How MARY PASSED THE NIGHT
And now, where was Mary?
How Job's heart would have been relieved of one of its cares if he could have seen her: for he was in a miserable state of anxiety about her; and many and many a time through that long night, he scolded her and himself; her for her obstinacy, and himself for his weakness in yielding to her obstinacy when she insisted on being the one to follow and find out Will.
She did not pass that night in bed any more than Job; but she was under a respectable roof, and among kind, though rough, people.
She had offered no resistance to the old boatman, when he had clutched her arm, in order to insure her following him, as he threaded the crowded dock-ways, and dived up strange bye-streets. She came on meekly after him, scarcely thinking in her stupor where she was going, and glad (in a dead, heavy way) that some one was deciding things for her.
He led her to an old-fashioned house, almost as small as house could be, which had been built long ago, before all the other part of the street, and had a country-town look about it in the middle of that bustling back street. He pulled her into the house-place; and relieved to a certain degree of his fear of losing her on the way, he exclaimed,
"There!" giving a great slap of one hand on her back.
The room was light and bright, and roused Mary (perhaps the slap on her back might help a little, too), and she felt the awkwardness of accounting for her presence to a little bustling old woman who had been moving about the fireplace on her entrance. The boat-man took it very quietly, never deigning to give any explanation, but sitting down in his own particular chair, and chewing tobacco, while he looked at Mary with the most satisfied air imaginable, half triumphantly as if she were the captive of his bow and spear, and half defying, as if daring her to escape.
The old woman, his wife, stood still, poker in hand, waiting to be told who it was that her husband had brought home so unceremoniously; but, as she looked in amazement, the girl's cheek flushed, and then blanched to a dead whiteness; a film came over her eyes, and catching at the dresser for support in that hot whirling room, she fell in a heap on the floor.
Both man and wife came quickly to her assistance. They raised her up, still insensible, and he supported her on one knee, while his wife pattered away for some cold fresh water. She threw it straight over Mary; but though it caused a great sob, the eyes still remained closed, and the face as pale as ashes.
"Who is she, Ben?" asked the woman as she rubbed her unresisting, powerless hands.
"How should I know?" answered her husband, gruffly.
"Well-a-well" (in a soothing tone, such as you use to irritated children), and as if half to herself, "I only thought you might, you know, as you brought her home. Poor thing! we must not ask aught about her, but that she needs help. I wish I'd my salts at home, but I lent 'em to Mrs Burton, last Sunday in church, for she could not keep awake through the sermon. Dear-a-me, how white she is!"
"Here! you hold her up a bit," said her husband.
She did as he desired, still crooning to herself, not caring for his short, sharp interruptions as she went on; and, indeed, to her old, loving heart, his crossest words fell like pearls and diamonds, for he had been the husband of her youth; and even he, rough and crabbed as he was, was secretly soothed by the sound of her voice, although not for worlds, if he could have helped it, would he have shown any of the love that was hidden beneath his rough outside.
"What's the old fellow after?" said she, bending over Mary, so as to accommodate the drooping head. "Taking my pen, as I've had for better nor five year. Bless us, and save us! he's burning it! Aye, I see now, he's his wits about him; burnt feathers is always good for a faint. But they don't bring her round, poor wench! Now what's he after next? Well! he is a bright one, my old man! That I never thought of that, to be sure!" exclaimed she, as he produced a square bottle of smuggled spirits, labelled "Golden Waaser," from a corner cupboard in their little room.
"That'll do!" said she, as the dose he poured into Mary's open mouth made her start and cough. "Bless the man! It's just like him to be so tender and thoughtful!"
"Not a bit!" snarled he, as he was relieved by Mary's returning colour, and opened eyes, and wondering, sensible gaze; "not a bit! I never was such a fool afore."
His wife helped Mary to rise, and placed her in a chair.
"All's right, now, young woman?" asked the boat-man, anxiously.
"Yes, sir, and thank you. I'm sure, sir, I don't know rightly how to thank you," faltered Mary softly forth.
"Be hanged to you and your thanks." And he shook himself, took his pipe, and went out without deigning another word; leaving his wife sorely puzzled as to the character and history of the stranger within her doors.
Mary watched the boatman leave the house, and then, turning her sorrowful eyes to the face of her hostess, she attempted feebly to rise, with the intention of going away, - where she knew not.
"Nay! nay! whoe'er thou be'st, thou'rt not fit to go out into the street. Perhaps" (sinking her voice a little) "thou'rt a bad one; I almost misdoubt thee, thou'rt so pretty. Well-a-well! it's the bad ones as have the broken hearts, sure enough; good folk never get utterly cast down, they've always getten hope in the Lord; it's the sinful as bear the bitter, bitter grief in their crushed hearts, poor souls; it's them we ought, most of all, to pity and to help. She shanna leave the house to-night, choose who she is, - worst woman in Liverpool, she shanna. I wished I knew where th' old man picked her up, that I do."
Mary had listened feebly to this soliloquy, and now tried to satisfy her hostess in weak, broken sentences.
"I'm not a bad one, missis, indeed. Your master took me out to sea after a ship as had sailed. There was a man in it as might save a life at the trial to-morrow. The captain would not let him come, but he says he'll come back in the pilot-boat." She fell to sobbing at the thought of her waning hopes, and the old woman tried to comfort her, beginning with her accustomed,
"Well-a-well! and he'll come back, I'm sure. I know he will; so keep up your heart. Don't fret about it. He's sure to be back."
"Oh! I'm afraid! I'm sore afraid he won't," cried Mary, consoled, nevertheless, by the woman's assertions, all groundless as she knew them to be.
Still talking half to herself and half to Mary, the old woman prepared tea, and urged her visitor to eat and refresh herself. But Mary shook her head at the proffered food, and only drank a cup of tea with thirsty eagerness. For the spirits had thrown her into a burning heat, and rendered each impression received through her senses of the most painful distinctness and intensity, while her head ached in a terrible manner.
She disliked speaking, her power over her words seemed so utterly gone. She used quite different expressions to those she intended. So she kept silent, while Mrs Sturgis (for that was the name of her hostess) talked away, and put her tea-things by, and moved about incessantly, in a manner that increased the dizziness in Mary's head. She felt as if she ought to take leave for the night, and go. But where?
Presently the old man came back; crosser and gruffer than when he went away. He kicked aside the dry shoes his wife had prepared for him, and snarled at all she said. Mary attributed this to his finding her still there, and gathered up her strength for an effort to leave the house. But she was mistaken. By and by, he said (looking right into the fire, as if addressing it) "Wind's right against them!"
"Aye, aye, and is it so?" said his wife, who, knowing him well, knew that his surliness proceeded from some repressed sympathy. "Well-a-well, wind changes often at night. Time enough before morning. I'd bet a penny it has changed sin' thou looked."
She looked out of her little window at a weathercock near, glittering in the moonlight; and as she was a sailor's wife, she instantly recognised the unfavourable point at which the indicator seemed stationary, and giving a heavy sigh, turned into the room, and began to beat about in her own mind for some other mode of comfort.
"There's no one else who can prove what you want at the trial to-morrow, is there?" asked she.
"No one!" answered Mary.
"And you've no clue to the one as is really guilty, if t'other is not?"
Mary did not answer, but trembled all over.
Sturgis saw it.
"Don't bother her with thy questions," said he to his wife. "She mun go to bed, for she's all in a shiver with the sea air. I'll see after the wind, hang it, and the weathercock too. Tide will help 'em when it turns."
Mary went up-stairs murmuring thanks and blessings on those who took the stranger in. Mrs Sturgis led her into a little room redolent of the sea and foreign lands. There was a small bed for one son, bound for China; and a hammock slung above for another, who was now tossing in the Baltic. The sheets looked made out of sail-cloth, but were fresh and clean in spite of their brownness.
Against the wall were wafered two rough drawings of vessels with their names written underneath, on which the mother's eyes caught, and gazed until they filled with tears. But she brushed the drops away with the back of her hand; and in a cheerful tone went on to assure Mary the bed was well aired.
"I cannot sleep, thank you. I will sit here, if you please," said Mary, sinking down on the window-seat.
"Come, now," said Mrs Sturgis, "my master told me to see you to bed, and I mun. What's the use of watching? A watched pot never boils, and I see you are after watching that weathercock. Why now, I try never to look at it, else I could do nought else. My heart many a time goes sick when the wind rises, but I turn away and work away, and try never to think on the wind, but on what I ha' getten to do."
"Let me stay up a little," pleaded Mary, as her hostess seemed so resolute about seeing her to bed. Her looks won her suit.
"Well, I suppose I mun. I shall catch it down-stairs, I know. He'll be in a fidget till you're getten to bed, I know; so you mun be quiet if you are so bent upon staying up."
And quietly, noiselessly, Mary watched the unchanging weathercock through the night. She sat on the little window-seat, her hand holding back the curtain which shaded the room from the bright moonlight without; her head resting its weariness against the corner of the window-frame; her eyes burning, and stiff with the intensity of her gaze.
The ruddy morning stole up the horizon, casting a crimson glow into the watcher's room.
It was the morning of the day of trial!
THE TRIAL AND VERDICT - "NOT GUILTY!"
Of all the restless people who found that night's hours agonizing from excess of anxiety, the poor father of the murdered man was perhaps the most restless. He had slept but little since the blow had fallen; his waking hours had been full of agitated thought, which seemed to haunt and pursue him through his unquiet slumbers.
And this night of all others was the most sleepless. He turned over and over again in his mind the wonder if everything had been done, that could be done, to ensure the conviction of Jem Wilson. He almost regretted the haste with which he had urged forward the proceedings, and yet, until he had obtained vengeance, he felt as if there were no peace on earth for him (I don't know that he exactly used the term vengeance in his thoughts; he spoke of justice, and probably thought of his desired end as such); no peace, either bodily or mental, for he moved up and down his bedroom with the restless incessant tramp of a wild beast in a cage, and if he compelled his aching limbs to cease for an instant, the twitchings which ensued almost amounted to convulsions, and he recommenced his walk as the lesser evil, and the more bearable fatigue.
With daylight, increased power of action came; and he drove off to arouse his attorney, and worry him with further directions and inquiries; and when that was ended, he sat, watch in hand, until the courts should be opened, and the trial begin.
What were all the living, - wife or daughters, - what were they in comparison with the dead, - the murdered son who lay unburied still, in compliance with his father's earnest wish, and almost vowed purpose, of having the slayer of his child sentenced to death before he committed the body to the rest of the grave.
At nine o'clock they all met at their awful place of rendezvous.
The judge, the jury, the avenger of blood, the prisoner, the witnesses - all were gathered together within the building. And besides these were many others, personally interested in some part of the proceedings, in which, however, they took no part; Job Legh, Ben Sturgis, and several others were there, amongst whom was Charley Jones.
Job Legh had carefully avoided any questioning from Mrs Wilson that morning. Indeed, he had not been much in her company, for he had been up early to go out once more to make inquiry for Mary; and when he could hear nothing of her, he had desperately resolved not to undeceive Mrs Wilson, as sorrow never came too late; and if the blow were inevitable, it would be better to leave her in ignorance of the impending evil as long as possible. She took her place in the witness-room, worn and dispirited, but not anxious.
As Job struggled through the crowd into the body of the court, Mr Bridgenorth's clerk beckoned to him.
"Here's a letter for you from our client!"
Job sickened as he took it. He did not know why, but he dreaded a confession of guilt, which would be an overthrow of all hope.
The letter ran as follows:
"DEAR FRIEND, - I thank you heartily for your goodness in finding me a lawyer, but lawyers can do no good to me, whatever they may do to other people. But I am not the less obliged to you, dear friend. I foresee things will go against me - and no wonder. If I was a juryman I should say the man was guilty as had as much evidence brought against him as may be brought against me to-morrow. So it's no blame to them if they do. But, Job Legh, I think I need not tell you I am as guiltless in this matter as the babe unborn, although it is not in my power to prove it. If I did not believe that you thought me innocent, I could not write as I do now to tell you my wishes. You'll not forget they are the words of a man shortly to die. Dear friend, you must take care of my mother. Not in the money way, for she will have enough for her and Aunt Alice; but you must let her talk to you of me; and show her that (whatever others may do) you think I died innocent. I don't reckon she'll stay long behind when we are all gone. Be tender with her, Job, for my sake; and if she is a bit fractious at times, remember what she has gone through. I know mother will never doubt me, God bless her.
"There is one other whom I fear I have loved too dearly; and yet the loving her has made the happiness of my life. She will think I have murdered her lover; she will think I have caused the grief she must be feeling. And she must go on thinking so. It is hard upon me to say this; but she must. It will be best for her, and that's all I ought to think on. But, dear Job, you are a hearty fellow for your time of life, and may live many years to come; and perhaps you could tell her, when you felt sure you were drawing near your end, that I solemnly told you (as I do now) that I was innocent of this thing. You must not tell her for many years to come; but I cannot well bear to think on her living through a long life, and hating the thought of me as the murderer of him she loved, and dying with that hatred to me in her heart. It would hurt me sore in the other world to see the look of it in her face, as it would be, till she was told. I must not let myself think on how she must be viewing me now.
"So God bless you, Job Legh; and no more from
"Yours to command,
Job turned the letter over and over when he had read it; sighed deeply; and then wrapping it carefully up in a bit of newspaper he had about him, he put it in his waistcoat pocket, and went off to the door of the witness-room to ask if Mary Barton was there.
As the door opened he saw her sitting within, against a table on which her folded arms were resting, and her head was hidden within them. It was an attitude of hopelessness, and would have served to strike Job dumb in sickness of heart, even without the sound of Mrs Wilson's voice in passionate sobbing, and sore lamentations, which told him as well as words could do (for she was not within view of the door, and he did not care to go in), that she was at any rate partially undeceived as to the hopes he had given her last night.
Sorrowfully did Job return into the body of the court; neither Mrs Wilson nor Mary having seen him as he had stood at the witness-room door.
As soon as he could bring his distracted thoughts to bear upon the present scene, he perceived that the trial of James Wilson for the murder of Henry Carson was just commencing. The clerk was gabbling over the indictment, and in a minute or two there was the accustomed question, "How say you, Guilty or Not Guilty?"
Although but one answer was expected, - was customary in all cases, - there was a pause of dead silence, an interval of solemnity even in this hackneyed part of the proceeding; while the prisoner at the bar stood with compressed lips, looking at the judge with his outward eyes, but with far other and different scenes presented to his mental vision; a sort of rapid recapitulation of his life, - remembrances of his childhood, - his father (so proud of him, his first-born child), - his sweet little playfellow, Mary, - his hopes, his love - his despair, yet still, yet ever and ever, his love, - the blank, wide world it had been without her love, - his mother, - his childless mother, - but not long to be so, - not long to be away from all she loved, - nor during that time to be oppressed with doubt as to his innocence, sure and secure of her darling's heart; - he started from this instant's pause, and said in a low firm voice,
"Not guilty, my lord."
The circumstances of the murder, the discovery of the body, the causes of suspicion against Jem, were as well known to most of the audience as they are to you, so there was some little buzz of conversation going on among the people while the leading counsel for the prosecution made his very effective speech.
"That's Mr Carson, the father, sitting behind Serjeant Wilkinson!"
"What a noble-looking old man he is! so stern and inflexible, with such classical features! Does he not remind you of some of the busts of Jupiter?"
"I am more interested by watching the prisoner. Criminals always interest me. I try to trace in the features common to humanity some expression of the crimes by which they have distinguished themselves from their kind. I have seen a good number of murderers in my day, but I have seldom seen one with such marks of Cain on his countenance as the man at the bar."
"Well, I am no physiognomist, but I don't think his face strikes me as bad. It certainly is gloomy and depressed, and not unnaturally so, considering his situation."
"Only look at his low, resolute brow, his downcast eye, his white compressed lips. He never looks up, - just watch him."
"His forehead is not so low if he had that mass of black hair removed, and is very square, which some people say is a good sign. If others are to be influenced by such trifles as you are, it would have been much better if the prison barber had cut his hair a little previous to the trial; and as for downcast eye, and compressed lip, it is all part and parcel of his inward agitation just now; nothing to do with character, my good fellow."
Poor Jem! His raven hair (his mother's pride, and so often fondly caressed by her fingers), was that, too, to have its influence against him?
The witnesses were called. At first they consisted principally of policemen; who, being much accustomed to giving evidence, knew what were the material points they were called on to prove, and did not lose the time of the court in listening to anything unnecessary.
"Clear as day against the prisoner," whispered one attorney's clerk to another.
"Black as night, you mean," replied his friend; and they both smiled.
"Jane Wilson! who's she? some relation, I suppose, from the name."
"The mother, - she that is to prove the gun part of the case."
"Oh, aye - I remember! Rather hard on her, too, I think."
Then both were silent, as one of the officers of the court ushered Mrs Wilson into the witness-box. I have often called her "the old woman," and "an old woman," because, in truth, her appearance was so much beyond her years, which could not be many above fifty. But partly owing to her accident in early life, which left a stamp of pain upon her face, partly owing to her anxious temper, partly to her sorrows, and partly to her limping gait, she always gave me the idea of age. But now she might have seemed more than seventy; her lines were so set and deep, her features so sharpened, and her walk so feeble. She was trying to check her sobs into composure, and (unconsciously) was striving to behave as she thought would best please her poor boy, whom she knew she had often grieved by her uncontrolled impatience. He had buried his face in his arms, which rested on the front of the dock (an attitude he retained during the greater part of his trial, and which prejudiced many against him).
The counsel began the examination.
"Your name is Jane Wilson, I believe?"
"The mother of the prisoner at the bar?"
"Yes, sir," with quivering voice, ready to break out into weeping, but earning respect by the strong effort at self-control, prompted, as I have said before, by her earnest wish to please her son by her behaviour.
The barrister now proceeded to the important part of the examination, tending to prove that the gun found on the scene of the murder was the prisoner's. She had committed herself so fully to the policeman, that she could not well retract; so without much delay in bringing the question round to the desired point, the gun was produced in court, and the inquiry made -
"That gun belongs to your son, does it not?"
She clenched the sides of the witness-box in her efforts to make her parched tongue utter words. At last she moaned forth,
"Oh! Jem, Jem! what mun I say?"
Every one bent forward to hear the prisoner's answer; although, in fact, it was of little importance to the issue of the trial. He lifted up his head; and with a face brimming full of pity for his mother, yet resolved into endurance, said,
"Tell the truth, mother."
And so she did, with the fidelity of a little child. Every one felt that she did; and the little colloquy between mother and son, did them some slight service in the opinion of the audience. But the awful judge sat unmoved; and the jurymen changed not a muscle of their countenances; while the counsel for the prosecution went triumphantly through this part of the case, including the fact of Jem's absence from home on the night of the murder, and bringing every admission to bear right against the prisoner.
It was over. She was told to go down. But she could no longer compel her mother's heart to keep silence, and suddenly turning towards the judge (with whom she imagined the verdict to rest), she thus addressed him with her choking voice:
"And now, sir, I've telled you the truth, and the whole truth, as he bid me; but don't ye let what I've said go for to hang him; oh, my lord judge, take my word for it, he's as innocent as the child as has yet to be born. For sure, I, who am his mother, and have nursed him on my knee, and been gladdened by the sight of him every day since, ought to know him better than yon pack of fellows" (indicating the jury, while she strove against her heart to render her words distinct and clear for her dear son's sake) "who, I'll go bail, never saw him before this morning in all their born days. My lord judge, he's so good I often wondered what harm there was in him; many is the time when I've been fretted (for I'm frabbit enough at times), when I've scold't myself, and said, 'You ungrateful thing, the Lord God has given you Jem, and isn't that blessing enough for you.' But He has seen fit to punish me. If Jem is - if Jem is - taken from me, I shall be a childless woman; and very poor, having nought left to love on earth, and I cannot say 'His will be done.' I cannot, my lord judge, oh, I cannot."
While sobbing out these words she was led away by the officers of the court, but tenderly, and reverently, with the respect which great sorrow commands.
The stream of evidence went on and on, gathering fresh force from every witness who was examined, and threatening to overwhelm poor Jem. Already they had proved that the gun was his, that he had been heard not many days before the commission of the deed to threaten the deceased; indeed, that the police had, at that time, been obliged to interfere, to prevent some probable act of violence. It only remained to bring forward a sufficient motive for the threat and the murder. The clue to this had been furnished by the policeman, who had overheard Jem's angry language to Mr Carson; and his report in the first instance had occasioned the subpoena to Mary.
And now she was to be called on to bear witness. The court was by this time almost as full as it could hold; but fresh attempts were being made to squeeze in at all the entrances, for many were anxious to see and hear this part of the trial.
Old Mr Carson felt an additional beat at his heart at the thought of seeing the fatal Helen, the cause of all, - a kind of interest and yet repugnance, for was not she beloved by the dead; nay, perhaps in her way, loving and mourning for the same being that he himself was so bitterly grieving over? And yet he felt as if he abhorred her and her rumoured loveliness, as if she were the curse against him; and he grew jealous of the love with which she had inspired his son, and would fain have deprived her of even her natural right of sorrowing over her lover's untimely end: for you see it was a fixed idea in the minds of all, that the handsome, bright, gay, rich young gentleman must have been beloved in preference to the serious, almost stern-looking smith, who had to toil for his daily bread.
Hitherto the effect of the trial had equalled Mr Carson's most sanguine hopes, and a severe look of satisfaction came over the face of the avenger, - over that countenance whence the smile had departed, never more to return.
All eyes were directed to the door through which the witnesses entered. Even Jem looked up to catch one glimpse, before he hid his face from her look of aversion. The officer had gone to fetch her.
She was in exactly the same attitude as when Job Legh had seen her two hours before through the half-open door. Not a finger had moved. The officer summoned her, but she did not stir. She was so still, he thought she had fallen asleep, and he stepped forward and touched her. She started up in an instant, and followed him with a kind of rushing rapid motion into the court, into the witness-box.
And amid all that sea of faces, misty and swimming before her eyes, she saw but two clear bright spots, distinct and fixed: the judge, who might have to condemn; and the prisoner, who might have to die.
The mellow sunlight streamed down that high window on her head, and fell on the rich treasure of her golden hair, stuffed away in masses under her little bonnet-cap; and in those warm beams the motes kept dancing up and down. The wind had changed - had changed almost as soon as she had given up her watching; the wind had changed, and she heeded it not.
Many who were looking for mere flesh and blood beauty, mere colouring, were disappointed; for her face was deadly white, and almost set in its expression, while a mournful bewildered soul looked out of the depths of those soft, deep, grey eyes. But others recognised a higher and a stranger kind of beauty; one that would keep its hold on the memory for many after years.
I was not there myself; but one who was, told me that her look, and indeed her whole face, was more like the well-known engraving from Guido's picture of "Beatrice Cenci" than anything else he could give me an idea of. He added, that her countenance haunted him, like the remembrance of some wild sad melody, heard in childhood; that it would perpetually recur with its mute imploring agony.
With all the court reeling before her (always save and except those awful two), she heard a voice speak, and answered the simple inquiry (something about her name) mechanically, as if in a dream. So she went on for two or three more questions, with a strange wonder in her brain, at the reality of the terrible circumstances in which she was placed.
Suddenly she was roused, she knew not how or by what. She was conscious that all was real, that hundreds were looking at her, that true-sounding words were being extracted from her; that that figure, so bowed down, with the face concealed with both hands, was really Jem. Her face flashed scarlet, and then, paler than before. But in dread of herself, with the tremendous secret imprisoned within her, she exerted every power she had to keep in the full understanding of what was going on, of what she was asked, and of what she answered. With all her faculties preternaturally alive and sensitive, she heard the next question from the pert young barrister, who was delighted to have the examination of this witness.
"And pray, may I ask, which was the favoured lover? You say you knew both these young men. Which was the favoured lover? Which did you prefer?"
And who was he, the questioner, that he should dare so lightly to ask of her heart's secrets? That he should dare to ask her to tell, before that multitude assembled there, what woman usually whispers with blushes and tears, and many hesitations, to one ear alone?
So, for an instant, a look of indignation contracted Mary's brow, as she steadily met the eyes of the impertinent counsellor. But, in that instant, she saw the hands removed from a face beyond, behind; and a countenance revealed of such intense love and woe, - such a deprecating dread of her answer; and suddenly her resolution was taken. The present was everything; the future, that vast shroud, it was maddening to think upon; but now she might own her fault, but now she might even own her love. Now, when the beloved stood thus, abhorred of men, there would be no feminine shame to stand between her and her avowal. So she also turned towards the judge, partly to mark that her answer was not given to the monkeyfied man who questioned her, and likewise that the face might be averted from, and her eyes not gaze upon, the form that contracted with the dread of the words he anticipated.
"He asks me which of them two I liked best. Perhaps I liked Mr Harry Carson once - I don't know - I've forgotten; but I loved James Wilson, that's now on trial, above what tongue can tell - above all else on earth put together; and I love him now better than ever, though he has never known a word of it till this minute. For you see, sir, mother died before I was thirteen, before I could know right from wrong about some things; and I was giddy and vain, and ready to listen to any praise of my good looks; and this poor young Mr Carson fell in with me, and told me he loved me; and I was foolish enough to think he meant me marriage: a mother is a pitiful loss to a girl, sir; and so I used to fancy I could like to be a lady, and rich, and never know want any more. I never found out how dearly I loved another till one day, when James Wilson asked me to marry him, and I was very hard and sharp in my answer (for, indeed, sir, I'd a deal to bear just then), and he took me at my word and left me; and from that day to this I've never spoken a word to him, or set eyes on him; though I'd fain have done so, to try and show him we had both been too hasty; for he'd not been gone out of my sight above a minute before I knew I loved - far above my life," said she, dropping her voice as she came to this second confession of the strength of her attachment. "But, if the gentleman asks me which I loved the best, I make answer, I was flattered by Mr Carson, and pleased with his flattery; but James Wilson I----"
She covered her face with her hands, to hide the burning scarlet blushes, which even dyed her fingers.
There was a little pause; still, though her speech might inspire pity for the prisoner, it only strengthened the supposition of his guilt. Presently the counsellor went on with his examination.
"But you have seen young Mr Carson since your rejection of the prisoner?"
"You have spoken to him, I conclude, at these times."
"Only once, to call speaking."
"And what was the substance of your conversation? Did you tell him you found you preferred his rival?"
"No, sir. I don't think as I've done wrong in saying, now as things stand, what my feelings are; but I never would be so bold as to tell one young man I cared for another. I never named Jem's name to Mr Carson. Never."
"Then what did you say when you had this final conversation with Mr Carson? You can give me the substance of it, if you don't remember the words."
"I'll try, sir; but I'm not very clear. I told him I could not love him, and wished to have nothing more to do with him. He did his best to over-persuade me, but I kept steady, and at last I ran off."
"And you never spoke to him again."
"Now, young woman, remember you are upon your oath. Did you ever tell the prisoner at the bar of Mr Henry Carson's attentions to you? of your acquaintance, in short? Did you ever try to excite his jealousy by boasting of a lover so far above you in station?"
"Never. I never did," said she, in so firm and distinct a manner as to leave no doubt.
"Were you aware that he knew of Mr Henry Carson's regard for you? Remember you are on your oath!"
"Never, sir. I was not aware until I heard of the quarrel between them, and what Jem had said to the policeman, and that was after the murder. To this day I can't make out who told Jem. Oh, sir, may not I go down?"
For she felt the sense, the composure, the very bodily strength which she had compelled to her aid for a time, suddenly giving way, and was conscious that she was losing all command over herself. There was no occasion to detain her longer; she had done her part. She might go down. The evidence was still stronger against the prisoner; but now he stood erect and firm, with self-respect in his attitude, and a look of determination on his face, which almost made it appear noble. Yet he seemed lost in thought.
Job Legh had all this time been trying to soothe and comfort Mrs Wilson, who would first be in the court, in order to see her darling, and then, when her sobs became irrepressible, had to be led out into the open air, and sat there weeping, on the steps of the court-house. Who would have taken charge of Mary, on her release from the witness-box, I do not know, if Mrs Sturgis, the boatman's wife, had not been there, brought by her interest in Mary, towards whom she now pressed, in order to urge her to leave the scene of the trial.
"No! no!" said Mary, to this proposition. "I must be here. I must watch that they don't hang him, you know I must."
"Oh! they'll not hang him! never fear! Besides, the wind has changed, and that's in his favour. Come away. You're so hot, and first white and then red; I'm sure you're ill. Just come away."
"Oh! I don't know about any thing but that I must stay," replied Mary, in a strange hurried manner, catching hold of some rails as if she feared some bodily force would be employed to remove her. So Mrs Sturgis just waited patiently by her, every now and then peeping among the congregation of heads in the body of the court, to see if her husband were still there. And there he always was to be seen, looking and listening with all his might. His wife felt easy that he would not be wanting her at home until the trial was ended.
Mary never let go her clutched hold on the rails. She wanted them to steady her, in that heaving, whirling court. She thought the feeling of something hard compressed within her hand would help her to listen, for it was such pain, such weary pain in her head, to strive to attend to what was being said. They were all at sea, sailing away on billowy waves, and every one speaking at once, and no one heeding her father, who was calling on them to be silent, and listen to him. Then again, for a brief second, the court stood still, and she could see the judge, sitting up there, like an idol, with his trappings, so rigid and stiff; and Jem, opposite, looking at her, as if to say, am I to die for what you know your----. Then she checked herself, and by a great struggle brought herself round to an instant's sanity. But the round of thought never stood still; and off she went again; and every time her power of struggling against the growing delirium grew fainter and fainter. She muttered low to herself, but no one heard her except her neighbour, Mrs Sturgis; all were too closely attending to the case for the prosecution, which was now being wound up.
The counsel for the prisoner had avoided much cross-examination, reserving to himself the right of calling the witnesses forward again; for he had received so little, and such vague instructions, and understood that so much depended on the evidence of one who was not forthcoming, that in fact he had little hope of establishing anything like a show of a defence, and contented himself with watching the case, and lying in wait for any legal objections that might offer themselves. He lay back on the seat, occasionally taking a pinch of snuff, in a manner intended to be contemptuous; now and then elevating his eyebrows, and sometimes exchanging a little note with Mr Bridgenorth behind him. The attorney had far more interest in the case than the barrister, to which he was perhaps excited by his poor old friend Job Legh; who had edged and wedged himself through the crowd close to Mr Bridgenorth's elbow, sent thither by Ben Sturgis, to whom he had been "introduced" by Charley Jones, and who had accounted for Mary's disappearance on the preceding day, and spoken of their chase, their fears, their hopes.
All this was told in a few words to Mr Bridgenorth - so few, that they gave him but a confused idea, that time was of value; and this be named to his counsel, who now rose to speak for the defence.
Job Legh looked about for Mary, now he had gained, and given, some idea of the position of things. At last he saw her, standing by a decent-looking woman, looking flushed and anxious, and moving her lips incessantly as if eagerly talking; her eyes never resting on any object, but wandering about as if in search of something. Job thought it was for him she was seeking, and he struggled to get round to her. When he had succeeded, she took no notice of him, although he spoke, to her, but still kept looking round and round in the same wild, restless manner. He tried to hear the low quick mutterings of her voice, as he caught the repetition of the same words over and over again.
"I must not go mad. I must not, indeed. They say people tell the truth when they're mad; but I don't. I was always a liar. I was, indeed; but I'm not mad. I must not go mad. I must not, indeed."
Suddenly she seemed to become aware how earnestly Job was listening (with mournful attention) to her words, and turning sharp round upon him, with upbraiding, for his eaves-dropping, on her lips, she caught sight of something, - or some one, - who, even in that state, had power to arrest her attention; and throwing up her arms with wild energy, she shrieked aloud,
"Oh, Jem! Jem! you're saved; and I am mad --" and was instantly seized with convulsions. With much commiseration she was taken out of court, while the attention of many was diverted from her, by the fierce energy with which a sailor forced his way over rails and seats, against turnkeys and policemen. The officers of the court opposed this forcible manner of entrance, but they could hardly induce the offender to adopt any quieter way of attaining his object, and telling his tale in the witness-box, the legitimate place. For Will had dwelt so impatiently on the danger in which his absence would place his cousin, that even yet he seemed to fear that be might see the prisoner carried off, and hung, before he could pour out the narrative which would exculpate him. As for Job Legh, his feelings were all but uncontrollable; as you may judge by the indifference with which he saw Mary borne, stiff and convulsed out of court, in the charge of the kind Mrs Sturgis, who, you will remember, was an utter stranger to him.
"She'll keep! I'll not trouble myself about her," said he to himself, as he wrote with trembling hands a little note of information to Mr Bridgenorth, who had conjectured, when Will had first disturbed the awful tranquillity of the life-and-death court, that the witness had arrived (better late than never) on whose evidence rested all the slight chance yet remaining to Jem Wilson of escaping death. During the commotion in the court, among all the cries and commands, the dismay and the directions, consequent upon Will's entrance, and poor Mary's fearful attack of illness, Mr Bridgenorth had kept his lawyer-like presence of mind; and long before Job Legh's almost illegible note was poked him, he had recapitulated the facts on which Will had to give evidence, and the manner in which he had been pursued, after his ship had taken her leave of the land.
The barrister who defended Jem took new heart when he was put in possession of these striking points to be adduced, not so much out of earnestness to save the prisoner, of whose innocence he was still doubtful, as because he saw the opportunities for the display of forensic eloquence which were presented by the facts; "a gallant tar brought back from the pathless ocean by a girl's noble daring," "the dangers of too hastily judging from circumstantial evidence," etc., etc.; while the counsellor for the prosecution prepared himself by folding his arms, elevating his eyebrows, and putting his lips in the form in which they might best whistle down the wind such evidence as might be produced by a suborned witness, who dared to perjure himself. For, of course, it is etiquette to suppose that such evidence as may be given against the opinion which lawyers are paid to uphold, is any thing but based on truth; and "perjury," "conspiracy," and "peril of your immortal soul," are light expressions to throw at the heads of those who may prove (not the speaker, there would then be some excuse for the hasty words of personal anger, but) the hirer of the speaker to be wrong, or mistaken.
But when once Will had attained his end, and felt that his tale, or part of a tale, would be heard by judge or jury; when once he saw Jem standing safe and well before him (even though he saw him pale and care-worn at the felon's bar), his courage took the shape of presence of mind, and he awaited the examination with a calm, unflinching intelligence, which dictated the clearest and most pertinent answers. He told the story you know so well: how his leave of absence being nearly expired, he had resolved to fulfil his promise, and go to see an uncle residing in the Isle of Man; how his money (sailor-like) was all expended in Manchester, and how, consequently, it had been necessary for him to walk to Liverpool, which he had accordingly done on the very night of the murder, accompanied as far as Hollins Green by his friend and cousin, the prisoner at the bar. He was clear and distinct in every corroborative circumstance, and gave a short account of the singular way in which he had been recalled from his outward-bound voyage, and the terrible anxiety he had felt, as the pilot-boat had struggled home against the wind. The jury felt that their opinion (so nearly decided half an hour ago) was shaken and disturbed in a very uncomfortable and perplexing way, and were almost grateful to the counsel for the prosecution, when he got up, with a brow of thunder, to demolish the evidence, which was so bewildering when taken in connection with every thing previously adduced. But if such, without looking to the consequences, was the first impulsive feeling of some among the jury, how shall I describe the vehemence of passion which possessed the mind of poor Mr Carson, as he saw the effect of the young sailor's statement? It never shook his belief in Jem's guilt in the least, that attempt at an alibi; his hatred, his longing for vengeance, having once defined an object to itself, could no more bear to be frustrated and disappointed, than the beast of prey can submit to have his victim taken from his hungry jaws. No more likeness to the calm stern power of Jupiter was there in that white eager face, almost distorted by its fell anxiety of expression.
The counsel to whom etiquette assigned the cross-examination of Will, caught the look on Mr Carson's face, and in his desire to further the intense wish there manifested, he over-shot his mark even in his first insulting question:
"And now, my man, you've told the court a very good and very convincing story; no reasonable man ought to doubt the unstained innocence of your relation at the bar. Still there is one circumstance you have forgotten to name; and I feel that without it your evidence is rather incomplete. Will you have the kindness to inform the gentlemen of the jury what has been your charge for repeating this very plausible story? How much good coin of her Majesty's realm have you received, or are you to receive, for walking up from the Docks, or some less creditable place, and uttering the tale you have just now repeated, - very much to the credit of your instructor, I must say? Remember, sir, you are upon oath."
It took Will a minute to extract the meaning from the garb of unaccustomed words in which it was invested, and during this time he looked a little confused. But the instant the truth flashed upon him he fixed his bright clear eyes, flaming with indignation, upon the counsellor, whose look fell at last before that stern unflinching gaze. Then, and not till then, Will made answer:
"Will you tell the judge and jury how much money you've been paid for your impudence towards one who has told God's blessed truth, and who would scorn to tell a lie, or blackguard any one, for the biggest fee as ever lawyer got for doing dirty work? Will you tell, sir? - But I'm ready, my lord judge, to take my oath as many times as your lordship or the jury would like, to testify to things having happened just as I said. There's O'Brien, the pilot, in court now. Would somebody with a wig on please to ask him how much he can say for me?"
It was a good idea, and caught at by the counsel for the defence. O'Brien gave just such testimony as was required to clear Will from all suspicion. He had witnessed the pursuit, he had heard the conversation which took place between the boat and the ship; he had given Will a homeward passage in his boat. And the character of an accredited pilot, appointed by the Trinity House, was known to be above suspicion.
Mr Carson sank back on his seat in sickening despair. He knew enough of courts to be aware of the extreme unwillingness of juries to convict, even where the evidence is most clear, when the penalty of such conviction is death. At the period of the trial most condemnatory to the prisoner, he had repeated this fact to himself, in order to damp his too certain expectation of a conviction. Now it needed not repetition, for it forced itself upon his consciousness, and he seemed to know, even before the jury retired to consult, that by some trick, some negligence, some miserable hocus-pocus, the murderer of his child, his darling, his Absalom, who had never rebelled, - the slayer of his unburied boy would slip through the fangs of justice and walk free and unscathed over that earth where his son would never more be seen.
It was even so. The prisoner hid his face once more to shield the expression of an emotion he could not control, from the notice of the over-curious; Job Legh ceased his eager talking to Mr Bridgenorth; Charley looked grave and earnest: for the jury filed one by one back into their box, and the question was asked to which such an awful answer might be given.
The verdict they had come to was unsatisfactory to themselves at last; neither being convinced of his innocence, nor yet quite willing to believe him guilty in the teeth of the alibi. But the punishment that awaited him, if guilty, was so terrible, and so unnatural a sentence for man to pronounce on man, that the knowledge of it had weighed down the scale on the side of innocence, and "Not Guilty" was the verdict that thrilled through the breathless court.
One moment of silence, and then the murmurs rose, as the verdict was discussed by all with lowered voice. Jem stood motionless, his head bowed; poor fellow, he was stunned with the rapid career of events during the last few hours.
He had assumed his place at the bar with little or no expectation of an acquittal; and with scarcely any desire for life, in the complication of occurrences tending to strengthen the idea of Mary's more than indifference to him; she had loved another, and in her mind Jem believed that he himself must be regarded as the murderer of him she loved. And suddenly, athwart this gloom which made Life seem such a blank expanse of desolation, there flashed the exquisite delight of hearing Mary's avowal of love, making the future all glorious, if a future in this world he might hope to have. He could not dwell on any thing but her words, telling of her passionate love; all else was indistinct, nor could he strive to make it otherwise. She loved him.
And Life, now full of tender images, suddenly bright with all exquisite promises, hung on a breath, the slenderest gossamer chance. He tried to think that the knowledge of her love would soothe him even in his dying hours; but the phantoms of what life with her might be, would obtrude, and made him almost gasp and reel under the uncertainty he was enduring. Will's appearance had only added to the intensity of this suspense.
The full meaning of the verdict could not at once penetrate his brain. He stood dizzy and motionless. Some one pulled his coat. He turned, and saw Job Legh, the tears stealing down his brown furrowed cheeks, while he tried in vain to command voice enough to speak. He kept shaking Jem by the hand, as the best and necessary expression of his feeling.
"Here, make yourself scarce! I should think you'd be glad to get out of that!" exclaimed the gaoler, as he brought up another livid prisoner, from out whose eyes came the anxiety which he would not allow any other feature to display.
Job Legh pressed out of court, and Jem followed unreasoningly.
The crowd made way, and kept their garments tight about them, as Jem passed, for about him there still hung the taint of the murderer.
He was in the open air, and free once more! Although many looked on him with suspicion, faithful friends closed round him; his arm was unresistingly pumped up and down by his cousin and Job; when one was tired, the other took up the wholesome exercise, when Ben Sturgis was working off his interest in the scene by scolding Charley for walking on his head round and round Mary's sweetheart, for a sweetheart he was now satisfactorily ascertained to be, in spite of her assertion to the contrary. And all this time Jem himself felt bewildered and dazzled; he would have given any thing for an hour's uninterrupted thought on the occurrences of the past week, and the new visions raised up during the morning; aye, even though that tranquil hour were to be passed in the hermitage of his quiet prison cell. The first question sobbed out by his choking voice, oppressed with emotion, was,
"Where is she?"
They led him to the room where his mother sat. They had told her of her son's acquittal, and now she was laughing, and crying, and talking, and giving way to all those feelings which she had restrained with such effort during the last few days. They brought her son to her, and she threw herself upon his neck, weeping there. He returned her embrace, but looked around, beyond. Excepting his mother, there was no one in the room but the friends who had entered with him.
"Eh, lad!" she said, when she found voice to speak. "See what it is to have behaved thysel! I could put in a good word for thee, and the jury could na go and hang thee in the face of th' character I gave thee. Was na it a good thing they did na keep me from Liverpool? But I would come; I knew I could do thee good, bless thee, my lad. But thou'rt very white, and all of a tremble."
He kissed her again and again, but looking round as if searching for some one he could not find, the first words he uttered were still -
"Where is she?"
REQUIESCAT IN PACE
She was where no words of peace, no soothing hopeful tidings could reach her; in the ghastly spectral world of delirium. Hour after hour, day after day, she started up with passionate cries on her father to save Jem; or rose wildly, imploring the winds and waves, the pitiless winds and waves, to have mercy; and over and over again she exhausted her feverish fitful strength in these agonised entreaties, and fell back powerless, uttering only the wailing moans of despair. They told her Jem was safe, they brought him before her eyes; but sight and hearing were no longer channels of information to that poor distracted brain, nor could human voice penetrate to her understanding.
Jem alone gathered the full meaning of some of her strange sentences, and perceived that, by some means or other, she, like himself, had divined the truth of her father being the murderer.
Long ago (reckoning time by events and thoughts, and not by clock or dial-plate), Jem had felt certain that Mary's father was Harry Carson's murderer; and although the motive was in some measure a mystery, yet a whole train of circumstances (the principal of which was that John Barton had borrowed the fatal gun only two days before) had left no doubt in Jem's mind. Sometimes he thought that John had discovered, and thus bloodily resented, the attentions which Mr Carson had paid to his daughter; at others, he believed the motive to exist in the bitter feuds between the masters and their workpeople, in which Barton was known to take so keen an interest. But if he had felt himself pledged to preserve this secret, even when his own life was the probable penalty, and he believed he should fall execrated by Mary as the guilty destroyer of her lover, how much more was he bound now to labour to prevent any word of hers from inculpating her father, now that she was his own; now that she had braved so much to rescue him; and now that her poor brain had lost all guiding and controlling power over her words.
All that night long Jem wandered up and down the narrow precincts of Ben Sturgis's house. In the little bedroom where Mrs Sturgis alternately tended Mary, and wept over the violence of her illness, he listened to her ravings; each sentence of which had its own peculiar meaning and reference, intelligible to his mind, till her words rose to the wild pitch of agony, that no one could alleviate, and he could bear it no longer, and stole, sick and miserable, down-stairs, where Ben Sturgis thought it his duty to snore away in an arm-chair instead of his bed, under the idea that he should thus be more ready for active service, such as fetching the doctor to revisit his patient.
Before it was fairly light, Jem (wide awake, and listening with an earnest attention he could not deaden, however painful its results proved) heard a gentle subdued knock at the house door; it was no business of his, to be sure, to open it, but as Ben slept on, he thought he would see who the early visitor might be, and ascertain if there was any occasion for disturbing either host or hostess. It was Job Legh who stood there, distinct against the outer light of the street.
"How is she? Eh! poor soul! is that her? No need to ask! How strange her voice sounds! Screech! screech! and she so low, sweet-spoken, when she's well! Thou must keep up heart, old boy, and not look so dismal, thysel."
"I can't help it, Job; it's past a man's bearing to hear such a one as she is, going on as she is doing; even if I did not care for her, it would cut me sore to see one so young, and - I can't speak of it, Job, as a man should do," said Jem, his sobs choking him.
"Let me in, will you?" said Job, pushing past him, for all this time Jem had stood holding the door, unwilling to admit Job where he might hear so much that would be suggestive to one acquainted with the parties that Mary named.
"I'd more than one reason for coming betimes. I wanted to hear how yon poor wench was; - that stood first. Late last night I got a letter from Margaret, very anxious-like. The doctor says the old lady yonder can't last many days longer, and it seems so lonesome for her to die with no one but Margaret and Mrs Davenport about her. So I thought I'd just come and stay with Mary Barton, and see as she's well done to, and you and your mother and Will go and take leave of old Alice."
Jem's countenance, sad at best just now, fell lower and lower. But Job went on with his speech.
"She still wanders, Margaret says, and thinks she's with her mother at home; but for all that, she should have some kith and kin near her to close her eyes, to my thinking."
"Could not you and Will take mother home? I'd follow when----" Jem faltered out thus far, when Job interrupted,
"Lad! if thou knew what thy mother has suffered for thee, thou'd not speak of leaving her just when she's got thee from the grave as it were. Why, this very night she roused me up, and 'Job,' says she, 'I ask your pardon for wakening you, but tell me, am I awake or dreaming? Is Jem proved innocent? Oh, Job Legh! God send I've not been dreaming it!' For thou see'st she can't rightly understand why thou'rt with Mary, and not with her. Aye, aye! I know why; but a mother only gives up her son's heart inch by inch to his wife, and then she gives it up with a grudge. No, Jem! thou must go with thy mother just now, if ever thou hopest for God's blessing. She's a widow, and has none but thee. Never fear for Mary! She's young, and will struggle through. They are decent people, these folk she is with, and I'll watch o'er her as though she was my own poor girl, that lies cold enough in London town. I grant ye, it's hard enough for her to be left among strangers. To my mind, John Barton would be more in the way of his duty, looking after his daughter, than delegating it up and down the country, looking after every one's business but his own."
A new idea and a new fear came into Jem's mind. What if Mary should implicate her father?
"She raves terribly," said he. "All night long she's been speaking of her father, and mixing up thoughts of him with the trial she saw yesterday. I should not wonder if she'll speak of him as being in court next thing."
"I should na wonder, either," answered Job. "Folk in her way say many and many a strange thing; and th' best way is never to mind them. Now you take your mother home, Jem, and stay by her till old Alice is gone, and trust me for seeing after Mary."
Jem felt how right Job was, and could not resist what he knew to be his duty, but I cannot tell you how heavy and sick at heart he was as he stood at the door to take a last fond, lingering look at Mary. He saw her sitting up in bed, her golden hair, dimmed with her one day's illness, floating behind her, her head bound round with wetted cloths, her features all agitated, even to distortion, with the pangs of her anxiety.
Her lover's eyes filled with tears. He could not hope. The elasticity of his heart had been crushed out of him by early sorrows; and now, especially, the dark side of everything seemed to be presented to him. What if she died, just when he knew the treasure, the untold treasure he possessed in her love! What if (worse than death) she remained a poor gibbering maniac all her life long (and mad people do live to be old sometimes, even under all the pressure of their burden), terror-distracted as she was now, and no one able to comfort her!
"Jem!" said Job, partly guessing the other's feelings by his own. "Jem!" repeated he, arresting his attention before he spoke. Jem turned round, the little motion causing the tears to overflow and trickle down his cheeks. "Thou must trust in God, and leave her in His hands." He spoke hushed, and low; but the words sank all the more into Jem's heart, and gave him strength to tear himself away.
He found his mother (notwithstanding that she had but just regained her child through Mary's instrumentality) half inclined to resent his having passed the night in anxious devotion to the poor invalid. She dwelt on the duties of children to their parents (above all others), till Jem could hardly believe the relative positions they had held only yesterday, when she was struggling with and controlling every instinct of her nature, only because he wished it. However, the recollection of that yesterday, with its hair's breadth between him and a felon's death, and the love that had lightened the dark shadow, made him bear with the meekness and patience of a true-hearted man all the worrying little acerbities of to-day; and he had no small merit in doing so; for in him, as in his mother, the reaction after intense excitement had produced its usual effect in increased irritability of the nervous system.
They found Alice alive, and without pain. And that was all. A child of a few weeks old would have had more bodily strength; a child of a very few months old, more consciousness of what was passing before her. But even in this state she diffused an atmosphere of peace around her. True, Will, at first, wept passionate tears at the sight of her, who had been as a mother to him, so standing on the confines of life. But even now, as always, loud passionate feeling could not long endure in the calm of her presence. The firm faith which her mind had no longer power to grasp, had left its trail of glory; for by no other word can I call the bright look which illuminated the old earth-worn face. Her talk, it is true, bore no more that constant earnest reference to God and His holy word which it had done in health, and there were no deathbed words of exhortation from the lips of one so habitually pious. For still she imagined herself once again in the happy, happy realms of childhood; and again dwelling in the lovely northern haunts where she had so often longed to be. Though earthly sight was gone away, she beheld again the scenes she had loved from long years ago! she saw them without a change to dim the old radiant hues. The long dead were with her, fresh and blooming as in those bygone days. And death came to her as a welcome blessing, like as evening comes to the weary child. Her work here was finished, and faithfully done.
What better sentence can an emperor wish to have said over his bier? In second childhood (that blessing clouded by a name), she said her "Nunc Dimittis," - the sweetest canticle to the holy.
"Mother, good night! Dear mother! bless me once more! I'm very tired, and would fain go to sleep." She never spoke again on this side heaven.
She died the day after their return from Liverpool. From that time, Jem became aware that his mother was jealously watching for some word or sign which should betoken his wish to return to Mary. And yet go to Liverpool he must and would, as soon as the funeral was over, if but for a simple glimpse of his darling. For Job had never written; indeed, any necessity for his so doing had never entered his head. If Mary died, he would announce it personally; if she recovered, he meant to bring her home with him. Writing was to him little more than an auxiliary to natural history; a way of ticketing specimens, not of expressing thoughts.
The consequence of this want of intelligence as to Mary's state was, that Jem was constantly anticipating that every person and every scrap of paper was to convey to him the news of her death. He could not endure this state long; but he resolved not to disturb the house by announcing to his mother his purposed intention of returning to Liverpool, until the dead had been buried forth.
On Sunday afternoon they laid her low with many tears. Will wept as one who would not be comforted.
The old childish feeling came over him, the feeling of loneliness at being left among strangers.
By and by, Margaret timidly stole near him, as if waiting to console; and soon his passion sank down to grief, and grief gave way to melancholy, and though he felt as if he never could be joyful again, he was all the while unconsciously approaching nearer to the full happiness of calling Margaret his own, and a golden thread was interwoven even now with the darkness of his sorrow. Yet it was on his arm that Jane Wilson leant on her return homewards. Jem took charge of Margaret.
"Margaret, I'm bound for Liverpool by the first train to-morrow; I must set your grandfather at liberty."
"I'm sure he likes nothing better than watching over poor Mary; he loves her nearly as well as me. But let me go! I have been so full of poor Alice, I've never thought of it before; I can't do so much as many a one, but Mary will like to have a woman about her that she knows. I'm sorry I waited to be reminded, Jem," replied Margaret, with some little self-reproach.
But Margaret's proposition did not at all agree with her companion's wishes. He found he had better speak out, and put his intention at once to the right motive; the subterfuge about setting Job Legh at liberty had done him harm instead of good.
"To tell truth, Margaret, it's I that must go, and that for my own sake, not your grandfather's. I can rest neither by night nor day for thinking on Mary. Whether she lives or dies, I look on her as my wife before God, as surely and solemnly as if we were married. So being, I have the greatest right to look after her, and I cannot yield it even to----"
"Her father," said Margaret, finishing his interrupted sentence. "It seems strange that a girl like her should be thrown on the bare world to struggle through so bad an illness. No one seems to know where John Barton is, else I thought of getting Morris to write him a letter telling him about Mary. I wish he was home, that I do!"
John could not echo this wish.
"Mary's not bad off for friends where she is," said he. "I call them friends, though a week ago we none of us knew there were such folks in the world. But being anxious and sorrowful about the same thing makes people quicker than anything, I think. She's like a mother to Mary in her ways; and he bears a good character, as far as I could learn just in that hurry. We're drawing near home, and I've not said my say, Margaret. I want you to look after mother a bit. She'll not like my going, and I've got to break it to her yet. If she takes it very badly, I'll come back to-morrow night; but if she's not against it very much, I mean to stay till it's settled about Mary, one way or the other. Will, you know, will be there, Margaret, to help a bit in doing for mother."
Will's being there made the only objection Margaret saw to this plan. She disliked the idea of seeming to throw herself in his way, and yet she did not like to say anything of this feeling to Jem, who had all along seemed perfectly unconscious of any love-affair, besides his own, in progress.
So Margaret gave a reluctant consent.
"If you can just step up to our house to-night, Jem, I'll put up a few things as may be useful to Mary, and then you can say when you'll likely be back. If you come home to-morrow night, and Will's there, perhaps I need not step up?"
"Yes, Margaret, do! I shan't leave easy unless you go some time in the day to see mother. I'll come to-night, though; and now good-bye. Stay! do you think you could just coax poor Will to walk a bit home with you, that I might speak to mother by myself?"
No! that Margaret could not do. That was expecting too great a sacrifice of bashful feeling.
But the object was accomplished by Will's going up-stairs immediately on their return to the house, to indulge his mournful thoughts alone. As soon as Jem and his mother were left by themselves, he began on the subject uppermost in his mind.
She put her handkerchief from her eyes, and turned quickly round, so as to face him where he stood, thinking what best to say. The little action annoyed him, and he rushed at once into the subject.
"Mother! I am going back to Liverpool to-morrow morning to see how Mary Barton is."
"And what's Mary Barton to thee, that thou shouldst be running after her in that-a-way?"
"If she lives, she shall be my wedded wife. If she dies - mother, I can't speak of what I shall feel if she dies." His voice was choked in his throat.
For an instant his mother was interested by his words; and then came back the old jealousy of being supplanted in the affections of that son, who had been, as it were, newly born to her, by the escape he had so lately experienced from danger. So she hardened her heart against entertaining any feeling of sympathy; and turned away from the face, which recalled the earnest look of his childhood, when he had come to her in some trouble, sure of help and comfort.
And coldly she spoke, in those tones which Jem knew and dreaded, even before the meaning they expressed was fully shaped. "Thou'rt old enough to please thysel. Old mothers are cast aside, and what they've borne forgotten as soon as a pretty face comes across. I might have thought of that last Tuesday, when I felt as if thou wert all my own, and the judge were some wild animal trying to rend thee from me. I spoke up for thee then, but it's all forgotten now, I suppose."
"Mother! you know all this while, you know I can never forget any kindness you've ever done for me; and they've been many. Why should you think I've only room for one love in my heart? I can love you as dearly as ever, and Mary too, as much as man ever loved woman."
He waited a reply. None was vouchsafed.
"Mother, answer me!" said he, at last.
"What mun I answer? You asked me no question."
"Well! I ask you this now. To-morrow morning I go to Liverpool to see her who is as my wife. Dear mother! will you bless me on my errand? If it please God she recovers, will you take her to you as you would a daughter?"
She could neither refuse nor assent.
"Why need you go?" said she querulously, at length. "You'll be getting in some mischief or another again. Can't you stop at home quiet with me?"
Jem got up, and walked about the room in despairing impatience. She would not understand his feelings. At last he stopped right before the place where she was sitting, wit an air of injured meekness on her face.
"Mother! I often think what a good man father was! I've often heard you tell of your courting days; and of the accident that befell you, and how ill you were. How long is it ago?"
"Near upon five-and-twenty years," said she, with a sigh.
"You little thought when you were so ill you should live to have such a fine strapping son as I am, did you now?"
She smiled a little, and looked up at him, which was just what he wanted.
"Thou'rt not so fine a man as thy father was, by a deal;" said she, looking at him with much fondness, notwithstanding her depreciatory words.
He took another turn or two up and down the room. He wanted to bend the subject round to his own case.
"Those were happy days when father was alive!"
"You may say so, lad! Such days as will never come again to me, at any rate." She sighed sorrowfully.
"Mother!" said he, at last, stopping short, and taking her hand in his with tender affection, "you'd like me to be as happy a man as my father was before me, would not you? You'd like me to have some one to make me as happy as you made father? Now, would not you, dear mother?"
"I did not make him as happy as I might ha' done," murmured she, in a low, sad voice of self-reproach. "Th' accident gave a jar to my temper it's never got the better of; and now he's gone, where he can never know how I grieve for having frabbed him as I did."
"Nay, mother, we don't know that!" said Jem, with gentle soothing. "Any how, you and father got along with as few rubs as most people. But for his sake, dear mother, don't say me nay, now that I come to you to ask your blessing before setting out to see her, who is to be my wife, if ever woman is; for his sake, if not for mine, love her who I shall bring home to be to me all you were to him: and, mother! I do not ask for a truer or a tenderer heart than yours is, in the long run."
The hard look left her face; though her eyes were still averted from Jem's gaze, it was more because they were brimming over with tears, called forth by his words, than because any angry feeling yet remained. And when his manly voice died away in low pleadings, she lifted up her hands, and bent down her son's head below the level of her own; and then she solemnly uttered a blessing.
"God bless thee, Jem, my own dear lad. And may He bless Mary Barton for thy sake."
Jem's heart leapt up, and from this time hope took the place of fear in his anticipations with regard to Mary.
"Mother! you show your own true self to Mary, and she'll love you as dearly as I do."
So with some few smiles, and some few tears, and much earnest talking, the evening wore away.
"I must be off to see Margaret. Why, it's near ten o'clock! Could you have thought it? Now don't you stop up for me, mother. You and Will go to bed, for you've both need of it. I shall be home in an hour."
Margaret had felt the evening long and lonely; and was all but giving up the thoughts of Jem's coming that night, when she heard his step at the door.
He told her of his progress with his mother; he told her his hopes, and was silent on the subject of his fears.
"To think how sorrow and joy are mixed up together. You'll date your start in life as Mary's acknowledged lover from poor Alice Wilson's burial day. Well! the dead are soon forgotten!"
"Dear Margaret! But you're worn out with your long evening waiting for me. I don't wonder. But never you, nor any one else, think because God sees fit to call up new interests, perhaps right out of the grave, that therefore the dead are forgotten. Margaret, you yourself can remember our looks, and fancy what we're like."
"Yes! but what has that to do with remembering Alice?"
"Why, just this. You're not always trying to think on our faces, and making a labour of remembering; but often, I'll be bound, when you're sinking off to sleep, or when you're very quiet and still, the faces you knew so well when you could see, come smiling before you with loving looks. Or you remember them, without striving after it, and without thinking it's your duty to keep recalling them. And so it is with them that are hidden from our sight. If they've been worthy to be heartily loved while alive, they'll not be forgotten when dead; it's against nature. And we need no more be upbraiding ourselves for letting in God's rays of light upon our sorrow, and no more be fearful of forgetting them, because their memory is not always haunting and taking up our minds, than you need to trouble yourself about remembering your grandfather's face, or what the stars were like, - you can't forget if you would, what it's such a pleasure to think about. Don't fear my forgetting aunt Alice."
"I'm not, Jem; not now, at least; only you seemed so full about Mary."
"I've kept it down so long, remember. How glad aunt Alice would have been to know that I might hope to have her for my wife! that's to say if God spares her!"
"She would not have known it, even if you could have told her this last fortnight, - ever since you went away she's been thinking always that she was a little child at her mother's apron-string. She must have been a happy little thing; it was such a pleasure to her to think about those early days, when she lay old and gray on her deathbed."
"I never knew any one seem more happy all her life long."
"Aye! and how gentle and easy her death was! She thought her mother was near her."
They fell into calm thought about those last peaceful, happy hours.
It struck eleven. Jem started up.
"I should have been gone long ago. Give me the bundle. You'll not forget my mother. Good night, Margaret."
She let him out and bolted the door behind him. He stood on the steps to adjust some fastening about the bundle. The court, the street, was deeply still. Long ago all had retired to rest on that quiet Sabbath evening. The stars shone down on the silent deserted streets, and the clear soft moonlight fell in bright masses, leaving the steps on which Jem stood in shadow.
A foot-fall was heard along the pavement; slow and heavy was the sound. Before Jem had ended his little piece of business, a form had glided into sight; a wan, feeble figure, bearing with evident and painful labour a jug of water from the neighbouring pump. It went before Jem, turned up the court at the corner of which he was standing, passed into the broad, calm light; and there, with bowed head, sinking and shrunk body, Jem recognized John Barton.
No haunting ghost could have had less of the energy of life in its involuntary motions than he, who, nevertheless, went on with the same measured clockwork tread until the door of his own house was reached. And then he disappeared, and the latch fell feebly to, and made a faint and wavering sound, breaking the solemn silence of the night. Then all again was still.
For a minute or two Jem stood motionless, stunned by the thoughts which the sight of Mary's father had called up.
Margaret did not know he was at home: had he stolen like a thief by dead of night into his own dwelling? Depressed as Jem had often and long seen him, this night there was something different about him still; beaten down by some inward storm, he seemed to grovel along, all self-respect lost and gone.
Must he be told of Mary's state? Jem felt he must not; and this for many reasons. He could not be informed of her illness without many other particulars being communicated at the same time, of which it were better he should be kept in ignorance; indeed, of which Mary herself could alone give the full explanation. No suspicion that he was the criminal seemed hitherto to have been excited in the mind of any one. Added to these reasons was Jem's extreme unwillingness to face him, with the belief in his breast that he, and none other, had done the fearful deed.
It was true that he was Mary's father, and as such had every right to be told of a concerning her; but supposing he were, and that he followed the impulse so natural to a father, and wished to go to her, what might be the consequences? Among the mingled feelings she had revealed in her delirium, aye, mingled even with the most tender expressions of love for her father, was a sort of horror of him; a dread of him as a blood-shedder, which seemed to separate him into two persons, - one, the father who had dandled her on his knee, and loved her all her life long; the other, the assassin, the cause of all her trouble and woe.
If he presented himself before her while this idea of his character was uppermost, who might tell the consequence?
Jem could not, and would not, expose her to any such fearful chance: and to tell the truth, I believe he looked upon her as more his own, to guard from all shadow of injury with most loving care, than as belonging to any one else in this world, though girt with the reverend name of Father, and guiltless of aught that might have lessened such reverence.
If you think this account of mine confused, of the half-feelings, half-reasons, which passed through Jem's mind, as he stood gazing on the empty space, where that crushed form had so lately been seen, - if you are perplexed to disentangle the real motives, I do assure you it was from just such an involved set of thoughts that Jem drew the resolution to act as if he had not seen that phantom likeness of John Barton; himself, yet not himself.
THE RETURN HOME
Mary still hovered between life and death when Jem arrived at the house where she lay; and the doctors were as yet unwilling to compromise their wisdom by allowing too much hope to be entertained. But the state of things, if not less anxious, was less distressing than when Jem had quitted her. She lay now in a stupor, which was partly disease, and partly exhaustion after the previous excitement.
And now Jem found the difficulty which every one who has watched by a sick bed knows full well; and which is perhaps more insurmountable to men than it is to women, - the difficulty of being patient, and trying not to expect any visible change for long, long hours of sad monotony.
But after awhile the reward came. The laboured breathing became lower and softer, the heavy look of oppressive pain melted away from the face, and a languor that was almost peace took the place of suffering. She slept a natural sleep; and they stole about on tip-toe, and spoke low, and softly, and hardly dared to breathe, however much they longed to sigh out their thankful relief.
She opened her eyes. Her mind was in the tender state of a lately-born infant's. She was pleased with the gay but not dazzling colours of the paper; soothed by the subdued light; and quite sufficiently amused by looking at all the objects in the room - the drawing of the ships, the festoons of the curtain, the bright flowers on the painted backs of the chairs - to care for any stronger excitement.
She wondered at the ball of glass, containing various-coloured sands from the Isle of Wight, or some other place, which hung suspended from the middle of the little valance over the window. But she did not care to exert herself to ask any questions, although she saw Mrs Sturgis standing at the bedside with some tea, ready to drop it into her mouth by spoonfuls.
She did not see the face of honest joy, of earnest thankfulness, - the clasped hands, - the beaming eyes, - the trembling eagerness of gesture, of one who had long awaited her wakening, and who now stood behind the curtains watching through some little chink her every faint motion; or if she had caught a glimpse of that loving, peeping face, she was in too exhausted a state to have taken much notice, or have long retained the impression that he she loved so well was hanging about her, and blessing God for every conscious look which stole over her countenance.
She fell softly into slumber, without a word having been spoken by any one during that half hour of inexpressible joy. And again the stillness was enforced by sign and whispered word, but with eyes that beamed out their bright thoughts of hope. Jem sat by the side of the bed, holding back the little curtain, and gazing as if he could never gaze his fill at the pale, wasted face, so marbled and so chiselled in its wan outline.
She wakened once more; her soft eyes opened, and met his over-bending look. She smiled gently, as a baby does when it sees its mother tending its little cot; and continued her innocent, infantine gaze into his face, as if the sight gave her much unconscious pleasure. But by and by a different expression came into her sweet eyes; a look of memory and intelligence; her white flesh flushed the brightest rosy red, and with feeble motion she tried to hide her head in the pillow.
It required all Jem's self-control to do what he knew and felt to be necessary, to call Mrs Sturgis, who was quietly dozing by the fireside; and that done, he felt almost obliged to leave the room to keep down the happy agitation which would gush out in every feature, every gesture, and every tone.
From that time forward, Mary's progress towards health was rapid.
There was every reason, but one, in favour of her speedy removal home. All Jem's duties lay in Manchester. It was his mother's dwelling-place, and there his plans for life had been to be worked out; plans, which the suspicion and imprisonment he had fallen into, had thrown for a time into a chaos, which his presence was required to arrange into form. For he might find, in spite of a jury's verdict, that too strong a taint was on his character for him ever to labour in Manchester again. He remembered the manner in which some one suspected of having been a convict was shunned by masters and men, when he had accidentally met with work in their foundry; the recollection smote him now, how he himself had thought it did not become an honest upright man to associate with one who had been a prisoner. He could not choose but think on that poor humble being, with his downcast conscious look; hunted out of the workshop, where he had sought to earn an honest livelihood, by the looks, and half-spoken words, and the black silence of repugnance (worse than words to bear), that met him on all sides.
Jem felt that his own character had been attainted; and that to many it might still appear suspicious. He knew that he could convince the world, by a future as blameless as his past had been, that he was innocent. But at the same time he saw that he must have patience, and nerve himself for some trials; and the sooner these were undergone, the sooner he was aware of the place he held in men's estimation, the better. He longed to have presented himself once more at the foundry; and then the reality would drive away the pictures that would (unbidden) come, of a shunned man, eyed askance by all, and driven forth to shape out some new career.
I said every reason "but one" inclined Jem to hasten Mary's return as soon as she was sufficiently convalescent. That one was the meeting which awaited her at home.
Turn it over as Jem would, he could not decide what was the best course to pursue. He could compel himself to any line of conduct that his reason and his sense of right told him to be desirable; but they did not tell him it was desirable to speak to Mary, in her tender state of mind and body, of her father. How much would be implied by the mere mention of his name! Speak it as calmly, and as indifferently as he might, he could not avoid expressing some consciousness of the terrible knowledge she possessed.
She, for her part, was softer and gentler than she had ever been in her gentlest mood; since her illness her motions, her glances, her voice were all tender in their languor. It seemed almost a trouble to her to break the silence with the low sounds of her own sweet voice, and her words fell sparingly on Jem's greedy, listening ear.
Her face was, however, so full of love and confidence that Jem felt no uneasiness at the state of silent abstraction into which she often fell. If she did but love him, all would yet go right; and it was better not to press for confidence on that one subject which must be painful to both.
There came a fine, bright, balmy day. And Mary tottered once more out into the open air, leaning on Jem's arm, and close to his beating heart. And Mrs Sturgis watched them from her door, with a blessing on her lips, as they went slowly up the street.
They came in sight of the river. Mary shuddered.
"Oh Jem! take me home. Yon river seems all made of glittering, dazzling metal, just as it did when I began to be ill."
Jem led her homewards. She dropped her head as searching for something on the ground..
"Jem!" He was a attention. She paused for an instant. "When may I go home? To Manchester, I mean. I am so weary of this place; and I would fain be at home."
She spoke in a feeble voice; not at all impatiently, as the words themselves would seem to intimate, but in a mournful way, as if anticipating sorrow, even in the very fulfilment of her wishes.
"Darling! we will go whenever you wish; whenever you feel strong enough. I asked Job to tell Margaret to get all in readiness for you to go there at first. She'll tend you and nurse you. You must not go home. Job proffered for you to go there."
"Ah! but I must go home, Jem. I'll try and not fail now in what's right. There are things we must not speak on" (lowering her voice), "but you'll be really kind if you'll not speak against my going home. Let us say no more about it, dear Jem. I must go home, and I must go alone."
"Not alone, Mary!"
"Yes, alone! I cannot tell you why I ask it. And if you guess, I know you well enough to be sure you'll understand why I ask you never to speak on that again to me, till I begin. Promise, dear Jem, promise!"
He promised; to gratify that beseeching face, he promised. And then he repented, and felt as if he had done ill. Then again he felt as if she were the best judge, and knowing all (perhaps more than even he did), might be forming plans which his interference would mar.
One thing was certain! it was a miserable thing to have this awful forbidden ground of discourse; to guess at each other's thoughts, when eyes were averted, and cheeks blanched, and words stood still, arrested in their flow by some casual allusion.
At last a day, fine enough for Mary to travel on, arrived. She had wished to go, but now her courage failed her. How could she have said she was weary of that quiet house, where even Ben Sturgis's grumblings only made a kind of harmonious bass in the concord between him and his wife, so thoroughly did they know each other with the knowledge of many years! How could she have longed to quit that little peaceful room where she had experienced such loving tendence! Even the very check bed-curtains became dear to her, under the idea of seeing them no more. If it was so with inanimate objects, if they had such power of exciting regret, what were her feelings with regard to the kind old couple, who had taken the stranger in, and cared for her, and nursed her, as though she had been a daughter? Each wilful sentence spoken in the half-unconscious irritation of feebleness came now with avenging self-reproach to her memory, as she hung about Mrs Sturgis, with many tears, which served instead of words to express her gratitude and love.
Ben bustled about with the square bottle of Golden-wasser in one of his hands, and a small tumbler in the other; he went to Mary, Jem, and his wife in succession, pouring out a glass for each, and bidding them drink it to keep their spirits up; but as each severally refused, he drank it himself; and passed on to offer the same hospitality to another with the like refusal, and the like result.
When he had swallowed the last of the three draughts, he condescended to give his reasons for having done so.
"I cannot abide waste. What's poured out mun be drunk. That's my maxim." So saying he replaced the bottle in the cupboard.
It was he who, in a firm commanding voice, at last told Jem and Mary to be off, or they would be too late. Mrs Sturgis had kept up till then; but as they left her house, she could no longer restrain her tears, and cried aloud in spite of her husband's upbraiding.
"Perhaps they'll be too late for the train!" exclaimed she, with a degree of hope, as the clock struck two.
"What! and come back again? No! no! that would never do. We've done our part, and cried our cry; it's no use going over the same ground again. I should ha' to give 'em more out of yon bottle when next parting time came, and them three glasses they ha' made a hole in the stuff, I can tell you. Time Jack was back from Hamburgh with some more.
When they reached Manchester, Mary looked very white, and the expression of her face was almost stern. She was in fact summoning up her resolution to meet her father if he were at home. Jem had never named his midnight glimpse of John Barton to human being; but Mary had a sort of presentiment, that wander where he would, he would seek his home at last. But in what mood she dreaded to think. For the knowledge of her father's capability of guilt seemed to have opened a dark gulf in his character, into the depths of which she trembled to look. At one moment she would fain have claimed protection against the life she must lead, for some time at least, alone with a murderer! She thought of his gloom, before his mind was haunted by the memory of so terrible a crime; his moody, irritable ways. She imagined the evenings as of old; she, toiling at some work, long after houses were shut, and folks abed; he, more savage than he had ever been before with the inward gnawing of his remorse. At such times she could have cried aloud with terror, at the scenes her fancy conjured up.
But her filial duty, nay, her love and gratitude for many deeds of kindness done to her as a little child, conquered all fear. She would endure all imaginable terrors, although of daily occurrence. And she would patiently bear all wayward violence of temper; more than patiently would she bear it - pitifully, as one who knew of some awful curse awaiting the blood-shedder. She would watch over him tenderly, as the Innocent should watch over the Guilty; awaiting the gracious seasons, wherein to pour oil and balm into the bitter wounds.
With the untroubled peace which the resolve to endure to the end gives, she approached the house that from habit she still called home, but which possessed the holiness of home no longer.
"Jem!" said she, as they stood at the entrance to the court, close by Job Legh's door, "you must go in there and wait half an hour. Not less. If in that time I don't come back, you go your ways to your mother. Give her my dear love. I will send by Margaret when I want to see you." She sighed heavily.
"Mary! Mary! I cannot leave you. You speak as coldly as if we were to be nought to each other. And my heart's bound up in you. I know why you bid me keep away, but----"
She put her hand on his arm, as he spoke in a loud agitated tone; she looked into his face with upbraiding love in her eyes, and then she said, while her lips quivered, and he felt her whole frame trembling:
"Dear Jem! I often could have told you more of love, if I had not once spoken out so free. Remember that time, Jem, if ever you think me cold. Then, the love that's in my heart would out in words; but now, though I'm silent on the pain I'm feeling in quitting you, the love is in my heart all the same. But this is not the time to speak on such things. If I do not do what I feel to be right now, I may blame myself all my life long! Jem, you promised----"
And so saying she left him. She went quicker than she would otherwise have passed over those few yards of ground, for fear he should still try to accompany her. Her hand was on the latch, and in a breath the door was opened.
There sat her father, still and motionless - not even turning his head to see who had entered; but perhaps he recognised the footstep - the trick of action.
He sat by the fire; the grate I should say, for fire there was none. Some dull grey ashes, negligently left, long days ago, coldly choked up the bars. He had taken the accustomed seat from mere force of habit, which ruled his automaton body. For all energy, both physical and mental, seemed to have retreated inwards to some of the great citadels of life, there to do battle against the Destroyer, Conscience.
His hands were crossed, his fingers interlaced; usually a position implying some degree of resolution or strength; but in him it was so faintly maintained, that it appeared more the result of chance; an attitude requiring some application of outward force to alter, - and a blow with a straw seemed as though it would be sufficient.
And as for his face, it was sunk and worn, - like a skull, with yet a suffering expression that skulls have not! Your heart would have ached to have seen the man, however hardly you might have judged his crime.
But crime and all was forgotten by his daughter, as she saw his abashed look, his smitten helplessness. All along she had felt it difficult (as I may have said before) to reconcile the two ideas, of her father and a blood-shedder. But now it was impossible. He was her father! her own dear father! and in his sufferings, whatever their cause, more dearly loved than ever before. His crime was a thing apart, never more to be considered by her.
And tenderly did she treat him, and fondly did she serve him in every way that heart could devise, or hand execute.
She had some money about her, the price of her strange services as a witness; and when the lingering dusk grew on she stole out to effect some purchases necessary for her father's comfort.
For how body and soul had been kept together, even as much as they were, during the days he had dwelt alone, no one can say. The house was bare as when Mary had left it, of coal, or of candle, of food, or of blessing in any shape.
She came quickly home; but as she passed Job Legh's door, she stopped. Doubtless Jem had long since gone; and doubtless, too, he had given Margaret some good reason for not intruding upon her friend for this night at least, otherwise Mary would have seen her before now.
But to-morrow, - would she not come in to-morrow? And who so quick as blind Margaret in noticing tones, and sighs, and even silence?
She did not give herself time for further thought, her desire to be once more with her father was too pressing; but she opened the door, before she well knew what to say.
"It's Mary Barton! I know her by her breathing! Grandfather, it's Mary Barton!"
Margaret's joy at meeting her, the open demonstration of her love, affected Mary much; she could not keep from crying, and sat down weak and agitated on the first chair she could find.
"Aye, aye, Mary! thou'rt looking a bit different to when I saw thee last. Thou'lt give Jem and me good characters for sick nurses, I trust. If all trades fail, I'll turn to that. Jem's place is for life, I reckon. Nay, never redden so, lass. You and he know each other's minds by this time!"
Margaret held her hand, and gently smiled into her face.
Job Legh took the candle up, and began a leisurely inspection.
"Thou hast getten a bit of pink in thy cheeks, - not much; but when last I saw thee, thy lips were as white as a sheet. Thy nose is sharpish at th' end; thou'rt more like thy father than ever thou wert before. Lord! child, what's the matter? Art thou going to faint?"
For Mary had sickened at the mention of that name; yet she felt that now or never was the time to speak.
"Father's come home!" she said, "but he's very poorly; I never saw him as he is now, before. I asked Jem not to come near him for fear it might fidget him."
She spoke hastily, and (to her own idea) in an unnatural manner. But they did not seem to notice it, nor to take the hint she had thrown out of company being unacceptable; for Job Legh directly put down some insect, which he was impaling on a corking-pin, and exclaimed,
"Thy father come home! Why, Jem never said a word of it! And ailing too! I'll go in, and cheer him with a bit of talk. I never knew any good come of delegating it."
"Oh, Job! father cannot stand - father is too ill. Don't come; not but that you're very kind and good; but to-night - indeed," said she, at last, in despair, seeing Job still persevere in putting away his things; "you must not come till I send or come for you. Father's in that strange way, I can't answer for it if he sees strangers. Please don't come. I'll come and tell you every day how he goes on. I must be off now to see after him. Dear Job! kind Job! don't be angry with me. If you knew all, you'd pity me."
For Job was muttering away in high dudgeon, and even Margaret's tone was altered as she wished Mary good night. Just then she could ill brook coldness from any one, and least of all bear the idea of being considered ungrateful by so kind and zealous a friend as Job had been; so she turned round suddenly, even when her hand was on the latch of the door, and ran back, and threw her arms about his neck, and kissed him first, and then Margaret. And then, the tears fast falling down her cheeks, but no word spoken, she hastily left the house, and went back to her home.
There was no change in her father's position, or in his spectral look. He had answered her questions (but few in number, for so many subjects were unapproachable) by monosyllables, and in a weak, high, childish voice; but he had not lifted his eyes; he could not meet his daughter's look. And she, when she spoke, or as she moved about, avoided letting her eyes rest upon him. She wished to be her usual self; but while every thing was done with a consciousness of purpose, she felt it was impossible.
In this manner things went on for some days. At night he feebly clambered upstairs to bed; and during those long dark hours Mary heard those groans of agony which never escaped his lips by day, when they were compressed in silence over his inward woe.
Many a time she sat up listening, and wondering if it would ease his miserable heart if she went to him, and told him she knew all, and loved and pitied him more than words could tell.
By day the monotonous hours wore on in the same heavy, hushed manner as on that first dreary afternoon. He ate, - but without relish; and food seemed no longer to nourish him, for each morning his face had caught more of the ghastly foreshadowing of Death.
The neighbours kept strangely aloof. Of late years John Barton had had a repellent power about him, felt by all, except to the few who had either known him in his better and happier days, or those to whom he had given his sympathy and his confidence. People did not care to enter the doors of one whose very depth of thoughtfulness rendered him moody and stern. And now they contented themselves with a kind inquiry when they saw Mary in her goings-out or in her comings-in. With her oppressing knowledge, she imagined their reserved conduct stranger than it was in reality. She missed Job and Margaret too; who, in all former times of sorrow or anxiety since their acquaintance first began, had been ready with their sympathy.
But most of all she missed the delicious luxury she had lately enjoyed in having Jem's tender love at hand every hour of the day, to ward off every wind of heaven, and every disturbing thought. She knew he was often hovering about the house; though the knowledge seemed to come more by intuition, than by any positive sight or sound for the first day or two. On the third, she met him at Job Legh's.
They received her with every effort of cordiality; but still there was a cobweb-veil of separation between them, to which Mary was morbidly acute; while in Jem's voice, and eyes, and manner, there was every evidence of most passionate, most admiring, and most trusting love. The trust was shown by his respectful silence on that one point of reserve on which she had interdicted conversation.
He left Job Legh's house when she did. They lingered on the step, he holding her hand between both of his, as loath to let her go; he questioned her as to when he should see her again.
"Mother does so want to see you," whispered he. "Can you come to see her to-morrow; or when?"
"I cannot tell," replied she softly. "Not yet. Wait awhile; perhaps only a little while. Dear Jem, I must go to him, - dearest Jem."
The next day, the fourth from Mary's return home, as she was sitting near the window, sadly dreaming over some work, she caught a glimpse of the last person she wished to see - of Sally Leadbitter!
She was evidently coming to their house; another moment, and she tapped at the door. John Barton gave an anxious, uneasy side-glance. Mary knew that if she delayed answering the knock, Sally would not scruple to enter; so as hastily as if the visit had been desired, she opened the door, and stood there with the latch in her hand, barring up all entrance, and as much as possible obstructing all curious glances into the interior.
"Well, Mary Barton! You're home at last! I heard you'd getten home; so I thought I'd just step over and hear the news."
She was bent on coming in, and saw Mary's preventive design. So she stood on tip-toe, looking over Mary's shoulders into the room where she suspected a lover to be lurking; but instead, she saw only the figure of the stern gloomy father she had always been in the habit of avoiding; and she dropped down again, content to carry on the conversation where Mary chose, and as Mary chose, in whispers.
"So the old governor is back again, eh? And what does he say to all your fine doings at Liverpool, and before? - you and I know where. You can't hide it now, Mary, for it's all in print. "Mary gave a low moan, - and then implored Sally to change the subject; for unpleasant as it always was, it was doubly unpleasant in the manner in which she was treating it. If they had been alone Mary would have borne it patiently, - or so she thought, but now she felt almost certain, her father was listening; there was a subdued breathing, a slight bracing-up of the listless attitude. But there was no arresting Sally's curiosity to hear all she could respecting the adventures Mary had experienced. She, in common with the rest of Miss Simmonds' young ladies, was almost jealous of the fame that Mary had obtained; to herself, such miserable notoriety.
" Nay! there's no use shunning talking it over. Why! it was in the Guardian, - and the Courier, - and some one told Jane Hodgson it was even copied into a London paper. You've set up heroine on your own account, Mary Barton. How did you like standing witness? Ar'n't them lawyers impudent things? staring at one so. I'll be bound you wished you'd taken my offer, and borrowed my black watered scarf! Now didn't you, Mary? Speak truth!"
"To tell truth, I never thought about it, then, Sally. How could I?" asked she, reproachfully.
"Oh - I forgot. You were all for that stupid James Wilson. Well! if I've ever the luck to go witness on a trial, see if I don't pick up a better beau than the prisoner. I'll aim at a lawyer's clerk, but I'll not take less than a turnkey."
Cast down as Mary was, she could hardly keep from smiling at the idea, so wildly incongruous with the scene she had really undergone, of looking out for admirers during a trial for murder.
"I'd no thought to be looking out for beaux, I can assure you, Sally. But don't let us talk any more about it; I can't bear to think on it. How is Miss Simmonds? and everybody?"
"Oh, very well; and by the way she gave me a bit of a message for you. You may come back to work if you'll behave yourself, she says. I told you she'd be glad to have you back, after all this piece of business, by way of tempting people to come to her shop. They'd come from Salford to have a peep at you, for six months at least."
"Don't talk so; I cannot come, I can never face Miss Simmonds again. And even if I could----" she stopped, and blushed.
"Aye! I know what you are thinking on. But that will not be this some time, as he's turned off from the foundry, - you'd better think twice afore refusing Miss Simmonds' offer."
"Turned off from the foundry? Jem!" cried Mary.
"To be sure! didn't you know it? Decent men were not going to work with a----no! I suppose I mustn't say it, seeing you went to such a trouble to get up an alibi; not that I should think much the worse of a spirited young fellow for falling foul of a rival, - they always do at the theatre."
But Mary's thoughts were with Jem. How good he had been never to name his dismissal to her. How much he had to endure for her sake!
"Tell me all about it," she gasped out.
"Why, you see, they've always swords quite handy at them plays," began Sally; but Mary, with an impatient shake of her head, interrupted,
"About Jem, - about Jem, I want to know."
"Oh! I don't pretend to know more than is in every one's mouth: he's turned away from the foundry, because folks don't think you've cleared him outright of the murder; though perhaps the jury were loath to hang him. Old Mr Carson is savage against judge and jury, and lawyers and all, as I heard."
"I must go to him, I must go to him," repeated Mary, in a hurried manner.
"He'll tell you all I've said is true, and not a word of lie," replied Sally. "So I'll not give your answer to Miss Simmonds, but leave you to think twice about it. Good afternoon!"
Mary shut the door, and turned into the house.
Her father sat in the same attitude; the old unchanging attitude. Only his head was more bowed towards the ground.
She put on her bonnet to go to Ancoats; for see, and question, and comfort, and worship Jem, she must.
As she hung about her father for an instant before leaving him, he spoke - voluntarily spoke for the first time since her return; but his head was drooping so low she could not hear what he said, so she stooped down; and after a moment's pause, he repeated the words,
"Tell Jem Wilson to come here at eight o'clock to-night."
Could he have overheard her conversation with Sally Leadbitter? They had whispered low, she thought. Pondering on this, and many other things, she reached Ancoats.
"F0RGIVE US OUR TRESPASSES"
As Mary was turning into the street where the Wilsons lived, Jem overtook her. He came upon her suddenly, and she started. "You're going to see mother?" he asked tenderly, placing her arm within his, and slackening his pace.
"Yes, and you too. Oh, Jem, is it true? tell me."
She felt rightly that he would guess the meaning of her only half-expressed inquiry. He hesitated a moment before he answered her.
"Darling, it is; it's no use hiding it - if you mean that. I'm no longer to work at Duncombe's foundry. It's no time (to my mind) to have secrets from each other, though I did not name it yesterday, thinking you might fret. I shall soon get work again, never fear."
"But why did they turn you off, when the jury had said you were innocent?"
"It was not just to say turned off, though I don't think I could have well stayed on. A good number of the men managed to let out they should not like to work under me again; there were some few who knew me well enough to feel I could not have done it, but more were doubtful; and one spoke to young Mr Duncombe, hinting at what they thought."
"Oh, Jem! what a shame!" said Mary, with mournful indignation.
"Nay, darling! I'm not for blaming them. Poor fellows like them have nought to stand upon and be proud of but their character, and it's fitting they should take care of that, and keep that free from soil and taint."
"But you, - what could they get but good from you? They might have known you by this time."
"So some do; the overlooker, I'm sure, would know I am innocent. Indeed, he said as much to-day; and he said he had had some talk with old Mr Duncombe, and they thought it might be better if I left Manchester for a bit; they'd recommend me to some other place."
But Mary could only shake her head in a mournful way, and repeat her words,
"They might have known thee better, Jem."
Jem pressed the little hand he held between his own work-hardened ones. After a minute or two, he asked,
"Mary, art thou much bound to Manchester? Would it grieve thee sore to quit the old smoke-jack?"
"With thee?" she asked, in a quiet, glancing way.
"Aye, lass! Trust me, I'll never ask thee to leave Manchester while I'm in it. Because I have heard fine things of Canada; and our overlooker has a cousin in the foundry line there. Thou knowest where Canada is, Mary?"
"Not rightly - not now, at any rate; - but with thee, Jem," her voice sunk to a soft, low whisper, "anywhere----"
What was the use of a geographical description!
"But father!" said Mary, suddenly breaking that delicious silence with the one sharp discord in her present life.
She looked up at her lover's grave face; and then the message her father had sent flashed across her memory.
"Oh, Jem, did I tell you? Father sent word he wished to speak with you. I was to bid you come to him at eight o'clock to-night. What can he want, Jem?"
"I cannot tell," replied he. "At any rate I'll go. It's no use troubling ourselves to guess," he continued, after a pause for a few minutes, during which they slowly and silently paced up and down the by-street, into which he had led her when their conversation began. "Come and see mother, and then I'll take thee home, Mary. Thou wert all in a tremble when first I came up to thee; thou'rt not fit to be trusted home by thyself," said he, with fond exaggeration of her helplessness.
Yet a little more lovers' loitering; a few more words, in themselves nothing - to you nothing - but to those two, what tender passionate language can I use to express the feelings which thrilled through that young man and maiden, as they listened to the syllables made dear and lovely through life by that hour's low-whispered talk.
It struck the half hour past seven.
"Come and speak to mother; she knows you're to be her daughter, Mary, darling."
So they went in. Jane Wilson was rather chafed at her son's delay in returning home, for as yet he had managed to keep her in ignorance of his dismissal from the foundry: and it was her way to prepare some little pleasure, some little comfort for those she loved; and if they, unwittingly, did not appear at the proper time to enjoy her preparation, she worked herself up into a state of fretfulness which found vent in upbraidings as soon as ever the objects of her care appeared, thereby marring the peace which should ever be the atmosphere of a home, however humble; and causing a feeling almost amounting to loathing to arise at the sight of the "stalled ox," which, though an effect and proof of careful love, has been the cause of so much disturbance.
Mrs Wilson had first sighed, and then grumbled to herself, over the increasing toughness of the potato-cakes she had made for her son's tea.
The door opened, and he came in; his face brightening into proud smiles, Mary Barton hanging on his arm, blushing and dimpling, with eyelids veiling the happy light of her eyes, - there was around the young couple a radiant atmosphere - a glory of happiness.
Could his mother mar it? Could she break into it with her Martha-like cares? Only for one moment did she remember her sense of injury, - her wasted trouble, - and then, her whole woman's heart heaving with motherly love and sympathy, she opened her arms, and received Mary into them, as shedding tears of agitated joy, she murmured in her ear,
"Bless thee, Mary, bless thee! Only make him and God bless thee for ever!"
It took some of Jem's self-command to separate those whom he so much loved, and who were beginning, for his sake, to love one another so dearly. But the time for his meeting John Barton drew on; and it was a long way to his house.
As they walked briskly thither, they hardly spoke; though many thoughts were in their minds.
The sun had not long set, but the first faint shade of twilight was over all; and when they opened the door, Jem could hardly perceive the objects within by the waning light of day, and the flickering fire-blaze.
But Mary saw all at a glance.
Her eye, accustomed to what was usual in the aspect of the room, saw instantly what was unusual, - saw and understood it all.
Her father was standing behind his habitual chair; holding by the back of it as if for support. And opposite to him there stood Mr Carson; the dark outline of his stern figure looming large against the light of the fire in that little room.
Behind her father sat Job Legh, his head in his hands, and resting his elbow on the little family table, - listening evidently; but as evidently deeply affected by what he heard.
There seemed to be some pause in the conversation. Mary and Jem stood at the half-open door, not daring to stir; hardly to breathe.
"And have I heard you aright?" began Mr Carson, with his deep quivering voice. "Man, have I heard you aright? Was it you, then, that killed my boy? my only son?" (he said these last few words almost as if appealing for pity, and then he changed his tone to one more vehement and fierce). "Don't dare to think that I shall be merciful, and spare you, because you have come forward to accuse yourself. I tell you I will not spare you the least pang the law can inflict, - you, who did not show pity on my boy, shall have none from me."
"I did not ask for any," said John Barton, in a low voice.
"Ask, or not ask, what care I? You shall be hanged - hanged - man!" said he, advancing his face, and repeating the word with slow grinding emphasis, as if to infuse some of the bitterness of his soul into it.
John Barton gasped; but not with fear. It was only that he felt it terrible to have inspired such hatred, as was concentrated into every word, every gesture of Mr Carson's.
"As for being hanged, sir, I know it's all right and proper. I dare say it's bad enough; but I tell you what, sir," speaking with an outburst, "if you'd hanged me the day after I'd done the deed, I would have gone down on my knees and blessed you. Death! Lord, what is it to Life? To such a Life as I've been leading this fortnight past. Life at best is no great thing; but such a Life as I have dragged through since that night," he shuddered at the thought. "Why, sir, I've been on the point of killing myself this many a time to get away from my own thoughts. I didn't! and I'll tell you why. I didn't know but that I should be more haunted than ever with the recollection of my sin. Oh! God above only can tell the agony with which I've repented me of it, and part perhaps because I feared He would think I were impatient of the misery He sent as punishment - far, far worse misery than any hanging, sir." He ceased from excess of emotion.
Then he began again.
"Sin' that day (it may be very wicked, sir, but it's the truth) I've kept thinking and thinking if I were but in that world where they say God is, He would, maybe, teach me right from wrong, even if it were with many stripes. I've been sore puzzled here. I would go through hell-fire if I could but get free from sin at last, it's such an awful thing. As for hanging, that's just nought at all"
His exhaustion compelled him to sit down. Mary rushed to him. It seemed as if till then he had been unaware of her presence.
"Aye, aye, wench!" said he, feebly, "is it thee? Where's Jem Wilson?"
Jem came forward. John Barton spoke again, with many a break and gasping pause.
"Lad! thou hast borne a deal for me. It's the meanest thing I ever did to leave thee to bear the brunt. Thou, who wert as innocent of any knowledge of it as the babe unborn. I'll not bless thee for it. Blessing from such as me would not bring thee any good. Thou'lt love Mary, though she is my child."
He ceased, and there was a pause for a few seconds.
Then Mr Carson turned to go. When his hand was on the latch of the door, he hesitated for an instant.
"You can have no doubt for what purpose I go. Straight to the police-office, to send men to take care of you, wretched man, and your accomplice. To-morrow morning your tale shall be repeated to those who can commit you to goal, and before long you shall have the opportunity of trying how desirable hanging is."
"Oh, sir!" said Mary, springing forward, and catching hold of Mr Carson's arm, "my father is dying. Look at him, sir. If you want Death for Death, you have it. Don't take him away from me these last hours. He must go alone through Death, but let me be with him as long as I can. Oh, sir! if you have any mercy in you, leave him here to die."
John himself stood up, stiff and rigid, and replied,
"Mary, wench! I owe him summut. I will go die, where, and as he wishes me. Thou hast said true, I am standing side by side with Death; and it matter little where I spend the bit of time left of Life. That time I must pass wrestling with my soul for a character to take into the other world. I'll go where you see fit,sir. He's innocent," faintly indicating Jem, as he fell back in his chair.
"Never fear! They cannot touch him," said Job Legh, in a low voice.
But as Mr Carson was on the point of leaving the house with no sign of relenting about him, he was again stopped by John Barton, who had risen once more from his chair, and stood supporting himself on Jem, while he spoke.
"Sir, one word! My hairs are grey with suffering, and yours with years----"
"And have I had no suffering?" asked Mr Carson, as if appealing for sympathy, even to the murderer of his child.
And the murderer of his child answered to the appeal, and groaned in spirit over the anguish he had caused.
"Have I had no inward suffering to blanch these hairs? Have not I toiled and struggled even to these years with hopes in my heart that all centred in my boy? I did not speak of them, but were they not there? I seemed hard and cold; and so I might be to others, but not to him! - who shall ever imagine the love I bore to him? Even he never dreamed how my heart leapt up at the sound of his footstep, and how precious he was to his poor old father. And he is gone - killed - out of the hearing of all loving words - out of my sight for ever. He was my sunshine, and now it is night! Oh, my God! comfort me, comfort me!" cried the old man, aloud.
The eyes of John Barton grew dim with tears. Rich and poor, masters and men, were then brothers in the deep suffering of the heart; for was not this the very anguish he had felt for little Tom in years so long gone by, that they seemed like another life!
The mourner before him was no longer the employer; a being of another race, eternally placed in antagonistic attitude; going through the world glittering like gold, with a stony heart within, which knew no sorrow but through the accidents of Trade; no longer the enemy, the oppressor, but a very poor and desolate old man.
The sympathy for suffering, formerly so prevalent a feeling with him, again filled John Barton's heart, and almost impelled him to speak (as best he could) some earnest tender words to the stern man, shaking in his agony.
But who was he, that he should utter sympathy or consolation? The cause of all this woe.
Oh, blasting. thought! Oh, miserable remembrance! He had forfeited all right to bind up his brother's wounds.
Stunned by the thought, he sank upon the seat, almost crushed with the knowledge of the consequences of his own action; for he had no more imagined to himself the blighted home, and the miserable parents, than does the soldier, who discharges his musket, picture to himself the desolation of the wife, and the pitiful cries of the helpless little ones, who are in an instant to be made widowed and fatherless.
To intimidate a class of men, known only to those below them as desirous to obtain the greatest quantity of work for the lowest wages, - at most to remove an overbearing partner from an obnoxious firm, who stood in the way of those who struggled as well as they were able to obtain their rights, - this was the light in which John Barton had viewed his deed; and even so viewing it, after the excitement had passed away, the Avenger, the sure Avenger, had found him out.
But now he knew that he had killed a man, and a brother, - now he knew that no good thing could come out of this evil, even to the sufferers whose cause he had so blindly espoused.
He lay across the table, broken-hearted. Every fresh quivering sob of Mr Carson's stabbed him to his soul.
He felt execrated by all; and as if he could never lay bare the perverted reasonings which had made the performance of undoubted sin appear a duty. The longing to plead some faint excuse grew stronger and stronger. He feebly raised his head, and looking at Job Legh, he whispered out,
"I did not know what I was doing, Job Legh; God knows I didn't! Oh, sir!" said he, wildly, almost throwing himself at Mr Carson's feet, "say you forgive me the anguish I now see I have caused you. I care not for pain, or death, you know I don't; but oh, man! forgive me the trespass I have done!"
"Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive them that trespass against us," said Job, solemnly and low, as if in prayer: as if the words were suggested by those John Barton had used.
Mr Carson took his hands away from his face. I would rather see death than the ghastly gloom which darkened that countenance.
"Let my trespasses be unforgiven, so that I may have vengeance for my son's murder."
There are blasphemous actions as well as blasphemous words: all unloving, cruel deeds are acted blasphemy.
Mr Carson left the house. And John Barton lay on the ground as one dead.
They lifted him up, and almost hoping that that deep trance might be to him the end of all earthly things, they bore him to his bed.
For a time they listened with divided attention to his faint breathings; for in each hasty hurried step that echoed in the street outside, they thought they heard the approach of the officers of justice.
When Mr Carson left the house he was dizzy with agitation; the hot blood went careering through his frame. He could not see the deep blue of the night-heavens for the fierce pulses which throbbed in his head. And partly to steady and calm himself, he leaned against a railing, and looked up into those calm majestic depths with a their thousand stars.
And by and by his own voice returned upon him, as if the last words he had spoken were being uttered through all that infinite space; but in their echoes there was a tone of unutterable sorrow.
"Let my trespasses be unforgiven, so that I may have vengeance for my son's murder."
He tried to shake off the spiritual impression made by this imagination. He was feverish and ill, - and no wonder.
So he turned to go homewards; not, as he had threatened, to the police-office. After all (he told himself), that would do in the morning. No fear of the man's escaping, unless he escaped to the Grave.
So he tried to banish the phantom voices and shapes which came unbidden to his brain, and to recall his balance of mind by walking calmly and slowly, and noticing everything which struck his senses.
It was a warm soft evening in spring, and there were many persons in the streets. Among others, a nurse with a little girl in her charge, conveying her home from some children's gaiety; a dance most likely, for the lovely little creature was daintily decked out in soft, snowy muslin; and her fairy feet tripped along by her nurse's side as if to the measure of some tune she had lately kept time to.
Suddenly up behind her there came a rough, rude errand-boy, nine or ten years of age; a giant he looked by the fairy-child, as she fluttered along. I don't know how it was, but in some awkward way he knocked the poor little girl down upon the hard pavement as he brushed rudely past, not much caring whom he hurt, so that he got along.
The child arose, sobbing with pain; and not without cause, for blood was dropping down from the face, but a minute before so fair and bright - dropping down on the pretty frock, making those scarlet marks so terrible to little children.
The nurse, a powerful woman, had seized the boy, just as Mr Carson (who had seen the whole transaction) came up.
"You naughty little rascal! I'll give you to a policeman, that I will! Do you see how you've hurt the little girl? Do you?" accompanying every sentence with a violent jerk of passionate anger.
The lad looked hard and defying; but withal terrified at the threat of the policeman, those ogres of our streets to all unlucky urchins. The nurse saw it, and began to drag him along, with a view of making what she called "a wholesome impression."
His terror increased, and with it his irritation; when. the little sweet face, choking away its sobs, pulled down nurse's head, and said,
"Please, dear nurse, I'm not much hurt; it was very silly to cry, you know. He did not mean to do it. He did not know what he was doing, did you, little boy? Nurse won't call a policeman, so don't be frightened." And she put up her little mouth to be kissed by her injurer, just as she had been taught to do at home to "make peace."
"That lad will mind, and be more gentle for the time to come, I'll be bound, thanks to that little lady," said a passer-by, half to himself, and half to Mr Carson, whom he had observed to notice the scene.
The latter took no apparent heed of the remark but passed on. But the child's pleading reminded him of the low, broken voice he had so lately heard, penitently and humbly urging the same extenuation of his great guilt.
"I did not know what I was doing."
He had some association with those words; he had heard, or read of that plea somewhere before. Where was it?
"Could it be----?"
He would look when he got home. So when he entered his house he went straight and silently upstairs to his library, and took down the great large Bible, all grand and golden, with its leaves adhering together from the bookbinder's press, so little had it been used.
On the first page (which fell open to Mr Carson's view) were written the names of his children, and his own.
Born, Sept. 29th, 1815."
To make the entry complete, his death should now be added. But the page became hidden by the gathering mist of tears.
Thought upon thought, and recollection upon recollection came crowding in, from the remembrance of the proud day when he had purchased the costly book, in order to write down the birth of the little babe of a day old.
He laid his head down on the open page, and let the tears fall slowly on the spotless leaves.
His son's murderer was discovered; had confessed his guilt; and yet (strange to say) he could not hate him with the vehemence of hatred he had felt, when he had imagined him a young man, full of lusty life, defying all laws, human and divine. In spite of his desire to retain the revengeful feeling he considered as a duty to his dead son, something of pity would steal in for the poor, wasted skeleton of a man, the smitten creature, who had told him of his sin, and implored his pardon that night.
In the days of his childhood and youth, Mr Carson had been accustomed to poverty; but it was honest, decent poverty; not the grinding squalid misery he had remarked in every part of John Barton's house, and which contrasted strangely with the pompous sumptuousness of the room in which he now sat. Unaccustomed wonder filled his mind at the reflection of the different lots of the brethren of mankind.
Then he roused himself from his reverie, and turned to the object of his search - the Gospel, where he half expected to find the tender pleading: "They know not what they do."
It was murk midnight by this time, and the house was still and quiet. There was nothing to interrupt the old man in his unwonted study.
Years ago, the Gospel had been his task-book in learning to read. So many years ago, that he had become familiar with the events before he could comprehend the Spirit that made the Life.
He fell to the narrative now, afresh, with all the interest of a little child. He began at the beginning, and read on almost greedily, understanding for the first time the full meaning of the story. He came to the end; the awful End. And there were the haunting words of pleading.
He shut the book, and thought deeply.
All night long, the Archangel combated with the Demon.
All night long, others watched by the bed of Death. John Barton had revived to fitful intelligence. He spoke at times with even something of his former energy; and in the racy Lancashire dialect he had always used when speaking freely.
"You see I've so often been hankering after the right way; and it's a hard one for a poor man to find. At least it's been so to me. No one learned me, and no one telled me. When I was a little chap they taught me to read, and then they never gave no books; only I heard say the Bible was a good book. So when I grew thoughtful, and puzzled, I took to it. But you'd never believe black was black, or night was night, when you saw all about you acting as if black was white, and night was day. It's not much I can say for myself in t'other world. God forgive me; but I can say this, I would fain have gone after the Bible rules if I'd seen folk credit it; they all spoke up for it, and went and did clean contrary. In those days I would ha' gone about wi' my Bible, like a little child, my finger in th' lace, and asking the meaning of this or that text, and no one told me. Then I took out two or three texts as clear as glass, and I tried to do what they bid me do. But I don't know how it was, masters and men, all alike cared no more for minding those texts, than I did for th' Lord Mayor of London; so I grew to think it must be a sham put upon poor ignorant folk, women, and such-like.
"It was not long I tried to live Gospel-wise, but it was liker heaven than any other bit of earth has been. I'd old Alice to strengthen me; but every one else said, 'Stand up for thy rights, or thou'lt never get 'em;' and wife and children never spoke, but their helplessness cried aloud, and I was driven to do as others did, - and then Tom died. You know all about that - I'm getting scant o' breath, and blind-like."
Then again he spoke, after some minutes of hushed silence.
"All along it came natural to love folk, though now I am what I am. I think one time I could e'en have loved the masters if they'd ha' letten me; that was in my Gospel-days, afore my child died o' hunger. I was tore in two oftentimes, between my sorrow for poor suffering folk, and my trying to love them as caused their sufferings (to my mind).
"At last I gave it up in despair, trying to make folks' actions square wi' th' Bible; and I thought I'd no longer labour at following th' Bible mysel', I've said all this afore, maybe. But from that time I've dropped down, down - down."
After that he only spoke in broken sentences.
"I did not think he'd been such an old man, - Oh! that he had but forgiven me," - and then came earnest, passionate, broken words of prayer.
Job Legh had gone home like one struck down with the unexpected shock. Mary and Jem together waited the approach of death; but as the final struggle drew on, and morning dawned, Jem suggested some alleviation to the gasping breath, to purchase which he left the house in search of a druggist's shop, which should be open at that early hour.
During his absence, Barton grew worse; he had fallen across the bed, and his breathing seemed almost stopped; in vain did Mary strive to raise him, her sorrow and exhaustion had rendered her too weak.
So, on hearing some one enter the house-place below, she cried out for Jem to come to her assistance.
A step, which was not Jem's, came up the stairs.
Mr Carson stood in the door-way. In one instant he comprehended the case.
He raised up the powerless frame; and the departing soul looked out of the eyes with gratitude. He held the dying man propped in his arms. John Barton folded his hands, as if in prayer.
"Pray for us," said Mary, sinking on her knees, and forgetting in that solemn hour all that had divided her father and Mr Carson.
No other words would suggest themselves than some of those he had read only a few hours before:
"God be merciful to us sinners. - Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive them that trespass against us."
And when the words were said, John Barton lay a corpse in Mr Carson's arms.
So ended the tragedy of a poor man's life.
Mary knew nothing more for many minutes. When she recovered consciousness, she found herself supported by Jem on the "settle" in the house-place. Job and Mr Carson were there, talking together lowly and solemnly. Then Mr Carson bade farewell and left the house; and Job said aloud, but as if speaking to himself,
"God has heard that man's prayer. He has comforted him."
JEM'S INTERVIEW WITH MR DUNCOMBE
Although Mary had hardly been conscious of her thoughts, and it had been more like a secret instinct informing her soul, than the result of any process of reasoning, she had felt for some time (ever since her return from Liverpool, in fact), that for her father there was but one thing to be desired and anticipated, and that was death!
She had seen that Conscience had given the mortal wound to his earthly frame; she did not dare to question of the infinite mercy of God, what the Future Life would be to him.
Though at first desolate and stunned by the blow which had fallen on herself, she was resigned and submissive as soon as she recovered strength enough to ponder and consider a little; and you may be sure that no tenderness or love was wanting on Jem's part, and no consideration and sympathy on that of Job and Margaret, to soothe and comfort the girl who now stood alone in the world as far as blood-relations were concerned.
She did not ask or care to know what arrangements they were making in whispered tones with regard to the funeral. She put herself into their bands with the trust of a little child; glad to be undisturbed in the reveries and remembrances which filled her eyes with tears, and caused them to fall quietly down her pale cheeks.
It was the longest day she had ever known in her life; every charge and every occupation was taken away from her: but perhaps the length of quiet time thus afforded was really good, although its duration weighed upon her; for by this means she contemplated her situation in every light, and fully understood that the morning's event had left her an orphan; and thus she was spared the pangs caused to us by the occurrence of death in the evening, just before we should naturally, in the usual course of events, lie down to slumber. For in such case, worn out by anxiety, and it may be by much watching, our very excess of grief rocks itself to sleep, before we have had time to realise its cause; and we waken, with a start of agony like a fresh stab, to the consciousness of the one awful vacancy, which shall never, while the world endures, be filled again.
The day brought its burden of duty to Mrs Wilson. She felt bound by regard, as well as by etiquette, to go and see her future daughter-in-law. And by an old association of ideas (perhaps of death with church-yards, and churches with Sunday), she thought it necessary to put on her best, and latterly unused clothes, the airing of which on a little clothes-horse before the fire seemed to give her a not unpleasing occupation.
When Jem returned home late in the evening succeeding John Barton's death, weary and oppressed with the occurrences and excitements of the day, he found his mother busy about her mourning, and much inclined to talk. Although he longed for quiet, he could not avoid sitting down and answering her questions.
"Well, Jem! he's gone at last, is he?"
"Yes. How did you hear, mother?"
"Oh, Job came over here, and telled me, on his way to the undertaker's. Did he make a fine end?"
It struck Jem that she had not heard of the confession which had been made by John Barton on his death-bed; he remembered Job Legh's discretion, and he determined that if it could be avoided his mother should never hear of it. Many of the difficulties to be anticipated in preserving the secret would be obviated, if he could induce his mother to fall into the plan he had named to Mary of emigrating to Canada. The reasons which rendered this secrecy desirable related to the domestic happiness he hoped for. With his mother's irritable temper he could hardly expect that all allusion to the crime of John Barton would be for ever restrained from passing her lips, and he knew the deep trial which such references would be to Mary. Accordingly he resolved as soon as possible in the morning to go to Job, and beseech his silence; he trusted that secrecy in that quarter, even if the knowledge had been extended to Margaret, might be easily secured.
But what would be Mr Carson s course? Were there any means by which he might be persuaded to spare John Barton's memory?
He was roused up from this train of thought by his mother's more irritated tone of voice.
"Jem!" she was saying, "thou mightst just as well never be at a death-bed again, if thou cannot bring off more news about it; here have I been by mysel all day (except when oud Job came in), but thinks I, when Jem comes he'll be sure to be good company, seeing he was in the house at the very time of the death; and here thou art, without a word to throw at a dog, much less thy mother; it's no use thy going to a death-bed if thou cannot carry away any of the sayings!"
"He did not make any, mother," replied Jem.
"Well to be sure! So fond as he used to be of holding forth, to miss such a fine opportunity that will never come again! Did he die easy?"
"He was very restless all night long," said Jem, reluctantly returning to the thoughts of that time.
"And in course thou plucked the pillow away? Thou didst not! Well! with thy bringing up, and thy learning, thou mightst have known that were the only help in such a case. There were pigeons' feathers in the pillow, depend on't. To think of two grown-up folk like you and Mary, not knowing death could never come easy to a person lying on a pillow with pigeons' feathers in!"
Jem was glad to escape from all this talking to the solitude and quiet of his own room, where he could lie and think uninterruptedly of what had happened and remained to be done.
The first thing was to seek an interview with Mr Duncombe, his former master. Accordingly, early the next morning Jem set off on his walk to the works, where for so many years his days had been spent; where for so long a time his thoughts had been thought, his hopes and fears experienced. It was not a cheering feeling to remember that henceforward he was to be severed from all these familiar places; nor were his spirits enlivened by the evident feelings of the majority of those who had been his fellow-workmen. As he stood in the entrance to the foundry, awaiting Mr Duncombe's leisure, many of those employed in the works passed him on their return from breakfast; and, with one or two exceptions, without any acknowledgment of former acquaintance beyond a distant nod at the utmost.
"It is hard," said Jem to himself, with a bitter and indignant feeling rising in his throat, "that let a man's life have been what it may, folk are so ready to credit the first word against him. I could live it down if I stayed in England; but then what would not Mary have to bear? Sooner or later the truth would out; and then she would be a show to folk for many a day as John Barton's daughter. Well! God does not judge as hardly as man, that's one comfort for all of us!"
Mr Duncombe did not believe in Jem's guilt, in spite of the silence in which he again this day heard the imputation of it; but he agreed that under the circumstances it was better he should leave the country.
"We have been written to by government, as I think I told you before, to recommend an intelligent man, well acquainted with mechanics, as instrument maker to the Agricultural College they are establishing at Toronto, in Canada. It is a comfortable appointment, - house, - land, - and a good percentage on the instruments made. I will show you the particulars if I can lay my hand on the letter, which I believe I must have left at home."
"Thank you, sir. No need for seeing the letter to say I'll accept it. I must leave Manchester; and I'd as lief quit England at once when I'm about it."
"Of course government give you your passage; indeed I believe an allowance would be made for a family if you had one; but you are not a married man, I believe?"
"No, sir, but----" Jem hung back from a confession with the awkwardness of a girl.
"But----" said Mr Duncombe, smiling, "you would like to be a married man before you go, I suppose; eh, Wilson?"
"If you please, sir. And there's my mother, too. I hope she'll go with us. But I can pay her passage; no need to trouble government."
"Nay, nay! I'll write to-day and recommend you; and say that you have a family of two. They'll never ask if the family goes upwards or downwards. I shall see you again before you sail, I hope, Wilson; though I believe they'll not allow you long to wait. Come to my house next time; you'll find it pleasanter, I dare say. These men are so wrong-headed. Keep up your heart!"
Jem felt that it was a relief to have this point settled; and that he need no longer weigh reasons for and against his emigration.
And with his path growing clearer and clearer before him the longer he contemplated it, he went to see Mary, and if he judged it fit, to tell her what he had decided upon. Margaret was sitting with her.
"Grandfather wants to see you!" said she, to Jem, on his entrance.
"And I want to see him," replied Jem, suddenly remembering his last night's determination to enjoin secrecy on Job Legh.
So he hardly stayed to kiss poor Mary's sweet woe-begone face, but tore himself away from his darling to go to the old man, who awaited him impatiently.
"I've getten a note from Mr Carson," exclaimed Job, the moment he saw Jem; "and man-alive, he wants to see thee and me! For sure, there's no more mischief up, is there?" said he, looking at Jem with an expression of wonder. But if any suspicion mingled for an instant with the thoughts that crossed Job's mind, it was immediately dispelled by Jem's honest, fearless, open countenance.
"I can't guess what he's wanting, poor old chap," answered he. "Maybe there's some point he's not yet satisfied on; maybe - but it's no use guessing; let's be off."
"It wouldn't be better for thee to be scarce a bit, would it, and leave me to go and find out what's up? He has, perhaps, getten some crotchet into his head thou'rt an accomplice, and is laying a trap for thee."
"I'm not afeard!" said Jem; "I've done nought wrong, and know nought wrong, about yon poor dead lad; though I'll own I had evil thoughts once on a time. Folk can't mistake long if once they'll search into the truth. I'll go and give the old gentleman all the satisfaction in my power, now it can injure no one. I'd my own reasons for wanting to see him besides, and it all falls in right enough for me."
Job was a little re-assured by Jem's boldness; but still, if the truth must be told, he wished the young man would follow his advice, and leave him to sound Mr Carson's intentions.
Meanwhile Jane Wilson had donned her Sunday suit of black, and set off on her errand of condolence. She felt nervous and uneasy at the idea of the moral sayings and texts which she fancied were expected from visitors on occasions like the present; and prepared many a good set speech as she walked towards the house of mourning.
As she gently opened the door, Mary sitting idly by the fire, caught a glimpse of her, - of Jem's mother, - of the early friend of her dead parents, - of the kind minister to many a little want in days of childhood, - and rose and came and fell about her neck, with many a sob and moan, saying,
"Oh, he's gone - he's dead - all gone - all dead, and I am left alone!"
"Poor wench! poor, poor wench!" said Jane Wilson, tenderly kissing her. "Thou'rt not alone, so donnot take on so. I'll say nought of Him who's above, for thou knowest He is ever the orphan's friend; but think on Jem! nay, Mary, dear, think on me! I'm but a frabbit woman at times, but I've a heart within me through all my temper, and thou shalt be as a daughter henceforward, - as mine own ewe-lamb. Jem shall not love thee better in his way, than I will in mine; and thou'lt bear with my turns, Mary, knowing that in my soul God sees the love that shall ever be thine, if thou'lt take me for thy mother, and speak no more of being alone."
Mrs Wilson was weeping herself long before she had ended this speech, which was so different to all she had planned to say, and from all the formal piety she had laid in store for the visit; for this was heart's piety, and needed no garnish of texts to make it true religion, pure and undefiled.
They sat together on the same chair, their arms encircling each other; they wept for the same dead; they had the same hope, and trust, and overflowing love in the living.
From that time forward, hardly a passing cloud dimmed the happy confidence of their intercourse; even by Jem would his mother's temper sooner be irritated than by Mary; before the latter she repressed her occasional nervous ill-humour till the habit of indulging it was perceptibly decreased.
Years afterwards in conversation with Jem, he was startled by a chance expression which dropped from his mother's lips; it implied a knowledge of John Barton's crime. It was many a long day since they had seen any Manchester people who could have revealed the secret (if indeed it was known in Manchester, against which Jem had guarded in every possible way). And he was led to inquire first as to the extent, and then as to the source of her knowledge. It was Mary herself who had told all.
For on the morning to which this chapter principally relates, as Mary sat weeping, and as Mrs Wilson comforted her by every tenderest word and caress, she revealed, to the dismayed and astonished Jane, the sting of her deep sorrow; the crime which stained her dead father's memory.
She was quite unconscious that Jem had kept it secret from his mother; she had imagined it bruited abroad as the suspicion against her lover had been; so word after word (dropped from her lips in the supposition that Mrs Wilson knew all) had told the tale, and revealed the cause of her deep anguish; deeper than is ever caused by Death alone.
On large occasions like the present, Mrs Wilson's innate generosity came out. Her weak and ailing frame imparted its irritation to her conduct in small things, and daily trifles; but she had deep and noble sympathy with great sorrows, and even at the time that Mary spoke she allowed no expression of surprise or horror to escape her lips. She gave way to no curiosity as to the untold details; she was as secret and trustworthy as her son himself; and if in years to come her anger was occasionally excited against Mary, and she, on rare occasions, yielded to ill-temper against her daughter-in-law, she would upbraid her for extravagance, or stinginess, or over-dressing, or under-dressing, or too much mirth, or too much gloom, but never, never in her most uncontrolled moments, did she allude to any one of the circumstances relating to Mary's flirtation with Harry Carson, or his murderer; and always when she spoke of John Barton, named him with the respect due to his conduct before the last, miserable, guilty month of his life.
Therefore it came like a blow to Jem, when, after years had passed away, he gathered his mother's knowledge of the whole affair. From the day when he learnt (not without remorse) what hidden depths of self-restraint she had in her soul, his manner to her, always tender and respectful, became reverential; and it was more than ever a loving strife between him and Mary, which should most contribute towards the happiness of the declining years of their mother.
But I am speaking of the events which have occurred only lately, while I have yet many things to tell you that happened six or seven years ago.
DETAILS CONNECTED WITH THE MURDER
Mr Carson stood at one of the breathing-places of life. The object of the toils, the fears, and the wishes of his past years, was suddenly hidden from his sight, - vanished into the deep mystery which circumscribes existence. Nay, even the vengeance which he had proposed to himself as an aim for exertion, had been taken away from before his eyes, as by the hand of God.
Events like these would have startled the most thoughtless into reflection, much more such a man as Mr Carson, whose mind, if not enlarged, was energetic, indeed, whose very energy, having been hitherto the cause of the employment of his powers in only one direction, had prevented him from becoming largely and philosophically comprehensive in his views.
But now the foundations of his past life were razed to the ground, and the place they had once occupied was sown with salt, to be for ever rebuilt no more. It was like the change from this Life to that other hidden one, when so many of the motives which have actuated all our earthly existence, will have become more fleeting than the shadows of a dream. With a wrench of his soul from the past, so much of which was as nothing and worse than nothing to him now, Mr Carson took some hours, after he had witnessed the death of his son's murderer, to consider his situation.
But suddenly, while he was deliberating, and searching for motives which should be effective to compel him to exertion and action once more; while he contemplated the desire after riches, social distinction, a name among the merchant-princes amidst whom he moved, and saw these false substances fade away into the shadows they truly are, and one by one disappear into the grave of his son, - suddenly, I say, the thought arose within him that more yet remained to be learned about the circumstances and feelings which had prompted John Barton's crime; and when once this mournful curiosity was excited, it seemed to gather strength in every moment that its gratification was delayed. Accordingly he sent a message to summon Job Legh and Jem Wilson, from whom he promised himself some elucidation of what was as yet unexplained; while he himself set forth to call on Mr Bridgenorth, whom he knew to have been Jem's attorney, with a glimmering suspicion intruding on his mind, which he strove to repel, that Jem might have had some share in his son's death.
He had returned before his summoned visitors arrived; and had time enough to recur to the evening on which John Barton had made his confession. He remembered with mortification how he had forgotten his proud reserve, and his habitual concealment of his feelings, and had laid bare his agony of grief in the presence of these two men who were coming to see him by his desire; and he entrenched himself behind stiff barriers of self-control, through which he hoped no appearance of emotion would force its way in the conversation he anticipated.
Nevertheless, when the servant announced that two men were there by appointment to speak to him, and he had desired that they might be shown into the library where he sat, any watcher might have perceived by the trembling hands, and shaking head, not only how much he was aged by the occurrences of the last few weeks, but also how much he was agitated at the thought of the impending interview.
But he so far succeeded in commanding himself at first, as to appear to Jem Wilson and Jem Legh one of the hardest and most haughty men they had ever spoken to, and to forfeit all the interest which he had previously excited in their minds by his unreserved display of deep and genuine feeling.
When he had desired them to be seated, he shaded his face with his hand for an instant before speaking.
"I have been calling on Mr Bridgenorth this morning," said he, at last; "as I expected, he can give me but little satisfaction on some points respecting the occurrence on the 18th of last month, which I desire to have cleared up. Perhaps you two can tell me what I want to know. As intimate friends of Barton's you probably know, or can conjecture a good deal. Have no scruple as to speaking the truth. What you say in this room shall never be named again by me. Besides, you are aware that the law allows no one to be tried twice for the same offence."
He stopped for a minute, for the mere act of speaking was fatiguing to him after the excitement of the last few weeks.
Job Legh took the opportunity of speaking.
"I'm not going to be affronted either for myself or Jem at what you've just now been saying about the truth. You don't know us, and there's an end on't; only it's as well for folk to think others good and true until they're proved contrary. Ask what you like, sir, I'll answer for it we'll either tell truth, or hold our tongues."
"I beg your pardon," said Mr Carson, slightly bowing his head. "What I wished to know was" referring to a slip of paper he held in his hand, and shaking so much he could hardly adjust his glasses to his eyes, "whether you, Wilson, can explain how Barton came possessed of your gun. I believe you refused this explanation to Mr Bridgenorth."
"I did, sir! If I had said what I knew then, I saw it would criminate Barton, and so I refused telling aught. To you, sir, now I will tell everything and anything; only it is but little. The gun was my father's before it was mine, and long ago he and John Barton had a fancy for shooting at the gallery; and they used always to take this gun, and brag that though it was old-fashioned it was sure."
Jem saw with self-upbraiding pain how Mr Carson winced at these last words, but at each irrepressible and involuntary evidence of feeling, the hearts of the two men warmed towards him. Jem went on speaking.
"One day in the week - I think it was on the Wednesday, - yes, it was - it was on St Patrick's day, I met John just coming out of our house, as I were going to my dinner. Mother was out, and he'd found no one in. He said he'd come to borrow the old gun, and that he'd have made bold, and taken it, but it was not to be seen. Mother was afraid of it, so after father's death (for while he were alive, she seemed to think he could manage it) I had carried it to my own room. I went up and fetched it for John, who stood outside the door all the time."
"What did he say he wanted it for?" asked Mr Carson, hastily.
"I don't think he spoke when I gave it him. At first he muttered something about the shooting gallery, and I never doubted but that it was for practice there, as I knew he had done years before."
Mr Carson had strung up his frame to an attitude of upright attention while Jem was speaking; now the tension relaxed, and he sank back in his chair, weak and powerless.
He rose up again, however, as Jem went on, anxious to give every particular which could satisfy the bereaved father.
"I never knew for what he wanted the gun till I was taken up, - I do not know yet why he wanted it. No one would have had me get out of the scrape by implicating an old friend, - my father's old friend, and the father of the girl I loved. So I refused to tell Mr Bridgenorth aught about it, and would not have named it now to any one but you."
Jem's face became very red at the allusion he made to Mary, but his honest, fearless eyes had met Mr Carson's penetrating gaze unflinchingly, and had carried conviction of his innocence and truthfulness; Mr Carson felt certain that he had heard all that Jem could tell. Accordingly he turned to Job Legh.
"You were in the room the whole time while Barton was speaking to me, I think?"
"Yes, sir," answered Job.
"You'll excuse my asking plain and direct questions; the information I am gaining is really a relief to my mind, I don't know how, but it is, - will you tell me if you had any idea of Barton's guilt in this matter before?"
"None whatever, so help me God!" said Job, solemnly. "To tell truth (and axing your forgiveness, Jem), I had never got quite shut of the notion that Jem here had done it. At times I was as clear of his innocence as I was of my own; and whenever I took to reasoning about it, I saw he could not have been the man that did it. Still I never thought of Barton."
"And yet by his confession he must have been absent at the time," said Mr Carson, referring to his slip of paper.
"Aye, and for many a day after, - I can't rightly say how long. But still, you see, one's often blind to many a thing that lies right under one's nose, till it's pointed out. And till I heard what John Barton had to say yon night, I could not have seen what reason he had for doing it; while in the case of Jem, any one who looked at Mary Barton might have seen a cause for jealousy clear enough."
"Then you believe that Barton had no knowledge of my son's unfortunate - ," he looked at Jem "of his attentions to Mary Barton. This young man, Wilson, has heard of them, you see."
"The person who told me said clearly she neither had, nor would tell Mary's father," interposed Jem. "I don't believe he'd ever heard of it; he weren't a man to keep still in such a matter, if he had."
"Besides," said Job, "the reason he gave on his death-bed, so to speak, was enough; 'specially to those who knew him."
"You mean his feelings regarding the treatment of the workmen by the masters; you think he acted from motives of revenge, in consequence of the part my son had taken in putting down the strike?"
"Well, sir," replied Job, "it's hard to say: John Barton was not a man to take counsel with people; nor did he make many words about his doings. So I can only judge from his way of thinking and talking in general, never having heard him breathe a syllable concerning this matter in particular. You see he were sadly put about to make great riches and great poverty square with Christ's Gospel" - Job paused, in order to try and express what was clear enough in his own mind, as to the effect produced on John Barton by the great and mocking contrasts presented by the varieties of human condition. Before he could find suitable words to explain his meaning, Mr Carson spoke.
"You mean he was an Owenite; all for equality and community of goods, and that kind of absurdity."
"No, no! John Barton was no fool. No need to tell him that were all men equal to-night, some would get the start by rising an hour earlier to-morrow. Nor yet did he care for goods, nor wealth; no man less, so that he could get daily bread for him and his; but what hurt him sore, and rankled in him as long as I knew him (and, sir, it rankles in many a poor man's heart far more than the want of any creature-comforts, and puts a sting into starvation itself), was that those who wore finer clothes, and eat better food, and had more money in their pockets, kept him at arm's length, and cared not whether his heart was sorry or glad; whether he lived or died, - whether he was bound for heaven or hell. It seemed hard to him that a heap of gold should part him and his brother so far asunder. For he was a loving man before he grew mad with seeing such as he was slighted, as if Christ Himself had not been poor. At one time, I've heard him say, he felt kindly towards every man, rich or poor, because he thought they were all men alike. But latterly he grew aggravated with the sorrows and suffering that he saw, and which he thought the masters might help if they would."
"That's the notion you've all of you got," said Mr Carson. Now, how in the world can we help it? We cannot regulate the demand for labour. No man or set of men can do it. It depends on events which God alone can control. When there is no market for our goods, we suffer just as much as you can do."
"Not as much, I'm sure, sir; though I'm not given to Political Economy, I know that much. I'm wanting in learning, I'm aware; but I can use my eyes. I never see the masters getting thin and haggard for want of food; I hardly ever see them making much change in their way of living, though I don't doubt they've got to do it in bad times. But it's in things for show they cut short; while for such as me, it's in things for life we've to stint. For sure, sir, you'll own it's come to a hard pass when a man would give aught in the world for work to keep his children from starving, and can't get a bit, if he's ever so willing to labour. I'm not up to talking as John Barton would have done, but that's clear to me at any rate."
"My good man, just listen to me. Two men live in a solitude, one produces loaves of bread, the other coats, - or what you will. Now, would it not be hard if the bread-producer were forced to give bread for the coats, whether he wanted them or not, in order to furnish employment to the other; that is the simple form of the case; you've only to multiply the numbers. There will come times of great changes in the occupation of thousands, when improvements in manufactures and machinery are made. It's all nonsense talking, - it must be so!"
Job Legh pondered a few moments.
"It's true it was a sore time for the hand-loom weavers when power-looms, came in them new-fangled things make a man's life like a lottery; and yet I'll never misdoubt that power-looms, and railways, and all such-like inventions are the gifts of God. I have lived long enough, too, to see that it is part of His plan to send suffering to bring out a higher good; but surely it's also part of His plan that as much of the burden of the suffering as can be, should be lightened by those whom it is His pleasure to make happy, and content in their own circumstances. Of course, it would take a deal more thought and wisdom than me, or any other man has, to settle out of hand how this should be done. But I'm clear about this, when God gives a blessing to be enjoyed, He gives it with a duty to be done; and the duty of the happy is to help the suffering to bear their woe."
"Still facts have proved, and are daily proving, how much better it is for every man to be independent of help, and self-reliant," said Mr Carson, thoughtfully.
"You can never work facts as you would fixed quantities, and say, given two facts, and the product is so and so. God has given men feelings and passions which cannot be worked into the problem, because they are for ever changing and uncertain. God has also made some weak; not in any one way, but in all. One is weak in body, another in mind, another in steadiness of purpose, a fourth can't tell right from wrong, and so on; or if he can tell the right, he wants strength to hold by it. Now to my thinking, them that is strong in any of God's gifts is meant to help the weak, - be hanged to the facts! I ask your pardon, sir; I can't rightly explain the meaning that is in me. I'm like a tap as won't run, but keeps letting it out drop by drop, so that you have no notion of the force of what's within."
Job looked and felt very sorrowful at the want of power in his words, while the feeling within him was so strong and clear.
"What you say is very true, no doubt," replied Mr Carson; "but how would you bring it to bear upon the masters' conduct, - on my particular case?" added he, gravely.
"I'm not learned enough to argue. Thoughts come into my head that I'm sure are as true as Gospel, though maybe they don't follow each other like the Q.E.D. of a Proposition. The masters has it on their own conscience, - you have it on yours, sir, to answer for to God, whether you've done, and are doing all in your power to lighten the evils that seem always to hang on the trades by which you make your fortunes. It's no business of mine, thank God. John Barton took the question in hand, and his answer to it was NO! Then he grew bitter and angry, and mad; and in his madness he did a great sin, and wrought a great woe; and repented him with tears of blood, and will go through his penance humbly and meekly in t'other place, I'll be bound. I never seed such bitter repentance as his that last night."
There was a silence of many minutes. Mr Carson had covered his face, and seemed utterly forgetful of their presence; and yet they did not like to disturb him by rising to leave the room.
At last he said, without meeting their sympathetic eyes,
"Thank you both for coming, - and for speaking candidly to me. I fear, Legh, neither you nor I have convinced each other, as to the power, or want of power in the masters, to remedy the evils the men complain of."
"I'm loath to vex you, sir, just now; but it was not the want of power I was talking on; what we all feel sharpest is the want of inclination to try and help the evils which come like blights at times over the manufacturing places, while we see the masters can stop work and not suffer. If we saw the masters try for our sakes to find a remedy, - even if they were long about it, - even if they could find no help, and at the end of all could only say, 'Poor fellows, our hearts are sore for ye; we've done all we could, and can't find a cure,' - we'd bear up like men through bad times. No one knows till they have tried, what power of bearing lies in them, if once they believe that men are caring for their sorrows and will help if they can. If fellow-creatures can give nought but tears and brave words, we take our trials straight from God, and we know enough of His love to put ourselves blind into His hands. You say, our talk has done no good. I say it has. I see the view you take of things from the place where you stand. I can remember that, when the time comes for judging you; I sha'nt think any longer, does he act right on my views of a thing, but does he act right on his own. It has done me good in that way. I'm an old man, and may never see you again; but I'll pray for you, and think on you and your trials, both of your great wealth, and of your son's cruel death, many and many a day to come; and I'll ask God to bless both to you now and for evermore, Amen! Farewell!"
Jem had maintained a manly and dignified reserve ever since he had made his open statement of all he knew. Now both the men rose, and bowed low, looking at Mr Carson with the deep human interest they could not fail to take in one who had endured and forgiven a deep injury; and who struggled hard, as it was evident he did, to bear up like a man under his affliction.
He bowed low in return to them. Then he suddenly came forward and shook them by the hand; and thus, without a word more, they parted.
There are stages in the contemplation and endurance of great sorrow, which endow men with the same earnestness and clearness of thought that in some of old took the form of Prophecy. To those who have large capability of loving and suffering, united with great power of firm endurance, there comes a time in their woe, when they are lifted out of the contemplation of their individual case into a searching inquiry into the nature of their calamity, and the remedy (if remedy there be) which may prevent its recurrence to others as well as to themselves.
Hence the beautiful, noble efforts which are from time to time brought to light, as being continuously made by those who have once hung on the cross of agony, in order that others may not suffer as they have done; one of the grandest ends which sorrow can accomplish; the sufferer wrestling with God's messenger until a blessing is left behind, not for one alone but for generations.
It took time before the stern nature of Mr Carson was compelled to the recognition of this secret of comfort, and that same sternness prevented his reaping any benefit in public estimation from the actions he performed; for the character is more easily changed than the habits and manners originally formed by that character, and to his dying day Mr Carson was considered hard and cold by those who only casually saw him, or superficially knew him. But those who were admitted into his confidence were aware, that the wish that lay nearest to his heart was that none might suffer from the cause from which he had suffered; that a perfect understanding, and complete confidence and love, might exist between masters and men; that the truth might be recognized that the interests of one were the interests of all, and, as such, required the consideration and deliberation of all; that hence it was most desirable to have educated workers, capable of judging, not mere machines of ignorant men; and to have them bound to their employers by the ties of respect and affection, not by mere money bargains alone; in short, to acknowledge the Spirit of Christ as the regulating law between both parties.
Many of the improvements now in practice in the system of employment in Manchester, owe their origin to short earnest sentences spoken by Mr Carson. Many and many yet to be carried into execution, take their birth from that stern, thoughtful mind which submitted to be taught by suffering.
Not many days after John Barton's funeral was over, all was arranged respecting Jem's appointment at Toronto; and the time was fixed for his sailing. It was to take place almost immediately; yet much remained to be done; many domestic preparations were to be made; and one great obstacle, anticipated by both Jem and Mary, to be removed. This was the opposition they expected from Mrs Wilson, to whom the plan had never yet been named.
They were most anxious that their home should continue ever to be hers, yet they feared that her dislike to a new country might he an insuperable objection to this. At last Jem took advantage of an evening of unusual placidity, as he sat alone with his mother just before going to bed, to broach the subject; and to his surprise she acceded willingly to his proposition of her accompanying himself and his wife.
"To be sure 'Merica is a long way to flit to; beyond London a good bit I reckon; and quite in foreign parts; but I've never had no opinion of England, ever since they could be such fools as to take up a quiet chap like thee, and clap thee in prison. Where you go, I'll go. Perhaps in them Indian countries they'll know a well-behaved lad when they see him; ne'er speak a word more, lad, I'll go."
Their path became daily more smooth and easy; the resent was clear and practicable, the future was hopeful; they had leisure of mind enough to turn to the past.
"Jem!" said Mary to him, one evening as they sat in the twilight, talking together in low happy voices till Margaret should come to keep Mary company through the night, "Jem! you've never yet told me how you came to know about my naughty ways with poor young Mr Carson." She blushed for shame at the remembrance of her folly, and hid her head on his shoulder while he made answer.
"Darling, I'm almost loath to tell you; your aunt Esther told me."
"Ah, I remember! but how did she know? I was so put about that night I did not think of asking her. Where did you see her? I've forgotten where she lives."
Mary said all this in so open and innocent a manner, that Jem felt sure she knew not the truth respecting Esther, and he half hesitated to tell her. At length he relied,
"Where did you see Esther lately? When? Tell me, love, for you've never named it before, and I can't make it out."
"Oh! it was that horrible night, which is like a dream." And she told him of Esther's midnight visit, concluding with, "We must go and see her before we leave, though I don't rightly know where to find her."
"What, Jem!" exclaimed she, alarmed at his hesitation.
"Your poor aunt Esther has no home: - she's one of them miserable creatures that walk the streets." And he in his turn told of his encounter with Esther, with so many details that Mary was forced to be convinced, although her heart rebelled against the belief.
"Jem, lad!" said she, vehemently, "we must find her out, - we must hunt her up!" she rose as if she was going on the search there and then.
"What could we do, darling?" asked he, fondly restraining her.
"Do! Why! what could we not do, if we could but find her? She's none so happy in her ways, think ye, but what she'd turn from them, if any one would lend her a helping hand. Don't hold me, Jem; this is just the time for such as her to be out, and who knows but what I might find her close at hand."
"Stay, Mary, for a minute; I'll go out now and search for her if you wish, though it's but a wild chase. You must not go. It would be better to ask the police to-morrow. But if I should find her, how can I make her come with me? Once before she refused, and said she could not break off her drinking ways, come what might."
"You never will persuade her if you fear and doubt," said Mary, in tears. "Hope yourself, and trust to the good that must be in her. Speak to that, - she has it in her yet, - oh, bring her home, and we will love her so, we'll make her good."
"Yes!" said Jem, catching Mary's sanguine spirit; "she shall go to America with us; and we'll help her to get rid of her sins. I'll go now, my precious darling, and if I can't find her, it's but trying the police to-morrow. Take care of your own sweet self, Mary, said he, fondly kissing her before he went out.
It was not to be. Jem wandered far and wide that night, but never met Esther. The next day he applied to the police; and at last they recognised under his description of her, a woman known to them under the name of the "Butterfly," from the gaiety of her dress a year or two ago. By their help he traced out one of her haunts, a low lodging-house behind Peter Street. He and his companion, a kind-hearted policeman, were admitted, suspiciously enough, by the landlady, who ushered them into a large garret, where twenty or thirty people of all ages and both sexes lay and dozed away the day, choosing the evening and night for their trades of beggary, thieving, and prostitution.
"I know the Butterfly was here," said she, looking round. "She came in, the night before last, and said she had not a penny to get a place for shelter; and that if she was far away in the country she could steal aside and die in a copse, or a clough, like the wild animals; but here the police would let no one alone in the streets, and she wanted a spot to die in, in peace. It's a queer sort of peace we have here, but that night the room was uncommon empty, and I'm not a hard-hearted woman (I wish I were, I could ha' made a good thing out of it afore this if I were harder), so I sent her up, - but she's not here now, I think."
"Was she very bad?" asked Jem.
"Aye! nought but skin and bone, with a cough to tear her in two."
They made some inquiries, and found that in the restlessness of approaching death, she had longed to be once more in the open air, and had gone forth, - where, no one seemed to be able to tell.
Leaving many messages for her, and directions that he was to be sent for if either the policeman or the landlady obtained any clue to her whereabouts, Jem bent his steps towards Mary's house; for he had not seen her all that long day of search. He told her of his proceedings and want of success; and both were saddened at the recital, and sat silent for some time.
After awhile they began talking over their plans. In a day or two, Mary was to give up house, and go and live for a week or so with Job Legh, until the time of her marriage, which would take place immediately before sailing; they talked themselves back into silence and delicious reverie. Mary sat by Jem, his arm round her waist, her head on his shoulder; and thought over the scenes which had passed in that home she was so soon to leave for ever.
Suddenly she felt Jem start, and started too without knowing why; she tried to see his countenance, but the shades of evening had deepened so much she could read no expression there. It was turned to the window; she looked and saw a white face pressed against the panes on the outside, gazing intently into the dusky chamber.
While they watched, as if fascinated by the appearance, and unable to think or stir, a film came over the bright, feverish, glittering eyes outside, and the form sank down to the ground without a struggle of instinctive resistance.
"It is Esther!" exclaimed they, both at once. They rushed outside; and, fallen into what appeared simply a heap of white or light-coloured clothes, fainting or dead, lay the poor crushed Butterfly-the once innocent Esther.
She had come (as a wounded deer drags its heavy limbs once more to the green coolness of the lair in which it was born, there to die), to see the place familiar to her innocence, yet once again before her death. Whether she was indeed alive or dead, they knew not now.
Job came in with Margaret, for it was bedtime. He said Esther's pulse beat a little yet. They carried her upstairs and laid her on Mary's bed, not daring to undress her, lest any motion should frighten the trembling life away; but it was all in vain.
Towards midnight, she opened wide her eyes and looked around on the once familiar room. Job Legh knelt by the bed, praying aloud and fervently for her, but he stopped as he saw her roused look. She sat up in bed with a sudden convulsive motion.
"Has it been a dream, then?" asked she, wildly. Then with a habit, which came like instinct even in that awful dying hour, her hand sought for a locket which hung concealed in her bosom, and, finding that, she knew all was true which had befallen her since last she lay an innocent girl on that bed.
She fell back, and spoke word never more. She held the locket containing her child's hair still in her hand, and once or twice she kissed it with a long soft kiss. She cried feebly and sadly as long as she had any strength to cry, and then she died.
They laid her in one grave with John Barton. And there they lie without name, or initial, or date. Only this verse is inscribed upon the stone which covers the remains of these two wanderers.
Psalm ciii. v. 9. - "For He will not always chide, neither will He keep His anger for ever."
I see a long low wooden house, with room enough and to spare. The old primeval trees are felled and gone for many a mile around; one alone remains to overshadow the gable-end of the cottage. There is a garden around the dwelling, and far beyond that stretches an orchard. The glory of an Indian summer is over all, making the heart leap at the sight of its gorgeous beauty.
At the door of the house, looking towards the town, stands Mary, watching the return of her husband from his daily work; and while she watches, she listens, smiling,
Then comes a crow of delight from Johnnie. Then his grandmother carries him to the door, and glories in seeing him resist his mother's blandishments to cling to her.
"English letters! 'Twas that made me so late!"
"Oh, Jem, Jem! don't hold them so tight! What do they say?"
"Why, some good news. Come, give a guess what it is."
"Oh, tell me! I cannot guess," said Mary.
"Then you give it up, do you? What do you say, mother?"
Jane Wilson thought a moment.
"Will and Margaret are married?" asked she.
"Not exactly, - but very near. The old woman has twice the spirit of the young one. Come, Mary, give a guess!"
He covered his little boy's eyes with his hands for an instant, significantly, till the baby pushed them down, saying in his imperfect way,
"There now! Johnnie can see. Do you guess, Mary?"
"They've done something to Margaret to give her back her sight!" exclaimed she.
"They have. She had been couched, and can see as well as ever. She and Will are to be married on the twenty-fifth of this month, and he's bringing her out here next voyage; and Job Legh talks of coming too, - not to see you, Mary, - nor you, mother, - nor you, my little hero" (kissing him), "but to try and pick up a few specimens of Canadian insects, Will says. All the compliment is to the earwigs, you see, mother!"
"Dear Job Legh!" said Mary, softly and seriously.