‘Pack Clouds Away’
'For joy or grief, for hope or fear,
For all hereafter, as for here,
In peace or strife, in storm or shine.'
Edith went about on tip-toe, and checked Sholto in all loud speaking that next morning, as if any sudden noise would interrupt the conference that was taking place in the drawing-room. Two o'clock came; and they still sate there with closed doors. Then there was a man's footstep running down stairs; and Edith peeped out of the drawing-room.
'Well, Henry?' said she, with a look of interrogation.
'Well!' said he, rather shortly.
'Come in to lunch!'
'No, thank you, I can't. I've lost too much time here already.'
'Then it's not all settled,' said Edith despondingly.
'No! not at all. It never will be settled, if the "it" is what I conjecture you mean. That will never be, Edith, so give up thinking about it.'
'But it would be so nice for us all,' pleaded Edith. 'I should always feel comfortable about the children, if I had Margaret settled down near me. As it is, I am always afraid of her going off to Cadiz.'
'I will try, when I marry, to look out for a young lady who has a knowledge of the management of children. That is all I can do. Miss Hale would not have me. And I shall not ask her.'
'Then, what have you been talking about?'
'A thousand things you would not understand: investments, and leases, and value of land.'
'Oh, go away if that's all. You and she will be unbearably stupid, if you've been talking all this time about such weary things.'
'Very well. I'm coming again to-morrow, and bringing Mr. Thornton with me, to have some more talk with Miss Hale.'
'Mr. Thornton! What has he to do with it?'
'He is Miss Hale's tenant,' said Mr. Lennox, turning away. 'And he wishes to give up his lease.'
'Oh! very well. I can't understand details, so don't give them me.'
'The only detail I want you to understand is, to let us have the back drawing-room undisturbed, as it was to-day. In general, the children and servants are so in and out, that I can never get any business satisfactorily explained; and the arrangements we have to make to-morrow are of importance.'
No one ever knew why Mr. Lennox did not keep to his appointment on the following day. Mr. Thornton came true to his time; and, after keeping him waiting for nearly an hour, Margaret came in looking very white and anxious.
She began hurriedly:
'I am so sorry Mr. Lennox is not here,—he could have done it so much better than I can. He is my adviser in this'——
'I am sorry that I came, if it troubles you. Shall I go to Mr. Lennox's chambers and try and find him?'
'No, thank you. I wanted to tell you, how grieved I was to find that I am to lose you as a tenant. But, Mr. Lennox says, things are sure to brighten'——
'Mr. Lennox knows little about it,' said Mr. Thornton quietly. 'Happy and fortunate in all a man cares for, he does not understand what it is to find oneself no longer young—yet thrown back to the starting-point which requires the hopeful energy of youth—to feel one half of life gone, and nothing done—nothing remaining of wasted opportunity, but the bitter recollection that it has been. Miss Hale, I would rather not hear Mr. Lennox's opinion of my affairs. Those who are happy and successful themselves are too apt to make light of the misfortunes of others.'
'You are unjust,' said Margaret, gently. 'Mr. Lennox has only spoken of the great probability which he believes there to be of your redeeming—your more than redeeming what you have lost—don't speak till I have ended—pray don't!' And collecting herself once more, she went on rapidly turning over some law papers, and statements of accounts in a trembling hurried manner. 'Oh! here it is! and—he drew me out a proposal—I wish he was here to explain it—showing that if you would take some money of mine, eighteen thousand and fifty-seven pounds, lying just at this moment unused in the bank, and bringing me in only two and a half per cent.—you could pay me much better interest, and might go on working Marlborough Mills.' Her voice had cleared itself and become more steady. Mr. Thornton did not speak, and she went on looking for some paper on which were written down the proposals for security; for she was most anxious to have it all looked upon in the light of a mere business arrangement, in which the principal advantage would be on her side. While she sought for this paper, her very heart-pulse was arrested by the tone in which Mr. Thornton spoke. His voice was hoarse, and trembling with tender passion, as he said:—
For an instant she looked up; and then sought to veil her luminous eyes by dropping her forehead on her hands. Again, stepping nearer, he besought her with another tremulous eager call upon her name.
Still lower went the head; more closely hidden was the face, almost resting on the table before her. He came close to her. He knelt by her side, to bring his face to a level with her ear; and whispered-panted out the words:—
'Take care.—If you do not speak—I shall claim you as my own in some strange presumptuous way.—Send me away at once, if I must go;—Margaret!—'
At that third call she turned her face, still covered with her small white hands, towards him, and laid it on his shoulder, hiding it even there; and it was too delicious to feel her soft cheek against his, for him to wish to see either deep blushes or loving eyes. He clasped her close. But they both kept silence. At length she murmured in a broken voice:
'Oh, Mr. Thornton, I am not good enough!'
'Not good enough! Don't mock my own deep feeling of unworthiness.'
After a minute or two, he gently disengaged her hands from her face, and laid her arms as they had once before been placed to protect him from the rioters.
'Do you remember, love?' he murmured. 'And how I requited you with my insolence the next day?'
'I remember how wrongly I spoke to you,—that is all.'
'Look here! Lift up your head. I have something to show you!' She slowly faced him, glowing with beautiful shame.
'Do you know these roses?' he said, drawing out his pocket-book, in which were treasured up some dead flowers.
'No!' she replied, with innocent curiosity. 'Did I give them to you?'
'No! Vanity; you did not. You may have worn sister roses very probably.'
She looked at them, wondering for a minute, then she smiled a little as she said—
'They are from Helstone, are they not? I know the deep indentations round the leaves. Oh! have you been there? When were you there?'
'I wanted to see the place where Margaret grew to what she is, even at the worst time of all, when I had no hope of ever calling her mine. I went there on my return from Havre.'
'You must give them to me,' she said, trying to take them out of his hand with gentle violence.
'Very well. Only you must pay me for them!'
'How shall I ever tell Aunt Shaw?' she whispered, after some time of delicious silence.
'Let me speak to her.'
'Oh, no! I owe to her,—but what will she say?'
'I can guess. Her first exclamation will be, "That man!"'
'Hush!' said Margaret, 'or I shall try and show you your mother's indignant tones as she says, "That woman!"'