North and South (Chapter 8, page 2 of 6)


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Chapter 8

Yes! Margaret remembered it well. Edith and Mrs. Shaw had gone to
dinner. Margaret had joined the party in the evening. The
recollection of the plentiful luxury of all the arrangements, the
stately handsomeness of the furniture, the size of the house, the
peaceful, untroubled ease of the visitors--all came vividly
before her, in strange contrast to the present time. The smooth
sea of that old life closed up, without a mark left to tell where
they had all been. The habitual dinners, the calls, the shopping,
the dancing evenings, were all going on, going on for ever,
though her Aunt Shaw and Edith were no longer there; and she, of
course, was even less missed. She doubted if any one of that old
set ever thought of her, except Henry Lennox. He too, she knew,
would strive to forget her, because of the pain she had caused
him. She had heard him often boast of his power of putting any
disagreeable thought far away from him. Then she penetrated
farther into what might have been. If she had cared for him as a
lover, and had accepted him, and this change in her father's
opinions and consequent station had taken place, she could not
doubt but that it would have been impatiently received by Mr.
Lennox. It was a bitter mortification to her in one sense; but
she could bear it patiently, because she knew her father's purity
of purpose, and that strengthened her to endure his errors, grave
and serious though in her estimation they were. But the fact of
the world esteeming her father degraded, in its rough wholesale
judgment, would have oppressed and irritated Mr. Lennox. As she
realised what might have been, she grew to be thankful for what
was. They were at the lowest now; they could not be worse.
Edith's astonishment and her aunt Shaw's dismay would have to be
met bravely, when their letters came. So Margaret rose up and
began slowly to undress herself, feeling the full luxury of
acting leisurely, late as it was, after all the past hurry of the
day. She fell asleep, hoping for some brightness, either internal
or external. But if she had known how long it would be before the
brightness came, her heart would have sunk low down. The time of
the year was most unpropitious to health as well as to spirits.
Her mother caught a severe cold, and Dixon herself was evidently
not well, although Margaret could not insult her more than by
trying to save her, or by taking any care of her. They could hear
of no girl to assist her; all were at work in the factories; at
least, those who applied were well scolded by Dixon, for thinking
that such as they could ever be trusted to work in a gentleman's
house. So they had to keep a charwoman in almost constant employ.
Margaret longed to send for Charlotte; but besides the objection
of her being a better servant than they could now afford to keep,
the distance was too great.

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