THUS during James Maynard’s month in Rome he almost daily walked and talked with Margaret: not careful always to be within her comprehension so long as he knew that he was accustoming her to a larger view of things than was consistent with a total self-abandonment to the devotional spirit which had for her hitherto pervaded the place, and inspired all her art. The life of this fair girl had ever lain so far apart from intercourse with others of her own age, that the thoughtful and serious side of her nature had attained an unusual predominance. The faculty of playfulness, the cultivation of which is essential to a complete and healthy development of all the mental and physical powers, was as yet in almost total abeyance. Her nearest approaches to it had been in the companionship of Maynard, as when together they roamed gaily over the hills and vales of the Neckar, or now when her spirits became exhilarated amid the glories of the Campagna, as on their pic-nic excursion to the Grotto of Egeria, when James, insisted on confounding the mythologies, regarding Margaret as Proserpine, and decking her with a profusion of the maidenhair fern which she had been gathering from the fountain consecrated to Numa’s Nymph; himself with his long dark hair as gloomy Dis, and good nurse Partridge as her mother-earth Demeter. Or, again, when making a pilgrimage to the temple of Vesta, that overhangs the cataract of Tivoli, he had won from her contagious laughter, as, in compliance with the custom of the place, he ordered ‘four paulsworth of waterfall’ to be turned on. The dame more than once expressed to James her delight at seeing her young lady so cheerful, and said she hoped it would keep fancies out of her head, for what with always painting religious pictures and visiting churches and convents, she feared she would become too much in love with a dismal life ever to be happy like other people.
As his time drew near for returning to England, he sought to learn her exact position and intended destination in the world; but the dame either could not or would not divulge anything beyond that her guardian found it convenient to leave them in Rome since the death of his sister Lady Primavera, who had taken them there, and that she could not at all say what plans he had in store for her.
The peculiar position of the old woman had given her a certain indeterminateness
of manner which puzzled strangers, and led them to doubt her genuineness. Aware
that she knew more of Lord Littmass’s affairs than he would like to know that
she knew, she cultivated a habit of silence, and so escaped the risk of
gossiping about his secrets. She had, moreover, heavy bitternesses of her own
early life, which she was resolved to bear in silence; and the air imparted to
her demeanour by these recollections, combined but inharmoniously with her real
kindliness and simplicity of character. Margaret’s attachment to her nurse was
one of unconscious habit, though not the less complete and well-grounded. For
Margaret was absorbed in a world of her own, and one into which none other
intruded. Devoid of that peculiar catechetical religious training, which is
considered an essential part of education in
Thus she had grown up as a neglected flower in a lonely waste, yet by force of her own nature imbibing and assimilating to herself all sweet energies afforded by sun and atmosphere to her heart and brain; for Nature was a mother to her, and let no heavy cloud come nigh to overshadow her young life.