The pleasure of this life grew steadily upon Maggie. She was one of that fraction of the world that finds entertainment to lie, like the kingdom of God, within. She did not in the least wish to be “amused” or stimulated and distracted. She was perfectly and serenely content with the fowls, the garden, her small selected tasks, her religion, and herself.
The result was, as it always is in such cases, she began to revolve about three or four main lines of thought, and to make a very fair progress in the knowledge of herself. She knew her faults quite well; and she was not unaware of her virtues. She knew perfectly that she was apt to give way to internal irritation, of a strong though invisible kind, when interruptions happened; that she now and then gave way to an unduly fierce contempt of tiresome people, and said little bitter things that she afterwards regretted. She also knew that she was quite courageous, that she had magnificent physical health, and that she could be perfectly content with a life that a good many other people would find narrow and stifling.
Her own character then was one thing that she had studied—not in the least in a morbid way—during her life at Stantons. And another thing she was beginning to study, rather to her own surprise, was the character of Laurie. She began to become a little astonished at the frequency with which, during a silent drive, or some mild mechanical labor in the gardens, the image of that young man would rise before her.
Indeed, as has been said, she had new material to work on. She had not realized till the affaire Amy that boy’s astonishing selfishness; and it became for her a rather pleasant psychological exercise to build up his characteristics into a consistent whole. It had not struck her, till this specimen came before her notice, how generosity and egotism, for example, so far from being mutually exclusive, can very easily be complements, each of the other.
So then she passed her days—exteriorly a capable and occupied person, interested in half a dozen simple things; interiorly rather introspective, rather scrupulous, and intensely interested in the watching of two characters—her own and her adopted brother’s. Mrs. Baxter’s character needed no dissection; it was a consistent whole, clear as crystal and as rigid.
It was still some five weeks before Christmas that Maggie became aware of what, as a British maiden, she ought, of course, to have known long before—namely, that she was thinking just a little too much about a young man who, so far as was apparent, thought nothing at all about her. It was true that once he had passed through a period of sentimentality in her regard; but the extreme discouragement it had met with had been enough.
Her discovery happened in this way.
Mrs. Baxter opened a letter one morning, smiling contentedly to herself.
“From Laurie,” she said. Maggie ceased eating toast for a second, to listen.