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Too Long; Didn't Read“The saddest birds a season find to sing.”Southwell.
“Never to fold the robe o’er secret pain,Never, weighed down by memory’s clouds again,To bow thy head! Thou art gone home!”Mrs. Hemans.
Mrs. Thornton came to see Mrs. Hale the next morning. She was much worse. One of those sudden changes—those great visible strides towards death, had been taken in the night, and her own family were startled by the gray sunken look her features had assumed in that one twelve hours of suffering. Mrs. Thornton—who had not seen her for weeks—was softened all at once. She had come because her son asked it from her as a personal favour, but with all the proud bitter feelings of her nature in arms against that family of which Margaret formed one. She doubted the reality of Mrs. Hale’s illness; she doubted any want beyond a momentary fancy on that lady’s part, which should take her out of her previously settled course of employment for the day. She told her son that she wished they had never come near the place; that he had never got acquainted with them; that there had been no such useless languages as Latin and Greek ever invented. He bore all this pretty silently; but when she had ended her invective against the dead languages, he quietly returned to the short, curt, decided expression of his wish that she should go and see Mrs. Hale at the time appointed, as most likely to be convenient to the invalid. Mrs. Thornton submitted with as bad a grace as she could to her son’s desire, all the time liking him the better for having it; and exaggerating in her own mind the same notion that he had of extraordinary goodness on his part in so perseveringly keeping up with the Hales.
His goodness verging on weakness (as all the softer virtues did in her mind), and her own contempt for Mr. and Mrs. Hale, and positive dislike to Margaret, were the ideas which occupied Mrs. Thornton, till she was struck into nothingness before the dark shadow of the wings of the angel of death. There lay Mrs. Hale—a mother like herself—a much younger woman than she was,—on the bed from which there was no sign of hope that she might ever rise again. No more variety of light and shade for her in that darkened room; no power of action, scarcely change of movement; faint alternations of whispered sound and studious silence; and yet that monotonous life seemed almost too much! When Mrs. Thornton, strong and prosperous with life, came in, Mrs. Hale lay still, although from the look on her face she was evidently conscious of who it was. But she did not even open her eyes for a minute or two. The heavy moisture of tears stood on her eyelashes before she looked up; then, with her hand groping feebly over the bed-clothes, for the touch of Mrs. Thornton’s large firm fingers, she said, scarcely above her breath.—Mrs. Thornton had to stoop from her erectness to listen,—
“Margaret—you have a daughter—my sister is in Italy. My child will be without a mother;—in a strange place,—if I die—— will you”——
And her filmy wandering eyes fixed themselves with an intensity of wistfulness on Mrs. Thornton’s face. For a minute there was no change in its rigidness; it was stern and unmoved;—nay, but that the eyes of the sick woman were growing dim with the slow-gathering tears, she might have seen a dark cloud cross the cold features. And it was no thought of her son, or of her living daughter Fanny, that stirred her heart at last; but a sudden remembrance, suggested by something in the arrangement of the room,—of a little daughter—dead in infancy—long years ago—that, like a sudden sunbeam, melted the icy crust, behind which there was a real tender woman.
“You wish me to be a friend to Miss Hale,” said Mrs. Thornton, in her measured voice, that would not soften with her heart, but came out distinct and clear.