فصل 08

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فصل 08

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Chapter eight

Time of Change

Margaret was so surprised by Mr Thornton’s declaration of love that she remained standing in the middle of the sitting-room for some time after he had gone. She could not help comparing Mr Thornton with Mr Lennox and thinking how different they were. Henry Lennox seemed to have slipped over the boundary between friendship and love for a moment, and to have regretted it almost immediately. With Mr Thornton, on the other hand, there had been no friendship; they had done nothing except argue with one another. And now he had come in this strange, wild way to tell her that he loved her and would always love her! Margaret was horrified by this declaration, but she could not stop thinking about him and the look in his deep, strangely passionate eyes.

Not wanting to be alone, she went upstairs to see her mother, who was resting in her room. Mrs Hale spent five minutes praising the water-bed, which she said was very comfortable, and then turned the conversation to the subject closest to her heart.

‘Margaret,’ she said, sitting up very straight on her sofa, ‘if I am going to die soon, I must see Frederick first. I beg you to bring him to me. If he came for five minutes only, it would not be dangerous! Oh, let me see him before I die!’

Margaret felt that her mother’s desire to see Frederick was so natural that she should do everything she could to bring him to her, even though it might be dangerous for Frederick.

‘I will write to him tonight. I am sure he will come.’

‘You must write this afternoon. The post goes at five. I have so little time left; if we miss one post, it may be too late.’

‘But I need to talk to Father and he is out.’

‘Do you think he will deny my last wish? I would not be dying if he had not brought me to this smoky, sunless place.’

‘Oh, Mother!’ said Margaret sadly.

‘It is true - he has said so himself. He would do anything for me. Don’t lose time, dear Margaret. Write now!’

Margaret sat down to write the letter. She took it to the post office and was walking back home when she met her father.

When he heard what she had done, he looked very worried.

‘You should have waited until I came, Margaret,’ he said.

‘I tried to persuade her. ‘

‘I don’t know. If she wants to see him so much, then Frederick must come - it would do her more good than any medicine. But the danger to Frederick is very great, I’m afraid.’

‘It is a long time since the mutiny, Father.’

‘When a man has been involved in a mutiny, the government never forgets. They will do anything to find him.’

‘Oh! What have I done? But it seemed so right at the time.’

‘No, I am glad you sent the letter,’ Mr Hale said, trying to sound cheerful, but Margaret could see from his face that he was very anxious. They walked home without saying another word.

The next day, Mr Thornton, who was a magistrate, had a meeting with the other Milton magistrates about the riot at his mill two days earlier. Many of these men were older and wealthier than he was, but they listened to his opinions with great respect.

When he left the meeting, Mr Thornton’s mind was clear, but within minutes he began to think about Margaret and to remember the feeling of her arms around him. He was walking back to the mill when he met Dr Donaldson, who told him the sad news about Mrs Hale. Mr Thornton asked if he could do anything to help, and when he was told that Mrs Hale often asked for fruit, he went immediately to the best shop in Milton and chose the finest fruit there. It was placed in a basket and he carried it himself, walking fast, to the Hales’ house.

The family were in the sitting-room, and he entered, his eyes shining with kindness, and presented the fruit to Mrs Hale. Margaret, who was sewing, was afraid of making any movement that would make him aware of her presence.

‘I’m afraid I cannot stay,’ Mr Thornton said. ‘But you must allow me the pleasure of bringing some fruit again. Good afternoon, Mr Hale. Goodbye, madam.’

He was gone. Not one word, one glance at Margaret. She thought that he had not seen her.

‘How kind of him to think of me,’ said Mrs Hale. ‘Do you not think so, Margaret?’

‘Yes,’ said Margaret quietly.

After a few minutes she left the room and met Dixon, who handed her a note.

‘That young woman you go to see - Higgins, I mean. She died this morning. Her sister is here and wants to speak to you.’

‘Oh, poor Bessy,’ said Margaret, bursting into tears, and she went down to the kitchen to see Mary. The girl, who had been crying so much that her face was swollen, explained that that morning, about an hour after Nicholas had gone out, Bessy had suddenly become very ill. Some neighbours had run to Mary’s workplace to find her, but they had been unable to find her father. Mary had arrived only a few minutes before Bessy died.

‘She loved you so much. Please come and see her, madam. She would have wanted you to.’

‘Yes, I will. I’ll come this afternoon.’

That afternoon Margaret walked quickly to the Higgins’. Mary opened the door to her and they went upstairs to the room where Bessy lay. Her face, which had often looked so exhausted from pain, now had a soft smile, and although there were tears in Margaret’s eyes, deep inside she felt very calm. So this was death! It looked more peaceful than life. Slowly, she turned away from the bed and she and Mary went downstairs without a word.

Nicholas Higgins was standing in the middle of the room. He had only just learnt the news and his eyes were huge and dry and fierce. Margaret tried to creep past him, to leave him with his daughter, but he seized her arm and cried, ‘Did you see her die?’

‘No,’ answered Margaret, standing still.

‘You’re sure she’s dead?’

‘She is dead.’

He looked at her searchingly, then suddenly threw himself halfway across the table and began to sob.

‘Get out of here!’ he cried to Margaret.

She took his hand and held it in hers. It was a long time before he was able to calm down, but then he asked her to come with him to Bessy’s room and she did so.

‘Nothing can hurt her now,’ he said, as he stood by his daughter’s bed. He looked so pale and ill that Margaret had the idea of suggesting that he should talk to her father. Higgins desperately needed comfort and, knowing that Mr Hale had been a clergyman, agreed to visit him. Some neighbours came in to look after Mary and the two walked in silence to Crampton. Margaret quickly explained the situation to Mr Hale, and then led Higgins into the study. She went upstairs to see her mother and it was some time before she came down again. She was surprised to see the two men with their heads close together, apparently having a serious conversation. They looked up when Margaret came in and Higgins said proudly, ‘We’ve been discussing religion and now we’re talking about the strike.’

‘I wish some of the mill owners would meet some of you men and have a good talk about things,’ said Mr Hale. ‘I am sure it would be the best way of overcoming your difficulties. I wonder if Mr Thornton could be persuaded to do so?’

‘Thornton! He’s the fellow who brought over the Irish workers! Then the leaders of the riot ruined it for everyone. Violence isn’t the way. But now, when people would have thanked him for taking the riot leaders to court, Mr Thornton has decided not to do it. He says they won’t be able to find work again, and that’s enough punishment.’

‘Has the strike ended, then?’ asked Margaret.

‘Yes,’ said Nicholas angrily. ‘The mill doors will open again tomorrow.’

‘Will you get your old job back?’

‘No chance. Hamper, my mill owner, thinks I’m a troublemaker. He’d rather cut his leg off than give my job back to me.’

Margaret thought for a moment, and then said hesitantly, ‘Why don’t you go to Marlborough Mill and ask Mr Thornton?’

Nicholas shook his head in disbelief. ‘Mr Thornton? He won’t see me!’

‘I will write a note for you to give him,’ said Mr Hale, eager to help.

‘It’s kind of you but I’ll do it by myself or not at all. I’ll go because you ask me, Miss Margaret. I’ll wait for him tomorrow until he comes out of the mill. I’ll tell him about the Boucher family and their troubles and that I want to help them. But the clock is striking ten. I must go.’

He rose, looked steadily at Margaret and Mr Hale, brushed his hand across his eyes and left the room.

‘How proud that man is!’ said Mr Hale, a little annoyed that Higgins had refused his offer of help.

‘Yes, but how strong and honest he is, too,’ said Margaret.

The next morning, a letter arrived from Edith. It was full of affection, like its writer, and described Edith’s little boy, who had been born a few weeks earlier. Edith was very insistent that Margaret and her mother should come and stay with her in Corfu for at least three months; she did not ask Mr Hale, whom she blamed for taking the family away from Helstone.

Margaret would have loved to go to Corfu and live Edith’s life, just for one day. She was not yet twenty but she felt so old, and she thought that it might make her feel young again. Her mother came in and they were laughing about Edith’s letter when Mr Thornton appeared, with another basket of fruit for Mrs Hale.

He had come because of his great need to see Margaret again, but after he had glanced in her direction, he bowed coldly to her and turned away. He presented the fruit to Mrs Hale and talked kindly to her for a few minutes. He did not look at Margaret and, when she spoke, seemed not to hear her, although his next remark showed that he had. His behaviour was not polite at all, but it was clear to Margaret that the reason why he was behaving badly was because he was very hurt.

He left with one last cold, offended look at her, unaware that his behaviour was making Margaret think about him more than ever before. She regretted hurting him so deeply, and would have been very happy to return to their previous relationship; she now realised that they had in fact been friends.

Mr Thornton, as he walked downstairs, was proud of the way he had forced himself to see her and not reveal his feelings. He thought that he hated seeing the woman who had treated him so cruelly the previous day, but he was very wrong.

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