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


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Chapter 2

'Poor Frederick!' thought she, sighing. 'Oh! if Frederick had but
been a clergyman, instead of going into the navy, and being lost
to us all! I wish I knew all about it. I never understood it from
Aunt Shaw; I only knew he could not come back to England because
of that terrible affair. Poor dear papa! how sad he looks! I am
so glad I am going home, to be at hand to comfort him and mamma.

She was ready with a bright smile, in which there was not a trace
of fatigue, to greet her father when he awakened. He smiled back
again, but faintly, as if it were an unusual exertion. His face
returned into its lines of habitual anxiety. He had a trick of
half-opening his mouth as if to speak, which constantly unsettled
the form of the lips, and gave the face an undecided expression.
But he had the same large, soft eyes as his daughter,--eyes which
moved slowly and almost grandly round in their orbits, and were
well veiled by their transparent white eyelids. Margaret was more
like him than like her mother. Sometimes people wondered that
parents so handsome should have a daughter who was so far from
regularly beautiful; not beautiful at all, was occasionally said.
Her mouth was wide; no rosebud that could only open just' enough
to let out a 'yes' and 'no,' and 'an't please you, sir.' But the
wide mouth was one soft curve of rich red lips; and the skin, if
not white and fair, was of an ivory smoothness and delicacy. If
the look on her face was, in general, too dignified and reserved
for one so young, now, talking to her father, it was bright as
the morning,--full of dimples, and glances that spoke of childish
gladness, and boundless hope in the future.

It was the latter part of July when Margaret returned home. The
forest trees were all one dark, full, dusky green; the fern below
them caught all the slanting sunbeams; the weather was sultry and
broodingly still. Margaret used to tramp along by her father's
side, crushing down the fern with a cruel glee, as she felt it
yield under her light foot, and send up the fragrance peculiar to
it,--out on the broad commons into the warm scented light, seeing
multitudes of wild, free, living creatures, revelling in the
sunshine, and the herbs and flowers it called forth. This
life--at least these walks--realised all Margaret's
anticipations. She took a pride in her forest. Its people were
her people. She made hearty friends with them; learned and
delighted in using their peculiar words; took up her freedom
amongst them; nursed their babies; talked or read with slow
distinctness to their old people; carried dainty messes to their
sick; resolved before long to teach at the school, where her
father went every day as to an appointed task, but she was
continually tempted off to go and see some individual
friend--man, woman, or child--in some cottage in the green shade
of the forest. Her out-of-doors life was perfect. Her in-doors
life had its drawbacks. With the healthy shame of a child, she
blamed herself for her keenness of sight, in perceiving that all
was not as it should be there. Her mother--her mother always so
kind and tender towards her--seemed now and then so much
discontented with their situation; thought that the bishop
strangely neglected his episcopal duties, in not giving Mr. Hale
a better living; and almost reproached her husband because he
could not bring himself to say that he wished to leave the
parish, and undertake the charge of a larger. He would sigh aloud
as he answered, that if he could do what he ought in little
Helstone, he should be thankful; but every day he was more
overpowered; the world became more bewildering. At each repeated
urgency of his wife, that he would put himself in the way of
seeking some preferment, Margaret saw that her father shrank more
and more; and she strove at such times to reconcile her mother to
Helstone. Mrs. Hale said that the near neighbourhood of so many
trees affected her health; and Margaret would try to tempt her
forth on to the beautiful, broad, upland, sun-streaked,
cloud-shadowed common; for she was sure that her mother had
accustomed herself too much to an in-doors life, seldom extending
her walks beyond the church, the school, and the neighbouring
cottages. This did good for a time; but when the autumn drew on,
and the weather became more changeable, her mother's idea of the
unhealthiness of the place increased; and she repined even more
frequently that her husband, who was more learned than Mr. Hume,
a better parish priest than Mr. Houldsworth, should not have met
with the preferment that these two former neighbours of theirs
had done.

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