Gaskell Blog © Katherine C.
Maggie returns home and tells her mother and Edward that she can’t write the letter Mr. Buxton asks of her. Edward is furious, how can she be so selfish?
“He loves you so!” said Edward, tauntingly. “A man’s love break his heart! You’ve got some pretty notions! Who told you that he loved you so desperately? How do you know it?”
Once again Edward shows his unfeeling character, clearly it’s ironic that he calls her selfish.
“Because I love him so,” said she, in a quiet, earnest voice. “I do not know of any other reason; but that is quite sufficient to me. I believe him when he says he loves me; and I have no right to cause him the infinite–the terrible pain, which my own heart tells me he would feel, if I did what Mr. Buxton wishes me.”
Maggie knows that Frank, with all of his promising virtues, is very sensitive. His opinion of society is currently very low and if she were to abandon him, he might break. Just as she later described Edward at a time in life where he is not as wicked as he is weak, she knows Frank’s future also hangs in the balance; his outlook on the world, and how involved he wants to be towards changing it.
“On your deathbed may you remember this hour, and how you denied your only brother’s request. May you ask my forgiveness with your dying breath, and may I be there to deny it you.”
She flies down Combehurst lane, tears running down her face from the torrent of mixed emotions. And comes across Mr. Buxton, composing herself, she asks him to remember his friendship with her father. If convicted and transported he’ll have no hope of redemption. Have mercy and give him another chance. If Frank wishes to withdrawal from their engagement, to spare him from the disgrace of association, she will submit.
It might be that, formed as she was by Mrs. Buxton’s care and love, her accents and words were such as that lady, now at rest from all sorrow, would have used;–somehow, at any rate, the thought flashed into Mr. Buxton’s mind, that as Maggie spoke, his dead wife’s voice was heard, imploring mercy in a clear, distinct tone, though faint, as if separated from him by an infinite distance of space.
Mr. Buxton relents. After the implacable way he’s been, under the influence of Mr. Henry, it’s good to see glimpses of the Mr. Buxton we knew in the beginning of the novella. It’s decided Edward must go to America, where he can have a fresh start– his reputation is too tainted. The Anna-Maria sails from Liverpool in two days time, so there’s not a moment to loose. For once Mrs. Browne sees the weakness of her son, she voices concern that he’ll be worse in America with no one to care for him or make him happy and he’ll go down the wrong path again.
Maggie looked up bright and steadfast, as if she saw something beyond the material present. Here was the opportunity for self-sacrifice of which Mrs. Buxton had spoken to her in her childish days–the time which comes to all, but comes unheeded and unseen to those whose eyes are not trained to watching.
Maggie’s action is saintly. Many have difficulty believing it and her character, can someone really be so selfless? We must look at the situation through Maggie’s eyes. Her aim in life has been to please, to help, to serve– even when she was little she put others before herself. She loves her brother and has the sense to know he needs guidance. Who else is there to give it? Her mother’s weakness is part of what made him how he is, the bad influence of his school-fellows, his desire for money and to be fashionable, he can’t overcome them alone. What are her options? To leave him to his own devices where he might commit a worse crime? To let him be transported and live knowing that her mother and brother resent her? Her upbringing won’t let her, she can do nothing but help him herself.But she blinds herself to some realities:
- Edward would lack punishment, he hasn’t been reprimanded since the Rev. Browne died. He needs someone to say no to him.
- Why is Edward going to listen to her? He has never shown the inclination before.
- What will he do to earn a living and ensure they have shelter and food? All he knows is the law… if that could even be said. He’s unlikely to apply himself to anything but a job he’d think would quickly bring him a lot money and very likely to become a pawn to a ruthless tycoon.
Another aspect of the situation is Mr. Buxton’s weakness to stand up to Mr. Henry and stop the charges. Recognizing the weakness within himself he’s,
… astonished at first by this proposal of Maggie’s… That little timid girl brave enough to cross the ocean and go to a foreign land, if she could only help to save her brother! … “My dear, I’m not sure if Frank can do better than marry you, after all.”
A sudden twist of fate occurs when the ship catches fire. Edward is careless of his sister in his fear but Frank, who planned to follow her to America and has been aboard the ship all along, comes to her rescue:
“Maggie, Maggie! My Maggie!”
Out of the steerage side of the crowd a tall figure issued forth, begrimed with smoke. She could not see, but she knew. As a tame bird flutters to the human breast of its protector when affrighted by some mortal foe, so Maggie fluttered and cowered into his arms. And, for a moment, there was no more terror or thought of danger in the hearts of those twain, but only infinite and absolute peace. She had no wonder how he came there: it was enough that he was there. He first thought of the destruction that was present with them. He was as calm and composed as if they sat beneath the thorn-tree on the still moorlands, far away.
She [Mrs. Browne] prizes her dead son more than a thousand living daughters, happy and prosperous as is Maggie now–rich in the love of many. If Maggie did not show such reverence to her mother’s faithful sorrows, others might wonder at her refusal to be comforted by that sweet daughter. But Maggie treats her with such tender sympathy, never thinking of herself or her own claims, that Frank, Erminia, Mr. Buxton, Nancy, and all, are reverent and sympathizing too.