EARLY in the following April, nearly a year after that dubious parting you have just witnessed, you may, if you like, again see Maggie entering the Red Deeps through the group of Scotch firs. But it is early afternoon and not evening, and the edge of sharpness in the spring air makes her draw her large shawl close about her and trip along rather quickly; though she looks round, as usual, that she may take in the sight of her beloved trees. There is a more eager, inquiring look in her eyes than there was last June, and a smile is hovering about her lips, as if some playful speech were awaiting the right hearer. The hearer was not long in appearing.
Not at all, said Maggie, laughing. The Muses were uncomfortable goddesses, I think,obliged always to carry rolls and musical instruments about with them. If I carried a harp in this climate, you know, I must have a green baize cover for it; and I should be sure to leave it behind me by mistake.
I didnt finish the book, said Maggie. As soon as I came to the blond-haired young lady reading in the park, I shut it up, and determined to read no further. I foresaw that that light-complexioned girl would win away all the love from Corinne and make her miserable. Im determined to read no more books where the blond-haired women carry away all the happiness. I should begin to have a prejudice against them. If you could give me some story, now, where the dark woman triumphs, it would restore the balance. I want to avenge Rebecca and Flora MacIvor and Minna, and all the rest of the dark unhappy ones. Since you are my tutor, you ought to preserve my mind from prejudices; you are always arguing against prejudices.
Well, perhaps you will avenge the dark women in your own person, and carry away all the love from your cousin Lucy. She is sure to have some handsome young man of St. Oggs at her feet now; and you have only to shine upon himyour fair little cousin will be quite quenched in your beams.
Philip, that is not pretty of you, to apply my nonsense to anything real, said Maggie, looking hurt. As if I, with my old gowns and want of all accomplishments, could be a rival of dear little Lucy,who knows and does all sorts of charming things, and is ten times prettier than I am,even if I were odious and base enough to wish to be her rival. Besides, I never go to aunt Deanes when any one is there; it is only because dear Lucy is good, and loves me, that she comes to see me, and will have me go to see her sometimes.
Well, said Maggie, smiling, if you meant that for a joke, it was a poor one; but I thought it was a very good reproof. I thought you wanted to remind me that I am vain, and wish every one to admire me most. But it isnt for that that Im jealous for the dark women,not because Im dark myself; its because I always care the most about the unhappy people. If the blond girl were forsaken, I should like her best. I always take the side of the rejected lover in the stories.
That would depend on what they didnt like him for, said Maggie, laughing. He might be very disagreeable. He might look at me through an eye-glass stuck in his eye, making a hideous face, as young Torry does. I should think other women are not fond of that; but I never felt any pity for young Torry. Ive never any pity for conceited people, because I think they carry their comfort about with them.
But suppose, Maggie,suppose it was a man who was not conceited, who felt he had nothing to be conceited about; who had been marked from childhood for a peculiar kind of suffering, and to whom you were the day-star of his life; who loved you, worshipped you, so entirely that he felt it happiness enough for him if you would let him see you at rare moments
Philip paused with a pang of dread lest his confession should cut short this very happiness,a pang of the same dread that had kept his love mute through long months. A rush of self-consciousness told him that he was besotted to have said all this. Maggies manner this morning had been as unconstrained and indifferent as ever.
But she was not looking indifferent now. Struck with the unusual emotion in Philips tone, she had turned quickly to look at him; and as he went on speaking, a great change came over her face,a flush and slight spasm of the features, such as we see in people who hear some news that will require them to readjust their conceptions of the past. She was quite silent, and walking on toward the trunk of a fallen tree, she sat down, as if she had no strength to spare for her muscles. She was trembling.
Oh, Philip! said Maggie, how can you think I have such feelings? As if I were not grateful for any love. Butbut I had never thought of your being my lover. It seemed so far offlike a dreamonly like one of the stories one imaginesthat I should ever have a lover.
Maggie turned rather pale; this direct question seemed not easy to answer. But her eyes met Philips, which were in this moment liquid and beautiful with beseeching love. She spoke with hesitation, yet with sweet, simple, girlish tenderness.
I think I could hardly love any one better; there is nothing but what I love you for. She paused a little while, and then added: But it will be better for us not to say any more about it, wont it, dear Philip? You know we couldnt even be friends, if our friendship were discovered. I have never felt that I was right in giving way about seeing you, though it has been so precious to me in some ways; and now the fear comes upon me strongly again, that it will lead to evil.
Maggie shook her head. It has been very sweet, I know,all the talking together, and the books, and the feeling that I had the walk to look forward to, when I could tell you the thoughts that had come into my head while I was away from you. But it has made me restless; it has made me think a great deal about the world; and I have impatient thoughts again,I get weary of my home; and then it cuts me to the heart afterward, that I should ever have felt weary of my father and mother. I think what you call being benumbed was betterbetter for mefor then my selfish desires were benumbed.
No, Maggie, you have wrong ideas of self-conquest, as Ive often told you. What you call self-conquestbinding and deafening yourself to all but one train of impressionsis only the culture of monomania in a nature like yours.
Dont think of the past now, Maggie; think only of our love. If you can really cling to me with all your heart, every obstacle will be overcome in time; we need only wait. I can live on hope. Look at me, Maggie; tell me again it is possible for you to love me. Dont look away from me to that cloven tree; it is a bad omen.
Come, Maggie, say one kind word, or else you were better to me at Lorton. You asked me if I should like you to kiss me,dont you remember?and you promised to kiss me when you met me again. You never kept the promise.
The recollection of that childish time came as a sweet relief to Maggie. It made the present moment less strange to her. She kissed him almost as simply and quietly as she had done when she was twelve years old. Philips eyes flashed with delight, but his next words were words of discontent.
No, Philip, said Maggie, shaking her head, in her old childish way; Im telling you the truth. It is all new and strange to me; but I dont think I could love any one better than I love you. I should like always to live with youto make you happy. I have always been happy when I have been with you. There is only one thing I will not do for your sake; I will never do anything to wound my father. You must never ask that from me.
Indeed I do, Philip. What happiness have I ever had so great as being with you,since I was a little girl,the days Tom was good to me? And your mind is a sort of world to me; you can tell me all I want to know. I think I should never be tired of being with you.
They were walking hand in hand, looking at each other; Maggie, indeed, was hurrying along, for she felt it time to be gone. But the sense that their parting was near made her more anxious lest she should have unintentionally left some painful impression on Philips mind. It was one of those dangerous moments when speech is at once sincere and deceptive; when feeling, rising high above its average depth, leaves floodmarks which are never reached again.
She turned away and hurried home, feeling that in the hour since she had trodden this road before, a new era had begun for her. The tissue of vague dreams must now get narrower and narrower, and all the threads of thought and emotion be gradually absorbed in the woof of her actual daily life.