Defining Moment

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In Which Phillip Speaks

A soft breeze blew fitfully among the grove of finely tended trees; the birds stirred and twittered sleepily in the swaying branches as filaments of sunlight peeked through the leaves and announced the first day of a new week to the unoccupied park.

However, it was not unoccupied for long, for presently the sparrows turned their heads to behold a graceful figure stepping lightly along through the morning. The rising sun struck glints in her fiery hair, and warmed her fair skin, which, where exposed, was soft and smooth, and as white as marble. Under her arm she held a brown leather-bound book, the corners bent and ruffled, the cover worn with use.

The sparrows turned to each other and each had a comment to make with his tiny beak, and then they subsided to their business, for this was the girl that had come often before, and she never disturbed them. Maggie had been coming several times a week, either in the morning, or the afternoon, and Eustace had remarked that the blush of health the exercise and fresh air brought to her cheek was quite becoming. Maggie often asked Eustace if he would come with her, but he always made some sort of excuse, such as he wanted to finish his studies, or he was tired, or the weather was inclement.

Now it is the bare facts that the weather had not been inclement in the least for nearly an entire month, and thus Maggie would spend several hours in the park, talking with Phillip, drawing, and walking about on his arm. Though now she was alone, Maggie knew she would not be for long – Phillip's house overlooked the park, and the moment he sighted her, he would find a reason to come out and join her. Such were the happenings this morning.

Standing by his open window and pressing a towel to his wet face, Phillip looked down upon the empty park – then realized it was not empty. A solitary figure with fiery hair, clad in a pale blue gown was slowly circuiting the grove of trees, a sketchbook under her arm. She paused and bent over to dabble her hand in the pond, and then snatched it back; Phillip supposed the water was chilly, and laughed outright.

Hurriedly, he pulled on his shirt, buttoning it wrong, and grinding his teeth at the delay as he fumbled to do it up again more properly; braces, vest, stockings and fine leather shoes found their right places about his well-proportioned form, and then he was out the door, grabbing his hat from the rack and toppling it after his exit. The landlady of the establishment hurried into he hall hearing the crash, and saw the door wide open, Phillip sprinting across the square toward the park, and a beautiful young lady who was there. She clicked her tongue, and began setting things to rights.

"Maggie!" Phillip's voice rang out across the open space as it rapidly closed between them. "Good morning," he gave a sweeping bow as he reached her, and caught his breath.

"Hush, you are spoiling the quiet of the morning," Maggie reproved, putting a finger to her pretty lips.

"Most terribly sorry," Phillip went on, loudly, it seemed, but Maggie caught a twinkle in his eye. "I simply had to see you."

"What if you are disturbing me?" Maggie looked at him, a sprite-like sense of mischief in her light eyes.

"I'm not," he said, offering her his arm, which she took, and beginning to walk along the edge of the pond. "Have you been drawing already this morning?"

"Not yet," Maggie said, reaching out and plucking a bright flower which climbed upon a section of white fencing. Phillip took it from her with a grin and put it into his buttonhole, pulling off several more and dumping them into Maggie's cupped hands. "It was too beautiful not to look at."

"The flowers?"

"The morning. I couldn't waste my time poring over a page when the real thing was before me – and that only for a few minutes..."

Phillip turned, and took in the sight before him. The girl's hair had begun to be mussed in the light breeze, and a bright wisp played about her face, Reaching fluidly out, he brushed it away from her cheek, and caught and held her eyes.

"That's exactly what I think."

Maggie didn't reply, but quickly turned away, a blush of modesty upon her face. "I don't know what you mean," she managed. "Let's walk on."

"I mean," Phillip continued, putting her hand in the crook of his elbow, "that I couldn't waste my time inside when you were out here – such beauty to take in, that could be so easily missed."

"You say that because you think it will please me," Maggie said, laughing lightly, her spirits getting the upper hand once more.

"I say it because I think it to be true."

"You should say things you know to be true."
"One can never know. A fellow just has to be fairly certain, and then act as if he is absolutely certain. And –" he stopped. "I am absolutely certain about one thing. I have never been certain about anything before in my life, not about even life itself, nor right, nor wrong, nor meaning, nor love – but I am certain about you. That I care for you. That I want you." His eyes sought hers. "Now, you must tell me if feel the way I do."

Maggie looked at the soft tender grass at their feet, and finally looked up into Phillip's face.

"I do like you..." she admitted honestly. "And I know that I should be very sorry if I knew I was never to see you again."

Phillip broke into a laugh. "What a funny way of putting things you have, my girl! I should positively perish if I knew I was never going to see you again. But tell me – will you introduce me to your godfather?"

"W-why?" stammered Maggie.

"That I might ask him to marry you," whispered Phillip. Maggie found her heart was beating very fast, and suddenly felt a little dizzy.

"I think I need to sit down," she murmured, hurrying to a bench that was nearby.

"Oh?" Phillip said, following on her heels, and seating himself next to her. "I had no idea that my –"

"No – it's just – yes, that's it..." Maggie laughed, putting her hand to her forehead. "You cannot meet my godfather."

"Oh, I thought you were overcome with my offer. It usually seems to take women aback, but I don't know why it should," he chuckled lightly. "Why can't I meet the old man?"

"Because – he is very – very... shy, I suppose –" Maggie groped. "He would not want to see anyone, especially not about me."

"What a pity. I have longed to make his acquaintance for so long, and this seemed to be a perfect fulfillment to several of my wishes."


"Yes – everyone wonders what Cadogan keeps locked behind that dark edifice. His family was very rich, and no one has any idea what sort of interesting story forced him to live such a life. But facts are facts – he is one of the wealthiest people in England right now, perhaps all of Europe. And what will he do with it when he dies? Do you suppose he will pass it to you? I'm sure you would like that."

"I'm not sure that I would," admitted Maggie. "But at any rate, it isn't possible for you to meet him – and ask him for my hand," she finished, blushing.

"I am doomed, then?" Phillip asked softly. Maggie cocked her head.

"What do you mean?"

"There is no one I can ask for your hand? Does anyone else have any rights of protection over you? Your father and mother are dead, and you have no other relations. What about a friend?"

"How did you know my family history?" Maggie asked in surprise.

"Am I not right?"

"You are," she admitted.

"Then there's no reason to reveal my sources, if they are good still." He flashed her a smile, and Maggie smiled back good-naturedly. Before she knew what she was doing, she heard her own voice say,

"I do have a good friend that looks out for me. If you could meet him, I'm sure there would be no trouble in asking his permission. My godfather truly does not care what I do."

"You told me you had no friends but me," Phillip drew his brows together. "Who is this other protector?"

"A scholar," Maggie said, ignoring Phillip's snort of disdain. "A brilliant scholar, named Eustace Reid. I have told him about you."

"Let me meet this Eustace Reid. When can you bring him?"

"That's the trouble. He doesn't like to go out. But I will try and persuade him."

Phillip expressed his pleasure at this arrangement, and to Maggie's disappointment, began to excuse himself.

"I'm afraid I must go, I have an engagement in less than half an hour. Maggie –" He caught her arm. "Do not let me down."

"I won't." Maggie's eyes sparkled, and she traced a finger up the sleeve of Phillip's jacket. "If Eustace thinks it's alright, and we can marry, will you take me to Stonehenge?" Then she curtseyed, and looked up to see Phillip bow quickly, and begin to take his leave.

"Perhaps, dear," he called over his shoulder, hurrying across the square. Maggie looked after him, and then gave a sigh. If only she could convince Eustace to come for a walk with her...

"No." Eustace was stubborn. "No, I can't"

"But why not?"

"Maggie, I can't!" he exclaimed. "You remember what he said, when he thought I had left these rooms –"

"Eustace, that was seven years ago."

"I have to finish this page; I haven't time for exercise."

"It's not just exercise I want for you. I want you to meet someone."

Eustace looked up. "Meet someone. Ah." He lay aside his work.

"Phillip Melville."

"Yes." Maggie cast her eyes down, and Eustace watched her closely. "Please say you'll come. It would please me so much, as you are two people I hold great value for. I think you would like him."

The young student still held reticence in his eyes. "Maggie, I really don't think I should go."

"But I really think you should." Maggie held her breath. "Please."

"Why do you want me to meet him?"

Maggie decided her chances were greater of getting him to agree if she revealed all, so with halting sentences, maiden blushes, and shining eyes, she told Eustace that Phillip wished to marry her, and since he could not ask her godfather, she had told Phillip to ask him instead. She finished, and there was a lapse of silence.

"Do you love him?" Eustace asked quietly.

Maggie nodded. "I do."

"What sort of man is he, then? The sort you would be happy to live with the rest of your life?"

Maggie knew his questions were to a good end, so answered them demurely.

"He is wealthy, but not spoiled. He has easy manners, is clever to talk to, and really has a kind heart, I think."

"You think?"

"I know," Maggie corrected herself. "Eustace – I'm not seven years old anymore."

"I know, Maggie, believe me, I know. Not a day has passed but that I haven't reminded myself of that."

"But you still treat me as if I were."

"Do I?" He looked hurt. "Do you really think that?"

"Yes," Maggie murmured, ashamed to admit it. "You forget that I am –"

" –Sixteen years old, and more beautiful to look upon than any other in the world? No, I don't forget that." Eustace's voice rose, his usually mild eyes beginning to blaze. "That you are clever and talented,

and posses the kindest heart and the purest spirit of any I have ever known? –No, I don't forget that either. That you are young and impressionable and easily dazzled by wealth, travel, and flattery I don't forget, but he does – he forgets everything – everything important – everything but your youth and beauty and the facts that you are the goddaughter of the richest man on this island!"


Silence reigned, and Eustace's shoulders slumped. "Maggie – I want you to be careful."

"I think you are jealous," Maggie whispered.

"I swear I am not!" snapped Eustace. "I just fear for you. You don't know what this Phillip is after. You hardly know him."

"And you don't know him at all," Maggie said quietly. "But I am asking if you would like the opportunity."

Slowly, Eustace stood from his chair, his face pale, but his eyes burning bright. He brushed at the front of his jacket, and picked up a cloth, beginning to rub at the ink staining his fingers. Presently, he stopped with a sigh. "Do I look alright?"

"Marvelous." Maggie smiled.

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