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    Chapter 43

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    Chapter 44
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    CHAPTER XLIII - MARGARET'S FLITTIN'

    'The meanest thing to which we bid adieu,

    Loses its meanness in the parting hour.'

    ELLIOTT.

    Mrs. Shaw took as vehement a dislike as it was possible for one
    of her gentle nature to do, against Milton. It was noisy, and
    smoky, and the poor people whom she saw in the streets were
    dirty, and the rich ladies over-dressed, and not a man that she
    saw, high or low, had his clothes made to fit him. She was sure
    Margaret would never regain her lost strength while she stayed in
    Milton; and she herself was afraid of one of her old attacks of
    the nerves. Margaret must return with her, and that quickly.
    This, if not the exact force of her words, was at any rate the
    spirit of what she urged on Margaret, till the latter, weak,
    weary, and broken-spirited, yielded a reluctant promise that, as
    soon as Wednesday was over she would prepare to accompany her
    aunt back to town, leaving Dixon in charge of all the
    arrangements for paying bills, disposing of furniture, and
    shutting up the house. Before that Wednesday--that mournful
    Wednesday, when Mr. Hale was to be interred, far away from either
    of the homes he had known in life, and far away from the wife who
    lay lonely among strangers (and this last was Margaret's great
    trouble, for she thought that if she had not given way to that
    overwhelming stupor during the first sad days, she could have
    arranged things otherwise)--before that Wednesday, Margaret
    received a letter from Mr. Bell.

    'MY DEAR MARGARET:--I did mean to have returned to Milton on
    Thursday, but unluckily it turns out to be one of the rare
    occasions when we, Plymouth Fellows, are called upon to perform
    any kind of duty, and I must not be absent from my post. Captain
    Lennox and Mr. Thornton are here. The former seems a smart,
    well-meaning man; and has proposed to go over to Milton, and
    assist you in any search for the will; of course there is none,
    or you would have found it by this time, if you followed my
    directions. Then the Captain declares he must take you and his
    mother-in-law home; and, in his wife's present state, I don't see
    how you can expect him to remain away longer than Friday.
    However, that Dixon of yours is trusty; and can hold her, or your
    own, till I come. I will put matters into the hands of my Milton
    attorney if there is no will; for I doubt this smart captain is
    no great man of business. Nevertheless, his moustachios are
    splendid. There will have to be a sale, so select what things you
    wish reserved. Or you can send a list afterwards. Now two things
    more, and I have done. You know, or if you don't, your poor
    father did, that you are to have my money and goods when I die.
    Not that I mean to die yet; but I name this lust to explain what
    is coming. These Lennoxes seem very fond of you now; and perhaps
    may continue to be; perhaps not. So it is best to start with a
    formal agreement; namely, that you are to pay them two hundred
    and fifty pounds a year, as long as you and they find it pleasant
    to live together. (This, of course, includes Dixon; mind you
    don't be cajoled into paying any more for her.) Then you won't be
    thrown adrift, if some day the captain wishes to have his house
    to himself, but you can carry yourself and your two hundred and
    fifty pounds off somewhere else; if, indeed, I have not claimed
    you to come and keep house for me first. Then as to dress, and
    Dixon, and personal expenses, and confectionery (all young ladies
    eat confectionery till wisdom comes by age), I shall consult some
    lady of my acquaintance, and see how much you will have from your
    father before fixing this. Now, Margaret, have you flown out
    before you have read this far, and wondered what right the old
    man has to settle your affairs for you so cavalierly? I make no
    doubt you have. Yet the old man has a right. He has loved your
    father for five and thirty years; he stood beside him on his
    wedding-day; he closed his eyes in death. Moreover, he is your
    godfather; and as he cannot do you much good spiritually, having
    a hidden consciousness of your superiority in such things, he
    would fain do you the poor good of endowing you materially. And
    the old man has not a known relation on earth; "who is there to
    mourn for Adam Bell?" and his whole heart is set and bent upon
    this one thing, and Margaret Hale is not the girl to say him nay.
    Write by return, if only two lines, to tell me your answer. But
    ~no thanks~.'

    Margaret took up a pen and scrawled with trembling hand,
    'Margaret Hale is not the girl to say him nay.' In her weak state
    she could not think of any other words, and yet she was vexed to
    use these. But she was so much fatigued even by this slight
    exertion, that if she could have thought of another form of
    acceptance, she could not have sate up to write a syllable of it.
    She was obliged to lie down again, and try not to think.

    'My dearest child! Has that letter vexed or troubled you?'

    'No!' said Margaret feebly. 'I shall be better when to-morrow is
    over.'

    'I feel sure, darling, you won't be better till I get you out of
    this horrid air. How you can have borne it this two years I can't
    imagine.'

    'Where could I go to? I could not leave papa and mamma.'

    'Well! don't distress yourself, my dear. I dare say it was all
    for the best, only I had no conception of how you were living.
    Our butler's wife lives in a better house than this.'

    'It is sometimes very pretty--in summer; you can't judge by what
    it is now. I have been very happy here,' and Margaret closed her
    eyes by way of stopping the conversation.

    The house teemed with comfort now, compared to what it had done.
    The evenings were chilly, and by Mrs. Shaw's directions fires
    were lighted in every bedroom. She petted Margaret in every
    possible way, and bought every delicacy, or soft luxury in which
    she herself would have burrowed and sought comfort. But Margaret
    was indifferent to all these things; or, if they forced
    themselves upon her attention, it was simply as causes for
    gratitude to her aunt, who was putting herself so much out of her
    way to think of her. She was restless, though so weak. All the
    day long, she kept herself from thinking of the ceremony which
    was going on at Oxford, by wandering from room to room, and
    languidly setting aside such articles as she wished to retain.
    Dixon followed her by Mrs. Shaw's desire, ostensibly to receive
    instructions, but with a private injunction to soothe her into
    repose as soon as might be.

    'These books, Dixon, I will keep. All the rest will you send to
    Mr. Bell? They are of a kind that he will value for themselves,
    as well as for papa's sake. This----I should like you to take
    this to Mr. Thornton, after I am gone. Stay; I will write a note
    with it.' And she sate down hastily, as if afraid of thinking,
    and wrote:

    'DEAR SIR,--The accompanying book I am sure will be valued by you
    for the sake of my father, to whom it belonged.

    'Yours sincerely,

    'MARGARET HALE.'

    She set out again upon her travels through the house, turning
    over articles, known to her from her childhood, with a sort of
    caressing reluctance to leave them--old-fashioned, worn and
    shabby, as they might be. But she hardly spoke again; and Dixon's
    report to Mrs. Shaw was, that 'she doubted whether Miss Hale
    heard a word of what she said, though she talked the whole time,
    in order to divert her attention.' The consequence of being on
    her feet all day was excessive bodily weariness in the evening,
    and a better night's rest than she had had since she had heard of
    Mr. Hale's death.

    At breakfast time the next day, she expressed her wish to go and
    bid one or two friends good-bye. Mrs. Shaw objected:

    'I am sure, my dear, you can have no friends here with whom you
    are sufficiently intimate to justify you in calling upon them so
    soon; before you have been at church.'

    'But to-day is my only day; if Captain Lennox comes this
    afternoon, and if we must--if I must really go to-morrow----'

    'Oh, yes; we shall go to-morrow. I am more and more convinced
    that this air is bad for you, and makes you look so pale and ill;
    besides, Edith expects us; and she may be waiting me; and you
    cannot be left alone, my dear, at your age. No; if you must pay
    these calls, I will go with you. Dixon can get us a coach, I
    suppose?'

    So Mrs. Shaw went to take care of Margaret, and took her maid
    with her to, take care of the shawls and air-cushions. Margaret's
    face was too sad to lighten up into a smile at all this
    preparation for paying two visits, that she had often made by
    herself at all hours of the day. She was half afraid of owning
    that one place to which she was going was Nicholas Higgins'; all
    she could do was to hope her aunt would be indisposed to get out
    of the coach, and walk up the court, and at every breath of wind
    have her face slapped by wet clothes, hanging out to dry on ropes
    stretched from house to house.

    There was a little battle in Mrs. Shaw's mind between ease and a
    sense of matronly propriety; but the former gained the day; and
    with many an injunction to Margaret to be careful of herself, and
    not to catch any fever, such as was always lurking in such
    places, her aunt permitted her to go where she had often been
    before without taking any precaution or requiring any permission.

    Nicholas was out; only Mary and one or two of the Boucher
    children at home. Margaret was vexed with herself for not having
    timed her visit better. Mary had a very blunt intellect, although
    her feelings were warm and kind; and the instant she understood
    what Margaret's purpose was in coming to see them, she began to
    cry and sob with so little restraint that Margaret found it
    useless to say any of the thousand little things which had
    suggested themselves to her as she was coming along in the coach.
    She could only try to comfort her a little by suggesting the
    vague chance of their meeting again, at some possible time, in
    some possible place, and bid her tell her father how much she
    wished, if he could manage it, that he should come to see her
    when he had done his work in the evening.

    As she was leaving the place, she stopped and looked round; then
    hesitated a little before she said:

    'I should like to have some little thing to remind me of Bessy.'

    Instantly Mary's generosity was keenly alive. What could they
    give? And on Margaret's singling out a little common
    drinking-cup, which she remembered as the one always standing by
    Bessy's side with drink for her feverish lips, Mary said:

    'Oh, take summut better; that only cost fourpence!'

    'That will do, thank you,' said Margaret; and she went quickly
    away, while the light caused by the pleasure of having something
    to give yet lingered on Mary's face.

    'Now to Mrs. Thornton's,' thought she to herself. 'It must be
    done.' But she looked rather rigid and pale at the thought of it,
    and had hard work to find the exact words in which to explain to
    her aunt who Mrs. Thornton was, and why she should go to bid her
    farewell.

    They (for Mrs. Shaw alighted here) were shown into the
    drawing-room, in which a fire had only just been kindled. Mrs.
    Shaw huddled herself up in her shawl, and shivered.

    'What an icy room!' she said.

    They had to wait for some time before Mrs. Thornton entered.
    There was some softening in her heart towards Margaret, now that
    she was going away out of her sight. She remembered her spirit,
    as shown at various times and places even more than the patience
    with which she had endured long and wearing cares. Her
    countenance was blander than usual, as she greeted her; there was
    even a shade of tenderness in her manner, as she noticed the
    white, tear-swollen face, and the quiver in the voice which
    Margaret tried to make so steady.

    'Allow me to introduce my aunt, Mrs. Shaw. I am going away from
    Milton to-morrow; I do not know if you are aware of it; but I
    wanted to see you once again, Mrs. Thornton, to--to apologise for
    my manner the last time I saw you; and to say that I am sure you
    meant kindly--however much we may have misunderstood each other.'

    Mrs. Shaw looked extremely perplexed by what Margaret had said.
    Thanks for kindness! and apologies for failure in good manners!
    But Mrs. Thornton replied:

    'Miss Hale, I am glad you do me justice. I did no more than I
    believed to be my duty in remonstrating with you as I did. I have
    always desired to act the part of a friend to you. I am glad you
    do me justice.'

    'And,' said Margaret, blushing excessively as she spoke, 'will
    you do me justice, and believe that though I cannot--I do not
    choose--to give explanations of my conduct, I have not acted in
    the unbecoming way you apprehended?'

    Margaret's voice was so soft, and her eyes so pleading, that Mrs.
    Thornton was for once affected by the charm of manner to which
    she had hitherto proved herself invulnerable.

    'Yes, I do believe you. Let us say no more about it. Where are
    you going to reside, Miss Hale? I understood from Mr. Bell that
    you were going to leave Milton. You never liked Milton, you
    know,' said Mrs. Thornton, with a sort of grim smile; 'but for
    all that, you must not expect me to congratulate you on quitting
    it. Where shall you live?'

    'With my aunt,' replied Margaret, turning towards Mrs. Shaw.

    'My niece will reside with me in Harley Street. She is almost
    like a daughter to me,' said Mrs. Shaw, looking fondly at
    Margaret; 'and I am glad to acknowledge my own obligation for any
    kindness that has been shown to her. If you and your husband ever
    come to town, my son and daughter, Captain and Mrs. Lennox, will,
    I am sure, join with me in wishing to do anything in our power to
    show you attention.'

    Mrs. Thornton thought in her own mind, that Margaret had not
    taken much care to enlighten her aunt as to the relationship
    between the Mr. and Mrs. Thornton, towards whom the fine-lady
    aunt was extending her soft patronage; so she answered shortly,

    'My husband is dead. Mr. Thornton is my son. I never go to
    London; so I am not likely to be able to avail myself of your
    polite offers.'

    At this instant Mr. Thornton entered the room; he had only just
    returned from Oxford. His mourning suit spoke of the reason that
    had called him there.

    'John,' said his mother, 'this lady is Mrs. Shaw, Miss Hale's
    aunt. I am sorry to say, that Miss Hale's call is to wish us
    good-bye.'

    'You are going then!' said he, in a low voice.

    'Yes,' said Margaret. 'We leave to-morrow.'

    'My son-in-law comes this evening to escort us,' said Mrs. Shaw.

    Mr. Thornton turned away. He had not sat down, and now he seemed
    to be examining something on the table, almost as if he had
    discovered an unopened letter, which had made him forget the
    present company. He did not even seem to be aware when they got
    up to take leave. He started forwards, however, to hand Mrs. Shaw
    down to the carriage. As it drove up, he and Margaret stood close
    together on the door-step, and it was impossible but that the
    recollection of the day of the riot should force itself into both
    their minds. Into his it came associated with the speeches of the
    following day; her passionate declaration that there was not a
    man in all that violent and desperate crowd, for whom she did not
    care as much as for him. And at the remembrance of her taunting
    words, his brow grew stern, though his heart beat thick with
    longing love. 'No!' said he, 'I put it to the touch once, and I
    lost it all. Let her go,--with her stony heart, and her
    beauty;--how set and terrible her look is now, for all her
    loveliness of feature! She is afraid I shall speak what will
    require some stern repression. Let her go. Beauty and heiress as
    she may be, she will find it hard to meet with a truer heart than
    mine. Let her go!'

    And there was no tone of regret, or emotion of any kind in the
    voice with which he said good-bye; and the offered hand was taken
    with a resolute calmness, and dropped as carelessly as if it had
    been a dead and withered flower. But none in his household saw
    Mr. Thornton again that day. He was busily engaged; or so he
    said.

    Margaret's strength was so utterly exhausted by these visits,
    that she had to submit to much watching, and petting, and sighing
    'I-told-you-so's,' from her aunt. Dixon said she was quite as bad
    as she had been on the first day she heard of her father's death;
    and she and Mrs. Shaw consulted as to the desirableness of
    delaying the morrow's journey. But when her aunt reluctantly
    proposed a few days' delay to Margaret, the latter writhed her
    body as if in acute suffering, and said:

    'Oh! let us go. I cannot be patient here. I shall not get well
    here. I want to forget.'

    So the arrangements went on; and Captain Lennox came, and with
    him news of Edith and the little boy; and Margaret found that the
    indifferent, careless conversation of one who, however kind, was
    not too warm and anxious a sympathiser, did her good. She roused
    up; and by the time that she knew she might expect Higgins, she
    was able to leave the room quietly, and await in her own chamber
    the expected summons.

    'Eh!' said he, as she came in, 'to think of th' oud gentleman
    dropping off as he did! Yo' might ha' knocked me down wi' a straw
    when they telled me. "Mr. Hale?" said I; "him as was th' parson?"
    "Ay," said they. "Then," said I, "there's as good a man gone as
    ever lived on this earth, let who will be t' other!" And I came
    to see yo', and tell yo' how grieved I were, but them women in
    th' kitchen wouldn't tell yo' I were there. They said yo' were
    ill,--and butter me, but yo' dunnot look like th' same wench. And
    yo're going to be a grand lady up i' Lunnon, aren't yo'?'

    'Not a grand lady,' said Margaret, half smiling.

    'Well! Thornton said--says he, a day or two ago, "Higgins, have
    yo' seen Miss Hale?" "No," says I; "there's a pack o' women who
    won't let me at her. But I can bide my time, if she's ill. She
    and I knows each other pretty well; and hoo'l not go doubting
    that I'm main sorry for th' oud gentleman's death, just because I
    can't get at her and tell her so." And says he, "Yo'll not have
    much time for to try and see her, my fine chap. She's not for
    staying with us a day longer nor she can help. She's got grand
    relations, and they're carrying her off; and we sha'n't see her
    no more." "Measter," said I, "if I dunnot see her afore hoo goes,
    I'll strive to get up to Lunnun next Whissuntide, that I will.
    I'll not be baulked of saying her good-bye by any relations
    whatsomdever." But, bless yo', I knowed yo'd come. It were only
    for to humour the measter, I let on as if I thought yo'd mappen
    leave Milton without seeing me.'

    'You're quite right,' said Margaret. 'You only do me justice. And
    you'll not forget me, I'm sure. If no one else in Milton
    remembers me, I'm certain you will; and papa too. You know how
    good and how tender he was. Look, Higgins! here is his bible. I
    have kept it for you. I can ill spare it; but I know he would
    have liked you to have it. I'm sure you'll care for it, and study
    what is In it, for his sake.'

    'Yo' may say that. If it were the deuce's own scribble, and yo'
    axed me to read in it for yo'r sake, and th' oud gentleman's, I'd
    do it. Whatten's this, wench? I'm not going for to take yo'r
    brass, so dunnot think it. We've been great friends, 'bout the
    sound o' money passing between us,'

    'For the children--for Boucher's children,' said Margaret,
    hurriedly. 'They may need it. You've no right to refuse it for
    them. I would not give you a penny,' she said, smiling; 'don't
    think there's any of it for you.'

    'Well, wench! I can nobbut say, Bless yo'! and bless yo'!--and
    amen.'
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