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   Chapter 10 No.10

The Moorland Cottage By Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell Characters: 14724

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


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

idea.

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.

Buxton.

"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."

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