North and South (Chapter 6, page 2 of 5)


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Chapter 6

Margaret went along the walk under the pear-tree wall. She had
never been along it since she paced it at Henry Lennox's side.
Here, at this bed of thyme, he began to speak of what she must
not think of now. Her eyes were on that late-blowing rose as she
was trying to answer; and she had caught the idea of the vivid
beauty of the feathery leaves of the carrots in the very middle
of his last sentence. Only a fortnight ago And all so changed!
Where was he now? In London,--going through the old round; dining
with the old Harley Street set, or with gayer young friends of
his own. Even now, while she walked sadly through that damp and
drear garden in the dusk, with everything falling and fading, and
turning to decay around her, he might be gladly putting away his
law-books after a day of satisfactory toil, and freshening
himself up, as he had told her he often did, by a run in the
Temple Gardens, taking in the while the grand inarticulate mighty
roar of tens of thousands of busy men, nigh at hand, but not
seen, and catching ever, at his quick turns, glimpses of the
lights of the city coming up out of the depths of the river. He
had often spoken to Margaret of these hasty walks, snatched in
the intervals between study and dinner. At his best times and in
his best moods had he spoken of them; and the thought of them had
struck upon her fancy.

Here there was no sound. The robin had
gone away into the vast stillness of night. Now and then, a
cottage door in the distance was opened and shut, as if to admit
the tired labourer to his home; but that sounded very far away. A
stealthy, creeping, cranching sound among the crisp fallen leaves
of the forest, beyond the garden, seemed almost close at hand.
Margaret knew it was some poacher. Sitting up in her bed-room
this past autumn, with the light of her candle extinguished, and
purely revelling in the solemn beauty of the heavens and the
earth, she had many a time seen the light noiseless leap of the
poachers over the garden-fence, their quick tramp across the dewy
moonlit lawn, their disappearance in the black still shadow
beyond. The wild adventurous freedom of their life had taken her
fancy; she felt inclined to wish them success; she had no fear of
them. But to-night she was afraid, she knew not why. She heard
Charlotte shutting the windows, and fastening up for the night,
unconscious that any one had gone out into the garden. A small
branch--it might be of rotten wood, or it might be broken by
force--came heavily down in the nearest part of the forest,
Margaret ran, swift as Camilla, down to the window, and rapped at
it with a hurried tremulousness which startled Charlotte within.

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