فصل 06

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فصل 06

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Chapter six

The Shadow of Death

Dr Donaldson, the doctor recommended by Mr Thornton, came to call on Mrs Hale soon after Margaret’s visit to Bessy. Margaret was not allowed into the room while he was there, but Dixon was, and this made her feel very jealous.

She waited anxiously outside, and when the doctor came out, she said quickly, ‘My father is out. Would you come downstairs?’

Dr Donaldson followed her into Mr Hale’s study.

‘What is the matter with Mother?’ Margaret asked.

The doctor hesitated and she said, ‘If the news is bad, my father must be told the news gently. Only I can do this.’

‘My dear, your mother said that you must not be told.’

‘I feel sure that you have not promised to keep the secret.’

‘Well,’ said the doctor, smiling sadly, ‘you are right. I did not promise. In fact, I’m afraid you will all know soon enough.’

Margaret went very white, but no part of her face moved. Dr Donaldson was a man who understood people well and he saw immediately that she was strong enough to be told the truth. He spoke two sentences in a low voice, watching her all the time.

Her eyes grew wide and she went even whiter. Then she said, ‘I have been afraid of this for many weeks.’ She began to cry, but a few moments later, the tears stopped. ‘Will my mother suffer much?’ she asked.

He shook his head. ‘I can’t say. But the latest discoveries of medical science can help a lot.’

‘My father!’ she said, trembling all over. ‘He must not be told the truth yet - not all at once. It would kill him!’

‘I do not know Mr Hale, so it is difficult to give advice. But I will visit often and your father will be a little more prepared for the truth. And when I come again, it will be as a friend.’

Margaret was crying so much that she could not speak, but she shook the doctor’s hand as he left.

‘That’s a fine girl,’ thought Dr Donaldson, as he sat in his carriage. ‘What a queen she is! The way she threw her head back, forcing me to tell her the truth. If I were thirty years younger, I would have fallen in love with her.’

Meanwhile Margaret sat in her father’s study, trying to find some strength. After some minutes she ran upstairs. Her mother was lying in an armchair, looking quite peaceful.

‘Margaret, how strange you look! What is the matter?’ Suddenly guessing the truth, Mrs Hale said, ‘Dr Donaldson hasn’t been talking to you, has he, child?’

‘Oh yes, Mother, he did. I made him.’ Margaret knelt by her mother’s side and started to cry and kiss her hand. ‘Oh Mother, let me be your nurse. It will be such a comfort to me.’

‘My poor child! Dixon and I thought you should not know.’

‘Dixon thought!’ said Margaret scornfully. ‘I am your daughter, Mother! I only want to be near you. In Harley Street, I used to cry in bed at night, thinking you would forget me.’

‘And I used to wonder, what will Margaret think of our little cottage after her luxurious life with Aunt Shaw?’

‘Oh Mother, how can you say that? I loved Helstone so much!’

‘I shall never see Helstone again. But Margaret - Frederick!’ Mrs Hale started sobbing. ‘Frederick, Frederick, come to me! I am dying, come to me!’

Dixon came running in, and they lifted Mrs Hale into her bed. Margaret sat with her until she fell asleep, then the two women went into the sitting-room to talk.

‘Look what you’ve done to your mother - and now I suppose you’ll tell your father,’ Dixon said angrily.

‘No, Dixon,’ said Margaret sorrowfully, ‘I won’t tell him. He would be too upset.’ And she burst into tears.

‘Miss Margaret, my dear, I’ve had to keep this secret for so long and your mother’s the person I love most in the world.’

‘Oh, Dixon!’ said Margaret. ‘I’ve been cross with you so often, not realising what a terrible burden you were carrying!’

‘You dear child! Now you go out for a long walk and you’ll feel better. I’ll look after your mother.’

‘I will.’ Margaret gave Dixon a kiss and left the room.

Dixon watched her as she walked down the street. ‘She’s as sweet as a nut, that girl. There are three people I love - her mother, Frederick and her. Her father’s always been too busy thinking and reading to look after my lady properly. And look what’s happened to him! Poor child! Her clothes look old. In Helstone she didn’t need to mend her socks or clean her gloves. And now - !’

When Mr Hale came home several hours later, he enquired anxiously about Dr Donaldson’s visit. Margaret told him that the doctor did not think her mother was seriously ill at present but that he felt she needed care; he had given her some medicine and would visit frequently. Mr Hale’s nervous reaction showed that he realised that his wife might be in danger. All that evening he kept going into his wife’s bedroom to see if she was still asleep. Finally he came back looking comforted.

‘She’s awake now, Margaret. She has asked for a cup of tea.’

During the next week, Mrs Hale’s health improved and the family began to hope that she would recover. But in the streets outside there was an atmosphere of gloom and discontent. Mr Hale knew several workers and was depressed by their stories of hunger and suffering. When Mr Thornton next came to visit, Mr Hale told him these stories. The mill owner explained that in business, profits depended to some extent on the country’s economy. When times were difficult, some manufacturers would lose their businesses and their workers would lose their jobs as a result. He spoke without emotion, seeming to feel that neither the employer nor the workers had a right to complain.

Mr Thornton’s coldness shocked Margaret. How could he talk as if trade was the only thing that mattered? When he had arrived that afternoon, he had offered to help her mother in any way he could. Margaret could not understand how those eyes, which were so kind when he talked about her mother, could belong to the same man who spoke about his workers so pitilessly.

Later that week Margaret visited Bessy, who seemed even more exhausted than usual. The girl told her a sad story about the Boucher family next door. John Boucher, one of the strikers, had suddenly died three days ago. But this was not all. Mrs Boucher was becoming more and more unwell and the youngest child was so weak with hunger that he was likely to die. The story shocked Margaret and she immediately took out her purse and pressed the money in it into Bessy’s hand. When she returned home, she told her parents about the family, and the next day a big basket of food was sent to them.

That evening, Margaret and her father went for a long walk and, as they returned home, began to discuss Mr Thornton.

‘He must know how much his workers hate him,’ said Margaret. ‘They think he has no feelings.’

‘I disagree. In my opinion, he is a passionate man but is too proud to show his emotions.’

‘I am not sure. But he is very clever and has great strength of character, and I am starting to like him a little.’

By now they were at their front door. Dixon opened it and when they saw her face they both started to tremble.

‘Thank God you’ve come! Or Donaldson is here. She’s better now, but I thought she was going to die an hour ago!’

Mr Hale took Margaret’s arm to prevent himself from falling.

‘Oh, I should not have left her!’ cried Margaret.

Dr Donaldson met them inside. ‘She is better for the moment,’ he whispered.

‘For the moment! Let me go to her!’ cried Mr Hale.

They entered the bedroom. Mrs Hale lay on the bed, and from the look on her face it was clear to them all that death was near. Mr Hale began to shake and Dr Donaldson took him downstairs and helped him into a chair.

After some moments, Mr Hale said, making a great effort, ‘Margaret, did you know about this? It was cruel of you.’

‘I told her not to tell you,’ said Dr Donaldson. ‘Your wife will sleep well tonight and will be better tomorrow, I hope.’

‘But what about the illness? Please tell me the truth.’

‘We cannot stop it, only delay it.’ Dr Donaldson explained that they need not fear that Mrs Hale would die immediately, but that she would not recover. He left, promising to return early in the morning.

Both Mr Hale and Dixon did not sleep for many hours. Margaret felt as if she would never sleep again. To the young woman watching by her mother’s bed, her life until that moment seemed unreal. Life seemed so shadowy, and passed so quickly! When the morning came, cold and grey, it seemed as if the terrible night was also a dream; it too was past.

When Mrs Hale woke the next morning, she was unaware of how ill she had been, and was rather surprised by Dr Donaldson’s early visit and by the anxious faces of her husband and child. The doctor allowed her to return to the sitting-room, but she was uncomfortable in every position and that night she became very feverish. The doctor thought that a water-bed might help and suggested that the family could borrow one from the Thorntons’, since he knew they had one.

‘I could go and ask them to lend it to us while mother is asleep,’ said Margaret.

That afternoon Mrs Hale seemed much better, and Margaret left the house and set off for the Thorntons’.

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