The Mill on the Floss By George Eliot Book 5: Wheat and Tares: Chapter 1 - In the Red Deeps

She stood still when they were in the hollows, and looking at Philip again, she said in a serious, sad voice:

"I wish we could have been friends, — I mean, if it would have been good and right for us. But that is the trial I have to bear in everything; I may not keep anything I used to love when I was little. The old books went; and Tom is different, and my father. It is like death. I must part with everything I cared for when I was a child. And I must part with you; we must never take any notice of each other again. That was what I wanted to speak to you for. I wanted to let you know that Tom and I can't do as we like about such things, and that if I behave as if I had forgotten all about you, it is not out of envy or pride — or — or any bad feeling."

Maggie spoke with more and more sorrowful gentleness as she went on, and her eyes began to fill with tears. The deepening expression of pain on Philip's face gave him a stronger resemblance to his boyish self, and made the deformity appeal more strongly to her pity.

"I know; I see all that you mean," he said, in a voice that had become feebler from discouragement; "I know what there is to keep us apart on both sides. But it is not right, Maggie, — don't you be angry with me, I am so used to call you Maggie in my thoughts, — it is not right to sacrifice everything to other people's unreasonable feelings. I would give up a great deal for my father; but I would not give up a friendship or — or an attachment of any sort, in obedience to any wish of his that I didn't recognize as right."

"I don't know," said Maggie, musingly. "Often, when I have been angry and discontented, it has seemed to me that I was not bound to give up anything; and I have gone on thinking till it has seemed to me that I could think away all my duty. But no good has ever come of that; it was an evil state of mind. I'm quite sure that whatever I might do, I should wish in the end that I had gone without anything for myself, rather than have made my father's life harder to him."

"But would it make his life harder if we were to see each other sometimes?" said Philip. He was going to say something else, but checked himself.

"Oh, I'm sure he wouldn't like it. Don't ask me why, or anything about it," said Maggie, in a distressed tone. "My father feels so strongly about some things. He is not at all happy."

"No more am I," said Philip, impetuously; "I am not happy."

"Why?" said Maggie, gently. "At least — I ought not to ask — but I'm very, very sorry."

Philip turned to walk on, as if he had not patience to stand still any longer, and they went out of the hollow, winding amongst the trees and bushes in silence. After that last word of Philip's, Maggie could not bear to insist immediately on their parting.

"I've been a great deal happier," she said at last, timidly, "since I have given up thinking about what is easy and pleasant, and being discontented because I couldn't have my own will. Our life is determined for us; and it makes the mind very free when we give up wishing, and only think of bearing what is laid upon us, and doing what is given us to do."

"But I can't give up wishing," said Philip, impatiently. "It seems to me we can never give up longing and wishing while we are thoroughly alive. There are certain things we feel to be beautiful and good, and we must hunger after them. How can we ever be satisfied without them until our feelings are deadened? I delight in fine pictures; I long to be able to paint such. I strive and strive, and can't produce what I want. That is pain to me, and always will be pain, until my faculties lose their keenness, like aged eyes. Then there are many other things I long for," — here Philip hesitated a little, and then said, — "things that other men have, and that will always be denied me. My life will have nothing great or beautiful in it; I would rather not have lived."

"Oh, Philip," said Maggie, "I wish you didn't feel so." But her heart began to beat with something of Philip's discontent.

"Well, then," said he, turning quickly round and fixing his gray eyes entreatingly on her face, "I should be contented to live, if you would let me see you sometimes." Then, checked by a fear which her face suggested, he looked away again and said more calmly, "I have no friend to whom I can tell everything, no one who cares enough about me; and if I could only see you now and then, and you would let me talk to you a little, and show me that you cared for me, and that we may always be friends in heart, and help each other, then I might come to be glad of life."

"But how can I see you, Philip?" said Maggie, falteringly. (Could she really do him good? It would be very hard to say "good-by" this day, and not speak to him again. Here was a new interest to vary the days; it was so much easier to renounce the interest before it came.)

"If you would let me see you here sometimes, — walk with you here, — I would be contented if it were only once or twice in a month. That could injure no one's happiness, and it would sweeten my life. Besides," Philip went on, with all the inventive astuteness of love at one-and-twenty, "if there is any enmity between those who belong to us, we ought all the more to try and quench it by our friendship; I mean, that by our influence on both sides we might bring about a healing of the wounds that have been made in the past, if I could know everything about them. And I don't believe there is any enmity in my own father's mind; I think he has proved the contrary."

Maggie shook her head slowly, and was silent, under conflicting thoughts. It seemed to her inclination, that to see Philip now and then, and keep up the bond of friendship with him, was something not only innocent, but good; perhaps she might really help him to find contentment as she had found it. The voice that said this made sweet music to Maggie; but athwart it there came an urgent, monotonous warning from another voice which she had been learning to obey, — the warning that such interviews implied secrecy; implied doing something she would dread to be discovered in, something that, if discovered, must cause anger and pain; and that the admission of anything so near doubleness would act as a spiritual blight. Yet the music would swell out again, like chimes borne onward by a recurrent breeze, persuading her that the wrong lay all in the faults and weaknesses of others, and that there was such a thing as futile sacrifice for one to the injury of another. It was very cruel for Philip that he should be shrunk from, because of an unjustifiable vindictiveness toward his father, — poor Philip, whom some people would shrink from only because he was deformed. The idea that he might become her lover or that her meeting him could cause disapproval in that light, had not occurred to her; and Philip saw the absence of this idea clearly enough, saw it with a certain pang, although it made her consent to his request the less unlikely. There was bitterness to him in the perception that Maggie was almost as frank and unconstrained toward him as when she was a child.

"I can't say either yes or no," she said at last, turning round and walking toward the way she come; "I must wait, lest I should decide wrongly. I must seek for guidance."

"May I come again, then, to-morrow, or the next day, or next week?"

"I think I had better write," said Maggie, faltering again. "I have to go to St. Ogg's sometimes, and I can put the letter in the post."

"Oh no," said Philip eagerly; "that would not be so well. My father might see the letter — and — he has not any enmity, I believe, but he views things differently from me; he thinks a great deal about wealth and position. Pray let me come here once more. Tell me when it shall be; or if you can't tell me, I will come as often as I can till I do see you."

"I think it must be so, then," said Maggie, "for I can't be quite certain of coming here any particular evening."

Maggie felt a great relief in adjourning the decision. She was free now to enjoy the minutes of companionship; she almost thought she might linger a little; the next time they met she should have to pain Philip by telling him her determination.

"I can't help thinking," she said, looking smilingly at him, after a few moments of silence, "how strange it is that we should have met and talked to each other, just as if it had been only yesterday when we parted at Lorton. And yet we must both be very much altered in those five years, — I think it is five years. How was it you seemed to have a sort of feeling that I was the same Maggie? I was not quite so sure that you would be the same; I know you are so clever, and you must have seen and learnt so much to fill your mind; I was not quite sure you would care about me now."

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