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once more in the Harley Street drawing-room, talking to him as of old, and still with a consciousness all the time that she had seen him killed by that terrible fall.
Miserable, unresting night! Ill preparation for the coming day! She awoke with a start, unrefreshed, and conscious of some reality worse even than her feverish dreams. It all came back upon her; not merely the sorrow, but the terrible discord in the sorrow. Where, to what distance apart, had her father wandered, led by doubts which were to her temptations of the Evil One? She longed to ask, and yet would not have heard for all the world.
The fine Crisp morning made her mother feel particularly well and happy at breakfast-time. She talked on, planning village kindnesses, unheeding the silence of her husband and the monosyllabic answers of Margaret. Before the things were cleared away, Mr. Hale got up; he leaned one hand on the table, as if to support himself:
'I shall not be at home till evening. I am going to Bracy Common, and will ask Farmer Dobson to give me something for dinner. I shall be back to tea at seven.' He did not look at either of them, but Margaret knew what he meant. By seven the announcement must be made to her mother. Mr. Hale would have delayed making it till half-past six, but Margaret was of different stuff. She could not bear the impending weight on her mind all the day long: better get the worst over; the day would be too short to comfort her mother. But while she stood by the window, thinking how to begin, and waiting for the servant to have left the room, her mother had gone up-stairs to put on her things to go to the school. She came down ready equipped, in a brisker mood than usual.
'Mother, come round the garden with me this morning; just one turn,' said Margaret, putting her arm round Mrs. Hale's waist.
They passed through the open window. Mrs. Hale spoke--said something--Margaret could not tell what. Her eye caught on a bee entering a deep-belled flower: when that bee flew forth with his spoil she would begin--that should be the sign. Out he came.
'Mamma! Papa is going to leave Helstone!' she blurted forth. 'He's going to leave the Church, and live in Milton-Northern.' There were the three hard facts hardly spoken.
'What makes you say so?' asked Mrs. Hale, in a surprised incredulous voice. 'Who has been telling you such nonsense?'
'Papa himself,' said Margaret, longing to say something gentle and consoling, but literally not knowing how. They were close to a garden-bench. Mrs. Hale sat down, and began to cry.
'I don't understand you,' she said. 'Either you have made some great mistake, or I don't quite understand you.'
'No, mother, I have made no mistake. Papa has written to the bishop, saying that he has such doubts that he cannot conscientiously remain a priest of the Church of England, and that he must give up Helstone. He has also consulted Mr. Bell--Frederick's godfather, you know, mamma; and it is arranged that we go to live in Milton-Northern.' Mrs. Hale looked up in Margaret's face all the time she was speaking these words: the shadow on her countenance told that she, at least, believed in the truth of what she said.
'I don't think it can be true,' said Mrs. Hale, at length. 'He would surely have told me before it came to this.'
It came strongly upon Margaret's mind that her mother ought to have been told: that whatever her faults of discontent and repining might have been, it was an error in her father to have left her to learn his change of opinion, and his approaching change of life, from her better-informed child. Margaret sat down by her mother, and took her unresisting head on her breast, bending her own soft cheeks down caressingly to touch her face.
'Dear, darling mamma! we were so afraid of giving you pain. Papa felt so acutely--you know you are not strong, and there must have been such terrible suspense to go through.'
'When did he tell you, Margaret?'
'Yesterday, only yesterday,' replied Margaret, detecting the jealousy which prompted the inquiry. 'Poor papa!'--trying to divert her mother's thoughts into compassionate sympathy for all her father had gone through. Mrs. Hale raised her head.
'What does he mean by having doubts?' she asked. 'Surely, he does not mean that he thinks differently--that he knows better than the Church.' Margaret shook her head, and the tears came into her eyes, as her mother touched the bare nerve of her own regret.
'Can't the bishop set him right?' asked Mrs. Hale, half impatiently.
'I'm afraid not,' said Margaret. 'But I did not ask. I could not bear to hear what he might answer. It is all settled at any rate. He is going to leave Helstone in a fortnight. I am not sure if he did not say he had sent in his deed of resignation.'
'In a fortnight!' exclaimed Mrs. Hale, 'I do think this is very strange--not at all right. I call it very unfeeling,' said she, beginning to take relief in tears. 'He has doubts, you say, and gives up his living, and all without consulting me. I dare say, if he had told me his doubts at the first I could have nipped them in the bud.'
Mistaken as Margaret felt her father's conduct to have been, she could not bear to hear it blamed by her mother. She knew that his very reserve had originated in a tenderness for her, which might be cowardly, but was not unfeeling.
'I almost hoped you might have been glad to leave Helstone, mamma,' said she, after a pause. 'You have never been well in this air, you know.'
'You can't think the smoky air of a manufacturing town, all chimneys and dirt like Milton-Northern, would be better than this air, which is pure and sweet, if it is too soft and relaxing. Fancy living in the middle of factories, and factory people! Though, of course, if your father leaves the Church, we shall not be admitted into society anywhere. It will be such a disgrace to us! Poor dear Sir John! It is well he is not alive to see what your father has come to! Every day after dinner, when I was a girl, living with your aunt Shaw, at Beresford Court, Sir John used to give for the first toast--"Church and King, and down with the Rump."'
Margaret was glad that her mother's thoughts were turned away from the fact of her husband's silence to her on the point which must have been so near his heart. Next to the serious vital anxiety as to the nature of her father's doubts, this was the one circumstance of the case that gave Margaret the most pain.
'You know, we have very little society here, mamma. The Gormans, who are our nearest neighbours (to call society--and we hardly ever see them), have been in trade just as much as these Milton-Northern people.'
'Yes,' said Mrs. Hale, almost indignantly, 'but, at any rate, the Gormans made carriages for half the gentry of the county, and were brought into some kind of intercourse with them; but these factory people, who on earth wears cotton that can afford linen?'
'Well, mamma, I give up the cotton-spinners; I am not standing up for them, any more than for any other trades-people. Only we shall have little enough to do with them.'
'Why on earth has your father fixed on Milton-Northern to live in?'
'Partly,' said Margaret, sighing, 'because it is so very different from Helstone--partly because Mr. Bell says there is an opening there for a private tutor.'
'Private tutor in Milton! Why can't he go to Oxford, and be a tutor to gentlemen?'
'You forget, mamma! He is leaving the Church on account of his opinions--his doubts would do him no good at Oxford.'
Mrs. Hale was silent for some time, quietly crying. At last she said:--
'And the furniture--How in the world are we to manage the removal? I never removed in my life, and only a fortnight to think about it!'
Margaret was inexpressibly relieved to find that her mother's anxiety and distress was lowered to this point, so insignificant to herself, and on which she could do so much to help. She planned and promised, and led her mother on to arrange fully as much as could be fixed before they knew somewhat more definitively what Mr. Hale intended to do. Throughout the day Margaret never left her mother; bending her whole soul to sympathise in all the various turns her feelings took; towards evening especially, as she became more and more anxious that her father should find a soothing welcome home awaiting him, after his return from his day of fatigue and distress. She dwelt upon what he must have borne in secret for long; her mother only replied coldly that he ought to have told her, and that then at any rate he would have had an adviser to give him counsel; and Margaret turned faint at heart when she heard her father's step in the hall. She dared not go to meet him, and tell him what she had done all day, for fear of her mother's jealous annoyance. She heard him linger, as if awaiting her, or some sign of her; and she dared not stir; she saw by her mother's twitching lips, and changing colour, that she too was aware that her husband had returned. Presently he opened the room-door, and stood there uncertain whether to come in. His face was gray and pale; he had a timid, fearful look in his eyes; something almost pitiful to see in a man's face; but that look of despondent uncertainty, of mental and bodily languor, touched his wife's heart. She went to him, and threw herself on his breast, crying out--
'Oh! Richard, Richard, you should have told me sooner!'
And then, in tears, Margaret left her, as she rushed up-stairs to throw herself on her bed, and hide her face in the pillows to stifle the hysteric sobs that would force their way at last,
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