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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesMary Marston: A Novel - Chapter 44. Joseph Jasper
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Mary Marston: A Novel - Chapter 44. Joseph Jasper Post by :sbtrue100 Category :Long Stories Author :George Macdonald Date :May 2012 Read :2388

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Mary Marston: A Novel - Chapter 44. 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. Ho 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 Eidings, 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.

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