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    Chapter 34

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    Chapter 35
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    CHAPTER XXXIV - FALSE AND TRUE

    'Truth will fail thee never, never!

    Though thy bark be tempest-driven,

    Though each plank be rent and riven,

    Truth will bear thee on for ever!'

    ANON.

    The 'bearing up better than likely' was a terrible strain upon
    Margaret. Sometimes she thought she must give way, and cry out
    with pain, as the sudden sharp thought came across her, even
    during her apparently cheerful conversations with her father,
    that she had no longer a mother. About Frederick, too, there was
    great uneasiness. The Sunday post intervened, and interfered with
    their London letters; and on Tuesday Margaret was surprised and
    disheartened to find that there was still no letter. She was
    quite in the dark as to his plans, and her father was miserable
    at all this uncertainty. It broke in upon his lately acquired
    habit of sitting still in one easy chair for half a day together.
    He kept pacing up and down the room; then out of it; and she
    heard him upon the landing opening and shutting the bed-room
    doors, without any apparent object. She tried to tranquillise him
    by reading aloud; but it was evident he could not listen for long
    together. How thankful she was then, that she had kept to herself
    the additional cause for anxiety produced by their encounter with
    Leonards. She was thankful to hear Mr. Thornton announced. His
    visit would force her father's thoughts into another channel.

    He came up straight to her father, whose hands he took and wrung
    without a word--holding them in his for a minute or two, during
    which time his face, his eyes, his look, told of more sympathy
    than could be put into words. Then he turned to Margaret. Not
    'better than likely' did she look. Her stately beauty was dimmed
    with much watching and with many tears. The expression on her
    countenance was of gentle patient sadness--nay of positive
    present suffering. He had not meant to greet her otherwise than
    with his late studied coldness of demeanour; but he could not
    help going up to her, as she stood a little aside, rendered timid
    by the uncertainty of his manner of late, and saying the few
    necessary common-place words in so tender a voice, that her eyes
    filled with tears, and she turned away to hide her emotion. She
    took her work and sate down very quiet and silent. Mr. Thornton's
    heart beat quick and strong, and for the time he utterly forgot
    the Outwood lane. He tried to talk to Mr. Hale: and--his presence
    always a certain kind of pleasure to Mr. Hale, as his power and
    decision made him, and his opinions, a safe, sure port--was
    unusually agreeable to her father, as Margaret saw.

    Presently Dixon came to the door and said, 'Miss Hale, you are
    wanted.'

    Dixon's manner was so flurried that Margaret turned sick at
    heart. Something had happened to Fred. She had no doubt of that.
    It was well that her father and Mr. Thornton were so much
    occupied by their conversation.

    'What is it, Dixon?' asked Margaret, the moment she had shut the
    drawing-room door.

    'Come this way, miss,' said Dixon, opening the door of what had
    been Mrs. Hale's bed-chamber, now Margaret's, for her father
    refused to sleep there again after his wife's death. 'It's
    nothing, miss,' said Dixon, choking a little. 'Only a
    police-inspector. He wants to see you, miss. But I dare say, it's
    about nothing at all.'

    'Did he name--' asked Margaret, almost inaudibly.

    'No, miss; he named nothing. He only asked if you lived here, and
    if he could speak to you. Martha went to the door, and let him
    in; she has shown him into master's study. I went to him myself,
    to try if that would do; but no--it's you, miss, he wants.'

    Margaret did not speak again till her hand was on the lock of the
    study door. Here she turned round and said, 'Take care papa does
    not come down. Mr. Thornton is with him now.'

    The inspector was almost daunted by the haughtiness of her manner
    as she entered. There was something of indignation expressed in
    her countenance, but so kept down and controlled, that it gave
    her a superb air of disdain. There was no surprise, no curiosity.
    She stood awaiting the opening of his business there. Not a
    question did she ask.

    'I beg your pardon, ma'am, but my duty obliges me to ask you a
    few plain questions. A man has died at the Infirmary, in
    consequence of a fall, received at Outwood station, between the
    hours of five and six on Thursday evening, the twenty-sixth
    instant. At the time, this fall did not seem of much consequence;
    but it was rendered fatal, the doctors say, by the presence of
    some internal complaint, and the man's own habit of drinking.'

    The large dark eyes, gazing straight into the inspector's face,
    dilated a little. Otherwise there was no motion perceptible to
    his experienced observation. Her lips swelled out into a richer
    curve than ordinary, owing to the enforced tension of the
    muscles, but he did not know what was their usual appearance, so
    as to recognise the unwonted sullen defiance of the firm sweeping
    lines. She never blenched or trembled. She fixed him with her
    eye. Now--as he paused before going on, she said, almost as if
    she would encourage him in telling his tale--'Well--go on!'

    'It is supposed that an inquest will have to be held; there is
    some slight evidence to prove that the blow, or push, or scuffle
    that caused the fall, was provoked by this poor fellow's
    half-tipsy impertinence to a young lady, walking with the man who
    pushed the deceased over the edge of the platform. This much was
    observed by some one on the platform, who, however, thought no
    more about the matter, as the blow seemed of slight consequence.
    There is also some reason to identify the lady with yourself; in
    which case--'

    'I was not there,' said Margaret, still keeping her
    expressionless eyes fixed on his face, with the unconscious look
    of a sleep-walker.

    The inspector bowed but did not speak. The lady standing before
    him showed no emotion, no fluttering fear, no anxiety, no desire
    to end the interview. The information he had received was very
    vague; one of the porters, rushing out to be in readiness for the
    train, had seen a scuffle, at the other end of the platform,
    between Leonards and a gentleman accompanied by a lady, but heard
    no noise; and before the train had got to its full speed after
    starting, he had been almost knocked down by the headlong run of
    the enraged half intoxicated Leonards, swearing and cursing
    awfully. He had not thought any more about it, till his evidence
    was routed out by the inspector, who, on making some farther
    inquiry at the railroad station, had heard from the
    station-master that a young lady and gentleman had been there
    about that hour--the lady remarkably handsome--and said, by some
    grocer's assistant present at the time, to be a Miss Hale, living
    at Crampton, whose family dealt at his shop. There was no
    certainty that the one lady and gentleman were identical with the
    other pair, but there was great probability. Leonards himself had
    gone, half-mad with rage and pain, to the nearest gin-palace for
    comfort; and his tipsy words had not been attended to by the busy
    waiters there; they, however, remembered his starting up and
    cursing himself for not having sooner thought of the electric
    telegraph, for some purpose unknown; and they believed that he
    left with the idea of going there. On his way, overcome by pain
    or drink, he had lain down in the road, where the police had
    found him and taken him to the Infirmary: there he had never
    recovered sufficient consciousness to give any distinct account
    of his fall, although once or twice he had had glimmerings of
    sense sufficient to make the authorities send for the nearest
    magistrate, in hopes that he might be able to take down the dying
    man's deposition of the cause of his death. But when the
    magistrate had come, he was rambling about being at sea, and
    mixing up names of captains and lieutenants in an indistinct
    manner with those of his fellow porters at the railway; and his
    last words were a curse on the 'Cornish trick' which had, he
    said, made him a hundred pounds poorer than he ought to have
    been. The inspector ran all this over in his mind--the vagueness
    of the evidence to prove that Margaret had been at the
    station--the unflinching, calm denial which she gave to such a
    supposition. She stood awaiting his next word with a composure
    that appeared supreme.

    'Then, madam, I have your denial that you were the lady
    accompanying the gentleman who struck the blow, or gave the push,
    which caused the death of this poor man?'

    A quick, sharp pain went through Margaret's brain. 'Oh God! that
    I knew Frederick were safe!' A deep observer of human
    countenances might have seen the momentary agony shoot out of her
    great gloomy eyes, like the torture of some creature brought to
    bay. But the inspector though a very keen, was not a very deep
    observer. He was a little struck, notwithstanding, by the form of
    the answer, which sounded like a mechanical repetition of her
    first reply--not changed and modified in shape so as to meet his
    last question.

    'I was not there,' said she, slowly and heavily. And all this
    time she never closed her eyes, or ceased from that glassy,
    dream-like stare. His quick suspicions were aroused by this dull
    echo of her former denial. It was as if she had forced herself to
    one untruth, and had been stunned out of all power of varying it.

    He put up his book of notes in a very deliberate manner. Then he
    looked up; she had not moved any more than if she had been some
    great Egyptian statue.

    'I hope you will not think me impertinent when I say, that I may
    have to call on you again. I may have to summon you to appear on
    the inquest, and prove an alibi, if my witnesses' (it was but one
    who had recognised her) 'persist in deposing to your presence at
    the unfortunate event.' He looked at her sharply. She was still
    perfectly quiet--no change of colour, or darker shadow of guilt,
    on her proud face. He thought to have seen her wince: he did not
    know Margaret Hale. He was a little abashed by her regal
    composure. It must have been a mistake of identity. He went on:

    'It is very unlikely, ma'am, that I shall have to do anything of
    the kind. I hope you will excuse me for doing what is only my
    duty, although it may appear impertinent.'

    Margaret bowed her head as he went towards the door. Her lips
    were stiff and dry. She could not speak even the common words of
    farewell. But suddenly she walked forwards, and opened the study
    door, and preceded him to the door of the house, which she threw
    wide open for his exit. She kept her eyes upon him in the same
    dull, fixed manner, until he was fairly out of the house. She
    shut the door, and went half-way into the study; then turned
    back, as if moved by some passionate impulse, and locked the door
    inside.

    Then she went into the study, paused--tottered forward--paused
    again--swayed for an instant where she stood, and fell prone on
    the floor in a dead swoon.
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    Chapter 35
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