Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell.

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North and South.]










" Wooed and married and a'."

" EDITH ! " said Margaret, gently, " Edith ! ''

But as Margaret half suspected, Edith had fallen asleep. She lay
curled up on the sofa in the back drawing-room in Harley Street
looking very lovely in her white muslin and blue ribbons. If Titania
had ever been dressed in white muslin and blue ribbons, and had
fallen asleep on a crimson damask sofa in a back drawing-room,
Edith might have been taken for her. Margaret was struck afresh
by her cousin's beauty. They had grown up together from child-
hood, and all along Edith had been remarked upon by every one,
except Margaret, for her prettiness ; but Margaret had never thought
about it until the last few days, when the prospect of soon losing her
companion seemed to give force to every sweet quality and charm
which Edith possessed, They had been talking about wedding



dresses and wedding ceremonies ; and Captain Lennox, and what he
had told Edith about her future life at Corfu, where his regiment was
stationed ; and the difficulty of keeping a piano in good tune (a diffi-
culty which Edith seemed to consider as one of the most formidable that
could befall her in her married life), and what gowns she should want
in the visits to Scotland, which wo;'ld immediately succeed her mar-
riage ; but the whispered tone had latterly become more drowsy ;
and Margaret, after a pause of a few minutes, found, as she fancied,
that in spite of the buzz in the next room, Edith had rolled herself up
into a soft ball of muslin and ribbon, and silken curls, and gone off
into a peaceful little after-dinner nap.

Margaret had been on the point of telling her cousin of some of the
plans and visions which she entertained as to her future life in the
country parsonage, where her father and mother lived ; and where
her bright holidays had always been passed, though for the last ten
years her aunt Shaw's house had been considered as her home. But
in default of a listener, she had to brood over the change in her life
silently as heretofore. It was a happy brooding, although tinged
with regret at being separated for an indefinite time from her gentle
aunt and dear cousin. As she thought of the delight of filling the
important post of only daughter in Helstone parsonage, pieces of
the conversation out of the next room came upon her ears. Her aunt
Shaw was talking to the five or six ladies who had been dining there,
and whose husbands were still in the dining-room. They were
the familiar acquaintances of the house ; neighbours whom Mrs. Shaw
called friends, because she happened to dine with them more fre-
quently than with any other people, and because if she or Edith
wanted anything from them, or they from her, they did not scruple to
make a call at each other's houses before luncheon. These ladies
and their husbands were invited in their capacity of friends, to eat
a farewell dinner in honour of Edith's approaching marriage. Edith
had rather objected to this arrangement, for Captain Lennox was ex-
pected to arrive by a late train this very evening ; but, although she
was a spoiled child, she was too careless and idle to have a very strong
will of her own, and gave way when she found that her mother had
absolutely ordered those extra delicacies of the season which are
always supposed to be efficacious against immoderate grief at fare-
well dinners. She contented herself by leaning back in her chair,
merely [playing with the food on her plate, and looking grave and
absent ; while all around her were enjoying the mots of Mr. Grey,
the gentleman who always took the bottom of the table at Mrs. Shaw's
dinner parties, and asked Edith to give them some music in the
drawing-room. Mr. Grey was particularly agreeable over this fare-
well dinner, and the gentlemen staid downstairs longer than usual.
It was very well they did to judge from the fragments of conversa-
tion which Margaret overheard.

" I suffered too much myself; not that I was not extremely happy
with the poor dear General, but still disparity of age is a drawback ;
one that I was resolved Edith should not have to encounter. Of


course, without any maternal partiality, I foresaw that the dear child
was likely to marry early ; indeed, I had often said that I was sure
she would be married before she was nineteen. I had quite pro-
phetic feeling when Captain Lennox " and here the voice dropped
into a whisper, but Margaret could easily supply the blank. The
course of true love in Edith's case had run remarkably smooth. Mrs.
Shaw had given way to the presentiment, as she expressed it ; and
had rather urged on the marriage, although it was below the expecta-
tions which many of Edith's acquaintances had formed for her, a
young and pretty heiress. But Mrs. Shaw said that her only child
should marry for love, and sighed emphatically, asiflovehadnotbeen
her motive for marrying the General. Mrs. Shaw enjoyed the romance
of the present engagement rather more than her daughter. Not but
that Edith was very thoroughly and properly in love ; still she would
certainly have preferred a good house in Belgravia, to all the pic-
turesqueness of the life which Captain Lennox described at Corfu.
The very parts which made Margaret glow as she listened, Edith pre-
tended to shiver and shudder at ; partly for the pleasure she had in
being coaxed out of her dislike by her fond lover, and partly because
anything of a gipsy or make-shift life was really distasteful to her.
Yet had any one come with a fine house, and a fine estate, and a fine
title to boot, Edith would still have clung to Captain Lennox while
the temptation lasted ; when it was over, it is possible she might have
had little qualms of ill-concealed regret that Captain Lennox could
not have united in his person everything that was desirable. In this
she was but her mother's child ; who, after deliberately marrying
General Shaw with no warmer feeling than respect for his character
and establishment, was constantly, though quietly, bemoaning her
hard lot in being united to one whom she could not love.

" I have spared no expense in her trousseau," were the next
words Margaret heard. "She has all the beautiful Indian shawls
and scarfs the General gave to me, but which I shall never wear

" She is a lucky girl," replied another voice, which Margaret knew
to be that of Mrs. Gibson, a lady who was taking a double interest in
the conversation, from the fact of one of her daughters having been
married within the last few weeks. " Helen had set her heart upon
an Indian shawl, but really when I found what an extravagant price
was asked, I was obliged to refuse her. She will be quite envious
when she hears of Edith having Indian shawls. What kind are they ?
Delhi ? with the lovely little borders ? "

Margaret heard her aunt's voice again, but this time it was as if
she had raised herself up from her half-recumbent position, and were
looking into the more dimly lighted back drawing-room. " Edith !
Edith ! " cried she ; and then she sank as if wearied by the exertion.
Margaret stepped forward.

" Edith is asleep, Aunt Shaw. Is it anything I can do ?"

All the ladies said " poor child ! " on receiving- this distressing in-


teliigence about Edith ; and the minute lap-dog in Mrs. Shaw's arms
began to bark, as if excited by the burst of pity.

" Hush, Tiny ! you naughty little girl ! you will waken your mis-
tress. It was only to ask Edith if she would tell Newton to bring
down her shawls ; perhaps you would go, Margaret dear ? "

Margaret went up into the old nursery at the very top of the house,
where Newton was busy getting up some laces which were required
for the wedding. While Newton went (not without a muttered
grumbling) to undo the shawls, which had already been exhibited four
or five times that day, Margaret looked round upon the nursery ; the
first room in that house with which she had become familiar nine
years ago, when she was brought, all untamed from the forest, to
share the home, the play, and the lessons of her cousin Edith. She
remembered the dark, dim look of the London nursery, presided over
by an austere and ceremonious nurse, whC was terribly particular
about clean hands and torn frocks. She recollected the first tea up
there separate from her father and aunt, who were dining some-
where down below, an infinite depth of stairs ; for unless she were up
in the sky (the child thought), they must be deep down in the bowels
of the earth. At home before she came to live in Harley Street
her mother's dressing-room had been her nursery; and as they kept
early hours in the country parsonage, Margaret had always had her
meals with her father and mother. Oh ! well did the tall stately girl
of eighteen remember the tears shed with such wild passion of grief
by the little girl of nine, as she hid her face under the bed-clothes in
that first night ; and how she was bidden not to cry by the nurse,
because it would disturb Miss Edith ; and how she had cried as
bitterly, but more quietly, till her newly-seen, grand, pretty aunt had
come softly upstairs with Mr. Hale to show him his little sleeping
daughter. Then the little Margaret had hushed her sobs, and tried
to lie quiet as if asleep, for fear of making her father unhappy by her
grief, which she dared not express before her aunt, and which she
rather thought it was wrong to feel at all after the long hoping, and
planning, and contriving they had gone through at home, before her
wardrobe could be arranged to suit her grander circumstances, and
before papa could leave his parish to come up to London, even for a
few days.

Now she had got to love the old nursery, though it was but a dis-
mantled place ; and she looked all round with a kind of cat-like
regret, at the idea of leaving it for ever in three days.

" Ah Newton ! " said she, "I think we shall all be sorry to leave
this dear old room."

"Indeed, miss, I shan't for one. My eyes are not so good as
they were, and the light here is so bad that I can't see to mend
laces except just at the window, where there's always a shocking
draught enough to give one one's death of cold."

"Well, I dare say you will have both good light and plenty of
warmth at Naples. You must keep as much of your darning as you


can till then. Thank you, Newton, I can take them down you're

So Margaret went down laden with shawls, and snuffing up their
spicy Eastern smell. Her aunt asked her to stand as a sort of lay
figure on which to display them, as Edith was still asleep. No one
thought about it; but Margaret's tall, finely made figure, in the
black silk dress which she was wearing as mourning for some distant
relative of her father's, set off the long beautiful folds of the gorgeous
shawls that would have half-smothered Edith. Margaret stood
right under the chandelier, quite silent and passive, while her aunt
adjusted the draperies. Occasionally, as she was turned round, she
caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror over the chimney-piece, and
smiled at her own appearance there the familiar features in the
usual garb of a princess. She touched the shawls gently as they
hung around her, and took a pleasure in their soft feel and their
brilliant colours, and rather liked to be dressed in such splendour
enjoying it much as a child would do, with a quiet pleased smile on
her lips. Just then the door opened, and Mr. Henry Lennox was
suddenly announced. Some of the ladies started back, as if half-
ashamed of their feminine interest in dress. Mrs. Shaw held out her
hand to the new-comer ; Margaret stood perfectly still, thinking she
might be yet wanted as a sort of block for the shawls ; but looking at
Mr. Lennox with a bright, amused face, as if sure of his sympathy in
her sense of the ludicrousness at being thus surprised.

Her aunt was so much absorbed in asking Mr. Henry Lennox
who had not been able to come to dinner all sorts of questions about
his brother the bridegroom, his sister the bridesmaid (coming with
the Captain from Scotland for the occasion), and various other
members of the Lennox family, that Margaret saw she was no more
wanted as shawl-bearer, and devoted herself to the amusement of the
other visitors, whom her aunt had for the moment forgotten. Almost
immediately, Edith came in from the back drawing-room, winking
and blinking her eyes at the stronger light, shaking back her
slightly-ruffled curls, and altogether looking like the Sleeping Beauty
just startled from her dreams. Even in her slumber she had instinct-
ively felt that a Lennox was worth rousing herself for ; and she had
a multitude of questions to ask about dear Janet, the future, unseen
sister-in-law, for whom she professed so much affection, that if Mar-
garet had not been very proud she might have almost felt jealous of
the mushroom rival. As Margaret sank rather more into the back-
ground on her aunt's joining the conversation, she saw Henry
Lennox directing his look towards a vacant seat near her ; and she
knew perfectly well that as soon as Edith released him from her
questioning, he would take possession of that chair. She had not
been quite sure, from her aunt's rather confused account of his en-
gagements, whether he would come that night ; it was almost a
surprise to see him ; and now she was sure of a pleasant evening.
He liked and disliked pretty nearly the same things that she did.
Margaret's face was lightened up into an honest, open brightness.


By-and-by he came. She received him with a smile which had not
a tinge of shyness or self-consciousness in it.

" Well, I suppose you are all in the depth of business ladies'
business, I mean. Very different to my business, which is the real
true law business. Playing with shawls is very different work to
drawing up settlements."

" Ah, I knew how you would be amused to find us all so occupied
in admiring finery. But really Indian shawls are very perfect things
of their kind."

"I have no doubt they are. Their prices are very perfect, too.
Nothing wanting."

The gentlemen came dropping in one by one, and the buzz and
noise deepened in tone.

"This is your last dinner-party, is it not? There are no more
before Thursday?"

" No. I think after this evening we shall feel at rest, which I am
sure I have not done for many weeks ; at least, that kind of rest when
the hands have nothing more to do, and all the arrangements are
complete for an event which must occupy one's head and heart. I
shall be glad to have time to think, and I am sure Edith will."

"I am not so sure about her, but I can fancy that you will.
Whenever I have seen you lately, you have been carried away by a
whirlwind of some other person's making."

" Yes," said Margaret, rather sadly, remembering the never-ending
commotion about trifles that had been going on for more than a
month past: " I wonder if a marriage must always be preceded by
what you call a whirlwind, or whether in some cases there might not
rather be a calm and peaceful time just before it."

" Cinderella's godmother ordering the trousseau, the wedding-
breakfast, writing the notes of invitation, for instance," said Mr.
Lennox, laughing.

"But are all these quite necessary troubles?" asked Margaret,
looking up straight at him for an answer. A sense of indescribable
weariness of all the arrangements for a pretty effect, in which Edith
had been busied as supreme authority for the last six weeks,
oppressed her just now; and she really wanted some one to help her
to a few pleasant, quiet ideas connected with a marriage.

" Oh, of course," he replied with a change to gravity in his tone.
" There are forms and ceremonies to be gone through, not so much
to satisfy oneself, as to stop the world's mouth, without which stop-
page there would be very little satisfaction in life. But how would
you have a wedding arranged ? "

" Oh, I have never thought much about it ; only I should like it
to be a very fine summer morning ; and I should like to walk to
church through the shade of trees ; and not to have so many brides-
maids, and to have no wedding-breakfast. I dare say I am resolving
against the very things that have given me the most trouble just now."

" No, I don't think you are. The idea of stately simplicity accords
well with your character."


Margaret did not quite like this speech ; she winced away from it
more, from remembering- former occasions on which he had tried to
lead her into a discussion (in which he took the complimentary part)
about her own character and ways of going on. She cut his speech
rather short by saying :

"It is natural for me to think of Helstone church, and the walk to
it, rather than of driving up to a London church in the middle of a
paved street."

" Tell me about Helstone. You have never described it to me. 1
should like to have some idea of the place you will be living in, when
ninety-six Harley Street will be looking dingy and dirty, and dull,
and shut up. Is Helstone a village, or a town, in the first place ? "

" Oh, only a hamlet ; I don't think I could call it a village at all.
There is the church and a few houses near it on the green cottages,
rather with roses growing all over them."

" And flowering all the year round, especially at Christmas make
your picture complete," said he.

" No," replied Margaret, somewhat annoyed, ' I am not making
a picture. I am trying to describe Helstone as it really is. You
should not have said that."

"I am penitent," he answered. " Only it really sounded like a
village in a tale rather than in real life."

" And so it is," replied Margaret, eagerly. " All the other places
in England that I have seen seem so hard and prosaic-looking, after
the New Forest. Helstone is like a village in a poem in one of
Tennyson's poems. But I won't try and describe it any more. You
would only laugh at me if I told you what I think of it what it
really is."

" Indeed, I would not. But I see you are going to be very re-
solved. Well, then, tell me that which I should like still better to
know : what the parsonage is like."

" Oh, I can't describe my home. It is home, and I can't put it's
charm into words."

" I submit. You are rather severe to-night, Margaret."

"How?" said she, turning her large soft eyes round full upon
him. " I did not know I was."

" Why, because I made an unlucky remark, you will neither tell
me what Helstone is like, nor will you say anything about your home,
though I have told you how much I want to hear about both, the
latter especially."

" But indeed I cannot tell you about my own home. I don't quite
think it is a thing to be talked about, unless you knew it."

"Well, then" pausing for a moment "tell me what you do
there. Here you read, or have lessons, or otherwise improve your
mind, till the middle of the day ; take a walk before lunch, go a
drive with your aunt after, and have some kind of engagement in
the evening. There, now fill up your day at Helstone. Shall you
ride, drive, or walk ? "

"Walk, decidedly. We have no horse, not even for papa. He


walks to the very extremity of his parish. The walks are so beauti-
ful, it would be a shame to drive almost a shame to ride."

" Shall you garden much? That, I believe, is a proper employ-
ment for young ladies in the country."

" I don't know. I am afraid I shan't like such hard work."

" Archery parties pic-nics race balls hunt balls ? "

"Oh no! " said she, laughing. "Papa's living is very small;
and even if we were near such things, I doubt if I should go to

" I see, you won't tell me anything. You will only tell me that
you are not going to do this and that. Before the vacation ends, I
think I shall pay you a call, and see what you really do employ your-
self in."

" I hope you will. Then you will see for yourself how beautiful
Helstone is. Now I must go. Edith is sitting down to play, and I
just know enough of music to turn over the leaves for her ; and, besides,
Aunt Shaw won't like us to talk."

Edith played brilliantly. In the middle of the piece the door half-
opened, and Edith saw Captain Lennox hesitating whether to come
in. She threw down her music, and rushed out of the room, leaving
Margaret standing confused and blushing to explain to the astonished
guests what vision had shown itself to cause Edith's sudden flight.
Captain Lennox had come earlier than was expected ; or was it really
so late ? They looked at their watches, were duly shocked, and took
their leave.

Then Edith came back, glowing with pleasure, half-shyly, half-
proudly leading in her tall handsome Captain. His brother shook
hands with him, and Mrs. Shaw welcomed him in her gentle kindly
way, which had always something plaintive in it, arising from the
long habit of considering herself a victim to an uncongenial marriage.
Now that, the General being gone, she had every good of life, with
as few drawbacks as possible, she had been rather perplexed to find
an anxiety, if not a sorrow. She had, however, of late settled upon
her own health as a source of apprehension ; she had a nervous little
cough whenever she thought about it ; and some complaisant doctor
ordered her just what she desired a winter in Italy. Mrs. Shaw had
as strong wishes as most people, but she never liked to do anything
from the open and acknowledged motive of her own good will and
pleasure ; she preferred being compelled to gratify herself by some
other person's command or desire. She really did persuade herself
that she was submitting to some hard external necessity ; and thus
she was able to moan and complain in her soft manner, all the time
she was in reality doing just what she liked.

It was in this way she began to speak of her own journey to Cap-
tain Lennox, who assented, as in duty bound, to all his future
mother-in-law said, while his eyes sought Edith, who was busying
herself in re-arranging the tea-table, and ordering up all sorts of
good things in spite of his assurances that he had dined within the
last two hours.


Mr. Henry Lennox stood leaning against the chimney-piece,
amused with the family scene. He was close by his handsome
brother ; he was the plain one in a singularly good-looking family ;
but his face was intelligent, keen, and mobile ; and now and then
Margaret wondered what it was that he could be thinking about,
while he kept silence, but was evidently observing, with an interest
that was slightly sarcastic, all that Edith and she were doing. The
sarcastic feeling was called out by Mrs. Shaw's conversation with his
brother ; it was separate from the interest which was excited by what
he saw. He thought it a pretty sight to see the two cousins so busy
in their little arrangements about the table. Edith chose to do most
herself. She was in a humour to enjoy showing her lover how well
she could behave as a soldier'swife. She found out that the water in
the ura was cold, and ordered up the great kitchen tea-kettle ; the
only consequence of which was that when she met it at the door, and
tried to carry it in, it was too heavy for her, and she came in pouting,
with a black mark on her muslin gown, and a little roung white hand
indented by the handle, which she took to show to Captain Lennox,
just like a hurt child, and, of course, the remedy was the same in
both cases. Margaret's quickly-adjusted spirit-lamp was the most
efficacious contrivance, though not so like the gypsy-encampment
which Edith, in some of her moods, chose to consider the nearest
resemblance to a barrack-life.

After this evening all was bustle till the wedding was over.



1 Ry 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."


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 hi favour of a grey satin gown,
which was midway between oldness and newness, had proved unavail-

Online LibraryElizabeth Cleghorn GaskellNorth & South → online text (page 1 of 43)