Book VI: The Great Temptation
A Duet in Paradise
The well-furnished drawing-room, with the open grand piano, and the pleasant outlook down a sloping garden to a boat-house by the side of the Floss, is Mr. Deane's. The neat little lady in mourning, whose light-brown ringlets are falling over the colored embroidery with which her fingers are busy, is of course Lucy Deane; and the fine young man who is leaning down from his chair to snap the scissors in the extremely abbreviated face of the "King Charles" lying on the young lady's feet is no other than Mr. Stephen Guest, whose diamond ring, attar of roses, and air of nonchalant leisure, at twelve o'clock in the day, are the graceful and odoriferous result of the largest oil-mill and the most extensive wharf in St. Ogg's. There is an apparent triviality in the action with the scissors, but your discernment perceives at once that there is a design in it which makes it eminently worthy of a large-headed, long-limbed young man; for you see that Lucy wants the scissors, and is compelled, reluctant as she may be, to shake her ringlets back, raise her soft hazel eyes, smile playfully down on the face that is so very nearly on a level with her knee, and holding out her little shell-pink palm, to say, —
"My scissors, please, if you can renounce the great pleasure of persecuting my poor Minny."
The foolish scissors have slipped too far over the knuckles, it seems, and Hercules holds out his entrapped fingers hopelessly.
"Confound the scissors! The oval lies the wrong way. Please draw them off for me."
"Draw them off with your other hand," says Miss Lucy, roguishly.
"Oh, but that's my left hand; I'm not left-handed."
Lucy laughs, and the scissors are drawn off with gentle touches from tiny tips, which naturally dispose Mr. Stephen for a repetition da capo . Accordingly, he watches for the release of the scissors, that he may get them into his possession again.
"No, no," said Lucy, sticking them in her band, "you shall not have my scissors again, — you have strained them already. Now don't set Minny growling again. Sit up and behave properly, and then I will tell you some news."
"What is that?" said Stephen, throwing himself back and hanging his right arm over the corner of his chair. He might have been sitting for his portrait, which would have represented a rather striking young man of five-and-twenty, with a square forehead, short dark-brown hair, standing erect, with a slight wave at the end, like a thick crop of corn, and a half-ardent, half-sarcastic glance from under his well-marked horizontal eyebrows. "Is it very important news?"
"Yes, very. Guess."
"You are going to change Minny's diet, and give him three ratafias soaked in a dessert-spoonful of cream daily?"
"Well, then, Dr. Kenn has been preaching against buckram, and you ladies have all been sending him a roundrobin, saying, 'This is a hard doctrine; who can bear it?'"
"For shame!" said Lucy, adjusting her little mouth gravely. "It is rather dull of you not to guess my news, because it is about something I mentioned to you not very long ago."
"But you have mentioned many things to me not long ago. Does your feminine tyranny require that when you say the thing you mean is one of several things, I should know it immediately by that mark?"
"Yes, I know you think I am silly."
"I think you are perfectly charming."
"And my silliness is part of my charm?"
"I didn't say that."
"But I know you like women to be rather insipid. Philip Wakem betrayed you; he said so one day when you were not here."
"Oh, I know Phil is fierce on that point; he makes it quite a personal matter. I think he must be love-sick for some unknown lady, — some exalted Beatrice whom he met abroad."
"By the by," said Lucy, pausing in her work, "it has just occurred to me that I never found out whether my cousin Maggie will object to see Philip, as her brother does. Tom will not enter a room where Philip is, if he knows it; perhaps Maggie may be the same, and then we sha'n't be able to sing our glees, shall we?"
"What! is your cousin coming to stay with you?" said Stephen, with a look of slight annoyance.
"Yes; that was my news, which you have forgotten. She's going to leave her situation, where she has been nearly two years, poor thing, — ever since her father's death; and she will stay with me a month or two, — many months, I hope."
"And am I bound to be pleased at that news?"
"Oh no, not at all," said Lucy, with a little air of pique. I am pleased, but that, of course, is no reason why you should be pleased. There is no girl in the world I love so well as my cousin Maggie."
"And you will be inseparable I suppose, when she comes. There will be no possibility of a tête-à-tête with you any more, unless you can find an admirer for her, who will pair off with her occasionally. What is the ground of dislike to Philip? He might have been a resource."
"It is a family quarrel with Philip's father. There were very painful circumstances, I believe. I never quite understood them, or knew them all. My uncle Tulliver was unfortunate and lost all his property, and I think he considered Mr. Wakem was somehow the cause of it. Mr. Wakem bought Dorlcote Mill, my uncle's old place, where he always lived. You must remember my uncle Tulliver, don't you?"
"No," said Stephen, with rather supercilious indifference. "I've always known the name, and I dare say I knew the man by sight, apart from his name. I know half the names and faces in the neighborhood in that detached, disjointed way."
"He was a very hot-tempered man. I remember, when I was a little girl and used to go to see my cousins, he often frightened me by talking as if he were angry. Papa told me there was a dreadful quarrel, the very day before my uncle's death, between him and Mr. Wakem, but it was hushed up. That was when you were in London. Papa says my uncle was quite mistaken in many ways; his mind had become embittered. But Tom and Maggie must naturally feel it very painful to be reminded of these things. They have had so much, so very much trouble. Maggie was at school with me six years ago, when she was fetched away because of her father's misfortunes, and she has hardly had any pleasure since, I think. She has been in a dreary situation in a school since uncle's death, because she is determined to be independent, and not live with aunt Pullet; and I could hardly wish her to come to me then, because dear mamma was ill, and everything was so sad. That is why I want her to come to me now, and have a long, long holiday."
"Very sweet and angelic of you," said Stephen, looking at her with an admiring smile; "and all the more so if she has the conversational qualities of her mother."
"Poor aunty! You are cruel to ridicule her. She is very valuable to me, I know. She manages the house beautifully, — much better than any stranger would, — and she was a great comfort to me in mamma's illness."
"Yes, but in point of companionship one would prefer that she should be represented by her brandy-cherries and cream-cakes. I think with a shudder that her daughter will always be present in person, and have no agreeable proxies of that kind, — a fat, blond girl, with round blue eyes, who will stare at us silently."