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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesMary Barton - Chapter XXXVII - Details connected with the murder.
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Mary Barton - Chapter XXXVII - Details connected with the murder. Post by :slayer Category :Long Stories Author :Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell Date :June 2011 Read :3572

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Mary Barton - Chapter XXXVII - Details connected with the murder.

Chapter XXXVII - Details connected with the murder.


"The rich man dines, while the poor man pines,
And eats his heart away;
'They teach us lies,' he sternly cries,
'Would BROTHERS do as they?'"
--The Dream.

Mr. Carson stood at one of the breathing-moments of life. The
object of the toils, the fears, and the wishes of his past years,
was suddenly hidden from his sight,--vanished into the deep mystery
which circumscribes existence. Nay, even the vengeance which he had
cherished, taken away from before his eyes, as by the hand of God.

Events like these would have startled the most thoughtless into
reflection, much more such a man as Mr. Carson, whose mind, if not
enlarged, was energetic; indeed, whose very energy, having been
hitherto the cause of the employment of his powers in only one
direction, had prevented him from becoming largely and
philosophically comprehensive in his views.

But now the foundations of his past life were razed to the ground,
and the place they had once occupied was sown with salt, to be
rebuilt no more for ever. It was like the change from this Life to
that other hidden one, when so many of the motives which have
actuated all our earthly existence, will have become more fleeting
than the shadows of a dream. With a wrench of his soul from the
past, so much of which was as nothing, and worse than nothing to him
now, Mr. Carson took some hours, after he had witnessed the death of
his son's murderer, to consider his situation.

But suddenly, while he was deliberating, and searching for motives
which should be effective to compel him to exertion and action once
more; while he contemplated the desire after riches, social
distinction, a name among the merchant-princes amidst whom he moved,
and saw these false substances fade away into the shadows they truly
are, and one by one disappear into the grave of his son,--suddenly,
I say, the thought arose within him that more yet remained to be
learned about the circumstances and feelings which had prompted John
Barton's crime; and when once this mournful curiosity was excited,
it seemed to gather strength in every moment that its gratification
was delayed. Accordingly he sent a message to summon Job Legh and
Jem Wilson, from whom he promised himself some elucidation of what
was as yet unexplained; while he himself set forth to call on Mr.
Bridgnorth, whom he knew to have been Jem's attorney, with a
glimmering suspicion intruding on his mind, which he strove to
repel, that Jem might have had some share in his son's death.

He had returned before his summoned visitors arrived; and had time
enough to recur to the evening on which John Barton had made his
confession. He remembered with mortification how he had forgotten
his proud reserve, and his habitual concealment of his feelings, and
had laid bare his agony of grief in the presence of these two men
who were coming to see him by his desire; and he entrenched himself
behind stiff barriers of self-control, through which he hoped no
appearance of emotion would force its way in the conversation he
anticipated.

Nevertheless, when the servant announced that two men were there by
appointment to speak to him, and he had desired that they might be
shown into the library where he sat, any watcher might have
perceived by the trembling hands, and shaking head, not only how
much he was aged by the occurrences of the last few weeks, but also
how much he was agitated at the thought of the impending interview.

But he so far succeeded in commanding himself at first, as to appear
to Jem Wilson and Job Legh one of the hardest and most haughty men
they had ever spoken to, and to forfeit all the interest which he
had previously excited in their minds by his unreserved display of
deep and genuine feeling.

When he had desired them to be seated, he shaded his face with his
hand for an instant before speaking.

"I have been calling on Mr. Bridgnorth this morning," said he, at
last; "as I expected, he can give me but little satisfaction on some
points respecting the occurrence on the 18th of last month which I
desire to have cleared up. Perhaps you two can tell me what I want
to know. As intimate friends of Barton's you probably know, or can
conjecture a good deal. Have no scruple as to speaking the truth.
What you say in this room shall never be named again by me.
Besides, you are aware that the law allows no one to be tried twice
for the same offence."

He stopped for a minute, for the mere act of speaking was fatiguing
to him after the excitement of the last few days.

Job Legh took the opportunity of speaking.

"I'm not going to be affronted either for myself or Jem at what
you've just now been saying about the truth. You don't know us, and
there's an end on't; only it's as well for folk to think others good
and true until they're proved contrary. Ask what you like, sir,
I'll answer for it we'll either tell truth or hold our tongues."

"I beg your pardon," said Mr. Carson, slightly bowing his head.
"What I wish to know was," referring to a slip of paper he held in
his hand, and shaking so much he could hardly adjust his glasses to
his eyes, "whether you, Wilson, can explain how Barton came
possessed of your gun. I believe you refused this explanation to
Mr. Bridgnorth?"

"I did, sir! If I had said what I knew then, I saw it would
criminate Barton, and so I refused telling aught. To you, sir, now
I will tell everything and anything; only it is but little. The gun
was my father's before it was mine, and long ago he and John Barton
had a fancy for shooting at the gallery; and they used always to
take this gun, and brag that though it was old-fashioned it was
sure."

Jem saw with self-upbraiding pain how Mr. Carson winced at these
last words, but at each irrepressible and involuntary evidence of
feeling, the hearts of the two men warmed towards him. Jem went on
speaking.

"One day in the week--I think it was on the Wednesday,--yes, it
was--it was on St. Patrick's day, I met John just coming out of our
house, as I were going to my dinner. Mother was out, and he'd found
no one in. He said he'd come to borrow the old gun, and that he'd
have made bold, and taken it, but it was not to be seen. Mother was
afraid of it, so after father's death (for while he were alive, she
seemed to think he could manage it) I had carried it to my own room.
I went up and fetched it for John, who stood outside the door all
the time."

"What did he say he wanted it for?" asked Mr. Carson hastily.

"I don't think he spoke when I gave it him. At first he muttered
something about the shooting gallery, and I never doubted but that
it was for practice there, as I knew he had done years before."

Mr. Carson had strung up his frame to an attitude of upright
attention while Jem was speaking; now the tension relaxed, and he
sank back in his chair, weak and powerless.

He rose up again, however, as Jem went on, anxious to give every
particular which could satisfy the bereaved father.

"I never knew for what he wanted the gun till I was taken up,--I do
not know yet why he wanted it. No one would have had me get out of
the scrape by implicating an old friend,--my father's old friend,
and the father of the girl I loved. So I refused to tell Mr.
Bridgnorth aught about it, and would not have named it now to any
one but you."

Jem's face became very red at the allusion he made to Mary, but his
honest, fearless eyes had met Mr. Carson's penetrating gaze
unflinchingly, and had carried conviction of his innocence and
truthfulness. Mr. Carson felt certain that he had heard all that
Jem could tell. Accordingly he turned to Job Legh.

"You were in the room the whole time while Barton was speaking to
me, I think?"

"Yes, sir," answered Job.

"You'll excuse my asking plain and direct questions; the information
I am gaining is really a relief to my mind, I don't know how, but it
is,--will you tell me if you had any idea of Barton's guilt in this
matter before?"

"None whatever, so help me God!" said Job solemnly. "To tell truth
(and axing your forgiveness, Jem), I had never got quite shut of the
notion that Jem here had done it. At times I was as clear of his
innocence as I was of my own; and whenever I took to reasoning about
it, I saw he could not have been the man that did it. Still I never
thought of Barton."

"And yet by his confession he must have been absent at the time,"
said Mr. Carson, referring to his slip of paper.

"Ay, and for many a day after,--I can't rightly say how long. But
still, you see, one's often blind to many a thing that lies right
under one's nose, till it's pointed out. And till I heard what John
Barton had to say yon night, I could not have seen what reason he
had for doing it; while in the case of Jem, any one who looked at
Mary Barton might have seen a cause for jealousy clear enough."

"Then you believe that Barton had no knowledge of my son's
unfortunate"--he looked at Jem--"of his attentions to Mary Barton.
This young man, Wilson, has heard of them, you see."

"The person who told me said clearly she neither had, nor would tell
Mary's father," interposed Jem. "I don't believe he'd ever heard of
it; he weren't a man to keep still in such a matter, if he had."

"Besides," said Job, "the reason he gave on his death-bed, so to
speak, was enough; 'specially to those who knew him."

"You mean his feelings regarding the treatment of the workmen by the
masters; you think he acted from motives of revenge, in consequence
of the part my son had taken in putting down the strike?"

"Well, sir," replied Job, "it's hard to say: John Barton was not
a man to take counsel with people; nor did he make many words about
his doings. So I can only judge from his way of thinking and
talking in general, never having heard him breathe a syllable
concerning this matter in particular. You see he were sadly put
about to make great riches and great poverty square with Christ's
Gospel"--Job paused, in order to try and express what was clear
enough in his own mind, as to the effect produced on John Barton by
the great and mocking contrasts presented by the varieties of human
condition. Before he could find suitable words to explain his
meaning, Mr. Carson spoke. "You mean he was an Owenite; all for
equality and community of goods, and that kind of absurdity."

"No, no! John Barton was no fool. No need to tell him that were
all men equal to-night, some would get the start by rising an hour
earlier to-morrow. Nor yet did he care for goods, nor wealth--no
man less, so that he could get daily bread for him and his; but what
hurt him sore, and rankled in him as long as I knew him (and, sir,
it rankles in many a poor man's heart far more than the want of any
creature-comforts, and puts a sting into starvation itself), was
that those who wore finer clothes, and eat better food, and had more
money in their pockets, kept him at arm's length, and cared not
whether his heart was sorry or glad; whether he lived or died,--
whether he was bound for heaven or hell. It seemed hard to him that
a heap of gold should part him and his brother so far asunder. For
he was a loving man before he grew mad with seeing such as he was
slighted, as if Christ Himself had not been poor. At one time, I've
heard him say, he felt kindly towards every man, rich or poor,
because he thought they were all men alike. But latterly he grew
aggravated with the sorrows and suffering that he saw, and which he
thought the masters might help if they would."

"That's the notion you've all of you got," said Mr. Carson. "Now,
how in the world can we help it? We cannot regulate the demand for
labour. No man or set of men can do it. It depends on events which
God alone can control. When there is no market for our goods, we
suffer just as much as you can do."

"Not as much, I'm sure, sir; though I'm not given to Political
Economy, I know that much. I'm wanting in learning, I'm aware; but
I can use my eyes. I never see the masters getting thin and haggard
for want of food; I hardly ever see them making much change in their
way of living, though I don't doubt they've got to do it in bad
times. But it's in things for show they cut short; while for such
as me, it's in things for life we've to stint. For sure, sir,
you'll own it's come to a hard pass when a man would give aught in
the world for work to keep his children from starving, and can't get
a bit, if he's ever so willing to labour. I'm not up to talking as
John Barton would have done, but that's clear to me at any rate."

"My good man, just listen to me. Two men live in solitude; one
produces loaves of bread, the other coats,--or what you will. Now,
would it not be hard if the bread-producer were forced to give bread
for the coats, whether he wanted them or not, in order to furnish
employment to the other? That is the simple form of the case;
you've only to multiply the numbers. There will come times of great
changes in the occupation of thousands, when improvements in
manufactures and machinery are made. It's all nonsense talking,--it
must be so!"

Job Legh pondered a few moments.

"It's true it was a sore time for the hand-loom weavers when
power-looms came in: them new-fangled things make a man's life
like a lottery; and yet I'll never misdoubt that power-looms and
railways, and all such-like inventions, are the gifts of God. I
have lived long enough, too, to see that it is a part of His plan to
send suffering to bring out a higher good; but surely it's also a
part of His plan that so much of the burden of the suffering as can
be should be lightened by those whom it is His pleasure to make
happy, and content in their own circumstances. Of course it would
take a deal more thought and wisdom than me, or any other man has,
to settle out of hand how this should be done. But I'm clear about
this, when God gives a blessing to be enjoyed, He gives it with a
duty to be done; and the duty of the happy is to help the suffering
to bear their woe."

"Still facts have proved, and are daily proving, how much better it
is for every man to be independent of help, and self-reliant," said
Mr. Carson thoughtfully.

"You can never work facts as you would fixed quantities, and say,
given two facts, and the product is so and so. God has given men
feelings and passions which cannot be worked into the problem,
because they are for ever changing and uncertain. God has also made
some weak; not in any one way, but in all. One is weak in body,
another in mind, another in steadiness of purpose, a fourth can't
tell right from wrong, and so on; or if he can tell the right, he
wants strength to hold by it. Now, to my thinking, them that is
strong in any of God's gifts is meant to help the weak,--be hanged
to the facts! I ask your pardon, sir; I can't rightly explain the
meaning that is in me. I'm like a tap as won't run, but keeps
letting it out drop by drop, so that you've no notion of the force
of what's within."

Job looked and felt very sorrowful at the want of power in his
words, while the feeling within him was so strong and clear.

"What you say is very true, no doubt," replied Mr. Carson; "but how
would you bring it to bear upon the masters' conduct,--on my
particular case?" added he gravely.

"I'm not learned enough to argue. Thoughts come into my head that
I'm sure are as true as Gospel, though maybe they don't follow each
other like the Q.E.D. of a Proposition. The masters has it on their
own conscience,--you have it on yours, sir, to answer for to God
whether you've done, and are doing all in your power to lighten the
evils that seem always to hang on the trades by which you make your
fortunes. It's no business of mine, thank God. John Barton took
the question in hand, and his answer to it was NO! Then he grew
bitter, and angry, and mad; and in his madness he did a great sin,
and wrought a great woe; and repented him with tears of blood, and
will go through his penance humbly and meekly in t'other place, I'll
be bound. I never seed such bitter repentance as his that last
night."

There was a silence of many minutes. Mr. Carson had covered his
face, and seemed utterly forgetful of their presence; and yet they
did not like to disturb him by rising to leave the room.

At last he said, without meeting their sympathetic eyes--

"Thank you both for coming,--and for speaking candidly to me. I
fear, Legh, neither you nor I have convinced each other, as to the
power, or want of power, in the masters to remedy the evils the men
complain of."

"I'm loth to vex you, sir, just now; but it was not the want of
power I was talking on; what we all feel sharpest is the want of
inclination to try and help the evils which come like blights at
times over the manufacturing places, while we see the masters can
stop work and not suffer. If we saw the masters try for our sakes
to find a remedy,--even if they were long about it,--even if they
could find no help, and at the end of all could only say, 'Poor
fellows, our hearts are sore for ye; we've done all we could, and
can't find a cure,'--we'd bear up like men through bad times. No
one knows till they have tried, what power of bearing lies in them,
if once they believe that men are caring for their sorrows and will
help if they can. If fellow-creatures can give nought but tears and
brave words, we take our trials straight from God, and we know
enough of His love to put ourselves blind into His hands. You say
our talk has done no good. I say it has. I see the view you take
of things from the place where you stand. I can remember that, when
the time comes for judging you; I shan't think any longer, does he
act right on my views of a thing, but does he act right on his own.
It has done me good in that way. I'm an old man, and may never see
you again; but I'll pray for you, and think on you and your trials,
both of your great wealth, and of your son's cruel death, many and
many a day to come; and I'll ask God to bless both to you now and
for evermore. Amen. Farewell!"

Jem had maintained a manly and dignified reserve ever since he had
made his open statement of all he knew. Now both the men rose and
bowed low, looking at Mr. Carson with the deep human interest they
could not fail to take in one who had endured and forgiven a deep
injury; and who struggled hard, as it was evident he did, to bear up
like a man under his affliction.

He bowed low in return to them. Then he suddenly came forward and
shook them by the hand; and thus, without a word more, they parted.

There are stages in the contemplation and endurance of great sorrow,
which endow men with the same earnestness and clearness of thought
that in some of old took the form of Prophecy. To those who have
large capability of loving and suffering, united with great power of
firm endurance, there comes a time in their woe, when they are
lifted out of the contemplation of their individual case into a
searching inquiry into the nature of their calamity, and the remedy
(if remedy there be) which may prevent its recurrence to others as
well as to themselves.

Hence the beautiful, noble efforts which are from time to time
brought to light, as being continuously made by those who have once
hung on the cross of agony, in order that others may not suffer as
they have done; one of the grandest ends which sorrow can
accomplish; the sufferer wrestling with God's messenger until a
blessing is left behind, not for one alone but for generations.

It took time before the stern nature of Mr. Carson was compelled to
the recognition of this secret of comfort, and that same sternness
prevented his reaping any benefit in public estimation from the
actions he performed; for the character is more easily changed than
the habits and manners originally formed by that character, and to
his dying day Mr. Carson was considered hard and cold by those who
only casually saw him or superficially knew him. But those who were
admitted into his confidence were aware, that the wish that lay
nearest to his heart was that none might suffer from the cause from
which he had suffered; that a perfect understanding, and complete
confidence and love, might exist between masters and men; that the
truth might be recognised that the interests of one were the
interests of all, and, as such, required the consideration and
deliberation of all; that hence it was most desirable to have
educated workers, capable of judging, not mere machines of ignorant
men: and to have them bound to their employers by the ties of
respect and affection, not by mere money bargains alone; in short,
to acknowledge the Spirit of Christ as the regulating law between
both parties.

Many of the improvements now in practice in the system of employment
in Manchester, owe their origin to short, earnest sentences spoken
by Mr. Carson. Many and many yet to be carried into execution, take
their birth from that stern, thoughtful mind, which submitted to be
taught by suffering.

Content of Chapter XXXVII - Details connected with the murder (Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell's novel: Mary Barton)

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