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    Chapter 16

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    Chapter 17
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    'Trust in that veiled hand, which leads

    None by the path that he would go;

    And always be for change prepared,

    For the world's law is ebb and flow.'


    The next afternoon Dr. Donaldson came to pay his first visit to
    Mrs. Hale. The mystery that Margaret hoped their late habits of
    intimacy had broken through, was resumed. She was excluded from
    the room, while Dixon was admitted. Margaret was not a ready
    lover, but where she loved she loved passionately, and with no
    small degree of jealousy.

    She went into her mother's bed-room, just behind the
    drawing-room, and paced it up and down, while awaiting the
    doctor's coming out. Every now and then she stopped to listen;
    she fancied she heard a moan. She clenched her hands tight, and
    held her breath. She was sure she heard a moan. Then all was
    still for a few minutes more; and then there was the moving of
    chairs, the raised voices, all the little disturbances of

    When she heard the door open, she went quickly out of the

    'My father is from home, Dr. Donaldson; he has to attend a pupil
    at this hour. May I trouble you to come into his room down

    She saw, and triumphed over all the obstacles which Dixon threw
    in her way; assuming her rightful position as daughter of the
    house in something of the spirit of the Elder Brother, which
    quelled the old servant's officiousness very effectually.
    Margaret's conscious assumption of this unusual dignity of
    demeanour towards Dixon, gave her an instant's amusement in the
    midst of her anxiety. She knew, from the surprised expression on
    Dixon's face, how ridiculously grand she herself must be looking;
    and the idea carried her down stairs into the room; it gave her
    that length of oblivion from the keen sharpness of the
    recollection of the actual business in hand. Now, that came back,
    and seemed to take away her breath. It was a moment or two before
    she could utter a word.

    But she spoke with an air of command, as she asked:--'

    'What is the matter with mamma? You will oblige me by telling the
    simple truth.' Then, seeing a slight hesitation on the doctor's
    part, she added--

    'I am the only child she has--here, I mean. My father is not
    sufficiently alarmed, I fear; and, therefore, if there is any
    serious apprehension, it must be broken to him gently. I can do
    this. I can nurse my mother. Pray, speak, sir; to see your face,
    and not be able to read it, gives me a worse dread than I trust
    any words of yours will justify.'

    'My dear young lady, your mother seems to have a most attentive
    and efficient servant, who is more like her friend--'

    'I am her daughter, sir.'

    'But when I tell you she expressly desired that you might not be

    'I am not good or patient enough to submit to the prohibition.
    Besides, I am sure you are too wise--too experienced to have
    promised to keep the secret.'

    'Well,' said he, half-smiling, though sadly enough, 'there you
    are right. I did not promise. In fact, I fear, the secret will be
    known soon enough without my revealing it.'

    He paused. Margaret went very white, and compressed her lips a
    little more. Otherwise not a feature moved. With the quick
    insight into character, without which no medical man can rise to
    the eminence of Dr. Donaldson, he saw that she would exact the
    full truth; that she would know if one iota was withheld; and
    that the withholding would be torture more acute than the
    knowledge of it. He spoke two short sentences in a low voice,
    watching her all the time; for the pupils of her eyes dilated
    into a black horror and the whiteness of her complexion became
    livid. He ceased speaking. He waited for that look to go
    off,--for her gasping breath to come. Then she said:--

    'I thank you most truly, sir, for your confidence. That dread has
    haunted me for many weeks. It is a true, real agony. My poor,
    poor mother!' her lips began to quiver, and he let her have the
    relief of tears, sure of her power of self-control to check them.

    A few tears--those were all she shed, before she recollected the
    many questions she longed to ask.

    'Will there be much suffering?'

    He shook his head. 'That we cannot tell. It depends on
    constitution; on a thousand things. But the late discoveries of
    medical science have given us large power of alleviation.'

    'My father!' said Margaret, trembling all over.

    'I do not know Mr. Hale. I mean, it is difficult to give advice.
    But I should say, bear on, with the knowledge you have forced me
    to give you so abruptly, till the fact which I could not
    with-hold has become in some degree familiar to you, so that you
    may, without too great an effort, be able to give what comfort
    you can to your father. Before then,--my visits, which, of
    course, I shall repeat from time to time, although I fear I can
    do nothing but alleviate,--a thousand little circumstances will
    have occurred to awaken his alarm, to deepen it--so that he will
    be all the better prepared.--Nay, my dear young lady--nay, my
    dear--I saw Mr. Thornton, and I honour your father for the
    sacrifice he has made, however mistaken I may believe him to
    be.--Well, this once, if it will please you, my dear. Only
    remember, when I come again, I come as a friend. And you must
    learn to look upon me as such, because seeing each other--getting
    to know each other at such times as these, is worth years of
    morning calls.' Margaret could not speak for crying: but she
    wrung his hand at parting.

    'That's what I call a fine girl!' thought Dr. Donaldson, when he
    was seated in his carriage, and had time to examine his ringed
    hand, which had slightly suffered from her pressure. 'Who would
    have thought that little hand could have given such a squeeze?
    But the bones were well put together, and that gives immense
    power. What a queen she is! With her head thrown back at first,
    to force me into speaking the truth; and then bent so eagerly
    forward to listen. Poor thing! I must see she does not overstrain
    herself. Though it's astonishing how much those thorough-bred
    creatures can do and suffer. That girl's game to the back-bone.
    Another, who had gone that deadly colour, could never have come
    round without either fainting or hysterics. But she wouldn't do
    either--not she! And the very force of her will brought her
    round. Such a girl as that would win my heart, if I were thirty
    years younger. It's too late now. Ah! here we are at the
    Archers'.' So out he jumped, with thought, wisdom, experience,
    sympathy, and ready to attend to the calls made upon them by this
    family, just as if there were none other in the world.

    Meanwhile, Margaret had returned into her father's study for a
    moment, to recover strength before going upstairs into her
    mother's presence.

    'Oh, my God, my God! but this is terrible. How shall I bear it?
    Such a deadly disease! no hope! Oh, mamma, mamma, I wish I had
    never gone to aunt Shaw's, and been all those precious years away
    from you! Poor mamma! how much she must have borne! Oh, I pray
    thee, my God, that her sufferings may not be too acute, too
    dreadful. How shall I bear to see them? How can I bear papa's
    agony? He must not be told yet; not all at once. It would kill
    him. But I won't lose another moment of my own dear, precious

    She ran upstairs. Dixon was not in the room. Mrs. Hale lay back
    in an easy chair, with a soft white shawl wrapped around her, and
    a becoming cap put on, in expectation of the doctor's visit. Her
    face had a little faint colour in it, and the very exhaustion
    after the examination gave it a peaceful look. Margaret was
    surprised to see her look so calm.

    'Why, Margaret, how strange you look! What is the matter?' And
    then, as the idea stole into her mind of what was indeed the real
    state of the case, she added, as if a little displeased: 'you
    have not been seeing Dr. Donaldson, and asking him any
    questions--have you, child?' Margaret did not reply--only looked
    wistfully towards her. Mrs. Hale became more displeased. 'He
    would not, surely, break his word to me, and'--

    'Oh yes, mamma, he did. I made him. It was I--blame me.'She knelt
    down by her mother's side, and caught her hand--she would not let
    it go, though Mrs. Hale tried to pull it away. She kept kissing
    it, and the hot tears she shed bathed it.

    'Margaret, it was very wrong of you. You knew I did not wish you
    to know.' But, as if tired with the contest, she left her hand in
    Margaret's clasp, and by-and-by she returned the pressure
    faintly. That encouraged Margaret to speak.

    'Oh, mamma! let me be your nurse. I will learn anything Dixon can
    teach me. But you know I am your child, and I do think I have a
    right to do everything for you.'

    'You don't know what you are asking,' said Mrs. Hale, with a

    'Yes, I do. I know a great deal more than you are aware of Let me
    be your nurse. Let me try, at any rate. No one has ever shall
    ever try so hard as I will do. It will be such a comfort, mamma.'

    'My poor child! Well, you shall try. Do you know, Margaret, Dixon
    and I thought you would quite shrink from me if you knew--'

    'Dixon thought!' said Margaret, her lip curling. 'Dixon could not
    give me credit for enough true love--for as much as herself! She
    thought, I suppose, that I was one of those poor sickly women who
    like to lie on rose leaves, and be fanned all day; Don't let
    Dixon's fancies come any more between you and me, mamma. Don't,
    please!' implored she.

    'Don't be angry with Dixon,' said Mrs. Hale, anxiously. Margaret
    recovered herself.

    'No! I won't. I will try and be humble, and learn her ways, if
    you will only let me do all I can for you. Let me be in the first
    place, mother--I am greedy of that. I used to fancy you would
    forget me while I was away at aunt Shaw's, and cry myself to
    sleep at nights with that notion in my head.'

    'And I used to think, how will Margaret bear our makeshift
    poverty after the thorough comfort and luxury in Harley Street,
    till I have many a time been more ashamed of your seeing our
    contrivances at Helstone than of any stranger finding them out.'

    'Oh, mamma! and I did so enjoy them. They were so much more
    amusing than all the jog-trot Harley Street ways. The wardrobe
    shelf with handles, that served as a supper-tray on grand
    occasions! And the old tea-chests stuffed and covered for
    ottomans! I think what you call the makeshift contrivances at
    dear Helstone were a charming part of the life there.'

    'I shall never see Helstone again, Margaret,' said Mrs. Hale, the
    tears welling up into her eyes. Margaret could not reply. Mrs.
    Hale went on. 'While I was there, I was for ever wanting to leave
    it. Every place seemed pleasanter. And now I shall die far away
    from it. I am rightly punished.'

    'You must not talk so,' said Margaret, impatiently. 'He said you
    might live for years. Oh, mother! we will have you back at
    Helstone yet.'

    'No never! That I must take as a just penance. But,
    Margaret--Frederick!' At the mention of that one word, she
    suddenly cried out loud, as in some sharp agony. It seemed as if
    the thought of him upset all her composure, destroyed the calm,
    overcame the exhaustion. Wild passionate cry succeeded to
    cry--'Frederick! Frederick! Come to me. I am dying. Little
    first-born child, come to me once again!'

    She was in violent hysterics. Margaret went and called Dixon in
    terror. Dixon came in a huff, and accused Margaret of having
    over-excited her mother. Margaret bore all meekly, only trusting
    that her father might not return. In spite of her alarm, which
    was even greater than the occasion warranted, she obeyed all
    Dixon's directions promptly and well, without a word of
    self-justification. By so doing she mollified her accuser. They
    put her mother to bed, and Margaret sate by her till she fell
    asleep, and afterwards till Dixon beckoned her out of the room,
    and, with a sour face, as if doing something against the grain,
    she bade her drink a cup of coffee which she had prepared for her
    in the drawing-room, and stood over her in a commanding attitude
    as she did so.

    'You shouldn't have been so curious, Miss, and then you wouldn't
    have needed to fret before your time. It would have come soon
    enough. And now, I suppose, you'll tell master, and a pretty
    household I shall have of you!'

    'No, Dixon,' said Margaret, sorrowfully, 'I will not tell papa.
    He could not bear it as I can.' And by way of proving how well
    she bore it, she burst into tears.

    'Ay! I knew how it would be. Now you'll waken your mamma, just
    after she's gone to sleep so quietly. Miss Margaret my dear, I've
    had to keep it down this many a week; and though I don't pretend
    I can love her as you do, yet I loved her better than any other
    man, woman, or child--no one but Master Frederick ever came near
    her in my mind. Ever since Lady Beresford's maid first took me in
    to see her dressed out in white crape, and corn-ears, and scarlet
    poppies, and I ran a needle down into my finger, and broke it in,
    and she tore up her worked pocket-handkerchief, after they'd cut
    it out, and came in to wet the bandages again with lotion when
    she returned from the ball--where she'd been the prettiest young
    lady of all--I've never loved any one like her. I little thought
    then that I should live to see her brought so low. I don't mean
    no reproach to nobody. Many a one calls you pretty and handsome,
    and what not. Even in this smoky place, enough to blind one's
    eyes, the owls can see that. But you'll never be like your mother
    for beauty--never; not if you live to be a hundred.'

    'Mamma is very pretty still. Poor mamma!'

    'Now don't ye set off again, or I shall give way at last'
    (whimpering). 'You'll never stand master's coming home, and
    questioning, at this rate. Go out and take a walk, and come in
    something like. Many's the time I've longed to walk it off--the
    thought of what was the matter with her, and how it must all

    'Oh, Dixon!' said Margaret, 'how often I've been cross with you,
    not knowing what a terrible secret you had to bear!'

    'Bless you, child! I like to see you showing a bit of a spirit.
    It's the good old Beresford blood. Why, the last Sir John but two
    shot his steward down, there where he stood, for just telling him
    that he'd racked the tenants, and he'd racked the tenants till he
    could get no more money off them than he could get skin off a

    'Well, Dixon, I won't shoot you, and I'll try not to be cross

    'You never have. If I've said it at times, it has always been to
    myself, just in private, by way of making a little agreeable
    conversation, for there's no one here fit to talk to. And when
    you fire up, you're the very image of Master Frederick. I could
    find in my heart to put you in a passion any day, just to see his
    stormy look coming like a great cloud over your face. But now you
    go out, Miss. I'll watch over missus; and as for master, his
    books are company enough for him, if he should come in.'

    'I will go,' said Margaret. She hung about Dixon for a minute or
    so, as if afraid and irresolute; then suddenly kissing her, she
    went quickly out of the room.

    'Bless her!' said Dixon. 'She's as sweet as a nut. There are
    three people I love: it's missus, Master Frederick, and her. Just
    them three. That's all. The rest be hanged, for I don't know what
    they're in the world for. Master was born, I suppose, for to
    marry missus. If I thought he loved her properly, I might get to
    love him in time. But he should ha' made a deal more on her, and
    not been always reading, reading, thinking, thinking. See what it
    has brought him to! Many a one who never reads nor thinks either,
    gets to be Rector, and Dean, and what not; and I dare say master
    might, if he'd just minded missus, and let the weary reading and
    thinking alone.--There she goes' (looking out of the window as
    she heard the front door shut). 'Poor young lady! her clothes
    look shabby to what they did when she came to Helstone a year
    ago. Then she hadn't so much as a darned stocking or a cleaned
    pair of gloves in all her wardrobe. And now--!'
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