Meet us on:
 
Entire Site
    Try our fun game

    Dueling book covers…may the best design win!

    Random Quote
    "Happiness depends upon ourselves."
     

    Subscribe to Our Newsletter

    Follow us on Twitter

    Never miss a good book again! Follow Read Print on Twitter

    Chapter 5

    • Rate it:
    • Average Rating: 4.6 out of 5 based on 8 ratings
    • 7 Favorites on Read Print
    Launch Reading Mode Next Chapter
    Chapter 6
    Previous Chapter
    CHAPTER V - DECISION

    'I ask Thee for a thoughtful love,

    Through constant watching wise,

    To meet the glad with joyful smiles,

    And to wipe the weeping eyes;

    And a heart at leisure from itself

    To soothe and sympathise.'

    ANON.

    Margaret made a good listener to all her mother's little plans
    for adding some small comforts to the lot of the poorer
    parishioners. She could not help listening, though each new
    project was a stab to her heart. By the time the frost had set
    in, they should be far away from Helstone. Old Simon's rheumatism
    might be bad and his eyesight worse; there would be no one to go
    and read to him, and comfort him with little porringers of broth
    and good red flannel: or if there was, it would be a stranger,
    and the old man would watch in vain for her. Mary Domville's
    little crippled boy would crawl in vain to the door and look for
    her coming through the forest. These poor friends would never
    understand why she had forsaken them; and there were many others
    besides. 'Papa has always spent the income he derived from his
    living in the parish. I am, perhaps, encroaching upon the next
    dues, but the winter is likely to be severe, and our poor old
    people must be helped.'

    'Oh, mamma, let us do all we can,' said Margaret eagerly, not
    seeing the prudential side of the question, only grasping at the
    idea that they were rendering such help for the last time; 'we
    may not be here long.'

    'Do you feel ill, my darling?' asked Mrs. Hale, anxiously,
    misunderstanding Margaret's hint of the uncertainty of their stay
    at Helstone. 'You look pale and tired. It is this soft, damp,
    unhealthy air.'

    'No--no, mamma, it is not that: it is delicious air. It smells of
    the freshest, purest fragrance, after the smokiness of Harley
    Street. But I am tired: it surely must be near bedtime.'

    'Not far off--it is half-past nine. You had better go to bed at
    dear. Ask Dixon for some gruel. I will come and see you as soon
    as you are in bed. I am afraid you have taken cold; or the bad
    air from some of the stagnant ponds--'

    'Oh, mamma,' said Margaret, faintly smiling as she kissed her
    mother, 'I am quite well--don't alarm yourself about me; I am
    only tired.'

    Margaret went upstairs. To soothe her mother's anxiety she
    submitted to a basin of gruel. She was lying languidly in bed
    when Mrs. Hale came up to make some last inquiries and kiss her
    before going to her own room for the night. But the instant she
    heard her mother's door locked, she sprang out of bed, and
    throwing her dressing-gown on, she began to pace up and down the
    room, until the creaking of one of the boards reminded her that
    she must make no noise. She went and curled herself up on the
    window-seat in the small, deeply-recessed window. That morning
    when she had looked out, her heart had danced at seeing the
    bright clear lights on the church tower, which foretold a fine
    and sunny day. This evening--sixteen hours at most had past
    by--she sat down, too full of sorrow to cry, but with a dull cold
    pain, which seemed to have pressed the youth and buoyancy out of
    her heart, never to return. Mr. Henry Lennox's visit--his
    offer--was like a dream, a thing beside her actual life. The hard
    reality was, that her father had so admitted tempting doubts into
    his mind as to become a schismatic--an outcast; all the changes
    consequent upon this grouped themselves around that one great
    blighting fact.

    She looked out upon the dark-gray lines of the church tower,
    square and straight in the centre of the view, cutting against
    the deep blue transparent depths beyond, into which she gazed,
    and felt that she might gaze for ever, seeing at every moment
    some farther distance, and yet no sign of God! It seemed to her
    at the moment, as if the earth was more utterly desolate than if
    girt in by an iron dome, behind which there might be the
    ineffaceable peace and glory of the Almighty: those never-ending
    depths of space, in their still serenity, were more mocking to
    her than any material bounds could be--shutting in the cries of
    earth's sufferers, which now might ascend into that infinite
    splendour of vastness and be lost--lost for ever, before they
    reached His throne. In this mood her father came in unheard. The
    moonlight was strong enough to let him see his daughter in her
    unusual place and attitude. He came to her and touched her
    shoulder before she was aware that he was there.

    'Margaret, I heard you were up. I could not help coming in to ask
    you to pray with me--to say the Lord's Prayer; that will do good
    to both of us.'

    Mr. Hale and Margaret knelt by the window-seat--he looking up,
    she bowed down in humble shame. God was there, close around them,
    hearing her father's whispered words. Her father might be a
    heretic; but had not she, in her despairing doubts not five
    minutes before, shown herself a far more utter sceptic? She spoke
    not a word, but stole to bed after her father had left her, like
    a child ashamed of its fault. If the world was full of perplexing
    problems she would trust, and only ask to see the one step
    needful for the hour. Mr. Lennox--his visit, his proposal--the
    remembrance of which had been so rudely pushed aside by the
    subsequent events of the day--haunted her dreams that night. He
    was climbing up some tree of fabulous height to reach the branch
    whereon was slung her bonnet: he was falling, and she was
    struggling to save him, but held back by some invisible powerful
    hand. He was dead. And yet, with a shifting of the scene, she was
    once more in the Harley Street drawing-room, talking to him as of
    old, and still with a consciousness all the time that she had
    seen him killed by that terrible fall.

    Miserable, unresting night! Ill preparation for the coming day!
    She awoke with a start, unrefreshed, and conscious of some
    reality worse even than her feverish dreams. It all came back
    upon her; not merely the sorrow, but the terrible discord in the
    sorrow. Where, to what distance apart, had her father wandered,
    led by doubts which were to her temptations of the Evil One? She
    longed to ask, and yet would not have heard for all the world.

    The fine Crisp morning made her mother feel particularly well and
    happy at breakfast-time. She talked on, planning village
    kindnesses, unheeding the silence of her husband and the
    monosyllabic answers of Margaret. Before the things were cleared
    away, Mr. Hale got up; he leaned one hand on the table, as if to
    support himself:

    'I shall not be at home till evening. I am going to Bracy Common,
    and will ask Farmer Dobson to give me something for dinner. I
    shall be back to tea at seven.' He did not look at either of
    them, but Margaret knew what he meant. By seven the announcement
    must be made to her mother. Mr. Hale would have delayed making it
    till half-past six, but Margaret was of different stuff. She
    could not bear the impending weight on her mind all the day long:
    better get the worst over; the day would be too short to comfort
    her mother. But while she stood by the window, thinking how to
    begin, and waiting for the servant to have left the room, her
    mother had gone up-stairs to put on her things to go to the
    school. She came down ready equipped, in a brisker mood than
    usual.

    'Mother, come round the garden with me this morning; just one
    turn,' said Margaret, putting her arm round Mrs. Hale's waist.

    They passed through the open window. Mrs. Hale spoke--said
    something--Margaret could not tell what. Her eye caught on a bee
    entering a deep-belled flower: when that bee flew forth with his
    spoil she would begin--that should be the sign. Out he came.

    'Mamma! Papa is going to leave Helstone!' she blurted forth.
    'He's going to leave the Church, and live in Milton-Northern.'
    There were the three hard facts hardly spoken.

    'What makes you say so?' asked Mrs. Hale, in a surprised
    incredulous voice. 'Who has been telling you such nonsense?'

    'Papa himself,' said Margaret, longing to say something gentle
    and consoling, but literally not knowing how. They were close to
    a garden-bench. Mrs. Hale sat down, and began to cry.

    'I don't understand you,' she said. 'Either you have made some
    great mistake, or I don't quite understand you.'

    'No, mother, I have made no mistake. Papa has written to the
    bishop, saying that he has such doubts that he cannot
    conscientiously remain a priest of the Church of England, and
    that he must give up Helstone. He has also consulted Mr.
    Bell--Frederick's godfather, you know, mamma; and it is arranged
    that we go to live in Milton-Northern.' Mrs. Hale looked up in
    Margaret's face all the time she was speaking these words: the
    shadow on her countenance told that she, at least, believed in
    the truth of what she said.

    'I don't think it can be true,' said Mrs. Hale, at length. 'He
    would surely have told me before it came to this.'

    It came strongly upon Margaret's mind that her mother ought to
    have been told: that whatever her faults of discontent and
    repining might have been, it was an error in her father to have
    left her to learn his change of opinion, and his approaching
    change of life, from her better-informed child. Margaret sat down
    by her mother, and took her unresisting head on her breast,
    bending her own soft cheeks down caressingly to touch her face.

    'Dear, darling mamma! we were so afraid of giving you pain. Papa
    felt so acutely--you know you are not strong, and there must have
    been such terrible suspense to go through.'

    'When did he tell you, Margaret?'

    'Yesterday, only yesterday,' replied Margaret, detecting the
    jealousy which prompted the inquiry. 'Poor papa!'--trying to
    divert her mother's thoughts into compassionate sympathy for all
    her father had gone through. Mrs. Hale raised her head.

    'What does he mean by having doubts?' she asked. 'Surely, he does
    not mean that he thinks differently--that he knows better than
    the Church.' Margaret shook her head, and the tears came into her
    eyes, as her mother touched the bare nerve of her own regret.

    'Can't the bishop set him right?' asked Mrs. Hale, half
    impatiently.

    'I'm afraid not,' said Margaret. 'But I did not ask. I could not
    bear to hear what he might answer. It is all settled at any rate.
    He is going to leave Helstone in a fortnight. I am not sure if he
    did not say he had sent in his deed of resignation.'

    'In a fortnight!' exclaimed Mrs. Hale, 'I do think this is very
    strange--not at all right. I call it very unfeeling,' said she,
    beginning to take relief in tears. 'He has doubts, you say, and
    gives up his living, and all without consulting me. I dare say,
    if he had told me his doubts at the first I could have nipped
    them in the bud.'

    Mistaken as Margaret felt her father's conduct to have been, she
    could not bear to hear it blamed by her mother. She knew that his
    very reserve had originated in a tenderness for her, which might
    be cowardly, but was not unfeeling.

    'I almost hoped you might have been glad to leave Helstone,
    mamma,' said she, after a pause. 'You have never been well in
    this air, you know.'

    'You can't think the smoky air of a manufacturing town, all
    chimneys and dirt like Milton-Northern, would be better than this
    air, which is pure and sweet, if it is too soft and relaxing.
    Fancy living in the middle of factories, and factory people!
    Though, of course, if your father leaves the Church, we shall not
    be admitted into society anywhere. It will be such a disgrace to
    us! Poor dear Sir John! It is well he is not alive to see what
    your father has come to! Every day after dinner, when I was a
    girl, living with your aunt Shaw, at Beresford Court, Sir John
    used to give for the first toast--"Church and King, and down with
    the Rump."'

    Margaret was glad that her mother's thoughts were turned away
    from the fact of her husband's silence to her on the point which
    must have been so near his heart. Next to the serious vital
    anxiety as to the nature of her father's doubts, this was the one
    circumstance of the case that gave Margaret the most pain.

    'You know, we have very little society here, mamma. The Gormans,
    who are our nearest neighbours (to call society--and we hardly
    ever see them), have been in trade just as much as these
    Milton-Northern people.'

    'Yes,' said Mrs. Hale, almost indignantly, 'but, at any rate, the
    Gormans made carriages for half the gentry of the county, and
    were brought into some kind of intercourse with them; but these
    factory people, who on earth wears cotton that can afford linen?'

    'Well, mamma, I give up the cotton-spinners; I am not standing up
    for them, any more than for any other trades-people. Only we
    shall have little enough to do with them.'

    'Why on earth has your father fixed on Milton-Northern to live
    in?'

    'Partly,' said Margaret, sighing, 'because it is so very
    different from Helstone--partly because Mr. Bell says there is an
    opening there for a private tutor.'

    'Private tutor in Milton! Why can't he go to Oxford, and be a
    tutor to gentlemen?'

    'You forget, mamma! He is leaving the Church on account of his
    opinions--his doubts would do him no good at Oxford.'

    Mrs. Hale was silent for some time, quietly crying. At last she
    said:--

    'And the furniture--How in the world are we to manage the
    removal? I never removed in my life, and only a fortnight to
    think about it!'

    Margaret was inexpressibly relieved to find that her mother's
    anxiety and distress was lowered to this point, so insignificant
    to herself, and on which she could do so much to help. She
    planned and promised, and led her mother on to arrange fully as
    much as could be fixed before they knew somewhat more
    definitively what Mr. Hale intended to do. Throughout the day
    Margaret never left her mother; bending her whole soul to
    sympathise in all the various turns her feelings took; towards
    evening especially, as she became more and more anxious that her
    father should find a soothing welcome home awaiting him, after
    his return from his day of fatigue and distress. She dwelt upon
    what he must have borne in secret for long; her mother only
    replied coldly that he ought to have told her, and that then at
    any rate he would have had an adviser to give him counsel; and
    Margaret turned faint at heart when she heard her father's step
    in the hall. She dared not go to meet him, and tell him what she
    had done all day, for fear of her mother's jealous annoyance. She
    heard him linger, as if awaiting her, or some sign of her; and
    she dared not stir; she saw by her mother's twitching lips, and
    changing colour, that she too was aware that her husband had
    returned. Presently he opened the room-door, and stood there
    uncertain whether to come in. His face was gray and pale; he had
    a timid, fearful look in his eyes; something almost pitiful to
    see in a man's face; but that look of despondent uncertainty, of
    mental and bodily languor, touched his wife's heart. She went to
    him, and threw herself on his breast, crying out--

    'Oh! Richard, Richard, you should have told me sooner!'

    And then, in tears, Margaret left her, as she rushed up-stairs to
    throw herself on her bed, and hide her face in the pillows to
    stifle the hysteric sobs that would force their way at last,
    after the rigid self-control of the whole day. How long she lay
    thus she could not tell. She heard no noise, though the housemaid
    came in to arrange the room. The affrighted girl stole out again
    on tip-toe, and went and told Mrs. Dixon that Miss Hale was
    crying as if her heart would break: she was sure she would make
    herself deadly ill if she went on at that rate. In consequence of
    this, Margaret felt herself touched, and started up into a
    sitting posture; she saw the accustomed room, the figure of Dixon
    in shadow, as the latter stood holding the candle a little behind
    her, for fear of the effect on Miss Hale's startled eyes, swollen
    and blinded as they were.

    'Oh, Dixon! I did not hear you come into the room!' said
    Margaret, resuming her trembling self-restraint. 'Is it very
    late?' continued she, lifting herself languidly off the bed, yet
    letting her feet touch the ground without fairly standing down,
    as she shaded her wet ruffled hair off her face, and tried to
    look as though nothing were the matter; as if she had only been
    asleep.

    'I hardly can tell what time it is,' replied Dixon, in an
    aggrieved tone of voice. 'Since your mamma told me this terrible
    news, when I dressed her for tea, I've lost all count of time.
    I'm sure I don't know what is to become of us all. When Charlotte
    told me just now you were sobbing, Miss Hale, I thought, no
    wonder, poor thing! And master thinking of turning Dissenter at
    his time of life, when, if it is not to be said he's done well in
    the Church, he's not done badly after all. I had a cousin, miss,
    who turned Methodist preacher after he was fifty years of age,
    and a tailor all his life; but then he had never been able to
    make a pair of trousers to fit, for as long as he had been in the
    trade, so it was no wonder; but for master! as I said to missus,
    "What would poor Sir John have said? he never liked your marrying
    Mr. Hale, but if he could have known it would have come to this,
    he would have sworn worse oaths than ever, if that was
    possible!"'

    Dixon had been so much accustomed to comment upon Mr. Hale's
    proceedings to her mistress (who listened to her, or not, as she
    was in the humour), that she never noticed Margaret's flashing
    eye and dilating nostril. To hear her father talked of in this
    way by a servant to her face!

    'Dixon,' she said, in the low tone she always used when much
    excited, which had a sound in it as of some distant turmoil, or
    threatening storm breaking far away. 'Dixon! you forget to whom
    you are speaking.' She stood upright and firm on her feet now,
    confronting the waiting-maid, and fixing her with her steady
    discerning eye. 'I am Mr. Hale's daughter. Go! You have made a
    strange mistake, and one that I am sure your own good feeling
    will make you sorry for when you think about it.'

    Dixon hung irresolutely about the room for a minute or two.
    Margaret repeated, 'You may leave me, Dixon. I wish you to go.'
    Dixon did not know whether to resent these decided words or to
    cry; either course would have done with her mistress: but, as she
    said to herself, 'Miss Margaret has a touch of the old gentleman
    about her, as well as poor Master Frederick; I wonder where they
    get it from?' and she, who would have resented such words from
    any one less haughty and determined in manner, was subdued enough
    to say, in a half humble, half injured tone:

    'Mayn't I unfasten your gown, miss, and do your hair?'

    'No! not to-night, thank you.' And Margaret gravely lighted her
    out of the room, and bolted the door. From henceforth Dixon
    obeyed and admired Margaret. She said it was because she was so
    like poor Master Frederick; but the truth was, that Dixon, as do
    many others, liked to feel herself ruled by a powerful and
    decided nature.

    Margaret needed all Dixon's help in action, and silence in words;
    for, for some time, the latter thought it her duty to show her
    sense of affront by saying as little as possible to her young
    lady; so the energy came out in doing rather than in speaking A
    fortnight was a very short time to make arrangements for so
    serious a removal; as Dixon said, 'Any one but a
    gentleman--indeed almost any other gentleman--' but catching a
    look at Margaret's straight, stern brow just here, she coughed
    the remainder of the sentence away, and meekly took the horehound
    drop that Margaret offered her, to stop the 'little tickling at
    my chest, miss.' But almost any one but Mr. Hale would have had
    practical knowledge enough to see, that in so short a time it
    would be difficult to fix on any house in Milton-Northern, or
    indeed elsewhere, to which they could remove the furniture that
    had of necessity to be taken out of Helstone vicarage. Mrs. Hale,
    overpowered by all the troubles and necessities for immediate
    household decisions that seemed to come upon her at once, became
    really ill, and Margaret almost felt it as a relief when her
    mother fairly took to her bed, and left the management of affairs
    to her. Dixon, true to her post of body-guard, attended most
    faithfully to her mistress, and only emerged from Mrs. Hale's
    bed-room to shake her head, and murmur to herself in a manner
    which Margaret did not choose to hear. For, the one thing clear
    and straight before her, was the necessity for leaving Helstone.
    Mr. Hale's successor in the living was appointed; and, at any
    rate, after her father's decision; there must be no lingering
    now, for his sake, as well as from every other consideration. For
    he came home every evening more and more depressed, after the
    necessary leave-taking which he had resolved to have with every
    individual parishioner. Margaret, inexperienced as she was in all
    the necessary matter-of-fact business to be got through, did not
    know to whom to apply for advice. The cook and Charlotte worked
    away with willing arms and stout hearts at all the moving and
    packing; and as far as that went, Margaret's admirable sense
    enabled her to see what was best, and to direct how it should be
    done. But where were they to go to? In a week they must be gone.
    Straight to Milton, or where? So many arrangements depended on
    this decision that Margaret resolved to ask her father one
    evening, in spite of his evident fatigue and low spirits. He
    answered:

    'My dear! I have really had too much to think about to settle
    this. What does your mother say? What does she wish? Poor Maria!'

    He met with an echo even louder than his sigh. Dixon had just
    come into the room for another cup of tea for Mrs. Hale, and
    catching Mr. Hale's last words, and protected by his presence
    from Margaret's upbraiding eyes, made bold to say, 'My poor
    mistress!'

    'You don't think her worse to-day,' said Mr. Hale, turning
    hastily.

    'I'm sure I can't say, sir. It's not for me to judge. The illness
    seems so much more on the mind than on the body.'

    Mr. Hale looked infinitely distressed.

    'You had better take mamma her tea while it is hot, Dixon,' said
    Margaret, in a tone of quiet authority.

    'Oh! I beg your pardon, miss! My thoughts was otherwise occupied
    in thinking of my poor----of Mrs. Hale.'

    'Papa!' said Margaret, 'it is this suspense that is bad for you
    both. Of course, mamma must feel your change of opinions: we
    can't help that,' she continued, softly; 'but now the course is
    clear, at least to a certain point. And I think, papa, that I
    could get mamma to help me in planning, if you could tell me what
    to plan for. She has never expressed any wish in any way, and
    only thinks of what can't be helped. Are we to go straight to
    Milton? Have you taken a house there?'

    'No,' he replied. 'I suppose we must go into lodgings, and look
    about for a house.

    'And pack up the furniture so that it can be left at the railway
    station, till we have met with one?'

    'I suppose so. Do what you think best. Only remember, we shall
    have much less money to spend.'

    They had never had much superfluity, as Margaret knew. She felt
    that it was a great weight suddenly thrown upon her shoulders.
    Four months ago, all the decisions she needed to make were what
    dress she would wear for dinner, and to help Edith to draw out
    the lists of who should take down whom in the dinner parties at
    home. Nor was the household in which she lived one that called
    for much decision. Except in the one grand case of Captain
    Lennox's offer, everything went on with the regularity of
    clockwork. Once a year, there was a long discussion between her
    aunt and Edith as to whether they should go to the Isle of Wight,
    abroad, or to Scotland; but at such times Margaret herself was
    secure of drifting, without any exertion of her own, into the
    quiet harbour of home. Now, since that day when Mr. Lennox came,
    and startled her into a decision, every day brought some
    question, momentous to her, and to those whom she loved, to be
    settled.

    Her father went up after tea to sit with his wife. Margaret
    remained alone in the drawing-room. Suddenly she took a candle
    and went into her father's study for a great atlas, and lugging
    it back into the drawing-room, she began to pore over the map of
    England. She was ready to look up brightly when her father came
    down stairs.

    'I have hit upon such a beautiful plan. Look here--in Darkshire,
    hardly the breadth of my finger from Milton, is Heston, which I
    have often heard of from people living in the north as such a
    pleasant little bathing-place. Now, don't you think we could get
    mamma there with Dixon, while you and I go and look at houses,
    and get one all ready for her in Milton? She would get a breath
    of sea air to set her up for the winter, and be spared all the
    fatigue, and Dixon would enjoy taking care of her.'

    'Is Dixon to go with us?' asked Mr. Hale, in a kind of helpless
    dismay.

    'Oh, yes!' said Margaret. 'Dixon quite intends it, and I don't
    know what mamma would do without her.'

    'But we shall have to put up with a very different way of living,
    I am afraid. Everything is so much dearer in a town. I doubt if
    Dixon can make herself comfortable. To tell you the truth
    Margaret, I sometimes feel as if that woman gave herself airs.'

    'To be sure she does, papa,' replied Margaret; 'and if she has to
    put up with a different style of living, we shall have to put up
    with her airs, which will be worse. But she really loves us all,
    and would be miserable to leave us, I am sure--especially in this
    change; so, for mamma's sake, and for the sake of her
    faithfulness, I do think she must go.'

    'Very well, my dear. Go on. I am resigned. How far is Heston from
    Milton? The breadth of one of your fingers does not give me a
    very clear idea of distance.'

    'Well, then, I suppose it is thirty miles; that is not much!'

    'Not in distance, but in--. Never mind! If you really think it
    will do your mother good, let it be fixed so.'

    This was a great step. Now Margaret could work, and act, and plan
    in good earnest. And now Mrs. Hale could rouse herself from her
    languor, and forget her real suffering in thinking of the
    pleasure and the delight of going to the sea-side. Her only
    regret was that Mr. Hale could not be with her all the fortnight
    she was to be there, as he had been for a whole fortnight once,
    when they were engaged, and she was staying with Sir John and
    Lady Beresford at Torquay.
    Next Chapter
    Chapter 6
    Previous Chapter
    If you're writing a Elizabeth Gaskell essay and need some advice, post your Elizabeth Gaskell essay question on our Facebook page where fellow bookworms are always glad to help!

    Top 5 Authors

    Top 5 Books

    Book Status
    Finished
    Want to read
    Abandoned

    Are you sure you want to leave this group?