North and South (Chapter 2, page 1 of 7)


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Chapter 2

'By the soft green light in the woody glade,
On the banks of moss where thy childhood played;
By the household tree, thro' which thine eye
First looked in love to the summer sky.'

MRS. HEMANS.

Margaret was once more in her morning dress, travelling quietly
home with her father, who had come up to assist at the wedding.
Her mother had been detained at home by a multitude of
half-reasons, none of which anybody fully understood, except Mr.
Hale, who was perfectly aware that all his arguments in favour of
a grey satin gown, which was midway between oldness and newness,
had proved unavailing; and that, as he had not the money to equip
his wife afresh, from top to toe, she would not show herself at
her only sister's only child's wedding. If Mrs. Shaw had guessed
at the real reason why Mrs. Hale did not accompany her husband,
she would have showered down gowns upon her; but it was nearly
twenty years since Mrs. Shaw had been the poor, pretty Miss
Beresford, and she had really forgotten all grievances except
that of the unhappiness arising from disparity of age in married
life, on which she could descant by the half-hour. Dearest Maria
had married the man of her heart, only eight years older than
herself, with the sweetest temper, and that blue-black hair one
so seldom sees. Mr. Hale was one of the most delightful preachers
she had ever heard, and a perfect model of a parish priest.
Perhaps it was not quite a logical deduction from all these
premises, but it was still Mrs. Shaw's characteristic conclusion,
as she thought over her sister's lot: 'Married for love, what can
dearest Maria have to wish for in this world?' Mrs. Hale, if she
spoke truth, might have answered with a ready-made list, 'a
silver-grey glace silk, a white chip bonnet, oh! dozens of things
for the wedding, and hundreds of things for the house.' Margaret
only knew that her mother had not found it convenient to come,
and she was not sorry to think that their meeting and greeting
would take place at Helstone parsonage, rather than, during the
confusion of the last two or three days, in the house in Harley
Street, where she herself had had to play the part of Figaro, and
was wanted everywhere at one and the same time. Her mind and body
ached now with the recollection of all she had done and said
within the last forty-eight hours. The farewells so hurriedly
taken, amongst all the other good-byes, of those she had lived
with so long, oppressed her now with a sad regret for the times
that were no more; it did not signify what those times had been,
they were gone never to return. Margaret's heart felt more heavy
than she could ever have thought it possible in going to her own
dear home, the place and the life she had longed for for
years--at that time of all times for yearning and longing, just
before the sharp senses lose their outlines in sleep. She took
her mind away with a wrench from the recollection of the past to
the bright serene contemplation of the hopeful future. Her eyes
began to see, not visions of what had been, but the sight
actually before her; her dear father leaning back asleep in the
railway carriage. His blue-black hair was grey now, and lay
thinly over his brows. The bones of his face were plainly to be
seen--too plainly for beauty, if his features had been less
finely cut; as it was, they had a grace if not a comeliness of
their own. The face was in repose; but it was rather rest after
weariness, than the serene calm of the countenance of one who led
a placid, contented life. Margaret was painfully struck by the
worn, anxious expression; and she went back over the open and
avowed circumstances of her father's life, to find the cause for
the lines that spoke so plainly of habitual distress and
depression.

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