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    Chapter 23

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    Chapter 24
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    CHAPTER XXIII - MISTAKES

    'Which when his mother saw, she in her mind

    Was troubled sore, ne wist well what to ween.'

    SPENSER.

    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.

    'Gone home!'

    '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!'

    'Good-night, papa.'

    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.
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