Confidential Moments

WHEN Maggie went up to her bedroom that night it appeared that she was not all inclined to undress. She set down her candle on the first table that presented itself, and began to walk up and down her room, which was a large one, with a firm, regular and rather rapid step, which showed that the exercise was the instinctive vent of strong excitement. Her eyes and cheeks had an almost feverish brilliancy; her head was thrown backward and her hands were clasped with the palms outward and with that tension of the arms which is apt to accompany mental absorption. Had anything remarkable happened?

Nothing that you are not likely to consider in the highest degree unimportant. She had been hearing some fine music sung by a fine bass voice - but then it was sung in a provincial amateur fashion, such as would have left your critical ear much to desire. And she was conscious of having been looked at a great deal in rather a furtive manner from beneath a pair of well-marked horizontal eyebrows, with a glance that seemed somehow to have caught the vibratory influence of the voice. Such things could have had no perceptible effect on a thoroughly well-educated young lady with a perfectly balanced mind, who had had all the advantages of fortune, training and refined society. But if Maggie had been that young lady, you would probably have known nothing about her; her life would have had so few vicissitudes that it could hardly have been written; for the happiest women, like the happiest nations, have no history.

In poor Maggie's highly strung, hungry nature - just come away from a third rate schoolroom, with all its jarring sounds and petty round of tasks - these apparently trivial causes had the effect of rousing and exalting her imagination in a way that was mysterious to herself. It was not that she thought distinctly of Mr Stephen Guest or dwelt on the indications that he looked at her with admiration; it was rather that she felt the half-remote presence of a world of love and beauty and delight, made up of vague, mingled images from all the poetry and romance she had ever read, or had ever woven in her dreamy reveries. Her mind glanced back once or twice to the time when she had courted privation, when she had thought all longing, all impatience was subdued, but that condition seemed irrecoverably gone, and she recoiled from the remembrance of it. No prayer, no striving now would bring back that negative peace: the battle of her life, it seemed, was not to be decided in that short and easy way - by perfect renunciation at the very threshold of her youth. The music was vibrating in her still - Purcell's music with its wild passion and fancy - and she could not stay in the recollection of that bare lonely past. She was in her brighter aërial world again when a little tap came at the door: of course it was her cousin, who entered in ample white dressing-gown.

`Why, Maggie, you naughty child, haven't you begun to undress?' said Lucy, in astonishment. `I promised not to come and talk to you, because I thought you must be tired. But here you are, looking as if you were ready to dress for a ball. Come, come, get on your dressing-gown and unplait your hair.'

`Well, you are not very forward,' retorted Maggie, hastily reaching her own pink cotton gown, and looking at Lucy's light brown hair brushed back in curly disorder.

`O I have not much to do. I shall sit down and talk to you, till I see you are really on the way to bed.'

While Maggie stood and unplaited her long black hair over her pink drapery, Lucy sat down near the toilette table, watching her with affectionate eyes, and head a little aside, like a pretty spaniel. If it appears to you at all incredible that young ladies should be led on to talk confidentially in a situation of this kind, I will beg you to remember that human life furnishes many exceptional cases.

`You really have enjoyed the music tonight, haven't you, Maggie?'

`O yes, that is what prevents me from feeling sleepy. I think I should have no other mortal wants, if I could always have plenty of music. It seems to infuse strength into my limbs and ideas into my brain. Life seems to go on without effort, when I am filled with music. At other times one is conscious of carrying a weight.'

`And Stephen has a splendid voice, hasn't he?'

  By PanEris using Melati.

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