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North And South - Chapter XLVII - SOMETHING WANTING Post by :robert5500 Category :Long Stories Author :Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell Date :January 2011 Read :2968

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North And South - Chapter XLVII - SOMETHING WANTING


'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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