North and South (Chapter 9, page 2 of 3)

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Chapter 9

'Yes! if any one had told me, when I was Miss Beresford, and one
of the belles of the county, that a child of mine would have to
stand half a day, in a little poky kitchen, working away like any
servant, that we might prepare properly for the reception of a
tradesman, and that this tradesman should be the only'--'Oh,
mamma!' said Margaret, lifting herself up, 'don't punish me so
for a careless speech. I don't mind ironing, or any kind of work,
for you and papa. I am myself a born and bred lady through it
all, even though it comes to scouring a floor, or washing dishes.
I am tired now, just for a little while; but in half an hour I
shall be ready to do the same over again. And as to Mr.
Thornton's being in trade, why he can't help that now, poor
fellow. I don't suppose his education would fit him for much
else.' Margaret lifted herself slowly up, and went to her own
room; for just now she could not bear much more.

In Mr. Thornton's house, at this very same time, a similar, yet
different, scene was going on. A large-boned lady, long past
middle age, sat at work in a grim handsomely-furnished
dining-room. Her features, like her frame, were strong and
massive, rather than heavy. Her face moved slowly from one
decided expression to another equally decided. There was no great
variety in her countenance; but those who looked at it once,
generally looked at it again; even the passers-by in the street,
half-turned their heads to gaze an instant longer at the firm,
severe, dignified woman, who never gave way in street-courtesy,
or paused in her straight-onward course to the clearly-defined
end which she proposed to herself. She was handsomely dressed in
stout black silk, of which not a thread was worn or discoloured.
She was mending a large long table-cloth of the finest texture,
holding it up against the light occasionally to discover thin
places, which required her delicate care. There was not a book
about in the room, with the exception of Matthew Henry's Bible
Commentaries, six volumes of which lay in the centre of the
massive side-board, flanked by a tea-urn on one side, and a lamp
on the other. In some remote apartment, there was exercise upon
the piano going on. Some one was practising up a morceau de
salon, playing it very rapidly; every third note, on an average,
being either indistinct, or wholly missed out, and the loud
chords at the end being half of them false, but not the less
satisfactory to the performer. Mrs. Thornton heard a step, like
her own in its decisive character, pass the dining-room door.

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