It was not quite unintentionally that Philip had wandered into this song, which might be an indirect expression to Maggie of what he could not prevail on himself to say to her directly. Her ears had been open to what he was saying, and when he began to sing, she understood the plaintive passion of the music. That pleading tenor had no very fine qualities as a voice, but it was not quite new to her; it had sung to her by snatches, in a subdued way, among the grassy walks and hollows, and underneath the leaning ash-tree in the Red Deeps. There seemed to be some reproach in the words; did Philip mean that? She wished she had assured him more distinctly in their conversation that she desired not to renew the hope of love between them, only because it clashed with her inevitable circumstances. She was touched, not thrilled by the song; it suggested distinct memories and thoughts, and brought quiet regret in the place of excitement.
"That's the way with you tenors," said Stephen, who was waiting with music in his hand while Philip finished the song. "You demoralize the fair sex by warbling your sentimental love and constancy under all sorts of vile treatment. Nothing short of having your heads served up in a dish like that mediæval tenor or troubadour, would prevent you from expressing your entire resignation. I must administer an antidote, while Miss Deane prepares to tear herself away from her bobbins."
Stephen rolled out, with saucy energy, —
"Shall I, wasting in despair,
Die because a woman's fair?"
and seemed to make all the air in the room alive with a new influence. Lucy, always proud of what Stephen did, went toward the piano with laughing, admiring looks at him; and Maggie, in spite of her resistance to the spirit of the song and to the singer, was taken hold of and shaken by the invisible influence, — was borne along by a wave too strong for her.
But, angrily resolved not to betray herself, she seized her work, and went on making false stitches and pricking her fingers with much perseverance, not looking up or taking notice of what was going forward, until all the three voices united in "Let us take the road."
I am afraid there would have been a subtle, stealing gratification in her mind if she had known how entirely this saucy, defiant Stephen was occupied with her; how he was passing rapidly from a determination to treat her with ostentatious indifference to an irritating desire for some sign of inclination from her, — some interchange of subdued word or look with her. It was not long before he found an opportunity, when they had passed to the music of "The Tempest." Maggie, feeling the need of a footstool, was walking across the room to get one, when Stephen, who was not singing just then, and was conscious of all her movements, guessed her want, and flew to anticipate her, lifting the footstool with an entreating look at her, which made it impossible not to return a glance of gratitude. And then, to have the footstool placed carefully by a too self-confident personage, — not any self-confident personage, but one in particular, who suddenly looks humble and anxious, and lingers, bending still, to ask if there is not some draught in that position between the window and the fireplace, and if he may not be allowed to move the work-table for her, — these things will summon a little of the too ready, traitorous tenderness into a woman's eyes, compelled as she is in her girlish time to learn her life-lessons in very trivial language. And to Maggie such things had not been every-day incidents, but were a new element in her life, and found her keen appetite for homage quite fresh. That tone of gentle solicitude obliged her to look at the face that was bent toward her, and to say, "No, thank you"; and nothing could prevent that mutual glance from being delicious to both, as it had been the evening before.
It was but an ordinary act of politeness in Stephen; it had hardly taken two minutes; and Lucy, who was singing, scarcely noticed it. But to Philip's mind, filled already with a vague anxiety that was likely to find a definite ground for itself in any trivial incident, this sudden eagerness in Stephen, and the change in Maggie's face, which was plainly reflecting a beam from his, seemed so strong a contrast with the previous overwrought signs of indifference, as to be charged with painful meaning. Stephen's voice, pouring in again, jarred upon his nervous susceptibility as if it had been the clang of sheet-iron, and he felt inclined to make the piano shriek in utter discord. He had really seen no communicable ground for suspecting any ususual feeling between Stephen and Maggie; his own reason told him so, and he wanted to go home at once that he might reflect coolly on these false images, till he had convinced himself of their nullity. But then, again, he wanted to stay as long as Stephen stayed, — always to be present when Stephen was present with Maggie. It seemed to poor Philip so natural, nay, inevitable, that any man who was near Maggie should fall in love with her! There was no promise of happiness for her if she were beguiled into loving Stephen Guest; and this thought emboldened Philip to view his own love for her in the light of a less unequal offering. He was beginning to play very falsely under this deafening inward tumult, and Lucy was looking at him in astonishment, when Mrs. Tulliver's entrance to summon them to lunch came as an excuse for abruptly breaking off the music.
"Ah, Mr. Philip!" said Mr. Deane, when they entered the dining-room, "I've not seen you for a long while. Your father's not at home, I think, is he? I went after him to the office the other day, and they said he was out of town."
"He's been to Mudport on business for several days," said Philip; "but he's come back now."
"As fond of his farming hobby as ever, eh?"
"I believe so," said Philip, rather wondering at this sudden interest in his father's pursuits.
"Ah!" said Mr. Deane, "he's got some land in his own hands on this side the river as well as the other, I think?"
"Yes, he has."
"Ah!" continued Mr. Deane, as he dispensed the pigeonpie, "he must find farming a heavy item, — an expensive hobby. I never had a hobby myself, never would give in to that. And the worst of all hobbies are those that people think they can get money at. They shoot their money down like corn out of a sack then."
Lucy felt a little nervous under her father's apparently gratuitous criticism of Mr. Wakem's expenditure. But it ceased there, and Mr. Deane became unusually silent and meditative during his luncheon. Lucy, accustomed to watch all indications in her father, and having reasons, which had recently become strong, for an extra interest in what referred to the Wakems, felt an unsual curiosity to know what had prompted her father's questions. His subsequent silence made her suspect there had been some special reason for them in his mind.
With this idea in her head, she resorted to her usual plan when she wanted to tell or ask her father anything particular: she found a reason for her aunt Tulliver to leaving the dining-room after dinner, and seated herself on a small stool at her father's knee. Mr. Deane, under those circumstances, considered that he tasted some of the most agreeable moments his merits had purchased him in life, notwithstanding that Lucy, disliking to have her hair powdered with snuff, usually began by mastering his snuff-box on such occasions.
"You don't want to go to sleep yet, papa, do you?" she said, as she brought up her stool and opened the large fingers that clutched the snuff-box.
"Not yet," said Mr. Deane, glancing at the reward of merit in the decanter. "But what do you want?" he added, pinching the dimpled chin fondly, — "to coax some more sovereigns out of my pocket for your bazaar? Eh?"
"No, I have no base motives at all to-day. I only want to talk, not to beg. I want to know what made you ask Philip Wakem about his father's farming to-day, papa? It seemed rather odd, because you never hardly say anything to him about his father; and why should you care about Mr. Wakem's losing money by his hobby?"
"Something to do with business," said Mr. Deane, waving his hands, as if to repel intrusion into that mystery.
"But, papa, you always say Mr. Wakem has brought Philip up like a girl; how came you to think you should get any business knowledge out of him? Those abrupt questions sounded rather oddly. Philip thought them queer."
"Nonsense, child!" said Mr. Deane, willing to justify his social demeanor, with which he had taken some pains in his upward progress. "There's a report that Wakem's mill and farm on the other side of the river — Dorlcote Mill, your uncle Tulliver's, you know — isn't answering so well as it did. I wanted to see if your friend Philip would let anything out about his father's being tired of farming."
"Why? Would you buy the mill, papa, if he would part with it?" said Lucy, eagerly. "Oh, tell me everything; here, you shall have your snuff-box if you'll tell me. Because Maggie says all their hearts are set on Tom's getting back the mill some time. It was one of the last things her father said to Tom, that he must get back the mill."