The Moorland Cottage
Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell
Part 2 out of 3
agitation; and besides I must go, or Jem will be wondering what has become
of me. Dearest cousin-in-law, I shall come very often to see you; and
perhaps I shall give you my lecture yet."
It was true of Mr. Buxton, as well as of his son, that he had the seeds of
imperiousness in him. His life had not been such as to call them out into
view. With more wealth than he required; with a gentle wife, who if she
ruled him never showed it, or was conscious of the fact herself; looked up
to by his neighbors, a simple affectionate set of people, whose fathers
had lived near his father and grandfather in the same kindly relation,
receiving benefits cordially given, and requiting them with good will and
respectful attention: such had been the circumstances surrounding him; and
until his son grew out of childhood, there had not seemed a wish which he
had it not in his power to gratify as soon as formed. Again, when Frank was
at school and at college, all went on prosperously; he gained honors enough
to satisfy a far more ambitious father. Indeed, it was the honors he gained
that stimulated his father's ambition. He received letters from tutors,
and headmasters, prophesying that, if Frank chose, he might rise to the
"highest honors in church or state;" and the idea thus suggested, vague as
it was, remained, and filled Mr. Buxton's mind; and, for the first time in
his life, made him wish that his own career had been such as would have led
him to form connections among the great and powerful. But, as it was, his
shyness and _gêne_, from being unaccustomed to society, had made him
averse to Frank's occasional requests that he might bring such and such a
school-fellow, or college-chum, home on a visit. Now he regretted this, on
account of the want of those connections which might thus have been formed;
and, in his visions, he turned to marriage as the best way of remedying
this. Erminia was right in saying that her uncle had thought of Lady Adela
Castlemayne for an instant; though how the little witch had found it out I
cannot say, as the idea had been dismissed immediately from his mind.
He was wise enough to see its utter vanity, as long as his son remained
undistinguished. But his hope was this. If Frank married Erminia, their
united property (she being her father's heiress) would justify him in
standing for the shire; or if he could marry the daughter of some leading
personage in the county, it might lead to the same step; and thus at once
he would obtain a position in parliament, where his great talents would
have scope and verge enough. Of these two visions, the favorite one (for
his sister's sake) was that of marriage with Erminia.
And, in the midst of all this, fell, like a bombshell, the intelligence of
his engagement with Maggie Browne; a good sweet little girl enough, but
without fortune or connection--without, as far as Mr. Buxton knew, the
least power, or capability, or spirit, with which to help Frank on in his
career to eminence in the land! He resolved to consider if as a boyish
fancy, easily to be suppressed; and pooh-poohed it down, to Frank,
accordingly. He remarked his son's set lips, and quiet determined brow,
although he never spoke in a more respectful tone, than while thus steadily
opposing his father. If he had shown more violence of manner, he would have
irritated him less; but, as it was, if was the most miserable interview
that had ever taken place between the father and son.
Mr. Buxton tried to calm himself down with believing that Frank would
change his mind, if he saw more of the world; but, somehow, he had a
prophesying distrust of this idea internally. The worst was, there was
no fault to be found with Maggie herself, although she might want the
accomplishments he desired to see in his son's wife. Her connections, too,
were so perfectly respectable (though humble enough in comparison with Mr.
Buxton's soaring wishes), that there was nothing to be objected to on that
score; her position was the great offence. In proportion to his want of any
reason but this one, for disapproving of the engagement, was his annoyance
under it. He assumed a reserve toward Frank; which was so unusual a
restraint upon his open, genial disposition, that it seemed to make him
irritable toward all others in contact with him, excepting Erminia. He
found it difficult to behave rightly to Maggie. Like all habitually cordial
persons, he went into the opposite extreme, when he wanted to show a little
coolness. However angry he might be with the events of which she was the
cause, she was too innocent and meek to justify him in being more than
cool; but his awkwardness was so great, that many a man of the world has
met his greatest enemy, each knowing the other's hatred, with less freezing
distance of manner than Mr. Buxton's to Maggie. While she went simply on in
her own path, loving him the more through all, for old kindness' sake, and
because he was Frank's father, he shunned meeting her with such evident and
painful anxiety, that at last she tried to spare him the encounter, and
hurried out of church, or lingered behind all, in order to avoid the only
chance they now had of being forced to speak; for she no longer went to the
dear house in Combehurst, though Erminia came to see her more than ever.
Mrs. Browne was perplexed and annoyed beyond measure. She upbraided Mr.
Buxton to every one but Maggie. To her she said--"Any one in their senses
might have foreseen what had happened, and would have thought well about
it, before they went and fell in love with a young man of such expectations
as Mr. Frank Buxton."
In the middle of all this dismay, Edward came over from Woodchester for a
day or two. He had been told of the engagement, in a letter from Maggie
herself; but if was too sacred a subject for her to enlarge upon to him;
and Mrs. Browne was no letter writer. So this was his first greeting to
Maggie; after kissing her:
"Well, Sancho, you've done famously for yourself. As soon as I got your
letter I said to Harry Bish--'Still waters run deep; here's my little
sister Maggie, as quiet a creature as ever lived, has managed to catch
young Buxton, who has five thousand a-year if he's a penny.' Don't go so
red, Maggie. Harry was sure to hear of if soon from some one, and I see no
use in keeping it secret, for it gives consequence to us all."
"Mr. Buxton is quite put out about it," said Mrs. Brown, querulously; "and
I'm sure he need not be, for he's enough of money, if that's what he wants;
and Maggie's father was a clergyman, and I've seen 'yeoman,' with my own
eyes, on old Mr. Buxton's (Mr. Lawrence's father's) carts; and a clergyman
is above a yeoman any day. But if Maggie had had any thought for other
people, she'd never have gone and engaged herself, when she might have been
sure it would give offence. We are never asked down to dinner now. I've
never broken bread there since last Christmas."
"Whew!" said Edward to this. It was a disappointed whistle; but he soon
cheered up. "I thought I could have lent a hand in screwing old Buxton up
about the settlements; but I see it's not come to that yet. Still I'll go
and see the old gentleman. I'm a bit of a favorite of his, and I doubt I
can turn him round."
"Pray, Edward, don't go," said Maggie. "Frank and I are content to wait;
and I'm sure we would rather not have any one speak to Mr. Buxton, upon a
subject which evidently gives him so much pain; please, Edward, don't!"
"Well, well. Only I must go about this property of his. Besides, I don't
mean to get into disgrace; so I shan't seem to know anything about it,
if it would make him angry. I want to keep on good terms, because of the
agency. So, perhaps, I shall shake my head, and think it great presumption
in you, Maggie, to have thought of becoming his daughter-in-law. If I can
do you no good, I may as well do myself some."
"I hope you won't mention me at all," she replied.
One comfort (and almost the only one arising from Edward's visit) was, that
she could now often be spared to go up to the thorn-tree, and calm down her
anxiety, and bring all discords into peace, under the sweet influences of
nature. Mrs. Buxton had tried to teach her the force of the lovely truth,
that the "melodies of the everlasting chime" may abide in the hearts of
those who ply their daily task in towns, and crowded populous places; and
that solitude is not needed by the faithful for them to feel the immediate
presence of God; nor utter stillness of human sound necessary, before they
can hear the music of His angels' footsteps; but, as yet, her soul was a
young disciple; and she felt it easier to speak to Him, and come to Him for
help, sitting lonely, with wild moors swelling and darkening around her,
and not a creature in sight but the white specks of distant sheep, and the
birds that shun the haunts of men, floating in the still mid-air.
She sometimes longed to go to Mr. Buxton and tell him how much she could
sympathize with him, if his dislike to her engagement arose from thinking
her unworthy of his son. Frank's character seemed to her grand in its
promise. With vehement impulses and natural gifts, craving worthy
employment, his will sat supreme over all, like a young emperor calmly
seated on his throne, whose fiery generals and wise counsellors stand alike
ready to obey him. But if marriage were to be made by due measurement and
balance of character, and if others, with their scales, were to be the
judges, what would become of all the beautiful services rendered by the
loyalty of true love? Where would be the raising up of the weak by the
strong? or the patient endurance? or the gracious trust of her:
"Whose faith is fixt and cannot move;
She darkly feels him great and wise,
She dwells on him with faithful eyes,
'I cannot understand: I love.'"
Edward's manners and conduct caused her more real anxiety than anything
else. Indeed, no other thoughtfulness could be called anxiety compared to
this. His faults, she could not but perceive, were strengthening with his
strength, and growing with his growth. She could not help wondering whence
he obtained the money to pay for his dress, which she thought was of a
very expensive kind. She heard him also incidentally allude to "runs up
to town," of which, at the time, neither she nor her mother had been made
aware. He seemed confused when she questioned him about these, although he
tried to laugh it off; and asked her how she, a country girl, cooped up
among one set of people, could have any idea of the life it was necessary
for a man to lead who "had any hope of getting on in the world." He must
have acquaintances and connections, and see something of life, and make an
appearance. She was silenced, but not satisfied. Nor was she at ease with
regard to his health. He looked ill, and worn; and, when he was not
rattling and laughing, his face fell into a shape of anxiety and
uneasiness, which was new to her in it. He reminded her painfully of an
old German engraving she had seen in Mrs. Buxton's portfolio, called,
"Pleasure digging a Grave;" Pleasure being represented by a ghastly figure
of a young man, eagerly industrious over his dismal work.
A few days after he went away, Nancy came to her in her bed-room.
"Miss Maggie," said she, "may I just speak a word?" But when the permission
was given, she hesitated.
"It's none of my business, to be sure," said she at last: "only, you see,
I've lived with your mother ever since she was married; and I care a deal
for both you and Master Edward. And I think he drains Missus of her money;
and it makes me not easy in my mind. You did not know of it, but he had his
father's old watch when he was over last time but one; I thought he was of
an age to have a watch, and that it was all natural. But, I reckon he's
sold it, and got that gimcrack one instead. That's perhaps natural too.
Young folks like young fashions. But, this time, I think he has taken away
your mother's watch; at least, I've never seen it since he went. And this
morning she spoke to me about my wages. I'm sure I've never asked for them,
nor troubled her; but I'll own it's now near on to twelve months since she
paid me; and she was as regular as clock-work till then. Now, Miss Maggie
don't look so sorry, or I shall wish I had never spoken. Poor Missus seemed
sadly put about, and said something as I did not try to hear; for I was so
vexed she should think I needed apologies, and them sort of things. I'd
rather live with you without wages than have her look so shame-faced as she
did this morning. I don't want a bit for money, my dear; I've a deal in the
Bank. But I'm afeard Master Edward is spending too much, and pinching
Maggie was very sorry indeed. Her mother had never told her anything of all
this, so it was evidently a painful subject to her; and Maggie determined
(after lying awake half the night) that she would write to Edward, and
remonstrate with him; and that in every personal and household expense, she
would be, more than ever, rigidly economical.
The full, free, natural intercourse between her lover and herself, could
not fail to be checked by Mr. Buxton's aversion to the engagement. Frank
came over for some time in the early autumn. He had left Cambridge, and
intended to enter himself at the Temple as soon as the vacation was ended.
He had not been very long at home before Maggie was made aware, partly
through Erminia, who had no notion of discreet silence on any point, and
partly by her own observation, of the increasing estrangement between
father and son. Mr. Buxton was reserved with Frank for the first time in
his life; and Frank was depressed and annoyed at his father's obstinate
repetition of the same sentence, in answer to all his arguments in favor of
his engagement--arguments which were overwhelming to himself and which it
required an effort of patience on his part to go over and recapitulate, so
obvious was the conclusion; and then to have the same answer forever, the
same words even:
"Frank! it's no use talking. I don't approve of the engagement; and never
He would snatch up his hat, and hurry off to Maggie to be soothed. His
father knew where he was gone without being told; and was jealous of her
influence over the son who had long been his first and paramount object in
He needed not have been jealous. However angry and indignant Frank was when
he went up to the moorland cottage, Maggie almost persuaded him, before
half an hour had elapsed, that his father was but unreasonable from his
extreme affection. Still she saw that such frequent differences would
weaken the bond between father and son; and, accordingly, she urged Frank
to accept an invitation into Scotland.
"You told me," said she, "that Mr. Buxton will have it, it is but a boy's
attachment; and that when you have seen other people, you will change your
mind; now do try how far you can stand the effects of absence." She said it
playfully, but he was in a humor to be vexed.
"What nonsense, Maggie! You don't care for all this delay yourself; and you
take up my father's bad reasons as if you believed them."
"I don't believe them; but still they may be true."
"How should you like it, Maggie, if I urged you to go about and see
something of society, and try if you could not find some one you liked
better? It is more probable in your case than in mine; for you have never
been from home, and I have been half over Europe."
"You are very much afraid, are not you, Frank?" said she, her face bright
with blushes, and her gray eyes smiling up at him. "I have a great idea
that if I could see that Harry Bish that Edward is always talking about, I
should be charmed. He must wear such beautiful waistcoats! Don't you think
I had better see him before our engagement is quite, quite final?"
But Frank would not smile. In fact, like all angry persons, he found fresh
matter for offence in every sentence. She did not consider the engagement
as quite final: thus he chose to understand her playful speech. He would
not answer. She spoke again:
"Dear Frank, you are not angry with me, are you? It is nonsense to think
that we are to go about the world, picking and choosing men and women as
if they were fruit and we were to gather the best; as if there was not
something in our own hearts which, if we listen to it conscientiously, will
tell us at once when we have met the one of all others. There now, am I
sensible? I suppose I am, for your grim features are relaxing into a smile.
That's right. But now listen to this. I think your father would come round
sooner, if he were not irritated every day by the knowledge of your visits
to me. If you went away, he would know that we should write to each other
yet he would forget the exact time when; but now he knows as well as I do
where you are when you are up here; and I fancy, from what Erminia says, it
makes him angry the whole time you are away."
Frank was silent. At last he said: "It is rather provoking to be obliged to
acknowledge that there is some truth in what you say. But even if I would,
I am not sure that I could go. My father does not speak to me about his
affairs, as he used to do; so I was rather surprised yesterday to hear him
say to Erminia (though I'm sure he meant the information for me), that he
had engaged an agent."
"Then there will be the less occasion for you to be at home. He won't want
your help in his accounts."
"I've given him little enough of that. I have long wanted him to have
somebody to look after his affairs. They are very complicated and he is
very careless. But I believe my signature will be wanted for some new
leases; at least he told me so."
"That need not take you long," said Maggie.
"Not the mere signing. But I want to know something more about the
property, and the proposed tenants. I believe this Mr. Henry that my father
has engaged, is a very hard sort of man. He is what is called scrupulously
honest and honorable; but I fear a little too much inclined to drive hard
bargains for his client. Now I want to be convinced to the contrary, if I
can, before I leave my father in his hands. So you cruel judge, you won't
transport me yet, will you?"
"No" said Maggie, overjoyed at her own decision, and blushing her delight
that her reason was convinced it was right for Frank to stay a little
The next day's post brought her a letter from Edward. There was not a word
in it about her inquiry or remonstrance; it might never have been written,
or never received; but a few hurried anxious lines, asking her to write by
return of post, and say if it was really true that Mr. Buxton had engaged
an agent. "It's a confounded shabby trick if he has, after what he said to
me long ago. I cannot tell you how much I depend on your complying with my
request. Once more, _write directly_. If Nancy cannot take the letter to
the post, run down to Combehurst with it yourself. I must have an answer
to-morrow, and every particular as to who--when to be appointed, &c. But I
can't believe the report to be true."
Maggie asked Frank if she might name what he had told her the day before to
her brother. He said:
"Oh, yes, certainly, if he cares to know. Of course, you will not say
anything about my own opinion of Mr. Henry. He is coming to-morrow, and I
shall be able to judge how far I am right."
The next day Mr. Henry came. He was a quiet, stern-looking man, of
considerable intelligence and refinement, and so much taste for music as to
charm Erminia, who had rather dreaded his visit. But all the amenities of
life were put aside when he entered Mr. Buxton's sanctum--his "office," as
he called the room where he received his tenants and business people. Frank
thought Mr. Henry was scarce commonly civil in the open evidence of his
surprise and contempt for the habits, of which the disorderly books and
ledgers were but too visible signs. Mr. Buxton himself felt more like a
school-boy, bringing up an imperfect lesson, than he had ever done since he
"The only wonder, my good sir, is that you have any property left; that you
have not been cheated out of every farthing."
"I'll answer for it," said Mr. Buxton, in reply, "that you'll not find any
cheating has been going on. They dared not, sir; they know I should make an
example of the first rogue I found out."
Mr. Henry lifted up his eyebrows, but did not speak.
"Besides, sir, most of these men have lived for generations under the
Buxtons. I'd give you my life, they would not cheat me."
Mr. Henry coldly said:
"I imagine a close examination of these books by some accountant will be
the best proof of the honesty of these said tenants. If you will allow me,
I will write to a clever fellow I know, and desire him to come down and try
and regulate this mass of papers."
"Anything--anything you like," said Mr. Buxton, only too glad to escape
from the lawyer's cold, contemptuous way of treating the subject.
The accountant came; and he and Mr. Henry were deeply engaged in the office
for several days. Mr. Buxton was bewildered by the questions they asked
him. Mr. Henry examined him in the worrying way in which an unwilling
witness is made to give evidence. Many a time and oft did he heartily wish
he had gone on in the old course to the end of his life, instead of putting
himself into an agent's hands; but he comforted himself by thinking that,
at any rate, they would be convinced he had never allowed himself to be
cheated or imposed upon, although he did not make any parade of exactitude.
What was his dismay when, one morning, Mr. Henry sent to request his
presence, and, with a cold, clear voice, read aloud an admirably drawn up
statement, informing the poor landlord of the defalcations, nay more, the
impositions of those whom he had trusted. If he had been alone, he would
have burst into tears, to find how his confidence had been abused. But as
it was, he became passionately angry.
"I'll prosecute them, sir. Not a man shall escape. I'll make them pay back
every farthing, I will. And damages, too. Crayston, did you say, sir? Was
that one of the names? Why, that is the very Crayston who was bailiff under
my father for years. The scoundrel! And I set him up in my best farm when
he married. And he's been swindling me, has he?"
Mr. Henry ran over the items of the account--"421_l_, 13_s_.
4-3/4_d_. Part of this I fear we cannot recover"----
He was going on, but Mr. Buxton broke in: "But I will recover it. I'll
have every farthing of it. I'll go to law with the viper. I don't care for
money, but I hate ingratitude."
"If you like, I will take counsel's opinion on the case," said Mr. Henry,
"Take anything you please, sir. Why this Crayston was the first man that
set me on a horse--and to think of his cheating me!"
A few days after this conversation, Frank came on his usual visit to
"Can you come up to the thorn-tree, dearest?" said he. "It is a lovely day,
and I want the solace of a quiet hour's talk with you."
So they went, and sat in silence some time, looking at the calm and still
blue air about the summits of the hills, where never tumult of the world
came to disturb the peace, and the quiet of whose heights was never broken
by the loud passionate cries of men.
"I am glad you like my thorn-tree," said Maggie.
"I like the view from it. The thought of the solitude which must be among
the hollows of those hills pleases me particularly to-day. Oh, Maggie! it
is one of the times when I get depressed about men and the world. We have
had such sorrow, and such revelations, and remorse, and passion at home
to-day. Crayston (my father's old tenant) has come over. It seems--I am
afraid there is no doubt of it--he has been peculating to a large amount.
My father has been too careless, and has placed his dependents in great
temptation; and Crayston--he is an old man, with a large extravagant
family--has yielded. He has been served with notice of my father's
intention to prosecute him; and came over to confess all, and ask for
forgiveness, and time to pay back what he could. A month ago, my father
would have listened to him, I think; but now, he is stung by Mr. Henry's
sayings, and gave way to a furious passion. It has been a most distressing
morning. The worst side of everybody seems to have come out. Even Crayston,
with all his penitence and appearance of candor, had to be questioned
closely by Mr. Henry before he would tell the whole truth. Good God! that
money should have such power to corrupt men. It was all for money, and
money's worth, that this degradation has taken place. As for Mr. Henry, to
save his client money, and to protect money, he does not care--he does
not even perceive--how he induces deterioration of character. He has
been encouraging my father in measures which I cannot call anything but
vindictive. Crayston is to be made an example of, they say. As if my father
had not half the sin on his own head! As if he had rightly discharged his
duties as a rich man! Money was as dross to him; but he ought to have
remembered how it might be as life itself to many, and be craved after, and
coveted, till the black longing got the better of principle, as it has done
with this poor Crayston. They say the man was once so truthful, and now his
self-respect is gone; and he has evidently lost the very nature of truth. I
dread riches. I dread the responsibility of them. At any rate, I wish I had
begun life as a poor boy, and worked my way up to competence. Then I could
understand and remember the temptations of poverty. I am afraid of my
own heart becoming hardened as my father's is. You have no notion of his
passionate severity to-day, Maggie! It was quite a new thing even to me!"
"It will only be for a short time," said she. "He must be much grieved
about this man."
"If I thought I could ever grow as hard and different to the abject
entreaties of a criminal as my father has been this morning--one whom he
has helped to make, too--I would go off to Australia at once. Indeed,
Maggie, I think it would be the best thing we could do. My heart aches
about the mysterious corruptions and evils of an old state of society such
as we have in England.--What do you say Maggie? Would you go?"
She was silent--thinking.
"I would go with you directly, if it were right," said she, at last. "But
would it be? I think it would be rather cowardly. I feel what you say; but
don't you think it would be braver to stay, and endure much depression and
anxiety of mind, for the sake of the good those always can do who see evils
clearly. I am speaking all this time as if neither you nor I had any home
duties, but were free to do as me liked."
"What can you or I do? We are less than drops in the ocean, as far as our
influence can go to model a nation?"
"As for that," said Maggie, laughing, "I can't remodel Nancy's
old-fashioned ways; so I've never yet planned how to remodel a nation."
"Then what did you mean by the good those always can do who see evils
clearly? The evils I see are those of a nation whose god is money."
"That is just because you have come away from a distressing scene.
To-morrow you will hear or read of some heroic action meeting with a
nation's sympathy, and you will rejoice and be proud of your country."
"Still I shall see the evils of her complex state of society keenly; and
where is the good I can do?"
"Oh! I can't tell in a minute. But cannot you bravely face these evils,
and learn their nature and causes; and then has God given you no powers to
apply to the discovery of their remedy? Dear Frank, think! It may be very
little you can do--and you may never see the effect of it, any more than
the widow saw the world-wide effect of her mite. Then if all the good and
thoughtful men run away from us to some new country, what are we to do with
our poor dear Old England?"
"Oh, you must run away with the good, thoughtful men--(I mean to consider
that as a compliment to myself, Maggie!) Will you let me wish I had been
born poor, if I am to stay in England? I should not then be liable to this
fault into which I see the rich men fall, of forgetting the trials of the
"I am not sure whether, if you had been poor, you might not have fallen
into an exactly parallel fault, and forgotten the trials of the rich. It is
so difficult to understand the errors into which their position makes all
men liable to fall. Do you remember a story in 'Evenings at Home,' called
the Transmigrations of Indra? Well! when I was a child, I used to wish I
might be transmigrated (is that the right word?) into an American
slave-owner for a little while, just that I might understand how he must
suffer, and be sorely puzzled, and pray and long to be freed from his
odious wealth, till at last he grew hardened to its nature;--and since
then, I have wished to be the Emperor of Russia, for the same reason. Ah!
you may laugh; but that is only because I have not explained myself
"I was only smiling to think how ambitious any one might suppose you were
who did not know you."
"I don't see any ambition in it--I don't think of the station--I only want
sorely to see the 'What's resisted' of Burns, in order that I may have more
charity for those who seem to me to have been the cause of such infinite
woe and misery."
"'What's done we partly may compute;
But know not what's resisted,'"
repeated Frank musingly. After some time he began again:
"But, Maggie, I don't give up this wish of mine to go to Australia--Canada,
if you like it better--anywhere where there is a newer and purer state of
"The great objection seems to be your duty, as an only child, to your
father. It is different to the case of one out of a large family."
"I wish I were one in twenty, then I might marry where I liked to-morrow."
"It would take two people's consent to such a rapid measure," said Maggie,
laughing. "But now I am going to wish a wish, which it won't require a
fairy godmother to gratify. Look, Frank, do you see in the middle of that
dark brown purple streak of moor a yellow gleam of light? It is a pond, I
think, that at this time of the year catches a slanting beam of the sun. It
cannot be very far off. I have wished to go to it every autumn. Will you go
with me now? We shall have time before tea."
Frank's dissatisfaction with the stern measures that, urged on by Mr.
Henry, his father took against all who had imposed upon his carelessness as
a landlord, increased rather than diminished. He spoke warmly to him on the
subject, but without avail. He remonstrated with Mr. Henry, and told him
how he felt that, had his father controlled his careless nature, and been
an exact, vigilant landlord, these tenantry would never have had the great
temptation to do him wrong; and that therefore he considered some allowance
should be made for them, and some opportunity given them to redeem their
characters, which would be blasted and hardened for ever by the publicity
of a law-suit. But Mr. Henry only raised his eyebrows and made answer:
"I like to see these notions in a young man, sir. I had them myself at your
age. I believe I had great ideas then, on the subject of temptation and
the force of circumstances; and was as Quixotic as any one about reforming
rogues. But my experience has convinced me that roguery is innate. Nothing
but outward force can control it, and keep it within bounds. The terrors of
the law must be that outward force. I admire your kindness of heart; and in
three-and-twenty we do not look for the wisdom and experience of forty or
Frank was indignant at being set aside as an unripe youth. He disapproved
so strongly of all these measures, and of so much that was now going on
at home under Mr. Henry's influence that he determined to pay his long
promised visit to Scotland; and Maggie, sad at heart to see how he was
suffering, encouraged him in his determination.
After he was gone, there came a November of the most dreary and
characteristic kind. There was incessant rain, and closing-in mists,
without a gleam of sunshine to light up the drops of water, and make the
wet stems and branches of the trees glisten. Every color seemed dimmed
and darkened; and the crisp autumnal glory of leaves fell soddened to the
ground. The latest flowers rotted away without ever coming to their bloom;
and it looked as if the heavy monotonous sky had drawn closer and closer,
and shut in the little moorland cottage as with a shroud. In doors, things
were no more cheerful. Maggie saw that her mother was depressed, and she
thought that Edward's extravagance must be the occasion. Oftentimes she
wondered how far she might speak on the subject; and once or twice she drew
near it in conversation; but her mother winced away, and Maggie could not
as yet see any decided good to be gained from encountering such pain. To
herself it would have been a relief to have known the truth--the worst,
as far as her mother knew it; but she was not in the habit of thinking of
herself. She only tried, by long tender attention, to cheer and comfort
her mother; and she and Nancy strove in every way to reduce the household
expenditure, for there was little ready money to meet it. Maggie wrote
regularly to Edward; but since the note inquiring about the agency, she had
never heard from him. Whether her mother received letters she did not know;
but at any rate she did not express anxiety, though her looks and manner
betrayed that she was ill at ease. It was almost a relief to Maggie when
some change was given to her thoughts by Nancy's becoming ill. The damp
gloomy weather brought on some kind of rheumatic attack, which obliged the
old servant to keep her bed. Formerly, in such an emergency, they would
have engaged some cottager's wife to come and do the house-work; but now it
seemed tacitly understood that they could not afford it. Even when Nancy
grew worse, and required attendance in the night, Maggie still persisted in
her daily occupations. She was wise enough to rest when and how she could;
and, with a little forethought, she hoped to be able to go through this
weary time without any bad effect. One morning (it was on the second of
December; and even the change of name in the month, although it brought no
change of circumstances or weather, was a relief--December brought glad
tidings even in its very name), one morning, dim and dreary, Maggie had
looked at the clock on leaving Nancy's room, and finding it was not yet
half-past five, and knowing that her mother and Nancy were both asleep, she
determined to lie down and rest for an hour before getting up to light the
fires. She did not mean to go to sleep; but she was tired out and fell into
a sound slumber. When she awoke it was with a start. It was still dark; but
she had a clear idea of being wakened by some distinct, rattling noise.
There it was once more--against the window, like a shower of shot. She
went to the lattice, and opened it to look out. She had that strange
consciousness, not to be described, of the near neighborhood of some human
creature, although she neither saw nor heard any one for the first instant.
Then Edward spoke in a hoarse whisper, right below the window, standing on
"Maggie! Maggie! Come down and let me in. For your life, don't make any
noise. No one must know."
Maggie turned sick. Something was wrong, evidently; and she was weak and
weary. However, she stole down the old creaking stairs, and undid the heavy
bolt, and let her brother in. She felt that his dress was quite wet, and
she led him, with cautious steps, into the kitchen, and shut the door, and
stirred the fire, before she spoke. He sank into a chair, as if worn out
with fatigue. She stood, expecting some explanation. But when she saw he
could not speak, she hastened to make him a cup of tea; and, stooping down,
took off his wet boots, and helped him off with his coat, and brought her
own plaid to wrap round him. All this time her heart sunk lower and lower.
He allowed her to do what she liked, as if he were an automaton; his head
and his arms hung loosely down, and his eyes were fixed, in a glaring way,
on the fire. When she brought him some tea, he spoke for the first time;
she could not hear what he said till he repeated it, so husky was his
"Have you no brandy?"
She had the key of the little wine-cellar, and fetched up some. But as she
took a tea-spoon to measure if out, he tremblingly clutched at the bottle,
and shook down a quantity into the empty tea-cup, and drank it off at one
gulp. He fell back again in his chair; but in a few minutes he roused
himself, and seemed stronger.
"Edward, dear Edward, what is the matter?" said Maggie, at last; for he got
up, and was staggering toward the outer door, as if he were going once more
into the rain, and dismal morning-twilight.
He looked at her fiercely as she laid her hand on his arm.
"Confound you! Don't touch me. I'll not be kept here, to be caught and
For an instant she thought he was mad.
"Caught and hung!" she echoed. "My poor Edward! what do you mean?"
He sat down suddenly on a chair, close by him, and covered his face with
his hands. When he spoke, his voice was feeble and imploring.
"The police are after me, Maggie! What must I do? Oh! can you hide me? Can
you save me?"
He looked wild, like a hunted creature. Maggie stood aghast. He went on:
"My mother!--Nancy! Where are they? I was wet through and starving, and I
came here. Don't let them take me, Maggie, till I'm stronger, and can give
"Oh! Edward! Edward! What are you saying?" said Maggie, sitting down on the
dresser, in absolute, bewildered despair. "What have you done?"
"I hardly know. I'm in a horrid dream. I see you think I'm mad. I wish I
were. Won't Nancy come down soon? You must hide me."
"Poor Nancy is ill in bed!" said Maggie.
"Thank God," said he. "There's one less. But my mother will be up soon,
will she not?"
"Not yet," replied Maggie. "Edward, dear, do try and tell me what you have
done. Why should the police be after you?"
"Why, Maggie," said he with a kind of forced, unnatural laugh, "they say
"And have you?" asked Maggie, in a still, low tone of quiet agony.
He did not answer for some time, but sat, looking on the floor with
unwinking eyes. At last he said, as if speaking to himself:
"If I have, it's no more than others have done before, and never been found
out. I was but borrowing money. I meant to repay it. If I had asked Mr.
Buxton, he would have lent it me."
"Mr. Buxton!" said Maggie.
"Yes!" answered he, looking sharply and suddenly up at her. "Your future
father-in-law. My father's old friend. It is he that is hunting me to
death! No need to look so white and horror-struck, Maggie! It's the way of
the world, as I might have known, if I had not been a blind fool."
"Mr. Buxton!" she whispered, faintly.
"Oh, Maggie!" said he, suddenly throwing himself at her feet, "save me! You
can do it. Write to Frank, and make him induce his father to let me off. I
came to see you, my sweet, merciful sister! I knew you would save me. Good
God! What noise is that? There are steps in the yard!"
And before she could speak, he had rushed into the little china closet,
which opened out of the parlor, and crouched down in the darkness. It was
only the man who brought their morning's supply of milk from a neighboring
farm. But when Maggie opened the kitchen door, she saw how the cold, pale
light of a winter's day had filled the air.
"You're late with your shutters to-day, miss," said the man. "I hope Nancy
has not been giving you all a bad night. Says I to Thomas, who came with me
to the gate, 'It's many a year since I saw them parlor shutters barred up
at half-past eight.'"
Maggie went, as soon as he was gone, and opened all the low windows, in
order that they might look as usual. She wondered at her own outward
composure, while she felt so dead and sick at heart. Her mother would
soon get up; must she be told? Edward spoke to her now and then from his
hiding-place. He dared not go back into the kitchen, into which the few
neighbors they had were apt to come, on their morning's way to Combehurst,
to ask if they could do any errands there for Mrs. Browne or Nancy. Perhaps
a quarter of an hour or so had elapsed since the first alarm, when, as
Maggie was trying to light the parlor fire, in order that the doctor, when
he came, might find all as usual, she heard the click of the garden gate,
and a man's step coming along the walk. She ran up stairs to wash away the
traces of the tears which had been streaming down her face as she went
about her work, before she opened the door. There, against the watery light
of the rainy day without, stood Mr. Buxton. He hardly spoke to her, but
pushed past her, and entered the parlor. He sat down, looking as if he did
not know what he was doing. Maggie tried to keep down her shivering alarm.
It was long since she had seen him; and the old idea of his kind, genial
disposition, had been sadly disturbed by what she had heard from Frank, of
his severe proceedings against his unworthy tenantry; and now, if he was
setting the police in search of Edward, he was indeed to be dreaded; and
with Edward so close at hand, within earshot! If the china fell! He would
suspect nothing from that; it would only be her own terror. If her mother
came down! But, with all these thoughts, she was very still, outwardly, as
she sat waiting for him to speak.
"Have you heard from your brother lately?" asked he, looking up in an angry
and disturbed manner. "But I'll answer for it he has not been writing home
for some time. He could not, with the guilt he has had on his mind. I'll
not believe in gratitude again. There perhaps was such a thing once; but
now-a-days the more you do for a person, the surer they are to turn against
you, and cheat you. Now, don't go white and pale. I know you're a good girl
in the main; and I've been lying awake all night, and I've a deal to say to
you. That scoundrel of a brother of yours!"
Maggie could not ask (as would have been natural, if she had been ignorant)
what Edward had done. She knew too well. But Mr. Buxton was too full of his
own thoughts and feelings to notice her much.
"Do you know he has been like the rest? Do you know he has been cheating
me--forging my name? I don't know what besides. It's well for him that
they've altered the laws, and he can't be hung for it" (a dead heavy weight
was removed from Maggie's mind), "but Mr. Henry is going to transport him.
It's worse than Crayston. Crayston only ploughed up the turf, and did not
pay rent, and sold the timber, thinking I should never miss it. But your
brother has gone and forged my name He had received all the purchase-money,
while he only gave me half, and said the rest was to come afterward. And
the ungrateful scoundrel has gone and given a forged receipt! You might
have knocked me down with a straw when Mr. Henry told me about it all last
night. 'Never talk to me of virtue and such humbug again,' I said, 'I'll
never believe in them. Every one is for what he can get.' However, Mr.
Henry wrote to the superintendent of police at Woodchester; and has gone
over himself this morning to see after it. But to think of your father
having such a son!"
"Oh my poor father!" sobbed out Maggie. "How glad I am you are dead before
this disgrace came upon us!"
"You may well say disgrace. You're a good girl yourself, Maggie. I have
always said that. How Edward has turned out as he has done, I cannot
conceive. But now, Maggie, I've something to say to you." He moved uneasily
about, as if he did not know how to begin. Maggie was standing leaning her
head against the chimney-piece, longing for her visitor to go, dreading the
next minute, and wishing to shrink into some dark corner of oblivion where
she might forget all for a time, till she regained a small portion of the
bodily strength that had been sorely tried of late. Mr. Buxton saw her
white look of anguish, and read it in part, but not wholly. He was too
intent on what he was going to say.
"I've been lying awake all night, thinking. You see the disgrace it is to
you, though you are innocent; and I'm sure you can't think of involving
Frank in it."
Maggie went to the little sofa, and, kneeling down by it, hid her face in
the cushions. He did not go on, for he thought she was not listening to
him. At last he said:
"Come now, be a sensible girl, and face it out. I've a plan to propose."
"I hear," said she, in a dull veiled voice.
"Why, you know how against this engagement I have always been. Frank is but
three-and-twenty, and does not know his own mind, as I tell him. Besides,
he might marry any one he chose."
"He has chosen me," murmured Maggie.
"Of course, of course. But you'll not think of keeping him to it, after
what has passed. You would not have such a fine fellow as Frank pointed at
as the brother-in-law of a forger, would you? It was far from what I wished
for him before; but now! Why you're glad your father is dead, rather than
he should have lived to see this day; and rightly too, I think. And you'll
not go and disgrace Frank. From what Mr. Henry hears, Edward has been a
discredit to you in many ways. Mr. Henry was at Woodchester yesterday, and
he says if Edward has been fairly entered as an attorney, his name may be
struck off the Rolls for many a thing he has done. Think of my Frank having
his bright name tarnished by any connection with such a man! Mr. Henry
says, even in a court of law what has come out about Edward would be excuse
enough for a breach of promise of marriage."
Maggie lifted up her wan face; the pupils of her eyes were dilated, her
lips were dead white. She looked straight at Mr. Buxton with indignant
"Mr. Henry! Mr. Henry! What has Mr. Henry to do with me?"
Mr. Buxton was staggered by the wild, imperious look, so new upon her mild,
sweet face. But he was resolute for Frank's sake, and returned to the
charge after a moment's pause.
"Mr. Henry is a good friend of mine, who has my interest at heart. He has
known what a subject of regret your engagement has been to me; though
really my repugnance to it was without cause formerly, compared to what it
is now. Now be reasonable, my dear. I'm willing to do something for you if
you will do something for me. You must see what a stop this sad affair has
put to any thoughts between you and Frank. And you must see what cause I
have to wish to punish Edward for his ungrateful behavior, to say nothing
of the forgery. Well now! I don't know what Mr. Henry will say to me, but
I have thought of this. If you'll write a letter to Frank, just saying
distinctly that, for reasons which must for ever remain a secret..."
"Remain a secret from Frank?" said Maggie, again lifting up her head.
"Why? my dear! You startle me with that manner of yours--just let me finish
out my sentence. If you'll say that, for reasons which must forever remain
a secret, you decidedly and unchangeably give up all connection, all
engagement with him (which, in fact, Edward's conduct has as good as put an
end to), I'll go over to Woodchester and tell Mr. Henry and the police that
they need not make further search after Edward, for that I won't appear
against him. You can save your brother; and you'll do yourself no harm by
writing this letter, for of course you see your engagement is broken off.
For you never would wish to disgrace Frank."
He paused, anxiously awaiting her reply. She did not speak.
"I'm sure, if I appear against him, he is as good as transported," he put
in, after a while.
Just at this time there was a little sound of displaced china in the
closet. Mr. Buxton did not attend to it, but Maggie heard it. She got up,
and stood quite calm before Mr. Buxton.
"You must go," said she. "I know you; and I know you are not aware of the
cruel way in which you have spoken to me, while asking me to give up the
very hope and marrow of my life"--she could not go on for a moment; she was
choked up with anguish.
"It was the truth, Maggie," said he, somewhat abashed.
"It was the truth that made the cruelty of it. But you did not mean to
speak cruelly to me, I know. Only it is hard all at once to be called upon
to face the shame and blasted character of one who was once an innocent
child at the same father's knee."
"I may have spoken too plainly," said Mr. Buxton, "but it was necessary
to set the plain truth before you, for my son's sake. You will write the
letter I ask?"
Her look was wandering and uncertain. Her attention was distracted by
sounds which to him had no meaning; and her judgment she felt was wavering
"I cannot tell. Give me time to think; you will do that, I'm sure. Go now,
and leave me alone. If it is right, God will give me strength to do it, and
perhaps He will comfort me in my desolation. But I do not know--I cannot
tell. I must have time to think. Go now, if you please, sir," said she,
"I am sure you will see it is a right thing I ask of you," he persisted.
"Go now," she repeated.
"Very well. In two hours, I will come back again; for your sake, time is
precious. Even while we speak he may be arrested. At eleven, I will come
He went away, leaving her sick and dizzy with the effort to be calm and
collected enough to think. She had forgotten for the moment how near Edward
was; and started when she saw the closet-door open, and his face put out.
"Is he gone? I thought he never would go. What a time you kept him, Maggie!
I was so afraid, once, you might sit down to write the letter in this room;
and then I knew he would stop and worry you with interruptions and advice,
so that it would never be ended; and my back was almost broken. But you
sent him off famously. Why, Maggie! Maggie!--you're not going to faint,
His sudden burst out of a whisper into a loud exclamation of surprise,
made her rally; but she could not stand. She tried to smile, for he really
"I have been sitting up for many nights--and now this sorrow!" Her smile
died away into a wailing, feeble cry.
"Well, well! it's over now, you see. I was frightened enough myself this
morning, I own; and then you were brave and kind. But I knew you could save
me, all along."
At this moment the door opened, and Mrs. Browne came in.
"Why, Edward, dear! who would have thought of seeing you! This is good of
you; what a pleasant surprise! I often said, you might come over for a day
from Woodchester. What's the matter, Maggie, you look so fagged? She's
losing all her beauty, is not she, Edward? Where's breakfast? I thought I
should find all ready. What's the matter? Why don't you speak?" said she,
growing anxious at their silence. Maggie left the explanation to Edward.
"Mother," said he, "I've been rather a naughty boy, and got into some
trouble; but Maggie is going to help me out of it, like a good sister."
"What is it?" said Mrs. Browne, looking bewildered and uneasy.
"Oh--I took a little liberty with our friend Mr. Buxton's name; and wrote
it down to a receipt--that was all."
Mrs. Browne's face showed that the light came but slowly into her mind.
"But that's forgery--is not it?" asked she at length, in terror.
"People call it so," said Edward; "I call it borrowing from an old friend,
who was always willing to lend."
"Does he know?--is he angry?" asked Mrs. Browne.
"Yes, he knows; and he blusters a deal. He was working himself up grandly
at first. Maggie! I was getting rarely frightened, I can tell you."
"Has he been here?" said Mrs. Browne, in bewildered fright.
"Oh, yes! he and Maggie have been having a long talk, while I was hid in
the china-closet. I would not go over that half-hour again for any money.
However, he and Maggie came to terms, at last."
"No, Edward, we did not!" said Maggie, in a low quivering voice.
"Very nearly. She's to give up her engagement, and then he will let me
"Do you mean that Maggie is to give up her engagement to Mr. Frank Buxton?"
asked his mother.
"Yes. It would never have come to anything, one might see that. Old Buxton
would have held out against it till doomsday. And, sooner or later, Frank
would have grown weary. If Maggie had had any spirit, she might have worked
him up to marry her before now; and then I should have been spared even
this fright, for they would never have set the police after Mrs. Frank
"Why, dearest, Edward, the police are not after you, are they?" said Mrs.
Browne, for the first time alive to the urgency of the case.
"I believe they are though," said Edward. "But after what Mr. Buxton
promised this morning, it does not signify."
"He did not promise anything," said Maggie.
Edward turned sharply to her, and looked at her. Then he went and took hold
of her wrists with no gentle grasp, and spoke to her through his set teeth.
"What do you mean, Maggie?--what do you mean?" (giving her a little shake.)
"Do you mean that you'll stick to your lover through thick and thin, and
leave your brother to be transported? Speak, can't you?"
She looked up at him, and tried to speak, but no words came out of her dry
throat. At last she made a strong effort.
"You must give me time to think. I will do what is right, by God's help."
"As if it was not right--and such can't--to save your brother," said he,
throwing her hands away in a passionate manner.
"I must be alone," said Maggie, rising, and trying to stand steadily in the
reeling room. She heard her mother and Edward speaking, but their words
gave her no meaning, and she went out. She was leaving the house by the
kitchen-door, when she remembered Nancy, left alone and helpless all
through this long morning; and, ill as she could endure detention from the
solitude she longed to seek, she patiently fulfilled her small duties, and
sought out some breakfast for the poor old woman.
When she carried it up stairs, Nancy said:
"There's something up. You've trouble in your sweet face, my darling. Never
mind telling me--only don't sob so. I'll pray for you, bairn: and God will
"Thank you, Nancy. Do!" and she left the room.
When she opened the kitchen-door there was the same small, mizzling rain
that had obscured the light for weeks, and now it seemed to obscure hope.
She clambered slowly (for indeed she was very feeble) up the Fell-Lane,
and threw herself under the leafless thorn, every small branch and twig
of which was loaded with rain-drops. She did not see the well-beloved
and familiar landscape for her tears, and did not miss the hills in the
distance that were hidden behind the rain-clouds, and sweeping showers.
Mrs. Browne and Edward sat over the fire. He told her his own story; making
the temptation strong; the crime a mere trifling, venial error, which he
had been led into, through his idea that he was to become Mr. Buxton's
"But if it is only that," said Mrs. Browne, "surely Mr. Buxton will not
think of going to law with you?"
"It's not merely going to law that he will think of, but trying and
transporting me. That Henry he has got for his agent is as sharp as a
needle, and as hard as a nether mill-stone. And the fellow has obtained
such a hold over Mr. Buxton, that he dare but do what he tells him. I can't
imagine how he had so much free-will left as to come with his proposal to
Maggie; unless, indeed, Henry knows of it--or, what is most likely of all,
has put him up to it. Between them they have given that poor fool Crayston
a pretty dose of it; and I should have come yet worse off if it had not
been for Maggie. Let me get clear this time, and I will keep to windward of
the law for the future."
"If we sold the cottage we could repay it," said Mrs. Browne, meditating.
"Maggie and I could live on very little. But you see this property is held
in trust for you two."
"Nay, mother; you must not talk of repaying it. Depend upon it he will be
so glad to have Frank free from his engagement, that he won't think of
asking for the money. And if Mr. Henry says anything about it, we can tell
him it's not half the damages they would have had to have given Maggie, if
Frank had been extricated in any other way. I wish she would come back; I
would prime her a little as to what to say. Keep a look out, mother, lest
Mr. Buxton returns and find me here."
"I wish Maggie would come in too," said Mrs. Browne. "I'm afraid she'll
catch cold this damp day, and then I shall have two to nurse. You think
she'll give it up, don't you, Edward? If she does not I'm afraid of harm
coming to you. Had you not better keep out of the way?"
"It's fine talking. Where am I to go out of sight of the police this wet
day: without a shilling in the world too? If you'll give me some money I'll
be off fast enough, and make assurance doubly sure. I'm not much afraid of
Maggie. She's a little yea-nay thing, and I can always bend her round to
what we want. She had better take care, too," said he, with a desperate
look on his face, "for by G---- I'll make her give up all thoughts of
Frank, rather than be taken and tried. Why! it's my chance for all my life;
and do you think I'll have it frustrated for a girl's whim?"
"I think it's rather hard upon her too," pleaded his mother. "She's very
fond of him; and it would have been such a good match for her."
"Pooh! she's not nineteen yet, and has plenty of time before her to pick
up somebody else; while, don't you see, if I'm caught and transported, I'm
done for life. Besides I've a notion Frank had already begun to be tired of
the affair; it would have been broken off in a month or two, without her
gaining anything by it."
"Well, if you think so," replied Mrs. Browne. "But I'm sorry for her. I
always told her she was foolish to think so much about him: but I know
she'll fret a deal if it's given up."
"Oh! she'll soon comfort herself with thinking that she has saved me. I
wish she'd come. It must be near eleven. I do wish she would come. Hark! is
not that the kitchen-door?" said he, turning white, and betaking himself
once more to the china-closet. He held it ajar till he heard Maggie
stepping softly and slowly across the floor. She opened the parlor-door;
and stood looking in, with the strange imperceptive gaze of a sleep-walker.
Then she roused herself and saw that he was not there; so she came in a
step or two, and sat down in her dripping cloak on a chair near the door.
Edward returned, bold now there was no danger.
"Maggie!" said he, "what have you fixed to say to Mr. Burton?"
She sighed deeply; and then lifted up her large innocent eyes to his face.
"I cannot give up Frank," said she, in a low, quiet voice.
Mrs. Browne threw up her hands and exclaimed in terror:
"Oh Edward, Edward! go away--I will give you all the plate I have; you can
sell it--my darling, go!"
"Not till I have brought Maggie to reason," said he, in a manner as quiet
as her own, but with a subdued ferocity in it, which she saw, but which did
not intimidate her.
He went up to her, and spoke below his breath.
"Maggie, we were children together--we two--brother and sister of one
blood! Do you give me up to be put in prison--in the hulks--among the
basest of criminals--I don't know where--all for the sake of your own
She trembled very much; but did not speak or cry, or make any noise.
"You were always selfish. You always thought of yourself. But this time
I did think you would have shown how different you could be. But it's
self--self--paramount above all."
"Oh Maggie! how can you be so hard-hearted and selfish?" echoed Mrs.
Browne, crying and sobbing.
"Mother!" said Maggie, "I know that I think too often and too much of
myself. But this time I thought only of Frank. He loves me; it would break
his heart if I wrote as Mr. Buxton wishes, cutting our lives asunder, and
giving no reason for it."
"He loves you so!" said Edward, tauntingly. "A man's love break his
heart! You've got some pretty notions! Who told you that he loved you so
desperately? How do you know it?"
"Because I love him so," said she, in a quiet, earnest voice. "I do not
know of any other reason; but that is quite sufficient to me. I believe
him when he says he loves me; and I have no right to cause him the
infinite--the terrible pain, which my own heart tells me he would feel, if
I did what Mr. Buxton wishes me."
Her manner was so simple and utterly truthful, that it was as quiet and
fearless as a child's; her brother's fierce looks of anger had no power
over her; and his blustering died away before her into something of the
frightened cowardliness he had shown in the morning. But Mrs. Browne came
up to Maggie; and took her hand between both of hers, which were trembling.
"Maggie, you can save Edward. I know I have not loved you as I should have
done; but I will love and comfort you forever, if you will but write as Mr.
Buxton says. Think! Perhaps Mr. Frank may not take you at your word, but
may come over and see you, and all may be right, and yet Edward may be
saved. It is only writing this letter; you need not stick to it."
"No!" said Edward. "A signature, if you can prove compulsion, is not valid.
We will all prove that you write this letter under compulsion; and if Frank
loves you so desperately, he won't give you up without a trial to make you
change your mind."
"No!" said Maggie, firmly. "If I write the letter I abide by it. I will not
quibble with my conscience. Edward! I will not marry--I will go and live
near you, and come to you whenever I may--and give up my life to you if you
are sent to prison; my mother and I will go, if need be--I do not know yet
what I can do, or cannot do, for you, but all I can I will; but this one
thing I cannot."
"Then I'm off!" said Edward. "On your deathbed may you remember this hour,
and how you denied your only brother's request. May you ask my forgiveness
with your dying breath, and may I be there to deny it you."
"Wait a minute!" said Maggie, springing up, rapidly. "Edward, don't curse
me with such terrible words till all is done. Mother, I implore you to keep
him here. Hide him--do what you can to conceal him. I will have one more
trial." She snatched up her bonnet, and was gone, before they had time to
think or speak to arrest her.
On she flew along the Combehurst road. As she went, the tears fell like
rain down her face, and she talked to herself.
"He should not have said so. No! he should not have said so. We were the
only two." But still she pressed on, over the thick, wet, brown heather.
She saw Mr. Buxton coming; and she went still quicker. The rain had cleared
off, and a yellow watery gleam of sunshine was struggling out. She stopped
or he would have passed her unheeded; little expecting to meet her there.
"I wanted to see you," said she, all at once resuming her composure, and
almost assuming a dignified manner. "You must not go down to our house; we
have sorrow enough there. Come under these fir-trees, and let me speak to
"I hope you have thought of what I said, and are willing to do what I asked
"No!" said she. "I have thought and thought. I did not think in a selfish
spirit, though they say I did. I prayed first. I could not do that
earnestly, and be selfish, I think. I cannot give up Frank. I know the
disgrace; and if he, knowing all, thinks fit to give me up, I shall never
say a word, but bow my head, and try and live out my appointed days quietly
and cheerfully. But he is the judge, not you; nor have I any right to do
what you ask me." She stopped, because the agitation took away her breath.
He began in a cold manner:--"I am very sorry. The law must take its course.
I would have saved my son from the pain of all this knowledge, and that
which he will of course feel in the necessity of giving up his engagement.
I would have refused to appear against your brother, shamefully ungrateful
as he has been. Now you cannot wonder that I act according to my agent's
advice, and prosecute your brother as if he were a stranger."
He turned to go away. He was so cold and determined that for a moment
Maggie was timid. But she then laid her hand on his arm.
"Mr. Buxton," said she, "you will not do what you threaten. I know you
better. Think! My father was your old friend. That claim is, perhaps, done
away with by Edward's conduct. But I do not believe you can forget it
always. If you did fulfill the menace you uttered just now, there would
come times as you grew older, and life grew fainter and fainter before
you--quiet times of thought, when you remembered the days of your youth,
and the friends you then had and knew;--you would recollect that one of
them had left an only son, who had done wrong--who had sinned--sinned
against you in his weakness--and you would think then--you could not help
it--how you had forgotten mercy in justice--and, as justice required he
should be treated as a felon, you threw him among felons--where every
glimmering of goodness was darkened for ever. Edward is, after all, more
weak than wicked;--but he will become wicked if you put him in prison,
and have him transported. God is merciful--we cannot tell or think
how merciful. Oh, sir, I am so sure you will be merciful, and give my
brother--my poor sinning brother--a chance, that I will tell you all. I
will throw myself upon your pity. Edward is even now at home--miserable
and desperate;--my mother is too much stunned to understand all our
wretchedness--for very wretched we are in our shame."
As she spoke the wind arose and shivered in the wiry leaves of the
fir-trees, and there was a moaning sound as of some Ariel imprisoned in the
thick branches that, tangled overhead, made a shelter for them. Either the
noise or Mr. Buxton's fancy called up an echo to Maggie's voice--a pleading
with her pleading--a sad tone of regret, distinct yet blending with her
speech, and a falling, dying sound, as her voice died away in miserable
It might be that, formed as she was by Mrs. Buxton's care and love, her
accents and words were such as that lady, now at rest from all sorrow,
would have used;--somehow, at any rate, the thought flashed into Mr.
Buxton's mind, that as Maggie spoke, his dead wife's voice was heard,
imploring mercy in a clear, distinct tone, though faint, as if separated
from him by an infinite distance of space. At least, this is the account
Mr. Buxton would have given of the manner in which the idea of his wife
became present to him, and what she would have wished him to do a powerful
motive in his conduct. Words of hers, long ago spoken, and merciful,
forgiving expressions made use of in former days to soften him in some
angry mood, were clearly remembered while Maggie spoke; and their influence
was perceptible in the change of his tone, and the wavering of his manner
"And yet you will not save Frank from being involved in your disgrace,"
said he; but more as if weighing and deliberating on the case than he had
ever spoken before.
"If Frank wishes it, I will quietly withdraw myself out of his sight
forever;--I give you my promise, before God, to do so. I shall not utter
one word of entreaty or complaint. I will try not to wonder or feel
surprise;--I will bless him in every action of his future life--but think
how different would be the disgrace he would voluntarily incur to my poor
mother's shame, when she wakens up to know what her child has done! Her
very torper about it now is more painful than words can tell."
"What could Edward do?" asked Mr. Buxton. "Mr. Henry won't hear of my
passing over any frauds."
"Oh, you relent!" said Maggie, taking his hand, and pressing it. "What
could he do? He could do the same, whatever it was, as you thought of his
doing, if I had written that terrible letter."
"And you'll be willing to give it up, if Frank wishes, when he knows all?"
asked Mr. Buxton.
She crossed her hands and drooped her head, but answered steadily.
"Whatever Frank wishes, when he knows all, I will gladly do. I will speak
the truth. I do not believe that any shame surrounding me, and not in me,
will alter Frank's love one title."
"We shall see," said Mr. Buxton. "But what I thought of Edward's doing, in
case--Well never mind! (seeing how she shrunk back from all mention of the
letter he had asked her to write,)--was to go to America, out of the way.
Then Mr. Henry would think he had escaped, and need never be told of my
coenivance. I think he would throw up the agency, if he were; and he's a
very clever man. If Ned is in England, Mr. Henry will ferret him out. And,
besides, this affair is so blown, I don't think he could return to his
profession. What do you say to this, Maggie?"
"I will tell my mother. I must ask her. To me it seems most desirable.
Only, I fear he is very ill; and it seems lonely; but never mind! We ought
to be thankful to you forever. I cannot tell you how I hope and trust he
will live to show you what your goodness has made him."
"But you must lose no time. If Mr. Henry traces him; I can't answer for
myself. I shall have no good reason to give, as I should have had, if I
could have told him that Frank and you were to be as strangers to each
other. And even then I should have been afraid, he is such a determined
fellow; but uncommonly clever. Stay!" said he, yielding to a sudden and
inexplicable desire to see Edward, and discover if his criminality had in
any way changed his outward appearance. "I'll go with you. I can hasten
things. If Edward goes, he must be off, as soon as possible, to Liverpool,
and leave no trace. The next packet sails the day after to-morrow. I noted
it down from the _Times_."
Maggie and he sped along the road. He spoke his thoughts aloud:
"I wonder if he will be grateful to me for this. Not that I ever mean to
look for gratitude again. I mean to try, not to care for anybody but Frank.
'Govern men by outward force,' says Mr. Henry. He is an uncommonly clever
man, and he says, the longer he lives, the more he is convinced of the
badness of men. He always looks for it now, even in those who are the best,
Maggie was too anxious to answer, or even to attend to him. At the top of
the slope she asked him to wait while she ran down and told the result of
her conversation with him. Her mother was alone, looking white and sick.
She told her that Edward had gone into the hay-loft, above the old, disused
Maggie related the substance of her interview with Mr. Buxton, and his wish
that Edward should go to America.
"To America!" said Mrs. Browne. "Why that's as far as Botany Bay. It's just
like transporting him. I thought you'd done something for us, you looked so
"Dearest mother, it _is_ something. He is not to be subjected to
imprisonment or trial. I must go and tell him, only I must beckon to Mr.
Buxton first. But when he comes, do show him how thankful we are for his
mercy to Edward."
Mrs. Browne's murmurings, whatever was their meaning, were lost upon
Maggie. She ran through the court, and up the slope, with the lightness of
a lawn; for though she was tired in body to an excess she had never been
before in her life, the opening beam of hope in the dark sky made her
spirit conquer her flesh for the time.
She did not stop to speak, but turned again as soon as she had signed to
Mr. Buxton to follow her. She left the house-door open for his entrance,
and passed out again through the kitchen into the space behind, which was
partly an uninclosed yard, and partly rocky common. She ran across the
little green to the shippon, and mounted the ladder into the dimly-lighted
loft. Up in a dark corner Edward stood, with an old rake in his hand.
"I thought it was you, Maggie!" said he, heaving a deep breath of relief.
"What have you done? Have you agreed to write the letter? You've done
something for me, I see by your looks."
"Yes! I have told Mr. Buxton all. He is waiting for you in the parlor. Oh!
I knew he could not be so hard!" She was out of breath.
"I don't understand you!" said he. "You've never been such a fool as to go
and tell him where I am?"
"Yes, I have. I felt I might trust him. He has promised not to prosecute
you. The worst is, he says you must go to America. But come down, Ned, and
speak to him. You owe him thanks, and he wants to see you."
"I can't go through a scene. I'm not up to it. Besides, are you sure he is
not entrapping me to the police? If I had a farthing of money I would not
trust him, but be off to the moors."
"Oh, Edward! How do you think he would do anything so treacherous and mean?
I beg you not to lose time in distrust. He says himself, if Mr. Henry comes
before you are off, he does not know what will be the consequence. The
packet sails for America in two days. It is sad for you to have to go.
Perhaps even yet he may think of something better, though I don't know how
we can ask or expect it."
"I don't want anything better," replied he, "than that I should have money
enough to carry me to America. I'm in more scrapes than this (though none
so bad) in England; and in America there's many an opening to fortune." He
followed her down the steps while he spoke. Once in the yellow light of the
watery day, she was struck by his ghastly look. Sharp lines of suspicion
and cunning seemed to have been stamped upon his face, making it look
older by many years than his age warranted. His jaunty evening dress,
all weather-stained and dirty, added to his forlorn and disreputable
appearance; but most of all--deepest of all--was the impression she
received that he was not long for this world; and oh! how unfit for the
next! Still, if time was given--if he were placed far away from temptation,
she thought that her father's son might yet repent, and be saved. She took
his hand, for he was hanging back as they came near the parlor-door, and
led him in. She looked like some guardian angel, with her face that beamed
out trust, and hope, and thankfulness. He, on the contrary, hung his head
in angry, awkward shame; and half wished he had trusted to his own wits,
and tried to evade the police, rather than have been forced into this
His mother came to him; for she loved him all the more fondly, now he
seemed degraded and friendless. She could not, or would not, comprehend the
extent of his guilt; and had upbraided Mr. Buxton to the top of her bent
for thinking of sending him away to America. There was a silence when he
came in which was insupportable to him. He looked up with clouded eyes,
that dared not meet Mr. Buxton's.
"I am here, sir, to learn what you wish me to do. Maggie says I am to go to
America; if that is where you want to send me, I'm ready."
Mr. Buxton wished himself away as heartily as Edward. Mrs. Browne's
upbraidings, just when he felt that he had done a kind action, and yielded,
against his judgment, to Maggie's entreaties, had made him think himself
very ill used. And now here was Edward speaking in a sullen, savage kind
of way, instead of showing any gratitude. The idea of Mr. Henry's stern
displeasure loomed in the background.
"Yes!" said he, "I'm glad to find you come into the idea of going to
America. It's the only place for you. The sooner you can go, and the
"I can't go without money," said Edward, doggedly. "If I had had money, I
need not have come here."
"Oh, Ned! would you have gone without seeing me?" said Mrs. Browne,
bursting into tears. "Mr. Buxton, I cannot let him go to America. Look how
ill he is. He'll die if you send him there."
"Mother, don't give way so," said Edward, kindly, taking her hand. "I'm
not ill, at least not to signify. Mr. Buxton is right: America is the only
place for me. To tell the truth, even if Mr. Buxton is good enough" (he
said this as if unwilling to express any word of thankfulness) "not to
prosecute me, there are others who may--and will. I'm safer out of the
country. Give me money enough to get to Liverpool and pay my passage, and
I'll be off this minute."
"You shall not," said Mrs. Browne, holding him tightly. "You told me this
morning you were led into temptation, and went wrong because you had no
comfortable home, nor any one to care for you, and make you happy. It will
be worse in America. You'll get wrong again, and be away from all who can
help you. Or you'll die all by yourself, in some backwood or other. Maggie!
you might speak and help me--how can you stand so still, and let him go to
America without a word!"
Maggie looked up bright and steadfast, as if she saw something beyond the
material present. Here was the opportunity for self-sacrifice of which Mrs.
Buxton had spoken to her in her childish days--the time which comes to
all, but comes unheeded and unseen to those whose eyes are not trained to
"Mother! could you do without me for a time? If you could, and it would
make you easier, and help Edward to"--The word on her lips died away; for
it seemed to imply a reproach on one who stood in his shame among them all.
"You would go!" said Mrs. Browne, catching at the unfinished sentence. "Oh!
Maggie, that's the best thing you've ever said or done since you were born.
Edward, would not you like to have Maggie with you?"
"Yes," said he, "well enough. It would be far better for me than going all
alone; though I dare say I could make my way pretty well after a time. If
she went, she might stay till I felt settled, and had made some friends,
and then she could come back."
Mr. Buxton was astonished at first by this proposal of Maggie's. He could
not all at once understand the difference between what she now offered to
do, and what he had urged upon her only this very morning. But as he
thought about it, he perceived that what was her own she was willing to
sacrifice; but that Frank's heart, once given into her faithful keeping,
she was answerable for it to him and to God. This light came down upon him
slowly; but when he understood, he admired with almost a wondering
admiration. That little timid girl brave enough to cross the ocean and go
to a foreign land, if she could only help to save her brother!
"I'm sure Maggie," said he, turning towards her, "you are a good,
thoughtful little creature. It may be the saving of Edward--I believe it
will. I think God will bless you for being so devoted."
"The expense will be doubled," said Edward.
"My dear boy! never mind the money. I can get it advanced upon this
"As for that, I'll advance it," said Mr. Buxton.
"Could we not," said Maggie, hesitating from her want of knowledge, "make
over the furniture--papa's books, and what little plate we have, to Mr.
Buxton--something like pawning them--if he would advance the requisite
money? He, strange as it may seem, is the only person you can ask in this
And so it was arranged, after some demur on Mr. Buxton's part. But Maggie
kept steadily to her point as soon as she found that it was attainable; and
Mrs. Browne was equally inflexible, though from a different feeling. She
regarded Mr. Buxton as the cause of her son's banishment, and refused to
accept of any favor from him. If there had been time, indeed, she would
have preferred obtaining the money in the same manner from any one else.
Edward brightened up a little when he heard the sum could be procured; he
was almost indifferent how; and, strangely callous, as Maggie thought,
he even proposed to draw up a legal form of assignment. Mr. Buxton only
thought of hurrying on the departure; but he could not refrain from
expressing his approval and admiration of Maggie whenever he came near her.
Before he went, he called her aside.
"My dear, I'm not sure if Frank can do better than marry you, after all.
Mind! I've not given it as much thought as I should like. But if you come
back as we plan, next autumn, and he is steady to you till then--and Edward
is going on well--(if he can but keep good, he'll do, for he is very
sharp--yon is a knowing paper he drew up)--why, I'll think about it. Only
let Frank see a bit of the world first. I'd rather you did not tell him
I've any thoughts of coming round, that he may have a fair trial; and I'll
keep it from Erminia if I can, or she will let it all out to him. I shall
see you to-morrow at the coach. God bless you, my girl, and keep you on the
great wide sea." He was absolutely in tears when he went away--tears of
admiring regret over Maggie.
The more Maggie thought, the more she felt sure that the impulse on which
she had acted in proposing to go with her brother was right. She feared
there was little hope for his character, whatever there might be for his
worldly fortune, if he were thrown, in the condition of mind in which he
was now, among the set of adventurous men who are continually going over to
America in search of an El Dorado to be discovered by their wits. She knew
she had but little influence over him at present; but she would not doubt
or waver in her hope that patience and love might work him right at last.
She meant to get some employment--in teaching--in needlework--in a shop--no
matter how humble--and be no burden to him, and make him a happy home, from
which he should feel no wish to wander. Her chief anxiety was about her
mother. She did not dwell more than she could help on her long absence from
Frank; it was too sad, and yet too necessary. She meant to write and tell
him all about herself and Edward. The only thing which she would keep for
some happy future should be the possible revelation of the proposal which
Mr. Buxton had made, that she should give up her engagement as a condition
of his not prosecuting Edward.
There was much sorrowful bustle in the moorland cottage that day. Erminia
brought up a portion of the money Mr. Buxton was to advance, with an
entreaty that Edward would not show himself out of his home; and an account
of a letter from Mr. Henry, stating that the Woodchester police believed
him to be in London, and that search was being made for him there.
Erminia looked very grave and pale. She gave her message to Mrs. Browne,
speaking little beyond what was absolutely necessary. Then she took Maggie
aside, and suddenly burst into tears.
"Maggie, darling--what is this going to America? You've always and always
been sacrificing yourself to your family, and now you're setting off,
nobody knows where, in some vain hope of reforming Edward. I wish he was
not your brother, that I might speak of him as I should like."
"He has been doing what is very wrong," said Maggie. "But you--none of
you--know his good points--nor how he has been exposed to all sorts of bad
influences, I am sure; and never had the advantage of a father's training
and friendship, which are so inestimable to a son. O, Minnie! when I
remember how we two used to kneel down in the evenings at my father's knee,
and say our prayers; and then listen in awe-struck silence to his earnest
blessing, which grew more like a prayer for us as his life waned away,
I would do anything for Edward rather than that wrestling agony of
supplication should have been in vain. I think of him as the little
innocent boy, whose arm was round me as if to support me in the Awful
Presence, whose true name of Love we had not learned. Minnie! he has had
no proper training--no training, I mean, to enable him to resist
temptation--and he has been thrown into it without warning or advice. Now
he knows what it is; and I must try, though I am but an unknowing girl, to
warn and to strengthen him. Don't weaken my faith. Who can do right if we
lose faith in them?"
"And Frank!" said Erminia, after a pause. "Poor Frank!"
"Dear Frank!" replied Maggie, looking up, and trying to smile; but, in
spite of herself, her eyes filled with tears. "If I could have asked him,
I know he would approve of what I am going to do. He would feel it to be
right that I should make every effort--I don't mean," said she, as the
tears would fall down her cheeks in spite of her quivering effort at a
smile, "that I should not have liked to have seen him. But it is no use
talking of what one would have liked. I am writing a long letter to him at
every pause of leisure."
"And I'm keeping you all this time," said Erminia, getting up, yet loth to
go. "When do you intend to come back? Let us feel there is a fixed time.
America! Why, it's thousands of miles away. Oh, Maggie! Maggie!"
"I shall come back the next autumn, I trust," said Maggie, comforting her
friend with many a soft caress. "Edward will be settled then, I hope. You
were longer in France, Minnie. Frank was longer away that time he wintered
in Italy with Mr. Monro."
Erminia went slowly to the door. Then she turned, right facing Maggie.
"Maggie! tell the truth. Has my uncle been urging you to go? Because if he
has, don't trust him; it is only to break off your engagement."
"No, he has not, indeed. It was my own thought at first. Then in a moment I
saw the relief it was to my mother--my poor mother! Erminia, the thought
of her grief at Edward's absence is the trial; for my sake, you will come
often and often, and comfort her in every way you can."
"Yes! that I will; tell me everything I can do for you." Kissing each
other, with long lingering delay they parted.
Nancy would be informed of the cause of the commotion in the house; and
when she had in some degree ascertained its nature, she wasted no time
in asking further questions, but quietly got up and dressed herself;
and appeared among them, weak and trembling, indeed, but so calm and
thoughtful, that her presence was an infinite help to Maggie.
When day closed in, Edward stole down to the house once more. He was
haggard enough to have been in anxiety and concealment for a month. But
when his body was refreshed, his spirits rose in a way inconceivable to
Maggie. The Spaniards who went out with Pizarro were not lured on by more
fantastic notions of the wealth to be acquired in the New World than he
was. He dwelt on these visions in so brisk and vivid a manner, that he even
made his mother cease her weary weeping (which had lasted the livelong day,
despite all Maggie's efforts) to look up and listen to him.
"I'll answer for it," said he: "before long I'll be an American judge with
miles of cotton plantations."
"But in America," sighed out his mother.
"Never mind, mother!" said he, with a tenderness which made Maggie's heart
glad. "If you won't come over to America to me, why, I'll sell them all,
and come back to live in England. People will forget the scrapes that the
rich American got into in his youth."
"You can pay back Mr. Buxton then," said his mother.
"Oh, yes--of course," replied he, as if falling into a new and trivial
Thus the evening whiled away. The mother and son sat, hand in hand, before
the little glinting blazing parlor fire, with the unlighted candles on the
table behind. Maggie, busy in preparations, passed softly in and out. And
when all was done that could be done before going to Liverpool, where she
hoped to have two days to prepare their outfit more completely, she stole
back to her mother's side. But her thoughts would wander off to Frank,
"working his way south through all the hunting-counties," as he had written
her word. If she had not urged his absence, he would have been here for her
to see his noble face once more; but then, perhaps, she might never have
had the strength to go.
Late, late in the night they separated. Maggie could not rest, and stole
into her mother's room. Mrs. Browne had cried herself to sleep, like a
child. Maggie stood and looked at her face, and then knelt down by the bed
and prayed. When she arose, she saw that her mother was awake, and had been
looking at her.
"Maggie dear! you're a good girl, and I think God will hear your prayer
whatever it was for. I cannot tell you what a relief it is to me to
think you're going with him. It would have broken my heart else. If I've
sometimes not been as kind as I might have been, I ask your forgiveness,
now, my dear; and I bless you and thank you for going out with him; for I'm
sure he's not well and strong, and will need somebody to take care of him.
And you shan't lose with Mr. Frank, for as sure as I see him I'll tell him
what a good daughter and sister you've been; and I shall say, for all he is
so rich, I think he may look long before he finds a wife for him like our
Maggie. I do wish Ned had got that new greatcoat, he says he left behind
him at Woodchester." Her mind reverted to her darling son; but Maggie took
her short slumber by her mother's side, with her mother's arms around her;
and awoke and felt that her sleep had been blessed. At the coach-office
the next morning they met Mr. Buxton all ready as if for a journey, but
glancing about him as if in fear of some coming enemy.
"I'm going with you to Liverpool," said he. "Don't make any ado about it,
please. I shall like to see you off; and I may be of some use to you, and
Erminia begged it of me; and, besides, it will keep me out of Mr. Henry's
way for a little time, and I'm afraid he will find it all out, and think me
very weak; but you see he made me too hard upon Crayston, so I may take it
out in a little soft-heartedness toward the son of an old friend."
Just at this moment Erminia came running through the white morning mist all
glowing with haste.
"Maggie," said she, "I'm come to take care of your mother. My uncle says
she and Nancy must come to us for a long, long visit. Or if she would
rather go home, I'll go with her till she feels able to come to us, and do
anything I can think of for her. I will try to be a daughter till you come
back, Maggie; only don't be long, or Frank and I shall break our hearts."
Maggie waited till her mother had ended her long clasping embrace of
Edward, who was subdued enough this morning; and then, with something like
Esau's craving for a blessing, she came to bid her mother good-bye, and
received the warm caress she had longed for for years. In another moment
the coach was away; and before half an hour had elapsed, Combehurst
church-spire had been lost in a turn of the road.
Edward and Mr. Buxton did not speak to each other, and Maggie was nearly
silent. They reached Liverpool in the afternoon; and Mr. Buxton, who had
been there once or twice before, took them directly to some quiet hotel. He
was far more anxious that Edward should not expose himself to any chance of
recognition than Edward himself. He went down to the Docks to secure berths
in the vessel about to sail the next day, and on his return he took Maggie
out to make the requisite purchases.
"Did you pay for us, sir?" said Maggie, anxious to ascertain the amount of
money she had left, after defraying the passage.
"Yes," replied he, rather confused. "Erminia begged me not to tell you
about it, but I can't manage a secret well. You see she did not like the
idea of your going as steerage-passengers as you meant to do; and she
desired me to take you cabin places for her. It is no doing of mine, my
dear. I did not think of it; but now I have seen how crowded the steerage
is, I am very glad Erminia had so much thought. Edward might have roughed
it well enough there, but it would never have done for you."
"It was very kind of Erminia," said Maggie, touched at this consideration
of her friend; "but..."
"Now don't 'but' about it," interrupted he. "Erminia is very rich, and has
more money than she knows what to do with. I'm only vexed I did not think
of if myself. For Maggie, though I may have my own ways of thinking on some
points, I can't be blind to your goodness."
All evening Mr. Buxton was busy, and busy on their behalf. Even Edward,
when he saw the attention that was being paid to his physical comfort,
felt a kind of penitence; and after choking once or twice in the attempt,
conquered his pride (such I call it for want of a better word) so far as
to express some regret for his past conduct, and some gratitude for Mr.
Buxton's present kindness. He did it awkwardly enough, but it pleased Mr.
"Well--well--that's all very right," said he, reddening from his own
uncomfortableness of feeling. "Now don't say any more about it, but do your
best in America; don't let me feel I've been a fool in letting you off. I
know Mr. Henry will think me so. And, above all, take care of Maggie. Mind
what she says, and you're sure to go right."
He asked them to go on board early the next day, as he had promised Erminia
to see them there, and yet wished to return as soon as he could. It was
evident that he hoped, by making his absence as short as possible, to
prevent Mr. Henry's ever knowing that he had left home, or in any way
connived at Edward's escape.
So, although the vessel was not to sail till the afternoon's tide, they
left the hotel soon after breakfast, and went to the "Anna-Maria." They
were among the first passengers on board. Mr. Buxton took Maggie down to
her cabin. She then saw the reason of his business the evening before.
Every store that could be provided was there. A number of books lay on
the little table--books just suited to Maggie's taste. "There!" said he,
rubbing his hands. "Don't thank me. It's all Erminia's doing. She gave me
the list of books. I've not got all; but I think they'll be enough. Just
write me one line, Maggie, to say I've done my best."
Maggie wrote with tears in her eyes--tears of love toward the generous
Erminia. A few minutes more and Mr. Buxton was gone. Maggie watched him as
long as she could see him; and as his portly figure disappeared among the
crowd on the pier, her heart sank within her.
Edward's, on the contrary, rose at his absence. The only one, cognisant of
his shame and ill-doing, was gone. A new life lay before him, the opening
of which was made agreeable to him, by the position in which he found
himself placed, as a cabin-passenger; with many comforts provided for him;
for although Maggie's wants had been the principal object of Mr. Buxton's
attention, Edward was not forgotten.
He was soon among the sailors, talking away in a rather consequential
manner. He grew acquainted with the remainder of the cabin-passengers, at
least those who arrived before the final bustle began; and kept bringing
his sister such little pieces of news as he could collect.
"Maggie, they say we are likely to have a good start, and a fine moonlight
night." Away again he went.
"I say, Maggie, that's an uncommonly pretty girl come on board, with those
old people in black. Gone down into the cabin, now; I wish you would scrape
up an acquaintance with her, and give me a chance."
Maggie sat on deck, wrapped in her duffel-cloak; the old familiar cloak,
which had been her wrap in many a happy walk in the haunts near her
moorland home. The weather was not cold for the time of year, but still it
was chilly to any one that was stationary. But she wanted to look her last
on the shoals of English people, who crowded backward and forward, like
ants, on the pier. Happy people! who might stay among their loved ones. The
mocking demons gathered round her, as they gather round all who sacrifice
self, tempting. A crowd of suggestive doubts pressed upon her. "Was it
really necessary that she should go with Edward? Could she do him any real
good? Would he be in any way influenced by her?" Then the demon tried
another description of doubt. "Had it ever been her duty to go? She was
leaving her mother alone. She was giving Frank much present sorrow. It was
not even yet too late!" She could not endure longer; and replied to her own
"I was right to hope for Edward; I am right to give him the chance of
steadiness which my presence will give. I am doing what my mother earnestly
wished me to do; and what to the last she felt relieved by my doing. I know
Frank will feel sorrow, because I myself have such an aching heart; but if
I had asked him whether I was not right in going, he would have been too
truthful not to have said yes. I have tried to do right, and though I may
fail, and evil may seem to arise rather than good out of my endeavor, yet
still I will submit to my failure, and try and say 'God's will be done!' If
only I might have seen Frank once more, and told him all face to face!"
To do away with such thoughts, she determined no longer to sit gazing, and
tempted by the shore; and, giving one look to the land which contained her
lover, she went down below, and busied herself, even through her blinding
tears, in trying to arrange her own cabin, and Edward's. She heard boat
after boat arrive loaded with passengers. She learnt from Edward, who came
down to tell her the fact, that there were upwards of two hundred steerage
passengers. She felt the tremulous shake which announced that the ship was
loosed from her moorings, and being tugged down the river. She wrapped
herself up once more, and came on deck, and sat down among the many who
were looking their last look at England. The early winter evening was
darkening in, and shutting out the Welsh coast, the hills of which were
like the hills of home. She was thankful when she became too ill to think
Exhausted and still, she did not know whether she was sleeping or waking;
or whether she had slept since she had thrown herself down on her cot, when
suddenly, there was a great rush, and then Edward stood like lightning by
her, pulling her up by the arm.
"The ship is on fire--to the deck, Maggie! Fire! Fire!" he shouted, like
a maniac, while he dragged her up the stairs--as if the cry of Fire could
summon human aid on the great deep. And the cry was echoed up to heaven by
all that crowd in an accent of despair.
They stood huddled together, dressed and undressed; now in red lurid light,
showing ghastly faces of terror--now in white wreaths of smoke--as far away
from the steerage as they could press; for there, up from the hold,
rose columns of smoke, and now and then a fierce blaze leaped out,
exulting--higher and higher every time; while from each crevice on that
part of the deck issued harbingers of the terrible destruction that awaited
The sailors were lowering the boats; and above them stood the captain, as
calm as if he were on his own hearth at home--his home where he never more
should be. His voice was low--was lower; but as clear as a bell in its
distinctness; as wise in its directions as collected thought could make
it. Some of the steerage passengers were helping; but more were dumb and
motionless with affright. In that dead silence was heard a low wail of
sorrow, as of numbers whose power was crushed out of them by that awful
terror. Edward still held his clutch of Margaret's arm.
"Be ready!" said he, in a fierce whisper.
The fire sprung up along the main-mast, and did not sink or disappear
again. They knew then that all the mad efforts made by some few below to
extinguish it were in vain; and then went up the prayers of hundreds, in
mortal agony of fear:
"Lord! have mercy upon us!"
Not in quiet calm of village church did ever such a pitiful cry go up to
heaven; it was like one voice--like the day of judgment in the presence of
And after that there was no more silence; but a confusion of terrible
farewells, and wild cries of affright, and purposeless rushes hither and
The boats were down, rocking on the sea. The captain spoke:
"Put the children in first; they are the most helpless."
One or two stout sailors stood in the boats to receive them. Edward drew
nearer and nearer to the gangway, pulling Maggie with him. She was almost
pressed to death, and stifled. Close in her ear, she heard a woman praying
to herself. She, poor creature, knew of no presence but God's in that awful
hour, and spoke in a low voice to Him.
"My heart's darlings are taken away from me. Faith! faith! Oh, my great
God! I will die in peace, if Thou wilt but grant me faith in this terrible
hour, to feel that Thou wilt take care of my poor orphans. Hush! dearest
Billy," she cried out shrill to a little fellow in the boat waiting for his
mother; and the change in her voice from despair to a kind of cheerfulness,
showed what a mother's love can do. "Mother will come soon. Hide his face,
Anne, and wrap your shawl tight round him." And then her voice sank down
again in the same low, wild prayer for faith. Maggie could not turn to see
her face, but took the hand which hung near her. The woman clutched at it
with the grasp of a vice; but went on praying, as if unconscious. Just then
the crowd gave way a little. The captain had said, that the women were to
go next; but they were too frenzied to obey his directions, and now pressed
backward and forward. The sailors, with mute, stern obedience, strove to
follow out the captain's directions. Edward pulled Maggie, and she kept her
hold on the mother. The mate, at the head of the gangway, pushed him back.
"Only women are to go!"
"There are men there."
"Three, to manage the boat."
"Come on, Maggie! while there's room for us," said he, unheeding. But
Maggie drew back, and put the mother's hand into the mate's. "Save her
first!" said she. The woman did not know of anything, but that her children
were there; it was only in after days, and quiet hours, that she remembered
the young creature who pushed her forward to join her fatherless children,
and, by losing her place in the crowd, was jostled--where, she did not
know--but dreamed until her dying day. Edward pressed on, unaware that
Maggie was not close behind him. He was deaf to reproaches; and, heedless
of the hand stretched out to hold him back, sprang toward the boat. The men
there pushed her off--full and more than full as she was; and overboard he
fell into the sullen heaving waters.
His last shout had been on Maggie's name--a name she never thought to hear
again on earth, as she was pressed back, sick and suffocating. But suddenly
a voice rang out above all confused voices and moaning hungry waves, and
above the roaring fire.
"Maggie, Maggie! My Maggie!"
Out of the steerage side of the crowd a tall figure issued forth, begrimed
with smoke. She could not see, but she knew. As a tame bird flutters to the
human breast of its protector when affrighted by some mortal foe, so Maggie
fluttered and cowered into his arms. And, for a moment, there was no more
terror or thought of danger in the hearts of those twain, but only infinite
and absolute peace. She had no wonder how he came there: it was enough that
he was there. He first thought of the destruction that was present with
them. He was as calm and composed as if they sat beneath the thorn-tree
on the still moorlands, far away. He took her, without a word, to the end
of the quarter-deck. He lashed her to a piece of spar. She never spoke:
"Maggie," he said, "my only chance is to throw you overboard. This spar
will keep you floating. At first, you will go down--deep, deep down. Keep
your mouth and eyes shut. I shall be there when you come up. By God's help,
I will struggle bravely for you."
She looked up; and by the flashing light he could see a trusting, loving
smile upon her face. And he smiled back at her; a grave, beautiful look,
fit to wear on his face in heaven. He helped her to the side of the vessel,
away from the falling burning pieces of mast. Then for a moment he paused.
"If--Maggie, I may be throwing you in to death." He put his hand before his
eyes. The strong man lost courage. Then she spoke:
"I am not afraid; God is with us, whether we live or die!" She looked as
quiet and happy as a child on its mother's breast! and so before he lost
heart again, he heaved her up, and threw her as far as he could over into
the glaring, dizzying water; and straight leaped after her. She came up
with an involuntary look of terror on her face; but when she saw him by the
red glare of the burning ship, close by her side, she shut her eyes, and
looked as if peacefully going to sleep. He swam, guiding the spar.
"I think we are near Llandudno. I know we have passed the little Ormes'
head." That was all he said; but she did net speak.
He swam out of the heat and fierce blaze of light into the quiet, dark
waters; and then into the moon's path. It might be half an hour before he
got into that silver stream. When the beams fell down upon them he looked
at Maggie. Her head rested on the spar, quite still. He could not bear it.
"Maggie--dear heart! speak!"
With a great effort she was called back from the borders of death by that
voice, and opened her filmy eyes, which looked abroad as if she could see
nothing nearer than the gleaming lights of Heaven. She let the lids fall
softly again. He was as if alone in the wide world with God.
"A quarter of an hour more and all is over," thought he. "The people at
Llandudno must see our burning ship, and will come out in their boats."
He kept in the line of light, although it did not lead him direct to the
shore, in order that they might be seen. He swam with desperation. One
moment he thought he had heard her last gasp rattle through the rush of
the waters; and all strength was gone, and he lay on the waves as if he
himself must die, and go with her spirit straight through that purple lift
to heaven; the next he heard the splash of oars, and raised himself
and cried aloud. The boatmen took them in--and examined her by the
lantern--and spoke in Welsh--and shook their heads. Frank threw himself on
his knees, and prayed them to take her to land. They did not know his
words, but they understood his prayer. He kissed her lips--he chafed her
hands--he wrung the water out of her hair--he held her feet against his
"She is not dead," he kept saying to the men, as he saw their sorrowful,
The kind people at Llandudno had made ready their own humble beds, with
every appliance of comfort they could think of, as soon as they understood
the nature of the calamity which had befallen the ship on their coasts.
Frank walked, dripping, bareheaded, by the body of his Margaret, which was
borne by some men along the rocky sloping shore.
"She is not dead!" he said. He stopped at the first house they came to. It
belonged to a kind-hearted woman. They laid Maggie in her bed, and got the
village doctor to come and see her.
"There is life still," said he, gravely.
"I knew it," said Frank. But it felled him to the ground. He sank first
in prayer, and then in insensibility. The doctor did everything. All that
night long he passed to and fro from house to house; for several had swum
to Llandudno. Others, it was thought, had gone to Abergele.
In the morning Frank was recovered enough to write to his father,
by Maggie's bedside. He sent the letter off to Conway by a little
bright-looking Welsh boy. Late in the afternoon she awoke.
In a moment or two she looked eagerly round her, as if gathering in her
breath; and then she covered her head and sobbed.
"Where is Edward?" asked she.
"We do not know," said Frank, gravely. "I have been round the village, and
seen every survivor here; he is not among them, but he may be at some other
place along the coast."
She was silent, reading in his eyes his fears--his belief.
At last she asked again.
"I cannot understand it. My head is not clear. There are such rushing
noises in it. How came you there?" She shuddered involuntarily as she
recalled the terrible where.
For an instant he dreaded, for her sake, to recall the circumstances of the
night before; but then he understood how her mind would dwell upon them
until she was satisfied.
"You remember writing to me, love, telling me all. I got your letter--I
don't know how long ago--yesterday, I think. Yes! in the evening. You could
not think, Maggie, I would let you go alone to America. I won't speak
against Edward, poor fellow! but we must both allow that he was not the
person to watch over you as such a treasure should be watched over. I
thought I would go with you. I hardly know if I meant to make myself known
to you all at once, for I had no wish to have much to do with your brother.
I see now that it was selfish in me. Well! there was nothing to be done,
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