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    Chapter 49

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    Chapter 50
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    CHAPTER XLIX - BREATHING TRANQUILLITY (North and South)

    'And down the sunny beach she paces slowly,

    With many doubtful pauses by the way;

    Grief hath an influence so hush'd and holy.'

    HOOD.

    'Is not Margaret the heiress?' whispered Edith to her husband, as
    they were in their room alone at night after the sad journey to
    Oxford. She had pulled his tall head down, and stood upon tiptoe,
    and implored him not to be shocked, before she had ventured to
    ask this question. Captain Lennox was, however, quite in the
    dark; if he had ever heard, he had forgotten; it could not be
    much that a Fellow of a small college had to leave; but he had
    never wanted her to pay for her board; and two hundred and fifty
    pounds a year was something ridiculous, considering that she did
    not take wine. Edith came down upon her feet a little bit sadder;
    with a romance blown to pieces.

    A week afterwards, she came prancing towards her husband, and
    made him a low curtsey:

    'I am right, and you are wrong, most noble Captain. Margaret has
    had a lawyer's letter, and she is residuary legatee--the legacies
    being about two thousand pounds, and the remainder about forty
    thousand, at the present value of property in Milton.'

    'Indeed! and how does she take her good fortune?'

    'Oh, it seems she knew she was to have it all along; only she had
    no idea it was so much. She looks very white and pale, and says
    she's afraid of it; but that's nonsense, you know, and will soon
    go off. I left mamma pouring congratulations down her throat, and
    stole away to tell you.'

    It seemed to be supposed, by general consent, that the most
    natural thing was to consider Mr. Lennox henceforward as
    Margaret's legal adviser. She was so entirely ignorant of all
    forms of business that in nearly everything she had to refer to
    him. He chose out her attorney; he came to her with papers to be
    signed. He was never so happy as when teaching her of what all
    these mysteries of the law were the signs and types.

    'Henry,' said Edith, one day, archly; 'do you know what I hope
    and expect all these long conversations with Margaret will end
    in?'

    'No, I don't,' said he, reddening. 'And I desire you not to tell
    me.'

    'Oh, very well; then I need not tell Sholto not to ask Mr.
    Montagu so often to the house.'

    'Just as you choose,' said he with forced coolness. 'What you are
    thinking of, may or may not happen; but this time, before I
    commit myself, I will see my ground clear. Ask whom you choose.
    It may not be very civil, Edith, but if you meddle in it you will
    mar it. She has been very farouche with me for a long time; and
    is only just beginning to thaw a little from her Zenobia ways.
    She has the making of a Cleopatra in her, if only she were a
    little more pagan.'

    'For my part,' said Edith, a little maliciously, 'I am very glad
    she is a Christian. I know so very few!'

    There was no Spain for Margaret that autumn; although to the last
    she hoped that some fortunate occasion would call Frederick to
    Paris, whither she could easily have met with a convoy. Instead
    of Cadiz, she had to content herself with Cromer. To that place
    her aunt Shaw and the Lennoxes were bound. They had all along
    wished her to accompany them, and, consequently, with their
    characters, they made but lazy efforts to forward her own
    separate wish. Perhaps Cromer was, in one sense of the
    expression, the best for her. She needed bodily strengthening and
    bracing as well as rest.

    Among other hopes that had vanished, was the hope, the trust she
    had had, that Mr. Bell would have given Mr. Thornton the simple
    facts of the family circumstances which had preceded the
    unfortunate accident that led to Leonards' death. Whatever
    opinion--however changed it might be from what Mr. Thornton had
    once entertained, she had wished it to be based upon a true
    understanding of what she had done; and why she had done it. It
    would have been a pleasure to her; would have given her rest on a
    point on which she should now all her life be restless, unless
    she could resolve not to think upon it. It was now so long after
    the time of these occurrences, that there was no possible way of
    explaining them save the one which she had lost by Mr. Bell's
    death. She must just submit, like many another, to be
    misunderstood; but, though reasoning herself into the belief that
    in this hers was no uncommon lot, her heart did not ache the less
    with longing that some time--years and years hence--before he
    died at any rate, he might know how much she had been tempted.
    She thought that she did not want to hear that all was explained
    to him, if only she could be sure that he would know. But this
    wish was vain, like so many others; and when she had schooled
    herself into this conviction, she turned with all her heart and
    strength to the life that lay immediately before her, and
    resolved to strive and make the best of that.

    She used to sit long hours upon the beach, gazing intently on the
    waves as they chafed with perpetual motion against the pebbly
    shore,--or she looked out upon the more distant heave, and
    sparkle against the sky, and heard, without being conscious of
    hearing, the eternal psalm, which went up continually. She was
    soothed without knowing how or why. Listlessly she sat there, on
    the ground, her hands clasped round her knees, while her aunt
    Shaw did small shoppings, and Edith and Captain Lennox rode far
    and wide on shore and inland. The nurses, sauntering on with
    their charges, would pass and repass her, and wonder in whispers
    what she could find to look at so long, day after day. And when
    the family gathered at dinner-time, Margaret was so silent and
    absorbed that Edith voted her moped, and hailed a proposal of her
    husband's with great satisfaction, that Mr. Henry Lennox should
    be asked to take Cromer for a week, on his return from Scotland
    in October.

    But all this time for thought enabled Margaret to put events in
    their right places, as to origin and significance, both as
    regarded her past life and her future. Those hours by the
    sea-side were not lost, as any one might have seen who had had
    the perception to read, or the care to understand, the look that
    Margaret's face was gradually acquiring. Mr. Henry Lennox was
    excessively struck by the change.

    'The sea has done Miss Hale an immense deal of good, I should
    fancy,' said he, when she first left the room after his arrival
    in their family circle. 'She looks ten years younger than she did
    in Harley Street.'

    'That's the bonnet I got her!' said Edith, triumphantly. 'I knew
    it would suit her the moment I saw it.'

    'I beg your pardon,' said Mr. Lennox, in the half-contemptuous,
    half-indulgent tone he generally used to Edith. 'But I believe I
    know the difference between the charms of a dress and the charms
    of a woman. No mere bonnet would have made Miss Hale's eyes so
    lustrous and yet so soft, or her lips so ripe and red--and her
    face altogether so full of peace and light.--She is like, and yet
    more,'--he dropped his voice,--'like the Margaret Hale of
    Helstone.'

    From this time the clever and ambitious man bent all his powers
    to gaining Margaret. He loved her sweet beauty. He saw the latent
    sweep of her mind, which could easily (he thought) be led to
    embrace all the objects on which he had set his heart. He looked
    upon her fortune only as a part of the complete and superb
    character of herself and her position: yet he was fully aware of
    the rise which it would immediately enable him, the poor
    barrister, to take. Eventually he would earn such success, and
    such honours, as would enable him to pay her back, with interest,
    that first advance in wealth which he should owe to her. He had
    been to Milton on business connected with her property, on his
    return from Scotland; and with the quick eye of a skilled lawyer,
    ready ever to take in and weigh contingencies, he had seen that
    much additional value was yearly accruing to the lands and
    tenements which she owned in that prosperous and increasing town.
    He was glad to find that the present relationship between
    Margaret and himself, of client and legal adviser, was gradually
    superseding the recollection of that unlucky, mismanaged day at
    Helstone. He had thus unusual opportunities of intimate
    intercourse with her, besides those that arose from the
    connection between the families.

    Margaret was only too willing to listen as long as he talked of
    Milton, though he had seen none of the people whom she more
    especially knew. It had been the tone with her aunt and cousin to
    speak of Milton with dislike and contempt; just such feelings as
    Margaret was ashamed to remember she had expressed and felt on
    first going to live there. But Mr. Lennox almost exceeded
    Margaret in his appreciation of the character of Milton and its
    inhabitants. Their energy, their power, their indomitable courage
    in struggling and fighting; their lurid vividness of existence,
    captivated and arrested his attention. He was never tired of
    talking about them; and had never perceived how selfish and
    material were too many of the ends they proposed to themselves as
    the result of all their mighty, untiring endeavour, till
    Margaret, even in the midst of her gratification, had the candour
    to point this out, as the tainting sin in so much that was noble,
    and to be admired. Still, when other subjects palled upon her,
    and she gave but short answers to many questions, Henry Lennox
    found out that an enquiry as to some Darkshire peculiarity of
    character, called back the light into her eye, the glow into her
    cheek.

    When they returned to town, Margaret fulfilled one of her
    sea-side resolves, and took her life into her own hands. Before
    they went to Cromer, she had been as docile to her aunt's laws as
    if she were still the scared little stranger who cried herself to
    sleep that first night in the Harley Street nursery. But she had
    learnt, in those solemn hours of thought, that she herself must
    one day answer for her own life, and what she had done with it;
    and she tried to settle that most difficult problem for women,
    how much was to be utterly merged in obedience to authority, and
    how much might be set apart for freedom in working. Mrs. Shaw was
    as good-tempered as could be; and Edith had inherited this
    charming domestic quality; Margaret herself had probably the
    worst temper of the three, for her quick perceptions, and
    over-lively imagination made her hasty, and her early isolation
    from sympathy had made her proud; but she had an indescribable
    childlike sweetness of heart, which made her manners, even in her
    rarely wilful moods, irresistible of old; and now, chastened even
    by what the world called her good fortune, she charmed her
    reluctant aunt into acquiescence with her will. So Margaret
    gained the acknowledgment of her right to follow her own ideas of
    duty.

    'Only don't be strong-minded,' pleaded Edith. 'Mamma wants you to
    have a footman of your own; and I'm sure you're very welcome, for
    they're great plagues. Only to please me, darling, don't go and
    have a strong mind; it's the only thing I ask. Footman or no
    footman, don't be strong-minded.'

    'Don't be afraid, Edith. I'll faint on your hands at the
    servants' dinner-time, the very first opportunity; and then, what
    with Sholto playing with the fire, and the baby crying, you'll
    begin to wish for a strong-minded woman, equal to any emergency.'

    'And you'll not grow too good to joke and be merry?'

    'Not I. I shall be merrier than I have ever been, now I have got
    my own way.'

    'And you'll not go a figure, but let me buy your dresses for
    you?'

    'Indeed I mean to buy them for myself. You shall come with me if
    you like; but no one can please me but myself.'

    'Oh! I was afraid you'd dress in brown and dust-colour, not to
    show the dirt you'll pick up in all those places. I'm glad you're
    going to keep one or two vanities, just by way of specimens of
    the old Adam.'

    'I'm going to be just the same, Edith, if you and my aunt could
    but fancy so. Only as I have neither husband nor child to give me
    natural duties, I must make myself some, in addition to ordering
    my gowns.'

    In the family conclave, which was made up of Edith, her mother,
    and her husband, it was decided that perhaps all these plans of
    hers would only secure her the more for Henry Lennox. They kept
    her out of the way of other friends who might have eligible sons
    or brothers; and it was also agreed that she never seemed to take
    much pleasure in the society of any one but Henry, out of their
    own family. The other admirers, attracted by her appearance or
    the reputation of her fortune, were swept away, by her
    unconscious smiling disdain, into the paths frequented by other
    beauties less fastidious, or other heiresses with a larger amount
    of gold. Henry and she grew slowly into closer intimacy; but
    neither he nor she were people to brook the slightest notice of
    their proceedings.
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