ESTHER'S MOTIVE IN SEEKING MARY
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 Manchester.
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 bad 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 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 entered it.
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 handwriting?
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 all-engrossing murder. 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 Bailey.
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' cauldron 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 arms.
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 the 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 daresay 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 about them.
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 never reveal! 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 had it."
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 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 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. Oh! 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 will not 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 her hopes.
"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 hand-writing, 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 desired.
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's 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 departure.
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.
MARY'S EFFORTS TO PROVE AN ALIBI
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 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 his gun.
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 pawnshop before he left, that she had noticed. Here was his old one. What rustled under her hand in the pocket.
The paper! "Oh! 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 discovery enforced.
Oh! I do think that the necessity for exertion, for some kind of action (bodily or mentally) 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 sympathizing 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 and 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 depositary 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 judgement 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 down-stairs, 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 again.
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 up-stairs, 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. Every thing 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 many-syllabled mysteries.
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 Mary.
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.
"Aye, 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. Aye, 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 guilty?"
"I'm loath 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."
"Oh, God! Then you won't help me, Job, to prove him innocent? Oh! 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! Is not 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 blood.
"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 against him."
"I know they do! I know they do! But oh! 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 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 -
"Oh! 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 her boy.
"So, Mary, you're here! Oh! Mary, lass! He's to be tried on Tuesday."
She fell to sobbing, in the convulsive breath-catching manner which tells so of much previous weeping.
"Oh! 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 mind.
"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?"
"Aye! 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. Oh! Mary, wench! they'll hang him for what he's never done."
"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! Oh! wench! but they've hurried on the business at a cruel rate."
"Aye, 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 Jem."
"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. Oh! 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 up-stairs: 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 cognizant 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.
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 blood-stained 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 loath to leave it, though I telled him who I was, and all about my keeping th' key, and taking messages.
"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 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 subpoena," 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 book-stall.
"A subpoena - 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 subpoena 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 before-time 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 tone.
"Aye, 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 it over."
"Oh! 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.
"Oh, 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 sha'n't know what to answer."
"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 hersel'."
Job fell to watching his grand-daughter, as with balancing, measured steps, timed almost as if to music, she made her way across the street.
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 morning.
"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 the morning.
"Nay, Mary, thou know'st thou'st getten nought 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 at heart.
"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 innocent."
"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 into 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 over-much 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 fullness 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 - John Cropper; and I know that she is bound to America. That is something to know. But I forget, 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 be 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 ye 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 break silence.
"Oh, 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 judgement 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 of tenderness.
"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 afeared, 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. Oh 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 teapot. 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 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 Bridgenorth, 41, Renshaw Street, Liverpool.' He'll be lodging there."
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 in on the back of Mr Bridgenorth'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 loath to depart and be alone, Mary bade her friends good-bye.
WITH THE DYING
Mary could not be patient in her loneliness; so much painful thought weighed on her mind; the very house haunted with memories and foreshadowings.
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 or action in which she might engage. Any thing, any thing, a rather than leisure for reflection.
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 down-cast head, for fear lest any one 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 nervous manner.
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, up-stairs."
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 entreaty.
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!"
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 heart's pity, she spoke again in the same unaltered gentle voice (so different from the irritable impatience she had been ever apt to show to every one 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 loath 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.
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 soothing caresses.
"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 up-stairs. 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 ensue.
So they laid her, as I said before, on that little pallet-bed; and, as they were slowly withdrawing from the bed-side, 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 eye-lids slowly closed, and she fell into a deep, heavy sleep, almost as profound a rest as death.
Mrs Davenport went her way, and Mary was alone, - for I cannot call those who sleep allies against the agony of thought which solitude sometimes brings up.
She dreaded the night before her. Alice might die; the doctor had that day declared her case hopeless, and not far from death, and at times, the terror so natural to the young, not of death, but of the remains of the dead, came over Mary; and she bent and listened anxiously for the long-drawn, pausing breath of the sleeping Alice.
Or Mrs Wilson might awake in a state which Mary dreaded to anticipate, and anticipated while she dreaded; - in a state of complete delirium. Already her senses had been severely stunned by the full explanation of what was required of her, - of what she had to prove against her son, her Jem, her only child, - which Mary could not doubt the officious Mrs Heming had given; and what if in dreams (that land into which no sympathy nor love can penetrate with another, either to share its bliss or its agony, - that land whose scenes are unspeakable terrors, are hidden mysteries, are priceless treasures to one alone, - that land where alone I may see, while yet I tarry here, the sweet looks of my dear child), - what if, in the horrors of her dreams, her brain should go still more astray, and she should waken crazy with her visions, and the terrible reality that begot them?
How much worse is anticipation sometimes than reality! How Mary dreaded that night, and how calmly it passed by! Even more so than if Mary had not had such claims upon her care!
Anxiety about them deadened her own peculiar anxieties. She thought of the sleepers whom she was watching, till overpowered herself by the want of rest, she fell off into short slumbers in which the night wore imperceptibly away. To be sure, Alice spoke, and sang during her waking moments, like the child she deemed herself; but so happily with the dearly-loved ones around her, with the scent of the heather, and the song of the wild bird hovering about her in imagination - with old scraps of ballads, or old snatches of primitive versions of the Psalms (such as are sung in country churches half draperied over with ivy, and where the running brook, or the murmuring wind among the trees makes fit accompaniment to the chorus of human voices uttering praise and thanks-giving to their God) - that the speech and the song gave comfort and good cheer to the listener's heart, and the gray dawn began to dim the light of the rush-candle, before Mary thought it possible that day was already trembling in the horizon.
Then she got up from the chair where she had been dozing, and went, half-asleep, to the window to assure herself that morning was at hand. The streets were unusually quiet with a Sabbath stillness. No factory bells that morning; no early workmen going to their labours; no slip-shod girls cleaning the windows of the little shops which broke the monotony of the street; instead, you might see here and there some operative sallying forth for a breath of country air, or some father leading out his wee toddling bairns for the unwonted pleasure of a walk with "Daddy," in the clear frosty morning. Men with more leisure on week days would perhaps have walked quicker than they did through the fresh sharp air of this Sunday morning; but to them there was a pleasure, an absolute refreshment in the dawdling gait they, one and all of them, had.
To be sure, there were one or two passengers on that morning whose objects were less innocent and less praiseworthy than those of the people I have already mentioned, and whose animal state of mind and body clashed jarringly on the peacefulness of the day, but upon them I will not dwell; as you and I, and almost every one, I think, may send up our individual cry of self-reproach that we have not done all that we could for the stray and wandering ones of our brethren.
When Mary turned from the window, she went to the bed of each sleeper, to look and listen. Alice looked perfectly quiet and happy in her slumber, and her face seemed to have become much more youthful during her painless approach of death.
Mrs Wilson's countenance was stamped with the anxiety of the last few days, although she, too, appeared sleeping soundly; but as Mary gazed on her, trying to trace a likeness to her son in her face, she awoke and looked up into Mary's eyes, while the expression of consciousness came back into her own.
Both were silent for a minute or two. Mary's eyes had fallen beneath that penetrating gaze, in which the agony of memory seemed every minute to find fuller vent.
"Is it a dream?" the mother asked at last in a low voice.
"No!" replied Mary, in the same tone.
Mrs Wilson hid her face in the pillow.
She was fully conscious of everything this morning; it was evident that the stunning effect of the subpoena, which had affected her so much last night in her weak, worn-out state, had passed away. Mary offered no opposition when she indicated by languid gesture and action that she wished to rise. A sleepless bed is a haunted place.
When she was dressed with Mary's help, she stood by Alice for a minute or two, looking at the slumberer.
"How happy she is!" said she, quietly and sadly.
All the time that Mary was getting breakfast ready, and performing every other little domestic office she could think of, to add to the comfort of Jem's mother, Mrs Wilson sat still in the arm-chair, watching her silently. Her old irritation of temper and manner seemed to have suddenly disappeared, or perhaps she was too depressed in body and mind to show it.
Mary told her all that had been done with regard to Mr Bridgenorth; all her own plans for seeking out Will; all her hopes; and concealed as well as she could all the doubts and fears that would arise unbidden. To this Mrs Wilson listened without much remark, but with deep interest and perfect comprehension. When Mary ceased, she sighed and said, "Oh wench! I am his mother, and yet I do so little, I can do so little! That's what frets me! I seem like a child as sees its mammy ill, and moans and cries its little heart out, yet does nought to help. I think my sense has left me all at once, and I can't even find strength to cry like the little child."
Hereupon she broke into a feeble wail of self-reproach, that her outward show of misery was not greater; as if any cries, or tears, or loud-spoken words could have told of such pangs at the heart as that look, and that thin, piping, altered voice!
But think of Mary and what she was enduring. Picture to yourself (for I cannot tell you) the armies of thoughts that met and clashed in her brain; and then imagine the effort it cost her to be calm, and quiet, and even in a faint way, cheerful and smiling at times.
After a while she began to stir about in her own mind for some means of sparing the poor mother the trial of appearing as a witness in the matter of the gun. They had made no allusion to her summons this morning, and Mary almost thought she must have forgotten it; and surely some means might be found to prevent that additional sorrow. She must see Job about it; nay, if necessary, she must see Mr Bridgenorth, with all his truth-compelling powers; for, indeed, she had so struggled and triumphed (though a sadly-bleeding victor at heart) over herself these two last days, had so concealed agony, and hidden her inward woe and bewilderment, that she began to take confidence, and to have faith in her own powers of meeting any one with a passably fair show, whatever might be rending her life beneath the cloak of her deception.
Accordingly, as soon as Mrs Davenport came in after morning church, to ask after the two lone women, and she had heard the report Mary had to give (so much better as regarded Mrs Wilson than what they had feared the night before it would have been) - as soon as this kind-hearted, grateful woman came in, Mary, telling her her purpose, went off to fetch the doctor who attended Alice.
He was shaking himself after his morning's round, and happy in the anticipation of his Sunday's dinner; but he was a good-tempered man, who found it difficult to keep down his jovial easiness even by the bed of sickness or death. He had mischosen his profession: for it was his delight to see every one around him in full enjoyment of life.
However, he subdued his face to the proper expression of sympathy, befitting a doctor listening to a patient, or a patient's friend (and Mary's sad, pale, anxious face, might be taken for either the one, or the other).
"Well, my girl! and what brings you here?" said he, as he entered his surgery. "Not on your own account, I hope."
"I wanted you to come and see Alice Wilson, - and then I thought you would maybe take a look at Mrs Wilson."
He bustled on his hat and coat, and followed Mary, instantly.
After shaking his head over Alice (as if it was a mournful thing for one so pure and good, so true, although so humble a Christian, to be nearing her desired haven), and muttering the accustomed words intended to destroy hope, and prepare anticipation, he went in compliance with Mary's look to ask the usual questions of Mrs Wilson, who sat passively in her arm-chair.
She answered his questions, and submitted to his examination.
"How do you think her?" asked Mary, eagerly.
"Why - a," began he, perceiving that he was desired to take one side in his answer, and unable to find out whether his listener was anxious for a favourable verdict or otherwise; but thinking it most probable that she would desire the former, he continued,
"She is weak, certainly; the natural result of such a shock as the arrest of her son would be, - for I understand this James Wilson, who murdered Mr Carson, was her son. Sad thing to have such a reprobate in the family."
"You say 'who murdered,' sir!" said Mary, indignantly. "He is only taken up on suspicion, and many have no doubt of his innocence - those who know him, sir."
"Ah, well, well! doctors have seldom time to read newspapers, and I daresay I'm not very correct in my story. I dare say he's innocent; I'm sure I had no right to say otherwise, - only words slip out - No! indeed, young woman, I see no cause for apprehension about this poor creature in the next room; - weak - certainly; but a day or two's good nursing will set her up, and I'm sure you're a good nurse, my dear, from your pretty kind-hearted face, - I'll send a couple of pills and a draught, but don't alarm yourself - there's no occasion, I assure you."
"But you don't think her fit to go to Liverpool?" asked Mary, still in the anxious tone of one who wishes earnestly for some particular decision.
"To Liverpool - yes," replied he. "A short journey like that couldn't fatigue, and might distract her thoughts. Let her go by all means, - it would be the very thing for her."
"Oh, sir!" burst out Mary, almost sobbing; "I did so hope you would say she was too ill to go."
"Whew - " said he, with a prolonged whistle, trying to understand the case; but, being, as he said, no reader of newspapers, utterly unaware of the peculiar reasons there might be for so apparently unfeeling a wish, - "Why did you not tell me so sooner? It might certainly do her harm in her weak state! there is always some risk attending journeys - draughts, and what not. To her they might prove very injurious, - very. I disapprove of journeys or excitement, in all cases where the patient is in the low, fluttered state in which Mrs Wilson is. If you take my advice, you will certainly put a stop to all thoughts of going to Liverpool." He really had completely changed his opinion, though quite unconsciously; so desirous was he to comply with the wishes of others.
"Oh, sir, thank you! And will you give me a certificate of her being unable to go, if the lawyer says we must have one? The lawyer, you know," continued she, seeing him look puzzled, "who is to defend Jem, - it was as a witness against him----"
"My dear girl!" said he, almost angrily, "why did you not state the case fully at first? one minute would have done it, - and my dinner waiting all this time. To be sure, she can't go, - it would be madness to think of it; if her evidence could have done good, it would have been a different thing. Come to me for the certificate any time; that is to say, if the lawyer advises you. I second the lawyer; take counsel with both the learned professions - ha, ha, ha."
And laughing at his own joke, he departed, leaving Mary accusing herself of stupidity in having imagined that every one was as well acquainted with the facts concerning the trial as she was herself; for indeed she had never doubted that the doctor would have been aware of the purpose of poor Mrs Wilson's journey to Liverpool.
Presently she went to Job (the ever ready Mrs Davenport keeping watch over the two old women), and told him her fears, her plans, and her proceedings.
To her surprise he shook his head, doubtfully.
"It may have an awkward look, if we keep her back. Lawyers is up to tricks."
"But it is no trick," said Mary. "She is so poorly, she was last night so, at least; and to-day she's so faded and weak."
"Poor soul! I dare say. I only mean for Jem's sake; and so much is known, it won't do now to hang back. But I'll ask Mr Bridgenorth. I'll e'en take your doctor's advice. Yo tarry at home, and I'll come to yo in an hour's time. Go your ways, wench."
MRS WILSON'S DETERMINATION
Mary went home. Oh! how her head did ache, and how dizzy her brain was growing! But there would be time enough she felt for giving way hereafter.
So she sat quiet and still by an effort; sitting near the window, and looking out of it, but seeing nothing, when all at once she caught sight of something which roused her up, and made her draw back.
But it was too late. She had been seen.
Sally Leadbitter flaunted into the little dingy room, making it gaudy with the Sunday excess of colouring in her dress.
She was really curious to see Mary; her connection with a murderer seemed to have made her into a sort of lusus naturae, and was almost, by some, expected to have made a change in her personal appearance, so earnestly did they stare at her. But Mary had been too much absorbed the last day or two to notice this.
Now Sally had a grand view, and looked her over and over (a very different thing from looking her through and through), and almost learnt her off by heart: - "Her every-day gown (Hoyle's print you know, that lilac thing with the high body) she was so fond of; a little black silk handkerchief just knotted round her neck, like a boy; her hair all taken back from her face, as if she wanted to keep her head cool - she would always keep that hair of hers so long; and her hands twitching continually about----"
Such particulars would make Sally into a Gazette Extraordinary the next morning at the work-room, and were worth coming for, even if little else could be extracted from Mary.
"Why, Mary!" she began. "Where have you hidden yourself? You never showed your face all yesterday at Miss Simmonds's. You don't fancy we think any the worse of you for what's come and gone. Some on us, indeed, were a bit sorry for the poor young man, as lies stiff and cold for your sake, Mary; but we shall ne'er cast it up against you. Miss Simmonds, too, will be mighty put out if you don't come, for there's a deal of mourning, agait."
"I can't," Mary said, in a low voice. "I don't mean ever to come again."
"Why, Mary!" said Sally, in unfeigned surprise. "To be sure, you'll have to be in Liverpool, Tuesday, and maybe Wednesday; but after that you'll surely come, and tell us all about it. Miss Simmonds knows you'll have to be off those two days. But between you and me, she's a bit of a gossip, and will like hearing all how and about the trial, well enough to let you off very easy for your being absent a day or two. Besides, Betsy Morgan was saying yesterday, she shouldn't wonder but you'd prove quite an attraction to customers. Many a one would come and have their gowns made by Miss Simmonds just to catch a glimpse at you, at after the trial's over. Really, Mary, you'll turn out quite a heroine."
The little fingers twitched worse than ever; the large soft eyes looked up pleadingly into Sally's face; but she went on in the same strain, not from any unkind or cruel feeling towards Mary, but solely because she was incapable of comprehending her suffering.
She had been shocked, of course, at Mr Carson's death, though at the same time the excitement was rather pleasant than otherwise; and dearly now would she have enjoyed the conspicuous notice which Mary was sure to receive.
"How shall you like being cross-examined, Mary?"
"Not at all," answered Mary, when she found she must answer.
"La! what impudent fellows those lawyers are! And their clerks, too, not a bit better. I shouldn't wonder" (in a comforting tone, and really believing she was giving comfort) "if you picked up a new sweetheart in Liverpool. What gown are you going in, Mary?"
"Oh, I don't know and don't care," exclaimed Mary, sick and weary of her visitor.
"Well, then! take my advice, and go in that blue merino. It's old to be sure, and a bit worn at elbows, but folk won't notice that, and th' colour suits you. Now mind, Mary. And I'll lend you my black-watered scarf," added she, really good-naturedly, according to her sense of things, and withal, a little bit pleased at the idea of her pet article of dress figuring away on the person of a witness at a trial for murder.
"I'll bring it to-morrow before you start."
"No, don't!" said Mary; "thank you, but I don't want it."
"Why, what can you wear? I know all your clothes as well as I do my own, and what is there you can wear? Not your old plaid shawl, I do hope? You would not fancy this I have on, more nor the scarf, would you?" said she, brightening up at the thought, and willing to lend it, or anything else.
"Oh, Sally! don't go on talking a-that-ns; how can I think on dress at such a time? When it's a matter of life and death to Jem?"
"Bless the girl! It's Jem, is it? Well, now I thought there was some sweetheart in the back-ground, when you flew off so with Mr Carson. Then what, in the name of goodness, made him shoot Mr Harry? After you had given up going with him, I mean? Was he afraid you'd be on again?"
"How dare you say he shot Mr Harry?" asked Mary, firing up from the state of languid indifference into which she had sunk while Sally had been settling about her dress. "But it's no matter what you think, as did not know him. What grieves me is, that people should go on thinking him guilty as did know him," she said, sinking back into her former depressed tone and manner.
"And don't you think he did it?" asked Sally.
Mary paused; she was going on too fast with one so curious and so unscrupulous. Besides she remembered how even she herself had, at first, believed him guilty; and she felt it was not for her to cast stones at those who, on similar evidence, inclined to the same belief. None had given him much benefit of a doubt. None had faith in his innocence. None but his mother; and there the heart loved more than the head reasoned, and her yearning affection had never for an instant entertained the idea that her Jem was a murderer. But Mary disliked the whole conversation; the subject, the manner in which it was treated, were all painful, and she had a repugnance to the person with whom she spoke.
She was thankful, therefore, when Job Legh's voice was heard at the door, as he stood with the latch in his hand, talking to a neighbour, and when Sally jumped up in vexation and said, "There's that old fogey coming in here, as I'm alive! Did your father set him to look after you while he was away? or what brings the old chap here? However, I'm off; I never could abide either him or his prim grand-daughter. Good-bye, Mary."
So far in a whisper, then louder, "If you think better of my offer about the scarf, Mary, just step in to-morrow before nine, and you're quite welcome to it."
She and Job passed each other at the door, with mutual looks of dislike, which neither took any pains to conceal.
"Yon's a bold, bad girl," said Job to Mary.
"She's very good-natured," replied Mary, too honourable to abuse a visitor who had only that instant crossed her threshold, and gladly dwelling on the good quality most apparent in Sally's character.
"Aye, aye! good-natured, generous, jolly, full of fun; there are a number of other names for the good qualities the devil leaves his children, as baits to catch gudgeons with. D'ye think folk could be led astray by one who was every way bad? Howe'er, that's not what I came to talk about. I've seen Mr Bridgenorth, and he is in a manner of the same mind as we; he thinks it would have an awkward look, and might tell against the poor lad on his trial; still if she's ill she's ill, and it can't be helped."
"I don't know if she's so bad as all that," said Mary, who began to dread her part in doing anything which might tell against her poor lover.
"Will you come and see her, Job? The doctor seemed to say as I liked, not as he thought."
"That's because he had no great thought on the subject, either one way or t'other," replied Job, whose contempt for medical men pretty nearly equalled his respect for lawyers. "But I'll go and welcome. I han not seen th' oud ladies since their sorrows, and it's but manners to go and ax after them. Come along."
The room at Mrs Wilson's had that still, changeless look you must have often observed in the house of sickness and mourning. No particular employment going on; people watching and waiting rather than acting, unless in the more sudden and violent attacks: what little movement is going on, so noiseless and hushed; the furniture all arranged and stationary, with a view to the comfort of the afflicted; the window-blinds drawn down, to keep out the disturbing variety of a sunbeam; the same saddened serious look on the faces of the in-dwellers; you fall back into the same train of thought with all these associations, and forget the street, the outer world, in the contemplation of the one stationary, absorbing interest within.
Mrs Wilson sat quietly in her chair, with just the same look Mary had left on her face; Mrs Davenport went about with creaking shoes which made all the more noise from her careful and lengthened tread: annoying the ears of those who were well, in this instance, far more than the dull senses of the sick and the sorrowful. Alice's voice still was going on cheerfully in the upper room with incessant talking and little laughs to herself, or perhaps in sympathy with her unseen companions; "unseen," I say, in preference to "fancied," for who knows whether God does not permit the forms of those who were dearest when living, to hover round the bed of the dying?
Job spoke, and Mrs Wilson answered.
So quietly that it was unnatural under the circumstances. It made a deeper impression on the old man than any token of mere bodily illness could have done. If she had raved in delirium, or moaned in fever, he could have spoken after his wont, and given his opinion, his advice, and his consolation: now he was awed into silence.
At length he pulled Mary aside into a corner of the house-place, where Mrs Wilson was sitting, and began to talk to her.
"Yo're right, Mary! She's no ways fit to go to Liverpool, poor soul. Now I've seen her I only wonder the doctor could ha' been unsettled in his mind at th' first. Choose how it goes wi' poor Jem, she cannot go. One way or another it will soon be over, the best to leave her in the state she is till then."
"I was sure you would think so," said Mary.
But they were reckoning without their host. They esteemed her senses gone, while, in fact, they were only inert, and could not convey impressions rapidly to the over-burdened, troubled brain. They had not noticed that her eyes had followed them (mechanically it seemed at first) as they had moved away to the corner of the room; that her face, hitherto so changeless, had begun to work with one or two of the old symptoms of impatience.
But when they were silent she stood up, and startled them almost as if a dead person had spoken, by saying clearly and decidedly - " I go to Liverpool. I hear you and your plans; and I tell you I shall go to Liverpool. If my words are to kill my son, they have already gone forth out of my mouth, and nought can bring them back. But I will have faith. Alice (up above) has often telled me I wanted faith, and now I will have it. They cannot - they will not kill my child, my only child. I will not be afeared. Yet oh! I am so sick with terror. But if he is to die, think ye not that I will see him again; ay! see him at his trial? When all are hating him, he shall have his poor mother near him, to give him all the comfort, eyes, and looks, and tears, and a heart that is dead to all but him, can give; his poor old mother, who knows how free he is from sin - in the sight of man at least. They'll let me go to him, maybe, the very minute it's over; and I know many Scripture texts (though you would not think it), that may keep up his heart. I missed seeing him ere he went to yon prison, but nought shall keep me away again one minute when I can see his face; for maybe the minutes are numbered, and the count but small. I know I can be a comfort to him, poor lad. You would not think it now, but he'd always speak as kind and soft to me as if he were courting me, like. He loved me above a bit; and I am to leave him now to dree all the cruel slander they'll put upon him? I can pray for him at each hard word they say against him, if I can do nought else; and he'll know what his mother is doing for him, poor lad, by the look on my face."
Still they made some look, or gesture of opposition to her wishes. She turned sharp round on Mary, the old object of her pettish attacks, and said, "Now wench! once for all, I tell you this. He could never guide me; and he'd sense enough not to try. What he could na do, don't you try. I shall go to Liverpool to-morrow, and find my lad, and stay with him through thick and thin; and if he dies, why, perhaps, God of His mercy will take me too. The grave is a sure cure for an aching heart!"
She sank back in her chair, quite exhausted by the sudden effort she had made; but if they even offered to speak, she cut them short (whatever the subject might be), with the repetition of the same words, "I shall go to Liverpool."
No more could be said, the doctor's opinion had been so undecided; Mr Bridgenorth had given his legal voice in favour of her going, and Mary was obliged to relinquish the idea of persuading her to remain at home, if, indeed, under all the circumstances, it could be thought desirable.
"Best way will be," said Job "for me to hunt out Will, early to-morrow morning, and yo, Mary, come at after with Jane Wilson. I know a decent woman where yo two can have a bed, and where we may meet together when I've found Will, afore going to Mr Bridgenorth's at two o'clock; for, I can tell him, I'll not trust none of his clerks for hunting up Will, if Jem's life's to depend on it."
Now Mary disliked this plan inexpressibly; her dislike was partly grounded on reason, and partly on feeling. She could not bear the idea of deputing to any one the active measures necessary to be taken in order to save Jem. She felt as if they were her duty, her right. She durst not trust to any one the completion of her plan: they might not have energy, or perseverance, or desperation enough to follow out the slightest chance; and her love would endow her with all these qualities, independently of the terrible alternative which awaited her in case all failed and Jem was condemned. No one could have her motives; and consequently no one could have her sharpened brain, her despairing determination. Beside (only that was purely selfish), she could not endure the suspense of remaining quiet, and only knowing the result when all was accomplished.
So with vehemence and impatience she rebutted every reason Job adduced for his plan; and, of course, thus opposed, by what appeared to him wilfulness, he became more resolute, and angry words were exchanged, and a feeling of estrangement rose up between them, for a time, as they walked homewards.
But then came in Margaret with her gentleness, like an angel of peace, so calm and reasonable, that both felt ashamed of their irritation, and tacitly left the decision to her (only, by the way, I think Mary could never have submitted if it had gone against her, penitent and tearful as was her manner now to Job, the good old man who was helping her to work for Jem, although they differed as to the manner).
"Mary had better go," said Margaret to her grand-father, in a low tone, "I know what she's feeling, and it will be a comfort to her soon, maybe, to think she did all she could herself. She would perhaps fancy it might have been different; do, grandfather, let her."
Margaret had still, you see, little or no belief in Jem's innocence; and besides she thought if Mary saw Will, and heard herself from him that Jem had not been with him that Thursday night, it would in a measure break the force of the blow which was impending.
"Let me lock up house, grandfather, for a couple of days, and go and stay with Alice. It's but little one like me can do, I know" (she added softly); "but, by the blessing o' God, I'll do it and welcome; and here comes one kindly use o' money, I can hire them as will do for her what I cannot. Mrs Davenport is a willing body, and one who knows sorrow and sickness, and I can pay her for her time, and keep her there pretty near altogether. So let that be settled. And you take Mrs Wilson, dear grandad, and let Mary go find Will, and you can all meet together at after, and I'm sure I wish you luck."
Job consented with only a few dissenting grunts; but on the whole with a very good grace for an old man who had been so positive only a few minutes before.
Mary was thankful for Margaret's interference. She did not speak, but threw her arms round Margaret's neck, and put up her rosy-red mouth to be kissed; and even Job was attracted by the pretty child-like gesture; and when she drew near him, afterwards like a little creature sidling up to some person whom it feels to have offended, he bent down and blessed her, as if she had been a child of his own.
To Mary the old man's blessing came like words of power.
THE JOURNEY TO LIVERPOOL
The early trains for Liverpool, on Monday morning, were crowded by attorneys, attorneys' clerks, plaintiffs, defendants, and witnesses, all going to the Assizes. They were a motley assembly, each with some cause for anxiety stirring at his heart; though, after all, that is saying little or nothing, for we are all of us in the same predicament through life; each with a fear and a hope from childhood and death. Among the passengers there was Mary Barton, dressed in the blue gown and obnoxious plaid shawl.
Common as railroads are now in all places as a means of transit, and especially in Manchester, Mary had never been on one before; and she felt bewildered by the hurry, the noise of people, and bells, and horns; the whiz and the scream of the arriving trains.
The very journey itself seemed to her a matter of wonder. She had a back seat, and looked towards the factory-chimneys, and the cloud or smoke which hovers over Manchester, with a feeling akin to the "Heimweh." She was losing sight of the familiar objects of her childhood for the first time; and unpleasant as these objects are to most, she yearned after them with some of the same sentiment which gives pathos to the thoughts of the emigrant.
The cloud-shadows which give beauty to Chat-Moss, the picturesque old houses of Newton, what were they to Mary, whose heart was full of many things? Yet she seemed to look at them earnestly as they glided past; but she neither saw nor heard.
She neither saw nor heard till some well-known names fell upon her ear.
Two lawyers' clerks were discussing the cases to come on that Assizes; of course, "the murder case," as it had come to be termed, held a conspicuous place in their conversation.
They had no doubt of the result.
"Juries are very unwilling to convict on circumstantial evidence, it is true," said one, "but there can hardly be any doubt."
"If it had not been so clear a case," replied the other, "I should have said they were injudicious in hurrying on the trial so much. Still more evidence might have been collected."
"They tell me," said the first speaker - "the people in Gardener's office, I mean - that it was really feared the old gentleman would have gone out of his mind, if the trial had been delayed. He was with Mr Gardener as many as seven times on Saturday, and called him up at night to suggest that some letter should be written, or something done to secure the verdict."
"Poor old man," answered his companion, "who can wonder? - an only son, - such a death, - the disagreeable circumstances attending it; I had not time to read the Guardian on Saturday, but I understand it was some dispute about a factory girl?"
"Yes, some such person. Of course she'll be examined, and Williams will do it in style. I shall slip out from our court to hear him, if I can hit the nick of time."
"And if you can get a place, you mean, for depend upon it the court will be crowded."
"Aye, aye, the ladies (sweet souls) will come in shoals to hear a trial for murder, and see the murderer, and watch the judge put on his black cap."
"And then go home and groan over the Spanish ladies who take delight in bull-fights - 'such unfeminine creatures!'"
Then they went on to other subjects.
It was but another drop to Mary's cup; but she was nearly in that state which Crabbe describes:
And now they were in the tunnel! - and now they were in Liverpool; and she must rouse herself from the torpor of mind and body which was creeping over her; the result of much anxiety and fatigue, and several sleepless nights.
She asked a policeman the way to Milk-House Yard, and following his directions with the savoir faire of a town-bred girl, she reached a little court leading out of a busy, thronged street, not far from the Docks.
When she entered the quiet little yard, she stopped to regain her breath, and to gather strength, for her limbs trembled, and her heart beat violently.
All the unfavourable contingencies she had, until now, forbidden herself to dwell upon, came forward to her mind - the possibility, the bare possibility, of Jem being an accomplice in the murder - the still greater possibility that he had not fulfilled his intention of going part of the way with Will, but had been led off by some little accidental occurrence from his original intention; and that he had spent the evening with those whom it was now too late to bring forward as witnesses.
But sooner or later she must know the truth; so, taking courage, she knocked at the door of a house.
"Is this Mrs Jones's?" she inquired.
"Next door but one," was the curt answer.
And even this extra minute was a reprieve.
Mrs Jones was busy washing, and would have spoken angrily to the person who knocked so gently at the door, if anger had been in her nature; but she was a soft, helpless kind of woman, and only sighed over the many interruptions she had had to her business that unlucky Monday morning.
But the feeling which would have been anger in a more impatient temper, took the form of prejudice against the disturber, whoever he or she might be.
Mary's fluttered and excited appearance strengthened this prejudice in Mrs Jones's mind, as she stood, stripping the soap-suds off her arms, while she eyed her visitor, and waited to be told what her business was.
But no words would come. Mary's voice seemed choked up in her throat.
"Pray what do you want, young woman?" coldly asked Mrs Jones at last.
"I want - Oh! is Will Wilson here?"
"No, he is not," replied Mrs Jones, inclining to shut the door in her face.
"Is he not back from the Isle of Man?" asked Mary, sickening.
"He never went; he stayed in Manchester too long; as perhaps you know, already."
And again the door seemed closing.
But Mary bent forwards with suppliant action (as some young tree bends, when blown by the rough, autumnal wind), and gasped out,
"Tell me - tell me - where is he?"
Mrs Jones suspected some love affair, and, perhaps, one of not the most creditable kind; but the distress of the pale young creature before her was so obvious and so pitiable, that were she ever so sinful, Mrs Jones could no longer uphold her short, reserved manner.
"He's gone this very morning, my poor girl. Step in, and I'll tell you about it."
"Gone!" cried Mary. "How gone? I must see him - it's a matter of life and death: he can save the innocent from being hanged, - he cannot be gone, - how gone?"
"Sailed, my dear! Sailed in the John Cropper this very blessed morning."
IN THE LIVERPOOL DOCKS
Mary staggered into the house. Mrs Jones placed her tenderly in a chair; and there stood bewildered by her side.
"Oh, father! father!" muttered she, "what have you done! - What must I do? must the innocent die? - or he - whom I fear - I fear - oh! what am I saying?" said she, looking round affrighted, and, seemingly reassured by Mrs Jones's countenance, "I am so helpless, so weak, - but a poor girl after all. How can I tell what is right? Father! you have always been so kind to me, - and you to be - never mind - never mind, all will come right in the grave."
"Save us, and bless us!" exclaimed Mrs Jones, "if I don't think she's gone out of her wits!"
"No, I am not!" said Mary, catching at the words, and with a strong effort controlling the mind she felt to be wandering, while the red blood flushed to scarlet the heretofore white cheek, - I'm not out of my senses; there is so much to be done - so much - and no one but me to do it, you know, - though I can't rightly tell what it is," looking up with bewilderment into Mrs Jones's face. "I must not go mad whatever comes - at least not yet. No!" (bracing herself up) "something may yet be done, and I must do it. Sailed! did you say? The John Cropper? Sailed?"
"Aye! she went out of dock last night, to be ready for the morning's tide."
"I thought she was not to sail till to-morrow," murmured Mary.
"So did Will (he's lodged here long, so we all call him 'Will')" replied Mrs Jones. "The mate had told him so, I believe, and he never knew different till he got to Liverpool on Friday morning; but as soon as he heard, he gave up going to the Isle o' Man, and just ran over to Rhyl with the mate, one John Harris, as has friends a bit beyond Abergele; you may have heard him speak on him, for they are great chums, though I've my own opinion of Harris."
"And he's sailed?" repeated Mary, trying by repetition to realise the fact to herself.
"Aye, he went on board last night to be ready for the morning's tide, as I said afore, and my boy went to see the ship go down the river, and came back all agog with the sight. Here Charley, Charley!" She called out loudly for her son; but Charley was one of those boys who are never "far to seek," as the Lancashire people say, when anything is going on; a mysterious conversation, an unusual event, a fire, or a riot, anything in short; such boys are the little omnipresent people of this world.
Charley had, in fact, been spectator and auditor all this time; though for a little while he had been engaged in "dollying" and a few other mischievous feats in the washing line, which had prevented his attention from being fully given to his mother's conversation with the strange girl who had entered.
"Oh, Charley! there you are! Did you not see the John Cropper sail down the river this morning? Tell the young woman about it, for I think she hardly credits me."
"I saw her tugged down the river by a steam-boat, which comes to same thing," replied he.
"Oh! if I had but come last night!" moaned Mary. "But I never thought of it. I never thought but what he knew right when he said he would be back from the Isle of Man on Monday morning, and not afore - and now some one must die for my negligence!"
"Die!" exclaimed the lad. "How?"
"Oh! Will would have proved an alibi, - but he's gone, - and what am I to do?"
"Don't give it up yet," cried the energetic boy, interested at once in the case; "let's have a try for him. We are but where we were, if we fail."
Mary roused herself. The sympathetic "we" gave her heart and hope. "But what can be done? You say he's sailed; what can be done?" But she spoke louder, and in a more life-like tone.
"No! I did not say he'd sailed; mother said that, and women know nought about such matters. You see" (proud of his office of instructor, and insensibly influenced, as all about her were, by Mary's sweet, earnest, lovely countenance), "there's sand-banks at the mouth of the river, and ships can't get over them but at high water; especially ships of heavy burden, like the John Cropper. Now she was tugged down the river at low water, or pretty near, and will have to lie some time before the water will be high enough to float her over the banks. So hold up your head, - you've a chance yet, though, maybe, but a poor one.
"But what must I do?" asked Mary, to whom all this explanation had been a vague mystery.
"Do!" said the boy, impatiently, "why, have not I told you? Only women (begging your pardon) are so stupid at understanding about any thing belonging to the sea; - you must get a boat, and make all haste, and sail after him, - after the John Cropper. You may overtake her, or you may not. It's just a chance; but she's heavily laden, and that's in your favour. She'll draw many feet of water."
Mary had humbly and eagerly (oh, how eagerly!) listened to this young Sir Oracle's speech; but try as she would, she could only understand that she must make haste, and sail - somewhere.
"I beg your pardon" (and her little acknowledgment of inferiority in this speech pleased the lad, and made him her still more zealous friend). "I beg your pardon," said she, "but I don't know where to get a boat. Are there boat-stands?"
The lad laughed outright.
"You're not long in Liverpool, I guess. Boat-stands! No; go down to the pier, - any pier will do, and hire a boat, - you'll be at no loss when once you are there. Only make haste."
"Oh, you need not tell me that, if I but knew how," said Mary, trembling with eagerness. "But you say right, - I never was here before, and I don't know my way to the place you speak on; only tell me, and I'll not lose a minute."
"Mother!" said the wilful lad, "I'm going to show her the way to the pier; I'll be back in an hour, - or so," he added in a lower tone.
And before the gentle Mrs Jones could collect her scattered wits sufficiently to understand half of the hastily formed plan, her son was scudding down the street, closely followed by Mary's half-running steps.
Presently he slackened his pace sufficiently to enable him to enter into conversation with Mary, for once escaped from the reach of his mother's recalling voice, he thought he might venture to indulge his curiosity.
"Ahem! - What's your name? It's so awkward to be calling you 'young woman.'"
"My name is Mary, - Mary Barton," answered she, anxious to propitiate one who seemed so willing to exert himself in her behalf, or else she grudged every word which caused the slightest relaxation in her speed, although her chest seemed tightened, and her head throbbing, from the rate at which they were walking.
"And you want Will Wilson to prove an alibi - is that it?"
"Yes - oh , yes - can we not cross now?"
"No, wait a minute; it's the teagle hoisting above your bead I'm afraid of; - and who is it that's to be tried?"
"Jem; oh, lad! can't we get past?"
They rushed under the great bales quivering in the air above their heads and pressed onwards for a few minutes, till Master Charley saw fit to walk a little slower, and ask a few more questions.
"Mary, is Jem your brother, or your sweetheart, that you're so set upon saving him?"
"No - no," replied she, but with something of hesitation, that made the shrewd boy yet more anxious to clear up the mystery.
"Perhaps he's your cousin, then? Many a girl has a cousin who has not a sweetheart."
"No, he's neither kith nor kin to me. What's the matter? What are you stopping for?" said she, with nervous terror, as Charley turned back a few steps, and peered up a side street.
"Oh, nothing to flurry you so, Mary. I heard you say to mother you had never been in Liverpool before, and if you'll only look up this street you may see the back windows of our Exchange. Such a building as yon is! with 'natomy hiding under a blanket, and Lord Admiral Nelson, and a few more people in the middle of the court! No! come here," as Mary, in her eagerness, was looking at any window that caught her eye first, to satisfy the boy. "Here then, now, you can see it. You can say, now, you've seen Liverpool Exchange."
"Yes, to be sure - it's a beautiful window, I'm sure. But are we near the boats? I'll stop as I come back, you know; only I think we'd better get on now."
"Oh! if the wind's in your favour you'll be down the river in no time, and catch Will, I'll be bound; and if it's not, why, you know the minute it took you to look at the Exchange will be neither here nor there."
Another rush onwards, till one of the long crossings near the Docks caused a stoppage, and gave Mary time for breathing, and Charley leisure to ask another question.
"You've never said where you come from?"
"Manchester," replied she.
"Eh, then! you've a power of things to see. Liverpool beats Manchester hollow, they say. A nasty, smoky hole, bean't it? Are you bound to live there?"
"Oh, yes! it's my home."
"Well, I don't think I could abide a home in the middle of smoke. Look there! now you see the river! That's something now you'd give a good deal for in Manchester. Look!"
And Mary did look, and saw down an opening made in the forest of masts belonging to the vessels in dock, the glorious river, along which white-sailed ships were gliding with the ensigns of all nations, not "braving the battle," but telling of the distant lands, spicy or frozen, that sent to that mighty mart for their comforts or their luxuries; she saw small boats passing to and fro on that glittering highway, but she also saw such puffs and clouds of smoke from the countless steamers that she wondered at Charley's intolerance of the smoke of Manchester. Across the swing-bridge, along the pier, - and they stood breathless by a magnificent dock, where hundreds of ships lay motionless during the process of loading and unloading. The cries of the sailors, the variety of languages used by the passers-by, and the entire novelty of the sight compared with anything which Mary had ever seen, made her feel most helpless and forlorn; and she clung to her young guide as to one who alone by his superior knowledge could interpret between her and the new race of men by whom she was surrounded, - for a new race sailors might reasonably be considered, to a girl who had hitherto seen none but inland dwellers, and those for the greater part factory people.
In that new world of sight and sound, she still bore one prevailing thought, and though her eye glanced over the ships and the wide-spreading river, her mind was full of the thought of reaching Will.
"Why are we here?" asked she, of Charley. "There are no little boats about, and I thought I was to go in a little boat; those ships are not meant for short distances, are they?"
"To be sure not," replied he, rather contemptuously. "But the John Cropper lay in this dock, and I know many of the sailors; and if I could see one I knew, I'd ask him to run up the mast, and see if he could catch a sight of her in the offing. If she's weighed her anchor, no use for your going, you know."
Mary assented quietly to this speech, as if she were as careless as Charley seemed now to be about her overtaking Will; but in truth her heart was sinking within her, and she no longer felt the energy which had hitherto upheld her. Her bodily strength was giving way, and she stood cold and shivering, although the noon-day sun beat down with considerable power on the shadeless spot where she was standing.
"Here's Tom Bourne!" said Charley, and altering his manner from the patronising key in which he had spoken to Mary, he addressed a weather-beaten old sailor who came rolling along the pathway where they stood, his hands in his pockets, and his quid in his mouth, with very much the air of one who had nothing to do but look about him, and spit right and left; addressing this old tar, Charley made known to him his wish in slang, which to Mary was almost inaudible, and quite unintelligible, and which I am too much of a land-lubber to repeat correctly.
Mary watched looks and actions with a renovated keenness of perception.
She saw the old man listen attentively to Charley; she saw him eye her over from head to foot, and wind up his inspection with a little nod of approbation (for her very shabbiness and poverty of dress were creditable signs to the experienced old sailor), and then she watched him leisurely swing himself on to a ship in the basin, and, borrowing a glass, run up the mast with the speed of a monkey.
"He'll fall!" said she, in affright, clutching at Charley's arm, and judging the sailor, from his storm-marked face and unsteady walk on land, to be much older than he really was.
"Not he!" said Charley. "He's at the mast-head now. See! he's looking through his glass, and using his arms as steady as if he were on dry land. Why, I've been up the mast, many and many a time; only don't tell mother. She thinks I'm to be a shoemaker, but I've made up my mind to be a sailor; only there's no good arguing with a woman. You'll not tell her, Mary?"
"Oh, see!" exclaimed she (his secret was very safe with her, for, in fact, she had not heard it); see! he's coming down; he's down. Speak to him, Charley."
But, unable to wait another instant, she called out herself,
"Can you see the John Cropper? Is she there yet?"
"Aye, aye," he answered, and coming quickly up to them, he hurried them away to seek for a boat, saying the bar was already covered, and in an hour the ship would hoist her sails, and be off. "You've the wind right against you, and must use oars. No time to lose."
They ran to some steps leading down to the water. They beckoned to some watermen, who, suspecting the real state of the case, appeared in no hurry for a fare, but leisurely brought their boat along the stairs, as if it were a matter of indifference to them whether they were engaged or not, while they conversed together in few words, and in an under tone, respecting the charge they should make.
"Oh, pray make haste," called Mary. "I want you to take me to the John Cropper. Where is she, Charley? Tell them - I don't rightly know the words, - only make haste!"
"In the offing she is, sure enough, miss," answered one of the men, shoving Charley on one side, regarding him as too young to be a principal in the bargain.
"I don't think we can go, Dick," said he, with a wink to his companion; "there's the gentleman over at New Brighton as wants us."
"But, mayhap, the young woman will pay us handsome for giving her a last look at her sweetheart," interposed the other.
"Oh, how much do you want? Only make haste - I've enough to pay you, but every moment is precious," said Mary.
"Aye, that it is. Less than an hour won't take us to the mouth of the river, and she'll be off by two o'clock!"
Poor Mary's ideas of "plenty of money," however, were different to those entertained by the boatmen. Only fourteen or fifteen shillings remained out of the sovereign Margaret had lent her, and the boatmen imagining "plenty" to mean no less than several pounds, insisted upon receiving a sovereign (an exorbitant fare by-the-way, although reduced from their first demand of thirty shillings).
While Charley, with a boy's impatience of delay, and disregard to money, kept urging,
"Give it 'em, Mary; they'll none of them take you for less. It's your only chance. There's St Nicholas ringing one!"
"I've only got fourteen and ninepence," cried she, in despair, after counting over her money; "but I'll give you my shawl, and you can sell it for four or five shillings, - oh! won't that much do?" asked she, in such a tone of voice, that they must indeed have had hard hearts who could refuse such agonized entreaty.
They took her on board.
And in less than five minutes she was rocking and tossing in a boat for the first time in her life, alone with two rough, hard-looking men.
"JOHN CROPPER," AHOY!
Mary had not understood that Charley was not coming with her. In fact, she had not thought about it, till she perceived his absence, as they pushed off from the landing-place, and remembered that she had never thanked him for all his kind interest in her behalf; and now his absence made her feel most lonely - even his, the little mushroom friend of an hour's growth.
The boat threaded her way through the maze of larger vessels which surrounded the shore, bumping against one, kept off by the oars from going right against another, overshadowed by a third, until at length they were fairly out on the broad river, away from either shore; the sights and sounds of land being heard in the distance.
And then came a sort of pause.
Both wind and tide were against the two men, and labour as they would they made but little way. Once Mary in her impatience had risen up to obtain a better view of the progress they had made; but the men had roughly told her to sit down immediately, and she had dropped on her seat like a chidden child, although the impatience was still at her heart.
But now she grew sure they were turning from the straight course which they had hitherto kept on the Cheshire side of the river, whither they had gone to avoid the force of the current, and after a short time she could not help naming her conviction, as a kind of nightmare dread and belief came over her, that every thing animate and inanimate was in league against her one sole aim and object of overtaking Will.
They answered gruffly. They saw a boatman whom they knew, and were desirous of obtaining his services as a steersman, so that both might row with greater effect They knew what they were about. So she sat silent with clenched hands while the parley went on, the explanation was given, the favour asked and granted. But she was sickening all the time with nervous fear.
They had been rowing a long, long time - half a day it seemed, at least - yet Liverpool appeared still close at hand, and Mary began almost to wonder that the men were not as much disheartened as she was, when the wind, which had been hitherto against them, dropped, and thin clouds began to gather over the sky, shutting out the sun, and casting a chilly gloom over everything.
There was not a breath of air, and yet it was colder than when the soft violence of the westerly wind had been felt.
The men renewed their efforts. The boat gave a bound forwards at every pull of the oars. The water was glassy and motionless, reflecting tint by tint of the Indian-ink sky above. Mary shivered, and her heart sank within her. Still now they evidently were making progress. Then the steersman pointed to a rippling line in the river only a little way off, and the men disturbed Mary, who was watching the ships that lay in what appeared to her the open sea, to get at their sails.
She gave a little start, and rose. Her patience, her grief, and perhaps her silence, had begun to win upon the men.
"Yon second to the norrard is the John Cropper. Wind's right now, and sails will soon carry us along side of her."
He had forgotten (or perhaps he did not like to remind Mary), that the same wind which now bore their little craft along with easy, rapid motion, would also be favourable to the John Cropper.
But as they looked with straining eyes, as if to measure the decreasing distance that separated them from her, they saw her sails unfurled and flap in the breeze, till, catching the right point, they bellied forth into white roundness, and the ship began to plunge and heave, as if she were a living creature, impatient to be off.
"They're heaving anchor!" said one of the boatmen to the other, as the faint musical cry of the sailors came floating over the waters that still separated them.
Full of the spirit of the chase, though as yet ignorant of Mary's motive, the men sprung to hoist another sail. It was fully as much as the boat could bear, in the keen, gusty east wind which was now blowing, and she bent, and laboured, and ploughed, and creaked upbraidingly as if taxed beyond her strength; but she sped along with a gallant swiftness.
They drew nearer, and they heard the distant "ahoy" more clearly. It ceased. The anchor was up, and the ship was away.
Mary stood up, steadying herself by the mast, and stretched out her arms, imploring the flying vessel to stay its course, by that mute action, while the tears streamed down her cheeks. The men caught up their oars, and hoisted them in the air, and shouted to arrest attention.
They were seen by the men aboard the larger craft; but they were too busy with all the confusion prevalent in an outward-bound vessel to pay much attention. There were coils of ropes and seamen's chests to be stumbled over at every turn; there were animals, not properly secured, roaming bewildered about the deck, adding their pitiful lowings and bleatings to the aggregate of noises. There were carcases not cut up, looking like corpses of sheep and pigs rather than like mutton and pork; there were sailors running here and there and everywhere, having had no time to fall into method, and with their minds divided between thoughts of the land and the people they had left, and the present duties on board ship; while the captain strove hard to procure some kind of order by hasty commands given, in a loud, impatient voice, to right and left, starboard and larboard, cabin and steerage.
As he paced the deck with a chafed step, vexed at one or two little mistakes on the part of the mate, and suffering himself from the pain of separation from wife and children, but showing his suffering only by his outward irritation, he heard a hail from the shabby little river boat that was striving to overtake his winged ship. For the men fearing that, as the ship was now fairly over the bar, they should only increase the distance between them, and being now within shouting range, had asked of Mary her more particular desire.
Her throat was dry, all musical sound had gone out of her voice; but in a loud, harsh whisper she told the men her errand of life and death, and they hailed the ship.
"We're come for one William Wilson, who is wanted to prove an alibi in Liverpool Assize Court to-morrow. James Wilson is to be tried for a murder done on Thursday night when he was with William Wilson. Any thing more, missus?" asked the boatman of Mary, in a lower voice, and taking his hands down from his mouth.
"Say I'm Mary Barton. Oh, the ship is going on! Oh, for the love of Heaven, ask them to stop."
The boatman was angry at the little regard paid to his summons, and called out again; repeating the message with the name of the young woman who sent it, and interlarding it with sailors' oaths.
The ship flew along - away, - the boat struggled after.
They could see the captain take his speaking-trumpet. And oh! and alas! they heard his words.
He swore a dreadful oath; he called Mary a disgraceful name; and he said he would not stop his ship for any one, nor could he part with a single hand, whoever swung for it.
The words came in unpitying clearness with their trumpet-sound. Mary sat down looking like one who prays in the death agony. For her eyes were turned up to that Heaven, where mercy dwelleth, while her blue lips quivered, though no sound came. Then she bowed her head and hid it in her hands.
"Hark! yon sailor hails us."
She looked up. And her heart stopped its beating to listen.
William Wilson stood as near the stern of the vessel as he could get; and unable to obtain the trumpet from the angry captain, made a tube of his own hands.
"So help me God, Mary Barton, I'll come back in the pilot-boat, time enough to save the life of the innocent."
"What does he say?" asked Mary, wildly, as the voice died away in the increasing distance, while the boatmen cheered, in their kindled sympathy with their passenger.
"What does he say?" repeated she. "Tell me. I could not hear."
She had heard with her ears, but her brain refused to recognise the sense.
They repeated his speech, all three speaking at once, with many comments; while Mary looked at them and then at the vessel far away.
"I don't rightly know about it," said she, sorrowfully. "What is the pilot-boat?"
They told her, and she gathered the meaning out of the sailors' slang which enveloped it. There was a hope still, although so slight an faint.
"How far does the pilot go with the ship?"
To different distances they said. Some pilots would go as far as Holyhead for the chance of the homeward-bound vessels; others only took the ships over the Banks. Some captains were more cautious than others, and the pilots had different ways. The wind was against the homeward-bound vessels, so perhaps the pilot aboard the John Cropper would not care to go far out.
"How soon would he come back?"
There were three boatmen, and three opinions, varying from twelve hours to two days. Nay, the man who gave his vote for the longest time, on having his judgment disputed, grew stubborn, and doubled the time, and thought it might be the end of the week before the pilot-boat came home.
They began disputing, and urging reasons; and Mary tried to understand them; but independently of their nautical language, a veil seemed drawn over her mind, and she had no clear perception of anything that passed. Her very words seemed not her own, and beyond her power of control, for she found herself speaking quite differently to what she meant.
One by one her hopes had fallen away, and left her desolate; and though a chance yet remained, she could no longer hope. She felt certain it, too, would fade and vanish. She sank into a kind of stupor. All outward objects harmonized with her despair, - the gloomy leaden sky, - the deep, dark waters below, of a still heavier shade of colour, - the cold, flat, yellow shore in the distance, which no ray lightened up, - the nipping cutting wind.
She shivered with her depression of mind and body.
The sails were taken down, of course, on the return to Liverpool, and the progress they made, rowing and tacking, was very slow. The men talked together, disputing about the pilots at first, and then about matters of local importance, in which Mary would have taken no interest at any time, and she gradually became drowsy; irrepressibly so, indeed, for in spite of her jerking efforts to keep awake she sank away to the bottom of the boat, and there lay couched on a rough heap of sails, ropes, and tackle of various kinds.
The measured beat of the waters against the sides of the boat, and the musical boom of the more distant waves, were more lulling than silence, and she slept sound.
Once she opened her eyes heavily, and dimly saw the old gray, rough boatman (who had stood out the most obstinately for the full fare) covering her with his thick pea-jacket. He had taken it off on purpose, and was doing it tenderly in his way, but before she could rouse herself up to thank him she had dropped off to sleep again.
At last, in the dusk of the evening, they arrived at the landing-place from which they had started some hours before. The men spoke to Mary, but though she mechanically replied, she did not stir; so, at length, they were obliged to shake her. She stood up, shivering and puzzled as to her whereabouts.
"Now tell me where you are bound to, missus," said the gray old man, "and maybe I can put you in the way."
She slowly comprehended what he said, and went through the process of recollection; but very dimly, and with much labour. She put her hand into her pocket and pulled out her purse, and shook its contents into the man's hand; and then began meekly to unpin her shawl, although they had turned away without asking for it.
"No, no!" said the old man, who lingered on the step before springing into the boat, and to whom she mutely offered the shawl.
"Keep it! we donnot want it. It were only for to try you, - some folks say they've no more blunt, when all the while they've getten a mint."
"Thank you," said she, in a dull, low tone.
"Where are you bound to? I axed that question afore," said the gruff old fellow.
"I don't know. I'm a stranger," replied she, quietly, with a strange absence of anxiety under the circumstances.
"But you mun find out, then," said he, sharply; "pier-head's no place for a young woman to be standing on, gape-saying."
"I've a card somewhere as will tell me," she answered, and the man partly relieved, jumped into the boat, which was now pushing off to make way for the arrivals from some steamer.
Mary felt in her pocket for the card, on which was written the name of the street where she was to have met Mr Bridgenorth at two o'clock; where Job and Mrs Wilson were to have been, and where she was to have learnt from the former the particulars of some respectable lodging. It was not to be found.
She tried to brighten her perceptions, and felt again, and took out the little articles her pocket contained, her empty purse, her pocket-handkerchief, and such little things, but it was not there.
In fact she had dropped it when, so eager to embark, she had pulled out her purse to reckon up her money.
She did not know this, of course. She only knew it was gone.
It added but little to the despair that was creeping over her. But she tried a little more to help herself, though every minute her mind became more cloudy. She strove to remember where Will had lodged, but she could not; name, street, everything had passed away, and it did not signify; better she were lost than found.
She sat down quietly on the top step of the landing, and gazed down into the dark, dank water below. Once or twice a spectral thought loomed among the shadows of her brain; a wonder whether beneath that cold dismal surface there would not be rest from the troubles of earth. But she could not hold an idea before her for two consecutive moments; and she forgot what she thought about before she could act upon it.
So she continued sitting motionless, without looking up, or regarding in any way the insults to which she was subjected.
Through the darkening light the old boatman had watched her; interested in her in spite of himself, and his scoldings of himself.
When the landing-place was once more comparatively clear, he made his way towards it, across boats, and along planks, swearing at himself while he did so for an old fool.
He shook Mary's shoulder violently.
"D - you, I ask you again where you're bound to? Don't sit there, stupid. Where are you going to?"
"I don't know," sighed Mary.
"Come, come; avast with that story. You said a bit ago you'd a card, which was to tell you where to go."
"I had, but I've lost it. Never mind."
She looked again down upon the black mirror below.
He stood by her, striving to put down his better self; but he could not. He shook her again. She looked up, as if she had forgotten him.
"What do you want?" asked she, wearily.
"Come with me, and be d - d to you!" replied he, clutching her arm to pull her up.
She arose and followed him, with the unquestioning docility of a little child.
A TRUE BILL AGAINST JEM
At five minutes before two, Job Legh stood upon the door-step of the house where Mr Bridgenorth lodged at Assize time. He had left Mrs Wilson at the dwelling of a friend of his, who had offered him a room for the old woman and Mary: a room which had frequently been his, on his occasional visits to Liverpool, but which he was thankful now to have obtained for them, as his own sleeping place was a matter of indifference to him, and the town appeared crowded and disorderly on the eve of the Assizes.
He was shown in to Mr Bridgenorth who was writing. Mary and Will Wilson had not arrived, being, as you know, far away on the broad sea; but of course, of this Job knew nothing, and he did not as yet feel much anxiety about their non-appearance; he was more curious to know the result of Mr Bridgenorth's interview that morning with Jem.
"Why, yes," said Mr Bridgenorth, putting down his pen, "I have seen him, but to little purpose, I'm afraid. He's very impracticable - very. I told him, of course, that he must be perfectly open with me, or else I could not be prepared for the weak points. I named your name with the view of unlocking his confidence, but----"
"What did he say?" asked Job, breathlessly.
"Why, very little. He barely answered me. Indeed, he refused to answer some questions - positively refused. I don't know what I can do for him."
"Then you think him guilty, sir," said Job, despondingly.
"No, I don't," replied Mr Bridgenorth, quickly and decisively. "Much less than I did before I saw him. The impression (mind, 'tis only impression; I rely upon your caution, not to take it for fact) - the impression," with an emphasis on the word, "he gave me is, that he knows something about the affair, but what, he will not say; and so, the chances are, if he persists in his obstinacy, he'll be hung. That's all."
He began to write again, for he had no time to lose.
"But he must not be hung," said Job, with vehemence.
Mr Bridgenorth looked up, smiled a little, but shook his head.
"What did he say, sir, if I may be so bold as to ask?" continued Job.
"His words were few enough, and he was so reserved and short, that, as I said before, I can only give you the impression they conveyed to me. I told him, of course, who I was, and for what I was sent. He looked pleased, I thought, - at least his face (sad enough when I went in, I assure ye) brightened a little; but he said he had nothing to say, no defence to make. I asked him if he was guilty, then; and, by way of opening his heart, I said I understood he had had provocation enough, inasmuch as I heard that the girl was very lovely, and had jilted him to fall desperately in love with that handsome young Carson (poor fellow!). But James Wilson did not speak one way or another. I then went to particulars. I asked him if the gun was his, as his mother had declared. He had not heard of her admission, it was evident, from his quick way of looking up, and the glance of his eye; but when he saw I was observing him, he hung down his head again, and merely said she was right; it was his gun."
"Well!" said Job, impatiently, as Mr Bridgenorth paused.
"Nay! I have little more to tell you," continued that gentleman. "I asked him to inform me, in all confidence, how it came to be found there. He was silent for a time, and then refused. Not only refused to answer that question, but candidly told me he would not say another word on the subject, and, thanking me for my trouble and interest in his behalf, he all but dismissed me. Ungracious enough on the whole, was it not, Mr Legh? And yet, I assure ye, I am twenty times more inclined to think him innocent than before I had the interview."
"I wish Mary Barton would come," said Job, anxiously. "She and Will are a long time about it."
"Aye, that's our only chance, I believe," answered Mr Bridgenorth, who was writing again. "I sent Johnson off before twelve to serve him with his subpoena, and to say I wanted to speak with him; he'll be here soon, I've no doubt."
There was a pause. Mr Bridgenorth looked up again, and spoke.
"Mr Duncombe promised to be here to speak to his character. I sent him a subpoena on Saturday night. Though, after all, juries go very little by such general and vague testimony as that to character. It is very right that they should not often; but in this instance unfortunate for us, as we must rest our case on the alibi."
The pen went again, scratch, scratch over the paper.
Job grew very fidgety. He sat on the edge of his chair, the more readily to start up when Will and Mary should appear. He listened intently to every noise and every step on the stair.
Once he heard a man's footstep, and his old heart gave a leap of delight. But it was only Mr Bridgenorth's clerk, bringing him a list of those cases in which the grand jury had found true bills. He glanced it over and pushed it to Job, merely saying,
"Of course we expected this," and went on with his writing.
There was a true bill against James Wilson. Of course. And yet Job felt now doubly anxious and sad. It seemed the beginning of the end. He had got to think Jem innocent by imperceptible degrees. Little by little this persuasion had come upon him.
Mary (tossing about in the little boat on the broad river) did not come, nor did Will.
Job grew very restless. He longed to go and watch for them out of the window, but feared to interrupt Mr Bridgenorth. At length his desire to look out was irresistible, and he got up and walked carefully and gently across the room, his boots creaking at every cautious step. The gloom which had overspread the sky, and the influence of which had been felt by Mary on the open water, was yet more perceptible in the dark, dull street. Job grew more and more fidgety. He was obliged to walk about the room, for he could not keep still; and he did so, regardless of Mr Bridgenorth's impatient little motions and noises, as the slow, stealthy, creaking movements were heard, backwards and forwards, behind his chair.
He really liked Job, and was interested for Jem, else his nervousness would have overcome his sympathy long before it did. But he could hold out no longer against the monotonous, grating sound; so at last he threw down his pen, locked his portfolio, and taking up his hat and gloves, told Job he must go to the courts.
"But Will Wilson is not come," said Job, in dismay. "Just wait while I run to his lodgings. I would have done it before, but I thought they'd be here every minute, and I were afraid of missing them. I'll be back in no time."
"No, my good fellow, I really must go. Besides, I begin to think Johnson must have made a mistake, and have fixed with this William Wilson to meet me at the courts. If you like to wait for him here, pray make use of my room; but I've a notion I shall find him there: in which case, I'll send him to your lodgings; shall I? You know where to find me. I shall be here again by eight o'clock, and with the evidence of this witness that's to prove the alibi, I'll have the brief drawn out, and in the hands of counsel to-night."
So saying, he shook hands with Job, and went his way. The old man considered for a minute as he lingered at the door, and then bent his steps towards Mrs Jones's, where he knew (from reference to queer, odd, heterogeneous memoranda, in an ancient black-leather pocket-book) that Will lodged, and where he doubted not he should hear both of him and of Mary.
He went there, and gathered what intelligence he could out of Mrs Jones's slow replies.
He asked if a young woman had been there that morning, and if she had seen Will Wilson. "No!"
"Why, bless you, 'cause he had sailed some hours before she came asking for him."
There was a dead silence, broken only by the even, heavy sound of Mrs Jones's ironing.
"Where is the young woman now?" asked Job.
"Somewhere down at the docks," she thought. "Charley would know, if he was in, but he wasn't. He was in mischief, somewhere or other, she had no doubt. Boys always were. He would break his neck some day she knew;" so saying, she quietly spat upon her fresh iron, to test its heat, and then went on with her business.
Job could have boxed her, he was in such a state of irritation. But he did not, and he had his reward. Charley came in, whistling with an air of indifference, assumed to carry off his knowledge of the lateness of the hour to which he had lingered about the docks.
"Here's an old man come to know where the young woman is, who went out with thee this morning," said his mother, after she had bestowed on him a little motherly scolding.
"Where she is now, I don't know. I saw her last sailing down the river after the John Cropper. I'm afeard she won't reach her; wind changed, and she would be under weigh, and over the bar in no time. She should have been back by now."
It took Job some little time to understand this from the confused use of the feminine pronoun. Then he inquired how he could best find Mary.
"I'll run down again to the pier," said the boy; "I'll warrant I'll find her."
"Thou shalt do no such thing," said his mother, setting her back against the door. The lad made a comical face at Job, which met with no responsive look from the old man, whose sympathies were naturally in favour of the parent, although he would thankfully have availed himself of Charley's offer; for he was weary, and anxious to return to poor Mrs Wilson, who would be wondering what had become of him.
"How can I best find her? Who did she go with, lad?"
But Charley was sullen at his mother's exercise of authority before a stranger, and at that stranger's grave looks when he meant to have made him laugh.
"They were river boatmen; - that's all I know," said he.
"But what was the name of their boat?" persevered Job.
"I never took no notice; - the Anne, or William, - or some of them common names, I'll be bound."
"What pier did she start from?" asked Job, despairingly.
"Oh, as for that matter it were the stairs on the Prince's Pier she started from; but she'll not come back to the same, for the American steamer came up with the tide, and anchored close to it, blocking up the way for all the smaller craft. It's a rough evening, too, to be out on," he maliciously added.
"Well, God's will be done! I did hope we could have saved the lad," said Job, sorrowfully; "but I'm getten very doubtful again. I'm uneasy about Mary too, - very. She's a stranger in Liverpool."
"So she told me," said Charley. "There's traps about for young women at every corner. It's a pity she has no one to meet her when she lands."
"As for that," replied Job, "I don't see how any one could meet her when we can't tell where she would come to. I must trust to her coming right. She's getten spirit and sense. She'll most likely be for coming here again. Indeed, I don't know what else she can do, for she knows no other place in Liverpool. Missus, if she comes, will you give your son leave to bring her to No. 8, Back Garden Court, where there's friends waiting for her? I'll give him sixpence for his trouble."
Mrs Jones, pleased with the reference to her, gladly promised. And even Charley, indignant as he was at first at the idea of his motions being under the control of his mother, was mollified at the prospect of the sixpence, and at the probability of getting nearer to the heart of the mystery.
But Mary never came.
JOB LEGH'S DECEPTION
Job found Mrs Wilson pacing about in a restless way; not speaking to the woman at whose house she was staying, but occasionally heaving such deep oppressed sighs, as quite startled those around her.
"Well!" said she, turning sharp round in her tottering walk up and down, as Job came in.
"Well, speak!" repeated she, before he could make up his mind what to say; for, to tell the truth, he was studying for some kind-hearted lie which might soothe her for a time. But now the real state of the case came blurting forth in answer to her impatient questioning.
"Will's not to the fore. But he'll maybe turn up yet, time enough."
She looked at him steadily for a minute, as if almost doubting if such despair could be in store for her as his words seemed to imply. Then she slowly shook her head, and said, more quietly than might have been expected from her previous excited manner,
"Don't go for to say that! Thou dost not think it. Thou'rt well-nigh hopeless, like me. I seed all along my lad would be hung for what he never did. And better he were, and were shut of this weary world, where there's neither justice nor mercy left."
She looked up with tranced eyes as if praying to that throne where mercy ever abideth, and then sat down.
"Nay, now thou'rt off at a gallop," said Job. "Will has sailed this morning, for sure; but that brave wench, Mary Barton, is after him, and will bring him back, I'll be bound, if she can but get speech on him. She's not back yet. Come, come, hold up thy head. It will all end right."
"It will all end right," echoed she; "but not as thou tak'st it. Jem will be hung, and will go to his father and the little lads; where the Lord God wipes away all tears, and where the Lord Jesus speaks kindly to the little ones, who look about for the mothers they left upon earth. Eh, Job, yon's a blessed land, and I long to go to it, and yet I fret because Jem is hastening there. I would not fret if he and I could lie down to-night to sleep our last sleep; not a bit would I fret if folk would but know him to be innocent - as I do."
"They'll know it sooner or later, and repent sore if they've hanged him for what he never did," replied Job.
"Aye, that they will. Poor souls! May God have mercy on them when they find out their mistake."
Presently Job grew tired of sitting waiting, and got up, and hung about the door and window, like some animal wanting to go out. It was pitch dark, for the moon had not yet risen.
"You just go to bed," said he to the widow, "you'll want your strength for to-morrow. Jem will be sadly off, if he sees you so cut up as you look to-night. I'll step down again and find Mary. She'll be back by this time. I'll come and tell you everything, never fear. But, now, you go to bed."
"Thou'rt a kind friend, Job Legh, and I'll go, as thou wishest me. But, oh! mind thou com'st straight off to me, and bring Mary as soon as thou'st lit on her." She spoke low, but very calmly.
"Aye, aye!" replied Job, slipping out of the house.
He went first to Mr Bridgenorth's, where it had struck him that Will and Mary might be all this time waiting for him.
They were not there, however. Mr Bridgenorth had just come in, and Job went breathlessly up-stairs to consult with him as to the state of the case.
"It's a bad job," said the lawyer, looking very grave, while he arranged his papers. "Johnson told me how it was; the woman that Wilson lodged with told him. I doubt it's but a wildgoose chase of the girl Barton. Our case must rest on the uncertainty of circumstantial evidence, and the goodness of the prisoner's previous character. A very vague and weak defence. However, I've engaged Mr Clinton as counsel, and he'll make the best of it. And now, my good fellow, I must wish you good night, and turn you out of doors. As it is, I shall have to sit up into the small hours. Did you see my clerk, as you came up-stairs. You did? Then may I trouble you to ask him to step up immediately."
After this Job could not stay, and, making his humble bow, he left the room.
Then he went to Mrs Jones's. She was in, but Charley had slipped off again. There was no holding that boy. Nothing kept him but lock and key, and they did not always; for, once, she had him locked up in the garret, and he had got off through the skylight. Perhaps, now he was gone to see after the young woman down at the docks. He never wanted an excuse to be there.
Unasked, Job took a chair, resolved to await Charley's re-appearance.
Mrs Jones ironed and folded her clothes, talking all the time of Charley and her husband, who was a sailor in some ship bound for India, and who, in leaving her their boy, had evidently left her rather more than she could manage. She moaned and croaked over sailors, and seaport towns, and stormy weather, and sleepless nights, and trousers all over tar and pitch, long after Job had left off attending to her, and was only trying to hearken to every step, and every voice in the street.
At last Charley came in, but he came alone.
"Yon Mary Barton has getten into some scrape or another," said he, addressing himself to Job. "She's not to be heard of at any of the piers; and Bourne says it were a boat from the Cheshire side as she went aboard of. So there's no hearing of her till to-morrow morning."
"To-morrow morning she'll have to be in court at nine o'clock, to bear witness on a trial," said Job, sorrowfully.
"So she said; at least somewhat of the kind," said Charley, looking desirous to hear more. But Job was silent.
He could not think of anything further that could be done; so he rose up, and, thanking Mrs Jones for the shelter she had given him, he went out into the street; and there he stood still, to ponder over probabilities and chances.
After some little time he slowly turned towards the lodging where he had left Mrs Wilson. There was nothing else to be done; but he loitered on the way, fervently hoping that her weariness and her woes might have sent her to sleep before his return, that he might be spared her questionings.
He went very gently into the house-place where the sleepy landlady awaited his coming and his bringing the girl, who, she had been told, was to share the old woman's bed.
But in her sleepy blindness she knocked things so about in lighting the candle (she could see to have a nap by fire-light, she said), that the voice of Mrs Wilson was heard from the little back-room, where she was to pass the night.
Job gave no answer, and kept down his breath, that she might think herself mistaken. The landlady, having no such care, dropped the snuffers with a sharp metallic sound, and then, by her endless apologies, convinced the listening woman that Job had returned.
"Job! Job Legh!" she cried out nervously.
"Eh, dear!" said Job, to himself, going reluctantly to her bedroom door. "I wonder if one little lie would be a sin, as things stand? It would happen give her sleep, and she won't have sleep for many and many a night (not to call sleep), if things goes wrong to-morrow. I'll chance it, any way."
"Job! are you there?" asked she again, with a trembling impatience that told in every tone of her voice.
"Aye! sure! I thought thou'd ha' been asleep by this time."
"Asleep! How could I sleep till I know'd if Will were found?"
"Now for it," muttered Job to himself. Then in a louder voice, "Never fear! he's found, and safe, ready for to-morrow."
"And he'll prove that thing for my poor lad, will he? He'll bear witness that Jem were with him? Oh, Job, speak! tell me all!"
"In for a penny, in for a pound," thought Job. "Happen one prayer will do for the sum total. Any rate, I must go on now. Aye, aye," shouted he through the door. "He can prove all; and Jem will come off as clear as a new-born babe."
He could hear Mrs Wilson's rustling movements, and in an instant guessed she was on her knees, for he heard her trembling voice uplifted in thanksgiving and praise to God, stopped at times by sobs of gladness and relief.
And when he heard this, his heart misgave him; for he thought of the awful enlightening, the terrible revulsion of feeling that awaited her in the morning. He saw the short-sightedness of falsehood; but what could he do now?
While he listened, she ended her grateful prayers.
"And Mary? Thou'st found her at Mrs Jones's, Job?" said she, continuing her inquiries.
He gave a great sigh.
"Yes, she was there, safe enough, second time of going. God forgive me!" muttered he, "who'd ha' thought of my turning out such an arrant liar in my old days."
"Bless the wench! Is she here? Why does not she come to bed? I'm sure she's need."
Job coughed away his remains of conscience, and made answer,
"She was a bit weary, and o'erdone with her sail; and Mrs Jones axed her to stay there all night. It was nigh at hand to the courts, where she will have to be in the morning."
"It comes easy enough after a while," groaned out Job. "The father of lies helps one, I suppose, for now my speech comes as natural as truth. She's done questioning now, that's one good thing. I'll be off before Satan and she are at me again."
He returned to the house-place, where the landlady stood, wearily waiting. Her husband was in bed, and asleep long ago.
But Job had not yet made up his mind what to do. He could not go to sleep, with all his anxieties, if he were put into the best bed in Liverpool.
"Thou'lt let me sit up in this arm-chair," said he at length, to the woman, who stood, expecting his departure.
He was an old friend, so she let him do as he wished. But, indeed, she was too sleepy to have opposed him. She was too glad to be released, and go to bed.