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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesNorth And South - Chapter XLIV - EASE NOT PEACE
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North And South - Chapter XLIV - EASE NOT PEACE Post by :setyoufree Category :Long Stories Author :Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell Date :January 2011 Read :2048

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North And South - Chapter XLIV - EASE NOT PEACE

CHAPTER XLIV - EASE NOT PEACE


'A dull rotation, never at a stay,

Yesterday's face twin image of to-day.'

COWPER.

'Of what each one should be, he sees the form and rule,

And till he reach to that, his joy can ne'er be full.'

RUCKERT.

It was very well for Margaret that the extreme quiet of the
Harley Street house, during Edith's recovery from her
confinement, gave her the natural rest which she needed. It gave
her time to comprehend the sudden change which had taken place in
her circumstances within the last two months. She found herself
at once an inmate of a luxurious house, where the bare knowledge
of the existence of every trouble or care seemed scarcely to have
penetrated. The wheels of the machinery of daily life were well
oiled, and went along with delicious smoothness. Mrs. Shaw and
Edith could hardly make enough of Margaret, on her return to what
they persisted in calling her home. And she felt that it was
almost ungrateful in her to have a secret feeling that the
Helstone vicarage--nay, even the poor little house at Milton,
with her anxious father and her invalid mother, and all the small
household cares of comparative poverty, composed her idea of
home. Edith was impatient to get well, in order to fill
Margaret's bed-room with all the soft comforts, and pretty
nick-knacks, with which her own abounded. Mrs. Shaw and her maid
found plenty of occupation in restoring Margaret's wardrobe to a
state of elegant variety. Captain Lennox was easy, kind, and
gentlemanly; sate with his wife in her dressing-room an hour or
two every day; played with his little boy for another hour, and
lounged away the rest of his time at his club, when he was not
engaged out to dinner. Just before Margaret had recovered from
her necessity for quiet and repose--before she had begun to feel
her life wanting and dull--Edith came down-stairs and resumed her
usual part in the household; and Margaret fell into the old habit
of watching, and admiring, and ministering to her cousin. She
gladly took all charge of the semblances of duties off Edith's
hands; answered notes, reminded her of engagements, tended her
when no gaiety was in prospect, and she was consequently rather
inclined to fancy herself ill. But all the rest of the family
were in the full business of the London season, and Margaret was
often left alone. Then her thoughts went back to Milton, with a
strange sense of the contrast between the life there, and here.
She was getting surfeited of the eventless ease in which no
struggle or endeavour was required. She was afraid lest she
should even become sleepily deadened into forgetfulness of
anything beyond the life which was lapping her round with luxury.
There might be toilers and moilers there in London, but she never
saw them; the very servants lived in an underground world of
their own, of which she knew neither the hopes nor the fears;
they only seemed to start into existence when some want or whim
of their master and mistress needed them. There was a strange
unsatisfied vacuum in Margaret's heart and mode of life; and,
once when she had dimly hinted this to Edith, the latter, wearied
with dancing the night before, languidly stroked Margaret's cheek
as she sat by her in the old attitude,--she on a footstool by the
sofa where Edith lay.

'Poor child!' said Edith. 'It is a little sad for you to be left,
night after night, just at this time when all the world is so
gay. But we shall be having our dinner-parties soon--as soon as
Henry comes back from circuit--and then there will be a little
pleasant variety for you. No wonder it is moped, poor darling!'

Margaret did not feel as if the dinner-parties would be a
panacea. But Edith piqued herself on her dinner-parties; 'so
different,' as she said, 'from the old dowager dinners under
mamma's regime;' and Mrs. Shaw herself seemed to take exactly the
same kind of pleasure in the very different arrangements and
circle of acquaintances which were to Captain and Mrs. Lennox's
taste, as she did in the more formal and ponderous entertainments
which she herself used to give. Captain Lennox was always
extremely kind and brotherly to Margaret. She was really very
fond of him, excepting when he was anxiously attentive to Edith's
dress and appearance, with a view to her beauty making a
sufficient impression on the world. Then all the latent Vashti in
Margaret was roused, and she could hardly keep herself from
expressing her feelings.

The course of Margaret's day was this; a quiet hour or two before
a late breakfast; an unpunctual meal, lazily eaten by weary and
half-awake people, but yet at which, in all its dragged-out
length, she was expected to be present, because, directly
afterwards, came a discussion of plans, at which, although they
none of them concerned her, she was expected to give her
sympathy, if she could not assist with her advice; an endless
number of notes to write, which Edith invariably left to her,
with many caressing compliments as to her eloquence du billet; a
little play with Sholto as he returned from his morning's walk;
besides the care of the children during the servants' dinner; a
drive or callers; and some dinner or morning engagement for her
aunt and cousins, which left Margaret free, it is true, but
rather wearied with the inactivity of the day, coming upon
depressed spirits and delicate health.

She looked forward with longing, though unspoken interest to the
homely object of Dixon's return from Milton; where, until now,
the old servant had been busily engaged in winding up all the
affairs of the Hale family. It had appeared a sudden famine to
her heart, this entire cessation of any news respecting the
people amongst whom she had lived so long. It was true, that
Dixon, in her business-letters, quoted, every now and then, an
opinion of Mr. Thornton's as to what she had better do about the
furniture, or how act in regard to the landlord of the Crampton
Terrace house. But it was only here and there that the name came
in, or any Milton name, indeed; and Margaret was sitting one
evening, all alone in the Lennoxes's drawing-room, not reading
Dixon's letters, which yet she held in her hand, but thinking
over them, and recalling the days which had been, and picturing
the busy life out of which her own had been taken and never
missed; wondering if all went on in that whirl just as if she and
her father had never been; questioning within herself, if no one
in all the crowd missed her, (not Higgins, she was not thinking
of him,) when, suddenly, Mr. Bell was announced; and Margaret
hurried the letters into her work-basket, and started up,
blushing as if she had been doing some guilty thing.

'Oh, Mr. Bell! I never thought of seeing you!'

'But you give me a welcome, I hope, as well as that very pretty
start of surprise.'

'Have you dined? How did you come? Let me order you some dinner.'

'If you're going to have any. Otherwise, you know, there is no
one who cares less for eating than I do. But where are the
others? Gone out to dinner? Left you alone?'

'Oh yes! and it is such a rest. I was just thinking--But will you
run the risk of dinner? I don't know if there is anything in the
house.'

'Why, to tell you the truth, I dined at my club. Only they don't
cook as well as they did, so I thought, if you were going to
dine, I might try and make out my dinner. But never mind, never
mind! There aren't ten cooks in England to be trusted at
impromptu dinners. If their skill and their fires will stand it,
their tempers won't. You shall make me some tea, Margaret. And
now, what were you thinking of? you were going to tell me. Whose
letters were those, god-daughter, that you hid away so speedily?'

'Only Dixon's,' replied Margaret, growing very red.

'Whew! is that all? Who do you think came up in the train with
me?'

'I don't know,' said Margaret, resolved against making a guess.

'Your what d'ye call him? What's the right name for a
cousin-in-law's brother?'

'Mr. Henry Lennox?' asked Margaret.

'Yes,' replied Mr. Bell. 'You knew him formerly, didn't you? What
sort of a person is he, Margaret?'

'I liked him long ago,' said Margaret, glancing down for a
moment. And then she looked straight up and went on in her
natural manner. 'You know we have been corresponding about
Frederick since; but I have not seen him for nearly three years,
and he may be changed. What did you think of him?'

'I don't know. He was so busy trying to find out who I was, in
the first instance, and what I was in the second, that he never
let out what he was; unless indeed that veiled curiosity of his
as to what manner of man he had to talk to was not a good piece,
and a fair indication of his character. Do you call him good
looking, Margaret?'

'No! certainly not. Do you?'

'Not I. But I thought, perhaps, you might. Is he a great deal
here?'

'I fancy he is when he is in town. He has been on circuit now
since I came. But--Mr. Bell--have you come from Oxford or from
Milton?'

'From Milton. Don't you see I'm smoke-dried?'

'Certainly. But I thought that it might be the effect of the
antiquities of Oxford.'

'Come now, be a sensible woman! In Oxford, I could have managed
all the landlords in the place, and had my own way, with half the
trouble your Milton landlord has given me, and defeated me after
all. He won't take the house off our hands till next June
twelvemonth. Luckily, Mr. Thornton found a tenant for it. Why
don't you ask after Mr. Thornton, Margaret? He has proved himself
a very active friend of yours, I can tell you. Taken more than
half the trouble off my hands.'

'And how is he? How is Mrs. Thornton?' asked Margaret hurriedly
and below her breath, though she tried to speak out.

'I suppose they're well. I've been staying at their house till I
was driven out of it by the perpetual clack about that Thornton
girl's marriage. It was too much for Thornton himself, though she
was his sister. He used to go and sit in his own room
perpetually. He's getting past the age for caring for such
things, either as principal or accessory. I was surprised to find
the old lady falling into the current, and carried away by her
daughter's enthusiasm for orange-blossoms and lace. I thought
Mrs. Thornton had been made of sterner stuff.'

'She would put on any assumption of feeling to veil her
daughter's weakness,' said Margaret in a low voice.

'Perhaps so. You've studied her, have you? She doesn't seem over
fond of you, Margaret.'

'I know it,' said Margaret. 'Oh, here is tea at last!' exclaimed
she, as if relieved. And with tea came Mr. Henry Lennox, who had
walked up to Harley Street after a late dinner, and had evidently
expected to find his brother and sister-in-law at home. Margaret
suspected him of being as thankful as she was at the presence of
a third party, on this their first meeting since the memorable
day of his offer, and her refusal at Helstone. She could hardly
tell what to say at first, and was thankful for all the tea-table
occupations, which gave her an excuse for keeping silence, and
him an opportunity of recovering himself. For, to tell the truth,
he had rather forced himself up to Harley Street this evening,
with a view of getting over an awkward meeting, awkward even in
the presence of Captain Lennox and Edith, and doubly awkward now
that he found her the only lady there, and the person to whom he
must naturally and perforce address a great part of his
conversation. She was the first to recover her self-possession.
She began to talk on the subject which came uppermost in her
mind, after the first flush of awkward shyness.

'Mr. Lennox, I have been so much obliged to you for all you have
done about Frederick.'

'I am only sorry it has been so unsuccessful,' replied he, with a
quick glance towards Mr. Bell, as if reconnoitring how much he
might say before him. Margaret, as if she read his thought,
addressed herself to Mr. Bell, both including him in the
conversation, and implying that he was perfectly aware of the
endeavours that had been made to clear Frederick.

'That Horrocks--that very last witness of all, has proved as
unavailing as all the others. Mr. Lennox has discovered that he
sailed for Australia only last August; only two months before
Frederick was in England, and gave us the names of----'

'Frederick in England! you never told me that!' exclaimed Mr.
Bell in surprise.

'I thought you knew. I never doubted you had been told. Of
course, it was a great secret, and perhaps I should not have
named it now,' said Margaret, a little dismayed.

'I have never named it to either my brother or your cousin,' said
Mr. Lennox, with a little professional dryness of implied
reproach.

'Never mind, Margaret. I am not living in a talking, babbling
world, nor yet among people who are trying to worm facts out of
me; you needn't look so frightened because you have let the cat
out of the bag to a faithful old hermit like me. I shall never
name his having been in England; I shall be out of temptation,
for no one will ask me. Stay!' (interrupting himself rather
abruptly) 'was it at your mother's funeral?'

'He was with mamma when she died,' said Margaret, softly.

'To be sure! To be sure! Why, some one asked me if he had not
been over then, and I denied it stoutly--not many weeks ago--who
could it have been? Oh! I recollect!'

But he did not say the name; and although Margaret would have
given much to know if her suspicions were right, and it had been
Mr. Thornton who had made the enquiry, she could not ask the
question of Mr. Bell, much as she longed to do so.

There was a pause for a moment or two. Then Mr. Lennox said,
addressing himself to Margaret, 'I suppose as Mr. Bell is now
acquainted with all the circumstances attending your brother's
unfortunate dilemma, I cannot do better than inform him exactly
how the research into the evidence we once hoped to produce in
his favour stands at present. So, if he will do me the honour to
breakfast with me to-morrow, we will go over the names of these
missing gentry.'

'I should like to hear all the particulars, if I may. Cannot you
come here? I dare not ask you both to breakfast, though I am sure
you would be welcome. But let me know all I can about Frederick,
even though there may be no hope at present.'

'I have an engagement at half-past eleven. But I will certainly
come if you wish it,' replied Mr. Lennox, with a little
afterthought of extreme willingness, which made Margaret shrink
into herself, and almost wish that she had not proposed her
natural request. Mr. Bell got up and looked around him for his
hat, which had been removed to make room for tea.

'Well!' said he, 'I don't know what Mr. Lennox is inclined to do,
but I'm disposed to be moving off homewards. I've been a journey
to-day, and journeys begin to tell upon my sixty and odd years.'

'I believe I shall stay and see my brother and sister,' said Mr.
Lennox, making no movement of departure. Margaret was seized with
a shy awkward dread of being left alone with him. The scene on
the little terrace in the Helstone garden was so present to her,
that she could hardly help believing it was so with him.

'Don't go yet, please, Mr. Bell,' said she, hastily. 'I want you
to see Edith; and I want Edith to know you. Please!' said she,
laying a light but determined hand on his arm. He looked at her,
and saw the confusion stirring in her countenance; he sate down
again, as if her little touch had been possessed of resistless
strength.

'You see how she overpowers me, Mr. Lennox,' said he. 'And I hope
you noticed the happy choice of her expressions; she wants me to
"see" this cousin Edith, who, I am told, is a great beauty; but
she has the honesty to change her word when she comes to me--Mrs.
Lennox is to "know" me. I suppose I am not much to "see," eh,
Margaret?'

He joked, to give her time to recover from the slight flutter
which he had detected in her manner on his proposal to leave; and
she caught the tone, and threw the ball back. Mr. Lennox wondered
how his brother, the Captain, could have reported her as having
lost all her good looks. To be sure, in her quiet black dress,
she was a contrast to Edith, dancing in her white crape mourning,
and long floating golden hair, all softness and glitter. She
dimpled and blushed most becomingly when introduced to Mr. Bell,
conscious that she had her reputation as a beauty to keep up, and
that it would not do to have a Mordecai refusing to worship and
admire, even in the shape of an old Fellow of a College, which
nobody had ever heard of. Mrs. Shaw and Captain Lennox, each in
their separate way, gave Mr. Bell a kind and sincere welcome,
winning him over to like them almost in spite of himself,
especially when he saw how naturally Margaret took her place as
sister and daughter of the house.

'What a shame that we were not at home to receive you,' said
Edith. 'You, too, Henry! though I don't know that we should have
stayed at home for you. And for Mr. Bell! for Margaret's Mr.
Bell----'

'There is no knowing what sacrifices you would not have made,'
said her brother-in-law. 'Even a dinner-party! and the delight of
wearing this very becoming dress.'

Edith did not know whether to frown or to smile. But it did not
suit Mr. Lennox to drive her to the first of these alternatives;
so he went on.

'Will you show your readiness to make sacrifices to-morrow
morning, first by asking me to breakfast, to meet Mr. Bell, and
secondly, by being so kind as to order it at half-past nine,
instead of ten o'clock? I have some letters and papers that I
want to show to Miss Hale and Mr. Bell.'

'I hope Mr. Bell will make our house his own during his stay in
London,' said Captain Lennox. 'I am only so sorry we cannot offer
him a bed-room.'

'Thank you. I am much obliged to you. You would only think me a
churl if you had, for I should decline it, I believe, in spite of
all the temptations of such agreeable company,' said Mr. Bell,
bowing all round, and secretly congratulating himself on the neat
turn he had given to his sentence, which, if put into plain
language, would have been more to this effect: 'I couldn't stand
the restraints of such a proper-behaved and civil-spoken set of
people as these are: it would be like meat without salt. I'm
thankful they haven't a bed. And how well I rounded my sentence!
I am absolutely catching the trick of good manners'

His self-satisfaction lasted him till he was fairly out in the
streets, walking side by side with Henry Lennox. Here he suddenly
remembered Margaret's little look of entreaty as she urged him to
stay longer, and he also recollected a few hints given him long
ago by an acquaintance of Mr. Lennox's, as to his admiration of
Margaret. It gave a new direction to his thoughts. 'You have
known Miss Hale for a long time, I believe. How do you think her
looking? She strikes me as pale and ill.'

'I thought her looking remarkably well. Perhaps not when I first
came in--now I think of it. But certainly, when she grew
animated, she looked as well as ever I saw her do.'

'She has had a great deal to go through,' said Mr. Bell.

'Yes! I have been sorry to hear of all she has had to bear; not
merely the common and universal sorrow arising from death, but
all the annoyance which her father's conduct must have caused
her, and then----'

'Her father's conduct!' said Mr. Bell, in an accent of
surprise.'You must have heard some wrong statement. He behaved in
the most conscientious manner. He showed more resolute strength
than I should ever have given him credit for formerly.'

'Perhaps I have been wrongly informed. But I have been told, by
his successor in the living--a clever, sensible man, and a
thoroughly active clergyman--that there was no call upon Mr. Hale
to do what he did, relinquish the living, and throw himself and
his family on the tender mercies of private teaching in a
manufacturing town; the bishop had offered him another living, it
is true, but if he had come to entertain certain doubts, he could
have remained where he was, and so had no occasion to resign. But
the truth is, these country clergymen live such isolated
lives--isolated, I mean, from all intercourse with men of equal
cultivation with themselves, by whose minds they might regulate
their own, and discover when they were going either too fast or
too slow--that they are very apt to disturb themselves with
imaginary doubts as to the articles of faith, and throw up
certain opportunities of doing good for very uncertain fancies of
their own.'

'I differ from you. I do not think they are very apt to do as my
poor friend Hale did.' Mr. Bell was inwardly chafing.

'Perhaps I used too general an expression, in saying "very apt."
But certainly, their lives are such as very often to produce
either inordinate self-sufficiency, or a morbid state of
conscience,' replied Mr. Lennox with perfect coolness.

'You don't meet with any self-sufficiency among the lawyers, for
instance?' asked Mr. Bell. 'And seldom, I imagine, any cases of
morbid conscience.' He was becoming more and more vexed, and
forgetting his lately-caught trick of good manners. Mr. Lennox
saw now that he had annoyed his companion; and as he had talked
pretty much for the sake of saying something, and so passing the
time while their road lay together, he was very indifferent as to
the exact side he took upon the question, and quietly came round
by saying: 'To be sure, there is something fine in a man of Mr.
Hale's age leaving his home of twenty years, and giving up all
settled habits, for an idea which was probably erroneous--but
that does not matter--an untangible thought. One cannot help
admiring him, with a mixture of pity in one's admiration,
something like what one feels for Don Quixote. Such a gentleman
as he was too! I shall never forget the refined and simple
hospitality he showed to me that last day at Helstone.'

Only half mollified, and yet anxious, in order to lull certain
qualms of his own conscience, to believe that Mr. Hale's conduct
had a tinge of Quixotism in it, Mr. Bell growled out--'Aye! And
you don't know Milton. Such a change from Helstone! It is years
since I have been at Helstone--but I'll answer for it, it is
standing there yet--every stick and every stone as it has done
for the last century, while Milton! I go there every four or five
years--and I was born there--yet I do assure you, I often lose my
way--aye, among the very piles of warehouses that are built upon
my father's orchard. Do we part here? Well, good night, sir; I
suppose we shall meet in Harley Street to-morrow morning.'

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