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    Chapter 45

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    Chapter 46
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    CHAPTER XLV - NOT ALL A DREAM

    'Where are the sounds that swam along

    The buoyant air when I was young?

    The last vibration now is o'er,

    And they who listened are no more;

    Ah! let me close my eyes and dream.'

    W. S. LANDOR.

    The idea of Helstone had been suggested to Mr. Bell's waking mind
    by his conversation with Mr. Lennox, and all night long it ran
    riot through his dreams. He was again the tutor in the college
    where he now held the rank of Fellow; it was again a long
    vacation, and he was staying with his newly married friend, the
    proud husband, and happy Vicar of Helstone. Over babbling brooks
    they took impossible leaps, which seemed to keep them whole days
    suspended in the air. Time and space were not, though all other
    things seemed real. Every event was measured by the emotions of
    the mind, not by its actual existence, for existence it had none.
    But the trees were gorgeous in their autumnal leafiness--the warm
    odours of flower and herb came sweet upon the sense--the young
    wife moved about her house with just that mixture of annoyance at
    her position, as regarded wealth, with pride in her handsome and
    devoted husband, which Mr. Bell had noticed in real life a
    quarter of a century ago. The dream was so like life that, when
    he awoke, his present life seemed like a dream. Where was he? In
    the close, handsomely furnished room of a London hotel! Where
    were those who spoke to him, moved around him, touched him, not
    an instant ago? Dead! buried! lost for evermore, as far as
    earth's for evermore would extend. He was an old man, so lately
    exultant in the full strength of manhood. The utter loneliness of
    his life was insupportable to think about. He got up hastily, and
    tried to forget what never more might be, in a hurried dressing
    for the breakfast in Harley Street.

    He could not attend to all the lawyer's details, which, as he
    saw, made Margaret's eyes dilate, and her lips grow pale, as one
    by one fate decreed, or so it seemed, every morsel of evidence
    which would exonerate Frederick, should fall from beneath her
    feet and disappear. Even Mr. Lennox's well-regulated professional
    voice took a softer, tenderer tone, as he drew near to the
    extinction of the last hope. It was not that Margaret had not
    been perfectly aware of the result before. It was only that the
    details of each successive disappointment came with such
    relentless minuteness to quench all hope, that she at last fairly
    gave way to tears. Mr. Lennox stopped reading.

    'I had better not go on,' said he, in a concerned voice. 'It was
    a foolish proposal of mine. Lieutenant Hale,' and even this
    giving him the title of the service from which he had so harshly
    been expelled, was soothing to Margaret, 'Lieutenant Hale is
    happy now; more secure in fortune and future prospects than he
    could ever have been in the navy; and has, doubtless, adopted his
    wife's country as his own.'

    'That is it,' said Margaret. 'It seems so selfish in me to regret
    it,' trying to smile, 'and yet he is lost to me, and I am so
    lonely.' Mr. Lennox turned over his papers, and wished that he
    were as rich and prosperous as he believed he should be some day.
    Mr. Bell blew his nose, but, otherwise, he also kept silence; and
    Margaret, in a minute or two, had apparently recovered her usual
    composure. She thanked Mr. Lennox very courteously for his
    trouble; all the more courteously and graciously because she was
    conscious that, by her behaviour, he might have probably been led
    to imagine that he had given her needless pain. Yet it was pain
    she would not have been without.

    Mr. Bell came up to wish her good-bye.

    'Margaret!' said he, as he fumbled with his gloves. 'I am going
    down to Helstone to-morrow, to look at the old place. Would you
    like to come with me? Or would it give you too much pain? Speak
    out, don't be afraid.'

    'Oh, Mr. Bell,' said she--and could say no more. But she took his
    old gouty hand, and kissed it.

    'Come, come; that's enough,' said he, reddening with awkwardness.
    'I suppose your aunt Shaw will trust you with me. We'll go
    to-morrow morning, and we shall get there about two o'clock, I
    fancy. We'll take a snack, and order dinner at the little
    inn--the Lennard Arms, it used to be,--and go and get an appetite
    in the forest. Can you stand it, Margaret? It will be a trial, I
    know, to both of us, but it will be a pleasure to me, at least.
    And there we'll dine--it will be but doe-venison, if we can get
    it at all--and then I'll take my nap while you go out and see old
    friends. I'll give you back safe and sound, barring railway
    accidents, and I'll insure your life for a thousand pounds before
    starting, which may be some comfort to your relations; but
    otherwise, I'll bring you back to Mrs. Shaw by lunch-time on
    Friday. So, if you say yes, I'll just go up-stairs and propose
    it.'

    'It's no use my trying to say how much I shall like it,' said
    Margaret, through her tears.

    'Well, then, prove your gratitude by keeping those fountains of
    yours dry for the next two days. If you don't, I shall feel queer
    myself about the lachrymal ducts, and I don't like that.'

    'I won't cry a drop,' said Margaret, winking her eyes to shake
    the tears off her eye-lashes, and forcing a smile.

    'There's my good girl. Then we'll go up-stairs and settle it
    all.' Margaret was in a state of almost trembling eagerness,
    while Mr. Bell discussed his plan with her aunt Shaw, who was
    first startled, then doubtful and perplexed, and in the end,
    yielding rather to the rough force of Mr. Bell's words than to
    her own conviction; for to the last, whether it was right or
    wrong, proper or improper, she could not settle to her own
    satisfaction, till Margaret's safe return, the happy fulfilment
    of the project, gave her decision enough to say, 'she was sure it
    had been a very kind thought of Mr. Bell's, and just what she
    herself had been wishing for Margaret, as giving her the very
    change which she required, after all the anxious time she had
    had.'
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