Part 9 out of 9
"It's Mary Barton! I know her by her breathing! Grandfather, it's
Margaret's joy at meeting her, the open demonstration of her love,
affected Mary much; she could not keep from crying, and sat down
weak and agitated on the first chair she could find.
"Ay, ay, Mary! thou'rt looking a bit different to when I saw thee
last. Thou'lt give Jem and me good characters for sick nurses, I
trust. If all trades fail, I'll turn to that. Jem's place is for
life, I reckon. Nay, never redden so, lass. You and he know each
other's minds by this time!"
Margaret held her hand, and gently smiled into her face.
Job Legh took the candle up, and began a leisurely inspection.
"Thou hast gotten a bit of pink in thy cheeks,--not much; but when
last I see thee, thy lips were as white as a sheet. Thy nose is
sharpish at th' end; thou'rt more like thy father than ever thou
wert before. Lord! child, what's the matter? Art thou going to
For Mary had sickened at the mention of that name; yet she felt that
now or never was the time to speak.
"Father's come home!" she said, "but he's very poorly; I never saw
him as he is now before. I asked Jem not to come near him for fear
it might fidget him."
She spoke hastily, and (to her own idea) in an unnatural manner.
But they did not seem to notice it, nor to take the hint she had
thrown out of company being unacceptable; for Job Legh directly put
down some insect, which he was impaling on a corking-pin, and
"Thy father come home! Why, Jem never said a word of it! And
ailing too! I'll go in, and cheer him with a bit of talk. I never
knew any good come of delegating it."
"O Job! father cannot stand--father is too ill. Don't come; not but
that you're very kind and good; but to-night--indeed," said she at
last, in despair, seeing Job still persevere in putting away his
things; "you must not come till I send or come for you. Father's in
that strange way, I can't answer for it if he sees strangers.
Please don't come. I'll come and tell you every day how he goes on.
I must be off now to see after him. Dear Job! kind Job! don't be
angry with me. If you knew all, you'd pity me."
For Job was muttering away in high dudgeon, and even Margaret's tone
was altered as she wished Mary good-night. Just then she could ill
brook coldness from any one, and least of all bear the idea of being
considered ungrateful by so kind and zealous a friend as Job had
been; so she turned round suddenly, even when her hand was on the
latch of the door, and ran back, and threw her arms about his neck,
and kissed him first, and then Margaret. And then, the tears fast
falling down her cheeks, but no word spoken, she hastily left the
house, and went back to her home.
There was no change in her father's position, or in his spectral
look. He had answered her questions (but few in number, for so many
subjects were unapproachable) by monosyllables, and in a weak, high,
childish voice; but he had not lifted his eyes; he could not meet
his daughter's look. And she, when she spoke, or as she moved
about, avoided letting her eyes rest upon him. She wished to be her
usual self; but while everything was done with a consciousness of
purpose, she felt it was impossible.
In this manner things went on for some days. At night he feebly
clambered upstairs to bed; and during those long dark hours Mary
heard those groans of agony which never escaped his lips by day,
when they were compressed in silence over his inward woe.
Many a time she sat up listening, and wondering if it would ease his
miserable heart if she went to him, and told him she knew all, and
loved and pitied him more than words could tell.
By day the monotonous hours wore on in the same heavy, hushed manner
as on that first dreary afternoon. He ate,--but without that
relish; and food seemed no longer to nourish him, for each morning
his face had caught more of the ghastly foreshadowing of Death.
The neighbours kept strangely aloof. Of late years John Barton had
had a repellent power about him, felt by all, except to the few who
had either known him in his better and happier days, or those to
whom he had given his sympathy and his confidence. People did not
care to enter the doors of one whose very depth of thoughtfulness
rendered him moody and stern. And now they contented themselves
with a kind inquiry when they saw Mary in her goings-out or in her
comings-in. With her oppressing knowledge, she imagined their
reserved conduct stranger than it was in reality. She missed Job
and Margaret too; who, in all former times of sorrow or anxiety
since their acquaintance first began, had been ready with their
But most of all she missed the delicious luxury she had lately
enjoyed in having Jem's tender love at hand every hour of the day,
to ward off every wind of heaven, and every disturbing thought.
She knew he was often hovering about the house; though the knowledge
seemed to come more by intuition, than by any positive sight or
sound for the first day or two. On the third day she met him at Job
They received her with every effort of cordiality; but still there
was a cobweb-veil of separation between them, to which Mary was
morbidly acute; while in Jem's voice, and eyes, and manner, there
was every evidence of most passionate, most admiring, and most
trusting love. The trust was shown by his respectful silence on
that one point of reserve on which she had interdicted conversation.
He left Job Legh's house when she did. They lingered on the step,
he holding her hand between both of his, as loth to let her go; he
questioned her as to when he should see her again.
"Mother does so want to see you," whispered he. "Can you come to
see her to-morrow; or when?"
"I cannot tell," replied she softly. "Not yet. Wait awhile;
perhaps only a little while. Dear Jem, I must go to him,--dearest
The next day, the fourth from Mary's return home, as she was sitting
near the window, sadly dreaming over some work, she caught a glimpse
of the last person she wished to see--of Sally Leadbitter!
She was evidently coming to their house; another moment, and she
tapped at the door. John Barton gave an anxious, uneasy
side-glance. Mary knew that if she delayed answering the knock,
Sally would not scruple to enter; so as hastily as if the visit had
been desired, she opened the door, and stood there with the latch in
her hand, barring up all entrance, and as much as possible
obstructing all curious glances into the interior.
"Well, Mary Barton! You're home at last! I heard you'd getten
home; so I thought I'd just step over and hear the news."
She was bent on coming in, and saw Mary's preventive design. So she
stood on tiptoe, looking over Mary's shoulders into the room where
she suspected a lover to be lurking; but instead, she saw only the
figure of the stern, gloomy father she had always been in the habit
of avoiding; and she dropped down again, content to carry on the
conversation where Mary chose, and as Mary chose, in whispers.
"So the old governor is back again, eh? And what does he say to all
your fine doings at Liverpool, and before?--you and I know where.
You can't hide it now, Mary, for it's all in print."
Mary gave a low moan--and then implored Sally to change the subject;
for unpleasant as it always was, it was doubly unpleasant in the
manner in which she was treating it. If they had been alone Mary
would have borne it patiently--or she thought, but now she felt
almost certain, her father was listening; there was a subdued
breathing, a slight bracing-up of the listless attitude. But there
was no arresting Sally's curiosity to hear all she could respecting
the adventures Mary had experienced. She, in common with the rest
of Miss Simmonds' young ladies, was almost jealous of the fame that
Mary had obtained; to herself, such miserable notoriety.
"Nay! there's no use shunning talking it over. Why! it was in the
Guardian--and the Courier--and some one told Jane Hodgson it was
even copied into a London paper. You've set up heroine on your own
account, Mary Barton. How did you like standing witness? Aren't
them lawyers impudent things? staring at one so. I'll be bound you
wished you'd taken my offer, and borrowed my black watered scarf!
Now didn't you, Mary? Speak truth!"
"To tell the truth, I never thought about it then, Sally. How could
I?" asked she reproachfully.
"Oh--I forgot. You were all for that stupid James Wilson. Well! if
I've ever the luck to go witness on a trial, see if I don't pick up
a better beau than the prisoner. I'll aim at a lawyer's clerk, but
I'll not take less than a turnkey."
Cast down as Mary was, she could hardly keep from smiling at the
idea, so wildly incongruous with the scene she had really undergone,
of looking out for admirers during a trial for murder.
"I'd no thought to be looking out for beaux, I can assure you,
Sally. But don't let us talk any more about it; I can't bear to
think on it. How is Miss Simmonds? and everybody?"
"Oh, very well; and by the way, she gave me a bit of a message for
you. You may come back to work if you'll behave yourself, she says.
I told you she'd be glad to have you back, after all this piece of
business, by way of tempting people to come to her shop. They'd
come from Salford to have a peep at you, for six months at least."
"Don't talk so; I cannot come, I can never face Miss Simmonds again.
And even if I could"--she stopped, and blushed.
"Ay! I know what you are thinking on. But that will not be this
some time, as he's turned off from the foundry--you'd better think
twice afore refusing Miss Simmonds' offer."
"Turned off from the foundry? Jem?" cried Mary.
"To be sure! didn't you know it? Decent men were not going to work
with a--no! I suppose I mustn't say it, seeing you went to such
trouble to get up an alibi; not that I should think much the worse
of a spirited young fellow for falling foul of a rival--they always
do at the theatre."
But Mary's thoughts were with Jem. How good he had been never to
name his dismissal to her. How much he had had to endure for her
"Tell me all about it," she gasped out.
"Why, you see, they've always swords quite handy at them plays,"
began Sally; but Mary, with an impatient shake of her head,
"About Jem--about Jem, I want to know."
"Oh! I don't pretend to know more than is in every one's mouth:
he's turned away from the foundry, because folk doesn't think you've
cleared him outright of the murder; though perhaps the jury were
loth to hang him. Old Mr. Carson is savage against judge and jury,
and lawyers and all, as I heard."
"I must go to him, I must go to him," repeated Mary, in a hurried
"He'll tell you all I've said is true, and not a word of lie,"
replied Sally. "So I'll not give your answer to Miss Simmonds, but
leave you to think twice about it. Good afternoon!"
Mary shut the door, and turned into the house.
Her father sat in the same attitude; the old unchanging attitude.
Only his head was more bowed towards the ground.
She put on her bonnet to go to Ancoats; for see, and question, and
comfort, and worship Jem, she must.
As she hung about her father for an instant before leaving him, he
spoke--voluntarily spoke for the first time since her return; but
his head was drooping so low she could not hear what he said, so she
stooped down; and after a moment's pause, he repeated the words--
"Tell Jem Wilson to come here at eight o'clock to-night."
Could he have overheard her conversation with Sally Leadbitter?
They had whispered low, she thought. Pondering on this, and many
other things, she reached Ancoats.
XXXV. "FORGIVE US OUR TRESPASSES."
"Oh, had he lived,
Replied Rusilla, never penitence
Had equalled his! full well I knew his heart,
Vehement in all things. He would on himself
Have wreaked such penance as had reached the height
Of fleshy suffering,--yea, which being told,
With its portentous rigour should have made
The memory of his fault o'erpowered and lost,
In shuddering pity and astonishment,
Fade like a feeble horror."
As Mary was turning into the street where the Wilsons lived, Jem
overtook her. He came upon her suddenly, and she started. "You're
going to see mother?" he asked tenderly, placing her arm within his,
and slackening his pace.
"Yes, and you too. O Jem, is it true? tell me."
She felt rightly that he would guess the meaning of her only
half-expressed inquiry. He hesitated a moment before he answered
"Darling, it is; it's no use hiding it--if you mean that I'm no
longer to work at Duncombe's foundry. It's no time (to my mind) to
have secrets from each other, though I did not name it yesterday,
thinking you might fret. I shall soon get work again, never fear."
"But why did they turn you off, when the jury had said you were
"It was not just to say turned off, though I don't think I could
have well stayed on. A good number of the men managed to let out
they should not like to work under me again; there were some few who
knew me well enough to feel I could not have done it, but more were
doubtful; and one spoke to young Mr. Duncombe, hinting at what they
"O Jem! what a shame!" said Mary, with mournful indignation.
"Nay, darling! I'm not for blaming them. Poor fellows like them
have nought to stand upon and be proud of but their character, and
it's fitting they should take care of that, and keep that free from
soil and taint."
"But you--what could they get but good from you? They might have
known you by this time."
"So some do; the overlooker, I'm sure, would know I'm innocent.
Indeed, he said as much to-day; and he said he had had some talk
with old Mr. Duncombe, and they thought it might be better if I left
Manchester for a bit; they'd recommend me to some other place."
But Mary could only shake her head in a mournful way, and repeat her
"They might have known thee better, Jem."
Jem pressed the little hand he held between his own work-hardened
ones. After a minute or two, he asked--
"Mary, art thou much bound to Manchester? Would it grieve thee sore
to quit the old smoke-jack?"
"With thee?" she asked, in a quiet, glancing way.
"Ay, lass! Trust me, I'll never ask thee to leave Manchester while
I'm in it. Because I have heard fine things of Canada; and our
overlooker has a cousin in the foundry line there. Thou knowest
where Canada is, Mary?"
"Not rightly--not now, at any rate;--but with thee, Jem," her voice
sunk to a soft, low whisper, "anywhere"--
What was the use of a geographical description?
"But father!" said Mary, suddenly breaking that delicious silence
with the one sharp discord in her present life.
She looked up at her lover's grave face; and then the message her
father had sent flashed across her memory.
"O Jem, did I tell you? Father sent word he wished to speak with
you. I was to bid you come to him at eight to-night. What can he
"I cannot tell," replied he. "At any rate, I'll go. It's no use
troubling ourselves to guess," he continued, after a pause for a few
minutes, during which they slowly and silently paced up and down the
by-street, into which he had led her when their conversation began.
"Come and see mother, and then I'll take thee home, Mary. Thou wert
all in a tremble when first I came up to thee; thou'rt not fit to be
trusted home by thyself," said he, with fond exaggeration of her
Yet a little more lovers' loitering! a few more words, in themselves
nothing--to you nothing--but to those two, what tender passionate
language can I use to express the feelings which thrilled through
that young man and maiden, as they listened to the syllables made
dear and lovely through life by that hour's low-whispered talk.
It struck the half-hour past seven.
"Come and speak to mother; she knows you're to be her daughter,
So they went in. Jane Wilson was rather chafed at her son's delay
in returning home, for as yet he had managed to keep her in
ignorance of his dismissal from the foundry; and it was her way to
prepare some little pleasure, some little comfort for those she
loved; and if they, unwittingly, did not appear at the proper time
to enjoy her preparation, she worked herself up into a state of
fretfulness which found vent in upbraidings as soon as ever the
objects of her care appeared, thereby marring the peace which should
ever be the atmosphere of a home, however humble; and causing a
feeling almost amounting to loathing to arise at the sight of the
"stalled ox," which, though an effect and proof of careful love, has
been the cause of so much disturbance.
Mrs. Wilson at first sighed, and then grumbled to herself, over the
increasing toughness of the potato-cakes she had made for her son's
The door opened, and he came in; his face brightening into proud
smiles, Mary Barton hanging on his arm, blushing and dimpling, with
eyelids veiling the happy light of her eyes--there was around the
young couple a radiant atmosphere--a glory of happiness.
Could his mother mar it? Could she break into it with her
Martha-like cares? Only for one moment did she remember her sense
of injury,--her wasted trouble,--and then her whole woman's heart
heaving with motherly love and sympathy, she opened her arms, and
received Mary into them, as shedding tears of agitated joy, she
murmured in her ear--
"Bless thee, Mary, bless thee! Only make him happy, and God bless
thee for ever!"
It took some of Jem's self-command to separate those whom he so much
loved, and who were beginning, for his sake, to love one another so
dearly. But the time for his meeting John Barton drew on: and it
was a long way to his house.
As they walked briskly thither they hardly spoke; though many
thoughts were in their minds.
The sun had not long set, but the first faint shade of twilight was
over all; and when they opened the door, Jem could hardly perceive
the objects within by the waning light of day, and the flickering
But Mary saw all at a glance.
Her eye, accustomed to what was usual in the aspect of the room, saw
instantly what was unusual,--saw and understood it all.
Her father was standing behind his habitual chair; holding by the
back of it as if for support. And opposite to him there stood Mr.
Carson; the dark outline of his stern figure looming large against
the light of the fire in that little room.
Behind her father sat Job Legh, his head in his hands, and resting
his elbow on the little family table, listening evidently; but as
evidently deeply affected by what he heard.
There seemed to be some pause in the conversation. Mary and Jem
stood at the half-open door, not daring to stir; hardly to breathe.
"And have I heard you aright?" began Mr. Carson, with his deep
quivering voice. "Man! have I heard you aright? Was it you, then,
that killed my boy? my only son?"--(he said these last few words
almost as if appealing for pity, and then he changed his tone to one
more vehement and fierce). "Don't dare to think that I shall be
merciful, and spare you, because you have come forward to accuse
yourself. I tell you I will not spare you the least pang the law
can inflict,--you, who did not show pity on my boy, shall have none
"I did not ask for any," said John Barton, in a low voice.
"Ask, or not ask, what care I? You shall be hanged--hanged--man!"
said he, advancing his face, and repeating the word with slow,
grinding emphasis, as if to infuse some of the bitterness of his
soul into it.
John Barton gasped, but not with fear. It was only that he felt it
terrible to have inspired such hatred, as was concentrated into
every word, every gesture of Mr. Carson's.
"As for being hanged, sir, I know it's all right and proper. I dare
say it's bad enough; but I tell you what, sir," speaking with an
outburst, "if you'd hanged me the day after I'd done the deed, I
would have gone down on my knees and blessed you. Death! Lord,
what is it to Life? To such a life as I've been leading this
fortnight past. Life at best is no great thing; but such a life as
I have dragged through since that night," he shuddered at the
thought. "Why, sir, I've been on the point of killing myself this
many a time to get away from my own thoughts. I didn't! and I'll
tell you why. I didn't know but that I should be more haunted than
ever with the recollection of my sin. Oh! God above only can tell
the agony with which I've repented me of it, and part perhaps
because I feared He would think I were impatient of the misery He
sent as punishment--far, far worse misery than any hanging, sir."
He ceased from excess of emotion.
Then he began again.
"Sin' that day (it may be very wicked, sir, but it's the truth) I've
kept thinking and thinking if I were but in that world where they
say God is, He would, maybe, teach me right from wrong, even if it
were with many stripes. I've been sore puzzled here. I would go
through hell-fire if I could but get free from sin at last, it's
such an awful thing. As for hanging, that's just nought at all."
His exhaustion compelled him to sit down. Mary rushed to him. It
seemed as if till then he had been unaware of her presence.
"Ay, ay, wench!" said he feebly, "is it thee? Where's Jem Wilson?"
Jem came forward.
John Barton spoke again, with many a break and gasping pause--
"Lad! thou hast borne a deal for me. It's the meanest thing I ever
did to leave thee to bear the brunt. Thou, who wert as innocent of
any knowledge of it as the babe unborn. I'll not bless thee for it.
Blessing from such as me would not bring thee any good. Thou'lt
love Mary, though she is my child."
He ceased, and there was a pause for a few seconds.
Then Mr. Carson turned to go.
When his hand was on the latch of the door, he hesitated for an
"You can have no doubt for what purpose I go. Straight to the
police-office, to send men to take care of you, wretched man, and
your accomplice. To-morrow morning your tale shall be repeated to
those who can commit you to gaol, and before long you shall have the
opportunity of trying how desirable hanging is."
"O sir!" said Mary, springing forward, and catching hold of Mr.
Carson's arm, "my father is dying. Look at him, sir. If you want
Death for Death you have it. Don't take him away from me these last
hours. He must go alone through Death, but let me be with him as
long as I can. O sir! if you have any mercy in you, leave him here
John himself stood up, stiff and rigid, and replied--
"Mary, wench! I owe him summit. I will go die, where, and as he
wishes me. Thou hast said true, I am standing side by side with
Death; and it matters little where I spend the bit of time left of
life. That time I must pass wrestling with my soul for a character
to take into the other world. I'll go where you see fit, sir. He's
innocent," faintly indicating Jem, as he fell back in his chair.
"Never fear! They cannot touch him," said Job Legh, in a low voice.
But as Mr. Carson was on the point of leaving the house with no sign
of relenting about him, he was again stopped by John Barton, who had
risen once more from his chair, and stood supporting himself on Jem,
while he spoke.
"Sir, one word! My hairs are grey with suffering, and yours with
"And have I had no suffering?" asked Mr. Carson, as if appealing for
sympathy, even to the murderer of his child.
And the murderer of his child answered to the appeal, and groaned in
spirit over the anguish he had caused.
"Have I had no inward suffering to blanch these hairs? Have not I
toiled and struggled even to these years with hopes in my heart that
all centred in my boy? I did not speak of them, but were they not
there? I seemed hard and cold; and so I might be to others, but not
to him!--who shall ever imagine the love I bore to him? Even he
never dreamed how my heart leapt up at the sound of his footstep,
and how precious he was to his poor old father. And he is gone--
killed--out of the hearing of all loving words--out of my sight for
ever. He was my sunshine, and now it is night! Oh, my God! comfort
me, comfort me!" cried the old man aloud.
The eyes of John Barton grew dim with tears.
Rich and poor, masters and men, were then brothers in the deep
suffering of the heart; for was not this the very anguish he had
felt for little Tom, in years so long gone by, that they seemed like
The mourner before him was no longer the employer; a being of
another race, eternally placed in antagonistic attitude; going
through the world glittering like gold, with a stony heart within,
which knew no sorrow but through the accidents of Trade; no longer
the enemy, the oppressor, but a very poor and desolate old man.
The sympathy for suffering, formerly so prevalent a feeling with
him, again filled John Barton's heart, and almost impelled him to
speak (as best he could) some earnest, tender words to the stern
man, shaking in his agony.
But who was he, that he should utter sympathy or consolation? The
cause of all this woe.
Oh, blasting thought! Oh, miserable remembrance! He had forfeited
all right to bind up his brother's wounds.
Stunned by the thought, he sank upon the seat, almost crushed with
the knowledge of the consequences of his own action; for he had no
more imagined to himself the blighted home, and the miserable
parents, than does the soldier, who discharges his musket, picture
to himself the desolation of the wife, and the pitiful cries of the
helpless little ones, who are in an instant to be made widowed and
To intimidate a class of men, known only to those below them as
desirous to obtain the greatest quantity of work for the lowest
wages--at most to remove an overbearing partner from an obnoxious
firm, who stood in the way of those who struggled as well as they
were able to obtain their rights--this was the light in which John
Barton had viewed his deed; and even so viewing it, after the
excitement had passed away, the Avenger, the sure Avenger, had found
But now he knew that he had killed a man, and a brother--now he knew
that no good thing could come out of this evil, even to the
sufferers whose cause he had so blindly espoused.
He lay across the table, broken-hearted. Every fresh quivering sob
of Mr. Carson's stabbed him to his soul.
He felt execrated by all; and as if he could never lay bare the
perverted reasonings which had made the performance of undoubted sin
appear a duty. The longing to plead some faint excuse grew stronger
and stronger. He feebly raised his head, and looking at Job Legh,
he whispered out--
"I did not know what I was doing, Job Legh; God knows I didn't! O
sir!" said he wildly, almost throwing himself at Mr. Carson's feet,
"say you forgive me the anguish I now see I have caused you. I care
not for pain, or death, you know I don't; but oh, man! forgive me
the trespass I have done!"
"Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive them that trespass against
us," said Job, solemnly and low, as if in prayer: as if the words
were suggested by those John Barton had used.
Mr. Carson took his hands away from his face. I would rather see
death than the ghastly gloom which darkened that countenance.
"Let my trespasses be unforgiven, so that I may have vengeance for
my son's murder."
There are blasphemous actions as well as blasphemous words: all
unloving, cruel deeds, are acted blasphemy.
Mr. Carson left the house. And John Barton lay on the ground as one
They lifted him up, and almost hoping that that deep trance might be
to him the end of all earthly things, they bore him to his bed.
For a time they listened with divided attention to his faint
breathings; for in each hasty hurried step that echoed in the street
outside, they thought they heard the approach of the officers of
When Mr. Carson left the house he was dizzy with agitation; the hot
blood went careering through his frame. He could not see the deep
blue of the night-heavens for the fierce pulses which throbbed in
his head. And partly to steady and calm himself, he leaned against
a railing, and looked up into those calm majestic depths with all
their thousand stars.
And by-and-by his own voice returned upon him, as if the last words
he had spoken were being uttered through all that infinite space;
but in their echoes there was a tone of unutterable sorrow.
"Let my trespasses be unforgiven, so that I may have vengeance for
my son's murder."
He tried to shake off the spiritual impression made by this
imagination. He was feverish and ill,--and no wonder.
So he turned to go homewards; not, as he had threatened, to the
police-office. After all (he told himself), that would do in the
morning. No fear of the man's escaping, unless he escaped to the
So he tried to banish the phantom voices and shapes which came
unbidden to his brain, and to recall his balance of mind by walking
calmly and slowly, and noticing everything which struck his senses.
It was a warm soft evening in spring, and there were many persons in
the streets. Among others a nurse with a little girl in her charge,
conveying her home from some children's gaiety; a dance most likely,
for the lovely little creature was daintily decked out in soft,
snowy muslin; and her fairy feet tripped along by her nurse's side
as if to the measure of some tune she had lately kept time to.
Suddenly up behind her there came a rough, rude errand-boy, nine or
ten years of age; a giant he looked by the fairy-child, as she
fluttered along. I don't know how it was, but in some awkward way
he knocked the poor little girl down upon the hard pavement as he
brushed rudely past, not much caring whom he hurt, so that he got
The child arose, sobbing with pain; and not without cause, for blood
was dropping down from the face, but a minute before so fair and
bright--dropping down on the pretty frock, making those scarlet
marks so terrible to little children.
The nurse, a powerful woman, had seized the boy, just as Mr. Carson
(who had seen the whole transaction) came up.
"You naughty little rascal! I'll give you to a policeman, that I
will! Do you see how you've hurt the little girl? Do you?"
accompanying every sentence with a violent jerk of passionate anger.
The lad looked hard and defying; but withal terrified at the threat
of the policeman, those ogres of our streets to all unlucky urchins.
The nurse saw it, and began to drag him along, with a view of making
what she called "a wholesome impression."
His terror increased and with it his irritation; when the little
sweet face, choking away its sobs, pulled down nurse's head and
"Please, dear nurse, I'm not much hurt; it was very silly to cry,
you know. He did not mean to do it. HE DID NOT KNOW WHAT HE WAS
DOING, did you, little boy? Nurse won't call a policeman, so don't
be frightened." And she put up her little mouth to be kissed by her
injurer, just as she had been taught to do at home to "make peace."
"That lad will mind, and be more gentle for the time to come, I'll
be bound, thanks to that little lady," said a passer-by, half to
himself, and half to Mr. Carson, whom he had observed to notice the
The latter took no apparent heed of the remark, but passed on. But
the child's pleading reminded him of the low, broken voice he had so
lately heard, penitently and humbly urging the same extenuation of
his great guilt.
"I did not know what I was doing."
He had some association with those words; he had heard, or read of
that plea somewhere before. Where was it?
"Could it be?"--
He would look when he got home. So when he entered his house he
went straight and silently upstairs to his library, and took down
the great, large, handsome Bible, all grand and golden, with its
leaves adhering together from the bookbinder's press, so little had
it been used.
On the first page (which fell open to Mr. Carson's view) were
written the names of his children, and his own.
"Henry John, son of the above John and Elizabeth Carson.
Born Sept. 29th, 1815."
To make the entry complete, his death should now be added. But the
page became hidden by the gathering mist of tears.
Thought upon thought, and recollection upon recollection came
crowding in, from the remembrance of the proud day when he had
purchased the costly book, in order to write down the birth of the
little babe of a day old.
He laid his head down on the open page, and let the tears fall
slowly on the spotless leaves.
His son's murderer was discovered; had confessed his guilt, and yet
(strange to say) he could not hate him with the vehemence of hatred
he had felt, when he had imagined him a young man, full of lusty
life, defying all laws, human and divine. In spite of his desire to
retain the revengeful feeling he considered as a duty to his dead
son, something of pity would steal in for the poor, wasted skeleton
of a man, the smitten creature, who had told him of his sin, and
implored his pardon that night.
In the days of his childhood and youth, Mr. Carson had been
accustomed to poverty; but it was honest, decent poverty; not the
grinding squalid misery he had remarked in every part of John
Barton's house, and which contrasted strangely with the pompous
sumptuousness of the room in which he now sat. Unaccustomed wonder
filled his mind at the reflection of the different lots of the
brethren of mankind.
Then he roused himself from his reverie, and turned to the object of
his search--the Gospel, where he half expected to find the tender
pleading: "They know not what they do."
It was murk midnight by this time, and the house was still and
quiet. There was nothing to interrupt the old man in his unwonted
Years ago, the Gospel had been his task-book in learning to read.
So many years ago, that he had become familiar with the events
before he could comprehend the Spirit that made the Life.
He fell to the narrative now afresh, with all the interest of a
little child. He began at the beginning, and read on almost
greedily, understanding for the first time the full meaning of the
story. He came to the end; the awful End. And there were the
haunting words of pleading.
He shut the book, and thought deeply.
All night long, the Archangel combated with the Demon.
All night long, others watched by the bed of Death. John Barton had
revived to fitful intelligence. He spoke at times with even
something of his former energy; and in the racy Lancashire dialect
he had always used when speaking freely.
"You see I've so often been hankering after the right way; and it's
a hard one for a poor man to find. At least it's been so to me. No
one learned me, and no one telled me. When I was a little chap they
taught me to read, and then they never gave no books; only I heard
say the Bible was a good book. So when I grew thoughtful, and
puzzled, I took to it. But you'd never believe black was black, or
night was night, when you saw all about you acting as if black was
white, and night was day. It's not much I can say for myself in
t'other world. God forgive me; but I can say this, I would fain
have gone after the Bible rules if I'd seen folk credit it; they all
spoke up for it, and went and did clean contrary. In those days I
would ha' gone about wi' my Bible, like a little child, my finger in
th' place, and asking the meaning of this or that text, and no one
told me. Then I took out two or three texts as clear as glass, and
I tried to do what they bid me do. But I don't know how it was,
masters and men, all alike cared no more for minding those texts,
than I did for th' Lord Mayor of London; so I grew to think it must
be a sham put upon poor ignorant folk, women, and such like.
"It was not long I tried to live Gospel-wise, but it was liker
heaven than any other bit of earth has been. I'd old Alice to
strengthen me; but every one else said, 'Stand up for thy rights, or
thou'lt never get 'em'; and wife and children never spoke, but their
helplessness cried aloud, and I was driven to do as others did--and
then Tom died. You know all about that--I'm getting scant o'
breath, and blind-like."
Then again he spoke, after some minutes of hushed silence.
"All along it came natural to love folk, though now I am what I am.
I think one time I could e'en have loved the masters if they'd ha'
letten me; that was in my Gospel-days, afore my child died o'
hunger. I was tore in two oftentimes, between my sorrow for poor
suffering folk, and my trying to love them as caused their
sufferings (to my mind).
"At last I gave it up in despair, trying to make folks' actions
square wi' th' Bible; and I thought I'd no longer labour at
following th' Bible mysel. I've said all this afore, maybe. But
from that time I've dropped down, down--down."
After that he only spoke in broken sentences.
"I did not think he'd been such an old man,--oh! that he had but
forgiven me,"--and then came earnest, passionate, broken words of
Job Legh had gone home like one struck down with the unexpected
Mary and Jem together waited the approach of death; but as the final
struggle drew on, and morning dawned, Jem suggested some alleviation
to the gasping breath, to purchase which he left the house in search
of a druggist's shop, which should be open at that early hour.
During his absence, Barton grew worse; he had fallen across the bed,
and his breathing seemed almost stopped; in vain did Mary strive to
raise him, her sorrow and exhaustion had rendered her too weak.
So, on hearing some one enter the house-place below, she cried out
for Jem to come to her assistance.
A step, which was not Jem's, came up the stairs.
Mr. Carson stood in the doorway. In one instant he comprehended the
He raised up the powerless frame; and the departing soul looked out
of the eyes with gratitude. He held the dying man propped in his
John Barton folded his hands as if in prayer.
"Pray for us," said Mary, sinking on her knees, and forgetting in
that solemn hour all that had divided her father and Mr. Carson.
No other words would suggest themselves than some of those he had
read only a few hours before--
"God be merciful to us sinners.--Forgive us our trespasses as we
forgive them that trespass against us!"
And when the words were said, John Barton lay a corpse in Mr.
So ended the tragedy of a poor man's life.
Mary knew nothing more for many minutes. When she recovered
consciousness, she found herself supported by Jem on the "settle" in
the house-place. Job and Mr. Carson were there, talking together
lowly and solemnly. Then Mr. Carson bade farewell and left the
house; and Job said aloud, but as if speaking to himself--
"God has heard that man's prayer. He has comforted him."
XXXVI. JEM'S INTERVIEW WITH MR. DUNCOMBE.
"The first dark day of nothingness,
The last of danger and distress."
Although Mary had hardly been conscious of her thoughts, and it had
been more like a secret instinct informing her soul, than the result
of any process of reasoning, she had felt for some time (ever since
her return from Liverpool, in fact), that for her father there was
but one thing to be desired and anticipated, and that was death!
She had seen that Conscience had given the mortal wound to his
earthly frame; she did not dare to question of the infinite mercy of
God, what the Future Life would be to him.
Though at first desolate and stunned by the blow which had fallen on
herself, she was resigned and submissive as soon as she recovered
strength enough to ponder and consider a little; and you may be sure
that no tenderness or love was wanting on Jem's part, and no
consideration and sympathy on that of Job and Margaret to soothe and
comfort the girl who now stood alone in the world as far as blood
relations were concerned.
She did not ask or care to know what arrangements they were making
in whispered tones with regard to the funeral. She put herself into
their hands with the trust of a little child; glad to be undisturbed
in the reveries and remembrances which filled her eyes with tears,
and caused them to fall quietly, down her pale cheeks.
It was the longest day she had ever known in her life; every change
and every occupation was taken away from her: but perhaps the
length of quiet time thus afforded was really good, although its
duration weighed upon her; for by this means she contemplated her
situation in every light, and fully understood that the morning's
event had left her an orphan; and thus she was spared the pangs
caused to us by the occurrence of death in the evening, just before
we should naturally, in the usual course of events, lie down to
slumber. For in such case, worn out by anxiety, and it may be by
much watching, our very excess of grief rocks itself to sleep,
before we have had time to realise its cause; and we waken, with a
start of agony like a fresh stab, to the consciousness of the one
awful vacancy, which shall never, while the world endures, be filled
The day brought its burden of duty to Mrs. Wilson. She felt bound
by regard, as well as by etiquette, to go and see her future
daughter-in-law. And by an old association of ideas (perhaps of
death with churchyards, and churches with Sunday) she thought it
necessary to put on her best, and latterly unused clothes, the
airing of which on a little clothes-horse before the fire seemed to
give her a not unpleasing occupation.
When Jem returned home late in the evening succeeding John Barton's
death, weary and oppressed with the occurrences and excitements of
the day, he found his mother busy about her mourning, and much
inclined to talk. Although he longed for quiet, he could not avoid
sitting down and answering her questions.
"Well, Jem, he's gone at last, is he?"
"Yes. How did you hear, mother?"
"Oh, Job came over here, and telled me, on his way to the
undertaker's. Did he make a fine end?"
It struck Jem that she had not heard of the confession which had
been made by John Barton on his death-bed; he remembered Job Legh's
discretion, and he determined that if it could be avoided his mother
should never hear of it. Many of the difficulties to be anticipated
in preserving the secret would be obviated, if he could induce his
mother to fall into the plan he had named to Mary of emigrating to
Canada. The reasons which rendered this secrecy desirable related
to the domestic happiness he hoped for. With his mother's irritable
temper he could hardly expect that all allusion to the crime of John
Barton would be for ever restrained from passing her lips, and he
knew the deep trial which such references would be to Mary.
Accordingly he resolved as soon as possible in the morning to go to
Job and beseech his silence; he trusted that secrecy in that
quarter, even if the knowledge had been extended to Margaret, might
be easily secured.
But what would be Mr. Carson's course?
Were there any means by which he might be persuaded to spare John
He was roused up from this train of thought by his mother's more
irritated tone of voice.
"Jem!" she was saying, "thou mightst just as well never be at a
death-bed again, if thou cannot bring off more news about it; here
have I been by mysel all day (except when oud Job came in), but
thinks I when Jem comes he'll be sure to be good company, seeing he
was in the house at the very time of the death; and here thou art,
without a word to throw at a dog, much less thy mother: it's no
use thy going to a death-bed if thou cannot carry away any of the
"He did not make any, mother," replied Jem.
"Well, to be sure! So fond as he used to be of holding forth, to
miss such a fine opportunity that will never come again! Did he die
"He was very restless all night long," said Jem, reluctantly
returning to the thoughts of that time.
"And in course thou plucked the pillow away? Thou didst not! Well!
with thy bringing up, and thy learning, thou mightst have known that
were the only help in such a case. There were pigeons' feathers in
the pillow, depend on't. To think of two grown-up folk like you and
Mary, not knowing death could never come easy to a person lying on a
pillow with pigeons' feathers in!"
Jem was glad to escape from all this talking, to the solitude and
quiet of his own room, where he could lie and think uninterruptedly
of what had happened and remained to be done.
The first thing was to seek an interview with Mr. Duncombe, his
former master. Accordingly, early the next morning Jem set off on
his walk to the works, where for so many years his days had been
spent; where for so long a time his thoughts had been thought, his
hopes and fears experienced. It was not a cheering feeling to
remember that henceforward he was to be severed from all these
familiar places; nor were his spirits enlivened by the evident
feelings of the majority of those who had been his fellow-workmen.
As he stood in the entrance to the foundry, awaiting Mr. Duncombe's
leisure, many of those employed in the works passed him on their
return from breakfast; and, with one or two exceptions, without any
acknowledgment of former acquaintance beyond a distant nod at the
"It is hard," said Jem to himself, with a bitter and indignant
feeling rising in his throat, "that let a man's life be what it may,
folk are so ready to credit the first word against him. I could
live it down if I stayed in England; but then what would not Mary
have to bear? Sooner or later the truth would out; and then she
would be a show to folk for many a day as John Barton's daughter.
Well! God does not judge as hardly as man, that's one comfort for
all of us!"
Mr. Duncombe did not believe in Jem's guilt, in spite of the silence
in which he again this day heard the imputation of it; but he agreed
that under the circumstances it was better he should leave the
"We have been written to by Government, as I think I told you
before, to recommend an intelligent man, well acquainted with
mechanics, as instrument-maker to the Agricultural College they are
establishing at Toronto, in Canada. It is a comfortable
appointment,--house,--land,--and a good percentage on the
instruments made. I will show you the particulars if I can lay my
hand on the letter, which I believe I must have left at home."
"Thank you, sir. No need for seeing the letter to say I'll accept
it. I must leave Manchester; and I'd as lief quit England at once
when I'm about it."
"Of course, Government will give you your passage; indeed, I believe
an allowance would be made for a family if you had one; but you are
not a married man, I believe?"
"No, sir, but"--Jem hung back from a confession with the awkwardness
of a girl.
"But"--said Mr. Duncombe, smiling, "you would like to be a married
man before you go, I suppose; eh, Wilson?"
"If you please, sir. And there's my mother, too. I hope she'll go
with us. But I can pay her passage; no need to trouble Government."
"Nay, nay! I'll write to-day and recommend you; and say that you
have a family of two. They'll never ask if the family goes upwards
or downwards. I shall see you again before you sail, I hope,
Wilson; though I believe they'll not allow you long to wait. Come
to my house next time; you'll find it pleasanter, I dare say. These
men are so wrong-headed. Keep up your heart!"
Jem felt that it was a relief to have this point settled; and that
he need no longer weigh reasons for and against his emigration.
And with his path growing clearer and clearer before him the longer
he contemplated it, he went to see Mary, and if he judged it fit, to
tell her what he had decided upon. Margaret was sitting with her.
"Grandfather wants to see you!" said she to Jem on his entrance.
"And I want to see him," replied Jem, suddenly remembering his last
night's determination to enjoin secrecy on Job Legh.
So he hardly stayed to kiss poor Mary's sweet woe-begone face, but
tore himself away from his darling to go to the old man, who awaited
"I've getten a note from Mr. Carson," exclaimed Job the moment he
saw Jem; "and, man alive, he wants to see thee and me! For sure,
there's no more mischief up, is there?" said he, looking at Jem with
an expression of wonder. But if any suspicion mingled for an
instant with the thoughts that crossed Job's mind, it was
immediately dispelled by Jem's honest, fearless, open countenance.
"I can't guess what he's wanting, poor old chap," answered he.
"Maybe there's some point he's not yet satisfied on; maybe--but it's
no use guessing; let's be off."
"It wouldn't be better for thee to be scarce a bit, would it, and
leave me to go and find out what's up? He has, perhaps, getten some
crotchet into his head thou'rt an accomplice, and is laying a trap
"I'm not afeard!" said Jem; "I've done nought wrong, and know nought
wrong, about yon poor dead lad; though I'll own I had evil thoughts
once on a time. Folk can't mistake long if once they'll search into
the truth. I'll go and give the old gentleman all the satisfaction
in my power, now it can injure no one. I'd my reasons for wanting
to see him besides, and it all falls in right enough for me."
Job was a little reassured by Jem's boldness; but still, if the
truth must be told, he wished the young man would follow his advice,
and leave him to sound Mr. Carson's intentions.
Meanwhile Jane Wilson had donned her Sunday suit of black, and set
off on her errand of condolence. She felt nervous and uneasy at the
idea of the moral sayings and texts which she fancied were expected
from visitors on occasions like the present; and prepared many a
good set speech as she walked towards the house of mourning.
As she gently opened the door, Mary, sitting idly by the fire,
caught a glimpse of her,--of Jem's mother,--of the early friend of
her dead parents,--of the kind minister to many a little want in
days of childhood,--and rose and came and fell about her neck, with
many a sob and moan, saying--
"Oh, he's gone--he's dead--all gone--all dead, and I am left alone!"
"Poor wench! poor, poor wench!" said Jane Wilson, tenderly kissing
her. "Thou'rt not alone; so donnot take on so. I'll say nought of
Him who's above, for thou knowest He is ever the orphan's friend;
but think on Jem! nay, Mary, dear, think on me! I'm but a frabbit
woman at times, but I've a heart within me through all my temper,
and thou shalt be as a daughter henceforward,--as mine own ewe-lamb.
Jem shall not love thee better in his way, than I will in mine; and
thou'lt bear with my turns, Mary, knowing that in my soul God sees
the love that shall ever be thine, if thou'lt take me for thy
mother, and speak no more of being alone."
Mrs. Wilson was weeping herself long before she had ended this
speech, which was so different to all she had planned to say, and
from all the formal piety she had laid in store for the visit; for
this was heart's piety, and needed no garnish of texts to make it
true religion, pure and undefiled.
They sat together on the same chair, their arms encircling each
other; they wept for the same dead; they had the same hope, and
trust, and overflowing love in the living.
From that time forward, hardly a passing cloud dimmed the happy
confidence of their intercourse; even by Jem would his mother's
temper sooner be irritated than by Mary; before the latter she
repressed her occasional nervous ill-humour till the habit of
indulging it was perceptibly decreased.
Years afterwards, in conversation with Jem, he was startled by a
chance expression which dropped from his mother's lips; it implied a
knowledge of John Barton's crime. It was many a long day since they
had seen any Manchester people who could have revealed the secret
(if indeed it was known in Manchester, against which Jem had guarded
in every possible way). And he was led to inquire first as to the
extent, and then as to the source of her knowledge. It was Mary
herself who had told all.
For on the morning to which this chapter principally relates, as
Mary sat weeping, and as Mrs. Wilson comforted her by every
tenderest word and caress, she revealed, to the dismayed and
astonished Jane, the sting of her deep sorrow; the crime which
stained her dead father's memory.
She was quite unconscious that Jem had kept it secret from his
mother; she had imagined it bruited abroad as the suspicion against
her lover had been; so word after word (dropped from her lips in the
supposition that Mrs. Wilson knew all) had told the tale and
revealed the cause of her deep anguish; deeper than is ever caused
by death alone.
On large occasions like the present, Mrs. Wilson's innate generosity
came out. Her weak and ailing frame imparted its irritation to her
conduct in small things, and daily trifles; but she had deep and
noble sympathy with great sorrows, and even at the time that Mary
spoke she allowed no expression of surprise or horror to escape her
lips. She gave way to no curiosity as to the untold details; she
was as secret and trustworthy as her son himself; and if in years to
come her anger was occasionally excited against Mary, and she, on
rare occasions, yielded to ill-temper against her daughter-in-law,
she would upbraid her for extravagance, or stinginess, or
over-dressing, or under-dressing, or too much mirth or too much
gloom, but never, never in her most uncontrolled moments did she
allude to any one of the circumstances relating to Mary's flirtation
with Harry Carson, or his murderer; and always when she spoke of
John Barton, named him with the respect due to his conduct before
the last, miserable, guilty month of his life.
Therefore it came like a blow to Jem, when, after years had passed
away, he gathered his mother's knowledge of the whole affair. From
the day when he learnt (not without remorse) what hidden depths of
self-restraint she had in her soul, his manner to her, always tender
and respectful, became reverential; and it was more than ever a
loving strife between him and Mary which should most contribute
towards the happiness of the declining years of their mother.
But I am speaking of the events which have occurred only lately,
while I have yet many things to tell you that happened six or seven
XXXVII. DETAILS CONNECTED WITH THE MURDER.
"The rich man dines, while the poor man pines,
And eats his heart away;
'They teach us lies,' he sternly cries,
'Would BROTHERS do as they?'"
Mr. Carson stood at one of the breathing-moments of life. The
object of the toils, the fears, and the wishes of his past years,
was suddenly hidden from his sight,--vanished into the deep mystery
which circumscribes existence. Nay, even the vengeance which he had
cherished, taken away from before his eyes, as by the hand of God.
Events like these would have startled the most thoughtless into
reflection, much more such a man as Mr. Carson, whose mind, if not
enlarged, was energetic; indeed, whose very energy, having been
hitherto the cause of the employment of his powers in only one
direction, had prevented him from becoming largely and
philosophically comprehensive in his views.
But now the foundations of his past life were razed to the ground,
and the place they had once occupied was sown with salt, to be
rebuilt no more for ever. It was like the change from this Life to
that other hidden one, when so many of the motives which have
actuated all our earthly existence, will have become more fleeting
than the shadows of a dream. With a wrench of his soul from the
past, so much of which was as nothing, and worse than nothing to him
now, Mr. Carson took some hours, after he had witnessed the death of
his son's murderer, to consider his situation.
But suddenly, while he was deliberating, and searching for motives
which should be effective to compel him to exertion and action once
more; while he contemplated the desire after riches, social
distinction, a name among the merchant-princes amidst whom he moved,
and saw these false substances fade away into the shadows they truly
are, and one by one disappear into the grave of his son,--suddenly,
I say, the thought arose within him that more yet remained to be
learned about the circumstances and feelings which had prompted John
Barton's crime; and when once this mournful curiosity was excited,
it seemed to gather strength in every moment that its gratification
was delayed. Accordingly he sent a message to summon Job Legh and
Jem Wilson, from whom he promised himself some elucidation of what
was as yet unexplained; while he himself set forth to call on Mr.
Bridgnorth, whom he knew to have been Jem's attorney, with a
glimmering suspicion intruding on his mind, which he strove to
repel, that Jem might have had some share in his son's death.
He had returned before his summoned visitors arrived; and had time
enough to recur to the evening on which John Barton had made his
confession. He remembered with mortification how he had forgotten
his proud reserve, and his habitual concealment of his feelings, and
had laid bare his agony of grief in the presence of these two men
who were coming to see him by his desire; and he entrenched himself
behind stiff barriers of self-control, through which he hoped no
appearance of emotion would force its way in the conversation he
Nevertheless, when the servant announced that two men were there by
appointment to speak to him, and he had desired that they might be
shown into the library where he sat, any watcher might have
perceived by the trembling hands, and shaking head, not only how
much he was aged by the occurrences of the last few weeks, but also
how much he was agitated at the thought of the impending interview.
But he so far succeeded in commanding himself at first, as to appear
to Jem Wilson and Job Legh one of the hardest and most haughty men
they had ever spoken to, and to forfeit all the interest which he
had previously excited in their minds by his unreserved display of
deep and genuine feeling.
When he had desired them to be seated, he shaded his face with his
hand for an instant before speaking.
"I have been calling on Mr. Bridgnorth this morning," said he, at
last; "as I expected, he can give me but little satisfaction on some
points respecting the occurrence on the 18th of last month which I
desire to have cleared up. Perhaps you two can tell me what I want
to know. As intimate friends of Barton's you probably know, or can
conjecture a good deal. Have no scruple as to speaking the truth.
What you say in this room shall never be named again by me.
Besides, you are aware that the law allows no one to be tried twice
for the same offence."
He stopped for a minute, for the mere act of speaking was fatiguing
to him after the excitement of the last few days.
Job Legh took the opportunity of speaking.
"I'm not going to be affronted either for myself or Jem at what
you've just now been saying about the truth. You don't know us, and
there's an end on't; only it's as well for folk to think others good
and true until they're proved contrary. Ask what you like, sir,
I'll answer for it we'll either tell truth or hold our tongues."
"I beg your pardon," said Mr. Carson, slightly bowing his head.
"What I wish to know was," referring to a slip of paper he held in
his hand, and shaking so much he could hardly adjust his glasses to
his eyes, "whether you, Wilson, can explain how Barton came
possessed of your gun. I believe you refused this explanation to
"I did, sir! If I had said what I knew then, I saw it would
criminate Barton, and so I refused telling aught. To you, sir, now
I will tell everything and anything; only it is but little. The gun
was my father's before it was mine, and long ago he and John Barton
had a fancy for shooting at the gallery; and they used always to
take this gun, and brag that though it was old-fashioned it was
Jem saw with self-upbraiding pain how Mr. Carson winced at these
last words, but at each irrepressible and involuntary evidence of
feeling, the hearts of the two men warmed towards him. Jem went on
"One day in the week--I think it was on the Wednesday,--yes, it
was--it was on St. Patrick's day, I met John just coming out of our
house, as I were going to my dinner. Mother was out, and he'd found
no one in. He said he'd come to borrow the old gun, and that he'd
have made bold, and taken it, but it was not to be seen. Mother was
afraid of it, so after father's death (for while he were alive, she
seemed to think he could manage it) I had carried it to my own room.
I went up and fetched it for John, who stood outside the door all
"What did he say he wanted it for?" asked Mr. Carson hastily.
"I don't think he spoke when I gave it him. At first he muttered
something about the shooting gallery, and I never doubted but that
it was for practice there, as I knew he had done years before."
Mr. Carson had strung up his frame to an attitude of upright
attention while Jem was speaking; now the tension relaxed, and he
sank back in his chair, weak and powerless.
He rose up again, however, as Jem went on, anxious to give every
particular which could satisfy the bereaved father.
"I never knew for what he wanted the gun till I was taken up,--I do
not know yet why he wanted it. No one would have had me get out of
the scrape by implicating an old friend,--my father's old friend,
and the father of the girl I loved. So I refused to tell Mr.
Bridgnorth aught about it, and would not have named it now to any
one but you."
Jem's face became very red at the allusion he made to Mary, but his
honest, fearless eyes had met Mr. Carson's penetrating gaze
unflinchingly, and had carried conviction of his innocence and
truthfulness. Mr. Carson felt certain that he had heard all that
Jem could tell. Accordingly he turned to Job Legh.
"You were in the room the whole time while Barton was speaking to
me, I think?"
"Yes, sir," answered Job.
"You'll excuse my asking plain and direct questions; the information
I am gaining is really a relief to my mind, I don't know how, but it
is,--will you tell me if you had any idea of Barton's guilt in this
"None whatever, so help me God!" said Job solemnly. "To tell truth
(and axing your forgiveness, Jem), I had never got quite shut of the
notion that Jem here had done it. At times I was as clear of his
innocence as I was of my own; and whenever I took to reasoning about
it, I saw he could not have been the man that did it. Still I never
thought of Barton."
"And yet by his confession he must have been absent at the time,"
said Mr. Carson, referring to his slip of paper.
"Ay, and for many a day after,--I can't rightly say how long. But
still, you see, one's often blind to many a thing that lies right
under one's nose, till it's pointed out. And till I heard what John
Barton had to say yon night, I could not have seen what reason he
had for doing it; while in the case of Jem, any one who looked at
Mary Barton might have seen a cause for jealousy clear enough."
"Then you believe that Barton had no knowledge of my son's
unfortunate"--he looked at Jem--"of his attentions to Mary Barton.
This young man, Wilson, has heard of them, you see."
"The person who told me said clearly she neither had, nor would tell
Mary's father," interposed Jem. "I don't believe he'd ever heard of
it; he weren't a man to keep still in such a matter, if he had."
"Besides," said Job, "the reason he gave on his death-bed, so to
speak, was enough; 'specially to those who knew him."
"You mean his feelings regarding the treatment of the workmen by the
masters; you think he acted from motives of revenge, in consequence
of the part my son had taken in putting down the strike?"
"Well, sir," replied Job, "it's hard to say: John Barton was not
a man to take counsel with people; nor did he make many words about
his doings. So I can only judge from his way of thinking and
talking in general, never having heard him breathe a syllable
concerning this matter in particular. You see he were sadly put
about to make great riches and great poverty square with Christ's
Gospel"--Job paused, in order to try and express what was clear
enough in his own mind, as to the effect produced on John Barton by
the great and mocking contrasts presented by the varieties of human
condition. Before he could find suitable words to explain his
meaning, Mr. Carson spoke. "You mean he was an Owenite; all for
equality and community of goods, and that kind of absurdity."
"No, no! John Barton was no fool. No need to tell him that were
all men equal to-night, some would get the start by rising an hour
earlier to-morrow. Nor yet did he care for goods, nor wealth--no
man less, so that he could get daily bread for him and his; but what
hurt him sore, and rankled in him as long as I knew him (and, sir,
it rankles in many a poor man's heart far more than the want of any
creature-comforts, and puts a sting into starvation itself), was
that those who wore finer clothes, and eat better food, and had more
money in their pockets, kept him at arm's length, and cared not
whether his heart was sorry or glad; whether he lived or died,--
whether he was bound for heaven or hell. It seemed hard to him that
a heap of gold should part him and his brother so far asunder. For
he was a loving man before he grew mad with seeing such as he was
slighted, as if Christ Himself had not been poor. At one time, I've
heard him say, he felt kindly towards every man, rich or poor,
because he thought they were all men alike. But latterly he grew
aggravated with the sorrows and suffering that he saw, and which he
thought the masters might help if they would."
"That's the notion you've all of you got," said Mr. Carson. "Now,
how in the world can we help it? We cannot regulate the demand for
labour. No man or set of men can do it. It depends on events which
God alone can control. When there is no market for our goods, we
suffer just as much as you can do."
"Not as much, I'm sure, sir; though I'm not given to Political
Economy, I know that much. I'm wanting in learning, I'm aware; but
I can use my eyes. I never see the masters getting thin and haggard
for want of food; I hardly ever see them making much change in their
way of living, though I don't doubt they've got to do it in bad
times. But it's in things for show they cut short; while for such
as me, it's in things for life we've to stint. For sure, sir,
you'll own it's come to a hard pass when a man would give aught in
the world for work to keep his children from starving, and can't get
a bit, if he's ever so willing to labour. I'm not up to talking as
John Barton would have done, but that's clear to me at any rate."
"My good man, just listen to me. Two men live in solitude; one
produces loaves of bread, the other coats,--or what you will. Now,
would it not be hard if the bread-producer were forced to give bread
for the coats, whether he wanted them or not, in order to furnish
employment to the other? That is the simple form of the case;
you've only to multiply the numbers. There will come times of great
changes in the occupation of thousands, when improvements in
manufactures and machinery are made. It's all nonsense talking,--it
must be so!"
Job Legh pondered a few moments.
"It's true it was a sore time for the hand-loom weavers when
power-looms came in: them new-fangled things make a man's life
like a lottery; and yet I'll never misdoubt that power-looms and
railways, and all such-like inventions, are the gifts of God. I
have lived long enough, too, to see that it is a part of His plan to
send suffering to bring out a higher good; but surely it's also a
part of His plan that so much of the burden of the suffering as can
be should be lightened by those whom it is His pleasure to make
happy, and content in their own circumstances. Of course it would
take a deal more thought and wisdom than me, or any other man has,
to settle out of hand how this should be done. But I'm clear about
this, when God gives a blessing to be enjoyed, He gives it with a
duty to be done; and the duty of the happy is to help the suffering
to bear their woe."
"Still facts have proved, and are daily proving, how much better it
is for every man to be independent of help, and self-reliant," said
Mr. Carson thoughtfully.
"You can never work facts as you would fixed quantities, and say,
given two facts, and the product is so and so. God has given men
feelings and passions which cannot be worked into the problem,
because they are for ever changing and uncertain. God has also made
some weak; not in any one way, but in all. One is weak in body,
another in mind, another in steadiness of purpose, a fourth can't
tell right from wrong, and so on; or if he can tell the right, he
wants strength to hold by it. Now, to my thinking, them that is
strong in any of God's gifts is meant to help the weak,--be hanged
to the facts! I ask your pardon, sir; I can't rightly explain the
meaning that is in me. I'm like a tap as won't run, but keeps
letting it out drop by drop, so that you've no notion of the force
of what's within."
Job looked and felt very sorrowful at the want of power in his
words, while the feeling within him was so strong and clear.
"What you say is very true, no doubt," replied Mr. Carson; "but how
would you bring it to bear upon the masters' conduct,--on my
particular case?" added he gravely.
"I'm not learned enough to argue. Thoughts come into my head that
I'm sure are as true as Gospel, though maybe they don't follow each
other like the Q.E.D. of a Proposition. The masters has it on their
own conscience,--you have it on yours, sir, to answer for to God
whether you've done, and are doing all in your power to lighten the
evils that seem always to hang on the trades by which you make your
fortunes. It's no business of mine, thank God. John Barton took
the question in hand, and his answer to it was NO! Then he grew
bitter, and angry, and mad; and in his madness he did a great sin,
and wrought a great woe; and repented him with tears of blood, and
will go through his penance humbly and meekly in t'other place, I'll
be bound. I never seed such bitter repentance as his that last
There was a silence of many minutes. Mr. Carson had covered his
face, and seemed utterly forgetful of their presence; and yet they
did not like to disturb him by rising to leave the room.
At last he said, without meeting their sympathetic eyes--
"Thank you both for coming,--and for speaking candidly to me. I
fear, Legh, neither you nor I have convinced each other, as to the
power, or want of power, in the masters to remedy the evils the men
"I'm loth to vex you, sir, just now; but it was not the want of
power I was talking on; what we all feel sharpest is the want of
inclination to try and help the evils which come like blights at
times over the manufacturing places, while we see the masters can
stop work and not suffer. If we saw the masters try for our sakes
to find a remedy,--even if they were long about it,--even if they
could find no help, and at the end of all could only say, 'Poor
fellows, our hearts are sore for ye; we've done all we could, and
can't find a cure,'--we'd bear up like men through bad times. No
one knows till they have tried, what power of bearing lies in them,
if once they believe that men are caring for their sorrows and will
help if they can. If fellow-creatures can give nought but tears and
brave words, we take our trials straight from God, and we know
enough of His love to put ourselves blind into His hands. You say
our talk has done no good. I say it has. I see the view you take
of things from the place where you stand. I can remember that, when
the time comes for judging you; I shan't think any longer, does he
act right on my views of a thing, but does he act right on his own.
It has done me good in that way. I'm an old man, and may never see
you again; but I'll pray for you, and think on you and your trials,
both of your great wealth, and of your son's cruel death, many and
many a day to come; and I'll ask God to bless both to you now and
for evermore. Amen. Farewell!"
Jem had maintained a manly and dignified reserve ever since he had
made his open statement of all he knew. Now both the men rose and
bowed low, looking at Mr. Carson with the deep human interest they
could not fail to take in one who had endured and forgiven a deep
injury; and who struggled hard, as it was evident he did, to bear up
like a man under his affliction.
He bowed low in return to them. Then he suddenly came forward and
shook them by the hand; and thus, without a word more, they parted.
There are stages in the contemplation and endurance of great sorrow,
which endow men with the same earnestness and clearness of thought
that in some of old took the form of Prophecy. To those who have
large capability of loving and suffering, united with great power of
firm endurance, there comes a time in their woe, when they are
lifted out of the contemplation of their individual case into a
searching inquiry into the nature of their calamity, and the remedy
(if remedy there be) which may prevent its recurrence to others as
well as to themselves.
Hence the beautiful, noble efforts which are from time to time
brought to light, as being continuously made by those who have once
hung on the cross of agony, in order that others may not suffer as
they have done; one of the grandest ends which sorrow can
accomplish; the sufferer wrestling with God's messenger until a
blessing is left behind, not for one alone but for generations.
It took time before the stern nature of Mr. Carson was compelled to
the recognition of this secret of comfort, and that same sternness
prevented his reaping any benefit in public estimation from the
actions he performed; for the character is more easily changed than
the habits and manners originally formed by that character, and to
his dying day Mr. Carson was considered hard and cold by those who
only casually saw him or superficially knew him. But those who were
admitted into his confidence were aware, that the wish that lay
nearest to his heart was that none might suffer from the cause from
which he had suffered; that a perfect understanding, and complete
confidence and love, might exist between masters and men; that the
truth might be recognised that the interests of one were the
interests of all, and, as such, required the consideration and
deliberation of all; that hence it was most desirable to have
educated workers, capable of judging, not mere machines of ignorant
men: and to have them bound to their employers by the ties of
respect and affection, not by mere money bargains alone; in short,
to acknowledge the Spirit of Christ as the regulating law between
Many of the improvements now in practice in the system of employment
in Manchester, owe their origin to short, earnest sentences spoken
by Mr. Carson. Many and many yet to be carried into execution, take
their birth from that stern, thoughtful mind, which submitted to be
taught by suffering.
"Touch us gently, gentle Time!
We've not proud nor soaring wings,
Our ambition, our content,
Lies in simple things;
Humble voyagers are we
O'er life's dim unsounded sea;
Touch us gently, gentle Time !"
Not many days after John Barton's funeral was over, all was arranged
respecting Jem's appointment at Toronto; and the time was fixed for
his sailing. It was to take place almost immediately: yet much
remained to be done; many domestic preparations were to be made; and
one great obstacle, anticipated by both Jem and Mary, to be removed.
This was the opposition they expected from Mrs. Wilson, to whom the
plan had never yet been named.
They were most anxious that their home should continue ever to be
hers, yet they feared that her dislike to a new country might be an
insuperable objection to this. At last Jem took advantage of an
evening of unusual placidity, as he sat alone with his mother just
before going to bed, to broach the subject; and to his surprise she
acceded willingly to his proposition of her accompanying himself and
"To be sure 'Merica is a long way to flit to; beyond London a good
bit I reckon; and quite in foreign parts; but I've never had no
opinion of England, ever since they could be such fools as to take
up a quiet chap like thee, and clap thee in prison. Where you go,
I'll go. Perhaps in them Indian countries they'll know a
well-behaved lad when they see him; ne'er speak a word more, lad,
Their path became daily more smooth and easy; the present was clear
and practicable, the future was hopeful; they had leisure of mind
enough to turn to the past.
"Jem!" said Mary to him, one evening as they sat in the twilight,
talking together in low happy voices till Margaret should come to
keep Mary company through the night, "Jem! you've never yet told me
how you came to know about my naughty ways with poor young Mr.
Carson." She blushed for shame at the remembrance of her folly, and
hid her head on his shoulder while he made answer.
"Darling, I'm almost loth to tell you; your aunt Esther told me."
"Ah, I remember! but how did she know? I was so put about that
night I did not think of asking her. Where did you see her? I've
forgotten where she lives."
Mary said all this in so open and innocent a manner, that Jem felt
sure she knew not the truth respecting Esther, and he half hesitated
to tell her. At length he replied--
"Where did you see Esther lately? When? Tell me, love, for you've
never named it before, and I can't make it out."
"Oh! it was that horrible night, which is like a dream." And she
told him of Esther's midnight visit, concluding with, "We must go
and see her before we leave, though I don't rightly know where to
"What, Jem?" exclaimed she, alarmed by his hesitation.
"Your poor aunt Esther has no home:--she's one of them miserable
creatures that walk the streets." And he in his turn told of his
encounter with Esther, with so many details that Mary was forced to
be convinced, although her heart rebelled against the belief.
"Jem, lad!" said she vehemently, "we must find her out--we must hunt
her up!" She rose as if she was going on the search there and then.
"What could we do, darling?" asked he, fondly restraining her.
"Do! Why! what could we NOT do, if we could but find her? She's
none so happy in her ways, think ye, but what she'd turn from them,
if any one would lend her a helping hand. Don't hold me, Jem; this
is just the time for such as her to be out, and who knows but what I
might find her close to hand."
"Stay, Mary, for a minute; I'll go out now and search for her if you
wish, though it's but a wild chase. You must not go. It would be
better to ask the police to-morrow. But if I should find her, how
can I make her come with me? Once before she refused, and said she
could not break off her drinking ways, come what might?"
"You never will persuade her if you fear and doubt," said Mary, in
tears. "Hope yourself, and trust to the good that must be in her.
Speak to that,--she has it in her yet,--oh, bring her home, and we
will love her so, we'll make her good."
"Yes!" said Jem, catching Mary's sanguine spirit; "she shall go to
America with us: and we'll help her to get rid of her sins. I'll
go now, my precious darling, and if I can't find her, it's but
trying the police to-morrow. Take care of your own sweet self,
Mary," said he, fondly kissing her before he went out.
It was not to be. Jem wandered far and wide that night, but never
met Esther. The next day he applied to the police; and at last they
recognised under his description of her, a woman known to them under
the name of the "Butterfly," from the gaiety of her dress a year or
two ago. By their help he traced out one of her haunts, a low
lodging-house behind Peter-street. He and his companion, a
kind-hearted policeman, were admitted, suspiciously enough, by the
landlady, who ushered them into a large garret where twenty or
thirty people of all ages and both sexes lay and dosed away the day,
choosing the evening and night for their trades of beggary,
thieving, or prostitution.
"I know the Butterfly was here," said she, looking round. "She came
in, the night before last, and said she had not a penny to get a
place for shelter; and that if she was far away in the country she
could steal aside and die in a copse, or a clough, like the wild
animals; but here the police would let no one alone in the streets,
and she wanted a spot to die in, in peace. It's a queer sort of
peace we have here, but that night the room was uncommon empty, and
I'm not a hard-hearted woman (I wish I were, I could ha' made a good
thing out of it afore this if I were harder), so I sent her up--but
she's not here now, I think."
"Was she very bad?" asked Jem.
"Ay! nought but skin and bone, with a cough to tear her in two."
They made some inquiries, and found that in the restlessness of
approaching death, she had longed to be once more in the open air,
and had gone forth--where, no one seemed to be able to tell.
Leaving many messages for her, and directions that he was to be sent
for if either the policeman or the landlady obtained any clue to her
whereabouts, Jem bent his steps towards Mary's house; for he had not
seen her all that long day of search. He told her of his
proceedings and want of success; and both were saddened at the
recital, and sat silent for some time.
After awhile they began talking over their plans. In a day or two,
Mary was to give up house, and go and live for a week or so with Job
Legh, until the time of her marriage, which would take place
immediately before sailing; they talked themselves back into silence
and delicious reverie. Mary sat by Jem, his arm around her waist,
her head on his shoulder; and thought over the scenes which had
passed in that home she was so soon to leave for ever.
Suddenly she felt Jem start, and started too without knowing why;
she tried to see his countenance, but the shades of evening had
deepened so much she could read no expression there. It was turned
to the window; she looked and saw a white face pressed against the
panes on the outside, gazing intently into the dusky chamber. While
they watched, as if fascinated by the appearance, and unable to
think or stir, a film came over the bright, feverish, glittering
eyes outside, and the form sank down to the ground without a
struggle of instinctive resistance.
"It is Esther!" exclaimed they, both at once. They rushed outside;
and, fallen into what appeared simply a heap of white or
light-coloured clothes, fainting or dead, lay the poor crushed
Butterfly--the once innocent Esther. She had come (as a wounded
deer drags its heavy limbs once more to the green coolness of the
lair in which it was born, there to die) to see the place familiar
to her innocence, yet once again before her death. Whether she was
indeed alive or dead, they knew not now.
Job came in with Margaret, for it was bedtime. He said Esther's
pulse beat a little yet. They carried her upstairs and laid her on
Mary's bed, not daring to undress her, lest any motion should
frighten the trembling life away; but it was all in vain.
Towards midnight, she opened wide her eyes and looked around on the
once familiar room; Job Legh knelt by the bed praying aloud and
fervently for her, but he stopped as he saw her roused look. She
sat up in bed with a sudden convulsive motion.
"Has it been a dream, then?" asked she wildly. Then with a habit,
which came like instinct even in that awful dying hour, her hand
sought for a locket which hung concealed in her bosom, and, finding
that, she knew all was true which had befallen her since last she
lay an innocent girl on that bed.
She fell back, and spoke word never more. She held the locket
containing her child's hair still in her hand, and once or twice she
kissed it with a long soft kiss. She cried feebly and sadly as long
as she had any strength to cry, and then she died.
They laid her in one grave with John Barton. And there they lie
without name, or initial, or date. Only this verse is inscribed
upon the stone which covers the remains of these two wanderers.
Psalm ciii. v. 9.--"For He will not always chide, neither will He
keep His anger for ever."
I see a long, low, wooden house, with room enough and to spare. The
old primeval trees are felled and gone for many a mile around; one
alone remains to overshadow the gable-end of the cottage. There is
a garden around the dwelling, and far beyond that stretches an
orchard. The glory of an Indian summer is over all, making the
heart leap at the sight of its gorgeous beauty.
At the door of the house, looking towards the town, stands Mary,
watching the return of her husband from his daily work; and while
she watches, she listens, smiling--
"Clap hands, daddy comes,
With his pocket full of plums,
And a cake for Johnnie."
Then comes a crow of delight from Johnnie. Then his grandmother
carries him to the door, and glories in seeing him resist his
mother's blandishments to cling to her.
"English letters! 'Twas that made me so late!"
"O Jem, Jem! don't hold them so tight! What do they say?"
"Why, some good news. Come, give a guess what it is."
"Oh, tell me! I cannot guess," said Mary.
"Then you give it up, do you? What do you say, mother?"
Jane Wilson thought a moment.
"Will and Margaret are married?" asked she.
"Not exactly,--but very near. The old woman has twice the spirit of
the young one. Come, Mary, give a guess?"
He covered his little boy's eyes with his hands for an instant,
significantly, till the baby pushed them down, saying in his
"There now! Johnnie can see. Do you guess, Mary?"
"They've done something to Margaret to give her back her sight!"
"They have. She has been couched, and can see as well as ever. She
and Will are to be married on the twenty-fifth of this month, and
he's bringing her out next voyage; and Job Legh talks of coming
too,--not to see you, Mary,--nor you, mother,--nor you, my little
hero" (kissing him), "but to try and pick up a few specimens of
Canadian insects, Will says. All the compliment is to the earwigs,
you see, mother!"
"Dear Job Legh!" said Mary, softly and seriously.
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