North and South (Chapter 8, page 1 of 6)


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Chapter 8

'And it's hame, hame; hame,
Hame fain wad I be.'

It needed the pretty light papering of the rooms to reconcile
them to Milton. It needed more--more that could not be had. The
thick yellow November fogs had come on; and the view of the plain
in the valley, made by the sweeping bend of the river, was all
shut out when Mrs. Hale arrived at her new home.

Margaret and Dixon had been at work for two days, unpacking and
arranging, but everything inside the house still looked in
disorder; and outside a thick fog crept up to the very windows,
and was driven in to every open door in choking white wreaths of
unwholesome mist.

'Oh, Margaret! are we to live here?' asked Mrs. Hale in blank
dismay. Margaret's heart echoed the dreariness of the tone in
which this question was put. She could scarcely command herself
enough to say, 'Oh, the fogs in London are sometimes far worse!'

'But then you knew that London itself, and friends lay behind it.
Here--well! we are desolate. Oh Dixon, what a place this is!'

'Indeed, ma'am, I'm sure it will be your death before long, and
then I know who'll--stay! Miss Hale, that's far too heavy for you
to lift.' 'Not at all, thank you, Dixon,' replied Margaret, coldly. 'The
best thing we can do for mamma is to get her room quite ready for
her to go to bed, while I go and bring her a cup of coffee.' Mr. Hale was equally out of spirits, and equally came upon
Margaret for sympathy.

'Margaret, I do believe this is an unhealthy place. Only suppose
that your mother's health or yours should suffer. I wish I had
gone into some country place in Wales; this is really terrible,'
said he, going up to the window. There was no comfort to be
given. They were settled in Milton, and must endure smoke and
fogs for a season; indeed, all other life seemed shut out from
them by as thick a fog of circumstance. Only the day before, Mr.
Hale had been reckoning up with dismay how much their removal and
fortnight at Heston had cost, and he found it had absorbed nearly
all his little stock of ready money. No! here they were, and here
they must remain.

At night when Margaret realised this, she felt inclined to sit
down in a stupor of despair. The heavy smoky air hung about her
bedroom, which occupied the long narrow projection at the back of
the house. The window, placed at the side of the oblong, looked
to the blank wall of a similar projection, not above ten feet
distant. It loomed through the fog like a great barrier to hope.
Inside the room everything was in confusion. All their efforts
had been directed to make her mother's room comfortable. Margaret
sat down on a box, the direction card upon which struck her as
having been written at Helstone--beautiful, beloved Helstone! She
lost herself in dismal thought: but at last she determined to
take her mind away from the present; and suddenly remembered that
she had a letter from Edith which she had only half read in the
bustle of the morning. It was to tell of their arrival at Corfu;
their voyage along the Mediterranean--their music, and dancing on
board ship; the gay new life opening upon her; her house with its
trellised balcony, and its views over white cliffs and deep blue
sea. Edith wrote fluently and well, if not graphically. She could
not only seize the salient and characteristic points of a scene,
but she could enumerate enough of indiscriminate particulars for
Margaret to make it out for herself Captain Lennox and another
lately married officer shared a villa, high up on the beautiful
precipitous rocks overhanging the sea. Their days, late as it was
in the year, seemed spent in boating or land pic-nics; all
out-of-doors, pleasure-seeking and glad, Edith's life seemed like
the deep vault of blue sky above her, free--utterly free from
fleck or cloud. Her husband had to attend drill, and she, the
most musical officer's wife there, had to copy the new and
popular tunes out of the most recent English music, for the
benefit of the bandmaster; those seemed their most severe and
arduous duties. She expressed an affectionate hope that, if the
regiment stopped another year at Corfu, Margaret might come out
and pay her a long visit. She asked Margaret if she remembered
the day twelve-month on which she, Edith, wrote--how it rained
all day long in Harley Street; and how she would not put on her
new gown to go to a stupid dinner, and get it all wet and
splashed in going to the carriage; and how at that very dinner
they had first met Captain Lennox.

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