Part 8 out of 11
mere helpless querulousness. She found that the children were
truer and simpler mourners than the widow. Daddy had been a kind
daddy to them; each could tell, in their eager stammering way, of
some tenderness shown some indulgence granted by the lost father.
'Is yon thing upstairs really him? it doesna look like him. I'm
feared on it, and I never was feared o' daddy.'
Margaret's heart bled to hear that the mother, in her selfish
requirement of sympathy, had taken her children upstairs to see
their disfigured father. It was intermingling the coarseness of
horror with the profoundness of natural grief She tried to turn
their thoughts in some other direction; on what they could do for
mother; on what--for this was a more efficacious way of putting
it--what father would have wished them to do. Margaret was more
successful than Mr. Hale in her efforts. The children seeing
their little duties lie in action close around them, began to try
each one to do something that she suggested towards redding up
the slatternly room. But her father set too high a standard, and
too abstract a view, before the indolent invalid. She could not
rouse her torpid mind into any vivid imagination of what her
husband's misery might have been before he had resorted to the
last terrible step; she could only look upon it as it affected
herself; she could not enter into the enduring mercy of the God
who had not specially interposed to prevent the water from
drowning her prostrate husband; and although she was secretly
blaming her husband for having fallen into such drear despair,
and denying that he had any excuse for his last rash act, she was
inveterate in her abuse of all who could by any possibility be
supposed to have driven him to such desperation. The masters--Mr.
Thornton in particular, whose mill had been attacked by Boucher,
and who, after the warrant had been issued for his apprehension
on the charge of rioting, had caused it to be withdrawn,--the
Union, of which Higgins was the representative to the poor
woman,--the children so numerous, so hungry, and so noisy--all
made up one great army of personal enemies, whose fault it was
that she was now a helpless widow.
Margaret heard enough of this unreasonableness to dishearten her;
and when they came away she found it impossible to cheer her
'It is the town life,' said she. 'Their nerves are quickened by
the haste and bustle and speed of everything around them, to say
nothing of the confinement in these pent-up houses, which of
itself is enough to induce depression and worry of spirits. Now
in the country, people live so much more out of doors, even
children, and even in the winter.'
'But people must live in towns. And in the country some get such
stagnant habits of mind that they are almost fatalists.'
'Yes; I acknowledge that. I suppose each mode of life produces
its own trials and its own temptations. The dweller in towns must
find it as difficult to be patient and calm, as the country-bred
man must find it to be active, and equal to unwonted emergencies.
Both must find it hard to realise a future of any kind; the one
because the present is so living and hurrying and close around
him; the other because his life tempts him to revel in the mere
sense of animal existence, not knowing of, and consequently not
caring for any pungency of pleasure for the attainment of which
he can plan, and deny himself and look forward.'
'And thus both the necessity for engrossment, and the stupid
content in the present, produce the same effects. But this poor
Mrs. Boucher! how little we can do for her.'
'And yet we dare not leave her without our efforts, although they
may seem so useless. Oh papa! it's a hard world to live in!'
'So it is, my child. We feel it so just now, at any rate; but we
have been very happy, even in the midst of our sorrow. What a
pleasure Frederick's visit was!'
'Yes, that it was,' said Margaret; brightly. 'It was such a
charming, snatched, forbidden thing.' But she suddenly stopped
speaking. She had spoiled the remembrance of Frederick's visit to
herself by her own cowardice. Of all faults the one she most
despised in others was the want of bravery; the meanness of heart
which leads to untruth. And here had she been guilty of it! Then
came the thought of Mr. Thornton's cognisance of her falsehood.
She wondered if she should have minded detection half so much
from any one else. She tried herself in imagination with her Aunt
Shaw and Edith; with her father; with Captain and Mr. Lennox;
with Frederick. The thought of the last knowing what she had
done, even in his own behalf, was the most painful, for the
brother and sister were in the first flush of their mutual regard
and love; but even any fall in Frederick's opinion was as nothing
to the shame, the shrinking shame she felt at the thought of
meeting Mr. Thornton again. And yet she longed to see him, to get
it over; to understand where she stood in his opinion. Her cheeks
burnt as she recollected how proudly she had implied an objection
to trade (in the early days of their acquaintance), because it
too often led to the deceit of passing off inferior for superior
goods, in the one branch; of assuming credit for wealth and
resources not possessed, in the other. She remembered Mr.
Thornton's look of calm disdain, as in few words he gave her to
understand that, in the great scheme of commerce, all
dishonourable ways of acting were sure to prove injurious in the
long run, and that, testing such actions simply according to the
poor standard of success, there was folly and not wisdom in all
such, and every kind of deceit in trade, as well as in other
things. She remembered--she, then strong in her own untempted
truth--asking him, if he did not think that buying in the
cheapest and selling in the dearest market proved some want of
the transparent justice which is so intimately connected with the
idea of truth: and she had used the word chivalric--and her
father had corrected her with the higher word, Christian; and so
drawn the argument upon himself, while she sate silent by with a
slight feeling of contempt.
No more contempt for her!--no more talk about the chivalric!
Henceforward she must feel humiliated and disgraced in his sight.
But when should she see him? Her heart leaped up in apprehension
at every ring of the door-bell; and yet when it fell down to
calmness, she felt strangely saddened and sick at heart at each
disappointment. It was very evident that her father expected to
see him, and was surprised that he did not come. The truth was,
that there were points in their conversation the other night on
which they had no time then to enlarge; but it had been
understood that if possible on the succeeding evening--if not
then, at least the very first evening that Mr. Thornton could
command,--they should meet for further discussion. Mr. Hale had
looked forward to this meeting ever since they had parted. He had
not yet resumed the instruction to his pupils, which he had
relinquished at the commencement of his wife's more serious
illness, so he had fewer occupations than usual; and the great
interest of the last day or so (Boucher's suicide) had driven him
back with more eagerness than ever upon his speculations. He was
restless all evening. He kept saying, 'I quite expected to have
seen Mr. Thornton. I think the messenger who brought the book
last night must have had some note, and forgot to deliver it. Do
you think there has been any message left to-day?'
'I will go and inquire, papa,' said Margaret, after the changes
on these sentences had been rung once or twice. 'Stay, there's a
ring!' She sate down instantly, and bent her head attentively
over her work. She heard a step on the stairs, but it was only
one, and she knew it was Dixon's. She lifted up her head and
sighed, and believed she felt glad.
'It's that Higgins, sir. He wants to see you, or else Miss Hale.
Or it might be Miss Hale first, and then you, sir; for he's in a
strange kind of way.
'He had better come up here, Dixon; and then he can see us both,
and choose which he likes for his listener.'
'Oh! very well, sir. I've no wish to hear what he's got to say,
I'm sure; only, if you could see his shoes, I'm sure you'd say
the kitchen was the fitter place.
'He can wipe them, I suppose, said Mr. Hale. So Dixon flung off,
to bid him walk up-stairs. She was a little mollified, however,
when he looked at his feet with a hesitating air; and then,
sitting down on the bottom stair, he took off the offending
shoes, and without a word walked up-stairs.
'Sarvant, sir!' said he, slicking his hair down when he came into
the room. 'If hoo'l excuse me (looking at Margaret) for being i'
my stockings; I'se been tramping a' day, and streets is none o'
Margaret thought that fatigue might account for the change in his
manner, for he was unusually quiet and subdued; and he had
evidently some difficulty in saying what he came to say.
Mr. Hale's ever-ready sympathy with anything of shyness or
hesitation, or want of self-possession, made him come to his aid.
'We shall have tea up directly, and then you'll take a cup with
us, Mr. Higgins. I am sure you are tired, if you've been out much
this wet relaxing day. Margaret, my dear, can't you hasten tea?'
Margaret could only hasten tea by taking the preparation of it
into her own hands, and so offending Dixon, who was emerging out
of her sorrow for her late mistress into a very touchy, irritable
state. But Martha, like all who came in contact with
Margaret--even Dixon herself, in the long run--felt it a pleasure
and an honour to forward any of her wishes; and her readiness,
and Margaret's sweet forbearance, soon made Dixon ashamed of
'Why master and you must always be asking the lower classes
up-stairs, since we came to Milton, I cannot understand. Folk at
Helstone were never brought higher than the kitchen; and I've let
one or two of them know before now that they might think it an
honour to be even there.'
Higgins found it easier to unburden himself to one than to two.
After Margaret left the room, he went to the door and assured
himself that it was shut. Then he came and stood close to Mr.
'Master,' said he, 'yo'd not guess easy what I've been tramping
after to-day. Special if yo' remember my manner o' talk
yesterday. I've been a seeking work. I have' said he. 'I said to
mysel', I'd keep a civil tongue in my head, let who would say
what 'em would. I'd set my teeth into my tongue sooner nor speak
i' haste. For that man's sake--yo' understand,' jerking his thumb
back in some unknown direction.
'No, I don't,' said Mr. Hale, seeing he waited for some kind of
assent, and completely bewildered as to who 'that man' could be.
'That chap as lies theer,' said he, with another jerk. 'Him as
went and drownded himself, poor chap! I did na' think he'd got it
in him to lie still and let th' water creep o'er him till he
died. Boucher, yo' know.'
'Yes, I know now,' said Mr. Hale. 'Go back to what you were
saying: you'd not speak in haste----'
'For his sake. Yet not for his sake; for where'er he is, and
whate'er, he'll ne'er know other clemming or cold again; but for
the wife's sake, and the bits o' childer.'
'God bless you!' said Mr. Hale, starting up; then, calming down,
he said breathlessly, 'What do you mean? Tell me out.'
'I have telled yo',' said Higgins, a little surprised at Mr.
Hale's agitation. 'I would na ask for work for mysel'; but them's
left as a charge on me. I reckon, I would ha guided Boucher to a
better end; but I set him off o' th' road, and so I mun answer
Mr. Hale got hold of Higgins's hand and shook it heartily,
without speaking. Higgins looked awkward and ashamed.
'Theer, theer, master! Theer's ne'er a man, to call a man,
amongst us, but what would do th' same; ay, and better too; for,
belie' me, I'se ne'er got a stroke o' work, nor yet a sight of
any. For all I telled Hamper that, let alone his pledge--which I
would not sign--no, I could na, not e'en for this--he'd ne'er ha'
such a worker on his mill as I would be--he'd ha' none o' me--no
more would none o' th' others. I'm a poor black feckless
sheep--childer may clem for aught I can do, unless, parson, yo'd
'Help you! How? I would do anything,--but what can I do?'
'Miss there'--for Margaret had re-entered the room, and stood
silent, listening--'has often talked grand o' the South, and the
ways down there. Now I dunnot know how far off it is, but I've
been thinking if I could get 'em down theer, where food is cheap
and wages good, and all the folk, rich and poor, master and man,
friendly like; yo' could, may be, help me to work. I'm not
forty-five, and I've a deal o' strength in me, measter.'
'But what kind of work could you do, my man?'
'Well, I reckon I could spade a bit----'
'And for that,' said Margaret, stepping forwards, 'for anything
you could do, Higgins, with the best will in the world, you
would, may be, get nine shillings a week; may be ten, at the
outside. Food is much the same as here, except that you might
have a little garden----'
'The childer could work at that,' said he. 'I'm sick o' Milton
anyways, and Milton is sick o' me.'
'You must not go to the South,' said Margaret, 'for all that. You
could not stand it. You would have to be out all weathers. It
would kill you with rheumatism. The mere bodily work at your time
of life would break you down. The fare is far different to what
you have been accustomed to.'
'I'se nought particular about my meat,' said he, as if offended.
'But you've reckoned on having butcher's meat once a day, if
you're in work; pay for that out of your ten shillings, and keep
those poor children if you can. I owe it to you--since it's my
way of talking that has set you off on this idea--to put it all
clear before you. You would not bear the dulness of the life; you
don't know what it is; it would eat you away like rust. Those
that have lived there all their lives, are used to soaking in the
stagnant waters. They labour on, from day to day, in the great
solitude of steaming fields--never speaking or lifting up their
poor, bent, downcast heads. The hard spade-work robs their brain
of life; the sameness of their toil deadens their imagination;
they don't care to meet to talk over thoughts and speculations,
even of the weakest, wildest kind, after their work is done; they
go home brutishly tired, poor creatures! caring for nothing but
food and rest. You could not stir them up into any companionship,
which you get in a town as plentiful as the air you breathe,
whether it be good or bad--and that I don't know; but I do know,
that you of all men are not one to bear a life among such
labourers. What would be peace to them would be eternal fretting
to you. Think no more of it, Nicholas, I beg. Besides, you could
never pay to get mother and children all there--that's one good
'I've reckoned for that. One house mun do for us a', and the
furniture o' t'other would go a good way. And men theer mun have
their families to keep--mappen six or seven childer. God help
'em!' said he, more convinced by his own presentation of the
facts than by all Margaret had said, and suddenly renouncing the
idea, which had but recently formed itself in a brain worn out by
the day's fatigue and anxiety. 'God help 'em! North an' South
have each getten their own troubles. If work's sure and steady
theer, labour's paid at starvation prices; while here we'n rucks
o' money coming in one quarter, and ne'er a farthing th' next.
For sure, th' world is in a confusion that passes me or any other
man to understand; it needs fettling, and who's to fettle it, if
it's as yon folks say, and there's nought but what we see?'
Mr. Hale was busy cutting bread and butter; Margaret was glad of
this, for she saw that Higgins was better left to himself: that
if her father began to speak ever so mildly on the subject of
Higgins's thoughts, the latter would consider himself challenged
to an argument, and would feel himself bound to maintain his own
ground. She and her father kept up an indifferent conversation
until Higgins, scarcely aware whether he ate or not, had made a
very substantial meal. Then he pushed his chair away from the
table, and tried to take an interest in what they were saying;
but it was of no use; and he fell back into dreamy gloom.
Suddenly, Margaret said (she had been thinking of it for some
time, but the words had stuck in her throat), 'Higgins, have you
been to Marlborough Mills to seek for work?'
'Thornton's?' asked he. 'Ay, I've been at Thornton's.'
'And what did he say?'
'Such a chap as me is not like to see the measter. Th' o'erlooker
bid me go and be d----d.'
'I wish you had seen Mr. Thornton,' said Mr. Hale. 'He might not
have given you work, but he would not have used such language.'
'As to th' language, I'm welly used to it; it dunnot matter to
me. I'm not nesh mysel' when I'm put out. It were th' fact that I
were na wanted theer, no more nor ony other place, as I minded.'
'But I wish you had seen Mr. Thornton,' repeated Margaret. 'Would
you go again--it's a good deal to ask, I know--but would you go
to-morrow and try him? I should be so glad if you would.'
'I'm afraid it would be of no use,' said Mr. Hale, in a low
voice. 'It would be better to let me speak to him.' Margaret
still looked at Higgins for his answer. Those grave soft eyes of
hers were difficult to resist. He gave a great sigh.
'It would tax my pride above a bit; if it were for mysel', I
could stand a deal o' clemming first; I'd sooner knock him down
than ask a favour from him. I'd a deal sooner be flogged mysel';
but yo're not a common wench, axing yo'r pardon, nor yet have yo'
common ways about yo'. I'll e'en make a wry face, and go at it
to-morrow. Dunna yo' think that he'll do it. That man has it in
him to be burnt at the stake afore he'll give in. I do it for
yo'r sake, Miss Hale, and it's first time in my life as e'er I
give way to a woman. Neither my wife nor Bess could e'er say that
much again me.'
'All the more do I thank you,' said Margaret, smiling. 'Though I
don't believe you: I believe you have just given way to wife and
daughter as much as most men.'
'And as to Mr. Thornton,' said Mr. Hale, 'I'll give you a note to
him, which, I think I may venture to say, will ensure you a
'I thank yo' kindly, sir, but I'd as lief stand on my own bottom.
I dunnot stomach the notion of having favour curried for me, by
one as doesn't know the ins and outs of the quarrel. Meddling
'twixt master and man is liker meddling 'twixt husband and wife
than aught else: it takes a deal o' wisdom for to do ony good.
I'll stand guard at the lodge door. I'll stand there fro' six in
the morning till I get speech on him. But I'd liefer sweep th'
streets, if paupers had na' got hold on that work. Dunna yo'
hope, miss. There'll be more chance o' getting milk out of a
flint. I wish yo' a very good night, and many thanks to yo'.'
'You'll find your shoe's by the kitchen fire; I took them there
to dry,' said Margaret.
He turned round and looked at her steadily, and then he brushed
his lean hand across his eyes and went his way.
'How proud that man is!' said her father, who was a little
annoyed at the manner in which Higgins had declined his
intercession with Mr. Thornton.
'He is,' said Margaret; 'but what grand makings of a man there
are in him, pride and all.'
'It's amusing to see how he evidently respects the part in Mr.
Thornton's character which is like his own.'
'There's granite in all these northern people, papa, is there
'There was none in poor Boucher, I am afraid; none in his wife
'I should guess from their tones that they had Irish blood in
them. I wonder what success he'll have to-morrow. If he and Mr.
Thornton would speak out together as man to man--if Higgins would
forget that Mr. Thornton was a master, and speak to him as he
does to us--and if Mr. Thornton would be patient enough to listen
to him with his human heart, not with his master's ears--'
'You are getting to do Mr. Thornton justice at last, Margaret,'
said her father, pinching her ear.
Margaret had a strange choking at her heart, which made her
unable to answer. 'Oh!' thought she, 'I wish I were a man, that I
could go and force him to express his disapprobation, and tell
him honestly that I knew I deserved it. It seems hard to lose him
as a friend just when I had begun to feel his value. How tender
he was with dear mamma! If it were only for her sake, I wish he
would come, and then at least I should know how much I was abased
in his eyes.'
'Then proudly, proudly up she rose,
Tho' the tear was in her e'e,
"Whate'er ye say, think what ye may,
Ye's get na word frae me!"'
It was not merely that Margaret was known to Mr. Thornton to have
spoken falsely,--though she imagined that for this reason only
was she so turned in his opinion,--but that this falsehood of
hers bore a distinct reference in his mind to some other lover.
He could not forget the fond and earnest look that had passed
between her and some other man--the attitude of familiar
confidence, if not of positive endearment. The thought of this
perpetually stung him; it was a picture before his eyes, wherever
he went and whatever he was doing. In addition to this (and he
ground his teeth as he remembered it), was the hour, dusky
twilight; the place, so far away from home, and comparatively
unfrequented. His nobler self had said at first, that all this
last might be accidental, innocent, justifiable; but once allow
her right to love and be beloved (and had he any reason to deny
her right?--had not her words been severely explicit when she
cast his love away from her?), she might easily have been
beguiled into a longer walk, on to a later hour than she had
anticipated. But that falsehood! which showed a fatal
consciousness of something wrong, and to be concealed, which was
unlike her. He did her that justice, though all the time it would
have been a relief to believe her utterly unworthy of his esteem.
It was this that made the misery--that he passionately loved her,
and thought her, even with all her faults, more lovely and more
excellent than any other woman; yet he deemed her so attached to
some other man, so led away by her affection for him as to
violate her truthful nature. The very falsehood that stained her,
was a proof how blindly she loved another--this dark, slight,
elegant, handsome man--while he himself was rough, and stern, and
strongly made. He lashed himself into an agony of fierce
jealousy. He thought of that look, that attitude!--how he would
have laid his life at her feet for such tender glances, such fond
detention! He mocked at himself, for having valued the mechanical
way in which she had protected him from the fury of the mob; now
he had seen how soft and bewitching she looked when with a man
she really loved. He remembered, point by point, the sharpness of
her words--'There was not a man in all that crowd for whom she
would not have done as much, far more readily than for him.' He
shared with the mob, in her desire of averting bloodshed from
them; but this man, this hidden lover, shared with nobody; he had
looks, words, hand-cleavings, lies, concealment, all to himself.
Mr. Thornton was conscious that he had never been so irritable as
he was now, m all his life long; he felt inclined to give a short
abrupt answer, more like a bark than a speech, to every one that
asked him a question; and this consciousness hurt his pride he
had always piqued himself on his self-control, and control
himself he would. So the manner was subdued to a quiet
deliberation, but the matter was even harder and sterner than
common. He was more than usually silent at home; employing his
evenings in a continual pace backwards and forwards, which would
have annoyed his mother exceedingly if it had been practised by
any one else; and did not tend to promote any forbearance on her
part even to this beloved son.
'Can you stop--can you sit down for a moment? I have something to
say to you, if you would give up that everlasting walk, walk,
He sat down instantly, on a chair against the wall.
'I want to speak to you about Betsy. She says she must leave us;
that her lover's death has so affected her spirits she can't give
her heart to her work.'
'Very well. I suppose other cooks are to be met with.'
'That's so like a man. It's not merely the cooking, it is that
she knows all the ways of the house. Besides, she tells me
something about your friend Miss Hale.'
'Miss Hale is no friend of mine. Mr. Hale is my friend.'
'I am glad to hear you say so, for if she had been your friend,
what Betsy says would have annoyed you.'
'Let me hear it,' said he, with the extreme quietness of manner
he had been assuming for the last few days.
'Betsy says, that the night on which her lover--I forget his
name--for she always calls him "he"----'
'The night on which Leonards was last seen at the station--when
he was last seen on duty, in fact--Miss Hale was there, walking
about with a young man who, Betsy believes, killed Leonards by
some blow or push.'
'Leonards was not killed by any blow or push.'
'How do you know?'
'Because I distinctly put the question to the surgeon of the
Infirmary. He told me there was an internal disease of long
standing, caused by Leonards' habit of drinking to excess; that
the fact of his becoming rapidly worse while in a state of
intoxication, settled the question as to whether the last fatal
attack was caused by excess of drinking, or the fall.'
'The fall! What fall?'
'Caused by the blow or push of which Betsy speaks.'
'Then there was a blow or push?'
'I believe so.'
'And who did it?'
'As there was no inquest, in consequence of the doctor's opinion,
I cannot tell you.'
'But Miss Hale was there?'
'And with a young man?'
Still no answer. At last he said: 'I tell you, mother, that there
was no inquest--no inquiry. No judicial inquiry, I mean.'
'Betsy says that Woolmer (some man she knows, who is in a
grocer's shop out at Crampton) can swear that Miss Hale was at
the station at that hour, walking backwards and forwards with a
'I don't see what we have to do with that. Miss Hale is at
liberty to please herself.'
'I'm glad to hear you say so,' said Mrs. Thornton, eagerly. 'It
certainly signifies very little to us--not at all to you, after
what has passed! but I--I made a promise to Mrs. Hale, that I
would not allow her daughter to go wrong without advising and
remonstrating with her. I shall certainly let her know my opinion
of such conduct.'
'I do not see any harm in what she did that evening,' said Mr.
Thornton, getting up, and coming near to his mother; he stood by
the chimney-piece with his face turned away from the room.
'You would not have approved of Fanny's being seen out, after
dark, in rather a lonely place, walking about with a young man. I
say nothing of the taste which could choose the time, when her
mother lay unburied, for such a promenade. Should you have liked
your sister to have been noticed by a grocer's assistant for
'In the first place, as it is not many years since I myself was a
draper's assistant, the mere circumstance of a grocer's assistant
noticing any act does not alter the character of the act to me.
And in the next place, I see a great deal of difference between
Miss Hale and Fanny. I can imagine that the one may have weighty
reasons, which may and ought to make her overlook any seeming
Impropriety in her conduct. I never knew Fanny have weighty
reasons for anything. Other people must guard her. I believe Miss
Hale is a guardian to herself'
'A pretty character of your sister, indeed! Really, John, one
would have thought Miss Hale had done enough to make you
clear-sighted. She drew you on to an offer, by a bold display of
pretended regard for you,--to play you off against this very
young man, I've no doubt. Her whole conduct is clear to me now.
You believe he is her lover, I suppose--you agree to that.'
He turned round to his mother; his face was very gray and grim.
'Yes, mother. I do believe he is her lover.' When he had spoken,
he turned round again; he writhed himself about, like one in
bodily pain. He leant his face against his hand. Then before she
could speak, he turned sharp again:
'Mother. He is her lover, whoever he is; but she may need help
and womanly counsel;--there may be difficulties or temptations
which I don't know. I fear there are. I don't want to know what
they are; but as you have ever been a good--ay! and a tender
mother to me, go to her, and gain her confidence, and tell her
what is best to be done. I know that something is wrong; some
dread, must be a terrible torture to her.'
'For God's sake, John!' said his mother, now really shocked,
'what do you mean? What do you mean? What do you know?'
He did not reply to her.
'John! I don't know what I shan't think unless you speak. You
have no right to say what you have done against her.'
'Not against her, mother! I ~could~ not speak against her.'
'Well! you have no right to say what you have done, unless you
say more. These half-expressions are what ruin a woman's
'Her character! Mother, you do not dare--' he faced about, and
looked into her face with his flaming eyes. Then, drawing himself
up into determined composure and dignity, he said, 'I will not
say any more than this, which is neither more nor less than the
simple truth, and I am sure you believe me,--I have good reason
to believe, that Miss Hale is in some strait and difficulty
connected with an attachment which, of itself, from my knowledge
of Miss Hale's character, is perfectly innocent and right. What
my reason is, I refuse to tell. But never let me hear any one say
a word against her, implying any more serious imputation than
that she now needs the counsel of some kind and gentle woman. You
promised Mrs. Hale to be that woman!'
No!' said Mrs. Thornton. 'I am happy to say, I did not promise
kindness and gentleness, for I felt at the time that it might be
out of my power to render these to one of Miss Hale's character
and disposition. I promised counsel and advice, such as I would
give to my own daughter; I shall speak to her as I would do to
Fanny, if she had gone gallivanting with a young man in the dusk.
I shall speak with relation to the circumstances I know, without
being influenced either one way or another by the "strong
reasons" which you will not confide to me. Then I shall have
fulfilled my promise, and done my duty.'
'She will never bear it,' said he passionately.
'She will have to bear it, if I speak in her dead mother's name.'
'Well!' said he, breaking away, 'don't tell me any more about it.
I cannot endure to think of it. It will be better that you should
speak to her any way, than that she should not be spoken to at
all.--Oh! that look of love!' continued he, between his teeth, as
he bolted himself into his own private room. 'And that cursed
lie; which showed some terrible shame in the background, to be
kept from the light in which I thought she lived perpetually! Oh,
Margaret, Margaret! Mother, how you have tortured me! Oh!
Margaret, could you not have loved me? I am but uncouth and hard,
but I would never have led you into any falsehood for me.'
The more Mrs. Thornton thought over what her son had said, in
pleading for a merciful judgment for Margaret's indiscretion, the
more bitterly she felt inclined towards her. She took a savage
pleasure in the idea of 'speaking her mind' to her, in the guise
of fulfilment of a duty. She enjoyed the thought of showing
herself untouched by the 'glamour,' which she was well aware
Margaret had the power of throwing over many people. She snorted
scornfully over the picture of the beauty of her victim; her jet
black hair, her clear smooth skin, her lucid eyes would not help
to save her one word of the just and stern reproach which Mrs.
Thornton spent half the night in preparing to her mind.
'Is Miss Hale within?' She knew she was, for she had seen her at
the window, and she had her feet inside the little hall before
Martha had half answered her question.
Margaret was sitting alone, writing to Edith, and giving her many
particulars of her mother's last days. It was a softening
employment, and she had to brush away the unbidden tears as Mrs.
Thornton was announced.
She was so gentle and ladylike in her mode of reception that her
visitor was somewhat daunted; and it became impossible to utter
the speech, so easy of arrangement with no one to address it to.
Margaret's low rich voice was softer than usual; her manner more
gracious, because in her heart she was feeling very grateful to
Mrs. Thornton for the courteous attention of her call. She
exerted herself to find subjects of interest for conversation;
praised Martha, the servant whom Mrs. Thornton had found for
them; had asked Edith for a little Greek air, about which she had
spoken to Miss Thornton. Mrs. Thornton was fairly discomfited.
Her sharp Damascus blade seemed out of place, and useless among
rose-leaves. She was silent, because she was trying to task
herself up to her duty At last, she stung herself into its
performance by a suspicion which, in spite of all probability,
she allowed to cross her mind, that all this sweetness was put on
with a view of propitiating Mr. Thornton; that, somehow, the
other attachment had fallen through, and that it suited Miss
Hale's purpose to recall her rejected lover. Poor Margaret! there
was perhaps so much truth in the suspicion as this: that Mrs.
Thornton was the mother of one whose regard she valued, and
feared to have lost; and this thought unconsciously added to her
natural desire of pleasing one who was showing her kindness by
her visit. Mrs. Thornton stood up to go, but yet she seemed to
have something more to say. She cleared her throat and began:
'Miss Hale, I have a duty to perform. I promised your poor mother
that, as far as my poor judgment went, I would not allow you to
act in any way wrongly, or (she softened her speech down a little
here) inadvertently, without remonstrating; at least, without
offering advice, whether you took it or not.'
Margaret stood before her, blushing like any culprit, with her
eyes dilating as she gazed at Mrs. Thornton. She thought she had
come to speak to her about the falsehood she had told--that Mr.
Thornton had employed her to explain the danger she had exposed
herself to, of being confuted in full court! and although her
heart sank to think he had not rather chosen to come himself, and
upbraid her, and receive her penitence, and restore her again to
his good opinion, yet she was too much humbled not to bear any
blame on this subject patiently and meekly.
Mrs. Thornton went on:
'At first, when I heard from one of my servants, that you had
been seen walking about with a gentleman, so far from home as the
Outwood station, at such a time of the evening, I could hardly
believe it. But my son, I am sorry to say, confirmed her story.
It was indiscreet, to say the least; many a young woman has lost
her character before now----'
Margaret's eyes flashed fire. This was a new idea--this was too
insulting. If Mrs. Thornton had spoken to her about the lie she
had told, well and good--she would have owned it, and humiliated
herself But to interfere with her conduct--to speak of her
character! she--Mrs. Thornton, a mere stranger--it was too
impertinent! She would not answer her--not one word. Mrs.
Thornton saw the battle-spirit in Margaret's eyes, and it called.
up her combativeness also.
'For your mother's sake, I have thought it right to warn you
against such improprieties; they must degrade you in the long run
in the estimation of the world, even if in fact they do not lead
you to positive harm.'
'For my mother's sake,' said Margaret, in a tearful voice, 'I
will bear much; but I cannot bear everything. She never meant me
to be exposed to insult, I am sure.'
'Insult, Miss Hale!'
'Yes, madam,' said Margaret more steadily, 'it is insult. What do
you know of me that should lead you to suspect--Oh!' said she,
breaking down, and covering her face with her hands--'I know now,
Mr. Thornton has told you----'
'No, Miss Hale,' said Mrs. Thornton, her truthfulness causing her
to arrest the confession Margaret was on the point of making,
though her curiosity was itching to hear it. 'Stop. Mr. Thornton
has told me nothing. You do not know my son. You are not worthy
to know him. He said this. Listen, young lady, that you may
understand, if you can, what sort of a man you rejected. This
Milton manufacturer, his great tender heart scorned as it was
scorned, said to me only last night, "Go to her. I have good
reason to know that she is in some strait, arising out of some
attachment; and she needs womanly counsel." I believe those were
his very words. Farther than that--beyond admitting the fact of
your being at the Outwood station with a gentleman, on the
evening of the twenty-sixth--he has said nothing--not one word
against you. If he has knowledge of anything which should make
you sob so, he keeps it to himself.'
Margaret's face was still hidden in her hands, the fingers of
which were wet with tears. Mrs. Thornton was a little mollified.
'Come, Miss Hale. There may be circumstances, I'll allow, that,
if explained, may take off from the seeming impropriety.'
Still no answer. Margaret was considering what to say; she wished
to stand well with Mrs. Thornton; and yet she could not, might
not, give any explanation. Mrs. Thornton grew impatient.
'I shall be sorry to break off an acquaintance; but for Fanny's
sake--as I told my son, if Fanny had done so we should consider
it a great disgrace--and Fanny might be led away----'
'I can give you no explanation,' said Margaret, in a low voice.
'I have done wrong, but not in the way you think or know about. I
think Mr. Thornton judges me more mercifully than you;'--she had
hard work to keep herself from choking with her tears--'but, I
believe, madam, you mean to do rightly.'
'Thank you,' said Mrs. Thornton, drawing herself up; 'I was not
aware that my meaning was doubted. It is the last time I shall
interfere. I was unwilling to consent to do it, when your mother
asked me. I had not approved of my son's attachment to you, while
I only suspected it. You did not appear to me worthy of him. But
when you compromised yourself as you did at the time of the riot,
and exposed yourself to the comments of servants and workpeople,
I felt it was no longer right to set myself against my son's wish
of proposing to you--a wish, by the way, which he had always
denied entertaining until the day of the riot.' Margaret winced,
and drew in her breath with a long, hissing sound; of which,
however, Mrs. Thornton took no notice. 'He came; you had
apparently changed your mind. I told my son yesterday, that I
thought it possible, short as was the interval, you might have
heard or learnt something of this other lover----'
'What must you think of me, madam?' asked Margaret, throwing her
head back with proud disdain, till her throat curved outwards
like a swan's. 'You can say nothing more, Mrs. Thornton. I
decline every attempt to justify myself for anything. You must
allow me to leave the room.'
And she swept out of it with the noiseless grace of an offended
princess. Mrs. Thornton had quite enough of natural humour to
make her feel the ludicrousness of the position in which she was
left. There was nothing for it but to show herself out. She was
not particularly annoyed at Margaret's way of behaving. She did
not care enough for her for that. She had taken Mrs. Thornton's
remonstrance to the full as keenly to heart as that lady
expected; and Margaret's passion at once mollified her visitor,
far more than any silence or reserve could have done. It showed
the effect of her words. 'My young lady,' thought Mrs. Thornton
to herself; 'you've a pretty good temper of your own. If John and
you had come together, he would have had to keep a tight hand
over you, to make you know your place. But I don't think you will
go a-walking again with your beau, at such an hour of the day, in
a hurry. You've too much pride and spirit in you for that. I like
to see a girl fly out at the notion of being talked about. It
shows they're neither giddy, nor hold by nature. As for that
girl, she might be hold, but she'd never be giddy. I'll do her
that justice. Now as to Fanny, she'd be giddy, and not bold.
She's no courage in her, poor thing!'
Mr. Thornton was not spending the morning so satisfactorily as
his mother. She, at any rate, was fulfilling her determined
purpose. He was trying to understand where he stood; what damage
the strike had done him. A good deal of his capital was locked up
in new and expensive machinery; and he had also bought cotton
largely, with a view to some great orders which he had in hand.
The strike had thrown him terribly behindhand, as to the
completion of these orders. Even with his own accustomed and
skilled workpeople, he would have had some difficulty in
fulfilling his engagements; as it was, the incompetence of the
Irish hands, who had to be trained to their work, at a time
requiring unusual activity, was a daily annoyance.
It was not a favourable hour for Higgins to make his request. But
he had promised Margaret to do it at any cost. So, though every
moment added to his repugnance, his pride, and his sullenness of
temper, he stood leaning against the dead wall, hour after hour,
first on one leg, then on the other. At last the latch was
sharply lifted, and out came Mr. Thornton.
'I want for to speak to yo', sir.'
'Can't stay now, my man. I'm too late as it is.'
'Well, sir, I reckon I can wait till yo' come back.'
Mr. Thornton was half way down the street. Higgins sighed. But it
was no use. To catch him in the street was his only chance of
seeing 'the measter;' if he had rung the lodge bell, or even gone
up to the house to ask for him, he would have been referred to
the overlooker. So he stood still again, vouchsafing no answer,
but a short nod of recognition to the few men who knew and spoke
to him, as the crowd drove out of the millyard at dinner-time,
and scowling with all his might at the Irish 'knobsticks' who had
just been imported. At last Mr. Thornton returned.
'What! you there still!'
'Ay, sir. I mun speak to yo'.'
'Come in here, then. Stay, we'll go across the yard; the men are
not come back, and we shall have it to ourselves. These good
people, I see, are at dinner;' said he, closing the door of the
He stopped to speak to the overlooker. The latter said in a low
'I suppose you know, sir, that that man is Higgins, one of the
leaders of the Union; he that made that speech in Hurstfield.'
'No, I didn't,' said Mr. Thornton, looking round sharply at his
follower. Higgins was known to him by name as a turbulent spirit.
'Come along,' said he, and his tone was rougher than before. 'It
is men such as this,' thought he, 'who interrupt commerce and
injure the very town they live in: mere demagogues, lovers of
power, at whatever cost to others.'
'Well, sir! what do you want with me?' said Mr. Thornton, facing
round at him, as soon as they were in the counting-house of the
'My name is Higgins'--
'I know that,' broke in Mr. Thornton. 'What do you want, Mr.
Higgins? That's the question.'
'I want work.'
'Work! You're a pretty chap to come asking me for work. You don't
want impudence, that's very clear.'
'I've getten enemies and backbiters, like my betters; but I ne'er
heerd o' ony of them calling me o'er-modest,' said Higgins. His
blood was a little roused by Mr. Thornton's manner, more than by
Mr. Thornton saw a letter addressed to himself on the table. He
took it up and read it through. At the end, he looked up and
said, 'What are you waiting for?'
'An answer to the question I axed.'
'I gave it you before. Don't waste any more of your time.'
'Yo' made a remark, sir, on my impudence: but I were taught that
it was manners to say either "yes" or "no," when I were axed a
civil question. I should be thankfu' to yo' if yo'd give me work.
Hamper will speak to my being a good hand.'
'I've a notion you'd better not send me to Hamper to ask for a
character, my man. I might hear more than you'd like.'
'I'd take th' risk. Worst they could say of me is, that I did
what I thought best, even to my own wrong.'
'You'd better go and try them, then, and see whether they'll give
you work. I've turned off upwards of a hundred of my best hands,
for no other fault than following you and such as you; and d'ye
think I'll take you on? I might as well put a firebrand into the
midst of the cotton-waste.'
Higgins turned away; then the recollection of Boucher came over
him, and he faced round with the greatest concession he could
persuade himself to make.
'I'd promise yo', measter, I'd not speak a word as could do harm,
if so be yo' did right by us; and I'd promise more: I'd promise
that when I seed yo' going wrong, and acting unfair, I'd speak to
yo' in private first; and that would be a fair warning. If yo'
and I did na agree in our opinion o' your conduct, yo' might turn
me off at an hour's notice.'
'Upon my word, you don't think small beer of yourself! Hamper has
had a loss of you. How came he to let you and your wisdom go?'
'Well, we parted wi' mutual dissatisfaction. I wouldn't gi'e the
pledge they were asking; and they wouldn't have me at no rate. So
I'm free to make another engagement; and as I said before, though
I should na' say it, I'm a good hand, measter, and a steady
man--specially when I can keep fro' drink; and that I shall do
now, if I ne'er did afore.'
'That you may have more money laid up for another strike, I
'No! I'd be thankful if I was free to do that; it's for to keep
th' widow and childer of a man who was drove mad by them
knobsticks o' yourn; put out of his place by a Paddy that did na
know weft fro' warp.'
'Well! you'd better turn to something else, if you've any such
good intention in your head. I shouldn't advise you to stay in
Milton: you're too well known here.'
'If it were summer,' said Higgins, 'I'd take to Paddy's work, and
go as a navvy, or haymaking, or summut, and ne'er see Milton
again. But it's winter, and th' childer will clem.'
'A pretty navvy you'd make! why, you couldn't do half a day's
work at digging against an Irishman.'
'I'd only charge half-a-day for th' twelve hours, if I could only
do half-a-day's work in th' time. Yo're not knowing of any place,
where they could gi' me a trial, away fro' the mills, if I'm such
a firebrand? I'd take any wage they thought I was worth, for the
sake of those childer.'
'Don't you see what you would be? You'd be a knobstick. You'd be
taking less wages than the other labourers--all for the sake of
another man's children. Think how you'd abuse any poor fellow who
was willing to take what he could get to keep his own children.
You and your Union would soon be down upon him. No! no! if it's
only for the recollection of the way in which you've used the
poor knobsticks before now, I say No! to your question. I'll not
give you work. I won't say, I don't believe your pretext for
coming and asking for work; I know nothing about it. It may be
true, or it may not. It's a very unlikely story, at any rate. Let
me pass. I'll not give you work. There's your answer.'
'I hear, sir. I would na ha' troubled yo', but that I were bid to
come, by one as seemed to think yo'd getten some soft place in,
yo'r heart. Hoo were mistook, and I were misled. But I'm not the
first man as is misled by a woman.'
'Tell her to mind her own business the next time, instead of
taking up your time and mine too. I believe women are at the
bottom of every plague in this world. Be off with you.'
'I'm obleeged to yo' for a' yo'r kindness, measter, and most of
a' for yo'r civil way o' saying good-bye.'
Mr. Thornton did not deign a reply. But, looking out of the
window a minute after, he was struck with the lean, bent figure
going out of the yard: the heavy walk was in strange contrast
with the resolute, clear determination of the man to speak to
him. He crossed to the porter's lodge:
'How long has that man Higgins been waiting to speak to me?'
'He was outside the gate before eight o'clock, sir. I think he's
been there ever since.'
'And it is now--?'
'Just one, sir.'
'Five hours,' thought Mr. Thornton; 'it's a long time for a man
to wait, doing nothing but first hoping and then fearing.'
'Nay, I have done; you get no more of me:
And I am glad, yea glad with all my heart,
That thus so clearly I myself am free.'
Margaret shut herself up in her own room, after she had quitted
Mrs. Thornton. She began to walk backwards and forwards, in her
old habitual way of showing agitation; but, then, remembering
that in that slightly-built house every step was heard from one
room to another, she sate down until she heard Mrs. Thornton go
safely out of the house. She forced herself to recollect all the
conversation that had passed between them; speech by speech, she
compelled her memory to go through with it. At the end, she rose
up, and said to herself, in a melancholy tone:
'At any rate, her words do not touch me; they fall off from me;
for I am innocent of all the motives she attributes to me. But
still, it is hard to think that any one--any woman--can believe
all this of another so easily. It is hard and sad. Where I have
done wrong, she does not accuse me--she does not know. He never
told her: I might have known he would not!'
She lifted up her head, as if she took pride in any delicacy of
feeling which Mr. Thornton had shown. Then, as a new thought came
across her, she pressed her hands tightly together.
'He, too, must take poor Frederick for some lover.' (She blushed
as the word passed through her mind.) 'I see it now. It is not
merely that he knows of my falsehood, but he believes that some
one else cares for me; and that I----Oh dear!--oh dear! What
shall I do? What do I mean? Why do I care what he thinks, beyond
the mere loss of his good opinion as regards my telling the truth
or not? I cannot tell. But I am very miserable! Oh, how unhappy
this last year has been! I have passed out of childhood into old
age. I have had no youth--no womanhood; the hopes of womanhood
have closed for me--for I shall never marry; and I anticipate
cares and sorrows just as if I were an old woman, and with the
same fearful spirit. I am weary of this continual call upon me
for strength. I could bear up for papa; because that is a
natural, pious duty. And I think I could bear up against--at any
rate, I could have the energy to resent, Mrs. Thornton's unjust,
impertinent suspicions. But it is hard to feel how completely he
must misunderstand me. What has happened to make me so morbid
to-day? I do not know. I only know I cannot help it. I must give
way sometimes. No, I will not, though,' said she, springing to
her feet. 'I will not--I ~will~ not think of myself and my own
position. I won't examine into my own feelings. It would be of no
use now. Some time, if I live to be an old woman, I may sit over
the fire, and, looking into the embers, see the life that might
All this time, she was hastily putting on her things to go out,
only stopping from time to time to wipe her eyes, with an
impatience of gesture at the tears that would come, in spite of
all her bravery.
'I dare say, there's many a woman makes as sad a mistake as I
have done, and only finds it out too late. And how proudly and
impertinently I spoke to him that day! But I did not know then.
It has come upon me little by little, and I don't know where it
began. Now I won't give way. I shall find it difficult to behave
in the same way to him, with this miserable consciousness upon
me; but I will be very calm and very quiet, and say very little.
But, to be sure, I may not see him; he keeps out of our way
evidently. That would be worse than all. And yet no wonder that
he avoids me, believing what he must about me.'
She went out, going rapidly towards the country, and trying to
drown reflection by swiftness of motion.
As she stood on the door-step, at her return, her father came up:
'Good girl!' said he. 'You've been to Mrs. Boucher's. I was just
meaning to go there, if I had time, before dinner.'
'No, papa; I have not,' said Margaret, reddening. 'I never
thought about her. But I will go directly after dinner; I will go
while you are taking your nap.
Accordingly Margaret went. Mrs. Boucher was very ill; really
ill--not merely ailing. The kind and sensible neighbour, who had
come in the other day, seemed to have taken charge of everything.
Some of the children were gone to the neighbours. Mary Higgins
had come for the three youngest at dinner-time; and since then
Nicholas had gone for the doctor. He had not come as yet; Mrs.
Boucher was dying; and there was nothing to do but to wait.
Margaret thought that she should like to know his opinion, and
that she could not do better than go and see the Higginses in the
meantime. She might then possibly hear whether Nicholas had been
able to make his application to Mr. Thornton.
She found Nicholas busily engaged in making a penny spin on the
dresser, for the amusement of three little children, who were
clinging to him in a fearless manner. He, as well as they, was
smiling at a good long spin; and Margaret thought, that the happy
look of interest in his occupation was a good sign. When the
penny stopped spinning, 'lile Johnnie' began to cry.
'Come to me,' said Margaret, taking him off the dresser, and
holding him in her arms; she held her watch to his ear, while she
asked Nicholas if he had seen Mr. Thornton.
The look on his face changed instantly.
'Ay!' said he. 'I've seen and heerd too much on him.'
'He refused you, then?' said Margaret, sorrowfully.
'To be sure. I knew he'd do it all long. It's no good expecting
marcy at the hands o' them measters. Yo're a stranger and a
foreigner, and aren't likely to know their ways; but I knowed
'I am sorry I asked you. Was he angry? He did not speak to you as
Hamper did, did he?'
'He weren't o'er-civil!' said Nicholas, spinning the penny again,
as much for his own amusement as for that of the children. 'Never
yo' fret, I'm only where I was. I'll go on tramp to-morrow. I
gave him as good as I got. I telled him, I'd not that good
opinion on him that I'd ha' come a second time of mysel'; but
yo'd advised me for to come, and I were beholden to yo'.'
'You told him I sent you?'
'I dunno' if I ca'd yo' by your name. I dunnot think I did. I
said, a woman who knew no better had advised me for to come and
see if there was a soft place in his heart.'
'And he--?' asked Margaret.
'Said I were to tell yo' to mind yo'r own business.--That's the
longest spin yet, my lads.--And them's civil words to what he
used to me. But ne'er mind. We're but where we was; and I'll
break stones on th' road afore I let these little uns clem.'
Margaret put the struggling Johnnie out of her arms, back into
his former place on the dresser.
'I am sorry I asked you to go to Mr. Thornton's. I am
disappointed in him.'
There was a slight noise behind her. Both she and Nicholas turned
round at the same moment, and there stood Mr. Thornton, with a
look of displeased surprise upon his face. Obeying her swift
impulse, Margaret passed out before him, saying not a word, only
bowing low to hide the sudden paleness that she felt had come
over her face. He bent equally low in return, and then closed the
door after her. As she hurried to Mrs. Boucher's, she heard the
clang, and it seemed to fill up the measure of her mortification.
He too was annoyed to find her there. He had tenderness in his
heart--'a soft place,' as Nicholas Higgins called it; but he had
some pride in concealing it; he kept it very sacred and safe, and
was jealous of every circumstance that tried to gain admission.
But if he dreaded exposure of his tenderness, he was equally
desirous that all men should recognise his justice; and he felt
that he had been unjust, in giving so scornful a hearing to any
one who had waited, with humble patience, for five hours, to
speak to him. That the man had spoken saucily to him when he had
the opportunity, was nothing to Mr. Thornton. He rather liked him
for it; and he was conscious of his own irritability of temper at
the time, which probably made them both quits. It was the five
hours of waiting that struck Mr. Thornton. He had not five hours
to spare himself; but one hour--two hours, of his hard
penetrating intellectual, as well as bodily labour, did he give
up to going about collecting evidence as to the truth of
Higgins's story, the nature of his character, the tenor of his
life. He tried not to be, but was convinced that all that Higgins
had said. was true. And then the conviction went in, as if by
some spell, and touched the latent tenderness of his heart; the
patience of the man, the simple generosity of the motive (for he
had learnt about the quarrel between Boucher and Higgins), made
him forget entirely the mere reasonings of justice, and overleap
them by a diviner instinct. He came to tell Higgins he would give
him work; and he was more annoyed to find Margaret there than by
hearing her last words, for then he understood that she was the
woman who had urged Higgins to come to him; and he dreaded the
admission of any thought of her, as a motive to what he was doing
solely because it was right.
'So that was the lady you spoke of as a woman?' said he
indignantly to Higgins. 'You might have told me who she was.
'And then, maybe, yo'd ha' spoken of her more civil than yo' did;
yo'd getten a mother who might ha' kept yo'r tongue in check when
yo' were talking o' women being at the root o' all the plagues.'
'Of course you told that to Miss Hale?'
'In coorse I did. Leastways, I reckon I did. I telled her she
weren't to meddle again in aught that concerned yo'.'
'Whose children are those--yours?' Mr. Thornton had a pretty good
notion whose they were, from what he had heard; but he felt
awkward in turning the conversation round from this unpromising
'They're not mine, and they are mine.'
'They are the children you spoke of to me this morning?'
'When yo' said,' replied Higgins, turning round, with
ill-smothered fierceness, 'that my story might be true or might
not, bur it were a very unlikely one. Measter, I've not
Mr. Thornton was silent for a moment; then he said: 'No more have
I. I remember what I said. I spoke to you about those children in
a way I had no business to do. I did not believe you. I could not
have taken care of another man's children myself, if he had acted
towards me as I hear Boucher did towards you. But I know now that
you spoke truth. I beg your pardon.'
Higgins did not turn round, or immediately respond to this. But
when he did speak, it was in a softened tone, although the words
were gruff enough.
'Yo've no business to go prying into what happened between
Boucher and me. He's dead, and I'm sorry. That's enough.'
'So it is. Will you take work with me? That's what I came to
Higgins's obstinacy wavered, recovered strength, and stood firm.
He would not speak. Mr. Thornton would not ask again. Higgins's
eye fell on the children.
'Yo've called me impudent, and a liar, and a mischief-maker, and
yo' might ha' said wi' some truth, as I were now and then given
to drink. An' I ha' called you a tyrant, an' an oud bull-dog, and
a hard, cruel master; that's where it stands. But for th'
childer. Measter, do yo' think we can e'er get on together?'
'Well!' said Mr. Thornton, half-laughing, 'it was not my proposal
that we should go together. But there's one comfort, on your own
showing. We neither of us can think much worse of the other than
we do now.'
'That's true,' said Higgins, reflectively. 'I've been thinking,
ever sin' I saw you, what a marcy it were yo' did na take me on,
for that I ne'er saw a man whom I could less abide. But that's
maybe been a hasty judgment; and work's work to such as me. So,
measter, I'll come; and what's more, I thank yo'; and that's a
deal fro' me,' said he, more frankly, suddenly turning round and
facing Mr. Thornton fully for the first time.
'And this is a deal from me,' said Mr. Thornton, giving Higgins's
hand a good grip. 'Now mind you come sharp to your time,'
continued he, resuming the master. 'I'll have no laggards at my
mill. What fines we have, we keep pretty sharply. And the first
time I catch you making mischief, off you go. So now you know
where you are.'
'Yo' spoke of my wisdom this morning. I reckon I may bring it wi'
me; or would yo' rayther have me 'bout my brains?'
''Bout your brains if you use them for meddling with my business;
with your brains if you can keep them to your own.'
'I shall need a deal o' brains to settle where my business ends
and yo'rs begins.'
'Your business has not begun yet, and mine stands still for me.
So good afternoon.'
Just before Mr. Thornton came up to Mrs. Boucher's door, Margaret
came out of it. She did not see him; and he followed her for
several yards, admiring her light and easy walk, and her tall and
graceful figure. But, suddenly, this simple emotion of pleasure
was tainted, poisoned by jealousy. He wished to overtake her, and
speak to her, to see how she would receive him, now she must know
he was aware of some other attachment. He wished too, but of this
wish he was rather ashamed, that she should know that he had
justified her wisdom in sending Higgins to him to ask for work;
and had repented him of his morning's decision. He came up to
her. She started.
'Allow me to say, Miss Hale, that you were rather premature in
expressing your disappointment. I have taken Higgins on.'
'I am glad of it,' said she, coldly.
'He tells me, he repeated to you, what I said this morning
about--' Mr. Thornton hesitated. Margaret took it up:
'About women not meddling. You had a perfect right to express
your opinion, which was a very correct one, I have no doubt.
But,' she went on a little more eagerly, 'Higgins did not quite
tell you the exact truth.' The word 'truth,' reminded her of her
own untruth, and she stopped short, feeling exceedingly
Mr. Thornton at first was puzzled to account for her silence; and
then he remembered the lie she had told, and all that was
foregone. 'The exact truth!' said he. 'Very few people do speak
the exact truth. I have given up hoping for it. Miss Hale, have
you no explanation to give me? You must perceive what I cannot
Margaret was silent. She was wondering whether an explanation of
any kind would be consistent with her loyalty to Frederick.
'Nay,' said he, 'I will ask no farther. I may be putting
temptation in your way. At present, believe me, your secret is
safe with me. But you run great risks, allow me to say, in being
so indiscreet. I am now only speaking as a friend of your
father's: if I had any other thought or hope, of course that is
at an end. I am quite disinterested.'
'I am aware of that,' said Margaret, forcing herself to speak in
an indifferent, careless way. 'I am aware of what I must appear
to you, but the secret is another person's, and I cannot explain
it without doing him harm.'
'I have not the slightest wish to pry into the gentleman's
secrets,' he said, with growing anger. 'My own interest in you
is--simply that of a friend. You may not believe me, Miss Hale,
but it is--in spite of the persecution I'm afraid I threatened
you with at one time--but that is all given up; all passed away.
You believe me, Miss Hale?'
'Yes,' said Margaret, quietly and sadly.
'Then, really, I don't see any occasion for us to go on walking
together. I thought, perhaps you might have had something to say,
but I see we are nothing to each other. If you're quite
convinced, that any foolish passion on my part is entirely over,
I will wish you good afternoon.' He walked off very hastily.
'What can he mean?' thought Margaret,--'what could he mean by
speaking so, as if I were always thinking that he cared for me,
when I know he does not; he cannot. His mother will have said all
those cruel things about me to him. But I won't care for him. I
surely am mistress enough of myself to control this wild,
strange, miserable feeling, which tempted me even to betray my
own dear Frederick, so that I might but regain his good
opinion--the good opinion of a man who takes such pains to tell
me that I am nothing to him. Come poor little heart! be cheery
and brave. We'll be a great deal to one another, if we are thrown
off and left desolate.'
Her father was almost startled by her merriment this afternoon.
She talked incessantly, and forced her natural humour to an
unusual pitch; and if there was a tinge of bitterness in much of
what she said; if her accounts of the old Harley Street set were
a little sarcastic, her father could not bear to check her, as he
would have done at another time--for he was glad to see her shake
off her cares. In the middle of the evening, she was called down
to speak to Mary Higgins; and when she came back, Mr. Hale
imagined that he saw traces of tears on her cheeks. But that
could not be, for she brought good news--that Higgins had got
work at Mr. Thornton's mill. Her spirits were damped, at any
rate, and she found it very difficult to go on talking at all,
much more in the wild way that she had done. For some days her
spirits varied strangely; and her father was beginning to be
anxious about her, when news arrived from one or two quarters
that promised some change and variety for her. Mr. Hale received
a letter from Mr. Bell, in which that gentleman volunteered a
visit to them; and Mr. Hale imagined that the promised society of
his old Oxford friend would give as agreeable a turn to
Margaret's ideas as it did to his own. Margaret tried to take an
interest in what pleased her father; but she was too languid to
care about any Mr. Bell, even though he were twenty times her
godfather. She was more roused by a letter from Edith, full of
sympathy about her aunt's death; full of details about herself,
her husband, and child; and at the end saying, that as the
climate did not suit, the baby, and as Mrs. Shaw was talking of
returning to England, she thought it probable that Captain Lennox
might sell out, and that they might all go and live again in the
old Harley Street house; which, however, would seem very
incomplete with-out Margaret. Margaret yearned after that old
house, and the placid tranquillity of that old well-ordered,
monotonous life. She had found it occasionally tiresome while it
lasted; but since then she had been buffeted about, and felt so
exhausted by this recent struggle with herself, that she thought
that even stagnation would be a rest and a refreshment. So she
began to look towards a long visit to the Lennoxes, on their
return to England, as to a point--no, not of hope--but of
leisure, in which she could regain her power and command over
herself. At present it seemed to her as if all subjects tended
towards Mr. Thornton; as if she could not for-get him with all
her endeavours. If she went to see the Higginses, she heard of
him there; her father had resumed their readings together, and
quoted his opinions perpetually; even Mr. Bell's visit brought
his tenant's name upon the tapis; for he wrote word that he
believed he must be occupied some great part of his time with Mr.
Thornton, as a new lease was in preparation, and the terms of it
must be agreed upon.
OUT OF TUNE
'I have no wrong, where I can claim no right,
Naught ta'en me fro, where I have nothing had,
Yet of my woe I cannot so be quite;
Namely, since that another may he glad
With that, that thus in sorrow makes me sad.'
Margaret had not expected much pleasure to herself from Mr.
Bell's visit--she had only looked forward to it on her father's
account, but when her godfather came, she at once fell into the
most natural position of friendship in the world. He said she had
no merit in being what she was, a girl so entirely after his own
heart; it was an hereditary power which she had, to walk in and
take possession of his regard; while she, in reply, gave him much
credit for being so fresh and young under his Fellow's cap and
'Fresh and young in warmth and kindness, I mean. I'm afraid I
must own, that I think your opinions are the oldest and mustiest
I have met with this long time.'
'Hear this daughter of yours, Hale Her residence in Milton has
quite corrupted her. She's a democrat, a red republican, a member
of the Peace Society, a socialist--'
'Papa, it's all because I'm standing up for the progress of
commerce. Mr. Bell would have had it keep still at exchanging
wild-beast skins for acorns.'
'No, no. I'd dig the ground and grow potatoes. And I'd shave the
wild-beast skins and make the wool into broad cloth. Don't
exaggerate, missy. But I'm tired of this bustle. Everybody
rushing over everybody, in their hurry to get rich.'
'It is not every one who can sit comfortably in a set of college
rooms, and let his riches grow without any exertion of his own.
No doubt there is many a man here who would be thankful if his
property would increase as yours has done, without his taking any
trouble about it,' said Mr. Hale.
'I don't believe they would. It's the bustle and the struggle
they like. As for sitting still, and learning from the past, or
shaping out the future by faithful work done in a prophetic
spirit--Why! Pooh! I don't believe there's a man in Milton who
knows how to sit still; and it is a great art.'
'Milton people, I suspect, think Oxford men don't know how to
move. It would be a very good thing if they mixed a little more.'
'It might be good for the Miltoners. Many things might be good
for them which would be very disagreeable for other people.'
'Are you not a Milton man yourself?' asked Margaret. 'I should
have thought you would have been proud of your town.'
'I confess, I don't see what there is to be proud of If you'll
only come to Oxford, Margaret, I will show you a place to glory
'Well!' said Mr. Hale, 'Mr. Thornton is coming to drink tea with
us to-night, and he is as proud of Milton as you of Oxford. You
two must try and make each other a little more liberal-minded.'
'I don't want to be more liberal-minded, thank you,' said Mr.
'Is Mr. Thornton coming to tea, papa?' asked Margaret in a low
'Either to tea or soon after. He could not tell. He told us not
Mr. Thornton had determined that he would make no inquiry of his
mother as to how far she had put her project into execution of
speaking to Margaret about the impropriety of her conduct. He
felt pretty sure that, if this interview took place, his mother's
account of what passed at it would only annoy and chagrin him,
though he would all the time be aware of the colouring which it
received by passing through her mind. He shrank from hearing
Margaret's very name mentioned; he, while he blamed her--while he
was jealous of her--while he renounced her--he loved her sorely,
in spite of himself. He dreamt of her; he dreamt she came dancing
towards him with outspread arms, and with a lightness and gaiety
which made him loathe her, even while it allured him. But the
impression of this figure of Margaret--with all Margaret's
character taken out of it, as completely as if some evil spirit
had got possession of her form--was so deeply stamped upon his
imagination, that when he wakened he felt hardly able to separate
the Una from the Duessa; and the dislike he had to the latter
seemed to envelope and disfigure the former Yet he was too proud
to acknowledge his weakness by avoiding the sight of her. He
would neither seek an opportunity of being in her company nor
avoid it. To convince himself of his power of self-control, he
lingered over every piece of business this afternoon; he forced
every movement into unnatural slowness and deliberation; and it
was consequently past eight o'clock before he reached Mr. Hale's.
Then there were business arrangements to be transacted in the
study with Mr. Bell; and the latter kept on, sitting over the
fire, and talking wearily, long after all business was
transacted, and when they might just as well have gone upstairs.
But Mr. Thornton would not say a word about moving their
quarters; he chafed and chafed, and thought Mr. Bell a most prosy
companion; while Mr. Bell returned the compliment in secret, by
considering Mr. Thornton about as brusque and curt a fellow as he
had ever met with, and terribly gone off both in intelligence and
manner. At last, some slight noise in the room above suggested
the desirableness of moving there. They found Margaret with a
letter open before her, eagerly discussing its contents with her
father. On the entrance of the gentlemen, it was immediately put
aside; but Mr. Thornton's eager senses caught some few words of
Mr. Hale's to Mr. Bell.
'A letter from Henry Lennox. It makes Margaret very hopeful.'
Mr. Bell nodded. Margaret was red as a rose when Mr. Thornton
looked at her. He had the greatest mind in the world to get up
and go out of the room that very instant, and never set foot in
the house again.
'We were thinking,' said Mr. Hale, 'that you and Mr. Thornton had
taken Margaret's advice, and were each trying to convert the
other, you were so long in the study.'
'And you thought there would be nothing left of us but an
opinion, like the Kilkenny cat's tail. Pray whose opinion did you
think would have the most obstinate vitality?'
Mr. Thornton had not a notion what they were talking about, and
disdained to inquire. Mr. Hale politely enlightened him.
'Mr. Thornton, we were accusing Mr. Bell this morning of a kind
of Oxonian mediaeval bigotry against his native town; and
we--Margaret, I believe--suggested that it would do him good to
associate a little with Milton manufacturers.'
'I beg your pardon. Margaret thought it would do the Milton
manufacturers good to associate a little more with Oxford men.
Now wasn't it so, Margaret?'
'I believe I thought it would do both good to see a little more
of the other,--I did not know it was my idea any more than
'And so you see, Mr. Thornton, we ought to have been improving
each other down-stairs, instead of talking over vanished families
of Smiths and Harrisons. However, I am willing to do my part now.
I wonder when you Milton men intend to live. All your lives seem
to be spent in gathering together the materials for life.'
'By living, I suppose you mean enjoyment.'
'Yes, enjoyment,--I don't specify of what, because I trust. we
should both consider mere pleasure as very poor enjoyment.'
'I would rather have the nature of the enjoyment defined.'
'Well! enjoyment of leisure--enjoyment of the power and influence
which money gives. You are all striving for money. What do you
want it for?'
Mr. Thornton was silent. Then he said, 'I really don't know. But
money is not what ~I~ strive for.'
'It is a home question. I shall have to lay myself open to such a
catechist, and I am not sure that I am prepared to do it.'
'No!' said Mr. Hale; 'don't let us be personal in our catechism.
You are neither of you representative men; you are each of you
too individual for that.'
'I am not sure whether to consider that as a compliment or not. I
should like to be the representative of Oxford, with its beauty
and its learning, and its proud old history. What do you say,
Margaret; ought I to be flattered?'
'I don't know Oxford. But there is a difference between being the
representative of a city and the representative man of its
'Very true, Miss Margaret. Now I remember, you were against me
this morning, and were quite Miltonian and manufacturing in your
preferences.' Margaret saw the quick glance of surprise that Mr.
Thornton gave her, and she was annoyed at the construction which
he might put on this speech of Mr. Bell's. Mr. Bell went on--
'Ah! I wish I could show you our High Street--our Radcliffe
Square. I am leaving out our colleges, just as I give Mr.
Thornton leave to omit his factories in speaking of the charms of
Milton. I have a right to abuse my birth-place. Remember I am a
Mr. Thornton was annoyed more than he ought to have been at all
that Mr. Bell was saying. He was not in a mood for joking. At
another time, he could have enjoyed Mr. Bell's half testy
condemnation of a town where the life was so at variance with
every habit he had formed; but now, he was galled enough to
attempt to defend what was never meant to be seriously attacked.
'I don't set up Milton as a model of a town.'
'Not in architecture?' slyly asked Mr. Bell.
'No! We've been too busy to attend to mere outward appearances.'
'Don't say ~mere~ outward appearances,' said Mr. Hale, gently.
'They impress us all, from childhood upward--every day of our
'Wait a little while,' said Mr. Thornton. 'Remember, we are of a
different race from the Greeks, to whom beauty was everything,
and to whom Mr. Bell might speak of a life of leisure and serene
enjoyment, much of which entered in through their outward senses.
I don't mean to despise them, any more than I would ape them. But
I belong to Teutonic blood; it is little mingled in this part of
England to what it is in others; we retain much of their
language; we retain more of their spirit; we do not look upon
life as a time for enjoyment, but as a time for action and
exertion. Our glory and our beauty arise out of our inward
strength, which makes us victorious over material resistance, and
over greater difficulties still. We are Teutonic up here in
Darkshire in another way. We hate to have laws made for us at a
distance. We wish people would allow us to right ourselves,
instead of continually meddling, with their imperfect
legislation. We stand up for self-government, and oppose
'In short, you would like the Heptarchy back again. Well, at any
rate, I revoke what I said this morning--that you Milton people
did not reverence the past. You are regular worshippers of Thor.'
'If we do not reverence the past as you do in Oxford, it is
because we want something which can apply to the present more
directly. It is fine when the study of the past leads to a
prophecy of the future. But to men groping in new circumstances,
it would be finer if the words of experience could direct us how
to act in what concerns us most intimately and immediately; which
is full of difficulties that must be encountered; and upon the
mode in which they are met and conquered--not merely pushed aside
for the time--depends our future. Out of the wisdom of the past,
help us over the present. But no! People can speak of Utopia much
more easily than of the next day's duty; and yet when that duty
is all done by others, who so ready to cry, "Fie, for shame!"'
'And all this time I don't see what you are talking about. Would
you Milton men condescend to send up your to-day's difficulty to
Oxford? You have not tried us yet.'
Mr. Thornton laughed outright at this. 'I believe I was talking
with reference to a good deal that has been troubling us of late;
I was thinking of the strikes we have gone through, which are
troublesome and injurious things enough, as I am finding to my
cost. And yet this last strike, under which I am smarting, has
'A respectable strike!' said Mr. Bell. 'That sounds as if you
were far gone in the worship of Thor.'
Margaret felt, rather than saw, that Mr. Thornton was chagrined
by the repeated turning into jest of what he was feeling as very
serious. She tried to change the conversation from a subject
about which one party cared little, while, to the other, it was
deeply, because personally, interesting. She forced herself to
'Edith says she finds the printed calicoes in Corfu better and
cheaper than in London.'
'Does she?' said her father. 'I think that must be one of Edith's
exaggerations. Are you sure of it, Margaret?'
'I am sure she says so, papa.'
'Then I am sure of the fact,' said Mr. Bell. 'Margaret, I go so
far in my idea of your truthfulness, that it shall cover your
cousin's character. I don't believe a cousin of yours could
'Is Miss Hale so remarkable for truth?' said Mr. Thornton,
bitterly. The moment he had done so, he could have bitten his
tongue out. What was he? And why should he stab her with her
shame in this way? How evil he was to-night; possessed by
ill-humour at being detained so long from her; irritated by the
mention of some name, because he thought it belonged to a more
successful lover; now ill-tempered because he had been unable to
cope, with a light heart, against one who was trying, by gay and
careless speeches, to make the evening pass pleasantly away,--the
kind old friend to all parties, whose manner by this time might
be well known to Mr. Thornton, who had been acquainted with him
for many years. And then to speak to Margaret as he had done! She
did not get up and leave the room, as she had done in former
days, when his abruptness or his temper had annoyed her. She sat
quite still, after the first momentary glance of grieved
surprise, that made her eyes look like some child's who has met
with an unexpected rebuff; they slowly dilated into mournful,
reproachful sadness; and then they fell, and she bent over her
work, and did not speak again. But he could not help looking at
her, and he saw a sigh tremble over her body, as if she quivered
in some unwonted chill. He felt as the mother would have done, in
the midst of 'her rocking it, and rating it,' had she been called
away before her slow confiding smile, implying perfect trust in
mother's love, had proved the renewing of its love. He gave short
sharp answers; he was uneasy and cross, unable to discern between
jest and earnest; anxious only for a look, a word of hers, before
which to prostrate himself in penitent humility. But she neither
looked nor spoke. Her round taper fingers flew in and out of her
sewing, as steadily and swiftly as if that were the business of
her life. She could not care for him, he thought, or else the
passionate fervour of his wish would have forced her to raise
those eyes, if but for an instant, to read the late repentance in
his. He could have struck her before he left, in order that by
some strange overt act of rudeness, he might earn the privilege
of telling her the remorse that gnawed at his heart. It was well
that the long walk in the open air wound up this evening for him.
It sobered him back into grave resolution, that henceforth he
would see as little of her as possible,--since the very sight of
that face arid form, the very sounds of that voice (like the soft
winds of pure melody) had such power to move him from his
balance. Well! He had known what love was--a sharp pang, a fierce
experience, in the midst of whose flames he was struggling! but,
through that furnace he would fight his way out into the serenity
of middle age,--all the richer and more human for having known
this great passion.
When he had somewhat abruptly left the room, Margaret rose from
her seat, and began silently to fold up her work; The long seams
were heavy, and had an unusual weight for her languid arms. The
round lines in her face took a lengthened, straighter form, and
her whole appearance was that of one who had gone through a day
of great fatigue. As the three prepared for bed, Mr. Bell
muttered forth a little condemnation of Mr. Thornton.
'I never saw a fellow so spoiled by success. He can't bear a
word; a jest of any kind. Everything seems to touch on the
soreness of his high dignity. Formerly, he was as simple and
noble as the open day; you could not offend him, because he had
'He is not vain now,' said Margaret, turning round from the
table, and speaking with quiet distinctness. 'To-night he has not
been like himself Something must have annoyed him before he came
Mr. Bell gave her one of his sharp glances from above his
spectacles. She stood it quite calmly; but, after she had left
the room, he suddenly asked,--
'Hale! did it ever strike you that Thornton and your daughter
have what the French call a tendresse for each other?'
'Never!' said Mr. Hale, first startled and then flurried by the
new idea. 'No, I am sure you are wrong. I am almost certain you
are mistaken. If there is anything, it is all on Mr. Thornton's
side. Poor fellow! I hope and trust he is not thinking of her,
for I am sure she would not have him.'
'Well! I'm a bachelor, and have steered clear of love affairs all
my life; so perhaps my opinion is not worth having. Or else I
should say there were very pretty symptoms about her!'
'Then I am sure you are wrong,' said Mr. Hale. 'He may care for
her, though she really has been almost rude to him at times. But
she!--why, Margaret would never think of him, I'm sure! Such a
thing has never entered her head.'
'Entering her heart would do. But I merely threw out a suggestion
of what might be. I dare say I was wrong. And whether I was wrong
or right, I'm very sleepy; so, having disturbed your night's rest
(as I can see) with my untimely fancies, I'll betake myself with
an easy mind to my own.'
But Mr. Hale resolved that he would not be disturbed by any such
nonsensical idea; so he lay awake, determining not to think about
Mr. Bell took his leave the next day, bidding Margaret look to
him as one who had a right to help and protect her in all her
troubles, of whatever nature they might be. To Mr. Hale he
'That Margaret of yours has gone deep into my heart. Take care of
her, for she is a very precious creature,--a great deal too good
for Milton,--only fit for Oxford, in fact. The town, I mean; not
the men. I can't match her yet. When I can, I shall bring my
young man to stand side by side with your young woman, just as
the genie in the Arabian Nights brought Prince Caralmazan to
match with the fairy's Princess Badoura.'
'I beg you'll do no such thing. Remember the misfortunes that
ensued; and besides, I can't spare Margaret.'
'No; on second thoughts, we'll have her to nurse us ten years
hence, when we shall be two cross old invalids. Seriously, Hale!
I wish you'd leave Milton; which is a most unsuitable place for
you, though it was my recommendation in the first instance. If
you would; I'd swallow my shadows of doubts, and take a college
living; and you and Margaret should come and live at the
parsonage--you to be a sort of lay curate, and take the unwashed
off my hands; and she to be our housekeeper--the village Lady
Bountiful--by day; and read us to sleep in the evenings. I could
be very happy in such a life. What do you think of it?'
'Never!' said Mr. Hale, decidedly. 'My one great change has been
made and my price of suffering paid. Here I stay out my life; and
here will I be buried, and lost in the crowd.'
'I don't give up my plan yet. Only I won't bait you with it any
more just now. Where's the Pearl? Come, Margaret, give me a
farewell kiss; and remember, my dear, where you may find a true
friend, as far as his capability goes. You are my child,
Margaret. Remember that, and 'God bless you!'
So they fell back into the monotony of the quiet life they would
henceforth lead. There was no invalid to hope and fear about;
even the Higginses--so long a vivid interest--seemed to have
receded from any need of immediate thought. The Boucher children,
left motherless orphans, claimed what of Margaret's care she
could bestow; and she went pretty often to see Mary Higgins, who
had charge of them. The two families were living in one house:
the elder children were at humble schools, the younger ones were
tended, in Mary's absence at her work, by the kind neighbour
whose good sense had struck Margaret at the time of Boucher's
death. Of course she was paid for her trouble; and indeed, in all
his little plans and arrangements for these orphan children,
Nicholas showed a sober judgment, and regulated method of
thinking, which were at variance with his former more eccentric
jerks of action. He was so steady at his work, that Margaret did
not often see him during these winter months; but when she did,
she saw that he winced away from any reference to the father of
those children, whom he had so fully and heartily taken under his
care. He did not speak easily of Mr. Thornton.
'To tell the truth,' said he, 'he fairly bamboozles me. He's two
chaps. One chap I knowed of old as were measter all o'er. T'other
chap hasn't an ounce of measter's flesh about him. How them two
chaps is bound up in one body, is a craddy for me to find out.
I'll not be beat by it, though. Meanwhile he comes here pretty
often; that's how I know the chap that's a man, not a measter.
And I reckon he's taken aback by me pretty much as I am by him;
for he sits and listens and stares, as if I were some strange
beast newly caught in some of the zones. But I'm none daunted. It
would take a deal to daunt me in my own house, as he sees. And I
tell him some of my mind that I reckon he'd ha' been the better
of hearing when he were a younger man.'
'And does he not answer you?' asked Mr. Hale.
'Well! I'll not say th' advantage is all on his side, for all I
take credit for improving him above a bit. Sometimes he says a
rough thing or two, which is not agreeable to look at at first,
but has a queer smack o' truth in it when yo' come to chew it.
He'll be coming to-night, I reckon, about them childer's
schooling. He's not satisfied wi' the make of it, and wants for
t' examine 'em.'
'What are they'--began Mr. Hale; but Margaret, touching his arm,
showed him her watch.
'It is nearly seven,' she said. 'The evenings are getting longer
now. Come, papa.' She did not breathe freely till they were some
distance from the house. Then, as she became more calm, she
wished that she had not been in so great a hurry; for, somehow,
they saw Mr. Thornton but very seldom now; and he might have come
to see Higgins, and for the old friendship's sake she should like
to have seen him to-night.
Yes! he came very seldom, even for the dull cold purpose of
lessons. Mr. Hale was disappointed in his pupil's lukewarmness
about Greek literature, which had but a short time ago so great
an interest for him. And now it often happened that a hurried
note from Mr. Thornton would arrive, just at the last moment,
saying that he was so much engaged that he could not come to read
with Mr. Hale that evening. And though other pupils had taken
more than his place as to time, no one was like his first scholar
in Mr. Hale's heart. He was depressed and sad at this partial
cessation of an intercourse which had become dear to him; and he
used to sit pondering over the reason that could have occasioned
He startled Margaret, one evening as she sate at her work, by
'Margaret! had you ever any reason for thinking that Mr. Thornton
cared for you?'
He almost blushed as he put this question; but Mr. Bell's scouted
idea recurred to him, and the words were out of his mouth before
he well knew what he was about.
Margaret did not answer immediately; but by the bent drooping of
her head, he guessed what her reply would be.
'Yes; I believe--oh papa, I should have told you.' And she
dropped her work, and hid her face in her hands.
'No, dear; don't think that I am impertinently curious. I am sure
you would have told me if you had felt that you could return his
regard. Did he speak to you about it?'
No answer at first; but by-and-by a little gentle reluctant
'And you refused him?'
A long sigh; a more helpless, nerveless attitude, and another
'Yes.' But before her father could speak, Margaret lifted up her
face, rosy with some beautiful shame, and, fixing her eyes upon
'Now, papa, I have told you this, and I cannot tell you more; and
then the whole thing is so painful to me; every word and action
connected with it is so unspeakably bitter, that I cannot bear to
think of it. Oh, papa, I am sorry to have lost you this friend,
but I could not help it--but oh! I am very sorry.' She sate down
on the ground, and laid her head on his knees.
'I too, am sorry, my dear. Mr. Bell quite startled me when he
said, some idea of the kind--'
'Mr. Bell! Oh, did Mr. Bell see it?'
'A little; but he took it into his head that you--how shall I say
it?--that you were not ungraciously disposed towards Mr.
Thornton. I knew that could never be. I hoped the whole thing was
but an imagination; but I knew too well what your real feelings
were to suppose that you could ever like Mr. Thornton in that
way. But I am very sorry.'
They were very quiet and still for some minutes. But, on stroking
her cheek in a caressing way soon after, he was almost shocked to
find her face wet with tears. As he touched her, she sprang up,
and smiling with forced brightness, began to talk of the Lennoxes
with such a vehement desire to turn the conversation, that Mr.
Hale was too tender-hearted to try to force it back into the old
'To-morrow--yes, to-morrow they will be back in Harley Street.
Oh, how strange it will be! I wonder what room they will make
into the nursery? Aunt Shaw will be happy with the baby. Fancy
Edith a mamma! And Captain Lennox--I wonder what he will do with
himself now he has sold out!'
'I'll tell you what,' said her father, anxious to indulge her in
this fresh subject of interest, 'I think I must spare you for a
fortnight just to run up to town and see the travellers. You
could learn more, by half an hour's conversation with Mr. Henry
Lennox, about Frederick's chances, than in a dozen of these
letters of his; so it would, in fact, be uniting business with
'No, papa, you cannot spare me, and what's more, I won't be
spared.' Then after a pause, she added: 'I am losing hope sadly
about Frederick; he is letting us down gently, but I can see that
Mr. Lennox himself has no hope of hunting up the witnesses under
years and years of time. No,' said she, 'that bubble was very
pretty, and very dear to our hearts; but it has burst like many
another; and we must console ourselves with being glad that
Frederick is so happy, and with being a great deal to each other.
So don't offend me by talking of being able to spare me, papa,
for I assure you you can't.'
But the idea of a change took root and germinated in Margaret's
heart, although not in the way in which her father proposed it at
first. She began to consider how desirable something of the kind
would be to her father, whose spirits, always feeble, now became
too frequently depressed, and whose health, though he never
complained, had been seriously affected by his wife's illness and
death. There were the regular hours of reading with his pupils,
but that all giving and no receiving could no longer be called
companion-ship, as in the old days when Mr. Thornton came to
study under him. Margaret was conscious of the want under which
he was suffering, unknown to himself; the want of a man's
intercourse with men. At Helstone there had been perpetual
occasions for an interchange of visits with neighbouring