THE rest of the day passed much in the usual manner. There was some conversation about the Intervention and its probable results; but Margaret betrayed no curiosity to know why Noel had been summoned to the mine. He; manner, indeed, seemed to him to manifest a shyness and reserve which were new in their intercourse. It was not through any fear of alarming her that James abstained from saying much about the prospects of the country, for lie regarded her as possessing one of the strongest and most unyielding of natures, and one that would quail before no danger whatever. It was rather the consciousness that he had hitherto utilised the topic of personal risk to sustain his threatened intention of sending her home, when smarting under the idea of her indifference to him. It was his desire to avoid recalling this disagreeable remembrance to her mind that now kept him silent on the subject of danger.
To dwellers in Mexico at this period, one of the most interesting problems
produced by the civil war which had been aging for some time in the United
States, was that of the effect which the victory of either side might have upon
Mexico, and upon the proposed intervention of Europe in its affairs. While the
belief was universal that the country must eventually fall into the hands of its
irrepressible neighbours, the period and conditions of that event were the
subjects of general and endless discussion. On one point all were agreed;
namely, that Intervention was only made possible by the war in the
The subject was mooted that evening in a conversation between Maynard and Noel, and the padre, who had come up learn the news contained in the papers brought by the corréo. There had been a great battle and a great victory; and the good old priest, who was a thorough patriot, was unable to view the matter in any other light than that of a struggle between two monsters, of whom the winner would inevitably claim him for a prey. The simple-minded ecclesiastic listened with astonishment to the, to him, novel views and broad principles put forth the two Englishmen in their discussion of the question at issue. Regarding both parties in the contest as irredeemable heretics and white savages, it was a marvel to him to hear men, whom he had learnt to consider as really superior beings,
expressing any other desire than for the complete mutual extermination of the contending factions.
In answer to a remark of Maynard’s, Noel acknowledged that he had at first deeply regretted the outbreak of the war and the probable disruption of the magnificent fabric of the Republic, adding, –
‘But now my sympathies are altogether with the South; for I think that if the South has no right to be freed from the North, the North had no right to be freed from Great Britain; and I certainly think the North was justified in that.’
‘That is hardly the view your friends, the philosophical Radicals, at home, take of it,’ said Maynard.
‘I know it is not, and I think the whole party has gone beside itself at the idea of liberty for the negroes, like the bull at the sight of the red flag. If there are to be slaves I would rather they were black than white ones.’
‘Of course, the real motive for the part taken by the English liberals,’ said Maynard, ‘is their fear lest republican institutions should prove a failure.’
‘And therefore they sympathise with a republic that is so intolerant that it will not permit another republic, composed of and by its own people, to exist alongside of it! I take it that the temper displayed by the North is the best possible justification of the South.’
‘Clearly, you don’t believe in negroes?’
‘I believe they will be infinitely better off if the South wins, than if the North does.’
‘How can you possibly think that?’
‘Easily enough. The South won’t give in until completely exhausted, or rather exterminated. So that three or four slaves will suddenly find themselves their own masters. The North has not a particle of love for them, and would be rather pleased than otherwise to get rid of them altogether. I don’t think it requires much gift of prophecy to see that in the event of victory going with the North, starvation, outrage, and massacre, will do a good deal towards thinning out the poor blacks.’
‘And if the South gain?’
‘They will be compelled, both by the necessity of consolidating their empire, and by gratitude to their faithful slaves, to contrive a wise measure of gradual emancipation. With freedom, and land of their own in the Southern States, the blacks
will cease their customary flights toward the cold North, where they meet with scorn and contempt from a race that has learnt to regard them as intruders.’
‘However that may be,’ returned Maynard, ‘I may, without being a prophet, predict the final triumph of the North; and I should do so even were their situations reversed, and the balance of material power against them. Depend upon it, wherever lie the superior morale, education, and intelligence, there will be the victory. Conquests are made by hearts and brains far more than by fire and sword.’
‘Ah, you take no side?’ asked the padre, to whom, having a little knowledge of English, the conversation, by aid of some occasional interpretation, had been made intelligible.
‘It is enough for me to think of the probable effect of the end upon ourselves,’
answered Maynard. ‘If the South succeed, it may want
‘Ah, all we have to do in the case of a difficulty,’ cried the padre, ‘is to take care of ourselves. The only danger here is from los guerrilleros, who may think money is to be got out of los Dolóres; but with a good watch we may keep safe. I will tell my people that if they lose you, the heretic Yankees will come.’
‘Father José is alluding; explained James, to what has taken place once or twice at Real del Monte. The director of that mine has a country house ten or twelve miles from his works, and in his rides to and fro he is occasionally captured and held in bondage until ransomed with a good round sum.’
Here Margaret, for the first time, joined in the conversation, saying, in an anxious tone, to Maynard, –
‘James, you have often said that it would be impossible for me and the children to live near the patío. I should like to go and examine it for myself, to-morrow morning.’
‘The noise would make the place unbearable for you.’
‘Yet people live very comfortably by a waterfall. We should soon grow so used to it as to be unconscious of it. I shall always be uneasy now if we remain here, while you are walking to and fro on the hill-side.’
‘Well, we will at least go and pay a visit of inspection,’ he returned, evidently gratified by the exhibition of her solicitude for him. And soon afterwards the party retired for the night, Margaret still retaining her reserve towards Noel.
Edmund passed the night uneasily, feeling as if a cold, dark cloud had suddenly come between him and his sun. Hour after hour he remained awake, feverishly conning over every word and look which had recently passed between him and Margaret in order to discover whether he could have given any cause of offence. He even saw in her anxiety to visit the works next morning, a desire to avoid being left alone with him.
Towards morning he fell into a heavy sleep, from which he was aroused by the clatter of mules’ or horses’ feet beneath his window. He jumped up and looked out, and, to his surprise and annoyance, saw that the morning was well advanced, and that Margaret had visited the hacienda and returned, while he was sleeping.
Hurrying down as soon as possible, he tendered his apologies for his indolence, and his regrets at not having accompanied her, placing his failure to the credit of a bad night.
She was sitting bending over her work, and only lifted her head when he had finished speaking. Turning her beautiful face, flushed with the exercise and keen morning air of the mountain, full upon him, with a wondering expression, she said, –
‘Do men have such things? I fancied bad nights were our privilege.’
‘It is a privilege extended to all who have souls, I imagine. I never heard of mere animals being endowed with it. Your dog or your mule is not given to lying awake thinking.’
‘I sometimes think that they are to be envied,’ she replied, rising and ringing a bell. ‘At least you must imitate them by having some breakfast, now you are up.’
‘I am ashamed to make such a breach in the regularity of your household, and I consider that I do not deserve any breakfast this morning. Your ride has almost given you a colour.’
‘Your remedy for a sleepless night differs from that which I have been trying,’ returned Margaret, looking none the paler for his last remark. Your breakfast is waiting for you in the next room.’
With a gesture of unwillingness, of which she took no notice, Noel left the room. When alone again, Margaret opened the drawer of her work table and took out a paper and spread it upon her lap. She did not kiss it, because she was not of their kind whose emotions find a ready vent at their lips, but she commenced reading it as if her very soul was in the words.
They were the verses which she had caught Noel in the act of writing, and which he had thrust away into the very book that he had left in her care in the forest on the previous morning, forgetting afterwards where he had put them.
She found them and read them through then, after he had left her in compliance with Maynard’s summons. They were hastily written, evidently struck off at heat, and unelaborated by subsequent finish. The memory of the occasion to which they had ministered kept Noel ever after from attempting to amend them. Their effect upon Margaret, and the response which they evoked from her heart, that heart so long latent and speechless, but now discovered and roused only to break into – was it rapture or agony? – might justify their reproduction here.
But it is not necessary to trench upon this private record of Edmund Noel’s secret history and feelings in order to comprehend his character. The detail of his various love experiences had been made for his own eye alone. Thus it is not improbable that, for an indifferent or unsympathetic reader, it might have seemed indicative of too much self-consciousness. Margaret, however, saw in it no defect either of expression or of character. She recognised only the luxuriant exuberance of an unlimited potentiality of loving, which so far from arousing in her a sentiment of doubt or jealousy, only derived confirmation from special instances of its exercise. She saw only that which, had he been striving to win her, he would have desired her to see. She saw herself raised to the summit of an infinite ladder of love, far above the unsufficing and the transient; shrined in a noonday of glory, to which all previous emotion excited by others was as a dim foreshadowing twilight. The morning and evening stars of his earlier loves had vanished, quenched in her superior light, and she saw herself indeed, as his verses told her,
‘His morn, his noon, his eve, his all in all.’