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    Book 7 - Chapter 2

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    Chapter 55
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    St. Ogg's Passes Judgment

    It was soon known throughout St. Ogg's that Miss Tulliver was come
    back; she had not, then, eloped in order to be married to Mr. Stephen
    Guest,--at all events, Mr. Stephen Guest had not married her; which
    came to the same thing, so far as her culpability was concerned. We
    judge others according to results; how else?--not knowing the process
    by which results are arrived at. If Miss Tulliver, after a few months
    of well-chosen travel, had returned as Mrs. Stephen Guest, with a
    post-marital _trousseau_, and all the advantages possessed even by the
    most unwelcome wife of an only son, public opinion, which at St.
    Ogg's, as else where, always knew what to think, would have judged in
    strict consistency with those results. Public opinion, in these cases,
    is always of the feminine gender,--not the world, but the world's
    wife; and she would have seen that two handsome young people--the
    gentleman of quite the first family in St. Ogg's--having found
    themselves in a false position, had been led into a course which, to
    say the least of it, was highly injudicious, and productive of sad
    pain and disappointment, especially to that sweet young thing, Miss
    Deane. Mr. Stephen Guest had certainly not behaved well; but then,
    young men were liable to those sudden infatuated attachments; and bad
    as it might seem in Mrs. Stephen Guest to admit the faintest advances
    from her cousin's lover (indeed it _had_ been said that she was
    actually engaged to young Wakem,--old Wakem himself had mentioned it),
    still, she was very young,--"and a deformed young man, you know!--and
    young Guest so very fascinating; and, they say, he positively worships
    her (to be sure, that can't last!), and he ran away with her in the
    boat quite against her will, and what could she do? She couldn't come
    back then; no one would have spoken to her; and how very well that
    maize-colored satinette becomes her complexion! It seems as if the
    folds in front were quite come in; several of her dresses are made
    so,--they say he thinks nothing too handsome to buy for her. Poor Miss
    Deane! She is very pitiable; but then there was no positive
    engagement; and the air at the coast will do her good. After all, if
    young Guest felt no more for her than _that_ it was better for her not
    to marry him. What a wonderful marriage for a girl like Miss
    Tulliver,--quite romantic? Why, young Guest will put up for the
    borough at the next election. Nothing like commerce nowadays! That
    young Wakem nearly went out of his mind; he always _was_ rather queer;
    but he's gone abroad again to be out of the way,--quite the best thing
    for a deformed young man. Miss Unit declares she will never visit Mr.
    and Mrs. Stephen Guest,--such nonsense! pretending to be better than
    other people. Society couldn't be carried on if we inquired into
    private conduct in that way,--and Christianity tells us to think no
    evil,--and my belief is, that Miss Unit had no cards sent her."

    But the results, we know, were not of a kind to warrant this
    extenuation of the past. Maggie had returned without a _trousseau_,
    without a husband,--in that degraded and outcast condition to which
    error is well known to lead; and the world's wife, with that fine
    instinct which is given her for the preservation of Society, saw at
    once that Miss Tulliver's conduct had been of the most aggravated
    kind. Could anything be more detestable? A girl so much indebted to
    her friends--whose mother as well as herself had received so much
    kindness from the Deanes--to lay the design of winning a young man's
    affections away from her own cousin, who had behaved like a sister to
    her! Winning his affections? That was not the phrase for such a girl
    as Miss Tulliver; it would have been more correct to say that she had
    been actuated by mere unwomanly boldness and unbridled passion. There
    was always something questionable about her. That connection with
    young Wakem, which, they said, had been carried on for years, looked
    very ill,--disgusting, in fact! But with a girl of that disposition!
    To the world's wife there had always been something in Miss Tulliver's
    very _physique_ that a refined instinct felt to be prophetic of harm.
    As for poor Mr. Stephen Guest, he was rather pitiable than otherwise;
    a young man of five-and-twenty is not to be too severely judged in
    these cases,--he is really very much at the mercy of a designing, bold
    girl. And it was clear that he had given way in spite of himself: he
    had shaken her off as soon as he could; indeed, their having parted so
    soon looked very black indeed--_for her_. To be sure, he had written a
    letter, laying all the blame on himself, and telling the story in a
    romantic fashion so as to try and make her appear quite innocent; of
    course he would do that! But the refined instinct of the world's wife
    was not to be deceived; providentially!--else what would become of
    Society? Why, her own brother had turned her from his door; he had
    seen enough, you might be sure, before he would do that. A truly
    respectable young man, Mr. Tom Tulliver; quite likely to rise in the
    world! His sister's disgrace was naturally a heavy blow to him. It was
    to be hoped that she would go out of the neighborhood,--to America, or
    anywhere,--so as to purify the air of St. Ogg's from the stain of her
    presence, extremely dangerous to daughters there! No good could happen
    to her; it was only to be hoped she would repent, and that God would
    have mercy on her: He had not the care of society on His hands, as the
    world's wife had.

    It required nearly a fortnight for fine instinct to assure itself of
    these inspirations; indeed, it was a whole week before Stephen's
    letter came, telling his father the facts, and adding that he was gone
    across to Holland,--had drawn upon the agent at Mudport for
    money,--was incapable of any resolution at present.

    Maggie, all this while, was too entirely filled with a more agonizing
    anxiety to spend any thought on the view that was being taken of her
    conduct by the world of St. Ogg's; anxiety about Stephen, Lucy,
    Philip, beat on her poor heart in a hard, driving, ceaseless storm of
    mingled love, remorse, and pity. If she had thought of rejection and
    injustice at all, it would have seemed to her that they had done their
    worst; that she could hardly feel any stroke from them intolerable
    since the words she had heard from her brother's lips. Across all her
    anxiety for the loved and the injured, those words shot again and
    again, like a horrible pang that would have brought misery and dread
    even into a heaven of delights. The idea of ever recovering happiness
    never glimmered in her mind for a moment; it seemed as if every
    sensitive fibre in her were too entirely preoccupied by pain ever to
    vibrate again to another influence. Life stretched before her as one
    act of penitence; and all she craved, as she dwelt on her future lot,
    was something to guarantee her from more falling; her own weakness
    haunted her like a vision of hideous possibilities, that made no peace
    conceivable except such as lay in the sense of a sure refuge.

    But she was not without practical intentions; the love of independence
    was too strong an inheritance and a habit for her not to remember that
    she must get her bread; and when other projects looked vague, she fell
    back on that of returning to her plain sewing, and so getting enough
    to pay for her lodging at Bob's. She meant to persuade her mother to
    return to the Mill by and by, and live with Tom again; and somehow or
    other she would maintain herself at St. Ogg's. Dr. Kenn would perhaps
    help her and advise her. She remembered his parting words at the
    bazaar. She remembered the momentary feeling of reliance that had
    sprung in her when he was talking with her, and she waited with
    yearning expectation for the opportunity of confiding everything to
    him. Her mother called every day at Mr. Deane's to learn how Lucy was;
    the report was always sad,--nothing had yet roused her from the feeble
    passivity which had come on with the first shock. But of Philip, Mrs.
    Tulliver had learned nothing; naturally, no one whom she met would
    speak to her about what related to her daughter. But at last she
    summoned courage to go and see sister Glegg, who of course would know
    everything, and had been even to see Tom at the Mill in Mrs.
    Tulliver's absence, though he had said nothing of what had passed on
    the occasion.

    As soon as her mother was gone, Maggie put on her bonnet. She had
    resolved on walking to the Rectory and asking to see Dr. Kenn; he was
    in deep grief, but the grief of another does not jar upon us in such
    circumstances. It was the first time she had been beyond the door
    since her return; nevertheless her mind was so bent on the purpose of
    her walk, that the unpleasantness of meeting people on the way, and
    being stared at, did not occur to her. But she had no sooner passed
    beyond the narrower streets which she had to thread from Bob's
    dwelling, than she became aware of unusual glances cast at her; and
    this consciousness made her hurry along nervously, afraid to look to
    right or left. Presently, however, she came full on Mrs. and Miss
    Turnbull, old acquaintances of her family; they both looked at her
    strangely, and turned a little aside without speaking. All hard looks
    were pain to Maggie, but her self-reproach was too strong for
    resentment. No wonder they will not speak to me, she thought; they are
    very fond of Lucy. But now she knew that she was about to pass a group
    of gentlemen, who were standing at the door of the billiard-rooms, and
    she could not help seeing young Torry step out a little with his glass
    at his eye, and bow to her with that air of _nonchalance_ which he
    might have bestowed on a friendly barmaid.

    Maggie's pride was too intense for her not to feel that sting, even in
    the midst of her sorrow; and for the first time the thought took
    strong hold of her that she would have other obloquy cast on her
    besides that which was felt to be due to her breach of faith toward
    Lucy. But she was at the Rectory now; there, perhaps, she would find
    something else than retribution. Retribution may come from any voice;
    the hardest, cruelest, most imbruted urchin at the street-corner can
    inflict it; surely help and pity are rarer things, more needful for
    the righteous to bestow.

    She was shown up at once, after being announced, into Dr. Kenn's
    study, where he sat amongst piled-up books, for which he had little
    appetite, leaning his cheek against the head of his youngest child, a
    girl of three. The child was sent away with the servant, and when the
    door was closed, Dr. Kenn said, placing a chair for Maggie,--

    "I was coming to see you, Miss Tulliver; you have anticipated me; I am
    glad you did."

    Maggie looked at him with her childlike directness as she had done at
    the bazaar, and said, "I want to tell you everything." But her eyes
    filled fast with tears as she said it, and all the pent-up excitement
    of her humiliating walk would have its vent before she could say more.

    "Do tell me everything," Dr. Kenn said, with quiet kindness in his
    grave, firm voice. "Think of me as one to whom a long experience has
    been granted, which may enable him to help you."

    In rather broken sentences, and with some effort at first, but soon
    with the greater ease that came from a sense of relief in the
    confidence, Maggie told the brief story of a struggle that must be the
    beginning of a long sorrow. Only the day before, Dr. Kenn had been
    made acquainted with the contents of Stephen's letter, and he had
    believed them at once, without the confirmation of Maggie's statement.
    That involuntary plaint of hers, "_Oh, I must go_," had remained with
    him as the sign that she was undergoing some inward conflict.

    Maggie dwelt the longest on the feeling which had made her come back
    to her mother and brother, which made her cling to all the memories of
    the past. When she had ended, Dr. Kenn was silent for some minutes;
    there was a difficulty on his mind. He rose, and walked up and down
    the hearth with his hands behind him. At last he seated himself again,
    and said, looking at Maggie,--

    "Your prompting to go to your nearest friends,--to remain where all
    the ties of your life have been formed,--is a true prompting, to which
    the Church in its original constitution and discipline responds,
    opening its arms to the penitent, watching over its children to the
    last; never abandoning them until they are hopelessly reprobate. And
    the Church ought to represent the feeling of the community, so that
    every parish should be a family knit together by Christian brotherhood
    under a spiritual father. But the ideas of discipline and Christian
    fraternity are entirely relaxed,--they can hardly be said to exist in
    the public mind; they hardly survive except in the partial,
    contradictory form they have taken in the narrow communities of
    schismatics; and if I were not supported by the firm faith that the
    Church must ultimately recover the full force of that constitution
    which is alone fitted to human needs, I should often lose heart at
    observing the want of fellowship and sense of mutual responsibility
    among my own flock. At present everything seems tending toward the
    relaxation of ties,--toward the substitution of wayward choice for the
    adherence to obligation, which has its roots in the past. Your
    conscience and your heart have given you true light on this point,
    Miss Tulliver; and I have said all this that you may know what my wish
    about you--what my advice to you--would be, if they sprang from my own
    feeling and opinion unmodified by counteracting circumstances."

    Dr. Kenn paused a little while. There was an entire absence of
    effusive benevolence in his manner; there was something almost cold in
    the gravity of his look and voice. If Maggie had not known that his
    benevolence was persevering in proportion to its reserve, she might
    have been chilled and frightened. As it was, she listened expectantly,
    quite sure that there would be some effective help in his words. He
    went on.

    "Your inexperience of the world, Miss Tulliver, prevents you from
    anticipating fully the very unjust conceptions that will probably be
    formed concerning your conduct,--conceptions which will have a baneful
    effect, even in spite of known evidence to disprove them."

    "Oh, I do,--I begin to see," said Maggie, unable to repress this
    utterance of her recent pain. "I know I shall be insulted. I shall be
    thought worse than I am."

    "You perhaps do not yet know," said Dr. Kenn, with a touch of more
    personal pity, "that a letter is come which ought to satisfy every one
    who has known anything of you, that you chose the steep and difficult
    path of a return to the right, at the moment when that return was most
    of all difficult."

    "Oh, where is he?" said poor Maggie, with a flush and tremor that no
    presence could have hindered.

    "He is gone abroad; he has written of all that passed to his father.
    He has vindicated you to the utmost; and I hope the communication of
    that letter to your cousin will have a beneficial effect on her."

    Dr. Kenn waited for her to get calm again before he went on.

    "That letter, as I said, ought to suffice to prevent false impressions
    concerning you. But I am bound to tell you, Miss Tulliver, that not
    only the experience of my whole life, but my observation within the
    last three days, makes me fear that there is hardly any evidence which
    will save you from the painful effect of false imputations. The
    persons who are the most incapable of a conscientious struggle such as
    yours are precisely those who will be likely to shrink from you,
    because they will not believe in your struggle. I fear your life here
    will be attended not only with much pain, but with many obstructions.
    For this reason--and for this only--I ask you to consider whether it
    will not perhaps be better for you to take a situation at a distance,
    according to your former intention. I will exert myself at once to
    obtain one for you."

    "Oh, if I could but stop here!" said Maggie. "I have no heart to begin
    a strange life again. I should have no stay. I should feel like a
    lonely wanderer, cut off from the past. I have written to the lady who
    offered me a situation to excuse myself. If I remained here, I could
    perhaps atone in some way to Lucy--to others; I could convince them
    that I'm sorry. And," she added, with some of the old proud fire
    flashing out, "I will not go away because people say false things of
    me. They shall learn to retract them. If I must go away at last,
    because--because others wish it, I will not go now."

    "Well," said Dr. Kenn, after some consideration, "if you determine on
    that, Miss Tulliver, you may rely on all the influence my position
    gives me. I am bound to aid and countenance you by the very duties of
    my office as a parish priest. I will add, that personally I have a
    deep interest in your peace of mind and welfare."

    "The only thing I want is some occupation that will enable me to get
    my bread and be independent," said Maggie. "I shall not want much. I
    can go on lodging where I am."

    "I must think over the subject maturely," said Dr. Kenn, "and in a few
    days I shall be better able to ascertain the general feeling. I shall
    come to see you; I shall bear you constantly in mind."

    When Maggie had left him, Dr. Kenn stood ruminating with his hands
    behind him, and his eyes fixed on the carpet, under a painful sense of
    doubt and difficulty. The tone of Stephen's letter, which he had read,
    and the actual relations of all the persons concerned, forced upon him
    powerfully the idea of an ultimate marriage between Stephen and Maggie
    as the least evil; and the impossibility of their proximity in St.
    Ogg's on any other supposition, until after years of separation, threw
    an insurmountable prospective difficulty over Maggie's stay there. On
    the other hand, he entered with all the comprehension of a man who had
    known spiritual conflict, and lived through years of devoted service
    to his fellow-men, into that state of Maggie's heart and conscience
    which made the consent to the marriage a desecration to her; her
    conscience must not be tampered with; the principle on which she had
    acted was a safer guide than any balancing of consequences. His
    experience told him that intervention was too dubious a responsibility
    to be lightly incurred; the possible issue either of an endeavor to
    restore the former relations with Lucy and Philip, or of counselling
    submission to this irruption of a new feeling, was hidden in a
    darkness all the more impenetrable because each immediate step was
    clogged with evil.

    The great problem of the shifting relation between passion and duty is
    clear to no man who is capable of apprehending it; the question
    whether the moment has come in which a man has fallen below the
    possibility of a renunciation that will carry any efficacy, and must
    accept the sway of a passion against which he had struggled as a
    trespass, is one for which we have no master-key that will fit all
    cases. The casuists have become a byword of reproach; but their
    perverted spirit of minute discrimination was the shadow of a truth to
    which eyes and hearts are too often fatally sealed,--the truth, that
    moral judgments must remain false and hollow, unless they are checked
    and enlightened by a perpetual reference to the special circumstances
    that mark the individual lot.

    All people of broad, strong sense have an instinctive repugnance to
    the men of maxims; because such people early discern that the
    mysterious complexity of our life is not to be embraced by maxims, and
    that to lace ourselves up in formulas of that sort is to repress all
    the divine promptings and inspirations that spring from growing
    insight and sympathy. And the man of maxims is the popular
    representative of the minds that are guided in their moral judgment
    solely by general rules, thinking that these will lead them to justice
    by a ready-made patent method, without the trouble of exerting
    patience, discrimination, impartiality,--without any care to assure
    themselves whether they have the insight that comes from a hardly
    earned estimate of temptation, or from a life vivid and intense enough
    to have created a wide fellow-feeling with all that is human.
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