The Wavering Balance

I SAID that Maggie went home that evening from the Red Deeps with a mental conflict already begun. You have seen clearly enough in her interview with Philip, what that conflict was. Here suddenly was an opening in the rocky wall which shut in the narrow Valley of Humiliation, where all her prospect was the remote unfathomed sky; and some of the memory-haunting earthly delights were no longer out of her reach. She might have books, converse, affection - she might hear tidings of the world from which her mind had not yet lost its sense of exile; and it would be a kindness to Philip too, who was pitiable - clearly not happy; and perhaps here was an opportunity indicated for making her mind more worthy of its highest service - perhaps the noblest, completest devoutness could hardly exist without some width of knowledge: must she always live in this resigned imprisonment? It was so blameless, so good a thing that there should be friendship between her and Philip; the motives that forbade it were so unreasonable - so unchristian! - But the severe monotonous warning came again and again - that she was losing the simplicity and clearness of her life by admitting a ground of concealment, and that by forsaking the simple rule of renunciation, she was throwing herself under the seductive guidance of illimitable wants. She thought she had won strength to obey the warning before she allowed herself the next week to turn her steps in the evening to the Red Deeps. But while she was resolved to say an affectionate farewell to Philip, how she looked forward to that evening walk in the still, fleckered shade of the hollows, away from all that was harsh and unlovely; to the affectionate admiring looks that would meet her; to the sense of comradeship that childish memories would give to wiser, older talk; to the certainty that Philip would care to hear everything she said, which no one else cared for! It was a half hour that it would be very hard to turn her back upon, with the sense that there would be no other like it. Yet she said what she meant to say: she looked firm as well as sad. `Philip, I have made up my mind - it is right that we should give each other up, in everything but memory. I could not see you without concealment - say, I know what you are going to say - it is another people's wrong feelings that make concealment necessary - but concealment is bad, however it may be caused: I feel that it would be bad for me, for us both. And then, if our secret were discovered, there would be nothing but misery - dreadful anger - and then we must part after all, and it would be harder, when we were used to seeing each other.'

Philip's face had flushed and there was a momentary eagerness of expression as if he had been about to resist this decision with all his might. But he controlled himself, and said with assumed calmness, `Well, Maggie, if we must part, let us try and forget it for one half hour - let us talk together a little while - for the last time.'

He took her hand, and Maggie felt no reason to withdraw it: his quietness made her all the more sure she had given him great pain, and she wanted to show him how unwillingly she had given it. They walked together hand in hand in silence.

`Let us sit down in this hollow,' said Philip, `where we stood the last time. See how the dog-roses have strewed the ground, and spread their opal petals over it!'

They sat down at the roots of the slanting ash.

`I've begun my picture of you among the Scotch firs, Maggie,' said Philip, `so you must let me study your face a little, while you stay - since I am not to see it again. Please, turn your head this way.'

This was said in an entreating voice, and it would have been very hard of Maggie to refuse. The full lustrous face with the bright black coronet, looked down like that of a divinity well pleased to be worshipped on the pale-hued, small-featured face that was turned up to it.

`I shall be sitting for my second portrait, then,' she said, smiling. `Will it be larger that the other?'

`O yes, much larger. It is an oil-painting. You will look like at tall Hamadryad, dark and strong and noble, just issued from one of the fir-trees, when the stems are casting their afternoon shadows on the grass.'

`You seem to think more of painting that of anything now, Philip?'

  By PanEris using Melati.

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