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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesMary Marston: A Novel - Chapter 29. The Evening Star
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Mary Marston: A Novel - Chapter 29. The Evening Star Post by :kmike Category :Long Stories Author :George Macdonald Date :May 2012 Read :1546

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Mary Marston: A Novel - Chapter 29. 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.

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