"She's temperamental enough!" was her uncle's early conclusion as, from day to day, the girl's mind and heart were unfolded to his keen observation.
Her rare periods of passionate discontent, however, though leaving her spent and listless for a time after they had passed over her, did not embitter her. There was a fund of native sweetness in Margaret's soul that even her life with cynical old Osmond Berkeley could not blight. That philosopher marvelled often at his inability to spoil her, remarkably open as he found her young mind to the ideas and theories which he delighted in impressing upon her. It was indeed amazing how readily she would select from the intellectual feast daily spread before her what was wholesome and pure and reject what was morbid.
"That's right," he would approve when she would frankly refuse to accept a dogma laid down to her. "Better think for yourself, even though you think wrongly, than do as the other females of the species do—believe whatever they are told to believe—or, worse, what it suits their personal interests to believe. Be everlastingly thankful to me that I encourage you to think for yourself, to face the facts of life. George Meredith writes, 'The education of girls is to make them think that facts are their enemies.' You shall not escape some knowledge of facts if I can help it!"
"It's awfully nice of you to care so much about my mind, Uncle Osmond," she gratefully responded. "To really care for anything about me. I do love to be mothered and coddled and made much of!"
"Huh! 'Mothered and coddled and made much of!' You're at the wrong shop! And don't let me hear you misuse that word 'nice.'"
"I insist upon being pleased at your caring at least about my mind! I'd be grateful even to a dog that was good to me."
"I'm not a dog, and I'm never so 'good' to any one that you could notice it particularly."
"Don't try to make yourself out worse than you are; you're bad enough, honey, in all conscience!"
"Hold your impudence and bring me Volume Third of Kant's 'Critique.'"
"Oh, dear!" Margaret sighed as she obeyed, "is it going to be that awful dope to-day? I hoped up to the last you'd choose an exciting novel. Do you know I don't think it's womanly to understand Kant's 'Critique.'"
"I've no desire to be womanly. Do as I tell you."
In addition to finding his niece capable and patient as a nurse and housekeeper, Margaret interested him more than any individual he had known in many years. He secretly blessed the hour when she had come into his sombre life to enliven and, yes, enrich it. Not for worlds, however, would he have let her know what she was to him.
There were rare moments when he was actually moved to an expression of gratitude and tenderness for his long-suffering victim; but Margaret's touchingly eager response to such overtures (heart-hungry as she was in her loneliness) while gratifying him, had always the effect of making him promptly withdraw into his hard shell again and to counteract, by his most trying exactions, his momentary softness; so that in time she learned to dread any least sign of amiability.
She did not know the full extent of her uncle's selfishness in his treatment of her: how ruthlessly he schemed to avert the danger which he thought often threatened him of losing her to some one of the half-dozen middle-aged or elderly gentlemen of learning who had the habit of visiting him in his retirement and who, to the last man of them, whether married or single, adored his niece. It seemed that no man could lay eyes on her without promptly loving her (what men called love). Even his physician, happily , was, Berkeley could see, quite mad about her, though Margaret never discovered it; she only thought him extremely agreeable and kind and liked him accordingly. Indeed the only fun she ever got out of this train of admirers was an occasional hour of liberty while they were closeted with her uncle; for he took care, as soon as he realized how alluring she was to most men, to have her out of the way when his acquaintances dropped in, a deprivation to his own comfort for which the visitor paid in an extra dose of pessimism and irony.