MR CARSON'S INTENTIONS REVEALED
Barton returned home after his encounter with Esther, uneasy and dissatisfied. He had said no more than he had been planning to say for years, in case she was ever thrown in his way, in the character in which he felt certain he should meet her. He believed she deserved it all, and yet he now wished he had not said it. Her look, as she asked for mercy, haunted him through his broken and disordered sleep; her form, as he last saw her, lying prostrate in helplessness, would not be banished from his dreams. He sat up in bed to try and dispel the vision. Now, too late, his conscience smote him for his harshness. It would have been all very well, he thought, to have said what he did, if he had added some kind words, at last. He wondered if his dead wife was conscious of that night's occurrence; and he hoped not, for with her love for Esther he believed it would embitter Heaven to have seen her so degraded and repulsed. For he now recalled her humility, her tacit acknowledgment of her lost character; and he began to marvel if there was power in the religion he had often heard of, to turn her from her ways. He felt that no earthly power that he knew of could do it, but there glimmered on his darkness the idea that religion might save her. Still, where to find her again? In the wilderness of a large town, where to meet with an individual of so little value or note to any?
And evening after evening he paced the same streets in which he had heard those footsteps following him, peering under every fantastic, discreditable bonnet, in the hopes of once more meeting Esther, and addressing her in a far different manner from what he had done before. But he returned, night after night, disappointed in his search, and at last gave it up in despair, and tried to recall his angry feelings towards her, in order to find relief from his present self-reproach.
He often looked at Mary, and wished she were not so like her aunt, for the very bodily likeness seemed to suggest the possibility of a similar likeness in their fate; and then this idea used to enrage his irritable mind, and he became suspicious and anxious about Mary's conduct. Now hitherto she had been so remarkably free from all control, and almost from all inquiry concerning her actions, that she did not brook this change in her father's behaviour very well. Just when she was yielding more than ever to Mr Carson's desire of frequent meetings, it was hard to be so questioned concerning her hours of leaving off work, whether she had come straight home, etc. She could not tell lies; though she could conceal much if she were not questioned. So she took refuge in obstinate silence, alleging as a reason for it her indignation at being so cross-examined. This did not add to the good feeling between father and daughter, and yet they dearly loved each other; and in the minds of each, one principal reason for maintaining such behaviour as displeased the other, was the believing that this conduct would insure that person's happiness.
Her father now began to wish Mary was married. Then this terrible superstitious fear suggested by her likeness to Esther would be done away with. He felt that he could not resume the reins he had once slackened. But with a husband it would be different. If Jem Wilson would but marry her! With his character for steadiness and talent! But he was afraid Mary had slighted him, he came so seldom now to the house. He would ask her.
"Mary, what's come o'er thee and Jem Wilson? Yo were great friends at one time."
"Oh, folk say he is going to be married to Molly Gibson, and of course courting takes up a deal o' time," answered Mary as indifferently as she could.
"Thou'st played thy cards badly, then," replied her father, in a surly tone. "At one time he were desperate fond o' thee, or I'm much mistaken. Much fonder of thee than thou deservedst."
"That's as people think," said Mary, pertly, for she remembered that the very morning before she had met Mr Carson, who had sighed, and swore, and protested all manner of tender vows that she was the loveliest, sweetest, best, etc. And when she had seen him afterwards riding with one of his beautiful sisters, had he not evidently pointed her out as in some way or other an object worthy of attention and interest, and then lingered behind his sister's horse for a moment to kiss his hand repeatedly. So, as for Jem Wilson, she could whistle him down the wind.
But her father was not in the mood to put up with pertness, and he upbraided her with the loss of Jem Wilson till she had to bite her lips till the blood came, in order to keep down the angry words that would rise in her heart. At last her father left the house, and then she might give way to her passionate tears.
It so happened that Jem, after much anxious thought, had determined that day to "put his fate to the touch, to win or lose it all." He was in a condition to maintain a wife in comfort. It was true his mother and aunt must form part of the household: but such is not an uncommon case among the poor, and if there were the advantages of previous friendship between the parties, it was not, he thought, an obstacle to matrimony. Both mother and aunt, he believed, would welcome Mary. And oh! what a certainty of happiness the idea of that welcome implied.
He had been absent and abstracted all day long with the thought of the coming event of the evening. He almost smiled at himself for his care in washing and dressing in preparation for his visit to Mary; as if one waistcoat or another could decide his fate in so passionately a momentous thing. He believed he only delayed before his little looking-glass for cowardice, for absolute fear of a girl. He would try not to think so much about the affair, and he thought the more.
Poor Jem! it is not an auspicious moment for thee!
"Come in," said Mary, as some one knocked at the door, while she sat sadly at her sewing, trying to earn a few pence by working over hours at some mourning.
Jem entered, looking more awkward and abashed than he had ever done before. Yet here was Mary all alone, just as he had hoped to find her. She did not ask him to take a chair, but after standing a minute or two he sat down near her.
"Is your father at home, Mary?" said he, by way of making an opening, for she seemed determined to keep silence, and went on stitching away.
"No, he's gone to his union, I suppose." Another silence. It was no use waiting, thought Jem. The subject would never be led to by any talk he could think of in his anxious, fluttered state. He had better begin at once.
"Mary!" said he, and the unusual tone of his voice made her look up for an instant, but in that time she understood from his countenance what was coming, and her heart beat so suddenly and violently she could hardly sit still. Yet one thing she was sure of; nothing he could say should make her have him. She would show them all who would be glad to have her. She was not yet calm after her father's irritating speeches. Yet her eyes fell veiled before that passionate look fixed upon her.
"Dear Mary! (for how dear you are, I cannot rightly tell you in words). It's no new story I'm going to speak about. You must ha' seen and known it long; for since we were boy and girl, I ha' loved you above father and mother and all; and all I've thought on by day and dreamt on by night, has been something in which you've had a share. I'd no way of keeping you for long, and I scorned to try and tie you down; and I lived in terror lest some one else should take you to himself. But now, Mary, I'm foreman in th' works, and, dear Mary! listen," as she, in her unbearable agitation, stood up and turned away from him. He rose too, and came nearer, trying to take hold of her hand; but this she would not allow. She was bracing herself up to refuse him, for once and for all.
"And now, Mary, I've a home to offer you, and a heart as true as ever man had to love you and cherish you; we shall never be rich folk, I dare say; but if a loving heart and a strong right arm can shield you from sorrow, or from want, mine shall do it. I cannot speak as I would like; my love won't let itself be put in words. But oh! darling, say you'll believe me, and that you'll be mine."
She could not speak at once; her words would not come.
"Mary, they say silence gives consent; is it so?" he whispered. Now or never the effort must be made.
"No! it does not with me." Her voice was calm, although she trembled from head to foot. "I will always be your friend, Jem, but I can never be your wife."
"Not my wife," said he, mournfully. "Oh, Mary, think awhile! you cannot be my friend if you will not be my wife. At least I can never be content to be only your friend. Do think awhile! If you say No, you will make me hopeless, desperate. It's no love of yesterday. It has made the very groundwork of all that people call good in me. I don't know what I shall be if you won't have me. And, Mary! think how glad your father would be! It may sound vain, but he's told me more than once how much he should like to see us two married!"
Jem intended this for a powerful argument, but in Mary's present mood it told against him more than anything; for it suggested the false and foolish idea, that her father, in his evident anxiety to promote her marriage with Jem, had been speaking to him on the subject with some degree of solicitation.
"I tell you, Jem, it cannot be. Once for all, I will never marry you."
"And is this the end of all my hopes and fears? the end of my life, I may say, for it is the end of all worth living for!" His agitation rose and carried him into passion. "Mary, you'll hear, may be, of me as a drunkard, and may be as a thief, and may be as a murderer. Remember! when all are speaking ill of me, you will have no right to blame me, for it's your cruelty that will have made me what I feel I shall become. You won't even say you'll try and like me; will you, Mary?" said he, suddenly changing his tone from threatening despair to fond, passionate entreaty, as he took her hand and held it forcibly between both of his, while he tried to catch a glimpse of her averted face. She was silent, but it was from deep and violent emotion. He could not bear to wait; he would not hope, to be dashed away again; he rather in his bitterness of heart chose the certainty of despair, and before she could resolve what to answer, he flung away her hand and rushed out of the house.
"Jem! Jem! " cried she, with faint and choking voice. It was too late; he left street after street behind him with his almost winged speed, as he sought the fields, where he might give way unobserved to all the deep despair he felt.
It was scarcely ten minutes since he had entered the house, and found Mary at comparative peace, and now she lay half across the dresser, her head hidden in her hands, and every part of her body shaking with the violence of her sobs. She could not have told at first (if you had asked her, and she could have commanded voice enough to answer) why she was in such agonised grief. It was too sudden for her to analyse, or think upon it. She only felt, that by her own doing her life would be hereafter dreary and blank. By-and-by her sorrow exhausted her body by its power, and she seemed to have no strength left for crying. She sat down; and now thoughts crowded on her mind. One little hour ago, and all was still unsaid, and she had her fate in her own power. And yet, how long ago had she determined to say pretty much what she did, if the occasion ever offered.
It was as if two people were arguing the matter; that mournful, desponding communion between her former self, and her present self. Herself, a day, an hour ago; and herself now. For we have every one of us felt how a very few minutes of the months and years called life, will sometimes suffice to place all time past and future in an entirely new light; will make us see the vanity or the criminality of the bygone, and so change the aspect of the coming time, that we look with loathing on the very thing we have most desired. A few moments may change our character for life, by giving a totally different direction to our aims and energies.
To return to Mary. Her plan had been, as we well know, to marry Mr Carson, and the occurrence an hour ago was only a preliminary step. True; but it had unveiled her heart to her; it had convinced her she loved Jem above all persons or things. But Jem was a poor mechanic, with a mother and aunt to keep; a mother, too, who had shown her pretty clearly that she did not desire her for a daughter-in-law: while Mr Carson was rich, and prosperous, and gay, and (she believed) would place her in all circumstances of ease and luxury, where want could never come. What were these hollow vanities to her, now she had discovered the passionate secret of her soul? She felt as if she almost hated Mr Carson, who had decoyed her with his baubles. She now saw how vain, how nothing to her, would be all gaieties and pomps, all joys and pleasures, unless she might share them with Jem; yes, with him she had harshly rejected so short a time ago. If he were poor, she loved him all the better. If his mother did think her unworthy of him, what was it but the truth, as she now owned with bitter penitence. She had hitherto been walking in grope-light towards a precipice; but in the clear revelation of that past hour, she saw her danger, and turned away resolutely, and for ever.
That was some comfort: I mean her clear perception of what she ought not to do; of what no luring temptation should ever again induce her to hearken to. How she could best undo the wrong she had done to Jem and herself by refusing his love, was another anxious question. She wearied herself with proposing plans, and rejecting them.
She was roused to a consciousness of time, by hearing the neighbouring church clock strike twelve. Her father she knew might be expected home any minute, and she was in no mood for a meeting with him. So she hastily gathered up her work, and went to her own little bedroom, leaving him to let himself in.
She put out her candle, that her father might not see its light under the door; and sat down on her bed to think. But after turning things over in her mind again and again, she could only determine at once to put an end to all further communication with Mr Carson, in the most decided way she could. Maidenly modesty (and true love is ever modest) seemed to oppose every plan she could think of, for showing Jem how much she repented her decision against him, and how dearly she had now discovered that she loved him. She came to the unusual wisdom of resolving to do nothing, but try and be patient, and improve circumstances as they might turn up. Surely, if Jem knew of her remaining unmarried, he would try his fortune again. He would never be content with one rejection; she believed she could not in his place. She had been very wrong, but now she would try and do right, and have womanly patience, until he saw her changed and repentant mind in her natural actions. Even if she had to wait for years, it was no more than now it was easy to look forward to, as a penance for her giddy flirting on the one hand, and her cruel mistake concerning her feelings on the other. So anticipating a happy ending to the course of her love, however distant it might be, she fell asleep just as the earliest factory bells were ringing. She had sunk down in her clothes, and her sleep was unrefreshing. She wakened up shivery and chill in body, and sorrow-stricken in mind, though she could not at first rightly tell the cause of her depression.
She recalled the events of the night before, and still resolved to adhere to the determination she had then formed. But patience seemed a far more difficult virtue this morning.
She hastened down-stairs, and in her earnest, sad desire to do right, now took much pains to secure a comfortable though scanty breakfast for her father; and when he dawdled into the room, in an evidently irritable temper, she bore all with the gentleness of penitence, till at last her mild answers turned away wrath.
She loathed the idea of meeting Sally Leadbitter at her daily work; yet it must be done, and she tried to nerve herself for the encounter, and to make it at once understood, that having determined to give up having anything further to do with Mr Carson, she considered the bond of intimacy broken between them.
But Sally was not the person to let these resolutions be carried into effect too easily. She soon became aware of the present state of Mary's feelings, but she thought they merely arose from the changeableness of girlhood, and that the time would come when Mary would thank her for almost forcing her to keep up her meetings and communications with her rich lover.
So, when two days had passed over in rather too marked avoidance of Sally on Mary's part, and when the former was made aware by Mr Carson's complaints that Mary was not keeping her appointments with him, and that unless he detained her by force, he had no chance of obtaining a word as she passed him in the street on her rapid walk home, she resolved to compel Mary to what she called her own good.
She took no notice during the third day of Mary's avoidance as they sat at work; she rather seemed to acquiesce in the coolness of their intercourse. She put away her sewing early, and went home to her mother, who, she said, was more ailing than usual. The other girls soon followed her example, and Mary, casting a rapid glance up and down the street, as she stood last on Miss Simmonds' doorstep, darted homewards, in hopes of avoiding the person whom she was fast learning to dread. That night she was safe from any encounter on her road, and she arrived at home, which she found, as she expected, empty; for she knew it was a club night, which her father would not miss. She sat down to recover breath, and to still her heart, which panted more from nervousness than from over-exertion, although she had walked so quickly. Then she arose, and taking off her bonnet, her eye caught the form of Sally Leadbitter passing the window with a lingering step, and looking into the darkness with all her might, as if to ascertain if Mary were returned. In an instant she repassed and knocked at the house-door; but without awaiting an answer, she entered.
"Well, Mary, dear" (knowing well how little "dear" Mary considered her just then); "it's so difficult to get any comfortable talk at Miss Simmonds', I thought I'd just step up and see you at home."
"I understood, from what you said, your mother was ailing, and that you wanted to be with her," replied Mary, in no welcoming tone.
"Aye, but mother's better now," said the unabashed Sally. "Your father's out, I suppose?" looking round as well as she could; for Mary made no haste to perform the hospitable offices of striking a match, and lighting a candle.
"Yes, he's out," said Mary, shortly, and busying herself at last about the candle, without ever asking her visitor to sit down.
"So much the better," answered Sally; "for to tell you the truth, Mary, I've a friend at th' end of the road, as is anxious to come and see you at home, since you're grown so particular as not to like to speak to him in the street. He'll be here directly."
"Oh, Sally, don't let him," said Mary, speaking at last heartily; and running to the door, she would have fastened it, but Sally held her hands, laughing mean-while at her distress.
"Oh, please, Sally," struggling, "dear! Sally! don't let him come here, the neighbours will so talk, and father'll go mad if he hears; he'll kill me, Sally, he will. Besides, I don't love him - I never did. Oh, let me go," as footsteps approached; and then, as they passed the house, and seemed to give her a respite, she continued, "Do, Sally, dear Sally, go and tell him I don't love him, and that I don't want to have anything more to do with him. It was very wrong, I dare say, keeping company with him at all, but I'm very sorry, if I've led him to think too much of me; and I don't want him to think any more. Will you tell him this, Sally? and I'll do anything for you, if you will."
"I'll tell you what I'll do," said Sally, in a more relenting mood; "I'll go back with you to where he's waiting for us; or rather, I should say, where I told him to wait for a quarter of an hour, till I seed if your father was at home; and if I didn't come back in that time, he said he'd come here, and break the door open but he'd see you."
"Oh, let us go, let us go," said Mary, feeling that the interview must be, and had better be anywhere than at home, where her father might return at any minute. She snatched up her bonnet, and was at the end of the court in an instant; but then, not knowing whether to turn to the right or to the left, she was obliged to wait for Sally, who came leisurely up, and put her arm through Mary's with a kind of decided hold, intended to prevent the possibility of her changing her mind, and turning back. But this, under the circumstances, was quite different to Mary's plan. She had wondered more than once if she must not have another interview with Mr Carson; and had then determined, while she expressed her resolution that it should be the final one, to tell him how sorry she was if she had thoughtlessly given him false hopes. For be it remembered, she had the innocence, or the ignorance, to believe his intentions honourable; and he, feeling that at any price he must have her, only that he would obtain her as cheaply as he could, had never undeceived her; while Sally Leadbitter laughed in her sleeve at them both, and wondered how it would all end, - whether Mary would gain her point of marriage, with her sly affectation of believing such to be Mr Carson's intention in courting her.
Not very far from the end of the street, into which the court where Mary lived opened, they met Mr Carson, his hat a good deal slouched over his face, as if afraid of being recognised. He turned when he saw them coming, and led the way without uttering a word (although they were close behind) to a street of half-finished houses.
The length of the walk gave Mary time to recoil from the interview which was to follow; but even if her own resolve to go through with it had failed, there was the steady grasp of Sally Leadbitter, which she could not evade without an absolute struggle.
At last he stopped in the shelter and concealment of a wooden fence, put up to keep the building rubbish from intruding on the foot-pavement. Inside this fence, a minute afterwards, the girls were standing by him; Mary now returning Sally's detaining grasp with interest, for she had determined on the way to make her a witness, willing or unwilling, to the ensuing conversation. But Sally's curiosity led her to be a very passive prisoner in Mary's hold.
With more freedom than he had ever used before, Mr Carson put his arm firmly round Mary's waist, in spite of her indignant resistance.
"Nay, nay! you little witch! Now I have caught you, I shall keep you prisoner. Tell me now what has made you run away from me so fast these few days - tell me, you sweet little coquette!"
Mary ceased struggling, but turned so as to be almost opposite to him, while she spoke out calmly, and boldly.
"Mr Carson! I want to speak to you for once and for all. Since I met you last Monday evening, I have made up my mind to have nothing more to do with you. I know I've been wrong in leading you to think I liked you; but I believe I didn't rightly know my own mind; and I humbly beg your pardon, sir, if I've led you to think too much of me."
For an instant he was surprised; the next, vanity came to his aid, and convinced him that she could only be joking. He, young, agreeable, rich, handsome! No! she was only showing a little womanly fondness for coquetting.
"You're a darling little rascal to go on in this way! 'Humbly begging my pardon if you've made me think too much of you.' As if you didn't know I think of you from morning to night. But you want to be told it again and again, do you?"
"No, indeed, sir, I don't. I would far liefer that you should say you would never think of me again, than that you should speak of me in this way. For indeed, sir, I never was more in earnest than I am, when I say to-night is the last night I will ever speak to you."
"Last night, you sweet little equivocator, but not last day. Ha, Mary, I've caught you, have I?" as she, puzzled by his perseverance in thinking her joking, hesitated in what form she could now put her meaning.
"I mean, sir," she said sharply, "that I will never speak to you again, at any time, after to-night."
"And what's made this change, Mary?" said he, seriously enough now. "Have I done anything to offend you?" added he, earnestly.
"No, sir," she answered gently, but yet firmly. "I cannot tell you exactly why I've changed my mind; but I shall not alter it again; and, as I said before, I beg your pardon if I've done wrong by you. And now, sir, if you please, good night."
"But I do not please. You shall not go. What have I done, Mary? Tell me. You must not go without telling me how I have vexed you. What would you have me do?"
"Nothing, sir, but" (in an agitated tone), "oh! let me go! You cannot change my mind; it's quite made up. Oh, sir! why do you hold me so tight? If you will know why I won't have anything more to do with you, it is that I cannot love you. I have tried, and I really cannot."
This naïve and candid avowal served her but little. He could not understand how it could be true. Some reason lurked behind. He was passionately in love. What should he do to tempt her? A thought struck him.
"Listen! Mary. Nay, I cannot let you go till you have heard me. I do love you dearly; and I won't believe but what you love me a very little, just a very little. Well, if you don't like to own it, never mind! I only want now to tell you how much I love you, by what I am ready to give up for you. You know (or perhaps you are not fully aware) how little my father and mother would like me to marry you. So angry would they be, and so much ridicule should I have to brave, that of course I have never thought of it till now. I thought we could be happy enough without marriage." (Deep sank those words into Mary's heart.) "But now, if you like, I'll get a licence to-morrow morning - nay, to-night, and I'll marry you in defiance of all the world, rather than give you up. In a year or two my father will forgive me, and meanwhile you shall have every luxury money can purchase, and every charm that love can devise to make your life happy. After all, my mother was but a factory girl." (This was said to himself, as if to reconcile himself to this bold step.) "Now, Mary, you see how willing I am to - to sacrifice a good deal for you; I even offer you marriage, to satisfy your little ambitious heart; so now, won't you say, you can love me a little, little bit?"
He pulled her towards him. To his surprise, she still resisted. Yes! though all she had pictured to herself for so many months in being the wife of Mr Carson was now within her grasp, she resisted. His speech had given her but one feeling, that of exceeding great relief. For she had dreaded, now she knew what true love was, to think of the attachment she might have created; the deep feeling her flirting conduct might have called out. She had loaded her self with reproaches for the misery she might have caused. It was a relief, to gather that the attachment was of that low, despicable kind which can plan to seduce the object of its affection; that the feeling she had caused was shallow enough, for it only pretended to embrace self, at the expense of the misery, the ruin, of one falsely termed beloved. She need not be penitent to such a plotter! That was the relief.
"I am obliged to you, sir, for telling me what you have. You may think I am a fool; but I did think you meant to marry me all along; and yet, thinking so, I felt I could not love you. Still I felt sorry I had gone so far in keeping company with you. Now, sir, I tell you, if I had loved you before, I don't think I should have loved you now you have told me you meant to ruin me; for that's the plain English of not meaning to marry me till just this minute. I said I was sorry, and humbly begged your pardon; that was before I knew what you were. Now I scorn you, sir, for plotting to ruin a poor girl. Good night."
And with a wrench, for which she had reserved all her strength, she flew off like a bolt. They heard her flying footsteps echo down the quiet street. The next sound was Sally's laugh, which grated on Mr Carson's ears, and keenly irritated him.
"And what do you find so amusing, Sally?" asked he.
"Oh, sir, I beg your pardon. I humbly beg your pardon, as Mary says, but I can't help laughing to think how she's outwitted us." (She was going to have said, "outwitted you," but changed the pronoun.)
"Why, Sally, had you any idea she was going to fly out in this style?"
"No, I hadn't, to be sure. But if you did think of marrying her, why (if I may be so bold as to ask) did you go and tell her you had no thought of doing otherwise by her? That was what put her up at last!"
"Why, I had repeatedly before led her to infer that marriage was not my object. I never dreamed she could have been so foolish as to have mistaken me, little provoking romancer though she be! So I naturally wished her to know what a sacrifice of prejudice, of - of myself, in short, I was willing to make for her sake; yet I don't think she was aware of it after all. I believe I might have any lady in Manchester if I liked, and yet I was willing and ready to marry a poor dressmaker. Don't you understand me now? and don't you see what a sacrifice I was making to humour her? and all to no avail."
Sally was silent, so he went on:
"My father would have forgiven any temporary connexion, far sooner than my marrying one so far beneath me in rank."
"I thought you said, sir, your mother was a factory girl," remarked Sally, rather maliciously.
"Yes, yes! - but then my father was in much such a station; at any rate, there was not the disparity there is between Mary and me."
"Then you mean to give her up, sir? She made no bones of saying she gave you up."
"No; I do not mean to give her up, whatever you and she may please to think. I am more in love with her than ever; even for this charming capricious ebullition of hers. She'll come round, you may depend upon it. Women alway do. They always have second thoughts, and find out that they are best in casting off a lover. Mind, I don't say I shall offer her the same terms again."
With a few more words of no importance, the allies parted.
OLD ALICE'S BAIRN
And now Mary had, as she thought, dismissed both her lovers. But they looked on their dismissals with very different eyes. He who loved her with all his heart and with all his soul, considered his rejection final. He did not comfort himself with the idea, which would have proved so well founded in his case, that women have second thoughts about casting off their lovers. He had too much respect for his own heartiness of love to believe himself unworthy of Mary; that mock humble conceit did not enter his head. He thought he did "not hit Mary's fancy"; and though that may sound a trivial every-day expression, yet the reality of it cut him to the heart. Wild visions of enlistment, of drinking himself into forgetfulness, of becoming desperate in some way or another, entered his mind; but then the thought of his mother stood like an angel with a drawn sword in the way to sin. For, you know, "he was the only son of his mother, and she was a widow"; dependent on him for daily bread. So he could not squander away health and time, which were to him money wherewith to support her failing years. He went to his work, accordingly, to all outward semblance just as usual; but with a heavy, heavy heart within.
Mr Carson, as we have seen, persevered in considering Mary's rejection of him as merely a "charming caprice." If she were at work, Sally Leadbitter was sure to slip a passionately loving note into her hand, and then so skilfully move away from her side, that Mary could not all at once return it, without making some sensation among the workwomen. She was even forced to take several home with her. But after reading one, she determined on her plan. She made no great resistance to receiving them from Sally, but kept them unopened, and occasionally returned them in a blank half-sheet of paper. But far worse than this, was the being so constantly waylaid as she went home by her persevering lover; who had been so long acquainted with all her habits, that she found it difficult to evade him. Late or early, she was never certain of being free from him. Go this way or that, he might come up some cross street when she had just congratulated herself on evading him for that day. He could not have taken a surer mode of making himself odious to her.
And all this time Jem Wilson never came! Not to see her - that she did not expect - but to see her father; to - she did not know what, but she had hoped he would have come on some excuse, just to see if she hadn't changed her mind. He never came. Then she grew weary and impatient, and her spirits sank. The persecution of the one lover, and the neglect of the other, oppressed her sorely. She could not now sit quietly through the evening at her work; or, if she kept, by a strong effort, from pacing up and down the room, she felt as if she must sing to keep off thought while she sewed. And her songs were the maddest, merriest, she could think of. "Barbara Allen," and such sorrowful ditties, did well enough for happy times; but now she required all the aid that could be derived from external excitement to keep down the impulse of grief.
And her father, too - he was a great anxiety to her, he looked so changed and so ill. Yet he would not acknowledge to any ailment. She knew, that be it as late as it would, she never left off work until (if the poor servants paid her pretty regularly for the odd jobs of mending she did for them) she had earned a few pence, enough for one good meal for her father on the next day. But very frequently all she could do in the morning, after her late sitting up at night, was to run with the work home, and receive the money from the person for whom it was done. She could not stay often to make purchases of food, but gave up the money at once to her father's eager clutch; sometimes prompted by a savage hunger it is true, but more frequently by a craving for opium.
On the whole he was not so hungry as his daughter. For it was a long fast from the one o'clock dinner-hour at Miss Simmonds' to the close of Mary's vigil, which was often extended to midnight. She was young, and had not yet learned to bear "clemming."
One evening, as she sang a merry song over her work, stopping occasionally to sigh, the blind Margaret came groping in. It had been one of Mary's additional sorrows that her friend had been absent from home, accompanying the lecturer on music in his round among the manufacturing towns of Yorkshire and Lancashire. Her grandfather, too, had seen this a good time for going his expeditions in search of specimens; so that the house had been shut up for several weeks.
"Oh! Margaret, Margaret! how glad I am to see you. Take care. There, now, you're all right, that's father's chair. Sit down." - She kissed her over and over again.
"It seems like the beginning o' brighter times, to see you again, Margaret. Bless you! And how well you look!"
"Doctors always send ailing folk for change of air: and you know I've had plenty o' that same lately."
"You've been quite a traveller for sure! Tell us all about it, do, Margaret. Where have you been to, first place?"
"Eh, lass, that would take a long time to tell. Half o'er the world, I sometimes think. Bolton and Bury, and Owdham; and Halifax, and - but Mary, guess who I saw there? Maybe you know though, so it's not fair guessing."
"No, I donnot. Tell me, Margaret, for I cannot abide waiting, and guessing."
"Well, one night as I were going fra' my lodgings wi' the help on a lad as belonged to th' landlady, to find the room where I were to sing, I heard a cough before me, walking along. Thinks I, that's Jem Wilson's cough, or I'm much mistaken. Next time came a sneeze and cough, and then I were certain. First I hesitated whether I should speak, thinking if it were a stranger he'd maybe think me forrard. But I knew blind folks must not be nesh about using their tongues, so says I, 'Jem Wilson, is that you?' And sure enough it was, and nobody else. Did you know he were in Halifax, Mary?"
"No," she answered faintly and sadly; for Halifax was all the same to her heart as the Antipodes; equally inaccessible by humble penitent looks and maidenly tokens of love.
"Well, he's there, however: he's putting up an engine for some folks there, for his master. He's doing well, for he's getten four or five men under him; we'd two or three meetings, and he telled me all about his invention for doing away wi' the crank, or somewhat. His master's bought it from him, and ta'en out a patent, and Jem's a gentleman for life wi' the money his master gied him. But you'll ha' heard all this, Mary?"
No! she had not.
"Well, I thought it all happened afore he left Manchester, and then in course you'd ha' known. But maybe it were all settled after he got to Halifax; however, he's gotten two or three hunder pounds for his invention. But what's up with you, Mary? you're sadly out of sorts. You've never been quarrelling wi' Jem, surely."
Now Mary cried outright; she was weak in body, and unhappy in mind, and the time was come when she might have the relief of telling her grief. She could not bring herself to confess how much of her sorrow was caused by her having been vain and foolish; she hoped that need never be known, and she could not bear to think of it.
"Oh, Margaret; do you know Jem came here one night when I were put out, and cross. Oh, dear! dear! I could bite my tongue out when I think on it. And he told me how he loved me, and I thought I did not love him, and I told him I didn't; and, Margaret, - he believed me, and went away so sad, and so angry; and now I'd do any thing, - I would indeed," her sobs choked the end of her sentence. Margaret looked at her with sorrow, but with hope; for she had no doubt in her own mind, that it was only a temporary estrangement.
"Tell me, Margaret," said Mary, taking her apron down from her eyes, and looking at Margaret with eager anxiety, "What can I do to bring him back to me? Should I write to him?"
"No," replied her friend, "that would not do. Men are so queer, they like to have a' the courting to themselves."
"But I did not mean to write him a courting letter," said Mary, somewhat indignantly.
"If you wrote at all, it would be to give him a hint you'd taken the rue, and would be very glad to have him now. I believe now he'd rather find that out himself."
"But he won't try," said Mary, sighing. "How can he find it out when he's at Halifax?"
"If he's a will he's a way, depend upon it. And you would not have him if he's not a will to you, Mary! No, dear!" changing her tone from the somewhat hard way in which sensible people too often speak, to the soft accents of tenderness which come with such peculiar grace from them, "you must just wait and be patient. You may depend upon it, all will end well, and better than if you meddled in it now."
"But it's so hard to be patient," pleaded Mary.
"Aye, dear; being patient is the hardest work we, any on us, have to do through life, I take it. Waiting is far more difficult than doing. I've known that about my sight, and many a one has known it in watching the sick; but it's one of God's lessons we all must learn, one way or another." After a pause. "Have ye been to see his mother of late?"
"No; not for some weeks. When I last went she was so frabbit with me, that I really thought she wish'd I'd keep away."
"Well! if I were you I'd go. Jem will hear on't, and it will do you far more good in his mind than writing a letter, which, after all, you would find a tough piece of work when you came to settle to it. 'Twould be hard to say neither too much nor too little. But I must be going, grandfather is at home, and it's our first night together, and he must not be sitting wanting me any longer."
She rose up from her seat, but still delayed going.
"Mary! I've somewhat else I want to say to you, and I don't rightly know how to begin. You see, grandfather and I know what bad times is, and we know your father is out of work, and I'm getting more money than I can well manage; and dear, would you just take this bit o' gold, and pay me back in good times." The tears stood in Margaret's eyes as she spoke.
"Dear Margaret, we're not so bad pressed as that." (The thought of her father and his ill looks, and his one meal a day, rushed upon Mary.) "And yet, dear, if it would not put you out o' your way, - I would work hard to make it up to you; - but would not your grandfather be vexed?"
"Not he, wench! It were more his thought than mine, and we have gotten ever so many more at home, so don't hurry yourself about paying. It's hard to be blind, to be sure, else money comes in so easily now to what it used to do; and it's downright pleasure to earn it, for I do so like singing."
"I wish I could sing," said Mary, looking at the sovereign.
"Some has one kind o' gifts, and some another. Many's the time when I could see, that I longed for your beauty, Mary! We're like childer, ever wanting what we han not got. But now I must say just one more word. Remember, if you're sore pressed for money, we shall take it very unkind if you donnot let us know. Good-bye to ye."
In spite of her blindness she hurried away, anxious to rejoin her grandfather, and desirous also to escape from Mary's expressions of gratitude.
Her visit had done Mary good in many ways. It had strengthened her patience and her hope; it had given her confidence in Margaret's sympathy; and last, and really least in comforting power (of so little value are silver and gold in comparison to love, that gift in every one's power to bestow), came the consciousness of the money-value of the sovereign she held in her hand. The many things it might purchase! First of all came the thought of a comfortable supper for her father that very night; and acting instantly upon the idea, she set off in hopes that all the provision shops might not yet be closed, although it was so late.
That night the cottage shone with unusual light and fire-gleam; and the father and daughter sat down to a meal they thought almost extravagant. It was so long since they had had enough to eat.
"Food gives heart," say the Lancashire people; and the next day Mary made time to go and call on Mrs Wilson, according to Margaret's advice. She found her quite alone, and more gracious than she had been the last time Mary had visited her. Alice was gone out, she said.
"She would just step up to the post-office, all for no earthly use. For it were to ask if they hadn't a letter lying there for her from her foster-son, Will Wilson, the sailor-lad."
"What made her think there were a letter?" asked Mary.
"Why yo see, a neighbour as has been in Liverpool, telled us Will's ship were come in. Now he said last time he were in Liverpool, he'd ha' come to ha' seen Alice, but his ship had but a week holiday, and hard work for the men in that time, too. So Alice makes sure he'll come this, and has had her hand behind her ear at every noise in th' street, thinking it were him. And to-day she were neither to have nor to hold, but off she would go to th' post, and see if he had na sent her a line to the old house near yo. I tried to get her to give up going, for let alone her deafness she's getten so dark, she cannot see five yards afore her; but no, she would go, poor old body."
"I did not know her sight failed her; she used to have good eyes enough when she lived near us."
"Aye, but it's gone lately a good deal. But you never ask after Jem" - anxious to get in a word on the subject nearest her heart.
"No," replied Mary, blushing scarlet. "How is he?"
"I cannot justly say how he is, seeing he's at Halifax; but he were very well when he wrote last Tuesday. Han ye heard o' his good luck?"
Rather to her disappointment, Mary owned she had heard of the sum his master had paid him for his invention.
"Well! and did not Margaret tell you what he'd done wi' it. It's just like him, though, ne'er to say a word about it. Why, when he were paid, what does he do but get his master to help him to buy an income for me and Alice. He had her name put down for her life: but, poor thing, she'll not be long to the fore, I'm thinking. She's sadly failed of late. And so, Mary, yo see, we're two ladies o' property. It's a matter o' twenty pound a year, they tell me. I wish the twins had lived, bless 'em," said she, dropping a few tears. "They should ha' had the best o' schooling, and their bellyfuls o' food. I suppose they're better off in heaven, only I should so like to see 'em."
Mary's heart filled with love at this new proof of Jem's goodness: but she could not talk about it. She took Jane Wilson's hand, and pressed it with affection; and then turned the subject to Will, her sailor nephew. Jane was a little bit sorry, but her prosperity had made her gentler, and she did not resent what she felt as Mary's indifference to Jem and his merits.
"He's been in Africa, and that neighbourhood, I believe. He's a fine chap, but he's not getten Jem's hair. His has too much o' the red in it. He sent Alice (but, maybe, she telled you) a matter o' five pound when he were over before; but that were nought to an income, yo know."
"It's not every one that can get a hundred or two at a time," said Mary.
"No! no! that's true enough. There's not many a one like Jem. That's Alice's step," said she, hastening to open the door to her sister-in-law. Alice looked weary, and sad, and dusty. The weariness and the dust would not have been noticed either by her, or the others, if it had not been for the sadness.
"No letters!" said Mrs Wilson.
"No, none! I must just wait another day to hear fra' my lad. It's very dree work, waiting," said Alice.
Margaret's words came into Mary's mind. Every one has their time and kind of waiting.
"If I but knew he were safe, and not drowned!" spoke Alice. "If I but knew he were drowned, I would ask grace to say, Thy will be done. It's the waiting."
"It's hard work to be patient to all of us," said Mary; "I know I find it so, but I did not know one so good as you did, Alice; I shall not think so badly of myself for being a bit impatient, now I've heard you say you find it difficult."
The idea of reproach to Alice was the last in Mary's mind; and Alice knew it was. Nevertheless, she said,
"Then, my dear, I beg your pardon, and God's pardon, too, if I've weakened your faith, by showing you how feeble mine was. Half our life's spent in waiting, and it ill becomes one like me, wi' so many mercies, to grumble. I'll try and put a bridle o'er my tongue, and my thoughts too." She spoke in a humble and gentle voice, like one asking forgiveness.
"Come, Alice," interposed Mrs Wilson, "don't fret yoursel for e'er a trifle wrong said here or there. See! I've put th' kettle on, and you and Mary shall ha' a dish o' tea in no time."
So she bustled about, and brought out a comfortable-looking substantial loaf, and set Mary to cut bread and butter, while she rattled out the tea-cups - always a cheerful sound.
Just as they were sitting down, there was a knock heard at the door, and without waiting for it to be opened from the inside, some one lifted the latch, and in a man's voice asked, if one George Wilson lived there?
Mrs Wilson was entering on a long and sorrowful explanation of his having once lived there, but of his having dropped down dead; when Alice, with the instinct of love (for in all usual and common instances sight and hearing failed to convey impressions to her until long after other people had received them), arose, and tottered to the door.
"My bairn! - my own dear bairn!" she exclaimed, falling on Will Wilson's neck.
You may fancy the hospitable and welcoming commotion that ensued; how Mrs Wilson laughed, and talked, and cried, all together, if such a thing can be done; and how Mary gazed with wondering pleasure at her old playmate; now, a dashing, bronzed-looking ringleted sailor, frank, and hearty, and affectionate.
But it was something different from common to see Alice's joy at once more having her foster-child with her. She did not speak, for she really could not; but the tears came coursing down her old withered cheeks, and dimmed the horn spectacles she had put on, in order to pry lovingly into his face. So what with her failing sight, and her tear-blinded eyes, she gave up the attempt of learning his face by heart through the medium of that sense, and tried another. She passed her sodden, shrivelled hands, all trembling with eagerness, over his manly face, bent meekly down in order that she might more easily make her strange inspection. At last, her soul was satisfied.
After tea, Mary feeling sure there was much to be said on both sides, at which it would be better no one should be present, not even an intimate friend like herself, got up to go away. This seemed to arouse Alice from her dreamy consciousness of exceeding happiness, and she hastily followed Mary to the door. There, standing outside, with the latch in her hand, she took hold of Mary's arm, and spoke nearly the first words she had uttered since her nephew's return.
"My dear! I shall never forgive mysel, if my wicked words to-night are any stumbling-block in your path. See how the Lord has put coals of fire on my head! Oh! Mary, don't let my being an unbelieving Thomas weaken your faith. Wait patiently on the Lord, whatever your trouble may be."
A TRAVELLER'S TALES
It was perhaps four or five days after the events mentioned in the last chapter, that one evening, as Mary stood lost in reverie at the window, she saw Will Wilson enter the court, and come quickly up to her door. She was glad to see him, for he had always been a friend of hers, perhaps too much like her in character ever to become anything nearer or dearer. She opened the door in readiness to receive his frank greeting, which she as frankly returned.
"Come Mary! on with bonnet and shawl, or whatever rigging you women require before leaving the house. I'm sent to fetch you, and I can't lose time when I'm under orders."
"Where am I to go to?" asked Mary, as her heart leaped up at the thought of who might be waiting for her.
"Not very far," replied he. "Only to old Job Legh's round the corner there. Aunt would have me come and see these new friends of hers, and then we meant to ha' come on here to see you and your father, but the old gentleman seems inclined to make a night of it, and have you all there. Where is your father? I want to see him. He must come too."
"He's out, but I'll leave word next door for him to follow me; that's to say, if he comes home afore long." She added, hesitatingly, "Is any one else at Job's?"
"No! My aunt Jane would not come, for some maggot or other; and as for Jem! I don't know what you've all been doing to him, but he's as down-hearted a chap as I'd wish to see. He's had his sorrows sure enough, poor lad! But it's time for him to be shaking off his dull looks, and not go moping like a girl."
"Then he's come fra' Halifax, is he?" asked Mary.
"Yes! his body's come, but I think he's left his heart behind him. His tongue I'm sure he has, as we used to say to childer, when they would not speak. I try to rouse him up a bit, and I think he likes having me with him, but still he's as gloomy and dull as can be. 'Twas only yesterday he took me to the works, and you'd ha' thought us two Quakers as the spirit hadn't moved, all the way down we were so mum. It's a place to craze a man, certainly; such a noisy black hole! There were one or two things worth looking at, the bellows for instance, or the gale they called a bellows. I could ha' stood near it a whole day; and if I'd a berth in that place, I should like to be bellows-man, if there is such a one. But Jem weren't diverted even with that; he stood as grave as a judge while it blew my hat out o' my hand. He's lost all relish for his food, too, which frets my aunt sadly. Come! Mary, ar'n't you ready?"
She had not been able to gather if she were to see Jem at Job Legh's; but when the door was opened, she at once saw and felt he was not there. The evening then would be a blank; at least so she thought for the first five minutes; but she soon forgot her disappointment in the cheerful meeting of old friends, all, except herself, with some cause for rejoicing at that very time. Margaret, who could not he idle, was knitting away, with her face looking full into the room, away from her work. Alice sat meek and patient with her dimmed eyes and gentle look, trying to see and to hear, but never complaining; indeed, in her inner self she was blessing God for her happiness; for the joy of having her nephew, her child, near her, was far more present to her mind, than her deprivations of sight and hearing.
Job was in the full glory of host and hostess too, for by a tacit agreement he had roused himself from his habitual abstraction, and had assumed many of Margaret's little household duties. While he moved about he was deep in conversation with the young sailor, trying to extract from him any circumstances connected with the natural history of the different countries he had visited.
"Oh! if you are fond of grubs, and flies, and beetles, there's no place for 'em like Sierra Leone. I wish you'd had some of ours; we had rather too much of a good thing; we drank them with our drink, and could scarcely keep from eating them with our food. I never thought any folk could care for such fat green beasts as those, or I would ha' brought you them by the thousand. A plate full o' pea-soup would ha' been full enough for you, I dare say; it were often too full for us."
"I would ha' given a good deal for some on 'em," said Job.
"Well, I knew folk at home liked some o' the queer things one meets with abroad; but I never thought they'd care for them nasty slimy things. I were always on the look out for a mermaid, for that, I knew, were a curiosity."
"You might ha' looked long enough," said Job, in an under tone of contempt, which, however, the quick ears of the sailor caught.
"Not so long, master, in some latitudes, as you think. It stands to reason th' sea hereabouts is too cold for mermaids; for women here don't go half naked on account o' climate. But I've been in lands where muslin were too hot to wear on land, and where the sea were more than milk-warm; and though I'd never the good luck to see a mermaid in that latitude I know them that has."
"Do tell us about it," cried Mary.
"Pooh, pooh!" said Job, the naturalist.
Both speeches determined Will to go on with his story. What could a fellow who had never been many miles from home know about the wonders of the deep, that he should put him down in that way?
"Well, it were Jack Harris, our third mate, last voyage, as many and many a time telled us all about it. You see he were becalmed off Chatham Island (that's in the Great Pacific, and a warm enough latitude for mermaids, and sharks, and such like perils). So some of the men took the long-boat, and pulled for the island to see what it were like; and when they got near, they heard a puffing, like a creature come up to take breath; you've never heard a diver? No! Well; you've heard folks in th' asthma, and it were for all the world like that. So they looked around, and what should they see but a mermaid, sitting on a rock, and sunning herself. The water is always warmer when it's rough, you know, so I suppose in the calm she felt it rather chilly, and had come up to warm herself."
"What was she like?" asked Mary, breathlessly.
Job took his pipe off the chimney-piece, and began to smoke with very audible puffs, as if the story were not worth listening to.
"Oh! Jack used to say she was for all the world as beautiful as any of the wax ladies in the barbers' shops; only, Mary, there were one little difference: her hair was bright grass green."
"I should not think that was pretty," said Mary, hesitatingly; as if not liking to doubt the perfection of any thing belonging to such an acknowledged beauty.
"Oh! but it is when you're used to it. I always think when first we get sight of land, there's no colour so lovely as grass green. However, she had green hair sure enough; and were proud enough of it, too; for she were combing it out full length when first they saw her. They all thought she were a fair prize, and may be as good as a whale in ready money (they were whale-fishers, you know). For some folk think a deal of mermaids, whatever other folk do." This was a hit at Job, who retaliated in a series of sonorous spittings and puffs.
"So, as I were saying, they pulled towards her, thinking to catch her. She were all the while combing her beautiful hair, and beckoning to them, while with the other hand she held a looking-glass."
"How many hands had she?" asked Job.
"Two, to be sure, just like any other woman," answered Will, indignantly.
"Oh! I thought you said she beckoned with one hand, and combed her hair with another, and held a looking-glass with a third," said Job, with provoking quietness.
"No! I didn't! at least, if I did, I meant she did one thing after another, as any one but" (here he mumbled a word or two) "could understand. Well, Mary," turning very decidedly towards her, "when she saw them coming near, whether it were she grew frightened at their fowling-pieces, as they had on board for a bit o' shooting on the island, or whether it were she were just a fickle jade as did not rightly know her own mind (which, seeing one half of her was woman, I think myself was most probable), but when they were only about two oars' length from the rock where she sat, down she plopped into the water, leaving nothing but her hinder end of a fish tail sticking up for a minute, and then that disappeared too."
"And did they never see her again?" asked Mary.
"Never so plain; the man who had the second watch one night declared he saw her swimming round the ship, and holding up her glass for him to look in; and then he saw the little cottage near Aber in Wales (where his wife lived) as plain as ever he saw it in life, and his wife standing outside, shading her eyes as if she were looking for him. But Jack Harris gave him no credit, for he said he were always a bit of a romancer, and beside that, were a home-sick, down-hearted chap."
"I wish they had caught her," said Mary, musing.
"They got one thing as belonged to her," replied Will, "and that I've often seen with my own eyes, and I reckon it's a sure proof of the truth of their story, for them that wants proof."
"What was it?" asked Margaret, almost anxious her grandfather should be convinced.
"Why, in her hurry she left her comb on the rock, and one o' the men spied it; so they thought that were better than nothing and they rowed there and took it, and Jack Harris had it on board the John Cropper, and I saw him comb his hair with it every Sunday morning."
"What was it like?" asked Mary, eagerly; her imagination running on coral combs, studded with pearls.
"Why, if it had not had such a strange yarn belonging to it, you'd never ha' noticed it from any other small-tooth comb."
"I should rather think not," sneered Job Legh.
The sailor bit his lips to keep down his anger against an old man. Margaret felt very uneasy, knowing her grandfather so well, and not daring to guess what caustic remark might come next to irritate the young sailor guest.
Mary, however, was too much interested by the wonders of the deep to perceive the incredulity with which Job Legh received Wilson's account of the mermaid, and when he left off, half offended, and very much inclined not to open his lips again through the evening, she eagerly said,
"Oh, do tell us something more of what you hear and see on board ship. Do, Will!"
"What's the use, Mary, if folk won't believe one. There are things I saw with my own eyes, that some people would pish and pshaw at, as if I were a baby to be put down by cross noises. But I'll tell you, Mary," with an emphasis on you, "some more of the wonders of the sea, sin' you're not too wise to believe me. I have seen a fish fly."
This did stagger Mary. She had heard of mermaids as signs of inns, and as sea-wonders, but never of flying fish. Not so Job. He put down his pipe, and nodding his head as a token of approbation, he said,
"Aye! aye! young man. Now you're speaking truth."
"Well, now, you'll swallow that, old gentleman. You'll credit me when I say I've seen a critter half fish, half bird, and you won't credit me when I say there be such beasts as mermaids, half fish, half woman. To me, one's just as strange as t'other."
"You never saw the mermaid yoursel," interposed Margaret, gently. But "love me, love my dog," was Will Wilson's motto, only his version was, "Believe me, believe Jack Harris"; and the remark was not so soothing to him as it was intended to have been.
"It's the Exocetus; one of the Malacopterygii Abdominales," said Job, much interested.
"Aye, there you go! You're one o' them folks as never knows beasts unless they're called out o' their names. Put 'em in Sunday clothes, and you know 'em, but in their work-a-day English you never know nought about 'em. I've met wi' many o' your kidney; and if I'd ha' known it, I'd ha' christened poor Jack's mermaid wi' some grand gibberish of a name. Mermaidicus Jack Harrisensis; that's just like their new-fangled words. D'ye believe there's such a thing as the Mermaidicus, master?" asked Will, enjoying his own joke uncommonly, as most people do.
"Not I! tell me about the ----"
"Well!" said Will, pleased at having excited the old gentleman's faith and credit at last, "it were on this last voyage, about a day's sail from Madeira, that one of our men----"
"Not Jack Harris, I hope," murmured Job.
"Called me," continued Will, not noticing the interruption, "to see the what d'ye call it - flying fish I say it is. It were twenty feet out o' water, and it flew near on to a hundred yards. But I say, old gentleman, I ha' gotten one dried, and if you'll take it, why I'll give it you; only," he added in a lower tone, "I'd wish you'd just gie me credit for the Mermaidicus."
I really believe, if the assuming faith in the story of the mermaid had been made the condition of receiving the flying fish, Job Legh, sincere man that be was, would have pretended belief; he was so much delighted at the idea of possessing this specimen. He won the sailor's heart by getting up to shake both his hands in his vehement gratitude, puzzling poor old Alice, who yet smiled through her wonder; for she understood the action to indicate some kindly feeling towards her nephew.
Job wanted to prove his gratitude, and was puzzled how to do it. He feared the young man would not appreciate any of his duplicate Araneides; not even the great American Mygale, one of his most precious treasures; or else he would gladly have bestowed any duplicate on the donor of a real dried Exocetus. What could he do for him? He could ask Margaret to sing. Other folks beside her old doating grandfather thought a deal of her songs. So Margaret began some of her noble old-fashioned songs. She knew no modern music, for which her auditors might have been thankful, but she poured her rich voice out in some of the old canzonets she had lately learnt while accompanying the musical lecturer on his tour.
Mary was amused to see how the young sailor sat entranced; mouth, eyes, all open, in order to catch every breath of sound. His very lids refused to wink, as if afraid in that brief proverbial interval to lose a particle of the rich music that floated through the room. For the first time the idea crossed Mary's mind that it was possible the plain little sensible Margaret, so prim and demure, might have power over the heart of the handsome, dashing, spirited Will Wilson.
Job, too, was rapidly changing his opinion of his new guest. The flying fish went a great way, and his undisguised admiration for Margaret's singing carried him still further.
It was amusing enough to see these two, within the hour so barely civil to each other, endeavouring now to be ultra-agreeable. Will, as soon as he had taken breath (a long, deep gasp of admiration) after Margaret's song, sidled up to Job, and asked him in a sort of doubting tone,
"You wouldn't like a live Manx cat, would ye, master?"
"A what?" exclaimed Job.
"I don't know its best name," said Will, humbly. "But we call 'em just Manx cats. They're cats without tails."
Now Job, in all his natural history, had never heard of such animals; so Will continued,
"Because I'm going, afore joining my ship, to see mother's friends in the island, and I would gladly bring you one, if so be you'd like to have it. They look as queer and out o' nature as flying fish, or" - he gulped the words down that should have followed. "Especially when you see em walking a roof-top right again the sky, when a cat, as is a proper cat, is sure to stick her tail stiff out behind, like a slack-rope dancer a-balancing; but these cats having no tail, cannot stick it out, which captivates some people uncommonly. If yo'll allow me, I'll bring one for Miss there," jerking his head at Margaret. Job assented with grateful curiosity, wishing much to see the tailless phenomenon.
"When are you going to sail?" asked Mary.
"I cannot justly say; our ship's bound for America next voyage, they tell me. A messmate will let me know when her sailing-day is fixed; but I've got to go to th' Isle o' Man first. I promised uncle last time I were in England to go this next time. I may have to hoist the Blue Peter any day; so make much of me while you have me, Mary."
Job asked him if he had ever been in America.
"Haven't I? North and South both! This time we're bound to North. Yankee-Land, as we call it, where Uncle Sam lives."
"Uncle who?" asked Mary
"Oh, it's a way sailors have of speaking. I only mean I'm going to Boston, U.S., that's Uncle Sam."
Mary did not understand, so she left him and went to sit by Alice, who could not hear conversation unless expressly addressed to her. She had sat patiently the greater part of the night, and now greeted Mary with a quiet smile.
"Where's yo'r father?" asked she.
"I guess he's at his Union? he's there most evenings."
Alice shook her head; but whether it were that she did not hear, or that she did not quite approve of what she heard, Mary could not make out. She sat silently watching Alice, and regretting over her dimmed and veiled eyes, formerly so bright and speaking. As if Alice understood by some other sense what was passing in Mary's mind, she turned suddenly round, and answered Mary's thought.
"Yo're mourning for me, my dear; and there's no need, Mary. I'm as happy as a child. I sometimes think I am a child, whom the Lord is hushabying to my long sleep. For when I were a nurse-girl, my missis always telled me to speak very soft and low, and to darken the room that her little one might go to sleep; and now all noises are hushed and still to me, and the bonny earth seems dim and dark, and I know it's my Father lulling me away to my long sleep. I'm very well content, and yo mustn't fret for me. I've had wellnigh every blessing in life I could desire."
Mary thought of Alice's long-cherished, fond wish to revisit the home of her childhood, so often and often deferred, and now probably never to take place. Or if it did, how changed from the fond anticipation of what it was to have been! It would be a mockery to the blind and deaf Alice.
The evening came quickly to an end. There was the humble cheerful meal, and then the bustling, merry farewell, and Mary was once more in the quietness and solitude of her own dingy, dreary-looking home; her father still out, the fire extinguished, and her evening's task of work lying all undone upon the dresser. But it had been a pleasant little interlude to think upon. It had distracted her attention for a few hours from the pressure of many uneasy thoughts, of the dark, heavy, oppressive times, when sorrow and want seemed to surround her on every side: of her father, his changed and altered looks, telling so plainly of broken health, and an embittered heart; of the morrow, and the morrow beyond that, to be spent in that close monotonous workroom, with Sally Leadbitter's odious whispers hissing in her ear; and of the hunted look, so full of dread, from Miss Simmonds' door-step up and down the street, lest her persecuting lover should be near; for he lay in wait for her with wonderful perseverance, and of late had made himself almost hateful, by the unmanly force which he had used to detain her to listen to him, and the indifference with which he exposed her to the remarks of the passers-by, any one of whom might circulate reports which it would be terrible for her father to hear - and worse than death should they reach Jem Wilson. And all this she had drawn upon herself by her giddy flirting. Oh! how she loathed the recollection of the hot summer evening, when, worn out by stitching and sewing, she had loitered homewards with weary languor, and first listened to the voice of the tempter.
And Jem Wilson! Oh, Jem, Jem, why did you not come to receive some of the modest looks and words of love which Mary longed to give you, to try and make up for the hasty rejection which you as hastily took to be final, though both mourned over it with many tears. But day after day passed away, and patience seemed of no avail; and Mary's cry was ever the old moan of the Moated Grange,
JEM'S INTERVIEW WITH POOR ESTHER
The month was over; - the honeymoon to the newly married; the exquisite convalescence to the "living mother of a living child"; "the first dark days of nothingness" to the widow and the child-bereaved; the term of penance, of hard labour, and solitary confinement, to the shrinking, shivering, hopeless prisoner.
"Sick, and in prison, and ye visited me." Shall you, or I, receive such blessing? I know one who will. An overseer of a foundry, an aged man, with hoary hair, has spent his Sabbaths, for many years, in visiting the prisoners and the afflicted in Manchester New Bailey; not merely advising, and comforting, but putting means into their power of regaining the virtue and the peace they had lost; becoming himself their guarantee in obtaining employment, and never deserting those who have once asked help from him.
Esther's term of imprisonment was ended. She received a good character in the governor's books; she had picked her daily quantity of oakum, had never deserved the extra punishment of the treadmill, and had been civil and decorous in her language. And once more she was out of prison. The door closed behind her with a ponderous clang, and in her desolation she felt as if shut out of home - from the only shelter she could meet with, houseless and penniless as she was, on that dreary day.
But it was but for an instant that she stood there doubting. One thought had haunted her both by night and by day, with monomaniacal incessancy; and that thought was how to save Mary (her dead sister's only child, her own little pet in the days of her innocence) from following in the same downward path to vice. To whom could she speak and ask for aid? She shrank from the idea of addressing John Barton again; her heart sank within her, at the remembrance of his fierce repulsing action, and far fiercer words. It seemed worse than death to reveal her condition to Mary, else she sometimes thought that this course would be the most terrible, the most efficient warning. She must speak; to that she was soul-compelled; but to whom? She dreaded addressing any of her former female acquaintance, even supposing they had sense, or spirit, or interest enough to undertake her mission.
To whom shall the outcast prostitute tell her tale? Who will give her help in the day of need? Hers is the leper-sin, and all stand aloof dreading to be counted unclean.
In her wild night wanderings, she had noted the haunts and habits of many a one who little thought of a watcher in the poor forsaken woman. You may easily imagine that a double interest was attached by her to the ways and companionships of those with whom she had been acquainted in the days which, when present, she had considered hardly-worked and monotonous, but which now in retrospection seemed so happy and unclouded. Accordingly, she had, as we have seen, known where to meet with John Barton on that unfortunate night, which had only produced irritation in him, and a month's imprisonment to her. She had also observed that he was still intimate with the Wilsons. She had seen him walking and talking with both father and son; her old friends too; and she had shed unregarded, unvalued tears, when some one had casually told her of George Wilson's sudden death. It now flashed across her mind that to the son, to Mary's playfellow, her elder brother in the days of childhood, her tale might be told, and listened to with interest, and some mode of action suggested by him by which Mary might be guarded and saved.
All these thoughts had passed through her mind while yet she was in prison; so when she was turned out, her purpose was clear, and she did not feel her desolation of freedom as she would otherwise have done.
That night she stationed herself early near the foundry where she knew Jem worked; he stayed later than usual, being detained by some arrangements for the morrow. She grew tired and impatient; many workmen had come out of the door in the long, dead, brick wall, and eagerly had she peered into their faces, deaf to all insult or curse. He must have gone home early; one more turn in the street, and she would go.
During that turn be came out, and in the quiet of that street of workshops and warehouses, she directly heard his steps. How her heart failed her for an instant; but still she was not daunted from her purpose, painful as its fulfilment was sure to be. She laid her hand on his arm. As she expected, after a momentary glance at the person who thus endeavoured to detain him, he made an endeavour to shake it off, and pass on. But, trembling as she was, she had provided against this by a firm and unusual grasp.
"You must listen to me, Jem Wilson," she said, with almost an accent of command.
"Go away, missis; I've nought to do with you, either in hearkening or talking."
He made another struggle.
"You must listen," she said again, authoritatively, "for Mary Barton's sake."
"The spell of her name was as potent as that of the mariner's glittering eye. "He listened like a three-year child."
"I know you care enough for her to wish to save her from harm."
He interrupted his earnest gaze into her face, with the exclamation -
"And who can yo be to know Mary Barton, or to know that she's aught to me?"
There was a little strife in Esther's mind for an instant, between the shame of acknowledging herself, and the additional weight to her revelation which such acknowledgment would give. Then she spoke,
"Do you remember Esther, the sister of John Barton's wife? the aunt to Mary? And the Valentine I sent you last February ten years?"
"Yes, I mind her well! But yo are not Esther, are you?" He looked again into her face, and seeing that indeed it was his boyhood's friend, he took her hand, and shook it with a cordiality that forgot the present in the past.
"Why, Esther! Where han ye been this many a year? Where han ye been wandering that we none of us could find you out?"
The question was asked thoughtlessly, but answered with fierce earnestness.
"Where have I been? What have I been doing? Why do you torment me with questions like these? Can you not guess? But the story of my life is wanted to give force to my speech, afterwards I will tell it you. Nay! don't change your fickle mind now, and say you don't want to hear it. You must hear it, and I must tell it; and then see after Mary, and take care she does not become like me. As she is loving now, so did I love once, one above me far." She remarked not, in her own absorption, the change in Jem's breathing, the sudden clutch at the wall which told the fearfully vivid interest he took in what she said. "He was so handsome, so kind! Well, the regiment was ordered to Chester (did I tell you he was an officer?), and he could not bear to part from me, nor I from him, so he took me with him. I never thought poor Mary would have taken it so to heart! I always meant to send for her to pay me a visit when I was married; for, mark you! he promised me marriage. They all do. Then came three years of happiness. I suppose I ought not to have been happy, but I was. I had a little girl, too. Oh! the sweetest darling that ever was seen! But I must not think of her," putting her hand wildly up to her forehead, "or I shall go mad; I shall."
"Don't tell me any more about yoursel," said Jem, soothingly.
"What! you're tired already, are you? but I will tell you; as you've asked for it, you shall hear it. I won't recall the agony of the past for nothing. I will have the relief of telling it. Oh, how happy I was!" sinking her voice into a plaintive, child-like manner. "It came like a shot on me when one day he came to me and told me he was ordered to Ireland, and must leave me behind; at Bristol we then were."
Jem muttered some words; she caught their meaning, and in a pleading voice continued,
"Oh, don't abuse him; don't speak a word against him! You don't know how I love him yet; yet, when I am sunk so low. You don't guess how kind he was. He gave me fifty pounds before we parted, and I knew he could ill spare it. Don't, Jem, please," as his muttered indignation rose again. For her sake he ceased. "I might have done better with the money; I see now. But I did not know the value of money. Formerly I had earned it easily enough at the factory, and as I had no more sensible wants, I spent it on dress and on eating. While I lived with him, I had it for asking; and fifty pounds would, I thought, go a long way. So I went back to Chester, where I'd been so happy, and set up a small-ware shop, and hired a room near. We should have done well, but alas! alas! my little girl fell ill, and I could not mind my shop and her too; and things grew worse and worse. I sold my goods any how to get money to buy her food and medicine; I wrote over and over again to her father for help, but he must have changed his quarters, for I never got an answer. The landlord seized the few bobbins and tapes I had left, for shop-rent; and the person to whom the mean little room, to which we had been forced to remove, belonged, threatened to turn us out unless his rent was paid; it had run on many weeks, and it was winter, cold bleak winter; and my child was so ill, so ill, and I was starving. And I could not bear to see her suffer, and forgot how much better it would be for us to die together; - oh, her moans, her moans, which money could give the means of relieving! So I went out into the street one January night - Do you think God will punish me for that?" she asked with wild vehemence, almost amounting to insanity, and shaking Jem's arm in order to force an answer from him.
But before he could shape his heart's sympathy into words, her voice had lost its wildness, and she spoke with the quiet of despair.
"But it's no matter! I've done that since, which separates us as far asunder as heaven and hell can be." Her voice rose again to the sharp pitch of agony. "My darling! my darling! even after death I may not see thee, my own sweet one! She was so good - like a little angel. What is that text, I don't remember, - the text mother used to teach me when I sat on her knee long ago; it begins 'Blessed are the pure----'"
"Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God."
"Aye, that's it! It would break mother's heart if she knew what I am now - it did break Mary's heart, you see. And now I recollect it was about her child I wanted so to see you, Jem. You know Mary Barton, don't you?" said she, trying to collect her thoughts.
Yes, Jem knew her. How well, his beating heart could testify!
"Well, there's something to do for her; I forget what; wait a minute! She is so like my little girl;" she said, raising her eyes, glistening with unshed tears, in search of the sympathy of Jem's countenance.
He deeply pitied her; but oh! how he longed to recall her mind to the subject of Mary, and the lover above her in rank, and the service to be done for her sake. But he controlled himself to silence. After awhile, she spoke again, and in a calmer voice.
"When I came to Manchester (for I could not stay in Chester after her death), I found you all out very soon. And yet I never thought my poor sister was dead. I suppose I would not think so. I used to watch about the court where John lived, for many and many a night, and gather all I could about them from the neighbours' talk; for I never asked a question. I put this and that together, and followed one and listened to the other; many's the time I've watched the policeman off his beat, and peeped through the chink of the window-shutter to see the old room, and sometimes Mary or her father sitting up late for some reason or another. I found out Mary went to learn dressmaking, and I began to be frightened for her; for it's a bad life for a girl to be out late at night in the streets, and after many an hour of weary work, they're ready to follow after any novelty that makes a little change. But I made up my mind, that bad as I was, I could watch over Mary, and perhaps keep her from harm. So I used to wait for her at nights, and follow her home, often when she little knew any one was near her. There was one of her companions I never could abide, and I'm sure that girl is at the bottom of some mischief. By and by Mary's walks homewards were not alone. She was joined soon after she came out by a man, a gentleman. I began to fear for her, for I saw she was light-hearted, and pleased with his attentions; and I thought worse of him for having such long talks with that bold girl I told you of. But I was laid up for a long time with spitting of blood; and could do nothing. I'm sure it made me worse, thinking about what might be happening to Mary. And when I came out, all was going on as before, only she seemed fonder of him than ever; and oh! Jem, her father won't listen to me, and it's you must save Mary! You're like a brother to her, and maybe could give her advice and watch over her, and at any rate John will hearken to you; only he's so stern, and so cruel." She began to cry a little at the remembrance of his harsh words; but Jem cut her short by his hoarse, stern inquiry,
"Who is this spark that Mary loves? Tell me his name?"
"It's young Carson, old Carson's son, that your father worked for."
There was a pause. She broke the silence.
"Oh! Jem, I charge you with the care of her! I suppose it would be murder to kill her, but it would be better for her to die than to live to lead such a life as I do. Do you hear me, Jem?"
"Yes! I hear you. It would be better. Better we were all dead." This was said as if thinking aloud; but he immediately changed his tone, and continued,
"Esther, you may trust to my doing all I can for Mary. That I have determined on. And now listen to me. You loathe the life you lead, else you would not speak of it as you do. Come home with me. Come to my mother. She and my aunt Alice live together. I will see that they give you a welcome. And to-morrow I will see if some honest way of living cannot be found for you. Come home with me."
She was silent for a minute, and he hoped he had gained his point. Then she said,
"God bless you, Jem, for the words you have just spoken. Some years ago you might have saved me, as I hope and trust you will yet save Mary. But it is too late now; - too late," she added, with accents of deep despair.
Still he did not relax his hold. "Come home," he said.
"I tell you, I cannot. I could not lead a virtuous life if I would. I should only disgrace you. If you will know all," said she, as he still seemed inclined to urge her, "I must have drink. Such as live like me could not bear life, if they did not drink. It's the only thing to keep us from suicide. If we did not drink, we could not stand the memory of what we have been, and the thought of what we are, for a day. If I go without food, and without shelter, I must have my dram. Oh! you don't know the awful nights I have had in prison for want of it!" said she, shuddering, and glaring round with terrified eyes, as if dreading to see some spiritual creature, with dim form, near her.
"It is so frightful to see them," whispering in tones of wildness, although so low spoken. "There they go round and round my bed the whole night through. My mother, carrying little Annie (I wonder how they got together) and Mary - and all looking at me with their sad, stony eyes; oh Jem! it is so terrible! They don't turn back either, but pass behind the head of the bed, and I feel their eyes on me everywhere. If I creep under the clothes I still see them; and what is worse," hissing out her words with fright, "they see me. Don't speak to me of leading a better life - I must have drink. I cannot pass to-night without a dram; I dare not."
Jem was silent from deep sympathy. Oh! could he, then, do nothing for her! She spoke again, but in a less excited tone, although it was thrillingly earnest.
"You are grieved for me! I know it better than if you told me in words. But you can do nothing for me. I am past hope. You can yet save Mary. You must. She is innocent, except for the great error of loving one above her in station. Jem! you will save her?"
With heart and soul, though in few words, Jem promised that if aught earthly could keep her from falling, he would do it. Then she blessed him, and bade him good night.
"Stay a minute," said he, as she was on the point of departure. "I may want to speak to you again. I mun know where to find you - where do you live?"
She laughed strangely. "And do you think one sunk so low as I am has a home? Decent, good people have homes. We have none. No; if you want me, come at night, and look at the corners of the streets about here. The colder, the bleaker, the more stormy the night, the more certain you will be to find me. For then," she added, with a plaintive fall in her voice, "it is so cold sleeping in entries, and on door-steps, and I want a dram more than ever."
Again she rapidly turned off, and Jem also went on his way. But before he reached the end of the street, even in the midst of the jealous anguish that filled his heart, his conscience smote him. He had not done enough to save her. One more effort, and she might have come. Nay, twenty efforts would have been well rewarded by her yielding. He turned back, but she was gone. In the tumult of his other feelings, his self-reproach was deadened for the time. But many and many a day afterwards he bitterly regretted his mission of duty; his weariness of well-doing.
Now, the great thing was to reach home, and solitude. Mary loved another! Oh! how should he bear it? He had thought her rejection of him a hard trial, but that was nothing now. He only remembered it, to be thankful that he had not yielded to the temptation of trying his fate again, not in actual words, but in a meeting, where her manner should tell far more than words, that her sweet smiles, her dainty movements, her pretty household ways, were all to be reserved to gladden another's eyes and heart. And he must live on; that seemed the strangest. That a long life (and he knew men did live long, even with deep, biting sorrow corroding at their hearts) must be spent without Mary; nay, with the consciousness she was another's! That hell of thought he would reserve for the quiet of his own room, the dead stillness of night. He was on the threshold of home now.
He entered. There were the usual faces, the usual sights. He loathed them, and then he cursed himself because he loathed them. His mother's love had taken a cross turn, because he had kept the tempting supper she had prepared for him waiting until it was nearly spoilt. Alice, her dulled senses deadening day by day, sat mutely near the fire; her happiness, bounded by the consciousness of the presence of her foster-child, knowing that his voice repeated what was passing to her deafened ear, that his arm removed each little obstacle to her tottering steps. And Will, out of the very kindness of his heart, talked more and more merrily than ever. He saw Jem was downcast, and fancied his rattling might cheer him; at any rate, it drowned his aunt's muttered grumblings, and in some measure concealed the blank of the evening. At last, bed-time came; and Will withdrew to his neighbouring lodging; and Jane and Alice Wilson had raked the fire, and fastened doors and shutters, and pattered upstairs, with their tottering footsteps and shrill voices. Jem, too, went to the closet termed his bedroom. There was no bolt to the door; but by one strong effort of his right arm, a heavy chest was moved against it, and he could sit down on the side of his bed, and think.
Mary loved another! That idea would rise uppermost in his mind, and had to be combated in all its forms of pain. It was, perhaps, no great wonder that she should prefer one so much above Jem in the external things of life. But the gentleman; why did he, with his range of choice among the ladies of the land, why did he stoop down to carry off the poor man's darling? With all the glories of the garden at his hand, why did he prefer to cull the wild-rose, - Jem's own fragrant wild-rose?
His own! Oh! never now his own! - Gone for evermore!
Then uprose the guilty longing for blood! - The frenzy of jealousy! - Some one should die. He would rather Mary were dead, cold in her grave, than that she were another's. A vision of her pale, sweet face, with her bright hair, all bedabbled with gore, seemed to float constantly before his aching eyes. But hers were ever open, and contained, in their soft, deathly look, such mute reproach! What had she done to deserve such cruel treatment from him? She had been wooed by one whom Jem knew to be handsome, gay, and bright, and she had given him her love. That was all! It was the wooer who should die. Yes, die, knowing the cause of his death. Jem pictured him (and gloated on the picture), lying smitten, yet conscious; and listening to the upbraiding accusation of his murderer. How he had left his own rank, and dared to love a maiden of low degree; and oh! stinging agony of all - how she, in return, had loved him! Then the other nature spoke up, and bade him remember the anguish he should so prepare for Mary! At first he refused to listen to that better voice; or listened only to pervert. He would glory in her wailing grief! he would take pleasure in her desolation of heart!
No! he could not, said the still small voice. It would be worse, far worse, to have caused such woe, than it was now to bear his present heavy burden.
But it was too heavy, too grievous to be borne, and live. He would slay himself, and the lovers should love on, and the sun shine bright, and he with his burning, woful heart would be at rest. "Rest that is reserved for the people of God."
Had he not promised with such earnest purpose of soul, as makes words more solemn than oaths, to save Mary from becoming such as Esther? Should he shrink from the duties of life, into the cowardliness of death? Who would then guard Mary, with her love and her innocence? Would it not be a goodly thing to serve her, although she loved him not; to be her preserving angel, through the perils of life; and she, unconscious all the while?
He braced up his soul, and said to himself, that with God's help he would be that earthly keeper.
And now the mists and the storms seemed clearing away from his path, though it still was full of stinging thorns. Having done the duty nearest to him (of reducing the tumult of his own heart to something like order), the second became more plain before him.
Poor Esther's experience had led her, perhaps too hastily, to the conclusion that Mr Carson's intentions were evil towards Mary; at least she had given no just ground for the fears she had entertained that such was the case. It was possible, nay, to Jem's heart very probable, that he might only be too happy to marry her. She was a lady by right of nature, Jem thought; in movement, grace, and spirit. What was birth to a Manchester manufacturer, many of whom glory, and justly too, in being the architects of their own fortunes? And, as far as wealth was concerned, judging another by himself, Jem could only imagine it a great privilege to lay it at the feet of the loved one. Harry Carson's mother had been a factory girl; so, after all, what was the great reason for doubting his intentions towards Mary?
There might probably be some little awkwardness about the affair at first: Mary's father having such strong prejudices on the one hand; and something of the same kind being likely to exist on the part of Mr Carson's family. But Jem knew he had power over John Barton's mind; and it would be something to exert that power in promoting Mary's happiness, and to relinquish all thought of self in so doing.
Oh! why had Esther chosen him for this office? It was beyond his strength to act rightly! Why had she singled him out?
The answer came when he was calm enough to listen for it. Because Mary had no other friend capable of the duty required of him; the duty of a brother, as Esther imagined him to be in feeling, from his long friendship. He would be unto her as a brother.
As such, he thought to ascertain Harry Carson's intentions towards her in winning her affections. He would ask him straightforwardly, as became man speaking to man, not concealing, if need were, the interest he felt in Mary.
Then, with the resolve to do his duty to the best of his power, peace came into his soul; he had left the windy storm and tempest behind.
Two hours before day-dawn he fell asleep.
A VIOLENT MEETING BETWEEN THE RIVALS
We must return to John Barton. Poor John! He never got over his disappointing journey to London. The deep mortification he then experienced (with, perhaps, as little selfishness for its cause as mortification ever had) was of no temporary nature; indeed few of his feelings were.
Then came a long period of bodily privation; of daily hunger after food; and though he tried to persuade himself he could bear want himself with stoical indifference, and did care about it as little as most men, yet the body took its revenge for its uneasy feelings. The mind became soured and morose, and lost much of its equipoise. It was no longer elastic, as in the days of youth, or in times of comparative happiness; it ceased to hope. And it is hard to live on when one can no longer hope.
The same state of feeling which John Barton entertained, if belonging to one who had had leisure to think of such things, and physicians to give names to them, would have been called monomania; so haunting, so incessant, were the thoughts that pressed upon him. I have somewhere read a forcibly described punishment among the Italians, worthy of a Borgia. The supposed or real criminal was shut up in a room, supplied with every convenience and luxury; and at first mourned little over his imprisonment. But day by day he became aware that the space between the walls of his apartment was narrowing, and then he understood the end. Those painted walls would come into hideous nearness, and at last crush the life out of him.
And so day by day, nearer and nearer, came the diseased thoughts of John Barton. They excluded the light of heaven, the cheering sounds of earth. They were preparing his death.
It is true much of their morbid power might be ascribed to the use of opium. But before you blame too harshly this use, or rather abuse, try a hopeless life, with daily cravings of the body for food. Try, not alone being without hope yourself, but seeing all around you reduced to the same despair, arising from the same circumstances; all around you telling (though they use no words or language), by their looks and feeble actions, that they are suffering and sinking under the pressure of want. Would you not be glad to forget life, and its burdens? And opium gives forgetfulness for a time.
It is true they who thus purchase it pay dearly for their oblivion; but can you expect the uneducated to count the cost of their whistle? Poor wretches! They pay a heavy price. Days of oppressive weariness and languor, whose realities have the feeble sickliness of dreams; nights, whose dreams are fierce realities of agony; sinking health, tottering frames, incipient madness, and worse, the consciousness of incipient madness; this is the price of their whistle. But have you taught them the science of consequences?
John Barton's overpowering thought, which was to work out his fate on earth, was rich and poor; why are they so separate, so distinct, when God has made them all? It is not His will that their interests are so far apart. Whose doing is it?
And so on into the problems and mysteries of life, until, bewildered and lost, unhappy and suffering, the only feeling that remained clear and undisturbed in the tumult of his heart, was hatred to the one class, and keen sympathy with the other.
But what availed his sympathy? No education had given him wisdom; and without wisdom, even love, with all its effects, too often works but harm. He acted to the best of his judgement, but it was a widely-erring judgement.
The actions of the uneducated seem to me typified in those of Frankenstein, that monster of many human qualities, ungifted with a soul, a knowledge of the difference between good and evil.
The people rise up to life; they irritate us, they terrify us, and we become their enemies. Then, in the sorrowful moment of our triumphant power, their eyes gaze on us with mute reproach. Why have we made them what they are; a powerful monster, yet without the inner means for peace and happiness?
John Barton became a Chartist, a Communist, all that is commonly called wild and visionary. Aye! but being visionary is something. It shows a soul, a being not altogether sensual; a creature who looks forward for others, if not for himself.
And with all his weakness he had a sort of practical power, which made him useful to the bodies of men to whom he belonged. He had a ready kind of rough Lancashire eloquence, arising out of the fulness of his heart, which was very stirring to men similarly circumstanced, who liked to hear their feelings put into words. He had a pretty clear head at times, for method and arrangement; a necessary talent to large combinations of men. And what perhaps more than all made him relied upon and valued, was the consciousness which every one who came in contact with him felt, that he was actuated by no selfish motives; that his class, his order, was what he stood by, not the rights of his own paltry self. For even in great and noble men, as soon as self comes into prominent existence, it becomes a mean and paltry thing.
A little time before this, there had come one of those occasions for deliberation among the employed, which deeply interested John Barton, and the discussions concerning which had caused his frequent absence from home of late.
I am not sure if I can express myself in the technical terms of either masters or workmen, but I will try simply to state the case on which the latter deliberated.
An order for coarse goods came in from a new foreign market. It was a large order, giving employment to all the mills engaged in that species of manufacture; but it was necessary to execute it speedily, and at as low prices as possible, as the masters had reason to believe that a duplicate order had been sent to one of the continental manufacturing towns, where there were no restrictions on food, no taxes on building or machinery, and where consequently they dreaded that the goods could be made at a much lower price than they could afford them for; and that, by so acting and charging, the rival manufacturers would obtain undivided possession of the market. It was clearly their interest to buy cotton as cheaply, and to beat down wages as low as possible. And in the long run the interests of the workmen would have been thereby benefited. Distrust each other as they may, the employers and the employed must rise or fall together. There may be some difference as to chronology, none as to fact.
But the masters did not choose to make all these facts known. They stood upon being the masters, and that they had a right to order work at their own prices, and they believed that in the present depression of trade, and unemployment of hands, there would be no difficulty in getting it done.
Now let us turn to the workmen's view of the question. The masters (of the tottering foundation of whose prosperity they were ignorant) seemed doing well, and, like gentlemen, "lived at home in ease," while they were starving, gasping on from day to day; and there was a foreign order to be executed, the extent of which, large as it was, was greatly exaggerated; and it was to be done speedily. Why were the masters offering such low wages under these circumstances? Shame upon them! It was taking advantage of their workpeople being almost starved; but they would starve entirely rather than come into such terms. It was bad enough to be poor, while by the labour of their thin hands, the sweat of their brows, the masters were made rich; but they would not be utterly ground down to dust. No! they would fold their hands and sit idle, and smile at the masters, whom even in death they could baffle. With Spartan endurance they determined to let the employers know their power, by refusing to work.
So class distrusted class, and their want of mutual confidence wrought sorrow to both. The masters would not be bullied, and compelled to reveal why they felt it wisest and best to offer only such low wages; they would not be made to tell that they were even sacrificing capital to obtain a decisive victory over the continental manufacturers. And the workmen sat silent and stern with folded hands refusing to work for such pay. There was a strike in Manchester.
Of course it was succeeded by the usual consequences. Many other Trades' Unions, connected with different branches of business, supported with money, countenance, and encouragement of every kind, the stand which the Manchester power-loom weavers were making against their masters. Delegates from Glasgow, from Nottingham, and other towns, were sent to Manchester, to keep up the spirit of resistance; a committee was formed, and all the requisite officers elected; chairman, treasurer, honorary secretary: - among them was John Barton.
The masters, meanwhile, took their measures. They placarded the walls with advertisements for power-loom weavers. The workmen replied by a placard in still larger letters, stating their grievances. The masters met daily in town, to mourn over the time (so fast slipping away) for the fulfilment of the foreign orders; and to strengthen each other in their resolution not to yield. If they gave up now, they might give up always. It would never do. And amongst the most energetic of the masters, the Carsons, father and son, took their places. It is well known, that there is no religionist so zealous as a convert; no masters so stern, and regardless of the interests of their workpeople, as those who have risen from such a station themselves. This would account for the elder Mr Carson's determination not to be bullied into yielding; not even to be bullied into giving reasons for acting as the masters did. It was the employers' will, and that should be enough for the employed. Harry Carson did not trouble himself much about the grounds for his conduct. He liked the excitement of the affair. He liked the attitude of resistance. He was brave, and he liked the idea of personal danger, with which some of the more cautious tried to intimidate the violent among the masters.
Meanwhile, the power-loom weavers living in the more remote parts of Lancashire, and the neighbouring counties, heard of the masters' advertisements for workmen; and in their solitary dwellings grew weary of starvation, and resolved to come to Manchester. Foot-sore, way-worn, half-starved looking men they were, as they tried to steal into town in the early dawn, before people were astir, or in the dusk of the evening. And now began the real wrong-doing of the Trades' Unions. As to their decision to work, or not, at such a particular rate of wages, that was either wise or unwise; all error of judgement at the worst. But they had no right to tyrannize over others, and tie them down to their own Procrustean bed. Abhorring what they considered oppression in the masters, why did they oppress others? Because, when men get excited, they know not what they do. Judge, then, with something of the mercy of the Holy One, whom we all love.
In spite of policemen, set to watch over the safety of the poor country weavers - in spite of magistrates, and prisons, and severe punishments - the poor depressed men tramping in from Burnley, Padiham, and other places, to work at the condemned "Starvation Prices," were waylaid, and beaten, and left almost for dead by the road-side. The police broke up every lounging knot of men: - they separated quietly, to reunite half-a-mile further out of town.
Of course the feeling between the masters and workmen did not improve under these circumstances.
Combination is an awful power. It is like the equally mighty agency of steam; capable of almost unlimited good or evil. But to obtain a blessing on its labours, it must work under the direction of a high and intelligent will; incapable of being misled by passion or excitement. The will of the operatives had not been guided to the calmness of wisdom.
So much for generalities. Let us now return to individuals.
A note, respectfully worded, although its tone of determination was strong, had been sent by the power-loom weavers, requesting that a "deputation" of them might have a meeting with the masters, to state the conditions they must have fulfilled before they would end the turn-out. They thought they had attained a sufficiently commanding position to dictate. John Barton was appointed one of the deputation.
The masters agreed to this meeting, being anxious to end the strife, although undetermined among themselves how far they should yield, or whether they should yield at all. Some of the old, whose experience had taught them sympathy, were for concession. Others, white-headed men too, had only learnt hardness and obstinacy from the days of the years of their lives, and sneered at the more gentle and yielding. The younger men were one and all for an unflinching resistance to claims urged with so much violence. Of this party Harry Carson was the leader.
But like all energetic people, the more he had to do the more time he seemed to find. With all his letter-writing, his calling, his being present at the New Bailey when investigations of any case of violence against knob-sticks was going on, he beset Mary more than ever. She was weary of her life for him. From blandishments he had even gone to threats - threats that whether she would or not she should be his; he showed an indifference that was almost insulting to everything which might attract attention and injure her character.
And still she never saw Jem. She knew he had returned home. She heard of him occasionally through his cousin, who roved gaily from house to house, finding and making friends everywhere. But she never saw him. What was she to think? Had be given her up? Were a few hasty words, spoken in a moment of irritation, to stamp her lot through life? At times she thought that she could bear this meekly, happy in her own constant power of loving. For of change or of forgetfulness she did not dream. Then at other times her state of impatience was such, that it required all her self-restraint to prevent her from going and seeking him out, and (as man would do to man, or woman to woman) begging him to forgive her hasty words, and allow her to retract them, and bidding him accept of the love that was filling her whole heart. She wished Margaret had not advised her against such a manner of proceeding; she believed it was her friend's words that seemed to make such a simple action impossible, in spite of all the internal urgings. But a friend's advice is only thus powerful, when it puts into language the secret oracle of our souls. It was the whisperings of her womanly nature that caused her to shrink from any unmaidenly action, not Margaret's counsel.
All this time, this ten days or so, of Will's visit to Manchester, there was something going on which interested Mary even now, and which, in former times, would have exceedingly amused and excited her. She saw as clearly as if told in words, that the merry, random, boisterous sailor had fallen deeply in love with the quiet, prim, somewhat plain Margaret: she doubted if Margaret was aware of it, and yet, as she watched more closely, she began to think some instinct made the blind girl feel whose eyes were so often fixed upon her pale face; that some inner feeling made the delicate and becoming rose-flush steal over her countenance. She did not speak so decidedly as before; there was a hesitation ill her manner, that seemed to make her very attractive; as if something softer, more loveable than excellent sense, were coming in as a motive for speech; her eyes had always been soft, and were in no ways disfigured by her blindness, and now seemed to have a new charm, as they quivered under their white downcast lids. She must be conscious, thought Mary - heart answering to heart.
Will's love had no blushings, no downcast eyes, no weighing of words; it was as open and undisguised as his nature; yet he seemed afraid of the answer its acknowledgment might meet with. It was Margaret's angelic voice that had entranced him, and which made him think of her as a being of some other sphere, that he feared to woo. So he tried to propitiate Job in all manner of ways. He went over to Liverpool to rummage in his great sea-chest for the flying-fish (no very odorous present, by the way). He hesitated over a child's caul for some time, which was, in his eyes, a far greater treasure than any Exocetus. What use could it be of to a landsman? Then Margaret's voice rang in his ears: and he determined to sacrifice it, his most precious possession, to one whom she loved as she did her grandfather.
It was rather a relief to him, when having put it and the flying-fish together in a brown paper parcel, and sat upon them for security all the way in the railroad, he found that Job was so indifferent to the precious caul, that he might easily claim it again. He hung about Margaret, till he had received many warnings and reproaches from his conscience in behalf of his dear aunt Alice's claims upon his time. He went away, and then he bethought him of some other little word with Job. And he turned back, and stood talking once more in Margaret's presence, door in hand, only waiting for some little speech of encouragement to come in and sit down again. But as the invitation was not given, he was forced to leave at last, and go and do his duty.
Four days had Jem Wilson watched for Mr. Harry Carson without success; his hours of going and returning to his home were so irregular, owing to the meetings and consultations among the masters, which were rendered necessary by the turn-out. On the fifth, without any purpose on Jem's part, they met.
It was the workman's dinner hour, the interval between twelve and one; when the streets of Manchester are comparatively quiet, for a few shopping ladies, and lounging gentlemen, count for nothing in that busy, bustling, living place. Jem had been on an errand for his master, instead of returning to his dinner; and in passing along a lane, a road (called, in compliment to the intentions of some future builder, a street), he encountered Harry Carson, the only person, as far as he saw, beside himself, treading the unfrequented path. Along one side ran a high broad fence, blackened over by coal-tar, and spiked and stuck with pointed nails at the top, to prevent any one from climbing over into the garden beyond. By this fence was the footpath. The carriage-road was such as no carriage, no, not even a cart, could possibly have passed along, without Hercules to assist in lifting it out of the deep clay ruts. On the other side of the way was a dead brick wall; and a field after that, where there was a sawpit, and joiner's shed.
Jem's heart beat violently, when he saw the gay, handsome young man approaching, with a light buoyant step. This, then, was he whom Mary loved. It was, perhaps, no wonder; for he seemed to the poor smith so elegant, so well appointed, that he felt the superiority in externals, strangely and painfully, for an instant. Then something uprose within him, and told him, that "a man's a man for a' that, for a' that, and twice as much as a' that." And be no longer felt troubled by the outward appearance of his rival.
Harry Carson came on, lightly bounding over the dirty places with almost a lad's buoyancy. To his surprise the dark, sturdy-looking artisan stopped him, by saying respectfully,
"May I speak a word wi' you, sir?"
"Certain, my good man," looking his astonishment; then finding that the promised speech did not come very quickly, he added, "But make haste, for I'm in a hurry."
Jem had cast about for some less abrupt way of broaching the subject uppermost in his mind than he now found himself obliged to use. With a husky voice that trembled as he spoke, he said,
"I think, sir, yo're keeping company wi' a young woman called Mary Barton?"
A light broke in upon Henry Carson's mind, and he paused before he gave the answer for which the other waited.
Could this man be a lover of Mary's? And (strange stinging thought) could he be beloved by her, and so have caused her obstinate rejection of himself? He looked at Jem from head to foot, a black, grimy mechanic, in dirty fustian clothes, strongly built, and awkward (according to the dancing master); then he glanced at himself, and recalled the reflection he had so lately quitted in his bedroom. It was impossible. No woman with eyes could choose the one when the other wooed. It was Hyperion to a Satyr. That quotation came aptly; he forgot, "The man's a man for a' that." And yet here was a clue, which he had often wanted, to her changed conduct towards him. If she loved this man. If----he hated the fellow, and longed to strike him. He would know all.
"Mary Barton! let me see. Aye, that is the name of the girl. An arrant flirt the little hussy is; but very pretty. Aye, Mary Barton is her name."
Jem bit his lips. Was it then so; that Mary was a flirt; the giddy creature of whom he spoke? He would not believe it, and yet how he wished the suggestive words unspoken. That thought must keep now, though. Even if she were, the more reason for there being some one to protect her; poor faulty darling.
"She's a good girl, sir, though maybe a bit set up with her beauty; but she's her father's only child, sir, and----" he stopped; he did not like to express suspicion, and yet he was determined he would be certain there was ground for none. What should he say.
"Well, my fine fellow, and what have I to do with that! It's but loss of my time, and yours, too, if you've only stopped me to tell me Mary Barton is very pretty; I know that well enough."
He seemed as though he would have gone on, but Jem put his black, working, right hand upon his arm to detain him. The haughty young man shook it off, and with his glove pretended to brush away the sooty contamination that might be left upon his light greatcoat sleeve. The little action aroused Jem.
"I will tell you, in plain words, what I have got to say to you, young man. It's been telled me by one as knows, and has seen, that you walk with this same Mary Barton, and are known to be courting her; and her as spoke to me about it, thinks as how Mary loves you. That may be, or may not. But I'm an old friend of hers and her father's; and I just wished to know if you mean to marry the girl. Spite of what you said of her lightness, I ha' known her long enough to be sure she'll make a noble wife for any one, let him be what he may; and I mean to stand by her like a brother; and if you mean rightly, you'll not think the worse on me for what I've now said; and if - but no, I'll not say what I'll do to the man who wrongs a hair of her head. He shall rue it to the longest day he lives, that's all. Now, sir, what I ask of you is this. If you mean fair and honourable by her, well and good; but if not, for your own sake as well as hers, leave her alone, and never speak to her more." Jem's voice quivered with the earnestness with which he spoke, and he eagerly waited for some answer.
Harry Carson, meanwhile, instead of attending very particularly to the purpose the man had in addressing him, was trying to gather from his speech what was the real state of the case. He succeeded so far as to comprehend that Jem inclined to believe that Mary loved his rival; and consequently, that if the speaker were attached to her himself, he was not a favoured admirer. The idea came into Mr Carson's mind, that perhaps, after all, Mary loved him in spite of her frequent and obstinate rejections; and that she had employed this person (whoever he was) to bully him into marrying her. He resolved to try and ascertain more correctly the man's relation to her. Either he was a lover, and if so, not a favoured one (in which case Mr Carson could not at all understand the man's motives for interesting himself in securing her marriage); or he was a friend, an accomplice, whom she had employed to bully him. So little faith in goodness have the mean and selfish!
"Before I make you into my confidant, my good man," said Mr Carson, in a contemptuous tone, "I think it might be as well to inquire your right to meddle with our affairs. Neither Mary nor I, as I conceive, called you in as a mediator." He paused; he wanted a distinct answer to this last supposition. None came; so he began to imagine he was to be threatened into some engagement, and his angry spirit rose.
"And so, my fine fellow, you will have the kindness to leave us to ourselves, and not to meddle with what does not concern you. If you were a brother or father of hers, the case might have been different. As it is, I can only consider you an impertinent meddler."
Again he would have passed on, but Jem stood in a determined way before him, saying,
"You say if I had been her brother, or her father, you'd have answered me what I ask. Now, neither father nor brother could love her as I have loved her - aye, and as I love her still; if love gives a right to satisfaction, it's next to impossible any one breathing can come up to my right. Now, sir, tell me! do you mean fair by Mary or not? I've proved my claim to know, and, by G----, I will know."
"Come, come, no impudence," replied Mr Carson, who, having discovered what he wanted to know ( namely, that Jem was a lover of Mary's, and that she was not encouraging his suit), wished to pass on.
"Father, brother, or rejected lover" (with an emphasis on the word rejected), "no one has a right to interfere between my little girl and me. No one shall. Confound you, man! get out of my way, or I'll make you," as Jem still obstructed his path with dogged determination.
"I won't then, till you've given me your word about Mary," replied the mechanic, grinding his words out between his teeth, and the livid paleness of the anger he could no longer keep down covering his face till he looked ghastly.
"Won't you?" (with a taunting laugh), "then I'll make you." The young man raised his slight cane, and smote the artisan across the face with a stinging stroke. An instant afterwards he lay stretched in the muddy road, Jem standing over him, panting with rage. What he would have done next in his moment of ungovernable passion, no one knows; but a police man from the main street, into which this road led, had been sauntering about for some time, unobserved by either of the parties, and expecting some kind of conclusion like the present to the violent discussion going on between the two young men. In a minute he had pinioned Jem, who sullenly yielded to the surprise.
Mr Carson was on his feet directly, his face glowing with rage or shame.
"Shall I take him to the lock-ups for assault, sir?" said the policeman.
"No, no," exclaimed Mr Carson; "I struck him first. It was no assault on his side; though," he continued, hissing out his words to Jem, who even hated freedom procured for him, however justly, at the intervention of his rival, "I will never forgive or forget your insult. Trust me," he gasped the words in excess of passion, "Mary shall fare no better for your insolent interference." He laughed, as if with the consciousness of power.
Jem replied with equal excitement----
"And if you dare to injure her in the least, I will await you where no policeman can step in between. And God shall judge between us two."
The policeman now interfered with persuasions and warnings. He locked his arm in Jem's to lead him away in an opposite direction to that in which he saw Mr Carson was going. Jem submitted, gloomily, for a few steps, then wrenched himself free. The policeman shouted after him.
"Take care, my man! there's no girl on earth worth what you'll be bringing on yourself, if you don't mind."
But Jem was out of hearing.
MEETING BETWEEN MASTERS AND WORKMEN
The day arrived on which the masters were to have an interview with a deputation of the workpeople. The meeting was to take place in a public room, at an hotel; and there, about eleven o'clock, the mill-owners, who had received the foreign orders, began to collect.
Of course, the first subject, however full their minds might be of another, was the weather. Having done their duty by all the showers and sunshine which had occurred during the past week, they fell to talking about the business which brought them together. There might be about twenty gentlemen in the room, including some by courtesy, who were not immediately concerned in the settlement of the present question but who, nevertheless, were sufficiently interested to attend. These were divided into little groups, who did not seem unanimous by any means. Some were for a slight concession, just a sugar-plum to quieten the naughty child, a sacrifice to peace and quietness. Some were steadily and vehemently opposed to the dangerous precedent of yielding one jot or one tittle to the outward force of a turn-out. It was teaching the workpeople how to become masters, said they. Did they want the wildest thing hereafter, they would know that the way to obtain their wishes would be to strike work. Besides, one or two of those present had only just returned from the New Bailey, where one of the turn-outs had been tried for a cruel assault on a poor north-country weaver, who had attempted to work at the low price. They were indignant, and justly so, at the merciless manner in which the poor fellow had been treated; and their indignation at wrong, took (as it often does) the extreme form of revenge. They felt as if, rather than yield to the body of men who were resorting to such cruel measures towards their fellow-workmen, they, the masters, would sooner relinquish all the benefits to be derived from the fulfilment of the commission, in order that the workmen might suffer keenly. They forgot that the strike was in this instance the consequence of want and need, suffered unjustly, as the endurers believed; for, however insane, and without ground of reason, such was their belief; and such was the cause of their violence. It is a great truth, that you cannot extinguish violence by violence. You may put it down for a time; but while you are crowing over your imaginary success, see if it does not return with seven devils worse than its former self!
No one thought of treating the workmen as brethren and friends, and openly, clearly, as appealing to reasonable men, stating the exact and full circumstances which led the masters to think it was the wise policy of the time to make sacrifices themselves, and to hope for them from the operatives.
In going from group to group in the room, you caught such a medley of sentences as the following:
"Poor devils! they're near enough to starving, I'm afraid. Mrs Aldred makes two cows' heads into soup every week, and people come many miles to fetch it; and if these times last, we must try and do more. But we must not be bullied into any thing!"
"A rise of a shilling or so won't make much difference, and they will go away thinking they've gained their point."
"That's the very thing I object to. They'll think so, and whenever they've a point to gain, no matter how unreasonable, they'll strike work."
"It really injures them more than us."
"I don't see how our interests can be separated."
"The d----d brute had thrown vitriol on the poor fellow's ankles, and you know what a bad part that is to heal. He had to stand still with the pain, and that left him at the mercy of the cruel wretch, who beat him about the head till you'd hardly have known he was a man. They doubt if he'll live."
"If it were only for that, I'll stand out against them, even if it is the cause of my ruin.
"Aye, I for one won't yield one farthing to the cruel brutes; they're more like wild beasts than human beings."
(Well, who might have made them different?)
"I say, Carson, just go and tell Duncombe of this fresh instance of their abominable conduct. He's wavering, but I think this will decide him."
The door was now opened, and the waiter announced that the men were below, and asked if it were the pleasure of the gentlemen that they should be shown up.
They assented, and rapidly took their places round the official table; looking, as like as they could, to the Roman senators who awaited the irruption of Brennus and his Gauls.
Tramp, tramp, came the heavy clogged feet up the stairs; and in a minute five wild, earnest-looking men stood in the room. John Barton, from some mistake as to time, was not among them. Had they been larger boned men, you would have called them gaunt; as it was, they were little of stature, and their fustian clothes hung loosely upon their shrunk limbs. In choosing their delegates, too, the operatives had had more regard to their brains, and power of speech, than to their wardrobes; they might have read the opinions of that worthy Professor Teufelsdrockh, in Sartor Resartus, to judge from the dilapidated coats and trousers, which yet clothed men of parts and of power. It was long since many of them had known the luxury of a new article of dress; and air-gaps were to be seen in their garments. Some of the masters were rather affronted at such a ragged detachment coming between the wind and their nobility; but what cared they?
At the request of a gentleman hastily chosen to officiate as chairman, the leader of the delegates read, in a high-pitched, psalm-singing voice, a paper, containing the operatives' statement of the case at issue, their complaints, and their demands, which last were not remarkable for moderation.
He was then desired to withdraw for a few minutes, with his fellow-delegates, to another room, while the masters considered what should be their definitive answer.
When the men had left the room, a whispered earnest consultation took place, every one re-urging his former arguments. The conceders carried the day, but only by a majority of one. The minority haughtily and audibly expressed their dissent from the measures to be adopted, even after the delegates re-entered the room; their words and looks did not pass unheeded by the quick-eyed operatives; their names were registered in bitter hearts.
The masters could not consent to the advance demanded by the workmen. They would agree to give one shilling per week more than they had previously offered. Were the delegates empowered to accept such offer?
They were empowered to accept or decline any offer made that day by the masters.
Then it might be as well for them to consult among themselves as to what should be their decision. They again withdrew.
It was not for long. They came back, and positively declined any compromise of their demands.
Then up sprang Mr Henry Carson, the head and voice of the violent party among the masters, and addressing the chairman, even before the scowling operatives, he proposed some resolutions, which he, and those who agreed with him, had been concocting during this last absence of the deputation.
They were, firstly, withdrawing the proposals just made, and declaring all communication between the masters and that particular Trades' Union at an end; secondly, declaring that no master would employ any workman in future, unless he signed a declaration that he did not belong to any Trades' Union, and pledged himself not to assist or subscribe to any society, having for its object interference with the masters' powers; and, thirdly, that the masters should pledge themselves to protect and encourage all work-men willing to accept employment on those conditions, and at the rate of wages first offered. Considering that the men who now stood listening with lowering brows of defiance were all of them leading members of the Union, such resolutions were in themselves sufficiently provocative of animosity; but not content with simply stating them, Harry Carson went on to characterize the conduct of the workmen in no measured terms; every word he spoke rendering their looks more livid, their glaring eyes more fierce. One among them would have spoken, but checked himself, in obedience to the stern glance and pressure on his arm, received from the leader. Mr Carson sat down, and a friend instantly got up to second the motion. It was carried, but far from unanimously. The chairman announced it to the delegates (who had been once more turned out of the room for a division). They received it with deep brooding silence, but spake never a word, and left the room without even a bow.
Now there had been some by-play at this meeting, not recorded in the Manchester newspapers, which gave an account of the more regular part of the transaction.
While the men had stood grouped near the door, on their first entrance, Mr Harry Carson had taken out his silver pencil, and had drawn an admirable caricature of them - lank, ragged, dispirited, and famine-stricken. Underneath he wrote a hasty quotation from the fat knight's well-known speech in Henry IV. He passed it to one of his neighbours, who acknowledged the likeness instantly, and by him it was sent round to others, who all smiled, and nodded their heads. When it came back to its owner he tore the back of the letter on which it was drawn in two, twisted them up, and flung them into the fireplace; but, careless whether they reached their aim or not, he did not look to see that they fell just short of any consuming cinders.
This proceeding was closely observed by one of the men.
He watched the masters as they left the hotel (laughing, some of them were, at passing jokes), and when all had gone, he re-entered. He went to the waiter, who recognised him.
"There's a bit on a picture up yonder, as one o' the gentlemen threw away; I've a little lad at home as dearly loves a picture; by your leave I'll go up for it."
The waiter, good-natured and sympathetic, accompanied him upstairs; saw the paper picked up and untwisted, and then being convinced, by a hasty glance at its contents, that it was only what the man had called it, "a bit of a picture," he allowed him to bear away his prize.
Towards seven o'clock that evening, many operatives began to assemble in a room in the Weavers' Arms' public-house, a room appropriated for "festive occasions," as the landlord, in his circular, on opening the premises, had described it. But, alas! it was on no festive occasion that they met there this night. Starved, irritated, despairing men, they were assembling to hear the answer that morning given by the masters to their delegates; after which, as was stated in the notice, a gentleman from London would have the honour of addressing the meeting on the present state of affairs between the employers and the employed, or (as he chose to term them) the idle and the industrious classes. The room was not large, but its bareness of furniture made it appear so. Unshaded gas flared down upon the lean and unwashed artisans as they entered, their eyes blinking at the excess of light.
They took their seats on benches, and awaited the deputation. The latter, gloomily and ferociously, delivered the masters' ultimatum, adding thereto not one word of their own; and it sank all the deeper into the sore hearts of the listeners for their forbearance.
Then the "gentleman from London" (who had been previously informed of the masters' decision) entered. You would have been puzzled to define his exact position, or what was the state of his mind as regarded education. He looked so self-conscious, so far from earnest, among the group of eager, fierce, absorbed men, among whom he now stood. He might have been a disgraced medical student of the Bob Sawyer class, or an unsuccessful actor, or a flashy shopman. The impression he would have given you would have been unfavourable, and yet there was much about him that could only be characterized as doubtful.
He smirked in acknowledgment of their uncouth greetings, and sat down; then glancing round, he inquired whether it would not be agreeable to the gentlemen present to have pipes and liquor handed round, adding, that he would stand treat.
As the man who has had his taste educated to love reading, falls devouringly upon books after a long abstinence, so these poor fellows, whose tastes had been left to educate themselves into a liking for tobacco, beer, and similar gratifications, gleamed up at the proposal of the London delegate. Tobacco and drink deaden the pangs of hunger, and make one forget the miserable home, the desolate future.
They were now ready to listen to him with approbation. He felt it; and rising like a great orator, with his right arm outstretched, his left in the breast of his waistcoat, he began to declaim, with a forced theatrical voice.
After a burst of eloquence, in which he blended the deeds of the elder and the younger Brutus, and magnified the resistless might of the "millions of Manchester," the Londoner descended to matter-of-fact business, and in his capacity this way he did not belie the good judgement of those who had sent him as delegate. Masses of people, when left to their own free choice, seem to have discretion in distinguishing men of natural talent; it is a pity they so little regard temper and principles. He rapidly dictated resolutions, and suggested measures. He wrote out a stirring placard for the walls. He proposed sending delegates to entreat the assistance of other Trades' Unions in other towns. He headed the list of subscribing Unions, by a liberal donation from that with which he was especially connected in London; and what was more, and more uncommon, he paid down the money in real, clinking, blinking, golden sovereigns! The money, alas! was cravingly required; but before alleviating any private necessities on the morrow, small sums were handed to each of the delegates, who were in a day or two to set out on their expeditions to Glasgow, Newcastle, Nottingham, etc. These men were most of them members of the deputation who had that morning waited upon the masters. After he had drawn up some letters, and spoken a few more stirring words, the gentleman from London withdrew, previously shaking hands all round; and many speedily followed him out of the room, and out of the house.
The newly-appointed delegates, and one or two others, remained behind to talk over their respective missions, and to give and exchange opinions in more homely and natural language than they dared to use before the London orator.
"He's a rare chap, yon," began one, indicating the departed delegate by a jerk of his thumb towards the door. "He's getten the gift of the gab, anyhow!"
"Aye! aye! he knows what he's about. See how he poured it into us about that there Brutus. He were pretty hard, too, to kill his own son!"
"I could kill mine if he took part wi' the masters; to be sure, he's but a step-son, but that makes no odds," said another.
But now tongues were hushed, and all eyes were directed towards the member of the deputation who had that morning returned to the hotel to obtain possession of Harry Carson's clever caricature of the operatives.
The heads clustered together, to gaze at and detect the likenesses.
"That's John Slater! I'd ha' known him anywhere, by his big nose. Lord ! how like; that's me, by G - d, it's the very way I'm obligated to pin my waistcoat up, to hide that I've getten no shirt. That is a shame, and I'll not stand it."
"Well!" said John Slater, after having acknowledged his nose and his likeness; "I could laugh at a jest as well as e'er the best on 'em, though it did tell again mysel, if I were not clemming" (his eyes filled with tears; he was a poor, pinched, sharp-featured man, with a gentle and melancholy expression of countenance), "and if I could keep from thinking of them at home, as is clemming; but with their cries for food ringing in my ears, and making me afeard of going home, and wonder if I should hear 'em wailing out, if I lay cold and drowned at th' bottom o' th' canal, there, - why, man, I cannot laugh at aught. It seems to make me sad that there is any as can make game on what they've never knowed; as can make such laughable pictures on men, whose very hearts within 'em are so raw and sore as ours were and are, God help us."
John Barton began to speak; they turned to him with great attention. "It makes me more than sad, it makes my heart burn within me, to see that folk can make a jest of striving men; of chaps who comed to ask for a bit o' fire for th' old granny, as shivers i' th' cold; for a bit o' bedding, and some warm clothing to the poor wife who lies in labour on th' damp flags; and for victuals for the childer, whose little voices are getting too faint and weak to cry aloud wi' hunger. For, brothers, is not them the things we ask for when we ask for more wage? We donnot want dainties, we want bellyfuls; we donnot want gimcrack coats and waistcoats, we want warm clothes; and so that we get 'em, we'd not quarrel wi' what they're made on. We donnot want their grand houses, we want a roof to cover us from the rain, and the snow, and the storm; aye, and not alone to cover us, but the helpless ones that cling to us in the keen wind, and ask us with their eyes why we brought 'em into th' world to suffer?" He lowered his deep voice almost to a whisper.
"I've seen a father who had killed his child rather than let it clem before his eyes; and he were a tenderhearted man. . . ."
He began again in his usual tone. "We come to th' masters wi' full hearts, to ask for them things I named afore. We know that they've getten money, as we've earned for 'em; we know trade is mending, and they've large orders, for which they'll be well paid; we ask for our share o' th' payment; for, say we, if th' masters get our share of payment it will only go to keep servants and horses - to more dress and pomp. Well and good, if yo choose to be fools we'll not hinder you, so long as you're just; but our share we must and will have; we'll not be cheated. We want it for daily bread, for life itself; and not for our own lives neither (for there's many a one here, I know by mysel', as would be glad and thankful to lie down and die out o' this weary world), but for the lives of them little ones, who don't yet know what life is, and are afeard of death. Well, we come before th' masters to state what we want, and what we must have, afore we'll set shoulder to their work; and they say, 'No.' One would think that would be enough of hard-heartedness, but it isn't. They go and make jesting pictures on us! I could laugh at mysel, as well as poor John Slater there; but then I must be easy in my mind to laugh. Now I only know that I would give the last drop o' my blood to avenge us on yon chap, who had so little feeling in him as to make game on earnest, suffering men!"
A low angry murmur was heard among the men, but it did not yet take form or words. John continued -
"You'll wonder, chaps, how I came to miss the time this morning; I'll just tell you what I was a-doing. Th' chaplain at the New Bailey sent and gived me an order to see Jonas Higginbotham; him as was taken up last week for throwing vitriol in a knob-stick's face. Well, I couldn't help but go; and I didn't reckon it would ha' kept me so late. Jonas were like one crazy when I got to him; he said he could na' get rest night or day for th' face of the poor fellow he had damaged; then he thought on his weak, clemmed look, as he tramped, footsore, into town; and Jonas thought, maybe, he had left them at home as would look for news, and hope and get none, but, haply, tidings of his death. Well, Jonas had thought on these things till he could not rest, but walked up and down continually like a wild beast in his cage.
At last he bethought him on a way to help a bit, and he got the chaplain to send for me; and he tell'd me this; and that th' man were lying in the Infirmary, and he bade me go (to-day's the day as folk may be admitted into th' Infirmary) and get his silver watch, as was his mother's, and sell it as well as I could, and take the money, and bid the poor knob-stick send it to his friends beyond Burnley; and I were to take him Jonas's kind regards, and he humbly axed him to forgive him. So I did what Jonas wished. But bless your life, none on us would ever throw vitriol again (at least at a knob-stick) if they could see the sight I saw to-day. The man lay, his face all wrapped in clothes, so I did not see that; but not a limb, nor a bit of a limb, could keep from quivering with pain. He would ha' bitten his hand to keep down his moans, but couldn't, his face hurt him so if he moved it e'er so little. He could scarce mind me when I telled him about Jonas; he did squeeze my hand when I jingled the money, but when I axed his wife's name he shrieked out, 'Mary, Mary, shall I never see you again? Mary, my darling, they've made me blind because I wanted to work for you and our own baby; oh, Mary, Mary!' Then the nurse came, and said he were raving, and that I had made him worse. And I'm afeard it was true; yet I were loath to go without knowing where to send the money. . ..So that kept me beyond my time, chaps."
"Did you hear where the wife lived at last?" asked many anxious voices.
"No! he went on talking to her, till his words cut my heart like a knife. I axed th' nurse to find out who she was, and where she lived. But what I'm more especial naming it now for is this, - for one thing I wanted you all to know why I weren't at my post this morning; for another, I wish to say, that I, for one, ha' seen enough of what comes of attacking knob-sticks, and I'll ha' nought to do with it no more.
There were some expressions of disapprobation, but John did not mind them.
"Nay! I'm no coward," he replied, "and I'm true to th' backbone. What I would like, and what I would do, would be to fight the masters. There's one among yo called me a coward. Well! every man has a right to his opinion; but since I've thought on th' matter to-day, I've thought we han all on us been more like cowards in attacking the poor like ourselves; them as has none to help, but mun choose between vitriol and starvation. I say we're more cowardly in doing that than in leaving them alone. No! what I would do is this. Have at the masters!" Again he shouted, "Have at the masters!" He spoke lower; all listened with hushed breath.
"It's the masters as has wrought this woe; it's the masters as should pay for it. Him as called me coward just now, may try if I am one or not. Set me to serve out the masters, and see if there's aught I'll stick at."
"It would give th' masters a bit on a fright if one of them were beaten within an inch of his life," said one.
"Aye! or beaten till no life were left in him," growled another.
And so with words, or looks that told more than words, they built up a deadly plan. Deeper and darker grew the import of their speeches, as they stood hoarsely muttering their meaning out, and glaring, with eyes that told the terror their own thoughts were to them, upon their neighbours. Their clenched fists, their set teeth, their livid looks, all told the suffering which their minds were voluntarily undergoing in the contemplation of crime, and in familiarizing themselves with its details.
Then came one of those fierce terrible oaths which bind members of Trades' Unions to any given purpose. Then, under the flaring gaslight, they met together to consult further. With the distrust of guilt, each was suspicious of his neighbour; each dreaded the treachery of another. A number of pieces of paper (the identical letter on which the caricature had been drawn that very morning) were torn up, and one was marked. Then all were folded up again, looking exactly alike. They were shuffled together in a hat. The gas was extinguished; each drew out a paper. The gas was re-lighted. Then each went as far as he could from his fellows, and examined the paper he had without saying a word, and with a countenance as stony and immovable as he could make it.
Then, still rigidly silent, they each took up their hats and went every one his own way.
He who had drawn the marked paper had drawn the lot of the assassin! and he had sworn to act according to his drawing! But no one, save God and his own conscience, knew who was the appointed murderer.
The events recorded in the last chapter took place on a Tuesday. On Thursday afternoon Mary was surprised, in the midst of some little bustle in which she was engaged, by the entrance of Will Wilson. He looked strange, at least it was strange to see any different expression on his face to his usual joyous beaming appearance. He had a paper parcel in his hand. He came in, and sat down, more quietly than usual.
"Why, Will! what's the matter with you? You seem quite cut up about something!"
"And I am, Mary! I'm come to say good-bye; and few folk like to say good-bye to them they love."
"Good-bye! Bless me, Will, that's sudden, is not it?"
Mary left off ironing, and came and stood near the fireplace. She had always liked Will; but now it seemed as if a sudden spring of sisterly love had gushed up in her heart, so sorry did she feel to hear of his approaching departure.
"It's very sudden, isn't it?" said she, repeating the question.
"Yes, it's very sudden," said he, dreamily. "No, it is not"; rousing himself, to think of what he was saying. "The captain told me, in a fortnight he would be ready to sail again; but it comes very sudden on me, I had got so fond of you all."
Mary understood the particular fondness that was thus generalised. She spoke again.
"But it's not a fortnight since you came. Not a fortnight since you knocked at Jane Wilson's door, and I was there, you remember. Nothing like a fortnight!"
"No; I know it's not. But, you see, I got a letter this afternoon from Jack Harris, to tell me our ship sails on Tuesday next; and it's long since I promised my uncle (my mother's brother, him that lives at Kirk-Christ, beyond Ramsay, in the Isle of Man) that I'd go and see him and his, this time of coming ashore. I must go. I'm sorry enough; but I mustn't slight poor mother's friends. I must go. Don't try to keep me," said he, evidently fearing the strength of his own resolution, if hard pressed by entreaty.
"I'm not a-going, Will. I dare say you are right; only I can't help feeling sorry you're going away. It seems so flat to be left behind. When do you go?"
"To-night. I shan't see you again."
"To-night! and you go to Liverpool! Maybe you and father will go together. He's going to Glasgow, by way of Liverpool."
"No! I'm walking; and I don't think your father will be up to walking."
"Well! and why on earth are you walking? You can get by railway for three-and-sixpence."
"Aye, but Mary! (thou mustn't let out what I'm going to tell thee) I have not got three shillings, no, nor even one sixpence left, at least not here; before I came I gave my landlady enough to carry me to the island and back, and maybe a trifle for presents, and I brought the rest here; and it's all gone but this," jingling a few coppers in his hand.
"Nay, never fret over my walking a matter of thirty mile," added he, as he saw she looked grave and sorry. "It's a fine clear night, and I shall set off betimes, and get in afore the Manx packet sails. Where's your father going? To Glasgow, did you say? Perhaps he and I may have a bit of a trip together then, for, if the Manx boat has sailed when I get into Liverpool, I shall go by a Scotch packet. What's he going to do in Glasgow? - Seek for work? Trade is as bad there as here, folk say."
"No; he knows that," answered Mary sadly. "I sometimes think he'll never get work again, and that trade will never mend. It's very hard to keep up one's heart. I wish I were a boy, I'd go to sea with you. It would be getting away from bad news at any rate; and now, there's hardly a creature that crosses the door-step, but has something sad and unhappy to tell one. Father is going as a delegate from his Union, to ask help from the Glasgow folk. He's starting this evening."
Mary sighed, for the feeling again came over her that it was very flat to be left alone.
"You say no one crosses the threshold but has something sad to say; you don't mean that Margaret Jennings has any trouble?" asked the young sailor, anxiously.
"No!" replied Mary, smiling a little; "she's the only one I know, I believe, who seems free from care. Her blindness almost appears a blessing sometimes; she was so downhearted when she dreaded it, and now she seems so calm and happy, when it's downright come. No! Margaret's happy, I do think."
"I could almost wish it had been otherwise," said Will, thoughtfully. "I could have been so glad to comfort her, and cherish her, if she had been in trouble."
"And why can't you cherish her, even though she is happy?" asked Mary.
"Oh! I don't know. She seems so much better than I am! And her voice! When I hear it, and think of the wishes that are in my heart, it seems as much out of place to ask her to be my wife, as it would be to ask an angel from heaven."
Mary could not help laughing outright, in spite of her depression, at the idea of Margaret as an angel; it was so difficult (even to her dressmaking imagination) to fancy where, and how, the wings would be fastened to the brown stuff gown, or the blue and yellow print.
Will laughed, too, a little, out of sympathy with Mary's pretty merry laugh. Then he said -
"Aye, you may laugh, Mary; it only shows you've never been in love."
In an instant Mary was carnation colour, and the tears sprang to her soft grey eyes. She that was suffering so much from the doubts arising from love! It was unkind of him. He did not notice her change of look and of complexion. He only noticed that she was silent, so he continued:
"I thought - I think, that when I come back from this voyage, I will speak. It's my fourth voyage in the same ship and with the same captain, and he's promised he'll make me a second mate after this trip; then I shall have something to offer Margaret; and her father, and Aunt Alice, shall live with her, and keep her from being lonesome while I'm at sea. I'm speaking as if she cared for me, and would marry me; d'ye think she does care at all for me, Mary?" asked he anxiously.
Mary had a very decided opinion of her own on the subject, but she did not feel as if she had any right to give it. So she said -
"You must ask Margaret, not me, Will; she's never named your name to me." His countenance fell. "But I should say that was a good sign from a girl like her; I've no right to say what I think; but, if I was you, I would not leave her now, without speaking."
"No! I cannot speak! I have tried. I've been in to wish them good-bye, and my voice stuck in my throat. I could say nought of what I'd planned to say; and I never thought of being so bold as to offer her marriage till I'd been my next trip, and been made mate. I could not even offer her this box," said he, undoing his paper parcel and displaying a gaudily ornamented accordion; "I longed to buy her something, and I thought, if it were something in the music line, she would maybe fancy it more. So, will you give it to her, Mary, when I'm gone? and, if you can slip in something tender, - something, you know, of what I feel, - maybe she would listen to you, Mary?"
Mary promised that she would do all that he asked.
"I shall be thinking on her many and many a night, when I'm keeping my watch in mid-sea; I wonder if she will ever think on me, when the wind is whistling, and the gale rising. You'll often speak of me to her, Mary? And if I should meet with any mischance, tell her how dear, how very dear, she was to me, and bid her, for the sake of one who loved her well, try and comfort my poor aunt Alice. Dear old aunt! you and Margaret will often go and see her, won't you? She's sadly failed since I was last ashore. And so good as she has been! When I lived with her, a little wee chap, I used to be wakened by the neighbours knocking her up; this one was ill, or that body's child was restless; and for as tired as ever she might be, she would be up and dressed in a twinkling, never thinking of the hard day's wash afore her next morning. Them were happy times! How happy I used to be when she would take me into the fields with her to gather herbs! I've tasted tea in China since then, but it wasn't half so good as the herb tea she used to make for me o' Sunday nights. And she knew such a deal about plants and birds, and their ways! She used to tell me long stories about her childhood, and we used to plan how we would go some time, please God (that was always her word), and live near her old home beyond Lancaster; in the very cottage where she was born, if we could get it. Dear! and how different it is! Here is she still in a back street o' Manchester, never likely to see her own home again; and I, a sailor, off for America next week. I wish she had been able to go to Burton once afore she died."
"She would maybe have found all sadly changed," said Mary, though her heart echoed Will's feeling.
"Aye! aye! I dare say it's best. One thing I do wish though, and I have often wished it when out alone on the deep sea, when even the most thoughtless can't choose but think on th' past and th' future; and that is, that I'd never grieved her. Oh Mary! many a hasty word comes sorely back on the heart, when one thinks one shall never see the person whom one has grieved again!"
They both stood thinking. Suddenly Mary started.
"That's father's step. And his shirt is not ready!"
She hurried to her irons, and tried to make up for lost time.
John Barton came in. Such a haggard and wildly anxious-looking man, Will thought he had never seen. He looked at Will, but spoke no word of greeting or welcome.
"I'm come to bid you good-bye," said the sailor, and would in his sociable friendly humour have gone on speaking. But John answered abruptly,
"Good-bye to ye, then."
There was that in his manner which left no doubt of his desire to get rid of the visitor, and Will accordingly shook hands with Mary, and looked at John, as if doubting how far to offer to shake hands with him. But he met with no answering glance or gesture, so he went his way, stopping for an instant at the door to say,
"You'll think on me on Tuesday, Mary. That's the day we shall hoist our Blue Peter, Jack Harris says."
Mary was heartily sorry when the door closed; it seemed like shutting out a friendly sunbeam. And her father! what could be the matter with him? He was so restless; not speaking (she wished he would), but starting up and then sitting down, and meddling with her irons; he seemed so fierce, too, to judge from his face. She wondered if he disliked Will being there; or if he were vexed to find that she had not got further on with her work. At last she could bear his nervous way no longer, it made her equally nervous and fidgety. She would speak.
"When are you going, father? I don't know the time o' the trains."
"And why shouldst thou know?" replied he, gruffly. "Meddle with thy ironing, but donnot be asking questions about what doesn't concern thee."
"I wanted to get you something to eat first," answered she, gently.
"Thou dost not know that I'm larning to do without food," said he.
Mary looked at him to see if he spoke jestingly. No! he looked savagely grave.
She finished her bit of ironing, and began preparing the food she was sure her father needed; for by this time her experience in the degrees of hunger had taught her that his present irritability was increased, if not caused, by want of food.
He had had a sovereign given him to pay his expenses as delegate to Glasgow, and out of this he had given Mary a few shillings in the morning; so she had been able to buy a sufficient meal, and now her care was to cook it so as most to tempt him.
"If thou'rt doing that for me, Mary, thou may'st spare thy labour. I telled thee I were not for eating."
"Just a little bit, father, before starting," coaxed Mary, perseveringly.
At that instant who should come in but Job Legh. It was not often he came, but when he did pay visits, Mary knew from past experience they were anything but short. Her father's countenance fell back into the deep gloom from which it was but just emerging at the sound of Mary's sweet voice, and pretty pleading. He became again restless and fidgety, scarcely giving Job Legh the greeting necessary for a host in his own house. Job, however, did not stand upon ceremony. He had come to pay a visit, and was not to be daunted from his purpose. He was interested in John Barton's mission to Glasgow, and wanted to hear all about it; so he sat down, and made himself comfortable, in a manner that Mary saw was meant to be stationary.
"So thou'rt off to Glasgow, art thou?" he began his catechism.
"When art starting?"
"That I knowed. But by what train?"
That was just what Mary wanted to know; but what apparently her father was in no mood to tell. He got up without speaking, and went up-stairs. Mary knew from his step, and his way, how much he was put out, and feared Job would see it, too. But no! Job seemed imperturbable. So much the better, and perhaps she could cover her father's rudeness by her own civility to so kind a friend.
So, half listening to her father's movements up-stairs (passionate, violent, restless motions they were), and half attending to Job Legh, she tried to pay him all due regard.
"When does thy father start, Mary?"
That plaguing question again.
"Oh! very soon. I'm just getting him a bit of supper. Is Margaret very well?"
"Yes, she's well enough. She's meaning to go and keep Alice Wilson company for an hour or so this evening; as soon as she thinks her nephew will have started for Liverpool; for she fancies the old woman will feel a bit lonesome. Th' Union is paying for your father, I suppose?"
"Yes, they've giv'n him a sovereign. You're one of th' Union, Job?"
"Aye! I'm one, sure enough; but I'm but a sleeping partner in the concern. I were obliged to become a member for peace, else I don't go along with 'em. Yo see they think themselves wise, and me silly, for differing with them! Well! there's no harm in that. But then they won't let me be silly in peace and quietness, but will force me to be as wise as they are; now that's not British liberty, I say. I'm forced to be wise according to their notions, else they persecute me, and starve me out."
What could her father be doing up-stairs? Tramping and banging about. Why did he not come down? Or why did not Job go? The supper would be spoilt.
But Job had no notion of going.
"You see my folly is this, Mary. I would take what I could get; I think half a loaf is better than no bread. I would work for low wages rather than sit idle and starve. But, comes the Trades' Union, and says, 'Well, if you take the half-loaf, we'll worry you out of your life. Will you be clemmed, or will you be worried?' Now clemming is a quiet death, and worrying isn't, so I choose clemming, and come into th' Union. But I'd wish they'd leave me free, if I am a fool."
Creak, creak, went the stairs. Her father was coming down at last.
Yes, he came down, but more doggedly fierce than before, and made up for the journey, too; with his little bundle on his arm. He went up to Job, and, more civilly than Mary expected, wished him good-bye. He then turned to her, and in a short cold manner, bade her farewell.
"Oh! father, don't go yet. Your supper is all ready. Stay one moment."
But he pushed her away, and was gone. She followed him to the door, her eyes blinded by sudden tears; she stood there looking after him. He was so strange, so cold, so hard. Suddenly, at the end of the court, he turned, and saw her standing there; he came back quickly, and took her in his arms.
"God bless thee, Mary! - God in heaven bless thee, poor child!" She threw her arms round his neck.
"Don't go yet, father; I can't bear you to go yet. Come in, and eat some supper; you look so ghastly; dear father, do!"
"No," he said, faintly and mournfully. "It's best as it is. I couldn't eat, and it's best to be off. I cannot be still at home. I must be moving."
So saying, he unlaced her soft twining arms, and kissing her once more, set off on his fierce errand.
And he was out of sight! She did not know why, but she had never before felt so depressed, so desolate. She turned in to Job, who sat there still. Her father, as soon as he was out of sight, slackened his pace, and fell into that heavy listless step, which told as well as words could do, of hopelessness and weakness. It was getting dark, but he loitered on, returning no greeting to any one.
A child's cry caught his ear. His thoughts were running on little Tom; on the dead and buried child of happier years. He followed the sound of wail, that might have been his, and found a poor little mortal, who had lost his way, and whose grief choked up his thoughts to the single want, "Mammy, mammy." With tender address, John Barton soothed the little laddie, and with beautiful patience he gathered fragments of meaning from the half-spoken words which came mingled with sobs from the terrified little heart. So, aided by inquiries here and there from a passer-by, he led and carried the little fellow home, where his mother had been too busy to miss him, but now received him with thankfulness, and with an eloquent Irish blessing. When John heard the words of blessing, he shook his head mournfully, and turned away to retrace his steps.
Let us leave him.
Mary took her sewing after he was gone, and sat on, and sat on, trying to listen to Job, who was more inclined to talk than usual. She had conquered her feeling of impatience towards him so far as to be able to offer him her father's rejected supper; and she even tried to eat herself. But her heart failed her. A leaden weight seemed to hang over her; a sort of presentiment of evil, or perhaps only an excess of low-spirited feeling in consequence of the two departures which had taken place that afternoon.
She wondered how long Job Legh would sit. She did not like putting down her work, and crying before him, and yet she had never in her life longed so much to be alone in order to indulge a good hearty burst of tears.
"Well, Mary," she suddenly caught him saying, "I thought you'd be a bit lonely to-night; and as Margaret were going to cheer th' old woman, I said I'd go and keep the young 'un company; and a very pleasant chatty evening we've had; very. Only I wonder as Margaret is not come back."
"But perhaps she is," suggested Mary.
"No, no, I took care o' that. Look ye here!" and he pulled out the great house-key. "She'll have to stand waiting i' th' street, and that I'm sure she wouldn't do, when she knew where to find me."
"Will she come back by hersel?" asked Mary.
"Aye. At first I were afraid o' trusting her, and I used to follow her a bit behind; never letting on, of course. But, bless you! she goes along as steadily as can be; rather slow to be sure, and her head a bit on one side, as if she were listening. And it's real beautiful to see her cross the road. She'll wait above a bit to hear that all is still; not that she's so dark as not to see a coach or a cart like a big black thing, but she can't rightly judge how far off it is by sight, so she listens. Hark! that's her!"
Yes; in she came with her usually calm face, all tear-stained and sorrow-marked.
"What's the matter, my wench?" said Job, hastily.
"Oh, grandfather! Alice Wilson's so bad!" She could say no more for her breathless agitation. The afternoon, and the parting with Will, had weakened her nerves for any after-shock.
"What is it? Do tell us Margaret!" said Mary, placing her in a chair, and loosening her bonnet-strings.
"I think it's a stroke o' the palsy. Any rate she has lost the use of one side."
"Was it afore Will had set off?" asked Mary.
"No, he were gone before I got there," said Margaret; "and she were much about as well as she has been for many a day. She spoke a bit, but not much; but that were only natural, for Mrs Wilson likes to have the talk to hersel, you know. She got up to go across the room, and then I heard a drag wi' her leg, and presently a fall, and Mrs Wilson came running, and set up such a cry! I stopped wi' Alice, while she fetched a doctor; but she could not speak, to answer me, though she tried, I think."
"Where was Jem? Why didn't he go for the doctor?"
"He were out when I got there, and he never came home while I stopped."
"Thou'st never left Mrs Wilson alone wi' poor Alice?" asked Job, hastily.
"No, no," said Margaret. "But oh! grandfather, it's now I feel how hard it is to have lost my sight. I should have so loved to nurse her: and I did try, until I found I did more harm than good. Oh, grandfather; if I could but see!"
She sobbed a little; and they let her give that ease to her heart. Then she went on -
"No! I went round by Mrs Davenport's, and she were hard at work; but, the minute I told my errand, she were ready and willing to go to Jane Wilson, and stop up all night with Alice."
"And what does the doctor say?" asked Mary.
"Oh! much what all doctors say: he puts a fence on this side, and a fence on that, for fear he should be caught tripping in his judgement. One moment he does not think there's much hope - but while there is life there is hope; th' next he says he should think she might recover partial - but her age is again' her. He's ordered her leeches to her head."
Margaret having told her tale, leant back with weariness, both of body and mind. Mary hastened to make her a cup of tea; while Job, lately so talkative, sat quiet and mournfully silent.
"I'll go first thing to-morrow morning, and learn how she is; and I'll bring word back before I go to work," said Mary.
"It's a bad job Will's gone," said Job.
Jane does not think she knows any one," replied Margaret. "It's perhaps as well he shouldn't see her now, for they say her face is sadly drawn. He'll remember her with her own face better, if he does not see her again."
With a few more sorrowful remarks they separated for the night, and Mary was left alone in her house, to meditate on the heavy day that had passed over her head. Everything seemed going wrong. Will gone; her father gone - and so strangely too! And to a place so mysteriously distant as Glasgow seemed to be to her! She had felt his presence as a protection against Harry Carson and his threats; and now she dreaded lest he should learn she was alone. Her heart began to despair, too, about Jem. She feared he had ceased to love her; and she - she only loved him more and more for his seeming neglect. And, as if all this aggregate of sorrowful thoughts was not enough, here was this new woe, of poor Alice's paralytic stroke.
I must now go back to an hour or two before Mary and her friends parted for the night. It might be about eight o'clock that evening, and the three Miss Carsons were sitting in their father's drawing-room. He was asleep in the dining-room, in his own comfortable chair. Mrs Carson was (as was usual with her, when no particular excitement was going on) very poorly, and sitting up-stairs in her dressing-room, indulging in the luxury of a headache. She was not well, certainly. "Wind in the head," the servants called it. But it was but the natural consequence of the state of mental and bodily idleness in which she was placed. Without education enough to value the resources of wealth and leisure, she was so circumstanced as to command both. It would have done her more good than all the ether and sal-volatile she was daily in the habit of swallowing, if she might have taken the work of one of her own housemaids for a week; made beds, rubbed tables, shaken carpets, and gone out into the fresh morning air, without all the paraphernalia of shawl, cloak, boa, fur boots, bonnet, and veil, in which she was equipped before setting out for an "airing," in the closely shut-up carriage.
So the three girls were by themselves in the comfortable, elegant, well-lighted drawing-room; and, like many similarly-situated young ladies, they did not exactly know what to do to while away the time until the tea-hour. The elder two had been at a dancing-party the night before, and were listless and sleepy in consequence. One tried to read "Emerson's Essays," and fell asleep in the attempt; the other was turning over a parcel of new songs, in order to select what she liked. Amy, the youngest, was copying some manuscript music. The air was heavy with the fragrance of strongly-scented flowers, which sent out their night odours from an adjoining conservatory.
The clock on the chimney-piece chimed eight. Sophy (the sleeping sister) started up at the sound.
"What o'clock is that?" she asked.
"Eight," said Amy.
"Oh, dear! how tired I am! Is Harry come in? Tea will rouse one up a little. Are you not worn out, Helen?"
"Yes; I am tired enough. One is good for nothing the day after a dance. Yet I don't feel weary at the time; I suppose it is the lateness of the hours."
"And yet, how could it be managed otherwise? So many don't dine till five or six, that one cannot begin before eight or nine; and then it takes a long time to get into the spirit of the evening. It is always more pleasant after supper than before."
"Well, I'm too tired to-night to reform the world in the matter of dances or balls. What are you copying, Amy?"
"Only that little Spanish air you sing, 'Quien quiera.'"
"What are you copying it for?" asked Helen.
"Harry asked me to do it for him this morning at breakfast-time - for Miss Richardson, he said."
"For Jane Richardson!" said Sophy, as if a new idea were receiving strength in her mind.
"Do you think Harry means anything by his attention to her?" asked Helen.
"Nay, I do not know anything more than you do; I can only observe and conjecture. What do you think, Helen?"
"Harry always likes to be of consequence to the belle of the room. If one girl is more admired than another, he likes to flutter about her, and seem to be on intimate terms with her. That is his way, and I have not noticed anything beyond that in his manner to Jane Richardson."
"But I don't think she knows it's only his way. Just watch her the next time we meet her when Harry is there, and see how she crimsons, and looks another way when she feels he is coming up to her. I think he sees it, too, and I think he is pleased with it."
"I dare say Harry would like well enough to turn the head of such a lovely girl as Jane Richardson. But I'm not convinced that he's in love, whatever she may be."
"Well, then!" said Sophy, indignantly, "though it is our own brother, I do think he is behaving very wrongly. The more I think of it, the more sure I am that she thinks he means something, and that he intends her to think so. And then, when he leaves off paying her attention----"
"Which will be as soon as a prettier girl makes her appearance," interrupted Helen.
"As soon as he leaves off paying her attention," resumed Sophy, "she will have many and many a heart-ache, and then she will harden herself into being a flirt, a feminine flirt, as he is a masculine flirt. Poor girl"
"I don't like to hear you speak so of Harry," said Amy, looking up at Sophy.
"And I don't like to have to speak so, Amy, for I love him dearly. He is a good, kind brother, but I do think him vain, and I think he hardly knows the misery, the crime, to which indulged vanity may lead him."
"Oh! do you think we may ring for tea. Sleeping after dinner makes me so feverish."
"Yes, surely. Why should not we?" said the more energetic Sophy, pulling the bell with some determination.
"Tea, directly, Parker," said she, authoritatively, as the man entered the room.
She was too little in the habit of reading expressions on the faces of others to notice Parker's countenance.
Yet it was striking. It was blanched to a dead whiteness; the lips compressed as if to keep within some tale of horror; the eyes distended and unnatural. It was a terror-stricken face.
The girls began to put away their music and books, in preparation for tea. The door slowly opened again, and this time it was the nurse who entered. I call her nurse, for such had been her office in bygone days, though now she held rather an anomalous situation in the family. Seamstress, attendant on the young ladies, keeper of the stores; only "Nurse" was still her name. She had lived longer with them than any other servant, and to her their manner was far less haughty than to the other domestics. She occasionally came into the drawing-room to look for things belonging to their father or mother, so it did not excite any surprise when she advanced into the room. They went on arranging their various articles of employment.
She wanted them to look up. She wanted them to read something in her face - her face so full of woe, of horror. But they went on without taking any notice. She coughed; not a natural cough; but one of those coughs which asks so plainly for remark.
"Dear nurse, what is the matter?" asked Amy. "Are not you well?"
"Is mamma ill?" asked Sophy quickly.
"Speak, speak, nurse!" said they all, as they saw her efforts to articulate choked by the convulsive rising in her throat. They clustered round her with eager faces, catching a glimpse of some terrible truth to be revealed.
"My dear young ladies! my dear girls!" she gasped out at length, and then she burst into tears.
"Oh! do tell us what it is, nurse!" said one. "Anything is better than this. Speak!"
"My children! I don't know bow to break it to you. My dears, poor Mr Harry is brought home----"
"Brought home - brought home - how?" Instinctively they sank their voices to a whisper; but a fearful whisper it was. In the same low tone, as if afraid lest the walls, the furniture, the inanimate things which told of preparation for life and comfort, should hear, she answered,
Amy clutched her nurse's arm, and fixed her eyes on her as if to know if such a tale could be true; and when she read its confirmation in those sad, mournful, unflinching eyes, she sank, without word or sound, down in a faint upon the floor. One sister sat down on an ottoman, and covered her face, to try and realize it. That was Sophy. Helen threw herself on the sofa, and burying her head in the pillows, tried to stifle the screams and moans which shook her frame.
The nurse stood silent. She had not told all.
"Tell me," said Sophy, looking up, and speaking in a hoarse voice, which told of the inward pain, "tell me, nurse! Is he dead, did you say? Have you sent for a doctor? Oh! send for one, send for one," continued she, her voice rising to shrillness, and starting to her feet. Helen lifted herself up, and looked, with breathless waiting, towards nurse.
"My dears, he is dead! But I have sent for a doctor. I have done all I could."
"When did he - when did they bring him home?" asked Sophy.
"Perhaps ten minutes ago. Before you rang for Parker."
"How did he die? Where did they find him? He looked so well. He always seemed so strong. Oh! are you sure he is dead?"
She went towards the door. Nurse laid her hand on her arm.
"Miss Sophy, I have not told you all. Can you bear to hear it? Remember, master is in the next room, and he knows nothing yet. Come, you must help me to tell him. Now, be quiet, dear! It was no common death he died!" She looked in her face as if trying to convey her meaning by her eyes.
Sophy's lips moved, but nurse could hear no sound.
"He has been shot as he was coming home along Turner Street to-night."
Sophy went on with the motion of her lips, twitching them almost convulsively.
"My dear, you must rouse yourself, and remember your father and mother have yet to be told. Speak! Miss Sophy!"
But she could not; her whole face worked involuntarily. The nurse left the room, and almost immediately brought back some sal-volatile and water. Sophy drank it eagerly, and gave one or two deep gasps. Then she spoke in a calm, unnatural voice.
"What do you want me to do, nurse? Go to Helen, and poor Amy. See, they want help."
"Poor creatures! we must let them alone for a bit. You must go to master; that's what I want you to do, Miss Sophy. You must break it to him, poor old gentleman! Come, he's asleep in the dining-room, and the men are waiting to speak to him."
Sophy went mechanically to the dining-room door.
"Oh! I cannot go in. I cannot tell him. What must I say?"
"I'll come with you, Miss Sophy. Break it to him by degrees."
"I can't, nurse. My head throbs so, I shall be sure to say the wrong thing."
However, she opened the door. There sat the father, the shaded light of the candle-lamp falling upon, and softening his marked features, while his snowy hair contrasted well with the deep crimson morocco of the chair. The newspaper he had been reading had dropped on the carpet by his side. He breathed regularly and deeply.
At that instant the words of Mrs Hemans's song came full in Sophy's mind: -
But this life's track would be to the bereaved father something more than dim and weary, hereafter.
"Papa," said she, softly. He did not stir.
"Papa!" she exclaimed somewhat louder.
He started up, half awake.
"Tea is ready, is it?" and he yawned.
"No! papa, but something very dreadful - very sad, has happened!"
He was gaping so loud that he did not catch the words she uttered, and did not see the expression of her face.
"Master Henry is not come back," said nurse. Her voice, heard in unusual speech to him, arrested his attention, and rubbing his eyes, he looked at the servant.
"Harry! oh no! he had to attend a meeting of the masters about these cursed turn-outs. I don't expect him yet. What are you looking at me so strangely for, Sophy?"
"Oh, papa, Harry is come back," said she, bursting into tears..
"What do you mean?" said he, startled into an impatient consciousness that something was wrong. "One of you says he is not come home, and the other says he is. Now, that's nonsense! Tell me at once what's the matter. Did he go on horseback to town? Is he thrown? Speak, child, can't you?"
"No! he's not been thrown, papa," said Sophy, sadly.
"But he's badly hurt," put in the nurse, desirous to be drawing his anxiety to a point.
"Hurt? Where? How? Have you sent for a doctor?" said he, hastily rising, as if to leave the room.
"Yes, papa, we've sent for a doctor - but I'm afraid - I believe it's of no use."
He looked at her for a moment, and in her face he read the truth. His son, his only son, was dead.
He sank back in his chair, and hid his face in his hands, and bowed his head upon the table. The strong mahogany dining-table shook and rattled under his agony.
Sophy went and put her arms round his bowed neck.
"Go! you are not Harry," said he; but the action roused him.
"Where is he? where is the----" said he, with his strong face set into the lines of anguish, by two minutes of such intense woe.
"In the servants' hall," replied nurse. "Two policemen and another man brought him home. They would be glad to speak to you when you are able, sir."
"I am now able," replied he. At first when he stood up he tottered. But steadying himself, he walked, as firmly as a soldier on drill, to the door. Then he turned back and poured out a glass of wine from the decanter which yet remained on the table. His eye caught the wine-glass which Harry had used but two or three hours before. He sighed a long quivering sigh, and then mastering himself again, he left the room.
"You had better go back to your sisters, Miss Sophy," said nurse.
Miss Carson went. She could not face death yet.
The nurse followed Mr Carson to the servants' hall. There on their dinner-table lay the poor dead body. The men who had brought it were sitting near the fire, while several of the servants stood round the table, gazing at the remains.
One or two were crying; one or two were whispering; awed into a strange stillness of voice and action by the presence of the dead. When Mr Carson came in they all drew back and looked at him with the reverence due to sorrow.
He went forward and gazed long and fondly on the calm, dead face; then he bent down and kissed the lips yet crimson with life. The policemen had advanced, and stood ready to be questioned. But at first the old man's mind could only take in the idea of death; slowly, slowly, came the conception of violence, of murder. "How did he die?" he groaned forth.
The policemen looked at each other. Then one began, and stated that having heard the report of a gun in Turner Street, he had turned down that way (a lonely unfrequented way Mr Carson knew, but a short cut to his garden door, of which Harry had a key); that as he (the policeman) came nearer, he had heard footsteps as of a man running away; but the evening was so dark (the moon not having yet risen) that he could see no one twenty yards off. That he had even been startled when close to the body by seeing it lying across the path at his feet. That he had sprung his rattle; and when another policeman came up, by the light of the lantern they had discovered who it was that had been killed. That they believed him to be dead when they first took him up, as he had never moved, spoken, or breathed. That intelligence of the murder had been sent to the superintendent, who would probably soon be here. That two or three policemen were still about the place, where the murder was committed, seeking out for some trace of the murderer. Having said this, they stopped speaking.
Mr Carson had listened attentively, never taking his eyes off the dead body. When they had ended, he said,
"Where was he shot?"
They lifted up some of the thick chestnut curls, and showed a blue spot (you could hardly call it a hole, the flesh had closed so much over it) in the left temple. A deadly aim! And yet it was so dark a night!
"He must have been close upon him," said one policeman.
"And have had him between him and the sky," added the other.
There was a little commotion at the door of the room, and there stood poor Mrs Carson, the mother.
She had heard unusual noises in the house, and had sent down her maid (much more a companion to her than her highly-educated daughters) to discover what was going on. But the maid either forgot, or dreaded, to return; and with nervous impatience Mrs Carson came down herself, and had traced the hum and buzz of voices to the servants' hall.
Mr Carson turned round. But he could not leave the dead for any one living.
"Take her away, nurse. It is no sight for her. Tell Miss Sophy to go to her mother." His eyes were again fixed on the dead face of his son.
Presently Mrs Carson's hysterical cries were heard all over the house. Her husband shuddered at the outward expression of the agony which was rending his heart.
Then the police superintendent came, and after him the doctor. The latter went through all the forms of ascertaining death, without uttering a word, and when at the conclusion of the operation of opening a vein, from which no blood flowed, he shook his head, all present understood the confirmation of their previous belief. The superintendent asked to speak to Mr Carson in private.
"It was just what I was going to request of you," answered he; so he led the way into the dining-room, with the wine-glass still on the table.
The door was carefully shut, and both sat down, each apparently waiting for the other to begin.
At last Mr Carson spoke.
"You probably have heard that I am a rich man."
The superintendent bowed in assent.
"Well, sir, half - nay, if necessary, the whole of my fortune I will give to have the murderer brought to the gallows."
"Every exertion, you may be sure, sir, shall be used on our part; but probably offering a handsome reward might accelerate the discovery of the murderer. But what I wanted particularly to tell you, sir, is that one of my men has already got some clue, and that another (who accompanied me here) has within this quarter of an hour found a gun in the field which the murderer crossed, and which he probably threw away when pursued, as encumbering his flight. I have not the smallest doubt of discovering the murderer."
"What do you call a handsome reward?" said Mr Carson.
"Well, sir, three, or five hundred pounds is a munificent reward: more than will probably be required as a temptation to any accomplice."
"Make it a thousand," said Mr Carson, decisively. "It's the doing of those damned turn-outs."
"I imagine not," said the superintendent. "Some days ago the man I was naming to you before, reported to the inspector when he came on his beat, that he had to separate your son from a young man, who by his dress he believed to be employed in a foundry; that the man had thrown Mr Carson down, and seemed inclined to proceed to more violence, when the policeman came up and interfered. Indeed, my man wished to give him in charge for an assault, but Mr Carson would not allow that to be done."
"Just like him! - noble fellow!" murmured the father.
"But after your son had left, the man made use of some pretty strong threats. And it's rather a curious coincidence that this scuffle took place in the very same spot where the murder was committed; in Turner Street."
There was some one knocking at the door of the room. It was Sophy, who beckoned her father out, and then asked him, in an awe-struck whisper, to come up-stairs and speak to her mother.
"She will not leave Harry, and talks so strangely. Indeed - indeed - papa, I think she has lost her senses."
And the poor girl sobbed bitterly.
"Where is she?" asked Mr Carson.
"In his room."
They went up-stairs rapidly, and silently. It was a large comfortable bedroom; too large to be well lighted by the flaring, flickering kitchen-candle which had been hastily snatched up, and now stood on the dressing-table.
On the bed, surrounded by its heavy, pall-like green curtains, lay the dead son. They had carried him up, and laid him down, as tenderly as though they feared to waken him; and, indeed, it looked more like sleep than death, so very calm and full of repose was the face. You saw, too, the chiselled beauty of the features much more perfectly than when the brilliant colouring of life had distracted your attention. There was a peace about him which told that death had come too instantaneously to give any previous pain.
In a chair, at the head of the bed, sat the mother, - smiling. She held one of the hands (rapidly stiffening, even in her warm grasp), and gently stroked the back of it, with the endearing caress she had used to all her children when young.
"I am glad you are come," said she, looking up at her husband, and still smiling. "Harry is so full of fun, he always has something new to amuse us with; and now he pretends he is asleep, and that we can't waken him. Look! he is smiling now; he hears I have found him out. Look!"
And, in truth, the lips, in the rest of death, did look as though they wore a smile, and the waving light of the unsnuffed candle almost made them seem to move.
"Look, Amy," said she to her youngest child, who knelt at her feet, trying to soothe her, by kissing her garments.
"Oh, he was always a rogue! You remember, don't you, love? how full of play he was as a baby; hiding his face under my arm, when you wanted to play with him. Always a rogue, Harry!"
"We must get her away, sir," said nurse; "you know there is much to be done, before----"
"I understand, nurse," said the father, hastily interrupting her in dread of the distinct words which would tell of the changes of mortality.
"Come, love," said he to his wife. "I want you to come with me. I want to speak to you down-stairs."
"I'm coming," said she, rising; "perhaps, after all, nurse, he's really tired, and would be glad to sleep. Don't let him get cold, though, - he feels rather chilly," continued she, after she had bent down, and kissed the pale lips.
Her husband put his arm around her waist, and they left the room. Then the three sisters burst into unrestrained wailings. They were startled into the reality of life and death. And yet in the midst of shrieks and moans, of shivering and chattering of teeth, Sophy's eye caught the calm beauty of the dead; so calm amidst such violence, and she hushed her emotion.
"Come," said she to her sisters, "nurse wants us to go; and besides, we ought to be with mamma. Papa told the man he was talking to, when I went for him, to wait, and she must not be left."
Meanwhile, the superintendent had taken a candle, and was examining the engravings that hung round the dining-room. It was so common to him to be acquainted with crime, that he was far from feeling all his interest absorbed in the present case of violence, although he could not help having much anxiety to detect the murderer. He was busy looking at the only oil-painting in the room (a youth of eighteen or so, in a fancy dress), and conjecturing its identity with the young man so mysteriously dead, when the door opened, and Mr Carson returned. Stern as he had looked before leaving the room, he looked far sterner now. His face was hardened into deep-purposed wrath.
"I beg your pardon, sir, for leaving you." The superintendent bowed. They sat down, and spoke long together. One by one the policemen were called in, and questioned.
All through the night there was bustle and commotion in the house. Nobody thought of going to bed. It seemed strange to Sophy to hear nurse summoned from her mother's side to supper, in the middle of the night, and still stranger that she should go. The necessity of eating and drinking seemed out of place in the house of death.
When night was passing into morning, the dining-room door opened, and two persons' steps were heard along the hall.The superintendent was leaving at last. Mr Carson stood on the front-door step, feeling the refreshment of the caller morning air, and seeing the starlight fade away into dawn.
"You will not forget," said he. "I trust to you." The policeman bowed.
"Spare no money. The only purpose for which I now value wealth is to have the murderer arrested, and brought to justice. My hope in life now is to see him sentenced to death. Offer any rewards. Name a thousand pounds in the placards. Come to me at any hour, night or day, if that be required. All I ask of you is, to get the murderer hanged. Next week, if possible - to-day is Friday. Surely with the clues you already possess, you can muster up evidence sufficient to have him tried next week."
"He may easily request an adjournment of his trial, on the ground of the shortness of the notice," said the superintendent.
"Oppose it, if possible. I will see that the first lawyers are employed. I shall know no rest while he lives."
"Everything shall be done, sir."
"You will arrange with the coroner. Ten o'clock if convenient."
The superintendent took leave.
Mr Carson stood on the step, dreading to shut out the light and air, and return into the haunted, gloomy house.
"My son! my son!" he said, at last. "But you shall be avenged, my poor murdered boy."
Aye! to avenge his wrongs the murderer had singled out his victim, and with one fell action had taken away the life that God had given. To avenge his child's death, the old man lived on; with the single purpose in his heart of vengeance on the murderer. True, his vengeance was sanctioned by law, but was it the less revenge?
Are ye worshippers of Christ? or of Alecto?
Oh! Orestes, you would have made a very tolerable Christian of the nineteenth century!
JEM WILSON ARRESTED ON SUSPICION
I left Mary, on that same Thursday night which left its burden of woe at Mr Carson's threshold, haunted with depressing thoughts. All through the night she tossed restlessly about, trying to get quit of the ideas that harassed her, and longing for the light when she could rise, and find some employment. But just as dawn began to appear, she became more quiet, and fell into a sound heavy sleep, which lasted till she was sure it was late in the morning, by the full light that shone in.
She dressed hastily, and heard the neighbouring church clock strike eight. It was far too late to do as she had planned (after inquiring how Alice was, to return and tell Margaret), and she accordingly went in to inform the latter of her change of purpose, and the cause of it; but on entering the house she found Job sitting alone, looking sad enough. She told him what she came for.
"Margaret, wench! why she's been gone to Wilson's these two hours. Aye! sure, you did say last night you would go; but she could na rest in her bed, so was off betimes this morning."
Mary could do nothing but feel guilty of her long morning nap, and hasten to follow Margaret's steps; for late as it was, she felt she could not settle well to her work, unless she learnt how kind, good Alice Wilson was going on.
So, eating her crust-of-bread breakfast, she passed rapidly along the streets. She remembered afterwards the little groups of people she had seen, eagerly hearing, and imparting news; but at the time her only care was to hasten on her way, in dread of a reprimand from Miss Simmonds.
She went into the house at Jane Wilson's, her heart at the instant giving a strange knock, and sending the rosy flush into her face, at the thought that Jem might possibly be inside the door. But I do assure you, she had not thought of it before. Impatient and loving as she was, her solicitude about Alice on that hurried morning had not been mingled with any thought of him.
Her heart need not have leaped, her colour need not have rushed so painfully to her cheeks, for he was not there. There was the round table, with a cup and saucer, which had evidently been used, and there was Jane Wilson sitting on the other side, crying quietly, while she ate her breakfast with a sort of unconscious appetite. And there was Mrs Davenport washing away at a night-cap or so, which, by their simple, old-world make, Mary knew at a glance were Alice's. But nothing - no one else.
Alice was much the same, or rather better of the two, they told her; at any rate she could speak, though it was sad rambling talk. Would Mary like to see her?
Of course she would. Many are interested by seeing their friends under the new aspect of illness: and among the poor there is no wholesome fear of injury or excitement to restrain this wish.
So Mary went up-stairs, accompanied by Mrs Davenport, wringing the suds off her hands, and speaking in a loud whisper far more audible than her usual voice.
"I mun be hastening home, but I'll come again to-night, time enough to iron her cap; 'twould be a sin and a shame if we let her go dirty now she's ill, when she's been so rare and clean all her life long. But she's sadly forsaken, poor thing! She'll not know you, Mary; she knows none on us."
The room up-stairs held two beds, one superior in the grandeur of four posts and checked curtains to the other, which had been occupied by the twins in their brief lifetime. The smaller had been Alice's bed since she had lived there; but with the natural reverence to one "stricken of God and afflicted," she had been installed, since her paralytic stroke the evening before, in the larger and grander bed; while Jane Wilson had taken her short broken rest on the little pallet.
Margaret came forwards to meet her friend, whom she half expected, and whose step she knew. Mrs Davenport returned to her washing.
The two girls did not speak; the presence of Alice awed them into silence. There she lay with the rosy colour, absent from her face since the days of child-hood, flushed once more into it by her sickness nigh unto death. She lay on the affected side, and with her other arm she was constantly sawing the air, not exactly in a restless manner, but in a monotonous, incessant way, very trying to a watcher. She was talking away, too, almost as constantly, in a low indistinct tone. But her face, her profiled countenance, looked calm and smiling, even interested by the ideas that were passing through her clouded mind.
"Listen!" said Margaret, as she stooped her head down to catch the muttered words more distinctly.
"What will mother say? The bees are turning homeward for th' last time, and we've a terrible long bit to go yet. See! here's a linnet's nest in this gorse bush. Th' hen bird is on it. Look at her bright eyes, she won't stir. Aye! we mun hurry home. Won't mother be pleased with the bonny lot of heather we've got! Make haste, Sally, maybe we shall have cockles for supper. I saw th' cockle-man's donkey turn up our way fra' Arnside."
Margaret touched Mary's hand, and the pressure in return told her that they understood each other; that they knew how in this illness to the old, world-weary woman, God had sent her a veiled blessing: she was once more in the scenes of her childhood, unchanged and bright as in those long departed days; once more with the sister of her youth, the playmate of fifty years ago, who had for nearly as many years slept in a grassy grave in the little churchyard beyond Burton.
Alice's face changed; she looked sorrowful, almost penitent.
"Oh, Sally! I wish we'd told her. She thinks we were in church all morning, and we've gone on deceiving her. If we'd told her at first how it was - how sweet th' hawthorn smelt through the open church door, and how we were on th' last bench in the aisle, and how it were the first butterfly we'd seen this spring, and how it flew into th' very church itself; oh! mother is so gentle, I wish we'd told her. I'll go to her next time she comes in sight, and say, 'Mother, we were naughty last Sabbath.'"
She stopped, and a few tears came stealing down the old withered cheek, at the thought of the temptation and deceit of her childhood. Surely, many sins could not have darkened that innocent child-like spirit since. Mary found a red-spotted pocket-handkerchief, and put it into the hand which sought about for something to wipe away the trickling tears. She took it with a gentle murmur.
"Thank you, mother."
Mary pulled Margaret away from the bed.
"Don't you think she's happy, Margaret?"
"Aye! that I do, bless her. She feels no pain, and knows nought of her present state. Oh! that I could see, Mary! I try and be patient with her afore me, but I'd give aught I have to see her, and see what she wants. I am so useless! I mean to stay here as long as Jane Wilson is alone; and I would fain be hero to-night, but-----"
"I'll come," said Mary, decidedly.
"Mrs Davenport said she'd come again, but she's hard-worked all day----"
"I'll come," repeated Mary.
"Do!" said Margaret, "and I'll be here till you come. Maybe, Jem and you could take th' night between you, and Jane Wilson might get a bit of sound sleep in his bed; for she were up and down the better part of last night, and just when she were in a sound sleep this morning, between two and three, Jem came home, and th' sound o' his voice roused her in a minute."
"Where had he been till that time o' night?" asked Mary.
"Nay! it were none of my business; and, indeed, I never saw him till he came in here to see Alice. He were in again this morning, and seemed sadly downcast. But you'll, maybe, manage to comfort him to-night, Mary," said Margaret, smiling, while a ray of hope glimmered in Mary's heart, and she almost felt glad, for an instant, of the occasion which would at last bring them together. Oh! happy night! when would it come? Many hours had yet to pass.
Then she saw Alice, and repented, with a bitter self-reproach. But she could not help having gladness in the depths of her heart, blame herself as she would. So she tried not to think, as she hurried along to Miss Simmonds', with a dancing step of lightness.
She was late - that she knew she should be. Miss Simmonds was vexed and cross. That also she had anticipated, and had intended to smooth her raven down by extraordinary diligence and attention. But there was something about the girls she did not understand - had not anticipated. They stopped talking when she came in; or rather, I should say, stopped listening, for Sally Leadbitter was the talker to whom they were hearkening with deepest attention. At first they eyed Mary, as if she had acquired some new interest to them since the day before. Then they began to whisper; and, absorbed as Mary had been in her own thoughts, she could not help becoming aware that it was of her they spoke.
At last Sally Leadbitter asked Mary if she had heard the news?
"No! What news?" answered she.
The girls looked at each other with gloomy mystery. Sally went on.
"Have you not beard that young Mr Carson was murdered last night?"
Mary's lips could not utter a negative, but no one who looked at her pale and terror-stricken face could have doubted that she had not heard before of the fearful occurrence.
Oh, it is terrible, that sudden information, that one you have known has met with a bloody death! You seem to shrink from the world where such deeds can be committed, and to grow sick with the idea of the violent and wicked men of earth. Much as Mary had learned to dread him lately, now he was dead (and dead in such a manner) her feeling was that of oppressive sorrow for him.
The room went round and round, and she felt as though she should faint; but Miss Simmonds came in, bringing a waft of fresher air as she opened the door, to refresh the body, and the certainty of a scolding for inattention to brace the sinking mind. She, too, was full of the morning's news.
"Have you heard any more of this horrid affair, Miss Barton?" asked she, as she settled to her work.
Mary tried to speak; at first she could not, and when she succeeded in uttering a sentence, it seemed as though it were not her own voice that spoke.
"No, ma'am, I never heard of it till this minute."
"Dear! that's strange, for every one is up about it. I hope the murderer will be found out, that I do. Such a handsome young man to be killed as he was. I hope the wretch that did it may be hanged as high as Haman."
One of the girls reminded them that the assizes came on next week.
"Aye," replied Miss Simmonds, "and the milkman told me they will catch the wretch, and have him tried and hung in less than a week. Serve him right, whoever he is. Such a handsome young man as he was."
Then each began to communicate to Miss Simmonds the various reports they had heard.
Suddenly she burst out -
"Miss Barton! as I live, dropping tears on that new silk gown of Mrs Hawkes'! Don't you know they will stain, and make it shabby for ever? Crying like a baby, because a handsome young man meets with an untimely end. For shame of yourself; miss! Mind your character and your work, if you please. Or if you must cry" (seeing her scolding rather increased the flow of Mary's tears, than otherwise), "take this print to cry over. That won't be marked like this beautiful silk," rubbing it, as if she loved it, with a clean pocket-handkerchief, in order to soften the edges of the hard round drops.
Mary took the print, and, naturally enough, having had leave given her to cry over it, rather checked the inclination to weep.
Everybody was full of the one subject. The girl sent out to match silk, came back with the account gathered at the shop, of the coroner's inquest then sitting; the ladies who called to speak about gowns first began about the murder, and mingled details of that, with directions for their dresses. Mary felt as though the haunting horror were a nightmare, a fearful dream, from which awakening would relieve her. The picture of the murdered body, far more ghastly than the reality, seemed to swim in the air before her eyes. Sally Leadbitter looked and spoke of her, almost accusingly, and made no secret now of Mary's conduct, more blameable to her fellow-workwomen for its latter changeableness, than for its former giddy flirting.
"Poor young gentleman," said one, as Sally recounted Mary's last interview with Mr Carson.
"What a shame!" exclaimed another, looking indignantly at Mary.
"That's what I call regular jilting," said a third. "And he lying cold and bloody in his coffin now."
Mary was more thankful than she could express, when Miss Simmonds returned, to put a stop to Sally's communications, and to check the remarks of the girls.
She longed for the peace of Alice's sick room. No more thinking with infinite delight of her anticipated meeting with Jem; she felt too much shocked for that now; but longing for peace and kindness, for the images of rest and beauty, and sinless times long ago, which the poor old woman's rambling presented, she wished to be as near death as Alice; and to have struggled through this world, whose sufferings she had early learnt, and whose crimes now seemed pressing close upon her. Old texts from the Bible, that her mother used to read (or rather spell out) aloud in the days of childhood, came up to her memory. "Where the wicked cease from troubling, and the weary are at rest." "And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes," etc. And it was to that world Alice was hastening! Oh! that she were Alice!
I must return to the Wilsons' house, which was far from being the abode of peace that Mary was picturing it to herself. You remember the reward Mr Carson offered for the apprehension of the murderer of his son? It was in itself a temptation, and to aid its efficacy came the natural sympathy for the aged parents mourning for their child, for the young man cut off in the flower of his days; and besides this, there is always a pleasure in unravelling a mystery, in catching at the gossamer clue which will guide to certainty. This feeling, I am sure, gives much impetus to the police. Their senses are ever and always on the qui-vive, and they enjoy the collecting and collating evidence, and the life of adventure they experience; a continual unwinding of Jack Sheppard romances, always interesting to the vulgar and uneducated mind to which the outward signs and tokens of crime are ever exciting.
There was no lack of clue or evidence at the coroner's inquest that morning. The shot, the finding of the body, the subsequent discovery of the gun, were rapidly deposed to; and then the policeman who had interrupted the quarrel between Jem Wilson and the murdered young man was brought forward, and gave his evidence, clear, simple, and straightforward. The coroner had no hesitation, the jury had none, but the verdict was cautiously worded. "Wilful murder against some person unknown."
This very cautiousness, when he deemed the thing so sure as to require no caution, irritated Mr Carson. It did not soothe him that the superintendent called the verdict a mere form, - exhibited a warrant empowering him to seize the body of Jem Wilson, committed on suspicion, - declared his intention of employing a well-known officer in the Detective Service to ascertain the ownership of the gun, and to collect other evidence especially as regarded the young woman, about whom the policeman deposed that the quarrel had taken place; Mr Carson was still excited and irritable; restless in body and mind. He made every preparation for the accusation of Jem the following morning before the magistrates: he engaged attorneys skilled in criminal practice to watch the case and prepare briefs; he wrote to celebrated barristers coming the Northern circuit, to bespeak their services. A speedy conviction, a speedy execution, seemed to be the only things that would satisfy his craving thirst for blood. He would have fain been policeman, magistrate, accusing speaker, all; but most of all, the judge, rising with full sentence of death on his lips.
That afternoon, as Jane Wilson had begun to feel the effect of a night's disturbed rest, evinced in frequent droppings off to sleep while she sat by her sister-in-law's bed-side, lulled by the incessant crooning of the invalid's feeble voice, she was startled by a man speaking in the house-place below, who, wearied of knocking at the door, without obtaining any answer, had entered and was calling lustily for
When Mrs Wilson caught a glimpse of the intruder through the stair-rails, she at once saw he was a stranger, a working man, it might be a fellow-labourer with her son, for his dress was grimy enough for the supposition. He held a gun in his hand.
"May I make bold to ask if this gun belongs to your son?"
She first looked at the man, and then, weary and half asleep, not seeing any reason for refusing to answer the enquiry, she moved forward to examine it, talking while she looked for certain old-fashioned ornaments on the stock. "It looks like his; aye, it's his, sure enough. I could speak to it anywhere by these marks. You see it were his grandfather's as were gamekeeper to some one up in th' north; and they don't make guns so smart now-a-days. But, how comed you by it? He sets great store on it. Is he bound for the shooting gallery? He is not, for sure, now his aunt is so ill, and me left all alone"; and the immediate cause of her anxiety being thus recalled to her mind, she entered on a long story of Alice's illness, interspersed with recollections of her husband's and her children's deaths.
The disguised policeman listened for a minute or two, to glean any further information he could; and then, saying he was in a hurry, he turned to go away. She followed him to the door, still telling him her troubles, and was never struck, until it was too late to ask the reason, with the unaccountableness of his conduct, in carrying the gun away with him. Then, as she heavily climbed the stairs, she put away the wonder and the thought about his conduct by determining to believe he was some workman with whom her son had made some arrangement about shooting at the gallery; or mending the old weapon; or something or other. She had enough to fret her, without moidering herself about old guns. Jem had given it him to bring to her; so it was safe enough; or, if it was not, why, she should be glad never to set eyes on it again, for she could not abide fire-arms, they were so apt to shoot people.
So, comforting herself for the want of thought in not making further inquiry, she fell off into another doze, feverish, dream-haunted, and unrefreshing.
Meanwhile, the policeman walked off with his prize, with an odd mixture of feelings; a little contempt, a little disappointment, and a good deal of pity. The contempt and the disappointment were caused by the widow's easy admission of the gun being her son's property, and her manner of identifying it by the ornaments. He liked an attempt to baffle him; he was accustomed to it; it gave some exercise to his wits and his shrewdness. There would be no fun in fox-hunting, if Reynard yielded himself up without any effort to escape. Then, again, his mother's milk was yet in him, policeman, officer of the Detective Service though he was; and he felt sorry for the old woman, whose "softness" had given such material assistance in identifying her son as the murderer. However, he conveyed the gun, and the intelligence he had gained, to the superintendent; and the result was, that, in a short time afterwards, three policemen went to the works at which Jem was foreman, and announced their errand to the astonished overseer, who directed them to the part of the foundry where Jem was then superintending a casting.
Dark, black were the walls, the ground, the faces around them, as they crossed the yard. But, in the furnace-house, a deep and lurid red glared over all; the furnace roared with mighty flame. The men, like demons, in their fire-and-soot colouring, stood swart around, awaiting the moment when the tons of solid iron should have melted down into fiery liquid, fit to be poured, with still, heavy sound, into the delicate moulding of fine black sand, prepared to receive it. The heat was intense, and the red glare grew every instant more fierce; the policemen stood awed with the novel sight. Then, black figures, holding strange-shaped bucket-shovels, came athwart the deep-red furnace light, and clear and brilliant flowed forth the iron into the appropriate mould. The buzz of voices rose again; there was time to speak, and gasp, and wipe the brows; and then, one by one, the men dispersed to some other branch of their employment.
No. B 72 pointed out Jem as the man he had seen engaged in a scuffle with Mr Carson, and then the other two stepped forward and arrested him, stating of what he was accused, and the grounds of the accusation. He offered no resistance, though he seemed surprised; but calling a fellow-workman to him, he briefly requested him to tell his mother he had got into trouble, and could not return home at present. He did not wish her to hear more at first.
So Mrs Wilson's sleep was next interrupted in almost an exactly similar way to the last, like a recuring nightmare.
"Missis! missis!" some one called out from below.
Again it was a workman, but this time a blacker-looking one than before.
"What don ye want?" said she, peevishly.
"Only, nothing but----" stammered the man, a kind-hearted, matter-of-fact person, with no invention, but a great deal of sympathy.
"Well, speak out, can't ye, and ha' done with it?"
"Jem's in trouble," said he, repeating Jem's very words, as he could think of no others.
"Trouble?" said the mother, in a high-pitched voice of distress. "Trouble! God help me, trouble will never end, I think. What d'ye mean by trouble? Speak out, man, can't ye? Is he ill! My boy! tell me, is he ill?" in a hurried voice of terror.
"Na, na, that's not it. He's well enough. All he bade me say was, 'Tell mother I'm in trouble, and can't come home to-night.'"
"Not come home to-night! And what am I to do with Alice? I can't go on, wearing my life out wi' watching. He might come and help me."
"I tell you he can't," said the man.
"Can't, and he is well, you say? Stuff! It's just that he's getten like other young men, and wants to go a-larking. But I'll give it him when be comes back."
The man turned to go; he durst not trust himself to speak in Jem's justification. But she would not let him off.
She stood between him and the door, as she said,
"Yo shall not go till yo've told me what he's after. I can see plain enough you know, and I'll know, too, before I've done."
"You'll know soon enough, missis!"
"I'll know now, I tell ye. What's up that he can't come home and help me nurse? Me, as never got a wink o' sleep last night wi' watching."
"Well, if you will have it out," said the poor badgered man, "the police have got hold on him."
"On my Jem!" said the enraged mother. "You're a downright liar, and that's what you are. My Jem, as never did harm to any one in his life. You're a liar, that's what you are."
"He's done harm enough now," said the man, angry in his turn, "for there's good evidence he murdered young Carson, as was shot last night."
She staggered forward to strike the man for telling the terrible truth; but the weakness of old age, of motherly agony, overcame her, and she sank down on a chair, and covered her face. He could not leave her.
When next she spoke, it was in an imploring, feeble, child-like voice.
"Oh, master, say you're only joking. I ax your pardon if I have vexed ye, but please say you're only joking. You don't know what Jem is to me."
She looked humbly, anxiously up at him.
"I wish I were only joking, missis; but it's true as I say. They've taken him up on charge o' murder. It were his gun as were found near th' place; and one o' the police beard him quarrelling with Mr Carson a few days back, about a girl."
"About a girl" broke in the mother, once more indignant, though too feeble to show it as before. "My Jem was as steady as----" she hesitated for a comparison wherewith to finish, and then repeated, "as steady as Lucifer, and he were an angel, you know. My Jem was not one to quarrel about a girl."
"Aye, but it was that, though. They'd got her name quite pat. The man had heard all they said. Mary Barton was her name, whoever she may be."
"Mary Barton! the dirty hussy! to bring my Jem into trouble of this kind. I'll give it her well when I see her: that I will. Oh! my poor Jem!" rocking herself to and fro. "And what about the gun? What did ye say about that?"
"His gun were found on the spot where the murder were done."
"That's a lie for one, then. A man has got the gun now, safe and sound. I saw it not an hour ago."
The man shook his head.
"Yes, he has indeed. A friend o' Jem's, as he'd lent it to."
"Did you know the chap?" asked the man, who was really anxious for Jem's exculpation, and caught a gleam of hope from her last speech.
"No! I can't say as I did. But he were put on as a workman."
"It's maybe only one of them policemen, disguised."
"Nay; they'd never go for to do that, and trick me into telling on my own son. It would be like seething a kid in its mother's milk; and that th' Bible forbids."
"I don't know," replied the man.
Soon afterwards he went away, feeling unable to comfort, yet distressed at the sight of sorrow; she would fain have detained him, but go he would. And she was alone.
She never for an instant believed Jem guilty; she would have doubted if the sun were fire, first: but sorrow, desolation, and at times anger, took possession of her mind. She told the unconscious Alice, hoping to rouse her to sympathy; and then was disappointed, because, still smiling and calm, she murmured of her mother, and the happy days of infancy.
MARY'S DREAM - AND THE AWAKENING
So there was no more peace in the house of sickness except to Alice, the dying Alice.
But Mary knew nothing of the afternoon's occurrences; and gladly did she breathe in the fresh air, as she left Miss Simmonds' house, to hasten to the Wilsons'. The very change, from the in-door to the out-door atmosphere, seemed to alter the current of her thoughts. She thought less of the dreadful subject which had so haunted her all day, she cared less for the upbraiding speeches of her fellow-work-women; the old association of comfort and sympathy received from Alice gave her the idea that, even now, her bodily presence would soothe and compose those who were in trouble, changed, unconscious, and absent though her spirit might be.
Then, again, she reproached herself a little for the feeling of pleasure she experienced, in thinking that he whom she dreaded could never more beset her path; in the security with which she could pass each street corner - each shop, where he used to lie in ambush. Oh! beating heart! was there no other little thought of joy lurking within, to gladden the very air without? Was she not going to meet, to see, to hear Jem; and could they fail at last to understand each other's loving hearts!
She softly lifted the latch, with the privilege of friendship. He was not there, but his mother was standing by the fire, stirring some little mess or other. Never mind! he would come soon: and with an unmixed desire to do her grateful duty to all belonging to him, she stepped lightly forwards, unheard by the old lady, who was partly occupied by the simmering, bubbling sound of her bit of cookery; but more with her own sad thoughts, and wailing, half-uttered murmurings.
Mary took off bonnet and shawl with speed, and advancing, made Mrs Wilson conscious of her presence, by saying,
"Let me do that for you. I'm sure you mun be tired."
Mrs Wilson slowly turned round, and her eyes gleamed like those of a pent-up wild beast, as she recognized her visitor.
"And is it thee that dares set foot in this house, after what has come to pass? Is it not enough to have robbed me of my boy with thy arts and thy profligacy, but thou must come here to crow over me - me - his mother? Dost thou know where he is, thou bad hussy, with thy great blue eyes and yellow hair, to lead men on to ruin? Out upon thee with thy angel's face, thou whited sepulchre! Dost thou know where Jem is, all through thee?"
"No!" quivered out poor Mary, scarcely conscious that she spoke, so daunted, so terrified was she by the indignant mother's greeting.
"He's lying in th' New Bailey," slowly and distinctly spoke the mother, watching the effect of her words, as if believing in their infinite power to pain. "There he lies, waiting to take his trial for murdering young Mr Carson."
No answer; but such a blanched face, such wild, distended eyes, such trembling limbs, instinctively seeking support!
"Did you know Mr Carson as now lies dead?" continued the merciless woman. "Folk say you did, and knew him but too well. And that for the sake of such as you, my precious child shot yon chap. But he did not. I know he did not. They may hang him, but his mother will speak to his innocence with her last dying breath."
She stopped more from exhaustion than want of words. Mary spoke, but in so changed and choked a voice that the old woman almost started. It seemed as if some third person must be in the room, the voice was so hoarse and strange.
"Please say it again. I don't quite understand you. What has Jem done? Please to tell me."
"I never said he had done it. I said, and I'll swear that he never did do it. I don't care who heard 'em quarrel, or if it is his gun as were found near the body. It's not my own Jem as would go for to kill any man, choose how a girl had jilted him. My own good Jem, as was a blessing sent upon the house where he was born." Tears came into the mother's burning eyes as her heart recurred to the days when she had rocked the cradle of "her first-born"; and then, rapidly passing over events, till the full consciousness of his present situation came upon her, and perhaps annoyed at having shown any softness of character in the presence of the Delilah who had lured him to his danger, she spoke again, and in a sharper tone.
"I told him, and told him to leave off thinking on thee; but he wouldn't be led by me. Thee! wench! thou were not good enough to wipe the dust off his feet. A vile, flirting quean as thou art. It's well thy mother does not know (poor body) what a good-for-nothing thou art."
"Mother! oh mother!" said Mary, as if appealing to the merciful dead. "But I was not good enough for him! I know I was not," added she, in a voice of touching humility.
For through her heart went tolling the ominous, prophetic words he had used when he had last spoken to her:
"Mary! you'll maybe hear of me as a drunkard, and maybe as a thief, and maybe as a murderer. Remember! when all are speaking ill of me, you will have no right to blame me, for it's your cruelty that will have made me what I feel I shall become."
And she did not blame him, though she doubted not his guilt; she felt how madly she might act if once jealous of him, and how much cause had she not given him for jealousy, miserable guilty wretch that she was! Speak on, desolate mother. Abuse her as you will. Her broken spirit feels to have merited all.
But her last humble, self-abased words had touched Mrs Wilson's heart, sore as it was; and she looked at the snow-pale girl with those piteous eyes, so hopeless of comfort, and she relented in spite of herself.
"Thou seest what comes of light conduct, Mary! It's thy doing that suspicion has lighted on him, who is as innocent as the babe unborn. Thou'lt have much to answer for if he's hung. Thou'lt have my death too at thy door!"
Harsh as these words seem, she spoke them in a milder tone of voice than she had yet used. But the idea of Jem on the gallows, Jem dead, took possession of Mary, and she covered her eyes with her wan hands, as if indeed to shut out the fearful sight.
She murmured some words, which, though spoken low, as if choked up from the depths of agony, Jane Wilson caught. "My heart is breaking," said she, feebly. "My heart is breaking."
"Nonsense!" said Mrs Wilson. "Don't talk in that silly way. My heart has a better right to break than yours, and yet I hold up, you see. But, oh dear! oh dear!" with a sudden revulsion of feeling, as the reality of the danger in which her son was placed pressed upon her. "What am I saying? How could I hold up if thou wert gone, Jem? Though I'm as sure as I stand here of thy innocence, if they hang thee, my lad, I will lie down and die!"
She wept aloud with bitter consciousness of the fearful chance awaiting her child. She cried more passionately still.
Mary roused herself up.
"Oh, let me stay with you, at any rate, till we know the end. Dearest Mrs Wilson, mayn't I stay?"
The more obstinately and upbraidingly Mrs Wilson refused, the more Mary pleaded, with ever the same soft entreating cry, "Let me stay with you." Her stunned soul seemed to bound its wishes, for the hour at least, to remaining with one who loved and sorrowed for the same human being that she did.
But no. Mrs Wilson was inflexible.
"I've maybe been a bit hard on you, Mary, I'll own that. But I cannot abide you yet with me. I cannot but remember it's your giddiness as has wrought this woe. I'll stay with Alice, and perhaps Mrs Davenport may come help a bit. I cannot put up with you about me. Good night. To-morrow I may look on you different, maybe. Good night."
And Mary turned out of the house, which had been his home, where he was loved, and mourned for, into the busy, desolate, crowded street, where they were crying halfpenny broadsides, giving an account of the bloody murder, the coroner's inquest, and a raw-head-and-bloody-bones picture of the suspected murderer, James Wilson.
But Mary heard not; she heeded not. She staggered on like one in a dream. With hung head and tottering steps, she instinctively chose the shortest cut to that home which was to her, in her present state of mind, only the hiding-place of four-walls, where she might vent her agony, unseen and unnoticed by the keen unkind world without, but where no welcome, no love, no sympathizing tears awaited her.
As she neared that home, within two minutes' walk of it, her impetuous course was arrested by a light touch on her arm, and turning hastily, she saw a little Italian boy, with his humble show-box, - a white mouse, or some such thing. The setting sun cast its red glow on his face, otherwise the olive complexion would have been very pale; and the glittering tear-drops hung on the long curled eyelashes. With his soft voice, and pleading looks, he uttered, in his pretty broken English, the word -
"Hungry! so hungry."
And as if to aid by gesture the effect of the solitary word, he pointed to his mouth, with its white quivering lips.
Mary answered him impatiently, "Oh, lad, hunger is nothing - nothing!"
And she rapidly passed on. But her heart upbraided her the next minute with her unrelenting speech, and she hastily entered her door and seized the scanty remnant of food which the cupboard contained, and she retraced her steps to the place where the little hopeless stranger had sunk down by his mute companion in loneliness and starvation, and was raining down tears as he spoke in some foreign tongue, with low cries for the far distant "Mamma mia!"
With the elasticity of heart belonging to childhood he sprang up as he saw the food the girl brought; she whose face, lovely in its woe, had tempted him first to address her; and, with the graceful courtesy of his country, he looked up and smiled while he kissed her hand, and then poured forth his thanks, and shared her bounty with his little pet companion. She stood an instant, diverted from the thought of her own grief by the sight of his infantine gladness; and then bending down and kissing his smooth forehead, she left him, and sought to be alone with her agony once more.
She re-entered the house, locked the door, and tore off her bonnet, as if greedy of every moment which took her from the full indulgence of painful, despairing thought.
Then she threw herself on the ground, yes, on the hard flags she threw her soft limbs down; and the comb fell out of her hair, and those bright tresses swept the dusty floor, while she pillowed and hid her face on her arms, and burst forth into hard, suffocating sobs.
Oh, earth! thou didst seem but a dreary dwelling-place for thy poor child that night. None to comfort, none to pity! And self-reproach gnawing at her heart.
Oh, why did she ever listen to the tempter? Why did she ever give ear to her own suggestions, and cravings after wealth and grandeur? Why had she thought it a fine thing to have a rich lover?
She - she had deserved it all; but he was the victim, - he, the beloved. She could not conjecture, she could not even pause to think who had revealed, or how he had discovered her acquaintance with Harry Carson. It was but too clear, some way or another, he had learnt all; and what would he think of her? No hope of his love, - oh, that she would give up, and be content; it was his life, his precious life, that was threatened! Then she tried to recall the particulars, which, when Mrs Wilson had given them, had fallen but upon a deafened ear, - something about a gun, a quarrel, which she could not remember clearly. Oh, how terrible to think of his crime, his blood-guiltiness; he who had hitherto been so good, so noble, and now an assassin! And then she shrank from him in thought; and then, with bitter remorse, clung more closely to his image with passionate self-upbraiding. Was it not she who had led him to the pit into which he had fallen? Was she to blame him? She to judge him? Who could tell how maddened he might have been by jealousy; how one moment's uncontrollable passion might have led him to become a murderer? And she had blamed him in her heart after his last deprecating, imploring, prophetic speech!
Then she burst out crying afresh; and when weary of crying, fell to thinking again. The gallows! The gallows! Black they stood against the burning light which dazzled her shut eyes, press on them as she would. Oh! she was going mad; and for awhile she lay outwardly still, but with the pulses careering through her head with wild vehemence.
And then came a strange forgetfulness of the present, in thought of the long-past times; - of those days when she hid her face on her mother's pitying, loving bosom, and heard tender words of comfort, be her grief or her error what it might; - of those days when she had felt as if her mother's love was too mighty not to last for ever; - of those days when hunger had been to her (as to the little stranger she had that evening relieved) something to be thought about, and mourned over; - when Jem and she had played together; he, with the condescension of an older child, and she, with unconscious earnestness, believing that he was as much gratified with important trifles as she was; - when her father was a cheery-hearted man, rich in the love of his wife, and the companionship of his friend; - when (for it still worked round to that), when mother was alive, and he was not a murderer.
And then Heaven blessed her unaware, and she sank from remembering to wandering, unconnected thought, and thence to sleep. Yes! it was sleep, though in that strange posture, on that hard cold bed; and she dreamt of the happy times of long ago, and her mother came to her, and kissed her as she lay, and once more the dead were alive again in that happy world of dreams. All was restored to the gladness of childhood, even to the little kitten which had been her playmate and bosom friend then, and which had been long forgotten in her waking hours. All the loved ones were there!
She suddenly wakened! Clear and wide awake! Some noise had startled her from sleep. She sat up, and put her hair (still wet with tears) back from her flushed cheeks, and listened. At first she could only hear her beating heart. All was still without, for it was after midnight, such hours of agony had passed away; but the moon shone clearly in at the unshuttered window, making the room almost as light as day, in its cold ghastly radiance. There was a low knock at the door! A strange feeling crept over Mary's heart, as it something spiritual were near; as if the dead, so lately present in her dreams, were yet gliding and hovering round her, with their dim, dread forms. And yet, why dread? Had they not loved her? - and who loved her now? Was she not lonely enough to welcome the spirits of the dead, who had loved her while here? If her mother had conscious being, her love for her child endured. So she quieted her fears, and listened - listened still.
"Mary! Mary! open the door!" as a little movement on her part seemed to tell the being outside of her wakeful, watchful state. They were the accents of her mother's voice; the very south-country pronunciation, that Mary so well remembered; and which she had sometimes tried to imitate when alone, with the fond mimicry of affection.
So, without fear, without hesitation, she rose and unbarred the door. There, against the moonlight, stood a form, so closely resembling her dead mother, that Mary never doubted the identity, but exclaiming (as if she were a terrified child, secure of safety when near the protecting care of its parent) -
"Oh mother! mother! You are come at last?" she threw herself, or rather fell, into the trembling arms of her long-lost, unrecognized Aunt Esther.