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    Book 6 - Chapter 14

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    Chapter 53
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    When Maggie was gone to sleep, Stephen, weary too with his
    unaccustomed amount of rowing, and with the intense inward life of the
    last twelve hours, but too restless to sleep, walked and lounged about
    the deck with his cigar far on into midnight, not seeing the dark
    water, hardly conscious there were stars, living only in the near and
    distant future. At last fatigue conquered restlessness, and he rolled
    himself up in a piece of tarpaulin on the deck near Maggie's feet.

    She had fallen asleep before nine, and had been sleeping for six hours
    before the faintest hint of a midsummer daybreak was discernible. She
    awoke from that vivid dreaming which makes the margin of our deeper
    rest. She was in a boat on the wide water with Stephen, and in the
    gathering darkness something like a star appeared, that grew and grew
    till they saw it was the Virgin seated in St. Ogg's boat, and it came
    nearer and nearer, till they saw the Virgin was Lucy and the boatman
    was Philip,--no, not Philip, but her brother, who rowed past without
    looking at her; and she rose to stretch out her arms and call to him,
    and their own boat turned over with the movement, and they began to
    sink, till with one spasm of dread she seemed to awake, and find she
    was a child again in the parlor at evening twilight, and Tom was not
    really angry. From the soothed sense of that false waking she passed
    to the real waking,--to the plash of water against the vessel, and the
    sound of a footstep on the deck, and the awful starlit sky. There was
    a moment of utter bewilderment before her mind could get disentangled
    from the confused web of dreams; but soon the whole terrible truth
    urged itself upon her. Stephen was not by her now; she was alone with
    her own memory and her own dread. The irrevocable wrong that must blot
    her life had been committed; she had brought sorrow into the lives of
    others,--into the lives that were knit up with hers by trust and love.
    The feeling of a few short weeks had hurried her into the sins her
    nature had most recoiled from,--breach of faith and cruel selfishness;
    she had rent the ties that had given meaning to duty, and had made
    herself an outlawed soul, with no guide but the wayward choice of her
    own passion. And where would that lead her? Where had it led her now?
    She had said she would rather die than fall into that temptation. She
    felt it now,--now that the consequences of such a fall had come before
    the outward act was completed. There was at least this fruit from all
    her years of striving after the highest and best,--that her soul
    though betrayed, beguiled, ensnared, could never deliberately consent
    to a choice of the lower. And a choice of what? O God! not a choice of
    joy, but of conscious cruelty and hardness; for could she ever cease
    to see before her Lucy and Philip, with their murdered trust and
    hopes? Her life with Stephen could have no sacredness; she must
    forever sink and wander vaguely, driven by uncertain impulse; for she
    had let go the clue of life,--that clue which once in the far-off
    years her young need had clutched so strongly. She had renounced all
    delights then, before she knew them, before they had come within her
    reach. Philip had been right when he told her that she knew nothing of
    renunciation; she had thought it was quiet ecstasy; she saw it face to
    face now,--that sad, patient, loving strength which holds the clue of
    life,--and saw that the thorns were forever pressing on its brow. The
    yesterday, which could never be revoked,--if she could have changed it
    now for any length of inward silent endurance, she would have bowed
    beneath that cross with a sense of rest.

    Day break came and the reddening eastern light, while her past life
    was grasping her in this way, with that tightening clutch which comes
    in the last moments of possible rescue. She could see Stephen now
    lying on the deck still fast asleep, and with the sight of him there
    came a wave of anguish that found its way in a long-suppressed sob.
    The worst bitterness of parting--the thought that urged the sharpest
    inward cry for help--was the pain it must give to _him_. But
    surmounting everything was the horror at her own possible failure, the
    dread lest her conscience should be benumbed again, and not rise to
    energy till it was too late. Too late! it was too late already not to
    have caused misery; too late for everything, perhaps, but to rush away
    from the last act of baseness,--the tasting of joys that were wrung
    from crushed hearts.

    The sun was rising now, and Maggie started up with the sense that a
    day of resistance was beginning for her. Her eyelashes were still wet
    with tears, as, with her shawl over her head, she sat looking at the
    slowly rounding sun. Something roused Stephen too, and getting up from
    his hard bed, he came to sit beside her. The sharp instinct of anxious
    love saw something to give him alarm in the very first glance. He had
    a hovering dread of some resistance in Maggie's nature that he would
    be unable to overcome. He had the uneasy consciousness that he had
    robbed her of perfect freedom yesterday; there was too much native
    honor in him, for him not to feel that, if her will should recoil, his
    conduct would have been odious, and she would have a right to reproach

    But Maggie did not feel that right; she was too conscious of fatal
    weakness in herself, too full of the tenderness that comes with the
    foreseen need for inflicting a wound. She let him take her hand when
    he came to sit down beside her, and smiled at him, only with rather a
    sad glance; she could say nothing to pain him till the moment of
    possible parting was nearer. And so they drank their cup of coffee
    together, and walked about the deck, and heard the captain's assurance
    that they should be in at Mudport by five o'clock, each with an inward
    burthen; but in him it was an undefined fear, which he trusted to the
    coming hours to dissipate; in her it was a definite resolve on which
    she was trying silently to tighten her hold. Stephen was continually,
    through the morning, expressing his anxiety at the fatigue and
    discomfort she was suffering, and alluded to landing and to the change
    of motion and repose she would have in a carriage, wanting to assure
    himself more completely by presupposing that everything would be as he
    had arranged it. For a long while Maggie contented herself with
    assuring him that she had had a good night's rest, and that she didn't
    mind about being on the vessel,--it was not like being on the open
    sea, it was only a little less pleasant than being in a boat on the
    Floss. But a suppressed resolve will betray itself in the eyes, and
    Stephen became more and more uneasy as the day advanced, under the
    sense that Maggie had entirely lost her passiveness. He longed, but
    did not dare, to speak of their marriage, of where they would go after
    it, and the steps he would take to inform his father, and the rest, of
    what had happened. He longed to assure himself of a tacit assent from
    her. But each time he looked at her, he gathered a stronger dread of
    the new, quiet sadness with which she met his eyes. And they were more
    and more silent.

    "Here we are in sight of Mudport," he said at last. "Now, dearest," he
    added, turning toward her with a look that was half beseeching, "the
    worst part of your fatigue is over. On the land we can command
    swiftness. In another hour and a half we shall be in a chaise
    together, and that will seem rest to you after this."

    Maggie felt it was time to speak; it would only be unkind now to
    assent by silence. She spoke in the lowest tone, as he had done, but
    with distinct decision.

    "We shall not be together; we shall have parted."

    The blood rushed to Stephen's face.

    "We shall not," he said. "I'll die first."

    It was as he had dreaded--there was a struggle coming. But neither of
    them dared to say another word till the boat was let down, and they
    were taken to the landing-place. Here there was a cluster of gazers
    and passengers awaiting the departure of the steamboat to St. Ogg's.
    Maggie had a dim sense, when she had landed, and Stephen was hurrying
    her along on his arm, that some one had advanced toward her from that
    cluster as if he were coming to speak to her. But she was hurried
    along, and was indifferent to everything but the coming trial.

    A porter guided them to the nearest inn and posting-house, and Stephen
    gave the order for the chaise as they passed through the yard. Maggie
    took no notice of this, and only said, "Ask them to show us into a
    room where we can sit down."

    When they entered, Maggie did not sit down, and Stephen, whose face
    had a desperate determination in it, was about to ring the bell, when
    she said, in a firm voice,--

    "I'm not going; we must part here."

    "Maggie," he said, turning round toward her, and speaking in the tones
    of a man who feels a process of torture beginning, "do you mean to
    kill me? What is the use of it now? The whole thing is done."

    "No, it is not done," said Maggie. "Too much is done,--more than we
    can ever remove the trace of. But I will go no farther. Don't try to
    prevail with me again. I couldn't choose yesterday."

    What was he to do? He dared not go near her; her anger might leap out,
    and make a new barrier. He walked backward and forward in maddening

    "Maggie," he said at last, pausing before her, and speaking in a tone
    of imploring wretchedness, "have some pity--hear me--forgive me for
    what I did yesterday. I will obey you now; I will do nothing without
    your full consent. But don't blight our lives forever by a rash
    perversity that can answer no good purpose to any one, that can only
    create new evils. Sit down, dearest; wait--think what you are going to
    do. Don't treat me as if you couldn't trust me."

    He had chosen the most effective appeal; but Maggie's will was fixed
    unswervingly on the coming wrench. She had made up her mind to suffer.

    "We must not wait," she said, in a low but distinct voice; "we must
    part at once."

    "We _can't_ part, Maggie," said Stephen, more impetuously. "I can't
    bear it. What is the use of inflicting that misery on me? The
    blow--whatever it may have been--has been struck now. Will it help any
    one else that you should drive me mad?"

    "I will not begin any future, even for you," said Maggie, tremulously,
    "with a deliberate consent to what ought not to have been. What I told
    you at Basset I feel now; I would rather have died than fall into this
    temptation. It would have been better if we had parted forever then.
    But we must part now."

    "We will _not_ part," Stephen burst out, instinctively placing his
    back against the door, forgetting everything he had said a few moments
    before; "I will not endure it. You'll make me desperate; I sha'n't
    know what I do."

    Maggie trembled. She felt that the parting could not be effected
    suddenly. She must rely on a slower appeal to Stephen's better self;
    she must be prepared for a harder task than that of rushing away while
    resolution was fresh. She sat down. Stephen, watching her with that
    look of desperation which had come over him like a lurid light,
    approached slowly from the door, seated himself close beside her, and
    grasped her hand. Her heart beat like the heart of a frightened bird;
    but this direct opposition helped her. She felt her determination
    growing stronger.

    "Remember what you felt weeks ago," she began, with beseeching
    earnestness; "remember what we both felt,--that we owed ourselves to
    others, and must conquer every inclination which could make us false
    to that debt. We have failed to keep our resolutions; but the wrong
    remains the same."

    "No, it does _not_ remain the same," said Stephen. "We have proved
    that it was impossible to keep our resolutions. We have proved that
    the feeling which draws us toward each other is too strong to be
    overcome. That natural law surmounts every other; we can't help what
    it clashes with."

    "It is not so, Stephen; I'm quite sure that is wrong. I have tried to
    think it again and again; but I see, if we judged in that way, there
    would be a warrant for all treachery and cruelty; we should justify
    breaking the most sacred ties that can ever be formed on earth. If the
    past is not to bind us, where can duty lie? We should have no law but
    the inclination of the moment."

    "But there are ties that can't be kept by mere resolution," said
    Stephen, starting up and walking about again. "What is outward
    faithfulness? Would they have thanked us for anything so hollow as
    constancy without love?"

    Maggie did not answer immediately. She was undergoing an inward as
    well as an outward contest. At last she said, with a passionate
    assertion of her conviction, as much against herself as against him,--

    "That seems right--at first; but when I look further, I'm sure it is
    _not_ right. Faithfulness and constancy mean something else besides
    doing what is easiest and pleasantest to ourselves. They mean
    renouncing whatever is opposed to the reliance others have in
    us,--whatever would cause misery to those whom the course of our lives
    has made dependent on us. If we--if I had been better, nobler, those
    claims would have been so strongly present with me,--I should have
    felt them pressing on my heart so continually, just as they do now in
    the moments when my conscience is awake,--that the opposite feeling
    would never have grown in me, as it has done; it would have been
    quenched at once, I should have prayed for help so earnestly, I should
    have rushed away as we rush from hideous danger. I feel no excuse for
    myself, none. I should never have failed toward Lucy and Philip as I
    have done, if I had not been weak, selfish, and hard,--able to think
    of their pain without a pain to myself that would have destroyed all
    temptation. Oh, what is Lucy feeling now? She believed in me--she
    loved me--she was so good to me. Think of her----"

    Maggie's voice was getting choked as she uttered these last words.

    "I _can't_ think of her," said Stephen, stamping as if with pain. "I
    can think of nothing but you, Maggie. You demand of a man what is
    impossible. I felt that once; but I can't go back to it now. And where
    is the use of _your_ thinking of it, except to torture me? You can't
    save them from pain now; you can only tear yourself from me, and make
    my life worthless to me. And even if we could go back, and both fulfil
    our engagements,--if that were possible now,--it would be hateful,
    horrible, to think of your ever being Philip's wife,--of your ever
    being the wife of a man you didn't love. We have both been rescued
    from a mistake."

    A deep flush came over Maggie's face, and she couldn't speak. Stephen
    saw this. He sat down again, taking her hand in his, and looking at
    her with passionate entreaty.

    "Maggie! Dearest! If you love me, you are mine. Who can have so great
    a claim on you as I have? My life is bound up in your love. There is
    nothing in the past that can annul our right to each other; it is the
    first time we have either of us loved with our whole heart and soul."

    Maggie was still silent for a little while, looking down. Stephen was
    in a flutter of new hope; he was going to triumph. But she raised her
    eyes and met his with a glance that was filled with the anguish of
    regret, not with yielding.

    "No, not with my whole heart and soul, Stephen," she said with timid
    resolution. "I have never consented to it with my whole mind. There
    are memories, and affections, and longings after perfect goodness,
    that have such a strong hold on me; they would never quit me for long;
    they would come back and be pain to me--repentance. I couldn't live in
    peace if I put the shadow of a wilful sin between myself and God. I
    have caused sorrow already--I know--I feel it; but I have never
    deliberately consented to it; I have never said, 'They shall suffer,
    that I may have joy.' It has never been my will to marry you; if you
    were to win consent from the momentary triumph of my feeling for you,
    you would not have my whole soul. If I could wake back again into the
    time before yesterday, I would choose to be true to my calmer
    affections, and live without the joy of love."

    Stephen loosed her hand, and rising impatiently, walked up and down
    the room in suppressed rage.

    "Good God!" he burst out at last, "what a miserable thing a woman's
    love is to a man's! I could commit crimes for you,--and you can
    balance and choose in that way. But you _don't_ love me; if you had a
    tithe of the feeling for me that I have for you, it would be
    impossible to you to think for a moment of sacrificing me. But it
    weighs nothing with you that you are robbing me of _my_ life's

    Maggie pressed her fingers together almost convulsively as she held
    them clasped on her lap. A great terror was upon her, as if she were
    ever and anon seeing where she stood by great flashes of lightning,
    and then again stretched forth her hands in the darkness.

    "No, I don't sacrifice you--I couldn't sacrifice you," she said, as
    soon as she could speak again; "but I can't believe in a good for you,
    that I feel, that we both feel, is a wrong toward others. We can't
    choose happiness either for ourselves or for another; we can't tell
    where that will lie. We can only choose whether we will indulge
    ourselves in the present moment, or whether we will renounce that, for
    the sake of obeying the divine voice within us,--for the sake of being
    true to all the motives that sanctify our lives. I know this belief is
    hard; it has slipped away from me again and again; but I have felt
    that if I let it go forever, I should have no light through the
    darkness of this life."

    "But, Maggie," said Stephen, seating himself by her again, "is it
    possible you don't see that what happened yesterday has altered the
    whole position of things? What infatuation is it, what obstinate
    prepossession, that blinds you to that? It is too late to say what we
    might have done or what we ought to have done. Admitting the very
    worst view of what has been done, it is a fact we must act on now; our
    position is altered; the right course is no longer what it was before.
    We must accept our own actions and start afresh from them. Suppose we
    had been married yesterday? It is nearly the same thing. The effect on
    others would not have been different. It would only have made this
    difference to ourselves," Stephen added bitterly, "that you might have
    acknowledged then that your tie to me was stronger than to others."

    Again a deep flush came over Maggie's face, and she was silent.
    Stephen thought again that he was beginning to prevail,--he had never
    yet believed that he should _not_ prevail; there are possibilities
    which our minds shrink from too completely for us to fear them.

    "Dearest," he said, in his deepest, tenderest tone, leaning toward
    her, and putting his arm round her, "you _are_ mine now,--the world
    believes it; duty must spring out of that now.

    "In a few hours you will be legally mine, and those who had claims on
    us will submit,--they will see that there was a force which declared
    against their claims."

    Maggie's eyes opened wide in one terrified look at the face that was
    close to hers, and she started up, pale again.

    "Oh, I can't do it," she said, in a voice almost of agony; "Stephen,
    don't ask me--don't urge me. I can't argue any longer,--I don't know
    what is wise; but my heart will not let me do it. I see,--I feel their
    trouble now; it is as if it were branded on my mind. _I_ have
    suffered, and had no one to pity me; and now I have made others
    suffer. It would never leave me; it would embitter your love to me. I
    _do_ care for Philip--in a different way; I remember all we said to
    each other; I know how he thought of me as the one promise of his
    life. He was given to me that I might make his lot less hard; and I
    have forsaken him. And Lucy--she has been deceived; she who trusted me
    more than any one. I cannot marry you; I cannot take a good for myself
    that has been wrung out of their misery. It is not the force that
    ought to rule us,--this that we feel for each other; it would rend me
    away from all that my past life has made dear and holy to me. I can't
    set out on a fresh life, and forget that; I must go back to it, and
    cling to it, else I shall feel as if there were nothing firm beneath
    my feet."

    "Good God, Maggie!" said Stephen, rising too and grasping her arm,
    "you rave. How can you go back without marrying me? You don't know
    what will be said, dearest. You see nothing as it really is."

    "Yes, I do. But they will believe me. I will confess everything. Lucy
    will believe me--she will forgive you, and--and--oh, _some_ good will
    come by clinging to the right. Dear, dear Stephen, let me go!--don't
    drag me into deeper remorse. My whole soul has never consented; it
    does not consent now."

    Stephen let go her arm, and sank back on his chair, half-stunned by
    despairing rage. He was silent a few moments, not looking at her;
    while her eyes were turned toward him yearningly, in alarm at this
    sudden change. At last he said, still without looking at her,--

    "Go, then,--leave me; don't torture me any longer,--I can't bear it."

    Involuntarily she leaned toward him and put out her hand to touch his.
    But he shrank from it as if it had been burning iron, and said

    "Leave me."

    Maggie was not conscious of a decision as she turned away from that
    gloomy averted face, and walked out of the room; it was like an
    automatic action that fulfils a forgotten intention. What came after?
    A sense of stairs descended as if in a dream, of flagstones, of a
    chaise and horses standing, then a street, and a turning into another
    street where a stage-coach was standing, taking in passengers, and the
    darting thought that that coach would take her away, perhaps toward
    home. But she could ask nothing yet; she only got into the coach.

    Home--where her mother and brother were, Philip, Lucy, the scene of
    her very cares and trials--was the haven toward which her mind tended;
    the sanctuary where sacred relics lay, where she would be rescued from
    more falling. The thought of Stephen was like a horrible throbbing
    pain, which yet, as such pains do, seemed to urge all other thoughts
    into activity. But among her thoughts, what others would say and think
    of her conduct was hardly present. Love and deep pity and remorseful
    anguish left no room for that.

    The coach was taking her to York, farther away from home; but she did
    not learn that until she was set down in the old city at midnight. It
    was no matter; she could sleep there, and start home the next day. She
    had her purse in her pocket, with all her money in it,--a bank-note
    and a sovereign; she had kept it in her pocket from forgetfulness,
    after going out to make purchases the day before yesterday.

    Did she lie down in the gloomy bedroom of the old inn that night with
    her will bent unwaveringly on the path of penitent sacrifice? The
    great struggles of life are not so easy as that; the great problems of
    life are not so clear. In the darkness of that night she saw Stephen's
    face turned toward her in passionate, reproachful misery; she lived
    through again all the tremulous delights of his presence with her that
    made existence an easy floating in a stream of joy, instead of a quiet
    resolved endurance and effort. The love she had renounced came back
    upon her with a cruel charm; she felt herself opening her arms to
    receive it once more; and then it seemed to slip away and fade and
    vanish, leaving only the dying sound of a deep, thrilling voice that
    said, "Gone, forever gone."
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