Gaskell Blog © Katherine C.
Frank leaves for Scotland and Winter arrives, it’s dimmed days of rain and mist foreshadows a melancholy time for the family.
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.
Mrs. Browne’s spirits are low; Maggie fears its related to Edward’s extravagance but, knowing how it would pain her, asks nothing. The internal anguish of being kept half in ignorance troubles Maggie but when Nancy falls ill she focuses on household duties and nursing. Even though Nancy is ill she still see’s past herself and notices Maggie’s anxiety and keeps her in her prayers.
Nancy is a quiet anchor within the story. She, as well as the Rev. Browne, helped form little Maggie’s good character. She set a good example and showed kindness and love. Yes, Mrs. Buxton cultivated Maggie’s mind and spirit, but perhaps it might be said Nancy cultivated her virtuous heart. Edward’s proud character kept Nancy at a distance and Mrs. Browne’s continuous indulgence fostered his selfishness and greed. It’s these two vices that get the better of him, and cast a dark shadow on the story, much like the Scotch firs upon the landscape.
Edward arrives in secret, trembling, wet. The police are after him and he clings to Maggie, his rock, who’s always gotten him out of scrapes. When he helped Mr. Buxton sell those profitless cottages, he took half of the payment for himself; a loan from a friend, he explains… never-mind that he didn’t ask permission, and which, of course, he intended to pay back. He forged Mr. Buxton’s signature on the receipt. This is why he was so upset over the news of Mr. Buxton hiring an agent, he knew his crime might be found out.
“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!”
Edward sprints into the cupboard when Mr. Buxton arrives. Give up my son, he asks, in return he will drop the charges. She, and Frank through her, would be tainted by association, which would ruin his prospects for a brilliant career. Poor Maggie, to be torn between the love for her fiancee and for her brother.
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 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.
A little afterwards Mrs. Buxton comes downstairs surprised to find her son, Edward cast his spell of eloquence on her, while Maggie goes outside to pray and think on what she must do.