Part 10 out of 11
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
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.'
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
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
'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
'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
'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
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
'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
'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
'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
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
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
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
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
'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
'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
'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
'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
'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,'
'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
hisapprehension; 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
'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
'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
'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
'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
'I am not likely ever to see Mr. Thornton again,'--and there she
'There are many things more unlikely, I should say,' replied Mr.
'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
'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 thatshe 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
'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
'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
'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
'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.
'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.'
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?'
'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.
'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.'
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
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
'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
'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
'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----'
'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
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
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
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
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
'And down the sunny beach she paces slowly,
With many doubtful pauses by the way;
Grief hath an influence so hush'd and holy.'
'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
'No, I don't,' said he, reddening. 'And I desire you not to tell
'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
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
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
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
'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
'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
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
CHANGES AT MILTON
'Here we go up, up, up;
And here we go down, down, downee!'
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
'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.'
'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.'
'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
'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
'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
'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
'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
'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
'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
'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
'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
'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
'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