Then Laurie’s answer arrived, and had to be dealt with, that is, it had to be treated interiorly with a proper restraint of emotions.
“My dear Maggie,” he wrote;
Why all this fury? What have I done? I said to mother that I didn’t know for certain whether I could come or not, as I had a lot to do. I don’t think she can have given you the letter to read, or you wouldn’t have written all that about my being away from home at the one season of the year, etc. Of course I’ll come, if you or anybody feels like that. Does mother feel upset too? Please tell me if she ever feels that, or is in the least unwell, or anything. I’ll come instantly. As it is, shall we say the 20th of December, and I’ll stay at least a week. Will that do?
This was a little overwhelming, and Maggie wrote off a penitent letter, refraining carefully, however, from any expressions that might have anything of the least warmth, but saying that she was very glad he was coming, and that the shooting should be seen to.
She directed the letter; and then sat for an instant looking at Laurie’s—at the neat Oxford-looking hand, the artistic appearance of the paragraphs, and all the rest of it.
She would have liked to keep it—to put it with half a dozen others she had from him; but it seemed better not.
Then as she tore it up into careful strips, her conscience smote her again, shrewdly; and she drew out the top left-hand drawer of the table at which she sat.
There they were, a little pile of them, neat and orderly. She looked at them an instant; then she took them out, turned them quickly to see if all were there, and then, gathering up the strips of the one she had received that morning, went over to the wood fire and dropped them in.
It was better so, she said to herself.
* * * * *
The days went pleasantly enough after that. She would not for an instant allow to herself that any of their smoothness arose from the fact that this boy would be here again in a few weeks. On the contrary, it was because she had detected a weakness in his regard, she told herself, and had resolutely stamped on it, that she was in so serene a peace. She arranged about the shooting—that is to say, she informed the acting keeper that Master Laurie would be home for Christmas as usual—all in an unemotional manner, and went about her various affairs without effort.
She found Mrs. Baxter just a little trying now and then. That lady had come to the conclusion that Laurie was unhappy in his religion—certainly references to it had dropped out of his letters—and that Mr. Rymer must set it right.
“The Vicar must dine here at least twice while Laurie is here,” she observed at breakfast one morning. “He has a great influence with young men.”
Maggie reflected upon a remark or two, extremely unjust, made by Laurie with regard to the clergyman.