THE return of Lord Littmass was looked to with very different feelings by James and Margaret. She, hoping, fearing, desiring nothing, was altogether indifferent on the matter. The utmost change it was likely to make in the routine of her life, was to impose occasionally a slight degree of formality upon it, or lead to her leaving London for the more congenial seaside; an event which Maynard did not yet venture to flatter himself would be accompanied by regret for him. He, on the other
hand, hoped, feared, desired everything. At times he admitted to himself that Lord Littmass was omnipotent in all that concerned him. At others, he felt that he had it in himself to be the superior, by virtue of the energy of his character, the force of his will, and above all, by the power of his love for Margaret; and that by their aid he would turn any resistance that Lord Littmass might offer into a means of compliance.
The terms which existed between himself and his guardian were of such a character as to make it impossible to found any augury upon them. Lord Littmass was ever civil, brief, and cold, treating him with a sort of peremptory suggestiveness that implied an expectation of compliance rather than a claim to obedience or affection. James had thus come to regard him in the light of an unwilling benefactor, who performed as a duty a task which was imposed upon him in virtue of some antecedent obligation.
Lord Littmass was a man who never betrayed an emotion, or assumed a responsibility which he could escape. For many years he had had no intimates. His literary and political relations were alliances, rather than friendships. The general view of his life was that of a man somewhat morose and self-absorbed, but gifted with a large measure of artistic power and political insight, which he contrived always to use for his own self-advancement; a man, too, intensely proud and haughty. His demeanour and mode of life encouraged the ides that he had a solid foundation of wealth to sustain his position, and give him the weight that he undoubtedly had in the world. But to a certain extent he was a sham, and he knew it: and to this self-consciousness was in a great degree to be attributed his cold and distant demeanour towards most of those with whom he came into contact. Especially was this the case with James Maynard. Lord Littmass, while assuming the air of an immeasurable superiority, whether on the score of birth, of age, of wealth, of position, or of talent, was really in his heart afraid to encounter the keen perceptions of the son whom he refused o acknowledge. Proud of him and of his abilities, he yet denied him his affection and society, because he reminded him of his hated marriage and disgraceful conduct: a marriage of which few persons were aware, and none of his immediate acquaintances living, except his cousin, Lady Bevan; and conduct, the full extent of the wickedness of which was known only to himself.
Such was Lord Littmass, and such were Maynard’s relations to the man to whom he was about to reveal the inmost secret and longing of his heart, and from whom he had to court a rebuff on his tenderest point. But he had made up his mind to regard such a rebuff, should it come, as merely an obstacle to be conquered. He deemed himself bound to obedience by no tie of gratitude, since it was too clear that Lord Littmass’s lofty patronage of him and supervision of his career derived their motive from some obligation that existed prior to and independently of his own existence. In anticipating the reception his communication might meet with, he even determined before-hand on the demeanour he would assume; almost on the words he would use; a novel course for James Maynard, whose most obvious characteristic was the abrupt spontaneousness of everything he did. It proved that though mastered by his passion he was not paralysed; but could intently bend all his powers to the achievement of his paramount object; the sole mode of being mastered that proves true manhood, when all fears and anxieties are suppressed that may interfere with the desired end; and all the faculties that can aid are kept on the alert, the resolve to succeed dominating the self-indulgence of weakness.
James felt that he was entering on the first great struggle of his life, before which all his previous emulations of school and college were as child’s play; – with not merely a triumph or a money-reward dependent on the issue; not even the happiness of his life merely; but his whole character and usefulness for evermore as a man. Failure to win Margaret he felt meant failure of his whole career here, and perchance hereafter. It was his utter destruction as an individual. Between his love and his fear he was stirred to the very foundation of his nature, and compelled to own the very theory he had once most derided, the fact he had never realized. The consciousness that he was but the half of a human totality, even if true, might be endured; but the discovery of his other half, the completion and complement of himself, once made, and his intense yearnings to it once excited, nought henceforth but union with it could possibly make existence endurable. That such was the final cause of Margaret’s existence also, he could not doubt, though he allowed that the revelation thereof had not yet been made to her. But attraction and affinity were things that could not be all on one side.’ Each particle of earth attracts the sun as much as each particle of the sun attracts the earth. The acid has as strong
an affinity for the alkali as the alkali for the acid. What are men and women but sun and earth; or as alkalis and acids, requiring only suitable conditions of electricity, temperature, or conjunction, to ensure combination?