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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesMary Marston: A Novel - Chapter 47. Another Change
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Mary Marston: A Novel - Chapter 47. Another Change Post by :sbtrue100 Category :Long Stories Author :George Macdonald Date :May 2012 Read :865

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Mary Marston: A Novel - Chapter 47. Another Change

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.

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