North and South (Chapter 9, page 1 of 3)

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Chapter 9

'Let China's earth, enrich'd with colour'd stains,
Pencil'd with gold, and streak'd with azure veins,
The grateful flavour of the Indian leaf,
Or Mocho's sunburnt berry glad receive.'


The day after this meeting with Higgins and his daughter, Mr.
Hale came upstairs into the little drawing-room at an unusual
hour. He went up to different objects in the room, as if
examining them, but Margaret saw that it was merely a nervous
trick--a way of putting off something he wished, yet feared to
say. Out it came at last-'My dear! I've asked Mr. Thornton to come to tea to-night.' Mrs. Hale was leaning back in her easy chair, with her eyes shut,
and an expression of pain on her face which had become habitual
to her of late. But she roused up into querulousness at this
speech of her husband's.

'Mr. Thornton!--and to-night! What in the world does the man want
to come here for? And Dixon is washing my muslins and laces, and
there is no soft water with these horrid east winds, which I
suppose we shall have all the year round in Milton.' 'The wind is veering round, my dear,' said Mr. Hale, looking out
at the smoke, which drifted right from the east, only he did not
yet understand the points of the compass, and rather arranged
them ad libitum, according to circumstances.

'Don't tell me!' said Mrs. Hale, shuddering up, and wrapping her
shawl about her still more closely. 'But, east or west wind, I
suppose this man comes.' 'Oh, mamma, that shows you never saw Mr. Thornton. He looks like
a person who would enjoy battling with every adverse thing he
could meet with--enemies, winds, or circumstances. The more it
rains and blows, the more certain we are to have him. But I'll go
and help Dixon. I'm getting to be a famous clear-starcher. And he
won't want any amusement beyond talking to papa. Papa, I am
really longing to see the Pythias to your Damon. You know I never
saw him but once, and then we were so puzzled to know what to say
to each other that we did not get on particularly well.' 'I don't know that you would ever like him, or think him
agreeable, Margaret. He is not a lady's man.' Margaret wreathed her throat in a scornful curve.

'I don't particularly admire ladies' men, papa. But Mr. Thornton
comes here as your friend--as one who has appreciated you'-'The only person in Milton,' said Mrs. Hale.

'So we will give him a welcome, and some cocoa-nut cakes. Dixon
will be flattered if we ask her to make some; and I will
undertake to iron your caps, mamma.' Many a time that morning did Margaret wish Mr. Thornton far
enough away. She had planned other employments for herself: a
letter to Edith, a good piece of Dante, a visit to the Higginses.
But, instead, she ironed away, listening to Dixon's complaints,
and only hoping that by an excess of sympathy she might prevent
her from carrying the recital of her sorrows to Mrs. Hale. Every
now and then, Margaret had to remind herself of her father's
regard for Mr. Thornton, to subdue the irritation of weariness
that was stealing over her, and bringing on one of the bad
headaches to which she had lately become liable. She could hardly
speak when she sat down at last, and told her mother that she was
no longer Peggy the laundry-maid, but Margaret Hale the lady. She
meant this speech for a little joke, and was vexed enough with
her busy tongue when she found her mother taking it seriously.

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