“Oh, [Helstone is] only a hamlet…There is the church and a few houses near it on the green—cottages, rather—with roses growing all over them.”
“And flowering all the year round, especially at Christmas—make your picture complete,” said he.
“No,” replied Margaret, somewhat annoyed, “I am not making a picture. I am trying to describe Helstone as it really is. You should not have said that.”
“I am penitent,” he answered. “Only it really sounded like a village in a tale rather than in real life.”
“And so it is,” replied Margaret, eagerly. “…Helstone is like a village in a poem—in one of Tennyson’s poems.”
“Gormans,” said Margaret. “Are those the Gormans who made their fortunes in trade at Southampton? Oh! I’m glad we don’t visit them. I don’t like shoppy people. I think we are far better off knowing only cottagers and labourers, and people without pretence…I’m sure you don’t want me to admire butchers and bakers, and candlestick-makers, do you, mamma?”
“Doubts, papa! Doubts as to religion?” asked Margaret, more shocked than ever.
“No! not doubts as to religion; not the slightest injury to that…You could not understand it all, if I told you—my anxiety, for years past, to know whether I had any right to hold my living—my efforts to quench my smoldering doubts by the authority of the Church. Oh! Margaret, how I love the holy Church from which I am to be shut out!” He could not go on for a moment or two. Margaret could not tell what to say; it seemed to her as terribly mysterious as if her father were about to turn Mahometan.
“It is one of the great beauties of our system, that a working-man may raise himself into the power and position of a master by his own exertions and behavior; that, in fact, every one who rules himself to decency and sobriety of conduct, and attention to his duties, comes over to our ranks; it may not be always as a master, but as an overlooker, a cashier, a book-keeper, a clerk, one on the side of authority and order.”
“You consider all who are unsuccessful in raising themselves in the world, from whatever cause, as your enemies, then, if I understand you rightly,” said Margaret in a clear, cold voice.
“As their own enemies, certainly,” said he…
“…[P]oor old wench,—I’m loth to vex thee, I am; but a man mun speak out for the truth, and when I see the world going all wrong at this time o’ day, bothering itself wi’ things it knows nought about, and leaving undone all the things that lie in disorder close at its hand—why, I say, leave a’ this talk about religion alone, and set to work on what yo’ see and know. That’s my creed. It’s simple, and not far to fetch, nor hard to work.”
“I think, Margaret,” she continued, after a pause, in a weak, trembling, exhausted voice, “I am glad of it—I am prouder of Frederick standing up against injustice, than if he had been simply a good officer.”
“I am sure I am,” said Margaret, in a firm, decided tone. “Loyalty and obedience to wisdom and justice are fine; but it is still finer to defy arbitrary power, unjustly and cruelly used—not on behalf of ourselves, but on behalf of others more helpless.”
“If you live in Milton, you must learn to have a brave heart, Miss Hale.”
“I would do my best,” said Margaret rather pale. “I do not know whether I am brave or not till I am tried; but I am afraid I should be a coward.”
“South country people are often frightened by what our Darkshire men and women call only living and struggling. But when you’ve been ten years among a people who are always owing their betters a grudge, and only waiting for an opportunity to pay it off, you’ll know whether you are a coward or not; take my word for it.”
“Given a strong feeling of independence in every Darkshire man, have I any right to obtrude my views, of the manner in which he shall act, upon another…merely because he has labor to sell, and I capital to buy?”
“Not in the least,” said Margaret, determined just to say this one thing; “not in the least because of your labor and capital positions, whatever they are, but because you are a man, dealing with a set of men over whom you have, whether you reject the use of it or not, immense power; just because your lives and your welfare are so constantly and intimately interwoven. God has made us so that we must be mutually dependent. We may ignore our own dependence, or refuse to acknowledge that others depend upon us in more respects than the payment of weekly wages; but the thing must be, nevertheless.”
“Yo’ know well, that a worser tyrant than e’er th’ masters were says. ‘Clem to death, and see ‘em a’ clem to death, ere yo’ dare go again th’ Union.’ Yo’ know it well, Nicholas, for a’ yo’re one on ‘em. Yo’ may be kind hearts, each separate; but once banded together, yo’ve no more pity for a man than a wild hunger-maddened wolf.”
“Mr. Thornton,” said Margaret, shaking all over with her passion, “go down and face them like a man. Save these poor strangers, whom you have decoyed here. Speak to your workmen as if they were human beings. Speak to them kindly. Don’t let the soldiers come in and cut down poor creatures who are driven mad. I see one there who is. If you have any courage or noble quality in you, go out and speak to them, man to man.”
If she thought her sex would be a protection,—if, with shrinking eyes she had turned away from the terrible anger of these men, in any hope that ere she looked again they would have paused and reflected, and slunk away, and vanished, she was wrong. Their reckless passion had carried them too far to stop—at least had carried some of them too far; for it is always the savage lads, with their love of cruel excitement, who head the riot—reckless to what bloodshed it may lead…
“For God’s sake! Do not damage your cause by this violence. You do not know what you are doing.”
“As I was a-saying, sir, I reckon yo’d not ha’ much belief in yo’ if yo’ lived here,—if you’d been bred here. I ax your pardon if I use wrong words; but what I mean by belief just now, is a-thinking on sayings and maxims and promises made by folk yo’ never saw, about the things and the life yo’ never saw, nor no one else…There’s many and many a one wiser, and scores better learned than I am around me,—folk who’ve had time to think on these things,—while my time has had to be gi’en up to getting my bread.”
“But, Margaret, don’t get to use these horrid Milton words. ‘Slack of work:’ it is a provincialism. What will your aunt Shaw say, if she hears you use it on her return?”
“Oh, mamma! Don’t try and make a bugbear out of aunt Shaw,” said Margaret, laughing. “Edith picked up all sorts of military slang from Captain Lennox, and aunt Shaw never took any notice of it.”
“But yours is factory slang.”
“And if I live in a factory town, I must speak factory language when I want it.”
“North an’ South have each getten their own troubles. If work’s sure and steady theer, labor’s paid at starvation prices; while here we’n rucks o’ money coming in one quarter, and ne’er a farthing th’ next. For sure, th’ world is in a confusion that passes me or any other man to understand; it needs fettling, and who’s to fettle it, if it’s as yon folks say, and there’s nought but what we see?”
“At first, when I heard from one of my servants, that you had been seen walking about with a gentleman, so far from home as the Outwood station, at such a time of the evening, I could hardly believe it…It was indiscreet, to say the least; many a young woman has lost her character before now—”
Margaret’s eyes flashed fire. This was a new idea—this was too insulting. If Mrs. Thornton had spoken to her about the lie she had told, well and good—she would have owned it, and humiliated herself. But to interfere with her conduct—to speak of her character! She—Mrs. Thornton, a mere stranger—it was too impertinent! She would not answer her—not one word. Mrs. Thornton saw the battle-spirit in Margaret’s eyes, and it called up her combativeness also.”
“Oh, how unhappy this last year has been! I have passed out of childhood into old age. I have had no youth—no womanhood; the hopes of womanhood have closed for me—for I shall never marry; and I anticipate cares and sorrows just as if I were an old woman, and with the same fearful spirit. I am weary of this continual call upon me for strength.”
“Yo’ve called me impudent, and a liar, and a mischief-maker, and yo’ might ha’ said wi’ some truth, as I were now and then given to drink. An’ I ha’ called you a tyrant, an’ an oud bull-dog, and a hard, cruel master; that’s where it stands. But for th’ childer. Measter, do yo’ think we can e’er get on together?”
“Well!” said Mr. Thornton, half-laughing, “it was not my proposal that we should go together. But there’s one comfort, on your own showing. We neither of us can think much worse of the other than we do now.”
“If we do not reverence the past as you do in Oxford, it is because we want something which can apply to the present more directly. It is fine when the study of the past leads to a prophecy of the future. But to men groping in new circumstances, it would be finer if the words of experience [from history] could direct us how to act in what concerns us most intimately and immediately; which is full of difficulties that must be encountered; and upon the mode in which they are met and conquered—not merely pushed aside for the time—depends our future. Out of the wisdom of the past, help us over the present. But no! People can speak of Utopia much more easily than of the next day’s duty; and yet when that duty is all done by others, who so ready to cry, ‘Fie, for shame!’”
When her father had driven off on his way to the railroad, Margaret felt how great and long had been the pressure on her time and her spirits. It was astonishing, almost stunning, to feel herself so much at liberty; no one depending on her for cheering care, if not for positive happiness; no invalid to plan and think for; she might be idle, and silent, and forgetful,—and what seemed worth more than all the other privileges—she might be unhappy if she liked.
Then her thoughts went back to Milton, with a strange sense of the contrast between the life there, and here. She was getting surfeited of the eventless ease in which no struggle or endeavor was required. She was afraid lest she should even become sleepily deadened into forgetfulness of anything beyond the life which was lapping her round with luxury. There might be toilers and moilers there in London, but she never saw them; the very servants lived in an underground world of their own, of which she knew neither the hopes nor the fears…There was a strange unfinished vacuum in Margaret’s heart and mode of life.
“But the truth is, these country clergymen live such isolated lives—isolated, I mean, from all intercourse with men of equal cultivation with themselves, by whose minds they might regulate their own, and discover when they were going either too fast or too slow—that they are very apt to disturb themselves with imaginary doubts as to the articles of faith, and throw up certain opportunities of doing good for very uncertain fancies of their own.”
After visiting with Margaret in London, Henry and Mr. Bell chat about the struggles the Hale family has endured in recent years. Henry remarks that he’s heard from Mr. Hale’s successor, Hepworth, that Hale need not have abandoned his position as rector over a few nagging doubts. Henry argues that “country clergymen” become so morbidly consumed by their own ideas that they make mountains out of theological molehills, and overreact about small things. They have no neighbors of similar education, so they have few opportunities to test and refine their thinking against others. The result is that they become disproportionately fixated on certain pet ideas and sometimes do what Mr. Hale did, walking away from a potentially fruitful ministry for no good reason. While Mr. Hale himself had warned of the risk of stagnation in country life, Henry’s claim is presumptuous—assuming that Hale’s doubts were insignificant, and that his heartbreaking choice to leave Helstone need not have been made. It also lines up with the bias, seen elsewhere in the novel, that concrete, measurable action is to be preferred to thought.
“After all it is right,” said she, hearing the voices of children at play while she was dressing. “If the world stood still, it would retrograde and become corrupt, if that is not Irish. Looking out of myself, and my own painful sense of change, the progress all around me is right and necessary. I must not think so much of how circumstances affect me myself, but how they affect others, if I wish to have a right judgment, or a hopeful trustful heart.” And with a smile ready in her eyes to quiver down to her lips, she went into the parlour and greeted Mr. Bell.
“I have arrived at the conviction that no mere institutions, however wise…can attach class to class as they should be attached, unless the working out of such institutions bring the individuals of the different classes into actual personal contact. Such intercourse is the very breath of life…I would take an idea, the working out of which would necessitate personal intercourse; it might not go well at first, but at every hitch interest would be felt by an increasing number of men, and at last its success in working come to be desired by all, as all had borne a part in the formation of the plan; and even then I am sure that it would lose its vitality, cease to be living, as soon as it was no longer carried on by that sort of common interest which invariably makes people find means and ways of seeing each other, and becoming acquainted with each other’s characters and persons…We should understand each other better, and I’ll venture to say we should like each other more.”
“They are from Helstone, are they not? I know the deep indentations round the leaves. Oh! Have you been there? When were you there?”
“I wanted to see the place where Margaret grew to what she is, even at the worst time of all, when I had no hope of ever calling her mine. I went there on my return from Havre.”
“You must give them to me,” she said, trying to take them out of his hand with gentle violence.
“Very well. Only you must pay me for them!”