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North And South - Chapter XXV - FREDERICK Post by :riaan Category :Long Stories Author :Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell Date :January 2011 Read :873

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North And South - Chapter XXV - FREDERICK

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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