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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesMary Barton - Chapter XXXVI - Jem's interview with Mr. Duncombe.
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Mary Barton - Chapter XXXVI - Jem's interview with Mr. Duncombe. Post by :nancy_jayne Category :Long Stories Author :Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell Date :June 2011 Read :1172

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Mary Barton - Chapter XXXVI - Jem's interview with Mr. Duncombe.

Chapter XXXVI - Jem's interview with Mr. Duncombe

"The first dark day of nothingness,
The last of danger and distress."

Although Mary had hardly been conscious of her thoughts, and it had
been more like a secret instinct informing her soul, than the result
of any process of reasoning, she had felt for some time (ever since
her return from Liverpool, in fact), that for her father there was
but one thing to be desired and anticipated, and that was death!

She had seen that Conscience had given the mortal wound to his
earthly frame; she did not dare to question of the infinite mercy of
God, what the Future Life would be to him.

Though at first desolate and stunned by the blow which had fallen on
herself, she was resigned and submissive as soon as she recovered
strength enough to ponder and consider a little; and you may be sure
that no tenderness or love was wanting on Jem's part, and no
consideration and sympathy on that of Job and Margaret to soothe and
comfort the girl who now stood alone in the world as far as blood
relations were concerned.

She did not ask or care to know what arrangements they were making
in whispered tones with regard to the funeral. She put herself into
their hands with the trust of a little child; glad to be undisturbed
in the reveries and remembrances which filled her eyes with tears,
and caused them to fall quietly, down her pale cheeks.

It was the longest day she had ever known in her life; every change
and every occupation was taken away from her: but perhaps the
length of quiet time thus afforded was really good, although its
duration weighed upon her; for by this means she contemplated her
situation in every light, and fully understood that the morning's
event had left her an orphan; and thus she was spared the pangs
caused to us by the occurrence of death in the evening, just before
we should naturally, in the usual course of events, lie down to
slumber. For in such case, worn out by anxiety, and it may be by
much watching, our very excess of grief rocks itself to sleep,
before we have had time to realise its cause; and we waken, with a
start of agony like a fresh stab, to the consciousness of the one
awful vacancy, which shall never, while the world endures, be filled

The day brought its burden of duty to Mrs. Wilson. She felt bound
by regard, as well as by etiquette, to go and see her future
daughter-in-law. And by an old association of ideas (perhaps of
death with churchyards, and churches with Sunday) she thought it
necessary to put on her best, and latterly unused clothes, the
airing of which on a little clothes-horse before the fire seemed to
give her a not unpleasing occupation.

When Jem returned home late in the evening succeeding John Barton's
death, weary and oppressed with the occurrences and excitements of
the day, he found his mother busy about her mourning, and much
inclined to talk. Although he longed for quiet, he could not avoid
sitting down and answering her questions.

"Well, Jem, he's gone at last, is he?"

"Yes. How did you hear, mother?"

"Oh, Job came over here, and telled me, on his way to the
undertaker's. Did he make a fine end?"

It struck Jem that she had not heard of the confession which had
been made by John Barton on his death-bed; he remembered Job Legh's
discretion, and he determined that if it could be avoided his mother
should never hear of it. Many of the difficulties to be anticipated
in preserving the secret would be obviated, if he could induce his
mother to fall into the plan he had named to Mary of emigrating to
Canada. The reasons which rendered this secrecy desirable related
to the domestic happiness he hoped for. With his mother's irritable
temper he could hardly expect that all allusion to the crime of John
Barton would be for ever restrained from passing her lips, and he
knew the deep trial which such references would be to Mary.
Accordingly he resolved as soon as possible in the morning to go to
Job and beseech his silence; he trusted that secrecy in that
quarter, even if the knowledge had been extended to Margaret, might
be easily secured.

But what would be Mr. Carson's course?

Were there any means by which he might be persuaded to spare John
Barton's memory?

He was roused up from this train of thought by his mother's more
irritated tone of voice.

"Jem!" she was saying, "thou mightst just as well never be at a
death-bed again, if thou cannot bring off more news about it; here
have I been by mysel all day (except when oud Job came in), but
thinks I when Jem comes he'll be sure to be good company, seeing he
was in the house at the very time of the death; and here thou art,
without a word to throw at a dog, much less thy mother: it's no
use thy going to a death-bed if thou cannot carry away any of the

"He did not make any, mother," replied Jem.

"Well, to be sure! So fond as he used to be of holding forth, to
miss such a fine opportunity that will never come again! Did he die

"He was very restless all night long," said Jem, reluctantly
returning to the thoughts of that time.

"And in course thou plucked the pillow away? Thou didst not! Well!
with thy bringing up, and thy learning, thou mightst have known that
were the only help in such a case. There were pigeons' feathers in
the pillow, depend on't. To think of two grown-up folk like you and
Mary, not knowing death could never come easy to a person lying on a
pillow with pigeons' feathers in!"

Jem was glad to escape from all this talking, to the solitude and
quiet of his own room, where he could lie and think uninterruptedly
of what had happened and remained to be done.

The first thing was to seek an interview with Mr. Duncombe, his
former master. Accordingly, early the next morning Jem set off on
his walk to the works, where for so many years his days had been
spent; where for so long a time his thoughts had been thought, his
hopes and fears experienced. It was not a cheering feeling to
remember that henceforward he was to be severed from all these
familiar places; nor were his spirits enlivened by the evident
feelings of the majority of those who had been his fellow-workmen.
As he stood in the entrance to the foundry, awaiting Mr. Duncombe's
leisure, many of those employed in the works passed him on their
return from breakfast; and, with one or two exceptions, without any
acknowledgment of former acquaintance beyond a distant nod at the

"It is hard," said Jem to himself, with a bitter and indignant
feeling rising in his throat, "that let a man's life be what it may,
folk are so ready to credit the first word against him. I could
live it down if I stayed in England; but then what would not Mary
have to bear? Sooner or later the truth would out; and then she
would be a show to folk for many a day as John Barton's daughter.
Well! God does not judge as hardly as man, that's one comfort for
all of us!"

Mr. Duncombe did not believe in Jem's guilt, in spite of the silence
in which he again this day heard the imputation of it; but he agreed
that under the circumstances it was better he should leave the

"We have been written to by Government, as I think I told you
before, to recommend an intelligent man, well acquainted with
mechanics, as instrument-maker to the Agricultural College they are
establishing at Toronto, in Canada. It is a comfortable
appointment,--house,--land,--and a good percentage on the
instruments made. I will show you the particulars if I can lay my
hand on the letter, which I believe I must have left at home."

"Thank you, sir. No need for seeing the letter to say I'll accept
it. I must leave Manchester; and I'd as lief quit England at once
when I'm about it."

"Of course, Government will give you your passage; indeed, I believe
an allowance would be made for a family if you had one; but you are
not a married man, I believe?"

"No, sir, but"--Jem hung back from a confession with the awkwardness
of a girl.

"But"--said Mr. Duncombe, smiling, "you would like to be a married
man before you go, I suppose; eh, Wilson?"

"If you please, sir. And there's my mother, too. I hope she'll go
with us. But I can pay her passage; no need to trouble Government."

"Nay, nay! I'll write to-day and recommend you; and say that you
have a family of two. They'll never ask if the family goes upwards
or downwards. I shall see you again before you sail, I hope,
Wilson; though I believe they'll not allow you long to wait. Come
to my house next time; you'll find it pleasanter, I dare say. These
men are so wrong-headed. Keep up your heart!"

Jem felt that it was a relief to have this point settled; and that
he need no longer weigh reasons for and against his emigration.

And with his path growing clearer and clearer before him the longer
he contemplated it, he went to see Mary, and if he judged it fit, to
tell her what he had decided upon. Margaret was sitting with her.

"Grandfather wants to see you!" said she to Jem on his entrance.

"And I want to see him," replied Jem, suddenly remembering his last
night's determination to enjoin secrecy on Job Legh.

So he hardly stayed to kiss poor Mary's sweet woe-begone face, but
tore himself away from his darling to go to the old man, who awaited
him impatiently.

"I've getten a note from Mr. Carson," exclaimed Job the moment he
saw Jem; "and, man alive, he wants to see thee and me! For sure,
there's no more mischief up, is there?" said he, looking at Jem with
an expression of wonder. But if any suspicion mingled for an
instant with the thoughts that crossed Job's mind, it was
immediately dispelled by Jem's honest, fearless, open countenance.

"I can't guess what he's wanting, poor old chap," answered he.
"Maybe there's some point he's not yet satisfied on; maybe--but it's
no use guessing; let's be off."

"It wouldn't be better for thee to be scarce a bit, would it, and
leave me to go and find out what's up? He has, perhaps, getten some
crotchet into his head thou'rt an accomplice, and is laying a trap
for thee."

"I'm not afeard!" said Jem; "I've done nought wrong, and know nought
wrong, about yon poor dead lad; though I'll own I had evil thoughts
once on a time. Folk can't mistake long if once they'll search into
the truth. I'll go and give the old gentleman all the satisfaction
in my power, now it can injure no one. I'd my reasons for wanting
to see him besides, and it all falls in right enough for me."

Job was a little reassured by Jem's boldness; but still, if the
truth must be told, he wished the young man would follow his advice,
and leave him to sound Mr. Carson's intentions.

Meanwhile Jane Wilson had donned her Sunday suit of black, and set
off on her errand of condolence. She felt nervous and uneasy at the
idea of the moral sayings and texts which she fancied were expected
from visitors on occasions like the present; and prepared many a
good set speech as she walked towards the house of mourning.

As she gently opened the door, Mary, sitting idly by the fire,
caught a glimpse of her,--of Jem's mother,--of the early friend of
her dead parents,--of the kind minister to many a little want in
days of childhood,--and rose and came and fell about her neck, with
many a sob and moan, saying--

"Oh, he's gone--he's dead--all gone--all dead, and I am left alone!"

"Poor wench! poor, poor wench!" said Jane Wilson, tenderly kissing
her. "Thou'rt not alone; so donnot take on so. I'll say nought of
Him who's above, for thou knowest He is ever the orphan's friend;
but think on Jem! nay, Mary, dear, think on me! I'm but a frabbit
woman at times, but I've a heart within me through all my temper,
and thou shalt be as a daughter henceforward,--as mine own ewe-lamb.
Jem shall not love thee better in his way, than I will in mine; and
thou'lt bear with my turns, Mary, knowing that in my soul God sees
the love that shall ever be thine, if thou'lt take me for thy
mother, and speak no more of being alone."

Mrs. Wilson was weeping herself long before she had ended this
speech, which was so different to all she had planned to say, and
from all the formal piety she had laid in store for the visit; for
this was heart's piety, and needed no garnish of texts to make it
true religion, pure and undefiled.

They sat together on the same chair, their arms encircling each
other; they wept for the same dead; they had the same hope, and
trust, and overflowing love in the living.

From that time forward, hardly a passing cloud dimmed the happy
confidence of their intercourse; even by Jem would his mother's
temper sooner be irritated than by Mary; before the latter she
repressed her occasional nervous ill-humour till the habit of
indulging it was perceptibly decreased.

Years afterwards, in conversation with Jem, he was startled by a
chance expression which dropped from his mother's lips; it implied a
knowledge of John Barton's crime. It was many a long day since they
had seen any Manchester people who could have revealed the secret
(if indeed it was known in Manchester, against which Jem had guarded
in every possible way). And he was led to inquire first as to the
extent, and then as to the source of her knowledge. It was Mary
herself who had told all.

For on the morning to which this chapter principally relates, as
Mary sat weeping, and as Mrs. Wilson comforted her by every
tenderest word and caress, she revealed, to the dismayed and
astonished Jane, the sting of her deep sorrow; the crime which
stained her dead father's memory.

She was quite unconscious that Jem had kept it secret from his
mother; she had imagined it bruited abroad as the suspicion against
her lover had been; so word after word (dropped from her lips in the
supposition that Mrs. Wilson knew all) had told the tale and
revealed the cause of her deep anguish; deeper than is ever caused
by death alone.

On large occasions like the present, Mrs. Wilson's innate generosity
came out. Her weak and ailing frame imparted its irritation to her
conduct in small things, and daily trifles; but she had deep and
noble sympathy with great sorrows, and even at the time that Mary
spoke she allowed no expression of surprise or horror to escape her
lips. She gave way to no curiosity as to the untold details; she
was as secret and trustworthy as her son himself; and if in years to
come her anger was occasionally excited against Mary, and she, on
rare occasions, yielded to ill-temper against her daughter-in-law,
she would upbraid her for extravagance, or stinginess, or
over-dressing, or under-dressing, or too much mirth or too much
gloom, but never, never in her most uncontrolled moments did she
allude to any one of the circumstances relating to Mary's flirtation
with Harry Carson, or his murderer; and always when she spoke of
John Barton, named him with the respect due to his conduct before
the last, miserable, guilty month of his life.

Therefore it came like a blow to Jem, when, after years had passed
away, he gathered his mother's knowledge of the whole affair. From
the day when he learnt (not without remorse) what hidden depths of
self-restraint she had in her soul, his manner to her, always tender
and respectful, became reverential; and it was more than ever a
loving strife between him and Mary which should most contribute
towards the happiness of the declining years of their mother.

But I am speaking of the events which have occurred only lately,
while I have yet many things to tell you that happened six or seven
years ago.

Content of Chapter XXXVI - Jem's interview with Mr. Duncombe (Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell's novel: Mary Barton)

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