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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesMary Barton - Chapter XXXI - How Mary passed the night.
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Mary Barton - Chapter XXXI - How Mary passed the night. Post by :panca Category :Long Stories Author :Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell Date :June 2011 Read :1824

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Mary Barton - Chapter XXXI - How Mary passed the night.

Chapter XXXI - How Mary passed the night


"To think
That all this long interminable night,
Which I have passed in thinking on two words--
'Guilty'--'Not Guilty!'--like one happy moment
O'er many a head hath flown unheeded by;
O'er happy sleepers dreaming in their bliss
Of bright to-morrows--or far happier still,
With deep breath buried in forgetfulness.
O all the dismallest images of death
Did swim before my eyes!"
--WILSON.

And now, where was Mary?

How Job's heart would have been relieved of one of its cares if he
could have seen her: for he was in a miserable state of anxiety
about her; and many and many a time through that long night he
scolded her and himself; her for her obstinacy, and himself for his
weakness in yielding to her obstinacy, when she insisted on being
the one to follow and find out Will.

She did not pass that night in bed any more than Job; but she was
under a respectable roof, and among kind, though rough people.

She had offered no resistance to the old boatman, when he had
clutched her arm, in order to insure her following him, as he
threaded the crowded dock-ways, and dived up strange by-streets.
She came on meekly after him, scarcely thinking in her stupor where
she was going, and glad (in a dead, heavy way) that some one was
deciding things for her.

He led her to an old-fashioned house, almost as small as house could
be, which had been built long ago, before all the other part of the
street, and had a country-town look about it in the middle of that
bustling back-street. He pulled her into the house-place; and
relieved to a certain degree of his fear of losing her on the way,
he exclaimed--

"There!" giving a great slap of one hand on her back.

The room was light and bright, and roused Mary (perhaps the slap on
her back might help a little too), and she felt the awkwardness of
accounting for her presence to a little bustling old woman who had
been moving about the fireplace on her entrance. The boatman took
it very quietly, never deigning to give any explanation, but sitting
down in his own particular chair, and chewing tobacco, while he
looked at Mary with the most satisfied air imaginable, half
triumphantly, as if she were the captive of his bow and spear, and
half defying, as if daring her to escape.

The old woman, his wife, stood still, poker in hand, waiting to
be told who it was that her husband had brought home so
unceremoniously; but, as she looked in amazement, the girl's cheek
flushed, and then blanched to a dead whiteness; a film came over her
eyes, and catching at the dresser for support in that hot whirling
room, she fell in a heap on the floor.

Both man and wife came quickly to her assistance. They raised her
up, still insensible, and he supported her on one knee, while his
wife pattered away for some cold fresh water. She threw it straight
over Mary; but though it caused a great sob, the eyes still remained
closed, and the face as pale as ashes.

"Who is she, Ben?" asked the woman, as she rubbed her unresisting,
powerless hands.

"How should I know?" answered her husband gruffly.

"Well-a-well!" (in a soothing tone, such as you use to irritated
children), and as if half to herself, "I only thought you might, you
know, as you brought her home. Poor thing! we must not ask aught
about her, but that she needs help. I wish I'd my salts at home,
but I lent 'em to Mrs. Burton, last Sunday in church, for she could
not keep awake through the sermon. Dear-a-me, how white she is!"

"Here! you hold her up a bit," said her husband.

She did as he desired, still crooning to herself, not caring for his
short, sharp interruptions as she went on; and, indeed, to her old,
loving heart, his crossest words fell like pearls and diamonds, for
he had been the husband of her youth; and even he, rough and crabbed
as he was, was secretly soothed by the sound of her voice, although
not for worlds, if he could have helped it, would he have shown any
of the love that was hidden beneath his rough outside.

"What's the old fellow after?" said she, bending over Mary, so as to
accommodate the drooping head. "Taking my pen, as I've had for
better nor five year. Bless us, and save us! he's burning it! Ay,
I see now, he's his wits about him; burnt feathers is always good
for a faint. But they don't bring her round, poor wench! Now
what's he after next? Well! he is a bright one, my old man! That I
never thought of that, to be sure!" exclaimed she, as he produced a
square bottle of smuggled spirits, labelled "Golden Wasser," from a
corner cupboard in their little room.

"That'll do!" said she, as the dose he poured into Mary's open mouth
made her start and cough. "Bless the man. It's just like him to be
so tender and thoughtful!"

"Not a bit!" snarled he, as he was relieved by Mary's returning
colour, and opened eyes, and wondering, sensible gaze; "not a bit.
I never was such a fool afore."

His wife helped Mary to rise, and placed her in a chair.

"All's right, now, young woman?" asked the boatman anxiously.

"Yes, sir, and thank you. I'm sure, sir, I don't know rightly how
to thank you," faltered Mary softly forth.

"Be hanged to you and your thanks." And he shook himself, took his
pipe, and went out without deigning another word; leaving his wife
sorely puzzled as to the character and history of the stranger
within her doors.

Mary watched the boatman leave the house, and then, turning her
sorrowful eyes to the face of her hostess, she attempted feebly to
rise, with the intention of going away,--where she knew not.

"Nay! nay! whoe'er thou be'st, thou'rt not fit to go out into the
street. Perhaps" (sinking her voice a little) "thou'rt a bad one; I
almost misdoubt thee, thou'rt so pretty. Well-a-well! it's the bad
ones as have the broken hearts, sure enough; good folk never get
utterly cast down, they've always getten hope in the Lord; it's the
sinful as bear the bitter, bitter grief in their crushed hearts,
poor souls; it's them we ought, most of all, to pity and help. She
shanna leave the house to-night, choose who she is--worst woman in
Liverpool, she shanna. I wished I knew where th' old man picked her
up, that I do."

Mary had listened feebly to this soliloquy, and now tried to satisfy
her hostess in weak, broken sentences.

"I'm not a bad one, missis, indeed. Your master took me out to see
after a ship as had sailed. There was a man in it as might save a
life at the trial to-morrow. The captain would not let him come,
but he says he'll come back in the pilot-boat." She fell to sobbing
at the thought of her waning hopes, and the old woman tried to
comfort her, beginning with her accustomed--

"Well-a-well! and he'll come back, I'm sure. I know he will; so
keep up your heart. Don't fret about it. He's sure to be back."

"Oh! I'm afraid! I'm sore afraid he won't," cried Mary, consoled,
nevertheless, by the woman's assertions, all groundless as she knew
them to be.

Still talking half to herself and half to Mary, the old woman
prepared tea, and urged her visitor to eat and refresh herself. But
Mary shook her head at the proffered food, and only drank a cup of
tea with thirsty eagerness. For the spirits had thrown her into a
burning heat, and rendered each impression received through her
senses of the most painful distinctness and intensity, while her
head ached in a terrible manner.

She disliked speaking, her power over her words seemed so utterly
gone. She used quite different expressions to those she intended.
So she kept silent, while Mrs. Sturgis (for that was the name of her
hostess) talked away, and put her tea-things by, and moved about
incessantly, in a manner that increased the dizziness in Mary's
head. She felt as if she ought to take leave for the night and go.
But where?

Presently the old man came back, crosser and gruffer than when he
went away. He kicked aside the dry shoes his wife had prepared for
him, and snarled at all she said. Mary attributed this to his
finding her still there, and gathered up her strength for an effort
to leave the house. But she was mistaken. By-and-by, he said
(looking right into the fire, as if addressing it), "Wind's right
against them!"

"Ay, ay, and is it so?" said his wife, who, knowing him well, knew
that his surliness proceeded from some repressed sympathy.
"Well-a-well, wind changes often at night. Time enough before
morning. I'd bet a penny it has changed sin' thou looked."

She looked out of her little window at a weathercock near,
glittering in the moonlight; and as she was a sailor's wife, she
instantly recognised the unfavourable point at which the indicator
seemed stationary, and giving a heavy sigh, turned into the room,
and began to beat about in her own mind for some other mode of
comfort.

"There's no one else who can prove what you want at the trial
to-morrow, is there?" asked she.

"No one!" answered Mary.

"And you've no clue to the one as is really guilty, if t'other is
not?"

Mary did not answer, but trembled all over.

Sturgis saw it.

"Don't bother her with thy questions," said he to his wife. "She
mun go to bed, for she's all in a shiver with the sea-air. I'll see
after the wind, hang it, and the weathercock too. Tide will help
'em when it turns."

Mary went upstairs murmuring thanks and blessings on those who took
the stranger in. Mrs. Sturgis led her into a little room redolent
of the sea and foreign lands. There was a small bed for one son
bound for China; and a hammock slung above for another, who was now
tossing in the Baltic. The sheets looked made out of sail-cloth,
but were fresh and clean in spite of their brownness.

Against the wall were wafered two rough drawings of vessels with
their names written underneath, on which the mother's eyes caught,
and gazed until they filled with tears. But she brushed the drops
away with the back of her hand, and in a cheerful tone went on to
assure Mary the bed was well aired.

"I cannot sleep, thank you. I will sit here, if you please," said
Mary, sinking down on the window-seat.

"Come, now," said Mrs. Sturgis, "my master told me to see you to
bed, and I mun. What's the use of watching? A watched pot never
boils, and I see you are after watching that weathercock. Why now,
I try never to look at it, else I could do nought else. My heart
many a time goes sick when the wind rises, but I turn away and work
away, and try never to think on the wind, but on what I ha' getten
to do."

"Let me stay up a little," pleaded Mary, as her hostess seemed so
resolute about seeing her to bed.

Her looks won her suit.

"Well, I suppose I mun. I shall catch it downstairs, I know. He'll
be in a fidget till you're getten to bed, I know; so you mun be
quiet if you are so bent upon staying up."

And quietly, noiselessly, Mary watched the unchanging weathercock
through the night. She sat on the little window seat, her hand
holding back the curtain which shaded the room from the bright
moonlight without; her head resting its weariness against the corner
of the window-frame; her eyes burning and stiff with the intensity
of her gaze.

The ruddy morning stole up the horizon, casting a crimson glow into
the watcher's room.

It was the morning of the day of trial!

Content of Chapter XXXI - How Mary passed the night (Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell's novel: Mary Barton)

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