Part 8 out of 9
XXXI. HOW MARY PASSED THE NIGHT.
That all this long interminable night,
Which I have passed in thinking on two words--
'Guilty'--'Not Guilty!'--like one happy moment
O'er many a head hath flown unheeded by;
O'er happy sleepers dreaming in their bliss
Of bright to-morrows--or far happier still,
With deep breath buried in forgetfulness.
O all the dismallest images of death
Did swim before my eyes!"
And now, where was Mary?
How Job's heart would have been relieved of one of its cares if he
could have seen her: for he was in a miserable state of anxiety
about her; and many and many a time through that long night he
scolded her and himself; her for her obstinacy, and himself for his
weakness in yielding to her obstinacy, when she insisted on being
the one to follow and find out Will.
She did not pass that night in bed any more than Job; but she was
under a respectable roof, and among kind, though rough people.
She had offered no resistance to the old boatman, when he had
clutched her arm, in order to insure her following him, as he
threaded the crowded dock-ways, and dived up strange by-streets.
She came on meekly after him, scarcely thinking in her stupor where
she was going, and glad (in a dead, heavy way) that some one was
deciding things for her.
He led her to an old-fashioned house, almost as small as house could
be, which had been built long ago, before all the other part of the
street, and had a country-town look about it in the middle of that
bustling back-street. He pulled her into the house-place; and
relieved to a certain degree of his fear of losing her on the way,
"There!" giving a great slap of one hand on her back.
The room was light and bright, and roused Mary (perhaps the slap on
her back might help a little too), and she felt the awkwardness of
accounting for her presence to a little bustling old woman who had
been moving about the fireplace on her entrance. The boatman took
it very quietly, never deigning to give any explanation, but sitting
down in his own particular chair, and chewing tobacco, while he
looked at Mary with the most satisfied air imaginable, half
triumphantly, as if she were the captive of his bow and spear, and
half defying, as if daring her to escape.
The old woman, his wife, stood still, poker in hand, waiting to
be told who it was that her husband had brought home so
unceremoniously; but, as she looked in amazement, the girl's cheek
flushed, and then blanched to a dead whiteness; a film came over her
eyes, and catching at the dresser for support in that hot whirling
room, she fell in a heap on the floor.
Both man and wife came quickly to her assistance. They raised her
up, still insensible, and he supported her on one knee, while his
wife pattered away for some cold fresh water. She threw it straight
over Mary; but though it caused a great sob, the eyes still remained
closed, and the face as pale as ashes.
"Who is she, Ben?" asked the woman, as she rubbed her unresisting,
"How should I know?" answered her husband gruffly.
"Well-a-well!" (in a soothing tone, such as you use to irritated
children), and as if half to herself, "I only thought you might, you
know, as you brought her home. Poor thing! we must not ask aught
about her, but that she needs help. I wish I'd my salts at home,
but I lent 'em to Mrs. Burton, last Sunday in church, for she could
not keep awake through the sermon. Dear-a-me, how white she is!"
"Here! you hold her up a bit," said her husband.
She did as he desired, still crooning to herself, not caring for his
short, sharp interruptions as she went on; and, indeed, to her old,
loving heart, his crossest words fell like pearls and diamonds, for
he had been the husband of her youth; and even he, rough and crabbed
as he was, was secretly soothed by the sound of her voice, although
not for worlds, if he could have helped it, would he have shown any
of the love that was hidden beneath his rough outside.
"What's the old fellow after?" said she, bending over Mary, so as to
accommodate the drooping head. "Taking my pen, as I've had for
better nor five year. Bless us, and save us! he's burning it! Ay,
I see now, he's his wits about him; burnt feathers is always good
for a faint. But they don't bring her round, poor wench! Now
what's he after next? Well! he is a bright one, my old man! That I
never thought of that, to be sure!" exclaimed she, as he produced a
square bottle of smuggled spirits, labelled "Golden Wasser," from a
corner cupboard in their little room.
"That'll do!" said she, as the dose he poured into Mary's open mouth
made her start and cough. "Bless the man. It's just like him to be
so tender and thoughtful!"
"Not a bit!" snarled he, as he was relieved by Mary's returning
colour, and opened eyes, and wondering, sensible gaze; "not a bit.
I never was such a fool afore."
His wife helped Mary to rise, and placed her in a chair.
"All's right, now, young woman?" asked the boatman anxiously.
"Yes, sir, and thank you. I'm sure, sir, I don't know rightly how
to thank you," faltered Mary softly forth.
"Be hanged to you and your thanks." And he shook himself, took his
pipe, and went out without deigning another word; leaving his wife
sorely puzzled as to the character and history of the stranger
within her doors.
Mary watched the boatman leave the house, and then, turning her
sorrowful eyes to the face of her hostess, she attempted feebly to
rise, with the intention of going away,--where she knew not.
"Nay! nay! whoe'er thou be'st, thou'rt not fit to go out into the
street. Perhaps" (sinking her voice a little) "thou'rt a bad one; I
almost misdoubt thee, thou'rt so pretty. Well-a-well! it's the bad
ones as have the broken hearts, sure enough; good folk never get
utterly cast down, they've always getten hope in the Lord; it's the
sinful as bear the bitter, bitter grief in their crushed hearts,
poor souls; it's them we ought, most of all, to pity and help. She
shanna leave the house to-night, choose who she is--worst woman in
Liverpool, she shanna. I wished I knew where th' old man picked her
up, that I do."
Mary had listened feebly to this soliloquy, and now tried to satisfy
her hostess in weak, broken sentences.
"I'm not a bad one, missis, indeed. Your master took me out to see
after a ship as had sailed. There was a man in it as might save a
life at the trial to-morrow. The captain would not let him come,
but he says he'll come back in the pilot-boat." She fell to sobbing
at the thought of her waning hopes, and the old woman tried to
comfort her, beginning with her accustomed--
"Well-a-well! and he'll come back, I'm sure. I know he will; so
keep up your heart. Don't fret about it. He's sure to be back."
"Oh! I'm afraid! I'm sore afraid he won't," cried Mary, consoled,
nevertheless, by the woman's assertions, all groundless as she knew
them to be.
Still talking half to herself and half to Mary, the old woman
prepared tea, and urged her visitor to eat and refresh herself. But
Mary shook her head at the proffered food, and only drank a cup of
tea with thirsty eagerness. For the spirits had thrown her into a
burning heat, and rendered each impression received through her
senses of the most painful distinctness and intensity, while her
head ached in a terrible manner.
She disliked speaking, her power over her words seemed so utterly
gone. She used quite different expressions to those she intended.
So she kept silent, while Mrs. Sturgis (for that was the name of her
hostess) talked away, and put her tea-things by, and moved about
incessantly, in a manner that increased the dizziness in Mary's
head. She felt as if she ought to take leave for the night and go.
Presently the old man came back, crosser and gruffer than when he
went away. He kicked aside the dry shoes his wife had prepared for
him, and snarled at all she said. Mary attributed this to his
finding her still there, and gathered up her strength for an effort
to leave the house. But she was mistaken. By-and-by, he said
(looking right into the fire, as if addressing it), "Wind's right
"Ay, ay, and is it so?" said his wife, who, knowing him well, knew
that his surliness proceeded from some repressed sympathy.
"Well-a-well, wind changes often at night. Time enough before
morning. I'd bet a penny it has changed sin' thou looked."
She looked out of her little window at a weathercock near,
glittering in the moonlight; and as she was a sailor's wife, she
instantly recognised the unfavourable point at which the indicator
seemed stationary, and giving a heavy sigh, turned into the room,
and began to beat about in her own mind for some other mode of
"There's no one else who can prove what you want at the trial
to-morrow, is there?" asked she.
"No one!" answered Mary.
"And you've no clue to the one as is really guilty, if t'other is
Mary did not answer, but trembled all over.
Sturgis saw it.
"Don't bother her with thy questions," said he to his wife. "She
mun go to bed, for she's all in a shiver with the sea-air. I'll see
after the wind, hang it, and the weathercock too. Tide will help
'em when it turns."
Mary went upstairs murmuring thanks and blessings on those who took
the stranger in. Mrs. Sturgis led her into a little room redolent
of the sea and foreign lands. There was a small bed for one son
bound for China; and a hammock slung above for another, who was now
tossing in the Baltic. The sheets looked made out of sail-cloth,
but were fresh and clean in spite of their brownness.
Against the wall were wafered two rough drawings of vessels with
their names written underneath, on which the mother's eyes caught,
and gazed until they filled with tears. But she brushed the drops
away with the back of her hand, and in a cheerful tone went on to
assure Mary the bed was well aired.
"I cannot sleep, thank you. I will sit here, if you please," said
Mary, sinking down on the window-seat.
"Come, now," said Mrs. Sturgis, "my master told me to see you to
bed, and I mun. What's the use of watching? A watched pot never
boils, and I see you are after watching that weathercock. Why now,
I try never to look at it, else I could do nought else. My heart
many a time goes sick when the wind rises, but I turn away and work
away, and try never to think on the wind, but on what I ha' getten
"Let me stay up a little," pleaded Mary, as her hostess seemed so
resolute about seeing her to bed.
Her looks won her suit.
"Well, I suppose I mun. I shall catch it downstairs, I know. He'll
be in a fidget till you're getten to bed, I know; so you mun be
quiet if you are so bent upon staying up."
And quietly, noiselessly, Mary watched the unchanging weathercock
through the night. She sat on the little window seat, her hand
holding back the curtain which shaded the room from the bright
moonlight without; her head resting its weariness against the corner
of the window-frame; her eyes burning and stiff with the intensity
of her gaze.
The ruddy morning stole up the horizon, casting a crimson glow into
the watcher's room.
It was the morning of the day of trial!
XXXII. THE TRIAL AND VERDICT--"NOT GUILTY."
"Thou stand'st here arraign'd,
That with presumption impious and accurs'd,
Thou hast usurp'd God's high prerogative,
Making thy fellow mortal's life and death
Wait on thy moody and diseased passions;
That with a violent and untimely steel
Hath set abroach the blood that should have ebbed
In calm and natural current: to sum all
In one wild name--a name the pale air freezes at,
And every cheek of man sinks in with horror--
Thou art a cold and midnight murderer."
Of all the restless people who found that night's hours agonising
from excess of anxiety, the poor father of the murdered man was
perhaps the most restless. He had slept but little since the blow
had fallen; his waking hours had been too full of agitated thought,
which seemed to haunt and pursue him through his unquiet slumbers.
And this night of all others was the most sleepless. He turned over
and over again in his mind the wonder if everything had been done,
that could be done, to insure the conviction of Jem Wilson. He
almost regretted the haste with which he had urged forward the
proceedings, and yet, until he had obtained vengeance, he felt as if
there was no peace on earth for him (I don't know that he exactly
used the term vengeance in his thoughts; he spoke of justice, and
probably thought of his desired end as such); no peace, either
bodily or mental, for he moved up and down his bedroom with the
restless incessant tramp of a wild beast in a cage, and if he
compelled his aching limbs to cease for an instant, the twitchings
which ensued almost amounted to convulsions, and he recommenced his
walk as the lesser evil, and the more bearable fatigue.
With daylight increased power of action came; and he drove off to
arouse his attorney, and worry him with further directions and
inquiries; and when that was ended, he sat, watch in hand, until the
courts should be opened, and the trial begin.
What were all the living,--wife or daughters,--what were they in
comparison with the dead, the murdered son who lay unburied still,
in compliance with his father's earnest wish, and almost vowed
purpose, of having the slayer of his child sentenced to death,
before he committed the body to the rest of the grave?
At nine o'clock they all met at their awful place of rendezvous.
The judge, the jury, the avenger of blood, the prisoner, the
witnesses--all were gathered together within the building. And
besides these were many others, personally interested in some part
of the proceedings, in which, however, they took no part; Job Legh,
Ben Sturgis, and several others were there, amongst whom was Charley
Job Legh had carefully avoided any questioning from Mrs. Wilson that
morning. Indeed, he had not been much in her company, for he had
risen up early to go out once more to make inquiry for Mary; and
when he could hear nothing of her, he had desperately resolved not
to undeceive Mrs. Wilson, as sorrow never came too late; and if the
blow were inevitable, it would be better to leave her in ignorance
of the impending evil as long as possible, She took her place in the
witness-room, worn and dispirited, but not anxious.
As Job struggled through the crowd into the body of the court, Mr.
Bridgnorth's clerk beckoned to him.
"Here's a letter for you from our client!"
Job sickened as he took it. He did not know why, but he dreaded a
confession of guilt, which would be an overthrow of all hope.
The letter ran as follows:--
"DEAR FRIEND,--I thank you heartily for your goodness in finding me
a lawyer, but lawyers can do no good to me, whatever they may do to
other people. But I am not the less obliged to you, dear friend. I
foresee things will go against me--and no wonder. If I was a
juryman I should say the man was guilty as had as much evidence
brought against him as may be brought against me tomorrow. So it's
no blame to them if they do. But, Job Legh, I think I need not tell
you I am as guiltless in this matter as the babe unborn, although it
is not in my power to prove it. If I did not believe that you
thought me innocent, I could not write as I do now to tell you my
wishes. You'll not forget they are the words of a man shortly to
die. Dear friend, you must take care of my mother. Not in the
money way, for she will have enough for her and Aunt Alice; but you
must let her talk to you of me; and show her that (whatever others
may do) you think I died innocent. I don't reckon she'll stay long
behind when we are all gone. Be tender with her, Job, for my sake;
and if she is a bit fractious at times, remember what she has gone
through. I know mother will never doubt me, God bless her.
"There is one other whom I fear I have loved too dearly; and yet,
the loving her has made the happiness of my life. She will think I
have murdered her lover: she will think I have caused the grief
she must be feeling. And she must go on thinking so. It is hard
upon me to say this; but she MUST. It will be best for her, and
that's all I ought to think on. But, dear Job, you are a hearty
fellow for your time of life, and may live many years to come; and
perhaps you could tell her, when you felt sure you were drawing near
your end, that I solemnly told you (as I do now) that I was innocent
of this thing. You must not tell her for many years to come: but
I cannot well bear to think on her living through a long life, and
hating the thought of me as the murderer of him she loved, and dying
with that hatred to me in her heart. It would hurt me sore in the
other world to see the look of it in her face, as it would be, till
she was told. I must not let myself think on how she must be
viewing me now.
"So God bless you, Job Legh; and no more from yours to command,
Job turned the letter over and over when he had read it; sighed
deeply; and then wrapping it carefully up in a bit of newspaper he
had about him, he put it in his waistcoat pocket, and went off to
the door of the witness-room to ask if Mary Barton was there.
As the door opened he saw her sitting within, against a table on
which her folded arms were resting, and her head was hidden within
them. It was an attitude of hopelessness, and would have served to
strike Job dumb in sickness of heart, even without the sound of Mrs.
Wilson's voice in passionate sobbing, and sore lamentations, which
told him as well as words could do (for she was not within view of
the door, and he did not care to go in), that she was at any rate
partially undeceived as to the hopes he had given her last night.
Sorrowfully did Job return into the body of the court; neither Mrs.
Wilson nor Mary having seen him as he had stood at the witness-room
As soon as he could bring his distracted thoughts to bear upon the
present scene, he perceived that the trial of James Wilson for the
murder of Henry Carson was just commencing. The clerk was gabbling
over the indictment, and in a minute or two there was the accustomed
question, "How say you, Guilty or Not Guilty?"
Although but one answer was expected,--was customary in all
cases,--there was a pause of dead silence, an interval of solemnity
even in this hackneyed part of the proceeding; while the prisoner at
the bar stood with compressed lips, looking at the judge with his
outward eyes, but with far other and different scenes presented to
his mental vision; a sort of rapid recapitulation of his
life,--remembrances of his childhood,--his father (so proud of him,
his first-born child),--his sweet little playfellow, Mary,--his
hopes, his love, his despair,--yet still, yet ever and ever, his
love,--the blank, wide world it had been without her love,--his
mother,--his childless mother,--but not long to be so,--not long to
be away from all she loved,--nor during that time to be oppressed
with doubt as to his innocence, sure and secure of her darling's
heart;--he started from his instant's pause, and said in a low firm
"Not guilty, my lord."
The circumstances of the murder, the discovery of the body, the
causes of suspicion against Jem, were as well known to most of the
audience as they are to you, so there was some little buzz of
conversation going on among the people while the leading counsel for
the prosecution made his very effective speech.
"That's Mr. Carson, the father, sitting behind Serjeant Wilkinson!"
"What a noble-looking old man he is! so stern and inflexible, with
such classical features! Does he not remind you of some of the
busts of Jupiter?"
"I am more interested by watching the prisoner. Criminals always
interest me. I try to trace in the features common to humanity some
expression of the crimes by which they have distinguished themselves
from their kind. I have seen a good number of murderers in my day,
but I have seldom seen one with such marks of Cain on his
countenance as the man at the bar."
"Well, I am no physiognomist, but I don't think his face strikes me
as bad. It certainly is gloomy and depressed, and not unnaturally
so, considering his situation."
"Only look at his low, resolute brow, his downcast eye, his white
compressed lips. He never looks up,--just watch him."
"His forehead is not so low if he had that mass of black hair
removed, and is very square, which some people say is a good sign.
If others are to be influenced by such trifles as you are, it would
have been much better if the prison barber had cut his hair a little
previous to the trial; and as for downcast eye, and compressed lip,
it is all part and parcel of his inward agitation just now; nothing
to do with character, my good fellow."
Poor Jem! His raven hair (his mother's pride, and so often fondly
caressed by her fingers), was that, too, to have its influence
The witnesses were called. At first they consisted principally of
policemen; who, being much accustomed to giving evidence, knew what
were the material points they were called on to prove, and did not
lose the time of the court in listening to anything unnecessary.
"Clear as day against the prisoner," whispered one attorney's clerk
"Black as night, you mean," replied his friend; and they both
"Jane Wilson! who's she? some relation, I suppose, from the name."
"The mother,--she that is to prove the gun part of the case."
"Oh, ay--I remember! Rather hard on her, too, I think."
Then both were silent, as one of the officers of the court ushered
Mrs. Wilson into the witness-box. I have often called her "the old
woman," and "an old woman," because, in truth, her appearance was so
much beyond her years, which could not be many above fifty. But
partly owing to her accident in early life, which left a stamp of
pain upon her face, partly owing to her anxious temper, partly to
her sorrows, and partly to her limping gait, she always gave me the
idea of age. But now she might have seemed more than seventy; her
lines were so set and deep, her features so sharpened, and her walk
so feeble. She was trying to check her sobs into composure, and
(unconsciously) was striving to behave as she thought would best
please her poor boy, whom she knew she had often grieved by her
uncontrolled impatience. He had buried his face in his arms, which
rested on the front of the dock (an attitude he retained during the
greater part of his trial, and which prejudiced many against him).
The counsel began the examination.
"Your name is Jane Wilson, I believe?"
"The mother of the prisoner at the bar?"
"Yes, sir," with quivering voice, ready to break out into weeping,
but earning respect by the strong effort at self-control, prompted,
as I have said before, by her earnest wish to please her son by her
The barrister now proceeded to the important part of the
examination, tending to prove that the gun found on the scene of the
murder was the prisoner's. She had committed herself so fully to
the policeman, that she could not well retract; so without much
delay in bringing the question round to the desired point, the gun
was produced in court, and the inquiry made--
"That gun belongs to your son, does it not?"
She clenched the sides of the witness-box in her efforts to make her
parched tongue utter words. At last she moaned forth--
"Oh! Jem, Jem! what mun I say?"
Every one bent forward to hear the prisoner's answer; although, in
fact, it was of little importance to the issue of the trial. He
lifted up his head; and with a face brimming full of pity for his
mother, yet resolved into endurance, said--
"Tell the truth, mother!"
And so she did, with the fidelity of a little child. Every one felt
that she did; and the little colloquy between mother and son did
them some slight service in the opinion of the audience. But the
awful judge sat unmoved; and the jurymen changed not a muscle of
their countenances; while the counsel for the prosecution went
triumphantly through this part of the case, including the fact of
Jem's absence from home on the night of the murder, and bringing
every admission to bear right against the prisoner.
It was over. She was told to go down. But she could no longer
compel her mother's heart to keep silence, and suddenly turning
towards the judge (with whom she imagined the verdict to rest), she
thus addressed him with her choking voice--
"And now, sir, I've telled you the truth, and the whole truth, as he
bid me; but don't you let what I have said go for to hang him; oh,
my lord judge, take my word for it, he's as innocent as the child as
has yet to be born. For sure, I, who am his mother, and have nursed
him on my knee, and been gladdened by the sight of him every day
since, ought to know him better than yon pack of fellows"
(indicating the jury, while she strove against her heart to render
her words distinct and clear for her dear son's sake), "who, I'll go
bail, never saw him before this morning in all their born days. My
lord judge, he's so good I often wondered what harm there was in
him; many is the time when I've been fretted (for I'm frabbit enough
at times), when I've scold't myself, and said: 'You ungrateful
thing, the Lord God has given you Jem, and isn't that blessing
enough for you?' But He has seen fit to punish me. If Jem is--if
Jem is--taken from me, I shall be a childless woman; and very poor,
having nought left to love on earth, and I cannot say 'His will be
done.' I cannot, my lord judge, oh, I cannot."
While sobbing out these words she was led away by the officers of
the court, but tenderly, and reverently, with the respect which
great sorrow commands.
The stream of evidence went on and on, gathering fresh force from
every witness who was examined, and threatening to overwhelm poor
Jem. Already they had proved that the gun was his, that he had been
heard not many days before the commission of the deed to threaten
the deceased; indeed, that the police had, at that time, been
obliged to interfere, to prevent some probable act of violence. It
only remained to bring forward a sufficient motive for the threat
and the murder. The clue to this had been furnished by the
policeman, who had overheard Jem's angry language to Mr. Carson; and
his report in the first instance had occasioned the sub-poena to
And now she was to be called on to bear witness. The court was by
this time almost as full as it could hold; but fresh attempts were
being made to squeeze in at all the entrances, for many were anxious
to see and hear this part of the trial.
Old Mr. Carson felt an additional beat at his heart at the thought
of seeing the fatal Helen, the cause of all,--a kind of interest and
yet repugnance, for was not she beloved by the dead; nay, perhaps,
in her way, loving and mourning for the same being that he himself
was so bitterly grieving over? And yet he felt as if he abhorred
her and her rumoured loveliness, as if she were the curse against
him; and he grew jealous of the love with which she had inspired his
son, and would fain have deprived her of even her natural right of
sorrowing over her lover's untimely end: for you see it was a
fixed idea in the minds of all, that the handsome, bright, gay, rich
young gentleman must have been beloved in preference to the serious,
almost stern-looking smith, who had to toil for his daily bread.
Hitherto the effect of the trial had equalled Mr. Carson's most
sanguine hopes, and a severe look of satisfaction came over the face
of the avenger,--over that countenance whence the smile had
departed, never more to return.
All eyes were directed to the door through which the witnesses
entered. Even Jem looked up to catch one glimpse before he hid his
face from her look of aversion. The officer had gone to fetch her.
She was in exactly the same attitude as when Job Legh had seen her
two hours before through the half-open door. Not a finger had
moved. The officer summoned her, but she did not stir. She was so
still, he thought she had fallen asleep, and he stepped forward and
touched her. She started up in an instant, and followed him with a
kind of rushing rapid motion into the court, into the witness-box.
And amid all that sea of faces, misty and swimming before her eyes,
she saw but two clear bright spots, distinct and fixed: the judge,
who might have to condemn; and the prisoner, who might have to die.
The mellow sunlight streamed down that high window on her head, and
fell on the rich treasure of her golden hair, stuffed away in masses
under her little bonnet-cap; and in those warm beams the motes kept
dancing up and down. The wind had changed--had changed almost as
soon as she had given up her watching; the wind had changed, and she
heeded it not.
Many who were looking for mere flesh and blood beauty, mere
colouring, were disappointed; for her face was deadly white, and
almost set in its expression, while a mournful bewildered soul
looked out of the depths of those soft, deep, grey eyes. But others
recognised a higher and a stranger kind of beauty; one that would
keep its hold on the memory for many after years.
I was not there myself; but one who was, told me that her look, and
indeed her whole face, was more like the well-known engraving from
Guido's picture of "Beatrice Cenci" than anything else he could give
me an idea of. He added, that her countenance haunted him, like the
remembrance of some wild sad melody, heard in childhood; that it
would perpetually recur with its mute imploring agony.
With all the court reeling before her (always save and except those
awful two), she heard a voice speak, and answered the simple inquiry
(something about her name) mechanically, as if in a dream. So she
went on for two or three more questions, with a strange wonder in
her brain, at the reality of the terrible circumstances in which she
Suddenly she was roused, she knew not how or by what. She was
conscious that all was real, that hundreds were looking at her, that
true-sounding words were being extracted from her; that that figure,
so bowed down, with the face concealed with both hands, was really
Jem. Her face flushed scarlet, and then, paler than before. But in
dread of herself, with the tremendous secret imprisoned within her,
she exerted every power she had to keep in the full understanding of
what was going on, of what she was asked, and of what she answered.
With all her faculties preternaturally alive and sensitive, she
heard the next question from the pert young barrister, who was
delighted to have the examination of this witness.
"And pray, may I ask, which was the favoured lover? You say you
knew both these young men. Which was the favoured lover? Which did
And who was he, the questioner, that he should dare so lightly to
ask of her heart's secrets? That he should dare to ask her to tell,
before that multitude assembled there, what woman usually whispers
with blushes and tears, and many hesitations, to one ear alone?
So, for an instant, a look of indignation contracted Mary's brow, as
she steadily met the eyes of the impertinent counsellor. But, in
that instant, she saw the hands removed from a face beyond, behind;
and a countenance revealed of such intense love and woe,--such a
deprecating dread of her answer; and suddenly her resolution was
taken. The present was everything; the future, that vast shroud, it
was maddening to think upon; but NOW she might own her fault, but
NOW she might even own her love. Now, when the beloved stood thus,
abhorred of men, there would be no feminine shame to stand between
her and her avowal. So she also turned towards the judge, partly to
mark that her answer was not given to the monkeyfied man who
questioned her, and likewise that the face might be averted from,
and her eyes not gaze upon, the form that contracted with the dread
of the words he anticipated.
"He asks me which of them two I liked best. Perhaps I liked Mr.
Harry Carson once--I don't know--I've forgotten; but I loved James
Wilson, that's now on trial, above what tongue can tell--above all
else on earth put together; and I love him now better than ever,
though he has never known a word of it till this minute. For you
see, sir, mother died before I was thirteen, before I could know
right from wrong about some things; and I was giddy and vain, and
ready to listen to any praise of my good looks; and this poor young
Mr. Carson fell in with me, and told me he loved me; and I was
foolish enough to think he meant me marriage: a mother is a
pitiful loss to a girl, sir: and so I used to fancy I could like
to be a lady, and rich, and never know want any more. I never found
out how dearly I loved another till one day, when James Wilson asked
me to marry him, and I was very hard and sharp in my answer (for
indeed, sir, I'd a deal to bear just then), and he took me at my
word and left me; and from that day to this I've never spoken a word
to him, or set eyes on him; though I'd fain have done so, to try and
show him we had both been too hasty; for he'd not been gone out of
my sight above a minute before I knew I loved--far above my life,"
said she, dropping her voice as she came to this second confession
of the strength of her attachment. "But, if the gentleman asks me
which I loved the best, I make answer, I was flattered by Mr.
Carson, and pleased with his flattery; but James Wilson, I--"
She covered her face with her hands, to hide the burning scarlet
blushes, which even dyed her fingers.
There was a little pause; still, though her speech might inspire
pity for the prisoner, it only strengthened the supposition of his
Presently the counsellor went on with his examination.
"But you have seen young Mr. Carson since your rejection of the
"You have spoken to him, I conclude, at these times."
"Only once, to call speaking."
"And what was the substance of your conversation? Did you tell him
you found you preferred his rival?"
"No, sir. I don't think as I've done wrong in saying, now as things
stand, what my feelings are; but I never would be so bold as to tell
one young man I cared for another. I never named Jem's name to Mr.
"Then what did you say when you had this final conversation with Mr.
Carson? You can give me the substance of it, if you don't remember
"I'll try, sir; but I'm not very clear. I told him I could not love
him, and wished to have nothing more to do with him. He did his
best to over-persuade me, but I kept steady, and at last I ran off."
"And you never spoke to him again?"
"Now, young woman, remember you are upon your oath. Did you ever
tell the prisoner at the bar of Mr. Henry Carson's attentions to
you? of your acquaintance, in short? Did you ever try to excite his
jealousy by boasting of a lover so far above you in station?"
"Never. I never did," said she, in so firm and distinct a manner as
to leave no doubt.
"Were you aware that he knew of Mr. Henry Carson's regard for you?
Remember you are on your oath!"
"Never, sir. I was not aware until I heard of the quarrel between
them, and what Jem had said to the policeman, and that was after the
murder. To this day I can't make out who told Jem. O sir, may not
I go down?"
For she felt the sense, the composure, the very bodily strength
which she had compelled to her aid for a time, suddenly giving way,
and was conscious that she was losing all command over herself.
There was no occasion to detain her longer; she had done her part.
She might go down. The evidence was still stronger against the
prisoner; but now he stood erect and firm, with self-respect in his
attitude, and a look of determination on his face, which almost made
it appear noble. Yet he seemed lost in thought.
Job Legh had all this time been trying to soothe and comfort Mrs.
Wilson, who would first be in the court, in order to see her
darling, and then, when her sobs became irrepressible, had to be led
out into the open air, and sat there weeping, on the steps of the
court-house. Who would have taken charge of Mary, on her release
from the witness-box, I do not know, if Mrs. Sturgis, the boatman's
wife, had not been there, brought by her interest in Mary, towards
whom she now pressed, in order to urge her to leave the scene of the
"No! no!" said Mary, to this proposition. "I must be here. I must
watch that they don't hang him, you know I must."
"Oh! they'll not hang him! never fear! Besides, the wind has
changed, and that's in his favour. Come away. You're so hot, and
first white and then red; I'm sure you're ill. Just come away."
"Oh! I don't know about anything but that I must stay," replied
Mary, in a strange hurried manner, catching hold of some rails as if
she feared some bodily force would be employed to remove her. So
Mrs. Sturgis just waited patiently by her, every now and then
peeping among the congregation of heads in the body of the court, to
see if her husband were still there. And there he always was to be
seen, looking and listening with all his might. His wife felt easy
that he would not be wanting her at home until the trial was ended.
Mary never let go her clutched hold on the rails. She wanted them
to steady her, in that heaving, whirling court. She thought the
feeling of something hard compressed within her hand would help her
to listen, for it was such pain, such weary pain in her head, to
strive to attend to what was being said. They were all at sea,
sailing away on billowy waves, and every one speaking at once, and
no one heeding her father, who was calling on them to be silent, and
listen to him. Then again, for a brief second, the court stood
still, and she could see the judge, sitting up there like an idol,
with his trappings, so rigid and stiff; and Jem, opposite, looking
at her, as if to say, Am I to die for what you know your--. Then
she checked herself, and by a great struggle brought herself round
to an instant's sanity. But the round of thought never stood still;
and off she went again; and every time her power of struggling
against the growing delirium grew fainter and fainter. She muttered
low to herself, but no one heard her except her neighbour, Mrs.
Sturgis; all were too closely attending to the case for the
prosecution, which was now being wound up.
The counsel for the prisoner had avoided much cross-examination,
reserving to himself the right of calling the witnesses forward
again; for he had received so little, and such vague instructions,
and understood that so much depended on the evidence of one who was
not forthcoming, that in fact he had little hope of establishing
anything like a show of a defence, and contented himself with
watching the case, and lying in wait for any legal objections that
might offer themselves. He lay back on the seat, occasionally
taking a pinch of snuff in a manner intended to be contemptuous; now
and then elevating his eyebrows, and sometimes exchanging a little
note with Mr. Bridgnorth behind him. The attorney had far more
interest in the case than the barrister, to which he was perhaps
excited by his poor old friend Job Legh; who had edged and wedged
himself through the crowd close to Mr. Bridgnorth's elbow, sent
thither by Ben Sturgis, to whom he had been "introduced" by Charley
Jones, and who had accounted for Mary's disappearance on the
preceding day, and spoken of their chase, their fears, their hopes.
All this was told in a few words to Mr. Bridgnorth--so few, that
they gave him but a confused idea, that time was of value; and this
he named to his counsel, who now rose to speak for the defence.
Job Legh looked about for Mary, now he had gained, and given, some
idea of the position of things. At last he saw her, standing by a
decent-looking woman, looking flushed and anxious, and moving her
lips incessantly, as if eagerly talking; her eyes never resting on
any object, but wandering about as if in search of something. Job
thought it was for him she was seeking, and he struggled to get
round to her. When he had succeeded, she took no notice of him,
although he spoke to her, but still kept looking round and round in
the same wild, restless manner. He tried to hear the low quick
mutterings of her voice, as he caught the repetition of the same
words over and over again.
"I must not go mad. I must not, indeed. They say people tell the
truth when they're mad; but I don't. I was always a liar. I was,
indeed; but I'm not mad. I must not go mad. I must not, indeed."
Suddenly she seemed to become aware how earnestly Job was listening
(with mournful attention) to her words, and turning sharp round upon
him, with upbraiding for his eavesdropping on her lips, she caught
sight of something,--or some one,--who even in that state, had power
to arrest her attention; and throwing up her arms with wild energy,
she shrieked aloud--
"O Jem! Jem! you're saved; and I AM mad" and was instantly seized
with convulsions. With much commiseration she was taken out of
court, while the attention of many was diverted from her, by the
fierce energy with which a sailor forced his way over rails and
seats, against turnkeys and policemen. The officers of the court
opposed this forcible manner of entrance, but they could hardly
induce the offender to adopt any quieter way of attaining his
object, and telling his tale in the witness-box, the legitimate
place. For Will had dwelt so impatiently on the danger in which his
absence would place his cousin, that even yet he seemed to fear that
he might see the prisoner carried off, and hung, before he could
pour out the narrative which would exculpate him. As for Job Legh,
his feelings were all but uncontrollable; as you may judge by the
indifference with which he saw Mary borne, stiff and convulsed, out
of the court, in the charge of the kind Mrs. Sturgis, who, you will
remember, was an utter stranger to him.
"She'll keep! I'll not trouble myself about her," said he to
himself, as he wrote with trembling hands a little note of
information to Mr. Bridgnorth, who had conjectured, when Will had
first disturbed the awful tranquillity of the life-and-death court,
that the witness had arrived (better late than never) on whose
evidence rested all the slight chance yet remaining to Jem Wilson of
escaping death. During the commotion in the court, among all the
cries and commands, the dismay and the directions, consequent upon
Will's entrance, and poor Mary's fearful attack of illness, Mr.
Bridgnorth had kept his lawyer-like presence of mind; and long
before Job Legh's almost illegible note was poked at him, he had
recapitulated the facts on which Will had to give evidence, and the
manner in which he had been pursued, after his ship had taken her
leave of the land.
The barrister who defended Jem took new heart when he was put in
possession of these striking points to be adduced, not so much out
of earnestness to save the prisoner, of whose innocence he was still
doubtful, as because he saw the opportunities for the display of
forensic eloquence which were presented by the facts; "a gallant tar
brought back from the pathless ocean by a girl's noble daring," "the
dangers of too hastily judging from circumstantial evidence," etc.
etc.; while the counsellor for the prosecution prepared himself by
folding his arms, elevating his eyebrows, and putting his lips in
the form in which they might best whistle down the wind such
evidence as might be produced by a suborned witness, who dared to
perjure himself. For, of course, it is etiquette to suppose that
such evidence as may be given against the opinion which lawyers are
paid to uphold, is anything but based on truth; and "perjury,"
"conspiracy," and "peril of your immortal soul," are light
expressions to throw at the heads of those who may prove (not the
speaker, there would then be some excuse for the hasty words of
personal anger, but) the hirer of the speaker to be wrong, or
But when once Will had attained his end, and felt that his tale, or
part of a tale, would be heard by judge and jury; when once he saw
Jem standing safe and well before him (even though he saw him pale
and careworn at the felons' bar), his courage took the shape of
presence of mind, and he awaited the examination with a calm,
unflinching intelligence, which dictated the clearest and most
pertinent answers. He told the story you know so well: how his
leave of absence being nearly expired, he had resolved to fulfil his
promise, and go to see an uncle residing in the Isle of Man; how his
money (sailor-like) was all expended in Manchester, and how,
consequently, it had been necessary for him to walk to Liverpool,
which he had accordingly done on the very night of the murder,
accompanied as far as Hollins Green by his friend and cousin, the
prisoner at the bar. He was clear and distinct in every
corroborative circumstance, and gave a short account of the singular
way in which he had been recalled from his outward-bound voyage, and
the terrible anxiety he had felt, as the pilot-boat had struggled
home against the wind. The jury felt that their opinion (so nearly
decided half-an-hour ago) was shaken and disturbed in a very
uncomfortable and perplexing way, and were almost grateful to the
counsel for the prosecution, when he got up, with a brow of thunder,
to demolish the evidence, which was so bewildering when taken in
connection with everything previously adduced. But if such, without
looking to the consequences, was the first impulsive feeling of some
among the jury, how shall I describe the vehemence of passion which
possessed the mind of poor Mr. Carson, as he saw the effect of the
young sailor's statement? It never shook his belief in Jem's guilt
in the least, that attempt at an alibi; his hatred, his longing for
vengeance, having once defined an object to itself, could no more
bear to be frustrated and disappointed than the beast of prey can
submit to have his victim taken from his hungry jaws. No more
likeness to the calm stern power of Jupiter was there in that white
eager face, almost distorted by its fell anxiety of expression.
The counsel to whom etiquette assigned the cross-examination of
Will, caught the look on Mr. Carson's face, and in his desire to
further the intense wish there manifested, he over-shot his mark
even in his first insulting question--
"And now, my man, you've told the court a very good and very
convincing story; no reasonable man ought to doubt the unstained
innocence of your relation at the bar. Still there is one
circumstance you have forgotten to name; and I feel that without it
your evidence is rather incomplete. Will you have the kindness to
inform the gentlemen of the jury what has been your charge for
repeating this very plausible story? How much good coin of Her
Majesty's realm have you received, or are you to receive, for
walking up from the docks, or some less credible place, and uttering
the tale you have just now repeated,--very much to the credit of
your instructor, I must say? Remember, sir, you are upon oath."
It took Will a minute to extract the meaning from the garb of
unaccustomed words in which it was invested, and during this time he
looked a little confused. But the instant the truth flashed upon
him he fixed his bright clear eyes, flaming with indignation, upon
the counsellor, whose look fell at last before that stern
unflinching gaze. Then, and not till then, Will made answer--
"Will you tell the judge and jury how much money you've been paid
for your impudence towards one who has told God's blessed truth, and
who would scorn to tell a lie, or blackguard any one, for the
biggest fee as ever lawyer got for doing dirty work? Will you tell,
sir?--But I'm ready, my lord judge, to take my oath as many times as
your lordship or the jury would like, to testify to things having
happened just as I said. There's O'Brien, the pilot, in court now.
Would somebody with a wig on please to ask him how much he can say
It was a good idea, and caught at by the counsel for the defence.
O'Brien gave just such testimony as was required to clear Will from
all suspicion. He had witnessed the pursuit, he had heard the
conversation which took place between the boat and the ship; he had
given Will a homeward passage in his boat. And the character of an
accredited pilot, appointed by the Trinity House, was known to be
Mr. Carson sank back on his seat in sickening despair. He knew
enough of courts to be aware of the extreme unwillingness of juries
to convict, even where the evidence is most clear, when the penalty
of such conviction is death. At the period of the trial most
condemnatory to the prisoner, he had repeated this fact to himself,
in order to damp his too certain expectation for a conviction. Now
it needed not repetition, for it forced itself upon his
consciousness, and he seemed to KNOW, even before the jury retired
to consult, that by some trick, some negligence, some miserable
hocus-pocus, the murderer of his child, his darling, his Absalom,
who had never rebelled--the slayer of his unburied boy would slip
through the fangs of justice, and walk free and unscathed over that
earth where his son would never more be seen.
It was even so. The prisoner hid his face once more to shield the
expression of an emotion he could not control, from the notice of
the over-curious; Job Legh ceased his eager talking to Mr.
Bridgnorth; Charley looked grave and earnest; for the jury filed one
by one back into their box, and the question was asked to which such
an awful answer might be given.
The verdict they had come to was unsatisfactory to themselves at
last; neither being convinced of his innocence, nor yet quite
willing to believe him guilty in the teeth of the alibi. But the
punishment that awaited him, if guilty, was so terrible, and so
unnatural a sentence for man to pronounce on man, that the knowledge
of it had weighed down the scale on the side of innocence, and "Not
Guilty" was the verdict that thrilled through the breathless court.
One moment of silence, and then the murmurs rose, as the verdict was
discussed by all with lowered voice. Jem stood motionless, his head
bowed; poor fellow, he was stunned with the rapid career of events
during the last few hours.
He had assumed his place at the bar with little or no expectation of
an acquittal; and with scarcely any desire for life, in the
complication of occurrences tending to strengthen the idea of Mary's
more than indifference to him; she had loved another, and in her
mind Jem believed that he himself must be regarded as the murderer
of him she loved. And suddenly, athwart this gloom which made life
seem such a blank expanse of desolation, there flashed the exquisite
delight of hearing Mary's avowal of love, making the future all
glorious, if a future in this world he might hope to have. He could
not dwell on anything but her words, telling of her passionate love;
all else was indistinct, nor could he strive to make it otherwise.
She loved him.
And life, now full of tender images, suddenly bright with all
exquisite promises, hung on a breath, the slenderest gossamer
chance. He tried to think that the knowledge of her love would
soothe him even in his dying hours; but the phantoms of what life
with her might be would obtrude, and made him almost gasp and reel
under the uncertainty he was enduring. Will's appearance had only
added to the intensity of this suspense.
The full meaning of the verdict could not at once penetrate his
brain. He stood dizzy and motionless. Some one pulled his coat.
He turned, and saw Job Legh, the tears stealing down his brown
furrowed cheeks, while he tried in vain to command voice enough to
speak. He kept shaking Jem by the hand, as the best and necessary
expression of his feeling.
"Here, make yourself scarce! I should think you'd be glad to get
out of that!" exclaimed the gaoler, as he brought up another livid
prisoner, from out whose eyes came the anxiety which he would not
allow any other feature to display.
Job Legh pressed out of court, and Jem followed unreasoningly.
The crowd made way, and kept their garments tight about them, as Jem
passed, for about him there still hung the taint of the murderer.
He was in the open air, and free once more! Although many looked on
him with suspicion, faithful friends closed round him; his arm was
unresistingly pumped up and down by his cousin and Job; when one was
tired, the other took up the wholesome exercise, while Ben Sturgis
was working off his interest in the scene by scolding Charley for
walking on his head round and round Mary's sweetheart, for a
sweetheart he was now satisfactorily ascertained to be, in spite of
her assertion to the contrary. And all this time Jem himself felt
bewildered and dazzled; he would have given anything for an hour's
uninterrupted thought on the occurrences of the past week, and the
new visions raised up during the morning; ay, even though that
tranquil hour were to be passed in the hermitage of his quiet prison
cell. The first question sobbed out by his choking voice, oppressed
with emotion, was--
"Where is she?"
They led him to the room where his mother sat. They had told her of
her son's acquittal, and now she was laughing, and crying, and
talking, and giving way to all those feelings which she had
restrained with such effort during the last few days. They brought
her son to her, and she threw herself upon his neck, weeping there.
He returned her embrace, but looked around, beyond. Excepting his
mother, there was no one in the room but the friends who had entered
"Eh, lad!" she said, when she found voice to speak. "See what it is
to have behaved thysel! I could put in a good word for thee, and
the jury could na go and hang thee in the face of th' character I
gave thee. Was na it a good thing they did na keep me from
Liverpool? But I would come; I knew I could do thee good, bless
thee, my lad. But thou'rt very white, and all of a tremble."
He kissed her again and again, but looking round as if searching for
some one he could not find, the first words he uttered were still--
"Where is she?"
XXXIII. REQUIESCAT IN PACE.
"Fear no more the heat o' th' sun,
Nor the furious winter's rages;
Thou thy wordly task hast done,
Home art gone and ta'en thy wages.
"While day and night can bring delight,
Or nature aught of pleasure give;
While joys above my mind can move,
For thee, and thee alone I live:
"When that grim foe of joy below
Comes in between to make us part,
The iron hand that breaks our band,
It breaks my bliss--it breaks my heart."
She was where no words of peace, no soothing hopeful tidings could
reach her; in the ghastly spectral world of delirium. Hour after
hour, day after day, she started up with passionate cries on her
father to save Jem; or rose wildly, imploring the winds and waves,
the pitiless winds and waves, to have mercy; and over and over again
she exhausted her feverish fitful strength in these agonised
entreaties, and fell back powerless, uttering only the wailing moans
of despair. They told her Jem was safe, they brought him before her
eyes; but sight and hearing were no longer channels of information
to that poor distracted brain, nor could human voice penetrate to
Jem alone gathered the full meaning of some of her strange
sentences, and perceived that, by some means or other, she, like
himself, had divined the truth of her father being the murderer.
Long ago (reckoning time by events and thoughts, and not by clock or
dial-plate), Jem had felt certain that Mary's father was Harry
Carson's murderer; and although the motive was in some measure a
mystery, yet a whole train of circumstances (the principal of which
was that John Barton had borrowed the fatal gun only two days
before) had left no doubt in Jem's mind. Sometimes he thought that
John had discovered, and thus bloodily resented, the attentions
which Mr. Carson had paid to his daughter; at others, he believed
the motive to exist in the bitter feuds between the masters and
their work-people, in which Barton was known to take so keen an
interest. But if he had felt himself pledged to preserve this
secret, even when his own life was the probable penalty, and he
believed he should fall execrated by Mary as the guilty destroyer of
her lover, how much more was he bound now to labour to prevent any
word of hers from inculpating her father, now that she was his own;
now that she had braved so much to rescue him; and now that her poor
brain had lost all guiding and controlling power over her words.
All that night long Jem wandered up and down the narrow precincts of
Ben Sturgis's house. In the little bedroom where Mrs. Sturgis
alternately tended Mary, and wept over the violence of her illness,
he listened to her ravings; each sentence of which had its own
peculiar meaning and reference, intelligible to his mind, till her
words rose to the wild pitch of agony, that no one could alleviate,
and he could bear it no longer, and stole, sick and miserable,
downstairs, where Ben Sturgis thought it his duty to snore away in
an arm-chair instead of his bed, under the idea that he should thus
be more ready for active service, such as fetching the doctor to
revisit his patient.
Before it was fairly light, Jem (wide awake, and listening with an
earnest attention he could not deaden, however painful its results
proved) heard a gentle subdued knock at the house door; it was no
business of his, to be sure, to open it, but as Ben slept on, he
thought he would see who the early visitor might be, and ascertain
if there was any occasion for disturbing either host or hostess. It
was Job Legh who stood there, distinct against the outer light of
"How is she? Eh! poor soul! is that her? No need to ask! How
strange her voice sounds! Screech! screech! and she so low,
sweet-spoken, when she's well! Thou must keep up heart, old boy,
and not look so dismal, thysel."
"I can't help it, Job; it's past a man's bearing to hear such a one
as she is, going on as she is doing; even if I did not care for her,
it would cut me sore to see one so young, and--I can't speak of it,
Job, as a man should do," said Jem, his sobs choking him.
"Let me in, will you?" said Job, pushing past him, for all this time
Jem had stood holding the door, unwilling to admit Job where he
might hear so much that would be suggestive to one acquainted with
the parties that Mary named.
"I'd more than one reason for coming betimes. I wanted to hear how
yon poor wench was--that stood first. Late last night I got a
letter from Margaret, very anxious-like. The doctor says the old
lady yonder can't last many days longer, and it seems so lonesome
for her to die with no one but Margaret and Mrs. Davenport about
her. So I thought I'd just come and stay with Mary Barton, and see
as she's well done to, and you and your mother and Will go and take
leave of old Alice."
Jem's countenance, sad at best just now, fell lower and lower. But
Job went on with his speech.
"She still wanders, Margaret says, and thinks she's with her mother
at home; but for all that, she should have some kith and kin near
her to close her eyes, to my thinking."
"Could not you and Will take mother home? I'd follow when"--Jem
faltered out thus far, when Job interrupted--
"Lad! if thou knew what thy mother has suffered for thee, thou'd not
speak of leaving her just when she's got thee from the grave as it
were. Why, this very night she roused me up, and 'Job,' says she,
'I ask your pardon for wakening you, but tell me, am I awake or
dreaming? Is Jem proved innocent? O Job Legh! God send I've not
been only dreaming it!' For thou see'st she can't rightly
understand why thou'rt with Mary, and not with her. Ay, ay! I know
why; but a mother only gives up her son's heart inch by inch to his
wife, and then she gives it up with a grudge. No, Jem! thou must go
with thy mother just now, if ever thou hopest for God's blessing.
She's a widow, and has none but thee. Never fear for Mary! She's
young, and will struggle through. They are decent people, these
folk she is with, and I'll watch o'er her as though she was my own
poor girl, that lies cold enough in London town. I grant ye, it's
hard enough for her to be left among strangers. To my mind, John
Barton would be more in the way of his duty, looking after his
daughter, than delegating it up and down the country, looking after
every one's business but his own."
A new idea and a new fear came into Jem's mind. What if Mary should
implicate her father?
"She raves terribly," said he. "All night long she's been speaking
of her father, and mixing up thoughts of him with the trial she saw
yesterday. I should not wonder if she'll speak of him as being in
court next thing."
"I should na wonder, either," answered Job. "Folk in her way say
many and many a strange thing; and th' best way is never to mind
them. Now you take your mother home, Jem, and stay by her till old
Alice is gone, and trust me for seeing after Mary."
Jem felt how right Job was, and could not resist what he knew to be
his duty, but I cannot tell you how heavy and sick at heart he was
as he stood at the door to take a last fond, lingering look at Mary.
He saw her sitting up in bed, her golden hair, dimmed with her one
day's illness, floating behind her, her head bound round with wetted
cloths, her features all agitated, even to distortion, with the
pangs of her anxiety.
Her lover's eyes filled with tears. He could not hope. The
elasticity of his heart had been crushed out of him by early
sorrows; and now, especially, the dark side of everything seemed to
be presented to him. What if she died, just when he knew the
treasure, the untold treasure he possessed in her love! What if
(worse than death) she remained a poor gibbering maniac all her life
long (and mad people do live to be old sometimes, even under all the
pressure of their burden), terror-distracted as she was now, and no
one able to comfort her!
"Jem," said Job, partly guessing the other's feelings by his own.
"Jem!" repeated he, arresting his attention before he spoke. Jem
turned round, the little motion causing the tears to overflow and
trickle down his cheeks. "Thou must trust in God, and leave her in
His hands." He spoke hushed, and low; but the words sank all the
more into Jem's heart, and gave him strength to tear himself away.
He found his mother (notwithstanding that she had but just regained
her child through Mary's instrumentality) half inclined to resent
his having passed the night in anxious devotion to the poor invalid.
She dwelt on the duties of children to their parents (above all
others), till Jem could hardly believe the relative positions they
had held only yesterday, when she was struggling with and
controlling every instinct of her nature, only because HE wished it.
However, the recollection of that yesterday, with its hair's-breadth
between him and a felon's death, and the love that had lightened the
dark shadow, made him bear with the meekness and patience of a
true-hearted man all the worrying little acerbities of to-day; and
he had no small merit in doing so; for in him, as in his mother, the
reaction after intense excitement had produced its usual effect in
increased irritability of the nervous system.
They found Alice alive, and without pain. And that was all. A
child of a few weeks old would have had more bodily strength; a
child of a very few months old, more consciousness of what was
passing before her. But even in this state she diffused an
atmosphere of peace around her. True, Will, at first, wept
passionate tears at the sight of her, who had been as a mother to
him, so standing on the confines of life. But even now, as always,
loud passionate feeling could not long endure in the calm of her
presence. The firm faith which her mind had no longer power to
grasp, had left its trail of glory; for by no other word can I call
the bright happy look which illumined the old earth-worn face. Her
talk, it is true, bore no more that constant earnest reference to
God and His holy Word which it had done in health, and there were no
deathbed words of exhortation from the lips of one so habitually
pious. For still she imagined herself once again in the happy,
happy realms of childhood; and again dwelling in the lovely northern
haunts where she had so often longed to be. Though earthly sight
was gone away, she beheld again the scenes she had loved from long
years ago! she saw them without a change to dim the old radiant
hues. The long dead were with her, fresh and blooming as in those
bygone days. And death came to her as a welcome blessing, like as
evening comes to the weary child. Her work here was finished, and
What better sentence can an emperor wish to have said over his bier?
In second childhood (that blessing clouded by a name), she said her
"Nunc Dimittis"--the sweetest canticle to the holy.
"Mother, good-night! Dear mother! bless me once more! I'm very
tired, and would fain go to sleep." She never spoke again on this
She died the day after their return from Liverpool. From that time,
Jem became aware that his mother was jealously watching for some
word or sign which should betoken his wish to return to Mary. And
yet go to Liverpool he must and would, as soon as the funeral was
over, if but for a simple glimpse of his darling. For Job had never
written; indeed, any necessity for his so doing had never entered
his head. If Mary died, he would announce it personally; if she
recovered, he meant to bring her home with him. Writing was to him
little more than an auxiliary to natural history; a way of ticketing
specimens, not of expressing thoughts.
The consequence of this want of intelligence as to Mary's state was,
that Jem was constantly anticipating that every person and every
scrap of paper was to convey to him the news of her death. He could
not endure this state long; but he resolved not to disturb the house
by announcing to his mother his purposed intention of returning to
Liverpool, until the dead had been buried forth.
On Sunday afternoon they laid her low with many tears. Will wept as
one who would not be comforted.
The old childish feeling came over him, the feeling of loneliness at
being left among strangers.
By-and-by, Margaret timidly stole near him, as if waiting to
console; and soon his passion sank down to grief, and grief gave way
to melancholy, and though he felt as if he never could be joyful
again, he was all the while unconsciously approaching nearer to the
full happiness of calling Margaret his own, and a golden thread was
interwoven even now with the darkness of his sorrow. Yet it was on
his arm that Jane Wilson leant on her return homewards. Jem took
charge of Margaret.
"Margaret, I'm bound for Liverpool by the first train to-morrow; I
must set your grandfather at liberty."
"I'm sure he likes nothing better than watching over poor Mary; he
loves her nearly as well as me. But let me go! I have been so full
of poor Alice, I've never thought of it before; I can't do so much
as many a one, but Mary will like to have a woman about her that she
knows. I'm sorry I waited to be reminded, Jem," replied Margaret,
with some little self-reproach.
But Margaret's proposition did not at all agree with her companion's
wishes. He found he had better speak out, and put his intention at
once to the right motive; the subterfuge about setting Job Legh at
liberty had done him harm instead of good.
"To tell truth, Margaret, it's I that must go, and that for my own
sake, not your grandfather's. I can rest neither by night nor day
for thinking on Mary. Whether she lives or dies, I look on her as
my wife before God, as surely and solemnly as if we were married.
So being, I have the greatest right to look after her, and I cannot
yield it even to"--
"Her father," said Margaret, finishing his interrupted sentence.
"It seems strange that a girl like her should be thrown on the bare
world to struggle through so bad an illness. No one seems to know
where John Barton is, else I thought of getting Morris to write him
a letter telling him about Mary. I wish he was home, that I do!"
Jem could not echo this wish.
"Mary's not bad off for friends where she is," said he. "I call
them friends, though a week ago we none of us knew there were such
folks in the world. But being anxious and sorrowful about the same
thing makes people friends quicker than anything, I think. She's
like a mother to Mary in her ways; and he bears a good character, as
far as I could learn just in that hurry. We're drawing near home,
and I've not said my say, Margaret. I want you to look after mother
a bit. She'll not like my going, and I've got to break it to her
yet. If she takes it very badly, I'll come back to-morrow night;
but if she's not against it very much, I mean to stay till it's
settled about Mary, one way or the other. Will, you know, will be
there, Margaret, to help a bit in doing for mother."
Will's being there made the only objection Margaret saw to this
plan. She disliked the idea of seeming to throw herself in his way,
and yet she did not like to say anything of this feeling to Jem, who
had all along seemed perfectly unconscious of any love-affair,
besides his own, in progress.
So Margaret gave a reluctant consent.
"If you can just step up to our house to-night, Jem, I'll put up a
few things as may be useful to Mary, and then you can say when
you'll likely be back. If you come home to-morrow night, and Will's
there, perhaps I need not step up?"
"Yes, Margaret, do! I shan't leave easy unless you go some time in
the day to see mother. I'll come to-night, though; and now
good-bye. Stay! do you think you could just coax poor Will to walk
a bit home with you, that I might speak to mother by myself?"
No! that Margaret could not do. That was expecting too great a
sacrifice of bashful feeling.
But the object was accomplished by Will's going upstairs immediately
on their return to the house, to indulge his mournful thoughts
alone. As soon as Jem and his mother were left by themselves, he
began on the subject uppermost in his mind.
She put her handkerchief from her eyes, and turned quickly round so
as to face him where he stood, thinking what best to say. The
little action annoyed him, and he rushed at once into the subject.
"Mother! I am going back to Liverpool to-morrow morning to see how
Mary Barton is."
"And what's Mary Barton to thee, that thou shouldst be running after
her in that-a-way?"
"If she lives, she shall be my wedded wife. If she dies--mother, I
can't speak of what I shall feel if she dies." His voice was choked
in his throat.
For an instant his mother was interested by his words; and then came
back the old jealousy of being supplanted in the affections of that
son, who had been, as it were, newly born to her, by the escape he
had so lately experienced from danger. So she hardened her heart
against entertaining any feeling of sympathy; and turned away from
the face, which recalled the earnest look of his childhood, when he
had come to her in some trouble, sure of help and comfort.
And coldly she spoke, in those tones which Jem knew and dreaded,
even before the meaning they expressed was fully shaped.
"Thou'rt old enough to please thysel. Old mothers are cast aside,
and what they've borne forgotten, as soon as a pretty face comes
across. I might have thought of that last Tuesday, when I felt as
if thou wert all my own, and the judge were some wild animal trying
to rend thee from me. I spoke up for thee then; but it's all
forgotten now, I suppose."
"Mother! you know all this while, YOU KNOW I can never forget any
kindness you've ever done for me; and they've been many. Why should
you think I've only room for one love in my heart? I can love you
as dearly as ever, and Mary too, as much as man ever loved woman."
He awaited a reply. None was vouchsafed.
"Mother, answer me!" said he, at last.
"What mun I answer? You asked me no question."
"Well! I ask you this now. To-morrow morning I go to Liverpool to
see her who is as my wife. Dear mother! will you bless me on my
errand? If it please God she recovers, will you take her to you as
you would a daughter?"
She could neither refuse nor assent.
"Why need you go?" said she querulously, at length. "You'll be
getting in some mischief or another again. Can't you stop at home
quiet with me?"
Jem got up, and walked about the room in despairing impatience. She
would not understand his feelings. At last he stopped right before
the place where she was sitting, with an air of injured meekness on
"Mother! I often think what a good man father was! I've often
heard you tell of your courting days; and of the accident that
befell you, and how ill you were. How long is it ago?"
"Near upon five-and-twenty years," said she, with a sigh.
"You little thought when you were so ill you should live to have
such a fine strapping son as I am, did you now?"
She smiled a little and looked up at him, which was just what he
"Thou'rt not so fine a man as thy father was, by a deal," said she,
looking at him with much fondness, notwithstanding her depreciatory
He took another turn or two up and down the room. He wanted to bend
the subject round to his own case.
"Those were happy days when father was alive!"
"You may say so, lad! Such days as will never come again to me, at
any rate." She sighed sorrowfully.
"Mother!" said he at last, stopping short, and taking her hand in
his with tender affection, "you'd like me to be as happy a man as my
father was before me, would not you? You'd like me to have some one
to make me as happy as you made father? Now, would you not, dear
"I did not make him as happy as I might ha' done," murmured she, in
a low, sad voice of self-reproach. "Th' accident gave a jar to my
temper it's never got the better of; and now he's gone where he can
never know how I grieve for having frabbed him as I did."
"Nay, mother, we don't know that!" said Jem, with gentle soothing.
"Anyhow, you and father got along with as few rubs as most people.
But for HIS sake, dear mother, don't say me nay, now that I come to
you to ask your blessing before setting out to see her, who is to be
my wife, if ever woman is; for HIS sake, if not for mine, love her
whom I shall bring home to be to me all you were to him: and, mother!
I do not ask for a truer or a tenderer heart than yours is, in the
The hard look left her face; though her eyes were still averted from
Jem's gaze, it was more because they were brimming over with tears,
called forth by his words, than because any angry feeling yet
remained. And when his manly voice died away in low pleadings, she
lifted up her hands, and bent down her son's head below the level of
her own; and then she solemnly uttered a blessing.
"God bless thee, Jem, my own dear lad. And may He bless Mary Barton
for thy sake."
Jem's heart leapt up, and from this time hope took the place of fear
in his anticipations with regard to Mary.
"Mother! you show your own true self to Mary, and she'll love you as
dearly as I do."
So with some few smiles, and some few tears, and much earnest
talking, the evening wore away.
"I must be off to see Margaret. Why, it's near ten o'clock! Could
you have thought it? Now don't you stop up for me, mother. You and
Will go to bed, for you've both need of it. I shall be home in an
Margaret had felt the evening long and lonely; and was all but
giving up the thoughts of Jem's coming that night, when she heard
his step at the door.
He told her of his progress with his mother; he told her his hopes
and was silent on the subject of his fears.
"To think how sorrow and joy are mixed up together. You'll date
your start in life as Mary's acknowledged lover from poor Alice
Wilson's burial day. Well! the dead are soon forgotten!"
"Dear Margaret! But you're worn-out with your long evening waiting
for me. I don't wonder. But never you, nor any one else, think
because God sees fit to call up new interests, perhaps right out of
the grave, that therefore the dead are forgotten. Margaret, you
yourself can remember our looks, and fancy what we're like."
"Yes! but what has that to do with remembering Alice?"
"Why, just this. You're not always trying to think on our faces,
and making a labour of remembering; but often, I'll be bound, when
you're sinking off to sleep, or when you're very quiet and still,
the faces you knew so well when you could see, come smiling before
you with loving looks. Or you remember them, without striving after
it, and without thinking it's your duty to keep recalling them. And
so it is with them that are hidden from our sight. If they've been
worthy to be heartily loved while alive, they'll not be forgotten
when dead; it's against nature. And we need no more be upbraiding
ourselves for letting in God's rays of light upon our sorrow, and no
more be fearful of forgetting them, because their memory is not
always haunting and taking up our minds, than you need to trouble
yourself about remembering your grandfather's face, or what the
stars were like--you can't forget if you would, what it's such a
pleasure to think about. Don't fear my forgetting Aunt Alice."
"I'm not, Jem; not now, at least; only you seemed so full about
"I've kept it down so long, remember. How glad Aunt Alice would
have been to know that I might hope to have her for my wife! that's
to say, if God spares her!"
"She would not have known it, even if you could have told her this
last fortnight--ever since you went away she's been thinking always
that she was a little child at her mother's apron-string. She must
have been a happy little thing; it was such a pleasure to her to
think about those early days, when she lay old and grey on her
"I never knew any one seem more happy all her life long."
"Ay! and how gentle and easy her death was! She thought her mother
was near her."
They fell into calm thought above those last peaceful, happy hours.
It struck eleven.
Jem started up.
"I should have been gone long ago. Give me the bundle. You'll not
forget my mother. Good-night, Margaret."
She let him out and bolted the door behind him. He stood on the
steps to adjust some fastening about the bundle. The court, the
street, was deeply still. Long ago all had retired to rest on that
quiet Sabbath evening. The stars shone down on the silent deserted
streets, and the clear soft moonlight fell in bright masses, leaving
the steps on which Jem stood in shadow.
A footfall was heard along the pavement; slow and heavy was the
sound. Before Jem had ended his little piece of business, a form
had glided into sight; a wan, feeble figure, bearing with evident
and painful labour a jug of water from a neighbouring pump. It went
before Jem, turned up the court at the corner of which he was
standing, passed into the broad, calm light; and there, with bowed
head, sinking and shrunk body, Jem recognised John Barton.
No haunting ghost could have had less of the energy of life in its
involuntary motions than he, who, nevertheless, went on with the
same measured clockwork tread until the door of his own house was
reached. And then he disappeared, and the latch fell feebly to, and
made a faint and wavering sound, breaking the solemn silence of the
night. Then all again was still.
For a minute or two Jem stood motionless, stunned by the thoughts
which the sight of Mary's father had called up.
Margaret did not know he was at home: had he stolen like a thief
by dead of night into his own dwelling? Depressed as Jem had often
and long seen him, this night there was something different about
him still; beaten down by some inward storm, he seemed to grovel
along, all self-respect lost and gone.
Must he be told of Mary's state? Jem felt he must not; and this for
many reasons. He could not be informed of her illness without many
other particulars being communicated at the same time, of which it
were better he should be kept in ignorance; indeed, of which Mary
herself could alone give the full explanation. No suspicion that he
was the criminal seemed hitherto to have been excited in the mind of
any one. Added to these reasons was Jem's extreme unwillingness to
face him, with the belief in his breast that he, and none other, had
done the fearful deed.
It was true that he was Mary's father, and as such had every right
to be told of all concerning her; but supposing he were, and that he
followed the impulse so natural to a father, and wished to go to
her, what might be the consequences? Among the mingled feelings she
had revealed in her delirium, ay, mingled even with the most tender
expressions of love for her father, was a sort of horror of him; a
dread of him as a blood-shedder, which seemed to separate him into
two persons,--one, the father who had dandled her on his knee, and
loved her all her life long; the other, the assassin, the cause of
all her trouble and woe.
If he presented himself before her while this idea of his character
was uppermost, who might tell the consequence?
Jem could not, and would not, expose her to any such fearful chance:
and to tell the truth, I believe he looked upon her as more his own,
to guard from all shadow of injury with most loving care, than as
belonging to any one else in this world, though girt with the
reverend name of Father, and guiltless of aught that might have
lessened such reverence.
If you think this account of mine confused, of the half-feelings,
half-reasons, which passed through Jem's mind, as he stood gazing on
the empty space, where that crushed form had so lately been
seen,--if you are perplexed to disentangle the real motives, I do
assure you it was from just such an involved set of thoughts that
Jem drew the resolution to act as if he had not seen that phantom
likeness of John Barton; himself, yet not himself.
XXXIV. THE RETURN HOME.
"DIXWELL. Forgiveness! Oh, forgiveness, and a grave!
MARY. God knows thy heart, my father! and I shudder
To think what thou perchance hast acted.
MARY. No common load of woe is thine, my father."
Mary still hovered between life and death when Jem arrived at the
house where she lay; and the doctors were as yet unwilling to
compromise their wisdom by allowing too much hope to be entertained.
But the state of things, if not less anxious, was less distressing
than when Jem had quitted her. She lay now in a stupor, which was
partly disease, and partly exhaustion after the previous excitement.
And now Jem found the difficulty which every one who has watched by
a sick-bed knows full well; and which is perhaps more insurmountable
to men than it is to women,--the difficulty of being patient, and
trying not to expect any visible change for long, long hours of sad
But after a while the reward came. The laboured breathing became
lower and softer, the heavy look of oppressive pain melted away from
the face, and a languor that was almost peace took the place of
suffering. She slept a natural sleep; and they stole about on
tiptoe, and spoke low, and softly, and hardly dared to breathe,
however much they longed to sigh out their thankful relief.
She opened her eyes. Her mind was in the tender state of a lately
born infant's. She was pleased with the gay but not dazzling
colours of the paper; soothed by the subdued light; and quite
sufficiently amused by looking at all the objects in the room--the
drawing of the ships, the festoons of the curtain, the bright
flowers on the painted backs of the chairs--to care for any stronger
excitement. She wondered at the ball of glass, containing various
coloured sands from the Isle of Wight, or some other place, which
hung suspended from the middle of the little valance over the
window. But she did not care to exert herself to ask any questions,
although she saw Mrs. Sturgis standing at the bedside with some tea,
ready to drop it into her mouth by spoonfuls.
She did not see the face of honest joy, of earnest
thankfulness,--the clasped hands, the beaming eyes,--the trembling
eagerness of gesture, of one who had long awaited her awakening, and
who now stood behind the curtains watching through some little chink
her every faint motion; or if she had caught a glimpse of that
loving, peeping face, she was in too exhausted a state to have taken
much notice, or have long retained the impression that he she loved
so well was hanging about her, and blessing God for every conscious
look which stole over her countenance.
She fell softly into slumber, without a word having been spoken by
any one during that half-hour of inexpressible joy. And again the
stillness was enforced by a sign and whispered word, but with eyes
that beamed out their bright thoughts of hope. Jem sat by the side
of the bed, holding back the little curtain, and gazing as if he
could never gaze his fill at the pale, wasted face, so marbled and
so chiselled in its wan outline.
She wakened once more; her soft eyes opened, and met his overbending
look. She smiled gently, as a baby does when it sees its mother
tending its little cot; and continued her innocent, infantine gaze
into his face, as if the sight gave her much unconscious pleasure.
But by-and-by a different expression came into her sweet eyes; a
look of memory and intelligence; her white flesh flushed the
brightest rosy red, and with feeble motion she tried to hide her
head in the pillow.
It required all Jem's self-control to do what he knew and felt to be
necessary, to call Mrs. Sturgis, who was quietly dozing by the
fireside; and that done, he felt almost obliged to leave the room to
keep down the happy agitation which would gush out in every feature,
every gesture, and every tone.
From that time forward Mary's progress towards health was rapid.
There was every reason, but one, in favour of her speedy removal
home. All Jem's duties lay in Manchester. It was his mother's
dwelling-place, and there his plans for life had been to be worked
out; plans which the suspicion and imprisonment he had fallen into,
had thrown for a time into a chaos, which his presence was required
to arrange into form. For he might find, in spite of a jury's
verdict, that too strong a taint was on his character for him ever
to labour in Manchester again. He remembered the manner in which
some one suspected of having been a convict was shunned by masters
and men, when he had accidentally met with work in their foundry;
the recollection smote him now, how he himself had thought it did
not become an honest upright man to associate with one who had been
a prisoner. He could not choose but think on that poor humble
being, with his downcast conscious look; hunted out of the workshop,
where he had sought to earn an honest livelihood, by the looks, and
half-spoken words, and the black silence of repugnance (worse than
words to bear), that met him on all sides.
Jem felt that his own character had been attainted; and that to many
it might still appear suspicious. He knew that he could convince
the world, by a future as blameless as his past had been, that he
was innocent. But at the same time he saw that he must have
patience, and nerve himself for some trials; and the sooner these
were undergone, the sooner he was aware of the place he held in
men's estimation, the better. He longed to have presented himself
once more at the foundry; and then the reality would drive away the
pictures that would (unbidden) come of a shunned man, eyed askance
by all, and driven forth to shape out some new career.
I said every reason "but one" inclined Jem to hasten Mary's return
as soon as she was sufficiently convalescent. That one was the
meeting which awaited her at home.
Turn it over as Jem would, he could not decide what was the best
course to pursue. He could compel himself to any line of conduct
that his reason and his sense of right told him to be desirable; but
they did not tell him it was desirable to speak to Mary, in her
tender state of mind and body, of her father. How much would be
implied by the mere mention of his name! Speak it as calmly, and as
indifferently as he might, he could not avoid expressing some
consciousness of the terrible knowledge she possessed.
She, for her part, was softer and gentler than she had even been in
her gentlest mood; since her illness, her motions, her glances, her
voice were all tender in their languor. It seemed almost a trouble
to her to break the silence with the low sounds of her own sweet
voice, and her words fell sparingly on Jem's greedy, listening ear.
Her face was, however, so full of love and confidence, that Jem felt
no uneasiness at the state of silent abstraction into which she
often fell. If she did but love him, all would yet go right; and it
was better not to press for confidence on that one subject which
must be painful to both.
There came a fine, bright, balmy day. And Mary tottered once more
out into the open air, leaning on Jem's arm, and close to his
beating heart. And Mrs. Sturgis watched them from her door, with a
blessing on her lips, as they went slowly up the street.
They came in sight of the river. Mary shuddered.
"O Jem! take me home. Yon river seems all made of glittering,
heaving, dazzling metal, just as it did when I began to be ill."
Jem led her homewards. She dropped her head as searching for
something on the ground.
"Jem!" He was all attention. She paused for an instant. "When may
I go home? To Manchester, I mean. I am so weary of this place; and
I would fain be at home."
She spoke in a feeble voice; not at all impatiently, as the words
themselves would seem to intimate, but in a mournful way, as if
anticipating sorrow even in the very fulfilment of her wishes.
"Darling! we will go whenever you wish; whenever you feel strong
enough. I asked Job to tell Margaret to get all in readiness for
you to go there at first. She'll tend you and nurse you. You must
not go home. Job proffered for you to go there."
"Ah! but I must go home, Jem. I'll try and not fail now in what's
right. There are things we must not speak on" (lowering her voice),
"but you'll be really kind if you'll not speak against my going
home. Let us say no more about it, dear Jem. I must go home, and I
must go alone."
"Not alone, Mary!"
"Yes, alone! I cannot tell you why I ask it. And if you guess, I
know you well enough to be sure you'll understand why I ask you
never to speak on that again to me, till I begin. Promise, dear
He promised; to gratify that beseeching face, he promised. And then
he repented, and felt as if he had done ill. Then again he felt as
if she were the best judge, and knowing all (perhaps more than even
he did), might be forming plans which his interference would mar.
One thing was certain! it was a miserable thing to have this awful
forbidden ground of discourse; to guess at each other's thoughts,
when eyes were averted, and cheeks blanched, and words stood still,
arrested in their flow by some casual allusion.
At last a day, fine enough for Mary to travel on, arrived. She had
wished to go, but now her courage failed her. How could she have
said she was weary of that quiet house, where even Ben Sturgis's
grumblings only made a kind of harmonious bass in the concord
between him and his wife, so thoroughly did they know each other
with the knowledge of many years! How could she have longed to quit
that little peaceful room where she had experienced such loving
tendence! Even the very check bed-curtains became dear to her under
the idea of seeing them no more. If it was so with inanimate
objects, if they had such power of exciting regret, what were her
feelings with regard to the kind old couple, who had taken the
stranger in, and cared for her, and nursed her, as though she had
been a daughter? Each wilful sentence spoken in the half-
unconscious irritation of feebleness came now with avenging
self-reproach to her memory, as she hung about Mrs. Sturgis, with
many tears, which served instead of words to express her gratitude
Ben bustled about with the square bottle of Goldenwasser in one of
his hands, and a small tumbler in the other; he went to Mary, Jem,
and his wife in succession, pouring out a glass for each, and
bidding them drink it to keep their spirits up; but as each
severally refused, he drank it himself; and passed on to offer the
same hospitality to another, with the like refusal, and the like
When he had swallowed the last of the three draughts, he
condescended to give his reasons for having done so.
"I cannot abide waste. What's poured out mun be drunk. That's my
maxim." So saying, he replaced the bottle in the cupboard.
It was he who, in a firm commanding voice, at last told Jem and Mary
to be off, or they would be too late. Mrs. Sturgis had kept up till
then; but as they left her house, she could no longer restrain her
tears, and cried aloud in spite of her husband's upbraiding.
"Perhaps they'll be too late for the train!" exclaimed she, with a
degree of hope, as the clock struck two.
"What! and come back again! No! no! that would never do. We've
done our part, and cried our cry; it's no use going over the same
ground again. I should ha' to give 'em more out of yon bottle when
next parting time came, and them three glasses they ha' made a hole
in the stuff, I can tell you. Time Jack was back from Hamburg with
When they reached Manchester, Mary looked very white, and the
expression of her face was almost stern. She was in fact summoning
up her resolution to meet her father if he were at home. Jem had
never named his midnight glimpse of John Barton to human being:
but Mary had a sort of presentiment, that wander where he would, he
would seek his home at last. But in what mood she dreaded to think.
For the knowledge of her father's capability of guilt seemed to have
opened a dark gulf in his character, into the depths of which she
trembled to look. At one moment she would fain have claimed
protection against the life she must lead, for some time at least,
alone with a murderer! She thought of his gloom, before his mind
was haunted by the memory of so terrible a crime; his moody,
irritable ways. She imagined the evenings as of old; she, toiling
at some work, long after houses were shut, and folks abed; he, more
savage than he had ever been before with the inward gnawing of his
remorse. At such times she could have cried aloud with terror, at
the scenes her fancy conjured up.
But her filial duty, nay, her love and gratitude for many deeds of
kindness done to her as a little child, conquered all fear. She
would endure all imaginable terrors, although of daily occurrence.
And she would patiently bear all wayward violence of temper; more
than patiently would she bear it--pitifully, as one who knew of some
awful curse awaiting the blood-shedder. She would watch over him
tenderly, as the innocent should watch over the guilty; awaiting the
gracious seasons, wherein to pour oil and balm into the bitter
With the untroubled peace which the resolve to endure to the end
gives, she approached the house that from habit she still called
home, but which possessed the holiness of home no longer. "Jem!"
said she, as they stood at the entrance to the court, close by Job
Legh's door, "you must go in there and wait half-an-hour. Not less.
If in that time I don't come back, you go your ways to your mother.
Give her my dear love. I will send by Margaret when I want to see
She sighed heavily.
"Mary! Mary! I cannot leave you. You speak as coldly as if we were
to be nought to each other. And my heart's bound up in you. I know
why you bid me keep away, but"--
She put her hand on his arm, as he spoke in a loud agitated tone;
she looked into his face with upbraiding love in her eyes, and then
she said, while her lips quivered, and he felt her whole frame
"Dear Jem! I often could have told you more of love, if I had not
once spoken out so free. Remember that time, Jem, if ever you think
me cold. Then, the love that's in my heart would out in words; but
now, though I'm silent on the pain I'm feeling in quitting you, the
love is in my heart all the same. But this is not the time to speak
on such things. If I do not do what I feel to be right now, I may
blame myself all my life long! Jem, you promised"--
And so saying she left him. She went quicker than she would
otherwise have passed over those few yards of ground, for fear he
should still try to accompany her. Her hand was on the latch, and
in a breath the door was opened.
There sat her father, still and motionless--not even turning his
head to see who had entered; but perhaps he recognised the footstep--
the trick of action.
He sat by the fire; the grate, I should say, for fire there was
none. Some dull grey ashes, negligently left, long days ago, coldly
choked up the bars. He had taken the accustomed seat from mere
force of habit, which ruled his automaton body. For all energy,
both physical and mental, seemed to have retreated inwards to some
of the great citadels of life, there to do battle against the
His hands were crossed, his fingers interlaced; usually a position
implying some degree of resolution, or strength; but in him it was
so faintly maintained, that it appeared more the result of chance;
an attitude requiring some application of outward force to alter--
and a blow with a straw seemed as though it would be sufficient.
And as for his face, it was sunk and worn--like a skull, with yet a
suffering expression that skulls have not! Your heart would have
ached to have seen the man, however hardly you might have judged his
But crime and all was forgotten by his daughter, as she saw his
abashed look, his smitten helplessness. All along she had felt it
difficult (as I may have said before) to reconcile the two ideas, of
her father and a blood-shedder. But now it was impossible. He was
her father! her own dear father! and in his sufferings, whatever
their cause, more dearly loved than ever before. His crime was a
thing apart, never more to be considered by her.
And tenderly did she treat him, and fondly did she serve him in
every way that heart could devise, or hand execute.
She had some money about her, the price of her strange services as a
witness; and when the lingering dusk grew on she stole out to effect
some purchases necessary for her father's comfort.
For how body and soul had been kept together, even as much as they
were, during the days he had dwelt alone, no one can say. The house
was bare as when Mary had left it, of coal, or of candle, of food,
or of blessing in any shape.
She came quickly home; but as she passed Job Legh's door, she
stopped. Doubtless Jem had long since gone; and doubtless, too, he
had given Margaret some good reason for not intruding upon her
friend for this night at least, otherwise Mary would have seen her
But to-morrow,--would she not come in to-morrow? And who so quick
as blind Margaret in noticing tones, and sighs, and even silence?
She did not give herself time for further thought, her desire to be
once more with her father was too pressing; but she opened the door,
before she well knew what to say.
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