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´╗┐Title: North and South
Author: Gaskell, Elizabeth Cleghorn, 1810-1865
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "North and South" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



NORTH AND SOUTH

by

ELIZABETH GASKELL

First published in serial form in _Household Words_ in 1854-1855 and in
volume form in 1855.


On its appearance in 'Household Words,' this tale was obliged to conform
to the conditions imposed by the requirements of a weekly publication,
and likewise to confine itself within certain advertised limits, in
order that faith might be kept with the public. Although these
conditions were made as light as they well could be, the author found it
impossible to develope the story in the manner originally intended, and,
more especially, was compelled to hurry on events with an improbable
rapidity towards the close. In some degree to remedy this obvious
defect, various short passages have been inserted, and several new
chapters added. With this brief explanation, the tale is commended to
the kindness of the reader;

    'Beseking hym lowly, of mercy and pite,
     Of its rude makyng to have compassion.'



CHAPTER I

'HASTE TO THE WEDDING'

    '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 childhood, 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
difficulty 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 would immediately succeed her
marriage; 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 frequently 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 expected
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 farewell 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 farewell dinner, and the gentlemen staid down stairs
longer than usual. It was very well they did--to judge from the
fragments of conversation 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 a prophetic 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 expectations 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, as if love had
not been 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
picturesqueness of the life which Captain Lennox described at Corfu. The
very parts which made Margaret glow as she listened, Edith pretended 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 again.'

'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
intelligence 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 mistress. 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,
who 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 somewhere 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 so
as 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 dismantled
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 busy.'

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 instinctively 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
Margaret had not been very proud she might have almost felt jealous of
the mushroom rival. As Margaret sank rather more into the background 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 engagements, 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 depths 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 stoppage 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 bridesmaids, 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. I 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 resolved. 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 its 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 beautiful, it would be a
shame to drive--almost a shame to ride.'

'Shall you garden much? That, I believe, is a proper employment 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 them.'

'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 yourself 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 Captain
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
rearranging 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's wife. She found out that the
water in the urn 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 round 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.



CHAPTER II

ROSES AND THORNS

    'By 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.'
                MRS. HEMANS.


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 in favour of a grey satin gown, which was midway
between oldness and newness, had proved unavailing; and that, as he had
not the money to equip his wife afresh, from top to toe, she would not
show herself at her only sister's only child's wedding. If Mrs. Shaw had
guessed at the real reason why Mrs. Hale did not accompany her husband,
she would have showered down gowns upon her; but it was nearly twenty
years since Mrs. Shaw had been the poor, pretty Miss Beresford, and she
had really forgotten all grievances except that of the unhappiness
arising from disparity of age in married life, on which she could
descant by the half-hour. Dearest Maria had married the man of her
heart, only eight years older than herself, with the sweetest temper,
and that blue-black hair one so seldom sees. Mr. Hale was one of the
most delightful preachers she had ever heard, and a perfect model of a
parish priest. Perhaps it was not quite a logical deduction from all
these premises, but it was still Mrs. Shaw's characteristic conclusion,
as she thought over her sister's lot: 'Married for love, what can
dearest Maria have to wish for in this world?' Mrs. Hale, if she spoke
truth, might have answered with a ready-made list, 'a silver-grey glace
silk, a white chip bonnet, oh! dozens of things for the wedding, and
hundreds of things for the house.' Margaret only knew that her mother
had not found it convenient to come, and she was not sorry to think that
their meeting and greeting would take place at Helstone parsonage,
rather than, during the confusion of the last two or three days, in the
house in Harley Street, where she herself had had to play the part of
Figaro, and was wanted everywhere at one and the same time. Her mind and
body ached now with the recollection of all she had done and said within
the last forty-eight hours. The farewells so hurriedly taken, amongst
all the other good-byes, of those she had lived with so long, oppressed
her now with a sad regret for the times that were no more; it did not
signify what those times had been, they were gone never to return.
Margaret's heart felt more heavy than she could ever have thought it
possible in going to her own dear home, the place and the life she had
longed for for years--at that time of all times for yearning and
longing, just before the sharp senses lose their outlines in sleep. She
took her mind away with a wrench from the recollection of the past to
the bright serene contemplation of the hopeful future. Her eyes began to
see, not visions of what had been, but the sight actually before her;
her dear father leaning back asleep in the railway carriage. His
blue-black hair was grey now, and lay thinly over his brows. The bones
of his face were plainly to be seen--too plainly for beauty, if his
features had been less finely cut; as it was, they had a grace if not a
comeliness of their own. The face was in repose; but it was rather rest
after weariness, than the serene calm of the countenance of one who led
a placid, contented life. Margaret was painfully struck by the worn,
anxious expression; and she went back over the open and avowed
circumstances of her father's life, to find the cause for the lines that
spoke so plainly of habitual distress and depression.

'Poor Frederick!' thought she, sighing. 'Oh! if Frederick had but been a
clergyman, instead of going into the navy, and being lost to us all! I
wish I knew all about it. I never understood it from Aunt Shaw; I only
knew he could not come back to England because of that terrible affair.
Poor dear papa! how sad he looks! I am so glad I am going home, to be at
hand to comfort him and mamma.

She was ready with a bright smile, in which there was not a trace of
fatigue, to greet her father when he awakened. He smiled back again, but
faintly, as if it were an unusual exertion. His face returned into its
lines of habitual anxiety. He had a trick of half-opening his mouth as
if to speak, which constantly unsettled the form of the lips, and gave
the face an undecided expression. But he had the same large, soft eyes
as his daughter,--eyes which moved slowly and almost grandly round in
their orbits, and were well veiled by their transparent white eyelids.
Margaret was more like him than like her mother. Sometimes people
wondered that parents so handsome should have a daughter who was so far
from regularly beautiful; not beautiful at all, was occasionally said.
Her mouth was wide; no rosebud that could only open just enough to let
out a 'yes' and 'no,' and 'an't please you, sir.' But the wide mouth was
one soft curve of rich red lips; and the skin, if not white and fair,
was of an ivory smoothness and delicacy. If the look on her face was, in
general, too dignified and reserved for one so young, now, talking to
her father, it was bright as the morning,--full of dimples, and glances
that spoke of childish gladness, and boundless hope in the future.

It was the latter part of July when Margaret returned home. The forest
trees were all one dark, full, dusky green; the fern below them caught
all the slanting sunbeams; the weather was sultry and broodingly still.
Margaret used to tramp along by her father's side, crushing down the
fern with a cruel glee, as she felt it yield under her light foot, and
send up the fragrance peculiar to it,--out on the broad commons into the
warm scented light, seeing multitudes of wild, free, living creatures,
revelling in the sunshine, and the herbs and flowers it called forth.
This life--at least these walks--realised all Margaret's anticipations.
She took a pride in her forest. Its people were her people. She made
hearty friends with them; learned and delighted in using their peculiar
words; took up her freedom amongst them; nursed their babies; talked or
read with slow distinctness to their old people; carried dainty messes
to their sick; resolved before long to teach at the school, where her
father went every day as to an appointed task, but she was continually
tempted off to go and see some individual friend--man, woman, or
child--in some cottage in the green shade of the forest. Her
out-of-doors life was perfect. Her in-doors life had its drawbacks. With
the healthy shame of a child, she blamed herself for her keenness of
sight, in perceiving that all was not as it should be there. Her
mother--her mother always so kind and tender towards her--seemed now and
then so much discontented with their situation; thought that the bishop
strangely neglected his episcopal duties, in not giving Mr. Hale a
better living; and almost reproached her husband because he could not
bring himself to say that he wished to leave the parish, and undertake
the charge of a larger. He would sigh aloud as he answered, that if he
could do what he ought in little Helstone, he should be thankful; but
every day he was more overpowered; the world became more bewildering. At
each repeated urgency of his wife, that he would put himself in the way
of seeking some preferment, Margaret saw that her father shrank more and
more; and she strove at such times to reconcile her mother to Helstone.
Mrs. Hale said that the near neighbourhood of so many trees affected her
health; and Margaret would try to tempt her forth on to the beautiful,
broad, upland, sun-streaked, cloud-shadowed common; for she was sure
that her mother had accustomed herself too much to an in-doors life,
seldom extending her walks beyond the church, the school, and the
neighbouring cottages. This did good for a time; but when the autumn
drew on, and the weather became more changeable, her mother's idea of
the unhealthiness of the place increased; and she repined even more
frequently that her husband, who was more learned than Mr. Hume, a
better parish priest than Mr. Houldsworth, should not have met with the
preferment that these two former neighbours of theirs had done.

This marring of the peace of home, by long hours of discontent, was what
Margaret was unprepared for. She knew, and had rather revelled in the
idea, that she should have to give up many luxuries, which had only been
troubles and trammels to her freedom in Harley Street. Her keen
enjoyment of every sensuous pleasure, was balanced finely, if not
overbalanced, by her conscious pride in being able to do without them
all, if need were. But the cloud never comes in that quarter of the
horizon from which we watch for it. There had been slight complaints and
passing regrets on her mother's part, over some trifle connected with
Helstone, and her father's position there, when Margaret had been
spending her holidays at home before; but in the general happiness of
the recollection of those times, she had forgotten the small details
which were not so pleasant. In the latter half of September, the
autumnal rains and storms came on, and Margaret was obliged to remain
more in the house than she had hitherto done. Helstone was at some
distance from any neighbours of their own standard of cultivation.

'It is undoubtedly one of the most out-of-the-way places in England,'
said Mrs. Hale, in one of her plaintive moods. 'I can't help regretting
constantly that papa has really no one to associate with here; he is so
thrown away; seeing no one but farmers and labourers from week's end to
week's end. If we only lived at the other side of the parish, it would
be something; there we should be almost within walking distance of the
Stansfields; certainly the Gormans would be within a walk.'

'Gormans,' said Margaret. 'Are those the Gormans who made their fortunes
in trade at Southampton? Oh! I'm glad we don't visit them. I don't like
shoppy people. I think we are far better off, knowing only cottagers and
labourers, and people without pretence.'

'You must not be so fastidious, Margaret, dear!' said her mother,
secretly thinking of a young and handsome Mr. Gorman whom she had once
met at Mr. Hume's.

'No! I call mine a very comprehensive taste; I like all people whose
occupations have to do with land; I like soldiers and sailors, and the
three learned professions, as they call them. I'm sure you don't want me
to admire butchers and bakers, and candlestick-makers, do you, mamma?'

'But the Gormans were neither butchers nor bakers, but very respectable
coach-builders.'

'Very well. Coach-building is a trade all the same, and I think a much
more useless one than that of butchers or bakers. Oh! how tired I used
to be of the drives every day in Aunt Shaw's carriage, and how I longed
to walk!'

And walk Margaret did, in spite of the weather. She was so happy out of
doors, at her father's side, that she almost danced; and with the soft
violence of the west wind behind her, as she crossed some heath, she
seemed to be borne onwards, as lightly and easily as the fallen leaf
that was wafted along by the autumnal breeze. But the evenings were
rather difficult to fill up agreeably. Immediately after tea her father
withdrew into his small library, and she and her mother were left alone.
Mrs. Hale had never cared much for books, and had discouraged her
husband, very early in their married life, in his desire of reading
aloud to her, while she worked. At one time they had tried backgammon as
a resource; but as Mr. Hale grew to take an increasing interest in his
school and his parishioners, he found that the interruptions which arose
out of these duties were regarded as hardships by his wife, not to be
accepted as the natural conditions of his profession, but to be
regretted and struggled against by her as they severally arose. So he
withdrew, while the children were yet young, into his library, to spend
his evenings (if he were at home), in reading the speculative and
metaphysical books which were his delight.

When Margaret had been here before, she had brought down with her a
great box of books, recommended by masters or governess, and had found
the summer's day all too short to get through the reading she had to do
before her return to town. Now there were only the well-bound
little-read English Classics, which were weeded out of her father's
library to fill up the small book-shelves in the drawing-room. Thomson's
Seasons, Hayley's Cowper, Middleton's Cicero, were by far the lightest,
newest, and most amusing. The book-shelves did not afford much resource.
Margaret told her mother every particular of her London life, to all of
which Mrs. Hale listened with interest, sometimes amused and
questioning, at others a little inclined to compare her sister's
circumstances of ease and comfort with the narrower means at Helstone
vicarage. On such evenings Margaret was apt to stop talking rather
abruptly, and listen to the drip-drip of the rain upon the leads of the
little bow-window. Once or twice Margaret found herself mechanically
counting the repetition of the monotonous sound, while she wondered if
she might venture to put a question on a subject very near to her heart,
and ask where Frederick was now; what he was doing; how long it was
since they had heard from him. But a consciousness that her mother's
delicate health, and positive dislike to Helstone, all dated from the
time of the mutiny in which Frederick had been engaged,--the full
account of which Margaret had never heard, and which now seemed doomed
to be buried in sad oblivion,--made her pause and turn away from the
subject each time she approached it. When she was with her mother, her
father seemed the best person to apply to for information; and when with
him, she thought that she could speak more easily to her mother.
Probably there was nothing much to be heard that was new. In one of the
letters she had received before leaving Harley Street, her father had
told her that they had heard from Frederick; he was still at Rio, and
very well in health, and sent his best love to her; which was dry bones,
but not the living intelligence she longed for. Frederick was always
spoken of, in the rare times when his name was mentioned, as 'Poor
Frederick.' His room was kept exactly as he had left it; and was
regularly dusted, and put into order by Dixon, Mrs. Hale's maid, who
touched no other part of the household work, but always remembered the
day when she had been engaged by Lady Beresford as ladies' maid to Sir
John's wards, the pretty Miss Beresfords, the belles of Rutlandshire.
Dixon had always considered Mr. Hale as the blight which had fallen upon
her young lady's prospects in life. If Miss Beresford had not been in
such a hurry to marry a poor country clergyman, there was no knowing
what she might not have become. But Dixon was too loyal to desert her in
her affliction and downfall (alias her married life). She remained with
her, and was devoted to her interests; always considering herself as the
good and protecting fairy, whose duty it was to baffle the malignant
giant, Mr. Hale. Master Frederick had been her favorite and pride; and
it was with a little softening of her dignified look and manner, that
she went in weekly to arrange the chamber as carefully as if he might be
coming home that very evening. Margaret could not help believing that
there had been some late intelligence of Frederick, unknown to her
mother, which was making her father anxious and uneasy. Mrs. Hale did
not seem to perceive any alteration in her husband's looks or ways. His
spirits were always tender and gentle, readily affected by any small
piece of intelligence concerning the welfare of others. He would be
depressed for many days after witnessing a death-bed, or hearing of any
crime. But now Margaret noticed an absence of mind, as if his thoughts
were pre-occupied by some subject, the oppression of which could not be
relieved by any daily action, such as comforting the survivors, or
teaching at the school in hope of lessening the evils in the generation
to come. Mr. Hale did not go out among his parishioners as much as
usual; he was more shut up in his study; was anxious for the village
postman, whose summons to the house-hold was a rap on the back-kitchen
window-shutter--a signal which at one time had often to be repeated
before any one was sufficiently alive to the hour of the day to
understand what it was, and attend to him. Now Mr. Hale loitered about
the garden if the morning was fine, and if not, stood dreamily by the
study window until the postman had called, or gone down the lane, giving
a half-respectful, half-confidential shake of the head to the parson,
who watched him away beyond the sweet-briar hedge, and past the great
arbutus, before he turned into the room to begin his day's work, with
all the signs of a heavy heart and an occupied mind.

But Margaret was at an age when any apprehension, not absolutely based
on a knowledge of facts, is easily banished for a time by a bright sunny
day, or some happy outward circumstance. And when the brilliant fourteen
fine days of October came on, her cares were all blown away as lightly
as thistledown, and she thought of nothing but the glories of the
forest. The fern-harvest was over, and now that the rain was gone, many
a deep glade was accessible, into which Margaret had only peeped in July
and August weather. She had learnt drawing with Edith; and she had
sufficiently regretted, during the gloom of the bad weather, her idle
revelling in the beauty of the woodlands while it had yet been fine, to
make her determined to sketch what she could before winter fairly set
in. Accordingly, she was busy preparing her board one morning, when
Sarah, the housemaid, threw wide open the drawing-room door and
announced, 'Mr. Henry Lennox.'



CHAPTER III

'THE MORE HASTE THE WORSE SPEED'

    'Learn to win a lady's faith
     Nobly, as the thing is high;
     Bravely, as for life and death--
     With a loyal gravity.

     Lead her from the festive boards,
     Point her to the starry skies,
     Guard her, by your truthful words,
     Pure from courtship's flatteries.'
             MRS. BROWNING.


'Mr. Henry Lennox.' Margaret had been thinking of him only a moment
before, and remembering his inquiry into her probable occupations at
home. It was 'parler du soleil et l'on en voit les rayons;' and the
brightness of the sun came over Margaret's face as she put down her
board, and went forward to shake hands with him. 'Tell mamma, Sarah,'
said she. 'Mamma and I want to ask you so many questions about Edith; I
am so much obliged to you for coming.'

'Did not I say that I should?' asked he, in a lower tone than that in
which she had spoken.

'But I heard of you so far away in the Highlands that I never thought
Hampshire could come in.

'Oh!' said he, more lightly, 'our young couple were playing such foolish
pranks, running all sorts of risks, climbing this mountain, sailing on
that lake, that I really thought they needed a Mentor to take care of
them. And indeed they did; they were quite beyond my uncle's management,
and kept the old gentleman in a panic for sixteen hours out of the
twenty-four. Indeed, when I once saw how unfit they were to be trusted
alone, I thought it my duty not to leave them till I had seen them
safely embarked at Plymouth.'

'Have you been at Plymouth? Oh! Edith never named that. To be sure, she
has written in such a hurry lately. Did they really sail on Tuesday?'

'Really sailed, and relieved me from many responsibilities. Edith gave
me all sorts of messages for you. I believe I have a little diminutive
note somewhere; yes, here it is.'

'Oh! thank you,' exclaimed Margaret; and then, half wishing to read it
alone and unwatched, she made the excuse of going to tell her mother
again (Sarah surely had made some mistake) that Mr. Lennox was there.

When she had left the room, he began in his scrutinising way to look
about him. The little drawing-room was looking its best in the streaming
light of the morning sun. The middle window in the bow was opened, and
clustering roses and the scarlet honeysuckle came peeping round the
corner; the small lawn was gorgeous with verbenas and geraniums of all
bright colours. But the very brightness outside made the colours within
seem poor and faded. The carpet was far from new; the chintz had been
often washed; the whole apartment was smaller and shabbier than he had
expected, as back-ground and frame-work for Margaret, herself so
queenly. He took up one of the books lying on the table; it was the
Paradiso of Dante, in the proper old Italian binding of white vellum and
gold; by it lay a dictionary, and some words copied out in Margaret's
hand-writing. They were a dull list of words, but somehow he liked
looking at them. He put them down with a sigh.

'The living is evidently as small as she said. It seems strange, for the
Beresfords belong to a good family.'

Margaret meanwhile had found her mother. It was one of Mrs. Hale's
fitful days, when everything was a difficulty and a hardship; and Mr.
Lennox's appearance took this shape, although secretly she felt
complimented by his thinking it worth while to call.

'It is most unfortunate! We are dining early to-day, and having nothing
but cold meat, in order that the servants may get on with their ironing;
and yet, of course, we must ask him to dinner--Edith's brother-in-law
and all. And your papa is in such low spirits this morning about
something--I don't know what. I went into the study just now, and he had
his face on the table, covering it with his hands. I told him I was sure
Helstone air did not agree with him any more than with me, and he
suddenly lifted up his head, and begged me not to speak a word more
against Helstone, he could not bear it; if there was one place he loved
on earth it was Helstone. But I am sure, for all that, it is the damp
and relaxing air.'

Margaret felt as if a thin cold cloud had come between her and the sun.
She had listened patiently, in hopes that it might be some relief to her
mother to unburden herself; but now it was time to draw her back to Mr.
Lennox.

'Papa likes Mr. Lennox; they got on together famously at the wedding
breakfast. I dare say his coming will do papa good. And never mind the
dinner, dear mamma. Cold meat will do capitally for a lunch, which is
the light in which Mr. Lennox will most likely look upon a two o'clock
dinner.'

'But what are we to do with him till then? It is only half-past ten
now.'

'I'll ask him to go out sketching with me. I know he draws, and that
will take him out of your way, mamma. Only do come in now; he will think
it so strange if you don't.'

Mrs. Hale took off her black silk apron, and smoothed her face. She
looked a very pretty lady-like woman, as she greeted Mr. Lennox with the
cordiality due to one who was almost a relation. He evidently expected
to be asked to spend the day, and accepted the invitation with a glad
readiness that made Mrs. Hale wish she could add something to the cold
beef. He was pleased with everything; delighted with Margaret's idea of
going out sketching together; would not have Mr. Hale disturbed for the
world, with the prospect of so soon meeting him at dinner. Margaret
brought out her drawing materials for him to choose from; and after the
paper and brushes had been duly selected, the two set out in the
merriest spirits in the world.

'Now, please, just stop here for a minute or two, said Margaret. 'These
are the cottages that haunted me so during the rainy fortnight,
reproaching me for not having sketched them.'

'Before they tumbled down and were no more seen. Truly, if they are to
be sketched--and they are very picturesque--we had better not put it off
till next year. But where shall we sit?'

'Oh! You might have come straight from chambers in the Temple,' instead
of having been two months in the Highlands! Look at this beautiful trunk
of a tree, which the wood-cutters have left just in the right place for
the light. I will put my plaid over it, and it will be a regular forest
throne.'

'With your feet in that puddle for a regal footstool! Stay, I will move,
and then you can come nearer this way. Who lives in these cottages?'

'They were built by squatters fifty or sixty years ago. One is
uninhabited; the foresters are going to take it down, as soon as the old
man who lives in the other is dead, poor old fellow! Look--there he
is--I must go and speak to him. He is so deaf you will hear all our
secrets.'

The old man stood bareheaded in the sun, leaning on his stick at the
front of his cottage. His stiff features relaxed into a slow smile as
Margaret went up and spoke to him. Mr. Lennox hastily introduced the two
figures into his sketch, and finished up the landscape with a
subordinate reference to them--as Margaret perceived, when the time came
for getting up, putting away water, and scraps of paper, and exhibiting
to each other their sketches. She laughed and blushed: Mr. Lennox
watched her countenance.

'Now, I call that treacherous,' said she. 'I little thought you were
making old Isaac and me into subjects, when you told me to ask him the
history of these cottages.'

'It was irresistible. You can't know how strong a temptation it was. I
hardly dare tell you how much I shall like this sketch.'

He was not quite sure whether she heard this latter sentence before she
went to the brook to wash her palette. She came back rather flushed, but
looking perfectly innocent and unconscious. He was glad of it, for the
speech had slipped from him unawares--a rare thing in the case of a man
who premeditated his actions so much as Henry Lennox.

The aspect of home was all right and bright when they reached it. The
clouds on her mother's brow had cleared off under the propitious
influence of a brace of carp, most opportunely presented by a neighbour.
Mr. Hale had returned from his morning's round, and was awaiting his
visitor just outside the wicket gate that led into the garden. He looked
a complete gentleman in his rather threadbare coat and well-worn hat.

Margaret was proud of her father; she had always a fresh and tender
pride in seeing how favourably he impressed every stranger; still her
quick eye sought over his face and found there traces of some unusual
disturbance, which was only put aside, not cleared away.

Mr. Hale asked to look at their sketches.

'I think you have made the tints on the thatch too dark, have you not?'
as he returned Margaret's to her, and held out his hand for Mr.
Lennox's, which was withheld from him one moment, no more.

'No, papa! I don't think I have. The house-leek and stone-crop have
grown so much darker in the rain. Is it not like, papa?' said she,
peeping over his shoulder, as he looked at the figures in Mr. Lennox's
drawing.

'Yes, very like. Your figure and way of holding yourself is capital. And
it is just poor old Isaac's stiff way of stooping his long rheumatic
back. What is this hanging from the branch of the tree? Not a bird's
nest, surely.'

'Oh no! that is my bonnet. I never can draw with my bonnet on; it makes
my head so hot. I wonder if I could manage figures. There are so many
people about here whom I should like to sketch.'

'I should say that a likeness you very much wish to take you would
always succeed in,' said Mr. Lennox. 'I have great faith in the power of
will. I think myself I have succeeded pretty well in yours.' Mr. Hale
had preceded them into the house, while Margaret was lingering to pluck
some roses, with which to adorn her morning gown for dinner.

'A regular London girl would understand the implied meaning of that
speech,' thought Mr. Lennox. 'She would be up to looking through every
speech that a young man made her for the arriere-pensee of a compliment.
But I don't believe Margaret,--Stay!' exclaimed he, 'Let me help you;'
and he gathered for her some velvety cramoisy roses that were above her
reach, and then dividing the spoil he placed two in his button-hole, and
sent her in, pleased and happy, to arrange her flowers.

The conversation at dinner flowed on quietly and agreeably. There were
plenty of questions to be asked on both sides--the latest intelligence
which each could give of Mrs. Shaw's movements in Italy to be exchanged;
and in the interest of what was said, the unpretending simplicity of the
parsonage-ways--above all, in the neighbourhood of Margaret, Mr. Lennox
forgot the little feeling of disappointment with which he had at first
perceived that she had spoken but the simple truth when she had
described her father's living as very small.

'Margaret, my child, you might have gathered us some pears for our
dessert,' said Mr. Hale, as the hospitable luxury of a freshly-decanted
bottle of wine was placed on the table.

Mrs. Hale was hurried. It seemed as if desserts were impromptu and
unusual things at the parsonage; whereas, if Mr. Hale would only have
looked behind him, he would have seen biscuits and marmalade, and what
not, all arranged in formal order on the sideboard. But the idea of
pears had taken possession of Mr. Hale's mind, and was not to be got rid
of.

'There are a few brown beurres against the south wall which are worth
all foreign fruits and preserves. Run, Margaret, and gather us some.'

'I propose that we adjourn into the garden, and eat them there' said Mr.
Lennox.

'Nothing is so delicious as to set one's teeth into the crisp, juicy
fruit, warm and scented by the sun. The worst is, the wasps are impudent
enough to dispute it with one, even at the very crisis and summit of
enjoyment.

He rose, as if to follow Margaret, who had disappeared through the
window he only awaited Mrs. Hale's permission. She would rather have
wound up the dinner in the proper way, and with all the ceremonies which
had gone on so smoothly hitherto, especially as she and Dixon had got
out the finger-glasses from the store-room on purpose to be as correct
as became General Shaw's widow's sister, but as Mr. Hale got up
directly, and prepared to accompany his guest, she could only submit.

'I shall arm myself with a knife,' said Mr. Hale: 'the days of eating
fruit so primitively as you describe are over with me. I must pare it
and quarter it before I can enjoy it.'

Margaret made a plate for the pears out of a beetroot leaf, which threw
up their brown gold colour admirably. Mr. Lennox looked more at her than
at the pears; but her father, inclined to cull fastidiously the very
zest and perfection of the hour he had stolen from his anxiety, chose
daintily the ripest fruit, and sat down on the garden bench to enjoy it
at his leisure. Margaret and Mr. Lennox strolled along the little
terrace-walk under the south wall, where the bees still hummed and
worked busily in their hives.

'What a perfect life you seem to live here! I have always felt rather
contemptuously towards the poets before, with their wishes, "Mine be a
cot beside a hill," and that sort of thing: but now I am afraid that the
truth is, I have been nothing better than a cockney. Just now I feel as
if twenty years' hard study of law would be amply rewarded by one year
of such an exquisite serene life as this--such skies!' looking up--'such
crimson and amber foliage, so perfectly motionless as that!' pointing to
some of the great forest trees which shut in the garden as if it were a
nest.

'You must please to remember that our skies are not always as deep a
blue as they are now. We have rain, and our leaves do fall, and get
sodden: though I think Helstone is about as perfect a place as any in
the world. Recollect how you rather scorned my description of it one
evening in Harley Street: "a village in a tale."'

'Scorned, Margaret! That is rather a hard word.'

'Perhaps it is. Only I know I should have liked to have talked to you of
what I was very full at the time, and you--what must I call it,
then?--spoke disrespectfully of Helstone as a mere village in a tale.'

'I will never do so again,' said he, warmly. They turned the corner of
the walk.

'I could almost wish, Margaret---- ' he stopped and hesitated. It was so
unusual for the fluent lawyer to hesitate that Margaret looked up at
him, in a little state of questioning wonder; but in an instant--from
what about him she could not tell--she wished herself back with her
mother--her father--anywhere away from him, for she was sure he was
going to say something to which she should not know what to reply. In
another moment the strong pride that was in her came to conquer her
sudden agitation, which she hoped he had not perceived. Of course she
could answer, and answer the right thing; and it was poor and despicable
of her to shrink from hearing any speech, as if she had not power to put
an end to it with her high maidenly dignity.

'Margaret,' said he, taking her by surprise, and getting sudden
possession of her hand, so that she was forced to stand still and
listen, despising herself for the fluttering at her heart all the time;
'Margaret, I wish you did not like Helstone so much--did not seem so
perfectly calm and happy here. I have been hoping for these three months
past to find you regretting London--and London friends, a little--enough
to make you listen more kindly' (for she was quietly, but firmly,
striving to extricate her hand from his grasp) 'to one who has not much
to offer, it is true--nothing but prospects in the future--but who does
love you, Margaret, almost in spite of himself. Margaret, have I
startled you too much? Speak!' For he saw her lips quivering almost as
if she were going to cry. She made a strong effort to be calm; she would
not speak till she had succeeded in mastering her voice, and then she
said:

'I was startled. I did not know that you cared for me in that way. I
have always thought of you as a friend; and, please, I would rather go
on thinking of you so. I don't like to be spoken to as you have been
doing. I cannot answer you as you want me to do, and yet I should feel
so sorry if I vexed you.'

'Margaret,' said he, looking into her eyes, which met his with their
open, straight look, expressive of the utmost good faith and reluctance
to give pain.

'Do you'--he was going to say--'love any one else?' But it seemed as if
this question would be an insult to the pure serenity of those eyes.
'Forgive me I have been too abrupt. I am punished. Only let me hope.
Give me the poor comfort of telling me you have never seen any one whom
you could---- ' Again a pause. He could not end his sentence. Margaret
reproached herself acutely as the cause of his distress.

'Ah! if you had but never got this fancy into your head! It was such a
pleasure to think of you as a friend.'

'But I may hope, may I not, Margaret, that some time you will think of
me as a lover? Not yet, I see--there is no hurry--but some time---- '
She was silent for a minute or two, trying to discover the truth as it
was in her own heart, before replying; then she said:

'I have never thought of--you, but as a friend. I like to think of you
so; but I am sure I could never think of you as anything else. Pray, let
us both forget that all this' ('disagreeable,' she was going to say, but
stopped short) 'conversation has taken place.'

He paused before he replied. Then, in his habitual coldness of tone, he
answered:

'Of course, as your feelings are so decided, and as this conversation
has been so evidently unpleasant to you, it had better not be
remembered. That is all very fine in theory, that plan of forgetting
whatever is painful, but it will be somewhat difficult for me, at least,
to carry it into execution.'

'You are vexed,' said she, sadly; 'yet how can I help it?'

She looked so truly grieved as she said this, that he struggled for a
moment with his real disappointment, and then answered more cheerfully,
but still with a little hardness in his tone:

'You should make allowances for the mortification, not only of a lover,
Margaret, but of a man not given to romance in general--prudent,
worldly, as some people call me--who has been carried out of his usual
habits by the force of a passion--well, we will say no more of that; but
in the one outlet which he has formed for the deeper and better feelings
of his nature, he meets with rejection and repulse. I shall have to
console myself with scorning my own folly. A struggling barrister to
think of matrimony!'

Margaret could not answer this. The whole tone of it annoyed her. It
seemed to touch on and call out all the points of difference which had
often repelled her in him; while yet he was the pleasantest man, the
most sympathising friend, the person of all others who understood her
best in Harley Street. She felt a tinge of contempt mingle itself with
her pain at having refused him. Her beautiful lip curled in a slight
disdain. It was well that, having made the round of the garden, they
came suddenly upon Mr. Hale, whose whereabouts had been quite forgotten
by them. He had not yet finished the pear, which he had delicately
peeled in one long strip of silver-paper thinness, and which he was
enjoying in a deliberate manner. It was like the story of the eastern
king, who dipped his head into a basin of water, at the magician's
command, and ere he instantly took it out went through the experience of
a lifetime. Margaret felt stunned, and unable to recover her
self-possession enough to join in the trivial conversation that ensued
between her father and Mr. Lennox. She was grave, and little disposed to
speak; full of wonder when Mr. Lennox would go, and allow her to relax
into thought on the events of the last quarter of an hour. He was almost
as anxious to take his departure as she was for him to leave; but a few
minutes light and careless talking, carried on at whatever effort, was a
sacrifice which he owed to his mortified vanity, or his self-respect. He
glanced from time to time at her sad and pensive face.

'I am not so indifferent to her as she believes,' thought he to himself.
'I do not give up hope.'

Before a quarter of an hour was over, he had fallen into a way of
conversing with quiet sarcasm; speaking of life in London and life in
the country, as if he were conscious of his second mocking self, and
afraid of his own satire. Mr. Hale was puzzled. His visitor was a
different man to what he had seen him before at the wedding-breakfast,
and at dinner to-day; a lighter, cleverer, more worldly man, and, as
such, dissonant to Mr. Hale. It was a relief to all three when Mr.
Lennox said that he must go directly if he meant to catch the five
o'clock train. They proceeded to the house to find Mrs. Hale, and wish
her good-bye. At the last moment, Henry Lennox's real self broke through
the crust.

'Margaret, don't despise me; I have a heart, notwithstanding all this
good-for-nothing way of talking. As a proof of it, I believe I love you
more than ever--if I do not hate you--for the disdain with which you
have listened to me during this last half-hour. Good-bye,
Margaret--Margaret!'



CHAPTER IV

DOUBTS AND DIFFICULTIES

    'Cast me upon some naked shore,
     Where I may tracke
     Only the print of some sad wracke,
     If thou be there, though the seas roare,
     I shall no gentler calm implore.'
             HABINGTON.


He was gone. The house was shut up for the evening. No more deep blue
skies or crimson and amber tints. Margaret went up to dress for the
early tea, finding Dixon in a pretty temper from the interruption which
a visitor had naturally occasioned on a busy day. She showed it by
brushing away viciously at Margaret's hair, under pretence of being in a
great hurry to go to Mrs. Hale. Yet, after all, Margaret had to wait a
long time in the drawing-room before her mother came down. She sat by
herself at the fire, with unlighted candles on the table behind her,
thinking over the day, the happy walk, happy sketching, cheerful
pleasant dinner, and the uncomfortable, miserable walk in the garden.

How different men were to women! Here was she disturbed and unhappy,
because her instinct had made anything but a refusal impossible; while
he, not many minutes after he had met with a rejection of what ought to
have been the deepest, holiest proposal of his life, could speak as if
briefs, success, and all its superficial consequences of a good house,
clever and agreeable society, were the sole avowed objects of his
desires. Oh dear! how she could have loved him if he had but been
different, with a difference which she felt, on reflection, to be one
that went low--deep down. Then she took it into her head that, after
all, his lightness might be but assumed, to cover a bitterness of
disappointment which would have been stamped on her own heart if she had
loved and been rejected.

Her mother came into the room before this whirl of thoughts was adjusted
into anything like order. Margaret had to shake off the recollections of
what had been done and said through the day, and turn a sympathising
listener to the account of how Dixon had complained that the
ironing-blanket had been burnt again; and how Susan Lightfoot had been
seen with artificial flowers in her bonnet, thereby giving evidence of a
vain and giddy character. Mr. Hale sipped his tea in abstracted silence;
Margaret had the responses all to herself. She wondered how her father
and mother could be so forgetful, so regardless of their companion
through the day, as never to mention his name. She forgot that he had
not made them an offer.

After tea Mr. Hale got up, and stood with his elbow on the
chimney-piece, leaning his head on his hand, musing over something, and
from time to time sighing deeply. Mrs. Hale went out to consult with
Dixon about some winter clothing for the poor. Margaret was preparing
her mother's worsted work, and rather shrinking from the thought of the
long evening, and wishing bed-time were come that she might go over the
events of the day again.

'Margaret!' said Mr. Hale, at last, in a sort of sudden desperate way,
that made her start. 'Is that tapestry thing of immediate consequence? I
mean, can you leave it and come into my study? I want to speak to you
about something very serious to us all.'

'Very serious to us all.' Mr. Lennox had never had the opportunity of
having any private conversation with her father after her refusal, or
else that would indeed be a very serious affair. In the first place,
Margaret felt guilty and ashamed of having grown so much into a woman as
to be thought of in marriage; and secondly, she did not know if her
father might not be displeased that she had taken upon herself to
decline Mr. Lennox's proposal. But she soon felt it was not about
anything, which having only lately and suddenly occurred, could have
given rise to any complicated thoughts, that her father wished to speak
to her. He made her take a chair by him; he stirred the fire, snuffed
the candles, and sighed once or twice before he could make up his mind
to say--and it came out with a jerk after all--'Margaret! I am going to
leave Helstone.'

'Leave Helstone, papa! But why?'

Mr. Hale did not answer for a minute or two. He played with some papers
on the table in a nervous and confused manner, opening his lips to speak
several times, but closing them again without having the courage to
utter a word. Margaret could not bear the sight of the suspense, which
was even more distressing to her father than to herself.

'But why, dear papa? Do tell me!'

He looked up at her suddenly, and then said with a slow and enforced
calmness:

'Because I must no longer be a minister in the Church of England.'

Margaret had imagined nothing less than that some of the preferments
which her mother so much desired had befallen her father at
last--something that would force him to leave beautiful, beloved
Helstone, and perhaps compel him to go and live in some of the stately
and silent Closes which Margaret had seen from time to time in cathedral
towns. They were grand and imposing places, but if, to go there, it was
necessary to leave Helstone as a home for ever, that would have been a
sad, long, lingering pain. But nothing to the shock she received from
Mr. Hale's last speech. What could he mean? It was all the worse for
being so mysterious. The aspect of piteous distress on his face, almost
as imploring a merciful and kind judgment from his child, gave her a
sudden sickening. Could he have become implicated in anything Frederick
had done? Frederick was an outlaw. Had her father, out of a natural love
for his son, connived at any--

'Oh! what is it? do speak, papa! tell me all! Why can you no longer be a
clergyman? Surely, if the bishop were told all we know about Frederick,
and the hard, unjust--'

'It is nothing about Frederick; the bishop would have nothing to do with
that. It is all myself. Margaret, I will tell you about it. I will
answer any questions this once, but after to-night let us never speak of
it again. I can meet the consequences of my painful, miserable doubts;
but it is an effort beyond me to speak of what has caused me so much
suffering.'

'Doubts, papa! Doubts as to religion?' asked Margaret, more shocked than
ever.

'No! not doubts as to religion; not the slightest injury to that.' He
paused. Margaret sighed, as if standing on the verge of some new horror.
He began again, speaking rapidly, as if to get over a set task:

'You could not understand it all, if I told you--my anxiety, for years
past, to know whether I had any right to hold my living--my efforts to
quench my smouldering doubts by the authority of the Church. Oh!
Margaret, how I love the holy Church from which I am to be shut out!' He
could not go on for a moment or two. Margaret could not tell what to
say; it seemed to her as terribly mysterious as if her father were about
to turn Mahometan.

'I have been reading to-day of the two thousand who were ejected from
their churches,'--continued Mr. Hale, smiling faintly,--'trying to steal
some of their bravery; but it is of no use--no use--I cannot help
feeling it acutely.'

'But, papa, have you well considered? Oh! it seems so terrible, so
shocking,' said Margaret, suddenly bursting into tears. The one staid
foundation of her home, of her idea of her beloved father, seemed
reeling and rocking. What could she say? What was to be done? The sight
of her distress made Mr. Hale nerve himself, in order to try and comfort
her. He swallowed down the dry choking sobs which had been heaving up
from his heart hitherto, and going to his bookcase he took down a
volume, which he had often been reading lately, and from which he
thought he had derived strength to enter upon the course in which he was
now embarked.

'Listen, dear Margaret,' said he, putting one arm round her waist. She
took his hand in hers and grasped it tight, but she could not lift up
her head; nor indeed could she attend to what he read, so great was her
internal agitation.

'This is the soliloquy of one who was once a clergyman in a country
parish, like me; it was written by a Mr. Oldfield, minister of
Carsington, in Derbyshire, a hundred and sixty years ago, or more. His
trials are over. He fought the good fight.' These last two sentences he
spoke low, as if to himself. Then he read aloud,--

'When thou canst no longer continue in thy work without dishonour to
God, discredit to religion, foregoing thy integrity, wounding
conscience, spoiling thy peace, and hazarding the loss of thy salvation;
in a word, when the conditions upon which thou must continue (if thou
wilt continue) in thy employments are sinful, and unwarranted by the
word of God, thou mayest, yea, thou must believe that God will turn thy
very silence, suspension, deprivation, and laying aside, to His glory,
and the advancement of the Gospel's interest. When God will not use thee
in one kind, yet He will in another. A soul that desires to serve and
honour Him shall never want opportunity to do it; nor must thou so limit
the Holy One of Israel as to think He hath but one way in which He can
glorify Himself by thee. He can do it by thy silence as well as by thy
preaching; thy laying aside as well as thy continuance in thy work. It
is not pretence of doing God the greatest service, or performing the
weightiest duty, that will excuse the least sin, though that sin
capacitated or gave us the opportunity for doing that duty. Thou wilt
have little thanks, O my soul! if, when thou art charged with corrupting
God's worship, falsifying thy vows, thou pretendest a necessity for it
in order to a continuance in the ministry. As he read this, and glanced
at much more which he did not read, he gained resolution for himself,
and felt as if he too could be brave and firm in doing what he believed
to be right; but as he ceased he heard Margaret's low convulsive sob;
and his courage sank down under the keen sense of suffering.

'Margaret, dear!' said he, drawing her closer, 'think of the early
martyrs; think of the thousands who have suffered.'

'But, father,' said she, suddenly lifting up her flushed, tear-wet face,
'the early martyrs suffered for the truth, while you--oh! dear, dear
papa!'

'I suffer for conscience' sake, my child,' said he, with a dignity that
was only tremulous from the acute sensitiveness of his character; 'I
must do what my conscience bids. I have borne long with self-reproach
that would have roused any mind less torpid and cowardly than mine.' He
shook his head as he went on. 'Your poor mother's fond wish, gratified
at last in the mocking way in which over-fond wishes are too often
fulfilled--Sodom apples as they are--has brought on this crisis, for
which I ought to be, and I hope I am thankful. It is not a month since
the bishop offered me another living; if I had accepted it, I should
have had to make a fresh declaration of conformity to the Liturgy at my
institution. Margaret, I tried to do it; I tried to content myself with
simply refusing the additional preferment, and stopping quietly
here,--strangling my conscience now, as I had strained it before. God
forgive me!'

He rose and walked up and down the room, speaking low words of
self-reproach and humiliation, of which Margaret was thankful to hear
but few. At last he said,

'Margaret, I return to the old sad burden we must leave Helstone.'

'Yes! I see. But when?'

'I have written to the bishop--I dare say I have told you so, but I
forget things just now,' said Mr. Hale, collapsing into his depressed
manner as soon as he came to talk of hard matter-of-fact details,
'informing him of my intention to resign this vicarage. He has been most
kind; he has used arguments and expostulations, all in vain--in vain.
They are but what I have tried upon myself, without avail. I shall have
to take my deed of resignation, and wait upon the bishop myself, to bid
him farewell. That will be a trial, but worse, far worse, will be the
parting from my dear people. There is a curate appointed to read
prayers--a Mr. Brown. He will come to stay with us to-morrow. Next
Sunday I preach my farewell sermon.'

Was it to be so sudden then? thought Margaret; and yet perhaps it was as
well. Lingering would only add stings to the pain; it was better to be
stunned into numbness by hearing of all these arrangements, which seemed
to be nearly completed before she had been told. 'What does mamma say?'
asked she, with a deep sigh.

To her surprise, her father began to walk about again before he
answered. At length he stopped and replied:

'Margaret, I am a poor coward after all. I cannot bear to give pain. I
know so well your mother's married life has not been all she hoped--all
she had a right to expect--and this will be such a blow to her, that I
have never had the heart, the power to tell her. She must be told
though, now,' said he, looking wistfully at his daughter. Margaret was
almost overpowered with the idea that her mother knew nothing of it all,
and yet the affair was so far advanced!

'Yes, indeed she must,' said Margaret. 'Perhaps, after all, she may
not--Oh yes! she will, she must be shocked'--as the force of the blow
returned upon herself in trying to realise how another would take it.
'Where are we to go to?' said she at last, struck with a fresh wonder as
to their future plans, if plans indeed her father had.

'To Milton-Northern,' he answered, with a dull indifference, for he had
perceived that, although his daughter's love had made her cling to him,
and for a moment strive to soothe him with her love, yet the keenness of
the pain was as fresh as ever in her mind.

'Milton-Northern! The manufacturing town in Darkshire?'

'Yes,' said he, in the same despondent, indifferent way.

'Why there, papa?' asked she.

'Because there I can earn bread for my family. Because I know no one
there, and no one knows Helstone, or can ever talk to me about it.'

'Bread for your family! I thought you and mamma had'--and then she
stopped, checking her natural interest regarding their future life, as
she saw the gathering gloom on her father's brow. But he, with his quick
intuitive sympathy, read in her face, as in a mirror, the reflections of
his own moody depression, and turned it off with an effort.

'You shall be told all, Margaret. Only help me to tell your mother. I
think I could do anything but that: the idea of her distress turns me
sick with dread. If I tell you all, perhaps you could break it to her
to-morrow. I am going out for the day, to bid Farmer Dobson and the poor
people on Bracy Common good-bye. Would you dislike breaking it to her
very much, Margaret?'

Margaret did dislike it, did shrink from it more than from anything she
had ever had to do in her life before. She could not speak, all at once.
Her father said, 'You dislike it very much, don't you, Margaret?' Then
she conquered herself, and said, with a bright strong look on her face:

'It is a painful thing, but it must be done, and I will do it as well as
ever I can. You must have many painful things to do.'

Mr. Hale shook his head despondingly: he pressed her hand in token of
gratitude. Margaret was nearly upset again into a burst of crying. To
turn her thoughts, she said: 'Now tell me, papa, what our plans are. You
and mamma have some money, independent of the income from the living,
have not you? Aunt Shaw has, I know.'

'Yes. I suppose we have about a hundred and seventy pounds a year of our
own. Seventy of that has always gone to Frederick, since he has been
abroad. I don't know if he wants it all,' he continued in a hesitating
manner. 'He must have some pay for serving with the Spanish army.'

'Frederick must not suffer,' said Margaret, decidedly; 'in a foreign
country; so unjustly treated by his own. A hundred is left. Could not
you, and I, and mamma live on a hundred a year in some very cheap--very
quiet part of England? Oh! I think we could.'

'No!' said Mr. Hale. 'That would not answer. I must do something. I must
make myself busy, to keep off morbid thoughts. Besides, in a country
parish I should be so painfully reminded of Helstone, and my duties
here. I could not bear it, Margaret. And a hundred a year would go a
very little way, after the necessary wants of housekeeping are met,
towards providing your mother with all the comforts she has been
accustomed to, and ought to have. No: we must go to Milton. That is
settled. I can always decide better by myself, and not influenced by
those whom I love,' said he, as a half apology for having arranged so
much before he had told any one of his family of his intentions. 'I
cannot stand objections. They make me so undecided.'

Margaret resolved to keep silence. After all, what did it signify where
they went, compared to the one terrible change?

Mr. Hale continued: 'A few months ago, when my misery of doubt became
more than I could bear without speaking, I wrote to Mr. Bell--you
remember Mr. Bell, Margaret?'

'No; I never saw him, I think. But I know who he is. Frederick's
godfather--your old tutor at Oxford, don't you mean?'

'Yes. He is a Fellow of Plymouth College there. He is a native of
Milton-Northern, I believe. At any rate, he has property there, which
has very much increased in value since Milton has become such a large
manufacturing town. Well, I had reason to suspect--to imagine--I had
better say nothing about it, however. But I felt sure of sympathy from
Mr. Bell. I don't know that he gave me much strength. He has lived an
easy life in his college all his days. But he has been as kind as can
be. And it is owing to him we are going to Milton.'

'How?' said Margaret.

'Why he has tenants, and houses, and mills there; so, though he dislikes
the place--too bustling for one of his habits--he is obliged to keep up
some sort of connection; and he tells me that he hears there is a good
opening for a private tutor there.'

'A private tutor!' said Margaret, looking scornful: 'What in the world
do manufacturers want with the classics, or literature, or the
accomplishments of a gentleman?'

'Oh,' said her father, 'some of them really seem to be fine fellows,
conscious of their own deficiencies, which is more than many a man at
Oxford is. Some want resolutely to learn, though they have come to man's
estate. Some want their children to be better instructed than they
themselves have been. At any rate, there is an opening, as I have said,
for a private tutor. Mr. Bell has recommended me to a Mr. Thornton, a
tenant of his, and a very intelligent man, as far as I can judge from
his letters. And in Milton, Margaret, I shall find a busy life, if not a
happy one, and people and scenes so different that I shall never be
reminded of Helstone.'

There was the secret motive, as Margaret knew from her own feelings. It
would be different. Discordant as it was--with almost a detestation for
all she had ever heard of the North of England, the manufacturers, the
people, the wild and bleak country--there was this one
recommendation--it would be different from Helstone, and could never
remind them of that beloved place.

'When do we go?' asked Margaret, after a short silence.

'I do not know exactly. I wanted to talk it over with you. You see, your
mother knows nothing about it yet: but I think, in a fortnight;--after
my deed of resignation is sent in, I shall have no right to remain.

Margaret was almost stunned.

'In a fortnight!'

'No--no, not exactly to a day. Nothing is fixed,' said her father, with
anxious hesitation, as he noticed the filmy sorrow that came over her
eyes, and the sudden change in her complexion. But she recovered herself
immediately.

'Yes, papa, it had better be fixed soon and decidedly, as you say. Only
mamma to know nothing about it! It is that that is the great
perplexity.'

'Poor Maria!' replied Mr. Hale, tenderly. 'Poor, poor Maria! Oh, if I
were not married--if I were but myself in the world, how easy it would
be! As it is--Margaret, I dare not tell her!'

'No,' said Margaret, sadly, 'I will do it. Give me till to-morrow
evening to choose my time Oh, papa,' cried she, with sudden passionate
entreaty, 'say--tell me it is a night-mare--a horrid dream--not the real
waking truth! You cannot mean that you are really going to leave the
Church--to give up Helstone--to be for ever separate from me, from
mamma--led away by some delusion--some temptation! You do not really
mean it!'

Mr. Hale sat in rigid stillness while she spoke.

Then he looked her in the face, and said in a slow, hoarse, measured
way--'I do mean it, Margaret. You must not deceive yourself into
doubting the reality of my words--my fixed intention and resolve.' He
looked at her in the same steady, stony manner, for some moments after
he had done speaking. She, too, gazed back with pleading eyes before she
would believe that it was irrevocable. Then she arose and went, without
another word or look, towards the door. As her fingers were on the
handle he called her back. He was standing by the fireplace, shrunk and
stooping; but as she came near he drew himself up to his full height,
and, placing his hands on her head, he said, solemnly:

'The blessing of God be upon thee, my child!'

'And may He restore you to His Church,' responded she, out of the
fulness of her heart. The next moment she feared lest this answer to his
blessing might be irreverent, wrong--might hurt him as coming from his
daughter, and she threw her arms round his neck. He held her to him for
a minute or two. She heard him murmur to himself, 'The martyrs and
confessors had even more pain to bear--I will not shrink.'

They were startled by hearing Mrs. Hale inquiring for her daughter. They
started asunder in the full consciousness of all that was before them.
Mr. Hale hurriedly said--'Go, Margaret, go. I shall be out all
to-morrow. Before night you will have told your mother.'

'Yes,' she replied, and she returned to the drawing-room in a stunned
and dizzy state.



CHAPTER V

DECISION

    'I ask Thee for a thoughtful love,
     Through constant watching wise,
     To meet the glad with joyful smiles,
     And to wipe the weeping eyes;
     And a heart at leisure from itself
         To soothe and sympathise.'
             ANON.


Margaret made a good listener to all her mother's little plans for
adding some small comforts to the lot of the poorer parishioners. She
could not help listening, though each new project was a stab to her
heart. By the time the frost had set in, they should be far away from
Helstone. Old Simon's rheumatism might be bad and his eyesight worse;
there would be no one to go and read to him, and comfort him with little
porringers of broth and good red flannel: or if there was, it would be a
stranger, and the old man would watch in vain for her. Mary Domville's
little crippled boy would crawl in vain to the door and look for her
coming through the forest. These poor friends would never understand why
she had forsaken them; and there were many others besides. 'Papa has
always spent the income he derived from his living in the parish. I am,
perhaps, encroaching upon the next dues, but the winter is likely to be
severe, and our poor old people must be helped.'

'Oh, mamma, let us do all we can,' said Margaret eagerly, not seeing the
prudential side of the question, only grasping at the idea that they
were rendering such help for the last time; 'we may not be here long.'

'Do you feel ill, my darling?' asked Mrs. Hale, anxiously,
misunderstanding Margaret's hint of the uncertainty of their stay at
Helstone. 'You look pale and tired. It is this soft, damp, unhealthy
air.'

'No--no, mamma, it is not that: it is delicious air. It smells of the
freshest, purest fragrance, after the smokiness of Harley Street. But I
am tired: it surely must be near bedtime.'

'Not far off--it is half-past nine. You had better go to bed at dear.
Ask Dixon for some gruel. I will come and see you as soon as you are in
bed. I am afraid you have taken cold; or the bad air from some of the
stagnant ponds--'

'Oh, mamma,' said Margaret, faintly smiling as she kissed her mother, 'I
am quite well--don't alarm yourself about me; I am only tired.'

Margaret went upstairs. To soothe her mother's anxiety she submitted to
a basin of gruel. She was lying languidly in bed when Mrs. Hale came up
to make some last inquiries and kiss her before going to her own room
for the night. But the instant she heard her mother's door locked, she
sprang out of bed, and throwing her dressing-gown on, she began to pace
up and down the room, until the creaking of one of the boards reminded
her that she must make no noise. She went and curled herself up on the
window-seat in the small, deeply-recessed window. That morning when she
had looked out, her heart had danced at seeing the bright clear lights
on the church tower, which foretold a fine and sunny day. This
evening--sixteen hours at most had past by--she sat down, too full of
sorrow to cry, but with a dull cold pain, which seemed to have pressed
the youth and buoyancy out of her heart, never to return. Mr. Henry
Lennox's visit--his offer--was like a dream, a thing beside her actual
life. The hard reality was, that her father had so admitted tempting
doubts into his mind as to become a schismatic--an outcast; all the
changes consequent upon this grouped themselves around that one great
blighting fact.

She looked out upon the dark-gray lines of the church tower, square and
straight in the centre of the view, cutting against the deep blue
transparent depths beyond, into which she gazed, and felt that she might
gaze for ever, seeing at every moment some farther distance, and yet no
sign of God! It seemed to her at the moment, as if the earth was more
utterly desolate than if girt in by an iron dome, behind which there
might be the ineffaceable peace and glory of the Almighty: those
never-ending depths of space, in their still serenity, were more mocking
to her than any material bounds could be--shutting in the cries of
earth's sufferers, which now might ascend into that infinite splendour
of vastness and be lost--lost for ever, before they reached His throne.
In this mood her father came in unheard. The moonlight was strong enough
to let him see his daughter in her unusual place and attitude. He came
to her and touched her shoulder before she was aware that he was there.

'Margaret, I heard you were up. I could not help coming in to ask you to
pray with me--to say the Lord's Prayer; that will do good to both of
us.'

Mr. Hale and Margaret knelt by the window-seat--he looking up, she bowed
down in humble shame. God was there, close around them, hearing her
father's whispered words. Her father might be a heretic; but had not
she, in her despairing doubts not five minutes before, shown herself a
far more utter sceptic? She spoke not a word, but stole to bed after her
father had left her, like a child ashamed of its fault. If the world was
full of perplexing problems she would trust, and only ask to see the one
step needful for the hour. Mr. Lennox--his visit, his proposal--the
remembrance of which had been so rudely pushed aside by the subsequent
events of the day--haunted her dreams that night. He was climbing up
some tree of fabulous height to reach the branch whereon was slung her
bonnet: he was falling, and she was struggling to save him, but held
back by some invisible powerful hand. He was dead. And yet, with a
shifting of the scene, she was 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, after the rigid
self-control of the whole day. How long she lay thus she could not tell.
She heard no noise, though the housemaid came in to arrange the room.
The affrighted girl stole out again on tip-toe, and went and told Mrs.
Dixon that Miss Hale was crying as if her heart would break: she was
sure she would make herself deadly ill if she went on at that rate. In
consequence of this, Margaret felt herself touched, and started up into
a sitting posture; she saw the accustomed room, the figure of Dixon in
shadow, as the latter stood holding the candle a little behind her, for
fear of the effect on Miss Hale's startled eyes, swollen and blinded as
they were.

'Oh, Dixon! I did not hear you come into the room!' said Margaret,
resuming her trembling self-restraint. 'Is it very late?' continued she,
lifting herself languidly off the bed, yet letting her feet touch the
ground without fairly standing down, as she shaded her wet ruffled hair
off her face, and tried to look as though nothing were the matter; as if
she had only been asleep.

'I hardly can tell what time it is,' replied Dixon, in an aggrieved tone
of voice. 'Since your mamma told me this terrible news, when I dressed
her for tea, I've lost all count of time. I'm sure I don't know what is
to become of us all. When Charlotte told me just now you were sobbing,
Miss Hale, I thought, no wonder, poor thing! And master thinking of
turning Dissenter at his time of life, when, if it is not to be said
he's done well in the Church, he's not done badly after all. I had a
cousin, miss, who turned Methodist preacher after he was fifty years of
age, and a tailor all his life; but then he had never been able to make
a pair of trousers to fit, for as long as he had been in the trade, so
it was no wonder; but for master! as I said to missus, "What would poor
Sir John have said? he never liked your marrying Mr. Hale, but if he
could have known it would have come to this, he would have sworn worse
oaths than ever, if that was possible!"'

Dixon had been so much accustomed to comment upon Mr. Hale's proceedings
to her mistress (who listened to her, or not, as she was in the humour),
that she never noticed Margaret's flashing eye and dilating nostril. To
hear her father talked of in this way by a servant to her face!

'Dixon,' she said, in the low tone she always used when much excited,
which had a sound in it as of some distant turmoil, or threatening storm
breaking far away. 'Dixon! you forget to whom you are speaking.' She
stood upright and firm on her feet now, confronting the waiting-maid,
and fixing her with her steady discerning eye. 'I am Mr. Hale's
daughter. Go! You have made a strange mistake, and one that I am sure
your own good feeling will make you sorry for when you think about it.'

Dixon hung irresolutely about the room for a minute or two. Margaret
repeated, 'You may leave me, Dixon. I wish you to go.' Dixon did not
know whether to resent these decided words or to cry; either course
would have done with her mistress: but, as she said to herself, 'Miss
Margaret has a touch of the old gentleman about her, as well as poor
Master Frederick; I wonder where they get it from?' and she, who would
have resented such words from any one less haughty and determined in
manner, was subdued enough to say, in a half humble, half injured tone:

'Mayn't I unfasten your gown, miss, and do your hair?'

'No! not to-night, thank you.' And Margaret gravely lighted her out of
the room, and bolted the door. From henceforth Dixon obeyed and admired
Margaret. She said it was because she was so like poor Master Frederick;
but the truth was, that Dixon, as do many others, liked to feel herself
ruled by a powerful and decided nature.

Margaret needed all Dixon's help in action, and silence in words; for,
for some time, the latter thought it her duty to show her sense of
affront by saying as little as possible to her young lady; so the energy
came out in doing rather than in speaking. A fortnight was a very short
time to make arrangements for so serious a removal; as Dixon said, 'Any
one but a gentleman--indeed almost any other gentleman--' but catching a
look at Margaret's straight, stern brow just here, she coughed the
remainder of the sentence away, and meekly took the horehound drop that
Margaret offered her, to stop the 'little tickling at my chest, miss.'
But almost any one but Mr. Hale would have had practical knowledge
enough to see, that in so short a time it would be difficult to fix on
any house in Milton-Northern, or indeed elsewhere, to which they could
remove the furniture that had of necessity to be taken out of Helstone
vicarage. Mrs. Hale, overpowered by all the troubles and necessities for
immediate household decisions that seemed to come upon her at once,
became really ill, and Margaret almost felt it as a relief when her
mother fairly took to her bed, and left the management of affairs to
her. Dixon, true to her post of body-guard, attended most faithfully to
her mistress, and only emerged from Mrs. Hale's bed-room to shake her
head, and murmur to herself in a manner which Margaret did not choose to
hear. For, the one thing clear and straight before her, was the
necessity for leaving Helstone. Mr. Hale's successor in the living was
appointed; and, at any rate, after her father's decision; there must be
no lingering now, for his sake, as well as from every other
consideration. For he came home every evening more and more depressed,
after the necessary leave-taking which he had resolved to have with
every individual parishioner. Margaret, inexperienced as she was in all
the necessary matter-of-fact business to be got through, did not know to
whom to apply for advice. The cook and Charlotte worked away with
willing arms and stout hearts at all the moving and packing; and as far
as that went, Margaret's admirable sense enabled her to see what was
best, and to direct how it should be done. But where were they to go to?
In a week they must be gone. Straight to Milton, or where? So many
arrangements depended on this decision that Margaret resolved to ask her
father one evening, in spite of his evident fatigue and low spirits. He
answered:

'My dear! I have really had too much to think about to settle this. What
does your mother say? What does she wish? Poor Maria!'

He met with an echo even louder than his sigh. Dixon had just come into
the room for another cup of tea for Mrs. Hale, and catching Mr. Hale's
last words, and protected by his presence from Margaret's upbraiding
eyes, made bold to say, 'My poor mistress!'

'You don't think her worse to-day,' said Mr. Hale, turning hastily.

'I'm sure I can't say, sir. It's not for me to judge. The illness seems
so much more on the mind than on the body.'

Mr. Hale looked infinitely distressed.

'You had better take mamma her tea while it is hot, Dixon,' said
Margaret, in a tone of quiet authority.

'Oh! I beg your pardon, miss! My thoughts was otherwise occupied in
thinking of my poor---- of Mrs. Hale.'

'Papa!' said Margaret, 'it is this suspense that is bad for you both. Of
course, mamma must feel your change of opinions: we can't help that,'
she continued, softly; 'but now the course is clear, at least to a
certain point. And I think, papa, that I could get mamma to help me in
planning, if you could tell me what to plan for. She has never expressed
any wish in any way, and only thinks of what can't be helped. Are we to
go straight to Milton? Have you taken a house there?'

'No,' he replied. 'I suppose we must go into lodgings, and look about
for a house.

'And pack up the furniture so that it can be left at the railway
station, till we have met with one?'

'I suppose so. Do what you think best. Only remember, we shall have much
less money to spend.'

They had never had much superfluity, as Margaret knew. She felt that it
was a great weight suddenly thrown upon her shoulders. Four months ago,
all the decisions she needed to make were what dress she would wear for
dinner, and to help Edith to draw out the lists of who should take down
whom in the dinner parties at home. Nor was the household in which she
lived one that called for much decision. Except in the one grand case of
Captain Lennox's offer, everything went on with the regularity of
clockwork. Once a year, there was a long discussion between her aunt and
Edith as to whether they should go to the Isle of Wight, abroad, or to
Scotland; but at such times Margaret herself was secure of drifting,
without any exertion of her own, into the quiet harbour of home. Now,
since that day when Mr. Lennox came, and startled her into a decision,
every day brought some question, momentous to her, and to those whom she
loved, to be settled.

Her father went up after tea to sit with his wife. Margaret remained
alone in the drawing-room. Suddenly she took a candle and went into her
father's study for a great atlas, and lugging it back into the
drawing-room, she began to pore over the map of England. She was ready
to look up brightly when her father came down stairs.

'I have hit upon such a beautiful plan. Look here--in Darkshire, hardly
the breadth of my finger from Milton, is Heston, which I have often
heard of from people living in the north as such a pleasant little
bathing-place. Now, don't you think we could get mamma there with Dixon,
while you and I go and look at houses, and get one all ready for her in
Milton? She would get a breath of sea air to set her up for the winter,
and be spared all the fatigue, and Dixon would enjoy taking care of
her.'

'Is Dixon to go with us?' asked Mr. Hale, in a kind of helpless dismay.

'Oh, yes!' said Margaret. 'Dixon quite intends it, and I don't know what
mamma would do without her.'

'But we shall have to put up with a very different way of living, I am
afraid. Everything is so much dearer in a town. I doubt if Dixon can
make herself comfortable. To tell you the truth Margaret, I sometimes
feel as if that woman gave herself airs.'

'To be sure she does, papa,' replied Margaret; 'and if she has to put up
with a different style of living, we shall have to put up with her airs,
which will be worse. But she really loves us all, and would be miserable
to leave us, I am sure--especially in this change; so, for mamma's sake,
and for the sake of her faithfulness, I do think she must go.'

'Very well, my dear. Go on. I am resigned. How far is Heston from
Milton? The breadth of one of your fingers does not give me a very clear
idea of distance.'

'Well, then, I suppose it is thirty miles; that is not much!'

'Not in distance, but in--. Never mind! If you really think it will do
your mother good, let it be fixed so.'

This was a great step. Now Margaret could work, and act, and plan in
good earnest. And now Mrs. Hale could rouse herself from her languor,
and forget her real suffering in thinking of the pleasure and the
delight of going to the sea-side. Her only regret was that Mr. Hale
could not be with her all the fortnight she was to be there, as he had
been for a whole fortnight once, when they were engaged, and she was
staying with Sir John and Lady Beresford at Torquay.



CHAPTER VI

FAREWELL

    'Unwatch'd the garden bough shall sway,
     The tender blossom flutter down,
     Unloved that beech will gather brown,
     The maple burn itself away;

     Unloved, the sun-flower, shining fair,
     Ray round with flames her disk of seed,
     And many a rose-carnation feed
     With summer spice the humming air;

               * * * * * *

     Till from the garden and the wild
     A fresh association blow,
     And year by year the landscape grow
     Familiar to the stranger's child;

     As year by year the labourer tills
     His wonted glebe, or lops the glades;
     And year by year our memory fades
     From all the circle of the hills.'
             TENNYSON.


The last day came; the house was full of packing-cases, which were being
carted off at the front door, to the nearest railway station. Even the
pretty lawn at the side of the house was made unsightly and untidy by
the straw that had been wafted upon it through the open door and
windows. The rooms had a strange echoing sound in them,--and the light
came harshly and strongly in through the uncurtained windows,--seeming
already unfamiliar and strange. Mrs. Hale's dressing-room was left
untouched to the last; and there she and Dixon were packing up clothes,
and interrupting each other every now and then to exclaim at, and turn
over with fond regard, some forgotten treasure, in the shape of some
relic of the children while they were yet little. They did not make much
progress with their work. Down-stairs, Margaret stood calm and
collected, ready to counsel or advise the men who had been called in to
help the cook and Charlotte. These two last, crying between whiles,
wondered how the young lady could keep up so this last day, and settled
it between them that she was not likely to care much for Helstone,
having been so long in London. There she stood, very pale and quiet,
with her large grave eyes observing everything,--up to every present
circumstance, however small. They could not understand how her heart was
aching all the time, with a heavy pressure that no sighs could lift off
or relieve, and how constant exertion for her perceptive faculties was
the only way to keep herself from crying out with pain. Moreover, if she
gave way, who was to act? Her father was examining papers, books,
registers, what not, in the vestry with the clerk; and when he came in,
there were his own books to pack up, which no one but himself could do
to his satisfaction. Besides, was Margaret one to give way before
strange men, or even household friends like the cook and Charlotte! Not
she. But at last the four packers went into the kitchen to their tea;
and Margaret moved stiffly and slowly away from the place in the hall
where she had been standing so long, out through the bare echoing
drawing-room, into the twilight of an early November evening. There was
a filmy veil of soft dull mist obscuring, but not hiding, all objects,
giving them a lilac hue, for the sun had not yet fully set; a robin was
singing,--perhaps, Margaret thought, the very robin that her father had
so often talked of as his winter pet, and for which he had made, with
his own hands, a kind of robin-house by his study-window. The leaves
were more gorgeous than ever; the first touch of frost would lay them
all low on the ground. Already one or two kept constantly floating down,
amber and golden in the low slanting sun-rays.

Margaret went along the walk under the pear-tree wall. She had never
been along it since she paced it at Henry Lennox's side. Here, at this
bed of thyme, he began to speak of what she must not think of now. Her
eyes were on that late-blowing rose as she was trying to answer; and she
had caught the idea of the vivid beauty of the feathery leaves of the
carrots in the very middle of his last sentence. Only a fortnight ago!
And all so changed! Where was he now? In London,--going through the old
round; dining with the old Harley Street set, or with gayer young
friends of his own. Even now, while she walked sadly through that damp
and drear garden in the dusk, with everything falling and fading, and
turning to decay around her, he might be gladly putting away his
law-books after a day of satisfactory toil, and freshening himself up,
as he had told her he often did, by a run in the Temple Gardens, taking
in the while the grand inarticulate mighty roar of tens of thousands of
busy men, nigh at hand, but not seen, and catching ever, at his quick
turns, glimpses of the lights of the city coming up out of the depths of
the river. He had often spoken to Margaret of these hasty walks,
snatched in the intervals between study and dinner. At his best times
and in his best moods had he spoken of them; and the thought of them had
struck upon her fancy. Here there was no sound. The robin had gone away
into the vast stillness of night. Now and then, a cottage door in the
distance was opened and shut, as if to admit the tired labourer to his
home; but that sounded very far away. A stealthy, creeping, cranching
sound among the crisp fallen leaves of the forest, beyond the garden,
seemed almost close at hand. Margaret knew it was some poacher. Sitting
up in her bed-room this past autumn, with the light of her candle
extinguished, and purely revelling in the solemn beauty of the heavens
and the earth, she had many a time seen the light noiseless leap of the
poachers over the garden-fence, their quick tramp across the dewy
moonlit lawn, their disappearance in the black still shadow beyond. The
wild adventurous freedom of their life had taken her fancy; she felt
inclined to wish them success; she had no fear of them. But to-night she
was afraid, she knew not why. She heard Charlotte shutting the windows,
and fastening up for the night, unconscious that any one had gone out
into the garden. A small branch--it might be of rotten wood, or it might
be broken by force--came heavily down in the nearest part of the forest,
Margaret ran, swift as Camilla, down to the window, and rapped at it
with a hurried tremulousness which startled Charlotte within.

'Let me in! Let me in! It is only me, Charlotte!' Her heart did not
still its fluttering till she was safe in the drawing-room, with the
windows fastened and bolted, and the familiar walls hemming her round,
and shutting her in. She had sate down upon a packing case; cheerless,
Chill was the dreary and dismantled room--no fire nor other light, but
Charlotte's long unsnuffed candle. Charlotte looked at Margaret with
surprise; and Margaret, feeling it rather than seeing it, rose up.

'I was afraid you were shutting me out altogether, Charlotte,' said she,
half-smiling. 'And then you would never have heard me in the kitchen,
and the doors into the lane and churchyard are locked long ago.'

'Oh, miss, I should have been sure to have missed you soon. The men
would have wanted you to tell them how to go on. And I have put tea in
master's study, as being the most comfortable room, so to speak.'

'Thank you, Charlotte. You are a kind girl. I shall be sorry to leave
you. You must try and write to me, if I can ever give you any little
help or good advice. I shall always be glad to get a letter from
Helstone, you know. I shall be sure and send you my address when I know
it.'

The study was all ready for tea. There was a good blazing fire, and
unlighted candles on the table. Margaret sat down on the rug, partly to
warm herself, for the dampness of the evening hung about her dress, and
over-fatigue had made her chilly. She kept herself balanced by clasping
her hands together round her knees; her head dropped a little towards
her chest; the attitude was one of despondency, whatever her frame of
mind might be. But when she heard her father's step on the gravel
outside, she started up, and hastily shaking her heavy black hair back,
and wiping a few tears away that had come on her cheeks she knew not
how, she went out to open the door for him. He showed far more
depression than she did. She could hardly get him to talk, although she
tried to speak on subjects that would interest him, at the cost of an
effort every time which she thought would be her last.

'Have you been a very long walk to-day?' asked she, on seeing his
refusal to touch food of any kind.

'As far as Fordham Beeches. I went to see Widow Maltby; she is sadly
grieved at not having wished you good-bye. She says little Susan has
kept watch down the lane for days past.--Nay, Margaret, what is the
matter, dear?' The thought of the little child watching for her, and
continually disappointed--from no forgetfulness on her part, but from
sheer inability to leave home--was the last drop in poor Margaret's cup,
and she was sobbing away as if her heart would break. Mr. Hale was
distressingly perplexed. He rose, and walked nervously up and down the
room. Margaret tried to check herself, but would not speak until she
could do so with firmness. She heard him talking, as if to himself.

'I cannot bear it. I cannot bear to see the sufferings of others. I
think I could go through my own with patience. Oh, is there no going
back?'

'No, father,' said Margaret, looking straight at him, and speaking low
and steadily. 'It is bad to believe you in error. It would be infinitely
worse to have known you a hypocrite.' She dropped her voice at the last
few words, as if entertaining the idea of hypocrisy for a moment in
connection with her father savoured of irreverence.

'Besides,' she went on, 'it is only that I am tired to-night; don't
think that I am suffering from what you have done, dear papa. We can't
either of us talk about it to-night, I believe,' said she, finding that
tears and sobs would come in spite of herself. 'I had better go and take
mamma up this cup of tea. She had hers very early, when I was too busy
to go to her, and I am sure she will be glad of another now.'

Railroad time inexorably wrenched them away from lovely, beloved
Helstone, the next morning. They were gone; they had seen the last of
the long low parsonage home, half-covered with China-roses and
pyracanthus--more homelike than ever in the morning sun that glittered
on its windows, each belonging to some well-loved room. Almost before
they had settled themselves into the car, sent from Southampton to fetch
them to the station, they were gone away to return no more. A sting at
Margaret's heart made her strive to look out to catch the last glimpse
of the old church tower at the turn where she knew it might be seen
above a wave of the forest trees; but her father remembered this too,
and she silently acknowledged his greater right to the one window from
which it could be seen. She leant back and shut her eyes, and the tears
welled forth, and hung glittering for an instant on the shadowing
eye-lashes before rolling slowly down her cheeks, and dropping,
unheeded, on her dress.

They were to stop in London all night at some quiet hotel. Poor Mrs.
Hale had cried in her way nearly all day long; and Dixon showed her
sorrow by extreme crossness, and a continual irritable attempt to keep
her petticoats from even touching the unconscious Mr. Hale, whom she
regarded as the origin of all this suffering.

They went through the well-known streets, past houses which they had
often visited, past shops in which she had lounged, impatient, by her
aunt's side, while that lady was making some important and interminable
decision-nay, absolutely past acquaintances in the streets; for though
the morning had been of an incalculable length to them, and they felt as
if it ought long ago to have closed in for the repose of darkness, it
was the very busiest time of a London afternoon in November when they
arrived there. It was long since Mrs. Hale had been in London; and she
roused up, almost like a child, to look about her at the different
streets, and to gaze after and exclaim at the shops and carriages.

'Oh, there's Harrison's, where I bought so many of my wedding-things.
Dear! how altered! They've got immense plate-glass windows, larger than
Crawford's in Southampton. Oh, and there, I declare--no, it is not--yes,
it is--Margaret, we have just passed Mr. Henry Lennox. Where can he be
going, among all these shops?'

Margaret started forwards, and as quickly fell back, half-smiling at
herself for the sudden motion. They were a hundred yards away by this
time; but he seemed like a relic of Helstone--he was associated with a
bright morning, an eventful day, and she should have liked to have seen
him, without his seeing her,--without the chance of their speaking.

The evening, without employment, passed in a room high up in an hotel,
was long and heavy. Mr. Hale went out to his bookseller's, and to call
on a friend or two. Every one they saw, either in the house or out in
the streets, appeared hurrying to some appointment, expected by, or
expecting somebody. They alone seemed strange and friendless, and
desolate. Yet within a mile, Margaret knew of house after house, where
she for her own sake, and her mother for her aunt Shaw's, would be
welcomed, if they came in gladness, or even in peace of mind. If they
came sorrowing, and wanting sympathy in a complicated trouble like the
present, then they would be felt as a shadow in all these houses of
intimate acquaintances, not friends. London life is too whirling and
full to admit of even an hour of that deep silence of feeling which the
friends of Job showed, when 'they sat with him on the ground seven days
and seven nights, and none spake a word unto him; for they saw that his
grief was very great.'



CHAPTER VII

NEW SCENES AND FACES

    'Mist clogs the sunshine,
     Smoky dwarf houses
     Have we round on every side.'
             MATTHEW ARNOLD.


The next afternoon, about twenty miles from Milton-Northern, they
entered on the little branch railway that led to Heston. Heston itself
was one long straggling street, running parallel to the seashore. It had
a character of its own, as different from the little bathing-places in
the south of England as they again from those of the continent. To use a
Scotch word, every thing looked more 'purposelike.' The country carts
had more iron, and less wood and leather about the horse-gear; the
people in the streets, although on pleasure bent, had yet a busy mind.
The colours looked grayer--more enduring, not so gay and pretty. There
were no smock-frocks, even among the country folk; they retarded motion,
and were apt to catch on machinery, and so the habit of wearing them had
died out. In such towns in the south of England, Margaret had seen the
shopmen, when not employed in their business, lounging a little at their
doors, enjoying the fresh air, and the look up and down the street.
Here, if they had any leisure from customers, they made themselves
business in the shop--even, Margaret fancied, to the unnecessary
unrolling and rerolling of ribbons. All these differences struck upon
her mind, as she and her mother went out next morning to look for
lodgings.

Their two nights at hotels had cost more than Mr. Hale had anticipated,
and they were glad to take the first clean, cheerful rooms they met with
that were at liberty to receive them. There, for the first time for many
days, did Margaret feel at rest. There was a dreaminess in the rest,
too, which made it still more perfect and luxurious to repose in. The
distant sea, lapping the sandy shore with measured sound; the nearer
cries of the donkey-boys; the unusual scenes moving before her like
pictures, which she cared not in her laziness to have fully explained
before they passed away; the stroll down to the beach to breathe the
sea-air, soft and warm on that sandy shore even to the end of November;
the great long misty sea-line touching the tender-coloured sky; the
white sail of a distant boat turning silver in some pale sunbeam:--it
seemed as if she could dream her life away in such luxury of
pensiveness, in which she made her present all in all, from not daring
to think of the past, or wishing to contemplate the future.

But the future must be met, however stern and iron it be. One evening it
was arranged that Margaret and her father should go the next day to
Milton-Northern, and look out for a house. Mr. Hale had received several
letters from Mr. Bell, and one or two from Mr. Thornton, and he was
anxious to ascertain at once a good many particulars respecting his
position and chances of success there, which he could only do by an
interview with the latter gentleman. Margaret knew that they ought to be
removing; but she had a repugnance to the idea of a manufacturing town,
and believed that her mother was receiving benefit from Heston air, so
she would willingly have deferred the expedition to Milton.

For several miles before they reached Milton, they saw a deep
lead-coloured cloud hanging over the horizon in the direction in which
it lay. It was all the darker from contrast with the pale gray-blue of
the wintry sky; for in Heston there had been the earliest signs of
frost. Nearer to the town, the air had a faint taste and smell of smoke;
perhaps, after all, more a loss of the fragrance of grass and herbage
than any positive taste or smell. Quick they were whirled over long,
straight, hopeless streets of regularly-built houses, all small and of
brick. Here and there a great oblong many-windowed factory stood up,
like a hen among her chickens, puffing out black 'unparliamentary'
smoke, and sufficiently accounting for the cloud which Margaret had
taken to foretell rain. As they drove through the larger and wider
streets, from the station to the hotel, they had to stop constantly;
great loaded lurries blocked up the not over-wide thoroughfares.
Margaret had now and then been into the city in her drives with her
aunt. But there the heavy lumbering vehicles seemed various in their
purposes and intent; here every van, every waggon and truck, bore
cotton, either in the raw shape in bags, or the woven shape in bales of
calico. People thronged the footpaths, most of them well-dressed as
regarded the material, but with a slovenly looseness which struck
Margaret as different from the shabby, threadbare smartness of a similar
class in London.

'New Street,' said Mr. Hale. 'This, I believe, is the principal street
in Milton. Bell has often spoken to me about it. It was the opening of
this street from a lane into a great thoroughfare, thirty years ago,
which has caused his property to rise so much in value. Mr. Thornton's
mill must be somewhere not very far off, for he is Mr. Bell's tenant.
But I fancy he dates from his warehouse.'

'Where is our hotel, papa?'

'Close to the end of this street, I believe. Shall we have lunch before
or after we have looked at the houses we marked in the Milton Times?'

'Oh, let us get our work done first.'

'Very well. Then I will only see if there is any note or letter for me
from Mr. Thornton, who said he would let me know anything he might hear
about these houses, and then we will set off. We will keep the cab; it
will be safer than losing ourselves, and being too late for the train
this afternoon.'

There were no letters awaiting him. They set out on their house-hunting.
Thirty pounds a-year was all they could afford to give, but in Hampshire
they could have met with a roomy house and pleasant garden for the
money. Here, even the necessary accommodation of two sitting-rooms and
four bed-rooms seemed unattainable. They went through their list,
rejecting each as they visited it. Then they looked at each other in
dismay.

'We must go back to the second, I think. That one,--in Crampton, don't
they call the suburb? There were three sitting-rooms; don't you remember
how we laughed at the number compared with the three bed-rooms? But I
have planned it all. The front room down-stairs is to be your study and
our dining-room (poor papa!), for, you know, we settled mamma is to have
as cheerful a sitting-room as we can get; and that front room up-stairs,
with the atrocious blue and pink paper and heavy cornice, had really a
pretty view over the plain, with a great bend of river, or canal, or
whatever it is, down below. Then I could have the little bed-room
behind, in that projection at the head of the first flight of
stairs--over the kitchen, you know--and you and mamma the room behind
the drawing-room, and that closet in the roof will make you a splendid
dressing-room.'

'But Dixon, and the girl we are to have to help?'

'Oh, wait a minute. I am overpowered by the discovery of my own genius
for management. Dixon is to have--let me see, I had it once--the back
sitting-room. I think she will like that. She grumbles so much about the
stairs at Heston; and the girl is to have that sloping attic over your
room and mamma's. Won't that do?'

'I dare say it will. But the papers. What taste! And the overloading
such a house with colour and such heavy cornices!'

'Never mind, papa! Surely, you can charm the landlord into re-papering
one or two of the rooms--the drawing-room and your bed-room--for mamma
will come most in contact with them; and your book-shelves will hide a
great deal of that gaudy pattern in the dining-room.'

'Then you think it the best? If so, I had better go at once and call on
this Mr. Donkin, to whom the advertisement refers me. I will take you
back to the hotel, where you can order lunch, and rest, and by the time
it is ready, I shall be with you. I hope I shall be able to get new
papers.'

Margaret hoped so too, though she said nothing. She had never come
fairly in contact with the taste that loves ornament, however bad, more
than the plainness and simplicity which are of themselves the framework
of elegance. Her father took her through the entrance of the hotel, and
leaving her at the foot of the staircase, went to the address of the
landlord of the house they had fixed upon. Just as Margaret had her hand
on the door of their sitting-room, she was followed by a quick-stepping
waiter:

'I beg your pardon, ma'am. The gentleman was gone so quickly, I had no
time to tell him. Mr. Thornton called almost directly after you left;
and, as I understood from what the gentleman said, you would be back in
an hour, I told him so, and he came again about five minutes ago, and
said he would wait for Mr. Hale. He is in your room now, ma'am.'

'Thank you. My father will return soon, and then you can tell him.'
Margaret opened the door and went in with the straight, fearless,
dignified presence habitual to her. She felt no awkwardness; she had too
much the habits of society for that. Here was a person come on business
to her father; and, as he was one who had shown himself obliging, she
was disposed to treat him with a full measure of civility. Mr. Thornton
was a good deal more surprised and discomfited than she. Instead of a
quiet, middle-aged clergyman, a young lady came forward with frank
dignity,--a young lady of a different type to most of those he was in
the habit of seeing. Her dress was very plain: a close straw bonnet of
the best material and shape, trimmed with white ribbon; a dark silk
gown, without any trimming or flounce; a large Indian shawl, which hung
about her in long heavy folds, and which she wore as an empress wears
her drapery. He did not understand who she was, as he caught the simple,
straight, unabashed look, which showed that his being there was of no
concern to the beautiful countenance, and called up no flush of surprise
to the pale ivory of the complexion. He had heard that Mr. Hale had a
daughter, but he had imagined that she was a little girl.

'Mr. Thornton, I believe!' said Margaret, after a half-instant's pause,
during which his unready words would not come. 'Will you sit down. My
father brought me to the door, not a minute ago, but unfortunately he
was not told that you were here, and he has gone away on some business.
But he will come back almost directly. I am sorry you have had the
trouble of calling twice.'

Mr. Thornton was in habits of authority himself, but she seemed to
assume some kind of rule over him at once. He had been getting impatient
at the loss of his time on a market-day, the moment before she appeared,
yet now he calmly took a seat at her bidding.

'Do you know where it is that Mr. Hale has gone to? Perhaps I might be
able to find him.'

'He has gone to a Mr. Donkin's in Canute Street. He is the land-lord of
the house my father wishes to take in Crampton.'

Mr. Thornton knew the house. He had seen the advertisement, and been to
look at it, in compliance with a request of Mr. Bell's that he would
assist Mr. Hale to the best of his power: and also instigated by his own
interest in the case of a clergyman who had given up his living under
circumstances such as those of Mr. Hale. Mr. Thornton had thought that
the house in Crampton was really just the thing; but now that he saw
Margaret, with her superb ways of moving and looking, he began to feel
ashamed of having imagined that it would do very well for the Hales, in
spite of a certain vulgarity in it which had struck him at the time of
his looking it over.

Margaret could not help her looks; but the short curled upper lip, the
round, massive up-turned chin, the manner of carrying her head, her
movements, full of a soft feminine defiance, always gave strangers the
impression of haughtiness. She was tired now, and would rather have
remained silent, and taken the rest her father had planned for her; but,
of course, she owed it to herself to be a gentlewoman, and to speak
courteously from time to time to this stranger; not over-brushed, nor
over-polished, it must be confessed, after his rough encounter with
Milton streets and crowds. She wished that he would go, as he had once
spoken of doing, instead of sitting there, answering with curt sentences
all the remarks she made. She had taken off her shawl, and hung it over
the back of her chair. She sat facing him and facing the light; her full
beauty met his eye; her round white flexile throat rising out of the
full, yet lithe figure; her lips, moving so slightly as she spoke, not
breaking the cold serene look of her face with any variation from the
one lovely haughty curve; her eyes, with their soft gloom, meeting his
with quiet maiden freedom. He almost said to himself that he did not
like her, before their conversation ended; he tried so to compensate
himself for the mortified feeling, that while he looked upon her with an
admiration he could not repress, she looked at him with proud
indifference, taking him, he thought, for what, in his irritation, he
told himself he was--a great rough fellow, with not a grace or a
refinement about him. Her quiet coldness of demeanour he interpreted
into contemptuousness, and resented it in his heart to the pitch of
almost inclining him to get up and go away, and have nothing more to do
with these Hales, and their superciliousness.

Just as Margaret had exhausted her last subject of conversation--and yet
conversation that could hardly be called which consisted of so few and
such short speeches--her father came in, and with his pleasant
gentlemanly courteousness of apology, reinstated his name and family in
Mr. Thornton's good opinion.

Mr. Hale and his visitor had a good deal to say respecting their mutual
friend, Mr. Bell; and Margaret, glad that her part of entertaining the
visitor was over, went to the window to try and make herself more
familiar with the strange aspect of the street. She got so much absorbed
in watching what was going on outside that she hardly heard her father
when he spoke to her, and he had to repeat what he said:

'Margaret! the landlord will persist in admiring that hideous paper, and
I am afraid we must let it remain.'

'Oh dear! I am sorry!' she replied, and began to turn over in her mind
the possibility of hiding part of it, at least, by some of her sketches,
but gave up the idea at last, as likely only to make bad worse. Her
father, meanwhile, with his kindly country hospitality, was pressing Mr.
Thornton to stay to luncheon with them. It would have been very
inconvenient to him to do so, yet he felt that he should have yielded,
if Margaret by word or look had seconded her father's invitation; he was
glad she did not, and yet he was irritated at her for not doing it. She
gave him a low, grave bow when he left, and he felt more awkward and
self-conscious in every limb than he had ever done in all his life
before.

'Well, Margaret, now to luncheon, as fast we can. Have you ordered it?'

'No, papa; that man was here when I came home, and I have never had an
opportunity.'

'Then we must take anything we can get. He must have been waiting a long
time, I'm afraid.'

'It seemed exceedingly long to me. I was just at the last gasp when you
came in. He never went on with any subject, but gave little, short,
abrupt answers.'

'Very much to the point though, I should think. He is a clearheaded
fellow. He said (did you hear?) that Crampton is on gravelly soil, and
by far the most healthy suburb in the neighbour hood of Milton.'

When they returned to Heston, there was the day's account to be given to
Mrs. Hale, who was full of questions which they answered in the
intervals of tea-drinking.

'And what is your correspondent, Mr. Thornton, like?'

'Ask Margaret,' said her husband. 'She and he had a long attempt at
conversation, while I was away speaking to the landlord.'

'Oh! I hardly know what he is like,' said Margaret, lazily; too tired to
tax her powers of description much. And then rousing herself, she said,
'He is a tall, broad-shouldered man, about--how old, papa?'

'I should guess about thirty.'

'About thirty--with a face that is neither exactly plain, nor yet
handsome, nothing remarkable--not quite a gentleman; but that was hardly
to be expected.'

'Not vulgar, or common though,' put in her father, rather jealous of any
disparagement of the sole friend he had in Milton.

'Oh no!' said Margaret. 'With such an expression of resolution and
power, no face, however plain in feature, could be either vulgar or
common. I should not like to have to bargain with him; he looks very
inflexible. Altogether a man who seems made for his niche, mamma;
sagacious, and strong, as becomes a great tradesman.'

'Don't call the Milton manufacturers tradesmen, Margaret,' said her
father.

'They are very different.'

'Are they? I apply the word to all who have something tangible to sell;
but if you think the term is not correct, papa, I won't use it. But, oh
mamma! speaking of vulgarity and commonness, you must prepare yourself
for our drawing-room paper. Pink and blue roses, with yellow leaves! And
such a heavy cornice round the room!'

But when they removed to their new house in Milton, the obnoxious papers
were gone. The landlord received their thanks very composedly; and let
them think, if they liked, that he had relented from his expressed
determination not to repaper. There was no particular need to tell them,
that what he did not care to do for a Reverend Mr. Hale, unknown in
Milton, he was only too glad to do at the one short sharp remonstrance
of Mr. Thornton, the wealthy manufacturer.



CHAPTER VIII

HOME SICKNESS

    'And it's hame, hame; hame,
     Hame fain wad I be.'


It needed the pretty light papering of the rooms to reconcile them to
Milton. It needed more--more that could not be had. The thick yellow
November fogs had come on; and the view of the plain in the valley, made
by the sweeping bend of the river, was all shut out when Mrs. Hale
arrived at her new home.

Margaret and Dixon had been at work for two days, unpacking and
arranging, but everything inside the house still looked in disorder; and
outside a thick fog crept up to the very windows, and was driven in to
every open door in choking white wreaths of unwholesome mist.

'Oh, Margaret! are we to live here?' asked Mrs. Hale in blank dismay.
Margaret's heart echoed the dreariness of the tone in which this
question was put. She could scarcely command herself enough to say, 'Oh,
the fogs in London are sometimes far worse!'

'But then you knew that London itself, and friends lay behind it.
Here--well! we are desolate. Oh Dixon, what a place this is!'

'Indeed, ma'am, I'm sure it will be your death before long, and then I
know who'll--stay! Miss Hale, that's far too heavy for you to lift.'

'Not at all, thank you, Dixon,' replied Margaret, coldly. 'The best
thing we can do for mamma is to get her room quite ready for her to go
to bed, while I go and bring her a cup of coffee.'

Mr. Hale was equally out of spirits, and equally came upon Margaret for
sympathy.

'Margaret, I do believe this is an unhealthy place. Only suppose that
your mother's health or yours should suffer. I wish I had gone into some
country place in Wales; this is really terrible,' said he, going up to
the window. There was no comfort to be given. They were settled in
Milton, and must endure smoke and fogs for a season; indeed, all other
life seemed shut out from them by as thick a fog of circumstance. Only
the day before, Mr. Hale had been reckoning up with dismay how much
their removal and fortnight at Heston had cost, and he found it had
absorbed nearly all his little stock of ready money. No! here they were,
and here they must remain.

At night when Margaret realised this, she felt inclined to sit down in a
stupor of despair. The heavy smoky air hung about her bedroom, which
occupied the long narrow projection at the back of the house. The
window, placed at the side of the oblong, looked to the blank wall of a
similar projection, not above ten feet distant. It loomed through the
fog like a great barrier to hope. Inside the room everything was in
confusion. All their efforts had been directed to make her mother's room
comfortable. Margaret sat down on a box, the direction card upon which
struck her as having been written at Helstone--beautiful, beloved
Helstone! She lost herself in dismal thought: but at last she determined
to take her mind away from the present; and suddenly remembered that she
had a letter from Edith which she had only half read in the bustle of
the morning. It was to tell of their arrival at Corfu; their voyage
along the Mediterranean--their music, and dancing on board ship; the gay
new life opening upon her; her house with its trellised balcony, and its
views over white cliffs and deep blue sea. Edith wrote fluently and
well, if not graphically. She could not only seize the salient and
characteristic points of a scene, but she could enumerate enough of
indiscriminate particulars for Margaret to make it out for herself
Captain Lennox and another lately married officer shared a villa, high
up on the beautiful precipitous rocks overhanging the sea. Their days,
late as it was in the year, seemed spent in boating or land pic-nics;
all out-of-doors, pleasure-seeking and glad, Edith's life seemed like
the deep vault of blue sky above her, free--utterly free from fleck or
cloud. Her husband had to attend drill, and she, the most musical
officer's wife there, had to copy the new and popular tunes out of the
most recent English music, for the benefit of the bandmaster; those
seemed their most severe and arduous duties. She expressed an
affectionate hope that, if the regiment stopped another year at Corfu,
Margaret might come out and pay her a long visit. She asked Margaret if
she remembered the day twelve-month on which she, Edith, wrote--how it
rained all day long in Harley Street; and how she would not put on her
new gown to go to a stupid dinner, and get it all wet and splashed in
going to the carriage; and how at that very dinner they had first met
Captain Lennox.

Yes! Margaret remembered it well. Edith and Mrs. Shaw had gone to
dinner. Margaret had joined the party in the evening. The recollection
of the plentiful luxury of all the arrangements, the stately
handsomeness of the furniture, the size of the house, the peaceful,
untroubled ease of the visitors--all came vividly before her, in strange
contrast to the present time. The smooth sea of that old life closed up,
without a mark left to tell where they had all been. The habitual
dinners, the calls, the shopping, the dancing evenings, were all going
on, going on for ever, though her Aunt Shaw and Edith were no longer
there; and she, of course, was even less missed. She doubted if any one
of that old set ever thought of her, except Henry Lennox. He too, she
knew, would strive to forget her, because of the pain she had caused
him. She had heard him often boast of his power of putting any
disagreeable thought far away from him. Then she penetrated farther into
what might have been. If she had cared for him as a lover, and had
accepted him, and this change in her father's opinions and consequent
station had taken place, she could not doubt but that it would have been
impatiently received by Mr. Lennox. It was a bitter mortification to her
in one sense; but she could bear it patiently, because she knew her
father's purity of purpose, and that strengthened her to endure his
errors, grave and serious though in her estimation they were. But the
fact of the world esteeming her father degraded, in its rough wholesale
judgment, would have oppressed and irritated Mr. Lennox. As she realised
what might have been, she grew to be thankful for what was. They were at
the lowest now; they could not be worse. Edith's astonishment and her
aunt Shaw's dismay would have to be met bravely, when their letters
came. So Margaret rose up and began slowly to undress herself, feeling
the full luxury of acting leisurely, late as it was, after all the past
hurry of the day. She fell asleep, hoping for some brightness, either
internal or external. But if she had known how long it would be before
the brightness came, her heart would have sunk low down. The time of the
year was most unpropitious to health as well as to spirits. Her mother
caught a severe cold, and Dixon herself was evidently not well, although
Margaret could not insult her more than by trying to save her, or by
taking any care of her. They could hear of no girl to assist her; all
were at work in the factories; at least, those who applied were well
scolded by Dixon, for thinking that such as they could ever be trusted
to work in a gentleman's house. So they had to keep a charwoman in
almost constant employ. Margaret longed to send for Charlotte; but
besides the objection of her being a better servant than they could now
afford to keep, the distance was too great.

Mr. Hale met with several pupils, recommended to him by Mr. Bell, or by
the more immediate influence of Mr. Thornton. They were mostly of the
age when many boys would be still at school, but, according to the
prevalent, and apparently well-founded notions of Milton, to make a lad
into a good tradesman he must be caught young, and acclimated to the
life of the mill, or office, or warehouse. If he were sent to even the
Scotch Universities, he came back unsettled for commercial pursuits; how
much more so if he went to Oxford or Cambridge, where he could not be
entered till he was eighteen? So most of the manufacturers placed their
sons in sucking situations' at fourteen or fifteen years of age,
unsparingly cutting away all off-shoots in the direction of literature
or high mental cultivation, in hopes of throwing the whole strength and
vigour of the plant into commerce. Still there were some wiser parents;
and some young men, who had sense enough to perceive their own
deficiencies, and strive to remedy them. Nay, there were a few no longer
youths, but men in the prime of life, who had the stern wisdom to
acknowledge their own ignorance, and to learn late what they should have
learnt early. Mr. Thornton was perhaps the oldest of Mr. Hale's pupils.
He was certainly the favourite. Mr. Hale got into the habit of quoting
his opinions so frequently, and with such regard, that it became a
little domestic joke to wonder what time, during the hour appointed for
instruction, could be given to absolute learning, so much of it appeared
to have been spent in conversation.

Margaret rather encouraged this light, merry way of viewing her father's
acquaintance with Mr. Thornton, because she felt that her mother was
inclined to look upon this new friendship of her husband's with jealous
eyes. As long as his time had been solely occupied with his books and
his parishioners, as at Helstone, she had appeared to care little
whether she saw much of him or not; but now that he looked eagerly
forward to each renewal of his intercourse with Mr. Thornton, she seemed
hurt and annoyed, as if he were slighting her companionship for the
first time. Mr. Hale's over-praise had the usual effect of over-praise
upon his auditors; they were a little inclined to rebel against
Aristides being always called the Just.

After a quiet life in a country parsonage for more than twenty years,
there was something dazzling to Mr. Hale in the energy which conquered
immense difficulties with ease; the power of the machinery of Milton,
the power of the men of Milton, impressed him with a sense of grandeur,
which he yielded to without caring to inquire into the details of its
exercise. But Margaret went less abroad, among machinery and men; saw
less of power in its public effect, and, as it happened, she was thrown
with one or two of those who, in all measures affecting masses of
people, must be acute sufferers for the good of many. The question
always is, has everything been done to make the sufferings of these
exceptions as small as possible? Or, in the triumph of the crowded
procession, have the helpless been trampled on, instead of being gently
lifted aside out of the roadway of the conqueror, whom they have no
power to accompany on his march?

It fell to Margaret's share to have to look out for a servant to assist
Dixon, who had at first undertaken to find just the person she wanted to
do all the rough work of the house. But Dixon's ideas of helpful girls
were founded on the recollection of tidy elder scholars at Helstone
school, who were only too proud to be allowed to come to the parsonage
on a busy day, and treated Mrs. Dixon with all the respect, and a good
deal more of fright, which they paid to Mr. and Mrs. Hale. Dixon was not
unconscious of this awed reverence which was given to her; nor did she
dislike it; it flattered her much as Louis the Fourteenth was flattered
by his courtiers shading their eyes from the dazzling light of his
presence. But nothing short of her faithful love for Mrs. Hale could
have made her endure the rough independent way in which all the Milton
girls, who made application for the servant's place, replied to her
inquiries respecting their qualifications. They even went the length of
questioning her back again; having doubts and fears of their own, as to
the solvency of a family who lived in a house of thirty pounds a-year,
and yet gave themselves airs, and kept two servants, one of them so very
high and mighty. Mr. Hale was no longer looked upon as Vicar of
Helstone, but as a man who only spent at a certain rate. Margaret was
weary and impatient of the accounts which Dixon perpetually brought to
Mrs. Hale of the behaviour of these would-be servants. Not but what
Margaret was repelled by the rough uncourteous manners of these people;
not but what she shrunk with fastidious pride from their hail-fellow
accost and severely resented their unconcealed curiosity as to the means
and position of any family who lived in Milton, and yet were not engaged
in trade of some kind. But the more Margaret felt impertinence, the more
likely she was to be silent on the subject; and, at any rate, if she
took upon herself to make inquiry for a servant, she could spare her
mother the recital of all her disappointments and fancied or real
insults.

Margaret accordingly went up and down to butchers and grocers, seeking
for a nonpareil of a girl; and lowering her hopes and expectations every
week, as she found the difficulty of meeting with any one in a
manufacturing town who did not prefer the better wages and greater
independence of working in a mill. It was something of a trial to
Margaret to go out by herself in this busy bustling place. Mrs. Shaw's
ideas of propriety and her own helpless dependence on others, had always
made her insist that a footman should accompany Edith and Margaret, if
they went beyond Harley Street or the immediate neighbourhood. The
limits by which this rule of her aunt's had circumscribed Margaret's
independence had been silently rebelled against at the time: and she had
doubly enjoyed the free walks and rambles of her forest life, from the
contrast which they presented. She went along there with a bounding
fearless step, that occasionally broke out into a run, if she were in a
hurry, and occasionally was stilled into perfect repose, as she stood
listening to, or watching any of the wild creatures who sang in the
leafy courts, or glanced out with their keen bright eyes from the low
brushwood or tangled furze. It was a trial to come down from such motion
or such stillness, only guided by her own sweet will, to the even and
decorous pace necessary in streets. But she could have laughed at
herself for minding this change, if it had not been accompanied by what
was a more serious annoyance. The side of the town on which Crampton lay
was especially a thoroughfare for the factory people. In the back
streets around them there were many mills, out of which poured streams
of men and women two or three times a day. Until Margaret had learnt the
times of their ingress and egress, she was very unfortunate in
constantly falling in with them. They came rushing along, with bold,
fearless faces, and loud laughs and jests, particularly aimed at all
those who appeared to be above them in rank or station. The tones of
their unrestrained voices, and their carelessness of all common rules of
street politeness, frightened Margaret a little at first. The girls,
with their rough, but not unfriendly freedom, would comment on her
dress, even touch her shawl or gown to ascertain the exact material;
nay, once or twice she was asked questions relative to some article
which they particularly admired. There was such a simple reliance on her
womanly sympathy with their love of dress, and on her kindliness, that
she gladly replied to these inquiries, as soon as she understood them;
and half smiled back at their remarks. She did not mind meeting any
number of girls, loud spoken and boisterous though they might be. But
she alternately dreaded and fired up against the workmen, who commented
not on her dress, but on her looks, in the same open fearless manner.
She, who had hitherto felt that even the most refined remark on her
personal appearance was an impertinence, had to endure undisguised
admiration from these outspoken men. But the very out-spokenness marked
their innocence of any intention to hurt her delicacy, as she would have
perceived if she had been less frightened by the disorderly tumult. Out
of her fright came a flash of indignation which made her face scarlet,
and her dark eyes gather flame, as she heard some of their speeches. Yet
there were other sayings of theirs, which, when she reached the quiet
safety of home, amused her even while they irritated her.

For instance, one day, after she had passed a number of men, several of
whom had paid her the not unusual compliment of wishing she was their
sweetheart, one of the lingerers added, 'Your bonny face, my lass, makes
the day look brighter.' And another day, as she was unconsciously
smiling at some passing thought, she was addressed by a poorly-dressed,
middle-aged workman, with 'You may well smile, my lass; many a one would
smile to have such a bonny face.' This man looked so careworn that
Margaret could not help giving him an answering smile, glad to think
that her looks, such as they were, should have had the power to call up
a pleasant thought. He seemed to understand her acknowledging glance,
and a silent recognition was established between them whenever the
chances of the day brought them across each other's paths. They had
never exchanged a word; nothing had been said but that first compliment;
yet somehow Margaret looked upon this man with more interest than upon
any one else in Milton. Once or twice, on Sundays, she saw him walking
with a girl, evidently his daughter, and, if possible, still more
unhealthy than he was himself.

One day Margaret and her father had been as far as the fields that lay
around the town; it was early spring, and she had gathered some of the
hedge and ditch flowers, dog-violets, lesser celandines, and the like,
with an unspoken lament in her heart for the sweet profusion of the
South. Her father had left her to go into Milton upon some business; and
on the road home she met her humble friends. The girl looked wistfully
at the flowers, and, acting on a sudden impulse, Margaret offered them
to her. Her pale blue eyes lightened up as she took them, and her father
spoke for her.

'Thank yo, Miss. Bessy'll think a deal o' them flowers; that hoo will;
and I shall think a deal o' yor kindness. Yo're not of this country, I
reckon?'

'No!' said Margaret, half sighing. 'I come from the South--from
Hampshire,' she continued, a little afraid of wounding his consciousness
of ignorance, if she used a name which he did not understand.

'That's beyond London, I reckon? And I come fro' Burnley-ways, and forty
mile to th' North. And yet, yo see, North and South has both met and
made kind o' friends in this big smoky place.'

Margaret had slackened her pace to walk alongside of the man and his
daughter, whose steps were regulated by the feebleness of the latter.
She now spoke to the girl, and there was a sound of tender pity in the
tone of her voice as she did so that went right to the heart of the
father.

'I'm afraid you are not very strong.'

'No,' said the girl, 'nor never will be.'

'Spring is coming,' said Margaret, as if to suggest pleasant, hopeful
thoughts.

'Spring nor summer will do me good,' said the girl quietly.

Margaret looked up at the man, almost expecting some contradiction from
him, or at least some remark that would modify his daughter's utter
hopelessness. But, instead, he added--

'I'm afeared hoo speaks truth. I'm afeared hoo's too far gone in a
waste.'

'I shall have a spring where I'm boun to, and flowers, and amaranths,
and shining robes besides.'

'Poor lass, poor lass!' said her father in a low tone. 'I'm none so sure
o' that; but it's a comfort to thee, poor lass, poor lass. Poor father!
it'll be soon.'

Margaret was shocked by his words--shocked but not repelled; rather
attracted and interested.

'Where do you live? I think we must be neighbours, we meet so often on
this road.'

'We put up at nine Frances Street, second turn to th' left at after
yo've past th' Goulden Dragon.'

'And your name? I must not forget that.'

'I'm none ashamed o' my name. It's Nicholas Higgins. Hoo's called Bessy
Higgins. Whatten yo' asking for?'

Margaret was surprised at this last question, for at Helstone it would
have been an understood thing, after the inquiries she had made, that
she intended to come and call upon any poor neighbour whose name and
habitation she had asked for.

'I thought--I meant to come and see you.' She suddenly felt rather shy
of offering the visit, without having any reason to give for her wish to
make it, beyond a kindly interest in a stranger. It seemed all at once
to take the shape of an impertinence on her part; she read this meaning
too in the man's eyes.

'I'm none so fond of having strange folk in my house.' But then
relenting, as he saw her heightened colour, he added, 'Yo're a
foreigner, as one may say, and maybe don't know many folk here, and
yo've given my wench here flowers out of yo'r own hand;--yo may come if
yo like.'

Margaret was half-amused, half-nettled at this answer. She was not sure
if she would go where permission was given so like a favour conferred.
But when they came to the town into Frances Street, the girl stopped a
minute, and said,

'Yo'll not forget yo're to come and see us.'

'Aye, aye,' said the father, impatiently, 'hoo'll come. Hoo's a bit set
up now, because hoo thinks I might ha' spoken more civilly; but hoo'll
think better on it, and come. I can read her proud bonny face like a
book. Come along, Bess; there's the mill bell ringing.'

Margaret went home, wondering at her new friends, and smiling at the
man's insight into what had been passing in her mind. From that day
Milton became a brighter place to her. It was not the long, bleak sunny
days of spring, nor yet was it that time was reconciling her to the town
of her habitation. It was that in it she had found a human interest.



CHAPTER IX

DRESSING FOR TEA

    'Let China's earth, enrich'd with colour'd stains,
     Pencil'd with gold, and streak'd with azure veins,
     The grateful flavour of the Indian leaf,
     Or Mocho's sunburnt berry glad receive.'
             MRS. BARBAULD.


The day after this meeting with Higgins and his daughter, Mr. Hale came
upstairs into the little drawing-room at an unusual hour. He went up to
different objects in the room, as if examining them, but Margaret saw
that it was merely a nervous trick--a way of putting off something he
wished, yet feared to say. Out it came at last--

'My dear! I've asked Mr. Thornton to come to tea to-night.'

Mrs. Hale was leaning back in her easy chair, with her eyes shut, and an
expression of pain on her face which had become habitual to her of late.
But she roused up into querulousness at this speech of her husband's.

'Mr. Thornton!--and to-night! What in the world does the man want to
come here for? And Dixon is washing my muslins and laces, and there is
no soft water with these horrid east winds, which I suppose we shall
have all the year round in Milton.'

'The wind is veering round, my dear,' said Mr. Hale, looking out at the
smoke, which drifted right from the east, only he did not yet understand
the points of the compass, and rather arranged them ad libitum,
according to circumstances.

'Don't tell me!' said Mrs. Hale, shuddering up, and wrapping her shawl
about her still more closely. 'But, east or west wind, I suppose this
man comes.'

'Oh, mamma, that shows you never saw Mr. Thornton. He looks like a
person who would enjoy battling with every adverse thing he could meet
with--enemies, winds, or circumstances. The more it rains and blows, the
more certain we are to have him. But I'll go and help Dixon. I'm getting
to be a famous clear-starcher. And he won't want any amusement beyond
talking to papa. Papa, I am really longing to see the Pythias to your
Damon. You know I never saw him but once, and then we were so puzzled to
know what to say to each other that we did not get on particularly
well.'

'I don't know that you would ever like him, or think him agreeable,
Margaret. He is not a lady's man.'

Margaret wreathed her throat in a scornful curve.

'I don't particularly admire ladies' men, papa. But Mr. Thornton comes
here as your friend--as one who has appreciated you'--

'The only person in Milton,' said Mrs. Hale.

'So we will give him a welcome, and some cocoa-nut cakes. Dixon will be
flattered if we ask her to make some; and I will undertake to iron your
caps, mamma.'

Many a time that morning did Margaret wish Mr. Thornton far enough away.
She had planned other employments for herself: a letter to Edith, a good
piece of Dante, a visit to the Higginses. But, instead, she ironed away,
listening to Dixon's complaints, and only hoping that by an excess of
sympathy she might prevent her from carrying the recital of her sorrows
to Mrs. Hale. Every now and then, Margaret had to remind herself of her
father's regard for Mr. Thornton, to subdue the irritation of weariness
that was stealing over her, and bringing on one of the bad headaches to
which she had lately become liable. She could hardly speak when she sat
down at last, and told her mother that she was no longer Peggy the
laundry-maid, but Margaret Hale the lady. She meant this speech for a
little joke, and was vexed enough with her busy tongue when she found
her mother taking it seriously.

'Yes! if any one had told me, when I was Miss Beresford, and one of the
belles of the county, that a child of mine would have to stand half a
day, in a little poky kitchen, working away like any servant, that we
might prepare properly for the reception of a tradesman, and that this
tradesman should be the only'--'Oh, mamma!' said Margaret, lifting
herself up, 'don't punish me so for a careless speech. I don't mind
ironing, or any kind of work, for you and papa. I am myself a born and
bred lady through it all, even though it comes to scouring a floor, or
washing dishes. I am tired now, just for a little while; but in half an
hour I shall be ready to do the same over again. And as to Mr.
Thornton's being in trade, why he can't help that now, poor fellow. I
don't suppose his education would fit him for much else.' Margaret
lifted herself slowly up, and went to her own room; for just now she
could not bear much more.

In Mr. Thornton's house, at this very same time, a similar, yet
different, scene was going on. A large-boned lady, long past middle age,
sat at work in a grim handsomely-furnished dining-room. Her features,
like her frame, were strong and massive, rather than heavy. Her face
moved slowly from one decided expression to another equally decided.
There was no great variety in her countenance; but those who looked at
it once, generally looked at it again; even the passers-by in the
street, half-turned their heads to gaze an instant longer at the firm,
severe, dignified woman, who never gave way in street-courtesy, or
paused in her straight-onward course to the clearly-defined end which
she proposed to herself. She was handsomely dressed in stout black silk,
of which not a thread was worn or discoloured. She was mending a large
long table-cloth of the finest texture, holding it up against the light
occasionally to discover thin places, which required her delicate care.
There was not a book about in the room, with the exception of Matthew
Henry's Bible Commentaries, six volumes of which lay in the centre of
the massive side-board, flanked by a tea-urn on one side, and a lamp on
the other. In some remote apartment, there was exercise upon the piano
going on. Some one was practising up a morceau de salon, playing it very
rapidly; every third note, on an average, being either indistinct, or
wholly missed out, and the loud chords at the end being half of them
false, but not the less satisfactory to the performer. Mrs. Thornton
heard a step, like her own in its decisive character, pass the
dining-room door.

'John! Is that you?'

Her son opened the door and showed himself.

'What has brought you home so early? I thought you were going to tea
with that friend of Mr. Bell's; that Mr. Hale.'

'So I am, mother; I am come home to dress!'

'Dress! humph! When I was a girl, young men were satisfied with dressing
once in a day. Why should you dress to go and take a cup of tea with an
old parson?'

'Mr. Hale is a gentleman, and his wife and daughter are ladies.'

'Wife and daughter! Do they teach too? What do they do? You have never
mentioned them.'

'No! mother, because I have never seen Mrs. Hale; I have only seen Miss
Hale for half an hour.'

'Take care you don't get caught by a penniless girl, John.'

'I am not easily caught, mother, as I think you know. But I must not
have Miss Hale spoken of in that way, which, you know, is offensive to
me. I never was aware of any young lady trying to catch me yet, nor do I
believe that any one has ever given themselves that useless trouble.'

Mrs. Thornton did not choose to yield the point to her son; or else she
had, in general, pride enough for her sex.

'Well! I only say, take care. Perhaps our Milton girls have too much
spirit and good feeling to go angling after husbands; but this Miss Hale
comes out of the aristocratic counties, where, if all tales be true,
rich husbands are reckoned prizes.'

Mr. Thornton's brow contracted, and he came a step forward into the
room.

'Mother' (with a short scornful laugh), 'you will make me confess. The
only time I saw Miss Hale, she treated me with a haughty civility which
had a strong flavour of contempt in it. She held herself aloof from me
as if she had been a queen, and I her humble, unwashed vassal. Be easy,
mother.'

'No! I am not easy, nor content either. What business had she, a
renegade clergyman's daughter, to turn up her nose at you! I would dress
for none of them--a saucy set! if I were you.' As he was leaving the
room, he said:--

'Mr. Hale is good, and gentle, and learned. He is not saucy. As for Mrs.
Hale, I will tell you what she is like to-night, if you care to hear.'
He shut the door and was gone.

'Despise my son! treat him as her vassal, indeed! Humph! I should like
to know where she could find such another! Boy and man, he's the
noblest, stoutest heart I ever knew. I don't care if I am his mother; I
can see what's what, and not be blind. I know what Fanny is; and I know
what John is. Despise him! I hate her!'



CHAPTER X

WROUGHT IRON AND GOLD

    'We are the trees whom shaking fastens more.'
             GEORGE HERBERT.


Mr. Thornton left the house without coming into the dining-room again.
He was rather late, and walked rapidly out to Crampton. He was anxious
not to slight his new friend by any disrespectful unpunctuality. The
church-clock struck half-past seven as he stood at the door awaiting
Dixon's slow movements; always doubly tardy when she had to degrade
herself by answering the door-bell. He was ushered into the little
drawing-room, and kindly greeted by Mr. Hale, who led him up to his
wife, whose pale face, and shawl-draped figure made a silent excuse for
the cold languor of her greeting. Margaret was lighting the lamp when he
entered, for the darkness was coming on. The lamp threw a pretty light
into the centre of the dusky room, from which, with country habits, they
did not exclude the night-skies, and the outer darkness of air. Somehow,
that room contrasted itself with the one he had lately left; handsome,
ponderous, with no sign of feminine habitation, except in the one spot
where his mother sate, and no convenience for any other employment than
eating and drinking. To be sure, it was a dining-room; his mother
preferred to sit in it; and her will was a household law. But the
drawing-room was not like this. It was twice--twenty times as fine; not
one quarter as comfortable. Here were no mirrors, not even a scrap of
glass to reflect the light, and answer the same purpose as water in a
landscape; no gilding; a warm, sober breadth of colouring, well relieved
by the dear old Helstone chintz-curtains and chair covers. An open
davenport stood in the window opposite the door; in the other there was
a stand, with a tall white china vase, from which drooped wreaths of
English ivy, pale-green birch, and copper-coloured beech-leaves. Pretty
baskets of work stood about in different places: and books, not cared
for on account of their binding solely, lay on one table, as if recently
put down. Behind the door was another table, decked out for tea, with a
white tablecloth, on which flourished the cocoa-nut cakes, and a basket
piled with oranges and ruddy American apples, heaped on leaves.

It appeared to Mr. Thornton that all these graceful cares were habitual
to the family; and especially of a piece with Margaret. She stood by the
tea-table in a light-coloured muslin gown, which had a good deal of pink
about it. She looked as if she was not attending to the conversation,
but solely busy with the tea-cups, among which her round ivory hands
moved with pretty, noiseless, daintiness. She had a bracelet on one
taper arm, which would fall down over her round wrist. Mr. Thornton
watched the replacing of this troublesome ornament with far more
attention than he listened to her father. It seemed as if it fascinated
him to see her push it up impatiently, until it tightened her soft
flesh; and then to mark the loosening--the fall. He could almost have
exclaimed--'There it goes, again!' There was so little left to be done
after he arrived at the preparation for tea, that he was almost sorry
the obligation of eating and drinking came so soon to prevent his
watching Margaret. She handed him his cup of tea with the proud air of
an unwilling slave; but her eye caught the moment when he was ready for
another cup; and he almost longed to ask her to do for him what he saw
her compelled to do for her father, who took her little finger and thumb
in his masculine hand, and made them serve as sugar-tongs. Mr. Thornton
saw her beautiful eyes lifted to her father, full of light,
half-laughter and half-love, as this bit of pantomime went on between
the two, unobserved, as they fancied, by any. Margaret's head still
ached, as the paleness of her complexion, and her silence might have
testified; but she was resolved to throw herself into the breach, if
there was any long untoward pause, rather than that her father's friend,
pupil, and guest should have cause to think himself in any way
neglected. But the conversation went on; and Margaret drew into a
corner, near her mother, with her work, after the tea-things were taken
away; and felt that she might let her thoughts roam, without fear of
being suddenly wanted to fill up a gap.

Mr. Thornton and Mr. Hale were both absorbed in the continuation of some
subject which had been started at their last meeting. Margaret was
recalled to a sense of the present by some trivial, low-spoken remark of
her mother's; and on suddenly looking up from her work, her eye was
caught by the difference of outward appearance between her father and
Mr. Thornton, as betokening such distinctly opposite natures. Her father
was of slight figure, which made him appear taller than he really was,
when not contrasted, as at this time, with the tall, massive frame of
another. The lines in her father's face were soft and waving, with a
frequent undulating kind of trembling movement passing over them,
showing every fluctuating emotion; the eyelids were large and arched,
giving to the eyes a peculiar languid beauty which was almost feminine.
The brows were finely arched, but were, by the very size of the dreamy
lids, raised to a considerable distance from the eyes. Now, in Mr.
Thornton's face the straight brows fell low over the clear, deep-set
earnest eyes, which, without being unpleasantly sharp, seemed intent
enough to penetrate into the very heart and core of what he was looking
at. The lines in the face were few but firm, as if they were carved in
marble, and lay principally about the lips, which were slightly
compressed over a set of teeth so faultless and beautiful as to give the
effect of sudden sunlight when the rare bright smile, coming in an
instant and shining out of the eyes, changed the whole look from the
severe and resolved expression of a man ready to do and dare everything,
to the keen honest enjoyment of the moment, which is seldom shown so
fearlessly and instantaneously except by children. Margaret liked this
smile; it was the first thing she had admired in this new friend of her
father's; and the opposition of character, shown in all these details of
appearance she had just been noticing, seemed to explain the attraction
they evidently felt towards each other.

She rearranged her mother's worsted-work, and fell back into her own
thoughts--as completely forgotten by Mr. Thornton as if she had not been
in the room, so thoroughly was he occupied in explaining to Mr. Hale the
magnificent power, yet delicate adjustment of the might of the
steam-hammer, which was recalling to Mr. Hale some of the wonderful
stories of subservient genii in the Arabian Nights--one moment
stretching from earth to sky and filling all the width of the horizon,
at the next obediently compressed into a vase small enough to be borne
in the hand of a child.

'And this imagination of power, this practical realisation of a gigantic
thought, came out of one man's brain in our good town. That very man has
it within him to mount, step by step, on each wonder he achieves to
higher marvels still. And I'll be bound to say, we have many among us
who, if he were gone, could spring into the breach and carry on the war
which compels, and shall compel, all material power to yield to
science.'

'Your boast reminds me of the old lines--

    "I've a hundred
    captains in England," he said,
     "As good as ever was he."'

At her father's quotation Margaret looked suddenly up, with inquiring
wonder in her eyes. How in the world had they got from cog-wheels to
Chevy Chace?

'It is no boast of mine,' replied Mr. Thornton; 'it is plain
matter-of-fact. I won't deny that I am proud of belonging to a town--or
perhaps I should rather say a district--the necessities of which give
birth to such grandeur of conception. I would rather be a man toiling,
suffering--nay, failing and successless--here, than lead a dull
prosperous life in the old worn grooves of what you call more
aristocratic society down in the South, with their slow days of careless
ease. One may be clogged with honey and unable to rise and fly.'

'You are mistaken,' said Margaret, roused by the aspersion on her
beloved South to a fond vehemence of defence, that brought the colour
into her cheeks and the angry tears into her eyes. 'You do not know
anything about the South. If there is less adventure or less progress--I
suppose I must not say less excitement--from the gambling spirit of
trade, which seems requisite to force out these wonderful inventions,
there is less suffering also. I see men here going about in the streets
who look ground down by some pinching sorrow or care--who are not only
sufferers but haters. Now, in the South we have our poor, but there is
not that terrible expression in their countenances of a sullen sense of
injustice which I see here. You do not know the South, Mr. Thornton,'
she concluded, collapsing into a determined silence, and angry with
herself for having said so much.

'And may I say you do not know the North?' asked he, with an
inexpressible gentleness in his tone, as he saw that he had really hurt
her. She continued resolutely silent; yearning after the lovely haunts
she had left far away in Hampshire, with a passionate longing that made
her feel her voice would be unsteady and trembling if she spoke.

'At any rate, Mr. Thornton,' said Mrs. Hale, 'you will allow that Milton
is a much more smoky, dirty town than you will ever meet with in the
South.'

'I'm afraid I must give up its cleanliness,' said Mr. Thornton, with the
quick gleaming smile. 'But we are bidden by parliament to burn our own
smoke; so I suppose, like good little children, we shall do as we are
bid--some time.'

'But I think you told me you had altered your chimneys so as to consume
the smoke, did you not?' asked Mr. Hale.

'Mine were altered by my own will, before parliament meddled with the
affair. It was an immediate outlay, but it repays me in the saving of
coal. I'm not sure whether I should have done it, if I had waited until
the act was passed. At any rate, I should have waited to be informed
against and fined, and given all the trouble in yielding that I legally
could. But all laws which depend for their enforcement upon informers
and fines, become inert from the odiousness of the machinery. I doubt if
there has been a chimney in Milton informed against for five years past,
although some are constantly sending out one-third of their coal in what
is called here unparliamentary smoke.'

'I only know it is impossible to keep the muslin blinds clean here above
a week together; and at Helstone we have had them up for a month or
more, and they have not looked dirty at the end of that time. And as for
hands--Margaret, how many times did you say you had washed your hands
this morning before twelve o'clock? Three times, was it not?'

'Yes, mamma.'

'You seem to have a strong objection to acts of parliament and all
legislation affecting your mode of management down here at Milton,' said
Mr. Hale.

'Yes, I have; and many others have as well. And with justice, I think.
The whole machinery--I don't mean the wood and iron machinery now--of
the cotton trade is so new that it is no wonder if it does not work well
in every part all at once. Seventy years ago what was it? And now what
is it not? Raw, crude materials came together; men of the same level, as
regarded education and station, took suddenly the different positions of
masters and men, owing to the motherwit, as regarded opportunities and
probabilities, which distinguished some, and made them far-seeing as to
what great future lay concealed in that rude model of Sir Richard
Arkwright's. The rapid development of what might be called a new trade,
gave those early masters enormous power of wealth and command. I don't
mean merely over the workmen; I mean over purchasers--over the whole
world's market. Why, I may give you, as an instance, an advertisement,
inserted not fifty years ago in a Milton paper, that so-and-so (one of
the half-dozen calico-printers of the time) would close his warehouse at
noon each day; therefore, that all purchasers must come before that
hour. Fancy a man dictating in this manner the time when he would sell
and when he would not sell. Now, I believe, if a good customer chose to
come at midnight, I should get up, and stand hat in hand to receive his
orders.'

Margaret's lip curled, but somehow she was compelled to listen; she
could no longer abstract herself in her own thoughts.

'I only name such things to show what almost unlimited power the
manufacturers had about the beginning of this century. The men were
rendered dizzy by it. Because a man was successful in his ventures,
there was no reason that in all other things his mind should be
well-balanced. On the contrary, his sense of justice, and his
simplicity, were often utterly smothered under the glut of wealth that
came down upon him; and they tell strange tales of the wild extravagance
of living indulged in on gala-days by those early cotton-lords. There
can be no doubt, too, of the tyranny they exercised over their
work-people. You know the proverb, Mr. Hale, "Set a beggar on horseback,
and he'll ride to the devil,"--well, some of these early manufacturers
did ride to the devil in a magnificent style--crushing human bone and
flesh under their horses' hoofs without remorse. But by-and-by came a
re-action, there were more factories, more masters; more men were
wanted. The power of masters and men became more evenly balanced; and
now the battle is pretty fairly waged between us. We will hardly submit
to the decision of an umpire, much less to the interference of a meddler
with only a smattering of the knowledge of the real facts of the case,
even though that meddler be called the High Court of Parliament.

'Is there necessity for calling it a battle between the two classes?'
asked Mr. Hale. 'I know, from your using the term, it is one which gives
a true idea of the real state of things to your mind.'

'It is true; and I believe it to be as much a necessity as that prudent
wisdom and good conduct are always opposed to, and doing battle with
ignorance and improvidence. It is one of the great beauties of our
system, that a working-man may raise himself into the power and position
of a master by his own exertions and behaviour; that, in fact, every one
who rules himself to decency and sobriety of conduct, and attention to
his duties, comes over to our ranks; it may not be always as a master,
but as an over-looker, a cashier, a book-keeper, a clerk, one on the
side of authority and order.'

'You consider all who are unsuccessful in raising themselves in the
world, from whatever cause, as your enemies, then, if I under-stand you
rightly,' said Margaret in a clear, cold voice.

'As their own enemies, certainly,' said he, quickly, not a little piqued
by the haughty disapproval her form of expression and tone of speaking
implied. But, in a moment, his straightforward honesty made him feel
that his words were but a poor and quibbling answer to what she had
said; and, be she as scornful as she liked, it was a duty he owed to
himself to explain, as truly as he could, what he did mean. Yet it was
very difficult to separate her interpretation, and keep it distinct from
his meaning. He could best have illustrated what he wanted to say by
telling them something of his own life; but was it not too personal a
subject to speak about to strangers? Still, it was the simple
straightforward way of explaining his meaning; so, putting aside the
touch of shyness that brought a momentary flush of colour into his dark
cheek, he said:

'I am not speaking without book. Sixteen years ago, my father died under
very miserable circumstances. I was taken from school, and had to become
a man (as well as I could) in a few days. I had such a mother as few are
blest with; a woman of strong power, and firm resolve. We went into a
small country town, where living was cheaper than in Milton, and where I
got employment in a draper's shop (a capital place, by the way, for
obtaining a knowledge of goods). Week by week our income came to fifteen
shillings, out of which three people had to be kept. My mother managed
so that I put by three out of these fifteen shillings regularly. This
made the beginning; this taught me self-denial. Now that I am able to
afford my mother such comforts as her age, rather than her own wish,
requires, I thank her silently on each occasion for the early training
she gave me. Now when I feel that in my own case it is no good luck, nor
merit, nor talent,--but simply the habits of life which taught me to
despise indulgences not thoroughly earned,--indeed, never to think twice
about them,--I believe that this suffering, which Miss Hale says is
impressed on the countenances of the people of Milton, is but the
natural punishment of dishonestly-enjoyed pleasure, at some former
period of their lives. I do not look on self-indulgent, sensual people
as worthy of my hatred; I simply look upon them with contempt for their
poorness of character.'

'But you have had the rudiments of a good education,' remarked Mr. Hale.
'The quick zest with which you are now reading Homer, shows me that you
do not come to it as an unknown book; you have read it before, and are
only recalling your old knowledge.'

'That is true,--I had blundered along it at school; I dare say, I was
even considered a pretty fair classic in those days, though my Latin and
Greek have slipt away from me since. But I ask you, what preparation
they were for such a life as I had to lead? None at all. Utterly none at
all. On the point of education, any man who can read and write starts
fair with me in the amount of really useful knowledge that I had at that
time.'

'Well! I don't agree with you. But there I am perhaps somewhat of a
pedant. Did not the recollection of the heroic simplicity of the Homeric
life nerve you up?'

'Not one bit!' exclaimed Mr. Thornton, laughing. 'I was too busy to
think about any dead people, with the living pressing alongside of me,
neck to neck, in the struggle for bread. Now that I have my mother safe
in the quiet peace that becomes her age, and duly rewards her former
exertions, I can turn to all that old narration and thoroughly enjoy
it.'

'I dare say, my remark came from the professional feeling of there being
nothing like leather,' replied Mr. Hale.

When Mr. Thornton rose up to go away, after shaking hands with Mr. and
Mrs. Hale, he made an advance to Margaret to wish her good-bye in a
similar manner. It was the frank familiar custom of the place; but
Margaret was not prepared for it. She simply bowed her farewell;
although the instant she saw the hand, half put out, quickly drawn back,
she was sorry she had not been aware of the intention. Mr. Thornton,
however, knew nothing of her sorrow, and, drawing himself up to his full
height, walked off, muttering as he left the house--

'A more proud, disagreeable girl I never saw. Even her great beauty is
blotted out of one's memory by her scornful ways.'



CHAPTER XI

FIRST IMPRESSIONS

    'There's iron, they say, in all our blood,
     And a grain or two perhaps is good;
     But his, he makes me harshly feel,
     Has got a little too much of steel.'
             ANON.


'Margaret!' said Mr. Hale, as he returned from showing his guest
downstairs; 'I could not help watching your face with some anxiety, when
Mr. Thornton made his confession of having been a shop-boy. I knew it
all along from Mr. Bell; so I was aware of what was coming; but I half
expected to see you get up and leave the room.'

'Oh, papa! you don't mean that you thought me so silly? I really liked
that account of himself better than anything else he said. Everything
else revolted me, from its hardness; but he spoke about himself so
simply--with so little of the pretence that makes the vulgarity of
shop-people, and with such tender respect for his mother, that I was
less likely to leave the room then than when he was boasting about
Milton, as if there was not such another place in the world; or quietly
professing to despise people for careless, wasteful improvidence,
without ever seeming to think it his duty to try to make them
different,--to give them anything of the training which his mother gave
him, and to which he evidently owes his position, whatever that may be.
No! his statement of having been a shop-boy was the thing I liked best
of all.'

'I am surprised at you, Margaret,' said her mother. 'You who were always
accusing people of being shoppy at Helstone! I don't think, Mr. Hale,
you have done quite right in introducing such a person to us without
telling us what he had been. I really was very much afraid of showing
him how much shocked I was at some parts of what he said. His father
"dying in miserable circumstances." Why it might have been in the
workhouse.'

'I am not sure if it was not worse than being in the workhouse,' replied
her husband. 'I heard a good deal of his previous life from Mr. Bell
before we came here; and as he has told you a part, I will fill up what
he left out. His father speculated wildly, failed, and then killed
himself, because he could not bear the disgrace. All his former friends
shrunk from the disclosures that had to be made of his dishonest
gambling--wild, hopeless struggles, made with other people's money, to
regain his own moderate portion of wealth. No one came forwards to help
the mother and this boy. There was another child, I believe, a girl; too
young to earn money, but of course she had to be kept. At least, no
friend came forwards immediately, and Mrs. Thornton is not one, I fancy,
to wait till tardy kindness comes to find her out. So they left Milton.
I knew he had gone into a shop, and that his earnings, with some
fragment of property secured to his mother, had been made to keep them
for a long time. Mr. Bell said they absolutely lived upon water-porridge
for years--how, he did not know; but long after the creditors had given
up hope of any payment of old Mr. Thornton's debts (if, indeed, they
ever had hoped at all about it, after his suicide,) this young man
returned to Milton, and went quietly round to each creditor, paying him
the first instalment of the money owing to him. No noise--no gathering
together of creditors--it was done very silently and quietly, but all
was paid at last; helped on materially by the circumstance of one of the
creditors, a crabbed old fellow (Mr. Bell says), taking in Mr. Thornton
as a kind of partner.'

'That really is fine,' said Margaret. 'What a pity such a nature should
be tainted by his position as a Milton manufacturer.'

'How tainted?' asked her father.

'Oh, papa, by that testing everything by the standard of wealth. When he
spoke of the mechanical powers, he evidently looked upon them only as
new ways of extending trade and making money. And the poor men around
him--they were poor because they were vicious--out of the pale of his
sympathies because they had not his iron nature, and the capabilities
that it gives him for being rich.'

'Not vicious; he never said that. Improvident and self-indulgent were
his words.'

Margaret was collecting her mother's working materials, and preparing to
go to bed. Just as she was leaving the room, she hesitated--she was
inclined to make an acknowledgment which she thought would please her
father, but which to be full and true must include a little annoyance.
However, out it came.

'Papa, I do think Mr. Thornton a very remarkable man; but personally I
don't like him at all.'

'And I do!' said her father laughing. 'Personally, as you call it, and
all. I don't set him up for a hero, or anything of that kind. But good
night, child. Your mother looks sadly tired to-night, Margaret.'

Margaret had noticed her mother's jaded appearance with anxiety for some
time past, and this remark of her father's sent her up to bed with a dim
fear lying like a weight on her heart. The life in Milton was so
different from what Mrs. Hale had been accustomed to live in Helstone,
in and out perpetually into the fresh and open air; the air itself was
so different, deprived of all revivifying principle as it seemed to be
here; the domestic worries pressed so very closely, and in so new and
sordid a form, upon all the women in the family, that there was good
reason to fear that her mother's health might be becoming seriously
affected. There were several other signs of something wrong about Mrs.
Hale. She and Dixon held mysterious consultations in her bedroom, from
which Dixon would come out crying and cross, as was her custom when any
distress of her mistress called upon her sympathy. Once Margaret had
gone into the chamber soon after Dixon left it, and found her mother on
her knees, and as Margaret stole out she caught a few words, which were
evidently a prayer for strength and patience to endure severe bodily
suffering. Margaret yearned to re-unite the bond of intimate confidence
which had been broken by her long residence at her aunt Shaw's, and
strove by gentle caresses and softened words to creep into the warmest
place in her mother's heart. But though she received caresses and fond
words back again, in such profusion as would have gladdened her
formerly, yet she felt that there was a secret withheld from her, and
she believed it bore serious reference to her mother's health. She lay
awake very long this night, planning how to lessen the evil influence of
their Milton life on her mother. A servant to give Dixon permanent
assistance should be got, if she gave up her whole time to the search;
and then, at any rate, her mother might have all the personal attention
she required, and had been accustomed to her whole life. Visiting
register offices, seeing all manner of unlikely people, and very few in
the least likely, absorbed Margaret's time and thoughts for several
days. One afternoon she met Bessy Higgins in the street, and stopped to
speak to her.

'Well, Bessy, how are you? Better, I hope, now the wind has changed.'

'Better and not better, if yo' know what that means.'

'Not exactly,' replied Margaret, smiling.

'I'm better in not being torn to pieces by coughing o'nights, but I'm
weary and tired o' Milton, and longing to get away to the land o'
Beulah; and when I think I'm farther and farther off, my heart sinks,
and I'm no better; I'm worse.' Margaret turned round to walk alongside
of the girl in her feeble progress homeward. But for a minute or two she
did not speak. At last she said in a low voice,

'Bessy, do you wish to die?' For she shrank from death herself, with all
the clinging to life so natural to the young and healthy.

Bessy was silent in her turn for a minute or two. Then she replied,

'If yo'd led the life I have, and getten as weary of it as I have, and
thought at times, "maybe it'll last for fifty or sixty years--it does
wi' some,"--and got dizzy and dazed, and sick, as each of them sixty
years seemed to spin about me, and mock me with its length of hours and
minutes, and endless bits o' time--oh, wench! I tell thee thou'd been
glad enough when th' doctor said he feared thou'd never see another
winter.'

'Why, Bessy, what kind of a life has yours been?'

'Nought worse than many others, I reckon. Only I fretted again it, and
they didn't.'

'But what was it? You know, I'm a stranger here, so perhaps I'm not so
quick at understanding what you mean as if I'd lived all my life at
Milton.'

'If yo'd ha' come to our house when yo' said yo' would, I could maybe
ha' told you. But father says yo're just like th' rest on 'em; it's out
o' sight out o' mind wi' you.'

'I don't know who the rest are; and I've been very busy; and, to tell
the truth, I had forgotten my promise--'

'Yo' offered it! we asked none of it.'

'I had forgotten what I said for the time,' continued Margaret quietly.
'I should have thought of it again when I was less busy. May I go with
you now?' Bessy gave a quick glance at Margaret's face, to see if the
wish expressed was really felt. The sharpness in her eye turned to a
wistful longing as she met Margaret's soft and friendly gaze.

'I ha' none so many to care for me; if yo' care yo' may come.

So they walked on together in silence. As they turned up into a small
court, opening out of a squalid street, Bessy said,

'Yo'll not be daunted if father's at home, and speaks a bit gruffish at
first. He took a mind to ye, yo' see, and he thought a deal o' your
coming to see us; and just because he liked yo' he were vexed and put
about.'

'Don't fear, Bessy.'

But Nicholas was not at home when they entered. A great slatternly girl,
not so old as Bessy, but taller and stronger, was busy at the wash-tub,
knocking about the furniture in a rough capable way, but altogether
making so much noise that Margaret shrunk, out of sympathy with poor
Bessy, who had sat down on the first chair, as if completely tired out
with her walk. Margaret asked the sister for a cup of water, and while
she ran to fetch it (knocking down the fire-irons, and tumbling over a
chair in her way), she unloosed Bessy's bonnet strings, to relieve her
catching breath.

'Do you think such life as this is worth caring for?' gasped Bessy, at
last. Margaret did not speak, but held the water to her lips. Bessy took
a long and feverish draught, and then fell back and shut her eyes.
Margaret heard her murmur to herself: 'They shall hunger no more,
neither thirst any more; neither shall the sun light on them, nor any
heat.'

Margaret bent over and said, 'Bessy, don't be impatient with your life,
whatever it is--or may have been. Remember who gave it you, and made it
what it is!' She was startled by hearing Nicholas speak behind her; he
had come in without her noticing him.

'Now, I'll not have my wench preached to. She's bad enough as it is,
with her dreams and her methodee fancies, and her visions of cities with
goulden gates and precious stones. But if it amuses her I let it a be,
but I'm none going to have more stuff poured into her.'

'But surely,' said Margaret, facing round, 'you believe in what I said,
that God gave her life, and ordered what kind of life it was to be?'

'I believe what I see, and no more. That's what I believe, young woman.
I don't believe all I hear--no! not by a big deal. I did hear a young
lass make an ado about knowing where we lived, and coming to see us. And
my wench here thought a deal about it, and flushed up many a time, when
hoo little knew as I was looking at her, at the sound of a strange step.
But hoo's come at last,--and hoo's welcome, as long as hoo'll keep from
preaching on what hoo knows nought about.' Bessy had been watching
Margaret's face; she half sate up to speak now, laying her hand on
Margaret's arm with a gesture of entreaty. 'Don't be vexed wi'
him--there's many a one thinks like him; many and many a one here. If
yo' could hear them speak, yo'd not be shocked at him; he's a rare good
man, is father--but oh!' said she, falling back in despair, 'what he
says at times makes me long to die more than ever, for I want to know so
many things, and am so tossed about wi' wonder.'

'Poor wench--poor old wench,--I'm loth to vex thee, I am; but a man mun
speak out for the truth, and when I see the world going all wrong at
this time o' day, bothering itself wi' things it knows nought about, and
leaving undone all the things that lie in disorder close at its
hand--why, I say, leave a' this talk about religion alone, and set to
work on what yo' see and know. That's my creed. It's simple, and not far
to fetch, nor hard to work.'

But the girl only pleaded the more with Margaret.

'Don't think hardly on him--he's a good man, he is. I sometimes think I
shall be moped wi' sorrow even in the City of God, if father is not
there.' The feverish colour came into her cheek, and the feverish flame
into her eye. 'But you will be there, father! you shall! Oh! my heart!'
She put her hand to it, and became ghastly pale.

Margaret held her in her arms, and put the weary head to rest upon her
bosom. She lifted the thin soft hair from off the temples, and bathed
them with water. Nicholas understood all her signs for different
articles with the quickness of love, and even the round-eyed sister
moved with laborious gentleness at Margaret's 'hush!' Presently the
spasm that foreshadowed death had passed away, and Bessy roused herself
and said,--

'I'll go to bed,--it's best place; but,' catching at Margaret's gown,
'yo'll come again,--I know yo' will--but just say it!'

'I will come to-morrow, said Margaret.

Bessy leant back against her father, who prepared to carry her upstairs;
but as Margaret rose to go, he struggled to say something: 'I could wish
there were a God, if it were only to ask Him to bless thee.'

Margaret went away very sad and thoughtful.

She was late for tea at home. At Helstone unpunctuality at meal-times
was a great fault in her mother's eyes; but now this, as well as many
other little irregularities, seemed to have lost their power of
irritation, and Margaret almost longed for the old complainings.

'Have you met with a servant, dear?'

'No, mamma; that Anne Buckley would never have done.'

'Suppose I try,' said Mr. Hale. 'Everybody else has had their turn at
this great difficulty. Now let me try. I may be the Cinderella to put on
the slipper after all.'

Margaret could hardly smile at this little joke, so oppressed was she by
her visit to the Higginses.

'What would you do, papa? How would you set about it?'

'Why, I would apply to some good house-mother to recommend me one known
to herself or her servants.'

'Very good. But we must first catch our house-mother.'

'You have caught her. Or rather she is coming into the snare, and you
will catch her to-morrow, if you're skilful.'

'What do you mean, Mr. Hale?' asked his wife, her curiosity aroused.

'Why, my paragon pupil (as Margaret calls him), has told me that his
mother intends to call on Mrs. and Miss Hale to-morrow.'

'Mrs. Thornton!' exclaimed Mrs. Hale.

'The mother of whom he spoke to us?' said Margaret.

'Mrs. Thornton; the only mother he has, I believe,' said Mr. Hale
quietly.

'I shall like to see her. She must be an uncommon person,' her mother
added.

'Perhaps she may have a relation who might suit us, and be glad of our
place. She sounded to be such a careful economical person, that I should
like any one out of the same family.'

'My dear,' said Mr. Hale alarmed. 'Pray don't go off on that idea. I
fancy Mrs. Thornton is as haughty and proud in her way, as our little
Margaret here is in hers, and that she completely ignores that old time
of trial, and poverty, and economy, of which he speaks so openly. I am
sure, at any rate, she would not like strangers to know anything about
It.'

'Take notice that is not my kind of haughtiness, papa, if I have any at
all; which I don't agree to, though you're always accusing me of it.'

'I don't know positively that it is hers either; but from little things
I have gathered from him, I fancy so.'

They cared too little to ask in what manner her son had spoken about
her. Margaret only wanted to know if she must stay in to receive this
call, as it would prevent her going to see how Bessy was, until late in
the day, since the early morning was always occupied in household
affairs; and then she recollected that her mother must not be left to
have the whole weight of entertaining her visitor.



CHAPTER XII

MORNING CALLS

    'Well--I suppose we must.'
             FRIENDS IN COUNCIL.


Mr. Thornton had had some difficulty in working up his mother to the
desired point of civility. She did not often make calls; and when she
did, it was in heavy state that she went through her duties. Her son had
given her a carriage; but she refused to let him keep horses for it;
they were hired for the solemn occasions, when she paid morning or
evening visits. She had had horses for three days, not a fortnight
before, and had comfortably 'killed off' all her acquaintances, who
might now put themselves to trouble and expense in their turn. Yet
Crampton was too far off for her to walk; and she had repeatedly
questioned her son as to whether his wish that she should call on the
Hales was strong enough to bear the expense of cab-hire. She would have
been thankful if it had not; for, as she said, 'she saw no use in making
up friendships and intimacies with all the teachers and masters in
Milton; why, he would be wanting her to call on Fanny's dancing-master's
wife, the next thing!'

'And so I would, mother, if Mr. Mason and his wife were friendless in a
strange place, like the Hales.'

'Oh! you need not speak so hastily. I am going to-morrow. I only wanted
you exactly to understand about it.'

'If you are going to-morrow, I shall order horses.'

'Nonsense, John. One would think you were made of money.'

'Not quite, yet. But about the horses I'm determined. The last time you
were out in a cab, you came home with a headache from the jolting.'

'I never complained of it, I'm sure.'

'No. My mother is not given to complaints,' said he, a little proudly.
'But so much the more I have to watch over you. Now as for Fanny there,
a little hardship would do her good.'

'She is not made of the same stuff as you are, John. She could not bear
it.' Mrs. Thornton was silent after this; for her last words bore
relation to a subject which mortified her. She had an unconscious
contempt for a weak character; and Fanny was weak in the very points in
which her mother and brother were strong. Mrs. Thornton was not a woman
much given to reasoning; her quick judgment and firm resolution served
her in good stead of any long arguments and discussions with herself;
she felt instinctively that nothing could strengthen Fanny to endure
hardships patiently, or face difficulties bravely; and though she winced
as she made this acknowledgment to herself about her daughter, it only
gave her a kind of pitying tenderness of manner towards her; much of the
same description of demeanour with which mothers are wont to treat their
weak and sickly children. A stranger, a careless observer might have
considered that Mrs. Thornton's manner to her children betokened far
more love to Fanny than to John. But such a one would have been deeply
mistaken. The very daringness with which mother and son spoke out
unpalatable truths, the one to the other, showed a reliance on the firm
centre of each other's souls, which the uneasy tenderness of Mrs.
Thornton's manner to her daughter, the shame with which she thought to
hide the poverty of her child in all the grand qualities which she
herself possessed unconsciously, and which she set so high a value upon
in others--this shame, I say, betrayed the want of a secure
resting-place for her affection. She never called her son by any name
but John; 'love,' and 'dear,' and such like terms, were reserved for
Fanny. But her heart gave thanks for him day and night; and she walked
proudly among women for his sake.

'Fanny dear I shall have horses to the carriage to-day, to go and call
on these Hales. Should not you go and see nurse? It's in the same
direction, and she's always so glad to see you. You could go on there
while I am at Mrs. Hale's.'

'Oh! mamma, it's such a long way, and I am so tired.'

'With what?' asked Mrs. Thornton, her brow slightly contracting.

'I don't know--the weather, I think. It is so relaxing. Couldn't you
bring nurse here, mamma? The carriage could fetch her, and she could
spend the rest of the day here, which I know she would like.'

Mrs. Thornton did not speak; but she laid her work on the table, and
seemed to think.

'It will be a long way for her to walk back at night!' she remarked, at
last.

'Oh, but I will send her home in a cab. I never thought of her walking.'
At this point, Mr. Thornton came in, just before going to the mill.

'Mother! I need hardly say, that if there is any little thing that could
serve Mrs. Hale as an invalid, you will offer it, I'm sure.'

'If I can find it out, I will. But I have never been ill myself, so I am
not much up to invalids' fancies.'

'Well! here is Fanny then, who is seldom without an ailment. She will be
able to suggest something, perhaps--won't you, Fan?'

'I have not always an ailment,' said Fanny, pettishly; 'and I am not
going with mamma. I have a headache to-day, and I shan't go out.'

Mr. Thornton looked annoyed. His mother's eyes were bent on her work, at
which she was now stitching away busily.

'Fanny! I wish you to go,' said he, authoritatively. 'It will do you
good, instead of harm. You will oblige me by going, without my saying
anything more about it.'

He went abruptly out of the room after saying this.

If he had staid a minute longer, Fanny would have cried at his tone of
command, even when he used the words, 'You will oblige me.' As it was,
she grumbled.

'John always speaks as if I fancied I was ill, and I am sure I never do
fancy any such thing. Who are these Hales that he makes such a fuss
about?'

'Fanny, don't speak so of your brother. He has good reasons of some kind
or other, or he would not wish us to go. Make haste and put your things
on.'

But the little altercation between her son and her daughter did not
incline Mrs. Thornton more favourably towards 'these Hales.' Her jealous
heart repeated her daughter's question, 'Who are they, that he is so
anxious we should pay them all this attention?' It came up like a burden
to a song, long after Fanny had forgotten all about it in the pleasant
excitement of seeing the effect of a new bonnet in the looking-glass.

Mrs. Thornton was shy. It was only of late years that she had had
leisure enough in her life to go into society; and as society she did
not enjoy it. As dinner-giving, and as criticising other people's
dinners, she took satisfaction in it. But this going to make
acquaintance with strangers was a very different thing. She was ill at
ease, and looked more than usually stern and forbidding as she entered
the Hales' little drawing-room.

Margaret was busy embroidering a small piece of cambric for some little
article of dress for Edith's expected baby--'Flimsy, useless work,' as
Mrs. Thornton observed to herself. She liked Mrs. Hale's double knitting
far better; that was sensible of its kind. The room altogether was full
of knick-knacks, which must take a long time to dust; and time to people
of limited income was money. She made all these reflections as she was
talking in her stately way to Mrs. Hale, and uttering all the
stereotyped commonplaces that most people can find to say with their
senses blindfolded. Mrs. Hale was making rather more exertion in her
answers, captivated by some real old lace which Mrs. Thornton wore;
'lace,' as she afterwards observed to Dixon, 'of that old English point
which has not been made for this seventy years, and which cannot be
bought. It must have been an heir-loom, and shows that she had
ancestors.' So the owner of the ancestral lace became worthy of
something more than the languid exertion to be agreeable to a visitor,
by which Mrs. Hale's efforts at conversation would have been otherwise
bounded. And presently, Margaret, racking her brain to talk to Fanny,
heard her mother and Mrs. Thornton plunge into the interminable subject
of servants.

'I suppose you are not musical,' said Fanny, 'as I see no piano.'

'I am fond of hearing good music; I cannot play well myself; and papa
and mamma don't care much about it; so we sold our old piano when we
came here.'

'I wonder how you can exist without one. It almost seems to me a
necessary of life.'

'Fifteen shillings a week, and three saved out of them!' thought
Margaret to herself 'But she must have been very young. She probably has
forgotten her own personal experience. But she must know of those days.'
Margaret's manner had an extra tinge of coldness in it when she next
spoke.

'You have good concerts here, I believe.'

'Oh, yes! Delicious! Too crowded, that is the worst. The directors admit
so indiscriminately. But one is sure to hear the newest music there. I
always have a large order to give to Johnson's, the day after a
concert.'

'Do you like new music simply for its newness, then?'

'Oh; one knows it is the fashion in London, or else the singers would
not bring it down here. You have been in London, of course.'

'Yes,' said Margaret, 'I have lived there for several years.'

'Oh! London and the Alhambra are the two places I long to see!'

'London and the Alhambra!'

'Yes! ever since I read the Tales of the Alhambra. Don't you know them?'

'I don't think I do. But surely, it is a very easy journey to London.'

'Yes; but somehow,' said Fanny, lowering her voice, 'mamma has never
been to London herself, and can't understand my longing. She is very
proud of Milton; dirty, smoky place, as I feel it to be. I believe she
admires it the more for those very qualities.'

'If it has been Mrs. Thornton's home for some years, I can well
understand her loving it,' said Margaret, in her clear bell-like voice.

'What are you saying about me, Miss Hale? May I inquire?'

Margaret had not the words ready for an answer to this question, which
took her a little by surprise, so Miss Thornton replied:

'Oh, mamma! we are only trying to account for your being so fond of
Milton.'

'Thank you,' said Mrs. Thornton. 'I do not feel that my very natural
liking for the place where I was born and brought up,--and which has
since been my residence for some years, requires any accounting for.'

Margaret was vexed. As Fanny had put it, it did seem as if they had been
impertinently discussing Mrs. Thornton's feelings; but she also rose up
against that lady's manner of showing that she was offended.

Mrs. Thornton went on after a moment's pause:

'Do you know anything of Milton, Miss Hale? Have you seen any of our
factories? our magnificent warehouses?'

'No!' said Margaret. 'I have not seen anything of that description as
yet.' Then she felt that, by concealing her utter indifference to all
such places, she was hardly speaking with truth; so she went on:

'I dare say, papa would have taken me before now if I had cared. But I
really do not find much pleasure in going over manufactories.'

'They are very curious places,' said Mrs. Hale, 'but there is so much
noise and dirt always. I remember once going in a lilac silk to see
candles made, and my gown was utterly ruined.'

'Very probably,' said Mrs. Thornton, in a short displeased manner. 'I
merely thought, that as strangers newly come to reside in a town which
has risen to eminence in the country, from the character and progress of
its peculiar business, you might have cared to visit some of the places
where it is carried on; places unique in the kingdom, I am informed. If
Miss Hale changes her mind and condescends to be curious as to the
manufactures of Milton, I can only say I shall be glad to procure her
admission to print-works, or reed-making, or the more simple operations
of spinning carried on in my son's mill. Every improvement of machinery
is, I believe, to be seen there, in its highest perfection.'

'I am so glad you don't like mills and manufactories, and all those kind
of things,' said Fanny, in a half-whisper, as she rose to accompany her
mother, who was taking leave of Mrs. Hale with rustling dignity.

'I think I should like to know all about them, if I were you,' replied
Margaret quietly.

'Fanny!' said her mother, as they drove away, 'we will be civil to these
Hales: but don't form one of your hasty friendships with the daughter.
She will do you no good, I see. The mother looks very ill, and seems a
nice, quiet kind of person.'

'I don't want to form any friendship with Miss Hale, mamma,' said Fanny,
pouting. 'I thought I was doing my duty by talking to her, and trying to
amuse her.'

'Well! at any rate John must be satisfied now.'



CHAPTER XIII

A SOFT BREEZE IN A SULTRY PLACE

    'That doubt and trouble, fear and pain,
     And anguish, all, are shadows vain,
     That death itself shall not remain;

     That weary deserts we may tread,
     A dreary labyrinth may thread,
     Thro' dark ways underground be led;

     Yet, if we will one Guide obey,
     The dreariest path, the darkest way
     Shall issue out in heavenly day;

     And we, on divers shores now cast,
     Shall meet, our perilous voyage past,
     All in our Father's house at last!'
            R. C. TRENCH.


Margaret flew upstairs as soon as their visitors were gone, and put on
her bonnet and shawl, to run and inquire how Bessy Higgins was, and sit
with her as long as she could before dinner. As she went along the
crowded narrow streets, she felt how much of interest they had gained by
the simple fact of her having learnt to care for a dweller in them.

Mary Higgins, the slatternly younger sister, had endeavoured as well as
she could to tidy up the house for the expected visit. There had been
rough-stoning done in the middle of the floor, while the flags under the
chairs and table and round the walls retained their dark unwashed
appearance. Although the day was hot, there burnt a large fire in the
grate, making the whole place feel like an oven. Margaret did not
understand that the lavishness of coals was a sign of hospitable welcome
to her on Mary's part, and thought that perhaps the oppressive heat was
necessary for Bessy. Bessy herself lay on a squab, or short sofa, placed
under the window. She was very much more feeble than on the previous
day, and tired with raising herself at every step to look out and see if
it was Margaret coming. And now that Margaret was there, and had taken a
chair by her, Bessy lay back silent, and content to look at Margaret's
face, and touch her articles of dress, with a childish admiration of
their fineness of texture.

'I never knew why folk in the Bible cared for soft raiment afore. But it
must be nice to go dressed as yo' do. It's different fro' common. Most
fine folk tire my eyes out wi' their colours; but some how yours rest
me. Where did ye get this frock?'

'In London,' said Margaret, much amused.

'London! Have yo' been in London?'

'Yes! I lived there for some years. But my home was in a forest; in the
country.

'Tell me about it,' said Bessy. 'I like to hear speak of the country and
trees, and such like things.' She leant back, and shut her eye and
crossed her hands over her breast, lying at perfect rest, as if to
receive all the ideas Margaret could suggest.

Margaret had never spoken of Helstone since she left it, except just
naming the place incidentally. She saw it in dreams more vivid than
life, and as she fell away to slumber at nights her memory wandered in
all its pleasant places. But her heart was opened to this girl; 'Oh,
Bessy, I loved the home we have left so dearly! I wish you could see it.
I cannot tell you half its beauty. There are great trees standing all
about it, with their branches stretching long and level, and making a
deep shade of rest even at noonday. And yet, though every leaf may seem
still, there is a continual rushing sound of movement all around--not
close at hand. Then sometimes the turf is as soft and fine as velvet;
and sometimes quite lush with the perpetual moisture of a little,
hidden, tinkling brook near at hand. And then in other parts there are
billowy ferns--whole stretches of fern; some in the green shadow; some
with long streaks of golden sunlight lying on them--just like the sea.'

'I have never seen the sea,' murmured Bessy. 'But go on.'

'Then, here and there, there are wide commons, high up as if above the
very tops of the trees--'

'I'm glad of that. I felt smothered like down below. When I have gone
for an out, I've always wanted to get high up and see far away, and take
a deep breath o' fulness in that air. I get smothered enough in Milton,
and I think the sound yo' speak of among the trees, going on for ever
and ever, would send me dazed; it's that made my head ache so in the
mill. Now on these commons I reckon there is but little noise?'

'No,' said Margaret; 'nothing but here and there a lark high in the air.
Sometimes I used to hear a farmer speaking sharp and loud to his
servants; but it was so far away that it only reminded me pleasantly
that other people were hard at work in some distant place, while I just
sat on the heather and did nothing.'

'I used to think once that if I could have a day of doing nothing, to
rest me--a day in some quiet place like that yo' speak on--it would
maybe set me up. But now I've had many days o' idleness, and I'm just as
weary o' them as I was o' my work. Sometimes I'm so tired out I think I
cannot enjoy heaven without a piece of rest first. I'm rather afeard o'
going straight there without getting a good sleep in the grave to set me
up.'

'Don't be afraid, Bessy,' said Margaret, laying her hand on the girl's;
'God can give you more perfect rest than even idleness on earth, or the
dead sleep of the grave can do.'

Bessy moved uneasily; then she said:

'I wish father would not speak as he does. He means well, as I telled
yo' yesterday, and tell yo' again and again. But yo' see, though I don't
believe him a bit by day, yet by night--when I'm in a fever, half-asleep
and half-awake--it comes back upon me--oh! so bad! And I think, if this
should be th' end of all, and if all I've been born for is just to work
my heart and my life away, and to sicken i' this dree place, wi' them
mill-noises in my ears for ever, until I could scream out for them to
stop, and let me have a little piece o' quiet--and wi' the fluff filling
my lungs, until I thirst to death for one long deep breath o' the clear
air yo' speak on--and my mother gone, and I never able to tell her again
how I loved her, and o' all my troubles--I think if this life is th'
end, and that there's no God to wipe away all tears from all eyes--yo'
wench, yo'!' said she, sitting up, and clutching violently, almost
fiercely, at Margaret's hand, 'I could go mad, and kill yo', I could.'
She fell back completely worn out with her passion. Margaret knelt down
by her.

'Bessy--we have a Father in Heaven.'

'I know it! I know it,' moaned she, turning her head uneasily from side
to side.

'I'm very wicked. I've spoken very wickedly. Oh! don't be frightened by
me and never come again. I would not harm a hair of your head. And,'
opening her eyes, and looking earnestly at Margaret, 'I believe,
perhaps, more than yo' do o' what's to come. I read the book o'
Revelations until I know it off by heart, and I never doubt when I'm
waking, and in my senses, of all the glory I'm to come to.'

'Don't let us talk of what fancies come into your head when you are
feverish. I would rather hear something about what you used to do when
you were well.'

'I think I was well when mother died, but I have never been rightly
strong sin' somewhere about that time. I began to work in a carding-room
soon after, and the fluff got into my lungs and poisoned me.'

'Fluff?' said Margaret, inquiringly.

'Fluff,' repeated Bessy. 'Little bits, as fly off fro' the cotton, when
they're carding it, and fill the air till it looks all fine white dust.
They say it winds round the lungs, and tightens them up. Anyhow, there's
many a one as works in a carding-room, that falls into a waste, coughing
and spitting blood, because they're just poisoned by the fluff.'

'But can't it be helped?' asked Margaret.

'I dunno. Some folk have a great wheel at one end o' their carding-rooms
to make a draught, and carry off th' dust; but that wheel costs a deal
o' money--five or six hundred pound, maybe, and brings in no profit; so
it's but a few of th' masters as will put 'em up; and I've heard tell o'
men who didn't like working places where there was a wheel, because they
said as how it mad 'em hungry, at after they'd been long used to
swallowing fluff, to go without it, and that their wage ought to be
raised if they were to work in such places. So between masters and men
th' wheels fall through. I know I wish there'd been a wheel in our
place, though.'

'Did not your father know about it?' asked Margaret.

'Yes! And he were sorry. But our factory were a good one on the whole;
and a steady likely set o' people; and father was afeard of letting me
go to a strange place, for though yo' would na think it now, many a one
then used to call me a gradely lass enough. And I did na like to be
reckoned nesh and soft, and Mary's schooling were to be kept up, mother
said, and father he were always liking to buy books, and go to lectures
o' one kind or another--all which took money--so I just worked on till I
shall ne'er get the whirr out o' my ears, or the fluff out o' my throat
i' this world. That's all.'

'How old are you?' asked Margaret.

'Nineteen, come July.'

'And I too am nineteen.' She thought, more sorrowfully than Bessy did,
of the contrast between them. She could not speak for a moment or two
for the emotion she was trying to keep down.

'About Mary,' said Bessy. 'I wanted to ask yo' to be a friend to her.
She's seventeen, but she's th' last on us. And I don't want her to go to
th' mill, and yet I dunno what she's fit for.'

'She could not do'--Margaret glanced unconsciously at the uncleaned
corners of the room--'She could hardly undertake a servant's place,
could she? We have an old faithful servant, almost a friend, who wants
help, but who is very particular; and it would not be right to plague
her with giving her any assistance that would really be an annoyance and
an irritation.'

'No, I see. I reckon yo're right. Our Mary's a good wench; but who has
she had to teach her what to do about a house? No mother, and me at the
mill till I were good for nothing but scolding her for doing badly what
I didn't know how to do a bit. But I wish she could ha' lived wi' yo',
for all that.'

'But even though she may not be exactly fitted to come and live with us
as a servant--and I don't know about that--I will always try and be a
friend to her for your sake, Bessy. And now I must go. I will come again
as soon as I can; but if it should not be to-morrow, or the next day, or
even a week or a fortnight hence, don't think I've forgotten you. I may
be busy.'

'I'll know yo' won't forget me again. I'll not mistrust yo' no more. But
remember, in a week or a fortnight I may be dead and buried!'

'I'll come as soon as I can, Bessy,' said Margaret, squeezing her hand
tight.

'But you'll let me know if you are worse.

'Ay, that will I,' said Bessy, returning the pressure.

From that day forwards Mrs. Hale became more and more of a suffering
invalid. It was now drawing near to the anniversary of Edith's marriage,
and looking back upon the year's accumulated heap of troubles, Margaret
wondered how they had been borne. If she could have anticipated them,
how she would have shrunk away and hid herself from the coming time! And
yet day by day had, of itself, and by itself, been very
endurable--small, keen, bright little spots of positive enjoyment having
come sparkling into the very middle of sorrows. A year ago, or when she
first went to Helstone, and first became silently conscious of the
querulousness in her mother's temper, she would have groaned bitterly
over the idea of a long illness to be borne in a strange, desolate,
noisy, busy place, with diminished comforts on every side of the home
life. But with the increase of serious and just ground of complaint, a
new kind of patience had sprung up in her mother's mind. She was gentle
and quiet in intense bodily suffering, almost in proportion as she had
been restless and depressed when there had been no real cause for grief.
Mr. Hale was in exactly that stage of apprehension which, in men of his
stamp, takes the shape of wilful blindness. He was more irritated than
Margaret had ever known him at his daughter's expressed anxiety.

'Indeed, Margaret, you are growing fanciful! God knows I should be the
first to take the alarm if your mother were really ill; we always saw
when she had her headaches at Helstone, even without her telling us. She
looks quite pale and white when she is ill; and now she has a bright
healthy colour in her cheeks, just as she used to have when I first knew
her.'

'But, papa,' said Margaret, with hesitation, 'do you know, I think that
is the flush of pain.'

'Nonsense, Margaret. I tell you, you are too fanciful. You are the
person not well, I think. Send for the doctor to-morrow for yourself;
and then, if it will make your mind easier, he can see your mother.'

'Thank you, dear papa. It will make me happier, indeed.' And she went up
to him to kiss him. But he pushed her away--gently enough, but still as
if she had suggested unpleasant ideas, which he should be glad to get
rid of as readily as he could of her presence. He walked uneasily up and
down the room.

'Poor Maria!' said he, half soliloquising, 'I wish one could do right
without sacrificing others. I shall hate this town, and myself too, if
she---- Pray, Margaret, does your mother often talk to you of the old
places of Helstone, I mean?'

'No, papa,' said Margaret, sadly.

'Then, you see, she can't be fretting after them, eh? It has always been
a comfort to me to think that your mother was so simple and open that I
knew every little grievance she had. She never would conceal anything
seriously affecting her health from me: would she, eh, Margaret? I am
quite sure she would not. So don't let me hear of these foolish morbid
ideas. Come, give me a kiss, and run off to bed.'

But she heard him pacing about (racooning, as she and Edith used to call
it) long after her slow and languid undressing was finished--long after
she began to listen as she lay in bed.



CHAPTER XIV

THE MUTINY

    'I was used
     To sleep at nights as sweetly as a child,--
     Now if the wind blew rough, it made me start,
     And think of my poor boy tossing about
     Upon the roaring seas. And then I seemed
     To feel that it was hard to take him from me
     For such a little fault.'
             SOUTHEY.


It was a comfort to Margaret about this time, to find that her mother
drew more tenderly and intimately towards her than she had ever done
since the days of her childhood. She took her to her heart as a
confidential friend--the post Margaret had always longed to fill, and
had envied Dixon for being preferred to. Margaret took pains to respond
to every call made upon her for sympathy--and they were many--even when
they bore relation to trifles, which she would no more have noticed or
regarded herself than the elephant would perceive the little pin at his
feet, which yet he lifts carefully up at the bidding of his keeper. All
unconsciously Margaret drew near to a reward.

One evening, Mr. Hale being absent, her mother began to talk to her
about her brother Frederick, the very subject on which Margaret had
longed to ask questions, and almost the only one on which her timidity
overcame her natural openness. The more she wanted to hear about him,
the less likely she was to speak.

'Oh, Margaret, it was so windy last night! It came howling down the
chimney in our room! I could not sleep. I never can when there is such a
terrible wind. I got into a wakeful habit when poor Frederick was at
sea; and now, even if I don't waken all at once, I dream of him in some
stormy sea, with great, clear, glass-green walls of waves on either side
his ship, but far higher than her very masts, curling over her with that
cruel, terrible white foam, like some gigantic crested serpent. It is an
old dream, but it always comes back on windy nights, till I am thankful
to waken, sitting straight and stiff up in bed with my terror. Poor
Frederick! He is on land now, so wind can do him no harm. Though I did
think it might shake down some of those tall chimneys.'

'Where is Frederick now, mamma? Our letters are directed to the care of
Messrs. Barbour, at Cadiz, I know; but where is he himself?'

'I can't remember the name of the place, but he is not called Hale; you
must remember that, Margaret. Notice the F. D. in every corner of the
letters. He has taken the name of Dickenson. I wanted him to have been
called Beresford, to which he had a kind of right, but your father
thought he had better not. He might be recognised, you know, if he were
called by my name.'

'Mamma,' said Margaret, 'I was at Aunt Shaw's when it all happened; and
I suppose I was not old enough to be told plainly about it. But I should
like to know now, if I may--if it does not give you too much pain to
speak about it.'

'Pain! No,' replied Mrs. Hale, her cheek flushing. 'Yet it is pain to
think that perhaps I may never see my darling boy again. Or else he did
right, Margaret. They may say what they like, but I have his own letters
to show, and I'll believe him, though he is my son, sooner than any
court-martial on earth. Go to my little japan cabinet, dear, and in the
second left-hand drawer you will find a packet of letters.'

Margaret went. There were the yellow, sea-stained letters, with the
peculiar fragrance which ocean letters have: Margaret carried them back
to her mother, who untied the silken string with trembling fingers, and,
examining their dates, she gave them to Margaret to read, making her
hurried, anxious remarks on their contents, almost before her daughter
could have understood what they were.

'You see, Margaret, how from the very first he disliked Captain Reid. He
was second lieutenant in the ship--the Orion--in which Frederick sailed
the very first time. Poor little fellow, how well he looked in his
midshipman's dress, with his dirk in his hand, cutting open all the
newspapers with it as if it were a paper-knife! But this Mr. Reid, as he
was then, seemed to take a dislike to Frederick from the very beginning.
And then--stay! these are the letters he wrote on board the Russell.
When he was appointed to her, and found his old enemy Captain Reid in
command, he did mean to bear all his tyranny patiently. Look! this is
the letter. Just read it, Margaret. Where is it he says--Stop--'my
father may rely upon me, that I will bear with all proper patience
everything that one officer and gentleman can take from another. But
from my former knowledge of my present captain, I confess I look forward
with apprehension to a long course of tyranny on board the Russell.' You
see, he promises to bear patiently, and I am sure he did, for he was the
sweetest-tempered boy, when he was not vexed, that could possibly be. Is
that the letter in which he speaks of Captain Reid's impatience with the
men, for not going through the ship's manoeuvres as quickly as the
Avenger? You see, he says that they had many new hands on board the
Russell, while the Avenger had been nearly three years on the station,
with nothing to do but to keep slavers off, and work her men, till they
ran up and down the rigging like rats or monkeys.'

Margaret slowly read the letter, half illegible through the fading of
the ink. It might be--it probably was--a statement of Captain Reid's
imperiousness in trifles, very much exaggerated by the narrator, who had
written it while fresh and warm from the scene of altercation. Some
sailors being aloft in the main-topsail rigging, the captain had ordered
them to race down, threatening the hindmost with the cat-of-nine-tails.
He who was the farthest on the spar, feeling the impossibility of
passing his companions, and yet passionately dreading the disgrace of
the flogging, threw himself desperately down to catch a rope
considerably lower, failed, and fell senseless on deck. He only survived
for a few hours afterwards, and the indignation of the ship's crew was
at boiling point when young Hale wrote.

'But we did not receive this letter till long, long after we heard of
the mutiny. Poor Fred! I dare say it was a comfort to him to write it
even though he could not have known how to send it, poor fellow! And
then we saw a report in the papers--that's to say, long before Fred's
letter reached us--of an atrocious mutiny having broken out on board the
Russell, and that the mutineers had remained in possession of the ship,
which had gone off, it was supposed, to be a pirate; and that Captain
Reid was sent adrift in a boat with some men--officers or
something--whose names were all given, for they were picked up by a
West-Indian steamer. Oh, Margaret! how your father and I turned sick
over that list, when there was no name of Frederick Hale. We thought it
must be some mistake; for poor Fred was such a fine fellow, only perhaps
rather too passionate; and we hoped that the name of Carr, which was in
the list, was a misprint for that of Hale--newspapers are so careless.
And towards post-time the next day, papa set off to walk to Southampton
to get the papers; and I could not stop at home, so I went to meet him.
He was very late--much later than I thought he would have been; and I
sat down under the hedge to wait for him. He came at last, his arms
hanging loose down, his head sunk, and walking heavily along, as if
every step was a labour and a trouble. Margaret, I see him now.'

'Don't go on, mamma. I can understand it all,' said Margaret, leaning up
caressingly against her mother's side, and kissing her hand.

'No, you can't, Margaret. No one can who did not see him then. I could
hardly lift myself up to go and meet him--everything seemed so to reel
around me all at once. And when I got to him, he did not speak, or seem
surprised to see me there, more than three miles from home, beside the
Oldham beech-tree; but he put my arm in his, and kept stroking my hand,
as if he wanted to soothe me to be very quiet under some great heavy
blow; and when I trembled so all over that I could not speak, he took me
in his arms, and stooped down his head on mine, and began to shake and
to cry in a strange muffled, groaning voice, till I, for very fright,
stood quite still, and only begged him to tell me what he had heard. And
then, with his hand jerking, as if some one else moved it against his
will, he gave me a wicked newspaper to read, calling our Frederick a
"traitor of the blackest dye," "a base, ungrateful disgrace to his
profession." Oh! I cannot tell what bad words they did not use. I took
the paper in my hands as soon as I had read it--I tore it up to little
bits--I tore it--oh! I believe Margaret, I tore it with my teeth. I did
not cry. I could not. My cheeks were as hot as fire, and my very eyes
burnt in my head. I saw your father looking grave at me. I said it was a
lie, and so it was. Months after, this letter came, and you see what
provocation Frederick had. It was not for himself, or his own injuries,
he rebelled; but he would speak his mind to Captain Reid, and so it went
on from bad to worse; and you see, most of the sailors stuck by
Frederick.

'I think, Margaret,' she continued, after a pause, in a weak, trembling,
exhausted voice, 'I am glad of it--I am prouder of Frederick standing up
against injustice, than if he had been simply a good officer.'

'I am sure I am,' said Margaret, in a firm, decided tone. 'Loyalty and
obedience to wisdom and justice are fine; but it is still finer to defy
arbitrary power, unjustly and cruelly used-not on behalf of ourselves,
but on behalf of others more helpless.'

'For all that, I wish I could see Frederick once more--just once. He was
my first baby, Margaret.' Mrs. Hale spoke wistfully, and almost as if
apologising for the yearning, craving wish, as though it were a
depreciation of her remaining child. But such an idea never crossed
Margaret's mind. She was thinking how her mother's desire could be
fulfilled.

'It is six or seven years ago--would they still prosecute him, mother?
If he came and stood his trial, what would be the punishment? Surely, he
might bring evidence of his great provocation.'

'It would do no good,' replied Mrs. Hale. 'Some of the sailors who
accompanied Frederick were taken, and there was a court-martial held on
them on board the Amicia; I believed all they said in their defence,
poor fellows, because it just agreed with Frederick's story--but it was
of no use,--' and for the first time during the conversation Mrs. Hale
began to cry; yet something possessed Margaret to force the information
she foresaw, yet dreaded, from her mother.

'What happened to them, mamma?' asked she.

'They were hung at the yard-arm,' said Mrs. Hale, solemnly. 'And the
worst was that the court, in condemning them to death, said they had
suffered themselves to be led astray from their duty by their superior
officers.'

They were silent for a long time.

'And Frederick was in South America for several years, was he not?'

'Yes. And now he is in Spain. At Cadiz, or somewhere near it. If he
comes to England he will be hung. I shall never see his face again--for
if he comes to England he will be hung.'

There was no comfort to be given. Mrs. Hale turned her face to the wall,
and lay perfectly still in her mother's despair. Nothing could be said
to console her. She took her hand out of Margaret's with a little
impatient movement, as if she would fain be left alone with the
recollection of her son. When Mr. Hale came in, Margaret went out,
oppressed with gloom, and seeing no promise of brightness on any side of
the horizon.



CHAPTER XV

MASTERS AND MEN

    'Thought fights with thought;
     out springs a spark of truth
     From the collision of the sword and shield.'
           W. S. LANDOR.


'Margaret,' said her father, the next day, 'we must return Mrs.
Thornton's call. Your mother is not very well, and thinks she cannot
walk so far; but you and I will go this afternoon.'

As they went, Mr. Hale began about his wife's health, with a kind of
veiled anxiety, which Margaret was glad to see awakened at last.

'Did you consult the doctor, Margaret? Did you send for him?'

'No, papa, you spoke of his coming to see me. Now I was well. But if I
only knew of some good doctor, I would go this afternoon, and ask him to
come, for I am sure mamma is seriously indisposed.'

She put the truth thus plainly and strongly because her father had so
completely shut his mind against the idea, when she had last named her
fears. But now the case was changed. He answered in a despondent tone:

'Do you think she has any hidden complaint? Do you think she is really
very ill? Has Dixon said anything? Oh, Margaret! I am haunted by the
fear that our coming to Milton has killed her. My poor Maria!'

'Oh, papa! don't imagine such things,' said Margaret, shocked. 'She is
not well, that is all. Many a one is not well for a time; and with good
advice gets better and stronger than ever.'

'But has Dixon said anything about her?'

'No! You know Dixon enjoys making a mystery out of trifles; and she has
been a little mysterious about mamma's health, which has alarmed me
rather, that is all. Without any reason, I dare say. You know, papa, you
said the other day I was getting fanciful.'

'I hope and trust you are. But don't think of what I said then. I like
you to be fanciful about your mother's health. Don't be afraid of
telling me your fancies. I like to hear them, though, I dare say, I
spoke as if I was annoyed. But we will ask Mrs. Thornton if she can tell
us of a good doctor. We won't throw away our money on any but some one
first-rate. Stay, we turn up this street.' The street did not look as if
it could contain any house large enough for Mrs. Thornton's habitation.
Her son's presence never gave any impression as to the kind of house he
lived in; but, unconsciously, Margaret had imagined that tall, massive,
handsomely dressed Mrs. Thornton must live in a house of the same
character as herself. Now Marlborough Street consisted of long rows of
small houses, with a blank wall here and there; at least that was all
they could see from the point at which they entered it.

'He told me he lived in Marlborough Street, I'm sure,' said Mr. Hale,
with a much perplexed air.

'Perhaps it is one of the economies he still practises, to live in a
very small house. But here are plenty of people about; let me ask.'

She accordingly inquired of a passer-by, and was informed that Mr.
Thornton lived close to the mill, and had the factory lodge-door pointed
out to her, at the end of the long dead wall they had noticed.

The lodge-door was like a common garden-door; on one side of it were
great closed gates for the ingress and egress of lurries and wagons. The
lodge-keeper admitted them into a great oblong yard, on one side of
which were offices for the transaction of business; on the opposite, an
immense many-windowed mill, whence proceeded the continual clank of
machinery and the long groaning roar of the steam-engine, enough to
deafen those who lived within the enclosure. Opposite to the wall, along
which the street ran, on one of the narrow sides of the oblong, was a
handsome stone-coped house,--blackened, to be sure, by the smoke, but
with paint, windows, and steps kept scrupulously clean. It was evidently
a house which had been built some fifty or sixty years. The stone
facings--the long, narrow windows, and the number of them--the flights
of steps up to the front door, ascending from either side, and guarded
by railing--all witnessed to its age. Margaret only wondered why people
who could afford to live in so good a house, and keep it in such perfect
order, did not prefer a much smaller dwelling in the country, or even
some suburb; not in the continual whirl and din of the factory. Her
unaccustomed ears could hardly catch her father's voice, as they stood
on the steps awaiting the opening of the door. The yard, too, with the
great doors in the dead wall as a boundary, was but a dismal look-out
for the sitting-rooms of the house--as Margaret found when they had
mounted the old-fashioned stairs, and been ushered into the
drawing-room, the three windows of which went over the front door and
the room on the right-hand side of the entrance. There was no one in the
drawing-room. It seemed as though no one had been in it since the day
when the furniture was bagged up with as much care as if the house was
to be overwhelmed with lava, and discovered a thousand years hence. The
walls were pink and gold; the pattern on the carpet represented bunches
of flowers on a light ground, but it was carefully covered up in the
centre by a linen drugget, glazed and colourless. The window-curtains
were lace; each chair and sofa had its own particular veil of netting,
or knitting. Great alabaster groups occupied every flat surface, safe
from dust under their glass shades. In the middle of the room, right
under the bagged-up chandelier, was a large circular table, with
smartly-bound books arranged at regular intervals round the
circumference of its polished surface, like gaily-coloured spokes of a
wheel. Everything reflected light, nothing absorbed it. The whole room
had a painfully spotted, spangled, speckled look about it, which
impressed Margaret so unpleasantly that she was hardly conscious of the
peculiar cleanliness required to keep everything so white and pure in
such an atmosphere, or of the trouble that must be willingly expended to
secure that effect of icy, snowy discomfort. Wherever she looked there
was evidence of care and labour, but not care and labour to procure
ease, to help on habits of tranquil home employment; solely to ornament,
and then to preserve ornament from dirt or destruction.

They had leisure to observe, and to speak to each other in low voices,
before Mrs. Thornton appeared. They were talking of what all the world
might hear; but it is a common effect of such a room as this to make
people speak low, as if unwilling to awaken the unused echoes.

At last Mrs. Thornton came in, rustling in handsome black silk, as was
her wont; her muslins and laces rivalling, not excelling, the pure
whiteness of the muslins and netting of the room. Margaret explained how
it was that her mother could not accompany them to return Mrs.
Thornton's call; but in her anxiety not to bring back her father's fears
too vividly, she gave but a bungling account, and left the impression on
Mrs. Thornton's mind that Mrs. Hale's was some temporary or fanciful
fine-ladyish indisposition, which might have been put aside had there
been a strong enough motive; or that if it was too severe to allow her
to come out that day, the call might have been deferred. Remembering,
too, the horses to her carriage, hired for her own visit to the Hales,
and how Fanny had been ordered to go by Mr. Thornton, in order to pay
every respect to them, Mrs. Thornton drew up slightly offended, and gave
Margaret no sympathy--indeed, hardly any credit for the statement of her
mother's indisposition.

'How is Mr. Thornton?' asked Mr. Hale. 'I was afraid he was not well,
from his hurried note yesterday.'

'My son is rarely ill; and when he is, he never speaks about it, or
makes it an excuse for not doing anything. He told me he could not get
leisure to read with you last night, sir. He regretted it, I am sure; he
values the hours spent with you.'

'I am sure they are equally agreeable to me,' said Mr. Hale. 'It makes
me feel young again to see his enjoyment and appreciation of all that is
fine in classical literature.'

'I have no doubt the classics are very desirable for people who have
leisure. But, I confess, it was against my judgment that my son renewed
his study of them. The time and place in which he lives, seem to me to
require all his energy and attention. Classics may do very well for men
who loiter away their lives in the country or in colleges; but Milton
men ought to have their thoughts and powers absorbed in the work of
to-day. At least, that is my opinion.' This last clause she gave out
with 'the pride that apes humility.'

'But, surely, if the mind is too long directed to one object only, it
will get stiff and rigid, and unable to take in many interests,' said
Margaret.

'I do not quite understand what you mean by a mind getting stiff and
rigid. Nor do I admire those whirligig characters that are full of this
thing to-day, to be utterly forgetful of it in their new interest
to-morrow. Having many interests does not suit the life of a Milton
manufacturer. It is, or ought to be, enough for him to have one great
desire, and to bring all the purposes of his life to bear on the
fulfilment of that.'

'And that is--?' asked Mr. Hale.

Her sallow cheek flushed, and her eye lightened, as she answered:

'To hold and maintain a high, honourable place among the merchants of
his country--the men of his town. Such a place my son has earned for
himself. Go where you will--I don't say in England only, but in
Europe--the name of John Thornton of Milton is known and respected
amongst all men of business. Of course, it is unknown in the fashionable
circles,' she continued, scornfully.

'Idle gentlemen and ladies are not likely to know much of a Milton
manufacturer, unless he gets into parliament, or marries a lord's
daughter.' Both Mr. Hale and Margaret had an uneasy, ludicrous
consciousness that they had never heard of this great name, until Mr.
Bell had written them word that Mr. Thornton would be a good friend to
have in Milton. The proud mother's world was not their world of Harley
Street gentilities on the one hand, or country clergymen and Hampshire
squires on the other. Margaret's face, in spite of all her endeavours to
keep it simply listening in its expression told the sensitive Mrs.
Thornton this feeling of hers.

'You think you never heard of this wonderful son of mine, Miss Hale. You
think I'm an old woman whose ideas are bounded by Milton, and whose own
crow is the whitest ever seen.'

'No,' said Margaret, with some spirit. 'It may be true, that I was
thinking I had hardly heard Mr. Thornton's name before I came to Milton.
But since I have come here, I have heard enough to make me respect and
admire him, and to feel how much justice and truth there is in what you
have said of him.'

'Who spoke to you of him?' asked Mrs. Thornton, a little mollified, yet
jealous lest any one else's words should not have done him full justice.
Margaret hesitated before she replied. She did not like this
authoritative questioning. Mr. Hale came in, as he thought, to the
rescue.

'It was what Mr. Thornton said himself, that made us know the kind of
man he was. Was it not, Margaret?'

Mrs. Thornton drew herself up, and said--

'My son is not the one to tell of his own doings. May I again ask you,
Miss Hale, from whose account you formed your favourable opinion of him?
A mother is curious and greedy of commendation of her children, you
know.'

Margaret replied, 'It was as much from what Mr. Thornton withheld of
that which we had been told of his previous life by Mr. Bell,--it was
more that than what he said, that made us all feel what reason you have
to be proud of him.'

'Mr. Bell! What can he know of John? He, living a lazy life in a drowsy
college. But I'm obliged to you, Miss Hale. Many a missy young lady
would have shrunk from giving an old woman the pleasure of hearing that
her son was well spoken of.'

'Why?' asked Margaret, looking straight at Mrs. Thornton, in
bewilderment.

'Why! because I suppose they might have consciences that told them how
surely they were making the old mother into an advocate for them, in
case they had any plans on the son's heart.'

She smiled a grim smile, for she had been pleased by Margaret's
frankness; and perhaps she felt that she had been asking questions too
much as if she had a right to catechise. Margaret laughed outright at
the notion presented to her; laughed so merrily that it grated on Mrs.
Thornton's ear, as if the words that called forth that laugh, must have
been utterly and entirely ludicrous. Margaret stopped her merriment as
soon as she saw Mrs. Thornton's annoyed look.

'I beg your pardon, madam. But I really am very much obliged to you for
exonerating me from making any plans on Mr. Thornton's heart.'

'Young ladies have, before now,' said Mrs. Thornton, stiffly.

'I hope Miss Thornton is well,' put in Mr. Hale, desirous of changing
the current of the conversation.

'She is as well as she ever is. She is not strong,' replied Mrs.
Thornton, shortly.

'And Mr. Thornton? I suppose I may hope to see him on Thursday?'

'I cannot answer for my son's engagements. There is some uncomfortable
work going on in the town; a threatening of a strike. If so, his
experience and judgment will make him much consulted by his friends. But
I should think he could come on Thursday. At any rate, I am sure he will
let you know if he cannot.'

'A strike!' asked Margaret. 'What for? What are they going to strike
for?'

'For the mastership and ownership of other people's property,' said Mrs.
Thornton, with a fierce snort. 'That is what they always strike for. If
my son's work-people strike, I will only say they are a pack of
ungrateful hounds. But I have no doubt they will.'

'They are wanting higher wages, I suppose?' asked Mr. Hale.

'That is the face of the thing. But the truth is, they want to be
masters, and make the masters into slaves on their own ground. They are
always trying at it; they always have it in their minds and every five
or six years, there comes a struggle between masters and men. They'll
find themselves mistaken this time, I fancy,--a little out of their
reckoning. If they turn out, they mayn't find it so easy to go in again.
I believe, the masters have a thing or two in their heads which will
teach the men not to strike again in a hurry, if they try it this time.'

'Does it not make the town very rough?' asked Margaret.

'Of course it does. But surely you are not a coward, are you? Milton is
not the place for cowards. I have known the time when I have had to
thread my way through a crowd of white, angry men, all swearing they
would have Makinson's blood as soon as he ventured to show his nose out
of his factory; and he, knowing nothing of it, some one had to go and
tell him, or he was a dead man, and it needed to be a woman,--so I went.
And when I had got in, I could not get out. It was as much as my life
was worth. So I went up to the roof, where there were stones piled ready
to drop on the heads of the crowd, if they tried to force the factory
doors. And I would have lifted those heavy stones, and dropped them with
as good an aim as the best man there, but that I fainted with the heat I
had gone through. If you live in Milton, you must learn to have a brave
heart, Miss Hale.'

'I would do my best,' said Margaret rather pale. 'I do not know whether
I am brave or not till I am tried; but I am afraid I should be a
coward.'

'South country people are often frightened by what our Darkshire men and
women only call living and struggling. But when you've been ten years
among a people who are always owing their betters a grudge, and only
waiting for an opportunity to pay it off, you'll know whether you are a
coward or not, take my word for it.'

Mr. Thornton came that evening to Mr. Hale's. He was shown up into the
drawing-room, where Mr. Hale was reading aloud to his wife and daughter.

'I am come partly to bring you a note from my mother, and partly to
apologise for not keeping to my time yesterday. The note contains the
address you asked for; Dr. Donaldson.'

'Thank you!' said Margaret, hastily, holding out her hand to take the
note, for she did not wish her mother to hear that they had been making
any inquiry about a doctor. She was pleased that Mr. Thornton seemed
immediately to understand her feeling; he gave her the note without
another word of explanation. Mr. Hale began to talk about the strike.
Mr. Thornton's face assumed a likeness to his mother's worst expression,
which immediately repelled the watching Margaret.

'Yes; the fools will have a strike. Let them. It suits us well enough.
But we gave them a chance. They think trade is flourishing as it was
last year. We see the storm on the horizon and draw in our sails. But
because we don't explain our reasons, they won't believe we're acting
reasonably. We must give them line and letter for the way we choose to
spend or save our money. Henderson tried a dodge with his men, out at
Ashley, and failed. He rather wanted a strike; it would have suited his
book well enough. So when the men came to ask for the five per cent.
they are claiming, he told 'em he'd think about it, and give them his
answer on the pay day; knowing all the while what his answer would be,
of course, but thinking he'd strengthen their conceit of their own way.
However, they were too deep for him, and heard something about the bad
prospects of trade. So in they came on the Friday, and drew back their
claim, and now he's obliged to go on working. But we Milton masters have
to-day sent in our decision. We won't advance a penny. We tell them we
may have to lower wages; but can't afford to raise. So here we stand,
waiting for their next attack.'

'And what will that be?' asked Mr. Hale.

'I conjecture, a simultaneous strike. You will see Milton without smoke
in a few days, I imagine, Miss Hale.'

'But why,' asked she, 'could you not explain what good reason you have
for expecting a bad trade? I don't know whether I use the right words,
but you will understand what I mean.'

'Do you give your servants reasons for your expenditure, or your economy
in the use of your own money? We, the owners of capital, have a right to
choose what we will do with it.'

'A human right,' said Margaret, very low.

'I beg your pardon, I did not hear what you said.'

'I would rather not repeat it,' said she; 'it related to a feeling which
I do not think you would share.'

'Won't you try me?' pleaded he; his thoughts suddenly bent upon learning
what she had said. She was displeased with his pertinacity, but did not
choose to affix too much importance to her words.

'I said you had a human right. I meant that there seemed no reason but
religious ones, why you should not do what you like with your own.

'I know we differ in our religious opinions; but don't you give me
credit for having some, though not the same as yours?'

He was speaking in a subdued voice, as if to her alone. She did not wish
to be so exclusively addressed. She replied out in her usual tone:

'I do not think that I have any occasion to consider your special
religious opinions in the affair. All I meant to say is, that there is
no human law to prevent the employers from utterly wasting or throwing
away all their money, if they choose; but that there are passages in the
Bible which would rather imply--to me at least--that they neglected
their duty as stewards if they did so. However I know so little about
strikes, and rate of wages, and capital, and labour, that I had better
not talk to a political economist like you.'

'Nay, the more reason,' said he, eagerly. 'I shall only be too glad to
explain to you all that may seem anomalous or mysterious to a stranger;
especially at a time like this, when our doings are sure to be canvassed
by every scribbler who can hold a pen.'

'Thank you,' she answered, coldly. 'Of course, I shall apply to my
father in the first instance for any information he can give me, if I
get puzzled with living here amongst this strange society.'

'You think it strange. Why?'

'I don't know--I suppose because, on the very face of it, I see two
classes dependent on each other in every possible way, yet each
evidently regarding the interests of the other as opposed to their own;
I never lived in a place before where there were two sets of people
always running each other down.'

'Who have you heard running the masters down? I don't ask who you have
heard abusing the men; for I see you persist in misunderstanding what I
said the other day. But who have you heard abusing the masters?'

Margaret reddened; then smiled as she said,

'I am not fond of being catechised. I refuse to answer your question.
Besides, it has nothing to do with the fact. You must take my word for
it, that I have heard some people, or, it may be, only someone of the
workpeople, speak as though it were the interest of the employers to
keep them from acquiring money--that it would make them too independent
if they had a sum in the savings' bank.'

'I dare say it was that man Higgins who told you all this,' said Mrs
Hale. Mr. Thornton did not appear to hear what Margaret evidently did
not wish him to know. But he caught it, nevertheless.

'I heard, moreover, that it was considered to the advantage of the
masters to have ignorant workmen--not hedge-lawyers, as Captain Lennox
used to call those men in his company who questioned and would know the
reason for every order.' This latter part of her sentence she addressed
rather to her father than to Mr. Thornton. Who is Captain Lennox? asked
Mr. Thornton of himself, with a strange kind of displeasure, that
prevented him for the moment from replying to her! Her father took up
the conversation.

'You never were fond of schools, Margaret, or you would have seen and
known before this, how much is being done for education in Milton.'

'No!' said she, with sudden meekness. 'I know I do not care enough about
schools. But the knowledge and the ignorance of which I was speaking,
did not relate to reading and writing,--the teaching or information one
can give to a child. I am sure, that what was meant was ignorance of the
wisdom that shall guide men and women. I hardly know what that is. But
he--that is, my informant--spoke as if the masters would like their
hands to be merely tall, large children--living in the present
moment--with a blind unreasoning kind of obedience.'

'In short, Miss Hale, it is very evident that your informant found a
pretty ready listener to all the slander he chose to utter against the
masters,' said Mr. Thornton, in an offended tone.

Margaret did not reply. She was displeased at the personal character Mr.
Thornton affixed to what she had said.

Mr. Hale spoke next:

'I must confess that, although I have not become so intimately
acquainted with any workmen as Margaret has, I am very much struck by
the antagonism between the employer and the employed, on the very
surface of things. I even gather this impression from what you yourself
have from time to time said.'

Mr. Thornton paused awhile before he spoke. Margaret had just left the
room, and he was vexed at the state of feeling between himself and her.
However, the little annoyance, by making him cooler and more thoughtful,
gave a greater dignity to what he said:

'My theory is, that my interests are identical with those of my
workpeople and vice-versa. Miss Hale, I know, does not like to hear men
called 'hands,' so I won't use that word, though it comes most readily
to my lips as the technical term, whose origin, whatever it was, dates
before my time. On some future day--in some millennium--in Utopia, this
unity may be brought into practice--just as I can fancy a republic the
most perfect form of government.'

'We will read Plato's Republic as soon as we have finished Homer.'

'Well, in the Platonic year, it may fall out that we are all--men women,
and children--fit for a republic: but give me a constitutional monarchy
in our present state of morals and intelligence. In our infancy we
require a wise despotism to govern us. Indeed, long past infancy,
children and young people are the happiest under the unfailing laws of a
discreet, firm authority. I agree with Miss Hale so far as to consider
our people in the condition of children, while I deny that we, the
masters, have anything to do with the making or keeping them so. I
maintain that despotism is the best kind of government for them; so that
in the hours in which I come in contact with them I must necessarily be
an autocrat. I will use my best discretion--from no humbug or
philanthropic feeling, of which we have had rather too much in the
North--to make wise laws and come to just decisions in the conduct of my
business--laws and decisions which work for my own good in the first
instance--for theirs in the second; but I will neither be forced to give
my reasons, nor flinch from what I have once declared to be my
resolution. Let them turn out! I shall suffer as well as they: but at
the end they will find I have not bated nor altered one jot.'

Margaret had re-entered the room and was sitting at her work; but she
did not speak. Mr. Hale answered--

'I dare say I am talking in great ignorance; but from the little I know,
I should say that the masses were already passing rapidly into the
troublesome stage which intervenes between childhood and manhood, in the
life of the multitude as well as that of the individual. Now, the error
which many parents commit in the treatment of the individual at this
time is, insisting on the same unreasoning obedience as when all he had
to do in the way of duty was, to obey the simple laws of "Come when
you're called" and "Do as you're bid!" But a wise parent humours the
desire for independent action, so as to become the friend and adviser
when his absolute rule shall cease. If I get wrong in my reasoning,
recollect, it is you who adopted the analogy.'

'Very lately,' said Margaret, 'I heard a story of what happened in
Nuremberg only three or four years ago. A rich man there lived alone in
one of the immense mansions which were formerly both dwellings and
warehouses. It was reported that he had a child, but no one knew of it
for certain. For forty years this rumour kept rising and falling--never
utterly dying away. After his death it was found to be true. He had a
son--an overgrown man with the unexercised intellect of a child, whom he
had kept up in that strange way, in order to save him from temptation
and error. But, of course, when this great old child was turned loose
into the world, every bad counsellor had power over him. He did not know
good from evil. His father had made the blunder of bringing him up in
ignorance and taking it for innocence; and after fourteen months of
riotous living, the city authorities had to take charge of him, in order
to save him from starvation. He could not even use words effectively
enough to be a successful beggar.'

'I used the comparison (suggested by Miss Hale) of the position of the
master to that of a parent; so I ought not to complain of your turning
the simile into a weapon against me. But, Mr. Hale, when you were
setting up a wise parent as a model for us, you said he humoured his
children in their desire for independent action. Now certainly, the time
is not come for the hands to have any independent action during business
hours; I hardly know what you would mean by it then. And I say, that the
masters would be trenching on the independence of their hands, in a way
that I, for one, should not feel justified in doing, if we interfered
too much with the life they lead out of the mills. Because they labour
ten hours a-day for us, I do not see that we have any right to impose
leading-strings upon them for the rest of their time. I value my own
independence so highly that I can fancy no degradation greater than that
of having another man perpetually directing and advising and lecturing
me, or even planning too closely in any way about my actions. He might
be the wisest of men, or the most powerful--I should equally rebel and
resent his interference I imagine this is a stronger feeling in the
North of England that in the South.'

'I beg your pardon, but is not that because there has been none of the
equality of friendship between the adviser and advised classes? Because
every man has had to stand in an unchristian and isolated position,
apart from and jealous of his brother-man: constantly afraid of his
rights being trenched upon?'

'I only state the fact. I am sorry to say, I have an appointment at
eight o'clock, and I must just take facts as I find them to-night,
without trying to account for them; which, indeed, would make no
difference in determining how to act as things stand--the facts must be
granted.'

'But,' said Margaret in a low voice, 'it seems to me that it makes all
the difference in the world--.' Her father made a sign to her to be
silent, and allow Mr. Thornton to finish what he had to say. He was
already standing up and preparing to go.

'You must grant me this one point. Given a strong feeling of
independence in every Darkshire man, have I any right to obtrude my
views, of the manner in which he shall act, upon another (hating it as I
should do most vehemently myself), merely because he has labour to sell
and I capital to buy?'

'Not in the least,' said Margaret, determined just to say this one
thing; 'not in the least because of your labour and capital positions,
whatever they are, but because you are a man, dealing with a set of men
over whom you have, whether you reject the use of it or not, immense
power, just because your lives and your welfare are so constantly and
intimately interwoven. God has made us so that we must be mutually
dependent. We may ignore our own dependence, or refuse to acknowledge
that others depend upon us in more respects than the payment of weekly
wages; but the thing must be, nevertheless. Neither you nor any other
master can help yourselves. The most proudly independent man depends on
those around him for their insensible influence on his character--his
life. And the most isolated of all your Darkshire Egos has dependants
clinging to him on all sides; he cannot shake them off, any more than
the great rock he resembles can shake off--'

'Pray don't go into similes, Margaret; you have led us off once
already,' said her father, smiling, yet uneasy at the thought that they
were detaining Mr. Thornton against his will, which was a mistake; for
he rather liked it, as long as Margaret would talk, although what she
said only irritated him.

'Just tell me, Miss Hale, are you yourself ever influenced--no, that is
not a fair way of putting it;--but if you are ever conscious of being
influenced by others, and not by circumstances, have those others been
working directly or indirectly? Have they been labouring to exhort, to
enjoin, to act rightly for the sake of example, or have they been
simple, true men, taking up their duty, and doing it unflinchingly,
without a thought of how their actions were to make this man
industrious, that man saving? Why, if I were a workman, I should be
twenty times more impressed by the knowledge that my master, was honest,
punctual, quick, resolute in all his doings (and hands are keener spies
even than valets), than by any amount of interference, however kindly
meant, with my ways of going on out of work-hours. I do not choose to
think too closely on what I am myself; but, I believe, I rely on the
straightforward honesty of my hands, and the open nature of their
opposition, in contra-distinction to the way in which the turnout will
be managed in some mills, just because they know I scorn to take a
single dishonourable advantage, or do an underhand thing myself. It goes
farther than a whole course of lectures on "Honesty is the Best
Policy"--life diluted into words. No, no! What the master is, that will
the men be, without over-much taking thought on his part.'

'That is a great admission,' said Margaret, laughing. 'When I see men
violent and obstinate in pursuit of their rights, I may safely infer
that the master is the same that he is a little ignorant of that spirit
which suffereth long, and is kind, and seeketh not her own.'

'You are just like all strangers who don't understand the working of our
system, Miss Hale,' said he, hastily. 'You suppose that our men are
puppets of dough, ready to be moulded into any amiable form we please.
You forget we have only to do with them for less than a third of their
lives; and you seem not to perceive that the duties of a manufacturer
are far larger and wider than those merely of an employer of labour: we
have a wide commercial character to maintain, which makes us into the
great pioneers of civilisation.'

'It strikes me,' said Mr. Hale, smiling, 'that you might pioneer a
little at home. They are a rough, heathenish set of fellows, these
Milton men of yours.'

'They are that,' replied Mr. Thornton. 'Rosewater surgery won't do for
them. Cromwell would have made a capital mill-owner, Miss Hale. I wish
we had him to put down this strike for us.'

'Cromwell is no hero of mine,' said she, coldly. 'But I am trying to
reconcile your admiration of despotism with your respect for other men's
independence of character.'

He reddened at her tone. 'I choose to be the unquestioned and
irresponsible master of my hands, during the hours that they labour for
me. But those hours past, our relation ceases; and then comes in the
same respect for their independence that I myself exact.'

He did not speak again for a minute, he was too much vexed. But he shook
it off, and bade Mr. and Mrs. Hale good night. Then, drawing near to
Margaret, he said in a lower voice--

'I spoke hastily to you once this evening, and I am afraid, rather
rudely. But you know I am but an uncouth Milton manufacturer; will you
forgive me?'

'Certainly,' said she, smiling up in his face, the expression of which
was somewhat anxious and oppressed, and hardly cleared away as he met
her sweet sunny countenance, out of which all the north-wind effect of
their discussion had entirely vanished. But she did not put out her hand
to him, and again he felt the omission, and set it down to pride.



CHAPTER XVI

THE SHADOW OF DEATH

    'Trust in that veiled hand, which leads
     None by the path that he would go;
     And always be for change prepared,
     For the world's law is ebb and flow.'
             FROM THE ARABIC.


The next afternoon Dr. Donaldson came to pay his first visit to Mrs.
Hale. The mystery that Margaret hoped their late habits of intimacy had
broken through, was resumed. She was excluded from the room, while Dixon
was admitted. Margaret was not a ready lover, but where she loved she
loved passionately, and with no small degree of jealousy.

She went into her mother's bed-room, just behind the drawing-room, and
paced it up and down, while awaiting the doctor's coming out. Every now
and then she stopped to listen; she fancied she heard a moan. She
clenched her hands tight, and held her breath. She was sure she heard a
moan. Then all was still for a few minutes more; and then there was the
moving of chairs, the raised voices, all the little disturbances of
leave-taking.

When she heard the door open, she went quickly out of the bed-room.

'My father is from home, Dr. Donaldson; he has to attend a pupil at this
hour. May I trouble you to come into his room down stairs?'

She saw, and triumphed over all the obstacles which Dixon threw in her
way; assuming her rightful position as daughter of the house in
something of the spirit of the Elder Brother, which quelled the old
servant's officiousness very effectually. Margaret's conscious
assumption of this unusual dignity of demeanour towards Dixon, gave her
an instant's amusement in the midst of her anxiety. She knew, from the
surprised expression on Dixon's face, how ridiculously grand she herself
must be looking; and the idea carried her down stairs into the room; it
gave her that length of oblivion from the keen sharpness of the
recollection of the actual business in hand. Now, that came back, and
seemed to take away her breath. It was a moment or two before she could
utter a word.

But she spoke with an air of command, as she asked:--'

'What is the matter with mamma? You will oblige me by telling the simple
truth.' Then, seeing a slight hesitation on the doctor's part, she
added--

'I am the only child she has--here, I mean. My father is not
sufficiently alarmed, I fear; and, therefore, if there is any serious
apprehension, it must be broken to him gently. I can do this. I can
nurse my mother. Pray, speak, sir; to see your face, and not be able to
read it, gives me a worse dread than I trust any words of yours will
justify.'

'My dear young lady, your mother seems to have a most attentive and
efficient servant, who is more like her friend--'

'I am her daughter, sir.'

'But when I tell you she expressly desired that you might not be told--'

'I am not good or patient enough to submit to the prohibition. Besides,
I am sure you are too wise--too experienced to have promised to keep the
secret.'

'Well,' said he, half-smiling, though sadly enough, 'there you are
right. I did not promise. In fact, I fear, the secret will be known soon
enough without my revealing it.'

He paused. Margaret went very white, and compressed her lips a little
more. Otherwise not a feature moved. With the quick insight into
character, without which no medical man can rise to the eminence of Dr.
Donaldson, he saw that she would exact the full truth; that she would
know if one iota was withheld; and that the withholding would be torture
more acute than the knowledge of it. He spoke two short sentences in a
low voice, watching her all the time; for the pupils of her eyes dilated
into a black horror and the whiteness of her complexion became livid. He
ceased speaking. He waited for that look to go off,--for her gasping
breath to come. Then she said:--

'I thank you most truly, sir, for your confidence. That dread has
haunted me for many weeks. It is a true, real agony. My poor, poor
mother!' her lips began to quiver, and he let her have the relief of
tears, sure of her power of self-control to check them.

A few tears--those were all she shed, before she recollected the many
questions she longed to ask.

'Will there be much suffering?'

He shook his head. 'That we cannot tell. It depends on constitution; on
a thousand things. But the late discoveries of medical science have
given us large power of alleviation.'

'My father!' said Margaret, trembling all over.

'I do not know Mr. Hale. I mean, it is difficult to give advice. But I
should say, bear on, with the knowledge you have forced me to give you
so abruptly, till the fact which I could not with-hold has become in
some degree familiar to you, so that you may, without too great an
effort, be able to give what comfort you can to your father. Before
then,--my visits, which, of course, I shall repeat from time to time,
although I fear I can do nothing but alleviate,--a thousand little
circumstances will have occurred to awaken his alarm, to deepen it--so
that he will be all the better prepared.--Nay, my dear young lady--nay,
my dear--I saw Mr. Thornton, and I honour your father for the sacrifice
he has made, however mistaken I may believe him to be.--Well, this once,
if it will please you, my dear. Only remember, when I come again, I come
as a friend. And you must learn to look upon me as such, because seeing
each other--getting to know each other at such times as these, is worth
years of morning calls.' Margaret could not speak for crying: but she
wrung his hand at parting.

'That's what I call a fine girl!' thought Dr. Donaldson, when he was
seated in his carriage, and had time to examine his ringed hand, which
had slightly suffered from her pressure. 'Who would have thought that
little hand could have given such a squeeze? But the bones were well put
together, and that gives immense power. What a queen she is! With her
head thrown back at first, to force me into speaking the truth; and then
bent so eagerly forward to listen. Poor thing! I must see she does not
overstrain herself. Though it's astonishing how much those thorough-bred
creatures can do and suffer. That girl's game to the back-bone. Another,
who had gone that deadly colour, could never have come round without
either fainting or hysterics. But she wouldn't do either--not she! And
the very force of her will brought her round. Such a girl as that would
win my heart, if I were thirty years younger. It's too late now. Ah!
here we are at the Archers'.' So out he jumped, with thought, wisdom,
experience, sympathy, and ready to attend to the calls made upon them by
this family, just as if there were none other in the world.

Meanwhile, Margaret had returned into her father's study for a moment,
to recover strength before going upstairs into her mother's presence.

'Oh, my God, my God! but this is terrible. How shall I bear it? Such a
deadly disease! no hope! Oh, mamma, mamma, I wish I had never gone to
aunt Shaw's, and been all those precious years away from you! Poor
mamma! how much she must have borne! Oh, I pray thee, my God, that her
sufferings may not be too acute, too dreadful. How shall I bear to see
them? How can I bear papa's agony? He must not be told yet; not all at
once. It would kill him. But I won't lose another moment of my own dear,
precious mother.'

She ran upstairs. Dixon was not in the room. Mrs. Hale lay back in an
easy chair, with a soft white shawl wrapped around her, and a becoming
cap put on, in expectation of the doctor's visit. Her face had a little
faint colour in it, and the very exhaustion after the examination gave
it a peaceful look. Margaret was surprised to see her look so calm.

'Why, Margaret, how strange you look! What is the matter?' And then, as
the idea stole into her mind of what was indeed the real state of the
case, she added, as if a little displeased: 'you have not been seeing
Dr. Donaldson, and asking him any questions--have you, child?' Margaret
did not reply--only looked wistfully towards her. Mrs. Hale became more
displeased. 'He would not, surely, break his word to me, and'--

'Oh yes, mamma, he did. I made him. It was I--blame me.' She knelt down
by her mother's side, and caught her hand--she would not let it go,
though Mrs. Hale tried to pull it away. She kept kissing it, and the hot
tears she shed bathed it.

'Margaret, it was very wrong of you. You knew I did not wish you to
know.' But, as if tired with the contest, she left her hand in
Margaret's clasp, and by-and-by she returned the pressure faintly. That
encouraged Margaret to speak.

'Oh, mamma! let me be your nurse. I will learn anything Dixon can teach
me. But you know I am your child, and I do think I have a right to do
everything for you.'

'You don't know what you are asking,' said Mrs. Hale, with a shudder.

'Yes, I do. I know a great deal more than you are aware of. Let me be
your nurse. Let me try, at any rate. No one has ever shall ever try so
hard as I will do. It will be such a comfort, mamma.'

'My poor child! Well, you shall try. Do you know, Margaret, Dixon and I
thought you would quite shrink from me if you knew--'

'Dixon thought!' said Margaret, her lip curling. 'Dixon could not give
me credit for enough true love--for as much as herself! She thought, I
suppose, that I was one of those poor sickly women who like to lie on
rose leaves, and be fanned all day; Don't let Dixon's fancies come any
more between you and me, mamma. Don't, please!' implored she.

'Don't be angry with Dixon,' said Mrs. Hale, anxiously. Margaret
recovered herself.

'No! I won't. I will try and be humble, and learn her ways, if you will
only let me do all I can for you. Let me be in the first place,
mother--I am greedy of that. I used to fancy you would forget me while I
was away at aunt Shaw's, and cry myself to sleep at nights with that
notion in my head.'

'And I used to think, how will Margaret bear our makeshift poverty after
the thorough comfort and luxury in Harley Street, till I have many a
time been more ashamed of your seeing our contrivances at Helstone than
of any stranger finding them out.'

'Oh, mamma! and I did so enjoy them. They were so much more amusing than
all the jog-trot Harley Street ways. The wardrobe shelf with handles,
that served as a supper-tray on grand occasions! And the old tea-chests
stuffed and covered for ottomans! I think what you call the makeshift
contrivances at dear Helstone were a charming part of the life there.'

'I shall never see Helstone again, Margaret,' said Mrs. Hale, the tears
welling up into her eyes. Margaret could not reply. Mrs. Hale went on.
'While I was there, I was for ever wanting to leave it. Every place
seemed pleasanter. And now I shall die far away from it. I am rightly
punished.'

'You must not talk so,' said Margaret, impatiently. 'He said you might
live for years. Oh, mother! we will have you back at Helstone yet.'

'No never! That I must take as a just penance. But,
Margaret--Frederick!' At the mention of that one word, she suddenly
cried out loud, as in some sharp agony. It seemed as if the thought of
him upset all her composure, destroyed the calm, overcame the
exhaustion. Wild passionate cry succeeded to cry--'Frederick! Frederick!
Come to me. I am dying. Little first-born child, come to me once again!'

She was in violent hysterics. Margaret went and called Dixon in terror.
Dixon came in a huff, and accused Margaret of having over-excited her
mother. Margaret bore all meekly, only trusting that her father might
not return. In spite of her alarm, which was even greater than the
occasion warranted, she obeyed all Dixon's directions promptly and well,
without a word of self-justification. By so doing she mollified her
accuser. They put her mother to bed, and Margaret sate by her till she
fell asleep, and afterwards till Dixon beckoned her out of the room,
and, with a sour face, as if doing something against the grain, she bade
her drink a cup of coffee which she had prepared for her in the
drawing-room, and stood over her in a commanding attitude as she did so.

'You shouldn't have been so curious, Miss, and then you wouldn't have
needed to fret before your time. It would have come soon enough. And
now, I suppose, you'll tell master, and a pretty household I shall have
of you!'

'No, Dixon,' said Margaret, sorrowfully, 'I will not tell papa. He could
not bear it as I can.' And by way of proving how well she bore it, she
burst into tears.

'Ay! I knew how it would be. Now you'll waken your mamma, just after
she's gone to sleep so quietly. Miss Margaret my dear, I've had to keep
it down this many a week; and though I don't pretend I can love her as
you do, yet I loved her better than any other man, woman, or child--no
one but Master Frederick ever came near her in my mind. Ever since Lady
Beresford's maid first took me in to see her dressed out in white crape,
and corn-ears, and scarlet poppies, and I ran a needle down into my
finger, and broke it in, and she tore up her worked pocket-handkerchief,
after they'd cut it out, and came in to wet the bandages again with
lotion when she returned from the ball--where she'd been the prettiest
young lady of all--I've never loved any one like her. I little thought
then that I should live to see her brought so low. I don't mean no
reproach to nobody. Many a one calls you pretty and handsome, and what
not. Even in this smoky place, enough to blind one's eyes, the owls can
see that. But you'll never be like your mother for beauty--never; not if
you live to be a hundred.'

'Mamma is very pretty still. Poor mamma!'

'Now don't ye set off again, or I shall give way at last' (whimpering).
'You'll never stand master's coming home, and questioning, at this rate.
Go out and take a walk, and come in something like. Many's the time I've
longed to walk it off--the thought of what was the matter with her, and
how it must all end.'

'Oh, Dixon!' said Margaret, 'how often I've been cross with you, not
knowing what a terrible secret you had to bear!'

'Bless you, child! I like to see you showing a bit of a spirit. It's the
good old Beresford blood. Why, the last Sir John but two shot his
steward down, there where he stood, for just telling him that he'd
racked the tenants, and he'd racked the tenants till he could get no
more money off them than he could get skin off a flint.'

'Well, Dixon, I won't shoot you, and I'll try not to be cross again.'

'You never have. If I've said it at times, it has always been to myself,
just in private, by way of making a little agreeable conversation, for
there's no one here fit to talk to. And when you fire up, you're the
very image of Master Frederick. I could find in my heart to put you in a
passion any day, just to see his stormy look coming like a great cloud
over your face. But now you go out, Miss. I'll watch over missus; and as
for master, his books are company enough for him, if he should come in.'

'I will go,' said Margaret. She hung about Dixon for a minute or so, as
if afraid and irresolute; then suddenly kissing her, she went quickly
out of the room.

'Bless her!' said Dixon. 'She's as sweet as a nut. There are three
people I love: it's missus, Master Frederick, and her. Just them three.
That's all. The rest be hanged, for I don't know what they're in the
world for. Master was born, I suppose, for to marry missus. If I thought
he loved her properly, I might get to love him in time. But he should
ha' made a deal more on her, and not been always reading, reading,
thinking, thinking. See what it has brought him to! Many a one who never
reads nor thinks either, gets to be Rector, and Dean, and what not; and
I dare say master might, if he'd just minded missus, and let the weary
reading and thinking alone.--There she goes' (looking out of the window
as she heard the front door shut). 'Poor young lady! her clothes look
shabby to what they did when she came to Helstone a year ago. Then she
hadn't so much as a darned stocking or a cleaned pair of gloves in all
her wardrobe. And now--!'



CHAPTER XVII

WHAT IS A STRIKE?

    'There are briars besetting every path,
     Which call for patient care;
     There is a cross in every lot,
     And an earnest need for prayer.'
             ANON.


Margaret went out heavily and unwillingly enough. But the length of a
street--yes, the air of a Milton Street--cheered her young blood before
she reached her first turning. Her step grew lighter, her lip redder.
She began to take notice, instead of having her thoughts turned so
exclusively inward. She saw unusual loiterers in the streets: men with
their hands in their pockets sauntering along; loud-laughing and
loud-spoken girls clustered together, apparently excited to high
spirits, and a boisterous independence of temper and behaviour. The more
ill-looking of the men--the discreditable minority--hung about on the
steps of the beer-houses and gin-shops, smoking, and commenting pretty
freely on every passer-by. Margaret disliked the prospect of the long
walk through these streets, before she came to the fields which she had
planned to reach. Instead, she would go and see Bessy Higgins. It would
not be so refreshing as a quiet country walk, but still it would perhaps
be doing the kinder thing.

Nicholas Higgins was sitting by the fire smoking, as she went in. Bessy
was rocking herself on the other side.

Nicholas took the pipe out of his mouth, and standing up, pushed his
chair towards Margaret; he leant against the chimney piece in a lounging
attitude, while she asked Bessy how she was.

'Hoo's rather down i' th' mouth in regard to spirits, but hoo's better
in health. Hoo doesn't like this strike. Hoo's a deal too much set on
peace and quietness at any price.'

'This is th' third strike I've seen,' said she, sighing, as if that was
answer and explanation enough.

'Well, third time pays for all. See if we don't dang th' masters this
time. See if they don't come, and beg us to come back at our own price.
That's all. We've missed it afore time, I grant yo'; but this time we'n
laid our plans desperate deep.'

'Why do you strike?' asked Margaret. 'Striking is leaving off work till
you get your own rate of wages, is it not? You must not wonder at my
ignorance; where I come from I never heard of a strike.'

'I wish I were there,' said Bessy, wearily. 'But it's not for me to get
sick and tired o' strikes. This is the last I'll see. Before it's ended
I shall be in the Great City--the Holy Jerusalem.'

'Hoo's so full of th' life to come, hoo cannot think of th' present. Now
I, yo' see, am bound to do the best I can here. I think a bird i' th'
hand is worth two i' th' bush. So them's the different views we take on
th' strike question.'

'But,' said Margaret, 'if the people struck, as you call it, where I
come from, as they are mostly all field labourers, the seed would not be
sown, the hay got in, the corn reaped.'

'Well?' said he. He had resumed his pipe, and put his 'well' in the form
of an interrogation.

'Why,' she went on, 'what would become of the farmers.'

He puffed away. 'I reckon they'd have either to give up their farms, or
to give fair rate of wage.'

'Suppose they could not, or would not do the last; they could not give
up their farms all in a minute, however much they might wish to do so;
but they would have no hay, nor corn to sell that year; and where would
the money come from to pay the labourers' wages the next?'

Still puffing away. At last he said:

'I know nought of your ways down South. I have heerd they're a pack of
spiritless, down-trodden men; welly clemmed to death; too much dazed wi'
clemming to know when they're put upon. Now, it's not so here. We known
when we're put upon; and we'en too much blood in us to stand it. We just
take our hands fro' our looms, and say, "Yo' may clem us, but yo'll not
put upon us, my masters!" And be danged to 'em, they shan't this time!'

'I wish I lived down South,' said Bessy.

'There's a deal to bear there,' said Margaret. 'There are sorrows to
bear everywhere. There is very hard bodily labour to be gone through,
with very little food to give strength.'

'But it's out of doors,' said Bessy. 'And away from the endless, endless
noise, and sickening heat.'

'It's sometimes in heavy rain, and sometimes in bitter cold. A young
person can stand it; but an old man gets racked with rheumatism, and
bent and withered before his time; yet he must just work on the same, or
else go to the workhouse.'

'I thought yo' were so taken wi' the ways of the South country.'

'So I am,' said Margaret, smiling a little, as she found herself thus
caught. 'I only mean, Bessy, there's good and bad in everything in this
world; and as you felt the bad up here, I thought it was but fair you
should know the bad down there.'

'And yo' say they never strike down there?' asked Nicholas, abruptly.

'No!' said Margaret; 'I think they have too much sense.'

'An' I think,' replied he, dashing the ashes out of his pipe with so
much vehemence that it broke, 'it's not that they've too much sense, but
that they've too little spirit.'

'O, father!' said Bessy, 'what have ye gained by striking? Think of that
first strike when mother died--how we all had to clem--you the worst of
all; and yet many a one went in every week at the same wage, till all
were gone in that there was work for; and some went beggars all their
lives at after.'

'Ay,' said he. 'That there strike was badly managed. Folk got into th'
management of it, as were either fools or not true men. Yo'll see, it'll
be different this time.'

'But all this time you've not told me what you're striking for,' said
Margaret, again.

'Why, yo' see, there's five or six masters who have set themselves again
paying the wages they've been paying these two years past, and
flourishing upon, and getting richer upon. And now they come to us, and
say we're to take less. And we won't. We'll just clem them to death
first; and see who'll work for 'em then. They'll have killed the goose
that laid 'em the golden eggs, I reckon.'

'And so you plan dying, in order to be revenged upon them!'

'No,' said he, 'I dunnot. I just look forward to the chance of dying at
my post sooner than yield. That's what folk call fine and honourable in
a soldier, and why not in a poor weaver-chap?'

'But,' said Margaret, 'a soldier dies in the cause of the Nation--in the
cause of others.'

He laughed grimly. 'My lass,' said he, 'yo're but a young wench, but
don't yo' think I can keep three people--that's Bessy, and Mary, and
me--on sixteen shilling a week? Dun yo' think it's for mysel' I'm
striking work at this time? It's just as much in the cause of others as
yon soldier--only m'appen, the cause he dies for is just that of
somebody he never clapt eyes on, nor heerd on all his born days, while I
take up John Boucher's cause, as lives next door but one, wi' a sickly
wife, and eight childer, none on 'em factory age; and I don't take up
his cause only, though he's a poor good-for-nought, as can only manage
two looms at a time, but I take up th' cause o' justice. Why are we to
have less wage now, I ask, than two year ago?'

'Don't ask me,' said Margaret; 'I am very ignorant. Ask some of your
masters. Surely they will give you a reason for it. It is not merely an
arbitrary decision of theirs, come to without reason.'

'Yo're just a foreigner, and nothing more,' said he, contemptuously.
'Much yo' know about it. Ask th' masters! They'd tell us to mind our own
business, and they'd mind theirs. Our business being, yo' understand, to
take the bated' wage, and be thankful, and their business to bate us
down to clemming point, to swell their profits. That's what it is.'

'But said Margaret, determined not to give way, although she saw she was
irritating him, 'the state of trade may be such as not to enable them to
give you the same remuneration.

'State o' trade! That's just a piece o' masters' humbug. It's rate o'
wages I was talking of. Th' masters keep th' state o' trade in their own
hands; and just walk it forward like a black bug-a-boo, to frighten
naughty children with into being good. I'll tell yo' it's their
part,--their cue, as some folks call it,--to beat us down, to swell
their fortunes; and it's ours to stand up and fight hard,--not for
ourselves alone, but for them round about us--for justice and fair play.
We help to make their profits, and we ought to help spend 'em. It's not
that we want their brass so much this time, as we've done many a time
afore. We'n getten money laid by; and we're resolved to stand and fall
together; not a man on us will go in for less wage than th' Union says
is our due. So I say, "hooray for the strike," and let Thornton, and
Slickson, and Hamper, and their set look to it!'

'Thornton!' said Margaret. 'Mr. Thornton of Marlborough Street?'

'Aye! Thornton o' Marlborough Mill, as we call him.'

'He is one of the masters you are striving with, is he not? What sort of
a master is he?'

'Did yo' ever see a bulldog? Set a bulldog on hind legs, and dress him
up in coat and breeches, and yo'n just getten John Thornton.'

'Nay,' said Margaret, laughing, 'I deny that. Mr. Thornton is plain
enough, but he's not like a bulldog, with its short broad nose, and
snarling upper lip.'

'No! not in look, I grant yo'. But let John Thornton get hold on a
notion, and he'll stick to it like a bulldog; yo' might pull him away
wi' a pitch-fork ere he'd leave go. He's worth fighting wi', is John
Thornton. As for Slickson, I take it, some o' these days he'll wheedle
his men back wi' fair promises; that they'll just get cheated out of as
soon as they're in his power again. He'll work his fines well out on
'em, I'll warrant. He's as slippery as an eel, he is. He's like a
cat,--as sleek, and cunning, and fierce. It'll never be an honest up and
down fight wi' him, as it will be wi' Thornton. Thornton's as dour as a
door-nail; an obstinate chap, every inch on him,--th' oud bulldog!'

'Poor Bessy!' said Margaret, turning round to her. 'You sigh over it
all. You don't like struggling and fighting as your father does, do
you?'

'No!' said she, heavily. 'I'm sick on it. I could have wished to have
had other talk about me in my latter days, than just the clashing and
clanging and clattering that has wearied a' my life long, about work and
wages, and masters, and hands, and knobsticks.'

'Poor wench! latter days be farred! Thou'rt looking a sight better
already for a little stir and change. Beside, I shall be a deal here to
make it more lively for thee.'

'Tobacco-smoke chokes me!' said she, querulously.

'Then I'll never smoke no more i' th' house!' he replied, tenderly. 'But
why didst thou not tell me afore, thou foolish wench?'

She did not speak for a while, and then so low that only Margaret heard
her:

'I reckon, he'll want a' the comfort he can get out o' either pipe or
drink afore he's done.'

Her father went out of doors, evidently to finish his pipe.

Bessy said passionately,

'Now am not I a fool,--am I not, Miss?--there, I knew I ought for to
keep father at home, and away fro' the folk that are always ready for to
tempt a man, in time o' strike, to go drink,--and there my tongue must
needs quarrel with this pipe o' his'n,--and he'll go off, I know he
will,--as often as he wants to smoke--and nobody knows where it'll end.
I wish I'd letten myself be choked first.'

'But does your father drink?' asked Margaret.

'No--not to say drink,' replied she, still in the same wild excited
tone. 'But what win ye have? There are days wi' you, as wi' other folk,
I suppose, when yo' get up and go through th' hours, just longing for a
bit of a change--a bit of a fillip, as it were. I know I ha' gone and
bought a four-pounder out o' another baker's shop to common on such
days, just because I sickened at the thought of going on for ever wi'
the same sight in my eyes, and the same sound in my ears, and the same
taste i' my mouth, and the same thought (or no thought, for that matter)
in my head, day after day, for ever. I've longed for to be a man to go
spreeing, even it were only a tramp to some new place in search o' work.
And father--all men--have it stronger in 'em than me to get tired o'
sameness and work for ever. And what is 'em to do? It's little blame to
them if they do go into th' gin-shop for to make their blood flow
quicker, and more lively, and see things they never see at no other
time--pictures, and looking-glass, and such like. But father never was a
drunkard, though maybe, he's got worse for drink, now and then. Only yo'
see,' and now her voice took a mournful, pleading tone, 'at times o'
strike there's much to knock a man down, for all they start so
hopefully; and where's the comfort to come fro'? He'll get angry and
mad--they all do--and then they get tired out wi' being angry and mad,
and maybe ha' done things in their passion they'd be glad to forget.
Bless yo'r sweet pitiful face! but yo' dunnot know what a strike is
yet.'

'Come, Bessy,' said Margaret, 'I won't say you're exaggerating, because
I don't know enough about it: but, perhaps, as you're not well, you're
only looking on one side, and there is another and a brighter to be
looked to.'

'It's all well enough for yo' to say so, who have lived in pleasant
green places all your life long, and never known want or care, or
wickedness either, for that matter.'

'Take care,' said Margaret, her cheek flushing, and her eye lightening,
'how you judge, Bessy. I shall go home to my mother, who is so ill--so
ill, Bessy, that there's no outlet but death for her out of the prison
of her great suffering; and yet I must speak cheerfully to my father,
who has no notion of her real state, and to whom the knowledge must come
gradually. The only person--the only one who could sympathise with me
and help me--whose presence could comfort my mother more than any other
earthly thing--is falsely accused--would run the risk of death if he
came to see his dying mother. This I tell you--only you, Bessy. You must
not mention it. No other person in Milton--hardly any other person in
England knows. Have I not care? Do I not know anxiety, though I go about
well-dressed, and have food enough? Oh, Bessy, God is just, and our lots
are well portioned out by Him, although none but He knows the bitterness
of our souls.'

'I ask your pardon,' replied Bessy, humbly. 'Sometimes, when I've
thought o' my life, and the little pleasure I've had in it, I've
believed that, maybe, I was one of those doomed to die by the falling of
a star from heaven; "And the name of the star is called Wormwood;' and
the third part of the waters became wormwood; and men died of the
waters, because they were made bitter." One can bear pain and sorrow
better if one thinks it has been prophesied long before for one:
somehow, then it seems as if my pain was needed for the fulfilment;
otherways it seems all sent for nothing.'

'Nay, Bessy--think!' said Margaret. 'God does not willingly afflict.
Don't dwell so much on the prophecies, but read the clearer parts of the
Bible.'

'I dare say it would be wiser; but where would I hear such grand words
of promise--hear tell o' anything so far different fro' this dreary
world, and this town above a', as in Revelations? Many's the time I've
repeated the verses in the seventh chapter to myself, just for the
sound. It's as good as an organ, and as different from every day, too.
No, I cannot give up Revelations. It gives me more comfort than any
other book i' the Bible.'

'Let me come and read you some of my favourite chapters.'

'Ay,' said she, greedily, 'come. Father will maybe hear yo'. He's deaved
wi' my talking; he says it's all nought to do with the things o' to-day,
and that's his business.'

'Where is your sister?'

'Gone fustian-cutting. I were loth to let her go; but somehow we must
live; and th' Union can't afford us much.'

'Now I must go. You have done me good, Bessy.'

'I done you good!'

'Yes. I came here very sad, and rather too apt to think my own cause for
grief was the only one in the world. And now I hear how you have had to
bear for years, and that makes me stronger.'

'Bless yo'! I thought a' the good-doing was on the side of gentle folk.
I shall get proud if I think I can do good to yo'.'

'You won't do it if you think about it. But you'll only puzzle yourself
if you do, that's one comfort.'

'Yo're not like no one I ever seed. I dunno what to make of yo'.'

'Nor I of myself. Good-bye!'

Bessy stilled her rocking to gaze after her.

'I wonder if there are many folk like her down South. She's like a
breath of country air, somehow. She freshens me up above a bit. Who'd
ha' thought that face--as bright and as strong as the angel I dream
of--could have known the sorrow she speaks on? I wonder how she'll sin.
All on us must sin. I think a deal on her, for sure. But father does the
like, I see. And Mary even. It's not often hoo's stirred up to notice
much.'



CHAPTER XVIII

LIKES AND DISLIKES

    'My heart revolts within me, and two voices
     Make themselves audible within my bosom.'
             WALLENSTEIN.


On Margaret's return home she found two letters on the table: one was a
note for her mother,--the other, which had come by the post, was
evidently from her Aunt Shaw--covered with foreign post-marks--thin,
silvery, and rustling. She took up the other, and was examining it, when
her father came in suddenly:

'So your mother is tired, and gone to bed early! I'm afraid, such a
thundery day was not the best in the world for the doctor to see her.
What did he say? Dixon tells me he spoke to you about her.'

Margaret hesitated. Her father's looks became more grave and anxious:

'He does not think her seriously ill?'

'Not at present; she needs care, he says; he was very kind, and said he
would call again, and see how his medicines worked.'

'Only care--he did not recommend change of air?--he did not say this
smoky town was doing her any harm, did he, Margaret?'

'No! not a word,' she replied, gravely. 'He was anxious, I think.'

'Doctors have that anxious manner; it's professional,' said he.

Margaret saw, in her father's nervous ways, that the first impression of
possible danger was made upon his mind, in spite of all his making light
of what she told him. He could not forget the subject,--could not pass
from it to other things; he kept recurring to it through the evening,
with an unwillingness to receive even the slightest unfavourable idea,
which made Margaret inexpressibly sad.

'This letter is from Aunt Shaw, papa. She has got to Naples, and finds
it too hot, so she has taken apartments at Sorrento. But I don't think
she likes Italy.'

'He did not say anything about diet, did he?'

'It was to be nourishing, and digestible. Mamma's appetite is pretty
good, I think.'

'Yes! and that makes it all the more strange he should have thought of
speaking about diet.'

'I asked him, papa.' Another pause. Then Margaret went on: 'Aunt Shaw
says, she has sent me some coral ornaments, papa; but,' added Margaret,
half smiling, 'she's afraid the Milton Dissenters won't appreciate them.
She has got all her ideas of Dissenters from the Quakers, has not she?'

'If ever you hear or notice that your mother wishes for anything, be
sure you let me know. I am so afraid she does not tell me always what
she would like. Pray, see after that girl Mrs. Thornton named. If we had
a good, efficient house-servant, Dixon could be constantly with her, and
I'd answer for it we'd soon set her up amongst us, if care will do it.
She's been very much tired of late, with the hot weather, and the
difficulty of getting a servant. A little rest will put her quite to
rights--eh, Margaret?'

'I hope so,' said Margaret,--but so sadly, that her father took notice
of it. He pinched her cheek.

'Come; if you look so pale as this, I must rouge you up a little. Take
care of yourself, child, or you'll be wanting the doctor next.'

But he could not settle to anything that evening. He was continually
going backwards and forwards, on laborious tiptoe, to see if his wife
was still asleep. Margaret's heart ached at his restlessness--his trying
to stifle and strangle the hideous fear that was looming out of the dark
places of his heart. He came back at last, somewhat comforted.

'She's awake now, Margaret. She quite smiled as she saw me standing by
her. Just her old smile. And she says she feels refreshed, and ready for
tea. Where's the note for her? She wants to see it. I'll read it to her
while you make tea.'

The note proved to be a formal invitation from Mrs. Thornton, to Mr.,
Mrs., and Miss Hale to dinner, on the twenty-first instant. Margaret was
surprised to find an acceptance contemplated, after all she had learnt
of sad probabilities during the day. But so it was. The idea of her
husband's and daughter's going to this dinner had quite captivated Mrs.
Hale's fancy, even before Margaret had heard the contents of the note.
It was an event to diversify the monotony of the invalid's life; and she
clung to the idea of their going, with even fretful pertinacity when
Margaret objected.

'Nay, Margaret? if she wishes it, I'm sure we'll both go willingly. She
never would wish it unless she felt herself really stronger--really
better than we thought she was, eh, Margaret?' said Mr. Hale, anxiously,
as she prepared to write the note of acceptance, the next day.

'Eh! Margaret?' questioned he, with a nervous motion of his hands. It
seemed cruel to refuse him the comfort he craved for. And besides, his
passionate refusal to admit the existence of fear, almost inspired
Margaret herself with hope.

'I do think she is better since last night,' said she. 'Her eyes look
brighter, and her complexion clearer.'

'God bless you,' said her father, earnestly. 'But is it true? Yesterday
was so sultry every one felt ill. It was a most unlucky day for Mr.
Donaldson to see her on.'

So he went away to his day's duties, now increased by the preparation of
some lectures he had promised to deliver to the working people at a
neighbouring Lyceum. He had chosen Ecclesiastical Architecture as his
subject, rather more in accordance with his own taste and knowledge than
as falling in with the character of the place or the desire for
particular kinds of information among those to whom he was to lecture.
And the institution itself, being in debt, was only too glad to get a
gratis course from an educated and accomplished man like Mr. Hale, let
the subject be what it might.

'Well, mother,' asked Mr. Thornton that night, 'who have accepted your
invitations for the twenty-first?'

'Fanny, where are the notes? The Slicksons accept, Collingbrooks accept,
Stephenses accept, Browns decline. Hales--father and daughter
come,--mother too great an invalid--Macphersons come, and Mr. Horsfall,
and Mr. Young. I was thinking of asking the Porters, as the Browns can't
come.'

'Very good. Do you know, I'm really afraid Mrs. Hale is very far from
well, from what Dr. Donaldson says.'

'It's strange of them to accept a dinner-invitation if she's very ill,'
said Fanny.

'I didn't say very ill,' said her brother, rather sharply. 'I only said
very far from well. They may not know it either.' And then he suddenly
remembered that, from what Dr. Donaldson had told him, Margaret, at any
rate, must be aware of the exact state of the case.

'Very probably they are quite aware of what you said yesterday, John--of
the great advantage it would be to them--to Mr. Hale, I mean, to be
introduced to such people as the Stephenses and the Collingbrooks.'

'I'm sure that motive would not influence them. No! I think I understand
how it is.'

'John!' said Fanny, laughing in her little, weak, nervous way. 'How you
profess to understand these Hales, and how you never will allow that we
can know anything about them. Are they really so very different to most
people one meets with?'

She did not mean to vex him; but if she had intended it, she could not
have done it more thoroughly. He chafed in silence, however, not
deigning to reply to her question.

'They do not seem to me out of the common way,' said Mrs. Thornton. 'He
appears a worthy kind of man enough; rather too simple for trade--so
it's perhaps as well he should have been a clergyman first, and now a
teacher. She's a bit of a fine lady, with her invalidism; and as for the
girl--she's the only one who puzzles me when I think about her,--which I
don't often do. She seems to have a great notion of giving herself airs;
and I can't make out why. I could almost fancy she thinks herself too
good for her company at times. And yet they're not rich, from all I can
hear they never have been.'

'And she's not accomplished, mamma. She can't play.'

'Go on, Fanny. What else does she want to bring her up to your
standard?'

'Nay! John,' said his mother, 'that speech of Fanny's did no harm. I
myself heard Miss Hale say she could not play. If you would let us
alone, we could perhaps like her, and see her merits.'

'I'm sure I never could!' murmured Fanny, protected by her mother. Mr.
Thornton heard, but did not care to reply. He was walking up and down
the dining-room, wishing that his mother would order candles, and allow
him to set to work at either reading or writing, and so put a stop to
the conversation. But he never thought of interfering in any of the
small domestic regulations that Mrs. Thornton observed, in habitual
remembrance of her old economies.

'Mother,' said he, stopping, and bravely speaking out the truth, 'I wish
you would like Miss Hale.'

'Why?' asked she, startled by his earnest, yet tender manner. 'You're
never thinking of marrying her?--a girl without a penny.'

'She would never have me,' said he, with a short laugh.

'No, I don't think she would,' answered his mother. 'She laughed in my
face, when I praised her for speaking out something Mr. Bell had said in
your favour. I liked the girl for doing it so frankly, for it made me
sure she had no thought of you; and the next minute she vexed me so by
seeming to think---- Well, never mind! Only you're right in saying she's
too good an opinion of herself to think of you. The saucy jade! I should
like to know where she'd find a better!' If these words hurt her son,
the dusky light prevented him from betraying any emotion. In a minute he
came up quite cheerfully to his mother, and putting one hand lightly on
her shoulder, said:

'Well, as I'm just as much convinced of the truth of what you have been
saying as you can be; and as I have no thought or expectation of ever
asking her to be my wife, you'll believe me for the future that I'm
quite disinterested in speaking about her. I foresee trouble for that
girl--perhaps want of motherly care--and I only wish you to be ready to
be a friend to her, in case she needs one. Now, Fanny,' said he, 'I
trust you have delicacy enough to understand, that it is as great an
injury to Miss Hale as to me--in fact, she would think it a greater--to
suppose that I have any reason, more than I now give, for begging you
and my mother to show her every kindly attention.'

'I cannot forgive her her pride,' said his mother; 'I will befriend her,
if there is need, for your asking, John. I would befriend Jezebel
herself if you asked me. But this girl, who turns up her nose at us
all--who turns up her nose at you---- '

'Nay, mother; I have never yet put myself, and I mean never to put
myself, within reach of her contempt.'

'Contempt, indeed!'--(One of Mrs. Thornton's expressive snorts.)--'Don't
go on speaking of Miss Hale, John, if I've to be kind to her. When I'm
with her, I don't know if I like or dislike her most; but when I think
of her, and hear you talk of her, I hate her. I can see she's given
herself airs to you as well as if you'd told me out.'

'And if she has,' said he--and then he paused for a moment--then went
on: 'I'm not a lad, to be cowed by a proud look from a woman, or to care
for her misunderstanding me and my position. I can laugh at it!'

'To be sure! and at her too, with her fine notions and haughty tosses!'

'I only wonder why you talk so much about her, then,' said Fanny. 'I'm
sure, I'm tired enough of the subject.'

'Well!' said her brother, with a shade of bitterness. 'Suppose we find
some more agreeable subject. What do you say to a strike, by way of
something pleasant to talk about?'

'Have the hands actually turned out?' asked Mrs. Thornton, with vivid
interest.

'Hamper's men are actually out. Mine are working out their week, through
fear of being prosecuted for breach of contract. I'd have had every one
of them up and punished for it, that left his work before his time was
out.'

'The law expenses would have been more than the hands them selves were
worth--a set of ungrateful naughts!' said his mother.

'To be sure. But I'd have shown them how I keep my word, and how I mean
them to keep theirs. They know me by this time. Slickson's men are
off--pretty certain he won't spend money in getting them punished. We're
in for a turn-out, mother.'

'I hope there are not many orders in hand?'

'Of course there are. They know that well enough. But they don't quite
understand all, though they think they do.'

'What do you mean, John?'

Candles had been brought, and Fanny had taken up her interminable piece
of worsted-work, over which she was yawning; throwing herself back in
her chair, from time to time, to gaze at vacancy, and think of nothing
at her ease.

'Why,' said he, 'the Americans are getting their yarns so into the
general market, that our only chance is producing them at a lower rate.
If we can't, we may shut up shop at once, and hands and masters go alike
on tramp. Yet these fools go back to the prices paid three years
ago--nay, some of their leaders quote Dickinson's prices now--though
they know as well as we do that, what with fines pressed out of their
wages as no honourable man would extort them, and other ways which I for
one would scorn to use, the real rate of wage paid at Dickinson's is
less than at ours. Upon my word, mother, I wish the old combination-laws
were in force. It is too bad to find out that fools--ignorant wayward
men like these--just by uniting their weak silly heads, are to rule over
the fortunes of those who bring all the wisdom that knowledge and
experience, and often painful thought and anxiety, can give. The next
thing will be--indeed, we're all but come to it now--that we shall have
to go and ask--stand hat in hand--and humbly ask the secretary of the
Spinner' Union to be so kind as to furnish us with labour at their own
price. That's what they want--they, who haven't the sense to see that,
if we don't get a fair share of the profits to compensate us for our
wear and tear here in England, we can move off to some other country;
and that, what with home and foreign competition, we are none of us
likely to make above a fair share, and may be thankful enough if we can
get that, in an average number of years.'

'Can't you get hands from Ireland? I wouldn't keep these fellows a day.
I'd teach them that I was master, and could employ what servants I
liked.'

'Yes! to be sure, I can; and I will, too, if they go on long. It will be
trouble and expense, and I fear there will be some danger; but I will do
it, rather than give in.'

'If there is to be all this extra expense, I'm sorry we're giving a
dinner just now.'

'So am I,--not because of the expense, but because I shall have much to
think about, and many unexpected calls on my time. But we must have had
Mr. Horsfall, and he does not stay in Milton long. And as for the
others, we owe them dinners, and it's all one trouble.'

He kept on with his restless walk--not speaking any more, but drawing a
deep breath from time to time, as if endeavouring to throw off some
annoying thought. Fanny asked her mother numerous small questions, all
having nothing to do with the subject, which a wiser person would have
perceived was occupying her attention. Consequently, she received many
short answers. She was not sorry when, at ten o'clock, the servants
filed in to prayers. These her mother always read,--first reading a
chapter. They were now working steadily through the Old Testament. When
prayers were ended, and his mother had wished him goodnight, with that
long steady look of hers which conveyed no expression of the tenderness
that was in her heart, but yet had the intensity of a blessing, Mr.
Thornton continued his walk. All his business plans had received a
check, a sudden pull-up, from this approaching turn-out. The forethought
of many anxious hours was thrown away, utterly wasted by their insane
folly, which would injure themselves even more than him, though no one
could set any limit to the mischief they were doing. And these were the
men who thought themselves fitted to direct the masters in the disposal
of their capital! Hamper had said, only this very day, that if he were
ruined by the strike, he would start life again, comforted by the
conviction that those who brought it on were in a worse predicament than
he himself,--for he had head as well as hands, while they had only
hands; and if they drove away their market, they could not follow it,
nor turn to anything else. But this thought was no consolation to Mr.
Thornton. It might be that revenge gave him no pleasure; it might be
that he valued the position he had earned with the sweat of his brow, so
much that he keenly felt its being endangered by the ignorance or folly
of others,--so keenly that he had no thoughts to spare for what would be
the consequences of their conduct to themselves. He paced up and down,
setting his teeth a little now and then. At last it struck two. The
candles were flickering in their sockets. He lighted his own, muttering
to himself:

'Once for all, they shall know whom they have got to deal with. I can
give them a fortnight,--no more. If they don't see their madness before
the end of that time, I must have hands from Ireland. I believe it's
Slickson's doing,--confound him and his dodges! He thought he was
overstocked; so he seemed to yield at first, when the deputation came to
him,--and of course, he only confirmed them in their folly, as he meant
to do. That's where it spread from.'



CHAPTER XIX

ANGEL VISITS

    'As angels in some brighter dreams
     Call to the soul when man doth sleep,
     So some strange thoughts transcend our wonted themes,
     And into glory peep.'
             HENRY VAUGHAN.


Mrs. Hale was curiously amused and interested by the idea of the
Thornton dinner party. She kept wondering about the details, with
something of the simplicity of a little child, who wants to have all its
anticipated pleasures described beforehand. But the monotonous life led
by invalids often makes them like children, inasmuch as they have
neither of them any sense of proportion in events, and seem each to
believe that the walls and curtains which shut in their world, and shut
out everything else, must of necessity be larger than anything hidden
beyond. Besides, Mrs. Hale had had her vanities as a girl; had perhaps
unduly felt their mortification when she became a poor clergyman's
wife;--they had been smothered and kept down; but they were not extinct;
and she liked to think of seeing Margaret dressed for a party, and
discussed what she should wear, with an unsettled anxiety that amused
Margaret, who had been more accustomed to society in her one in Harley
Street than her mother in five and twenty years of Helstone.

'Then you think you shall wear your white silk. Are you sure it will
fit? It's nearly a year since Edith was married!'

'Oh yes, mamma! Mrs. Murray made it, and it's sure to be right; it may
be a straw's breadth shorter or longer-waisted, according to my having
grown fat or thin. But I don't think I've altered in the least.'

'Hadn't you better let Dixon see it? It may have gone yellow with lying
by.'

'If you like, mamma. But if the worst comes to the worst, I've a very
nice pink gauze which aunt Shaw gave me, only two or three months before
Edith was married. That can't have gone yellow.'

'No! but it may have faded.'

'Well! then I've a green silk. I feel more as if it was the
embarrassment of riches.'

'I wish I knew what you ought to wear,' said Mrs. Hale, nervously.
Margaret's manner changed instantly. 'Shall I go and put them on one
after another, mamma, and then you could see which you liked best?'

'But--yes! perhaps that will be best.'

So off Margaret went. She was very much inclined to play some pranks
when she was dressed up at such an unusual hour; to make her rich white
silk balloon out into a cheese, to retreat backwards from her mother as
if she were the queen; but when she found that these freaks of hers were
regarded as interruptions to the serious business, and as such annoyed
her mother, she became grave and sedate. What had possessed the world
(her world) to fidget so about her dress, she could not understand; but
that very after noon, on naming her engagement to Bessy Higgins (apropos
of the servant that Mrs. Thornton had promised to inquire about), Bessy
quite roused up at the intelligence.

'Dear! and are you going to dine at Thornton's at Marlborough Mills?'

'Yes, Bessy. Why are you so surprised?'

'Oh, I dunno. But they visit wi' a' th' first folk in Milton.'

'And you don't think we're quite the first folk in Milton, eh, Bessy?'
Bessy's cheeks flushed a little at her thought being thus easily read.

'Well,' said she, 'yo' see, they thinken a deal o' money here and I
reckon yo've not getten much.'

'No,' said Margaret, 'that's very true. But we are educated people, and
have lived amongst educated people. Is there anything so wonderful, in
our being asked out to dinner by a man who owns himself inferior to my
father by coming to him to be instructed? I don't mean to blame Mr.
Thornton. Few drapers' assistants, as he was once, could have made
themselves what he is.'

'But can yo' give dinners back, in yo'r small house? Thornton's house is
three times as big.'

'Well, I think we could manage to give Mr. Thornton a dinner back, as
you call it. Perhaps not in such a large room, nor with so many people.
But I don't think we've thought about it at all in that way.'

'I never thought yo'd be dining with Thorntons,' repeated I Bessy. 'Why,
the mayor hissel' dines there; and the members of Parliament and all.'

'I think I could support the honour of meeting the mayor of Milton.

'But them ladies dress so grand!' said Bessy, with an anxious look at
Margaret's print gown, which her Milton eyes appraised at sevenpence a
yard. Margaret's face dimpled up into a merry laugh. 'Thank You, Bessy,
for thinking so kindly about my looking nice among all the smart people.
But I've plenty of grand gowns,--a week ago, I should have said they
were far too grand for anything I should ever want again. But as I'm to
dine at Mr. Thornton's, and perhaps to meet the mayor, I shall put on my
very best gown, you may be sure.'

'What win yo' wear?' asked Bessy, somewhat relieved.

'White silk,' said Margaret. 'A gown I had for a cousin's wedding, a
year ago.

'That'll do!' said Bessy, falling back in her chair. 'I should be loth
to have yo' looked down upon.

'Oh! I'll be fine enough, if that will save me from being looked down
upon in Milton.'

'I wish I could see you dressed up,' said Bessy. 'I reckon, yo're not
what folk would ca' pretty; yo've not red and white enough for that. But
dun yo' know, I ha' dreamt of yo', long afore ever I seed yo'.'

'Nonsense, Bessy!'

'Ay, but I did. Yo'r very face,--looking wi' yo'r clear steadfast eyes
out o' th' darkness, wi' yo'r hair blown off from yo'r brow, and going
out like rays round yo'r forehead, which was just as smooth and as
straight as it is now,--and yo' always came to give me strength, which I
seemed to gather out o' yo'r deep comforting eyes,--and yo' were drest
in shining raiment--just as yo'r going to be drest. So, yo' see, it was
yo'!'

'Nay, Bessy,' said Margaret, gently, 'it was but a dream.'

'And why might na I dream a dream in my affliction as well as others?
Did not many a one i' the Bible? Ay, and see visions too! Why, even my
father thinks a deal o' dreams! I tell yo' again, I saw yo' as plainly,
coming swiftly towards me, wi' yo'r hair blown back wi' the very
swiftness o' the motion, just like the way it grows, a little standing
off like; and the white shining dress on yo've getten to wear. Let me
come and see yo' in it. I want to see yo' and touch yo' as in very deed
yo' were in my dream.'

'My dear Bessy, it is quite a fancy of yours.'

'Fancy or no fancy,--yo've come, as I knew yo' would, when I saw yo'r
movement in my dream,--and when yo're here about me, I reckon I feel
easier in my mind, and comforted, just as a fire comforts one on a dree
day. Yo' said it were on th' twenty-first; please God, I'll come and see
yo'.'

'Oh Bessy! you may come and welcome; but don't talk so--it really makes
me sorry. It does indeed.'

'Then I'll keep it to mysel', if I bite my tongue out. Not but what it's
true for all that.'

Margaret was silent. At last she said,

'Let us talk about it sometimes, if you think it true. But not now. Tell
me, has your father turned out?'

'Ay!' said Bessy, heavily--in a manner very different from that she had
spoken in but a minute or two before. 'He and many another,--all
Hamper's men,--and many a one besides. Th' women are as bad as th' men,
in their savageness, this time. Food is high,--and they mun have food
for their childer, I reckon. Suppose Thorntons sent 'em their dinner
out,--th' same money, spent on potatoes and meal, would keep many a
crying babby quiet, and hush up its mother's heart for a bit!'

'Don't speak so!' said Margaret. 'You'll make me feel wicked and guilty
in going to this dinner.'

'No!' said Bessy. 'Some's pre-elected to sumptuous feasts, and purple
and fine linen,--may be yo're one on 'em. Others toil and moil all their
lives long--and the very dogs are not pitiful in our days, as they were
in the days of Lazarus. But if yo' ask me to cool yo'r tongue wi' th'
tip of my finger, I'll come across the great gulf to yo' just for th'
thought o' what yo've been to me here.'

'Bessy! you're very feverish! I can tell it in the touch of your hand,
as well as in what you're saying. It won't be division enough, in that
awful day, that some of us have been beggars here, and some of us have
been rich,--we shall not be judged by that poor accident, but by our
faithful following of Christ.' Margaret got up, and found some water and
soaking her pocket-handkerchief in it, she laid the cool wetness on
Bessy's forehead, and began to chafe the stone-cold feet. Bessy shut her
eyes, and allowed herself to be soothed. At last she said,

'Yo'd ha' been deaved out o' yo'r five wits, as well as me, if yo'd had
one body after another coming in to ask for father, and staying to tell
me each one their tale. Some spoke o' deadly hatred, and made my blood
run cold wi' the terrible things they said o' th' masters,--but more,
being women, kept plaining, plaining (wi' the tears running down their
cheeks, and never wiped away, nor heeded), of the price o' meat, and how
their childer could na sleep at nights for th' hunger.'

'And do they think the strike will mend this?' asked Margaret.

'They say so,' replied Bessy. 'They do say trade has been good for long,
and the masters has made no end o' money; how much father doesn't know,
but, in course, th' Union does; and, as is natural, they wanten their
share o' th' profits, now that food is getting dear; and th' Union says
they'll not be doing their duty if they don't make the masters give 'em
their share. But masters has getten th' upper hand somehow; and I'm
feared they'll keep it now and evermore. It's like th' great battle o'
Armageddon, the way they keep on, grinning and fighting at each other,
till even while they fight, they are picked off into the pit.' Just
then, Nicholas Higgins came in. He caught his daughter's last words.

'Ay! and I'll fight on too; and I'll get it this time. It'll not take
long for to make 'em give in, for they've getten a pretty lot of orders,
all under contract; and they'll soon find out they'd better give us our
five per cent than lose the profit they'll gain; let alone the fine for
not fulfilling the contract. Aha, my masters! I know who'll win.'

Margaret fancied from his manner that he must have been drinking, not so
much from what he said, as from the excited way in which he spoke; and
she was rather confirmed in this idea by the evident anxiety Bessy
showed to hasten her departure. Bessy said to her,--

'The twenty-first--that's Thursday week. I may come and see yo' dressed
for Thornton's, I reckon. What time is yo'r dinner?'

Before Margaret could answer, Higgins broke out,

'Thornton's! Ar' t' going to dine at Thornton's? Ask him to give yo' a
bumper to the success of his orders. By th' twenty-first, I reckon,
he'll be pottered in his brains how to get 'em done in time. Tell him,
there's seven hundred'll come marching into Marlborough Mills, the
morning after he gives the five per cent, and will help him through his
contract in no time. You'll have 'em all there. My master, Hamper. He's
one o' th' oud-fashioned sort. Ne'er meets a man bout an oath or a
curse; I should think he were going to die if he spoke me civil; but
arter all, his bark's waur than his bite, and yo' may tell him one o'
his turn-outs said so, if yo' like. Eh! but yo'll have a lot of prize
mill-owners at Thornton's! I should like to get speech o' them, when
they're a bit inclined to sit still after dinner, and could na run for
the life on 'em. I'd tell 'em my mind. I'd speak up again th' hard way
they're driving on us!'

'Good-bye!' said Margaret, hastily. 'Good-bye, Bessy! I shall look to
see you on the twenty-first, if you're well enough.'

The medicines and treatment which Dr. Donaldson had ordered for Mrs.
Hale, did her so much good at first that not only she herself, but
Margaret, began to hope that he might have been mistaken, and that she
could recover permanently. As for Mr. Hale, although he had never had an
idea of the serious nature of their apprehensions, he triumphed over
their fears with an evident relief, which proved how much his glimpse
into the nature of them had affected him. Only Dixon croaked for ever
into Margaret's ear. However, Margaret defied the raven, and would hope.

They needed this gleam of brightness in-doors, for out-of-doors, even to
their uninstructed eyes, there was a gloomy brooding appearance of
discontent. Mr. Hale had his own acquaintances among the working men,
and was depressed with their earnestly told tales of suffering and
long-endurance. They would have scorned to speak of what they had to
bear to any one who might, from his position, have understood it without
their words. But here was this man, from a distant county, who was
perplexed by the workings of the system into the midst of which he was
thrown, and each was eager to make him a judge, and to bring witness of
his own causes for irritation. Then Mr. Hale brought all his budget of
grievances, and laid it before Mr. Thornton, for him, with his
experience as a master, to arrange them, and explain their origin; which
he always did, on sound economical principles; showing that, as trade
was conducted, there must always be a waxing and waning of commercial
prosperity; and that in the waning a certain number of masters, as well
as of men, must go down into ruin, and be no more seen among the ranks
of the happy and prosperous. He spoke as if this consequence were so
entirely logical, that neither employers nor employed had any right to
complain if it became their fate: the employer to turn aside from the
race he could no longer run, with a bitter sense of incompetency and
failure--wounded in the struggle--trampled down by his fellows in their
haste to get rich--slighted where he once was honoured--humbly asking
for, instead of bestowing, employment with a lordly hand. Of course,
speaking so of the fate that, as a master, might be his own in the
fluctuations of commerce, he was not likely to have more sympathy with
that of the workmen, who were passed by in the swift merciless
improvement or alteration who would fain lie down and quietly die out of
the world that needed them not, but felt as if they could never rest in
their graves for the clinging cries of the beloved and helpless they
would leave behind; who envied the power of the wild bird, that can feed
her young with her very heart's blood. Margaret's whole soul rose up
against him while he reasoned in this way--as if commerce were
everything and humanity nothing. She could hardly, thank him for the
individual kindness, which brought him that very evening to offer
her--for the delicacy which made him understand that he must offer her
privately--every convenience for illness that his own wealth or his
mother's foresight had caused them to accumulate in their household, and
which, as he learnt from Dr. Donaldson, Mrs. Hale might possibly
require. His presence, after the way he had spoken--his bringing before
her the doom, which she was vainly trying to persuade herself might yet
be averted from her mother--all conspired to set Margaret's teeth on
edge, as she looked at him, and listened to him. What business had he to
be the only person, except Dr. Donaldson and Dixon, admitted to the
awful secret, which she held shut up in the most dark and sacred recess
of her heart--not daring to look at it, unless she invoked heavenly
strength to bear the sight--that, some day soon, she should cry aloud
for her mother, and no answer would come out of the blank, dumb
darkness? Yet he knew all. She saw it in his pitying eyes. She heard it
in his grave and tremulous voice. How reconcile those eyes, that voice,
with the hard-reasoning, dry, merciless way in which he laid down axioms
of trade, and serenely followed them out to their full consequences? The
discord jarred upon her inexpressibly. The more because of the gathering
woe of which she heard from Bessy. To be sure, Nicholas Higgins, the
father, spoke differently. He had been appointed a committee-man, and
said that he knew secrets of which the exoteric knew nothing. He said
this more expressly and particularly, on the very day before Mrs.
Thornton's dinner-party, when Margaret, going in to speak to Bessy,
found him arguing the point with Boucher, the neighbour of whom she had
frequently heard mention, as by turns exciting Higgins's compassion, as
an unskilful workman with a large family depending upon him for support,
and at other times enraging his more energetic and sanguine neighbour by
his want of what the latter called spirit. It was very evident that
Higgins was in a passion when Margaret entered. Boucher stood, with both
hands on the rather high mantel-piece, swaying himself a little on the
support which his arms, thus placed, gave him, and looking wildly into
the fire, with a kind of despair that irritated Higgins, even while it
went to his heart. Bessy was rocking herself violently backwards and
forwards, as was her wont (Margaret knew by this time) when she was
agitated. Her sister Mary was tying on her bonnet (in great clumsy bows,
as suited her great clumsy fingers), to go to her fustian-cutting,
blubbering out loud the while, and evidently longing to be away from a
scene that distressed her. Margaret came in upon this scene. She stood
for a moment at the door--then, her finger on her lips, she stole to a
seat on the squab near Bessy. Nicholas saw her come in, and greeted her
with a gruff, but not unfriendly nod. Mary hurried out of the house
catching gladly at the open door, and crying aloud when she got away
from her father's presence. It was only John Boucher that took no notice
whatever who came in and who went out.

'It's no use, Higgins. Hoo cannot live long a' this'n. Hoo's just
sinking away--not for want o' meat hersel'--but because hoo cannot stand
th' sight o' the little ones clemming. Ay, clemming! Five shilling a
week may do well enough for thee, wi' but two mouths to fill, and one on
'em a wench who can welly earn her own meat. But it's clemming to us.
An' I tell thee plain--if hoo dies as I'm 'feard hoo will afore we've
getten th' five per cent, I'll fling th' money back i' th' master's
face, and say, "Be domned to yo'; be domned to th' whole cruel world o'
yo'; that could na leave me th' best wife that ever bore childer to a
man!" An' look thee, lad, I'll hate thee, and th' whole pack o' th'
Union. Ay, an' chase yo' through heaven wi' my hatred,--I will, lad! I
will,--if yo're leading me astray i' this matter. Thou saidst, Nicholas,
on Wednesday sennight--and it's now Tuesday i' th' second week--that
afore a fortnight we'd ha' the masters coming a-begging to us to take
back our' work, at our own wage--and time's nearly up,--and there's our
lile Jack lying a-bed, too weak to cry, but just every now and then
sobbing up his heart for want o' food,--our lile Jack, I tell thee, lad!
Hoo's never looked up sin' he were born, and hoo loves him as if he were
her very life,--as he is,--for I reckon he'll ha' cost me that precious
price,--our lile Jack, who wakened me each morn wi' putting his sweet
little lips to my great rough fou' face, a-seeking a smooth place to
kiss,--an' he lies clemming.' Here the deep sobs choked the poor man,
and Nicholas looked up, with eyes brimful of tears, to Margaret, before
he could gain courage to speak.

'Hou'd up, man. Thy lile Jack shall na' clem. I ha' getten brass, and
we'll go buy the chap a sup o' milk an' a good four-pounder this very
minute. What's mine's thine, sure enough, i' thou'st i' want. Only,
dunnot lose heart, man!' continued he, as he fumbled in a tea-pot for
what money he had. 'I lay yo' my heart and soul we'll win for a' this:
it's but bearing on one more week, and yo just see th' way th' masters
'll come round, praying on us to come back to our mills. An' th'
Union,--that's to say, I--will take care yo've enough for th' childer
and th' missus. So dunnot turn faint-heart, and go to th' tyrants
a-seeking work.'

The man turned round at these words,--turned round a face so white, and
gaunt, and tear-furrowed, and hopeless, that its very calm forced
Margaret to weep. 'Yo' know well, that a worser tyrant than e'er th'
masters were says "Clem to death, and see 'em a' clem to death, ere yo'
dare go again th' Union." Yo' know it well, Nicholas, for a' yo're one
on 'em. Yo' may be kind hearts, each separate; but once banded together,
yo've no more pity for a man than a wild hunger-maddened wolf.'

Nicholas had his hand on the lock of the door--he stopped and turned
round on Boucher, close following:

'So help me God! man alive--if I think not I'm doing best for thee, and
for all on us. If I'm going wrong when I think I'm going right, it's
their sin, who ha' left me where I am, in my ignorance. I ha' thought
till my brains ached,--Beli' me, John, I have. An' I say again, there's
no help for us but having faith i' th' Union. They'll win the day, see
if they dunnot!'

Not one word had Margaret or Bessy spoken. They had hardly uttered the
sighing, that the eyes of each called to the other to bring up from the
depths of her heart. At last Bessy said,

'I never thought to hear father call on God again. But yo' heard him
say, "So help me God!"'

'Yes!' said Margaret. 'Let me bring you what money I can spare,--let me
bring you a little food for that poor man's children. Don't let them
know it comes from any one but your father. It will be but little.'

Bessy lay back without taking any notice of what Margaret said. She did
not cry--she only quivered up her breath,

'My heart's drained dry o' tears,' she said. 'Boucher's been in these
days past, a telling me of his fears and his troubles. He's but a weak
kind o' chap, I know, but he's a man for a' that; and tho' I've been
angry, many a time afore now, wi' him an' his wife, as knew no more nor
him how to manage, yet, yo' see, all folks isn't wise, yet God lets 'em
live--ay, an' gives 'em some one to love, and be loved by, just as good
as Solomon. An', if sorrow comes to them they love, it hurts 'em as sore
as e'er it did Solomon. I can't make it out. Perhaps it's as well such a
one as Boucher has th' Union to see after him. But I'd just like for to
see th' mean as make th' Union, and put 'em one by one face to face wi'
Boucher. I reckon, if they heard him, they'd tell him (if I cotched 'em
one by one), he might go back and get what he could for his work, even
if it weren't so much as they ordered.'

Margaret sat utterly silent. How was she ever to go away into comfort
and forget that man's voice, with the tone of unutterable agony, telling
more by far than his words of what he had to suffer? She took out her
purse; she had not much in it of what she could call her own, but what
she had she put into Bessy's hand without speaking.

'Thank yo'. There's many on 'em gets no more, and is not so bad
off,--leastways does not show it as he does. But father won't let 'em
want, now he knows. Yo' see, Boucher's been pulled down wi' his
childer,--and her being so cranky, and a' they could pawn has gone this
last twelvemonth. Yo're not to think we'd ha' letten 'em clem, for all
we're a bit pressed oursel'; if neighbours doesn't see after neighbours,
I dunno who will.' Bessy seemed almost afraid lest Margaret should think
they had not the will, and, to a certain degree, the power of helping
one whom she evidently regarded as having a claim upon them. 'Besides,'
she went on, 'father is sure and positive the masters must give in
within these next few days,--that they canna hould on much longer. But I
thank yo' all the same,--I thank yo' for mysel', as much as for Boucher,
for it just makes my heart warm to yo' more and more.'

Bessy seemed much quieter to-day, but fearfully languid and exhausted.
As she finished speaking, she looked so faint and weary that Margaret
became alarmed.

'It's nout,' said Bessy. 'It's not death yet. I had a fearfu' night wi'
dreams--or somewhat like dreams, for I were wide awake--and I'm all in a
swounding daze to-day,--only yon poor chap made me alive again. No! it's
not death yet, but death is not far off. Ay! Cover me up, and I'll may
be sleep, if th' cough will let me. Good night--good afternoon, m'appen
I should say--but th' light is dim an' misty to-day.'



CHAPTER XX

MEN AND GENTLEMEN

    'Old and young, boy, let 'em all eat, I have it;
     Let 'em have ten tire of teeth a-piece, I care not.'
             ROLLO, DUKE OF NORMANDY.


Margaret went home so painfully occupied with what she had heard and
seen that she hardly knew how to rouse herself up to the duties which
awaited her; the necessity for keeping up a constant flow of cheerful
conversation for her mother, who, now that she was unable to go out,
always looked to Margaret's return from the shortest walk as bringing in
some news.

'And can your factory friend come on Thursday to see you dressed?'

'She was so ill I never thought of asking her,' said Margaret,
dolefully.

'Dear! Everybody is ill now, I think,' said Mrs. Hale, with a little of
the jealousy which one invalid is apt to feel of another. 'But it must
be very sad to be ill in one of those little back streets.' (Her kindly
nature prevailing, and the old Helstone habits of thought returning.)
'It's bad enough here. What could you do for her, Margaret? Mr. Thornton
has sent me some of his old port wine since you went out. Would a bottle
of that do her good, think you?'

'No, mamma! I don't believe they are very poor,--at least, they don't
speak as if they were; and, at any rate, Bessy's illness is
consumption--she won't want wine. Perhaps, I might take her a little
preserve, made of our dear Helstone fruit. No! there's another family to
whom I should like to give--Oh mamma, mamma! how am I to dress up in my
finery, and go off and away to smart parties, after the sorrow I have
seen to-day?' exclaimed Margaret, bursting the bounds she had
preordained for herself before she came in, and telling her mother of
what she had seen and heard at Higgins's cottage.

It distressed Mrs. Hale excessively. It made her restlessly irritated
till she could do something. She directed Margaret to pack up a basket
in the very drawing-room, to be sent there and then to the family; and
was almost angry with her for saying, that it would not signify if it
did not go till morning, as she knew Higgins had provided for their
immediate wants, and she herself had left money with Bessy. Mrs. Hale
called her unfeeling for saying this; and never gave herself
breathing-time till the basket was sent out of the house. Then she said:

'After all, we may have been doing wrong. It was only the last time Mr.
Thornton was here that he said, those were no true friends who helped to
prolong the struggle by assisting the turn outs. And this Boucher-man
was a turn-out, was he not?'

The question was referred to Mr. Hale by his wife, when he came
up-stairs, fresh from giving a lesson to Mr. Thornton, which had ended
in conversation, as was their wont. Margaret did not care if their gifts
had prolonged the strike; she did not think far enough for that, in her
present excited state.

Mr. Hale listened, and tried to be as calm as a judge; he recalled all
that had seemed so clear not half-an-hour before, as it came out of Mr.
Thornton's lips; and then he made an unsatisfactory compromise. His wife
and daughter had not only done quite right in this instance, but he did
not see for a moment how they could have done otherwise. Nevertheless,
as a general rule, it was very true what Mr. Thornton said, that as the
strike, if prolonged, must end in the masters' bringing hands from a
distance (if, indeed, the final result were not, as it had often been
before, the invention of some machine which would diminish the need of
hands at all), why, it was clear enough that the kindest thing was to
refuse all help which might bolster them up in their folly. But, as to
this Boucher, he would go and see him the first thing in the morning,
and try and find out what could be done for him.

Mr. Hale went the next morning, as he proposed. He did not find Boucher
at home, but he had a long talk with his wife; promised to ask for an
Infirmary order for her; and, seeing the plenty provided by Mrs. Hale,
and somewhat lavishly used by the children, who were masters down-stairs
in their father's absence, he came back with a more consoling and
cheerful account than Margaret had dared to hope for; indeed, what she
had said the night before had prepared her father for so much worse a
state of things that, by a reaction of his imagination, he described all
as better than it really was.

'But I will go again, and see the man himself,' said Mr. Hale. 'I hardly
know as yet how to compare one of these houses with our Helstone
cottages. I see furniture here which our labourers would never have
thought of buying, and food commonly used which they would consider
luxuries; yet for these very families there seems no other resource, now
that their weekly wages are stopped, but the pawn-shop. One had need to
learn a different language, and measure by a different standard, up here
in Milton.'

Bessy, too, was rather better this day. Still she was so weak that she
seemed to have entirely forgotten her wish to see Margaret dressed--if,
indeed, that had not been the feverish desire of a half-delirious state.

Margaret could not help comparing this strange dressing of hers, to go
where she did not care to be--her heart heavy with various
anxieties--with the old, merry, girlish toilettes that she and Edith had
performed scarcely more than a year ago. Her only pleasure now in
decking herself out was in thinking that her mother would take delight
in seeing her dressed. She blushed when Dixon, throwing the drawing-room
door open, made an appeal for admiration.

'Miss Hale looks well, ma'am,--doesn't she? Mrs. Shaw's coral couldn't
have come in better. It just gives the right touch of colour, ma'am.
Otherwise, Miss Margaret, you would have been too pale.'

Margaret's black hair was too thick to be plaited; it needed rather to
be twisted round and round, and have its fine silkiness compressed into
massive coils, that encircled her head like a crown, and then were
gathered into a large spiral knot behind. She kept its weight together
by two large coral pins, like small arrows for length. Her white silk
sleeves were looped up with strings of the same material, and on her
neck, just below the base of her curved and milk-white throat, there lay
heavy coral beads.

'Oh, Margaret! how I should like to be going with you to one of the old
Barrington assemblies,--taking you as Lady Beresford used to take me.'
Margaret kissed her mother for this little burst of maternal vanity; but
she could hardly smile at it, she felt so much out of spirits.

'I would rather stay at home with you,--much rather, mamma.'

'Nonsense, darling! Be sure you notice the dinner well. I shall like to
hear how they manage these things in Milton. Particularly the second
course, dear. Look what they have instead of game.'

Mrs. Hale would have been more than interested,--she would have been
astonished, if she had seen the sumptuousness of the dinner-table and
its appointments. Margaret, with her London cultivated taste, felt the
number of delicacies to be oppressive one half of the quantity would
have been enough, and the effect lighter and more elegant. But it was
one of Mrs. Thornton's rigorous laws of hospitality, that of each
separate dainty enough should be provided for all the guests to partake,
if they felt inclined. Careless to abstemiousness in her daily habits,
it was part of her pride to set a feast before such of her guests as
cared for it. Her son shared this feeling. He had never known--though he
might have imagined, and had the capability to relish--any kind of
society but that which depended on an exchange of superb meals and even
now, though he was denying himself the personal expenditure of an
unnecessary sixpence, and had more than once regretted that the
invitations for this dinner had been sent out, still, as it was to be,
he was glad to see the old magnificence of preparation. Margaret and her
father were the first to arrive. Mr. Hale was anxiously punctual to the
time specified. There was no one up-stairs in the drawing-room but Mrs.
Thornton and Fanny. Every cover was taken off, and the apartment blazed
forth in yellow silk damask and a brilliantly-flowered carpet. Every
corner seemed filled up with ornament, until it became a weariness to
the eye, and presented a strange contrast to the bald ugliness of the
look-out into the great mill-yard, where wide folding gates were thrown
open for the admission of carriages. The mill loomed high on the
left-hand side of the windows, casting a shadow down from its many
stories, which darkened the summer evening before its time.

'My son was engaged up to the last moment on business. He will be here
directly, Mr. Hale. May I beg you to take a seat?'

Mr. Hale was standing at one of the windows as Mrs. Thornton spoke. He
turned away, saying,

'Don't you find such close neighbourhood to the mill rather unpleasant
at times?'

She drew herself up:

'Never. I am not become so fine as to desire to forget the source of my
son's wealth and power. Besides, there is not such another factory in
Milton. One room alone is two hundred and twenty square yards.'

'I meant that the smoke and the noise--the constant going out and coming
in of the work-people, might be annoying!'

'I agree with you, Mr. Hale!' said Fanny. 'There is a continual smell of
steam, and oily machinery--and the noise is perfectly deafening.'

'I have heard noise that was called music far more deafening. The
engine-room is at the street-end of the factory; we hardly hear it,
except in summer weather, when all the windows are open; and as for the
continual murmur of the work-people, it disturbs me no more than the
humming of a hive of bees. If I think of it at all, I connect it with my
son, and feel how all belongs to him, and that his is the head that
directs it. Just now, there are no sounds to come from the mill; the
hands have been ungrateful enough to turn out, as perhaps you have
heard. But the very business (of which I spoke, when you entered), had
reference to the steps he is going to take to make them learn their
place.' The expression on her face, always stern, deepened into dark
anger, as she said this. Nor did it clear away when Mr. Thornton entered
the room; for she saw, in an instant, the weight of care and anxiety
which he could not shake off, although his guests received from him a
greeting that appeared both cheerful and cordial. He shook hands with
Margaret. He knew it was the first time their hands had met, though she
was perfectly unconscious of the fact. He inquired after Mrs. Hale, and
heard Mr. Hale's sanguine, hopeful account; and glancing at Margaret, to
understand how far she agreed with her father, he saw that no dissenting
shadow crossed her face. And as he looked with this intention, he was
struck anew with her great beauty. He had never seen her in such dress
before and yet now it appeared as if such elegance of attire was so
befitting her noble figure and lofty serenity of countenance, that she
ought to go always thus apparelled. She was talking to Fanny; about
what, he could not hear; but he saw his sister's restless way of
continually arranging some part of her gown, her wandering eyes, now
glancing here, now there, but without any purpose in her observation;
and he contrasted them uneasily with the large soft eyes that looked
forth steadily at one object, as if from out their light beamed some
gentle influence of repose: the curving lines of the red lips, just
parted in the interest of listening to what her companion said--the head
a little bent forwards, so as to make a long sweeping line from the
summit, where the light caught on the glossy raven hair, to the smooth
ivory tip of the shoulder; the round white arms, and taper hands, laid
lightly across each other, but perfectly motionless in their pretty
attitude. Mr. Thornton sighed as he took in all this with one of his
sudden comprehensive glances. And then he turned his back to the young
ladies, and threw himself, with an effort, but with all his heart and
soul, into a conversation with Mr. Hale.

More people came--more and more. Fanny left Margaret's side, and helped
her mother to receive her guests. Mr. Thornton felt that in this influx
no one was speaking to Margaret, and was restless under this apparent
neglect. But he never went near her himself; he did not look at her.
Only, he knew what she was doing--or not doing--better than he knew the
movements of any one else in the room. Margaret was so unconscious of
herself, and so much amused by watching other people, that she never
thought whether she was left unnoticed or not. Somebody took her down to
dinner; she did not catch the name; nor did he seem much inclined to
talk to her. There was a very animated conversation going on among the
gentlemen; the ladies, for the most part, were silent, employing
themselves in taking notes of the dinner and criticising each other's
dresses. Margaret caught the clue to the general conversation, grew
interested and listened attentively. Mr. Horsfall, the stranger, whose
visit to the town was the original germ of the party, was asking
questions relative to the trade and manufactures of the place; and the
rest of the gentlemen--all Milton men,--were giving him answers and
explanations. Some dispute arose, which was warmly contested; it was
referred to Mr. Thornton, who had hardly spoken before; but who now gave
an opinion, the grounds of which were so clearly stated that even the
opponents yielded. Margaret's attention was thus called to her host; his
whole manner as master of the house, and entertainer of his friends, was
so straightforward, yet simple and modest, as to be thoroughly
dignified. Margaret thought she had never seen him to so much advantage.
When he had come to their house, there had been always something, either
of over-eagerness or of that kind of vexed annoyance which seemed ready
to pre-suppose that he was unjustly judged, and yet felt too proud to
try and make himself better understood. But now, among his fellows,
there was no uncertainty as to his position. He was regarded by them as
a man of great force of character; of power in many ways. There was no
need to struggle for their respect. He had it, and he knew it; and the
security of this gave a fine grand quietness to his voice and ways,
which Margaret had missed before.

He was not in the habit of talking to ladies; and what he did say was a
little formal. To Margaret herself he hardly spoke at all. She was
surprised to think how much she enjoyed this dinner. She knew enough now
to understand many local interests--nay, even some of the technical
words employed by the eager mill-owners. She silently took a very
decided part in the question they were discussing. At any rate, they
talked in desperate earnest,--not in the used-up style that wearied her
so in the old London parties. She wondered that with all this dwelling
on the manufactures and trade of the place, no allusion was made to the
strike then pending. She did not yet know how coolly such things were
taken by the masters, as having only one possible end. To be sure, the
men were cutting their own throats, as they had done many a time before;
but if they would be fools, and put themselves into the hands of a
rascally set of paid delegates, they must take the consequence. One or
two thought Thornton looked out of spirits; and, of course, he must lose
by this turn-out. But it was an accident that might happen to themselves
any day; and Thornton was as good to manage a strike as any one; for he
was as iron a chap as any in Milton. The hands had mistaken their man in
trying that dodge on him. And they chuckled inwardly at the idea of the
workmen's discomfiture and defeat, in their attempt to alter one iota of
what Thornton had decreed. It was rather dull for Margaret after dinner.
She was glad when the gentlemen came, not merely because she caught her
father's eye to brighten her sleepiness up; but because she could listen
to something larger and grander than the petty interests which the
ladies had been talking about. She liked the exultation in the sense of
power which these Milton men had. It might be rather rampant in its
display, and savour of boasting; but still they seemed to defy the old
limits of possibility, in a kind of fine intoxication, caused by the
recollection of what had been achieved, and what yet should be. If in
her cooler moments she might not approve of their spirit in all things,
still there was much to admire in their forgetfulness of themselves and
the present, in their anticipated triumphs over all inanimate matter at
some future time which none of them should live to see. She was rather
startled when Mr. Thornton spoke to her, close at her elbow:

'I could see you were on our side in our discussion at dinner,--were you
not, Miss Hale?'

'Certainly. But then I know so little about it. I was surprised,
however, to find from what Mr. Horsfall said, that there were others who
thought in so diametrically opposite a manner, as the Mr. Morison he
spoke about. He cannot be a gentleman--is he?'

'I am not quite the person to decide on another's gentlemanliness, Miss
Hale. I mean, I don't quite understand your application of the word. But
I should say that this Morison is no true man. I don't know who he is; I
merely judge him from Mr. Horsfall's account.'

'I suspect my "gentleman" includes your "true man."'

'And a great deal more, you would imply. I differ from you. A man is to
me a higher and a completer being than a gentleman.'

'What do you mean?' asked Margaret. 'We must understand the words
differently.'

'I take it that "gentleman" is a term that only describes a person in
his relation to others; but when we speak of him as "a man," we consider
him not merely with regard to his fellow-men, but in relation to
himself,--to life--to time--to eternity. A cast-away lonely as Robinson
Crusoe--a prisoner immured in a dungeon for life--nay, even a saint in
Patmos, has his endurance, his strength, his faith, best described by
being spoken of as "a man." I am rather weary of this word
"gentlemanly," which seems to me to be often inappropriately used, and
often, too, with such exaggerated distortion of meaning, while the full
simplicity of the noun "man," and the adjective "manly" are
unacknowledged--that I am induced to class it with the cant of the day.'

Margaret thought a moment,--but before she could speak her slow
conviction, he was called away by some of the eager manufacturers, whose
speeches she could not hear, though she could guess at their import by
the short clear answers Mr. Thornton gave, which came steady and firm as
the boom of a distant minute gun. They were evidently talking of the
turn-out, and suggesting what course had best be pursued. She heard Mr.
Thornton say:

'That has been done.' Then came a hurried murmur, in which two or three
joined.

'All those arrangements have been made.'

Some doubts were implied, some difficulties named by Mr. Slickson, who
took hold of Mr. Thornton's arm, the better to impress his words. Mr.
Thornton moved slightly away, lifted his eyebrows a very little, and
then replied:

'I take the risk. You need not join in it unless you choose.' Still some
more fears were urged.

'I'm not afraid of anything so dastardly as incendiarism. We are open
enemies; and I can protect myself from any violence that I apprehend.
And I will assuredly protect all others who come to me for work. They
know my determination by this time, as well and as fully as you do.'

Mr. Horsfall took him a little on one side, as Margaret conjectured, to
ask him some other question about the strike; but, in truth, it was to
inquire who she herself was--so quiet, so stately, and so beautiful.

'A Milton lady?' asked he, as the name was given.

'No! from the south of England--Hampshire, I believe,' was the cold,
indifferent answer.

Mrs. Slickson was catechising Fanny on the same subject.

'Who is that fine distinguished-looking girl? a sister of Mr.
Horsfall's?'

'Oh dear, no! That is Mr. Hale, her father, talking now to Mr. Stephens.
He gives lessons; that is to say, he reads with young men. My brother
John goes to him twice a week, and so he begged mamma to ask them here,
in hopes of getting him known. I believe, we have some of their
prospectuses, if you would like to have one.'

'Mr. Thornton! Does he really find time to read with a tutor, in the
midst of all his business,--and this abominable strike in hand as well?'

Fanny was not sure, from Mrs. Slickson's manner, whether she ought to be
proud or ashamed of her brother's conduct; and, like all people who try
and take other people's 'ought' for the rule of their feelings, she was
inclined to blush for any singularity of action. Her shame was
interrupted by the dispersion of the guests.



CHAPTER XXI

THE DARK NIGHT

    'On earth is known to none
     The smile that is not sister to a tear.'
             ELLIOTT.


Margaret and her father walked home. The night was fine, the streets
clean, and with her pretty white silk, like Leezie Lindsay's gown o'
green satin, in the ballad, 'kilted up to her knee,' she was off with
her father--ready to dance along with the excitement of the cool, fresh
night air.

'I rather think Thornton is not quite easy in his mind about this
strike. He seemed very anxious to-night.'

'I should wonder if he were not. But he spoke with his usual coolness to
the others, when they suggested different things, just before we came
away.'

'So he did after dinner as well. It would take a good deal to stir him
from his cool manner of speaking; but his face strikes me as anxious.'

'I should be, if I were he. He must know of the growing anger and hardly
smothered hatred of his workpeople, who all look upon him as what the
Bible calls a "hard man,"--not so much unjust as unfeeling; clear in
judgment, standing upon his "rights" as no human being ought to stand,
considering what we and all our petty rights are in the sight of the
Almighty. I am glad you think he looks anxious. When I remember
Boucher's half mad words and ways, I cannot bear to think how coolly Mr.
Thornton spoke.'

'In the first place, I am not so convinced as you are about that man
Boucher's utter distress; for the moment, he was badly off, I don't
doubt. But there is always a mysterious supply of money from these
Unions; and, from what you said, it was evident the man was of a
passionate, demonstrative nature, and gave strong expression to all he
felt.'

'Oh, papa!'

'Well! I only want you to do justice to Mr. Thornton, who is, I suspect,
of an exactly opposite nature,--a man who is far too proud to show his
feelings. Just the character I should have thought beforehand, you would
have admired, Margaret.'

'So I do,--so I should; but I don't feel quite so sure as you do of the
existence of those feelings. He is a man of great strength of
character,--of unusual intellect, considering the few advantages he has
had.'

'Not so few. He has led a practical life from a very early age; has been
called upon to exercise judgment and self-control. All that developes
one part of the intellect. To be sure, he needs some of the knowledge of
the past, which gives the truest basis for conjecture as to the future;
but he knows this need,--he perceives it, and that is something. You are
quite prejudiced against Mr. Thornton, Margaret.'

'He is the first specimen of a manufacturer--of a person engaged in
trade--that I had ever the opportunity of studying, papa. He is my first
olive: let me make a face while I swallow it. I know he is good of his
kind, and by and by I shall like the kind. I rather think I am already
beginning to do so. I was very much interested by what the gentlemen
were talking about, although I did not understand half of it. I was
quite sorry when Miss Thornton came to take me to the other end of the
room, saying she was sure I should be uncomfortable at being the only
lady among so many gentlemen. I had never thought about it, I was so
busy listening; and the ladies were so dull, papa--oh, so dull! Yet I
think it was clever too. It reminded me of our old game of having each
so many nouns to introduce into a sentence.'

'What do you mean, child?' asked Mr. Hale.

'Why, they took nouns that were signs of things which gave evidence of
wealth,--housekeepers, under-gardeners, extent of glass, valuable lace,
diamonds, and all such things; and each one formed her speech so as to
bring them all in, in the prettiest accidental manner possible.'

'You will be as proud of your one servant when you get her, if all is
true about her that Mrs. Thornton says.'

'To be sure, I shall. I felt like a great hypocrite to-night, sitting
there in my white silk gown, with my idle hands before me, when I
remembered all the good, thorough, house-work they had done to-day. They
took me for a fine lady, I'm sure.'

'Even I was mistaken enough to think you looked like a lady my dear,'
said Mr. Hale, quietly smiling.

But smiles were changed to white and trembling looks, when they saw
Dixon's face, as she opened the door.

'Oh, master!--Oh, Miss Margaret! Thank God you are come! Dr. Donaldson
is here. The servant next door went for him, for the charwoman is gone
home. She's better now; but, oh, sir! I thought she'd have died an hour
ago.'

Mr. Hale caught Margaret's arm to steady himself from falling. He looked
at her face, and saw an expression upon it of surprise and extremest
sorrow, but not the agony of terror that contracted his own unprepared
heart. She knew more than he did, and yet she listened with that
hopeless expression of awed apprehension.

'Oh! I should not have left her--wicked daughter that I am!' moaned
forth Margaret, as she supported her trembling father's hasty steps
up-stairs. Dr. Donaldson met them on the landing.

'She is better now,' he whispered. 'The opiate has taken effect. The
spasms were very bad: no wonder they frightened your maid; but she'll
rally this time.'

'This time! Let me go to her!' Half an hour ago, Mr. Hale was a
middle-aged man; now his sight was dim, his senses wavering, his walk
tottering, as if he were seventy years of age.

Dr. Donaldson took his arm, and led him into the bedroom. Margaret
followed close. There lay her mother, with an unmistakable look on her
face. She might be better now; she was sleeping, but Death had signed
her for his own, and it was clear that ere long he would return to take
possession. Mr. Hale looked at her for some time without a word. Then he
began to shake all over, and, turning away from Dr. Donaldson's anxious
care, he groped to find the door; he could not see it, although several
candles, brought in the sudden affright, were burning and flaring there.
He staggered into the drawing-room, and felt about for a chair. Dr.
Donaldson wheeled one to him, and placed him in it. He felt his pulse.

'Speak to him, Miss Hale. We must rouse him.'

'Papa!' said Margaret, with a crying voice that was wild with pain.
'Papa! Speak to me!' The speculation came again into his eyes, and he
made a great effort.

'Margaret, did you know of this? Oh, it was cruel of you!'

'No, sir, it was not cruel!' replied Dr. Donaldson, with quick decision.
'Miss Hale acted under my directions. There may have been a mistake, but
it was not cruel. Your wife will be a different creature to-morrow, I
trust. She has had spasms, as I anticipated, though I did not tell Miss
Hale of my apprehensions. She has taken the opiate I brought with me;
she will have a good long sleep; and to-morrow, that look which has
alarmed you so much will have passed away.'

'But not the disease?'

Dr. Donaldson glanced at Margaret. Her bent head, her face raised with
no appeal for a temporary reprieve, showed that quick observer of human
nature that she thought it better that the whole truth should be told.

'Not the disease. We cannot touch the disease, with all our poor vaunted
skill. We can only delay its progress--alleviate the pain it causes. Be
a man, sir--a Christian. Have faith in the immortality of the soul,
which no pain, no mortal disease, can assail or touch!'

But all the reply he got, was in the choked words, 'You have never been
married, Dr. Donaldson; you do not know what it is,' and in the deep,
manly sobs, which went through the stillness of the night like heavy
pulses of agony. Margaret knelt by him, caressing him with tearful
caresses. No one, not even Dr. Donaldson, knew how the time went by. Mr.
Hale was the first to dare to speak of the necessities of the present
moment.

'What must we do?' asked he. 'Tell us both. Margaret is my staff--my
right hand.'

Dr. Donaldson gave his clear, sensible directions. No fear for
to-night--nay, even peace for to-morrow, and for many days yet. But no
enduring hope of recovery. He advised Mr. Hale to go to bed, and leave
only one to watch the slumber, which he hoped would be undisturbed. He
promised to come again early in the morning. And with a warm and kindly
shake of the hand, he left them. They spoke but few words; they were too
much exhausted by their terror to do more than decide upon the immediate
course of action. Mr. Hale was resolved to sit up through the night, and
all that Margaret could do was to prevail upon him to rest on the
drawing-room sofa. Dixon stoutly and bluntly refused to go to bed; and,
as for Margaret, it was simply impossible that she should leave her
mother, let all the doctors in the world speak of 'husbanding
resources,' and 'one watcher only being required.' So, Dixon sat, and
stared, and winked, and drooped, and picked herself up again with a
jerk, and finally gave up the battle, and fairly snored. Margaret had
taken off her gown and tossed it aside with a sort of impatient disgust,
and put on her dressing-gown. She felt as if she never could sleep
again; as if her whole senses were acutely vital, and all endued with
double keenness, for the purposes of watching. Every sight and
sound--nay, even every thought, touched some nerve to the very quick.
For more than two hours, she heard her father's restless movements in
the next room. He came perpetually to the door of her mother's chamber,
pausing there to listen, till she, not hearing his close unseen
presence, went and opened it to tell him how all went on, in reply to
the questions his baked lips could hardly form. At last he, too, fell
asleep, and all the house was still. Margaret sate behind the curtain
thinking. Far away in time, far away in space, seemed all the interests
of past days. Not more than thirty-six hours ago, she cared for Bessy
Higgins and her father, and her heart was wrung for Boucher; now, that
was all like a dreaming memory of some former life;--everything that had
passed out of doors seemed dissevered from her mother, and therefore
unreal. Even Harley Street appeared more distinct; there she remembered,
as if it were yesterday, how she had pleased herself with tracing out
her mother's features in her Aunt Shaw's face,--and how letters had
come, making her dwell on the thoughts of home with all the longing of
love. Helstone, itself, was in the dim past. The dull gray days of the
preceding winter and spring, so uneventless and monotonous, seemed more
associated with what she cared for now above all price. She would fain
have caught at the skirts of that departing time, and prayed it to
return, and give her back what she had too little valued while it was
yet in her possession. What a vain show Life seemed! How unsubstantial,
and flickering, and flitting! It was as if from some aerial belfry, high
up above the stir and jar of the earth, there was a bell continually
tolling, 'All are shadows!--all are passing!--all is past!' And when the
morning dawned, cool and gray, like many a happier morning before--when
Margaret looked one by one at the sleepers, it seemed as if the terrible
night were unreal as a dream; it, too, was a shadow. It, too, was past.

Mrs. Hale herself was not aware when she awoke, how ill she had been the
night before. She was rather surprised at Dr. Donaldson's early visit,
and perplexed by the anxious faces of husband and child. She consented
to remain in bed that day, saying she certainly was tired; but, the
next, she insisted on getting up; and Dr. Donaldson gave his consent to
her returning into the drawing-room. She was restless and uncomfortable
in every position, and before night she became very feverish. Mr. Hale
was utterly listless, and incapable of deciding on anything.

'What can we do to spare mamma such another night?' asked Margaret on
the third day.

'It is, to a certain degree, the reaction after the powerful opiates I
have been obliged to use. It is more painful for you to see than for her
to bear, I believe. But, I think, if we could get a water-bed it might
be a good thing. Not but what she will be better to-morrow; pretty much
like herself as she was before this attack. Still, I should like her to
have a water-bed. Mrs. Thornton has one, I know. I'll try and call there
this afternoon. Stay,' said he, his eye catching on Margaret's face,
blanched with watching in a sick room, 'I'm not sure whether I can go;
I've a long round to take. It would do you no harm to have a brisk walk
to Marlborough Street, and ask Mrs. Thornton if she can spare it.'

'Certainly,' said Margaret. 'I could go while mamma is asleep this
afternoon. I'm sure Mrs. Thornton would lend it to us.'

Dr. Donaldson's experience told them rightly. Mrs. Hale seemed to shake
off the consequences of her attack, and looked brighter and better this
afternoon than Margaret had ever hoped to see her again. Her daughter
left her after dinner, sitting in her easy chair, with her hand lying in
her husband's, who looked more worn and suffering than she by far.
Still, he could smile now--rather slowly, rather faintly, it is true;
but a day or two before, Margaret never thought to see him smile again.

It was about two miles from their house in Crampton Crescent to
Marlborough Street. It was too hot to walk very quickly. An August sun
beat straight down into the street at three o'clock in the afternoon.
Margaret went along, without noticing anything very different from usual
in the first mile and a half of her journey; she was absorbed in her own
thoughts, and had learnt by this time to thread her way through the
irregular stream of human beings that flowed through Milton streets.
But, by and by, she was struck with an unusual heaving among the mass of
people in the crowded road on which she was entering. They did not
appear to be moving on, so much as talking, and listening, and buzzing
with excitement, without much stirring from the spot where they might
happen to be. Still, as they made way for her, and, wrapt up in the
purpose of her errand, and the necessities that suggested it, she was
less quick of observation than she might have been, if her mind had been
at ease, she had got into Marlborough Street before the full conviction
forced itself upon her, that there was a restless, oppressive sense of
irritation abroad among the people; a thunderous atmosphere, morally as
well as physically, around her. From every narrow lane opening out on
Marlborough Street came up a low distant roar, as of myriads of fierce
indignant voices. The inhabitants of each poor squalid dwelling were
gathered round the doors and windows, if indeed they were not actually
standing in the middle of the narrow ways--all with looks intent towards
one point. Marlborough Street itself was the focus of all those human
eyes, that betrayed intensest interest of various kinds; some fierce
with anger, some lowering with relentless threats, some dilated with
fear, or imploring entreaty; and, as Margaret reached the small
side-entrance by the folding doors, in the great dead wall of
Marlborough mill-yard and waited the porter's answer to the bell, she
looked round and heard the first long far-off roll of the tempest;--saw
the first slow-surging wave of the dark crowd come, with its threatening
crest, tumble over, and retreat, at the far end of the street, which a
moment ago, seemed so full of repressed noise, but which now was
ominously still; all these circumstances forced themselves on Margaret's
notice, but did not sink down into her pre-occupied heart. She did not
know what they meant--what was their deep significance; while she did
know, did feel the keen sharp pressure of the knife that was soon to
stab her through and through by leaving her motherless. She was trying
to realise that, in order that, when it came, she might be ready to
comfort her father.

The porter opened the door cautiously, not nearly wide enough to admit
her.

'It's you, is it, ma'am?' said he, drawing a long breath, and widening
the entrance, but still not opening it fully. Margaret went in. He
hastily bolted it behind her.

'Th' folk are all coming up here I reckon?' asked he.

'I don't know. Something unusual seemed going on; but this street is
quite empty, I think.'

She went across the yard and up the steps to the house door. There was
no near sound,--no steam-engine at work with beat and pant,--no click of
machinery, or mingling and clashing of many sharp voices; but far away,
the ominous gathering roar, deep-clamouring.



CHAPTER XXII

A BLOW AND ITS CONSEQUENCES

    'But work grew scarce, while bread grew dear,
     And wages lessened, too;
     For Irish hordes were bidders here,
     Our half-paid work to do.'
             CORN LAW RHYMES.


Margaret was shown into the drawing-room. It had returned into its
normal state of bag and covering. The windows were half open because of
the heat, and the Venetian blinds covered the glass,--so that a gray
grim light, reflected from the pavement below, threw all the shadows
wrong, and combined with the green-tinged upper light to make even
Margaret's own face, as she caught it in the mirrors, look ghastly and
wan. She sat and waited; no one came. Every now and then, the wind
seemed to bear the distant multitudinous sound nearer; and yet there was
no wind! It died away into profound stillness between whiles.

Fanny came in at last.

'Mamma will come directly, Miss Hale. She desired me to apologise to you
as it is. Perhaps you know my brother has imported hands from Ireland,
and it has irritated the Milton people excessively--as if he hadn't a
right to get labour where he could; and the stupid wretches here
wouldn't work for him; and now they've frightened these poor Irish
starvelings so with their threats, that we daren't let them out. You may
see them huddled in that top room in the mill,--and they're to sleep
there, to keep them safe from those brutes, who will neither work nor
let them work. And mamma is seeing about their food, and John is
speaking to them, for some of the women are crying to go back. Ah!
here's mamma!'

Mrs. Thornton came in with a look of black sternness on her face, which
made Margaret feel she had arrived at a bad time to trouble her with her
request. However, it was only in compliance with Mrs. Thornton's
expressed desire, that she would ask for whatever they might want in the
progress of her mother's illness. Mrs. Thornton's brow contracted, and
her mouth grew set, while Margaret spoke with gentle modesty of her
mother's restlessness, and Dr. Donaldson's wish that she should have the
relief of a water-bed. She ceased. Mrs. Thornton did not reply
immediately. Then she started up and exclaimed--

'They're at the gates! Call John, Fanny,--call him in from the mill!
They're at the gates! They'll batter them in! Call John, I say!'

And simultaneously, the gathering tramp--to which she had been
listening, instead of heeding Margaret's words--was heard just right
outside the wall, and an increasing din of angry voices raged behind the
wooden barrier, which shook as if the unseen maddened crowd made
battering-rams of their bodies, and retreated a short space only to come
with more united steady impetus against it, till their great beats made
the strong gates quiver, like reeds before the wind. The women gathered
round the windows, fascinated to look on the scene which terrified them.
Mrs. Thornton, the women-servants, Margaret,--all were there. Fanny had
returned, screaming up-stairs as if pursued at every step, and had
thrown herself in hysterical sobbing on the sofa. Mrs. Thornton watched
for her son, who was still in the mill. He came out, looked up at
them--the pale cluster of faces--and smiled good courage to them, before
he locked the factory-door. Then he called to one of the women to come
down and undo his own door, which Fanny had fastened behind her in her
mad flight. Mrs. Thornton herself went. And the sound of his well-known
and commanding voice, seemed to have been like the taste of blood to the
infuriated multitude outside. Hitherto they had been voiceless,
wordless, needing all their breath for their hard-labouring efforts to
break down the gates. But now, hearing him speak inside, they set up
such a fierce unearthly groan, that even Mrs. Thornton was white with
fear as she preceded him into the room. He came in a little flushed, but
his eyes gleaming, as in answer to the trumpet-call of danger, and with
a proud look of defiance on his face, that made him a noble, if not a
handsome man. Margaret had always dreaded lest her courage should fail
her in any emergency, and she should be proved to be, what she dreaded
lest she was--a coward. But now, in this real great time of reasonable
fear and nearness of terror, she forgot herself, and felt only an
intense sympathy--intense to painfulness--in the interests of the
moment.

Mr. Thornton came frankly forwards:

'I'm sorry, Miss Hale, you have visited us at this unfortunate moment,
when, I fear, you may be involved in whatever risk we have to bear.
Mother! hadn't you better go into the back rooms? I'm not sure whether
they may not have made their way from Pinner's Lane into the
stable-yard; but if not, you will be safer there than here. Go Jane!'
continued he, addressing the upper-servant. And she went, followed by
the others.

'I stop here!' said his mother. 'Where you are, there I stay.' And
indeed, retreat into the back rooms was of no avail; the crowd had
surrounded the outbuildings at the rear, and were sending forth their
awful threatening roar behind. The servants retreated into the garrets,
with many a cry and shriek. Mr. Thornton smiled scornfully as he heard
them. He glanced at Margaret, standing all by herself at the window
nearest the factory. Her eyes glittered, her colour was deepened on
cheek and lip. As if she felt his look, she turned to him and asked a
question that had been for some time in her mind:

'Where are the poor imported work-people? In the factory there?'

'Yes! I left them cowered up in a small room, at the head of a back
flight of stairs; bidding them run all risks, and escape down there, if
they heard any attack made on the mill-doors. But it is not them--it is
me they want.'

'When can the soldiers be here?' asked his mother, in a low but not
unsteady voice.

He took out his watch with the same measured composure with which he did
everything. He made some little calculation:

'Supposing Williams got straight off when I told him, and hadn't to
dodge about amongst them--it must be twenty minutes yet.'

'Twenty minutes!' said his mother, for the first time showing her terror
in the tones of her voice.

'Shut down the windows instantly, mother,' exclaimed he: 'the gates
won't bear such another shock. Shut down that window, Miss Hale.'

Margaret shut down her window, and then went to assist Mrs. Thornton's
trembling fingers.

From some cause or other, there was a pause of several minutes in the
unseen street. Mrs. Thornton looked with wild anxiety at her son's
countenance, as if to gain the interpretation of the sudden stillness
from him. His face was set into rigid lines of contemptuous defiance;
neither hope nor fear could be read there.

Fanny raised herself up:

'Are they gone?' asked she, in a whisper.

'Gone!' replied he. 'Listen!'

She did listen; they all could hear the one great straining breath; the
creak of wood slowly yielding; the wrench of iron; the mighty fall of
the ponderous gates. Fanny stood up tottering--made a step or two
towards her mother, and fell forwards into her arms in a fainting fit.
Mrs. Thornton lifted her up with a strength that was as much that of the
will as of the body, and carried her away.

'Thank God!' said Mr. Thornton, as he watched her out. 'Had you not
better go upstairs, Miss Hale?'

Margaret's lips formed a 'No!'--but he could not hear her speak, for the
tramp of innumerable steps right under the very wall of the house, and
the fierce growl of low deep angry voices that had a ferocious murmur of
satisfaction in them, more dreadful than their baffled cries not many
minutes before.

'Never mind!' said he, thinking to encourage her. 'I am very sorry you
should have been entrapped into all this alarm; but it cannot last long
now; a few minutes more, and the soldiers will be here.'

'Oh, God!' cried Margaret, suddenly; 'there is Boucher. I know his face,
though he is livid with rage,--he is fighting to get to the front--look!
look!'

'Who is Boucher?' asked Mr. Thornton, coolly, and coming close to the
window to discover the man in whom Margaret took such an interest. As
soon as they saw Mr. Thornton, they set up a yell,--to call it not human
is nothing,--it was as the demoniac desire of some terrible wild beast
for the food that is withheld from his ravening. Even he drew back for a
moment, dismayed at the intensity of hatred he had provoked.

'Let them yell!' said he. 'In five minutes more--. I only hope my poor
Irishmen are not terrified out of their wits by such a fiendlike noise.
Keep up your courage for five minutes, Miss Hale.'

'Don't be afraid for me,' she said hastily. 'But what in five minutes?
Can you do nothing to soothe these poor creatures? It is awful to see
them.'

'The soldiers will be here directly, and that will bring them to
reason.'

'To reason!' said Margaret, quickly. 'What kind of reason?'

'The only reason that does with men that make themselves into wild
beasts. By heaven! they've turned to the mill-door!'

'Mr. Thornton,' said Margaret, shaking all over with her passion, 'go
down this instant, if you are not a coward. Go down and face them like a
man. Save these poor strangers, whom you have decoyed here. Speak to
your workmen as if they were human beings. Speak to them kindly. Don't
let the soldiers come in and cut down poor-creatures who are driven mad.
I see one there who is. If you have any courage or noble quality in you,
go out and speak to them, man to man.'

He turned and looked at her while she spoke. A dark cloud came over his
face while he listened. He set his teeth as he heard her words.

'I will go. Perhaps I may ask you to accompany me downstairs, and bar
the door behind me; my mother and sister will need that protection.'

'Oh! Mr. Thornton! I do not know--I may be wrong--only--'

But he was gone; he was downstairs in the hall; he had unbarred the
front door; all she could do, was to follow him quickly, and fasten it
behind him, and clamber up the stairs again with a sick heart and a
dizzy head. Again she took her place by the farthest window. He was on
the steps below; she saw that by the direction of a thousand angry eyes;
but she could neither see nor hear anything save the savage satisfaction
of the rolling angry murmur. She threw the window wide open. Many in the
crowd were mere boys; cruel and thoughtless,--cruel because they were
thoughtless; some were men, gaunt as wolves, and mad for prey. She knew
how it was; they were like Boucher, with starving children at
home--relying on ultimate success in their efforts to get higher wages,
and enraged beyond measure at discovering that Irishmen were to be
brought in to rob their little ones of bread. Margaret knew it all; she
read it in Boucher's face, forlornly desperate and livid with rage. If
Mr. Thornton would but say something to them--let them hear his voice
only--it seemed as if it would be better than this wild beating and
raging against the stony silence that vouchsafed them no word, even of
anger or reproach. But perhaps he was speaking now; there was a
momentary hush of their noise, inarticulate as that of a troop of
animals. She tore her bonnet off; and bent forwards to hear. She could
only see; for if Mr. Thornton had indeed made the attempt to speak, the
momentary instinct to listen to him was past and gone, and the people
were raging worse than ever. He stood with his arms folded; still as a
statue; his face pale with repressed excitement. They were trying to
intimidate him--to make him flinch; each was urging the other on to some
immediate act of personal violence. Margaret felt intuitively, that in
an instant all would be uproar; the first touch would cause an
explosion, in which, among such hundreds of infuriated men and reckless
boys, even Mr. Thornton's life would be unsafe,--that in another instant
the stormy passions would have passed their bounds, and swept away all
barriers of reason, or apprehension of consequence. Even while she
looked, she saw lads in the back-ground stooping to take off their heavy
wooden clogs--the readiest missile they could find; she saw it was the
spark to the gunpowder, and, with a cry, which no one heard, she rushed
out of the room, down stairs,--she had lifted the great iron bar of the
door with an imperious force--had thrown the door open wide--and was
there, in face of that angry sea of men, her eyes smiting them with
flaming arrows of reproach. The clogs were arrested in the hands that
held them--the countenances, so fell not a moment before, now looked
irresolute, and as if asking what this meant. For she stood between them
and their enemy. She could not speak, but held out her arms towards them
till she could recover breath.

'Oh, do not use violence! He is one man, and you are many; but her words
died away, for there was no tone in her voice; it was but a hoarse
whisper. Mr. Thornton stood a little on one side; he had moved away from
behind her, as if jealous of anything that should come between him and
danger.

'Go!' said she, once more (and now her voice was like a cry). 'The
soldiers are sent for--are coming. Go peaceably. Go away. You shall have
relief from your complaints, whatever they are.'

'Shall them Irish blackguards be packed back again?' asked one from out
the crowd, with fierce threatening in his voice.

'Never, for your bidding!' exclaimed Mr. Thornton. And instantly the
storm broke. The hootings rose and filled the air,--but Margaret did not
hear them. Her eye was on the group of lads who had armed themselves
with their clogs some time before. She saw their gesture--she knew its
meaning,--she read their aim. Another moment, and Mr. Thornton might be
smitten down,--he whom she had urged and goaded to come to this perilous
place. She only thought how she could save him. She threw her arms
around him; she made her body into a shield from the fierce people
beyond. Still, with his arms folded, he shook her off.

'Go away,' said he, in his deep voice. 'This is no place for you.'

'It is!' said she. 'You did not see what I saw.' If she thought her sex
would be a protection,--if, with shrinking eyes she had turned away from
the terrible anger of these men, in any hope that ere she looked again
they would have paused and reflected, and slunk away, and vanished,--she
was wrong. Their reckless passion had carried them too far to stop--at
least had carried some of them too far; for it is always the savage
lads, with their love of cruel excitement, who head the riot--reckless
to what bloodshed it may lead. A clog whizzed through the air.
Margaret's fascinated eyes watched its progress; it missed its aim, and
she turned sick with affright, but changed not her position, only hid
her face on Mr. Thornton s arm. Then she turned and spoke again:'

'For God's sake! do not damage your cause by this violence. You do not
know what you are doing.' She strove to make her words distinct.

A sharp pebble flew by her, grazing forehead and cheek, and drawing a
blinding sheet of light before her eyes. She lay like one dead on Mr.
Thornton's shoulder. Then he unfolded his arms, and held her encircled
in one for an instant:

'You do well!' said he. 'You come to oust the innocent stranger. You
fall--you hundreds--on one man; and when a woman comes before you, to
ask you for your own sakes to be reasonable creatures, your cowardly
wrath falls upon her! You do well!' They were silent while he spoke.
They were watching, open-eyed and open-mouthed, the thread of dark-red
blood which wakened them up from their trance of passion. Those nearest
the gate stole out ashamed; there was a movement through all the
crowd--a retreating movement. Only one voice cried out:

'Th' stone were meant for thee; but thou wert sheltered behind a woman!'

Mr. Thornton quivered with rage. The blood-flowing had made Margaret
conscious--dimly, vaguely conscious. He placed her gently on the
door-step, her head leaning against the frame.

'Can you rest there?' he asked. But without waiting for her answer, he
went slowly down the steps right into the middle of the crowd. 'Now kill
me, if it is your brutal will. There is no woman to shield me here. You
may beat me to death--you will never move me from what I have determined
upon--not you!' He stood amongst them, with his arms folded, in
precisely the same attitude as he had been in on the steps.

But the retrograde movement towards the gate had begun--as
unreasoningly, perhaps as blindly, as the simultaneous anger. Or,
perhaps, the idea of the approach of the soldiers, and the sight of that
pale, upturned face, with closed eyes, still and sad as marble, though
the tears welled out of the long entanglement of eyelashes and dropped
down; and, heavier, slower plash than even tears, came the drip of blood
from her wound. Even the most desperate--Boucher himself--drew back,
faltered away, scowled, and finally went off, muttering curses on the
master, who stood in his unchanging attitude, looking after their
retreat with defiant eyes. The moment that retreat had changed into a
flight (as it was sure from its very character to do), he darted up the
steps to Margaret. She tried to rise without his help.

'It is nothing,' she said, with a sickly smile. 'The skin is grazed, and
I was stunned at the moment. Oh, I am so thankful they are gone!' And
she cried without restraint.

He could not sympathise with her. His anger had not abated; it was
rather rising the more as his sense of immediate danger was passing
away. The distant clank of the soldiers was heard just five minutes too
late to make this vanished mob feel the power of authority and order. He
hoped they would see the troops, and be quelled by the thought of their
narrow escape. While these thoughts crossed his mind, Margaret clung to
the doorpost to steady herself: but a film came over her eyes--he was
only just in time to catch her. 'Mother--mother!' cried he; 'Come
down--they are gone, and Miss Hale is hurt!' He bore her into the
dining-room, and laid her on the sofa there; laid her down softly, and
looking on her pure white face, the sense of what she was to him came
upon him so keenly that he spoke it out in his pain:

'Oh, my Margaret--my Margaret! no one can tell what you are to me!
Dead--cold as you lie there, you are the only woman I ever loved! Oh,
Margaret--Margaret!' Inarticulately as he spoke, kneeling by her, and
rather moaning than saying the words, he started up, ashamed of himself,
as his mother came in. She saw nothing, but her son a little paler, a
little sterner than usual.

'Miss Hale is hurt, mother. A stone has grazed her temple. She has lost
a good deal of blood, I'm afraid.'

'She looks very seriously hurt,--I could almost fancy her dead,' said
Mrs. Thornton, a good deal alarmed.

'It is only a fainting-fit. She has spoken to me since.' But all the
blood in his body seemed to rush inwards to his heart as he spoke, and
he absolutely trembled.

'Go and call Jane,--she can find me the things I want; and do you go to
your Irish people, who are crying and shouting as if they were mad with
fright.' He went. He went away as if weights were tied to every limb
that bore him from her. He called Jane; he called his sister. She should
have all womanly care, all gentle tendance. But every pulse beat in him
as he remembered how she had come down and placed herself in foremost
danger,--could it be to save him? At the time, he had pushed her aside,
and spoken gruffly; he had seen nothing but the unnecessary danger she
had placed herself in. He went to his Irish people, with every nerve in
his body thrilling at the thought of her, and found it difficult to
understand enough of what they were saying to soothe and comfort away
their fears. There, they declared, they would not stop; they claimed to
be sent back. And so he had to think, and talk, and reason.

Mrs. Thornton bathed Margaret's temples with eau de Cologne. As the
spirit touched the wound, which till then neither Mrs. Thornton nor Jane
had perceived, Margaret opened her eyes; but it was evident she did not
know where she was, nor who they were. The dark circles deepened, the
lips quivered and contracted, and she became insensible once more.

'She has had a terrible blow,' said Mrs. Thornton. 'Is there any one who
will go for a doctor?'

'Not me, ma'am, if you please,' said Jane, shrinking back. 'Them rabble
may be all about; I don't think the cut is so deep, ma'am, as it looks.'

'I will not run the chance. She was hurt in our house. If you are a
coward, Jane, I am not. I will go.'

'Pray, ma'am, let me send one of the police. There's ever so many come
up, and soldiers too.'

'And yet you're afraid to go! I will not have their time taken up with
our errands. They'll have enough to do to catch some of the mob. You
will not be afraid to stop in this house,' she asked contemptuously,
'and go on bathing Miss Hale's forehead, shall you? I shall not be ten
minutes away.'

'Couldn't Hannah go, ma'am?'

'Why Hannah? Why any but you? No, Jane, if you don't go, I do.'

Mrs. Thornton went first to the room in which she had left Fanny
stretched on the bed. She started up as her mother entered.

'Oh, mamma, how you terrified me! I thought you were a man that had got
into the house.'

'Nonsense! The men are all gone away. There are soldiers all round the
place, seeking for their work now it is too late. Miss Hale is lying on
the dining-room sofa badly hurt. I am going for the doctor.'

'Oh! don't, mamma! they'll murder you.' She clung to her mother's gown.
Mrs. Thornton wrenched it away with no gentle hand.

'Find me some one else to go but that girl must not bleed to death.'

'Bleed! oh, how horrid! How has she got hurt?'

'I don't know,--I have no time to ask. Go down to her, Fanny, and do try
to make yourself of use. Jane is with her; and I trust it looks worse
than it is. Jane has refused to leave the house, cowardly woman! And I
won't put myself in the way of any more refusals from my servants, so I
am going myself.'

'Oh, dear, dear!' said Fanny, crying, and preparing to go down rather
than be left alone, with the thought of wounds and bloodshed in the very
house.

'Oh, Jane!' said she, creeping into the dining-room, 'what is the
matter? How white she looks! How did she get hurt? Did they throw stones
into the drawing-room?'

Margaret did indeed look white and wan, although her senses were
beginning to return to her. But the sickly daze of the swoon made her
still miserably faint. She was conscious of movement around her, and of
refreshment from the eau de Cologne, and a craving for the bathing to go
on without intermission; but when they stopped to talk, she could no
more have opened her eyes, or spoken to ask for more bathing, than the
people who lie in death-like trance can move, or utter sound, to arrest
the awful preparations for their burial, while they are yet fully aware,
not merely of the actions of those around them, but of the idea that is
the motive for such actions.

Jane paused in her bathing, to reply to Miss Thornton's question.

'She'd have been safe enough, miss, if she'd stayed in the drawing-room,
or come up to us; we were in the front garret, and could see it all, out
of harm's way.'

'Where was she, then?' said Fanny, drawing nearer by slow degrees, as
she became accustomed to the sight of Margaret's pale face.

'Just before the front door--with master!' said Jane, significantly.

'With John! with my brother! How did she get there?'

'Nay, miss, that's not for me to say,' answered Jane, with a slight toss
of her head. 'Sarah did'----

'Sarah what?' said Fanny, with impatient curiosity.

Jane resumed her bathing, as if what Sarah did or said was not exactly
the thing she liked to repeat.

'Sarah what?' asked Fanny, sharply. 'Don't speak in these half
sentences, or I can't understand you.'

'Well, miss, since you will have it--Sarah, you see, was in the best
place for seeing, being at the right-hand window; and she says, and said
at the very time too, that she saw Miss Hale with her arms about
master's neck, hugging him before all the people.'

'I don't believe it,' said Fanny. 'I know she cares for my brother; any
one can see that; and I dare say, she'd give her eyes if he'd marry
her,--which he never will, I can tell her. But I don't believe she'd be
so bold and forward as to put her arms round his neck.'

'Poor young lady! she's paid for it dearly if she did. It's my belief,
that the blow has given her such an ascendency of blood to the head as
she'll never get the better from. She looks like a corpse now.'

'Oh, I wish mamma would come!' said Fanny, wringing her hands. 'I never
was in the room with a dead person before.'

'Stay, miss! She's not dead: her eye-lids are quivering, and here's wet
tears a-coming down her cheeks. Speak to her, Miss Fanny!'

'Are you better now?' asked Fanny, in a quavering voice.

No answer; no sign of recognition; but a faint pink colour returned to
her lips, although the rest of her face was ashen pale.

Mrs. Thornton came hurriedly in, with the nearest surgeon she could
find. 'How is she? Are you better, my dear?' as Margaret opened her
filmy eyes, and gazed dreamily at her. 'Here is Mr. Lowe come to see
you.'

Mrs. Thornton spoke loudly and distinctly, as to a deaf person. Margaret
tried to rise, and drew her ruffled, luxuriant hair instinctly over the
cut. 'I am better now,' said she, in a very low, faint voice. I was a
little sick.' She let him take her hand and feel her pulse. The bright
colour came for a moment into her face, when he asked to examine the
wound in her forehead; and she glanced up at Jane, as if shrinking from
her inspection more than from the doctor's.

'It is not much, I think. I am better now. I must go home.'

'Not until I have applied some strips of plaster; and you have rested a
little.'

She sat down hastily, without another word, and allowed it to be bound
up.

'Now, if you please,' said she, 'I must go. Mamma will not see it, I
think. It is under the hair, is it not?'

'Quite; no one could tell.'

'But you must not go,' said Mrs. Thornton, impatiently. 'You are not fit
to go.

'I must,' said Margaret, decidedly. 'Think of mamma. If they should
hear---- Besides, I must go,' said she, vehemently. 'I cannot stay here.
May I ask for a cab?'

'You are quite flushed and feverish,' observed Mr. Lowe.

'It is only with being here, when I do so want to go. The air--getting
away, would do me more good than anything,' pleaded she.

'I really believe it is as she says,' Mr. Lowe replied. 'If her mother
is so ill as you told me on the way here, it may be very serious if she
hears of this riot, and does not see her daughter back at the time she
expects. The injury is not deep. I will fetch a cab, if your servants
are still afraid to go out.'

'Oh, thank you!' said Margaret. 'It will do me more good than anything.
It is the air of this room that makes me feel so miserable.'

She leant back on the sofa, and closed her eyes. Fanny beckoned her
mother out of the room, and told her something that made her equally
anxious with Margaret for the departure of the latter. Not that she
fully believed Fanny's statement; but she credited enough to make her
manner to Margaret appear very much constrained, at wishing her
good-bye.

Mr. Lowe returned in the cab.

'If you will allow me, I will see you home, Miss Hale. The streets are
not very quiet yet.'

Margaret's thoughts were quite alive enough to the present to make her
desirous of getting rid of both Mr. Lowe and the cab before she reached
Crampton Crescent, for fear of alarming her father and mother. Beyond
that one aim she would not look. That ugly dream of insolent words
spoken about herself, could never be forgotten--but could be put aside
till she was stronger--for, oh! she was very weak; and her mind sought
for some present fact to steady itself upon, and keep it from utterly
losing consciousness in another hideous, sickly swoon.



CHAPTER XXIII

MISTAKES

    'Which when his mother saw, she in her mind
     Was troubled sore, ne wist well what to ween.'
             SPENSER.


Margaret had not been gone five minutes when Mr. Thornton came in, his
face all a-glow.

'I could not come sooner: the superintendent would---- Where is she?' He
looked round the dining-room, and then almost fiercely at his mother,
who was quietly re-arranging the disturbed furniture, and did not
instantly reply. 'Where is Miss Hale?' asked he again.

'Gone home,' said she, rather shortly.

'Gone home!'

'Yes. She was a great deal better. Indeed, I don't believe it was so
very much of a hurt; only some people faint at the least thing.'

'I am sorry she is gone home,' said he, walking uneasily about. 'She
could not have been fit for it.'

'She said she was; and Mr. Lowe said she was. I went for him myself.'

'Thank you, mother.' He stopped, and partly held out his hand to give
her a grateful shake. But she did not notice the movement.

'What have you done with your Irish people?'

'Sent to the Dragon for a good meal for them, poor wretches. And then,
luckily, I caught Father Grady, and I've asked him in to speak to them,
and dissuade them from going off in a body. How did Miss Hale go home?
I'm sure she could not walk.'

'She had a cab. Everything was done properly, even to the paying. Let us
talk of something else. She has caused disturbance enough.'

'I don't know where I should have been but for her.'

'Are you become so helpless as to have to be defended by a girl?' asked
Mrs. Thornton, scornfully.

He reddened. 'Not many girls would have taken the blows on herself which
were meant for me;--meant with right down good-will, too.'

'A girl in love will do a good deal,' replied Mrs. Thornton, shortly.

'Mother!' He made a step forwards; stood still; heaved with passion.

She was a little startled at the evident force he used to keep himself
calm. She was not sure of the nature of the emotions she had provoked.
It was only their violence that was clear. Was it anger? His eyes
glowed, his figure was dilated, his breath came thick and fast. It was a
mixture of joy, of anger, of pride, of glad surprise, of panting doubt;
but she could not read it. Still it made her uneasy,--as the presence of
all strong feeling, of which the cause is not fully understood or
sympathised in, always has this effect. She went to the side-board,
opened a drawer, and took out a duster, which she kept there for any
occasional purpose. She had seen a drop of eau de Cologne on the
polished arm of the sofa, and instinctively sought to wipe it off. But
she kept her back turned to her son much longer than was necessary; and
when she spoke, her voice seemed unusual and constrained.

'You have taken some steps about the rioters, I suppose? You don't
apprehend any more violence, do you? Where were the police? Never at
hand when they're wanted!'

'On the contrary, I saw three or four of them, when the gates gave way,
struggling and beating about in fine fashion; and more came running up
just when the yard was clearing. I might have given some of the fellows
in charge then, if I had had my wits about me. But there will be no
difficulty, plenty of people can identify them.'

'But won't they come back to-night?'

'I'm going to see about a sufficient guard for the premises. I have
appointed to meet Captain Hanbury in half an hour at the station.'

'You must have some tea first.'

'Tea! Yes, I suppose I must. It's half-past six, and I may be out for
some time. Don't sit up for me, mother.'

'You expect me to go to bed before I have seen you safe, do you?'

'Well, perhaps not.' He hesitated for a moment. 'But if I've time, I
shall go round by Crampton, after I've arranged with the police and seen
Hamper and Clarkson.' Their eyes met; they looked at each other intently
for a minute. Then she asked:

'Why are you going round by Crampton?'

'To ask after Miss Hale.'

'I will send. Williams must take the water-bed she came to ask for. He
shall inquire how she is.'

'I must go myself.'

'Not merely to ask how Miss Hale is?'

'No, not merely for that. I want to thank her for the way in which she
stood between me and the mob.'

'What made you go down at all? It was putting your head into the lion's
mouth!' He glanced sharply at her; saw that she did not know what had
passed between him and Margaret in the drawing-room; and replied by
another question:

'Shall you be afraid to be left without me, until I can get some of the
police; or had we better send Williams for them now, and they could be
here by the time we have done tea? There's no time to be lost. I must be
off in a quarter of an hour.'

Mrs. Thornton left the room. Her servants wondered at her directions,
usually so sharply-cut and decided, now confused and uncertain. Mr.
Thornton remained in the dining-room, trying to think of the business he
had to do at the police-office, and in reality thinking of Margaret.
Everything seemed dim and vague beyond--behind--besides the touch of her
arms round his neck--the soft clinging which made the dark colour come
and go in his cheek as he thought of it.

The tea would have been very silent, but for Fanny's perpetual
description of her own feelings; how she had been alarmed--and then
thought they were gone--and then felt sick and faint and trembling in
every limb.

'There, that's enough,' said her brother, rising from the table. 'The
reality was enough for me.' He was going to leave the room, when his
mother stopped him with her hand upon his arm.

'You will come back here before you go to the Hales', said she, in a
low, anxious voice.

'I know what I know,' said Fanny to herself.

'Why? Will it be too late to disturb them?'

'John, come back to me for this one evening. It will be late for Mrs.
Hale. But that is not it. To-morrow, you will---- Come back to-night,
John!' She had seldom pleaded with her son at all--she was too proud for
that: but she had never pleaded in vain.

'I will return straight here after I have done my business. You will be
sure to inquire after them?--after her?'

Mrs. Thornton was by no means a talkative companion to Fanny, nor yet a
good listener while her son was absent. But on his return, her eyes and
ears were keen to see and to listen to all the details which he could
give, as to the steps he had taken to secure himself, and those whom he
chose to employ, from any repetition of the day's outrages. He clearly
saw his object. Punishment and suffering, were the natural consequences
to those who had taken part in the riot. All that was necessary, in
order that property should be protected, and that the will of the
proprietor might cut to his end, clean and sharp as a sword.

'Mother! You know what I have got to say to Miss Hale, to-morrow?' The
question came upon her suddenly, during a pause in which she, at least,
had forgotten Margaret.

She looked up at him.

'Yes! I do. You can hardly do otherwise.'

'Do otherwise! I don't understand you.'

'I mean that, after allowing her feelings so to overcome her, I consider
you bound in honour--'

'Bound in honour,' said he, scornfully. 'I'm afraid honour has nothing
to do with it. "Her feelings overcome her!" What feelings do you mean?'

'Nay, John, there is no need to be angry. Did she not rush down, and
cling to you to save you from danger?'

'She did!' said he. 'But, mother,' continued he, stopping short in his
walk right in front of her, 'I dare not hope. I never was fainthearted
before; but I cannot believe such a creature cares for me.'

'Don't be foolish, John. Such a creature! Why, she might be a duke's
daughter, to hear you speak. And what proof more would you have, I
wonder, of her caring for you? I can believe she has had a struggle with
her aristocratic way of viewing things; but I like her the better for
seeing clearly at last. It is a good deal for me to say,' said Mrs.
Thornton, smiling slowly, while the tears stood in her eyes; 'for after
to-night, I stand second. It was to have you to myself, all to myself, a
few hours longer, that I begged you not to go till to-morrow!'

'Dearest mother!' (Still love is selfish, and in an instant he reverted
to his own hopes and fears in a way that drew the cold creeping shadow
over Mrs. Thornton's heart.) 'But I know she does not care for me. I
shall put myself at her feet--I must. If it were but one chance in a
thousand--or a million--I should do it.'

'Don't fear!' said his mother, crushing down her own personal
mortification at the little notice he had taken of the rare ebullition
of her maternal feelings--of the pang of jealousy that betrayed the
intensity of her disregarded love. 'Don't be afraid,' she said, coldly.
'As far as love may go she may be worthy of you. It must have taken a
good deal to overcome her pride. Don't be afraid, John,' said she,
kissing him, as she wished him good-night. And she went slowly and
majestically out of the room. But when she got into her own, she locked
the door, and sate down to cry unwonted tears.

Margaret entered the room (where her father and mother still sat,
holding low conversation together), looking very pale and white. She
came close up to them before she could trust herself to speak.

'Mrs. Thornton will send the water-bed, mamma.'

'Dear, how tired you look! Is it very hot, Margaret?'

'Very hot, and the streets are rather rough with the strike.'

Margaret's colour came back vivid and bright as ever; but it faded away
instantly.

'Here has been a message from Bessy Higgins, asking you to go to her,'
said Mrs. Hale. 'But I'm sure you look too tired.'

'Yes!' said Margaret. 'I am tired, I cannot go.'

She was very silent and trembling while she made tea. She was thankful
to see her father so much occupied with her mother as not to notice her
looks. Even after her mother went to bed, he was not content to be
absent from her, but undertook to read her to sleep. Margaret was alone.

'Now I will think of it--now I will remember it all. I could not
before--I dared not.' She sat still in her chair, her hands clasped on
her knees, her lips compressed, her eyes fixed as one who sees a vision.
She drew a deep breath.

'I, who hate scenes--I, who have despised people for showing
emotion--who have thought them wanting in self-control--I went down and
must needs throw myself into the melee, like a romantic fool! Did I do
any good? They would have gone away without me I dare say.' But this was
over-leaping the rational conclusion,--as in an instant her well-poised
judgment felt. 'No, perhaps they would not. I did some good. But what
possessed me to defend that man as if he were a helpless child! Ah!'
said she, clenching her hands together, 'it is no wonder those people
thought I was in love with him, after disgracing myself in that way. I
in love--and with him too!' Her pale cheeks suddenly became one flame of
fire; and she covered her face with her hands. When she took them away,
her palms were wet with scalding tears.

'Oh how low I am fallen that they should say that of me! I could not
have been so brave for any one else, just because he was so utterly
indifferent to me--if, indeed, I do not positively dislike him. It made
me the more anxious that there should be fair play on each side; and I
could see what fair play was. It was not fair, said she, vehemently,
'that he should stand there--sheltered, awaiting the soldiers, who might
catch those poor maddened creatures as in a trap--without an effort on
his part, to bring them to reason. And it was worse than unfair for them
to set on him as they threatened. I would do it again, let who will say
what they like of me. If I saved one blow, one cruel, angry action that
might otherwise have been committed, I did a woman's work. Let them
insult my maiden pride as they will--I walk pure before God!'

She looked up, and a noble peace seemed to descend and calm her face,
till it was 'stiller than chiselled marble.'

Dixon came in:

'If you please, Miss Margaret, here's the water-bed from Mrs.
Thornton's. It's too late for to-night, I'm afraid, for missus is nearly
asleep: but it will do nicely for to-morrow.'

'Very,' said Margaret. 'You must send our best thanks.'

Dixon left the room for a moment.

'If you please, Miss Margaret, he says he's to ask particular how you
are. I think he must mean missus; but he says his last words were, to
ask how Miss Hale was.'

'Me!' said Margaret, drawing herself up. 'I am quite well. Tell him I am
perfectly well.' But her complexion was as deadly white as her
handkerchief; and her head ached intensely.

Mr. Hale now came in. He had left his sleeping wife; and wanted, as
Margaret saw, to be amused and interested by something that she was to
tell him. With sweet patience did she bear her pain, without a word of
complaint; and rummaged up numberless small subjects for
conversation--all except the riot, and that she never named once. It
turned her sick to think of it.

'Good-night, Margaret. I have every chance of a good night myself, and
you are looking very pale with your watching. I shall call Dixon if your
mother needs anything. Do you go to bed and sleep like a top; for I'm
sure you need it, poor child!'

'Good-night, papa.'

She let her colour go--the forced smile fade away--the eyes grow dull
with heavy pain. She released her strong will from its laborious task.
Till morning she might feel ill and weary.

She lay down and never stirred. To move hand or foot, or even so much as
one finger, would have been an exertion beyond the powers of either
volition or motion. She was so tired, so stunned, that she thought she
never slept at all; her feverish thoughts passed and repassed the
boundary between sleeping and waking, and kept their own miserable
identity. She could not be alone, prostrate, powerless as she was,--a
cloud of faces looked up at her, giving her no idea of fierce vivid
anger, or of personal danger, but a deep sense of shame that she should
thus be the object of universal regard--a sense of shame so acute that
it seemed as if she would fain have burrowed into the earth to hide
herself, and yet she could not escape out of that unwinking glare of
many eyes.



CHAPTER XXIV

MISTAKES CLEARED UP

    'Your beauty was the first that won the place,
     And scal'd the walls of my undaunted heart,
     Which, captive now, pines in a caitive case,
     Unkindly met with rigour for desert;--
     Yet not the less your servant shall abide,
     In spite of rude repulse or silent pride.'
             WILLIAM FOWLER.


The next morning, Margaret dragged herself up, thankful that the night
was over,--unrefreshed, yet rested. All had gone well through the house;
her mother had only wakened once. A little breeze was stirring in the
hot air, and though there were no trees to show the playful tossing
movement caused by the wind among the leaves, Margaret knew how,
somewhere or another, by way-side, in copses, or in thick green woods,
there was a pleasant, murmuring, dancing sound,--a rushing and falling
noise, the very thought of which was an echo of distant gladness in her
heart.

She sat at her work in Mrs. Hale's room. As soon as that forenoon
slumber was over, she would help her mother to dress after dinner, she
would go and see Bessy Higgins. She would banish all recollection of the
Thornton family,--no need to think of them till they absolutely stood
before her in flesh and blood. But, of course, the effort not to think
of them brought them only the more strongly before her; and from time to
time, the hot flush came over her pale face sweeping it into colour, as
a sunbeam from between watery clouds comes swiftly moving over the sea.

Dixon opened the door very softly, and stole on tiptoe up to Margaret,
sitting by the shaded window.

'Mr. Thornton, Miss Margaret. He is in the drawing-room.'

Margaret dropped her sewing.

'Did he ask for me? Isn't papa come in?'

'He asked for you, miss; and master is out.'

'Very well, I will come,' said Margaret, quietly. But she lingered
strangely. Mr. Thornton stood by one of the windows, with his back to
the door, apparently absorbed in watching something in the street. But,
in truth, he was afraid of himself. His heart beat thick at the thought
of her coming. He could not forget the touch of her arms around his
neck, impatiently felt as it had been at the time; but now the
recollection of her clinging defence of him, seemed to thrill him
through and through,--to melt away every resolution, all power of
self-control, as if it were wax before a fire. He dreaded lest he should
go forwards to meet her, with his arms held out in mute entreaty that
she would come and nestle there, as she had done, all unheeded, the day
before, but never unheeded again. His heart throbbed loud and quick.
Strong man as he was, he trembled at the anticipation of what he had to
say, and how it might be received. She might droop, and flush, and
flutter to his arms, as to her natural home and resting-place. One
moment, he glowed with impatience at the thought that she might do this,
the next, he feared a passionate rejection, the very idea of which
withered up his future with so deadly a blight that he refused to think
of it. He was startled by the sense of the presence of some one else in
the room. He turned round. She had come in so gently, that he had never
heard her; the street noises had been more distinct to his inattentive
ear than her slow movements, in her soft muslin gown.

She stood by the table, not offering to sit down. Her eyelids were
dropped half over her eyes; her teeth were shut, not compressed; her
lips were just parted over them, allowing the white line to be seen
between their curve. Her slow deep breathings dilated her thin and
beautiful nostrils; it was the only motion visible on her countenance.
The fine-grained skin, the oval cheek, the rich outline of her mouth,
its corners deep set in dimples,--were all wan and pale to-day; the loss
of their usual natural healthy colour being made more evident by the
heavy shadow of the dark hair, brought down upon the temples, to hide
all sign of the blow she had received. Her head, for all its drooping
eyes, was thrown a little back, in the old proud attitude. Her long arms
hung motion-less by her sides. Altogether she looked like some prisoner,
falsely accused of a crime that she loathed and despised, and from which
she was too indignant to justify herself.

Mr. Thornton made a hasty step or two forwards; recovered himself, and
went with quiet firmness to the door (which she had left open), and shut
it. Then he came back, and stood opposite to her for a moment, receiving
the general impression of her beautiful presence, before he dared to
disturb it, perhaps to repel it, by what he had to say.

'Miss Hale, I was very ungrateful yesterday--'

'You had nothing to be grateful for,' said she, raising her eyes, and
looking full and straight at him. 'You mean, I suppose, that you believe
you ought to thank me for what I did.' In spite of herself--in defiance
of her anger--the thick blushes came all over her face, and burnt into
her very eyes; which fell not nevertheless from their grave and steady
look. 'It was only a natural instinct; any woman would have done just
the same. We all feel the sanctity of our sex as a high privilege when
we see danger. I ought rather,' said she, hastily, 'to apologise to you,
for having said thoughtless words which sent you down into the danger.'

'It was not your words; it was the truth they conveyed, pungently as it
was expressed. But you shall not drive me off upon that, and so escape
the expression of my deep gratitude, my--' he was on the verge now; he
would not speak in the haste of his hot passion; he would weigh each
word. He would; and his will was triumphant. He stopped in mid career.

'I do not try to escape from anything,' said she. 'I simply say, that
you owe me no gratitude; and I may add, that any expression of it will
be painful to me, because I do not feel that I deserve it. Still, if it
will relieve you from even a fancied obligation, speak on.'

'I do not want to be relieved from any obligation,' said he, goaded by
her calm manner. 'Fancied, or not fancied--I question not myself to know
which--I choose to believe that I owe my very life to you--ay--smile,
and think it an exaggeration if you will. I believe it, because it adds
a value to that life to think--oh, Miss Hale!' continued he, lowering
his voice to such a tender intensity of passion that she shivered and
trembled before him, 'to think circumstance so wrought, that whenever I
exult in existence henceforward, I may say to myself, "All this gladness
in life, all honest pride in doing my work in the world, all this keen
sense of being, I owe to her!" And it doubles the gladness, it makes the
pride glow, it sharpens the sense of existence till I hardly know if it
is pain or pleasure, to think that I owe it to one--nay, you must, you
shall hear'--said he, stepping forwards with stern determination--'to
one whom I love, as I do not believe man ever loved woman before.' He
held her hand tight in his. He panted as he listened for what should
come. He threw the hand away with indignation, as he heard her icy tone;
for icy it was, though the words came faltering out, as if she knew not
where to find them.

'Your way of speaking shocks me. It is blasphemous. I cannot help it, if
that is my first feeling. It might not be so, I dare say, if I
understood the kind of feeling you describe. I do not want to vex you;
and besides, we must speak gently, for mamma is asleep; but your whole
manner offends me--'

'How!' exclaimed he. 'Offends you! I am indeed most unfortunate.'

'Yes!' said she, with recovered dignity. 'I do feel offended; and, I
think, justly. You seem to fancy that my conduct of yesterday'--again
the deep carnation blush, but this time with eyes kindling with
indignation rather than shame--'was a personal act between you and me;
and that you may come and thank me for it, instead of perceiving, as a
gentleman would--yes! a gentleman,' she repeated, in allusion to their
former conversation about that word, 'that any woman, worthy of the name
of woman, would come forward to shield, with her reverenced
helplessness, a man in danger from the violence of numbers.'

'And the gentleman thus rescued is forbidden the relief of thanks!' he
broke in contemptuously. 'I am a man. I claim the right of expressing my
feelings.'

'And I yielded to the right; simply saying that you gave me pain by
insisting upon it,' she replied, proudly. 'But you seem to have
imagined, that I was not merely guided by womanly instinct, but'--and
here the passionate tears (kept down for long--struggled with
vehemently) came up into her eyes, and choked her voice--'but that I was
prompted by some particular feeling for you--you! Why, there was not a
man--not a poor desperate man in all that crowd--for whom I had not more
sympathy--for whom I should not have done what little I could more
heartily.'

'You may speak on, Miss Hale. I am aware of all these misplaced
sympathies of yours. I now believe that it was only your innate sense of
oppression--(yes; I, though a master, may be oppressed)--that made you
act so nobly as you did. I know you despise me; allow me to say, it is
because you do not understand me.'

'I do not care to understand,' she replied, taking hold of the table to
steady herself; for she thought him cruel--as, indeed, he was--and she
was weak with her indignation.

'No, I see you do not. You are unfair and unjust.'

Margaret compressed her lips. She would not speak in answer to such
accusations. But, for all that--for all his savage words, he could have
thrown himself at her feet, and kissed the hem of her garment. She did
not speak; she did not move. The tears of wounded pride fell hot and
fast. He waited awhile, longing for her to say something, even a taunt,
to which he might reply. But she was silent. He took up his hat.

'One word more. You look as if you thought it tainted you to be loved by
me. You cannot avoid it. Nay, I, if I would, cannot cleanse you from it.
But I would not, if I could. I have never loved any woman before: my
life has been too busy, my thoughts too much absorbed with other things.
Now I love, and will love. But do not be afraid of too much expression
on my part.'

'I am not afraid,' she replied, lifting herself straight up. 'No one yet
has ever dared to be impertinent to me, and no one ever shall. But, Mr.
Thornton, you have been very kind to my father,' said she, changing her
whole tone and bearing to a most womanly softness. 'Don't let us go on
making each other angry. Pray don't!' He took no notice of her words: he
occupied himself in smoothing the nap of his hat with his coat-sleeve,
for half a minute or so; and then, rejecting her offered hand, and
making as if he did not see her grave look of regret, he turned abruptly
away, and left the room. Margaret caught one glance at his face before
he went.

When he was gone, she thought she had seen the gleam of unshed tears in
his eyes; and that turned her proud dislike into something different and
kinder, if nearly as painful--self-reproach for having caused such
mortification to any one.

'But how could I help it?' asked she of herself. 'I never liked him. I
was civil; but I took no trouble to conceal my indifference. Indeed, I
never thought about myself or him, so my manners must have shown the
truth. All that yesterday, he might mistake. But that is his fault, not
mine. I would do it again, if need were, though it does lead me into all
this shame and trouble.'



CHAPTER XXV

FREDERICK

    'Revenge may have her own;
     Roused discipline aloud proclaims their cause,
     And injured navies urge their broken laws.'
             BYRON.


Margaret began to wonder whether all offers were as unexpected
beforehand,--as distressing at the time of their occurrence, as the two
she had had. An involuntary comparison between Mr. Lennox and Mr.
Thornton arose in her mind. She had been sorry that an expression of any
other feeling than friendship had been lured out by circumstances from
Henry Lennox. That regret was the predominant feeling, on the first
occasion of her receiving a proposal. She had not felt so stunned--so
impressed as she did now, when echoes of Mr. Thornton's voice yet
lingered about the room. In Lennox's case, he seemed for a moment to
have slid over the boundary between friendship and love; and the instant
afterwards, to regret it nearly as much as she did, although for
different reasons. In Mr. Thornton's case, as far as Margaret knew,
there was no intervening stage of friendship. Their intercourse had been
one continued series of opposition. Their opinions clashed; and indeed,
she had never perceived that he had cared for her opinions, as belonging
to her, the individual. As far as they defied his rock-like power of
character, his passion-strength, he seemed to throw them off from him
with contempt, until she felt the weariness of the exertion of making
useless protests; and now, he had come, in this strange wild passionate
way, to make known his love. For, although at first it had struck her,
that his offer was forced and goaded out of him by sharp compassion for
the exposure she had made of herself,--which he, like others, might
misunderstand--yet, even before he left the room,--and certainly, not
five minutes after, the clear conviction dawned upon her, shined bright
upon her, that he did love her; that he had loved her; that he would
love her. And she shrank and shuddered as under the fascination of some
great power, repugnant to her whole previous life. She crept away, and
hid from his idea. But it was of no use. To parody a line out of
Fairfax's Tasso--

    'His strong idea wandered through her thought.'

She disliked him the more for having mastered her inner will. How dared
he say that he would love her still, even though she shook him off with
contempt? She wished she had spoken more--stronger. Sharp, decisive
speeches came thronging into her mind, now that it was too late to utter
them. The deep impression made by the interview, was like that of a
horror in a dream; that will not leave the room although we waken up,
and rub our eyes, and force a stiff rigid smile upon our lips. It is
there--there, cowering and gibbering, with fixed ghastly eyes, in some
corner of the chamber, listening to hear whether we dare to breathe of
its presence to any one. And we dare not; poor cowards that we are!

And so she shuddered away from the threat of his enduring love. What did
he mean? Had she not the power to daunt him? She would see. It was more
daring than became a man to threaten her so. Did he ground it upon the
miserable yesterday? If need were, she would do the same to-morrow,--by
a crippled beggar, willingly and gladly,--but by him, she would do it,
just as bravely, in spite of his deductions, and the cold slime of
women's impertinence. She did it because it was right, and simple, and
true to save where she could save; even to try to save. 'Fais ce que
dois, advienne que pourra.'

Hitherto she had not stirred from where he had left her; no outward
circumstances had roused her out of the trance of thought in which she
had been plunged by his last words, and by the look of his deep intent
passionate eyes, as their flames had made her own fall before them. She
went to the window, and threw it open, to dispel the oppression which
hung around her. Then she went and opened the door, with a sort of
impetuous wish to shake off the recollection of the past hour in the
company of others, or in active exertion. But all was profoundly hushed
in the noonday stillness of a house, where an invalid catches the
unrefreshing sleep that is denied to the night-hours. Margaret would not
be alone. What should she do? 'Go and see Bessy Higgins, of course,'
thought she, as the recollection of the message sent the night before
flashed into her mind.

And away she went.

When she got there, she found Bessy lying on the settle, moved close to
the fire, though the day was sultry and oppressive. She was laid down
quite flat, as if resting languidly after some paroxysm of pain.
Margaret felt sure she ought to have the greater freedom of breathing
which a more sitting posture would procure; and, without a word, she
raised her up, and so arranged the pillows, that Bessy was more at ease,
though very languid.

'I thought I should na' ha' seen yo' again,' said she, at last, looking
wistfully in Margaret's face.

'I'm afraid you're much worse. But I could not have come yesterday, my
mother was so ill--for many reasons,' said Margaret, colouring.

'Yo'd m'appen think I went beyond my place in sending Mary for yo'. But
the wranglin' and the loud voices had just torn me to pieces, and I
thought when father left, oh! if I could just hear her voice, reading me
some words o' peace and promise, I could die away into the silence and
rest o' God, just as a babby is hushed up to sleep by its mother's
lullaby.'

'Shall I read you a chapter, now?'

'Ay, do! M'appen I shan't listen to th' sense, at first; it will seem
far away--but when yo' come to words I like--to th' comforting
texts--it'll seem close in my ear, and going through me as it were.'

Margaret began. Bessy tossed to and fro. If, by an effort, she attended
for one moment, it seemed as though she were convulsed into double
restlessness the next. At last, she burst out 'Don't go on reading. It's
no use. I'm blaspheming all the time in my mind, wi' thinking angrily on
what canna be helped.--Yo'd hear of th' riot, m'appen, yesterday at
Marlborough Mills? Thornton's factory, yo' know.'

'Your father was not there, was he?' said Margaret, colouring deep.

'Not he. He'd ha' given his right hand if it had never come to pass.
It's that that's fretting me. He's fairly knocked down in his mind by
it. It's no use telling him, fools will always break out o' bounds. Yo'
never saw a man so down-hearted as he is.'

'But why?' asked Margaret. 'I don't understand.'

'Why yo' see, he's a committee-man on this special strike'. Th' Union
appointed him because, though I say it as shouldn't say it, he's
reckoned a deep chap, and true to th' back-bone. And he and t' other
committee-men laid their plans. They were to hou'd together through
thick and thin; what the major part thought, t'others were to think,
whether they would or no. And above all there was to be no going again
the law of the land. Folk would go with them if they saw them striving
and starving wi' dumb patience; but if there was once any noise o'
fighting and struggling--even wi' knobsticks--all was up, as they knew
by th' experience of many, and many a time before. They would try and
get speech o' th' knobsticks, and coax 'em, and reason wi' 'em, and
m'appen warn 'em off; but whatever came, the Committee charged all
members o' th' Union to lie down and die, if need were, without striking
a blow; and then they reckoned they were sure o' carrying th' public
with them. And beside all that, Committee knew they were right in their
demand, and they didn't want to have right all mixed up wi' wrong, till
folk can't separate it, no more nor I can th' physic-powder from th'
jelly yo' gave me to mix it in; jelly is much the biggest, but powder
tastes it all through. Well, I've told yo' at length about this'n, but
I'm tired out. Yo' just think for yo'rsel, what it mun be for father to
have a' his work undone, and by such a fool as Boucher, who must needs
go right again the orders of Committee, and ruin th' strike, just as bad
as if he meant to be a Judas. Eh! but father giv'd it him last night! He
went so far as to say, he'd go and tell police where they might find th'
ringleader o' th' riot; he'd give him up to th' mill-owners to do what
they would wi' him. He'd show the world that th' real leaders o' the
strike were not such as Boucher, but steady thoughtful men; good hands,
and good citizens, who were friendly to law and judgment, and would
uphold order; who only wanted their right wage, and wouldn't work, even
though they starved, till they got 'em; but who would ne'er injure
property or life: For,' dropping her voice, 'they do say, that Boucher
threw a stone at Thornton's sister, that welly killed her.'

'That's not true,' said Margaret. 'It was not Boucher that threw the
stone'--she went first red, then white.

'Yo'd be there then, were yo'?' asked Bessy languidly for indeed, she
had spoken with many pauses, as if speech was unusually difficult to
her.

'Yes. Never mind. Go on. Only it was not Boucher that threw the stone.
But what did he answer to your father?'

'He did na' speak words. He were all in such a tremble wi' spent
passion, I could na' bear to look at him. I heard his breath coming
quick, and at one time I thought he were sobbing. But when father said
he'd give him up to police, he gave a great cry, and struck father on
th' face wi' his closed fist, and be off like lightning. Father were
stunned wi' the blow at first, for all Boucher were weak wi' passion and
wi' clemming. He sat down a bit, and put his hand afore his eyes; and
then made for th' door. I dunno' where I got strength, but I threw
mysel' off th' settle and clung to him. "Father, father!" said I.
"Thou'll never go peach on that poor clemmed man. I'll never leave go on
thee, till thou sayst thou wunnot." "Dunnot be a fool," says he, "words
come readier than deeds to most men. I never thought o' telling th'
police on him; though by G--, he deserves it, and I should na' ha'
minded if some one else had done the dirty work, and got him clapped up.
But now he has strucken me, I could do it less nor ever, for it would be
getting other men to take up my quarrel. But if ever he gets well o'er
this clemming, and is in good condition, he and I'll have an up and down
fight, purring an' a', and I'll see what I can do for him." And so
father shook me off,--for indeed, I was low and faint enough, and his
face was all clay white, where it weren't bloody, and turned me sick to
look at. And I know not if I slept or waked, or were in a dead swoon,
till Mary come in; and I telled her to fetch yo' to me. And now dunnot
talk to me, but just read out th' chapter. I'm easier in my mind for
having spit it out; but I want some thoughts of the world that's far
away to take the weary taste of it out o' my mouth. Read me--not a
sermon chapter, but a story chapter; they've pictures in them, which I
see when my eyes are shut. Read about the New Heavens, and the New
Earth; and m'appen I'll forget this.'

Margaret read in her soft low voice. Though Bessy's eyes were shut, she
was listening for some time, for the moisture of tears gathered heavy on
her eyelashes. At last she slept; with many starts, and muttered
pleadings. Margaret covered her up, and left her, for she had an uneasy
consciousness that she might be wanted at home, and yet, until now, it
seemed cruel to leave the dying girl. Mrs. Hale was in the drawing-room
on her daughter's return. It was one of her better days, and she was
full of praises of the water-bed. It had been more like the beds at Sir
John Beresford's than anything she had slept on since. She did not know
how it was, but people seemed to have lost the art of making the same
kind of beds as they used to do in her youth. One would think it was
easy enough; there was the same kind of feathers to be had, and yet
somehow, till this last night she did not know when she had had a good
sound resting sleep. Mr. Hale suggested, that something of the merits of
the featherbeds of former days might be attributed to the activity of
youth, which gave a relish to rest; but this idea was not kindly
received by his wife.

'No, indeed, Mr. Hale, it was those beds at Sir John's. Now, Margaret,
you're young enough, and go about in the day; are the beds comfortable?
I appeal to you. Do they give you a feeling of perfect repose when you
lie down upon them; or rather, don't you toss about, and try in vain to
find an easy position, and waken in the morning as tired as when you
went to bed?'

Margaret laughed. 'To tell the truth, mamma, I've never thought about my
bed at all, what kind it is. I'm so sleepy at night, that if I only lie
down anywhere, I nap off directly. So I don't think I'm a competent
witness. But then, you know, I never had the opportunity of trying Sir
John Beresford's beds. I never was at Oxenham.'

'Were not you? Oh, no! to be sure. It was poor darling Fred I took with
me, I remember. I only went to Oxenham once after I was married,--to
your Aunt Shaw's wedding; and poor little Fred was the baby then. And I
know Dixon did not like changing from lady's maid to nurse, and I was
afraid that if I took her near her old home, and amongst her own people,
she might want to leave me. But poor baby was taken ill at Oxenham, with
his teething; and, what with my being a great deal with Anna just before
her marriage, and not being very strong myself, Dixon had more of the
charge of him than she ever had before; and it made her so fond of him,
and she was so proud when he would turn away from every one and cling to
her, that I don't believe she ever thought of leaving me again; though
it was very different from what she'd been accustomed to. Poor Fred!
Everybody loved him. He was born with the gift of winning hearts. It
makes me think very badly of Captain Reid when I know that he disliked
my own dear boy. I think it a certain proof he had a bad heart. Ah! Your
poor father, Margaret. He has left the room. He can't bear to hear Fred
spoken of.'

'I love to hear about him, mamma. Tell me all you like; you never can
tell me too much. Tell me what he was like as a baby.'

'Why, Margaret, you must not be hurt, but he was much prettier than you
were. I remember, when I first saw you in Dixon's arms, I said, "Dear,
what an ugly little thing!" And she said, "It's not every child that's
like Master Fred, bless him!" Dear! how well I remember it. Then I could
have had Fred in my arms every minute of the day, and his cot was close
by my bed; and now, now--Margaret--I don't know where my boy is, and
sometimes I think I shall never see him again.'

Margaret sat down by her mother's sofa on a little stool, and softly
took hold of her hand, caressing it and kissing it, as if to comfort.
Mrs. Hale cried without restraint. At last, she sat straight, stiff up
on the sofa, and turning round to her daughter, she said with tearful,
almost solemn earnestness, 'Margaret, if I can get better,--if God lets
me have a chance of recovery, it must be through seeing my son Frederick
once more. It will waken up all the poor springs of health left in me.

She paused, and seemed to try and gather strength for something more yet
to be said. Her voice was choked as she went on--was quavering as with
the contemplation of some strange, yet closely-present idea.

'And, Margaret, if I am to die--if I am one of those appointed to die
before many weeks are over--I must see my child first. I cannot think
how it must be managed; but I charge you, Margaret, as you yourself hope
for comfort in your last illness, bring him to me that I may bless him.
Only for five minutes, Margaret. There could be no danger in five
minutes. Oh, Margaret, let me see him before I die!'

Margaret did not think of anything that might be utterly unreasonable in
this speech: we do not look for reason or logic in the passionate
entreaties of those who are sick unto death; we are stung with the
recollection of a thousand slighted opportunities of fulfilling the
wishes of those who will soon pass away from among us: and do they ask
us for the future happiness of our lives, we lay it at their feet, and
will it away from us. But this wish of Mrs. Hale's was so natural, so
just, so right to both parties, that Margaret felt as if, on Frederick's
account as well as on her mother's, she ought to overlook all
intermediate chances of danger, and pledge herself to do everything in
her power for its realisation. The large, pleading, dilated eyes were
fixed upon her wistfully, steady in their gaze, though the poor white
lips quivered like those of a child. Margaret gently rose up and stood
opposite to her frail mother; so that she might gather the secure
fulfilment of her wish from the calm steadiness of her daughter's face.

'Mamma, I will write to-night, and tell Frederick what you say. I am as
sure that he will come directly to us, as I am sure of my life. Be easy,
mamma, you shall see him as far as anything earthly can be promised.'

'You will write to-night? Oh, Margaret! the post goes out at five--you
will write by it, won't you? I have so few hours left--I feel, dear, as
if I should not recover, though sometimes your father over-persuades me
into hoping; you will write directly, won't you? Don't lose a single
post; for just by that very post I may miss him.'

'But, mamma, papa is out.'

'Papa is out! and what then? Do you mean that he would deny me this last
wish, Margaret? Why, I should not be ill--be dying--if he had not taken
me away from Helstone, to this unhealthy, smoky, sunless place.'

'Oh, mamma!' said Margaret.

'Yes; it is so, indeed. He knows it himself; he has said so many a time.
He would do anything for me; you don't mean he would refuse me this last
wish--prayer, if you will. And, indeed, Margaret, the longing to see
Frederick stands between me and God. I cannot pray till I have this one
thing; indeed, I cannot. Don't lose time, dear, dear Margaret. Write by
this very next post. Then he may be here--here in twenty-two days! For
he is sure to come. No cords or chains can keep him. In twenty-two days
I shall see my boy.' She fell back, and for a short time she took no
notice of the fact that Margaret sat motionless, her hand shading her
eyes.

'You are not writing!' said her mother at last 'Bring me some pens and
paper; I will try and write myself.' She sat up, trembling all over with
feverish eagerness. Margaret took her hand down and looked at her mother
sadly.

'Only wait till papa comes in. Let us ask him how best to do it.'

'You promised, Margaret, not a quarter of an hour ago;--you said he
should come.'

'And so he shall, mamma; don't cry, my own dear mother. I'll write here,
now,--you shall see me write,--and it shall go by this very post; and if
papa thinks fit, he can write again when he comes in,--it is only a
day's delay. Oh, mamma, don't cry so pitifully,--it cuts me to the
heart.'

Mrs. Hale could not stop her tears; they came hysterically; and, in
truth, she made no effort to control them, but rather called up all the
pictures of the happy past, and the probable future--painting the scene
when she should lie a corpse, with the son she had longed to see in life
weeping over her, and she unconscious of his presence--till she was
melted by self-pity into a state of sobbing and exhaustion that made
Margaret's heart ache. But at last she was calm, and greedily watched
her daughter, as she began her letter; wrote it with swift urgent
entreaty; sealed it up hurriedly, for fear her mother should ask to see
it: and then, to make security most sure, at Mrs. Hale's own bidding,
took it herself to the post-office. She was coming home when her father
overtook her.

'And where have you been, my pretty maid?' asked he.

'To the post-office,--with a letter; a letter to Frederick. Oh, papa,
perhaps I have done wrong: but mamma was seized with such a passionate
yearning to see him--she said it would make her well again,--and then
she said that she must see him before she died,--I cannot tell you how
urgent she was! Did I do wrong?' Mr. Hale did not reply at first. Then
he said:

'You should have waited till I came in, Margaret.'

'I tried to persuade her--' and then she was silent.

'I don't know,' said Mr. Hale, after a pause. 'She ought to see him if
she wishes it so much, for I believe it would do her much more good than
all the doctor's medicine,--and, perhaps, set her up altogether; but the
danger to him, I'm afraid, is very great.'

'All these years since the mutiny, papa?'

'Yes; it is necessary, of course, for government to take very stringent
measures for the repression of offences against authority, more
particularly in the navy, where a commanding officer needs to be
surrounded in his men's eyes with a vivid consciousness of all the power
there is at home to back him, and take up his cause, and avenge any
injuries offered to him, if need be. Ah! it's no matter to them how far
their authorities have tyrannised,--galled hasty tempers to
madness,--or, if that can be any excuse afterwards, it is never allowed
for in the first instance; they spare no expense, they send out
ships,--they scour the seas to lay hold of the offenders,--the lapse of
years does not wash out the memory of the offence,--it is a fresh and
vivid crime on the Admiralty books till it is blotted out by blood.'

'Oh, papa, what have I done! And yet it seemed so right at the time. I'm
sure Frederick himself, would run the risk.'

'So he would; so he should! Nay, Margaret, I'm glad it is done, though I
durst not have done it myself. I'm thankful it is as it is; I should
have hesitated till, perhaps, it might have been too late to do any
good. Dear Margaret, you have done what is right about it; and the end
is beyond our control.'

It was all very well; but her father's account of the relentless manner
in which mutinies were punished made Margaret shiver and creep. If she
had decoyed her brother home to blot out the memory of his error by his
blood! She saw her father's anxiety lay deeper than the source of his
latter cheering words. She took his arm and walked home pensively and
wearily by his side.



CHAPTER XXVI

MOTHER AND SON

    'I have found that holy place of rest
     Still changeless.'
             MRS. HEMANS.


When Mr. Thornton had left the house that morning he was almost blinded
by his baffled passion. He was as dizzy as if Margaret, instead of
looking, and speaking, and moving like a tender graceful woman, had been
a sturdy fish-wife, and given him a sound blow with her fists. He had
positive bodily pain,--a violent headache, and a throbbing intermittent
pulse. He could not bear the noise, the garish light, the continued
rumble and movement of the street. He called himself a fool for
suffering so; and yet he could not, at the moment, recollect the cause
of his suffering, and whether it was adequate to the consequences it had
produced. It would have been a relief to him, if he could have sat down
and cried on a door-step by a little child, who was raging and storming,
through his passionate tears, at some injury he had received. He said to
himself, that he hated Margaret, but a wild, sharp sensation of love
cleft his dull, thunderous feeling like lightning, even as he shaped the
words expressive of hatred. His greatest comfort was in hugging his
torment; and in feeling, as he had indeed said to her, that though she
might despise him, contemn him, treat him with her proud sovereign
indifference, he did not change one whit. She could not make him change.
He loved her, and would love her; and defy her, and this miserable
bodily pain.

He stood still for a moment, to make this resolution firm and clear.
There was an omnibus passing--going into the country; the conductor
thought he was wishing for a place, and stopped near the pavement. It
was too much trouble to apologise and explain; so he mounted upon it,
and was borne away,--past long rows of houses--then past detached villas
with trim gardens, till they came to real country hedge-rows, and,
by-and-by, to a small country town. Then everybody got down; and so did
Mr. Thornton, and because they walked away he did so too. He went into
the fields, walking briskly, because the sharp motion relieved his mind.
He could remember all about it now; the pitiful figure he must have cut;
the absurd way in which he had gone and done the very thing he had so
often agreed with himself in thinking would be the most foolish thing in
the world; and had met with exactly the consequences which, in these
wise moods, he had always fore-told were certain to follow, if he ever
did make such a fool of himself. Was he bewitched by those beautiful
eyes, that soft, half-open, sighing mouth which lay so close upon his
shoulder only yesterday? He could not even shake off the recollection
that she had been there; that her arms had been round him, once--if
never again. He only caught glimpses of her; he did not understand her
altogether. At one time she was so brave, and at another so timid; now
so tender, and then so haughty and regal-proud. And then he thought over
every time he had ever seen her once again, by way of finally forgetting
her. He saw her in every dress, in every mood, and did not know which
became her best. Even this morning, how magnificent she had looked,--her
eyes flashing out upon him at the idea that, because she had shared his
danger yesterday, she had cared for him the least!

If Mr. Thornton was a fool in the morning, as he assured himself at
least twenty times he was, he did not grow much wiser in the afternoon.
All that he gained in return for his sixpenny omnibus ride, was a more
vivid conviction that there never was, never could be, any one like
Margaret; that she did not love him and never would; but that she--no!
nor the whole world--should never hinder him from loving her. And so he
returned to the little market-place, and remounted the omnibus to return
to Milton.

It was late in the afternoon when he was set down, near his warehouse.
The accustomed places brought back the accustomed habits and trains of
thought. He knew how much he had to do--more than his usual work, owing
to the commotion of the day before. He had to see his brother
magistrates; he had to complete the arrangements, only half made in the
morning, for the comfort and safety of his newly imported Irish hands;
he had to secure them from all chance of communication with the
discontented work-people of Milton. Last of all, he had to go home and
encounter his mother.

Mrs. Thornton had sat in the dining-room all day, every moment expecting
the news of her son's acceptance by Miss Hale. She had braced herself up
many and many a time, at some sudden noise in the house; had caught up
the half-dropped work, and begun to ply her needle diligently, though
through dimmed spectacles, and with an unsteady hand! and many times had
the door opened, and some indifferent person entered on some
insignificant errand. Then her rigid face unstiffened from its gray
frost-bound expression, and the features dropped into the relaxed look
of despondency, so unusual to their sternness. She wrenched herself away
from the contemplation of all the dreary changes that would be brought
about to herself by her son's marriage; she forced her thoughts into the
accustomed household grooves. The newly-married couple-to-be would need
fresh household stocks of linen; and Mrs. Thornton had clothes-basket
upon clothes-basket, full of table-cloths and napkins, brought in, and
began to reckon up the store. There was some confusion between what was
hers, and consequently marked G. H. T. (for George and Hannah Thornton),
and what was her son's--bought with his money, marked with his initials.
Some of those marked G. H. T. were Dutch damask of the old kind,
exquisitely fine; none were like them now. Mrs. Thornton stood looking
at them long,--they had been her pride when she was first married. Then
she knit her brows, and pinched and compressed her lips tight, and
carefully unpicked the G. H. She went so far as to search for the
Turkey-red marking-thread to put in the new initials; but it was all
used,--and she had no heart to send for any more just yet. So she looked
fixedly at vacancy; a series of visions passing before her, in all of
which her son was the principal, the sole object,--her son, her pride,
her property. Still he did not come. Doubtless he was with Miss Hale.
The new love was displacing her already from her place as first in his
heart. A terrible pain--a pang of vain jealousy--shot through her: she
hardly knew whether it was more physical or mental; but it forced her to
sit down. In a moment, she was up again as straight as ever,--a grim
smile upon her face for the first time that day, ready for the door
opening, and the rejoicing triumphant one, who should never know the
sore regret his mother felt at his marriage. In all this, there was
little thought enough of the future daughter-in-law as an individual.
She was to be John's wife. To take Mrs. Thornton's place as mistress of
the house, was only one of the rich consequences which decked out the
supreme glory; all household plenty and comfort, all purple and fine
linen, honour, love, obedience, troops of friends, would all come as
naturally as jewels on a king's robe, and be as little thought of for
their separate value. To be chosen by John, would separate a
kitchen-wench from the rest of the world. And Miss Hale was not so bad.
If she had been a Milton lass, Mrs. Thornton would have positively liked
her. She was pungent, and had taste, and spirit, and flavour in her.
True, she was sadly prejudiced, and very ignorant; but that was to be
expected from her southern breeding. A strange sort of mortified
comparison of Fanny with her, went on in Mrs. Thornton's mind; and for
once she spoke harshly to her daughter; abused her roundly; and then, as
if by way of penance, she took up Henry's Commentaries, and tried to fix
her attention on it, instead of pursuing the employment she took pride
and pleasure in, and continuing her inspection of the table-linen.

_His_ step at last! She heard him, even while she thought she was
finishing a sentence; while her eye did pass over it, and her memory
could mechanically have repeated it word for word, she heard him come in
at the hall-door. Her quickened sense could interpret every sound of
motion: now he was at the hat-stand--now at the very room-door. Why did
he pause? Let her know the worst.

Yet her head was down over the book; she did not look up. He came close
to the table, and stood still there, waiting till she should have
finished the paragraph which apparently absorbed her. By an effort she
looked up. 'Well, John?'

He knew what that little speech meant. But he had steeled himself. He
longed to reply with a jest; the bitterness of his heart could have
uttered one, but his mother deserved better of him. He came round behind
her, so that she could not see his looks, and, bending back her gray,
stony face, he kissed it, murmuring:

'No one loves me,--no one cares for me, but you, mother.'

He turned away and stood leaning his head against the mantel-piece,
tears forcing themselves into his manly eyes. She stood up,--she
tottered. For the first time in her life, the strong woman tottered. She
put her hands on his shoulders; she was a tall woman. She looked into
his face; she made him look at her.

'Mother's love is given by God, John. It holds fast for ever and ever. A
girl's love is like a puff of smoke,--it changes with every wind. And
she would not have you, my own lad, would not she?' She set her teeth;
she showed them like a dog for the whole length of her mouth. He shook
his head.

'I am not fit for her, mother; I knew I was not.'

She ground out words between her closed teeth. He could not hear what
she said; but the look in her eyes interpreted it to be a curse,--if not
as coarsely worded, as fell in intent as ever was uttered. And yet her
heart leapt up light, to know he was her own again.

'Mother!' said he, hurriedly, 'I cannot hear a word against her. Spare
me,--spare me! I am very weak in my sore heart;--I love her yet; I love
her more than ever.'

'And I hate her,' said Mrs. Thornton, in a low fierce voice. 'I tried
not to hate her, when she stood between you and me, because,--I said to
myself,--she will make him happy; and I would give my heart's blood to
do that. But now, I hate her for your misery's sake. Yes, John, it's no
use hiding up your aching heart from me. I am the mother that bore you,
and your sorrow is my agony; and if you don't hate her, I do.'

'Then, mother, you make me love her more. She is unjustly treated by
you, and I must make the balance even. But why do we talk of love or
hatred? She does not care for me, and that is enough,--too much. Let us
never name the subject again. It is the only thing you can do for me in
the matter. Let us never name her.'

'With all my heart. I only wish that she, and all belonging to her, were
swept back to the place they came from.'

He stood still, gazing into the fire for a minute or two longer. Her dry
dim eyes filled with unwonted tears as she looked at him; but she seemed
just as grim and quiet as usual when he next spoke.

'Warrants are out against three men for conspiracy, mother. The riot
yesterday helped to knock up the strike.'

And Margaret's name was no more mentioned between Mrs. Thornton and her
son. They fell back into their usual mode of talk,--about facts, not
opinions, far less feelings. Their voices and tones were calm and cold a
stranger might have gone away and thought that he had never seen such
frigid indifference of demeanour between such near relations.



CHAPTER XXVII

FRUIT-PIECE

    'For never any thing can be amiss
     When simpleness and duty tender it.'
             MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM.


Mr. Thornton went straight and clear into all the interests of the
following day. There was a slight demand for finished goods; and as it
affected his branch of the trade, he took advantage of it, and drove
hard bargains. He was sharp to the hour at the meeting of his brother
magistrates,--giving them the best assistance of his strong sense, and
his power of seeing consequences at a glance, and so coming to a rapid
decision. Older men, men of long standing in the town, men of far
greater wealth--realised and turned into land, while his was all
floating capital, engaged in his trade--looked to him for prompt, ready
wisdom. He was the one deputed to see and arrange with the police--to
lead in all the requisite steps. And he cared for their unconscious
deference no more than for the soft west wind, that scarcely made the
smoke from the great tall chimneys swerve in its straight upward course.
He was not aware of the silent respect paid to him. If it had been
otherwise, he would have felt it as an obstacle in his progress to the
object he had in view. As it was, he looked to the speedy accomplishment
of that alone. It was his mother's greedy ears that sucked in, from the
women-kind of these magistrates and wealthy men, how highly Mr. This or
Mr. That thought of Mr. Thornton; that if he had not been there, things
would have gone on very differently,--very badly, indeed. He swept off
his business right and left that day. It seemed as though his deep
mortification of yesterday, and the stunned purposeless course of the
hours afterwards, had cleared away all the mists from his intellect. He
felt his power and revelled in it. He could almost defy his heart. If he
had known it, he could have sang the song of the miller who lived by the
river Dee:--

    'I care for nobody--
     Nobody cares for me.'

The evidence against Boucher, and other ringleaders of the riot, was
taken before him; that against the three others, for conspiracy, failed.
But he sternly charged the police to be on the watch; for the swift
right arm of the law should be in readiness to strike, as soon as they
could prove a fault. And then he left the hot reeking room in the
borough court, and went out into the fresher, but still sultry street.
It seemed as though he gave way all at once; he was so languid that he
could not control his thoughts; they would wander to her; they would
bring back the scene,--not of his repulse and rejection the day before
but the looks, the actions of the day before that. He went along the
crowded streets mechanically, winding in and out among the people, but
never seeing them,--almost sick with longing for that one
half-hour--that one brief space of time when she clung to him, and her
heart beat against his--to come once again.

'Why, Mr. Thornton you're cutting me very coolly, I must say. And how is
Mrs. Thornton? Brave weather this! We doctors don't like it, I can tell
you!'

'I beg your pardon, Dr. Donaldson. I really didn't see you. My mother's
quite well, thank you. It is a fine day, and good for the harvest, I
hope. If the wheat is well got in, we shall have a brisk trade next
year, whatever you doctors have.'

'Ay, ay. Each man for himself. Your bad weather, and your bad times, are
my good ones. When trade is bad, there's more undermining of health, and
preparation for death, going on among you Milton men than you're aware
of.'

'Not with me, Doctor. I'm made of iron. The news of the worst bad debt I
ever had, never made my pulse vary. This strike, which affects me more
than any one else in Milton,--more than Hamper,--never comes near my
appetite. You must go elsewhere for a patient, Doctor.'

'By the way, you've recommended me a good patient, poor lady! Not to go
on talking in this heartless way, I seriously believe that Mrs.
Hale--that lady in Crampton, you know--hasn't many weeks to live. I
never had any hope of cure, as I think I told you; but I've been seeing
her to-day, and I think very badly of her.'

Mr. Thornton was silent. The vaunted steadiness of pulse failed him for
an instant.

'Can I do anything, Doctor?' he asked, in an altered voice. 'You
know--you would see, that money is not very plentiful; are there any
comforts or dainties she ought to have?'

'No,' replied the Doctor, shaking his head. 'She craves for fruit,--she
has a constant fever on her; but jargonelle pears will do as well as
anything, and there are quantities of them in the market.'

'You will tell me, if there is anything I can do, I'm sure,' replied Mr.
Thornton. 'I rely upon you.'

'Oh! never fear! I'll not spare your purse,--I know it's deep enough. I
wish you'd give me carte-blanche for all my patients, and all their
wants.'

But Mr. Thornton had no general benevolence,--no universal philanthropy;
few even would have given him credit for strong affections. But he went
straight to the first fruit-shop in Milton, and chose out the bunch of
purple grapes with the most delicate bloom upon them,--the
richest-coloured peaches,--the freshest vine-leaves. They were packed
into a basket, and the shopman awaited the answer to his inquiry, 'Where
shall we send them to, sir?'

There was no reply. 'To Marlborough Mills, I suppose, sir?'

'No!' Mr. Thornton said. 'Give the basket to me,--I'll take it.'

It took up both his hands to carry it; and he had to pass through the
busiest part of the town for feminine shopping. Many a young lady of his
acquaintance turned to look after him, and thought it strange to see him
occupied just like a porter or an errand-boy.

He was thinking, 'I will not be daunted from doing as I choose by the
thought of her. I like to take this fruit to the poor mother, and it is
simply right that I should. She shall never scorn me out of doing what I
please. A pretty joke, indeed, if, for fear of a haughty girl, I failed
in doing a kindness to a man I liked! I do it for Mr. Hale; I do it in
defiance of her.'

He went at an unusual pace, and was soon at Crampton. He went upstairs
two steps at a time, and entered the drawing-room before Dixon could
announce him,--his face flushed, his eyes shining with kindly
earnestness. Mrs. Hale lay on the sofa, heated with fever. Mr. Hale was
reading aloud. Margaret was working on a low stool by her mother's side.
Her heart fluttered, if his did not, at this interview. But he took no
notice of her, hardly of Mr. Hale himself; he went up straight with his
basket to Mrs. Hale, and said, in that subdued and gentle tone, which is
so touching when used by a robust man in full health, speaking to a
feeble invalid--

'I met Dr. Donaldson, ma'am, and as he said fruit would be good for you,
I have taken the liberty--the great liberty of bringing you some that
seemed to me fine.' Mrs. Hale was excessively surprised; excessively
pleased; quite in a tremble of eagerness. Mr. Hale with fewer words
expressed a deeper gratitude.

'Fetch a plate, Margaret--a basket--anything.' Margaret stood up by the
table, half afraid of moving or making any noise to arouse Mr. Thornton
into a consciousness of her being in the room. She thought it would be
awkward for both to be brought into conscious collision; and fancied
that, from her being on a low seat at first, and now standing behind her
father, he had overlooked her in his haste. As if he did not feel the
consciousness of her presence all over, though his eyes had never rested
on her!

'I must go,' said he, 'I cannot stay. If you will forgive this
liberty,--my rough ways,--too abrupt, I fear--but I will be more gentle
next time. You will allow me the pleasure of bringing you some fruit
again, if I should see any that is tempting. Good afternoon, Mr. Hale.
Good-bye, ma'am.'

He was gone. Not one word: not one look to Margaret. She believed that
he had not seen her. She went for a plate in silence, and lifted the
fruit out tenderly, with the points of her delicate taper fingers. It
was good of him to bring it; and after yesterday too!

'Oh! it is so delicious!' said Mrs. Hale, in a feeble voice. 'How kind
of him to think of me! Margaret love, only taste these grapes! Was it
not good of him?'

'Yes!' said Margaret, quietly.

'Margaret!' said Mrs. Hale, rather querulously, 'you won't like anything
Mr. Thornton does. I never saw anybody so prejudiced.'

Mr. Hale had been peeling a peach for his wife; and, cutting off a small
piece for himself, he said:

'If I had any prejudices, the gift of such delicious fruit as this would
melt them all away. I have not tasted such fruit--no! not even in
Hampshire--since I was a boy; and to boys, I fancy, all fruit is good. I
remember eating sloes and crabs with a relish. Do you remember the
matted-up currant bushes, Margaret, at the corner of the west-wall in
the garden at home?'

Did she not? Did she not remember every weather-stain on the old stone
wall; the gray and yellow lichens that marked it like a map; the little
crane's-bill that grew in the crevices? She had been shaken by the
events of the last two days; her whole life just now was a strain upon
her fortitude; and, somehow, these careless words of her father's,
touching on the remembrance of the sunny times of old, made her start
up, and, dropping her sewing on the ground, she went hastily out of the
room into her own little chamber. She had hardly given way to the first
choking sob, when she became aware of Dixon standing at her drawers, and
evidently searching for something.

'Bless me, miss! How you startled me! Missus is not worse, is she? Is
anything the matter?'

'No, nothing. Only I'm silly, Dixon, and want a glass of water. What are
you looking for? I keep my muslins in that drawer.'

Dixon did not speak, but went on rummaging. The scent of lavender came
out and perfumed the room.

At last Dixon found what she wanted; what it was Margaret could not see.
Dixon faced round, and spoke to her:

'Now I don't like telling you what I wanted, because you've fretting
enough to go through, and I know you'll fret about this. I meant to have
kept it from you till night, may be, or such times as that.'

'What is the matter? Pray, tell me, Dixon, at once.'

'That young woman you go to see--Higgins, I mean.'

'Well?'

'Well! she died this morning, and her sister is here--come to beg a
strange thing. It seems, the young woman who died had a fancy for being
buried in something of yours, and so the sister's come to ask for
it,--and I was looking for a night-cap that wasn't too good to give
away.'

'Oh! let me find one,' said Margaret, in the midst of her tears. 'Poor
Bessy! I never thought I should not see her again.'

'Why, that's another thing. This girl down-stairs wanted me to ask you,
if you would like to see her.'

'But she's dead!' said Margaret, turning a little pale. 'I never saw a
dead person. No! I would rather not.'

'I should never have asked you, if you hadn't come in. I told her you
wouldn't.'

'I will go down and speak to her,' said Margaret, afraid lest Dixon's
harshness of manner might wound the poor girl. So, taking the cap in her
hand, she went to the kitchen. Mary's face was all swollen with crying,
and she burst out afresh when she saw Margaret.

'Oh, ma'am, she loved yo', she loved yo', she did indeed!' And for a
long time, Margaret could not get her to say anything more than this. At
last, her sympathy, and Dixon's scolding, forced out a few facts.
Nicholas Higgins had gone out in the morning, leaving Bessy as well as
on the day before. But in an hour she was taken worse; some neighbour
ran to the room where Mary was working; they did not know where to find
her father; Mary had only come in a few minutes before she died.

'It were a day or two ago she axed to be buried in somewhat o' yourn.
She were never tired o' talking o' yo'. She used to say yo' were the
prettiest thing she'd ever clapped eyes on. She loved yo' dearly. Her
last words were, "Give her my affectionate respects; and keep father
fro' drink." Yo'll come and see her, ma'am. She would ha' thought it a
great compliment, I know.'

Margaret shrank a little from answering.

'Yes, perhaps I may. Yes, I will. I'll come before tea. But where's your
father, Mary?'

Mary shook her head, and stood up to be going.

'Miss Hale,' said Dixon, in a low voice, 'where's the use o' your going
to see the poor thing laid out? I'd never say a word against it, if it
could do the girl any good; and I wouldn't mind a bit going myself, if
that would satisfy her. They've just a notion, these common folks, of
its being a respect to the departed. Here,' said she, turning sharply
round, 'I'll come and see your sister. Miss Hale is busy, and she can't
come, or else she would.'

The girl looked wistfully at Margaret. Dixon's coming might be a
compliment, but it was not the same thing to the poor sister, who had
had her little pangs of jealousy, during Bessy's lifetime, at the
intimacy between her and the young lady.

'No, Dixon!' said Margaret with decision. 'I will go. Mary, you shall
see me this afternoon.' And for fear of her own cowardice, she went
away, in order to take from herself any chance of changing her
determination.



CHAPTER XXVIII

COMFORT IN SORROW

    'Through cross to crown!--And though thy spirit's life
     Trials untold assail with giant strength,
     Good cheer! good cheer! Soon ends the bitter strife,
     And thou shalt reign in peace with Christ at length.'
             KOSEGARTEN.

    'Ay sooth, we feel too strong in weal, to need Thee on that road;
     But woe being come, the soul is dumb, that crieth not on "God."'
             MRS. BROWNING.


That afternoon she walked swiftly to the Higgins's house. Mary was
looking out for her, with a half-distrustful face. Margaret smiled into
her eyes to re-assure her. They passed quickly through the house-place,
upstairs, and into the quiet presence of the dead. Then Margaret was
glad that she had come. The face, often so weary with pain, so restless
with troublous thoughts, had now the faint soft smile of eternal rest
upon it. The slow tears gathered into Margaret's eyes, but a deep calm
entered into her soul. And that was death! It looked more peaceful than
life. All beautiful scriptures came into her mind. 'They rest from their
labours.' 'The weary are at rest.' 'He giveth His beloved sleep.'

Slowly, slowly Margaret turned away from the bed. Mary was humbly
sobbing in the back-ground. They went down stairs without a word.

Resting his hand upon the house-table, Nicholas Higgins stood in the
midst of the floor; his great eyes startled open by the news he had
heard, as he came along the court, from many busy tongues. His eyes were
dry and fierce; studying the reality of her death; bringing himself to
understand that her place should know her no more. For she had been
sickly, dying so long, that he had persuaded himself she would not die;
that she would 'pull through.'

Margaret felt as if she had no business to be there, familiarly
acquainting herself with the surroundings of death which he, the father,
had only just learnt. There had been a pause of an instant on the steep
crooked stair, when she first saw him; but now she tried to steal past
his abstracted gaze, and to leave him in the solemn circle of his
household misery.

Mary sat down on the first chair she came to, and throwing her apron
over her head, began to cry.

The noise appeared to rouse him. He took sudden hold of Margaret's arm,
and held her till he could gather words to speak seemed dry; they came
up thick, and choked, and hoarse:

'Were yo' with her? Did yo' see her die?'

'No!' replied Margaret, standing still with the utmost patience, now she
found herself perceived. It was some time before he spoke again, but he
kept his hold on her arm.

'All men must die,' said he at last, with a strange sort of gravity,
which first suggested to Margaret the idea that he had been
drinking--not enough to intoxicate himself, but enough to make his
thoughts bewildered. 'But she were younger than me.' Still he pondered
over the event, not looking at Margaret, though he grasped her tight.
Suddenly, he looked up at her with a wild searching inquiry in his
glance. 'Yo're sure and certain she's dead--not in a dwam, a
faint?--she's been so before, often.'

'She is dead,' replied Margaret. She felt no fear in speaking to him,
though he hurt her arm with his gripe, and wild gleams came across the
stupidity of his eyes.

'She is dead!' she said.

He looked at her still with that searching look, which seemed to fade
out of his eyes as he gazed. Then he suddenly let go his hold of
Margaret, and, throwing his body half across the table, he shook it and
every piece of furniture in the room, with his violent sobs. Mary came
trembling towards him.

'Get thee gone!--get thee gone!' he cried, striking wildly and blindly
at her. 'What do I care for thee?' Margaret took her hand, and held it
softly in hers. He tore his hair, he beat his head against the hard
wood, then he lay exhausted and stupid. Still his daughter and Margaret
did not move. Mary trembled from head to foot.

At last--it might have been a quarter of an hour, it might have been an
hour--he lifted himself up. His eyes were swollen and bloodshot, and he
seemed to have forgotten that any one was by; he scowled at the watchers
when he saw them. He shook himself heavily, gave them one more sullen
look, spoke never a word, but made for the door.

'Oh, father, father!' said Mary, throwing herself upon his arm,--'not
to-night! Any night but to-night. Oh, help me! he's going out to drink
again! Father, I'll not leave yo'. Yo' may strike, but I'll not leave
yo'. She told me last of all to keep yo' fro' drink!'

But Margaret stood in the doorway, silent yet commanding. He looked up
at her defyingly.

'It's my own house. Stand out o' the way, wench, or I'll make yo'!' He
had shaken off Mary with violence; he looked ready to strike Margaret.
But she never moved a feature--never took her deep, serious eyes off
him. He stared back on her with gloomy fierceness. If she had stirred
hand or foot, he would have thrust her aside with even more violence
than he had used to his own daughter, whose face was bleeding from her
fall against a chair.

'What are yo' looking at me in that way for?' asked he at last, daunted
and awed by her severe calm. 'If yo' think for to keep me from going
what gait I choose, because she loved yo'--and in my own house, too,
where I never asked yo' to come, yo're mista'en. It's very hard upon a
man that he can't go to the only comfort left.'

Margaret felt that he acknowledged her power. What could she do next? He
had seated himself on a chair, close to the door; half-conquered,
half-resenting; intending to go out as soon as she left her position,
but unwilling to use the violence he had threatened not five minutes
before. Margaret laid her hand on his arm.

'Come with me,' she said. 'Come and see her!'

The voice in which she spoke was very low and solemn; but there was no
fear or doubt expressed in it, either of him or of his compliance. He
sullenly rose up. He stood uncertain, with dogged irresolution upon his
face. She waited him there; quietly and patiently waited for his time to
move. He had a strange pleasure in making her wait; but at last he moved
towards the stairs.

She and he stood by the corpse.

'Her last words to Mary were, "Keep my father fro' drink."'

'It canna hurt her now,' muttered he. 'Nought can hurt her now.' Then,
raising his voice to a wailing cry, he went on: 'We may quarrel and fall
out--we may make peace and be friends--we may clem to skin and bone--and
nought o' all our griefs will ever touch her more. Hoo's had her portion
on 'em. What wi' hard work first, and sickness at last, hoo's led the
life of a dog. And to die without knowing one good piece o' rejoicing in
all her days! Nay, wench, whatever hoo said, hoo can know nought about
it now, and I mun ha' a sup o' drink just to steady me again sorrow.'

'No,' said Margaret, softening with his softened manner. 'You shall not.
If her life has been what you say, at any rate she did not fear death as
some do. Oh, you should have heard her speak of the life to come--the
life hidden with God, that she is now gone to.'

He shook his head, glancing sideways up at Margaret as he did so. His
pale, haggard face struck her painfully.

'You are sorely tired. Where have you been all day--not at work?'

'Not at work, sure enough,' said he, with a short, grim laugh. 'Not at
what you call work. I were at the Committee, till I were sickened out
wi' trying to make fools hear reason. I were fetched to Boucher's wife
afore seven this morning. She's bed-fast, but she were raving and raging
to know where her dunder-headed brute of a chap was, as if I'd to keep
him--as if he were fit to be ruled by me. The d---- d fool, who has put
his foot in all our plans! And I've walked my feet sore wi' going about
for to see men who wouldn't be seen, now the law is raised again us. And
I were sore-hearted, too, which is worse than sore-footed; and if I did
see a friend who ossed to treat me, I never knew hoo lay a-dying here.
Bess, lass, thou'd believe me, thou wouldst--wouldstn't thou?' turning
to the poor dumb form with wild appeal.

'I am sure,' said Margaret, 'I am sure you did not know: it was quite
sudden. But now, you see, it would be different; you do know; you do see
her lying there; you hear what she said with her last breath. You will
not go?'

No answer. In fact, where was he to look for comfort?

'Come home with me,' said she at last, with a bold venture, half
trembling at her own proposal as she made it. 'At least you shall have
some comfortable food, which I'm sure you need.'

'Yo'r father's a parson?' asked he, with a sudden turn in his ideas.

'He was,' said Margaret, shortly.

'I'll go and take a dish o' tea with him, since yo've asked me. I've
many a thing I often wished to say to a parson, and I'm not particular
as to whether he's preaching now, or not.'

Margaret was perplexed; his drinking tea with her father, who would be
totally unprepared for his visitor--her mother so ill--seemed utterly
out of the question; and yet if she drew back now, it would be worse
than ever--sure to drive him to the gin-shop. She thought that if she
could only get him to their own house, it was so great a step gained
that she would trust to the chapter of accidents for the next.

'Goodbye, ou'd wench! We've parted company at last, we have! But thou'st
been a blessin' to thy father ever sin' thou wert born. Bless thy white
lips, lass,--they've a smile on 'em now! and I'm glad to see it once
again, though I'm lone and forlorn for evermore.'

He stooped down and fondly kissed his daughter; covered up her face, and
turned to follow Margaret. She had hastily gone down stairs to tell Mary
of the arrangement; to say it was the only way she could think of to
keep him from the gin-palace; to urge Mary to come too, for her heart
smote her at the idea of leaving the poor affectionate girl alone. But
Mary had friends among the neighbours, she said, who would come in and
sit a bit with her, it was all right; but father--

He was there by them as she would have spoken more. He had shaken off
his emotion, as if he was ashamed of having ever given way to it; and
had even o'erleaped himself so much that he assumed a sort of bitter
mirth, like the crackling of thorns under a pot.

'I'm going to take my tea wi' her father, I am!'

But he slouched his cap low down over his brow as he went out into the
street, and looked neither to the right nor to the left, while he
tramped along by Margaret's side; he feared being upset by the words,
still more the looks, of sympathising neighbours. So he and Margaret
walked in silence.

As he got near the street in which he knew she lived, he looked down at
his clothes, his hands, and shoes.

'I should m'appen ha' cleaned mysel', first?'

It certainly would have been desirable, but Margaret assured him he
should be allowed to go into the yard, and have soap and towel provided;
she could not let him slip out of her hands just then.

While he followed the house-servant along the passage, and through the
kitchen, stepping cautiously on every dark mark in the pattern of the
oil-cloth, in order to conceal his dirty foot-prints, Margaret ran
upstairs. She met Dixon on the landing.

'How is mamma?--where is papa?'

Missus was tired, and gone into her own room. She had wanted to go to
bed, but Dixon had persuaded her to lie down on the sofa, and have her
tea brought to her there; it would be better than getting restless by
being too long in bed.

So far, so good. But where was Mr. Hale? In the drawing-room. Margaret
went in half breathless with the hurried story she had to tell. Of
course, she told it incompletely; and her father was rather 'taken
aback' by the idea of the drunken weaver awaiting him in his quiet
study, with whom he was expected to drink tea, and on whose behalf
Margaret was anxiously pleading. The meek, kind-hearted Mr. Hale would
have readily tried to console him in his grief, but, unluckily, the
point Margaret dwelt upon most forcibly was the fact of his having been
drinking, and her having brought him home with her as a last expedient
to keep him from the gin-shop. One little event had come out of another
so naturally that Margaret was hardly conscious of what she had done,
till she saw the slight look of repugnance on her father's face.

'Oh, papa! he really is a man you will not dislike--if you won't be
shocked to begin with.'

'But, Margaret, to bring a drunken man home--and your mother so ill!'

Margaret's countenance fell. 'I am sorry, papa. He is very quiet--he is
not tipsy at all. He was only rather strange at first, but that might be
the shock of poor Bessy's death.' Margaret's eyes filled with tears. Mr.
Hale took hold of her sweet pleading face in both his hands, and kissed
her forehead.

'It is all right, dear. I'll go and make him as comfortable as I can,
and do you attend to your mother. Only, if you can come in and make a
third in the study, I shall be glad.'

'Oh, yes--thank you.' But as Mr. Hale was leaving the room, she ran
after him:

'Papa--you must not wonder at what he says: he's an---- I mean he does
not believe in much of what we do.'

'Oh dear! a drunken infidel weaver!' said Mr. Hale to himself, in
dismay. But to Margaret he only said, 'If your mother goes to sleep, be
sure you come directly.'

Margaret went into her mother's room. Mrs. Hale lifted herself up from a
doze.

'When did you write to Frederick, Margaret? Yesterday, or the day
before?'

'Yesterday, mamma.'

'Yesterday. And the letter went?'

'Yes. I took it myself'

'Oh, Margaret, I'm so afraid of his coming! If he should be recognised!
If he should be taken! If he should be executed, after all these years
that he has kept away and lived in safety! I keep falling asleep and
dreaming that he is caught and being tried.'

'Oh, mamma, don't be afraid. There will be some risk no doubt; but we
will lessen it as much as ever we can. And it is so little! Now, if we
were at Helstone, there would be twenty--a hundred times as much. There,
everybody would remember him and if there was a stranger known to be in
the house, they would be sure to guess it was Frederick; while here,
nobody knows or cares for us enough to notice what we do. Dixon will
keep the door like a dragon--won't you, Dixon--while he is here?'

'They'll be clever if they come in past me!' said Dixon, showing her
teeth at the bare idea.

'And he need not go out, except in the dusk, poor fellow!'

'Poor fellow!' echoed Mrs. Hale. 'But I almost wish you had not written.
Would it be too late to stop him if you wrote again, Margaret?'

'I'm afraid it would, mamma,' said Margaret, remembering the urgency
with which she had entreated him to come directly, if he wished to see
his mother alive.

'I always dislike that doing things in such a hurry,' said Mrs. Hale.

Margaret was silent.

'Come now, ma'am,' said Dixon, with a kind of cheerful authority, 'you
know seeing Master Frederick is just the very thing of all others you're
longing for. And I'm glad Miss Margaret wrote off straight, without
shilly-shallying. I've had a great mind to do it myself. And we'll keep
him snug, depend upon it. There's only Martha in the house that would
not do a good deal to save him on a pinch; and I've been thinking she
might go and see her mother just at that very time. She's been saying
once or twice she should like to go, for her mother has had a stroke
since she came here, only she didn't like to ask. But I'll see about her
being safe off, as soon as we know when he comes, God bless him! So take
your tea, ma'am, in comfort, and trust to me.'

Mrs. Hale did trust in Dixon more than in Margaret. Dixon's words
quieted her for the time. Margaret poured out the tea in silence, trying
to think of something agreeable to say; but her thoughts made answer
something like Daniel O'Rourke, when the man-in-the-moon asked him to
get off his reaping-hook. 'The more you ax us, the more we won't stir.'
The more she tried to think of something anything besides the danger to
which Frederick would be exposed--the more closely her imagination clung
to the unfortunate idea presented to her. Her mother prattled with
Dixon, and seemed to have utterly forgotten the possibility of Frederick
being tried and executed--utterly forgotten that at her wish, if by
Margaret's deed, he was summoned into this danger. Her mother was one of
those who throw out terrible possibilities, miserable probabilities,
unfortunate chances of all kinds, as a rocket throws out sparks; but if
the sparks light on some combustible matter, they smoulder first, and
burst out into a frightful flame at last. Margaret was glad when, her
filial duties gently and carefully performed, she could go down into the
study. She wondered how her father and Higgins had got on.

In the first place, the decorous, kind-hearted, simple, old-fashioned
gentleman, had unconsciously called out, by his own refinement and
courteousness of manner, all the latent courtesy in the other.

Mr. Hale treated all his fellow-creatures alike: it never entered into
his head to make any difference because of their rank. He placed a chair
for Nicholas stood up till he, at Mr. Hale's request, took a seat; and
called him, invariably, 'Mr. Higgins,' instead of the curt 'Nicholas' or
'Higgins,' to which the 'drunken infidel weaver' had been accustomed.
But Nicholas was neither an habitual drunkard nor a thorough infidel. He
drank to drown care, as he would have himself expressed it: and he was
infidel so far as he had never yet found any form of faith to which he
could attach himself, heart and soul.

Margaret was a little surprised, and very much pleased, when she found
her father and Higgins in earnest conversation--each speaking with
gentle politeness to the other, however their opinions might clash.
Nicholas--clean, tidied (if only at the pump-trough), and quiet
spoken--was a new creature to her, who had only seen him in the rough
independence of his own hearthstone. He had 'slicked' his hair down with
the fresh water; he had adjusted his neck-handkerchief, and borrowed an
odd candle-end to polish his clogs with and there he sat, enforcing some
opinion on her father, with a strong Darkshire accent, it is true, but
with a lowered voice, and a good, earnest composure on his face. Her
father, too, was interested in what his companion was saying. He looked
round as she came in, smiled, and quietly gave her his chair, and then
sat down afresh as quickly as possible, and with a little bow of apology
to his guest for the interruption. Higgins nodded to her as a sign of
greeting; and she softly adjusted her working materials on the table,
and prepared to listen.

'As I was a-sayin, sir, I reckon yo'd not ha' much belief in yo' if yo'
lived here,--if yo'd been bred here. I ax your pardon if I use wrong
words; but what I mean by belief just now, is a-thinking on sayings and
maxims and promises made by folk yo' never saw, about the things and the
life, yo' never saw, nor no one else. Now, yo' say these are true
things, and true sayings, and a true life. I just say, where's the
proof? There's many and many a one wiser, and scores better learned than
I am around me,--folk who've had time to think on these things,--while
my time has had to be gi'en up to getting my bread. Well, I sees these
people. Their lives is pretty much open to me. They're real folk. They
don't believe i' the Bible,--not they. They may say they do, for form's
sake; but Lord, sir, d'ye think their first cry i' th' morning is, "What
shall I do to get hold on eternal life?" or "What shall I do to fill my
purse this blessed day? Where shall I go? What bargains shall I strike?"
The purse and the gold and the notes is real things; things as can be
felt and touched; them's realities; and eternal life is all a talk, very
fit for--I ax your pardon, sir; yo'r a parson out o' work, I believe.
Well! I'll never speak disrespectful of a man in the same fix as I'm in
mysel'. But I'll just ax yo another question, sir, and I dunnot want yo
to answer it, only to put in yo'r pipe, and smoke it, afore yo' go for
to set down us, who only believe in what we see, as fools and noddies.
If salvation, and life to come, and what not, was true--not in men's
words, but in men's hearts' core--dun yo' not think they'd din us wi' it
as they do wi' political 'conomy? They're mighty anxious to come round
us wi' that piece o' wisdom; but t'other would be a greater convarsion,
if it were true.'

'But the masters have nothing to do with your religion. All that they
are connected with you in is trade,--so they think,--and all that it
concerns them, therefore, to rectify your opinions in is the science of
trade.'

'I'm glad, sir,' said Higgins, with a curious wink of his eye, 'that yo'
put in, "so they think." I'd ha' thought yo' a hypocrite, I'm afeard, if
yo' hadn't, for all yo'r a parson, or rayther because yo'r a parson. Yo'
see, if yo'd spoken o' religion as a thing that, if it was true, it
didn't concern all men to press on all men's attention, above everything
else in this 'varsal earth, I should ha' thought yo' a knave for to be a
parson; and I'd rather think yo' a fool than a knave. No offence, I
hope, sir.'

'None at all. You consider me mistaken, and I consider you far more
fatally mistaken. I don't expect to convince you in a day,--not in one
conversation; but let us know each other, and speak freely to each other
about these things, and the truth will prevail. I should not believe in
God if I did not believe that. Mr. Higgins, I trust, whatever else you
have given up, you believe'--(Mr. Hale's voice dropped low in
reverence)--'you believe in Him.'

Nicholas Higgins suddenly stood straight, stiff up. Margaret started to
her feet,--for she thought, by the working of his face, he was going
into convulsions. Mr. Hale looked at her dismayed. At last Higgins found
words:

'Man! I could fell yo' to the ground for tempting me. Whatten business
have yo' to try me wi' your doubts? Think o' her lying theere, after the
life hoo's led and think then how yo'd deny me the one sole comfort
left--that there is a God, and that He set her her life. I dunnot
believe she'll ever live again,' said he, sitting down, and drearily
going on, as if to the unsympathising fire. 'I dunnot believe in any
other life than this, in which she dreed such trouble, and had such
never-ending care; and I cannot bear to think it were all a set o'
chances, that might ha' been altered wi' a breath o' wind. There's many
a time when I've thought I didna believe in God, but I've never put it
fair out before me in words, as many men do. I may ha' laughed at those
who did, to brave it out like--but I have looked round at after, to see
if He heard me, if so be there was a He; but to-day, when I'm left
desolate, I wunnot listen to yo' wi' yo'r questions, and yo'r doubts.
There's but one thing steady and quiet i' all this reeling world, and,
reason or no reason, I'll cling to that. It's a' very well for happy
folk'----

Margaret touched his arm very softly. She had not spoken before, nor had
he heard her rise.

'Nicholas, we do not want to reason; you misunderstand my father. We do
not reason--we believe; and so do you. It is the one sole comfort in
such times.'

He turned round and caught her hand. 'Ay! it is, it is--(brushing away
the tears with the back of his hand).--'But yo' know, she's lying dead
at home and I'm welly dazed wi' sorrow, and at times I hardly know what
I'm saying. It's as if speeches folk ha' made--clever and smart things
as I've thought at the time--come up now my heart's welly brossen. Th'
strike's failed as well; dun yo' know that, miss? I were coming whoam to
ask her, like a beggar as I am, for a bit o' comfort i' that trouble;
and I were knocked down by one who telled me she were dead--just dead.
That were all; but that were enough for me.

Mr. Hale blew his nose, and got up to snuff the candles in order to
conceal his emotion. 'He's not an infidel, Margaret; how could you say
so?' muttered he reproachfully 'I've a good mind to read him the
fourteenth chapter of Job.'

'Not yet, papa, I think. Perhaps not at all. Let us ask him about the
strike, and give him all the sympathy he needs, and hoped to have from
poor Bessy.'

So they questioned and listened. The workmen's calculations were based
(like too many of the masters') on false premises. They reckoned on
their fellow-men as if they possessed the calculable powers of machines,
no more, no less; no allowance for human passions getting the better of
reason, as in the case of Boucher and the rioters; and believing that
the representations of their injuries would have the same effect on
strangers far away, as the injuries (fancied or real) had upon
themselves. They were consequently surprised and indignant at the poor
Irish, who had allowed themselves to be imported and brought over to
take their places. This indignation was tempered, in some degree, by
contempt for 'them Irishers,' and by pleasure at the idea of the
bungling way in which they would set to work, and perplex their new
masters with their ignorance and stupidity, strange exaggerated stories
of which were already spreading through the town. But the most cruel cut
of all was that of the Milton workmen, who had defied and disobeyed the
commands of the Union to keep the peace, whatever came; who had
originated discord in the camp, and spread the panic of the law being
arrayed against them.

'And so the strike is at an end,' said Margaret.

'Ay, miss. It's save as save can. Th' factory doors will need open wide
to-morrow to let in all who'll be axing for work; if it's only just to
show they'd nought to do wi' a measure, which if we'd been made o' th'
right stuff would ha' brought wages up to a point they'n not been at
this ten year.'

'You'll get work, shan't you?' asked Margaret. 'You're a famous workman,
are not you?'

'Hamper'll let me work at his mill, when he cuts off his right hand--not
before, and not after,' said Nicholas, quietly. Margaret was silenced
and sad.

'About the wages,' said Mr. Hale. 'You'll not be offended, but I think
you make some sad mistakes. I should like to read you some remarks in a
book I have.' He got up and went to his book-shelves.

'Yo' needn't trouble yoursel', sir,' said Nicholas. 'Their book-stuff
goes in at one ear and out at t'other. I can make nought on't. Afore
Hamper and me had this split, th' overlooker telled him I were stirring
up the men to ask for higher wages; and Hamper met me one day in th'
yard. He'd a thin book i' his hand, and says he, "Higgins, I'm told
you're one of those damned fools that think you can get higher wages for
asking for 'em; ay, and keep 'em up too, when you've forced 'em up. Now,
I'll give yo' a chance and try if yo've any sense in yo'. Here's a book
written by a friend o' mine, and if yo'll read it yo'll see how wages
find their own level, without either masters or men having aught to do
with them; except the men cut their own throats wi' striking, like the
confounded noodles they are." Well, now, sir, I put it to yo', being a
parson, and having been in th' preaching line, and having had to try and
bring folk o'er to what yo' thought was a right way o' thinking--did yo'
begin by calling 'em fools and such like, or didn't yo' rayther give 'em
some kind words at first, to make 'em ready for to listen and be
convinced, if they could; and in yo'r preaching, did yo' stop every now
and then, and say, half to them and half to yo'rsel', "But yo're such a
pack o' fools, that I've a strong notion it's no use my trying to put
sense into yo'?" I were not i' th' best state, I'll own, for taking in
what Hamper's friend had to say--I were so vexed at the way it were put
to me;--but I thought, "Come, I'll see what these chaps has got to say,
and try if it's them or me as is th' noodle." So I took th' book and
tugged at it; but, Lord bless yo', it went on about capital and labour,
and labour and capital, till it fair sent me off to sleep. I ne'er could
rightly fix i' my mind which was which; and it spoke on 'em as if they
was vartues or vices; and what I wanted for to know were the rights o'
men, whether they were rich or poor--so be they only were men.'

'But for all that,' said Mr. Hale, 'and granting to the full the
offensiveness, the folly, the unchristianness of Mr. Hamper's way of
speaking to you in recommending his friend's book, yet if it told you
what he said it did, that wages find their own level, and that the most
successful strike can only force them up for a moment, to sink in far
greater proportion afterwards, in consequence of that very strike, the
book would have told you the truth.'

'Well, sir,' said Higgins, rather doggedly; 'it might, or it might not.
There's two opinions go to settling that point. But suppose it was truth
double strong, it were no truth to me if I couldna take it in. I daresay
there's truth in yon Latin book on your shelves; but it's gibberish and
not truth to me, unless I know the meaning o' the words. If yo', sir, or
any other knowledgable, patient man come to me, and says he'll larn me
what the words mean, and not blow me up if I'm a bit stupid, or forget
how one thing hangs on another--why, in time I may get to see the truth
of it; or I may not. I'll not be bound to say I shall end in thinking
the same as any man. And I'm not one who think truth can be shaped out
in words, all neat and clean, as th' men at th' foundry cut out
sheet-iron. Same bones won't go down wi' every one. It'll stick here i'
this man's throat, and there i' t'other's. Let alone that, when down, it
may be too strong for this one, too weak for that. Folk who sets up to
doctor th' world wi' their truth, mun suit different for different
minds; and be a bit tender in th' way of giving it too, or th' poor sick
fools may spit it out i' their faces. Now Hamper first gi'es me a box on
my ear, and then he throws his big bolus at me, and says he reckons
it'll do me no good, I'm such a fool, but there it is.'

'I wish some of the kindest and wisest of the masters would meet some of
you men, and have a good talk on these things; it would, surely, be the
best way of getting over your difficulties, which, I do believe, arise
from your ignorance--excuse me, Mr. Higgins--on subjects which it is for
the mutual interest of both masters and men should be well understood by
both. I wonder'--(half to his daughter), 'if Mr. Thornton might not be
induced to do such a thing?'

'Remember, papa,' said she in a very low voice, 'what he said one
day--about governments, you know.' She was unwilling to make any clearer
allusion to the conversation they had held on the mode of governing
work-people--by giving men intelligence enough to rule themselves, or by
a wise despotism on the part of the master--for she saw that Higgins had
caught Mr. Thornton's name, if not the whole of the speech: indeed, he
began to speak of him.

'Thornton! He's the chap as wrote off at once for these Irishers; and
led to th' riot that ruined th' strike. Even Hamper wi' all his
bullying, would ha' waited a while--but it's a word and a blow wi'
Thornton. And, now, when th' Union would ha' thanked him for following
up th' chase after Boucher, and them chaps as went right again our
commands, it's Thornton who steps forrard and coolly says that, as th'
strike's at an end, he, as party injured, doesn't want to press the
charge again the rioters. I thought he'd had more pluck. I thought he'd
ha' carried his point, and had his revenge in an open way; but says he
(one in court telled me his very words) "they are well known; they will
find the natural punishment of their conduct, in the difficulty they
will meet wi' in getting employment. That will be severe enough." I only
wish they'd cotched Boucher, and had him up before Hamper. I see th' oud
tiger setting on him! would he ha' let him off? Not he!'

'Mr. Thornton was right,' said Margaret. You are angry against Boucher,
Nicholas; or else you would be the first to see, that where the natural
punishment would be severe enough for the offence, any farther
punishment would be something like revenge.

'My daughter is no great friend of Mr. Thornton's,' said Mr. Hale,
smiling at Margaret; while she, as red as any carnation, began to work
with double diligence, 'but I believe what she says is the truth. I like
him for it.'

'Well, sir, this strike has been a weary piece o' business to me; and
yo'll not wonder if I'm a bit put out wi' seeing it fail, just for a few
men who would na suffer in silence, and hou'd out, brave and firm.'

'You forget!' said Margaret. 'I don't know much of Boucher; but the only
time I saw him it was not his own sufferings he spoke of, but those of
his sick wife--his little children.'

'True! but he were not made of iron himsel'. He'd ha' cried out for his
own sorrows, next. He were not one to bear.'

'How came he into the Union?' asked Margaret innocently. 'You don't seem
to have much respect for him; nor gained much good from having him in.'

Higgins's brow clouded. He was silent for a minute or two. Then he said,
shortly enough:

'It's not for me to speak o' th' Union. What they does, they does. Them
that is of a trade mun hang together; and if they're not willing to take
their chance along wi' th' rest, th' Union has ways and means.'

Mr. Hale saw that Higgins was vexed at the turn the conversation had
taken, and was silent. Not so Margaret, though she saw Higgins's feeling
as clearly as he did. By instinct she felt, that if he could but be
brought to express himself in plain words, something clear would be
gained on which to argue for the right and the just.

'And what are the Union's ways and means?'

He looked up at her, as if on' the point of dogged resistance to her
wish for information. But her calm face, fixed on his, patient and
trustful, compelled him to answer.

'Well! If a man doesn't belong to th' Union, them as works next looms
has orders not to speak to him--if he's sorry or ill it's a' the same;
he's out o' bounds; he's none o' us; he comes among us, he works among
us, but he's none o' us. I' some places them's fined who speaks to him.
Yo' try that, miss; try living a year or two among them as looks away if
yo' look at 'em; try working within two yards o' crowds o' men, who, yo'
know, have a grinding grudge at yo' in their hearts--to whom if yo' say
yo'r glad, not an eye brightens, nor a lip moves,--to whom if your
heart's heavy, yo' can never say nought, because they'll ne'er take
notice on your sighs or sad looks (and a man 's no man who'll groan out
loud 'bout folk asking him what 's the matter?)--just yo' try that,
miss--ten hours for three hundred days, and yo'll know a bit what th'
Union is.'

'Why!' said Margaret, 'what tyranny this is! Nay, Higgins, I don't care
one straw for your anger. I know you can't be angry with me if you
would, and I must tell you the truth: that I never read, in all the
history I have read, of a more slow, lingering torture than this. And
you belong to the Union! And you talk of the tyranny of the masters!'

'Nay,' said Higgins, 'yo' may say what yo' like! The dead stand between
yo and every angry word o' mine. D' ye think I forget who's lying
_there_, and how hoo loved yo'? And it's th' masters as has made us sin,
if th' Union is a sin. Not this generation maybe, but their fathers.
Their fathers ground our fathers to the very dust; ground us to powder!
Parson! I reckon, I've heerd my mother read out a text, "The fathers
have eaten sour grapes and th' children's teeth are set on edge." It's
so wi' them. In those days of sore oppression th' Unions began; it were
a necessity. It's a necessity now, according to me. It's a withstanding
of injustice, past, present, or to come. It may be like war; along wi'
it come crimes; but I think it were a greater crime to let it alone. Our
only chance is binding men together in one common interest; and if some
are cowards and some are fools, they mun come along and join the great
march, whose only strength is in numbers.'

'Oh!' said Mr. Hale, sighing, 'your Union in itself would be beautiful,
glorious,--it would be Christianity itself--if it were but for an end
which affected the good of all, instead of that of merely one class as
opposed to another.'

'I reckon it's time for me to be going, sir,' said Higgins, as the clock
struck ten.

'Home?' said Margaret very softly. He understood her, and took her
offered hand. 'Home, miss. Yo' may trust me, tho' I am one o' th'
Union.'

'I do trust you most thoroughly, Nicholas.'

'Stay!' said Mr. Hale, hurrying to the book-shelves. 'Mr. Higgins! I'm
sure you'll join us in family prayer?'

Higgins looked at Margaret, doubtfully. Her grave sweet eyes met his;
there was no compulsion, only deep interest in them. He did not speak,
but he kept his place.

Margaret the Churchwoman, her father the Dissenter, Higgins the Infidel,
knelt down together. It did them no harm.



CHAPTER XXIX

A RAY OF SUNSHINE

    'Some wishes crossed my mind and dimly cheered it,
     And one or two poor melancholy pleasures,
     Each in the pale unwarming light of hope,
     Silvering its flimsy wing, flew silent by--
     Moths in the moonbeam!'
             COLERIDGE.


The next morning brought Margaret a letter from Edith. It was
affectionate and inconsequent like the writer. But the affection was
charming to Margaret's own affectionate nature; and she had grown up
with the inconsequence, so she did not perceive it. It was as follows:--

'Oh, Margaret, it is worth a journey from England to see my boy! He is a
superb little fellow, especially in his caps, and most especially in the
one you sent him, you good, dainty-fingered, persevering little lady!
Having made all the mothers here envious, I want to show him to somebody
new, and hear a fresh set of admiring expressions; perhaps, that's all
the reason; perhaps it is not--nay, possibly, there is just a little
cousinly love mixed with it; but I do want you so much to come here,
Margaret! I'm sure it would be the very best thing for Aunt Hale's
health; everybody here is young and well, and our skies are always blue,
and our sun always shines, and the band plays deliciously from morning
till night; and, to come back to the burden of my ditty, my baby always
smiles. I am constantly wanting you to draw him for me, Margaret. It
does not signify what he is doing; that very thing is prettiest,
gracefulest, best. I think I love him a great deal better than my
husband, who is getting stout, and grumpy,--what he calls "busy." No! he
is not. He has just come in with news of such a charming pic-nic, given
by the officers of the Hazard, at anchor in the bay below. Because he
has brought in such a pleasant piece of news, I retract all I said just
now. Did not somebody burn his hand for having said or done something he
was sorry for? Well, I can't burn mine, because it would hurt me, and
the scar would be ugly; but I'll retract all I said as fast as I can.
Cosmo is quite as great a darling as baby, and not a bit stout, and as
un-grumpy as ever husband was; only, sometimes he is very, very busy. I
may say that without love--wifely duty--where was I?--I had something
very particular to say, I know, once. Oh, it is this--Dearest
Margaret!--you must come and see me; it would do Aunt Hale good, as I
said before. Get the doctor to order it for her. Tell him that it's the
smoke of Milton that does her harm. I have no doubt it is that, really.
Three months (you must not come for less) of this delicious climate--all
sunshine, and grapes as common as blackberries, would quite cure her. I
don't ask my uncle'--(Here the letter became more constrained, and
better written; Mr. Hale was in the corner, like a naughty child, for
having given up his living.)--'because, I dare say, he disapproves of
war, and soldiers, and bands of music; at least, I know that many
Dissenters are members of the Peace Society, and I am afraid he would
not like to come; but, if he would, dear, pray say that Cosmo and I will
do our best to make him happy; and I'll hide up Cosmo's red coat and
sword, and make the band play all sorts of grave, solemn things; or, if
they do play pomps and vanities, it shall be in double slow time. Dear
Margaret, if he would like to accompany you and Aunt Hale, we will try
and make it pleasant, though I'm rather afraid of any one who has done
something for conscience sake. You never did, I hope. Tell Aunt Hale not
to bring many warm clothes, though I'm afraid it will be late in the
year before you can come. But you have no idea of the heat here! I tried
to wear my great beauty Indian shawl at a pic-nic. I kept myself up with
proverbs as long as I could; "Pride must abide,"--and such wholesome
pieces of pith; but it was of no use. I was like mamma's little dog Tiny
with an elephant's trappings on; smothered, hidden, killed with my
finery; so I made it into a capital carpet for us all to sit down upon.
Here's this boy of mine, Margaret,--if you don't pack up your things as
soon as you get this letter, a come straight off to see him, I shall
think you're descended from King Herod!'

Margaret did long for a day of Edith's life--her freedom from care, her
cheerful home, her sunny skies. If a wish could have transported her,
she would have gone off; just for one day. She yearned for the strength
which such a change would give,--even for a few hours to be in the midst
of that bright life, and to feel young again. Not yet twenty! and she
had had to bear up against such hard pressure that she felt quite old.
That was her first feeling after reading Edith's letter. Then she read
it again, and, forgetting herself, was amused at its likeness to Edith's
self, and was laughing merrily over it when Mrs. Hale came into the
drawing-room, leaning on Dixon's arm. Margaret flew to adjust the
pillows. Her mother seemed more than usually feeble.

'What were you laughing at, Margaret?' asked she, as soon as she had
recovered from the exertion of settling herself on the sofa.

'A letter I have had this morning from Edith. Shall I read it you,
mamma?'

She read it aloud, and for a time it seemed to interest her mother, who
kept wondering what name Edith had given to her boy, and suggesting all
probable names, and all possible reasons why each and all of these names
should be given. Into the very midst of these wonders Mr. Thornton came,
bringing another offering of fruit for Mrs. Hale. He could not--say
rather, he would not--deny himself the chance of the pleasure of seeing
Margaret. He had no end in this but the present gratification. It was
the sturdy wilfulness of a man usually most reasonable and
self-controlled. He entered the room, taking in at a glance the fact of
Margaret's presence; but after the first cold distant bow, he never
seemed to let his eyes fall on her again. He only stayed to present his
peaches--to speak some gentle kindly words--and then his cold offended
eyes met Margaret's with a grave farewell, as he left the room. She sat
down silent and pale.

'Do you know, Margaret, I really begin quite to like Mr. Thornton.'

No answer at first. Then Margaret forced out an icy 'Do you?'

'Yes! I think he is really getting quite polished in his manners.'

Margaret's voice was more in order now. She replied,

'He is very kind and attentive,--there is no doubt of that.'

'I wonder Mrs. Thornton never calls. She must know I am ill, because of
the water-bed.'

'I dare say, she hears how you are from her son.'

'Still, I should like to see her. You have so few friends here,
Margaret.'

Margaret felt what was in her mother's thoughts,--a tender craving to
bespeak the kindness of some woman towards the daughter that might be so
soon left motherless. But she could not speak.

'Do you think,' said Mrs. Hale, after a pause, 'that you could go and
ask Mrs. Thornton to come and see me? Only once,--I don't want to be
troublesome.'

'I will do anything, if you wish it, mamma,--but if--but when Frederick
comes---- '

'Ah, to be sure! we must keep our doors shut,--we must let no one in. I
hardly know whether I dare wish him to come or not. Sometimes I think I
would rather not. Sometimes I have such frightful dreams about him.'

'Oh, mamma! we'll take good care. I will put my arm in the bolt sooner
than he should come to the slightest harm. Trust the care of him to me,
mamma. I will watch over him like a lioness over her young.'

'When can we hear from him?'

'Not for a week yet, certainly,--perhaps more.'

'We must send Martha away in good time. It would never do to have her
here when he comes, and then send her off in a hurry.'

'Dixon is sure to remind us of that. I was thinking that, if we wanted
any help in the house while he is here, we could perhaps get Mary
Higgins. She is very slack of work, and is a good girl, and would take
pains to do her best, I am sure, and would sleep at home, and need never
come upstairs, so as to know who is in the house.'

'As you please. As Dixon pleases. But, Margaret, don't get to use these
horrid Milton words. "Slack of work:" it is a provincialism. What will
your aunt Shaw say, if she hears you use it on her return?'

'Oh, mamma! don't try and make a bugbear of aunt Shaw' said Margaret,
laughing. 'Edith picked up all sorts of military slang from Captain
Lennox, and aunt Shaw never took any notice of it.'

'But yours is factory slang.'

'And if I live in a factory town, I must speak factory language when I
want it. Why, mamma, I could astonish you with a great many words you
never heard in your life. I don't believe you know what a knobstick is.'

'Not I, child. I only know it has a very vulgar sound and I don't want
to hear you using it.'

'Very well, dearest mother, I won't. Only I shall have to use a whole
explanatory sentence instead.'

'I don't like this Milton,' said Mrs. Hale. 'Edith is right enough in
saying it's the smoke that has made me so ill.'

Margaret started up as her mother said this. Her father had just entered
the room, and she was most anxious that the faint impression she had
seen on his mind that the Milton air had injured her mother's health,
should not be deepened,--should not receive any confirmation. She could
not tell whether he had heard what Mrs. Hale had said or not; but she
began speaking hurriedly of other things, unaware that Mr. Thornton was
following him.

'Mamma is accusing me of having picked up a great deal of vulgarity
since we came to Milton.'

The 'vulgarity' Margaret spoke of, referred purely to the use of local
words, and the expression arose out of the conversation they had just
been holding. But Mr. Thornton's brow darkened; and Margaret suddenly
felt how her speech might be misunderstood by him; so, in the natural
sweet desire to avoid giving unnecessary pain, she forced herself to go
forwards with a little greeting, and continue what she was saying,
addressing herself to him expressly.

'Now, Mr. Thornton, though "knobstick" has not a very pretty sound, is
it not expressive? Could I do without it, in speaking of the thing it
represents? If using local words is vulgar, I was very vulgar in the
Forest,--was I not, mamma?'

It was unusual with Margaret to obtrude her own subject of conversation
on others; but, in this case, she was so anxious to prevent Mr. Thornton
from feeling annoyance at the words he had accidentally overheard, that
it was not until she had done speaking that she coloured all over with
consciousness, more especially as Mr. Thornton seemed hardly to
understand the exact gist or bearing of what she was saying, but passed
her by, with a cold reserve of ceremonious movement, to speak to Mrs.
Hale.

The sight of him reminded her of the wish to see his mother, and commend
Margaret to her care. Margaret, sitting in burning silence, vexed and
ashamed of her difficulty in keeping her right place, and her calm
unconsciousness of heart, when Mr. Thornton was by, heard her mother's
slow entreaty that Mrs. Thornton would come and see her; see her soon;
to-morrow, if it were possible. Mr. Thornton promised that she
should--conversed a little, and then took his leave; and Margaret's
movements and voice seemed at once released from some invisible chains.
He never looked at her; and yet, the careful avoidance of his eyes
betokened that in some way he knew exactly where, if they fell by
chance, they would rest on her. If she spoke, he gave no sign of
attention, and yet his next speech to any one else was modified by what
she had said; sometimes there was an express answer to what she had
remarked, but given to another person as though unsuggested by her. It
was not the bad manners of ignorance; it was the wilful bad manners
arising from deep offence. It was wilful at the time, repented of
afterwards. But no deep plan, no careful cunning could have stood him in
such good stead. Margaret thought about him more than she had ever done
before; not with any tinge of what is called love, but with regret that
she had wounded him so deeply,--and with a gentle, patient striving to
return to their former position of antagonistic friendship; for a
friend's position was what she found that he had held in her regard, as
well as in that of the rest of the family. There was a pretty humility
in her behaviour to him, as if mutely apologising for the over-strong
words which were the reaction from the deeds of the day of the riot.

But he resented those words bitterly. They rung in his ears; and he was
proud of the sense of justice which made him go on in every kindness he
could offer to her parents. He exulted in the power he showed in
compelling himself to face her, whenever he could think of any action
which might give her father or mother pleasure. He thought that he
disliked seeing one who had mortified him so keenly; but he was
mistaken. It was a stinging pleasure to be in the room with her, and
feel her presence. But he was no great analyser of his own motives, and
was mistaken as I have said.



CHAPTER XXX

HOME AT LAST

    'The saddest birds a season find to sing.'
             SOUTHWELL.

    'Never to fold the robe o'er secret pain,
     Never, weighed down by memory's clouds again,
     To bow thy head! Thou art gone home!'
             MRS. HEMANS.


Mrs. Thornton came to see Mrs. Hale the next morning. She was much
worse. One of those sudden changes--those great visible strides towards
death, had been taken in the night, and her own family were startled by
the gray sunken look her features had assumed in that one twelve hours
of suffering. Mrs. Thornton--who had not seen her for weeks--was
softened all at once. She had come because her son asked it from her as
a personal favour, but with all the proud bitter feelings of her nature
in arms against that family of which Margaret formed one. She doubted
the reality of Mrs. Hale's illness; she doubted any want beyond a
momentary fancy on that lady's part, which should take her out of her
previously settled course of employment for the day. She told her son
that she wished they had never come near the place; that he had never
got acquainted with them; that there had been no such useless languages
as Latin and Greek ever invented. He bore all this pretty silently; but
when she had ended her invective against the dead languages, he quietly
returned to the short, curt, decided expression of his wish that she
should go and see Mrs. Hale at the time appointed, as most likely to be
convenient to the invalid. Mrs. Thornton submitted with as bad a grace
as she could to her son's desire, all the time liking him the better for
having it; and exaggerating in her own mind the same notion that he had
of extraordinary goodness on his part in so perseveringly keeping up
with the Hales.

His goodness verging on weakness (as all the softer virtues did in her
mind), and her own contempt for Mr. and Mrs. Hale, and positive dislike
to Margaret, were the ideas which occupied Mrs. Thornton, till she was
struck into nothingness before the dark shadow of the wings of the angel
of death. There lay Mrs. Hale--a mother like herself--a much younger
woman than she was,--on the bed from which there was no sign of hope
that she might ever rise again. No more variety of light and shade for
her in that darkened room; no power of action, scarcely change of
movement; faint alternations of whispered sound and studious silence;
and yet that monotonous life seemed almost too much! When Mrs. Thornton,
strong and prosperous with life, came in, Mrs. Hale lay still, although
from the look on her face she was evidently conscious of who it was. But
she did not even open her eyes for a minute or two. The heavy moisture
of tears stood on the eye-lashes before she looked up, then with her
hand groping feebly over the bed-clothes, for the touch of Mrs.
Thornton's large firm fingers, she said, scarcely above her breath--Mrs.
Thornton had to stoop from her erectness to listen,--

'Margaret--you have a daughter--my sister is in Italy. My child will be
without a mother;--in a strange place,--if I die--will you'----

And her filmy wandering eyes fixed themselves with an intensity of
wistfulness on Mrs. Thornton's face. For a minute, there was no change
in its rigidness; it was stern and unmoved;--nay, but that the eyes of
the sick woman were growing dim with the slow-gathering tears, she might
have seen a dark cloud cross the cold features. And it was no thought of
her son, or of her living daughter Fanny, that stirred her heart at
last; but a sudden remembrance, suggested by something in the
arrangement of the room,--of a little daughter--dead in infancy--long
years ago--that, like a sudden sunbeam, melted the icy crust, behind
which there was a real tender woman.

'You wish me to be a friend to Miss Hale,' said Mrs. Thornton, in her
measured voice, that would not soften with her heart, but came out
distinct and clear.

Mrs. Hale, her eyes still fixed on Mrs. Thornton's face, pressed the
hand that lay below hers on the coverlet. She could not speak. Mrs.
Thornton sighed, 'I will be a true friend, if circumstances require it.
Not a tender friend. That I cannot be,'--('to her,' she was on the point
of adding, but she relented at the sight of that poor, anxious
face.)--'It is not my nature to show affection even where I feel it, nor
do I volunteer advice in general. Still, at your request,--if it will be
any comfort to you, I will promise you.' Then came a pause. Mrs.
Thornton was too conscientious to promise what she did not mean to
perform; and to perform any-thing in the way of kindness on behalf of
Margaret, more disliked at this moment than ever, was difficult; almost
impossible.

'I promise,' said she, with grave severity; which, after all, inspired
the dying woman with faith as in something more stable than life
itself,--flickering, flitting, wavering life! 'I promise that in any
difficulty in which Miss Hale'----

'Call her Margaret!' gasped Mrs. Hale.

'In which she comes to me for help, I will help her with every power I
have, as if she were my own daughter. I also promise that if ever I see
her doing what I think is wrong'----

'But Margaret never does wrong--not wilfully wrong,' pleaded Mrs. Hale.
Mrs. Thornton went on as before; as if she had not heard:

'If ever I see her doing what I believe to be wrong--such wrong not
touching me or mine, in which case I might be supposed to have an
interested motive--I will tell her of it, faithfully and plainly, as I
should wish my own daughter to be told.'

There was a long pause. Mrs. Hale felt that this promise did not include
all; and yet it was much. It had reservations in it which she did not
understand; but then she was weak, dizzy, and tired. Mrs. Thornton was
reviewing all the probable cases in which she had pledged herself to
act. She had a fierce pleasure in the idea of telling Margaret unwelcome
truths, in the shape of performance of duty. Mrs. Hale began to speak:

'I thank you. I pray God to bless you. I shall never see you again in
this world. But my last words are, I thank you for your promise of
kindness to my child.'

'Not kindness!' testified Mrs. Thornton, ungraciously truthful to the
last. But having eased her conscience by saying these words, she was not
sorry that they were not heard. She pressed Mrs. Hale's soft languid
hand; and rose up and went her way out of the house without seeing a
creature.

During the time that Mrs. Thornton was having this interview with Mrs.
Hale, Margaret and Dixon were laying their heads together, and
consulting how they should keep Frederick's coming a profound secret to
all out of the house. A letter from him might now be expected any day;
and he would assuredly follow quickly on its heels. Martha must be sent
away on her holiday; Dixon must keep stern guard on the front door, only
admitting the few visitors that ever came to the house into Mr. Hale's
room down-stairs--Mrs. Hale's extreme illness giving her a good excuse
for this. If Mary Higgins was required as a help to Dixon in the kitchen
she was to hear and see as little of Frederick as possible; and he was,
if necessary to be spoken of to her under the name of Mr. Dickinson. But
her sluggish and incurious nature was the greatest safeguard of all.

They resolved that Martha should leave them that very afternoon for this
visit to her mother. Margaret wished that she had been sent away on the
previous day, as she fancied it might be thought strange to give a
servant a holiday when her mistress's state required so much attendance.

Poor Margaret! All that afternoon she had to act the part of a Roman
daughter, and give strength out of her own scanty stock to her father.
Mr. Hale would hope, would not despair, between the attacks of his
wife's malady; he buoyed himself up in every respite from her pain, and
believed that it was the beginning of ultimate recovery. And so, when
the paroxysms came on, each more severe than the last, they were fresh
agonies, and greater disappointments to him. This afternoon, he sat in
the drawing-room, unable to bear the solitude of his study, or to employ
himself in any way. He buried his head in his arms, which lay folded on
the table. Margaret's heart ached to see him; yet, as he did not speak,
she did not like to volunteer any attempt at comfort. Martha was gone.
Dixon sat with Mrs. Hale while she slept. The house was very still and
quiet, and darkness came on, without any movement to procure candles.
Margaret sat at the window, looking out at the lamps and the street, but
seeing nothing,--only alive to her father's heavy sighs. She did not
like to go down for lights, lest the tacit restraint of her presence
being withdrawn, he might give way to more violent emotion, without her
being at hand to comfort him. Yet she was just thinking that she ought
to go and see after the well-doing of the kitchen fire, which there was
nobody but herself to attend to when she heard the muffled door-ring
with so violent a pull, that the wires jingled all through the house,
though the positive sound was not great. She started up, passed her
father, who had never moved at the veiled, dull sound,--returned, and
kissed him tenderly. And still he never moved, nor took any notice of
her fond embrace. Then she went down softly, through the dark, to the
door. Dixon would have put the chain on before she opened it, but
Margaret had not a thought of fear in her pre-occupied mind. A man's
tall figure stood between her and the luminous street. He was looking
away; but at the sound of the latch he turned quickly round.

'Is this Mr. Hale's?' said he, in a clear, full, delicate voice.

Margaret trembled all over; at first she did not answer. In a moment she
sighed out,

'Frederick!' and stretched out both her hands to catch his, and draw him
in.

'Oh, Margaret!' said he, holding her off by her shoulders, after they
had kissed each other, as if even in that darkness he could see her
face, and read in its expression a quicker answer to his question than
words could give,--

'My mother! is she alive?'

'Yes, she is alive, dear, dear brother! She--as ill as she can be she
is; but alive! She is alive!'

'Thank God!' said he.

'Papa is utterly prostrate with this great grief.'

'You expect me, don't you?'

'No, we have had no letter.'

'Then I have come before it. But my mother knows I am coming?'

'Oh! we all knew you would come. But wait a little! Step in here. Give
me your hand. What is this? Oh! your carpet-bag. Dixon has shut the
shutters; but this is papa's study, and I can take you to a chair to
rest yourself for a few minutes; while I go and tell him.'

She groped her way to the taper and the lucifer matches. She suddenly
felt shy, when the little feeble light made them visible. All she could
see was, that her brother's face was unusually dark in complexion, and
she caught the stealthy look of a pair of remarkably long-cut blue eyes,
that suddenly twinkled up with a droll consciousness of their mutual
purpose of inspecting each other. But though the brother and sister had
an instant of sympathy in their reciprocal glances, they did not
exchange a word; only, Margaret felt sure that she should like her
brother as a companion as much as she already loved him as a near
relation. Her heart was wonderfully lighter as she went up-stairs; the
sorrow was no less in reality, but it became less oppressive from having
some one in precisely the same relation to it as that in which she
stood. Not her father's desponding attitude had power to damp her now.
He lay across the table, helpless as ever; but she had the spell by
which to rouse him. She used it perhaps too violently in her own great
relief.

'Papa,' said she, throwing her arms fondly round his neck; pulling his
weary head up in fact with her gentle violence, till it rested in her
arms, and she could look into his eyes, and let them gain strength and
assurance from hers.

'Papa! guess who is here!'

He looked at her; she saw the idea of the truth glimmer into their filmy
sadness, and be dismissed thence as a wild imagination.

He threw himself forward, and hid his face once more in his
stretched-out arms, resting upon the table as heretofore. She heard him
whisper; she bent tenderly down to listen. 'I don't know. Don't tell me
it is Frederick--not Frederick. I cannot bear it,--I am too weak. And
his mother is dying!' He began to cry and wail like a child. It was so
different to all which Margaret had hoped and expected, that she turned
sick with disappointment, and was silent for an instant. Then she spoke
again--very differently--not so exultingly, far more tenderly and
carefully.

'Papa, it is Frederick! Think of mamma, how glad she will be! And oh,
for her sake, how glad we ought to be! For his sake, too,--our poor,
poor boy!'

Her father did not change his attitude, but he seemed to be trying to
understand the fact.

'Where is he?' asked he at last, his face still hidden in his prostrate
arms.

'In your study, quite alone. I lighted the taper, and ran up to tell
you. He is quite alone, and will be wondering why--'

'I will go to him,' broke in her father; and he lifted himself up and
leant on her arm as on that of a guide.

Margaret led him to the study door, but her spirits were so agitated
that she felt she could not bear to see the meeting. She turned away,
and ran up-stairs, and cried most heartily. It was the first time she
had dared to allow herself this relief for days. The strain had been
terrible, as she now felt. But Frederick was come! He, the one precious
brother, was there, safe, amongst them again! She could hardly believe
it. She stopped her crying, and opened her bedroom door. She heard no
sound of voices, and almost feared she might have dreamt. She went
down-stairs, and listened at the study door. She heard the buzz of
voices; and that was enough. She went into the kitchen, and stirred up
the fire, and lighted the house, and prepared for the wanderer's
refreshment. How fortunate it was that her mother slept! She knew that
she did, from the candle-lighter thrust through the keyhole of her
bedroom door. The traveller could be refreshed and bright, and the first
excitement of the meeting with his father all be over, before her mother
became aware of anything unusual.

When all was ready, Margaret opened the study door, and went in like a
serving-maiden, with a heavy tray held in her extended arms. She was
proud of serving Frederick. But he, when he saw her, sprang up in a
minute, and relieved her of her burden. It was a type, a sign, of all
the coming relief which his presence would bring. The brother and sister
arranged the table together, saying little, but their hands touching,
and their eyes speaking the natural language of expression, so
intelligible to those of the same blood. The fire had gone out; and
Margaret applied herself to light it, for the evenings had begun to be
chilly; and yet it was desirable to make all noises as distant as
possible from Mrs. Hale's room.

'Dixon says it is a gift to light a fire; not an art to be acquired.'

'Poeta nascitur, non fit,' murmured Mr. Hale; and Margaret was glad to
hear a quotation once more, however languidly given.

'Dear old Dixon! How we shall kiss each other!' said Frederick. 'She
used to kiss me, and then look in my face to be sure I was the right
person, and then set to again! But, Margaret, what a bungler you are! I
never saw such a little awkward, good-for-nothing pair of hands. Run
away, and wash them, ready to cut bread-and-butter for me, and leave the
fire. I'll manage it. Lighting fires is one of my natural
accomplishments.'

So Margaret went away; and returned; and passed in and out of the room,
in a glad restlessness that could not be satisfied with sitting still.
The more wants Frederick had, the better she was pleased; and he
understood all this by instinct. It was a joy snatched in the house of
mourning, and the zest of it was all the more pungent, because they knew
in the depths of their hearts what irremediable sorrow awaited them.

In the middle, they heard Dixon's foot on the stairs. Mr. Hale started
from his languid posture in his great armchair, from which he had been
watching his children in a dreamy way, as if they were acting some drama
of happiness, which it was pretty to look at, but which was distinct
from reality, and in which he had no part. He stood up, and faced the
door, showing such a strange, sudden anxiety to conceal Frederick from
the sight of any person entering, even though it were the faithful
Dixon, that a shiver came over Margaret's heart: it reminded her of the
new fear in their lives. She caught at Frederick's arm, and clutched it
tight, while a stern thought compressed her brows, and caused her to set
her teeth. And yet they knew it was only Dixon's measured tread. They
heard her walk the length of the passage, into the kitchen. Margaret
rose up.

'I will go to her, and tell her. And I shall hear how mamma is.' Mrs.
Hale was awake. She rambled at first; but after they had given her some
tea she was refreshed, though not disposed to talk. It was better that
the night should pass over before she was told of her son's arrival. Dr.
Donaldson's appointed visit would bring nervous excitement enough for
the evening; and he might tell them how to prepare her for seeing
Frederick. He was there, in the house; could be summoned at any moment.

Margaret could not sit still. It was a relief to her to aid Dixon in all
her preparations for 'Master Frederick.' It seemed as though she never
could be tired again. Each glimpse into the room where he sate by his
father, conversing with him, about, she knew not what, nor cared to
know,--was increase of strength to her. Her own time for talking and
hearing would come at last, and she was too certain of this to feel in a
hurry to grasp it now. She took in his appearance and liked it. He had
delicate features, redeemed from effeminacy by the swarthiness of his
complexion, and his quick intensity of expression. His eyes were
generally merry-looking, but at times they and his mouth so suddenly
changed, and gave her such an idea of latent passion, that it almost
made her afraid. But this look was only for an instant; and had in it no
doggedness, no vindictiveness; it was rather the instantaneous ferocity
of expression that comes over the countenances of all natives of wild or
southern countries--a ferocity which enhances the charm of the childlike
softness into which such a look may melt away. Margaret might fear the
violence of the impulsive nature thus occasionally betrayed, but there
was nothing in it to make her distrust, or recoil in the least, from the
new-found brother. On the contrary, all their intercourse was peculiarly
charming to her from the very first. She knew then how much
responsibility she had had to bear, from the exquisite sensation of
relief which she felt in Frederick's presence. He understood his father
and mother--their characters and their weaknesses, and went along with a
careless freedom, which was yet most delicately careful not to hurt or
wound any of their feelings. He seemed to know instinctively when a
little of the natural brilliancy of his manner and conversation would
not jar on the deep depression of his father, or might relieve his
mother's pain. Whenever it would have been out of tune, and out of time,
his patient devotion and watchfulness came into play, and made him an
admirable nurse. Then Margaret was almost touched into tears by the
allusions which he often made to their childish days in the New Forest;
he had never forgotten her--or Helstone either--all the time he had been
roaming among distant countries and foreign people. She might talk to
him of the old spot, and never fear tiring him. She had been afraid of
him before he came, even while she had longed for his coming; seven or
eight years had, she felt, produced such great changes in herself that,
forgetting how much of the original Margaret was left, she had reasoned
that if her tastes and feelings had so materially altered, even in her
stay-at-home life, his wild career, with which she was but imperfectly
acquainted, must have almost substituted another Frederick for the tall
stripling in his middy's uniform, whom she remembered looking up to with
such admiring awe. But in their absence they had grown nearer to each
other in age, as well as in many other things. And so it was that the
weight, this sorrowful time, was lightened to Margaret. Other light than
that of Frederick's presence she had none. For a few hours, the mother
rallied on seeing her son. She sate with his hand in hers; she would not
part with it even while she slept; and Margaret had to feed him like a
baby, rather than that he should disturb her mother by removing a
finger. Mrs. Hale wakened while they were thus engaged; she slowly moved
her head round on the pillow, and smiled at her children, as she
understood what they were doing, and why it was done.

'I am very selfish,' said she; 'but it will not be for long.' Frederick
bent down and kissed the feeble hand that imprisoned his.

This state of tranquillity could not endure for many days, nor perhaps
for many hours; so Dr. Donaldson assured Margaret. After the kind doctor
had gone away, she stole down to Frederick, who, during the visit, had
been adjured to remain quietly concealed in the back parlour, usually
Dixon's bedroom, but now given up to him.

Margaret told him what Dr. Donaldson said.

'I don't believe it,' he exclaimed. 'She is very ill; she may be
dangerously ill, and in immediate danger, too; but I can't imagine that
she could be as she is, if she were on the point of death. Margaret! she
should have some other advice--some London doctor. Have you never
thought of that?'

'Yes,' said Margaret, 'more than once. But I don't believe it would do
any good. And, you know, we have not the money to bring any great London
surgeon down, and I am sure Dr. Donaldson is only second in skill to the
very best,--if, indeed, he is to them.'

Frederick began to walk up and down the room impatiently.

'I have credit in Cadiz,' said he, 'but none here, owing to this
wretched change of name. Why did my father leave Helstone? That was the
blunder.'

'It was no blunder,' said Margaret gloomily. 'And above all possible
chances, avoid letting papa hear anything like what you have just been
saying. I can see that he is tormenting himself already with the idea
that mamma would never have been ill if we had stayed at Helstone, and
you don't know papa's agonising power of self-reproach!'

Frederick walked away as if he were on the quarter-deck. At last he
stopped right opposite to Margaret, and looked at her drooping and
desponding attitude for an instant.

'My little Margaret!' said he, caressing her. 'Let us hope as long as we
can. Poor little woman! what! is this face all wet with tears? I will
hope. I will, in spite of a thousand doctors. Bear up, Margaret, and be
brave enough to hope!'

Margaret choked in trying to speak, and when she did it was very low.

'I must try to be meek enough to trust. Oh, Frederick! mamma was getting
to love me so! And I was getting to understand her. And now comes death
to snap us asunder!'

'Come, come, come! Let us go up-stairs, and do something, rather than
waste time that may be so precious. Thinking has, many a time, made me
sad, darling; but doing never did in all my life. My theory is a sort of
parody on the maxim of "Get money, my son, honestly if you can; but get
money." My precept is, "Do something, my sister, do good if you can;
but, at any rate, do something."'

'Not excluding mischief,' said Margaret, smiling faintly through her
tears.

'By no means. What I do exclude is the remorse afterwards. Blot your
misdeeds out (if you are particularly conscientious), by a good deed, as
soon as you can; just as we did a correct sum at school on the slate,
where an incorrect one was only half rubbed out. It was better than
wetting our sponge with our tears; both less loss of time where tears
had to be waited for, and a better effect at last.'

If Margaret thought Frederick's theory rather a rough one at first, she
saw how he worked it out into continual production of kindness in fact.
After a bad night with his mother (for he insisted on taking his turn as
a sitter-up) he was busy next morning before breakfast, contriving a
leg-rest for Dixon, who was beginning to feel the fatigues of watching.
At breakfast-time, he interested Mr. Hale with vivid, graphic, rattling
accounts of the wild life he had led in Mexico, South America, and
elsewhere. Margaret would have given up the effort in despair to rouse
Mr. Hale out of his dejection; it would even have affected herself and
rendered her incapable of talking at all. But Fred, true to his theory,
did something perpetually; and talking was the only thing to be done,
besides eating, at breakfast.

Before the night of that day, Dr. Donaldson's opinion was proved to be
too well founded. Convulsions came on; and when they ceased, Mrs. Hale
was unconscious. Her husband might lie by her shaking the bed with his
sobs; her son's strong arms might lift her tenderly up into a
comfortable position; her daughter's hands might bathe her face; but she
knew them not. She would never recognise them again, till they met in
Heaven.

Before the morning came all was over.

Then Margaret rose from her trembling and despondency, and became as a
strong angel of comfort to her father and brother. For Frederick had
broken down now, and all his theories were of no use to him. He cried so
violently when shut up alone in his little room at night, that Margaret
and Dixon came down in affright to warn him to be quiet: for the house
partitions were but thin, and the next-door neighbours might easily hear
his youthful passionate sobs, so different from the slower trembling
agony of after-life, when we become inured to grief, and dare not be
rebellious against the inexorable doom, knowing who it is that decrees.

Margaret sate with her father in the room with the dead. If he had
cried, she would have been thankful. But he sate by the bed quite
quietly; only, from time to time, he uncovered the face, and stroked it
gently, making a kind of soft inarticulate noise, like that of some
mother-animal caressing her young. He took no notice of Margaret's
presence. Once or twice she came up to kiss him; and he submitted to it,
giving her a little push away when she had done, as if her affection
disturbed him from his absorption in the dead. He started when he heard
Frederick's cries, and shook his head:--'Poor boy! poor boy!' he said,
and took no more notice. Margaret's heart ached within her. She could
not think of her own loss in thinking of her father's case. The night
was wearing away, and the day was at hand, when, without a word of
preparation, Margaret's voice broke upon the stillness of the room, with
a clearness of sound that startled even herself: 'Let not your heart be
troubled,' it said; and she went steadily on through all that chapter of
unspeakable consolation.



CHAPTER XXXI

'SHOULD AULD ACQUAINTANCE BE FORGOT?'

    'Show not that manner, and these features all,
     The serpent's cunning, and the sinner's fall?'
             CRABBE.


The chill, shivery October morning came; not the October morning of the
country, with soft, silvery mists, clearing off before the sunbeams that
bring out all the gorgeous beauty of colouring, but the October morning
of Milton, whose silver mists were heavy fogs, and where the sun could
only show long dusky streets when he did break through and shine.
Margaret went languidly about, assisting Dixon in her task of arranging
the house. Her eyes were continually blinded by tears, but she had no
time to give way to regular crying. The father and brother depended upon
her; while they were giving way to grief, she must be working, planning,
considering. Even the necessary arrangements for the funeral seemed to
devolve upon her.

When the fire was bright and crackling--when everything was ready for
breakfast, and the tea-kettle was singing away, Margaret gave a last
look round the room before going to summon Mr. Hale and Frederick. She
wanted everything to look as cheerful as possible; and yet, when it did
so, the contrast between it and her own thoughts forced her into sudden
weeping. She was kneeling by the sofa, hiding her face in the cushions
that no one might hear her cry, when she was touched on the shoulder by
Dixon.

'Come, Miss Hale--come, my dear! You must not give way, or where shall
we all be? There is not another person in the house fit to give a
direction of any kind, and there is so much to be done. There's who's to
manage the funeral; and who's to come to it; and where it's to be; and
all to be settled: and Master Frederick's like one crazed with crying,
and master never was a good one for settling; and, poor gentleman, he
goes about now as if he was lost. It's bad enough, my dear, I know; but
death comes to us all; and you're well off never to have lost any friend
till now.' Perhaps so. But this seemed a loss by itself; not to bear
comparison with any other event in the world. Margaret did not take any
comfort from what Dixon said, but the unusual tenderness of the prim old
servant's manner touched her to the heart; and, more from a desire to
show her gratitude for this than for any other reason, she roused
herself up, and smiled in answer to Dixon's anxious look at her; and
went to tell her father and brother that breakfast was ready.

Mr. Hale came--as if in a dream, or rather with the unconscious motion
of a sleep-walker, whose eyes and mind perceive other things than what
are present. Frederick came briskly in, with a forced cheerfulness,
grasped her hand, looked into her eyes, and burst into tears. She had to
try and think of little nothings to say all breakfast-time, in order to
prevent the recurrence of her companions' thoughts too strongly to the
last meal they had taken together, when there had been a continual
strained listening for some sound or signal from the sick-room.

After breakfast, she resolved to speak to her father, about the funeral.
He shook his head, and assented to all she proposed, though many of her
propositions absolutely contradicted one another. Margaret gained no
real decision from him; and was leaving the room languidly, to have a
consultation with Dixon, when Mr. Hale motioned her back to his side.

'Ask Mr. Bell,' said he in a hollow voice.

'Mr. Bell!' said she, a little surprised. 'Mr. Bell of Oxford?'

'Mr. Bell,' he repeated. 'Yes. He was my groom's-man.'

Margaret understood the association.

'I will write to-day,' said she. He sank again into listlessness. All
morning she toiled on, longing for rest, but in a continual whirl of
melancholy business.

Towards evening, Dixon said to her:

'I've done it, miss. I was really afraid for master, that he'd have a
stroke with grief. He's been all this day with poor missus; and when
I've listened at the door, I've heard him talking to her, and talking to
her, as if she was alive. When I went in he would be quite quiet, but
all in a maze like. So I thought to myself, he ought to be roused; and
if it gives him a shock at first, it will, maybe, be the better
afterwards. So I've been and told him, that I don't think it's safe for
Master Frederick to be here. And I don't. It was only on Tuesday, when I
was out, that I met a Southampton man--the first I've seen since I came
to Milton; they don't make their way much up here, I think. Well, it was
young Leonards, old Leonards the draper's son, as great a scamp as ever
lived--who plagued his father almost to death, and then ran off to sea.
I never could abide him. He was in the Orion at the same time as Master
Frederick, I know; though I don't recollect if he was there at the
mutiny.'

'Did he know you?' said Margaret, eagerly.

'Why, that's the worst of it. I don't believe he would have known me but
for my being such a fool as to call out his name. He were a Southampton
man, in a strange place, or else I should never have been so ready to
call cousins with him, a nasty, good-for-nothing fellow. Says he, "Miss
Dixon! who would ha' thought of seeing you here? But perhaps I mistake,
and you're Miss Dixon no longer?" So I told him he might still address
me as an unmarried lady, though if I hadn't been so particular, I'd had
good chances of matrimony. He was polite enough: "He couldn't look at me
and doubt me." But I were not to be caught with such chaff from such a
fellow as him, and so I told him; and, by way of being even, I asked him
after his father (who I knew had turned him out of doors), as if they
was the best friends as ever was. So then, to spite me--for you see we
were getting savage, for all we were so civil to each other--he began to
inquire after Master Frederick, and said, what a scrape he'd got into
(as if Master Frederick's scrapes would ever wash George Leonards'
white, or make 'em look otherwise than nasty, dirty black), and how he'd
be hung for mutiny if ever he were caught, and how a hundred pound
reward had been offered for catching him, and what a disgrace he had
been to his family--all to spite me, you see, my dear, because before
now I've helped old Mr. Leonards to give George a good rating, down in
Southampton. So I said, there were other families be thankful if they
could think they were earning an honest living as I knew, who had far
more cause to blush for their sons, and to far away from home. To which
he made answer, like the impudent chap he is, that he were in a
confidential situation, and if I knew of any young man who had been so
unfortunate as to lead vicious courses, and wanted to turn steady, he'd
have no objection to lend him his patronage. He, indeed! Why, he'd
corrupt a saint. I've not felt so bad myself for years as when I were
standing talking to him the other day. I could have cried to think I
couldn't spite him better, for he kept smiling in my face, as if he took
all my compliments for earnest; and I couldn't see that he minded what I
said in the least, while I was mad with all his speeches.'

'But you did not tell him anything about us--about Frederick?'

'Not I,' said Dixon. 'He had never the grace to ask where I was staying;
and I shouldn't have told him if he had asked. Nor did I ask him what
his precious situation was. He was waiting for a bus, and just then it
drove up, and he hailed it. But, to plague me to the last, he turned
back before he got in, and said, "If you can help me to trap Lieutenant
Hale, Miss Dixon, we'll go partners in the reward. I know you'd like to
be my partner, now wouldn't you? Don't be shy, but say yes." And he
jumped on the bus, and I saw his ugly face leering at me with a wicked
smile to think how he'd had the last word of plaguing.'

Margaret was made very uncomfortable by this account of Dixon's.

'Have you told Frederick?' asked she.

'No,' said Dixon. 'I were uneasy in my mind at knowing that bad Leonards
was in town; but there was so much else to think about that I did not
dwell on it at all. But when I saw master sitting so stiff, and with his
eyes so glazed and sad, I thought it might rouse him to have to think of
Master Frederick's safety a bit. So I told him all, though I blushed to
say how a young man had been speaking to me. And it has done master
good. And if we're to keep Master Frederick in hiding, he would have to
go, poor fellow, before Mr. Bell came.'

'Oh, I'm not afraid of Mr. Bell; but I am afraid of this Leonards. I
must tell Frederick. What did Leonards look like?'

'A bad-looking fellow, I can assure you, miss. Whiskers such as I should
be ashamed to wear--they are so red. And for all he said he'd got a
confidential situation, he was dressed in fustian just like a
working-man.'

It was evident that Frederick must go. Go, too, when he had so
completely vaulted into his place in the family, and promised to be such
a stay and staff to his father and sister. Go, when his cares for the
living mother, and sorrow for the dead, seemed to make him one of those
peculiar people who are bound to us by a fellow-love for them that are
taken away. Just as Margaret was thinking all this, sitting over the
drawing-room fire--her father restless and uneasy under the pressure of
this newly-aroused fear, of which he had not as yet spoken--Frederick
came in, his brightness dimmed, but the extreme violence of his grief
passed away. He came up to Margaret, and kissed her forehead.

'How wan you look, Margaret!' said he in a low voice. 'You have been
thinking of everybody, and no one has thought of you. Lie on this
sofa--there is nothing for you to do.'

'That is the worst,' said Margaret, in a sad whisper. But she went and
lay down, and her brother covered her feet with a shawl, and then sate
on the ground by her side; and the two began to talk in a subdued tone.

Margaret told him all that Dixon had related of her interview with young
Leonards. Frederick's lips closed with a long whew of dismay.

'I should just like to have it out with that young fellow. A worse
sailor was never on board ship--nor a much worse man either. I declare,
Margaret--you know the circumstances of the whole affair?'

'Yes, mamma told me.'

'Well, when all the sailors who were good for anything were indignant
with our captain, this fellow, to curry favour--pah! And to think of his
being here! Oh, if he'd a notion I was within twenty miles of him, he'd
ferret me out to pay off old grudges. I'd rather anybody had the hundred
pounds they think I am worth than that rascal. What a pity poor old
Dixon could not be persuaded to give me up, and make a provision for her
old age!'

'Oh, Frederick, hush! Don't talk so.'

Mr. Hale came towards them, eager and trembling. He had overheard what
they were saying. He took Frederick's hand in both of his:

'My boy, you must go. It is very bad--but I see you must. You have done
all you could--you have been a comfort to her.'

'Oh, papa, must he go?' said Margaret, pleading against her own
conviction of necessity.

'I declare, I've a good mind to face it out, and stand my trial. If I
could only pick up my evidence! I cannot endure the thought of being in
the power of such a blackguard as Leonards. I could almost have
enjoyed--in other circumstances--this stolen visit: it has had all the
charm which the French-woman attributed to forbidden pleasures.'

'One of the earliest things I can remember,' said Margaret, 'was your
being in some great disgrace, Fred, for stealing apples. We had plenty
of our own--trees loaded with them; but some one had told you that
stolen fruit tasted sweetest, which you took au pied de la lettre, and
off you went a-robbing. You have not changed your feelings much since
then.'

'Yes--you must go,' repeated Mr. Hale, answering Margaret's question,
which she had asked some time ago. His thoughts were fixed on one
subject, and it was an effort to him to follow the zig-zag remarks of
his children--an effort which he did not make.

Margaret and Frederick looked at each other. That quick momentary
sympathy would be theirs no longer if he went away. So much was
understood through eyes that could not be put into words. Both coursed
the same thought till it was lost in sadness. Frederick shook it off
first:

'Do you know, Margaret, I was very nearly giving both Dixon and myself a
good fright this afternoon. I was in my bedroom; I had heard a ring at
the front door, but I thought the ringer must have done his business and
gone away long ago; so I was on the point of making my appearance in the
passage, when, as I opened my room door, I saw Dixon coming downstairs;
and she frowned and kicked me into hiding again. I kept the door open,
and heard a message given to some man that was in my father's study, and
that then went away. Who could it have been? Some of the shopmen?'

'Very likely,' said Margaret, indifferently. 'There was a little quiet
man who came up for orders about two o'clock.'

'But this was not a little man--a great powerful fellow; and it was past
four when he was here.'

'It was Mr. Thornton,' said Mr. Hale. They were glad to have drawn him
into the conversation.

'Mr. Thornton!' said Margaret, a little surprised. 'I thought---- '

'Well, little one, what did you think?' asked Frederick, as she did not
finish her sentence.

'Oh, only,' said she, reddening and looking straight at him, 'I fancied
you meant some one of a different class, not a gentleman; somebody come
on an errand.'

'He looked like some one of that kind,' said Frederick, carelessly. 'I
took him for a shopman, and he turns out a manufacturer.'

Margaret was silent. She remembered how at first, before she knew his
character, she had spoken and thought of him just as Frederick was
doing. It was but a natural impression that was made upon him, and yet
she was a little annoyed by it. She was unwilling to speak; she wanted
to make Frederick understand what kind of person Mr. Thornton was--but
she was tongue-tied.

Mr. Hale went on. 'He came to offer any assistance in his power, I
believe. But I could not see him. I told Dixon to ask him if he would
like to see you--I think I asked her to find you, and you would go to
him. I don't know what I said.'

'He has been a very agreeable acquaintance, has he not?' asked
Frederick, throwing the question like a ball for any one to catch who
chose.

'A very kind friend,' said Margaret, when her father did not answer.

Frederick was silent for a time. At last he spoke:

'Margaret, it is painful to think I can never thank those who have shown
you kindness. Your acquaintances and mine must be separate. Unless,
indeed, I run the chances of a court-martial, or unless you and my
father would come to Spain.' He threw out this last suggestion as a kind
of feeler; and then suddenly made the plunge. 'You don't know how I wish
you would. I have a good position--the chance of a better,' continued
he, reddening like a girl. 'That Dolores Barbour that I was telling you
of, Margaret--I only wish you knew her; I am sure you would like--no,
love is the right word, like is so poor--you would love her, father, if
you knew her. She is not eighteen; but if she is in the same mind
another year, she is to be my wife. Mr. Barbour won't let us call it an
engagement. But if you would come, you would find friends everywhere,
besides Dolores. Think of it, father. Margaret, be on my side.'

'No--no more removals for me,' said Mr. Hale. 'One removal has cost me
my wife. No more removals in this life. She will be here; and here will
I stay out my appointed time.'

'Oh, Frederick,' said Margaret, 'tell us more about her. I never thought
of this; but I am so glad. You will have some one to love and care for
you out there. Tell us all about it.'

'In the first place, she is a Roman Catholic. That's the only objection
I anticipated. But my father's change of opinion--nay, Margaret, don't
sigh.'

Margaret had reason to sigh a little more before the conversation ended.
Frederick himself was Roman Catholic in fact, though not in profession
as yet. This was, then, the reason why his sympathy in her extreme
distress at her father's leaving the Church had been so faintly
expressed in his letters. She had thought it was the carelessness of a
sailor; but the truth was, that even then he was himself inclined to
give up the form of religion into which he had been baptised, only that
his opinions were tending in exactly the opposite direction to those of
his father. How much love had to do with this change not even Frederick
himself could have told. Margaret gave up talking about this branch of
the subject at last; and, returning to the fact of the engagement, she
began to consider it in some fresh light:

'But for her sake, Fred, you surely will try and clear yourself of the
exaggerated charges brought against you, even if the charge of mutiny
itself be true. If there were to be a court-martial, and you could find
your witnesses, you might, at any rate, show how your disobedience to
authority was because that authority was unworthily exercised.'

Mr. Hale roused himself up to listen to his son's answer.

'In the first place, Margaret, who is to hunt up my witnesses? All of
them are sailors, drafted off to other ships, except those whose
evidence would go for very little, as they took part, or sympathised in
the affair. In the next place, allow me to tell you, you don't know what
a court-martial is, and consider it as an assembly where justice is
administered, instead of what it really is--a court where authority
weighs nine-tenths in the balance, and evidence forms only the other
tenth. In such cases, evidence itself can hardly escape being influenced
by the prestige of authority.'

'But is it not worth trying, to see how much evidence might be
discovered and arrayed on your behalf? At present, all those who knew
you formerly, believe you guilty without any shadow of excuse. You have
never tried to justify yourself, and we have never known where to seek
for proofs of your justification. Now, for Miss Barbour's sake, make
your conduct as clear as you can in the eye of the world. She may not
care for it; she has, I am sure, that trust in you that we all have; but
you ought not to let her ally herself to one under such a serious
charge, without showing the world exactly how it is you stand. You
disobeyed authority--that was bad; but to have stood by, without word or
act, while the authority was brutally used, would have been infinitely
worse. People know what you did; but not the motives that elevate it out
of a crime into an heroic protection of the weak. For Dolores' sake,
they ought to know.'

'But how must I make them know? I am not sufficiently sure of the purity
and justice of those who would be my judges, to give myself up to a
court-martial, even if I could bring a whole array of truth-speaking
witnesses. I can't send a bellman about, to cry aloud and proclaim in
the streets what you are pleased to call my heroism. No one would read a
pamphlet of self-justification so long after the deed, even if I put one
out.'

'Will you consult a lawyer as to your chances of exculpation?' asked
Margaret, looking up, and turning very red.

'I must first catch my lawyer, and have a look at him, and see how I
like him, before I make him into my confidant. Many a briefless
barrister might twist his conscience into thinking that he could earn a
hundred pounds very easily by doing a good action--in giving me, a
criminal, up to justice.'

'Nonsense, Frederick!--because I know a lawyer on whose honour I can
rely; of whose cleverness in his profession people speak very highly;
and who would, I think, take a good deal of trouble for any of--of Aunt
Shaw's relations. Mr. Henry Lennox, papa.'

'I think it is a good idea,' said Mr. Hale. 'But don't propose anything
which will detain Frederick in England. Don't, for your mother's sake.'

'You could go to London to-morrow evening by a night-train,' continued
Margaret, warming up into her plan. 'He must go to-morrow, I'm afraid,
papa,' said she, tenderly; 'we fixed that, because of Mr. Bell, and
Dixon's disagreeable acquaintance.'

'Yes; I must go to-morrow,' said Frederick decidedly.

Mr. Hale groaned. 'I can't bear to part with you, and yet I am miserable
with anxiety as long as you stop here.'

'Well then,' said Margaret, 'listen to my plan. He gets to London on
Friday morning. I will--you might--no! it would be better for me to give
him a note to Mr. Lennox. You will find him at his chambers in the
Temple.'

'I will write down a list of all the names I can remember on board the
Orion. I could leave it with him to ferret them out. He is Edith's
husband's brother, isn't he? I remember your naming him in your letters.
I have money in Barbour's hands. I can pay a pretty long bill, if there
is any chance of success. Money, dear father, that I had meant for a
different purpose; so I shall only consider it as borrowed from you and
Margaret.'

'Don't do that,' said Margaret. 'You won't risk it if you do. And it
will be a risk only it is worth trying. You can sail from London as well
as from Liverpool?'

'To be sure, little goose. Wherever I feel water heaving under a plank,
there I feel at home. I'll pick up some craft or other to take me off,
never fear. I won't stay twenty-four hours in London, away from you on
the one hand, and from somebody else on the other.'

It was rather a comfort to Margaret that Frederick took it into his head
to look over her shoulder as she wrote to Mr. Lennox. If she had not
been thus compelled to write steadily and concisely on, she might have
hesitated over many a word, and been puzzled to choose between many an
expression, in the awkwardness of being the first to resume the
intercourse of which the concluding event had been so unpleasant to both
sides. However, the note was taken from her before she had even had time
to look it over, and treasured up in a pocket-book, out of which fell a
long lock of black hair, the sight of which caused Frederick's eyes to
glow with pleasure.

'Now you would like to see that, wouldn't you?' said he. 'No! you must
wait till you see her herself. She is too perfect to be known by
fragments. No mean brick shall be a specimen of the building of my
palace.'



CHAPTER XXXII

MISCHANCES

    'What! remain to be
     Denounced--dragged, it may be, in chains.'
             WERNER.


All the next day they sate together--they three. Mr. Hale hardly ever
spoke but when his children asked him questions, and forced him, as it
were, into the present. Frederick's grief was no more to be seen or
heard; the first paroxysm had passed over, and now he was ashamed of
having been so battered down by emotion; and though his sorrow for the
loss of his mother was a deep real feeling, and would last out his life,
it was never to be spoken of again. Margaret, not so passionate at
first, was more suffering now. At times she cried a good deal; and her
manner, even when speaking on indifferent things, had a mournful
tenderness about it, which was deepened whenever her looks fell on
Frederick, and she thought of his rapidly approaching departure. She was
glad he was going, on her father's account, however much she might
grieve over it on her own. The anxious terror in which Mr. Hale lived
lest his son should be detected and captured, far out-weighed the
pleasure he derived from his presence. The nervousness had increased
since Mrs. Hale's death, probably because he dwelt upon it more
exclusively. He started at every unusual sound; and was never
comfortable unless Frederick sate out of the immediate view of any one
entering the room. Towards evening he said:

'You will go with Frederick to the station, Margaret? I shall want to
know he is safely off. You will bring me word that he is clear of
Milton, at any rate?'

'Certainly,' said Margaret. 'I shall like it, if you won't be lonely
without me, papa.'

'No, no! I should always be fancying some one had known him, and that he
had been stopped, unless you could tell me you had seen him off. And go
to the Outwood station. It is quite as near, and not so many people
about. Take a cab there. There is less risk of his being seen. What time
is your train, Fred?'

'Ten minutes past six; very nearly dark. So what will you do, Margaret?'

'Oh, I can manage. I am getting very brave and very hard. It is a
well-lighted road all the way home, if it should be dark. But I was out
last week much later.'

Margaret was thankful when the parting was over--the parting from the
dead mother and the living father. She hurried Frederick into the cab,
in order to shorten a scene which she saw was so bitterly painful to her
father, who would accompany his son as he took his last look at his
mother. Partly in consequence of this, and partly owing to one of the
very common mistakes in the 'Railway Guide' as to the times when trains
arrive at the smaller stations, they found, on reaching Outwood, that
they had nearly twenty minutes to spare. The booking-office was not
open, so they could not even take the ticket. They accordingly went down
the flight of steps that led to the level of the ground below the
railway. There was a broad cinder-path diagonally crossing a field which
lay along-side of the carriage-road, and they went there to walk
backwards and forwards for the few minutes they had to spare.

Margaret's hand lay in Frederick's arm. He took hold of it
affectionately.

'Margaret! I am going to consult Mr. Lennox as to the chance of
exculpating myself, so that I may return to England whenever I choose,
more for your sake than for the sake of any one else. I can't bear to
think of your lonely position if anything should happen to my father. He
looks sadly changed--terribly shaken. I wish you could get him to think
of the Cadiz plan, for many reasons. What could you do if he were taken
away? You have no friend near. We are curiously bare of relations.'

Margaret could hardly keep from crying at the tender anxiety with which
Frederick was bringing before her an event which she herself felt was
not very improbable, so severely had the cares of the last few months
told upon Mr. Hale. But she tried to rally as she said:

'There have been such strange unexpected changes in my life during these
last two years, that I feel more than ever that it is not worth while to
calculate too closely what I should do if any future event took place. I
try to think only upon the present.' She paused; they were standing
still for a moment, close on the field side of the stile leading into
the road; the setting sun fell on their faces. Frederick held her hand
in his, and looked with wistful anxiety into her face, reading there
more care and trouble than she would betray by words. She went on:

'We shall write often to one another, and I will promise--for I see it
will set your mind at ease--to tell you every worry I have. Papa
is'--she started a little, a hardly visible start--but Frederick felt
the sudden motion of the hand he held, and turned his full face to the
road, along which a horseman was slowly riding, just passing the very
stile where they stood. Margaret bowed; her bow was stiffly returned.

'Who is that?' said Frederick, almost before he was out of hearing.
Margaret was a little drooping, a little flushed, as she replied:

'Mr. Thornton; you saw him before, you know.'

'Only his back. He is an unprepossessing-looking fellow. What a scowl he
has!'

'Something has happened to vex him,' said Margaret, apologetically. 'You
would not have thought him unprepossessing if you had seen him with
mamma.'

'I fancy it must be time to go and take my ticket. If I had known how
dark it would be, we wouldn't have sent back the cab, Margaret.'

'Oh, don't fidget about that. I can take a cab here, if I like; or go
back by the rail-road, when I should have shops and people and lamps all
the way from the Milton station-house. Don't think of me; take care of
yourself. I am sick with the thought that Leonards may be in the same
train with you. Look well into the carriage before you get in.'

They went back to the station. Margaret insisted upon going into the
full light of the flaring gas inside to take the ticket. Some
idle-looking young men were lounging about with the stationmaster.
Margaret thought she had seen the face of one of them before, and
returned him a proud look of offended dignity for his somewhat
impertinent stare of undisguised admiration. She went hastily to her
brother, who was standing outside, and took hold of his arm. 'Have you
got your bag? Let us walk about here on the platform,' said she, a
little flurried at the idea of so soon being left alone, and her bravery
oozing out rather faster than she liked to acknowledge even to herself.
She heard a step following them along the flags; it stopped when they
stopped, looking out along the line and hearing the whizz of the coming
train. They did not speak; their hearts were too full. Another moment,
and the train would be here; a minute more, and he would be gone.
Margaret almost repented the urgency with which she had entreated him to
go to London; it was throwing more chances of detection in his way. If
he had sailed for Spain by Liverpool, he might have been off in two or
three hours.

Frederick turned round, right facing the lamp, where the gas darted up
in vivid anticipation of the train. A man in the dress of a railway
porter started forward; a bad-looking man, who seemed to have drunk
himself into a state of brutality, although his senses were in perfect
order.

'By your leave, miss!' said he, pushing Margaret rudely on one side, and
seizing Frederick by the collar.

'Your name is Hale, I believe?'

In an instant--how, Margaret did not see, for everything danced before
her eyes--but by some sleight of wrestling, Frederick had tripped him
up, and he fell from the height of three or four feet, which the
platform was elevated above the space of soft ground, by the side of the
railroad. There he lay.

'Run, run!' gasped Margaret. 'The train is here. It was Leonards, was
it? oh, run! I will carry your bag.' And she took him by the arm to push
him along with all her feeble force. A door was opened in a carriage--he
jumped in; and as he leant out to say, 'God bless you, Margaret!' the
train rushed past her; an she was left standing alone. She was so
terribly sick and faint that she was thankful to be able to turn into
the ladies' waiting-room, and sit down for an instant. At first she
could do nothing but gasp for breath. It was such a hurry; such a
sickening alarm; such a near chance. If the train had not been there at
the moment, the man would have jumped up again and called for assistance
to arrest him. She wondered if the man had got up: she tried to remember
if she had seen him move; she wondered if he could have been seriously
hurt. She ventured out; the platform was all alight, but still quite
deserted; she went to the end, and looked over, somewhat fearfully. No
one was there; and then she was glad she had made herself go, and
inspect, for otherwise terrible thoughts would have haunted her dreams.
And even as it was, she was so trembling and affrighted that she felt
she could not walk home along the road, which did indeed seem lonely and
dark, as she gazed down upon it from the blaze of the station. She would
wait till the down train passed and take her seat in it. But what if
Leonards recognised her as Frederick's companion! She peered about,
before venturing into the booking-office to take her ticket. There were
only some railway officials standing about; and talking loud to one
another.

'So Leonards has been drinking again!' said one, seemingly in authority.
'He'll need all his boasted influence to keep his place this time.'

'Where is he?' asked another, while Margaret, her back towards them, was
counting her change with trembling fingers, not daring to turn round
until she heard the answer to this question.

'I don't know. He came in not five minutes ago, with some long story or
other about a fall he'd had, swearing awfully; and wanted to borrow some
money from me to go to London by the next up-train. He made all sorts of
tipsy promises, but I'd something else to do than listen to him; I told
him to go about his business; and he went off at the front door.'

'He's at the nearest vaults, I'll be bound,' said the first speaker.
'Your money would have gone there too, if you'd been such a fool as to
lend it.'

'Catch me! I knew better what his London meant. Why, he has never paid
me off that five shillings'--and so they went on.

And now all Margaret's anxiety was for the train to come. She hid
herself once more in the ladies' waiting-room, and fancied every noise
was Leonards' step--every loud and boisterous voice was his. But no one
came near her until the train drew up; when she was civilly helped into
a carriage by a porter, into whose face she durst not look till they
were in motion, and then she saw that it was not Leonards'.



CHAPTER XXXIII

PEACE

    'Sleep on, my love, in thy cold bed,
     Never to be disquieted!
     My last Good Night--thou wilt not wake
     Till I thy fate shall overtake.'
             DR. KING.


Home seemed unnaturally quiet after all this terror and noisy commotion.
Her father had seen all due preparation made for her refreshment on her
return; and then sate down again in his accustomed chair, to fall into
one of his sad waking dreams. Dixon had got Mary Higgins to scold and
direct in the kitchen; and her scolding was not the less energetic
because it was delivered in an angry whisper; for, speaking above her
breath she would have thought irreverent, as long as there was any one
dead lying in the house. Margaret had resolved not to mention the
crowning and closing affright to her father. There was no use in
speaking about it; it had ended well; the only thing to be feared was
lest Leonards should in some way borrow money enough to effect his
purpose of following Frederick to London, and hunting him out there. But
there were immense chances against the success of any such plan; and
Margaret determined not to torment herself by thinking of what she could
do nothing to prevent. Frederick would be as much on his guard as she
could put him; and in a day or two at most he would be safely out of
England.

'I suppose we shall hear from Mr. Bell to-morrow,' said Margaret.

'Yes,' replied her father. 'I suppose so.'

'If he can come, he will be here to-morrow evening, I should think.'

'If he cannot come, I shall ask Mr. Thornton to go with me to the
funeral. I cannot go alone. I should break down utterly.'

'Don't ask Mr. Thornton, papa. Let me go with you,' said Margaret,
impetuously.

'You! My dear, women do not generally go.'

'No: because they can't control themselves. Women of our class don't go,
because they have no power over their emotions, and yet are ashamed of
showing them. Poor women go, and don't care if they are seen overwhelmed
with grief. But I promise you, papa, that if you will let me go, I will
be no trouble. Don't have a stranger, and leave me out. Dear papa! if
Mr. Bell cannot come, I shall go. I won't urge my wish against your
will, if he does.'

Mr. Bell could not come. He had the gout. It was a most affectionate
letter, and expressed great and true regret for his inability to attend.
He hoped to come and pay them a visit soon, if they would have him; his
Milton property required some looking after, and his agent had written
to him to say that his presence was absolutely necessary; or else he had
avoided coming near Milton as long as he could, and now the only thing
that would reconcile him to this necessary visit was the idea that he
should see, and might possibly be able to comfort his old friend.

Margaret had all the difficulty in the world to persuade her father not
to invite Mr. Thornton. She had an indescribable repugnance to this step
being taken. The night before the funeral, came a stately note from Mrs.
Thornton to Miss Hale, saying that, at her son's desire, their carriage
should attend the funeral, if it would not be disagreeable to the
family. Margaret tossed the note to her father.

'Oh, don't let us have these forms,' said she. 'Let us go alone--you and
me, papa. They don't care for us, or else he would have offered to go
himself, and not have proposed this sending an empty carriage.'

'I thought you were so extremely averse to his going, Margaret,' said
Mr. Hale in some surprise.

'And so I am. I don't want him to come at all; and I should especially
dislike the idea of our asking him. But this seems such a mockery of
mourning that I did not expect it from him.' She startled her father by
bursting into tears. She had been so subdued in her grief, so thoughtful
for others, so gentle and patient in all things, that he could not
understand her impatient ways to-night; she seemed agitated and
restless; and at all the tenderness which her father in his turn now
lavished upon her, she only cried the more.

She passed so bad a night that she was ill prepared for the additional
anxiety caused by a letter received from Frederick. Mr. Lennox was out
of town; his clerk said that he would return by the following Tuesday at
the latest; that he might possibly be at home on Monday. Consequently,
after some consideration, Frederick had determined upon remaining in
London a day or two longer. He had thought of coming down to Milton
again; the temptation had been very strong; but the idea of Mr. Bell
domesticated in his father's house, and the alarm he had received at the
last moment at the railway station, had made him resolve to stay in
London. Margaret might be assured he would take every precaution against
being tracked by Leonards. Margaret was thankful that she received this
letter while her father was absent in her mother's room. If he had been
present, he would have expected her to read it aloud to him, and it
would have raised in him a state of nervous alarm which she would have
found it impossible to soothe away. There was not merely the fact, which
disturbed her excessively, of Frederick's detention in London, but there
were allusions to the recognition at the last moment at Milton, and the
possibility of a pursuit, which made her blood run cold; and how then
would it have affected her father? Many a time did Margaret repent of
having suggested and urged on the plan of consulting Mr. Lennox. At the
moment, it had seemed as if it would occasion so little delay--add so
little to the apparently small chances of detection; and yet everything
that had since occurred had tended to make it so undesirable. Margaret
battled hard against this regret of hers for what could not now be
helped; this self-reproach for having said what had at the time appeared
to be wise, but which after events were proving to have been so foolish.
But her father was in too depressed a state of mind and body to struggle
healthily; he would succumb to all these causes for morbid regret over
what could not be recalled. Margaret summoned up all her forces to her
aid. Her father seemed to have forgotten that they had any reason to
expect a letter from Frederick that morning. He was absorbed in one
idea--that the last visible token of the presence of his wife was to be
carried away from him, and hidden from his sight. He trembled pitifully
as the undertaker's man was arranging his crape draperies around him. He
looked wistfully at Margaret; and, when released, he tottered towards
her, murmuring, 'Pray for me, Margaret. I have no strength left in me. I
cannot pray. I give her up because I must. I try to bear it: indeed I
do. I know it is God's will. But I cannot see why she died. Pray for me,
Margaret, that I may have faith to pray. It is a great strait, my
child.'

Margaret sat by him in the coach, almost supporting him in her arms; and
repeating all the noble verses of holy comfort, or texts expressive of
faithful resignation, that she could remember. Her voice never faltered;
and she herself gained strength by doing this. Her father's lips moved
after her, repeating the well-known texts as her words suggested them;
it was terrible to see the patient struggling effort to obtain the
resignation which he had not strength to take into his heart as a part
of himself.

Margaret's fortitude nearly gave way as Dixon, with a slight motion of
her hand, directed her notice to Nicholas Higgins and his daughter,
standing a little aloof, but deeply attentive to the ceremonial.
Nicholas wore his usual fustian clothes, but had a bit of black stuff
sewn round his hat--a mark of mourning which he had never shown to his
daughter Bessy's memory. But Mr. Hale saw nothing. He went on repeating
to himself, mechanically as it were, all the funeral service as it was
read by the officiating clergyman; he sighed twice or thrice when all
was ended; and then, putting his hand on Margaret's arm, he mutely
entreated to be led away, as if he were blind, and she his faithful
guide.

Dixon sobbed aloud; she covered her face with her handkerchief, and was
so absorbed in her own grief, that she did not perceive that the crowd,
attracted on such occasions, was dispersing, till she was spoken to by
some one close at hand. It was Mr. Thornton. He had been present all the
time, standing, with bent head, behind a group of people, so that, in
fact, no one had recognised him.

'I beg your pardon,--but, can you tell me how Mr. Hale is? And Miss
Hale, too? I should like to know how they both are.'

'Of course, sir. They are much as is to be expected. Master is terribly
broke down. Miss Hale bears up better than likely.'

Mr. Thornton would rather have heard that she was suffering the natural
sorrow. In the first place, there was selfishness enough in him to have
taken pleasure in the idea that his great love might come in to comfort
and console her; much the same kind of strange passionate pleasure which
comes stinging through a mother's heart, when her drooping infant
nestles close to her, and is dependent upon her for everything. But this
delicious vision of what might have been--in which, in spite of all
Margaret's repulse, he would have indulged only a few days ago--was
miserably disturbed by the recollection of what he had seen near the
Outwood station. 'Miserably disturbed!' that is not strong enough. He
was haunted by the remembrance of the handsome young man, with whom she
stood in an attitude of such familiar confidence; and the remembrance
shot through him like an agony, till it made him clench his hands tight
in order to subdue the pain. At that late hour, so far from home! It
took a great moral effort to galvanise his trust--erewhile so
perfect--in Margaret's pure and exquisite maidenliness, into life; as
soon as the effort ceased, his trust dropped down dead and powerless:
and all sorts of wild fancies chased each other like dreams through his
mind. Here was a little piece of miserable, gnawing confirmation. 'She
bore up better than likely' under this grief. She had then some hope to
look to, so bright that even in her affectionate nature it could come in
to lighten the dark hours of a daughter newly made motherless. Yes! he
knew how she would love. He had not loved her without gaining that
instinctive knowledge of what capabilities were in her. Her soul would
walk in glorious sunlight if any man was worthy, by his power of loving,
to win back her love. Even in her mourning she would rest with a
peaceful faith upon his sympathy. His sympathy! Whose? That other man's.
And that it was another was enough to make Mr. Thornton's pale grave
face grow doubly wan and stern at Dixon's answer.

'I suppose I may call,' said he coldly. 'On Mr. Hale, I mean. He will
perhaps admit me after to-morrow or so.'

He spoke as if the answer were a matter of indifference to him. But it
was not so. For all his pain, he longed to see the author of it.
Although he hated Margaret at times, when he thought of that gentle
familiar attitude and all the attendant circumstances, he had a restless
desire to renew her picture in his mind--a longing for the very
atmosphere she breathed. He was in the Charybdis of passion, and must
perforce circle and circle ever nearer round the fatal centre.

'I dare say, sir, master will see you. He was very sorry to have to deny
you the other day; but circumstances was not agreeable just then.'

For some reason or other, Dixon never named this interview that she had
had with Mr. Thornton to Margaret. It might have been mere chance, but
so it was that Margaret never heard that he had attended her poor
mother's funeral.



CHAPTER XXXIV

FALSE AND TRUE

    'Truth will fail thee never, never!
     Though thy bark be tempest-driven,
     Though each plank be rent and riven,
     Truth will bear thee on for ever!'
             ANON.


The 'bearing up better than likely' was a terrible strain upon Margaret.
Sometimes she thought she must give way, and cry out with pain, as the
sudden sharp thought came across her, even during her apparently
cheerful conversations with her father, that she had no longer a mother.
About Frederick, too, there was great uneasiness. The Sunday post
intervened, and interfered with their London letters; and on Tuesday
Margaret was surprised and disheartened to find that there was still no
letter. She was quite in the dark as to his plans, and her father was
miserable at all this uncertainty. It broke in upon his lately acquired
habit of sitting still in one easy chair for half a day together. He
kept pacing up and down the room; then out of it; and she heard him upon
the landing opening and shutting the bed-room doors, without any
apparent object. She tried to tranquillise him by reading aloud; but it
was evident he could not listen for long together. How thankful she was
then, that she had kept to herself the additional cause for anxiety
produced by their encounter with Leonards. She was thankful to hear Mr.
Thornton announced. His visit would force her father's thoughts into
another channel.

He came up straight to her father, whose hands he took and wrung without
a word--holding them in his for a minute or two, during which time his
face, his eyes, his look, told of more sympathy than could be put into
words. Then he turned to Margaret. Not 'better than likely' did she
look. Her stately beauty was dimmed with much watching and with many
tears. The expression on her countenance was of gentle patient
sadness--nay of positive present suffering. He had not meant to greet
her otherwise than with his late studied coldness of demeanour; but he
could not help going up to her, as she stood a little aside, rendered
timid by the uncertainty of his manner of late, and saying the few
necessary common-place words in so tender a voice, that her eyes filled
with tears, and she turned away to hide her emotion. She took her work
and sate down very quiet and silent. Mr. Thornton's heart beat quick and
strong, and for the time he utterly forgot the Outwood lane. He tried to
talk to Mr. Hale: and--his presence always a certain kind of pleasure to
Mr. Hale, as his power and decision made him, and his opinions, a safe,
sure port--was unusually agreeable to her father, as Margaret saw.

Presently Dixon came to the door and said, 'Miss Hale, you are wanted.'

Dixon's manner was so flurried that Margaret turned sick at heart.
Something had happened to Fred. She had no doubt of that. It was well
that her father and Mr. Thornton were so much occupied by their
conversation.

'What is it, Dixon?' asked Margaret, the moment she had shut the
drawing-room door.

'Come this way, miss,' said Dixon, opening the door of what had been
Mrs. Hale's bed-chamber, now Margaret's, for her father refused to sleep
there again after his wife's death. 'It's nothing, miss,' said Dixon,
choking a little. 'Only a police-inspector. He wants to see you, miss.
But I dare say, it's about nothing at all.'

'Did he name--' asked Margaret, almost inaudibly.

'No, miss; he named nothing. He only asked if you lived here, and if he
could speak to you. Martha went to the door, and let him in; she has
shown him into master's study. I went to him myself, to try if that
would do; but no--it's you, miss, he wants.'

Margaret did not speak again till her hand was on the lock of the study
door. Here she turned round and said, 'Take care papa does not come
down. Mr. Thornton is with him now.'

The inspector was almost daunted by the haughtiness of her manner as she
entered. There was something of indignation expressed in her
countenance, but so kept down and controlled, that it gave her a superb
air of disdain. There was no surprise, no curiosity. She stood awaiting
the opening of his business there. Not a question did she ask.

'I beg your pardon, ma'am, but my duty obliges me to ask you a few plain
questions. A man has died at the Infirmary, in consequence of a fall,
received at Outwood station, between the hours of five and six on
Thursday evening, the twenty-sixth instant. At the time, this fall did
not seem of much consequence; but it was rendered fatal, the doctors
say, by the presence of some internal complaint, and the man's own habit
of drinking.'

The large dark eyes, gazing straight into the inspector's face, dilated
a little. Otherwise there was no motion perceptible to his experienced
observation. Her lips swelled out into a richer curve than ordinary,
owing to the enforced tension of the muscles, but he did not know what
was their usual appearance, so as to recognise the unwonted sullen
defiance of the firm sweeping lines. She never blenched or trembled. She
fixed him with her eye. Now--as he paused before going on, she said,
almost as if she would encourage him in telling his tale--'Well--go on!'

'It is supposed that an inquest will have to be held; there is some
slight evidence to prove that the blow, or push, or scuffle that caused
the fall, was provoked by this poor fellow's half-tipsy impertinence to
a young lady, walking with the man who pushed the deceased over the edge
of the platform. This much was observed by some one on the platform,
who, however, thought no more about the matter, as the blow seemed of
slight consequence. There is also some reason to identify the lady with
yourself; in which case--'

'I was not there,' said Margaret, still keeping her expressionless eyes
fixed on his face, with the unconscious look of a sleep-walker.

The inspector bowed but did not speak. The lady standing before him
showed no emotion, no fluttering fear, no anxiety, no desire to end the
interview. The information he had received was very vague; one of the
porters, rushing out to be in readiness for the train, had seen a
scuffle, at the other end of the platform, between Leonards and a
gentleman accompanied by a lady, but heard no noise; and before the
train had got to its full speed after starting, he had been almost
knocked down by the headlong run of the enraged half intoxicated
Leonards, swearing and cursing awfully. He had not thought any more
about it, till his evidence was routed out by the inspector, who, on
making some farther inquiry at the railroad station, had heard from the
station-master that a young lady and gentleman had been there about that
hour--the lady remarkably handsome--and said, by some grocer's assistant
present at the time, to be a Miss Hale, living at Crampton, whose family
dealt at his shop. There was no certainty that the one lady and
gentleman were identical with the other pair, but there was great
probability. Leonards himself had gone, half-mad with rage and pain, to
the nearest gin-palace for comfort; and his tipsy words had not been
attended to by the busy waiters there; they, however, remembered his
starting up and cursing himself for not having sooner thought of the
electric telegraph, for some purpose unknown; and they believed that he
left with the idea of going there. On his way, overcome by pain or
drink, he had lain down in the road, where the police had found him and
taken him to the Infirmary: there he had never recovered sufficient
consciousness to give any distinct account of his fall, although once or
twice he had had glimmerings of sense sufficient to make the authorities
send for the nearest magistrate, in hopes that he might be able to take
down the dying man's deposition of the cause of his death. But when the
magistrate had come, he was rambling about being at sea, and mixing up
names of captains and lieutenants in an indistinct manner with those of
his fellow porters at the railway; and his last words were a curse on
the 'Cornish trick' which had, he said, made him a hundred pounds poorer
than he ought to have been. The inspector ran all this over in his
mind--the vagueness of the evidence to prove that Margaret had been at
the station--the unflinching, calm denial which she gave to such a
supposition. She stood awaiting his next word with a composure that
appeared supreme.

'Then, madam, I have your denial that you were the lady accompanying the
gentleman who struck the blow, or gave the push, which caused the death
of this poor man?'

A quick, sharp pain went through Margaret's brain. 'Oh God! that I knew
Frederick were safe!' A deep observer of human countenances might have
seen the momentary agony shoot out of her great gloomy eyes, like the
torture of some creature brought to bay. But the inspector though a very
keen, was not a very deep observer. He was a little struck,
notwithstanding, by the form of the answer, which sounded like a
mechanical repetition of her first reply--not changed and modified in
shape so as to meet his last question.

'I was not there,' said she, slowly and heavily. And all this time she
never closed her eyes, or ceased from that glassy, dream-like stare. His
quick suspicions were aroused by this dull echo of her former denial. It
was as if she had forced herself to one untruth, and had been stunned
out of all power of varying it.

He put up his book of notes in a very deliberate manner. Then he looked
up; she had not moved any more than if she had been some great Egyptian
statue.

'I hope you will not think me impertinent when I say, that I may have to
call on you again. I may have to summon you to appear on the inquest,
and prove an alibi, if my witnesses' (it was but one who had recognised
her) 'persist in deposing to your presence at the unfortunate event.' He
looked at her sharply. She was still perfectly quiet--no change of
colour, or darker shadow of guilt, on her proud face. He thought to have
seen her wince: he did not know Margaret Hale. He was a little abashed
by her regal composure. It must have been a mistake of identity. He went
on:

'It is very unlikely, ma'am, that I shall have to do anything of the
kind. I hope you will excuse me for doing what is only my duty, although
it may appear impertinent.'

Margaret bowed her head as he went towards the door. Her lips were stiff
and dry. She could not speak even the common words of farewell. But
suddenly she walked forwards, and opened the study door, and preceded
him to the door of the house, which she threw wide open for his exit.
She kept her eyes upon him in the same dull, fixed manner, until he was
fairly out of the house. She shut the door, and went half-way into the
study; then turned back, as if moved by some passionate impulse, and
locked the door inside.

Then she went into the study, paused--tottered forward--paused
again--swayed for an instant where she stood, and fell prone on the
floor in a dead swoon.



CHAPTER XXXV

EXPIATION

    'There's nought so finely spun
     But it cometh to the sun.'


Mr. Thornton sate on and on. He felt that his company gave pleasure to
Mr. Hale; and was touched by the half-spoken wishful entreaty that he
would remain a little longer--the plaintive 'Don't go yet,' which his
poor friend put forth from time to time. He wondered Margaret did not
return; but it was with no view of seeing her that he lingered. For the
hour--and in the presence of one who was so thoroughly feeling the
nothingness of earth--he was reasonable and self-controlled. He was
deeply interested in all her father said,

    'Of death, and of the heavy lull,
     And of the brain that has grown dull.'

It was curious how the presence of Mr. Thornton had power over Mr. Hale
to make him unlock the secret thoughts which he kept shut up even from
Margaret. Whether it was that her sympathy would be so keen, and show
itself in so lively a manner, that he was afraid of the reaction upon
himself, or whether it was that to his speculative mind all kinds of
doubts presented themselves at such a time, pleading and crying aloud to
be resolved into certainties, and that he knew she would have shrunk
from the expression of any such doubts--nay, from him himself as capable
of conceiving them--whatever was the reason, he could unburden himself
better to Mr. Thornton than to her of all the thoughts and fancies and
fears that had been frost-bound in his brain till now. Mr. Thornton said
very little; but every sentence he uttered added to Mr. Hale's reliance
and regard for him. Was it that he paused in the expression of some
remembered agony, Mr. Thornton's two or three words would complete the
sentence, and show how deeply its meaning was entered into. Was it a
doubt--a fear--a wandering uncertainty seeking rest, but finding
none--so tear-blinded were its eyes--Mr. Thornton, instead of being
shocked, seemed to have passed through that very stage of thought
himself, and could suggest where the exact ray of light was to be found,
which should make the dark places plain. Man of action as he was, busy
in the world's great battle, there was a deeper religion binding him to
God in his heart, in spite of his strong wilfulness, through all his
mistakes, than Mr. Hale had ever dreamed. They never spoke of such
things again, as it happened; but this one conversation made them
peculiar people to each other; knit them together, in a way which no
loose indiscriminate talking about sacred things can ever accomplish.
When all are admitted, how can there be a Holy of Holies?

And all this while, Margaret lay as still and white as death on the
study floor! She had sunk under her burden. It had been heavy in weight
and long carried; and she had been very meek and patient, till all at
once her faith had given way, and she had groped in vain for help! There
was a pitiful contraction of suffering upon her beautiful brows,
although there was no other sign of consciousness remaining. The
mouth--a little while ago, so sullenly projected in defiance--was
relaxed and livid.

    'E par che de la sua labbia si mova
     Uno spirto soave e pien d'amore,
     Chi va dicendo a l'anima: sospira!'

The first symptom of returning life was a quivering about the lips--a
little mute soundless attempt at speech; but the eyes were still closed;
and the quivering sank into stillness. Then, feebly leaning on her arms
for an instant to steady herself, Margaret gathered herself up, and
rose. Her comb had fallen out of her hair; and with an intuitive desire
to efface the traces of weakness, and bring herself into order again,
she sought for it, although from time to time, in the course of the
search, she had to sit down and recover strength. Her head drooped
forwards--her hands meekly laid one upon the other--she tried to recall
the force of her temptation, by endeavouring to remember the details
which had thrown her into such deadly fright; but she could not. She
only understood two facts--that Frederick had been in danger of being
pursued and detected in London, as not only guilty of manslaughter, but
as the more unpardonable leader of the mutiny, and that she had lied to
save him. There was one comfort; her lie had saved him, if only by
gaining some additional time. If the inspector came again to-morrow,
after she had received the letter she longed for to assure her of her
brother's safety, she would brave shame, and stand in her bitter
penance--she, the lofty Margaret--acknowledging before a crowded
justice-room, if need were, that she had been as 'a dog, and done this
thing.' But if he came before she heard from Frederick; if he returned,
as he had half threatened, in a few hours, why! she would tell that lie
again; though how the words would come out, after all this terrible
pause for reflection and self-reproach, without betraying her falsehood,
she did not know, she could not tell. But her repetition of it would
gain time--time for Frederick.

She was roused by Dixon's entrance into the room; she had just been
letting out Mr. Thornton.

He had hardly gone ten steps in the street, before a passing omnibus
stopped close by him, and a man got down, and came up to him, touching
his hat as he did so. It was the police-inspector.

Mr. Thornton had obtained for him his first situation in the police, and
had heard from time to time of the progress of his protege, but they had
not often met, and at first Mr. Thornton did not remember him.

'My name is Watson--George Watson, sir, that you got---- '

'Ah, yes! I recollect. Why you are getting on famously, I hear.'

'Yes, sir. I ought to thank you, sir. But it is on a little matter of
business I made so bold as to speak to you now. I believe you were the
magistrate who attended to take down the deposition of a poor man who
died in the Infirmary last night.'

'Yes,' replied Mr. Thornton. 'I went and heard some kind of a rambling
statement, which the clerk said was of no great use. I'm afraid he was
but a drunken fellow, though there is no doubt he came to his death by
violence at last. One of my mother's servants was engaged to him, I
believe, and she is in great distress to-day. What about him?'

'Why, sir, his death is oddly mixed up with somebody in the house I saw
you coming out of just now; it was a Mr. Hale's, I believe.'

'Yes!' said Mr. Thornton, turning sharp round and looking into the
inspector's face with sudden interest. 'What about it?'

'Why, sir, it seems to me that I have got a pretty distinct chain of
evidence, inculpating a gentleman who was walking with Miss Hale that
night at the Outwood station, as the man who struck or pushed Leonards
off the platform and so caused his death. But the young lady denies that
she was there at the time.'

'Miss Hale denies she was there!' repeated Mr. Thornton, in an altered
voice. 'Tell me, what evening was it? What time?'

'About six o'clock, on the evening of Thursday, the twenty-sixth.'

They walked on, side by side, in silence for a minute or two. The
inspector was the first to speak.

'You see, sir, there is like to be a coroner's inquest; and I've got a
young man who is pretty positive,--at least he was at first;--since he
has heard of the young lady's denial, he says he should not like to
swear; but still he's pretty positive that he saw Miss Hale at the
station, walking about with a gentleman, not five minutes before the
time, when one of the porters saw a scuffle, which he set down to some
of Leonards' impudence--but which led to the fall which caused his
death. And seeing you come out of the very house, sir, I thought I might
make bold to ask if--you see, it's always awkward having to do with
cases of disputed identity, and one doesn't like to doubt the word of a
respectable young woman unless one has strong proof to the contrary.'

'And she denied having been at the station that evening!' repeated Mr.
Thornton, in a low, brooding tone.

'Yes, sir, twice over, as distinct as could be. I told her I should call
again, but seeing you just as I was on my way back from questioning the
young man who said it was her, I thought I would ask your advice, both
as the magistrate who saw Leonards on his death-bed, and as the
gentleman who got me my berth in the force.'

'You were quite right,' said Mr. Thornton. 'Don't take any steps till
you have seen me again.'

'The young lady will expect me to call, from what I said.'

'I only want to delay you an hour. It's now three. Come to my warehouse
at four.'

'Very well, sir!'

And they parted company. Mr. Thornton hurried to his warehouse, and,
sternly forbidding his clerks to allow any one to interrupt him, he went
his way to his own private room, and locked the door. Then he indulged
himself in the torture of thinking it all over, and realising every
detail. How could he have lulled himself into the unsuspicious calm in
which her tearful image had mirrored itself not two hours before, till
he had weakly pitied her and yearned towards her, and forgotten the
savage, distrustful jealousy with which the sight of her--and that
unknown to him--at such an hour--in such a place--had inspired him! How
could one so pure have stooped from her decorous and noble manner of
bearing! But was it decorous--was it? He hated himself for the idea that
forced itself upon him, just for an instant--no more--and yet, while it
was present, thrilled him with its old potency of attraction towards her
image. And then this falsehood--how terrible must be some dread of shame
to be revealed--for, after all, the provocation given by such a man as
Leonards was, when excited by drinking, might, in all probability, be
more than enough to justify any one who came forward to state the
circumstances openly and without reserve! How creeping and deadly that
fear which could bow down the truthful Margaret to falsehood! He could
almost pity her. What would be the end of it? She could not have
considered all she was entering upon; if there was an inquest and the
young man came forward. Suddenly he started up. There should be no
inquest. He would save Margaret. He would take the responsibility of
preventing the inquest, the issue of which, from the uncertainty of the
medical testimony (which he had vaguely heard the night before, from the
surgeon in attendance), could be but doubtful; the doctors had
discovered an internal disease far advanced, and sure to prove fatal;
they had stated that death might have been accelerated by the fall, or
by the subsequent drinking and exposure to cold. If he had but known how
Margaret would have become involved in the affair--if he had but
foreseen that she would have stained her whiteness by a falsehood, he
could have saved her by a word; for the question, of inquest or no
inquest, had hung trembling in the balance only the night before. Miss
Hale might love another--was indifferent and contemptuous to him--but he
would yet do her faithful acts of service of which she should never
know. He might despise her, but the woman whom he had once loved should
be kept from shame; and shame it would be to pledge herself to a lie in
a public court, or otherwise to stand and acknowledge her reason for
desiring darkness rather than light.

Very gray and stern did Mr. Thornton look, as he passed out through his
wondering clerks. He was away about half an hour; and scarcely less
stern did he look when he returned, although his errand had been
successful.

He wrote two lines on a slip of paper, put it in an envelope, and sealed
it up. This he gave to one of the clerks, saying:--

'I appointed Watson--he who was a packer in the warehouse, and who went
into the police--to call on me at four o'clock. I have just met with a
gentleman from Liverpool who wishes to see me before he leaves town.
Take care to give this note to Watson he calls.'

The note contained these words:

'There will be no inquest. Medical evidence not sufficient to justify
it. Take no further steps. I have not seen the coroner; but I will take
the responsibility.'

'Well,' thought Watson, 'it relieves me from an awkward job. None of my
witnesses seemed certain of anything except the young woman. She was
clear and distinct enough; the porter at the rail-road had seen a
scuffle; or when he found it was likely to bring him in as a witness,
then it might not have been a scuffle, only a little larking, and
Leonards might have jumped off the platform himself;--he would not stick
firm to anything. And Jennings, the grocer's shopman,--well, he was not
quite so bad, but I doubt if I could have got him up to an oath after he
heard that Miss Hale flatly denied it. It would have been a troublesome
job and no satisfaction. And now I must go and tell them they won't be
wanted.'

He accordingly presented himself again at Mr. Hale's that evening. Her
father and Dixon would fain have persuaded Margaret to go to bed; but
they, neither of them, knew the reason for her low continued refusals to
do so. Dixon had learnt part of the truth--but only part. Margaret would
not tell any human being of what she had said, and she did not reveal
the fatal termination to Leonards' fall from the platform. So Dixon
curiosity combined with her allegiance to urge Margaret to go to rest,
which her appearance, as she lay on the sofa, showed but too clearly
that she required. She did not speak except when spoken to; she tried to
smile back in reply to her father's anxious looks and words of tender
enquiry; but, instead of a smile, the wan lips resolved themselves into
a sigh. He was so miserably uneasy that, at last, she consented to go
into her own room, and prepare for going to bed. She was indeed inclined
to give up the idea that the inspector would call again that night, as
it was already past nine o'clock.

She stood by her father, holding on to the back of his chair.

'You will go to bed soon, papa, won't you? Don't sit up alone!'

What his answer was she did not hear; the words were lost in the far
smaller point of sound that magnified itself to her fears, and filled
her brain. There was a low ring at the door-bell.

She kissed her father and glided down stairs, with a rapidity of motion
of which no one would have thought her capable, who had seen her the
minute before. She put aside Dixon.

'Don't come; I will open the door. I know it is him--I can--I must
manage it all myself.'

'As you please, miss!' said Dixon testily; but in a moment afterwards,
she added, 'But you're not fit for it. You are more dead than alive.'

'Am I?' said Margaret, turning round and showing her eyes all aglow with
strange fire, her cheeks flushed, though her lips were baked and livid
still.

She opened the door to the Inspector, and preceded him into the study.
She placed the candle on the table, and snuffed it carefully, before she
turned round and faced him.

'You are late!' said she. 'Well?' She held her breath for the answer.

'I'm sorry to have given any unnecessary trouble, ma'am; for, after all,
they've given up all thoughts of holding an inquest. I have had other
work to do and other people to see, or I should have been here before
now.'

'Then it is ended,' said Margaret. 'There is to be no further enquiry.'

'I believe I've got Mr. Thornton's note about me,' said the Inspector,
fumbling in his pocket-book.

'Mr. Thornton's!' said Margaret.

'Yes! he's a magistrate--ah! here it is.' She could not see to read
it--no, not although she was close to the candle. The words swam before
her. But she held it in her hand, and looked at it as if she were
intently studying it.

'I'm sure, ma'am, it's a great weight off my mind; for the evidence was
so uncertain, you see, that the man had received any blow at all,--and
if any question of identity came in, it so complicated the case, as I
told Mr. Thornton--'

'Mr. Thornton!' said Margaret, again.

'I met him this morning, just as he was coming out of this house, and,
as he's an old friend of mine, besides being the magistrate who saw
Leonards last night, I made bold to tell him of my difficulty.'

Margaret sighed deeply. She did not want to hear any more; she was
afraid alike of what she had heard, and of what she might hear. She
wished that the man would go. She forced herself to speak.

'Thank you for calling. It is very late. I dare say it is past ten
o'clock. Oh! here is the note!' she continued, suddenly interpreting the
meaning of the hand held out to receive it. He was putting it up, when
she said, 'I think it is a cramped, dazzling sort of writing. I could
not read it; will you just read it to me?'

He read it aloud to her.

'Thank you. You told Mr. Thornton that I was not there?'

'Oh, of course, ma'am. I'm sorry now that I acted upon information,
which seems to have been so erroneous. At first the young man was so
positive; and now he says that he doubted all along, and hopes that his
mistake won't have occasioned you such annoyance as to lose their shop
your custom. Good night, ma'am.'

'Good night.' She rang the bell for Dixon to show him out. As Dixon
returned up the passage Margaret passed her swiftly.

'It is all right!' said she, without looking at Dixon; and before the
woman could follow her with further questions she had sped up-stairs,
and entered her bed-chamber, and bolted her door.

She threw herself, dressed as she was, upon her bed. She was too much
exhausted to think. Half an hour or more elapsed before the cramped
nature of her position, and the chilliness, supervening upon great
fatigue, had the power to rouse her numbed faculties. Then she began to
recall, to combine, to wonder. The first idea that presented itself to
her was, that all this sickening alarm on Frederick's behalf was over;
that the strain was past. The next was a wish to remember every word of
the Inspector's which related to Mr. Thornton. When had he seen him?
What had he said? What had Mr. Thornton done? What were the exact words
of his note? And until she could recollect, even to the placing or
omitting an article, the very expressions which he had used in the note,
her mind refused to go on with its progress. But the next conviction she
came to was clear enough;--Mr. Thornton had seen her close to Outwood
station on the fatal Thursday night, and had been told of her denial
that she was there. She stood as a liar in his eyes. She was a liar. But
she had no thought of penitence before God; nothing but chaos and night
surrounded the one lurid fact that, in Mr. Thornton's eyes, she was
degraded. She cared not to think, even to herself, of how much of excuse
she might plead. That had nothing to do with Mr. Thornton; she never
dreamed that he, or any one else, could find cause for suspicion in what
was so natural as her accompanying her brother; but what was really
false and wrong was known to him, and he had a right to judge her. 'Oh,
Frederick! Frederick!' she cried, 'what have I not sacrificed for you!'
Even when she fell asleep her thoughts were compelled to travel the same
circle, only with exaggerated and monstrous circumstances of pain.

When she awoke a new idea flashed upon her with all the brightness of
the morning. Mr. Thornton had learnt her falsehood before he went to the
coroner; that suggested the thought, that he had possibly been
influenced so to do with a view of sparing her the repetition of her
denial. But she pushed this notion on one side with the sick wilfulness
of a child. If it were so, she felt no gratitude to him, as it only
showed her how keenly he must have seen that she was disgraced already,
before he took such unwonted pains to spare her any further trial of
truthfulness, which had already failed so signally. She would have gone
through the whole--she would have perjured herself to save Frederick,
rather--far rather--than Mr. Thornton should have had the knowledge that
prompted him to interfere to save her. What ill-fate brought him in
contact with the Inspector? What made him be the very magistrate sent
for to receive Leonards' deposition? What had Leonards said? How much of
it was intelligible to Mr. Thornton, who might already, for aught she
knew, be aware of the old accusation against Frederick, through their
mutual friend, Mr. Bell? If so, he had striven to save the son, who came
in defiance of the law to attend his mother's death-bed. And under this
idea she could feel grateful--not yet, if ever she should, if his
interference had been prompted by contempt. Oh! had any one such just
cause to feel contempt for her? Mr. Thornton, above all people, on whom
she had looked down from her imaginary heights till now! She suddenly
found herself at his feet, and was strangely distressed at her fall. She
shrank from following out the premises to their conclusion, and so
acknowledging to herself how much she valued his respect and good
opinion. Whenever this idea presented itself to her at the end of a long
avenue of thoughts, she turned away from following that path--she would
not believe in it.

It was later than she fancied, for in the agitation of the previous
night, she had forgotten to wind up her watch; and Mr. Hale had given
especial orders that she was not to be disturbed by the usual awakening.
By and by the door opened cautiously, and Dixon put her head in.
Perceiving that Margaret was awake, she came forwards with a letter.

'Here's something to do you good, miss. A letter from Master Frederick.'

'Thank you, Dixon. How late it is!'

She spoke very languidly, and suffered Dixon to lay it on the
counterpane before her, without putting out a hand to lake it.

'You want your breakfast, I'm sure. I will bring it you in a minute.
Master has got the tray all ready, I know.'

Margaret did not reply; she let her go; she felt that she must be alone
before she could open that letter. She opened it at last. The first
thing that caught her eye was the date two days earlier than she
received it. He had then written when he had promised, and their alarm
might have been spared. But she would read the letter and see. It was
hasty enough, but perfectly satisfactory. He had seen Henry Lennox, who
knew enough of the case to shake his head over it, in the first
instance, and tell him he had done a very daring thing in returning to
England, with such an accusation, backed by such powerful influence,
hanging over him. But when they had come to talk it over, Mr. Lennox had
acknowledged that there might be some chance of his acquittal, if he
could but prove his statements by credible witnesses--that in such case
it might be worth while to stand his trial, otherwise it would be a
great risk. He would examine--he would take every pains. 'It struck me'
said Frederick, 'that your introduction, little sister of mine, went a
long way. Is it so? He made many inquiries, I can assure you. He seemed
a sharp, intelligent fellow, and in good practice too, to judge from the
signs of business and the number of clerks about him. But these may be
only lawyer's dodges. I have just caught a packet on the point of
sailing--I am off in five minutes. I may have to come back to England
again on this business, so keep my visit secret. I shall send my father
some rare old sherry, such as you cannot buy in England,--(such stuff as
I've got in the bottle before me)! He needs something of the kind--my
dear love to him--God bless him. I'm sure--here's my cab. P.S.--What an
escape that was! Take care you don't breathe of my having been--not even
to the Shaws.'

Margaret turned to the envelope; it was marked 'Too late.' The letter
had probably been trusted to some careless waiter, who had forgotten to
post it. Oh! what slight cobwebs of chances stand between us and
Temptation! Frederick had been safe, and out of England twenty, nay,
thirty hours ago; and it was only about seventeen hours since she had
told a falsehood to baffle pursuit, which even then would have been
vain. How faithless she had been! Where now was her proud motto, 'Fais
ce que dois, advienne que pourra?' If she had but dared to bravely tell
the truth as regarded herself, defying them to find out what she refused
to tell concerning another, how light of heart she would now have felt!
Not humbled before God, as having failed in trust towards Him; not
degraded and abased in Mr. Thornton's sight. She caught herself up at
this with a miserable tremor; here was she classing his low opinion of
her alongside with the displeasure of God. How was it that he haunted
her imagination so persistently? What could it be? Why did she care for
what he thought, in spite of all her pride in spite of herself? She
believed that she could have borne the sense of Almighty displeasure,
because He knew all, and could read her penitence, and hear her cries
for help in time to come. But Mr. Thornton--why did she tremble, and
hide her face in the pillow? What strong feeling had overtaken her at
last?

She sprang out of bed and prayed long and earnestly. It soothed and
comforted her so to open her heart. But as soon as she reviewed her
position she found the sting was still there; that she was not good
enough, nor pure enough to be indifferent to the lowered opinion of a
fellow creature; that the thought of how he must be looking upon her
with contempt, stood between her and her sense of wrong-doing. She took
her letter in to her father as soon as she was drest. There was so
slight an allusion to their alarm at the rail-road station, that Mr.
Hale passed over it without paying any attention to it. Indeed, beyond
the mere fact of Frederick having sailed undiscovered and unsuspected,
he did not gather much from the letter at the time, he was so uneasy
about Margaret's pallid looks. She seemed continually on the point of
weeping.

'You are sadly overdone, Margaret. It is no wonder. But you must let me
nurse you now.'

He made her lie down on the sofa, and went for a shawl to cover her
with. His tenderness released her tears; and she cried bitterly.

'Poor child!--poor child!' said he, looking fondly at her, as she lay
with her face to the wall, shaking with her sobs. After a while they
ceased, and she began to wonder whether she durst give herself the
relief of telling her father of all her trouble. But there were more
reasons against it than for it. The only one for it was the relief to
herself; and against it was the thought that it would add materially to
her father's nervousness, if it were indeed necessary for Frederick to
come to England again; that he would dwell on the circumstance of his
son's having caused the death of a man, however unwittingly and
unwillingly; that this knowledge would perpetually recur to trouble him,
in various shapes of exaggeration and distortion from the simple truth.
And about her own great fault--he would be distressed beyond measure at
her want of courage and faith, yet perpetually troubled to make excuses
for her. Formerly Margaret would have come to him as priest as well as
father, to tell him of her temptation and her sin; but latterly they had
not spoken much on such subjects; and she knew not how, in his change of
opinions, he would reply if the depth of her soul called unto his. No;
she would keep her secret, and bear the burden alone. Alone she would go
before God, and cry for His absolution. Alone she would endure her
disgraced position in the opinion of Mr. Thornton. She was unspeakably
touched by the tender efforts of her father to think of cheerful
subjects on which to talk, and so to take her thoughts away from
dwelling on all that had happened of late. It was some months since he
had been so talkative as he was this day. He would not let her sit up,
and offended Dixon desperately by insisting on waiting upon her himself.

At last she smiled; a poor, weak little smile; but it gave him the
truest pleasure.

'It seems strange to think, that what gives us most hope for the future
should be called Dolores,' said Margaret. The remark was more in
character with her father than with her usual self; but to-day they
seemed to have changed natures.

'Her mother was a Spaniard, I believe: that accounts for her religion.
Her father was a stiff Presbyterian when I knew him. But it is a very
soft and pretty name.'

'How young she is!--younger by fourteen months than I am. Just, the age
that Edith was when she was engaged to Captain Lennox. Papa, we will go
and see them in Spain.'

He shook his head. But he said, 'If you wish it, Margaret. Only let us
come back here. It would seem unfair--unkind to your mother, who always,
I'm afraid, disliked Milton so much, if we left it now she is lying
here, and cannot go with us. No, dear; you shall go and see them, and
bring me back a report of my Spanish daughter.'

'No, papa, I won't go without you. Who is to take care of you when I am
gone?'

'I should like to know which of us is taking care of the other. But if
you went, I should persuade Mr. Thornton to let me give him double
lessons. We would work up the classics famously. That would be a
perpetual interest. You might go on, and see Edith at Corfu, if you
liked.'

Margaret did not speak all at once. Then she said rather gravely: 'Thank
you, papa. But I don't want to go. We will hope that Mr. Lennox will
manage so well, that Frederick may bring Dolores to see us when they are
married. And as for Edith, the regiment won't remain much longer in
Corfu. Perhaps we shall see both of them here before another year is
out.'

Mr. Hale's cheerful subjects had come to an end. Some painful
recollection had stolen across his mind, and driven him into silence.
By-and-by Margaret said:

'Papa--did you see Nicholas Higgins at the funeral? He was there, and
Mary too. Poor fellow! it was his way of showing sympathy. He has a good
warm heart under his bluff abrupt ways.'

'I am sure of it,' replied Mr. Hale. 'I saw it all along, even while you
tried to persuade me that he was all sorts of bad things. We will go and
see them to-morrow, if you are strong enough to walk so far.'

'Oh yes. I want to see them. We did not pay Mary--or rather she refused
to take it, Dixon says. We will go so as to catch him just after his
dinner, and before he goes to his work.'

Towards evening Mr. Hale said:

'I half expected Mr. Thornton would have called. He spoke of a book
yesterday which he had, and which I wanted to see. He said he would try
and bring it to-day.'

Margaret sighed. She knew he would not come. He would be too delicate to
run the chance of meeting her, while her shame must be so fresh in his
memory. The very mention of his name renewed her trouble, and produced a
relapse into the feeling of depressed, pre-occupied exhaustion. She gave
way to listless languor. Suddenly it struck her that this was a strange
manner to show her patience, or to reward her father for his watchful
care of her all through the day. She sate up and offered to read aloud.
His eyes were failing, and he gladly accepted her proposal. She read
well: she gave the due emphasis; but had any one asked her, when she had
ended, the meaning of what she had been reading, she could not have
told. She was smitten with a feeling of ingratitude to Mr. Thornton,
inasmuch as, in the morning, she had refused to accept the kindness he
had shown her in making further inquiry from the medical men, so as to
obviate any inquest being held. Oh! she was grateful! She had been
cowardly and false, and had shown her cowardliness and falsehood in
action that could not be recalled; but she was not ungrateful. It sent a
glow to her heart, to know how she could feel towards one who had reason
to despise her. His cause for contempt was so just, that she should have
respected him less if she had thought he did not feel contempt. It was a
pleasure to feel how thoroughly she respected him. He could not prevent
her doing that; it was the one comfort in all this misery.

Late in the evening, the expected book arrived, 'with Mr. Thornton's
kind regards, and wishes to know how Mr. Hale is.'

'Say that I am much better, Dixon, but that Miss Hale--'

'No, papa,' said Margaret, eagerly--'don't say anything about me. He
does not ask.'

'My dear child, how you are shivering!' said her father, a few minutes
afterwards. 'You must go to bed directly. You have turned quite pale!'

Margaret did not refuse to go, though she was loth to leave her father
alone. She needed the relief of solitude after a day of busy thinking,
and busier repenting.

But she seemed much as usual the next day; the lingering gravity and
sadness, and the occasional absence of mind, were not unnatural symptoms
in the early days of grief. And almost in proportion to her
re-establishment in health, was her father's relapse into his abstracted
musing upon the wife he had lost, and the past era in his life that was
closed to him for ever.



CHAPTER XXXVI

UNION NOT ALWAYS STRENGTH

    'The steps of the bearers, heavy and slow,
     The sobs of the mourners, deep and low.'
             SHELLEY.


At the time arranged the previous day, they set out on their walk to see
Nicholas Higgins and his daughter. They both were reminded of their
recent loss, by a strange kind of shyness in their new habiliments, and
in the fact that it was the first time, for many weeks, that they had
deliberately gone out together. They drew very close to each other in
unspoken sympathy.

Nicholas was sitting by the fire-side in his accustomed corner: but he
had not his accustomed pipe. He was leaning his head upon his hand, his
arm resting on his knee. He did not get up when he saw them, though
Margaret could read the welcome in his eye.

'Sit ye down, sit ye down. Fire's welly out,' said he, giving it a
vigorous poke, as if to turn attention away from himself. He was rather
disorderly, to be sure, with a black unshaven beard of several days'
growth, making his pale face look yet paler, and a jacket which would
have been all the better for patching.

'We thought we should have a good chance of finding you, just after
dinner-time,' said Margaret.

'We have had our sorrow too, since we saw you,' said Mr. Hale.

'Ay, ay. Sorrows is more plentiful than dinners just now; I reckon, my
dinner hour stretches all o'er the day; yo're pretty sure of finding
me.'

'Are you out of work?' asked Margaret.

'Ay,' he replied shortly. Then, after a moment's silence, he added,
looking up for the first time: 'I'm not wanting brass. Dunno yo' think
it. Bess, poor lass, had a little stock under her pillow, ready to slip
into my hand, last moment, and Mary is fustian-cutting. But I'm out o'
work a' the same.'

'We owe Mary some money,' said Mr. Hale, before Margaret's sharp
pressure on his arm could arrest the words.

'If hoo takes it, I'll turn her out o' doors. I'll bide inside these
four walls, and she'll bide out. That's a'.'

'But we owe her many thanks for her kind service,' began Mr. Hale again.

'I ne'er thanked yo'r daughter theer for her deeds o' love to my poor
wench. I ne'er could find th' words. I'se have to begin and try now, if
yo' start making an ado about what little Mary could sarve yo'.'

'Is it because of the strike you're out of work?' asked Margaret gently.

'Strike's ended. It's o'er for this time. I'm out o' work because I
ne'er asked for it. And I ne'er asked for it, because good words is
scarce, and bad words is plentiful.'

He was in a mood to take a surly pleasure in giving answers that were
like riddles. But Margaret saw that he would like to be asked for the
explanation.

'And good words are--?'

'Asking for work. I reckon them's almost the best words that men can
say. "Gi' me work" means "and I'll do it like a man." Them's good
words.'

'And bad words are refusing you work when you ask for it.'

'Ay. Bad words is saying "Aha, my fine chap! Yo've been true to yo'r
order, and I'll be true to mine. Yo' did the best yo' could for them as
wanted help; that's yo'r way of being true to yo'r kind; and I'll be
true to mine. Yo've been a poor fool, as knowed no better nor be a true
faithful fool. So go and be d---- d to yo'. There's no work for yo'
here." Them's bad words. I'm not a fool; and if I was, folk ought to ha'
taught me how to be wise after their fashion. I could mappen ha' learnt,
if any one had tried to teach me.'

'Would it not be worth while,' said Mr. Hale, 'to ask your old master if
he would take you back again? It might be a poor chance, but it would be
a chance.'

He looked up again, with a sharp glance at the questioner; and then
tittered a low and bitter laugh.

'Measter! if it's no offence, I'll ask yo' a question or two in my
turn.'

'You're quite welcome,' said Mr. Hale.

'I reckon yo'n some way of earning your bread. Folk seldom lives i'
Milton just for pleasure, if they can live anywhere else.'

'You are quite right. I have some independent property, but my intention
in settling in Milton was to become a private tutor.'

'To teach folk. Well! I reckon they pay yo' for teaching them, dunnot
they?'

'Yes,' replied Mr. Hale, smiling. 'I teach in order to get paid.'

'And them that pays yo', dun they tell yo' whatten to do, or whatten not
to do wi' the money they gives you in just payment for your pains--in
fair exchange like?'

'No; to be sure not!'

'They dunnot say, "Yo' may have a brother, or a friend as dear as a
brother, who wants this here brass for a purpose both yo' and he think
right; but yo' mun promise not give it to him. Yo' may see a good use,
as yo' think, to put yo'r money to; but we don't think it good, and so
if yo' spend it a-thatens we'll just leave off dealing with yo'." They
dunnot say that, dun they?'

'No: to be sure not!'

'Would yo' stand it if they did?'

'It would be some very hard pressure that would make me even think of
submitting to such dictation.'

'There's not the pressure on all the broad earth that would make me,
said Nicholas Higgins. 'Now yo've got it. Yo've hit the bull's eye.
Hamper's--that's where I worked--makes their men pledge 'emselves
they'll not give a penny to help th' Union or keep turnouts fro'
clemming. They may pledge and make pledge,' continued he, scornfully;
'they nobbut make liars and hypocrites. And that's a less sin, to my
mind, to making men's hearts so hard that they'll not do a kindness to
them as needs it, or help on the right and just cause, though it goes
again the strong hand. But I'll ne'er forswear mysel' for a' the work
the king could gi'e me. I'm a member o' the Union; and I think it's the
only thing to do the workman any good. And I've been a turn-out, and
known what it were to clem; so if I get a shilling, sixpence shall go to
them if they axe it from me. Consequence is, I dunnot see where I'm to
get a shilling.'

'Is that rule about not contributing to the Union in force at all the
mills?' asked Margaret.

'I cannot say. It's a new regulation at ourn; and I reckon they'll find
that they cannot stick to it. But it's in force now. By-and-by they'll
find out, tyrants makes liars.'

There was a little pause. Margaret was hesitating whether she should say
what was in her mind; she was unwilling to irritate one who was already
gloomy and despondent enough. At last out it came. But in her soft
tones, and with her reluctant manner, showing that she was unwilling to
say anything unpleasant, it did not seem to annoy Higgins, only to
perplex him.

'Do you remember poor Boucher saying that the Union was a tyrant? I
think he said it was the worst tyrant of all. And I remember at the time
I agreed with him.'

It was a long while before he spoke. He was resting his head on his two
hands, and looking down into the fire, so she could not read the
expression on his face.

'I'll not deny but what th' Union finds it necessary to force a man into
his own good. I'll speak truth. A man leads a dree life who's not i' th'
Union. But once i' the' Union, his interests are taken care on better
nor he could do it for himsel', or by himsel', for that matter. It's the
only way working men can get their rights, by all joining together. More
the members, more chance for each one separate man having justice done
him. Government takes care o' fools and madmen; and if any man is
inclined to do himsel' or his neighbour a hurt, it puts a bit of a check
on him, whether he likes it or no. That's all we do i' th' Union. We
can't clap folk into prison; but we can make a man's life so heavy to be
borne, that he's obliged to come in, and be wise and helpful in spite of
himself. Boucher were a fool all along, and ne'er a worse fool than at
th' last.'

'He did you harm?' asked Margaret.

'Ay, that did he. We had public opinion on our side, till he and his
sort began rioting and breaking laws. It were all o'er wi' the strike
then.'

'Then would it not have been far better to have left him alone, and not
forced him to join the Union? He did you no good; and you drove him
mad.'

'Margaret,' said her father, in a low and warning tone, for he saw the
cloud gathering on Higgins's face.

'I like her,' said Higgins, suddenly. 'Hoo speaks plain out what's in
her mind. Hoo doesn't comprehend th' Union for all that. It's a great
power: it's our only power. I ha' read a bit o' poetry about a plough
going o'er a daisy, as made tears come into my eyes, afore I'd other
cause for crying. But the chap ne'er stopped driving the plough, I'se
warrant, for all he were pitiful about the daisy. He'd too much
mother-wit for that. Th' Union's the plough, making ready the land for
harvest-time. Such as Boucher--'twould be settin' him up too much to
liken him to a daisy; he's liker a weed lounging over the ground--mun
just make up their mind to be put out o' the way. I'm sore vexed wi' him
just now. So, mappen, I dunnot speak him fair. I could go o'er him wi' a
plough mysel', wi' a' the pleasure in life.'

'Why? What has he been doing? Anything fresh?'

'Ay, to be sure. He's ne'er out o' mischief, that man. First of a' he
must go raging like a mad fool, and kick up yon riot. Then he'd to go
into hiding, where he'd a been yet, if Thornton had followed him out as
I'd hoped he would ha' done. But Thornton, having got his own purpose,
didn't care to go on wi' the prosecution for the riot. So Boucher slunk
back again to his house. He ne'er showed himsel' abroad for a day or
two. He had that grace. And then, where think ye that he went? Why, to
Hamper's. Damn him! He went wi' his mealy-mouthed face, that turns me
sick to look at, a-asking for work, though he knowed well enough the new
rule, o' pledging themselves to give nought to th' Unions; nought to
help the starving turn-out! Why he'd a clemmed to death, if th' Union
had na helped him in his pinch. There he went, ossing to promise aught,
and pledge himsel' to aught--to tell a' he know'd on our proceedings,
the good-for-nothing Judas! But I'll say this for Hamper, and thank him
for it at my dying day, he drove Boucher away, and would na listen to
him--ne'er a word--though folk standing by, says the traitor cried like
a babby!'

'Oh! how shocking! how pitiful!' exclaimed Margaret. 'Higgins, I don't
know you to-day. Don't you see how you've made Boucher what he is, by
driving him into the Union against his will--without his heart going
with it. You have made him what he is!'

Made him what he is! What was he?

Gathering, gathering along the narrow street, came a hollow, measured
sound; now forcing itself on their attention. Many voices were hushed
and low: many steps were heard not moving onwards, at least not with any
rapidity or steadiness of motion, but as if circling round one spot.
Yes, there was one distinct, slow tramp of feet, which made itself a
clear path through the air, and reached their ears; the measured
laboured walk of men carrying a heavy burden. They were all drawn
towards the house-door by some irresistible impulse; impelled
thither--not by a poor curiosity, but as if by some solemn blast.

Six men walked in the middle of the road, three of them being policemen.
They carried a door, taken off its hinges, upon their shoulders, on
which lay some dead human creature; and from each side of the door there
were constant droppings. All the street turned out to see, and, seeing,
to accompany the procession, each one questioning the bearers, who
answered almost reluctantly at last, so often had they told the tale.

'We found him i' th' brook in the field beyond there.'

'Th' brook!--why there's not water enough to drown him!'

'He was a determined chap. He lay with his face downwards. He was sick
enough o' living, choose what cause he had for it.'

Higgins crept up to Margaret's side, and said in a weak piping kind of
voice: 'It's not John Boucher? He had na spunk enough. Sure! It's not
John Boucher! Why, they are a' looking this way! Listen! I've a singing
in my head, and I cannot hear.'

They put the door down carefully upon the stones, and all might see the
poor drowned wretch--his glassy eyes, one half-open, staring right
upwards to the sky. Owing to the position in which he had been found
lying, his face was swollen and discoloured besides, his skin was
stained by the water in the brook, which had been used for dyeing
purposes. The fore part of his head was bald; but the hair grew thin and
long behind, and every separate lock was a conduit for water. Through
all these disfigurements, Margaret recognised John Boucher. It seemed to
her so sacrilegious to be peering into that poor distorted, agonised
face, that, by a flash of instinct, she went forwards and softly covered
the dead man's countenance with her handkerchief. The eyes that saw her
do this followed her, as she turned away from her pious office, and were
thus led to the place where Nicholas Higgins stood, like one rooted to
the spot. The men spoke together, and then one of them came up to
Higgins, who would have fain shrunk back into his house.

'Higgins, thou knowed him! Thou mun go tell the wife. Do it gently, man,
but do it quick, for we canna leave him here long.'

'I canna go,' said Higgins. 'Dunnot ask me. I canna face her.'

'Thou knows her best,' said the man. 'We'n done a deal in bringing him
here--thou take thy share.'

'I canna do it,' said Higgins. 'I'm welly felled wi' seeing him. We
wasn't friends; and now he's dead.'

'Well, if thou wunnot thou wunnot. Some one mun, though. It's a dree
task; but it's a chance, every minute, as she doesn't hear on it in some
rougher way nor a person going to make her let on by degrees, as it
were.'

'Papa, do you go,' said Margaret, in a low voice.

'If I could--if I had time to think of what I had better say; but all at
once---- ' Margaret saw that her father was indeed unable. He was
trembling from head to foot.

'I will go,' said she.

'Bless yo', miss, it will be a kind act; for she's been but a sickly
sort of body, I hear, and few hereabouts know much on her.'

Margaret knocked at the closed door; but there was such a noise, as of
many little ill-ordered children, that she could hear no reply; indeed,
she doubted if she was heard, and as every moment of delay made her
recoil from her task more and more, she opened the door and went in,
shutting it after her, and even, unseen to the woman, fastening the
bolt.

Mrs. Boucher was sitting in a rocking-chair, on the other side of the
ill-redd-up fireplace; it looked as if the house had been untouched for
days by any effort at cleanliness.

Margaret said something, she hardly knew what, her throat and mouth were
so dry, and the children's noise completely prevented her from being
heard. She tried again.

'How are you, Mrs. Boucher? But very poorly, I'm afraid.'

'I've no chance o' being well,' said she querulously. 'I'm left alone to
manage these childer, and nought for to give 'em for to keep 'em quiet.
John should na ha' left me, and me so poorly.'

'How long is it since he went away?'

'Four days sin'. No one would give him work here, and he'd to go on
tramp toward Greenfield. But he might ha' been back afore this, or sent
me some word if he'd getten work. He might---- '

'Oh, don't blame him,' said Margaret. 'He felt it deeply, I'm sure---- '

'Willto' hold thy din, and let me hear the lady speak!' addressing
herself, in no very gentle voice, to a little urchin of about a year
old. She apologetically continued to Margaret, 'He's always mithering me
for "daddy" and "butty;" and I ha' no butties to give him, and daddy's
away, and forgotten us a', I think. He's his father's darling, he is,'
said she, with a sudden turn of mood, and, dragging the child up to her
knee, she began kissing it fondly.

Margaret laid her hand on the woman's arm to arrest her attention. Their
eyes met.

'Poor little fellow!' said Margaret, slowly; 'he _was_ his father's
darling.'

'He _is_ his father's darling,' said the woman, rising hastily, and
standing face to face with Margaret. Neither of them spoke for a moment
or two. Then Mrs. Boucher began in a low, growling tone, gathering in
wildness as she went on: He _is_ his father's darling, I say. Poor folk
can love their childer as well as rich. Why dunno yo' speak? Why dun yo'
stare at me wi' your great pitiful eyes? Where's John?' Weak as she was,
she shook Margaret to force out an answer. 'Oh, my God!' said she,
understanding the meaning of that tearful look. She sank back into the
chair. Margaret took up the child and put him into her arms.

'He loved him,' said she.

'Ay,' said the woman, shaking her head, 'he loved us a'. We had some one
to love us once. It's a long time ago; but when he were in life and with
us, he did love us, he did. He loved this babby mappen the best on us;
but he loved me and I loved him, though I was calling him five minutes
agone. Are yo' sure he's dead?' said she, trying to get up. 'If it's
only that he's ill and like to die, they may bring him round yet. I'm
but an ailing creature mysel'--I've been ailing this long time.'

'But he is dead--he is drowned!'

'Folk are brought round after they're dead-drowned. Whatten was I
thinking of, to sit still when I should be stirring mysel'? Here, whisth
thee, child--whisth thee! tak' this, tak' aught to play wi', but dunnot
cry while my heart's breaking! Oh, where is my strength gone to? Oh,
John--husband!'

Margaret saved her from falling by catching her in her arms. She sate
down in the rocking chair, and held the woman upon her knees, her head
lying on Margaret's shoulder. The other children, clustered together in
affright, began to understand the mystery of the scene; but the ideas
came slowly, for their brains were dull and languid of perception. They
set up such a cry of despair as they guessed the truth, that Margaret
knew not how to bear it. Johnny's cry was loudest of them all, though he
knew not why he cried, poor little fellow.

The mother quivered as she lay in Margaret's arms. Margaret heard a
noise at the door.

'Open it. Open it quick,' said she to the eldest child. 'It's bolted;
make no noise--be very still. Oh, papa, let them go upstairs very softly
and carefully, and perhaps she will not hear them. She has
fainted--that's all.'

'It's as well for her, poor creature,' said a woman following in the
wake of the bearers of the dead. 'But yo're not fit to hold her. Stay,
I'll run fetch a pillow and we'll let her down easy on the floor.'

This helpful neighbour was a great relief to Margaret; she was evidently
a stranger to the house, a new-comer in the district, indeed; but she
was so kind and thoughtful that Margaret felt she was no longer needed;
and that it would be better, perhaps, to set an example of clearing the
house, which was filled with idle, if sympathising gazers.

She looked round for Nicholas Higgins. He was not there. So she spoke to
the woman who had taken the lead in placing Mrs. Boucher on the floor.

'Can you give all these people a hint that they had better leave in
quietness? So that when she comes round, she should only find one or two
that she knows about her. Papa, will you speak to the men, and get them
to go away? She cannot breathe, poor thing, with this crowd about her.'

Margaret was kneeling down by Mrs. Boucher and bathing her face with
vinegar; but in a few minutes she was surprised at the gush of fresh
air. She looked round, and saw a smile pass between her father and the
woman.

'What is it?' asked she.

'Only our good friend here,' replied her father, 'hit on a capital
expedient for clearing the place.'

'I bid 'em begone, and each take a child with 'em, and to mind that they
were orphans, and their mother a widow. It was who could do most, and
the childer are sure of a bellyful to-day, and of kindness too. Does hoo
know how he died?'

'No,' said Margaret; 'I could not tell her all at once.'

'Hoo mun be told because of th' Inquest. See! Hoo's coming round; shall
you or I do it? or mappen your father would be best?'

'No; you, you,' said Margaret.

They awaited her perfect recovery in silence. Then the neighbour woman
sat down on the floor, and took Mrs. Boucher's head and shoulders on her
lap.

'Neighbour,' said she, 'your man is dead. Guess yo' how he died?'

'He were drowned,' said Mrs. Boucher, feebly, beginning to cry for the
first time, at this rough probing of her sorrows.

'He were found drowned. He were coming home very hopeless o' aught on
earth. He thought God could na be harder than men; mappen not so hard;
mappen as tender as a mother; mappen tenderer. I'm not saying he did
right, and I'm not saying he did wrong. All I say is, may neither me nor
mine ever have his sore heart, or we may do like things.'

'He has left me alone wi' a' these children!' moaned the widow, less
distressed at the manner of the death than Margaret expected; but it was
of a piece with her helpless character to feel his loss as principally
affecting herself and her children.

'Not alone,' said Mr. Hale, solemnly. 'Who is with you? Who will take up
your cause?' The widow opened her eyes wide, and looked at the new
speaker, of whose presence she had not been aware till then.

'Who has promised to be a father to the fatherless?' continued he.

'But I've getten six children, sir, and the eldest not eight years of
age. I'm not meaning for to doubt His power, sir,--only it needs a deal
o' trust;' and she began to cry afresh.

'Hoo'll be better able to talk to-morrow, sir,' said the neighbour.
'Best comfort now would be the feel of a child at her heart. I'm sorry
they took the babby.'

'I'll go for it,' said Margaret. And in a few minutes she returned,
carrying Johnnie, his face all smeared with eating, and his hands loaded
with treasures in the shape of shells, and bits of crystal, and the head
of a plaster figure. She placed him in his mother's arms.

'There!' said the woman, 'now you go. They'll cry together, and comfort
together, better nor any one but a child can do. I'll stop with her as
long as I'm needed, and if yo' come to-morrow, yo' can have a deal o'
wise talk with her, that she's not up to to-day.'

As Margaret and her father went slowly up the street, she paused at
Higgins's closed door.

'Shall we go in?' asked her father. 'I was thinking of him too.'

They knocked. There was no answer, so they tried the door. It was
bolted, but they thought they heard him moving within.

'Nicholas!' said Margaret. There was no answer, and they might have gone
away, believing the house to be empty, if there had not been some
accidental fall, as of a book, within.

'Nicholas!' said Margaret again. 'It is only us. Won't you let us come
in?'

'No,' said he. 'I spoke as plain as I could, 'bout using words, when I
bolted th' door. Let me be, this day.'

Mr. Hale would have urged their desire, but Margaret placed her finger
on his lips.

'I don't wonder at it,' said she. 'I myself long to be alone. It seems
the only thing to do one good after a day like this.'



CHAPTER XXXVII

LOOKING SOUTH

    'A spade! a rake! a hoe!
     A pickaxe or a bill!
     A hook to reap, or a scythe to mow,
     A flail, or what ye will--
     And here's a ready hand
     To ply the needful tool,
     And skill'd enough, by lessons rough,
     In Labour's rugged school.'
             HOOD.


Higgins's door was locked the next day, when they went to pay their call
on the widow Boucher: but they learnt this time from an officious
neighbour, that he was really from home. He had, however, been in to see
Mrs. Boucher, before starting on his day's business, whatever that was.
It was but an unsatisfactory visit to Mrs. Boucher; she considered
herself as an ill-used woman by her poor husband's suicide; and there
was quite germ of truth enough in this idea to make it a very difficult
one to refute. Still, it was unsatisfactory to see how completely her
thoughts were turned upon herself and her own position, and this
selfishness extended even to her relations with her children, whom she
considered as incumbrances, even in the very midst of her somewhat
animal affection for them. Margaret tried to make acquaintances with one
or two of them, while her father strove to raise the widow's thoughts
into some higher channel than that of mere helpless querulousness. She
found that the children were truer and simpler mourners than the widow.
Daddy had been a kind daddy to them; each could tell, in their eager
stammering way, of some tenderness shown some indulgence granted by the
lost father.

'Is yon thing upstairs really him? it doesna look like him. I'm feared
on it, and I never was feared o' daddy.'

Margaret's heart bled to hear that the mother, in her selfish
requirement of sympathy, had taken her children upstairs to see their
disfigured father. It was intermingling the coarseness of horror with
the profoundness of natural grief. She tried to turn their thoughts in
some other direction; on what they could do for mother; on what--for
this was a more efficacious way of putting it--what father would have
wished them to do. Margaret was more successful than Mr. Hale in her
efforts. The children seeing their little duties lie in action close
around them, began to try each one to do something that she suggested
towards redding up the slatternly room. But her father set too high a
standard, and too abstract a view, before the indolent invalid. She
could not rouse her torpid mind into any vivid imagination of what her
husband's misery might have been before he had resorted to the last
terrible step; she could only look upon it as it affected herself; she
could not enter into the enduring mercy of the God who had not specially
interposed to prevent the water from drowning her prostrate husband; and
although she was secretly blaming her husband for having fallen into
such drear despair, and denying that he had any excuse for his last rash
act, she was inveterate in her abuse of all who could by any possibility
be supposed to have driven him to such desperation. The masters--Mr.
Thornton in particular, whose mill had been attacked by Boucher, and
who, after the warrant had been issued for his apprehension on the
charge of rioting, had caused it to be withdrawn,--the Union, of which
Higgins was the representative to the poor woman,--the children so
numerous, so hungry, and so noisy--all made up one great army of
personal enemies, whose fault it was that she was now a helpless widow.

Margaret heard enough of this unreasonableness to dishearten her; and
when they came away she found it impossible to cheer her father.

'It is the town life,' said she. 'Their nerves are quickened by the
haste and bustle and speed of everything around them, to say nothing of
the confinement in these pent-up houses, which of itself is enough to
induce depression and worry of spirits. Now in the country, people live
so much more out of doors, even children, and even in the winter.'

'But people must live in towns. And in the country some get such
stagnant habits of mind that they are almost fatalists.'

'Yes; I acknowledge that. I suppose each mode of life produces its own
trials and its own temptations. The dweller in towns must find it as
difficult to be patient and calm, as the country-bred man must find it
to be active, and equal to unwonted emergencies. Both must find it hard
to realise a future of any kind; the one because the present is so
living and hurrying and close around him; the other because his life
tempts him to revel in the mere sense of animal existence, not knowing
of, and consequently not caring for any pungency of pleasure for the
attainment of which he can plan, and deny himself and look forward.'

'And thus both the necessity for engrossment, and the stupid content in
the present, produce the same effects. But this poor Mrs. Boucher! how
little we can do for her.'

'And yet we dare not leave her without our efforts, although they may
seem so useless. Oh papa! it's a hard world to live in!'

'So it is, my child. We feel it so just now, at any rate; but we have
been very happy, even in the midst of our sorrow. What a pleasure
Frederick's visit was!'

'Yes, that it was,' said Margaret; brightly. 'It was such a charming,
snatched, forbidden thing.' But she suddenly stopped speaking. She had
spoiled the remembrance of Frederick's visit to herself by her own
cowardice. Of all faults the one she most despised in others was the
want of bravery; the meanness of heart which leads to untruth. And here
had she been guilty of it! Then came the thought of Mr. Thornton's
cognisance of her falsehood. She wondered if she should have minded
detection half so much from any one else. She tried herself in
imagination with her Aunt Shaw and Edith; with her father; with Captain
and Mr. Lennox; with Frederick. The thought of the last knowing what she
had done, even in his own behalf, was the most painful, for the brother
and sister were in the first flush of their mutual regard and love; but
even any fall in Frederick's opinion was as nothing to the shame, the
shrinking shame she felt at the thought of meeting Mr. Thornton again.
And yet she longed to see him, to get it over; to understand where she
stood in his opinion. Her cheeks burnt as she recollected how proudly
she had implied an objection to trade (in the early days of their
acquaintance), because it too often led to the deceit of passing off
inferior for superior goods, in the one branch; of assuming credit for
wealth and resources not possessed, in the other. She remembered Mr.
Thornton's look of calm disdain, as in few words he gave her to
understand that, in the great scheme of commerce, all dishonourable ways
of acting were sure to prove injurious in the long run, and that,
testing such actions simply according to the poor standard of success,
there was folly and not wisdom in all such, and every kind of deceit in
trade, as well as in other things. She remembered--she, then strong in
her own untempted truth--asking him, if he did not think that buying in
the cheapest and selling in the dearest market proved some want of the
transparent justice which is so intimately connected with the idea of
truth: and she had used the word chivalric--and her father had corrected
her with the higher word, Christian; and so drawn the argument upon
himself, while she sate silent by with a slight feeling of contempt.

No more contempt for her!--no more talk about the chivalric!
Henceforward she must feel humiliated and disgraced in his sight. But
when should she see him? Her heart leaped up in apprehension at every
ring of the door-bell; and yet when it fell down to calmness, she felt
strangely saddened and sick at heart at each disappointment. It was very
evident that her father expected to see him, and was surprised that he
did not come. The truth was, that there were points in their
conversation the other night on which they had no time then to enlarge;
but it had been understood that if possible on the succeeding
evening--if not then, at least the very first evening that Mr. Thornton
could command,--they should meet for further discussion. Mr. Hale had
looked forward to this meeting ever since they had parted. He had not
yet resumed the instruction to his pupils, which he had relinquished at
the commencement of his wife's more serious illness, so he had fewer
occupations than usual; and the great interest of the last day or so
(Boucher's suicide) had driven him back with more eagerness than ever
upon his speculations. He was restless all evening. He kept saying, 'I
quite expected to have seen Mr. Thornton. I think the messenger who
brought the book last night must have had some note, and forgot to
deliver it. Do you think there has been any message left to-day?'

'I will go and inquire, papa,' said Margaret, after the changes on these
sentences had been rung once or twice. 'Stay, there's a ring!' She sate
down instantly, and bent her head attentively over her work. She heard a
step on the stairs, but it was only one, and she knew it was Dixon's.
She lifted up her head and sighed, and believed she felt glad.

'It's that Higgins, sir. He wants to see you, or else Miss Hale. Or it
might be Miss Hale first, and then you, sir; for he's in a strange kind
of way.

'He had better come up here, Dixon; and then he can see us both, and
choose which he likes for his listener.'

'Oh! very well, sir. I've no wish to hear what he's got to say, I'm
sure; only, if you could see his shoes, I'm sure you'd say the kitchen
was the fitter place.

'He can wipe them, I suppose, said Mr. Hale. So Dixon flung off, to bid
him walk up-stairs. She was a little mollified, however, when he looked
at his feet with a hesitating air; and then, sitting down on the bottom
stair, he took off the offending shoes, and without a word walked
up-stairs.

'Sarvant, sir!' said he, slicking his hair down when he came into the
room. 'If hoo'l excuse me (looking at Margaret) for being i' my
stockings; I'se been tramping a' day, and streets is none o' th'
cleanest.'

Margaret thought that fatigue might account for the change in his
manner, for he was unusually quiet and subdued; and he had evidently
some difficulty in saying what he came to say.

Mr. Hale's ever-ready sympathy with anything of shyness or hesitation,
or want of self-possession, made him come to his aid.

'We shall have tea up directly, and then you'll take a cup with us, Mr.
Higgins. I am sure you are tired, if you've been out much this wet
relaxing day. Margaret, my dear, can't you hasten tea?'

Margaret could only hasten tea by taking the preparation of it into her
own hands, and so offending Dixon, who was emerging out of her sorrow
for her late mistress into a very touchy, irritable state. But Martha,
like all who came in contact with Margaret--even Dixon herself, in the
long run--felt it a pleasure and an honour to forward any of her wishes;
and her readiness, and Margaret's sweet forbearance, soon made Dixon
ashamed of herself.

'Why master and you must always be asking the lower classes up-stairs,
since we came to Milton, I cannot understand. Folk at Helstone were
never brought higher than the kitchen; and I've let one or two of them
know before now that they might think it an honour to be even there.'

Higgins found it easier to unburden himself to one than to two. After
Margaret left the room, he went to the door and assured himself that it
was shut. Then he came and stood close to Mr. Hale.

'Master,' said he, 'yo'd not guess easy what I've been tramping after
to-day. Special if yo' remember my manner o' talk yesterday. I've been a
seeking work. I have' said he. 'I said to mysel', I'd keep a civil
tongue in my head, let who would say what 'em would. I'd set my teeth
into my tongue sooner nor speak i' haste. For that man's sake--yo'
understand,' jerking his thumb back in some unknown direction.

'No, I don't,' said Mr. Hale, seeing he waited for some kind of assent,
and completely bewildered as to who 'that man' could be.

'That chap as lies theer,' said he, with another jerk. 'Him as went and
drownded himself, poor chap! I did na' think he'd got it in him to lie
still and let th' water creep o'er him till he died. Boucher, yo' know.'

'Yes, I know now,' said Mr. Hale. 'Go back to what you were saying:
you'd not speak in haste---- '

'For his sake. Yet not for his sake; for where'er he is, and whate'er,
he'll ne'er know other clemming or cold again; but for the wife's sake,
and the bits o' childer.'

'God bless you!' said Mr. Hale, starting up; then, calming down, he said
breathlessly, 'What do you mean? Tell me out.'

'I have telled yo',' said Higgins, a little surprised at Mr. Hale's
agitation. 'I would na ask for work for mysel'; but them's left as a
charge on me. I reckon, I would ha guided Boucher to a better end; but I
set him off o' th' road, and so I mun answer for him.'

Mr. Hale got hold of Higgins's hand and shook it heartily, without
speaking. Higgins looked awkward and ashamed.

'Theer, theer, master! Theer's ne'er a man, to call a man, amongst us,
but what would do th' same; ay, and better too; for, belie' me, I'se
ne'er got a stroke o' work, nor yet a sight of any. For all I telled
Hamper that, let alone his pledge--which I would not sign--no, I could
na, not e'en for this--he'd ne'er ha' such a worker on his mill as I
would be--he'd ha' none o' me--no more would none o' th' others. I'm a
poor black feckless sheep--childer may clem for aught I can do, unless,
parson, yo'd help me?'

'Help you! How? I would do anything,--but what can I do?'

'Miss there'--for Margaret had re-entered the room, and stood silent,
listening--'has often talked grand o' the South, and the ways down
there. Now I dunnot know how far off it is, but I've been thinking if I
could get 'em down theer, where food is cheap and wages good, and all
the folk, rich and poor, master and man, friendly like; yo' could, may
be, help me to work. I'm not forty-five, and I've a deal o' strength in
me, measter.'

'But what kind of work could you do, my man?'

'Well, I reckon I could spade a bit---- '

'And for that,' said Margaret, stepping forwards, 'for anything you
could do, Higgins, with the best will in the world, you would, may be,
get nine shillings a week; maybe ten, at the outside. Food is much the
same as here, except that you might have a little garden---- '

'The childer could work at that,' said he. 'I'm sick o' Milton anyways,
and Milton is sick o' me.'

'You must not go to the South,' said Margaret, 'for all that. You could
not stand it. You would have to be out all weathers. It would kill you
with rheumatism. The mere bodily work at your time of life would break
you down. The fare is far different to what you have been accustomed
to.'

'I'se nought particular about my meat,' said he, as if offended.

'But you've reckoned on having butcher's meat once a day, if you're in
work; pay for that out of your ten shillings, and keep those poor
children if you can. I owe it to you--since it's my way of talking that
has set you off on this idea--to put it all clear before you. You would
not bear the dulness of the life; you don't know what it is; it would
eat you away like rust. Those that have lived there all their lives, are
used to soaking in the stagnant waters. They labour on, from day to day,
in the great solitude of steaming fields--never speaking or lifting up
their poor, bent, downcast heads. The hard spade-work robs their brain
of life; the sameness of their toil deadens their imagination; they
don't care to meet to talk over thoughts and speculations, even of the
weakest, wildest kind, after their work is done; they go home brutishly
tired, poor creatures! caring for nothing but food and rest. You could
not stir them up into any companionship, which you get in a town as
plentiful as the air you breathe, whether it be good or bad--and that I
don't know; but I do know, that you of all men are not one to bear a
life among such labourers. What would be peace to them would be eternal
fretting to you. Think no more of it, Nicholas, I beg. Besides, you
could never pay to get mother and children all there--that's one good
thing.'

'I've reckoned for that. One house mun do for us a', and the furniture
o' t'other would go a good way. And men theer mun have their families to
keep--mappen six or seven childer. God help 'em!' said he, more
convinced by his own presentation of the facts than by all Margaret had
said, and suddenly renouncing the idea, which had but recently formed
itself in a brain worn out by the day's fatigue and anxiety. 'God help
'em! North an' South have each getten their own troubles. If work's sure
and steady theer, labour's paid at starvation prices; while here we'n
rucks o' money coming in one quarter, and ne'er a farthing th' next. For
sure, th' world is in a confusion that passes me or any other man to
understand; it needs fettling, and who's to fettle it, if it's as yon
folks say, and there's nought but what we see?'

Mr. Hale was busy cutting bread and butter; Margaret was glad of this,
for she saw that Higgins was better left to himself: that if her father
began to speak ever so mildly on the subject of Higgins's thoughts, the
latter would consider himself challenged to an argument, and would feel
himself bound to maintain his own ground. She and her father kept up an
indifferent conversation until Higgins, scarcely aware whether he ate or
not, had made a very substantial meal. Then he pushed his chair away
from the table, and tried to take an interest in what they were saying;
but it was of no use; and he fell back into dreamy gloom. Suddenly,
Margaret said (she had been thinking of it for some time, but the words
had stuck in her throat), 'Higgins, have you been to Marlborough Mills
to seek for work?'

'Thornton's?' asked he. 'Ay, I've been at Thornton's.'

'And what did he say?'

'Such a chap as me is not like to see the measter. Th' o'erlooker bid me
go and be d---- d.'

'I wish you had seen Mr. Thornton,' said Mr. Hale. 'He might not have
given you work, but he would not have used such language.'

'As to th' language, I'm welly used to it; it dunnot matter to me. I'm
not nesh mysel' when I'm put out. It were th' fact that I were na wanted
theer, no more nor ony other place, as I minded.'

'But I wish you had seen Mr. Thornton,' repeated Margaret. 'Would you go
again--it's a good deal to ask, I know--but would you go to-morrow and
try him? I should be so glad if you would.'

'I'm afraid it would be of no use,' said Mr. Hale, in a low voice. 'It
would be better to let me speak to him.' Margaret still looked at
Higgins for his answer. Those grave soft eyes of hers were difficult to
resist. He gave a great sigh.

'It would tax my pride above a bit; if it were for mysel', I could stand
a deal o' clemming first; I'd sooner knock him down than ask a favour
from him. I'd a deal sooner be flogged mysel'; but yo're not a common
wench, axing yo'r pardon, nor yet have yo' common ways about yo'. I'll
e'en make a wry face, and go at it to-morrow. Dunna yo' think that he'll
do it. That man has it in him to be burnt at the stake afore he'll give
in. I do it for yo'r sake, Miss Hale, and it's first time in my life as
e'er I give way to a woman. Neither my wife nor Bess could e'er say that
much again me.'

'All the more do I thank you,' said Margaret, smiling. 'Though I don't
believe you: I believe you have just given way to wife and daughter as
much as most men.'

'And as to Mr. Thornton,' said Mr. Hale, 'I'll give you a note to him,
which, I think I may venture to say, will ensure you a hearing.'

'I thank yo' kindly, sir, but I'd as lief stand on my own bottom. I
dunnot stomach the notion of having favour curried for me, by one as
doesn't know the ins and outs of the quarrel. Meddling 'twixt master and
man is liker meddling 'twixt husband and wife than aught else: it takes
a deal o' wisdom for to do ony good. I'll stand guard at the lodge door.
I'll stand there fro' six in the morning till I get speech on him. But
I'd liefer sweep th' streets, if paupers had na' got hold on that work.
Dunna yo' hope, miss. There'll be more chance o' getting milk out of a
flint. I wish yo' a very good night, and many thanks to yo'.'

'You'll find your shoe's by the kitchen fire; I took them there to dry,'
said Margaret.

He turned round and looked at her steadily, and then he brushed his lean
hand across his eyes and went his way.

'How proud that man is!' said her father, who was a little annoyed at
the manner in which Higgins had declined his intercession with Mr.
Thornton.

'He is,' said Margaret; 'but what grand makings of a man there are in
him, pride and all.'

'It's amusing to see how he evidently respects the part in Mr.
Thornton's character which is like his own.'

'There's granite in all these northern people, papa, is there not?'

'There was none in poor Boucher, I am afraid; none in his wife either.'

'I should guess from their tones that they had Irish blood in them. I
wonder what success he'll have to-morrow. If he and Mr. Thornton would
speak out together as man to man--if Higgins would forget that Mr.
Thornton was a master, and speak to him as he does to us--and if Mr.
Thornton would be patient enough to listen to him with his human heart,
not with his master's ears--'

'You are getting to do Mr. Thornton justice at last, Margaret,' said her
father, pinching her ear.

Margaret had a strange choking at her heart, which made her unable to
answer. 'Oh!' thought she, 'I wish I were a man, that I could go and
force him to express his disapprobation, and tell him honestly that I
knew I deserved it. It seems hard to lose him as a friend just when I
had begun to feel his value. How tender he was with dear mamma! If it
were only for her sake, I wish he would come, and then at least I should
know how much I was abased in his eyes.'



CHAPTER XXXVIII

PROMISES FULFILLED

    'Then proudly, proudly up she rose,
     Tho' the tear was in her e'e,
     "Whate'er ye say, think what ye may,
     Ye's get na word frae me!"'
             SCOTCH BALLAD.


It was not merely that Margaret was known to Mr. Thornton to have spoken
falsely,--though she imagined that for this reason only was she so
turned in his opinion,--but that this falsehood of hers bore a distinct
reference in his mind to some other lover. He could not forget the fond
and earnest look that had passed between her and some other man--the
attitude of familiar confidence, if not of positive endearment. The
thought of this perpetually stung him; it was a picture before his eyes,
wherever he went and whatever he was doing. In addition to this (and he
ground his teeth as he remembered it), was the hour, dusky twilight; the
place, so far away from home, and comparatively unfrequented. His nobler
self had said at first, that all this last might be accidental,
innocent, justifiable; but once allow her right to love and be beloved
(and had he any reason to deny her right?--had not her words been
severely explicit when she cast his love away from her?), she might
easily have been beguiled into a longer walk, on to a later hour than
she had anticipated. But that falsehood! which showed a fatal
consciousness of something wrong, and to be concealed, which was unlike
her. He did her that justice, though all the time it would have been a
relief to believe her utterly unworthy of his esteem. It was this that
made the misery--that he passionately loved her, and thought her, even
with all her faults, more lovely and more excellent than any other
woman; yet he deemed her so attached to some other man, so led away by
her affection for him as to violate her truthful nature. The very
falsehood that stained her, was a proof how blindly she loved
another--this dark, slight, elegant, handsome man--while he himself was
rough, and stern, and strongly made. He lashed himself into an agony of
fierce jealousy. He thought of that look, that attitude!--how he would
have laid his life at her feet for such tender glances, such fond
detention! He mocked at himself, for having valued the mechanical way in
which she had protected him from the fury of the mob; now he had seen
how soft and bewitching she looked when with a man she really loved. He
remembered, point by point, the sharpness of her words--'There was not a
man in all that crowd for whom she would not have done as much, far more
readily than for him.' He shared with the mob, in her desire of averting
bloodshed from them; but this man, this hidden lover, shared with
nobody; he had looks, words, hand-cleavings, lies, concealment, all to
himself.

Mr. Thornton was conscious that he had never been so irritable as he was
now, in all his life long; he felt inclined to give a short abrupt
answer, more like a bark than a speech, to every one that asked him a
question; and this consciousness hurt his pride he had always piqued
himself on his self-control, and control himself he would. So the manner
was subdued to a quiet deliberation, but the matter was even harder and
sterner than common. He was more than usually silent at home; employing
his evenings in a continual pace backwards and forwards, which would
have annoyed his mother exceedingly if it had been practised by any one
else; and did not tend to promote any forbearance on her part even to
this beloved son.

'Can you stop--can you sit down for a moment? I have something to say to
you, if you would give up that everlasting walk, walk, walk.'

He sat down instantly, on a chair against the wall.

'I want to speak to you about Betsy. She says she must leave us; that
her lover's death has so affected her spirits she can't give her heart
to her work.'

'Very well. I suppose other cooks are to be met with.'

'That's so like a man. It's not merely the cooking, it is that she knows
all the ways of the house. Besides, she tells me something about your
friend Miss Hale.'

'Miss Hale is no friend of mine. Mr. Hale is my friend.'

'I am glad to hear you say so, for if she had been your friend, what
Betsy says would have annoyed you.'

'Let me hear it,' said he, with the extreme quietness of manner he had
been assuming for the last few days.

'Betsy says, that the night on which her lover--I forget his name--for
she always calls him "he"---- '

'Leonards.'

'The night on which Leonards was last seen at the station--when he was
last seen on duty, in fact--Miss Hale was there, walking about with a
young man who, Betsy believes, killed Leonards by some blow or push.'

'Leonards was not killed by any blow or push.'

'How do you know?'

'Because I distinctly put the question to the surgeon of the Infirmary.
He told me there was an internal disease of long standing, caused by
Leonards' habit of drinking to excess; that the fact of his becoming
rapidly worse while in a state of intoxication, settled the question as
to whether the last fatal attack was caused by excess of drinking, or
the fall.'

'The fall! What fall?'

'Caused by the blow or push of which Betsy speaks.'

'Then there was a blow or push?'

'I believe so.'

'And who did it?'

'As there was no inquest, in consequence of the doctor's opinion, I
cannot tell you.'

'But Miss Hale was there?'

No answer.

'And with a young man?'

Still no answer. At last he said: 'I tell you, mother, that there was no
inquest--no inquiry. No judicial inquiry, I mean.'

'Betsy says that Woolmer (some man she knows, who is in a grocer's shop
out at Crampton) can swear that Miss Hale was at the station at that
hour, walking backwards and forwards with a young man.'

'I don't see what we have to do with that. Miss Hale is at liberty to
please herself.'

'I'm glad to hear you say so,' said Mrs. Thornton, eagerly. 'It
certainly signifies very little to us--not at all to you, after what has
passed! but I--I made a promise to Mrs. Hale, that I would not allow her
daughter to go wrong without advising and remonstrating with her. I
shall certainly let her know my opinion of such conduct.'

'I do not see any harm in what she did that evening,' said Mr. Thornton,
getting up, and coming near to his mother; he stood by the chimney-piece
with his face turned away from the room.

'You would not have approved of Fanny's being seen out, after dark, in
rather a lonely place, walking about with a young man. I say nothing of
the taste which could choose the time, when her mother lay unburied, for
such a promenade. Should you have liked your sister to have been noticed
by a grocer's assistant for doing so?'

'In the first place, as it is not many years since I myself was a
draper's assistant, the mere circumstance of a grocer's assistant
noticing any act does not alter the character of the act to me. And in
the next place, I see a great deal of difference between Miss Hale and
Fanny. I can imagine that the one may have weighty reasons, which may
and ought to make her overlook any seeming Impropriety in her conduct. I
never knew Fanny have weighty reasons for anything. Other people must
guard her. I believe Miss Hale is a guardian to herself.'

'A pretty character of your sister, indeed! Really, John, one would have
thought Miss Hale had done enough to make you clear-sighted. She drew
you on to an offer, by a bold display of pretended regard for you,--to
play you off against this very young man, I've no doubt. Her whole
conduct is clear to me now. You believe he is her lover, I suppose--you
agree to that.'

He turned round to his mother; his face was very gray and grim. 'Yes,
mother. I do believe he is her lover.' When he had spoken, he turned
round again; he writhed himself about, like one in bodily pain. He leant
his face against his hand. Then before she could speak, he turned sharp
again:

'Mother. He is her lover, whoever he is; but she may need help and
womanly counsel;--there may be difficulties or temptations which I don't
know. I fear there are. I don't want to know what they are; but as you
have ever been a good--ay! and a tender mother to me, go to her, and
gain her confidence, and tell her what is best to be done. I know that
something is wrong; some dread, must be a terrible torture to her.'

'For God's sake, John!' said his mother, now really shocked, 'what do
you mean? What do you mean? What do you know?'

He did not reply to her.

'John! I don't know what I shan't think unless you speak. You have no
right to say what you have done against her.'

'Not against her, mother! I _could_ not speak against her.'

'Well! you have no right to say what you have done, unless you say more.
These half-expressions are what ruin a woman's character.'

'Her character! Mother, you do not dare--' he faced about, and looked
into her face with his flaming eyes. Then, drawing himself up into
determined composure and dignity, he said, 'I will not say any more than
this, which is neither more nor less than the simple truth, and I am
sure you believe me,--I have good reason to believe, that Miss Hale is
in some strait and difficulty connected with an attachment which, of
itself, from my knowledge of Miss Hale's character, is perfectly
innocent and right. What my reason is, I refuse to tell. But never let
me hear any one say a word against her, implying any more serious
imputation than that she now needs the counsel of some kind and gentle
woman. You promised Mrs. Hale to be that woman!'

'No!' said Mrs. Thornton. 'I am happy to say, I did not promise kindness
and gentleness, for I felt at the time that it might be out of my power
to render these to one of Miss Hale's character and disposition. I
promised counsel and advice, such as I would give to my own daughter; I
shall speak to her as I would do to Fanny, if she had gone gallivanting
with a young man in the dusk. I shall speak with relation to the
circumstances I know, without being influenced either one way or another
by the "strong reasons" which you will not confide to me. Then I shall
have fulfilled my promise, and done my duty.'

'She will never bear it,' said he passionately.

'She will have to bear it, if I speak in her dead mother's name.'

'Well!' said he, breaking away, 'don't tell me any more about it. I
cannot endure to think of it. It will be better that you should speak to
her any way, than that she should not be spoken to at all.--Oh! that
look of love!' continued he, between his teeth, as he bolted himself
into his own private room. 'And that cursed lie; which showed some
terrible shame in the background, to be kept from the light in which I
thought she lived perpetually! Oh, Margaret, Margaret! Mother, how you
have tortured me! Oh! Margaret, could you not have loved me? I am but
uncouth and hard, but I would never have led you into any falsehood for
me.'

The more Mrs. Thornton thought over what her son had said, in pleading
for a merciful judgment for Margaret's indiscretion, the more bitterly
she felt inclined towards her. She took a savage pleasure in the idea of
'speaking her mind' to her, in the guise of fulfilment of a duty. She
enjoyed the thought of showing herself untouched by the 'glamour,' which
she was well aware Margaret had the power of throwing over many people.
She snorted scornfully over the picture of the beauty of her victim; her
jet black hair, her clear smooth skin, her lucid eyes would not help to
save her one word of the just and stern reproach which Mrs. Thornton
spent half the night in preparing to her mind.

'Is Miss Hale within?' She knew she was, for she had seen her at the
window, and she had her feet inside the little hall before Martha had
half answered her question.

Margaret was sitting alone, writing to Edith, and giving her many
particulars of her mother's last days. It was a softening employment,
and she had to brush away the unbidden tears as Mrs. Thornton was
announced.

She was so gentle and ladylike in her mode of reception that her visitor
was somewhat daunted; and it became impossible to utter the speech, so
easy of arrangement with no one to address it to. Margaret's low rich
voice was softer than usual; her manner more gracious, because in her
heart she was feeling very grateful to Mrs. Thornton for the courteous
attention of her call. She exerted herself to find subjects of interest
for conversation; praised Martha, the servant whom Mrs. Thornton had
found for them; had asked Edith for a little Greek air, about which she
had spoken to Miss Thornton. Mrs. Thornton was fairly discomfited. Her
sharp Damascus blade seemed out of place, and useless among rose-leaves.
She was silent, because she was trying to task herself up to her duty.
At last, she stung herself into its performance by a suspicion which, in
spite of all probability, she allowed to cross her mind, that all this
sweetness was put on with a view of propitiating Mr. Thornton; that,
somehow, the other attachment had fallen through, and that it suited
Miss Hale's purpose to recall her rejected lover. Poor Margaret! there
was perhaps so much truth in the suspicion as this: that Mrs. Thornton
was the mother of one whose regard she valued, and feared to have lost;
and this thought unconsciously added to her natural desire of pleasing
one who was showing her kindness by her visit. Mrs. Thornton stood up to
go, but yet she seemed to have something more to say. She cleared her
throat and began:

'Miss Hale, I have a duty to perform. I promised your poor mother that,
as far as my poor judgment went, I would not allow you to act in any way
wrongly, or (she softened her speech down a little here) inadvertently,
without remonstrating; at least, without offering advice, whether you
took it or not.'

Margaret stood before her, blushing like any culprit, with her eyes
dilating as she gazed at Mrs. Thornton. She thought she had come to
speak to her about the falsehood she had told--that Mr. Thornton had
employed her to explain the danger she had exposed herself to, of being
confuted in full court! and although her heart sank to think he had not
rather chosen to come himself, and upbraid her, and receive her
penitence, and restore her again to his good opinion, yet she was too
much humbled not to bear any blame on this subject patiently and meekly.

Mrs. Thornton went on:

'At first, when I heard from one of my servants, that you had been seen
walking about with a gentleman, so far from home as the Outwood station,
at such a time of the evening, I could hardly believe it. But my son, I
am sorry to say, confirmed her story. It was indiscreet, to say the
least; many a young woman has lost her character before now---- '

Margaret's eyes flashed fire. This was a new idea--this was too
insulting. If Mrs. Thornton had spoken to her about the lie she had
told, well and good--she would have owned it, and humiliated herself.
But to interfere with her conduct--to speak of her character! she--Mrs.
Thornton, a mere stranger--it was too impertinent! She would not answer
her--not one word. Mrs. Thornton saw the battle-spirit in Margaret's
eyes, and it called up her combativeness also.

'For your mother's sake, I have thought it right to warn you against
such improprieties; they must degrade you in the long run in the
estimation of the world, even if in fact they do not lead you to
positive harm.'

'For my mother's sake,' said Margaret, in a tearful voice, 'I will bear
much; but I cannot bear everything. She never meant me to be exposed to
insult, I am sure.'

'Insult, Miss Hale!'

'Yes, madam,' said Margaret more steadily, 'it is insult. What do you
know of me that should lead you to suspect--Oh!' said she, breaking
down, and covering her face with her hands--'I know now, Mr. Thornton
has told you---- '

'No, Miss Hale,' said Mrs. Thornton, her truthfulness causing her to
arrest the confession Margaret was on the point of making, though her
curiosity was itching to hear it. 'Stop. Mr. Thornton has told me
nothing. You do not know my son. You are not worthy to know him. He said
this. Listen, young lady, that you may understand, if you can, what sort
of a man you rejected. This Milton manufacturer, his great tender heart
scorned as it was scorned, said to me only last night, "Go to her. I
have good reason to know that she is in some strait, arising out of some
attachment; and she needs womanly counsel." I believe those were his
very words. Farther than that--beyond admitting the fact of your being
at the Outwood station with a gentleman, on the evening of the
twenty-sixth--he has said nothing--not one word against you. If he has
knowledge of anything which should make you sob so, he keeps it to
himself.'

Margaret's face was still hidden in her hands, the fingers of which were
wet with tears. Mrs. Thornton was a little mollified.

'Come, Miss Hale. There may be circumstances, I'll allow, that, if
explained, may take off from the seeming impropriety.'

Still no answer. Margaret was considering what to say; she wished to
stand well with Mrs. Thornton; and yet she could not, might not, give
any explanation. Mrs. Thornton grew impatient.

'I shall be sorry to break off an acquaintance; but for Fanny's sake--as
I told my son, if Fanny had done so we should consider it a great
disgrace--and Fanny might be led away---- '

'I can give you no explanation,' said Margaret, in a low voice. 'I have
done wrong, but not in the way you think or know about. I think Mr.
Thornton judges me more mercifully than you;'--she had hard work to keep
herself from choking with her tears--'but, I believe, madam, you mean to
do rightly.'

'Thank you,' said Mrs. Thornton, drawing herself up; 'I was not aware
that my meaning was doubted. It is the last time I shall interfere. I
was unwilling to consent to do it, when your mother asked me. I had not
approved of my son's attachment to you, while I only suspected it. You
did not appear to me worthy of him. But when you compromised yourself as
you did at the time of the riot, and exposed yourself to the comments of
servants and workpeople, I felt it was no longer right to set myself
against my son's wish of proposing to you--a wish, by the way, which he
had always denied entertaining until the day of the riot.' Margaret
winced, and drew in her breath with a long, hissing sound; of which,
however, Mrs. Thornton took no notice. 'He came; you had apparently
changed your mind. I told my son yesterday, that I thought it possible,
short as was the interval, you might have heard or learnt something of
this other lover---- '

'What must you think of me, madam?' asked Margaret, throwing her head
back with proud disdain, till her throat curved outwards like a swan's.
'You can say nothing more, Mrs. Thornton. I decline every attempt to
justify myself for anything. You must allow me to leave the room.'

And she swept out of it with the noiseless grace of an offended
princess. Mrs. Thornton had quite enough of natural humour to make her
feel the ludicrousness of the position in which she was left. There was
nothing for it but to show herself out. She was not particularly annoyed
at Margaret's way of behaving. She did not care enough for her for that.
She had taken Mrs. Thornton's remonstrance to the full as keenly to
heart as that lady expected; and Margaret's passion at once mollified
her visitor, far more than any silence or reserve could have done. It
showed the effect of her words. 'My young lady,' thought Mrs. Thornton
to herself; 'you've a pretty good temper of your own. If John and you
had come together, he would have had to keep a tight hand over you, to
make you know your place. But I don't think you will go a-walking again
with your beau, at such an hour of the day, in a hurry. You've too much
pride and spirit in you for that. I like to see a girl fly out at the
notion of being talked about. It shows they're neither giddy, nor bold
by nature. As for that girl, she might be bold, but she'd never be
giddy. I'll do her that justice. Now as to Fanny, she'd be giddy, and
not bold. She's no courage in her, poor thing!'

Mr. Thornton was not spending the morning so satisfactorily as his
mother. She, at any rate, was fulfilling her determined purpose. He was
trying to understand where he stood; what damage the strike had done
him. A good deal of his capital was locked up in new and expensive
machinery; and he had also bought cotton largely, with a view to some
great orders which he had in hand. The strike had thrown him terribly
behindhand, as to the completion of these orders. Even with his own
accustomed and skilled workpeople, he would have had some difficulty in
fulfilling his engagements; as it was, the incompetence of the Irish
hands, who had to be trained to their work, at a time requiring unusual
activity, was a daily annoyance.

It was not a favourable hour for Higgins to make his request. But he had
promised Margaret to do it at any cost. So, though every moment added to
his repugnance, his pride, and his sullenness of temper, he stood
leaning against the dead wall, hour after hour, first on one leg, then
on the other. At last the latch was sharply lifted, and out came Mr.
Thornton.

'I want for to speak to yo', sir.'

'Can't stay now, my man. I'm too late as it is.'

'Well, sir, I reckon I can wait till yo' come back.'

Mr. Thornton was half way down the street. Higgins sighed. But it was no
use. To catch him in the street was his only chance of seeing 'the
measter;' if he had rung the lodge bell, or even gone up to the house to
ask for him, he would have been referred to the overlooker. So he stood
still again, vouchsafing no answer, but a short nod of recognition to
the few men who knew and spoke to him, as the crowd drove out of the
millyard at dinner-time, and scowling with all his might at the Irish
'knobsticks' who had just been imported. At last Mr. Thornton returned.

'What! you there still!'

'Ay, sir. I mun speak to yo'.'

'Come in here, then. Stay, we'll go across the yard; the men are not
come back, and we shall have it to ourselves. These good people, I see,
are at dinner;' said he, closing the door of the porter's lodge.

He stopped to speak to the overlooker. The latter said in a low tone:

'I suppose you know, sir, that that man is Higgins, one of the leaders
of the Union; he that made that speech in Hurstfield.'

'No, I didn't,' said Mr. Thornton, looking round sharply at his
follower. Higgins was known to him by name as a turbulent spirit.

'Come along,' said he, and his tone was rougher than before. 'It is men
such as this,' thought he, 'who interrupt commerce and injure the very
town they live in: mere demagogues, lovers of power, at whatever cost to
others.'

'Well, sir! what do you want with me?' said Mr. Thornton, facing round
at him, as soon as they were in the counting-house of the mill.

'My name is Higgins'--

'I know that,' broke in Mr. Thornton. 'What do you want, Mr. Higgins?
That's the question.'

'I want work.'

'Work! You're a pretty chap to come asking me for work. You don't want
impudence, that's very clear.'

'I've getten enemies and backbiters, like my betters; but I ne'er heerd
o' ony of them calling me o'er-modest,' said Higgins. His blood was a
little roused by Mr. Thornton's manner, more than by his words.

Mr. Thornton saw a letter addressed to himself on the table. He took it
up and read it through. At the end, he looked up and said, 'What are you
waiting for?'

'An answer to the question I axed.'

'I gave it you before. Don't waste any more of your time.'

'Yo' made a remark, sir, on my impudence: but I were taught that it was
manners to say either "yes" or "no," when I were axed a civil question.
I should be thankfu' to yo' if yo'd give me work. Hamper will speak to
my being a good hand.'

'I've a notion you'd better not send me to Hamper to ask for a
character, my man. I might hear more than you'd like.'

'I'd take th' risk. Worst they could say of me is, that I did what I
thought best, even to my own wrong.'

'You'd better go and try them, then, and see whether they'll give you
work. I've turned off upwards of a hundred of my best hands, for no
other fault than following you and such as you; and d'ye think I'll take
you on? I might as well put a firebrand into the midst of the
cotton-waste.'

Higgins turned away; then the recollection of Boucher came over him, and
he faced round with the greatest concession he could persuade himself to
make.

'I'd promise yo', measter, I'd not speak a word as could do harm, if so
be yo' did right by us; and I'd promise more: I'd promise that when I
seed yo' going wrong, and acting unfair, I'd speak to yo' in private
first; and that would be a fair warning. If yo' and I did na agree in
our opinion o' your conduct, yo' might turn me off at an hour's notice.'

'Upon my word, you don't think small beer of yourself! Hamper has had a
loss of you. How came he to let you and your wisdom go?'

'Well, we parted wi' mutual dissatisfaction. I wouldn't gi'e the pledge
they were asking; and they wouldn't have me at no rate. So I'm free to
make another engagement; and as I said before, though I should na' say
it, I'm a good hand, measter, and a steady man--specially when I can
keep fro' drink; and that I shall do now, if I ne'er did afore.'

'That you may have more money laid up for another strike, I suppose?'

'No! I'd be thankful if I was free to do that; it's for to keep th'
widow and childer of a man who was drove mad by them knobsticks o'
yourn; put out of his place by a Paddy that did na know weft fro' warp.'

'Well! you'd better turn to something else, if you've any such good
intention in your head. I shouldn't advise you to stay in Milton: you're
too well known here.'

'If it were summer,' said Higgins, 'I'd take to Paddy's work, and go as
a navvy, or haymaking, or summut, and ne'er see Milton again. But it's
winter, and th' childer will clem.'

'A pretty navvy you'd make! why, you couldn't do half a day's work at
digging against an Irishman.'

'I'd only charge half-a-day for th' twelve hours, if I could only do
half-a-day's work in th' time. Yo're not knowing of any place, where
they could gi' me a trial, away fro' the mills, if I'm such a firebrand?
I'd take any wage they thought I was worth, for the sake of those
childer.'

'Don't you see what you would be? You'd be a knobstick. You'd be taking
less wages than the other labourers--all for the sake of another man's
children. Think how you'd abuse any poor fellow who was willing to take
what he could get to keep his own children. You and your Union would
soon be down upon him. No! no! if it's only for the recollection of the
way in which you've used the poor knobsticks before now, I say No! to
your question. I'll not give you work. I won't say, I don't believe your
pretext for coming and asking for work; I know nothing about it. It may
be true, or it may not. It's a very unlikely story, at any rate. Let me
pass. I'll not give you work. There's your answer.'

'I hear, sir. I would na ha' troubled yo', but that I were bid to come,
by one as seemed to think yo'd getten some soft place in, yo'r heart.
Hoo were mistook, and I were misled. But I'm not the first man as is
misled by a woman.'

'Tell her to mind her own business the next time, instead of taking up
your time and mine too. I believe women are at the bottom of every
plague in this world. Be off with you.'

'I'm obleeged to yo' for a' yo'r kindness, measter, and most of a' for
yo'r civil way o' saying good-bye.'

Mr. Thornton did not deign a reply. But, looking out of the window a
minute after, he was struck with the lean, bent figure going out of the
yard: the heavy walk was in strange contrast with the resolute, clear
determination of the man to speak to him. He crossed to the porter's
lodge:

'How long has that man Higgins been waiting to speak to me?'

'He was outside the gate before eight o'clock, sir. I think he's been
there ever since.'

'And it is now--?'

'Just one, sir.'

'Five hours,' thought Mr. Thornton; 'it's a long time for a man to wait,
doing nothing but first hoping and then fearing.'



CHAPTER XXXIX

MAKING FRIENDS

    'Nay, I have done; you get no more of me:
     And I am glad, yea glad with all my heart,
     That thus so clearly I myself am free.'
             DRAYTON.


Margaret shut herself up in her own room, after she had quitted Mrs.
Thornton. She began to walk backwards and forwards, in her old habitual
way of showing agitation; but, then, remembering that in that
slightly-built house every step was heard from one room to another, she
sate down until she heard Mrs. Thornton go safely out of the house. She
forced herself to recollect all the conversation that had passed between
them; speech by speech, she compelled her memory to go through with it.
At the end, she rose up, and said to herself, in a melancholy tone:

'At any rate, her words do not touch me; they fall off from me; for I am
innocent of all the motives she attributes to me. But still, it is hard
to think that any one--any woman--can believe all this of another so
easily. It is hard and sad. Where I have done wrong, she does not accuse
me--she does not know. He never told her: I might have known he would
not!'

She lifted up her head, as if she took pride in any delicacy of feeling
which Mr. Thornton had shown. Then, as a new thought came across her,
she pressed her hands tightly together.

'He, too, must take poor Frederick for some lover.' (She blushed as the
word passed through her mind.) 'I see it now. It is not merely that he
knows of my falsehood, but he believes that some one else cares for me;
and that I---- Oh dear!--oh dear! What shall I do? What do I mean? Why
do I care what he thinks, beyond the mere loss of his good opinion as
regards my telling the truth or not? I cannot tell. But I am very
miserable! Oh, how unhappy this last year has been! I have passed out of
childhood into old age. I have had no youth--no womanhood; the hopes of
womanhood have closed for me--for I shall never marry; and I anticipate
cares and sorrows just as if I were an old woman, and with the same
fearful spirit. I am weary of this continual call upon me for strength.
I could bear up for papa; because that is a natural, pious duty. And I
think I could bear up against--at any rate, I could have the energy to
resent, Mrs. Thornton's unjust, impertinent suspicions. But it is hard
to feel how completely he must misunderstand me. What has happened to
make me so morbid to-day? I do not know. I only know I cannot help it. I
must give way sometimes. No, I will not, though,' said she, springing to
her feet. 'I will not--I _will_ not think of myself and my own position.
I won't examine into my own feelings. It would be of no use now. Some
time, if I live to be an old woman, I may sit over the fire, and,
looking into the embers, see the life that might have been.'

All this time, she was hastily putting on her things to go out, only
stopping from time to time to wipe her eyes, with an impatience of
gesture at the tears that would come, in spite of all her bravery.

'I dare say, there's many a woman makes as sad a mistake as I have done,
and only finds it out too late. And how proudly and impertinently I
spoke to him that day! But I did not know then. It has come upon me
little by little, and I don't know where it began. Now I won't give way.
I shall find it difficult to behave in the same way to him, with this
miserable consciousness upon me; but I will be very calm and very quiet,
and say very little. But, to be sure, I may not see him; he keeps out of
our way evidently. That would be worse than all. And yet no wonder that
he avoids me, believing what he must about me.'

She went out, going rapidly towards the country, and trying to drown
reflection by swiftness of motion.

As she stood on the door-step, at her return, her father came up:

'Good girl!' said he. 'You've been to Mrs. Boucher's. I was just meaning
to go there, if I had time, before dinner.'

'No, papa; I have not,' said Margaret, reddening. 'I never thought about
her. But I will go directly after dinner; I will go while you are taking
your nap.

Accordingly Margaret went. Mrs. Boucher was very ill; really ill--not
merely ailing. The kind and sensible neighbour, who had come in the
other day, seemed to have taken charge of everything. Some of the
children were gone to the neighbours. Mary Higgins had come for the
three youngest at dinner-time; and since then Nicholas had gone for the
doctor. He had not come as yet; Mrs. Boucher was dying; and there was
nothing to do but to wait. Margaret thought that she should like to know
his opinion, and that she could not do better than go and see the
Higginses in the meantime. She might then possibly hear whether Nicholas
had been able to make his application to Mr. Thornton.

She found Nicholas busily engaged in making a penny spin on the dresser,
for the amusement of three little children, who were clinging to him in
a fearless manner. He, as well as they, was smiling at a good long spin;
and Margaret thought, that the happy look of interest in his occupation
was a good sign. When the penny stopped spinning, 'lile Johnnie' began
to cry.

'Come to me,' said Margaret, taking him off the dresser, and holding him
in her arms; she held her watch to his ear, while she asked Nicholas if
he had seen Mr. Thornton.

The look on his face changed instantly.

'Ay!' said he. 'I've seen and heerd too much on him.'

'He refused you, then?' said Margaret, sorrowfully.

'To be sure. I knew he'd do it all long. It's no good expecting marcy at
the hands o' them measters. Yo're a stranger and a foreigner, and aren't
likely to know their ways; but I knowed it.'

'I am sorry I asked you. Was he angry? He did not speak to you as Hamper
did, did he?'

'He weren't o'er-civil!' said Nicholas, spinning the penny again, as
much for his own amusement as for that of the children. 'Never yo' fret,
I'm only where I was. I'll go on tramp to-morrow. I gave him as good as
I got. I telled him, I'd not that good opinion on him that I'd ha' come
a second time of mysel'; but yo'd advised me for to come, and I were
beholden to yo'.'

'You told him I sent you?'

'I dunno' if I ca'd yo' by your name. I dunnot think I did. I said, a
woman who knew no better had advised me for to come and see if there was
a soft place in his heart.'

'And he--?' asked Margaret.

'Said I were to tell yo' to mind yo'r own business.--That's the longest
spin yet, my lads.--And them's civil words to what he used to me. But
ne'er mind. We're but where we was; and I'll break stones on th' road
afore I let these little uns clem.'

Margaret put the struggling Johnnie out of her arms, back into his
former place on the dresser.

'I am sorry I asked you to go to Mr. Thornton's. I am disappointed in
him.'

There was a slight noise behind her. Both she and Nicholas turned round
at the same moment, and there stood Mr. Thornton, with a look of
displeased surprise upon his face. Obeying her swift impulse, Margaret
passed out before him, saying not a word, only bowing low to hide the
sudden paleness that she felt had come over her face. He bent equally
low in return, and then closed the door after her. As she hurried to
Mrs. Boucher's, she heard the clang, and it seemed to fill up the
measure of her mortification. He too was annoyed to find her there. He
had tenderness in his heart--'a soft place,' as Nicholas Higgins called
it; but he had some pride in concealing it; he kept it very sacred and
safe, and was jealous of every circumstance that tried to gain
admission. But if he dreaded exposure of his tenderness, he was equally
desirous that all men should recognise his justice; and he felt that he
had been unjust, in giving so scornful a hearing to any one who had
waited, with humble patience, for five hours, to speak to him. That the
man had spoken saucily to him when he had the opportunity, was nothing
to Mr. Thornton. He rather liked him for it; and he was conscious of his
own irritability of temper at the time, which probably made them both
quits. It was the five hours of waiting that struck Mr. Thornton. He had
not five hours to spare himself; but one hour--two hours, of his hard
penetrating intellectual, as well as bodily labour, did he give up to
going about collecting evidence as to the truth of Higgins's story, the
nature of his character, the tenor of his life. He tried not to be, but
was convinced that all that Higgins had said was true. And then the
conviction went in, as if by some spell, and touched the latent
tenderness of his heart; the patience of the man, the simple generosity
of the motive (for he had learnt about the quarrel between Boucher and
Higgins), made him forget entirely the mere reasonings of justice, and
overleap them by a diviner instinct. He came to tell Higgins he would
give him work; and he was more annoyed to find Margaret there than by
hearing her last words, for then he understood that she was the woman
who had urged Higgins to come to him; and he dreaded the admission of
any thought of her, as a motive to what he was doing solely because it
was right.

'So that was the lady you spoke of as a woman?' said he indignantly to
Higgins. 'You might have told me who she was.

'And then, maybe, yo'd ha' spoken of her more civil than yo' did; yo'd
getten a mother who might ha' kept yo'r tongue in check when yo' were
talking o' women being at the root o' all the plagues.'

'Of course you told that to Miss Hale?'

'In coorse I did. Leastways, I reckon I did. I telled her she weren't to
meddle again in aught that concerned yo'.'

'Whose children are those--yours?' Mr. Thornton had a pretty good notion
whose they were, from what he had heard; but he felt awkward in turning
the conversation round from this unpromising beginning.

'They're not mine, and they are mine.'

'They are the children you spoke of to me this morning?'

'When yo' said,' replied Higgins, turning round, with ill-smothered
fierceness, 'that my story might be true or might not, bur it were a
very unlikely one. Measter, I've not forgetten.'

Mr. Thornton was silent for a moment; then he said: 'No more have I. I
remember what I said. I spoke to you about those children in a way I had
no business to do. I did not believe you. I could not have taken care of
another man's children myself, if he had acted towards me as I hear
Boucher did towards you. But I know now that you spoke truth. I beg your
pardon.'

Higgins did not turn round, or immediately respond to this. But when he
did speak, it was in a softened tone, although the words were gruff
enough.

'Yo've no business to go prying into what happened between Boucher and
me. He's dead, and I'm sorry. That's enough.'

'So it is. Will you take work with me? That's what I came to ask.'

Higgins's obstinacy wavered, recovered strength, and stood firm. He
would not speak. Mr. Thornton would not ask again. Higgins's eye fell on
the children.

'Yo've called me impudent, and a liar, and a mischief-maker, and yo'
might ha' said wi' some truth, as I were now and then given to drink.
An' I ha' called you a tyrant, an' an oud bull-dog, and a hard, cruel
master; that's where it stands. But for th' childer. Measter, do yo'
think we can e'er get on together?'

'Well!' said Mr. Thornton, half-laughing, 'it was not my proposal that
we should go together. But there's one comfort, on your own showing. We
neither of us can think much worse of the other than we do now.'

'That's true,' said Higgins, reflectively. 'I've been thinking, ever
sin' I saw you, what a marcy it were yo' did na take me on, for that I
ne'er saw a man whom I could less abide. But that's maybe been a hasty
judgment; and work's work to such as me. So, measter, I'll come; and
what's more, I thank yo'; and that's a deal fro' me,' said he, more
frankly, suddenly turning round and facing Mr. Thornton fully for the
first time.

'And this is a deal from me,' said Mr. Thornton, giving Higgins's hand a
good grip. 'Now mind you come sharp to your time,' continued he,
resuming the master. 'I'll have no laggards at my mill. What fines we
have, we keep pretty sharply. And the first time I catch you making
mischief, off you go. So now you know where you are.'

'Yo' spoke of my wisdom this morning. I reckon I may bring it wi' me; or
would yo' rayther have me 'bout my brains?'

''Bout your brains if you use them for meddling with my business; with
your brains if you can keep them to your own.'

'I shall need a deal o' brains to settle where my business ends and
yo'rs begins.'

'Your business has not begun yet, and mine stands still for me. So good
afternoon.'

Just before Mr. Thornton came up to Mrs. Boucher's door, Margaret came
out of it. She did not see him; and he followed her for several yards,
admiring her light and easy walk, and her tall and graceful figure. But,
suddenly, this simple emotion of pleasure was tainted, poisoned by
jealousy. He wished to overtake her, and speak to her, to see how she
would receive him, now she must know he was aware of some other
attachment. He wished too, but of this wish he was rather ashamed, that
she should know that he had justified her wisdom in sending Higgins to
him to ask for work; and had repented him of his morning's decision. He
came up to her. She started.

'Allow me to say, Miss Hale, that you were rather premature in
expressing your disappointment. I have taken Higgins on.'

'I am glad of it,' said she, coldly.

'He tells me, he repeated to you, what I said this morning about--' Mr.
Thornton hesitated. Margaret took it up:

'About women not meddling. You had a perfect right to express your
opinion, which was a very correct one, I have no doubt. But,' she went
on a little more eagerly, 'Higgins did not quite tell you the exact
truth.' The word 'truth,' reminded her of her own untruth, and she
stopped short, feeling exceedingly uncomfortable.

Mr. Thornton at first was puzzled to account for her silence; and then
he remembered the lie she had told, and all that was foregone. 'The
exact truth!' said he. 'Very few people do speak the exact truth. I have
given up hoping for it. Miss Hale, have you no explanation to give me?
You must perceive what I cannot but think.'

Margaret was silent. She was wondering whether an explanation of any
kind would be consistent with her loyalty to Frederick.

'Nay,' said he, 'I will ask no farther. I may be putting temptation in
your way. At present, believe me, your secret is safe with me. But you
run great risks, allow me to say, in being so indiscreet. I am now only
speaking as a friend of your father's: if I had any other thought or
hope, of course that is at an end. I am quite disinterested.'

'I am aware of that,' said Margaret, forcing herself to speak in an
indifferent, careless way. 'I am aware of what I must appear to you, but
the secret is another person's, and I cannot explain it without doing
him harm.'

'I have not the slightest wish to pry into the gentleman's secrets,' he
said, with growing anger. 'My own interest in you is--simply that of a
friend. You may not believe me, Miss Hale, but it is--in spite of the
persecution I'm afraid I threatened you with at one time--but that is
all given up; all passed away. You believe me, Miss Hale?'

'Yes,' said Margaret, quietly and sadly.

'Then, really, I don't see any occasion for us to go on walking
together. I thought, perhaps you might have had something to say, but I
see we are nothing to each other. If you're quite convinced, that any
foolish passion on my part is entirely over, I will wish you good
afternoon.' He walked off very hastily.

'What can he mean?' thought Margaret,--'what could he mean by speaking
so, as if I were always thinking that he cared for me, when I know he
does not; he cannot. His mother will have said all those cruel things
about me to him. But I won't care for him. I surely am mistress enough
of myself to control this wild, strange, miserable feeling, which
tempted me even to betray my own dear Frederick, so that I might but
regain his good opinion--the good opinion of a man who takes such pains
to tell me that I am nothing to him. Come poor little heart! be cheery
and brave. We'll be a great deal to one another, if we are thrown off
and left desolate.'

Her father was almost startled by her merriment this afternoon. She
talked incessantly, and forced her natural humour to an unusual pitch;
and if there was a tinge of bitterness in much of what she said; if her
accounts of the old Harley Street set were a little sarcastic, her
father could not bear to check her, as he would have done at another
time--for he was glad to see her shake off her cares. In the middle of
the evening, she was called down to speak to Mary Higgins; and when she
came back, Mr. Hale imagined that he saw traces of tears on her cheeks.
But that could not be, for she brought good news--that Higgins had got
work at Mr. Thornton's mill. Her spirits were damped, at any rate, and
she found it very difficult to go on talking at all, much more in the
wild way that she had done. For some days her spirits varied strangely;
and her father was beginning to be anxious about her, when news arrived
from one or two quarters that promised some change and variety for her.
Mr. Hale received a letter from Mr. Bell, in which that gentleman
volunteered a visit to them; and Mr. Hale imagined that the promised
society of his old Oxford friend would give as agreeable a turn to
Margaret's ideas as it did to his own. Margaret tried to take an
interest in what pleased her father; but she was too languid to care
about any Mr. Bell, even though he were twenty times her godfather. She
was more roused by a letter from Edith, full of sympathy about her
aunt's death; full of details about herself, her husband, and child; and
at the end saying, that as the climate did not suit, the baby, and as
Mrs. Shaw was talking of returning to England, she thought it probable
that Captain Lennox might sell out, and that they might all go and live
again in the old Harley Street house; which, however, would seem very
incomplete with-out Margaret. Margaret yearned after that old house, and
the placid tranquillity of that old well-ordered, monotonous life. She
had found it occasionally tiresome while it lasted; but since then she
had been buffeted about, and felt so exhausted by this recent struggle
with herself, that she thought that even stagnation would be a rest and
a refreshment. So she began to look towards a long visit to the
Lennoxes, on their return to England, as to a point--no, not of
hope--but of leisure, in which she could regain her power and command
over herself. At present it seemed to her as if all subjects tended
towards Mr. Thornton; as if she could not forget him with all her
endeavours. If she went to see the Higginses, she heard of him there;
her father had resumed their readings together, and quoted his opinions
perpetually; even Mr. Bell's visit brought his tenant's name upon the
tapis; for he wrote word that he believed he must be occupied some great
part of his time with Mr. Thornton, as a new lease was in preparation,
and the terms of it must be agreed upon.



CHAPTER XL

OUT OF TUNE

    'I have no wrong, where I can claim no right,
     Naught ta'en me fro, where I have nothing had,
     Yet of my woe I cannot so be quite;
     Namely, since that another may be glad
     With that, that thus in sorrow makes me sad.'
             WYATT.


Margaret had not expected much pleasure to herself from Mr. Bell's
visit--she had only looked forward to it on her father's account, but
when her godfather came, she at once fell into the most natural position
of friendship in the world. He said she had no merit in being what she
was, a girl so entirely after his own heart; it was an hereditary power
which she had, to walk in and take possession of his regard; while she,
in reply, gave him much credit for being so fresh and young under his
Fellow's cap and gown.

'Fresh and young in warmth and kindness, I mean. I'm afraid I must own,
that I think your opinions are the oldest and mustiest I have met with
this long time.'

'Hear this daughter of yours, Hale. Her residence in Milton has quite
corrupted her. She's a democrat, a red republican, a member of the Peace
Society, a socialist--'

'Papa, it's all because I'm standing up for the progress of commerce.
Mr. Bell would have had it keep still at exchanging wild-beast skins for
acorns.'

'No, no. I'd dig the ground and grow potatoes. And I'd shave the
wild-beast skins and make the wool into broad cloth. Don't exaggerate,
missy. But I'm tired of this bustle. Everybody rushing over everybody,
in their hurry to get rich.'

'It is not every one who can sit comfortably in a set of college rooms,
and let his riches grow without any exertion of his own. No doubt there
is many a man here who would be thankful if his property would increase
as yours has done, without his taking any trouble about it,' said Mr.
Hale.

'I don't believe they would. It's the bustle and the struggle they like.
As for sitting still, and learning from the past, or shaping out the
future by faithful work done in a prophetic spirit--Why! Pooh! I don't
believe there's a man in Milton who knows how to sit still; and it is a
great art.'

'Milton people, I suspect, think Oxford men don't know how to move. It
would be a very good thing if they mixed a little more.'

'It might be good for the Miltoners. Many things might be good for them
which would be very disagreeable for other people.'

'Are you not a Milton man yourself?' asked Margaret. 'I should have
thought you would have been proud of your town.'

'I confess, I don't see what there is to be proud of. If you'll only
come to Oxford, Margaret, I will show you a place to glory in.'

'Well!' said Mr. Hale, 'Mr. Thornton is coming to drink tea with us
to-night, and he is as proud of Milton as you of Oxford. You two must
try and make each other a little more liberal-minded.'

'I don't want to be more liberal-minded, thank you,' said Mr. Bell.

'Is Mr. Thornton coming to tea, papa?' asked Margaret in a low voice.

'Either to tea or soon after. He could not tell. He told us not to
wait.'

Mr. Thornton had determined that he would make no inquiry of his mother
as to how far she had put her project into execution of speaking to
Margaret about the impropriety of her conduct. He felt pretty sure that,
if this interview took place, his mother's account of what passed at it
would only annoy and chagrin him, though he would all the time be aware
of the colouring which it received by passing through her mind. He
shrank from hearing Margaret's very name mentioned; he, while he blamed
her--while he was jealous of her--while he renounced her--he loved her
sorely, in spite of himself. He dreamt of her; he dreamt she came
dancing towards him with outspread arms, and with a lightness and gaiety
which made him loathe her, even while it allured him. But the impression
of this figure of Margaret--with all Margaret's character taken out of
it, as completely as if some evil spirit had got possession of her
form--was so deeply stamped upon his imagination, that when he wakened
he felt hardly able to separate the Una from the Duessa; and the dislike
he had to the latter seemed to envelope and disfigure the former. Yet he
was too proud to acknowledge his weakness by avoiding the sight of her.
He would neither seek an opportunity of being in her company nor avoid
it. To convince himself of his power of self-control, he lingered over
every piece of business this afternoon; he forced every movement into
unnatural slowness and deliberation; and it was consequently past eight
o'clock before he reached Mr. Hale's. Then there were business
arrangements to be transacted in the study with Mr. Bell; and the latter
kept on, sitting over the fire, and talking wearily, long after all
business was transacted, and when they might just as well have gone
upstairs. But Mr. Thornton would not say a word about moving their
quarters; he chafed and chafed, and thought Mr. Bell a most prosy
companion; while Mr. Bell returned the compliment in secret, by
considering Mr. Thornton about as brusque and curt a fellow as he had
ever met with, and terribly gone off both in intelligence and manner. At
last, some slight noise in the room above suggested the desirableness of
moving there. They found Margaret with a letter open before her, eagerly
discussing its contents with her father. On the entrance of the
gentlemen, it was immediately put aside; but Mr. Thornton's eager senses
caught some few words of Mr. Hale's to Mr. Bell.

'A letter from Henry Lennox. It makes Margaret very hopeful.'

Mr. Bell nodded. Margaret was red as a rose when Mr. Thornton looked at
her. He had the greatest mind in the world to get up and go out of the
room that very instant, and never set foot in the house again.

'We were thinking,' said Mr. Hale, 'that you and Mr. Thornton had taken
Margaret's advice, and were each trying to convert the other, you were
so long in the study.'

'And you thought there would be nothing left of us but an opinion, like
the Kilkenny cat's tail. Pray whose opinion did you think would have the
most obstinate vitality?'

Mr. Thornton had not a notion what they were talking about, and
disdained to inquire. Mr. Hale politely enlightened him.

'Mr. Thornton, we were accusing Mr. Bell this morning of a kind of
Oxonian mediaeval bigotry against his native town; and we--Margaret, I
believe--suggested that it would do him good to associate a little with
Milton manufacturers.'

'I beg your pardon. Margaret thought it would do the Milton
manufacturers good to associate a little more with Oxford men. Now
wasn't it so, Margaret?'

'I believe I thought it would do both good to see a little more of the
other,--I did not know it was my idea any more than papa's.'

'And so you see, Mr. Thornton, we ought to have been improving each
other down-stairs, instead of talking over vanished families of Smiths
and Harrisons. However, I am willing to do my part now. I wonder when
you Milton men intend to live. All your lives seem to be spent in
gathering together the materials for life.'

'By living, I suppose you mean enjoyment.'

'Yes, enjoyment,--I don't specify of what, because I trust we should
both consider mere pleasure as very poor enjoyment.'

'I would rather have the nature of the enjoyment defined.'

'Well! enjoyment of leisure--enjoyment of the power and influence which
money gives. You are all striving for money. What do you want it for?'

Mr. Thornton was silent. Then he said, 'I really don't know. But money
is not what _I_ strive for.'

'What then?'

'It is a home question. I shall have to lay myself open to such a
catechist, and I am not sure that I am prepared to do it.'

'No!' said Mr. Hale; 'don't let us be personal in our catechism. You are
neither of you representative men; you are each of you too individual
for that.'

'I am not sure whether to consider that as a compliment or not. I should
like to be the representative of Oxford, with its beauty and its
learning, and its proud old history. What do you say, Margaret; ought I
to be flattered?'

'I don't know Oxford. But there is a difference between being the
representative of a city and the representative man of its inhabitants.'

'Very true, Miss Margaret. Now I remember, you were against me this
morning, and were quite Miltonian and manufacturing in your
preferences.' Margaret saw the quick glance of surprise that Mr.
Thornton gave her, and she was annoyed at the construction which he
might put on this speech of Mr. Bell's. Mr. Bell went on--

'Ah! I wish I could show you our High Street--our Radcliffe Square. I am
leaving out our colleges, just as I give Mr. Thornton leave to omit his
factories in speaking of the charms of Milton. I have a right to abuse
my birth-place. Remember I am a Milton man.

Mr. Thornton was annoyed more than he ought to have been at all that Mr.
Bell was saying. He was not in a mood for joking. At another time, he
could have enjoyed Mr. Bell's half testy condemnation of a town where
the life was so at variance with every habit he had formed; but now, he
was galled enough to attempt to defend what was never meant to be
seriously attacked.

'I don't set up Milton as a model of a town.'

'Not in architecture?' slyly asked Mr. Bell.

'No! We've been too busy to attend to mere outward appearances.'

'Don't say _mere_ outward appearances,' said Mr. Hale, gently. 'They
impress us all, from childhood upward--every day of our life.'

'Wait a little while,' said Mr. Thornton. 'Remember, we are of a
different race from the Greeks, to whom beauty was everything, and to
whom Mr. Bell might speak of a life of leisure and serene enjoyment,
much of which entered in through their outward senses. I don't mean to
despise them, any more than I would ape them. But I belong to Teutonic
blood; it is little mingled in this part of England to what it is in
others; we retain much of their language; we retain more of their
spirit; we do not look upon life as a time for enjoyment, but as a time
for action and exertion. Our glory and our beauty arise out of our
inward strength, which makes us victorious over material resistance, and
over greater difficulties still. We are Teutonic up here in Darkshire in
another way. We hate to have laws made for us at a distance. We wish
people would allow us to right ourselves, instead of continually
meddling, with their imperfect legislation. We stand up for
self-government, and oppose centralisation.'

'In short, you would like the Heptarchy back again. Well, at any rate, I
revoke what I said this morning--that you Milton people did not
reverence the past. You are regular worshippers of Thor.'

'If we do not reverence the past as you do in Oxford, it is because we
want something which can apply to the present more directly. It is fine
when the study of the past leads to a prophecy of the future. But to men
groping in new circumstances, it would be finer if the words of
experience could direct us how to act in what concerns us most
intimately and immediately; which is full of difficulties that must be
encountered; and upon the mode in which they are met and conquered--not
merely pushed aside for the time--depends our future. Out of the wisdom
of the past, help us over the present. But no! People can speak of
Utopia much more easily than of the next day's duty; and yet when that
duty is all done by others, who so ready to cry, "Fie, for shame!"'

'And all this time I don't see what you are talking about. Would you
Milton men condescend to send up your to-day's difficulty to Oxford? You
have not tried us yet.'

Mr. Thornton laughed outright at this. 'I believe I was talking with
reference to a good deal that has been troubling us of late; I was
thinking of the strikes we have gone through, which are troublesome and
injurious things enough, as I am finding to my cost. And yet this last
strike, under which I am smarting, has been respectable.'

'A respectable strike!' said Mr. Bell. 'That sounds as if you were far
gone in the worship of Thor.'

Margaret felt, rather than saw, that Mr. Thornton was chagrined by the
repeated turning into jest of what he was feeling as very serious. She
tried to change the conversation from a subject about which one party
cared little, while, to the other, it was deeply, because personally,
interesting. She forced herself to say something.

'Edith says she finds the printed calicoes in Corfu better and cheaper
than in London.'

'Does she?' said her father. 'I think that must be one of Edith's
exaggerations. Are you sure of it, Margaret?'

'I am sure she says so, papa.'

'Then I am sure of the fact,' said Mr. Bell. 'Margaret, I go so far in
my idea of your truthfulness, that it shall cover your cousin's
character. I don't believe a cousin of yours could exaggerate.'

'Is Miss Hale so remarkable for truth?' said Mr. Thornton, bitterly. The
moment he had done so, he could have bitten his tongue out. What was he?
And why should he stab her with her shame in this way? How evil he was
to-night; possessed by ill-humour at being detained so long from her;
irritated by the mention of some name, because he thought it belonged to
a more successful lover; now ill-tempered because he had been unable to
cope, with a light heart, against one who was trying, by gay and
careless speeches, to make the evening pass pleasantly away,--the kind
old friend to all parties, whose manner by this time might be well known
to Mr. Thornton, who had been acquainted with him for many years. And
then to speak to Margaret as he had done! She did not get up and leave
the room, as she had done in former days, when his abruptness or his
temper had annoyed her. She sat quite still, after the first momentary
glance of grieved surprise, that made her eyes look like some child's
who has met with an unexpected rebuff; they slowly dilated into
mournful, reproachful sadness; and then they fell, and she bent over her
work, and did not speak again. But he could not help looking at her, and
he saw a sigh tremble over her body, as if she quivered in some unwonted
chill. He felt as the mother would have done, in the midst of 'her
rocking it, and rating it,' had she been called away before her slow
confiding smile, implying perfect trust in mother's love, had proved the
renewing of its love. He gave short sharp answers; he was uneasy and
cross, unable to discern between jest and earnest; anxious only for a
look, a word of hers, before which to prostrate himself in penitent
humility. But she neither looked nor spoke. Her round taper fingers flew
in and out of her sewing, as steadily and swiftly as if that were the
business of her life. She could not care for him, he thought, or else
the passionate fervour of his wish would have forced her to raise those
eyes, if but for an instant, to read the late repentance in his. He
could have struck her before he left, in order that by some strange
overt act of rudeness, he might earn the privilege of telling her the
remorse that gnawed at his heart. It was well that the long walk in the
open air wound up this evening for him. It sobered him back into grave
resolution, that henceforth he would see as little of her as
possible,--since the very sight of that face and form, the very sounds
of that voice (like the soft winds of pure melody) had such power to
move him from his balance. Well! He had known what love was--a sharp
pang, a fierce experience, in the midst of whose flames he was
struggling! but, through that furnace he would fight his way out into
the serenity of middle age,--all the richer and more human for having
known this great passion.

When he had somewhat abruptly left the room, Margaret rose from her
seat, and began silently to fold up her work; the long seams were heavy,
and had an unusual weight for her languid arms. The round lines in her
face took a lengthened, straighter form, and her whole appearance was
that of one who had gone through a day of great fatigue. As the three
prepared for bed, Mr. Bell muttered forth a little condemnation of Mr.
Thornton.

'I never saw a fellow so spoiled by success. He can't bear a word; a
jest of any kind. Everything seems to touch on the soreness of his high
dignity. Formerly, he was as simple and noble as the open day; you could
not offend him, because he had no vanity.'

'He is not vain now,' said Margaret, turning round from the table, and
speaking with quiet distinctness. 'To-night he has not been like
himself. Something must have annoyed him before he came here.'

Mr. Bell gave her one of his sharp glances from above his spectacles.
She stood it quite calmly; but, after she had left the room, he suddenly
asked,--

'Hale! did it ever strike you that Thornton and your daughter have what
the French call a tendresse for each other?'

'Never!' said Mr. Hale, first startled and then flurried by the new
idea. 'No, I am sure you are wrong. I am almost certain you are
mistaken. If there is anything, it is all on Mr. Thornton's side. Poor
fellow! I hope and trust he is not thinking of her, for I am sure she
would not have him.'

'Well! I'm a bachelor, and have steered clear of love affairs all my
life; so perhaps my opinion is not worth having. Or else I should say
there were very pretty symptoms about her!'

'Then I am sure you are wrong,' said Mr. Hale. 'He may care for her,
though she really has been almost rude to him at times. But she!--why,
Margaret would never think of him, I'm sure! Such a thing has never
entered her head.'

'Entering her heart would do. But I merely threw out a suggestion of
what might be. I dare say I was wrong. And whether I was wrong or right,
I'm very sleepy; so, having disturbed your night's rest (as I can see)
with my untimely fancies, I'll betake myself with an easy mind to my
own.'

But Mr. Hale resolved that he would not be disturbed by any such
nonsensical idea; so he lay awake, determining not to think about it.

Mr. Bell took his leave the next day, bidding Margaret look to him as
one who had a right to help and protect her in all her troubles, of
whatever nature they might be. To Mr. Hale he said,--

'That Margaret of yours has gone deep into my heart. Take care of her,
for she is a very precious creature,--a great deal too good for
Milton,--only fit for Oxford, in fact. The town, I mean; not the men. I
can't match her yet. When I can, I shall bring my young man to stand
side by side with your young woman, just as the genie in the Arabian
Nights brought Prince Caralmazan to match with the fairy's Princess
Badoura.'

'I beg you'll do no such thing. Remember the misfortunes that ensued;
and besides, I can't spare Margaret.'

'No; on second thoughts, we'll have her to nurse us ten years hence,
when we shall be two cross old invalids. Seriously, Hale! I wish you'd
leave Milton; which is a most unsuitable place for you, though it was my
recommendation in the first instance. If you would; I'd swallow my
shadows of doubts, and take a college living; and you and Margaret
should come and live at the parsonage--you to be a sort of lay curate,
and take the unwashed off my hands; and she to be our housekeeper--the
village Lady Bountiful--by day; and read us to sleep in the evenings. I
could be very happy in such a life. What do you think of it?'

'Never!' said Mr. Hale, decidedly. 'My one great change has been made
and my price of suffering paid. Here I stay out my life; and here will I
be buried, and lost in the crowd.'

'I don't give up my plan yet. Only I won't bait you with it any more
just now. Where's the Pearl? Come, Margaret, give me a farewell kiss;
and remember, my dear, where you may find a true friend, as far as his
capability goes. You are my child, Margaret. Remember that, and 'God
bless you!'

So they fell back into the monotony of the quiet life they would
henceforth lead. There was no invalid to hope and fear about; even the
Higginses--so long a vivid interest--seemed to have receded from any
need of immediate thought. The Boucher children, left motherless
orphans, claimed what of Margaret's care she could bestow; and she went
pretty often to see Mary Higgins, who had charge of them. The two
families were living in one house: the elder children were at humble
schools, the younger ones were tended, in Mary's absence at her work, by
the kind neighbour whose good sense had struck Margaret at the time of
Boucher's death. Of course she was paid for her trouble; and indeed, in
all his little plans and arrangements for these orphan children,
Nicholas showed a sober judgment, and regulated method of thinking,
which were at variance with his former more eccentric jerks of action.
He was so steady at his work, that Margaret did not often see him during
these winter months; but when she did, she saw that he winced away from
any reference to the father of those children, whom he had so fully and
heartily taken under his care. He did not speak easily of Mr. Thornton.

'To tell the truth,' said he, 'he fairly bamboozles me. He's two chaps.
One chap I knowed of old as were measter all o'er. T'other chap hasn't
an ounce of measter's flesh about him. How them two chaps is bound up in
one body, is a craddy for me to find out. I'll not be beat by it,
though. Meanwhile he comes here pretty often; that's how I know the chap
that's a man, not a measter. And I reckon he's taken aback by me pretty
much as I am by him; for he sits and listens and stares, as if I were
some strange beast newly caught in some of the zones. But I'm none
daunted. It would take a deal to daunt me in my own house, as he sees.
And I tell him some of my mind that I reckon he'd ha' been the better of
hearing when he were a younger man.'

'And does he not answer you?' asked Mr. Hale.

'Well! I'll not say th' advantage is all on his side, for all I take
credit for improving him above a bit. Sometimes he says a rough thing or
two, which is not agreeable to look at at first, but has a queer smack
o' truth in it when yo' come to chew it. He'll be coming to-night, I
reckon, about them childer's schooling. He's not satisfied wi' the make
of it, and wants for t' examine 'em.'

'What are they'--began Mr. Hale; but Margaret, touching his arm, showed
him her watch.

'It is nearly seven,' she said. 'The evenings are getting longer now.
Come, papa.' She did not breathe freely till they were some distance
from the house. Then, as she became more calm, she wished that she had
not been in so great a hurry; for, somehow, they saw Mr. Thornton but
very seldom now; and he might have come to see Higgins, and for the old
friendship's sake she should like to have seen him to-night.

Yes! he came very seldom, even for the dull cold purpose of lessons. Mr.
Hale was disappointed in his pupil's lukewarmness about Greek
literature, which had but a short time ago so great an interest for him.
And now it often happened that a hurried note from Mr. Thornton would
arrive, just at the last moment, saying that he was so much engaged that
he could not come to read with Mr. Hale that evening. And though other
pupils had taken more than his place as to time, no one was like his
first scholar in Mr. Hale's heart. He was depressed and sad at this
partial cessation of an intercourse which had become dear to him; and he
used to sit pondering over the reason that could have occasioned this
change.

He startled Margaret, one evening as she sate at her work, by suddenly
asking:

'Margaret! had you ever any reason for thinking that Mr. Thornton cared
for you?'

He almost blushed as he put this question; but Mr. Bell's scouted idea
recurred to him, and the words were out of his mouth before he well knew
what he was about.

Margaret did not answer immediately; but by the bent drooping of her
head, he guessed what her reply would be.

'Yes; I believe--oh papa, I should have told you.' And she dropped her
work, and hid her face in her hands.

'No, dear; don't think that I am impertinently curious. I am sure you
would have told me if you had felt that you could return his regard. Did
he speak to you about it?'

No answer at first; but by-and-by a little gentle reluctant 'Yes.'

'And you refused him?'

A long sigh; a more helpless, nerveless attitude, and another 'Yes.' But
before her father could speak, Margaret lifted up her face, rosy with
some beautiful shame, and, fixing her eyes upon him, said:

'Now, papa, I have told you this, and I cannot tell you more; and then
the whole thing is so painful to me; every word and action connected
with it is so unspeakably bitter, that I cannot bear to think of it. Oh,
papa, I am sorry to have lost you this friend, but I could not help
it--but oh! I am very sorry.' She sate down on the ground, and laid her
head on his knees.

'I too, am sorry, my dear. Mr. Bell quite startled me when he said, some
idea of the kind--'

'Mr. Bell! Oh, did Mr. Bell see it?'

'A little; but he took it into his head that you--how shall I say
it?--that you were not ungraciously disposed towards Mr. Thornton. I
knew that could never be. I hoped the whole thing was but an
imagination; but I knew too well what your real feelings were to suppose
that you could ever like Mr. Thornton in that way. But I am very sorry.'

They were very quiet and still for some minutes. But, on stroking her
cheek in a caressing way soon after, he was almost shocked to find her
face wet with tears. As he touched her, she sprang up, and smiling with
forced brightness, began to talk of the Lennoxes with such a vehement
desire to turn the conversation, that Mr. Hale was too tender-hearted to
try to force it back into the old channel.

'To-morrow--yes, to-morrow they will be back in Harley Street. Oh, how
strange it will be! I wonder what room they will make into the nursery?
Aunt Shaw will be happy with the baby. Fancy Edith a mamma! And Captain
Lennox--I wonder what he will do with himself now he has sold out!'

'I'll tell you what,' said her father, anxious to indulge her in this
fresh subject of interest, 'I think I must spare you for a fortnight
just to run up to town and see the travellers. You could learn more, by
half an hour's conversation with Mr. Henry Lennox, about Frederick's
chances, than in a dozen of these letters of his; so it would, in fact,
be uniting business with pleasure.'

'No, papa, you cannot spare me, and what's more, I won't be spared.'
Then after a pause, she added: 'I am losing hope sadly about Frederick;
he is letting us down gently, but I can see that Mr. Lennox himself has
no hope of hunting up the witnesses under years and years of time. No,'
said she, 'that bubble was very pretty, and very dear to our hearts; but
it has burst like many another; and we must console ourselves with being
glad that Frederick is so happy, and with being a great deal to each
other. So don't offend me by talking of being able to spare me, papa,
for I assure you you can't.'

But the idea of a change took root and germinated in Margaret's heart,
although not in the way in which her father proposed it at first. She
began to consider how desirable something of the kind would be to her
father, whose spirits, always feeble, now became too frequently
depressed, and whose health, though he never complained, had been
seriously affected by his wife's illness and death. There were the
regular hours of reading with his pupils, but that all giving and no
receiving could no longer be called companion-ship, as in the old days
when Mr. Thornton came to study under him. Margaret was conscious of the
want under which he was suffering, unknown to himself; the want of a
man's intercourse with men. At Helstone there had been perpetual
occasions for an interchange of visits with neighbouring clergymen; and
the poor labourers in the fields, or leisurely tramping home at eve, or
tending their cattle in the forest, were always at liberty to speak or
be spoken to. But in Milton every one was too busy for quiet speech, or
any ripened intercourse of thought; what they said was about business,
very present and actual; and when the tension of mind relating to their
daily affairs was over, they sunk into fallow rest until next morning.
The workman was not to be found after the day's work was done; he had
gone away to some lecture, or some club, or some beer-shop, according to
his degree of character. Mr. Hale thought of trying to deliver a course
of lectures at some of the institutions, but he contemplated doing this
so much as an effort of duty, and with so little of the genial impulse
of love towards his work and its end, that Margaret was sure that it
would not be well done until he could look upon it with some kind of
zest.



CHAPTER XLI

THE JOURNEY'S END

    'I see my way as birds their trackless way--
     I shall arrive! what time, what circuit first,
     I ask not: but unless God send his hail
     Or blinding fire-balls, sleet, or stifling snow,
     In some time--his good time--I shall arrive;
     He guides me and the bird. In His good time!'
            BROWNING'S PARACELSUS.


So the winter was getting on, and the days were beginning to lengthen,
without bringing with them any of the brightness of hope which usually
accompanies the rays of a February sun. Mrs. Thornton had of course
entirely ceased to come to the house. Mr. Thornton came occasionally,
but his visits were addressed to her father, and were confined to the
study. Mr. Hale spoke of him as always the same; indeed, the very rarity
of their intercourse seemed to make Mr. Hale set only the higher value
on it. And from what Margaret could gather of what Mr. Thornton had
said, there was nothing in the cessation of his visits which could arise
from any umbrage or vexation. His business affairs had become
complicated during the strike, and required closer attention than he had
given to them last winter. Nay, Margaret could even discover that he
spoke from time to time of her, and always, as far as she could learn,
in the same calm friendly way, never avoiding and never seeking any
mention of her name.

She was not in spirits to raise her father's tone of mind. The dreary
peacefulness of the present time had been preceded by so long a period
of anxiety and care--even intermixed with storms--that her mind had lost
its elasticity. She tried to find herself occupation in teaching the two
younger Boucher children, and worked hard at goodness; hard, I say most
truly, for her heart seemed dead to the end of all her efforts; and
though she made them punctually and painfully, yet she stood as far off
as ever from any cheerfulness; her life seemed still bleak and dreary.
The only thing she did well, was what she did out of unconscious piety,
the silent comforting and consoling of her father. Not a mood of his but
what found a ready sympathiser in Margaret; not a wish of his that she
did not strive to forecast, and to fulfil. They were quiet wishes to be
sure, and hardly named without hesitation and apology. All the more
complete and beautiful was her meek spirit of obedience. March brought
the news of Frederick's marriage. He and Dolores wrote; she in
Spanish-English, as was but natural, and he with little turns and
inversions of words which proved how far the idioms of his bride's
country were infecting him.

On the receipt of Henry Lennox's letter, announcing how little hope
there was of his ever clearing himself at a court-martial, in the
absence of the missing witnesses, Frederick had written to Margaret a
pretty vehement letter, containing his renunciation of England as his
country; he wished he could unnative himself, and declared that he would
not take his pardon if it were offered him, nor live in the country if
he had permission to do so. All of which made Margaret cry sorely, so
unnatural did it seem to her at the first opening; but on consideration,
she saw rather in such expression the poignancy of the disappointment
which had thus crushed his hopes; and she felt that there was nothing
for it but patience. In the next letter, Frederick spoke so joyfully of
the future that he had no thought for the past; and Margaret found a use
in herself for the patience she had been craving for him. She would have
to be patient. But the pretty, timid, girlish letters of Dolores were
beginning to have a charm for both Margaret and her father. The young
Spaniard was so evidently anxious to make a favourable impression upon
her lover's English relations, that her feminine care peeped out at
every erasure; and the letters announcing the marriage, were accompanied
by a splendid black lace mantilla, chosen by Dolores herself for her
unseen sister-in-law, whom Frederick had represented as a paragon of
beauty, wisdom and virtue. Frederick's worldly position was raised by
this marriage on to as high a level as they could desire. Barbour and
Co. was one of the most extensive Spanish houses, and into it he was
received as a junior partner. Margaret smiled a little, and then sighed
as she remembered afresh her old tirades against trade. Here was her
preux chevalier of a brother turned merchant, trader! But then she
rebelled against herself, and protested silently against the confusion
implied between a Spanish merchant and a Milton mill-owner. Well! trade
or no trade, Frederick was very, very happy. Dolores must be charming,
and the mantilla was exquisite! And then she returned to the present
life.

Her father had occasionally experienced a difficulty in breathing this
spring, which had for the time distressed him exceedingly. Margaret was
less alarmed, as this difficulty went off completely in the intervals;
but she still was so desirous of his shaking off the liability
altogether, as to make her very urgent that he should accept Mr. Bell's
invitation to visit him at Oxford this April. Mr. Bell's invitation
included Margaret. Nay more, he wrote a special letter commanding her to
come; but she felt as if it would be a greater relief to her to remain
quietly at home, entirely free from any responsibility whatever, and so
to rest her mind and heart in a manner which she had not been able to do
for more than two years past.

When her father had driven off on his way to the railroad, Margaret felt
how great and long had been the pressure on her time and her spirits. It
was astonishing, almost stunning, to feel herself so much at liberty; no
one depending on her for cheering care, if not for positive happiness;
no invalid to plan and think for; she might be idle, and silent, and
forgetful,--and what seemed worth more than all the other
privileges--she might be unhappy if she liked. For months past, all her
own personal cares and troubles had had to be stuffed away into a dark
cupboard; but now she had leisure to take them out, and mourn over them,
and study their nature, and seek the true method of subduing them into
the elements of peace. All these weeks she had been conscious of their
existence in a dull kind of way, though they were hidden out of sight.
Now, once for all she would consider them, and appoint to each of them
its right work in her life. So she sat almost motionless for hours in
the drawing-room, going over the bitterness of every remembrance with an
unwincing resolution. Only once she cried aloud, at the stinging thought
of the faithlessness which gave birth to that abasing falsehood.

She now would not even acknowledge the force of the temptation; her
plans for Frederick had all failed, and the temptation lay there a dead
mockery,--a mockery which had never had life in it; the lie had been so
despicably foolish, seen by the light of the ensuing events, and faith
in the power of truth so infinitely the greater wisdom!

In her nervous agitation, she unconsciously opened a book of her
father's that lay upon the table,--the words that caught her eye in it,
seemed almost made for her present state of acute self-abasement:--

     'Je ne voudrois pas reprendre mon coeur en ceste sorte: meurs de
     honte, aveugle, impudent, traistre et desloyal a ton Dieu, et
     sembables choses; mais je voudrois le corriger par voye de
     compassion. Or sus, mon pauvre coeur, nous voila tombez dans la
     fosse, laquelle nous avions tant resolu d'eschapper. Ah!
     relevons-nous, et quittons-la pour jamais, reclamons la misericorde
     de Dieu, et esperons en elle qu'elle nous assistera pour desormais
     estre plus fermes; et remettons-nous au chemin de l'humilite.
     Courage, soyons meshuy sur nos gardes, Dieu nous aydera.'

'The way of humility. Ah,' thought Margaret, 'that is what I have
missed! But courage, little heart. We will turn back, and by God's help
we may find the lost path.'

So she rose up, and determined at once to set to on some work which
should take her out of herself. To begin with, she called in Martha, as
she passed the drawing-room door in going up-stairs, and tried to find
out what was below the grave, respectful, servant-like manner, which
crusted over her individual character with an obedience that was almost
mechanical. She found it difficult to induce Martha to speak of any of
her personal interests; but at last she touched the right chord, in
naming Mrs. Thornton. Martha's whole face brightened, and, on a little
encouragement, out came a long story, of how her father had been in
early life connected with Mrs. Thornton's husband--nay, had even been in
a position to show him some kindness; what, Martha hardly knew, for it
had happened when she was quite a little child; and circumstances had
intervened to separate the two families until Martha was nearly grown
up, when, her father having sunk lower and lower from his original
occupation as clerk in a warehouse, and her mother being dead, she and
her sister, to use Martha's own expression, would have been 'lost' but
for Mrs. Thornton; who sought them out, and thought for them, and cared
for them.

'I had had the fever, and was but delicate; and Mrs. Thornton, and Mr.
Thornton too, they never rested till they had nursed me up in their own
house, and sent me to the sea and all. The doctors said the fever was
catching, but they cared none for that--only Miss Fanny, and she went
a-visiting these folk that she is going to marry into. So, though she
was afraid at the time, it has all ended well.'

'Miss Fanny going to be married!' exclaimed Margaret.

'Yes; and to a rich gentleman, too, only he's a deal older than she is.
His name is Watson; and his mills are somewhere out beyond Hayleigh;
it's a very good marriage, for all he's got such gray hair.'

At this piece of information, Margaret was silent long enough for Martha
to recover her propriety, and, with it, her habitual shortness of
answer. She swept up the hearth, asked at what time she should prepare
tea, and quitted the room with the same wooden face with which she had
entered it. Margaret had to pull herself up from indulging a bad trick,
which she had lately fallen into, of trying to imagine how every event
that she heard of in relation to Mr. Thornton would affect him: whether
he would like it or dislike it.

The next day she had the little Boucher children for their lessons, and
took a long walk, and ended by a visit to Mary Higgins. Somewhat to
Margaret's surprise, she found Nicholas already come home from his work;
the lengthening light had deceived her as to the lateness of the
evening. He too seemed, by his manners, to have entered a little more on
the way of humility; he was quieter, and less self-asserting.

'So th' oud gentleman's away on his travels, is he?' said he. 'Little
'uns telled me so. Eh! but they're sharp 'uns, they are; I a'most think
they beat my own wenches for sharpness, though mappen it's wrong to say
so, and one on 'em in her grave. There's summut in th' weather, I
reckon, as sets folk a-wandering. My measter, him at th' shop yonder, is
spinning about th' world somewhere.'

'Is that the reason you're so soon at home to-night?' asked Margaret
innocently.

'Thou know'st nought about it, that's all,' said he, contemptuously.
'I'm not one wi' two faces--one for my measter, and t'other for his
back. I counted a' th' clocks in the town striking afore I'd leave my
work. No! yon Thornton's good enough for to fight wi', but too good for
to be cheated. It were you as getten me the place, and I thank yo' for
it. Thornton's is not a bad mill, as times go. Stand down, lad, and say
yo'r pretty hymn to Miss Margaret. That's right; steady on thy legs, and
right arm out as straight as a shewer. One to stop, two to stay, three
mak' ready, and four away!'

The little fellow repeated a Methodist hymn, far above his comprehension
in point of language, but of which the swinging rhythm had caught his
ear, and which he repeated with all the developed cadence of a member of
parliament. When Margaret had duly applauded, Nicholas called for
another, and yet another, much to her surprise, as she found him thus
oddly and unconsciously led to take an interest in the sacred things
which he had formerly scouted.

It was past the usual tea-time when she reached home; but she had the
comfort of feeling that no one had been kept waiting for her; and of
thinking her own thoughts while she rested, instead of anxiously
watching another person to learn whether to be grave or gay. After tea
she resolved to examine a large packet of letters, and pick out those
that were to be destroyed.

Among them she came to four or five of Mr. Henry Lennox's, relating to
Frederick's affairs; and she carefully read them over again, with the
sole intention, when she began, to ascertain exactly on how fine a
chance the justification of her brother hung. But when she had finished
the last, and weighed the pros and cons, the little personal revelation
of character contained in them forced itself on her notice. It was
evident enough, from the stiffness of the wording, that Mr. Lennox had
never forgotten his relation to her in any interest he might feel in the
subject of the correspondence. They were clever letters; Margaret saw
that in a twinkling; but she missed out of them all hearty and genial
atmosphere. They were to be preserved, however, as valuable; so she laid
them carefully on one side. When this little piece of business was
ended, she fell into a reverie; and the thought of her absent father ran
strangely in Margaret's head this night. She almost blamed herself for
having felt her solitude (and consequently his absence) as a relief; but
these two days had set her up afresh, with new strength and brighter
hope. Plans which had lately appeared to her in the guise of tasks, now
appeared like pleasures. The morbid scales had fallen from her eyes, and
she saw her position and her work more truly. If only Mr. Thornton would
restore her the lost friendship,--nay, if he would only come from time
to time to cheer her father as in former days,--though she should never
see him, she felt as if the course of her future life, though not
brilliant in prospect, might lie clear and even before her. She sighed
as she rose up to go to bed. In spite of the 'One step's enough for
me,'--in spite of the one plain duty of devotion to her father,--there
lay at her heart an anxiety and a pang of sorrow.

And Mr. Hale thought of Margaret, that April evening, just as strangely
and as persistently as she was thinking of him. He had been fatigued by
going about among his old friends and old familiar places. He had had
exaggerated ideas of the change which his altered opinions might make in
his friends' reception of him; but although some of them might have felt
shocked or grieved or indignant at his falling off in the abstract, as
soon as they saw the face of the man whom they had once loved, they
forgot his opinions in himself; or only remembered them enough to give
an additional tender gravity to their manner. For Mr. Hale had not been
known to many; he had belonged to one of the smaller colleges, and had
always been shy and reserved; but those who in youth had cared to
penetrate to the delicacy of thought and feeling that lay below his
silence and indecision, took him to their hearts, with something of the
protecting kindness which they would have shown to a woman. And the
renewal of this kindliness, after the lapse of years, and an interval of
so much change, overpowered him more than any roughness or expression of
disapproval could have done.

'I'm afraid we've done too much,' said Mr. Bell. 'You're suffering now
from having lived so long in that Milton air.

'I am tired,' said Mr. Hale. 'But it is not Milton air. I'm fifty-five
years of age, and that little fact of itself accounts for any loss of
strength.'

'Nonsense! I'm upwards of sixty, and feel no loss of strength, either
bodily or mental. Don't let me hear you talking so. Fifty-five! why,
you're quite a young man.'

Mr. Hale shook his head. 'These last few years!' said he. But after a
minute's pause, he raised himself from his half recumbent position, in
one of Mr. Bell's luxurious easy-chairs, and said with a kind of
trembling earnestness:

'Bell! you're not to think, that if I could have foreseen all that would
come of my change of opinion, and my resignation of my living--no! not
even if I could have known how _she_ would have suffered,--that I would
undo it--the act of open acknowledgment that I no longer held the same
faith as the church in which I was a priest. As I think now, even if I
could have foreseen that cruellest martyrdom of suffering, through the
sufferings of one whom I loved, I would have done just the same as far
as that step of openly leaving the church went. I might have done
differently, and acted more wisely, in all that I subsequently did for
my family. But I don't think God endued me with over-much wisdom or
strength,' he added, falling back into his old position.

Mr. Bell blew his nose ostentatiously before answering. Then he said:

'He gave you strength to do what your conscience told you was right; and
I don't see that we need any higher or holier strength than that; or
wisdom either. I know I have not that much; and yet men set me down in
their fool's books as a wise man; an independent character;
strong-minded, and all that cant. The veriest idiot who obeys his own
simple law of right, if it be but in wiping his shoes on a door-mat, is
wiser and stronger than I. But what gulls men are!'

There was a pause. Mr. Hale spoke first, in continuation of his thought:

'About Margaret.'

'Well! about Margaret. What then?'

'If I die---- '

'Nonsense!'

'What will become of her--I often think? I suppose the Lennoxes will ask
her to live with them. I try to think they will. Her aunt Shaw loved her
well in her own quiet way; but she forgets to love the absent.'

'A very common fault. What sort of people are the Lennoxes?'

'He, handsome, fluent, and agreeable. Edith, a sweet little spoiled
beauty. Margaret loves her with all her heart, and Edith with as much of
her heart as she can spare.'

'Now, Hale; you know that girl of yours has got pretty nearly all my
heart. I told you that before. Of course, as your daughter, as my
god-daughter, I took great interest in her before I saw her the last
time. But this visit that I paid to you at Milton made me her slave. I
went, a willing old victim, following the car of the conqueror. For,
indeed, she looks as grand and serene as one who has struggled, and may
be struggling, and yet has the victory secure in sight. Yes, in spite of
all her present anxieties, that was the look on her face. And so, all I
have is at her service, if she needs it; and will be hers, whether she
will or no, when I die. Moreover, I myself, will be her preux chevalier,
sixty and gouty though I be. Seriously, old friend, your daughter shall
be my principal charge in life, and all the help that either my wit or
my wisdom or my willing heart can give, shall be hers. I don't choose
her out as a subject for fretting. Something, I know of old, you must
have to worry yourself about, or you wouldn't be happy. But you're going
to outlive me by many a long year. You spare, thin men are always
tempting and always cheating Death! It's the stout, florid fellows like
me, that always go off first.'

If Mr. Bell had had a prophetic eye he might have seen the torch all but
inverted, and the angel with the grave and composed face standing very
nigh, beckoning to his friend. That night Mr. Hale laid his head down on
the pillow on which it never more should stir with life. The servant who
entered his room in the morning, received no answer to his speech; drew
near the bed, and saw the calm, beautiful face lying white and cold
under the ineffaceable seal of death. The attitude was exquisitely easy;
there had been no pain--no struggle. The action of the heart must have
ceased as he lay down.

Mr. Bell was stunned by the shock; and only recovered when the time came
for being angry at every suggestion of his man's.

'A coroner's inquest? Pooh. You don't think I poisoned him! Dr. Forbes
says it is just the natural end of a heart complaint. Poor old Hale! You
wore out that tender heart of yours before its time. Poor old friend!
how he talked of his---- Wallis, pack up a carpet-bag for me in five
minutes. Here have I been talking. Pack it up, I say. I must go to
Milton by the next train.'

The bag was packed, the cab ordered, the railway reached, in twenty
minutes from the moment of this decision. The London train whizzed by,
drew back some yards, and in Mr. Bell was hurried by the impatient
guard. He threw himself back in his seat, to try, with closed eyes, to
understand how one in life yesterday could be dead to-day; and shortly
tears stole out between his grizzled eye-lashes, at the feeling of which
he opened his keen eyes, and looked as severely cheerful as his set
determination could make him. He was not going to blubber before a set
of strangers. Not he!

There was no set of strangers, only one sitting far from him on the same
side. By and bye Mr. Bell peered at him, to discover what manner of man
it was that might have been observing his emotion; and behind the great
sheet of the outspread 'Times,' he recognised Mr. Thornton.

'Why, Thornton! is that you?' said he, removing hastily to a closer
proximity. He shook Mr. Thornton vehemently by the hand, until the gripe
ended in a sudden relaxation, for the hand was wanted to wipe away
tears. He had last seen Mr. Thornton in his friend Hale's company.

'I'm going to Milton, bound on a melancholy errand. Going to break to
Hale's daughter the news of his sudden death!'

'Death! Mr. Hale dead!'

'Ay; I keep saying it to myself, "Hale is dead!" but it doesn't make it
any the more real. Hale is dead for all that. He went to bed well, to
all appearance, last night, and was quite cold this morning when my
servant went to call him.'

'Where? I don't understand!'

'At Oxford. He came to stay with me; hadn't been in Oxford this
seventeen years--and this is the end of it.'

Not one word was spoken for above a quarter of an hour. Then Mr.
Thornton said:

'And she!' and stopped full short.

'Margaret you mean. Yes! I am going to tell her. Poor fellow! how full
his thoughts were of her all last night! Good God! Last night only. And
how immeasurably distant he is now! But I take Margaret as my child for
his sake. I said last night I would take her for her own sake. Well, I
take her for both.'

Mr. Thornton made one or two fruitless attempts to speak, before he
could get out the words:

'What will become of her!'

'I rather fancy there will be two people waiting for her: myself for
one. I would take a live dragon into my house to live, if, by hiring
such a chaperon, and setting up an establishment of my own, I could make
my old age happy with having Margaret for a daughter. But there are
those Lennoxes!'

'Who are they?' asked Mr. Thornton with trembling interest.

'Oh, smart London people, who very likely will think they've the best
right to her. Captain Lennox married her cousin--the girl she was
brought up with. Good enough people, I dare say. And there's her aunt,
Mrs. Shaw. There might be a way open, perhaps, by my offering to marry
that worthy lady! but that would be quite a pis aller. And then there's
that brother!'

'What brother? A brother of her aunt's?'

'No, no; a clever Lennox, (the captain's a fool, you must understand) a
young barrister, who will be setting his cap at Margaret. I know he has
had her in his mind this five years or more: one of his chums told me as
much; and he was only kept back by her want of fortune. Now that will be
done away with.'

'How?' asked Mr. Thornton, too earnestly curious to be aware of the
impertinence of his question.

'Why, she'll have my money at my death. And if this Henry Lennox is half
good enough for her, and she likes him--well! I might find another way
of getting a home through a marriage. I'm dreadfully afraid of being
tempted, at an unguarded moment, by the aunt.'

Neither Mr. Bell nor Mr. Thornton was in a laughing humour; so the
oddity of any of the speeches which the former made was unnoticed by
them. Mr. Bell whistled, without emitting any sound beyond a long
hissing breath; changed his seat, without finding comfort or rest while
Mr. Thornton sat immoveably still, his eyes fixed on one spot in the
newspaper, which he had taken up in order to give himself leisure to
think.

'Where have you been?' asked Mr. Bell, at length.

'To Havre. Trying to detect the secret of the great rise in the price of
cotton.'

'Ugh! Cotton, and speculations, and smoke, well-cleansed and
well-cared-for machinery, and unwashed and neglected hands. Poor old
Hale! Poor old Hale! If you could have known the change which it was to
him from Helstone. Do you know the New Forest at all?'

'Yes.' (Very shortly).

'Then you can fancy the difference between it and Milton. What part were
you in? Were you ever at Helstone? a little picturesque village, like
some in the Odenwald? You know Helstone?'

'I have seen it. It was a great change to leave it and come to Milton.'

He took up his newspaper with a determined air, as if resolved to avoid
further conversation; and Mr. Bell was fain to resort to his former
occupation of trying to find out how he could best break the news to
Margaret.

She was at an up-stairs window; she saw him alight; she guessed the
truth with an instinctive flash. She stood in the middle of the
drawing-room, as if arrested in her first impulse to rush downstairs,
and as if by the same restraining thought she had been turned to stone;
so white and immoveable was she.

'Oh! don't tell me! I know it from your face! You would have sent--you
would not have left him--if he were alive! Oh papa, papa!'



CHAPTER XLII

ALONE! ALONE!

    'When some beloved voice that was to you
     Both sound and sweetness, faileth suddenly,
     And silence, against which you dare not cry,
     Aches round you like a strong disease and new--
     What hope? what help? what music will undo
     That silence to your sense?'
             MRS. BROWNING.


The shock had been great. Margaret fell into a state of prostration,
which did not show itself in sobs and tears, or even find the relief of
words. She lay on the sofa, with her eyes shut, never speaking but when
spoken to, and then replying in whispers. Mr. Bell was perplexed. He
dared not leave her; he dared not ask her to accompany him back to
Oxford, which had been one of the plans he had formed on the journey to
Milton, her physical exhaustion was evidently too complete for her to
undertake any such fatigue--putting the sight that she would have to
encounter out of the question. Mr. Bell sate over the fire, considering
what he had better do. Margaret lay motionless, and almost breathless by
him. He would not leave her, even for the dinner which Dixon had
prepared for him down-stairs, and, with sobbing hospitality, would fain
have tempted him to eat. He had a plateful of something brought up to
him. In general, he was particular and dainty enough, and knew well each
shade of flavour in his food, but now the devilled chicken tasted like
sawdust. He minced up some of the fowl for Margaret, and peppered and
salted it well; but when Dixon, following his directions, tried to feed
her, the languid shake of head proved that in such a state as Margaret
was in, food would only choke, not nourish her.

Mr. Bell gave a great sigh; lifted up his stout old limbs (stiff with
travelling) from their easy position, and followed Dixon out of the
room.

'I can't leave her. I must write to them at Oxford, to see that the
preparations are made: they can be getting on with these till I arrive.
Can't Mrs. Lennox come to her? I'll write and tell her she must. The
girl must have some woman-friend about her, if only to talk her into a
good fit of crying.'

Dixon was crying--enough for two; but, after wiping her eyes and
steadying her voice, she managed to tell Mr. Bell, that Mrs. Lennox was
too near her confinement to be able to undertake any journey at present.

'Well! I suppose we must have Mrs. Shaw; she's come back to England,
isn't she?'

'Yes, sir, she's come back; but I don't think she will like to leave
Mrs. Lennox at such an interesting time,' said Dixon, who did not much
approve of a stranger entering the household, to share with her in her
ruling care of Margaret.

'Interesting time be--' Mr. Bell restricted himself to coughing over the
end of his sentence. 'She could be content to be at Venice or Naples, or
some of those Popish places, at the last "interesting time," which took
place in Corfu, I think. And what does that little prosperous woman's
"interesting time" signify, in comparison with that poor creature
there,--that helpless, homeless, friendless Margaret--lying as still on
that sofa as if it were an altar-tomb, and she the stone statue on it. I
tell you, Mrs. Shaw shall come. See that a room, or whatever she wants,
is got ready for her by to-morrow night. I'll take care she comes.'

Accordingly Mr. Bell wrote a letter, which Mrs. Shaw declared, with many
tears, to be so like one of the dear general's when he was going to have
a fit of the gout, that she should always value and preserve it. If he
had given her the option, by requesting or urging her, as if a refusal
were possible, she might not have come--true and sincere as was her
sympathy with Margaret. It needed the sharp uncourteous command to make
her conquer her vis inertiae, and allow herself to be packed by her
maid, after the latter had completed the boxes. Edith, all cap, shawls,
and tears, came out to the top of the stairs, as Captain Lennox was
taking her mother down to the carriage:

'Don't forget, mamma; Margaret must come and live with us. Sholto will
go to Oxford on Wednesday, and you must send word by Mr. Bell to him
when we're to expect you. And if you want Sholto, he can go on from
Oxford to Milton. Don't forget, mamma; you are to bring back Margaret.'

Edith re-entered the drawing-room. Mr. Henry Lennox was there, cutting
open the pages of a new Review. Without lifting his head, he said, 'If
you don't like Sholto to be so long absent from you, Edith, I hope you
will let me go down to Milton, and give what assistance I can.'

'Oh, thank you,' said Edith, 'I dare say old Mr. Bell will do everything
he can, and more help may not be needed. Only one does not look for much
savoir-faire from a resident Fellow. Dear, darling Margaret! won't it be
nice to have her here, again? You were both great allies, years ago.'

'Were we?' asked he indifferently, with an appearance of being
interested in a passage in the Review.

'Well, perhaps not--I forget. I was so full of Sholto. But doesn't it
fall out well, that if my uncle was to die, it should be just now, when
we are come home, and settled in the old house, and quite ready to
receive Margaret? Poor thing! what a change it will be to her from
Milton! I'll have new chintz for her bedroom, and make it look new and
bright, and cheer her up a little.'

In the same spirit of kindness, Mrs. Shaw journeyed to Milton,
occasionally dreading the first meeting, and wondering how it would be
got over; but more frequently planning how soon she could get Margaret
away from 'that horrid place,' and back into the pleasant comforts of
Harley Street.

'Oh dear!' she said to her maid; 'look at those chimneys! My poor sister
Hale! I don't think I could have rested at Naples, if I had known what
it was! I must have come and fetched her and Margaret away.' And to
herself she acknowledged, that she had always thought her brother-in-law
rather a weak man, but never so weak as now, when she saw for what a
place he had exchanged the lovely Helstone home.

Margaret had remained in the same state; white, motionless, speechless,
tearless. They had told her that her aunt Shaw was coming; but she had
not expressed either surprise or pleasure, or dislike to the idea. Mr.
Bell, whose appetite had returned, and who appreciated Dixon's
endeavours to gratify it, in vain urged upon her to taste some
sweetbreads stewed with oysters; she shook her head with the same quiet
obstinacy as on the previous day; and he was obliged to console himself
for her rejection, by eating them all himself. But Margaret was the
first to hear the stopping of the cab that brought her aunt from the
railway station. Her eyelids quivered, her lips coloured and trembled.
Mr. Bell went down to meet Mrs. Shaw; and when they came up, Margaret
was standing, trying to steady her dizzy self; and when she saw her
aunt, she went forward to the arms open to receive her, and first found
the passionate relief of tears on her aunt's shoulder. All thoughts of
quiet habitual love, of tenderness for years, of relationship to the
dead,--all that inexplicable likeness in look, tone, and gesture, that
seem to belong to one family, and which reminded Margaret so forcibly at
this moment of her mother,--came in to melt and soften her numbed heart
into the overflow of warm tears.

Mr. Bell stole out of the room, and went down into the study, where he
ordered a fire, and tried to divert his thoughts by taking down and
examining the different books. Each volume brought a remembrance or a
suggestion of his dead friend. It might be a change of employment from
his two days' work of watching Margaret, but it was no change of
thought. He was glad to catch the sound of Mr. Thornton's voice, making
enquiry at the door. Dixon was rather cavalierly dismissing him; for
with the appearance of Mrs. Shaw's maid, came visions of former
grandeur, of the Beresford blood, of the 'station' (so she was pleased
to term it) from which her young lady had been ousted, and to which she
was now, please God, to be restored. These visions, which she had been
dwelling on with complacency in her conversation with Mrs. Shaw's maid
(skilfully eliciting meanwhile all the circumstances of state and
consequence connected with the Harley Street establishment, for the
edification of the listening Martha), made Dixon rather inclined to be
supercilious in her treatment of any inhabitant of Milton; so, though
she always stood rather in awe of Mr. Thornton, she was as curt as she
durst be in telling him that he could see none of the inmates of the
house that night. It was rather uncomfortable to be contradicted in her
statement by Mr. Bell's opening the study-door, and calling out:

'Thornton! is that you? Come in for a minute or two; I want to speak to
you.' So Mr. Thornton went into the study, and Dixon had to retreat into
the kitchen, and reinstate herself in her own esteem by a prodigious
story of Sir John Beresford's coach and six, when he was high sheriff.

'I don't know what I wanted to say to you after all. Only it's dull
enough to sit in a room where everything speaks to you of a dead friend.
Yet Margaret and her aunt must have the drawing-room to themselves!'

'Is Mrs.--is her aunt come?' asked Mr. Thornton.

'Come? Yes! maid and all. One would have thought she might have come by
herself at such a time! And now I shall have to turn out and find my way
to the Clarendon.'

'You must not go to the Clarendon. We have five or six empty bed-rooms
at home.'

'Well aired?'

'I think you may trust my mother for that.'

'Then I'll only run up-stairs and wish that wan girl good-night, and
make my bow to her aunt, and go off with you straight.'

Mr. Bell was some time up-stairs. Mr. Thornton began to think it long,
for he was full of business, and had hardly been able to spare the time
for running up to Crampton, and enquiring how Miss Hale was.

When they had set out upon their walk, Mr. Bell said:

'I was kept by those women in the drawing-room. Mrs. Shaw is anxious to
get home--on account of her daughter, she says--and wants Margaret to go
off with her at once. Now she is no more fit for travelling than I am
for flying. Besides, she says, and very justly, that she has friends she
must see--that she must wish good-bye to several people; and then her
aunt worried her about old claims, and was she forgetful of old friends?
And she said, with a great burst of crying, she should be glad enough to
go from a place where she had suffered so much. Now I must return to
Oxford to-morrow, and I don't know on which side of the scale to throw
in my voice.'

He paused, as if asking a question; but he received no answer from his
companion, the echo of whose thoughts kept repeating--

'Where she had suffered so much.' Alas! and that was the way in which
this eighteen months in Milton--to him so unspeakably precious, down to
its very bitterness, which was worth all the rest of life's
sweetness--would be remembered. Neither loss of father, nor loss of
mother, dear as she was to Mr. Thornton, could have poisoned the
remembrance of the weeks, the days, the hours, when a walk of two miles,
every step of which was pleasant, as it brought him nearer and nearer to
her, took him to her sweet presence--every step of which was rich, as
each recurring moment that bore him away from her made him recall some
fresh grace in her demeanour, or pleasant pungency in her character.
Yes! whatever had happened to him, external to his relation to her, he
could never have spoken of that time, when he could have seen her every
day--when he had her within his grasp, as it were--as a time of
suffering. It had been a royal time of luxury to him, with all its
stings and contumelies, compared to the poverty that crept round and
clipped the anticipation of the future down to sordid fact, and life
without an atmosphere of either hope or fear.

Mrs. Thornton and Fanny were in the dining-room; the latter in a flutter
of small exultation, as the maid held up one glossy material after
another, to try the effect of the wedding-dresses by candlelight. Her
mother really tried to sympathise with her, but could not. Neither taste
nor dress were in her line of subjects, and she heartily wished that
Fanny had accepted her brother's offer of having the wedding clothes
provided by some first-rate London dressmaker, without the endless
troublesome discussions, and unsettled wavering, that arose out of
Fanny's desire to choose and superintend everything herself. Mr.
Thornton was only too glad to mark his grateful approbation of any
sensible man, who could be captivated by Fanny's second-rate airs and
graces, by giving her ample means for providing herself with the finery,
which certainly rivalled, if it did not exceed, the lover in her
estimation. When her brother and Mr. Bell came in, Fanny blushed and
simpered, and fluttered over the signs of her employment, in a way which
could not have failed to draw attention from any one else but Mr. Bell.
If he thought about her and her silks and satins at all, it was to
compare her and them with the pale sorrow he had left behind him,
sitting motionless, with bent head and folded hands, in a room where the
stillness was so great that you might almost fancy the rush in your
straining ears was occasioned by the spirits of the dead, yet hovering
round their beloved. For, when Mr. Bell had first gone up-stairs, Mrs.
Shaw lay asleep on the sofa; and no sound broke the silence.

Mrs. Thornton gave Mr. Bell her formal, hospitable welcome. She was
never so gracious as when receiving her son's friends in her son's
house; and the more unexpected they were, the more honour to her
admirable housekeeping preparations for comfort.

'How is Miss Hale?' she asked.

'About as broken down by this last stroke as she can be.'

'I am sure it is very well for her that she has such a friend as you.'

'I wish I were her only friend, madam. I daresay it sounds very brutal;
but here have I been displaced, and turned out of my post of comforter
and adviser by a fine lady aunt; and there are cousins and what not
claiming her in London, as if she were a lap-dog belonging to them. And
she is too weak and miserable to have a will of her own.'

'She must indeed be weak,' said Mrs. Thornton, with an implied meaning
which her son understood well. 'But where,' continued Mrs. Thornton,
'have these relations been all this time that Miss Hale has appeared
almost friendless, and has certainly had a good deal of anxiety to
bear?' But she did not feel interest enough in the answer to her
question to wait for it. She left the room to make her household
arrangements.

'They have been living abroad. They have some kind of claim upon her. I
will do them that justice. The aunt brought her up, and she and the
cousin have been like sisters. The thing vexing me, you see, is that I
wanted to take her for a child of my own; and I am jealous of these
people, who don't seem to value the privilege of their right. Now it
would be different if Frederick claimed her.'

'Frederick!' exclaimed Mr. Thornton. 'Who is he? What right--?' He
stopped short in his vehement question.

'Frederick,' said Mr. Bell in surprise. 'Why don't you know? He's her
brother. Have you not heard--'

'I never heard his name before. Where is he? Who is he?'

'Surely I told you about him, when the family first came to Milton--the
son who was concerned in that mutiny.'

'I never heard of him till this moment. Where does he live?'

'In Spain. He's liable to be arrested the moment he sets foot on English
ground. Poor fellow! he will grieve at not being able to attend his
father's funeral. We must be content with Captain Lennox; for I don't
know of any other relation to summon.'

'I hope I may be allowed to go?'

'Certainly; thankfully. You're a good fellow, after all, Thornton. Hale
liked you. He spoke to me, only the other day, about you at Oxford. He
regretted he had seen so little of you lately. I am obliged to you for
wishing to show him respect.'

'But about Frederick. Does he never come to England?'

'Never.'

'He was not over here about the time of Mrs. Hale's death?'

'No. Why, I was here then. I hadn't seen Hale for years and years and,
if you remember, I came--No, it was some time after that that I came.
But poor Frederick Hale was not here then. What made you think he was?'

'I saw a young man walking with Miss Hale one day,' replied Mr.
Thornton, 'and I think it was about that time.'

'Oh, that would be this young Lennox, the Captain's brother. He's a
lawyer, and they were in pretty constant correspondence with him; and I
remember Mr. Hale told me he thought he would come down. Do you know,'
said Mr. Bell, wheeling round, and shutting one eye, the better to bring
the forces of the other to bear with keen scrutiny on Mr. Thornton's
face, 'that I once fancied you had a little tenderness for Margaret?'

No answer. No change of countenance.

'And so did poor Hale. Not at first, and not till I had put it into his
head.'

'I admired Miss Hale. Every one must do so. She is a beautiful
creature,' said Mr. Thornton, driven to bay by Mr. Bell's pertinacious
questioning.

'Is that all! You can speak of her in that measured way, as simply a
"beautiful creature"--only something to catch the eye. I did hope you
had had nobleness enough in you to make you pay her the homage of the
heart. Though I believe--in fact I know, she would have rejected you,
still to have loved her without return would have lifted you higher than
all those, be they who they may, that have never known her to love.
"Beautiful creature" indeed! Do you speak of her as you would of a horse
or a dog?'

Mr. Thornton's eyes glowed like red embers.

'Mr. Bell,' said he, 'before you speak so, you should remember that all
men are not as free to express what they feel as you are. Let us talk of
something else.' For though his heart leaped up, as at a trumpet-call,
to every word that Mr. Bell had said, and though he knew that what he
had said would henceforward bind the thought of the old Oxford Fellow
closely up with the most precious things of his heart, yet he would not
be forced into any expression of what he felt towards Margaret. He was
no mocking-bird of praise, to try because another extolled what he
reverenced and passionately loved, to outdo him in laudation. So he
turned to some of the dry matters of business that lay between Mr. Bell
and him, as landlord and tenant.

'What is that heap of brick and mortar we came against in the yard? Any
repairs wanted?'

'No, none, thank you.'

'Are you building on your own account? If you are, I'm very much obliged
to you.'

'I'm building a dining-room--for the men I mean--the hands.'

'I thought you were hard to please, if this room wasn't good enough to
satisfy you, a bachelor.'

'I've got acquainted with a strange kind of chap, and I put one or two
children in whom he is interested to school. So, as I happened to be
passing near his house one day, I just went there about some trifling
payment to be made; and I saw such a miserable black frizzle of a
dinner--a greasy cinder of meat, as first set me a-thinking. But it was
not till provisions grew so high this winter that I bethought me how, by
buying things wholesale, and cooking a good quantity of provisions
together, much money might be saved, and much comfort gained. So I spoke
to my friend--or my enemy--the man I told you of--and he found fault
with every detail of my plan; and in consequence I laid it aside, both
as impracticable, and also because if I forced it into operation I
should be interfering with the independence of my men; when, suddenly,
this Higgins came to me and graciously signified his approval of a
scheme so nearly the same as mine, that I might fairly have claimed it;
and, moreover, the approval of several of his fellow-workmen, to whom he
had spoken. I was a little "riled," I confess, by his manner, and
thought of throwing the whole thing overboard to sink or swim. But it
seemed childish to relinquish a plan which I had once thought wise and
well-laid, just because I myself did not receive all the honour and
consequence due to the originator. So I coolly took the part assigned to
me, which is something like that of steward to a club. I buy in the
provisions wholesale, and provide a fitting matron or cook.'

'I hope you give satisfaction in your new capacity. Are you a good judge
of potatoes and onions? But I suppose Mrs. Thornton assists you in your
marketing.'

'Not a bit,' replied Mr. Thornton. 'She disapproves of the whole plan,
and now we never mention it to each other. But I manage pretty well,
getting in great stocks from Liverpool, and being served in butcher's
meat by our own family butcher. I can assure you, the hot dinners the
matron turns out are by no means to be despised.'

'Do you taste each dish as it goes in, in virtue of your office? I hope
you have a white wand.'

'I was very scrupulous, at first, in confining myself to the mere
purchasing part, and even in that I rather obeyed the men's orders
conveyed through the housekeeper, than went by my own judgment. At one
time, the beef was too large, at another the mutton was not fat enough.
I think they saw how careful I was to leave them free, and not to
intrude my own ideas upon them; so, one day, two or three of the men--my
friend Higgins among them--asked me if I would not come in and take a
snack. It was a very busy day, but I saw that the men would be hurt if,
after making the advance, I didn't meet them half-way, so I went in, and
I never made a better dinner in my life. I told them (my next neighbours
I mean, for I'm no speech-maker) how much I'd enjoyed it; and for some
time, whenever that especial dinner recurred in their dietary, I was
sure to be met by these men, with a "Master, there's hot-pot for dinner
to-day, win yo' come?" If they had not asked me, I would no more have
intruded on them than I'd have gone to the mess at the barracks without
invitation.'

'I should think you were rather a restraint on your hosts' conversation.
They can't abuse the masters while you're there. I suspect they take it
out on non-hot-pot days.'

'Well! hitherto we've steered clear of all vexed questions. But if any
of the old disputes came up again, I would certainly speak out my mind
next hot-pot day. But you are hardly acquainted with our Darkshire
fellows, for all you're a Darkshire man yourself. They have such a sense
of humour, and such a racy mode of expression! I am getting really to
know some of them now, and they talk pretty freely before me.'

'Nothing like the act of eating for equalising men. Dying is nothing to
it. The philosopher dies sententiously--the pharisee ostentatiously--the
simple-hearted humbly--the poor idiot blindly, as the sparrow falls to
the ground; the philosopher and idiot, publican and pharisee, all eat
after the same fashion--given an equally good digestion. There's theory
for theory for you!'

'Indeed I have no theory; I hate theories.'

'I beg your pardon. To show my penitence, will you accept a ten pound
note towards your marketing, and give the poor fellows a feast?'

'Thank you; but I'd rather not. They pay me rent for the oven and
cooking-places at the back of the mill: and will have to pay more for
the new dining-room. I don't want it to fall into a charity. I don't
want donations. Once let in the principle, and I should have people
going, and talking, and spoiling the simplicity of the whole thing.'

'People will talk about any new plan. You can't help that.'

'My enemies, if I have any, may make a philanthropic fuss about this
dinner-scheme; but you are a friend, and I expect you will pay my
experiment the respect of silence. It is but a new broom at present, and
sweeps clean enough. But by-and-by we shall meet with plenty of
stumbling-blocks, no doubt.'



CHAPTER XLIII

MARGARET'S FLITTIN'

    'The meanest thing to which we bid adieu,
     Loses its meanness in the parting hour.'
              ELLIOTT.


Mrs. Shaw took as vehement a dislike as it was possible for one of her
gentle nature to do, against Milton. It was noisy, and smoky, and the
poor people whom she saw in the streets were dirty, and the rich ladies
over-dressed, and not a man that she saw, high or low, had his clothes
made to fit him. She was sure Margaret would never regain her lost
strength while she stayed in Milton; and she herself was afraid of one
of her old attacks of the nerves. Margaret must return with her, and
that quickly. This, if not the exact force of her words, was at any rate
the spirit of what she urged on Margaret, till the latter, weak, weary,
and broken-spirited, yielded a reluctant promise that, as soon as
Wednesday was over she would prepare to accompany her aunt back to town,
leaving Dixon in charge of all the arrangements for paying bills,
disposing of furniture, and shutting up the house. Before that
Wednesday--that mournful Wednesday, when Mr. Hale was to be interred,
far away from either of the homes he had known in life, and far away
from the wife who lay lonely among strangers (and this last was
Margaret's great trouble, for she thought that if she had not given way
to that overwhelming stupor during the first sad days, she could have
arranged things otherwise)--before that Wednesday, Margaret received a
letter from Mr. Bell.

'MY DEAR MARGARET:--I did mean to have returned to Milton on Thursday,
but unluckily it turns out to be one of the rare occasions when we,
Plymouth Fellows, are called upon to perform any kind of duty, and I
must not be absent from my post. Captain Lennox and Mr. Thornton are
here. The former seems a smart, well-meaning man; and has proposed to go
over to Milton, and assist you in any search for the will; of course
there is none, or you would have found it by this time, if you followed
my directions. Then the Captain declares he must take you and his
mother-in-law home; and, in his wife's present state, I don't see how
you can expect him to remain away longer than Friday. However, that
Dixon of yours is trusty; and can hold her, or your own, till I come. I
will put matters into the hands of my Milton attorney if there is no
will; for I doubt this smart captain is no great man of business.
Nevertheless, his moustachios are splendid. There will have to be a
sale, so select what things you wish reserved. Or you can send a list
afterwards. Now two things more, and I have done. You know, or if you
don't, your poor father did, that you are to have my money and goods
when I die. Not that I mean to die yet; but I name this just to explain
what is coming. These Lennoxes seem very fond of you now; and perhaps
may continue to be; perhaps not. So it is best to start with a formal
agreement; namely, that you are to pay them two hundred and fifty pounds
a year, as long as you and they find it pleasant to live together.
(This, of course, includes Dixon; mind you don't be cajoled into paying
any more for her.) Then you won't be thrown adrift, if some day the
captain wishes to have his house to himself, but you can carry yourself
and your two hundred and fifty pounds off somewhere else; if, indeed, I
have not claimed you to come and keep house for me first. Then as to
dress, and Dixon, and personal expenses, and confectionery (all young
ladies eat confectionery till wisdom comes by age), I shall consult some
lady of my acquaintance, and see how much you will have from your father
before fixing this. Now, Margaret, have you flown out before you have
read this far, and wondered what right the old man has to settle your
affairs for you so cavalierly? I make no doubt you have. Yet the old man
has a right. He has loved your father for five and thirty years; he
stood beside him on his wedding-day; he closed his eyes in death.
Moreover, he is your godfather; and as he cannot do you much good
spiritually, having a hidden consciousness of your superiority in such
things, he would fain do you the poor good of endowing you materially.
And the old man has not a known relation on earth; "who is there to
mourn for Adam Bell?" and his whole heart is set and bent upon this one
thing, and Margaret Hale is not the girl to say him nay. Write by
return, if only two lines, to tell me your answer. But _no thanks_.'

Margaret took up a pen and scrawled with trembling hand, 'Margaret Hale
is not the girl to say him nay.' In her weak state she could not think
of any other words, and yet she was vexed to use these. But she was so
much fatigued even by this slight exertion, that if she could have
thought of another form of acceptance, she could not have sate up to
write a syllable of it. She was obliged to lie down again, and try not
to think.

'My dearest child! Has that letter vexed or troubled you?'

'No!' said Margaret feebly. 'I shall be better when to-morrow is over.'

'I feel sure, darling, you won't be better till I get you out of this
horrid air. How you can have borne it this two years I can't imagine.'

'Where could I go to? I could not leave papa and mamma.'

'Well! don't distress yourself, my dear. I dare say it was all for the
best, only I had no conception of how you were living. Our butler's wife
lives in a better house than this.'

'It is sometimes very pretty--in summer; you can't judge by what it is
now. I have been very happy here,' and Margaret closed her eyes by way
of stopping the conversation.

The house teemed with comfort now, compared to what it had done. The
evenings were chilly, and by Mrs. Shaw's directions fires were lighted
in every bedroom. She petted Margaret in every possible way, and bought
every delicacy, or soft luxury in which she herself would have burrowed
and sought comfort. But Margaret was indifferent to all these things;
or, if they forced themselves upon her attention, it was simply as
causes for gratitude to her aunt, who was putting herself so much out of
her way to think of her. She was restless, though so weak. All the day
long, she kept herself from thinking of the ceremony which was going on
at Oxford, by wandering from room to room, and languidly setting aside
such articles as she wished to retain. Dixon followed her by Mrs. Shaw's
desire, ostensibly to receive instructions, but with a private
injunction to soothe her into repose as soon as might be.

'These books, Dixon, I will keep. All the rest will you send to Mr.
Bell? They are of a kind that he will value for themselves, as well as
for papa's sake. This---- I should like you to take this to Mr.
Thornton, after I am gone. Stay; I will write a note with it.' And she
sate down hastily, as if afraid of thinking, and wrote:

     'DEAR SIR,--The accompanying book I am sure will be valued by you
     for the sake of my father, to whom it belonged.

     'Yours sincerely,

     'MARGARET HALE.'

She set out again upon her travels through the house, turning over
articles, known to her from her childhood, with a sort of caressing
reluctance to leave them--old-fashioned, worn and shabby, as they might
be. But she hardly spoke again; and Dixon's report to Mrs. Shaw was,
that 'she doubted whether Miss Hale heard a word of what she said,
though she talked the whole time, in order to divert her attention.' The
consequence of being on her feet all day was excessive bodily weariness
in the evening, and a better night's rest than she had had since she had
heard of Mr. Hale's death.

At breakfast time the next day, she expressed her wish to go and bid one
or two friends good-bye. Mrs. Shaw objected:

'I am sure, my dear, you can have no friends here with whom you are
sufficiently intimate to justify you in calling upon them so soon;
before you have been at church.'

'But to-day is my only day; if Captain Lennox comes this afternoon, and
if we must--if I must really go to-morrow---- '

'Oh, yes; we shall go to-morrow. I am more and more convinced that this
air is bad for you, and makes you look so pale and ill; besides, Edith
expects us; and she may be waiting me; and you cannot be left alone, my
dear, at your age. No; if you must pay these calls, I will go with you.
Dixon can get us a coach, I suppose?'

So Mrs. Shaw went to take care of Margaret, and took her maid with her
to take care of the shawls and air-cushions. Margaret's face was too sad
to lighten up into a smile at all this preparation for paying two
visits, that she had often made by herself at all hours of the day. She
was half afraid of owning that one place to which she was going was
Nicholas Higgins'; all she could do was to hope her aunt would be
indisposed to get out of the coach, and walk up the court, and at every
breath of wind have her face slapped by wet clothes, hanging out to dry
on ropes stretched from house to house.

There was a little battle in Mrs. Shaw's mind between ease and a sense
of matronly propriety; but the former gained the day; and with many an
injunction to Margaret to be careful of herself, and not to catch any
fever, such as was always lurking in such places, her aunt permitted her
to go where she had often been before without taking any precaution or
requiring any permission.

Nicholas was out; only Mary and one or two of the Boucher children at
home. Margaret was vexed with herself for not having timed her visit
better. Mary had a very blunt intellect, although her feelings were warm
and kind; and the instant she understood what Margaret's purpose was in
coming to see them, she began to cry and sob with so little restraint
that Margaret found it useless to say any of the thousand little things
which had suggested themselves to her as she was coming along in the
coach. She could only try to comfort her a little by suggesting the
vague chance of their meeting again, at some possible time, in some
possible place, and bid her tell her father how much she wished, if he
could manage it, that he should come to see her when he had done his
work in the evening.

As she was leaving the place, she stopped and looked round; then
hesitated a little before she said:

'I should like to have some little thing to remind me of Bessy.'

Instantly Mary's generosity was keenly alive. What could they give? And
on Margaret's singling out a little common drinking-cup, which she
remembered as the one always standing by Bessy's side with drink for her
feverish lips, Mary said:

'Oh, take summut better; that only cost fourpence!'

'That will do, thank you,' said Margaret; and she went quickly away,
while the light caused by the pleasure of having something to give yet
lingered on Mary's face.

'Now to Mrs. Thornton's,' thought she to herself. 'It must be done.' But
she looked rather rigid and pale at the thought of it, and had hard work
to find the exact words in which to explain to her aunt who Mrs.
Thornton was, and why she should go to bid her farewell.

They (for Mrs. Shaw alighted here) were shown into the drawing-room, in
which a fire had only just been kindled. Mrs. Shaw huddled herself up in
her shawl, and shivered.

'What an icy room!' she said.

They had to wait for some time before Mrs. Thornton entered. There was
some softening in her heart towards Margaret, now that she was going
away out of her sight. She remembered her spirit, as shown at various
times and places even more than the patience with which she had endured
long and wearing cares. Her countenance was blander than usual, as she
greeted her; there was even a shade of tenderness in her manner, as she
noticed the white, tear-swollen face, and the quiver in the voice which
Margaret tried to make so steady.

'Allow me to introduce my aunt, Mrs. Shaw. I am going away from Milton
to-morrow; I do not know if you are aware of it; but I wanted to see you
once again, Mrs. Thornton, to--to apologise for my manner the last time
I saw you; and to say that I am sure you meant kindly--however much we
may have misunderstood each other.'

Mrs. Shaw looked extremely perplexed by what Margaret had said. Thanks
for kindness! and apologies for failure in good manners! But Mrs.
Thornton replied:

'Miss Hale, I am glad you do me justice. I did no more than I believed
to be my duty in remonstrating with you as I did. I have always desired
to act the part of a friend to you. I am glad you do me justice.'

'And,' said Margaret, blushing excessively as she spoke, 'will you do me
justice, and believe that though I cannot--I do not choose--to give
explanations of my conduct, I have not acted in the unbecoming way you
apprehended?'

Margaret's voice was so soft, and her eyes so pleading, that Mrs.
Thornton was for once affected by the charm of manner to which she had
hitherto proved herself invulnerable.

'Yes, I do believe you. Let us say no more about it. Where are you going
to reside, Miss Hale? I understood from Mr. Bell that you were going to
leave Milton. You never liked Milton, you know,' said Mrs. Thornton,
with a sort of grim smile; 'but for all that, you must not expect me to
congratulate you on quitting it. Where shall you live?'

'With my aunt,' replied Margaret, turning towards Mrs. Shaw.

'My niece will reside with me in Harley Street. She is almost like a
daughter to me,' said Mrs. Shaw, looking fondly at Margaret; 'and I am
glad to acknowledge my own obligation for any kindness that has been
shown to her. If you and your husband ever come to town, my son and
daughter, Captain and Mrs. Lennox, will, I am sure, join with me in
wishing to do anything in our power to show you attention.'

Mrs. Thornton thought in her own mind, that Margaret had not taken much
care to enlighten her aunt as to the relationship between the Mr. and
Mrs. Thornton, towards whom the fine-lady aunt was extending her soft
patronage; so she answered shortly,

'My husband is dead. Mr. Thornton is my son. I never go to London; so I
am not likely to be able to avail myself of your polite offers.'

At this instant Mr. Thornton entered the room; he had only just returned
from Oxford. His mourning suit spoke of the reason that had called him
there.

'John,' said his mother, 'this lady is Mrs. Shaw, Miss Hale's aunt. I am
sorry to say, that Miss Hale's call is to wish us good-bye.'

'You are going then!' said he, in a low voice.

'Yes,' said Margaret. 'We leave to-morrow.'

'My son-in-law comes this evening to escort us,' said Mrs. Shaw.

Mr. Thornton turned away. He had not sat down, and now he seemed to be
examining something on the table, almost as if he had discovered an
unopened letter, which had made him forget the present company. He did
not even seem to be aware when they got up to take leave. He started
forwards, however, to hand Mrs. Shaw down to the carriage. As it drove
up, he and Margaret stood close together on the door-step, and it was
impossible but that the recollection of the day of the riot should force
itself into both their minds. Into his it came associated with the
speeches of the following day; her passionate declaration that there was
not a man in all that violent and desperate crowd, for whom she did not
care as much as for him. And at the remembrance of her taunting words,
his brow grew stern, though his heart beat thick with longing love.
'No!' said he, 'I put it to the touch once, and I lost it all. Let her
go,--with her stony heart, and her beauty;--how set and terrible her
look is now, for all her loveliness of feature! She is afraid I shall
speak what will require some stern repression. Let her go. Beauty and
heiress as she may be, she will find it hard to meet with a truer heart
than mine. Let her go!'

And there was no tone of regret, or emotion of any kind in the voice
with which he said good-bye; and the offered hand was taken with a
resolute calmness, and dropped as carelessly as if it had been a dead
and withered flower. But none in his household saw Mr. Thornton again
that day. He was busily engaged; or so he said.

Margaret's strength was so utterly exhausted by these visits, that she
had to submit to much watching, and petting, and sighing
'I-told-you-so's,' from her aunt. Dixon said she was quite as bad as she
had been on the first day she heard of her father's death; and she and
Mrs. Shaw consulted as to the desirableness of delaying the morrow's
journey. But when her aunt reluctantly proposed a few days' delay to
Margaret, the latter writhed her body as if in acute suffering, and
said:

'Oh! let us go. I cannot be patient here. I shall not get well here. I
want to forget.'

So the arrangements went on; and Captain Lennox came, and with him news
of Edith and the little boy; and Margaret found that the indifferent,
careless conversation of one who, however kind, was not too warm and
anxious a sympathiser, did her good. She roused up; and by the time that
she knew she might expect Higgins, she was able to leave the room
quietly, and await in her own chamber the expected summons.

'Eh!' said he, as she came in, 'to think of th' oud gentleman dropping
off as he did! Yo' might ha' knocked me down wi' a straw when they
telled me. "Mr. Hale?" said I; "him as was th' parson?" "Ay," said they.
"Then," said I, "there's as good a man gone as ever lived on this earth,
let who will be t' other!" And I came to see yo', and tell yo' how
grieved I were, but them women in th' kitchen wouldn't tell yo' I were
there. They said yo' were ill,--and butter me, but yo' dunnot look like
th' same wench. And yo're going to be a grand lady up i' Lunnon, aren't
yo'?'

'Not a grand lady,' said Margaret, half smiling.

'Well! Thornton said--says he, a day or two ago, "Higgins, have yo' seen
Miss Hale?" "No," says I; "there's a pack o' women who won't let me at
her. But I can bide my time, if she's ill. She and I knows each other
pretty well; and hoo'l not go doubting that I'm main sorry for th' oud
gentleman's death, just because I can't get at her and tell her so." And
says he, "Yo'll not have much time for to try and see her, my fine chap.
She's not for staying with us a day longer nor she can help. She's got
grand relations, and they're carrying her off; and we sha'n't see her no
more." "Measter," said I, "if I dunnot see her afore hoo goes, I'll
strive to get up to Lunnun next Whissuntide, that I will. I'll not be
baulked of saying her good-bye by any relations whatsomdever." But,
bless yo', I knowed yo'd come. It were only for to humour the measter, I
let on as if I thought yo'd mappen leave Milton without seeing me.'

'You're quite right,' said Margaret. 'You only do me justice. And you'll
not forget me, I'm sure. If no one else in Milton remembers me, I'm
certain you will; and papa too. You know how good and how tender he was.
Look, Higgins! here is his bible. I have kept it for you. I can ill
spare it; but I know he would have liked you to have it. I'm sure you'll
care for it, and study what is in it, for his sake.'

'Yo' may say that. If it were the deuce's own scribble, and yo' axed me
to read in it for yo'r sake, and th' oud gentleman's, I'd do it.
Whatten's this, wench? I'm not going for to take yo'r brass, so dunnot
think it. We've been great friends, 'bout the sound o' money passing
between us.'

'For the children--for Boucher's children,' said Margaret, hurriedly.
'They may need it. You've no right to refuse it for them. I would not
give you a penny,' she said, smiling; 'don't think there's any of it for
you.'

'Well, wench! I can nobbut say, Bless yo'! and bless yo'!--and amen.'



CHAPTER XLIV

EASE NOT PEACE

    'A dull rotation, never at a stay,
     Yesterday's face twin image of to-day.'
              COWPER.

    'Of what each one should be, he sees the form and rule,
     And till he reach to that, his joy can ne'er be full.'
              RUCKERT.


It was very well for Margaret that the extreme quiet of the Harley
Street house, during Edith's recovery from her confinement, gave her the
natural rest which she needed. It gave her time to comprehend the sudden
change which had taken place in her circumstances within the last two
months. She found herself at once an inmate of a luxurious house, where
the bare knowledge of the existence of every trouble or care seemed
scarcely to have penetrated. The wheels of the machinery of daily life
were well oiled, and went along with delicious smoothness. Mrs. Shaw and
Edith could hardly make enough of Margaret, on her return to what they
persisted in calling her home. And she felt that it was almost
ungrateful in her to have a secret feeling that the Helstone
vicarage--nay, even the poor little house at Milton, with her anxious
father and her invalid mother, and all the small household cares of
comparative poverty, composed her idea of home. Edith was impatient to
get well, in order to fill Margaret's bed-room with all the soft
comforts, and pretty nick-knacks, with which her own abounded. Mrs. Shaw
and her maid found plenty of occupation in restoring Margaret's wardrobe
to a state of elegant variety. Captain Lennox was easy, kind, and
gentlemanly; sate with his wife in her dressing-room an hour or two
every day; played with his little boy for another hour, and lounged away
the rest of his time at his club, when he was not engaged out to dinner.
Just before Margaret had recovered from her necessity for quiet and
repose--before she had begun to feel her life wanting and dull--Edith
came down-stairs and resumed her usual part in the household; and
Margaret fell into the old habit of watching, and admiring, and
ministering to her cousin. She gladly took all charge of the semblances
of duties off Edith's hands; answered notes, reminded her of
engagements, tended her when no gaiety was in prospect, and she was
consequently rather inclined to fancy herself ill. But all the rest of
the family were in the full business of the London season, and Margaret
was often left alone. Then her thoughts went back to Milton, with a
strange sense of the contrast between the life there, and here. She was
getting surfeited of the eventless ease in which no struggle or
endeavour was required. She was afraid lest she should even become
sleepily deadened into forgetfulness of anything beyond the life which
was lapping her round with luxury. There might be toilers and moilers
there in London, but she never saw them; the very servants lived in an
underground world of their own, of which she knew neither the hopes nor
the fears; they only seemed to start into existence when some want or
whim of their master and mistress needed them. There was a strange
unsatisfied vacuum in Margaret's heart and mode of life; and, once when
she had dimly hinted this to Edith, the latter, wearied with dancing the
night before, languidly stroked Margaret's cheek as she sat by her in
the old attitude,--she on a footstool by the sofa where Edith lay.

'Poor child!' said Edith. 'It is a little sad for you to be left, night
after night, just at this time when all the world is so gay. But we
shall be having our dinner-parties soon--as soon as Henry comes back
from circuit--and then there will be a little pleasant variety for you.
No wonder it is moped, poor darling!'

Margaret did not feel as if the dinner-parties would be a panacea. But
Edith piqued herself on her dinner-parties; 'so different,' as she said,
'from the old dowager dinners under mamma's regime;' and Mrs. Shaw
herself seemed to take exactly the same kind of pleasure in the very
different arrangements and circle of acquaintances which were to Captain
and Mrs. Lennox's taste, as she did in the more formal and ponderous
entertainments which she herself used to give. Captain Lennox was always
extremely kind and brotherly to Margaret. She was really very fond of
him, excepting when he was anxiously attentive to Edith's dress and
appearance, with a view to her beauty making a sufficient impression on
the world. Then all the latent Vashti in Margaret was roused, and she
could hardly keep herself from expressing her feelings.

The course of Margaret's day was this; a quiet hour or two before a late
breakfast; an unpunctual meal, lazily eaten by weary and half-awake
people, but yet at which, in all its dragged-out length, she was
expected to be present, because, directly afterwards, came a discussion
of plans, at which, although they none of them concerned her, she was
expected to give her sympathy, if she could not assist with her advice;
an endless number of notes to write, which Edith invariably left to her,
with many caressing compliments as to her eloquence du billet; a little
play with Sholto as he returned from his morning's walk; besides the
care of the children during the servants' dinner; a drive or callers;
and some dinner or morning engagement for her aunt and cousins, which
left Margaret free, it is true, but rather wearied with the inactivity
of the day, coming upon depressed spirits and delicate health.

She looked forward with longing, though unspoken interest to the homely
object of Dixon's return from Milton; where, until now, the old servant
had been busily engaged in winding up all the affairs of the Hale
family. It had appeared a sudden famine to her heart, this entire
cessation of any news respecting the people amongst whom she had lived
so long. It was true, that Dixon, in her business-letters, quoted, every
now and then, an opinion of Mr. Thornton's as to what she had better do
about the furniture, or how act in regard to the landlord of the
Crampton Terrace house. But it was only here and there that the name
came in, or any Milton name, indeed; and Margaret was sitting one
evening, all alone in the Lennoxes's drawing-room, not reading Dixon's
letters, which yet she held in her hand, but thinking over them, and
recalling the days which had been, and picturing the busy life out of
which her own had been taken and never missed; wondering if all went on
in that whirl just as if she and her father had never been; questioning
within herself, if no one in all the crowd missed her, (not Higgins, she
was not thinking of him,) when, suddenly, Mr. Bell was announced; and
Margaret hurried the letters into her work-basket, and started up,
blushing as if she had been doing some guilty thing.

'Oh, Mr. Bell! I never thought of seeing you!'

'But you give me a welcome, I hope, as well as that very pretty start of
surprise.'

'Have you dined? How did you come? Let me order you some dinner.'

'If you're going to have any. Otherwise, you know, there is no one who
cares less for eating than I do. But where are the others? Gone out to
dinner? Left you alone?'

'Oh yes! and it is such a rest. I was just thinking--But will you run
the risk of dinner? I don't know if there is anything in the house.'

'Why, to tell you the truth, I dined at my club. Only they don't cook as
well as they did, so I thought, if you were going to dine, I might try
and make out my dinner. But never mind, never mind! There aren't ten
cooks in England to be trusted at impromptu dinners. If their skill and
their fires will stand it, their tempers won't. You shall make me some
tea, Margaret. And now, what were you thinking of? you were going to
tell me. Whose letters were those, god-daughter, that you hid away so
speedily?'

'Only Dixon's,' replied Margaret, growing very red.

'Whew! is that all? Who do you think came up in the train with me?'

'I don't know,' said Margaret, resolved against making a guess.

'Your what d'ye call him? What's the right name for a cousin-in-law's
brother?'

'Mr. Henry Lennox?' asked Margaret.

'Yes,' replied Mr. Bell. 'You knew him formerly, didn't you? What sort
of a person is he, Margaret?'

'I liked him long ago,' said Margaret, glancing down for a moment. And
then she looked straight up and went on in her natural manner. 'You know
we have been corresponding about Frederick since; but I have not seen
him for nearly three years, and he may be changed. What did you think of
him?'

'I don't know. He was so busy trying to find out who I was, in the first
instance, and what I was in the second, that he never let out what he
was; unless indeed that veiled curiosity of his as to what manner of man
he had to talk to was not a good piece, and a fair indication of his
character. Do you call him good looking, Margaret?'

'No! certainly not. Do you?'

'Not I. But I thought, perhaps, you might. Is he a great deal here?'

'I fancy he is when he is in town. He has been on circuit now since I
came. But--Mr. Bell--have you come from Oxford or from Milton?'

'From Milton. Don't you see I'm smoke-dried?'

'Certainly. But I thought that it might be the effect of the antiquities
of Oxford.'

'Come now, be a sensible woman! In Oxford, I could have managed all the
landlords in the place, and had my own way, with half the trouble your
Milton landlord has given me, and defeated me after all. He won't take
the house off our hands till next June twelvemonth. Luckily, Mr.
Thornton found a tenant for it. Why don't you ask after Mr. Thornton,
Margaret? He has proved himself a very active friend of yours, I can
tell you. Taken more than half the trouble off my hands.'

'And how is he? How is Mrs. Thornton?' asked Margaret hurriedly and
below her breath, though she tried to speak out.

'I suppose they're well. I've been staying at their house till I was
driven out of it by the perpetual clack about that Thornton girl's
marriage. It was too much for Thornton himself, though she was his
sister. He used to go and sit in his own room perpetually. He's getting
past the age for caring for such things, either as principal or
accessory. I was surprised to find the old lady falling into the
current, and carried away by her daughter's enthusiasm for
orange-blossoms and lace. I thought Mrs. Thornton had been made of
sterner stuff.'

'She would put on any assumption of feeling to veil her daughter's
weakness,' said Margaret in a low voice.

'Perhaps so. You've studied her, have you? She doesn't seem over fond of
you, Margaret.'

'I know it,' said Margaret. 'Oh, here is tea at last!' exclaimed she, as
if relieved. And with tea came Mr. Henry Lennox, who had walked up to
Harley Street after a late dinner, and had evidently expected to find
his brother and sister-in-law at home. Margaret suspected him of being
as thankful as she was at the presence of a third party, on this their
first meeting since the memorable day of his offer, and her refusal at
Helstone. She could hardly tell what to say at first, and was thankful
for all the tea-table occupations, which gave her an excuse for keeping
silence, and him an opportunity of recovering himself. For, to tell the
truth, he had rather forced himself up to Harley Street this evening,
with a view of getting over an awkward meeting, awkward even in the
presence of Captain Lennox and Edith, and doubly awkward now that he
found her the only lady there, and the person to whom he must naturally
and perforce address a great part of his conversation. She was the first
to recover her self-possession. She began to talk on the subject which
came uppermost in her mind, after the first flush of awkward shyness.

'Mr. Lennox, I have been so much obliged to you for all you have done
about Frederick.'

'I am only sorry it has been so unsuccessful,' replied he, with a quick
glance towards Mr. Bell, as if reconnoitring how much he might say
before him. Margaret, as if she read his thought, addressed herself to
Mr. Bell, both including him in the conversation, and implying that he
was perfectly aware of the endeavours that had been made to clear
Frederick.

'That Horrocks--that very last witness of all, has proved as unavailing
as all the others. Mr. Lennox has discovered that he sailed for
Australia only last August; only two months before Frederick was in
England, and gave us the names of---- '

'Frederick in England! you never told me that!' exclaimed Mr. Bell in
surprise.

'I thought you knew. I never doubted you had been told. Of course, it
was a great secret, and perhaps I should not have named it now,' said
Margaret, a little dismayed.

'I have never named it to either my brother or your cousin,' said Mr.
Lennox, with a little professional dryness of implied reproach.

'Never mind, Margaret. I am not living in a talking, babbling world, nor
yet among people who are trying to worm facts out of me; you needn't
look so frightened because you have let the cat out of the bag to a
faithful old hermit like me. I shall never name his having been in
England; I shall be out of temptation, for no one will ask me. Stay!'
(interrupting himself rather abruptly) 'was it at your mother's
funeral?'

'He was with mamma when she died,' said Margaret, softly.

'To be sure! To be sure! Why, some one asked me if he had not been over
then, and I denied it stoutly--not many weeks ago--who could it have
been? Oh! I recollect!'

But he did not say the name; and although Margaret would have given much
to know if her suspicions were right, and it had been Mr. Thornton who
had made the enquiry, she could not ask the question of Mr. Bell, much
as she longed to do so.

There was a pause for a moment or two. Then Mr. Lennox said, addressing
himself to Margaret, 'I suppose as Mr. Bell is now acquainted with all
the circumstances attending your brother's unfortunate dilemma, I cannot
do better than inform him exactly how the research into the evidence we
once hoped to produce in his favour stands at present. So, if he will do
me the honour to breakfast with me to-morrow, we will go over the names
of these missing gentry.'

'I should like to hear all the particulars, if I may. Cannot you come
here? I dare not ask you both to breakfast, though I am sure you would
be welcome. But let me know all I can about Frederick, even though there
may be no hope at present.'

'I have an engagement at half-past eleven. But I will certainly come if
you wish it,' replied Mr. Lennox, with a little afterthought of extreme
willingness, which made Margaret shrink into herself, and almost wish
that she had not proposed her natural request. Mr. Bell got up and
looked around him for his hat, which had been removed to make room for
tea.

'Well!' said he, 'I don't know what Mr. Lennox is inclined to do, but
I'm disposed to be moving off homewards. I've been a journey to-day, and
journeys begin to tell upon my sixty and odd years.'

'I believe I shall stay and see my brother and sister,' said Mr. Lennox,
making no movement of departure. Margaret was seized with a shy awkward
dread of being left alone with him. The scene on the little terrace in
the Helstone garden was so present to her, that she could hardly help
believing it was so with him.

'Don't go yet, please, Mr. Bell,' said she, hastily. 'I want you to see
Edith; and I want Edith to know you. Please!' said she, laying a light
but determined hand on his arm. He looked at her, and saw the confusion
stirring in her countenance; he sate down again, as if her little touch
had been possessed of resistless strength.

'You see how she overpowers me, Mr. Lennox,' said he. 'And I hope you
noticed the happy choice of her expressions; she wants me to "see" this
cousin Edith, who, I am told, is a great beauty; but she has the honesty
to change her word when she comes to me--Mrs. Lennox is to "know" me. I
suppose I am not much to "see," eh, Margaret?'

He joked, to give her time to recover from the slight flutter which he
had detected in her manner on his proposal to leave; and she caught the
tone, and threw the ball back. Mr. Lennox wondered how his brother, the
Captain, could have reported her as having lost all her good looks. To
be sure, in her quiet black dress, she was a contrast to Edith, dancing
in her white crape mourning, and long floating golden hair, all softness
and glitter. She dimpled and blushed most becomingly when introduced to
Mr. Bell, conscious that she had her reputation as a beauty to keep up,
and that it would not do to have a Mordecai refusing to worship and
admire, even in the shape of an old Fellow of a College, which nobody
had ever heard of. Mrs. Shaw and Captain Lennox, each in their separate
way, gave Mr. Bell a kind and sincere welcome, winning him over to like
them almost in spite of himself, especially when he saw how naturally
Margaret took her place as sister and daughter of the house.

'What a shame that we were not at home to receive you,' said Edith.
'You, too, Henry! though I don't know that we should have stayed at home
for you. And for Mr. Bell! for Margaret's Mr. Bell---- '

'There is no knowing what sacrifices you would not have made,' said her
brother-in-law. 'Even a dinner-party! and the delight of wearing this
very becoming dress.'

Edith did not know whether to frown or to smile. But it did not suit Mr.
Lennox to drive her to the first of these alternatives; so he went on.

'Will you show your readiness to make sacrifices to-morrow morning,
first by asking me to breakfast, to meet Mr. Bell, and secondly, by
being so kind as to order it at half-past nine, instead of ten o'clock?
I have some letters and papers that I want to show to Miss Hale and Mr.
Bell.'

'I hope Mr. Bell will make our house his own during his stay in London,'
said Captain Lennox. 'I am only so sorry we cannot offer him a
bed-room.'

'Thank you. I am much obliged to you. You would only think me a churl if
you had, for I should decline it, I believe, in spite of all the
temptations of such agreeable company,' said Mr. Bell, bowing all round,
and secretly congratulating himself on the neat turn he had given to his
sentence, which, if put into plain language, would have been more to
this effect: 'I couldn't stand the restraints of such a proper-behaved
and civil-spoken set of people as these are: it would be like meat
without salt. I'm thankful they haven't a bed. And how well I rounded my
sentence! I am absolutely catching the trick of good manners.'

His self-satisfaction lasted him till he was fairly out in the streets,
walking side by side with Henry Lennox. Here he suddenly remembered
Margaret's little look of entreaty as she urged him to stay longer, and
he also recollected a few hints given him long ago by an acquaintance of
Mr. Lennox's, as to his admiration of Margaret. It gave a new direction
to his thoughts. 'You have known Miss Hale for a long time, I believe.
How do you think her looking? She strikes me as pale and ill.'

'I thought her looking remarkably well. Perhaps not when I first came
in--now I think of it. But certainly, when she grew animated, she looked
as well as ever I saw her do.'

'She has had a great deal to go through,' said Mr. Bell.

'Yes! I have been sorry to hear of all she has had to bear; not merely
the common and universal sorrow arising from death, but all the
annoyance which her father's conduct must have caused her, and then----'

'Her father's conduct!' said Mr. Bell, in an accent of surprise. 'You
must have heard some wrong statement. He behaved in the most
conscientious manner. He showed more resolute strength than I should
ever have given him credit for formerly.'

'Perhaps I have been wrongly informed. But I have been told, by his
successor in the living--a clever, sensible man, and a thoroughly active
clergyman--that there was no call upon Mr. Hale to do what he did,
relinquish the living, and throw himself and his family on the tender
mercies of private teaching in a manufacturing town; the bishop had
offered him another living, it is true, but if he had come to entertain
certain doubts, he could have remained where he was, and so had no
occasion to resign. But the truth is, these country clergymen live such
isolated lives--isolated, I mean, from all intercourse with men of equal
cultivation with themselves, by whose minds they might regulate their
own, and discover when they were going either too fast or too slow--that
they are very apt to disturb themselves with imaginary doubts as to the
articles of faith, and throw up certain opportunities of doing good for
very uncertain fancies of their own.'

'I differ from you. I do not think they are very apt to do as my poor
friend Hale did.' Mr. Bell was inwardly chafing.

'Perhaps I used too general an expression, in saying "very apt." But
certainly, their lives are such as very often to produce either
inordinate self-sufficiency, or a morbid state of conscience,' replied
Mr. Lennox with perfect coolness.

'You don't meet with any self-sufficiency among the lawyers, for
instance?' asked Mr. Bell. 'And seldom, I imagine, any cases of morbid
conscience.' He was becoming more and more vexed, and forgetting his
lately-caught trick of good manners. Mr. Lennox saw now that he had
annoyed his companion; and as he had talked pretty much for the sake of
saying something, and so passing the time while their road lay together,
he was very indifferent as to the exact side he took upon the question,
and quietly came round by saying: 'To be sure, there is something fine
in a man of Mr. Hale's age leaving his home of twenty years, and giving
up all settled habits, for an idea which was probably erroneous--but
that does not matter--an untangible thought. One cannot help admiring
him, with a mixture of pity in one's admiration, something like what one
feels for Don Quixote. Such a gentleman as he was too! I shall never
forget the refined and simple hospitality he showed to me that last day
at Helstone.'

Only half mollified, and yet anxious, in order to lull certain qualms of
his own conscience, to believe that Mr. Hale's conduct had a tinge of
Quixotism in it, Mr. Bell growled out--'Aye! And you don't know Milton.
Such a change from Helstone! It is years since I have been at
Helstone--but I'll answer for it, it is standing there yet--every stick
and every stone as it has done for the last century, while Milton! I go
there every four or five years--and I was born there--yet I do assure
you, I often lose my way--aye, among the very piles of warehouses that
are built upon my father's orchard. Do we part here? Well, good night,
sir; I suppose we shall meet in Harley Street to-morrow morning.'



CHAPTER XLV

NOT ALL A DREAM

    'Where are the sounds that swam along
     The buoyant air when I was young?
     The last vibration now is o'er,
     And they who listened are no more;
     Ah! let me close my eyes and dream.'
              W. S. LANDOR.


The idea of Helstone had been suggested to Mr. Bell's waking mind by his
conversation with Mr. Lennox, and all night long it ran riot through his
dreams. He was again the tutor in the college where he now held the rank
of Fellow; it was again a long vacation, and he was staying with his
newly married friend, the proud husband, and happy Vicar of Helstone.
Over babbling brooks they took impossible leaps, which seemed to keep
them whole days suspended in the air. Time and space were not, though
all other things seemed real. Every event was measured by the emotions
of the mind, not by its actual existence, for existence it had none. But
the trees were gorgeous in their autumnal leafiness--the warm odours of
flower and herb came sweet upon the sense--the young wife moved about
her house with just that mixture of annoyance at her position, as
regarded wealth, with pride in her handsome and devoted husband, which
Mr. Bell had noticed in real life a quarter of a century ago. The dream
was so like life that, when he awoke, his present life seemed like a
dream. Where was he? In the close, handsomely furnished room of a London
hotel! Where were those who spoke to him, moved around him, touched him,
not an instant ago? Dead! buried! lost for evermore, as far as earth's
for evermore would extend. He was an old man, so lately exultant in the
full strength of manhood. The utter loneliness of his life was
insupportable to think about. He got up hastily, and tried to forget
what never more might be, in a hurried dressing for the breakfast in
Harley Street.

He could not attend to all the lawyer's details, which, as he saw, made
Margaret's eyes dilate, and her lips grow pale, as one by one fate
decreed, or so it seemed, every morsel of evidence which would exonerate
Frederick, should fall from beneath her feet and disappear. Even Mr.
Lennox's well-regulated professional voice took a softer, tenderer tone,
as he drew near to the extinction of the last hope. It was not that
Margaret had not been perfectly aware of the result before. It was only
that the details of each successive disappointment came with such
relentless minuteness to quench all hope, that she at last fairly gave
way to tears. Mr. Lennox stopped reading.

'I had better not go on,' said he, in a concerned voice. 'It was a
foolish proposal of mine. Lieutenant Hale,' and even this giving him the
title of the service from which he had so harshly been expelled, was
soothing to Margaret, 'Lieutenant Hale is happy now; more secure in
fortune and future prospects than he could ever have been in the navy;
and has, doubtless, adopted his wife's country as his own.'

'That is it,' said Margaret. 'It seems so selfish in me to regret it,'
trying to smile, 'and yet he is lost to me, and I am so lonely.' Mr.
Lennox turned over his papers, and wished that he were as rich and
prosperous as he believed he should be some day. Mr. Bell blew his nose,
but, otherwise, he also kept silence; and Margaret, in a minute or two,
had apparently recovered her usual composure. She thanked Mr. Lennox
very courteously for his trouble; all the more courteously and
graciously because she was conscious that, by her behaviour, he might
have probably been led to imagine that he had given her needless pain.
Yet it was pain she would not have been without.

Mr. Bell came up to wish her good-bye.

'Margaret!' said he, as he fumbled with his gloves. 'I am going down to
Helstone to-morrow, to look at the old place. Would you like to come
with me? Or would it give you too much pain? Speak out, don't be
afraid.'

'Oh, Mr. Bell,' said she--and could say no more. But she took his old
gouty hand, and kissed it.

'Come, come; that's enough,' said he, reddening with awkwardness. 'I
suppose your aunt Shaw will trust you with me. We'll go to-morrow
morning, and we shall get there about two o'clock, I fancy. We'll take a
snack, and order dinner at the little inn--the Lennard Arms, it used to
be,--and go and get an appetite in the forest. Can you stand it,
Margaret? It will be a trial, I know, to both of us, but it will be a
pleasure to me, at least. And there we'll dine--it will be but
doe-venison, if we can get it at all--and then I'll take my nap while
you go out and see old friends. I'll give you back safe and sound,
barring railway accidents, and I'll insure your life for a thousand
pounds before starting, which may be some comfort to your relations; but
otherwise, I'll bring you back to Mrs. Shaw by lunch-time on Friday. So,
if you say yes, I'll just go up-stairs and propose it.'

'It's no use my trying to say how much I shall like it,' said Margaret,
through her tears.

'Well, then, prove your gratitude by keeping those fountains of yours
dry for the next two days. If you don't, I shall feel queer myself about
the lachrymal ducts, and I don't like that.'

'I won't cry a drop,' said Margaret, winking her eyes to shake the tears
off her eye-lashes, and forcing a smile.

'There's my good girl. Then we'll go up-stairs and settle it all.'
Margaret was in a state of almost trembling eagerness, while Mr. Bell
discussed his plan with her aunt Shaw, who was first startled, then
doubtful and perplexed, and in the end, yielding rather to the rough
force of Mr. Bell's words than to her own conviction; for to the last,
whether it was right or wrong, proper or improper, she could not settle
to her own satisfaction, till Margaret's safe return, the happy
fulfilment of the project, gave her decision enough to say, 'she was
sure it had been a very kind thought of Mr. Bell's, and just what she
herself had been wishing for Margaret, as giving her the very change
which she required, after all the anxious time she had had.'



CHAPTER XLVI

ONCE AND NOW

    'So on those happy days of yore
     Oft as I dare to dwell once more,
     Still must I miss the friends so tried,
     Whom Death has severed from my side.

     But ever when true friendship binds,
     Spirit it is that spirit finds;
     In spirit then our bliss we found,
     In spirit yet to them I'm bound.'
              UHLAND.


Margaret was ready long before the appointed time, and had leisure
enough to cry a little, quietly, when unobserved, and to smile brightly
when any one looked at her. Her last alarm was lest they should be too
late and miss the train; but no! they were all in time; and she breathed
freely and happily at length, seated in the carriage opposite to Mr.
Bell, and whirling away past the well-known stations; seeing the old
south country-towns and hamlets sleeping in the warm light of the pure
sun, which gave a yet ruddier colour to their tiled roofs, so different
to the cold slates of the north. Broods of pigeons hovered around these
peaked quaint gables, slowly settling here and there, and ruffling their
soft, shiny feathers, as if exposing every fibre to the delicious
warmth. There were few people about at the stations, it almost seemed as
if they were too lazily content to wish to travel; none of the bustle
and stir that Margaret had noticed in her two journeys on the London and
North-Western line. Later on in the year, this line of railway should be
stirring and alive with rich pleasure-seekers; but as to the constant
going to and fro of busy trades-people it would always be widely
different from the northern lines. Here a spectator or two stood
lounging at nearly every station, with his hands in his pockets, so
absorbed in the simple act of watching, that it made the travellers
wonder what he could find to do when the train whirled away, and only
the blank of a railway, some sheds, and a distant field or two were left
for him to gaze upon. The hot air danced over the golden stillness of
the land, farm after farm was left behind, each reminding Margaret of
German Idyls--of Herman and Dorothea--of Evangeline. From this waking
dream she was roused. It was the place to leave the train and take the
fly to Helstone. And now sharper feelings came shooting through her
heart, whether pain or pleasure she could hardly tell. Every mile was
redolent of associations, which she would not have missed for the world,
but each of which made her cry upon 'the days that are no more,' with
ineffable longing. The last time she had passed along this road was when
she had left it with her father and mother--the day, the season, had
been gloomy, and she herself hopeless, but they were there with her. Now
she was alone, an orphan, and they, strangely, had gone away from her,
and vanished from the face of the earth. It hurt her to see the Helstone
road so flooded in the sun-light, and every turn and every familiar tree
so precisely the same in its summer glory as it had been in former
years. Nature felt no change, and was ever young.

Mr. Bell knew something of what would be passing through her mind, and
wisely and kindly held his tongue. They drove up to the Lennard Arms;
half farm-house, half-inn, standing a little apart from the road, as
much as to say, that the host did not so depend on the custom of
travellers, as to have to court it by any obtrusiveness; they, rather,
must seek him out. The house fronted the village green; and right before
it stood an immemorial lime-tree benched all round, in some hidden
recesses of whose leafy wealth hung the grim escutcheon of the Lennards.
The door of the inn stood wide open, but there was no hospitable hurry
to receive the travellers. When the landlady did appear--and they might
have abstracted many an article first--she gave them a kind welcome,
almost as if they had been invited guests, and apologised for her coming
having been so delayed, by saying, that it was hay-time, and the
provisions for the men had to be sent a-field, and she had been too busy
packing up the baskets to hear the noise of wheels over the road, which,
since they had left the highway, ran over soft short turf.

'Why, bless me!' exclaimed she, as at the end of her apology, a glint of
sunlight showed her Margaret's face, hitherto unobserved in that shady
parlour. 'It's Miss Hale, Jenny,' said she, running to the door, and
calling to her daughter. 'Come here, come directly, it's Miss Hale!' And
then she went up to Margaret, and shook her hands with motherly
fondness.

'And how are you all? How's the Vicar and Miss Dixon? The Vicar above
all! God bless him! We've never ceased to be sorry that he left.'

Margaret tried to speak and tell her of her father's death; of her
mother's it was evident that Mrs. Purkis was aware, from her omission of
her name. But she choked in the effort, and could only touch her deep
mourning, and say the one word, 'Papa.'

'Surely, sir, it's never so!' said Mrs. Purkis, turning to Mr. Bell for
confirmation of the sad suspicion that now entered her mind. 'There was
a gentleman here in the spring--it might have been as long ago as last
winter--who told us a deal of Mr. Hale and Miss Margaret; and he said
Mrs. Hale was gone, poor lady. But never a word of the Vicar's being
ailing!'

'It is so, however,' said Mr. Bell. 'He died quite suddenly, when on a
visit to me at Oxford. He was a good man, Mrs. Purkis, and there's many
of us that might be thankful to have as calm an end as his. Come
Margaret, my dear! Her father was my oldest friend, and she's my
god-daughter, so I thought we would just come down together and see the
old place; and I know of old you can give us comfortable rooms and a
capital dinner. You don't remember me I see, but my name is Bell, and
once or twice when the parsonage has been full, I've slept here, and
tasted your good ale.'

'To be sure; I ask your pardon; but you see I was taken up with Miss
Hale. Let me show you to a room, Miss Margaret, where you can take off
your bonnet, and wash your face. It's only this very morning I plunged
some fresh-gathered roses head downward in the water-jug, for, thought
I, perhaps some one will be coming, and there's nothing so sweet as
spring-water scented by a musk rose or two. To think of the Vicar being
dead! Well, to be sure, we must all die; only that gentleman said, he
was quite picking up after his trouble about Mrs. Hale's death.'

'Come down to me, Mrs. Purkis, after you have attended to Miss Hale. I
want to have a consultation with you about dinner.'

The little casement window in Margaret's bed-chamber was almost filled
up with rose and vine branches; but pushing them aside, and stretching a
little out, she could see the tops of the parsonage chimneys above the
trees; and distinguish many a well-known line through the leaves.

'Aye!' said Mrs. Purkis, smoothing down the bed, and despatching Jenny
for an armful of lavender-scented towels, 'times is changed, miss; our
new Vicar has seven children, and is building a nursery ready for more,
just out where the arbour and tool-house used to be in old times. And he
has had new grates put in, and a plate-glass window in the drawing-room.
He and his wife are stirring people, and have done a deal of good; at
least they say it's doing good; if it were not, I should call it turning
things upside down for very little purpose. The new Vicar is a
teetotaller, miss, and a magistrate, and his wife has a deal of receipts
for economical cooking, and is for making bread without yeast; and they
both talk so much, and both at a time, that they knock one down as it
were, and it's not till they're gone, and one's a little at peace, that
one can think that there were things one might have said on one's own
side of the question. He'll be after the men's cans in the hay-field,
and peeping in; and then there'll be an ado because it's not ginger
beer, but I can't help it. My mother and my grandmother before me sent
good malt liquor to haymakers; and took salts and senna when anything
ailed them; and I must e'en go on in their ways, though Mrs. Hepworth
does want to give me comfits instead of medicine, which, as she says, is
a deal pleasanter, only I've no faith in it. But I must go, miss, though
I'm wanting to hear many a thing; I'll come back to you before long.

Mr. Bell had strawberries and cream, a loaf of brown bread, and a jug of
milk, (together with a Stilton cheese and a bottle of port for his own
private refreshment,) ready for Margaret on her coming down stairs; and
after this rustic luncheon they set out to walk, hardly knowing in what
direction to turn, so many old familiar inducements were there in each.

'Shall we go past the vicarage?' asked Mr. Bell.

'No, not yet. We will go this way, and make a round so as to come back
by it,' replied Margaret.

Here and there old trees had been felled the autumn before; or a
squatter's roughly-built and decaying cottage had disappeared. Margaret
missed them each and all, and grieved over them like old friends. They
came past the spot where she and Mr. Lennox had sketched. The white,
lightning-scarred trunk of the venerable beech, among whose roots they
had sate down was there no more; the old man, the inhabitant of the
ruinous cottage, was dead; the cottage had been pulled down, and a new
one, tidy and respectable, had been built in its stead. There was a
small garden on the place where the beech-tree had been.

'I did not think I had been so old,' said Margaret after a pause of
silence; and she turned away sighing.

'Yes!' said Mr. Bell. 'It is the first changes among familiar things
that make such a mystery of time to the young, afterwards we lose the
sense of the mysterious. I take changes in all I see as a matter of
course. The instability of all human things is familiar to me, to you it
is new and oppressive.'

'Let us go on to see little Susan,' said Margaret, drawing her companion
up a grassy road-way, leading under the shadow of a forest glade.

'With all my heart, though I have not an idea who little Susan may be.
But I have a kindness for all Susans, for simple Susan's sake.'

'My little Susan was disappointed when I left without wishing her
goodbye; and it has been on my conscience ever since, that I gave her
pain which a little more exertion on my part might have prevented. But
it is a long way. Are you sure you will not be tired?'

'Quite sure. That is, if you don't walk so fast. You see, here there are
no views that can give one an excuse for stopping to take breath. You
would think it romantic to be walking with a person "fat and scant o'
breath" if I were Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. Have compassion on my
infirmities for his sake.'

'I will walk slower for your own sake. I like you twenty times better
than Hamlet.'

'On the principle that a living ass is better than a dead lion?'

'Perhaps so. I don't analyse my feelings.'

'I am content to take your liking me, without examining too curiously
into the materials it is made of. Only we need not walk at a snail's'
pace.'

'Very well. Walk at your own pace, and I will follow. Or stop still and
meditate, like the Hamlet you compare yourself to, if I go too fast.'

'Thank you. But as my mother has not murdered my father, and afterwards
married my uncle, I shouldn't know what to think about, unless it were
balancing the chances of our having a well-cooked dinner or not. What do
you think?'

'I am in good hopes. She used to be considered a famous cook as far as
Helstone opinion went.'

'But have you considered the distraction of mind produced by all this
haymaking?'

Margaret felt all Mr. Bell's kindness in trying to make cheerful talk
about nothing, to endeavour to prevent her from thinking too curiously
about the past. But she would rather have gone over these dear-loved
walks in silence, if indeed she were not ungrateful enough to wish that
she might have been alone.

They reached the cottage where Susan's widowed mother lived. Susan was
not there. She was gone to the parochial school. Margaret was
disappointed, and the poor woman saw it, and began to make a kind of
apology.

'Oh! it is quite right,' said Margaret. 'I am very glad to hear it. I
might have thought of it. Only she used to stop at home with you.'

'Yes, she did; and I miss her sadly. I used to teach her what little I
knew at nights. It were not much to be sure. But she were getting such a
handy girl, that I miss her sore. But she's a deal above me in learning
now.' And the mother sighed.

'I'm all wrong,' growled Mr. Bell. 'Don't mind what I say. I'm a hundred
years behind the world. But I should say, that the child was getting a
better and simpler, and more natural education stopping at home, and
helping her mother, and learning to read a chapter in the New Testament
every night by her side, than from all the schooling under the sun.'

Margaret did not want to encourage him to go on by replying to him, and
so prolonging the discussion before the mother. So she turned to her and
asked,

'How is old Betty Barnes?'

'I don't know,' said the woman rather shortly. 'We'se not friends.'

'Why not?' asked Margaret, who had formerly been the peacemaker of the
village.

'She stole my cat.'

'Did she know it was yours?'

'I don't know. I reckon not.'

'Well! could not you get it back again when you told her it was yours?'

'No! for she'd burnt it.'

'Burnt it!' exclaimed both Margaret and Mr. Bell.

'Roasted it!' explained the woman.

It was no explanation. By dint of questioning, Margaret extracted from
her the horrible fact that Betty Barnes, having been induced by a gypsy
fortune-teller to lend the latter her husband's Sunday clothes, on
promise of having them faithfully returned on the Saturday night before
Goodman Barnes should have missed them, became alarmed by their
non-appearance, and her consequent dread of her husband's anger, and as,
according to one of the savage country superstitions, the cries of a
cat, in the agonies of being boiled or roasted alive, compelled (as it
were) the powers of darkness to fulfil the wishes of the executioner,
resort had been had to the charm. The poor woman evidently believed in
its efficacy; her only feeling was indignation that her cat had been
chosen out from all others for a sacrifice. Margaret listened in horror;
and endeavoured in vain to enlighten the woman's mind; but she was
obliged to give it up in despair. Step by step she got the woman to
admit certain facts, of which the logical connexion and sequence was
perfectly clear to Margaret; but at the end, the bewildered woman simply
repeated her first assertion, namely, that 'it were very cruel for sure,
and she should not like to do it; but that there were nothing like it
for giving a person what they wished for; she had heard it all her life;
but it were very cruel for all that.' Margaret gave it up in despair,
and walked away sick at heart.

'You are a good girl not to triumph over me,' said Mr. Bell.

'How? What do you mean?'

'I own, I am wrong about schooling. Anything rather than have that child
brought up in such practical paganism.'

'Oh! I remember. Poor little Susan! I must go and see her; would you
mind calling at the school?'

'Not a bit. I am curious to see something of the teaching she is to
receive.'

They did not speak much more, but thridded their way through many a
bosky dell, whose soft green influence could not charm away the shock
and the pain in Margaret's heart, caused by the recital of such cruelty;
a recital too, the manner of which betrayed such utter want of
imagination, and therefore of any sympathy with the suffering animal.

The buzz of voices, like the murmur of a hive of busy human bees, made
itself heard as soon as they emerged from the forest on the more open
village-green on which the school was situated. The door was wide open,
and they entered. A brisk lady in black, here, there, and everywhere,
perceived them, and bade them welcome with somewhat of the hostess-air
which, Margaret remembered, her mother was wont to assume, only in a
more soft and languid manner, when any rare visitors strayed in to
inspect the school. She knew at once it was the present Vicar's wife,
her mother's successor; and she would have drawn back from the interview
had it been possible; but in an instant she had conquered this feeling,
and modestly advanced, meeting many a bright glance of recognition, and
hearing many a half-suppressed murmur of 'It's Miss Hale.' The Vicar's
lady heard the name, and her manner at once became more kindly. Margaret
wished she could have helped feeling that it also became more
patronising. The lady held out a hand to Mr. Bell, with--

'Your father, I presume, Miss Hale. I see it by the likeness. I am sure
I am very glad to see you, sir, and so will the Vicar be.'

Margaret explained that it was not her father, and stammered out the
fact of his death; wondering all the time how Mr. Hale could have borne
coming to revisit Helstone, if it had been as the Vicar's lady supposed.
She did not hear what Mrs. Hepworth was saying, and left it to Mr. Bell
to reply, looking round, meanwhile, for her old acquaintances.

'Ah! I see you would like to take a class, Miss Hale. I know it by
myself. First class stand up for a parsing lesson with Miss Hale.'

Poor Margaret, whose visit was sentimental, not in any degree
inspective, felt herself taken in; but as in some way bringing her in
contact with little eager faces, once well-known, and who had received
the solemn rite of baptism from her father, she sate down, half losing
herself in tracing out the changing features of the girls, and holding
Susan's hand for a minute or two, unobserved by all, while the first
class sought for their books, and the Vicar's lady went as near as a
lady could towards holding Mr. Bell by the button, while she explained
the Phonetic system to him, and gave him a conversation she had had with
the Inspector about it.

Margaret bent over her book, and seeing nothing but that--hearing the
buzz of children's voices, old times rose up, and she thought of them,
and her eyes filled with tears, till all at once there was a pause--one
of the girls was stumbling over the apparently simple word 'a,'
uncertain what to call it.

'A, an indefinite article,' said Margaret, mildly.

'I beg your pardon,' said the Vicar's wife, all eyes and ears; 'but we
are taught by Mr. Milsome to call "a" an--who can remember?'

'An adjective absolute,' said half-a-dozen voices at once. And Margaret
sate abashed. The children knew more than she did. Mr. Bell turned away,
and smiled.

Margaret spoke no more during the lesson. But after it was over, she
went quietly round to one or two old favourites, and talked to them a
little. They were growing out of children into great girls; passing out
of her recollection in their rapid development, as she, by her three
years' absence, was vanishing from theirs. Still she was glad to have
seen them all again, though a tinge of sadness mixed itself with her
pleasure. When school was over for the day, it was yet early in the
summer afternoon; and Mrs. Hepworth proposed to Margaret that she and
Mr. Bell should accompany her to the parsonage, and see the--the word
'improvements' had half slipped out of her mouth, but she substituted
the more cautious term 'alterations' which the present Vicar was making.
Margaret did not care a straw about seeing the alterations, which jarred
upon her fond recollection of what her home had been; but she longed to
see the old place once more, even though she shivered away from the pain
which she knew she should feel.

The parsonage was so altered, both inside and out, that the real pain
was less than she had anticipated. It was not like the same place. The
garden, the grass-plat, formerly so daintily trim that even a stray
rose-leaf seemed like a fleck on its exquisite arrangement and
propriety, was strewed with children's things; a bag of marbles here, a
hoop there; a straw-hat forced down upon a rose-tree as on a peg, to the
destruction of a long beautiful tender branch laden with flowers, which
in former days would have been trained up tenderly, as if beloved. The
little square matted hall was equally filled with signs of merry healthy
rough childhood.

'Ah!' said Mrs. Hepworth, 'you must excuse this untidiness, Miss Hale.
When the nursery is finished, I shall insist upon a little order. We are
building a nursery out of your room, I believe. How did you manage, Miss
Hale, without a nursery?'

'We were but two,' said Margaret. 'You have many children, I presume?'

'Seven. Look here! we are throwing out a window to the road on this
side. Mr. Hepworth is spending an immense deal of money on this house;
but really it was scarcely habitable when we came--for so large a family
as ours I mean, of course.' Every room in the house was changed, besides
the one of which Mrs. Hepworth spoke, which had been Mr. Hale's study
formerly; and where the green gloom and delicious quiet of the place had
conduced, as he had said, to a habit of meditation, but, perhaps, in
some degree to the formation of a character more fitted for thought than
action. The new window gave a view of the road, and had many advantages,
as Mrs. Hepworth pointed out. From it the wandering sheep of her
husband's flock might be seen, who straggled to the tempting beer-house,
unobserved as they might hope, but not unobserved in reality; for the
active Vicar kept his eye on the road, even during the composition of
his most orthodox sermons, and had a hat and stick hanging ready at hand
to seize, before sallying out after his parishioners, who had need of
quick legs if they could take refuge in the 'Jolly Forester' before the
teetotal Vicar had arrested them. The whole family were quick, brisk,
loud-talking, kind-hearted, and not troubled with much delicacy of
perception. Margaret feared that Mrs. Hepworth would find out that Mr.
Bell was playing upon her, in the admiration he thought fit to express
for everything that especially grated on his taste. But no! she took it
all literally, and with such good faith, that Margaret could not help
remonstrating with him as they walked slowly away from the parsonage
back to their inn.

'Don't scold, Margaret. It was all because of you. If she had not shown
you every change with such evident exultation in their superior sense,
in perceiving what an improvement this and that would be, I could have
behaved well. But if you must go on preaching, keep it till after
dinner, when it will send me to sleep, and help my digestion.'

They were both of them tired, and Margaret herself so much so, that she
was unwilling to go out as she had proposed to do, and have another
ramble among the woods and fields so close to the home of her childhood.
And, somehow, this visit to Helstone had not been all--had not been
exactly what she had expected. There was change everywhere; slight, yet
pervading all. Households were changed by absence, or death, or
marriage, or the natural mutations brought by days and months and years,
which carry us on imperceptibly from childhood to youth, and thence
through manhood to age, whence we drop like fruit, fully ripe, into the
quiet mother earth. Places were changed--a tree gone here, a bough
there, bringing in a long ray of light where no light was before--a road
was trimmed and narrowed, and the green straggling pathway by its side
enclosed and cultivated. A great improvement it was called; but Margaret
sighed over the old picturesqueness, the old gloom, and the grassy
wayside of former days. She sate by the window on the little settle,
sadly gazing out upon the gathering shades of night, which harmonised
well with her pensive thought. Mr. Bell slept soundly, after his unusual
exercise through the day. At last he was roused by the entrance of the
tea-tray, brought in by a flushed-looking country-girl, who had
evidently been finding some variety from her usual occupation of waiter,
in assisting this day in the hayfield.

'Hallo! Who's there! Where are we? Who's that,--Margaret? Oh, now I
remember all. I could not imagine what woman was sitting there in such a
doleful attitude, with her hands clasped straight out upon her knees,
and her face looking so steadfastly before her. What were you looking
at?' asked Mr. Bell, coming to the window, and standing behind Margaret.

'Nothing,' said she, rising up quickly, and speaking as cheerfully as
she could at a moment's notice.

'Nothing indeed! A bleak back-ground of trees, some white linen hung out
on the sweet-briar hedge, and a great waft of damp air. Shut the window,
and come in and make tea.'

Margaret was silent for some time. She played with her teaspoon, and did
not attend particularly to what Mr. Bell said. He contradicted her, and
she took the same sort of smiling notice of his opinion as if he had
agreed with her. Then she sighed, and putting down her spoon, she began,
apropos of nothing at all, and in the high-pitched voice which usually
shows that the speaker has been thinking for some time on the subject
that they wish to introduce--'Mr. Bell, you remember what we were saying
about Frederick last night, don't you?'

'Last night. Where was I? Oh, I remember! Why it seems a week ago. Yes,
to be sure, I recollect we talked about him, poor fellow.'

'Yes--and do you not remember that Mr. Lennox spoke about his having
been in England about the time of dear mamma's death?' asked Margaret,
her voice now lower than usual.

'I recollect. I hadn't heard of it before.'

'And I thought--I always thought that papa had told you about it.'

'No! he never did. But what about it, Margaret?'

'I want to tell you of something I did that was very wrong, about that
time,' said Margaret, suddenly looking up at him with her clear honest
eyes. 'I told a lie;' and her face became scarlet.

'True, that was bad I own; not but what I have told a pretty round
number in my life, not all in downright words, as I suppose you did, but
in actions, or in some shabby circumlocutory way, leading people either
to disbelieve the truth, or believe a falsehood. You know who is the
father of lies, Margaret? Well! a great number of folk, thinking
themselves very good, have odd sorts of connexion with lies, left-hand
marriages, and second cousins-once-removed. The tainting blood of
falsehood runs through us all. I should have guessed you as far from it
as most people. What! crying, child? Nay, now we'll not talk of it, if
it ends in this way. I dare say you have been sorry for it, and that you
won't do it again, and it's long ago now, and in short I want you to be
very cheerful, and not very sad, this evening.'

Margaret wiped her eyes, and tried to talk about something else, but
suddenly she burst out afresh.

'Please, Mr. Bell, let me tell you about it--you could perhaps help me a
little; no, not help me, but if you knew the truth, perhaps you could
put me to rights--that is not it, after all,' said she, in despair at
not being able to express herself more exactly as she wished.

Mr. Bell's whole manner changed. 'Tell me all about it, child,' said he.

'It's a long story; but when Fred came, mamma was very ill, and I was
undone with anxiety, and afraid, too, that I might have drawn him into
danger; and we had an alarm just after her death, for Dixon met some one
in Milton--a man called Leonards--who had known Fred, and who seemed to
owe him a grudge, or at any rate to be tempted by the recollection of
the reward offered for his apprehension; and with this new fright, I
thought I had better hurry off Fred to London, where, as you would
understand from what we said the other night, he was to go to consult
Mr. Lennox as to his chances if he stood the trial. So we--that is, he
and I,--went to the railway station; it was one evening, and it was just
getting rather dusk, but still light enough to recognise and be
recognised, and we were too early, and went out to walk in a field just
close by; I was always in a panic about this Leonards, who was, I knew,
somewhere in the neighbourhood; and then, when we were in the field, the
low red sunlight just in my face, some one came by on horseback in the
road just below the field-style by which we stood. I saw him look at me,
but I did not know who it was at first, the sun was so in my eyes, but
in an instant the dazzle went off, and I saw it was Mr. Thornton, and we
bowed,'----

'And he saw Frederick of course,' said Mr. Bell, helping her on with her
story, as he thought.

'Yes; and then at the station a man came up--tipsy and reeling--and he
tried to collar Fred, and over-balanced himself as Fred wrenched himself
away, and fell over the edge of the platform; not far, not deep; not
above three feet; but oh! Mr. Bell, somehow that fall killed him!'

'How awkward. It was this Leonards, I suppose. And how did Fred get
off?'

'Oh! he went off immediately after the fall, which we never thought
could have done the poor fellow any harm, it seemed so slight an
injury.'

'Then he did not die directly?'

'No! not for two or three days. And then--oh, Mr. Bell! now comes the
bad part,' said she, nervously twining her fingers together. 'A police
inspector came and taxed me with having been the companion of the young
man, whose push or blow had occasioned Leonards' death; that was a false
accusation, you know, but we had not heard that Fred had sailed, he
might still be in London and liable to be arrested on this false charge,
and his identity with the Lieutenant Hale, accused of causing that
mutiny, discovered, he might be shot; all this flashed through my mind,
and I said it was not me. I was not at the railway station that night. I
knew nothing about it. I had no conscience or thought but to save
Frederick.'

'I say it was right. I should have done the same. You forgot yourself in
thought for another. I hope I should have done the same.'

'No, you would not. It was wrong, disobedient, faithless. At that very
time Fred was safely out of England, and in my blindness I forgot that
there was another witness who could testify to my being there.'

'Who?'

'Mr. Thornton. You know he had seen me close to the station; we had
bowed to each other.'

'Well! he would know nothing of this riot about the drunken fellow's
death. I suppose the inquiry never came to anything.'

'No! the proceedings they had begun to talk about on the inquest were
stopped. Mr. Thornton did know all about it. He was a magistrate, and he
found out that it was not the fall that had caused the death. But not
before he knew what I had said. Oh, Mr. Bell!' She suddenly covered her
face with her hands, as if wishing to hide herself from the presence of
the recollection.

'Did you have any explanation with him? Did you ever tell him the
strong, instinctive motive?'

'The instinctive want of faith, and clutching at a sin to keep myself
from sinking,' said she bitterly. 'No! How could I? He knew nothing of
Frederick. To put myself to rights in his good opinion, was I to tell
him of the secrets of our family, involving, as they seemed to do, the
chances of poor Frederick's entire exculpation? Fred's last words had
been to enjoin me to keep his visit a secret from all. You see, papa
never told, even you. No! I could bear the shame--I thought I could at
least. I did bear it. Mr. Thornton has never respected me since.'

'He respects you, I am sure,' said Mr. Bell. 'To be sure, it accounts a
little for----. But he always speaks of you with regard and esteem,
though now I understand certain reservations in his manner.'

Margaret did not speak; did not attend to what Mr. Bell went on to say;
lost all sense of it. By-and-by she said:

'Will you tell me what you refer to about "reservations" in his manner
of speaking of me?'

'Oh! simply he has annoyed me by not joining in my praises of you. Like
an old fool, I thought that every one would have the same opinions as I
had; and he evidently could not agree with me. I was puzzled at the
time. But he must be perplexed, if the affair has never been in the
least explained. There was first your walking out with a young man in
the dark--'

'But it was my brother!' said Margaret, surprised.

'True. But how was he to know that?'

'I don't know. I never thought of anything of that kind,' said Margaret,
reddening, and looking hurt and offended.

'And perhaps he never would, but for the lie,--which, under the
circumstances, I maintain, was necessary.'

'It was not. I know it now. I bitterly repent it.'

There was a long pause of silence. Margaret was the first to speak.

'I am not likely ever to see Mr. Thornton again,'--and there she
stopped.

'There are many things more unlikely, I should say,' replied Mr. Bell.

'But I believe I never shall. Still, somehow one does not like to have
sunk so low in--in a friend's opinion as I have done in his.' Her eyes
were full of tears, but her voice was steady, and Mr. Bell was not
looking at her. 'And now that Frederick has given up all hope, and
almost all wish of ever clearing himself, and returning to England, it
would be only doing myself justice to have all this explained. If you
please, and if you can, if there is a good opportunity, (don't force an
explanation upon him, pray,) but if you can, will you tell him the whole
circumstances, and tell him also that I gave you leave to do so, because
I felt that for papa's sake I should not like to lose his respect,
though we may never be likely to meet again?'

'Certainly. I think he ought to know. I do not like you to rest even
under the shadow of an impropriety; he would not know what to think of
seeing you alone with a young man.'

'As for that,' said Margaret, rather haughtily, 'I hold it is "Honi soit
qui mal y pense." Yet still I should choose to have it explained, if any
natural opportunity for easy explanation occurs. But it is not to clear
myself of any suspicion of improper conduct that I wish to have him
told--if I thought that he had suspected me, I should not care for his
good opinion--no! it is that he may learn how I was tempted, and how I
fell into the snare; why I told that falsehood, in short.'

'Which I don't blame you for. It is no partiality of mine, I assure
you.'

'What other people may think of the rightness or wrongness is nothing in
comparison to my own deep knowledge, my innate conviction that it was
wrong. But we will not talk of that any more, if you please. It is
done--my sin is sinned. I have now to put it behind me, and be truthful
for evermore, if I can.'

'Very well. If you like to be uncomfortable and morbid, be so. I always
keep my conscience as tight shut up as a jack-in-a-box, for when it
jumps into existence it surprises me by its size. So I coax it down
again, as the fisherman coaxed the genie. "Wonderful," say I, "to think
that you have been concealed so long, and in so small a compass, that I
really did not know of your existence. Pray, sir, instead of growing
larger and larger every instant, and bewildering me with your misty
outlines, would you once more compress yourself into your former
dimensions?" And when I've got him down, don't I clap the seal on the
vase, and take good care how I open it again, and how I go against
Solomon, wisest of men, who confined him there.'

But it was no smiling matter to Margaret. She hardly attended to what
Mr. Bell was saying. Her thoughts ran upon the idea, before entertained,
but which now had assumed the strength of a conviction, that Mr.
Thornton no longer held his former good opinion of her--that he was
disappointed in her. She did not feel as if any explanation could ever
reinstate her--not in his love, for that and any return on her part she
had resolved never to dwell upon, and she kept rigidly to her
resolution--but in the respect and high regard which she had hoped would
have ever made him willing, in the spirit of Gerald Griffin's beautiful
lines,

    'To turn and look back when thou hearest
     The sound of my name.'

She kept choking and swallowing all the time that she thought about it.
She tried to comfort herself with the idea, that what he imagined her to
be, did not alter the fact of what she was. But it was a truism, a
phantom, and broke down under the weight of her regret. She had twenty
questions on the tip of her tongue to ask Mr. Bell, but not one of them
did she utter. Mr. Bell thought that she was tired, and sent her early
to her room, where she sate long hours by the open window, gazing out on
the purple dome above, where the stars arose, and twinkled and
disappeared behind the great umbrageous trees before she went to bed.
All night long too, there burnt a little light on earth; a candle in her
old bedroom, which was the nursery with the present inhabitants of the
parsonage, until the new one was built. A sense of change, of individual
nothingness, of perplexity and disappointment, over-powered Margaret.
Nothing had been the same; and this slight, all-pervading instability,
had given her greater pain than if all had been too entirely changed for
her to recognise it.

'I begin to understand now what heaven must be--and, oh! the grandeur
and repose of the words--"The same yesterday, to-day, and for ever."
Everlasting! "From everlasting to everlasting, Thou art God." That sky
above me looks as though it could not change, and yet it will. I am so
tired--so tired of being whirled on through all these phases of my life,
in which nothing abides by me, no creature, no place; it is like the
circle in which the victims of earthly passion eddy continually. I am in
the mood in which women of another religion take the veil. I seek
heavenly steadfastness in earthly monotony. If I were a Roman Catholic
and could deaden my heart, stun it with some great blow, I might become
a nun. But I should pine after my kind; no, not my kind, for love for my
species could never fill my heart to the utter exclusion of love for
individuals. Perhaps it ought to be so, perhaps not; I cannot decide
to-night.'

Wearily she went to bed, wearily she arose in four or five hours' time.
But with the morning came hope, and a brighter view of things.

'After all it is right,' said she, hearing the voices of children at
play while she was dressing. 'If the world stood still, it would
retrograde and become corrupt, if that is not Irish. Looking out of
myself, and my own painful sense of change, the progress all around me
is right and necessary. I must not think so much of how circumstances
affect me myself, but how they affect others, if I wish to have a right
judgment, or a hopeful trustful heart.' And with a smile ready in her
eyes to quiver down to her lips, she went into the parlour and greeted
Mr. Bell.

'Ah, Missy! you were up late last night, and so you're late this
morning. Now I've got a little piece of news for you. What do you think
of an invitation to dinner? a morning call, literally in the dewy
morning. Why, I've had the Vicar here already, on his way to the school.
How much the desire of giving our hostess a teetotal lecture for the
benefit of the haymakers, had to do with his earliness, I don't know;
but here he was, when I came down just before nine; and we are asked to
dine there to-day.'

'But Edith expects me back--I cannot go,' said Margaret, thankful to
have so good an excuse.

'Yes! I know; so I told him. I thought you would not want to go. Still
it is open, if you would like it.'

'Oh, no!' said Margaret. 'Let us keep to our plan. Let us start at
twelve. It is very good and kind of them; but indeed I could not go.'

'Very well. Don't fidget yourself, and I'll arrange it all.'

Before they left Margaret stole round to the back of the Vicarage
garden, and gathered a little straggling piece of honeysuckle. She would
not take a flower the day before, for fear of being observed, and her
motives and feelings commented upon. But as she returned across the
common, the place was reinvested with the old enchanting atmosphere. The
common sounds of life were more musical there than anywhere else in the
whole world, the light more golden, the life more tranquil and full of
dreamy delight. As Margaret remembered her feelings yesterday, she said
to herself:

'And I too change perpetually--now this, now that--now disappointed and
peevish because all is not exactly as I had pictured it, and now
suddenly discovering that the reality is far more beautiful than I had
imagined it. Oh, Helstone! I shall never love any place like you.

A few days afterwards, she had found her level, and decided that she was
very glad to have been there, and that she had seen it again, and that
to her it would always be the prettiest spot in the world, but that it
was so full of associations with former days, and especially with her
father and mother, that if it were all to come over again, she should
shrink back from such another visit as that which she had paid with Mr.
Bell.



CHAPTER XLVII

SOMETHING WANTING

    'Experience, like a pale musician, holds
     A dulcimer of patience in his hand;
     Whence harmonies we cannot understand,
     Of God's will in His worlds, the strain unfolds
     In 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 old-fashioned 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 chateau 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?

'She's a Papist, Miss, isn't she?'

'I believe--oh yes, certainly!' said Margaret, a little damped for an
instant at this recollection.

'And they live in a Popish country?'

'Yes.'

'Then I'm afraid I must say, that my soul is dearer to me than even
Master Frederick, his own dear self. I should be in a perpetual terror,
Miss, lest I should be converted.'

'Oh' said Margaret, 'I do not know that I am going; and if I go, I am
not such a fine lady as to be unable to travel without you. No! dear old
Dixon, you shall have a long holiday, if we go. But I'm afraid it is a
long "if."'

Now Dixon did not like this speech. In the first place, she did not like
Margaret's trick of calling her 'dear old Dixon' whenever she was
particularly demonstrative. She knew that Miss Hale was apt to call all
people that she liked 'old,' as a sort of term of endearment; but Dixon
always winced away from the application of the word to herself, who,
being not much past fifty, was, she thought, in the very prime of life.
Secondly, she did not like being so easily taken at her word; she had,
with all her terror, a lurking curiosity about Spain, the Inquisition,
and Popish mysteries. So, after clearing her throat, as if to show her
willingness to do away with difficulties, she asked Miss Hale, whether
she thought if she took care never to see a priest, or enter into one of
their churches, there would be so very much danger of her being
converted? Master Frederick, to be sure, had gone over unaccountable.

'I fancy it was love that first predisposed him to conversion,' said
Margaret, sighing.

'Indeed, Miss!' said Dixon; 'well! I can preserve myself from priests,
and from churches; but love steals in unawares! I think it's as well I
should not go.'

Margaret was afraid of letting her mind run too much upon this Spanish
plan. But it took off her thoughts from too impatiently dwelling upon
her desire to have all explained to Mr. Thornton. Mr. Bell appeared for
the present to be stationary at Oxford, and to have no immediate purpose
of going to Milton, and some secret restraint seemed to hang over
Margaret, and prevent her from even asking, or alluding again to any
probability of such a visit on his part. Nor did she feel at liberty to
name what Edith had told her of the idea he had entertained,--it might
be but for five minutes,--of going to Spain. He had never named it at
Helstone, during all that sunny day of leisure; it was very probably but
the fancy of a moment,--but if it were true, what a bright outlet it
would be from the monotony of her present life, which was beginning to
fall upon her.

One of the great pleasures of Margaret's life at this time, was in
Edith's boy. He was the pride and plaything of both father and mother,
as long as he was good; but he had a strong will of his own, and as soon
as he burst out into one of his stormy passions, Edith would throw
herself back in despair and fatigue, and sigh out, 'Oh dear, what shall
I do with him! Do, Margaret, please ring the bell for Hanley.'

But Margaret almost liked him better in these manifestations of
character than in his good blue-sashed moods. She would carry him off
into a room, where they two alone battled it out; she with a firm power
which subdued him into peace, while every sudden charm and wile she
possessed, was exerted on the side of right, until he would rub his
little hot and tear-smeared face all over hers, kissing and caressing
till he often fell asleep in her arms or on her shoulder. Those were
Margaret's sweetest moments. They gave her a taste of the feeling that
she believed would be denied to her for ever.

Mr. Henry Lennox added a new and not disagreeable element to the course
of the household life by his frequent presence. Margaret thought him
colder, if more brilliant than formerly; but there were strong
intellectual tastes, and much and varied knowledge, which gave flavour
to the otherwise rather insipid conversation. Margaret saw glimpses in
him of a slight contempt for his brother and sister-in-law, and for
their mode of life, which he seemed to consider as frivolous and
purposeless. He once or twice spoke to his brother, in Margaret's
presence, in a pretty sharp tone of enquiry, as to whether he meant
entirely to relinquish his profession; and on Captain Lennox's reply,
that he had quite enough to live upon, she had seen Mr. Lennox's curl of
the lip as he said, 'And is that all you live for?'

But the brothers were much attached to each other, in the way that any
two persons are, when the one is cleverer and always leads the other,
and this last is patiently content to be led. Mr. Lennox was pushing on
in his profession; cultivating, with profound calculation, all those
connections that might eventually be of service to him; keen-sighted,
far-seeing, intelligent, sarcastic, and proud. Since the one long
conversation relating to Frederick's affairs, which she had with him the
first evening in Mr. Bell's presence, she had had no great intercourse
with him, further than that which arose out of their close relations
with the same household. But this was enough to wear off the shyness on
her side, and any symptoms of mortified pride and vanity on his. They
met continually, of course, but she thought that he rather avoided being
alone with her; she fancied that he, as well as she, perceived that they
had drifted strangely apart from their former anchorage, side by side,
in many of their opinions, and all their tastes.

And yet, when he had spoken unusually well, or with remarkable
epigrammatic point, she felt that his eye sought the expression of her
countenance first of all, if but for an instant; and that, in the family
intercourse which constantly threw them together, her opinion was the
one to which he listened with a deference,--the more complete, because
it was reluctantly paid, and concealed as much as possible.



CHAPTER XLVIII

'NE'ER TO BE FOUND AGAIN'

    'My own, my father's friend!
     I cannot part with thee!
     I ne'er have shown, thou ne'er hast known,
     How dear thou art to me.'
              ANON.


The elements of the dinner-parties which Mrs. Lennox gave, were these;
her friends contributed the beauty, Captain Lennox the easy knowledge of
the subjects of the day; and Mr. Henry Lennox and the sprinkling of
rising men who were received as his friends, brought the wit, the
cleverness, the keen and extensive knowledge of which they knew well
enough how to avail themselves without seeming pedantic, or burdening
the rapid flow of conversation.

These dinners were delightful; but even here Margaret's dissatisfaction
found her out. Every talent, every feeling, every acquirement; nay, even
every tendency towards virtue was used up as materials for fireworks;
the hidden, sacred fire, exhausted itself in sparkle and crackle. They
talked about art in a merely sensuous way, dwelling on outside effects,
instead of allowing themselves to learn what it has to teach. They
lashed themselves up into an enthusiasm about high subjects in company,
and never thought about them when they were alone; they squandered their
capabilities of appreciation into a mere flow of appropriate words. One
day, after the gentlemen had come up into the drawing-room, Mr. Lennox
drew near to Margaret, and addressed her in almost the first voluntary
words he had spoken to her since she had returned to live in Harley
Street.

'You did not look pleased at what Shirley was saying at dinner.'

'Didn't I? My face must be very expressive,' replied Margaret.

'It always was. It has not lost the trick of being eloquent.'

'I did not like,' said Margaret, hastily, 'his way of advocating what he
knew to be wrong--so glaringly wrong--even in jest.'

'But it was very clever. How every word told! Do you remember the happy
epithets?'

'Yes.'

'And despise them, you would like to add. Pray don't scruple, though he
is my friend.'

'There! that is the exact tone in you, that--' she stopped short.

He listened for a moment to see if she would finish her sentence; but
she only reddened, and turned away; before she did so, however, she
heard him say, in a very low, clear voice,--

'If my tones, or modes of thought, are what you dislike, will you do me
the justice to tell me so, and so give me the chance of learning to
please you?'

All these weeks there was no intelligence of Mr. Bell's going to Milton.
He had spoken of it at Helstone as of a journey which he might have to
take in a very short time from then; but he must have transacted his
business by writing, Margaret thought, ere now, and she knew that if he
could, he would avoid going to a place which he disliked, and moreover
would little understand the secret importance which she affixed to the
explanation that could only be given by word of mouth. She knew that he
would feel that it was necessary that it should be done; but whether in
summer, autumn, or winter, it would signify very little. It was now
August, and there had been no mention of the Spanish journey to which he
had alluded to Edith, and Margaret tried to reconcile herself to the
fading away of this illusion.

But one morning she received a letter, saying that next week he meant to
come up to town; he wanted to see her about a plan which he had in his
head; and, moreover, he intended to treat himself to a little doctoring,
as he had begun to come round to her opinion, that it would be
pleasanter to think that his health was more in fault than he, when he
found himself irritable and cross. There was altogether a tone of forced
cheerfulness in the letter, as Margaret noticed afterwards; but at the
time her attention was taken up by Edith's exclamations.

'Coming up to town! Oh dear! and I am so worn out by the heat that I
don't believe I have strength enough in me for another dinner. Besides,
everybody has left but our dear stupid selves, who can't settle where to
go to. There would be nobody to meet him.'

'I'm sure he would much rather come and dine with us quite alone than
with the most agreeable strangers you could pick up. Besides, if he is
not well he won't wish for invitations. I am glad he has owned it at
last. I was sure he was ill from the whole tone of his letters, and yet
he would not answer me when I asked him, and I had no third person to
whom I could apply for news.'

'Oh! he is not very ill, or he would not think of Spain.'

'He never mentions Spain.'

'No! but his plan that is to be proposed evidently relates to that. But
would you really go in such weather as this?'

'Oh! it will get cooler every day. Yes! Think of it! I am only afraid I
have thought and wished too much--in that absorbing wilful way which is
sure to be disappointed--or else gratified, to the letter, while in the
spirit it gives no pleasure.'

'But that's superstitious, I'm sure, Margaret.'

'No, I don't think it is. Only it ought to warn me, and check me from
giving way to such passionate wishes. It is a sort of "Give me children,
or else I die." I'm afraid my cry is, "Let me go to Cadiz, or else I
die."'

'My dear Margaret! You'll be persuaded to stay there; and then what
shall I do? Oh! I wish I could find somebody for you to marry here, that
I could be sure of you!'

'I shall never marry.'

'Nonsense, and double nonsense! Why, as Sholto says, you're such an
attraction to the house, that he knows ever so many men who will be glad
to visit here next year for your sake.'

Margaret drew herself up haughtily. 'Do you know, Edith, I sometimes
think your Corfu life has taught you---- '

'Well!'

'Just a shade or two of coarseness.'

Edith began to sob so bitterly, and to declare so vehemently that
Margaret had lost all love for her, and no longer looked upon her as a
friend, that Margaret came to think that she had expressed too harsh an
opinion for the relief of her own wounded pride, and ended by being
Edith's slave for the rest of the day; while that little lady, overcome
by wounded feeling, lay like a victim on the sofa, heaving occasionally
a profound sigh, till at last she fell asleep.

Mr. Bell did not make his appearance even on the day to which he had for
a second time deferred his visit. The next morning there came a letter
from Wallis, his servant, stating that his master had not been feeling
well for some time, which had been the true reason of his putting off
his journey; and that at the very time when he should have set out for
London, he had been seized with an apoplectic fit; it was, indeed,
Wallis added, the opinion of the medical men--that he could not survive
the night; and more than probable, that by the time Miss Hale received
this letter his poor master would be no more.

Margaret received this letter at breakfast-time, and turned very pale as
she read it; then silently putting it into Edith's hands, she left the
room.

Edith was terribly shocked as she read it, and cried in a sobbing,
frightened, childish way, much to her husband's distress. Mrs. Shaw was
breakfasting in her own room, and upon him devolved the task of
reconciling his wife to the near contact into which she seemed to be
brought with death, for the first time that she could remember in her
life. Here was a man who was to have dined with them to-day lying dead
or dying instead! It was some time before she could think of Margaret.
Then she started up, and followed her upstairs into her room. Dixon was
packing up a few toilette articles, and Margaret was hastily putting on
her bonnet, shedding tears all the time, and her hands trembling so that
she could hardly tie the strings.

'Oh, dear Margaret! how shocking! What are you doing? Are you going out?
Sholto would telegraph or do anything you like.'

'I am going to Oxford. There is a train in half-an-hour. Dixon has
offered to go with me, but I could have gone by myself. I must see him
again. Besides, he may be better, and want some care. He has been like a
father to me. Don't stop me, Edith.'

'But I must. Mamma won't like it at all. Come and ask her about it,
Margaret. You don't know where you're going. I should not mind if he had
a house of his own; but in his Fellow's rooms! Come to mamma, and do ask
her before you go. It will not take a minute.'

Margaret yielded, and lost her train. In the suddenness of the event,
Mrs. Shaw became bewildered and hysterical, and so the precious time
slipped by. But there was another train in a couple of hours; and after
various discussions on propriety and impropriety, it was decided that
Captain Lennox should accompany Margaret, as the one thing to which she
was constant was her resolution to go, alone or otherwise, by the next
train, whatever might be said of the propriety or impropriety of the
step. Her father's friend, her own friend, was lying at the point of
death; and the thought of this came upon her with such vividness, that
she was surprised herself at the firmness with which she asserted
something of her right to independence of action; and five minutes
before the time for starting, she found herself sitting in a
railway-carriage opposite to Captain Lennox.

It was always a comfort to her to think that she had gone, though it was
only to hear that he had died in the night. She saw the rooms that he
had occupied, and associated them ever after most fondly in her memory
with the idea of her father, and his one cherished and faithful friend.

They had promised Edith before starting, that if all had ended as they
feared, they would return to dinner; so that long, lingering look around
the room in which her father had died, had to be interrupted, and a
quiet farewell taken of the kind old face that had so often come out
with pleasant words, and merry quips and cranks.

Captain Lennox fell asleep on their journey home; and Margaret could cry
at leisure, and bethink her of this fatal year, and all the woes it had
brought to her. No sooner was she fully aware of one loss than another
came--not to supersede her grief for the one before, but to re-open
wounds and feelings scarcely healed. But at the sound of the tender
voices of her aunt and Edith, of merry little Sholto's glee at her
arrival, and at the sight of the well-lighted rooms, with their mistress
pretty in her paleness and her eager sorrowful interest, Margaret roused
herself from her heavy trance of almost superstitious hopelessness, and
began to feel that even around her joy and gladness might gather. She
had Edith's place on the sofa; Sholto was taught to carry aunt
Margaret's cup of tea very carefully to her; and by the time she went up
to dress, she could thank God for having spared her dear old friend a
long or a painful illness.

But when night came--solemn night, and all the house was quiet, Margaret
still sate watching the beauty of a London sky at such an hour, on such
a summer evening; the faint pink reflection of earthly lights on the
soft clouds that float tranquilly into the white moonlight, out of the
warm gloom which lies motionless around the horizon. Margaret's room had
been the day nursery of her childhood, just when it merged into
girlhood, and when the feelings and conscience had been first awakened
into full activity. On some such night as this she remembered promising
to herself to live as brave and noble a life as any heroine she ever
read or heard of in romance, a life sans peur et sans reproche; it had
seemed to her then that she had only to will, and such a life would be
accomplished. And now she had learnt that not only to will, but also to
pray, was a necessary condition in the truly heroic. Trusting to
herself, she had fallen. It was a just consequence of her sin, that all
excuses for it, all temptation to it, should remain for ever unknown to
the person in whose opinion it had sunk her lowest. She stood face to
face at last with her sin. She knew it for what it was; Mr. Bell's
kindly sophistry that nearly all men were guilty of equivocal actions,
and that the motive ennobled the evil, had never had much real weight
with her. Her own first thought of how, if she had known all, she might
have fearlessly told the truth, seemed low and poor. Nay, even now, her
anxiety to have her character for truth partially excused in Mr.
Thornton's eyes, as Mr. Bell had promised to do, was a very small and
petty consideration, now that she was afresh taught by death what life
should be. If all the world spoke, acted, or kept silence with intent to
deceive,--if dearest interests were at stake, and dearest lives in
peril,--if no one should ever know of her truth or her falsehood to
measure out their honour or contempt for her by, straight alone where
she stood, in the presence of God, she prayed that she might have
strength to speak and act the truth for evermore.



CHAPTER XLIX

BREATHING TRANQUILLITY

    'And down the sunny beach she paces slowly,
     With many doubtful pauses by the way;
     Grief hath an influence so hush'd and holy.'
              HOOD.


'Is not Margaret the heiress?' whispered Edith to her husband, as they
were in their room alone at night after the sad journey to Oxford. She
had pulled his tall head down, and stood upon tiptoe, and implored him
not to be shocked, before she had ventured to ask this question. Captain
Lennox was, however, quite in the dark; if he had ever heard, he had
forgotten; it could not be much that a Fellow of a small college had to
leave; but he had never wanted her to pay for her board; and two hundred
and fifty pounds a year was something ridiculous, considering that she
did not take wine. Edith came down upon her feet a little bit sadder;
with a romance blown to pieces.

A week afterwards, she came prancing towards her husband, and made him a
low curtsey:

'I am right, and you are wrong, most noble Captain. Margaret has had a
lawyer's letter, and she is residuary legatee--the legacies being about
two thousand pounds, and the remainder about forty thousand, at the
present value of property in Milton.'

'Indeed! and how does she take her good fortune?'

'Oh, it seems she knew she was to have it all along; only she had no
idea it was so much. She looks very white and pale, and says she's
afraid of it; but that's nonsense, you know, and will soon go off. I
left mamma pouring congratulations down her throat, and stole away to
tell you.'

It seemed to be supposed, by general consent, that the most natural
thing was to consider Mr. Lennox henceforward as Margaret's legal
adviser. She was so entirely ignorant of all forms of business that in
nearly everything she had to refer to him. He chose out her attorney; he
came to her with papers to be signed. He was never so happy as when
teaching her of what all these mysteries of the law were the signs and
types.

'Henry,' said Edith, one day, archly; 'do you know what I hope and
expect all these long conversations with Margaret will end in?'

'No, I don't,' said he, reddening. 'And I desire you not to tell me.'

'Oh, very well; then I need not tell Sholto not to ask Mr. Montagu so
often to the house.'

'Just as you choose,' said he with forced coolness. 'What you are
thinking of, may or may not happen; but this time, before I commit
myself, I will see my ground clear. Ask whom you choose. It may not be
very civil, Edith, but if you meddle in it you will mar it. She has been
very farouche with me for a long time; and is only just beginning to
thaw a little from her Zenobia ways. She has the making of a Cleopatra
in her, if only she were a little more pagan.'

'For my part,' said Edith, a little maliciously, 'I am very glad she is
a Christian. I know so very few!'

There was no Spain for Margaret that autumn; although to the last she
hoped that some fortunate occasion would call Frederick to Paris,
whither she could easily have met with a convoy. Instead of Cadiz, she
had to content herself with Cromer. To that place her aunt Shaw and the
Lennoxes were bound. They had all along wished her to accompany them,
and, consequently, with their characters, they made but lazy efforts to
forward her own separate wish. Perhaps Cromer was, in one sense of the
expression, the best for her. She needed bodily strengthening and
bracing as well as rest.

Among other hopes that had vanished, was the hope, the trust she had
had, that Mr. Bell would have given Mr. Thornton the simple facts of the
family circumstances which had preceded the unfortunate accident that
led to Leonards' death. Whatever opinion--however changed it might be
from what Mr. Thornton had once entertained, she had wished it to be
based upon a true understanding of what she had done; and why she had
done it. It would have been a pleasure to her; would have given her rest
on a point on which she should now all her life be restless, unless she
could resolve not to think upon it. It was now so long after the time of
these occurrences, that there was no possible way of explaining them
save the one which she had lost by Mr. Bell's death. She must just
submit, like many another, to be misunderstood; but, though reasoning
herself into the belief that in this hers was no uncommon lot, her heart
did not ache the less with longing that some time--years and years
hence--before he died at any rate, he might know how much she had been
tempted. She thought that she did not want to hear that all was
explained to him, if only she could be sure that he would know. But this
wish was vain, like so many others; and when she had schooled herself
into this conviction, she turned with all her heart and strength to the
life that lay immediately before her, and resolved to strive and make
the best of that.

She used to sit long hours upon the beach, gazing intently on the waves
as they chafed with perpetual motion against the pebbly shore,--or she
looked out upon the more distant heave, and sparkle against the sky, and
heard, without being conscious of hearing, the eternal psalm, which went
up continually. She was soothed without knowing how or why. Listlessly
she sat there, on the ground, her hands clasped round her knees, while
her aunt Shaw did small shoppings, and Edith and Captain Lennox rode far
and wide on shore and inland. The nurses, sauntering on with their
charges, would pass and repass her, and wonder in whispers what she
could find to look at so long, day after day. And when the family
gathered at dinner-time, Margaret was so silent and absorbed that Edith
voted her moped, and hailed a proposal of her husband's with great
satisfaction, that Mr. Henry Lennox should be asked to take Cromer for a
week, on his return from Scotland in October.

But all this time for thought enabled Margaret to put events in their
right places, as to origin and significance, both as regarded her past
life and her future. Those hours by the sea-side were not lost, as any
one might have seen who had had the perception to read, or the care to
understand, the look that Margaret's face was gradually acquiring. Mr.
Henry Lennox was excessively struck by the change.

'The sea has done Miss Hale an immense deal of good, I should fancy,'
said he, when she first left the room after his arrival in their family
circle. 'She looks ten years younger than she did in Harley Street.'

'That's the bonnet I got her!' said Edith, triumphantly. 'I knew it
would suit her the moment I saw it.'

'I beg your pardon,' said Mr. Lennox, in the half-contemptuous,
half-indulgent tone he generally used to Edith. 'But I believe I know
the difference between the charms of a dress and the charms of a woman.
No mere bonnet would have made Miss Hale's eyes so lustrous and yet so
soft, or her lips so ripe and red--and her face altogether so full of
peace and light.--She is like, and yet more,'--he dropped his
voice,--'like the Margaret Hale of Helstone.'

From this time the clever and ambitious man bent all his powers to
gaining Margaret. He loved her sweet beauty. He saw the latent sweep of
her mind, which could easily (he thought) be led to embrace all the
objects on which he had set his heart. He looked upon her fortune only
as a part of the complete and superb character of herself and her
position: yet he was fully aware of the rise which it would immediately
enable him, the poor barrister, to take. Eventually he would earn such
success, and such honours, as would enable him to pay her back, with
interest, that first advance in wealth which he should owe to her. He
had been to Milton on business connected with her property, on his
return from Scotland; and with the quick eye of a skilled lawyer, ready
ever to take in and weigh contingencies, he had seen that much
additional value was yearly accruing to the lands and tenements which
she owned in that prosperous and increasing town. He was glad to find
that the present relationship between Margaret and himself, of client
and legal adviser, was gradually superseding the recollection of that
unlucky, mismanaged day at Helstone. He had thus unusual opportunities
of intimate intercourse with her, besides those that arose from the
connection between the families.

Margaret was only too willing to listen as long as he talked of Milton,
though he had seen none of the people whom she more especially knew. It
had been the tone with her aunt and cousin to speak of Milton with
dislike and contempt; just such feelings as Margaret was ashamed to
remember she had expressed and felt on first going to live there. But
Mr. Lennox almost exceeded Margaret in his appreciation of the character
of Milton and its inhabitants. Their energy, their power, their
indomitable courage in struggling and fighting; their lurid vividness of
existence, captivated and arrested his attention. He was never tired of
talking about them; and had never perceived how selfish and material
were too many of the ends they proposed to themselves as the result of
all their mighty, untiring endeavour, till Margaret, even in the midst
of her gratification, had the candour to point this out, as the tainting
sin in so much that was noble, and to be admired. Still, when other
subjects palled upon her, and she gave but short answers to many
questions, Henry Lennox found out that an enquiry as to some Darkshire
peculiarity of character, called back the light into her eye, the glow
into her cheek.

When they returned to town, Margaret fulfilled one of her sea-side
resolves, and took her life into her own hands. Before they went to
Cromer, she had been as docile to her aunt's laws as if she were still
the scared little stranger who cried herself to sleep that first night
in the Harley Street nursery. But she had learnt, in those solemn hours
of thought, that she herself must one day answer for her own life, and
what she had done with it; and she tried to settle that most difficult
problem for women, how much was to be utterly merged in obedience to
authority, and how much might be set apart for freedom in working. Mrs.
Shaw was as good-tempered as could be; and Edith had inherited this
charming domestic quality; Margaret herself had probably the worst
temper of the three, for her quick perceptions, and over-lively
imagination made her hasty, and her early isolation from sympathy had
made her proud; but she had an indescribable childlike sweetness of
heart, which made her manners, even in her rarely wilful moods,
irresistible of old; and now, chastened even by what the world called
her good fortune, she charmed her reluctant aunt into acquiescence with
her will. So Margaret gained the acknowledgment of her right to follow
her own ideas of duty.

'Only don't be strong-minded,' pleaded Edith. 'Mamma wants you to have a
footman of your own; and I'm sure you're very welcome, for they're great
plagues. Only to please me, darling, don't go and have a strong mind;
it's the only thing I ask. Footman or no footman, don't be
strong-minded.'

'Don't be afraid, Edith. I'll faint on your hands at the servants'
dinner-time, the very first opportunity; and then, what with Sholto
playing with the fire, and the baby crying, you'll begin to wish for a
strong-minded woman, equal to any emergency.'

'And you'll not grow too good to joke and be merry?'

'Not I. I shall be merrier than I have ever been, now I have got my own
way.'

'And you'll not go a figure, but let me buy your dresses for you?'

'Indeed I mean to buy them for myself. You shall come with me if you
like; but no one can please me but myself.'

'Oh! I was afraid you'd dress in brown and dust-colour, not to show the
dirt you'll pick up in all those places. I'm glad you're going to keep
one or two vanities, just by way of specimens of the old Adam.'

'I'm going to be just the same, Edith, if you and my aunt could but
fancy so. Only as I have neither husband nor child to give me natural
duties, I must make myself some, in addition to ordering my gowns.'

In the family conclave, which was made up of Edith, her mother, and her
husband, it was decided that perhaps all these plans of hers would only
secure her the more for Henry Lennox. They kept her out of the way of
other friends who might have eligible sons or brothers; and it was also
agreed that she never seemed to take much pleasure in the society of any
one but Henry, out of their own family. The other admirers, attracted by
her appearance or the reputation of her fortune, were swept away, by her
unconscious smiling disdain, into the paths frequented by other beauties
less fastidious, or other heiresses with a larger amount of gold. Henry
and she grew slowly into closer intimacy; but neither he nor she were
people to brook the slightest notice of their proceedings.



CHAPTER L

CHANGES AT MILTON

    'Here we go up, up, up;
     And here we go down, down, downee!'
              NURSERY SONG.


Meanwhile, at Milton the chimneys smoked, the ceaseless roar and mighty
beat, and dizzying whirl of machinery, struggled and strove perpetually.
Senseless and purposeless were wood and iron and steam in their endless
labours; but the persistence of their monotonous work was rivalled in
tireless endurance by the strong crowds, who, with sense and with
purpose, were busy and restless in seeking after--What? In the streets
there were few loiterers,--none walking for mere pleasure; every man's
face was set in lines of eagerness or anxiety; news was sought for with
fierce avidity; and men jostled each other aside in the Mart and in the
Exchange, as they did in life, in the deep selfishness of competition.
There was gloom over the town. Few came to buy, and those who did were
looked at suspiciously by the sellers; for credit was insecure, and the
most stable might have their fortunes affected by the sweep in the great
neighbouring port among the shipping houses. Hitherto there had been no
failures in Milton; but, from the immense speculations that had come to
light in making a bad end in America, and yet nearer home, it was known
that some Milton houses of business must suffer so severely that every
day men's faces asked, if their tongues did not, 'What news? Who is
gone? How will it affect me?' And if two or three spoke together, they
dwelt rather on the names of those who were safe than dared to hint at
those likely, in their opinion, to go; for idle breath may, at such
times, cause the downfall of some who might otherwise weather the storm;
and one going down drags many after. 'Thornton is safe,' say they. 'His
business is large--extending every year; but such a head as he has, and
so prudent with all his daring!' Then one man draws another aside, and
walks a little apart, and, with head inclined into his neighbour's ear,
he says, 'Thornton's business is large; but he has spent his profits in
extending it; he has no capital laid by; his machinery is new within
these two years, and has cost him--we won't say what!--a word to the
wise!' But that Mr. Harrison was a croaker,--a man who had succeeded to
his father's trade-made fortune, which he had feared to lose by altering
his mode of business to any having a larger scope; yet he grudged every
penny made by others more daring and far-sighted.

But the truth was, Mr. Thornton was hard pressed. He felt it acutely in
his vulnerable point--his pride in the commercial character which he had
established for himself. Architect of his own fortunes, he attributed
this to no special merit or qualities of his own, but to the power,
which he believed that commerce gave to every brave, honest, and
persevering man, to raise himself to a level from which he might see and
read the great game of worldly success, and honestly, by such
far-sightedness, command more power and influence than in any other mode
of life. Far away, in the East and in the West, where his person would
never be known, his name was to be regarded, and his wishes to be
fulfilled, and his word pass like gold. That was the idea of
merchant-life with which Mr. Thornton had started. 'Her merchants be
like princes,' said his mother, reading the text aloud, as if it were a
trumpet-call to invite her boy to the struggle. He was but like many
others--men, women, and children--alive to distant, and dead to near
things. He sought to possess the influence of a name in foreign
countries and far-away seas,--to become the head of a firm that should
be known for generations; and it had taken him long silent years to come
even to a glimmering of what he might be now, to-day, here in his own
town, his own factory, among his own people. He and they had led
parallel lives--very close, but never touching--till the accident (or so
it seemed) of his acquaintance with Higgins. Once brought face to face,
man to man, with an individual of the masses around him, and (take
notice) out of the character of master and workman, in the first
instance, they had each begun to recognise that 'we have all of us one
human heart.' It was the fine point of the wedge; and until now, when
the apprehension of losing his connection with two or three of the
workmen whom he had so lately begun to know as men,--of having a plan or
two, which were experiments lying very close to his heart, roughly
nipped off without trial,--gave a new poignancy to the subtle fear that
came over him from time to time; until now, he had never recognised how
much and how deep was the interest he had grown of late to feel in his
position as manufacturer, simply because it led him into such close
contact, and gave him the opportunity of so much power, among a race of
people strange, shrewd, ignorant; but, above all, full of character and
strong human feeling.

He reviewed his position as a Milton manufacturer. The strike a year and
a half ago,--or more, for it was now untimely wintry weather, in a late
spring,--that strike, when he was young, and he now was old--had
prevented his completing some of the large orders he had then on hand.
He had locked up a good deal of his capital in new and expensive
machinery, and he had also bought cotton largely, for the fulfilment of
these orders, taken under contract. That he had not been able to
complete them, was owing in some degree to the utter want of skill on
the part of the Irish hands whom he had imported; much of their work was
damaged and unfit to be sent forth by a house which prided itself on
turning out nothing but first-rate articles. For many months, the
embarrassment caused by the strike had been an obstacle in Mr.
Thornton's way; and often, when his eye fell on Higgins, he could have
spoken angrily to him without any present cause, just from feeling how
serious was the injury that had arisen from this affair in which he was
implicated. But when he became conscious of this sudden, quick
resentment, he resolved to curb it. It would not satisfy him to avoid
Higgins; he must convince himself that he was master over his own anger,
by being particularly careful to allow Higgins access to him, whenever
the strict rules of business, or Mr. Thornton's leisure permitted. And
by-and-bye, he lost all sense of resentment in wonder how it was, or
could be, that two men like himself and Higgins, living by the same
trade, working in their different ways at the same object, could look
upon each other's position and duties in so strangely different a way.
And thence arose that intercourse, which though it might not have the
effect of preventing all future clash of opinion and action, when the
occasion arose, would, at any rate, enable both master and man to look
upon each other with far more charity and sympathy, and bear with each
other more patiently and kindly. Besides this improvement of feeling,
both Mr. Thornton and his workmen found out their ignorance as to
positive matters of fact, known heretofore to one side, but not to the
other.

But now had come one of those periods of bad trade, when the market
falling brought down the value of all large stocks; Mr. Thornton's fell
to nearly half. No orders were coming in; so he lost the interest of the
capital he had locked up in machinery; indeed, it was difficult to get
payment for the orders completed; yet there was the constant drain of
expenses for working the business. Then the bills became due for the
cotton he had purchased; and money being scarce, he could only borrow at
exorbitant interest, and yet he could not realise any of his property.
But he did not despair; he exerted himself day and night to foresee and
to provide for all emergencies; he was as calm and gentle to the women
in his home as ever; to the workmen in his mill he spoke not many words,
but they knew him by this time; and many a curt, decided answer was
received by them rather with sympathy for the care they saw pressing
upon him, than with the suppressed antagonism which had formerly been
smouldering, and ready for hard words and hard judgments on all
occasions. 'Th' measter's a deal to potter him,' said Higgins, one day,
as he heard Mr. Thornton's short, sharp inquiry, why such a command had
not been obeyed; and caught the sound of the suppressed sigh which he
heaved in going past the room where some of the men were working.
Higgins and another man stopped over-hours that night, unknown to any
one, to get the neglected piece of work done; and Mr. Thornton never
knew but that the overlooker, to whom he had given the command in the
first instance, had done it himself.

'Eh! I reckon I know who'd ha' been sorry for to see our measter sitting
so like a piece o' grey calico! Th' ou'd parson would ha' fretted his
woman's heart out, if he'd seen the woeful looks I have seen on our
measter's face,' thought Higgins, one day, as he was approaching Mr.
Thornton in Marlborough Street.

'Measter,' said he, stopping his employer in his quick resolved walk,
and causing that gentleman to look up with a sudden annoyed start, as if
his thoughts had been far away.

'Have yo' heerd aught of Miss Marget lately?'

'Miss--who?' replied Mr. Thornton.

'Miss Marget--Miss Hale--th' oud parson's daughter--yo known who I mean
well enough, if yo'll only think a bit--' (there was nothing
disrespectful in the tone in which this was said).

'Oh yes!' and suddenly, the wintry frost-bound look of care had left Mr.
Thornton's face, as if some soft summer gale had blown all anxiety away
from his mind; and though his mouth was as much compressed as before,
his eyes smiled out benignly on his questioner.

'She's my landlord now, you know, Higgins. I hear of her through her
agent here, every now and then. She's well and among friends--thank you,
Higgins.' That 'thank you' that lingered after the other words, and yet
came with so much warmth of feeling, let in a new light to the acute
Higgins. It might be but a will-o'-th'-wisp, but he thought he would
follow it and ascertain whither it would lead him.

'And she's not getten married, measter?'

'Not yet.' The face was cloudy once more. 'There is some talk of it, as
I understand, with a connection of the family.'

'Then she'll not be for coming to Milton again, I reckon.'

'No!'

'Stop a minute, measter.' Then going up confidentially close, he said,
'Is th' young gentleman cleared?' He enforced the depth of his
intelligence by a wink of the eye, which only made things more
mysterious to Mr. Thornton.

'Th' young gentleman, I mean--Master Frederick, they ca'ad him--her
brother as was over here, yo' known.'

'Over here.'

'Ay, to be sure, at th' missus's death. Yo' need na be feared of my
telling; for Mary and me, we knowed it all along, only we held our
peace, for we got it through Mary working in th' house.'

'And he was over. It was her brother!'

'Sure enough, and I reckoned yo' knowed it or I'd never ha' let on. Yo'
knowed she had a brother?'

'Yes, I know all about him. And he was over at Mrs. Hale's death?'

'Nay! I'm not going for to tell more. I've maybe getten them into
mischief already, for they kept it very close. I nobbut wanted to know
if they'd getten him cleared?'

'Not that I know of. I know nothing. I only hear of Miss Hale, now, as
my landlord, and through her lawyer.'

He broke off from Higgins, to follow the business on which he had been
bent when the latter first accosted him; leaving Higgins baffled in his
endeavour.

'It was her brother,' said Mr. Thornton to himself. 'I am glad. I may
never see her again; but it is a comfort--a relief--to know that much. I
knew she could not be unmaidenly; and yet I yearned for conviction. Now
I am glad!'

It was a little golden thread running through the dark web of his
present fortunes; which were growing ever gloomier and more gloomy. His
agent had largely trusted a house in the American trade, which went
down, along with several others, just at this time, like a pack of
cards, the fall of one compelling other failures. What were Mr.
Thornton's engagements? Could he stand?

Night after night he took books and papers into his own private room,
and sate up there long after the family were gone to bed. He thought
that no one knew of this occupation of the hours he should have spent in
sleep. One morning, when daylight was stealing in through the crevices
of his shutters, and he had never been in bed, and, in hopeless
indifference of mind, was thinking that he could do without the hour or
two of rest, which was all that he should be able to take before the
stir of daily labour began again, the door of his room opened, and his
mother stood there, dressed as she had been the day before. She had
never laid herself down to slumber any more than he. Their eyes met.
Their faces were cold and rigid, and wan, from long watching.

'Mother! why are not you in bed?'

'Son John,' said she, 'do you think I can sleep with an easy mind, while
you keep awake full of care? You have not told me what your trouble is;
but sore trouble you have had these many days past.'

'Trade is bad.'

'And you dread--'

'I dread nothing,' replied he, drawing up his head, and holding it
erect. 'I know now that no man will suffer by me. That was my anxiety.'

'But how do you stand? Shall you--will it be a failure?' her steady
voice trembling in an unwonted manner.

'Not a failure. I must give up business, but I pay all men. I might
redeem myself--I am sorely tempted--'

'How? Oh, John! keep up your name--try all risks for that. How redeem
it?'

'By a speculation offered to me, full of risk; but, if successful,
placing me high above water-mark, so that no one need ever know the
strait I am in. Still, if it fails--'

'And if it fails,' said she, advancing, and laying her hand on his arm,
her eyes full of eager light. She held her breath to hear the end of his
speech.

'Honest men are ruined by a rogue,' said he gloomily. 'As I stand now,
my creditors, money is safe--every farthing of it; but I don't know
where to find my own--it may be all gone, and I penniless at this
moment. Therefore, it is my creditors' money that I should risk.'

'But if it succeeded, they need never know. Is it so desperate a
speculation? I am sure it is not, or you would never have thought of it.
If it succeeded--'

'I should be a rich man, and my peace of conscience would be gone!'

'Why! You would have injured no one.'

'No; but I should have run the risk of ruining many for my own paltry
aggrandisement. Mother, I have decided! You won't much grieve over our
leaving this house, shall you, dear mother?'

'No! but to have you other than what you are will break my heart. What
can you do?'

'Be always the same John Thornton in whatever circumstances;
endeavouring to do right, and making great blunders; and then trying to
be brave in setting to afresh. But it is hard, mother. I have so worked
and planned. I have discovered new powers in my situation too late--and
now all is over. I am too old to begin again with the same heart. It is
hard, mother.'

He turned away from her, and covered his face with his hands.

'I can't think,' said she, with gloomy defiance in her tone, 'how it
comes about. Here is my boy--good son, just man, tender heart--and he
fails in all he sets his mind upon: he finds a woman to love, and she
cares no more for his affection than if he had been any common man; he
labours, and his labour comes to nought. Other people prosper and grow
rich, and hold their paltry names high and dry above shame.'

'Shame never touched me,' said he, in a low tone: but she went on.

'I sometimes have wondered where justice was gone to, and now I don't
believe there is such a thing in the world,--now you are come to this;
you, my own John Thornton, though you and I may be beggars together--my
own dear son!'

She fell upon his neck, and kissed him through her tears.

'Mother!' said he, holding her gently in his arms, 'who has sent me my
lot in life, both of good and of evil?'

She shook her head. She would have nothing to do with religion just
then.

'Mother,' he went on, seeing that she would not speak, 'I, too, have
been rebellious; but I am striving to be so no longer. Help me, as you
helped me when I was a child. Then you said many good words--when my
father died, and we were sometimes sorely short of comforts--which we
shall never be now; you said brave, noble, trustful words then, mother,
which I have never forgotten, though they may have lain dormant. Speak
to me again in the old way, mother. Do not let us have to think that the
world has too much hardened our hearts. If you would say the old good
words, it would make me feel something of the pious simplicity of my
childhood. I say them to myself, but they would come differently from
you, remembering all the cares and trials you have had to bear.'

'I have had a many,' said she, sobbing, 'but none so sore as this. To
see you cast down from your rightful place! I could say it for myself,
John, but not for you. Not for you! God has seen fit to be very hard on
you, very.'

She shook with the sobs that come so convulsively when an old person
weeps. The silence around her struck her at last; and she quieted
herself to listen. No sound. She looked. Her son sate by the table, his
arms thrown half across it, his head bent face downwards.

'Oh, John!' she said, and she lifted his face up. Such a strange, pallid
look of gloom was on it, that for a moment it struck her that this look
was the forerunner of death; but, as the rigidity melted out of the
countenance and the natural colour returned, and she saw that he was
himself once again, all worldly mortification sank to nothing before the
consciousness of the great blessing that he himself by his simple
existence was to her. She thanked God for this, and this alone, with a
fervour that swept away all rebellious feelings from her mind.

He did not speak readily; but he went and opened the shutters, and let
the ruddy light of dawn flood the room. But the wind was in the east;
the weather was piercing cold, as it had been for weeks; there would be
no demand for light summer goods this year. That hope for the revival of
trade must utterly be given up.

It was a great comfort to have had this conversation with his mother;
and to feel sure that, however they might henceforward keep silence on
all these anxieties, they yet understood each other's feelings, and
were, if not in harmony, at least not in discord with each other, in
their way of viewing them. Fanny's husband was vexed at Thornton's
refusal to take any share in the speculation which he had offered to
him, and withdrew from any possibility of being supposed able to assist
him with the ready money, which indeed the speculator needed for his own
venture.

There was nothing for it at last, but that which Mr. Thornton had
dreaded for many weeks; he had to give up the business in which he had
been so long engaged with so much honour and success; and look out for a
subordinate situation. Marlborough Mills and the adjacent dwelling were
held under a long lease; they must, if possible, be relet. There was an
immediate choice of situations offered to Mr. Thornton. Mr. Hamper would
have been only too glad to have secured him as a steady and experienced
partner for his son, whom he was setting up with a large capital in a
neighbouring town; but the young man was half-educated as regarded
information, and wholly uneducated as regarded any other responsibility
than that of getting money, and brutalised both as to his pleasures and
his pains. Mr. Thornton declined having any share in a partnership,
which would frustrate what few plans he had that survived the wreck of
his fortunes. He would sooner consent to be only a manager, where he
could have a certain degree of power beyond the mere money-getting part,
than have to fall in with the tyrannical humours of a moneyed partner
with whom he felt sure that he should quarrel in a few months.

So he waited, and stood on one side with profound humility, as the news
swept through the Exchange, of the enormous fortune which his
brother-in-law had made by his daring speculation. It was a nine days'
wonder. Success brought with it its worldly consequence of extreme
admiration. No one was considered so wise and far-seeing as Mr. Watson.



CHAPTER LI

MEETING AGAIN

    'Bear up, brave heart! we will be calm and strong;
     Sure, we can master eyes, or cheek, or tongue,
     Nor let the smallest tell-tale sign appear
     She ever was, and is, and will be dear.'
              RHYMING PLAY.


It was a hot summer's evening. Edith came into Margaret's bedroom, the
first time in her habit, the second ready dressed for dinner. No one was
there at first; the next time Edith found Dixon laying out Margaret's
dress on the bed; but no Margaret. Edith remained to fidget about.

'Oh, Dixon! not those horrid blue flowers to that dead gold-coloured
gown. What taste! Wait a minute, and I will bring you some pomegranate
blossoms.'

'It's not a dead gold-colour, ma'am. It's a straw-colour. And blue
always goes with straw-colour.' But Edith had brought the brilliant
scarlet flowers before Dixon had got half through her remonstrance.

'Where is Miss Hale?' asked Edith, as soon as she had tried the effect
of the garniture. 'I can't think,' she went on, pettishly, 'how my aunt
allowed her to get into such rambling habits in Milton! I'm sure I'm
always expecting to hear of her having met with something horrible among
all those wretched places she pokes herself into. I should never dare to
go down some of those streets without a servant. They're not fit for
ladies.'

Dixon was still huffed about her despised taste; so she replied, rather
shortly:

'It's no wonder to my mind, when I hear ladies talk such a deal about
being ladies--and when they're such fearful, delicate, dainty ladies
too--I say it's no wonder to me that there are no longer any saints on
earth---- '

'Oh, Margaret! here you are! I have been so wanting you. But how your
cheeks are flushed with the heat, poor child! But only think what that
tiresome Henry has done; really, he exceeds brother-in-law's limits.
Just when my party was made up so beautifully--fitted in so precisely
for Mr. Colthurst--there has Henry come, with an apology it is true, and
making use of your name for an excuse, and asked me if he may bring that
Mr. Thornton of Milton--your tenant, you know--who is in London about
some law business. It will spoil my number, quite.'

'I don't mind dinner. I don't want any,' said Margaret, in a low voice.
'Dixon can get me a cup of tea here, and I will be in the drawing-room
by the time you come up. I shall really be glad to lie down.'

'No, no! that will never do. You do look wretchedly white, to be sure;
but that is just the heat, and we can't do without you possibly. (Those
flowers a little lower, Dixon. They look glorious flames, Margaret, in
your black hair.) You know we planned you to talk about Milton to Mr.
Colthurst. Oh! to be sure! and this man comes from Milton. I believe it
will be capital, after all. Mr. Colthurst can pump him well on all the
subjects in which he is interested, and it will be great fun to trace
out your experiences, and this Mr. Thornton's wisdom, in Mr. Colthurst's
next speech in the House. Really, I think it is a happy hit of Henry's.
I asked him if he was a man one would be ashamed of; and he replied,
"Not if you've any sense in you, my little sister." So I suppose he is
able to sound his h's, which is not a common Darkshire accomplishment--eh,
Margaret?'

'Mr. Lennox did not say why Mr. Thornton was come up to town? Was it law
business connected with the property?' asked Margaret, in a constrained
voice.

'Oh! he's failed, or something of the kind, that Henry told you of that
day you had such a headache,--what was it? (There, that's capital,
Dixon. Miss Hale does us credit, does she not?) I wish I was as tall as
a queen, and as brown as a gipsy, Margaret.'

'But about Mr. Thornton?'

'Oh I really have such a terrible head for law business. Henry will like
nothing better than to tell you all about it. I know the impression he
made upon me was, that Mr. Thornton is very badly off, and a very
respectable man, and that I'm to be very civil to him; and as I did not
know how, I came to you to ask you to help me. And now come down with
me, and rest on the sofa for a quarter of an hour.'

The privileged brother-in-law came early and Margaret reddening as she
spoke, began to ask him the questions she wanted to hear answered about
Mr. Thornton.

'He came up about this sub-letting the property--Marlborough Mills, and
the house and premises adjoining, I mean. He is unable to keep it on;
and there are deeds and leases to be looked over, and agreements to be
drawn up. I hope Edith will receive him properly; but she was rather put
out, as I could see, by the liberty I had taken in begging for an
invitation for him. But I thought you would like to have some attention
shown him: and one would be particularly scrupulous in paying every
respect to a man who is going down in the world.' He had dropped his
voice to speak to Margaret, by whom he was sitting; but as he ended he
sprang up, and introduced Mr. Thornton, who had that moment entered, to
Edith and Captain Lennox.

Margaret looked with an anxious eye at Mr. Thornton while he was thus
occupied. It was considerably more than a year since she had seen him;
and events had occurred to change him much in that time. His fine figure
yet bore him above the common height of men; and gave him a
distinguished appearance, from the ease of motion which arose out of it,
and was natural to him; but his face looked older and care-worn; yet a
noble composure sate upon it, which impressed those who had just been
hearing of his changed position, with a sense of inherent dignity and
manly strength. He was aware, from the first glance he had given round
the room, that Margaret was there; he had seen her intent look of
occupation as she listened to Mr. Henry Lennox; and he came up to her
with the perfectly regulated manner of an old friend. With his first
calm words a vivid colour flashed into her cheeks, which never left them
again during the evening. She did not seem to have much to say to him.
She disappointed him by the quiet way in which she asked what seemed to
him to be the merely necessary questions respecting her old
acquaintances, in Milton; but others came in--more intimate in the house
than he--and he fell into the background, where he and Mr. Lennox talked
together from time to time.

'You think Miss Hale looking well,' said Mr. Lennox, 'don't you? Milton
didn't agree with her, I imagine; for when she first came to London, I
thought I had never seen any one so much changed. To-night she is
looking radiant. But she is much stronger. Last autumn she was fatigued
with a walk of a couple of miles. On Friday evening we walked up to
Hampstead and back. Yet on Saturday she looked as well as she does now.

'We!' Who? They two alone?

Mr. Colthurst was a very clever man, and a rising member of parliament.
He had a quick eye at discerning character, and was struck by a remark
which Mr. Thornton made at dinner-time. He enquired from Edith who that
gentleman was; and, rather to her surprise, she found, from the tone of
his 'Indeed!' that Mr. Thornton of Milton was not such an unknown name
to him as she had imagined it would be. Her dinner was going off well.
Henry was in good humour, and brought out his dry caustic wit admirably.
Mr. Thornton and Mr. Colthurst found one or two mutual subjects of
interest, which they could only touch upon then, reserving them for more
private after-dinner talk. Margaret looked beautiful in the pomegranate
flowers; and if she did lean back in her chair and speak but little,
Edith was not annoyed, for the conversation flowed on smoothly without
her. Margaret was watching Mr. Thornton's face. He never looked at her;
so she might study him unobserved, and note the changes which even this
short time had wrought in him. Only at some unexpected mot of Mr.
Lennox's, his face flashed out into the old look of intense enjoyment;
the merry brightness returned to his eyes, the lips just parted to
suggest the brilliant smile of former days; and for an instant, his
glance instinctively sought hers, as if he wanted her sympathy. But when
their eyes met, his whole countenance changed; he was grave and anxious
once more; and he resolutely avoided even looking near her again during
dinner.

There were only two ladies besides their own party, and as these were
occupied in conversation by her aunt and Edith, when they went up into
the drawing-room, Margaret languidly employed herself about some work.
Presently the gentlemen came up, Mr. Colthurst and Mr. Thornton in close
conversation. Mr. Lennox drew near to Margaret, and said in a low voice:

'I really think Edith owes me thanks for my contribution to her party.
You've no idea what an agreeable, sensible fellow this tenant of yours
is. He has been the very man to give Colthurst all the facts he wanted
coaching in. I can't conceive how he contrived to mismanage his
affairs.'

'With his powers and opportunities you would have succeeded,' said
Margaret. He did not quite relish the tone in which she spoke, although
the words but expressed a thought which had passed through his own mind.
As he was silent, they caught a swell in the sound of conversation going
on near the fire-place between Mr. Colthurst and Mr. Thornton.

'I assure you, I heard it spoken of with great interest--curiosity as to
its result, perhaps I should rather say. I heard your name frequently
mentioned during my short stay in the neighbourhood.' Then they lost
some words; and when next they could hear Mr. Thornton was speaking.

'I have not the elements for popularity--if they spoke of me in that
way, they were mistaken. I fall slowly into new projects; and I find it
difficult to let myself be known, even by those whom I desire to know,
and with whom I would fain have no reserve. Yet, even with all these
drawbacks, I felt that I was on the right path, and that, starting from
a kind of friendship with one, I was becoming acquainted with many. The
advantages were mutual: we were both unconsciously and consciously
teaching each other.'

'You say "were." I trust you are intending to pursue the same course?'

'I must stop Colthurst,' said Henry Lennox, hastily. And by an abrupt,
yet apropos question, he turned the current of the conversation, so as
not to give Mr. Thornton the mortification of acknowledging his want of
success and consequent change of position. But as soon as the
newly-started subject had come to a close, Mr. Thornton resumed the
conversation just where it had been interrupted, and gave Mr. Colthurst
the reply to his inquiry.

'I have been unsuccessful in business, and have had to give up my
position as a master. I am on the look out for a situation in Milton,
where I may meet with employment under some one who will be willing to
let me go along my own way in such matters as these. I can depend upon
myself for having no go-ahead theories that I would rashly bring into
practice. My only wish is to have the opportunity of cultivating some
intercourse with the hands beyond the mere "cash nexus." But it might be
the point Archimedes sought from which to move the earth, to judge from
the importance attached to it by some of our manufacturers, who shake
their heads and look grave as soon as I name the one or two experiments
that I should like to try.'

'You call them "experiments" I notice,' said Mr. Colthurst, with a
delicate increase of respect in his manner.

'Because I believe them to be such. I am not sure of the consequences
that may result from them. But I am sure they ought to be tried. I have
arrived at the conviction that no mere institutions, however wise, and
however much thought may have been required to organise and arrange
them, can attach class to class as they should be attached, unless the
working out of such institutions bring the individuals of the different
classes into actual personal contact. Such intercourse is the very
breath of life. A working man can hardly be made to feel and know how
much his employer may have laboured in his study at plans for the
benefit of his workpeople. A complete plan emerges like a piece of
machinery, apparently fitted for every emergency. But the hands accept
it as they do machinery, without understanding the intense mental labour
and forethought required to bring it to such perfection. But I would
take an idea, the working out of which would necessitate personal
intercourse; it might not go well at first, but at every hitch interest
would be felt by an increasing number of men, and at last its success in
working come to be desired by all, as all had borne a part in the
formation of the plan; and even then I am sure that it would lose its
vitality, cease to be living, as soon as it was no longer carried on by
that sort of common interest which invariably makes people find means
and ways of seeing each other, and becoming acquainted with each others'
characters and persons, and even tricks of temper and modes of speech.
We should understand each other better, and I'll venture to say we
should like each other more.'

'And you think they may prevent the recurrence of strikes?'

'Not at all. My utmost expectation only goes so far as this--that they
may render strikes not the bitter, venomous sources of hatred they have
hitherto been. A more hopeful man might imagine that a closer and more
genial intercourse between classes might do away with strikes. But I am
not a hopeful man.'

Suddenly, as if a new idea had struck him, he crossed over to where
Margaret was sitting, and began, without preface, as if he knew she had
been listening to all that had passed:

'Miss Hale, I had a round-robin from some of my men--I suspect in
Higgins' handwriting--stating their wish to work for me, if ever I was
in a position to employ men again on my own behalf. That was good,
wasn't it?'

'Yes. Just right. I am glad of it,' said Margaret, looking up straight
into his face with her speaking eyes, and then dropping them under his
eloquent glance. He gazed back at her for a minute, as if he did not
know exactly what he was about. Then sighed; and saying, 'I knew you
would like it,' he turned away, and never spoke to her again until he
bid her a formal 'good night.'

As Mr. Lennox took his departure, Margaret said, with a blush that she
could not repress, and with some hesitation,

'Can I speak to you to-morrow? I want your help about--something.'

'Certainly. I will come at whatever time you name. You cannot give me a
greater pleasure than by making me of any use. At eleven? Very well.'

His eye brightened with exultation. How she was learning to depend upon
him! It seemed as if any day now might give him the certainty, without
having which he had determined never to offer to her again.



CHAPTER LII

'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.'
              ANON.


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:--

'Margaret!'

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.

'Margaret!'

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!"'





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