Part 4 out of 9
lady in Manchester if I liked, and yet I was willing and ready to
marry a poor dressmaker. Don't you understand me now? and don't you
see what a sacrifice I was making to humour her? and all to no
Sally was silent, so he went on--
"My father would have forgiven any temporary connection, far sooner
than my marrying one so far beneath me in rank."
"I thought you said, sir, your mother was a factory girl," remarked
Sally rather maliciously.
"Yes, yes!--but then my father was in much such a station; at any
rate, there was not the disparity there is between Mary and me."
"Then you mean to give her up, sir? She made no bones of saying she
gave you up."
"No; I do not mean to give her up, whatever you and she may please
to think. I am more in love with her than ever; even for this
charming capricious ebullition of hers. She'll come round, you may
depend upon it. Women always do. They always have second thoughts,
and find out that they are best in casting off a lover. Mind, I
don't say I shall offer her the same terms again."
With a few more words of no importance, the allies parted.
XII. OLD ALICE'S BAIRN,
"I lov'd him not; and yet now he is gone,
I feel I am alone.
I check'd him while he spoke; yet could he speak,
Alas! I would not check.
For reasons not to love him once I sought,
And wearied all my thought."--W. S. LANDOR.
And now Mary had, as she thought, dismissed both her lovers. But
they looked on their dismissals with very different eyes. He who
loved her with all his heart and with all his soul, considered his
rejection final. He did not comfort himself with the idea, which
would have proved so well founded in his case, that women have
second thoughts about casting off their lovers. He had too much
respect for his own heartiness of love to believe himself unworthy
of Mary; that mock humble conceit did not enter his head. He
thought he did not "hit Mary's fancy"; and though that may sound a
trivial every-day expression, yet the reality of it cut him to the
heart. Wild visions of enlistment, of drinking himself into
forgetfulness, of becoming desperate in some way or another, entered
his mind; but then the thought of his mother stood like an angel
with a drawn sword in the way to sin. For, you know, "he was the
only son of his mother, and she was a widow"; dependent on him for
daily bread. So he could not squander away health and time, which
were to him money wherewith to support her failing years. He went
to his work, accordingly, to all outward semblance just as usual;
but with a heavy, heavy heart within.
Mr. Carson, as we have seen, persevered in considering Mary's
rejection of him as merely a "charming caprice." If she were at
work, Sally Leadbitter was sure to slip a passionately loving note
into her hand, and then so skilfully move away from her side, that
Mary could not all at once return it, without making some sensation
among the workwomen. She was even forced to take several home with
her. But after reading one, she determined on her plan. She made
no great resistance to receiving them from Sally, but kept them
unopened, and occasionally returned them in a blank half-sheet of
paper. But far worse than this, was the being so constantly waylaid
as she went home by her persevering lover; who had been so long
acquainted with all her habits, that she found it difficult to evade
him. Late or early, she was never certain of being free from him.
Go this way or that, he might come up some cross street when she had
just congratulated herself on evading him for that day. He could
not have taken a surer mode of making himself odious to her.
And all this time Jem Wilson never came! Not to see her--that she
did not expect--but to see her father; to--she did not know what,
but she had hoped he would have come on some excuse, just to see if
she hadn't changed her mind. He never came. Then she grew weary
and impatient, and her spirits sank. The persecution of the one
lover, and the neglect of the other, oppressed her sorely. She
could not now sit quietly through the evening at her work; or, if
she kept, by a strong effort, from pacing up and down the room, she
felt as if she must sing to keep off thought while she sewed. And
her songs were the maddest, merriest, she could think of. "Barbara
Allen," and such sorrowful ditties, did well enough for happy times;
but now she required all the aid that could be derived from external
excitement to keep down the impulse of grief.
And her father, too--he was a great anxiety to her, he looked so
changed and so ill. Yet he would not acknowledge to any ailment.
She knew, that be it as late as it would, she never left off work
until (if the poor servants paid her pretty regularly for the odd
jobs of mending she did for them) she had earned a few pence, enough
for one good meal for her father on the next day. But very
frequently all she could do in the morning, after her late sitting
up at night, was to run with the work home, and receive the money
from the person for whom it was done. She could not stay often to
make purchases of food, but gave up the money at once to her
father's eager clutch; sometimes prompted by a savage hunger it is
true, but more frequently by a craving for opium.
On the whole he was not so hungry as his daughter. For it was a
long fast from the one o'clock dinner hour at Miss Simmonds' to the
close of Mary's vigil, which was often extended to midnight. She
was young, and had not yet learned to bear "clemming."
One evening, as she sang a merry song over her work, stopping
occasionally to sigh, the blind Margaret came groping in. It had
been one of Mary's additional sorrows that her friend had been
absent from home, accompanying the lecturer on music in his round
among the manufacturing towns of Yorkshire and Lancashire. Her
grandfather, too, had seen this a good time for going his
expeditions in search of specimens; so that the house had been shut
up for several weeks.
"O Margaret, Margaret! how glad I am to see you. Take care. There
now, you're all right, that's father's chair. Sit down."--She
kissed her over and over again.
"It seems like the beginning o' brighter times, to see you again,
Margaret. Bless you! And how well you look!"
"Doctors always send ailing folk for change of air: and you know
I've had plenty o' that same lately."
"You've been quite a traveller for sure! Tell us all about it, do,
Margaret. Where have you been to, first place?"
"Eh, lass, that would take a long time to tell. Half o'er the
world, I sometimes think. Bolton and Bury, and Owdham, and Halifax,
and--but Mary, guess who I saw there? Maybe you know, though, so
it's not fair guessing."
"No, I dunnot. Tell me, Margaret, for I cannot abide waiting and
"Well, one night as I were going fra' my lodgings wi' the help on a
lad as belonged to th' landlady, to find the room where I were to
sing, I heard a cough before me, walking along. Thinks I, that's
Jem Wilson's cough, or I'm much mistaken. Next time came a sneeze
and cough, and then I were certain. First I hesitated whether I
should speak, thinking if it were a stranger he'd maybe think me
forrard.* But I knew blind folks must not be nesh about using their
tongues, so says I, 'Jem Wilson, is that you?' And sure enough it
was, and nobody else. Did you know he were in Halifax, Mary?"
"No," she answered, faintly and sadly; for Halifax was all the same
to her heart as the Antipodes; equally inaccessible by humble
penitent looks and maidenly tokens of love.
"Well, he's there, however: he's putting up an engine for some
folks there, for his master. He's doing well, for he's getten four
or five men under him; we'd two or three meetings, and he telled me
all about his invention for doing away wi' the crank, or somewhat.
His master's bought it from him, and ta'en out a patent, and Jem's a
gentleman for life wi' the money his master gied him. But you'll
ha' heard all this, Mary?"
No! she had not.
"Well, I thought it all happened afore he left Manchester, and then
in course you'd ha' known. But maybe it were all settled after he
got to Halifax; however, he's gotten two or three hunder pounds for
his invention. But what's up with you, Mary? you're sadly out of
sorts. You've never been quarrelling wi' Jem, surely?"
Now Mary cried outright; she was weak in body, and unhappy in mind,
and the time was come when she might have the relief of telling her
grief. She could not bring herself to confess how much of her
sorrow was caused by her having been vain and foolish; she hoped
that need never be known, and she could not bear to think of it.
"O Margaret! do you know Jem came here one night when I were put
out, and cross. Oh, dear! dear! I could bite my tongue out when I
think on it. And he told me how he loved me, and I thought I did
not love him, and I told him I didn't; and, Margaret,--he believed
me, and went away so sad, and so angry; and now, I'd do anything--I
would indeed"; her sobs choked the end of her sentence. Margaret
looked at her with sorrow, but with hope; for she had no doubt in
her own mind, that it was only a temporary estrangement,
"Tell me, Margaret," said Mary, taking her apron down from her eyes,
and looking at Margaret with eager anxiety, "what can I do to bring
him back to me? Should I write to him?"
"No," replied her friend, "that would not do. Men are so queer,
they like to have a' the courting to themselves."
"But I did not mean to write him a courting letter," said Mary,
"If you wrote at all, it would be to give him a hint you'd taken the
rue, and would be very glad to have him now. I believe now he'd
rather find that out himself."
"But he won't try," said Mary, sighing. "How can he find it out
when he's at Halifax?"
"If he's a will he's a way, depend upon it. And you would not have
him if he's not a will to you, Mary! No, dear!" changing her tone
from the somewhat hard way in which sensible people too often speak,
to the soft accents of tenderness which come with such peculiar
grace from them, "you must just wait and be patient. You may depend
upon it, all will end well, and better than if you meddled in it
"But it's so hard to be patient," pleaded Mary.
"Ay, dear; being patient is the hardest work we, any of us, have to
do through life, I take it. Waiting is far more difficult than
doing. I've known that about my sight, and many a one has known it
in watching the sick; but it's one of God's lessons we all must
learn, one way or another." After a pause--"Have ye been to see his
mother of late?"
"No; not for some weeks. When last I went she was so frabbit* with
me, that I really thought she wished I'd keep away."
"Well! if I were you I'd go. Jem will hear on't, and it will do you
far more good in his mind than writing a letter, which, after all,
you would find a tough piece of work when you came to settle to it.
'T would be hard to say neither too much nor too little. But I must
be going, grandfather is at home, and it's our first night together,
and he must not be sitting wanting me any longer."
She rose up from her seat, but still delayed going.
"Mary! I've somewhat else I want to say to you, and I don't rightly
know how to begin. You see, grandfather and I know what bad times
is, and we know your father is out of work, and I'm getting more
money than I can well manage; and, dear, would you just take this
bit o' gold, and pay me back in good times?" The tears stood in
Margaret's eyes as she spoke.
"Dear Margaret, we're not so bad pressed as that." (The thought of
her father and his ill looks, and his one meal a day, rushed upon
Mary.) "And yet, dear, if it would not put you out o' your way--I
would work hard to make it up to you;--but would not your
grandfather be vexed?"
"Not he, wench! It were more his thought than mine, and we have
gotten ever so many more at home, so don't hurry yourself about
paying. It's hard to be blind, to be sure, else money comes in so
easily now to what it used to do; and it's downright pleasure to
earn it, for I do so like singing."
"I wish I could sing," said Mary, looking at the sovereign.
"Some has one kind of gifts, and some another. Many's the time when
I could see, that I longed for your beauty, Mary! We're like
childer, ever wanting what we han not got. But now I must say just
one more word. Remember, if you're sore pressed for money, we shall
take it very unkind if you donnot let us know. Good-bye to ye."
In spite of her blindness she hurried away, anxious to rejoin her
grandfather, and desirous also to escape from Mary's expressions of
Her visit had done Mary good in many ways. It had strengthened her
patience and her hope; it had given her confidence in Margaret's
sympathy; and last, and really least in comforting power (of so
little value are silver and gold in comparison to love, that gift in
every one's power to bestow), came the consciousness of the
money-value of the sovereign she held in her hand. The many things
it might purchase! First of all came the thought of the comfortable
supper for her father that very night; and acting instantly upon the
idea, she set off in hopes that all the provision shops might not
yet be closed, although it was so late.
That night the cottage shone with unusual light and fire gleam; and
the father and daughter sat down to a meal they thought almost
extravagant. It was so long since they had had enough to eat.
"Food gives heart," say the Lancashire people; and the next day Mary
made time to go and call on Mrs. Wilson, according to Margaret's
advice. She found her quite alone, and more gracious than she had
been the last time Mary had visited her. Alice was gone out, she
"She would just step up to the post-office, all for no earthly use.
For it were to ask if they hadn't a letter lying there for her from
her foster-son, Will Wilson, the sailor-lad."
"What made her think there were a letter?" asked Mary.
"Why, yo see, a neighbour as has been in Liverpool, telled us Will's
ship were come in. Now he said last time he were in Liverpool, he'd
ha' come to ha' seen Alice, but his ship had but a week holiday, and
hard work for the men in that time, too. So Alice makes sure he'll
come this, and has had her hand behind her ear at every noise in th'
street, thinking it were him. And to-day she were neither to have
nor to hold, but off she would go to th' post, and see if he had na
sent her a line to th' old house near yo. I tried to get her to
give up going, for let alone her deafness she's getten so dark, she
cannot see five yards afore her; but no, she would go, poor old
"I did not know her sight failed her; she used to have good eyes
enough when she lived near us."
"Ay, but it's gone lately a good deal. But you never ask after Jem
"--anxious to get in a word on the subject nearest her heart.
"No," replied Mary, blushing scarlet. "How is he?"
"I cannot justly say how he is, seeing he's at Halifax; but he were
very well when he wrote last Tuesday. Han ye heard o' his good
Rather to her disappointment, Mary owned she had heard of the sum
his master had paid him for his invention.
"Well! and did not Margaret tell you what he'd done wi' it? It's
just like him, though, ne'er to say a word about it. Why, when he
were paid, what does he do but get his master to help him to buy an
income for me and Alice. He had her name put down for her life;
but, poor thing, she'll not be long to the fore, I'm thinking.
She's sadly failed of late. And so, Mary, yo see, we're two ladies
o' property. It's a matter o' twenty pound a year, they tell me. I
wish the twins had lived, bless 'em," said she, dropping a few
tears. "They should ha' had the best o' schooling, and their
bellyfuls o' food. I suppose they're better off in heaven, only I
should so like to see 'em."
Mary's heart filled with love at this new proof of Jem's goodness;
but she could not talk about it. She took Jane Wilson's hand, and
pressed it with affection; and then turned the subject to Will, her
sailor nephew. Jane was a little bit sorry, but her prosperity had
made her gentler, and she did not resent what she felt at Mary's
indifference to Jem and his merits.
"He's been in Africa, and that neighbourhood, I believe. He's a
fine chap, but he's not getten Jem's hair. His has too much o' the
red in it. He sent Alice (but, maybe, she telled you) a matter o'
five pound when he were over before: but that were nought to an
income, yo know."
"It's not every one that can get a hundred or two at a time," said
"No! no! that's true enough. There's not many a one like Jem.
That's Alice's step," said she, hastening to open the door to her
sister-in-law. Alice looked weary, and sad, and dusty. The
weariness and the dust would not have been noticed either by her, or
the others, if it had not been for the sadness.
"No letters?" said Mrs. Wilson.
"No, none! I must just wait another day to hear fra' my lad. It's
very dree work, waiting," said Alice.
Margaret's words came into Mary's mind. Every one has their time
and kind of waiting.
"If I but knew he were safe, and not drowned!" spoke Alice. "If I
but knew he WERE drowned, I would ask grace to say, Thy will be
done. It's the waiting."
"It's hard work to be patient to all of us," said Mary; "I know I
find it so, but I did not know one so good as you did, Alice; I
shall not think so badly of myself for being a bit impatient, now
I've heard you say you find it difficult."
The idea of reproach to Alice was the last in Mary's mind; and Alice
knew it was. Nevertheless, she said--
"Then, my dear, I beg your pardon, and God's pardon, too, if I've
weakened your faith, by showing you how feeble mine was. Half our
life's spent in waiting, and it ill becomes one like me, wi' so many
mercies, to grumble. I'll try and put a bridle o'er my tongue, and
my thoughts too." She spoke in a humble and gentle voice, like one
"Come, Alice," interposed Mrs. Wilson, "don't fret yoursel for e'er
a trifle wrong said here or there. See! I've put th' kettle on, and
you and Mary shall ha' a dish o' tea in no time."
So she bustled about, and brought out a comfortable-looking
substantial loaf, and set Mary to cut bread and butter, while she
rattled out the tea-cups--always a cheerful sound.
Just as they were sitting down, there was a knock heard at the door,
and without waiting for it to be opened from the inside, some one
lifted the latch, and in a man's voice asked, if one George Wilson
Mrs. Wilson was entering on a long and sorrowful explanation of his
having once lived there, but of his having dropped down dead; when
Alice, with the instinct of love (for in all usual and common
instances sight and hearing failed to convey impressions to her
until long after other people had received them), arose, and
tottered to the door.
"My bairn!--my own dear bairn!" she exclaimed, falling on Will
You may fancy the hospitable and welcoming commotion that ensued;
how Mrs. Wilson laughed, and talked, and cried, all together, if
such a thing can be done; and how Mary gazed with wondering pleasure
at her old playmate; now a dashing, bronzed-looking, ringleted
sailor, frank, and hearty, and affectionate.
But it was something different from common to see Alice's joy at
once more having her foster-child with her. She did not speak, for
she really could not; but the tears came coursing down her old
withered cheeks, and dimmed the horn spectacles she had put on, in
order to pry lovingly into his face. So what with her failing
sight, and her tear-blinded eyes, she gave up the attempt of
learning his face by heart through the medium of that sense, and
tried another. She passed her sodden, shrivelled hands, all
trembling with eagerness, over his manly face, bent meekly down in
order that she might more easily make her strange inspection. At
last, her soul was satisfied.
After tea, Mary feeling sure there was much to be said on both
sides, at which it would be better none should be present, not even
an intimate friend like herself, got up to go away. This seemed to
arouse Alice from her dreamy consciousness of exceeding happiness,
and she hastily followed Mary to the door. There, standing outside,
with the latch in her hand, she took hold of Mary's arm, and spoke
nearly the first words she had uttered since her nephew's return.
"My dear! I shall never forgive mysel, if my wicked words to-night
are any stumbling-block in your path. See how the Lord has put
coals of fire on my head! O Mary, don't let my being an unbelieving
Thomas weaken your faith. Wait patiently on the Lord, whatever your
trouble may be."
XIII. A TRAVELLER'S TALES.
"The mermaid sat upon the rocks
All day long,
Admiring her beauty and combing her locks,
And singing a mermaid song.
"And hear the mermaid's song you may,
As sure as sure can be,
If you will but follow the sun all day,
And souse with him into the sea."
--W. S. LANDOR.
It was perhaps four or five days after the events mentioned in the
last chapter, that one evening, as Mary stood lost in reverie at the
window, she saw Will Wilson enter the court, and come quickly up to
her door. She was glad to see him, for he had always been a friend
of hers, perhaps too much like her in character ever to become
anything nearer or dearer. She opened the door in readiness to
receive his frank greeting, which she as frankly returned.
"Come, Mary! on with bonnet and shawl, or whatever rigging you women
require before leaving the house. I'm sent to fetch you, and I
can't lose time when I'm under orders."
"Where am I to go to?" asked Mary, as her heart leaped up at the
thought of who might be waiting for her.
"Not very far," replied he. "Only to old Job Legh's round the
corner there. Aunt would have me come and see these new friends of
hers, and then we meant to ha' come on here to see you and your
father, but the old gentleman seems inclined to make a night of it,
and have you all there. Where is your father? I want to see him.
He must come too."
"He's out, but I'll leave word next door for him to follow me;
that's to say, if he comes home afore long." She added
hesitatingly, "Is any one else at Job's?"
"No! My aunt Jane would not come, for some maggot or other; and as
for Jem! I don't know what you've all been doing to him, but he's
as down-hearted a chap as I'd wish to see. He's had his sorrows
sure enough, poor lad! But it's time for him to be shaking off his
dull looks, and not go moping like a girl."
"Then he's come fra' Halifax, is he?" asked Mary.
"Yes! his body's come, but I think he's left his heart behind him.
His tongue I'm sure he has, as we used to say to childer, when they
would not speak. I try to rouse him up a bit, and I think he likes
having me with him, but still he's as gloomy and as dull as can be.
'T was only yesterday he took me to the works, and you'd ha' thought
us two Quakers as the spirit hadn't moved, all the way down we were
so mum. It's a place to craze a man, certainly; such a noisy black
hole! There were one or two things worth looking at, the bellows
for instance, or the gale they called a bellows. I could ha' stood
near it a whole day; and if I'd a berth in that place, I should like
to be bellows-man, if there is such a one. But Jem weren't diverted
even with that; he stood as grave as a judge while it blew my hat
out o' my hand. He's lost all relish for his food, too, which frets
my aunt sadly. Come! Mary, aren't you ready?"
She had not been able to gather if she were to see Jem at Job
Legh's; but when the door was opened, she at once saw and felt he
was not there. The evening then would be a blank; at least so she
thought for the first five minutes; but she soon forgot her
disappointment in the cheerful meeting of old friends, all, except
herself, with some cause for rejoicing at that very time. Margaret,
who could not be idle, was knitting away, with her face looking full
into the room, away from her work. Alice sat meek and patient with
her dimmed eyes and gentle look, trying to see and to hear, but
never complaining; indeed, in her inner self she was blessing God
for her happiness; for the joy of having her nephew, her child, near
her, was far more present to her mind, than her deprivations of
sight and hearing.
Job was in the full glory of host and hostess too, for by a tacit
agreement he had roused himself from his habitual abstraction, and
had assumed many of Margaret's little household duties. While he
moved about he was deep in conversation with the young sailor,
trying to extract from him any circumstances connected with the
natural history of the different countries he had visited.
"Oh! if you are fond of grubs, and flies, and beetles, there's no
place for 'em like Sierra Leone. I wish you'd had some of ours; we
had rather too much of a good thing; we drank them with our drink,
and could scarcely keep from eating them with our food. I never
thought any folk could care for such fat green beasts as those, or I
would ha' brought you them by the thousand. A plate full o' peas
soup would ha' been full enough for you, I dare say; it were often
too full for us."
"I would ha' given a good deal for some on 'em," said Job.
"Well, I knew folk at home liked some o' the queer things one meets
with abroad; but I never thought they'd care for them nasty slimy
things. I were always on the look-out for a mermaid, for that, I
knew, were a curiosity."
"You might ha' looked long enough," said Job, in an undertone of
contempt, which, however, the quick ears of the sailor caught.
"Not so long, master, in some latitudes, as you think. It stands to
reason th' sea hereabouts is too cold for mermaids; for women here
don't go half naked on account o' climate. But I've been in lands
where muslin were too hot to wear on land, and where the sea were
more than milk-warm; and though I'd never the good luck to see a
mermaid in that latitude, I know them that has."
"Do tell us about it," cried Mary.
"Pooh, pooh!" said Job, the naturalist.
Both speeches determined Will to go on with his story. What could a
fellow who had never been many miles from home know about the
wonders of the deep, that he should put him down in that way?
"Well, it were Jack Harris, our third mate last voyage, as many and
many a time telled us all about it. You see he were becalmed off
Chatham Island (that's in the Great Pacific, and a warm enough
latitude for mermaids, and sharks, and such like perils). So some
of the men took the long-boat, and pulled for the island to see what
it were like; and when they got near, they heard a puffing, like a
creature come up to take breath; you've never heard a diver? No!
Well; you've heard folks in th' asthma, and it were for all the
world like that. So they looked around, and what should they see
but a mermaid, sitting on a rock, and sunning herself. The water is
always warmer when it's rough, you know, so I suppose in the calm
she felt it rather chilly, and had come up to warm herself."
"What was she like?" asked Mary breathlessly.
Job took his pipe off the chimney-piece, and began to smoke with
very audible puffs, as if the story were not worth listening to.
"Oh! Jack used to say she was for all the world as beautiful as any
of the wax ladies in the barbers' shops; only, Mary, there were one
little difference; her hair was bright grass-green."
"I should not think that was pretty," said Mary hesitatingly; as if
not liking to doubt the perfection of anything belonging to such an
"Oh! but it is when you're used to it. I always think when first we
get sight of land, there's no colour so lovely as grass-green.
However, she had green hair sure enough: and were proud enough of
it, too; for she were combing it out full length when first they saw
her. They all thought she were a fair prize, and maybe as good as a
whale in ready money (they were whale-fishers, you know). For some
folk think a deal of mermaids, whatever other folk do." This was a
hit at Job, who retaliated in a series of sonorous spittings and
"So, as I were saying, they pulled towards her, thinking to catch
her. She were all the while combing her beautiful hair, and
beckoning to them, while with the other hand she held a
"How many hands had she?" asked Job.
"Two, to be sure, just like any other woman," answered Will
"Oh! I thought you said she beckoned with one hand, and combed her
hair with another, and held a looking-glass with her third," said
Job, with provoking quietness.
"No! I didn't! at least, if I did, I meant she did one thing after
another, as anyone but" (here he mumbled a word or two) "could
understand. Well, Mary," turning very decidedly towards her, "when
she saw them coming near, whether it were she grew frightened at
their fowling-pieces, as they had on board for a bit o' shooting on
the island, or whether it were she were just a fickle jade as did
not rightly know her own mind (which, seeing one half of her was
woman, I think myself was most probably), but when they were only
about two oars' length from the rock where she sat, down she plopped
into the water, leaving nothing but her hinder end of a fish tail
sticking up for a minute, and then that disappeared too."
"And did they never see her again?" asked Mary.
"Never so plain; the man who had the second watch one night declared
he saw her swimming round the ship, and holding up her glass for him
to look in; and then he saw the little cottage near Aber in Wales
(where his wife lived) as plain as ever he saw it in life, and his
wife standing outside, shading her eyes as if she were looking for
him. But Jack Harris gave him no credit, for he said he were always
a bit of a romancer, and beside that, were a home-sick, down-hearted
"I wish they had caught her," said Mary, musing.
"They got one thing as belonged to her," replied Will, "and that
I've often seen with my own eyes, and I reckon it's a sure proof of
the truth of their story, for them that wants proof."
"What was it?" asked Margaret, almost anxious her grandfather should
"Why, in her hurry she left her comb on the rock, and one o' the men
spied it; so they thought that were better than nothing, and they
rowed there and took it, and Jack Harris had it on board the John
Cropper, and I saw him comb his hair with it every Sunday morning."
"What was it like?" asked Mary eagerly; her imagination running on
coral combs, studded with pearls.
"Why, if it had not had such a strange yarn belonging to it, you'd
never ha' noticed it from any other small-tooth comb."
"I should rather think not," sneered Job Legh.
The sailor bit his lips to keep down his anger against an old man.
Margaret felt very uneasy, knowing her grandfather so well, and not
daring to guess what caustic remark might come next to irritate the
young sailor guest.
Mary, however, was too much interested by the wonders of the deep to
perceive the incredulity with which Job Legh received Wilson's
account of the mermaid, and when he left off, half offended, and
very much inclined not to open his lips again through the evening,
she eagerly said--
"Oh, do tell us something more of what you hear and see on board
ship. Do, Will!"
"What's the use, Mary, if folk won't believe one. There are things
I saw with my own eyes, that some people would pish and pshaw at, as
if I were a baby to be put down by cross noises. But I'll tell you,
Mary," with an emphasis on YOU, "some more of the wonders of the
sea, sin' you're not too wise to believe me. I have seen a fish
This did stagger Mary. She had heard of mermaids as signs of inns
and as sea-wonders, but never of flying fish. Not so Job. He put
down his pipe, and nodding his head as a token of approbation, he
"Ay! ay! young man. Now you're speaking truth."
"Well, now, you'll swallow that, old gentleman. You'll credit me
when I say I've seen a critter half fish, half bird, and you won't
credit me when I say there be such beasts as mermaids, half fish,
half woman. To me, one's just as strange as t'other."
"You never saw the mermaid yoursel," interposed Margaret gently.
But "love me, love my dog," was Will Wilson's motto, only his
version was, "Believe me, believe Jack Harris"; and the remark was
not so soothing to him as it was intended to have been.
"It's the Exocetus; one of the Malacopterygii Abdominales," said
Job, much interested.
"Ay, there you go! you're one o' them folks as never knows beasts
unless they're called out o' their names. Put 'em in Sunday
clothes, and you know 'em, but in their work-a-day English you never
know nought about 'em. I've met wi' many o' your kidney; and if I'd
ha' known it, I'd ha' christened poor Jack's mermaid wi' some grand
gibberish of a name. Mermaidicus Jack Harrisensis; that's just like
their new-fangled words. D'ye believe there's such a thing as the
Mermaidicus, master?" asked Will, enjoying his own joke uncommonly,
as most people do.
"Not I! tell me about the"--
"Well!" said Will, pleased at having excited the old gentleman's
faith and credit at last, "it were on this last voyage, about a
day's sail from Madeira, that one of our men"--
"Not Jack Harris, I hope," murmured Job.
"Called me," continued Will, not noticing the interruption, "to see
the what d'ye call it--flying fish I say it is. It were twenty feet
out o' water, and it flew near on to a hundred yards. But I say,
old gentleman, I ha' gotten one dried, and if you'll take it, why,
I'll give it you; only," he added, in a lower tone, "I wish you'd
just gie me credit for the Mermaidicus."
I really believe, if the assuming faith in the story of the mermaid
had been made the condition of receiving the flying fish, Job Legh,
sincere man as he was, would have pretended belief; he was so much
delighted at the idea of possessing this specimen. He won the
sailor's heart by getting up to shake both his hands in his vehement
gratitude, puzzling poor old Alice, who yet smiled through her
wonder; for she understood the action to indicate some kindly
feeling towards her nephew.
Job wanted to prove his gratitude, and was puzzled how to do it. He
feared the young man would not appreciate any of his duplicate
Araneides; not even the great American Mygale, one of his most
precious treasures; or else he would gladly have bestowed any
duplicate on the donor of a real dried Exocetus. What could he do
for him? He could ask Margaret to sing. Other folks beside her old
doting grandfather thought a deal of her songs. So Margaret began
some of her noble old-fashioned songs. She knew no modern music
(for which her auditors might have been thankful), but she poured
her rich voice out in some of the old canzonets she had lately
learnt while accompanying the musical lecturer on his tour.
Mary was amused to see how the young sailor sat entranced; mouth,
eyes, all open, in order to catch every breath of sound. His very
lids refused to wink, as if afraid in that brief proverbial interval
to lose a particle of the rich music that floated through the room.
For the first time the idea crossed Mary's mind that it was possible
the plain little sensible Margaret, so prim and demure, might have
power over the heart of the handsome, dashing spirited Will Wilson.
Job, too, was rapidly changing his opinion of his new guest. The
flying fish went a great way, and his undisguised admiration for
Margaret's singing carried him still further.
It was amusing enough to see these two, within the hour so barely
civil to each other, endeavouring now to be ultra-agreeable. Will,
as soon as he had taken breath (a long, deep gasp of admiration)
after Margaret's song, sidled up to Job, and asked him in a sort of
"You wouldn't like a live Manx cat, would ye, master?"
"A what?" exclaimed Job.
"I don't know its best name," said Will humbly. "But we call 'em
just Manx cats. They're cats without tails."
Now Job, in all his natural history, had never heard of such
animals; so Will continued--
"Because I'm going, afore joining my ship, to see mother's friends
in the island, and would gladly bring you one, if so be you'd like
to have it. They look as queer and out o' nature as flying fish,
or"--he gulped the words down that should have followed.
"Especially when you see 'em walking a roof-top, right again the
sky, when a cat, as is a proper cat, is sure to stick her tail stiff
out behind, like a slack-rope dancer a-balancing; but these cats
having no tail, cannot stick it out, which captivates some people
uncommonly. If yo'll allow me, I'll bring one for Miss there,"
jerking his head at Margaret. Job assented with grateful curiosity,
wishing much to see the tailless phenomenon.
"When are you going to sail?" asked Mary.
"I cannot justly say; our ship's bound for America next voyage, they
tell me. A messmate will let me know when her sailing-day is fixed;
but I've got to go to th' Isle o' Man first. I promised uncle last
time I were in England to go this next time. I may have to hoist
the blue Peter any day; so, make much of me while you have me,
Job asked him if he had been in America.
"Haven't I! North and South both! This time we're bound to North.
Yankee-Land as we call it, where Uncle Sam lives."
"Uncle who?" said Mary.
"Oh, it's a way sailors have of speaking. I only mean I'm going to
Boston, U.S., that's Uncle Sam."
Mary did not understand, so she left him and went to sit by Alice,
who could not hear conversation unless expressly addressed to her.
She had sat patiently silent the greater part of the night, and now
greeted Mary with a quiet smile.
"Where's yo'r father?" asked she.
"I guess he's at his Union! he's there most evenings."
Alice shook her head; but whether it were that she did not hear, or
that she did not quite approve of what she heard, Mary could not
make out. She sat silently watching Alice, and regretting over her
dimmed and veiled eyes, formerly so bright and speaking. As if
Alice understood by some other sense what was passing in Mary's
mind, she turned suddenly round, and answered Mary's thought.
"Yo're mourning for me, my dear? and there's no need, Mary. I'm as
happy as a child. I sometimes think I am a child, whom the Lord is
hushabying to my long sleep. For when I were a nurse-girl, my
missis always telled me to speak very soft and low, and to darken
the room that her little one might go to sleep; and now all noises
are hushed and still to me, and the bonny earth seems dim and dark,
and I know it's my Father lulling me away to my long sleep. I'm
very well content; and yo mustn't fret for me. I've had well-nigh
every blessing in life I could desire."
Mary thought of Alice's long-cherished, fond wish to revisit the
home of her childhood, so often and often deferred, and now probably
never to take place. Or if it did, how changed from the fond
anticipation of what it was to have been! It would be a mockery to
the blind and deaf Alice.
The evening came quickly to an end. There was the humble cheerful
meal, and then the bustling, merry farewell, and Mary was once more
in the quietness and solitude of her own dingy, dreary-looking home;
her father still out, the fire extinguished, and her evening's task
of work lying all undone upon the dresser. But it had been a
pleasant little interlude to think upon. It had distracted her
attention for a few hours from the pressure of many uneasy thoughts,
of the dark, heavy, oppressive times, when sorrow and want seemed to
surround her on every side; of her father, his changed and altered
looks, telling so plainly of broken health, and an embittered heart;
of the morrow, and the morrow beyond that, to be spent in that close
monotonous workroom, with Sally Leadbitter's odious whispers hissing
in her ear; and of the hunted look, so full of dread, from Miss
Simmonds' door-step up and down the street, lest her persecuting
lover should be near; for he lay in wait for her with wonderful
perseverance, and of late had made himself almost hateful, by the
unmanly force which he had used to detain her to listen to him, and
the indifference with which he exposed her to the remarks of the
passers-by, any one of whom might circulate reports which it would
be terrible for her father to hear--and worse than death should they
reach Jem Wilson. And all this she had drawn upon herself by her
giddy flirting. Oh! how she loathed the recollection of the hot
summer evening, when, worn out by stitching and sewing, she had
loitered homewards with weary languor, and first listened to the
voice of the tempter.
And Jem Wilson! O Jem, Jem, why did you not come to receive some of
the modest looks and words of love which Mary longed to give you, to
try and make up for the hasty rejection which you as hastily took to
be final, though both mourned over it with many tears. But day
after day passed away, and patience seemed of no avail; and Mary's
cry was ever the old moan of the Moated Grange--
"'Why comes he not?' she said,
'I am aweary, aweary.
I would that I were dead.'"
XIV. JEM'S INTERVIEW WITH POOR ESTHER.
"Know the temptation ere you judge the crime!
Look on this tree--'t was green, and fair and graceful;
Yet now, save these few shoots, how dry and rotten!
Thou canst not tell the cause. Not long ago,
A neighbour oak, with which its roots were twined,
In falling wrenched them with such cruel force,
That though we covered them again with care,
Its beauty withered, and it pined away.
So, could we look into the human breast,
How oft the fatal blight that meets our view,
Should we trace down to the torn, bleeding fibres
Of a too trusting heart--where it were shame,
For pitying tears, to give contempt or blame."
The month was over;--the honeymoon to the newly-married; the
exquisite convalescence to the "living mother of a living child";
"the first dark days of nothingness" to the widow and the child
bereaved; the term of penance, of hard labour, and of solitary
confinement, to the shrinking, shivering, hopeless prisoner.
"Sick, and in prison, and ye visited me." Shall you, or I, receive
such blessing? I know one who will. An overseer of a foundry, an
aged man, with hoary hair, has spent his Sabbaths, for many years,
in visiting the prisoners and the afflicted in Manchester New
Bailey; not merely advising and comforting, but putting means into
their power of regaining the virtue and the peace they had lost;
becoming himself their guarantee in obtaining employment, and never
deserting those who have once asked help from him.*
*Vide Manchester Guardian of Wednesday, March 18,1846; and
also the Reports of Captain Williams, prison inspector.
Esther's term of imprisonment was ended. She received a good
character in the governor's books; she had picked her daily quantity
of oakum, had never deserved the extra punishment of the treadmill,
and had been civil and decorous in her language. And once more she
was out of prison. The door closed behind her with a ponderous
clang, and in her desolation she felt as if shut out of home--from
the only shelter she could meet with, houseless and penniless as she
was, on that dreary day.
But it was but for an instant that she stood there doubting. One
thought had haunted her both by night and by day, with monomaniacal
incessancy; and that thought was how to save Mary (her dead sister's
only child, her own little pet in the days of her innocence) from
following in the same downward path to vice. To whom could she
speak and ask for aid? She shrank from the idea of addressing John
Barton again; her heart sank within her, at the remembrance of his
fierce repulsing action, and far fiercer words. It seemed worse
than death to reveal her condition to Mary, else she sometimes
thought that this course would be the most terrible, the most
efficient warning. She must speak; to that she was soul-compelled;
but to whom? She dreaded addressing any of her former female
acquaintance, even supposing they had sense, or spirit, or interest
enough to undertake her mission.
To whom shall the outcast prostitute tell her tale? Who will give
her help in the day of need? Hers is the leper sin, and all stand
aloof dreading to be counted unclean.
In her wild night wanderings, she had noted the haunts and habits of
many a one who little thought of a watcher in the poor forsaken
woman. You may easily imagine that a double interest was attached
by her to the ways and companionships of those with whom she had
been acquainted in the days which, when present, she had considered
hardly-worked and monotonous, but which now in retrospection seemed
so happy and unclouded. Accordingly, she had, as we have seen,
known where to meet with John Barton on that unfortunate night,
which had only produced irritation in him, and a month's
imprisonment to her. She had also observed that he was still
intimate with the Wilsons. She had seen him walking and talking
with both father and son; her old friends too; and she had shed
unregarded, unvalued tears, when some one had casually told her of
George Wilson's sudden death. It now flashed across her mind that
to the son, to Mary's playfellow, her elder brother in the days of
childhood, her tale might be told, and listened to with interest by
him, and some mode of action suggested by which Mary might be
guarded and saved.
All these thoughts had passed through her mind while yet she was in
prison; so when she was turned out, her purpose was clear, and she
did not feel her desolation of freedom as she would otherwise have
That night she stationed herself early near the foundry where she
knew Jem worked; he stayed later than usual, being detained by some
arrangements for the morrow. She grew tired and impatient; many
workmen had come out of the door in the long, dead, brick wall, and
eagerly had she peered into their faces, deaf to all insult or
curse. He must have gone home early; one more turn in the street,
and she would go.
During that turn he came out, and in the quiet of that street of
workshops and warehouses, she directly heard his steps. How her
heart failed her for an instant! but still she was not daunted from
her purpose, painful as its fulfilment was sure to be. She laid her
hand on his arm.
As she expected, after a momentary glance at the person who thus
endeavoured to detain him, he made an effort to shake it off, and
pass on. But, trembling as she was, she had provided against this
by a firm and unusual grasp.
"You must listen to me, Jem Wilson," she said, with almost an accent
"Go away, missis; I've nought to do with you, either in hearkening
He made another struggle.
"You must listen," she said again, authoritatively, "for Mary
The spell of her name was as potent as that of the mariner's
glittering eye. "He listened like a three-year child."
"I know you care enough for her to wish to save her from harm."
He interrupted his earnest gaze into her face, with the exclamation--
"And who can yo be to know Mary Barton, or to know that she's aught
There was a little strife in Esther's mind for an instant, between
the shame of acknowledging herself, and the additional weight to her
revelation which such acknowledgment would give. Then she spoke--
"Do you remember Esther, the sister of John Barton's wife? the aunt
to Mary? And the valentine I sent you last February ten years?"
"Yes, I mind her well! But yo are not Esther, are you?" He looked
again into her face, and seeing that indeed it was his boyhood's
friend, he took her hand, and shook it with a cordiality that forgot
the present in the past.
"Why, Esther! Where han ye been this many a year? Where han ye
been wandering that we none of us could find you out?"
The question was asked thoughtlessly, but answered with fierce
"Where have I been? What have I been doing? Why do you torment me
with questions like these? Can you not guess? But the story of my
life is wanted to give force to my speech, afterwards I will tell it
you. Nay! don't change your fickle mind now, and say you don't want
to hear it. You must hear it, and I must tell it; and then see
after Mary, and take care she does not become like me. As she is
loving now, so did I love once: one above me far." She remarked
not, in her own absorption, the change in Jem's breathing, the
sudden clutch at the wall which told the fearfully vivid interest he
took in what she said. "He was so handsome, so kind! Well, the
regiment was ordered to Chester (did I tell you he was an officer?),
and he could not bear to part from me, nor I from him, so he took me
with him. I never thought poor Mary would have taken it so to
heart! I always meant to send for her to pay me a visit when I was
married; for, mark you! he promised me marriage. They all do. Then
came three years of happiness. I suppose I ought not to have been
happy, but I was. I had a little girl, too. Oh! the sweetest
darling that ever was seen! But I must not think of her," putting
her hand wildly up to her forehead, "or I shall go mad; I shall."
"Don't tell me any more about yoursel," said Jem soothingly.
"What! you're tired already, are you? but I will tell you; as you've
asked for it, you shall hear it. I won't recall the agony of the
past for nothing. I will have the relief of telling it. Oh, how
happy I was!"--sinking her voice into a plaintive, childlike manner.
"It went like a shot through me when one day he came to me and told
me he was ordered to Ireland, and must leave me behind; at Bristol
we then were."
Jem muttered some words; she caught their meaning, and in a pleading
"Oh, don't abuse him; don't speak a word against him! You don't
know how I love him yet; yet, when I am sunk so low. You don't
guess how kind he was. He gave me fifty pounds before we parted,
and I knew he could ill spare it. Don't, Jem, please," as his
muttered indignation rose again. For her sake he ceased. "I might
have done better with the money; I see now. But I did not know the
value of it then. Formerly I had earned it easily enough at the
factory, and as I had no more sensible wants, I spent it on dress
and on eating. While I lived with him, I had it for asking; and
fifty pounds would, I thought, go a long way. So I went back to
Chester, where I'd been so happy, and set up a small-ware shop, and
hired a room near. We should have done well, but alas! alas! my
little girl fell ill, and I could not mind my shop and her too:
and things grew worse and worse. I sold my goods anyhow to get
money to buy her food and medicine; I wrote over and over again to
her father for help, but he must have changed his quarters, for I
never got an answer. The landlord seized the few bobbins and tapes
I had left, for shop-rent; and the person to whom the mean little
room, to which we had been forced to remove, belonged, threatened to
turn us out unless his rent was paid; it had run on many weeks, and
it was winter, cold bleak winter; and my child was so ill, so ill,
and I was starving. And I could not bear to see her suffer, and
forgot how much better it would be for us to die together;--oh, her
moans, her moans, which money could give the means of relieving! So
I went out into the street one January night--Do you think God will
punish me for that?" she asked with wild vehemence, almost amounting
to insanity, and shaking Jem's arm in order to force an answer from
But before he could shape his heart's sympathy into words, her voice
had lost its wildness, and she spoke with the quiet of despair.
"But it's no matter! I've done that since, which separates us as
far asunder as heaven and hell can be." Her voice rose again to the
sharp pitch of agony. "My darling! my darling! even after death I
may not see thee, my own sweet one! she was so good--like a little
angel. What is that text, I don't remember,--the text mother used
to teach me when I sat on her knee long ago; it begins, 'Blessed are
"Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God."
"Ay, that's it! It would break mother's heart if she knew what I am
now--it did break Mary's heart, you see. And now I recollect it was
about her child I wanted to see you, Jem. You know Mary Barton,
don't you?" said she, trying to collect her thoughts.
Yes, Jem knew her. How well, his beating heart could testify.
"Well, there's something to do for her; I forget what; wait a
minute! She is so like my little girl," said she, raising her eyes
glistening with unshed tears, in search of the sympathy of Jem's
He deeply pitied her; but oh! how he longed to recall her mind to
the subject of Mary, and the lover above her in rank, and the
service to be done for her sake. But he controlled himself to
silence. After awhile, she spoke again, and in a calmer voice.
"When I came to Manchester (for I could not stay in Chester after
her death), I found you all out very soon. And yet I never thought
my poor sister was dead. I suppose I would not think so. I used to
watch about the court where John lived, for many and many a night,
and gather all I could about them from the neighbours' talk; for I
never asked a question. I put this and that together, and followed
one, and listened to another; many's the time I've watched the
policeman off his beat, and peeped through the chink of the
window-shutter to see the old room, and sometimes Mary or her father
sitting up late for some reason or another. I found out Mary went
to learn dressmaking, and I began to be frightened for her; for it's
a bad life for a girl to be out late at night in the streets, and
after many an hour of weary work, they're ready to follow after any
novelty that makes a little change. But I made up my mind, that bad
as I was, I could watch over Mary, and perhaps keep her from harm. So
I used to wait for her at nights, and follow her home, often when she
little knew any one was near her. There was one of her companions I
never could abide, and I'm sure that girl is at the bottom of some
mischief. By-and-by Mary's walks homewards were not alone. She was
joined soon after she came out by a man; a gentleman. I began to
fear for her, for I saw she was light-hearted, and pleased with his
attentions; and I thought worse of him for having such long talks
with that bold girl I told you of. But I was laid up for a long
time with spitting of blood; and could do nothing. I'm sure it made
made me worse, thinking about what might be happening to Mary. And
when I came out, all was going on as before, only she seemed fonder
of him than ever; and oh! Jem, her father won't listen to me, and
it's you must save Mary! You're like a brother to her, and maybe
could give her advice and watch over her, and at any rate John will
hearken to you; only he's so stern, and so cruel." She began to cry
a little at the remembrance of his harsh words; but Jem cut her short
by his hoarse, stern inquiry--
"Who is this spark that Mary loves? Tell me his name!"
"It's young Carson, old Carson's son, that your father worked for."
There was a pause. She broke the silence--
"O Jem, I charge you with the care of her! I suppose it would be
murder to kill her, but it would be better for her to die than to
live to lead such a life as I do. Do you hear me, Jem?"
"Yes, I hear you. It would be better. Better we were all dead."
This was said as if thinking aloud; but he immediately changed his
tone and continued--
"Esther, you may trust to my doing all I can for Mary. That I have
determined on. And now listen to me. You loathe the life you lead,
else you would not speak of it as you do. Come home with me. Come
to my mother. She and my aunt Alice live together. I will see that
they give you a welcome. And to-morrow I will see if some honest
way of living cannot be found for you. Come home with me."
She was silent for a minute, and he hoped he had gained his point.
Then she said--
"God bless you, Jem, for the words you have just spoken. Some years
ago you might have saved me, as I hope and trust you will yet save
Mary. But, it is too late now;--too late," she added, with accents
of deep despair.
Still he did not relax his hold. "Come home," he said.
"I tell you, I cannot. I could not lead a virtuous life if I would.
I should only disgrace you. If you will know all," said she, as he
still seemed inclined to urge her, "I must have drink. Such as live
like me could not bear life if they did not drink. It's the only
thing to keep us from suicide. If we did not drink, we could not
stand the memory of what we have been, and the thought of what we
are, for a day. If I go without food, and without shelter, I must
have my dram. Oh! you don't know the awful nights I have had in
prison for want of it," said she, shuddering, and glaring round with
terrified eyes, as if dreading to see some spiritual creature, with
dim form, near her.
"It is so frightful to see them," whispering in tones of wildness,
although so low spoken. "There they go round and round my bed the
whole night through. My mother, carrying little Annie (I wonder how
they got together) and Mary--and all looking at me with their sad,
stony eyes; O Jem! it is so terrible! They don't turn back either,
but pass behind the head of the bed, and I feel their eyes on me
everywhere. If I creep under the clothes I still see them; and what
is worse," hissing out her words with fright, "they see me. Don't
speak to me of leading a better life--I must have drink. I cannot
pass to-night without a dram; I dare not."
Jem was silent from deep sympathy. Oh! could he, then, do nothing
for her! She spoke again, but in a less excited tone, although it
was thrillingly earnest.
"You are grieved for me! I know it better than if you told me in
words. But you can do nothing for me. I am past hope. You can yet
save Mary. You must. She is innocent, except for the great error
of loving one above her in station. Jem! you WILL save her?"
With heart and soul, though in few words, Jem promised that if aught
earthly could keep her from falling, he would do it. Then she
blessed him, and bade him good-night.
"Stay a minute," said he, as she was on the point of departure. "I
may want to speak to you again. I mun know where to find you--where
do you live?"
She laughed strangely. "And do you think one sunk so low as I am
has a home? Decent, good people have homes. We have none. No; if
you want me, come at night and look at the corners of the streets
about here. The colder, the bleaker, the more stormy the night, the
more certain you will be to find me. For then," she added, with a
plaintive fall in her voice, "it is so cold sleeping in entries, and
on door-steps, and I want a dram more than ever."
Again she rapidly turned off, and Jem also went on his way. But
before he reached the end of the street, even in the midst of the
jealous anguish that filled his heart, his conscience smote him. He
had not done enough to save her. One more effort, and she might
have come. Nay, twenty efforts would have been well rewarded by her
yielding. He turned back, but she was gone. In the tumult of his
other feelings, his self-reproach was deadened for the time. But
many and many a day afterwards he bitterly regretted his omission of
duty; his weariness of well-doing.
Now, the great thing was to reach home, and solitude. Mary loved
another! Oh! how should he bear it? He had thought her rejection
of him a hard trial, but that was nothing now. He only remembered
it, to be thankful that he had not yielded to the temptation of
trying his fate again, not in actual words, but in a meeting, where
her manner should tell far more than words, that her sweet smiles,
her dainty movements, her pretty household ways, were all to be
reserved to gladden another's eyes and heart. And he must live on;
that seemed the strangest. That a long life (and he knew men did
live long, even with deep, biting sorrow corroding at their hearts)
must be spent without Mary; nay, with the consciousness she was
another's! That hell of thought he would reserve for the quiet of
his own room, the dead stillness of night. He was on the threshold
of home now.
He entered. There were the usual faces, the usual sights. He
loathed them, and then he cursed himself because he loathed them.
His mother's love had taken a cross turn, because he had kept the
tempting supper she had prepared for him waiting until it was nearly
spoilt. Alice, her dulled senses deadening day by day, sat mutely
near the fire: her happiness bounded by the consciousness of the
presence of her foster-child, knowing that his voice repeated what
was passing to her deafened ear, that his arm removed each little
obstacle to her tottering steps. And Will, out of the very kindness
of his heart, talked more and more merrily than ever. He saw Jem
was downcast, and fancied his rattling might cheer him; at any rate,
it drowned his aunt's muttered grumblings, and in some measure
concealed the blank of the evening. At last, bed-time came; and
Will withdrew to his neighbouring lodging; and Jane and Alice Wilson
had raked the fire, and fastened doors and shutters, and pattered
upstairs, with their tottering footsteps and shrill voices. Jem,
too, went to the closet termed his bedroom. There was no bolt to
the door; but by one strong effort of his right arm a heavy chest
was moved against it, and he could sit down on the side of his bed,
Mary loved another! That idea would rise uppermost in his mind, and
had to be combated in all its forms of pain. It was, perhaps, no
great wonder that she should prefer one so much above Jem in the
external things of life. But the gentleman; why did he, with his
range of choice among the ladies of the land, why did he stoop down
to carry off the poor man's darling? With all the glories of the
garden at his hand, why did he prefer to cull the wild-rose,--Jem's
own fragrant wild-rose?
His OWN! Oh! never now his own!--Gone for evermore.
Then uprose the guilty longing for blood!--the frenzy of
jealousy!--Some one should die. He would rather Mary were dead,
cold in her grave, than that she were another's. A vision of her
pale, sweet face, with her bright hair all bedabbled with gore,
seemed to float constantly before his aching eyes. But hers were
ever open, and contained, in their soft, deathly look, such mute
reproach! What had she done to deserve such cruel treatment from
him? She had been wooed by one whom Jem knew to be handsome, gay,
and bright, and she had given him her love. That was all! It was
the wooer who should die. Yes, die, knowing the cause of his death.
Jem pictured him (and gloated on the picture), lying smitten, yet
conscious; and listening to the upbraiding accusation of his
murderer. How he had left his own rank, and dared to love a maiden
of low degree! and oh! stinging agony of all--how she, in return,
had loved him! Then the other nature spoke up, and bade him
remember the anguish he should so prepare for Mary! At first he
refused to listen to that better voice; or listened only to pervert.
He would glory in her wailing grief! he would take pleasure in her
desolation of heart!
No! he could not, said the still small voice. It would be worse,
far worse, to have caused such woe, than it was now to bear his
present heavy burden.
But it was too heavy, too grievous to be borne, and live. He would
slay himself and the lovers should love on, and the sun shine
bright, and he with his burning, woeful heart would be at rest.
"Rest that is reserved for the people of God."
Had he not promised, with such earnest purpose of soul as makes
words more solemn than oaths, to save Mary from becoming such as
Esther? Should he shrink from the duties of life, into the
cowardliness of death? Who would then guard Mary, with her love and
her innocence? Would it not be a goodly thing to serve her,
although she loved him not; to be her preserving angel, through the
perils of life; and she, unconscious all the while?
He braced up his soul, and said to himself, that with God's help he
would be that earthly keeper.
And now the mists and the storms seemed clearing away from his path,
though it still was full of stinging thorns. Having done the duty
nearest to him (of reducing the tumult of his own heart to something
like order), the second became more plain before him.
Poor Esther's experience had led her, perhaps too hastily, to the
conclusion that Mr. Carson's intentions were evil towards Mary; at
least she had given no just ground for the fears she entertained
that such was the case. It was possible, nay, to Jem's heart very
probable, that he might only be too happy to marry her. She was a
lady by right of nature, Jem thought; in movement, grace, and
spirit. What was birth to a Manchester manufacturer, many of whom
glory, and justly too, in being the architects of their own
fortunes? And, as far as wealth was concerned, judging another by
himself, Jem could only imagine it a great privilege to lay it at
the feet of the loved one. Harry Carson's mother had been a factory
girl; so, after all, what was the great reason for doubting his
intentions towards Mary?
There might probably be some little awkwardness about the affair at
first; Mary's father having such strong prejudices on the one hand;
and something of the same kind being likely to exist on the part of
Mr. Carson's family. But Jem knew he had power over John Barton's
mind; and it would be something to exert that power in promoting
Mary's happiness, and to relinquish all thought of self in so doing.
Oh! why had Esther chosen him for this office? It was beyond his
strength to act rightly! Why had she singled him out?
The answer came when he was calm enough to listen for it: Because
Mary had no other friend capable of the duty required of him; the
duty of a brother, as Esther imagined him to be in feeling, from his
long friendship. He would be unto her as a brother.
As such, he ought to ascertain Harry Carson's intentions towards her
in winning her affections. He would ask him straightforwardly, as
became man speaking to man, not concealing, if need were, the
interest he felt in Mary.
Then, with the resolve to do his duty to the best of his power,
peace came into his soul; he had left the windy storm and tempest
Two hours before day-dawn he fell asleep.
XV. A VIOLENT MEETING BETWEEN THE RIVALS.
"What thoughtful heart can look into this gulf
That darkly yawns 'twixt rich and poor,
And not find food for saddest meditation!
Can see, without a pang of keenest grief,
Them fiercely battling (like some natural foes)
Whom God had made, with help and sympathy,
To stand as brothers, side by side, united!
Where is the wisdom that shall bridge this gulf,
And bind them once again in trust and love?"
We must return to John Barton. Poor John! He never got over his
disappointing journey to London. The deep mortification he then
experienced (with, perhaps, as little selfishness for its cause as
mortification ever had) was of no temporary nature; indeed, few of
his feelings were.
Then came a long period of bodily privation; of daily hunger after
food; and though he tried to persuade himself he could bear want
himself with stoical indifference, and did care about it as little
as most men, yet the body took its revenge for its uneasy feelings.
The mind became soured and morose, and lost much of its equipoise.
It was no longer elastic, as in the days of youth, or in times of
comparative happiness; it ceased to hope. And it is hard to live on
when one can no longer hope.
The same state of feeling which John Barton entertained, if
belonging to one who had had leisure to think of such things, and
physicians to give names to them, would have been called monomania;
so haunting, so incessant, were the thoughts that pressed upon him.
I have somewhere read a forcibly described punishment among the
Italians, worthy of a Borgia. The supposed or real criminal was
shut up in a room, supplied with every convenience and luxury; and
at first mourned little over his imprisonment. But day by day he
became aware that the space between the walls of his apartment was
narrowing, and then he understood the end. Those painted walls
would come into hideous nearness, and at last crush the life out of
And so day by day, nearer and nearer, came the diseased thoughts of
John Barton. They excluded the light of heaven, the cheering sounds
of earth. They were preparing his death.
It is true much of their morbid power might be ascribed to the use
of opium. But before you blame too harshly this use, or rather
abuse, try a hopeless life, with daily cravings of the body for
food. Try, not alone being without hope yourself, but seeing all
around you reduced to the same despair, arising from the same
circumstances; all around you telling (though they use no words or
language), by their looks and feeble actions, that they are
suffering and sinking under the pressure of want. Would you not be
glad to forget life, and its burdens? And opium gives forgetfulness
for a time.
It is true they who thus purchase it pay dearly for their oblivion;
but can you expect the uneducated to count the cost of their
whistle? Poor wretches! They pay a heavy price. Days of
oppressive weariness and languor, whose realities have the feeble
sickliness of dreams; nights, whose dreams are fierce realities of
agony; sinking health, tottering frames, incipient madness, and
worse, the CONSCIOUSNESS of incipient madness; this is the price of
their whistle. But have you taught them the science of
John Barton's overpowering thought, which was to work out his fate
on earth, was rich and poor; why are they so separate, so distinct,
when God has made them all? It is not His will that their interests
are so far apart. Whose doing is it?
And so on into the problems and mysteries of life, until, bewildered
and lost, unhappy and suffering, the only feeling that remained
clear and undisturbed in the tumult of his heart, was hatred to the
one class, and keen sympathy with the other.
But what availed his sympathy? No education had given him wisdom;
and without wisdom, even love, with all its effects, too often works
but harm. He acted to the best of his judgment, but it was a
The actions of the uneducated seem to me typified in those of
Frankenstein, that monster of many human qualities, ungifted with a
soul, a knowledge of the difference between good and evil.
The people rise up to life; they irritate us, they terrify us, and
we become their enemies. Then, in the sorrowful moment of our
triumphant power, their eyes gaze on us with mute reproach. Why
have we made them what they are; a powerful monster, yet without the
inner means for peace and happiness?
John Barton became a Chartist, a Communist, all that is commonly
called wild and visionary. Ay! but being visionary is something.
It shows a soul, a being not altogether sensual; a creature who
looks forward for others, if not for himself.
And with all his weakness he had a sort of practical power, which
made him useful to the bodies of men to whom he belonged. He had a
ready kind of rough Lancashire eloquence, arising out of the fulness
of his heart, which was very stirring to men similarly
circumstanced, who liked to hear their feelings put into words. He
had a pretty clear head at times, for method and arrangement; a
necessary talent to large combinations of men. And what perhaps
more than all made him relied upon and valued, was the consciousness
which every one who came in contact with him felt, that he was
actuated by no selfish motives; that his class, his order, was what
he stood by, not the rights of his own paltry self. For even in
great and noble men, as soon as self comes into prominent existence,
it becomes a mean and paltry thing.
A little time before this, there had come one of those occasions for
deliberation among the employed, which deeply interested John
Barton, and the discussions concerning which had caused his frequent
absence from home of late.
I am not sure if I can express myself in the technical terms of
either masters or workmen, but I will try simply to state the case
on which the latter deliberated.
An order for coarse goods came in from a new foreign market. It was
a large order, giving employment to all the mills engaged in that
species of manufacture; but it was necessary to execute it speedily,
and at as low prices as possible, as the masters had reason to
believe that a duplicate order had been sent to one of the
continental manufacturing towns, where there were no restrictions on
food, no taxes on building or machinery, and where consequently they
dreaded that the goods could be made at a much lower price than they
could afford them for; and that, by so acting and charging, the
rival manufacturers would obtain undivided possession of the market.
It was clearly their interest to buy cotton as cheaply, and to beat
down wages as low as possible. And in the long run the interests of
the workmen would have been thereby benefited. Distrust each other
as they may, the employers and the employed must rise or fall
together. There may be some difference as to chronology, none as to
But the masters did not choose to make all these circumstances
known. They stood upon being the masters, and that they had a right
to order work at their own prices, and they believed that in the
present depression of trade, and unemployment of hands, there would
be no great difficulty in getting it done.
Now let us turn to the workmen's view of the question. The masters
(of the tottering foundation of whose prosperity they were ignorant)
seemed doing well, and, like gentlemen, "lived at home in ease,"
while they were starving, gasping on from day to day; and there was
a foreign order to be executed, the extent of which, large as it
was, was greatly exaggerated; and it was to be done speedily. Why
were the masters offering such low wages under these circumstances?
Shame upon them! It was taking advantage of their workpeople being
almost starved; but they would starve entirely rather than come into
such terms. It was bad enough to be poor, while by the labour of
their thin hands, the sweat of their brows, the masters were made
rich; but they would not be utterly ground down to dust. No! they
would fold their hands and sit idle, and smile at the masters, whom
even in death they could baffle. With Spartan endurance they
determined to let the employers know their power, by refusing to
So class distrusted class, and their want of mutual confidence
wrought sorrow to both. The masters would not be bullied, and
compelled to reveal why they felt it wisest and best to offer only
such low wages; they would not be made to tell that they were even
sacrificing capital to obtain a decisive victory over the
continental manufacturers. And the workmen sat silent and stern
with folded hands, refusing to work for such pay. There was a
strike in Manchester.
Of course it was succeeded by the usual consequences. Many other
Trades' Unions, connected with different branches of business,
supported with money, countenance, and encouragement of every kind,
the stand which the Manchester power-loom weavers were making
against their masters. Delegates from Glasgow, from Nottingham, and
other towns, were sent to Manchester, to keep up the spirit of
resistance; a committee was formed, and all the requisite officers
elected; chairman, treasurer, honorary secretary;--among them was
The masters, meanwhile, took their measures. They placarded the
walls with advertisements for power-loom weavers. The workmen
replied by a placard in still larger letters, stating their
grievances. The masters met daily in town, to mourn over the time
(so fast slipping away) for the fulfilment of the foreign orders;
and to strengthen each other in their resolution not to yield. If
they gave up now, they might give up always. It would never do.
And amongst the most energetic of the masters, the Carsons, father
and son, took their places. It is well known, that there is no
religionist so zealous as a convert; no masters so stern, and
regardless of the interests of their workpeople, as those who have
risen from such a station themselves. This would account for the
elder Mr. Carson's determination not to be bullied into yielding;
not even to be bullied into giving reasons for acting as the masters
did. It was the employers' will, and that should be enough for the
employed. Harry Carson did not trouble himself much about the
grounds for his conduct. He liked the excitement of the affair. He
liked the attitude of resistance. He was brave, and he liked the
idea of personal danger, with which some of the more cautious tried
to intimidate the violent among the masters.
Meanwhile, the power-loom weavers living in the more remote parts of
Lancashire, and the neighbouring counties, heard of the masters'
advertisements for workmen; and in their solitary dwellings grew
weary of starvation, and resolved to come to Manchester. Foot-sore,
way-worn, half-starved looking men they were, as they tried to steal
into town in the early dawn, before people were astir, or in the
dusk of the evening. And now began the real wrong-doing of the
Trades' Unions. As to their decision to work, or not, at such a
particular rate of wages, that was either wise or unwise; all error
of judgment at the worst. But they had no right to tyrannise over
others, and tie them down to their own Procrustean bed. Abhorring
what they considered oppression in the masters, why did they oppress
others? Because, when men get excited, they know not what they do.
Judge, then, with something of the mercy of the Holy One, whom we
In spite of policemen set to watch over the safety of the poor
country weavers--in spite of magistrates, and prisons, and severe
punishments--the poor depressed men tramping in from Burnley,
Padiham, and other places, to work at the condemned "Starvation
Prices," were waylaid, and beaten, and left by the roadside almost
for dead. The police broke up every lounging knot of men:--they
separated quietly, to reunite half-a-mile out of town.
Of course the feeling between the masters and workmen did not
improve under these circumstances.
Combination is an awful power. It is like the equally mighty agency
of steam; capable of almost unlimited good or evil. But to obtain a
blessing on its labours, it must work under the direction of a high
and intelligent will; incapable of being misled by passion or
excitement. The will of the operatives had not been guided to the
calmness of wisdom.
So much for generalities. Let us now return to individuals.
A note, respectfully worded, although its tone of determination was
strong, had been sent by the power-loom weavers, requesting that a
"deputation" of them might have a meeting with the masters, to state
the conditions they must have fulfilled before they would end the
turn-out. They thought they had attained a sufficiently commanding
position to dictate. John Barton was appointed one of the
The masters agreed to this meeting, being anxious to end the strife,
although undetermined among themselves how far they should yield, or
whether they should yield at all. Some of the old, whose experience
had taught them sympathy, were for concession. Others, white-headed
men too, had only learnt hardness and obstinacy from the days of the
years of their lives, and sneered at the more gentle and yielding.
The younger men were one and all for an unflinching resistance to
claims urged with so much violence. Of this party Harry Carson was
But like all energetic people, the more he had to do the more time
he seemed to find. With all his letter-writing, his calling, his
being present at the New Bailey, when investigations of any case of
violence against knob-sticks* were going on, he beset Mary more than
ever. She was weary of her life for him. From blandishments he had
even gone to threats--threats that whether she would or not she
should be his; he showed an indifference that was most insulting to
everything which might attract attention and injure her character.
*Knob-sticks; those who consent to work at lower wages.
And still she never saw Jem. She knew he had returned home. She
heard of him occasionally through his cousin, who roved gaily from
house to house, finding and making friends everywhere. But she
never saw him. What was she to think? Had he given her up? Were a
few hasty words, spoken in a moment of irritation, to stamp her lot
through life? At times she thought that she could bear this meekly,
happy in her own constant power of loving. For of change or of
forgetfulness she did not dream. Then at other times her state of
impatience was such, that it required all her self-restraint to
prevent her from going and seeking him out, and (as man would do to
man, or woman to woman) begging him to forgive her hasty words, and
allow her to retract them, and bidding him accept of the love that
was filling her whole heart. She wished Margaret had not advised
her against such a manner of proceeding; she believed it was her
friend's words that seemed to make such a simple action impossible,
in spite of all the internal urgings. But a friend's advice is only
thus powerful, when it puts into language the secret oracle of our
souls. It was the whisperings of her womanly nature that caused her
to shrink from any unmaidenly action, not Margaret's counsel.
All this time, this ten days or so, of Will's visit to Manchester,
there was something going on which interested Mary even now, and
which, in former times, would have exceedingly amused and excited
her. She saw as clearly as if told in words, that the merry,
random, boisterous sailor had fallen deeply in love with the quiet,
prim, somewhat plain Margaret: she doubted if Margaret was aware
of it, and yet, as she watched more closely, she began to think some
instinct made the blind girl feel whose eyes were so often fixed
upon her pale face; that some inner feeling made the delicate and
becoming rose-flush steal over her countenance. She did not speak
so decidedly as before; there was a hesitation in her manner, that
seemed to make her very attractive; as if something softer, more
lovable than excellent sense, were coming in as a motive for speech;
her eyes had always been soft, and were in no ways disfigured by her
blindness, and now seemed to have a new charm, as they quivered
under their white, downcast lids. She must be conscious, thought
Mary--heart answering to heart.
Will's love had no blushings, no downcast eyes, no weighing of
words; it was as open and undisguised as his nature; yet he seemed
afraid of the answer its acknowledgment might meet with. It was
Margaret's angelic voice that had entranced him, and which made him
think of her as a being of some other sphere, that he feared to woo.
So he tried to propitiate Job in all manner of ways. He went over
to Liverpool to rummage in his great sea-chest for the flying-fish
(no very odorous present, by the way). He hesitated over a child's
caul for some time, which was, in his eyes, a far greater treasure
than any Exocetus. What use could it be of to a landsman? Then
Margaret's voice rang in his ears; and he determined to sacrifice
it, his most precious possession, to one whom she loved as she did
It was rather a relief to him, when, having put it and the flying-
fish together in a brown paper parcel, and sat upon them for
security all the way in the railroad, he found that Job was so
indifferent to the precious caul that he might easily claim it
again. He hung about Margaret, till he had received many warnings
and reproaches from his conscience in behalf of his dear aunt
Alice's claims upon his time. He went away, and then he bethought
him of some other little word with Job. And he turned back, and
stood talking once more in Margaret's presence, door in hand, only
waiting for some little speech of encouragement to come in and sit
down again. But as the invitation was not given, he was forced to
leave at last, and go and do his duty.
Four days had Jem Wilson watched for Mr. Harry Carson without
success; his hours of going and returning to his home were so
irregular, owing to the meetings and consultations among the
masters, which were rendered necessary by the turn-out. On the
fifth, without any purpose on Jem's part, they met.
It was the workmen's dinner-hour, the interval between twelve and
one; when the streets of Manchester are comparatively quiet, for a
few shopping ladies and lounging gentlemen count for nothing in that
busy, bustling, living place. Jem had been on an errand for his
master, instead of returning to his dinner; and in passing along a
lane, a road (called, in compliment to the intentions of some future
builder, a street), he encountered Harry Carson, the only person, as
far as he saw, beside himself, treading the unfrequented path.
Along one side ran a high broad fence, blackened over by coal-tar,
and spiked and stuck with pointed nails at the top, to prevent any
one from climbing over into the garden beyond. By this fence was
the footpath. The carriage-road was such as no carriage, no, not
even a cart, could possibly have passed along without Hercules to
assist in lifting it out of the deep clay ruts. On the other side
of the way was a dead brick wall; and a field after that, where
there was a saw-pit and joiner's shed.
Jem's heart beat violently when he saw the gay, handsome young man
approaching, with a light buoyant step. This, then, was he whom
Mary loved. It was, perhaps, no wonder; for he seemed to the poor
smith so elegant, so well appointed, that he felt the superiority in
externals, strangely and painfully, for an instant. Then something
uprose within him, and told him, that "a man's a man for a' that,
for 'a that, and twice as much as a' that." And he no longer felt
troubled by the outward appearance of his rival.
Harry Carson came on, lightly bounding over the dirty places with
almost a lad's buoyancy. To his surprise the dark, sturdy-looking
artisan stopped him by saying respectfully--
"May I speak a word wi' you, sir?"
"Certainly, my good man," looking his astonishment; then finding
that the promised speech did not come very quickly, he added, "But
make haste, for I'm in a hurry."
Jem had cast about for some less abrupt way of broaching the subject
uppermost in his mind than he now found himself obliged to use.
With a husky voice that trembled as he spoke, he said--
"I think, sir, yo're keeping company wi' a young woman called Mary
A light broke in upon Henry Carson's mind, and he paused before he
gave the answer for which the other waited.
Could this man be a lover of Mary's? And (strange stinging thought)
could he be beloved by her, and so have caused her obstinate
rejection of himself? He looked at Jem from head to foot, a black,
grimy mechanic, in dirty fustian clothes, strongly built, and
awkward (according to the dancing-master); then he glanced at
himself, and recalled the reflection he had so lately quitted in his
bedroom. It was impossible. No woman with eyes could choose the
one when the other wooed. It was Hyperion to a Satyr. That
quotation came aptly; he forgot "That a man's a man for a' that."
And yet here was a clue, which he had often wanted, to her changed
conduct towards him. If she loved this man--if--he hated the
fellow, and longed to strike him. He would know all.
"Mary Barton! let me see. Ay, that is the name of the girl. An
arrant flirt the little hussy is; but very pretty. Ay, Mary Barton
is her name."
Jem bit his lips. Was it then so; that Mary was a flirt; the giddy
creature of whom he spoke? He would not believe it, and yet how he
wished the suggestive words unspoken. That thought must keep now,
though. Even if she were, the more reason for there being some one
to protect her; poor faulty darling,
"She's a good girl, sir, though maybe a bit set up with her beauty;
but she's her father's only child, sir, and"--he stopped; he did not
like to express suspicion, and yet he was determined he would be
certain there was ground for none. What should he say?
"Well, my fine fellow, and what have I to do with that? It's but
loss of my time, and yours, too, if you've only stopped me to tell
me Mary Barton is very pretty; I know that well enough."
He seemed as though he would have gone on, but Jem put his black,
working, right hand upon his arm to detain him. The haughty young
man shook it off, and with his glove pretended to brush away the
sooty contamination that might be left upon his light greatcoat
sleeve. The little action aroused Jem.
"I will tell you in plain words, what I have got to say to you,
young man. It's been telled me by one as knows, and has seen, that
you walk with this same Mary Barton, and are known to be courting
her; and her as spoke to me about it, thinks as how Mary loves you.
That may be or may not. But I'm an old friend of hers and her
father's; and I just wished to know if you mean to marry the girl.
Spite of what you said of her lightness, I ha' known her long enough
to be sure she'll make a noble wife for any one, let him be what he
may; and I mean to stand by her like a brother; and if you mean
rightly, you'll not think the worse on me for what I've now said;
and if--but no, I'll not say what I'll do to the man who wrongs a
hair of her head. He shall rue it to the longest day he lives,
that's all. Now, sir, what I ask of you is this. If you mean fair
and honourable by her, well and good: but if not, for your own
sake as well as hers, leave her alone, and never speak to her more."
Jem's voice quivered with the earnestness with which he spoke, and
he eagerly waited for some answer.
Harry Carson, meanwhile, instead of attending very particularly to
the purpose the man had in addressing him, was trying to gather from
his speech what was the real state of the case. He succeeded so far
as to comprehend that Jem inclined to believe that Mary loved his
rival; and consequently, that if the speaker were attached to her
himself, he was not a favoured admirer. The idea came into Mr.
Carson's mind, that perhaps, after all, Mary loved him in spite of
her frequent and obstinate rejections; and that she had employed
this person (whoever he was) to bully him into marrying her. He
resolved to try and ascertain more correctly the man's relation to
her. Either he was a lover, and if so, not a favoured one (in which
case Mr. Carson could not at all understand the man's motives for
interesting himself in securing her marriage); or he was a friend,
an accomplice, whom she had employed to bully him. So little faith
in goodness have the mean and selfish!
"Before I make you into my confidant, my good man," said Mr. Carson,
in a contemptuous tone, "I think it might be as well to inquire your
right to meddle with our affairs. Neither Mary, nor I, as I
conceive, called you in as a mediator." He paused: he wanted a
distinct answer to this last supposition. None came; so he began to
imagine he was to be threatened into some engagement, and his angry
"And so, my fine fellow, you will have the kindness to leave us to
ourselves, and not to meddle with what does not concern you. If you
were a brother or father of hers, the case might have been
different. As it is, I can only consider you an impertinent
Again he would have passed on, but Jem stood in a determined way
before him, saying--
"You say if I had been her brother, or her father, you'd have
answered me what I ask. Now, neither father nor brother could love
her as I have loved her--ay, and as I love her still; if love gives
a right to satisfaction, it's next to impossible any one breathing
can come up to my right. Now, sir, tell me! do you mean fair by
Mary or not? I've proved my claim to know, and, by G--, I will
"Come, come, no impudence," replied Mr. Carson, who, having
discovered what he wanted to know (namely, that Jem was a lover of
Mary's, and that she was not encouraging his suit), wished to pass
on. "Father, brother, or rejected lover" (with an emphasis on the
word rejected) "no one has a right to interfere between my little
girl and me. No one shall. Confound you, man! get out of my way,
or I'll make you," as Jem still obstructed his path with dogged
"I won't, then, till you've given me your word about Mary," replied
the mechanic, grinding his words out between his teeth, and the
livid paleness of the anger he could no longer keep down covering
his face till he looked ghastly.
"Won't you?" (with a taunting laugh), "then I'll make you." The
young man raised his slight cane, and smote the artisan across the
face with a stinging stroke. An instant afterwards he lay stretched
in the muddy road, Jem standing over him, panting with rage. What
he would have done next in his moment of ungovernable passion, no
one knows; but a policeman from the main street, into which this
road led, had been sauntering about for some time, unobserved by
either of the parties, and expecting some kind of conclusion like
the present to the violent discussion going on between the two young
men. In a minute he had pinioned Jem, who sullenly yielded to the
Mr. Carson was on his feet directly, his face glowing with rage or
"Shall I take him to the lock-ups for assault, sir?" said the
"No, no," exclaimed Mr. Carson. "I struck him first. It was no
assault on his side: though," he continued, hissing out his words
to Jem, who even hated freedom procured for him, however justly, at
the intervention of his rival, "I will never forgive or forget
insult. Trust me," he gasped the words in excess of passion, "Mary
shall fare no better for your insolent interference." He laughed,
as if with the consciousness of power.
Jem replied with equal excitement--
"And if you dare to injure her in the least, I will await you where
no policeman can step in between. And God shall judge between us
The policeman now interfered with persuasions and warnings. He
locked his arm in Jem's to lead him away in an opposite direction to
that in which he saw Mr. Carson was going. Jem submitted gloomily,
for a few steps, then wrenched himself free. The policeman shouted
"Take care, my man! there's no girl on earth worth what you'll be
bringing on yourself if you don't mind."
But Jem was out of hearing.
XVI. MEETING BETWEEN MASTERS AND WORKMEN.
"Not for a moment take the scorner's chair;
While seated there, thou know'st not how a word,
A tone, a look, may gall thy brother's heart,
And make him turn in bitterness against thee."
The day arrived on which the masters were to have an interview with
a deputation of the workpeople. The meeting was to take place in a
public room, at an hotel; and there, about eleven o'clock, the
mill-owners, who had received the foreign orders, began to collect.
Of course, the first subject, however full their minds might be of
another, was the weather. Having done their duty by all the showers
and sunshine which had occurred during the past week, they fell to
talking about the business which brought them together. There might
be about twenty gentlemen in the room, including some by courtesy,
who were not immediately concerned in the settlement of the present
question; but who, nevertheless, were sufficiently interested to
attend. These were divided into little groups, who did not seem by
any means unanimous. Some were for a slight concession, just a
sugar-plum to quieten the naughty child, a sacrifice to peace and
quietness. Some were steadily and vehemently opposed to the
dangerous precedent of yielding one jot or one tittle to the outward
force of a turn-out. It was teaching the workpeople how to become
masters, said they. Did they want the wildest thing here-after,
they would know that the way to obtain their wishes would be to
strike work. Besides, one or two of those present had only just
returned from the New Bailey, where one of the turn-outs had been
tried for a cruel assault on a poor north-country weaver, who had
attempted to work at the low price. They were indignant, and justly
so, at the merciless manner in which the poor fellow had been
treated; and their indignation at wrong, took (as it often does) the
extreme form of revenge. They felt as if, rather than yield to the
body of men who were resorting to such cruel measures towards their
fellow-workmen, they, the masters, would sooner relinquish all the
benefits to be derived from the fulfilment of the commission, in
order that the workmen might suffer keenly. They forgot that the
strike was in this instance the consequence of want and need,
suffered unjustly, as the endurers believed; for, however insane,
and without ground of reason, such was their belief, and such was
the cause of their violence. It is a great truth that you cannot
extinguish violence by violence. You may put it down for a time;
but while you are crowing over your imaginary success, see if it
does not return with seven devils worse than its former self!
No one thought of treating the workmen as brethren and friends, and
openly, clearly, as appealing to reasonable men, stating exactly and
fully the circumstances which led the masters to think it was the
wise policy of the time to make sacrifices themselves, and to hope
for them from the operatives.
In going from group to group in the room, you caught such a medley
of sentences as the following--
"Poor devils! they're near enough to starving, I'm afraid. Mrs.
Aldred makes two cows' heads into soup every week, and people come
many miles to fetch it; and if these times last, we must try and do
more. But we must not be bullied into anything!"
"A rise of a shilling or so won't make much difference, and they
will go away thinking they've gained their point."
"That's the very thing I object to. They'll think so, and whenever
they've a point to gain, no matter how unreasonable, they'll strike
"It really injures them more than us."
"I don't see how our interests can be separated."
"The d--d brute had thrown vitriol on the poor fellow's ankles, and
you know what a bad part that is to heal. He had to stand still
with the pain, and that left him at the mercy of the cruel wretch,
who beat him about the head till you'd hardly have known he was a
man. They doubt if he'll live."
"If it were only for that, I'll stand out against them, even if it
is the cause of my ruin."
"Ay, I for one won't yield one farthing to the cruel brutes; they're
more like wild beasts than human beings."
(Well, who might have made them different?)
"I say, Carson, just go and tell Duncombe of this fresh instance of
their abominable conduct. He's wavering, but I think this will
The door was now opened, and the waiter announced that the men were
below, and asked if it were the pleasure of the gentlemen that they
should be shown up.
They assented, and rapidly took their places round the official
table; looking, as like as they could, to the Roman senators who
awaited the irruption of Brennus and his Gauls.
Tramp, tramp, came the heavy clogged feet up the stairs; and in a
minute five wild, earnest-looking men stood in the room. John
Barton, from some mistake as to time, was not among them. Had they
been larger-boned men, you would have called them gaunt; as it was,
they were little of stature, and their fustian clothes hung loosely
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