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    Chapter 25

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    Chapter 26
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    CHAPTER XXV - FREDERICK

    'Revenge may have her own;

    Roused discipline aloud proclaims their cause,

    And injured navies urge their broken laws.'

    BYRON.

    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 oat 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 he 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.
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    Chapter 26
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