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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesMary Barton - Chapter XXV - Mrs. Wilson's determination.
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Mary Barton - Chapter XXV - Mrs. Wilson's determination. Post by :vonjohn Category :Long Stories Author :Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell Date :June 2011 Read :2988

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Mary Barton - Chapter XXV - Mrs. Wilson's determination.

Chapter XXV - Mrs. Wilson's determination


"Something there was, what, none presumed to say,
Clouds lightly passing on a smiling day,--
Whispers and hints which went from ear to ear,
And mixed reports no judge on earth could clear."
--CRABBE.

"Curious conjectures he may always make,
And either side of dubious questions take."
--IBID.

Mary went home. Oh! how her head did ache, and how dizzy her brain
was growing! But there would be time enough she felt for giving way
hereafter.

So she sat quiet and still by an effort; sitting near the window,
and looking out of it, but seeing nothing, when all at once she
caught sight of something which roused her up, and made her draw
back.

But it was too late. She had been seen.

Sally Leadbitter flaunted into the little dingy room, making it
gaudy with the Sunday excess of colouring in her dress.

She was really curious to see Mary; her connection with a murderer
seemed to have made her into a sort of lusus naturae, and was
almost, by some, expected to have made a change in her personal
appearance, so earnestly did they stare at her. But Mary had been
too much absorbed the last day or two to notice this.

Now Sally had a grand view, and looked her over and over (a very
different thing from looking her through and through), and almost
learnt her off by heart:--"Her every-day gown (Hoyle's print you
know, that lilac thing with the high body) she was so fond of; a
little black silk handkerchief just knotted round her neck, like a
boy; her hair all taken back from her face, as if she wanted to keep
her head cool--she would always keep that hair of hers so long; and
her hands twitching continually about"--

Such particulars would make Sally into a Gazette Extraordinary the
next morning at the workroom and were worth coming for, even if
little else could be extracted from Mary.

"Why, Mary!" she began. "Where have you hidden yourself? You never
showed your face all yesterday at Miss Simmonds's. You don't fancy
we think any the worse of you for what's come and gone. Some on us,
indeed, were a bit sorry for the poor young man, as lies stiff and
cold for your sake, Mary; but we shall ne'er cast it up against you.
Miss Simmonds, too, will be mighty put out if you don't come, for
there's a deal of mourning, agait."

"I can't," Mary said, in a low voice. "I don't mean ever to come
again."

"Why, Mary!" said Sally, in unfeigned surprise. "To be sure, you'll
have to be in Liverpool, Tuesday, and maybe Wednesday; but after
that you'll surely come, and tell us all about it. Miss Simmonds
knows you'll have to be off those two days. But between you and me,
she's a bit of a gossip, and will like hearing all how and about the
trial, well enough to let you off very easy for your being absent a
day or two. Besides, Betsy Morgan was saying yesterday, she
shouldn't wonder but you'd prove quite an attraction to customers.
Many a one would come and have their gowns made by Miss Simmonds
just to catch a glimpse at you, at after the trial's over. Really,
Mary, you'll turn out quite a heroine."

The little fingers twitched worse than ever; the large soft eyes
looked up pleadingly into Sally's face; but she went on in the same
strain, not from any unkind or cruel feeling towards Mary, but
solely because she was incapable of comprehending her suffering.

She had been shocked, of course, at Mr. Carson's death, though at
the same time the excitement was rather pleasant than otherwise; and
dearly now would she have enjoyed the conspicuous notice which Mary
was sure to receive.

"How shall you like being cross-examined, Mary?"

"Not at all," answered Mary, when she found she must answer.

"La! what impudent fellows those lawyers are! And their clerks,
too, not a bit better. I shouldn't wonder" (in a comforting tone,
and really believing she was giving comfort) "if you picked up a new
sweetheart in Liverpool. What gown are you going in, Mary?"

"Oh, I don't know and don't care," exclaimed Mary, sick and weary of
her visitor.

"Well, then! take my advice, and go in that blue merino. It's old
to be sure, and a bit worn at elbows, but folk won't notice that,
and th' colour suits you. Now mind, Mary. And I'll lend you my
black-watered scarf," added she really good-naturedly, according to
her sense of things, and withal, a little bit pleased at the idea of
her pet article of dress figuring away on the person of a witness at
a trial for murder. "I'll bring it to-morrow before you start."

"No, don't!" said Mary; "thank you, but I don't want it."

"Why, what can you wear? I know all your clothes as well as I do my
own, and what is there you can wear? Not your old plaid shawl, I do
hope? You would not fancy this I have on, more nor the scarf, would
you?" said she, brightening up at the thought, and willing to lend
it, or anything else.

"O Sally! don't go on talking a-that-ns; how can I think on dress at
such a time? When it's a matter of life and death to Jem?"

"Bless the girl! It's Jem, is it? Well now, I thought there was
some sweetheart in the background, when you flew off so with Mr.
Carson. Then what, in the name of goodness, made him shoot Mr.
Harry? After you had given up going with him, I mean? Was he
afraid you'd be on again?"

"How dare you say he shot Mr. Harry?" asked Mary, firing up from the
state of languid indifference into which she had sunk while Sally
had been settling about her dress. "But it's no matter what you
think as did not know him. What grieves me is, that people should
go on thinking him guilty as did know him," she said, sinking back
into her former depressed tone and manner.

"And don't you think he did it?" asked Sally.

Mary paused; she was going on too fast with one so curious and so
unscrupulous. Besides, she remembered how even she herself had, at
first, believed him guilty; and she felt it was not for her to cast
stones at those who, on similar evidence, inclined to the same
belief. None had given him much benefit of a doubt. None had faith
in his innocence. None but his mother; and the heart loved more
than the head reasoned, and her yearning affection had never for an
instant entertained the idea that her Jem was a murderer. But Mary
disliked the whole conversation; the subject, the manner in which it
was treated, were all painful, and she had a repugnance to the
person with whom she spoke.

She was thankful, therefore, when Job Legh's voice was heard at the
door, as he stood with the latch in his hand, talking to a
neighbour, and when Sally jumped up in vexation and said, "There's
that old fogey coming in here, as I'm alive! Did your father set
him to look after you while he was away? or what brings the old chap
here? However, I'm off; I never could abide either him or his prim
grand-daughter. Good-bye, Mary."

So far in a whisper, then louder, "If you think better of my offer
about the scarf, Mary, just step in to-morrow before nine, and
you're quite welcome to it."

She and Job passed each other at the door, with mutual looks of
dislike, which neither took any pains to conceal.

"Yon's a bold, bad girl," said Job to Mary.

"She's very good-natured," replied Mary, too honourable to abuse a
visitor, who had only that instant crossed her threshold, and gladly
dwelling on the good quality most apparent in Sally's character.

"Ay, ay! good-natured, generous, jolly, full of fun; there are a
number of other names for the good qualities the devil leaves his
children, as baits to catch gudgeons with. D'ye think folk could be
led astray by one who was every way bad? Howe'er, that's not what I
came to talk about. I've seen Mr. Bridgnorth, and he is in a manner
the same mind as we; he thinks it would have an awkward look, and
might tell against the poor lad on his trial; still if she's ill
she's ill, and it can't be helped."

"I don't know if she's so bad as all that," said Mary, who began to
dread her part in doing anything which might tell against her poor
lover. "Will you come and see her, Job? The doctor seemed to say
as I liked, not as he thought."

"That's because he had no great thought on the subject, either one
way or t'other," replied Job, whose contempt for medical men pretty
nearly equalled his respect for lawyers. "But I'll go and welcome.
I han not seen th' ould ladies since their sorrows, and it's but
manners to go and ax after them. Come along."

The room at Mrs. Wilson's had that still, changeless look you must
have often observed in the house of sickness or mourning. No
particular employment going on; people watching and waiting rather
than acting, unless in the more sudden and violent attacks: what
little movement is going on, so noiseless and hushed; the furniture
all arranged and stationary, with a view to the comfort of the
afflicted; the window-blinds drawn down to keep out the disturbing
variety of a sunbeam; the same saddened serious look on the faces of
the indwellers: you fall back into the same train of thought with
all these associations, and forget the street, the outer world, in
the contemplation of the one stationary, absorbing interest within.

Mrs. Wilson sat quietly in her chair, with just the same look Mary
had left on her face; Mrs. Davenport went about with creaking shoes
which made all the more noise from her careful and lengthened tread,
annoying the ears of those who were well, in this instance, far more
than the dull senses of the sick and the sorrowful. Alice's voice
still was going on cheerfully in the upper room with incessant
talking and little laughs to herself, or perhaps in sympathy with
her unseen companions; "unseen," I say, in preference to "fancied,"
for who knows whether God does not permit the forms of those who
were dearest when living, to hover round the bed of the dying?

Job spoke, and Mrs. Wilson answered.

So quietly that it was unnatural under the circumstances. It made a
deeper impression on the old man than any token of mere bodily
illness could have done. If she had raved in delirium, or moaned in
fever, he could have spoken after his wont, and given his opinion,
his advice, and his consolation: now he was awed into silence.

At length he pulled Mary aside into a corner of the house-place,
where Mrs. Wilson was sitting, and began to talk to her.

"Yo're right, Mary! She's no ways fit to go to Liverpool, poor
soul. Now I've seen her I only wonder the doctor could ha' been
unsettled in his mind at th' first. Choose how it goes wi' poor
Jem, she cannot go. One way or another it will soon be over; the
best to leave her in the state she is till then."

"I was sure you would think so," said Mary.

But they were reckoning without their host. They esteemed her
senses gone, while, in fact, they were only inert, and could not
convey impressions rapidly to the overburdened, troubled brain.
They had not noticed that her eyes had followed them (mechanically
it seemed at first) as they had moved away to the corner of the
room; that her face, hitherto so changeless, had begun to work with
one or two of the old symptoms of impatience.

But when they were silent she stood up, and startled them almost as
if a dead person had spoken, by saying clearly and decidedly--

"I go to Liverpool. I hear you and your plans; and I tell you I
shall go to Liverpool. If my words are to kill my son, they have
already gone forth out of my mouth, and nought can bring them back.
But I will have faith. Alice (up above) has often telled me I
wanted faith, and now I will have it. They cannot--they will not
kill my child, my only child. I will not be afeard. Yet oh! I am
so sick with terror. But if he is to die, think ye not that I will
see him again; ay! see him at his trial? When all are hating him,
he shall have his poor mother near him, to give him all the comfort,
eyes, and looks, and tears, and a heart that is dead to all but him,
can give; his poor mother, who knows how free he is from sin--in the
sight of man at least. They'll let me go to him, maybe, the very
minute it's over; and I know many Scripture texts (though you would
not think it), that may keep up his heart. I missed seeing him ere
he went to yon prison, but nought shall keep me away again one
minute when I can see his face; for maybe the minutes are numbered,
and the count but small. I know I can be a comfort to him, poor
lad. You would not think it, now, but he'd always speak as kind and
soft to me as if he were courting me, like. He loved me above a
bit; and am I to leave him now to dree all the cruel slander they'll
put upon him? I can pray for him at each hard word they say against
him, if I can do nought else; and he'll know what his mother is
doing for him, poor lad, by the look on my face."

Still they made some look, or gesture of opposition to her wishes.
She turned sharp round on Mary, the old object of her pettish
attacks, and said, "Now, wench! once for all, I tell you this. HE
could never guide me; and he'd sense enough not to try. What he
could na do, don't you try. I shall go to Liverpool tomorrow, and
find my lad, and stay with him through thick and thin; and if he
dies, why, perhaps, God of His mercy will take me too. The grave is
a sure cure for an aching heart!"

She sank back in her chair, quite exhausted by the sudden effort she
had made; but if they even offered to speak, she cut them short
(whatever the subject might be), with the repetition of the same
words, "I shall go to Liverpool."

No more could be said, the doctor's opinion had been so undecided;
Mr. Bridgnorth had given his legal voice in favour of her going, and
Mary was obliged to relinquish the idea of persuading her to remain
at home, if, indeed, under all the circumstances, it could be
thought desirable.

"Best way will be," said Job, "for me to hunt out Will, early
tomorrow morning, and yo, Mary, come at after with Jane Wilson. I
know a decent woman where yo two can have a bed, and where we may
meet together when I've found Will, afore going to Mr. Bridgnorth's
at two o'clock; for, I can tell him, I'll not trust none of his
clerks for hunting up Will, if Jem's life's to depend on it."

Now Mary disliked this plan inexpressibly; her dislike was partly
grounded on reason, and partly on feeling. She could not bear the
idea of deputing to any one the active measures necessary to be
taken in order to save Jem. She felt as if they were her duty, her
right. She durst not trust to any one the completion of her plan:
they might not have energy, or perseverance, or desperation enough
to follow out the slightest chance; and her love would endow her
with all these qualities independently of the terrible alternative
which awaited her in case all failed and Jem was condemned. No one
could have her motives; and consequently no one could have her
sharpened brain, her despairing determination. Besides (only that
was purely selfish), she could not endure the suspense of remaining
quiet, and only knowing the result when all was accomplished.

So with vehemence and impatience she rebutted every reason Job
adduced for his plan; and of course, thus opposed, by what appeared
to him wilfulness, he became more resolute, and angry words were
exchanged, and a feeling of estrangement rose up between them, for a
time, as they walked homewards.

But then came in Margaret with her gentleness, like an angel of
peace, so calm and reasonable, that both felt ashamed of their
irritation, and tacitly left the decision to her (only, by the way,
I think Mary could never have submitted if it had gone against her,
penitent and tearful as was her manner now to Job, the good old man
who was helping her to work for Jem, although they differed as to
the manner).

"Mary had better go," said Margaret to her grandfather, in a low
tone; "I know what she's feeling, and it will be a comfort to her
soon, maybe, to think she did all she could herself. She would,
perhaps, fancy it might have been different; do, grandfather, let
her."

Margaret had still, you see, little or no belief in Jem's innocence
and besides, she thought if Mary saw Will, and heard herself from
him that Jem had not been with him that Thursday night, it would in
a measure break the force of the blow which was impending.

"Let me lock up house, grandfather, for a couple of days, and go and
stay with Alice. It's but little one like me can do, I know" (she
added softly); "but, by the blessing o' God, I'll do it and welcome;
and here comes one kindly use o' money, I can hire them as will do
for her what I cannot. Mrs. Davenport is a willing body, and one
who knows sorrow and sickness, and I can pay her for her time, and
keep her there pretty near altogether. So let that be settled. And
you take Mrs. Wilson, dear grandad, and let Mary go find Will, and
you can all meet together at after, and I'm sure I wish you luck."

Job consented with only a few dissenting grunts; but on the whole
with a very good grace for an old man who had been so positive only
a few minutes before.

Mary was thankful for Margaret's interference. She did not speak,
but threw her arms round Margaret's neck, and put up her rosy-red
mouth to be kissed; and even Job was attracted by the pretty,
child-like gesture; and when she drew near him, afterwards, like a
little creature sidling up to some person whom it feels to have
offended, he bent down and blessed her, as if she had been a child
of his own.

To Mary the old man's blessing came like words of power.

Content of Chapter XXV - Mrs. Wilson's determination (Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell's novel: Mary Barton)

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