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GODFREY AND LETTY.
Godfrey, being an Englishman, and with land of his own, could not fail to be fond of horses. For his own use he kept two--an indulgence disproportioned to his establishment; for, although precise in his tastes as to equine toilet, he did not feel justified in the keeping of a groom for their use only. Hence it came that, now and then, strap and steel, as well as hide and hoof, would get partially neglected; and his habits in the use of his horses being fitful--sometimes, it would be midnight even, when he scoured from his home, seeking the comfort of desert as well as solitary places--it is not surprising if at times, going to the stable to saddle one, he should find its gear not in the spick-and-span condition alone to his mind. It might then well happen there was no one near to help him, and there be nothing for it but to put his own hands to the work: he was too just to rouse one who might be nowise to blame, or send a maid to fetch him from field or barn, where he might be more importantly engaged.
One night, meaning to start for a long ride early in the morning, he had gone to the stable to see how things were; and, soon after, it happened that Letty, attending to some duty before going to bed, caught sight of him cleaning his stirrups: from that moment she took upon herself the silent and unsuspected supervision of the harness-room, where, when she found any part of the riding-equipments neglected, she would draw a pair of housemaid's gloves on her pretty hands, and polish away like a horse-boy.
Godfrey had begun to remark how long it was since he had found anything unfit, and to wonder at the improvement somewhere in the establishment, when, going hastily one morning, some months before the date of my narrative, into the harness-room to get a saddle, he came upon Letty, who had imagined him afield with the men: she was energetic upon a stirrup with a chain-polisher. He started back in amazement, but she only looked up and smiled.
"I shall have done in a moment, Cousin Godfrey," she said, and polished away harder than before.
"But, Letty! I can't allow you to do things like that. What on earth put it in your head? Work like that is only for horny hands."
"Your hands ain't horny, Cousin Godfrey. They may be a little harder than mine--they wouldn't be much good if they weren't--but they're no fitter by nature to clean stirrups. Is it for me to sit with mine in my lap, and yours at this? I know better."
"Why shouldn't I clean my own harness, Letty, if I like?" said Godfrey, who could not help feeling pleased as well as annoyed; in this one moment Letty had come miles nearer him.
"Oh, surely! if you like, Cousin Godfrey," she answered; "but do you like?"
"Better than to see you doing it."
"But not better than I like to do it; that I am sure of. It is hands that write poetry that are not fit for work like this."
"How do you know I write poetry?" asked Godfrey, displeased, for she touched here a sensitive spot.
"Oh, don't be angry with me!" she said, letting the stirrup fall on the floor, and clasping her great wash-leather gloves together; "I couldn't help seeing it was poetry, for it lay on the table when I went to do your room."
"Do my room, Letty! Does my mother--?"
"She doesn't want to make a fine lady of me, and I shouldn't like it if she did. I have no head, but I have pretty good hands. Of course, Cousin Godfrey, I didn't read a word of the poetry. I daredn't do that, however much I might have wished."
A childlike simplicity looked out of the clear eyes and sounded in the swift words of the maiden; and, had Godfrey's heart been as hard as the stirrup she had dropped, it could not but be touched by her devotion. He was at the same time not a little puzzled how to carry himself. Letty had picked up the stirrup, and was again hard at work with it; to take it from her, and turn her out of the saddle-room, would scarcely be a proper way of thanking her, scarcely an adequate mode of revealing his estimate of the condescension of her ladyhood. For, although Letty did make beds and chose to clean harness, Godfrey was gentleman enough not to think her less of a lady--for the moment at least-- because of such doings: I will not say he had got so far on in the great doctrine concerning the washing of hands as to be able to think her more of a lady for thus cleaning his stirrups. But he did see that to set the fire-engine of indignant respect for womankind playing on the individual woman was not the part of the man to whose service she was humbling herself. He laid his hand on her bent head, and said:
"I ought to be a knight of the old times, Letty, to have a lady serve me so."
"You're just as good, Cousin Godfrey," she rejoined, rubbing away.
He turned from her, and left her at her work.
He had taken no real notice of the girl before--had felt next to no interest in her. Neither did he feel much now, save as owing her something beyond mere acknowledgment. But was there anything now he could do for her--anything in her he could help? He did not know. What she really was, he could not tell. She was a fresh, bright girl--that he seemed to have just discovered; and, as she sat polishing the stirrup, her hair shaken about her shoulders, she looked engaging; but whether she was one he could do anything for that was worth doing, was hardly the less a question for those discoveries.
"There must be something in the girl!" he said to himself --then suddenly reflected that he had never seen a book in her hand, except her prayer-book; how was he to do anything for a girl like that? For Godfrey knew no way of doing people good without the intervention of books. How could he get near one that had no taste for the quintessence of humanity? How was he to offer her the only help he had, when she desired no such help? "But," he continued, reflecting further, "she may have thirsted, may even now be athirst, without knowing that books are the bottles of the water of life!" Perhaps, if he could make her drink once, she would drink again. The difficulty was, to find out what sort of spiritual drink would be most to her taste, and would most entice her to more. There must be some seeds lying cold and hard in her uncultured garden; what water would soonest make them grow? Not all the waters of Damascus will turn mere sand sifted of eternal winds into fruitful soil; but Letty's soul could not be such. And then literature has seed to sow as well as water for the seed sown. Letty's foolish words about the hands that wrote poetry showed a shadow of respect for poetry--except, indeed, the girl had been but making game of him, which he was far from ready to believe, and for which, he said to himself, her face was at the time much too earnest, and her hands much too busy; he must find out whether she had any instincts, any predilections, in the matter of poetry!
Thus pondering, he forgot all about his projected ride, and, going up to the study he had contrived for himself in the rambling roof of the ancient house, began looking along the backs of his books, in search of some suggestion of how to approach Letty; his glance fell on a beautifully bound volume of verse--a selection of English lyrics, made with tolerable judgment--which he had bought to give, but the very color of which, every time his eye flitting along the book-shelves caught it, threw a faint sickness over his heart, preluding the memory of old pain and loss:
"It may as well serve some one," he said, and, taking it down, carried it with him to the saddle-room.
Letty was not there, and the perfect order of the place somehow made him feel she had been gone some time. He went in search of her; she might be in the dairy.
That was the very picture of an old-fashioned English dairy-- green-shadowy, dark, dank, and cool--floored with great irregular slabs, mostly of green serpentine, polished into smooth hollows by the feet of generations of mistresses and dairy-maids. Its only light came through a small window shaded with shrubs and ivy, which stood open, and let in the scents of bud and blossom, weaving a net of sweetness in the gloom, through which, like a silver thread, shot the twittering song of a bird, which had inherited the gathered carelessness and bliss of a long ancestry in God's aviary.
Godfrey came softly to the door, which he found standing ajar, and peeped in. There stood Letty, warm and bright in the middle of the dusky coolness. She had changed her dress since he saw her, and now, in a pink-rosebud print, with the sleeves tucked above her elbows, was skimming the cream in a great red-brown earthen pan. He pushed the door a little, and, at its screech along the uneven floor, Letty's head turned quickly on her lithe neck, and she saw Godfrey's brown face and kind blue eyes where she had never seen them before. In his hand glowed the book: some of the stronger light from behind him fell on it, and it caught her eyes.
"Letty," he said, "I have just come upon this book in my library: would you care to have it?"
"You don't mean to keep for my own, Cousin Godfrey?" cried Letty, in sweet, childish fashion, letting the skimmer dive like a coot to the bottom of the milk-pool, and hastily wiping her hands in her apron. Her face had flushed rosy with pleasure, and grew rosier and brighter still as she took the rich morocco-bound thing from Godfrey's hand into her own. Daintily she peeped within the boards, and the gilding of the leaves responded in light to her smile.
"Poetry!" she cried, in a tone of delight. "Is it really for me, Cousin Godfrey? Do you think I shall be able to understand it?"
"You can soon settle that question for yourself," answered Godfrey, with a pleased smile--for he augured well from this reception of his gift--and turned to leave the dairy.
"But, Cousin Godfrey--please!" she called after him, "you don't give me time to thank you."
"That will do when you are certain you care for it," he returned.
"I care for it very much!" she replied.
"How can you say that, when you don't know yet whether you will understand it or not?" he rejoined, and closed the door.
Letty stood motionless, the book in her hand illuminating the dusk with gold, and warming its coolness with its crimson boards and silken linings. One poem after another she read, nor knew how the time passed, until the voice of her aunt in her ears warned her to finish her skimming, and carry the jug to the pantry. But already Letty had taken a little cream off the book also, and already, between the time she entered and the time she left the dairy, had taken besides a fresh start in spiritual growth.
The next day Godfrey took an opportunity of asking her whether she had found in the book anything she liked. To his disappointment she mentioned one of the few commonplace things the collection contained--a last-century production, dull and respectable, which, surely, but for the glamour of some pleasant association, the editor would never have included. Happily, however, he bethought himself in time not to tell her the thing was worthless: such a word, instead of chipping the shell in which the girl's faculty lay dormant, would have smashed the whole egg into a miserable albuminous mass. And he was well rewarded; for, the same day, in the evening, he heard her singing gayly over her work, and listening discovered that she was singing verse after verse of one of the best ballads in the whole book. She had chosen with the fancy of pleasing Godfrey; she sang to please herself. After this discovery he set himself in earnest to the task of developing her intellectual life, and, daily almost, grew more interested in the endeavor. His main object was to make her think; and for the high purpose, chiefly but not exclusively, he employed verse.
The main obstacle to success he soon discovered to be Letty's exceeding distrust of herself. I would not be mistaken to mean that she had too little confidence in herself; of that no one can have too little. Self-distrust will only retard, while self- confidence will betray. The man ignorant in these things will answer me, "But you must have one or the other." "You must have neither," I reply. "You must follow the truth, and, in that pursuit, the less one thinks about himself, the pursuer, the better. Let him so hunger and thirst after the truth that the dim vision of it occupies all his being, and leaves no time to think of his hunger and his thirst. Self-forgetfulness in the reaching out after that which is essential to us is the healthiest of mental conditions. One has to look to his way, to his deeds, to his conduct--not to himself. In such losing of the false, or merely reflected, we find the true self. There is no harm in being stupid, so long as a man does not think himself clever; no good in being clever, if a man thinks himself so, for that is a short way to the worst stupidity. If you think yourself clever, set yourself to do something; then you will have a chance of humiliation."
With good faculties, and fine instincts, Letty was always thinking she must be wrong, just because it was she was in it--a lovely fault, no doubt, but a fault greatly impeditive to progress, and tormenting to a teacher. She got on very fairly in spite of it, however; and her devotion to Godfrey, as she felt herself growing in his sight, increased almost to a passion. Do not misunderstand me, my reader. If I say anything grows to a passion, I mean, of course, the passion of that thing, not of something else. Here I no more mean that her devotion became what in novels is commonly called love, than, if I said ambition or avarice had grown to a passion, I should mean those vices had changed to love. Godfrey Wardour was at least ten years older than Letty; besides him, she had not a single male relative in this world--neither had she mother or sister on whom to let out her heart; while of Mrs. Wardour, who was more severe on her than on any one else, she was not a little afraid: from these causes it came that Cousin Godfrey grew and grew in Letty's imagination, until he was to her everything great and good--her idea of him naturally growing as she grew herself under his influences. To her he was the heart of wisdom, the head of knowledge, the arm of strength.
But her worship was quiet, as the worship of maiden, in whatever kind, ought to be. She knew nothing of what is called love except as a word, and from sympathy with the persons in the tales she read. Any remotest suggestion of its existence in her relation to Godfrey she would have resented as the most offensive impertinence--an accusation of impossible irreverence.
By degrees Godfrey came to understand, but then only in a measure, with what a self-refusing, impressionable nature he was dealing; and, as he saw, he became more generous toward her, more gentle and delicate in his ministration. Of necessity he grew more and more interested in her, especially after he had made the discovery that the moment she laid hold of a truth--the moment, that is, when it was no longer another's idea but her own perception--it began to sprout in her in all directions of practice. By nature she was not intellectually quick; but, because such was her character, the ratio of her progress was of necessity an increasing one.
If Godfrey had seen in his new relation to Letty a possibility of the revival of feelings he had supposed for ever extinguished, such a possibility would have borne to him purely the aspect of danger; at the mere idea of again falling in love he would have sickened with dismay; and whether or not ho had any dread of such a catastrophe, certain it is that he behaved to her more as a pedagogue than a cousinly tutor, insisting on a precision in all she did that might have gone far to rouse resentment and recoil in the mind of a less childlike woman. Just as surely, notwithstanding all that, however, did the sweet girl grow into his heart: it could not be otherwise. The idea of her was making a nest for itself in his soul--what kind of a nest for long he did not know, and for long did not think to inquire. Living thus, like an elder brother with a much younger sister, he was more than satisfied, refusing, it may be, to regard the probability of intruding change. But how far any man and woman may have been made capable of loving without falling in love, can be answered only after question has yielded to history. In the mean time, Mrs. Wardour, who would have been indignant at the notion of any equal bond between her idolized son and her patronized cousin, neither saw, nor heard, nor suspected anything to rouse uneasiness.
Things were thus in the old house, when the growing affection of Letty for Mary Marston took form one day in the request that she would make Thornwick the goal of her Sunday walk. She repented, it is true, the moment she had said the words, from dread of her aunt; but they had been said, and were accepted. Mary went, and the aunt difficulty had been got over. The friendship of Godfrey also had now run into that of the girls, and Mary's visits were continued with pleasure to all, and certainly with no little profit to herself; for, where the higher nature can not communicate the greater benefit, it will reap it. Her Sunday visit became to Mary the one foraging expedition of the week-- that which going to church ought to be, and so seldom can be.
The beginning and main-stay of her spiritual life was, as we have seen, her father, in whom she believed absolutely. From books and sermons she had got little good; for in neither kind had the best come nigh her. She did very nearly her best to obey, but without much perceiving the splendor of the thing required, or much feeling its might upon her own eternal nature. She was as yet, in relation to the gospel, much as the Jews were in relation to their law; they had not yet learned the gospel of their law, and she was yet only serving the law of the gospel. But she was making progress, in simple and pure virtue of her obedience. Show me the person ready to step from any, let it be the narrowest, sect of Christian Pharisees into a freer and holier air, and I shall look to find in that person the one of that sect who, in the midst of its darkness and selfish worldliness, mistaken for holiness, has been living a life more obedient than the rest.
And now was sent Godfrey to her aid, a teacher himself far behind his pupil, inasmuch as he was more occupied with what he was, than what he had to become: the weakest may be sent to give the strongest saving help; even the foolish may mediate between the wise and the wiser; and Godfrey presented Mary to men greater than himself, whom in a short time she would understand even better than he. Book after book he lent her--now and then gave her one of the best--introducing her, with no special intention, to much in the way of religion that was good in the way of literature as well. Only where he delighted mainly in the literature, she delighted more in the religion. Some of my readers will be able to imagine what it must have been to a capable, clear-thinking, warm-hearted, loving soul like Mary, hitherto in absolute ignorance of any better religious poetry than the chapel hymn-book afforded her, to make acquaintance with George Herbert, with Henry Vaughan, with Giles Fletcher, with Richard Crashaw, with old Mason, not to mention Milton, and afterward our own Father Newman and Father Faber.
But it was by no means chiefly upon such that Godfrey led the talk on the Sunday afternoons. A lover of all truly imaginative literature, his knowledge of it was large, nor confined to that of his own country, although that alone was at present available for either of his pupils. His seclusion from what is called the world had brought him into larger and closer contact with what is really the world. The breakers upon reef and shore may be the ocean to some, but he who would know the ocean indeed must leave them afar, sinking into silence, and sail into wider and lonelier spaces. Through Godfrey, Mary came to know of a land never promised, yet open--a land of whose nature even she had never dreamed--a land of the spirit, flowing with milk and honey--a land of which the fashionable world knows little more than the dwellers in the back slums, although it imagines it lying, with the kingdoms of the earth, at its feet.
As regards her feeling toward her new friend, this opener of unseen doors, the greatness of her obligation to him wrought against presumption and any possible folly. Besides, Mary was one who possessed power over her own spirit--rare gift, given to none but those who do something toward the taking of it. She was able in no small measure to order her own thoughts. Without any theory of self-rule, she yet ruled her Self. She was not one to slip about in the saddle, or let go the reins for a kick and a plunge or two. There was the thing that should be, and the thing that should not be; the thing that was reasonable, and the thing that was absurd. Add to all this, that she believed she saw in Mr. Wardour's behavior to his cousin, in the careful gentleness evident through all the severity of the schoolmaster, the presence of a deeper feeling, that might one day blossom to the bliss of her friend--and we need not wonder if Mary's heart remained calm in the very floods of its gratitude; while the truth she gathered by aid of the intercourse, enlarging her strength, enlarged likewise the composure that comes of strength. She did not even trouble herself much to show Godfrey her gratitude. We may spoil gratitude as we offer it, by insisting on its recognition. To receive honestly is the best thanks for a good thing.
Nor was Godfrey without payment for what he did: the revival of ancient benefits, a new spring-time of old flowers, and the fresh quickening of one's own soul, are the spiritual wages of every spiritual service. In giving, a man receives more than he gives, and the more is in proportion to the worth of the thing given.
Mary did not encourage Letty to call at the shop, because the rudeness of the Turnbulls was certain to break out on her departure, as it did one day that Godfrey, dismounting at the door, and entering the shop in quest of something for his mother, naturally shook hands with Mary over the counter. No remark was made so long as her father was in the shop, for, with all their professed contempt of him and his ways, the Turnbulls stood curiously in awe of him: no one could tell what he might or might not do, seeing they did not in the least understand him; and there were reasons for avoiding offense.
But the moment he retired, which he always did earlier than the rest, the small-arms of the enemy began to go off, causing Mary a burning cheek and indignant heart. Yet the great desire of Mr. Turnbull was a match between George and Mary, for that would, whatever might happen, secure the Marston money to the business. Their evil report Mary did not carry to her father. She scorned to trouble his lofty nature with her small annoyances; neither could they long keep down the wellspring of her own peace, which, deeper than anger could reach, soon began to rise again fresh in her spirit, fed from that water of life which underlies all care. In a few moments it had cooled her cheek, stilled her heart, and washed the wounds of offense.
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