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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesMary Barton - Chapter XXXII - The trial and verdict--"Not guilty!"
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Mary Barton - Chapter XXXII - The trial and verdict--'Not guilty!' Post by :badcat1 Category :Long Stories Author :Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell Date :June 2011 Read :2561

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Mary Barton - Chapter XXXII - The trial and verdict--"Not guilty!"

Chapter XXXII - The trial and verdict--"Not guilty!"


"Thou stand'st here arraign'd,
That with presumption impious and accurs'd,
Thou hast usurp'd God's high prerogative,
Making thy fellow mortal's life and death
Wait on thy moody and diseased passions;
That with a violent and untimely steel
Hath set abroach the blood that should have ebbed
In calm and natural current: to sum all
In one wild name--a name the pale air freezes at,
And every cheek of man sinks in with horror--
Thou art a cold and midnight murderer."
--MILMAN'S "FAZIO."

Of all the restless people who found that night's hours agonising
from excess of anxiety, the poor father of the murdered man was
perhaps the most restless. He had slept but little since the blow
had fallen; his waking hours had been too full of agitated thought,
which seemed to haunt and pursue him through his unquiet slumbers.

And this night of all others was the most sleepless. He turned over
and over again in his mind the wonder if everything had been done,
that could be done, to insure the conviction of Jem Wilson. He
almost regretted the haste with which he had urged forward the
proceedings, and yet, until he had obtained vengeance, he felt as if
there was no peace on earth for him (I don't know that he exactly
used the term vengeance in his thoughts; he spoke of justice, and
probably thought of his desired end as such); no peace, either
bodily or mental, for he moved up and down his bedroom with the
restless incessant tramp of a wild beast in a cage, and if he
compelled his aching limbs to cease for an instant, the twitchings
which ensued almost amounted to convulsions, and he recommenced his
walk as the lesser evil, and the more bearable fatigue.

With daylight increased power of action came; and he drove off to
arouse his attorney, and worry him with further directions and
inquiries; and when that was ended, he sat, watch in hand, until the
courts should be opened, and the trial begin.

What were all the living,--wife or daughters,--what were they in
comparison with the dead, the murdered son who lay unburied still,
in compliance with his father's earnest wish, and almost vowed
purpose, of having the slayer of his child sentenced to death,
before he committed the body to the rest of the grave?

At nine o'clock they all met at their awful place of rendezvous.

The judge, the jury, the avenger of blood, the prisoner, the
witnesses--all were gathered together within the building. And
besides these were many others, personally interested in some part
of the proceedings, in which, however, they took no part; Job Legh,
Ben Sturgis, and several others were there, amongst whom was Charley
Jones.

Job Legh had carefully avoided any questioning from Mrs. Wilson that
morning. Indeed, he had not been much in her company, for he had
risen up early to go out once more to make inquiry for Mary; and
when he could hear nothing of her, he had desperately resolved not
to undeceive Mrs. Wilson, as sorrow never came too late; and if the
blow were inevitable, it would be better to leave her in ignorance
of the impending evil as long as possible, She took her place in the
witness-room, worn and dispirited, but not anxious.

As Job struggled through the crowd into the body of the court, Mr.
Bridgnorth's clerk beckoned to him.

"Here's a letter for you from our client!"

Job sickened as he took it. He did not know why, but he dreaded a
confession of guilt, which would be an overthrow of all hope.

The letter ran as follows:--

"DEAR FRIEND,--I thank you heartily for your goodness in finding me
a lawyer, but lawyers can do no good to me, whatever they may do to
other people. But I am not the less obliged to you, dear friend. I
foresee things will go against me--and no wonder. If I was a
juryman I should say the man was guilty as had as much evidence
brought against him as may be brought against me tomorrow. So it's
no blame to them if they do. But, Job Legh, I think I need not tell
you I am as guiltless in this matter as the babe unborn, although it
is not in my power to prove it. If I did not believe that you
thought me innocent, I could not write as I do now to tell you my
wishes. You'll not forget they are the words of a man shortly to
die. Dear friend, you must take care of my mother. Not in the
money way, for she will have enough for her and Aunt Alice; but you
must let her talk to you of me; and show her that (whatever others
may do) you think I died innocent. I don't reckon she'll stay long
behind when we are all gone. Be tender with her, Job, for my sake;
and if she is a bit fractious at times, remember what she has gone
through. I know mother will never doubt me, God bless her.

"There is one other whom I fear I have loved too dearly; and yet,
the loving her has made the happiness of my life. She will think I
have murdered her lover: she will think I have caused the grief
she must be feeling. And she must go on thinking so. It is hard
upon me to say this; but she MUST. It will be best for her, and
that's all I ought to think on. But, dear Job, you are a hearty
fellow for your time of life, and may live many years to come; and
perhaps you could tell her, when you felt sure you were drawing near
your end, that I solemnly told you (as I do now) that I was innocent
of this thing. You must not tell her for many years to come: but
I cannot well bear to think on her living through a long life, and
hating the thought of me as the murderer of him she loved, and dying
with that hatred to me in her heart. It would hurt me sore in the
other world to see the look of it in her face, as it would be, till
she was told. I must not let myself think on how she must be
viewing me now.

"So God bless you, Job Legh; and no more from yours to command,

"JAMES WILSON."

Job turned the letter over and over when he had read it; sighed
deeply; and then wrapping it carefully up in a bit of newspaper he
had about him, he put it in his waistcoat pocket, and went off to
the door of the witness-room to ask if Mary Barton was there.

As the door opened he saw her sitting within, against a table on
which her folded arms were resting, and her head was hidden within
them. It was an attitude of hopelessness, and would have served to
strike Job dumb in sickness of heart, even without the sound of Mrs.
Wilson's voice in passionate sobbing, and sore lamentations, which
told him as well as words could do (for she was not within view of
the door, and he did not care to go in), that she was at any rate
partially undeceived as to the hopes he had given her last night.

Sorrowfully did Job return into the body of the court; neither Mrs.
Wilson nor Mary having seen him as he had stood at the witness-room
door.

As soon as he could bring his distracted thoughts to bear upon the
present scene, he perceived that the trial of James Wilson for the
murder of Henry Carson was just commencing. The clerk was gabbling
over the indictment, and in a minute or two there was the accustomed
question, "How say you, Guilty or Not Guilty?"

Although but one answer was expected,--was customary in all
cases,--there was a pause of dead silence, an interval of solemnity
even in this hackneyed part of the proceeding; while the prisoner at
the bar stood with compressed lips, looking at the judge with his
outward eyes, but with far other and different scenes presented to
his mental vision; a sort of rapid recapitulation of his
life,--remembrances of his childhood,--his father (so proud of him,
his first-born child),--his sweet little playfellow, Mary,--his
hopes, his love, his despair,--yet still, yet ever and ever, his
love,--the blank, wide world it had been without her love,--his
mother,--his childless mother,--but not long to be so,--not long to
be away from all she loved,--nor during that time to be oppressed
with doubt as to his innocence, sure and secure of her darling's
heart;--he started from his instant's pause, and said in a low firm
voice

"Not guilty, my lord."

The circumstances of the murder, the discovery of the body, the
causes of suspicion against Jem, were as well known to most of the
audience as they are to you, so there was some little buzz of
conversation going on among the people while the leading counsel for
the prosecution made his very effective speech.

"That's Mr. Carson, the father, sitting behind Serjeant Wilkinson!"

"What a noble-looking old man he is! so stern and inflexible, with
such classical features! Does he not remind you of some of the
busts of Jupiter?"

"I am more interested by watching the prisoner. Criminals always
interest me. I try to trace in the features common to humanity some
expression of the crimes by which they have distinguished themselves
from their kind. I have seen a good number of murderers in my day,
but I have seldom seen one with such marks of Cain on his
countenance as the man at the bar."

"Well, I am no physiognomist, but I don't think his face strikes me
as bad. It certainly is gloomy and depressed, and not unnaturally
so, considering his situation."

"Only look at his low, resolute brow, his downcast eye, his white
compressed lips. He never looks up,--just watch him."

"His forehead is not so low if he had that mass of black hair
removed, and is very square, which some people say is a good sign.
If others are to be influenced by such trifles as you are, it would
have been much better if the prison barber had cut his hair a little
previous to the trial; and as for downcast eye, and compressed lip,
it is all part and parcel of his inward agitation just now; nothing
to do with character, my good fellow."

Poor Jem! His raven hair (his mother's pride, and so often fondly
caressed by her fingers), was that, too, to have its influence
against him?

The witnesses were called. At first they consisted principally of
policemen; who, being much accustomed to giving evidence, knew what
were the material points they were called on to prove, and did not
lose the time of the court in listening to anything unnecessary.

"Clear as day against the prisoner," whispered one attorney's clerk
to another.

"Black as night, you mean," replied his friend; and they both
smiled.

"Jane Wilson! who's she? some relation, I suppose, from the name."

"The mother,--she that is to prove the gun part of the case."

"Oh, ay--I remember! Rather hard on her, too, I think."

Then both were silent, as one of the officers of the court ushered
Mrs. Wilson into the witness-box. I have often called her "the old
woman," and "an old woman," because, in truth, her appearance was so
much beyond her years, which could not be many above fifty. But
partly owing to her accident in early life, which left a stamp of
pain upon her face, partly owing to her anxious temper, partly to
her sorrows, and partly to her limping gait, she always gave me the
idea of age. But now she might have seemed more than seventy; her
lines were so set and deep, her features so sharpened, and her walk
so feeble. She was trying to check her sobs into composure, and
(unconsciously) was striving to behave as she thought would best
please her poor boy, whom she knew she had often grieved by her
uncontrolled impatience. He had buried his face in his arms, which
rested on the front of the dock (an attitude he retained during the
greater part of his trial, and which prejudiced many against him).

The counsel began the examination.

"Your name is Jane Wilson, I believe?"

"Yes, sir."

"The mother of the prisoner at the bar?"

"Yes, sir," with quivering voice, ready to break out into weeping,
but earning respect by the strong effort at self-control, prompted,
as I have said before, by her earnest wish to please her son by her
behaviour.

The barrister now proceeded to the important part of the
examination, tending to prove that the gun found on the scene of the
murder was the prisoner's. She had committed herself so fully to
the policeman, that she could not well retract; so without much
delay in bringing the question round to the desired point, the gun
was produced in court, and the inquiry made--

"That gun belongs to your son, does it not?"

She clenched the sides of the witness-box in her efforts to make her
parched tongue utter words. At last she moaned forth--

"Oh! Jem, Jem! what mun I say?"

Every one bent forward to hear the prisoner's answer; although, in
fact, it was of little importance to the issue of the trial. He
lifted up his head; and with a face brimming full of pity for his
mother, yet resolved into endurance, said--

"Tell the truth, mother!"

And so she did, with the fidelity of a little child. Every one felt
that she did; and the little colloquy between mother and son did
them some slight service in the opinion of the audience. But the
awful judge sat unmoved; and the jurymen changed not a muscle of
their countenances; while the counsel for the prosecution went
triumphantly through this part of the case, including the fact of
Jem's absence from home on the night of the murder, and bringing
every admission to bear right against the prisoner.

It was over. She was told to go down. But she could no longer
compel her mother's heart to keep silence, and suddenly turning
towards the judge (with whom she imagined the verdict to rest), she
thus addressed him with her choking voice--

"And now, sir, I've telled you the truth, and the whole truth, as he
bid me; but don't you let what I have said go for to hang him; oh,
my lord judge, take my word for it, he's as innocent as the child as
has yet to be born. For sure, I, who am his mother, and have nursed
him on my knee, and been gladdened by the sight of him every day
since, ought to know him better than yon pack of fellows"
(indicating the jury, while she strove against her heart to render
her words distinct and clear for her dear son's sake), "who, I'll go
bail, never saw him before this morning in all their born days. My
lord judge, he's so good I often wondered what harm there was in
him; many is the time when I've been fretted (for I'm frabbit enough
at times), when I've scold't myself, and said: 'You ungrateful
thing, the Lord God has given you Jem, and isn't that blessing
enough for you?' But He has seen fit to punish me. If Jem is--if
Jem is--taken from me, I shall be a childless woman; and very poor,
having nought left to love on earth, and I cannot say 'His will be
done.' I cannot, my lord judge, oh, I cannot."

While sobbing out these words she was led away by the officers of
the court, but tenderly, and reverently, with the respect which
great sorrow commands.

The stream of evidence went on and on, gathering fresh force from
every witness who was examined, and threatening to overwhelm poor
Jem. Already they had proved that the gun was his, that he had been
heard not many days before the commission of the deed to threaten
the deceased; indeed, that the police had, at that time, been
obliged to interfere, to prevent some probable act of violence. It
only remained to bring forward a sufficient motive for the threat
and the murder. The clue to this had been furnished by the
policeman, who had overheard Jem's angry language to Mr. Carson; and
his report in the first instance had occasioned the sub-poena to
Mary.

And now she was to be called on to bear witness. The court was by
this time almost as full as it could hold; but fresh attempts were
being made to squeeze in at all the entrances, for many were anxious
to see and hear this part of the trial.

Old Mr. Carson felt an additional beat at his heart at the thought
of seeing the fatal Helen, the cause of all,--a kind of interest and
yet repugnance, for was not she beloved by the dead; nay, perhaps,
in her way, loving and mourning for the same being that he himself
was so bitterly grieving over? And yet he felt as if he abhorred
her and her rumoured loveliness, as if she were the curse against
him; and he grew jealous of the love with which she had inspired his
son, and would fain have deprived her of even her natural right of
sorrowing over her lover's untimely end: for you see it was a
fixed idea in the minds of all, that the handsome, bright, gay, rich
young gentleman must have been beloved in preference to the serious,
almost stern-looking smith, who had to toil for his daily bread.

Hitherto the effect of the trial had equalled Mr. Carson's most
sanguine hopes, and a severe look of satisfaction came over the face
of the avenger,--over that countenance whence the smile had
departed, never more to return.

All eyes were directed to the door through which the witnesses
entered. Even Jem looked up to catch one glimpse before he hid his
face from her look of aversion. The officer had gone to fetch her.

She was in exactly the same attitude as when Job Legh had seen her
two hours before through the half-open door. Not a finger had
moved. The officer summoned her, but she did not stir. She was so
still, he thought she had fallen asleep, and he stepped forward and
touched her. She started up in an instant, and followed him with a
kind of rushing rapid motion into the court, into the witness-box.

And amid all that sea of faces, misty and swimming before her eyes,
she saw but two clear bright spots, distinct and fixed: the judge,
who might have to condemn; and the prisoner, who might have to die.

The mellow sunlight streamed down that high window on her head, and
fell on the rich treasure of her golden hair, stuffed away in masses
under her little bonnet-cap; and in those warm beams the motes kept
dancing up and down. The wind had changed--had changed almost as
soon as she had given up her watching; the wind had changed, and she
heeded it not.

Many who were looking for mere flesh and blood beauty, mere
colouring, were disappointed; for her face was deadly white, and
almost set in its expression, while a mournful bewildered soul
looked out of the depths of those soft, deep, grey eyes. But others
recognised a higher and a stranger kind of beauty; one that would
keep its hold on the memory for many after years.

I was not there myself; but one who was, told me that her look, and
indeed her whole face, was more like the well-known engraving from
Guido's picture of "Beatrice Cenci" than anything else he could give
me an idea of. He added, that her countenance haunted him, like the
remembrance of some wild sad melody, heard in childhood; that it
would perpetually recur with its mute imploring agony.

With all the court reeling before her (always save and except those
awful two), she heard a voice speak, and answered the simple inquiry
(something about her name) mechanically, as if in a dream. So she
went on for two or three more questions, with a strange wonder in
her brain, at the reality of the terrible circumstances in which she
was placed.

Suddenly she was roused, she knew not how or by what. She was
conscious that all was real, that hundreds were looking at her, that
true-sounding words were being extracted from her; that that figure,
so bowed down, with the face concealed with both hands, was really
Jem. Her face flushed scarlet, and then, paler than before. But in
dread of herself, with the tremendous secret imprisoned within her,
she exerted every power she had to keep in the full understanding of
what was going on, of what she was asked, and of what she answered.
With all her faculties preternaturally alive and sensitive, she
heard the next question from the pert young barrister, who was
delighted to have the examination of this witness.

"And pray, may I ask, which was the favoured lover? You say you
knew both these young men. Which was the favoured lover? Which did
you prefer?"

And who was he, the questioner, that he should dare so lightly to
ask of her heart's secrets? That he should dare to ask her to tell,
before that multitude assembled there, what woman usually whispers
with blushes and tears, and many hesitations, to one ear alone?

So, for an instant, a look of indignation contracted Mary's brow, as
she steadily met the eyes of the impertinent counsellor. But, in
that instant, she saw the hands removed from a face beyond, behind;
and a countenance revealed of such intense love and woe,--such a
deprecating dread of her answer; and suddenly her resolution was
taken. The present was everything; the future, that vast shroud, it
was maddening to think upon; but NOW she might own her fault, but
NOW she might even own her love. Now, when the beloved stood thus,
abhorred of men, there would be no feminine shame to stand between
her and her avowal. So she also turned towards the judge, partly to
mark that her answer was not given to the monkeyfied man who
questioned her, and likewise that the face might be averted from,
and her eyes not gaze upon, the form that contracted with the dread
of the words he anticipated.

"He asks me which of them two I liked best. Perhaps I liked Mr.
Harry Carson once--I don't know--I've forgotten; but I loved James
Wilson, that's now on trial, above what tongue can tell--above all
else on earth put together; and I love him now better than ever,
though he has never known a word of it till this minute. For you
see, sir, mother died before I was thirteen, before I could know
right from wrong about some things; and I was giddy and vain, and
ready to listen to any praise of my good looks; and this poor young
Mr. Carson fell in with me, and told me he loved me; and I was
foolish enough to think he meant me marriage: a mother is a
pitiful loss to a girl, sir: and so I used to fancy I could like
to be a lady, and rich, and never know want any more. I never found
out how dearly I loved another till one day, when James Wilson asked
me to marry him, and I was very hard and sharp in my answer (for
indeed, sir, I'd a deal to bear just then), and he took me at my
word and left me; and from that day to this I've never spoken a word
to him, or set eyes on him; though I'd fain have done so, to try and
show him we had both been too hasty; for he'd not been gone out of
my sight above a minute before I knew I loved--far above my life,"
said she, dropping her voice as she came to this second confession
of the strength of her attachment. "But, if the gentleman asks me
which I loved the best, I make answer, I was flattered by Mr.
Carson, and pleased with his flattery; but James Wilson, I--"

She covered her face with her hands, to hide the burning scarlet
blushes, which even dyed her fingers.

There was a little pause; still, though her speech might inspire
pity for the prisoner, it only strengthened the supposition of his
guilt.

Presently the counsellor went on with his examination.

"But you have seen young Mr. Carson since your rejection of the
prisoner?"

"Yes, often."

"You have spoken to him, I conclude, at these times."

"Only once, to call speaking."

"And what was the substance of your conversation? Did you tell him
you found you preferred his rival?"

"No, sir. I don't think as I've done wrong in saying, now as things
stand, what my feelings are; but I never would be so bold as to tell
one young man I cared for another. I never named Jem's name to Mr.
Carson. Never."

"Then what did you say when you had this final conversation with Mr.
Carson? You can give me the substance of it, if you don't remember
the words."

"I'll try, sir; but I'm not very clear. I told him I could not love
him, and wished to have nothing more to do with him. He did his
best to over-persuade me, but I kept steady, and at last I ran off."

"And you never spoke to him again?"

"Never!"

"Now, young woman, remember you are upon your oath. Did you ever
tell the prisoner at the bar of Mr. Henry Carson's attentions to
you? of your acquaintance, in short? Did you ever try to excite his
jealousy by boasting of a lover so far above you in station?"

"Never. I never did," said she, in so firm and distinct a manner as
to leave no doubt.

"Were you aware that he knew of Mr. Henry Carson's regard for you?
Remember you are on your oath!"

"Never, sir. I was not aware until I heard of the quarrel between
them, and what Jem had said to the policeman, and that was after the
murder. To this day I can't make out who told Jem. O sir, may not
I go down?"

For she felt the sense, the composure, the very bodily strength
which she had compelled to her aid for a time, suddenly giving way,
and was conscious that she was losing all command over herself.
There was no occasion to detain her longer; she had done her part.
She might go down. The evidence was still stronger against the
prisoner; but now he stood erect and firm, with self-respect in his
attitude, and a look of determination on his face, which almost made
it appear noble. Yet he seemed lost in thought.

Job Legh had all this time been trying to soothe and comfort Mrs.
Wilson, who would first be in the court, in order to see her
darling, and then, when her sobs became irrepressible, had to be led
out into the open air, and sat there weeping, on the steps of the
court-house. Who would have taken charge of Mary, on her release
from the witness-box, I do not know, if Mrs. Sturgis, the boatman's
wife, had not been there, brought by her interest in Mary, towards
whom she now pressed, in order to urge her to leave the scene of the
trial.

"No! no!" said Mary, to this proposition. "I must be here. I must
watch that they don't hang him, you know I must."

"Oh! they'll not hang him! never fear! Besides, the wind has
changed, and that's in his favour. Come away. You're so hot, and
first white and then red; I'm sure you're ill. Just come away."

"Oh! I don't know about anything but that I must stay," replied
Mary, in a strange hurried manner, catching hold of some rails as if
she feared some bodily force would be employed to remove her. So
Mrs. Sturgis just waited patiently by her, every now and then
peeping among the congregation of heads in the body of the court, to
see if her husband were still there. And there he always was to be
seen, looking and listening with all his might. His wife felt easy
that he would not be wanting her at home until the trial was ended.

Mary never let go her clutched hold on the rails. She wanted them
to steady her, in that heaving, whirling court. She thought the
feeling of something hard compressed within her hand would help her
to listen, for it was such pain, such weary pain in her head, to
strive to attend to what was being said. They were all at sea,
sailing away on billowy waves, and every one speaking at once, and
no one heeding her father, who was calling on them to be silent, and
listen to him. Then again, for a brief second, the court stood
still, and she could see the judge, sitting up there like an idol,
with his trappings, so rigid and stiff; and Jem, opposite, looking
at her, as if to say, Am I to die for what you know your--. Then
she checked herself, and by a great struggle brought herself round
to an instant's sanity. But the round of thought never stood still;
and off she went again; and every time her power of struggling
against the growing delirium grew fainter and fainter. She muttered
low to herself, but no one heard her except her neighbour, Mrs.
Sturgis; all were too closely attending to the case for the
prosecution, which was now being wound up.

The counsel for the prisoner had avoided much cross-examination,
reserving to himself the right of calling the witnesses forward
again; for he had received so little, and such vague instructions,
and understood that so much depended on the evidence of one who was
not forthcoming, that in fact he had little hope of establishing
anything like a show of a defence, and contented himself with
watching the case, and lying in wait for any legal objections that
might offer themselves. He lay back on the seat, occasionally
taking a pinch of snuff in a manner intended to be contemptuous; now
and then elevating his eyebrows, and sometimes exchanging a little
note with Mr. Bridgnorth behind him. The attorney had far more
interest in the case than the barrister, to which he was perhaps
excited by his poor old friend Job Legh; who had edged and wedged
himself through the crowd close to Mr. Bridgnorth's elbow, sent
thither by Ben Sturgis, to whom he had been "introduced" by Charley
Jones, and who had accounted for Mary's disappearance on the
preceding day, and spoken of their chase, their fears, their hopes.

All this was told in a few words to Mr. Bridgnorth--so few, that
they gave him but a confused idea, that time was of value; and this
he named to his counsel, who now rose to speak for the defence.

Job Legh looked about for Mary, now he had gained, and given, some
idea of the position of things. At last he saw her, standing by a
decent-looking woman, looking flushed and anxious, and moving her
lips incessantly, as if eagerly talking; her eyes never resting on
any object, but wandering about as if in search of something. Job
thought it was for him she was seeking, and he struggled to get
round to her. When he had succeeded, she took no notice of him,
although he spoke to her, but still kept looking round and round in
the same wild, restless manner. He tried to hear the low quick
mutterings of her voice, as he caught the repetition of the same
words over and over again.

"I must not go mad. I must not, indeed. They say people tell the
truth when they're mad; but I don't. I was always a liar. I was,
indeed; but I'm not mad. I must not go mad. I must not, indeed."

Suddenly she seemed to become aware how earnestly Job was listening
(with mournful attention) to her words, and turning sharp round upon
him, with upbraiding for his eavesdropping on her lips, she caught
sight of something,--or some one,--who even in that state, had power
to arrest her attention; and throwing up her arms with wild energy,
she shrieked aloud--

"O Jem! Jem! you're saved; and I AM mad" and was instantly seized
with convulsions. With much commiseration she was taken out of
court, while the attention of many was diverted from her, by the
fierce energy with which a sailor forced his way over rails and
seats, against turnkeys and policemen. The officers of the court
opposed this forcible manner of entrance, but they could hardly
induce the offender to adopt any quieter way of attaining his
object, and telling his tale in the witness-box, the legitimate
place. For Will had dwelt so impatiently on the danger in which his
absence would place his cousin, that even yet he seemed to fear that
he might see the prisoner carried off, and hung, before he could
pour out the narrative which would exculpate him. As for Job Legh,
his feelings were all but uncontrollable; as you may judge by the
indifference with which he saw Mary borne, stiff and convulsed, out
of the court, in the charge of the kind Mrs. Sturgis, who, you will
remember, was an utter stranger to him.

"She'll keep! I'll not trouble myself about her," said he to
himself, as he wrote with trembling hands a little note of
information to Mr. Bridgnorth, who had conjectured, when Will had
first disturbed the awful tranquillity of the life-and-death court,
that the witness had arrived (better late than never) on whose
evidence rested all the slight chance yet remaining to Jem Wilson of
escaping death. During the commotion in the court, among all the
cries and commands, the dismay and the directions, consequent upon
Will's entrance, and poor Mary's fearful attack of illness, Mr.
Bridgnorth had kept his lawyer-like presence of mind; and long
before Job Legh's almost illegible note was poked at him, he had
recapitulated the facts on which Will had to give evidence, and the
manner in which he had been pursued, after his ship had taken her
leave of the land.

The barrister who defended Jem took new heart when he was put in
possession of these striking points to be adduced, not so much out
of earnestness to save the prisoner, of whose innocence he was still
doubtful, as because he saw the opportunities for the display of
forensic eloquence which were presented by the facts; "a gallant tar
brought back from the pathless ocean by a girl's noble daring," "the
dangers of too hastily judging from circumstantial evidence," etc.
etc.; while the counsellor for the prosecution prepared himself by
folding his arms, elevating his eyebrows, and putting his lips in
the form in which they might best whistle down the wind such
evidence as might be produced by a suborned witness, who dared to
perjure himself. For, of course, it is etiquette to suppose that
such evidence as may be given against the opinion which lawyers are
paid to uphold, is anything but based on truth; and "perjury,"
"conspiracy," and "peril of your immortal soul," are light
expressions to throw at the heads of those who may prove (not the
speaker, there would then be some excuse for the hasty words of
personal anger, but) the hirer of the speaker to be wrong, or
mistaken.

But when once Will had attained his end, and felt that his tale, or
part of a tale, would be heard by judge and jury; when once he saw
Jem standing safe and well before him (even though he saw him pale
and careworn at the felons' bar), his courage took the shape of
presence of mind, and he awaited the examination with a calm,
unflinching intelligence, which dictated the clearest and most
pertinent answers. He told the story you know so well: how his
leave of absence being nearly expired, he had resolved to fulfil his
promise, and go to see an uncle residing in the Isle of Man; how his
money (sailor-like) was all expended in Manchester, and how,
consequently, it had been necessary for him to walk to Liverpool,
which he had accordingly done on the very night of the murder,
accompanied as far as Hollins Green by his friend and cousin, the
prisoner at the bar. He was clear and distinct in every
corroborative circumstance, and gave a short account of the singular
way in which he had been recalled from his outward-bound voyage, and
the terrible anxiety he had felt, as the pilot-boat had struggled
home against the wind. The jury felt that their opinion (so nearly
decided half-an-hour ago) was shaken and disturbed in a very
uncomfortable and perplexing way, and were almost grateful to the
counsel for the prosecution, when he got up, with a brow of thunder,
to demolish the evidence, which was so bewildering when taken in
connection with everything previously adduced. But if such, without
looking to the consequences, was the first impulsive feeling of some
among the jury, how shall I describe the vehemence of passion which
possessed the mind of poor Mr. Carson, as he saw the effect of the
young sailor's statement? It never shook his belief in Jem's guilt
in the least, that attempt at an alibi; his hatred, his longing for
vengeance, having once defined an object to itself, could no more
bear to be frustrated and disappointed than the beast of prey can
submit to have his victim taken from his hungry jaws. No more
likeness to the calm stern power of Jupiter was there in that white
eager face, almost distorted by its fell anxiety of expression.

The counsel to whom etiquette assigned the cross-examination of
Will, caught the look on Mr. Carson's face, and in his desire to
further the intense wish there manifested, he over-shot his mark
even in his first insulting question--

"And now, my man, you've told the court a very good and very
convincing story; no reasonable man ought to doubt the unstained
innocence of your relation at the bar. Still there is one
circumstance you have forgotten to name; and I feel that without it
your evidence is rather incomplete. Will you have the kindness to
inform the gentlemen of the jury what has been your charge for
repeating this very plausible story? How much good coin of Her
Majesty's realm have you received, or are you to receive, for
walking up from the docks, or some less credible place, and uttering
the tale you have just now repeated,--very much to the credit of
your instructor, I must say? Remember, sir, you are upon oath."

It took Will a minute to extract the meaning from the garb of
unaccustomed words in which it was invested, and during this time he
looked a little confused. But the instant the truth flashed upon
him he fixed his bright clear eyes, flaming with indignation, upon
the counsellor, whose look fell at last before that stern
unflinching gaze. Then, and not till then, Will made answer--

"Will you tell the judge and jury how much money you've been paid
for your impudence towards one who has told God's blessed truth, and
who would scorn to tell a lie, or blackguard any one, for the
biggest fee as ever lawyer got for doing dirty work? Will you tell,
sir?--But I'm ready, my lord judge, to take my oath as many times as
your lordship or the jury would like, to testify to things having
happened just as I said. There's O'Brien, the pilot, in court now.
Would somebody with a wig on please to ask him how much he can say
for me?"

It was a good idea, and caught at by the counsel for the defence.
O'Brien gave just such testimony as was required to clear Will from
all suspicion. He had witnessed the pursuit, he had heard the
conversation which took place between the boat and the ship; he had
given Will a homeward passage in his boat. And the character of an
accredited pilot, appointed by the Trinity House, was known to be
above suspicion.

Mr. Carson sank back on his seat in sickening despair. He knew
enough of courts to be aware of the extreme unwillingness of juries
to convict, even where the evidence is most clear, when the penalty
of such conviction is death. At the period of the trial most
condemnatory to the prisoner, he had repeated this fact to himself,
in order to damp his too certain expectation for a conviction. Now
it needed not repetition, for it forced itself upon his
consciousness, and he seemed to KNOW, even before the jury retired
to consult, that by some trick, some negligence, some miserable
hocus-pocus, the murderer of his child, his darling, his Absalom,
who had never rebelled--the slayer of his unburied boy would slip
through the fangs of justice, and walk free and unscathed over that
earth where his son would never more be seen.

It was even so. The prisoner hid his face once more to shield the
expression of an emotion he could not control, from the notice of
the over-curious; Job Legh ceased his eager talking to Mr.
Bridgnorth; Charley looked grave and earnest; for the jury filed one
by one back into their box, and the question was asked to which such
an awful answer might be given.

The verdict they had come to was unsatisfactory to themselves at
last; neither being convinced of his innocence, nor yet quite
willing to believe him guilty in the teeth of the alibi. But the
punishment that awaited him, if guilty, was so terrible, and so
unnatural a sentence for man to pronounce on man, that the knowledge
of it had weighed down the scale on the side of innocence, and "Not
Guilty" was the verdict that thrilled through the breathless court.

One moment of silence, and then the murmurs rose, as the verdict was
discussed by all with lowered voice. Jem stood motionless, his head
bowed; poor fellow, he was stunned with the rapid career of events
during the last few hours.

He had assumed his place at the bar with little or no expectation of
an acquittal; and with scarcely any desire for life, in the
complication of occurrences tending to strengthen the idea of Mary's
more than indifference to him; she had loved another, and in her
mind Jem believed that he himself must be regarded as the murderer
of him she loved. And suddenly, athwart this gloom which made life
seem such a blank expanse of desolation, there flashed the exquisite
delight of hearing Mary's avowal of love, making the future all
glorious, if a future in this world he might hope to have. He could
not dwell on anything but her words, telling of her passionate love;
all else was indistinct, nor could he strive to make it otherwise.
She loved him.

And life, now full of tender images, suddenly bright with all
exquisite promises, hung on a breath, the slenderest gossamer
chance. He tried to think that the knowledge of her love would
soothe him even in his dying hours; but the phantoms of what life
with her might be would obtrude, and made him almost gasp and reel
under the uncertainty he was enduring. Will's appearance had only
added to the intensity of this suspense.

The full meaning of the verdict could not at once penetrate his
brain. He stood dizzy and motionless. Some one pulled his coat.
He turned, and saw Job Legh, the tears stealing down his brown
furrowed cheeks, while he tried in vain to command voice enough to
speak. He kept shaking Jem by the hand, as the best and necessary
expression of his feeling.

"Here, make yourself scarce! I should think you'd be glad to get
out of that!" exclaimed the gaoler, as he brought up another livid
prisoner, from out whose eyes came the anxiety which he would not
allow any other feature to display.

Job Legh pressed out of court, and Jem followed unreasoningly.

The crowd made way, and kept their garments tight about them, as Jem
passed, for about him there still hung the taint of the murderer.

He was in the open air, and free once more! Although many looked on
him with suspicion, faithful friends closed round him; his arm was
unresistingly pumped up and down by his cousin and Job; when one was
tired, the other took up the wholesome exercise, while Ben Sturgis
was working off his interest in the scene by scolding Charley for
walking on his head round and round Mary's sweetheart, for a
sweetheart he was now satisfactorily ascertained to be, in spite of
her assertion to the contrary. And all this time Jem himself felt
bewildered and dazzled; he would have given anything for an hour's
uninterrupted thought on the occurrences of the past week, and the
new visions raised up during the morning; ay, even though that
tranquil hour were to be passed in the hermitage of his quiet prison
cell. The first question sobbed out by his choking voice, oppressed
with emotion, was--

"Where is she?"

They led him to the room where his mother sat. They had told her of
her son's acquittal, and now she was laughing, and crying, and
talking, and giving way to all those feelings which she had
restrained with such effort during the last few days. They brought
her son to her, and she threw herself upon his neck, weeping there.
He returned her embrace, but looked around, beyond. Excepting his
mother, there was no one in the room but the friends who had entered
with him.

"Eh, lad!" she said, when she found voice to speak. "See what it is
to have behaved thysel! I could put in a good word for thee, and
the jury could na go and hang thee in the face of th' character I
gave thee. Was na it a good thing they did na keep me from
Liverpool? But I would come; I knew I could do thee good, bless
thee, my lad. But thou'rt very white, and all of a tremble."

He kissed her again and again, but looking round as if searching for
some one he could not find, the first words he uttered were still--

"Where is she?"

Content of Chapter XXXII - The trial and verdict--"Not guilty!" (Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell's novel: Mary Barton)

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