Part 6 out of 9
feeble to show it as before. "My Jem was as steady as"--she
hesitated for a comparison wherewith to finish, and then repeated,
"as steady as Lucifer, and he were an angel, you know. My Jem was
not one to quarrel about a girl."
"Ay, but it was that, though. They'd got her name quite pat. The
man had heard all they said. Mary Barton was her name, whoever she
"Mary Barton! the dirty hussy! to bring my Jem into trouble of this
kind. I'll give it her well when I see her: that I will. Oh! my
poor Jem!" rocking herself to and fro. "And what about the gun?
What did ye say about that?"
"His gun were found on th' spot where the murder were done."
"That's a lie for one, then. A man has got the gun now, safe and
sound. I saw it not an hour ago."
The man shook his head.
"Yes, he has indeed. A friend o' Jem's, as he'd lent it to."
"Did you know the chap?" asked the man, who was really anxious for
Jem's exculpation, and caught a gleam of hope from her last speech.
"No! I can't say as I did. But he were put on as a workman."
"It's maybe only one of them policemen, disguised."
"Nay; they'd never go for to do that, and trick me into telling on
my own son. It would be like seething a kid in its mother's milk;
and that th' Bible forbids."
"I don't know," replied the man.
Soon afterwards he went away, feeling unable to comfort, yet
distressed at the sight of sorrow; she would fain have detained him,
but go he would. And she was alone.
She never for an instant believed Jem guilty: she would have
doubted if the sun were fire, first: but sorrow, desolation, and
at times anger, took possession of her mind. She told the
unconscious Alice, hoping to rouse her to sympathy; and then was
disappointed, because, still smiling and calm, she murmured of her
mother, and the happy days of infancy.
XX. MARY'S DREAM--AND THE AWAKENING.
"I saw where stark and cold he lay,
Beneath the gallows-tree,
And every one did point and say,
''Twas there he died for thee!'
* * *
"Oh! weeping heart! Oh! bleeding heart!
What boots thy pity now?
Bid from his eyes that shade depart,
That death-damp from his brow!"
--"THE BIRTLE TRAGEDY."
So there was no more peace in the house of sickness except to Alice,
the dying Alice.
But Mary knew nothing of the afternoon's occurrences; and gladly did
she breathe in the fresh air, as she left Miss Simmonds' house, to
hasten to the Wilsons'. The very change, from the indoor to the
outdoor atmosphere, seemed to alter the current of her thoughts.
She thought less of the dreadful subject which had so haunted her
all day; she cared less for the upbraiding speeches of her
fellow-workwomen; the old association of comfort and sympathy
received from Alice gave her the idea that, even now, her bodily
presence would soothe and compose those who were in trouble,
changed, unconscious, and absent though her spirit might be.
Then, again, she reproached herself a little for the feeling of
pleasure she experienced, in thinking that he whom she dreaded could
never more beset her path; in the security with which she could pass
each street corner--each shop, where he used to lie in ambush. Oh!
beating heart! was there no other little thought of joy lurking
within, to gladden the very air without! Was she not going to meet,
to see, to hear Jem; and could they fail at last to understand each
other's loving hearts!
She softly lifted the latch, with the privilege of friendship. HE
was not there, but his mother was standing by the fire, stirring
some little mess or other. Never mind! he would come soon: and
with an unmixed desire to do her graceful duty to all belonging to
him, she stepped lightly forwards, unheard by the old lady, who was
partly occupied by the simmering, bubbling sound of her bit of
cookery; but more with her own sad thoughts, and wailing, half-
Mary took off bonnet and shawl with speed, and advancing, made Mrs.
Wilson conscious of her presence, by saying--
"Let me do that for you. I'm sure you mun be tired."
Mrs. Wilson slowly turned round, and her eyes gleamed like those of
a pent-up wild beast, as she recognised her visitor.
"And is it thee that dares set foot in this house, after what has
come to pass? Is it not enough to have robbed me of my boy with thy
arts and thy profligacy, but thou must come here to crow over
me--me--his mother? Dost thou know where he is, thou bad hussy,
with thy great blue eyes and yellow hair, to lead men on to ruin?
Out upon thee with thy angel's face, thou whited sepulchre! Dost
thou know where Jem is, all through thee?"
"No!" quivered out poor Mary, scarcely conscious that she spoke, so
daunted, so terrified was she by the indignant mother's greeting.
"He's lying in th' New Bailey," slowly and distinctly spoke the
mother, watching the effect of her words, as if believing in their
infinite power to pain. "There he lies, waiting to take his trial
for murdering young Mr. Carson."
There was no answer; but such a blanched face, such wild, distended
eyes, such trembling limbs, instinctively seeking support!
"Did you know Mr. Carson as now lies dead?" continued the merciless
woman. "Folk say you did, and knew him but too well. And that for
the sake of such as you, my precious child shot yon chap. But he
did not. I know he did not. They may hang him, but his mother will
speak to his innocence with her last dying breath."
She stopped more from exhaustion than want of words. Mary spoke,
but in so changed and choked a voice that the old woman almost
started. It seemed as if some third person must be in the room, the
voice was so hoarse and strange.
"Please say it again. I don't quite understand you. What has Jem
done? Please to tell me."
"I never said he had done it. I said, and I'll swear, that he never
did do it. I don't care who heard 'em quarrel, or if it is his gun
as were found near the body. It's not my own Jem as would go for to
kill any man, choose how a girl had jilted him. My own good Jem, as
was a blessing sent upon the house where he was born." Tears came
into the mother's burning eyes as her heart recurred to the days
when she had rocked the cradle of her "first-born"; and then,
rapidly passing over events, till the full consciousness of his
present situation came upon her, and perhaps annoyed at having shown
any softness of character in the presence of the Delilah who had
lured him to his danger, she spoke again, and in a sharp tone.
"I told him, and told him to leave off thinking on thee; but he
wouldn't be led by me. Thee! wench! thou wert not good enough to
wipe the dust off his feet. A vile, flirting quean as thou art.
It's well thy mother does not know (poor body) what a good-
for-nothing thou art."
"Mother! O mother!" said Mary, as if appealing to the merciful dead.
"But I was not good enough for him! I know I was not," added she,
in a voice of touching humility.
For through her heart went tolling the ominous, prophetic words he
had used when he had last spoken to her--
"Mary! you'll maybe hear of me as a drunkard, and maybe as a thief,
and maybe as a murderer. Remember! when all are speaking ill of me,
yo will have no right to blame me, for it's your cruelty that will
have made me what I feel I shall become."
And she did not blame him, though she doubted not his guilt; she
felt how madly she might act if once jealous of him, and how much
cause had she not given him for jealousy, miserable guilty wretch
that she was! Speak on, desolate mother. Abuse her as you will.
Her broken spirit feels to have merited all.
But her last humble, self-abased words had touched Mrs. Wilson's
heart, sore as it was; and she looked at the snow-pale girl with
those piteous eyes, so hopeless of comfort, and she relented in
spite of herself.
"Thou seest what comes of light conduct, Mary! It's thy doing that
suspicion has lighted on him, who is as innocent as the babe unborn.
Thou'lt have much to answer for if he's hung. Thou'lt have my death
too at thy door!"
Harsh as these words seem, she spoke them in a milder tone of voice
than she had yet used. But the idea of Jem on the gallows, Jem
dead, took possession of Mary, and she covered her eyes with her wan
hands, as if indeed to shut out the fearful sight.
She murmured some words, which, though spoken low, as if choked up
from the depths of agony, Jane Wilson caught. "My heart is
breaking," said she feebly. "My heart is breaking."
"Nonsense!" said Mrs. Wilson. "Don't talk in that silly way. My
heart has a better right to break than yours, and yet I hold up, you
see. But, oh dear! oh dear!" with a sudden revulsion of feeling, as
the reality of the danger in which her son was placed pressed upon
her. "What am I saying? How could I hold up if thou wert gone,
Jem? Though I'm as sure as I stand here of thy innocence, if they
hang thee, my lad, I will lie down and die!"
She wept aloud with bitter consciousness of the fearful chance
awaiting her child. She cried more passionately still.
Mary roused herself up.
"Oh, let me stay with you, at any rate, till we know the end.
Dearest Mrs. Wilson, mayn't I stay?"
The more obstinately and upbraidingly Mrs. Wilson refused, the more
Mary pleaded, with ever the same soft entreating cry, "Let me stay
with you." Her stunned soul seem to bound its wishes, for the hour
at least, to remaining with one who loved and sorrowed for the same
human being that she did.
But no. Mrs. Wilson was inflexible.
"I've, maybe, been a bit hard on you, Mary, I'll own that. But I
cannot abide you yet with me. I cannot but remember it's your
giddiness as has wrought this woe. I'll stay with Alice, and
perhaps Mrs. Davenport may come help a bit. I cannot put up with
you about me. Good-night. To-morrow I may look on you different,
And Mary turned out of the house, which had been HIS home, where HE
was loved, and mourned for, into the busy, desolate, crowded street,
where they were crying halfpenny broadsides, giving an account of
the bloody murder, the coroner's inquest, and a raw-head-and-bloody-
bones picture of the suspected murderer, James Wilson.
But Mary heard not; she heeded not. She staggered on like one in a
dream. With hung head and tottering steps, she instinctively chose
the shortest cut to that home which was to her, in her present state
of mind, only the hiding-place of four walls, where she might vent
her agony, unseen and unnoticed by the keen unkind world without,
but where no welcome, no love, no sympathising tears awaited her.
As she neared that home, within two minutes' walk of it, her
impetuous course was arrested by a light touch on her arm, and
turning hastily she saw a little Italian boy with his humble
show-box, a white mouse, or some such thing. The setting sun cast
its red glow on his face, otherwise the olive complexion would have
been very pale; and the glittering tear-drops hung on the
long-curled eye-lashes. With his soft voice and pleading looks, he
uttered, in his pretty broken English, the words--
"Hungry! so hungry."
And as if to aid by gesture the effect of the solitary word, he
pointed to his mouth, with its white quivering lips.
Mary answered him impatiently, "O lad, hunger is nothing--nothing!"
And she rapidly passed on. But her heart upbraided her the next
minute with her unrelenting speech, and she hastily entered her door
and seized the scanty remnant of food which the cupboard contained,
and she retraced her steps to the place where the little hopeless
stranger had sunk down by his mute companion in loneliness and
starvation, and was raining down tears as he spoke in some foreign
tongue, with low cries for the far distant "Mamma mia!"
With the elasticity of heart belonging to childhood he sprang up as
he saw the food the girl brought; she whose face, lovely in its woe,
had tempted him first to address her; and, with the graceful
courtesy of his country, he looked up and smiled while he kissed her
hand, and then poured forth his thanks, and shared her bounty with
his little pet companion. She stood an instant, diverted from the
thought of her own grief by the sight of his infantine gladness; and
then bending down and kissing his smooth forehead, she left him, and
sought to be alone with her agony once more.
She re-entered the house, locked the door, and tore off her bonnet,
as if greedy of every moment which took her from the full indulgence
of painful, despairing thought.
Then she threw herself on the ground, yes, on the hard flags she
threw her soft limbs down; and the comb fell out of her hair, and
those bright tresses swept the dusty floor, while she pillowed and
hid her face on her arms, and burst forth into loud, suffocating
O earth! thou didst seem but a dreary dwelling-place for thy poor
child that night. None to comfort, none to pity! And self-reproach
gnawing at her heart.
Oh, why did she ever listen to the tempter? Why did she ever give
ear to her own suggestions, and cravings after wealth and grandeur?
Why had she thought it a fine thing to have a rich lover?
She--she had deserved it all: but he was the victim,--he, the
beloved. She could not conjecture, she could not even pause to
think who had revealed, or how he had discovered her acquaintance
with Harry Carson. It was but too clear, some way or another, he
had learnt all; and what would he think of her? No hope of his
love,--oh, that she would give up, and be content: it was his
life, his precious life, that was threatened! Then she tried to
recall the particulars, which, when Mrs. Wilson had given them, had
fallen but upon a deafened ear,--something about a gun, a quarrel,
which she could not remember clearly. Oh, how terrible to think of
his crime, his blood-guiltiness; he who had hitherto been so good,
so noble, and now an assassin! And then she shrank from him in
thought; and then, with bitter remorse, clung more closely to his
image with passionate self-upbraiding. Was it not she who had led
him to the pit into which he had fallen? Was she to blame him? She
to judge him? Who could tell how maddened he might have been by
jealousy; how one moment's uncontrollable passion might have led him
to become a murderer! And she had blamed him in her heart after his
last deprecating, imploring, prophetic speech!
Then she burst out crying afresh; and when weary of crying, fell to
thinking again. The gallows! The gallows! Black it stood against
the burning light which dazzled her shut eyes, press on them as she
would. Oh! she was going mad; and for awhile she lay outwardly
still, but with the pulses careering through her head with wild
And then came a strange forgetfulness of the present, in thought of
the long-past times;--of those days when she hid her face on her
mother's pitying, loving bosom, and heard tender words of comfort,
be her grief or her error what it might;--of those days when she had
felt as if her mother's love was too mighty not to last for
ever;--of those days when hunger had been to her (as to the little
stranger she had that evening relieved) something to be thought
about, and mourned over;--when Jem and she had played together; he,
with the condescension of an older child, and she, with unconscious
earnestness, believing that he was as much gratified with important
trifles as she was;--when her father was a cheery-hearted man, rich
in the love of his wife, and the companionship of his friend;--when
(for it still worked round to that), when mother was alive, and HE
was not a murderer.
And then Heaven blessed her unaware, and she sank from remembering,
to wandering, unconnected thought, and thence to sleep. Yes! it was
sleep, though in that strange posture, on that hard cold bed; and
she dreamt of the happy times of long ago, and her mother came to
her, and kissed her as she lay, and once more the dead were alive
again in that happy world of dreams. All was restored to the
gladness of childhood, even to the little kitten which had been her
playmate and bosom friend then, and which had been long forgotten in
her waking hours. All the loved ones were there!
She suddenly wakened! Clear and wide awake! Some noise had
startled her from sleep. She sat up, and put her hair (still wet
with tears) back from her flushed cheeks, and listened. At first
she could only hear her beating heart. All was still without, for
it was after midnight, such hours of agony had passed away; but the
moon shone clearly in at the unshuttered window, making the room
almost as light as day, in its cold ghastly radiance. There was a
low knock at the door! A strange feeling crept over Mary's heart,
as if something spiritual were near; as if the dead, so lately
present in her dreams, were yet gliding and hovering round her, with
their dim, dread forms. And yet, why dread? Had they not loved
her?--and who loved her now? Was she not lonely enough to welcome
the spirits of the dead, who had loved her while here? If her
mother had conscious being, her love for her child endured. So she
quieted her fears, and listened--listened still.
"Mary! Mary! open the door!" as a little movement on her part
seemed to tell the being outside of her wakeful, watchful state.
They were the accents of her mother's voice; the very south-country
pronunciation, that Mary so well remembered; and which she had
sometimes tried to imitate when alone, with the fond mimicry of
So, without fear, without hesitation, she rose and unbarred the
door. There, against the moonlight, stood a form, so closely
resembling her dead mother, that Mary never doubted the identity,
but exclaiming (as if she were a terrified child, secure of safety
when near the protecting care of its parent)--
"O mother! mother! you are come at last?" she threw herself, or
rather fell, into the trembling arms of her long-lost, unrecognised
XXI. ESTHER'S MOTIVE IN SEEKING MARY.
"My rest is gone,
My heart is sore,
Peace find I never,
And never more."
--MARGARET'S SONG IN "FAUST."
I must go back a little to explain the motives which caused Esther
to seek an interview with her niece.
The murder had been committed early on Thursday night, and between
then and the dawn of the following day there was ample time for the
news to spread far and wide among all those whose duty, or whose
want, or whose errors, caused them to be abroad in the streets of
Among those who listened to the tale of violence was Esther.
A craving desire to know more took possession of her mind. Far away
as she was from Turner Street, she immediately set off to the scene
of the murder, which was faintly lighted by the grey dawn as she
reached the spot. It was so quiet and still that she could hardly
believe it to be the place. The only vestige of any scuffle or
violence was a trail on the dust, as if somebody had been lying
there, and then been raised by extraneous force. The little birds
were beginning to hop and twitter in the leafless hedge, making the
only sound that was near and distinct. She crossed into the field
where she guessed the murderer to have stood; it was easy of access,
for the worn, stunted hawthorn-hedge had many gaps in it. The
night-smell of bruised grass came up from under her feet, as she
went towards the saw-pit and carpenter's shed which, as I have said
before, were in a corner of the field near the road, and where one
of her informants had told her it was supposed by the police that
the murderer had lurked while waiting for his victim. There was no
sign, however, that any one had been about the place. If the grass
had been bruised or bent where he had trod, it had had enough of the
elasticity of life to raise itself under the dewy influences of
night. She hushed her breath in involuntary awe, but nothing else
told of the violent deed by which a fellow-creature had passed away.
She stood still for a minute, imagining to herself the position of
the parties, guided by the only circumstance which afforded any
evidence, the trailing mark on the dust in the road.
Suddenly (it was before the sun had risen above the horizon) she
became aware of something white in the hedge. All other colours
wore the same murky hue, though the forms of objects were perfectly
distinct. What was it? It could not be a flower;--that, the time
of year made clear. A frozen lump of snow, lingering late in one of
the gnarled tufts of the hedge? She stepped forward to examine. It
proved to be a little piece of stiff writing-paper compressed into a
round shape. She understood it instantly; it was the paper that had
served as wadding for the murderer's gun. Then she had been
standing just where the murderer must have been but a few hours
before; probably (as the rumour had spread through the town,
reaching her ears) one of the poor maddened turn-outs, who hung
about everywhere, with black, fierce looks, as if contemplating some
deed of violence. Her sympathy was all with them, for she had known
what they suffered; and besides this, there was her own individual
dislike of Mr. Carson, and dread of him for Mary's sake. Yet, poor
Mary! Death was a terrible, though sure, remedy for the evil Esther
had dreaded for her; and how would she stand the shock, loving as
her aunt believed her to do? Poor Mary! who would comfort her?
Esther's thoughts began to picture her sorrow, her despair, when the
news of her lover's death should reach her; and she longed to tell
her there might have been a keener grief yet had he lived.
Bright, beautiful came the slanting rays of the morning sun. It was
time for such as she to hide themselves, with the other obscene
things of night, from the glorious light of day, which was only for
the happy. So she turned her steps towards town, still holding the
paper. But in getting over the hedge it encumbered her to hold it
in her clasped hand, and she threw it down. She passed on a few
steps, her thoughts still of Mary, till the idea crossed her mind,
could it (blank as it appeared to be) give any clue to the murderer?
As I said before, her sympathies were all on that side, so she
turned back and picked it up; and then feeling as if in some measure
an accessory, she hid it unexamined in her hand, and hastily passed
out of the street at the opposite end to that by which she had
And what do you think she felt, when having walked some distance
from the spot, she dared to open the crushed paper, and saw written
on it Mary Barton's name, and not only that, but the street in which
she lived! True, a letter or two was torn off, but, nevertheless,
there was the name clear to be recognised. And oh! what terrible
thought flashed into her mind; or was it only fancy? But it looked
very like the writing which she had once known well--the writing of
Jem Wilson, who, when she lived at her brother-in-law's, and he was
a near neighbour, had often been employed by her to write her
letters to people, to whom she was ashamed of sending her own
misspelt scrawl. She remembered the wonderful flourishes she had so
much admired in those days, while she sat by dictating, and Jem, in
all the pride of newly-acquired penmanship, used to dazzle her eyes
by extraordinary graces and twirls.
If it were his!
Oh! perhaps it was merely that her head was running so on Mary, that
she was associating every trifle with her. As if only one person
wrote in that flourishing, meandering style!
It was enough to fill her mind to think from what she might have
saved Mary by securing the paper. She would look at it just once
more, and see if some very dense and stupid policeman could have
mistaken the name, or if Mary would certainly have been dragged into
notice in the affair.
No! no one could have mistaken the "ry Barton," and it WAS Jem's
Oh! if it was so, she understood it all, and she had been the cause!
With her violent and unregulated nature, rendered morbid by the
course of life she led, and her consciousness of her degradation,
she cursed herself for the interference which she believed had led
to this; for the information and the warning she had given to Jem,
which had roused him to this murderous action. How could she, the
abandoned and polluted outcast, ever have dared to hope for a
blessing, even on her efforts to do good. The black curse of Heaven
rested on all her doings, were they for good or for evil.
Poor, diseased mind! and there were none to minister to thee!
So she wandered about, too restless to take her usual heavy
morning's sleep, up and down the streets, greedily listening to
every word of the passers-by, and loitering near each group of
talkers, anxious to scrape together every morsel of information, or
conjecture, or suspicion, though without possessing any definite
purpose in all this. And ever and always she clenched the scrap of
paper which might betray so much, until her nails had deeply
indented the palm of her hand; so fearful was she in her nervous
dread, lest unawares she should let it drop.
Towards the middle of the day she could no longer evade the body's
craving want of rest and refreshment; but the rest was taken in a
spirit vault, and the refreshment was a glass of gin.
Then she started up from the stupor she had taken for repose; and
suddenly driven before the gusty impulses of her mind, she pushed
her way to the place where at that very time the police were
bringing the information they had gathered with regard to the
She listened with painful acuteness of comprehension to dropped
words, and unconnected sentences, the meaning of which became
clearer, and yet more clear to her. Jem was suspected. Jem was
ascertained to be the murderer.
She saw him (although he, absorbed in deep sad thought, saw her
not), she saw him brought handcuffed and guarded out of the coach.
She saw him enter the station--she gasped for breath till he came
out, still handcuffed, and still guarded, to be conveyed to the New
He was the only one who had spoken to her with hope that she might
win her way back to virtue. His words had lingered in her heart
with a sort of call to heaven, like distant Sabbath bells, although
in her despair she had turned away from his voice. He was the only
one who had spoken to her kindly. The murder, shocking though it
was, was an absent, abstract thing, on which her thoughts could not,
and would not dwell: all that was present in her mind was Jem's
danger, and his kindness.
Then Mary came to remembrance. Esther wondered till she was sick of
wondering, in what way she was taking the affair. In some manner it
would be a terrible blow for the poor, motherless girl; with her
dreadful father, too, who was to Esther a sort of accusing angel.
She set off towards the court where Mary lived, to pick up what she
could there of information. But she was ashamed to enter in where
once she had been innocent, and hung about the neighbouring streets,
not daring to question, so she learnt but little; nothing, in fact,
but the knowledge of John Barton's absence from home.
She went up a dark entry to rest her weary limbs on a doorstep and
think. Her elbows on her knees, her face hidden in her hands, she
tried to gather together and arrange her thoughts. But still every
now and then she opened her hand to see if the paper were yet there.
She got up at last. She had formed a plan, and had a course of
action to look forward to that would satisfy one craving desire at
least. The time was long gone by when there was much wisdom or
consistency in her projects.
It was getting late, and that was so much the better. She went to a
pawnshop, and took off her finery in a back room. She was known by
the people, and had a character for honesty, so she had no very
great difficulty in inducing them to let her have a suit of outer
clothes, befitting the wife of a working-man, a black silk bonnet, a
printed gown, a plaid shawl, dirty and rather worn to be sure, but
which had a sort of sanctity to the eyes of the street-walker as
being the appropriate garb of that happy class to which she could
never, never more belong.
She looked at herself in the little glass which hung against the
wall, and sadly shaking her head thought how easy were the duties of
that Eden of innocence from which she was shut out; how she would
work, and toil, and starve, and die, if necessary, for a husband, a
home--for children--but that thought she could not bear; a little
form rose up, stern in its innocence, from the witches' caldron of
her imagination, and she rushed into action again.
You know now how she came to stand by the threshold of Mary's door,
waiting, trembling, until the latch was lifted, and her niece, with
words that spoke of such desolation among the living, fell into her
She had felt as if some holy spell would prevent her (even as the
unholy Lady Geraldine was prevented, in the abode of Christabel)
from crossing the threshold of that home of her early innocence; and
she had meant to wait for an invitation. But Mary's helpless action
did away with all reluctant feeling, and she bore or dragged her to
her seat, and looked on her bewildered eyes, as, puzzled with the
likeness, which was not identity, she gazed on her aunt's features.
In pursuance of her plan, Esther meant to assume the manners and
character, as she had done the dress, of a mechanic's wife; but
then, to account for her long absence, and her long silence towards
all that ought to have been dear to her, it was necessary that she
should put on an indifference far distant from her heart, which was
loving and yearning, in spite of all its faults. And, perhaps, she
over-acted her part, for certainly Mary felt a kind of repugnance to
the changed and altered aunt, who so suddenly reappeared on the
scene; and it would have cut Esther to the very core, could she have
known how her little darling of former days was feeling towards her.
"You don't remember me, I see, Mary!" she began. "It's a long while
since I left you all, to be sure; and I, many a time, thought of
coming to see you, and--and your father. But I live so far off, and
am always so busy, I cannot do just what I wish. You recollect aunt
Esther, don't you, Mary?"
"Are you Aunt Hetty?" asked Mary faintly, still looking at the face
which was so different from the old recollections of her aunt's
fresh dazzling beauty.
"Yes! I am Aunt Hetty. Oh! it's so long since I heard that name,"
sighing forth the thoughts it suggested; then, recovering herself,
and striving after the hard character she wished to assume, she
continued: "And to-day I heard a friend of yours, and of mine too,
long ago, was in trouble, and I guessed you would be in sorrow, so I
thought I would just step this far and see you."
Mary's tears flowed afresh, but she had no desire to open her heart
to her strangely-found aunt, who had, by her own confession, kept
aloof from and neglected them for so many years. Yet she tried to
feel grateful for kindness (however late) from any one, and wished
to be civil. Moreover, she had a strong disinclination to speak on
the terrible subject uppermost in her mind.
So, after a pause, she said--
"Thank you. I dare say you mean very kind. Have you had a long
walk? I'm so sorry," said she, rising with a sudden thought, which
was as suddenly checked by recollection, "but I've nothing to eat in
the house, and I'm sure you must be hungry, after your walk."
For Mary concluded that certainly her aunt's residence must be far
away on the other side of the town, out of sight or hearing. But,
after all, she did not think much about her; her heart was so
aching-full of other things, that all besides seemed like a dream.
She received feelings and impressions from her conversation with her
aunt, but did not, could not, put them together, or think or argue
And Esther! How scanty had been her food for days and weeks, her
thinly-covered bones and pale lips might tell, but her words should
So, with a little unreal laugh, she replied--
"Oh! Mary, my dear! don't talk about eating. We've the best of
everything, and plenty of it, for my husband is in good work. I'd
such a supper before I came out. I couldn't touch a morsel if you
Her words shot a strange pang through Mary's heart. She had always
remembered her aunt's loving and unselfish disposition; how was it
changed, if, living in plenty, she had never thought it worth while
to ask after her relations who were all but starving! She shut up
her heart instinctively against her aunt.
And all the time poor Esther was swallowing her sobs, and over-
acting her part, and controlling herself more than she had done for
many a long day, in order that her niece might not be shocked and
revolted, by the knowledge of what her aunt had become--a
prostitute; an outcast.
She had longed to open her wretched, wretched heart, so hopeless, so
abandoned by all living things, to one who had loved her once; and
yet she refrained, from dread of the averted eye, the altered voice,
the internal loathing, which she feared such disclosure might
create. She would go straight to the subject of the day. She could
not tarry long, for she felt unable to support the character she had
assumed for any length of time.
They sat by the little round table, facing each other. The candle
was placed right between them, and Esther moved it in order to have
a clearer view of Mary's face, so that she might read her emotions,
and ascertain her interests.
Then she began--
"It's a bad business, I'm afraid, this of Mr. Carson's murder."
Mary winced a little.
"I hear Jem Wilson is taken up for it."
Mary covered her eyes with her hands, as if to shade them from the
light, and Esther herself, less accustomed to self-command, was
getting too much agitated for calm observation of another.
"I was taking a walk near Turner Street, and I went to see the
spot," continued Esther, "and, as luck would have it, I spied this
bit of paper in the hedge," producing the precious piece still
folded in her hand. "It has been used as wadding for the gun, I
reckon; indeed, that's clear enough, from the shape it's crammed
into. I was sorry for the murderer, whoever he might be (I didn't
then know of Jem's being suspected), and I thought I would never
leave a thing about as might help, ever so little, to convict him;
the police are so 'cute about straws. So I carried it a little way,
and then I opened it and saw your name, Mary."
Mary took her hands away from her eyes, and looked with surprise at
her aunt's face, as she uttered these words. She WAS kind after
all, for was she not saving her from being summoned, and from being
questioned and examined; a thing to be dreaded above all others:
as she felt sure that her unwilling answers, frame them how she
might, would add to the suspicions against Jem; her aunt was indeed
kind, to think of what would spare her this.
Esther went on, without noticing Mary's look. The very action of
speaking was so painful to her, and so much interrupted by the hard,
raking little cough, which had been her constant annoyance for
months, that she was too much engrossed by the physical difficulty
of utterance, to be a very close observer.
"There could be no mistake if they had found it. Look at your name,
together with the very name of this court! And in Jem's handwriting
too, or I'm much mistaken. Look, Mary!"
And now she did watch her.
Mary took the paper and flattened it; then suddenly stood stiff up,
with irrepressible movement, as if petrified by some horror abruptly
disclosed; her face, strung and rigid; her lips compressed tight, to
keep down some rising exclamation. She dropped on her seat, as
suddenly as if the braced muscles had in an instant given way. But
she spoke no word.
"It is his handwriting--isn't it?" asked Esther, though Mary's
manner was almost confirmation enough.
"You will not tell. You never will tell?" demanded Mary, in a tone
so sternly earnest, as almost to be threatening.
"Nay, Mary," said Esther, rather reproachfully, "I am not so bad as
that. O Mary, you cannot think I would do that, whatever I may be."
The tears sprang to her eyes at the idea that she was suspected of
being one who would help to inform against an old friend.
Mary caught her sad and upbraiding look.
"No! I know you would not tell, aunt. I don't know what I say, I am
so shocked. But say you will not tell. Do."
"No, indeed I willn't tell, come what may."
Mary sat still looking at the writing, and turning the paper round
with careful examination, trying to hope, but her very fears belying
"I thought you cared for the young man that's murdered," observed
Esther, half-aloud; but feeling that she could not mistake this
strange interest in the suspected murderer, implied by Mary's
eagerness to screen him from anything which might strengthen
suspicion against him. She had come, desirous to know the extent of
Mary's grief for Mr. Carson, and glad of the excuse afforded her by
the important scrap of paper. Her remark about its being Jem's
handwriting, she had, with this view of ascertaining Mary's state of
feeling, felt to be most imprudent the instant after she had uttered
it; but Mary's anxiety that she should not tell was too great, and
too decided, to leave a doubt as to her interest for Jem. She grew
more and more bewildered, and her dizzy head refused to reason.
Mary never spoke. She held the bit of paper firmly, determined to
retain possession of it, come what might; and anxious, and
impatient, for her aunt to go. As she sat, her face bore a likeness
to Esther's dead child.
"You are so like my little girl, Mary!" said Esther, weary of the
one subject on which she could get no satisfaction, and recurring,
with full heart, to the thought of the dead.
Mary looked up. Her aunt had children, then. That was all the idea
she received. No faint imagination of the love and the woe of that
poor creature crossed her mind, or she would have taken her, all
guilty and erring, to her bosom, and tried to bind up the broken
heart. No! it was not to be. Her aunt had children, then; and she
was on the point of putting some question about them, but before it
could be spoken another thought turned it aside, and she went back
to her task of unravelling the mystery of the paper, and the
handwriting. Oh! how she wished her aunt would go!
As if, according to the believers in mesmerism, the intenseness of
her wish gave her power over another, although the wish was
unexpressed, Esther felt herself unwelcome, and that her absence was
She felt this some time before she could summon up resolution to go.
She was so much disappointed in this longed-for, dreaded interview
with Mary; she had wished to impose upon her with her tale of
married respectability, and yet she had yearned and craved for
sympathy in her real lot. And she had imposed upon her well. She
should perhaps be glad of it afterwards; but her desolation of hope
seemed for the time redoubled. And she must leave the old
dwelling-place, whose very walls, and flags, dingy and sordid as
they were, had a charm for her. Must leave the abode of poverty,
for the more terrible abodes of vice. She must--she would go.
"Well, good-night, Mary. That bit of paper is safe enough with you,
I see. But you made me promise I would not tell about it, and you
must promise me to destroy it before you sleep."
"I promise," said Mary hoarsely, but firmly. "Then you are going?"
"Yes. Not if you wish me to stay. Not if I could be of any comfort
to you, Mary"; catching at some glimmering hope.
"Oh no," said Mary, anxious to be alone. "Your husband will be
wondering where you are. Some day you must tell me all about
yourself. I forget what your name is?"
"Fergusson," said Esther sadly.
"Mrs. Fergusson," repeated Mary half unconsciously. "And where did
you say you lived?"
"I never did say," muttered Esther; then aloud, "In Angel's Meadow,
145, Nicholas Street."
"145, Nicholas Street, Angel Meadow. I shall remember."
As Esther drew her shawl around her, and prepared to depart, a
thought crossed Mary's mind that she had been cold and hard in her
manner towards one, who had certainly meant to act kindly in
bringing her the paper (that dread, terrible piece of paper!) and
thus saving her from--she could not rightly think how much, or how
little she was spared. So desirous of making up for her previous
indifferent manner, she advanced to kiss her aunt before her
But, to her surprise, her aunt pushed her off with a frantic kind of
gesture, and saying the words--
"Not me. You must never kiss me. You!"
She rushed into the outer darkness of the street, and there wept
long and bitterly.
XXII. MARY'S EFFORTS TO PROVE AN ALIBI.
"There was a listening fear in her regard,
As if calamity had but begun;
As if the vanward clouds of evil days
Had spent their malice, and the sullen rear
Was, with its stored thunder, labouring up."
No sooner was Mary alone than she fastened the door, and put the
shutters up against the window, which had all this time remained
shaded only by the curtains hastily drawn together on Esther's
entrance, and the lighting of the candle.
She did all this with the same compressed lips, and the same stony
look that her face had assumed on the first examination of the
paper. Then she sat down for an instant to think; and rising
directly, went, with a step rendered firm by inward resolution of
purpose, up the stairs; passed her own door, two steps, into her
father's room. What did she want there?
I must tell you; I must put into words the dreadful secret which she
believed that bit of paper had revealed to her.
Her father was the murderer.
That corner of stiff, shining, thick, writing paper, she recognised
as a part of the sheet on which she had copied Samuel Bamford's
beautiful lines so many months ago--copied (as you perhaps remember)
on the blank part of a valentine sent to her by Jem Wilson, in those
days when she did not treasure and hoard up everything he had
touched, as she would do now.
That copy had been given to her father, for whom it was made, and
she had occasionally seen him reading it over, not a fortnight ago
she was sure. But she resolved to ascertain if the other part still
remained in his possession. He might--it was just possible he
MIGHT, have given it away to some friend; and if so, that person was
the guilty one, for she could swear to the paper anywhere.
First of all she pulled out every article from the little old chest
of drawers. Amongst them were some things which had belonged to her
mother, but she had no time now to examine and try and remember
them. All the reverence she could pay them was to carry them and
lay them on the bed carefully, while the other things were tossed
impatiently out upon the floor.
The copy of Bamford's lines was not there. Oh! perhaps he might
have given it away; but then must it not have been to Jem? It was
And she set to with redoubled vigour to examine the deal box which
served as chair, and which had once contained her father's Sunday
clothes, in the days when he could afford to have Sunday clothes.
He had redeemed his better coat from the pawn-shop before he left,
that she had noticed. Here was his old one. What rustled under her
hand in the pocket?
The paper! "O father!"
Yes, it fitted; jagged end to jagged end, letter to letter, and even
the part which Esther had considered blank had its tallying mark
with the larger piece, its tails of ys and gs. And then, as if that
were not damning evidence enough, she felt again, and found some
little bullets or shot (I don't know which you would call them) in
that same pocket, along with a small paper parcel of gunpowder. As
she was going to replace the jacket, having abstracted the paper,
and bullets, etc., she saw a woollen gun-case made of that sort of
striped horse-cloth you must have seen a thousand times appropriated
to such a purpose. The sight of it made her examine still further,
but there was nothing else that could afford any evidence, so she
locked the box, and sat down on the floor to contemplate the
articles; now with a sickening despair, now with a kind of wondering
curiosity, how her father had managed to evade observation. After
all it was easy enough. He had evidently got possession of some gun
(was it really Jem's? was he an accomplice? No! she did not believe
it; he never, never would deliberately plan a murder with another,
however he might be wrought up to it by passionate feeling at the
time. Least of all would he accuse her to her father, without
previously warning her; it was out of his nature).
Then having obtained possession of the gun, her father had loaded it
at home, and might have carried it away with him some time when the
neighbours were not noticing, and she was out, or asleep; and then
he might have hidden it somewhere to be in readiness when he should
want it. She was sure he had no such thing with him when he went
away the last time.
She felt it was of no use to conjecture his motives. His actions
had become so wild and irregular of late, that she could not reason
upon them. Besides, was it not enough to know that he was guilty of
this terrible offence? Her love for her father seemed to return
with painful force, mixed up as it was with horror at his crime.
That dear father who was once so kind, so warm-hearted, so ready to
help either man or beast in distress, to murder! But in the desert
of misery with which these thoughts surrounded her, the arid depths
of whose gloom she dared not venture to contemplate, a little spring
of comfort was gushing up at her feet, unnoticed at first, but soon
to give her strength and hope.
And THAT was the necessity for exertion on her part which this
Oh! I do think that the necessity for exertion, for some kind of
action (bodily or mental) in time of distress, is a most infinite
blessing, although the first efforts at such seasons are painful.
Something to be done implies that there is yet hope of some good
thing to be accomplished, or some additional evil that may be
avoided; and by degrees the hope absorbs much of the sorrow.
It is the woes that cannot in any earthly way be escaped that admit
least earthly comforting. Of all trite, worn-out, hollow mockeries
of comfort that were ever uttered by people who will not take the
trouble of sympathising with others, the one I dislike the most is
the exhortation not to grieve over an event, "for it cannot be
helped." Do you think if I could help it, I would sit still with
folded hands, content to mourn? Do you not believe that as long as
hope remained I would be up and doing? I mourn because what has
occurred cannot be helped. The reason you give me for not grieving,
is the very sole reason of my grief. Give me nobler and higher
reasons for enduring meekly what my Father sees fit to send, and I
will try earnestly and faithfully to be patient; but mock me not, or
any other mourner, with the speech, "Do not grieve, for it cannot be
helped. It is past remedy."
But some remedy to Mary's sorrow came with thinking. If her father
was guilty, Jem was innocent. If innocent, there was a possibility
of saving him. He must be saved. And she must do it; for, was not
she the sole depository of the terrible secret? Her father was not
suspected; and never should be, if by any foresight or any exertions
of her own she could prevent it.
She did not know how Jem was to be saved, while her father was also
to be considered innocent. It would require much thought and much
prudence. But with the call upon her exertions, and her various
qualities of judgment and discretion, came the answering
consciousness of innate power to meet the emergency. Every step
now, nay, the employment of every minute was of consequence; for you
must remember she had learnt at Miss Simmonds' the probability that
the murderer would be brought to trial the next week. And you must
remember, too, that never was so young a girl so friendless, or so
penniless, as Mary was at this time. But the lion accompanied Una
through the wilderness and the danger; and so will a high, resolved
purpose of right-doing ever guard and accompany the helpless.
It struck two; deep, mirk night.
It was of no use bewildering herself with plans this weary, endless
night. Nothing could be done before morning; and, at first in her
impatience, she began to long for day; but then she felt in how
unfit a state her body was for any plan of exertion, and she
resolutely made up her mind to husband her physical strength.
First of all she must burn the tell-tale paper. The powder,
bullets, and gun-case, she tied into a bundle, and hid in the
sacking of the bed for the present, although there was no likelihood
of their affording evidence against any one. Then she carried the
paper downstairs, and burned it on the hearth, powdering the very
ashes with her fingers, and dispersing the fragments of fluttering
black films among the cinders of the grate. Then she breathed
Her head ached with dizzying violence; she must get quit of the pain
or it would incapacitate her for thinking and planning. She looked
for food, but there was nothing but a little raw oatmeal in the
house: still, although it almost choked her, she ate some of this,
knowing from experience, how often headaches were caused by long
fasting. Then she sought for some water to bathe her throbbing
temples, and quench her feverish thirst. There was none in the
house, so she took the jug and went out to the pump at the other end
of the court, whose echoes resounded her light footsteps in the
quiet stillness of the night. The hard, square outlines of the
houses cut sharply against the cold bright sky, from which myriads
of stars were shining down in eternal repose. There was little
sympathy in the outward scene, with the internal trouble. All was
so still, so motionless, so hard! Very different to this lovely
night in the country in which I am now writing, where the distant
horizon is soft and undulating in the moonlight, and the nearer
trees sway gently to and fro in the night-wind with something of
almost human motion; and the rustling air makes music among their
branches, as if speaking soothingly to the weary ones who lie awake
in heaviness of heart. The sights and sounds of such a night lull
pain and grief to rest.
But Mary re-entered her home after she had filled her pitcher, with
a still stronger sense of anxiety, and a still clearer conviction of
how much rested upon her unassisted and friendless self, alone with
her terrible knowledge, in the hard, cold, populous world.
She bathed her forehead, and quenched her thirst, and then, with
wise deliberation of purpose, went upstairs, and undressed herself,
as if for a long night's slumber, although so few hours intervened
before day-dawn. She believed she never could sleep, but she lay
down, and shut her eyes; and before many minutes she was in as deep
and sound a slumber as if there was no sin or sorrow in the world.
She woke up, as it was natural, much refreshed in body; but with a
consciousness of some great impending calamity. She sat up in bed
to recollect, and when she did remember, she sank down again with
all the helplessness of despair. But it was only the weakness of an
instant; for were not the very minutes precious, for deliberation if
not for action?
Before she had finished the necessary morning business of dressing,
and setting her house in some kind of order, she had disentangled
her ravelled ideas, and arranged some kind of a plan for action. If
Jem was innocent (and now of his guilt, even his slightest
participation in, or knowledge of, the murder, she acquitted him
with all her heart and soul), he must have been somewhere else when
the crime was committed; probably with some others, who might bear
witness to the fact, if she only knew where to find them.
Everything rested on her. She had heard of an alibi, and believed
it might mean the deliverance she wished to accomplish; but she was
not quite sure, and determined to apply to Job, as one of the few
among her acquaintance gifted with the knowledge of hard words, for
to her, all terms of law, or natural history, were alike
No time was to be lost. She went straight to Job Legh's house, and
found the old man and his grand-daughter sitting at breakfast; as
she opened the door she heard their voices speaking in a grave,
hushed, subdued tone, as if something grieved their hearts. They
stopped talking on her entrance, and then she knew they had been
conversing about the murder; about Jem's probable guilt; and (it
flashed upon her for the first time) on the new light they would
have obtained regarding herself: for until now they had never
heard of her giddy flirting with Mr. Carson; not in all her
confidential talk with Margaret had she ever spoken of him. And
now, Margaret would hear her conduct talked of by all, as that of a
bold, bad girl; and even if she did not believe everything that was
said, she could hardly help feeling wounded, and disappointed in
So it was in a timid voice that Mary wished her usual good-morrow,
and her heart sunk within her a little, when Job, with a form of
civility, bade her welcome in that dwelling, where, until now, she
had been too well assured to require to be asked to sit down.
She took a chair. Margaret continued silent.
"I'm come to speak to you about this--about Jem Wilson."
"It's a bad business, I'm afeard," replied Job sadly.
"Ay, it's bad enough anyhow. But Jem's innocent. Indeed he is; I'm
as sure as sure can be."
"How can you know, wench? Facts bear strong again him, poor fellow,
though he'd a deal to put him up, and aggravate him, they say. Ay,
poor lad, he's done for himself, I'm afeard."
"Job," said Mary, rising from her chair in her eagerness, "you must
not say he did it. He didn't; I'm sure and certain he didn't. Oh!
why do you shake your head? Who is to believe me,--who is to think
him innocent, if you, who know'd him so well, stick to it he's
"I'm loth enough to do it, lass," replied Job; "but I think he's
been ill-used, and--jilted (that's plain truth, Mary, bare as it may
seem), and his blood has been up--many a man has done the like
afore, from like causes."
"O God! Then you won't help me, Job, to prove him innocent? O Job,
Job! believe me, Jem never did harm to no one."
"Not afore;--and mind, wench! I don't over-blame him for this." Job
relapsed into silence.
Mary thought a moment.
"Well, Job, you'll not refuse me this, I know. I won't mind what
you think, if you'll help me as if he was innocent. Now suppose I
know--I knew, he was innocent,--it's only supposing, Job,--what must
I do to prove it? Tell me, Job! Isn't it called an alibi, the
getting folk to swear to where he really was at the time?"
"Best way, if you know'd him innocent, would be to find out the real
murderer. Some one did it, that's clear enough. If it wasn't Jem
who was it?"
"How can I tell?" answered Mary, in agony of terror, lest Job's
question was prompted by any suspicion of the truth.
But he was far enough from any such thought. Indeed, he had no
doubt in his own mind that Jem had, in some passionate moment, urged
on by slighted love and jealousy, been the murderer. And he was
strongly inclined to believe, that Mary was aware of this, only
that, too late repentant of her light conduct which had led to such
fatal consequences, she was now most anxious to save her old
playfellow, her early friend, from the doom awaiting the shedder of
"If Jem's not done it, I don't see as any on us can tell who did it.
We might find out something if we'd time; but they say he's to be
tried on Tuesday. It's no use hiding it, Mary; things looks strong
"I know they do! I know they do! But, O Job! isn't an alibi a
proving where he really was at th' time of the murder; and how must
I set about an alibi?"
"An alibi is that, sure enough." He thought a little. "You mun ask
his mother his doings, and his whereabouts that night; the knowledge
of that will guide you a bit."
For he was anxious that on another should fall the task of
enlightening Mary on the hopelessness of the case, and he felt that
her own sense would be more convinced by inquiry and examination
than any mere assertion of his.
Margaret had sat silent and grave all this time. To tell the truth,
she was surprised and disappointed by the disclosure of Mary's
conduct, with regard to Mr. Henry Carson. Gentle, reserved, and
prudent herself, never exposed to the trial of being admired for her
personal appearance, and unsusceptible enough to be in doubt even
yet, whether the fluttering, tender, infinitely joyous feeling she
was for the first time experiencing, at sight or sound, or thought
of Will Wilson, was love or not,--Margaret had no sympathy with the
temptations to which loveliness, vanity, ambition, or the desire of
being admired, exposes so many; no sympathy with flirting girls, in
short. Then, she had no idea of the strength of the conflict
between will and principle in some who were differently constituted
from herself. With her, to be convinced that an action was wrong,
was tantamount to a determination not to do so again; and she had
little or no difficulty in carrying out her determination. So she
could not understand how it was that Mary had acted wrongly, and had
felt too much ashamed, in spite of internal sophistry, to speak of
her actions. Margaret considered herself deceived; felt aggrieved;
and, at the time of which I am now telling you, was strongly
inclined to give Mary up altogether, as a girl devoid of the modest
proprieties of her sex, and capable of gross duplicity, in speaking
of one lover as she had done of Jem, while she was encouraging
another in attentions, at best of a very doubtful character.
But now Margaret was drawn into the conversation. Suddenly it
flashed across Mary's mind, that the night of the murder was the
very night, or rather the same early morning, that Margaret had been
with Alice. She turned sharp round, with--
"O Margaret, you can tell me; you were there when he came back that
night; were you not? No! you were not; but you were there not many
hours after. Did not you hear where he'd been? He was away the
night before, too, when Alice was first taken; when you were there
for your tea. Oh! where was he, Margaret?"
"I don't know," she answered. "Stay! I do remember something about
his keeping Will company, in his walk to Liverpool. I can't justly
say what it was, so much happened that night."
"I'll go to his mother's," said Mary resolutely.
They neither of them spoke, either to advise or dissuade. Mary felt
she had no sympathy from them, and braced up her soul to act without
such loving aid of friendship. She knew that their advice would be
willingly given at her demand, and that was all she really required
for Jem's sake. Still her courage failed a little as she walked to
Jane Wilson's, alone in the world with her secret.
Jane Wilson's eyes were swelled with crying; and it was sad to see
the ravages which intense anxiety and sorrow had made on her
appearance in four-and-twenty hours. All night long she and Mrs.
Davenport had crooned over their sorrows, always recurring, like the
burden of an old song, to the dreadest sorrow of all, which was now
impending over Mrs. Wilson. She had grown--I hardly know what word
to use--but, something like proud of her martyrdom; she had grown to
hug her grief; to feel an excitement in her agony of anxiety about
"So, Mary, you're here! O Mary, lass! He's to be tried on
She fell to sobbing, in the convulsive breath-catching manner which
tells of so much previous weeping.
"O Mrs. Wilson, don't take on so! We'll get him off, you'll see.
Don't fret; they can't prove him guilty!"
"But I tell thee they will," interrupted Mrs. Wilson, half-irritated
at the light way, as she considered it, in which Mary spoke; and a
little displeased that another could hope when she had almost
brought herself to find pleasure in despair.
"It may suit thee well," continued she, "to make light o' the misery
thou hast caused; but I shall lay his death at thy door, as long as
I live, and die I know he will; and all for what he never did--no,
he never did; my own blessed boy!"
She was too weak to be angry long; her wrath sank away to feeble
sobbing and worn-out moans.
Mary was most anxious to soothe her from any violence of either
grief or anger; she did so want her to be clear in her recollection;
and, besides, her tenderness was great towards Jem's mother. So she
spoke in a low gentle tone the loving sentences, which sound so
broken and powerless in repetition, and which yet have so much power
when accompanied with caressing looks and actions, fresh from the
heart; and the old woman insensibly gave herself up to the influence
of those sweet, loving blue eyes, those tears of sympathy, those
words of love and hope, and was lulled into a less morbid state of
"And now, dear Mrs. Wilson, can you remember where he said he was
going on Thursday night? He was out when Alice was taken ill; and
he did not come home till early in the morning, or, to speak true,
in the night: did he?"
"Ay! he went out near upon five; he went out with Will; he said he
were going to set* him a part of the way, for Will were hot upon
walking to Liverpool, and wouldn't hearken to Jem's offer of lending
him five shillings for his fare. So the two lads set off together.
I mind it all now: but, thou seest, Alice's illness, and this
business of poor Jem's, drove it out of my head; they went off
together, to walk to Liverpool; that's to say, Jem were to go a part
o' th' way. But, who knows" (falling back into the old desponding
tone) "if he really went? He might be led off on the road. O Mary,
wench! they'll hang him for what he's never done."
*"To set," to accompany.
"No they won't, they shan't! I see my way a bit now. We mun get
Will to help; there'll be time. He can swear that Jem were with
him. Where is Jem?"
"Folk said he were taken to Kirkdale, i' th' prison van this
morning, without my seeing him, poor chap! O wench! but they've
hurried on the business at a cruel rate."
"Ay! they've not let grass grow under their feet, in hunting out the
man that did it," said Mary sorrowfully and bitterly. "But keep up
your heart. They got on the wrong scent when they took to
suspecting Jem. Don't be afeard. You'll see it will end right for
"I should mind it less if I could do aught," said Jane Wilson; "but
I'm such a poor weak old body, and my head's so gone, and I'm so
dazed like, what with Alice and all, that I think and think, and can
do nought to help my child. I might ha' gone and seen him last
night, they tell me now, and then I missed it. O Mary, I missed it;
and I may never see the lad again."
She looked so piteously in Mary's face with her miserable eyes, that
Mary felt her heart giving way, and, dreading the weakness of her
powers, which the burst of crying she longed for would occasion,
hastily changed the subject to Alice; and Jane, in her heart,
feeling that there was no sorrow like a mother's sorrow, replied--
"She keeps on much the same, thank you. She's happy, for she knows
nothing of what's going on; but th' doctor says she grows weaker and
weaker. Thou'lt maybe like to see her?"
Mary went upstairs; partly because it is the etiquette in humble
life to offer to friends a last opportunity of seeing the dying or
the dead, while the same etiquette forbids a refusal of the
invitation; and partly because she longed to breathe, for an
instant, the atmosphere of holy calm, which seemed ever to surround
the pious, good old woman. Alice lay, as before, without pain, or
at least any outward expression of it; but totally unconscious of
all present circumstances, and absorbed in recollections of the days
of her girlhood, which were vivid enough to take the place of
reality to her. Still she talked of green fields, and still she
spoke to the long-dead mother and sister, low-lying in their graves
this many a year, as if they were with her and about her, in the
pleasant places where her youth had passed.
But the voice was fainter, the motions were more languid; she was
evidently passing away; but HOW happily!
Mary stood for a time in silence, watching and listening. Then she
bent down and reverently kissed Alice's cheek; and drawing Jane
Wilson away from the bed, as if the spirit of her who lay there were
yet cognisant of present realities, she whispered a few words of
hope to the poor mother, and kissing her over and over again in a
warm, loving manner, she bade her good-bye, went a few steps, and
then once more came back to bid her keep up her heart.
And when she had fairly left the house, Jane Wilson felt as if a
sunbeam had ceased shining into the room.
Yet oh! how sorely Mary's heart ached; for more and more the fell
certainty came on her that her father was the murderer! She
struggled hard not to dwell on this conviction; to think alone on
the means of proving Jem's innocence; that was her first duty, and
that should be done.
XXIII. THE SUB-POENA.
"And must it then depend on this poor eye
And this unsteady hand, whether the bark,
That bears my all of treasured hope and love,
Shall find a passage through these frowning rocks
To some fair port where peace and safety smile,--
Or whether it shall blindly dash against them,
And miserably sink? Heaven be my help;
And clear my eye and nerve my trembling hand!"
--"THE CONSTANT WOMAN."
Her heart beating, her head full of ideas, which required time and
solitude to be reduced into order, Mary hurried home. She was like
one who finds a jewel of which he cannot all at once ascertain the
value, but who hides his treasure until some quiet hour when he may
ponder over the capabilities its possession unfolds. She was like
one who discovers the silken clue which guides to some bower of
bliss, and secure of the power within his grasp, has to wait for a
time before he may thread the labyrinth.
But no jewel, no bower of bliss was ever so precious to miser or
lover as was the belief which now pervaded Mary's mind that Jem's
innocence might be proved, without involving any suspicion of that
other--that dear one, so dear, although so criminal--on whose part
in this cruel business she dared not dwell even in thought. For if
she did there arose the awful question,--if all went against Jem the
innocent, if judge and jury gave the verdict forth which had the
looming gallows in the rear, what ought she to do, possessed of her
terrible knowledge? Surely not to inculpate her father--and yet--
and yet--she almost prayed for the blessed unconsciousness of death
or madness, rather than that awful question should have to be
answered by her.
But now a way seemed opening, opening yet more clear. She was
thankful she had thought of the alibi, and yet more thankful to have
so easily obtained the clue to Jem's whereabouts that miserable
night. The bright light that her new hope threw over all seemed
also to make her thankful for the early time appointed for the
trial. It would be easy to catch Will Wilson on his return from the
Isle of Man, which he had planned should be on the Monday; and on
the Tuesday all would be made clear--all that she dared to wish to
be made clear.
She had still to collect her thoughts and freshen her memory enough
to arrange how to meet with Will--for to the chances of a letter she
would not trust; to find out his lodgings when in Liverpool; to try
and remember the name of the ship in which he was to sail: and the
more she considered these points, the more difficulty she found
there would be in ascertaining these minor but important facts. For
you are aware that Alice, whose memory was clear and strong on all
points in which her heart was interested, was lying in a manner
senseless: that Jane Wilson was (to use her own word, so
expressive to a Lancashire ear) "dazed"; that is to say, bewildered,
lost in the confusion of terrifying and distressing thoughts;
incapable of concentrating her mind; and at the best of times Will's
proceedings were a matter of little importance to her (or so she
pretended), she was so jealous of aught which distracted attention
from her pearl of price, her only son Jem. So Mary felt hopeless of
obtaining any intelligence of the sailor's arrangements from her.
Then, should she apply to Jem himself? No! she knew him too well.
She felt how thoroughly he must ere now have had it in his power to
exculpate himself at another's expense. And his tacit refusal so to
do, had assured her of what she had never doubted, that the murderer
was safe from any impeachment of his. But then neither would he
consent, she feared, to any steps which might tend to prove himself
innocent. At any rate, she could not consult him. He was removed
to Kirkdale, and time pressed. Already it was Saturday at noon.
And even if she could have gone to him, I believe she would not.
She longed to do all herself; to be his liberator, his deliverer; to
win him life, though she might never regain his lost love by her own
exertions! And oh! how could she see him to discuss a subject in
which both knew who was the bloodstained man; and yet whose name
might not be breathed by either, so dearly with all his faults, his
sins, was he loved by both.
All at once, when she had ceased to try and remember, the name of
Will's ship flashed across her mind. The John Cropper.
He had named it, she had been sure, all along. He had named it in
his conversation with her that last, that fatal Thursday evening.
She repeated it over and over again, through a nervous dread of
again forgetting it. The John Cropper.
And then, as if she were rousing herself out of some strange stupor,
she bethought her of Margaret. Who so likely as Margaret to
treasure every little particular respecting Will, now Alice was dead
to all the stirring purposes of life?
She had gone thus far in her process of thought, when a neighbour
stepped in; she with whom they had usually deposited the house-key,
when both Mary and her father were absent from home, and who
consequently took upon herself to answer all inquiries, and receive
all messages which any friends might make, or leave, on finding the
house shut up.
"Here's somewhat for you, Mary! A policeman left it."
A bit of parchment.
Many people have a dread of those mysterious pieces of parchment. I
am one. Mary was another. Her heart misgave her as she took it,
and looked at the unusual appearance of the writing, which, though
legible enough, conveyed no idea to her, or rather her mind shut
itself up against receiving any idea, which after all was rather a
proof she had some suspicion of the meaning that awaited her.
"What is it?" asked she, in a voice from which all the pith and
marrow seemed extracted.
"Nay! how should I know? Policeman said he'd call again towards
evening, and see if you'd getten it. He were loth to leave it,
though I telled him who I was, and all about my keeping th' key, and
"What is it about?" asked Mary again, in the same hoarse, feeble
voice, and turning it over in her fingers, as if she dreaded to
inform herself of its meaning.
"Well! yo can read word of writing and I cannot, so it's queer I
should have to tell you. But my master says it's a summons for yo
to bear witness again Jem Wilson, at th' trial at Liverpool Assize."
"God pity me!" said Mary faintly, as white as a sheet.
"Nay, wench, never take on so. What yo can say will go little way
either to help or to hinder, for folk say he's certain to be hung;
and sure enough, it was t'other one as was your sweetheart."
Mary was beyond any pang this speech would have given at another
time. Her thoughts were all busy picturing to herself the terrible
occasion of their next meeting--not as lovers meet should they meet!
"Well!" said the neighbour, seeing no use in remaining with one who
noticed her words or her presence so little, "thou'lt tell policeman
thou'st getten his precious bit of paper. He seemed to think I
should be keeping it for mysel; he's the first as has ever
misdoubted me about giving messages, or notes. Good-day."
She left the house, but Mary did not know it. She sat still with
the parchment in her hand.
All at once she started up. She would take it to Job Legh and ask
him to tell her the true meaning, for it could not be THAT.
So she went, and choked out her words of inquiry.
"It's a sub-poena," he replied, turning the parchment over with the
air of a connoisseur; for Job loved hard words, and lawyer-like
forms, and even esteemed himself slightly qualified for a lawyer,
from the smattering of knowledge he had picked up from an odd volume
of Blackstone that he had once purchased at a bookstall.
"A sub-poena--what is that?" gasped Mary, still in suspense.
Job was struck with her voice, her changed miserable voice, and
peered at her countenance from over his spectacles.
"A sub-poena is neither more nor less than this, my dear. It's a
summonsing you to attend, and answer such questions as may be asked
of you regarding the trial of James Wilson, for the murder of Henry
Carson; that's the long and short of it, only more elegantly put,
for the benefit of them who knows how to value the gift of language.
I've been a witness beforetime myself; there's nothing much to be
afeard on; if they are impudent, why, just you be impudent, and give
'em tit for tat."
"Nothing much to be afeard on!" echoed Mary, but in such a different
"Ay, poor wench, I see how it is. It'll go hard with thee a bit, I
dare say; but keep up thy heart. Yo cannot have much to tell 'em,
that can go either one way or th' other. Nay! maybe thou may do him
a bit o' good, for when they set eyes on thee, they'll see fast
enough how he came to be so led away by jealousy; for thou'rt a
pretty creature, Mary, and one look at thy face will let 'em into
th' secret of a young man's madness, and make 'em more ready to pass
"O Job, and won't you ever believe me when I tell you he's innocent?
Indeed, and indeed I can prove it; he was with Will all that night;
he was, indeed, Job!"
"My wench! whose word hast thou for that?" said Job pityingly.
"Why! his mother told me, and I'll get Will to bear witness to it.
But, oh! Job" (bursting into tears), "it is hard if you won't
believe me. How shall I clear him to strangers, when those who know
him, and ought to love him, are so set against his being innocent?"
"God knows, I'm not against his being innocent," said Job solemnly.
"I'd give half my remaining days on earth--I'd give them all, Mary
(and but for the love I bear to my poor blind girl, they'd be no
great gift), if I could save him. You've thought me hard, Mary, but
I'm not hard at bottom, and I'll help you if I can; that I will,
right or wrong," he added; but in a low voice, and coughed the
uncertain words away the moment afterwards.
"O Job! if you will help me," exclaimed Mary, brightening up (though
it was but a wintry gleam after all), "tell me what to say, when
they question me; I shall be so gloppened,* I shan't know what to
"Thou canst do nought better than tell the truth. Truth's best at
all times, they say; and for sure it is when folk have to do with
lawyers; for they're 'cute and cunning enough to get it out sooner
or later, and it makes folk look like Tom Noddies, when truth
follows falsehood, against their will."
"But I don't know the truth; I mean--I can't say rightly what I
mean; but I'm sure, if I were pent up, and stared at by hundreds of
folk, and asked ever so simple a question, I should be for answering
it wrong; if they asked me if I had seen you on a Saturday, or a
Tuesday, or any day, I should have clean forgotten all about it, and
say the very thing I should not."
"Well, well, don't go for to get such notions into your head;
they're what they call 'narvous,' and talking on 'em does no good.
Here's Margaret! bless the wench! Look, Mary, how well she guides
Job fell to watching his grand-daughter, as with balancing, measured
steps, timed almost as if to music, she made her way across the
Mary shrank as if from a cold blast--shrank from Margaret! The
blind girl, with her reserve, her silence, seemed to be a severe
judge; she, listening, would be such a check to the trusting
earnestness of confidence, which was beginning to unlock the
sympathy of Job. Mary knew herself to blame; felt her errors in
every fibre of her heart; but yet she would rather have had them
spoken about, even in terms of severest censure, than have been
treated in the icy manner in which Margaret had received her that
"Here's Mary," said Job, almost as if he wished to propitiate his
grand-daughter, "come to take a bit of dinner with us, for I'll
warrant she's never thought of cooking any for herself to-day; and
she looks as wan and pale as a ghost."
It was calling out the feeling of hospitality, so strong and warm in
most of those who have little to offer, but whose heart goes eagerly
and kindly with that little. Margaret came towards Mary with a
welcoming gesture, and a kinder manner by far than she had used in
"Nay, Mary, thou know'st thou'st getten naught at home," urged Job.
And Mary, faint and weary, and with a heart too aching-full of other
matters to be pertinacious in this, withdrew her refusal.
They ate their dinner quietly; for to all it was an effort to speak:
and after one or two attempts they had subsided into silence.
When the meal was ended Job began again on the subject they all had
"Yon poor lad at Kirkdale will want a lawyer to see they don't put
on him, but do him justice. Hast thought of that?"
Mary had not, and felt sure his mother had not.
Margaret confirmed this last supposition.
"I've but just been there, and poor Jane is like one dateless; so
many griefs come on her at once. One time she seems to make sure
he'll be hung; and if I took her in that way, she flew out (poor
body!) and said that in spite of what folks said, there were them as
could, and would prove him guiltless. So I never knew where to have
her. The only thing she was constant in, was declaring him
"Mother-like!" said Job.
"She meant Will, when she spoke of them that could prove him
innocent. He was with Will on Thursday night, walking a part of the
way with him to Liverpool; now the thing is to lay hold on Will and
get him to prove this." So spoke Mary, calm, from the earnestness
of her purpose.
"Don't build too much on it, my dear," said Job.
"I do build on it," replied Mary, "because I know it's the truth,
and I mean to try and prove it, come what may. Nothing you can say
will daunt me, Job, so don't you go and try. You may help, but you
cannot hinder me doing what I'm resolved on."
They respected her firmness of determination, and Job almost gave in
to her belief, when he saw how steadfastly she was acting upon it.
Oh! surest way of conversion to our faith, whatever it may be--
regarding either small things, or great--when it is beheld as the
actuating principle, from which we never swerve! When it is seen
that, instead of overmuch profession, it is worked into the life,
and moves every action!
Mary gained courage as she instinctively felt she had made way with
one at least of her companions.
"Now I'm clear about this much," she continued, "he was with Will
when the--shot was fired."--(she could not bring herself to say,
when the murder was committed, when she remembered WHO it was that,
she had every reason to believe, was the taker-away of life)--"Will
can prove this: I must find Will. He wasn't to sail till Tuesday.
There's time enough. He was to come back from his uncle's, in the
Isle of Man, on Monday. I must meet him in Liverpool, on that day,
and tell him what has happened, and how poor Jem is in trouble, and
that he must prove an alibi, come Tuesday. All this I can and will
do, though perhaps I don't clearly know how, just at present. But
surely God will help me. When I know I'm doing right, I will have
no fear, but put my trust in Him; for I'm acting for the innocent
and good, and not for my own self, who have done so wrong. I have
no fear when I think of Jem, who is so good."
She stopped, oppressed with the fulness of her heart. Margaret
began to love her again; to see in her the same sweet, faulty,
impulsive, lovable creature she had known in the former Mary Barton,
but with more of dignity, self-reliance, and purpose.
Mary spoke again.
"Now I know the name of Will's vessel--the John Cropper; and I know
that she is bound to America. That is something to know. But I
forgot, if I ever heard, where he lodges in Liverpool. He spoke of
his landlady, as a good, trustworthy woman; but if he named her
name, it has slipped my memory. Can you help me, Margaret?"
She appealed to her friend calmly and openly, as if perfectly aware
of, and recognising the unspoken tie which bound her and Will
together; she asked her in the same manner in which she would have
asked a wife where her husband dwelt. And Margaret replied in the
like calm tone, two spots of crimson on her cheeks alone bearing
witness to any internal agitation.
"He lodges at a Mrs. Jones', Milk-House Yard, out of Nicholas
Street. He has lodged there ever since he began to go to sea; she
is a very decent kind of woman, I believe."
"Well, Mary! I'll give you my prayers" said Job. "It's not often I
pray regular, though I often speak a word to God, when I'm either
very happy or very sorry; I've catched myself thanking Him at odd
hours when I've found a rare insect, or had a fine day for an out;
but I cannot help it, no more than I can talking to a friend. But
this time I'll pray regular for Jem, and for you. And so will
Margaret, I'll be bound. Still, wench! what think yo of a lawyer?
I know one, Mr. Cheshire, who's rather given to th' insect line--and
a good kind o' chap. He and I have swopped specimens many's the
time, when either of us had a duplicate. He'll do me a kind turn
I'm sure. I'll just take my hat, and pay him a visit."
No sooner said, than done.
Margaret and Mary were left alone. And this seemed to bring back
the feeling of awkwardness, not to say estrangement.
But Mary, excited to an unusual pitch of courage, was the first to
"O Margaret!" said she, "I see--I feel how wrong you think I have
acted; you cannot think me worse than I think myself, now my eyes
are opened." Here her sobs came choking up her voice.
"Nay," Margaret began, "I have no right to"--
"Yes, Margaret, you have a right to judge; you cannot help it; only
in your judgment remember mercy, as the Bible says. You, who have
been always good, cannot tell how easy it is at first to go a little
wrong, and then how hard it is to go back. Oh! I little thought
when I was first pleased with Mr. Carson's speeches, how it would
all end; perhaps in the death of him I love better than life."
She burst into a passion of tears. The feelings pent up through the
day would have vent. But checking herself with a strong effort, and
looking up at Margaret as piteously as if those calm, stony eyes
could see her imploring face, she added--
"I must not cry; I must not give way; there will be time enough for
that hereafter, if--I only wanted you to speak kindly to me,
Margaret, for I am very, very wretched; more wretched than any one
can ever know; more wretched, I sometimes fancy, than I have
deserved--but that's wrong, isn't it, Margaret? Oh! I have done
wrong, and I am punished: you cannot tell how much."
Who could resist her voice, her tones of misery, of humility? Who
would refuse the kindness for which she begged so penitently? Not
Margaret. The old friendly manner came back. With it, maybe, more
"Oh! Margaret, do you think he can be saved; do you think they can
find him guilty, if Will comes forward as a witness? Won't that be
a good alibi?"
Margaret did not answer for a moment.
"Oh, speak! Margaret," said Mary, with anxious impatience.
"I know nought about law, or alibis," replied Margaret meekly; "but,
Mary, as grandfather says, aren't you building too much on what Jane
Wilson has told you about his going with Will? Poor soul, she's
gone dateless, I think, with care, and watching, and overmuch
trouble; and who can wonder? Or Jem may have told her he was going,
by way of a blind."
"You don't know Jem," said Mary, starting from her seat in a hurried
manner, "or you would not say so."
"I hope I may be wrong! but think, Mary, how much there is against
him. The shot was fired with his gun; he it was as threatened Mr.
Carson not many days before; he was absent from home at that very
time, as we know, and, as I'm much afeard, some one will be called
on to prove; and there's no one else to share suspicion with him."
Mary heaved a deep sigh.
"But, Margaret, he did not do it," Mary again asserted.
Margaret looked unconvinced.
"I can do no good, I see, by saying so, for none on you believe me,
and I won't say so again till I can prove it. Monday morning I'll
go to Liverpool. I shall be at hand for the trial. O dear! dear!
And I will find Will; and then, Margaret, I think you'll be sorry
for being so stubborn about Jem."
"Don't fly off, dear Mary; I'd give a deal to be wrong. And now I'm
going to be plain spoken. You'll want money. Them lawyers is no
better than a sponge for sucking up money; let alone your hunting
out Will, and your keep in Liverpool, and what not. You must take
some of the mint I've got laid by in the old tea-pot. You have no
right to refuse, for I offer it to Jem, not to you; it's for his
purposes you're to use it."
"I know--I see. Thank you, Margaret; you're a kind one at any rate.
I take it for Jem; and I'll do my very best with it for him. Not
all, though; don't think I'll take all. They'll pay me for my keep.
I'll take this," accepting a sovereign from the hoard which Margaret
produced out of its accustomed place in the cupboard. "Your
grandfather will pay the lawyer, I'll have nought to do with him,"
shuddering as she remembered Job's words, about lawyers' skill in
always discovering the truth, sooner or later; and knowing what was
the secret she had to hide.
"Bless you! don't make such ado about it," said Margaret, cutting
short Mary's thanks. "I sometimes think there's two sides to the
commandment; and that we may say, 'Let others do unto you, as you
would do unto them,' for pride often prevents our giving others a
great deal of pleasure, in not letting them be kind, when their
hearts are longing to help; and when we ourselves should wish to do
just the same, if we were in their place. Oh! how often I've been
hurt, by being coldly told by persons not to trouble myself about
their care, or sorrow, when I saw them in great grief, and wanted to
be of comfort. Our Lord Jesus was not above letting folk minister
to Him, for He knew how happy it makes one to do aught for another.
It's the happiest work on earth."
Mary had been too much engrossed by watching what was passing in the
street to attend very closely to that which Margaret was saying.
From her seat she could see out of the window pretty plainly, and
she caught sight of a gentleman walking alongside of Job, evidently
in earnest conversation with him, and looking keen and penetrating
enough to be a lawyer. Job was laying down something to be attended
to she could see, by his uplifted forefinger, and his whole gesture;
then he pointed and nodded across the street to his own house, as if
inducing his companion to come in. Mary dreaded lest he should, and
she be subjected to a closer cross-examination than she had hitherto
undergone, as to why she was so certain that Jem was innocent. She
feared he was coming; he stepped a little towards the spot. No! it
was only to make way for a child, tottering along, whom Mary had
overlooked. Now Job took him by the button, so earnestly familiar
had he grown. The gentleman looked "fidging fain" to be gone, but
submitted in a manner that made Mary like him in spite of his
profession. Then came a volley of last words, answered by briefest
nods, and monosyllables; and then the stranger went off with
redoubled quickness of pace, and Job crossed the street with a
little satisfied air of importance on his kindly face.
"Well! Mary," said he on entering, "I've seen the lawyer, not Mr.
Cheshire though; trials for murder, it seems, are not his line o'
business. But he gived me a note to another 'torney; a fine fellow
enough, only too much of a talker! I could hardly get a word in, he
cut me so short. However, I've just been going over the principal
points again to him; maybe you saw us! I wanted him just to come
over and speak to you himsel, Mary, but he was pressed for time; and
he said your evidence would not be much either here or there. He's
going to the 'sizes first train on Monday morning, and will see Jem,
and hear the ins and outs from him, and he's gived me his address,
Mary, and you and Will are to call on him (Will 'special) on Monday
at two o'clock. Thou'rt taking it in, Mary; thou'rt to call on him
in Liverpool at two, Monday afternoon?"
Job had reason to doubt if she fully understood him; for all this
minuteness of detail, these satisfactory arrangements, as he
considered them, only seemed to bring the circumstances in which she
was placed more vividly home to Mary. They convinced her that it
was real, and not all a dream, as she had sunk into fancying it for
a few minutes, while sitting in the old accustomed place, her body
enjoying the rest, and her frame sustained by food, and listening to
Margaret's calm voice. The gentleman she had just beheld would see
and question Jem in a few hours, and what would be the result?
Monday: that was the day after to-morrow, and on Tuesday, life and
death would be tremendous realities to her lover; or else death
would be an awful certainty to her father.
No wonder Job went over his main points again--
"Monday; at two o'clock, mind; and here's his card. 'Mr.
Bridgnorth, 41, Renshaw Street, Liverpool.' He'll be lodging
Job ceased talking, and the silence roused Mary up to thank him.
"You're very kind, Job; very. You and Margaret won't desert me,
come what will."
"Pooh! pooh! wench; don't lose heart, just as I'm beginning to get
it. He seems to think a deal on Will's evidence. You're sure,
girls, you're under no mistake about Will?"
"I'm sure," said Mary, "he went straight from here, purposing to go
to see his uncle at the Isle of Man, and be back Sunday night, ready
for the ship sailing on Tuesday."
"So am I," said Margaret. "And the ship's name was the John
Cropper, and he lodged where I told Mary before. Have you got it
down, Mary?" Mary wrote it on the back of Mr. Bridgnorth's card.
"He was not over-willing to go," said she as she wrote, "for he knew
little about his uncle, and said he didn't care if he never know'd
more. But he said kinsfolk was kinsfolk, and promises was promises,
so he'd go for a day or so, and then it would be over."
Margaret had to go and practise some singing in town; so, though
loth to depart and be alone, Mary bade her friends good-bye.
XXIV. WITH THE DYING.
"Oh, sad and solemn is the trembling watch
Of those who sit and count the heavy hours
Beside the fevered sleep of one they love!
Oh, awful is it in the hushed midnight,
While gazing on the pallid moveless form,
To start and ask, 'Is it now sleep or death?'"
Mary could not be patient in her loneliness; so much painful thought
weighed on her mind; the very house was haunted with memories and
Having performed all duties to Jem, as far as her weak powers, yet
loving heart could act; and a black veil being drawn over her
father's past, present, and future life, beyond which she could not
penetrate to judge of any filial service she ought to render: her
mind unconsciously sought after some course of action in which she
might engage. Anything, anything, rather than leisure for
And then came up the old feeling which first bound Ruth to Naomi;
the love they both held towards one object; and Mary felt that her
cares would be most lightened by being of use, or of comfort to his
mother. So she once more locked up the house, and set off towards
Ancoats; rushing along with downcast head, for fear lest anyone
should recognise her and arrest her progress.
Jane Wilson sat quietly in her chair as Mary entered; so quietly, as
to strike one by the contrast it presented to her usual bustling and
She looked very pale and wan: but the quietness was the thing that
struck Mary most. She did not rise as Mary came in, but sat still
and said something in so gentle, so feeble a voice, that Mary did
not catch it.
Mrs. Davenport, who was there, plucked Mary by the gown, and
whispered, "Never heed her; she's worn out, and best let alone.
I'll tell you all about it, upstairs."
But Mary, touched by the anxious look with which Mrs. Wilson gazed
at her, as if waiting the answer to some question, went forward to
listen to the speech she was again repeating.
"What is this? Will you tell me?"
Then Mary looked and saw another ominous slip of parchment in the
mother's hand, which she was rolling up and down in a tremulous
manner between her fingers.
Mary's heart sickened within her, and she could not speak.
"What is it?" she repeated. "Will you tell me?" She still looked
at Mary, with the same child-like gaze of wonder and patient
What could she answer?
"I telled ye not to heed her," said Mrs. Davenport, a little
angrily. "She knows well enough what it is--too well, belike. I
was not in when they sarved it; but Mrs. Heming (her as lives next
door) was, and she spelled out the meaning, and made it all clear to
Mrs. Wilson. It's a summons to be a witness on Jem's trial--Mrs.
Heming thinks to swear to the gun; for yo see, there's nobbut* her
as can testify to its being his, and she let on so easily to the
policeman that it was his, that there's no getting off her word now.
Poor body; she takes it very hard, I dare say!"
*Nobbut; none-but. "No man sigh evere God NO BUT the oon
bigetun sone."--Wickliffe's Version.
Mrs. Wilson had waited patiently while this whispered speech was
being uttered, imagining, perhaps, that it would end in some
explanation addressed to her. But when both were silent, though
their eyes, without speech or language, told their hearts' pity, she
spoke again in the same unaltered gentle voice (so different from
the irritable impatience she had been ever apt to show to everyone
except her husband--he who had wedded her, broken-down and
injured),--in a voice so different, I say, from the old, hasty
manner, she spoke now the same anxious words--
"What is this? Will you tell me?"
"Yo'd better give it me at once, Mrs. Wilson, and let me put it out
of your sight. Speak to her, Mary, wench, and ask for a sight on
it; I've tried and better-tried to get it from her, and she takes no
heed of words, and I'm loth to pull it by force out of her hands."
Mary drew the little "cricket"* out from under the dresser, and sat
down at Mrs. Wilson's knee, and, coaxing one of her tremulous
ever-moving hands into hers, began to rub it soothingly; there was a
little resistance--a very little, but that was all; and presently,
in the nervous movement of the imprisoned hand, the parchment fell
to the ground.
*Cricket; a stool.
Mary calmly and openly picked it up, without any attempt at
concealment, and quietly placing it in sight of the anxious eyes
that followed it with a kind of spell-bound dread, went on with her
"She has had no sleep for many nights," said the girl to Mrs.
Davenport, "and all this woe and sorrow,--it's no wonder."
"No, indeed!" Mrs. Davenport answered.
"We must get her fairly to bed; we must get her undressed, and all;
and trust to God in His mercy to send her to sleep, or else"--
For, you see, they spoke before her as if she were not there; her
heart was so far away.
Accordingly they almost lifted her from the chair, in which she sat
motionless, and taking her up as gently as a mother carries her
sleeping baby, they undressed her poor, worn form, and laid her in
the little bed upstairs. They had once thought of placing her in
Jem's bed, to be out of sight or sound of any disturbance of
Alice's; but then again they remembered the shock she might receive
in awakening in so unusual a place, and also that Mary, who intended
to keep vigil that night in the house of mourning, would find it
difficult to divide her attention in the possible cases that might
So they laid her, as I said before, on that little pallet bed; and,
as they were slowly withdrawing from the bedside, hoping and praying
that she might sleep, and forget for a time her heavy burden, she
looked wistfully after Mary, and whispered--
"You haven't told me what it is. What is it?"
And gazing in her face for the expected answer, her eyelids slowly
closed, and she fell into a deep, heavy sleep, almost as profound a
rest as death.