فصل 10

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فصل 10

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A Police Inspector

Home seemed unnaturally calm after Margaret’s frightening experience at the station. Mary Higgins had come to work in the kitchen. Mr Hale did nothing except sit in his chair in a kind of waking dream, and Margaret decided not to tell him about the incident at the station as things had ended well. Although it was possible that Leonards would borrow money to go to London, it was unlikely that he would find Frederick there. Margaret decided not to worry about something she could do nothing to prevent, as in a day or two Frederick would be safely out of England.

Mr Hale had wanted Mr Bell to come to the funeral, but his old friend sent an affectionate letter saying that, unfortunately, he was unwell and could not come, although he promised to visit in September. Mr Hale decided to invite Mr Thornton instead, but Margaret, who feared the idea of seeing Mr Thornton again, begged her father not to ask him, and in the end he agreed.

The morning of the funeral arrived. Margaret had slept badly and was shocked to receive a letter from Frederick saying that Mr Lennox was away and would not be back for another two days. Consequently, Frederick had decided to stay in London until his return. His decision made Margaret very anxious; if Leonards had gone to London, he now had more time to find Frederick. But she could not think about this for long; her father was almost too weak to get into the funeral carriage, and he needed all Margaret’s attention and support.

When they arrived at the church for the funeral service, Margaret saw that Nicholas Higgins and Mary were there. She would have liked to talk to them but felt unable to leave her father. Mr Hale seemed to see nothing; he mechanically repeated the words of the clergyman, and at the end of the service he had to be led away as if he were blind.

Dixon covered her face with her handkerchief and was so absorbed in her grief that she did not notice that people were leaving until someone spoke to her. It was Mr Thornton. He had been standing at the back of the crowd with his head bent, and no one had recognised him.

‘I’m sorry - but can you tell me how Mr Hale is? And Miss Hale too?’

‘Of course, sir. Mr Hale is very distressed. Miss Hale seems better than you would expect.’

Mr Thornton would have preferred to hear that Margaret was really suffering. He was selfish enough to hope that his great love might be able to comfort her, but he was also disturbed by the memory of what he had seen at Outwood station. She had been with such a handsome young man and had seemed so relaxed and confident with him. What was she doing with a man at that late hour, so far away from home? All sorts of ideas went through his mind. Perhaps the reason why she was able to bear her grief was because of her love for this stranger!

Mr Thornton’s face grew pale when he heard Dixon’s answer and he said coldly, ‘I suppose I may call - and see Mr Hale, I mean.’

He spoke as if he did not care at all, but although he hated Margaret at times, he desperately wanted to see her.

For some reason, Dixon never told Margaret about her meeting with Mr Thornton, and so Margaret never learnt that he had attended her poor mother’s funeral.

Although, to an observer, Margaret did not seem to feel much grief, her pain was in reality so great that sometimes she wanted to scream. What made her and her father feel even worse was that two days had passed and there was still no letter from Frederick. Mr Hale was walking up and down the sitting-room, desperate with worry, when Dixon opened the door to announce Mr Thornton. He took Mr Hale’s hands and held them for a minute or two, his face and eyes showing more sympathy than could be put into words. Then he turned to Margaret.

She did not appear ‘better than you would expect’. There was a look of great suffering on her face, and her eyes were red from crying. He had intended to greet her coldly, but he could not help going to her and speaking about her mother’s death so gently that Margaret could not hide her emotion. She picked up her sewing and sat down. Mr Thornton’s heart beat fast and for the moment he completely forgot about Outwood station.

Just then, Dixon came in and said, ‘Miss Hale, there is someone to see you.’

She looked so upset that Margaret immediately thought that something had happened to Frederick. Feeling sick, she followed Dixon out of the room.

‘It’s a police inspector. He’s in the study.’

‘Did he name - ?’

‘No. He just asked if he could speak to you.’

‘Make sure Father does not come down.’

The inspector was a little surprised by Margaret’s haughty manner as she entered the study. She showed neither surprise nor curiosity, but stood waiting for him to speak.

‘I’m sorry, madam, but I need to ask you a few questions. A man called Leonards has died at the hospital. He had an accident - a fall - at Outwood station, between five and six last Thursday evening. The fill was not serious, but because of a previous illness and the man’s alcohol habit, it killed him.’

Margaret’s large eyes opened a little, but otherwise she showed no emotion at all. She said, ‘Well - go on!’

‘There will have to be an inquest,’ said the inspector. He explained that a porter at the station had seen Leonards rudely push a young lady who was on the platform. She was with a companion who had then pushed Leonards off the edge of the platform. The porter said that he had not thought any more about the matter, because the platform was not high and he had seen Leonards get up and run down the platform.

‘A grocer’s assistant who was on the platform thinks that the woman may have been you, madam,’ said the inspector, watching Margaret carefully.

‘I was not there,’ said Margaret expressionlessly.

The inspector bowed, but did not speak. The grocer’s assistant had not been sure that it was her and he thought that she was probably telling the truth.

‘Then, madam, you can assure me that you were not the companion of the gentlemen who pushed Leonards off the platform.’

‘I was not there,’ said Margaret slowly and heavily.

Margaret’s exact repetition of her words made the inspector suspicious. Frowning, he said, ‘I may have to call on you again this evening and ask you to appear at the inquest. You may need to give an alibi.’

When Margaret’s haughty expression did not change, the inspector decided that the grocer’s assistant was probably wrong.

‘It is unlikely, madam, that this will happen. I hope you will forgive me for doing my duty.’

Margaret bowed her head as the inspector walked towards the door. She opened it for him and accompanied him to the front door. Then she returned to the study, locked the door and fainted.

Mr Thornton and Mr Hale talked for some time. Margaret’s father found Mr Thornton wonderfully kind and comforting, and trusted him enough to tell him his most secret feelings. At the end of their conversation both men felt much closer to each other. Mr Thornton left the house, and was walking along the street when he met the police inspector, who was called Watson. They knew one another and Mr Thornton had helped Watson get his first job.

They greeted each other in a friendly way and the police inspector said, ‘I believe you were the magistrate who went to the hospital last night to hear the statement of a man called Leonards. He died several hours later.’

‘Yes, I’m afraid he was a drunken fellow,’ said Mr Thornton.

‘Well, sir, his death is connected with somebody in the house I saw you coming out of just now - Mr Hale’s house, I believe.’

‘Yes,’ said Mr Thornton, looking at the inspector with sudden interest. ‘What about it?’

‘There is some evidence that Miss Hale was the companion of the gentleman who pushed Leonards off the platform. A grocer’s assistant who was there said that he recognised her, but the young lady denies that she was there at the time.’

‘Miss Hale denies she was there?’ said Mr Thornton.

‘Yes, she denied it twice. Since you are the magistrate who saw Leonards, it seems a good idea to ask for your advice.’

‘She denies having been at the station,’ said Mr Thornton in a low tone. He paused and then said, ‘You are quite right to ask for my advice. Don’t do anything until you have seen me again. It’s now three o’clock. Come to my factory at four.’

‘I will, sir,’ said Watson.

The two men separated and Mr Thornton hurried to the factory, went to his office and locked the door. There, he thought about every detail of his lost two meetings with Margaret. She had looked so full of grief when he had seen her an hour ago that he had forgotten his suspicions. Now they were awakened again. Perhaps she was not as pure as she seemed; the thought came and then went immediately. But she had lied to the inspector, when she was usually so truthful. What did she fear would be revealed if she told the truth? Mr Thornton almost pitied her for the shame she must have felt to lie in this way.

Suddenly, he jumped up. As a magistrate, he could prevent the inquest; then Margaret would not have to give an alibi. Even if she was in love with another man, he could still save her from being shamed in public. He might despise her for lying, but he could still protect her.

He left his office and went out for about half an hour. When he returned, he wrote two lines on a piece of paper, which he put in an envelope. He instructed a clerk to give the note to Mr Watson when he came at four o’clock. The note contained these words: ‘There will be no inquest as the medical evidence shows that there is no reason for one. Do not investigate further. The decision is my responsibility.’

‘Well,’ thought Watson, ‘that means I don’t have to do a difficult job. None of my witnesses seemed certain of anything except the young woman.’

That evening, Watson visited the Hales’ house again. Margaret had had a terrible day. She had decided to say nothing to either Dixon or her father about her meeting with the inspector, but lay on the sofa looking ill, only speaking when spoken to. She tried to smile when her father looked anxiously at her, but only succeeded in sighing. At nine o’clock the inspector had still not come and Mr Hale said goodnight and went to bed. Margaret was preparing to do the same when the doorbell rang. She answered the door herself and led the inspector into the study.

‘You are late,’ she said, hardly daring to breathe. ‘Well?’

‘I’m sorry to have given you unnecessary trouble, madam. They’ve decided not to have the inquest.’

‘So there will be no more enquiries,’ said Margaret.

‘I believe I’ve got Mr Thornton’s note with me,’ said the inspector.

‘Mr Thornton’s!’ said Margaret.

‘Yes, he’s a magistrate. Ah! Here it is.’

Margaret took it, but felt so confused that she could not understand what was written on the note. She held it in her hand and pretended to read it.

‘I met Mr Thornton this morning, just as he was coming out of this house,’ the inspector continued. ‘He’s an old friend of mine and he’s also the magistrate who saw Leonards last night, so I explained my problem to him.’

Margaret sighed deeply. She was afraid of what she might hear and wished the man would go. She forced herself to speak.

‘Thank you for calling. It is very late.’

He held out his hand for the note and she gave it back to him, then said, ‘The writing is small and I could not read it. Could you read it to me?’

He read it aloud to her.

‘You told Mr Thornton I was not there?’

‘Oh, of course, madam. I’m sorry to have troubled you. The young man seemed so sure at first and now he says he was never sure at all. Good night, madam.’

She rang the bell and Dixon came to show the inspector out. As the servant returned up the passage, Margaret passed her.

‘It is all right,’ she said, without looking at her, and before Dixon could say anything, she ran upstairs to her bedroom and locked the door. Then she threw herself on her bed, feeling much too exhausted to do anything but lie motionless.

After half an hour, she felt a little better and sat up. Her first feeling was one of huge relief; there would be no inquest and so there was no danger that Frederick would be identified as her companion at the station. She then started to try and remember every word that the inspector had said about Mr Thornton. When had the inspector seen him? What had Mr Thornton said? What had he done? What were the exact words of his note? Until she could remember every word in the note, her mind refused to go further. But the facts were clear enough: Mr Thornton had seen her close to Outwood station last Thursday night and had been told that she had denied being there. Margaret did not tell herself that there was a good excuse for her lies. Nor did she imagine that Mr Thornton would be suspicious of the fact that she was with a handsome young man. There was only one thing that concerned her; the fact was that Mr Thornton now saw her as a liar. She was a liar and he knew it and must despise her for it.

‘Oh, Frederick!’ Margaret cried, ‘What a price I have paid for saving you!’

She fell asleep with these thoughts going round and round in her mind.

When she woke the next morning, and the full memory of the situation returned to her, another thought came to her; it was because Mr Thornton had learnt about her denial that he had decided there would be no inquest. He had done this so that she would not have to give an alibi at the inquest. But if this were true, Margaret did not feel at all grateful, as it meant that he realised that she had done something very wrong. In that case, Margaret thought that he must feel great contempt for her. She hated the thought that he had saved her, and wondered what Leonards had told him. Perhaps he had told Mr Thornton about Frederick, or perhaps Mr Thornton had heard the story from Mr Bell. If so, then the mill owner had lied to save Mr Hale’s son, who had come to see his dying mother. In that case, then she should be grateful to him. But she feared that he did not know the real facts and only saw her as a liar who must be saved. Margaret had always seen herself as superior to Mr Thornton. She was in a different position now and felt very unhappy about it. She did not ask herself why it mattered so much to her that Mr Thornton should despise her.

Dixon knocked at the door and came in. ‘Here’s something that will make you feel better - a letter from your brother.’

Margaret thanked Dixon, but waited until she was alone before she opened the letter. The first thing that she noticed was that the letter had been sent two days ago; it should have arrived the day before. Frederick wrote that he had seen Mr Lennox, who had said that it was very dangerous indeed for him to have returned to England. But after some discussion the lawyer had also agreed that it would be worthwhile finding witnesses who could tell the real story of what happened on the Russell. Then perhaps the trial could take place and the court would decide that Frederick was innocent.

‘It seemed to me, little sister,’ wrote Frederick, ‘that your letter made him very anxious to help me. He’s an intelligent fellow. I am on a boat that will leave in five minutes. What an escape that was! Don’t tell anyone I came to England - not even the Shaws.’

Margaret could not have been more thankful that Frederick was safe. But the date on the letter told her that he had left England thirty hours ago! There had been no need for her to lie to the inspector and make Mr Thornton despise her! But why did she keep thinking about Mr Thornton? Why did she care so much about his opinion of her? What were these strong feelings that made her tremble and hide her face in the pillow?

She dressed and took the letter to her father, who she knew would not pay any attention to Frederick’s words about the incident at the station. Mr Hale was very relieved that his son was safe but was concerned about Margaret, who seemed very distressed.

‘Poor child, poor child,’ he said and made her lie down on the sofa and cover herself with a shawl.

Through the day he tried hard to be cheerful, and Margaret was grateful to him. Mr Thornton had said that he might call that evening with a book for Mr Hale, but Margaret knew he would not come since he would be afraid of meeting her so soon after what had happened. She realised now that it was wrong of her to feel ungrateful. Oh, but she was grateful! It was a pleasure to her to realise how much she respected him.

The book from Mr Thornton arrived that evening with a kind note inside, but as Margaret had guessed, he did not come himself. By now, she felt very confused. She felt great shame when she thought about meeting him again, but at the same time she very much wanted to see him. But Mr Thornton did not come the next day, nor the day after that. This surprised and upset Mr Hale, as Mr Thornton had promised that he would call. Every time that the doorbell rang, both father and daughter hoped that it was the mill owner; but he did not come.

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