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    Book 6 - Chapter 6

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    Chapter 45
    Previous Chapter
    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?"

    "Yes."

    "That I brought the music, I mean?"

    "Yes."

    "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.
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