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“Experience, like a pale musician, holdsA dulcimer of patience in his hand;Whence harmonies we cannot understand,Of God’s will in His worlds, the strain unfoldsIn sad, perplexed minors.”Mrs. Browning. About this time Dixon returned from Milton, and assumed her post as Margaret’s maid. She brought endless pieces of Milton gossip: How Martha had gone to live with Miss Thornton, on the latter’s marriage; with an account of the bridesmaids, dresses and breakfasts, at that interesting ceremony; how people thought that Mr. Thornton had made too grand a wedding of it, considering he had lost a deal by the strike, and had had to pay so much for the failure of his contracts; how little money articles of furniture—long cherished by Dixon—had fetched at the sale, which was a shame considering how rich folks were at Milton; how Mrs. Thornton had come one day and got two or three good bargains, and Mr. Thornton had come the next, and in his desire to obtain one or two things, had bid against himself, much to the enjoyment of the bystanders, so as Dixon observed, that made things even; if Mrs. Thornton paid too little, Mr. Thornton paid too much. Mr. Bell had sent all sorts of orders about the books; there was no understanding him, he was so particular; if he had come himself it would have been all right, but letters always were and always will be more puzzling than they are worth. Dixon had not much to tell about the Higginses. Her memory had an aristocratic bias, and was very treacherous whenever she tried to recall any circumstance connected with those below her in life. Nicholas was very well she believed. He had been several times at the house asking for news of Miss Margaret—the only person who ever did ask, except once Mr. Thornton. And Mary? oh! of course she was very well, a great, stout, slatternly thing! She did hear, or perhaps it was only a dream of hers, though it would be strange if she had dreamt of such people as the Higginses, that Mary had gone to work at Mr. Thornton’s mill, because her father wished her to know how to cook; but what nonsense that could mean she didn’t know. Margaret rather agreed with her that the story was incoherent enough to be like a dream. Still it was pleasant to have some one now with whom she could talk of Milton, and Milton people. Dixon was not over-fond of the subject, rather wishing to leave that part of her life in shadow. She liked much more to dwell upon speeches of Mr. Bell’s, which had suggested an idea to her of what was really his intention—making Margaret his heiress. But her young lady gave her no encouragement, nor in any way gratified her insinuating enquiries, however disguised in the form of suspicions or assertions. All this time Margaret had a strange undefined longing to hear that Mr. Bell had gone to pay one of his business visits to Milton; for it had been well understood between them, at the time of their conversation at Helstone, that the explanation she had desired should only be given to Mr. Thornton by word of mouth, and even in that manner should be in nowise forced upon him. Mr. Bell was no great correspondent, but he wrote from time to time long or short letters, as the humour took him, and although Margaret was not conscious of any definite hope, on receiving them, yet she always put away his notes with a little feeling of disappointment. He was not going to Milton; he said nothing about it at any rate. Well! she must be patient. Sooner or later the mists would be cleared away. Mr. Bell’s letters were hardly like his usual self; they were short, and complaining, with every now and then a little touch of bitterness that was unusual. He did not look forward to the future; he rather seemed to regret the past, and be weary of the present. Margaret fancied that he could not be well; but in answer to some enquiry of hers as to his health, he sent her a short note, saying there was an oldfashioned complaint called the spleen; that he was suffering from that, and it was for her to decide if it was more mental or physical; but that he should like to indulge himself in grumbling, without being obliged to send a bulletin every time. In consequence of this note, Margaret made no more enquiries about his health. One day Edith let out accidentally a fragment of a conversation which she had had with Mr. Bell, when he was last in London, which possessed Margaret with the idea that he had some notion of taking her to pay a visit to her brother and new sister-in-law, at Cadiz, in the autumn. She questioned and cross-questioned Edith, till the latter was weary, and declared that there was nothing more to remember; all he had said was that he half-thought he should go, and hear for himself what Frederick had to say about the mutiny; and that it would be a good opportunity for Margaret to become acquainted with her new sister-in-law; that he always went somewhere during the long vacation, and did not see why he should not go to Spain as well as anywhere else. That was all. Edith hoped Margaret did not want to leave them, that she was so anxious about all this. And then, having nothing else particular to do, she cried, and said that she knew she cared much more for Margaret than Margaret did for her. Margaret comforted her as well as she could, but she could hardly explain to her how this idea of Spain, mere Château en Espagne as it might be, charmed and delighted her. Edith was in the mood to think that any pleasure enjoyed away from her was a tacit affront, or at best a proof of indifference. So Margaret had to keep her pleasure to herself, and could only let it escape by the safety-valve of asking Dixon, when she dressed for dinner, if she would not like to see Master Frederick and his new wife very much indeed?
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Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell

Renowned English novelist, biographer and short story writer

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