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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesMary Barton - Chapter XXIII - The sub-poena.
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Mary Barton - Chapter XXIII - The sub-poena. Post by :foryourf Category :Long Stories Author :Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell Date :June 2011 Read :1336

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Mary Barton - Chapter XXIII - The sub-poena.

Chapter XXIII - The sub-poena

"And must it then depend on this poor eye
And this unsteady hand, whether the bark,
That bears my all of treasured hope and love,
Shall find a passage through these frowning rocks
To some fair port where peace and safety smile,--
Or whether it shall blindly dash against them,
And miserably sink? Heaven be my help;
And clear my eye and nerve my trembling hand!"

Her heart beating, her head full of ideas, which required time and
solitude to be reduced into order, Mary hurried home. She was like
one who finds a jewel of which he cannot all at once ascertain the
value, but who hides his treasure until some quiet hour when he may
ponder over the capabilities its possession unfolds. She was like
one who discovers the silken clue which guides to some bower of
bliss, and secure of the power within his grasp, has to wait for a
time before he may thread the labyrinth.

But no jewel, no bower of bliss was ever so precious to miser or
lover as was the belief which now pervaded Mary's mind that Jem's
innocence might be proved, without involving any suspicion of that
other--that dear one, so dear, although so criminal--on whose part
in this cruel business she dared not dwell even in thought. For if
she did there arose the awful question,--if all went against Jem the
innocent, if judge and jury gave the verdict forth which had the
looming gallows in the rear, what ought she to do, possessed of her
terrible knowledge? Surely not to inculpate her father--and yet--
and yet--she almost prayed for the blessed unconsciousness of death
or madness, rather than that awful question should have to be
answered by her.

But now a way seemed opening, opening yet more clear. She was
thankful she had thought of the alibi, and yet more thankful to have
so easily obtained the clue to Jem's whereabouts that miserable
night. The bright light that her new hope threw over all seemed
also to make her thankful for the early time appointed for the
trial. It would be easy to catch Will Wilson on his return from the
Isle of Man, which he had planned should be on the Monday; and on
the Tuesday all would be made clear--all that she dared to wish to
be made clear.

She had still to collect her thoughts and freshen her memory enough
to arrange how to meet with Will--for to the chances of a letter she
would not trust; to find out his lodgings when in Liverpool; to try
and remember the name of the ship in which he was to sail: and the
more she considered these points, the more difficulty she found
there would be in ascertaining these minor but important facts. For
you are aware that Alice, whose memory was clear and strong on all
points in which her heart was interested, was lying in a manner
senseless: that Jane Wilson was (to use her own word, so
expressive to a Lancashire ear) "dazed"; that is to say, bewildered,
lost in the confusion of terrifying and distressing thoughts;
incapable of concentrating her mind; and at the best of times Will's
proceedings were a matter of little importance to her (or so she
pretended), she was so jealous of aught which distracted attention
from her pearl of price, her only son Jem. So Mary felt hopeless of
obtaining any intelligence of the sailor's arrangements from her.

Then, should she apply to Jem himself? No! she knew him too well.
She felt how thoroughly he must ere now have had it in his power to
exculpate himself at another's expense. And his tacit refusal so to
do, had assured her of what she had never doubted, that the murderer
was safe from any impeachment of his. But then neither would he
consent, she feared, to any steps which might tend to prove himself
innocent. At any rate, she could not consult him. He was removed
to Kirkdale, and time pressed. Already it was Saturday at noon.
And even if she could have gone to him, I believe she would not.
She longed to do all herself; to be his liberator, his deliverer; to
win him life, though she might never regain his lost love by her own
exertions! And oh! how could she see him to discuss a subject in
which both knew who was the bloodstained man; and yet whose name
might not be breathed by either, so dearly with all his faults, his
sins, was he loved by both.

All at once, when she had ceased to try and remember, the name of
Will's ship flashed across her mind. The John Cropper.

He had named it, she had been sure, all along. He had named it in
his conversation with her that last, that fatal Thursday evening.
She repeated it over and over again, through a nervous dread of
again forgetting it. The John Cropper.

And then, as if she were rousing herself out of some strange stupor,
she bethought her of Margaret. Who so likely as Margaret to
treasure every little particular respecting Will, now Alice was dead
to all the stirring purposes of life?

She had gone thus far in her process of thought, when a neighbour
stepped in; she with whom they had usually deposited the house-key,
when both Mary and her father were absent from home, and who
consequently took upon herself to answer all inquiries, and receive
all messages which any friends might make, or leave, on finding the
house shut up.

"Here's somewhat for you, Mary! A policeman left it."

A bit of parchment.

Many people have a dread of those mysterious pieces of parchment. I
am one. Mary was another. Her heart misgave her as she took it,
and looked at the unusual appearance of the writing, which, though
legible enough, conveyed no idea to her, or rather her mind shut
itself up against receiving any idea, which after all was rather a
proof she had some suspicion of the meaning that awaited her.

"What is it?" asked she, in a voice from which all the pith and
marrow seemed extracted.

"Nay! how should I know? Policeman said he'd call again towards
evening, and see if you'd getten it. He were loth to leave it,
though I telled him who I was, and all about my keeping th' key, and
taking messages."

"What is it about?" asked Mary again, in the same hoarse, feeble
voice, and turning it over in her fingers, as if she dreaded to
inform herself of its meaning.

"Well! yo can read word of writing and I cannot, so it's queer I
should have to tell you. But my master says it's a summons for yo
to bear witness again Jem Wilson, at th' trial at Liverpool Assize."

"God pity me!" said Mary faintly, as white as a sheet.

"Nay, wench, never take on so. What yo can say will go little way
either to help or to hinder, for folk say he's certain to be hung;
and sure enough, it was t'other one as was your sweetheart."

Mary was beyond any pang this speech would have given at another
time. Her thoughts were all busy picturing to herself the terrible
occasion of their next meeting--not as lovers meet should they meet!

"Well!" said the neighbour, seeing no use in remaining with one who
noticed her words or her presence so little, "thou'lt tell policeman
thou'st getten his precious bit of paper. He seemed to think I
should be keeping it for mysel; he's the first as has ever
misdoubted me about giving messages, or notes. Good-day."

She left the house, but Mary did not know it. She sat still with
the parchment in her hand.

All at once she started up. She would take it to Job Legh and ask
him to tell her the true meaning, for it could not be THAT.

So she went, and choked out her words of inquiry.

"It's a sub-poena," he replied, turning the parchment over with the
air of a connoisseur; for Job loved hard words, and lawyer-like
forms, and even esteemed himself slightly qualified for a lawyer,
from the smattering of knowledge he had picked up from an odd volume
of Blackstone that he had once purchased at a bookstall.

"A sub-poena--what is that?" gasped Mary, still in suspense.

Job was struck with her voice, her changed miserable voice, and
peered at her countenance from over his spectacles.

"A sub-poena is neither more nor less than this, my dear. It's a
summonsing you to attend, and answer such questions as may be asked
of you regarding the trial of James Wilson, for the murder of Henry
Carson; that's the long and short of it, only more elegantly put,
for the benefit of them who knows how to value the gift of language.
I've been a witness beforetime myself; there's nothing much to be
afeard on; if they are impudent, why, just you be impudent, and give
'em tit for tat."

"Nothing much to be afeard on!" echoed Mary, but in such a different

"Ay, poor wench, I see how it is. It'll go hard with thee a bit, I
dare say; but keep up thy heart. Yo cannot have much to tell 'em,
that can go either one way or th' other. Nay! maybe thou may do him
a bit o' good, for when they set eyes on thee, they'll see fast
enough how he came to be so led away by jealousy; for thou'rt a
pretty creature, Mary, and one look at thy face will let 'em into
th' secret of a young man's madness, and make 'em more ready to pass
it over."

"O Job, and won't you ever believe me when I tell you he's innocent?
Indeed, and indeed I can prove it; he was with Will all that night;
he was, indeed, Job!"

"My wench! whose word hast thou for that?" said Job pityingly.

"Why! his mother told me, and I'll get Will to bear witness to it.
But, oh! Job" (bursting into tears), "it is hard if you won't
believe me. How shall I clear him to strangers, when those who know
him, and ought to love him, are so set against his being innocent?"

"God knows, I'm not against his being innocent," said Job solemnly.
"I'd give half my remaining days on earth--I'd give them all, Mary
(and but for the love I bear to my poor blind girl, they'd be no
great gift), if I could save him. You've thought me hard, Mary, but
I'm not hard at bottom, and I'll help you if I can; that I will,
right or wrong," he added; but in a low voice, and coughed the
uncertain words away the moment afterwards.

"O Job! if you will help me," exclaimed Mary, brightening up (though
it was but a wintry gleam after all), "tell me what to say, when
they question me; I shall be so gloppened,* I shan't know what to

*Gloppened; terrified.

"Thou canst do nought better than tell the truth. Truth's best at
all times, they say; and for sure it is when folk have to do with
lawyers; for they're 'cute and cunning enough to get it out sooner
or later, and it makes folk look like Tom Noddies, when truth
follows falsehood, against their will."

"But I don't know the truth; I mean--I can't say rightly what I
mean; but I'm sure, if I were pent up, and stared at by hundreds of
folk, and asked ever so simple a question, I should be for answering
it wrong; if they asked me if I had seen you on a Saturday, or a
Tuesday, or any day, I should have clean forgotten all about it, and
say the very thing I should not."

"Well, well, don't go for to get such notions into your head;
they're what they call 'narvous,' and talking on 'em does no good.
Here's Margaret! bless the wench! Look, Mary, how well she guides

Job fell to watching his grand-daughter, as with balancing, measured
steps, timed almost as if to music, she made her way across the

Mary shrank as if from a cold blast--shrank from Margaret! The
blind girl, with her reserve, her silence, seemed to be a severe
judge; she, listening, would be such a check to the trusting
earnestness of confidence, which was beginning to unlock the
sympathy of Job. Mary knew herself to blame; felt her errors in
every fibre of her heart; but yet she would rather have had them
spoken about, even in terms of severest censure, than have been
treated in the icy manner in which Margaret had received her that

"Here's Mary," said Job, almost as if he wished to propitiate his
grand-daughter, "come to take a bit of dinner with us, for I'll
warrant she's never thought of cooking any for herself to-day; and
she looks as wan and pale as a ghost."

It was calling out the feeling of hospitality, so strong and warm in
most of those who have little to offer, but whose heart goes eagerly
and kindly with that little. Margaret came towards Mary with a
welcoming gesture, and a kinder manner by far than she had used in
the morning.

"Nay, Mary, thou know'st thou'st getten naught at home," urged Job.

And Mary, faint and weary, and with a heart too aching-full of other
matters to be pertinacious in this, withdrew her refusal.

They ate their dinner quietly; for to all it was an effort to speak:
and after one or two attempts they had subsided into silence.

When the meal was ended Job began again on the subject they all had
at heart.

"Yon poor lad at Kirkdale will want a lawyer to see they don't put
on him, but do him justice. Hast thought of that?"

Mary had not, and felt sure his mother had not.

Margaret confirmed this last supposition.

"I've but just been there, and poor Jane is like one dateless; so
many griefs come on her at once. One time she seems to make sure
he'll be hung; and if I took her in that way, she flew out (poor
body!) and said that in spite of what folks said, there were them as
could, and would prove him guiltless. So I never knew where to have
her. The only thing she was constant in, was declaring him

"Mother-like!" said Job.

"She meant Will, when she spoke of them that could prove him
innocent. He was with Will on Thursday night, walking a part of the
way with him to Liverpool; now the thing is to lay hold on Will and
get him to prove this." So spoke Mary, calm, from the earnestness
of her purpose.

"Don't build too much on it, my dear," said Job.

"I do build on it," replied Mary, "because I know it's the truth,
and I mean to try and prove it, come what may. Nothing you can say
will daunt me, Job, so don't you go and try. You may help, but you
cannot hinder me doing what I'm resolved on."

They respected her firmness of determination, and Job almost gave in
to her belief, when he saw how steadfastly she was acting upon it.
Oh! surest way of conversion to our faith, whatever it may be--
regarding either small things, or great--when it is beheld as the
actuating principle, from which we never swerve! When it is seen
that, instead of overmuch profession, it is worked into the life,
and moves every action!

Mary gained courage as she instinctively felt she had made way with
one at least of her companions.

"Now I'm clear about this much," she continued, "he was with Will
when the--shot was fired."--(she could not bring herself to say,
when the murder was committed, when she remembered WHO it was that,
she had every reason to believe, was the taker-away of life)--"Will
can prove this: I must find Will. He wasn't to sail till Tuesday.
There's time enough. He was to come back from his uncle's, in the
Isle of Man, on Monday. I must meet him in Liverpool, on that day,
and tell him what has happened, and how poor Jem is in trouble, and
that he must prove an alibi, come Tuesday. All this I can and will
do, though perhaps I don't clearly know how, just at present. But
surely God will help me. When I know I'm doing right, I will have
no fear, but put my trust in Him; for I'm acting for the innocent
and good, and not for my own self, who have done so wrong. I have
no fear when I think of Jem, who is so good."

She stopped, oppressed with the fulness of her heart. Margaret
began to love her again; to see in her the same sweet, faulty,
impulsive, lovable creature she had known in the former Mary Barton,
but with more of dignity, self-reliance, and purpose.

Mary spoke again.

"Now I know the name of Will's vessel--the John Cropper; and I know
that she is bound to America. That is something to know. But I
forgot, if I ever heard, where he lodges in Liverpool. He spoke of
his landlady, as a good, trustworthy woman; but if he named her
name, it has slipped my memory. Can you help me, Margaret?"

She appealed to her friend calmly and openly, as if perfectly aware
of, and recognising the unspoken tie which bound her and Will
together; she asked her in the same manner in which she would have
asked a wife where her husband dwelt. And Margaret replied in the
like calm tone, two spots of crimson on her cheeks alone bearing
witness to any internal agitation.

"He lodges at a Mrs. Jones', Milk-House Yard, out of Nicholas
Street. He has lodged there ever since he began to go to sea; she
is a very decent kind of woman, I believe."

"Well, Mary! I'll give you my prayers" said Job. "It's not often I
pray regular, though I often speak a word to God, when I'm either
very happy or very sorry; I've catched myself thanking Him at odd
hours when I've found a rare insect, or had a fine day for an out;
but I cannot help it, no more than I can talking to a friend. But
this time I'll pray regular for Jem, and for you. And so will
Margaret, I'll be bound. Still, wench! what think yo of a lawyer?
I know one, Mr. Cheshire, who's rather given to th' insect line--and
a good kind o' chap. He and I have swopped specimens many's the
time, when either of us had a duplicate. He'll do me a kind turn
I'm sure. I'll just take my hat, and pay him a visit."

No sooner said, than done.

Margaret and Mary were left alone. And this seemed to bring back
the feeling of awkwardness, not to say estrangement.

But Mary, excited to an unusual pitch of courage, was the first to
break silence.

"O Margaret!" said she, "I see--I feel how wrong you think I have
acted; you cannot think me worse than I think myself, now my eyes
are opened." Here her sobs came choking up her voice.

"Nay," Margaret began, "I have no right to"--

"Yes, Margaret, you have a right to judge; you cannot help it; only
in your judgment remember mercy, as the Bible says. You, who have
been always good, cannot tell how easy it is at first to go a little
wrong, and then how hard it is to go back. Oh! I little thought
when I was first pleased with Mr. Carson's speeches, how it would
all end; perhaps in the death of him I love better than life."

She burst into a passion of tears. The feelings pent up through the
day would have vent. But checking herself with a strong effort, and
looking up at Margaret as piteously as if those calm, stony eyes
could see her imploring face, she added--

"I must not cry; I must not give way; there will be time enough for
that hereafter, if--I only wanted you to speak kindly to me,
Margaret, for I am very, very wretched; more wretched than any one
can ever know; more wretched, I sometimes fancy, than I have
deserved--but that's wrong, isn't it, Margaret? Oh! I have done
wrong, and I am punished: you cannot tell how much."

Who could resist her voice, her tones of misery, of humility? Who
would refuse the kindness for which she begged so penitently? Not
Margaret. The old friendly manner came back. With it, maybe, more
of tenderness.

"Oh! Margaret, do you think he can be saved; do you think they can
find him guilty, if Will comes forward as a witness? Won't that be
a good alibi?"

Margaret did not answer for a moment.

"Oh, speak! Margaret," said Mary, with anxious impatience.

"I know nought about law, or alibis," replied Margaret meekly; "but,
Mary, as grandfather says, aren't you building too much on what Jane
Wilson has told you about his going with Will? Poor soul, she's
gone dateless, I think, with care, and watching, and overmuch
trouble; and who can wonder? Or Jem may have told her he was going,
by way of a blind."

"You don't know Jem," said Mary, starting from her seat in a hurried
manner, "or you would not say so."

"I hope I may be wrong! but think, Mary, how much there is against
him. The shot was fired with his gun; he it was as threatened Mr.
Carson not many days before; he was absent from home at that very
time, as we know, and, as I'm much afeard, some one will be called
on to prove; and there's no one else to share suspicion with him."

Mary heaved a deep sigh.

"But, Margaret, he did not do it," Mary again asserted.

Margaret looked unconvinced.

"I can do no good, I see, by saying so, for none on you believe me,
and I won't say so again till I can prove it. Monday morning I'll
go to Liverpool. I shall be at hand for the trial. O dear! dear!
And I will find Will; and then, Margaret, I think you'll be sorry
for being so stubborn about Jem."

"Don't fly off, dear Mary; I'd give a deal to be wrong. And now I'm
going to be plain spoken. You'll want money. Them lawyers is no
better than a sponge for sucking up money; let alone your hunting
out Will, and your keep in Liverpool, and what not. You must take
some of the mint I've got laid by in the old tea-pot. You have no
right to refuse, for I offer it to Jem, not to you; it's for his
purposes you're to use it."

"I know--I see. Thank you, Margaret; you're a kind one at any rate.
I take it for Jem; and I'll do my very best with it for him. Not
all, though; don't think I'll take all. They'll pay me for my keep.
I'll take this," accepting a sovereign from the hoard which Margaret
produced out of its accustomed place in the cupboard. "Your
grandfather will pay the lawyer, I'll have nought to do with him,"
shuddering as she remembered Job's words, about lawyers' skill in
always discovering the truth, sooner or later; and knowing what was
the secret she had to hide.

"Bless you! don't make such ado about it," said Margaret, cutting
short Mary's thanks. "I sometimes think there's two sides to the
commandment; and that we may say, 'Let others do unto you, as you
would do unto them,' for pride often prevents our giving others a
great deal of pleasure, in not letting them be kind, when their
hearts are longing to help; and when we ourselves should wish to do
just the same, if we were in their place. Oh! how often I've been
hurt, by being coldly told by persons not to trouble myself about
their care, or sorrow, when I saw them in great grief, and wanted to
be of comfort. Our Lord Jesus was not above letting folk minister
to Him, for He knew how happy it makes one to do aught for another.
It's the happiest work on earth."

Mary had been too much engrossed by watching what was passing in the
street to attend very closely to that which Margaret was saying.
From her seat she could see out of the window pretty plainly, and
she caught sight of a gentleman walking alongside of Job, evidently
in earnest conversation with him, and looking keen and penetrating
enough to be a lawyer. Job was laying down something to be attended
to she could see, by his uplifted forefinger, and his whole gesture;
then he pointed and nodded across the street to his own house, as if
inducing his companion to come in. Mary dreaded lest he should, and
she be subjected to a closer cross-examination than she had hitherto
undergone, as to why she was so certain that Jem was innocent. She
feared he was coming; he stepped a little towards the spot. No! it
was only to make way for a child, tottering along, whom Mary had
overlooked. Now Job took him by the button, so earnestly familiar
had he grown. The gentleman looked "fidging fain" to be gone, but
submitted in a manner that made Mary like him in spite of his
profession. Then came a volley of last words, answered by briefest
nods, and monosyllables; and then the stranger went off with
redoubled quickness of pace, and Job crossed the street with a
little satisfied air of importance on his kindly face.

"Well! Mary," said he on entering, "I've seen the lawyer, not Mr.
Cheshire though; trials for murder, it seems, are not his line o'
business. But he gived me a note to another 'torney; a fine fellow
enough, only too much of a talker! I could hardly get a word in, he
cut me so short. However, I've just been going over the principal
points again to him; maybe you saw us! I wanted him just to come
over and speak to you himsel, Mary, but he was pressed for time; and
he said your evidence would not be much either here or there. He's
going to the 'sizes first train on Monday morning, and will see Jem,
and hear the ins and outs from him, and he's gived me his address,
Mary, and you and Will are to call on him (Will 'special) on Monday
at two o'clock. Thou'rt taking it in, Mary; thou'rt to call on him
in Liverpool at two, Monday afternoon?"

Job had reason to doubt if she fully understood him; for all this
minuteness of detail, these satisfactory arrangements, as he
considered them, only seemed to bring the circumstances in which she
was placed more vividly home to Mary. They convinced her that it
was real, and not all a dream, as she had sunk into fancying it for
a few minutes, while sitting in the old accustomed place, her body
enjoying the rest, and her frame sustained by food, and listening to
Margaret's calm voice. The gentleman she had just beheld would see
and question Jem in a few hours, and what would be the result?

Monday: that was the day after to-morrow, and on Tuesday, life and
death would be tremendous realities to her lover; or else death
would be an awful certainty to her father.

No wonder Job went over his main points again--

"Monday; at two o'clock, mind; and here's his card. 'Mr.
Bridgnorth, 41, Renshaw Street, Liverpool.' He'll be lodging

Job ceased talking, and the silence roused Mary up to thank him.

"You're very kind, Job; very. You and Margaret won't desert me,
come what will."

"Pooh! pooh! wench; don't lose heart, just as I'm beginning to get
it. He seems to think a deal on Will's evidence. You're sure,
girls, you're under no mistake about Will?"

"I'm sure," said Mary, "he went straight from here, purposing to go
to see his uncle at the Isle of Man, and be back Sunday night, ready
for the ship sailing on Tuesday."

"So am I," said Margaret. "And the ship's name was the John
Cropper, and he lodged where I told Mary before. Have you got it
down, Mary?" Mary wrote it on the back of Mr. Bridgnorth's card.

"He was not over-willing to go," said she as she wrote, "for he knew
little about his uncle, and said he didn't care if he never know'd
more. But he said kinsfolk was kinsfolk, and promises was promises,
so he'd go for a day or so, and then it would be over."

Margaret had to go and practise some singing in town; so, though
loth to depart and be alone, Mary bade her friends good-bye.

Content of Chapter XXIII - The sub-poena (Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell's novel: Mary Barton)

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Chapter XXIV - With the dying "Oh, sad and solemn is the trembling watch Of those who sit and count the heavy hours Beside the fevered sleep of one they love! Oh, awful is it in the hushed midnight, While gazing on the pallid moveless form, To start and ask, 'Is it now sleep or death?'"

Mary Barton - Chapter XXII - Mary's efforts to prove an alibi. Mary Barton - Chapter XXII - Mary's efforts to prove an alibi.

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Chapter XXII - Mary's efforts to prove an alibi "There was a listening fear in her regard, As if calamity had but begun; As if the vanward clouds of evil days Had spent their malice, and the sullen rear Was, with its stored thunder, labouring up."