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    Chapter 26

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    Chapter 27
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    CHAPTER XXVI - MOTHER AND SON

    'I have found that holy place of rest

    Still changeless.'

    MRS. HEMANS.

    When Mr. Thornton had left the house that morning he was almost
    blinded by his baffled passion. He was as dizzy as if Margaret,
    instead of looking, and speaking, and moving like a tender
    graceful woman, had been a sturdy fish-wife, and given him a
    sound blow with her fists. He had positive bodily pain,--a
    violent headache, and a throbbing intermittent pulse. He could
    not bear the noise, the garish light, the continued rumble and
    movement of the street. He called himself a fool for suffering
    so; and yet he could not, at the moment, recollect the cause of
    his suffering, and whether it was adequate to the consequences it
    had produced. It would have been a relief to him, if he could
    have sat down and cried on a door-step by a little child, who was
    raging and storming, through his passionate tears, at some injury
    he had received. He said to himself, that he hated Margaret, but
    a wild, sharp sensation of love cleft his dull, thunderous
    feeling like lightning, even as he shaped the words expressive of
    hatred. His greatest comfort was in hugging his torment; and in
    feeling, as he had indeed said to her, that though she might
    despise him, contemn him, treat him with her proud sovereign
    indifference, he did not change one whit. She could not make him
    change. He loved her, and would love her; and defy her, and this
    miserable bodily pain.

    He stood still for a moment, to make this resolution firm and
    clear. There was an omnibus passing--going into the country; the
    conductor thought he was wishing for a place, and stopped near
    the pavement. It was too much trouble to apologise and explain;
    so he mounted upon it, and was borne away,--past long rows of
    houses--then past detached villas with trim gardens, till they
    came to real country hedge-rows, and, by-and-by, to a small
    country town. Then every body got down; and so did Mr. Thornton,
    and because they walked away he did so too. He went into the
    fields, walking briskly, because the sharp motion relieved his
    mind. He could remember all about it now; the pitiful figure he
    must have cut; the absurd way in which he had gone and done the
    very thing he had so often agreed with himself in thinking would
    be the most foolish thing in the world; and had met with exactly
    the consequences which, in these wise moods, he had always
    fore-told were certain to follow, if he ever did make such a fool
    of himself. Was he bewitched by those beautiful eyes, that soft,
    half-open, sighing mouth which lay so close upon his shoulder
    only yesterday? He could not even shake off the recollection that
    she had been there; that her arms had been round him, once--if
    never again. He only caught glimpses of her; he did not
    understand her altogether. At one time she was so brave, and at
    another so timid; now so tender, and then so haughty and
    regal-proud. And then he thought over every time he had ever seen
    her once again, by way of finally forgetting her. He saw her in
    every dress, in every mood, and did not know which became her
    best. Even this morning, how magnificent she had looked,--her
    eyes flashing out upon him at the idea that, because she had
    shared his danger yesterday, she had cared for him the least!

    If Mr. Thornton was a fool in the morning, as he assured himself
    at least twenty times he was, he did not grow much wiser in the
    afternoon. All that he gained in return for his sixpenny omnibus
    ride, was a more vivid conviction that there never was, never
    could be, any one like Margaret; that she did not love him and
    never would; but that she--no! nor the whole world--should never
    hinder him from loving her. And so he returned to the little
    market-place, and remounted the omnibus to return to Milton.

    It was late in the afternoon when he was set down, near his
    warehouse. The accustomed places brought back the accustomed
    habits and trains of thought. He knew how much he had to do--more
    than his usual work, owing to the commotion of the day before. He
    had to see his brother magistrates; he had to complete the
    arrangements, only half made in the morning, for the comfortand
    safety of his newly imported Irish hands; he had to secure them
    from all chance of communication with the discontented
    work-people of Milton. Last of all, he had to go home and
    encounter his mother.

    Mrs. Thornton had sat in the dining-room all day, every moment
    expecting the news of her son's acceptance by Miss Hale. She had
    braced herself up many and many a time, at some sudden noise in
    the house; had caught up the half-dropped work, and begun to ply
    her needle diligently, though through dimmed spectacles, and with
    an unsteady hand! and many times had the door opened, and some
    indifferent person entered on some insignificant errand. Then her
    rigid face unstiffened from its gray frost-bound expression, and
    the features dropped into the relaxed look of despondency, so
    unusual to their sternness. She wrenched herself away from the
    contemplation of all the dreary changes that would be brought
    about to herself by her son's marriage; she forced her thoughts
    into the accustomed household grooves. The newly-married
    couple-to-be would need fresh household stocks of linen; and Mrs.
    Thornton had clothes-basket upon clothes-basket, full of
    table-cloths and napkins, brought in, and began to reckon up the
    store. There was some confusion between what was hers, and
    consequently marked G. H. T. (for George and Hannah Thornton),
    and what was her son's--bought with his money, marked with his
    initials. Some of those marked G. H. T. were Dutch damask of the
    old kind, exquisitely fine; none were like them now. Mrs.
    Thornton stood looking at them long,--they had been her pride
    when she was first married. Then she knit her brows, and pinched
    and compressed her lips tight, and carefully unpicked the G. H.
    She went so far as to search for the Turkey-red marking-thread to
    put in the new initials; but it was all used,--and she had no
    heart to send for any more just yet. So she looked fixedly at
    vacancy; a series of visions passing before her, in all of which
    her son was the principal, the sole object,--her son, her pride,
    her property. Still he did not come. Doubtless he was with Miss
    Hale. The new love was displacing her already from her place as
    first in his heart. A terrible pain--a pang of vain
    jealousy--shot through her: she hardly knew whether it was more
    physical or mental; but it forced her to sit down. In a moment,
    she was up again as straight as ever,--a grim smile upon her face
    for the first time that day, ready for the door opening, and the
    rejoicing triumphant one, who should never know the sore regret
    his mother felt at his marriage. In all this, there was little
    thought enough of the future daughter-in-law as an individual.
    She was to be John's wife. To take Mrs. Thornton's place as
    mistress of the house, was only one of the rich consequences
    which decked out the supreme glory; all household plenty and
    comfort, all purple and fine linen, honour, love, obedience,
    troops of friends, would all come as naturally as jewels on a
    king's robe, and be as little thought of for their separate
    value. To be chosen by John, would separate a kitchen-wench from
    the rest of the world. And Miss Hale was not so bad. If she had
    been a Milton lass, Mrs. Thornton would have positively liked
    her. She was pungent, and had taste, and spirit, and flavour in
    her. True, she was sadly prejudiced, and veryignorant; but that
    was to be expected from her southern breeding. A strange sort of
    mortified comparison of Fanny with her, went on in Mrs.
    Thornton's mind; and for once she spoke harshly to her daughter;
    abused her roundly; and then, as if by way of penance, she took
    up Henry's Commentaries, and tried to fix her attention on it,
    instead of pursuing the employment she took pride and pleasure
    in, and continuing her inspection of the table-linen.

    ~His~ step at last! She heard him, even while she thought she was
    finishing a sentence; while her eye did pass over it, and her
    memory could mechanically have repeated it word for word, she
    heard him come in at the hall-door. Her quickened sense could
    interpret every sound of motion: now he was at the hat-stand--now
    at the very room-door. Why did he pause? Let her know the worst.

    Yet her head was down over the book; she did not look up. He came
    close to the table, and stood still there, waiting till she
    should have finished the paragraph which apparently absorbed her.
    By an effort she looked up. Well, John?'

    He knew what that little speech meant. But he had steeled
    himself. He longed to reply with a jest; the bitterness of his
    heart could have uttered one, but his mother deserved better of
    him. He came round behind her, so that she could not see his
    looks, and, bending back her gray, stony face, he kissed it,
    murmuring:

    'No one loves me,--no one cares for me, but you, mother.'

    He turned away and stood leaning his head against the
    mantel-piece, tears forcing themselves into his manly eyes. She
    stood up,--she tottered. For the first time in her life, the
    strong woman tottered. She put her hands on his shoulders; she
    was a tall woman. She looked into his face; she made him look at
    her.

    'Mother's love is given by God, John. It holds fast for ever and
    ever. A girl's love is like a puff of smoke,--it changes with
    every wind. And she would not have you, my own lad, would not
    she?' She set her teeth; she showed them like a dog for the whole
    length of her mouth. He shook his head.

    'I am not fit for her, mother; I knew I was not.'

    She ground out words between her closed teeth. He could not hear
    what she said; but the look in her eyes interpreted it to be a
    curse,--if not as coarsely worded, as fell in intent as ever was
    uttered. And yet her heart leapt up light, to know he was her own
    again.

    'Mother!' said he, hurriedly, 'I cannot hear a word against her.
    Spare me,--spare me! I am very weak in my sore heart;--I love her
    yet; I love her more than ever.'

    'And I hate her,' said Mrs. Thornton, in a low fierce voice. 'I
    tried not to hate her, when she stood between you and me,
    because,--I said to myself,--she will make him happy; and I would
    give my heart's blood to do that. But now, I hate her for your
    misery's sake. Yes, John, it's no use hiding up your aching heart
    from me. I am the mother that bore you, and your sorrow is my
    agony; and if you don't hate her, I do.'

    'Then, mother, you make me love her more. She is unjustly treated
    by you, and I must make the balance even. But why do we talk of
    love or hatred? She does not care for me, and that is
    enough,--too much. Let us never name the subject again. It is the
    only thing you can do for me in the matter. Let us never name
    her.'

    'With all my heart. I only wish that she, and all belonging to
    her, were swept back to the place they came from.'

    He stood still, gazing into the fire for a minute or two longer.
    Her dry dim eyes filled with unwonted tears as she looked at him;
    but she seemed just as grim and quiet as usual when he next
    spoke.

    'Warrants are out against three men for conspiracy, mother. The
    riot yesterday helped to knock up the strike.'

    And Margaret's name was no more mentioned between Mrs. Thornton
    and her son. They fell back into their usual mode of talk,--about
    facts, not opinions, far less feelings. Their voices and tones
    were calm and cold a stranger might have gone away and thought
    that he had never seen such frigid indifference of demeanour
    between such near relations.
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