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    Chapter 8

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    Chapter 9
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    CHAPTER VIII - HOME SICKNESS

    'And it's hame, hame; hame,

    Hame fain wad I be.'

    It needed the pretty light papering of the rooms to reconcile
    them to Milton. It needed more--more that could not be had. The
    thick yellow November fogs had come on; and the view of the plain
    in the valley, made by the sweeping bend of the river, was all
    shut out when Mrs. Hale arrived at her new home.

    Margaret and Dixon had been at work for two days, unpacking and
    arranging, but everything inside the house still looked in
    disorder; and outside a thick fog crept up to the very windows,
    and was driven in to every open door in choking white wreaths of
    unwholesome mist.

    'Oh, Margaret! are we to live here?' asked Mrs. Hale in blank
    dismay. Margaret's heart echoed the dreariness of the tone in
    which this question was put. She could scarcely command herself
    enough to say, 'Oh, the fogs in London are sometimes far worse!'

    'But then you knew that London itself, and friends lay behind it.
    Here--well! we are desolate. Oh Dixon, what a place this is!'

    'Indeed, ma'am, I'm sure it will be your death before long, and
    then I know who'll--stay! Miss Hale, that's far too heavy for you
    to lift.'

    'Not at all, thank you, Dixon,' replied Margaret, coldly. 'The
    best thing we can do for mamma is to get her room quite ready for
    her to go to bed, while I go and bring her a cup of coffee.'

    Mr. Hale was equally out of spirits, and equally came upon
    Margaret for sympathy.

    'Margaret, I do believe this is an unhealthy place. Only suppose
    that your mother's health or yours should suffer. I wish I had
    gone into some country place in Wales; this is really terrible,'
    said he, going up to the window. There was no comfort to be
    given. They were settled in Milton, and must endure smoke and
    fogs for a season; indeed, all other life seemed shut out from
    them by as thick a fog of circumstance. Only the day before, Mr.
    Hale had been reckoning up with dismay how much their removal and
    fortnight at Heston had cost, and he found it had absorbed nearly
    all his little stock of ready money. No! here they were, and here
    they must remain.

    At night when Margaret realised this, she felt inclined to sit
    down in a stupor of despair. The heavy smoky air hung about her
    bedroom, which occupied the long narrow projection at the back of
    the house. The window, placed at the side of the oblong, looked
    to the blank wall of a similar projection, not above ten feet
    distant. It loomed through the fog like a great barrier to hope.
    Inside the room everything was in confusion. All their efforts
    had been directed to make her mother's room comfortable. Margaret
    sat down on a box, the direction card upon which struck her as
    having been written at Helstone--beautiful, beloved Helstone! She
    lost herself in dismal thought: but at last she determined to
    take her mind away from the present; and suddenly remembered that
    she had a letter from Edith which she had only half read in the
    bustle of the morning. It was to tell of their arrival at Corfu;
    their voyage along the Mediterranean--their music, and dancing on
    board ship; the gay new life opening upon her; her house with its
    trellised balcony, and its views over white cliffs and deep blue
    sea. Edith wrote fluently and well, if not graphically. She could
    not only seize the salient and characteristic points of a scene,
    but she could enumerate enough of indiscriminate particulars for
    Margaret to make it out for herself Captain Lennox and another
    lately married officer shared a villa, high up on the beautiful
    precipitous rocks overhanging the sea. Their days, late as it was
    in the year, seemed spent in boating or land pic-nics; all
    out-of-doors, pleasure-seeking and glad, Edith's life seemed like
    the deep vault of blue sky above her, free--utterly free from
    fleck or cloud. Her husband had to attend drill, and she, the
    most musical officer's wife there, had to copy the new and
    popular tunes out of the most recent English music, for the
    benefit of the bandmaster; those seemed their most severe and
    arduous duties. She expressed an affectionate hope that, if the
    regiment stopped another year at Corfu, Margaret might come out
    and pay her a long visit. She asked Margaret if she remembered
    the day twelve-month on which she, Edith, wrote--how it rained
    all day long in Harley Street; and how she would not put on her
    new gown to go to a stupid dinner, and get it all wet and
    splashed in going to the carriage; and how at that very dinner
    they had first met Captain Lennox.

    Yes! Margaret remembered it well. Edith and Mrs. Shaw had gone to
    dinner. Margaret had joined the party in the evening. The
    recollection of the plentiful luxury of all the arrangements, the
    stately handsomeness of the furniture, the size of the house, the
    peaceful, untroubled ease of the visitors--all came vividly
    before her, in strange contrast to the present time. The smooth
    sea of that old life closed up, without a mark left to tell where
    they had all been. The habitual dinners, the calls, the shopping,
    the dancing evenings, were all going on, going on for ever,
    though her Aunt Shaw and Edith were no longer there; and she, of
    course, was even less missed. She doubted if any one of that old
    set ever thought of her, except Henry Lennox. He too, she knew,
    would strive to forget her, because of the pain she had caused
    him. She had heard him often boast of his power of putting any
    disagreeable thought far away from him. Then she penetrated
    farther into what might have been. If she had cared for him as a
    lover, and had accepted him, and this change in her father's
    opinions and consequent station had taken place, she could not
    doubt but that it would have been impatiently received by Mr.
    Lennox. It was a bitter mortification to her in one sense; but
    she could bear it patiently, because she knew her father's purity
    of purpose, and that strengthened her to endure his errors, grave
    and serious though in her estimation they were. But the fact of
    the world esteeming her father degraded, in its rough wholesale
    judgment, would have oppressed and irritated Mr. Lennox. As she
    realised what might have been, she grew to be thankful for what
    was. They were at the lowest now; they could not be worse.
    Edith's astonishment and her aunt Shaw's dismay would have to be
    met bravely, when their letters came. So Margaret rose up and
    began slowly to undress herself, feeling the full luxury of
    acting leisurely, late as it was, after all the past hurry of the
    day. She fell asleep, hoping for some brightness, either internal
    or external. But if she had known how long it would be before the
    brightness came, her heart would have sunk low down. The time of
    the year was most unpropitious to health as well as to spirits.
    Her mother caught a severe cold, and Dixon herself was evidently
    not well, although Margaret could not insult her more than by
    trying to save her, or by taking any care of her. They could hear
    of no girl to assist her; all were at work in the factories; at
    least, those who applied were well scolded by Dixon, for thinking
    that such as they could ever be trusted to work in a gentleman's
    house. So they had to keep a charwoman in almost constant employ.
    Margaret longed to send for Charlotte; but besides the objection
    of her being a better servant than they could now afford to keep,
    the distance was too great.

    Mr. Hale met with several pupils, recommended to him by Mr. Bell,
    or by the more immediate influence of Mr. Thornton. They were
    mostly of the age when many boys would be still at school, but,
    according to the prevalent, and apparently well-founded notions
    of Milton, to make a lad into a good tradesman he must be caught
    young, and acclimated to the life of the mill, or office, or
    warehouse. If he were sent to even the Scotch Universities, he
    came back unsettled for commercial pursuits; how much more so if
    he went to Oxford or Cambridge, where he could not be entered
    till he was eighteen? So most of the manufacturers placed their
    sons in sucking situations' at fourteen or fifteen years of age,
    unsparingly cutting away all off-shoots in the direction of
    literature or high mental cultivation, in hopes of throwing the
    whole strength and vigour of the plant into commerce. Still there
    were some wiser parents; and some young men, who had sense enough
    to perceive their own deficiencies, and strive to remedy them.
    Nay, there were a few no longer youths, but men in the prime of
    life, who had the stern wisdom to acknowledge their own
    ignorance, and to learn late what they should have learnt early.
    Mr. Thornton was perhaps the oldest of Mr. Hale's pupils. He was
    certainly the favourite. Mr. Hale got into the habit of quoting
    his opinions so frequently, and with such regard, that it became
    a little domestic joke to wonder what time, during the hour
    appointed for instruction, could be given to absolute learning,
    so much of it appeared to have been spent in conversation.

    Margaret rather encouraged this light, merry way of viewing her
    father's acquaintance with Mr. Thornton, because she felt that
    her mother was inclined to look upon this new friendship of her
    husband's with jealous eyes. As long as his time had been solely
    occupied with his books and his parishioners, as at Helstone, she
    had appeared to care little whether she saw much of him or not;
    but now that he looked eagerly forward to each renewal of his
    intercourse with Mr. Thornton, she seemed hurt and annoyed, as if
    he were slighting her companionship for the first time. Mr.
    Hale's over-praise had the usual effect of over-praise upon his
    auditors; they were a little inclined to rebel against Aristides
    being always called the Just.

    After a quiet life in a country parsonage for more than twenty
    years, there was something dazzling to Mr. Hale in the energy
    which conquered immense difficulties with ease; the power of the
    machinery of Milton, the power of the men of Milton, impressed
    him with a sense of grandeur, which he yielded to without caring
    to inquire into the details of its exercise. But Margaret went
    less abroad, among machinery and men; saw less of power in its
    public effect, and, as it happened, she was thrown with one or
    two of those who, in all measures affecting masses of people,
    must be acute sufferers for the good of many. The question always
    is, has everything been done to make the sufferings of these
    exceptions as small as possible? Or, in the triumph of the
    crowded procession, have the helpless been trampled on, instead
    of being gently lifted aside out of the roadway of the conqueror,
    whom they have no power to accompany on his march?

    It fell to Margaret's share to have to look out for a servant to
    assist Dixon, who had at first undertaken to find just the person
    she wanted to do all the rough work of the house. But Dixon's
    ideas of helpful girls were founded on the recollection of tidy
    elder scholars at Helstone school, who were only too proud to be
    allowed to come to the parsonage on a busy day, and treated Mrs.
    Dixon with all the respect, and a good deal more of fright, which
    they paid to Mr. and Mrs. Hale. Dixon was not unconscious of this
    awed reverence which was given to her; nor did she dislike it; it
    flattered her much as Louis the Fourteenth was flattered by his
    courtiers shading their eyes from the dazzling light of his
    presence.' But nothing short of her faithful love for Mrs. Hale
    could have made her endure the rough independent way in which all
    the Milton girls, who made application for the servant's place,
    replied to her inquiries respecting their qualifications. They
    even went the length of questioning her back again; having doubts
    and fears of their own, as to the solvency of a family who lived
    in a house of thirty pounds a-year, and yet gave themselves airs,
    and kept two servants, one of them so very high and mighty. Mr.
    Hale was no longer looked upon as Vicar of Helstone, but as a man
    who only spent at a certain rate. Margaret was weary and
    impatient of the accounts which Dixon perpetually brought to Mrs.
    Hale of the behaviour of these would-be servants. Not but what
    Margaret was repelled by the rough uncourteous manners of these
    people; not but what she shrunk with fastidious pride from their
    hail-fellow accost and severely resented their unconcealed
    curiosity as to the means and position of any family who lived in
    Milton, and yet were not engaged in trade of some kind. But the
    more Margaret felt impertinence, the more likely she was to be
    silent on the subject; and, at any rate, if she took upon herself
    to make inquiry for a servant, she could spare her mother the
    recital of all her disappointments and fancied or real insults.

    Margaret accordingly went up and down to butchers and grocers,
    seeking for a nonpareil of a girl; and lowering her hopes and
    expectations every week, as she found the difficulty of meeting
    with any one in a manufacturing town who did not prefer the
    better wages and greater independence of working in a mill. It
    was something of a trial to Margaret to go out by herself in this
    busy bustling place. Mrs. Shaw's ideas of propriety and her own
    helpless dependence on others, had always made her insist that a
    footman should accompany Edith and Margaret, if they went beyond
    Harley Street or the immediate neighbourhood. The limits by which
    this rule of her aunt's had circumscribed Margaret's independence
    had been silently rebelled against at the time: and she had
    doubly enjoyed the free walks and rambles of her forest life,
    from the contrast which they presented. She went along there with
    a bounding fearless step, that occasionally broke out into a run,
    if she were in a hurry, and occasionally was stilled into perfect
    repose, as she stood listening to, or watching any of the wild
    creatures who sang in the leafy courts, or glanced out with their
    keen bright eyes from the low brushwood or tangled furze. It was
    a trial to come down from such motion or such stillness, only
    guided by her own sweet will, to the even and decorous pace
    necessary in streets. But she could have laughed at herself for
    minding this change, if it had not been accompanied by what was a
    more serious annoyance. The side of the town on which Crampton
    lay was especially a thoroughfare for the factory people. In the
    back streets around them there were many mills, out of which
    poured streams of men and women two or three times a day. Until
    Margaret had learnt the times of their ingress and egress, she
    was very unfortunate in constantly falling in with them. They
    came rushing along, with bold, fearless faces, and loud laughs
    and jests, particularly aimed at all those who appeared to be
    above them in rank or station. The tones of their unrestrained
    voices, and their carelessness of all common rules of street
    politeness, frightened Margaret a little at first. The girls,
    with their rough, but not unfriendly freedom, would comment on
    her dress, even touch her shawl or gown to ascertain the exact
    material; nay, once or twice she was asked questions relative to
    some article which they particularly admired. There was such a
    simple reliance on her womanly sympathy with their love of dress,
    and on her kindliness, that she gladly replied to these
    inquiries, as soon as she understood them; and half smiled back
    at their remarks. She did not mind meeting any number of girls,
    loud spoken and boisterous though they might be. But she
    alternately dreaded and fired up against the workmen, who
    commented not on her dress, but on her looks, in the same open
    fearless manner. She, who had hitherto felt that even the most
    refined remark on her personal appearance was an impertinence,
    had to endure undisguised admiration from these outspoken men.
    But the very out-spokenness marked their innocence of any
    intention to hurt her delicacy, as she would have perceived if
    she had been less frightened by the disorderly tumult. Out of her
    fright came a flash of indignation which made her face scarlet,
    and her dark eyes gather flame, as she heard some of their
    speeches. Yet there were other sayings of theirs, which, when she
    reached the quiet safety of home, amused her even while they
    irritated her.

    For instance, one day, after she had passed a number of men,
    several of whom had paid her the not unusual compliment of
    wishing she was their sweetheart, one of the lingerers added,
    'Your bonny face, my lass, makes the day look brighter.' And
    another day, as she was unconsciously smiling at some passing
    thought, she was addressed by a poorly-dressed, middle-aged
    workman, with 'You may well smile, my lass; many a one would
    smile to have such a bonny face.' This man looked so careworn
    that Margaret could not help giving him an answering smile, glad
    to think that her looks, such as they were, should have had the
    power to call up a pleasant thought. He seemed to understand her
    acknowledging glance, and a silent recognition was established
    between them whenever the chances of the day brought them across
    each other s paths. They had never exchanged a word; nothing had
    been said but that first compliment; yet somehow Margaret looked
    upon this man with more interest than upon any one else in
    Milton. Once or twice, on Sundays, she saw him walking with a
    girl, evidently his daughter, and, if possible, still more
    unhealthy than he was himself.

    One day Margaret and her father had been as far as the fields
    that lay around the town; it was early spring, and she had
    gathered some of the hedge and ditch flowers, dog-violets, lesser
    celandines, and the like, with an unspoken lament in her heart
    for the sweet profusion of the South. Her father had left her to
    go into Milton upon some business; and on the road home she met
    her humble friends. The girl looked wistfully at the flowers,
    and, acting on a sudden impulse, Margaret offered them to her.
    Her pale blue eyes lightened up as she took them, and her father
    spoke for her.

    'Thank yo, Miss. Bessy'll think a deal o' them flowers; that hoo
    will; and I shall think a deal o' yor kindness. Yo're not of this
    country, I reckon?'

    'No!' said Margaret, half sighing. 'I come from the South--from
    Hampshire,' she continued, a little afraid of wounding his
    consciousness of ignorance, if she used a name which he did not
    understand.

    'That's beyond London, I reckon? And I come fro' Burnley-ways,
    and forty mile to th' North. And yet, yo see, North and South has
    both met and made kind o' friends in this big smoky place.'

    Margaret had slackened her pace to walk alongside of the man and
    his daughter, whose steps were regulated by the feebleness of the
    latter. She now spoke to the girl, and there was a sound of
    tender pity in the tone of her voice as she did so that went
    right to the heart of the father.

    'I'm afraid you are not very strong.'

    'No,' said the girl, 'nor never will be.'

    'Spring is coming,' said Margaret, as if to suggest pleasant,
    hopeful thoughts.

    'Spring nor summer will do me good,' said the girl quietly.

    Margaret looked up at the man, almost expecting some
    contradiction from him, or at least some remark that would modify
    his daughter's utter hopelessness. But, instead, he added--

    'I'm afeared hoo speaks truth. I'm afeared hoo's too far gone in
    a waste.'

    'I shall have a spring where I'm boun to, and flowers, and
    amaranths, and shining robes besides.'

    'Poor lass, poor lass!' said her father in a low tone. 'I'm none
    so sure o' that; but it's a comfort to thee, poor lass, poor
    lass. Poor father! it'll be soon.'

    Margaret was shocked by his words--shocked but not repelled;
    rather attracted and interested.

    'Where do you live? I think we must be neighbours, we meet so
    often on this road.'

    'We put up at nine Frances Street, second turn to th' left at
    after yo've past th' Goulden Dragon.'

    'And your name? I must not forget that.'

    'I'm none ashamed o' my name. It's Nicholas Higgins. Hoo's called
    Bessy Higgins. Whatten yo' asking for?'

    Margaret was surprised at this last question, for at Helstone it
    would have been an understood thing, after the inquiries she had
    made, that she intended to come and call upon any poor neighbour
    whose name and habitation she had asked for.

    'I thought--I meant to come and see you.' She suddenly felt
    rather shy of offering the visit, without having any reason to
    give for her wish to make it' * beyond a kindly interest in a
    stranger. It seemed all at once to take the shape of an
    impertinence on her part; she read this meaning too in the man's
    eyes.

    'I'm none so fond of having strange folk in my house.' But then
    relenting, as he saw her heightened colour, he added, 'Yo're a
    foreigner, as one may say, and maybe don't know many folk here,
    and yo've given my wench here flowers out of yo'r own hand;--yo
    may come if yo like.'

    Margaret was half-amused, half-nettled at this answer. She was
    not sure if she would go where permission was given so like a
    favour conferred. But when they came to the town into Frances
    Street, the girl stopped a minute, and said,

    'Yo'll not forget yo're to come and see us.'

    'Aye, aye,' said the father, impatiently, 'hoo'll come. Hoo's a
    bit set up now, because hoo thinks I might ha' spoken more
    civilly; but hoo'll think better on it, and come. I can read her
    proud bonny face like a book. Come along, Bess; there's the mill
    bell ringing.'

    Margaret went home, wondering at her new friends, and smiling at
    the man's insight into what had been passing in her mind. From
    that day Milton became a brighter place to her. It was not the
    long, bleak sunny days of spring, nor yet was it that time was
    reconciling her to the town of her habitation. It was that in it
    she had found a human interest.
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