Meet us on:
 
Entire Site
    Try our fun game

    Dueling book covers…may the best design win!

    Random Quote
    "Exile, for no other motive than ease, would be the last defeat, with no seed of future victory in it."
     

    Subscribe to Our Newsletter

    Follow us on Twitter

    Never miss a good book again! Follow Read Print on Twitter

    Chapter 20

    • Rate it:
    • Average Rating: 4.6 out of 5 based on 8 ratings
    • 7 Favorites on Read Print
    Launch Reading Mode Next Chapter
    Chapter 21
    Previous Chapter
    CHAPTER XX - MEN AND GENTLEMEN

    'Old and young, boy, let 'em all eat, I have it;

    Let 'em have ten tire of teeth a-piece, I care not.'

    ROLLO, DUKE OF NORMANDY.

    Margaret went home so painfully occupied with what she had heard
    and seen that she hardly knew how to rouse herself up to the
    duties which awaited her; the necessity for keeping up a constant
    flow of cheerful conversation for her mother, who, now that she
    was unable to go out, always looked to Margaret's return from the
    shortest walk as bringing in some news.

    'And can your factory friend come on Thursday to see you
    dressed?'

    'She was so ill I never thought of asking her,' said Margaret,
    dolefully.

    'Dear! Everybody is ill now, I think,' said Mrs. Hale, with a
    little of the jealousy which one invalid is apt to feel of
    another. 'But it must be very sad to be ill in one of those
    little back streets.' (Her kindly nature prevailing, and the old
    Helstone habits of thought returning.) 'It's bad enough here.
    What could you do for her, Margaret? Mr. Thornton has sent me
    some of his old port wine since you went out. Would a bottle of
    that do her good, think you?'

    'No, mamma! I don't believe they are very poor,--at least, they
    don't speak as if they were; and, at any rate, Bessy's illness is
    consumption--she won't want wine. Perhaps, I might take her a
    little preserve, made of our dear Helstone fruit. No! there's
    another family to whom I should like to give--Oh mamma, mamma!
    how am I to dress up in my finery, and go off and away to smart
    parties, after the sorrow I have seen to-day?' exclaimed
    Margaret, bursting the bounds she had preordained for herself
    before she came in, and telling her mother of what she had seen
    and heard at Higgins's cottage.

    It distressed Mrs. Hale excessively. It made her restlessly
    irritated till she could do something. She directed Margaret to
    pack up a basket in the very drawing-room, to be sent there and
    then to the family; and was almost angry with her for saying,
    that it would not signify if it did not go till morning, as she
    knew Higgins had provided for their immediate wants, and she
    herself had left money with Bessy. Mrs. Hale called her unfeeling
    for saying this; and never gave herself breathing-time till the
    basket was sent out of the house. Then she said:

    'After all, we may have been doing wrong. It was only the last
    time Mr. Thornton was here that he said, those were no true
    friends who helped to prolong the struggle by assisting the turn
    outs. And this Boucher-man was a turn-out, was he not?'

    The question was referred to Mr. Hale by his wife, when he came
    up-stairs, fresh from giving a lesson to Mr. Thornton, which had
    ended in conversation, as was their wont. Margaret did not care
    if their gifts had prolonged the strike; she did not think far
    enough for that, in her present excited state.

    Mr. Hale listened, and tried to be as calm as a judge; he
    recalled all that had seemed so clear not half-an-hour before, as
    it came out of Mr. Thornton's lips; and then he made an
    unsatisfactory compromise. His wife and daughter had not only
    done quite right in this instance, but he did not see for a
    moment how they could have done otherwise. Nevertheless, as a
    general rule, it was very true what Mr. Thornton said, that as
    the strike, if prolonged, must end in the masters' bringing hands
    from a distance (if, indeed, the final result were not, as it had
    often been before, the invention of some machine which would
    diminish the need of hands at all), why, it was clear enough that
    the kindest thing was to refuse all help which might bolster them
    up in their folly. But, as to this Boucher, he would go and see
    him the first thing in the morning, and try and find out what
    could be done for him.

    Mr. Hale went the next morning, as he proposed. He did not find
    Boucher at home, but he had a long talk with his wife; promised
    to ask for an Infirmary order for her; and, seeing the plenty
    provided by Mrs. Hale, and somewhat lavishly used by the
    children, who were masters down-stairs in their father's absence,
    he came back with a more consoling and cheerful account than
    Margaret had dared to hope for; indeed, what she had said the
    night before had prepared her father for so much worse a state of
    things that, by a reaction of his imagination, he described all
    as better than it really was.

    'But I will go again, and see the man himself,' said Mr. Hale. 'I
    hardly know as yet how to compare one of these houses with our
    Helstone cottages. I see furniture here which our labourers would
    never have thought of buying, and food commonly used which they
    would consider luxuries; yet for these very families there seems
    no other resource, now that their weekly wages are stopped, but
    the pawn-shop. One had need to learn a different language, and
    measure by a different standard, up here in Milton.'

    Bessy, too, was rather better this day. Still she was so weak
    that she seemed to have entirely forgotten her wish to see
    Margaret dressed--if, indeed, that had not been the feverish
    desire of a half-delirious state.

    Margaret could not help comparing this strange dressing of hers,
    to go where she did not care to be--her heart heavy with various
    anxieties--with the old, merry, girlish toilettes that she and
    Edith had performed scarcely more than a year ago. Her only
    pleasure now in decking herself out was in thinking that her
    mother would take delight in seeing her dressed. She blushed when
    Dixon, throwing the drawing-room door open, made an appeal for
    admiration.

    'Miss Hale looks well, ma'am,--doesn't she? Mrs. Shaw's coral
    couldn't have come in better. It just gives the right touch of
    colour, ma'am. Otherwise, Miss Margaret, you would have been too
    pale.'

    Margaret's black hair was too thick to be plaited; it needed
    rather to be twisted round and round, and have its fine silkiness
    compressed into massive coils, that encircled her head like a
    crown, and then were gathered into a large spiral knot behind.
    She kept its weight together by two large coral pins, like small
    arrows for length. Her white silk sleeves were looped up with
    strings of the same material, and on her neck, just below the
    base of her curved and milk-white throat, there lay heavy coral
    beads.

    'Oh, Margaret! how I should like to be going with you to one of
    the old Barrington assemblies,--taking you as Lady Beresford used
    to take me.' Margaret kissed her mother for this little burst of
    maternal vanity; but she could hardly smile at it, she felt so
    much out of spirits.

    'I would rather stay at home with you,--much rather, mamma.'

    'Nonsense, darling! Be sure you notice the dinner well. I shall
    like to hear how they manage these things in Milton. Particularly
    the second course, dear. Look what they have instead of game.'

    Mrs. Hale would have been more than interested,--she would have
    been astonished, if she had seen the sumptuousness of the
    dinner-table and its appointments. Margaret, with her London
    cultivated taste, felt the number of delicacies to be oppressive
    one half of the quantity would have been enough, and the effect
    lighter and more elegant. But it was one of Mrs. Thornton's
    rigorous laws of hospitality, that of each separate dainty enough
    should be provided for all the guests to partake, if they felt
    inclined. Careless to abstemiousness in her daily habits, it was
    part of her pride to set a feast before such of her guests as
    cared for it. Her son shared this feeling. He had never
    known--though he might have imagined, and had the capability to
    relish--any kind of society but that which depended on an
    exchange of superb meals and even now, though he was denying
    himself the personal expenditure of an unnecessary sixpence, and
    had more than once regretted that the invitations for this dinner
    had been sent out, still, as it was to be, he was glad to see the
    old magnificence of preparation. Margaret and her father were the
    first to arrive. Mr. Hale was anxiously punctual to the time
    specified. There was no one up-stairs in the drawing-room but
    Mrs. Thornton and Fanny. Every cover was taken off, and the
    apartment blazed forth in yellow silk damask and a
    brilliantly-flowered carpet. Every corner seemed filled up with
    ornament, until it became a weariness to the eye, and presented a
    strange contrast to the bald ugliness of the look-out into the
    great mill-yard, where wide folding gates were thrown open for
    the admission of carriages. The mill loomed high on the left-hand
    side of the windows, casting a shadow down from its many stories,
    which darkened the summer evening before its time.

    'My son was engaged up to the last moment on business. He will be
    here directly, Mr. Hale. May I beg you to take a seat?'

    Mr. Hale was standing at one of the windows as Mrs. Thornton
    spoke. He turned away, saying,

    'Don't you find such close neighbourhood to the mill rather
    unpleasant at times?'

    She drew herself up:

    'Never. I am not become so fine as to desire to forget the source
    of my son's wealth and power. Besides, there is not such another
    factory in Milton. One room alone is two hundred and twenty
    square yards.'

    'I meant that the smoke and the noise--the constant going out and
    coming in of the work-people, might be annoying!'

    'I agree with you, Mr. Hale!' said Fanny. 'There is a continual
    smell of steam, and oily machinery--and the noise is perfectly
    deafening.'

    'I have heard noise that was called music far more deafening. The
    engine-room is at the street-end of the factory; we hardly hear
    it, except in summer weather, when all the windows are open; and
    as for the continual murmur of the work-people, it disturbs me no
    more than the humming of a hive of bees. If I think of it at all,
    I connect it with my son, and feel how all belongs to him, and
    that his is the head that directs it. Just now, there are no
    sounds to come from the mill; the hands have been ungrateful
    enough to turn out, as perhaps you have heard. But the very
    business (of which I spoke, when you entered), had reference to
    the steps he is going to take to make them learn their place.'
    The expression on her face, always stern, deepened into dark
    anger, as she said this. Nor did it clear away when Mr. Thornton
    entered the room; for she saw, in an instant, the weight of care
    and anxiety which he could not shake off, although his guests
    received from him a greeting that appeared both cheerful and
    cordial. He shook hands with Margaret. He knew it was the first
    time their hands had met, though she was perfectly unconscious of
    the fact. He inquired after Mrs. Hale, and heard Mr. Hale's
    sanguine, hopeful account; and glancing at Margaret, to
    understand how far she agreed with her father, he saw that no
    dissenting shadow crossed her face. And as he looked with this
    intention, he was struck anew with her great beauty. He had never
    seen her in such dress before and yet now it appeared as if such
    elegance of attire was so befitting her noble figure and lofty
    serenity of countenance, that she ought to go always thus
    apparelled. She was talking to Fanny; about what, he could not
    hear; but he saw his sister's restless way of continually
    arranging some part of her gown, her wandering eyes, now glancing
    here, now there, but without any purpose in her observation; and
    he contrasted them uneasily with the large soft eyes that looked
    forth steadily at one object, as if from out their light beamed
    some gentle influence of repose: the curving lines of the red
    lips, just parted in the interest of listening to what her
    companion said--the head a little bent forwards, so as to make a
    long sweeping line from the summit, where the light caught on the
    glossy raven hair, to the smooth ivory tip of the shoulder; the
    round white arms, and taper hands, laid lightly across each
    other, but perfectly motionless in their pretty attitude. Mr.
    Thornton sighed as he took in all this with one of his sudden
    comprehensive glances. And then he turned his back to the young
    ladies, and threw himself, with an effort, but with all his heart
    and soul, into a conversation with Mr. Hale.

    More people came--more and more. Fanny left Margaret's side, and
    helped her mother to receive her guests. Mr. Thornton felt that
    in this influx no one was speaking to Margaret, and was restless
    under this apparent neglect. But he never went near her himself;
    he did not look at her. Only, he knew what she was doing--or not
    doing--better than he knew the movements of any one else in the
    room. Margaret was so unconscious of herself, and so much amused
    by watching other people, that she never thought whether she was
    left unnoticed or not. Somebody took her down to dinner; she did
    not catch the name; nor did he seem much inclined to talk to her.
    There was a very animated conversation going on among the
    gentlemen; the ladies, for the most part, were silent, employing
    themselves in taking notes of the dinner and criticising each
    other's dresses. Margaret caught the clue to the general
    conversation, grew interested and listened attentively. Mr.
    Horsfall, the stranger, whose visit to the town was the original
    germ of the party, was asking questions relative to the trade and
    manufactures of the place; and the rest of the gentlemen--all
    Milton men,--were giving him answers and explanations. Some
    dispute arose, which was warmly contested; it was referred to Mr.
    Thornton, who had hardly spoken before; but who now gave an
    opinion, the grounds of which were so clearly stated that even
    the opponents yielded. Margaret's attention was thus called to
    her host; his whole manner as master of the house, and
    entertainer of his friends, was so straightforward, yet simple
    and modest, as to be thoroughly dignified. Margaret thought she
    had never seen him to so much advantage. When he had come to
    their house, there had been always something, either of
    over-eagerness or of that kind of vexed annoyance which seemed
    ready to pre-suppose that he was unjustly judged, and yet felt
    too proud to try and make himself better understood. But now,
    among his fellows, there was no uncertainty as to his position.
    He was regarded by them as a man of great force of character; of
    power in many ways. There was no need to struggle for their
    respect. He had it, and he knew it; and the security of this gave
    a fine grand quietness to his voice and ways, which Margaret had
    missed before.

    He was not in the habit of talking to ladies; and what he did say
    was a little formal. To Margaret herself he hardly spoke at all.
    She was surprised to think how much she enjoyed this dinner. She
    knew enough now to understand many local interests--nay, even
    some of the technical words employed by the eager mill-owners.
    She silently took a very decided part in the question they were
    discussing. At any rate, they talked in desperate earnest,--not
    in the used-up style that wearied her so in the old London
    parties. She wondered that with all this dwelling on the
    manufactures and trade of the place, no allusion was made to the
    strike then pending. She did not yet know how coolly such things
    were taken by the masters, as having only one possible end. To be
    sure, the men were cutting their own throats, as they had done
    many a time before; but if they would be fools, and put
    themselves into the hands of a rascally set of paid delegates,'
    they must take the consequence. One or two thought Thornton
    looked out of spirits; and, of course, he must lose by this
    turn-out. But it was an accident that might happen to themselves
    any day; and Thornton was as good to manage a strike as any one;
    for he was as iron a chap as any in Milton. The hands had
    mistaken their man in trying that dodge on him. And they chuckled
    inwardly at the idea of the workmen's discomfiture and defeat, in
    their attempt to alter one iota of what Thornton had decreed. It
    was rather dull for Margaret after dinner. She was glad when the
    gentlemen came, not merely because she caught her father's eye to
    brighten her sleepiness up; but because she could listen to
    something larger and grander than the petty interests which the
    ladies had been talking about. She liked the exultation in the
    sense of power which these Milton men had. It might be rather
    rampant in its display, and savour of boasting; but still they
    seemed to defy the old limits of possibility, in a kind of fine
    intoxication, caused by the recollection of what had been
    achieved, and what yet should be. If in her cooler moments she
    might not approve of their spirit in all things, still there was
    much to admire in their forgetfulness of themselves and the
    present, in their anticipated triumphs over all inanimate matter
    at some future time which none of them should live to see. She
    was rather startled when Mr. Thornton spoke to her, close at her
    elbow:

    'I could see you were on our side in our discussion at
    dinner,--were you not, Miss Hale?'

    'Certainly. But then I know so little about it. I was surprised,
    however, to find from what Mr. Horsfall said, that there were
    others who thought in so diametrically opposite a manner, as the
    Mr. Morison he spoke about. He cannot be a gentleman--is he?'

    'I am not quite the person to decide on another's
    gentlemanliness, Miss Hale. I mean, I don't quite understand your
    application of the word. But I should say that this Morison is no
    true man. I don't know who he is; I merely judge him from Mr.
    Horsfall's account.'

    'I suspect my "gentleman" includes your "true man."'

    'And a great deal more, you would imply. I differ from you. A man
    is to me a higher and a completer being than a gentleman.'

    'What do you mean?' asked Margaret. 'We must understand the words
    differently.'

    'I take it that "gentleman" is a term that only describes a
    person in his relation to others; but when we speak of him as "a
    man," we consider him not merely with regard to his fellow-men,
    but in relation to himself,--to life--to time--to eternity. A
    cast-away lonely as Robinson Crusoe--a prisoner immured in a
    dungeon for life--nay, even a saint in Patmos, has his endurance,
    his strength, his faith, best described by being spoken of as "a
    man." I am rather weary of this word "gentlemanly," which seems
    to me to be often inappropriately used, and often, too, with such
    exaggerated distortion of meaning, while the full simplicity of
    the noun "man," and the adjective "manly" are
    unacknowledged--that I am induced to class it with the cant of
    the day.'

    Margaret thought a moment,--but before she could speak her slow
    conviction, he was called away by some of the eager
    manufacturers, whose speeches she could not hear, though she
    could guess at their import by the short clear answers Mr.
    Thornton gave, which came steady and firm as the boom of a
    distant minute gun. They were evidently talking of the turn-out,
    and suggesting what course had best be pursued. She heard Mr.
    Thornton say:

    'That has been done.' Then came a hurried murmur, in which two or
    three joined.

    'All those arrangements have been made.'

    Some doubts were implied, some difficulties named by Mr.
    Slickson, who took hold of Mr. Thornton's arm, the better to
    impress his words. Mr. Thornton moved slightly away, lifted his
    eyebrows a very little, and then replied:

    'I take the risk. You need not join in it unless you choose.'
    Still some more fears were urged.

    'I'm not afraid of anything so dastardly as incendiarism. We are
    open enemies; and I can protect myself from any violence that I
    apprehend. And I will assuredly protect all others who come to me
    for work. They know my determination by this time, as well and as
    fully as you do.'

    Mr. Horsfall took him a little on one side, as Margaret
    conjectured, to ask him some other question about the strike;
    but, in truth, it was to inquire who she herself was--so quiet,
    so stately, and so beautiful.

    'A Milton lady?' asked he, as the name was given.

    'No! from the south of England--Hampshire, I believe,' was the
    cold, indifferent answer.

    Mrs. Slickson was catechising Fanny on the same subject.

    'Who is that fine distinguished-looking girl? a sister of Mr.
    Horsfall's?'

    'Oh dear, no! That is Mr. Hale, her father, talking now to Mr.
    Stephens. He gives lessons; that is to say, he reads with young
    men. My brother John goes to him twice a week, and so he begged
    mamma to ask them here, in hopes of getting him known. I believe,
    we have some of their prospectuses, if you would like to have
    one.'

    'Mr. Thornton! Does he really find time to read with a tutor, in
    the midst of all his business,--and this abominable strike in
    hand as well?'

    Fanny was not sure, from Mrs. Slickson's manner, whether she
    ought to be proud or ashamed of her brother's conduct; and, like
    all people who try and take other people's 'ought' for the rule
    of their feelings, she was inclined to blush for any singularity
    of action. Her shame was interrupted by the dispersion of the
    guests.
    Next Chapter
    Chapter 21
    Previous Chapter
    If you're writing a Elizabeth Gaskell essay and need some advice, post your Elizabeth Gaskell essay question on our Facebook page where fellow bookworms are always glad to help!

    Top 5 Authors

    Top 5 Books

    Book Status
    Finished
    Want to read
    Abandoned

    Are you sure you want to leave this group?