The Great Temptation
A Duet in Paradise
The well-furnished drawing-room, with the open grand piano, and the pleasant outlook down a sloping garden to a boat-house by the side of the Floss, is Mr. Deane's. The neat little lady in mourning, whose light-brown ringlets are falling over the colored embroidery with which her fingers are busy, is of course Lucy Deane; and the fine young man who is leaning down from his chair to snap the scissors in the extremely abbreviated face of the "King Charles" lying on the young lady's feet is no other than Mr. Stephen Guest, whose diamond ring, attar of roses, and air of nonchalant leisure, at twelve o'clock in the day, are the graceful and odoriferous result of the largest oil-mill and the most extensive wharf in St. Ogg's. There is an apparent triviality in the action with the scissors, but your discernment perceives at once that there is a design in it which makes it eminently worthy of a large-headed, long-limbed young man; for you see that Lucy wants the scissors, and is compelled, reluctant as she may be, to shake her ringlets back, raise her soft hazel eyes, smile playfully down on the face that is so very nearly on a level with her knee, and holding out her little shell-pink palm, to say,–
"My scissors, please, if you can renounce the great pleasure of persecuting my poor Minny."
The foolish scissors have slipped too far over the knuckles, it seems, and Hercules holds out his entrapped fingers hopelessly.
"Confound the scissors! The oval lies the wrong way. Please draw them off for me."
"Draw them off with your other hand," says Miss Lucy, roguishly.
"Oh, but that's my left hand; I'm not left-handed."
Lucy laughs, and the scissors are drawn off with gentle touches from tiny tips, which naturally dispose Mr. Stephen for a repetition da capo. Accordingly, he watches for the release of the scissors, that he may get them into his possession again.
"No, no," said Lucy, sticking them in her band, "you shall not have my scissors again,–you have strained them already. Now don't set Minny growling again. Sit up and behave properly, and then I will tell you some news."
"What is that?" said Stephen, throwing himself back and hanging his right arm over the corner of his chair. He might have been sitting for his portrait, which would have represented a rather striking young man of five-and-twenty, with a square forehead, short dark-brown hair, standing erect, with a slight wave at the end, like a thick crop of corn, and a half-ardent, half-sarcastic glance from under his well-marked horizontal eyebrows. "Is it very important news?"
"Yes, very. Guess."
"You are going to change Minny's diet, and give him three ratafias soaked in a dessert-spoonful of cream daily?"
"Well, then, Dr. Kenn has been preaching against buckram, and you ladies have all been sending him a roundrobin, saying, 'This is a hard doctrine; who can bear it?'"
"For shame!" said Lucy, adjusting her little mouth gravely. "It is rather dull of you not to guess my news, because it is about something I mentioned to you not very long ago."
"But you have mentioned many things to me not long ago. Does your feminine tyranny require that when you say the thing you mean is one of several things, I should know it immediately by that mark?"
"Yes, I know you think I am silly."
"I think you are perfectly charming."
"And my silliness is part of my charm?"
"I didn't say that."
"But I know you like women to be rather insipid. Philip Wakem betrayed you; he said so one day when you were not here."
"Oh, I know Phil is fierce on that point; he makes it quite a personal matter. I think he must be love-sick for some unknown lady,–some exalted Beatrice whom he met abroad."
"By the by," said Lucy, pausing in her work, "it has just occurred to me that I never found out whether my cousin Maggie will object to see Philip, as her brother does. Tom will not enter a room where Philip is, if he knows it; perhaps Maggie may be the same, and then we sha'n't be able to sing our glees, shall we?"
"What! is your cousin coming to stay with you?" said Stephen, with a look of slight annoyance.
"Yes; that was my news, which you have forgotten. She's going to leave her situation, where she has been nearly two years, poor thing,–ever since her father's death; and she will stay with me a month or two,–many months, I hope."
"And am I bound to be pleased at that news?"
"Oh no, not at all," said Lucy, with a little air of pique. "I am pleased, but that, of course, is no reason why you should be pleased. There is no girl in the world I love so well as my cousin Maggie."
"And you will be inseparable I suppose, when she comes. There will be no possibility of a tête-à-tête with you any more, unless you can find an admirer for her, who will pair off with her occasionally. What is the ground of dislike to Philip? He might have been a resource."
"It is a family quarrel with Philip's father. There were very painful circumstances, I believe. I never quite understood them, or knew them all. My uncle Tulliver was unfortunate and lost all his property, and I think he considered Mr. Wakem was somehow the cause of it. Mr. Wakem bought Dorlcote Mill, my uncle's old place, where he always lived. You must remember my uncle Tulliver, don't you?"
"No," said Stephen, with rather supercilious indifference. "I've always known the name, and I dare say I knew the man by sight, apart from his name. I know half the names and faces in the neighborhood in that detached, disjointed way."
"He was a very hot-tempered man. I remember, when I was a little girl and used to go to see my cousins, he often frightened me by talking as if he were angry. Papa told me there was a dreadful quarrel, the very day before my uncle's death, between him and Mr. Wakem, but it was hushed up. That was when you were in London. Papa says my uncle was quite mistaken in many ways; his mind had become embittered. But Tom and Maggie must naturally feel it very painful to be reminded of these things. They have had so much, so very much trouble. Maggie was at school with me six years ago, when she was fetched away because of her father's misfortunes, and she has hardly had any pleasure since, I think. She has been in a dreary situation in a school since uncle's death, because she is determined to be independent, and not live with aunt Pullet; and I could hardly wish her to come to me then, because dear mamma was ill, and everything was so sad. That is why I want her to come to me now, and have a long, long holiday."
"Very sweet and angelic of you," said Stephen, looking at her with an admiring smile; "and all the more so if she has the conversational qualities of her mother."
"Poor aunty! You are cruel to ridicule her. She is very valuable to me, I know. She manages the house beautifully,–much better than any stranger would,–and she was a great comfort to me in mamma's illness."
"Yes, but in point of companionship one would prefer that she should be represented by her brandy-cherries and cream-cakes. I think with a shudder that her daughter will always be present in person, and have no agreeable proxies of that kind,–a fat, blond girl, with round blue eyes, who will stare at us silently."
"Oh yes!" exclaimed Lucy, laughing wickedly, and clapping her hands, "that is just my cousin Maggie. You must have seen her!"
"No, indeed; I'm only guessing what Mrs. Tulliver's daughter must be; and then if she is to banish Philip, our only apology for a tenor, that will be an additional bore."
"But I hope that may not be. I think I will ask you to call on Philip and tell him Maggie is coming to-morrow. He is quite aware of Tom's feeling, and always keeps out of his way; so he will understand, if you tell him, that I asked you to warn him not to come until I write to ask him."
"I think you had better write a pretty note for me to take; Phil is so sensitive, you know, the least thing might frighten him off coming at all, and we had hard work to get him. I can never induce him to come to the park; he doesn't like my sisters, I think. It is only your faëry touch that can lay his ruffled feathers."
Stephen mastered the little hand that was straying toward the table, and touched it lightly with his lips. Little Lucy felt very proud and happy. She and Stephen were in that stage of courtship which makes the most exquisite moment of youth, the freshest blossom-time of passion,–when each is sure of the other's love, but no formal declaration has been made, and all is mutual divination, exalting the most trivial word, the lightest gesture, into thrills delicate and delicious as wafted jasmine scent. The explicitness of an engagement wears off this finest edge of susceptibility; it is jasmine gathered and presented in a large bouquet.
"But it is really odd that you should have hit so exactly on Maggie's appearance and manners," said the cunning Lucy, moving to reach her desk, "because she might have been like her brother, you know; and Tom has not round eyes; and he is as far as possible from staring at people."
"Oh, I suppose he is like the father; he seems to be as proud as Lucifer. Not a brilliant companion, though, I should think."
"I like Tom. He gave me my Minny when I lost Lolo; and papa is very fond of him: he says Tom has excellent principles. It was through him that his father was able to pay all his debts before he died."
"Oh, ah; I've heard about that. I heard your father and mine talking about it a little while ago, after dinner, in one of their interminable discussions about business. They think of doing something for young Tulliver; he saved them from a considerable loss by riding home in some marvellous way, like Turpin, to bring them news about the stoppage of a bank, or something of that sort. But I was rather drowsy at the time."
Stephen rose from his seat, and sauntered to the piano, humming in falsetto, "Graceful Consort," as he turned over the volume of "The Creation," which stood open on the desk.
"Come and sing this," he said, when he saw Lucy rising.
"What, 'Graceful Consort'? I don't think it suits your voice."
"Never mind; it exactly suits my feeling, which, Philip will have it, is the grand element of good singing. I notice men with indifferent voices are usually of that opinion."
"Philip burst into one of his invectives against 'The Creation' the other day," said Lucy, seating herself at the piano. "He says it has a sort of sugared complacency and flattering make-believe in it, as if it were written for the birthday fête of a German Grand-Duke."
"Oh, pooh! He is the fallen Adam with a soured temper. We are Adam and Eve unfallen, in Paradise. Now, then,–the recitative, for the sake of the moral. You will sing the whole duty of woman,–'And from obedience grows my pride and happiness.'"
"Oh no, I shall not respect an Adam who drags the tempo, as you will," said Lucy, beginning to play the duet.
Surely the only courtship unshaken by doubts and fears must be that in which the lovers can sing together. The sense of mutual fitness that springs from the two deep notes fulfilling expectation just at the right moment between the notes of the silvery soprano, from the perfect accord of descending thirds and fifths, from the preconcerted loving chase of a fugue, is likely enough to supersede any immediate demand for less impassioned forms of agreement. The contralto will not care to catechise the bass; the tenor will foresee no embarrassing dearth of remark in evenings spent with the lovely soprano. In the provinces, too, where music was so scarce in that remote time, how could the musical people avoid falling in love with each other? Even political principle must have been in danger of relaxation under such circumstances; and the violin, faithful to rotten boroughs, must have been tempted to fraternize in a demoralizing way with a reforming violoncello. In that case, the linnet-throated soprano and the full-toned bass singing,–
"With thee delight is ever new,
With thee is life incessant bliss,"
believed what they sang all the more because they sang it.
"Now for Raphael's great song," said Lucy, when they had finished the duet. "You do the 'heavy beasts' to perfection."
"That sounds complimentary," said Stephen, looking at his watch. "By Jove, it's nearly half-past one! Well, I can just sing this."
Stephen delivered with admirable ease the deep notes representing the tread of the heavy beasts; but when a singer has an audience of two, there is room for divided sentiments. Minny's mistress was charmed; but Minny, who had intrenched himself, trembling, in his basket as soon as the music began, found this thunder so little to his taste that he leaped out and scampered under the remotest chiffonnier, as the most eligible place in which a small dog could await the crack of doom.
"Adieu, 'graceful consort,'" said Stephen, buttoning his coat across when he had done singing, and smiling down from his tall height, with the air of rather a patronizing lover, at the little lady on the music-stool. "My bliss is not incessant, for I must gallop home. I promised to be there at lunch."
"You will not be able to call on Philip, then? It is of no consequence; I have said everything in my note."
"You will be engaged with your cousin to-morrow, I suppose?"
"Yes, we are going to have a little family-party. My cousin Tom will dine with us; and poor aunty will have her two children together for the first time. It will be very pretty; I think a great deal about it."
"But I may come the next day?"
"Oh yes! Come and be introduced to my cousin Maggie; though you can hardly be said not to have seen her, you have described her so well."
"Good-bye, then." And there was that slight pressure of the hands, and momentary meeting of the eyes, which will often leave a little lady with a slight flush and smile on her face that do not subside immediately when the door is closed, and with an inclination to walk up and down the room rather than to seat herself quietly at her embroidery, or other rational and improving occupation. At least this was the effect on Lucy; and you will not, I hope, consider it an indication of vanity predominating over more tender impulses, that she just glanced in the chimney-glass as her walk brought her near it. The desire to know that one has not looked an absolute fright during a few hours of conversation may be construed as lying within the bounds of a laudable benevolent consideration for others. And Lucy had so much of this benevolence in her nature that I am inclined to think her small egoisms were impregnated with it, just as there are people not altogether unknown to you whose small benevolences have a predominant and somewhat rank odor of egoism. Even now, that she is walking up and down with a little triumphant flutter of her girlish heart at the sense that she is loved by the person of chief consequence in her small world, you may see in her hazel eyes an ever-present sunny benignity, in which the momentary harmless flashes of personal vanity are quite lost; and if she is happy in thinking of her lover, it is because the thought of him mingles readily with all the gentle affections and good-natured offices with which she fills her peaceful days. Even now, her mind, with that instantaneous alternation which makes two currents of feeling or imagination seem simultaneous, is glancing continually from Stephen to the preparations she has only half finished in Maggie's room. Cousin Maggie should be treated as well as the grandest lady-visitor,–nay, better, for she should have Lucy's best prints and drawings in her bedroom, and the very finest bouquet of spring flowers on her table. Maggie would enjoy all that, she was so found of pretty things! And there was poor aunt Tulliver, that no one made any account of, she was to be surprised with the present of a cap of superlative quality, and to have her health drunk in a gratifying manner, for which Lucy was going to lay a plot with her father this evening. Clearly, she had not time to indulge in long reveries about her own happy love-affairs. With this thought she walked toward the door, but paused there.
"What's the matter, then, Minny?" she said, stooping in answer to some whimpering of that small quadruped, and lifting his glossy head against her pink cheek. "Did you think I was going without you? Come, then, let us go and see Sinbad."
Sinbad was Lucy's chestnut horse, that she always fed with her own hand when he was turned out in the paddock. She was fond of feeding dependent creatures, and knew the private tastes of all the animals about the house, delighting in the little rippling sounds of her canaries when their beaks were busy with fresh seed, and in the small nibbling pleasures of certain animals which, lest she should appear too trivial, I will here call "the more familiar rodents."
Was not Stephen Guest right in his decided opinion that this slim maiden of eighteen was quite the sort of wife a man would not be likely to repent of marrying,–a woman who was loving and thoughtful for other women, not giving them Judas-kisses with eyes askance on their welcome defects, but with real care and vision for their half-hidden pains and mortifications, with long ruminating enjoyment of little pleasures prepared for them? Perhaps the emphasis of his admiration did not fall precisely on this rarest quality in her; perhaps he approved his own choice of her chiefly because she did not strike him as a remarkable rarity. A man likes his wife to be pretty; well, Lucy was pretty, but not to a maddening extent. A man likes his wife to be accomplished, gentle, affectionate, and not stupid; and Lucy had all these qualifications. Stephen was not surprised to find himself in love with her, and was conscious of excellent judgment in preferring her to Miss Leyburn, the daughter of the county member, although Lucy was only the daughter of his father's subordinate partner; besides, he had had to defy and overcome a slight unwillingness and disappointment in his father and sisters,–a circumstance which gives a young man an agreeable consciousness of his own dignity. Stephen was aware that he had sense and independence enough to choose the wife who was likely to make him happy, unbiassed by any indirect considerations. He meant to choose Lucy; she was a little darling, and exactly the sort of woman he had always admired.
"He is very clever, Maggie," said Lucy. She was kneeling on a footstool at Maggie's feet, after placing that dark lady in the large crimson-velvet chair. "I feel sure you will like him. I hope you will."
"I shall be very difficult to please," said Maggie, smiling, and holding up one of Lucy's long curls, that the sunlight might shine through it. "A gentleman who thinks he is good enough for Lucy must expect to be sharply criticised."
"Indeed, he's a great deal too good for me. And sometimes, when he is away, I almost think it can't really be that he loves me. But I can never doubt it when he is with me, though I couldn't bear any one but you to know that I feel in that way, Maggie."
"Oh, then, if I disapprove of him you can give him up, since you are not engaged," said Maggie, with playful gravity.
"I would rather not be engaged. When people are engaged, they begin to think of being married soon," said Lucy, too thoroughly preoccupied to notice Maggie's joke; "and I should like everything to go on for a long while just as it is. Sometimes I am quite frightened lest Stephen should say that he has spoken to papa; and from something that fell from papa the other day, I feel sure he and Mr. Guest are expecting that. And Stephen's sisters are very civil to me now. At first, I think they didn't like his paying me attention; and that was natural. It does seem out of keeping that I should ever live in a great place like the Park House, such a little insignificant thing as I am."
"But people are not expected to be large in proportion to the houses they live in, like snails," said Maggie, laughing. "Pray, are Mr. Guest's sisters giantesses?"
"Oh no; and not handsome,–that is, not very," said Lucy, half-penitent at this uncharitable remark. "But he is–at least he is generally considered very handsome."
"Though you are unable to share that opinion?"
"Oh, I don't know," said Lucy, blushing pink over brow and neck. "It is a bad plan to raise expectation; you will perhaps be disappointed. But I have prepared a charming surprise for him; I shall have a glorious laugh against him. I shall not tell you what it is, though."
Lucy rose from her knees and went to a little distance, holding her pretty head on one side, as if she had been arranging Maggie for a portrait, and wished to judge of the general effect.
"Stand up a moment, Maggie."
"What is your pleasure now?" said Maggie, smiling languidly as she rose from her chair and looked down on her slight, aerial cousin, whose figure was quite subordinate to her faultless drapery of silk and crape.
Lucy kept her contemplative attitude a moment or two in silence, and then said,–
"I can't think what witchery it is in you, Maggie, that makes you look best in shabby clothes; though you really must have a new dress now. But do you know, last night I was trying to fancy you in a handsome, fashionable dress, and do what I would, that old limp merino would come back as the only right thing for you. I wonder if Marie Antoinette looked all the grander when her gown was darned at the elbows. Now, if I were to put anything shabby on, I should be quite unnoticeable. I should be a mere rag."
"Oh, quite," said Maggie, with mock gravity. "You would be liable to be swept out of the room with the cobwebs and carpet-dust, and to find yourself under the grate, like Cinderella. Mayn't I sit down now?"
"Yes, now you may," said Lucy, laughing. Then, with an air of serious reflection, unfastening her large jet brooch, "But you must change brooches, Maggie; that little butterfly looks silly on you."
"But won't that mar the charming effect of my consistent shabbiness?" said Maggie, seating herself submissively, while Lucy knelt again and unfastened the contemptible butterfly. "I wish my mother were of your opinion, for she was fretting last night because this is my best frock. I've been saving my money to pay for some lessons; I shall never get a better situation without more accomplishments."
Maggie gave a little sigh.
"Now, don't put on that sad look again," said Lucy, pinning the large brooch below Maggie's fine throat. "You're forgetting that you've left that dreary schoolroom behind you, and have no little girls' clothes to mend."
"Yes," said Maggie. "It is with me as I used to think it would be with the poor uneasy white bear I saw at the show. I thought he must have got so stupid with the habit of turning backward and forward in that narrow space that he would keep doing it if they set him free. One gets a bad habit of being unhappy."
"But I shall put you under a discipline of pleasure that will make you lose that bad habit," said Lucy, sticking the black butterfly absently in her own collar, while her eyes met Maggie's affectionately.
"You dear, tiny thing," said Maggie, in one of her bursts of loving admiration, "you enjoy other people's happiness so much, I believe you would do without any of your own. I wish I were like you."
"I've never been tried in that way," said Lucy. "I've always been so happy. I don't know whether I could bear much trouble; I never had any but poor mamma's death. You have been tried, Maggie; and I'm sure you feel for other people quite as much as I do."
"No, Lucy," said Maggie, shaking her head slowly, "I don't enjoy their happiness as you do, else I should be more contented. I do feel for them when they are in trouble; I don't think I could ever bear to make any one unhappy; and yet I often hate myself, because I get angry sometimes at the sight of happy people. I think I get worse as I get older, more selfish. That seems very dreadful."
"Now, Maggie!" said Lucy, in a tone of remonstrance, "I don't believe a word of that. It is all a gloomy fancy, just because you are depressed by a dull, wearisome life."
"Well, perhaps it is," said Maggie, resolutely clearing away the clouds from her face with a bright smile, and throwing herself backward in her chair. "Perhaps it comes from the school diet,–watery rice-pudding spiced with Pinnock. Let us hope it will give way before my mother's custards and this charming Geoffrey Crayon."
Maggie took up the "Sketch Book," which lay by her on the table.
"Do I look fit to be seen with this little brooch?" said Lucy, going to survey the effect in the chimney-glass.
"Oh no, Mr. Guest will be obliged to go out of the room again if he sees you in it. Pray make haste and put another on."
Lucy hurried out of the room, but Maggie did not take the opportunity of opening her book; she let it fall on her knees, while her eyes wandered to the window, where she could see the sunshine falling on the rich clumps of spring flowers and on the long hedge of laurels, and beyond, the silvery breadth of the dear old Floss, that at this distance seemed to be sleeping in a morning holiday. The sweet fresh garden-scent came through the open window, and the birds were busy flitting and alighting, gurgling and singing. Yet Maggie's eyes began to fill with tears. The sight of the old scenes had made the rush of memories so painful that even yesterday she had only been able to rejoice in her mother's restored comfort and Tom's brotherly friendliness as we rejoice in good news of friends at a distance, rather than in the presence of a happiness which we share. Memory and imagination urged upon her a sense of privation too keen to let her taste what was offered in the transient present. Her future, she thought, was likely to be worse than her past, for after her years of contented renunciation, she had slipped back into desire and longing; she found joyless days of distasteful occupation harder and harder; she found the image of the intense and varied life she yearned for, and despaired of, becoming more and more importunate. The sound of the opening door roused her, and hastily wiping away her tears, she began to turn over the leaves of her book.
"There is one pleasure, I know, Maggie, that your deepest dismalness will never resist," said Lucy, beginning to speak as soon as she entered the room. "That is music, and I mean you to have quite a riotous feast of it. I mean you to get up your playing again, which used to be so much better than mine, when we were at Laceham."
"You would have laughed to see me playing the little girls' tunes over and over to them, when I took them to practise," said Maggie, "just for the sake of fingering the dear keys again. But I don't know whether I could play anything more difficult now than 'Begone, dull care!'"
"I know what a wild state of joy you used to be in when the glee-men came round," said Lucy, taking up her embroidery; "and we might have all those old glees that you used to love so, if I were certain that you don't feel exactly as Tom does about some things."
"I should have thought there was nothing you might be more certain of," said Maggie, smiling.
"I ought rather to have said, one particular thing. Because if you feel just as he does about that, we shall want our third voice. St. Ogg's is so miserably provided with musical gentlemen. There are really only Stephen and Philip Wakem who have any knowledge of music, so as to be able to sing a part."
Lucy had looked up from her work as she uttered the last sentence, and saw that there was a change in Maggie's face.
"Does it hurt you to hear the name mentioned, Maggie? If it does, I will not speak of him again. I know Tom will not see him if he can avoid it."
"I don't feel at all as Tom does on that subject," said Maggie, rising and going to the window as if she wanted to see more of the landscape. "I've always liked Philip Wakem ever since I was a little girl, and saw him at Lorton. He was so good when Tom hurt his foot."
"Oh, I'm so glad!" said Lucy. "Then you won't mind his coming sometimes, and we can have much more music than we could without him. I'm very fond of poor Philip, only I wish he were not so morbid about his deformity. I suppose it is his deformity that makes him so sad, and sometimes bitter. It is certainly very piteous to see his poor little crooked body and pale face among great, strong people."
"But, Lucy––" said Maggie, trying to arrest the prattling stream.
"Ah, there is the door-bell. That must be Stephen," Lucy went on, not noticing Maggie's faint effort to speak. "One of the things I most admire in Stephen is that he makes a greater friend of Philip than any one."
It was too late for Maggie to speak now; the drawingroom door was opening, and Minny was already growling in a small way at the entrance of a tall gentleman, who went up to Lucy and took her hand with a half-polite, half-tender glance and tone of inquiry, which seemed to indicate that he was unconscious of any other presence.
"Let me introduce you to my cousin, Miss Tulliver," said Lucy, turning with wicked enjoyment toward Maggie, who now approached from the farther window. "This is Mr. Stephen Guest."
For one instant Stephen could not conceal his astonishment at the sight of this tall, dark-eyed nymph with her jet-black coronet of hair; the next, Maggie felt herself, for the first time in her life, receiving the tribute of a very deep blush and a very deep bow from a person toward whom she herself was conscious of timidity.
This new experience was very agreeable to her, so agreeable that it almost effaced her previous emotion about Philip. There was a new brightness in her eyes, and a very becoming flush on her cheek, as she seated herself.
"I hope you perceive what a striking likeness you drew the day before yesterday," said Lucy, with a pretty laugh of triumph. She enjoyed her lover's confusion; the advantage was usually on his side.
"This designing cousin of yours quite deceived me, Miss Tulliver," said Stephen, seating himself by Lucy, and stooping to play with Minny, only looking at Maggie furtively. "She said you had light hair and blue eyes."
"Nay, it was you who said so," remonstrated Lucy. "I only refrained from destroying your confidence in your own second-sight."
"I wish I could always err in the same way," said Stephen, "and find reality so much more beautiful than my preconceptions."
"Now you have proved yourself equal to the occasion," said Maggie, "and said what it was incumbent on you to say under the circumstances."
She flashed a slightly defiant look at him; it was clear to her that he had been drawing a satirical portrait of her beforehand. Lucy had said he was inclined to be satirical, and Maggie had mentally supplied the addition, "and rather conceited."
"An alarming amount of devil there," was Stephen's first thought. The second, when she had bent over her work, was, "I wish she would look at me again." The next was to answer,–
"I suppose all phrases of mere compliment have their turn to be true. A man is occasionally grateful when he says 'Thank you.' It's rather hard upon him that he must use the same words with which all the world declines a disagreeable invitation, don't you think so, Miss Tulliver?"
"No," said Maggie, looking at him with her direct glance; "if we use common words on a great occasion, they are the more striking, because they are felt at once to have a particular meaning, like old banners, or every-day clothes, hung up in a sacred place."
"Then my compliment ought to be eloquent," said Stephen, really not quite knowing what he said while Maggie looked at him, "seeing that the words were so far beneath the occasion."
"No compliment can be eloquent, except as an expression of indifference," said Maggie, flushing a little.
Lucy was rather alarmed; she thought Stephen and Maggie were not going to like each other. She had always feared lest Maggie should appear too old and clever to please that critical gentleman. "Why, dear Maggie," she interposed, "you have always pretended that you are too fond of being admired; and now, I think, you are angry because some one ventures to admire you."
"Not at all," said Maggie; "I like too well to feel that I am admired, but compliments never make me feel that."
"I will never pay you a compliment again, Miss Tulliver," said Stephen.
"Thank you; that will be a proof of respect."
Poor Maggie! She was so unused to society that she could take nothing as a matter of course, and had never in her life spoken from the lips merely, so that she must necessarily appear absurd to more experienced ladies, from the excessive feeling she was apt to throw into very trivial incidents. But she was even conscious herself of a little absurdity in this instance. It was true she had a theoretic objection to compliments, and had once said impatiently to Philip that she didn't see why women were to be told with a simper that they were beautiful, any more than old men were to be told that they were venerable; still, to be so irritated by a common practice in the case of a stranger like Mr. Stephen Guest, and to care about his having spoken slightingly of her before he had seen her, was certainly unreasonable, and as soon as she was silent she began to be ashamed of herself. It did not occur to her that her irritation was due to the pleasanter emotion which preceded it, just as when we are satisfied with a sense of glowing warmth an innocent drop of cold water may fall upon us as a sudden smart.
Stephen was too well bred not to seem unaware that the previous conversation could have been felt embarrassing, and at once began to talk of impersonal matters, asking Lucy if she knew when the bazaar was at length to take place, so that there might be some hope of seeing her rain the influence of her eyes on objects more grateful than those worsted flowers that were growing under her fingers.
"Some day next month, I believe," said Lucy. "But your sisters are doing more for it than I am; they are to have the largest stall."
"Ah yes; but they carry on their manufactures in their own sitting-room, where I don't intrude on them. I see you are not addicted to the fashionable vice of fancy-work, Miss Tulliver," said Stephen, looking at Maggie's plain hemming.
"No," said Maggie, "I can do nothing more difficult or more elegant than shirt-making."
"And your plain sewing is so beautiful, Maggie," said Lucy, "that I think I shall beg a few specimens of you to show as fancy-work. Your exquisite sewing is quite a mystery to me, you used to dislike that sort of work so much in old days."
"It is a mystery easily explained, dear," said Maggie, looking up quietly. "Plain sewing was the only thing I could get money by, so I was obliged to try and do it well."
Lucy, good and simple as she was, could not help blushing a little. She did not quite like that Stephen should know that; Maggie need not have mentioned it. Perhaps there was some pride in the confession,–the pride of poverty that will not be ashamed of itself. But if Maggie had been the queen of coquettes she could hardly have invented a means of giving greater piquancy to her beauty in Stephen's eyes; I am not sure that the quiet admission of plain sewing and poverty would have done alone, but assisted by the beauty, they made Maggie more unlike other women even than she had seemed at first.
"But I can knit, Lucy," Maggie went on, "if that will be of any use for your bazaar."
"Oh yes, of infinite use. I shall set you to work with scarlet wool to-morrow. But your sister is the most enviable person," continued Lucy, turning to Stephen, "to have the talent of modelling. She is doing a wonderful bust of Dr. Kenn entirely from memory."
"Why, if she can remember to put the eyes very near together, and the corners of the mouth very far apart, the likeness can hardly fail to be striking in St. Ogg's."
"Now that is very wicked of you," said Lucy, looking rather hurt. "I didn't think you would speak disrespectfully of Dr. Kenn."
"I say anything disrespectful of Dr. Kenn? Heaven forbid! But I am not bound to respect a libellous bust of him. I think Kenn one of the finest fellows in the world. I don't care much about the tall candlesticks he has put on the communion-table, and I shouldn't like to spoil my temper by getting up to early prayers every morning. But he's the only man I ever knew personally who seems to me to have anything of the real apostle in him,–a man who has eight hundred a-year and is contented with deal furniture and boiled beef because he gives away two-thirds of his income. That was a very fine thing of him,–taking into his house that poor lad Grattan, who shot his mother by accident. He sacrifices more time than a less busy man could spare, to save the poor fellow from getting into a morbid state of mind about it. He takes the lad out with him constantly, I see."
"That is beautiful," said Maggie, who had let her work fall, and was listening with keen interest. "I never knew any one who did such things."
"And one admires that sort of action in Kenn all the more," said Stephen, "because his manners in general are rather cold and severe. There's nothing sugary and maudlin about him."
"Oh, I think he's a perfect character!" said Lucy, with pretty enthusiasm.
"No; there I can't agree with you," said Stephen, shaking his head with sarcastic gravity.
"Now, what fault can you point out in him?"
"He's an Anglican."
"Well, those are the right views, I think," said Lucy, gravely.
"That settles the question in the abstract," said Stephen, "but not from a parliamentary point of view. He has set the Dissenters and the Church people by the ears; and a rising senator like myself, of whose services the country is very much in need, will find it inconvenient when he puts up for the honor of representing St. Ogg's in Parliament."
"Do you really think of that?" said Lucy, her eyes brightening with a proud pleasure that made her neglect the argumentative interests of Anglicanism.
"Decidedly, whenever old Mr. Leyburn's public spirit and gout induce him to give way. My father's heart is set on it; and gifts like mine, you know"–here Stephen drew himself up, and rubbed his large white hands over his hair with playful self-admiration–"gifts like mine involve great responsibilities. Don't you think so, Miss Tulliver?"
"Yes," said Maggie, smiling, but not looking up; "so much fluency and self-possession should not be wasted entirely on private occasions."
"Ah, I see how much penetration you have," said Stephen. "You have discovered already that I am talkative and impudent. Now superficial people never discern that, owing to my manner, I suppose."
"She doesn't look at me when I talk of myself," he thought, while his listeners were laughing. "I must try other subjects."
Did Lucy intend to be present at the meeting of the Book Club next week? was the next question. Then followed the recommendation to choose Southey's "Life of Cowper," unless she were inclined to be philosophical, and startle the ladies of St. Ogg's by voting for one of the Bridgewater Treatises. Of course Lucy wished to know what these alarmingly learned books were; and as it is always pleasant to improve the minds of ladies by talking to them at ease on subjects of which they know nothing, Stephen became quite brilliant in an account of Buckland's Treatise, which he had just been reading. He was rewarded by seeing Maggie let her work fall, and gradually get so absorbed in his wonderful geological story that she sat looking at him, leaning forward with crossed arms, and with an entire absence of self-consciousness, as if he had been the snuffiest of old professors, and she a downy-lipped alumna. He was so fascinated by the clear, large gaze that at last he forgot to look away from it occasionally toward Lucy; but she, sweet child, was only rejoicing that Stephen was proving to Maggie how clever he was, and that they would certainly be good friends after all.
"I will bring you the book, shall I, Miss Tulliver?" said Stephen, when he found the stream of his recollections running rather shallow. "There are many illustrations in it that you will like to see."
"Oh, thank you," said Maggie, blushing with returning self-consciousness at this direct address, and taking up her work again.
"No, no," Lucy interposed. "I must forbid your plunging Maggie in books. I shall never get her away from them; and I want her to have delicious do-nothing days, filled with boating and chatting and riding and driving; that is the holiday she needs."
"Apropos!" said Stephen, looking at his watch. "Shall we go out for a row on the river now? The tide will suit for us to the Tofton way, and we can walk back."
That was a delightful proposition to Maggie, for it was years since she had been on the river. When she was gone to put on her bonnet, Lucy lingered to give an order to the servant, and took the opportunity of telling Stephen that Maggie had no objection to seeing Philip, so that it was a pity she had sent that note the day before yesterday. But she would write another to-morrow and invite him.
"I'll call and beat him up to-morrow," said Stephen, "and bring him with me in the evening, shall I? My sisters will want to call on you when I tell them your cousin is with you. I must leave the field clear for them in the morning."
"Oh yes, pray bring him," said Lucy. "And you will like Maggie, sha'n't you?" she added, in a beseeching tone. "Isn't she a dear, noble-looking creature?"
"Too tall," said Stephen, smiling down upon her, "and a little too fiery. She is not my type of woman, you know."
Gentlemen, you are aware, are apt to impart these imprudent confidences to ladies concerning their unfavorable opinion of sister fair ones. That is why so many women have the advantage of knowing that they are secretly repulsive to men who have self-denyingly made ardent love to them. And hardly anything could be more distinctively characteristic of Lucy than that she both implicitly believed what Stephen said, and was determined that Maggie should not know it. But you, who have a higher logic than the verbal to guide you, have already foreseen, as the direct sequence to that unfavorable opinion of Stephen's, that he walked down to the boathouse calculating, by the aid of a vivid imagination, that Maggie must give him her hand at least twice in consequence of this pleasant boating plan, and that a gentleman who wishes ladies to look at him is advantageously situated when he is rowing them in a boat. What then? Had he fallen in love with this surprising daughter of Mrs. Tulliver at first sight? Certainly not. Such passions are never heard of in real life. Besides, he was in love already, and half-engaged to the dearest little creature in the world; and he was not a man to make a fool of himself in any way. But when one is five-and-twenty, one has not chalk-stones at one's finger-ends that the touch of a handsome girl should be entirely indifferent. It was perfectly natural and safe to admire beauty and enjoy looking at it,–at least under such circumstances as the present. And there was really something very interesting about this girl, with her poverty and troubles; it was gratifying to see the friendship between the two cousins. Generally, Stephen admitted, he was not fond of women who had any peculiarity of character, but here the peculiarity seemed really of a superior kind, and provided one is not obliged to marry such women, why, they certainly make a variety in social intercourse.
Maggie did not fulfil Stephen's hope by looking at him during the first quarter of an hour; her eyes were too full of the old banks that she knew so well. She felt lonely, cut off from Philip,–the only person who had ever seemed to love her devotedly, as she had always longed to be loved. But presently the rhythmic movement of the oars attracted her, and she thought she should like to learn how to row. This roused her from her reverie, and she asked if she might take an oar. It appeared that she required much teaching, and she became ambitious. The exercise brought the warm blood into her cheeks, and made her inclined to take her lesson merrily.
"I shall not be satisfied until I can manage both oars, and row you and Lucy," she said, looking very bright as she stepped out of the boat. Maggie, we know, was apt to forget the thing she was doing, and she had chosen an inopportune moment for her remark; her foot slipped, but happily Mr. Stephen Guest held her hand, and kept her up with a firm grasp.
"You have not hurt yourself at all, I hope?" he said, bending to look in her face with anxiety. It was very charming to be taken care of in that kind, graceful manner by some one taller and stronger than one's self. Maggie had never felt just in the same way before.
When they reached home again, they found uncle and aunt Pullet seated with Mrs. Tulliver in the drawing-room, and Stephen hurried away, asking leave to come again in the evening.
"And pray bring with you the volume of Purcell that you took away," said Lucy. "I want Maggie to hear your best songs."
Aunt Pullet, under the certainty that Maggie would be invited to go out with Lucy, probably to Park House, was much shocked at the shabbiness of her clothes, which when witnessed by the higher society of St. Ogg's, would be a discredit to the family, that demanded a strong and prompt remedy; and the consultation as to what would be most suitable to this end from among the superfluities of Mrs. Pullet's wardrobe was one that Lucy as well as Mrs. Tulliver entered into with some zeal. Maggie must really have an evening dress as soon as possible, and she was about the same height as aunt Pullet.
"But she's so much broader across the shoulders than I am, it's very ill-convenient," said Mrs. Pullet, "else she might wear that beautiful black brocade o' mine without any alteration; and her arms are beyond everything," added Mrs. Pullet, sorrowfully, as she lifted Maggie's large round arm, "She'd never get my sleeves on."
"Oh, never mind that, aunt; send us the dress," said Lucy. "I don't mean Maggie to have long sleeves, and I have abundance of black lace for trimming. Her arms will look beautiful."
"Maggie's arms are a pretty shape," said Mrs. Tulliver. "They're like mine used to be, only mine was never brown; I wish she'd had our family skin."
"Nonsense, aunty!" said Lucy, patting her aunt Tulliver's shoulder, "you don't understand those things. A painter would think Maggie's complexion beautiful."
"Maybe, my dear," said Mrs. Tulliver, submissively. "You know better than I do. Only when I was young a brown skin wasn't thought well on among respectable folks."
"No," said uncle Pullet, who took intense interest in the ladies' conversation as he sucked his lozenges. "Though there was a song about the 'Nut-brown Maid' too; I think she was crazy,–crazy Kate,–but I can't justly remember."
"Oh dear, dear!" said Maggie, laughing, but impatient; "I think that will be the end of my brown skin, if it is always to be talked about so much."
When Maggie went up to her bedroom that night, it appeared that she was not at all inclined to undress. She set down her candle on the first table that presented itself, and began to walk up and down her room, which was a large one, with a firm, regular, and rather rapid step, which showed that the exercise was the instinctive vent of strong excitement. Her eyes and cheeks had an almost feverish brilliancy; her head was thrown backward, and her hands were clasped with the palms outward, and with that tension of the arms which is apt to accompany mental absorption.
Had anything remarkable happened?
Nothing that you are not likely to consider in the highest degree unimportant. She had been hearing some fine music sung by a fine bass voice,–but then it was sung in a provincial, amateur fashion, such as would have left a critical ear much to desire. And she was conscious of having been looked at a great deal, in rather a furtive manner, from beneath a pair of well-marked horizontal eyebrows, with a glance that seemed somehow to have caught the vibratory influence of the voice. Such things could have had no perceptible effect on a thoroughly well-educated young lady, with a perfectly balanced mind, who had had all the advantages of fortune, training, and refined society. But if Maggie had been that young lady, you would probably have known nothing about her: her life would have had so few vicissitudes that it could hardly have been written; for the happiest women, like the happiest nations, have no history.
In poor Maggie's highly-strung, hungry nature,–just come away from a third-rate schoolroom, with all its jarring sounds and petty round of tasks,–these apparently trivial causes had the effect of rousing and exalting her imagination in a way that was mysterious to herself. It was not that she thought distinctly of Mr. Stephen Guest, or dwelt on the indications that he looked at her with admiration; it was rather that she felt the half-remote presence of a world of love and beauty and delight, made up of vague, mingled images from all the poetry and romance she had ever read, or had ever woven in her dreamy reveries. Her mind glanced back once or twice to the time when she had courted privation, when she had thought all longing, all impatience was subdued; but that condition seemed irrecoverably gone, and she recoiled from the remembrance of it. No prayer, no striving now, would bring back that negative peace; the battle of her life, it seemed, was not to be decided in that short and easy way,–by perfect renunciation at the very threshold of her youth.
The music was vibrating in her still,–Purcell's music, with its wild passion and fancy,–and she could not stay in the recollection of that bare, lonely past. She was in her brighter aerial world again, when a little tap came at the door; of course it was her cousin, who entered in ample white dressing-gown.
"Why, Maggie, you naughty child, haven't you begun to undress?" said Lucy, in astonishment. "I promised not to come and talk to you, because I thought you must be tired. But here you are, looking as if you were ready to dress for a ball. Come, come, get on your dressing-gown and unplait your hair."
"Well, you are not very forward," retorted Maggie, hastily reaching her own pink cotton gown, and looking at Lucy's light-brown hair brushed back in curly disorder.
"Oh, I have not much to do. I shall sit down and talk to you till I see you are really on the way to bed."
While Maggie stood and unplaited her long black hair over her pink drapery, Lucy sat down near the toilette-table, watching her with affectionate eyes, and head a little aside, like a pretty spaniel. If it appears to you at all incredible that young ladies should be led on to talk confidentially in a situation of this kind, I will beg you to remember that human life furnishes many exceptional cases.
"You really have enjoyed the music to-night, haven't you Maggie?"
"Oh yes, that is what prevented me from feeling sleepy. I think I should have no other mortal wants, if I could always have plenty of music. It seems to infuse strength into my limbs, and ideas into my brain. Life seems to go on without effort, when I am filled with music. At other times one is conscious of carrying a weight."
"And Stephen has a splendid voice, hasn't he?"
"Well, perhaps we are neither of us judges of that," said Maggie, laughing, as she seated herself and tossed her long hair back. "You are not impartial, and I think any barrel-organ splendid."
"But tell me what you think of him, now. Tell me exactly; good and bad too."
"Oh, I think you should humiliate him a little. A lover should not be so much at ease, and so self-confident. He ought to tremble more."
"Nonsense, Maggie! As if any one could tremble at me! You think he is conceited, I see that. But you don't dislike him, do you?"
"Dislike him! No. Am I in the habit of seeing such charming people, that I should be very difficult to please? Besides, how could I dislike any one that promised to make you happy, my dear thing!" Maggie pinched Lucy's dimpled chin.
"We shall have more music to-morrow evening," said Lucy, looking happy already, "for Stephen will bring Philip Wakem with him."
"Oh, Lucy, I can't see him," said Maggie, turning pale. "At least, I could not see him without Tom's leave."
"Is Tom such a tyrant as that?" said Lucy, surprised. "I'll take the responsibility, then,–tell him it was my fault."
"But, dear," said Maggie, falteringly, "I promised Tom very solemnly, before my father's death,–I promised him I would not speak to Philip without his knowledge and consent. And I have a great dread of opening the subject with Tom,–of getting into a quarrel with him again."
"But I never heard of anything so strange and unreasonable. What harm can poor Philip have done? May I speak to Tom about it?"
"Oh no, pray don't, dear," said Maggie. "I'll go to him myself to-morrow, and tell him that you wish Philip to come. I've thought before of asking him to absolve me from my promise, but I've not had the courage to determine on it."
They were both silent for some moments, and then Lucy said,–
"Maggie, you have secrets from me, and I have none from you."
Maggie looked meditatively away from Lucy. Then she turned to her and said, "I should like to tell you about Philip. But, Lucy, you must not betray that you know it to any one–least of all to Philip himself, or to Mr. Stephen Guest."
The narrative lasted long, for Maggie had never before known the relief of such an outpouring; she had never before told Lucy anything of her inmost life; and the sweet face bent toward her with sympathetic interest, and the little hand pressing hers, encouraged her to speak on. On two points only she was not expansive. She did not betray fully what still rankled in her mind as Tom's great offence,–the insults he had heaped on Philip. Angry as the remembrance still made her, she could not bear that any one else should know it at all, both for Tom's sake and Philip's. And she could not bear to tell Lucy of the last scene between her father and Wakem, though it was this scene which she had ever since felt to be a new barrier between herself and Philip. She merely said, she saw now that Tom was, no the whole, right in regarding any prospect of love and marriage between her and Philip as put out of the question by the relation of the two families. Of course Philip's father would never consent.
"There, Lucy, you have had my story," said Maggie, smiling, with the tears in her eyes. "You see I am like Sir Andrew Aguecheek. I was adored once."
"Ah, now I see how it is you know Shakespeare and everything, and have learned so much since you left school; which always seemed to me witchcraft before,–part of your general uncanniness," said Lucy.
She mused a little with her eyes downward, and then added, looking at Maggie, "It is very beautiful that you should love Philip; I never thought such a happiness would befall him. And in my opinion, you ought not to give him up. There are obstacles now; but they may be done away with in time."
Maggie shook her head.
"Yes, yes," persisted Lucy; "I can't help being hopeful about it. There is something romantic in it,–out of the common way,–just what everything that happens to you ought to be. And Philip will adore you like a husband in a fairy tale. Oh, I shall puzzle my small brain to contrive some plot that will bring everybody into the right mind, so that you may marry Philip when I marry–somebody else. Wouldn't that be a pretty ending to all my poor, poor Maggie's troubles?"
Maggie tried to smile, but shivered, as if she felt a sudden chill.
"Ah, dear, you are cold," said Lucy. "You must go to bed; and so must I. I dare not think what time it is."
They kissed each other, and Lucy went away, possessed of a confidence which had a strong influence over her subsequent impressions. Maggie had been thoroughly sincere; her nature had never found it easy to be otherwise. But confidences are sometimes blinding, even when they are sincere.
Brother and Sister
Maggie was obliged to go to Tom's lodgings in the middle of the day, when he would be coming in to dinner, else she would not have found him at home. He was not lodging with entire strangers. Our friend Bob Jakin had, with Mumps's tacit consent, taken not only a wife about eight months ago, but also one of those queer old houses, pierced with surprising passages, by the water-side, where, as he observed, his wife and mother could keep themselves out of mischief by letting out two "pleasure-boats," in which he had invested some of his savings, and by taking in a lodger for the parlor and spare bedroom. Under these circumstances, what could be better for the interests of all parties, sanitary considerations apart, than that the lodger should be Mr. Tom?
It was Bob's wife who opened the door to Maggie. She was a tiny woman, with the general physiognomy of a Dutch doll, looking, in comparison with Bob's mother, who filled up the passage in the rear, very much like one of those human figures which the artist finds conveniently standing near a colossal statue to show the proportions. The tiny woman curtsied and looked up at Maggie with some awe as soon as she had opened the door; but the words, "Is my brother at home?" which Maggie uttered smilingly, made her turn round with sudden excitement, and say,–
"Eh, mother, mother–tell Bob!–it's Miss Maggie! Come in, Miss, for goodness do," she went on, opening a side door, and endeavoring to flatten her person against the wall to make the utmost space for the visitor.
Sad recollections crowded on Maggie as she entered the small parlor, which was now all that poor Tom had to call by the name of "home,"–that name which had once, so many years ago, meant for both of them the same sum of dear familiar objects. But everything was not strange to her in this new room; the first thing her eyes dwelt on was the large old Bible, and the sight was not likely to disperse the old memories. She stood without speaking.
"If you please to take the privilege o' sitting down, Miss," said Mrs. Jakin, rubbing her apron over a perfectly clean chair, and then lifting up the corner of that garment and holding it to her face with an air of embarrassment, as she looked wonderingly at Maggie.
"Bob is at home, then?" said Maggie, recovering herself, and smiling at the bashful Dutch doll.
"Yes, Miss; but I think he must be washing and dressing himself; I'll go and see," said Mrs. Jakin, disappearing.
But she presently came back walking with new courage a little way behind her husband, who showed the brilliancy of his blue eyes and regular white teeth in the doorway, bowing respectfully.
"How do you do, Bob?" said Maggie, coming forward and putting out her hand to him; "I always meant to pay your wife a visit, and I shall come another day on purpose for that, if she will let me. But I was obliged to come to-day to speak to my brother."
"He'll be in before long, Miss. He's doin' finely, Mr. Tom is; he'll be one o' the first men hereabouts,–you'll see that."
"Well, Bob, I'm sure he'll be indebted to you, whatever he becomes; he said so himself only the other night, when he was talking of you."
"Eh, Miss, that's his way o' takin' it. But I think the more on't when he says a thing, because his tongue doesn't overshoot him as mine does. Lors! I'm no better nor a tilted bottle, I ar'n't,–I can't stop mysen when once I begin. But you look rarely, Miss; it does me good to see you. What do you say now, Prissy?"–here Bob turned to his wife,–"Isn't it all come true as I said? Though there isn't many sorts o' goods as I can't over-praise when I set my tongue to't."
Mrs. Bob's small nose seemed to be following the example of her eyes in turning up reverentially toward Maggie, but she was able now to smile and curtsey, and say, "I'd looked forrard like aenything to seein' you, Miss, for my husband's tongue's been runnin' on you, like as if he was light-headed, iver since first he come a-courtin' on me."
"Well, well," said Bob, looking rather silly. "Go an' see after the taters, else Mr. Tom 'ull have to wait for 'em."
"I hope Mumps is friendly with Mrs. Jakin, Bob," said Maggie, smiling. "I remember you used to say he wouldn't like your marrying."
"Eh, Miss," said Bob, "he made up his mind to't when he see'd what a little un she was. He pretends not to see her mostly, or else to think as she isn't full-growed. But about Mr. Tom, Miss," said Bob, speaking lower and looking serious, "he's as close as a iron biler, he is; but I'm a 'cutish chap, an' when I've left off carrying my pack, an' am at a loose end, I've got more brains nor I know what to do wi', an' I'm forced to busy myself wi' other folks's insides. An' it worrets me as Mr. Tom'll sit by himself so glumpish, a-knittin' his brow, an' a-lookin' at the fire of a night. He should be a bit livelier now, a fine young fellow like him. My wife says, when she goes in sometimes, an' he takes no notice of her, he sits lookin' into the fire, and frownin' as if he was watchin' folks at work in it."
"He thinks so much about business," said Maggie.
"Ay," said Bob, speaking lower; "but do you think it's nothin' else, Miss? He's close, Mr. Tom is; but I'm a 'cute chap, I am, an' I thought tow'rt last Christmas as I'd found out a soft place in him. It was about a little black spaniel–a rare bit o' breed–as he made a fuss to get. But since then summat's come over him, as he's set his teeth again' things more nor iver, for all he's had such good luck. An' I wanted to tell you, Miss, 'cause I thought you might work it out of him a bit, now you're come. He's a deal too lonely, and doesn't go into company enough."
"I'm afraid I have very little power over him, Bob," said Maggie, a good deal moved by Bob's suggestion. It was a totally new idea to her mind that Tom could have his love troubles. Poor fellow!–and in love with Lucy too! But it was perhaps a mere fancy of Bob's too officious brain. The present of the dog meant nothing more than cousinship and gratitude. But Bob had already said, "Here's Mr. Tom," and the outer door was opening.
"There is no time to spare, Tom," said Maggie, as soon as Bob left the room. "I must tell you at once what I came about, else I shall be hindering you from taking your dinner."
Tom stood with his back against the chimney-piece, and Maggie was seated opposite the light. He noticed that she was tremulous, and he had a presentiment of the subject she was going to speak about. The presentiment made his voice colder and harder as he said, "What is it?"
This tone roused a spirit of resistance in Maggie, and she put her request in quite a different form from the one she had predetermined on. She rose from her seat, and looking straight at Tom, said,–
"I want you to absolve me from my promise about Philip Wakem. Or rather, I promised you not to see him without telling you. I am come to tell you that I wish to see him."
"Very well," said Tom, still more coldly.
But Maggie had hardly finished speaking in that chill, defiant manner, before she repented, and felt the dread of alienation from her brother.
"Not for myself, dear Tom. Don't be angry. I shouldn't have asked it, only that Philip, you know, is a friend of Lucy's and she wishes him to come, has invited him to come this evening; and I told her I couldn't see him without telling you. I shall only see him in the presence of other people. There will never be anything secret between us again."
Tom looked away from Maggie, knitting his brow more strongly for a little while. Then he turned to her and said, slowly and emphatically,–
"You know what is my feeling on that subject, Maggie. There is no need for my repeating anything I said a year ago. While my father was living, I felt bound to use the utmost power over you, to prevent you from disgracing him as well as yourself, and all of us. But now I must leave you to your own choice. You wish to be independent; you told me so after my father's death. My opinion is not changed. If you think of Philip Wakem as a lover again, you must give up me."
"I don't wish it, dear Tom, at least as things are; I see that it would lead to misery. But I shall soon go away to another situation, and I should like to be friends with him again while I am here. Lucy wishes it."
The severity of Tom's face relaxed a little.
"I shouldn't mind your seeing him occasionally at my uncle's–I don't want you to make a fuss on the subject. But I have no confidence in you, Maggie. You would be led away to do anything."
That was a cruel word. Maggie's lip began to tremble.
"Why will you say that, Tom? It is very hard of you. Have I not done and borne everything as well as I could? And I kept my word to you–when–when––My life has not been a happy one, any more than yours."
She was obliged to be childish; the tears would come. When Maggie was not angry, she was as dependent on kind or cold words as a daisy on the sunshine or the cloud; the need of being loved would always subdue her, as, in old days, it subdued her in the worm-eaten attic. The brother's goodness came uppermost at this appeal, but it could only show itself in Tom's fashion. He put his hand gently on her arm, and said, in the tone of a kind pedagogue,–
"Now listen to me, Maggie. I'll tell you what I mean. You're always in extremes; you have no judgment and self-command; and yet you think you know best, and will not submit to be guided. You know I didn't wish you to take a situation. My aunt Pullet was willing to give you a good home, and you might have lived respectably amongst your relations, until I could have provided a home for you with my mother. And that is what I should like to do. I wished my sister to be a lady, and I always have taken care of you, as my father desired, until you were well married. But your ideas and mine never accord, and you will not give way. Yet you might have sense enough to see that a brother, who goes out into the world and mixes with men, necessarily knows better what is right and respectable for his sister than she can know herself. You think I am not kind; but my kindness can only be directed by what I believe to be good for you."
"Yes, I know, dear Tom," said Maggie, still half-sobbing, but trying to control her tears. "I know you would do a great deal for me; I know how you work, and don't spare yourself. I am grateful to you. But, indeed, you can't quite judge for me; our natures are very different. You don't know how differently things affect me from what they do you."
"Yes, I do know; I know it too well. I know how differently you must feel about all that affects our family, and your own dignity as a young woman, before you could think of receiving secret addresses from Philip Wakem. If it was not disgusting to me in every other way, I should object to my sister's name being associated for a moment with that of a young man whose father must hate the very thought of us all, and would spurn you. With any one but you, I should think it quite certain that what you witnessed just before my father's death would secure you from ever thinking again of Philip Wakem as a lover. But I don't feel certain of it with you; I never feel certain about anything with you. At one time you take pleasure in a sort of perverse self-denial, and at another you have not resolution to resist a thing that you know to be wrong."
There was a terrible cutting truth in Tom's words,–that hard rind of truth which is discerned by unimaginative, unsympathetic minds. Maggie always writhed under this judgment of Tom's; she rebelled and was humiliated in the same moment; it seemed as if he held a glass before her to show her her own folly and weakness, as if he were a prophetic voice predicting her future fallings; and yet, all the while, she judged him in return; she said inwardly that he was narrow and unjust, that he was below feeling those mental needs which were often the source of the wrong-doing or absurdity that made her life a planless riddle to him.
She did not answer directly; her heart was too full, and she sat down, leaning her arm on the table. It was no use trying to make Tom feel that she was near to him. He always repelled her. Her feeling under his words was complicated by the allusion to the last scene between her father and Wakem; and at length that painful, solemn memory surmounted the immediate grievance. No! She did not think of such things with frivolous indifference, and Tom must not accuse her of that. She looked up at him with a grave, earnest gaze and said,–
"I can't make you think better of me, Tom, by anything I can say. But I am not so shut out from all your feelings as you believe me to be. I see as well as you do that from our position with regard to Philip's father–not on other grounds–it would be unreasonable, it would be wrong, for us to entertain the idea of marriage; and I have given up thinking of him as a lover. I am telling you the truth, and you have no right to disbelieve me; I have kept my word to you, and you have never detected me in a falsehood. I should not only not encourage, I should carefully avoid, any intercourse with Philip on any other footing than of quiet friendship. You may think that I am unable to keep my resolutions; but at least you ought not to treat me with hard contempt on the ground of faults that I have not committed yet."
"Well, Maggie," said Tom, softening under this appeal, "I don't want to overstrain matters. I think, all things considered, it will be best for you to see Philip Wakem, if Lucy wishes him to come to the house. I believe what you say,–at least you believe it yourself, I know; I can only warn you. I wish to be as good a brother to you as you will let me."
There was a little tremor in Tom's voice as he uttered the last words, and Maggie's ready affection came back with as sudden a glow as when they were children, and bit their cake together as a sacrament of conciliation. She rose and laid her hand on Tom's shoulder.
"Dear Tom, I know you mean to be good. I know you have had a great deal to bear, and have done a great deal. I should like to be a comfort to you, not to vex you. You don't think I'm altogether naughty, now, do you?"
Tom smiled at the eager face; his smiles were very pleasant to see when they did come, for the gray eyes could be tender underneath the frown.
"I may turn out better than you expect."
"I hope you will."
"And may I come some day and make tea for you, and see this extremely small wife of Bob's again?"
"Yes; but trot away now, for I've no more time to spare," said Tom, looking at his watch.
"Not to give me a kiss?"
Tom bent to kiss her cheek, and then said,–
"There! Be a good girl. I've got a great deal to think of to-day. I'm going to have a long consultation with my uncle Deane this afternoon."
"You'll come to aunt Glegg's to-morrow? We're going all to dine early, that we may go there to tea. You must come; Lucy told me to say so."
"Oh, pooh! I've plenty else to do," said Tom, pulling his bell violently, and bringing down the small bell-rope.
"I'm frightened; I shall run away," said Maggie, making a laughing retreat; while Tom, with masculine philosophy, flung the bell-rope to the farther end of the room; not very far either,–a touch of human experience which I flatter myself will come home to the bosoms of not a few substantial or distinguished men who were once at an early stage of their rise in the world, and were cherishing very large hopes in very small lodgings.
Showing That Tom Had Opened the Oyster
"And now we've settled this Newcastle business, Tom," said Mr. Deane, that same afternoon, as they were seated in the private room at the Bank together, "there's another matter I want to talk to you about. Since you're likely to have rather a smoky, unpleasant time of it at Newcastle for the next few weeks, you'll want a good prospect of some sort to keep up your spirits."
Tom waited less nervously than he had done on a former occasion in this apartment, while his uncle took out his snuff-box and gratified each nostril with deliberate impartiality.
"You see, Tom," said Mr. Deane at last, throwing himself backward, "the world goes on at a smarter pace now than it did when I was a young fellow. Why, sir, forty years ago, when I was much such a strapping youngster as you, a man expected to pull between the shafts the best part of his life, before he got the whip in his hand. The looms went slowish, and fashions didn't alter quite so fast; I'd a best suit that lasted me six years. Everything was on a lower scale, sir,–in point of expenditure, I mean. It's this steam, you see, that has made the difference; it drives on every wheel double pace, and the wheel of fortune along with 'em, as our Mr. Stephen Guest said at the anniversary dinner (he hits these things off wonderfully, considering he's seen nothing of business). I don't find fault with the change, as some people do. Trade, sir, opens a man's eyes; and if the population is to get thicker upon the ground, as it's doing, the world must use its wits at inventions of one sort or other. I know I've done my share as an ordinary man of business. Somebody has said it's a fine thing to make two ears of corn grow where only one grew before; but, sir, it's a fine thing, too, to further the exchange of commodities, and bring the grains of corn to the mouths that are hungry. And that's our line of business; and I consider it as honorable a position as a man can hold, to be connected with it."
Tom knew that the affair his uncle had to speak of was not urgent; Mr. Deane was too shrewd and practical a man to allow either his reminiscences or his snuff to impede the progress of trade. Indeed, for the last month or two, there had been hints thrown out to Tom which enabled him to guess that he was going to hear some proposition for his own benefit. With the beginning of the last speech he had stretched out his legs, thrust his hands in his pockets, and prepared himself for some introductory diffuseness, tending to show that Mr. Deane had succeeded by his own merit, and that what he had to say to young men in general was, that if they didn't succeed too it was because of their own demerit. He was rather surprised, then, when his uncle put a direct question to him.
"Let me see,–it's going on for seven years now since you applied to me for a situation, eh, Tom?"
"Yes, sir; I'm three-and-twenty now," said Tom.
"Ah, it's as well not to say that, though; for you'd pass for a good deal older, and age tells well in business. I remember your coming very well; I remember I saw there was some pluck in you, and that was what made me give you encouragement. And I'm happy to say I was right; I'm not often deceived. I was naturally a little shy at pushing my nephew, but I'm happy to say you've done me credit, sir; and if I'd had a son o' my own, I shouldn't have been sorry to see him like you."
Mr. Deane tapped his box and opened it again, repeating in a tone of some feeling, "No, I shouldn't have been sorry to see him like you."
"I'm very glad I've given you satisfaction, sir; I've done my best," said Tom, in his proud, independent way.
"Yes, Tom, you've given me satisfaction. I don't speak of your conduct as a son; though that weighs with me in my opinion of you. But what I have to do with, as a partner in our firm, is the qualities you've shown as a man o' business. Ours is a fine business,–a splendid concern, sir,–and there's no reason why it shouldn't go on growing; there's a growing capital, and growing outlets for it; but there's another thing that's wanted for the prosperity of every concern, large or small, and that's men to conduct it,–men of the right habits; none o' your flashy fellows, but such as are to be depended on. Now this is what Mr. Guest and I see clear enough. Three years ago we took Gell into the concern; we gave him a share in the oil-mill. And why? Why, because Gell was a fellow whose services were worth a premium. So it will always be, sir. So it was with me. And though Gell is pretty near ten years older than you, there are other points in your favor."
Tom was getting a little nervous as Mr. Deane went on speaking; he was conscious of something he had in his mind to say, which might not be agreeable to his uncle, simply because it was a new suggestion rather than an acceptance of the proposition he foresaw.
"It stands to reason," Mr. Deane went on, when he had finished his new pinch, "that your being my nephew weighs in your favor; but I don't deny that if you'd been no relation of mine at all, your conduct in that affair of Pelley's bank would have led Mr. Guest and myself to make some acknowledgment of the service you've been to us; and, backed by your general conduct and business ability, it has made us determine on giving you a share in the business,–a share which we shall be glad to increase as the years go on. We think that'll be better, on all grounds, than raising your salary. It'll give you more importance, and prepare you better for taking some of the anxiety off my shoulders by and by. I'm equal to a good deal o' work at present, thank God; but I'm getting older,–there's no denying that. I told Mr. Guest I would open the subject to you; and when you come back from this northern business, we can go into particulars. This is a great stride for a young fellow of three-and-twenty, but I'm bound to say you've deserved it."
"I'm very grateful to Mr. Guest and you, sir; of course I feel the most indebted to you, who first took me into the business, and have taken a good deal of pains with me since."
Tom spoke with a slight tremor, and paused after he had said this.
"Yes, yes," said Mr. Deane. "I don't spare pains when I see they'll be of any use. I gave myself some trouble with Gell, else he wouldn't have been what he is."
"But there's one thing I should like to mention to you uncle. I've never spoken to you of it before. If you remember, at the time my father's property was sold, there was some thought of your firm buying the Mill; I know you thought it would be a very good investment, especially if steam were applied."
"To be sure, to be sure. But Wakem outbid us; he'd made up his mind to that. He's rather fond of carrying everything over other people's heads."
"Perhaps it's of no use my mentioning it at present," Tom went on, "but I wish you to know what I have in my mind about the Mill. I've a strong feeling about it. It was my father's dying wish that I should try and get it back again whenever I could; it was in his family for five generations. I promised my father; and besides that, I'm attached to the place. I shall never like any other so well. And if it should ever suit your views to buy it for the firm, I should have a better chance of fulfilling my father's wish. I shouldn't have liked to mention the thing to you, only you've been kind enough to say my services have been of some value. And I'd give up a much greater chance in life for the sake of having the Mill again,–I mean having it in my own hands, and gradually working off the price."
Mr. Deane had listened attentively, and now looked thoughtful.
"I see, I see," he said, after a while; "the thing would be possible if there were any chance of Wakem's parting with the property. But that I don't see. He's put that young Jetsome in the place; and he had his reasons when he bought it, I'll be bound."
"He's a loose fish, that young Jetsome," said Tom. "He's taking to drinking, and they say he's letting the business go down. Luke told me about it,–our old miller. He says he sha'n't stay unless there's an alteration. I was thinking, if things went on that way, Wakem might be more willing to part with the Mill. Luke says he's getting very sour about the way things are going on."
"Well, I'll turn it over, Tom. I must inquire into the matter, and go into it with Mr. Guest. But, you see, it's rather striking out a new branch, and putting you to that, instead of keeping you where you are, which was what we'd wanted."
"I should be able to manage more than the Mill when things were once set properly going, sir. I want to have plenty of work. There's nothing else I care about much."
There was something rather sad in that speech from a young man of three-and-twenty, even in uncle Deane's business-loving ears.
"Pooh, pooh! you'll be having a wife to care about one of these days, if you get on at this pace in the world. But as to this Mill, we mustn't reckon on our chickens too early. However, I promise you to bear it in mind, and when you come back we'll talk of it again. I am going to dinner now. Come and breakfast with us to-morrow morning, and say good-bye to your mother and sister before you start."
Illustrating the Laws of Attraction
It is evident to you now that Maggie had arrived at a moment in her life which must be considered by all prudent persons as a great opportunity for a young woman. Launched into the higher society of St. Ogg's, with a striking person, which had the advantage of being quite unfamiliar to the majority of beholders, and with such moderate assistance of costume as you have seen foreshadowed in Lucy's anxious colloquy with aunt Pullet, Maggie was certainly at a new starting-point in life. At Lucy's first evening party, young Torry fatigued his facial muscles more than usual in order that "the dark-eyed girl there in the corner" might see him in all the additional style conferred by his eyeglass; and several young ladies went home intending to have short sleeves with black lace, and to plait their hair in a broad coronet at the back of their head,–"That cousin of Miss Deane's looked so very well." In fact, poor Maggie, with all her inward consciousness of a painful past and her presentiment of a troublous future, was on the way to become an object of some envy,–a topic of discussion in the newly established billiard-room, and between fair friends who had no secrets from each other on the subject of trimmings. The Miss Guests, who associated chiefly on terms of condescension with the families of St. Ogg's, and were the glass of fashion there, took some exception to Maggie's manners. She had a way of not assenting at once to the observations current in good society, and of saying that she didn't know whether those observations were true or not, which gave her an air of gaucherie, and impeded the even flow of conversation; but it is a fact capable of an amiable interpretation that ladies are not the worst disposed toward a new acquaintance of their own sex because she has points of inferiority. And Maggie was so entirely without those pretty airs of coquetry which have the traditional reputation of driving gentlemen to despair that she won some feminine pity for being so ineffective in spite of her beauty. She had not had many advantages, poor thing! and it must be admitted there was no pretension about her; her abruptness and unevenness of manner were plainly the result of her secluded and lowly circumstances. It was only a wonder that there was no tinge of vulgarity about her, considering what the rest of poor Lucy's relations were–an allusion which always made the Miss Guests shudder a little. It was not agreeable to think of any connection by marriage with such people as the Gleggs and the Pullets; but it was of no use to contradict Stephen when once he had set his mind on anything, and certainly there was no possible objection to Lucy in herself,–no one could help liking her. She would naturally desire that the Miss Guests should behave kindly to this cousin of whom she was so fond, and Stephen would make a great fuss if they were deficient in civility. Under these circumstances the invitations to Park House were not wanting; and elsewhere, also, Miss Deane was too popular and too distinguished a member of society in St. Ogg's for any attention toward her to be neglected.
Thus Maggie was introduced for the first time to the young lady's life, and knew what it was to get up in the morning without any imperative reason for doing one thing more than another. This new sense of leisure and unchecked enjoyment amidst the soft-breathing airs and garden-scents of advancing spring–amidst the new abundance of music, and lingering strolls in the sunshine, and the delicious dreaminess of gliding on the river–could hardly be without some intoxicating effect on her, after her years of privation; and even in the first week Maggie began to be less haunted by her sad memories and anticipations. Life was certainly very pleasant just now; it was becoming very pleasant to dress in the evening, and to feel that she was one of the beautiful things of this spring-time. And there were admiring eyes always awaiting her now; she was no longer an unheeded person, liable to be chid, from whom attention was continually claimed, and on whom no one felt bound to confer any. It was pleasant, too, when Stephen and Lucy were gone out riding, to sit down at the piano alone, and find that the old fitness between her fingers and the keys remained, and revived, like a sympathetic kinship not to be worn out by separation; to get the tunes she had heard the evening before, and repeat them again and again until she had found out a way of producing them so as to make them a more pregnant, passionate language to her. The mere concord of octaves was a delight to Maggie, and she would often take up a book of studies rather than any melody, that she might taste more keenly by abstraction the more primitive sensation of intervals. Not that her enjoyment of music was of the kind that indicates a great specific talent; it was rather that her sensibility to the supreme excitement of music was only one form of that passionate sensibility which belonged to her whole nature, and made her faults and virtues all merge in each other; made her affections sometimes an impatient demand, but also prevented her vanity from taking the form of mere feminine coquetry and device, and gave it the poetry of ambition. But you have known Maggie a long while, and need to be told, not her characteristics, but her history, which is a thing hardly to be predicted even from the completest knowledge of characteristics. For the tragedy of our lives is not created entirely from within. "Character," says Novalis, in one of his questionable aphorisms,–"character is destiny." But not the whole of our destiny. Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, was speculative and irresolute, and we have a great tragedy in consequence. But if his father had lived to a good old age, and his uncle had died an early death, we can conceive Hamlet's having married Ophelia, and got through life with a reputation of sanity, notwithstanding many soliloquies, and some moody sarcasms toward the fair daughter of Polonius, to say nothing of the frankest incivility to his father-in-law.
Maggie's destiny, then, is at present hidden, and we must wait for it to reveal itself like the course of an unmapped river; we only know that the river is full and rapid, and that for all rivers there is the same final home. Under the charm of her new pleasures, Maggie herself was ceasing to think, with her eager prefiguring imagination, of her future lot; and her anxiety about her first interview with Philip was losing its predominance; perhaps, unconsciously to herself, she was not sorry that the interview had been deferred.
For Philip had not come the evening he was expected, and Mr. Stephen Guest brought word that he was gone to the coast,–probably, he thought, on a sketching expedition; but it was not certain when he would return. It was just like Philip, to go off in that way without telling any one. It was not until the twelfth day that he returned, to find both Lucy's notes awaiting him; he had left before he knew of Maggie's arrival.
Perhaps one had need be nineteen again to be quite convinced of the feelings that were crowded for Maggie into those twelve days; of the length to which they were stretched for her by the novelty of her experience in them, and the varying attitudes of her mind. The early days of an acquaintance almost always have this importance for us, and fill up a larger space in our memory than longer subsequent periods, which have been less filled with discovery and new impressions. There were not many hours in those ten days in which Mr. Stephen Guest was not seated by Lucy's side, or standing near her at the piano, or accompanying her on some outdoor excursion; his attentions were clearly becoming more assiduous, and that was what every one had expected. Lucy was very happy, all the happier because Stephen's society seemed to have become much more interesting and amusing since Maggie had been there. Playful discussions–sometimes serious ones–were going forward, in which both Stephen and Maggie revealed themselves, to the admiration of the gentle, unobtrusive Lucy; and it more than once crossed her mind what a charming quartet they should have through life when Maggie married Philip. Is it an inexplicable thing that a girl should enjoy her lover's society the more for the presence of a third person, and be without the slightest spasm of jealousy that the third person had the conversation habitually directed to her? Not when that girl is as tranquil-hearted as Lucy, thoroughly possessed with a belief that she knows the state of her companions' affections, and not prone to the feelings which shake such a belief in the absence of positive evidence against it. Besides, it was Lucy by whom Stephen sat, to whom he gave his arm, to whom he appealed as the person sure to agree with him; and every day there was the same tender politeness toward her, the same consciousness of her wants and care to supply them. Was there really the same? It seemed to Lucy that there was more; and it was no wonder that the real significance of the change escaped her. It was a subtle act of conscience in Stephen that even he himself was not aware of. His personal attentions to Maggie were comparatively slight, and there had even sprung up an apparent distance between them, that prevented the renewal of that faint resemblance to gallantry into which he had fallen the first day in the boat. If Stephen came in when Lucy was out of the room, if Lucy left them together, they never spoke to each other; Stephen, perhaps, seemed to be examining books or music, and Maggie bent her head assiduously over her work. Each was oppressively conscious of the other's presence, even to the finger-ends. Yet each looked and longed for the same thing to happen the next day. Neither of them had begun to reflect on the matter, or silently to ask, "To what does all this tend?" Maggie only felt that life was revealing something quite new to her; and she was absorbed in the direct, immediate experience, without any energy left for taking account of it and reasoning about it. Stephen wilfully abstained from self-questioning, and would not admit to himself that he felt an influence which was to have any determining effect on his conduct. And when Lucy came into the room again, they were once more unconstrained; Maggie could contradict Stephen, and laugh at him, and he could recommend to her consideration the example of that most charming heroine, Miss Sophia Western, who had a great "respect for the understandings of men." Maggie could look at Stephen, which, for some reason or other she always avoided when they were alone; and he could even ask her to play his accompaniment for him, since Lucy's fingers were so busy with that bazaar-work, and lecture her on hurrying the tempo, which was certainly Maggie's weak point.
One day–it was the day of Philip's return–Lucy had formed a sudden engagement to spend the evening with Mrs. Kenn, whose delicate state of health, threatening to become confirmed illness through an attack of bronchitis, obliged her to resign her functions at the coming bazaar into the hands of other ladies, of whom she wished Lucy to be one. The engagement had been formed in Stephen's presence, and he had heard Lucy promise to dine early and call at six o'clock for Miss Torry, who brought Mrs. Kenn's request.
"Here is another of the moral results of this idiotic bazaar," Stephen burst forth, as soon as Miss Torry had left the room,–"taking young ladies from the duties of the domestic hearth into scenes of dissipation among urn-rugs and embroidered reticules! I should like to know what is the proper function of women, if it is not to make reasons for husbands to stay at home, and still stronger reasons for bachelors to go out. If this goes on much longer, the bonds of society will be dissolved."
"Well, it will not go on much longer," said Lucy, laughing, "for the bazaar is to take place on Monday week."
"Thank Heaven!" said Stephen. "Kenn himself said the other day that he didn't like this plan of making vanity do the work of charity; but just as the British public is not reasonable enough to bear direct taxation, so St. Ogg's has not got force of motive enough to build and endow schools without calling in the force of folly."
"Did he say so?" said little Lucy, her hazel eyes opening wide with anxiety. "I never heard him say anything of that kind; I thought he approved of what we were doing."
"I'm sure he approves you," said Stephen, smiling at her affectionately; "your conduct in going out to-night looks vicious, I own, but I know there is benevolence at the bottom of it."
"Oh, you think too well of me," said Lucy, shaking her head, with a pretty blush, and there the subject ended. But it was tacitly understood that Stephen would not come in the evening; and on the strength of that tacit understanding he made his morning visit the longer, not saying good-bye until after four.
Maggie was seated in the drawing-room, alone, shortly after dinner, with Minny on her lap, having left her uncle to his wine and his nap, and her mother to the compromise between knitting and nodding, which, when there was no company, she always carried on in the dining-room till tea-time. Maggie was stooping to caress the tiny silken pet, and comforting him for his mistress's absence, when the sound of a footstep on the gravel made her look up, and she saw Mr. Stephen Guest walking up the garden, as if he had come straight from the river. It was very unusual to see him so soon after dinner! He often complained that their dinner-hour was late at Park House. Nevertheless, there he was, in his black dress; he had evidently been home, and must have come again by the river. Maggie felt her cheeks glowing and her heart beating; it was natural she should be nervous, for she was not accustomed to receive visitors alone. He had seen her look up through the open window, and raised his hat as he walked toward it, to enter that way instead of by the door. He blushed too, and certainly looked as foolish as a young man of some wit and self-possession can be expected to look, as he walked in with a roll of music in his hand, and said, with an air of hesitating improvisation,–
"You are surprised to see me again, Miss Tulliver; I ought to apologize for coming upon you by surprise, but I wanted to come into the town, and I got our man to row me; so I thought I would bring these things from the 'Maid of Artois' for your cousin; I forgot them this morning. Will you give them to her?"
"Yes," said Maggie, who had risen confusedly with Minny in her arms, and now, not quite knowing what else to do, sat down again.
Stephen laid down his hat, with the music, which rolled on the floor, and sat down in the chair close by her. He had never done so before, and both he and Maggie were quite aware that it was an entirely new position.
"Well, you pampered minion!" said Stephen, leaning to pull the long curly ears that drooped over Maggie's arm. It was not a suggestive remark, and as the speaker did not follow it up by further development, it naturally left the conversation at a standstill. It seemed to Stephen like some action in a dream that he was obliged to do, and wonder at himself all the while,–to go on stroking Minny's head. Yet it was very pleasant; he only wished he dared look at Maggie, and that she would look at him,–let him have one long look into those deep, strange eyes of hers, and then he would be satisfied and quite reasonable after that. He thought it was becoming a sort of monomania with him, to want that long look from Maggie; and he was racking his invention continually to find out some means by which he could have it without its appearing singular and entailing subsequent embarrassment. As for Maggie, she had no distinct thought, only the sense of a presence like that of a closely hovering broad-winged bird in the darkness, for she was unable to look up, and saw nothing but Minny's black wavy coat.
But this must end some time, perhaps it ended very soon, and only seemed long, as a minute's dream does. Stephen at last sat upright sideways in his chair, leaning one hand and arm over the back and looking at Maggie. What should he say?
"We shall have a splendid sunset, I think; sha'n't you go out and see it?"
"I don't know," said Maggie. Then courageously raising her eyes and looking out of the window, "if I'm not playing cribbage with my uncle."
A pause; during which Minny is stroked again, but has sufficient insight not to be grateful for it, to growl rather.
"Do you like sitting alone?"
A rather arch look came over Maggie's face, and, just glancing at Stephen, she said, "Would it be quite civil to say've s'?"
"It was rather a dangerous question for an intruder to ask," said Stephen, delighted with that glance, and getting determined to stay for another. "But you will have more than half an hour to yourself after I am gone," he added, taking out his watch. "I know Mr. Deane never comes in till half-past seven."
Another pause, during which Maggie looked steadily out of the window, till by a great effort she moved her head to look down at Minny's back again, and said,–
"I wish Lucy had not been obliged to go out. We lose our music."
"We shall have a new voice to-morrow night," said Stephen. "Will you tell your cousin that our friend Philip Wakem is come back? I saw him as I went home."
Maggie gave a little start,–it seemed hardly more than a vibration that passed from head to foot in an instant. But the new images summoned by Philip's name dispersed half the oppressive spell she had been under. She rose from her chair with a sudden resolution, and laying Minny on his cushion, went to reach Lucy's large work-basket from its corner. Stephen was vexed and disappointed; he thought perhaps Maggie didn't like the name of Wakem to be mentioned to her in that abrupt way, for he now recalled what Lucy had told him of the family quarrel. It was of no use to stay any longer. Maggie was seating herself at the table with her work, and looking chill and proud; and he–he looked like a simpleton for having come. A gratuitous, entirely superfluous visit of that sort was sure to make a man disagreeable and ridiculous. Of course it was palpable to Maggie's thinking that he had dined hastily in his own room for the sake of setting off again and finding her alone.
A boyish state of mind for an accomplished young gentleman of five-and-twenty, not without legal knowledge! But a reference to history, perhaps, may make it not incredible.
At this moment Maggie's ball of knitting-wool rolled along the ground, and she started up to reach it. Stephen rose too, and picking up the ball, met her with a vexed, complaining look that gave his eyes quite a new expression to Maggie, whose own eyes met them as he presented the ball to her.
"Good-bye," said Stephen, in a tone that had the same beseeching discontent as his eyes. He dared not put out his hand; he thrust both hands into his tail-pockets as he spoke. Maggie thought she had perhaps been rude.
"Won't you stay?" she said timidly, not looking away, for that would have seemed rude again.
"No, thank you," said Stephen, looking still into the half-unwilling, half-fascinated eyes, as a thirsty man looks toward the track of the distant brook. "The boat is waiting for me. You'll tell your cousin?"
"That I brought the music, I mean?"
"And that Philip is come back?"
"Yes." (Maggie did not notice Philip's name this time.)
"Won't you come out a little way into the garden?" said Stephen, in a still gentler tone; but the next moment he was vexed that she did not say "No," for she moved away now toward the open window, and he was obliged to take his hat and walk by her side. But he thought of something to make him amends.
"Do take my arm," he said, in a low tone, as if it were a secret.
There is something strangely winning to most women in that offer of the firm arm; the help is not wanted physically at that moment, but the sense of help, the presence of strength that is outside them and yet theirs, meets a continual want of the imagination. Either on that ground or some other, Maggie took the arm. And they walked together round the grassplot and under the drooping green of the laburnums, in the same dim, dreamy state as they had been in a quarter of an hour before; only that Stephen had had the look he longed for, without yet perceiving in himself the symptoms of returning reasonableness, and Maggie had darting thoughts across the dimness,–how came he to be there? Why had she come out? Not a word was spoken. If it had been, each would have been less intensely conscious of the other.
"Take care of this step," said Stephen at last.
"Oh, I will go in now," said Maggie, feeling that the step had come like a rescue. "Good-evening."
In an instant she had withdrawn her arm, and was running back to the house. She did not reflect that this sudden action would only add to the embarrassing recollections of the last half-hour. She had no thought left for that. She only threw herself into the low arm-chair, and burst into tears.
"Oh, Philip, Philip, I wish we were together again–so quietly–in the Red Deeps."
Stephen looked after her a moment, then went on to the boat, and was soon landed at the wharf. He spent the evening in the billiard-room, smoking one cigar after another, and losing "lives" at pool. But he would not leave off. He was determined not to think,–not to admit any more distinct remembrance than was urged upon him by the perpetual presence of Maggie. He was looking at her, and she was on his arm.
But there came the necessity of walking home in the cool starlight, and with it the necessity of cursing his own folly, and bitterly determining that he would never trust himself alone with Maggie again. It was all madness; he was in love, thoroughly attached to Lucy, and engaged,–engaged as strongly as an honorable man need be. He wished he had never seen this Maggie Tulliver, to be thrown into a fever by her in this way; she would make a sweet, strange, troublesome, adorable wife to some man or other, but he would never have chosen her himself. Did she feel as he did? He hoped she did–not. He ought not to have gone. He would master himself in future. He would make himself disagreeable to her, quarrel with her perhaps. Quarrel with her? Was it possible to quarrel with a creature who had such eyes,–defying and deprecating, contradicting and clinging, imperious and beseeching,–full of delicious opposites? To see such a creature subdued by love for one would be a lot worth having–to another man.
There was a muttered exclamation which ended this inward soliloquy, as Stephen threw away the end of his last cigar, and thrusting his hands into his pockets, stalked along at a quieter pace through the shrubbery. It was not of a benedictory kind.
The next morning was very wet,–the sort of morning on which male neighbors who have no imperative occupation at home are likely to pay their fair friends an illimitable visit. The rain, which has been endurable enough for the walk or ride one way, is sure to become so heavy, and at the same time so certain to clear up by and by, that nothing but an open quarrel can abbreviate the visit; latent detestation will not do at all. And if people happen to be lovers, what can be so delightful, in England, as a rainy morning? English sunshine is dubious; bonnets are never quite secure; and if you sit down on the grass, it may lead to catarrhs. But the rain is to be depended on. You gallop through it in a mackintosh, and presently find yourself in the seat you like best,–a little above or a little below the one on which your goddess sits (it is the same thing to the metaphysical mind, and that is the reason why women are at once worshipped and looked down upon), with a satisfactory confidence that there will be no lady-callers.
"Stephen will come earlier this morning, I know," said Lucy; "he always does when it's rainy."
Maggie made no answer. She was angry with Stephen; she began to think she should dislike him; and if it had not been for the rain, she would have gone to her aunt Glegg's this morning, and so have avoided him altogether. As it was, she must find some reason for remaining out of the room with her mother.
But Stephen did not come earlier, and there was another visitor–a nearer neighbor–who preceded him. When Philip entered the room, he was going merely to bow to Maggie, feeling that their acquaintance was a secret which he was bound not to betray; but when she advanced toward him and put out her hand, he guessed at once that Lucy had been taken into her confidence. It was a moment of some agitation to both, though Philip had spent many hours in preparing for it; but like all persons who have passed through life with little expectation of sympathy, he seldom lost his self-control, and shrank with the most sensitive pride from any noticeable betrayal of emotion. A little extra paleness, a little tension of the nostril when he spoke, and the voice pitched in rather a higher key, that to strangers would seem expressive of cold indifference, were all the signs Philip usually gave of an inward drama that was not without its fierceness. But Maggie, who had little more power of concealing the impressions made upon her than if she had been constructed of musical strings, felt her eyes getting larger with tears as they took each other's hands in silence. They were not painful tears; they had rather something of the same origin as the tears women and children shed when they have found some protection to cling to and look back on the threatened danger. For Philip, who a little while ago was associated continually in Maggie's mind with the sense that Tom might reproach her with some justice, had now, in this short space, become a sort of outward conscience to her, that she might fly to for rescue and strength. Her tranquil, tender affection for Philip, with its root deep down in her childhood, and its memories of long quiet talk confirming by distinct successive impressions the first instinctive bias,–the fact that in him the appeal was more strongly to her pity and womanly devotedness than to her vanity or other egoistic excitability of her nature,–seemed now to make a sort of sacred place, a sanctuary where she could find refuge from an alluring influence which the best part of herself must resist; which must bring horrible tumult within, wretchedness without. This new sense of her relation to Philip nullified the anxious scruples she would otherwise have felt, lest she should overstep the limit of intercourse with him that Tom would sanction; and she put out her hand to him, and felt the tears in her eyes without any consciousness of an inward check. The scene was just what Lucy expected, and her kind heart delighted in bringing Philip and Maggie together again; though, even with all her regard for Philip, she could not resist the impression that her cousin Tom had some excuse for feeling shocked at the physical incongruity between the two,–a prosaic person like cousin Tom, who didn't like poetry and fairy tales. But she began to speak as soon as possible, to set them at ease.
"This was very good and virtuous of you," she said, in her pretty treble, like the low conversational notes of little birds, "to come so soon after your arrival. And as it is, I think I will pardon you for running away in an inopportune manner, and giving your friends no notice. Come and sit down here," she went on, placing the chair that would suit him best, "and you shall find yourself treated mercifully."
"You will never govern well, Miss Deane," said Philip, as he seated himself, "because no one will ever believe in your severity. People will always encourage themselves in misdemeanors by the certainty that you will be indulgent."
Lucy gave some playful contradiction, but Philip did not hear what it was, for he had naturally turned toward Maggie, and she was looking at him with that open, affectionate scrutiny which we give to a friend from whom we have been long separated. What a moment their parting had been! And Philip felt as if he were only in the morrow of it. He felt this so keenly,–with such intense, detailed remembrance, with such passionate revival of all that had been said and looked in their last conversation,–that with that jealousy and distrust which in diffident natures is almost inevitably linked with a strong feeling, he thought he read in Maggie's glance and manner the evidence of a change. The very fact that he feared and half expected it would be sure to make this thought rush in, in the absence of positive proof to the contrary.
"I am having a great holiday, am I not?" said Maggie. "Lucy is like a fairy godmother; she has turned me from a drudge into a princess in no time. I do nothing but indulge myself all day long, and she always finds out what I want before I know it myself."
"I am sure she is the happier for having you, then," said Philip. "You must be better than a whole menagerie of pets to her. And you look well. You are benefiting by the change."
Artificial conversation of this sort went on a little while, till Lucy, determined to put an end to it, exclaimed, with a good imitation of annoyance, that she had forgotten something, and was quickly out of the room.
In a moment Maggie and Philip leaned forward, and the hands were clasped again, with a look of sad contentment, like that of friends who meet in the memory of recent sorrow.
"I told my brother I wished to see you, Philip; I asked him to release me from my promise, and he consented."
Maggie, in her impulsiveness, wanted Philip to know at once the position they must hold toward each other; but she checked herself. The things that had happened since he had spoken of his love for her were so painful that she shrank from being the first to alude to them. It seemed almost like an injury toward Philip even to mention her brother,–her brother, who had insulted him. But he was thinking too entirely of her to be sensitive on any other point at that moment.
"Then we can at least be friends, Maggie? There is nothing to hinder that now?"
"Will not your father object?" said Maggie, withdrawing her hand.
"I should not give you up on any ground but your own wish, Maggie," said Philip, coloring. "There are points on which I should always resist my father, as I used to tell you. That is one."
"Then there is nothing to hinder our being friends, Philip,–seeing each other and talking to each other while I am here; I shall soon go away again. I mean to go very soon, to a new situation."
"Is that inevitable, Maggie?"
"Yes; I must not stay here long. It would unfit me for the life I must begin again at last. I can't live in dependence,–I can't live with my brother, though he is very good to me. He would like to provide for me; but that would be intolerable to me."
Philip was silent a few moments, and then said, in that high, feeble voice which with him indicated the resolute suppression of emotion,–
"Is there no other alternative, Maggie? Is that life, away from those who love you, the only one you will allow yourself to look forward to?"
"Yes, Philip," she said, looking at him pleadingly, as if she entreated him to believe that she was compelled to this course. "At least, as things are; I don't know what may be in years to come. But I begin to think there can never come much happiness to me from loving; I have always had so much pain mingled with it. I wish I could make myself a world outside it, as men do."
"Now you are returning to your old thought in a new form, Maggie,–the thought I used to combat," said Philip, with a slight tinge of bitterness. "You want to find out a mode of renunciation that will be an escape from pain. I tell you again, there is no such escape possible except by perverting or mutilating one's nature. What would become of me, if I tried to escape from pain? Scorn and cynicism would be my only opium; unless I could fall into some kind of conceited madness, and fancy myself a favorite of Heaven because I am not a favorite with men."
The bitterness had taken on some impetuosity as Philip went on speaking; the words were evidently an outlet for some immediate feeling of his own, as well as an answer to Maggie. There was a pain pressing on him at that moment. He shrank with proud delicacy from the faintest allusion to the words of love, of plighted love that had passed between them. It would have seemed to him like reminding Maggie of a promise; it would have had for him something of the baseness of compulsion. He could not dwell on the fact that he himself had not changed; for that too would have had the air of an appeal. His love for Maggie was stamped, even more than the rest of his experience, with the exaggerated sense that he was an exception,–that she, that every one, saw him in the light of an exception.
But Maggie was conscience-stricken.
"Yes, Philip," she said, with her childish contrition when he used to chide her, "you are right, I know. I do always think too much of my own feelings, and not enough of others',–not enough of yours. I had need have you always to find fault with me and teach me; so many things have come true that you used to tell me."
Maggie was resting her elbow on the table, leaning her head on her hand and looking at Philip with half-penitent dependent affection, as she said this; while he was returning her gaze with an expression that, to her consciousness, gradually became less vague,–became charged with a specific recollection. Had his mind flown back to something that she now remembered,–something about a lover of Lucy's? It was a thought that made her shudder; it gave new definiteness to her present position, and to the tendency of what had happened the evening before. She moved her arm from the table, urged to change her position by that positive physical oppression at the heart that sometimes accompanies a sudden mental pang.
"What is the matter, Maggie? Has something happened?" Philip said, in inexpressible anxiety, his imagination being only too ready to weave everything that was fatal to them both.
"No, nothing," said Maggie, rousing her latent will. Philip must not have that odious thought in his mind; she would banish it from her own. "Nothing," she repeated, "except in my own mind. You used to say I should feel the effect of my starved life, as you called it; and I do. I am too eager in my enjoyment of music and all luxuries, now they are come to me."
She took up her work and occupied herself resolutely, while Philip watched her, really in doubt whether she had anything more than this general allusion in her mind. It was quite in Maggie's character to be agitated by vague self-reproach. But soon there came a violent well-known ring at the door-bell resounding through the house.
"Oh, what a startling announcement!" said Maggie, quite mistress of herself, though not without some inward flutter. "I wonder where Lucy is."
Lucy had not been deaf to the signal, and after an interval long enough for a few solicitous but not hurried inquiries, she herself ushered Stephen in.
"Well, old fellow," he said, going straight up to Philip and shaking him heartily by the hand, bowing to Maggie in passing, "it's glorious to have you back again; only I wish you'd conduct yourself a little less like a sparrow with a residence on the house-top, and not go in and out constantly without letting the servants know. This is about the twentieth time I've had to scamper up those countless stairs to that painting-room of yours, all to no purpose, because your people thought you were at home. Such incidents embitter friendship."
"I've so few visitors, it seems hardly worth while to leave notice of my exit and entrances," said Philip, feeling rather oppressed just then by Stephen's bright strong presence and strong voice.
"Are you quite well this morning, Miss Tulliver?" said Stephen, turning to Maggie with stiff politeness, and putting out his hand with the air of fulfilling a social duty.
Maggie gave the tips of her fingers, and said, "Quite well, thank you," in a tone of proud indifference. Philip's eyes were watching them keenly; but Lucy was used to seeing variations in their manner to each other, and only thought with regret that there was some natural antipathy which every now and then surmounted their mutual good-will. "Maggie is not the sort of woman Stephen admires, and she is irritated by something in him which she interprets as conceit," was the silent observation that accounted for everything to guileless Lucy. Stephen and Maggie had no sooner completed this studied greeting than each felt hurt by the other's coldness. And Stephen, while rattling on in questions to Philip about his recent sketching expedition, was thinking all the more about Maggie because he was not drawing her into the conversation as he had invariably done before. "Maggie and Philip are not looking happy," thought Lucy; "this first interview has been saddening to them."
"I think we people who have not been galloping," she said to Stephen, "are all a little damped by the rain. Let us have some music. We ought to take advantage of having Philip and you together. Give us the duet in 'Masaniello'; Maggie has not heard that, and I know it will suit her."
"Come, then," said Stephen, going toward the piano, and giving a foretaste of the tune in his deep "brum-brum," very pleasant to hear.
"You, please, Philip,–you play the accompaniment," said Lucy, "and then I can go on with my work. You will like to play, sha'n't you?" she added, with a pretty, inquiring look, anxious, as usual, lest she should have proposed what was not pleasant to another; but with yearnings toward her unfinished embroidery.
Philip had brightened at the proposition, for there is no feeling, perhaps, except the extremes of fear and grief, that does not find relief in music,–that does not make a man sing or play the better; and Philip had an abundance of pent-up feeling at this moment, as complex as any trio or quartet that was ever meant to express love and jealousy and resignation and fierce suspicion, all at the same time.
"Oh, yes," he said, seating himself at the piano, "it is a way of eking out one's imperfect life and being three people at once,–to sing and make the piano sing, and hear them both all the while,–or else to sing and paint."
"Ah, there you are an enviable fellow. I can do nothing with my hands," said Stephen. "That has generally been observed in men of great administrative capacity, I believe,–a tendency to predominance of the reflective powers in me! Haven't you observed that, Miss Tulliver?"
Stephen had fallen by mistake into his habit of playful appeal to Maggie, and she could not repress the answering flush and epigram.
"I have observed a tendency to predominance," she said, smiling; and Philip at that moment devoutly hoped that she found the tendency disagreeable.
"Come, come," said Lucy; "music, music! We will discuss each other's qualities another time."
Maggie always tried in vain to go on with her work when music began. She tried harder than ever to-day; for the thought that Stephen knew how much she cared for his singing was one that no longer roused a merely playful resistance; and she knew, too, that it was his habit always to stand so that he could look at her. But it was of no use; she soon threw her work down, and all her intentions were lost in the vague state of emotion produced by the inspiring duet,–emotion that seemed to make her at once strong and weak; strong for all enjoyment, weak for all resistance. When the strain passed into the minor, she half started from her seat with the sudden thrill of that change. Poor Maggie! She looked very beautiful when her soul was being played on in this way by the inexorable power of sound. You might have seen the slightest perceptible quivering through her whole frame as she leaned a little forward, clasping her hands as if to steady herself; while her eyes dilated and brightened into that wide-open, childish expression of wondering delight which always came back in her happiest moments. Lucy, who at other times had always been at the piano when Maggie was looking in this way, could not resist the impulse to steal up to her and kiss her. Philip, too, caught a glimpse of her now and then round the open book on the desk, and felt that he had never before seen her under so strong an influence.
"More, more!" said Lucy, when the duet had been encored. "Something spirited again. Maggie always says she likes a great rush of sound."
"It must be 'Let us take the road,' then," said Stephen,–"so suitable for a wet morning. But are you prepared to abandon the most sacred duties of life, and come and sing with us?"
"Oh, yes," said Lucy, laughing. "If you will look out the 'Beggar's Opera' from the large canterbury. It has a dingy cover."
"That is a great clue, considering there are about a score covers here of rival dinginess," said Stephen, drawing out the canterbury.
"Oh, play something the while, Philip," said Lucy, noticing that his fingers were wandering over the keys. "What is that you are falling into?–something delicious that I don't know."
"Don't you know that?" said Philip, bringing out the tune more definitely. "It's from the 'Sonnambula'–'Ah! perchè non posso odiarti.' I don't know the opera, but it appears the tenor is telling the heroine that he shall always love her though she may forsake him. You've heard me sing it to the English words, 'I love thee still.'"
It was not quite unintentionally that Philip had wandered into this song, which might be an indirect expression to Maggie of what he could not prevail on himself to say to her directly. Her ears had been open to what he was saying, and when he began to sing, she understood the plaintive passion of the music. That pleading tenor had no very fine qualities as a voice, but it was not quite new to her; it had sung to her by snatches, in a subdued way, among the grassy walks and hollows, and underneath the leaning ash-tree in the Red Deeps. There seemed to be some reproach in the words; did Philip mean that? She wished she had assured him more distinctly in their conversation that she desired not to renew the hope of love between them, only because it clashed with her inevitable circumstances. She was touched, not thrilled by the song; it suggested distinct memories and thoughts, and brought quiet regret in the place of excitement.
"That's the way with you tenors," said Stephen, who was waiting with music in his hand while Philip finished the song. "You demoralize the fair sex by warbling your sentimental love and constancy under all sorts of vile treatment. Nothing short of having your heads served up in a dish like that mediæval tenor or troubadour, would prevent you from expressing your entire resignation. I must administer an antidote, while Miss Deane prepares to tear herself away from her bobbins."
Stephen rolled out, with saucy energy,–
"Shall I, wasting in despair,
Die because a woman's fair?"
and seemed to make all the air in the room alive with a new influence. Lucy, always proud of what Stephen did, went toward the piano with laughing, admiring looks at him; and Maggie, in spite of her resistance to the spirit of the song and to the singer, was taken hold of and shaken by the invisible influence,–was borne along by a wave too strong for her.
But, angrily resolved not to betray herself, she seized her work, and went on making false stitches and pricking her fingers with much perseverance, not looking up or taking notice of what was going forward, until all the three voices united in "Let us take the road."
I am afraid there would have been a subtle, stealing gratification in her mind if she had known how entirely this saucy, defiant Stephen was occupied with her; how he was passing rapidly from a determination to treat her with ostentatious indifference to an irritating desire for some sign of inclination from her,–some interchange of subdued word or look with her. It was not long before he found an opportunity, when they had passed to the music of "The Tempest." Maggie, feeling the need of a footstool, was walking across the room to get one, when Stephen, who was not singing just then, and was conscious of all her movements, guessed her want, and flew to anticipate her, lifting the footstool with an entreating look at her, which made it impossible not to return a glance of gratitude. And then, to have the footstool placed carefully by a too self-confident personage,–not any self-confident personage, but one in particular, who suddenly looks humble and anxious, and lingers, bending still, to ask if there is not some draught in that position between the window and the fireplace, and if he may not be allowed to move the work-table for her,–these things will summon a little of the too ready, traitorous tenderness into a woman's eyes, compelled as she is in her girlish time to learn her life-lessons in very trivial language. And to Maggie such things had not been every-day incidents, but were a new element in her life, and found her keen appetite for homage quite fresh. That tone of gentle solicitude obliged her to look at the face that was bent toward her, and to say, "No, thank you"; and nothing could prevent that mutual glance from being delicious to both, as it had been the evening before.
It was but an ordinary act of politeness in Stephen; it had hardly taken two minutes; and Lucy, who was singing, scarcely noticed it. But to Philip's mind, filled already with a vague anxiety that was likely to find a definite ground for itself in any trivial incident, this sudden eagerness in Stephen, and the change in Maggie's face, which was plainly reflecting a beam from his, seemed so strong a contrast with the previous overwrought signs of indifference, as to be charged with painful meaning. Stephen's voice, pouring in again, jarred upon his nervous susceptibility as if it had been the clang of sheet-iron, and he felt inclined to make the piano shriek in utter discord. He had really seen no communicable ground for suspecting any ususual feeling between Stephen and Maggie; his own reason told him so, and he wanted to go home at once that he might reflect coolly on these false images, till he had convinced himself of their nullity. But then, again, he wanted to stay as long as Stephen stayed,–always to be present when Stephen was present with Maggie. It seemed to poor Philip so natural, nay, inevitable, that any man who was near Maggie should fall in love with her! There was no promise of happiness for her if she were beguiled into loving Stephen Guest; and this thought emboldened Philip to view his own love for her in the light of a less unequal offering. He was beginning to play very falsely under this deafening inward tumult, and Lucy was looking at him in astonishment, when Mrs. Tulliver's entrance to summon them to lunch came as an excuse for abruptly breaking off the music.
"Ah, Mr. Philip!" said Mr. Deane, when they entered the dining-room, "I've not seen you for a long while. Your father's not at home, I think, is he? I went after him to the office the other day, and they said he was out of town."
"He's been to Mudport on business for several days," said Philip; "but he's come back now."
"As fond of his farming hobby as ever, eh?"
"I believe so," said Philip, rather wondering at this sudden interest in his father's pursuits.
"Ah!" said Mr. Deane, "he's got some land in his own hands on this side the river as well as the other, I think?"
"Yes, he has."
"Ah!" continued Mr. Deane, as he dispensed the pigeonpie, "he must find farming a heavy item,–an expensive hobby. I never had a hobby myself, never would give in to that. And the worst of all hobbies are those that people think they can get money at. They shoot their money down like corn out of a sack then."
Lucy felt a little nervous under her father's apparently gratuitous criticism of Mr. Wakem's expenditure. But it ceased there, and Mr. Deane became unusually silent and meditative during his luncheon. Lucy, accustomed to watch all indications in her father, and having reasons, which had recently become strong, for an extra interest in what referred to the Wakems, felt an unsual curiosity to know what had prompted her father's questions. His subsequent silence made her suspect there had been some special reason for them in his mind.
With this idea in her head, she resorted to her usual plan when she wanted to tell or ask her father anything particular: she found a reason for her aunt Tulliver to leaving the dining-room after dinner, and seated herself on a small stool at her father's knee. Mr. Deane, under those circumstances, considered that he tasted some of the most agreeable moments his merits had purchased him in life, notwithstanding that Lucy, disliking to have her hair powdered with snuff, usually began by mastering his snuff-box on such occasions.
"You don't want to go to sleep yet, papa, do you?" she said, as she brought up her stool and opened the large fingers that clutched the snuff-box.
"Not yet," said Mr. Deane, glancing at the reward of merit in the decanter. "But what do you want?" he added, pinching the dimpled chin fondly,–"to coax some more sovereigns out of my pocket for your bazaar? Eh?"
"No, I have no base motives at all to-day. I only want to talk, not to beg. I want to know what made you ask Philip Wakem about his father's farming to-day, papa? It seemed rather odd, because you never hardly say anything to him about his father; and why should you care about Mr. Wakem's losing money by his hobby?"
"Something to do with business," said Mr. Deane, waving his hands, as if to repel intrusion into that mystery.
"But, papa, you always say Mr. Wakem has brought Philip up like a girl; how came you to think you should get any business knowledge out of him? Those abrupt questions sounded rather oddly. Philip thought them queer."
"Nonsense, child!" said Mr. Deane, willing to justify his social demeanor, with which he had taken some pains in his upward progress. "There's a report that Wakem's mill and farm on the other side of the river–Dorlcote Mill, your uncle Tulliver's, you know–isn't answering so well as it did. I wanted to see if your friend Philip would let anything out about his father's being tired of farming."
"Why? Would you buy the mill, papa, if he would part with it?" said Lucy, eagerly. "Oh, tell me everything; here, you shall have your snuff-box if you'll tell me. Because Maggie says all their hearts are set on Tom's getting back the mill some time. It was one of the last things her father said to Tom, that he must get back the mill."
"Hush, you little puss," said Mr. Deane, availing himself of the restored snuff-box. "You must not say a word about this thing; do you hear? There's very little chance of their getting the mill or of anybody's getting it out of Wakem's hands. And if he knew that we wanted it with a view to the Tulliver's getting it again, he'd be the less likely to part with it. It's natural, after what happened. He behaved well enough to Tulliver before; but a horsewhipping is not likely to be paid for with sugar-plums."
"Now, papa," said Lucy, with a little air of solemnity, "will you trust me? You must not ask me all my reasons for what I'm going to say, but I have very strong reasons. And I'm very cautious; I am, indeed."
"Well, let us hear."
"Why, I believe, if you will let me take Philip Wakem into our confidence,–let me tell him all about your wish to buy, and what it's for; that my cousins wish to have it, and why they wish to have it,–I believe Philip would help to bring it about. I know he would desire to do it."
"I don't see how that can be, child," said Mr. Deane, looking puzzled. "Why should he care?"–then, with a sudden penetrating look at his daughter, "You don't think the poor lad's fond of you, and so you can make him do what you like?" (Mr. Deane felt quite safe about his daughter's affections.)
"No, papa; he cares very little about me,–not so much as I care about him. But I have a reason for being quite sure of what I say. Don't you ask me. And if you ever guess, don't tell me. Only give me leave to do as I think fit about it."
Lucy rose from her stool to seat herself on her father's knee, and kissed him with that last request.
"Are you sure you won't do mischief, now?" he said, looking at her with delight.
"Yes, papa, quite sure. I'm very wise; I've got all your business talents. Didn't you admire my accompt-book, now, when I showed it you?"
"Well, well, if this youngster will keep his counsel, there won't be much harm done. And to tell the truth, I think there's not much chance for us any other way. Now, let me go off to sleep."