SO James Maynard met and conversed with Margaret Waring in the interval before the return of Lord Littmass to London. Ever studying the problem how to bridge the gulf which divided their natures, and lead her gently over to his own side; ever watching narrowly her every change and growth, he sometimes thought he could perceive a gradual advance in her ideas towards the more real and practical interests of life; or, at least, an increase of sympathy with himself in his philosophic inquiries and practical pursuits, if not a more personal regard and readiness to sympathise with his regrets at the hopeless bondage of freedom with which he was tied.
‘She can pity if she cannot love,’ was his verdict upon her.
‘My best hope is in making myself familiar and necessary to her. Let me continue to be to her more and more as a friend and brother, and perchance habit will do the rest.’
But though he contrived his demeanour so as not to arouse suspicion of any personal ulterior object, he strove in vain to hide from himself the thought of his real position. The habitual receipt of an easy subsistence, ‘paid quarterly,’ does not sharpen men’s minds in the matter of ways and means. James knew nothing of money-making. And he knew less of Margaret’s position. If she was dependent on her guardian’s bounty, Lord Littmass would probably be glad to get her settled; but this could only be by marrying her to some one able to support her; and that some one could not be himself, seeing that his sole means of subsistence vanished from him if he married. But of the two tortures by which he was racked, by far the worst was his doubt of her ever coming to really tare for him.
After much debate with himself, James resolved to attain some certainty by speaking with Lord Littmass about her; and to lose no time in seeking an appointment in which his scientific knowledge and practical abilities would enable him to dispense with his fellowship. Even now was he engaged on an analysis of minerals for a mining company, whose territory he had lately visited in South America, for which he did not think of requiring payment. But henceforth he would seek regular employment of a remunerative kind. He would make himself independent of his fellowship; and he would present to Margaret the spectacle of a man of aspiration and capacity, whose life was being wasted and ruined for love of her. And he would obtain Lord Littmass’s consent to their marriage; and if this was not accorded, well, they might dispense with it.
In this way did Maynard’s resolution to hazard his whole life on the chance of winning Margaret rapidly take form and consistency, and assume the dimensions of an absorbing and overwhelming passion. Subtle and versatile as his mind was, he could not altogether conquer his habit of looking at all sides of a question. But when the thought did suggest itself to him that the difficulties were insurmountable, or that even if the longed-for result were the best that could happen to him, yet it might not be the best for Margaret and for her happiness, he thrust the suggestion from him with a fierceness that surprised himself, and revealed to him the existence of hitherto unsuspected depths in his nature. Love whose very existence he had
so long ignored, fastened its portentous grasp upon him, and, as if in revenge for its worship long neglected, made its relentless power felt through every fibre of his inmost being. All open and unprepared for its assault, it tore and raged through him, as the equinoctial blast among the defenceless pines on a mountain-top, until it sent him to his knees in his agony, and he cried aloud as to an actual, conscious, personal tyrant, Spare me, spare me, and I will win her.’
Hastening, yet half-dreading, to meet her after such an accession of the delirium of his love, Maynard would feel the influence of her saint-like calmness steal over his spirit and sink into his soul, creating in him a mood which recognised as the most blissful of his life, could he only have her by him to produce it ever. So essential a part of herself did this intense repose and quietness of temperament seem to be, that he felt that the very eagerness and activity of sentiment which she was the means of arousing and stimulating in him, would excite in her dissympathy and aversion. Yet, in spite of its overwhelming strength, so well did James learn to control all expression of his feeling, since its first outbreak, that Margaret very soon entirely forgot that he had ever addressed her, cave as the friend and brother he had always been to her. The idea of any man being in love with her, or of her marrying anybody, was so dim and remote that her imagination had failed to take it in, and to realise it as a possibility. And as long as James did not again betray himself, his return to his former accustomed demeanour put the momentary exception altogether out of her head.