Charity in Full Dress

THE culmination of Maggie's career as an admired member of society in St Ogg's was certainly the day of the Bazaar, when her simple noble beauty, clad in a white muslin of some soft-floating kind, which I suspect must have come from the stores of aunt Pullet's wardrobe, appeared with marked distinction among the more adorned and conventional women around her. We perhaps never detect how much of our social demeanour is made up of artificial airs, until we see a person who is at once beautiful and simple: without the beauty we are apt to call simplicity awkwardness. The Miss Guests were much too well-bred to have any of the grimaces and affected tones that belong to pretentious vulgarity; but their stall being next to the one where Maggie sat, it seemed newly obvious today that Miss Guest held her chin too high, and that Miss Laura spoke and moved continually with a view to effect. All well-drest St Ogg's and its neighbourhood were there, and it would have been worth while to come even from a distance to see the fine old Hall, with its open roof and carved oaken rafters and great oaken folding-doors, and light shed down from a height on the many-coloured show beneath - a very quaint place with broad faded stripes painted on the walls and here and there a show of heraldic animals of a bristly, long-snouted character, the cherished emblems of a noble family once the seigniors of this now civic hall. A grand arch, cut in the upper wall at one end, surmounted an oaken orchestra with an open room behind it, where hothouse plants and stalls for refreshments were disposed - a very agreeable resort for gentlemen disposed to loiter and yet to exchange the occasional crush down below for a more commodious point of view. In fact, the perfect fitness of this ancient building for an admirable modern purpose that made charity truly elegant, and led through vanity up to the supply of a deficit, was so striking that hardly a person entered the room without exchanging the remark more than once. Near the great arch over the orchestra was the stone oriel with painted glass which was one of the venerable inconsistencies of the old Hall; and it was close by this that Lucy had her stall for the convenience of certain large plain articles which she had taken charge of for Mrs Kenn. Maggie had begged to sit at the open end of the stall to have the sale of these articles rather than of bead mats and other elaborate products of which she had but a dim understanding. But it soon appeared that the gentlemen's dressing-gowns, which were among her commodities, were objects of such general attention and inquiry and excited so troublesome a curiosity as to their lining and comparative merits together with a determination to test them by trying on, as to make her post a very conspicuous one. The ladies who had commodities of their own to sell, and did not want dressing-gowns, saw at once the frivolity and bad taste of this masculine preference for goods which any tailor could furnish; and it is possible that the emphatic notice of various kinds which was drawn towards Miss Tulliver on this public occasion threw a very strong and unmistakable light on her subsequent conduct in many minds then present. Not that anger on account of spurned beauty can dwell in the celestial breasts of charitable ladies, but rather, that the errors of persons who have once been much admired necessarily take a deeper tinge from the mere force of contrast, and also, that today Maggie's conspicuous position for the first time made evident certain characteristics which were subsequently felt to have an explanatory bearing. There was something rather bold in Miss Tulliver's direct gaze, and something undefinably coarse in the style of her beauty, which placed her, in the opinion of all feminine judges, far below her cousin Miss Deane; for the ladies of St Ogg's had now completely ceded to Lucy their hypothetic claims on the admiration of Mr Stephen Guest.

As for dear little Lucy herself, her late benevolent triumph about the Mill, and all the affectionate projects she was cherishing for Maggie and Philip, helped to give her the highest spirits today, and she felt nothing but pleasure in the evidence of Maggie's attractiveness. It is true, she was looking very charming herself, and Stephen was paying her the utmost attention on this public occasion - jealously buying up the articles he had seen under her fingers in the process of making, and gaily helping her to cajole the male customers into the purchase of the most effeminate futilities. He chose to lay aside his hat and wear a scarlet Fez of her embroidering, but by superficial observers this was necessarily liable to be interpreted less as a compliment to Lucy than as a mark of coxcombry. `Guest is a great coxcomb,' young Torry observed, `but then he is a privileged person in St Ogg's - he carries all before him: if another fellow did such things, everybody would say he made a fool of himself.' (Young Torry had red hair.)

And Stephen purchased absolutely nothing from Maggie, until Lucy said, in rather a vexed undertone,

  By PanEris using Melati.

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