‘Thought fights with thought;
out springs a spark of truth
From the collision of the sword and shield.’
W. S. LANDOR.
‘Margaret,’ said her father, the next day, ‘we must return Mrs. Thornton’s call. Your mother is not very well, and thinks she cannot walk so far; but you and I will go this afternoon.’
As they went, Mr. Hale began about his wife’s health, with a kind of veiled anxiety, which Margaret was glad to see awakened at last.
‘Did you consult the doctor, Margaret? Did you send for him?’
‘No, papa, you spoke of his corning to see me. Now I was well. But if I only knew of some good doctor, I would go this afternoon, and ask him to come, for I am sure mamma is seriously indisposed.’
She put the truth thus plainly and strongly because her father had so completely shut his mind against the idea, when she had last named her fears. But now the case was changed. He answered in a despondent tone:
‘Do you think she has any hidden complaint? Do you think she is really very ill? Has Dixon said anything? Oh, Margaret! I am haunted by the fear that our coming to Milton has killed her. My poor Maria!’
‘Oh, papa! don’t imagine such things,’ said Margaret, shocked. ‘She is not well, that is all. Many a one is not well for a time; and with good advice gets better and stronger than ever.’
‘But has Dixon said anything about her?’
‘No! You know Dixon enjoys making a mystery out of trifles; and she has been a little mysterious about mamma’s health, which has alarmed me rather, that is all. Without any reason, I dare say. You know, papa, you said the other day I was getting fanciful.’
‘I hope and trust you are. But don’t think of what I said then. I like you to be fanciful about your mother’s health. Don’t be afraid of telling me your fancies. I like to hear them, though, I dare say, I spoke as if I was annoyed. But we will ask Mrs. Thornton if she can tell us of a good doctor. We won’t throw away our money on any but some one first-rate. Stay, we turn up this street.’ The street did not look as if it could contain any house large enough for Mrs. Thornton’s habitation. Her son’s presence never gave any impression as to the kind of house he lived in; but, unconsciously, Margaret had imagined that tall, massive, handsomely dressed Mrs. Thornton must live in a house of the same character as herself. Now Marlborough Street consisted of long rows of small houses, with a blank wall here and there; at least that was all they could see from the point at which they entered it.
‘He told me he lived in Marlborough Street, I’m sure,’ said Mr. Hale, with a much perplexed air.
‘Perhaps it is one of the economies he still practises, to live in a very small house. But here are plenty of people about; let me ask.’
She accordingly inquired of a passer-by, and was informed that Mr. Thornton lived close to the mill, and had the factory lodge-door pointed out to her, at the end of the long dead wall they had noticed.
The lodge-door was like a common garden-door; on one side of it were great closed gates for the ingress and egress of lurries and wagons. The lodge-keeper admitted them into a great oblong yard, on one side of which were offices for the transaction of business; on the opposite, an immense many-windowed mill, whence proceeded the continual clank of machinery and the long groaning roar of the steam-engine, enough to deafen those who lived within the enclosure. Opposite to the wall, along which the street ran, on one of the narrow sides of the oblong, was a handsome stone-coped house — blackened, to be sure, by the smoke, but with paint, windows, and steps kept scrupulously clean. It was evidently a house which had been built some fifty or sixty years. The stone facings — the long, narrow windows, and the number of them — the flights of steps up to the front door, ascending from either side, and guarded by railing — all witnessed to its age. Margaret only wondered why people who could afford to live in so good a house, and keep it in such perfect order, did not prefer a much smaller dwelling in the country, or even some suburb; not in the continual whirl and din of the factory. Her unaccustomed ears could hardly catch her father’s voice, as they stood on the steps awaiting the opening of the door. The yard, too, with the great doors in the dead wall as a boundary, was but a dismal look-out for the sitting-rooms of the house — as Margaret found when they had mounted the old-fashioned stairs, and been ushered into the drawing-room, the three windows of which went over the front door and the room on the right-hand side of the entrance. There was no one in the drawing-room. It seemed as though no one had been in it since the day when the furniture was bagged up with as much care as if the house was to be overwhelmed with lava, and discovered a thousand years hence. The walls were pink and gold; the pattern on the carpet represented bunches of flowers on a light ground, but it was carefully covered up in the centre by a linen drugget, glazed and colourless. The window-curtains were lace; each chair and sofa had its own particular veil of netting, or knitting. Great alabaster groups occupied every flat surface, safe from dust under their glass shades. In the middle of the room, right under the bagged-up chandelier, was a large circular table, with smartly-bound books arranged at regular intervals round the circumference of its polished surface, like gaily-coloured spokes of a wheel. Everything reflected light, nothing absorbed it. The whole room had a painfully spotted, spangled, speckled look about it, which impressed Margaret so unpleasantly that she was hardly conscious of the peculiar cleanliness required to keep everything so white and pure in such an atmosphere, or of the trouble that must be willingly expended to secure that effect of icy, snowy discomfort. Wherever she looked there was evidence of care and labour, but not care and labour to procure ease, to help on habits of tranquil home employment; solely to ornament, and then to preserve ornament from dirt or destruction.
They had leisure to observe, and to speak to each other in low voices, before Mrs. Thornton appeared. They were talking of what all the world might hear; but it is a common effect of such a room as this to make people speak low, as if unwilling to awaken the unused echoes.
At last Mrs. Thornton came in, rustling in handsome black silk, as was her wont; her muslins and laces rivalling, not excelling, the pure whiteness of the muslins and netting of the room. Margaret explained how it was that her mother could not accompany them to return Mrs. Thornton’s call; but in her anxiety not to bring back her father’s fears too vividly, she gave but a bungling account, and left the impression on Mrs. Thornton’s mind that Mrs. Hale’s was some temporary or fanciful fine-ladyish indisposition, which might have been put aside had there been a strong enough motive; or that if it was too severe to allow her to come out that day, the call might have been deferred. Remembering, too, the horses to her carriage, hired for her own visit to the Hales, and how Fanny had been ordered to go by Mr. Thornton, in order to pay every respect to them, Mrs. Thornton drew up slightly offended, and gave Margaret no sympathy — indeed, hardly any credit for the statement of her mother’s indisposition.
‘How is Mr. Thornton?’ asked Mr. Hale. ‘I was afraid he was not well, from his hurried note yesterday.’
‘My son is rarely ill; and when he is, he never speaks about it, or makes it an excuse for not doing anything. He told me he could not get leisure to read with you last night, sir. He regretted it, I am sure; he values the hours spent with you.’
‘I am sure they are equally agreeable to me,’ said Mr. Hale. ‘It makes me feel young again to see his enjoyment and appreciation of all that is fine in classical literature.’
‘I have no doubt the classics are very desirable for people who have leisure. But, I confess, it was against my judgment that my son renewed his study of them. The time and place in which he lives, seem to me to require all his energy and attention. Classics may do very well for men who loiter away their lives in the country or in colleges; but Milton men ought to have their thoughts and powers absorbed in the work of today. At least, that is my opinion.’ This last clause she gave out with ‘the pride that apes humility.’
‘But, surely, if the mind is too long directed to one object only, it will get stiff and rigid, and unable to take in many interests,’ said Margaret.
‘I do not quite understand what you mean by a mind getting stiff and rigid. Nor do I admire those whirligig characters that are full of this thing today, to be utterly forgetful of it in their new interest tomorrow. Having many interests does not suit the life of a Milton manufacturer. It is, or ought to be, enough for him to have one great desire, and to bring all the purposes of his life to bear on the fulfilment of that.’
‘And that is —?’ asked Mr. Hale.
Her sallow cheek flushed, and her eye lightened, as she answered:
‘To hold and maintain a high, honourable place among the merchants of his country — the men of his town. Such a place my son has earned for himself. Go where you will — I don’t say in England only, but in Europe — the name of John Thornton of Milton is known and respected amongst all men of business. Of course, it is unknown in the fashionable circles,’ she continued, scornfully.
‘Idle gentlemen and ladies are not likely to know much of a Milton manufacturer, unless he gets into parliament, or marries a lord’s daughter.’ Both Mr. Hale and Margaret had an uneasy, ludicrous consciousness that they had never heard of this great name, until Mr. Bell had written them word that Mr. Thornton would be a good friend to have in Milton. The proud mother’s world was not their world of Harley Street gentilities on the one hand, or country clergymen and Hampshire squires on the other. Margaret’s face, in spite of all her endeavours to keep it simply listening in its expression told the sensitive Mrs. Thornton this feeling of hers.
‘You think you never heard of this wonderful son of mine, Miss Hale. You think I’m an old woman whose ideas are bounded by Milton, and whose own crow is the whitest ever seen.’
‘No,’ said Margaret, with some spirit. ‘It may be true, that I was thinking I had hardly heard Mr. Thornton’s name before I came to Milton. But since I have come here, I have heard enough to make me respect and admire him, and to feel how much justice and truth there is in what you have said of him.’
‘Who spoke to you of him?’ asked Mrs. Thornton, a little mollified, yet jealous lest any one else’s words should not have done him full justice. Margaret hesitated before she replied. She did not like this authoritative questioning. Mr. Hale came in, as he thought, to the rescue.
‘It was what Mr. Thornton said himself, that made us know the kind of man he was. Was it not, Margaret?’
Mrs. Thornton drew herself up, and said —
‘My son is not the one to tell of his own doings. May I again ask you, Miss Hale, from whose account you formed your favourable opinion of him? A mother is curious and greedy of commendation of her children, you know.’
Margaret replied, ‘It was as much from what Mr. Thornton withheld of that which we had been told of his previous life by Mr. Bell — it was more that than what he said, that made us all feel what reason you have to be proud of him.’
‘Mr. Bell! What can he know of John? He, living a lazy life in a drowsy college. But I’m obliged to you, Miss Hale. Many a missy young lady would have shrunk from giving an old woman the pleasure of hearing that her son was well spoken of.’
‘Why?’ asked Margaret, looking straight at Mrs. Thornton, in bewilderment.
‘Why! because I suppose they might have consciences that told them how surely they were making the old mother into an advocate for them, in case they had any plans on the son’s heart.’
She smiled a grim smile, for she had been pleased by Margaret’s frankness; and perhaps she felt that she had been asking questions too much as if she had a right to catechise. Margaret laughed outright at the notion presented to her; laughed so merrily that it grated on Mrs. Thornton’s ear, as if the words that called forth that laugh, must have been utterly and entirely ludicrous. Margaret stopped her merriment as soon as she saw Mrs. Thornton’s annoyed look.
‘I beg your pardon, madam. But I really am very much obliged to you for exonerating me from making any plans on Mr. Thornton’s heart.’
‘Young ladies have, before now,’ said Mrs. Thornton, stiffly.
‘I hope Miss Thornton is well,’ put in Mr. Hale, desirous of changing the current of the conversation.
‘She is as well as she ever is. She is not strong,’ replied Mrs. Thornton, shortly.
‘And Mr. Thornton? I suppose I may hope to see him on Thursday?’
‘I cannot answer for my son’s engagements. There is some uncomfortable work going on in the town; a threatening of a strike. If so, his experience and judgment will make him much consulted by his friends. But I should think he could come on Thursday. At any rate, I am sure he will let you know if he cannot.’
‘A strike!’ asked Margaret. ‘What for? What are they going to strike for?’
‘For the mastership and ownership of other people’s property,’ said Mrs. Thornton, with a fierce snort. ‘That is what they always strike for. If my son’s work-people strike, I will only say they are a pack of ungrateful hounds. But I have no doubt they will.’
‘They are wanting higher wages, I suppose?’ asked Mr. Hale.
‘That is the face of the thing. But the truth is, they want to be masters, and make the masters into slaves on their own ground. They are always trying at it; they always have it in their minds and every five or six years, there comes a struggle between masters and men. They’ll find themselves mistaken this time, I fancy — a little out of their reckoning. If they turn out, they mayn’t find it so easy to go in again. I believe, the masters have a thing or two in their heads which will teach the men not to strike again in a hurry, if they try it this time.’
‘Does it not make the town very rough?’ asked Margaret.
‘Of course it does. But surely you are not a coward, are you? Milton is not the place for cowards. I have known the time when I have had to thread my way through a crowd of white, angry men, all swearing they would have Makinson’s blood as soon as he ventured to show his nose out of his factory; and he, knowing nothing of it, some one had to go and tell him, or he was a dead man, and it needed to be a woman — so I went. And when I had got in, I could not get out. It was as much as my life was worth. So I went up to the roof, where there were stones piled ready to drop on the heads of the crowd, if they tried to force the factory doors. And I would have lifted those heavy stones, and dropped them with as good an aim as the best man there, but that I fainted with the heat I had gone through. If you live in Milton, you must learn to have a brave heart, Miss Hale.’
‘I would do my best,’ said Margaret rather pale. ‘I do not know whether I am brave or not till I am tried; but I am afraid I should be a coward.’
‘South country people are often frightened by what our Darkshire men and women only call living and struggling. But when you’ve been ten years among a people who are always owing their betters a grudge, and only waiting for an opportunity to pay it off, you’ll know whether you are a coward or not, take my word for it.’
Mr. Thornton came that evening to Mr. Hale’s. He was shown up into the drawing-room, where Mr. Hale was reading aloud to his wife and daughter.
‘I am come partly to bring you a note from my mother, and partly to apologise for not keeping to my time yesterday. The note contains the address you asked for; Dr. Donaldson.’
‘Thank you!’ said Margaret, hastily, holding out her hand to take the note, for she did not wish her mother to hear that they had been making any inquiry about a doctor. She was pleased that Mr. Thornton seemed immediately to understand her feeling; he gave her the note without another word of explanation. Mr. Hale began to talk about the strike. Mr. Thornton’s face assumed a likeness to his mother’s worst expression, which immediately repelled the watching Margaret.
‘Yes; the fools will have a strike. Let them. It suits us well enough. But we gave them a chance. They think trade is flourishing as it was last year. We see the storm on the horizon and draw in our sails. But because we don’t explain our reasons, they won’t believe we’re acting reasonably. We must give them line and letter for the way we choose to spend or save our money. Henderson tried a dodge with his men, out at Ashley, and failed. He rather wanted a strike; it would have suited his book well enough. So when the men came to ask for the five per cent. they are claiming, he told ’em he’d think about it, and give them his answer on the pay day; knowing all the while what his answer would be, of course, but thinking he’d strengthen their conceit of their own way. However, they were too deep for him, and heard something about the bad prospects of trade. So in they came on the Friday, and drew back their claim, and now he’s obliged to go on working. But we Milton masters have today sent in our decision. We won’t advance a penny. We tell them we may have to lower wages; but can’t afford to raise. So here we stand, waiting for their next attack.’
‘And what will that be?’ asked Mr. Hale.
‘I conjecture, a simultaneous strike. You will see Milton without smoke in a few days, I imagine, Miss Hale.’
‘But why,’ asked she, ‘could you not explain what good reason you have for expecting a bad trade? I don’t know whether I use the right words, but you will understand what I mean.’
‘Do you give your servants reasons for your expenditure, or your economy in the use of your own money? We, the owners of capital, have a right to choose what we will do with it.’
‘A human right,’ said Margaret, very low.
‘I beg your pardon, I did not hear what you said.’
‘I would rather not repeat it,’ said she; ‘it related to a feeling which I do not think you would share.’
‘Won’t you try me?’ pleaded he; his thoughts suddenly bent upon learning what she had said. She was displeased with his pertinacity, but did not choose to affix too much importance to her words.
‘I said you had a human right. I meant that there seemed no reason but religious ones, why you should not do what you like with your own.
‘I know we differ in our religious opinions; but don’t you give me credit for having some, though not the same as yours?’
He was speaking in a subdued voice, as if to her alone. She did not wish to be so exclusively addressed. She replied out in her usual tone:
‘I do not think that I have any occasion to consider your special religious opinions in the affair. All I meant to say is, that there is no human law to prevent the employers from utterly wasting or throwing away all their money, if they choose; but that there are passages in the Bible which would rather imply — to me at least — that they neglected their duty as stewards if they did so. However I know so little about strikes, and rate of wages, and capital, and labour, that I had better not talk to a political economist like you.’
‘Nay, the more reason,’ said he, eagerly. ‘I shall only be too glad to explain to you all that may seem anomalous or mysterious to a stranger; especially at a time like this, when our doings are sure to be canvassed by every scribbler who can hold a pen.’
‘Thank you,’ she answered, coldly. ‘Of course, I shall apply to my father in the first instance for any information he can give me, if I get puzzled with living here amongst this strange society.’
‘You think it strange. Why?’
‘I don’t know — I suppose because, on the very face of it, I see two classes dependent on each other in every possible way, yet each evidently regarding the interests of the other as opposed to their own; I never lived in a place before where there were two sets of people always running each other down.’
‘Who have you heard running the masters down? I don’t ask who you have heard abusing the men; for I see you persist in misunderstanding what I said the other day. But who have you heard abusing the masters?’
Margaret reddened; then smiled as she said,
‘I am not fond of being catechised. I refuse to answer your question. Besides, it has nothing to do with the fact. You must take my word for it, that I have heard some people, or, it may be, only someone of the workpeople, speak as though it were the interest of the employers to keep them from acquiring money — that it would make them too independent if they had a sum in the savings’ bank.’
‘I dare say it was that man Higgins who told you all this,’ said Mrs Hale. Mr. Thornton did not appear to hear what Margaret evidently did not wish him to know. But he caught it, nevertheless.
‘I heard, moreover, that it was considered to the advantage of the masters to have ignorant workmen — not hedge-lawyers, as Captain Lennox used to call those men in his company who questioned and would know the reason for every order.’ This latter part of her sentence she addressed rather to her father than to Mr. Thornton. Who is Captain Lennox? asked Mr. Thornton of himself, with a strange kind of displeasure, that prevented him for the moment from replying to her! Her father took up the conversation.
‘You never were fond of schools, Margaret, or you would have seen and known before this, how much is being done for education in Milton.’
‘No!’ said she, with sudden meekness. ‘I know I do not care enough about schools. But the knowledge and the ignorance of which I was speaking, did not relate to reading and writing — the teaching or information one can give to a child. I am sure, that what was meant was ignorance of the wisdom that shall guide men and women. I hardly know what that is. But he — that is, my informant — spoke as if the masters would like their hands to be merely tall, large children — living in the present moment — with a blind unreasoning kind of obedience.’
‘In short, Miss Hale, it is very evident that your informant found a pretty ready listener to all the slander he chose to utter against the masters,’ said Mr. Thornton, in an offended tone.
Margaret did not reply. She was displeased at the personal character Mr. Thornton affixed to what she had said.
Mr. Hale spoke next:
‘I must confess that, although I have not become so intimately acquainted with any workmen as Margaret has, I am very much struck by the antagonism between the employer and the employed, on the very surface of things. I even gather this impression from what you yourself have from time to time said.’
Mr. Thornton paused awhile before he spoke. Margaret had just left the room, and he was vexed at the state of feeling between himself and her. However, the little annoyance, by making him cooler and more thoughtful, gave a greater dignity to what he said:
‘My theory is, that my interests are identical with those of my workpeople and vice-versa. Miss Hale, I know, does not like to hear men called ‘hands,’ so I won’t use that word, though it comes most readily to my lips as the technical term, whose origin, whatever it was, dates before my time. On some future day — in some millennium — in Utopia, this unity may be brought into practice — just as I can fancy a republic the most perfect form of government.’
‘We will read Plato’s Republic as soon as we have finished Homer.’
‘Well, in the Platonic year, it may fall out that we are all — men women, and children — fit for a republic: but give me a constitutional monarchy in our present state of morals and intelligence. In our infancy we require a wise despotism to govern us. Indeed, long past infancy, children and young people are the happiest under the unfailing laws of a discreet, firm authority. I agree with Miss Hale so far as to consider our people in the condition of children, while I deny that we, the masters, have anything to do with the making or keeping them so. I maintain that despotism is the best kind of government for them; so that in the hours in which I come in contact with them I must necessarily be an autocrat. I will use my best discretion — from no humbug or philanthropic feeling, of which we have had rather too much in the North — to make wise laws and come to just decisions in the conduct of my business — laws and decisions which work for my own good in the first instance — for theirs in the second; but I will neither be forced to give my reasons, nor flinch from what I have once declared to be my resolution. Let them turn out! I shall suffer as well as they: but at the end they will find I have not bated nor altered one jot.’
Margaret had re-entered the room and was sitting at her work; but she did not speak. Mr. Hale answered —
‘I dare say I am talking in great ignorance; but from the little I know, I should say that the masses were already passing rapidly into the troublesome stage which intervenes between childhood and manhood, in the life of the multitude as well as that of the individual. Now, the error which many parents commit in the treatment of the individual at this time is, insisting on the same unreasoning obedience as when all he had to do in the way of duty was, to obey the simple laws of “Come when you’re called” and “Do as you’re bid!” But a wise parent humours the desire for independent action, so as to become the friend and adviser when his absolute rule shall cease. If I get wrong in my reasoning, recollect, it is you who adopted the analogy.’
‘Very lately,’ said Margaret, ‘I heard a story of what happened in Nuremberg only three or four years ago. A rich man there lived alone in one of the immense mansions which were formerly both dwellings and warehouses. It was reported that he had a child, but no one knew of it for certain. For forty years this rumour kept rising and falling — never utterly dying away. After his death it was found to be true. He had a son — an overgrown man with the unexercised intellect of a child, whom he had kept up in that strange way, in order to save him from temptation and error. But, of course, when this great old child was turned loose into the world, every bad counsellor had power over him. He did not know good from evil. His father had made the blunder of bringing him up in ignorance and taking it for innocence; and after fourteen months of riotous living, the city authorities had to take charge of him, in order to save him from starvation. He could not even use words effectively enough to be a successful beggar.’
‘I used the comparison (suggested by Miss Hale) of the position of the master to that of a parent; so I ought not to complain of your turning the simile into a weapon against me. But, Mr. Hale, when you were setting up a wise parent as a model for us, you said he humoured his children in their desire for independent action. Now certainly, the time is not come for the hands to have any independent action during business hours; I hardly know what you would mean by it then. And I say, that the masters would be trenching on the independence of their hands, in a way that I, for one, should not feel justified in doing, if we interfered too much with the life they lead out of the mills. Because they labour ten hours a-day for us, I do not see that we have any right to impose leading-strings upon them for the rest of their time. I value my own independence so highly that I can fancy no degradation greater than that of having another man perpetually directing and advising and lecturing me, or even planning too closely in any way about my actions. He might be the wisest of men, or the most powerful — I should equally rebel and resent his interference I imagine this is a stronger feeling in the North of England that in the South.’
‘I beg your pardon, but is not that because there has been none of the equality of friendship between the adviser and advised classes? Because every man has had to stand in an unchristian and isolated position, apart from and jealous of his brother-man: constantly afraid of his rights being trenched upon?’
‘I only state the fact. I am sorry to say, I have an appointment at eight o’clock, and I must just take facts as I find them to-night, without trying to account for them; which, indeed, would make no difference in determining how to act as things stand — the facts must be granted.’
‘But,’ said Margaret in a low voice, ‘it seems to me that it makes all the difference in the world —.’ Her father made a sign to her to be silent, and allow Mr. Thornton to finish what he had to say. He was already standing up and preparing to go.
‘You must grant me this one point. Given a strong feeling of independence in every Darkshire man, have I any right to obtrude my views, of the manner in which he shall act, upon another (hating it as I should do most vehemently myself), merely because he has labour to sell and I capital to buy?’
‘Not in the least,’ said Margaret, determined just to say this one thing; ‘not in the least because of your labour and capital positions, whatever they are, but because you are a man, dealing with a set of men over whom you have, whether you reject the use of it or not, immense power, just because your lives and your welfare are so constantly and intimately interwoven. God has made us so that we must be mutually dependent. We may ignore our own dependence, or refuse to acknowledge that others depend upon us in more respects than the payment of weekly wages; but the thing must be, nevertheless. Neither you nor any other master can help yourselves. The most proudly independent man depends on those around him for their insensible influence on his character — his life. And the most isolated of all your Darkshire Egos has dependants clinging to him on all sides; he cannot shake them off, any more than the great rock he resembles can shake off —’
‘Pray don’t go into similes, Margaret; you have led us off once already,’ said her father, smiling, yet uneasy at the thought that they were detaining Mr. Thornton against his will, which was a mistake; for he rather liked it, as long as Margaret would talk, although what she said only irritated him.
‘Just tell me, Miss Hale, are you yourself ever influenced — no, that is not a fair way of putting it; — but if you are ever conscious of being influenced by others, and not by circumstances, have those others been working directly or indirectly? Have they been labouring to exhort, to enjoin, to act rightly for the sake of example, or have they been simple, true men, taking up their duty, and doing it unflinchingly, without a thought of how their actions were to make this man industrious, that man saving? Why, if I were a workman, I should be twenty times more impressed by the knowledge that my master, was honest, punctual, quick, resolute in all his doings (and hands are keener spies even than valets), than by any amount of interference, however kindly meant, with my ways of going on out of work-hours. I do not choose to think too closely on what I am myself; but, I believe, I rely on the straightforward honesty of my hands, and the open nature of their opposition, in contra-distinction to the way in which the turnout will be managed in some mills, just because they know I scorn to take a single dishonourable advantage, or do an underhand thing myself It goes farther than a whole course of lectures on “Honesty is the Best Policy”— life diluted into words. No, no! What the master is, that will the men be, without over-much taking thought on his part.’
‘That is a great admission,’ said Margaret, laughing. ‘When I see men violent and obstinate in pursuit of their rights, I may safely infer that the master is the same that he is a little ignorant of that spirit which suffereth long, and is kind, and seeketh not her own.’
‘You are just like all strangers who don’t understand the working of our system, Miss Hale,’ said he, hastily. ‘You suppose that our men are puppets of dough, ready to be moulded into any amiable form we please. You forget we have only to do with them for less than a third of their lives; and you seem not to perceive that the duties of a manufacturer are far larger and wider than those merely of an employer of labour: we have a wide commercial character to maintain, which makes us into the great pioneers of civilisation.’
‘It strikes me,’ said Mr. Hale, smiling, ‘that you might pioneer a little at home. They are a rough, heathenish set of fellows, these Milton men of yours.’
‘They are that,’ replied Mr. Thornton. ‘Rosewater surgery won’t do for them. Cromwell would have made a capital mill-owner, Miss Hale. I wish we had him to put down this strike for us.’
‘Cromwell is no hero of mine,’ said she, coldly. ‘But I am trying to reconcile your admiration of despotism with your respect for other men’s independence of character.’
He reddened at her tone. ‘I choose to be the unquestioned and irresponsible master of my hands, during the hours that they labour for me. But those hours past, our relation ceases; and then comes in the same respect for their independence that I myself exact.’
He did not speak again for a minute, he was too much vexed. But he shook it off, and bade Mr. and Mrs. Hale good night. Then, drawing near to Margaret, he said in a lower voice —
‘I spoke hastily to you once this evening, and I am afraid, rather rudely. But you know I am but an uncouth Milton manufacturer; will you forgive me?’
‘Certainly,’ said she, smiling up in his face, the expression of which was somewhat anxious and oppressed, and hardly cleared away as he met her sweet sunny countenance, out of which all the north-wind effect of their discussion had entirely vanished. But she did not put out her hand to him, and again he felt the omission, and set it down to pride.
Last updated Monday, December 28, 2015 at 11:44