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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesNorth And South - Chapter XXXV - EXPIATION
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North And South - Chapter XXXV - EXPIATION Post by :shish1 Category :Long Stories Author :Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell Date :January 2011 Read :1651

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North And South - Chapter XXXV - EXPIATION


'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 to-morrow, 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 to-day. 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

'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

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

'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

'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

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

'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

'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

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

'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

'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

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

'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
to-day 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 to-morrow, 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 to-day.'

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, pre-occupied 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.

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CHAPTER XXXVI - UNION NOT ALWAYS STRENGTH'The steps of the bearers, heavy and slow,The sobs of the mourners, deep and low.'SHELLEY.At the time arranged the previous day, they set out on their walkto see Nicholas Higgins and his daughter. They both were remindedof their recent loss, by a strange kind of shyness in their newhabiliments, and in the fact that it was the first time, for manyweeks, that they had deliberately gone out together. They drewvery close to each other in unspoken sympathy.Nicholas was sitting by the fire-side in his accustomed corner:but he had not his accustomed pipe. He was leaning

North And South - Chapter XXXIV - FALSE AND TRUE North And South - Chapter XXXIV - FALSE AND TRUE

North And South - Chapter XXXIV - FALSE AND TRUE
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 uponMargaret. Sometimes she thought she must give way, and cry outwith pain, as the sudden sharp thought came across her, evenduring her apparently cheerful conversations with her father,that she had no longer a mother. About Frederick, too, there wasgreat uneasiness. The Sunday post intervened, and interfered withtheir London letters; and on Tuesday Margaret was surprised anddisheartened to find that there was still no letter.