Maggie did not fulfil Stephen's hope by looking at him during the first quarter of an hour; her eyes were too full of the old banks that she knew so well. She felt lonely, cut off from Philip, — the only person who had ever seemed to love her devotedly, as she had always longed to be loved. But presently the rhythmic movement of the oars attracted her, and she thought she should like to learn how to row. This roused her from her reverie, and she asked if she might take an oar. It appeared that she required much teaching, and she became ambitious. The exercise brought the warm blood into her cheeks, and made her inclined to take her lesson merrily.
"I shall not be satisfied until I can manage both oars, and row you and Lucy," she said, looking very bright as she stepped out of the boat. Maggie, we know, was apt to forget the thing she was doing, and she had chosen an inopportune moment for her remark; her foot slipped, but happily Mr. Stephen Guest held her hand, and kept her up with a firm grasp.
"You have not hurt yourself at all, I hope?" he said, bending to look in her face with anxiety. It was very charming to be taken care of in that kind, graceful manner by some one taller and stronger than one's self. Maggie had never felt just in the same way before.
When they reached home again, they found uncle and aunt Pullet seated with Mrs. Tulliver in the drawing-room, and Stephen hurried away, asking leave to come again in the evening.
"And pray bring with you the volume of Purcell that you took away," said Lucy. "I want Maggie to hear your best songs."
Aunt Pullet, under the certainty that Maggie would be invited to go out with Lucy, probably to Park House, was much shocked at the shabbiness of her clothes, which when witnessed by the higher society of St. Ogg's, would be a discredit to the family, that demanded a strong and prompt remedy; and the consultation as to what would be most suitable to this end from among the superfluities of Mrs. Pullet's wardrobe was one that Lucy as well as Mrs. Tulliver entered into with some zeal. Maggie must really have an evening dress as soon as possible, and she was about the same height as aunt Pullet.
"But she's so much broader across the shoulders than I am, it's very ill-convenient," said Mrs. Pullet, "else she might wear that beautiful black brocade o' mine without any alteration; and her arms are beyond everything," added Mrs. Pullet, sorrowfully, as she lifted Maggie's large round arm, "She'd never get my sleeves on."
"Oh, never mind that, aunt; send us the dress," said Lucy. "I don't mean Maggie to have long sleeves, and I have abundance of black lace for trimming. Her arms will look beautiful."
"Maggie's arms are a pretty shape," said Mrs. Tulliver. "They're like mine used to be, only mine was never brown; I wish she'd had our family skin."
"Nonsense, aunty!" said Lucy, patting her aunt Tulliver's shoulder, "you don't understand those things. A painter would think Maggie's complexion beautiful."
"Maybe, my dear," said Mrs. Tulliver, submissively. "You know better than I do. Only when I was young a brown skin wasn't thought well on among respectable folks."
"No," said uncle Pullet, who took intense interest in the ladies' conversation as he sucked his lozenges. "Though there was a song about the 'Nut-brown Maid' too; I think she was crazy, — crazy Kate, — but I can't justly remember."
"Oh dear, dear!" said Maggie, laughing, but impatient; "I think that will be the end of my brown skin, if it is always to be talked about so much."