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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesMary Barton - Chapter XXVII - In the Liverpool docks.
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Mary Barton - Chapter XXVII - In the Liverpool docks. Post by :Christian Category :Long Stories Author :Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell Date :June 2011 Read :2580

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Mary Barton - Chapter XXVII - In the Liverpool docks.

Chapter XXVII - In the Liverpool docks


"Yon is our quay!
Hark to the clamour in that miry road,
Bounded and narrowed by yon vessel's load;
The lumbering wealth she empties round the place,
Package and parcel, hogshead, chest, and case;
While the loud seaman and the angry hind,
Mingling in business, bellow to the wind."
--CRABBE.

Mary staggered into the house. Mrs. Jones placed her tenderly in a
chair, and there stood bewildered by her side.

"O father! father!" muttered she, "what have you done!--What must I
do? must the innocent die?--or he--whom I fear--I fear--oh! what am
I saying?" said she, looking round affrighted, and, seemingly
reassured by Mrs. Jones's countenance, "I am so helpless, so weak--
but a poor girl, after all. How can I tell what is right? Father!
you have always been so kind to me,--and you to be--never mind--
never mind, all will come right in the grave."

"Save us, and bless us!" exclaimed Mrs. Jones, "if I don't think
she's gone out of her wits!"

"No, I am not," said Mary, catching at the words, and with a strong
effort controlling the mind she felt to be wandering, while the red
blood flushed to scarlet the heretofore white cheek,--"I'm not out
of my senses; there is so much to be done--so much--and no one but
me to do it, you know--though I can't rightly tell what it is,"
looking up with bewilderment into Mrs. Jones's face. "I must not go
mad whatever comes--at least not yet. No!" (bracing herself up)
"something may yet be done, and I must do it. Sailed! did you say?
The John Cropper? Sailed?"

"Ay! she went out of dock last night, to be ready for the morning's
tide."

"I thought she was not to sail till to-morrow," murmured Mary.

"So did Will (he's lodged here long, so we all call him 'Will'),"
replied Mrs. Jones. "The mate had told him so, I believe, and he
never knew different till he got to Liverpool on Friday morning; but
as soon as he heard, he gave up going to the Isle o' Man, and just
ran over to Rhyl with the mate, one John Harris, as has friends a
bit beyond Abergele; you may have heard him speak on him; for they
are great chums, though I've my own opinion of Harris."

"And he's sailed?" repeated Mary, trying by repetition to realise
the fact to herself.

"Ay, he went on board last night to be ready for the morning's tide,
as I said afore, and my boy went to see the ship go down the river,
and came back all agog with the sight. Here, Charley, Charley!"

She called out loudly for her son; but Charley was one of those boys
who are never "far to seek," as the Lancashire people say, when
anything is going on; a mysterious conversation, an unusual event, a
fire, or a riot, anything in short; such boys are the little
omnipresent people of this world.

Charley had, in fact, been spectator and auditor all this time;
though for a little while he had been engaged in "dollying" and a
few other mischievous feats in the washing line, which had prevented
his attention from being fully given to his mother's conversation
with the strange girl who had entered.

"O Charley! there you are! Did you not see the John Cropper sail
down the river this morning? Tell the young woman about it, for I
think she hardly credits me."

"I saw her tugged down the river by a steamboat, which comes to the
same thing," replied he.

"Oh! if I had but come last night!" moaned Mary. "But I never
thought of it. I never thought but what he knew right when he said
he would be back from the Isle of Man on Monday morning, and not
afore--and now some one must die for my negligence!"

"Die!" exclaimed the lad. "How?"

"Oh! Will would have proved an alibi,--but he's gone,--and what am I
to do?"

"Don't give it up yet," cried the energetic boy, interested at once
in the case; "let's have a try for him. We are but where we were,
if we fail."

Mary roused herself. The sympathetic "we" gave her heart and hope.

"But what can be done? You say he's sailed; what can be done?" But
she spoke louder, and in a more life-like tone.

"No! I did not say he'd sailed; mother said that, and women know
nought about such matters. You see" (proud of his office of
instructor, and insensibly influenced, as all about her were, by
Mary's sweet, earnest, lovely countenance), "there's sandbanks at
the mouth of the river, and ships can't get over them but at
high-water; especially ships of heavy burden, like the John Cropper.
Now she was tugged down the river at low water, or pretty near, and
will have to lie some time before the water will be high enough to
float her over the banks. So hold up your head,--you've a chance
yet, though, maybe, but a poor one."

"But what must I do?" asked Mary, to whom all this explanation had
been a vague mystery.

"Do!" said the boy impatiently, "why, have not I told you? Only
women (begging your pardon) are so stupid at understanding about
anything belonging to the sea;--you must get a boat, and make all
haste, and sail after him,--after the John Cropper. You may
overtake her, or you may not. It's just a chance; but she's heavy
laden, and that's in your favour. She'll draw many feet of water."

Mary had humbly and eagerly (oh, how eagerly!) listened to this
young Sir Oracle's speech; but try as she would, she could only
understand that she must make haste, and sail--somewhere.

"I beg your pardon," (and her little acknowledgment of inferiority
in this speech pleased the lad, and made him her still more zealous
friend). "I beg your pardon," said she, "but I don't know where to
get a boat. Are there boat-stands?"

The lad laughed outright.

"You're not long in Liverpool, I guess. Boat-stands! No; go down
to the pier,--any pier will do, and hire a boat,--you'll be at no
loss when once you are there. Only make haste."

"Oh, you need not tell me that, if I but knew how," said Mary,
trembling with eagerness. "But you say right,--I never was here
before, and I don't know my way to the place you speak on; only tell
me, and I'll not lose a minute."

"Mother!" said the wilful lad, "I'm going to show her the way to the
pier; I'll be back in an hour,--or so," he added in a lower tone.

And before the gentle Mrs. Jones could collect her scattered wits
sufficiently to understand half of the hastily-formed plan, her son
was scudding down the street, closely followed by Mary's
half-running steps.

Presently he slackened his pace sufficiently to enable him to enter
into conversation with Mary, for once escaped from the reach of his
mother's recalling voice, he thought he might venture to indulge his
curiosity.

"Ahem!--What's your name? It's so awkward to be calling you young
woman."

"My name is Mary,--Mary Barton," answered she, anxious to propitiate
one who seemed so willing to exert himself in her behalf, or else
she grudged every word which caused the slightest relaxation in her
speed, although her chest seemed tightened, and her head throbbing,
from the rate at which they were walking.

"And you want Will Wilson to prove an alibi--is that it?"

"Yes--oh, yes,--can we not cross now?"

"No, wait a minute; it's the teagle hoisting above your head I'm
afraid of; and who is it that's to be tried?"

"Jem; oh, lad! can't we get past?"

They rushed under the great bales quivering in the air above their
heads and pressed onward for a few minutes, till Master Charley
again saw fit to walk a little slower, and ask a few more questions.

"Mary, is Jem your brother, or your sweetheart, that you're so set
upon saving him?"

"No--no," replied she, but with something of hesitation, that made
the shrewd boy yet more anxious to clear up the mystery.

"Perhaps he's your cousin, then? Many a girl has a cousin who has
not a sweetheart."

"No, he's neither kith nor kin to me. What's the matter? What are
you stopping for?" said she, with nervous terror, as Charley turned
back a few steps, and peered up a side street.

"Oh, nothing to flurry you so, Mary. I heard you say to mother you
had never been in Liverpool before, and if you'll only look up this
street you may see the back windows of our Exchange. Such a
building as yon is! with 'natomy hiding under a blanket, and Lord
Admiral Nelson, and a few more people in the middle of the court!
No! come here," as Mary, in her eagerness, was looking at any window
that caught her eye first, to satisfy the boy. "Here then, now you
can see it. You can say, now, you've seen Liverpool Exchange."

"Yes, to be sure--it's a beautiful window, I'm sure. But are we
near the boats? I'll stop as I come back, you know; only I think
we'd better get on now."

"Oh! if the wind's in your favour you'll be down the river in no
time, and catch Will, I'll be bound; and if it's not, why, you know
the minute it took you to look at the Exchange will be neither here
nor there."

Another rush onwards, till one of the long crossings near the Docks
caused a stoppage, and gave Mary time for breathing, and Charley
leisure to ask another question.

"You've never said where you come from?"

"Manchester," replied she.

"Eh, then! you've a power of things to see. Liverpool beats
Manchester hollow, they say. A nasty, smoky hole, bean't it? Are
you bound to live there?"

"Oh, yes! it's my home."

"Well, I don't think I could abide a home in the middle of smoke.
Look there! now you see the river. That's something now you'd give
a deal for in Manchester. Look!"

And Mary did look, and saw down an opening made in the forest of
masts belonging to the vessels in dock, the glorious river, along
which white-sailed ships were gliding with the ensigns of all
nations, not "braving the battle," but telling of the distant lands,
spicy or frozen, that sent to that mighty mart for their comforts or
their luxuries; she saw small boats passing to and fro on that
glittering highway, but she also saw such puffs and clouds of smoke
from the countless steamers, that she wondered at Charley's
intolerance of the smoke of Manchester. Across the swing-bridge,
along the pier,--and they stood breathless by a magnificent dock,
where hundreds of ships lay motionless during the process of loading
and unloading. The cries of the sailors, the variety of languages
used by the passers-by, and the entire novelty of the sight compared
with anything which Mary had ever seen, made her feel most helpless
and forlorn; and she clung to her young guide as to one who alone by
his superior knowledge could interpret between her and the new race
of men by whom she was surrounded,--for a new race sailors might
reasonably be considered, to a girl who had hitherto seen none but
inland dwellers, and those for the greater part factory people.

In that new world of sight and sound, she still bore one prevailing
thought, and though her eye glanced over the ships and the
wide-spreading river, her mind was full of the thought of reaching
Will.

"Why are we here?" asked she of Charley. "There are no little boats
about, and I thought I was to go in a little boat; those ships are
never meant for short distances, are they?"

"To be sure not," replied he, rather contemptuously. "But the John
Cropper lay in this dock, and I know many of the sailors; and if I
could see one I knew, I'd ask him to run up the mast, and see if he
could catch a sight of her in the offing. If she's weighed her
anchor, no use for your going, you know."

Mary assented quietly to this speech, as if she were as careless as
Charley seemed now to be about her overtaking Will; but in truth her
heart was sinking within her, and she no longer felt the energy
which had hitherto upheld her. Her bodily strength was giving way,
and she stood cold and shivering, although the noonday sun beat down
with considerable power on the shadeless spot where she was
standing.

"Here's Tom Bourne!" said Charley; and altering his manner from the
patronising key in which he had spoken to Mary, he addressed a
weather-beaten old sailor who came rolling along the pathway where
they stood, his hands in his pockets, and his quid in his mouth,
with very much the air of one who had nothing to do but look about
him, and spit right and left; addressing this old tar, Charley made
known to him his wish in slang, which to Mary was almost inaudible,
and quite unintelligible, and which I am too much of a land-lubber
to repeat correctly.

Mary watched looks and actions with a renovated keenness of
perception.

She saw the old man listen attentively to Charley; she saw him eye
her over from head to foot, and wind up his inspection with a little
nod of approbation (for her very shabbiness and poverty of dress
were creditable signs to the experienced old sailor), and then she
watched him leisurely swing himself on to a ship in the basin, and,
borrowing a glass, run up the mast with the speed of a monkey.

"He'll fall!" said she, in affright, clutching at Charley's arm, and
judging the sailor, from his storm-marked face and unsteady walk on
land, to be much older than he really was.

"Not he!" said Charley. "He's at the mast-head now. See! he's
looking through his glass, and using his arms as steady as if he
were on dry land. Why, I've been up the mast, many and many a time;
only don't tell mother. She thinks I'm to be a shoemaker, but I've
made up my mind to be a sailor; only there's no good arguing with a
woman. You'll not tell her, Mary?"

"Oh, see!" exclaimed she (his secret was very safe with her, for, in
fact, she had not heard it); "see! he's coming down; he's down.
Speak to him, Charley."

But, unable to wait another instant, she called out herself--

"Can you see the John Cropper? Is she there yet?"

"Ay, ay," he answered, and coming quickly up to them, he hurried
them away to seek for a boat, saying the bar was already covered,
and in an hour the ship would hoist her sails and be off.

"You've the wind right against you, and must use oars. No time to
lose."

They ran to some steps leading down to the water. They beckoned to
some watermen, who, suspecting the real state of the case, appeared
in no hurry for a fare, but leisurely brought their boat alongside
the stairs, as if it were a matter of indifference to them whether
they were engaged or not, while they conversed together in few
words, and in an undertone, respecting the charge they should make.

"Oh, pray make haste," called Mary. "I want you to take me to the
John Cropper. Where is she, Charley? Tell them--I don't rightly
know the words--only make haste!"

"In the offing she is, sure enough, miss," answered one of the men,
shoving Charley on one side, regarding him as too young to be a
principal in the bargain.

"I don't think we can go, Dick," said he, with a wink to his
companion; "there's the gentleman over at New Brighton as wants
us."

"But, mayhap, the young woman will pay us handsome for giving her a
last look at her sweetheart," interposed the other.

"Oh, how much do you want? Only make haste--I've enough to pay you,
but every moment is precious," said Mary.

"Ay, that it is. Less than an hour won't take us to the mouth of
the river, and she'll be off by two o'clock!"

Poor Mary's ideas of "plenty of money," however, were different to
those entertained by the boatmen. Only fourteen or fifteen
shillings remained out of the sovereign Margaret had lent her, and
the boatmen, imagining "plenty" to mean no less than several pounds,
insisted upon receiving a sovereign (an exorbitant fare, by-the-bye,
although reduced from their first demand of thirty shillings).

While Charley, with a boy's impatience of delay, and disregard to
money, kept urging--

"Give it 'em, Mary; they'll none of them take you for less. It's
your only chance. There's St. Nicholas ringing one!"

"I've only got fourteen and ninepence," cried she in despair, after
counting over her money; "but I'll give you my shawl, and you can
sell it for four or five shillings--oh! won't that much do?" asked
she, in such a tone of voice, that they must indeed have had hard
hearts who could refuse such agonised entreaty.

They took her on board.

And in less than five minutes she was rocking and tossing in a boat
for the first time in her life, alone with two rough, hard-looking
men.

Content of Chapter XXVII - In the Liverpool docks (Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell's novel: Mary Barton)

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