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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesNorth And South - Chapter XLVI - ONCE AND NOW
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North And South - Chapter XLVI - ONCE AND NOW Post by :Conley Category :Long Stories Author :Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell Date :January 2011 Read :2284

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North And South - Chapter XLVI - ONCE AND NOW

CHAPTER XLVI - ONCE AND NOW


'So on those happy days of yore

Oft as I dare to dwell once more,

Still must I miss the friends so tried,

Whom Death has severed from my side.

But ever when true friendship binds,

Spirit it is that spirit finds;

In spirit then our bliss we found,

In spirit yet to them I'm bound.'

UHLAND.

Margaret was ready long before the appointed time, and had
leisure enough to cry a little, quietly, when unobserved, and to
smile brightly when any one looked at her. Her last alarm was
lest they should be too late and miss the train; but no! they
were all in time; and she breathed freely and happily at length,
seated in the carriage opposite to Mr. Bell, and whirling away
past the well-known stations; seeing the old south country-towns
and hamlets sleeping in the warm light of the pure sun, which
gave a yet ruddier colour to their tiled roofs, so different to
the cold slates of the north. Broods of pigeons hovered around
these peaked quaint gables, slowly settling here and there, and
ruffling their soft, shiny feathers, as if exposing every fibre
to the delicious warmth. There were few people about at the
stations, it almost seemed as if they were too lazily content to
wish to travel; none of the bustle and stir that Margaret had
noticed in her two journeys on the London and North-Western line.
Later on in the year, this line of railway should be stirring and
alive with rich pleasure-seekers; but as to the constant going to
and fro of busy trades-people it would always be widely different
from the northern lines. Here a spectator or two stood lounging
at nearly every station, with his hands in his pockets, so
absorbed in the simple act of watching, that it made the
travellers wonder what he could find to do when the train whirled
away, and only the blank of a railway, some sheds, and a distant
field or two were left for him to gaze upon. The hot air danced
over the golden stillness of the land, farm after farm was left
behind, each reminding Margaret of German Idyls--of Herman and
Dorothea--of Evangeline. From this waking dream she was roused.
It was the place to leave the train and take the fly to Helstone.
And now sharper feelings came shooting through her heart, whether
pain or pleasure she could hardly tell. Every mile was redolent
of associations, which she would not have missed for the world,
but each of which made her cry upon 'the days that are no more,'
with ineffable longing. The last time she had passed along this
road was when she had left it with her father and mother--the
day, the season, had been gloomy, and she herself hopeless, but
they were there with her. Now she was alone, an orphan, and they,
strangely, had gone away from her, and vanished from the face of
the earth. It hurt her to see the Helstone road so flooded in the
sun-light, and every turn and every familiar tree so precisely
the same in its summer glory as it had been in former years.
Nature felt no change, and was ever young.

Mr. Bell knew something of what would be passing through her
mind, and wisely and kindly held his tongue. They drove up to the
Lennard Arms; half farm-house, half-inn, standing a little apart
from the road, as much as to say, that the host did not so depend
on the custom of travellers, as to have to court it by any
obtrusiveness; they, rather, must seek him out. The house fronted
the village green; and right before it stood an immemorial
lime-tree benched all round, in some hidden recesses of whose
leafy wealth hung the grim escutcheon of the Lennards. The door
of the inn stood wide open, but there was no hospitable hurry to
receive the travellers. When the landlady did appear--and they
might have abstracted many an article first--she gave them a kind
welcome, almost as if they had been invited guests, and
apologised for her coming having been so delayed, by saying, that
it was hay-time, and the provisions for the men had to be sent
a-field, and she had been too busy packing up the baskets to hear
the noise of wheels over the road, which, since they had left the
highway, ran over soft short turf.

'Why, bless me!' exclaimed she, as at the end of her apology, a
glint of sunlight showed her Margaret's face, hitherto unobserved
in that shady parlour. 'It's Miss Hale, Jenny,' said she, running
to the door, and calling to her daughter. 'Come here, come
directly, it's Miss Hale!' And then she went up to Margaret, and
shook her hands with motherly fondness.

'And how are you all? How's the Vicar and Miss Dixon? The Vicar
above all! God bless him! We've never ceased to be sorry that he
left.'

Margaret tried to speak and tell her of her father's death; of
her mother's it was evident that Mrs. Purkis was aware, from her
omission of her name. But she choked in the effort, and could
only touch her deep mourning, and say the one word, 'Papa.'

'Surely, sir, it's never so!' said Mrs. Purkis, turning to Mr.
Bell for confirmation of the sad suspicion that now entered her
mind. 'There was a gentleman here in the spring--it might have
been as long ago as last winter--who told us a deal of Mr. Hale
and Miss Margaret; and he said Mrs. Hale was gone, poor lady. But
never a word of the Vicar's being ailing!'

'It is so, however,' said Mr. Bell. 'He died quite suddenly, when
on a visit to me at Oxford. He was a good man, Mrs. Purkis, and
there's many of us that might be thankful to have as calm an end
as his. Come Margaret, my dear! Her father was my oldest friend,
and she's my god-daughter, so I thought we would just come down
together and see the old place; and I know of old you can give us
comfortable rooms and a capital dinner. You don't remember me I
see, but my name is Bell, and once or twice when the parsonage
has been full, I've slept here, and tasted your good ale.'

'To be sure; I ask your pardon; but you see I was taken up with
Miss Hale. Let me show you to a room, Miss Margaret, where you
can take off your bonnet, and wash your face. It's only this very
morning I plunged some fresh-gathered roses head downward in the
water-jug, for, thought I, perhaps some one will be coming, and
there's nothing so sweet as spring-water scented by a musk rose
or two. To think of the Vicar being dead! Well, to be sure, we
must all die; only that gentleman said, he was quite picking up
after his trouble about Mrs. Hale's death.'

'Come down to me, Mrs. Purkis, after you have attended to Miss
Hale. I want to have a consultation with you about dinner.'

The little casement window in Margaret's bed-chamber was almost
filled up with rose and vine branches; but pushing them aside,
and stretching a little out, she could see the tops of the
parsonage chimneys above the trees; and distinguish many a
well-known line through the leaves.

'Aye!' said Mrs. Purkis, smoothing down the bed, and despatching
Jenny for an armful of lavender-scented towels, 'times is
changed, miss; our new Vicar has seven children, and is building
a nursery ready for more, just out where the arbour and
tool-house used to be in old times. And he has had new grates put
in, and a plate-glass window in the drawing-room. He and his wife
are stirring people, and have done a deal of good; at least they
say it's doing good; if it were not, I should call it turning
things upside down for very little purpose. The new Vicar is a
teetotaller, miss, and a magistrate, and his wife has a deal of
receipts for economical cooking, and is for making bread without
yeast; and they both talk so much, and both at a time, that they
knock one down as it were, and it's not till they're gone, and
one's a little at peace, that one can think that there were
things one might have said on one's own side of the question.
He'll be after the men's cans in the hay-field, and peeping in;
and then there'll be an ado because it's not ginger beer, but I
can't help it. My mother and my grandmother before me sent good
malt liquor to haymakers; and took salts and senna when anything
ailed them; and I must e'en go on in their ways, though Mrs.
Hepworth does want to give me comfits instead of medicine, which,
as she says, is a deal pleasanter, only I've no faith in it. But
I must go, miss, though I'm wanting to hear many a thing; I'll
come back to you before long.

Mr. Bell had strawberries and cream, a loaf of brown bread, and a
jug of milk, (together with a Stilton cheese and a bottle of port
for his own private refreshment,) ready for Margaret on her
coming down stairs; and after this rustic luncheon they set out
to walk, hardly knowing in what direction to turn, so many old
familiar inducements were there in each.

'Shall we go past the vicarage?' asked Mr. Bell.

'No, not yet. We will go this way, and make a round so as to come
back by it,' replied Margaret.

Here and there old trees had been felled the autumn before; or a
squatter's roughly-built and decaying cottage had disappeared.
Margaret missed them each and all, and grieved over them like old
friends. They came past the spot where she and Mr. Lennox had
sketched. The white, lightning-scarred trunk of the venerable
beech, among whose roots they had sate down was there no more;
the old man, the inhabitant of the ruinous cottage, was dead; the
cottage had been pulled down, and a new one, tidy and
respectable, had been built in its stead. There was a small
garden on the place where the beech-tree had been.

'I did not think I had been so old,' said Margaret after a pause
of silence; and she turned away sighing.

'Yes!' said Mr. Bell. 'It is the first changes among familiar
things that make such a mystery of time to the young, afterwards
we lose the sense of the mysterious. I take changes in all I see
as a matter of course. The instability of all human things is
familiar to me, to you it is new and oppressive.'

'Let us go on to see little Susan,' said Margaret, drawing her
companion up a grassy road-way, leading under the shadow of a
forest glade.

'With all my heart, though I have not an idea who little Susan
may be. But I have a kindness for all Susans, for simple Susan's
sake.'

'My little Susan was disappointed when I left without wishing her
goodbye; and it has been on my conscience ever since, that I gave
her pain which a little more exertion on my part might have
prevented. But it is a long way. Are you sure you will not be
tired?'

'Quite sure. That is, if you don't walk so fast. You see, here
there are no views that can give one an excuse for stopping to
take breath. You would think it romantic to be walking with a
person "fat and scant o' breath" if I were Hamlet, Prince of
Denmark. Have compassion on my infirmities for his sake.'

'I will walk slower for your own sake. I like you twenty times
better than Hamlet.'

'On the principle that a living ass is better than a dead lion?'

'Perhaps so. I don't analyse my feelings.'

'I am content to take your liking me, without examining too
curiously into the materials it is made of. Only we need not walk
at a snail's' pace.'

'Very well. Walk at your own pace, and I will follow. Or stop
still and meditate, like the Hamlet you compare yourself to, if I
go too fast.'

'Thank you. But as my mother has not murdered my father, and
afterwards married my uncle, I shouldn't know what to think
about, unless it were balancing the chances of our having a
well-cooked dinner or not. What do you think?'

'I am in good hopes. She used to be considered a famous cook as
far as Helstone opinion went.'

'But have you considered the distraction of mind produced by all
this haymaking?'

Margaret felt all Mr. Bell's kindness in trying to make cheerful
talk about nothing, to endeavour to prevent her from thinking too
curiously about the past. But she would rather have gone over
these dear-loved walks in silence, if indeed she were not
ungrateful enough to wish that she might have been alone.

They reached the cottage where Susan's widowed mother lived.
Susan was not there. She was gone to the parochial school.
Margaret was disappointed, and the poor woman saw it, and began
to make a kind of apology.

'Oh! it is quite right,' said Margaret. 'I am very glad to hear
it. I might have thought of it. Only she used to stop at home
with you.'

'Yes, she did; and I miss her sadly. I used to teach her what
little I knew at nights. It were not much to be sure. But she
were getting such a handy girl, that I miss her sore. But she's a
deal above me in learning now.' And the mother sighed.

'I'm all wrong,' growled Mr. Bell. 'Don't mind what I say. I'm a
hundred years behind the world. But I should say, that the child
was getting a better and simpler, and more natural education
stopping at home, and helping her mother, and learning to read a
chapter in the New Testament every night by her side, than from
all the schooling under the sun.'

Margaret did not want to encourage him to go on by replying to
him, and so prolonging the discussion before the mother. So she
turned to her and asked,

'How is old Betty Barnes?'

'I don't know,' said the woman rather shortly. 'We'se not
friends.'

'Why not?' asked Margaret, who had formerly been the peacemaker
of the village.

'She stole my cat.'

'Did she know it was yours?'

'I don't know. I reckon not.'

'Well! could not you get it back again when you told her it was
yours?'

'No! for she'd burnt it.'

'Burnt it!' exclaimed both Margaret and Mr. Bell.

'Roasted it!' explained the woman.

It was no explanation. By dint of questioning, Margaret extracted
from her the horrible fact that Betty Barnes, having been induced
by a gypsy fortune-teller to lend the latter her husband's Sunday
clothes, on promise of having them faithfully returned on the
Saturday night before Goodman Barnes should have missed them,
became alarmed by their non-appearance, and her consequent dread
of her husband's anger, and as, according to one of the savage
country superstitions, the cries of a cat, in the agonies of
being boiled or roasted alive, compelled (as it were) the powers
of darkness to fulfil the wishes of the executioner, resort had
been had to the charm. The poor woman evidently believed in its
efficacy; her only feeling was indignation that her cat had been
chosen out from all others for a sacrifice. Margaret listened in
horror; and endeavoured in vain to enlighten the woman's mind;
but she was obliged to give it up in despair. Step by step she
got the woman to admit certain facts, of which the logical
connexion and sequence was perfectly clear to Margaret; but at
the end, the bewildered woman simply repeated her first
assertion, namely, that 'it were very cruel for sure, and she
should not like to do it; but that there were nothing like it for
giving a person what they wished for; she had heard it all her
life; but it were very cruel for all that.' Margaret gave it up
in despair, and walked away sick at heart.

'You are a good girl not to triumph over me,' said Mr. Bell.

'How? What do you mean?'

'I own, I am wrong about schooling. Anything rather than have
that child brought up in such practical paganism.'

'Oh! I remember. Poor little Susan! I must go and see her; would
you mind calling at the school?'

'Not a bit. I am curious to see something of the teaching she is
to receive.'

They did not speak much more, but thridded their way through many
a bosky dell, whose soft green influence could not charm away the
shock and the pain in Margaret's heart, caused by the recital of
such cruelty; a recital too, the manner of which betrayed such
utter want of imagination, and therefore of any sympathy with the
suffering animal.

The buzz of voices, like the murmur of a hive of busy human bees,
made itself heard as soon as they emerged from the forest on the
more open village-green on which the school was situated. The
door was wide open, and they entered. A brisk lady in black,
here, there, and everywhere, perceived them, and bade them
welcome with somewhat of the hostess-air which, Margaret
remembered, her mother was wont to assume, only in a more soft
and languid manner, when any rare visitors strayed in to inspect
the school. She knew at once it was the present Vicar's wife, her
mother's successor; and she would have drawn back from the
interview had it been possible; but in an instant she had
conquered this feeling, and modestly advanced, meeting many a
bright glance of recognition, and hearing many a half-suppressed
murmur of 'It's Miss Hale.' The Vicar's lady heard the name, and
her manner at once became more kindly. Margaret wished she could
have helped feeling that it also became more patronising. The
lady held out a hand to Mr. Bell, with--

'Your father, I presume, Miss Hale. I see it by the likeness. I
am sure I am very glad to see you, sir, and so will the Vicar
be.'

Margaret explained that it was not her father, and stammered out
the fact of his death; wondering all the time how Mr. Hale could
have borne coming to revisit Helstone, if it had been as the
Vicar's lady supposed. She did not hear what Mrs. Hepworth was
saying, and left it to Mr. Bell to reply, looking round,
meanwhile, for her old acquaintances.

'Ah! I see you would like to take a class, Miss Hale. I know it
by myself. First class stand up for a parsing lesson with Miss
Hale.'

Poor Margaret, whose visit was sentimental, not in any degree
inspective, felt herself taken in; but as in some way bringing
her in contact with little eager faces, once well-known, and who
had received the solemn rite of baptism from her father, she sate
down, half losing herself in tracing out the changing features of
the girls, and holding Susan's hand for a minute or two,
unobserved by all, while the first class sought for their books,
and the Vicar's lady went as near as a lady could towards holding
Mr. Bell by the button, while she explained the Phonetic system
to him, and gave him a conversation she had had with the
Inspector about it.

Margaret bent over her book, and seeing nothing but that--hearing
the buzz of children's voices, old times rose up, and she thought
of them, and her eyes filled with tears, till all at once there
was a pause--one of the girls was stumbling over the apparently
simple word 'a,' uncertain what to call it.

'A, an indefinite article,' said Margaret, mildly.

'I beg your pardon,' said the Vicar's wife, all eyes and ears;
'but we are taught by Mr. Milsome to call "a" an--who can
remember?'

'An adjective absolute,' said half-a-dozen voices at once. And
Margaret sate abashed. The children knew more than she did. Mr.
Bell turned away, and smiled.

Margaret spoke no more during the lesson. But after it was over,
she went quietly round to one or two old favourites, and talked
to them a little. They were growing out of children into great
girls; passing out of her recollection in their rapid
development, as she, by her three years' absence, was vanishing
from theirs. Still she was glad to have seen them all again,
though a tinge of sadness mixed itself with her pleasure. When
school was over for the day, it was yet early in the summer
afternoon; and Mrs. Hepworth proposed to Margaret that she and
Mr. Bell should accompany her to the parsonage, and see the--the
word 'improvements' had half slipped out of her mouth, but she
substituted the more cautious term 'alterations' which the
present Vicar was making. Margaret did not care a straw about
seeing the alterations, which jarred upon her fond recollection
of what her home had been; but she longed to see the old place
once more, even though she shivered away from the pain which she
knew she should feel.

The parsonage was so altered, both inside and out, that the real
pain was less than she had anticipated. It was not like the same
place. The garden, the grass-plat, formerly so daintily trim that
even a stray rose-leaf seemed like a fleck on its exquisite
arrangement and propriety, was strewed with children's things; a
bag of marbles here, a hoop there; a straw-hat forced down upon a
rose-tree as on a peg, to the destruction of a long beautiful
tender branch laden with flowers, which in former days would have
been trained up tenderly, as if beloved. The little square matted
hall was equally filled with signs of merry healthy rough
childhood.

'Ah!' said Mrs. Hepworth, 'you must excuse this untidiness, Miss
Hale. When the nursery is finished, I shall insist upon a little
order. We are building a nursery out of your room, I believe. How
did you manage, Miss Hale, without a nursery?'

'We were but two,' said Margaret. 'You have many children, I
presume?'

'Seven. Look here! we are throwing out a window to the road on
this side. Mr. Hepworth is spending an immense deal of money on
this house; but really it was scarcely habitable when we
came--for so large a family as ours I mean, of course.' Every
room in the house was changed, besides the one of which Mrs.
Hepworth spoke, which had been Mr. Hale's study formerly; and
where the green gloom and delicious quiet of the place had
conduced, as he had said, to a habit of meditation, but, perhaps,
in some degree to the formation of a character more fitted for
thought than action. The new window gave a view of the road, and
had many advantages, as Mrs. Hepworth pointed out. From it the
wandering sheep of her husband's flock might be seen, who
straggled to the tempting beer-house, unobserved as they might
hope, but not unobserved in reality; for the active Vicar kept
his eye on the road, even during the composition of his most
orthodox sermons, and had a hat and stick hanging ready at hand
to seize, before sallying out after his parishioners, who had
need of quick legs if they could take refuge in the 'Jolly
Forester' before the teetotal Vicar had arrested them. The whole
family were quick, brisk, loud-talking, kind-hearted, and not
troubled with much delicacy of perception. Margaret feared that
Mrs. Hepworth would find out that Mr. Bell was playing upon her,
in the admiration he thought fit to express for everything that
especially grated on his taste. But no! she took it all
literally, and with such good faith, that Margaret could not help
remonstrating with him as they walked slowly away from the
parsonage back to their inn.

'Don't scold, Margaret. It was all because of you. If she had not
shown you every change with such evident exultation in their
superior sense, in perceiving what an improvement this and that
would be, I could have behaved well. But if you must go on
preaching, keep it till after dinner, when it will send me to
sleep, and help my digestion.'

They were both of them tired, and Margaret herself so much so,
that she was unwilling to go out as she had proposed to do, and
have another ramble among the woods and fields so close to the
home of her childhood. And, somehow, this visit to Helstone had
not been all--had not been exactly what she had expected. There
was change everywhere; slight, yet pervading all. Households were
changed by absence, or death, or marriage, or the natural
mutations brought by days and months and years, which carry us on
imperceptibly from childhood to youth, and thence through manhood
to age, whence we drop like fruit, fully ripe, into the quiet
mother earth. Places were changed--a tree gone here, a bough
there, bringing in a long ray of light where no light was
before--a road was trimmed and narrowed, and the green straggling
pathway by its side enclosed and cultivated. A great improvement
it was called; but Margaret sighed over the old picturesqueness,
the old gloom, and the grassy wayside of former days. She sate by
the window on the little settle, sadly gazing out upon the
gathering shades of night, which harmonised well with her pensive
thought. Mr. Bell slept soundly, after his unusual exercise
through the day. At last he was roused by the entrance of the
tea-tray, brought in by a flushed-looking country-girl, who had
evidently been finding some variety from her usual occupation of
waiter, in assisting this day in the hayfield.

'Hallo! Who's there! Where are we? Who's that,--Margaret? Oh, now
I remember all. I could not imagine what woman was sitting there
in such a doleful attitude, with her hands clasped straight out
upon her knees, and her face looking so steadfastly before her.
What were you looking at?' asked Mr. Bell, coming to the window,
and standing behind Margaret.

'Nothing,' said she, rising up quickly, and speaking as
cheerfully as she could at a moment's notice.

'Nothing indeed! A bleak back-ground of trees, some white linen
hung out on the sweet-briar hedge, and a great waft of damp air.
Shut the window, and come in and make tea.'

Margaret was silent for some time. She played with her teaspoon,
and did not attend particularly to what Mr. Bell said. He
contradicted her, and she took the same sort of smiling notice of
his opinion as if he had agreed with her. Then she sighed, and
putting down her spoon, she began, apropos of nothing at all, and
in the high-pitched voice which usually shows that the speaker
has been thinking for some time on the subject that they wish to
introduce--'Mr. Bell, you remember what we were saying about
Frederick last night, don't you?'

'Last night. Where was I? Oh, I remember! Why it seems a week
ago. Yes, to be sure, I recollect we talked about him, poor
fellow.'

'Yes--and do you not remember that Mr. Lennox spoke about his
having been in England about the time of dear mamma's death?'
asked Margaret, her voice now lower than usual.

'I recollect. I hadn't heard of it before.'

'And I thought--I always thought that papa had told you about
it.'

'No! he never did. But what about it, Margaret?'

'I want to tell you of something I did that was very wrong, about
that time,' said Margaret, suddenly looking up at him with her
clear honest eyes. 'I told a lie;' and her face became scarlet.

'True, that was bad I own; not but what I have told a pretty
round number in my life, not all in downright words, as I suppose
you did, but in actions, or in some shabby circumlocutory way,
leading people either to disbelieve the truth, or believe a
falsehood. You know who is the father of lies, Margaret? Well! a
great number of folk, thinking themselves very good, have odd
sorts of connexion with lies, left-hand marriages, and second
cousins-once-removed. The tainting blood of falsehood runs
through us all. I should have guessed you as far from it as most
people. What! crying, child? Nay, now we'll not talk of it, if it
ends in this way. I dare say you have been sorry for it, and that
you won't do it again, and it's long ago now, and in short I want
you to be very cheerful, and not very sad, this evening.'

Margaret wiped her eyes, and tried to talk about something else,
but suddenly she burst out afresh.

'Please, Mr. Bell, let me tell you about it--you could perhaps
help me a little; no, not help me, but if you knew the truth,
perhaps you could put me to rights--that is not it, after all,'
said she, in despair at not being able to express herself more
exactly as she wished.

Mr. Bell's whole manner changed. 'Tell me all about it, child,'
said he.

'It's a long story; but when Fred came, mamma was very ill, and I
was undone with anxiety, and afraid, too, that I might have drawn
him into danger; and we had an alarm just after her death, for
Dixon met some one in Milton--a man called Leonards--who had
known Fred, and who seemed to owe him a grudge, or at any rate to
be tempted by the recollection of the reward offered for
hisapprehension; and with this new fright, I thought I had better
hurry off Fred to London, where, as you would understand from
what we said the other night, he was to go to consult Mr. Lennox
as to his chances if he stood the trial. So we--that is, he and
I,--went to the railway station; it was one evening, and it was
just getting rather dusk, but still light enough to recognise and
be recognised, and we were too early, and went out to walk in a
field just close by; I was always in a panic about this Leonards,
who was, I knew, somewhere in the neighbourhood; and then, when
we were in the field, the low red sunlight just in my face, some
one came by on horseback in the road just below the field-style
by which we stood. I saw him look at me, but I did not know who
it was at first, the sun was so in my eyes, but in an instant the
dazzle went off, and I saw it was Mr. Thornton, and we
bowed,'----

'And he saw Frederick of course,' said Mr. Bell, helping her on
with her story, as he thought.

'Yes; and then at the station a man came up--tipsy and
reeling--and he tried to collar Fred, and over-balanced himself
as Fred wrenched himself away, and fell over the edge of the
platform; not far, not deep; not above three feet; but oh! Mr.
Bell, somehow that fall killed him!'

'How awkward. It was this Leonards, I suppose. And how did Fred
get off?'

'Oh! he went off immediately after the fall, which we never
thought could have done the poor fellow any harm, it seemed so
slight an injury.'

'Then he did not die directly?'

'No! not for two or three days. And then--oh, Mr. Bell! now comes
the bad part,' said she, nervously twining her fingers together.
'A police inspector came and taxed me with having been the
companion of the young man, whose push or blow had occasioned
Leonards' death; that was a false accusation, you know, but we
had not heard that Fred had sailed, he might still be in London
and liable to be arrested on this false charge, and his identity
with the Lieutenant Hale, accused of causing that mutiny,
discovered, he might be shot; all this flashed through my mind,
and I said it was not me. I was not at the railway station that
night. I knew nothing about it. I had no conscience or thought
but to save Frederick.'

'I say it was right. I should have done the same. You forgot
yourself in thought for another. I hope I should have done the
same.'

'No, you would not. It was wrong, disobedient, faithless. At that
very time Fred was safely out of England, and in my blindness I
forgot that there was another witness who could testify to my
being there.'

'Who?'

'Mr. Thornton. You know he had seen me close to the station; we
had bowed to each other.'

'Well! he would know nothing of this riot about the drunken
fellow's death. I suppose the inquiry never came to anything.'

'No! the proceedings they had begun to talk about on the inquest
were stopped. Mr. Thornton did know all about it. He was a
magistrate, and he found out that it was not the fall that had
caused the death. But not before he knew what I had said. Oh, Mr.
Bell!' She suddenly covered her face with her hands, as if
wishing to hide herself from the presence of the recollection.

'Did you have any explanation with him? Did you ever tell him the
strong, instinctive motive?'

'The instinctive want of faith, and clutching at a sin to keep
myself from sinking,' said she bitterly. 'No! How could I? He
knew nothing of Frederick. To put myself to rights in his good
opinion, was I to tell him of the secrets of our family,
involving, as they seemed to do, the chances of poor Frederick's
entire exculpation? Fred's last words had been to enjoin me to
keep his visit a secret from all. You see, papa never told, even
you. No! I could bear the shame--I thought I could at least. I
did bear it. Mr. Thornton has never respected me since.'

'He respects you, I am sure,' said Mr. Bell. 'To be sure, it
accounts a little for----. But he always speaks of you with
regard and esteem, though now I understand certain reservations
in his manner.'

Margaret did not speak; did not attend to what Mr. Bell went on
to say; lost all sense of it. By-and-by she said:

'Will you tell me what you refer to about "reservations" in his
manner of speaking of me?'

'Oh! simply he has annoyed me by not joining in my praises of
you. Like an old fool, I thought that every one would have the
same opinions as I had; and he evidently could not agree with me.
I was puzzled at the time. But he must be perplexed, if the
affair has never been in the least explained. There was first
your walking out with a young man in the dark--'

'But it was my brother!' said Margaret, surprised.

'True. But how was he to know that?'

'I don't know. I never thought of anything of that kind,' said
Margaret, reddening, and looking hurt and offended.

'And perhaps he never would, but for the lie,--which, under the
circumstances, I maintain, was necessary.'

'It was not. I know it now. I bitterly repent it.'

There was a long pause of silence. Margaret was the first to
speak.

'I am not likely ever to see Mr. Thornton again,'--and there she
stopped.

'There are many things more unlikely, I should say,' replied Mr.
Bell.

'But I believe I never shall. Still, somehow one does not like to
have sunk so low in--in a friend's opinion as I have done in
his.' Her eyes were full of tears, but her voice was steady, and
Mr. Bell was not looking at her. 'And now that Frederick has
given up all hope, and almost all wish of ever clearing himself,
and returning to England, it would be only doing myself justice
to have all this explained. If you please, and if you can, if
there is a good opportunity, (don't force an explanation upon
him, pray,) but if you can, will you tell him the whole
circumstances, and tell him also that I gave you leave to do so,
because I felt that for papa's sake I should not like to lose his
respect, though we may never be likely to meet again?'

'Certainly. I think he ought to know. I do not like you to rest
even under the shadow of an impropriety; he would not know what
to think of seeing you alone with a young man.'

'As for that,' said Margaret, rather haughtily, 'I hold it is
"Honi soit qui mal y pense." Yet still I should choose to have it
explained, if any natural opportunity for easy explanation
occurs. But it is not to clear myself of any suspicion of
improper conduct that I wish to have him told--if I thought that
he had suspected me, I should not care for his good opinion--no!
it is that he may learn how I was tempted, and how I fell into
the snare; why I told that falsehood, in short.'

'Which I don't blame you for. It is no partiality of mine, I
assure you.'

'What other people may think of the rightness or wrongness is
nothing in comparison to my own deep knowledge, my innate
conviction that it was wrong. But we will not talk of that any
more, if you please. It is done--my sin is sinned. I have now to
put it behind me, and be truthful for evermore, if I can.'

'Very well. If you like to be uncomfortable and morbid, be so. I
always keep my conscience as tight shut up as a jack-in-a-box,
for when it jumps into existence it surprises me by its size. So
I coax it down again, as the fisherman coaxed the genie.
"Wonderful," say I, "to think that you have been concealed so
long, and in so small a compass, that I really did not know of
your existence. Pray, sir, instead of growing larger and larger
every instant, and bewildering me with your misty outlines, would
you once more compress yourself into your former dimensions?" And
when I've got him down, don't I clap the seal on the vase, and
take good care how I open it again, and how I go against Solomon,
wisest of men, who confined him there.'

But it was no smiling matter to Margaret. She hardly attended to
what Mr. Bell was saying. Her thoughts ran upon the Idea, before
entertained, but which now had assumed the strength of a
conviction, that Mr. Thornton no longer held his former good
opinion of her--that he was disappointed in her. She did not feel
as if any explanation could ever reinstate her--not in his love,
for that and any return on her part she had resolved never to
dwell upon, and she kept rigidly to her resolution--but in the
respect and high regard which she had hoped would have ever made
him willing, in the spirit of Gerald Griffin's beautiful lines,

'To turn and look back when thou hearest The sound of my name.'

She kept choking and swallowing all the time that she thought
about it. She tried to comfort herself with the idea, that what
he imagined her to be, did not alter the fact of what she was.
But it was a truism, a phantom, and broke down under the weight
of her regret. She had twenty questions on the tip of her tongue
to ask Mr. Bell, but not one of them did she utter. Mr. Bell
thought thatshe was tired, and sent her early to her room, where
she sate long hours by the open window, gazing out on the purple
dome above, where the stars arose, and twinkled and disappeared
behind the great umbrageous trees before she went to bed. All
night long too, there burnt a little light on earth; a candle in
her old bedroom, which was the nursery with the present
inhabitants of the parsonage, until the new one was built. A
sense of change, of individual nothingness, of perplexity and
disappointment, over-powered Margaret. Nothing had been the same;
and this slight, all-pervading instability, had given her greater
pain than if all had been too entirely changed for her to
recognise it.

'I begin to understand now what heaven must be--and, oh! the
grandeur and repose of the words--"The same yesterday, to-day,
and for ever." Everlasting! "From everlasting to everlasting,
Thou art God." That sky above me looks as though it could not
change, and yet it will. I am so tired--so tired of being whirled
on through all these phases of my life, in which nothing abides
by me, no creature, no place; it is like the circle in which the
victims of earthly passion eddy continually. I am in the mood in
which women of another religion take the veil. I seek heavenly
steadfastness in earthly monotony. If I were a Roman Catholic and
could deaden my heart, stun it with some great blow, I might
become a nun. But I should pine after my kind; no, not my kind,
for love for my species could never fill my heart to the utter
exclusion of love for individuals. Perhaps it ought to be so,
perhaps not; I cannot decide to-night.'

Wearily she went to bed, wearily she arose in four or five hours'
time. But with the morning came hope, and a brighter view of
things.

'After all it is right,' said she, hearing the voices of children
at play while she was dressing. 'If the world stood still, it
would retrograde and become corrupt, if that is not Irish.
Looking out of myself, and my own painful sense of change, the
progress all around me is right and necessary. I must not think
so much of how circumstances affect me myself, but how they
affect others, if I wish to have a right judgment, or a hopeful
trustful heart.' And with a smile ready in her eyes to quiver
down to her lips, she went into the parlour and greeted Mr. Bell.

'Ah, Missy! you were up late last night, and so you're late this
morning. Now I've got a little piece of news for you. What do you
think of an invitation to dinner? a morning call, literally in
the dewy morning. Why, I've had the Vicar here already, on his
way to the school. How much the desire of giving our hostess a
teetotal lecture for the benefit of the haymakers, had to do with
his earliness, I don't know; but here he was, when I came down
just before nine; and we are asked to dine there to-day.'

'But Edith expects me back--I cannot go,' said Margaret, thankful
to have so good an excuse.

'Yes! I know; so I told him. I thought you would not want to go.
Still it is open, if you would like it.'

'Oh, no!' said Margaret. 'Let us keep to our plan. Let us start
at twelve. It is very good and kind of them; but indeed I could
not go.'

'Very well. Don't fidget yourself, and I'll arrange it all.'

Before they left Margaret stole round to the back of the Vicarage
garden, and gathered a little straggling piece of honeysuckle.
She would not take a flower the day before, for fear of being
observed, and her motives and feelings commented upon. But as she
returned across the common, the place was reinvested with the old
enchanting atmosphere. The common sounds of life were more
musical there than anywhere else in the whole world, the light
more golden, the life more tranquil and full of dreamy delight.
As Margaret remembered her feelings yesterday, she said to
herself:

'And I too change perpetually--now this, now that--now
disappointed and peevish because all is not exactly as I had
pictured it, and now suddenly discovering that the reality is far
more beautiful than I had imagined it. Oh, Helstone! I shall
never love any place like you.

A few days afterwards, she had found her level, and decided that
she was very glad to have been there, and that she had seen it
again, and that to her it would always be the prettiest spot in
the world, but that it was so full of associations with former
days, and especially with her father and mother, that if it were
all to come over again, she should shrink back from such another
visit as that which she had paid with Mr. Bell.

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