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    Chapter 11

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    Chapter 12
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    CHAPTER XI - FIRST IMPRESSIONS

    'There's iron, they say, in all our blood,

    And a grain or two perhaps is good;

    But his, he makes me harshly feel,

    Has got a little too much of steel.'

    ANON.

    'Margaret!' said Mr. Hale, as he returned from showing his guest
    downstairs; 'I could not help watching your face with some
    anxiety, when Mr. Thornton made his confession of having been a
    shop-boy. I knew it all along from Mr. Bell; so I was aware of
    what was coming; but I half expected to see you get up and leave
    the room.'

    'Oh, papa! you don't mean that you thought me so silly? I really
    liked that account of himself better than anything else he said.
    Everything else revolted me, from its hardness; but he spoke
    about himself so simply--with so little of the pretence that
    makes the vulgarity of shop-people, and with such tender respect
    for his mother, that I was less likely to leave the room then
    than when he was boasting about Milton, as if there was not such
    another place in the world; or quietly professing to despise
    people for careless, wasteful improvidence, without ever seeming
    to think it his duty to try to make them different,--to give them
    anything of the training which his mother gave him, and to which
    he evidently owes his position, whatever that may be. No! his
    statement of having been a shop-boy was the thing I liked best of
    all.'

    'I am surprised at you, Margaret,' said her mother. 'You who were
    always accusing people of being shoppy at Helstone! I don't I
    think, Mr. Hale, you have done quite right in introducing such a
    person to us without telling us what he had been. I really was
    very much afraid of showing him how much shocked I was at some
    parts of what he said. His father "dying in miserable
    circumstances." Why it might have been in the workhouse.'

    'I am not sure if it was not worse than being in the workhouse,'
    replied her husband. 'I heard a good deal of his previous life
    from Mr. Bell before we came here; and as he has told you a part,
    I will fill up what he left out. His father speculated wildly,
    failed, and then killed himself, because he could not bear the
    disgrace. All his former friends shrunk from the disclosures that
    had to be made of his dishonest gambling--wild, hopeless
    struggles, made with other people's money, to regain his own
    moderate portion of wealth. No one came forwards to help the
    mother and this boy. There was another child, I believe, a girl;
    too young to earn money, but of course she had to be kept. At
    least, no friend came forwards immediately, and Mrs. Thornton is
    not one, I fancy, to wait till tardy kindness comes to find her
    out. So they left Milton. I knew he had gone into a shop, and
    that his earnings, with some fragment of property secured to his
    mother, had been made to keep them for a long time. Mr. Bell said
    they absolutely lived upon water-porridge for years--how, he did
    not know; but long after the creditors had given up hope of any
    payment of old Mr. Thornton's debts (if, indeed, they ever had
    hoped at all about it, after his suicide,) this young man
    returned to Milton, and went quietly round to each creditor,
    paying him the first instalment of the money owing to him. No
    noise--no gathering together of creditors--it was done very
    silently and quietly, but all was paid at last; helped on
    materially by the circumstance of one of the creditors, a crabbed
    old fellow (Mr. Bell says), taking in Mr. Thornton as a kind of
    partner.'

    'That really is fine,' said Margaret. 'What a pity such a nature
    should be tainted by his position as a Milton manufacturer.'

    'How tainted?' asked her father.

    'Oh, papa, by that testing everything by the standard of wealth.
    When he spoke of the mechanical powers, he evidently looked upon
    them only as new ways of extending trade and making money. And
    the poor men around him--they were poor because they were
    vicious--out of the pale of his sympathies because they had not
    his iron nature, and the capabilities that it gives him for being
    rich.'

    'Not vicious; he never said that. Improvident and self-indulgent
    were his words.'

    Margaret was collecting her mother's working materials, and
    preparing to go to bed. Just as she was leaving the room, she
    hesitated--she was inclined to make an acknowledgment which she
    thought would please her father, but which to be full and true
    must include a little annoyance. However, out it came.

    'Papa, I do think Mr. Thornton a very remarkable man; but
    personally I don't like him at all.'

    'And I do!' said her father laughing. 'Personally, as you call
    it, and all. I don't set him up for a hero, or anything of that
    kind. But good night, child. Your mother looks sadly tired
    to-night, Margaret.'

    Margaret had noticed her mother's jaded appearance with anxiety
    for some time past, and this remark of her father's sent her up
    to bed with a dim fear lying like a weight on her heart. The life
    in Milton was so different from what Mrs. Hale had been
    accustomed to live in Helstone, in and out perpetually into the
    fresh and open air; the air itself was so different, deprived of
    all revivifying principle as it seemed to be here; the domestic
    worries pressed so very closely, and in so new and sordid a form,
    upon all the women in the family, that there was good reason to
    fear that her mother's health might be becoming seriously
    affected. There were several other signs of something wrong about
    Mrs. Hale. She and Dixon held mysterious consultations in her
    bedroom, from which Dixon would come out crying and cross, as was
    her custom when any distress of her mistress called upon her
    sympathy. Once Margaret had gone into the chamber soon after
    Dixon left it, and found her mother on her knees, and as Margaret
    stole out she caught a few words, which were evidently a prayer
    for strength and patience to endure severe bodily suffering.
    Margaret yearned to re-unite the bond of intimate confidence
    which had been broken by her long residence at her aunt Shaw's,
    and strove by gentle caresses and softened words to creep into
    the warmest place in her mother's heart. But though she received
    caresses and fond words back again, in such profusion as would
    have gladdened her formerly, yet she felt that there was a secret
    withheld from her, and she believed it bore serious reference to
    her mother's health. She lay awake very long this night, planning
    how to lessen the evil influence of their Milton life on her
    mother. A servant to give Dixon permanent assistance should be
    got, if she gave up her whole time to the search; and then, at
    any rate, her mother might have all the personal attention she
    required, and had been accustomed to her whole life. Visiting
    register offices, seeing all manner of unlikely people, and very
    few in the least likely, absorbed Margaret's time and thoughts
    for several days. One afternoon she met Bessy Higgins in the
    street, and stopped to speak to her.

    'Well, Bessy, how are you? Better, I hope, now the wind has
    changed.'

    'Better and not better, if yo' know what that means.'

    'Not exactly,' replied Margaret, smiling.

    'I'm better in not being torn to pieces by coughing o'nights, but
    I'm weary and tired o' Milton, and longing to get away to the
    land o' Beulah; and when I think I'm farther and farther off, my
    heart sinks, and I'm no better; I'm worse.' Margaret turned round
    to walk alongside of the girl in her feeble progress homeward.
    But for a minute or two she did not speak. At last she said in a
    low voice,

    'Bessy, do you wish to die?' For she shrank from death herself,
    with all the clinging to life so natural to the young and
    healthy.

    Bessy was silent in her turn for a minute or two. Then she
    replied,

    'If yo'd led the life I have, and getten as weary of it as I
    have, and thought at times, "maybe it'll last for fifty or sixty
    years--it does wi' some,"--and got dizzy and dazed, and sick, as
    each of them sixty years seemed to spin about me, and mock me
    with its length of hours and minutes, and endless bits o'
    time--oh, wench! I tell thee thou'd been glad enough when th'
    doctor said he feared thou'd never see another winter.'

    'Why, Bessy, what kind of a life has yours been?'

    'Nought worse than many others, I reckon. Only I fretted again
    it, and they didn't.'

    'But what was it? You know, I'm a stranger here, so perhaps I'm
    not so quick at understanding what you mean as if I'd lived all
    my life at Milton.'

    'If yo'd ha' come to our house when yo' said yo' would, I could
    maybe ha' told you. But father says yo're just like th' rest on
    'em; it's out o' sight out o' mind wi' you.'

    'I don't know who the rest are; and I've been very busy; and, to
    tell the truth, I had forgotten my promise--'

    'Yo' offered it! we asked none of it.'

    'I had forgotten what I said for the time,' continued Margaret
    quietly. 'I should have thought of it again when I was less busy.
    May I go with you now?' Bessy gave a quick glance at Margaret's
    face, to see if the wish expressed was really felt. The sharpness
    in her eye turned to a wistful longing as she met Margaret's soft
    and friendly gaze.

    'I ha' none so many to care for me; if yo' care yo' may come.

    So they walked on together in silence. As they turned up into a
    small court, opening out of a squalid street, Bessy said,

    'Yo'll not be daunted if father's at home, and speaks a bit
    gruffish at first. He took a mind to ye, yo' see, and he thought
    a deal o' your coming to see us; and just because he liked yo' he
    were vexed and put about.'

    'Don't fear, Bessy.'

    But Nicholas was not at home when they entered. A great
    slatternly girl, not so old as Bessy, but taller and stronger,
    was busy at the wash-tub, knocking about the furniture in a rough
    capable way, but altogether making so much noise that Margaret
    shrunk, out of sympathy with poor Bessy, who had sat down on the
    first chair, as if completely tired out with her walk. Margaret
    asked the sister for a cup of water, and while she ran to fetch
    it (knocking down the fire-irons, and tumbling over a chair in
    her way), she unloosed Bessy's bonnet strings, to relieve her
    catching breath.

    'Do you think such life as this is worth caring for?' gasped
    Bessy, at last. Margaret did not speak, but held the water to her
    lips. Bessy took a long and feverish draught, and then fell back
    and shut her eyes. Margaret heard her murmur to herself: 'They
    shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more; neither shall the
    sun light on them, nor any heat.'

    Margaret bent over and said, 'Bessy, don't be impatient with your
    life, whatever it is--or may have been. Remember who gave it you,
    and made it what it is!' She was startled by hearing Nicholas
    speak behind her; he had come in without her noticing him.

    'Now, I'll not have my wench preached to. She's bad enough as it
    is, with her dreams and her methodee fancies, and her visions of
    cities with goulden gates and precious stones. But if it amuses
    her I let it abe, but I'm none going to have more stuff poured
    into her.'

    'But surely,' said Margaret, facing round, 'you believe in what I
    said, that God gave her life, and ordered what kind of life it
    was to be?'

    'I believe what I see, and no more. That's what I believe, young
    woman. I don't believe all I hear--no! not by a big deal. I did
    hear a young lass make an ado about knowing where we lived, and
    coming to see us. And my wench here thought a deal about it, and
    flushed up many a time, when hoo little knew as I was looking at
    her, at the sound of a strange step. But hoo's come at last,--and
    hoo's welcome, as long as hoo'll keep from preaching on what hoo
    knows nought about.' Bessy had been watching Margaret's face; she
    half sate up to speak now, laying her hand on Margaret's arm with
    a gesture of entreaty. 'Don't be vexed wi' him--there's many a
    one thinks like him; many and many a one here. If yo' could hear
    them speak, yo'd not be shocked at him; he's a rare good man, is
    father--but oh!' said she, falling back in despair, 'what he says
    at times makes me long to die more than ever, for I want to know
    so many things, and am so tossed about wi' wonder.'

    'Poor wench--poor old wench,--I'm loth to vex thee, I am; but a
    man mun speak out for the truth, and when I see the world going
    all wrong at this time o' day, bothering itself wi' things it
    knows nought about, and leaving undone all the things that lie in
    disorder close at its hand--why, I say, leave a' this talk about
    religion alone, and set to work on what yo' see and know. That's
    my creed. It's simple, and not far to fetch, nor hard to work.'

    But the girl only pleaded the more with Margaret.

    'Don't think hardly on him--he's a good man, he is. I sometimes
    think I shall be moped wi' sorrow even in the City of God, if
    father is not there.' The feverish colour came into her cheek,
    and the feverish flame into her eye. 'But you will be there,
    father! you shall! Oh! my heart!' She put her hand to it, and
    became ghastly pale.

    Margaret held her in her arms, and put the weary head to rest
    upon her bosom. She lifted the thin soft hair from off the
    temples, and bathed them with water. Nicholas understood all her
    signs for different articles with the quickness of love, and even
    the round-eyed sister moved with laborious gentleness at
    Margaret's 'hush!' Presently the spasm that foreshadowed death
    had passed away, and Bessy roused herself and said,--

    'I'll go to bed,--it's best place; but,' catching at Margaret's
    gown, 'yo'll come again,--I know yo' will--but just say it!'

    'I will come to-morrow, said Margaret.

    Bessy leant back against her father, who prepared to carry her
    upstairs; but as Margaret rose to go, he struggled to say
    something: 'I could wish there were a God, if it were only to ask
    Him to bless thee.'

    Margaret went away very sad and thoughtful.

    She was late for tea at home. At Helstone unpunctuality at
    meal-times was a great fault in her mother's eyes; but now this,
    as well as many other little irregularities, seemed to have lost
    their power of irritation, and Margaret almost longed for the old
    complainings.

    'Have you met with a servant, dear?'

    'No, mamma; that Anne Buckley would never have done.'

    'Suppose I try,' said Mr. Hale. 'Everybody else has had their
    turn at this great difficulty. Now let me try. I may be the
    Cinderella to put on the slipper after all.'

    Margaret could hardly smile at this little joke, so oppressed was
    she by her visit to the Higginses.

    'What would you do, papa? How would you set about it?'

    'Why, I would apply to some good house-mother to recommend me one
    known to herself or her servants.'

    'Very good. But we must first catch our house-mother.'

    'You have caught her. Or rather she is coming into the snare, and
    you will catch her to-morrow, if you're skilful.'

    'What do you mean, Mr. Hale?' asked his wife, her curiosity
    aroused.

    'Why, my paragon pupil (as Margaret calls him), has told me that
    his mother intends to call on Mrs. and Miss Hale to-morrow.'

    'Mrs. Thornton!' exclaimed Mrs. Hale.

    'The mother of whom he spoke to us?' said Margaret.

    'Mrs. Thornton; the only mother he has, I believe,' said Mr. Hale
    quietly.

    'I shall like to see her. She must be an uncommon person, her
    mother added.

    'Perhaps she may have a relation who might suit us, and be glad
    of our place. She sounded to be such a careful economical person,
    that I should like any one out of the same family.'

    'My dear,' said Mr. Hale alarmed. 'Pray don't go off on that
    idea. I fancy Mrs. Thornton is as haughty and proud in her way,
    as our little Margaret here is in hers, and that she completely
    ignores that old time of trial, and poverty, and economy, of
    which he speaks so openly. I am sure, at any rate, she would not
    like strangers to know anything about It.'

    'Take notice that is not my kind of haughtiness, papa, if I have
    any at all; which I don't agree to, though you're always accusing
    me of it.'

    'I don't know positively that it is hers either; but from little
    things I have gathered from him, I fancy so.'

    They cared too little to ask in what manner her son had spoken
    about her. Margaret only wanted to know if she must stay in to
    receive this call, as it would prevent her going to see how Bessy
    was, until late in the day, since the early morning was always
    occupied in household affairs; and then she recollected that her
    mother must not be left to have the whole weight of entertaining
    her visitor.
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