فصل 02

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فصل 02

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Chapter two

Helstone

It was the second half of July when Margaret returned home. The trees were a dark, shadowy green; the plants below caught the sunlight as it came through the leaves, and the weather was hot and still. Margaret took long walks with her father, taking pleasure in the sweet forest smells and the wild, free-living creatures that she saw there. This life - at least, these walks - were just as Margaret had hoped. She loved her forest and had good friends there; she nursed their babies, read to the old people and brought food to the sick. Her outdoor life was perfect. Her indoor life had its disadvantages.

On arriving home she had immediately realised that all was not as it should be. Her mother, always so kind and loving towards her, from time to time seemed deeply discontented. Mrs Hale said that the forest, so near to the house, affected her health, but her biggest complaints were the family’s lack of money and her husband’s low position in the Church of England. When she mentioned the subject, Mr Hale would reply sadly that as long as he could do his duty in little Helstone, he was thankful, but there were lines of anxiety on his face that had not been there before, and each day he seemed more lost and confused.

Margaret was unprepared for these long hours of discontent. She had known that she would have to give up many luxuries when she returned to Helstone, and she had quite enjoyed the idea. There had been a few complaints from her mother when Margaret had spent her holidays at home before, but because the memory of those times was generally happy, she had forgotten the small, less pleasant details.

Autumn rains came in the second half of September and Margaret often had to stay in the house. Helstone was at some distance from any neighbours of a similar social position.

‘It is undoubtedly one of the most isolated places in England,’ said Mrs Hale sadly. ‘If only we were within walking distance of the Stansfields and the Gormans.’

‘The Gormans?’ said Margaret. ‘Are those the Gormans who made their fortune in trade in Southampton? I’m glad we don’t visit them. I don’t like people in trade. I think it’s much better for us to know poor country people, people who do not claim to be better than they are.’

‘You must not be so hard to please, Margaret, dear,’ said Mrs Hale, secretly thinking of a young and handsome Mr Gorman whom she had once met.

‘That’s not true! I like all those who work on the land. I’m sure you don’t want me to admire butchers and bakers - people like that, do you?’

‘But the Gormans were neither butchers nor bakers, but very respectable carriage-builders.’

‘Nevertheless, carriage-building is a trade, and rather a useless one, in my opinion. I would much prefer to walk than travel in a carriage.’

And Margaret did walk, in spite of the weather; she was so happy outdoors, at her father’s side, that she almost danced. But the evenings were rather difficult to fill pleasantly. Immediately after tea her father disappeared into his small library, and she and her mother were left alone. Her mother had never enjoyed books much, and when Mrs Hale began to compare her sister’s comfortable life in London with her own life at the vicarage, Margaret would stop talking and listen to the rain as it fell on the sitting-room window. Once or twice she wondered if she could ask about a subject of great importance to her - her older brother Frederick. He had joined the navy some years ago, and had taken part in a mutiny, with the result that he was now unable to return to England, as he would be arrested if he did. Margaret very much wanted to ask where Frederick was now and what he was doing, but an awareness that her mother’s bad health dated from the time of the mutiny made her unwilling to do so. Similarly, her father’s anxious face made her pause and turn away from the subject each time she approached it.

Frederick’s room was kept exactly as he had left it and was regularly cleaned by Dixon, Mrs Hale’s servant. Dixon lovingly remembered the day when she had first been employed to look after pretty Miss Beresford, as Mrs Hale had been called then. Dixon had never thought that Mr Hale was good enough for her dear lady and considered that he had caused her much heartache; she saw herself as Mrs Hale’s only protector. Frederick had always been her favourite and her rather stiff manner softened a little when she went in each week to tidy his room.

Margaret felt sure that there had been some news of Frederick, unknown to her mother, which was making her kind and gentle father anxious. Often, in conversation, his mind seemed elsewhere, and he spent more time than usual in his study. But when fine weather came in the second half of October, her worries disappeared and she thought of nothing except the beauty of the forest. She was preparing to take her artist’s notebook and go drawing in the forest when Dixon threw the sitting-room door open and announced, ‘Mr Henry Lennox.’

The sun shone through the window onto Margaret’s face as she walked forwards to shake hands with him.

‘I am so glad you have come,’ she said.

‘Did I not say that I would?’ he asked. ‘I have a little note from Edith. Ah, here it is.’

‘Oh! Thank you!’ exclaimed Margaret, and went to tell her mother that Mr Lennox had arrived.

When she had gone, Mr Lennox began to look around in his sharp-eyed way. The little sitting-room was looking its best in the morning sunlight; the window was open and roses crept around the corner, while the garden was bright with flowers of every colour. But the brightness outside made the colours inside seem faded. The carpet was old and the house was smaller than he had expected, as Margaret herself seemed so queenly.

‘It’s as she said, they have very little money,’ he thought.

Margaret returned with her mother, who greeted Mr Lennox with great friendliness, and it was agreed that the couple should go to draw in the forest and then return for lunch. Margaret led Mr Lennox through the forest to two little cottages; there, they took out their notebooks and began to draw the pretty scene. When the time came to show each other what they had done, Margaret discovered that Mr Lennox had drawn her.

‘I hardly dare tell you how much I like this picture,’ he said.

Margaret turned away to pack up her notebook and pencils, and Mr Lennox was not quite sure whether she had heard his words. They returned to the vicarage, and the conversation at lunch flowed quietly and pleasantly. After the meal, he suggested that they should walk in the garden.

‘What a perfect life you seem to live here,’ he said, looking up at the tall forest trees that enclosed the garden like a nest.

‘Please remember that our skies are not always blue. We have rain and even storms sometimes! Although I do think that Helstone is about as perfect as any place in the world.’

‘I almost wish, Margaret,’ said Mr Lennox, and then hesitated.

It was so unusual for the clever lawyer to hesitate that Margaret looked up at him questioningly.

‘Margaret,’ Mr Lennox continued, taking her hand, ‘I wish you didn’t like Helstone so much and that you missed your friends in London more - enough to make you listen more kindly to someone who is not wealthy, it is true, but who does love you, Margaret.’

Margaret made a strong effort to be calm, and then said, ‘I did not know that you cared for me in that way. I have always thought of you as a friend.’

‘But may I hope that at some time you will think of me as a lover?’

Margaret was silent for a minute or two, trying to discover the truth in her own heart before she replied. Then she said, ‘I have only ever thought of you as a friend - I am sure I could never think of you as anything else. Let us both forget that this conversation has taken place.’

Mr Lennox paused before he replied. Then in a colder voice, he said, ‘Of course, as this conversation is rather unpleasant to you, I will try to forget it.’

‘You are upset,’ Margaret said sadly, ‘but how can I help it?’

She looked so sad as she said this that he struggled for a moment with his real disappointment, and then said more cheerfully, but still with a little hardness in his voice, ‘I am not known to be a romantic man - and the only time that I allow myself to be so, I am rejected. It was madness to think that I - a poor lawyer - could hope to marry.’

The whole tone of these words annoyed Margaret and reminded her of why she could not accept him, and it was fortunate that Mr Hale appeared just then, and a lighter conversation began. Margaret said little, wondering when Mr Lennox would go. He too was anxious to leave, but to save his self-respect began talking in a bored kind of way about his life in London. Mr Hale was puzzled; this was not the man he had met in the city and at lunch that day. It was a relief to all of them when Mr Lennox said that he needed to leave immediately in order to catch the five o’clock train.

At the last moment, Henry Lennox’s real self broke through.

‘Margaret, don’t dislike me - I have a heart, though I pretend that I do not. I believe I love you more than ever - if I do not hate you - for the disdain on your face as you have listened to me during this last half hour. Goodbye, Margaret - Margaret!’

He was gone. The house was locked up for the evening. Margaret sat alone by the fire in the sitting-room, with unlit candles on the table behind her, thinking about the day, the happy walk, the drawing in the forest, the cheerful lunch, and the uncomfortable, miserable walk in the garden. She felt very unhappy that she had had to refuse him, but what else could she have done when, moments after her refusal, he had spoken as if success in life was the only thing that mattered to him? Oh dear! She could have loved him so much if only he had been different. Then she thought that, after all, perhaps he had talked in that cold, hard way to hide his disappointment. She was still considering this when Mr Hale entered, sighing deeply.

‘Margaret,’ he said at last, in a sudden, desperate way, ‘can you come into my study? I want to speak to you about something very serious.’

In the study, Mr Hale made Margaret take a chair next to him. He stirred the fire and then said shakily, ‘Margaret! I am going to leave Helstone.’

‘Leave Helstone, Father! But why?’

‘Because I can no longer be a clergyman in the Church of England.’

Margaret’s immediate response was a feeling of shock and disbelief. ‘Why? Why can you no longer be a clergyman? Is it because of Frederick?’

‘It is not about Frederick. It is all me. For a long time now I have had serious doubts about the authority of the Church.

These doubts have torn me in two and are so great that I feel I have no choice. I must leave.’

‘But Father, have you truly considered the consequences?’ asked Margaret, bursting into tears.

Mr Hale rose and walked up and down the room, talking to himself in a low voice. Finally, he said, ‘Margaret, I have thought about it for a long time. I must do what my heart and mind tell me. I have arranged things so that we will be leaving Helston in a fortnight.’

Margaret sat as still as stone. ‘In a fortnight! Where will we go?’

‘To Milton-Northern,’ her father answered lifelessly.

‘Milton-Northern! The manufacturing town in Darkshire?’

‘Yes,’ he answered in the same depressed way. ‘You remember Mr Bell, an old friend of mine at Oxford University - he teaches at the university now. I wrote to him about my troubles. His home town is Milton-Northern and he owns property there which has greatly increased in value since Milton has become such a large manufacturing town. He feels certain that I can earn a living there as a private tutor.’

‘A private tutor!’ cried Margaret scornfully. ‘Are manufacturers interested in studying Ancient Greek literature?’

‘Oh,’ said Mr Hale, ‘some of them really seem to be fine fellows. Mr Bell has recommended me to a Mr Thornton, a tenant of his, and a very intelligent man, apparently.’

‘And Mother knows nothing about this?’ asked Margaret fearfully.

‘Nothing. Poor, poor Maria! Margaret - I dare not tell her!’

‘No,’ said Margaret sadly, ‘I will do it. Oh, Father,’ she cried, ‘tell me it is all a terrible dream! You do not really mean it!’

Mr Hale sat perfectly still as she spoke. Then he looked her in the face, and said slowly, ‘You must not deceive yourself, Margaret. I do mean it.’

He looked at her for some moments and she gazed back. Then she rose and, without a look or a word, left the room.

That night, Margaret sat by her bedroom window, looking out at the brightly lit church, too full of sorrow to cry, but with a cold pain in her heart that made her feel old and hopeless; the afternoon spent with Mr Lennox seemed like a dream. The hard reality was that because her father had doubts about the authority of the Church, their whole life was going to change. Margaret felt as she never had before, completely alone. That night she dreamt that Henry Lennox fell from a high tree and was killed. In the morning she woke feeling exhausted, and the awful reality came back to her.

At breakfast, the fine autumn morning made Mrs Hale feel particularly well and she talked happily, planning visits to the villagers. Mr Hale left, saying he would be out for the whole day. Unlike her father, who would have postponed telling the bad news as long as possible, Margaret took a deep breath and asked her mother to walk with her in the garden. There, Margaret told her about Mr Hale’s decisions and his plan to leave Helstone.

At first her mother did not believe her. ‘He would surely have told me before this!’ she cried.

But when Margaret insisted that they were going to leave Helstone in a fortnight, her mother started to cry quietly, unable to bear the thought of living in a manufacturing town.

‘But think of the shame!’ she whispered. ‘Your father is going to leave the Church! No one we know will want to know us!’

For the rest of that day, Margaret never left her mother. When evening came and Mr Hale returned, his face grey and fearful, his wife threw herself on him and burst into tears, crying, ‘Oh, Richard, Richard, you should have told us sooner!’

On hearing this, Margaret left the room and ran up to her bedroom, where she cried bitterly for many hours. But heartbroken as she was, it immediately became clear that her parents were depending on her to make the necessary arrangements for the move to Milton-Northern. Mr Hale was so depressed that he was unable to make any decisions, while Mrs Hale now became really ill and had to spend most of each day in bed. A fortnight was a very short time, and Margaret felt that a great weight had suddenly been thrown upon her shoulders. However, with Dixon’s help she began to plan the move.

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