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    Chapter 47

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    Chapter 48
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    'Experience, like a pale musician, holds

    A dulcimer of patience in his hand;

    Whence harmonies we cannot understand,

    Of God's will in His worlds, the strain unfolds

    In sad, perplexed minors.'


    About this time Dixon returned from Milton, and assumed her post
    as Margaret's maid. She brought endless pieces of Milton gossip:
    How Martha had gone to live with Miss Thornton, on the latter's
    marriage; with an account of the bridesmaids, dresses and
    breakfasts, at that interesting ceremony; how people thought that
    Mr. Thornton had made too grand a wedding of it, considering he
    had lost a deal by the strike, and had had to pay so much for the
    failure of his contracts; how little money articles of
    furniture--long cherished by Dixon--had fetched at the sale,
    which was a shame considering how rich folks were at Milton; how
    Mrs. Thornton had come one day and got two or three good
    bargains, and Mr. Thornton had come the next, and in his desire
    to obtain one or two things, had bid against himself, much to the
    enjoyment of the bystanders, so as Dixon observed, that made
    things even; if Mrs. Thornton paid too little, Mr. Thornton paid
    too much. Mr. Bell had sent all sorts of orders about the books;
    there was no understanding him, he was so particular; if he had
    come himself it would have been all right, but letters always
    were and always will be more puzzling than they are worth. Dixon
    had not much to tell about the Higginses. Her memory had an
    aristocratic bias, and was very treacherous whenever she tried to
    recall any circumstance connected with those below her in life.
    Nicholas was very well she believed. He had been several times at
    the house asking for news of Miss Margaret--the only person who
    ever did ask, except once Mr. Thornton. And Mary? oh! of course
    she was very well, a great, stout, slatternly thing! She did
    hear, or perhaps it was only a dream of hers, though it would be
    strange if she had dreamt of such people as the Higginses, that
    Mary had gone to work at Mr. Thornton's mill, because her father
    wished her to know how to cook; but what nonsense that could mean
    she didn't know. Margaret rather agreed with her that the story
    was incoherent enough to be like a dream. Still it was pleasant
    to have some one now with whom she could talk of Milton, and
    Milton people. Dixon was not over-fond of the subject, rather
    wishing to leave that part of her life in shadow. She liked much
    more to dwell upon speeches of Mr. Bell's, which had suggested an
    idea to her of what was really his intention--making Margaret his
    heiress. But her young lady gave her no encouragement, nor in any
    way gratified her insinuating enquiries, however disguised in the
    form of suspicions or assertions.

    All this time, Margaret had a strange undefined longing to hear
    that Mr. Bell had gone to pay one of his business visits to
    Milton; for it had been well understood between them, at the time
    of their conversation at Helstone, that the explanation she had
    desired should only be given to Mr. Thornton by word of mouth,
    and even in that manner should be in nowise forced upon him. Mr.
    Bell was no great correspondent, but he wrote from time to time
    long or short letters, as the humour took him, and although
    Margaret was not conscious of any definite hope, on receiving
    them, yet she always put away his notes with a little feeling of
    disappointment. He was not going to Milton; he said nothing about
    it at any rate. Well! she must be patient. Sooner or later the
    mists would be cleared away. Mr. Bell's letters were hardly like
    his usual self; they were short, and complaining, with every now
    and then a little touch of bitterness that was unusual. He did
    not look forward to the future; he rather seemed to regret the
    past, and be weary of the present. Margaret fancied that he could
    not be well; but in answer to some enquiry of hers as to his
    health, he sent her a short note, saying there was an
    old-fashioned complaint called the spleen; that he was suffering
    from that, and it was for her to decide if it was more mental or
    physical; but that he should like to indulge himself in
    grumbling, without being obliged to send a bulletin every time.

    In consequence of this note, Margaret made no more enquiries
    about his health. One day Edith let out accidentally a fragment
    of a conversation which she had had with Mr. Bell, when he was
    last in London, which possessed Margaret with the idea that he
    had some notion of taking her to pay a visit to her brother and
    new sister-in-law, at Cadiz, in the autumn. She questioned and
    cross-questioned Edith, till the latter was weary, and declared
    that there was nothing more to remember; all he had said was that
    he half-thought he should go, and hear for himself what Frederick
    had to say about the mutiny; and that it would be a good
    opportunity for Margaret to become acquainted with her new
    sister-in-law; that he always went somewhere during the long
    vacation, and did not see why he should not go to Spain as well
    as anywhere else. That was all. Edith hoped Margaret did not want
    to leave them, that she was so anxious about all this. And then,
    having nothing else particular to do, she cried, and said that
    she knew she cared much more for Margaret than Margaret did for
    her. Margaret comforted her as well as she could, but she could
    hardly explain to her how this idea of Spain, mere Chateau en
    Espagne as it might be, charmed and delighted her. Edith was in
    the mood to think that any pleasure enjoyed away from her was a
    tacit affront, or at best a proof of indifference. So Margaret
    had to keep her pleasure to herself, and could only let it escape
    by the safety-valve of asking Dixon, when she dressed for dinner,
    if she would not like to see Master Frederick and his new wife
    very much indeed?

    'She's a Papist, Miss, isn't she?'

    'I believe--oh yes, certainly!' said Margaret, a little damped
    for an instant at this recollection.

    'And they live in a Popish country?'


    'Then I'm afraid I must say, that my soul is dearer to me than
    even Master Frederick, his own dear self. I should be in a
    perpetual terror, Miss, lest I should be converted.'

    'Oh' said Margaret, 'I do not know that I am going; and if I go,
    I am not such a fine lady as to be unable to travel without you.
    No! dear old Dixon, you shall have a long holiday, if we go. But
    I'm afraid it is a long "if."'

    Now Dixon did not like this speech. In the first place, she did
    not like Margaret's trick of calling her 'dear old Dixon'
    whenever she was particularly demonstrative. She knew that Miss
    Hale was apt to call all people that she liked 'old,' as a sort
    of term of endearment; but Dixon always winced away from the
    application of the word to herself, who, being not much past
    fifty, was, she thought, in the very prime of life. Secondly, she
    did not like being so easily taken at her word; she had, with all
    her terror, a lurking curiosity about Spain, the Inquisition, and
    Popish mysteries. So, after clearing her throat, as if to show
    her willingness to do away with difficulties, she asked Miss
    Hale, whether she thought if she took care never to see a priest,
    or enter into one of their churches, there would be so very much
    danger of her being converted? Master Frederick, to be sure, had
    gone over unaccountable.

    'I fancy it was love that first predisposed him to conversion,'
    said Margaret, sighing.

    'Indeed, Miss!' said Dixon; 'well! I can preserve myself from
    priests, and from churches; but love steals in unawares! I think
    it's as well I should not go.'

    Margaret was afraid of letting her mind run too much upon this
    Spanish plan. But it took off her thoughts from too impatiently
    dwelling upon her desire to have all explained to Mr. Thornton.
    Mr. Bell appeared for the present to be stationary at Oxford, and
    to have no immediate purpose of going to Milton, and some secret
    restraint seemed to hang over Margaret, and prevent her from even
    asking, or alluding again to any probability of such a visit on
    his part. Nor did she feel at liberty to name what Edith had told
    her of the idea he had entertained,--it might be but for five
    minutes,--of going to Spain. He had never named it at Helstone,
    during all that sunny day of leisure; it was very probably but
    the fancy of a moment,--but if it were true, what a bright outlet
    it would be from the monotony of her present life, which was
    beginning to fall upon her.

    One of the great pleasures of Margaret's life at this time, was
    in Edith's boy. He was the pride and plaything of both father and
    mother, as long as he was good; but he had a strong will of his
    own, and as soon as he burst out into one of his stormy passions,
    Edith would throw herself back in despair and fatigue, and sigh
    out, 'Oh dear, what shall I do with him! Do, Margaret, please
    ring the bell for Hanley.'

    But Margaret almost liked him better in these manifestations of
    character than in his good blue-sashed moods. She would carry him
    off into a room, where they two alone battled it out; she with a
    firm power which subdued him into peace, while every sudden charm
    and wile she possessed, was exerted on the side of right, until
    he would rub his little hot and tear-smeared face all over hers,
    kissing and caressing till he often fell asleep in her arms or on
    her shoulder. Those were Margaret's sweetest moments. They gave
    her a taste of the feeling that she believed would be denied to
    her for ever.

    Mr. Henry Lennox added a new and not disagreeable element to the
    course of the household life by his frequent presence. Margaret
    thought him colder, if more brilliant than formerly; but there
    were strong intellectual tastes, and much and varied knowledge,
    which gave flavour to the otherwise rather insipid conversation.
    Margaret saw glimpses in him of a slight contempt for his brother
    and sister-in-law, and for their mode of life, which he seemed to
    consider as frivolous and purposeless. He once or twice spoke to
    his brother, in Margaret's presence, in a pretty sharp tone of
    enquiry, as to whether he meant entirely to relinquish his
    profession; and on Captain Lennox's reply, that he had quite
    enough to live upon, she had seen Mr. Lennox's curl of the lip as
    he said, 'And is that all you live for?'

    But the brothers were much attached to each other, in the way
    that any two persons are, when the one is cleverer and always
    leads the other, and this last is patiently content to be led.
    Mr. Lennox was pushing on in his profession; cultivating, with
    profound calculation, all those connections that might eventually
    be of service to him; keen-sighted, far-seeing, intelligent,
    sarcastic, and proud. Since the one long conversation relating to
    Frederick's affairs, which she had with him the first evening in
    Mr. Bell's presence, she had had no great intercourse with him,
    further than that which arose out of their close relations with
    the same household. But this was enough to wear off the shyness
    on her side, and any symptoms of mortified pride and vanity on
    his. They met continually, of course, but she thought that he
    rather avoided being alone with her; she fancied that he, as well
    as she, perceived that they had drifted strangely apart from
    their former anchorage, side by side, in many of their opinions,
    and all their tastes.

    And yet, when he had spoken unusually well, or with remarkable
    epigrammatic point, she felt that his eye sought the expression
    of her countenance first of all, if but for an instant; and that,
    in the family intercourse which constantly threw them together,
    her opinion was the one to which he listened with a
    deference,--the more complete, because it was reluctantly paid,
    and concealed as much as possible.
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