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North And South - Chapter XII - MORNING CALLS Post by :tramsguy Category :Long Stories Author :Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell Date :January 2011 Read :3619

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North And South - Chapter XII - MORNING CALLS

CHAPTER XII - MORNING CALLS

'Well--I suppose we must.'

FRIENDS IN COUNCIL.


Mr. Thornton had had some difficulty in working up his mother to
the desired point of civility. She did not often make calls; and
when she did, it was in heavy state that she went through her
duties. Her son had given her a carriage; but she refused to let
him keep horses for it; they were hired for the solemn occasions,
when she paid morning or evening visits. She had had horses for
three days, not a fortnight before, and had comfortably 'killed
off' all her acquaintances, who might now put themselves to
trouble and expense in their turn. Yet Crampton was too far off
for her to walk; and she had repeatedly questioned her son as to
whether his wish that she should call on the Hales was strong
enough to bear the expense of cab-hire. She would have been
thankful if it had not; for, as she said, 'she saw no use in
making up friendships and intimacies with all the teachers and
masters in Milton; why, he would be wanting her to call on
Fanny's dancing-master's wife, the next thing!'

'And so I would, mother, if Mr. Mason and his wife were friend
less in a strange place, like the Hales.'

'Oh! you need not speak so hastily. I am going to-morrow. I only
wanted you exactly to understand about it.'

'If you are going to-morrow, I shall order horses.'

'Nonsense, John. One would think you were made of money.'

'Not quite, yet. But about the horses I'm determined. The last
time you were out in a cab, you came home with a headache from
the jolting.'

'I never complained of it, I'm sure.'

'No. My mother is not given to complaints,' said he, a little
proudly. 'But so much the more I have to watch over you. Now as
for Fanny there, a little hardship would do her good.'

'She is not made of the same stuff as you are, John. She could
not bear it.' Mrs. Thornton was silent after this; for her last
words bore relation to a subject which mortified her. She had an
unconscious contempt for a weak character; and Fanny was weak in
the very points in which her mother and brother were strong. Mrs.
Thornton was not a woman much given to reasoning; her quick
judgment and firm resolution served her in good stead of any long
arguments and discussions with herself; she felt instinctively
that nothing could strengthen Fanny to endure hardships
patiently, or face difficulties bravely; and though she winced as
she made this acknowledgment to herself about her daughter, it
only gave her a kind of pitying tenderness of manner towards her;
much of the same description of demeanour with which mothers are
wont to treat their weak and sickly children. A stranger, a
careless observer might have considered that Mrs. Thornton's
manner to her children betokened far more love to Fanny than to
John. But such a one would have been deeply mistaken. The very
daringness with which mother and son spoke out unpalatable
truths, the one to the other, showed a reliance on the firm
centre of each other's souls, which the uneasy tenderness of Mrs.
Thornton's manner to her daughter, the shame with which she
thought to hide the poverty of her child in all the grand
qualities which she herself possessed unconsciously, and which
she set so high a value upon in others--this shame, I say,
betrayed the want of a secure resting-place for her affection.
She never called her son by any name but John; 'love,' and
'dear,' and such like terms, were reserved for Fanny. But her
heart gave thanks for him day and night; and she walked proudly
among women for his sake.

'Fanny dear I shall have horses to the carriage to-day, to go and
call on these Hales. Should not you go and see nurse? It's in the
same direction, and she's always so glad to see you. You could go
on there while I am at Mrs. Hale's.'

'Oh! mamma, it's such a long way, and I am so tired.'

'With what?' asked Mrs. Thornton, her brow slightly contracting.

'I don't know--the weather, I think. It is so relaxing. Couldn't
you bring nurse here, mamma? The carriage could fetch her, and
she could spend the rest of the day here, which I know she would
like.'

Mrs. Thornton did not speak; but she laid her work on the table,
and seemed to think.

'It will be a long way for her to walk back at night!' she
remarked, at last.

'Oh, but I will send her home in a cab. I never thought of her
walking.' At this point, Mr. Thornton came in, just before going
to the mill.

'Mother! I need hardly say, that if there is any little thing
that could serve Mrs. Hale as an invalid, you will offer it, I'm
sure.'

'If I can find it out, I will. But I have never been ill myself,
so I am not much up to invalids' fancies.'

'Well! here is Fanny then, who is seldom without an ailment. She
will be able to suggest something, perhaps--won't you, Fan?'

'I have not always an ailment,' said Fanny, pettishly; 'and I am
not going with mamma. I have a headache to-day, and I shan't go
out.'

Mr. Thornton looked annoyed. His mother's eyes were bent on her
work, at which she was now stitching away busily.

'Fanny! I wish you to go,' said he, authoritatively. 'It will do
you good, instead of harm. You will oblige me by going, without
my saying anything more about it.'

He went abruptly out of the room after saying this.

If he had staid a minute longer, Fanny would have cried at his
tone of command, even when he used the words, 'You will oblige
me.' As it was, she grumbled.

'John always speaks as if I fancied I was ill, and I am sure I
never do fancy any such thing. Who are these Hales that he makes
such a fuss about?'

'Fanny, don't speak so of your brother. He has good reasons of
some kind or other, or he would not wish us to go. Make haste and
put your things on.'

But the little altercation between her son and her daughter did
not incline Mrs. Thornton more favourably towards 'these Hales.'
Her jealous heart repeated her daughter's question, 'Who are
they, that he is so anxious we should pay them all this
attention?' It came up like a burden to a song, long after Fanny
had forgotten all about it in the pleasant excitement of seeing
the effect of a new bonnet in the looking-glass.

Mrs. Thornton was shy. It was only of late years that she had had
leisure enough in her life to go into society; and as society she
did not enjoy it. As dinner-giving, and as criticising other
people's dinners, she took satisfaction in it. But this going to
make acquaintance with strangers was a very different thing. She
was ill at ease, and looked more than usually stern and
forbidding as she entered the Hales' little drawing-room.

Margaret was busy embroidering a small piece of cambric for some
little article of dress for Edith's expected baby--'Flimsy,
useless work,' as Mrs. Thornton observed to herself. She liked
Mrs. Hale's double knitting far better; that was sensible of its
kind. The room altogether was full of knick-knacks, which must
take a long time to dust; and time to people of limited income
was money. She made all these reflections as she was talking in
her stately way to Mrs. Hale, and uttering all the stereotyped
commonplaces that most people can find to say with their senses
blindfolded. Mrs. Hale was making rather more exertion in her
answers, captivated by some real old lace which Mrs. Thornton
wore; 'lace,' as she afterwards observed to Dixon, 'of that old
English point which has not been made for this seventy years, and
which cannot be bought. It must have been an heir-loom, and shows
that she had ancestors.' So the owner of the ancestral lace
became worthy of something more than the languid exertion to be
agreeable to a visitor, by which Mrs. Hale's efforts at
conversation would have been otherwise bounded. And presently,
Margaret, racking her brain to talk to Fanny, heard her mother
and Mrs. Thornton plunge into the interminable subject of
servants.

'I suppose you are not musical,' said Fanny, 'as I see no piano.'

'I am fond of hearing good music; I cannot play well myself; and
papa and mamma don't care much about it; so we sold our old piano
when we came here.'

'I wonder how you can exist without one. It almost seems to me a
necessary of life.'

'Fifteen shillings a week, and three saved out of them!' thought
Margaret to herself 'But she must have been very young. She
probably has forgotten her own personal experience. But she must
know of those days.' Margaret's manner had an extra tinge of
coldness in it when she next spoke.

'You have good concerts here, I believe.'

'Oh, yes! Delicious! Too crowded, that is the worst. The
directors admit so indiscriminately. But one is sure to hear the
newest music there. I always have a large order to give to
Johnson's, the day after a concert.'

'Do you like new music simply for its newness, then?'

'Oh; one knows it is the fashion in London, or else the singers
would not bring it down here. You have been in London, of
course.'

'Yes,' said Margaret, 'I have lived there for several years.'

'Oh! London and the Alhambra are the two places I long to see!'

'London and the Alhambra!'

'Yes! ever since I read the Tales of the Alhambra. Don't you know
them?'

'I don't think I do. But surely, it is a very easy journey to
London.'

'Yes; but somehow,' said Fanny, lowering her voice, 'mamma has
never been to London herself, and can't understand my longing.
She is very proud of Milton; dirty, smoky place, as I feel it to
be. I believe she admires it the more for those very qualities.'

'If it has been Mrs. Thornton's home for some years, I can well
understand her loving it,' said Margaret, in her clear bell-like
voice.

'What are you saying about me, Miss Hale? May I inquire?'

Margaret had not the words ready for an answer to this question,
which took her a little by surprise, so Miss Thornton replied:

'Oh, mamma! we are only trying to account for your being so fond
of Milton.'

'Thank you,' said Mrs. Thornton. 'I do not feel that my very
natural liking for the place where I was born and brought
up,--and which has since been my residence for some years,
requires any accounting for.'

Margaret was vexed. As Fanny had put it, it did seem as if they
had been impertinently discussing Mrs. Thornton's feelings; but
she also rose up against that lady's manner of showing that she
was offended.

Mrs. Thornton went on after a moment's pause:

'Do you know anything of Milton, Miss Hale? Have you seen any of
our factories? our magnificent warehouses?'

'No!' said Margaret. 'I have not seen anything of that
description as yet. Then she felt that, by concealing her utter
indifference to all such places, she was hardly speaking with
truth; so she went on:

'I dare say, papa would have taken me before now if I had cared.
But I really do not find much pleasure in going over
manufactories.'

'They are very curious places,' said Mrs. Hale, 'but there is so
much noise and dirt always. I remember once going in a lilac silk
to see candles made, and my gown was utterly ruined.'

'Very probably,' said Mrs. Thornton, in a short displeased
manner. 'I merely thought, that as strangers newly come to reside
in a town which has risen to eminence in the country, from the
character and progress of its peculiar business, you might have
cared to visit some of the places where it is carried on; places
unique in the kingdom, I am informed. If Miss Hale changes her
mind and condescends to be curious as to the manufactures of
Milton, I can only say I shall be glad to procure her admission
to print-works, or reed-making, or the more simple operations of
spinning carried on in my son's mill. Every improvement of
machinery is, I believe, to be seen there, in its highest
perfection.'

'I am so glad you don't like mills and manufactories, and all
those kind of things,' said Fanny, in a half-whisper, as she rose
to accompany her mother, who was taking leave of Mrs. Hale with
rustling dignity.

'I think I should like to know all about them, if I were you,'
replied Margaret quietly.

'Fanny!' said her mother, as they drove away, 'we will he civil
to these Hales: but don't form one of your hasty friendships with
the daughter. She will do you no good, I see. The mother looks
very ill, and seems a nice, quiet kind of person.'

'I don't want to form any friendship with Miss Hale, mamma,' said
Fanny, pouting. 'I thought I was doing my duty by talking to her,
and trying to amuse her.'

'Well! at any rate John must he satisfied now.'

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