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    Book 7 - Chapter 4

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    Chapter 57
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    Maggie and Lucy

    By the end of the week Dr. Kenn had made up his mind that there was
    only one way in which he could secure to Maggie a suitable living at
    St. Ogg's. Even with his twenty years' experience as a parish priest,
    he was aghast at the obstinate continuance of imputations against her
    in the face of evidence. Hitherto he had been rather more adored and
    appealed to than was quite agreeable to him; but now, in attempting to
    open the ears of women to reason, and their consciences to justice, on
    behalf of Maggie Tulliver, he suddenly found himself as powerless as
    he was aware he would have been if he had attempted to influence the
    shape of bonnets. Dr. Kenn could not be contradicted; he was listened
    to in silence; but when he left the room, a comparison of opinions
    among his hearers yielded much the same result as before. Miss
    Tulliver had undeniably acted in a blamable manner, even Dr. Kenn did
    not deny that; how, then, could he think so lightly of her as to put
    that favorable interpretation on everything she had done? Even on the
    supposition that required the utmost stretch of belief,--namely, that
    none of the things said about Miss Tulliver were true,--still, since
    they _had_ been said about her, they had cast an odor round her which
    must cause her to be shrunk from by every woman who had to take care
    of her own reputation--and of Society. To have taken Maggie by the
    hand and said, "I will not believe unproved evil of you; my lips shall
    not utter it; my ears shall be closed against it; I, too, am an erring
    mortal, liable to stumble, apt to come short of my most earnest
    efforts; your lot has been harder than mine, your temptation greater;
    let us help each other to stand and walk without more falling,"--to
    have done this would have demanded courage, deep pity, self-knowledge,
    generous trust; would have demanded a mind that tasted no piquancy in
    evil-speaking, that felt no self-exaltation in condemning, that
    cheated itself with no large words into the belief that life can have
    any moral end, any high religion, which excludes the striving after
    perfect truth, justice, and love toward the individual men and women
    who come across our own path. The ladies of St. Ogg's were not
    beguiled by any wide speculative conceptions; but they had their
    favorite abstraction, called Society, which served to make their
    consciences perfectly easy in doing what satisfied their own
    egoism,--thinking and speaking the worst of Maggie Tulliver, and
    turning their backs upon her. It was naturally disappointing to Dr.
    Kenn, after two years of superfluous incense from his feminine
    parishioners, to find them suddenly maintaining their views in
    opposition to his; but then they maintained them in opposition to a
    higher Authority, which they had venerated longer. That Authority had
    furnished a very explicit answer to persons who might inquire where
    their social duties began, and might be inclined to take wide views as
    to the starting-point. The answer had not turned on the ultimate good
    of Society, but on "a certain man" who was found in trouble by the
    wayside.

    Not that St. Ogg's was empty of women with some tenderness of heart
    and conscience; probably it had as fair a proportion of human goodness
    in it as any other small trading town of that day. But until every
    good man is brave, we must expect to find many good women timid,--too
    timid even to believe in the correctness of their own best promptings,
    when these would place them in a minority. And the men at St. Ogg's
    were not all brave, by any means; some of them were even fond of
    scandal, and to an extent that might have given their conversation an
    effeminate character, if it had not been distinguished by masculine
    jokes, and by an occasional shrug of the shoulders at the mutual
    hatred of women. It was the general feeling of the masculine mind at
    St. Ogg's that women were not to be interfered with in their treatment
    of each other.

    And thus every direction in which Dr. Kenn had turned, in the hope of
    procuring some kind recognition and some employment for Maggie, proved
    a disappointment to him. Mrs. James Torry could not think of taking
    Maggie as a nursery governess, even temporarily,--a young woman about
    whom "such things had been said," and about whom "gentlemen joked";
    and Miss Kirke, who had a spinal complaint, and wanted a reader and
    companion, felt quite sure that Maggie's mind must be of a quality
    with which she, for her part, could not risk _any_ contact. Why did
    not Miss Tulliver accept the shelter offered her by her aunt Glegg? It
    did not become a girl like her to refuse it. Or else, why did she not
    go out of the neighborhood, and get a situation where she was not
    known? (It was not, apparently, of so much importance that she should
    carry her dangerous tendencies into strange families unknown at St.
    Ogg's.) She must be very bold and hardened to wish to stay in a parish
    where she was so much stared at and whispered about.

    Dr. Kenn, having great natural firmness, began, in the presence of
    this opposition, as every firm man would have done, to contract a
    certain strength of determination over and above what would have been
    called forth by the end in view. He himself wanted a daily governess
    for his younger children; and though he had hesitated in the first
    instance to offer this position to Maggie, the resolution to protest
    with the utmost force of his personal and priestly character against
    her being crushed and driven away by slander, was now decisive. Maggie
    gratefully accepted an employment that gave her duties as well as a
    support; her days would be filled now, and solitary evenings would be
    a welcome rest. She no longer needed the sacrifice her mother made in
    staying with her, and Mrs. Tulliver was persuaded to go back to the
    Mill.

    But now it began to be discovered that Dr. Kenn, exemplary as he had
    hitherto appeared, had his crotchets, possibly his weaknesses. The
    masculine mind of St. Ogg's smiled pleasantly, and did not wonder that
    Kenn liked to see a fine pair of eyes daily, or that he was inclined
    to take so lenient a view of the past; the feminine mind, regarded at
    that period as less powerful, took a more melancholy view of the case.
    If Dr. Kenn should be beguiled into marrying that Miss Tulliver! It
    was not safe to be too confident, even about the best of men; an
    apostle had fallen, and wept bitterly afterwards; and though Peter's
    denial was not a close precedent, his repentance was likely to be.

    Maggie had not taken her daily walks to the Rectory for many weeks,
    before the dreadful possibility of her some time or other becoming the
    Rector's wife had been talked of so often in confidence, that ladies
    were beginning to discuss how they should behave to her in that
    position. For Dr. Kenn, it had been understood, had sat in the
    schoolroom half an hour one morning, when Miss Tulliver was giving her
    lessons,--nay, he had sat there every morning; he had once walked home
    with her,--he almost _always_ walked home with her,--and if not, he
    went to see her in the evening. What an artful creature she was! What
    a _mother_ for those children! It was enough to make poor Mrs. Kenn
    turn in her grave, that they should be put under the care of this girl
    only a few weeks after her death. Would he be so lost to propriety as
    to marry her before the year was out? The masculine mind was
    sarcastic, and thought _not_.

    The Miss Guests saw an alleviation to the sorrow of witnessing a folly
    in their Rector; at least their brother would be safe; and their
    knowledge of Stephen's tenacity was a constant ground of alarm to
    them, lest he should come back and marry Maggie. They were not among
    those who disbelieved their brother's letter; but they had no
    confidence in Maggie's adherence to her renunciation of him; they
    suspected that she had shrunk rather from the elopement than from the
    marriage, and that she lingered in St. Ogg's, relying on his return to
    her. They had always thought her disagreeable; they now thought her
    artful and proud; having quite as good grounds for that judgment as
    you and I probably have for many strong opinions of the same kind.
    Formerly they had not altogether delighted in the contemplated match
    with Lucy, but now their dread of a marriage between Stephen and
    Maggie added its momentum to their genuine pity and indignation on
    behalf of the gentle forsaken girl, in making them desire that he
    should return to her. As soon as Lucy was able to leave home, she was
    to seek relief from the oppressive heat of this August by going to the
    coast with the Miss Guests; and it was in their plans that Stephen
    should be induced to join them. On the very first hint of gossip
    concerning Maggie and Dr. Kenn, the report was conveyed in Miss
    Guest's letter to her brother.

    Maggie had frequent tidings through her mother, or aunt Glegg, or Dr.
    Kenn, of Lucy's gradual progress toward recovery, and her thoughts
    tended continually toward her uncle Deane's house; she hungered for an
    interview with Lucy, if it were only for five minutes, to utter a word
    of penitence, to be assured by Lucy's own eyes and lips that she did
    not believe in the willing treachery of those whom she had loved and
    trusted. But she knew that even if her uncle's indignation had not
    closed his house against her, the agitation of such an interview would
    have been forbidden to Lucy. Only to have seen her without speaking
    would have been some relief; for Maggie was haunted by a face cruel in
    its very gentleness; a face that had been turned on hers with glad,
    sweet looks of trust and love from the twilight time of memory;
    changed now to a sad and weary face by a first heart-stroke. And as
    the days passed on, that pale image became more and more distinct; the
    picture grew and grew into more speaking definiteness under the
    avenging hand of remorse; the soft hazel eyes, in their look of pain,
    were bent forever on Maggie, and pierced her the more because she
    could see no anger in them. But Lucy was not yet able to go to church,
    or any place where Maggie could see her; and even the hope of that
    departed, when the news was told her by aunt Glegg, that Lucy was
    really going away in a few days to Scarborough with the Miss Guests,
    who had been heard to say that they expected their brother to meet
    them there.

    Only those who have known what hardest inward conflict is, can know
    what Maggie felt as she sat in her loneliness the evening after
    hearing that news from Mrs. Glegg,--only those who have known what it
    is to dread their own selfish desires as the watching mother would
    dread the sleeping-potion that was to still her own pain.

    She sat without candle in the twilight, with the window wide open
    toward the river; the sense of oppressive heat adding itself
    undistinguishably to the burthen of her lot. Seated on a chair against
    the window, with her arm on the windowsill she was looking blankly at
    the flowing river, swift with the backward-rushing tide, struggling to
    see still the sweet face in its unreproaching sadness, that seemed now
    from moment to moment to sink away and be hidden behind a form that
    thrust itself between, and made darkness. Hearing the door open, she
    thought Mrs. Jakin was coming in with her supper, as usual; and with
    that repugnance to trivial speech which comes with languor and
    wretchedness, she shrank from turning round and saying she wanted
    nothing; good little Mrs. Jakin would be sure to make some well-meant
    remarks. But the next moment, without her having discerned the sound
    of a footstep, she felt a light hand on her shoulder, and heard a
    voice close to her saying, "Maggie!"

    The face was there,--changed, but all the sweeter; the hazel eyes were
    there, with their heart-piercing tenderness.

    "Maggie!" the soft voice said. "Lucy!" answered a voice with a sharp
    ring of anguish in it; and Lucy threw her arms round Maggie's neck,
    and leaned her pale cheek against the burning brow.

    "I stole out," said Lucy, almost in a whisper, while she sat down
    close to Maggie and held her hand, "when papa and the rest were away.
    Alice is come with me. I asked her to help me. But I must only stay a
    little while, because it is so late."

    It was easier to say that at first than to say anything else. They sat
    looking at each other. It seemed as if the interview must end without
    more speech, for speech was very difficult. Each felt that there would
    be something scorching in the words that would recall the
    irretrievable wrong. But soon, as Maggie looked, every distinct
    thought began to be overflowed by a wave of loving penitence, and
    words burst forth with a sob.

    "God bless you for coming, Lucy."

    The sobs came thick on each other after that.

    "Maggie, dear, be comforted," said Lucy now, putting her cheek against
    Maggie's again. "Don't grieve." And she sat still, hoping to soothe
    Maggie with that gentle caress.

    "I didn't mean to deceive you, Lucy," said Maggie, as soon as she
    could speak. "It always made me wretched that I felt what I didn't
    like you to know. It was because I thought it would all be conquered,
    and you might never see anything to wound you."

    "I know, dear," said Lucy. "I know you never meant to make me unhappy.
    It is a trouble that has come on us all; you have more to bear than I
    have--and you gave him up, when--you did what it must have been very
    hard to do."

    They were silent again a little while, sitting with clasped hands, and
    cheeks leaned together.

    "Lucy," Maggie began again, "_he_ struggled too. He wanted to be true
    to you. He will come back to you. Forgive him--he will be happy
    then----"

    These words were wrung forth from Maggie's deepest soul, with an
    effort like the convulsed clutch of a drowning man. Lucy trembled and
    was silent.

    A gentle knock came at the door. It was Alice, the maid, who entered
    and said,--

    "I daren't stay any longer, Miss Deane. They'll find it out, and
    there'll be such anger at your coming out so late."

    Lucy rose and said, "Very well, Alice,--in a minute."

    "I'm to go away on Friday, Maggie," she added, when Alice had closed
    the door again. "When I come back, and am strong, they will let me do
    as I like. I shall come to you when I please then."

    "Lucy," said Maggie, with another great effort, "I pray to God
    continually that I may never be the cause of sorrow to you any more."

    She pressed the little hand that she held between hers, and looked up
    into the face that was bent over hers. Lucy never forgot that look.

    "Maggie," she said, in a low voice, that had the solemnity of
    confession in it, "you are better than I am. I can't----"

    She broke off there, and said no more. But they clasped each other
    again in a last embrace.
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