Part 4 out of 11
thinking alone.--There she goes' (looking out of the window as
she heard the front door shut). 'Poor young lady! her clothes
look shabby to what they did when she came to Helstone a year
ago. Then she hadn't so much as a darned stocking or a cleaned
pair of gloves in all her wardrobe. And now--!'
WHAT IS A STRIKE?
'There are briars besetting every path,
Which call for patient care;
There is a cross in every lot,
And an earnest need for prayer.'
Margaret went out heavily and unwillingly enough. But the length
of a street--yes, the air of a Milton Street--cheered her young
blood before she reached her first turning. Her step grew
lighter, her lip redder. She began to take notice, instead of
having her thoughts turned so exclusively inward. She saw unusual
loiterers in the streets: men with their hands in their pockets
sauntering along; loud-laughing and loud-spoken girls clustered
together, apparently excited to high spirits, and a boisterous
independence of temper and behaviour. The more ill-looking of the
men--the discreditable minority--hung about on the steps of the
beer-houses and gin-shops, smoking, and commenting pretty freely
on every passer-by. Margaret disliked the prospect of the long
walk through these streets, before she came to the fields which
she had planned to reach. Instead, she would go and see Bessy
Higgins. It would not be so refreshing as a quiet country walk,
but still it would perhaps be doing the kinder thing.
Nicholas Higgins was sitting by the fire smoking, as she went in.
Bessy was rocking herself on the other side.
Nicholas took the pipe out of his mouth, and standing up, pushed
his chair towards Margaret; he leant against the chimney piece in
a lounging attitude, while she asked Bessy how she was.
'Hoo's rather down i' th' mouth in regard to spirits, but hoo's
better in health. Hoo doesn't like this strike. Hoo's a deal too
much set on peace and quietness at any price.'
'This is th' third strike I've seen,' said she, sighing, as if
that was answer and explanation enough.
'Well, third time pays for all. See if we don't dang th' masters
this time. See if they don't come, and beg us to come back at our
own price. That's all. We've missed it afore time, I grant yo';
but this time we'n laid our plans desperate deep.'
'Why do you strike?' asked Margaret. 'Striking is leaving off
work till you get your own rate of wages, is it not? You must not
wonder at my ignorance; where I come from I never heard of a
'I wish I were there,' said Bessy, wearily. 'But it's not for me
to get sick and tired o' strikes. This is the last I'll see.
Before it's ended I shall be in the Great City--the Holy
'Hoo's so full of th' life to come, hoo cannot think of th'
present. Now I, yo' see, am bound to do the best I can here. I
think a bird i' th' hand is worth two i' th' bush. So them's the
different views we take on th' strike question.'
'But,' said Margaret, 'if the people struck, as you call it,
where I come from, as they are mostly all field labourers, the
seed would not be sown, the hay got in, the corn reaped.'
'Well?' said he. He had resumed his pipe, and put his 'well' in
the form of an interrogation.
'Why,' she went on, 'what would become of the farmers.'
He puffed away. 'I reckon they'd have either to give up their
farms, or to give fair rate of wage.'
'Suppose they could not, or would not do the last; they could not
give up their farms all in a minute, however much they might wish
to do so; but they would have no hay, nor corn to sell that year;
and where would the money come from to pay the labourers' wages
Still puffing away. At last he said:
'I know nought of your ways down South. I have heerd they're a
pack of spiritless, down-trodden men; welly clemmed to death; too
much dazed wi' clemming to know when they're put upon. Now, it's
not so here. We known when we're put upon; and we'en too much
blood in us to stand it. We just take our hands fro' our looms,
and say, "Yo' may clem us, but yo'll not put upon us, my
masters!" And be danged to 'em, they shan't this time!'
'I wish I lived down South,' said Bessy.
'There's a deal to bear there,' said Margaret. 'There are sorrows
to bear everywhere. There is very hard bodily labour to be gone
through, with very little food to give strength.'
'But it's out of doors,' said Bessy. 'And away from the endless,
endless noise, and sickening heat.'
'It's sometimes in heavy rain, and sometimes in bitter cold. A
young person can stand it; but an old man gets racked with
rheumatism, and bent and withered before his time; yet he must
just work on the same, or else go to the workhouse.'
'I thought yo' were so taken wi' the ways of the South country.'
'So I am,' said Margaret, smiling a little, as she found herself
thus caught. 'I only mean, Bessy, there's good and bad in
everything in this world; and as you felt the bad up here, I
thought it was but fair you should know the bad down there.'
'And yo' say they never strike down there?' asked Nicholas,
'No!' said Margaret; 'I think they have too much sense.'
'An' I think,' replied he, dashing the ashes out of his pipe with
so much vehemence that it broke, 'it's not that they've too much
sense, but that they've too little spirit.'
'O, father!' said Bessy, 'what have ye gained by striking? Think
of that first strike when mother died--how we all had to
clem--you the worst of all; and yet many a one went in every week
at the same wage, till all were gone in that there was work for;
and some went beggars all their lives at after.'
'Ay,' said he. 'That there strike was badly managed. Folk got
into th' management of it, as were either fools or not true men.
Yo'll see, it'll be different this time.'
'But all this time you've not told me what you're striking for,'
said Margaret, again.
'Why, yo' see, there's five or six masters who have set
themselves again paying the wages they've been paying these two
years past, and flourishing upon, and getting richer upon. And
now they come to us, and say we're to take less. And we won't.
We'll just clem them to death first; and see who'll work for 'em
then. They'll have killed the goose that laid 'em the golden
eggs, I reckon.'
'And so you plan dying, in order to be revenged upon them!'
'No,' said he, 'I dunnot. I just look forward to the chance of
dying at my post sooner than yield. That's what folk call fine
and honourable in a soldier, and why not in a poor weaver-chap?'
'But,' said Margaret, 'a soldier dies in the cause of the
Nation--in the cause of others.'
He laughed grimly. 'My lass,' said he, 'yo're but a young wench,
but don't yo' think I can keep three people--that's Bessy, and
Mary, and me--on sixteen shilling a week? Dun yo' think it's for
mysel' I'm striking work at this time? It's just as much in the
cause of others as yon soldier--only m'appen, the cause he dies
for is just that of somebody he never clapt eyes on, nor heerd on
all his born days, while I take up John Boucher's cause, as lives
next door but one, wi' a sickly wife, and eight childer, none on
'em factory age; and I don't take up his cause only, though he's
a poor good-for-nought, as can only manage two looms at a time,
but I take up th' cause o' justice. Why are we to have less wage
now, I ask, than two year ago?'
'Don't ask me,' said Margaret; 'I am very ignorant. Ask some of
your masters. Surely they will give you a reason for it. It is
not merely an arbitrary decision of theirs, come to without
'Yo're just a foreigner, and nothing more,' said he,
contemptuously. 'Much yo' know about it. Ask th' masters! They'd
tell us to mind our own business, and they'd mind theirs. Our
business being, yo' understand, to take the bated' wage, and be
thankful, and their business to bate us down to clemming point,
to swell their profits. That's what it is.'
'But said Margaret, determined not to give way, although she saw
she was irritating him, 'the state of trade may be such as not to
enable them to give you the same remuneration.
'State o' trade! That's just a piece o' masters' humbug. It's
rate o' wages I was talking of. Th' masters keep th' state o'
trade in their own hands; and just walk it forward like a black
bug-a-boo, to frighten naughty children with into being good.
I'll tell yo' it's their part,--their cue, as some folks call
it,--to beat us down, to swell their fortunes; and it's ours to
stand up and fight hard,--not for ourselves alone, but for them
round about us--for justice and fair play. We help to make their
profits, and we ought to help spend 'em. It's not that we want
their brass so much this time, as we've done many a time afore.
We'n getten money laid by; and we're resolved to stand and fall
together; not a man on us will go in for less wage than th' Union
says is our due. So I say, "hooray for the strike," and let
Thornton, and Slickson, and Hamper, and their set look to it!'
'Thornton!' said Margaret. 'Mr. Thornton of Marlborough Street?'
'Aye! Thornton o' Marlborough Mill, as we call him.'
'He is one of the masters you are striving with, is he not? What
sort of a master is he?'
'Did yo' ever see a bulldog? Set a bulldog on hind legs, and
dress him up in coat and breeches, and yo'n just getten John
'Nay,' said Margaret, laughing, 'I deny that. Mr. Thornton is
plain enough, but he's not like a bulldog, with its short broad
nose, and snarling upper lip.'
'No! not in look, I grant yo'. But let John Thornton get hold on
a notion, and he'll stick to it like a bulldog; yo' might pull
him away wi' a pitch-fork ere he'd leave go. He's worth fighting
wi', is John Thornton. As for Slickson, I take it, some o' these
days he'll wheedle his men back wi' fair promises; that they'll
just get cheated out of as soon as they're in his power again.
He'll work his fines well out on 'em, I'll warrant. He's as
slippery as an eel, he is. He's like a cat,--as sleek, and
cunning, and fierce. It'll never be an honest up and down fight
wi' him, as it will be wi' Thornton. Thornton's as dour as a
door-nail; an obstinate chap, every inch on him,--th' oud
'Poor Bessy!' said Margaret, turning round to her. 'You sigh over
it all. You don't like struggling and fighting as your father
does, do you?'
'No!' said she, heavily. 'I'm sick on it. I could have wished to
have had other talk about me in my latter days, than just the
clashing and clanging and clattering that has wearied a' my life
long, about work and wages, and masters, and hands, and
'Poor wench! latter days be farred! Thou'rt looking a sight
better already for a little stir and change. Beside, I shall be a
deal here to make it more lively for thee.'
'Tobacco-smoke chokes me!' said she, querulously.
'Then I'll never smoke no more i' th' house!' he replied,
tenderly. 'But why didst thou not tell me afore, thou foolish
She did not speak for a while, and then so low that only Margaret
'I reckon, he'll want a' the comfort he can get out o' either
pipe or drink afore he's done.'
Her father went out of doors, evidently to finish his pipe.
Bessy said passionately,
'Now am not I a fool,--am I not, Miss?--there, I knew I ought for
to keep father at home, and away fro' the folk that are always
ready for to tempt a man, in time o' strike, to go drink,--and
there my tongue must needs quarrel with this pipe o' his'n,--and
he'll go off, I know he will,--as often as he wants to smoke--and
nobody knows where it'll end. I wish I'd letten myself be choked
'But does your father drink?' asked Margaret.
'No--not to say drink,' replied she, still in the same wild
excited tone. 'But what win ye have? There are days wi' you, as
wi' other folk, I suppose, when yo' get up and go through th'
hours, just longing for a bit of a change--a bit of a fillip, as
it were. I know I ha' gone and bought a four-pounder out o'
another baker's shop to common on such days, just because I
sickened at the thought of going on for ever wi' the same sight
in my eyes, and the same sound in my ears, and the same taste i'
my mouth, and the same thought (or no thought, for that matter)
in my head, day after day, for ever. I've longed for to be a man
to go spreeing, even it were only a tramp to some new place in
search o' work. And father--all men--have it stronger in 'em than
me to get tired o' sameness and work for ever. And what is 'em to
do? It's little blame to them if they do go into th' gin-shop for
to make their blood flow quicker, and more lively, and see things
they never see at no other time--pictures, and looking-glass, and
such like. But father never was a drunkard, though maybe, he's
got worse for drink, now and then. Only yo' see,' and now her
voice took a mournful, pleading tone, *'at times o' strike
there's much to knock a man down, for all they start so
hopefully; and where's the comfort to come fro'? He'll get angry
and mad--they all do--and then they get tired out wi' being angry
and mad, and maybe ha' done things in their passion they'd be
glad to forget. Bless yo'r sweet pitiful face! but yo' dunnot
know what a strike is yet.'
'Come, Bessy,' said Margaret, 'I won't say you're exaggerating,
because I don't know enough about it: but, perhaps, as you're not
well, you're only looking on one side, and there is another and a
brighter to be looked to.'
'It's all well enough for yo' to say so, who have lived in
pleasant green places all your life long, and never known want or
care, or wickedness either, for that matter.'
'Take care,' said Margaret, her cheek flushing, and her eye
lightening, 'how you judge, Bessy. I shall go home to my mother,
who is so ill--so ill, Bessy, that there's no outlet but death
for her out of the prison of her great suffering; and yet I must
speak cheerfully to my father, who has no notion of her real
state, and to whom the knowledge must come gradually. The only
person--the only one who could sympathise with me and help
me--whose presence could comfort my mother more than any other
earthly thing--is falsely accused--would run the risk of death if
he came to see his dying mother. This I tell you--only you,
Bessy. You must not mention it. No other person in Milton--hardly
any other person in England knows. Have I not care? Do I not know
anxiety, though I go about well-dressed, and have food enough?
Oh, Bessy, God is just, and our lots are well portioned out by
Him, although none but He knows the bitterness of our souls.'
'I ask your pardon,' replied Bessy, humbly. 'Sometimes, when I've
thought o' my life, and the little pleasure I've had in it, I've
believed that, maybe, I was one of those doomed to die by the
falling of a star from heaven; "And the name of the star is
called Wormwood;' and the third part of the waters became
wormwood; and men died of the waters, because they were made
bitter." One can bear pain and sorrow better if one thinks it has
been prophesied long before for one: somehow, then it seems as if
my pain was needed for the fulfilment; otherways it seems all
sent for nothing.'
'Nay, Bessy--think!' said Margaret. 'God does not willingly
afflict. Don't dwell so much on the prophecies, but read the
clearer parts of the Bible.'
'I dare say it would be wiser; but where would I hear such grand
words of promise--hear tell o' anything so far different fro'
this dreary world, and this town above a', as in Revelations?
Many's the time I've repeated the verses in the seventh chapter
to myself, just for the sound. It's as good as an organ, and as
different from every day, too. No, I cannot give up Revelations.
It gives me more comfort than any other book i' the Bible.'
'Let me come and read you some of my favourite chapters.'
'Ay,' said she, greedily, 'come. Father will maybe hear yo'. He's
deaved wi' my talking; he says it's all nought to do with the
things o' to-day, and that's his business.'
'Where is your sister?'
'Gone fustian-cutting. I were loth to let her go; but somehow we
must live; and th' Union can't afford us much.'
'Now I must go. You have done me good, Bessy.'
'I done you good!'
'Yes. I came here very sad, and rather too apt to think my own
cause for grief was the only one in the world. And now I hear how
you have had to bear for years, and that makes me stronger.'
'Bless yo'! I thought a' the good-doing was on the side of gentle
folk. I shall get proud if I think I can do good to yo'.'
'You won't do it if you think about it. But you'll only puzzle
yourself if you do, that's one comfort.'
'Yo're not like no one I ever seed. I dunno what to make of yo'.'
'Nor I of myself. Good-bye!'
Bessy stilled her rocking to gaze after her.
'I wonder if there are many folk like her down South. She's like
a breath of country air, somehow. She freshens me up above a bit.
Who'd ha' thought that face--as bright and as strong as the angel
I dream of--could have known the sorrow she speaks on? I wonder
how she'll sin. All on us must sin. I think a deal on her, for
sure. But father does the like, I see. And Mary even. It's not
often hoo's stirred up to notice much.'
LIKES AND DISLIKES
'My heart revolts within me, and two voices
Make themselves audible within my bosom.'
On Margaret's return home she found two letters on the table: one
was a note for her mother,--the other, which had come by the
post, was evidently from her Aunt Shaw--covered with foreign
post-marks--thin, silvery, and rustling. She took up the other,
and was examining it, when her father came in suddenly:
'So your mother is tired, and gone to bed early! I'm afraid, such
a thundery day was not the best in the world for the doctor to
see her. What did he say? Dixon tells me he spoke to you about
Margaret hesitated. Her father's looks became more grave and
'He does not think her seriously ill?'
'Not at present; she needs care, he says; he was very kind, and
said he would call again, and see how his medicines worked.'
'Only care--he did not recommend change of air?--he did not say
this smoky town was doing her any harm, did he, Margaret?'
'No! not a word,' she replied, gravely. 'He was anxious, I
'Doctors have that anxious manner; it's professional,' said he.
Margaret saw, in her father's nervous ways, that the first
impression of possible danger was made upon his mind, in spite of
all his making light of what she told him. He could not forget
the subject,--could not pass from it to other things; he kept
recurring to it through the evening, with an unwillingness to
receive even the slightest unfavourable idea, which made Margaret
'This letter is from Aunt Shaw, papa. She has got to Naples, and
finds it too hot, so she has taken apartments at Sorrento. But I
don't think she likes Italy.'
'He did not say anything about diet, did he?'
'It was to be nourishing, and digestible. Mamma's appetite is
pretty good, I think.'
'Yes! and that makes it all the more strange he should have
thought of speaking about diet.'
'I asked him, papa.' Another pause. Then Margaret went on: 'Aunt
Shaw says, she has sent me some coral ornaments, papa; but,'
added Margaret, half smiling, 'she's afraid the Milton Dissenters
won't appreciate them. She has got all her ideas of Dissenters
from the Quakers, has not she?'
'If ever you hear or notice that your mother wishes for anything,
be sure you let me know. I am so afraid she does not tell me
always what she would like. Pray, see after that girl Mrs.
Thornton named. If we had a good, efficient house-servant, Dixon
could be constantly with her, and I'd answer for it we'd soon set
her up amongst us, if care will do it. She's been very much tired
of late, with the hot weather, and the difficulty of getting a
servant. A little rest will put her quite to rights--eh,
'I hope so,' said Margaret,--but so sadly, that her father took
notice of it. He pinched her cheek.
'Come; if you look so pale as this, I must rouge you up a little.
Take care of yourself, child, or you'll be wanting the doctor
But he could not settle to anything that evening. He was
continually going backwards and forwards, on laborious tiptoe, to
see if his wife was still asleep. Margaret's heart ached at his
restlessness--his trying to stifle and strangle the hideous fear
that was looming out of the dark places of his heart. He came
back at last, somewhat comforted.
'She's awake now, Margaret. She quite smiled as she saw me
standing by her. Just her old smile. And she says she feels
refreshed, and ready for tea. Where's the note for her? She wants
to see it. I'll read it to her while you make tea.'
The note proved to be a formal invitation from Mrs. Thornton, to
Mr., Mrs., and Miss Hale to dinner, on the twenty-first instant.
Margaret was surprised to find an acceptance contemplated, after
all she had learnt of sad probabilities during the day. But so it
was. The idea of her husband's and daughter's going to this
dinner had quite captivated Mrs. Hale's fancy, even before
Margaret had heard the contents of the note. It was an event to
diversify the monotony of the invalid's life; and she clung to
the idea of their going, with even fretful pertinacity when
'Nay, Margaret? if she wishes it, I'm sure we'll both go
willingly. She never would wish it unless she felt herself really
stronger--really better than we thought she was, eh, Margaret?'
said Mr. Hale, anxiously, as she prepared to write the note of
acceptance, the next day.
'Eh! Margaret?' questioned he, with a nervous motion of his
hands. It seemed cruel to refuse him the comfort he craved for.
And besides, his passionate refusal to admit the existence of
fear, almost inspired Margaret herself with hope.
'I do think she is better since last night,' said she. 'Her eyes
look brighter, and her complexion clearer.'
'God bless you,' said her father, earnestly. 'But is it true?
Yesterday was so sultry every one felt ill. It was a most unlucky
day for Mr. Donaldson to see her on.'
So he went away to his day's duties, now increased by the
preparation of some lectures he had promised to deliver to the
working people at a neighbouring Lyceum. He had chosen
Ecclesiastical Architecture as his subject, rather more in
accordance with his own taste and knowledge than as falling in
with the character of the place or the desire for particular
kinds of information among those to whom he was to lecture. And
the institution itself, being in debt, was only too glad to get a
gratis course from an educated and accomplished man like Mr.
Hale, let the subject be what it might.
'Well, mother,' asked Mr. Thornton that night, 'who have accepted
your invitations for the twenty-first?'
'Fanny, where are the notes? The Slicksons accept, Collingbrooks
accept, Stephenses accept, Browns decline. Hales--father and
daughter come,--mother too great an invalid--Macphersons come,
and Mr. Horsfall, and Mr. Young. I was thinking of asking the
Porters, as the Browns can't come.'
'Very good. Do you know, I'm really afraid Mrs. Hale is very far
from well, from what Dr. Donaldson says.'
'It's strange of them to accept a dinner-invitation if she's very
ill,' said Fanny.
'I didn't say very ill,' said her brother, rather sharply. 'I
only said very far from well. They may not know it either.' And
then he suddenly remembered that, from what Dr. Donaldson had
told him, Margaret, at any rate, must be aware of the exact state
of the case.
'Very probably they are quite aware of what you said yesterday,
John--of the great advantage it would be to them--to Mr. Hale, I
mean, to be introduced to such people as the Stephenses and the
'I'm sure that motive would not influence them. No! I think I
understand how it is.'
'John!' said Fanny, laughing in her little, weak, nervous way.
'How you profess to understand these Hales, and how you never
will allow that we can know anything about them. Are they really
so very different to most people one meets with?'
She did not mean to vex him; but if she had intended it, she
could not have done it more thoroughly. He chafed in silence,
however, not deigning to reply to her question.
'They do not seem to me out of the common way,' said Mrs.
Thornton. 'He appears a worthy kind of man enough; rather too
simple for trade--so it's perhaps as well he should have been a
clergyman first, and now a teacher. She's a bit of a fine lady,
with her invalidism; and as for the girl--she's the only one who
puzzles me when I think about her,--which I don't often do. She
seems to have a great notion of giving herself airs; and I can't
make out why. I could almost fancy she thinks herself too good
for her company at times. And yet they're not rich, from all I
can hear they never have been.'
'And she's not accomplished, mamma. She can't play.'
'Go on, Fanny. What else does she want to bring her up to your
'Nay! John,' said his mother, 'that speech of Fanny's did no
harm. I myself heard Miss Hale say she could not play. If you
would let us alone, we could perhaps like her, and see her
'I'm sure I never could!' murmured Fanny, protected by her
mother. Mr. Thornton heard, but did not care to reply. He was
walking up and down the dining-room, wishing that his mother
would order candles, and allow him to set to work at either
reading or writing, and so put a stop to the conversation. But he
never thought of interfering in any of the small domestic
regulations that Mrs. Thornton observed, in habitual remembrance
of her old economies.
'Mother,' said he, stopping, and bravely speaking out the truth,
'I wish you would like Miss Hale.'
'Why?' asked she, startled by his earnest, yet tender manner.
'You're never thinking of marrying her?--a girl without a penny.'
'She would never have me,' said he, with a short laugh.
'No, I don't think she would,' answered his mother. 'She laughed
in my face, when I praised her for speaking out something Mr.
Bell had said in your favour. I liked the girl for doing it so
frankly, for it made me sure she had no thought of you; and the
next minute she vexed me so by seeming to think----Well, never
mind! Only you're right in saying she's too good an opinion of
herself to think of you. The saucy jade! I should like to know
where she'd find a better!' If these words hurt her son, the
dusky light prevented him from betraying any emotion. In a minute
he came up quite cheerfully to his mother, and putting one hand
lightly on her shoulder, said:
'Well, as I'm just as much convinced of the truth of what you
have been saying as you can be; and as I have no thought or
expectation of ever asking her to be my wife, you'll believe me
for the future that I'm quite disinterested in speaking about
her. I foresee trouble for that girl--perhaps want of motherly
care--and I only wish you to be ready to be a friend to her, in
case she needs one. Now, Fanny,' said he, 'I trust you have
delicacy enough to understand, that it is as great an injury to
Miss Hale as to me--in fact, she would think it a greater--to
suppose that I have any reason, more than I now give, for begging
you and my mother to show her every kindly attention.'
'I cannot forgive her her pride,' said his mother; 'I will
befriend her, if there is need, for your asking, John. I would
befriend Jezebel herself if you asked me. But this girl, who
turns up her nose at us all--who turns up her nose at you----'
'Nay, mother; I have never yet put myself, and I mean never to
put myself, within reach of her contempt.'
'Contempt, indeed!'--(One of Mrs. Thornton's expressive
snorts.)--'Don't go on speaking of Miss Hale, John, if I've to be
kind to her. When I'm with her, I don't know if I like or dislike
her most; but when I think of her, and hear you talk of her, I
hate her. I can see she's given herself airs to you as well as if
you'd told me out.'
'And if she has,' said he--and then he paused for a moment--then
went on: 'I'm not a lad, to be cowed by a proud look from a
woman, or to care for her misunderstanding me and my position. I
can laugh at it!'
'To be sure! and at her too, with her fine notions and haughty
'I only wonder why you talk so much about her, then,' said Fanny.
'I'm sure, I'm tired enough of the subject.'
'Well!' said her brother, with a shade of bitterness. 'Suppose we
find some more agreeable subject. What do you say to a strike, by
way of something pleasant to talk about?'
'Have the hands actually turned out?' asked Mrs. Thornton, with
'Hamper's men are actually out. Mine are working out their week,
through fear of being prosecuted for breach of contract I'd have
had every one of them up and punished for it, that left his work
before his time was out.'
'The law expenses would have been more than the hands them selves
were worth--a set of ungrateful naughts!' said his mother.
'To be sure. But I'd have shown them how I keep my word, and how
I mean them to keep theirs. They know me by this time. Slickson's
men are off--pretty certain he won't spend money in getting them
punished. We're in for a turn-out, mother.'
'I hope there are not many orders in hand?'
'Of course there are. They know that well enough. But they don't
quite understand all, though they think they do.'
'What do you mean, John?'
Candles had been brought, and Fanny had taken up her interminable
piece of worsted-work, over which she was yawning; throwing
herself back in her chair, from time to time, to gaze at vacancy,
and think of nothing at her ease.
'Why,' said he, 'the Americans are getting their yarns so into
the general market, that our only chance is producing them at a
lower rate. If we can't, we may shut up shop at once, and hands
and masters go alike on tramp. Yet these fools go back to the
prices paid three years ago--nay, some of their leaders quote
Dickinson's prices now--though they know as well as we do that,
what with fines pressed out of their wages as no honourable man
would extort them, and other ways which I for one would scorn to
use, the real rate of wage paid at Dickinson's is less than at
ours. Upon my word, mother, I wish the old combination-laws were
in force. It is too bad to find out that fools--ignorant wayward
men like these--just by uniting their weak silly heads, are to
rule over the fortunes of those who bring all the wisdom that
knowledge and experience, and often painful thought and anxiety,
can give. The next thing will be--indeed, we're all but come to
it now--that we shall have to go and ask--stand hat in hand--and
humbly ask the secretary of the Spinner' Union to be so kind as
to furnish us with labour at their own price. That's what they
want--they, who haven't the sense to see that, if we don't get a
fair share of the profits to compensate us for our wear and tear
here in England, we can move off to some other country; and that,
what with home and foreign competition, we are none of us likely
to make above a fair share, and may be thankful enough if we can
get that, in an average number of years.'
'Can't you get hands from Ireland? I wouldn't keep these fellows
a day. I'd teach them that I was master, and could employ what
servants I liked.'
'Yes! to be sure, I can; and I will, too, if they go on long. It
will be trouble and expense, and I fear there will be some
danger; but I will do it, rather than give in.'
'If there is to be all this extra expense, I'm sorry we're giving
a dinner just now.'
'So am I,--not because of the expense, but because I shall have
much to think about, and many unexpected calls on my time. But we
must have had Mr. Horsfall, and he does not stay in Milton long.
And as for the others, we owe them dinners, and it's all one
He kept on with his restless walk--not speaking any more, but
drawing a deep breath from time to time, as if endeavouring to
throw off some annoying thought. Fanny asked her mother numerous
small questions, all having nothing to do with the subject, which
a wiser person would have perceived was occupying her attention.
Consequently, she received many short answers. She was not sorry
when, at ten o'clock, the servants filed in to prayers. These her
mother always read,--first reading a chapter. They were now
working steadily through the Old Testament. When prayers were
ended, and his mother had wished him goodnight, with that long
steady look of hers which conveyed no expression of the
tenderness that was in her heart, but yet had the intensity of a
blessing, Mr. Thornton continued his walk. All his business plans
had received a check, a sudden pull-up, from this approaching
turn-out. The forethought of many anxious hours was thrown away,
utterly wasted by their insane folly, which would injure
themselves even more than him, though no one could set any limit
to the mischief they were doing. And these were the men who
thought themselves fitted to direct the masters in the disposal
of their capital! Hamper had said, only this very day, that if he
were ruined by the strike, he would start life again, comforted
by the conviction that those who brought it on were in a worse
predicament than he himself,--for he had head as well as hands,
while they had only hands; and if they drove away their market,
they could not follow it, nor turn to anything else. But this
thought was no consolation to Mr. Thornton. It might be that
revenge gave him no pleasure; it might be that he valued the
position he had earned with the sweat of his brow, so much that
he keenly felt its being endangered by the ignorance or folly of
others,--so keenly that he had no thoughts to spare for what
would he the consequences of their conduct to themselves. He
paced up and down, setting his teeth a little now and then. At
last it struck two. The candles were flickering in their sockets.
He lighted his own, muttering to himself:
'Once for all, they shall know whom they have got to deal with. I
can give them a fortnight,--no more. If they don't see their
madness before the end of that time, I must have hands from
Ireland. I believe it's Slickson's doing,--confound him and his
dodges! He thought he was overstocked; so he seemed to yield at
first, when the deputation came to him,--and of course, he only
confirmed them in their folly, as he meant to do. That's where it
'As angels in some brighter dreams
Call to the soul when man doth sleep,
So some strange thoughts transcend our wonted themes,
And into glory peep.'
Mrs. Hale was curiously amused and interested by the idea of the
Thornton dinner party. She kept wondering about the details, with
something of the simplicity of a little child, who wants to have
all its anticipated pleasures described beforehand. But the
monotonous life led by invalids often makes them like children,
inasmuch as they have neither of them any sense of proportion in
events, and seem each to believe that the walls and curtains
which shut in their world, and shut out everything else, must of
necessity be larger than anything hidden beyond. Besides, Mrs.
Hale had had her vanities as a girl; had perhaps unduly felt
their mortification when she became a poor clergyman's
wife;--they had been smothered and kept down; but they were not
extinct; and she liked to think of seeing Margaret dressed for a
party, and discussed what she should wear, with an unsettled
anxiety that amused Margaret, who had been more accustomed to
society in her one in Harley Street than her mother in five and
twenty years of Helstone.
'Then you think you shall wear your white silk. Are you sure it
will fit? It's nearly a year since Edith was married!'
'Oh yes, mamma! Mrs. Murray made it, and it's sure to be right;
it may be a straw's breadth shorter or longer-waisted, according
to my having grown fat or thin. But I don't think I've altered in
'Hadn't you better let Dixon see it? It may have gone yellow with
'If you like, mamma. But if the worst comes to the worst, I've a
very nice pink gauze which aunt Shaw gave me, only two or three
months before Edith was married. That can't have gone yellow.'
'No! but it may have faded.'
'Well! then I've a green silk. I feel more as if it was the
embarrassment of riches.'
'I wish I knew what you ought to wear,' said Mrs. Hale,
nervously. Margaret's manner changed instantly. 'Shall I go and
put them on one after another, mamma, and then you could see
which you liked best?'
'But--yes! perhaps that will be best.'
So off Margaret went. She was very much inclined to play some
pranks when she was dressed up at such an unusual hour; to make
her rich white silk balloon out into a cheese, to retreat
backwards from her mother as if she were the queen; but when she
found that these freaks of hers were regarded as interruptions to
the serious business, and as such annoyed her mother, she became
grave and sedate. What had possessed the world (her world) to
fidget so about her dress, she could not understand; but that
very after noon, on naming her engagement to Bessy Higgins
(apropos of the servant that Mrs. Thornton had promised to
inquire about), Bessy quite roused up at the intelligence.
'Dear! and are you going to dine at Thornton's at Marlborough
'Yes, Bessy. Why are you so surprised?'
'Oh, I dunno. But they visit wi' a' th' first folk in Milton.'
'And you don't think we're quite the first folk in Milton, eh,
Bessy?' Bessy's cheeks flushed a little at her thought being thus
'Well,' said she, 'yo' see, they thinken a deal o' money here and
I reckon yo've not getten much.'
'No,' said Margaret, 'that's very true. But we are educated
people, and have lived amongst educated people. Is there anything
so wonderful, in our being asked out to dinner by a man who owns
himself inferior to my father by coming to him to be instructed?
I don't mean to blame Mr. Thornton. Few drapers' assistants, as
he was once, could have made themselves what he is.'
'But can yo' give dinners back, in yo'r small house? Thornton's
house is three times as big.'
'Well, I think we could manage to give Mr. Thornton a dinner
back, as you call it. Perhaps not in such a large room, nor with
so many people. But I don't think we've thought about it at all
in that way.'
'I never thought yo'd be dining with Thorntons,' repeated I
Bessy. 'Why, the mayor hissel' dines there; and the members of
Parliament and all.'
'I think I could support the honour of meeting the mayor of
'But them ladies dress so grand!' said Bessy, with an anxious
look at Margaret's print gown, which her Milton eyes appraised at
sevenpence a yard. Margaret's face dimpled up into a merry laugh.
'Thank You, Bessy, for thinking so kindly about my looking nice
among all the smart people. But I've plenty of grand gowns,--a
week ago, I should have said they were far too grand for anything
I should ever want again. But as I'm to dine at Mr. Thornton's,
and perhaps to meet the mayor, I shall put on my very best gown,
you may be sure.'
'What win yo' wear?' asked Bessy, somewhat relieved.
'White silk,' said Margaret. 'A gown I had for a cousin's
wedding, a year ago.
'That'll do!' said Bessy, falling back in her chair. 'I should be
loth to have yo' looked down upon.
'Oh! I'll be fine enough, if that will save me from being looked
down upon in Milton.'
'I wish I could see you dressed up,' said Bessy. 'I reckon, yo're
not what folk would ca' pretty; yo've not red and white enough
for that. But dun yo' know, I ha' dreamt of yo', long afore ever
I seed yo'.'
'Ay, but I did. Yo'r very face,--looking wi' yo'r clear steadfast
eyes out o' th' darkness, wi' yo'r hair blown off from yo'r brow,
and going out like rays round yo'r forehead, which was just as
smooth and as straight as it is now,--and yo' always came to give
me strength, which I seemed to gather out o' yo'r deep comforting
eyes,--and yo' were drest in shining raiment--just as yo'r going
to be drest. So, yo' see, it was yo'!'
'Nay, Bessy,' said Margaret, gently, 'it was but a dream.'
'And why might na I dream a dream in my affliction as well as
others? Did not many a one i' the Bible? Ay, and see visions too!
Why, even my father thinks a deal o' dreams! I tell yo' again, I
saw yo' as plainly, coming swiftly towards me, wi' yo'r hair
blown back wi' the very swiftness o' the motion, just like the
way it grows, a little standing off like; and the white shining
dress on yo've getten to wear. Let me come and see yo' in it. I
want to see yo' and touch yo' as in very deed yo' were in my
'My dear Bessy, it is quite a fancy of yours.'
'Fancy or no fancy,--yo've come, as I knew yo' would, when I saw
yo'r movement in my dream,--and when yo're here about me, I
reckon I feel easier in my mind, and comforted, just as a fire
comforts one on a dree day. Yo' said it were on th' twenty-first;
please God, I'll come and see yo'.'
'Oh Bessy! you may come and welcome; but don't talk so--it really
makes me sorry. It does indeed.'
'Then I'll keep it to mysel', if I bite my tongue out. Not but
what it's true for all that.'
Margaret was silent. At last she said,
'Let us talk about it sometimes, if you think it true. But not
now. Tell me, has your father turned out?'
'Ay!' said Bessy, heavily--in a manner very different from that
she had spoken in but a minute or two before. 'He and many
another,--all Hamper's men,--and many a one besides. Th' women
are as bad as th' men, in their savageness, this time. Food is
high,--and they mun have food for their childer, I reckon.
Suppose Thorntons sent 'em their dinner out,--th' same money,
spent on potatoes and meal, would keep many a crying babby quiet,
and hush up its mother's heart for a bit!'
'Don't speak so!' said Margaret. 'You'll make me feel wicked and
guilty in going to this dinner.'
'No!' said Bessy. 'Some's pre-elected to sumptuous feasts, and
purple and fine linen,--may be yo're one on 'em. Others toil and
moil all their lives long--and the very dogs are not pitiful in
our days, as they were in the days of Lazarus. But if yo' ask me
to cool yo'r tongue wi' th' tip of my finger, I'll come across
the great gulf to yo' just for th' thought o' what yo've been to
'Bessy! you're very feverish! I can tell it in the touch of your
hand, as well as in what you're saying. It won't be division
enough, in that awful day, that some of us have been beggars
here, and some of us have been rich,--we shall not be judged by
that poor accident, but by our faithful following of Christ.'
Margaret got up, and found some water and soaking her
pocket-handkerchief in it, she laid the cool wetness on Bessy's
forehead, and began to chafe the stone-cold feet. Bessy shut her
eyes, and allowed herself to be soothed. At last she said,
'Yo'd ha' been deaved out o' yo'r five wits, as well as me, if
yo'd had one body after another coming in to ask for father, and
staying to tell me each one their tale. Some spoke o' deadly
hatred, and made my blood run cold wi' the terrible things they
said o' th' masters,--but more, being women, kept plaining,
plaining (wi' the tears running down their cheeks, and never
wiped away, nor heeded), of the price o' meat, and how their
childer could na sleep at nights for th' hunger.'
'And do they think the strike will mend this?' asked Margaret.
'They say so,' replied Bessy. 'They do say trade has been good
for long, and the masters has made no end o' money; how much
father doesn't know, but, in course, th' Union does; and, as is
natural, they wanten their share o' th' profits, now that food is
getting dear; and th' Union says they'll not be doing their duty
if they don't make the masters give 'em their share. But masters
has getten th' upper hand somehow; and I'm feared they'll keep it
now and evermore. It's like th' great battle o' Armageddon, the
way they keep on, grinning and fighting at each other, till even
while they fight, they are picked off into the pit.' Just then,
Nicholas Higgins came in. He caught his daughter's last words.
'Ay! and I'll fight on too; and I'll get it this time. It'll not
take long for to make 'em give in, for they've getten a pretty
lot of orders, all under contract; and they'll soon find out
they'd better give us our five per cent than lose the profit
they'll gain; let alone the fine for not fulfilling the contract.
Aha, my masters! I know who'll win.'
Margaret fancied from his manner that he must have been drinking,
not so much from what he said, as from the excited way in which
he spoke; and she was rather confirmed in this idea by the
evident anxiety Bessy showed to hasten her departure. Bessy said
'The twenty-first--that's Thursday week. I may come and see yo'
dressed for Thornton's, I reckon. What time is yo'r dinner?'
Before Margaret could answer, Higgins broke out,
'Thornton's! Ar' t' going to dine at Thornton's? Ask him to give
yo' a bumper to the success of his orders. By th' twenty-first, I
reckon, he'll be pottered in his brains how to get 'em done in
time. Tell him, there's seven hundred'll come marching into
Marlborough Mills, the morning after he gives the five per cent,
and will help him through his contract in no time. You'll have
'em all there. My master, Hamper. He's one o' th' oud-fashioned
sort. Ne'er meets a man bout an oath or a curse; I should think
he were going to die if he spoke me civil; but arter all, his
bark's waur than his bite, and yo' may tell him one o' his
turn-outs said so, if yo' like. Eh! but yo'll have a lot of prize
mill-owners at Thornton's! I should like to get speech o' them,
when they're a bit inclined to sit still after dinner, and could
na run for the life on 'em. I'd tell 'em my mind. I'd speak up
again th' hard way they're driving on us!'
'Good-bye!' said Margaret, hastily. 'Good-bye, Bessy! I shall
look to see you on the twenty-first, if you're well enough.'
The medicines and treatment which Dr. Donaldson had ordered for
Mrs. Hale, did her so much good at first that not only she
herself, but Margaret, began to hope that he might have been
mistaken, and that she could recover permanently. As for Mr.
Hale, although he had never had an idea of the serious nature of
their apprehensions, he triumphed over their fears with an
evident relief, which proved how much his glimpse into the nature
of them had affected him. Only Dixon croaked for ever into
Margaret's ear. However, Margaret defied the raven, and would
They needed this gleam of brightness in-doors, for out-of-doors,
even to their uninstructed eyes, there was a gloomy brooding
appearance of discontent. Mr. Hale had his own acquaintances
among the working men, and was depressed with their earnestly
told tales of suffering and long-endurance. They would have
scorned to speak of what they had to bear to any one who might,
from his position, have understood it without their words. But
here was this man, from a distant county, who was perplexed by
the workings of the system into the midst of which he was thrown,
and each was eager to make him a judge, and to bring witness of
his own causes for irritation. Then Mr. Hale brought all his
budget of grievances, and laid it before Mr. Thornton, for him,
with his experience as a master, to arrange them, and explain
their origin; which he always did, on sound economical
principles; showing that, as trade was conducted, there must
always be a waxing and waning of commercial prosperity; and that
in the waning a certain number of masters, as well as of men,
must go down into ruin, and be no more seen among the ranks of
the happy and prosperous. He spoke as if this consequence were so
entirely logical, that neither employers nor employed had any
right to complain if it became their fate: the employer to turn
aside from the race he could no longer run, with a bitter sense
of incompetency and failure--wounded in the struggle--trampled
down by his fellows in their haste to get rich--slighted where he
once was honoured--humbly asking for, instead of bestowing,
employment with a lordly hand. Of course, speaking so of the fate
that, as a master, might be his own in the fluctuations of
commerce, he was not likely to have more sympathy with that of
the workmen, who were passed by in the swift merciless
improvement or alteration who would fain lie down and quietly die
out of the world that needed them not, but felt as if they could
never rest in their graves for the clinging cries of the beloved
and helpless they would leave behind; who envied the power of the
wild bird, that can feed her young with her very heart's blood.
Margaret's whole soul rose up against him while he reasoned in
this way--as if commerce were everything and humanity nothing.
She could hardly, thank him for the individual kindness, which
brought him that very evening to offer her--for the delicacy
which made him understand that he must offer her privately--every
convenience for illness that his own wealth or his mother's
foresight had caused them to accumulate in their household, and
which, as he learnt from Dr. Donaldson, Mrs. Hale might possibly
require. His presence, after the way he had spoken--his bringing
before her the doom, which she was vainly trying to persuade
herself might yet be averted from her mother--all conspired to
set Margaret's teeth on edge, as she looked at him, and listened
to him. What business had he to be the only person, except Dr.
Donaldson and Dixon, admitted to the awful secret, which she held
shut up in the most dark and sacred recess of her heart--not
daring to look at it, unless she invoked heavenly strength to
bear the sight--that, some day soon, she should cry aloud for her
mother, and no answer would come out of the blank, dumb darkness?
Yet he knew all. She saw it in his pitying eyes. She heard it in
his grave and tremulous voice. How reconcile those eyes, that
voice, with the hard-reasoning, dry, merciless way in which he
laid down axioms of trade, and serenely followed them out to
their full consequences? The discord jarred upon her
inexpressibly. The more because of the gathering woe of which she
heard from Bessy. To be sure, Nicholas Higgins, the father, spoke
differently. He had been appointed a committee-man, and said that
he knew secrets of which the exoteric knew nothing. He said this
more expressly and particularly, on the very day before Mrs.
Thornton's dinner-party, when Margaret, going in to speak to
Bessy, found him arguing the point with Boucher, the neighbour of
whom she had frequently heard mention, as by turns exciting
Higgins's compassion, as an unskilful workman with a large family
depending upon him for support, and at other times enraging his
more energetic and sanguine neighbour by his want of what the
latter called spirit. It was very evident that Higgins was in a
passion when Margaret entered. Boucher stood, with both hands on
the rather high mantel-piece, swaying himself a little on the
support which his arms, thus placed, gave him, and looking wildly
into the fire, with a kind of despair that irritated Higgins,
even while it went to his heart. Bessy was rocking herself
violently backwards and forwards, as was her wont (Margaret knew
by this time) when she was agitated, Her sister Mary was tying on
her bonnet (in great clumsy bows, as suited her great clumsy
fingers), to go to her fustian-cutting, blubbering out loud the
while, and evidently longing to be away from a scene that
distressed her. Margaret came in upon this scene. She stood for a
moment at the door--then, her finger on her lips, she stole to a
seat on the squab near Bessy. Nicholas saw her come in, and
greeted her with a gruff, but not unfriendly nod. Mary hurried
out of the house catching gladly at the open door, and crying
aloud when she got away from her father's presence. It was only
John Boucher that took no notice whatever who came in and who
'It's no use, Higgins. Hoo cannot live long a' this'n. Hoo's just
sinking away--not for want o' meat hersel'--but because hoo
cannot stand th' sight o' the little ones clemming. Ay, clemming!
Five shilling a week may do well enough for thee, wi' but two
mouths to fill, and one on 'em a wench who can welly earn her own
meat. But it's clemming to us. An' I tell thee plain--if hoo dies
as I'm 'feard hoo will afore we've getten th' five per cent, I'll
fling th' money back i' th' master's face, and say, "Be domned to
yo'; be domned to th' whole cruel world o' yo'; that could na
leave me th' best wife that ever bore childer to a man!" An' look
thee, lad, I'll hate thee, and th' whole pack o' th' Union. Ay,
an' chase yo' through heaven wi' my hatred,--I will, lad! I
will,--if yo're leading me astray i' this matter. Thou saidst,
Nicholas, on Wednesday sennight--and it's now Tuesday i' th'
second week--that afore a fortnight we'd ha' the masters coming
a-begging to us to take back our' work, at our own wage--and
time's nearly up,--and there's our lile Jack lying a-bed, too
weak to cry, but just every now and then sobbing up his heart for
want o' food,--our lile Jack, I tell thee, lad! Hoo's never
looked up sin' he were born, and hoo loves him as if he were her
very life,--as he is,--for I reckon he'll ha' cost me that
precious price,--our lile Jack, who wakened me each morn wi'
putting his sweet little lips to my great rough fou' face,
a-seeking a smooth place to kiss,--an' he lies clemming.' Here
the deep sobs choked the poor man, and Nicholas looked up, with
eyes brimful of tears, to Margaret, before he could gain courage
'Hou'd up, man. Thy lile Jack shall na' clem. I ha' getten brass,
and we'll go buy the chap a sup o' milk an' a good four-pounder
this very minute. What's mine's thine, sure enough, i' thou'st i'
want. Only, dunnot lose heart, man!' continued he, as he fumbled
in a tea-pot for what money he had. 'I lay yo' my heart and soul
we'll win for a' this: it's but bearing on one more week, and yo
just see th' way th' masters 'll come round, praying on us to
come back to our mills. An' th' Union,--that's to say, I--will
take care yo've enough for th' childer and th' missus. So dunnot
turn faint-heart, and go to th' tyrants a-seeking work.'
The man turned round at these words,--turned round a face so
white, and gaunt, and tear-furrowed, and hopeless, that its very
calm forced Margaret to weep. 'Yo' know well, that a worser
tyrant than e'er th' masters were says "Clem to death, and see
'em a' clem to death, ere yo' dare go again th' Union." Yo' know
it well, Nicholas, for a' yo're one on 'em. Yo' may be kind
hearts, each separate; but once banded together, yo've no more
pity for a man than a wild hunger-maddened wolf.'
Nicholas had his hand on the lock of the door--he stopped and
turned round on Boucher, close following:
'So help me God! man alive--if I think not I'm doing best for
thee, and for all on us. If I'm going wrong when I think I'm
going right, it's their sin, who ha' left me where I am, in my
ignorance. I ha' thought till my brains ached,--Beli' me, John, I
have. An' I say again, there's no help for us but having faith i'
th' Union. They'll win the day, see if they dunnot!'
Not one word had Margaret or Bessy spoken. They had hardly
uttered the sighing, that the eyes of each called to the other to
bring up from the depths of her heart. At last Bessy said,
'I never thought to hear father call on God again. But yo' heard
him say, "So help me God!"'
'Yes!' said Margaret. 'Let me bring you what money I can
spare,--let me bring you a little food for that poor man's
children. Don't let them know it comes from any one but your
father. It will be but little.'
Bessy lay back without taking any notice of what Margaret said.
She did not cry--she only quivered up her breath,
'My heart's drained dry o' tears,' she said. 'Boucher's been in
these days past, a telling me of his fears and his troubles. He's
but a weak kind o' chap, I know, but he's a man for a' that; and
tho' I've been angry, many a time afore now, wi' him an' his
wife, as knew no more nor him how to manage, yet, yo' see, all
folks isn't wise, yet God lets 'em live--ay, an' gives 'em some
one to love, and be loved by, just as good as Solomon. An', if
sorrow comes to them they love, it hurts 'em as sore as e'er it
did Solomon. I can't make it out. Perhaps it's as well such a one
as Boucher has th' Union to see after him. But I'd just like for
to see th' mean as make th' Union, and put 'em one by one face to
face wi' Boucher. I reckon, if they heard him, they'd tell him
(if I cotched 'em one by one), he might go back and get what he
could for his work, even if it weren't so much as they ordered.'
Margaret sat utterly silent. How was she ever to go away into
comfort and forget that man's voice, with the tone of unutterable
agony, telling more by far than his words of what he had to
suffer? She took out her purse; she had not much in it of what
she could call her own, but what she had she put into Bessy's
hand without speaking.
'Thank yo'. There's many on 'em gets no more, and is not so bad
off,--leastways does not show it as he does. But father won't let
'em want, now he knows. Yo' see, Boucher's been pulled down wi'
his childer,--and her being so cranky, and a' they could pawn has
gone this last twelvemonth. Yo're not to think we'd ha' letten
'em clem, for all we're a bit pressed oursel'; if neighbours
doesn't see after neighbours, I dunno who will.' Bessy seemed
almostafraid lest Margaret should think they had not the will,
and, to a certain degree, the power of helping one whom she
evidently regarded as having a claim upon them. 'Besides,' she
went on, 'father is sure and positive the masters must give in
within these next few days,--that they canna hould on much
longer. But I thank yo' all the same,--I thank yo' for mysel', as
much as for Boucher, for it just makes my heart warm to yo' more
Bessy seemed much quieter to-day, but fearfully languid a
exhausted. As she finished speaking, she looked so faint and
weary that Margaret became alarmed.
'It's nout,' said Bessy. 'It's not death yet. I had a fearfu'
night wi' dreams--or somewhat like dreams, for I were wide
awake--and I'm all in a swounding daze to-day,--only yon poor
chap made me alive again. No! it's not death yet, but death is
not far off. Ay! Cover me up, and I'll may be sleep, if th' cough
will let me. Good night--good afternoon, m'appen I should
say--but th' light is dim an' misty to-day.'
MEN AND GENTLEMEN
'Old and young, boy, let 'em all eat, I have it;
Let 'em have ten tire of teeth a-piece, I care not.'
ROLLO, DUKE OF NORMANDY.
Margaret went home so painfully occupied with what she had heard
and seen that she hardly knew how to rouse herself up to the
duties which awaited her; the necessity for keeping up a constant
flow of cheerful conversation for her mother, who, now that she
was unable to go out, always looked to Margaret's return from the
shortest walk as bringing in some news.
'And can your factory friend come on Thursday to see you
'She was so ill I never thought of asking her,' said Margaret,
'Dear! Everybody is ill now, I think,' said Mrs. Hale, with a
little of the jealousy which one invalid is apt to feel of
another. 'But it must be very sad to be ill in one of those
little back streets.' (Her kindly nature prevailing, and the old
Helstone habits of thought returning.) 'It's bad enough here.
What could you do for her, Margaret? Mr. Thornton has sent me
some of his old port wine since you went out. Would a bottle of
that do her good, think you?'
'No, mamma! I don't believe they are very poor,--at least, they
don't speak as if they were; and, at any rate, Bessy's illness is
consumption--she won't want wine. Perhaps, I might take her a
little preserve, made of our dear Helstone fruit. No! there's
another family to whom I should like to give--Oh mamma, mamma!
how am I to dress up in my finery, and go off and away to smart
parties, after the sorrow I have seen to-day?' exclaimed
Margaret, bursting the bounds she had preordained for herself
before she came in, and telling her mother of what she had seen
and heard at Higgins's cottage.
It distressed Mrs. Hale excessively. It made her restlessly
irritated till she could do something. She directed Margaret to
pack up a basket in the very drawing-room, to be sent there and
then to the family; and was almost angry with her for saying,
that it would not signify if it did not go till morning, as she
knew Higgins had provided for their immediate wants, and she
herself had left money with Bessy. Mrs. Hale called her unfeeling
for saying this; and never gave herself breathing-time till the
basket was sent out of the house. Then she said:
'After all, we may have been doing wrong. It was only the last
time Mr. Thornton was here that he said, those were no true
friends who helped to prolong the struggle by assisting the turn
outs. And this Boucher-man was a turn-out, was he not?'
The question was referred to Mr. Hale by his wife, when he came
up-stairs, fresh from giving a lesson to Mr. Thornton, which had
ended in conversation, as was their wont. Margaret did not care
if their gifts had prolonged the strike; she did not think far
enough for that, in her present excited state.
Mr. Hale listened, and tried to be as calm as a judge; he
recalled all that had seemed so clear not half-an-hour before, as
it came out of Mr. Thornton's lips; and then he made an
unsatisfactory compromise. His wife and daughter had not only
done quite right in this instance, but he did not see for a
moment how they could have done otherwise. Nevertheless, as a
general rule, it was very true what Mr. Thornton said, that as
the strike, if prolonged, must end in the masters' bringing hands
from a distance (if, indeed, the final result were not, as it had
often been before, the invention of some machine which would
diminish the need of hands at all), why, it was clear enough that
the kindest thing was to refuse all help which might bolster them
up in their folly. But, as to this Boucher, he would go and see
him the first thing in the morning, and try and find out what
could be done for him.
Mr. Hale went the next morning, as he proposed. He did not find
Boucher at home, but he had a long talk with his wife; promised
to ask for an Infirmary order for her; and, seeing the plenty
provided by Mrs. Hale, and somewhat lavishly used by the
children, who were masters down-stairs in their father's absence,
he came back with a more consoling and cheerful account than
Margaret had dared to hope for; indeed, what she had said the
night before had prepared her father for so much worse a state of
things that, by a reaction of his imagination, he described all
as better than it really was.
'But I will go again, and see the man himself,' said Mr. Hale. 'I
hardly know as yet how to compare one of these houses with our
Helstone cottages. I see furniture here which our labourers would
never have thought of buying, and food commonly used which they
would consider luxuries; yet for these very families there seems
no other resource, now that their weekly wages are stopped, but
the pawn-shop. One had need to learn a different language, and
measure by a different standard, up here in Milton.'
Bessy, too, was rather better this day. Still she was so weak
that she seemed to have entirely forgotten her wish to see
Margaret dressed--if, indeed, that had not been the feverish
desire of a half-delirious state.
Margaret could not help comparing this strange dressing of hers,
to go where she did not care to be--her heart heavy with various
anxieties--with the old, merry, girlish toilettes that she and
Edith had performed scarcely more than a year ago. Her only
pleasure now in decking herself out was in thinking that her
mother would take delight in seeing her dressed. She blushed when
Dixon, throwing the drawing-room door open, made an appeal for
'Miss Hale looks well, ma'am,--doesn't she? Mrs. Shaw's coral
couldn't have come in better. It just gives the right touch of
colour, ma'am. Otherwise, Miss Margaret, you would have been too
Margaret's black hair was too thick to be plaited; it needed
rather to be twisted round and round, and have its fine silkiness
compressed into massive coils, that encircled her head like a
crown, and then were gathered into a large spiral knot behind.
She kept its weight together by two large coral pins, like small
arrows for length. Her white silk sleeves were looped up with
strings of the same material, and on her neck, just below the
base of her curved and milk-white throat, there lay heavy coral
'Oh, Margaret! how I should like to be going with you to one of
the old Barrington assemblies,--taking you as Lady Beresford used
to take me.' Margaret kissed her mother for this little burst of
maternal vanity; but she could hardly smile at it, she felt so
much out of spirits.
'I would rather stay at home with you,--much rather, mamma.'
'Nonsense, darling! Be sure you notice the dinner well. I shall
like to hear how they manage these things in Milton. Particularly
the second course, dear. Look what they have instead of game.'
Mrs. Hale would have been more than interested,--she would have
been astonished, if she had seen the sumptuousness of the
dinner-table and its appointments. Margaret, with her London
cultivated taste, felt the number of delicacies to be oppressive
one half of the quantity would have been enough, and the effect
lighter and more elegant. But it was one of Mrs. Thornton's
rigorous laws of hospitality, that of each separate dainty enough
should be provided for all the guests to partake, if they felt
inclined. Careless to abstemiousness in her daily habits, it was
part of her pride to set a feast before such of her guests as
cared for it. Her son shared this feeling. He had never
known--though he might have imagined, and had the capability to
relish--any kind of society but that which depended on an
exchange of superb meals and even now, though he was denying
himself the personal expenditure of an unnecessary sixpence, and
had more than once regretted that the invitations for this dinner
had been sent out, still, as it was to be, he was glad to see the
old magnificence of preparation. Margaret and her father were the
first to arrive. Mr. Hale was anxiously punctual to the time
specified. There was no one up-stairs in the drawing-room but
Mrs. Thornton and Fanny. Every cover was taken off, and the
apartment blazed forth in yellow silk damask and a
brilliantly-flowered carpet. Every corner seemed filled up with
ornament, until it became a weariness to the eye, and presented a
strange contrast to the bald ugliness of the look-out into the
great mill-yard, where wide folding gates were thrown open for
the admission of carriages. The mill loomed high on the left-hand
side of the windows, casting a shadow down from its many stories,
which darkened the summer evening before its time.
'My son was engaged up to the last moment on business. He will be
here directly, Mr. Hale. May I beg you to take a seat?'
Mr. Hale was standing at one of the windows as Mrs. Thornton
spoke. He turned away, saying,
'Don't you find such close neighbourhood to the mill rather
unpleasant at times?'
She drew herself up:
'Never. I am not become so fine as to desire to forget the source
of my son's wealth and power. Besides, there is not such another
factory in Milton. One room alone is two hundred and twenty
'I meant that the smoke and the noise--the constant going out and
coming in of the work-people, might be annoying!'
'I agree with you, Mr. Hale!' said Fanny. 'There is a continual
smell of steam, and oily machinery--and the noise is perfectly
'I have heard noise that was called music far more deafening. The
engine-room is at the street-end of the factory; we hardly hear
it, except in summer weather, when all the windows are open; and
as for the continual murmur of the work-people, it disturbs me no
more than the humming of a hive of bees. If I think of it at all,
I connect it with my son, and feel how all belongs to him, and
that his is the head that directs it. Just now, there are no
sounds to come from the mill; the hands have been ungrateful
enough to turn out, as perhaps you have heard. But the very
business (of which I spoke, when you entered), had reference to
the steps he is going to take to make them learn their place.'
The expression on her face, always stern, deepened into dark
anger, as she said this. Nor did it clear away when Mr. Thornton
entered the room; for she saw, in an instant, the weight of care
and anxiety which he could not shake off, although his guests
received from him a greeting that appeared both cheerful and
cordial. He shook hands with Margaret. He knew it was the first
time their hands had met, though she was perfectly unconscious of
the fact. He inquired after Mrs. Hale, and heard Mr. Hale's
sanguine, hopeful account; and glancing at Margaret, to
understand how far she agreed with her father, he saw that no
dissenting shadow crossed her face. And as he looked with this
intention, he was struck anew with her great beauty. He had never
seen her in such dress before and yet now it appeared as if such
elegance of attire was so befitting her noble figure and lofty
serenity of countenance, that she ought to go always thus
apparelled. She was talking to Fanny; about what, he could not
hear; but he saw his sister's restless way of continually
arranging some part of her gown, her wandering eyes, now glancing
here, now there, but without any purpose in her observation; and
he contrasted them uneasily with the large soft eyes that looked
forth steadily at one object, as if from out their light beamed
some gentle influence of repose: the curving lines of the red
lips, just parted in the interest of listening to what her
companion said--the head a little bent forwards, so as to make a
long sweeping line from the summit, where the light caught on the
glossy raven hair, to the smooth ivory tip of the shoulder; the
round white arms, and taper hands, laid lightly across each
other, but perfectly motionless in their pretty attitude. Mr.
Thornton sighed as he took in all this with one of his sudden
comprehensive glances. And then he turned his back to the young
ladies, and threw himself, with an effort, but with all his heart
and soul, into a conversation with Mr. Hale.
More people came--more and more. Fanny left Margaret's side, and
helped her mother to receive her guests. Mr. Thornton felt that
in this influx no one was speaking to Margaret, and was restless
under this apparent neglect. But he never went near her himself;
he did not look at her. Only, he knew what she was doing--or not
doing--better than he knew the movements of any one else in the
room. Margaret was so unconscious of herself, and so much amused
by watching other people, that she never thought whether she was
left unnoticed or not. Somebody took her down to dinner; she did
not catch the name; nor did he seem much inclined to talk to her.
There was a very animated conversation going on among the
gentlemen; the ladies, for the most part, were silent, employing
themselves in taking notes of the dinner and criticising each
other's dresses. Margaret caught the clue to the general
conversation, grew interested and listened attentively. Mr.
Horsfall, the stranger, whose visit to the town was the original
germ of the party, was asking questions relative to the trade and
manufactures of the place; and the rest of the gentlemen--all
Milton men,--were giving him answers and explanations. Some
dispute arose, which was warmly contested; it was referred to Mr.
Thornton, who had hardly spoken before; but who now gave an
opinion, the grounds of which were so clearly stated that even
the opponents yielded. Margaret's attention was thus called to
her host; his whole manner as master of the house, and
entertainer of his friends, was so straightforward, yet simple
and modest, as to be thoroughly dignified. Margaret thought she
had never seen him to so much advantage. When he had come to
their house, there had been always something, either of
over-eagerness or of that kind of vexed annoyance which seemed
ready to pre-suppose that he was unjustly judged, and yet felt
too proud to try and make himself better understood. But now,
among his fellows, there was no uncertainty as to his position.
He was regarded by them as a man of great force of character; of
power in many ways. There was no need to struggle for their
respect. He had it, and he knew it; and the security of this gave
a fine grand quietness to his voice and ways, which Margaret had
He was not in the habit of talking to ladies; and what he did say
was a little formal. To Margaret herself he hardly spoke at all.
She was surprised to think how much she enjoyed this dinner. She
knew enough now to understand many local interests--nay, even
some of the technical words employed by the eager mill-owners.
She silently took a very decided part in the question they were
discussing. At any rate, they talked in desperate earnest,--not
in the used-up style that wearied her so in the old London
parties. She wondered that with all this dwelling on the
manufactures and trade of the place, no allusion was made to the
strike then pending. She did not yet know how coolly such things
were taken by the masters, as having only one possible end. To be
sure, the men were cutting their own throats, as they had done
many a time before; but if they would be fools, and put
themselves into the hands of a rascally set of paid delegates,'
they must take the consequence. One or two thought Thornton
looked out of spirits; and, of course, he must lose by this
turn-out. But it was an accident that might happen to themselves
any day; and Thornton was as good to manage a strike as any one;
for he was as iron a chap as any in Milton. The hands had
mistaken their man in trying that dodge on him. And they chuckled
inwardly at the idea of the workmen's discomfiture and defeat, in
their attempt to alter one iota of what Thornton had decreed. It
was rather dull for Margaret after dinner. She was glad when the
gentlemen came, not merely because she caught her father's eye to
brighten her sleepiness up; but because she could listen to
something larger and grander than the petty interests which the
ladies had been talking about. She liked the exultation in the
sense of power which these Milton men had. It might be rather
rampant in its display, and savour of boasting; but still they
seemed to defy the old limits of possibility, in a kind of fine
intoxication, caused by the recollection of what had been
achieved, and what yet should be. If in her cooler moments she
might not approve of their spirit in all things, still there was
much to admire in their forgetfulness of themselves and the
present, in their anticipated triumphs over all inanimate matter
at some future time which none of them should live to see. She
was rather startled when Mr. Thornton spoke to her, close at her
'I could see you were on our side in our discussion at
dinner,--were you not, Miss Hale?'
'Certainly. But then I know so little about it. I was surprised,
however, to find from what Mr. Horsfall said, that there were
others who thought in so diametrically opposite a manner, as the
Mr. Morison he spoke about. He cannot be a gentleman--is he?'
'I am not quite the person to decide on another's
gentlemanliness, Miss Hale. I mean, I don't quite understand your
application of the word. But I should say that this Morison is no
true man. I don't know who he is; I merely judge him from Mr.
'I suspect my "gentleman" includes your "true man."'
'And a great deal more, you would imply. I differ from you. A man
is to me a higher and a completer being than a gentleman.'
'What do you mean?' asked Margaret. 'We must understand the words
'I take it that "gentleman" is a term that only describes a
person in his relation to others; but when we speak of him as "a
man," we consider him not merely with regard to his fellow-men,
but in relation to himself,--to life--to time--to eternity. A
cast-away lonely as Robinson Crusoe--a prisoner immured in a
dungeon for life--nay, even a saint in Patmos, has his endurance,
his strength, his faith, best described by being spoken of as "a
man." I am rather weary of this word "gentlemanly," which seems
to me to be often inappropriately used, and often, too, with such
exaggerated distortion of meaning, while the full simplicity of
the noun "man," and the adjective "manly" are
unacknowledged--that I am induced to class it with the cant of
Margaret thought a moment,--but before she could speak her slow
conviction, he was called away by some of the eager
manufacturers, whose speeches she could not hear, though she
could guess at their import by the short clear answers Mr.
Thornton gave, which came steady and firm as the boom of a
distant minute gun. They were evidently talking of the turn-out,
and suggesting what course had best be pursued. She heard Mr.
'That has been done.' Then came a hurried murmur, in which two or
'All those arrangements have been made.'
Some doubts were implied, some difficulties named by Mr.
Slickson, who took hold of Mr. Thornton's arm, the better to
impress his words. Mr. Thornton moved slightly away, lifted his
eyebrows a very little, and then replied:
'I take the risk. You need not join in it unless you choose.'
Still some more fears were urged.
'I'm not afraid of anything so dastardly as incendiarism. We are
open enemies; and I can protect myself from any violence that I
apprehend. And I will assuredly protect all others who come to me
for work. They know my determination by this time, as well and as
fully as you do.'
Mr. Horsfall took him a little on one side, as Margaret
conjectured, to ask him some other question about the strike;
but, in truth, it was to inquire who she herself was--so quiet,
so stately, and so beautiful.
'A Milton lady?' asked he, as the name was given.
'No! from the south of England--Hampshire, I believe,' was the
cold, indifferent answer.
Mrs. Slickson was catechising Fanny on the same subject.
'Who is that fine distinguished-looking girl? a sister of Mr.
'Oh dear, no! That is Mr. Hale, her father, talking now to Mr.
Stephens. He gives lessons; that is to say, he reads with young
men. My brother John goes to him twice a week, and so he begged
mamma to ask them here, in hopes of getting him known. I believe,
we have some of their prospectuses, if you would like to have
'Mr. Thornton! Does he really find time to read with a tutor, in
the midst of all his business,--and this abominable strike in
hand as well?'
Fanny was not sure, from Mrs. Slickson's manner, whether she
ought to be proud or ashamed of her brother's conduct; and, like
all people who try and take other people's 'ought' for the rule
of their feelings, she was inclined to blush for any singularity
of action. Her shame was interrupted by the dispersion of the
THE DARK NIGHT
'On earth is known to none
The smile that is not sister to a tear.'
Margaret and her father walked home. The night was fine, the
streets clean, and with her pretty white silk, like Leezie
Lindsay's gown o' green satin, in the ballad, 'kilted up to her
knee,' she was off with her father--ready to dance along with the
excitement of the cool, fresh night air.
'I rather think Thornton is not quite easy in his mind about this
strike. He seemed very anxious to-night.'
'I should wonder if he were not. But he spoke with his usual
coolness to the others, when they suggested different things,
just before we came away.'
'So he did after dinner as well. It would take a good deal to
stir him from his cool manner of speaking; but his face strikes
me as anxious.'
'I should be, if I were he. He must know of the growing anger and
hardly smothered hatred of his workpeople, who all look upon him
as what the Bible calls a "hard man,"--not so much unjust as
unfeeling; clear in judgment, standing upon his "rights" as no
human being ought to stand, considering what we and all our petty
rights are in the sight of the Almighty. I am glad you think he
looks anxious. When I remember Boucher's half mad words and ways,
I cannot bear to think how coolly Mr. Thornton spoke.'
'In the first place, I am not so convinced as you are about that
man Boucher's utter distress; for the moment, he was badly off, I
don't doubt. But there is always a mysterious supply of money
from these Unions; and, from what you said, it was evident the
man was of a passionate, demonstrative nature, and gave strong
expression to all he felt.'
'Well! I only want you to do justice to Mr. Thornton, who is, I
suspect, of an exactly opposite nature,--a man who is far too
proud to show his feelings. Just the character I should have
thought beforehand, you would have admired, Margaret.'
'So I do,--so I should; but I don't feel quite so sure as you do
of the existence of those feelings. He is a man of great strength
of character,--of unusual intellect, considering the few
advantages he has had.'
'Not so few. He has led a practical life from a very early age;
has been called upon to exercise judgment and self-control. All
that developes one part of the intellect. To be sure, he needs
some of the knowledge of the past, which gives the truest basis
for conjecture as to the future; but he knows this need,--he
perceives it, and that is something. You are quite prejudiced
against Mr. Thornton, Margaret.'
'He is the first specimen of a manufacturer--of a person engaged
in trade--that I had ever the opportunity of studying, papa. He
is my first olive: let me make a face while I swallow it. I know
he is good of his kind, and by and by I shall like the kind. I
rather think I am already beginning to do so. I was very much
interested by what the gentlemen were talking about, although I
did not understand half of it. I was quite sorry when Miss
Thornton came to take me to the other end of the room, saying she
was sure I should be uncomfortable at being the only lady among
so many gentlemen. I had never thought about it, I was so busy
listening; and the ladies were so dull, papa--oh, so dull! Yet I
think it was clever too. It reminded me of our old game of having
each so many nouns to introduce into a sentence.'
'What do you mean, child?' asked Mr. Hale.
'Why, they took nouns that were signs of things which gave
evidence of wealth,--housekeepers, under-gardeners, extent of
glass, valuable lace, diamonds, and all such things; and each one
formed her speech so as to bring them all in, in the prettiest
accidental manner possible.'
'You will be as proud of your one servant when you get her, if
all is true about her that Mrs. Thornton says.'
'To be sure, I shall. I felt like a great hypocrite to-night,
sitting there in my white silk gown, with my idle hands before
me, when I remembered all the good, thorough, house-work they had
done to-day. They took me for a fine lady, I'm sure.'
'Even I was mistaken enough to think you looked like a lady my
dear,' said Mr. Hale, quietly smiling.
But smiles were changed to white and trembling looks, when they
saw Dixon's face, as she opened the door.
'Oh, master!--Oh, Miss Margaret! Thank God you are come! Dr.
Donaldson is here. The servant next door went for him, for the
charwoman is gone home. She's better now; but, oh, sir! I thought
she'd have died an hour ago.'
Mr. Hale caught Margaret's arm to steady himself from falling. He
looked at her face, and saw an expression upon it of surprise and
extremest sorrow, but not the agony of terror that contracted his
own unprepared heart. She knew more than he did, and yet she
listened with that hopeless expression of awed apprehension.
'Oh! I should not have left her--wicked daughter that I am!'
moaned forth Margaret, as she supported her trembling father's
hasty steps up-stairs. Dr. Donaldson met them on the landing.
'She is better now,' he whispered. 'The opiate has taken effect.
The spasms were very bad: no wonder they frightened your maid;
but she'll rally this time.'
'This time! Let me go to her!' Half an hour ago, Mr. Hale was a
middle-aged man; now his sight was dim, his senses wavering, his
walk tottering, as if he were seventy years of age.
Dr. Donaldson took his arm, and led him into the bedroom.
Margaret followed close. There lay her mother, with an
unmistakable look on her face. She might be better now; she was
sleeping, but Death had signed her for his own, and it was clear
that ere long he would return to take possession. Mr. Hale looked
at her for some time without a word. Then he began to shake all
over, and, turning away from Dr. Donaldson's anxious care, he
groped to find the door; he could not see it, although several
candles, brought in the sudden affright, were burning and flaring
there. He staggered into the drawing-room, and felt about for a
chair. Dr. Donaldson wheeled one to him, and placed him in it. He
felt his pulse.
'Speak to him, Miss Hale. We must rouse him.'
'Papa!' said Margaret, with a crying voice that was wild with
pain. 'Papa! Speak to me!' The speculation came again into his
eyes, and he made a great effort.
'Margaret, did you know of this? Oh, it was cruel of you!'
'No, sir, it was not cruel!' replied Dr. Donaldson, with quick
decision. 'Miss Hale acted under my directions. There may have
been a mistake, but it was not cruel. Your wife will be a
different creature to-morrow, I trust. She has had spasms, as I
anticipated, though I did not tell Miss Hale of my apprehensions.
She has taken the opiate I brought with me; she will have a good
long sleep; and to-morrow, that look which has alarmed you so
much will have passed away.'
'But not the disease?'
Dr. Donaldson glanced at Margaret. Her bent head, her face raised
with no appeal for a temporary reprieve, showed that quick
observer of human nature that she thought it better that the
whole truth should be told.
'Not the disease. We cannot touch the disease, with all our poor
vaunted skill. We can only delay its progress--alleviate the pain
it causes. Be a man, sir--a Christian. Have faith in the
immortality of the soul, which no pain, no mortal disease, can
assail or touch!'
But all the reply he got, was in the choked words, 'You have
never been married, Dr. Donaldson; you do not know what it is,'
and in the deep, manly sobs, which went through the stillness of
the night like heavy pulses of agony. Margaret knelt by him,
caressing him with tearful caresses. No one, not even Dr.
Donaldson, knew how the time went by. Mr. Hale was the first to
dare to speak of the necessities of the present moment.
'What must we do?' asked he. 'Tell us both. Margaret is my
staff--my right hand.'
Dr. Donaldson gave his clear, sensible directions. No fear for
to-night--nay, even peace for to-morrow, and for many days yet.
But no enduring hope of recovery. He advised Mr. Hale to go to
bed, and leave only one to watch the slumber, which he hoped
would be undisturbed. He promised to come again early in the
morning. And with a warm and kindly shake of the hand, he left
them. They spoke but few words; they were too much exhausted by
their terror to do more than decide upon the immediate course of
action. Mr. Hale was resolved to sit up through the night, and
all that Margaret could do was to prevail upon him to rest on the
drawing-room sofa. Dixon stoutly and bluntly refused to go to
bed; and, as for Margaret, it was simply impossible that she
should leave her mother, let all the doctors in the world speak
of 'husbanding resources,' and 'one watcher only being required.'
So, Dixon sat, and stared, and winked, and drooped, and picked
herself up again with a jerk, and finally gave up the battle, and
fairly snored. Margaret had taken off her gown and tossed it
aside with a sort of impatient disgust, and put on her
dressing-gown. She felt as if she never could sleep again; as if
her whole senses were acutely vital, and all endued with double
keenness, for the purposes of watching. Every sight and
sound--nay, even every thought, touched some nerve to the very
quick. For more than two hours, she heard her father's restless
movements in the next room. He came perpetually to the door of
her mother's chamber, pausing there to listen, till she, not
hearing his close unseen presence, went and opened it to tell him
how all went on, in reply to the questions his baked lips could
hardly form. At last he, too, fell asleep, and all the house was
still. Margaret sate behind the curtain thinking. Far away in
time, far away in space, seemed all the interests of past days.
Not more than thirty-six hours ago, she cared for Bessy Higgins
and her father, and her heart was wrung for Boucher; now, that
was all like a dreaming memory of some former life;--everything
that had passed out of doors seemed dissevered from her mother,
and therefore unreal. Even Harley Street appeared more distinct;
there she remembered, as if it were yesterday, how she had
pleased herself with tracing out her mother's features in her
Aunt Shaw's face,--and how letters had come, making her dwell on
the thoughts of home with all the longing of love. Helstone,
itself, was in the dim past. The dull gray days of the preceding
winter and spring, so uneventless and monotonous, seemed more
associated with what she cared for now above all price. She would
fain have caught at the skirts of that departing time, and prayed
it to return, and give her back what she had too little valued
while it was yet in her possession. What a vain show Life seemed!
How unsubstantial, and flickering, and flitting! It was as if
from some aerial belfry, high up above the stir and jar of the
earth, there was a bell continually tolling, 'All are
shadows!--all are passing!--all is past!' And when the morning
dawned, cool and gray, like many a happier morning before--when
Margaret looked one by one at the sleepers, it seemed as if the
terrible night were unreal as a dream; it, too, was a shadow. It,
too, was past.
Mrs. Hale herself was not aware when she awoke, how ill she had
been the night before. She was rather surprised at Dr.
Donaldson's early visit, and perplexed by the anxious faces of
husband and child. She consented to remain in bed that day,
saying she certainly was tired; but, the next, she insisted on
getting up; and Dr. Donaldson gave his consent to her returning
into the drawing-room. She was restless and uncomfortable in
every position, and before night she became very feverish. Mr.
Hale was utterly listless, and incapable of deciding on anything.
'What can we do to spare mamma such another night?' asked
Margaret on the third day.
'It is, to a certain degree, the reaction after the powerful
opiates I have been obliged to use. It is more painful for you to
see than for her to bear, I believe. But, I think, if we could
get a water-bed it might be a good thing. Not but what she will
be better to-morrow; pretty much like herself as she was before
this attack. Still, I should like her to have a water-bed. Mrs.
Thornton has one, I know. I'll try and call there this afternoon.
Stay,' said he, his eye catching on Margaret's face, blanched
with watching in a sick room, 'I'm not sure whether I can go;
I've a long round to take. It would do you no harm to have a
brisk walk to Marlborough Street, and ask Mrs. Thornton if she
can spare it.'
'Certainly,' said Margaret. 'I could go while mamma is asleep
this afternoon. I'm sure Mrs. Thornton would lend it to us.'
Dr. Donaldson's experience told them rightly. Mrs. Hale seemed to
shake off the consequences of her attack, and looked brighter and
better this afternoon than Margaret had ever hoped to see her
again. Her daughter left her after dinner, sitting in her easy
chair, with her hand lying in her husband's, who looked more worn
and suffering than she by far. Still, he could smile now-rather
slowly, rather faintly, it is true; but a day or two before,
Margaret never thought to see him smile again.
It was about two miles from their house in Crampton Crescent to
Marlborough Street. It was too hot to walk very quickly. An
August sun beat straight down into the street at three o'clock in
the afternoon. Margaret went along, without noticing anything
very different from usual in the first mile and a half of her
journey; she was absorbed in her own thoughts, and had learnt by
this time to thread her way through the irregular stream of human
beings that flowed through Milton streets. But, by and by, she
was struck with an unusual heaving among the mass of people in
the crowded road on which she was entering. They did not appear
to be moving on, so much as talking, and listening, and buzzing
with excitement, without much stirring from the spot where they
might happen to be. Still, as they made way for her, and, wrapt
up in the purpose of her errand, and the necessities that
suggested it, she was less quick of observation than she might
have been, if her mind had been at ease, she had got into
Marlborough Street before the full conviction forced itself upon
her, that there was a restless, oppressive sense of irritation
abroad among the people; a thunderous atmosphere, morally as well
as physically, around her. From every narrow lane opening out on
Marlborough Street came up a low distant roar, as of myriads of
fierce indignant voices. The inhabitants of each poor squalid
dwelling were gathered round the doors and windows, if indeed
they were not actually standing in the middle of the narrow
ways--all with looks intent towards one point. Marlborough Street
itself was the focus of all those human eyes, that betrayed
intensest interest of various kinds; some fierce with anger, some
lowering with relentless threats, some dilated with fear, or
imploring entreaty; and, as Margaret reached the small
side-entrance by the folding doors, in the great dead wall of
Marlborough mill-yard and waited the porter's answer to the bell,
she looked round and heard the first long far-off roll of the
tempest;--saw the first slow-surging wave of the dark crowd come,
with its threatening crest, tumble over, and retreat, at the far
end of the street, which a moment ago, seemed so full of
repressed noise, but which now was ominously still; all these
circumstances forced themselves on Margaret's notice, but did not
sink down into her pre-occupied heart. She did not know what they
meant--what was their deep significance; while she did know, did
feel the keen sharp pressure of the knife that was soon to stab
her through and through by leaving her motherless. She was trying
to realise that, in order that, when it came, she might be ready
to comfort her father.
The porter opened the door cautiously, not nearly wide enough to
'It's you, is it, ma'am?' said he, drawing a long breath, and
widening the entrance, but still not opening it fully. Margaret
went in. He hastily bolted it behind her.
'Th' folk are all coming up here I reckon?' asked he.
'I don't know. Something unusual seemed going on; but this street
is quite empty, I think.'
She went across the yard and up the steps to the house door.
There was no near sound,--no steam-engine at work with beat and
pant,--no click of machinery, or mingling and clashing of many
sharp voices; but far away, the ominous gathering roar,
A BLOW AND ITS CONSEQUENCES
'But work grew scarce, while bread grew dear,
And wages lessened, too;
For Irish hordes were bidders here,
Our half-paid work to do.'
CORN LAW RHYMES.
Margaret was shown into the drawing-room. It had returned into
its normal state of bag and covering. The windows were half open
because of the heat, and the Venetian blinds covered the