Poems & Short Stories: 4,435
Forum Members: 67,986
Forum Posts: 1,216,101
And over 2 million unique readers monthly!
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.
|Art of Worldly Wisdom Daily|
In the 1600s, Balthasar Gracian, a jesuit priest wrote 300 aphorisms on living life called "The Art of Worldly Wisdom." Join our newsletter below and read them all, one at a time.
Shakespeare wrote over 150 sonnets! Join our Sonnet-A-Day Newsletter and read them all, one at a time.