‘There’s nought so finely spun
But it cometh to the sun.’
Mr. Thornton sate on and on. He felt that his company gave pleasure to Mr. Hale; and was touched by the half-spoken wishful entreaty that he would remain a little longer — the plaintive ‘Don’t go yet,’ which his poor friend put forth from time to time. He wondered Margaret did not return; but it was with no view of seeing her that he lingered. For the hour — and in the presence of one who was so thoroughly feeling the nothingness of earth — he was reasonable and self-controlled. He was deeply interested in all her father said,
‘Of death, and of the heavy lull, And of the brain that has grown dull.’
It was curious how the presence of Mr. Thornton had power over Mr. Hale to make him unlock the secret thoughts which he kept shut up even from Margaret. Whether it was that her sympathy would be so keen, and show itself in so lively a manner, that he was afraid of the reaction upon himself, or whether it was that to his speculative mind all kinds of doubts presented themselves at such a time, pleading and crying aloud to be resolved into certainties, and that he knew she would have shrunk from the expression of any such doubts — nay, from him himself as capable of conceiving them — whatever was the reason, he could unburden himself better to Mr. Thornton than to her of all the thoughts and fancies and fears that had been frost-bound in his brain till now. Mr. Thornton said very little; but every sentence he uttered added to Mr. Hale’s reliance and regard for him. Was it that he paused in the expression of some remembered agony, Mr. Thornton’s two or three words would complete the sentence, and show how deeply its meaning was entered into. Was it a doubt — a fear — a wandering uncertainty seeking rest, but finding none — so tear-blinded were its eyes — Mr. Thornton, instead of being shocked, seemed to have passed through that very stage of thought himself, and could suggest where the exact ray of light was to be found, which should make the dark places plain. Man of action as he was, busy in the world’s great battle, there was a deeper religion binding him to God in his heart, in spite of his strong wilfulness, through all his mistakes, than Mr. Hale had ever dreamed. They never spoke of such things again, as it happened; but this one conversation made them peculiar people to each other; knit them together, in a way which no loose indiscriminate talking about sacred things can ever accomplish. When all are admitted, how can there be a Holy of Holies?
And all this while, Margaret lay as still and white as death on the study floor! She had sunk under her burden. It had been heavy in weight and long carried; and she had been very meek and patient, till all at once her faith had given way, and she had groped in vain for help! There was a pitiful contraction of suffering upon her beautiful brows, although there was no other sign of consciousness remaining. The mouth — a little while ago, so sullenly projected in defiance — was relaxed and livid.
‘E par che de la sua labbia si mova Uno spirto soave e pien d’amore, Chi va dicendo a l’anima: sospira!’
The first symptom of returning life was a quivering about the lips — a little mute soundless attempt at speech; but the eyes were still closed; and the quivering sank into stillness. Then, feebly leaning on her arms for an instant to steady herself, Margaret gathered herself up, and rose. Her comb had fallen out of her hair; and with an intuitive desire to efface the traces of weakness, and bring herself into order again, she sought for it, although from time to time, in the course of the search, she had to sit down and recover strength. Her head drooped forwards — her hands meekly laid one upon the other — she tried to recall the force of her temptation, by endeavouring to remember the details which had thrown her into such deadly fright; but she could not. She only understood two facts — that Frederick had been in danger of being pursued and detected in London, as not only guilty of manslaughter, but as the more unpardonable leader of the mutiny, and that she had lied to save him. There was one comfort; her lie had saved him, if only by gaining some additional time. If the inspector came again tomorrow, after she had received the letter she longed for to assure her of her brother’s safety, she would brave shame, and stand in her bitter penance — she, the lofty Margaret — acknowledging before a crowded justice-room, if need were, that she had been as ‘a dog, and done this thing.’ But if he came before she heard from Frederick; if he returned, as he had half threatened, in a few hours, why! she would tell that lie again; though how the words would come out, after all this terrible pause for reflection and self-reproach, without betraying her falsehood, she did not know, she could not tell. But her repetition of it would gain time — time for Frederick.
She was roused by Dixon’s entrance into the room; she had just been letting out Mr. Thornton.
He had hardly gone ten steps in the street, before a passing omnibus stopped close by him, and a man got down, and came up to him, touching his hat as he did so. It was the police-inspector.
Mr. Thornton had obtained for him his first situation in the police, and had heard from time to time of the progress of his protege, but they had not often met, and at first Mr. Thornton did not remember him.
‘My name is Watson — George Watson, sir, that you got ——’
‘Ah, yes! I recollect. Why you are getting on famously, I hear.’
‘Yes, sir. I ought to thank you, sir. But it is on a little matter of business I made so bold as to speak to you now. I believe you were the magistrate who attended to take down the deposition of a poor man who died in the Infirmary last night.’
‘Yes,’ replied Mr. Thornton. ‘I went and heard some kind of a rambling statement, which the clerk said was of no great use. I’m afraid he was but a drunken fellow, though there is no doubt he came to his death by violence at last. One of my mother’s servants was engaged to him, I believe, and she is in great distress today. What about him?’
‘Why, sir, his death is oddly mixed up with somebody in the house I saw you coming out of just now; it was a Mr. Hale’s, I believe.’
‘Yes!’ said Mr. Thornton, turning sharp round and looking into the inspector’s face with sudden interest. ‘What about it?’
‘Why, sir, it seems to me that I have got a pretty distinct chain of evidence, inculpating a gentleman who was walking with Miss Hale that night at the Outwood station, as the man who struck or pushed Leonards off the platform and so caused his death. But the young lady denies that she was there at the time.’
‘Miss Hale denies she was there!’ repeated Mr. Thornton, in an altered voice. ‘Tell me, what evening was it? What time?’
‘About six o’clock, on the evening of Thursday, the twenty-sixth.’
They walked on, side by side, in silence for a minute or two. The inspector was the first to speak.
‘You see, sir, there is like to be a coroner’s inquest; and I’ve got a young man who is pretty positive — at least he was at first; — since he has heard of the young lady’s denial, he says he should not like to swear; but still he’s pretty positive that he saw Miss Hale at the station, walking about with a gentleman, not five minutes before the time, when one of the porters saw a scuffle, which he set down to some of Leonards’ impudence — but which led to the fall which caused his death. And seeing you come out of the very house, sir, I thought I might make bold to ask if — you see, it’s always awkward having to do with cases of disputed identity, and one doesn’t like to doubt the word of a respectable young woman unless one has strong proof to the contrary.’
‘And she denied having been at the station that evening!’ repeated Mr. Thornton, in a low, brooding tone.
‘Yes, sir, twice over, as distinct as could be. I told her I should call again, but seeing you just as I was on my way back from questioning the young man who said it was her, I thought I would ask your advice, both as the magistrate who saw Leonards on his death-bed, and as the gentleman who got me my berth in the force.’
‘You were quite right,’ said Mr. Thornton. ‘Don’t take any steps till you have seen me again.’
‘The young lady will expect me to call, from what I said.’
‘I only want to delay you an hour. It’s now three. Come to my warehouse at four.’
‘Very well, sir!’
And they parted company. Mr. Thornton hurried to his warehouse, and, sternly forbidding his clerks to allow any one to interrupt him, he went his way to his own private room, and locked the door. Then he indulged himself in the torture of thinking it all over, and realising every detail. How could he have lulled himself into the unsuspicious calm in which her tearful image had mirrored itself not two hours before, till he had weakly pitied her and yearned towards her, and forgotten the savage, distrustful jealousy with which the sight of her — and that unknown to him — at such an hour — in such a place — had inspired him! How could one so pure have stooped from her decorous and noble manner of bearing! But was it decorous — was it? He hated himself for the idea that forced itself upon him, just for an instant — no more — and yet, while it was present, thrilled him with its old potency of attraction towards her image. And then this falsehood — how terrible must be some dread of shame to be revealed — for, after all, the provocation given by such a man as Leonards was, when excited by drinking, might, in all probability, be more than enough to justify any one who came forward to state the circumstances openly and without reserve! How creeping and deadly that fear which could bow down the truthful Margaret to falsehood! He could almost pity her. What would be the end of it? She could not have considered all she was entering upon; if there was an inquest and the young man came forward. Suddenly he started up. There should be no inquest. He would save Margaret. He would take the responsibility of preventing the inquest, the issue of which, from the uncertainty of the medical testimony (which he had vaguely heard the night before, from the surgeon in attendance), could be but doubtful; the doctors had discovered an internal disease far advanced, and sure to prove fatal; they had stated that death might have been accelerated by the fall, or by the subsequent drinking and exposure to cold. If he had but known how Margaret would have become involved in the affair — if he had but foreseen that she would have stained her whiteness by a falsehood, he could have saved her by a word; for the question, of inquest or no inquest, had hung trembling in the balance only the night before. Miss Hale might love another — was indifferent and contemptuous to him — but he would yet do her faithful acts of service of which she should never know. He might despise her, but the woman whom he had once loved should be kept from shame; and shame it would be to pledge herself to a lie in a public court, or otherwise to stand and acknowledge her reason for desiring darkness rather than light.
Very gray and stern did Mr. Thornton look, as he passed out through his wondering clerks. He was away about half an hour; and scarcely less stern did he look when he returned, although his errand had been successful.
He wrote two lines on a slip of paper, put it in an envelope, and sealed it up. This he gave to one of the clerks, saying:—
‘I appointed Watson — he who was a packer in the warehouse, and who went into the police — to call on me at four o’clock. I have just met with a gentleman from Liverpool who wishes to see me before he leaves town. Take care to give this note to Watson he calls.’
The note contained these words:
‘There will be no inquest. Medical evidence not sufficient to justify it. Take no further steps. I have not seen the corner; but I will take the responsibility.’
‘Well,’ thought Watson, ‘it relieves me from an awkward job. None of my witnesses seemed certain of anything except the young woman. She was clear and distinct enough; the porter at the rail-road had seen a scuffle; or when he found it was likely to bring him in as a witness, then it might not have been a scuffle, only a little larking, and Leonards might have jumped off the platform himself; — he would not stick firm to anything. And Jennings, the grocer’s shopman — well, he was not quite so bad, but I doubt if I could have got him up to an oath after he heard that Miss Hale flatly denied it. It would have been a troublesome job and no satisfaction. And now I must go and tell them they won’t be wanted.’
He accordingly presented himself again at Mr. Hale’s that evening. Her father and Dixon would fain have persuaded Margaret to go to bed; but they, neither of them, knew the reason for her low continued refusals to do so. Dixon had learnt part of the truth-but only part. Margaret would not tell any human being of what she had said, and she did not reveal the fatal termination to Leonards’ fall from the platform. So Dixon curiosity combined with her allegiance to urge Margaret to go to rest, which her appearance, as she lay on the sofa, showed but too clearly that she required. She did not speak except when spoken to; she tried to smile back in reply to her father’s anxious looks and words of tender enquiry; but, instead of a smile, the wan lips resolved themselves into a sigh. He was so miserably uneasy that, at last, she consented to go into her own room, and prepare for going to bed. She was indeed inclined to give up the idea that the inspector would call again that night, as it was already past nine o’clock.
She stood by her father, holding on to the back of his chair.
‘You will go to bed soon, papa, won’t you? Don’t sit up alone!’
What his answer was she did not hear; the words were lost in the far smaller point of sound that magnified itself to her fears, and filled her brain. There was a low ring at the door-bell.
She kissed her father and glided down stairs, with a rapidity of motion of which no one would have thought her capable, who had seen her the minute before. She put aside Dixon.
‘Don’t come; I will open the door. I know it is him — I can — I must manage it all myself.’
‘As you please, miss!’ said Dixon testily; but in a moment afterwards, she added, ‘But you’re not fit for it. You are more dead than alive.’
‘Am I?’ said Margaret, turning round and showing her eyes all aglow with strange fire, her cheeks flushed, though her lips were baked and livid still.
She opened the door to the Inspector, and preceded him into the study. She placed the candle on the table, and snuffed it carefully, before she turned round and faced him.
‘You are late!’ said she. ‘Well?’ She held her breath for the answer.
‘I’m sorry to have given any unnecessary trouble, ma’am; for, after all, they’ve given up all thoughts of holding an inquest. I have had other work to do and other people to see, or I should have been here before now.’
‘Then it is ended,’ said Margaret. ‘There is to be no further enquiry.’
‘I believe I’ve got Mr. Thornton’s note about me,’ said the Inspector, fumbling in his pocket-book.
‘Mr. Thornton’s!’ said Margaret.
‘Yes! he’s a magistrate — ah! here it is.’ She could not see to read it — no, not although she was close to the candle. The words swam before her. But she held it in her hand, and looked at it as if she were intently studying it.
‘I’m sure, ma’am, it’s a great weight off my mind; for the evidence was so uncertain, you see, that the man had received any blow at all — and if any question of identity came in, it so complicated the case, as I told Mr. Thornton —’
‘Mr. Thornton!’ said Margaret, again.
‘I met him this morning, just as he was coming out of this house, and, as he’s an old friend of mine, besides being the magistrate who saw Leonards last night, I made bold to tell him of my difficulty.’
Margaret sighed deeply. She did not want to hear any more; she was afraid alike of what she had heard, and of what she might hear. She wished that the man would go. She forced herself to speak.
‘Thank you for calling. It is very late. I dare say it is past ten o’clock. Oh! here is the note!’ she continued, suddenly interpreting the meaning of the hand held out to receive it. He was putting it up, when she said, ‘I think it is a cramped, dazzling sort of writing. I could not read it; will you just read it to me?’
He read it aloud to her.
‘Thank you. You told Mr. Thornton that I was not there?’
‘Oh, of course, ma’am. I’m sorry now that I acted upon information, which seems to have been so erroneous. At first the young man was so positive; and now he says that he doubted all along, and hopes that his mistake won’t have occasioned you such annoyance as to lose their shop your custom. Good night, ma’am.’
‘Good night.’ She rang the bell for Dixon to show him out. As Dixon returned up the passage Margaret passed her swiftly.
‘It is all right!’ said she, without looking at Dixon; and before the woman could follow her with further questions she had sped up-stairs, and entered her bed-chamber, and bolted her door.
She threw herself, dressed as she was, upon her bed. She was too much exhausted to think. Half an hour or more elapsed before the cramped nature of her position, and the chilliness, supervening upon great fatigue, had the power to rouse her numbed faculties. Then she began to recall, to combine, to wonder. The first idea that presented itself to her was, that all this sickening alarm on Frederick’s behalf was over; that the strain was past. The next was a wish to remember every word of the Inspector’s which related to Mr. Thornton. When had he seen him? What had he said? What had Mr. Thornton done? What were the exact words of his note? And until she could recollect, even to the placing or omitting an article, the very expressions which he had used in the note, her mind refused to go on with its progress. But the next conviction she came to was clear enough; — Mr. Thornton had seen her close to Outwood station on the fatal Thursday night, and had been told of her denial that she was there. She stood as a liar in his eyes. She was a liar. But she had no thought of penitence before God; nothing but chaos and night surrounded the one lurid fact that, in Mr. Thornton’s eyes, she was degraded. She cared not to think, even to herself, of how much of excuse she might plead. That had nothing to do with Mr. Thornton; she never dreamed that he, or any one else, could find cause for suspicion in what was so natural as her accompanying her brother; but what was really false and wrong was known to him, and he had a right to judge her. ‘Oh, Frederick! Frederick!’ she cried, ‘what have I not sacrificed for you!’ Even when she fell asleep her thoughts were compelled to travel the same circle, only with exaggerated and monstrous circumstances of pain.
When she awoke a new idea flashed upon her with all the brightness of the morning. Mr. Thornton had learnt her falsehood before he went to the coroner; that suggested the thought, that he had possibly been influenced so to do with a view of sparing her the repetition of her denial. But she pushed this notion on one side with the sick wilfulness of a child. If it were so, she felt no gratitude to him, as it only showed her how keenly he must have seen that she was disgraced already, before he took such unwonted pains to spare her any further trial of truthfulness, which had already failed so signally. She would have gone through the whole — she would have perjured herself to save Frederick, rather — far rather — than Mr. Thornton should have had the knowledge that prompted him to interfere to save her. What ill-fate brought him in contact with the Inspector? What made him be the very magistrate sent for to receive Leonards’ deposition? What had Leonards said? How much of it was intelligible to Mr. Thornton, who might already, for aught she knew, be aware of the old accusation against Frederick, through their mutual friend, Mr. Bell? If so, he had striven to save the son, who came in defiance of the law to attend his mother’s death-bed. And under this idea she could feel grateful — not yet, if ever she should, if his interference had been prompted by contempt. Oh! had any one such just cause to feel contempt for her? Mr. Thornton, above all people, on whom she had looked down from her imaginary heights till now! She suddenly found herself at his feet, and was strangely distressed at her fall. She shrank from following out the premises to their conclusion, and so acknowledging to herself how much she valued his respect and good opinion. Whenever this idea presented itself to her at the end of a long avenue of thoughts, she turned away from following that path — she would not believe in it.
It was later than she fancied, for in the agitation of the previous night, she had forgotten to wind up her watch; and Mr. Hale had given especial orders that she was not to be disturbed by the usual awakening. By and by the door opened cautiously, and Dixon put her head in. Perceiving that Margaret was awake, she came forwards with a letter.
‘Here’s something to do you good, miss. A letter from Master Frederick.’
‘Thank you, Dixon. How late it is!’
She spoke very languidly, and suffered Dixon to lay it on the counterpane before her, without putting out a hand to lake it.
‘You want your breakfast, I’m sure. I will bring it you in a minute. Master has got the tray all ready, I know.’
Margaret did not reply; she let her go; she felt that she must be alone before she could open that letter. She opened it at last. The first thing that caught her eye was the date two days earlier than she received it. He had then written when he had promised, and their alarm might have been spared. But she would read the letter and see. It was hasty enough, but perfectly satisfactory. He had seen Henry Lennox, who knew enough of the case to shake his head over it, in the first instance, and tell him he had done a very daring thing in returning to England, with such an accusation, backed by such powerful influence, hanging over him. But when they had come to talk it over, Mr. Lennox had acknowledged that there might be some chance of his acquittal, if he could but prove his statements by credible witnesses — that in such case it might be worth while to stand his trial, otherwise it would be a great risk. He would examine — he would take every pains. ‘It struck me’ said Frederick, ‘that your introduction, little sister of mine, went a long way. Is it so? He made many inquiries, I can assure you. He seemed a sharp, intelligent fellow, and in good practice too, to judge from the signs of business and the number of clerks about him. But these may be only lawyer’s dodges. I have just caught a packet on the point of sailing — I am off in five minutes. I may have to come back to England again on this business, so keep my visit secret. I shall send my father some rare old sherry, such as you cannot buy in England — (such stuff as I’ve got in the bottle before me)! He needs something of the kind — my dear love to him — God bless him. I’m sure — here’s my cab. P.S. — What an escape that was! Take care you don’t breathe of my having been — not even to the Shaws.’
Margaret turned to the envelope; it was marked ‘Too late.’ The letter had probably been trusted to some careless waiter, who had forgotten to post it. Oh! what slight cobwebs of chances stand between us and Temptation! Frederick had been safe, and out of England twenty, nay, thirty hours ago; and it was only about seventeen hours since she had told a falsehood to baffle pursuit, which even then would have been vain. How faithless she had been! Where now was her proud motto, ‘Fais ce que dois, advienne que pourra?’ If she had but dared to bravely tell the truth as regarded herself, defying them to find out what she refused to tell concerning another, how light of heart she would now have felt! Not humbled before God, as having failed in trust towards Him; not degraded and abased in Mr. Thornton’s sight. She caught herself up at this with a miserable tremor; here was she classing his low opinion of her alongside with the displeasure of God. How was it that he haunted her imagination so persistently? What could it be? Why did she care for what he thought, in spite of all her pride in spite of herself? She believed that she could have borne the sense of Almighty displeasure, because He knew all, and could read her penitence, and hear her cries for help in time to come. But Mr. Thornton — why did she tremble, and hide her face in the pillow? What strong feeling had overtaken her at last?
She sprang out of bed and prayed long and earnestly. It soothed and comforted her so to open her heart. But as soon as she reviewed her position she found the sting was still there; that she was not good enough, nor pure enough to be indifferent to the lowered opinion of a fellow creature; that the thought of how he must be looking upon her with contempt, stood between her and her sense of wrong-doing. She took her letter in to her father as soon as she was drest. There was so slight an allusion to their alarm at the rail-road station, that Mr. Hale passed over it without paying any attention to it. Indeed, beyond the mere fact of Frederick having sailed undiscovered and unsuspected, he did not gather much from the letter at the time, he was so uneasy about Margaret’s pallid looks. She seemed continually on the point of weeping.
‘You are sadly overdone, Margaret. It is no wonder. But you must let me nurse you now.’
He made her lie down on the sofa, and went for a shawl to cover her with. His tenderness released her tears; and she cried bitterly.
‘Poor child! — poor child!’ said he, looking fondly at her, as she lay with her face to the wall, shaking with her sobs. After a while they ceased, and she began to wonder whether she durst give herself the relief of telling her father of all her trouble. But there were more reasons against it than for it. The only one for it was the relief to herself; and against it was the thought that it would add materially to her father’s nervousness, if it were indeed necessary for Frederick to come to England again; that he would dwell on the circumstance of his son’s having caused the death of a man, however unwittingly and unwillingly; that this knowledge would perpetually recur to trouble him, in various shapes of exaggeration and distortion from the simple truth. And about her own great fault — he would be distressed beyond measure at her want of courage and faith, yet perpetually troubled to make excuses for her. Formerly Margaret would have come to him as priest as well as father, to tell him of her temptation and her sin; but latterly they had not spoken much on such subjects; and she knew not how, in his change of opinions, he would reply if the depth of her soul called unto his. No; she would keep her secret, and bear the burden alone. Alone she would go before God, and cry for His absolution. Alone she would endure her disgraced position in the opinion of Mr. Thornton. She was unspeakably touched by the tender efforts of her father to think of cheerful subjects on which to talk, and so to take her thoughts away from dwelling on all that had happened of late. It was some months since he had been so talkative as he was this day. He would not let her sit up, and offended Dixon desperately by insisting on waiting upon her himself.
At last she smiled; a poor, weak little smile; but it gave him the truest pleasure.
‘It seems strange to think, that what gives us most hope for the future should be called Dolores,’ said Margaret. The remark was more in character with her father than with her usual self; but today they seemed to have changed natures.
‘Her mother was a Spaniard, I believe: that accounts for her religion. Her father was a stiff Presbyterian when I knew him. But it is a very soft and pretty name.’
‘How young she is! — younger by fourteen months than I am. Just, the age that Edith was when she was engaged to Captain Lennox. Papa, we will go and see them in Spain.’
He shook his head. But he said, ‘If you wish it, Margaret. Only let us come back here. It would seem unfair — unkind to your mother, who always, I’m afraid, disliked Milton so much, if we left it now she is lying here, and cannot go with us. No, dear; you shall go and see them, and bring me back a report of my Spanish daughter.’
‘No, papa, I won’t go without you. Who is to take care of you when I am gone?’
‘I should like to know which of us is taking care of the other. But if you went, I should persuade Mr. Thornton to let me give him double lessons. We would work up the classics famously. That would be a perpetual interest. You might go on, and see Edith at Corfu, if you liked.’
Margaret did not speak all at once. Then she said rather gravely: ‘Thank you, papa. But I don’t want to go. We will hope that Mr. Lennox will manage so well, that Frederick may bring Dolores to see us when they are married. And as for Edith, the regiment won’t remain much longer in Corfu. Perhaps we shall see both of them here before another year is out.’
Mr. Hale’s cheerful subjects had come to an end. Some painful recollection had stolen across his mind, and driven him into silence. By-and-by Margaret said:
‘Papa — did you see Nicholas Higgins at the funeral? He was there, and Mary too. Poor fellow! it was his way of showing sympathy. He has a good warm heart under his bluff abrupt ways.’
‘I am sure of it,’ replied Mr. Hale. ‘I saw it all along, even while you tried to persuade me that he was all sorts of bad things. We will go and see them tomorrow, if you are strong enough to walk so far.’
‘Oh yes. I want to see them. We did not pay Mary — or rather she refused to take it, Dixon says. We will go so as to catch him just after his dinner, and before he goes to his work.’
Towards evening Mr. Hale said:
‘I half expected Mr. Thornton would have called. He spoke of a book yesterday which he had, and which I wanted to see. He said he would try and bring it today.’
Margaret sighed. She knew he would not come. He would be too delicate to run the chance of meeting her, while her shame must be so fresh in his memory. The very mention of his name renewed her trouble, and produced a relapse into the feeling of depressed, preoccupied exhaustion. She gave way to listless languor. Suddenly it struck her that this was a strange manner to show her patience, or to reward her father for his watchful care of her all through the day. She sate up and offered to read aloud. His eyes were failing, and he gladly accepted her proposal. She read well: she gave the due emphasis; but had any one asked her, when she had ended, the meaning of what she had been reading, she could not have told. She was smitten with a feeling of ingratitude to Mr. Thornton, inasmuch as, in the morning, she had refused to accept the kindness he had shown her in making further inquiry from the medical men, so as to obviate any inquest being held. Oh! she was grateful! She had been cowardly and false, and had shown her cowardliness and falsehood in action that could not be recalled; but she was not ungrateful. It sent a glow to her heart, to know how she could feel towards one who had reason to despise her. His cause for contempt was so just, that she should have respected him less if she had thought he did not feel contempt. It was a pleasure to feel how thoroughly she respected him. He could not prevent her doing that; it was the one comfort in all this misery.
Late in the evening, the expected book arrived, ‘with Mr. Thornton’s kind regards, and wishes to know how Mr. Hale is.’
‘Say that I am much better, Dixon, but that Miss Hale —’
‘No, papa,’ said Margaret, eagerly —‘don’t say anything about me. He does not ask.’
‘My dear child, how you are shivering!’ said her father, a few minutes afterwards. ‘You must go to bed directly. You have turned quite pale!’
Margaret did not refuse to go, though she was loth to leave her father alone. She needed the relief of solitude after a day of busy thinking, and busier repenting.
But she seemed much as usual the next day; the lingering gravity and sadness, and the occasional absence of mind, were not unnatural symptoms in the early days of grief And almost in proportion to her re-establishment in health, was her father’s relapse into his abstracted musing upon the wife he had lost, and the past era in his life that was closed to him for ever.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:50