North and South (Chapter 4, page 2 of 7)


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Chapter 4

'Margaret!' said Mr. Hale, at last, in a sort of sudden desperate
way, that made her start. 'Is that tapestry thing of immediate
consequence? I mean, can you leave it and come into my study? I
want to speak to you about something very serious to us all.' 'Very serious to us all.' Mr. Lennox had never had the
opportunity of having any private conversation with her father
after her refusal, or else that would indeed be a very serious
affair. In the first place, Margaret felt guilty and ashamed of
having grown so much into a woman as to be thought of in
marriage; and secondly, she did not know if her father might not
be displeased that she had taken upon herself to decline Mr.
Lennox's proposal. But she soon felt it was not about anything,
which having only lately and suddenly occurred, could have given
rise to any complicated thoughts, that her father wished to speak
to her. He made her take a chair by him; he stirred the fire,
snuffed the candles, and sighed once or twice before he could
make up his mind to say--and it came out with a jerk after
all--'Margaret! I am going to leave Helstone.' 'Leave Helstone, papa! But why?' Mr. Hale did not answer for a minute or two. He played with some
papers on the table in a nervous and confused manner, opening his
lips to speak several times, but closing them again without
having the courage to utter a word. Margaret could not bear the
sight of the suspense, which was even more distressing to her
father than to herself.

'But why, dear papa? Do tell me!' He looked up at her suddenly, and then said with a slow and
enforced calmness: 'Because I must no longer be a minister in the Church of
England.' Margaret had imagined nothing less than that some of the
preferments which her mother so much desired had befallen her
father at last--something that would force him to leave
beautiful, beloved Helstone, and perhaps compel him to go and
live in some of the stately and silent Closes which Margaret had
seen from time to time in cathedral towns. They were grand and
imposing places, but if, to go there, it was necessary to leave
Helstone as a home for ever, that would have been a sad, long,
lingering pain. But nothing to the shock she received from Mr.
Hale's last speech. What could he mean? It was all the worse for
being so mysterious. The aspect of piteous distress on his face,
almost as imploring a merciful and kind judgment from his child,
gave her a sudden sickening. Could he have become implicated in
anything Frederick had done? Frederick was an outlaw. Had her
father, out of a natural love for his son, connived at any-'Oh! what is it? do speak, papa! tell me all! Why can you no
longer be a clergyman? Surely, if the bishop were told all we
know about Frederick, and the hard, unjust--' 'It is nothing about Frederick; the bishop would have nothing to
do with that. It is all myself. Margaret, I will tell you about
it. I will answer any questions this once, but after to-night let
us never speak of it again. I can meet the consequences of my
painful, miserable doubts; but it is an effort beyond me to speak
of what has caused me so much suffering.' 'Doubts, papa! Doubts as to religion?' asked Margaret, more
shocked than ever.

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