فصل 09

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فصل 09

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Chapter nine

Mrs Hale

Mrs Thornton came to see Mrs Hale the next morning. Mrs Hale was much worse. A sudden change had taken place during the night, and now, with her grey face and hollow cheeks, she looked as if death could not be far away. Mrs Thornton had not believed that Mrs Hale was really ill, and she had only come because her son had insisted, but now that the reality of the younger woman’s death was clear, she softened immediately.

Mrs Hale lay still, then with a great effort reached for her visitor’s hand and whispered, ‘My child will be without a mother - in a strange place. If I die - will you - ‘ ‘You wish me to be your daughter’s friend.’

Mrs Hale could not speak, but she pressed her visitor’s hand.

Mrs Thornton sighed. It was difficult to say that she would be kind to Margaret, whom she disliked so much. ‘I am not the kind of person who shows affection, but I will be a true friend to Miss Hale. If she is in difficulty and comes to me for help, I will do everything I can for her. I also promise that if I ever see her doing something that I think is wrong, I will tell her, just as if she were my own daughter.’

There was a long pause. Mrs Hale felt that this promise did not include everything and she did not really understand why, but perhaps this was because she was very ill.

‘I thank you,’ she said. ‘I shall never see you again in this world. But I thank you for your promise of kindness to my child.’

‘Not kindness,’ said Mrs Thornton, but fortunately Mrs Hale did not hear her.

Mrs Thornton held the dying woman’s hand for a moment, and left the house without seeing anyone.

Meanwhile, Margaret and Dixon were discussing how to keep Frederick’s visit a secret from anyone except the family. A letter was expected any day, and he would certainly arrive soon afterwards. They decided that if Dixon needed help in the kitchen they would ask Mary Higgins. They knew that if she met Frederick, who would be known as Mr Dickinson, she would not be interested in finding out more about him.

Poor Margaret! All that day she had to ignore her own feelings and look after her father, who sat in the sitting-room with his head in his arms. From time to time Mrs Hale suffered terrible pain, but in the evening she slept and Dixon sat with her. Darkness came. Margaret did not want to leave her father and the lamps had not been lit. She was sitting at the window looking out at the street when suddenly the doorbell rang.

She jumped up and went down to open the door. A tall man was standing there, but she could not see his face.

‘Is this Mr Hale’s?’ he said clearly.

Margaret trembled all over, then whispered ‘Frederick’ and held out her arms to him. They kissed each other.

‘Mother, is she alive?’

‘She is very, very ill, but she is alive.’

‘Thank God. Did you receive my letter?’

‘No, but we knew you would come.’

Margaret took Frederick to Mr Hale’s study and lit a lamp. Now she could see that his face was quite brown from the sun and that his eyes were very blue and bright. They did not exchange a word, but there was an immediate understanding between them and Margaret’s heart was much lighter as she went upstairs.

It took Mr Hale some time to understand that Frederick had come, and when he did he began to cry like a child. Leaning on Margaret’s arm, he went down to the study and Margaret left him with Frederick. She ran upstairs and cried bitterly; it was the first time she had allowed herself this relief for days. Frederick had come! He was safe! She could hardly believe it. Feeling much better, she went into the kitchen, made the fire, lit lamps and prepared food for the traveller.

She came into the study carrying the dishes like a servant, and Frederick immediately jumped up to take them from her; it was typical of his loving behaviour over the next few days. The brother and sister put some plates on the table, saying little, their hands touching, their eyes speaking to each other.

They heard Dixon moving about in the kitchen and Margaret went to tell her the news. Mrs Hale was awake but they decided that they would not tell her that Frederick had arrived until after Dr Donaldson’s visit in the morning. He would be able to tell them how to prepare her for seeing her son.

Frederick and his father sat in the study talking while Margaret said nothing but listened quietly. It was a huge source of strength to her that her brother had come. She examined his appearance carefully and liked it. He had delicate features and a friendly, cheerful expression that could change suddenly and become very passionate. She could see that he understood his father’s character and his weaknesses; he knew exactly how to talk to him and make him feel better. Perhaps because she was older now, the brother and sister felt closer to each other than ever before.

When Mrs Hale saw Frederick the next morning, she seemed to improve. She sat with his hand in hers and would not let go of it even while she slept.

‘I am very selfish,’ she said, ‘but it will not be for long.’

Frederick bent down and kissed the hand that imprisoned his.

Kind Dr Donaldson told Margaret that her mother did not have many hours to live, but Frederick could not believe it. That night, however, Mrs Hale became unconscious and died before morning. Frederick, who had been so strong until then, now sobbed so violently that Margaret and Dixon feared that their next-door-neighbours would hear him. Margaret sat with her father in her mother’s room. He did not speak but from time to time stroked his wife’s face, making a soft sound, like an animal with her young. He ignored Margaret completely and her heart ached for him so much that she could not think of her own loss at all.

Morning came and Margaret did her household duties, her eyes almost blinded with tears. Her father and brother were so full of grief that she felt she had to look after them. She made breakfast and lit a fire, but the contrast between its bright cheerfulness and her own thoughts made her kneel by the sofa and cry into the cushions. Dixon found her there and spoke gently to her, and the old servant’s kindness made her feel a little better.

At breakfast Mr Hale did not seem to know where he was and Frederick burst into tears. Afterwards, when Margaret tried to discuss the arrangements for the funeral, Mr Hale understood almost nothing, but asked Margaret to write to his friend Mr Bell in Oxford and tell him the news.

Towards evening, Dixon told Margaret that she did not feel it was safe for Frederick to stay in Milton. She explained that while she was shopping she had met a young man called Leonards, whose family she had known in Southampton. He was a sailor and had been on the Russell at the same time as Frederick, although Dixon did not know if he had taken part in the mutiny. She had recognised Leonards and they had had a short conversation. He had asked about Frederick and talked about the mutiny, saying that Frederick would be hanged if he was caught. He said that a hundred pound reward had been offered for catching Frederick, and suggested that Dixon could help to trap him and that they would then share the reward. Dixon had never liked or trusted Leonards.

Her story made Margaret feel very uncomfortable. ‘Have you told Frederick?’ she asked.

‘No, but I’ve told your father. And he thinks that Frederick must leave.’

The two women felt the same, but it was very hard for Margaret, just when Frederick had returned to his family. She was sitting by the fire and thinking about this, when Frederick came in.

‘How tired you look, Margaret!’ he said. ‘You have been looking after everybody and no one has looked after you. Lie on the sofa - there is nothing for you to do.’

Margaret gladly went to lie down and the two began to talk in low tones. Margaret told Frederick Dixon’s story and he looked shocked.

‘Leonards was the worst sailor on the ship - and a really nasty fellow! All the sailors who had the right ideas were angry with the captain, but Leonards was always trying to please him. And he’s here, in Milton! If he knew I was here, he’d tell the police without a doubt.’

Mr Hale heard what they were saying and came towards them, eager and trembling. He took Frederick’s hands in his.

‘My boy, you must go. It is very bad - but you must. You have done all you could - you have been a comfort to your mother.’

‘Perhaps I should stay and let them take me to court,’ said Frederick thoughtfully.

‘No, you must go.’

Frederick changed the subject. ‘Do you know, I was in my bedroom this afternoon and the doorbell rang, so I waited for some time until I thought the visitor had left. Then I opened the door and saw a great, powerful fellow going down the stairs.’

‘It was Mr Thornton,’ said Mr Hale.

‘Mr Thornton!’ said Margaret, a little surprised. ‘I thought you meant someone of a different class, not a gentleman.’

He looked like someone who worked in a shop,’ said Frederick carelessly, ‘but it seems he is a manufacturer.’

Margaret was silent, remembering how, before she knew Mr Thornton well, she had thought of him in just the same way. She wanted to make Frederick understand what kind of person Mr Thornton was, but she could not think what to say.

Mr Hale continued, ‘He came to offer to help us, but I could not see him. I told Dixon to ask if he wished to see you, Margaret.’

Margaret was silent and after some moments, Frederick said, ‘It is painful to think I can never thank those who have shown you kindness. But you could both come to Spain. I have a good job there and a promise of promotion. Margaret, I told you about Dolores Barbour; she is not yet eighteen, but I hope that in a year she will be my wife. You would love her if you knew her, I am sure. If you came, you would have so many friends.’

‘No - no more changes for me,’ said Mr Hale. ‘Moving here has cost me my wife. I am staying here.’

‘Oh, Frederick, I am so glad you have someone to love and care for you out there,’ said Margaret. ‘I know you took part in the mutiny, but for Dolores’ sake, perhaps you should try and prove that the most serious accusations are not true.’

A discussion began. Frederick did not know if it was possible to find the witnesses, all of them sailors, who could explain why the mutiny had happened.

‘I don’t think the attempt would be successful,’ he said doubtfully.

‘But could we not at least try to find them? There is a friend of mine - a lawyer, a very clever man - who would be happy to help you. Mr Henry Lennox, Father.’ Margaret blushed when she said this.

‘I think it is a good idea,’ said Mr Hale, ‘but Frederick must not stay in England just to see him.’

‘Listen to my plan,’ said Margaret. ‘Frederick, you could take the night train to London tomorrow and leave a note from me for Mr Lennox at his home the following day. Then you could take the next boat from London.’

Mr Hale and Frederick immediately agreed to the plan and Frederick wrote down a list of sailors’ names. Margaret wrote the note to Lennox with Frederick looking over her shoulder, and she did not have time to worry about whether she was using the right words after their last, difficult meeting.

The family sat together in the sitting-room all the next day. Mr Hale only spoke when his children asked him questions. Frederick was now ashamed that he had allowed his grief to overcome him, and although his sorrow was very real, he did not speak about it again. Margaret was suffering more now and spent a lot of the time crying.

Mr Hale and Margaret wanted to make sure that Frederick was safely on the night train to London, and they decided that Margaret would accompany him to Outwood station. It was bitterly painful for Mr Hale to say goodbye to his son, and Margaret hurried Frederick into the carriage that was taking them there. They arrived at the station quite early and went to walk in a field next to the station. They were talking about their father when a horse rider passed slowly by. The evening sun was shining directly on Margaret’s face and she bowed to the rider, who bowed stiffly back.

‘Who is that?’ asked Frederick.

‘Mr Thornton - you saw him before, you know,’ said Margaret, looking worried.

By now it was time to return to the station, and Frederick went to buy his ticket. They were walking down the railway platform when they heard the sound of the approaching train. Just then, a porter came up to them. It was clear that he was drunk, and he pushed Margaret to one side, then seized Frederick by his collar.

‘Your name is Hale, I believe?’

When Frederick heard this, he immediately pushed the man away, and the porter fell off the platform, a distance of three or four feet.

‘Run, run!’ whispered Margaret urgently. ‘The train is here. It was Leonards, wasn’t it?’

A carriage door was open and Frederick jumped into the train. As he leaned out to say goodbye, the train started to leave and Margaret was left standing alone. She felt so sick and faint that she went into the waiting room to sit down. When she felt a little better, she began to wonder if the man had been seriously hurt, and although she was frightened to do this, she went back to the platform to look for him. No one was there. She was trembling so much that she felt she could not walk home along the dark, lonely road, and she decided to take the next train back. But supposing Leonards recognised her as Frederick’s companion?

Fortunately, when she went to get her ticket, there were only a few railway officials there, talking loudly to one another.

‘So Leonards has been drinking,’ said one of them. ‘He came in about five minutes ago with a story about how he’d fallen off the platform. He wanted to borrow some money to go to London by the next train. I refused and he’s gone off somewhere.’

‘To have another drink, I’d guess,’ said another man.

Frightened that Leonards would return, Margaret hid in the waiting room until the next train came. She was helped into the carriage by a porter whose face she did not dare to look at until the train started moving; then she saw that it was not Leonards.

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