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Maggie travels to her aunt, Mrs. Pullet's, where the Dodson family is having a party to celebrate Tom's reacquisition of the mill. The family chatters about who will donate what to Tom for his house and about the unsatisfactoriness of Maggie's returning to a governess job, when she might stay at one of her aunts' houses instead. When the party is over, Lucy has convinced Tom to drive her and Mrs. Tulliver home. Lucy sits up front with Tom and tells him about Philip's use of his influence to get Wakem to sell the mill. Lucy hopes that Tom will reverse his feelings toward Philip, but Tom refuses. All Lucy has accomplished is making Tom suspicious that Maggie will marry Philip.
Maggie returns for a final visit to the Deanes' before leaving for her new job. Stephen has felt compelled to dine at the Deane's to see Maggie as much as possible before she leaves. He takes interest in little else besides watching Maggie and singing. Maggie, too, is beginning to feel slightly selfish and allows for their nightly glances to each other.
One afternoon when Philip is visiting, Lucy invites him on a boatride with them the next day. Stephen bows out, claiming not to like such a large number of people in a boat, but Philip senses that Maggie is his reason for not coming. Philip agrees to row Maggie and Lucy the following morning. Later that evening, Philip observes a glance between Maggie and Stephen and sees Maggie quickly look guiltily to himself. Philip goes home feeling and stays awake feeling almost certain that Maggie and Stephen have feelings for each other.
In the morning, Philip has made himself too ill with jealousy to keep his date to row with Lucy and Maggie. He sends a note to Stephen saying he cannot go and asking Stephen to take his place. Meanwhile, Lucy has schemed to ride ahead to Lindum with her father to leave Philip and Maggie alone on the boatride. Maggie looks forward to a day spent with Philip's calmness.
When Stephen arrives, Maggie is flustered and explains that they cannot go. Stephen entreats Maggie to go, and Maggie submits. Stephen rows Maggie downriver, and Maggie feels she is in an "enchanted haze." Suddenly, Maggie realizes they have passed the meeting point with Lucy by a long way. Maggie begins to sob in fear, but Stephen calms her and asks her to run away with him to be married. He argues that they are passive actors in their own fate—despite all their avoidance, they have been thrust together today and the fate has pulled them away from St. Ogg's and Lucy. Maggie resists Stephen—he has put her in a difficult position on purpose. Stephen contends that he didn't notice how far they'd come until they passed Luckreth. He is hurt and offers to stop the boat and take the blame. Maggie is affected by this image of Stephen suffering. He moves next to her, and they float on in silence. Stephen takes her silence for yielding and rows on toward Torby.
A trading boat nears them, and Stephen suggests they get on it and ride to Mudport before it begins raining. Maggie is exhausted and feels that no decisions can be made today. Stephen feels he has triumphed and murmurs words of love to Maggie, about their life together. Maggie goes to sleep for the night on deck with Stephen watching over her.
At 3:00 a.m., near dawn, Maggie has a dream that St. Ogg's boat is coming at them across the water, and the Virgin is Lucy and first Philip, then Tom, is St. Ogg. They row right past Maggie though she calls out to them and leans toward them. Her leaning capsizes her own boat in the dream, and she "awakes" to find herself a child again the parlor at Dorlcote Mill with Tom not angry with her.
Maggie soon truly awakes and feels an immediate sense of resolve to resist Stephen. Stephen awakes, and they walk around the boat together waiting for the 5:00 a.m. docking at Mudport. Stephen senses a change in Maggie's attitude, but Maggie is unwilling to tell him she will leave him until the last minute. When Maggie does tell him, Stephen becomes angry but escorts her off the boat to look for an inn. Maggie senses that someone in the crowd is approaching her, but she does not see who it is. At the inn, Maggie asks for a room for them to sit down. Maggie tells Stephen that she cannot believe in their love because it would mean causing pain to others that rely on them. Stephen argues that is too late—the damage has been done. He insists that they have "both been rescued from a mistake" and that Maggie must not love him as much as he loves her if she can consider leaving. He warns her about what St. Ogg's will say of her, even now, if she returns immediately. Stephen, pained, tells her to leave him at once, and she does. She gets mechanically into a coach without speaking and doesn't realize until late that night that the coach has brought her to York, farther from her home. She gets a room in an inn and thinks of Stephen.
The events leading up to the boat ride in Chapter XIII were alluded to earlier in Chapter VI of Book Sixth, in which the narrator points to the decisive effect of outside events on a character's fate, as well as the character's psychology. We have seen this action already in The Mill on the Floss, when Mr. Tulliver's tragic fate is inadvertently helped along by the good intentions of Mrs. Tulliver in going to plead with Wakem. Here, Maggie and Stephen are thrust back together by a twist of circumstance. However, character is still seen to figure largely in some cases. Stephen may allow the circumstances to favorably dictate his future, but Maggie will eventually struggle to resist the circumstance, as it acts against her character.
Stephen and Maggie's boat ride is the first time that they have let their emotions truly reign for an extended period of time. The atmosphere is one of intoxication ("haze") and unconsciously pleasant distraction ("the delicious rhythmic dip of the oars"). Instead of rigorously exercising their ethical minds in restriction of their attraction, for once they each enjoy the release of a united, undivided minds: "the sweet solitude of a twofold consciousness that was mingled into one by that grave untiring gaze which need not be averted." They are living in an absolute present, without the accountabilities of "the past and the future that lay outside the haze." Maggie becomes enticed into this feeling of passivity and blamelessness for the day. Though of different form, Maggie's submission to Stephen produces the same effect of tranquility as her submission to Philip and his wise advice.
The arguments between Stephen and Maggie in these final chapters of Book Sixth comprise the only real discussion we've seen between them. When they are not arguing, they are silent, or Stephen murmurs expressions of love. In these discussions, Stephen's argument is essentially circular and egotistical and calls on them to be passive figures. He continually contends that they must be together because of their love, while Maggie feels the pull of others' feelings more. The only complexity of their argument, the complexity that keeps Maggie puzzled, is Stephen's depiction of himself as suffering. This pulls on Maggie's compassion, in the same way that Philip's and Lucy's claims do. Ultimately, Maggie's decision is depicted as a choice between two modes of suffering, suffering the loss of her connections, or suffering the loss of Stephen's passionate regard. Maggie's choice—to leave Stephen—speaks to the importance of her past to her. Maggie's past is full of nostalgic memories of Dorlcote Mill, memories of difficult choices made and trials overcome, and full of the shared history between herself and Lucy, and Philip, as well as Tom and the rest of her family. In comparison, Stephen's passion is something newer to her and therefore not to be as sorely missed as an integral part of her being. Maggie refuses to live perpetually in the moment—she longs for the claims her past makes on her and believes that they make her a nobler person.
Stephen tries to warn Maggie of the outside opposition from St. Ogg society that will counter her sense of herself as noble, but Maggie, as usual, has no mind for social understanding. Fate again acts against Maggie when her stagecoach carries her in the opposite direction from home, assuring that her time away will be that much longer, and she will seem that much less respectable.
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