Seamus returned, and still the hours passed with not a single word spoken between them, or an opportunity for any further conversation.
Finally she lit on a solution. The fire in the coal stove had burned low and the scuttle was nearly empty. There was a coal shed in the small yard at the back of the school, and Margaret usually asked one of the older boys to fill it when needed. Maggie asked Seamus.
“I’ll just unlock the door for you,” she said, and instructed Lizzie, one of the older girls, to watch over the classroom while she was gone.
Seamus didn’t speak to her as she led him out to the yard. Although it was spring the air still held a damp chill and Maggie drew her shawl more closely around her shoulders as she summoned the strength to begin.
“I’ve been wanting to talk to you,” she said as she fumbled with the key in the lock. “It almost seems as if you’re avoiding me, Seamus.”
“It seemed best,” he answered in a low voice, his tone terribly final.
“It doesn’t seem best to me,” she answered, and with the key left in the lock she turned to face him. “Seamus, I care about you.”
“Don’t say that! You keep thinking I’m some grand lady, but I’m not. I’m just like you.”
Seamus shook his head, and frustration made Maggie want to stamp her foot, or worse, cry. She swallowed hard and lifted her chin.
“Do you have any feelings for me at all?”
Seamus glanced away.
“It would be better if I didn’t.”
“But you do? Seamus, look at me at least!” Desperation making her bold, Maggie reached up to put her hands on his broad shoulders. “I love you,” she said, her voice trembling. “And I even dare to think you love me back.”
Seamus closed his eyes, clearly battling against his emotion. Against her.
“My aunt doesn’t matter,” Maggie continued rapidly. “I’ll be going back to a simple farming life. That’s who I really am! Why can’t you see that?”
Seamus opened his eyes.
“And if you’re going back, then what future is there for us?”
Maggie bit her lip. Could she really be so bold?
“There could be a future,” she said, her voice a whisper, “if you made it so. If you declared yourself.” Her cheeks were scarlet with mortification and she stared down at her feet. Seamus did not reply and she felt grief add its terrible weight to her humiliation. “You could speak to my aunt,” she whispered. “If you were of a mind to.”
Still Seamus said nothing, and Maggie risked a glance upwards. His expression was stony, and yet she saw a conflicted torment in his eyes.
“Seamus . . .”
“You should get back,” he cut her off gruffly, “or the whole classroom will be in a state, to be sure.”
She nodded, swallowing past the hot lump of tears that had lodged in her throat. He didn’t love her. She’d made a complete fool of herself, and for nothing.
“Maggie . . .” His voice stopped her at the door, her back to him. “I’ll think on it,” he said roughly, and then cleared his throat. “I . . . I do love you.”
Maggie whirled around.
“Get back in there.” Seamus waved towards the school. “I can’t say more now.”
And yet, Maggie thought, her heart singing, he had said enough.