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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesNorth And South - Chapter XLV - NOT ALL A DREAM
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North And South - Chapter XLV - NOT ALL A DREAM Post by :trebor95 Category :Long Stories Author :Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell Date :January 2011 Read :3384

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North And South - Chapter XLV - NOT ALL A DREAM

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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