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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.
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