THE DARK NIGHT
'On earth is known to none
The smile that is not sister to a tear.'
Margaret and her father walked home. The night was fine, the streets clean, and with her pretty white silk, like Leezie Lindsay's gown o' green satin, in the ballad, 'kilted up to her knee,' she was off with her father—ready to dance along with the excitement of the cool, fresh night air.
'I rather think Thornton is not quite easy in his mind about this strike. He seemed very anxious to-night.'
'I should wonder if he were not. But he spoke with his usual coolness to the others, when they suggested different things, just before we came away.'
'So he did after dinner as well. It would take a good deal to stir him from his cool manner of speaking; but his face strikes me as anxious.'
'I should be, if I were he. He must know of the growing anger and hardly smothered hatred of his workpeople, who all look upon him as what the Bible calls a "hard man,"—not so much unjust as unfeeling; clear in judgment, standing upon his "rights" as no human being ought to stand, considering what we and all our petty rights are in the sight of the Almighty. I am glad you think he looks anxious. When I remember Boucher's half mad words and ways, I cannot bear to think how coolly Mr. Thornton spoke.'
'In the first place, I am not so convinced as you are about that man Boucher's utter distress; for the moment, he was badly off, I don't doubt. But there is always a mysterious supply of money from these Unions; and, from what you said, it was evident the man was of a passionate, demonstrative nature, and gave strong expression to all he felt.'
'Well! I only want you to do justice to Mr. Thornton, who is, I suspect, of an exactly opposite nature,—a man who is far too proud to show his feelings. Just the character I should have thought beforehand, you would have admired, Margaret.'
'So I do,—so I should; but I don't feel quite so sure as you do of the existence of those feelings. He is a man of great strength of character,—of unusual intellect, considering the few advantages he has had.'
'Not so few. He has led a practical life from a very early age; has been called upon to exercise judgment and self-control. All that developes one part of the intellect. To be sure, he needs some of the knowledge of the past, which gives the truest basis for conjecture as to the future; but he knows this need,—he perceives it, and that is something. You are quite prejudiced against Mr. Thornton, Margaret.'
'He is the first specimen of a manufacturer—of a person engaged in trade—that I had ever the opportunity of studying, papa. He is my first olive: let me make a face while I swallow it. I know he is good of his kind, and by and by I shall like the kind. I rather think I am already beginning to do so. I was very much interested by what the gentlemen were talking about, although I did not understand half of it. I was quite sorry when Miss Thornton came to take me to the other end of the room, saying she was sure I should be uncomfortable at being the only lady among so many gentlemen. I had never thought about it, I was so busy listening; and the ladies were so dull, papa—oh, so dull! Yet I think it was clever too. It reminded me of our old game of having each so many nouns to introduce into a sentence.'
'What do you mean, child?' asked Mr. Hale.
'Why, they took nouns that were signs of things which gave evidence of wealth,—housekeepers, under-gardeners, extent of glass, valuable lace, diamonds, and all such things; and each one formed her speech so as to bring them all in, in the prettiest accidental manner possible.'
'You will be as proud of your one servant when you get her, if all is true about her that Mrs. Thornton says.'
'To be sure, I shall. I felt like a great hypocrite to-night, sitting there in my white silk gown, with my idle hands before me, when I remembered all the good, thorough, house-work they had done to-day. They took me for a fine lady, I'm sure.'
'Even I was mistaken enough to think you looked like a lady my dear,' said Mr. Hale, quietly smiling.
But smiles were changed to white and trembling looks, when they saw Dixon's face, as she opened the door.
'Oh, master!—Oh, Miss Margaret! Thank God you are come! Dr. Donaldson is here. The servant next door went for him, for the charwoman is gone home. She's better now; but, oh, sir! I thought she'd have died an hour ago.'
Mr. Hale caught Margaret's arm to steady himself from falling. He looked at her face, and saw an expression upon it of surprise and extremest sorrow, but not the agony of terror that contracted his own unprepared heart. She knew more than he did, and yet she listened with that hopeless expression of awed apprehension.
'Oh! I should not have left her—wicked daughter that I am!' moaned forth Margaret, as she supported her trembling father's hasty steps up-stairs. Dr. Donaldson met them on the landing.
'She is better now,' he whispered. 'The opiate has taken effect. The spasms were very bad: no wonder they frightened your maid; but she'll rally this time.'
'This time! Let me go to her!' Half an hour ago, Mr. Hale was a middle-aged man; now his sight was dim, his senses wavering, his walk tottering, as if he were seventy years of age.
Dr. Donaldson took his arm, and led him into the bedroom. Margaret followed close. There lay her mother, with an unmistakable look on her face. She might be better now; she was sleeping, but Death had signed her for his own, and it was clear that ere long he would return to take possession. Mr. Hale looked at her for some time without a word. Then he began to shake all over, and, turning away from Dr. Donaldson's anxious care, he groped to find the door; he could not see it, although several candles, brought in the sudden affright, were burning and flaring there. He staggered into the drawing-room, and felt about for a chair. Dr. Donaldson wheeled one to him, and placed him in it. He felt his pulse.
'Speak to him, Miss Hale. We must rouse him.'
'Papa!' said Margaret, with a crying voice that was wild with pain. 'Papa! Speak to me!' The speculation came again into his eyes, and he made a great effort.
'Margaret, did you know of this? Oh, it was cruel of you!'
'No, sir, it was not cruel!' replied Dr. Donaldson, with quick decision. 'Miss Hale acted under my directions. There may have been a mistake, but it was not cruel. Your wife will be a different creature to-morrow, I trust. She has had spasms, as I anticipated, though I did not tell Miss Hale of my apprehensions. She has taken the opiate I brought with me; she will have a good long sleep; and to-morrow, that look which has alarmed you so much will have passed away.'
'But not the disease?'
Dr. Donaldson glanced at Margaret. Her bent head, her face raised with no appeal for a temporary reprieve, showed that quick observer of human nature that she thought it better that the whole truth should be told.
'Not the disease. We cannot touch the disease, with all our poor vaunted skill. We can only delay its progress—alleviate the pain it causes. Be a man, sir—a Christian. Have faith in the immortality of the soul, which no pain, no mortal disease, can assail or touch!'
But all the reply he got, was in the choked words, 'You have never been married, Dr. Donaldson; you do not know what it is,' and in the deep, manly sobs, which went through the stillness of the night like heavy pulses of agony. Margaret knelt by him, caressing him with tearful caresses. No one, not even Dr. Donaldson, knew how the time went by. Mr. Hale was the first to dare to speak of the necessities of the present moment.
'What must we do?' asked he. 'Tell us both. Margaret is my staff—my right hand.'
Dr. Donaldson gave his clear, sensible directions. No fear for to-night—nay, even peace for to-morrow, and for many days yet. But no enduring hope of recovery. He advised Mr. Hale to go to bed, and leave only one to watch the slumber, which he hoped would be undisturbed. He promised to come again early in the morning. And with a warm and kindly shake of the hand, he left them. They spoke but few words; they were too much exhausted by their terror to do more than decide upon the immediate course of action. Mr. Hale was resolved to sit up through the night, and all that Margaret could do was to prevail upon him to rest on the drawing-room sofa. Dixon stoutly and bluntly refused to go to bed; and, as for Margaret, it was simply impossible that she should leave her mother, let all the doctors in the world speak of 'husbanding resources,' and 'one watcher only being required.' So, Dixon sat, and stared, and winked, and drooped, and picked herself up again with a jerk, and finally gave up the battle, and fairly snored. Margaret had taken off her gown and tossed it aside with a sort of impatient disgust, and put on her dressing-gown. She felt as if she never could sleep again; as if her whole senses were acutely vital, and all endued with double keenness, for the purposes of watching. Every sight and sound—nay, even every thought, touched some nerve to the very quick. For more than two hours, she heard her father's restless movements in the next room. He came perpetually to the door of her mother's chamber, pausing there to listen, till she, not hearing his close unseen presence, went and opened it to tell him how all went on, in reply to the questions his baked lips could hardly form. At last he, too, fell asleep, and all the house was still. Margaret sate behind the curtain thinking. Far away in time, far away in space, seemed all the interests of past days. Not more than thirty-six hours ago, she cared for Bessy Higgins and her father, and her heart was wrung for Boucher; now, that was all like a dreaming memory of some former life;—everything that had passed out of doors seemed dissevered from her mother, and therefore unreal. Even Harley Street appeared more distinct; there she remembered, as if it were yesterday, how she had pleased herself with tracing out her mother's features in her Aunt Shaw's face,—and how letters had come, making her dwell on the thoughts of home with all the longing of love. Helstone, itself, was in the dim past. The dull gray days of the preceding winter and spring, so uneventless and monotonous, seemed more associated with what she cared for now above all price. She would fain have caught at the skirts of that departing time, and prayed it to return, and give her back what she had too little valued while it was yet in her possession. What a vain show Life seemed! How unsubstantial, and flickering, and flitting! It was as if from some aerial belfry, high up above the stir and jar of the earth, there was a bell continually tolling, 'All are shadows!—all are passing!—all is past!' And when the morning dawned, cool and gray, like many a happier morning before—when Margaret looked one by one at the sleepers, it seemed as if the terrible night were unreal as a dream; it, too, was a shadow. It, too, was past.
Mrs. Hale herself was not aware when she awoke, how ill she had been the night before. She was rather surprised at Dr. Donaldson's early visit, and perplexed by the anxious faces of husband and child. She consented to remain in bed that day, saying she certainly was tired; but, the next, she insisted on getting up; and Dr. Donaldson gave his consent to her returning into the drawing-room. She was restless and uncomfortable in every position, and before night she became very feverish. Mr. Hale was utterly listless, and incapable of deciding on anything.
'What can we do to spare mamma such another night?' asked
Margaret on the third day.
'It is, to a certain degree, the reaction after the powerful opiates I have been obliged to use. It is more painful for you to see than for her to bear, I believe. But, I think, if we could get a water-bed it might be a good thing. Not but what she will be better to-morrow; pretty much like herself as she was before this attack. Still, I should like her to have a water-bed. Mrs. Thornton has one, I know. I'll try and call there this afternoon. Stay,' said he, his eye catching on Margaret's face, blanched with watching in a sick room, 'I'm not sure whether I can go; I've a long round to take. It would do you no harm to have a brisk walk to Marlborough Street, and ask Mrs. Thornton if she can spare it.'
'Certainly,' said Margaret. 'I could go while mamma is asleep this afternoon. I'm sure Mrs. Thornton would lend it to us.'
Dr. Donaldson's experience told them rightly. Mrs. Hale seemed to shake off the consequences of her attack, and looked brighter and better this afternoon than Margaret had ever hoped to see her again. Her daughter left her after dinner, sitting in her easy chair, with her hand lying in her husband's, who looked more worn and suffering than she by far. Still, he could smile now-rather slowly, rather faintly, it is true; but a day or two before, Margaret never thought to see him smile again.
It was about two miles from their house in Crampton Crescent to Marlborough Street. It was too hot to walk very quickly. An August sun beat straight down into the street at three o'clock in the afternoon. Margaret went along, without noticing anything very different from usual in the first mile and a half of her journey; she was absorbed in her own thoughts, and had learnt by this time to thread her way through the irregular stream of human beings that flowed through Milton streets. But, by and by, she was struck with an unusual heaving among the mass of people in the crowded road on which she was entering. They did not appear to be moving on, so much as talking, and listening, and buzzing with excitement, without much stirring from the spot where they might happen to be. Still, as they made way for her, and, wrapt up in the purpose of her errand, and the necessities that suggested it, she was less quick of observation than she might have been, if her mind had been at ease, she had got into Marlborough Street before the full conviction forced itself upon her, that there was a restless, oppressive sense of irritation abroad among the people; a thunderous atmosphere, morally as well as physically, around her. From every narrow lane opening out on Marlborough Street came up a low distant roar, as of myriads of fierce indignant voices. The inhabitants of each poor squalid dwelling were gathered round the doors and windows, if indeed they were not actually standing in the middle of the narrow ways—all with looks intent towards one point. Marlborough Street itself was the focus of all those human eyes, that betrayed intensest interest of various kinds; some fierce with anger, some lowering with relentless threats, some dilated with fear, or imploring entreaty; and, as Margaret reached the small side-entrance by the folding doors, in the great dead wall of Marlborough mill-yard and waited the porter's answer to the bell, she looked round and heard the first long far-off roll of the tempest;—saw the first slow-surging wave of the dark crowd come, with its threatening crest, tumble over, and retreat, at the far end of the street, which a moment ago, seemed so full of repressed noise, but which now was ominously still; all these circumstances forced themselves on Margaret's notice, but did not sink down into her pre-occupied heart. She did not know what they meant—what was their deep significance; while she did know, did feel the keen sharp pressure of the knife that was soon to stab her through and through by leaving her motherless. She was trying to realise that, in order that, when it came, she might be ready to comfort her father.
The porter opened the door cautiously, not nearly wide enough to admit her.
'It's you, is it, ma'am?' said he, drawing a long breath, and widening the entrance, but still not opening it fully. Margaret went in. He hastily bolted it behind her.
'Th' folk are all coming up here I reckon?' asked he.
'I don't know. Something unusual seemed going on; but this street is quite empty, I think.'
She went across the yard and up the steps to the house door. There was no near sound,—no steam-engine at work with beat and pant,—no click of machinery, or mingling and clashing of many sharp voices; but far away, the ominous gathering roar, deep-clamouring.
A BLOW AND ITS CONSEQUENCES
'But work grew scarce, while bread grew dear,
And wages lessened, too;
For Irish hordes were bidders here,
Our half-paid work to do.'
CORN LAW RHYMES.
Margaret was shown into the drawing-room. It had returned into its normal state of bag and covering. The windows were half open because of the heat, and the Venetian blinds covered the glass,—so that a gray grim light, reflected from the pavement below, threw all the shadows wrong, and combined with the green-tinged upper light to make even Margaret's own face, as she caught it in the mirrors, look ghastly and wan. She sat and waited; no one came. Every now and then, the wind seemed to bear the distant multitudinous sound nearer; and yet there was no wind! It died away into profound stillness between whiles.
Fanny came in at last.
'Mamma will come directly, Miss Hale. She desired me to apologise to you as it is. Perhaps you know my brother has imported hands from Ireland, and it has irritated the Milton people excessively—as if he hadn't a right to get labour where he could; and the stupid wretches here wouldn't work for him; and now they've frightened these poor Irish starvelings so with their threats, that we daren't let them out. You may see them huddled in that top room in the mill,—and they're to sleep there, to keep them safe from those brutes, who will neither work nor let them work. And mamma is seeing about their food, and John is speaking to them, for some of the women are crying to go back. Ah! here's mamma!'
Mrs. Thornton came in with a look of black sternness on her face, which made Margaret feel she had arrived at a bad time to trouble her with her request. However, it was only in compliance with Mrs. Thornton's expressed desire, that she would ask for whatever they might want in the progress of her mother's illness. Mrs. Thornton's brow contracted, and her mouth grew set, while Margaret spoke with gentle modesty of her mother's restlessness, and Dr. Donaldson's wish that she should have the relief of a water-bed. She ceased. Mrs. Thornton did not reply immediately. Then she started up and exclaimed—
'They're at the gates! Call John, Fanny,—call him in from the mill! They're at the gates! They'll batter them in! Call John, I say!'
And simultaneously, the gathering tramp—to which she had been listening, instead of heeding Margaret's words—was heard just right outside the wall, and an increasing din of angry voices raged behind the wooden barrier, which shook as if the unseen maddened crowd made battering-rams of their bodies, and retreated a short space only to come with more united steady impetus against it, till their great beats made the strong gates quiver, like reeds before the wind. The women gathered round the windows, fascinated to look on the scene which terrified them. Mrs. Thornton, the women-servants, Margaret,—all were there. Fanny had returned, screaming up-stairs as if pursued at every step, and had thrown herself in hysterical sobbing on the sofa. Mrs. Thornton watched for her son, who was still in the mill. He came out, looked up at them—the pale cluster of faces—and smiled good courage to them, before he locked the factory-door. Then he called to one of the women to come down and undo his own door, which Fanny had fastened behind her in her mad flight. Mrs. Thornton herself went. And the sound of his well-known and commanding voice, seemed to have been like the taste of blood to the infuriated multitude outside. Hitherto they had been voiceless, wordless, needing all their breath for their hard-labouring efforts to break down the gates. But now, hearing him speak inside, they set up such a fierce unearthly groan, that even Mrs. Thornton was white with fear as she preceded him into the room. He came in a little flushed, but his eyes gleaming, as in answer to the trumpet-call of danger, and with a proud look of defiance on his face, that made him a noble, if not a handsome man. Margaret had always dreaded lest her courage should fail her in any emergency, and she should be proved to be, what she dreaded lest she was—a coward. But now, in this real great time of reasonable fear and nearness of terror, she forgot herself, and felt only an intense sympathy—intense to painfulness—in the interests of the moment.
Mr. Thornton came frankly forwards:
'I'm sorry, Miss Hale, you have visited us at this unfortunate moment, when, I fear, you may be involved in whatever risk we have to bear. Mother! hadn't you better go into the back rooms? I'm not sure whether they may not have made their way from Pinner's Lane into the stable-yard; but if not, you will be safer there than here. Go Jane!' continued he, addressing the upper-servant. And she went, followed by the others.
'I stop here!' said his mother. 'Where you are, there I stay.' And indeed, retreat into the back rooms was of no avail; the crowd had surrounded the outbuildings at the rear, and were sending forth their awful threatening roar behind. The servants retreated into the garrets, with many a cry and shriek. Mr. Thornton smiled scornfully as he heard them. He glanced at Margaret, standing all by herself at the window nearest the factory. Her eyes glittered, her colour was deepened on cheek and lip. As if she felt his look, she turned to him and asked a question that had been for some time in her mind:
'Where are the poor imported work-people? In the factory there?'
'Yes! I left them cowered up in a small room, at the head of a back flight of stairs; bidding them run all risks, and escape down there, if they heard any attack made on the mill-doors. But it is not them—it is me they want.'
'When can the soldiers be here?' asked his mother, in a low but not unsteady voice.
He took out his watch with the same measured composure with which he did everything. He made some little calculation:
'Supposing Williams got straight off when I told him, and hadn't to dodge about amongst them—it must be twenty minutes yet.'
'Twenty minutes!' said his mother, for the first time showing her terror in the tones of her voice.
'Shut down the windows instantly, mother,' exclaimed he: 'the gates won't bear such another shock. Shut down that window, Miss Hale.'
Margaret shut down her window, and then went to assist Mrs.
Thornton's trembling fingers.
From some cause or other, there was a pause of several minutes in the unseen street. Mrs. Thornton looked with wild anxiety at her son's countenance, as if to gain the interpretation of the sudden stillness from him. His face was set into rigid lines of contemptuous defiance; neither hope nor fear could be read there.
Fanny raised herself up:
'Are they gone?' asked she, in a whisper.
'Gone!' replied he. 'Listen!'
She did listen; they all could hear the one great straining breath; the creak of wood slowly yielding; the wrench of iron; the mighty fall of the ponderous gates. Fanny stood up tottering—made a step or two towards her mother, and fell forwards into her arms in a fainting fit. Mrs. Thornton lifted her up with a strength that was as much that of the will as of the body, and carried her away.
'Thank God!' said Mr. Thornton, as he watched her out. 'Had you not better go upstairs, Miss Hale?'
Margaret's lips formed a 'No!'—but he could not hear her speak, for the tramp of innumerable steps right under the very wall of the house, and the fierce growl of low deep angry voices that had a ferocious murmur of satisfaction in them, more dreadful than their baffled cries not many minutes before.
'Never mind!' said he, thinking to encourage her. 'I am very sorry you should have been entrapped into all this alarm; but it cannot last long now; a few minutes more, and the soldiers will be here.'
'Oh, God!' cried Margaret, suddenly; 'there is Boucher. I know his face, though he is livid with rage,—he is fighting to get to the front—look! look!'
'Who is Boucher?' asked Mr. Thornton, coolly, and coming close to the window to discover the man in whom Margaret took such an interest. As soon as they saw Mr. Thornton, they set up a yell,—to call it not human is nothing,—it was as the demoniac desire of some terrible wild beast for the food that is withheld from his ravening. Even he drew hack for a moment, dismayed at the intensity of hatred he had provoked.
'Let them yell!' said he. 'In five minutes more—. I only hope my poor Irishmen are not terrified out of their wits by such a fiendlike noise. Keep up your courage for five minutes, Miss Hale.'
'Don't be afraid for me,' she said hastily. 'But what in five minutes? Can you do nothing to soothe these poor creatures? It is awful to see them.'
'The soldiers will be here directly, and that will bring them to reason.'
'To reason!' said Margaret, quickly. 'What kind of reason?'
'The only reason that does with men that make themselves into wild beasts. By heaven! they've turned to the mill-door!'
'Mr. Thornton,' said Margaret, shaking all over with her passion, 'go down this instant, if you are not a coward. Go down and face them like a man. Save these poor strangers, whom you have decoyed here. Speak to your workmen as if they were human beings. Speak to them kindly. Don't let the soldiers come in and cut down poor-creatures who are driven mad. I see one there who is. If you have any courage or noble quality in you, go out and speak to them, man to man.'
He turned and looked at her while she spoke. A dark cloud came over his face while he listened. He set his teeth as he heard her words.
'I will go. Perhaps I may ask you to accompany me downstairs, and bar the door behind me; my mother and sister will need that protection.'
'Oh! Mr. Thornton! I do not know—I may be wrong—only—'
But he was gone; he was downstairs in the hall; he had unbarred the front door; all she could do, was to follow him quickly, and fasten it behind him, and clamber up the stairs again with a sick heart and a dizzy head. Again she took her place by the farthest window. He was on the steps below; she saw that by the direction of a thousand angry eyes; but she could neither see nor hear any-thing save the savage satisfaction of the rolling angry murmur. She threw the window wide open. Many in the crowd were mere boys; cruel and thoughtless,—cruel because they were thoughtless; some were men, gaunt as wolves, and mad for prey. She knew how it was; they were like Boucher, with starving children at home—relying on ultimate success in their efforts to get higher wages, and enraged beyond measure at discovering that Irishmen were to be brought in to rob their little ones of bread. Margaret knew it all; she read it in Boucher's face, forlornly desperate and livid with rage. If Mr. Thornton would but say something to them—let them hear his voice only—it seemed as if it would be better than this wild beating and raging against the stony silence that vouchsafed them no word, even of anger or reproach. But perhaps he was speaking now; there was a momentary hush of their noise, inarticulate as that of a troop of animals. She tore her bonnet off; and bent forwards to hear. She could only see; for if Mr. Thornton had indeed made the attempt to speak, the momentary instinct to listen to him was past and gone, and the people were raging worse than ever. He stood with his arms folded; still as a statue; his face pale with repressed excitement. They were trying to intimidate him—to make him flinch; each was urging the other on to some immediate act of personal violence. Margaret felt intuitively, that in an instant all would be uproar; the first touch would cause an explosion, in which, among such hundreds of infuriated men and reckless boys, even Mr. Thornton's life would be unsafe,—that in another instant the stormy passions would have passed their bounds, and swept away all barriers of reason, or apprehension of consequence. Even while she looked, she saw lads in the back-ground stooping to take off their heavy wooden clogs—the readiest missile they could find; she saw it was the spark to the gunpowder, and, with a cry, which no one heard, she rushed out of the room, down stairs,—she had lifted the great iron bar of the door with an imperious force—had thrown the door open wide—and was there, in face of that angry sea of men, her eyes smiting them with flaming arrows of reproach. The clogs were arrested in the hands that held them—the countenances, so fell not a moment before, now looked irresolute, and as if asking what this meant. For she stood between them and their enemy. She could not speak, but held out her arms towards them till she could recover breath.
'Oh, do not use violence! He is one man, and you are many; but her words died away, for there was no tone in her voice; it was but a hoarse whisper. Mr. Thornton stood a little on one side; he had moved away from behind her, as if jealous of anything that should come between him and danger.
'Go!' said she, once more (and now her voice was like a cry).
'The soldiers are sent for—are coming. Go peaceably. Go away.
You shall have relief from your complaints, whatever they are.'
'Shall them Irish blackguards be packed back again?' asked one from out the crowd, with fierce threatening in his voice.
'Never, for your bidding!' exclaimed Mr. Thornton. And instantly the storm broke. The hootings rose and filled the air,—but Margaret did not hear them. Her eye was on the group of lads who had armed themselves with their clogs some time before. She saw their gesture—she knew its meaning,—she read their aim. Another moment, and Mr. Thornton might be smitten down,—he whom she had urged and goaded to come to this perilous place. She only thought how she could save him. She threw her arms around him; she made her body into a shield from the fierce people beyond. Still, with his arms folded, he shook her off.
'Go away,' said he, in his deep voice. 'This is no place for you.'
'It is!' said she. 'You did not see what I saw.' If she thought her sex would be a protection,—if, with shrinking eyes she had turned away from the terrible anger of these men, in any hope that ere she looked again they would have paused and reflected, and slunk away, and vanished,—she was wrong. Their reckless passion had carried them too far to stop—at least had carried some of them too far; for it is always the savage lads, with their love of cruel excitement, who head the riot—reckless to what bloodshed it may lead. A clog whizzed through the air. Margaret's fascinated eyes watched its progress; it missed its aim, and she turned sick with affright, but changed not her position, only hid her face on Mr. Thornton s arm. Then she turned and spoke again:'
'For God's sake! do not damage your cause by this violence. You do not know what you are doing.' She strove to make her words distinct.
A sharp pebble flew by her, grazing forehead and cheek, and drawing a blinding sheet of light before her eyes. She lay like one dead on Mr. Thornton's shoulder. Then he unfolded his arms, and held her encircled in one for an instant:
'You do well!' said he. 'You come to oust the innocent stranger You fall—you hundreds—on one man; and when a woman comes before you, to ask you for your own sakes to be reasonable creatures, your cowardly wrath falls upon her! You do well!' They were silent while he spoke. They were watching, open-eyed and open-mouthed, the thread of dark-red blood which wakened them up from their trance of passion. Those nearest the gate stole out ashamed; there was a movement through all the crowd—a retreating movement. Only one voice cried out:
'Th' stone were meant for thee; but thou wert sheltered behind a woman!'
Mr. Thornton quivered with rage. The blood-flowing had made Margaret conscious—dimly, vaguely conscious. He placed her gently on the door-step, her head leaning against the frame.
'Can you rest there?' he asked. But without waiting for her answer, he went slowly down the steps right into the middle of the crowd. 'Now kill me, if it is your brutal will. There is no woman to shield me here. You may beat me to death—you will never move me from what I have determined upon—not you!' He stood amongst them, with his arms folded, in precisely the same attitude as he had been in on the steps.
But the retrograde movement towards the gate had begun—as unreasoningly, perhaps as blindly, as the simultaneous anger. Or, perhaps, the idea of the approach of the soldiers, and the sight of that pale, upturned face, with closed eyes, still and sad as marble, though the tears welled out of the long entanglement of eyelashes and dropped down; and, heavier, slower plash than even tears, came the drip of blood from her wound. Even the most desperate—Boucher himself—drew back, faltered away, scowled, and finally went off, muttering curses on the master, who stood in his unchanging attitude, looking after their retreat with defiant eyes. The moment that retreat had changed into a flight (as it was sure from its very character to do), he darted up the steps to Margaret. She tried to rise without his help.
'It is nothing,' she said, with a sickly smile. 'The skin is grazed, and I was stunned at the moment. Oh, I am so thankful they are gone!' And she cried without restraint.
He could not sympathise with her. His anger had not abated; it was rather rising the more as his sense of immediate danger was passing away. The distant clank of the soldiers was heard just five minutes too late to make this vanished mob feel the power of authority and order. He hoped they would see the troops, and be quelled by the thought of their narrow escape. While these thoughts crossed his mind, Margaret clung to the doorpost to steady herself: but a film came over her eyes—he was only just in time to catch her. 'Mother—mother!' cried he; 'Come down—they are gone, and Miss Hale is hurt!' He bore her into the dining-room, and laid her on the sofa there; laid her down softly, and looking on her pure white face, the sense of what she was to him came upon him so keenly that he spoke it out in his pain:
'Oh, my Margaret—my Margaret! no one can tell what you are to me! Dead—cold as you lie there, you are the only woman I ever loved! Oh, Margaret—Margaret!' Inarticulately as he spoke, kneeling by her, and rather moaning than saying the words, he started up, ashamed of himself, as his mother came in. She saw nothing, but her son a little paler, a little sterner than usual.
'Miss Hale is hurt, mother. A stone has grazed her temple. She has lost a good deal of blood, I'm afraid.'
'She looks very seriously hurt,—I could almost fancy her dead,' said Mrs. Thornton, a good deal alarmed.
'It is only a fainting-fit. She has spoken to me since.' But all the blood in his body seemed to rush inwards to his heart as he spoke, and he absolutely trembled.
'Go and call Jane,—she can find me the things I want; and do you go to your Irish people, who are crying and shouting as if they were mad with fright.' He went. He went away as if weights were tied to every limb that bore him from her. He called Jane; he called his sister. She should have all womanly care, all gentle tendance. But every pulse beat in him as he remembered how she had come down and placed herself in foremost danger,—could it be to save him? At the time, he had pushed her aside, and spoken gruffly; he had seen nothing but the unnecessary danger she had placed herself in. He went to his Irish people, with every nerve in his body thrilling at the thought of her, and found it difficult to understand enough of what they were saying to soothe and comfort away their fears. There, they declared, they would not stop; they claimed to be sent back. And so he had to think, and talk, and reason.
Mrs. Thornton bathed Margaret's temples with eau de Cologne. As the spirit touched the wound, which till then neither Mrs. Thornton nor Jane had perceived, Margaret opened her eyes; but it was evident she did not know where she was, nor who they were. The dark circles deepened, the lips quivered and contracted, and she became insensible once more.
'She has had a terrible blow,' said Mrs. Thornton. 'Is there any one who will go for a doctor?'
'Not me, ma'am, if you please,' said Jane, shrinking back. 'Them rabble may be all about; I don't think the cut is so deep, ma'am, as it looks.'
'I will not run the chance. She was hurt in our house. If you are a coward, Jane, I am not. I will go.'
'Pray, ma'am, let me send one of the police. There's ever so many come up, and soldiers too.'
'And yet you're afraid to go! I will not have their time taken up with our errands. They'll have enough to do to catch some of the mob. You will not be afraid to stop in this house,' she asked contemptuously, 'and go on bathing Miss Hale's forehead, shall you? I shall not be ten minutes away.'
'Couldn't Hannah go, ma'am?'
'Why Hannah? Why any but you? No, Jane, if you don't go, I do.'
Mrs. Thornton went first to the room in which she had left Fanny stretched on the bed. She started up as her mother entered.
'Oh, mamma, how you terrified me! I thought you were a man that had got into the house.'
'Nonsense! The men are all gone away. There are soldiers all round the place, seeking for their work now it is too late. Miss Hale is lying on the dining-room sofa badly hurt. I am going for the doctor.'
'Oh! don't, mamma! they'll murder you.' She clung to her mother's gown. Mrs. Thornton wrenched it away with no gentle hand.
'Find me some one else to go but that girl must not bleed to death.'
'Bleed! oh, how horrid! How has she got hurt?'
'I don't know,—I have no time to ask. Go down to her, Fanny, and do try to make yourself of use. Jane is with her; and I trust it looks worse than it is. Jane has refused to leave the house, cowardly woman! And I won't put myself in the way of any more refusals from my servants, so I am going myself.'
'Oh, dear, dear!' said Fanny, crying, and preparing to go down rather than be left alone, with the thought of wounds and bloodshed in the very house.
'Oh, Jane!' said she, creeping into the dining-room, 'what is the matter? How white she looks! How did she get hurt? Did they throw stones into the drawing-room?'
Margaret did indeed look white and wan, although her senses were beginning to return to her. But the sickly daze of the swoon made her still miserably faint. She was conscious of movement around her, and of refreshment from the eau de Cologne, and a craving for the bathing to go on without intermission; but when they stopped to talk, she could no more have opened her eyes, or spoken to ask for more bathing, than the people who lie in death-like trance can move, or utter sound, to arrest the awful preparations for their burial, while they are yet fully aware, not merely of the actions of those around them, but of the idea that is the motive for such actions.
Jane paused in her bathing, to reply to Miss Thornton's question.
'She'd have been safe enough, miss, if she'd stayed in the drawing-room, or come up to us; we were in the front garret, and could see it all, out of harm's way.'
'Where was she, then?' said Fanny, drawing nearer by slow degrees, as she became accustomed to the sight of Margaret's pale face.
'Just before the front door—with master!' said Jane, significantly.
'With John! with my brother! How did she get there?'
'Nay, miss, that's not for me to say,' answered Jane, with a slight toss of her head. 'Sarah did'——
'Sarah what?' said Fanny, with impatient curiosity.
Jane resumed her bathing, as if what Sarah did or said was not exactly the thing she liked to repeat.
'Sarah what?' asked Fanny, sharply. 'Don't speak in these half sentences, or I can't understand you.'
'Well, miss, since you will have it—Sarah, you see, was in the best place for seeing, being at the right-hand window; and she says, and said at the very time too, that she saw Miss Hale with her arms about master's neck, hugging him before all the people.'
'I don't believe it,' said Fanny. 'I know she cares for my brother; any one can see that; and I dare say, she'd give her eyes if he'd marry her,—which he never will, I can tell her. But I don't believe she'd be so bold and forward as to put her arms round his neck.'
'Poor young lady! she's paid for it dearly if she did. It's my belief, that the blow has given her such an ascendency of blood to the head as she'll never get the better from. She looks like a corpse now.'
'Oh, I wish mamma would come!' said Fanny, wringing her hands. 'I never was in the room with a dead person before.'
'Stay, miss! She's not dead: her eye-lids are quivering, and here's wet tears a-coming down her cheeks. Speak to her, Miss Fanny!'
'Are you better now?' asked Fanny, in a quavering voice.
No answer; no sign of recognition; but a faint pink colour returned to her lips, although the rest of her face was ashen pale.
Mrs. Thornton came hurriedly in, with the nearest surgeon she could find. 'How is she? Are you better, my dear?' as Margaret opened her filmy eyes, and gazed dreamily at her. 'Here is Mr. Lowe come to see you.'
Mrs. Thornton spoke loudly and distinctly, as to a deaf person. Margaret tried to rise, and drew her ruffled, luxuriant hair instinctly over the cut. 'I am better now,' said she, in a very low, faint voice. I was a little sick.' She let him take her hand and feel her pulse. The bright colour came for a moment into her face, when he asked to examine the wound in her forehead; and she glanced up at Jane, as if shrinking from her inspection more than from the doctor's.
'It is not much, I think. I am better now. I must go home.'
'Not until I have applied some strips of plaster; and you have rested a little.'
She sat down hastily, without another word, and allowed it to be bound up.
'Now, if you please,' said she, 'I must go. Mamma will not see it, I think. It is under the hair, is it not?'
'Quite; no one could tell.'
'But you must not go,' said Mrs. Thornton, impatiently. 'You are not fit to go.
'I must,' said Margaret, decidedly. 'Think of mamma. If they should hear——Besides, I must go,' said she, vehemently. 'I cannot stay here. May I ask for a cab?'
'You are quite flushed and feverish,' observed Mr. Lowe.
'It is only with being here, when I do so want to go. The air—getting away, would do me more good than anything,' pleaded she.
'I really believe it is as she says,' Mr. Lowe replied. 'If her mother is so ill as you told me on the way here, it may be very serious if she hears of this riot, and does not see her daughter back at the time she expects. The injury is not deep. I will fetch a cab, if your servants are still afraid to go out.'
'Oh, thank you!' said Margaret. 'It will do me more good than anything. It is the air of this room that makes me feel so miserable.'
She leant back on the sofa, and closed her eyes. Fanny beckoned her mother out of the room, and told her something that made her equally anxious with Margaret for the departure of the latter. Not that she fully believed Fanny's statement; but she credited enough to make her manner to Margaret appear very much constrained, at wishing her good-bye.
Mr. Lowe returned in the cab.
'If you will allow me, I will see you home, Miss Hale. The streets are not very quiet yet.'
Margaret's thoughts were quite alive enough to the present to make her desirous of getting rid of both Mr. Lowe and the cab before she reached Crampton Crescent, for fear of alarming her father and mother. Beyond that one aim she would not look. That ugly dream of insolent words spoken about herself, could never be forgotten—but could be put aside till she was stronger—for, oh! she was very weak; and her mind sought for some present fact to steady itself upon, and keep it from utterly losing consciousness in another hideous, sickly swoon.
'Which when his mother saw, she in her mind
Was troubled sore, ne wist well what to ween.'
Margaret had not been gone five minutes when Mr. Thornton came in, his face all a-glow.
'I could not come sooner: the superintendent would——Where is she?' He looked round the dining-room, and then almost fiercely at his mother, who was quietly re-arranging the disturbed furniture, and did not instantly reply. 'Where is Miss Hale?' asked he again.
'Gone home,' said she, rather shortly.
'Yes. She was a great deal better. Indeed, I don't believe it was so very much of a hurt; only some people faint at the least thing.'
'I am sorry she is gone home,' said he, walking uneasily about.
'She could not have been fit for it.'
'She said she was; and Mr. Lowe said she was. I went for him myself.'
'Thank you, mother.' He stopped, and partly held out his hand to give her a grateful shake. But she did not notice the movement.
'What have you done with your Irish people?'
'Sent to the Dragon for a good meal for them, poor wretches. And then, luckily, I caught Father Grady, and I've asked him in to speak to them, and dissuade them from going off in a body. How did Miss Hale go home? I'm sure she could not walk.'
'She had a cab. Everything was done properly, even to the paying. Let us talk of something else. She has caused disturbance enough.'
'I don't know where I should have been but for her.'
'Are you become so helpless as to have to be defended by a girl?' asked Mrs. Thornton, scornfully.
He reddened. 'Not many girls would have taken the blows on herself which were meant for me;—meant with right down good-will, too.'
'A girl in love will do a good deal,' replied Mrs. Thornton, shortly.
'Mother!' He made a step forwards; stood still; heaved with passion.
She was a little startled at the evident force he used to keep himself calm. She was not sure of the nature of the emotions she had provoked. It was only their violence that was clear. Was it anger? His eyes glowed, his figure was dilated, his breath came thick and fast. It was a mixture of joy, of anger, of pride, of glad surprise, of panting doubt; but she could not read it. Still it made her uneasy,—as the presence of all strong feeling, of which the cause is not fully understood or sympathised in, always has this effect. She went to the side-board, opened a drawer, and took out a duster, which she kept there for any occasional purpose. She had seen a drop of eau de Cologne on the polished arm of the sofa, and instinctively sought to wipe it off. But she kept her back turned to her son much longer than was necessary; and when she spoke, her voice seemed unusual and constrained.
'You have taken some steps about the rioters, I suppose? You don't apprehend any more violence, do you? Where were the police? Never at hand when they're wanted!'
'On the contrary, I saw three or four of them, when the gates gave way, struggling and beating about in fine fashion; and more came running up just when the yard was clearing. I might have given some of the fellows in charge then, if I had had my wits about me. But there will be no difficulty, plenty of people can Identify them.'
'But won't they come back to-night?'
'I'm going to see about a sufficient guard for the premises. I have appointed to meet Captain Hanbury in half an hour at the station.'
'You must have some tea first.'
'Tea! Yes, I suppose I must. It's half-past six, and I may be out for some time. Don't sit up for me, mother.'
'You expect me to go to bed before I have seen you safe, do you?'
'Well, perhaps not.' He hesitated for a moment. 'But if I've time, I shall go round by Crampton, after I've arranged with the police and seen Hamper and Clarkson.' Their eyes met; they looked at each other intently for a minute. Then she asked:
'Why are you going round by Crampton?'
'To ask after Miss Hale.'
'I will send. Williams must take the water-bed she came to ask for. He shall inquire how she is.'
'I must go myself.'
'Not merely to ask how Miss Hale is?'
'No, not merely for that. I want to thank her for the way in which she stood between me and the mob.'
'What made you go down at all? It was putting your head into the lion's mouth!' He glanced sharply at her; saw that she did not know what had passed between him and Margaret in the drawing-room; and replied by another question:
'Shall you be afraid to be left without me, until I can get some of the police; or had we better send Williams for them now, and they could be here by the time we have done tea? There's no time to be lost. I must be off in a quarter of an hour.'
Mrs. Thornton left the room. Her servants wondered at her directions, usually so sharply-cut and decided, now confused and uncertain. Mr. Thornton remained in the dining-room, trying to think of the business he had to do at the police-office, and in reality thinking of Margaret. Everything seemed dim and vague beyond—behind—besides the touch of her arms round his neck—the soft clinging which made the dark colour come and go in his cheek as he thought of it.
The tea would have been very silent, but for Fanny's perpetual description of her own feelings; how she had been alarmed—and then thought they were gone—and then felt sick and faint and trembling in every limb.
'There, that's enough,' said her brother, rising from the table. 'The reality was enough for me.' He was going to leave the room, when his mother stopped him with her hand upon his arm.
'You will come back here before you go to the Hales', said she, in a low, anxious voice.
'I know what I know,' said Fanny to herself.
'Why? Will it be too late to disturb them?'
'John, come back to me for this one evening. It will be late for Mrs. Hale. But that is not it. To-morrow, you will——Come back to-night, John!' She had seldom pleaded with her son at all—she was too proud for that: but she had never pleaded in vain.
'I will return straight here after I have done my business You will be sure to inquire after them?—after her?'
Mrs. Thornton was by no means a talkative companion to Fanny, nor yet a good listener while her son was absent. But on his return, her eyes and ears were keen to see and to listen to all the details which he could give, as to the steps he had taken to secure himself, and those whom he chose to employ, from any repetition of the day's outrages. He clearly saw his object. Punishment and suffering, were the natural consequences to those who had taken part in the riot. All that was necessary, in order that property should be protected, and that the will of the proprietor might cut to his end, clean and sharp as a sword.
'Mother! You know what I have got to say to Miss Hale, to-morrow?' The question came upon her suddenly, during a pause in which she, at least, had forgotten Margaret.
She looked up at him.
'Yes! I do. You can hardly do otherwise.'
'Do otherwise! I don't understand you.'
'I mean that, after allowing her feelings so to overcome her, I consider you bound in honour—'
'Bound in honour,' said he, scornfully. 'I'm afraid honour has nothing to do with it. "Her feelings overcome her!" What feelings do you mean?'
'Nay, John, there is no need to be angry. Did she not rush down, and cling to you to save you from danger?'
'She did!' said he. 'But, mother,' continued he, stopping short in his walk right in front of her, 'I dare not hope. I never was fainthearted before; but I cannot believe such a creature cares for me.'
'Don't be foolish, John. Such a creature! Why, she might be a duke's daughter, to hear you speak. And what proof more would you have, I wonder, of her caring for you? I can believe she has had a struggle with her aristocratic way of viewing things; but I like her the better for seeing clearly at last. It is a good deal for me to say,' said Mrs. Thornton, smiling slowly, while the tears stood in her eyes; 'for after to-night, I stand second. It was to have you to myself, all to myself, a few hours longer, that I begged you not to go till to-morrow!'
'Dearest mother!' (Still love is selfish, and in an instant he reverted to his own hopes and fears in a way that drew the cold creeping shadow over Mrs. Thornton's heart.) 'But I know she does not care for me. I shall put myself at her feet—I must. If it were but one chance in a thousand—or a million—I should do it.'
'Don't fear!' said his mother, crushing down her own personal mortification at the little notice he had taken of the rare ebullition of her maternal feelings—of the pang of jealousy that betrayed the intensity of her disregarded love. 'Don't be afraid,' she said, coldly. 'As far as love may go she may be worthy of you. It must have taken a good deal to overcome her pride. Don't be afraid, John,' said she, kissing him, as she wished him good-night. And she went slowly and majestically out of the room. But when she got into her own, she locked the door, and sate down to cry unwonted tears.
Margaret entered the room (where her father and mother still sat, holding low conversation together), looking very pale and white. She came close up to them before she could trust herself to speak.
'Mrs. Thornton will send the water-bed, mamma.'
'Dear, how tired you look! Is it very hot, Margaret?'
'Very hot, and the streets are rather rough with the strike.'
Margaret's colour came back vivid and bright as ever; but it faded away instantly.
'Here has been a message from Bessy Higgins, asking you to go to her,' said Mrs. Hale. 'But I'm sure you look too tired.'
'Yes!' said Margaret. 'I am tired, I cannot go.'
She was very silent and trembling while she made tea. She was thankful to see her father so much occupied with her mother as not to notice her looks. Even after her mother went to bed, he was not content to be absent from her, but undertook to read her to sleep. Margaret was alone.
'Now I will think of it—now I will remember it all. I could not before—I dared not.' She sat still in her chair, her hands clasped on her knees, her lips compressed, her eyes fixed as one who sees a vision. She drew a deep breath.
'I, who hate scenes—I, who have despised people for showing emotion—who have thought them wanting in self-control—I went down and must needs throw myself into the melee, like a romantic fool! Did I do any good? They would have gone away without me I dare say.' But this was over-leaping the rational conclusion,—as in an instant her well-poised judgment felt. 'No, perhaps they would not. I did some good. But what possessed me to defend that man as if he were a helpless child! Ah!' said she, clenching her hands together, 'it is no wonder those people thought I was in love with him, after disgracing myself in that way. I in love—and with him too!' Her pale cheeks suddenly became one flame of fire; and she covered her face with her hands. When she took them away, her palms were wet with scalding tears.
'Oh how low I am fallen that they should say that of me! I could not have been so brave for any one else, just because he was so utterly indifferent to me—if, indeed, I do not positively dislike him. It made me the more anxious that there should be fair play on each side; and I could see what fair play was. It was not fair, said she, vehemently, 'that he should stand there—sheltered, awaiting the soldiers, who might catch those poor maddened creatures as in a trap—without an effort on his part, to bring them to reason. And it was worse than unfair for them to set on him as they threatened. I would do it again, let who will say what they like of me. If I saved one blow, one cruel, angry action that might otherwise have been committed, I did a woman's work. Let them insult my maiden pride as they will—I walk pure before God!'
She looked up, and a noble peace seemed to descend and calm her face, till it was 'stiller than chiselled marble.'
Dixon came in:
'If you please, Miss Margaret, here's the water-bed from Mrs. Thornton's. It's too late for to-night, I'm afraid, for missus is nearly asleep: but it will do nicely for to-morrow.'
'Very,' said Margaret. 'You must send our best thanks.'
Dixon left the room for a moment.
'If you please, Miss Margaret, he says he's to ask particular how you are. I think he must mean missus; but he says his last words were, to ask how Miss Hale was.'
'Me!' said Margaret, drawing herself up. 'I am quite well. Tell him I am perfectly well.' But her complexion was as deadly white as her handkerchief; and her head ached intensely.
Mr. Hale now came in. He had left his sleeping wife; and wanted, as Margaret saw, to be amused and interested by something that she was to tell him. With sweet patience did she bear her pain, without a word of complaint; and rummaged up numberless small subjects for conversation—all except the riot, and that she never named once. It turned her sick to think of it.
'Good-night, Margaret. I have every chance of a good night myself, and you are looking very pale with your watching. I shall call Dixon if your mother needs anything. Do you go to bed and sleep like a top; for I'm sure you need it, poor child!'
She let her colour go—the forced smile fade away—the eyes grow dull with heavy pain. She released her strong will from its laborious task. Till morning she might feel ill and weary.
She lay down and never stirred. To move hand or foot, or even so much as one finger, would have been an exertion beyond the powers of either volition or motion. She was so tired, so stunned, that she thought she never slept at all; her feverish thoughts passed and repassed the boundary between sleeping and waking, and kept their own miserable identity. She could not be alone, prostrate, powerless as she was,—a cloud of faces looked up at her, giving her no idea of fierce vivid anger, or of personal danger, but a deep sense of shame that she should thus be the object of universal regard—a sense of shame so acute that it seemed as if she would fain have burrowed into the earth to hide herself, and yet she could not escape out of that unwinking glare of many eyes.
MISTAKES CLEARED UP
'Your beauty was the first that won the place,
And scal'd the walls of my undaunted heart,
Which, captive now, pines in a caitive case,
Unkindly met with rigour for desert;—
Yet not the less your servant shall abide,
In spite of rude repulse or silent pride.'
The next morning, Margaret dragged herself up, thankful that the night was over,—unrefreshed, yet rested. All had gone well through the house; her mother had only wakened once. A little breeze was stirring in the hot air, and though there were no trees to show the playful tossing movement caused by the wind among the leaves, Margaret knew how, somewhere or another, by way-side, in copses, or in thick green woods, there was a pleasant, murmuring, dancing sound,—a rushing and falling noise, the very thought of which was an echo of distant gladness in her heart.
She sat at her work in Mrs. Hale's room. As soon as that forenoon slumber was over, she would help her mother to dress after dinner, she would go and see Bessy Higgins. She would banish all recollection of the Thornton family,—no need to think of them till they absolutely stood before her in flesh and blood. But, of course, the effort not to think of them brought them only the more strongly before her; and from time to time, the hot flush came over her pale face sweeping it into colour, as a sunbeam from between watery clouds comes swiftly moving over the sea.
Dixon opened the door very softly, and stole on tiptoe up to
Margaret, sitting by the shaded window.
'Mr. Thornton, Miss Margaret. He is in the drawing-room.'
Margaret dropped her sewing.
'Did he ask for me? Isn't papa come in?'
'He asked for you, miss; and master is out.'
'Very well, I will come,' said Margaret, quietly. But she lingered strangely. Mr. Thornton stood by one of the windows, with his back to the door, apparently absorbed in watching something in the street. But, in truth, he was afraid of himself. His heart beat thick at the thought of her coming. He could not forget the touch of her arms around his neck, impatiently felt as it had been at the time; but now the recollection of her clinging defence of him, seemed to thrill him through and through,—to melt away every resolution, all power of self-control, as if it were wax before a fire. He dreaded lest he should go forwards to meet her, with his arms held out in mute entreaty that she would come and nestle there, as she had done, all unheeded, the day before, but never unheeded again. His heart throbbed loud and quick Strong man as he was, he trembled at the anticipation of what he had to say, and how it might be received. She might droop, and flush, and flutter to his arms, as to her natural home and resting-place. One moment, he glowed with impatience at the thought that she might do this, the next, he feared a passionate rejection, the very idea of which withered up his future with so deadly a blight that he refused to think of it. He was startled by the sense of the presence of some one else in the room. He turned round. She had come in so gently, that he had never heard her; the street noises had been more distinct to his inattentive ear than her slow movements, in her soft muslin gown.
She stood by the table, not offering to sit down. Her eyelids were dropped half over her eyes; her teeth were shut, not compressed; her lips were just parted over them, allowing the white line to be seen between their curve. Her slow deep breathings dilated her thin and beautiful nostrils; it was the only motion visible on her countenance. The fine-grained skin, the oval cheek, the rich outline of her mouth, its corners deep set in dimples,—were all wan and pale to-day; the loss of their usual natural healthy colour being made more evident by the heavy shadow of the dark hair, brought down upon the temples, to hide all sign of the blow she had received. Her head, for all its drooping eyes, was thrown a little back, in the old proud attitude. Her long arms hung motion-less by her sides. Altogether she looked like some prisoner, falsely accused of a crime that she loathed and despised, and from which she was too indignant to justify herself.
Mr. Thornton made a hasty step or two forwards; recovered himself, and went with quiet firmness to the door (which she had left open), and shut it. Then he came back, and stood opposite to her for a moment, receiving the general impression of her beautiful presence, before he dared to disturb it, perhaps to repel it, by what he had to say.
'Miss Hale, I was very ungrateful yesterday—'
'You had nothing to be grateful for,' said she, raising her eyes, and looking full and straight at him. 'You mean, I suppose, that you believe you ought to thank me for what I did.' In spite of herself—in defiance of her anger—the thick blushes came all over her face, and burnt into her very eyes; which fell not nevertheless from their grave and steady look. 'It was only a natural instinct; any woman would have done just the same. We all feel the sanctity of our sex as a high privilege when we see danger. I ought rather,' said she, hastily, 'to apologise to you, for having said thoughtless words which sent you down into the danger.'
'It was not your words; it was the truth they conveyed, pun-gently as it was expressed. But you shall not drive me off upon that, and so escape the expression of my deep gratitude, my—' he was on the verge now; he would not speak in the haste of his hot passion; he would weigh each word. He would; and his will was triumphant. He stopped in mid career.
'I do not try to escape from anything,' said she. 'I simply say, that you owe me no gratitude; and I may add, that any expression of it will be painful to me, because I do not feel that I deserve it. Still, if it will relieve you from even a fancied obligation, speak on.'
'I do not want to be relieved from any obligation,' said he, goaded by her calm manner. Fancied, or not fancied—I question not myself to know which—I choose to believe that I owe my very life to you—ay—smile, and think it an exaggeration if you will. I believe it, because it adds a value to that life to think—oh, Miss Hale!' continued he, lowering his voice to such a tender intensity of passion that she shivered and trembled before him, 'to think circumstance so wrought, that whenever I exult in existence henceforward, I may say to myself, "All this gladness in life, all honest pride in doing my work in the world, all this keen sense of being, I owe to her!" And it doubles the gladness, it makes the pride glow, it sharpens the sense of existence till I hardly know if it is pain or pleasure, to think that I owe it to one—nay, you must, you shall hear'—said he, stepping forwards with stern determination—'to one whom I love, as I do not believe man ever loved woman before.' He held her hand tight in his. He panted as he listened for what should come. He threw the hand away with indignation, as he heard her icy tone; for icy it was, though the words came faltering out, as if she knew not where to find them.
'Your way of speaking shocks me. It is blasphemous. I cannot help it, if that is my first feeling. It might not be so, I dare say, if I understood the kind of feeling you describe. I do not want to vex you; and besides, we must speak gently, for mamma is asleep; but your whole manner offends me—'
'How!' exclaimed he. 'Offends you! I am indeed most unfortunate.'
'Yes!' said she, with recovered dignity. 'I do feel offended; and, I think, justly. You seem to fancy that my conduct of yesterday'—again the deep carnation blush, but this time with eyes kindling with indignation rather than shame—'was a personal act between you and me; and that you may come and thank me for it, instead of perceiving, as a gentleman would—yes! a gentleman,' she repeated, in allusion to their former conversation about that word, 'that any woman, worthy of the name of woman, would come forward to shield, with her reverenced helplessness, a man in danger from the violence of numbers.'
'And the gentleman thus rescued is forbidden the relief of thanks!' he broke in contemptuously. 'I am a man. I claim the right of expressing my feelings.'
'And I yielded to the right; simply saying that you gave me pain by insisting upon it,' she replied, proudly. 'But you seem to have imagined, that I was not merely guided by womanly instinct, but'—and here the passionate tears (kept down for long—struggled with vehemently) came up into her eyes, and choked her voice—'but that I was prompted by some particular feeling for you—you! Why, there was not a man—not a poor desperate man in all that crowd—for whom I had not more sympathy—for whom I should not have done what little I could more heartily.'
'You may speak on, Miss Hale. I am aware of all these misplaced sympathies of yours. I now believe that it was only your innate sense of oppression—(yes; I, though a master, may be oppressed)—that made you act so nobly as you did. I know you despise me; allow me to say, it is because you do not understand me.'
'I do not care to understand,' she replied, taking hold of the table to steady herself; for she thought him cruel—as, indeed, he was—and she was weak with her indignation.
'No, I see you do not. You are unfair and unjust.'
Margaret compressed her lips. She would not speak in answer to such accusations. But, for all that—for all his savage words, he could have thrown himself at her feet, and kissed the hem of her wounded pride fell hot and fast. He waited awhile, longing for garment. She did not speak; she did not move. The tears of her to say something, even a taunt, to which he might reply. But she was silent. He took up his hat.
'One word more. You look as if you thought it tainted you to be loved by me. You cannot avoid it. Nay, I, if I would, cannot cleanse you from it. But I would not, if I could. I have never loved any woman before: my life has been too busy, my thoughts too much absorbed with other things. Now I love, and will love. But do not be afraid of too much expression on my part.'
'I am not afraid,' she replied, lifting herself straight up. 'No one yet has ever dared to be impertinent to me, and no one ever shall. But, Mr. Thornton, you have been very kind to my father,' said she, changing her whole tone and bearing to a most womanly softness. 'Don't let us go on making each other angry. Pray don't!' He took no notice of her words: he occupied himself in smoothing the nap of his hat with his coat-sleeve, for half a minute or so; and then, rejecting her offered hand, and making as if he did not see her grave look of regret, he turned abruptly away, and left the room. Margaret caught one glance at his face before he went.
When he was gone, she thought she had seen the gleam of unshed tears in his eyes; and that turned her proud dislike into something different and kinder, if nearly as painful—self-reproach for having caused such mortification to any one.
'But how could I help it?' asked she of herself. 'I never liked him. I was civil; but I took no trouble to conceal my indifference. Indeed, I never thought about myself or him, so my manners must have shown the truth. All that yesterday, he might mistake. But that is his fault, not mine. I would do it again, if need were, though it does lead me into all this shame and trouble.'
'Revenge may have her own;
Roused discipline aloud proclaims their cause,
And injured navies urge their broken laws.'
Margaret began to wonder whether all offers were as unexpected beforehand,—as distressing at the time of their occurrence, as the two she had had. An involuntary comparison between Mr. Lennox and Mr. Thornton arose in her mind. She had been sorry, that an expression of any other feeling than friendship had been lured out by circumstances from Henry Lennox. That regret was the predominant feeling, on the first occasion of her receiving a proposal. She had not felt so stunned—so impressed as she did now, when echoes of Mr. Thornton's voice yet lingered about the room. In Lennox's case, he seemed for a moment to have slid over the boundary between friendship and love; and the instant afterwards, to regret it nearly as much as she did, although for different reasons. In Mr. Thornton's case, as far as Margaret knew, there was no intervening stage of friendship. Their intercourse had been one continued series of opposition. Their opinions clashed; and indeed, she had never perceived that he had cared for her opinions, as belonging to her, the individual. As far as they defied his rock-like power of character, his passion-strength, he seemed to throw them off from him with contempt, until she felt the weariness of the exertion of making useless protests; and now, he had come, in this strange wild passionate way, to make known his love For, although at first it had struck her, that his offer was forced and goaded out of him by sharp compassion for the exposure she had made of herself,—which he, like others, might misunderstand—yet, even before he left the room,—and certainly, not five minutes after, the clear conviction dawned upon her, shined bright upon her, that he did love her; that he had loved her; that he would love her. And she shrank and shuddered as under the fascination of some great power, repugnant to her whole previous life. She crept away, and hid from his idea. But it was of no use. To parody a line out of Fairfax's Tasso—
'His strong idea wandered through her thought.'
She disliked him the more for having mastered her inner will. How dared he say that he would love her still, even though she shook him off with contempt? She wished she had spoken more—stronger. Sharp, decisive speeches came thronging into her mind, now that it was too late to utter them. The deep impression made by the interview, was like that of a horror in a dream; that will not leave the room although we waken up, and rub our eyes, and force a stiff rigid smile upon our lips. It is there—there, cowering and gibbering, with fixed ghastly eyes, in some corner of the chamber, listening to hear whether we dare to breathe of its presence to any one. And we dare not; poor cowards that we are!
And so she shuddered away from the threat of his enduring love. What did he mean? Had she not the power to daunt him? She would see. It was more daring than became a man to threaten her so. Did he ground it upon the miserable yesterday? If need were, she would do the same to-morrow,—by a crippled beggar, willingly and gladly,—but by him, she would do it, just as bravely, in spite of his deductions, and the cold slime of women's impertinence. She did it because it was right, and simple, and true to save where she could save; even to try to save. 'Fais ce que dois, advienne que pourra.'
Hitherto she had not stirred from where he had left her; no outward circumstances had roused her out of the trance of thought in which she had been plunged by his last words, and by the look of his deep intent passionate eyes, as their flames had made her own fall before them. She went to the window, and threw it open, to dispel the oppression which hung around her. Then she went and opened the door, with a sort of impetuous wish to shake off the recollection of the past hour in the company of others, or in active exertion. But all was profoundly hushed in the noonday stillness of a house, where an invalid catches the unrefreshing sleep that is denied to the night-hours. Margaret would not be alone. What should she do? 'Go and see Bessy Higgins, of course,' thought she, as the recollection of the message sent the night before flashed into her mind.
And away she went.
When she got there, she found Bessy lying on the settle, moved close to the fire, though the day was sultry and oppressive. She was laid down quite flat, as if resting languidly after some paroxysm of pain. Margaret felt sure she ought to have the greater freedom of breathing which a more sitting posture would procure; and, without a word, she raised her up, and so arranged the pillows, that Bessy was more at ease, though very languid.
'I thought I should na' ha' seen yo' again,' said she, at last, looking wistfully in Margaret's face.
'I'm afraid you're much worse. But I could not have come yesterday, my mother was so ill—for many reasons,' said Margaret, colouring.
'Yo'd m'appen think I went beyond my place in sending Mary for yo'. But the wranglin' and the loud voices had just torn me to pieces, and I thought when father left, oh! if I could just hear her voice, reading me some words o' peace and promise, I could die away into the silence and rest o' God, lust as a babby is hushed up to sleep by its mother's lullaby.'
'Shall I read you a chapter, now?'
'Ay, do! M'appen I shan't listen to th' sense, at first; it will seem far away—but when yo' come to words I like—to th' comforting texts—it'll seem close in my ear, and going through me as it were.'
Margaret began. Bessy tossed to and fro. If, by an effort, she attended for one moment, it seemed as though she were convulsed into double restlessness the next. At last, she burst out 'Don't go on reading. It's no use. I'm blaspheming all the time in my mind, wi' thinking angrily on what canna be helped.—Yo'd hear of th' riot, m'appen, yesterday at Marlborough Mills? Thornton's factory, yo' know.'
'Your father was not there, was he?' said Margaret, colouring deep.
'Not he. He'd ha' given his right hand if it had never come to pass. It's that that's fretting me. He's fairly knocked down in his mind by it. It's no use telling him, fools will always break out o bounds. Yo' never saw a man so down-hearted as he is.'
'But why?' asked Margaret. 'I don't understand.'
'Why yo' see, he's a committee-man on this special strike'. Th' Union appointed him because, though I say it as shouldn't say it, he's reckoned a deep chap, and true to th' back-bone. And he and t other committee-men laid their plans. They were to hou'd together through thick and thin; what the major part thought, t'others were to think, whether they would or no. And above all there was to be no going again the law of the land. Folk would go with them if they saw them striving and starving wi' dumb patience; but if there was once any noise o' fighting and struggling—even wi' knobsticks—all was up, as they knew by th' experience of many, and many a time before. They would try and get speech o' th' knobsticks, and coax 'em, and reason wi' 'em, and m'appen warn 'em off; but whatever came, the Committee charged all members o' th' Union to lie down and die, if need were, without striking a blow; and then they reckoned they were sure o' carrying th' public with them. And beside all that, Committee knew they were right in their demand, and they didn't want to have right all mixed up wi' wrong, till folk can't separate it, no more nor I can th' physic-powder from th' jelly yo' gave me to mix it in; jelly is much the biggest, but powder tastes it all through. Well, I've told yo' at length about this'n, but I'm tired out. Yo' just think for yo'rsel, what it mun be for father to have a' his work undone, and by such a fool as Boucher, who must needs go right again the orders of Committee, and ruin th' strike, just as bad as if he meant to be a Judas. Eh! but father giv'd it him last night! He went so far as to say, he'd go and tell police where they might find th' ringleader o' th' riot; he'd give him up to th' mill-owners to do what they would wi' him. He'd show the world that th' real leaders o' the strike were not such as Boucher, but steady thoughtful men; good hands, and good citizens, who were friendly to law and judgment, and would uphold order; who only wanted their right wage, and wouldn't work, even though they starved, till they got 'em; but who would ne'er injure property or life: For,' dropping her voice, 'they do say, that Boucher threw a stone at Thornton's sister, that welly killed her.'
'That's not true,' said Margaret. 'It was not Boucher that threw the stone'—she went first red, then white.
'Yo'd be there then, were yo'?' asked Bessy languidly for indeed, she had spoken with many pauses, as if speech was unusually difficult to her.
'Yes. Never mind. Go on. Only it was not Boucher that threw the stone. But what did he answer to your father?'
'He did na' speak words. He were all in such a tremble wi' spent passion, I could na' bear to look at him. I heard his breath coming quick, and at one time I thought he were sobbing. But when father said he'd give him up to police, he gave a great cry, and struck father on th' face wi' his closed fist, and be off like lightning. Father were stunned wi' the blow at first, for all Boucher were weak wi' passion and wi' clemming. He sat down a bit, and put his hand afore his eyes; and then made for th' door. I dunno' where I got strength, but I threw mysel' off th' settle and clung to him. "Father, father!" said I. "Thou'll never go peach on that poor clemmed man. I'll never leave go on thee, till thou sayst thou wunnot." "Dunnot be a fool," says he, "words come readier than deeds to most men. I never thought o' telling th' police on him; though by G—, he deserves it, and I should na' ha' minded if some one else had done the dirty work, and got him clapped up. But now he has strucken me, I could do it less nor ever, for it would be getting other men to take up my quarrel. But if ever he gets well o'er this clemming, and is in good condition, he and I'll have an up and down fight, purring an' a', and I'll see what I can do for him." And so father shook me off,—for indeed, I was low and faint enough, and his face was all clay white, where it weren't bloody, and turned me sick to look at. And I know not if I slept or waked, or were in a dead swoon, till Mary come in; and I telled her to fetch yo' to me. And now dunnot talk to me, but just read out th' chapter. I'm easier in my mind for having spit it out; but I want some thoughts of the world that's far away to take the weary taste of it out o' my mouth. Read me—not a sermon chapter, but a story chapter; they've pictures in them, which I see when my eyes are shut. Read about the New Heavens, and the New Earth; and m'appen I'll forget this.'
Margaret read in her soft low voice. Though Bessy's eyes were shut, she was listening for some time, for the moisture of tears gathered heavy on her eyelashes. At last she slept; with many starts, and muttered pleadings. Margaret covered her up, and left her, for she had an uneasy consciousness that she might be wanted at home, and yet, until now, it seemed cruel to leave the dying girl. Mrs. Hale was in the drawing-room on her daughter's return. It was one of her better days, and she was full of praises of the water-bed. It had been more like the beds at Sir John Beresford's than anything she had slept on since. She did not know how it was, but people seemed to have lost the art of making the same kind of beds as they used to do in her youth. One would think it was easy enough; there was the same kind of feathers to be had, and yet somehow, till this last night she did not know when she had had a good sound resting sleep. Mr. Hale suggested, that something of the merits of the featherbeds of former days might be attributed to the activity of youth, which gave a relish to rest; but this idea was not kindly received by his wife.
'No, indeed, Mr. Hale, it was those beds at Sir John's. Now, Margaret, you're young enough, and go about in the day; are the beds comfortable? I appeal to you. Do they give you a feeling of perfect repose when you lie down upon them; or rather, don't you toss about, and try in vain to find an easy position, and waken in the morning as tired as when you went to bed?'
Margaret laughed. 'To tell the truth, mamma, I've never thought about my bed at all, what kind it is. I'm so sleepy at night, that if I only lie down anywhere, I nap off directly. So I don't think I'm a competent witness. But then, you know, I never had the opportunity of trying Sir John Beresford's beds. I never was at Oxenham.'
'Were not you? Oh, no! to be sure. It was poor darling Fred I took with me, I remember. I only went to Oxenham once after I was married,—to your Aunt Shaw's wedding; and poor little Fred was the baby then. And I know Dixon did not like changing from lady's maid to nurse, and I was afraid that if I took her near her old home, and amongst her own people, she might want to leave me. But poor baby was taken ill at Oxenham, with his teething; and, what with my being a great deal with Anna just before her marriage, and not being very strong myself, Dixon had more of the charge of him than she ever had before; and it made her so fond of him, and she was so proud when he would turn away from every one and cling to her, that I don't believe she ever thought of leaving me again; though it was very different from what she'd been accustomed to. Poor Fred! Every body loved him. He was born with the gift of winning hearts. It makes me think very badly of Captain Reid when I know that he disliked my own dear boy. I think it a certain proof he had a bad heart. Ah! Your poor father, Margaret. He has left the room. He can't bear to hear Fred spoken of.'
'I love to hear about him, mamma. Tell me all you like; you never can tell me too much. Tell me what he was like as a baby.'
'Why, Margaret, you must not be hurt, but he was much prettier than you were. I remember, when I first saw you in Dixon's arms, I said, "Dear, what an ugly little thing!" And she said, "It's not every child that's like Master Fred, bless him!" Dear! how well I remember it. Then I could have had Fred in my arms every minute of the day, and his cot was close by my bed; and now, now—Margaret—I don't know where my boy is, and sometimes I think I shall never see him again.'
Margaret sat down by her mother's sofa on a little stool, and softly took hold of her hand, caressing it and kissing it, as if to comfort. Mrs. Hale cried without restraint. At last, she sat straight, stiff up on the sofa, and turning round to her daughter, she said with tearful, almost solemn earnestness, 'Margaret, if I can get better,—if God lets me have a chance of recovery, it must be through seeing my son Frederick once more. It will waken up all the poor springs of health left in me.
She paused, and seemed to try and gather strength for something more yet to be said. Her voice was choked as she went on—was quavering as with the contemplation of some strange, yet closely-present idea.
'And, Margaret, if I am to die—if I am one of those appointed to die before many weeks are over—I must see my child first. I cannot think how it must be managed; but I charge you, Margaret, as you yourself hope for comfort in your last illness, bring him to me that I may bless him. Only for five minutes, Margaret. There could be no danger in five minutes. Oh, Margaret, let me see him before I die!'
Margaret did not think of anything that might be utterly unreasonable in this speech: we do not look for reason or logic in the passionate entreaties of those who are sick unto death; we are stung with the recollection of a thousand slighted opportunities of fulfilling the wishes of those who will soon pass away from among us: and do they ask us for the future happiness of our lives, we lay it at their feet, and will it away from us. But this wish of Mrs. Hale's was so natural, so just, so right to both parties, that Margaret felt as if, on Frederick's account as well as on her mother's, she ought to overlook all intermediate chances of danger, and pledge herself to do everything in her power for its realisation. The large, pleading, dilated eyes were fixed upon her wistfully, steady in their gaze, though the poor white lips quivered like those of a child. Margaret gently rose up and stood opposite to her frail mother; so that she might gather the secure fulfilment of her wish from the calm steadiness of her daughter's face.
'Mamma, I will write to-night, and tell Frederick what you say. I am as sure that he will come directly to us, as I am sure of my life. Be easy, mamma, you shall see him as far as anything earthly can be promised.'
'You will write to-night? Oh, Margaret! the post goes out at five—you will write by it, won't you? I have so few hours left—I feel, dear, as if I should not recover, though sometimes your father over-persuades me into hoping; you will write directly, won't you? Don't lose a single post; for just by that very post I may miss him.'
'But, mamma, papa is out.'
'Papa is out! and what then? Do you mean that he would deny me this last wish, Margaret? Why, I should not be ill—be dying—if he had not taken me away from Helstone, to this unhealthy, smoky, sunless place.'
'Oh, mamma!' said Margaret.
'Yes; it is so, indeed. He knows it himself; he has said so many a time. He would do anything for me; you don't mean he would refuse me this last wish—prayer, if you will. And, indeed, Margaret, the longing to see Frederick stands between me and God. I cannot pray till I have this one thing; indeed, I cannot. Don't lose time, dear, dear Margaret. Write by this very next post. Then he may be here—here in twenty-two days! For he is sure to come. No cords or chains can keep him. In twenty-two days I shall see my boy.' She fell back, and for a short time she took no notice of the fact that Margaret sat motionless, her hand shading her eyes.
'You are not writing!' said her mother at last 'Bring me some pens and paper; I will try and write myself.' She sat up, trembling all over with feverish eagerness. Margaret took her hand down and looked at her mother sadly.
'Only wait till papa comes in. Let us ask him how best to do it.'
'You promised, Margaret, not a quarter of an hour ago;—you said he should come.'
'And so he shall, mamma; don't cry, my own dear mother. I'll write here, now,—you shall see me write,—and it shall go by this very post; and if papa thinks fit, he can write again when he comes in,—it is only a day's delay. Oh, mamma, don't cry so pitifully,—it cuts me to the heart.'
Mrs. Hale could not stop her tears; they came hysterically; and, in truth, she made no effort to control them, but rather called up all the pictures of the happy past, and the probable future—painting the scene when she should lie a corpse, with the son she had longed to see in life weeping over her, and she unconscious of his presence—till she was melted by self-pity into a state of sobbing and exhaustion that made Margaret's heart ache. But at last she was calm, and greedily watched her daughter, as she began her letter; wrote it with swift urgent entreaty; sealed it up hurriedly, for fear her mother should ask to see it: and then, to make security most sure, at Mrs. Hale's own bidding, took it herself to the post-office. She was coming home when her father overtook her.
'And where have you been, my pretty maid?' asked he.
'To the post-office,—with a letter; a letter to Frederick. Oh, papa, perhaps I have done wrong: but mamma was seized with such a passionate yearning to see him—she said it would make her well again,—and then she said that she must see him before she died,—I cannot tell you how urgent she was! Did I do wrong?' Mr. Hale did not reply at first. Then he said:
'You should have waited till I came in, Margaret.'
'I tried to persuade her—' and then she was silent.
'I don't know,' said Mr. Hale, after a pause. 'She ought to see him if she wishes it so much, for I believe it would do her much more good than all the doctor's medicine,—and, perhaps, set her up altogether; but the danger to him, I'm afraid, is very great.'
'All these years since the mutiny, papa?'
'Yes; it is necessary, of course, for government to take very stringent measures for the repression of offences against authority, more particularly in the navy, where a commanding officer needs to be surrounded in his men's eyes with a vivid consciousness of all the power there is at home to back him, and take up his cause, and avenge any injuries offered to him, if need be. Ah! it's no matter to them how far their authorities have tyrannised,—galled hasty tempers to madness,—or, if that can be any excuse afterwards, it is never allowed for in the first instance; they spare no expense, they send out ships,—they scour the seas to lay hold of the offenders,—the lapse of years does not wash out the memory of the offence,—it is a fresh and vivid crime on the Admiralty books till it is blotted out by blood.'
'Oh, papa, what have I done! And yet it seemed so right at the time. I'm sure Frederick himself, would run the risk.'
'So he would; so he should! Nay, Margaret, I'm glad it is done, though I durst not have done it myself. I'm thankful it is as it is; I should have hesitated till, perhaps, it might have been too late to do any good. Dear Margaret, you have done what is right about it; and the end is beyond our control.'
It was all very well; but her father's account of the relentless manner in which mutinies were punished made Margaret shiver and creep. If she had decoyed her brother home to blot out the memory of his error by his blood! She saw her father's anxiety lay deeper than the source of his latter cheering words. She took his arm and walked home pensively and wearily by his side.