Part 7 out of 11
in her extreme distress at her father's leaving the Church had
been so faintly expressed in his letters. She had thought it was
the carelessness of a sailor; but the truth was, that even then
he was himself inclined to give up the form of religion into
which he had been baptised, only that his opinions were tending
in exactly the opposite direction to those of his father. How
much love had to do with this change not even Frederick himself
could have told. Margaret gave up talking about this branch of
the subject at last; and, returning to the fact of the
engagement, she began to consider it in some fresh light:
'But for her sake, Fred, you surely will try and clear yourself
of the exaggerated charges brought against you, even if the
charge of mutiny itself be true. If there were to be a
court-martial, and you could find your witnesses, you might, at
any rate, show how your disobedience to authority was because
that authority was unworthily exercised.'
Mr. Hale roused himself up to listen to his son's answer.
'In the first place, Margaret, who is to hunt up my witnesses?
All of them are sailors, drafted off to other ships, except those
whose evidence would go for very little, as they took part, or
sympathised in the affair. In the next place, allow me to tell
you, you don't know what a court-martial is, and consider it as
an assembly where justice is administered, instead of what it
really is--a court where authority weighs nine-tenths in the
balance, and evidence forms only the other tenth. In such cases,
evidence itself can hardly escape being influenced by the
prestige of authority.'
'But is it not worth trying, to see how much evidence might be
discovered and arrayed on your behalf? At present, all those who
knew you formerly, believe you guilty without any shadow of
excuse. You have never tried to justify yourself, and we have
never known where to seek for proofs of your justification. Now,
for Miss Barbour's sake, make your conduct as clear as you can in
the eye of the world. She may not care for it; she has, I am
sure, that trust in you that we all have; but you ought not to
let her ally herself to one under such a serious charge, without
showing the world exactly how it is you stand. You disobeyed
authority--that was bad; but to have stood by, without word or
act, while the authority was brutally used, would have been
infinitely worse. People know what you did; but not the motives
that elevate it out of a crime into an heroic protection of the
weak. For Dolores' sake, they ought to know.'
'But how must I make them know? I am not sufficiently sure of the
purity and justice of those who would be my judges, to give
myself up to a court-martial, even if I could bring a whole array
of truth-speaking witnesses. I can't send a bellman about, to cry
aloud and proclaim in the streets what you are pleased to call my
heroism. No one would read a pamphlet of self-justification so
long after the deed, even if I put one out.'
'Will you consult a lawyer as to your chances of exculpation?'
asked Margaret, looking up, and turning very red.
'I must first catch my lawyer, and have a look at him, and see
how I like him, before I make him into my confidant. Many a
briefless barrister might twist his conscience into thinking,
that he could earn a hundred pounds very easily by doing a good
action--in giving me, a criminal, up to justice.'
'Nonsense, Frederick!--because I know a lawyer on whose honour I
can rely; of whose cleverness in his profession people speak very
highly; and who would, I think, take a good deal of trouble for
any of--of Aunt Shaw's relations Mr. Henry Lennox, papa.'
'I think it is a good idea,' said Mr. Hale. 'But don't propose
anything which will detain Frederick in England. Don't, for your
'You could go to London to-morrow evening by a night-train,'
continued Margaret, warming up into her plan. 'He must go
to-morrow, I'm afraid, papa,' said she, tenderly; 'we fixed that,
because of Mr. Bell, and Dixon's disagreeable acquaintance.'
'Yes; I must go to-morrow,' said Frederick decidedly.
Mr. Hale groaned. 'I can't bear to part with you, and yet I am
miserable with anxiety as long as you stop here.'
'Well then,' said Margaret, 'listen to my plan. He gets to London
on Friday morning. I will--you might--no! it would be better for
me to give him a note to Mr. Lennox. You will find him at his
chambers in the Temple.'
'I will write down a list of all the names I can remember on
board the Orion. I could leave it with him to ferret them out. He
is Edith's husband's brother, isn't he? I remember your naming
him in your letters. I have money in Barbour's hands. I can pay a
pretty long bill, if there is any chance of success Money, dear
father, that I had meant for a different purpose; so I shall only
consider it as borrowed from you and Margaret.'
'Don't do that,' said Margaret. 'You won't risk it if you do. And
it will be a risk only it is worth trying. You can sail from
London as well as from Liverpool?'
'To be sure, little goose. Wherever I feel water heaving under a
plank, there I feel at home. I'll pick up some craft or other to
take me off, never fear. I won't stay twenty-four hours in
London, away from you on the one hand, and from somebody else on
It was rather a comfort to Margaret that Frederick took it into
his head to look over her shoulder as she wrote to Mr. Lennox. If
she had not been thus compelled to write steadily and concisely
on, she might have hesitated over many a word, and been puzzled
to choose between many an expression, in the awkwardness of being
the first to resume the intercourse of which the concluding event
had been so unpleasant to both sides. However, the note was taken
from her before she had even had time to look it over, and
treasured up in a pocket-book, out of which fell a long lock of
black hair, the sight of which caused Frederick's eyes to glow
'Now you would like to see that, wouldn't you?' said he. 'No! you
must wait till you see her herself She is too perfect to be known
by fragments. No mean brick shall be a specimen of the building
of my palace.'
'What! remain to be
Denounced--dragged, it may be, in chains.'
All the next day they sate together--they three. Mr. Hale hardly
ever spoke but when his children asked him questions, and forced
him, as it were, into the present. Frederick's grief was no more
to be seen or heard; the first paroxysm had passed over, and now
he was ashamed of having been so battered down by emotion; and
though his sorrow for the loss of his mother was a deep real
feeling, and would last out his life, it was never to be spoken
of again. Margaret, not so passionate at first, was more
suffering now. At times she cried a good deal; and her manner,
even when speaking on indifferent things, had a mournful
tenderness about it, which was deepened whenever her looks fell
on Frederick, and she thought of his rapidly approaching
departure. She was glad he was going, on her father's account,
however much she might grieve over it on her own. The anxious
terror in which Mr. Hale lived lest his son should be detected
and captured, far out-weighed the pleasure he derived from his
presence. The nervousness had increased since Mrs. Hale's death,
probably because he dwelt upon it more exclusively. He started at
every unusual sound; and was never comfortable unless Frederick
sate out of the immediate view of any one entering the room.
Towards evening he said:
'You will go with Frederick to the station, Margaret? I shall
want to know he is safely off. You will bring me word that he is
clear of Milton, at any rate?'
'Certainly,' said Margaret. 'I shall like it, if you won't be
lonely without me, papa.'
'No, no! I should always be fancying some one had known him, and
that he had been stopped, unless you could tell me you had seen
him off. And go to the Outwood station. It is quite as near, and
not so many people about. Take a cab there. There is less risk of
his being seen. What time is your train, Fred?'
'Ten minutes past six; very nearly dark. So what will you do,
'Oh, I can manage. I am getting very brave and very hard. it is a
well-lighted road all the way home, if it should be dark. But I
was out last week much later.'
Margaret was thankful when the parting was over--the parting from
the dead mother and the living father. She hurried Frederick into
the cab, in order to shorten a scene which she saw was so
bitterly painful to her father, who would accompany his son as he
took his last look at his mother. Partly in consequence of this,
and partly owing to one of the very common mistakes in the
'Railway Guide' as to the times when trains arrive at the smaller
stations, they found, on reaching Outwood, that they had nearly
twenty minutes to spare. The booking-office was not open, so they
could not even take the ticket. They accordingly went down the
flight of steps that led to the level of the ground below the
railway. There was a broad cinder-path diagonally crossing a
field which lay along-side of the carriage-road, and they went
there to walk backwards and forwards for the few minutes they had
Margaret's hand lay in Frederick's arm. He took hold of it
'Margaret! I am going to consult Mr. Lennox as to the chance of
exculpating myself, so that I may return to England whenever I
choose, more for your sake than for the sake of any one else. I
can't bear to think of your lonely position if anything should
happen to my father. He looks sadly changed--terribly shaken. I
wish you could get him to think of the Cadiz plan, for
manyreasons. What could you do if he were taken away? You have
nofriend near. We are curiously bare of relations.'
Margaret could hardly keep from crying at the tender anxiety with
which Frederick was bringing before her an event which she
herself felt was not very improbable, so severely had the cares
of the last few months told upon Mr. Hale. But she tried to rally
as she said:
'There have been such strange unexpected changes in my life
during these last two years, that I feel more than ever that it
is not worth while to calculate too closely what I should do if
any future event took place. I try to think only upon the
present.' She paused; they were standing still for a moment,
close on the field side of the stile leading into the road; the
setting sun fell on their faces. Frederick held her hand in his,
and looked with wistful anxiety into her face, reading there more
care and trouble than she would betray by words. She went on:
'We shall write often to one another, and I will promise--for I
see it will set your mind at ease--to tell you every worry I
have. Papa is'--she started a little, a hardly visible start--but
Frederick felt the sudden motion of the hand he held, and turned
his full face to the road, along which a horseman was slowly
riding, just passing the very stile where they stood. Margaret
bowed; her bow was stiffly returned.
'Who is that?' said Frederick, almost before he was out of
hearing. Margaret was a little drooping, a little flushed, as she
'Mr. Thornton; you saw him before, you know.'
'Only his back. He is an unprepossessing-looking fellow. What a
scowl he has!'
'Something has happened to vex him,' said Margaret,
apologetically. 'You would not have thought him unprepossessing
if you had seen him with mamma.'
'I fancy it must be time to go and take my ticket. If I had known
how dark it would be, we wouldn't have sent back the cab,
'Oh, don't fidget about that. I can take a cab here, if I like;
or go back by the rail-road, when I should have shops and people
and lamps all the way from the Milton station-house. Don't think
of me; take care of yourself. I am sick with the thought that
Leonards may be in the same train with you. Look well into the
carriage before you get in.'
They went back to the station. Margaret insisted upon going into
the full light of the flaring gas inside to take the ticket. Some
idle-looking young men were lounging about with the
stationmaster. Margaret thought she had seen the face of one of
them before, and returned him a proud look of offended dignity
for his somewhat impertinent stare of undisguised admiration. She
went hastily to her brother, who was standing outside, and took
hold of his arm. 'Have you got your bag? Let us walk about here
on the platform,' said she, a little flurried at the idea of so
soon being left alone, and her bravery oozing out rather faster
than she liked to acknowledge even to herself. She heard a step
following them along the flags; it stopped when they stopped,
looking out along the line and hearing the whizz of the coming
train. They did not speak; their hearts were too full. Another
moment, and the train would be here; a minute more, and he would
be gone. Margaret almost repented the urgency with which she had
entreated him to go to London; it was throwing more chances of
detection in his way. If he had sailed for Spain by Liverpool, he
might have been off in two or three hours.
Frederick turned round, right facing the lamp, where the gas
darted up in vivid anticipation of the train. A man in the dress
of a railway porter started forward; a bad-looking man, who
seemed to have drunk himself into a state of brutality, although
his senses were in perfect order.
'By your leave, miss!' said he, pushing Margaret rudely on one
side, and seizing Frederick by the collar.
'Your name is Hale, I believe?'
In an instant--how, Margaret did not see, for everything danced
before her eyes--but by some sleight of wrestling, Frederick had
tripped him up, and he fell from the height of three or four
feet, which the platform was elevated above the space of soft
ground, by the side of the railroad. There he lay.
'Run, run!' gasped Margaret. 'The train is here. It was Leonards,
was it? oh, run! I will carry your bag.' And she took him by the
arm to push him along with all her feeble force. A door was
opened in a carriage--he jumped in; and as he leant out t say,
'God bless you, Margaret!' the train rushed past her; an she was
left standing alone. She was so terribly sick and faint that she
was thankful to be able to turn into the ladies' waiting-room,
and sit down for an instant. At first she could do nothing but
gasp for breath. It was such a hurry; such a sickening alarm;
such a near chance. If the train had not been there at the
moment, the man would have jumped up again and called for
assistance to arrest him. She wondered if the man had got up: she
tried to remember if she had seen him move; she wondered if he
could have been seriously hurt. She ventured out; the platform
was all alight, but still quite deserted; she went to the end,
and looked over, somewhat fearfully. No one was there; and then
she was glad she had made herself go, and inspect, for otherwise
terrible thoughts would have haunted her dreams. And even as it
was, she was so trembling and affrighted that she felt she could
not walk home along the road, which did indeed seem lonely and
dark, as she gazed down upon it from the blaze of the station.
She would wait till the down train passed and take her seat in
it. But what if Leonards recognised her as Frederick's companion!
She peered about, before venturing into the booking-office to
take her ticket. There were only some railway officials standing
about; and talking loud to one another.
'So Leonards has been drinking again!' said one, seemingly in
authority. 'He'll need all his boasted influence to keep his
place this time.'
'Where is he?' asked another, while Margaret, her back towards
them, was counting her change with trembling fingers, not daring
to turn round until she heard the answer to this question.
'I don't know. He came in not five minutes ago, with some long
story or other about a fall he'd had, swearing awfully; and
wanted to borrow some money from me to go to London by the next
up-train. He made all sorts of tipsy promises, but I'd something
else to do than listen to him; I told him to go about his
business; and he went off at the front door.'
'He's at the nearest vaults, I'll be bound,' said the first
speaker. 'Your money would have gone there too, if you'd been
such a fool as to lend it.'
'Catch me! I knew better what his London meant. Why, he has never
paid me off that five shillings'--and so they went on.
And now all Margaret's anxiety was for the train to come. She hid
herself once more in the ladies' waiting-room, and fancied every
noise was Leonards' step--every loud and boisterous voice was
his. But no one came near her until the train drew up; when she
was civilly helped into a carriage by a porter, into whose face
she durst not look till they were in motion, and then she saw
that it was not Leonards'.
'Sleep on, my love, in thy cold bed,
Never to be disquieted!
My last Good Night--thou wilt not wake
Till I thy fate shall overtake.'
Home seemed unnaturally quiet after all this terror and noisy
commotion. Her father had seen all due preparation made for her
refreshment on her return; and then sate down again in his
accustomed chair, to fall into one of his sad waking dreams.
Dixon had got Mary Higgins to scold and direct in the kitchen;
and her scolding was not the less energetic because it was
delivered in an angry whisper; for, speaking above her breath she
would have thought irreverent, as long as there was any one dead
lying in the house. Margaret had resolved not to mention the
crowning and closing affright to her father. There was no use in
speaking about it; it had ended well; the only thing to be feared
was lest Leonards should in some way borrow money enough to
effect his purpose of following Frederick to London, and hunting
him out there. But there were immense chances against the success
of any such plan; and Margaret determined not to torment herself
by thinking of what she could do nothing to prevent. Frederick
would be as much on his guard as she could put him; and in a day
or two at most he would be safely out of England.
'I suppose we shall hear from Mr. Bell to-morrow,' said Margaret.
'Yes,' replied her father. 'I suppose so.'
'If he can come, he will be here to-morrow evening, I should
'If he cannot come, I shall ask Mr. Thornton to go with me to the
funeral. I cannot go alone. I should break down utterly.'
'Don't ask Mr. Thornton, papa. Let me go with you,' said
'You! My dear, women do not generally go.'
'No: because they can't control themselves. Women of our class
don't go, because they have no power over their emotions, and yet
are ashamed of showing them. Poor women go, and don't care if
they are seen overwhelmed with grief. But I promise you, papa,
that if you will let me go, I will be no trouble. Don't have a
stranger, and leave me out. Dear papa! if Mr. Bell cannot come, I
shall go. I won't urge my wish against your will, if he does.'
Mr. Bell could not come. He had the gout. It was a most
affectionate letter, and expressed great and true regret for his
inability to attend. He hoped to come and pay them a visit soon,
if they would have him; his Milton property required some looking
after, and his agent had written to him to say that his presence
was absolutely necessary; or else he had avoided coming near
Milton as long as he could, and now the only thing that would
reconcile him to this necessary visit was the idea that he should
see, and might possibly be able to comfort his old friend.
Margaret had all the difficulty in the world to persuade her
father not to invite Mr. Thornton. She had an indescribable
repugnance to this step being taken. The night before the
funeral, came a stately note from Mrs. Thornton to Miss Hale,
saying that, at her son's desire, their carriage should attend
the funeral, if it would not be disagreeable to the family.
Margaret tossed the note to her father.
'Oh, don't let us have these forms,' said she. 'Let us go
alone--you and me, papa. They don't care for us, or else he would
have offered to go himself, and not have proposed this sending an
'I thought you were so extremely averse to his going, Margaret,'
said Mr. Hale in some surprise.
'And so I am. I don't want him to come at all; and I should
especially dislike the idea of our asking him. But this seems
such a mockery of mourning that I did not expect it from him.'
She startled her father by bursting into tears. She had been so
subdued in her grief, so thoughtful for others, so gentle and
patient in all things, that he could not understand her impatient
ways to-night; she seemed agitated and restless; and at all the
tenderness which her father in his turn now lavished upon her,
she only cried the more.
She passed so bad a night that she was ill prepared for the
additional anxiety caused by a letter received from Frederick.
Mr. Lennox was out of town; his clerk said that he would return
by the following Tuesday at the latest; that he might possibly be
at home on Monday. Consequently, after some consideration,
Frederick had determined upon remaining in London a day or two
longer. He had thought of coming down to Milton again; the
temptation had been very strong; but the idea of Mr. Bell
domesticated in his father's house, and the alarm he had received
at the last moment at the railway station, had made him resolve
to stay in London. Margaret might be assured he would take every
precaution against being tracked by Leonards. Margaret was
thankful that she received this letter while her father was
absent in her mother's room. If he had been present, he would
have expected her to read it aloud to him, and it would have
raised in him a state of nervous alarm which she would have found
it impossible to soothe away. There was not merely the fact,
which disturbed her excessively, of Frederick's detention in
London, but there were allusions to the recognition at the last
moment at Milton, and the possibility of a pursuit, which made
her blood run cold; and how then would it have affected her
father? Many a time did Margaret repent of having suggested and
urged on the plan of consulting Mr. Lennox. At the moment, it had
seemed as if it would occasion so little delay--add so little to
the apparently small chances of detection; and yet everything
that had since occurred had tended to make it so undesirable.
Margaret battled hard against this regret of hers for what could
not now be helped; this self-reproach for having said what had at
thetime appeared to be wise, but which after events were proving
to have been so foolish. But her father was in too depressed a
state of mind and body to struggle healthily; he would succumb to
all these causes for morbid regret over what could not be
recalled. Margaret summoned up all her forces to her aid. Her
father seemed to have forgotten that they had any reason to
expect a letter from Frederick that morning. He was absorbed in
one idea--that the last visible token of the presence of his wife
was to be carried away from him, and hidden from his sight. He
trembled pitifully as the undertaker's man was arranging his
crape draperies around him. He looked wistfully at Margaret; and,
when released, he tottered towards her, murmuring, 'Pray for me,
Margaret. I have no strength left in me. I cannot pray. I give
her up because I must. I try to bear it: indeed I do. I know it
is God's will. But I cannot see why she died. Pray for me,
Margaret, that I may have faith to pray. It is a great strait, my
Margaret sat by him in the coach, almost supporting him in her
arms; and repeating all the noble verses of holy comfort, or
texts expressive of faithful resignation, that she could
remember. Her voice never faltered; and she herself gained
strength by doing this. Her father's lips moved after her,
repeating the well-known texts as her words suggested them; it
was terrible to see the patient struggling effort to obtain the
resignation which he had not strength to take into his heart as a
part of himself.
Margaret's fortitude nearly gave way as Dixon, with a slight
motion of her hand, directed her notice to Nicholas Higgins and
his daughter, standing a little aloof, but deeply attentive to
the ceremonial. Nicholas wore his usual fustian clothes, but had
a bit of black stuff sewn round his hat--a mark of mourning which
he had never shown to his daughter Bessy's memory. But Mr. Hale
saw nothing. He went on repeating to himself, mechanically as it
were, all the funeral service as it was read by the officiating
clergyman; he sighed twice or thrice when all was ended; and
then, putting his hand on Margaret's arm, he mutely entreated to
be led away, as if he were blind, and she his faithful guide.
Dixon sobbed aloud; she covered her face with her handkerchief,
and was so absorbed in her own grief, that she did not perceive
that the crowd, attracted on such occasions, was dispersing, till
she was spoken to by some one close at hand. It was Mr. Thornton.
He had been present all the time, standing, with bent head,
behind a group of people, so that, in fact, no one had recognised
'I beg your pardon,--but, can you tell me how Mr. Hale is? And
Miss Hale, too? I should like to know how they both are.'
'Of course, sir. They are much as is to be expected. Master is
terribly broke down. Miss Hale bears up better than likely.'
Mr. Thornton would rather have heard that she was suffering the
natural sorrow. In the first place, there was selfishness enough
in him to have taken pleasure in the idea that his great love
might come in to comfort and console her; much the same kind of
strange passionate pleasure which comes stinging through a
mother's heart, when her drooping infant nestles close to her,
and is dependent upon her for everything. But this delicious
vision of what might have been--in which, in spite of all
Margaret's repulse, he would have indulged only a few days
ago--was miserably disturbed by the recollection of what he had
seen near the Outwood station. 'Miserably disturbed!' that is not
strong enough. He was haunted by the remembrance of the handsome
young man, with whom she stood in an attitude of such familiar
confidence; and the remembrance shot through him like an agony,
till it made him clench his hands tight in order to subdue the
pain. At that late hour, so far from home! It took a great moral
effort to galvanise his trust--erewhile so perfect--in Margaret's
pure and exquisite maidenliness, into life; as soon as the effort
ceased, his trust dropped down dead and powerless: and all sorts
of wild fancies chased each other like dreams through his mind.
Here was a little piece of miserable, gnawing confirmation. 'She
bore up better than likely' under this grief. She had then some
hope to look to, so bright that even in her affectionate nature
it could come in to lighten the dark hours of a daughter newly
made motherless. Yes! he knew how she would love. He had not
loved her without gaining that instinctive knowledge of what
capabilities were in her. Her soul would walk in glorious
sunlight if any man was worthy, by his power of loving, to win
back her love. Even in her mourning she would rest with a
peaceful faith upon his sympathy. His sympathy! Whose? That other
man's. And that it was another was enough to make Mr. Thornton's
pale grave face grow doubly wan and stern at Dixon's answer.
'I suppose I may call,' said he coldly. 'On Mr. Hale, I mean. He
will perhaps admit me after to-morrow or so.'
He spoke as if the answer were a matter of indifference to him.
But it was not so. For all his pain, he longed to see the author
of it. Although he hated Margaret at times, when he thought of
that gentle familiar attitude and all the attendant
circumstances, he had a restless desire to renew her picture in
his mind--a longing for the very atmosphere she breathed. He was
in the Charybdis of passion, and must perforce circle and circle
ever nearer round the fatal centre.
'I dare say, sir, master will see you. He was very sorry to have
to deny you the other day; but circumstances was not agreeable
For some reason or other, Dixon never named this interview that
she had had with Mr. Thornton to Margaret. It might have been
mere chance, but so it was that Margaret never heard that he had
attended her poor mother's funeral.
FALSE AND TRUE
'Truth will fail thee never, never!
Though thy bark be tempest-driven,
Though each plank be rent and riven,
Truth will bear thee on for ever!'
The 'bearing up better than likely' was a terrible strain upon
Margaret. Sometimes she thought she must give way, and cry out
with pain, as the sudden sharp thought came across her, even
during her apparently cheerful conversations with her father,
that she had no longer a mother. About Frederick, too, there was
great uneasiness. The Sunday post intervened, and interfered with
their London letters; and on Tuesday Margaret was surprised and
disheartened to find that there was still no letter. She was
quite in the dark as to his plans, and her father was miserable
at all this uncertainty. It broke in upon his lately acquired
habit of sitting still in one easy chair for half a day together.
He kept pacing up and down the room; then out of it; and she
heard him upon the landing opening and shutting the bed-room
doors, without any apparent object. She tried to tranquillise him
by reading aloud; but it was evident he could not listen for long
together. How thankful she was then, that she had kept to herself
the additional cause for anxiety produced by their encounter with
Leonards. She was thankful to hear Mr. Thornton announced. His
visit would force her father's thoughts into another channel.
He came up straight to her father, whose hands he took and wrung
without a word--holding them in his for a minute or two, during
which time his face, his eyes, his look, told of more sympathy
than could be put into words. Then he turned to Margaret. Not
'better than likely' did she look. Her stately beauty was dimmed
with much watching and with many tears. The expression on her
countenance was of gentle patient sadness--nay of positive
present suffering. He had not meant to greet her otherwise than
with his late studied coldness of demeanour; but he could not
help going up to her, as she stood a little aside, rendered timid
by the uncertainty of his manner of late, and saying the few
necessary common-place words in so tender a voice, that her eyes
filled with tears, and she turned away to hide her emotion. She
took her work and sate down very quiet and silent. Mr. Thornton's
heart beat quick and strong, and for the time he utterly forgot
the Outwood lane. He tried to talk to Mr. Hale: and--his presence
always a certain kind of pleasure to Mr. Hale, as his power and
decision made him, and his opinions, a safe, sure port--was
unusually agreeable to her father, as Margaret saw.
Presently Dixon came to the door and said, 'Miss Hale, you are
Dixon's manner was so flurried that Margaret turned sick at
heart. Something had happened to Fred. She had no doubt of that.
It was well that her father and Mr. Thornton were so much
occupied by their conversation.
'What is it, Dixon?' asked Margaret, the moment she had shut the
'Come this way, miss,' said Dixon, opening the door of what had
been Mrs. Hale's bed-chamber, now Margaret's, for her father
refused to sleep there again after his wife's death. 'It's
nothing, miss,' said Dixon, choking a little. 'Only a
police-inspector. He wants to see you, miss. But I dare say, it's
about nothing at all.'
'Did he name--' asked Margaret, almost inaudibly.
'No, miss; he named nothing. He only asked if you lived here, and
if he could speak to you. Martha went to the door, and let him
in; she has shown him into master's study. I went to him myself,
to try if that would do; but no--it's you, miss, he wants.'
Margaret did not speak again till her hand was on the lock of the
study door. Here she turned round and said, 'Take care papa does
not come down. Mr. Thornton is with him now.'
The inspector was almost daunted by the haughtiness of her manner
as she entered. There was something of indignation expressed in
her countenance, but so kept down and controlled, that it gave
her a superb air of disdain. There was no surprise, no curiosity.
She stood awaiting the opening of his business there. Not a
question did she ask.
'I beg your pardon, ma'am, but my duty obliges me to ask you a
few plain questions. A man has died at the Infirmary, in
consequence of a fall, received at Outwood station, between the
hours of five and six on Thursday evening, the twenty-sixth
instant. At the time, this fall did not seem of much consequence;
but it was rendered fatal, the doctors say, by the presence of
some internal complaint, and the man's own habit of drinking.'
The large dark eyes, gazing straight into the inspector's face,
dilated a little. Otherwise there was no motion perceptible to
his experienced observation. Her lips swelled out into a richer
curve than ordinary, owing to the enforced tension of the
muscles, but he did not know what was their usual appearance, so
as to recognise the unwonted sullen defiance of the firm sweeping
lines. She never blenched or trembled. She fixed him with her
eye. Now--as he paused before going on, she said, almost as if
she would encourage him in telling his tale--'Well--go on!'
'It is supposed that an inquest will have to be held; there is
some slight evidence to prove that the blow, or push, or scuffle
that caused the fall, was provoked by this poor fellow's
half-tipsy impertinence to a young lady, walking with the man who
pushed the deceased over the edge of the platform. This much was
observed by some one on the platform, who, however, thought no
more about the matter, as the blow seemed of slight consequence.
There is also some reason to identify the lady with yourself; in
'I was not there,' said Margaret, still keeping her
expressionless eyes fixed on his face, with the unconscious look
of a sleep-walker.
The inspector bowed but did not speak. The lady standing before
him showed no emotion, no fluttering fear, no anxiety, no desire
to end the interview. The information he had received was very
vague; one of the porters, rushing out to be in readiness for the
train, had seen a scuffle, at the other end of the platform,
between Leonards and a gentleman accompanied by a lady, but heard
no noise; and before the train had got to its full speed after
starting, he had been almost knocked down by the headlong run of
the enraged half intoxicated Leonards, swearing and cursing
awfully. He had not thought any more about it, till his evidence
was routed out by the inspector, who, on making some farther
inquiry at the railroad station, had heard from the
station-master that a young lady and gentleman had been there
about that hour--the lady remarkably handsome--and said, by some
grocer's assistant present at the time, to be a Miss Hale, living
at Crampton, whose family dealt at his shop. There was no
certainty that the one lady and gentleman were identical with the
other pair, but there was great probability. Leonards himself had
gone, half-mad with rage and pain, to the nearest gin-palace for
comfort; and his tipsy words had not been attended to by the busy
waiters there; they, however, remembered his starting up and
cursing himself for not having sooner thought of the electric
telegraph, for some purpose unknown; and they believed that he
left with the idea of going there. On his way, overcome by pain
or drink, he had lain down in the road, where the police had
found him and taken him to the Infirmary: there he had never
recovered sufficient consciousness to give any distinct account
of his fall, although once or twice he had had glimmerings of
sense sufficient to make the authorities send for the nearest
magistrate, in hopes that he might be able to take down the dying
man's deposition of the cause of his death. But when the
magistrate had come, he was rambling about being at sea, and
mixing up names of captains and lieutenants in an indistinct
manner with those of his fellow porters at the railway; and his
last words were a curse on the 'Cornish trick' which had, he
said, made him a hundred pounds poorer than he ought to have
been. The inspector ran all this over in his mind--the vagueness
of the evidence to prove that Margaret had been at the
station--the unflinching, calm denial which she gave to such a
supposition. She stood awaiting his next word with a composure
that appeared supreme.
'Then, madam, I have your denial that you were the lady
accompanying the gentleman who struck the blow, or gave the push,
which caused the death of this poor man?'
A quick, sharp pain went through Margaret's brain. 'Oh God! that
I knew Frederick were safe!' A deep observer of human
countenances might have seen the momentary agony shoot out of her
great gloomy eyes, like the torture of some creature brought to
bay. But the inspector though a very keen, was not a very deep
observer. He was a little struck, notwithstanding, by the form of
the answer, which sounded like a mechanical repetition of her
first reply--not changed and modified in shape so as to meet his
'I was not there,' said she, slowly and heavily. And all this
time she never closed her eyes, or ceased from that glassy,
dream-like stare. His quick suspicions were aroused by this dull
echo of her former denial. It was as if she had forced herself to
one untruth, and had been stunned out of all power of varying it.
He put up his book of notes in a very deliberate manner. Then he
looked up; she had not moved any more than if she had been some
great Egyptian statue.
'I hope you will not think me impertinent when I say, that I may
have to call on you again. I may have to summon you to appear on
the inquest, and prove an alibi, if my witnesses' (it was but one
who had recognised her) 'persist in deposing to your presence at
the unfortunate event.' He looked at her sharply. She was still
perfectly quiet--no change of colour, or darker shadow of guilt,
on her proud face. He thought to have seen her wince: he did not
know Margaret Hale. He was a little abashed by her regal
composure. It must have been a mistake of identity. He went on:
'It is very unlikely, ma'am, that I shall have to do anything of
the kind. I hope you will excuse me for doing what is only my
duty, although it may appear impertinent.'
Margaret bowed her head as he went towards the door. Her lips
were stiff and dry. She could not speak even the common words of
farewell. But suddenly she walked forwards, and opened the study
door, and preceded him to the door of the house, which she threw
wide open for his exit. She kept her eyes upon him in the same
dull, fixed manner, until he was fairly out of the house. She
shut the door, and went half-way into the study; then turned
back, as if moved by some passionate impulse, and locked the door
Then she went into the study, paused--tottered forward--paused
again--swayed for an instant where she stood, and fell prone on
the floor in a dead swoon.
'There's nought so finely spun
But it cometh to the sun.'
Mr. Thornton sate on and on. He felt that his company gave
pleasure to Mr. Hale; and was touched by the half-spoken wishful
entreaty that he would remain a little longer--the plaintive
'Don't go yet,' which his poor friend put forth from time to
time. He wondered Margaret did not return; but it was with no
view of seeing her that he lingered. For the hour--and in the
presence of one who was so thoroughly feeling the nothingness of
earth--he was reasonable and self-controlled. He was deeply
interested in all her father said
'Of death, and of the heavy lull,
And of the brain that has grown dull.'
It was curious how the presence of Mr. Thornton had power over
Mr. Hale to make him unlock the secret thoughts which he kept
shut up even from Margaret. Whether it was that her sympathy
would be so keen, and show itself in so lively a manner, that he
was afraid of the reaction upon himself, or whether it was that
to his speculative mind all kinds of doubts presented themselves
at such a time, pleading and crying aloud to be resolved into
certainties, and that he knew she would have shrunk from the
expression of any such doubts--nay, from him himself as capable
of conceiving them--whatever was the reason, he could unburden
himself better to Mr. Thornton than to her of all the thoughts
and fancies and fears that had been frost-bound in his brain till
now. Mr. Thornton said very little; but every sentence he uttered
added to Mr. Hale's reliance and regard for him. Was it that he
paused in the expression of some remembered agony, Mr. Thornton's
two or three words would complete the sentence, and show how
deeply its meaning was entered into. Was it a doubt--a fear--a
wandering uncertainty seeking rest, but finding none--so
tear-blinded were its eyes--Mr. Thornton, instead of being
shocked, seemed to have passed through that very stage of thought
himself, and could suggest where the exact ray of light was to be
found, which should make the dark places plain. Man of action as
he was, busy in the world's great battle, there was a deeper
religion binding him to God in his heart, in spite of his strong
wilfulness, through all his mistakes, than Mr. Hale had ever
dreamed. They never spoke of such things again, as it happened;
but this one conversation made them peculiar people to each
other; knit them together, in a way which no loose indiscriminate
talking about sacred things can ever accomplish. When all are
admitted, how can there be a Holy of Holies?
And all this while, Margaret lay as still and white as death on
the study floor! She had sunk under her burden. It had been heavy
in weight and long carried; and she had been very meek and
patient, till all at once her faith had given way, and she had
groped in vain for help! There was a pitiful contraction of
suffering upon her beautiful brows, although there was no other
sign of consciousness remaining. The mouth--a little while ago,
so sullenly projected in defiance--was relaxed and livid.
'E par che de la sua labbia si mova Uno spirto soave e pien
d'amore, Chi va dicendo a l'anima: sospira!'
The first symptom of returning life was a quivering about the
lips--a little mute soundless attempt at speech; but the eyes
were still closed; and the quivering sank into stillness. Then,
feebly leaning on her arms for an instant to steady herself,
Margaret gathered herself up, and rose. Her comb had fallen out
of her hair; and with an intuitive desire to efface the traces of
weakness, and bring herself into order again, she sought for it,
although from time to time, in the course of the search, she had
to sit down and recover strength. Her head drooped forwards--her
hands meekly laid one upon the other--she tried to recall the
force of her temptation, by endeavouring to remember the details
which had thrown her into such deadly fright; but she could not.
She only understood two facts--that Frederick had been in danger
of being pursued and detected in London, as not only guilty of
manslaughter, but as the more unpardonable leader of the mutiny,
and that she had lied to save him. There was one comfort; her lie
had saved him, if only by gaining some additional time. If the
inspector came again to-morrow, after she had received the letter
she longed for to assure her of her brother's safety, she would
brave shame, and stand in her bitter penance--she, the lofty
Margaret--acknowledging before a crowded justice-room, if need
were, that she had been as 'a dog, and done this thing.' But if
he came before she heard from Frederick; if he returned, as he
had half threatened, in a few hours, why! she would tell that lie
again; though how the words would come out, after all this
terrible pause for reflection and self-reproach, without
betraying her falsehood, she did not know, she could not tell.
But her repetition of it would gain time--time for Frederick.
She was roused by Dixon's entrance into the room; she had just
been letting out Mr. Thornton.
He had hardly gone ten steps in the street, before a passing
omnibus stopped close by him, and a man got down, and came up to
him, touching his hat as he did so. It was the police-inspector.
Mr. Thornton had obtained for him his first situation in the
police, and had heard from time to time of the progress of his
protege, but they had not often met, and at first Mr. Thornton
did not remember him.
'My name is Watson--George Watson, sir, that you got----'
'Ah, yes! I recollect. Why you are getting on famously, I hear.'
'Yes, sir. I ought to thank you, sir. But it is on a little
matter of business I made so bold as to speak to you now. I
believe you were the magistrate who attended to take down the
deposition of a poor man who died in the Infirmary last night.'
'Yes,' replied Mr. Thornton. 'I went and heard some kind of a
rambling statement, which the clerk said was of no great use. I'm
afraid he was but a drunken fellow, though there is no doubt he
came to his death by violence at last. One of my mother's
servants was engaged to him, I believe, and she is in great
distress to-day. What about him?'
'Why, sir, his death is oddly mixed up with somebody in the house
I saw you coming out of just now; it was a Mr. Hale's, I
'Yes!' said Mr. Thornton, turning sharp round and looking into
the inspector's face with sudden interest. 'What about it?'
'Why, sir, it seems to me that I have got a pretty distinct chain
of evidence, inculpating a gentleman who was walking with Miss
Hale that night at the Outwood station, as the man who struck or
pushed Leonards off the platform and so caused his death. But the
young lady denies that she was there at the time.'
'Miss Hale denies she was there!' repeated Mr. Thornton, in an
altered voice. 'Tell me, what evening was it? What time?'
'About six o'clock, on the evening of Thursday, the
They walked on, side by side, in silence for a minute or two. The
inspector was the first to speak.
'You see, sir, there is like to be a coroner's inquest; and I've
got a young man who is pretty positive,--at least he was at
first;--since he has heard of the young lady's denial, he says he
should not like to swear; but still he's pretty positive that he
saw Miss Hale at the station, walking about with a gentleman, not
five minutes before the time, when one of the porters saw a
scuffle, which he set down to some of Leonards' impudence--but
which led to the fall which caused his death. And seeing you come
out of the very house, sir, I thought I might make bold to ask
if--you see, it's always awkward having to do with cases of
disputed identity, and one doesn't like to doubt the word of a
respectable young woman unless one has strong proof to the
'And she denied having been at the station that evening!'
repeated Mr. Thornton, in a low, brooding tone.
'Yes, sir, twice over, as distinct as could be. I told her I
should call again, but seeing you just as I was on my way back
from questioning the young man who said it was her, I thought I
would ask your advice, both as the magistrate who saw Leonards on
his death-bed, and as the gentleman who got me my berth in the
'You were quite right,' said Mr. Thornton. 'Don't take any steps
till you have seen me again.'
'The young lady will expect me to call, from what I said.'
'I only want to delay you an hour. It's now three. Come to my
warehouse at four.'
'Very well, sir!'
And they parted company. Mr. Thornton hurried to his warehouse,
and, sternly forbidding his clerks to allow any one to interrupt
him, he went his way to his own private room, and locked the
door. Then he indulged himself in the torture of thinking it all
over, and realising every detail. How could he have lulled
himself into the unsuspicious calm in which her tearful image had
mirrored itself not two hours before, till he had weakly pitied
her and yearned towards her, and forgotten the savage,
distrustful jealousy with which the sight of her--and that
unknown to him--at such an hour--in such a place--had inspired
him! How could one so pure have stooped from her decorous and
noble manner of bearing! But was it decorous--was it? He hated
himself for the idea that forced itself upon him, just for an
instant--no more--and yet, while it was present, thrilled him
with its old potency of attraction towards her image. And then
this falsehood--how terrible must be some dread of shame to be
revealed--for, after all, the provocation given by such a man as
Leonards was, when excited by drinking, might, in all
probability, be more than enough to justify any one who came
forward to state the circumstances openly and without reserve!
How creeping and deadly that fear which could bow down the
truthful Margaret to falsehood! He could almost pity her. What
would be the end of it? She could not have considered all she was
entering upon; if there was an inquest and the young man came
forward. Suddenly he started up. There should be no inquest. He
would save Margaret. He would take the responsibility of
preventing the inquest, the issue of which, from the uncertainty
of the medical testimony (which he had vaguely heard the night
before, from the surgeon in attendance), could be but doubtful;
the doctors had discovered an internal disease far advanced, and
sure to prove fatal; they had stated that death might have been
accelerated by the fall, or by the subsequent drinking and
exposure to cold. If he had but known how Margaret would have
become involved in the affair--if he had but foreseen that she
would have stained her whiteness by a falsehood, he could have
saved her by a word; for the question, of inquest or no inquest,
had hung trembling in the balance only the night before. Miss
Hale might love another--was indifferent and contemptuous to
him--but he would yet do her faithful acts of service of which
she should never know. He might despise her, but the woman whom
he had once loved should be kept from shame; and shame it would
be to pledge herself to a lie in a public court, or otherwise to
stand and acknowledge her reason for desiring darkness rather
Very gray and stern did Mr. Thornton look, as he passed out
through his wondering clerks. He was away about half an hour; and
scarcely less stern did he look when he returned, although his
errand had been successful.
He wrote two lines on a slip of paper, put it in an envelope, and
sealed it up. This he gave to one of the clerks, saying:--
'I appointed Watson--he who was a packer in the warehouse, and
who went into the police--to call on me at four o'clock. I have
just met with a gentleman from Liverpool who wishes to see me
before he leaves town. Take care to give this note to Watson he
The note contained these words:
'There will be no inquest. Medical evidence not sufficient to
justify it. Take no further steps. I have not seen the corner;
but I will take the responsibility.'
'Well,' thought Watson, 'it relieves me from an awkward job. None
of my witnesses seemed certain of anything except the young
woman. She was clear and distinct enough; the porter at the
rail-road had seen a scuffle; or when he found it was likely to
bring him in as a witness, then it might not have been a scuffle,
only a little larking, and Leonards might have jumped off the
platform himself;--he would not stick firm to anything. And
Jennings, the grocer's shopman,--well, he was not quite so bad,
but I doubt if I could have got him up to an oath after he heard
that Miss Hale flatly denied it. It would have been a troublesome
job and no satisfaction. And now I must go and tell them they
won't be wanted.'
He accordingly presented himself again at Mr. Hale's that
evening. Her father and Dixon would fain have persuaded Margaret
to go to bed; but they, neither of them, knew the reason for her
low continued refusals to do so. Dixon had learnt part of the
truth-but only part. Margaret would not tell any human being of
what she had said, and she did not reveal the fatal termination
to Leonards' fall from the platform. So Dixon curiosity combined
with her allegiance to urge Margaret to go to rest, which her
appearance, as she lay on the sofa, showed but too clearly that
she required. She did not speak except when spoken to; she tried
to smile back in reply to her father's anxious looks and words of
tender enquiry; but, instead of a smile, the wan lips resolved
themselves into a sigh. He was so miserably uneasy that, at last,
she consented to go into her own room, and prepare for going to
bed. She was indeed inclined to give up the idea that the
inspector would call again that night, as it was already past
She stood by her father, holding on to the back of his chair.
'You will go to bed soon, papa, won't you? Don't sit up alone!'
What his answer was she did not hear; the words were lost in the
far smaller point of sound that magnified itself to her fears,
and filled her brain. There was a low ring at the door-bell.
She kissed her father and glided down stairs, with a rapidity of
motion of which no one would have thought her capable, who had
seen her the minute before. She put aside Dixon.
'Don't come; I will open the door. I know it is him--I can--I
must manage it all myself.'
'As you please, miss!' said Dixon testily; but in a moment
afterwards, she added, 'But you're not fit for it. You are more
dead than alive.'
'Am I?' said Margaret, turning round and showing her eyes all
aglow with strange fire, her cheeks flushed, though her lips were
baked and livid still.
She opened the door to the Inspector, and preceded him into the
study. She placed the candle on the table, and snuffed it
carefully, before she turned round and faced him.
'You are late!' said she. 'Well?' She held her breath for the
'I'm sorry to have given any unnecessary trouble, ma'am; for,
after all, they've given up all thoughts of holding an inquest. I
have had other work to do and other people to see, or I should
have been here before now.'
'Then it is ended,' said Margaret. 'There is to be no further
'I believe I've got Mr. Thornton's note about me,' said the
Inspector, fumbling in his pocket-book.
'Mr. Thornton's!' said Margaret.
'Yes! he's a magistrate--ah! here it is.' She could not see to
read it--no, not although she was close to the candle. The words
swam before her. But she held it in her hand, and looked at it as
if she were intently studying it.
'I'm sure, ma'am, it's a great weight off my mind; for the
evidence was so uncertain, you see, that the man had received any
blow at all,--and if any question of identity came in, it so
complicated the case, as I told Mr. Thornton--'
'Mr. Thornton!' said Margaret, again.
'I met him this morning, just as he was coming out of this house,
and, as he's an old friend of mine, besides being the magistrate
who saw Leonards last night, I made bold to tell him of my
Margaret sighed deeply. She did not want to hear any more; she
was afraid alike of what she had heard, and of what she might
hear. She wished that the man would go. She forced herself to
'Thank you for calling. It is very late. I dare say it is past
ten o'clock. Oh! here is the note!' she continued, suddenly
interpreting the meaning of the hand held out to receive it. He
was putting it up, when she said, 'I think it is a cramped,
dazzling sort of writing. I could not read it; will you just read
it to me?'
He read it aloud to her.
'Thank you. You told Mr. Thornton that I was not there?'
'Oh, of course, ma'am. I'm sorry now that I acted upon
information, which seems to have been so erroneous. At first the
young man was so positive; and now he says that he doubted all
along, and hopes that his mistake won't have occasioned you such
annoyance as to lose their shop your custom. Good night, ma'am.'
'Good night.' She rang the bell for Dixon to show him out. As
Dixon returned up the passage Margaret passed her swiftly.
'It is all right!' said she, without looking at Dixon; and before
the woman could follow her with further questions she had sped
up-stairs, and entered her bed-chamber, and bolted her door.
She threw herself, dressed as she was, upon her bed. She was too
much exhausted to think. Half an hour or more elapsed before the
cramped nature of her position, and the chilliness, supervening
upon great fatigue, had the power to rouse her numbed faculties.
Then she began to recall, to combine, to wonder. The first idea
that presented itself to her was, that all this sickening alarm
on Frederick's behalf was over; that the strain was past. The
next was a wish to remember every word of the Inspector's which
related to Mr. Thornton. When had he seen him? What had he said?
What had Mr. Thornton done? What were the exact words of his
note? And until she could recollect, even to the placing or
omitting an article, the very expressions which he had used in
the note, her mind refused to go on with its progress. But the
next conviction she came to was clear enough;--Mr. Thornton had
seen her close to Outwood station on the fatal Thursday night,
and had been told of her denial that she was there. She stood as
a liar in his eyes. She was a liar. But she had no thought of
penitence before God; nothing but chaos and night surrounded the
one lurid fact that, in Mr. Thornton's eyes, she was degraded.
She cared not to think, even to herself, of how much of excuse
she might plead. That had nothing to do with Mr. Thornton; she
never dreamed that he, or any one else, could find cause for
suspicion in what was so natural as her accompanying her brother;
but what was really false and wrong was known to him, and he had
a right to judge her. 'Oh, Frederick! Frederick!' she cried,
'what have I not sacrificed for you!' Even when she fell asleep
her thoughts were compelled to travel the same circle, only with
exaggerated and monstrous circumstances of pain.
When she awoke a new idea flashed upon her with all the
brightness of the morning. Mr. Thornton had learnt her falsehood
before he went to the coroner; that suggested the thought, that
he had possibly been influenced so to do with a view of sparing
her the repetition of her denial. But she pushed this notion on
one side with the sick wilfulness of a child. If it were so, she
felt no gratitude to him, as it only showed her how keenly he
must have seen that she was disgraced already, before he took
such unwonted pains to spare her any further trial of
truthfulness, which had already failed so signally. She would
have gone through the whole--she would have perjured herself to
save Frederick, rather--far rather--than Mr. Thornton should have
had the knowledge that prompted him to interfere to save her.
What ill-fate brought him in contact with the Inspector? What
made him be the very magistrate sent for to receive Leonards'
deposition? What had Leonards said? How much of it was
intelligible to Mr. Thornton, who might already, for aught she
knew, be aware of the old accusation against Frederick, through
their mutual friend, Mr. Bell? If so, he had striven to save the
son, who came in defiance of the law to attend his mother's
death-bed. And under this idea she could feel grateful--not yet,
if ever she should, if his interference had been prompted by
contempt. Oh! had any one such just cause to feel contempt for
her? Mr. Thornton, above all people, on whom she had looked down
from her imaginary heights till now! She suddenly found herself
at his feet, and was strangely distressed at her fall. She shrank
from following out the premises to their conclusion, and so
acknowledging to herself how much she valued his respect and good
opinion. Whenever this idea presented itself to her at the end of
a long avenue of thoughts, she turned away from following that
path--she would not believe in it.
It was later than she fancied, for in the agitation of the
previous night, she had forgotten to wind up her watch; and Mr.
Hale had given especial orders that she was not to be disturbed
by the usual awakening. By and by the door opened cautiously, and
Dixon put her head in. Perceiving that Margaret was awake, she
came forwards with a letter.
'Here's something to do you good, miss. A letter from Master
'Thank you, Dixon. How late it is!'
She spoke very languidly, and suffered Dixon to lay it on the
counterpane before her, without putting out a hand to lake it.
'You want your breakfast, I'm sure. I will bring it you in a
minute. Master has got the tray all ready, I know.'
Margaret did not reply; she let her go; she felt that she must be
alone before she could open that letter. She opened it at last.
The first thing that caught her eye was the date two days earlier
than she received it. He had then written when he had promised,
and their alarm might have been spared. But she would read the
letter and see. It was hasty enough, but perfectly satisfactory.
He had seen Henry Lennox, who knew enough of the case to shake
his head over it, in the first instance, and tell him he had done
a very daring thing in returning to England, with such an
accusation, backed by such powerful influence, hanging over him.
But when they had come to talk it over, Mr. Lennox had
acknowledged that there might be some chance of his acquittal, if
he could but prove his statements by credible witnesses--that in
such case it might be worth while to stand his trial, otherwise
it would be a great risk. He would examine--he would take every
pains. 'It struck me' said Frederick, 'that your introduction,
little sister of mine, went a long way. Is it so? He made many
inquiries, I can assure you. He seemed a sharp, intelligent
fellow, and in good practice too, to judge from the signs of
business and the number of clerks about him. But these may be
only lawyer's dodges. I have just caught a packet on the point of
sailing--I am off in five minutes. I may have to come back to
England again on this business, so keep my visit secret. I shall
send my father some rare old sherry, such as you cannot buy in
England,--(such stuff as I've got in the bottle before me)! He
needs something of the kind--my dear love to him--God bless him.
I'm sure--here's my cab. P.S.--What an escape that was! Take care
you don't breathe of my having been--not even to the Shaws.'
Margaret turned to the envelope; it was marked 'Too late.' The
letter had probably been trusted to some careless waiter, who had
forgotten to post it. Oh! what slight cobwebs of chances stand
between us and Temptation! Frederick had been safe, and out of
England twenty, nay, thirty hours ago; and it was only about
seventeen hours since she had told a falsehood to baffle pursuit,
which even then would have been vain. How faithless she had been!
Where now was her proud motto, 'Fais ce que dois, advienne que
pourra?' If she had but dared to bravely tell the truth as
regarded herself, defying them to find out what she refused to
tell concerning another, how light of heart she would now have
felt! Not humbled before God, as having failed in trust towards
Him; not degraded and abased in Mr. Thornton's sight. She caught
herself up at this with a miserable tremor; here was she classing
his low opinion of her alongside with the displeasure of God. How
was it that he haunted her imagination so persistently? What
could it be? Why did she care for what he thought, in spite of
all her pride in spite of herself? She believed that she could
have borne the sense of Almighty displeasure, because He knew
all, and could read her penitence, and hear her. cries for help
in time to come. But Mr. Thornton--why did she tremble, and hide
her face in the pillow? What strong feeling had overtaken her at
She sprang out of bed and prayed long and earnestly. It soothed
and comforted her so to open her heart. But as soon as she
reviewed her position she found the sting was still there; that
she was not good enough, nor pure enough to be indifferent to the
lowered opinion of a fellow creature; that the thought of how he
must be looking upon her with contempt, stood between her and her
sense of wrong-doing. She took her letter in to her father as
soon as she was drest. There was so slight an allusion to their
alarm at the rail-road station, that Mr. Hale passed over it
without paying any attention to it. Indeed, beyond the mere fact
of Frederick having sailed undiscovered and unsuspected, he did
not gather much from the letter at the time, he was so uneasy
about Margaret's pallid looks. She seemed continually on the
point of weeping.
'You are sadly overdone, Margaret. It is no wonder. But you must
let me nurse you now.'
He made her lie down on the sofa, and went for a shawl to cover
her with. His tenderness released her tears; and she cried
'Poor child!--poor child!' said he, looking fondly at her, as she
lay with her face to the wall, shaking with her sobs. After a
while they ceased, and she began to wonder whether she durst give
herself the relief of telling her father of all her trouble. But
there were more reasons against it than for it. The only one for
it was the relief to herself; and against it was the thought that
it would add materially to her father's nervousness, if it were
indeed necessary for Frederick to come to England again; that he
would dwell on the circumstance of his son's having caused the
death of a man, however unwittingly and unwillingly; that this
knowledge would perpetually recur to trouble him, in various
shapes of exaggeration and distortion from the simple truth. And
about her own great fault--he would be distressed beyond measure
at her want of courage and faith, yet perpetually troubled to
make excuses for her. Formerly Margaret would have come to him as
priest as well as father, to tell him of her temptation and her
sin; but latterly they had not spoken much on such subjects; and
she knew not how, in his change of opinions, he would reply if
the depth of her soul called unto his. No; she would keep her
secret, and bear the burden alone. Alone she would go before God,
and cry for His absolution. Alone she would endure her disgraced
position in the opinion of Mr. Thornton. She was unspeakably
touched by the tender efforts of her father to think of cheerful
subjects on which to talk, and so to take her thoughts away from
dwelling on all that had happened of late. It was some months
since he had been so talkative as he was this day. He would not
let her sit up, and offended Dixon desperately by insisting on
waiting upon her himself.
At last she smiled; a poor, weak little smile; but it gave him
the truest pleasure.
'It seems strange to think, that what gives us most hope for the
future should be called Dolores,' said Margaret. The remark was
more in character with her father than with her usual self; but
to-day they seemed to have changed natures.
'Her mother was a Spaniard, I believe: that accounts for her
religion. Her father was a stiff Presbyterian when I knew him.
But it is a very soft and pretty name.'
'How young she is!--younger by fourteen months than I am. Just,
the age that Edith was when she was engaged to Captain Lennox.
Papa, we will go and see them in Spain.'
He shook his head. But he said, 'If you wish it, Margaret. Only
let us come back here. It would seem unfair--unkind to your
mother, who always, I'm afraid, disliked Milton so much, if we
left it now she is lying here, and cannot go with us. No, dear;
you shall go and see them, and bring me back a report of my
'No, papa, I won't go without you. Who is to take care of you
when I am gone?'
'I should like to know which of us is taking care of the other.
But if you went, I should persuade Mr. Thornton to let me give
him double lessons. We would work up the classics famously. That
would be a perpetual interest. You might go on, and see Edith at
Corfu, if you liked.'
Margaret did not speak all at once. Then she said rather gravely:
'Thank you, papa. But I don't want to go. We will hope that Mr.
Lennox will manage so well, that Frederick may bring Dolores to
see us when they are married. And as for Edith, the regiment
won't remain much longer in Corfu. Perhaps we shall see both of
them here before another year is out.'
Mr. Hale's cheerful subjects had come to an end. Some painful
recollection had stolen across his mind, and driven him into
silence. By-and-by Margaret said:
'Papa--did you see Nicholas Higgins at the funeral? He was there,
and Mary too. Poor fellow! it was his way of showing sympathy. He
has a good warm heart under his bluff abrupt ways.'
'I am sure of it,' replied Mr. Hale. 'I saw it all along, even
while you tried to persuade me that he was all sorts of bad
things. We will go and see them to-morrow, if you are strong
enough to walk so far.'
'Oh yes. I want to see them. We did not pay Mary--or rather she
refused to take it, Dixon says. We will go so as to catch him
just after his dinner, and before he goes to his work.'
Towards evening Mr. Hale said:
'I half expected Mr. Thornton would have called. He spoke of a
book yesterday which he had, and which I wanted to see. He said
he would try and bring it to-day.'
Margaret sighed. She knew he would not come. He would be too
delicate to run the chance of meeting her, while her shame must
be so fresh in his memory. The very mention of his name renewed
her trouble, and produced a relapse into the feeling of
depressed, pre-occupied exhaustion. She gave way to listless
languor. Suddenly it struck her that this was a strange manner to
show her patience, or to reward her father for his watchful care
of her all through the day. She sate up and offered to read
aloud. His eyes were failing, and he gladly accepted her
proposal. She read well: she gave the due emphasis; but had any
one asked her, when she had ended, the meaning of what she had
been reading, she could not have told. She was smitten with a
feeling of ingratitude to Mr. Thornton, inasmuch as, in the
morning, she had refused to accept the kindness he had shown her
in making further inquiry from the medical men, so as to obviate
any inquest being held. Oh! she was grateful! She had been
cowardly and false, and had shown her cowardliness and falsehood
in action that could not be recalled; but she was not ungrateful.
It sent a glow to her heart, to know how she could feel towards
one who had reason to despise her. His cause for contempt was so
just, that she should have respected him less if she had thought
he did not feel contempt. It was a pleasure to feel how
thoroughly she respected him. He could not prevent her doing
that; it was the one comfort in all this misery.
Late in the evening, the expected book arrived, 'with Mr.
Thornton's kind regards, and wishes to know how Mr. Hale is.'
'Say that I am much better, Dixon, but that Miss Hale--'
'No, papa,' said Margaret, eagerly--'don't say anything about me.
He does not ask.'
'My dear child, how you are shivering!' said her father, a few
minutes afterwards. 'You must go to bed directly. You have turned
Margaret did not refuse to go, though she was loth to leave her
father alone. She needed the relief of solitude after a day of
busy thinking, and busier repenting.
But she seemed much as usual the next day; the lingering gravity
and sadness, and the occasional absence of mind, were not
unnatural symptoms in the early days of grief And almost in
proportion to her re-establishment in health, was her father's
relapse into his abstracted musing upon the wife he had lost, and
the past era in his life that was closed to him for ever.
UNION NOT ALWAYS STRENGTH
'The steps of the bearers, heavy and slow,
The sobs of the mourners, deep and low.'
At the time arranged the previous day, they set out on their walk
to see Nicholas Higgins and his daughter. They both were reminded
of their recent loss, by a strange kind of shyness in their new
habiliments, and in the fact that it was the first time, for many
weeks, that they had deliberately gone out together. They drew
very close to each other in unspoken sympathy.
Nicholas was sitting by the fire-side in his accustomed corner:
but he had not his accustomed pipe. He was leaning his head upon
his hand, his arm resting on his knee. He did not get up when he
saw them, though Margaret could read the welcome in his eye.
'Sit ye down, sit ye down. Fire's welly out,' said he, giving it
a vigorous poke, as if to turn attention away from himself. He
was rather disorderly, to be sure, with a black unshaven beard of
several days' growth, making his pale face look yet paler, and a
jacket which would have been all the better for patching.
'We thought we should have a good chance of finding you, just
after dinner-time,' said Margaret.
'We have had our sorrow too, since we saw you,' said Mr. Hale.
'Ay, ay. Sorrows is more plentiful than dinners just now; I
reckon, my dinner hour stretches all o'er the day; yo're pretty
sure of finding me.'
'Are you out of work?' asked Margaret.
'Ay,' he replied shortly. Then, after a moment's silence, he
added, looking up for the first time: 'I'm not wanting brass.
Dunno yo' think it. Bess, poor lass, had a little stock under her
pillow, ready to slip into my hand, last moment, and Mary is
fustian-cutting. But I'm out o' work a' the same.'
'We owe Mary some money,' said Mr. Hale, before Margaret's sharp
pressure on his arm could arrest the words.
'If hoo takes it, I'll turn her out o' doors. I'll bide inside
these four walls, and she'll bide out. That's a'.'
'But we owe her many thanks for her kind service,' began Mr. Hale
'I ne'er thanked yo'r daughter theer for her deeds o' love to my
poor wench. I ne'er could find th' words. I'se have to begin and
try now, if yo' start making an ado about what little Mary could
'Is it because of the strike you're out of work?' asked Margaret
'Strike's ended. It's o'er for this time. I'm out o' work because
I ne'er asked for it. And I ne'er asked for it, because good
words is scarce, and bad words is plentiful.'
He was in a mood to take a surly pleasure in giving answers that
were like riddles. But Margaret saw that he would like to be
asked for the explanation.
'And good words are--?'
'Asking for work. I reckon them's almost the best words that men
can say. "Gi' me work" means "and I'll do it like a man." Them's
'And bad words are refusing you work when you ask for it.'
'Ay. Bad words is saying "Aha, my fine chap! Yo've been true to
yo'r order, and I'll be true to mine. Yo' did the best yo' could
for them as wanted help; that's yo'r way of being true to yo'r
kind; and I'll be true to mine. Yo've been a poor fool, as knowed
no better nor be a true faithful fool. So go and be d--d to yo'.
There's no work for yo' here." Them's bad words. I'm not a fool;
and if I was, folk ought to ha' taught me how to be wise after
their fashion. I could mappen ha' learnt, if any one had tried to
'Would it not be worth while,' said Mr. Hale, 'to ask your old
master if he would take you back again? It might be a poor
chance, but it would be a chance.'
He looked up again, with a sharp glance at the questioner; and
then tittered a low and bitter laugh.
'Measter! if it's no offence, I'll ask yo' a question or two in
'You're quite welcome,' said Mr. Hale.
'I reckon yo'n some way of earning your bread. Folk seldom lives
i' Milton lust for pleasure, if they can live anywhere else.'
'You are quite right. I have some independent property, but my
intention in settling in Milton was to become a private tutor.'
'To teach folk. Well! I reckon they pay yo' for teaching them,
'Yes,' replied Mr. Hale, smiling. 'I teach in order to get paid.'
'And them that pays yo', dun they tell yo' whatten to do, or
whatten not to do wi' the money they gives you in just payment
for your pains--in fair exchange like?'
'No; to be sure not!'
'They dunnot say, "Yo' may have a brother, or a friend as dear as
a brother, who wants this here brass for a purpose both yo' and
he think right; but yo' mun promise not give it to him. Yo' may
see a good use, as yo' think, to put yo'r money to; but we don't
think it good, and so if yo' spend it a-thatens we'll just leave
off dealing with yo'." They dunnot say that, dun they?'
'No: to be sure not!'
'Would yo' stand it if they did?'
'It would be some very hard pressure that would make me even
think of submitting to such dictation.'
'There's not the pressure on all the broad earth that would make
me, said Nicholas Higgins. 'Now yo've got it. Yo've hit the
bull's eye. Hamper's--that's where I worked--makes their men
pledge 'emselves they'll not give a penny to help th' Union or
keep turnouts fro' clemming. They may pledge and make pledge,'
continued he, scornfully; 'they nobbut make liars and hypocrites.
And that's a less sin, to my mind, to making men's hearts so hard
that they'll not do a kindness to them as needs it, or help on
the right and just cause, though it goes again the strong hand.
But I'll ne'er forswear mysel' for a' the work the king could
gi'e me. I'm a member o' the Union; and I think it's the only
thing to do the workman any good. And I've been a turn-out, and
known what it were to clem; so if I get a shilling, sixpence
shall go to them if they axe it from me. Consequence is, I dunnot
see where I'm to get a shilling.'
'Is that rule about not contributing to the Union in force at all
the mills?' asked Margaret.
'I cannot say. It's a new regulation at ourn; and I reckon
they'll find that they cannot stick to it. But it's in force now.
By-and-by they'll find out, tyrants makes liars.'
There was a little pause. Margaret was hesitating whether she
should say what was in her mind; she was unwilling to irritate
one who was already gloomy and despondent enough. At last out it
came. But in her soft tones, and with her reluctant manner,
showing that she was unwilling to say anything unpleasant, it did
not seem to annoy Higgins, only to perplex him.
'Do you remember poor Boucher saying that the Union was a tyrant?
I think he said it was the worst tyrant of all. And I remember at
the time I agreed with him.'
It was a long while before he spoke. He was resting his head on
his two hands, and looking down into the fire, so she could not
read the expression on his face.
'I'll not deny but what th' Union finds it necessary to force a
man into his own good. I'll speak truth. A man leads a dree life
who's not i' th' Union. But once i' the' Union, his interests are
taken care on better nor he could do it for himsel', or by
himsel', for that matter. It's the only way working men can get
their rights, by all joining together. More the members, more
chance for each one separate man having justice done him.
Government takes care o' fools and madmen; and if any man is
inclined to do himsel' or his neighbour a hurt, it puts a bit of
a check on him, whether he likes it or no. That's all we do i'
th' Union. We can't clap folk into prison; but we can make a
man's life so heavy to be borne, that he's obliged to come in,
and be wise and helpful in spite of himself. Boucher were a fool
all along, and ne'er a worse fool than at th' last.'
'He did you harm?' asked Margaret.
'Ay, that did he. We had public opinion on our side, till he and
his sort began rioting and breaking laws. It were all o'er wi'
the strike then.'
'Then would it not have been far better to have left him alone,
and not forced him to join the Union? He did you no good; and you
drove him mad.'
'Margaret,' said her father, in a low and warning tone, for he
saw the cloud gathering on Higgins's face.
'I like her,' said Higgins, suddenly. 'Hoo speaks plain out
what's in her mind. Hoo doesn't comprehend th' Union for all
that. It's a great power: it's our only power. I ha' read a bit
o' poetry about a plough going o'er a daisy, as made tears come
into my eyes, afore I'd other cause for crying. But the chap
ne'er stopped driving the plough, I'se warrant, for all he were
pitiful about the daisy. He'd too much mother-wit for that. Th'
Union's the plough, making ready the land for harvest-time. Such
as Boucher--'twould be settin' him up too much to liken him to a
daisy; he's liker a weed lounging over the ground--mun just make
up their mind to be put out o' the way. I'm sore vexed wi' him
just now. So, mappen, I dunnot speak him fair. I could go o'er
him wi' a plough mysel', wi' a' the pleasure in life.'
'Why? What has he been doing? Anything fresh?'
'Ay, to be sure. He's ne'er out o' mischief, that man. First of
a' he must go raging like a mad fool, and kick up yon riot. Then
he'd to go into hiding, where he'd a been yet, if Thornton had
followed him out as I'd hoped he would ha' done. But Thornton,
having got his own purpose, didn't care to go on wi' the
prosecution for the riot. So Boucher slunk back again to his
house. He ne'er showed himsel' abroad for a day or two. He had
that grace. And then, where think ye that he went? Why, to
Hamper's. Damn him! He went wi' his mealy-mouthed face, that
turns me sick to look at, a-asking for work, though he knowed
well enough the new rule, o' pledging themselves to give nought
to th' Unions; nought to help the starving turn-out! Why he'd a
clemmed to death, if th' Union had na helped him in his pinch.
There he went, ossing to promise aught, and pledge himsel' to
aught--to tell a' he know'd on our proceedings, the
good-for-nothing Judas! But I'll say this for Hamper, and thank
him for it at my dying day, he drove Boucher away, and would na
listen to him--ne'er a word--though folk standing by, says the
traitor cried like a babby!'
'Oh! how shocking! how pitiful!' exclaimed Margaret. 'Higgins, I
don't know you to-day. Don't you see how you've made Boucher what
he is, by driving him into the Union against his will--without
his heart going with it. You have made him what he is!'
Made him what he is! What was he?
Gathering, gathering along the narrow street, came a hollow,
measured sound; now forcing itself on their attention. Many
voices were hushed and low: many steps were heard not moving
onwards, at least not with any rapidity or steadiness of motion,
but as if circling round one spot. Yes, there was one distinct,
slow tramp of feet, which made itself a clear path through the
air, and reached their ears; the measured laboured walk of men
carrying a heavy burden. They were all drawn towards the
house-door by some irresistible impulse; impelled thither--not by
a poor curiosity, but as if by some solemn blast.
Six men walked in the middle of the road, three of them being
policemen. They carried a door, taken off its hinges, upon their
shoulders, on which lay some dead human creature; and from each
side of the door there were constant droppings. All the street
turned out to see, and, seeing, to accompany the procession, each
one questioning the bearers, who answered almost reluctantly at
last, so often had they told the tale.
'We found him i' th' brook in the field beyond there.'
'Th' brook!--why there's not water enough to drown him!'
'He was a determined chap. He lay with his face downwards. He was
sick enough o' living, choose what cause he had for it.'
Higgins crept up to Margaret's side, and said in a weak piping
kind of voice: 'It's not John Boucher? He had na spunk enough.
Sure! It's not John Boucher! Why, they are a' looking this way!
Listen! I've a singing in my head, and I cannot hear.'
They put the door down carefully upon the stones, and all might
see the poor drowned wretch--his glassy eyes, one half-open,
staring right upwards to the sky. Owing to the position in which
he had been found lying, his face was swollen and discoloured
besides, his skin was stained by the water in the brook, which
had been used for dyeing purposes. The fore part of his head was
bald; but the hair grew thin and long behind, and every separate
lock was a conduit for water. Through all these disfigurements,
Margaret recognised John Boucher. It seemed to her so
sacrilegious to be peering into that poor distorted, agonised
face, that, by a flash of instinct, she went forwards and softly
covered the dead man's countenance with her handkerchief. The
eyes that saw her do this followed her, as she turned away from
her pious office, and were thus led to the place where Nicholas
Higgins stood, like one rooted to the spot. The men spoke
together, and then one of them came up to Higgins, who would have
fain shrunk back into his house.
'Higgins, thou knowed him! Thou mun go tell the wife. Do it
gently, man, but do it quick, for we canna leave him here long.'
'I canna go,' said Higgins. 'Dunnot ask me. I canna face her.'
'Thou knows her best,' said the man. 'We'n done a deal in
bringing him here--thou take thy share.'
'I canna do it,' said Higgins. 'I'm welly felled wi' seeing him.
We wasn't friends; and now he's dead.'
'Well, if thou wunnot thou wunnot. Some one mun, though. It's a
dree task; but it's a chance, every minute, as she doesn't hear
on it in some rougher way nor a person going to make her let on
by degrees, as it were.'
'Papa, do you go,' said Margaret, in a low voice.
'If I could--if I had time to think of what I had better say; but
all at once----' Margaret saw that her father was indeed unable.
He was trembling from head to foot.
'I will go,' said she.
'Bless yo', miss, it will be a kind act; for she's been but a
sickly sort of body, I hear, and few hereabouts know much on
Margaret knocked at the closed door; but there was such a noise,
as of many little ill-ordered children, that she could hear no
reply; indeed, she doubted if she was heard, and as every moment
of delay made her recoil from her task more and more, she opened
the door and went in, shutting it after her, and even, unseen to
the woman, fastening the bolt.
Mrs. Boucher was sitting in a rocking-chair, on the other side of
the ill-redd-up fireplace; it looked as if the house had been
untouched for days by any effort at cleanliness.
Margaret said something, she hardly knew what, her throat and
mouth were so dry, and the children's noise completely prevented
her from being heard. She tried again.
'How are you, Mrs. Boucher? But very poorly, I'm afraid.'
'I've no chance o' being well,' said she querulously. 'I'm left
alone to manage these childer, and nought for to give 'em for to
keep 'em quiet. John should na ha' left me, and me so poorly.'
'How long is it since he went away?'
'Four days sin'. No one would give him work here, and he'd to go
on tramp toward Greenfield. But he might ha' been back afore
this, or sent me some word if he'd getten work. He might----'
'Oh, don't blame him,' said Margaret. 'He felt it deeply, I'm
'Willto' hold thy din, and let me hear the lady speak!'
addressing herself, in no very gentle voice, to a little urchin
of about a year old. She apologetically continued to Margaret,
'He's always mithering me for "daddy" and "butty;" and I ha' no
butties to give him, and daddy's away, and forgotten us a', I
think. He's his father's darling, he is,' said she, with a sudden
turn of mood, and, dragging the child up to her knee, she began
kissing it fondly.
Margaret laid her hand on the woman's arm to arrest her
attention. Their eyes met.
'Poor little fellow!' said Margaret, slowly; 'he ~was~ his
'He ~is~ his father's darling,' said the woman, rising hastily,
and standing face to face with Margaret. Neither of them spoke
for a moment or two. Then Mrs. Boucher began in a low, growling
tone, gathering in wildness as she went on: He ~is~ his father's
darling, I say. Poor folk can love their childer as well as rich.
Why dunno yo' speak? Why dun yo' stare at me wi' your great
pitiful eyes? Where's John?' Weak as she was, she shook Margaret
to force out an answer. 'Oh, my God!' said she, understanding the
meaning of that tearful look. She sank hack into the chair.
Margaret took up the child and put him into her arms.
'He loved him,' said she.
'Ay,' said the woman, shaking her head, 'he loved us a'. We had
some one to love us once. It's a long time ago; but when he were
in life and with us, he did love us, he did. He loved this babby
mappen the best on us; but he loved me and I loved him, though I
was calling him five minutes agone. Are yo' sure he's dead?' said
she, trying to get up. 'If it's only that he's ill and like to
die, they may bring him round yet. I'm but an ailing creature
mysel'--I've been ailing this long time.'
'But he is dead--he is drowned!'
'Folk are brought round after they're dead-drowned. Whatten was I
thinking of, to sit still when I should be stirring mysel'? Here,
whisth thee, child--whisth thee! tak' this, tak' aught to play
wi', but dunnot cry while my heart's breaking! Oh, where is my
strength gone to? Oh, John--husband!'
Margaret saved her from falling by catching her in her arms. She
sate down in the rocking chair, and held the woman upon her
knees, her head lying on Margaret's shoulder. The other children,
clustered together in affright, began to understand the mystery
of the scene; but the ideas came slowly, for their brains were
dull and languid of perception. They set up such a cry of despair
as they guessed the truth, that Margaret knew not how to bear it.
Johnny's cry was loudest of them all, though he knew not why he
cried, poor little fellow.
The mother quivered as she lay in Margaret's arms. Margaret heard
a noise at the door.
'Open it. Open it quick,' said she to the eldest child. 'It's
bolted; make no noise--be very still. Oh, papa, let them go
upstairs very softly and carefully, and perhaps she will not hear
them. She has fainted--that's all.'
'It's as well for her, poor creature,' said a woman following in
the wake of the bearers of the dead. 'But yo're not fit to hold
her. Stay, I'll run fetch a pillow and we'll let her down easy on
This helpful neighbour was a great relief to Margaret; she was
evidently a stranger to the house, a new-comer in the district,
indeed; but she was so kind and thoughtful that Margaret felt she
was no longer needed; and that it would be better, perhaps, to
set an example of clearing the house, which was filled with idle,
if sympathising gazers.
She looked round for Nicholas Higgins. He was not there. So she
spoke to the woman who had taken the lead in placing Mrs. Boucher
on the floor.
'Can you give all these people a hint that they had better leave
in quietness? So that when she comes round, she should only find
one or two that she knows about her. Papa, will you speak to the
men, and get them to go away? She cannot breathe, poor thing,
with this crowd about her.'
Margaret was kneeling down by Mrs. Boucher and bathing he face
with vinegar; but in a few minutes she was surprised at the gush
of fresh air. She looked round, and saw a smile pass between her
father and the woman.
'What is it?' asked she.
'Only our good friend here,' replied her father, 'hit on a
capital expedient for clearing the place.'
'I bid 'em begone, and each take a child with 'em, and to mind
that they were orphans, and their mother a widow. It was who
could do most, and the childer are sure of a bellyful to-day, and
of kindness too. Does hoo know how he died?'
'No,' said Margaret; 'I could not tell her all at once.'
'Hoo mun be told because of th' Inquest. See! Hoo's coming round;
shall you or I do it? or mappen your father would be best?'
'No; you, you,' said Margaret.
They awaited her perfect recovery in silence. Then the neighbour
woman sat down on the floor, and took Mrs. Boucher's head and
shoulders on her lap.
'Neighbour,' said she, 'your man is dead. Guess yo' how he died?'
'He were drowned,' said Mrs. Boucher, feebly, beginning to cry
for the first time, at this rough probing of her sorrows.
'He were found drowned. He were coming home very hopeless o'
aught on earth. He thought God could na be harder than men;
mappen not so hard; mappen as tender as a mother; mappen
tenderer. I'm not saying he did right, and I'm not saying he did
wrong. All I say is, may neither me nor mine ever have his sore
heart, or we may do like things.'
'He has left me alone wi' a' these children!' moaned the widow,
less distressed at the manner of the death than Margaret
expected; but it was of a piece with her helpless character to
feel his loss as principally affecting herself and her children.
'Not alone,' said Mr. Hale, solemnly. 'Who is with you? Who will
take up your cause?' The widow opened her eyes wide, and looked
at the new speaker, of whose presence she had not been aware till
'Who has promised to be a father to the fatherless?' continued
'But I've getten six children, sir, and the eldest not eight
years of age. I'm not meaning for to doubt His power, sir,--only
it needs a deal o' trust;' and she began to cry afresh.
'Hoo'll be better able to talk to-morrow, sir,' said the
neighbour. 'Best comfort now would be the feel of a child at her
heart. I'm sorry they took the babby.'
'I'll go for it,' said Margaret. And in a few minutes she
returned, carrying Johnnie, his face all smeared with eating, and
his hands loaded with treasures in the shape of shells, and bits
of crystal, and the head of a plaster figure. She placed him in
his mother's arms.
'There!' said the woman, 'now you go. They'll cry together, and
comfort together, better nor any one but a child can do. I'll
stop with her as long as I'm needed, and if yo' come to-morrow,
yo' can have a deal o' wise talk with her, that she's not up to
As Margaret and her father went slowly up the street, she paused
at Higgins's closed door.
'Shall we go in?' asked her father. 'I was thinking of him too.'
They knocked. There was no answer, so they tried the door. It was
bolted, but they thought they heard him moving within.
'Nicholas!' said Margaret. There was no answer, and they might
have gone away, believing the house to be empty, if there had not
been some accidental fall, as of a book, within.
'Nicholas!' said Margaret again. 'It is only us. Won't you let us
'No,' said he. 'I spoke as plain as I could, 'bout using words,
when I bolted th' door. Let me be, this day.'
Mr. Hale would have urged their desire, but Margaret placed her
finger on his lips.
'I don't wonder at it,' said she. 'I myself long to be alone. It
seems the only thing to do one good after a day like this.'
'A spade! a rake! a hoe!
A pickaxe or a bill!
A hook to reap, or a scythe to mow,
A flail, or what ye will--
And here's a ready hand
To ply the needful tool,
And skill'd enough, by lessons rough,
In Labour's rugged school.'
Higgins's door was locked the next day, when they went to pay
their call on the widow Boucher: but they learnt this time from
an officious neighbour, that he was really from home. He had,
however, been in to see Mrs. Boucher, before starting on his
day's business, whatever that was. It was but an unsatisfactory
visit to Mrs. Boucher; she considered herself as an ill-used
woman by her poor husband's suicide; and there was quite germ of
truth enough in this idea to make it a very difficult one to
refute. Still, it was unsatisfactory to see how completely her
thoughts were turned upon herself and her own position, and this
selfishness extended even to her relations with her children,
whom she considered as incumbrances, even in the very midst of
her somewhat animal affection for them. Margaret tried to make
acquaintances with one or two of them, while her father strove to
raise the widow's thoughts into some higher channel than that of