“You can’t help,” he repeated. “I must go my own way. Please don’t say any more. I can’t stand it.”
There followed a dead silence. Then Maggie recovered and stood up. He rose with her.
“Forgive me, Laurie, won’t you? I must say this. You’ll remember I’ll always do anything I can, won’t you?”
Then she was gone.
The ladies went to bed early at Stantons. At ten o’clock precisely a clinking of bedroom candlesticks was heard in the hall, followed by the sound of locking doors. This was the signal. Mrs. Baxter laid aside her embroidery with the punctuality of a religious at the sound of a bell, and said two words—
There were occasionally exclamatory expostulations from the two at the piquet-table, but in nine cases out of ten the game had been designed with an eye upon the clock, and hardly any delay followed. Mrs. Baxter kissed her son, and passed her arm through Maggie’s. Laurie followed; gave them candles, and generally took one himself.
But this evening there was no piquet. Laurie had stayed later than usual in the dining-room, and had wandered rather restlessly about when he had joined the others. He looked at a London evening paper for a little, paced about, vanished again, and only returned as the ladies were making ready to depart. Then he gave them their candlesticks, and himself came back to the drawing room.
He was, in fact, in a far more perturbed and excited mood than even Maggie had had any idea of. She had interrupted him half-way through the book, but he had read again steadily until five minutes before dinner, and had, indeed, gone back again to finish it afterwards. He had now finished it; and he wanted to think.
It had had a surprising effect on him, coming as it did upon a state of mind intensely stirred to its depths by his sorrow. Crossness, as I have said, had been the natural psychological result of his emotions; but his emotions were none the less real. The froth of whipped cream is real cream, after all.
Now Laurie had seen perfectly well the extreme unconvincingness of Mrs. Stapleton, and had been genuine enough in his little shrug of disapproval in answer to Maggie’s, after lunch; yet that lady’s remarks had been sufficient just to ignite the train of thought. This train had smoldered in the afternoon, had been fanned ever so slightly by two breezes—the sense of Maggie’s superiority and the faint rebellious reaction which had come upon him with regard to his personal religion. Certainly he had had Mass said for Amy this morning; but it had been by almost a superstitious rather than a religious instinct. He was, in fact, in that state of religious unreality which occasionally comes upon converts within a year or two of the change of their faith. The impetus of old association is absent, and the force of novelty has died.