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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesMary Barton - Chapter XX - Mary's dream--and the awakening.
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Mary Barton - Chapter XX - Mary's dream--and the awakening. Post by :Kim_Manning Category :Long Stories Author :Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell Date :June 2011 Read :2784

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Mary Barton - Chapter XX - Mary's dream--and the awakening.

Chapter XX - Mary's dream--and the awakening


"I saw where stark and cold he lay,
Beneath the gallows-tree,
And every one did point and say,
''Twas there he died for thee!'

* * *

"Oh! weeping heart! Oh! bleeding heart!
What boots thy pity now?
Bid from his eyes that shade depart,
That death-damp from his brow!"
--"THE BIRTLE TRAGEDY."

So there was no more peace in the house of sickness except to Alice,
the dying Alice.

But Mary knew nothing of the afternoon's occurrences; and gladly did
she breathe in the fresh air, as she left Miss Simmonds' house, to
hasten to the Wilsons'. The very change, from the indoor to the
outdoor atmosphere, seemed to alter the current of her thoughts.
She thought less of the dreadful subject which had so haunted her
all day; she cared less for the upbraiding speeches of her
fellow-workwomen; the old association of comfort and sympathy
received from Alice gave her the idea that, even now, her bodily
presence would soothe and compose those who were in trouble,
changed, unconscious, and absent though her spirit might be.

Then, again, she reproached herself a little for the feeling of
pleasure she experienced, in thinking that he whom she dreaded could
never more beset her path; in the security with which she could pass
each street corner--each shop, where he used to lie in ambush. Oh!
beating heart! was there no other little thought of joy lurking
within, to gladden the very air without! Was she not going to meet,
to see, to hear Jem; and could they fail at last to understand each
other's loving hearts!

She softly lifted the latch, with the privilege of friendship. HE
was not there, but his mother was standing by the fire, stirring
some little mess or other. Never mind! he would come soon: and
with an unmixed desire to do her graceful duty to all belonging to
him, she stepped lightly forwards, unheard by the old lady, who was
partly occupied by the simmering, bubbling sound of her bit of
cookery; but more with her own sad thoughts, and wailing, half-
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 recognised her visitor.

"And is it thee that dares set foot in this house, after what has
come to pass? Is it not enough to have robbed me of my boy with thy
arts and thy profligacy, but thou must come here to crow over
me--me--his mother? Dost thou know where he is, thou bad hussy,
with thy great blue eyes and yellow hair, to lead men on to ruin?
Out upon thee with thy angel's face, thou whited sepulchre! Dost
thou know where Jem is, all through thee?"

"No!" quivered out poor Mary, scarcely conscious that she spoke, so
daunted, so terrified was she by the indignant mother's greeting.

"He's lying in th' New Bailey," slowly and distinctly spoke the
mother, watching the effect of her words, as if believing in their
infinite power to pain. "There he lies, waiting to take his trial
for murdering young Mr. Carson."

There was no answer; but such a blanched face, such wild, distended
eyes, such trembling limbs, instinctively seeking support!

"Did you know Mr. Carson as now lies dead?" continued the merciless
woman. "Folk say you did, and knew him but too well. And that for
the sake of such as you, my precious child shot yon chap. But he
did not. I know he did not. They may hang him, but his mother will
speak to his innocence with her last dying breath."

She stopped more from exhaustion than want of words. Mary spoke,
but in so changed and choked a voice that the old woman almost
started. It seemed as if some third person must be in the room, the
voice was so hoarse and strange.

"Please say it again. I don't quite understand you. What has Jem
done? Please to tell me."

"I never said he had done it. I said, and I'll swear, that he never
did do it. I don't care who heard 'em quarrel, or if it is his gun
as were found near the body. It's not my own Jem as would go for to
kill any man, choose how a girl had jilted him. My own good Jem, as
was a blessing sent upon the house where he was born." Tears came
into the mother's burning eyes as her heart recurred to the days
when she had rocked the cradle of her "first-born"; and then,
rapidly passing over events, till the full consciousness of his
present situation came upon her, and perhaps annoyed at having shown
any softness of character in the presence of the Delilah who had
lured him to his danger, she spoke again, and in a sharp tone.

"I told him, and told him to leave off thinking on thee; but he
wouldn't be led by me. Thee! wench! thou wert not good enough to
wipe the dust off his feet. A vile, flirting quean as thou art.
It's well thy mother does not know (poor body) what a good-
for-nothing thou art."

"Mother! O mother!" said Mary, as if appealing to the merciful dead.
"But I was not good enough for him! I know I was not," added she,
in a voice of touching humility.

For through her heart went tolling the ominous, prophetic words he
had used when he had last spoken to her--

"Mary! you'll maybe hear of me as a drunkard, and maybe as a thief,
and maybe as a murderer. Remember! when all are speaking ill of me,
yo will have no right to blame me, for it's your cruelty that will
have made me what I feel I shall become."

And she did not blame him, though she doubted not his guilt; she
felt how madly she might act if once jealous of him, and how much
cause had she not given him for jealousy, miserable guilty wretch
that she was! Speak on, desolate mother. Abuse her as you will.
Her broken spirit feels to have merited all.

But her last humble, self-abased words had touched Mrs. Wilson's
heart, sore as it was; and she looked at the snow-pale girl with
those piteous eyes, so hopeless of comfort, and she relented in
spite of herself.

"Thou seest what comes of light conduct, Mary! It's thy doing that
suspicion has lighted on him, who is as innocent as the babe unborn.
Thou'lt have much to answer for if he's hung. Thou'lt have my death
too at thy door!"

Harsh as these words seem, she spoke them in a milder tone of voice
than she had yet used. But the idea of Jem on the gallows, Jem
dead, took possession of Mary, and she covered her eyes with her wan
hands, as if indeed to shut out the fearful sight.

She murmured some words, which, though spoken low, as if choked up
from the depths of agony, Jane Wilson caught. "My heart is
breaking," said she feebly. "My heart is breaking."

"Nonsense!" said Mrs. Wilson. "Don't talk in that silly way. My
heart has a better right to break than yours, and yet I hold up, you
see. But, oh dear! oh dear!" with a sudden revulsion of feeling, as
the reality of the danger in which her son was placed pressed upon
her. "What am I saying? How could I hold up if thou wert gone,
Jem? Though I'm as sure as I stand here of thy innocence, if they
hang thee, my lad, I will lie down and die!"

She wept aloud with bitter consciousness of the fearful chance
awaiting her child. She cried more passionately still.

Mary roused herself up.

"Oh, let me stay with you, at any rate, till we know the end.
Dearest Mrs. Wilson, mayn't I stay?"

The more obstinately and upbraidingly Mrs. Wilson refused, the more
Mary pleaded, with ever the same soft entreating cry, "Let me stay
with you." Her stunned soul seem to bound its wishes, for the hour
at least, to remaining with one who loved and sorrowed for the same
human being that she did.

But no. Mrs. Wilson was inflexible.

"I've, maybe, been a bit hard on you, Mary, I'll own that. But I
cannot abide you yet with me. I cannot but remember it's your
giddiness as has wrought this woe. I'll stay with Alice, and
perhaps Mrs. Davenport may come help a bit. I cannot put up with
you about me. Good-night. To-morrow I may look on you different,
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 sympathising tears awaited her.

As she neared that home, within two minutes' walk of it, her
impetuous course was arrested by a light touch on her arm, and
turning hastily she saw a little Italian boy with his humble
show-box, a white mouse, or some such thing. The setting sun cast
its red glow on his face, otherwise the olive complexion would have
been very pale; and the glittering tear-drops hung on the
long-curled eye-lashes. With his soft voice and pleading looks, he
uttered, in his pretty broken English, the words--

"Hungry! so hungry."

And as if to aid by gesture the effect of the solitary word, he
pointed to his mouth, with its white quivering lips.

Mary answered him impatiently, "O lad, hunger is nothing--nothing!"

And she rapidly passed on. But her heart upbraided her the next
minute with her unrelenting speech, and she hastily entered her door
and seized the scanty remnant of food which the cupboard contained,
and she retraced her steps to the place where the little hopeless
stranger had sunk down by his mute companion in loneliness and
starvation, and was raining down tears as he spoke in some foreign
tongue, with low cries for the far distant "Mamma mia!"

With the elasticity of heart belonging to childhood he sprang up as
he saw the food the girl brought; she whose face, lovely in its woe,
had tempted him first to address her; and, with the graceful
courtesy of his country, he looked up and smiled while he kissed her
hand, and then poured forth his thanks, and shared her bounty with
his little pet companion. She stood an instant, diverted from the
thought of her own grief by the sight of his infantine gladness; and
then bending down and kissing his smooth forehead, she left him, and
sought to be alone with her agony once more.

She re-entered the house, locked the door, and tore off her bonnet,
as if greedy of every moment which took her from the full indulgence
of painful, despairing thought.

Then she threw herself on the ground, yes, on the hard flags she
threw her soft limbs down; and the comb fell out of her hair, and
those bright tresses swept the dusty floor, while she pillowed and
hid her face on her arms, and burst forth into loud, suffocating
sobs.

O earth! thou didst seem but a dreary dwelling-place for thy poor
child that night. None to comfort, none to pity! And self-reproach
gnawing at her heart.

Oh, why did she ever listen to the tempter? Why did she ever give
ear to her own suggestions, and cravings after wealth and grandeur?
Why had she thought it a fine thing to have a rich lover?

She--she had deserved it all: but he was the victim,--he, the
beloved. She could not conjecture, she could not even pause to
think who had revealed, or how he had discovered her acquaintance
with Harry Carson. It was but too clear, some way or another, he
had learnt all; and what would he think of her? No hope of his
love,--oh, that she would give up, and be content: it was his
life, his precious life, that was threatened! Then she tried to
recall the particulars, which, when Mrs. Wilson had given them, had
fallen but upon a deafened ear,--something about a gun, a quarrel,
which she could not remember clearly. Oh, how terrible to think of
his crime, his blood-guiltiness; he who had hitherto been so good,
so noble, and now an assassin! And then she shrank from him in
thought; and then, with bitter remorse, clung more closely to his
image with passionate self-upbraiding. Was it not she who had led
him to the pit into which he had fallen? Was she to blame him? She
to judge him? Who could tell how maddened he might have been by
jealousy; how one moment's uncontrollable passion might have led him
to become a murderer! And she had blamed him in her heart after his
last deprecating, imploring, prophetic speech!

Then she burst out crying afresh; and when weary of crying, fell to
thinking again. The gallows! The gallows! Black it stood against
the burning light which dazzled her shut eyes, press on them as she
would. Oh! she was going mad; and for awhile she lay outwardly
still, but with the pulses careering through her head with wild
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 if something spiritual were near; as if the dead, so lately
present in her dreams, were yet gliding and hovering round her, with
their dim, dread forms. And yet, why dread? Had they not loved
her?--and who loved her now? Was she not lonely enough to welcome
the spirits of the dead, who had loved her while here? If her
mother had conscious being, her love for her child endured. So she
quieted her fears, and listened--listened still.

"Mary! Mary! open the door!" as a little movement on her part
seemed to tell the being outside of her wakeful, watchful state.
They were the accents of her mother's voice; the very south-country
pronunciation, that Mary so well remembered; and which she had
sometimes tried to imitate when alone, with the fond mimicry of
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)--

"O mother! mother! you are come at last?" she threw herself, or
rather fell, into the trembling arms of her long-lost, unrecognised
aunt, Esther.

Content of Chapter XX - Mary's dream--and the awakening (Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell's novel: Mary Barton)

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