fanning herself with it, when the door opened, and a
servant asked if she were at home to Mr. Helmer. She hesitated a
moment: what an unearthly hour for a caller!

"Show him up," she answered: anything was better than her own company.

Tom Helmer entered--much the same--a little paler and thinner. He made
his approach with a certain loose grace natural to him, and seated
himself on the chair, at some distance from her own, to which Mrs.
Redmain motioned him.

Tom seldom failed of pleasing. He was well dressed, and not too much;
and, to the natural confidence of his shallow character, added the
assurance born of a certain small degree of success in his profession,
which he took for the pledge of approaching supremacy. He carried
himself better than he used, and his legs therefore did not look so
long. His hair continued to curl soft and silky about his head, for he
protested against the fashionable convict-style. His hat was new, and
he bore it in front of him like a ready apology.

It was to no presentableness of person, however, any more than to
previous acquaintance, that Tom now owed his admittance. True, he had
been to Durnmelling not unfrequently, but that was in the other world
of the country, and even there Hesper had taken no interest in the
self-satisfied though not ill-bred youth who went galloping about the
country, showing off to rustic girls. It was merely, as I have said,
that she could no longer endure a _tete-a-tete_ with one she knew so
little as herself, and whose acquaintance she was so little desirous of
cultivating.

Tom had been to a small party at the house a few evenings before,
brought thither by the well-known leader of a certain literary clique,
who, in return for homage, not seldom, took younger aspirants under a
wing destined never to be itself more than half-fledged. It was,
notwithstanding, broad enough already so to cover Tom with its shadow
that under it he was able to creep into several houses of a sort of
distinction, and among them into Mrs. Redmain's.

Nothing of less potency than the presumption attendant on
self-satisfaction could have emboldened him to call thus early, and
that in the hope not merely of finding Mrs. Redmain at home, but of
finding her alone; and, with the not unusual reward of unworthy daring,
he had succeeded. He was ambitious of making himself acceptable to
ladies of social influence, and of being known to stand well with such.
In the case of Mrs. Redmain he was the more anxious, because she had
not received him on any footing of former acquaintance.

At the gathering to which I have referred, a certain song was sung by a
lady, not without previous manoeuvre on the part of Tom, with which
Mrs. Redmain had languidly expressed herself pleased; that song he had
now brought her--for, concerning words and music both, he might have
said with Touchstone, "An ill-favored thing, but mine own." He did not
quote Touchstone because he believed both words and music
superexcellent, the former being in truth not quite bad, and the latter
nearly as good. Appreciation was the very hunger of Tom's small life,
and here was a chance!

"I ought to apologize," he said, airily, "and I will, if you will allow
me."

Mrs. Redmain said nothing, only waited with her eyes. They were calm,
reposeful eyes, not fixed, scarcely lying upon Tom. It was chilling,
but he was not easily chilled when self was in the question--as it
generally was with Tom. He felt, however, that he must talk or be lost.

"I have taken the liberty," he said, "of bringing you the song I had
the pleasure--a greater pleasure than you will readily imagine--of
hearing you admire the other evening."

"I forget," said Hesper.

"I would not have ventured," continued Tom, "had it not happened that
both air and words were my own."

"Ah!--indeed!--I did not know you were a poet, Mr.--"

She had forgotten his name.

"That or nothing," answered Tom, boldly.

"And a musician, too?"

"At your service, Mrs. Redmain."

"I don't happen to want a poet at present--or a musician either," she
said, with just enough of a smile to turn the rudeness into what Tom
accepted as a flattering familiarity.

"Nor am I in want of a place," he replied, with spirit; "a bird can
sing on any branch. Will you allow me to sing this song on yours? Mrs.
Downport scarcely gave the expression I could have desired.--May I read
the voices before I sing them?"

Without either intimacy or encouragement, Tom was capable of offering
to read his own verses! Such fools self-partisanship makes of us.

Mrs. Redmain was, for her, not a little amused with the young man; he
was not just like every other that came to the house.

"I should li-i-ike," she said.

Tom laid himself back a little in his chair, with the sheet of music in
his hand, closed his eyes, and repeated as follows--he knew all his own
verses by heart:

    "Lovely lady, sweet disdain!
    Prithee keep thy Love at home;
    Bind him with a tressed chain;
    Do not let the mischief roam.

    "In the jewel-cave, thine eye,
    In the tangles of thy hair,
    It is well the imp should lie--
    There his home, his heaven is there.

    "But for pity's sake, forbid
    Beauty's wasp at me to fly;
    Sure the child should not be chid,
    And his mother standing by.

    "For if once the villain came
    To my house, too well I know
    He would set it all aflame--
    To the winds its ashes blow.

    "Prithee keep thy Love at home;
    Net him up or he will start;
    And if once the mischief roam,
    Straight he'll wing him to my heart."

What there might be in verse like this to touch with faintest emotion,
let him say who cultivates art for art's sake. Doubtless there is that
in rhythm and rhyme and cadence which will touch the pericardium when
the heart itself is not to be reached by divinest harmony; but, whether
such women as Hesper feel this touch or only admire a song as they
admire the church-prayers and Shakespeare, or whether, imagining in it
some _tour de force_ of which they are themselves incapable, they
therefore look upon it as a mighty thing, I am at a loss to determine.
All I know is that a gleam as from some far-off mirror of admiration
did certainly, to Tom's great satisfaction, appear on Hesper's
countenance. As, however, she said nothing, he, to waive aside a
threatening awkwardness, lightly subjoined:

"Queen Anne is all the rage now, you see."

Mrs. Redmain knew that Queen-Anne houses were in fashion, and was even
able to recognize one by its flush window-frames, while she had felt
something odd, which might be old-fashioned, in the song; between the
two, she was led to the conclusion that the fashion of Queen Anne's
time had been revived in the making of verses also.

"Can you, then, make a song to any pattern you please?" she asked.

"I fancy so," answered Tom, indifferently, as if it were nothing to him
to do whatever he chose to attempt. And in fact he could imitate almost
anything--and well, too--the easier that he had nothing of his own
pressing for utterance; for he had yet made no response to the first
demand made on every man, the only demand for originality made on any
man--that he should order his own way aright.

"How clever you must be!" drawled Hesper; and, notwithstanding the
tone, the words were pleasant in the ears of goose Tom. He rose, opened
the piano, and, with not a little cheap facility, began to accompany a
sweet tenor voice in the song he had just read.

The door opened, and Mr. Redmain came in. He gave a glance at Tom as he
sang, and went up to his wife where she still sat, with her face to the
fire, and her back to the piano.

"New singing-master, eh?" he said.

"No," answered his wife.

"Who the deuce is he?"

"I forget his name," replied Hesper, in the tone of one bored by
question. "He used to come to Durnmelling."

"That is no reason why he should not have a name to him."

Hesper did not reply. Tom went on playing. The moment he struck the
last chord, she called to him in a clear, soft, cold voice:

"Will you tell Mr. Redmain your name? I happen to have forgotten it."

Tom picked up his hat, rose, came forward, and, mentioning his name,
held out his hand.

"I don't know you," said Mr. Redmain, touching his palm with two
fingers that felt like small fishes.

"It is of no consequence," said his wife; "Mr. Aylmer is an old
acquaintance of our family."

"Only you don't quite remember his name!"

"It is not my _friends'_ names only I have an unhappy trick of
forgetting. I often forget yours, Mr. Redmain!"

"My _good_ name, you must mean."

"I never heard that."

Neither had raised the voice, or spoken with the least apparent anger.

Mr. Redmain gave a grin instead of a retort. He appreciated her
sharpness too much to get one ready in time. Turning away, he left the
room with a quiet, steady step, taking his grin with him: it had drawn
the clear, scanty skin yet tighter on his face, and remained fixed; so
that he vanished with something of the look of a hairless tiger.

The moment he disappeared, Tom's gaze, which had been fascinated,
sought Hesper. Her lips were shaping the word _brute!_--Tom heard it
with his eyes; her eyes were flashing, and her face was flushed. But
the same instant, in a voice perfectly calm--

"Is there anything else you would like to sing, Mr. Helmer?" she said.
"Or--" Here she ceased, with the slightest possible choking--it was
only of anger--in the throat.

Tom's was a sympathetic nature, especially where a pretty woman was in
question. He forgot entirely that she had given quite as good, or as
bad, as she received, and was hastening to say something foolish,
imagining he had looked upon the sorrows of a lovely and unhappy wife
and was almost in her confidence, when Sepia entered the room, with a
dark glow that flashed into dusky radiance at sight of the handsome
Tom. She had noted him on the night of the party, and remembered having
seen him at the merrymaking in the old hall of Durnmelling, but he had
not been introduced to her. A minute more, and they were sitting
together in a bay-window, blazing away at each other like two
corvettes, though their cartridges were often blank enough, while
Hesper, never heeding them, kept her place by the chimney, her gaze
transferred from the fire to the novel she had sent for from her
bedroom.



CHAPTER XXV.

MARY'S RECEPTION.


In the afternoon of the same day, now dreary enough, with the
dreariness naturally belonging to the dreariest month of the year, Mary
arrived in the city preferred to all cities by those who live in it,
but the most uninviting, I should imagine, to a stranger, of all cities
on the face of the earth. Cold seemed to have taken to itself a visible
form in the thin, gray fog that filled the huge station from the
platform to the glass roof. The latter had vanished, indistinguishable
from sky invisible, and from the brooding darkness, in which the lamps
innumerable served only to make spots of thinness. It was a mist, not a
November fog, properly so called; but every breath breathed by every
porter, as he ran along by the side of the slowly halting train, was
adding to its mass, which seemed to Mary to grow in bulk and density as
she gazed. Her quiet, simple, decided manner at once secured her
attention, and she was among the first who had their boxes on cabs and
were driving away.

But the drive seemed interminable, and she had grown anxious and again
calmed herself many times, before it came to an end. The house at which
the cab drew up was large, and looked as dreary as large, but scarcely
drearier than any other house in London on that same night of November.
The cabman rang the bell, but it was not until they had waited a time
altogether unreasonable that the door at length opened, and a lofty,
well-built footman in livery appeared framed in it.

Mary got out, and, going up the steps, said she hoped the driver had
brought her to the right house: it was Mrs. Redmain's she wanted.

"Mrs. Redmain is not at home, miss," answered the man. "I didn't hear
as how she was expecting of any one," he added, with a glance at the
boxes, formlessly visible on the cab, through the now thicker darkness.

"She is expecting me, I know," returned Mary; "but of course she would
not stay at home to receive me," she remarked, with a smile.

"Oh!" returned the man, in a peculiar tone, and adding, "I'll see,"
went away, leaving her on the top of the steps, with the cabman behind
her, at the bottom of them, waiting orders to get her boxes down.

"It don't appear as you was overwelcome, miss!" he remarked: with his
comrades on the stand he passed for a wit; "--leastways, it don't seem
as your sheets was quite done hairing."

"It's all right," said Mary, cheerfully.

She was not ready to imagine her dignity in danger, therefore did not
provoke assault upon it by anxiety for its safety.

"I'm sorry to hear it, miss," the man rejoined.

"Why?" she asked.

"'Cause I should ha' liked to ha' taken _you_ farther."

"But why?" said Mary, the second time, not understanding him, and not
unwilling to cover the awkwardness of that slow minute of waiting.

"Because it gives a poor man with a whole family o' prowocations
some'at of a chance, to 'ave a affable young lady like you, miss,
behind him in his cab, once a year, or thereabouts. It's not by no
means as I'd have you go farther and fare worse, which it's a sayin' as
I've heerd said, miss. So, if you're sure o' the place, I may as well
be a-gettin' down of _your_ boxes."

So saying, he got on the cab, and proceeded to unfasten the chain that
secured the luggage.

"Wait a bit, cabbie. Don't you be in sech a 'urry as if you was a
'ansom, now," cried the footman, reappearing at the farther end of the
hall. "I should be sorry if there was a mistake, and you wasn't man
enough to put your boxes up again without assistance." Then, turning to
Mary, "Mrs. Perkin says, miss--that's the housekeeper, miss," he went
on, "--that, if as you're the young woman from the country--and I'm
sure I beg your pardon if I make a mistake--it ain't my fault,
miss--Mrs. Perkin says she did hear Mrs. Redmain make mention of one,
but she didn't have any instructions concerning her.--But, as there you
are," he continued more familiarly, gathering courage from Mary's
nodded assent, "you can put your boxes in the hall, and sit down, she
says, till Mrs. R. comes 'ome."

"Do you think she will be long?" asked Mary.

"Well, that's what no fellow can't say, seein' its a new play as she's
gone to. They call it Doomsday, an' there's no tellin' when parties is
likely to come 'ome from that," said the man, with a grin of
satisfaction at his own wit.

Was London such a happy place that everybody in it was given to joking,
thought Mary.

"'Ere, mister! gi' me a 'and wi' this 'ere luggage," cried the cabman,
finding the box he was getting down too much for him. "Yah wouldn't see
me break my back, an' my poor 'orse standin' there a lookin' on--would
ye now?"

"Why don't you bring a man with you?" objected the footman, as he
descended the steps notwithstanding, to give the required assistance.
"I ain't paid as a crane.--By Juppiter! what a weight the new party's
boxes is!"

"Only that one," said Mary, apologetically. "It is full of books. The
other is not half so heavy."

"Oh, it ain't the weight, miss!" returned the footman, who had not
intended she should hear the remark. "I believe Mr. Cabman and myself
will prove equal to the occasion."

With that the book-box came down a great bump on the pavement, and
presently both were in the hall, the one on the top of the other. Mary
paid the cabman, who asked not a penny more than his fare; he departed
with thanks; the facetious footman closed the door, told her to take a
seat, and went away full of laughter, to report that the young person
had brought a large library with her to enliven the dullness of her new
situation.

Mrs. Perkin smiled crookedly, and, in a tone of pleasant reproof,
desired her laughter-compressing inferior not to forget his manners.

"Please, ma'am, am I to leave the young woman sittin' up there all by
herself in the cold?" he asked, straightening himself up. "She do look
a rayther superior sort of young person," he added, "and the 'all-stove
is dead out."

"For the present, Castle," replied Mrs. Perkin.

She judged it wise to let the young woman have a lesson at once in
subjection and inferiority.

Mrs. Perkin was a rather tall, rather thin, quite straight, and very
dark-complexioned woman. She always threw her head back on one side and
her chin out on the other when she spoke, and had about her a great
deal of the authoritative, which she mingled with such consideration
toward her subordinates as to secure their obedience to her, while she
cultivated antagonism to her mistress. She had had a better education
than most persons of her class, but was morally not an atom their
superior in consequence. She never went into a new place but with the
feeling that she was of more importance by far than her untried
mistress, and the worthier person of the two. She entered her service,
therefore, as one whose work it was to take care of herself against a
woman whose mistress she ought to have been, had Providence but started
her with her natural rights. At the same time, she would have been
_almost_ as much offended by a hint that she was not a Christian, as
she would have been by a doubt whether she was a lady. For, indeed, she
was both, if a great opinion of herself constituted the latter, and a
great opinion of going to church constituted the former.

She had not been taken into Hesper's confidence with regard to Mary,
had discovered that "a young person" was expected, but had learned
nothing of what her position in the house was to be. She welcomed,
therefore, this opportunity both of teaching Mrs. Redmain--she never
called her her _mistress_, while severely she insisted on the other
servants' speaking of her so--the propriety of taking counsel with her
housekeeper and of letting the young person know in time that Mrs.
Perkin was in reality her mistress.

The relation of the upper servants of the house to their employers was
more like that of the managers of an hotel to their guests. The butler,
the lady's-maid, and Mr. Redmain's body-servant, who had been with him
before his marriage, and was supposed to be deep in his master's
confidence, ate with the housekeeper in her room, waited upon by the
livery and maid-servants, except the second cook: the first cook only
came to superintend the cooking of the dinner, and went away after. To
all these Mrs. Perkin was careful to be just; and, if she was precise
even to severity with them, she was herself obedient to the system she
had established--the main feature of which was punctuality. She not
only regarded punctuality as the foremost of virtues, but, in righteous
moral sequence, made it the first of her duties; and the benefit
everybody reaped. For nothing oils the household wheels so well as this
same punctuality. In a family, love, if it be strong, genuine, and
patent, will make up for anything; but, where there is no family and no
love, the loss of punctuality will soon turn a house into the mere
pouch of a social _inferno_. Here the master and mistress came and
went, regardless of each other, and of all household polity; but their
meals were ready for them to the minute, when they chose to be there to
eat them; the carriage came round like one of the puppets on the
Strasburg clock; the house was quiet as a hospital; the bells were
answered--all except the door-bell outside of calling hours--with
swiftness; you could not soil your fingers anywhere--not even if the
sweep had been that same morning; the manners of the servants--_when
serving_--were unexceptionable; but the house was scarcely more of a
home than one of the huge hotels characteristic of the age.

In the hall of it sat Mary for the space of an hour, not exactly
learning the lesson Mrs. Perkin had intended to teach her, but learning
more than one thing Mrs. Perkin was not yet capable of learning. I can
not say she was comfortable, for she was both cold and hungry; but she
was far from miserable. She had no small gift of patience, and had
taught herself to look upon the less troubles of life as on a bad
dream. There are children, though not yet many, capable, through faith
in their parents, of learning not a little by their experience, and
Mary was one of such; from the first she received her father's lessons
like one whose business it was to learn them, and had thereby come to
learn where he had himself learned. Hence she was not one to say _our
Father in heaven_, and act as if there were no such Father, or as if he
cared but little for his children. She was even foolish enough to
believe that that Father both knew and cared that she was hungry and
cold and wearily uncomfortable; and thence she was weak enough to take
the hunger and cold and discomfort as mere passing trifles, which could
not last a moment longer than they ought. From her sore-tried endeavors
after patience, had grown the power of active waiting--and a genuinely
waiting child is one of the loveliest sights the earth has to show.

This was not the reception she had pictured to herself, as the train
came rushing from Testbridge to London; she had not, indeed, imagined a
warm one, but she had not expected to be forgotten--for so she
interpreted her abandonment in the hall, which seemed to grow colder
every minute. She saw no means of reminding the household of her
neglected presence, and indeed would rather have remained where she was
till the morning than encounter the growing familiarity of the man who
had admitted her. She did think once--if Mrs. Redmain were to hear of
her reception, how she would resent it! and would have found it
difficult to believe how far people like her are from troubling
themselves about the behavior of their servants to other people; for
they have no idea of an obligation to rule their own house, neither
seem to have a notion of being accountable for what goes on in it.

She had grown very weary, and began to long for a floor on which she
might stretch herself; there was not a sound in the house but the
ticking of a clock somewhere; and she was now wondering whether
everybody had gone to bed, when she heard a step approaching, and
presently Castle, who was the only man at home, stood up before her,
and, with the ease of perfect self-satisfaction, and as if there was
nothing in the neglect of her but the custom of the house to cool
people well in the hall before admitting them to its penetralia, said,
"Step this way--miss"; the last word added after a pause of pretended
hesitation, for the man had taken his cue from the housekeeper.

Mary rose, and followed him to the basement story, into a comfortable
room, where sat Mrs. Perkin, embroidering large sunflowers on a piece
of coarse stuff. She was _artistic_, and despised the whole style of
the house.

"You may sit down," she said, and pointed to a chair near the door.

Mary, not a little amused, for all her discomfort, did as she was
permitted, and awaited what should come next.

"What part of the country are you from?" asked Mrs. Perkin, with her
usual diagonal upward toss of the chin, but without lifting her eyes
from her work.

"From Testbridge," answered Mary.

"The servants in this house are in the habit of saying _ma'am_ to their
superiors: it is required of them," remarked Mrs. Perkin. But, although
her tone was one of rebuke, she said the words lightly, tossed the last
of them off, indeed, almost playfully, as if the lesson was meant for
one who could hardly have been expected to know better. "And what place
did you apply for in the house?" she went on to ask.

"I can hardly say, ma'am," answered Mary, avoiding both inflection and
emphasis, and by her compliance satisfying Mrs. Perkin that she had
been right in requiring the _kotou_. "It is not usual for young persons
to be engaged without knowing for what purpose."

"I suppose not, ma'am."

"What wages were you to have?" next inquired Mrs. Perkin, gradually
assuming a more decided drawl as she became more assured of her
position with the stranger. She would gladly get some light on the
affair. "You need not object to mentioning them," she went on, for she
imagined Mary hesitated, whereas she was only a little troubled to keep
from laughing; "I always pay the wages myself."

"There was nothing said about wages, ma'am," answered Mary.

"Indeed! Neither work nor wages specified? Excuse me if I say it seems
rather peculiar.--We must be content to wait a little, then--until we
learn what Mrs. Redmain expected of you, _and whether or not you are
capable of it_. We can go no further now."

"Certainly not, ma'am," assented Mary.

"Can you use your needle?"

"Yes, ma'am."

"Have you done any embroidery?"

"I understand it a little, but I am not particularly fond of it."

"You mistake: I did not ask you whether you were fond of it," said Mrs.
Perkin; "I asked you if you had ever done any"; and she smiled
severely, but ludicrously, for a diagonal smile is apt to have a comic
effect. "Here!--take off your gloves," she continued, "and let me see
you do one of these loose-worked sunflowers. They are the fashion now,
though. I dare say, you will not be able to see the beauty of them."

"Please, ma'am," returned Mary, "if you will excuse me, I would rather
go to my room. I have had a long journey, and am very tired."

"There is no room yours.--I have had no character with you.--Nothing
can be done til Mrs. Redman comes home, and she and I have had a little
talk about you. But you can go to the housemaid's--the second
housemaid's room, I mean--and make yourself tidy. There is a spare bed
in it, I believe, which you can have for the night; only mind you don't
keep the girl awake talking to her, or she will be late in the morning,
and that I never put up with. I think you will do. You seem willing to
learn, and that is half the battle."

Therewith Mrs. Perkin, believing she had laid in awe the foundation of
a rightful authority over the young person, gave her a nod of
dismissal, which she intended to be friendly.

"Please, ma'am," said Mary, "could I have one of my boxes taken up
stairs?"

"Certainly not. I can not have two movings of them; I must take care of
my men. And your boxes, I understand, are heavy, quite absurdly so. It
would _look_ better in a young person not to have so much to carry
about with her."

"I have but two boxes, ma'am," said Mary.

"Full of _books_, I am told."

"One of them only."

"You must do your best without them to-night. When I have made up my
mind what is to be done with you, I shall let you have the one with
your clothes; the other shall be put away in the box-room. I give my
people what books I think fit. For light reading, the 'Fireside Herald'
is quite enough for the room.--There--good night!"

Mary courtesied, and left her. At the door she glanced this way and
that to find some indication to guide her steps. A door was open at the
end of a passage, and from the odor that met her, it seemed likely to
be that of the kitchen. She approached, and peeped in.

"Who is that?" cried a voice irate.

It was the voice of the second cook, who was there supreme except when
the _chef_ was present. Mary stepped in, and the woman advanced to meet
her.

"May I ask to what I am indebted for the honner of this unexpected
visit?" said the second cook, whose head its overcharge of
self-importance jerked hither and thither upon her neck, as she seized
the opportunity of turning to her own use a sentence she had just read
in the "Fireside Herald" which had taken her fancy--spoken by Lady
Blanche Rivington Delaware to a detested lover disinclined to be
dismissed.

"Would you please tell me where to find the second house-maid," said
Mary. "Mrs. Perkin has sent me to her room."

"Why don't Mrs. Perkin show you the way, then?" returned the woman.
"There ain't nobody else in the house as I knows on fit to send to the
top o' them stairs with you. A nice way Jemim' 'ill be in when _she_
comes 'ome, to find a stranger in her room!"

The same instant, however, the woman bethought herself that, if what
she had said in her haste were reported, it would be as much as her
place was worth; and at once thereupon she assumed a more complaisant
tone. Casting a look at her saucepans, as if to warn them concerning
their behavior in her absence, she turned again to Mary, saying:

"I believe I better show you the way myself. It's easier to take you
than find a girl to do it. Them hussies is never where they oughto be!
_You_ follow _me_."

She led the way along two passages, and up a back staircase of
stone--up and up, till Mary, unused to such heights, began to be aware
of knees. Plainly at last in the regions of the roof, she thought her
hill Difficulty surmounted, but the cook turned a sharp corner, and
Mary following found herself once more at the foot of a stair--very
narrow and steep, leading up to one of those old-fashioned roof-turrets
which had begun to appear in the new houses of that part of London.

"Are you taking me to the clouds, cook?" she said, willing to be
cheerful, and to acknowledge her obligation for laborious guidance.

"Not yet a bit, I hope," answered the cook; "we'll get there soon
enough, anyhow--excep' you belong to them peculiars as wants to be
saints afore their time. If that's your sort, don't you come here; for
a wickeder 'ouse, or an 'ouse as you got to work harder in o' Sundays,
no one won't easily find in this here west end."

With these words she panted up the last few steps, immediately at the
top of which was the room sought. It was a very small one, scarcely
more than holding the two beds. Having lighted the gas, the cook left
her; and Mary, noting that one of the beds was not made up, was glad to
throw herself upon it. Covering herself with her cloak, her
traveling-rug, and the woolen counterpane, she was soon fast asleep.

She was roused by a cry, half of terror, half of surprise. There stood
the second housemaid, who, having been told nothing of her room-fellow,
stared and gasped.

"I am sorry to have startled you," said Mary, who had half risen,
leaning on her elbow. "They ought to have told you there was a stranger
in your room."

The girl was not long from the country, and, in the midst of the worst
vulgarity in the world, namely, among the servants of the selfish, her
manners had not yet ceased to be simple. For a moment, however, she
seemed capable only of panting, and pressing her hand on her heart.

"I am very sorry," said Mary, again; "but you see I won't hurt you! I
don't look dangerous, do I?"

"No, miss," answered the girl, with an hysterical laugh. "I been to the
play, and there was a man in it was a thief, you know, miss!" And with
that she burst out crying.

It was some time before Mary got her quieted, but, when she did, the
girl was quite reasonable. She deplored that the bed was not made up,
and would willingly have yielded hers; she was sorry she had not a
clean night-gown to offer her--"not that it would be fit for the likes
of _you_, miss!"--and showed herself full of friendly ministration.
Mary being now without her traveling-cloak, Jemima judged from her
dress she must be some grand visitor's maid, vastly her superior in the
social scale: if she had taken her for an inferior, she would
doubtless, like most, have had some airs handy.



CHAPTER XXVI.

HER POSITION.


Mary seemed to have but just got to sleep again, when she was startled
awake by the violent ringing of a bell, almost at her ear.

"Oh, you needn't trouble yet a long while, miss!" said the girl, who
was already dressing. "I've got ever so many fires to light, ere
there'll be a thought of you!"

Mary lay down again, and once more fell fast asleep.

She was waked the third time by the girl telling her that breakfast was
ready; whereupon she rose, and made herself as tidy as she could, while
Jemima _cleaned herself up a bit,_ and was not a little improved in the
process.

"I thought," she said, "as Mrs. Perkin would 'a' as't you to your first
meal with her; but she told me, when I as't what were to be done with
you, as how you must go to the room, and eat your breakfast with the
rest of us."

"As Mrs. Perkin pleases," said Mary.

She had before this come to understand the word of her Master, that not
what enters into a man defiles him, but only what comes out of him;
hence, that no man's dignity is affected by what another does to him,
but only by what he does, or would like to do, himself.

She did, however, feel a little shy on entering "the room," where all
the livery and most of the women servants were already seated at
breakfast. Two of the men, with a word to each other, made room for her
between them, and laughed; but she took no notice, and seated herself
at the bottom of the table with her companion. Everything was as clean
and tidy as heart could wish, and Mary was glad enough to make a good
meal.

For a few minutes there was loud talking--from a general impulse to
show off before the stranger; then fell a silence, as if some feeling
of doubt had got among them. The least affected by it was the footman
who had opened the door to her: he had witnessed her reception by Mrs.
Perkin. Addressing her boldly, he expressed a hope that she was not too
much fatigued by her journey. Mary thanked him in her own natural,
straightforward way, and the consequence was, that, when he spoke to
her next, he spoke like a gentleman--in the tone natural to him, that
is, and in the language of the parlor, without any mock-politeness.
And, although the way they talked among themselves made Mary feel as if
she were in a strange country, with strange modes, not of living
merely, but of feeling and of regarding, she received not the smallest
annoyance during the rest of the meal--which did not last long: Mrs.
Perkin took care of that.

For an hour or more, after the rest had scattered to their respective
duties, she was left alone. Then Mrs. Perkin sent for her.

When she entered her room, she found her occupied with the cook, and
was allowed to stand unnoticed.

"When shall I be able to see Mrs. Redmain, ma'am?" she asked, when the
cook at length turned to go.

"Wait," rejoined Mrs. Perkin, with a quiet dignity, well copied, "until
you are addressed, young woman."--Then first casting a glance at her,
and perhaps perceiving on her countenance a glimmer of the amusement
Mary felt, she began to gather a more correct suspicion of the sort of
being she might possibly be, and hastily added, "Pray, take a seat."

The idea of making a blunder was unendurable to Mrs. Perkin, and she
was most unwilling to believe she had done so; but, even if she had, to
show that she knew it would only be to render it the more difficult to
recover her pride of place. An involuntary twinkle about the corners of
Mary's mouth made her hasten to answer her question.

"I am sorry," she said, "that I can give you no prospect of an
interview with Mrs. Redmain before three o'clock. She will very likely
not be out of her room before one.--I suppose you saw her at
Durnmelling?"

"Yes, ma'am," answered Mary, "--and at Testbridge."

It kept growing on the housekeeper that she had made a mistake--though
to what extent she sought in vain to determine.

"You will find it rather wearisome waiting," she said next; "--would
you not like to help me with my work?"

Already she had the sunflowers under her creative hands.

"I should be very glad--if I can do it well enough to please you,
ma'am," answered Mary. "But," she added, "would you kindly see that
Mrs. Redmain is told, as soon as she wakes, that I am here?"

"Oblige me by ringing the bell," said Mrs. Perkin.--"Send Mrs. Folter
here."'

A rather cross-looking, red-faced, thin woman appeared, whom she
requested to let her mistress know, as soon as was proper, that there
was a young person in the house who said she had come from Testbridge
by appointment to see her.

"Yes, ma'am," said Folter, with a supercilious yet familiar nod to
Mary; "I'll take care she knows."

Mary passed what would have been a dreary morning to one dependent on
her company. It was quite three o'clock when she was at length summoned
to Mrs. Redmain's boudoir. Folter, who was her guide thither, lingered,
in the soft closing of the door, long enough to learn that her mistress
received the young person with a kiss--almost as much to Mary's
surprise as Folter's annoyance, which annoyance partly to relieve,
partly to pass on to Mrs. Perkin, whose reception of Mary she had
learned, Folter hastened to report the fact, and succeeded thereby in
occasioning no small uneasiness in the bosom of the housekeeper, who
was almost as much afraid of her mistress as the other servants were of
herself. Some time she spent in expectant trepidation, but gradually,
as nothing came of it, calmed her fears, and concluded that her
behavior to Mary had been quite correct, seeing the girl had made it no
ground of complaint.

But, although Hesper, being at the moment in tolerable spirits, in
reaction from her depression of the day before, received Mary with a
kiss, she did not ask her a question about her journey, or as to how
she had spent the night. She was there, and looking all right, and that
was enough. On the other hand, she did proceed to have her at once
properly settled.

The little room appointed her looked upon a small court or yard, and
was dark, but otherwise very comfortable. As soon as she was left to
herself, she opened her boxes, put her things away in drawers and
wardrobe, arranged her books within easy reach of the low chair Hesper
had sent for from the drawing-room for her, and sat down to read a
little, brood a little, and build a few castles in the air, more lovely
than evanescent: no other house is so like its builder as this sort of
castle.

About eight o'clock, Folter summoned her to go to Mrs. Redmain. By this
time she was tired: she was accustomed to tea in the afternoon, and
since her dinner with the housekeeper she had had nothing.

She found Mrs. Redmain dressed for the evening. As soon as Mary
entered, she dismissed Folter.

"I am going out to dinner," she said. "Are you quite comfortable?"

"I am rather cold, and should like some tea," said Mary.

"My poor girl! have you had no tea?" said Hesper, with some concern,
and more annoyance. "You are looking quite pale, I see! When did you
have anything to eat?"

"I had a good dinner at one o'clock," replied Mary, with a rather weary
smile.

"This is dreadful!" said Hesper. "What can the servants be about!"

"And, please, may I have a little fire?" begged Mary.

"Certainly," replied Hesper, knitting her brows with a look of slight
anguish. "Is it possible you have been sitting all day without one? Why
did you not ring the bell?" She took one of her hands. "You are
frozen!" she said.

"Oh, no!" answered Mary; "I am far from that. You see nobody knows yet
what to do with me.--You hardly know yourself," she added, with a merry
look. "But, if you wouldn't mind telling Mrs. Perkin where you wish me
to have my meals, that would put it all right, I think."

"Very well," said Hesper, in a tone that for her was sharp. "Will you
ring the bell?"

She sent for the housekeeper, who presently appeared--lank and tall,
with her head on one side like a lamp-post in distress, but calm and
prepared--a dumb fortress, with a live garrison.

"I wish you, Mrs. Perkin, to arrange with Miss Marston about her meals."

"Yes, ma'am," answered Mrs. Perkin, with sedatest utterance.

"Mrs. Perkin," said Mary, "I don't want to be troublesome; tell me what
will suit you best."

But Mrs. Perkin did not even look at her; standing straight as a rush,
she kept her eyes on her mistress.

"Do you desire, ma'am, that Miss Marston should have her meals in the
housekeeper's room?" she asked.

"That must be as Miss Marston pleases," answered Hesper. "If she prefer
them in her own, you will see they are properly sent up."

"Very well, ma'am!--Then I wait Miss Marston's orders," said Mrs.
Perkin, and turned to leave the room. But, when her mistress spoke
again, she turned again and stood. It was Mary, however, whom Hesper
addressed.

"Mary," she said, apparently foreboding worse from the tone of the
housekeeper's obedience than from her occurred neglect, "when I am
alone, you shall take your meals with me; and when I have any one with
me, Mrs. Perkin will see that they are sent to your room. We will
settle it so."

"Thank you," said Mary.

"Very well, ma'am," said Mrs. Perkin.

"Send Miss Marston some tea directly," said Hesper.

Scarcely was Mrs. Perkin gone when the brougham was announced. Mary
returned to her room, and in a little while tea, with thin bread and
butter in limited quantity, was brought her. But it was brought by
Jemima, whose face wore a cheerful smile over the tray she carried:
she, at least, did not grudge Mary her superior place in the household.

"Do you think, Jemima," asked Mary, "you could manage to answer my bell
when I ring?"

"I should only be too glad, miss; it would be nothing but a pleasure to
me; and I'd jump to it if I was in the way; but if I was up stairs,
which this house ain't a place to hear bells in, sure I am nobody would
let me know as you was a-ringin'; and if you was to think as how I was
giving of myself airs, like some people not far out of this square, I
should be both sorry and ashamed--an' that's more'n I'd say for my
place to Mrs. Perkin, miss."

"You needn't be afraid of that, Jemima," returned Mary. "If you don't
answer when I ring, I shall know, as well as if you told me, that you
either don't hear or can't come at the moment. I sha'n't be exacting."

"Don't you be afeared to ring, miss; I'll answer your bell as often as
I hear it."

"Could you bring me a loaf? I have had nothing since Mrs. Perkin's
dinner; and this bread and butter is rather too delicately cut," said
Mary.

"Laws, miss, you must be nigh clemmed!" said the girl; and, hastening
away, she soon returned with a loaf, and butter, and a pot of marmalade
sent by the cook, who was only too glad to open a safety-valve to her
pleasure at the discomfiture of Mrs. Perkin.

"When would you like your breakfast, miss?" asked Jemima, as she
removed the tea-things.

"Any time convenient," replied Mary.

"It's much the same to me, miss, so it's not before there's bilin'
water. You'll have it in bed, miss?"

"No, thank you. I never do."

"You'd better, miss."

"I could not think of it."

"It makes no more trouble--less, miss, than if I had to get it when the
room-breakfast was on. I've got to get the things together anyhow; and
why shouldn't you have it as well as Mrs. Perkin, or that ill-tempered
cockatoo, Mrs. Folter? You're a lady, and that's more'n can be said for
either of them--justly, that is."

"You don't mean," said Mary, surprised out of her discretion, "that the
housekeeper and the lady's-maid have breakfast in bed?"

"It's every blessed mornin' as I've got to take it up to 'em, miss,
upon my word of honor, with a soft-biled egg, or a box o' sardines,
new-opened, or a slice o' breakfast bacon, streaky. An' I do _not_
think as it belongs proper to my place; only you see, miss, the
kitchen-maid has got to do it for the cook, an' if I don't, who is
there? It's not them would let the scullery-maid come near them in
their beds."

"Does Mrs. Perkin know that the cook and the lady's-maid have it as
well as herself?"

"Not she, miss; she'd soon make their coffee too 'ot! She's the only
lady down stairs--she is! No more don't Mrs. Folter know as the cook
has hers, only, if she did, it wouldn't make no differ, for she daren't
tell. And cook, to be sure, it ain't her breakfast, only a cup o' tea
an' a bit o' toast, to get her heart up first."

"Well," said Mary, "I certainly shall not add another to the breakfasts
in bed. But I must trouble you all the same to bring it me here. I will
make my bed, and do out the room myself, if you will come and finish it
off for me."

"Oh, no, indeed, miss, you mustn't do that! Think what they'd say of
you down stairs! They'd despise you downright!"

"I shall do it, Jemima. If they were servants of the right sort, I
should like to have their good opinion, and they would think all the
more of me for doing my share; as it is, I should count it a disgrace
to care a straw, what they thought. We must do our work, and not mind
what people say."

"Yes, miss, that's what my mother used to say to my father, when he
wouldn't be reasonable. But I must go, miss, or I shall catch it for
gossiping with you--that's what _she'll_ call it."

When Jemima was gone, Mary fell a-thinking afresh. It was all very
well, she said to herself, to talk about doing her work, but here she
was with scarce a shadow of an idea what her work was! Had _any_ work
been given her to do in this house? Had she presumed in
coming--anticipated the guidance of Providence, and was she therefore
now where she had no right to be? She could not tell; but, anyhow, here
she was, and no one could be anywhere without the fact involving its
own duty. Even if she had put herself there, and was to blame for being
there, that did not free her from the obligations of the position, and
she was willing to do whatever should _now_ be given her to do. God was
not a hard master; if she had made a mistake, he would pardon her, and
either give her work here, where she found herself, or send her
elsewhere. I need not say that thinking was not all her care; for she
thought in the presence of Him who, because he is always setting our
wrong things right, is called God our Saviour.



CHAPTER XXVII.

MR. AND MRS. HELMER


The next morning, Mary set out to find Letty, from whom, as I have
said, she had heard but twice since her marriage. Mary had written
again about a month ago, but had had no reply. The sad fact was, that,
ever since she left Testbridge, Letty, for a long time, without knowing
it, had been going down hill. There have been many whose earnestness
has vanished with the presence of those whose influence awoke it.
Letty's better self seemed to have remained behind with Mary; and not
even if he had been as good as she thought him, could Tom himself have
made up to her for the loss of such a friend.

But Letty had not found marriage at all the grand thing she had
expected. With the faithfulness of a woman, however, she attributed her
disappointment to something inherent in marriage, nowise affecting the
man whom marriage had made her husband.

That he might be near the center to which what little work he did
gravitated, Tom had taken a lodging in a noisy street, as unlike all
that Letty had been accustomed to as anything London, except in its
viler parts, could afford. Never a green thing was to be looked upon in
any direction. Not a sweet sound was to be heard.

The sun, at this time of the year, was seldom to be seen in London
anywhere; and in Lydgate Street, even when there was no fog, it was but
askance, and for a brief portion of the day, that he shone upon that
side where stood their dusty windows. And then the noise!--a ceaseless
torrent of sounds, of stony sounds, of iron sounds, of grinding sounds,
of clashing sounds, of yells and cries--of all deafening and unpoetic
discords! Letty had not much poetry in her, and needed what could be
had from the outside so much the more. It is the people of a land
without springs that must have cisterns. It is the poetic people
without poetry that pant and pine for the country. When such get hold
of a poet, they expect him to talk poetry, or, at least, to talk about
poetry! I fancy poets do not read much poetry, and except to their
peers do not often care to talk about it. But to one like Letty,
however little she may understand or even be aware of the need, the
poetic is as necessary as rain in summer; while, to one so little
skilled in the finding of it, there was none visible, audible, or
perceptible about her--except, indeed, what, of poorest sort for her
uses, she might discover bottled in some circulating library: there was
one--blessed proximity!--within ten minutes' walk of her.

Once a week or so, some weeks oftener, Tom would take her to the play,
and that was, indeed, a happiness--not because of the pleasure of the
play only or chiefly, though that was great, but in the main because
she had Tom beside her all the time, and mixed up Tom with the play,
and the play with Tom.

Alas! Tom was not half so dependent upon her, neither derived half so
much pleasure from her company. Some of his evenings every week he
spent at houses where those who received him had not the faintest idea
whether he had a wife or not, and cared as little, for it would have
made no difference: they would not have invited her. Small, silly,
conceited Tom, regarding himself as a somebody, was more than content
to be asked to such people's houses. He thought he went as a lion,
whereas it was merely as a jackal: so great is the love of some for
wild beasts in general, that they even think something of jackals. He
was aware of no insult to himself in asking him whether as a lion or
any other wild beast, nor of any to his wife and himself together in
not asking her with him. While she sat in her dreary lodging, dingily
clad and lonely, Tom, dressed in the height of the fashion, would be
strolling about grand rooms, now exchanging a flying shot of
recognition, now pausing to pay a compliment to this lady on her
singing, to that on her verses, to a third, where he dared, on her
dress; for good-natured Tom was profuse of compliments, not without a
degree and kind of honesty in them; now singing one of his own songs to
the accompaniment of some gracious goddess, now accompanying the same
or some other gracious goddess as she sang--for Tom could do that well
enough for people without a conscience in their music; now in the
corner of a conservatory, now in a cozy little third room behind a back
drawing-room, talking nonsense with some lady foolish enough to be
amused with his folly. Tom meant no harm and did not do much--was only
a human butterfly, amusing himself with other creatures of a day, who
have no notion that death can not kill them, or they might perhaps be
more miserable than they are. They think, if they think at all, that it
is life, strong in them, that makes them forget death; whereas, in
truth, it is death, strong in them, that makes them forget life. Like a
hummingbird, all sparkle and flash, Tom flitted through the tropical
delights of such society as his "uncommon good luck" had gained him
admission to, forming many an evanescent friendship, and taking many a
graceful liberty for which his pleasant looks, confident manners, and
free carriage were his indemnity--for Tom seemed to have been born to
show what a nice sort of a person a fool, well put together, may
be--with his high-bred air, and his ready replies, for he had also a
little of that social element, once highly valued, now less
countenanced, and rare--I mean wit.

He had, indeed, plenty of all sorts of brains; but no amount of talent
could reveal to him the reason or the meaning of the fact that wedded
life was less interesting than courtship; for the former, the reason
lay in himself, and of himself proper he knew, as I have said, next to
nothing; while the latter, the meaning of the fact, is profound as
eternity. He had no notion that, when he married, his life was thereby,
in a lofty and blessed sense, forfeit; that, to save his wife's life,
he must yield his own, she doing the same for him--for God himself can
save no other way. But the notion of any saving, or the need of it, was
far from Tom; nor had Letty, for her part, any thought of it either,
except from the tyranny of her aunt. Not the less, in truth, did they
both want saving--very much saving--before life could be to either of
them a good thing. It is only its inborn possibility of and divine
tendency toward blossoming that constitute life a good thing. Life's
blossom is its salvation, its redemption, the justification of its
existence--and is a thing far off with most of us. For Tom, his highest
notion of life was to be recognized by the world for that which he had
chosen as his idea of himself--to have the reviews allow him a poet,
not grudgingly, nor with abatement of any sort, but recognizing him as
the genius he must contrive to believe himself, or "perish in" his
"self-contempt." Then would he live and die in the blessed assurance
that his name would be for over on the lips and in the hearts of that
idol of fools they call _posterity_-divinity as vague as the old gray
Fate, and less noble, inasmuch as it is but the supposed concave whence
is to rebound the man's own opinion of himself.

While jewelly Tom was idling away time which yet could hardly be called
precious, his little brown wife, as I have said, sat at home--such home
as a lodging can be for a wife whose husband finds his interest mainly
outside of it--inquired after by nobody, thought of by nobody, hardly
even taken up by her own poor, weary self; now trying in vain after
interest in the feeble trash she was reading; now getting into the
story for the last half of a chapter, to find herself, when the scene
changed at the next, as far out and away and lost as ever; now dropping
the book on her knee, to sit musing--if, indeed, such poor mental
vagaries as hers can be called even musing!--ignorant what was the
matter with her, hardly knowing that anything was the matter, and yet
pining morally, spiritually, and psychically; now wondering when Tom
would be home; now trying to congratulate herself on his being such a
favorite, and thinking what an honor it was to a poor country girl like
her to be the wife of a man so much courted by the best society--for
she never doubted that the people to whose houses Tom went desired his
company from admiration of his writings. She had not an idea that never
a soul of them or of their guests cared a straw about what he
wrote--except, indeed, here and there, a young lady in her first
season, who thought it a grand thing to know an author, as poor Letty
thought it a grand thing to be the wife of one. Hail to the coming time
when, those who write books outnumbering those who do not, a man will
be thought no more of because he can write than because he can sit a
horse or brew beer! In that happy time the true writer will be neither
an atom the more regarded nor disregarded; he will only be less
troubled with birthday books, requests for autographs, and such-like
irritating attentions. From that time, also, it may be, the number of
writers will begin to diminish; for then, it is to be hoped, men will
begin to see that it is better to do the inferior thing well than the
superior thing after a middling fashion. The man who would not rather
be a good shoemaker than a middling author would be no honor to the
shoemakers, and can hardly be any to the authors. I have the comfort
that in this all authors will agree with me, for which of us is now
able to see himself _middling_? Honorable above all honor that
authorship can give is he who can.

It was through some of his old college friends that Tom had thus easily
stepped into the literary profession. They were young men with money
and friends to back them, who, having taken to literature as soon as
they chipped the university shell, were already in the full swing of
periodical production, when Tom, to quote two rather contradictory
utterances of his mother, ruined his own prospects and made Letty's
fortune by marrying her. I can not say, however, that they had found
him remunerative employment. The best they had done for him was to
bring him into such a half sort of connection with a certain weekly
paper that now and then he got something printed in it, and now and
then, with the joke of acknowledging an obligation irremunerable, the
editor would hand him what he called an honorarium, but what in reality
was a five-pound note. When such an event occurred, Tom would feel his
bosom swell with the imagined dignity of supporting a family by
literary labor, and, forgetful of the sparseness of his mother's doles,
who delighted to make the young couple feel the bitterness of
dependence, would immediately, on the strength of it, invite his
friends to supper--not at the lodging where Letty sat lonely, but at
some tavern frequented by people of the craft. It was at such times,
and in the company of men certainly not better than himself, that Tom's
hopes were brightest, and his confidence greatest: therefore such
seasons were those of his highest bliss. Especially, when his sensitive
but poor imagination was stimulated from the nerve-side of the brain,
was Tom in his glory; and it was not the "few glasses of champagne," of
which he talked so airily, that had all the honor of crowning him king
of fate and poet of the world. Long after midnight, upon such and many
other occasions, would he and his companions sit laughing and jesting
and drinking, some saying witty things, and all of them foolish things
and worse; inventing stories apropos of the foibles of friends, and
relating anecdotes which grew more and more irreverent to God and women
as the night advanced, and the wine gained power, and the shame-faced
angels of their true selves, made in the image of God, withdrew into
the dark; until at last, between night and morning, Tom would reel
gracefully home, using all the power of his will--the best use to which
it ever was put--to subdue the drunkenness of which, even in its
embrace, he had the lingering honor to be ashamed, that he might face
his wife with the appearance of the gentleman he was anxious she should
continue to consider him.

It was an unhappy thing for Tom that his mother, having persuaded her
dying husband, "for Tom's sake," to leave the money in her power,
should not now have carried her tyranny further, and refused him money
altogether. He would then have been compelled to work harder, and to
use what he made in procuring the necessaries of life. There might have
been some hope for him then. As it was, his profession was the mere
grasping after the honor of a workman without the doing of the work;
while the little he gained by it was, at the same time, more than
enough to foster the self-deception that he did something in the world.
With the money he gave her, which was never more than a part of what
his mother sent him, Letty had much ado to make both ends meet; and,
while he ran in debt to his tailor and bootmaker, she never had
anything new to wear. She did sometimes wish he would take her out with
him a little oftener of an evening; for sometimes she felt so lonely as
to be quite unable to amuse herself: her resources were not many in her
position, and fewer still in herself; but she always reflected that he
could not afford it, and it was long ere she began to have any doubt or
uneasiness about him--long before she began even to imagine it might be
well if he spent his evenings with her, or, at least, in other ways and
other company than he did. When first such a thought presented itself,
she banished it as a disgrace to herself and an insult to him. But it
was no wonder if she found marriage dull, poor child!--after such
expectations, too, from her Tom!

What a pity it seems to our purblind eyes that so many girls should be
married before they are women! The woman comes at length, and finds she
is forestalled--that the prostrate and mutilated Dagon of a girl's
divinity is all that is left her to do the best with she can! But,
thank God, in the faithfully accepted and encountered responsibility,
the woman must at length become aware that she has under her feet an
ascending stair by which to climb to the woman of the divine ideal.

There was at present, however, nothing to be called thought in the mind
of Letty. She had even lost much of what faculty of thinking had been
developed in her by the care of Cousin Godfrey. That had speedily
followed the decay of the aspiration kindled in her by Mary. Her whole
life now--as much of it, that is, as was awake--was Tom, and only Tom.
Her whole day was but the continuous and little varied hope of his
presence. Most of the time she had a book in her hands, but ever again
book and hands would sink into her lap, and she would sit staring
before her at nothing. She was not unhappy, she was only not happy. At
first it was a speechless delight to have as many novels as she
pleased, and she thought Tom the very prince of bounty in not merely
permitting her to read them, but bringing them to her, one after the
other, sometimes two at once, in spendthrift profusion. The first thing
that made her aware she was not quite happy was the discovery that
novels were losing their charm, that they were not sufficient to make
her day pass, that they were only dessert, and she had no dinner. When
it came to difficulty in going on with a new one long enough to get
interested in it, she sighed heavily, and began to think that perhaps
life was rather a dreary thing--at least considerably diluted with the
unsatisfactory. How many of my readers feel the same! How few of them
will recognize that the state of things would indeed be desperate were
it otherwise! How many would go on and on being only butterflies, but
for life's dismay! And who would choose to be a butterfly, even if life
and summer and the flowers were to last for ever!

"I would," I fancy this and that reader saying.

"Then," I answer, "the only argument you are equal to, is the fact that
life nor summer nor the flowers do last for ever."

"I suppose I am made a butterfly," do you say? "seeing I prefer to be
one."

"Ah! do you say so, indeed? Then you begin to excuse yourself, and what
does that mean? It means that you are no butterfly, for a
butterfly--no, nor an angel in heaven--could never begin excusing the
law of its existence. Butterfly-brother, the hail will be upon you."

I may not then pity Letty that she had to discover that novels taken
alone serve one much as sweetmeats _ad libitum_ do children, nor that
she had to prove that life has in it that spiritual quinine, precious
because bitter, whose part it is to wake the higher hunger.

Tom talked of himself as on the staff of "The Firefly"--such was the
name of the newspaper whose editor sometimes paid him--a weekly of
great pretense, which took upon itself the mystery of things, as if it
were God's spy. It was popular in a way, chiefly in fashionable
circles. As regarded the opinions it promulgated, I never heard one,
who understood the particular question at any time handled, say it was
correct. Its writers were mostly young men, and their passion was to
say clever things. If a friend's book came in their way, it was treated
worse or better than that of a stranger, but with impartial disregard
for truth in either case; yet many were the authors who would go up
endless back stairs to secure from that paper a flattering criticism,
and then be as proud of it as if it had been the genuine and unsought
utterance of a true man's conviction; and many were the men,
immeasurably the superiors of the reviewers, and in a general way
acquainted with their character, who would accept as conclusive upon
the merits of a book the opinions they gave, nor ever question a mode
of quotation by which a book was made to show itself whatever the
reviewer chose to call it. A scandalous rumor of any kind, especially
from the region styled "high life," often false, and always incorrect,
was the delight both of the paper and of its readers; and the interest
it thus awoke, united to the fear it thus caused, was mainly what
procured for such as were known to be employed upon it the _entree_ of
houses where, if they had had a private existence only, their faces
would never have been seen. But, to do Tom justice, he wrote nothing of
this sort: he was neither ill-natured nor experienced enough for that
department; what he did write was clever, shallow sketches of that same
society into whose charmed precincts he was but so lately a comer that
much was to him interesting which had long ceased to be observed by
eyes turned horny with the glare of the world's footlights; and, while
these sketches pleased the young people especially, even their jaded
elders enjoyed the sparkling reflex of what they called life, as seen
by an outsider; for they were thereby enabled to feel for a moment a
slight interest in themselves objectively, along with a galvanized
sense of existence as the producers of history. These sketches did more
for the paper than the editor was willing to know or acknowledge.

But "The Firefly" produced also a little art on its own account--not
always very original, but, at least, not a sucking of life from the
labor of others, as is most of that parasitic thing miscalled
criticism. In this branch Tom had a share, in the shape of verse. A
ready faculty was his, but one seldom roused by immediate interest, and
never by insight. It was not things themselves, but the reflection of
things in the art of others, that moved him to produce. Coleridge, I
think, says of Dryden, that he took fire with the running of his own
wheels: so did Tom; but it was the running of the wheels of others that
set his wheels running. He was like some young preachers who spend a
part of the Saturday in reading this or that author, in order to _get
up_ the mental condition favorable to preaching on the Sunday. He was
really fond of poetry; delighted in the study of its external elements
for the sake of his craft; possessed not only a good but cultivated ear
for verse, which is a rare thing out of the craft; had true pleasure in
a fine phrase, in a strong or brilliant word; last and chief, had a
special faculty for imitation; from which gifts, graces, and
acquirements, it came, that he could write almost in any style that
moved him--so far, at least, as to remind one who knew it, of that
style; and that every now and then appeared verses of his in "The
Firefly."

As often as this took place, Letty was in the third heaven of delight.
For was not Tom's poetry unquestionably superior to anything else the
age could produce? was the poetry Cousin Godfrey made her read once to
be compared to Tom's? and was not Tom her own husband? Happy woman she!

But, by the time at which my narrative has arrived, the first mist of a
coming fog had begun to gather faintly dim in her heart. When Tom would
come home happy, but talk perplexingly; when he would drop asleep in
the middle of a story she could make nothing of; when he would burst
out and go on laughing, and refuse to explain the motive--how was she
to avoid the conclusion forced upon her, that he had taken too much
strong drink? and, when she noted that this condition reappeared at
shorter and shorter intervals, might she not well begin to be
frightened, and to feel, what she dared not allow, that she was being
gradually left alone--that Tom had struck into a diverging path, and
they were slowing parting miles from each other?



CHAPTER XXVIII.

MARY AND LETTY.


When her landlady announced a visitor, Letty, not having yet one friend
in London, could not think who it should be. When Mary entered, she
sprang to her feet and stood staring: what with being so much in the
house, and seeing so few people, the poor girl had, I think, grown a
little stupid. But, when the fact of Mary's presence cleared itself to
her, she rushed forward with a cry, fell into her arms, and burst out
weeping. Mary held her fast until she had a little come to herself,
then, pushing her gently away to the length of her arms, looked at her.

She was not a sight to make one happy. She was no longer the plump,
fresh girl that used to go singing about; nor was she merely thin and
pale, she looked unhealthy. Things could not be going well with her.
Had her dress been only disordered, that might have been accidental,
but it looked neglected--was not merely dingy, but plainly shabby, and,
to Mary's country eyes, appeared on the wrong side of clean. Presently,
as those eyes got accustomed to the miserable light, they spied in the
skirt of her gown a perfunctory darn, revealing but too evidently that
to Letty there no longer seemed occasion for being particular. The
sadness of it all sunk to Mary's heart: Letty had not found marriage a
grand affair!

But Mary had not come into the world to be sad or to help another to be
sad. Sorrowful we may often have to be, but to indulge in sorrow is
either not to know or to deny God our Saviour. True, her heart ached
for Letty; and the ache immediately laid itself as close to Letty's
ache as it could lie; but that was only the advance-guard of her army
of salvation, the light cavalry of sympathy: the next division was
help; and behind that lay patience, and strength, and hope, and faith,
and joy. This last, modern teachers, having failed to regard it as a
virtue, may well decline to regard as a duty; but he is a poor
Christian indeed in whom joy has not at least a growing share, and Mary
was not a poor Christian--at least, for the time she had been learning,
and as Christians go in the present aeon of their history. Her whole
nature drew itself together, confronting the destroyer, whatever he
might be, in possession of Letty. How to help she could not yet tell,
but sympathy was already at its work.

"You are not looking your best, Letty," she said, clasping her again in
her arms.

With a little choking, Letty assured her she was quite well, only
rather overcome with the pleasure of seeing her so unexpectedly.

"How is Mr. Helmer?" asked Mary.

"Quite well--and very busy," answered Letty--a little hurriedly, Mary
thought. "--But," she added, in a tone of disappointment, "you always
used to call him Tom!"

"Oh!" answered Mary, with a smile, "one must be careful how one takes
liberties with married people. A certain mysterious change seems to
pass over some of them; they are not the same somehow, and you have to
make your acquaintance with them all over again from the beginning."

"I shouldn't think such people's acquaintance worth making over again,"
said Letty.

"How can you tell what it may be worth?" said Mary, "--they are so
different from what they were? Their friendship may now be one that
won't change so easily."

"Ah! don't be hard on me, Mary. I have never ceased to love you."

"I am _so_ glad!" answered Mary. "People don't generally take much to
me--at least, not to come _near_ me. But you can _be_ friends without
_having_ friends," she added, with a sententiousness she had inherited.

"I don't quite understand you," said Letty, sadly; "but, then, I never
could quite, you know. Tom finds me very stupid."

These words strengthened Mary's suspicion, from the first a
probability, that all was not going well between the two; but she
shrunk from any approach to confidences with _one_ of a married pair.
To have such, she felt instinctively, would be a breach of unity,
except, indeed, that were already, and irreparably, broken. To
encourage in any married friend the placing of a confidence that
excludes the other, is to encourage that friend's self-degradation. But
neither was this a fault to which Letty could have been tempted; she
loved her Tom too much for it: with all her feebleness, there was in
Letty not a little of childlike greatness, born of faith.

But, although Mary would make Letty tell nothing, she was not the less
anxious to discover, that she might, if possible, help. She would
observe: side-lights often reveal more than direct illumination. It
might be for Letty, and not for Mrs. Redmain, she had been sent. He who
made time in time would show.

"Are you going to be long in London, Mary?" asked Letty.

"Oh, a long time!" answered Mary, with a loving glance.

Letty's eyes fell, and she looked troubled.

"I am so sorry, Mary," she said, "that I can not ask you to come here!
We have only these two rooms, and--and--you see--Mrs. Helmer is not
very liberal to Tom, and--because they--don't get on together very
well--as I suppose everybody knows--Tom won't--he won't consent
to--to--"

"You little goose!" cried Mary; "you don't think I would come down on
you like a devouring dragon, without even letting you know, and finding
whether it would suit you!--I have got a situation in London."

"A situation!" echoed Letty. "What can you mean, Mary? You haven't left
your own shop, and gone into somebody else's?"

"No, not exactly that," replied Mary, laughing; "but I have no doubt
most people would think that by far the more prudent thing to have
done."

"Then I don't," said Letty, with a little flash of her old enthusiasm.
"Whatever you do, Mary, I am sure will always be the best."

"I am glad I have so much of your good opinion, Letty; but I am not
sure I shall have it still, when I have told you what I have done.
Indeed, I am not quite sure myself that I have done wisely; but, if I
have made a mistake, it is from having listened to love more than to
prudence."

"What!" cried Letty; "you're married, Mary?"

And here a strange thing, yet the commonest in the world, appeared; had
her own marriage proved to Letty the most blessed of fates, she could
not have shown more delight at the idea of Mary's. I think men find
women a little incomprehensible in this matter of their friends'
marriage: in their largerheartedness, I presume, women are able to hope
for their friends, even when they have lost all hope for themselves.

"No," replied Mary, amused at having thus misled her. "It is neither so
bad nor so good as that. But I was far from comfortable in the shop
without my father, and kept thinking how to find a life, more suitable
for me. It was not plain to me that my lot was cast there any longer,
and one has no right to choose difficulty; for, even if difficulty be
the right thing for you, the difficulty you choose can't be the right
difficulty. Those that are given to choosing, my father said, are given
to regretting. Then it happened that I fell in love--not with a
gentleman--don't look like that, Letty--but with a lady; and, as the
lady took a small fancy to me at the same time, and wanted to have me
about her, here I am."

"But, surely, that is not a situation fit for one like you, Mary!"
cried Letty, almost in consternation; for, notwithstanding her
opposition to her aunt's judgment in the individual case of her friend,
Letty's own judgments, where she had any, were mostly of this world. "I
suppose you are a kind of--of--companion to your lady-friend?"

"Or a kind of lady's-maid, or a kind of dressmaker, or a kind of humble
friend--something like a dog, perhaps--only not to be quite so much
loved and petted; In truth, Letty, I do not know what I am, or what I
am going to be; but I shall find out before long, and where's the use
of knowing, any more than anything else before it's wanted?"

"You take my breath away, Mary! The thing doesn't seem at all like you!
It's not consistent!--Mary Marston in a menial position! I can't get a
hold of it!"

"You remind me," said Mary, laughing, "of what my father said to Mr.
Turnbull once. They were nearer quarreling then than ever I saw them.
You remember my father's way, Letty--how he would say a thing too
quietly even to smile with it? I can't tell you what a delight it is to
me to talk to anybody that knew him!--Mr. Turnbull imagined he did not
know what he was about, for the thoughts my father was thinking could
not have lived a moment in Mr. Turnbull. 'You see, John Turnbull,' my
father said, 'no man can look so inconsistent as one whose principles
are not understood; for hardly in anything will that man do as his
friend must have thought he would.'--I suppose you think, Letty," Mary
went on, with a merry air, "that, for the sake of consistency, I should
never do anything but sell behind a counter?"

"In that case," said Letty, "I ought to have married a milkman, for a
dairy is the only thing I understand. I can't help Tom ever so
little!--But I suppose it wouldn't be possible for two to write poetry
together, even if they were husband and wife, and both of them clever!"

"Something like it has been tried, I believe," answered Mary, "but not
with much success. I suppose, when a man sets himself to make anything,
he must have it all his own way, or he can't do it."

"I suppose that's it. I know Tom is very angry with the editor when he
wants to alter anything he has written. I'm sure Tom's right, too. You
can't think how much better Tom's way always is!--He makes that quite
clear, even to poor, stupid me. But then, you know, Tom's a genius;
that's one thing there's _no_ doubt of!--But you haven't told me yet
where you are."

"You remember Miss Mortimer, of Durnmelling?"

"Quite well, of course."

"She is Mrs. Redmain now: I am with her."

"You don't mean it! Why, Tom knows her very well! He has been several
times to parties at her house."

"And not you, too?" asked Mary.

"Oh, dear, no!" answered Letty, laughing, superior at Mary's ignorance.
"It's not the fashion in London, at least for distinguished persons
like my Tom, to take their wives to parties."

"Are there no ladies at those parties, then?"

"Oh, yes!" replied Letty, smiling again at Mary's ignorance of the
world, "the grandest of ladies--duchesses and all. You don't know what
a favorite Tom is in the highest circles!"

Now Mary could believe almost anything bearing on Tom's being a
favorite, for she herself liked him a great deal more than she approved
of him; but she could not see the sense of his going to parties without
his wife, neither could she see that the _height_ of the circle in
which he was a favorite made any difference. She had old-fashioned
notions of a man and his wife being one flesh, and felt a breach of the
law where they were separated, whatever the custom--reason there could
be none. But Letty seemed much too satisfied to give her any light on
the matter. Did it seem to her so natural that she could not understand
Mary's difficulty? She could not help suspecting, however, that there
might be something in this recurrence of a separation absolute as
death--for was it not a passing of one into a region where the other
could not follow?--to account for the change in her.--The same moment,
as if Letty divined what was passing in Mary's thought, and were not
altogether content with the thing herself, but would gladly justify
what she could not explain, she added, in the tone of an unanswerable
argument:

"Besides, Mary, how could I get a dress fit to wear at such parties?
You wouldn't have me go and look like a beggar! That would be to
disgrace Tom. Everybody in London judges everybody by the clothes she
wears. You should hear Tom's descriptions of the ladies' dresses when
he comes home!"

Mary was on the verge of crying out indignantly, "Then, if he can't
take you, why doesn't he stop at home with you?" but she bethought
herself in time to hold her peace. She settled it with herself,
however, that Tom must have less heart or yet more muddled brains than
she had thought.

"So, then," reverted Letty, as if willing to turn definitively from the
subject, "you are actually living with the beautiful Mrs. Redmain! What
a lucky girl you are! You will see no end of grand people! You will see
my Tom sometimes--when I can't!" she added, with a sigh that went to
Mary's heart.

"Poor thing!" she said to herself, "it isn't anything much out of the
way she wants--only a little more of a foolish husband's company!"

It was no wonder that Tom found Letty dull, for he had just as little
of his own in him as she, and thought he had a great store--which is
what sends a man most swiftly along the road to that final poverty in
which even that which he has shall be taken from him.

Mary did not stay so long with Letty as both would have liked, for she
did not yet know enough of Hesper's ways. When she got home, she
learned that she had a headache, and had not yet made her appearance.



CHAPTER XXIX.

THE EVENING STAR.


Notwithstanding her headache, however, Mrs. Redmain was going in the
evening to a small fancy-ball, meant for a sort of rehearsal to a great
one when the season should arrive. The part and costume she had chosen
were the suggestion of her own name: she would represent the Evening
Star, clothed in the early twilight; and neither was she unfit for the
part, nor was the dress she had designed altogether unsuitable either
to herself or to the part. But she had sufficient confidence neither in
herself nor her maid to forestall a desire for Mary's opinion. After
luncheon, therefore, she sent for Miss Marston to her bedroom.

Mary found her half dressed, Folter in attendance, a great heap of pink
lying on the bed.

"Sit down, Mary," said Hesper, pointing to a chair; "I want your
advice. But I must first explain. Where I am going this evening, nobody
is to be herself except me. I am not to be Mrs. Redmain, though, but
Hesper. You know what Hesper means?"

Mary said she knew, and waited--a little anxious; for sideways in her
eyes glowed the pink of the chosen Hesperian clouds, and, if she should
not like it, what could be done at that late hour.

"There is my dress," continued the Evening Star, with a glance of her
eyes, for Folter was busied with her hair; "I want to know your opinion
of it." Folter gave a toss of her head that seemed to say, "Have not
_I_ spoken?" but what it really did mean, how should other mortal know?
for the main obstructions to understanding are profundity and
shallowness, and the latter is far the more perplexing of the two.

"I should like to see it on first," said Mary: she was in doubt whether
the color--bright, to suggest the brightest of sunset-clouds--would
suit Hesper's complexion. Then, again, she had always associated the
name _Hesper_ with a later, a solemnly lovely period of twilight,
having little in common with the color so voluminous in the background.

Hesper had a good deal of appreciative faculty, and knew therefore when
she liked and when she did not like a thing; but she had very little
originative faculty--so little that, when anything was wrong, she could
do next to nothing to set it right. There was small originality in
taking a suggestion for her part from her name, and less in the idea,
following by concatenation, of adopting for her costume sunset colors
upon a flimsy material, which might more than hint at clouds. She had
herself, with the assistance of Sepia and Folter, made choice of the
particular pink; but, although it continued altogether delightful in
the eyes of her maid, it had, upon nearer and pro-longed acquaintance,
become doubtful in hers; and she now waited, with no little anxiety,
the judgment of Mary, who sat silently thinking.

"Have you nothing to say?" she asked, at length, impatiently.

"Please, ma'am," replied Mary, "I must think, if I am to be of any use.
I am doing my best, but you must let me be quiet."

Half annoyed, half pleased, Hesper was silent, and Mary went on
thinking. All was still, save for the slight noises Folter made, as,
like a machine, she went on heartlessly brushing her mistress's hair,
which kept emitting little crackles, as of dissatisfaction with her
handling. Mary would now take a good gaze at the lovely creature, now
abstract herself from the visible, and try to call up the vision of her
as the real Hesper, not a Hesper dressed up--a process which had in it
hope for the lady, but not much for the dress upon the bed. At last
Folter had done her part.

"I suppose you _must_ see it on!" said Hesper, and she rose up.

Folter jerked herself to the bed, took the dress, arranged it on her
arms, got up on a chair, dropped it over her mistress's head, got down,
and, having pulled it this way and that for a while, fastened it here,
undone it there, and fastened it again, several times, exclaimed, in a
tone whose confidence was meant to forestall the critical impertinence
she dreaded:

"There, ma'am! If you don't look the loveliest woman in the room, I
shall never trust my eyes again."

Mary held her peace, for the commonplace style of the dress but added
to her dissatisfaction with the color. It was all puffed and bubbled
and blown about, here and there and everywhere, so that the form of the
woman was lost in the frolic shapelessness of the cloud. The whole, if
whole it could be called, was a miserable attempt at combining fancy
and fashion, and, in result, an ugly nothing.

"I see you don't like it!" said Hesper, with a mingling of displeasure
and dismay. "I wish you had come a few days sooner! It is much too late
to do anything now. I might just as well have gone without showing it
to you!--Here, Folter!"

With a look almost of disgust, she began to pull off the dress, in
which, a few hours later, she would yet make the attempt to enchant an
assembly.

"O ma'am!" cried Mary, "I wish you had told me yesterday. There would
have been time then.--And I don't know," she added, seeing disgust
change to mortification on Hesper's countenance, "but something might
be done yet."

"Oh, indeed!" dropped from Folter's lips with an indescribable
expression.

"What can be done?" said Hesper, angrily. "There can be no time for
anything."

"If only we had the stuff!" said Mary. "That shade doesn't suit your
complexion. It ought to be much, much darker--in fact, a different
color altogether."

Folter was furious, but restrained herself sufficiently to preserve
some calmness of tone, although her face turned almost blue with the
effort, as she said:

"Miss Marston is not long from the country, ma'am, and don't know
what's suitable to a London drawing-room."

Her mistress was too dejected to snub her impertinence.

"What color were you thinking of, Miss Marston?" Hesper asked, with a
stiffness that would have been more in place had Mary volunteered the
opinion she had been asked to give. She was out of temper with Mary
from feeling certain she was right, and believing there was no remedy.

"I could not describe it," answered Mary. "And, indeed, the color I
have in my mind may not be to be had. I have seen it somewhere, but,
whether in a stuff or only in nature, I can not at this moment be
certain."

"Where's the good of talking like that--excuse me, ma'am--it's more
than I can bear--when the ball comes off in a few hours?" cried Folter,
ending with eyes of murder on Mary.

"If you would allow me, ma'am," said Mary, "I should like much to try
whether I could not find something that would suit you and your idea
too. However well you might look in that, you would owe it no thanks.
The worst is, I know nothing of the London shops."

"I should think not!" remarked Folter, with emphasis.

"I would send you in the brougham, if I thought it was of any use,"
said Hesper. "Folter could take you to the proper places."

"Folter would be of no use to me," said Mary. "If your coachman knows
the best shops, that will be enough."

"But there's no time to make up anything," objected Hesper,
despondingly, not the less with a glimmer of hope in her heart.

"Not like that," answered Mary; "but there is much there as unnecessary
as it is ugly. If Folter is good at her needle--"

"I won't take up a single stitch. It would be mere waste of labor,"
cried Folter.

"Then, please, ma'am," said Mary, "let Folter have that dress ready,
and, if I don't succeed, you have something to wear."

"I hate it. I won't go if you don't find me another."

"Some people may like it, though I don't," said Mary.

"Not a doubt of that!" said Folter.

"Ring the bell," said her mistress.

The woman obeyed, and the moment afterward repented she had not given
warning on the spot, instead. The brougham was ordered immediately, and
in a few minutes Mary was standing at a counter in a large shop,
looking at various stuffs, of which the young man waiting on her soon
perceived she knew the qualities and capabilities better than he.

She had set her heart on carrying out Hesper's idea, but in better
fashion; and after great pains taken, and no little trouble given, left
the shop well satisfied with her success. And now for the greater
difficulty!

She drove straight to Letty's lodging, and, there dismissing the
brougham, presented herself, with a great parcel in her arms, for the
second time that day, at the door of her room, as unexpected as the
first, and even more to the joy of her solitary friend.

She knew that Letty was good at her needle. And Letty was, indeed, even
now, by fits, fond of using it; and on several occasions, when her
supply of novels had for a day run short, had asked a dressmaker who
lived above to let her help her for an hour or two: before Mary had
finished her story, she was untying the parcel, and preparing to
receive her instructions. Nor had they been at work many minutes, when
Letty bethought her of calling in the help of the said dressmaker; so
that presently there were three of them busy as bees--one with genius,
one with experience, and all with facility. The notions of the first
were quickly taken up by the other two, and, the design of the dress
being simplicity itself, Mary got all done she wanted in shorter time
than she had thought possible. The landlady sent for a cab, and Mary
was home with the improbability in more than time for Mrs. Redmain's
toilet. It was with some triumph, tempered with some trepidation, that
she carried it to her room.

There Folter was in the act of persuading her mistress of the necessity
of beginning to dress: Miss Marston, she said, knew nothing of what she
had undertaken; and, even if she arrived in time, it would be with
something too ridiculous for any lady to appear in--when Mary entered,
and was received with a cry of delight from Hesper; in proportion to
whose increasing disgust for the pink robe, was her pleasure when she
caught sight of Mary's colors, as she undid the parcel: when she lifted
the dress on her arm for a first effect, she was enraptured with
it--aerial in texture, of the hue of a smoky rose, deep, and cloudy
with overlying folds, yet diaphanous, a darkness dilute with red.

Silent as a torture-maiden, and as grim, Folter approached to try the
filmy thing, scornfully confident that the first sight of it on would
prove it unwearable. But Mary judged her scarcely in a mood to be
trusted with anything so ethereal; and begged therefore that, as the
dress had, of necessity, been in many places little more than run
together, and she knew its weak points, she might, for that evening, be
allowed the privilege of dressing Mrs. Redmain. Hesper gladly
consented; Folter left the room; Mary, now at her ease, took her place;
and presently, more to Hesper's pleasure than Mary's surprise, for she
had made and fixed in her mind the results of minute observation before
she went, it was found that the dress fitted quite sufficiently well,
and, having confined it round the waist with a cincture of thin pale
gold, she advanced to her chief anxiety--the head-dress.

For this she had chosen such a doubtful green as the sky appears
through yellowish smoke--a sad, lovely color--the fair past clouded
with the present--youth not forgotten, but filmed with age. They were
all colors of the evening, as it strives to keep its hold of the
heavens, with the night pressing upon it from behind. In front, above
the lunar forehead, among the coronal masses, darkly fair, she fixed a
diamond star, and over it wound the smoky green like a turbaned vapor,
wind-ruffled, through which the diamonds gleamed faintly by fits. Not
once would she, while at her work, allow Hesper to look, and the
self-willed lady had been submissive in her hands as a child of the
chosen; but the moment she had succeeded--for her expectations were
more than realized--she led her to the cheval-glass. Hesper gazed for
an instant, then, turning, threw her arms about Mary, and kissed her.

"I don't believe you're a human creature at all!" she cried. "You are a
fairy godmother, come to look after your poor Cinderella, the sport of
stupid lady's-maids and dressmakers!"

The door opened, and Folter entered.

"If you please, ma'am, I wish to leave this day month," she said,
quietly.

"Then," answered her mistress, with equal calmness, "oblige me by going
at once to Mrs. Perkin, and telling her that I desire her to pay you a
month's wages, and let you leave the house to-morrow morning.--You
won't mind helping me to dress till I get another maid--will you,
Mary?" she added; and Folter left the room, chagrined at her inability
to cause annoyance.

"I do not see why you should have another maid so long as I am with
you, ma'am," said Mary. "It should not need many days' apprenticeship
to make one woman able to dress another."

"Not when she is like you, Mary," said Hesper. "It is well the wretch
has done my hair for to-night, though! That will be the main
difficulty."

"It will not be a great one," said Mary, "if you will allow me to undo
it when you come home."

"I begin almost to believe in a special providence," said Hesper. "What
a blessed thing for me that you came to drive away that woman! She has
been getting worse and worse."

"If I have driven her away," answered Mary, "I am bound to supply her
place."

As they talked, she was giving her final touches of arrangement to the
head-dress--with which she found it least easy to satisfy herself. It
swept round from behind in a misty cloak, the two colors mingling with
and gently obscuring each other; while, between them, the palest memory
of light, in the golden cincture, helped to bring out the somber
richness, the delicate darkness of the whole.

Searching now again Hesper's jewel-case, Mary found a fine bracelet of
the true, the Oriental topaz, the old chrysolite--of that clear yellow
of the sunset-sky that looks like the 'scaped spirit of miser-smothered
gold: this she clasped upon one arm; and when she had fastened a pair
of some ancient Mortimer's garnet buckles in her shoes, which she had
insisted should be black, and taken off all the rings that Hesper had
just put on, except a certain glorious sapphire, she led her again to
the mirror; and, if there Hesper was far more pleased with herself than
was reasonable or lovely, my reader needs not therefore fear a sermon
from the text, "Beauty is only skin-deep," for that text is out of the
devil's Bible. No Baal or Astarte is the maker of beauty, but the same
who made the seven stars and Orion, and His works are past finding out.
If only the woman herself and her worshipers knew how deep it is! But
the woman's share in her own beauty may be infinitely less than
skin-deep; and there is but one greater fool than the man who worships
that beauty--the woman who prides herself upon it, as if she were the
fashioner and not the thing fashioned.

But poor Hesper had much excuse, though no justification. She had had
many of the disadvantages and scarce one of the benefits of poverty.
She had heard constantly from childhood the most worldly and greedy
talk, the commonest expression of abject dependence on the favors of
Mammon, and thus had from the first been in preparation for _marrying
money_. She had been taught no other way of doing her part to procure
the things of which the Father knows we have need. She had never earned
a dinner; had never done or thought of doing a day's work--of offering
the world anything for the sake of which the world might offer her a
shilling to do it again; she had never dreamed of being of any use,
even to herself; she had learned to long for money, but had never been
hungry, never been cold: she had sometimes felt shabby. Out of it all
she had brought but the knowledge that this matter of beauty, with
which, by some blessed chance, she was endowed, was worth much precious
money in the world's market--worth all the dresses she could ever
desire, worth jewels and horses and servants, adoration and
adulation--everything, in fact, the world calls fine, and the devil
offers to those who, unscared by his inherent ugliness, will fall down
and worship him.



CHAPTER XXX.

A SCOLDING.


The Evening Star found herself a success--that is, much followed by the
men and much complimented by the women. Her triumph, however, did not
culminate until the next appearance of "The Firefly," containing a song
"To the Evening Star," which _everybody_ knew to stand for Mrs.
Redmain. The chaos of the uninitiated, indeed, exoteric and despicable,
remained in ignorance, nor dreamed that the verses meant anybody of
note; to them they seemed but the calf-sigh of some young writer so
deep in his first devotion that he jumbled up his lady-love, Hesper,
and Aphrodite, in the same poetic bundle--of which he left the
string-ends hanging a little loose, while, upon the whole, it remained
a not altogether unsightly bit of prentice-work. Tom had not been at
the party, but had gathered fire enough from what he heard of Hesper's
appearance there to write the verses. Here they are, as nearly as I can
recall them. They are in themselves not worth writing out for the
printers, but, in their surroundings, they serve to show Tom, and are
the last with which I shall trouble the readers of this narrative.

"TO THE EVENING STAR.

  "From the buried sunlight springing,
    Through flame-darkened, rosy loud,
  Native sea-hues with thee bringing,
    In the sky thou reignest proud!

  "Who is like thee, lordly lady,
    Star-choragus of the night!
  Color worships, fainting fady,
    Night grows darker with delight!

  "Dusky-radiant, far, and somber,
    In the coolness of thy state,
  From my eyelids chasing slumber,
    Thou dost smile upon my fate;

  "Calmly shinest; not a whisper
    Of my songs can reach thine ear;
  What is it to thee, O Hesper,
    That a heart should long or fear?"

Tom did not care to show Letty this poem--not that there was anything
more in his mind than an artistic admiration of Hesper, and a desire to
make himself agreeable in her eyes; but, when Letty, having read it,
betrayed no shadow of annoyance with its folly, he was a little
relieved. The fact was, the simple creature took it as a pardon to
herself.

"I am glad you have forgiven me, Tom," she said.

"What do you mean?" asked Tom.

"For working for Mrs. Redmain with _your_ hands," she said, and,
breaking into a little laugh, caught his cheeks between those same
hands, and reaching up gave him a kiss that made him ashamed of
himself--a little, that is, and for the moment, that is: Tom was used
to being this or that a little for the moment.

For this same dress, which Tom had thus glorified in song, had been the
cause of bitter tears to Letty. He came home _too late_ the day of
Mary's visit, but the next morning she told him all about both the
first and the second surprise she had had--not, however, with much
success in interesting the lordly youth.

"And then," she went on, "what do you think we were doing all the
afternoon, Tom?"

"How should I know?" said Tom, indifferently.

"We were working hard at a dress--a dress for a fancy-ball!"

"A fancy-ball, Letty? What do you mean? You going to a fancy-ball!"

"Me!" cried Letty, with merry laugh; "no, not quite me. Who do you
think it was for?"

"How should I know?" said Tom again, but not quite so indifferently; he
was prepared to be annoyed.

"For Mrs. Redmain!" said Letty, triumphantly, clapping her hands with
delight at what she thought the fun of the thing, for was not Mrs.
Redmain Tom's friend?--then stooping a little--it was an unconscious,
pretty trick she had--and holding them out, palm pressed to palm, with
the fingers toward his face.

"Letty," said Tom, frowning--and the frown deepened and deepened; for
had he not from the first, if in nothing else, taken trouble to
instruct her in what became the wife of Thomas Helmer, Esq.?--"Letty,
this won't do!"

Letty was frightened, but tried to think he was only pretending to be
displeased.

"Ah! don't frighten me, Tom," she said, with her merry hands now
changed to pleading ones, though their position and attitude remained
the same.

But he caught them by the wrists in both of his, and held them tight.

"Letty," he said once more, and with increased severity, "this won't
do. I tell you, it won't do."

"What won't do, Tom?" she returned, growing white. "There's no harm
done."

"Yes, there is," said Tom, with solemnity; "there _is_ harm done, when
_my_ wife goes and does like that. What would people say of _me,_ if
they were to come to know--God forbid they should!--that your husband
was talking all the evening to ladies at whose dresses his wife had
been working all the afternoon!--You don't know what you are doing,
Letty. What do you suppose the ladies would think if they were to hear
of it?"

Poor, foolish Tom, ignorant in his folly, did not know how little those
grand ladies would have cared if his wife had been a char-woman: the
eyes of such are not discerning of fine social distinctions in women
who are not of their set, neither are the family relations of the
bohemians they invite of the smallest consequence to them.

"But, Tom," pleaded his wife, "such a grand lady as that! one you go
and read your poetry to! What harm can there be in your poor little
wife helping to make a dress for a lady like that?"

"I tell you, Letty, I don't choose _my_ wife to do such a thing for the
greatest lady in the land! Good Heavens! if it _were_ to come to the
ears of the staff! It would be the ruin of me! I should never hold up
my head again!"

By this time Letty's head was hanging low, like a flower half broken
from its stem, and two big tears were slowly rolling down her cheeks.
But there was a gleam of satisfaction in her heart notwithstanding. Tom
thought so much of his little wife that he would not have her work for
the greatest lady in the land! She did not see that it was not pride in
her, but pride in himself, that made him indignant at the idea. It was
not "my _wife,"_ but "_my_ wife" with Tom. She looked again up timidly
in his face, and said, her voice trembling, and her cheeks wet, for she
could not wipe away the tears, because Tom still held her hands as one
might those of a naughty child:

"But, Tom! I don't exactly see how you can make so much of it, when you
don't think me--when you know I am not fit to go among such people."

To this Tom had no reply at hand: he was not yet far enough down the
devil's turnpike to be able to tell his wife that he had spoken the
truth--that he did not think her fit for such company; that he would be
ashamed of her in it; that she had no style; that, instead of carrying
herself as if she knew herself somebody--as good as anybody there,
indeed, being the wife of Tom Helmer--she had the meek look of one who
knew herself nobody, and did not know her husband to be anybody. He did
not think how little he had done to give the unassuming creature that
quiet confidence which a woman ought to gather from the assurance of
her husband's satisfaction in her, and the consciousness of being, in
dress and everything else, pleasing in his eyes, therefore of occupying
the only place in the world she desires to have. But he did think that
Letty's next question might naturally be, "Why do you not take me with
you?" No doubt he could have answered, no one had ever asked her; but
then she might rejoin, had he ever put it in any one's way to ask her?
It might even occur to her to in-quire whether he had told Mrs. Redmain
that he had a wife! and he had heart enough left to imagine it might
mortally hurt her to find he lived a life so utterly apart from
hers--that she had so little of the relations though all the rights of
wifehood. It was no wonder, therefore, if he was more than willing to
change the subject. He let the poor, imprisoned hands drop so abruptly
that, in their abandonment, they fell straight from her shoulders to
her sides.

"Well, well, child!" he said; "put on your bonnet, and we shall be in
time for the first piece at the Lyceum."

Letty flew, and was ready in five minutes. She could dress the more
quickly that she was delayed by little doubt as to what she had better
wear: she had scarcely a choice. Tom, looking after his own comforts,
left her to look after her necessities; and she, having a conscience,
and not much spirit, went even shabbier than she yet needed.



CHAPTER XXXI.

SEPIA.


As naturally as if she had been born to that very duty and no other,
Mary slid into the office of lady's-maid to Mrs. Redmain, feeling in
it, although for reasons very different, no more degradation than her
mistress saw in it. If Hesper was occasionally a little rude to her,
Mary was not one to _accept_ a rudeness--that is, to wrap it up in
resentment, and put it away safe in the pocket of memory. She could not
help feeling things of the kind--sometimes with indignation and anger;
but she made haste to send them from her, and shut the doors against
them. She knew herself a far more blessed creature than Hesper, and
felt the obligation, from the Master himself, of so enduring as to keep
every channel of service open between Hesper and her. To Hesper, the
change from the vulgar service of Folter to the ministration of Mary
was like passing from a shallow purgatory to a gentle paradise. Mary's
service was full of live and near presence, as that of dew or summer
wind; Folter handled her as if she were dressing a doll, Mary as if she
were dressing a baby; her hands were deft as an angel's, her feet as
noiseless as swift. And to have Mary near was not only to have a
ministering spirit at hand, but to have a good atmosphere all
around--an air, a heaven, out of which good things must momently come.
Few could be closely associated with her and not become aware at least
of the capacity of being better, if not of the desire to be better.

In the matter of immediate result, it was a transition from decoration
to dress. If in any sense Hesper was well dressed before, she was in
every sense well dressed now--dressed so, that is, as to reveal the
nature, the analogies, and the associations of her beauty: no manner of
dressing can make a woman look more beautiful than she is, though many
a mode may make her look less so.

There was one in the house, however, who was not pleased at the change
from Folter to Mary: Sepia found herself in consequence less necessary
to Hesper. Hitherto Hesper had never been satisfied without Sepia's
opinion and final approval in that weightiest of affairs, the matter of
dress; but she found in Mary such a faculty as rendered appeal to Sepia
unnecessary; for she not only satisfied her idea of herself, and how
she would choose to look, but showed her taste as much surer than
Sepia's as Sepia's was readier than Hesper's own. Sepia was equal to
the dressing of herself--she never blundered there; but there was
little dependence to be placed upon her in dressing another. She cared
for herself, not for another; and to dress another, love is
needful--love, the only true artist--love, the only opener of eyes. She
cared nothing to minister to the comfort or beautification of her
cousin, and her displeasure did not arise from the jealousy that is
born of affection. So far as Hesper's self was concerned, Sepia did not
care a straw whether she was well or ill dressed; but, if the link
between them of dress was severed, what other so strong would be left?
And to find herself in any way a less object in Hesper's eyes, would be
to find herself on the inclined plane of loss, and probable ruin.

Another, though a smaller, point was, that hitherto she had generally
been able so to dress Hesper as to make of her more or less a foil to
herself. My reader may remember that there was between Hesper and
Sepia, if not a resemblance, yet a relation of appearance, like,
vaguely, that between the twilight and the night; seen in certain
positions and circumstances, the one would recall the other; and it was
therefore a matter of no small consequence to Sepia that the relation
of her dress to Hesper's should be such as to give herself any
advantage to be derived in it from the relation of their looks. This
was far more difficult, of course, when she had no longer a voice in
the matter of Hesper's dress, and when the loving skill of the new maid
presented her rival to her individual best. Mary would have been glad
to help her as well, but Sepia drew back as from a hostile nature, and
they made no approximation. This was more loss to Sepia than she knew,
for Mary would have assisted her in doing the best when she had no
money, a condition which often made it the more trying that she had now
so little influence over her cousin's adornment. To dress was a far
more difficult, though not more important, affair with Sepia than with
Hesper, for she had nothing of her own, and from, her cousin no fixed
allowance. Any arrangement of the kind had been impossible at
Durnmelling, where there was no money; and here, where it would have
been easy enough, she judged it better to give no hint in its
direction, although plainly it had never suggested itself to Hesper.
There was nothing of the money-mean in her, any more than in her
husband. They were of course, as became people of fashion, regular and
unwearied attendants of the church of Mammon, ordering all their
judgments and ways in accordance with the precepts there delivered; but
they were none of Mammon's priests or pew-openers, money-grubs, or
accumulators. They gave liberally where they gave, and scraped no
inferior to spend either on themselves or their charities. They had
plenty, it is true; but so have many who withhold more than is meet,
and take the ewe-lamb to add to their flock. For one thing, they had no
time for that sort of wickedness, and took no interest in it. So
Hesper, although it had not come into her mind to give her the ease of
a stated allowance, behaved generously to Sepia--when she thought of
it; but she did not love her enough to be love-watchful, and seldom
thought how her money must be going, or questioned whether she might
not at the moment be in want of more. There are many who will give
freely, who do not care to understand need and anticipate want. Hence
at times Sepia's purse would be long empty before the giving-thought
would wake in the mind of Hesper. When it woke, it was gracious and
free.


Had Sepia ventured to run up bills with the tradespeople, Hesper would
have taken it as a thing of course, and settled them with her own. But
Sepia had a certain politic pride in spending only what was given her;
also she saw or thought she saw serious reason for avoiding all
appearances of taking liberties; from the first of Mr. Redmain's visits
to Durnmelling, she had been aware, with an instinct keen in respect of
its objects, though blind as to its own nature, that he did not like
her, and soon satisfied herself that any overt attempt to please him
would but ripen his dislike to repugnance; and her dread was that he
might make it a condition with Mr. Mortimer that Hesper's intimacy with
her should cease; whereas, if once they were married, the husband's
disfavor would, she believed, only strengthen the wife's predilection.
Having so far gained her end, it remained, however, almost as desirable
as before that she should do nothing to fix or increase his
dislike--nay, that, if within the possible, she should become pleasing
to him. Did not even hate turn sometimes to its mighty opposite? But
she understood so little of the man with whom she had to deal that her
calculations were ill-founded.

She was right in believing that Mr. Redmain disliked her, but she was
wrong in imagining that he had therefore any objection to her being for
the present in the house. He certainly did not relish the idea of her
continuing to be his wife's inseparable companion, but there would be
time enough to get rid of her after he had found her out. For she had
not long been one of his _family,_ before he knew, with insight
unerring, that she had to be found out, and was therefore an
interesting subject for the exercise of his faculty of moral analysis.
He was certain her history was composed mainly of secrets. As yet,
however, he had discovered nothing.

I must just remind my reader of the intellectual passion I have already
mentioned as characterizing Mr. Redmain's mental constitution. His
faults and vices were by no means peculiar; but the bent to which I
refer, certainly no virtue, and springing originally from predominant
evil, was in no small degree peculiar, especially in the degree to
which, derived as it was from his father, he had in his own being
developed it. Most men, he judged with himself, were such fools as well
as rogues, that there was not the least occasion to ask what they were
after: they did but turn themselves inside out before you! But, on the
other hand, there were not a few who took pains, more or less
successful, to conceal their game of life; and such it was the delight
of his being to lay bare to his own eyes-not to those of other people;
that, he said, would be to spoil his game! Men were his library, he
said-his history, his novels, his sermons, his philosophy, his poetry,
his whole literature--and he did not like to have his books thumbed by
other people. Human nature, in its countless aspects, was all about
him, he said, every mask crying to him to take it off. Unhappily, it
was but the morbid anatomy of human nature he cared to study. For all
his abuse of it, he did not yet recognize it as morbid, but took it as
normal, and the best to be had. No doubt, he therein judged and
condemned himself, but that he never thought of--nor, perceived, would
it have been a point of any consequence to him.

From the first, he saw through Mr. Mortimer, and all belonging to him,
except Miss Yolland: she soon began to puzzle--and, so far, to please
him, though, as I have said, he did not like her. Had he been a younger
man, she would have captivated him; as it was, she would have repelled
him entirely, but that she offered him a good subject. He said to
himself that she was a bad lot, but what sort of a bad lot was not so
clear as to make her devoid of interest to him; he must discover how
she played her life-game; she had a history, and he would fain know it.
As I have said, however, so far it had come to nothing, for, upon the
surface, Sepia showed herself merely like any other worldly girl who
knows "on which side her bread is buttered."

The moment he had found, or believed he had found, what there was to
know about her, he was sure to hate her heartily. For some time after
his marriage, he appeared at his wife's parties oftener than he
otherwise would have done, just for the sake of having an eye upon
Sepia; but had seen nothing, nor the shadow of anything--until one
night, by the merest chance, happening to enter his wife's
drawing-room, he caught a peculiar glance between Sepia and a young
man--not very young--who had just entered, and whom he had not seen
before.

To not a few it seemed strange that, with her unquestioned powers of
fascination, she had not yet married; but London is not the only place
in which poverty is as repellent as beauty is attractive. At the same
time it must be confessed there was something about her which made not
a few men shy of her. Some found that, if her eyes drew them within a
certain distance, there they began to repel them, they could not tell
why. Others felt strangely uncomfortable in her presence from the
first. Not only much that a person has done, but much of what a person
is capable of, is, I suspect, written on the bodily presence; and,
although no human eye is capable of reading more than here and there a
scattered hint of the twilight of history, which is the aurora of
prophecy, the soul may yet shudder with an instinctive foreboding it
can not explain, and feel the presence, without recognizing the nature,
of the hostile.

Sepia's eyes were her great power. She knew the laws of mortar-practice
in that kind as well as any officer of engineers those of projectiles.
There was something about her engines which it were vain to attempt to
describe. Their lightest glance was a thing not to be trifled with, and
their gaze a thing hardly to be withstood. Sustained and without hurt
defied, it could hardly be by man of woman born. They were large, but
no fool would be taken with mere size. They were as dark as ever eyes
of woman, but our older poets delighted in eyes as gray as glass:
certainly not in their darkness lay their peculiar witchery. They were
grandly proportioned, neither almond-shaped nor round, neither
prominent nor deep-set; but even shape by itself is not much. If I go
on to say they were luminous, plainly there the danger begins. Sepia's
eyes, I confess, were not lords of the deepest light--for she was not
true; but neither was theirs a surface light, generated of merely
physical causes: through them, concentrating her will upon their
utterance, she could establish a psychical contact with _almost_ any
man she chose. Their power was an evil, selfish shadow of original,
universal love. By them she could produce at once, in the man on whom
she turned their play, a sense as it were of some primordial, fatal
affinity between her and him--of an aboriginal understanding, the rare
possession of but a few of the pairs made male and female. Into those
eyes she would call up her soul, and there make it sit, flashing light,
in gleams and sparkles, shoots and coruscations--not from great, black
pupils alone--to whose size there were who said the suicidal belladonna
lent its aid--but from great, dark irids as well--nay, from eyeballs,
eyelashes, and eyelids, as from spiritual catapult or culverin, would
she dart the lightnings of her present soul, invading with influence as
irresistible as subtile the soul of the man she chose to assail, who,
thenceforward, for a season, if he were such as she took him for,
scarce had choice but be her slave. She seldom exerted their full
force, however, without some further motive than mere desire to
captivate. There are women who fly their falcons at any game, little
birds and all; but Sepia did not so waste herself: her quarry must be
worth her hunt: she must either love him or need him. _Love!_ did I
say? Alas! if ever holy word was put to unholy use, _love_ is that
word! When Diana goes to hell, her name changes to Hecate, but love
among the devils is called love still!

In more than one other country, whatever might be the cause, Sepia had
found _the men_ less shy of her than here; and she had almost begun to
think her style was not generally pleasing to English eyes. Whether
this had anything to do with the fact that now in London she began to
amuse herself with Tom Helmer, I can not say with certainty; but almost
if not quite the first time they met, that morning, namely, when first
he called, and they sat in the bay-window of the drawing-room in
Glammis Square, she brought her eyes to play upon him; and, although he
addressed "The Firefly" poem to Hesper in the hope of pleasing her, it
was for the sake of Sepia chiefly that he desired the door of her house
to be an open one to him. Whether at that time she knew he was a
married man, it is hardly necessary to inquire, seeing it would have
made no difference whatever to one like her, whose design was only to
amuse herself with the youth, and possibly to make of him a screen. She
went so far, however, as to allow him, when there was opportunity, to
draw her into quiet corners, and even to linger when the other guests
were gone, and he had had his full share of champagne. Once, indeed,
they remained together so long in the little conservatory, lighted only
by an alabaster lamp, pale as the moon in the dawning, that she had to
unbolt the door to let him out. This did not take place without coming
to the knowledge of both Mr. and Mrs. Redmain; but the former was only
afraid there was nothing in it, and was far from any wish to control
her; and Sepia herself was the in-formant of the latter. To her she
would make game of her foolish admirer, telling how, on this and that
occasion, it was all she could do to get rid of him.



CHAPTER XXXII.

HONOR.


Having now gained a partial insight into Letty's new position, Mary
pondered what she could do to make life more of life to her. Not many
knew better than she that the only true way to help a human heart is to
lift it up; but she knew also that every kind of loving aid tends more
or less to that uplifting; and that, if we can not do the great thing,
we must be ready to do the small: if we do not help in little things,
how shall we be judged fit to help in greater? We must help where we
can, that we may help where we can not. The first and the only thing
she could for a time think of, was, to secure for Letty, if possible, a
share in her husband's pleasures.

Quietly, yet swiftly, a certain peaceful familiarity had established
itself between Hesper and Mary, to which the perfect balance of the
latter and her sense of the only true foundation of her position
contributed far more than the undefined partiality of the former. The
possibility of such a conversation as I am now going to set down was
one of the results.

"Do you like Mr. Helmer, ma'am?" asked Mary one morning, as she was
brushing her hair.

"Very well. How do you know anything of him?"

"Not many people within ten miles of Testbridge do not know Mr.
Helmer," answered Mary.

"Yes, yes, I remember," said Hesper. "He used to ride about on a
long-legged horse, and talked to anybody that would listen to him. But
there was always something pleasing about him, and he is much improved.
Do you know, he is considered really very clever?"

"I am not surprised," rejoined Mary. "He used to be rather foolish, and
that is a sign of cleverness--at least, many clever people are foolish,
I think."

"You can't have had much opportunity for making the observation, Mary!"

"Clever people think as much of themselves in the country as they do in
London, and that is what makes them foolish," returned Mary. "But I
used to think Mr. Helmer had very good points, and was worth doing
something for--if one only knew what."

"He does not seem to want anything done for him," said Hesper.

"I know one thing _you_ could do for him, and it would be no trouble,"
said Mary.

"I will do anything for anybody that is no trouble," answered Hesper.
"I should like to know something that is no trouble."

"It is only, the next time you ask him, to ask his wife," said Mary.

"He is married, then?" returned Hesper with indifference. "Is the woman
presentable? Some shopkeeper's daughter, I suppose!"

Mary laughed. "You don't imagine the son of a lawyer would be likely to
marry a shopkeeper's daughter!" she said.

"Why not?" returned Hesper, with a look of non-intelligence.

"Because a professional man is so far above a tradesman."

"Oh!" said Hesper. "--But he should have told me if he wanted to bring
his wife with him. I don't care who she is, so long as she dresses
decently and holds her tongue. What are you laughing at, Mary?"

Hesper called it laughing, but Mary was only smiling.

"I can't help being amused," answered Mary, "that you should think it
such an out-of-the-way thing to be a shopkeeper's daughter, and here am
I all the time, feeling quite comfortable, and proud of the shopkeeper
whose daughter I am."

"Oh! I beg your pardon," exclaimed Hesper, growing hot for, I almost
believe, the first time in her life, and therein, I fear, showing a
drop of bad blood from somewhere, probably her father's side of the
creation; for not even the sense of having hurt the feelings of an
inferior can make the thoroughbred woman of the world aware of the
least discomfort; and here was Hesper, not only feeling like a woman of
God's making, but actually showing it!--"How cruel of me!" she went on.
"But, you see, I never think of you--when I am talking to you--as--as
one of that class!"

Mary laughed outright this time: she was amused, and thought it better
to show it, for that would show also she was not hurt. Hesper, however,
put it down to insensibility.

"Surely, dear Mrs. Redmain," said Mary, "you can not think the class to
which I belong in itself so objectionable that it is rude to refer to
it in my hearing!"

"I am very sorry," repeated Hesper, but in a tone of some offense: it
was one thing to confess a fault; another to be regarded as actually
guilty of the fault. "Nothing was further from my intention than to
offend you. I have not a doubt that shopkeepers are a most respectable
class in their way--"

"Excuse me, dear Mrs. Redmain," said Mary again, "but you quite mistake
me. I am not in the least offended. I don't care what you think of the
class. There are a great many shopkeepers who are anything but
respectable--as bad, indeed, as any of the nobility."

"I was not thinking of morals," answered Hesper. "In that, I dare say,
all classes are pretty much alike. But, of course, there are
differences."

"Perhaps one of them is, that, in our class, we make respectability
more a question of the individual than you do in yours."

"That may be very true," returned Hesper. "So long as a man behaves
himself, we ask no questions."

"Will you let me tell you how the thing looks to me?" said Mary.

"Certainly. You do not suppose I care for the opinions of the people
about me! I, too, have my way of looking at things."

So said Hesper; yet it was just the opinions of the people about her
that ruled all those of her actions that could be said to be ruled at
all. No one boasts of freedom except the willing slave--the man so
utterly a slave that he feels nothing irksome in his fetters. Yet,
perhaps, but for the opinions of those about her, Hesper would have
been worse than she was.

"Am I right, then, in thinking," began Mary, "that people of your class
care only that a man should wear the look of a gentleman, and carry
himself like one?--that, whether his appearance be a reality or a mask,
you do not care, so long as no mask is removed in your company?--that
he may be the lowest of men, but, so long as other people receive him,
you will, too, counting him good enough?"


Hesper held her peace. She had by this time learned some facts
concerning the man she had married which, beside Mary's question, were
embarrassing.

"It is interesting," she said at length, "to know how the different
classes in a country regard each other." But she spoke wearily: it was
interesting in the abstract, not interesting to her.

"The way to try a man," said Mary, "would be to turn him the other way,
as I saw the gentleman who is taking your portrait do yesterday trying
a square--change his position quite, I mean, and mark how far he
continued to look a true man. He would show something of his real self
then, I think. Make a nobleman a shopkeeper, for instance, and see what
kind of a shopkeeper he made. If he showed himself just as honorable
when a shopkeeper as he had seemed when a nobleman, there would be good
reason for counting him an honorable man."

"What odd fancies you have, Mary!" said Hesper, yawning.

"I know my father would have been as honorable as a nobleman as he was
when a shopkeeper," persisted Mary.

"That I can well believe--he was your father," said Hesper, kindly,
meaning what she said, too, so far as her poor understanding of the
honorable reached.

"Would you mind telling me," asked Mary, "how you would define the
difference between a nobleman and a shopkeeper?"

Hesper thought a little. The question to her was a stupid one. She had
never had interest enough in humanity to care a straw what any
shopkeeper ever thought or felt. Such people inhabited a region so far
below her as to be practically out of her sight. They were not of her
kind. It had never occurred to her that life must look to them much as
it looked to her; that, like Shylock, they had feelings, and would
bleed if cut with a knife. But, although she was not interested, she
peered about sleepily for an answer. Her thoughts, in a lazy fashion,
tumbled in her, like waves without wind--which, indeed, was all the
sort of thinking she knew. At last, with the decision of conscious
superiority, and the judicial air afforded by the precision of
utterance belonging to her class--a precision so strangely conjoined
with the lack of truth and logic both--she said, in a tone that gave to
the merest puerility the consequence of a judgment between contending
sages:

"The difference is, that the nobleman is born to ease and dignity and
affluence, and the--shopkeeper to buy and sell for his living."

"Many a nobleman," suggested Mary, "buys and sells without the
necessity of making a living."

"That is the difference," said Hesper.

"Then the nobleman buys and sells to make money, and the shopkeeper to
make a living?"

"Yes," granted Hesper, lazily.

"Which is the nobler end--to live, or to make money?" But this question
was too far beyond Hesper. She did not even choose to hear it.

"And," she said, resuming her definition instead, "the nobleman deals
with great things, the shopkeeper with small."

"When things are finally settled," said Mary--"Gracious, Mary!" cried
Hesper, "what do you mean? Are not things settled for good this many a
century? I am afraid I have been harboring an awful radical!--a--what
do they call it?--a communist!"

She would have turned the whole matter out of doors, for she was tired
of it.

"Things hardly look as if they were going to remain just as they are at
this precise moment," said Mary. "How could they, when, from the very
making of the world, they have been going on changing and changing,
hardly ever even seeming to standstill?"

"You frighten me, Mary! You will do something terrible in my house, and
I shall get the blame of it!" said Hesper, laughing.

But she did in truth feel a little uncomfortable. The shadow of dismay,
a formless apprehension overclouded her. Mary's words recalled
sentiments which at home she had heard alluded to with horror; and,
however little parents may be loved or respected by their children,
their opinions will yet settle, and, until they are driven out by
better or worse, will cling.

"When I tell you what I was really thinking of, you will not be alarmed
at my opinions," said Mary, not laughing now, but smiling a deep, sweet
smile; "I do not believe there ever will be any settlement of things
but one; they can not and must not stop changing, until the kingdom of
heaven is come. Into that they must change, and rest."

"You are leaving politics for religion now, Mary. That is the one fault
I have to find with you--you won't keep things in their own places! You
are always mixing them up--like that Mrs.--what's her name?--who will
mix religion and love in her novels, though everybody tells her they
have nothing to do with each other! It is so irreverent!"

"Is it irreverent to believe that God rules the world he made, and that
he is bringing things to his own mind in it?"

"You can't persuade me religion means turning things upside down."

"It means that a good deal more than people think. Did not our Lord say
that many that are first shall be last, and the last first?"

"What has that to do with this nineteenth century?"

"Perhaps that the honorable shopkeeper and the mean nobleman will one
day change places."

"Oh," thought Hesper, "that is why the lower classes take so to
religion!" But what she said was: "Oh, yes, I dare say! But everything
then will be so different that it won't signify. When we are all
angels, nobody will care who is first, and who is last. I'm sure, for
one, it won't be anything to me."

Hesper was a tolerable attendant at church--I will not say whether high
or low church, because I should be supposed to care.

"In the kingdom of heaven," answered Mary, "things will always look
what they are. My father used to say people will grow their own dresses
there, as surely as a leopard his spots. He had to do with dresses, you
know. There, not only will an honorable man look honorable, but a mean
or less honorable man must look what he is."

"There will be nobody mean there."

"Then a good many won't be there who are called honorable here."

"I have no doubt there will be a good deal of allowance made for some
people," said Hesper. "Society makes such demands!"



CHAPTER XXXIII.

THE INVITATION.


When Letty received Mrs. Redmain's card, inviting her with her husband
to an evening party, it raised in her a bewildered flutter--of
pleasure, of fear, of pride, of shyness, of dismay: how dared she show
her face in such a grand assembly? She would not know a bit how to
behave herself! But it was impossible, for she had no dress fit to go
anywhere! What would Tom say if she looked a dowdy? He would be ashamed
of her, and she dared not think what might come of it!

But close upon the postman came Mary, and a long talk followed. Letty
was full of trembling delight, but Mary was not a little anxious with
herself how Tom would take it.

The first matter, however, was Letty's dress. She had no money, and
seemed afraid to ask for any. The distance between her and her husband
had been widening.

Their council of ways and means lasted a good while, including many
digressions. At last, though unwillingly, Letty accepted Mary's
proposal that a certain dress, her best indeed, though she did not say
so, which she had scarcely worn, and was not likely to miss, should be
made to fit Letty. It was a lovely black silk, the best her father had
been able to choose for her the last time he was in London. A little
pang did shoot through her heart at the thought of parting with it, but
she had too much of that father in her not to know that the greatest
honor that can be shown any _thing_, is to make it serve a _person_;
that the dearest gift of love, withheld from human necessity, is handed
over to the moth and the rust. But little idea had Letty, much as she
appreciated her kindness, what a sacrifice Mary was making for her that
she might look her own sweet self, and worthy of her renowned Tom!

When Tom came home that night, however, the look of the world and all
that is in it changed speedily for Letty, and terribly. He arrived in
great good humor--somebody had been praising his verses, and the joy of
the praise overflowed on his wife. But when, pleased as any little girl
with the prospect of a party and a new frock, she told him, with
gleeful gratitude, of the invitation and the heavenly kindness which
had rendered it possible for her to accept it, the countenance of the
great man changed. He rejected the idea of her going with him to any
gathering of his grand friends--objected most of all to her going to
Mrs. Redmain's. Alas! he had begun to allow to himself that he had
married in too great haste--and beneath him. Wherever he went, his wife
could be no credit to him, and her presence would take from him all
sense of liberty! Not choosing, however, to acknowledge either of these
objections, and not willing, besides, to appear selfish in the eyes of
the woman who had given herself to him, he was only too glad to put all
upon another, to him equally genuine ground. Controlling his irritation
for the moment, he set forth with lordly kindness the absolute
impossibility of accepting such an offer as Mary's. Could she for a
moment imagine, he said, that he would degrade himself by taking his
wife out in a dress that was not her own?

Here Letty interrupted him.

"Mary has given me the dress," she sobbed, "--for my very own."

"A second-hand dress! A dress that has been worn!" cried Tom. "How
could you dream of insulting me so? The thing is absolutely impossible.
Why, Letty, just think!--There should I be, going about as if the house
were my own, and there would be my wife in the next room, or perhaps at
my elbow, dressed in the finery of the lady's-maid of the house! It
won't bear thinking of! I declare it makes me so ashamed, as I lie
here, that I feel my face quite hot in the dark! To have to reason
about such a thing--with my own wife, too!"

"It's not finery," sobbed Letty, laying hold of the one fact within her
reach; "it's a beautiful black silk."

"It matters not a straw what it is," persisted Tom, adding humbug to
cruelty. "You would be nothing but a sham!--A live dishonesty! A
jackdaw in peacock's feathers!--I am sorry, Letty, your own sense of
truth and uprightness should not prevent even the passing desire to act
such a lie. Your fine dress would be just a fine fib--yourself would be
but a walking fib. I have been taking too much for granted with you: I
must bring you no more novels. A volume or two of Carlyle is what _you_
want."

This was too much. To lose her novels and her new dress together, and
be threatened with nasty moral medicine--for she had never read a word
of Carlyle beyond his translation of that dream of Richter's, and
imagined him dry as a sand-pit--was bad enough, but to be so reproved
by her husband was more than she could bear. If she was a silly and
ignorant creature, she had the heart of a woman-child; and that
precious thing in the sight of God, wounded and bruised by the husband
in whom lay all her pride, went on beating laboriously for him only.
She did not blame him. Anything was better than that. The dear, simple
soul had a horror of rebuke. It would break hedges and climb stone
walls to get out of the path of judgment--ten times more eagerly if her
husband were the judge. She wept and wailed like a sick child, until at
length the hard heart of selfish Tom was touched, and he sought, after
the fashion of a foolish mother, to read the inconsolable a lesson of
wisdom. But the truer a heart, the harder it is to console with the
false. By and by, however, sleep, the truest of things, did for her
what even the blandishments of her husband could not.

When she woke in the morning, he was gone: he had thought of an
emendation in a poem that had been set up the day before, and made
haste to the office, lest it should be printed without the precious
betterment.

Mary came before noon, and found sadness where she had left joy. When
she had heard as much as Letty thought proper to tell her, she was
filled with indignation, and her first thought was to compass the
tyrant's own exclusion from the paradise whose gates he closed against
his wife. But second thoughts are sometimes best, and she saw the next
moment not only that punishment did not belong to her, but that the
weight of such would fall on Letty. The sole thing she could think of
to comfort her was, to ask her to spend the same evening with her in
her room. The proposal brightened Letty up at once: some time or other
in the course of the evening she would, she fancied, see, or at least
catch a glimpse of Tom in his glory!

The evening came, and with beating heart Letty went up the back stairs
to Mary's room. She was dressing her mistress, but did not keep her
waiting long. She had provided tea beforehand, and, when Mrs. Redmain
had gone down, the two friends had a pleasant while together. Mary took
Letty to Mrs. Redmain's room while she put away her things, and there
showed her many splendors, which, moving no envy in her simple heart,
yet made her sad, thinking of Tom. As she passed to the drawing-room,
Sepia looked in, and saw them together.

But, as the company kept arriving, Letty grew very restless. She could
not talk of anything for two minutes together, but kept creeping out of
the room and half-way down the stair, to look over the banister-rail,
and have a bird's-eye peep of a portion of the great landing, where
indeed she caught many a glimpse of beauty and state, but never a
glimpse of her Tom. Alas! she could not even imagine herself near him.
What she saw made her feel as if her idol were miles away, and she
could never draw nigh him again. How should the familiar associate of
such splendid creatures care a pin's point for his humdrum wife?

Worn out at last, and thoroughly disappointed, she wanted to go home.
It was then past midnight. Mary went with her, and saw her safe in bed
before she left her.

As she went up to her room on her return, she saw, through the door by
which the gardener entered the conservatory, Sepia standing there, and
Tom, with flushed face, talking to her eagerly.

Letty cried herself to sleep, and dreamed that Tom had disowned her
before a great company of grand ladies, who mocked her from their sight.

Tom came home while she slept, and in the morning was cross and
miserable--in part, because he had been so abominably selfish to her.
But the moment that, half frightened, half hopeful, she told him where
she was the night before, he broke into the worst anger he had ever yet
shown her. His shameful pride could not brook the idea that, where he
was a guest, his wife was entertained by one of the domestics!

"How dare you be guilty of such a disgraceful thing!" he cried.

"Oh, don't, Tom--dear Tom!" pleaded Letty in terror. "It was you I
wanted to see--not the great people, Tom! I don't care if I never see
one of them again."

"Why should you ever see one of them again, I should like to know! What
are they to you, or you to them?"

"But you know I was asked to go, Tom!"

"You're not such a fool as to fancy they cared about you! Everybody
knows they are the most heartless set of people in the world!"

"Then why do you go, Tom?" said Letty, innocently.

"That's quite another thing! A man has to cultivate connections his
wife need not know anything about. It is one of the necessities laid on
my position."

Letty supposed it all truer than it was either intelligible or
pleasant, and said no more, but let poor, self-abused, fine-fellow Tom
scold and argue and reason away till he was tired. She was not sullen,
but bewildered and worn out. He got up, and left her without a word.

Even at the risk of hurt to his dignity, of which there was no danger
from the presence of his sweet, modest little wife in the best of
company, it had been well for Tom to have allowed Letty the pleasure
within her reach; for that night Sepia's artillery played on him
ruthlessly. It may have been merely for her amusement--time, you see,
moves so slowly with such as have no necessities they must themselves
supply, and recognize no duties they must perform: without those two
main pillars of life, necessity and duty, how shall the temple stand,
when the huge, weary Samson comes tugging at it? The wonder is, there
is not a great deal more wickedness in the world. For listlessness and
boredness and nothing-to-do-ness are the best of soils for the breeding
of the worms that never stop gnawing. Anyhow, Sepia had flashed on Tom,
the tinder of Tom's heart had responded, and, any day when Sepia chose,
she might blow up a wicked as well as foolish flame; nor, if it should
suit her purpose, was Sepia one to hesitate in the use of the fire-fan.
All the way home, her eyes haunted him, and it is a more dreadful thing
than most are aware to be haunted by anything, good or bad, except the
being who is our life. And those eyes, though not good, were beautiful.
Evil, it is true, has neither part nor lot in beauty; it is absolutely
hostile to it, and will at last destroy it utterly; but the process is
a long one, so long that many imagine badness and beauty vitally
associable. Tom yielded to the haunting, and it was in part the fault
of those eyes that he used such hard words to his wife in the morning.
Wives have not seldom to suffer sorely for discomforts and wrongs in
their husbands of which they know nothing. But the thing will be set
right one day, and in a better fashion than if all the woman's-rights'
committees in the world had their will of the matter.

About this time, from the top, left-hand corner of the last page of
"The Firefly," it appeared that Twilight had given place to Night; for
the first of many verses began to show themselves, in which Twilight,
or Hesper, or Vesper, or the Evening Star, was no more once mentioned,
but only and al-ways Nox, or Hecate, or the dark Diana. _Tenebrious_
was a great word with Tom about this time. He was very fond, also, of
the word _interlunar_. I will not trouble my reader with any specimen
of the outcome of Tom's new inspiration, partly for this reason, that
the verses not unfrequently came so near being good, nay, sometimes
were really so good, that I do not choose to set them down where they
would be treated with a mockery they do not in themselves deserve. He
did not direct his wife's attention to them, nor did he compose them at
home or at the office. Mostly he wrote them between acts at the
theatre, or in any public place where something in which he was not
interested was going on.

Of all that read them, and here was a Nemesis awful in justice, there
was not one less moved by them than she who had inspired them. She saw
in them, it is true, a reflex of her own power--and that pleased, but
it did not move her. She took the devotion and pocketed it, as a greedy
boy might an orange or bull's-eye. The verses in which Tom delighted
were but the merest noise in the ears of the lady to whom of all he
would have had them acceptable. One momentary revelation as to how she
regarded them would have been enough to release him from his foolish
enthrallment. Indignation, chagrin, and mortification would have soon
been the death of such poor love as Tom's.

Mary and Sepia were on terms of politeness--of readiness to help on the
one side, and condescension upon the other. Sepia would have
condescended to the Mother Mary. The pure human was an idea beyond her,
as beyond most people. They have not enough _religion_ toward God to
know there is such a thing as religion toward their neighbor. But Sepia
never made an enemy-if she could help it. She could not afford the
luxury of hating--openly, at least. But I imagine she would have hated
Mary heartily could she have seen the way she regarded her--the look of
pitiful love, of compassionate and waiting helpfulness which her soul
would now and then cast upon her. Of all things she would have resented
pity; and she took Mary's readiness to help for servility--and
naturally, seeing in herself willingness came from nothing else, though
she called it prudence and necessity, and knew no shame because of it.
Her children justify the heavenly wisdom, but the worldly wisdom
justifies her children. Mary could not but feel how Sepia regarded her
service, but service, to be true, must be divine, that is, to the just
and the unjust, like the sun and the rain.

Between Sepia and Mr. Redmain continued a distance too great for either
difference or misunderstanding. They met with a cold good morning, and
parted without any good night. Their few words were polite, and their
demeanor was civil. At the breakfast-table, Sepia would silently pass
things to Mr. Redmain; Mr. Redmain would thank her, but never trouble
himself to do as much for her. His attentions, indeed, were seldom
wasted at home; but he was not often rude to anybody save his wife and
his man, except when he was ill.

It was a long time before he began to feel any interest in Mary. He
knew nothing of her save as a nice-looking maid his wife had
got--rather a prim-looking puss, he would have said, had he had
occasion to describe her. What Mary knew of him was merely the
reflection of him in the mind of his wife; but, the first time she saw
him, she felt she would rather not have to speak to him.



CHAPTER XXXIV.

A STRAY SOUND.


Mary went to see Letty as often as she could, and that was not seldom;
but she had scarcely a chance of seeing Tom; either he was not up, or
had gone--to the office, Letty supposed: she had no more idea of where
the office was, or of the other localities haunted by Tom, than he
himself had of what spirit he was of.

One day, when Mary could not help remarking upon her pale, weary looks,
Letty burst into tears, and confided to her a secret of which she was
not the less proud that it caused her anxiety and fear. As soon as she
began to talk about it, the joy of its hope began to predominate, and
before Mary left her she might have seemed to a stranger the most
blessed little creature in the world. The greatness of her delight made
Mary sad for her. To any thoughtful heart it must be sad to think what
a little time the joy of so many mothers lasts--not because their
babies die, but because they live; but Mary's mournfulness was caused
by the fear that the splendid dawn of mother-hope would soon be
swallowed in dismal clouds of father-fault. For mothers and for wives
there is no redemption, no unchaining of love, save by the coming of
the kingdom--_in themselves_. Oh! why do not mothers, sore-hearted
mothers at least, if none else on the face of the earth, rush to the
feet of the Son of Mary?

Yet every birth is but another link in the golden chain by which the
world shall be lifted to the feet of God. It is only by the birth of
new children, ever fresh material for the creative Spirit of the Son of
Man to work upon, that the world can finally be redeemed. Letty had no
_ideas_ about children, only the usual instincts of appropriation and
indulgence; Mary had a few, for she recalled with delight some of her
father's ways with herself. Him she knew as, next to God, the source of
her life, so well had he fulfilled that first duty of all parents--the
transmission of life. About such things she tried to talk to Letty, but
soon perceived that not a particle of her thought found its way into
Letty's mind: she cared nothing for any duty concerned--only for the
joy of being a mother.

She grew paler yet and thinner; dark hollows came about her eyes; she
was parting with life to give it to her child; she lost the girlish
gayety Tom used to admire, and the something more lovely that was
taking its place he was not capable of seeing. He gave her less and
less of his company. His countenance did not shine on her; in her heart
she grew aware that she feared him, and, ever as she shrunk, he
withdrew. Had it not now been for Mary, she would likely have died. She
did all for her that friend could. As often as she seemed able, she
would take her for a drive, or on the river, that the wind, like a
sensible presence of God, might blow upon her, and give her fresh life
to take home with her. So little progress did she make with Hesper,
that she could not help thinking it must have been for Letty's sake she
was allowed to go to London.

Mr. and Mrs. Redmain went again to Durnmelling, but Mary begged Hesper
to leave her behind. She told her the reason, without mentioning the
name of the friend she desired to tend. Hesper shrugged her shoulders,
as much as to say she wondered at her taste; but she did not believe
that was in reality the cause of her wish, and, setting herself to find
another, concluded she did not choose to show herself at Testbridge in
her new position, and, afraid of losing if she opposed her, let her
have her way. Nor, indeed, was she so necessary to her at Durnmelling,
where there were few visitors, and comparatively little dressing was
required: for the mere routine of such ordinary days, Jemima was
enough, who, now and then called by Mary to her aid, had proved herself
handy and capable, and had learned much. So, all through the hottest of
the late summer and autumn weather, Mary remained in London, where
every pavement seemed like the floor of a baker's oven, and, for all
the life with which the city swarmed, the little winds that wandered
through it seemed to have lost their vitality. How she longed for the
common and the fields and the woods, where the very essence of life
seemed to dwell in the atmosphere even when stillest, and the joy that
came pouring from the throats of the birds seemed to flow first from
her own soul into them! The very streets and lanes of Testbridge looked
like paradise to Mary in Lon-don. But she never wished herself in the
shop again, although almost every night she dreamed of the glad old
time when her father was in it with her, and when, although they might
not speak from morning to night, their souls kept talking across crowd
and counters, and each was always aware of the other's supporting
presence.

Longing, however, is not necessarily pain--it may, indeed, be intensest
bliss; and, if Mary longed for the freedom of the country, it was not
to be miserable that she could not have it. Her mere thought of it was
to her a greater delight than the presence of all its joys is to many
who desire them the most. That such things, and the possibility of such
sensations from them, should be in the world, was enough to make Mary
jubilant. But, then, she was at peace with her conscience, and had her
heart full of loving duty. Besides, an active patience is a heavenly
power. Mary could not only walk along a pavement dry and lifeless as
the Sahara, enjoying the summer that brooded all about and beyond the
city, but she bore the re-freshment of blowing winds and running waters
into Letty's hot room, with the clanging street in front, and the
little yard behind, where, from a cord stretched across between the
walls, hung a few pieces of ill-washed linen, motionless in the glare,
two plump sparrows picking up crumbs in their shadow--into this live
death Mary would carry a tone of breeze, and sailing cloud, and swaying
tree-top. In her the life was so concentrated and active that she was
capable of communicating life--the highest of human endowments.

One evening, as Letty was telling her how the dressmaker up stairs had
been for some time unwell, and Mary was feeling reproachful that she
had not told her before, that she might have seen what she could do for
her, they became aware, it seemed gradually, of one softest, sweetest,
faintest music-tone coming from somewhere--but not seeming sufficiently
of this world to disclose whence. Mary went to the window: there was
nothing capable of music within sight. It came again; and
intermittingly came and came. For some time they would hear nothing at
all, and then again the most delicate of tones would creep into their
ears, bringing with it more, it seemed to Mary in the surprise of its
sweetness, than she could have believed single tone capable of
carrying. Once or twice a few consecutive sounds made a division
strangely sweet; and then again, for a time, nothing would reach them
but a note here and a note there of what she was fain to imagine a
wonderful melody. The visitation lasted for about an hour, then ceased.
Letty went to bed, and all night long dreamed she heard the angels
calling her. She woke weeping that her time was come so early, while as
yet she had tasted so little of the pleasure of life. But the truth
was, she had as yet, poor child, got so little of the _good_ of life,
that it was not at all time for her to go.

When her hour drew near, Tom condescended--unwillingly, I am sorry to
say, for he did not take the trouble to understand her feelings--to
leave word where he might be found if he should be wanted. Even this
assuagement of her fears Letty had to plead for; Mary's being so much
with her was to him reason, and he made it excuse, for absence; he had
begun to dread Mary. Nor, when at length he was sent for, was he in any
great haste; all was well over ere he arrived. But he was a little
touched when, drawing his face down to hers, she feebly whispered,
"He's as like to you, Tom, as ever small thing was to great!" She saw
the slight emotion, and fell asleep comforted.

It was night when she woke. Mary was sitting by her.

"O Mary!" she cried, "the angels have been calling me again. Did you
hear them?"

"No," answered Mary, a little coldly, for, if ever she was inclined to
be hard, it was toward self-sentiment. "Why do you think the angels
should call you? Do you suppose them very desirous of your company?"

"They do call people," returned Letty, almost crying; "and I don't know
why they mightn't call me. I'm not such a very wicked person!"

Mary's heart smote her; she was refusing Letty the time God was giving
her! She could not wake her up, and, while God was waking her, she was
impatient!

"I heard the call, too, Letty," she said; "but it was not the angels.
It was the same instrument we heard the other night. Who can there be
in the house to play like that? It was clearer this time. I thought I
could listen to it a whole year."

"Why didn't you wake me?" said Letty.

"Because the more you sleep the better. And the doctor says I mustn't
let you talk. I will get you something, and then you must go to sleep
again."

Tom did not appear any more that night; and, if they had wanted him
now, they would not have known where to find him. He was about nothing
very bad--only supping with some friends--such friends as he did not
even care to tell that he had a son.

He was ashamed of being in London at this time of the year, and, but
that he had not money enough to go anywhere except to his mother's, he
would have gone, and left Letty to shift for herself.

With his child he was pleased, and would not seldom take him for a few
moments; but, when he cried, he was cross with him, and showed himself
the unreasonable baby of the two.

The angels did not want Letty just yet, and she slowly recovered.

For Mary it was a peaceful time. She was able to read a good deal, and,
although there were no books in Mr. Redmain's house, she generally
succeeded in getting such as she wanted. She was able also to practice
as much as she pleased, for now the grand piano was entirely at her
service, and she took the opportunity of having a lesson every day.



CHAPTER XXXV.

THE MUSICIAN.


One evening, soon after the baby's arrival, as Mary sat with him in her
lap, the sweet tones they had heard twice before came creeping into her
ears so gently that she seemed to be aware of their presence only after
they had been for some time coming and going: she laid the baby down,
and, stealing from the room, listened on the landing. Certainly the
sounds were born in the house, but whether they came from below or
above she could not tell. Going first down the stair, and then up, she
soon satisfied herself that they came from above, and thereupon
ventured a little farther up the stair.

She had already been to see the dressmaker, whom she had come to know
through the making of Hesper's twilight robe of cloud, had found her
far from well, and had done what she could for her. But she was in no
want, and of more than ordinary independence--a Yorkshire woman, about
forty years of age, delicate, but of great patience and courage; a
plain, fair, freckled woman, with a belief in religion rather than in
God. Very strict, therefore, in her observances, she thought a great
deal more of the Sabbath than of man, a great deal more of the Bible
than of the truth, and ten times more of her creed than of the will of
God; and, had she heard any one utter such words as I have just
written, would have said he was an atheist. She was a worthy creature,
notwithstanding, only very unpleasant if one happened to step on the
toes of a pet ignorance. Mary soon discovered that there was no profit
in talking with her on the subjects she loved most: plainly she knew
little about them, except at second hand--that is, through the forms of
other minds than her own. Such people seem intended for the special
furtherance of the saints in patience; being utterly unassailable by
reason, they are especially trying to those who desire to stand on
brotherly terms with all men, and so are the more sensitive to the
rudeness that always goes with moral stupidity; intellectual stupidity
may coexist with the loveliness of an angel. It is one of the blessed
hopes of the world to come, that there will be none such in it. But why
so many words? I say to myself, Will one of such as I mean recognize
his portrait in my sketch? Many such have I met in my young days, and
in my old days I find they swarm still. I could wish that all such had
to earn their own bread like Ann Byron: had she been rich, she would
have been unbearable. Women like her, when they are well to do, walk
with a manly stride, make the tails of their dresses go like the screw
of a steamer behind them, and are not unfrequently Scotch.

As Mary went up, the music ceased; but, hoping Miss Byrom would be able
to enlighten her concerning its source, she continued her ascent, and
knocked at her door. A voice, rather wooden, yet not without character,
invited her to enter.

Ann sat near the window, for, although it was quite dusk, a little use
might yet be made of the lingering ghost of the daylight. Almost all
Mary could see of her was the reflection from the round eyes of a pair
of horn spectacles.

"How do you do, Miss Byrom?" she said.

"Not at all well," answered Ann, almost in a tone of offense.

"Is there nothing I can do for you?" asked Mary.

"We are to owe no man anything but love, the apostle tells us."

"You must owe a good deal of that, then," said Mary, one part vexed,
and two parts amused, "for you don't seem to pay much of it."

She was just beginning to be sorry for what she had said when she was
startled by a sound, very like a little laugh, which seemed to come
from behind her. She turned quickly, but, before she could see anything
through the darkness, the softest of violin-tones thrilled the air
close beside her, and then she saw, seated on the corner of Ann's bed,
the figure of a man--young or old, she could not tell. How could he
have kept so still! His bow was wandering slowly about over the strings
of his violin; but presently, having overcome, as it seemed, with the
help of his instrument, his inclination to laugh, he ceased, and all
was still.

"I came," said Mary, turning again to Ann, "hoping you might be able to
tell me where the sweet sounds came from which we have heard now two or
three times; but I had no idea there was any one in the room besides
yourself.--They come at intervals a great deal too long," she added,
turning toward the figure in the darkness.

"I am afraid my ear is out sometimes," said the man, mistaking her
remark. "I think it comes of the anvil."

The voice was manly, though gentle, and gave an impression of utter
directness and simplicity. It was Mary's turn, however, not to
understand, and she made no answer.

"I am very sorry," the musician went on, "if I annoyed you, miss."

Mary was hastening to assure him that the fact was quite the other way,
when Ann prevented her.

"I told you so!" she said; "_you_ make an idol of your foolish
plaything, but other people take it only for the nuisance it is."

"Indeed, you never were more mistaken," said Mary. "Both Mrs. Helmer
and myself are charmed with the little that reaches us. It is, indeed,
seldom one hears tones of such purity."

The player responded with a sigh of pleasure.

"Now there you are, miss," cried Ann, "a-flattering of his folly till
not a word I say will be of the smallest use!"

"If your words are not wise," said Mary, with suppressed indignation,
"the less he heeds them the better."

"It ain't wise, to my judgment, miss, to make a man think himself
something when he is nothing. It's quite enough a man should deceive
his own self, without another to come and help him."

"To speak the truth is not to deceive," replied Mary. "I have some
knowledge of music, and I say only what is true."

"What good can it be spending his time scraping horsehair athort
catgut?"

"They must fancy some good in it up in heaven," said Mary, "or they
wouldn't have so much of it there."

"There ain't no fiddles in heaven," said Ann, with indignation;
"they've nothing there but harps and trumpets." Mary turned to the man,
who had not said a word.

"Would you mind coming down with me," she said, "and playing a little,
very softly, to my friend? She has a little baby, and is not strong. It
would do her good."

"She'd better read her Bible," said Ann, who, finding she could no
longer see, was lighting a candle.

"She does read her Bible," returned Mary; "and a little music would,
perhaps, help her to read it to better purpose."

"There, Ann!" cried the player.

The woman replied with a scornful grunt.

"Two fools don't make a wise man, for all the franchise," she said.

But Mary had once more turned toward the musician, and in the light of
the candle was met by a pair of black eyes, keen yet soft, looking out
from tinder an overhanging ridge of forehead. The rest of the face was
in shadow, but she could see by the whiteness, through a beard that
clouded all the lower part of it, that he was smiling to himself: Mary
had said what pleased him, and his eyes sought her face, and seemed to
rest on it with a kind of trust, and a look as if he was ready to do
whatever she might ask of him.

"You will come?" said Mary.

"Yes, miss, with all my heart," he replied, and flashed a full smile
that rested upon Ann, and seemed to say he knew her not so hard as she
looked.

Rising, he tucked his violin under his arm, and showed himself ready to
follow.

"Good night, Miss Byrom," said Mary.

"Good night, miss," returned Ann, grimly. "I'm sorry for you both,
miss. But, until the spirit is poured out from on high, it's nothing
but a stumbling in the dark."

This last utterance was a reflection rather than a remark.

Mary made no reply. She did not care to have the last word; nor did she
fancy her cause lost when she had not at hand the answer that befitted
folly. She ran down the stair, and at the bottom stood waiting her new
acquaintance, who descended more slowly, careful not to make a noise.

She could now see, by the gaslight that burned on the landing, a little
more of what the man was. He was powerfully built, rather over middle
height, and about the age of thirty. His complexion was dark, and the
hand that held the bow looked grimy. He bore himself well, but a little
stiffly, with a care over his violin like that of a man carrying a
baby. He was decidedly handsome, in a rugged way--mouth and chin but
hinted through a thick beard of darkest brown.

"Come this way," said Mary, leading him into Letty's parlor. "I will
tell my friend you are come. Her room, you see, opens off this, and she
will hear you delightfully. Pray, take a seat."

"Thank you, miss," said the man, but remained standing.

"I have caught the bird, Letty," said Mary, loud enough for him to
hear; "and he is come to sing a little to you--if you feel strong
enough for it."

"It will do me good," said Letty. "How kind of him!"

The man, having heard, was already tuning his violin when Mary came
from the bedroom, and sat down on the sofa. The instant he had got it
to his mind, he turned, and, going to the farthest corner of the room,
closed his eyes tight, and began to play.

But how shall I describe that playing? how convey an idea of it,
however remote? I fear it is nothing less than presumption in me, so
great is my ignorance, to attempt the thing. But would it be right, for
dread of bringing shame upon me through failure, to leave my readers
without any notion of it at all? On the other hand, I shall, at least,
have the merit of daring to fail--a merit of which I could well be
ambitious.

If, then, my reader will imagine some music-loving sylph attempting to
guide the wind among the strings of an Aeolian harp, every now and then
for a moment succeeding, and then again for a while the wind having its
own way, he will gain, I think, something like a dream-notion of the
man's playing. Mary tried hard to get hold of some clew to the
combinations and sequences, but the motive of them she could not find.
Whatever their source, there was, either in the composition itself or
in his mode of playing, not a little of the inartistic, that is, the
lawless. Yet every now and then would come a passage of exquisite
melody, owing much, however, no doubt, to the marvelous delicacy of the
player's tones, and the utterly tender expression with which he
produced them. But ever as she thought to get some insight into the
movement of the man's mind, still would she be swept away on the storm
of some change, seeming of mood incongruous.

At length came a little pause. He wiped his forehead with a blue cotton
handkerchief, and seemed ready to begin again. Mary interrupted him
with the question:

"Will you please tell me whose music you have been playing?"

He opened his eyes, which had remained closed even while he stood
motionless, and, with a smile sweeter than any she had ever seen on
such a strong face, answered:

"It's nobody's, miss."

"Do you mean you have been extemporizing all this time?"

"I don't know exactly what that means."

"You must have learned it from notes?"

"I couldn't read them if I had any to read," he answered.

"Then what an ear and what a memory you must have! How often have you
heard it?"

"Just as often as I've played it, and no oftener. Not being able to
read, and seldom hearing any music I care for, I'm forced to be content
with what runs out at my fingers when I shut my eyes. It all comes of
shutting my eyes. I couldn't play a thing but for shutting my eyes.
It's a wonderful deal that comes of shutting your eyes! Did you never
try it, miss?"

Mary was so astonished both by what he said and the simplicity with
which he said it, having clearly no notion that he was uttering
anything strange, that she was silent, and the man, after a moment's
retuning, began again to play. Then did Mary gather all her listening
powers, and brace her attention to the tightest--but at first with no
better success. And, indeed, that was not the way to understand. It
seems to me, at least, in my great ignorance, that one can not
understand music unless he is humble toward it, and consents, if need
be, not to understand. When one is quiescent, submissive, opens the
ears of the mind, and demands of them nothing more than the
hearing--when the rising waters of question retire to their bed, and
individuality is still, then the dews and rains of music, finding the
way clear for them, soak and sink through the sands of the mind, down,
far down, below the thinking-place, down to the region of music, which
is the hidden workshop of the soul, the place where lies ready the
divine material for man to go making withal.

Weary at last with vain effort, she ceased to endeavor, and in a little
while was herself being molded by the music unconsciously received to
the further understanding of it. It wrought in her mind pictures, not
thoughts. It is possible, however, my later knowledge may affect my
description of what Mary then saw with her mind's eye.

First there was a crowd in slow, then rapid movement. Arose cries and
entreaties. Came hurried motions, disruption, and running feet. A pause
followed. Then woke a lively melody, changing to the prayer of some
soul too grateful to find words. Next came a bar or two of what seemed
calm, lovely speech, then a few slowly delivered chords, and all was
still.

She came to herself, and then first knew that, like sleep, the music
had seized her unawares, and she had been understanding, or at least
enjoying, without knowing it. The man was approaching her from his dark
corner. His face was shining, but plainly he did not intend more music,
for his violin was already under his arm. He made her a little awkward
bow--not much more than a nod, and turned to the door. He had it half
open, and not yet could Mary speak. For Letty, she was fast asleep.

From the top of the stair came the voice of Ann, screaming:

"Here's your hat, Joe. I knew you'd be going when you played that.
You'd have forgotten it, I know!"

Mary heard the hat come tumbling down the stair.

"Thank you, Ann," returned Joe. "Yes, I'm going. The ladies don't care
much for my music. Nobody does but myself. But, then, it's good for
me." The last two sentences were spoken in soliloquy, but Mary heard
them, for he stood with the handle of the door in his hand. He closed
it, picked up his hat, and went softly down the stair.

The spell was broken, and Mary darted to the door. But, just as she
opened it, the outer door closed behind the strange musician, and she
had not even learned his name.



CHAPTER XXXVI.

A CHANGE.


As soon as Letty had strength enough to attend to her baby without
help, Mary, to the surprise of her mistress, and the destruction of her
theory concerning her stay in London, presented herself at Durnmelling,
found that she was more welcome than looked for, and the same hour
resumed her duties about Hesper.

It was with curiously mingled feelings that she gazed from her window
on the chimneys of Thornwick. How much had come to her since first, in
the summer-seat at the end of the yew-hedge, Mr. Wardour opened to her
the door of literature! It was now autumn, and the woods, to get young
again, were dying their yearly death. For the moment she felt as if
she, too, had begun to grow old. Ministration had tired her a
little--but, oh! how different its weariness from that which came of
labor amid obstruction and insult! Her heart beat a little slower,
perhaps, but she could now be sad without losing a jot of hope. Nay,
rather, the least approach of sadness would begin at once to wake her
hope. She regretted nothing that had come, nothing that had gone. She
believed more and more that not anything worth having is ever lost;
that even the most evanescent shades of feeling are safe for those who
grow after their true nature, toward that for which they were made--in
other and higher words, after the will of God.

But she did for a moment taste some bitterness in her cup, when, one
day, on the footpath of Testbridge, near the place where, that
memorable Sunday, she met Mr. Wardour, she met him again, and, looking
at her, and plainly recognizing her, he passed without salutation. Like
a sudden wave the blood rose to her face, and then sank to the deeps of
her heart; and from somewhere came the conviction that one day the
destiny of Godfrey Wardour would be in her hands: he had done more for
her than any but her father; and, when that day was come, he should not
find her fail him!

She was then on her way to the shop. She did not at all relish entering
it, but, as she had a large money-interest in the business; she ought
at least, she said to herself, to pay the place a visit. When she went
in, Turnbull did not at first recognize her, and, taking her for a
customer, blossomed into repulsive suavity. The change that came over
his countenance, when he knew her, was a shadow of such mingled and
conflicting shades that she felt there was something peculiar in it
which she must attempt to analyze. It remained hardly a moment to
encounter question, but was almost immediately replaced with a
politeness evidently false. Then, first, she began to be aware of
distrusting the man.

Asking a few questions about the business, to which he gave answers
most satisfactory, she kept casting her eyes about the shop, unable to
account for the impression the look of it made upon her. Either her
eyes had formed for themselves another scale, and could no more rightly
judge between past and present, or the aspect of the place was
different, and not so satisfactory. Was there less in it? she asked
herself--or was it only not so well kept as when she left it? She could
not tell. Neither could she understand the profound but distant
consideration with which Mr. Turnbull endeavored to behave to her,
treating her like a stranger to whom he must, against his inclination,
manifest all possible respect, while he did not invite her even to call
at _the villa._ She bought a pair of gloves of the young woman who
seemed to occupy her place, paid for them, and left the shop without
speaking to any one else. All the time, George was standing behind the
opposite counter, staring at her; but, much to her relief, he showed no
other sign of recognition.

Before she went to find Beenie, who was still at Testbridge, in a
cottage of her own, she felt she must think over these things, and
come, if possible, to some conclusion about them. She left the town,
therefore, and walked homeward.

What did it all mean? She knew very well they must look down on her ten
times more than ever, because of the _menial_ position in which she had
placed herself, sinking thereby beyond all pretense to be regarded as
their equal. But, if that was what the man's behavior meant, why was he
so studiously--not so much polite as respectful? That did not use to be
Mr. Turnbull's way where he looked down upon one. And, then, what did
the shadow preceding this behavior mean? Was there not in it something
more than annoyance at the sight of her? It was with an effort he
dismissed it! She had never seen that look upon him!

Then there was the impression the shop made on her! Was there anything
in that? Somehow it certainly seemed to have a shabby look! Was it
possible anything was wrong or going wrong with the concern? Her father
had always spoken with great respect of Mr. Turnbull's business
faculties, but she knew he had never troubled himself to, look into the
books or know how they stood with the bank. She knew also that Mr.
Turnbull was greedy after money, and that his wife was ambitious, and
hated the business. But, if he wanted to be out of it, would he not
naturally keep it up to the best, at least in appearance, that he might
part with his share in it to the better advantage?

She turned, and, walking back to the town, sought Beenie.

The old woman being naturally a gossip, Mary was hardly seated before
she began to pour out the talk of the town, in which came presently
certain rumors concerning Mr. Turnbull--mainly hints at speculation and
loss.

The result was that Mary went from Beenie to the lawyer in whose care
her father had left his affairs. He was an old man, and had been ill;
had no suspicion of anything being wrong, but would look into the
matter at once. She went home, and troubled herself no more.

She had been at Durnmelling but a few days, when Mr. Redmain, wishing
to see how things were on his estate in Cornwall, and making up his
mind to run down, carelessly asked his wife if she would accompany him:
it would be only for a few days, he said; but a breeze or two from the
Atlantic would improve her complexion. This was gracious; but he was
always more polite in the company of Lady Margaret, who continued to
show him the kindness no one else dared or was inclined to do. For some
years he had suffered increasingly from recurrent attacks of the
disease to which I have already referred; and, whatever might be the
motive of his mother-in-law's behavior, certainly, in those attacks, it
was a comfort to him to be near her. On such occasions in London, his
sole attendant was his man Mewks.

Mary was delighted to see more of her country. She had traveled very
little, but was capable of gathering ten times more from a journey to
Cornwall than most travelers from one through Switzerland itself. The
place to which they went was lonely and lovely, and Mary, for the first
few days, enjoyed it unspeakably.

But then, suddenly, as was not unusual, Mr. Redmain was taken ill. For
some reason or other, he had sent his man to London, and the only other
they had with them, besides the coachman, was useless in such a need,
while the housekeeper who lived at the place was nearly decrepit; so
that of the household Mary alone was capable of fit attendance in the
sickroom. Hesper shrunk, almost with horror, certainly with disgust,
from the idea of having anything to do with her husband as an invalid.
When she had the choice of her company, she said, she would not choose
his. Mewks was sent for at once, but did not arrive before the patient
had had some experience of Mary's tendance; nor, after he came, was she
altogether without opportunity of ministering to him. The attack was a
long and severe one, delaying for many weeks their return to London,
where Mr. Redmain declared he must be, at any risk, before the end of
November.



CHAPTER XXXVII.

LYDGATE STEET.


Letty's whole life was now gathered about her boy, and she thought
little, comparatively, about Tom. And Tom thought so little about her
that he did not perceive the difference. When he came home, he was
always in a hurry to be gone again. He had always something important
to do, but it never showed itself to Letty in the shape of money. He
gave her a little now and then, of course, and she made it go
incredibly far, but it was ever with more of a grudge that he gave it.
The influence over him of Sepia was scarcely less now that she was
gone; but, if she cared for him at all, it was mainly that, being now
not a little stale-hearted, his devotion reminded her pleasurably of a
time when other passions than those of self-preservation were strongest
in her; and her favor even now tended only to the increase of Tom's
growing disappointment, for, like Macbeth, he had begun already to
consider life but a poor affair. Across the cloud of this death
gleamed, certainly, the flashing of Sepia's eyes, or the softly
infolding dawn of her smile, but only, the next hour, nay, the next
moment, to leave all darker than before. Precious is the favor of any
true, good woman, be she what else she may; but what is the favor of
one without heart or faith or self-giving? Yet is there testimony only
too strong and terrible to the demoniacal power, enslaving and
absorbing as the arms of the kraken, of an evil woman over an
imaginative youth. Possibly, did he know beforehand her nature, he
would not love her, but, knowing it only too late, he loves and curses;
calls her the worst of names, yet can not or will not tear himself
free; after a fashion he still calls love, he loves the demon, and
hates her thralldom. Happily Tom had not reached this depth of
perdition; Sepia was prudent for herself, and knew, none better, what
she was about, so far as the near future was concerned, therefore held
him at arm's length, where Tom basked in a light that was of hell--for
what is a hell, or a woman like Sepia, but an inverted creation? His
nature, in consequence, was in all directions dissolving. He drank more
and more strong drink, fitting fuel to such his passion, and Sepia
liked to see him approach with his eyes blazing. There are not many
women like her; she is a rare type--but not, therefore, to be passed
over in silence. It is little consolation that the man-eating tiger is
a rare animal, if one of them be actually on the path; and to the
philosopher a possibility is a fact. But the true value of the study of
abnormal development is that, in the deepest sense, such development is
not abnormal at all, but the perfected result of the laws that avenge
law-breach. It is in and through such that we get glimpses, down the
gulf of a moral volcano, to the infernal possibilities of the
human--the lawless rot of that which, in its _attainable_ idea, is
nothing less than divine, imagined, foreseen, cherished, and labored
for, by the Father of the human. Such inverted possibility, the
infernal possibility, I mean, lies latent in every one of us, and,
except we stir ourselves up to the right, will gradually, from a
possibility, become an energy. The wise man dares not yield to a
temptation, were it only for the terror that, if he do, he will yield
the more readily again. The commonplace critic, who recognizes life
solely upon his own conscious level, mocks equally at the ideal and its
antipode, incapable of recognizing the art of Shakespeare himself as
true to the human nature that will not be human.

I have said that Letty did her best with what money Tom gave her; but
when she came to find that he had not paid the lodging for two months;
that the payment of various things he had told her to order and he
would see to had been neglected, and that the tradespeople were getting
persistent in their applications; that, when she told him anything of
the sort, he treated it at one time as a matter of no consequence which
he would speedily set right, at another as behavior of the creditor
hugely impertinent, which he would punish by making him wait his
time--her heart at length sank within her, and she felt there was no
bulwark between her and a sea of troubles; she felt as if she lay
already in the depths of a debtor's jail. Therefore, sparing as she had
been from the first, she was more sparing than ever. Not only would she
buy nothing for which she could not pay down, having often in
consequence to go without proper food, but, even when she had a little
in hand, would live like an anchorite. She grew very thin; and,
in-deed, if she had not been of the healthiest, could not have stood
her own treatment many weeks.

Her baby soon began to show suffering, but this did not make her alter
her way, or drive her to appeal to Tom. She was ignorant of the
simplest things a mother needs to know, and never imagined her
abstinence could hurt her baby. So long as she went on nursing him, it
was all the same, she thought. He cried so much, that Tom made it a
reason with himself, and indeed gave it as one to Letty, for not coming
home at night: the child would not let him sleep; and how was he to do
his work if he had not his night's rest? It mattered little with
semi-mechanical professions like medicine or the law, but how was a man
to write articles such as he wrote, not to mention poetry, except he
had the repose necessary to the redintegration of his exhausted brain?
The baby went on crying, and the mother's heart was torn. The woman of
the house said he must be already cutting his teeth, and recommended
some devilish sirup. Letty bought a bottle with the next money she got,
and thought it did him good-because, lessening his appetite, it
lessened his crying, and also made him sleep more than he ought.

At last one night Tom came home very much the worse of drink, and in
maudlin affection insisted on taking the baby from its cradle. The baby
shrieked. Tom was angry with the weakling, rated him soundly for
ingratitude to "the author of his being," and shook him roughly to
teach him the good manners of the world he had come to.

Thereat in Letty sprang up the mother, erect and fierce. She darted to
Tom, snatched the child from his arms, and turned to carry him to the
inner room. But, as the mother rose in Letty, the devil rose in Tom. If
what followed was not the doing of the real Tom, it was the doing of
the devil to whom the real Tom had opened the door. With one stride he
overtook his wife, and mother and child lay together on the floor. I
must say for him that, even in his drunkenness, he did not strike his
wife as he would have struck a man; it was an open-handed blow he gave
her, what, in familiar language, is called a box on the ear, but for
days she carried the record of it on her cheek in five red finger-marks.

When he saw her on the floor, Tom's bedazed mind came to itself; he
knew what he had done, and was sobered. But, alas! even then he thought
more of the wrong he had done to himself as a gentleman than of the
grievous wound he had given his wife's heart. He took the baby, who had
ceased to cry as soon as he was in his mother's arms, and laid him on
the rug, then lifted the bitterly weeping Letty, placed her on the
sofa, and knelt beside her--not humbly to entreat her pardon, but, as
was his wont, to justify himself by proving that all the blame was
hers, and that she had wronged him greatly in driving him to do such a
thing. This for apology poor Letty, never having had from him fuller
acknowledgment of wrong, was fain to accept. She turned on the sofa,
threw her arms about his neck, kissed him, and clung to him with an
utter forgiveness. But all it did for Tom was to restore him his good
opinion of himself, and enable him to go on feeling as much of a
gentleman as before.

Reconciled, they turned to the baby. He was pale, his eyes were closed,
and they could not tell whether he breathed. In a horrible fright, Tom
ran for the doctor. Before he returned with him, the child had come to,
and the doctor could discover no injury from the fall they told him he
had had. At the same time, he said he was not properly nourished, and
must have better food.

This was a fresh difficulty to Letty; it was a call for more outlay.
And now their landlady, who had throughout been very kind, was in
trouble about her own rent, and began to press for part at least of
theirs. Letty's heart seemed to labor under a stone. She forgot that
there was a thing called joy. So sad she looked that the good woman,
full of pity, assured her that, come what might, she should not be
turned out, but at the worst would only have to go a story higher, to
inferior rooms. The rent should wait, she said, until better days. But
this kindness relieved Letty only a little, for the rent past and the
rent to come hung upon her like a cloak of lead.

Nor was even debt the worst that now oppressed her. For, possibly from
the fall, but more from the prolonged want of suitable nourishment and
wise treatment, after that terrible night, the baby grew worse. Many
were the tears the sleepless mother shed over the sallow face and
wasted limbs of her slumbering treasure--her one antidote to countless
sorrows; and many were the foolish means she tried to restore his
sinking vitality.

Mary had written to her, and she had written to Mary; but she had said
nothing of the straits to which she was reduced; that would have been
to bring blame upon Tom. But Mary, with her fine human instinct, felt
that things must be going worse with her than before; and, when she
found that her return was indefinitely postponed by Mr. Redmain's
illness, she ventured at last in her anxiety upon a daring measure: she
wrote to Mr. Wardour, telling him she had reason to fear things were
not going well with Letty Helmer, and suggesting, in the gentlest way,
whether it might not now be time to let bygones be bygones, and make
some inquiry concerning her.

To this letter Godfrey returned no answer. For all her denial, he had
never ceased to believe that Mary had been Letty's accomplice
throughout that miserable affair; and the very name--the Letty and the
Helmer--stung him to the quick. He took it, therefore, as a piece of
utter presumption in Mary to write to him about Letty, and that in the
tone, as he interpreted it, of one reading him a lesson of duty. But,
while he was thus indignant with Mary, he was also vexed with Letty
that she should not herself have written to him if she was in any need,
forgetting that he had never hinted at any door of communication open
between him and her. His heart quivered at the thought that she might
be in distress; he had known for certain, he said, the fool would bring
her to misery! For himself, the thought of Letty was an ever-open
wound--with an ever-present pain, now dull and aching, now keen and
stinging. The agony of her desertion, he said, would never cease
gnawing at his heart until it was laid in the grave; like most heathen
Christians, he thought of death as the end of all the joys, sorrows,
and interests generally of this life. But, while thus he brooded, a
fierce and evil joy awoke in him at the thought that now at last the
expected hour had come when he would heap coals of fire on her head. He
was still fool enough to think of her as having forsaken him, although
he had never given her ground for believing, and she had never had
conceit enough to imagine, that he cared the least for her person. If
he could but let her have a glimmer of what she had lost in losing him!
She knew what she had gained in Tom Helmer.

He passed a troubled night, dreamed painfully, and started awake to
renewed pain. Before morning he had made up his mind to take the first
train to London. But he thought far more of being her deliverer than of
bringing her deliverance.



CHAPTER XXXVIII.

GODFREY AND LETTY.


It was a sad, gloomy, kindless November night, when Godfrey arrived in
London. The wind was cold, the pavements were cold, the houses seemed
to be not only cold but feeling it. The very dust that blow in his face
was cold. Now cold is a powerful ally of the commonplace, and
imagination therefore was not very busy in the bosom of Godfrey Wardour
as he went to find Letty Helmer, which was just as well, in the
circumstances. He was cool to the very heart when he walked up to the
door indicated by Mary, and rung the bell: Mrs. Helmer was at home:
would he walk up stairs?

It was not a house of ceremonies; he was shown up and up and into the
room where she sat, without a word carried before to prepare her for
his visit. It was so dark that he could see nothing but the figure of
one at work by a table, on which stood a single candle. There was but a
spark of fire in the dreary grate, and Letty was colder than any one
could know, for she was at the moment making down the last woolly
garment she had, in the vain hope of warming her baby.

She looked up. She had thought it was the landlady, and had waited for
her to speak. She gazed for a moment in bewilderment, saw who it was,
and jumped up half frightened, half ready to go wild with joy. All the
memories of Godfrey rushed in a confused heap upon her, and overwhelmed
her. She ran to him, and the same moment was in his arms, with her head
on his shoulder, weeping tears of such gladness as she had not known
since the first week of her marriage.

Neither spoke for some time; Letty could not because she was crying,
and Godfrey would not because he did not want to cry. Those few moments
were pure, simple happiness to both of them; to Letty, because she had
loved him from childhood, and hoped that all was to be as of old
between them; to Godfrey, because, for the moment, he had forgotten
himself, and had neither thought of injury nor hope of love,
remembering only the old days and the Letty that used to be. It may
seem strange that, having never once embraced her all the time they
lived together, he should do so now; but Letty's love would any time
have responded to the least show of affection, and when, at the sight
of his face, into which memory had called up all his tenderness, she
rushed into his arms, how could he help kissing her? The pity was that
he had not kissed her long before. Or was it a pity? I think not.

But the embrace could not be a long one. Godfrey was the first to relax
its strain, and Letty responded with an instant collapse; for instantly
she feared she had done it all, and disgusted Godfrey. But he led her
gently to the sofa, and sat down beside her on the hard old slippery
horsehair. Then first he perceived what a change had passed upon her.
Pale was she, and thin, and sad, with such big eyes, and the bone
tightening the skin upon her forehead! He felt as if she were a
spectre-Letty, not the Letty he had loved. Glancing up, she caught his
troubled gaze.

"I am not ill, Cousin Godfrey," she said. "Do not look at me so, or I
shall cry again. You know you never liked to see me cry."

"My poor girl!" said Godfrey, in a voice which, if he had not kept it
lower than natural, would have broken, "you are suffering."

"Oh, no, I'm not," replied Letty, with a pitiful effort at the
cheerful; "I am only so glad to see you again, Cousin Godfrey."

She sat on the edge of the sofa, and had put her open hands, palm to
palm, between her knees, in a childish way, looking like one chidden,
who did not deserve it, but was ready to endure. For a moment Godfrey
sat gazing at her, with troubled heart and troubled looks, then between
his teeth muttered, "Damn the rascal!"

Letty sat straight up, and turned upon him eyes of appeal, scared, yet
ready to defend. Her hands were now clinched, one on each side of her;
she was poking the little fists into the squab of the sofa.

"Cousin Godfrey!" she cried, "if you mean Tom, you must not, you must
not. I will go away if you speak a word against him. I will; I will.--I
_must,_ you know!"

Godfrey made no reply--neither apologized nor sought to cover.

"Why, child!" he said at last, "you are half starved!"

The pity and tenderness of both word and tone were too much for her.
She had not been at all pitying herself, but such an utterance from the
man she loved like an elder brother so wrought upon her enfeebled
condition that she broke into a cry. She strove to suppress her
emotion; she fought with it; in her agony she would have rushed from
the room, had not Godfrey caught her, drawn her down beside him, and
kept her there. "You shall not leave me!" he said, in that voice Letty
had always been used to obey. "Who has a right to know how things go
with you, if I have not? Come, you must tell me all about it."

"I have nothing to tell, Cousin Godfrey," she replied with some
calmness, for Godfrey's decision had enabled her to conquer herself,
"except that baby is ill, and looks as if he would never get better,
and it is like to break my heart. Oh, he is such a darling, Cousin
Godfrey!"

"Let me see him," said Godfrey, in his heart detesting the child--the
visible sign that another was nearer to Letty than he.

She jumped up, almost ran into the next room, and, coming back with her
little one, laid him in Godfrey's arms. The moment he felt the weight
of the little, sad-looking, sleeping thing, he grew human toward him,
and saw in him Letty and not Tom.

"Good God! the child is starving, too," he exclaimed.

"Oh, no, Cousin Godfrey!" cried Letty; "he is not starving. He had a
fresh-laid egg for breakfast this morning, and some arrowroot for
dinner, and some bread and milk for tea--"

"London milk!" said Godfrey.

"Well, it is not like the milk in the dairy at Thornwick," admitted
Letty. "If he had milk like that, he would soon be well!"

But Godfrey dared not say, "Bring him to Thornwick": he knew his mother
too well for that!

"When were you anywhere in the country?" he asked. In a negative kind
of way he was still nursing the baby.

"Not since we were married," she answered, sadly. "You see, poor Tom
can't afford it."

Now Godfrey happened to have heard, "from the best authority," that
Tom's mother was far from illiberal to him.

"Mrs. Helmer allows him so much a year--does she not?" he said.

"I know he gets money from her, but it can't be much," she answered.

Godfrey's suspicions against Tom increased every moment. He must learn
the truth. He would have it, if by an even cruel experiment! He sat a
moment silent--then said, with assumed cheerfulness:

"Well, Letty, I suppose, for the sake of old times, you will give me
some dinner?"

Then, indeed, her courage gave way. She turned from him, laid her head
on the end of the sofa, and sobbed so that the room seemed to shake
with the convulsions of her grief. "Letty," said Godfrey, laying his
hand on her head, "it is no use any more trying to hide the truth. I
don't want any dinner; in fact, I dined long ago. But you would not be
open with me, and I was forced to find out for myself: you have not
enough to eat, and you know it. I will not say a word about who is to
blame--for anything I know, it may be no one--I am sure it is not you.
But this must not go on! See, I have brought you a little pocket-book.
I will call again tomorrow, and you will tell me then how you like it."

He laid the pocket-book on the table. There was ten times as much in it
as ever Letty had had at once. But she never knew what was in it. She
rose with instant resolve. All the woman in her waked at once. She felt
that a moment was come when she must be resolute, or lose her hold on
life.

"Cousin Godfrey," she said, in a tone he scarcely recognized as
hers--it frightened him as if it came from a sepulchre--"if you do not
take that purse away, I will throw it in the fire without opening it!
If my husband can not give me enough to eat, I can starve as well as
another. If you loved Tom, it would be different, but you hate him, and
I will have nothing from you. Take it away, Cousin Godfrey."

Mortified, hurt, miserable, Godfrey took the purse, and, without a
word, walked from the room. Somewhere down in his secret heart was
dawning an idea of Letty beyond anything he used to think of her, but
in the mean time he was only blindly aware that his heart had been shot
through and through. Nor was this the time for him to reflect that,
under his training, Letty, even if he had married her, would never have
grown to such dignity.

It was, indeed, only in that moment she had become capable of the
action. She had been growing as none, not Mary, still less herself,
knew, under the heavy snows of affliction, and this was her first
blossom. Not many of my readers will mistake me, I trust. Had it been
in Letty pride that refused help from such an old friend, that pride I
should count no blossom, but one of the meanest rags that ever
fluttered to scare the birds. But the dignity of her refusal was in
this--that she would accept nothing in which her husband had and could
have no human, that is, no spiritual share. She had married him because
she loved him, and she would hold by him wherever that might lead her:
not wittingly would she allow the finest edge, even of ancient
kindness, to come between her Tom and herself! To accept from her
cousin Godfrey the help her husband ought to provide her, would be to
let him, however innocently, step into his place! There was no
reasoning in her resolve: it was allied to that spiritual insight
which, in simple natures, and in proportion to their simplicity,
approaches or amounts to prophecy. As the presence of death will
sometimes change even an ordinary man to a prophet, in times of sore
need the childlike nature may well receive a vision sufficing to direct
the doubtful step. Letty felt that the taking of that money would be
the opening of a gulf to divide her and Tom for ever.

The moment Godfrey was out of the room she cast herself on the floor,
and sobbed as if her heart must break. But her sobs were tearless. And,
oh, agony of agonies! unsought came the conviction, and she could not
send it away--to this had sunk her lofty idea of her Tom!--that he
would have had her take the money! More than once or twice, in the
ill-humors that followed a forced hilarity, he had forgotten his claims
to being a gentleman so far as--not exactly to reproach her with having
brought him to poverty--but to remind her that, if she was poor, she
was no poorer than she had been when dependent on the charity of a
distant relation!

The baby began to cry. She rose and took him from the sofa where
Godfrey had laid him when he was getting out the pocket-book, held him
fast to her bosom, as if by laying their two aching lives together they
might both be healed, and, rocking him to and fro, said to herself, for
the first time, that her trouble was greater than she could bear. "O
baby! baby! baby!" she cried, and her tears streamed on the little wan
face. But, as she sat with him in her arms, the blessed sleep came, and
the storm sank to a calm.



CHAPTER XXXIX.

RELIEF.


It was dark, utterly dark, when she woke. For a minute she could not
remember where she was. The candle had burned out: it must be late. The
baby was on her lap--still, very still. One faint gleam of satisfaction
crossed her "during dark" at the thought that he slept so peacefully,
hidden from the gloom which, somehow, appeared to be all the same gloom
outside and inside of her. In that gloom she sat alone.

Suddenly a prayer was in her heart. It was moving there as of itself.
It had come there by no calling of it thither, by no conscious will of
hers. "O God," she cried, "I am desolate!--Is there no help for me?"
And therewith she knew that she had prayed, and knew that never in her
life had she prayed before.

She started to her feet in an agony: a horrible fear had taken
possession of her. With one arm she held the child fast to her bosom,
with the other hand searched in vain to find a match. And still, as she
searched, the baby seemed to grow heavier upon her arm, and the fear
sickened more and more at her heart.

At last she had light! and the face of the child came out of the
darkness. But the child himself had gone away into it. The Unspeakable
had come while she slept--had come and gone, and taken her child with
him. What was left of him was no more good to kiss than the last doll
of her childhood!

When Tom came home, there was his wife on the floor as if dead, and a
little way from her the child, dead indeed, and cold with death. He
lifted Letty and carried her to the bed, amazed to find how light she
was: it was long since he had had her thus in his arms. Then he laid
her dead baby by her side, and ran to rouse the doctor. He came, and
pronounced the child quite dead--from lack of nutrition, he said. To
see Tom, no one could have helped contrasting his dress and appearance
with the look and surroundings of his wife; but no one would have been
ready to lay blame on him; and, as for himself, he was not in the least
awake to the fact of his guilt.

The doctor gave the landlady, who had responded at once to Tom's call,
full directions for the care of the bereaved mother; Tom handed her the
little money he had in his pocket, and she promised to do her best. And
she did it; for she was one of those, not a few, who, knowing nothing
of religion toward God, are yet full of religion toward their fellows,
and with the Son of Man that goes a long way. As soon as it was light,
Tom went to see about the burying of his baby.

He betook himself first to the editor of "The Firefly," but had to wait
a long time for his arrival at the office. He told him his baby was
dead, and he wanted money. It was forthcoming at once; for literary
men, like all other artists, are in general as ready to help each other
as the very poor themselves. There is less generosity, I think, among
business-men than in any other class. The more honor to the exceptions!

"But," said the editor, who had noted the dry, burning palm, and saw
the glazed, fiery eye of Tom, "my dear fellow, you ought to be in bed
yourself. It's no use taking on about the poor little kid: _you_
couldn't help it. Go home to your wife, and tell her she's got you to
nurse; and, if she's in any fix, tell her to come to me."

Tom went home, but did not give his wife the message. She lay all but
insensible, never asked for anything, or refused anything that was
offered her, never said a word about her baby, or about Tom, or seemed
to be more than when she lay in her mother's lap. Her baby was buried,
and she knew nothing of it. Not until nine days were over did she begin
to revive.

For the first few days, Tom, moved with undefined remorse, tried to
take a part in nursing her. She took things from him, as she did from
the landlady, without heed or recognition. Just once, opening suddenly
her eyes wide upon him, she uttered a feeble wail of "_Baby!_" and,
turning her head, did not look at him again. Then, first, Tom's
conscience gave him a sharp sting.

He was far from well. The careless and in many respects dissolute life
he had been leading had more than begun to tell on a constitution by no
means strong, but he had never become aware of his weakness nor had
ever felt really ill until now.

But that sting, although the first sharp one, was not his first warning
of a waking conscience. Ever since he took his place at his wife's
bedside, he had been fighting off the conviction that he was a brute.
He would not, he could not believe it. What! Tom Helmer, the fine,
indubitable fellow! such as he had always known himself!--he to cower
before his own consciousness as a man unworthy, and greatly to be
despised! The chaos was come again! And, verily, chaos was there, but
not by any means newly come. And, moreover, when chaos begins to be
conscious of itself, then is the dawn of an ordered world at hand. Nay,
the creation of it is already begun, and the pangs of the waking
conscience are the prophecy of the new birth.

With that pitiful cry of his wife after her lost child, disbelief in
himself got within the lines of his defense; he could do no more, and
began to loathe that conscious self which had hitherto been his pride.

Whatever the effect of illness may be upon the temper of some, it is
most certainly an ally of the conscience. All pains, indeed, and all
sorrows, all demons, yea, and all sins themselves under the suffering
care of the highest minister, are but the ministers of truth and
righteousness. I never came to know the condition of such as seemed
exceptionally afflicted but I seemed to see reason for their
affliction, either in exceptional faultiness of character or the
greatness of the good it was doing them.

But conscience reacts on the body--for sickness until it is obeyed, for
health thereafter. The moment conscience spoke thus plainly to Tom, the
little that was left of his physical endurance gave way, his illness
got the upper hand, and he took to his bed--all he could have for bed,
that is--namely, the sofa in the sitting-room, widened out with chairs,
and a mattress over all. There he lay, and their landlady had enough to
do. Not that either of her patients was exacting; they were both too
ill and miserable for that. It is the self-pitiful, self-coddling
invalid that is exacting. Such, I suspect, require something sharper
still.

Tom groaned and tossed, and cursed himself, and soon passed into
delirium. Straightway his visions, animate with shame and confusion of
soul, were more distressing than even his ready tongue could have told.
Dead babies and ghastly women pursued him everywhere. His fever
increased. The cries of terror and dismay that he uttered reached the
ears of his wife, and were the first thing that roused her from her
lethargy. She rose from her bed, and, just able to crawl, began to do
what she could for him. If she could but get near enough to him, the
husband would yet be dearer than any child. She had him carried to the
bed, and thereafter took on the sofa what rest there was for her. To
and fro between bed and sofa she crept, let the landlady say what she
might, gave him all the food he could be got to take, cooled his
burning hands and head, and cried over him because she could not take
him on her lap like the baby that was gone. Once or twice, in a quieter
interval, he looked at her pitifully, and seemed about to speak; but
the back-surging fever carried far away the word of love for which she
listened so eagerly. The doctor came daily, but Tom grew worse, and
Letty could not get well.



CHAPTER XL.

GODFREY AND SEPIA.


When the Redmains went to Cornwall, Sepia was left at Durnmelling, in
the expectation of joining them in London within a fortnight at latest.
The illness of Mr. Redmain, however, caused her stay to be prolonged,
and she was worn out with _ennui_. The self she was so careful over was
not by any means good company: not seldom during her life had she found
herself capable of almost anything to get rid of it, short of suicide
or repentance. This autumn, at Durnmelling, she would even,
occasionally, with that object, when the weather was fine, go for a
solitary walk--a thing, I need not say, she hated in itself, though now
it was her forlorn hope, in the poor possibility of falling in with
some distraction. But the hope was not altogether a vague one; for was
there not a man somewhere underneath those chimneys she saw over the
roof of the laundry? She had never spoken to him, but Hesper and she
had often talked about him, and often watched him ride--never man more
to her mind. In her wanderings she had come upon the breach in the
ha-ha, and, clambering up, found herself on the forbidden ground of a
neighbor whom the family did not visit. To no such folly would Sepia be
a victim.

The analysis of such a nature as hers, with her story to set it forth,
would require a book to itself, and I must happily content myself with
but a fact here and there in her history.

In one of her rambles on his ground she had her desire, and met Godfrey
Wardour. He lifted his hat, and she stopped and addressed him by way of
apology.

"I am afraid you think me very rude, Mr. Wardour," she said. "I know I
am trespassing, but this field of yours is higher than the ground about
Durnmelling, and seems to take pounds off the weight of the atmosphere."

For all he had gone through, Godfrey was not yet less than courteous to
ladies. He assured Miss Yolland that Thornwick was as much at her
service as if it were a part of Durnmelling. "Though, indeed," he
added, with a smile, "it would be more correct to say, 'as if
Durnmelling were a part of Thornwick'--for that was the real state of
the case once upon a time."

The statement interested or seemed to interest Miss Yolland, giving
rise to many questions; and a long conversation ensued. Suddenly she
woke, or seemed to wake, to the consciousness that she had forgotten
herself and the proprieties together: hastily, and to all appearance
with some confusion, she wished him a good morning; but she was not too
much confused to thank him again for the permission he had given her to
walk on his ground.

It was not by any intention on the part of Godfrey that they met
several times after this; but they always had a little conversation
before they parted; nor did Sepia find any difficulty in getting him
sufficiently within their range to make him feel the power of her eyes.
She was too prudent, however, to bring to bear upon any man all at once
the full play of her mesmeric battery; and things had got no further
when she went to London--a week or two before the return of the
Redmains, ostensibly to get things in some special readiness for
Hesper; but that this may have been a pretense appears possible from
the fact that Mary came from Cornwall on the same mission a few days
later.

I have just mentioned an acquaintance of Sepia's, who attracted the
notice and roused the peculiar interest of Mr. Redmain, because of a
look he saw pass betwixt them. This man spoke both English and French
with a foreign accent, and gave himself out as a Georgian--Count
Galofta, he called himself: I believe he was a prince in Paris. At this
time he was in London, and, during the ten days that Sepia was alone,
came to see her several times--called early in the forenoon first, the
next day in the evening, when they went together to the opera, and once
came and staid late. Whether from her dark complexion making her look
older than she was, or from the subduing air which her experience had
given her, or merely from the fact that she belonged to nobody much,
Miss Yolland seemed to have _carte blanche_ to do as she pleased, and
come and go when and where she liked, as one knowing well enough how to
take care of herself.

Mary, arriving unexpectedly at the house in Glammis Square, met him in
the hall as she entered: he had just taken leave of Sepia, who was
going up the stair at the moment. Mary had never seen him before, but
something about him caused her to look at him again as he passed.

Somehow, Tom also had discovered Sepia's return, and had gone to see
her more than once.

When Mr. and Mrs. Redmain arrived, there was so much to be done for
Hesper's wardrobe that, for some days, Mary found it impossible to go
and see Letty. Her mistress seemed harder to please than usual, and
more doubtful of humor than ever before. This may have arisen--but I
doubt it--from the fact that, having gone to church the Sunday before
they left, she had there heard a different sort of sermon from any she
had heard in her life before: sermons have something to do with the
history of the world, however many of them may be no better than a
withered leaf in the blast.

The morning after her arrival, Hesper, happening to find herself in
want of Mary's immediate help, instead of calling her as she generally
did, opened the door between their rooms, and saw Mary on her knees by
her bedside. Now, Hesper had heard of saying prayers--night and morning
both--and, when a child, had been expected, and indeed compelled, to
say her prayers; but to be found on one's knees in the middle of the
day looked to her a thing exceedingly odd. Mary, in truth, was not much
in the way of kneeling at such a time: she had to pray much too often
to kneel always, and God was too near her, wherever she happened to be,
for the fancy that she must seek him in any particular place; but so it
happened now. She rose, a little startled rather than troubled, and
followed her mistress into her room.

"I am sorry to have disturbed you, Mary," said Hesper, herself a little
annoyed, it is not quite easy to say why; "but people do not generally
say their prayers in the middle of the day."

"I say mine when I need to say them," answered Mary, a little cross
that Hesper should take any notice. She would rather the thing had not
occurred, and it was worse to have to talk about it.

"For my part, I don't see any good in being righteous overmuch," said
Hesper.

I wonder if there was another saying in the Bible she would have been
so ready to quote!

"I don't know what that means," returned Mary. "I believe it is
somewhere in the Bible, but I am sure Jesus never said it, for he tells
us to be righteous as our Father in heaven is righteous."

"But the thing is impossible," said Hesper. "How is one with such
claims on her as I have, to attend to these things? Society has claims:
no one denies that."

"And has God none?" asked Mary.

"Many people think now there is no God at all," returned Hesper, with
an almost petulant expression.

"If there is no God, that settles the question," answered Mary. "But,
if there should be one, how then?"

"Then I am sure he would never be hard on one like me. I do just like
other people. One must do as people do. If there is one thing that must
be avoided more than another, it is peculiarity. How ridiculous it
would be of any one to set herself against society!"

"Then you think the Judge will be satisfied if you say, 'Lord, I had so
many names in my visiting-book, and so many invitations I could not
refuse, that it was impossible for me to attend to those things'?"

"I don't see that I'm at all worse than other people," persisted
Hesper. "I can't go and pretend to be sorry for sins I should commit
again the next time there was a necessity. I don't see what I've got to
repent of."

Nothing had been said about repentance: here, I imagine, the sermon may
have come in.

"Then, of course, you can't repent," said Mary.

Hesper recovered herself a little.

"I am glad you see the thing as I do," she said.

"I don't see it at all as you do, ma'am," answered Mary, gently.

"Why!" exclaimed Hesper, taken by surprise, "what have I got to repent
of?"

"Do you really want me to say what I think?" asked Mary.

"Of course, I do," returned Hesper, getting angry, and at the same time
uneasy: she knew Mary's freedom of speech upon occasion, but felt that
to draw back would be to yield the point. "What have I done to be
ashamed of, pray?"

Some ladies are ready to plume themselves upon not having been guilty
of certain great crimes. Some thieves, I dare say, console themselves
that they have never committed murder.

"If I had married a man I did not love," answered Mary, "I should be
more ashamed of myself than I can tell."

"That is the way of looking at such things in the class you belong to,
I dare say," rejoined Hesper; "but with us it is quite different. There
is no necessity laid upon _you. Our_ position obliges us."

"But what if God should not see it as you do?"

"If that is all you have got to bring against me!--" said Hesper, with
a forced laugh.

"But that is not all," replied Mary. "When you married, you promised
many things, not one of which you have ever done."

"Really, Mary, this is intolerable!" cried Hesper.

"I am only doing what you asked me, ma'am," said Mary. "And I have said
nothing that every one about Mr. Redmain does not know as well as I do."

Hesper wished heartily she had never challenged Mary's judgment.

"But," she resumed, more quietly, "how could you, how could any one,
how could God himself, hard as he is, ask me to fulfill the part of a
loving wife to a man like Mr. Redmain?--There is no use mincing matters
with _you,_ Mary."

"But you promised," persisted Mary. "It belongs, besides, to the very
idea of marriage."

"There are a thousand promises made every day which nobody is expected
to keep. It is the custom, the way of the world! How many of the
clergy, now, believe the things they put their names to?"

"They must answer for themselves. We are not clergymen, but women, who
ought never to say a thing except we mean it, and, when we have said
it, to stick to it."

"But just look around you, and see how many there are in precisely the
same position! Will you dare to say they are all going to be lost
because they do not behave like angels to their brutes of husbands?"

"I say, they have got to repent of behaving to their husbands as their
husbands behave to them."

"And what if they don't?"

Mary paused a little.

"Do you expect to go to heaven, ma'am?" she asked

"I hope so."

"Do you think you will like it?"

"I must say, I think it will be rather dull."

"Then, to use your own word, you must be very like lost anyway. There
does not seem to be a right place for you anywhere, and that is very
like being lost--is it not?"

Hesper laughed.

"I am pretty comfortable where I am," she said.

"Husband and all!" thought Mary, but she did not say that. What she did
say was:

"But you know you can't stay here. God is not going to keep up this way
of things for you; can you ask it, seeing you don't care a straw what
he wants of you? But I have sometimes thought, What if hell be just a
place where God gives everybody everything she wants, and lets
everybody do whatever she likes, without once coming nigh to interfere!
What a hell that would be! For God's presence in the very being, and
nothing else, is bliss. That, then, would be altogether the opposite of
heaven, and very much the opposite of this world. Such a hell would go
on, I suppose, till every one had learned to hate every one else in the
same world with her."

This was beyond Hesper, and she paid no attention to it.

"You can never, in your sober senses, Mary," she said, "mean that God
requires of me to do things for Mr. Redmain that the servants can do a
great deal better! That would be ridiculous--not to mention that I
oughtn't and couldn't and wouldn't do them for any man!"

"Many a woman," said Mary, with a solemnity in her tone which she did
not intend to appear there, "has done many more trying things for
persons of whom she knew nothing."

"I dare say! But such women go in for being saints, and that is not my
line. I was not made for that."

"You were made for that, and far more," said Mary.

"There are such women, I know," persisted Hesper; "but I do not know
how they find it possible."

"I can tell you how they find it possible. They love every human being
just because he is human. Your husband might be a demon from the way
you behave to him."

"I suppose _you_ find it agreeable to wait upon him: he is civil to
you, I dare say!"

"Not very," replied Mary, with a smile; "but the person who can not
bear with a sick man or a baby is not fit to be a woman."

"You may go to your own room," said Hesper.

For the first time, a feeling of dislike to Mary awoke in the bosom of
her mistress--very naturally, _all_ my readers will allow. The next few
days she scarcely spoke to her, sending directions for her work through
Sepia, who discharged the office with dignity.



CHAPTER XLI.

THE HELPER.


At length one morning, when she believed Mrs. Redmain would not rise
before noon, Mary felt she must go and see Letty. She did not find her
in the quarters where she had left her, but a story higher, in a mean
room, sitting with her hands in her lap. She did not lift her eyes when
Mary entered: where hope is dead, curiosity dies. Not until she had
come quite near did she raise her head, and then she seemed to know
nothing of her. When she did recognize her, she held out her hand in a
mechanical way, as if they were two specters met in a miserable dream,
in which they were nothing to each other, and neither could do, or
cared to do, anything for the other.

"My poor Letty!" cried Mary, greatly shocked, "what has come to you?
Are you not glad to see me? Has anything happened to Tom?"

She broke into a low, childish wail, and for a time that was all Mary
heard. Presently, however, she became aware of a feeble moaning in the
adjoining chamber, the sound of a human sea in trouble--mixed with a
wandering babble, which to Letty was but as the voice of her own
despair, and to Mary was a cry for help. She abandoned the attempt to
draw anything from Letty, and went into the next room, the door of
which stood wide. There lay Tom, but so changed that Mary took a moment
to be certain it was he. Going softly to him, she laid her hand on his
head. It was burning. He opened his eyes, but she saw their sense was
gone. She went back to Letty, and, sitting down beside her, put her arm
about her, and said:

"Why didn't you send for me, Letty? I would have come to you at once. I
will come now, to-night, and help you to nurse him. Where is the baby?"

Letty gave a shriek, and, starting from her chair, walked wildly about
the room, wringing her hands. Mary went after her, and taking her in
her arms, said:

"Letty, dear, has God taken your baby?"

Letty gave her a lack-luster look.

"Then," said Mary, "he is not far away, for we are all in God's arms."

But what is the use of the most sovereign of medicines while they stand
on the sick man's table? What is the mightiest of truths so long as it
is not believed? The spiritually sick still mocks at the medicine
offered; he will not know its cure. Mary saw that, for any comfort to
Letty, God was nowhere. It went to her very heart. Death and desolation
and the enemy were in possession. She turned to go, that she might
return able to begin her contest with ruin. Letty saw that she was
going, and imagined her offended and abandoning her to her misery. She
flew to her, stretching out her arms like a child, but was so feeble
that she tripped and fell. Mary lifted her, and laid her wailing on her
couch.

"Letty," said Mary, "you didn't think I was going to leave you! But I
must go for an hour, perhaps two, to make arrangements for staying with
you till Tom is over the worst."

Then Letty clasped her hands in her old, beseeching way, and looked up
with a faint show of comfort.

"Be courageous, Letty," said Mary. "I shall be back as soon as ever I
can. God has sent me to you."

She drove straight home, and heard that Mrs. Redmain was annoyed that
she had gone out.

"I offered to dress her," said Jemima; "and she knows I can quite well;
but she would not get up till you came, and made me fetch her a book.
So there she is, a-waiting for you!"

"I am sorry," said Mary; "but I had to go, and she was fast asleep."

When she entered her room, Hesper gave her a cold glance over the top
of her novel, and went on with her reading. Mary proceeded to get her
things ready for dressing. But by this time she had got interested in
the story.

"I shall not get up yet," she said.

"Then, please, ma'am," replied Mary, "would you mind letting Jemima
dress you? I want to go out again, and should be glad if you could do
without me for some days. My friend's baby is dead, and both she and
her husband are very ill."

Hesper threw down her book, and her eyes flamed.

"What do you mean by using me so, Miss Marston?" she said.

"I am very sorry to put you to inconvenience," answered Mary; "but the
husband seems dying, and the wife is scarcely able to crawl."

"I have nothing to do with it," interrupted Hesper. "When you made it
necessary for me to part with my maid, you undertook to perform her
duties. I did not engage you as a sick-nurse for other people."

"'No, ma'am," replied Mary; "but this is an extreme case, and I can not
believe you will object to my going."

"I do object. How, pray, is the world to go on, if this kind of thing
be permitted! I may be going out to dinner, or to the opera to-night,
for anything you know, and who is there to dress me? No; on principle,
and for the sake of example, I will not let you go."

"I thought," said Mary, not a little disappointed in Hesper, "I did not
stand to you quite in the relation of an ordinary servant."

"Certainly you do not: I look for a little more devotion from you than
from a common, ungrateful creature who thinks only of herself. But you
are all alike."

More and more distressed to find one she had loved so long show herself
so selfish, Mary's indignation had almost got the better of her. But a
little heightening of her color was all the show it made.

"Indeed, it is quite necessary, ma'am," she persisted, "that I should
go."

"The law has fortunately made provision against such behavior," said
Hesper. "You can not leave without giving me a month's notice."

"The understanding on which I came to you was very different," said
Mary, sadly.

"It was; but, since then, you consented to become my maid."

"It is ungenerous to take advantage of that," returned Mary, growing
angry again.

"I have to protect myself and the world in general from the
consequences that must follow were such lawless behavior allowed to
pass."

Hesper spoke with calm severity, and Mary, making up her mind, answered
now with almost equal calmness.

"The law was made for both sides, ma'am; and, as you bring the law to
me, I will take refuge in the law. It is, I believe, a month's warning
or a month's wages; and, as I have never had any wages, I imagine I am
at liberty to go. Good-by, ma'am."

Hesper made her no answer, and Mary left the room. She went to her own,
stuffed her immediate necessities into a bag, let herself out of the
house, called a cab, and, with a great lump in her throat, drove to the
help of Letty.

First she had a talk with the landlady, and learned all she could tell.
Then she went up, and began to make things as comfortable as she could:
all was in sad disorder and neglect.

With the mere inauguration of cleanliness, and the first dawn of coming
order, the courage of Letty began to revive a little. The impossibility
of doing all that ought to be done, had, in her miserable weakness, so
depressed her that she had not done even as much as she could--except
where Tom was immediately concerned: there she had not failed of her
utmost.

Mary next went to the doctor to get instructions, and then to buy what
things were most wanted. And now she almost wished Mrs. Redmain had
paid her for her services, for she must write to Mr. Turnbull for
money, and that she disliked. But by the very next post she received,
inclosed in a business memorandum in George's writing, the check for
fifty pounds she had requested.

She did not dare write to Tom's mother, because she was certain, were
she to come up, her presence would only add to the misery, and take
away half the probability of his recovery and of Letty's, too. In the
case of both, nourishment was the main thing; and to the fit providing
and the administering of it she bent her energy.

For a day or two, she felt at times as if she could hardly get through
what she had undertaken; but she soon learned to drop asleep at any
moment, and wake immediately when she was wanted; and thereafter her
strength was by no means so sorely tried.

Under her skillful nursing--skillful, not from experience, but simply
from her faith, whence came both conscience of and capacity for doing
what the doctor told her--things went well. It is from their want of
this faith, and their consequent arrogance and conceit, that the ladies
who aspire to help in hospitals give the doctors so much trouble: they
have not yet learned _obedience,_ the only path to any good, the one
essential to the saving of the world. One who can not obey is the
merest slave--essentially and in himself a slave. The crisis of Tom's
fever was at length favorably passed, but the result remained doubtful.
By late hours and strong drink, he had done not a little to weaken a
constitution, in itself, as I have said, far from strong; while the
unrest of what is commonly and foolishly called a bad conscience, with
misery over the death of his child and the conduct which had disgraced
him in his own eyes and ruined his wife's happiness, combined to retard
his recovery.

While he was yet delirious, and grief and shame and consternation
operated at will on his poetic nature, the things he kept saying over
and over were very pitiful; but they would have sounded more miserable
by much in the ears of one who did not look so far ahead as Mary. She,
trained to regard all things in their true import, was rejoiced to find
him loathing his former self, and beyond the present suffering saw the
gladness at hand for the sorrowful man, the repenting sinner. Had she
been mother or sister to him, she could hardly have waited on him with
more devotion or tenderness.

One day, as his wife was doing some little thing for him, he took her
hand in his feeble grasp, and pressing it to his face, wet with the
tears of reviving manhood, said:

"We might have been happy together, Letty, if I had but known how much
you were worth, and how little I was worth myself!--Oh me! oh me!"

He burst into an incontrollable wail that tortured Letty with its
likeness to the crying of her baby.

"Tom! my own darling Tom!" she cried, "when you speak as if I belonged
to you, it makes me as happy as a queen. When you are better, you will
be happy, too, dear. Mary says you will."

"O Letty!" he sobbed--"the baby!"

"The baby's all right, Mary says; and, some day, she says, he will run
into your arms, and know you for his father."

"And I shall be ashamed to look at him!" said Tom.

An hour or so after, he woke from a short sleep, and his eyes sought
Letty's watching face.

"I have seen baby," he said, "and he has forgiven me. I dare say it was
only a dream," he added, "but somehow it makes me happier. At least, I
know how the thing might be."

"It was true, whether it was but a dream or something more," said Mary,
who happened to be by.

"Thank you, Mary," he returned. "You and Letty have saved me from what
I dare not think of! I could die happy now--if it weren't for one
thing."

"What is that?" asked Mary.

"I am ashamed to say," he replied, "but I ought to say it and bear the
shame, for the man who does shamefully ought to be ashamed. It is that,
when I am in my grave--or somewhere else, for I know Mary does not like
people to talk about being in their graves--you say it is heathenish,
don't you, Mary?--when I am where they can't find me, then, it is
horrid to think that people up here will have a hold on me and a right
over me still, because of debts I shall never be able to pay them."

"Don't be too sure of that, Tom," said Mary, cheerfully. "I think you
will pay them yet.--But I have heard it said," she went on, "that a man
in debt never tells the truth about his debts--as if he had only the
face to make them, not to talk about them: can you make a clean breast
of it, Tom?"

"I don't exactly know what they are; but I always did mean to pay them,
and I have some idea about them. I don't think they would come to more
than a hundred pounds."

"Your mother would not hesitate to pay that for you?" said Mary.

"I know she wouldn't; but, then, I'm thinking of Letty."

He paused, and Mary waited.

"You know, when I am gone," he resumed, "there will be nothing for her
but to go to my mother; and it breaks my heart to think of it. Every
sin of mine she will lay to her charge; and how am I to lie still in my
grave--oh, I beg your pardon, Mary."

"I will pay your debts, Tom, and gladly," said Mary, "if they don't
come to much more than you say--than you think, I mean."

"But, don't you see, Mary, that would be only a shifting of my debt
from them to you? Except for Letty, it would not make the thing any
better."

"What!" said Mary, "is there no difference between owing a thing to one
who loves you and one who does not? to one who would always be wishing
you had paid him and one who is glad to have even the poor bond of a
debt between you and her? All of us who are sorry for our sins are
brothers and sisters."

"O Mary!" said Tom.

"But I will tell you what will be better: let your mother pay your
debts, and I will look after Letty. I will care for her like my own
sister, Tom."

"Then I shall die happy," said Tom; and from that day began to recover.

Many who would pay money to keep a man alive or to deliver him from
pain would pay nothing to take a killing load off the shoulders of his
mind. Hunger they can pity--not mental misery.

Tom would not hear of his mother being written to.

"I have done Letty wrong enough already," he said, "without subjecting
her to the cruel tongue of my mother. I have conscience enough left not
to have anybody else abuse her."

"But, Tom," expostulated Mary, "if you want to be good, one of your
first duties is to be reconciled to your mother."

"I am very sorry things are all wrong between us, Mary," said Tom.
"But, if you want her to come here, you don't know what you are talking
about. She must have everything her own way, or storm from morning to
night. I would gladly make it up with her, but live with her, or die
with her, I could _not_. To make either possible, you must convert her,
too. When you have done that, I will invite her at once."

"Never mind me, Tom," said Letty. "So long as you love me, I don't care
what even your mother thinks of me. I will do everything I can to make
her comfortable, and satisfied with me."

"Wait till I am better, anyhow, Letty; for I solemnly assure you I
haven't a chance if my mother comes. I will tell you what, Mary: I
promise you, if I get better, I will do what is possible to be a son to
my mother; and for the present I will dictate a letter, if you will
write it, bidding her good-by, and asking her pardon for everything I
have done wrong by her, which you will please send if I should die. I
can not and I will not promise more."

He was excited and exhausted, and Mary dared not say another word. Nor
truly did she at the moment see what more could be said. Where all
relation has been perverted, things can not be set right by force.
Perhaps all we can do sometimes is to be willing and wait.

The letter was dictated and written--a lovely one, Mary thought--and it
made her weep as she wrote it. Tom signed it with his own hand. Mary
folded, sealed, addressed it, and laid it away in her desk.

The same evening Tom said to Letty, putting his thin, long hand in
hers--

"Mary thinks we shall know each other there, Letty."

"Tom!" interrupted Letty, "don't talk like that; I _can't_ bear it. If
you do, I shall die before you."

"All I wanted to say," persisted Tom, "was, that I should sit all day
looking out for you, Letty."



CHAPTER XLII.

THE LEPER.


The faint, sweet, luminous jar of bow and string, as betwixt them they
tore the silky air into a dying sound, came hovering--neither could
have said whether it was in the soul only, or there and in the outer
world too.

"What _is_ that?" said Tom.

"Mary!" Letty called into the other room, "there is our friend with the
violin again! Don't you think Tom would like to hear him?"

"Yes, I do," answered Mary.

"Then would you mind asking him to come and play a little to us? It
would do Tom good, I do think." Mary went up the one stair--all that
now divided them, and found the musician with his sister--his
half-sister she was.

"I thought we should have you in upon us!" said Ann. "Joe thinks he can
play so as nobody can hear him; and I was fool enough to let him try. I
am sorry."

"I am glad," rejoined Mary, "and am come to ask him down stairs; for
Mrs. Helmer and I think it will do her husband good to hear him. He is
very fond of music."

"Much help music will be to him, poor young man!" said Ann, scornfully.

"Wouldn't you give a sick man a flower, even if it only made him a
little happier for a moment with its scent and its loveliness?" asked
Mary.

"No, I wouldn't. It would only be to help the deceitful heart to be
more desperately wicked."

I will not continue the conversation, although they did a little
longer. Ann's father had been a preacher among the followers of
Whitefield, and Ann was a follower of her father. She laid hold upon
the garment of a hard master, a tyrannical God. Happy he who has
learned the gospel according to Jesus, as reported by John--that God is
light, and in him is no darkness at all! Happy he who finds God his
refuge from all the lies that are told for him, and in his name! But it
is love that saves, and not opinion that damns; and let the Master
himself deal with the weeds in his garden as with the tares in his
field.

"I read my Bible a good deal," said Mary, at last, "but I never found
one of those things you say in it."

"That's because you were never taught to look for them," said Ann.

"Very likely," returned Mary. "In the mean time I prefer the
violin--that is, with one like your brother to play it."

She turned to the door, and Joseph Jasper, who had not spoken a word,
rose and followed her. As soon as they were outside, Mary turned to
him, and begged he would play the same piece with which he had ended on
the former occasion.

"I thought you did not care for it! I am so glad!" he said.

"I care for it very much," replied Mary, "and have often thought of it
since. But you left in such haste! before I could find words to thank
you!"

"You mean the ten lepers, don't you?" he said. "But of course you do. I
always end off with them."

"Is that how you call it?" returned Mary. "Then you have given me the
key to it, and I shall understand it much better this time, I hope."

"That is what I call it," said Joseph, "--to myself, I mean, not to
Ann. She would count it blasphemy. God has made so many things that she
thinks must not be mentioned in his hearing!"

When they entered the room, Joseph, casting a quick look round it, made
at once for the darkest corner. Three swift strides took him there;
and, without more preamble than if he had come upon a public platform
to play, he closed his eyes and began.

And now at last Mary understood at least this specimen of his strange
music, and was able to fill up the blanks in the impression it formerly
made upon her. Alas, that my helpless ignorance should continue to make
it impossible for me to describe it!

A movement even and rather slow, full of unexpected chords, wonderful
to Mary, who did not know that such things could be made on the violin,
brought before her mind's eye the man who knew all about everything,
and loved a child more than a sage, walking in the hot day upon the
border be-tween Galilee and Samaria. Sounds arose which she interpreted
as the stir of village life, the crying and calling of domestic
animals, and of busy housewives at their duties, carried on half out of
doors, in the homeliness of country custom. Presently the instrument
began to tell the gathering of a crowd, with bee-like hum, and the
crossing of voice with voice--but, at a distance, the sounds confused
and obscure. Swiftly then they seemed to rush together, to blend and
lose themselves in the unity of an imploring melody, in which she heard
the words, uttered afar, with uplifted hands and voices, drawing nearer
and nearer as often repeated, "Jesus, Master, have mercy on us." Then
came a brief pause, and then what, to her now fully roused imagination,
seemed the voice of the Master, saying, "Go show yourselves unto the
priests." Then followed the slow, half-unwilling, not hopeful march of
timeless feet; then a clang as of something broken, then a silence as
of sunrise, then air and liberty--long-drawn notes divided with quick,
hurried ones; then the trampling of many feet, going farther and
farther--merrily, with dance and song; once more a sudden pause--and a
melody in which she read the awe-struck joyous return of one. Steadily
yet eagerly the feet drew nigh, the melody growing at once in awe and
jubilation, as the man came nearer and nearer to him whose word had
made him clean, until at last she saw him fall on his face before him,
and heard his soul rushing forth in a strain of adoring thanks, which
seemed to end only because it was choked in tears.

The violin ceased, but, as if its soul had passed from the instrument
into his, the musician himself took up the strain, and in a mellow
tenor voice, with a mingling of air and recitative, and an expression
which to Mary was entrancing, sang the words, "And he was a Samaritan."

At the sound of his own voice, he seemed to wake up, hung his head for
a moment, as if ashamed of having shown his emotion, tucked his
instrument under his arm, and walked from the room, without a word
spoken on either side. Nor, while he played, had Mary once seen the
face of the man; her soul sat only in the porch of her ears, and not
once looked from the windows of her eyes.



CHAPTER XLIII.

MARY AND MR. REDMAIN.


A few rudiments of righteousness lurked, in their original
undevelopment, but still in a measure active, in the being of Mr.
Redmain: there had been in the soul of his mother, I suspect, a strain
of generosity, and she had left a mark of it upon him, and it was the
best thing about him. But in action these rudiments took an evil shape.

Preferring inferior company, and full of that suspicion which puts the
last edge upon what the world calls knowledge of human nature, he
thought no man his equal in penetrating the arena of motive, and
reading actions in the light of motive; and, that the fundamental
principle of all motive was self-interest, he assumed to be beyond
dispute. With this candle, not that of the Lord, he searched the dark
places of the soul; but, where the soul was light, his candle could
show him nothing--served only to blind him yet further, if possible, to
what was there present. And, because he did not seek the good, never
yet in all his life had he come near enough to a righteous man to
recognize that in something or other that man was different from
himself. As for women--there was his wife--of whom he was willing to
think as well as she would let him! And she, firmly did he believe, was
an angel beside Sepia!--of whom, bad as she was, it is quite possible
he thought yet worse than she deserved: alas for the woman who is not
good, and falls under the judgment of a bad man!--the good woman he can
no more hurt than the serpent can bite the adamant. He believed he knew
Sepia's self, although he did not yet know her history; and he scorned
her the more that he was not a hair better himself. He had regard
enough for his wife, and what virtue his penetration conceded her, to
hate their intimacy; and ever since his marriage had been scheming how
to get rid of Sepia--only, however, through finding her out: he must
unmask her: there would be no satisfaction in getting rid of her
without his wife's convinced acquiescence. He had been, therefore,
almost all the time more or less on the watch to uncover the wickedness
he felt sure lay at no great depth beneath her surface; and in the mean
time, and for the sake of this end, he lived on terms of decent
domiciliation with her. She had no suspicion how thin was the crust
between her and the lava.

In Cornwall, he began at length to puzzle himself about Mary. Of course
she was just like the rest! but he did not at once succeed in fitting
what he saw to what he entirely believed of her. She remained, like
Sepia, a riddle to be solved. He was not so ignorant as his wife
concerning the relations of the different classes, and he felt certain
there must be some reason, of course a discreditable one, for her
leaving her former, and taking her present, position. The attack he had
in Cornwall afforded him unexpected opportunity of making her out, as
he called it.

Upon this occasion it was also that Mary first ventured to expostulate
with her mistress on her neglect of her husband. She heard her
patiently; and the same day, going to his room, paid him some small
attention--handed him his medicine, I believe, but clumsily, because
ungraciously. The next moment, one of his fits of pain coming on, he
broke into such a torrent of cursing as swept her in stately dignity
from the room. She would not go near him again.

"Brought up as you have been, Mary," she said, "you can not enter into
the feelings of one in my position, to whom the very tone even of
coarse language is unspeakably odious. It makes me sick with disgust.
Coarseness is what no lady can endure. I beg you will not mention Mr.
Redmain to me again."

"Dear Mrs. Redmain," said Mary, "ugly as such language is, there are
many things worse. It seems to me worse that a wife should not go near
her husband when he is suffering than that he should in his pain speak
bad words."

She had been on the point of saying that a thin skin was not purity,
but bethought herself in time.

"You are scarcely in a position to lay down the law for me, Mary," said
Hesper. "We will, if you please, drop the subject."

Mary's words were overheard, as was a good deal in the house more than
was reckoned on, and reached Mr. Redmain, whom they perplexed: what
could the young woman hope from taking his part?

One morning, after the arrival of Mewks, his man, Mary heard Mr.
Redmain calling him in a tone which betrayed that he had been calling
for some time: the house was an old one, and the bells were neither in
good trim, nor was his in a convenient position. She thought first to
find Mewks, but pity rose in her heart. She ran to Mr. Redmain's door,
which stood half open, and showed herself.

"Can _I_ not do something for you, sir?" she said.

"Yes, you can. Go and tell that lumbering idiot to come to me
instantly. No! here, you!--there's a good girl!--Oh, damn!--Just give
me your hand, and help me to turn an inch or two."

Change of posture relieved him a little. "Thank you," he said. "That is
better. Wait a few moments, will you--till the rascal comes?"

Mary stood back, a little behind him, thinking not to annoy him with
the sight of her.

"What are you doing there?" he cried. "I like to see what people are
about in my room. Come in front here, and let me look at you."

Mary obeyed, and with a smile took the position he pointed out to her.
Immediately followed another agony of pain, in which he looked beset
with demons, whom he not feared but hated. Mary hurried to him, and, in
the compassion which she inherited long back of Eve, took his hand, the
fingers of which were twisting themselves into shapes like tree-roots.
With a hoarse roar, he dashed hers from him, as if it had been a
serpent. She returned to her place, and stood.

"What did you mean by that?" he said, when he came to himself. "Do you
want to make a fool of me?"

Mary did not understand him, and made no reply. Another fit came. This
time she kept her distance.

"Come here," he howled; "take my head in your hands."

She obeyed.

"Damned nice hands you've got!" he gasped; "much nicer than your
mistress's."

Mary took no notice. Gently she withdrew her hands, for the fit was
over.

"I see! that's the way of you!" he said, as she stepped back. "But come
now, tell me how it is that a nice, well-behaved, handsome girl like
you, should leave a position where, they tell me, you were your own
mistress, and take a cursed place as lady's maid to my wife."

"It was because I liked Mrs. Redmain so much," answered Mary. "But,
indeed, I was not very comfortable where I was."

"What the devil did you see to like in her? I never saw anything!"

"She is so beautiful!" said Mary.

"Is she! ho! ho!" he laughed. "What is that to another woman! You are
new to the trade, my girl, if you think that will go down! One woman
taking to another because 'she's so beautiful'! Ha! ha! ha!"

He repeated Mary's words with an indescribable contempt, and his laugh
was insulting to a degree; but it went off in a cry of suffering.

"Hypocrisy mustn't be too barefaced," he resumed, when again his
torture abated. "I didn't make you stop to amuse me! It's little of
that this beastly world has got for me! Come, a better reason for
waiting on my wife?"

"That she was kind to me," said Mary, "may be a better reason, but it
is not a truer."

"It's more than ever she was to me! What wages does she give you?"

"We have not spoken about that yet, sir."

"You haven't had any?"

"I haven't wanted any yet."

"Then what the deuce ever made you come to this house?"

"I hoped to be of some service to Mrs. Redmain," said Mary, growing
troubled.

"And you ain't of any? Is that why you don't want wages?"

"No, sir. That is not the reason."

"Then what _is_ the reason? Come! Trust me. I will be much better to
you than your mistress. Out with it! I knew there was something!"

"I would rather not talk more about it," said Mary, knowing that her
feeling in relation to Hesper would be altogether incredible, and the
notion of it ridiculous to him.

"You needn't mind telling _me_! I know all about such things.--Look
here! Give me that pocket-book on the table."

Mary brought him the pocket-book. He opened it, and, taking from it
some notes, held them out to her.

"If your mistress won't pay you your wages, I will. There! take that.
You're quite welcome. What matter which pays you? It all comes out of
the same stocking-foot."

"I don't know yet," answered Mary, "whether I shall accept wages from
Mrs. Redmain. Something might happen to make it impossible; or, if I
had taken money, to make me regret it."

"I like that! There you keep a hold on her!" said Mr. Redmain, in a
confidential tone, while in his heart he was more puzzled than ever.
"There's no occasion, though, for all that," he went on, "to go without
your money when you can have it and she be nothing the wiser.
There--take it. I will swear you any oath you like not to tell my
stingy wife."

"She is not stingy," said Mary; "and, if I don't take wages from her, I
certainly shall not from any one else.--Besides," she added, "it would
be dishonest."

"Oh! that's the dodge!" said Mr. Redmain to himself; but aloud, "Where
would be the dishonesty, when the money is mine to do with as I please?"

"Where the dishonesty, sir!" exclaimed Mary, astounded. "To take wages
from you, and pretend to Mrs. Redmain I was going without!"

"Ha! ha! The first time, no doubt, you ever pretended anything!"

"It would be," said Mary, "so far as I can, at the moment, remember."

"Go along," cried Mr. Redmain, losing, or pretending to lose, patience
with her; "you are too unscrupulous a liar for me to deal with."

Mary turned and left the room. As she went, his keen glance caught the
expression of her countenance, and noted the indignant red that flushed
her cheeks, and the lightning of wronged innocence in her eyes.

"I ought not to have said it," he remarked to himself.

He did not for a moment fancy she had spoken the truth; but the look of
her went to a deeper place in him than he knew even the existence of.

"Hey! stop," he cried, as she was disappearing. "Come back, will you?"

"I will find Mr. Mewks," she answered, and went.

After this, Mary naturally dreaded conference with Mr. Redmain; and he,
thinking she must have time to get over the offense he had given her,
made for the present no fresh attempt to come, by her own aid, at a
bird's-eye view of her character and scheme of life. His curiosity,
however, being in no degree assuaged concerning the odd human animal
whose spoor he had for the moment failed to track, he meditated how
best to renew the attempt in London. Not small, therefore, was his
annoyance to find, a few days after his arrival, that she was no longer
in the house. He questioned his wife as to the cause of her absence,
and told her she was utterly heartless in refusing her leave to go and
nurse her friend; whereupon Hesper, neither from desire to do right nor
from regard to her husband's opinion, but because she either saw or
fancied she saw that, now Mary did not dress her, she no longer caused
the same sensation on entering a room, resolved to write to her--as if
taking it for granted she had meant to return as soon as she was able.
And to prick the sides of this intent came another spur, as will be
seen from the letter she wrote:

"Dear Mary, can you tell me what is become of my large sapphire ring? I
have never seen it since you brought my case up with you from Cornwall.
I have been looking for it all the morning, but in vain. You _must_
have it. I shall be lost without it, for you know it has not its equal
for color and brilliance. I do not believe you intended for a moment to
keep it, but only to punish me for thinking I could do without you. If
so, you have your revenge, for I find I can not do without either of
you--you or the ring--so you will not carry the joke further than I can
bear. If you can not come at once, write and tell me it is safe, and I
shall love you more than ever. I am dying to see you again. Yours
faithfully, H. R."

By this time, Letty was much better, and Tom no longer required such
continuous attention; Mary, therefore, betook herself at once to Mr.
Redmain's. Hesper was out shopping, and Mary went to her own room to
wait for her, where she was glad of the opportunity of getting at some
of the things she had left behind her.

"While she was looking for what she wanted, Sepia entered, and was, or
pretended to be, astonished to see her. In a strange, sarcastic tone:

"Ah, you there!" she said. "I hope you will find it."

"If you mean the ring, that is not likely, Miss Yolland," Mary answered.

Sepia was silent a moment or two, then said:

"How is your cousin?"

"I have no cousin," replied Mary.

"The person, I mean, you have been staying with?"

"Better, thank you."

"Almost a pity, is it not--if there should come trouble about this
ring?"

"I do not understand you. The ring will, of course, be found," returned
Mary.

"In any case the blame will come on you: it was in your charge."

"The ring was in the case when I left."

"You will have to prove that."

"I remember quite well."

"That no one will question."

Beginning at last to understand her insinuations, Mary was so angry
that she dared not speak.

"But it will hardly go to clear you," Sepia went on. "Don't imagine I
mean you have taken it; I am only warning you how the matter will look,
that you may be prepared. Mr. Redmain is one to believe the worst
things of the best people."

"I am obliged to you," said Mary, "but I am not anxious."

"It is necessary you should know also," continued Sepia, "that there is
some suspicion attaching to a female friend of yours as well, a young
woman who used to visit you--the wife of the other, it is supposed. She
was here, I remember, one night there was a party; I saw you together
in my cousin's bedroom. She had just dressed and gone down."

"I remember," said Mary. "It was Mrs. Helmer."

"Well?"

"It is very unfortunate, certainly; but the truth must be told: a few
days before you left, one of the servants, hearing some one in the
house in the middle of the night, got up and went down, but only in
time to hear the front door open and shut. In the morning a hat was
found in the drawing-room, with the name _Thomas Helmer_ in it: that is
the name of your friend's husband, I believe?"

"I am aware Mr. Helmer was a frequent visitor," said Mary, trying to
keep cool for what was to come.

This that Sepia told her was true enough, though she was not accurate
as to the time of its occurrence. I will relate briefly how it came
about.

Upon a certain evening, a few days before Mary's return from Cornwall,
Tom would have gone to see Miss Yolland had he not known that she meant
to go to the play with a Mr. Emmet, a cousin of the Redmains. Before
the hour arrived, however, Count Galofta called, and Sepia went out
with him, telling the man who opened the door to ask Mr. Emmet to wait.
The man was rather deaf, and did not catch with certainty the name she
gave. Mr. Emmet did not appear, and it was late before Sepia returned.

Tom, jealous even to hatred, spent the greater part of his evening in a
tavern on the borders of the city--in gloomy solitude, drinking
brandy-and-water, and building castles of the most foolish type--for
castles are as different as the men that build them. Through all the
rooms of them glided the form of Sepia, his evil genius. He grew more
and more excited as he built, and as he drank. He rose at last, paid
his bill, and, a little suspicious of his equilibrium, stalked into the
street. There, almost unconsciously, he turned and walked westward. It
was getting late; before long the theatres would be emptying: he might
have a peep of Sepia as she came out!--but where was the good when that
fellow was with her! "But," thought Tom, growing more and more daring
as in an adventurous dream, "why should I not go to the house, and see
her after he has left her at the door?"

He went to the house and rang the bell. The man came, and said
immediately that Miss Yolland was out, but had desired him to ask Mr.
Helmer to wait; whereupon Tom walked in, and up the stair to the
drawing-room, thence into a second and a third drawing-room, and from
the last into the conservatory. The man went down and finished his
second, pint of ale. From the conservatory, Tom, finding himself in
danger of havoc among the flower-pots, turned back into the third room,
threw himself on a couch, and fell fast asleep.

He woke in the middle of the night in pitch darkness; and it was some
time before he could remember where he was. When he did, he recognized
that he was in an awkward predicament. But he knew the house well, and
would make the attempt to get out undiscovered. It was foolish, but Tom
was foolish. Feeling his way, he knocked down a small table with a
great crash of china, and, losing his equanimity, rushed for the stair.
Happily the hall lamp was still alight, and he found no trouble with
bolts or lock: the door was not any way secured.

The first breath of the cold night-air brought with it such a gush of
joy as he had rarely experienced; and he trod the silent streets with
something of the pleasure of an escaped criminal, until, alas! the
wind, at the first turning, let him know that he had left his hat
behind him! He felt as if he had committed a murder, and left his
card-case with the body. A vague terror grew upon him as he hurried
along. Justice seemed following on his track. He had found the door on
the latch: if anything was missing, how should he explain the presence
of his hat without his own? The devil of the brandy he had drunk was
gone out of him, and only the gray ashes of its evil fire were left in
his sick brain, but it had helped first to kindle another fire, which
was now beginning to glow unsuspected--that of a fever whose fuel had
been slowly gathering for some time.

He opened the door with his pass-key, and hurried up the stair, his
long legs taking three steps at a time. Never before had he felt as if
he were fleeing to a refuge when going home to his wife.

He opened the door of the sitting-room--and there on the floor lay
Letty and little Tom, as I have already told.

"Why have I heard nothing of this before?" said Mary.

"I am not aware of any right you have to know what happens in this
house."

"Not from you, of course, Miss Yolland--perhaps not from Mrs. Redmain;
but the servants talk of most things, and I have not heard a word--"

"How could you," interrupted Sepia, "when you were not in the
house?--And, so long as nothing was missed, the thing was of no
consequence," she added. "Now it is different."

This confused Mary a little. She stopped to consider. One thing was
clear--that, if the ring was not lost till after she left--and of so
much she was sure--it could not be Tom that had taken it, for he was
then ill in bed. Something to this effect she managed to say.

"I told you already," returned Sepia, "that I had no suspicion of
him--at least, I desire to have none, but you may be required to prove
all you say; and it is as well to let you understand--though there is
no reason why _I_ should take the trouble--that your going to those
very people at the time, and their proving to be friends of yours, adds
to the difficulty."

"How?" asked Mary.

"I am not on the jury," replied Sepia, with indifference.

The scope of her remarks seemed to Mary intended to show that any
suspicion of her would only be natural. For the moment the idea amused
her. But Sepia's way of talking about Tom, whatever she meant by it,
was disgraceful!

"I am astonished you should seem so indifferent," she said, "if the
character of a gentleman with whom you have been so intimate is so
seriously threatened as you would imply. I know he has been to see you
more than once while Mr. and Mrs. Redmain were not yet returned."

Sepia's countenance changed; an evil fire glowed in her eyes, and she
looked at Mary as if she would search her to the bone. The poorer the
character, the more precious the repute!

"The foolish fellow," she returned, with a smile of contempt, "chose to
fall in love with me!--A married man, too!"

"If you understood that, how did he come to be here so often?" asked
Mary, looking her in the face.

But Sepia knew better than declare war a moment before it was
unavoidable.

"Have I not just told you," she said, in a haughty tone, "that the man
was in love with me?"

"And have you not just told me he was a married man? Could he have come
to the house so often without at least your permission?"

Mary was actually taking the upper hand with her! Sepia felt it with
scarcely repressive rage.

"He deserved the punishment," she replied, with calmness.

"You do not seem to have thought of his wife!"

"Certainly not. She never gave me offense."

"Is offense the only ground for casting a regard on a fellow-creature?"

"Why should I think of her?"

"Because she was your neighbor, and you were doing her a wrong."

"Once for all, Marston," cried Sepia, overcome at last, "this kind of
thing will not do with me. I may not be a saint, but I have honesty
enough to know the genuine thing from humbug. You have thrown dust in a
good many eyes in this house, but _none_ in mine."

By this time Mary had got her temper quite in hand, taking a lesson
from the serpent, who will often keep his when the dove loses hers. She
hardly knew what fear was, for she had in her something a little
stronger than what generally goes by the name of faith. She was
therefore able to see that she ought, if possible, to learn Sepia's
object in talking thus to her.

"Why do you say all this to me?" she asked, quietly. "I can not flatter
myself it is from friendship."

"Certainly not. But the motive may be worthy, for all that. You are not
the only one involved. People who would pass for better than their
neighbors will never believe any good purpose in one who does not
choose to talk their slang."

Sepia had repressed her rage, and through it looked aggrieved. "She
confesses to a purpose," said Mary to herself, and waited.

"They are not all villains who are not saints," Sepia went on. "--This
man's wife is your friend?"

"She is."

"Well, the man himself is my friend--in a sort of a sense." A strange
shiver went through Mary, and seemed to make her angry. Sepia went on:

"I confess I allowed the poor boy--he is little more--to talk foolishly
to me. I was amused at first, but perhaps I have not quite escaped
unhurt; and, as a woman, you must understand that, when a woman has
once felt in that way, if but for a moment, she would at least
be--sorry--" Here her voice faltered, and she did not finish the
sentence, but began afresh: "What I want of you is, through his wife,
or any way you think best, to let the poor fellow know he had better
slip away--to France, say--and stop there till the thing blow over."

"But why should you imagine he has had anything to do with the matter?
The ring will be found, and then the hat will not signify."

"Well," replied Sepia, putting on an air of openness, and for that sake
an air of familiarity, "I see I must tell you the whole truth. I never
did for a moment believe Mr. Helmer had anything to do with the
business, though, when you put me out of temper, I pretended to believe
it, and that you were in it as well: that was mere irritation. But
there is sure to be trouble; for my cousin is miserable about her
sapphire, which she values more than anything she has; and, if it is
not found, the affair will be put into the hands of the police, and
then what will become of poor Mr. Helmer, be he as innocent as you and
I believe him! Even if the judge should declare that he leaves the
court without a blot on his character, Newgate mud is sure to stick,
and he will be half looked upon as a thief for the rest of his days:
the world is so unjust. Nor is that all; for they will put you in the
witness-box, and make you confess the man an old friend of yours from
the same part of the country; whereupon the counsel for the prosecution
will not fail to hint that you ought to be standing beside the accused.
Believe me, Mary, that, if Mr. Helmer is taken up for this, you will
not come out of it clean."

"Still you explain nothing," said Mary. "You would not have me believe
it is for my sake you are giving yourself all this trouble?"

"No. But I thought you would see where I was leading you. For--and now
for the _whole_ truth--although nothing can touch the character of one
in my position, it would be worse than awkward for me to be spoken of
in connection with the poor fellow's visits to the house: _my_ honesty
would not be called in question as yours would, but what is dear to me
as my honesty might--nay, it certainly would. You see now why I came to
you!--You must go to his wife, or, better still, to Mr. Helmer himself,
and tell him what I have been saying to you. He will at once see the
necessity of disappearing for a while."

Mary had listened attentively. She could not help fearing that
something worse than unpleasant might be at hand; but she did not
believe in Sepia, and in no case could consent that Tom should
compromise himself. Danger of this kind must be met, not avoided.
Still, whatever could be done ought to be done to protect him,
especially in his present critical state. A breath of such a suspicion
as this reaching him might be the death of him, and of Letty, too.

"I will think over what you have said," she answered; "but I can not
give him the advice you wish me. What I shall do I can not say--the
thing has come upon me with such a shock."

"You have no choice that I see," said Sepia. "It is either what I
propose or ruin. I give you fair warning that I will stick at nothing
where my reputation is concerned. You and yours shall be trod in the
dirt before I allow a spot on my character!"

To Mary's relief they were here interrupted by the hurried entrance of
Mrs. Redmain. She almost ran up to her, and took her by both hands.

"You dear creature! You have brought me my ring!" she cried.

Mary shook her head with a little sigh.

"But you have come to tell me where it is?"

"Alas! no, dear Mrs. Redmain!" said Mary.

"Then you must find it," she said, and turned away with an
ominous-looking frown. "I will do all I can to help you find it."

"Oh, you _must_ find it! My jewel-case was in your charge."

"But there has been time to lose everything in it, the one after the
other, since I gave it up. The sapphire ring was there, I know, when I
went."

"That can not be. You gave me the box, and I put it away myself, and,
the next time I looked in it, it was not there."

"I wish I had asked you to open it when I gave it you," said Mary.

"I wish you had," said Hesper. "But the ring must be found, or I shall
send for the police."

"I will not make matters worse, Mrs. Redmain," said Mary, with as much
calmness as she could assume, and much was needed, "by pointing out
what your words imply. If you really mean what you say, it is I who
must insist on the police being sent for."

"I am sure, Mary," said Sepia, speaking for the first time since
Hesper's entrance, "that your mistress has no intention of accusing
you."

"Of course not," said Hesper; "only, what am I to do? I must have my
ring. Why did you come, if you had nothing to tell me about it?"

"How could I stay away when you were in trouble? Have you searched
everywhere?"

"Everywhere I can think of."

"Would you like me to help you look? I feel certain it will be found."

"No, thank you. I am sick of looking."

"Shall I go, then?--What would you like me to do?"

"Go to your room, and wait till I send for you."

"I must not be long away from my invalids," said Mary, as cheerfully as
she could.

"Oh, indeed! I thought you had come back to your work!"

"I did not understand from your letter you wished that, ma'am--though,
indeed, I could not have come just yet in any case."

"Then you mean to go, and leave things just as they are?"

"I am afraid there is no help for it. If I could do anything-. But I
will call again to-morrow, and every day till the ring is found, if you
like."

"Thank you," said Hesper, dryly; "I don't think that would be of much
use."

"I will call anyhow," returned Mary, "and inquire whether you would
like to see me.--I will go to my room now, and while I wait will get
some things I want."

"As you please," said Hesper.

Scarcely was Mary in her room, however, when she heard the door, which
had the trick of falling-to of itself, closed and locked, and knew that
she was a prisoner. For one moment a frenzy of anger overcame her; the
next, she remembered where her life was hid, knew that nothing could
touch her, and was calm. While she took from her drawers the things she
wanted, and put them in her hand-bag, she heard the door unlocked, but,
as no one entered, she sat down to wait what would next arrive.

Mrs. Redmain, as soon as she was aware of her loss, had gone in her
distress to tell her husband, whose gift the ring had been. Unlike his
usual self, he had showed interest in the affair. She attributed this
to the value of the jewel, and the fact that he had himself chosen it:
he was rather, and thought himself very, knowing in stones; and the
sapphire was in truth a most rare one: but it was for quite other
reasons that Mr. Redmain cared about its loss: it would, he hoped, like
the famous carbuncle, cast a light all round it.

He was as yet by no means well, and had not been from the house since
his return.

The moment Mary was out of the room, Hesper rose.

"I should be a fool to let her leave the house," she said.

"Hesper, you will do nothing but mischief," cried Sepia.

Hesper paid no attention, but, going after Mary, locked the door of her
room, and, running to her husband's, told him she had made her a
prisoner.

No sooner was she in her husband's room than Sepia hastened to unlock
Mary's door; but, just as she did so, she heard some one on the stair
above, and retreated without going in. She would then have turned the
key again, but now she heard steps on the stair below, and once more
withdrew.

Mary heard a knock at her door. Mewks entered. He brought a request
from his master that she would go to his room.

She rose and went, taking her bag with her.

"You may go now, Mrs. Redmain," said her husband when Mary entered.
"Get out, Mewks," he added; and both lady and valet disappeared.

"So!" he said, with a grin of pleasure. "Here's a pretty business! You
may sit down, though. You haven't got the ring in that bag there?"

"Nor anywhere else, sir," answered Mary. "Shall I shake it out on the
floor?--or on the sofa would be better."

"Nonsense! You don't imagine me such a fool as to suppose, if you had
it, you would carry it about in your bag!"

"You don't believe I have it, sir--do you?" she returned, in a tone of
appeal.

"How am I to know what to believe? There is something dubious about
you--you have yourself all but admitted that: how am I to know that
robbery mayn't be your little dodge? All that rubbish you talked down
at Lychford about honesty, and taking no wages, and loving your
mistress, and all that rot, looks devilish like something off the
square! That ring, now, the stone of it alone, is worth seven hundred
pounds: one might let pretty good wages go for a chance like that!"

Mary looked him in the face, and made him no answer. He spied a danger:
if he irritated her, he would get nothing out of her!

"My girl," he said, changing his tone, "I believe you know nothing
about the ring; I was only teasing you."

Mary could not help a sigh of relief, and her eyes fell, for she felt
them beginning to fill. She could not have believed that the judgment
of such a man would ever be of consequence to her. But the unity of the
race is a thing that can not be broken.

Now, although Mr. Redmain was by no means so sure of her innocence as
he had pretended, he did at least wish and hope to find her
innocent--from no regard for her, but because there was another he
would be more glad to find concerned in the ugly affair.

"Mrs. Redmain," he went on, "would have me hand you over to the police;
but I won't. You may go home when you please, and you need fear
nothing."

He had the house where the Helmers lodged already watched, and knew
this much, that some one was ill there, and that the doctor came almost
every day.

"I certainly shall fear nothing," said Mary, not quite trusting him;
"my fate is in God's hands."

"We know all about that," said Mr. Redmain; "I'm up to most dodges. But
look here, my girl: it wouldn't be prudent in me, lest there should be
such a personage as you have just mentioned, to be hard upon any of my
fellow-creatures: I am one day pretty sure to be in misfortune myself.
You mightn't think it of me, but I am not quite a heathen, and do
reflect a little at times. You may be as wicked as myself, or as good
as Joseph, for anything I know or care, for, as I say, it ain't my
business to judge you. Tell me now what you are up to, and I will make
it the better for you."

Mary had been trying hard to get at what he was "up to," but found
herself quite bewildered.

"I am sorry, sir," she faltered, "but I haven't the slightest idea what
you mean."

"Then you go home," he said. "I will send for you when I want you."

The moment she was out of the room, he rang his bell violently. Mewks
appeared.

"Go after that young woman--do you hear? You know her--Miss--damn it,
what's her name?--Harland or Cranston, or--oh, hang it! you know well
enough, you rascal!"

"Do you mean Miss Marston, sir?"

"Of course I do! Why didn't you say so before? Go after her, I tell
you; and make haste. If she goes straight home--you know where--come
back as soon as she's inside the door."

"Yes, sir."

"Damn you, go, or you'll lose sight of her!"

"I'm a-listenin' after the street-door, sir. It ain't gone yet. There
it is now!"

And with the word he left the room.

Mary was too much absorbed in her own thoughts to note that she was
followed by a man with the collar of his great-coat up to his eyes, and
a woolen comforter round his face. She walked on steadily for home,
scarce seeing the people that passed her. It was clear to Mewks that
she had not a suspicion of being kept in sight. He saw her in at her
own door, and went back to his master.



CHAPTER XLIV.

JOSEPH JASPER.


Another fact Mewks carried to his master--namely, that, as Mary came
near the door of the house, she was met by "a rough-looking man," who
came walking slowly along, as if he had been going up and down waiting
for her. He made her an awkward bow as she drew near, and she stopped
and had a long conversation with him--such at least it seemed to Mewks,
annoyed that he could hear nothing of it, and fearful of attracting
their attention--after which the man went away, and Mary went into the
house. This report made his master grin, for, through the description
Mewks gave, he suspected a thief disguised as a workman; but, his hopes
being against the supposition, he dwelt the less upon it.

The man who stopped Mary, and whom, indeed, she would have stopped, was
Joseph Jasper, the blacksmith. That he was rough in appearance, no one
who knew him would have wished himself able to deny, and one less like
a thief would have been hard to find. His hands were very rough and
ingrained with black; his fingers were long, but chopped off square at
the points, and had no resemblance to the long, tapering fingers of an
artist or pickpocket. His clothes were of corduroy, not very grimy,
because of the huge apron of thick leather he wore at his work, but
they looked none the better that he had topped them with his tall
Sunday hat. His complexion was a mixture of brown and browner; his
black eyebrows hung far over the blackest of eyes, the brightest
flashing of which was never seen, because all the time he played he
kept them closed tight. His face wore its natural clothing--a mustache
thick and well-shaped, and a beard not too large, of a color that
looked like black burned brown. His hair was black and curled all over
his head. His whole appearance was that of a workman; a careless glance
could never have suspected him a poet-musician; as little could even
such a glance have failed to see in him an honest man. He was
powerfully built, over the middle height, but not tall. He spoke very
fair old-fashioned English, with the Yorkshire tone and turn. His walk
was rather plodding, and his movements slow and stiff; but in communion
with his violin they were free enough, and the more delicate for the
strength that was in them; at the anvil they were as supple as
powerful. On his face dwelt an expression that was not to be read by
the indifferent--a waiting in the midst of work, as of a man to whom
the sense of the temporary was always present, but present with the
constant reminder that, just therefore, work must be as good as work
can be that things may last their due time.

The following was the conversation concerning the purport of which
Mewks was left to what conjecture was possible to a serving-man of his
stamp.

Mary held out her hand to Jasper, and it disappeared in his. He held it
for a moment with a great but gentle grasp, and, as he let it go, said:

"I took the liberty of watching for you, miss. I wanted to ask a favor
of you. It seemed to me you would take no offense."

"You might be sure of that," Mary answered. "You have a right to
anything I can do for you."

He fixed his gaze on her for a moment, as if he did not understand her.
"That's where it is," he said: "I've _done_ nothing for your people.
It's all very well to go playing and playing, but that's not doing
anything; and, if _he_ had done nothing, there would ha' been no
fiddling. You understand me, miss, I know: work comes before music, and
makes the soul of it; it's not the music that makes the doing. I'm a
poor hand at saying without my fiddle, miss: you'll excuse me."

Mary's heart was throbbing. She had not heard a word like this--not
since her father went to what people call the "long home"--as if a home
could be too long! What do we want but an endless home?--only it is not
the grave! She felt as if the spirit of her father had descended on the
strange workman, and had sent him to her. She looked at him with
shining eyes, and did not speak. He resumed, as fearing he had not
conveyed his thought.

"What I think I mean is, miss, that, if the working of miracles in his
name wouldn't do it, it's not likely playing the fiddle will."

"Oh, I understand you so well!" said Mary, in a voice hardly her own,
"--so well! It makes me happy to hear you! Tell me what I can do for
you."

"The poor gentleman in there must want all the help you can give him,
and more. There must be something left, surely, for a man to do. He
must want lifting at times, for instance, and that's not fit for either
of you ladies."

"Thank you," said Mary, heartily. "I will mention it to Mrs. Helmer,
and I am sure she will be very glad of your help sometimes."

"Couldn't you ask her now, miss? I should like to know at what hour I
might call. But perhaps the best way would be to walk about here in the
evening, after my day's work is over, and then you could run down any
time, and look out: that would be enough; I should be there. Saturday
nights I could just as well be there all night."

To Tom and Letty it seemed not a little peculiar that a man so much a
stranger should be ready to walk about the street in order to be at
hand with help for them; but Mary was only delighted, not surprised,
for what the man had said to her made the thing not merely
intelligible, but absolutely reasonable.

Joseph was not, however, allowed to wander the street. The arrangement
made was, that, as soon as his work was over, he should come and see
whether there was anything he could do for them. And he never came but
there was plenty to do. He took a lodging close by, that he might be
with them earlier, and stay later; and, when nothing else was wanted of
him, he was always ready to discourse on his violin. Sometimes Tom
enjoyed his music much, though he found no little fault with his mode
of playing, for Tom knew something about everything, and could render
many a reason; at other times, he preferred having Mary read to him.

On one of these latter occasions, Mary, occupied in cooking something
for the invalid, asked Joseph to read for her. He consented, but read
very badly--as if he had no understanding of the words, but, on the
other hand, stopping every few lines, apparently to think and master
what he had read. This was not good reading anyway, least of all for an
invalid who required the soothing of half-thought, molten and diluted
in sweet, even, monotonous sound, and it was long before Mary asked him
again.

Many things showed that he had had little education, and therefore
probably the more might be made of him. Mary saw that he must be what
men call a genius, for his external history had been, by his own
showing, of an altogether commonplace type.

His father, who was a blacksmith before him, and a local preacher, had
married a second time, and Joseph was the only child of the second
marriage. His father had brought him up to his own trade, and, after
his death, Joseph came to work in London, whither his sister had
preceded him. He was now thirty, and had from the first been saving
what he could of his wages in the hope of one day having a smithy of
his own, and his time more at his ordering.

Mary saw too that in his violin he possessed a grand fundamental
undeveloped education; he was like a man going about the world with a
ten-thousand-pound-note in his pocket, and not many sixpences to pay
his way with. But there was another education working in him far
deeper, and already more developed, than that which divine music even
was giving him; this also Mary thoroughly recognized; this it was in
him that chiefly attracted her; and the man himself knew it as
underlying all his consciousness.

Though he could ill read aloud, he could read well for his inward
nourishment; he could write tolerably, and, if he could not spell, that
mattered a straw, and no more; he had never read a play of
Shakespeare--had never seen a play; knew nothing of grammar or
geography--or of history, except the one history comprising all. He
knew nothing of science; but he could shoe a horse as well as any man
in the three Ridings, and make his violin talk about things far beyond
the ken of most men of science.

So much of a change had passed upon Tom in his illness, that Mary saw
it not unreasonable to try upon him now and then a poem of her favorite
singer. Occasionally, of course, the feeling was altogether beyond him,
but even then he would sometimes enter into the literary merit of the
utterance.

"I had no idea there were such gems in George Herbert, Mary!" he said
once. "I declare, some of them are even in their structure finer than
many things that have nothing in them to admire except the structure."

"That is not to be wondered at," replied Mary.

"No," said Joseph; "it is not to be wondered at; for it's clear to me
the old gentleman plied a good bow. I can see that plain enough."

"Tell us how you see it," said Mary, more interested than she would
have liked to show.

"Easily," he answered. "There was one poem"--he pronounced it
_pome_--"you read just now--"

"Which? which?" interrupted Mary, eagerly.

"That I can not tell you; but, all the time you were reading it, I
heard the gentleman--Mr. George Herbert, you call him--playing the tune
to it."

"If you heard him so well," ventured Mary, "you could, I fancy, play
the tune over again to us."

"I think I could," he answered, and, rising, went for his instrument,
which he always brought, and hung on an old nail in the wall the moment
he came in.

He played a few bars of a prelude, as if to get himself into harmony
with the recollection of what he had heard the master play, and then
began a lively melody, in which he seemed as usual to pour out his
soul. Long before he reached the end of it, Mary had reached the poem.

"This is the one you mean, is it not?" she said, as soon as he had
finished--and read it again.

In his turn he did not speak till she had ended.

"That's it, miss," he said then; "I can't mistake it; for, the minute
you began, there was the old gentleman again with his fiddle."

"And you know now what it says, don't you?" asked Mary.

"I heard nothing but the old gentleman," answered the musician.

Mary turned to Tom.

"Would you mind if I tried to show Mr. Jasper what I see in the poem?
He can't get a hold of it himself for the master's violin in his ears;
it won't let him think about it."

"I should like myself to hear what you have got to say about it, Mary!
Go on," said Tom.

Mary had now for a long time been a student of George Herbert; and
anything of a similar life-experience goes infinitely further, to make
one understand another, than any amount of learning or art. Therefore,
better than many a poet, Mary was able to set forth the scope and
design of this one. Herself at the heart of the secret from which came
all his utterance, she could fit herself into most of the convolutions
of the shell of his expression, and was hence able also to make others
perceive in his verse not a little of what they were of themselves
unable to see.

"We shall have you lecturing at the Royal Institution yet, Mary," said
Tom; "only it will be long before its members care for that sort of
antique."

Tom's insight had always been ahead of his character, and of late he
had been growing. People do grow very fast in bed sometimes. Also he
had in him plenty of material, to which a childlike desire now began to
give shapes and sequences.

The musician's remark consisted in taking his violin, and once more
giving his idea of the "old gentleman's" music, but this time with a
richer expression and fuller harmonies. Mary had every reason to be
satisfied with her experiment. From that time she talked a good deal
more about her favorite writers, and interested both the critical taste
of Tom and the artistic instinct of the blacksmith.

But Joseph's playing had great faults: how could it be otherwise?--and
to Mary great seemed the pity that genius should not be made perfect in
faculty, that it should not have that redemption of its body for which
unwittingly it groaned. And the man was one of those childlike natures
which may indeed go a long time without discovering this or that
external fault in themselves, patent to the eye of many an inferior
onlooker--for the simple soul is the last to see its own outside--but,
once they become aware of it, begin that moment to set the thing right.
At the same time he had not enough of knowledge to render it easy to
show him by words wherein any fault consisted--the nature, the being of
the fault, that is--what it simply was; but Mary felt confident that,
the moment he saw a need, he would obey its law.

She had taken for herself the rooms below, formerly occupied by the
Helmers, with the hope of seeing them before long reinstated in them;
and there she had a piano, the best she could afford to hire: with its
aid she hoped to do something toward the breaking of the invisible
bonds that tied the wings of Jasper's genius.

His great fault lay in his time. Dare I suggest that he contented
himself with measuring it to his inner ear, and let his fingers, like
horses which he knew he had safe in hand, play what pranks they
pleased? A reader may, I think, be measuring verse correctly to
himself, and yet make of it nothing but rugged prose to his hearers.
Perhaps this may be how severe masters of quantity in the abstract are
so careless of it in the concrete--in the audible, namely, where alone
it is of value. Shall I analogize yet a little further, and suggest the
many who admire righteousness and work iniquity; who say, "Lord, Lord,"
and seldom or never obey? Anyhow, a man may have a good enough ear,
with which he holds all the time a secret understanding, and from
carelessness offend grievously the ears he ought to please; and it was
thus with Joseph Jasper.

Mary was too wise to hurry anything. One evening when he came as usual,
and she knew he was not at the moment wanted, she asked him to take a
seat while she played something to him. But she was not a little
disappointed in the reception he gave her offering--a delicate morsel
from Beethoven. She tried something else, but with no better result. He
showed little interest: he was not a man capable of showing where
nothing was, for he never meant to show anything; his expression was
only the ripple of the unconscious pool to the sway and swirl of the
fishes below. It seemed as if he had only a narrow entrance for the
admission of music into his understanding--but a large outlet for the
spring that rose within him, and was, therefore, a somewhat remarkable
exception to the common run of mortals: in such, the capacity for
reception far exceeds the capability of production. His dominant
thoughts were in musical form, and easily found their expression in
music; but, mainly no doubt from want of practice in reception, and
experience of variety in embodiment, the forms in which others gave
themselves utterance could not with corresponding readiness find their
way to the sympathetic place in him. But pride or repulsion had no
share in this defect. The man was open and inspired, and stupid as a
child.

The next time she made the attempt to open this channel between them,
something she played did find him, and for a few minutes he seemed lost
in listening.

"How nice it would be," she said, "if we could play together sometimes!"

"Do you mean both at once, miss?" he asked.

"Yes--you on your violin, and I on the piano."

"That could hardly be, I'm afraid, miss," he answered; "for, you see, I
don't know always--not exactly--what I'm going to play; and if I don't
know, and you don't know, how are we to keep together?"

"Nobody can play your own things but yourself, of course--that is,
until you are able to write them down; but, if you would learn
something, we could play that together."

"I don't know how to learn. I've heard tell of the notes and all that,
but I don't know how to work them."

"You have heard the choir in the church--all keeping with the organ,"
said Mary.

"Scarcely since I was a child--and not very often then--though my
mother took me sometimes. But I was always wanting to get out again,
and gave no heed."

"Do you never go to church now?"

"No, miss--not for long. Time's too precious to waste."

"How do you spend it, then?"

"As soon as I've had my breakfast--that's on a Sunday, I mean--I get up
and lock my door, and set myself to have a day of it. Then I read the
next thing where I stopped last--whether it be a chapter or a
verse--till I get the sense of it--if I can't get that, it's no manner
of use to me; and I generally know when I've got it by finding the bow
in one hand and the fiddle in the other. Then, with the two together, I
go stirring and stirring about at the story, and the music keeps coming
and coming; and when it stops, which it does sometimes all at once,
then I go back to the book."

"But you don't go on like that all day, do you?" said Mary.

"I generally go on till I'm hungry, and then I go out for something to
eat. My landlady won't get me any dinner. Then I come back and begin
again."

"Will you let me teach you to read music?" said Mary, more and more
delighted with him, and desirous of contributing to his growth--the one
great service of the universe.

"If you would, miss, perhaps then I might be able to learn. You see, I
never was like other people. Mother was the only one that didn't take
me for an innocent. She used to talk big things about me, and the rest
used to laugh at her. She gave me her large Testament when she was
dying, but, if it hadn't been for Ann, I should never have been able to
read it well enough to understand it. And now Ann tells me I'm a
heathen and worship my fiddle, because I don't go to chapel with her;
but it do seem such a waste of good time. I'll go to church, though,
miss, if you tell me it's the right thing to do; only it's hard to work
all the week, and be weary all the Sunday. I should only be longing for
my fiddle all the time. You don't think, miss, that a great person like
God cares whether we pray to him in a room or in a church?"

"No, I don't," answered Mary. "For my own part, I find I can pray best
at home."

"So can I," said Joseph, with solemn fervor. "Indeed, miss, I can't
pray at all sometimes till I get my fiddle under my chin, and then it
says the prayers for me till I grow able to pray myself. And sometimes,
when I seem to have got to the outside of prayer, and my soul is
hungrier than ever, only I can't tell what I want, all at once I'm at
my fiddle again, and it's praying for me. And then sometimes it seems
as if I lost myself altogether, and God took me, for I'm nowhere and
everywhere all at once."

Mary thought of the "groanings that can not be uttered." Perhaps that
is just what music is meant for--to say the things that have no shape,
therefore can have no words, yet are intensely alive--the unembodied
children of thought, the eternal child. Certainly the musician can
groan the better with the aid of his violin. Surely this man's
instrument was the gift of God to him. All God's gifts are a giving of
himself. The Spirit can better dwell in a violin than in an ark or in
the mightiest of temples.

But there was another side to the thing, and Mary felt bound to present
it.

"But, you know, Mr. Jasper," she said, "when many violins play
together, each taking a part in relation to all the rest, a much
grander music is the result than any single instrument could produce."

"I've heard tell of such things, miss, but I've never heard them." He
had never been to concert or oratorio, any more than the play.

"Then you shall hear them," said Mary, her heart filling with delight
at the thought. "--But what if there should be some way in which the
prayers of all souls may blend like many violins? We are all brothers
and sisters, you know--and what if the gathering together in church be
one way of making up a concert of souls?--Imagine one mighty prayer,
made up of all the desires of all the hearts God ever made, breaking
like a huge wave against the foot of his throne!"

"There would be some force in a wave like that, miss!" said Joseph.
"But answer me one question: Ain't it Christ that teaches men to pray?"

"Surely," answered Mary. "He taught them with his mouth when he was on
the earth; and now he teaches them with his mind."

"Then, miss, I will tell you why it seems to me that churches can't be
the places to tune the fiddles for that kind of consort--and that's
just why I more than don't care to go into one of them: I never heard a
sermon that didn't seem to be taking my Christ from me, and burying him
where I should never find him any more. For the somebody the clergy
talk about is not only nowise like my Christ, but nowise like a live
man at all. It always seemed to me more like a guy they had dressed up
and called by his name than the man I read about in my mother's big
Testament."

"How my father would have delighted in this man!" said Mary to herself.

"You see, miss," Jasper resumed, "I can't help knowing something about
these matters, because I was brought up in it all, my father being a
local preacher, and a very good man. Perhaps, if I had been as clever
as Sister Ann, I might be thinking now just as she does; but it seems
to me a man that is born stupid has much to be thankful for: he can't
take in things before his heart's ready for believing them, and so they
don't get spoiled, like a child's book before he is able to read it.
All that I heard when I went with my father to his preachings was to me
no more than one of the chapters full of names in the Book of
Chronicles--though I do remember once hearing a Wesleyan clergyman say
that he had got great spiritual benefit from those chapters. I wasn't
even frightened at the awful things my father said about hell, and the
certainty of our going there if we didn't lay hold upon the Saviour;
for, all the time, he showed but such a ghost or cloud of a man that he
called the Saviour as it wasn't possible to lay hold upon. Not that I
reasoned about it that way then; I only felt no interest in the affair;
and my conscience said nothing about it. But after my father and mother
were gone, and I was at work away from all my old friends--well, I
needn't trouble you with what it was that set me a-thinking--it was
only a great disappointment, such as I suppose most young fellows have
to go through--I shouldn't wonder," he added with a smile, "if that was
what you ladies are sent into this world for--to take the conceit out
of the likes of us, and give us something to think about. What came of
it was, that I began to read my mother's big Testament in earnest, and
then my conscience began to speak. Here was a man that said he was
God's son, and sent by him to look after us, and we must do what he
told us or we should never be able to see our Father in heaven! That's
what I made out of it, miss. And my conscience said to me, that I must
do as he said, seeing he had taken all that trouble, and come down to
look after us. If he spoke the truth, and nobody could listen to him
without being sure of that, there was nothing left but just to do the
thing he said. So I set about getting a hold of anything he did say,
and trying to do it. And then it was that I first began to be able to
play on the fiddle, though I had been muddling away at it for a long
time before. I knew I could play then, because I understood what it
said to me, and got help out of it. I don't really mean that, you know,
miss; for I know well enough that the fiddle in itself is nothing, and
nothing is anything but the way God takes to teach us. And that's how I
came to know you, miss."

"How do you mean that?" asked Mary.

"I used to be that frightened of Sister Ann that, after I came to
London, I wouldn't have gone near her, but that I thought Jesus Christ
would have me go; and, if I hadn't gone to see her, I should never have
seen you. When I went to see her, I took my fiddle with me to take care
of me; and, when she would be going on at me, I would just give my
fiddle a squeeze under my arm, and that gave me patience."

"But we heard you playing to her, you know."

"That was because I always forgot myself while she was talking. The
first time, I remember, it was from misery--what she was saying sounded
so wicked, making God out not fit for any honest man to believe in. I
began to play without knowing it, and it couldn't have been very loud,
for she went on about the devil picking up the good seed sown in the
heart. Off I went into that, and there I saw no end of birds with long
necks and short legs gobbling up the corn. But, a little way off, there
was the long beautiful stalks growing strong and high, waving in God's
wind; and the birds did not go near them."

Mary drew a long breath, and said to herself:

"The man is a poet!"--"You're not afraid of your sister now?" she said
to him.

"Not a bit," he answered. "Since I knew you, I feel as if we had in a
sort of a way changed places, and she was a little girl that must be
humored and made the best of. When she scolds, I laugh, and try to make
a bit of fun with her. But she's always so sure she's right, that you
wonder how the world got made before she was up."

They parted with the understanding that, when he came next, she should
give him his first lesson in reading music. With herself Mary made
merry at the idea of teaching the man of genius his letters.

But, when once, through trying to play with her one of his own pieces
which she had learned from hearing him play it, he had discovered how
imperative it was to keep good time, he set himself to the task with a
determination that would have made anything of him that he was only
half as fit to become as a musician.

When, however, in a short time, he was able to learn from notes, he
grew so delighted with some of the music Mary got for him, entering
into every nicety of severest law, and finding therein a better liberty
than that of improvisation, that he ceased for long to play anything of
his own, and Mary became mortally afraid lest, in developing the
performer, she had ruined the composer.

"How can I go playing such loose, skinny things," he would say, "when
here are such perfect shapes all ready to my hand!"

But Mary said to herself that, if these were shapes, his were odors.



CHAPTER XLV.

THE SAPPHIRE.


One morning, as Mary sat at her piano, Mewks was shown into the room.
He brought the request from his master that she would go to him; he
wanted particularly to see her. She did not much like it, neither did
she hesitate.

She was shown into the room Mr. Redmain called his study, which
communicated by a dressing-room with his bedroom. He was seated,
evidently waiting for her.

"Ah, Miss Marston!" he said; "I have a piece of good news for you--so
good that I thought I should like to give it you myself."

"You are very kind, sir," Mary answered.

"There!" he went on, holding out what she saw at once was the lost ring.

"I am so glad!" she said, and took it in her hand. "Where was it found?"

"There's the point!" he returned. "That is just why I sent for you! Can
you suggest any explanation of the fact that it was found, after all,
in a corner of my wife's jewel-box? Who searched the box last?"

"I do not know, sir."

"Did you search it?"

"No, sir. I offered to help Mrs. Redmain to look for the ring, but she
said it was no use. Who found it, sir?"

"I will tell you who found it, if you will tell me who put it there."

"I don't know what you mean, sir. It must have been there all the time."

"That's the point again! Mrs. Redmain swears it was not, and could not
have been, there when she looked for it. It is not like a small thing,
you see. There is something mysterious about it."

He looked hard at Mary.

Now, Mary had very much admired the ring, as any one must who had an
eye for stones; and had often looked at it--into the heart of
it--almost loving it; and while they were talking now, she kept gazing
at it. When Mr. Redmain ended, she stood silent. In her silence, her
attention concentrated itself upon the sapphire. She stood long,
looking closely at it, moving it about a little, and changing the
direction of the light; and, while her gaze was on the ring, Mr.
Redmain's gaze was on her, watching her with equal attention. At last,
with a sigh, as if she waked from a reverie, she laid the ring on the
table. But Mr. Redmain still stared in her face.

"Now what is it you've got in your head?" he said at last. "I have been
watching you think for three minutes and a half, I do believe. Come,
out with it!"

"Hardly _think_, sir," answered Mary. "I was only plaguing myself
between my recollection of the stone and the actual look of it. It is
so annoying to find what seemed a clear recollection prove a deceitful
one! It may appear a presumptuous thing to say, but my recollection
seems of a finer color."

While she spoke, she had again taken the ring, and was looking at it.
Mr. Redmain snatched it from her hand.

"The devil!" he cried. "You haven't the face to hint that the stone has
been changed?"

Mary laughed.

"Such a thing never came into my head, sir; but now that you have put
it there, I could almost believe it."

"Go along with you!" he cried, casting at her a strange look which she
could not understand, and the same moment pulling the bell hard.

That done, he began to examine the ring intently, as Mary had been
doing, and did not speak a word. Mewks came.

"Show Miss Marston out," said his master; "and tell my coachman to
bring the hansom round directly."

"For Miss Marston?" inquired Mewks, who had learned not a little
cunning in the service.

"No!" roared Mr. Redmain; and Mewks darted from the room, followed more
leisurely by Mary.

"I don't know what's come to master!" ventured Mewks, as he led the way
down the stair.

But Mary took no notice, and left the house.

For about a week she heard nothing.

In the meantime Mr. Redmain had been prosecuting certain inquiries he
had some time ago begun, and another quite new one besides. He was
acquainted with many people of many different sorts, and had been to
jewelers and pawnbrokers, gamblers and lodging-house keepers, and had
learned some things to his purpose.

Once more Mary received from him a summons, and once more, considerably
against her liking, obeyed. She was less disinclined to go this time,
however, for she felt not a little curious about the ring.

"I want you to come back to the house," he said, abruptly, the moment
she entered his room.

For such a request Mary was not prepared. Even since the ring was
found, so long a time had passed that she never expected to hear from
the house again. But Tom was now so much better, and Letty so much like
her former self, that, if Mrs. Redmain had asked her, she might perhaps
have consented.

"Mr. Redmain," she answered, "you must see that I can not do so at your
desire."

"Oh, rubbish! humbug!" he returned, with annoyance. "Don't fancy I am
asking you to go fiddle-faddling about my wife again: I don't see how
you _can_ do that, after the way she has used you! But I have reasons
for wanting to have you within call. Go to Mrs. Perkin. I won't take a
refusal."

"I can not do it, Mr. Redmain," said Mary; "the thing is impossible."
And she turned to leave the room.

"Stop, stop!" cried Mr. Redmain, and jumped from his chair to prevent
her.

He would not have succeeded had not Mewks met her in the doorway full
in the face. She had to draw back to avoid him, and the man, perceiving
at once how things were, closed the door the moment he entered, and
stood with his back against it.

"He's in the drawing-room, sir," said Mewks.

A scarcely perceptible sign of question was made by the master, and
answered in kind by the man.

"Show him here directly," said Mr. Redmain. Then turning to Mary, "Go
out that way, Miss Marston, if you will go," he said, and pointed to
the dressing-room.

Mary, without a suspicion, obeyed; but, just as she discovered that the
door into the bedroom beyond was locked, she heard the door behind her
locked also. She turned, and knocked.

"Stay where you are," said Mr. Redmain, in a low but imperative voice.
"I can not let you out till this gentleman is gone. You must hear what
passes: I want you for a witness."

Bewildered and annoyed, Mary stood motionless in the middle of the
room, and presently heard a man, whose voice seemed not quite strange
to her, greet Mr. Redmain like an old friend. The latter made a slight
apology for having sent for him to his study--claiming the privilege,
he said, of an invalid, who could not for a time have the pleasure of
meeting him either at the club or at his wife's parties. The visitor
answered agreeably, with a touch of merriment that seemed to indicate a
soul at ease with itself and with the world.

But here Mary all at once came to herself, and was aware that she was
in quite a false position. She withdrew therefore to the farthest
corner, sat down, closed her ears with the palms of her hands, and
waited.

She had sat thus for a long time, not weary, but occupied with such
thoughts as could hardly for a century or two cross the horizon line of
such a soul as Mr. Redmain's, even if he were at once to repent, when
she heard a loud voice calling her name from a distance. She raised her
head, and saw the white, skin-drawn face of Mr. Redmain grinning at her
from the open door. When he spoke again, his words sounded like
thunder, for she had removed her hands from her ears.

"I fancy you've had a dose of it!" he said.

As he spoke, she rose to her feet, her countenance illumined both with
righteous anger and the tender shine of prayer. Her look went to what
he had of a heart, and the slightest possible color rose to his face.

"Gone a step too far, damn it!" he murmured to himself. "There's no
knowing one woman by another!"

"I see!" he said; "it's been a trifle too much for you, and I don't
wonder! You needn't believe a word I said about myself. It was all hum
to make the villain show his game."

"I have not heard a word, Mr. Redmain," she said with indignation.

"Oh, you needn't trouble yourself!" he returned. "I meant you to hear
it all. What did I put you there for, but to get your oath to what I
drew from the fellow? A fine thing if your pretended squeamishness ruin
my plot! What do you think of yourself, hey?--But I don't believe it."

He looked at her keenly, expecting a response, but Mary made him none.
For some moments he regarded her curiously, then turned away into the
study, saying:

"Come along. By Jove! I'm ashamed to say it, but I half begin to
believe in you. I did think I was past being taken in, but it seems
possible for once again. Of course, you will return to Mrs. Redmain now
that all is cleared up."

"It is impossible," Mary answered. "I can not live in a house where the
lady mistrusts and the gentleman insults me."

She left the room, and Mr. Redmain did not try to prevent her. As she
left the house she burst into tears; and the fact Mewks carried to his
master.

The man was the more careful to report everything about Mary, that
there was one in the house of whom he never reported anything, but to
whom, on the contrary, he told everything he thought she would care to
know. Till Sepia came, he had been conventionally faithful--faithful
with the faith of a lackey, that is--but she had found no difficulty in
making of him, in respect of her, a spy upon his master.

I will now relate what passed while Mary sat deaf in the corner.

Mr. Redmain asked his visitor what he would have, as if, although it
was quite early, he must, as a matter of course, stand in need of
refreshment. He made choice of brandy and soda-water, and the bell was
rung. A good deal of conversation followed about a disputed point in a
late game of cards at one of the clubs.

The talk then veered in another direction--that of personal adventure,
so guided by Mr. Redmain. He told extravagant stories about himself and
his doings, in particular various _ruses_ by which he had contrived to
lay his hands on money. And whatever he told, his guest capped,
narrating trick upon trick to which on different occasions he had had
recourse. At all of them Mr. Redmain laughed heartily, and applauded
their cleverness extravagantly, though some of them were downright
swindling.

At last Mr. Redmain told how he had once got money out of a lady. I do
not believe there was a word of truth in it. But it was capped by the
other with a narrative that seemed specially pleasing to the listener.
In the midst of a burst of laughter, he rose and rang the bell. Count
Galofta thought it was to order something more in the way of
"refreshment," and was not a little surprised when he heard his host
desire the man to request the favor of Miss Yolland's presence. But the
Count had not studied non-expression in vain, and had brought it to a
degree of perfection not easily disturbed. Casting a glance at him as
he gave the message, Mr. Redmain could read nothing; but this was in
itself suspicious to him--and justly, for the man ought to have been
surprised at such a close to the conversation they had been having.

Sepia had been told that Galofta was in the study, and therefore
received the summons thither--a thing that had never happened
before--with the greater alarm. She made, consequently, what
preparation she could against surprise. Thoroughly capable of managing
her features, her anxiety was sufficient nevertheless to deprive her of
power over her complexion, and she entered the room with the pallor
peculiar to the dark-skinned. Having greeted the Count with the
greatest composure, she turned to Mr. Redmain with question in her eyes.

"Count Galofta," said Mr. Redmain in reply, "has just been telling me a
curious story of how a certain rascal got possession of a valuable
jewel from a lady with whom he pretended to be in love, and I thought
the opportunity a good one for showing you a strange discovery I have
made with regard to the sapphire Mrs. Redmain missed for so long. Very
odd tricks are played with gems--such gems, that is, as are of value
enough to make it worth a rogue's while."

So saying, he took the ring from one drawer, and from another a bottle,
from which he poured something into a crystal cup. Then he took a file,
and, looking at Galofta, in whose well-drilled features he believed he
read something that was not mere curiosity, said, "I am going to show
you something very curious," and began to file asunder that part of the
ring which immediately clasped the sapphire, the setting of which was
open.

"What a pity!" cried Sepia; "you are destroying the ring! What will
Cousin Hesper say?"

Mr. Redmain filed away, heedless; then with the help of a pair of
pincers freed the stone, and held it up in his hand.

"You see this?" he said.

"A splendid sapphire!" answered Count Galofta, taking it in his
fingers, but, as Mr. Redmain saw, not looking at it closely.

"I have always heard it called a splendid stone," said Sepia, whose
complexion, though not her features, passed through several changes
while all this was going on: she was anxious.

Nor did her inquisitor fail to surprise the uneasy glances she threw,
furtively though involuntarily, in the face of the Count--who never
once looked in hers: tolerably sure of himself, he was not sure of her.

"That ring, when I bought it--the stone of it," said Mr. Redmain, "was
a star sapphire, and worth seven hundred pounds; now, the whole affair
is worth about ten."

As he spoke, he threw the stone into the cup, let it lie a few moments,
and took it out again; when, almost with a touch, he divided it in two,
the one a mere scale.

"There!" he said, holding out the thin part on the tip of a finger,
"that is a slice of sapphire; and there!" holding out the rest of the
seeming stone, "that is glass."

"What a shame!" cried Sepia.

"Of course," said the Count, "you will prosecute the jeweler."

"I will not prosecute the jeweler," answered Mr. Redmain; "but I have
taken some trouble to find out who changed the stones."

With that he threw both the bits of blue into a drawer, and the
contents of the cup into the fire. A great flame flew up the chimney,
and, as if struck at the sight of it, he stood gazing for a moment
after it had vanished.

When he turned, the Count was gone, as he had expected, and Sepia stood
with eyes full of anger and fear. Her face was set and colorless, and
strange to look upon.

"Very odd--ain't it?" said Mr. Redmain, and, opening the door of his
dressing-room, called out:

"Miss Marston!"

When he turned, Sepia too was gone.

I would not have my reader take Sepia for an accomplice in the robbery.
Even Mr. Redmain did not believe that: she was much too prudent! His
idea was, that she had been wearing the ring--Hesper did not mind what
she wore of hers--and that (I need not give his conjecture in detail),
with or without her knowledge, the fellow had got hold of it and
carried it away, then brought it back, treating the thing as a joke,
when she was only too glad to restore it to the jewel-case, hoping the
loss of it would then pass for an oversight on the part of Hesper. If
he was right in this theory of the affair, then the Count had certainly
a hold upon her, and she dared not or would not expose him! He had
before discovered that, about the time when the ring disappeared, the
Count had had losses, and was supposed unable to meet them, but had
suddenly showed himself again "flush of money," and from that time had
had an extraordinary run of luck.

When he went out of the door of Mr. Redmain's study, he vanished from
the house and from London. Turning the first corner he came to, and the
next and the next, he stepped into a mews, the court of which seemed
empty, and slipped behind the gate. He wore a new hat, and was clean
shaved except his upper lip. Presently a man came out of the mews in a
Scotch cap and a full beard.

What had become of him Mr. Redmain did not care. He had no desire to
punish him. It was enough he had found him out, proved his suspicion
correct, and obtained evidence against Sepia. He did not at once make
up his mind how he would act on this last; while he lived, it did not
matter so much; and he had besides a certain pleasure in watching his
victim. But Hesper, free, rich, and beautiful, and far from wise, with
Sepia for counselor, was not an idea to be contemplated with
equanimity. Still he shrank from the outcry and scandal of sending her
away; for certainly his wife, if it were but to oppose him, would
refuse to believe a word against her cousin.

For the present, therefore, the thing seemed to blow over. Mr. Redmain,
who had pleasure in behaving handsomely so far as money was concerned,
bought his wife the best sapphire he could find, and, for once, really
pleased her.

But Sepia knew that Mr. Redmain had now to himself justified his
dislike of her; and, as he said nothing, she was the more certain he
meant something. She lived, therefore, in constant dread of his sudden
vengeance, against which she could take no precaution, for she had not
even a conjecture as to what form it might assume. From that hour she
was never at peace in his presence, and hardly out of it; from every
possible _tete-a-tete_ with him she fled as from a judgment.

Nor was it a small addition to her misery that she imagined Mary
cognizant of Mr. Redmain's opinion and intention with regard to her,
and holding the worst possible opinion of her. For, whatever had passed
first between the Count and Mr. Redmain, she did not doubt Mary had
heard, and was prepared to bring against her when the determined moment
should arrive. How much the Count might or might not have said, she
could not tell; but, seeing their common enemy had permitted him to
escape, she more than dreaded he had sold her secret for his own
impunity, and had laid upon her a burden of lies as well.



CHAPTER XLVI.

REPARATION.


With all Mr. Redmain's faults, there was a certain love of justice in
the man; only, as is the case with most of us, it had ten times the
reference to the action of other people that it had to his own: I mean,
he made far greater demand for justice upon other people than upon
himself; and was much more indignant at any shortcoming of theirs which
crossed any desire or purpose of his than he was anxious in his own
person to fulfill justice when that fulfillment in its turn would cross
any wish he cherished. Badly as he had himself behaved to Mary, he was
now furious with his wife for having treated her so heartlessly that
she could not return to her service; for he began to think she might be
one to depend upon, and to desire her alliance in the matter of ousting
Sepia from the confidence of his wife.

However indifferent a woman may be to the opinion of her husband, he
can nevertheless in general manage to make her uncomfortable enough if
he chooses; and Mr. Redmain did choose now, in the event of her
opposition to his wishes: when he set himself to do a thing, he hated
defeat even more than he loved success.

The moment Mary was out of the study, he walked into his wife's
boudoir, and shut the door behind him. His presence there was enough to
make her angry, but she took no notice of it.

"I understand, Mrs. Redmain," he began, "that you wish to bring the
fate of Sodom upon the house."

"I do not know what you mean," she answered, scarcely raising her eyes
from her novel--and spoke the truth, for she knew next to nothing of
the Bible, while the Old Testament was all the literature Mr. Redmain
was "up in."

"You have turned out of it the only just person in it, and we shall all
be in hell soon!"

"How dare you come to my room with such horrid language!"

"You'll hear worse before long, if you keep on at this rate. My
language is not so bad as your actions. If you don't have that girl
back, and in double-quick time, too, I shall know how to make you!"

"You have taught me to believe you capable of anything."

"You shall at least find me capable of a good deal. Do you imagine,
madam, I have found you a hair worse than I expected?"

"I never took the trouble to imagine anything about you."

"Then I need not ask you whether I married you to please you or to
please myself?"

"You need not. You can best answer that question yourself."

"Then we understand each other."

"We do not, Mr. Redmain; and, if this occurs again, I shall go to
Durnmelling."

She spoke with a vague idea that he also stood in some awe of the
father and mother whose dread, however well she hid it, she would
never, while she lived, succeed in shaking off. But to the husband it
was a rare delight to speak with conscious rectitude in the moral
chastisement of his wife. He burst into a loud and almost merry laugh.

"Happy they will be to see you there, madam! Why, you goose, if I send
a telegram before you, they won't so much as open the door to you! They
know better which side their bread is buttered."

Hesper started up in a rage. This was too much--and the more too much,
that she believed it would be as he said.

"Mr. Redmain, if you do not leave the room, I will."

"Oh, don't!" he cried, in a tone of pretended alarm. His pleasure was
great, for he had succeeded in stinging the impenetrable. "You really
ought to consider before you utter such an awful threat! I will go
myself a thousand times rather!--But will you not feel the want of
pocket-money when you come to pay a rough cabman? The check I gave you
yesterday will not last you long."

"The money is my own, Mr. Redmain."

"But you have not yet opened a banking-account in your own name."

"I suppose you have a meaning, Mr. Redmain; but I am not in the habit
of using cabs."

"Then you had better get into the habit; for I swear to you, madam, if
you don't fetch that girl home within the week, I will, next Monday,
discharge your coachman, and send every horse in the stable to
Tattersall's! Good morning."

She had no doubt he would do as he said; she knew Mr. Redmain would
just enjoy selling her horses. But she could not at once give in. I say
"_could_ not," because hers was the weak will that can hardly bring
itself to do what it knows it must, and is continually mistaken for the
strong will that defies and endures. She had a week to think about it,
and she would see!

During the interval, he took care not once to refer to his threat, for
that would but weaken the impression of it, he knew.

On the Sunday, after service, she knocked at his door, and, being
admitted, bade him good morning, but with no very gracious air--as,
indeed, he would have been the last to expect.

"We have had a sermon on the forgiveness of injuries, Mr. Redmain," she
said.

"By Jove!" interrupted her husband, "it would have been more to the
purpose if I, or poor Mary Marston, had had it; for I swear you put our
souls in peril!"

"The ring was no common one, Mr. Redmain; and the young woman had, by
leaving the house, placed herself in a false position: every one
suspected her as much as I did. Besides, she lost her temper, and
talked about forgiving _me_, when I was in despair about my ring!"

"And what, pray, was your foolish ring compared to the girl's
character?"

"A foolish ring, indeed!--Yes, it was foolish to let you ever have the
right to give it me! But, as to her character, that of persons in her
position is in constant peril. They have to lay their account with
that, and must get used to it. How was I to know? We can not read each
other's hearts."

"Not where there is no heart in the reader."

Hesper's face flushed, but she did her best not to lose her temper. Not
that it would have been any great loss if she had, for there is as much
difference in the values of tempers as in those who lose them. She said
nothing, and her husband resumed:

"So you came to forgive me?" he said.

"And Marston," she answered.

"Well, I will accept the condescension--that is, if the terms of it are
to my mind."

"I will make no terms. Marston may return when she pleases."

"You must write and ask her."

"Of course, Mr. Redmain. It would hardly be suitable that _you_ should
ask her."

"You must write so as to make it possible to accept your offer."

"I am not deceitful, Mr. Redmain."

"You are not. A man must be fair, even to his wife."

"I will show you the letter I write."

"If you please."

She had to show him half a score ere he was satisfied, declaring he
would do it himself, if she could not make a better job of it.

At length one was dispatched, received, and answered: Mary would not
return. She had lost all hope of being of any true service to Mrs.
Redmain, and she knew that, with Tom and Letty, she was really of use
for the present. Mrs. Redmain carried the letter, with ill-concealed
triumph, to her husband; nor did he conceal his annoyance.

"You must have behaved to her very cruelly," he said. "But you have
done your best now--short of a Christian apology, which it would be
folly to demand of you. I fear we have seen the last of her."--"And
there was I," he said to himself, "for the first time in my life,
actually beginning to fancy I had perhaps thrown salt upon the tail of
that rare bird, an honest woman! The devil has had quite as much to do
with my history as with my character! Perhaps that will be taken into
the account one day."

But Mary lay awake at night, and thought of many things she might have
said and done better when she was with Hesper, and would gladly have
given herself another chance; but she could no longer flatter herself
she would ever be of any real good to her. She believed there was more
hope of Mr. Redmain even. For had she not once, for one brief moment,
seen him look a trifle ashamed of himself? while Hesper was and
remained, so far as she could judge, altogether satisfied with herself.
Equal to her own demands upon herself, there was nothing in her to
begin with--no soil to work upon.



CHAPTER XLVII.

ANOTHER CHANGE.


For some time Tom made progress toward health, and was able to read a
good part of the day. Most evenings he asked Joseph to play to him for
a while; he was fond of music, and fonder still of criticism--upon
anything. When he had done with Joseph, or when he did not want him,
Mary was always ready to give the latter a lesson; and, had he been a
less gifted man than he was, he could not have failed to make progress
with such a teacher.

The large-hearted, delicate-souled woman felt nothing strange in the
presence of the workingman, but, on the contrary, was comfortably aware
of a being like her own, less privileged but more gifted, whose
nearness was strength. And no teacher, not to say no woman, could have
failed to be pleased at the thorough painstaking with which he followed
the slightest of her hints, and the delight his flushed face would
reveal when she praised the success he had achieved.

It was not long before he began to write some of the things that came
into his mind. For the period of quiescence as to production, which
followed the initiation of more orderly study, was, after all, but of
short duration, and the return tide of musical utterance was stronger
than ever. Mary's delight was great when first he brought her one of
his compositions very fairly written out--after which others followed
with a rapidity that astonished her. They enabled her also to
understand the man better and better; for to have a thing to brood over
which we are capable of understanding must be more to us than even the
master's playing of it. She could not be sure this or that was correct,
according to the sweet inexorability of musical ordainment, but the
more she pondered them, the more she felt that the man was original,
that the material was there, and the law at hand, that he brought his
music from the only bottomless well of utterance, the truth, namely, by
which alone the soul most glorious in gladness, or any other the
stupidest of souls, can live.

To the first he brought her she contrived to put a poor little faulty
accompaniment; and when she played his air to him so accompanied, his
delight was touching, and not a little amusing. Plainly he thought the
accompaniment a triumph of human faculty, and beyond anything he could
ever develop. Never pupil was more humble, never pupil more obedient;
thinking nothing of himself or of anything he had done or could do, his
path was open to the swiftest and highest growth. It matters little
where a man may be at this moment; the point is whether he is growing.
The next point will be, whether he is growing at the ratio given him.
The key to the whole thing is _obedience_, and nothing else.

What the gift of such an instructor was to Joseph, my reader may be
requested to imagine. He was like a man seated on the grass outside the
heavenly gate, from which, slow-opening every evening as the sun went
down, came an angel to teach, and teach, until he too should be fit to
enter in: an hour would arrive when she would no longer have to come
out to him where he sat. Under such an influence all that was gentlest
and sweetest in his nature might well develop with rapidity, and every
accidental roughness--and in him there was no other--by swift degrees
vanish from both speech and manners. The angels do not want tailors to
make their clothes: their habits come out of themselves. But we are
often too hard upon our fellows; for many of those in the higher ranks
of life--no, no, I mean of society--whose insolence wakens ours, as
growl wakes growl in the forest, are not yet so far removed from the
savage--I mean in their personal history--as some in the lowest ranks.
When a nobleman mistakes the love of right in another for a hatred of
refinement, he can not be far from mistaking insolence for good
manners. Of such a nobility, good Lord, deliver us from all envy!

As to falling in love with a lady like Mary, such a thing was as far
from Jasper's consciousness as if she had been a duchess. She belonged
to another world from his, a world which his world worshiped, waiting.
He might miss her even to death; her absence might, for him, darken the
universe as if the sun had withdrawn his brightness; but who thinks of
falling in love with the sun, or dreams of climbing nearer to his
radiance?

The day will one day come--or what of the long-promised kingdom of
heaven?--when a woman, instead of spending anxious thought on the
adornment of her own outward person, will seek with might the adornment
of the inward soul of another, and will make that her crown of
rejoicing. Nay, are there none such even now? The day will come when a
man, rather than build a great house for the overflow of a mighty
hospitality, will give himself, in the personal labor of outgoing love,
to build spiritual houses like St. Paul--a higher art than any of man's
invention. O my brother, what were it not for thee to have a hand in
making thy brother beautiful!

Be not indignant, my reader: not for a moment did I imagine thee
capable of such a mean calling! It is left to a certain school of weak
enthusiasts, who believe that such growth, such embellishment, such
creation, is all God cares about; these enthusiasts can not indeed see,
so blind have they become with their fixed idea, how God could care for
anything else. They actually believe that the very Son of the
life-making God lived and died for that, and for nothing else. That
such men and women are fools, is and has been so widely believed, that,
to men of the stamp of my indignant reader, it has become a fact! But
the end alone will reveal the beginning. Such a fool was Prometheus,
with the vulture at his heart--but greater than Jupiter with his gods
around him.

There soon came a change, however, and the lessons ceased altogether.

Tom had come down to his old quarters, and, in the arrogance of
convalescence, had presumed on his imagined strength, and so caught
cold. An alarming relapse was the consequence, and there was no more
playing; for now his condition began to draw to a change, of which, for
some time, none of them had even thought, the patient had seemed so
certainly recovering. The cold settled on his lungs, and he sank
rapidly.

Joseph, whose violin was useless now, was not the less in attendance.
Every evening, when his work was over, he came knocking gently at the
door of the parlor, and never left until Tom was settled for the night.
The most silently helpful, undemonstrative being he was, that doctor
could desire to wait upon patient. When it was his turn to watch, he
never closed an eye, but at daybreak--for it was now spring--would
rouse Mary, and go off straight to his work, nor taste food until the
hour for the mid-day meal arrived.

Tom speedily became aware that his days were numbered--phrase of
unbelief, for are they not numbered from the beginning? Are our hairs
numbered, and our days forgotten--till death gives a hint to the
doctor? He was sorry for his past life, and thoroughly ashamed of much
of it, saying in all honesty he would rather die than fall for one
solitary week into the old ways--not that he wished to die, for, with
the confidence of youth, he did not believe he could fall into the old
ways again. For my part, I think he was taken away to have a little
more of that care and nursing which neither his mother nor his wife had
been woman enough to give the great baby. After all, he had not been
one of the worst of babies.

Is it strange that one so used to bad company and bad ways should have
so altered, in so short a time, and without any great struggle? The
assurance of death at the door, and a wholesome shame of things that
are past, may, I think, lead up to such a swift change, even in a much
worse man than Tom. For there is the Life itself, all-surrounding, and
ever pressing in upon the human soul, wherever that soul will afford a
chink of entrance; and Tom had not yet sealed up all his doors.

When he lay there dead--for what excuse could we have for foolish
lamentation, if we did not speak of the loved as _lying dead?_--Letty
had him already enshrined in her heart as the best of husbands--as her
own Tom, who had never said a hard word to her--as the cleverest as
well as kindest of men who had written poetry that would never die
while the English language was spoken. Nor did "The Firefly" spare its
dole of homage to the memory of one of its gayest writers. Indeed, all
about its office had loved him, each after his faculty. Even the boy
cried when he heard he was gone, for to him too he had always given a
kind word, coming and going. A certain little runnel of verse flowed no
more through the pages of "The Firefly," and in a month there was not
the shadow of Tom upon his age. But the print of him was deep in the
heart of Letty, and not shallow in the affection of Mary; nor were such
as these, insignificant records for any one to leave behind him, as
records go. Happy was he to have left behind him any love, especially
such a love as Letty bore him! For what is the loudest praise of
posterity to the quietest love of one's own generation? For his mother,
her memory was mostly in her temper. She had never understood her
wayward child, just because she had given him her waywardness, and not
parted with it herself, so that between them the two made havoc of
love. But she who gives her child all he desires, in the hope of thus
binding his love to herself, no less than she who thwarts him in
everything, may rest assured of the neglect she has richly earned. When
she heard of his death, she howled and cursed her fate, and the woman,
meaning poor Letty, who had parted her and her Tom, swearing she would
never set eyes upon her, never let her touch a farthing of Tom's money.
She would not hear of paying his debts until Mary told her she then
would, upon which the fear of public disapprobation wrought for right
if not righteousness.

But what was Mary to do now with Letty? She was little more than a baby
yet, not silly from youth, but young from silliness. Children must
learn to walk, but not by being turned out alone in Cheapside.

She was relieved from some perplexity for the present, however, by the
arrival of a letter from Mrs. Wardour to Letty, written in a tone of
stiffly condescendent compassion--not so unpleasant to Letty as to her
friend, because from childhood she had been used to the nature that
produced it, and had her mind full of a vast, undefined notion of the
superiority of the writer. It may be a question whether those who fill
our inexperienced minds with false notions of their greatness, do us
thereby more harm or good; certainly when one comes to understand with
what an arrogance and self-assertion they have done so, putting into us
as reverence that which in them is conceit, one is ready to be scornful
more than enough; but, rather than have a child question such claims, I
would have him respect the meanest soul that ever demanded respect; the
first shall be last in good time, and the power of revering come forth
uninjured; whereas a child judging his elders has already withered the
blossom of his being.

But Mrs. Wardour's letter was kind-perhaps a little repentant; it is
hard to say, for ten persons will repent of a sin for one who will
confess it--I do not mean to the priest--that may be an easy matter,
but to the only one who has a claim to the confession, namely, the
person wronged. Yet such confession is in truth far more needful to the
wronger than to the wronged; it is a small thing to be wronged, but a
horrible thing to wrong.

The letter contained a poverty-stricken expression of sympathy, and an
invitation to spend the summer months with them at her old home. It
might, the letter said, prove but a dull place to her after the gayety
to which she had of late been accustomed, but it might not the less
suit her present sad situation, and possibly uncertain prospects.

Letty's heart felt one little throb of gladness at the thought of being
again at Thornwick, and in peace. With all the probable unpleasant
accompaniments of the visit, nowhere else, she thought, could she feel
the same sense of shelter as where her childhood had passed. Mary also
was pleased; for, although Letty might not be comfortable, the visit
would end, and by that time she might know what could be devised best
for her comfort and well-being.



CHAPTER XLVIII.

DISSOLUTION.


It was now Mary's turn to feel that she was, for the first time in her
life, about to be cut adrift--adrift, that is, as a world is adrift, on
the surest of paths, though without eyes to see. For ten days or so,
she could form no idea of what she was likely or would like to do next.
But, when we are in such perplexity, may not the fact be accepted as
showing that decision is not required of us--perhaps just because our
way is at the moment being made straight for us?

Joseph called once or twice, but, for Letty's sake, they had no music.
As they met so seldom now, Mary, anxious to serve him as she could,
offered him the loan of some of her favorite books. He accepted it with
a gladness that surprised her, for she did not know how much he had of
late been reading.

One day she received an unexpected visit--from Mr. Brett, her lawyer.
He had been searching into the affairs of the shop, and had discovered
enough to make him uneasy, and indeed fill him with self-reproach that
he had not done so with more thoroughness immediately on her father's
death. He had come to tell her all he knew, and talk the matter over
with her, that they might agree what proceedings should be taken.

I will not weary myself or my readers with business detail, for which
kind of thing I have no great aptitude, and a good deal of
incapacitating ignorance; but content myself with the briefest
statement of the condition in which Mr. Brett found the affairs of Mr.
Turnbull.

He had been speculating in several companies, making haste to be rich,
and had periled and lost what he had saved of the profits of the
business, and all of Mary's as well that had not been elsewhere
secured. He had even trenched on the original capital of the firm, by
postponing the payment of moneys due, and allowing the stock to run
down and to deteriorate, and things out of fashion to accumulate, so
that the business had perceptibly fallen off. But what displeased Mary
more than anything was, that he had used money of her father's to
speculate with in more than one public-house; and she knew that, if in
her father's lifetime he had so used even his own, it would have been
enough to make him insist on dissolving partnership.

It was impossible to allow her money to remain any longer in the power
of such a man, and she gave authority to Mr. Brett to make the
necessary arrangements for putting an end to business relations between
them.

It was a somewhat complicated, therefore tedious business; and things
looked worse the further they were searched into. Unable to varnish the
facts to the experience of a professional eye, Mr. Turnbull wrote Mary
a letter almost cringing in its tone, begging her to remember the years
her father and he had been as brothers; how she had grown up in the
shop, and had been to him, until misunderstandings arose, into the
causes of which he could not now enter, in the place of a daughter; and
insisting that her withdrawal from it had had no small share in the
ruin of the business. For these considerations, and, more than all, for
the memory of her father, he entreated her to leave things as they
were, to trust him to see after the interests of the daughter of his
old friend, and not insist upon measures which must end in a forced
sale, in the shutting up of the shop of Turnbull and Marston, and the
disgracing of her father's name along with his.

Mary replied that she was acting by the advice of her father's lawyer,
and with the regard she owed her father's memory, in severing all
connection with a man in whom she no longer had confidence; and
insisted that the business must be wound up as soon as possible.

She instructed Mr. Brett, at the same time, that, if it could be
managed, she would prefer getting the shop, even at considerable loss,
into her own hands, with what stock might be in it, when she would
attempt to conduct the business on principles her father would have
approved, whereby she did not doubt of soon restoring it to repute.
While she had no intention, she said, of selling so _well_ as Mr.
Turnbull would fain have done, she believed she would soon be able to
buy to just as good advantage as he. It would be necessary, however, to
keep her desire a secret, else Mr. Turnbull would be certain to
frustrate it.

Mr. Brett approved of her plan, for he knew she was much respected, and
had many friends. Mr. Turnbull would be glad, he said, to give up the
whole to escape prosecution--that at least was how Mary interpreted his
somewhat technical statement of affairs between them.

The swindler wrote again, begging for an interview--which she declined,
except in the presence of her lawyer.

She made up her mind that she would not go near Testbridge till
everything was settled, and the keys of the shop in Mr. Brett's hands;
and remained, therefore, where she was--with Letty, who to keep her
company delayed her departure as long as she could without giving
offense at Thornwick.

A few days before Letty was at last compelled to leave, Jasper called,
and heard about as much as they knew themselves of their plans. When
Mary said to him she would miss her pupil, he smiled in a sort of
abstracted way, as if not quite apprehending what she said, which
seemed to Mary a little odd, his manners in essentials being those of a
gentleman, as judged by one a little more than a lady; for there is an
unnamed degree higher than the ordinary _lady_. So Mary was left
alone--more alone than she had ever been in her life. But she did not
feel lonely, for the best of reasons--that she never fancied herself
alone, but knew that she was not. Also she had books at her command,
being one of the few who can read; and there were picture-galleries to
go to, and music-lessons to be had. Of these last she crowded in as
many as her master could be persuaded to give her--for it would be
long, she knew, before she was able to have such again.

Joseph Jasper never came near her. She could not imagine why, and was
disappointed and puzzled. To know that Ann Byrom was in the house was
not a great comfort to her--she regarded so much that Mary loved as of
earth and not of heaven. God's world even she despised, because men
called it nature, and spoke of its influences. But Mary did go up to
see her now and then. Very different she seemed from the time when
first they were at work together over Hesper's twilight dress! Ever
since Mary had made the acquaintance of her brother, she seemed to have
changed toward her. Perhaps she was jealous; perhaps she believed Mary
was confirming him in his bad ways. Just where they were all three of
one mind--just _there_ her rudimentary therefore self-sufficient
religion shut them out from her sympathy and fellowship.

Alone, and with her time at her command, Mary was more inclined than
she had ever been, except for her father's company, to go to church.
The second Sunday after Letty left her, she went to the one nearest,
and in the congregation thought she saw Joseph. A week before, she
would have waited for him as he came out, but, now that he seemed to
avoid her, she would not, and went home neither comforted by the sermon
nor comfortable with herself. For the parson, instead of recognizing,
through all defects of the actual, the pattern after which God had made
man, would fain have him remade after the pattern of the middle-age
monk--a being far superior, no doubt, to the most of his
contemporaries, but as far from the beauty of the perfect man as the
mule is from that of the horse; and she was annoyed with herself that
she was annoyed with Joseph. It was the middle of summer before the
affairs of the firm were wound up, and the shop in the hands of the
London man whom Mr. Brett had employed in the purchase.

Lawyer as he was, however, Mr. Brett had not been sharp enough for
Turnbull. The very next day, a shop in the same street, that had been
to let for some time, displayed above its now open door the sign, _John
Turnbull, late_--then a very small of--_Turnbull and Marston;_
whereupon Mr. Brett saw the oversight of which he had been guilty.
There was nothing in the shop when it was opened, but that Turnbull
utilized for advertisement: he had so arranged, that within an hour the
goods began to arrive, and kept arriving, by every train, for days and
days after, while all the time he made public show of himself, fussing
about, the most triumphant man in the town. It made people talk, and if
not always as he would have liked to hear them talk, yet it was talk,
and, in the matter of advertisement, that is the main thing.

When it was told Mary, it gave her not the smallest uneasiness. She
only saw what had several times seemed on the point of arriving in her
father's lifetime. She would not have moved a finger to prevent it. Let
the two principles meet, with what result God pleased!

Whether he had suspected her design, and had determined to challenge
her before the public, I can not tell; but his wife's aversion to
shopkeeping was so great, that one who knew what sort of scene passed
because of it between them, would have expected that, but for some very
strong reason, he would have been glad enough to retire from that mode
of gaining a livelihood. As it was, things appeared to go on with them
just as before. They still inhabited the villa, the wife scornful of
her surroundings, and the husband driving a good horse to his shop
every morning. How he managed it all, nobody knew but himself, and
whether he succeeded or not was a matter of small interest to any
except his own family and his creditors. He was a man nowise beloved,
although there was something about him that carried simple people with
him--for his ends, not theirs. To those who alluded to the change, he
represented it as entirely his own doing, to be rid of the interference
of Miss Marston in matters of which she knew nothing. He knew well that
a confident lie has all the look of truth, and, while fact and
falsehood were disputing together in men's mouths, he would be selling
his drapery. The country people were flattered by the confidence he
seemed to put in them by this explanation, and those who liked him
before sought the new shop as they had frequented the old one.

Unlike most men, not to say lawyers, Mr. Brett was fully recognizant to
Mary of his oversight, and was not a little relieved to be assured she
would not have had the thing otherwise: she would gladly meet Mr.
Turnbull in a fair field--not that she would in the least acknowledge
or think of him as a rival; she would simply carry out her own ideas of
right, without regard to him or any measures he might take; the result
should be as God willed. Mr. Brett shook his head: he knew her father
of old, and saw the daughter prepared to go beyond the father. Theirs
were principles that did not come within the range of his practice! He
said to himself and his wife that the world could not go on for a
twelvemonth if such ways were to become universal: whether by the world
he meant his own profession, I will not inquire. Certainly he did not
make the reflection that the new ways are intended to throw out the old
ways; and the worst argument against any way is that the world can not
go on so; for that is just what is wanted--that the world should not go
on so. Mr. Brett nevertheless admired not only Mary's pluck, but the
business faculty which every moment she manifested: there is a holy way
of doing business, and, little as business men may think it, that is
the standard by which they must be tried; for their judge in business
affairs is not their own trade or profession, but the man who came to
convince the world concerning right and wrong and the choice between
them; or, in the older speech-to reprove the world of sin, and of
righteousness, and of judgment.



CHAPTER XLIX.

THORNWICK.


It was almost with bewilderment that Mrs. Helmer revisited Thornwick.
The near past seemed to have vanished like a dream that leaves a sorrow
behind it, and the far past to take its place. She had never been
accustomed to reflect on her own feelings; things came, were welcome or
unwelcome, proved better or worse than she had anticipated, passed
away, and were mostly forgotten. With plenty of faculty, Letty had not
yet emerged from the chrysalid condition; she lived much as one in a
dream, with whose dream mingle sounds and glimmers from the waking
world. Very few of us are awake, very few even alive in true, availing
sense. "Pooh! what stuff!" says the sleeper, and will say it until the
waking begins to come.

On the threshold of her old home, then, Letty found her old self
awaiting her; she crossed it, and was once more just Letty, a Letty
wrapped in the garments of sorrow, and with a heaviness at the heart,
but far from such a miserable Letty as during the last of her former
life there. Little joy had been hers since the terrible night when she
fled from its closed doors; and now that she returned, she could take
up everything where she had left it, except the gladness. But peace is
better than gladness, and she was on the way to find that.

Mrs. Wardour, who, for all her severity, was not without a good-sized
heart, and whoso conscience had spoken to her in regard of Letty far
oftener than any torture would have made her allow, was touched with
compassion at sight of her worn and sad look; and, granting to herself
that the poor thing had been punished enough, even for her want of
respect to the house of Thornwick, broke down a little, though with
well-preserved dignity, and took the wandering ewe-lamb to her bosom.
Letty, loving and forgiving always, nestled in it for a moment, and in
her own room quietly wept a long time. When she came out, Mrs. Wardour
pleased herself with the fancy that her eyes were red with the tears of
repentance; but Letty never dreamed of repenting, for that would have
been to deny Tom, to cut off her married life, throw it from her, and
never more see Tom.

By degrees, rapid yet easy, she slid into all her old ways; took again
the charge of the dairy as if she had never left it; attended to the
linen; darned the stockings; and in everything but her pale, thin face,
and heavy, exhausted heart, was the young Letty again. She even went to
the harness-room to look to Cousin Godfrey's stirrups and bits; but
finding, morning after morning for a whole week, that they had not once
been neglected, dismissed the care-not without satisfaction.

Mrs. Wardour continued kind to her; but every now and then would allow
a tone as of remembered naughtiness to be sub-audible in speech or
request. Letty, even in her own heart, never resented it. She had been
so used to it in the old days, that it seemed only natural. And then
her aunt considered her health in the kindest way. Now that Letty had
known some of the troubles of marriage, she felt more sympathy with
her, did not look down upon her from quite such a height, and to Letty
this was strangely delightful. Oh, what a dry, hard, cold world this
would grow to, but for the blessing of its many sicknesses!

When Godfrey saw her moving about the house as in former days, but
changed, like one of the ghosts of his saddest dreams, a new love began
to rise out of the buried seed of the old. In vain he reasoned with
himself, in vain he resisted. The image of Letty, with its trusting
eyes fixed on him so "solemn sad," and its watching looks full of
ministration, haunted him, and was too much for him. She was never the
sort of woman he could have fancied himself falling in love with; he
did in fact say to himself that she was only _almost_ a lady-but at the
word his heart rebuked him for a traitor to love and its holy laws.
Neither in person was she at all his ideal. A woman like Hesper,
uplifted and strong, broad-fronted and fearless, large-limbed, and full
of latent life, was more of the ideal he could have written poetry
about. But we are deeper than we know. Who is capable of knowing his
own ideal? The ideal of a man's self is hid in the bosom of God, and
may lie ages away from his knowledge; and his ideal of woman is the
ideal belonging to this unknown self: the ideal only can bring forth an
ideal. He can not, therefore, know his own ideal of woman; it is,
nevertheless--so I presume--this his own unknown ideal that makes a man
choose against his choice. Gladly would Godfrey now have taken Letty to
his arms. It was no longer anything that from boyhood he had vowed
rather to die unmarried, and let the land go to a stranger, than marry
a widow. He had to recall every restraining fact of his and her
position to prevent him from now precipitating that which he had before
too long delayed. But the gulf of the grave and the jealousy of a
mother were between them; for, if he were again to rouse her
suspicions, she would certainly get rid of Letty, as she had before
intended, so depriving her of a home, and him of opportunity. He kept,
therefore, out of Letty's way as much as he could, went more about the
farm, and took long rides.

Nothing was further from Letty than any merest suspicion of the sort of
regard Godfrey cherished for her. There was in her nothing of the
self-sentimental. Her poet was gone from her, but she did not therefore
take to poetry; nay, what poetry she had learned to like was no longer
anything to her, now her singing bird had flown to the land of song. To
her, Tom was the greatest, the one poet of the age; he had been
hers--was hers still, for did he not die telling her that he would go
on watching till she came to him? He had loved her, she knew; he had
learned to love her better before he died. She must be patient; the day
would come when she should be a Psyche, as he had told her, and soar
aloft in search of her mate. The sense of wifehood had grown one with
her consciousness. It mingled with all her prayers, both in chamber and
in church. As she went about the house, she was dreaming of her Tom--an
angel in heaven, she said to herself, but none the less her husband,
and waiting for her. If she did not read poetry, she read her New
Testament; and if she understood it only in a childish fashion, she
obeyed it in a child-like one, whence the way of all wisdom lay open
before her. It is not where one is, but in what direction he is going.
Before her, too, was her little boy--borne in his father's arms, she
pictured him, and hearing from him of the mother who was coming to them
by and by, when God had made her good enough to rejoin them!

But, while she continued thus simple, Godfrey could not fail to see how
much more of a woman she had grown: he was not yet capable of seeing
that she would--could never hare got so far with him, even if he had
married her.

Love and marriage are of the Father's most powerful means for the
making of his foolish little ones into sons and daughters. But so
unlike in many cases are the immediate consequences to those desired
and expected, that it is hard for not a few to believe that he is
anywhere looking after their fate--caring about them at all. And the
doubt would be a reasonable one, if the end of things was marriage. But
the end is life--that we become the children of God; after which, all
things can and will go their grand, natural course; the heart of the
Father will be content for his children, and the hearts of the children
will be content in their Father.

Godfrey indulged one great and serious mistake in reference to Letty,
namely, that, having learned the character of Tom through the saddest
of personal experience, she must have come to think of him as he did,
and must have dismissed from her heart every remnant of love for him.
Of course, he would not hint at such a thing, he said to himself, nor
would she for a moment allow it, but nothing else could be the state of
her mind! He did not know that in a woman's love there is more of the
specially divine element than in a man's--namely, the original, the
unmediated. The first of God's love is not founded upon any merit,
rests only on being and need, and the worth that is yet unborn.

The Redmains were again at Durnmelling--had been for some weeks; and
Sepia had taken care that she and Godfrey should meet--on the footpath
to Testbridge, in the field accessible by the breach in the ha-ha--here
and there and anywhere suitable for a little detention and talk that
should seem accidental, and be out of sight. Nor was Godfrey the man to
be insensible to the influence of such a woman, brought to bear at
close quarters. A man less vulnerable--I hate the word, but it is the
right one with Sepia concerned, for she was, in truth, an enemy--might
perhaps have yielded room to the suspicion that these meetings were not
all so accidental as they appeared, and as Sepia treated them; but no
glimmer of such a thought passed through the mind of Godfrey. He knew
nothing of all that my readers know to Sepia's disadvantage, and her
eyes were enough to subdue most men from the first--for a time at
least. Had it not been for the return of Letty, she would by this time
have had him her slave: nothing but slavery could it ever be to love a
woman like her, who gave no love in return, only exercised power. But
although he was always glad to meet her, and his heart had begun to
beat a little faster at sight of her approach, the glamour of her
presence was nearly destroyed by the arrival of Letty; and Sepia was
more than sharp enough to perceive a difference in the expression of
his eyes the next time she met him. At the very first glance she
suspected some hostile influence at work--intentionally hostile, for
persons with a consciousness like Sepia's are always imagining enemies.
And as the two worst enemies she could have were the truth and a woman,
she was alternately jealous and terrified: the truth and a woman
together, she had not yet begun to fear; that would, indeed, be too
much!

She soon found there was a young woman at Thornwick, who had but just
arrived; and ere long she learned who she was--one, indeed, who had
already a shadowy existence in her life--was it possible the shadow
should be now taking solidity, and threatening to foil her? Not once
did it occur to her that, were it so, there would be retribution in it.
She had heard of Tom's death through "The Firefly," which had a kind,
extravagant article about him, but she had not once thought of his
widow--and there she was, a hedge across the path she wanted to go! If
the house of Durnmelling had but been one story higher, that she might
see all round Thornwick!

For some time now, as I have already more than hinted, Sepia had been
fashioning a man to her thrall--Mewks, namely, the body-servant of Mr.
Redmain. It was a very gradual process she had adopted, and it had been
the more successful. It had got so far with him that whatever Sepia
showed the least wish to understand, Mewks would take endless trouble
to learn for her. The rest of the servants, both at Durnmelling and in
London, were none of them very friendly with her--least of all Jemima,
who was now with her mistress as lady's-maid, the accomplished
attendant whom Hesper had procured in place of Mary being away for a
holiday.

The more Sepia realized, or thought she realized, the position she was
in, the more desirous was she to get out of it, and the only feasible
and safe way, in her eyes, was marriage: there was nothing between that
and a return to what she counted slavery. Rather than lift again such a
hideous load of irksomeness, she would find her way out of a world in
which it was not possible, she said, to be both good and comfortable:
she had, in truth, tried only the latter. But if she could, she
thought, secure for a husband this gentleman-yeoman, she might hold up
her head with the best. Even if Galofta should reappear, she would know
then how to meet him: with a friend or two, such as she had never had
yet, she could do what she pleased! It was hard work to get on quite
alone--or with people who cared only for themselves! She must have some
love on her side! some one who cared for _her_!

From all she could learn, there was nothing that amounted even to
ordinary friendship between Mr. Wardour and the young widow. She was in
the family but as a distant poor relation--"Much as I am myself!"
thought Sepia, with a bitter laugh that even in her own eyes she should
be comparable to a poor creature like Letty. The fact, however,
remained that Godfrey was a little altered toward her: she must have
been telling him something against her--something she had heard from
that detestable little hypocrite who was turned away on suspicion of
theft! Yes--that was how Sepia talked _to herself_ about Mary.

One morning, Letty, finding she had an hour's leisure, for her aunt did
not pursue her as of old time, wandered out to the oak on the edge of
the ha-ha, so memorable with the shadowy presence of her Tom. She had
not been seated under it many minutes before Godfrey caught sight of
her from his horse's back: knowing his mother was gone to Testbridge,
he yielded to an urgent longing, took his horse to the stable, and
crossed the grass to where she sat.

Letty was thinking of Tom--what else was there of her own to
do?--thinking like a child, looking up into the cloud-flecked sky, and
thinking Tom was somewhere there, though she could not see him: she
must be good and patient, that she might go up to him, as he could not
come down to her--if he could, he would have come long ago! All the
enchantment of the first days of her love had come back upon the young
widow; all the ill that had crept in between had failed from out her
memory, as the false notes in music melt in the air that carries the
true ones across ravine and river, meadow and grove, to the listening
ear. Letty lived in a dream of her husband--in heaven, "yet not from
her"--such a dream of bliss and hope as in itself went far to make up
for all her sorrows.

She was sitting with her back toward the tree and her face to
Thornwick, and yet she did not see Godfrey till he was within a few
yards of her. She smiled, expecting his kind greeting, but was startled
to hear from behind her instead the voice of a lady greeting him. She
turned her head involuntarily: there was the head of Sepia rising above
the breach in the ha-ha, and Godfrey had turned aside and run to give
her his hand.

Now Letty knew Sepia by sight, from the evening she had spent at the
old hall; more of her she knew nothing. From the mind of Tom, in his
illness, her baleful influence had vanished like an evil dream, and
Mary had not thought it necessary to let him know how falsely,
contemptuously, and contemptibly, she had behaved toward him. Letty,
therefore, had no feeling toward Sepia but one of admiration for her
grace and beauty, which she could appreciate the more that they were so
different from her own.

"Thank you," said Sepia, holding fast by Godfrey's hand, and coming up
with a little pant. "What a lovely day it is for your haymaking! How
can you afford the time to play knight-errant to a distressed damsel?"

"The hay is nearly independent of my presence," replied Godfrey. "Sun
and wind have done their parts too well for my being of much use."

"Take me with you to see how they are getting on. I am as fond of hay
as Bottom in his translation."

She had learned Godfrey's love of literature, and knew that one
quotation may stand for much knowledge.

"I will, with pleasure," said Godfrey, perhaps a little consoled in the
midst of his disappointment; and they walked away, neither taking
notice of Letty.

"I did not know," she said to herself, "that the two houses had come
together at last! What a handsome couple they make!"

What passed between them is scarcely worthy of record. It is enough to
say that Sepia found her companion distrait, and he felt her a little
invasive. In a short while they came back together, and Sepia saw Letty
under the great bough of the Durnmelling oak. Godfrey handed her down
the rent, careful himself not to invade Durnmelling with a single foot.
She ran home, and up to a certain window with her opera-glass. But the
branches and foliage of the huge oak would have concealed pairs and
pairs of lovers.

Godfrey turned toward Letty. She had not stirred.

"What a beautiful creature Miss Yolland is!" she said, looking up with
a smile of welcome, and a calmness that prevented the slightest
suspicion of a flattering jealousy.

"I was coming to _you_," returned Godfrey. "I never saw her till her
head came up over the ha-ha.--Yes, she is beautiful--at least, she has
good eyes."

"They are splendid! What a wife she would make for you, Cousin Godfrey!
I should like to see such a two."

Letty was beyond the faintest suggestion of coquetry. Her words drove a
sting to the heart of Godfrey. He turned pale. But not a word would he
have spoken then, had not Letty in her innocence gone on to torture
him. She sprang from the ground.

"Are you ill, Cousin Godfrey?" she cried in alarm, and with that sweet
tremor of the voice that shows the heart is near. "You are quite
white!--Oh, dear! I've said something I oughtn't to have said! What can
it be? Do forgive me, Cousin Godfrey." In her childlike anxiety she
would have thrown her arms round his neck, but her hands only reached
his shoulders. He drew back: such was the nature of the man that every
sting tasted of offense. But he mastered himself, and in his turn,
alarmed at the idea of having possibly hurt her, caught her hands in
his. As they stood regarding each other with troubled eyes, the
embankment of his prudence gave way, and the stored passion broke out.

"You don't _mean_ you would like to see me married, Letty?" he groaned.

"Yes, indeed, I do, Cousin Godfrey! You would make such a lovely
husband!"

"Ah! I thought as much! I knew you never cared for me, Letty!"

He dropped her hands, and turned half aside, like a figure warped with
fire.

"I care for you more than anybody in the world--except, perhaps, Mary,"
said Letty: truthfulness was a part of her.

"And I care for you more than all the world!--more than very being--it
is worthless without you. O Letty! your eyes haunt me night and day! I
love you with my whole soul."

"How kind of you, Cousin Godfrey!" faltered Letty, trembling, and not
knowing what she said. She was very frightened, but hardly knew why,
for the idea of Godfrey in love with her was all but inconceivable.
Nevertheless, its approach was terrible. Like a fascinated bird she
could not take her eyes off his face. Her knees began to fail her; it
was all she could do to stand. But Godfrey was full of himself, and had
not the most shadowy suspicion of how she felt. He took her emotion for
a favorable sign, and stupidly went on:

"Letty, I can't help it! I know I oughtn't to speak to you like
this--so soon, but I can't keep quiet any longer. I love you more than
the universe and its Maker. A thousand times rather would I cease to
live, than live without you to love me. I have loved you for years and
years--longer than I know. I was loving you with heart and soul and
brain and eyes when you went away and left me."

"Cousin Godfrey!" shrieked Letty, "don't you know I belong to Tom?"

And she dropped like one lifeless on the grass at his feet.

Godfrey felt as if suddenly damned; and his hell was death. He stood
gazing on the white face. The world, heaven, God, and nature were dead,
and that was the soul of it all, dead before him! But such death is
never born of love. This agony was but the fog of disappointed
self-love; and out of it suddenly rose what seemed a new power to live,
but one from a lower world: it was all a wretched dream, out of which
he was no more to issue, in which he must go on for ever, dreaming, yet
acting as one wide awake! Mechanically he stooped and lifted the
death-defying lover in his arms, and carried her to the house. He felt
no thrill as he held the treasure to his heart. It was the merest
material contact. He bore her to the room where his mother sat, laid
her on the sofa, said he had found her under the oak-tree--and went to
his study, away in the roof. On a chair in the middle of the floor he
sat, like a man bereft of all. Nothing came between him and suicide but
an infinite scorn. A slow rage devoured his heart. Here he was, a man
who knew his own worth, his faithfulness, his unchangeableness, cast
over the wall of the universe, into the waste places, among the broken
shards of ruin! If there was a God--and the rage in his heart declared
his being--why did he make him? To make him for such a misery was pure
injustice, was willful cruelty! Henceforward he would live above what
God or woman could do to him! He rose and went to the hay-field, whence
he did not return till after midnight.

He did not sleep, but he came to a resolution. In the morning he told
his mother that he wanted a change; now that the hay was safe, he would
have a run, he hardly knew where--possibly on the Continent; she must
not be uneasy if she did not hear from him for a week or two; perhaps
he would have a look at the pyramids. The old lady was filled with
dismay; but scarcely had she begun to expostulate when she saw in his
eyes that something was seriously amiss, and held her peace--she had
had to learn that with both father and son. Godfrey went, and courted
distraction. Ten years before, he would have brooded: that he would not
do now: the thing was not worth it! His pride was strong as ever, and
both helped him to get over his suffering, and prevented him from
gaining the good of it. He intrenched himself in his pride. No one
should say he had not had his will! He was a strong man, and was going
to prove it to himself afresh!

Thus thought Godfrey; but he is in reality a weak man who must have
recourse to pride to carry him through. Only, if a man has not love
enough to make a hero of him, what is he to do?

He was away a month, and came back in seeming health and spirits. But
it was no small relief to him to find on his arrival that Letty was no
longer at Thornwick.

She had gone through a sore time. To have made Godfrey unhappy, made
her miserable; but how was she to help it? She belonged to Tom! Not
once did she entertain the thought of ceasing to be Tom's. She did not
even say to herself, what would Tom do if she forgot and forsook
him--and for what he could not help! for having left her because death
took him away! But what was she to do? She must not remain where she
was. No more must she tell his mother why she went.

She wrote to Mary, and told her she could not stay much longer. They
were very kind, she said, but she must be gone before Godfrey came back.

Mary suspected the truth. The fact that Letty did not give her any
reason was almost enough. The supposition also rendered intelligible
the strange mixture of misery and hardness in Godfrey's behavior at the
time of Letty's old mishap. She answered, begging her to keep her mind
easy about the future, and her friend informed of whatever concerned
her.

This much from Mary was enough to set Letty at comparative ease. She
began to recover strength, and was able to write a letter to Godfrey,
to leave where he would find it, in his study.

It was a lovely letter--the utterance of a simple, childlike
spirit--with much in it, too, I confess, that was but prettily
childish. She poured out on Godfrey the affection of a womanchild. She
told him what a reverence and love he had been to her always; told him,
too, that it would change her love into fear, perhaps something worse,
if he tried to make her forget Tom. She told him he was much too grand
for her to dare love him in that way, but she could look up to him like
an angel--only he must not come between her and Tom. Nothing could be
plainer, simpler, honester, or stronger, than the way the little woman
wrote her mind to the great man. Had he been worthy of her, he might
even yet, with her help, have got above his passion in a grand way, and
been a great man indeed. But, as so many do, he only sat upon himself,
kept himself down, and sank far below his passion.

When he went to his study the day after his return, he saw the letter.
His heart leaped like a wild thing in a trap at sight of the
ill-shaped, childish writing; but--will my lady reader believe it?--the
first thought that shot through it was--"She shall find it too late! I
am not one to be left and taken at will!" When he read it, however, it
was with a curling lip of scorn at the childishness of the creature to
whom he had offered the heart of Godfrey Wardour. Instead of admiring
the lovely devotion of the girl-widow to her boy-husband, he scorned
himself for having dreamed of a creature who could not only love a fool
like Tom Helmer, but go on loving him after he was dead, and that even
when Godfrey Wardour had condescended to let her know he loved her. It
was thus the devil befooled him. Perhaps the worst devil a man can be
posessed withal, is himself. In mere madness, the man is beside
himself; but in this case he is inside himself; the presiding,
indwelling, inspiring sprit of him is himself, and that is the hardest
of all to cast out. Godfrey rose form the reading of that letter
_cured,_ as he called it. But it was a cure that left the wound open as
a door to the entrance of evil things. He tore the letter into a
thousand pieces, and throw them into the empty grate--not even showed
it the respect of burning it with fire.

Mary had got her affairs settled, and was again in the old place, the
hallowed temple of so many holy memories. I do not forget it was a shop
I call a temple. In that shop God had been worshiped with holiest
worship--that is, obedience--and would be again. Neither do I forget
that the devil had been worshiped there too--in what temple is he not?
He has fallen like lightning from heaven, but has not yet been cast out
of the earth. In that shop, however, he would be worshiped no more for
a season.

At once she wrote to Letty, saying the room which had been hers was at
her service as soon as she pleased to occupy it: she would take her
father's.

Letty breathed a deep breath of redemption, and made haste to accept
the offer. But to let Mrs. Wardour know her resolve was a severe strain
on her courage.

I will not give the conversation that followed her announcement that
she was going to visit Mary Marston. Her aunt met it with scorn and
indignation. Ingratitude, laziness, love of low company, all the old
words of offense she threw afresh in her face. But Letty could not help
being pleased to find that her aunt's storm no longer swamped her boat.
When she began, however, to abuse Mary, calling her a low creature, who
actually gave up an independent position to put herself at the beck and
call of a fine lady, Letty grew angry.

"I must not sit and hear you call Mary names, aunt," she said. "When
you cast me out, she stood by me. You do not understand her. She is the
only friend I ever had-except Tom."

"You dare, you thankless hussy, to say such a thing in the house where
you've been clothed and fed and sheltered for so many years! You're the
child of your father with a vengeance! Get out of my sight!"

"Aunt--" said Letty, rising.

"No aunt of yours!" interrupted the wrathful woman.

"Mrs. Wardour," said Letty, with dignity, "you have been my benefactor,
but hardly my friend: Mary has taught me the difference. I owe you more
than you will ever give me the chance of repaying you. But what
friendship could have stood for an hour the hard words you have been in
the way of giving me, as far back as I can remember! Hard words take
all the sweetness from shelter. Mary is the only Christian _I_ have
ever known."

"So we are all pagans, except your low-lived lady's-maid! Upon my word!"

"She makes me feel, often, often," said Letty, bursting into tears, "as
if I were with Jesus himself--as if he must be in the room somewhere."

So saying, she left her, and went to put up her things. Mrs. Wardour
locked the door of the room where she sat, and refused to see or speak
to her again. Letty went away, and walked to Testbridge.

"Godfrey will do something to make her understand," she said to
herself, weeping as she walked.

Whether Godfrey ever did, I can not tell.



CHAPTER L.

WILLIAM AND MARY MARSTON.


The same day on which Turnbull opened his new shop, a man was seen on a
ladder painting out the sign above the old one. But the paint took time
to dry.

The same day, also, Mary returned to Testbridge, and, going in by the
kitchen-door, went up to her father's room, of which and of her own she
had kept the keys--to the indignation of Turnbull, who declared he did
not know how to get on without them for storage. But, for all his
bluster, he was afraid of Mary, and did not dare touch anything she had
left.

That night she spent alone in the house. But she could not sleep. She
got up and went down to the shop. It was a bright, moonlit night, and
all the house, even where the moon could not enter, was full of glimmer
and gleam, except the shop. There she lighted a candle, sat down on a
pile of goods, and gave herself up to memories of the past. Back and
back went her thoughts as far as she could send them. God was
everywhere in all the story; and the clearer she saw him there the
surer she was that she would find him as she went on. She was neither
sad nor fearful. The dead hours of the night came, that valley of the
shadow of death where faith seems to grow weary and sleep, and all the
things of the shadow wake up and come out and say, "Here we are, and
there is nothing but us and our kind in the universe!" They woke up and
came out upon Mary now, but she fought them off. Either there is
mighty, triumphant life at the root and apex of all things, or life is
not--and whence, then, the power of dreaming horrors? It is life
alone--life imperfect--that can fear; death can not fear. Even the
terror that walketh by night is a proof that I live, and that it shall
not prevail against me. And to Mary, besides her heavenly Father, her
William Marston seemed near all the time. Whereever she turned she saw
the signs of him, and she pleased herself to think that perhaps he was
there to welcome her. But it would not have made her the least sad to
know for certain that he was far off, and would never come near her
again in this world. She knew that, spite of time and space, she was
and must be near him so long as she loved and did the truth. She knew
there is no bond so strong, none so close, none so lasting as the
truth. In God alone, who is the truth, can creatures meet.

The place was left in sad confusion and dirt, and she did not a little
that night to restore order at least. But at length she was tired, and
went up to her room.

On the first landing there was a window to the street. She stopped and
looked out, candle in hand, but drew back with a start: on the opposite
side of the way stood a man, looking up, she thought, at the house! She
hastened to her room, and to bed. If God was not watching, no waking
was of use; and if God was watching, she might sleep in peace. She did
sleep, and woke refreshed.

Her first care in the morning was to write to Letty--with the result I
have set down. The next thing she did was to go and ask Beenie to give
her some breakfast. The old woman was delighted to see her, and ready
to lock her door at once and go back to her old quarters. They returned
together, while Testbridge was yet but half awake.

Many things had to be done before the shop could be opened. Beenie went
after charwomen, and soon a great bustle of cleaning arose. But the
door was kept shut, and the front windows.

In the afternoon Letty came fresh from misery into more than
counterbalancing joy. She took but time to put off her bonnet and
shawl, and was presently at work helping Mary, cheerful as hope and a
good conscience could make her.

Mary was in no hurry to open the shop. There was "stock to be taken,"
many things had to be rearranged, and not a few things to be added,
before she could begin with comfort; and she must see to it all
herself, for she was determined to engage no assistant until she could
give her orders without hesitation.

She was soon satisfied that she could not do better than make a
proposal to Letty which she had for some time contemplated--namely,
that she should take up her permanent abode with her, and help her in
the shop. Letty was charmed, nor ever thought of the annoyance it would
be to her aunt. Mary had thought of that, but saw that, for Letty to
allow the prejudices of her aunt to influence her, would be to order
her life not by the law of that God whose Son was a workingman, but
after the whim and folly of an ill-educated old woman. A new spring of
life seemed to bubble up in Letty the moment Mary mentioned the matter;
and in serving she soon proved herself one after Mary's own heart.
Letty's day was henceforth without a care, and her rest was sweet to
her. Many customers were even more pleased with her than with Mary.
Before long, Mary, besides her salary, gave her a small share in the
business.

Mrs. Wardour carried her custom to the Turnbulls.

When the paint was dry which obliterated the old sign, people saw the
now one begin with an _M_., and the sign-writer went on until there
stood in full, _Mary Marston_. Mr. Brett hinted he would rather have
seen it without the Christian name; but Mary insisted she would do and
be nothing she would not hold just that name to; and on the sign her
own name, neither more nor less, should stand. She would have liked,
she said, to make it _William and Mary Marston_; for the business was
to go on exactly as her father had taught her; the spirit of her father
should never be out of the place; and if she failed, of which she had
no fear, she would fail trying to carry out his ideas-but people were
too dull to understand, and she therefore set the sign so in her heart
only.

Her old friends soon began to come about her again, and it was not many
weeks before she saw fit to go to London to add to her stock.

The evening of her return, as she and Letty sat over a late tea, a
silence fell, during which Letty had a brooding fit.

"I wonder how Cousin Godfrey is getting on?" she said at last, and
smiled sadly.

"How do you mean _getting on_?" asked Mary.

"I was wondering whether Miss Yolland and he--"

Mary started from her seat, white as the table-cloth.

"Letty!" she said, in a voice of utter dismay, "you don't mean that
woman is--is making friends with _him_?"

"I saw them together more than once, and they seemed--well, on very
good terms."

"Then it is all over with him!" cried Mary, in despair. "O Letty! what
_is_ to be done? Why didn't you tell me before? He'll be madly in love
with her by this time! They always are."

"But where's the harm, Mary? She's a very handsome lady, and of a good
family."

"We're all of good enough family," said Mary, a little petulantly. "But
that Miss Yolland--Letty--that Miss Yolland--she's a bad woman, Letty."

"I never heard you say such a hard word of anybody before, Mary! It
frightens me to hear you."

"It's a true word of her, Letty."

"How can you be so sure?"

Mary was silent. There was that about Letty that made the maiden shrink
from telling the married woman what she knew. Besides, in so far as Tom
had been concerned, she could not bring herself, even without
mentioning his name, to talk of him to his wife: there was no evil to
be prevented and no good to be done by it. If Letty was ever to know
those passages in his life, she must hear them first in high places,
and from the lips of the repentant man himself!

"I can not tell you, Letty," she said. "You know the two bonds of
friendship are the right of silence and the duty of speech. I dare say
you have some things which, truly as I know you love me, you neither
wish nor feel at liberty to tell me."

Letty thought of what had so lately passed between her and her cousin
Godfrey, and felt almost guilty. She never thought of one of the many
things Tom had done or said that had cut her to the heart; those had no
longer any existence. They were swallowed in the gulf of forgetful
love--dismissed even as God casts the sins of his children behind his
back: behind God's back is just nowhere. She did not answer, and again
there was silence for a time, during which Mary kept walking about the
room, her hands clasped behind her, the fingers interlaced, and twisted
with a strain almost fierce.

"There's no time! there's no time!" she cried at length. "How are we to
find out? And if we knew all about it, what could we do? O Letty! what
_am_ I to do?"

"Anyhow, Mary dear, _you_ can't be to blame! One would think you
fancied yourself accountable for Cousin Godfrey!"

"I _am_ accountable for him. He has done more for me than any man but
my father; and I know what he does not know, and what the ignorance of
will be his ruin. I know that one of the best men in the world"--so in
her agony she called him--"is in danger of being married by one of the
worst women; and I can't bear it--I can't bear it!"

"But what can you do, Mary?"

"That's what I want to know," returned Mary, with irritation. "What
_am_ I to do? What _am_ I to do?"

"If he's in love with her, he wouldn't believe a word any one--even
you--told him against her."

"That is true, I suppose; but it won't clear me. I must do something."

She threw herself on the couch with a groan.

"It's horrid!" she cried, and buried her face in the pillow.

All this time Letty had been so bewildered by Mary's agitation, and the
cause of it was to her so vague, that apprehension for her cousin did
not wake. But when Mary was silent, then came the thought that, if she
had not so repulsed him--but she could not help it, and would not think
in that direction.

Mary started from the couch, and began again to pace the room, wringing
her hands, and walking up and down like a wild beast in its cage. It
was so unlike her to be thus seriously discomposed, that Letty began to
be frightened. She sat silent and looked at her. Then spoke the spirit
of truth in the scholar, for the teacher was too troubled to hear. She
rose, and going up to Mary from behind, put her arm round her, and
whispered in her ear:

"Mary, why don't you ask Jesus?"

Mary stopped short, and looked at Letty. But she was not thinking about
her; she was questioning herself: why had she not done as Letty said?
Something was wrong with her: that was clear, if nothing else was! She
threw herself again on the couch, and Letty saw her body heaving with
her sobs. Then Letty was more frightened, and feared she had done
wrong. Was it her part to remind Mary of what she knew so much better
than she?

"But, then, I was only referring her to herself!" she thought.

A few minutes, and Mary rose. Her face was wet and white, but
perplexity had vanished from it, and resolution had taken its place.
She threw her arms round Letty, and kissed her, and held her face
against hers. Letty had never seen in her such an expression of emotion
and tenderness.

"I have found out, Letty, dear," she said. "Thank you, thank you,
Letty! You are a true sister."

"What have you found out, Mary?"

"I have found out why I did not go at once to ask Him what I ought to
do. It was just because I was afraid of what he would tell me to do."

And with that the tears ran down her cheeks afresh.

"Then you know now what to do?" asked Letty.

"Yes," answered Mary, and sat down.



CHAPTER LI.

A HARD TASK.


The next morning, leaving the shop to Letty, Mary set out immediately
after breakfast to go to Thornwick. But the duty she had there to
perform was so distasteful, that she felt her very limbs refuse the
office required of them. They trembled so under her that she could
scarcely walk. She sent, therefore, to the neighboring inn for a fly.
All the way, as she went, she was hoping she might be spared an
encounter with Mrs. Wardour; but the old lady heard the fly, saw her
get out, and, imagining she had brought Letty back in some fresh
trouble, hastened to prevent either of them from entering the house.
The door stood open, and they met on the broad step.

"Good morning, Mrs. Wardour," said Mary, trying to speak without
betraying emotion.

"Good morning, Miss Marston," returned Mrs. Wardour, grimly.

"Is Mr. Wardour at home?" asked Mary.

"What is your business with _him_?" rejoined the mother.

"Yes; it is with him," returned Mary, as if she had mistaken her
question, and there had been a point of exclamation after the _What_.

"About that hussy?"

"I do not know whom you call by the name," replied Mary, who would have
been glad indeed to find a fellow-protector of Godfrey in his mother.

"You know well enough whom I mean. Whom should it be, but Letty Lovel!"

"My business has nothing to do with her," answered Mary.

"Whom has it to do with, then?"

"With Mr. Wardour."

"What is it?"

"Only Mr. Wardour himself must hear it. It is his business, not mine."

"I will have nothing to do with it."

"I have no desire to give you the least trouble about it," rejoined
Mary.

"You can't see Mr. Wardour. He's not one to be at the beck and call of
every silly woman that wants him."

"Then I will write, and tell him I called, but you would not allow me
to see him."

"I will give him a message, if you like."

"Then tell him what I have just said. I am going home to write to him.
Good morning."

She was getting into the fly again, when Mrs. Wardour, reflecting that
it must needs be something of consequence that brought her there so
early in a fly, and made her show such a determined front to so great a
personage as herself, spoke again.

"I will tell him you are here; but you must not blame me if he does not
choose to see you. We don't feel you have behaved well about that girl."

"Letty is my friend. I have behaved to her as if she were my sister."

"You had no business to behave to her as if she were your sister. You
had no right to tempt her down to your level."

"Is it degradation to earn one's own living?"

"You had nothing to do with her. She would have done very well if you
had but let her alone."

"Excuse me, ma'am, but I have _some_ right in Letty. I am sorry to have
to assert it, but she would have been dead long ago if I had behaved to
her as you would have me."

"That was all her own fault."

"I will not talk with you about it: you do not know the circumstances
to which I refer. I request to see Mr. Wardour. I have no time to waste
in useless altercation."

Mary was angry, and it did her good; it made her fitter to face the
harder task before her.

That moment they heard the step of Godfrey approaching through a long
passage in the rear. His mother went into the parlor, leaving the door,
which was close to where Mary stood, ajar. Godfrey, reaching the hall,
saw Mary, and came up to her with a formal bow, and a face flushed with
displeasure.

"May I speak to you alone, Mr. Wardour?" said Mary. "Can you not say
what you have to say here?"

"It is impossible."

"Then I am curious to know--"

"Let your curiosity plead for me, then."

With a sigh of impatience he yielded, and led the way to the
drawing-room, which was at the other end of the hall. Mary turned and
shut the door he left open.

"Why all this mystery, Miss Marston?" he said. "I am not aware of
anything between you and me that can require secrecy."

He spoke with unconcealed scorn.

"When I have made my communication, you will at least allow secrecy to
have been necessary."

"Some objects may require it!" said Wardour, in a tone itself an insult.

"Mr. Wardour," returned Mary, "I am here for your sake, not my own. May
I beg you will not render a painful duty yet more difficult?"

"May _I_ beg, then, that you will be as brief as possible? I am more
than doubtful whether what you have to say will seem to me of so much
consequence as you suppose."

"I shall be very glad to find it so."

"I can not give you more than ten minutes." Mary looked at her watch.

"You have lately become acquainted with Miss Yolland, I am told," she
began.

"Whew!" whistled Godfrey, yet hardly as if he were surprised.

"I have been compelled to know a good deal of that lady."

"As lady's-maid in her family, I believe."

"Yes," said Mary--then changing her tone after a slight pause, went on:
"Mr. Wardour, I owe you more than I can ever thank you for. I strongly
desire to fulfill the obligation your goodness has laid upon me, though
I can never discharge it. For the sake of that obligation--for your
sake, I am risking much--namely, your opinion of me."

He made a gesture of impatience.

"I _know_ Miss Yolland to be a woman without principle. I know it by
the testimony of my own eyes, and from her own confession. She is
capable of playing a cold-hearted, cruel game for her own ends. Be
persuaded to consult Mr. Redmain before you commit yourself. Ask him if
Miss Yolland is fit to be the wife of an honest man."

There was nothing in Godfrey's countenance but growing rage. Turning to
the door, Mary would have gone without another word.

"Stay!" cried Godfrey, in a voice of suppressed fury. "Do not dare to
go until I have told you that you are a vile slanderer. I knew
something of what I had to expect, but you should never have entered
this room had I known how far your effrontery could carry you. Listen
to me: if anything more than the character of your statement had been
necessary to satisfy me of the falsehood of every word of it, you have
given it me in your reference to Mr. Redmain--a man whose life has
rendered him unfit for the acquaintance, not to say the confidence of
any decent woman. This is a plot--for what final object, God
knows--between you and him! I should be doing my duty were I to expose
you both to the public scorn you deserve."

"Now I am clear!" said Mary to herself, but aloud, and stood erect,
with glowing face and eyes of indignation: "Then why not do your duty,
Mr. Wardour? I should be glad of anything that would open your eyes.
But Miss Yolland will never give Mr. Redmain such an opportunity. Nor
does he desire it, for he might have had it long ago, by the criminal
prosecution of a friend of hers. For my part, I should be sorry to see
her brought to public shame."

"Leave the house!" said Godfrey through his teeth, and almost under his
breath.

"I am sorry it is so hard to distinguish between truth and falsehood,"
said Mary, as she went to the door.

She walked out, got into the fly, and drove home; went into the shop,
and served the rest of the morning; but in the afternoon was obliged to
lie down, and did not appear again for three days.

The reception she had met with did not much surprise her: plainly Sepia
had been before her. She had pretended to make Godfrey her confidant,
had invented, dressed, and poured out injuries to him, and so blocked
up the way to all testimony unfavorable to her. Was there ever man in
more pitiable position?

It added to Godfrey's rage that he had not a doubt Mary knew what had
passed between Letty and him. That, he reasoned, was at the root of it
all: she wanted to bring them together yet: it would be a fine thing
for her to have her bosom-friend mistress of Thornwick! What a cursed
thing he should ever have been civil to her! And what a cursed fool he
was ever to have cared a straw for such a low-minded creature as that
Letty! Thank Heaven, he was cured of that!

Cured?--He had fallen away from love--that was all the cure!

Like the knight of the Red Cross, he was punished for abandoning Una,
by falling in love with Duessa. His rage against Letty, just because of
her faithfulness, had cast him an easy prey into the arms of the
clinging Sepia.

And now what more could Mary do? Just one thing was left: Mr. Redmain
could satisfy Mr. Wardour of the fact he would not hear from her!--so,
at least, thought Mary yet. If Mr. Redmain would take the trouble to
speak to him, Mr. Wardour must be convinced! However true might be what
Mr. Wardour had said about Mr. Redmain, fact remained fact about Sepia!

She sat down and wrote the following letter:

"Sir: I hardly know how to address you without seeming to take a
liberty; at the same time I can not help hoping you trust me enough to
believe that I would not venture such a request as I am about to make,
without good reason. Should you kindly judge me not to presume, and
should you be well enough in health, which I fear may not be the case,
would you mind coming to see me here in my shop? I think you must know
it--it used to be Turnbull and Marston--the Marston was my father. You
will see my name over the door. Any hour from morning to night will do
for me; only please let it be as soon as you can make it convenient.

  "I am, sir,
  "Your humble and grateful servant,
  "MARY MARSTON"

"What the deuce is she grateful to me for?" grumbled Mr. Redmain when
he read it. "I never did anything for her! By Jove, the gypsy herself
wouldn't let me! I vow she's got more brains of her own than any
half-dozen women I ever had to do with before!"

The least thing bearing the look of plot, or intrigue, or secret to be
discovered or heard, was enough for Mr. Redmain. What he had of pride
was not of the same sort as Wardour's: it made no pretense to dignity,
and was less antagonistic, so long at least as there was no talk of
good motive or righteous purpose. Far from being offended with Mary's
request, he got up at once, though indeed he was rather unwell and
dreading an attack, ordered his brougham, and drove to Testbridge.
There, careful of secrecy, he went to several shops, and bought
something at each, but pretended not to find the thing he wanted.

He then said he would lunch at the inn, told his coachman to put up,
and, while his meal was getting ready, went to Mary's shop, which was
but a few doors off. There he asked for a certain outlandish stuff, and
insisted on looking over a bale not yet unpacked. Mary understood him,
and, whispering Letty to take him to the parlor, followed a minute
after.

As soon as she entered--

"Come, now, what's it all about?" he said.

Mary began at once to tell him, as directly as she could, that she was
under obligation to Mr. Wardour of Thornwick, and that she had reason
to fear Miss Yolland was trying to get a hold of him--"And you know
what that would be for any man!" she said.

"No, by Jove! I don't," he answered. "What would it be?"

"Utter ruin," replied Mary. "Then go and tell him so, if you want to
save him."

"I have told him. But he does not like me, and won't believe me."

"Then let him take his own course, and be ruined."

"But I have just told you, sir, I am under obligation to him--great
obligation!"

"Oh! I see! you want him yourself!--Well, as you wish it, I would
rather you should have him than that she-devil. But come, now, you must
be open with me."

"I am. I will be."

"You say so, of course. Women do.--But you confess you want him
yourself?"

Mary saw it would be the worst possible policy to be angry with him,
especially as she had given him the trouble to come to her, and she
must not lose this her last chance.

"I do not want him," she answered, with a smile; "and, if I did, he
would never look at one in my position. He would as soon think of
marrying the daughter of one of his laborers--and quite right, too--for
the one might just be as good as the other."

"Well, now, that's a pity. I would have done a good deal for _you_--I
don't know why, for you're a little humbug if ever there was one! But,
if you don't care about the fellow, I don't see why I should take the
trouble. Confess--you're a little bit in love with him--ain't you, now?
Confess to that, and I will do what I can."

"I can't confess to a lie. I owe Mr. Wardour a debt of gratitude--that
is all--but no light thing, you will allow, sir!"

"I don't know; I never tried its weight. Anyhow, I should make haste to
be rid of it."

"I have sought to make him this return, but he only fancies me a
calumniator. Miss Yolland has been beforehand with me."

"Then, by Jove! I don't see but you're quits with him. If he behaves
like that to you, don't you see, it wipes it all out? Upon my soul! I
don't see why you should trouble your head about him. Let him take his
way, and go to--Sepia."

"But, sir, what a dreadful thing it would be, knowing what she is, to
let a man like him throw himself away on her!"

"I don't see it. I've no doubt he's just as bad as she is. We all are;
we're all the same. And, if he weren't, it would be the better joke.
Besides, you oughtn't to keep up a grudge, don't you know; you ought to
let the--the _woman_ have a chance. If he marries her--and that must be
her game this time--she'll grow decent, and be respectable ever after,
you may be sure--go to church, as you would have her, and all
that--never miss a Sunday, I'll lay you a thousand."

"He's of a good old family!" said Mary, foolishly, thinking that would
weigh with him.

"Good old fiddlestick! Damned old worn-out broom-end! _She's_ of a good
old family--quite good enough for his, you may take your oath! Why, my
girl! the thing's not worth burning your fingers with. You've brought
me here on a goose-errand. I'll go and have my lunch."

He rose.

"I'm sorry to have vexed you, sir," said Mary, greatly disappointed.

"Never mind.--I'm horribly sold," he said, with a tight grin. "I
thought you must have some good thing in hand to make it worth your
while to send for me."

"Then I must try something else," reflected Mary aloud.

"I wouldn't advise you. The man's only the surer to hate you and stick
to her. Let him alone. If he's a stuck-up fellow like that, it will
take him down a bit--when the truth comes out, that is, as come out it
must. There's one good thing in it, my wife'll get rid of her. But I
don't know! there's an enemy, as the Bible says, that sticketh closer
than a brother. And they'll be next door when Durnmelling is mine! But
I can sell it."

"If he _should_ come to you, will you tell him the truth?"

"I don't know that. It might spoil my own little game."

"Will you let him think me a liar and slanderer?"

"No, by Jove! I won't do that. I don't promise to tell him all the
truth, or even that what I do tell him shall be exactly true; but I
won't let him think ill of my little puritan; that would spoil _your_
game. Ta, ta!"

He went out, with his curious grin, amused, and enjoying the idea of a
proud fellow like that being taken in with Sepia.

"I hope devoutly he'll marry her!" he said to himself as he went to his
luncheon. "Then I shall hold a rod over them both, and perhaps buy that
miserable little Thornwick. Mortimer would give the skin off his back
for it."

The thing that ought to be done had to be done, and Mary had done
it--alas! to no purpose for the end desired: what was left her to do
further? She could think of nothing. Sepia, like a moral hyena, must
range her night. She went to bed, and dreamed she was pursued by a
crowd, hooting after her, and calling her all the terrible names of
those who spread evil reports. She woke in misery, and slept no more.



CHAPTER LII.

A SUMMONS.


One hot Saturday afternoon, in the sleepiest time of the day, when
nothing was doing; and nobody in the shop, except a poor boy who had
come begging for some string to help him fly his kite, though for the
last month wind had been more scarce than string, Jemima came in from
Durnmelling, and, greeting Mary with the warmth of the friendship that
had always been true between them, gave her a letter.

"Whom is this from?" asked Mary, with the usual human waste of inquiry,
seeing she held the surest answer in her hand.

"Mr. Mewks gave it me," said Jemima. "He didn't say whom it was from."

Mary made haste to open it: she had an instinctive distrust of
everything that passed through Mewks's hands, and greatly feared that,
much as his master trusted him, he was not true to him. She found the
following note from Mr. Redmain:

"DEAR MISS MARSTON: Come and see me as soon as you can; I have
something to talk to you about. Send word by the bearer when I may look
for you. I am not well.

"Yours truly,

"F. G. REDMAIN."

Mary went to her desk and wrote a reply, saying she would be with him
the next morning about eleven o'clock. She would have gone that same
night, she said, but, as it was Saturday, she could not, because of
country customers, close in time to go so far.

"Give it into Mr. Redmain's own hand, if you can, Jemima," she said.

"I will try; but I doubt if I can, miss," answered the girl.

"Between ourselves, Jemima," said Mary, "I do not trust that man Mewks."

"Nobody does, miss, except the master and Miss Yolland."

"Then," thought Mary, "the thing is worse than I had supposed."

"I'll do what I can, miss," Jemima went on. "But he's so sharp!--Mr.
Mewks, I mean."

After she was gone, Mary wished she had given her a verbal message;
that she might have insisted on delivering in person.

Jemima, with circumspection, managed to reach Mr. Redmain's room
unencountered, but just as she knocked at the door, Mewks came behind
her from somewhere, and snatching the letter out of her hand, for she
carried it ready to justify her entrance to the first glance of her
irritable master, pushed her rudely away, and immediately went in. But
as he did so he put the letter in his pocket.

"Who took the note?" asked his master.

"The girl at the lodge, sir."

"Is she not come back yet?"

"No, sir, not yet. She'll be in a minute, though. I saw her coming up
the avenue."

"Go and bring her here."

"Yes, sir."

Mewks went, and in two minutes returned with the letter, and the
message that Miss Marston hadn't time to direct it.

"You damned rascal! I told you to bring the messenger here."

"She ran the whole way, sir, and not being very strong, was that tired,
that, the moment she got in, the poor thing dropped in a dead faint.
They ain't got her to yet."

His master gave him one look straight in the eyes, then opened the
letter, and read it.

"Miss Marston will call here tomorrow morning," he said; "see that
_she_ is shown up at once--here, to my sitting-room. I hope I am
explicit."

When the man was gone, Mr. Redmain nodded his head three times, and
grinned the skin tight as a drum-head over his cheek-bones.

"There isn't a damned soul of them to be trusted!" he said to himself,
and sat silently thoughtful.

Perhaps he was thinking how often he had come short of the hope placed
in him; times of reflection arrive to most men; and a threatened attack
of the illness he believed must one day carry him off, might well have
disposed him to think.

In the evening he was worse.

By midnight he was in agony, and Lady Margaret was up with him all
night. In the morning came a lull, and Lady Margaret went to bed. His
wife had not come near him. But Sepia might have been seen, more than
once or twice, hovering about his door.

Both she and Mewks thought, after such a night, he must have forgotten
his appointment with Mary.

When he had had some chocolate, he fell into a doze. But his sleep was
far from profound. Often he woke and again dozed off.

The clock in the dressing-room struck eleven.

"Show Miss Marston up the moment she arrives," he said--and his voice
was almost like that of a man in health.

"Yes, sir," replied the startled Mewks, and felt he must obey.

So Mary was at once shown to the chamber of the sick man.

To her surprise (for Mewks had given her no warning), he was in bed,
and looking as ill as ever she had seen him. His small head was like a
skull covered with parchment. He made the slightest of signs to her to
come nearer--and again. She went close to the bed. Mewks sat down at
the foot of it, out of sight. It was a great four-post-bed, with
curtains.

"I'm glad you're come," he said, with a feeble grin, all he had for a
smile. "I want to have a little talk with you. But I can't while that
brute is sitting there. I have been suffering horribly. Look at me, and
tell me if you think I am going to die--not that I take your opinion
for worth anything. That's not what I wanted you for, though. I wasn't
so ill then. But I want you the more to talk to now. _You_ have a bit
of a heart, even for people that don't deserve it--at least I'm going
to believe you have; and, if I am wrong, I almost think I would rather
not know it till I'm dead and gone!--Good God! where shall I be then?"

I have already said that, whether in consequence of remnants of
mother-teaching or from the movements of a conscience that had more
vitality than any of his so-called friends would have credited it with,
Mr. Redmain, as often as his sufferings reached a certain point, was
subject to fits of terror--horrible anguish it sometimes amounted
to--at the thought of hell. This, of course, was silly, seeing hell is
out of fashion in far wider circles than that of Mayfair; but denial
does not alter fact, and not always fear. Mr. Redmain laughed when he
was well, and shook when he was suffering. In vain he argued with
himself that what he held by when in health was much more likely to be
true than a dread which might be but the suggestion of the disease that
was slowly gnawing him to death: as often as the sickness returned, he
received the suggestion afresh, whatever might be its source, and
trembled as before. In vain he accused himself of cowardice--the thing
was there--_in him_--nothing could drive it out. And, verily, even a
madman may be wiser than the prudent of this world; and the courage of
not a few would forsake them if they dared but look the danger in the
face. I pity the poor ostrich, and must I admire the man of whose kind
he is the type, or take him in any sense for a man of courage? Wait
till the thing stares you in the face, and then, whether you be brave
man or coward, you will at all events care little about courage or
cowardice. The nearer a man is to being a true man, the sooner will
conscience of wrong make a coward of him; and herein Redmain had a
far-off kindred with the just. After the night he had passed, he was
now in one of his terror-fits; and this much may be said for his good
sense--that, if there was anywhere a hell for the use of anybody, he
was justified in anticipating a free entrance.

"Mewks!" he called, suddenly, and his tone was loud and angry.

Mewks was by his bedside instantly.

"Get out with you! If I find you in this room again, without having
been called, I will kill you! I am strong enough for that, even without
this pain. They won't hang a dying man, and where I am going they will
rather like it."

Mewks vanished.

"You need not mind, my girl," he went on, to Mary. "Everybody knows I
am ill--very ill. Sit down there, on the foot of the bed, only take
care you don't shake it, and let me talk to you. People, you know, say
nowadays there ain't any hell--or perhaps none to speak of?"

"I should think the former more likely than the latter," said Mary.

"You don't believe there is any? I _am_ glad of that! for you are a
good girl, and ought to know."

"You mistake me, sir. How can I imagine there is no hell, when _he_
said there was?"

"Who's _he_?"

"The man who knows all about it, and means to put a stop to it some
day."

"Oh, yes; I see! Hm!--But I don't for the life of me see what a fellow
is to make of it all--don't you know? Those parsons! They will have it
there's no way out of it but theirs, and I never could see a handle
anywhere to that door!"

"_I_ don't see what the parsons have got to do with it, or, at least,
what you have got to do with the parsons. If a thing is true, you have
as much to do with it as any parson in England; if it is not true,
neither you nor they have anything to do with it."

"But, I tell you, if it be all as true as--as--that we are all sinners,
I don't know what to do with it!"

"It seems to me a simple thing. _That_ man as much as said he knew all
about it, and came to find men that were lost, and take them home."

"He can't well find one more lost than I am! But how am I to believe
it? How can it be true? It's ages since he was here, if ever he was at
all, and there hasn't been a sign of him ever since, all the time!"

"There you may be quite wrong. I think I could find you some who
believe him just as near them now as ever he was to his own
brothers--believe that he hears them when they speak to him, and heeds
what they say."

"That's bosh. You would have me believe against the evidence of my
senses!"

"You must have strange senses, Mr. Redmain, that give you evidence
where they can't possibly know anything! If that man spoke the truth
when he was in the world, he is near us now; if he is not near us,
there is an end of it all."

"The nearer he is, the worse for me!" sighed Mr. Redmain.

"The nearer he is, the better for the worst man that ever breathed."

"That's queer doctrine! Mind you, I don't say it mayn't be all right.
But it does seem a cowardly thing to go asking him to save you, after
you've been all your life doing what ought to damn you--if there be a
hell, mind you, that is."

"But think," said Mary, "if that should be your only chance of being
able to make up for the mischief you have done? No punishment you can
have will do anything for that. No suffering of yours will do anything
for those you have made suffer. But it is so much harder to leave the
old way than to go on and let things take their chance!"

"There may be something in what you say; but still I can't see it
anything better than sneaking, to do a world of mischief, and then
slink away into heaven, leaving all the poor wretches to look after
themselves."

"I don't think Jesus Christ is worse pleased with you for feeling like
that," said Mary.

"Eh? What? What's that you say?--Jesus Christ worse pleased with me?
That's a good one! As if he ever thought about a fellow like me!"

"If he did not, you would not be thinking about him just this minute, I
suspect. There's no sense in it, if he does not think about you. He
said himself he didn't come to call the righteous, but sinners to
repentance."

"I wish I could repent."

"You can, if you will."

"I can't make myself sorry for what's gone and done with."

"No; it wants him to do that. But you can turn from your old ways, and
ask him to take you for a pupil. Aren't you willing to learn, if he be
willing to teach you?"

"I don't know. It's all so dull and stupid! I never could bear going to
church."

"It's not one bit like that! It's like going to your mother, and saying
you're going to try to be a good boy, and not vex her any more."

"I see. It's all right, I dare say! But I've had as much of it as I can
stand! You see, I'm not used to such things. You go away, and send
Mewks. Don't be far off, though, and mind you don't go home without
letting me know. There! Go along."

She had just reached the door, when he called her again.

"I say! Mind whom you trust in this house. There's no harm in Mrs.
Redmain; she only grows stupid directly she don't like a thing. But
that Miss Yolland!--that woman's the devil. I know more about her than
you or any one else. I can't bear her to be about Hesper; but, if I
told her the half I know, she would not believe the half of that. I
shall find a way, though. But I am forgetting! you know her as well as
I do--that is, you would, if you were wicked enough to understand. I
will tell you one of these days what, I am going to do. There! don't
say a word. I want no advice on _such_ things. Go along, and send
Mewks."

With all his suspicion of the man, Mr. Redmain did not suspect _how_
false Mewks was: he did not know that Miss Yolland had bewitched him
for the sake of having an ally in the enemy's camp. All he could
hear--and the dressing-room door was handy--the fellow duly reported to
her. Already, instructed by her fears, she had almost divined what Mr.
Redmain meant to do.

Mary went and sat on the lowest step of the stair just outside the room.

"What are you doing there?" said Lady Margaret, coming from the
corridor.

"Mr. Redmain will not have me go yet, my lady," answered Mary, rising.
"I must wait first till he sends for me."

Lady Margaret swept past her, murmuring, "Most peculiar!" Mary sat down
again.

In about an hour, Mewks came and said his master wanted her.

He was very ill, and could not talk, but he would not let her go. He
made her sit where he could see her, and now and then stretched out his
hand to her. Even in his pain he showed a quieter spirit. "Something
may be working--who can tell!" thought Mary.

It was late in the afternoon when at length he sought further
conversation.

"I have been thinking, Mary," he said, "that if I do wake up in hell
when I die, no matter how much I deserve it, nobody will be the better
for it, and I shall be all the worse."

He spoke with coolness, but it was by a powerful effort: he had waked
from a frightful dream, drenched from head to foot. Coward? No. He had
reason to fear.

"Whereas," rejoined Mary, taking up his clew, "everybody will be the
better if you keep out of it--everybody," she repeated, "--God, and
Jesus Christ, and all their people."

"How do you make that out?" he asked. "God has more to do than look
after such as me."

"You think he has so many worlds to look to--thousands of them only
making? But why does he care about his worlds? Is it not because they
are the schools of his souls? And why should he care for the souls? Is
it not because he is making them children--his own children to
understand him and be happy with his happiness?"

"I can't say I care for his happiness. I want my own. And yet I don't
know any that's worth the worry of it. No; I would rather be put out
like a candle."

"That's because you have been a disobedient child, taking your own way,
and turning God's good things to evil. You don't know what a splendid
thing life is. You actually and truly don't know, never experienced in
your being the very thing you were made for."

"My father had no business to leave me so much money."

"You had no business to misuse it."

"I didn't _quite_ know what _I_ was doing."

"You do now."

Then came a pause.

"You think God hears prayer--do you?"

"I do."

"Then I wish you would ask him to let me off--I mean, to let me die
right out when I do die. What's the good of making a body miserable?"

"That, I am sure it would be of no use to pray for. He certainly will
not throw away a thing he has made, because that thing may be foolish
enough to prefer the dust-hole to a cabinet."

"Wouldn't you do it now, if I asked you?"

"I would not. I would leave you in God's hands rather than inside the
gate of heaven."

"I don't understand you. And you wouldn't say so if you cared for me!
Only, why should you care for me?"

"I would give my life for you."

"Come, now! I don't believe that."

"Why, I couldn't be a Christian if I wouldn't!"

"You are getting absurd!" he cried. But he did not look exactly as if
he thought it.

"Absurd!" repeated Mary. "Isn't that what makes _him_ our Saviour? How
could I be his disciple, if I wouldn't do as he did?"

"You are saying a good deal!"

"Can't you see that I have no choice?"

"_I_ wouldn't do that for anybody under the sun!"

"You are not his disciple. You have not been going about with him."

"And you have?"

"Yes--for many years. Besides, I can not help thinking there is one for
whom you would do it."

"If you mean my wife, you never were more mistaken. I would do nothing
of the sort."

"I did not mean your wife. I mean Jesus Christ."

"Oh, I dare say! Well, perhaps; if I knew him as you do, and if I were
quite sure he wanted it done for him."

"He does want it done for him--always and every day--not for his own
sake, though it does make him very glad. To give up your way for his is
to die for him; and, when any one will do that, then he is able to do
everything for him; for then, and not till then, he gets such a hold of
him that he can lift him up, and set him down beside himself. That's
how my father used to teach me, and now I see it for myself to be true."

"It's all very grand, no doubt; but it ain't nowhere, you know. It's
all in your own head, and nowhere else. You don't, you _can't_
positively believe all that!"

"So much, at least, that I live in the strength and hope it gives me,
and order my ways according to it."

"Why didn't you teach my wife so?"

"I tried, but she didn't care to think. I could not get any further
with her. She has had no trouble yet to make her listen."

"By Jove! I should have thought marrying a fellow like me might have
been trouble enough to make a saint of her."

It was impossible to fix him to any line of thought, and Mary did not
attempt it. To move the child in him was more than all argument.

A pause followed. "I don't love God," he said.

"I dare say not," replied Mary. "How should you, when you don't know
him?"

"Then what's to be done? I can't very well show myself where I hate the
master of the house!"

"If you knew him, you would love him."

"You are judging by yourself. But there is as much difference between
you and me as between light and darkness."

"Not quite that," replied Mary, with one of those smiles that used to
make her father feel as if she were that moment come fresh from God to
him. "If you knew Jesus Christ, you could not help loving him, and to
love him is to love God."

"You wear me out! Will you never come to the point? _Know Jesus
Christ!_ How am I to go back two thousand years?"

"What he was then he is now," answered Mary. "And you may even know him
better than they did at the time who saw him; for it was not until they
understood him better, by his being taken from them, that they wrote
down his life."

"I suppose you mean I must read the New Testament?" said Mr. Redmain,
pettishly.

"Of course!" answered Mary, a little surprised; for she was unaware how
few have a notion what the New Testament is, or is meant for.

"Then why didn't you say so at first? There I have you! That's just
where I learn that I must be damned for ever!"

"I don't mean the Epistles. Those you can't understand--yet."

"I'm glad you don't mean _them._ I hate them."

"I don't wonder. You have never seen a single shine of what they are;
and what most people think them is hardly the least like them. What I
want you to read is the life and death of the son of man, the master of
men."

"I can't read. I should only make myself twice as ill. I won't try."

"But I will read to you, if you will let me."

"How comes it you are such a theologian? A woman is not expected to
know about that sort of thing."

"I am no theologian. There just comes one of the cases in which those
who call themselves his followers do not believe what the Master said:
he said God hid these things from the wise and prudent, and revealed
them to babes. I had a father who was child enough to know them, and I
was child enough to believe him, and so grew able to understand them
for myself. The whole secret is to do the thing the Master tells you:
then you will understand what he tells you. The opinion of the wisest
man, if he does not do the things he reads, is not worth a rush. He may
be partly right, but you have no reason to trust him."

"Well, you shall be my chaplain. To-morrow, if I'm able to listen, you
shall see what you can make of the old sinner."

Mary did not waste words: where would have been the use of pulling up
the poor spiritual clodpole at every lumbering step, at any word
inconsistent with the holy manners of the high countries? Once get him
to court, and the power of the presence would subdue him, and make him
over again from the beginning, without which absolute renewal the best
observance of religious etiquette is worse than worthless. Many good
people are such sticklers for the proprieties! For myself, I take
joyous refuge with the grand, simple, every-day humanity of the man I
find in the story--the man with the heart like that of my father and my
mother and my brothers and sisters. If I may but see and help to show
him a little as he lived to show himself, and not as church talk and
church ways and church ceremonies and church theories and church plans
of salvation and church worldliness generally have obscured him for
hundreds of years, and will yet obscure him for hundreds more!

Toward evening, when she had just rendered him one of the many
attentions he required, and which there was no one that day but herself
to render, for he would scarcely allow Mewks to enter the room, he said
to her:

"Thank you; you are very good to me. I shall remember you. Not that I
think I'm going to die just yet; I've often been as bad as this, and
got quite well again. Besides, I want to show that I have turned over a
new leaf. Don't you think God will give me one more chance, now that I
really mean it? I never did before."

"God can tell whether you mean it without that," she answered, not
daring to encourage him where she knew nothing. "But you said you would
remember me, Mr. Redmain: I hope you didn't mean in your will."

"I did mean in my will," he answered, but in a tone of displeasure. "I
must say, however, I should have preferred you had not _shown_ quite
such an anxiety about it. I sha'n't be in my coffin to-morrow; and I'm
not in the way of forgetting things."

"I _beg_ you," returned Mary, flushing, "to do nothing of the sort. I
have plenty of money, and don't care about more. I would much rather
not have any from you."

"But think how much good you might do with it!" said Mr. Redmain,
satirically. "--It was come by honestly--so far as I know."

"Money can't do half the good people think. It is stubborn stuff to
turn to any good. And in this case it would be directly against good."

"Nobody has a right to refuse what comes honestly in his way. There's
no end to the good that may be done with money--to judge, at least, by
the harm I've done with mine," said Mr. Redmain, this time with
seriousness.

"It is not in it," persisted Mary. "If it had been, our Lord would have
used it, and he never did."

"Oh, but he was all an exception!"

"On the contrary, he is the only man who is no exception. We are the
exceptions. Every one but him is more or less out of the straight. Do
you not see?--he is the very one we must all come to be the same as, or
perish! No, Mr. Redmain! don't leave me any money, or I shall be
altogether bewildered what to do with it. Mrs. Redmain would not take
it from me. Miss Yolland might, but I dared not give it to her. And for
societies, I have small faith in them."

"Well, well! I'll think about it," said Mr. Redmain, who had now got so
far on the way of life as to be capable of believing that when Mary
said a thing she meant it, though he was quite incapable of
understanding the true relations of money. Few indeed are the
Christians capable of that! The most of them are just where Peter was,
when, the moment after the Lord had honored him as the first to
recognize him as the Messiah, he took upon him to object altogether to
his Master's way of working salvation in the earth. The Roman emperors
took up Peter's plan, and the devil has been in the church ever
since--Peter's Satan, whom the Master told to get behind him. They are
poor prophets, and no martyrs, who honor money as an element of any
importance in the salvation of the world. Hunger itself does
incomparably more to make Christ's kingdom come than ever money did, or
ever will do while time lasts. Of course money has its part, for
everything has; and whoever has money is bound to use it as best he
knows; but his best is generally an attempt to do saint-work by
devil-proxy.

"I can't think where on earth-you got such a sackful of extravagant
notions!" Mr. Redmain added.

"I told you before, sir, I had a father who set me thinking!" answered
Mary.

"I wish I had had a father like yours," he rejoined.

"There are not many such to be had."

"I fear mine wasn't just what he ought to be, though he can't have been
such a rascal as his son: he hadn't time; he had his money to make."

"He had the temptation to make it, and you have the temptation to spend
it: which is the more dangerous, I don't know. Each has led to many
crimes."

"Oh, as to crimes--I don't know about that! It depends on what you call
crimes."

"It doesn't matter whether men call a deed a crime or a fault; the
thing is how God regards it, for that is the only truth about it. What
the world thinks, goes for nothing, because it is never right. It would
be worse in me to do some things the world counts perfectly honorable,
than it would be for this man to commit a burglary, or that a murder. I
mean my guilt might be greater in committing a respectable sin, than
theirs in committing a disreputable one."

Had Mary known anything of science, she might have said that, in morals
as in chemistry, the qualitative analysis is easy, but the quantitative
another affair.

The latter part of this conversation, Sepia listening heard, and
misunderstood utterly.

All the rest of the day Mary was with Mr. Redmain, mostly by his
bedside, sitting in silent watchfulness when he was unable to talk with
her. Nobody entered the room except Mewks, who, when he did, seemed to
watch everything, and try to hear everything, and once Lady Margaret.
When she saw Mary seated by the bed, though she must have known well
enough she was there, she drew herself up with grand English
repellence, and looked scandalized. Mary rose, and was about to retire.
But Mr. Redmain motioned her to sit still.

"This is my spiritual adviser, Lady Margaret," he said.

Her ladyship cast a second look on Mary, such as few but her could
cast, and left the room.

On into the gloom of the evening Mary sat. No one brought her anything
to eat or drink, and Mr. Redmain was too much taken up with himself,
soul and body, to think of her. She was now past hunger, and growing
faint, when, through the settled darkness, the words came to her from
the bed:

"I should like to have you near me when I am dying, Mary."

The voice was a softer than she had yet heard from Mr. Redmain, and its
tone went to her heart.

"I will certainly be with you, if God please," she answered.

"There is no fear of God," returned Mr. Redmain; "it's the devil will
try to keep you away. But never you heed what any one may do or say to
prevent you. Do your very best to be with me. By that time I may not be
having my own way any more. Be sure, the first moment they can get the
better of me, they will. And you mustn't place confidence in a single
soul in this house. I don't say my wife would play me false so long as
I was able to swear at her, but I wouldn't trust her one moment longer.
You come and be with me in spite of the whole posse of them."

"I will try, Mr. Redmain," she answered, faintly. "But indeed you must
let me go now, else I may be unable to come to-morrow."

"What's the matter?" he asked hurriedly, half lifting his head with a
look of alarm. "There's no knowing," he went on, muttering to himself,
"what may happen in this cursed house."

"Nothing," replied Mary, "but that I have not had anything to eat since
I left home. I feel rather faint."

"They've given you nothing to eat!" cried Mr. Redmain, but in a tone
that seemed rather of satisfaction than displeasure. "Ring--no, don't."

"Indeed, I would rather not have anything now till I get home," said
Mary. "I don't feel inclined to eat where I am not welcome."

"Right! right! right!" said Mr. Redmain. "Stick to that. Never eat
where you are not welcome. Go home directly. Only say when you will
come to-morrow."

"I can't very well during the day," answered Mary. "There is so much to
be done, and I have so little help. But, if you should want me, I would
rather shut up the shop than not come."

"There is no need for that! Indeed, I would much rather have you in the
evening. The first of the night is worst of all. It's then the devils
are out.--Look here," he added, after a short pause, during which Mary,
for as unfit as she felt, hesitated to leave him, "--being in business,
you've got a lawyer, I suppose?"

"Yes," she answered.

"Then you go to him to-night the first thing, and tell him to come to
me to-morrow, about noon. Tell him I am ill, and in bed, and
particularly want to see him; and he mustn't let anything they say keep
him from me, not even if they tell him I am dead."

"I will," said Mary, and, stroking the thin hand that lay outside the
counterpane, turned and left him.

"Don't tell any one you are gone," he called after her, with a voice
far from feeble. "I don't want any of their damned company."



CHAPTER LIII.

A FRIEND IN NEED.


Mary left the house, and saw no one on her way. But it was better, she
said to herself, that he should lie there untended, than be waited on
by unloving hands.

The night was very dark. There was no moon, and the stars were hidden
by thick clouds. She must walk all the way to Testbridge. She felt
weak, but the fresh air was reviving. She did not know the way so
familiarly as that between Thornwick and the town, but she would enter
the latter before arriving at the common.

She had not gone far when the moon rose, and from behind the clouds
diminished the darkness a little. The first part of her journey lay
along a narrow lane, with a small ditch, a rising bank, and a hedge on
each side. About the middle of the lane was a farmyard, and a little
way farther a cottage. Soon after passing the gate of the farmyard, she
thought she heard steps behind her, seemingly soft and swift, and
naturally felt a little apprehension; but her thoughts flew to the one
hiding-place for thoughts and hearts and lives, and she felt no terror.
At the same time something moved her to quicken her pace. As she drew
near the common, she heard the steps more plainly, still soft and
swift, and almost wished she had sought refuge in the cottage she had
just passed--only it bore no very good character in the neighborhood.
When she reached the spot where the paths united, feeling a little at
home, she stopped to listen. Behind her were the footsteps plain
enough! The same moment the clouds thinned about the moon, and a pale
light came filtering through upon the common in front of her. She cast
one look over her shoulder, saw something turn a corner in the lane,
and sped on again. She would have run, but there was no place of refuge
now nearer than the corner of the turnpike-road, and she knew her
breath would fail her long before that. How lonely and shelterless the
common looked! The soft, swift steps came nearer and nearer.

Was that music she heard? She dared not stop to listen. But
immediately, thereupon, was poured forth on the dim air such a stream
of pearly sounds as if all the necklaces of some heavenly choir of
woman-angels were broken, and the beads came pelting down in a cataract
of hurtless hail. From no source could they come save the bow and
violin of Joseph Jasper! Where could he be? She was so rejoiced to know
that he must be somewhere near, that, for very delight of unsecured
safety, she held her peace, and had almost stopped. But she ran on
again. She was now nigh the ruined hut with which my narrative has made
the reader acquainted. In the mean time the moon had been growing out
of the clouds, clearer and clearer. The hut came in sight. But the look
of it was somehow altered--with an undefinable change, such as might
appear on a familiar object in a dream; and leaning against the side of
the door stood a figure she could not mistake for another than her
musician. Absorbed in his music, he did not see her. She called out,
"Joseph! Joseph!" He started, threw his bow from him, tucked his violin
under his arm, and bounded to meet her. She tried to stop, and the same
moment to look behind her. The consequence was that she fell--but safe
in the smith's arms. That instant appeared a man running. He half
stopped, and, turning from the path, took to the common. Jasper handed
his violin to Mary, and darted after him. The chase did not last a
minute; the man was nearly spent. Joseph seized him by the wrist, saw
something glitter in his other hand, and turned sick. The fellow had
stabbed him. With indignation, as if it were a snake that had bit him,
the blacksmith flung from him the hand he held. The man gave a cry,
staggered, recovered himself, and ran. Joseph would have followed
again, but fell, and for a minute or two lost consciousness. When he
came to himself, Mary was binding up his arm.

"What a fool I am!" he said, trying to get up, but yielding at once to
Mary's prevention. "Ain't it ridic'lous now, miss, that a man of my
size, and ready to work a sledge with any smith in Yorkshire, should
turn sick for a little bit of a job with a knife? But my father was
just the same, and he was a stronger man than I'm like to be, I fancy."

"It is no such wonder as you think," said Mary; "you have lost a good
deal of blood."

Her voice faltered. She had been greatly alarmed--and the more that she
had not light enough to get the edges of the wound properly together.

"You've stopped it--ain't you, miss?"

"I think so."

"Then I'll be after the fellow."

"No, no; you must not attempt it. You must lie still awhile. But I
don't understand it at all! That cottage used to be a mere hovel,
without door or window! It can't be you live in it?"

"Ay, that I do! and it's not a bad place either," answered Joseph.
"That's what I went to Yorkshire to get my money for. It's mine--bought
and paid for."

"But what made you think of coming here?"

"Let's go into the smithy--house I won't presume to call it," said
Joseph, "though it has a lean-to for the smith--and I'll tell you
everything about it. But really, miss, you oughtn't to be out like this
after dark. There's too many vagabonds about."

With but little need of the help Mary yet gave him, Joseph got up, and
led her to what was now a respectable little smithy, with forge and
bellows and anvil and bucket. Opening a door where had been none, he
brought a chair, and making her sit down, began to blow the covered
fire on the hearth, where he had not long before "boiled his kettle"
for his tea. Then closing the door, he lighted a candle, and Mary
looking about her could scarcely believe the change that had come upon
the miserable vacuity. Joseph sat down upon his anvil, and begged to
know where she had just been, and how far she had run from the rascal.
When he had learned something of the peculiar relations in which Mary
stood to the family at Durnmelling, he began to think there might have
been something more in the pursuit than a chance ruffianly assault, and
the greater were his regrets that he had not secured the miscreant.

"Anyhow, miss," he said, "you'll never come from there alone in the
dark again!"

"I understand you, Joseph," answered Mary, "for I know you would not
have me leave doing what I can for the poor man up there, because of a
little danger in the way."

"No, that I wouldn't, miss. That would be as much as to say you would
do the will of God when the devil would let you. What I mean is, that
here am I--your slave, or servant, or soldier, or whatever you may
please to call me, ready at your word."

"I must not take you from your work, you know, Joseph."

"Work's not everything, miss," he answered; "and it's seldom so
pressing but that--except I be shoeing a horse--I can leave it when I
choose. Any time you want to go anywhere, don't forget as you've got
enemies about, and just send for me. You won't have long to wait till I
come. But I am main sorry the rascal didn't have something to keep him
in mind of his manners."

Part of this conversation, and a good deal more, passed on their way to
Testbridge, whither, as soon as Joseph seemed all right, Mary, who had
forgotten her hunger and faintness, insisted on setting out at once. In
her turn she questioned Joseph, and learned that, as soon as he knew
she was going to settle at Testbridge, he started off to find if
possible a place in the neighborhood humble enough to be within his
reach, and near enough for the hope of seeing her sometimes, and having
what help she might please to give him. The explanation afforded Mary
more pleasure than she cared to show. She had a real friend near
her--one ready to help her on her own ground--one who understood her
because he understood the things she loved! He told her that already he
had work enough to keep him going; that the horses he once shod were
always brought to him again; that he was at no expense such as in a
town; and that he had plenty of time both for his violin and his books.

When they came to the suburbs, she sent him home, and went straight to
Mr. Brett with Mr. Redmain's message. He undertook to be at Durnmelling
at the time appointed, and to let nothing prevent him from seeing his
new client.



CHAPTER LIV.

THE NEXT NIGHT.


Mr. Bratt found no difficulty in the way of the interview, for Mr.
Redmain had given Mewks instructions he dared not disobey: his master
had often ailed, and recovered again, and he must not venture too far!
As soon as he had shown the visitor into the room he was dismissed, but
not before he had satisfied himself that he was a lawyer. He carried
the news at once to Sepia, and it wrought no little anxiety in the
house. There was a will already in existence, and no ground for
thinking a change in it boded anything good. Mr. Mortimer never deigned
to share his thoughts, anxieties, or hopes with any of his people; but
the ladies met in deep consultation, although of course there was
nothing to be done. The only operative result was that it let Sepia
know how, though for reasons somewhat different, her anxiety was shared
by the others: unlike theirs, her sole desire was--_not_ to be
mentioned in the will: that could only be for the sake of leaving her a
substantial curse! Mr. Redmain's utter silence, after, as she well
knew, having gathered damning facts to her discredit, had long
convinced her he was but biding his time. Certain she was he would not
depart this life without leaving his opinion of her and the proofs of
its justice behind him, carrying weight as the affidavit of a dying
man. Also she knew Hesper well enough to be certain that, however she
might delight in opposition to the desire of her husband, she would for
the sake of no one carry that opposition to a point where it became
injurious to her interests. Sepia's one thought therefore was: could
not something be done to prevent the making of another will, or the
leaving of any fresh document behind him? What he might already have
done, she could nowise help; what he might yet do, it would be well to
prevent. Once more, therefore, she impressed upon Mewks, and that in
the names of Mrs. Redmain and Lady Margaret, as well as in her own
person, the absolute necessity of learning as much as possible of what
might pass between his master and the lawyer.

Mewks was driven to the end of his wits, and they were not a few, to
find excuses for going into the room, and for delaying to go out again,
while with all his ears he listened. But both client and lawyer were
almost too careful for him; and he had learned positively nothing when
the latter rose to depart. He instantly left the room, with the door a
trifle ajar, and listening intently, heard his master say that Mr.
Brett must come again the next morning; that he felt better, and would
think over the suggestions he had made; and that he must leave the
memoranda within his reach, on the table by his bedside. Ere the lawyer
issued, Mewks was on his way with all this to his tempter.

Sepia concluded there had been some difference of opinion between Mr.
Redmain and his adviser, and hoped that nothing had been finally
settled. Was there any way to prevent the lawyer from seeing him again?
Could she by any means get a peep at the memoranda mentioned? She dared
not suggest the thing to Hesper or Lady Malice--of all people they were
those in relation to whom she feared their possible contents--and she
dared not show herself in Mr. Redmain's room. Was Mewks to be trusted
to the point of such danger as grew in her thought?

The day wore on. Toward evening he had a dreadful attack. Any other man
would have sent before now for what medical assistance the town could
afford him, but Mr. Redmain hated having a stranger about him, and, as
he knew how to treat himself, it was only when very ill that he would
send for his own doctor to the country, fearing that otherwise he might
give him up as a patient, such visits, however well remunerated, being
seriously inconvenient to a man with a large London practice. But now
Lady Margaret took upon herself to send a telegram.

An hour before her usual time for closing the shop, Mary set out for
Durnmelling; and, at the appointed spot on the way, found her squire of
low degree in waiting. At first sight, however, and although she was
looking out for him, she did not certainly recognize him. I would not
have my reader imagine Joseph one of those fools who delight in
appearing something else than they are; but while every workman ought
to look a workman, it ought not to be by looking less of a man, or of a
_gentleman_ in the true sense; and Joseph, having, out of respect to
her who would honor him with her company, dressed himself in a new suit
of unpretending gray, with a wide-awake hat, looked at first sight more
like a country gentleman having a stroll over his farm, than a man
whose hands were hard with the labors of the forge. He took off his hat
as she approached--if not with ease, yet with the clumsy grace peculiar
to him; for, unlike many whose manners are unobjectionable, he had in
his something that might be called his own. But the best of it was,
that he knew nothing about his manners, beyond the desire to give honor
where honor was due.

He walked with her to the door of the house; for they had agreed that,
from whatever quarter had come the pursuit, and whatever might have
been its object, it would be well to show that she was attended. They
had also arranged at what hour, and at what spot close at hand, he was
to be waiting to accompany her home. But, although he said nothing
about it, Joseph was determined not to leave the place until she
rejoined him.

It was nearly dark when he left her; and when he had wandered up and
down the avenue awhile, it seemed dark enough to return to the house,
and reconnoiter a little.

He had already made the acquaintance of the farmer who occupied a
portion of the great square, behind the part where the family lived: he
had had several of his horses to shoe, and had not only given
satisfaction by the way in which he shod them, but had interested their
owner with descriptions of more than one rare mode of shoeing to which
he had given attention; he was, therefore, the less shy of being
discovered about the place.

From the back he found his way into the roofless hall, and there paced
quietly up and down, measuring the floor, and guessing at the height
and thickness of the walls, and the sort of roof they had borne. He
noted that the wall of the house rose higher than those of the ruin
with which it was in contact; and that there was a window in it just
over one of those walls. Thinking whether it had been there when the
roof was on, he saw through it the flickering of a fire, and wondered
whether it could be the window of Mr. Redmain's room.

Mary, having resolved not to give any notice of her arrival, if she
could get in without it, and finding the hall-door on the latch,
entered quietly, and walked straight to Mr. Redmain's bedroom. When she
opened the door of it, Mewks came hurriedly to meet her, as if he would
have made her go out again, but she scarcely looked at him, and
advanced to the bed. Mr. Redmain was just waking from the sleep into
which he had fallen after a severe paroxysm.

"Ah, there you are!" he said, smiling her a feeble welcome. "I am glad
you are come. I have been looking out for you. I am very ill. If it
comes again to-night, I think it will make an end of me."

She sat down by the bedside. He lay quite still for some time,
breathing like one very weary. Then he seemed to grow easier, and said,
with much gentleness:

"Can't you talk to me?"

"Would you like me to read to you?" she asked.

"No," he answered; "I can't bear the light; it makes my head furious."

"Shall I talk to you about my father?" she asked.

"I don't believe in fathers," he replied. "They're always after some
notion of their own. It's not their children they care about."

"That may be true of some fathers," answered Mary; "but it is not the
least true of mine."

"Where is he? Why don't you bring him to see me, if he is such a good
man? He might be able to do something for me."

"There is none but your own father can do anything for you," said Mary.
"My father is gone home to him, but if he were here, he would only tell
you about _him_."

There was a moment's silence.

"Why don't you talk?" said Mr. Redmain, crossly. "What's the good of
sitting there saying nothing! How am I to forget that the pain will be
here again, if you don't say a word to help me?"

Mary lifted up her heart, and prayed for something to say to the sad
human soul that had never known the Father. But she could think of
nothing to talk about except the death of William Marston. So she began
with the dropping of her watch, and, telling whatever seemed at the
moment fit to tell, ended with the dream she had the night of his
funeral. By that time the hidden fountain was flowing in her soul, and
she was able to speak straight out of it.

"I can not tell you, sir," she said, closing the story of her dream,
"what a feeling it was! The joy of it was beyond all expression."

"You're not surely going to offer me a dream in proof of anything!"
muttered the sick man.

"Yes," answered Mary--"in proof of what it can prove. The joy of a
child over a new toy, or a colored sweetmeat, shows of what bliss the
human soul is made capable."

"Oh, capable, I dare say!"

"And more than that," Mary went on, adding instead of replying, "no one
ever felt such gladness without believing in it. There must be
somewhere the justification of such gladness. There must be the father
of it somewhere."

"Well! I don't like to say, after your kindness in coming here to take
care of me, that you talk the worst rubbish I ever heard; but just tell
me of what use is it all to me, in the state I am in! What I want is to
be free of pain, and have some pleasure in life--not to be told about a
father."

"But what if the father you don't want is determined you shall not have
what you do want? What if your desire is not worth keeping you alive
for? And what if he is ready to help your smallest effort to be the
thing he wants you to be--and in the end to give you your heart's
desire?"

"It sounds very fine, but it's all so thin, so up in the clouds! It
don't seem to have a leg to stand upon. Why, if that were true,
everybody would be good! There would be none but saints in the world!
What's in it, I'm sure I don't know."

"It will take ages to know what is in it; but, if you should die now,
you will be glad to find, on the other side, that you have made a
beginning. For my part, if I had everything my soul could desire,
except God with me, I could but pray that he would come to me, or not
let me live a moment longer; for it would be but the life of a devil."

"What do you mean by a devil?"

"A power that lives against its life," said Mary.

Mr. Redmain answered nothing. He did not perceive an atom of sense in
the words. They gave him not a glimmer. Neither will they to many of my
readers; while not a few will think they see all that is in them, and
see nothing.

He was silent for a long time--whether he waked or slept she could not
tell.

The annoyance was great in the home conclave when Mewks brought the
next piece of news--namely, that there was that designing Marston in
the master's room again, and however she got into the house he was sure
_he_ didn't know.

"All the same thing over again, miss!--hard at it a-tryin' to convert
'im!--And where's the use, you know, miss? If a man like my master's to
be converted and get off, I don't for my part see where's the good o'
keepin' up a devil."

"I am quite of your opinion, Mewks," said Sepia.

But in her heart she was ill at ease.

All day long she had been haunted with an ever-recurring temptation,
which, instead of dismissing it, she kept like a dog in a string.
Different kinds of evil affect people differently. Ten thousand will do
a dishonest thing, who would indignantly reject the dishonest thing
favored by another ten thousand. They are not sufficiently used to its
ugly face not to dislike it, though it may not be quite so ugly as
their _protege_. A man will feel grandly honest against the
dishonesties of another trade than his, and be eager to justify those
of his own. Here was Sepia, who did not care the dust of a butterfly's
wing for causing any amount of family misery, who would without a pang
have sacrificed the genuine reputation of an innocent man to save her
own false one--shuddering at an idea as yet bodiless in her brain--an
idea which, however, she did not dismiss, and so grew able to endure!

I have kept this woman--so far as personal acquaintance with her is
concerned--in the background of my history. For one thing, I am not
fond of _post-mortem_ examinations; in other words, I do not like
searching the decompositions of moral carrion. Analysis of such is,
like the use of reagents on dirt, at least unpleasant. Nor was any true
end to be furthered by a more vivid presentation of her. Nosology is a
science doomed, thank God, to perish! Health alone will at last fill
the earth. Or, if there should be always the ailing to help, a man will
help them by being sound himself, not by knowing the ins and outs of
disease. Diagnosis is not therapy.

Sepia was unnatural--as every one is unnatural who does not set his
face in the direction of the true Nature; but she had gone further in
the opposite direction than many people have yet reached. At the same
time, whoever has not faced about is on the way to a capacity for worse
things than even our enemies would believe of us.

Her very existence seemed to her now at stake. If by his dying act Mr.
Redmain should drive her from under Hesper's roof, what was to become
of her! Durnmelling, too, would then be as certainly closed against
her, and she would be compelled to take a situation, and teach music,
which she hated, and French and German, which gave her no pleasure
apart from certain strata of their literature, to insolent girls whom
she would be constantly wishing to strangle, or stupid little boys who
would bore her to death. Her very soul sickened at the thought--as well
it might; for to have to do such service with such a heart as hers,
must indeed be torment. All hope of marrying Godfrey Wardour would be
gone, of course. Did he but remain uncertain as to the truth or
falsehood of a third part of what Mr. Redmain would record against her,
he would never meet her again!

Since the commencement of this last attack of Mr. Redmain's malady, she
had scarcely slept; and now what Mewks reported rendered her nigh
crazy. For some time she had been generally awake half the night, and
all the last night she had been wandering here and there about the
house, not unfrequently couched where she could hear every motion in
Mr. Redmain's room. Haunted by fear, she in turn haunted her fear. She
could not keep from staring down the throat of the pit. She was a slave
of the morrow, the undefined, awful morrow, ever about to bring forth
no one knows what. That morrow could she but forestall!

If any should think that anxiety and watching must have so wrought on
Sepia that she came to be no longer accountable for her actions, I will
not oppose the kind conclusion. For my own part, until I shall have
seen a man absolutely one with the source of his being, I do not
believe I shall ever have seen a man absolutely sane. What many would
point to as plainest proofs of sanity, I should regard as surest signs
of the contrary.

A sign of my own insanity is it?

Your insanity may be worse than mine, for you are aware of none, and I
with mine do battle. I believe all insanity has moral as well as
physical roots. But enough of this. There are questions we can afford
to leave.

Sepia had got very thin during these trying days. Her great eyes were
larger yet, and filled with a troubled anxiety. Not paleness, for of
that her complexion was incapable, but a dull pallor possessed her
cheek. If one had met her as she roamed the house that night, he might
well have taken her for some naughty ancestor, whose troubled
conscience, not yet able to shake off the madness of some evil deed,
made her wander still about the place where she had committed it.

She believed in no supreme power who cares that right should be done in
his worlds. Here, it may be, some of my unbelieving acquaintances,
foreseeing a lurid something on the horizon of my story, will be
indignant that the capacity for crime should be thus associated with
the denial of a Live Good. But it remains a mere fact that it is easier
for a man to commit a crime when he does not fear a willed retribution.
Tell me there is no merit in being prevented by fear; I answer, the
talk is not of merit. As the world is, that is, as the race of men at
present is, it is just as well that the man who has no merit, and never
dreamed of any, should yet be a little hindered from cutting his
neighbor's throat at his evil pleasure.--No; I do not mean hindered by
a lie--I mean hindered by the poorest apprehension of the grandest
truth.

Of those who do not believe, some have never had a noble picture of God
presented to them; but whether their phantasm is of a mean God because
they refuse him, or they refuse him because their phantasm of him is
mean, who can tell? Anyhow, mean notions must come of meanness, and,
uncharitable as it may appear, I can not but think there is a moral
root to all chosen unbelief. But let God himself judge his own.

With Sepia, what was _best_ meant what was best for her, and _best for
her_ meant _most after her liking_.

She had in her time heard a good deal about _euthanasia_, and had taken
her share in advocating it. I do not assume this to be anything
additional against her; one who does not believe in God, may in such an
advocacy indulge a humanity pitiful over the irremediable ills of the
race; and, being what she was, she was no worse necessarily for
advocating that than for advocating cremation, which she
did--occasionally, I must confess, a little coarsely. But the notion of
_euthanasia_ might well work for evil in a mind that had not a thought
for the case any more than for the betterment of humanity, or indeed
for anything but its own consciousness of pleasure or comfort.
Opinions, like drugs, work differently on different constitutions.
Hence the man is foolish who goes scattering vague notions regardless
of the soil on which they may fall.

She was used to asking the question, What's the good? but always in
respect of something she wanted out of her way.

"What's the good of an hour or two more if you're not enjoying it?" she
said to herself again and again that Monday. "What's the good of living
when life is pain--or fear of death, from which no fear can save you?"
But the question had no reference to her own life: she was judging for
another--and for another not for his sake, or from his point of view,
but for her own sake, and from where she stood.

All the day she wandered about the house, such thoughts as these in her
heart, and in her pocket a bottle of that concentrated which Mr.
Redmain was taking much diluted for medicine. But she _hoped not to
have to use it_. If only Mr. Redmain would yield the conflict, and
depart without another interview with the lawyer!

But if he would not, and two drops from the said bottle, not taken by
herself, but by another, would save her, all her life to come, from
endless anxiety and grinding care, from weariness and disgust, and
indeed from want; nor that alone, but save likewise that other from an
hour, or two hours, or perhaps a week, or possibly two weeks, or--who
could tell?--it might be a month of pain and moaning and weariness,
would it not be well?--must it not be more than well?

She had not learned to fear temptation; she feared poverty, dependence,
humiliation, labor, _ennui_, misery. The thought of the life that must
follow and wrap her round in the case of the dreaded disclosure was
unendurable; the thought of the suggested frustration was not _so_
unendurable--was not absolutely unendurable--was to be borne--might be
permitted to come--to return--was cogitated--now with imagined
resistance, now with reluctant and partial acceptance, now with faint
resolve, and now with determined resolution--now with the beaded drops
pouring from the forehead, and now with a cold, scornful smile of
triumphant foil and success.

Was she so very exceptionally bad, however? You who hate your brother
or your sister--you do not think yourself at all bad! But you are a
murderer, and she was only a murderer. You do not feel wicked? How do
you know she did? Besides, you hate, and she did not hate; she only
wanted to take care of herself. Lady Macbeth did not hate Duncan; she
only wanted to give her husband his crown. You only hate your brother;
you would not, you say, do him any harm; and I believe you would not do
him mere bodily harm; but, were things changed, so that hate-action
became absolutely safe, I should have no confidence what you might not
come to do. No one can tell what wreck a gust of passion upon a sea of
hate may work. There are men a man might well kill, if he were anything
less than ready to die for them. The difference between the man that
hates and the man that kills may be nowhere but in the courage. These
are _grewsome_ thinkings: let us leave them--but hating with them.

All the afternoon Sepia hovered about Mr. Rcdmain's door, down upon
Mewks every moment he appeared. Her head ached; she could hardly
breathe. Rest she could not. Once when Mewks, coming from the room,
told her his master was asleep, she crept in, and, softly approaching
the head of the bed, looked at him from behind, then stole out again.

"He seems dying, Mewks," she said.

"Oh, no, miss! I've often seen him as bad. He's better."

"Who's that whispering?" murmured the patient, angrily, though half
asleep.

Mewks went in, and answered:

"Only me and Jemima, sir."

"Where's Miss Marston?"

"She's not come yet, sir."

"I want to go to sleep again. You must wake me the moment she comes."

"Yes, sir."

Mewks went back to Sepia.

"His voice is much altered," she said.

"He most always speaks like that now, miss, when he wakes--very
different from I used to know him! He'd always swear bad when he woke;
but Miss Marston do seem t' 'ave got a good deal of that out of him.
Anyhow, this last two days he's scarce swore enough to make it feel
home-like."

"It's death has got it out of him," said Sepia. "I don't think he can
last the night through. Fetch me at once if--And don't let that Marston
into the room again, whatever you do."

She spoke with the utmost emphasis, plainly clinching instructions
previously given, then went slowly up the stair to her own room. Surely
he would die to-night, and she would not be led into temptation! She
would then have but to get a hold of the paper! What a hateful and
unjust thing it was that her life should be in the power of that man--a
miserable creature, himself hanging between life and death!--that such
as he should be able to determine her fate, and say whether she was to
be comfortable or miserable all the rest of a life that was to outlast
his so many years! It was absurd to talk of a Providence! She must be
her own providence!

She stole again down the stair. Her cousin was in her own room safe
with a novel, and there was Mewks fast asleep in an easy-chair in the
study, with the doors of the dressing-room and chamber ajar! She crept
into the sick-room. There was the tumbler with the medicine! and her
fingers were on the vial in her pocket. The dying man slept.

She drew near the table by the bed. He stirred as if about to awake.
Her limbs, her brain seemed to rebel against her will.--But what folly
it was! the man was not for this world a day longer; what could it
matter whether he left it a few hours earlier or later? The drops on
his brow rose from the pit of his agony; every breath was a torture; it
were mercy to help him across the verge; if to more life, he would owe
her thanks; if to endless rest, he would never accuse her.

She took the vial from her pocket. A hand was on the lock of the door!
She turned and fled through the dressing-room and study, waking Mewks
as she passed. He, hurrying into the chamber, saw Mary already entered.

When Sepia learned who it was that had scared her, she felt she could
kill her with less compunction than Mr. Redmain. She hated her far
worse.

"You _must_ get the viper out of-the house, Mewks," she said. "It is
all your fault she got into the room."

"I'm sure I'm willing enough," he answered, "--even if it wasn't you as
as't me, miss! But what am I to do? She's that brazen, you wouldn'
believe, miss! It wouldn' be becomin' to tell you what I think that
young woman fit to do."

"I don't doubt it," responded Sepia. "But surely," she went on, "the
next time he has an attack, and he's certain to have one soon, you will
be able to get her hustled out!"

"No, miss--least of all just then. She'll make that a pretense for not
going a yard from the bed--as if me that's been about him so many years
didn't know what ought to be done with him in his paroxes of pain
better than the likes of her! Of all things I do loathe a row,
miss--and the talk of it after; and sure I am that without a row we
don't get her out of that room. The only way is to be quiet, and seem
to trust her, and watch for the chance of her going out--then shut her
out, and keep her out."

"I believe you are right," returned Sepia, almost with a hope that no
such opportunity might arrive, but at the same time growing more
determined to take advantage of it if it should.

Hence partly it came that Mary met with no interruption to her watching
and ministering. Mewks kept coming and going--watching her, and
awaiting his opportunity. Mr. Redmain scarcely heeded him, only once
and again saying in sudden anger, "What can that idiot be about? He
might know by this time I'm not likely to want _him_ so long as _you_
are in the room!"

And said Mary to herself: "Who knows what good the mere presence of one
who trusts may be to him, even if he shouldn't seem to take much of
what she says! Perhaps he may think of some of it after he is dead--who
knows?" Patiently she sat and waited, full of help that would have
flowed in a torrent, but which she felt only trickle from her heart
like a stream that is lost on the face of the rock down which it flows.

All at once she bethought herself, and looked at her watch: Joseph had
been waiting for her more than an hour, and would not, she knew, if he
stopped all night, go away without her! And for her, she could not
forsake the poor man her presence seemed to comfort! He was now lying
very still: she would slip out and send Joseph away, and be back before
the patient or any one else should miss her!

She went softly from the room, and glided down the stairs, and out of
the house, seeing no one--but not unseen: hardly was she from the room,
when the door of it was closed and locked behind her, and hardly from
the house, when the house-door also was closed and locked behind her.
But she heard nothing, and ran, without the least foreboding of mishap,
to the corner where Joseph was to meet her.

There he was, waiting as patiently as if the hour had not yet come.

"I can't leave him, Joseph. My heart won't let me," she said. "I can
not go back before the morning. I will look in upon you as I pass."

So saying, and without giving him time to answer, she bade him good
night, and ran back to the house, hoping to get in as before without
being seen. But to her dismay she found the door already fast, and
concluded the hour had arrived when the house was shut up for the
night. She rang the bell, but there was no answer--for there was Mewks
himself standing close behind the door, grinning like his master an
evil grin. As she knocked and rang in vain, the fact flashed upon her
that she was intentionally excluded. She turned away, overwhelmed with
a momentary despair. What was she to do? There stood Joseph! She ran
back to him, and told him they had shut her out.

"It makes me miserable," she went on, "to think of the poor man calling
me, and me nowhere to answer. The worst of it is, I seem the only
person he has any faith in, and what I have been telling him about the
father of us all, whose love never changes, will seem only the idler
tale, when he finds I am gone, and nowhere to be found--as they're sure
to tell him. There's no saying what lies they mayn't tell him about my
going! Rather than go, I will sit on the door-step all night, just to
be able to tell him in the morning that I never went home."

"Why have they done it, do you think? asked Joseph.

"I dare hardly allow myself to conjecture," answered Mary. "None of
them like me but Jemima--not even Mrs. Redmain now, I am afraid; for
you see I never got any of the good done her I wanted, and, till
something of that was done, she could not know how I felt toward her. I
shouldn't a bit wonder if they fancy I have a design on his money--as
if anybody fit to call herself a woman would condescend to such a
thing! But when a woman would marry for money, she may well think as
badly of another woman."

"This is a serious affair," said Joseph. "To have a dying man believe
you false to him would be dreadful! We must find some way in. Let us go
to the kitchen-door."

"If Jemima happened to be near, then, perhaps!" rejoined Mary; "but if
they want to keep me out, you may be sure Mewks has taken care of one
door as well as another. He knows I'm not so easy to keep out."

"If you did get in," said Joseph, speaking in a whisper as they went,
"would you feel quite safe after this?"

"I have no fear. I dare say they would lock me up somewhere if they
could, before I got to Mr. Redmain's room: once in, they would not dare
touch me."

"I shall not go out of hearing so long as you are in that house," said
Joseph, with decision. "Not until I have you out again do I leave the
premises. If anything should make you feel uncomfortable, you cry out,
miss, and I'll make a noise at the door that everybody at Thornwick
over there shall hear me."

"It is a large house, Joseph: one might call in many a part of it, and
never be heard out of doors. I don't think you could hear me from Mr.
Redmain's room," said Mary, with a little laugh, for she was amused as
well as pleased at the protection Joseph would give her; "it is up two
flights, and he chose it himself for the sake of being quiet when he
was ill."

As she spoke, they reached the door they sought--the most likely of all
to be still open: it was fast and dark as if it had not been unbolted
for years. One or two more entrances they tried, but with no better
success.

"Come this way," whispered Joseph. "I know a place where we shall at
least be out of their sight, and where we can plan at our leisure."

He led her to the back entrance to the old hall. Alas! even that was
closed.

"This _is_ disappointing," he said; "for, if we were only in there, I
think something might be done."

"I believe I know a way," said Mary, and led him to a place near, used
for a wood-shed.

At the top of a great heap of sticks and fagots was an opening in the
wall, that had once been a window, or perhaps a door.

"That, I know, is the wall of the tower," she said; "and there can be
no difficulty in getting through there. Once in, it will be easy to
reach the hall--that is, if the door of the tower is not locked."

In an instant Joseph was at the top of the heap, and through the
opening, hanging on, and feeling with his feet. He found footing at no
great distance, and presently Mary was beside him. They descended
softly, and found the door into the hall wide open.

"Can you tell me what window is that," whispered Joseph, "just above
the top of the wall?"

"I can not," answered Mary. "I never could go about this house as I did
about Mr. Redmain's; my lady always looked so fierce if she saw me
trying to understand the place. But why do you ask?"

"You see the flickering of a fire? Could it be Mr. Redmain's room?"

"I can not tell. I do not think it. That has no window in this
direction, so far as I know. But I could not be certain."

"Think how the stairs turn as you go up, and how the passages go to the
room. Think in what direction you look every corner you turn. Then you
will know better whether or not it might be."

Mary was silent, and thought. In her mind she followed every turn she
had to take from the moment she entered the house till she got to the
door of Mr. Redmain's room, and then thought how the windows lay when
she entered it. Her conclusion was that one side of the room must be
against the hall, but she could remember no window in it.

"But," she added, "I never was in that room when I was here before,
and, the twice I have now been in it, I was too much occupied to take
much notice of things about me. Two windows, I know, look down into a
quiet little corner of the courtyard, where there is an old pump
covered with ivy. I remember no other."

"Is there any way of getting on to the top of that wall from this
tower?" asked Joseph.

"Certainly there is. People often walk round the top of those walls.
They are more than thick enough for that."

"Are you able to do it?"

"Yes, quite. I have been round them more than once. But I don't like
the idea of looking in at a window."

"No more do I, miss; but you must remember, if it is his room, it will
only be your eyes going where the whole of you has a right to be; and,
if it should not be that room, they have driven you to it: such a
necessity will justify it."

"You must be right," answered Mary, and, turning, led the way up the
stair of the tower, and through a gap in the wall out upon the top of
the great walls.

It was a sultry night. A storm was brooding between heaven and earth.
The moon was not yet up, and it was so dark that they had to feel their
way along the wall, glad of the protection of a fence of thick ivy on
the outer side. Looking down into the court on the one hand, and across
the hall to the lawn on the other, they saw no living thing in the
light from various windows, and there was little danger of being
discovered. In the gable was only the one window for which they were
making. Mary went first, as better knowing the path, also as having the
better right to look in. Through the window, as she went, she could see
the flicker, but not the fire. All at once came a great blaze. It
lasted but a moment--long enough, however, to let them see plainly into
a small closet, the door of which was partly open.

"That is the room, I do believe," whispered Mary. "There is a closet,
but I never was in it."

"If only the window be not bolted!" returned Joseph.

The same instant Mary heard the voice of Mr. Redmain call in a tone of
annoyance--"Mary! Mary Marston! I want you. Who is that in the
room?--Damn you! who are you?"

"Let me pass you," said Joseph, and, making her hold to the ivy, here
spread on to the gable, he got between Mary and the window. The blaze
was gone, and the fire was at its old flicker. The window was not
bolted. He lifted the sash. A moment and he was in. The next, Mary was
beside him.

Something, known to her only as an impulse, induced Mary to go softly
to the door of the closet, and peep into the room. She saw Hesper, as
she thought, standing--sidewise to the closet--by a chest of drawers
invisible from the bed. A candle stood on the farther side of her. She
held in one hand the tumbler from which, repeatedly that evening, Mary
had given the patient his medicine: into this she was pouring, with an
appearance of care, something from a small dark bottle.

With a sudden suspicion of foul play, Mary glided swiftly into the
room, and on to where she stood. It was Sepia! She started with a
smothered shriek, turned white, and almost dropped the bottle; then,
seeing who it was, recovered herself. But such a look as she cast on
Mary! such a fire of hate as throbbed out of those great black eyes!
Mary thought for a moment she would dart at her. But she turned away,
and walked swiftly to the door. Joseph, however, peeping in behind
Mary, had caught a glimpse of the bottle and tumbler, also of Sepia's
face. Seeing her now retiring with the bottle in her hand, he sprang
after her, and, thanks to the fact that she had locked the door, was in
time to snatch it from her. She turned like a wild beast, and a
terrible oath came hissing as from a feline throat. When, however, she
saw, not Mary, but the unknown figure of a powerful man, she turned
again to the door and fled. Joseph shut and locked it, and went back to
the closet. Mary drew near the bed.

"Where have you been all this time?" asked the patient, querulously;
"and who was that went out of the room just now? What's all the hurry
about?"

Anxious he should be neither frightened nor annoyed, Mary replied to
the first part of his question only.

"I had to go and tell a friend, who was waiting for me, that I
shouldn't be home to-night. But here I am now, and I will not leave you
again."

"How did the door come to be locked? And who was that went out of the
room?"

While he was thus questioning, Joseph crept softly out of the window;
and all the rest of the night he lay on the top of the wall under it.

"It was Miss Yolland," answered Mary.

"What business had she in my room?"

"She shall not enter it again while I am here."

"Don't let Mewks in either," he rejoined. "I heard the door unlock and
lock again: what did it mean?"

"Wait till to-morrow. Perhaps we shall find out then."

He was silent a little.

"I must get out of this house, Mary," he sighed at length.

"When the doctor comes, we shall see," said Mary.

"What! is the doctor coming? I am glad of that. Who sent for him?"

"I don't know; I only heard he was coming."

"But your lawyer, Mary--what's his name?--will be here first: we'll
talk the thing over with him, and take his advice. I feel better, and
shall go to sleep again."

All night long Mary sat by him and watched. Not a step, so far as she
knew, came near the door; certainly not a hand was laid upon the lock.
Mr. Redmain slept soundly, and in the morning was beyond a doubt better.

But Mary could not think of leaving him until Mr. Brett came. At Mr.
Redmain's request she rang the bell. Mewks made his appearance, with
the face of a ghost. His master told him to bring his breakfast.

"And see, Mewks," he added, in a tone of gentleness that terrified the
man, so unaccustomed was he to such from the mouth of his master--"see
that there is enough for Miss Marston as well. She has had nothing all
night. Don't let my lady have any trouble with it.--Stop," he cried, as
Mewks was going, "I won't have you touch it either; I am fastidious
this morning. Tell the young woman they call Jemima to come here to
Miss Marston."

Mewks slunk away. Jemima came, and Mr. Redmain ordered her to get
breakfast for himself and Mary. It was done speedily, and Mary remained
in the sick-chamber until the lawyer arrived.



CHAPTER LV.

DISAPPEARANCE.


"I am afraid I must ask you to leave us now, Miss Marston," said Mr.
Brett, seated with pen, ink, and paper, to receive his new client's
instructions.

"No," said Mr. Redmain; "she must stay where she is. I fancy something
happened last night which she has got to tell us about."

"Ah! What was that?" asked Mr. Brett, facing round on her.

Mary began her story with the incident of her having been pursued by
some one, and rescued by the blacksmith, whom she told her listeners
she had known in London. Then she narrated all that had happened the
night before, from first to last, not forgetting the flame that lighted
the closet as they approached the window.

"Just let me see those memoranda," said Mr. Brett to Mr. Redmain,
rising, and looking for the paper where he had left it the day before.

"It was of that paper I was this moment thinking," answered Mr. Redmain.

"It is not here!" said Mr. Brett.

"I thought as much! The fool! There was a thousand pounds there for
her! I didn't want to drive her to despair: a dying man must mind what
he is about. Ring the bell and see what Mewks has to say to it."

Mewks came, in evident anxiety.

I will not record his examination. Mr. Brett took it for granted he had
deliberately and intentionally shut out Mary, and Mewks did not attempt
to deny it, protesting he believed she was boring his master. The grin
on that master's face at hearing this was not very pleasant to behold.
When examined as to the missing paper, he swore by all that was holy he
knew nothing about it.

Mr. Brett next requested the presence of Miss Yolland. She was nowhere
to be found. The place was searched throughout, but there was no trace
of her.

When the doctor arrived, the bottle Joseph had taken from her was
examined, and its contents discovered.

Lady Malice was grievously hurt at the examination she found had been
going on.

"Have I not nursed you like my own brother, Mr. Redmain?" she said.

"You may be glad you have escaped a coroner's inquest in your house,
Lady Margaret!" said Mr. Brett.

"For me," said Mr. Redmain, "I have not many days left me, but somehow
a fellow does like to have his own!"

Hesper sought Mary, and kissed her with some appearance of gratitude.
She saw what a horrible suspicion, perhaps even accusation, she had
saved her from. The behavior and disappearance of Sepia seemed to give
her little trouble.

Mr. Brett got enough out of Mewks to show the necessity of his
dismissal, and the doctor sent from London a man fit to take his place.

Almost every evening, until he left Durnmelling, Mary went to see Mr.
Redmain. She read to him, and tried to teach him, as one might an
unchildlike child. And something did seem to be getting into, or waking
up in, him. The man had never before in the least submitted; but now it
looked as if the watching spirit of life were feeling through the
dust-heap of his evil judgments, low thoughts, and bad life, to find
the thing that spirit had made, lying buried somewhere in the frightful
tumulus: when the two met and joined, then would the man be saved; God
and he would be together. Sometimes he would utter the strangest
things--such as if all the old evil modes of thinking and feeling were
in full operation again; and sometimes for days Mary would not have an
idea what was going on in him. When suffering, he would occasionally
break into fierce and evil language, then be suddenly silent. God and
Satan were striving for the man, and victory would be with him with
whom the man should side.

For some time it remained doubtful whether this attack was not, after
all, going to be the last: the doctor himself was doubtful, and, having
no reason to think his death would be a great grief in the house, did
not hesitate much to express his doubt. And, indeed, it caused no
gloom. For there was little love in the attentions the Mortimers paid
him; and in what other hope could Hesper have married, than that one
day she would be free, with a freedom informed with power, the power of
money! But to the mother's suggestions as to possible changes in the
future, the daughter never responded: she had no thought of plans in
common with her.

Strange rumors came abroad. Godfrey Wardour heard something of them,
and laughed them to scorn. There was a conspiracy in that house to ruin
the character of the loveliest woman in creation! But when a week after
week passed, and he heard nothing of or from her, he became anxious,
and at last lowered his pride so far as to call on Mary, under the
pretense of buying something in the shop.

His troubled look filled her with sympathy, but she could not help
being glad afresh that he had escaped the snares laid for him. He
looked at her searchingly, and at last murmured a request that she
would allow him to have a little conversation with her.

She led the way to her parlor, closed the door, and asked him to take a
seat. But Godfrey was too proud or too agitated to sit.

"You will be surprised to see me on such an errand, Miss Marston!" he
said.

"I do not yet know your errand," replied Mary; "but I may not be so
much surprised as you think."

"Do not imagine," said Godfrey, stiffly, "that I believe a word of the
contemptible reports in circulation. I come only to ask you to tell me
the real nature of the accusations brought against Miss Yolland: your
name is, of course, coupled with them."

"Mr. Wardour," said Mary, "if I thought you would believe what I told
yon, I would willingly do as you ask me. As it is, allow me to refer
you to Mr. Brett, the lawyer, whom I dare say you know."

Happily, the character of Mr. Brett was well known in Testbridge and
all the country round; and from him Godfrey Wardour learned what sent
him traveling on the Continent again--not in the hope of finding Sepia.
What became of her, none of her family ever learned.

Some time after, it came out that the same night on which the presence
of Joseph rescued Mary from her pursuer, a man speaking with a foreign
accent went to one of the surgeons in Testbridge to have his shoulder
set, which he said had been dislocated by a fall. When Joseph heard it,
he smiled, and thought he knew what it meant.

Hesper was no sooner in London, than she wrote to Mary, inviting her to
go and visit her. But Mary answered she could no more leave home, and
must content herself with the hope of seeing Mrs. Redmain when she came
to Durnmelling.

So long as her husband lived, the time for that did not again arrive;
but when Mary went to London, she always called on her, and generally
saw Mr. Redmain. But they never had any more talk about the things Mary
loved most. That he continued to think of those things, she had one
ground of hoping, namely, the kindness with which he invariably
received her, and the altogether gentler manner he wore as often and as
long as she saw him. Whether the change was caused by something better
than physical decay, who knows save him who can use even decay for
redemption? He lived two years more, and died rather suddenly. After
his death, and that of her father, which followed soon, Hesper went
again to Durnmelling, and behaved better to her mother than before.
Mary sometimes saw her, and a flicker of genuine friendship began to
appear on Hesper's part.

Mr. Turnbull was soon driving what he called a roaring trade. He bought
and sold a great deal more than Mary, but she had business sufficient
to employ her days, and leave her nights free, and bring her and Letty
enough to live on as comfortably as they desired--with not a little
over, to use, when occasion was, for others, and something to lay by
for the time of lengthening shadows.

Turnbull seemed to hare taken a lesson from his late narrow escape, for
he gave up the worst of his speculations, and confined himself to
"_genuine business-principles_"--the more contentedly that, all Marston
folly swept from his path, he was free to his own interpretation of the
phrase. He grew a rich man, and died happy--so his friends said, and
said as they saw. Mrs. Turnbull left Testbridge, and went to live in a
small county-town where she was unknown. There she was regarded as the
widow of an officer in her Majesty's service, and, as there was no one
within a couple of hundred miles to support an assertion to the
contrary, she did not think it worth her while to make one: was not the
supposed brevet a truer index to her consciousness of herself than the
actual ticket by ill luck attached to her--Widow of a linen-draper?

George carried on the business; and, when Mary and he happened to pass
in the street, they nodded to each other.

Letty was diligent in business, but it never got into her heart. She
continued to be much liked, and in the shop was delightful. If she ever
had another offer of marriage, the fact remained unknown. She lived to
be a sweet, gracious little old lady--and often forgot that she was a
widow, but never that she was a wife. All the days of her appointed
time she waited till her change should come, and she should find her
Tom on the other side, looking out for her, as he had said he would.
Her mother-in-law could not help dying; but she never "forgave"
her--for what, nobody knew.

After a year or so, Mrs. Wardour began to take a little notice of her
again; but she never asked her to Thornwick until she found herself
dying. Perhaps she then remembered a certain petition in the Lord's
prayer. But will it not be rather a dreadful thing for some people if
they are forgiven as they forgive?

Old Mr. Duppa died, and a young man came to minister to his
congregation who thought the baptism of the spirit of more importance
than the most correct of opinions concerning even the baptizing spirit.
From him Mary found she could learn, and would be much to blame if she
did not learn. From him Letty also heard what increased her desire to
be worth something before she went to rejoin Tom.

Joseph Jasper became once more Mary's pupil. She was now no more
content with her little cottage piano, but had an instrument of quite
another capacity on which to accompany the violin of the blacksmith.

To him trade came in steadily, and before long he had to build a larger
shoeing-shed. From a wide neighborhood horses were brought him to be
shod, cart-wheels to be tired, axles to be mended, plowshares to be
sharpened, and all sorts of odd jobs to be done. He soon found it
necessary to make arrangement with a carpenter and wheelwright to work
on his premises. Before two years were over, he was what people call a
flourishing man, and laying by a little money.

"But," he said to Mary, "I can't go on like this, you know, miss. I
don't want money. It must be meant to do something with, and I must
find out what that something is."



CHAPTER LVI.

A CATASTROPHE.


One winter evening, as soon as his work was over for the day, Joseph
locked the door of his smithy, washed himself well, put on clean
clothes, and, taking his violin, set out for Testbridge: Mary was
expecting him to tea. It was the afternoon of a holiday, and she had
closed early.

Was there ever a happier man than Joseph that night as he strode along
the footpath? A day of invigorating and manly toil behind him, folded
up in the sense of work accomplished; a clear sky overhead, beginning
to breed stars; the pale amber hope of to-morrow's sunrise low down in
the west; a frosty air around him, challenging to the surface the glow
of the forge which his day's labor had stored in his body; his heart
and brain at rest with his father in heaven; his precious violin under
his arm; before him the welcoming parlor, where two sweet women waited
his coming, one of them the brightest angel, in or out of heaven, to
him; and the prospect of a long evening of torrent-music between
them--who, I repeat, could have been more blessed, heart, and soul, and
body, than Joseph Jasper? His being was like an all-sided lens
concentrating all joys in the one heart of his consciousness. God only
knows how blessed he could make us if we would but let him! He pressed
his violin-case to his heart, as if it were a living thing that could
know that he loved it.

Before he reached the town, the stars were out, and the last of the
sunset had faded away. Earth was gone, and heaven was all. Joseph was
now a reader, and read geology and astronomy: "I've got to do with them
all!" he said to himself, looking up. "There lie the fields of my
future, when this chain of gravity is unbound from my feet! Blessed am
I here now, my God, and blessed shall I be there then."

When he reached the suburbs, the light of homes was shining through
curtains of all colors. "Every nest has its own birds," said Joseph;
"every heart its own joys!" Just then, he was in no mood to think of
the sorrows. But the sorrows are sickly things and die, while the joys
are strong divine children, and shall live for evermore.

When he reached the streets, all the shops he passed were closed,
except the beer-shops and the chemists'. "The nettle and the dock!"
said Joseph.

When he reached Mary's shop, he turned into the court to the
kitchen-door. "Through the kitchen to the parlor!" he said. "Through
the smithy to the presence-chamber! O my God--through the mud of me, up
to thy righteousness!"

He was in a mood for music--was he not? One might imagine the violin
under his arm was possessed by an angel, and, ignoring his ears, was
playing straight into his heart!

Beenie let him in, and took him up to the parlor. Mary came half-way to
meet him. The pressure as of heaven's atmosphere fell around him,
calming and elevating. He stepped across the floor, still, stately, and
free. He laid down his violin, and seated himself where Mary told him,
in her father's arm-chair by the fire. Gentle nothings with a down of
rainbows were talked until tea was over, and then without a word they
set to their music--Mary and Joseph, with their own hearts and Letty
for their audience.

They had not gone far on the way to fairyland, however, when Beenie
called Letty from the room, to speak to a friend and customer, who had
come from the country on a sudden necessity for something from the
shop. Letty, finding herself not quite equal to the emergency, came in
her turn to call Mary: she went as quietly as if she were leaving a
tiresome visitor. The music was broken, and Joseph left alone with the
dumb instruments.

But in his hands solitude and a violin were sure to marry in music. He
began to play, forgot himself utterly, and, when the customer had gone
away satisfied, and the ladies returned to the parlor, there he stood
with his eyes closed, playing on, nor knowing they were beside him.
They sat down, and listened in silence.

Mary had not listened long before she found herself strangely moved.
Her heart seemed to swell up into her throat, and it was all she could
do to keep from weeping. A little longer and she was compelled to
yield, and the silent tears flowed freely. Letty, too, was
overcome--more than ever she had been by music. She was not so open to
its influences as Mary, but her eyes were full, and she sat thinking of
her Tom, far in the regions that are none the less true that we can not
see them.

A mood had taken shape in the mind of the blacksmith, and wandered from
its home, seeking another country. It is not the ghosts of evil deeds
that alone take shape, and go forth to wander the earth. Let but a mood
be strong enough, and the soul, clothing itself in that mood as with a
garment, can walk abroad and haunt the world. Thus, in a garment of
mood whose color and texture was music, did the soul of Joseph Jasper
that evening, like a homeless ghost, come knocking at the door of Mary
Marston. It was the very being of the man, praying for admittance, even
as little Abel might have crept up to the gate from which his mother
had been driven, and, seeing nothing of the angel with the flaming
sword, knocked and knocked, entreating to be let in, pleading that all
was not right with the world in which he found himself. And there Mary
saw Joseph stand, thinking himself alone with his violin; and the
violin was his mediator with her, and was pleading and pleading for the
admittance of its master. It prayed, it wept, it implored. It cried
aloud that eternity was very long, and like a great palace without a
quiet room. "Gorgeous is the glory," it sang; "white are the garments,
and lovely are the faces of the holy; they look upon me gently and
sweetly, but pitifully, for they know that I am alone--yet not alone,
for I love. Oh, rather a thousand-fold let me love and be alone, than
be content and joyous with them all, free of this pang which tells me
of a bliss yet more complete, fulfilling the gladness of heaven!"

All the time Joseph knew nothing of where his soul was; for he thought
Mary was in the shop, and beyond the hearing of his pleader. Nor was
this exactly the shape the thing took to the consciousness of the
musician. He seemed to himself to be standing alone in a starry and
moonlit night, among roses, and sweet-peas, and apple-blossoms--for the
soul cares little for the seasons, and will make its own month out of
many. On the bough of an apple-tree, in the fair moonlight, sat a
nightingale, swaying to and fro like one mad with the wine of his own
music, singing as if he wanted to break his heart and have done, for
the delight was too much for mortal creature to endure. And the song of
the bird grew the prayer of a man in the brain and heart of the
musician, and thence burst, through the open fountain of the violin,
and worked what it could work, in the world of forces. "I love thee! I
love thee! I love thee!" cried the violin; and the worship was entreaty
that knew not itself. On and on it went, ever beginning ere it ended,
as if it could never come to a close; and the two sat listening as if
they cared but to hear, and would listen for ever--listening as if,
when the sound ceased, all would be at an end, and chaos come again.

Ah, do not blame, thou who lovest God, and fearest the love of the
human! Hast thou yet to learn that the love of the human is love, is
divine, is but a lower form of a part of the love of God? When thou
lovest man, or woman, or child, yea, or even dog, aright, then wilt
thou no longer need that I tell thee how God and his Christ would not
be content with each other alone in the glories even of the eternal
original love, because they could create more love. For that more love,
together they suffered and patiently waited. He that loveth not his
brother whom he hath seen, how shall he love God whom he hath not seen?

A sob, like a bird new-born, burst from Mary's bosom. It broke the
enchantment in which Joseph was bound. That enchantment had possessed
him, usurping as it were the throne of his life, and displacing it;
when it ceased, he was not his own master. He started--to conscious
confusion only, neither knowing where he was nor what he did. His limbs
for the moment were hardly his own. How it happened he never could
tell, but he brought down his violin with a crash against the piano,
then somehow stumbled and all but fell. In the act of recovering
himself, he heard the neck of his instrument part from the body with a
tearing, discordant cry, like the sound of the ruin of a living world.
He stood up, understanding now, holding in his hand his dead music, and
regarding it with a smile sad as a winter sunset gleaming over a grave.
But Mary darted to him, threw her arms round him, laid her head on his
bosom, and burst into tears. Tenderly he laid his broken violin on the
piano, and, like one receiving a gift straight from the hand of the
Godhead, folded his arms around the woman--enough, if music itself had
been blotted from his universe! His violin was broken, but his being
was made whole! his treasure taken--type of his self, and a woman given
him instead!

"It's just like him!" he murmured.

He was thinking of him who, when a man was brought him to be delivered
from a poor palsy, forgave him his sins.



CHAPTER LVII.

THE END OF THE BEGINNING.


Joseph Jasper and Mary Marston were married the next summer. Mary did
not leave her shop, nor did Joseph leave his forge. Mary was proud of
her husband, not merely because he was a musician, but because he was a
blacksmith. For, with the true taste of a right woman, she honored the
manhood that could do hard work. The day will come, and may I do
something to help it hither, when the youth of our country will
recognize that, taken in itself, it is a more manly, and therefore in
the old true sense a more _gentle_ thing, to follow a good handicraft,
if it make the hands black as a coal, than to spend the day in keeping
books, and making up accounts, though therein the hands should remain
white--or red, as the case may be. Not but that, from a higher point of
view still, all work, set by God, and done divinely, is of equal honor;
but, where there is a choice, I would gladly see boy of mine choose
rather to be a blacksmith, or a watchmaker, or a bookbinder, than a
clerk. Production, making, is a higher thing in the scale of reality,
than any mere transmission, such as buying and selling. It is, besides,
easier to do honest work than to buy and sell honestly. The more honor,
of course, to those who are honest under the greater difficulty! But
the man who knows how needful the prayer, "Lead us not into
temptation," knows that he must not be tempted into temptation even by
the glory of duty under difficulty. In humility we must choose the
easiest, as we must hold our faces unflinchingly to the hardest, even
to the seeming impossible, when it is given us to do.

I must show the blacksmith and the shopkeeper once more--two years
after marriage--time long enough to have made common people as common
to each other as the weed by the roadside; but these are not common to
each other yet, and never will be. They will never complain of being
_desillusionnes_, for they have never been illuded. They look up each
to the other still, because they were right in looking up each to the
other from the first. Each was, and therefore each is and will be, real.

        ".... The man is honest."
  "Therefore he will be, Timon."


It was a lovely morning in summer. The sun was but a little way above
the horizon, and the dew-drops seemed to have come scattering from him
as he shook his locks when he rose. The foolish larks were up, of
course, for they fancied, come what might of winter and rough weather,
the universe founded in eternal joy, and themselves endowed with the
best of all rights to be glad, for there was the gladness inside, and
struggling to get outside of them. And out it was coming in a divine
profusion! How many baskets would not have been wanted to gather up the
lordly waste of those scattered songs! in all the trees, in all the
flowers, in every grass-blade, and every weed, the sun was warming and
coaxing and soothing life into higher life. And in those two on the
path through the fields from Testbridge, the same sun, light from the
father of lights, was nourishing highest life of all--that for the sake
of which the Lord came, that he might set it growing in hearts of whose
existence it was the very root.

Joseph and Mary were taking their walk together before the day's work
should begin. Those who have a good conscience, and are not at odds
with their work, can take their pleasure any time--as well before their
work as after it. Only where the work of the day is a burden grievous
to be borne, is there cause to fear being unfitted for duty by
antecedent pleasure. But the joy of the sunrise would linger about Mary
all the day long in the gloomy shop; and for Joseph, he had but to lift
his head to see the sun hastening on to the softer and yet more hopeful
splendors of the evening. The wife, who had not to begin so early, was
walking with her husband, as was her custom, even when the weather was
not of the best, to see him fairly started on his day's work. It was
with something very like pride, yet surely nothing evil, that she would
watch the quick blows of his brawny arm, as he beat the cold iron on
the anvil till it was all aglow like the sun that lighted the
world--then stuck it into the middle of his coals, and blew softly with
his bellows till the flame on the altar of his work-offering was awake
and keen. The sun might shine or forbear, the wind might blow or be
still, the path might be crisp with frost or soft with mire, but the
lighting of her husband's forge-fire, Mary, without some forceful
reason, never omitted to turn by her presence into a holy ceremony. It
was to her the "Come let us worship and bow down" of the daily service
of God-given labor. That done, she would kiss him, and leave him: she
had her own work to do. Filled with prayer she would walk steadily back
the well-known way to the shop, where, all day long, ministering with
gracious service to the wants of her people, she would know the evening
and its service drawing nearer and nearer, when Joseph would come, and
the delights of heaven would begin afresh at home, in music, and verse,
and trustful talk. Every day was a life, and every evening a blessed
death--type of that larger evening rounding our day with larger hope.
But many Christians are such awful pagans that they will hardly believe
it possible a young loving pair should think of that evening, except
with misery and by rare compulsion!

That morning, as they went, they talked--thus, or something like this:

"O Mary!" said Joseph, "hear the larks! They are all saying: 'Jo-seph!
Jo-seph! Hearkentome, Joseph! Whatwouldyouhavebeenbutfor Ma-ry,
Jo-seph?' That's what they keep on singing, singing in the ears of my
heart, Mary!"

"You would have been a true man, Joseph, whatever the larks may say."

"A solitary melody, praising without an upholding harmony, at best,
Mary!"

"And what should I have been, Joseph? An inarticulate harmony--sweetly
mumbling, with never a thread of soaring song!"

A pause followed.

"I shall be rather shy of your father, Mary," said Joseph. "Perhaps he
won't be content with me."

"Even if you weren't what you are, my father would love you because I
love you. But I know my father as well as I know you; and I know you
are just the man it must make him happy afresh, even in heaven, to
think of his Mary marrying. You two can hardly be of two minds in
anything!"

"That was a curious speech of Letty's yesterday! You heard her say, did
you not, that, if everybody was to be so very good in heaven, she was
afraid it would be rather dull?"

"We mustn't make too much of what Letty says, either when she's merry
or when she's miserable. She speaks both times only out of half-way
down."

"Yes, yes! I wasn't meaning to find any fault with her; I was only
wishing to hear what you would say. For nobody can make a story without
somebody wicked enough to set things wrong in it, and then all the work
lies in setting them right again, and, as soon as they are set right,
then the story stops."

"There's no thing of the sort in music, Joseph, and that makes one
happy enough."

"Yes, there is, Mary. There's strife and difference and compensation
and atonement and reconciliation."

"But there's nothing wicked."

"No, that there is not."

"Well!" said Mary, "perhaps it may only be because we know so little
about good, that it seems to us not enough. We know only the beginnings
and the fightings, and so write and talk only about them. For my part,
I don't feel that strife of any sort is necessary to make me enjoy
life; of all things it is what makes me miserable. I grant you that
effort and struggle add immeasurably to the enjoyment of life, but
those I look upon as labor, not strife. There may be whole worlds for
us to help bring into order and obedience. And I suspect there must be
no end of work in which is strife enough--and that of a kind hard to
bear. There must be millions of spirits in prison that want preaching
to; and whoever goes among them will have that which is behind of the
afflictions of Christ to fill up. Anyhow there will be plenty to do,
and that's the main thing. Seeing we are made in the image of God, and
he is always working, we could not be happy without work."

"Do you think we shall get into any company we like up there?" said
Joseph. "I must think a minute. When I want to understand, I find
myself listening for what my father would say. Yes, I think I know what
he would say to that: 'Yes; but not till you are fit for it; and then
the difficulty would be to keep out of it. For all that is fit must
come to pass in the land of fitnesses--that is, the land where all is
just as it ought to be.'--That's how I could fancy I heard my father
answer you."

"With that answer I am well content," said Joseph.--"But you don't want
to die, do you, Mary?"

"No; I want to live. And I've got such a blessed plenty of life while
waiting for more, that I am quite content to wait. But I do wonder that
some people I know, should cling to what they call life as they do. It
is not that they are comfortable, for they are constantly complaining
of their sufferings; neither is it from submission to the will of God,
for to hear them talk you must think they imagine themselves hardly
dealt with; they profess to believe the Gospel, and that it is their
only consolation; and yet they speak of death as the one paramount
evil. In the utmost weariness, they yet seem incapable of understanding
the apostle's desire to depart and be with Christ, or of imagining that
to be with him can be at all so good as remaining where they are. One
is driven to ask whether they can be Christians any further than
anxiety to secure whatever the profession may be worth to them will
make them such."

"Don't you think, though," said Joseph, "that some people have a trick
of putting on their clothes wrong side out, and so making themselves
appear less respectable than they are? There was my sister Ann: she
used to go on scolding at people for not believing, all the time she
said they could not believe till God made them--if she had said
_except_ God made them, I should have been with her there!--and then
talking about God so, that I don't see how, even if they could, any one
would have believed in such a monster as she made of him; and then, if
you objected to believe in such a God, she would tell you it was all
from the depravity of your own heart you could not believe in him; and
yet this sister Ann of mine, I know, once went for months without
enough to eat--without more than just kept body and soul together, that
she might feed the children of a neighbor, of whom she knew next to
nothing, when their father lay ill of a fever, and could not provide
for them. And she didn't look for any thanks neither, except it was
from that same God she would have to be a tyrant from the
beginning--one who would calmly behold the unspeakable misery of
creatures whom he had compelled to exist, whom he would not permit to
cease, and for whom he would do a good deal, but not all that he could.
Such people, I think, are nearly as unfair to themselves as they are to
God."

"You're right, Joseph," said Mary. "If we won't take the testimony of
such against God, neither must we take it against themselves. Only, why
is it they are always so certain they are in the right?"

"For the perfecting of the saints," suggested Joseph, with a curious
smile.

"Perhaps," answered Mary. "Anyhow, we may get that good out of them,
whether they be here for the purpose or not. I remember Mr. Turnbull
once accusing my father of irreverence, because he spoke about God in
the shop. Said my father, 'Our Lord called the old temple his father's
house and a den of thieves in the same breath.' Mr. Turnbull saw
nothing but nonsense in the answer. Said my father then, 'You will
allow that God is everywhere?' 'Of course,' replied Mr. Turnbull.
'Except in this shop, I suppose you mean?' said my father. 'No, I
don't. That's just why I wouldn't have you do it.' 'Then you wouldn't
have me think about him either?' 'Well! there's a time for everything.'
Then said my father, very solemnly, 'I came from God, and I'm going
back to God, and I won't have any gaps of death in the middle of my
life.' And that was nothing to Mr. Turnbull either."

To one in ten of my readers it may be something.

Just ere they came in sight of the smithy, they saw a lady and
gentleman on horseback flying across the common.

"There go Mrs. Redmain and Mr. Wardour!" said Joseph. "They're to be
married next month, they say. Well, it's a handsome couple they'll
make! And the two properties together'll make a fine estate!"

"I hope she'll learn to like the books he does," said Mary. "I never
could get her to listen to anything for more than three minutes."

Though Joseph generally dropped work long before Mary shut the shop,
she yet not unfrequently contrived to meet him on his way home; and
Joseph always kept looking out for her as he walked.

That very evening they were gradually nearing each other--the one from
the smithy, the other from the shop--with another pair between them,
however, going toward Testbridge--Godfrey Wardour and Hesper Redmain.

"How strange," said Hesper, "that after all its chances and breakings,
old Thornwick should be joined up again at last!"

Partly by a death in the family, partly through the securities her
husband had taken on the property, partly by the will of her father,
the whole of Durnmelling now belonged to Hesper.

"It is strange," answered Godfrey, with an involuntary sigh.

Hesper turned and looked at him.

It was not merely sadness she saw on his face. There was something
there almost like humility, though Hesper was not able to read it as
such. He lifted his head, and did not avoid her gaze.

"You are wondering, Hesper," he said, "that I do not respond with more
pleasure. To tell you the truth, I have come through so much that I am
almost afraid to expect the fruition of any good. Please do not
imagine, you beautiful creature! it is of the property I am thinking.
In your presence that would be impossible. Nor, indeed, have I begun to
think of it. I shall, one day, come to care for it, I do not
doubt--that is, when once I have you safe; but I keep looking for the
next slip that is to come--between my lip and this full cup of
hap-piness. I have told you all, Hesper, and I thank you that you do
not despise me. But it may well make me solemn and fearful, to think,
after all the waves and billows that have gone over me, such a splendor
should be mine!--But, do you really love me, Hesper--or am I walking in
my sleep? I had thought, 'Surely now at last I shall never love
again!'--and instead of that, here I am loving, as I never loved
before!--and doubting whether I ever did love before!"

"I never loved before," said Hesper. "Surely to love must be a good
thing, when it has made you so good! I am a poor creature beside you,
Godfrey, but I am glad to think whatever I know of love you have taught
me. It is only I who have to be ashamed!"

"That is all your goodness!" interrupted Godfrey. "Yet, at this moment,
I can not quite be sorry for some things I ought to be sorry for: but
for them I should not be at your side now--happier than I dare allow
myself to feel. I dare hardly think of those things, lest I should be
glad I had done wrong."

"There are things I am compelled to know of myself, Godfrey, which I
shall never speak to you about, for even to think of them by your side
would blast all my joy. How plainly Mary used to tell me what I was! I
scorned her words! It seemed, then, too late to repent. And now I am
repenting! I little thought ever to give in like this! But of one thing
I am sure--that, if I had known you, not all the terrors of my father
would have made me marry the man."

Was this all the feeling she had for her dead husband? Although Godfrey
could hardly at the moment feel regret she had not loved him, it yet
made him shiver to hear her speak of him thus. In the perfected
grandeur of her external womanhood, she seemed to him the very ideal of
his imagination, and he felt at moments the proudest man in the great
world; but at night he would lie in torture, brooding over the horrors
a woman such as she must have encountered, to whom those mysteries of
our nature, which the true heart clothes in abundant honor, had been
first presented in the distortions of a devilish caricature. There had
been a time in Godfrey's life when, had she stood before him in all her
splendor, he would have turned from her, because of her history, with a
sad disgust. Was he less pure now? He was more pure, for he was
humbler. When those terrible thoughts would come, and the darkness
about him grow billowy with black flame, "God help me," he would cry,
"to make the buffeted angel forget the past!"

They had talked of Mary more than once, and Godfrey, in part through
what Hesper told him of her, had come to see that he was unjust to her.
I do not mean he had come to know the depth and extent of his
injustice--that would imply a full understanding of Mary herself, which
was yet far beyond him. A thousand things had to grow, a thousand
things to shift and shake themselves together in Godfrey's mind, before
he could begin to understand one who cared only for the highest.

Godfrey and Hesper made a glorious pair to look at--but would theirs be
a happy union?--Happy, I dare say--and not too happy. He who sees to
our affairs will see that the _too_ is not in them. There were fine
elements in both, and, if indeed they loved, and now I think, from very
necessity of their two hearts, they must have loved, then all would, by
degrees, by slow degrees, most likely, come right with them.

If they had been born again both, before they began, so to start fresh,
then like two children hand in hand they might have run in through the
gates into the city. But what is love, what is loss, what defilement
even, what are pains, and hopes, and disappointments, what sorrow, and
death, and all the ills that flesh is heir to, but means to this very
end, to this waking of the soul to seek the home of our being--the life
eternal? Verily we must be born from above, and be good children, or
become, even to our self-loving selves, a scorn, a hissing, and an
endless reproach.

If they had had but Mary to talk to them! But they did not want her:
she was a good sort of creature, who, with all her disagreeableness,
meant them well, and whom they had misjudged a little and made cry!
They had no suspicion that she was one of the lights of the world--one
of the wells of truth, whose springs are fed by the rains on the
eternal hills.

Turning a clump of furze-bushes on the common, they met Mary. She
stepped from the path. Mr. Wardour took off his hat. Then Mary knew
that his wrath was past, and she was glad.

They stopped. "Well, Mary," said Hesper, holding out her hand, and
speaking in a tone from which both haughtiness and condescension had
vanished, "where are you going?"

"To meet my husband," answered Mary. "I see him coming."

With a deep, loving look at Hesper, and a bow and a smile to Godfrey,
she left them, and hastened to meet her working-man.

Behind Godfrey Wardour and Hesper Redmain walked Joseph Jasper and Mary
Marston, a procession of love toward a far-off, eternal goal. But which
of them was to be first in the kingdom of heaven, Mary or Joseph or
Hesper or Godfrey, is not to be told: they had yet a long way to walk,
and there are first that shall be last, and last that shall be first.





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