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Chapter 42

ROGER AND MARION.


During an all but sleepless night, Roger had made up his mind to go and see Marion: not, certainly, for the first time, for he had again and again ventured to call upon her; but hitherto he had always had some pretext sufficient to veil his deeper reason, and, happily or unhappily, sufficient also to prevent her, in her more than ordinary simplicity with regard to such matters, from suspecting one under it.

She was at home, and received him with her usual kindness. Feeling that he must not let an awkward silence intervene, lest she should become suspicious of his object, and thus the chance be lost of interesting, and possibly moving her before she saw his drift, he spoke at once.

"I want to tell you something, Miss Clare," he said as lightly as he could.

"Well?" she returned, with the sweet smile which graced her every approach to communication.

"Did my sister--in--law ever tell you what an idle fellow I used to be?"

"Certainly not. I never heard her say a word of you that wasn't kind."

"That I am sure of. But there would have been no unkindness in saying that; for an idle fellow I was, and the idler because I was conceited enough to believe I could do any thing. I actually thought at one time I could play the violin. I actually made an impertinent attempt in your presence one evening, years and years ago, I wonder if you remember it."

"I do; but I don't know why you should call it impertinent."

"Anyhow, I caught a look on your face that cured me of that conceit. I have never touched the creature since,--a Cremona too!"

"I am very sorry, indeed I am. I don't remember--Do you think you could have played a false note?"

"Nothing more likely."

"Then, I dare say I made an ugly face. One can't always help it, you know, when something unexpected happens. Do forgive me."

"Forgive you, you angel!" cried Roger, but instantly checked himself, afraid of reaching his mark before he had gathered sufficient momentum to pierce it. "I thought you would see what a good thing it was for me. I wanted to thank you for it."

"It's such a pity you didn't go on, though. Progress is the real cure for an overestimate of ourselves."

"The fact is, I was beginning to see what small praise there is in doing many things ill and nothing well. I wish you would take my Cremona. I could teach you the A B C of it well enough. How you would make it talk! That would be something to live for, to hear you play the violin! Ladies do, nowadays, you know."

"I have no time, Mr. Roger. I should have been delighted to be your pupil; but I am sorry to say it is out of the question."

"Of course it is. Only I wish--well, never mind, I only wanted to tell you something. I was leading a life then that wasn't worth leading; for where's the good of being just what happens,--one time full of right feeling and impulse, and the next a prey to all wrong judgments and falsehoods? It was you made me see it. I've been trying to get put right for a long time now. I'm afraid of seeming to talk goody, but you will know what I mean. You and your Sunday evenings have waked me up to know what I am, and what I ought to be. I am a little better. I work hard now. I used to work only by fits and starts. Ask Wynnie."

"Dear Mr. Roger, I don't need to ask Wynnie about any thing you tell me. I can take your word for it just as well as hers. I am very glad if I have been of any use to you. It is a great honor to me."

"But the worst of it is, I couldn't be content without letting you know, and making myself miserable."

"I don't understand you, I think. Surely there can be no harm in letting me know what makes me very happy! How it should make you miserable, I can't imagine."

"Because I can't stop there. I'm driven to say what will offend you, if it doesn't make you hate me--no, not that; for you don't know how to hate. But you must think me the most conceited and presumptuous fellow you ever knew. I'm not that, though; I'm not that; it's not me; I can't help it; I can't help loving you--dreadfully--and it's such impudence! To think of you and me in one thought! And yet I can't help it. O Miss Clare! don't drive me away from you."

He fell on his knees as he spoke, and laid his head on her lap, sobbing like a child who had offended his mother. He almost cried again as he told me this. Marion half started to her feet in confusion, almost in terror, for she had never seen such emotion in a man; but the divine compassion of her nature conquered: she sat down again, took his head in her hands, and began stroking his hair as if she were indeed a mother seeking to soothe and comfort her troubled child. She was the first to speak again, for Roger could not command himself.

"I'm very sorry, Roger," she said. "I must be to blame somehow."

"To blame!" he cried, lifting up his head. "You to blame for my folly! But it's not folly," he added impetuously: "it would be downright stupidity not to love you with all my soul."

"Hush! hush!" said Marion, in whose ears his language sounded irreverent. "You couldn't love me with all your soul if you would. God only can be loved with all the power of the human soul."

"If I love him at all, Marion, it is you who have taught me. Do not drive me from you--lest--lest--I should cease to love him, and fall back into my old dreary ways."

"It's a poor love to offer God,--love for the sake of another," she said very solemnly.

"But if it's all one has got?"

"Then it won't do, Roger. I wish you loved me for God's sake instead. Then all would be right. That would be a grand love for me to have."

"Don't drive me from you, Marion," he pleaded. It was all he could say.

"I will not drive you from me. Why should I?"

"Then I may come and see you again?"

"Yes: when you please."

"You don't mean I may come as often as I like?"

"Yes--when I have time to see you."

"Then," cried Roger, starting to his feet with clasped hands, "--perhaps--is it possible?--you will--you will let me love you? O my God!"

"Roger," said Marion, pale as death, and rising also; for, alas! the sunshine of her kindness had caused hopes to blossom whose buds she had taken only for leaves, "I thought you understood me! You spoke as if you understood perfectly that that could never be which I must suppose you to mean. Of course it cannot. I am not my own to keep or to give away. I belong to this people,--my friends. To take personal and private duties upon me, would be to abandon them; and how dare I? You don't know what it would result in, or you would not dream of it. Were I to do such a thing, I should hate and despise and condemn myself with utter reprobation. And then what a prize you would have got, my poor Roger!"

But even these were such precious words to hear from her lips! He fell again on his knees before her as she stood, caught her hands, and, hiding his face in them, poured forth the following words in a torrent,--

"Marion, do not think me so selfish as not to have thought about that. It should be only the better for them all. I can earn quite enough for you and me too, and so you would have the more time to give to them. I should never have dreamed of asking you to leave them. There are things in which a dog may help a man, doing what the man can't do: there may be things in which a man might help an angel."

Deeply moved by the unselfishness of his love, Marion could not help a pressure of her hands against the face which had sought refuge within them. Roger fell to kissing them wildly.

But Marion was a woman; and women, I think, though I may be only judging by myself and my husband, look forward and round about, more than men do: they would need at all events; therefore Marion saw other things. A man-reader may say, that, if she loved him, she would not have thus looked about her; and that, if she did not love him, there was no occasion for her thus to fly in the face of the future. I can only answer that it is allowed on all hands women are not amenable to logic: look about her Marion did, and saw, that, as a married woman, she might be compelled to forsake her friends more or less; for there might arise other and paramount claims on her self-devotion. In a word, if she were to have children, she would have no choice in respect to whose welfare should constitute the main business of her life; and it even became a question whether she would have a right to place them in circumstances so unfavorable for growth and education. Therefore, to marry might be tantamount to forsaking her friends.

But where was the need of any such mental parley? Of course, she couldn't marry Roger. How could she marry a man she couldn't look up to? And look up to him she certainly did not, and could not.

"No, Roger," she said, this last thought large in her mind; and, as she spoke, she withdrew her hands, "it mustn't be. It is out of the question: I can't look up to you," she added, as simply as a child.

"I should think not," he burst out. "That would be a fine thing! If you looked up to a fellow like me, I think it would almost cure me of looking up to you; and what I want is to look up to you every day and all day long: only I can do that whether you let me or not."

"But I don't choose to have a--a--friend to whom I can't look up."

"Then I shall never be even a friend," he returned sadly. "But I would have tried hard to be less unworthy of you."

At this precise moment, Marion caught sight of a pair of great round blue eyes, wide open under a shock of red hair, about three feet from the floor, staring as if they had not winked for the last ten minutes. The child looked so comical, that Marion, reading perhaps in her looks the reflex of her own position, could not help laughing. Roger started up in dismay, but, beholding the apparition, laughed also.

"Please, grannie," said the urchin, "mother's took bad, and want's ye."

"Run and tell your mother I shall be with her directly," answered Marion; and the child departed.

"You told me I might come again," pleaded Roger.

"Better not. I didn't know what it would mean to you when I said it."

"Let it mean what you meant by it, only let me come."

"But I see now it can't mean that. No: I will write to you. At all events, you must go now, for I can't stop with you when Mrs. Foote"--

"Don't make me wretched, Marion. If you can't love me, don't kill me. Don't say I'm not to come and see you. I will come on Sundays, anyhow."

The next day came the following letter:--


Dear Mr. Roger,

I am very sorry, both for your sake and my own, that I did not speak more plainly yesterday. I was so distressed for you, and my heart was so friendly towards you, that I could hardly think of any thing at first but how to comfort you; and I fear I allowed you, after all, to go away with the idea that what you wished was not altogether impossible. But indeed it is. If even I loved you in the way you love me, I should yet make every thing yield to the duties I have undertaken. In listening to you, I should be undermining the whole of my past labors; and the very idea of becoming less of a friend to my friends is horrible to me.

But much as I esteem you, and much pleasure as your society gives me, the idea you brought before me yesterday was absolutely startling; and I think I have only to remind you, as I have just done, of the peculiarities of my position, to convince you that it could never become a familiar one to me. All that friendship can do or yield, you may ever claim of me; and I thank God if I have been of the smallest service to you: but I should be quite unworthy of that honor, were I for any reason to admit even the thought of abandoning the work which has been growing up around me for so many years, and is so peculiarly mine that it could be transferred to no one else.

Believe me yours most truly,
MARION CLARE


George MacDonald