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    Chapter 29

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    Chapter 30
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    CHAPTER XXIX - A RAY OF SUNSHINE

    'Some wishes crossed my mind and dimly cheered it,

    And one or two poor melancholy pleasures,

    Each in the pale unwarming light of hope,

    Silvering its flimsy wing, flew silent by--

    Moths in the moonbeam!'

    COLERIDGE.

    The next morning brought Margaret a letter from Edith. It was
    affectionate and inconsequent like the writer. But the affection
    was charming to Margaret's own affectionate nature; and she had
    grown up with the inconsequence, so she did not perceive it. It
    was as follows:--

    'Oh, Margaret, it is worth a journey from England to see my boy!
    He is a superb little fellow, especially in his caps, and most
    especially in the one you sent him, you good, dainty-fingered,
    persevering little lady! Having made all the mothers here
    envious, I want to show him to somebody new, and hear a fresh set
    of admiring expressions; perhaps, that's all the reason; perhaps
    it is not--nay, possibly, there is just a little cousinly love
    mixed with it; but I do want you so much to come here, Margaret!
    I'm sure it would be the very best thing for Aunt Hale's health;
    everybody here is young and well, and our skies are always blue,
    and our sun always shines, and the band plays deliciously from
    morning till night; and, to come back to the burden of my ditty,
    my baby always smiles. I am constantly wanting you to draw him
    for me, Margaret. It does not signify what he is doing; that very
    thing is prettiest, gracefulest, best. I think I love him a great
    deal better than my husband, who is getting stout, and
    grumpy,--what he calls "busy." No! he is not. He has just come in
    with news of such a charming pic-nic, given by the officers of
    the Hazard, at anchor in the bay below. Because he has brought in
    such a pleasant piece of news, I retract all I said just now. Did
    not somebody burn his hand for having said or done something he
    was sorry for? Well, I can't burn mine, because it would hurt me,
    and the scar would be ugly; but I'll retract all I said as fast
    as I can. Cosmo is quite as great a darling as baby, and not a
    bit stout, and as un-grumpy as ever husband was; only, sometimes
    he is very, very busy. I may say that without love--wifely
    duty--where was I?--I had something very particular to say, I
    know, once. Oh, it is this--Dearest Margaret!--you must come and
    see me; it would do Aunt Hale good, as I said before. Get the
    doctor to order it for her. Tell him that it's the smoke of
    Milton that does her harm. I have no doubt it is that, really.
    Three months (you must not come for less) of this delicious
    climate--all sunshine, and grapes as common as blackberries,
    would quite cure her. I don't ask my uncle'--(Here the letter
    became more constrained, and better written; Mr. Hale was in the
    corner, like a naughty child, for having given up his
    living.)--'because, I dare say, he disapproves of war, and
    soldiers, and bands of music; at least, I know that many
    Dissenters are members of the Peace Society, and I am afraid he
    would not like to come; but, if he would, dear, pray say that
    Cosmo and I will do our best to make him happy; and I'll hide up
    Cosmo's red coat and sword, and make the band play all sorts of
    grave, solemn things; or, if they do play pomps and vanities, it
    shall be in double slow time. Dear Margaret, if he would like to
    accompany you and Aunt Hale, we will try and make it pleasant,
    though I'm rather afraid of any one who has done something for
    conscience sake. You never did, I hope. Tell Aunt Hale not to
    bring many warm clothes, though I'm afraid it will be late in the
    year before you can come. But you have no idea of the heat here!
    I tried to wear my great beauty Indian shawl at a pic-nic. I kept
    myself up with proverbs as long as I could; "Pride must
    abide,"--and such wholesome pieces of pith; but it was of no use.
    I was like mamma's little dog Tiny with an elephant's trappings
    on; smothered, hidden, killed with my finery; so I made it into a
    capital carpet for us all to sit down upon. Here's this boy of
    mine, Margaret,--if you don't pack up your things as soon as you
    get this letter, a come straight off to see him, I shall think
    you're descended from King Herod!'

    Margaret did long for a day of Edith's life--her freedom from
    care, her cheerful home, her sunny skies. If a wish could have
    transported her, she would have gone off; just for one day. She
    yearned for the strength which such a change would give,--even
    for a few hours to be in the midst of that bright life, and to
    feel young again. Not yet twenty! and she had had to bear up
    against such hard pressure that she felt quite old. That was her
    first feeling after reading Edith's letter. Then she read it
    again, and, forgetting herself, was amused at its likeness to
    Edith's self, and was laughing merrily over it when Mrs. Hale
    came into the drawing-room, leaning on Dixon's arm. Margaret flew
    to adjust the pillows. Her mother seemed more than usually
    feeble.

    'What were you laughing at, Margaret?' asked she, as soon as she
    had recovered from the exertion of settling herself on the sofa.

    'A letter I have had this morning from Edith. Shall I read it
    you, mamma?'

    She read it aloud, and for a time it seemed to interest her
    mother, who kept wondering what name Edith had given to her boy,
    and suggesting all probable names, and all possible reasons why
    each and all of these names should be given. Into the very midst
    of these wonders Mr. Thornton came, bringing another offering of
    fruit for Mrs. Hale. He could not--say rather, he would not--deny
    himself the chance of the pleasure of seeing Margaret. He had no
    end in this but the present gratification. It was the sturdy
    wilfulness of a man usually most reasonable and self-controlled.
    He entered the room, taking in at a glance the fact of Margaret's
    presence; but after the first cold distant bow, he never seemed
    to let his eyes fall on her again. He only stayed to present his
    peaches--to speak some gentle kindly words--and then his cold
    offended eyes met Margaret's with a grave farewell, as he left
    the room. She sat down silent and pale.

    'Do you know, Margaret, I really begin quite to like Mr.
    Thornton.'

    No answer at first. Then Margaret forced out an icy 'Do you?'

    'Yes! I think he is really getting quite polished in his
    manners.'

    Margaret's voice was more in order now. She replied,

    'He is very kind and attentive,--there is no doubt of that.'

    'I wonder Mrs. Thornton never calls. She must know I am ill,
    because of the water-bed.'

    'I dare say, she hears how you are from her son.'

    'Still, I should like to see her You have so few friends here,
    Margaret.'

    Margaret felt what was in her mother's thoughts,--a tender
    craving to bespeak the kindness of some woman towards the
    daughter that might be so soon left motherless. But she could not
    speak.

    'Do you think,' said Mrs. Hale, after a pause, 'that you could go
    and ask Mrs. Thornton to come and see me? Only once,--I don't
    want to be troublesome.'

    'I will do anything, if you wish it, mamma,--but if--but when
    Frederick comes----'

    'Ah, to be sure! we must keep our doors shut,--we must let no one
    in. I hardly know whether I dare wish him to come or not.
    Sometimes I think I would rather not. Sometimes I have such
    frightful dreams about him.'

    'Oh, mamma! we'll take good care. I will put my arm in the bolt
    sooner than he should come to the slightest harm. Trust the care
    of him to me, mamma. I will watch over him like a lioness over
    her young.'

    'When can we hear from him?'

    'Not for a week yet, certainly,--perhaps more.'

    'We must send Martha away in good time. It would never do to have
    her here when he comes, and then send her off in a hurry.'

    'Dixon is sure to remind us of that. I was thinking that, if we
    wanted any help in the house while he is here, we could perhaps
    get Mary Higgins. She is very slack of work, and is a good girl,
    and would take pains to do her best, I am sure, and would sleep
    at home, and need never come upstairs, so as to know who is in
    the house.'

    'As you please. As Dixon pleases. But, Margaret, don't get to use
    these horrid Milton words. "Slack of work:" it is a
    provincialism. What will your aunt Shaw say, if she hears you use
    it on her return?'

    'Oh, mamma! don't try and make a bugbear of aunt Shaw' said
    Margaret, laughing. 'Edith picked up all sorts of military slang
    from Captain Lennox, and aunt Shaw never took any notice of it.'

    'But yours is factory slang.'

    'And if I live in a factory town, I must speak factory language
    when I want it. Why, mamma, I could astonish you with a great
    many words you never heard in your life. I don't believe you know
    what a knobstick is.'

    'Not I, child. I only know it has a very vulgar sound and I don't
    want to hear you using it.'

    'Very well, dearest mother, I won't. Only I shall have to use a
    whole explanatory sentence instead.'

    'I don't like this Milton,' said Mrs. Hale. 'Edith is right
    enough in saying it's the smoke that has made me so ill.'

    Margaret started up as her mother said this. Her father had just
    entered the room, and she was most anxious that the faint
    impression she had seen on his mind that the Milton air had
    injured her mother's health, should not be deepened,--should not
    receive any confirmation. She could not tell whether he had heard
    what Mrs. Hale had said or not; but she began speaking hurriedly
    of other things, unaware that Mr. Thornton was following him.

    'Mamma is accusing me of having picked up a great deal of
    vulgarity since we came to Milton.'

    The 'vulgarity' Margaret spoke of, referred purely to the use of
    local words, and the expression arose out of the conversation
    they had just been holding. But Mr. Thornton's brow darkened; and
    Margaret suddenly felt how her speech might be misunderstood by
    him; so, in the natural sweet desire to avoid giving unnecessary
    pain, she forced herself to go forwards with a little greeting,
    and continue what she was saying, addressing herself to him
    expressly.

    'Now, Mr. Thornton, though "knobstick" has not a very pretty
    sound, is it not expressive? Could I do without it, in speaking
    of the thing it represents? If using local words is vulgar, I was
    very vulgar in the Forest,--was I not, mamma?'

    It was unusual with Margaret to obtrude her own subject of
    conversation on others; but, in this case, she was so anxious to
    prevent Mr. Thornton from feeling annoyance at the words he had
    accidentally overheard, that it was not until she had done
    speaking that she coloured all over with consciousness, more
    especially as Mr. Thornton seemed hardly to understand the exact
    gist or bearing of what she was saying, but passed her by, with a
    cold reserve of ceremonious movement, to speak to Mrs. Hale.

    The sight of him reminded her of the wish to see his mother, and
    commend Margaret to her care. Margaret, sitting in burning
    silence, vexed and ashamed of her difficulty in keeping her right
    place, and her calm unconsciousness of heart, when Mr. Thornton
    was by, heard her mother's slow entreaty that Mrs. Thornton would
    come and see her; see her soon; to-morrow, if it were possible.
    Mr. Thornton promised that she should--conversed a little, and
    then took his leave; and Margaret's movements and voice seemed at
    once released from some invisible chains. He never looked at her;
    and yet, the careful avoidance of his eyes betokened that in some
    way he knew exactly where, if they fell by chance, they would
    rest on her. If she spoke, he gave no sign of attention, and yet
    his next speech to any one else was modified by what she had
    said; sometimes there was an express answer to what she had
    remarked, but given to another person as though unsuggested by
    her. It was not the bad manners of ignorance it was the wilful
    bad manners arising from deep offence. It was wilful at the time,
    repented of afterwards. But no deep plan, no careful cunning
    could have stood him in such good stead. Margaret thought about
    him more than she had ever done before; not with any tinge of
    what is called love, but with regret that she had wounded him so
    deeply,--and with a gentle, patient striving to return to their
    former position of antagonistic friendship; for a friend's
    position was what she found that he had held in her regard, as
    well as in that of the rest of the family. There was a pretty
    humility in her behaviour to him, as if mutely apologising for
    the over-strong words which were the reaction from the deeds of
    the day of the riot.

    But he resented those words bitterly. They rung in his ears; and
    he was proud of the sense of justice which made him go on in
    every kindness he could offer to her parents. He exulted in the
    power he showed in compelling himself to face her, whenever he
    could think of any action which might give her father or mother
    pleasure. He thought that he disliked seeing one who had
    mortified him so keenly; but he was mistaken. It was a stinging
    pleasure to be in the room with her, and feel her presence. But
    he was no great analyser of his own motives, and was mistaken as
    I have said.
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