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- MARY BARTON - 50/90 -
This very cautiousness, when he deemed the thing so sure as to require no caution, irritated Mr. Carson. It did not soothe him that the superintendent called the verdict a mere form,--exhibited a warrant empowering him to seize the body of Jem Wilson committed on suspicion,--declared his intention of employing a well-known officer in the Detective Service to ascertain the ownership of the gun, and to collect other evidence, especially as regarded the young woman, about whom the policeman deposed that the quarrel had taken place; Mr. Carson was still excited and irritable; restless in body and mind. He made every preparation for the accusation of Jem the following morning before the magistrates: he engaged attorneys skilled in criminal practice to watch the case and prepare briefs; he wrote to celebrated barristers coming the Northern Circuit, to bespeak their services. A speedy conviction, a speedy execution, seemed to be the only things that would satisfy his craving thirst for blood. He would have fain been policeman, magistrate, accusing speaker, all; but most of all, the judge, rising with full sentence of death on his lips.
That afternoon, as Jane Wilson had begun to feel the effect of a night's disturbed rest, evinced in frequent droppings off to sleep, while she sat by her sister-in-law's bedside, lulled by the incessant crooning of the invalid's feeble voice, she was startled by a man speaking in the house-place below, who, wearied of knocking at the door, without obtaining any answer, had entered and was calling lustily for--
When Mrs. Wilson caught a glimpse of the intruder through the stair-rails, she at once saw he was a stranger, a working-man, it might be a fellow-labourer with her son, for his dress was grimy enough for the supposition. He held a gun in his hand.
"May I make bold to ask if this gun belongs to your son?"
She first looked at the man, and then, weary and half asleep, not seeing any reason for refusing to answer the inquiry, she moved forward to examine it, talking while she looked for certain old-fashioned ornaments on the stock. "It looks like his; ay, it is his, sure enough. I could speak to it anywhere by these marks. You see it were his grandfather's as were gamekeeper to some one up in th' north; and they don't make guns so smart nowadays. But, how comed you by it? He sets great store on it. Is he bound for th' shooting-gallery? He is not, for sure, now his aunt is so ill, and me left all alone"; and the immediate cause of her anxiety being thus recalled to her mind, she entered on a long story of Alice's illness, interspersed with recollections of her husband's and her children's deaths.
The disguised policeman listened for a minute or two, to glean any further information he could; and then, saying he was in a hurry, he turned to go away. She followed him to the door, still telling him her troubles, and was never struck, until it was too late to ask the reason, with the unaccountableness of his conduct, in carrying the gun away with him. Then, as she heavily climbed the stairs, she put away the wonder and the thought about his conduct, by determining to believe he was some workman with whom her son had made some arrangement about shooting at the gallery; or mending the old weapon; or something or other. She had enough to fret her, without moidering herself about old guns. Jem had given it to him to bring it to her; so it was safe enough; or, if it was not, why she should be glad never to set eyes on it again, for she could not abide firearms, they were so apt to shoot people.
So, comforting herself for the want of thought in not making further inquiry, she fell off into another dose, feverish, dream-haunted, and unrefreshing.
Meanwhile, the policeman walked off with his prize, with an odd mixture of feelings; a little contempt, a little disappointment, and a good deal of pity. The contempt and the disappointment were caused by the widow's easy admission of the gun being her son's property, and her manner of identifying it by the ornaments. He liked an attempt to baffle him; he was accustomed to it; it gave some exercise to his wits and his shrewdness. There would be no fun in fox-hunting, if Reynard yielded himself up without any effort to escape. Then, again, his mother's milk was yet in him, policeman, officer of the Detective Service though he was; and he felt sorry for the old woman, whose "softness" had given such material assistance in identifying her son as the murderer. However, he conveyed the gun, and the intelligence he had gained, to the superintendent; and the result was, that, in a short time afterwards, three policemen went to the works at which Jem was foreman, and announced their errand to the astonished overseer, who directed them to the part of the foundry where Jem was then superintending a casting.
Dark, black were the walls, the ground, the faces around them, as they crossed the yard. But, in the furnace-house, a deep and lurid red glared over all; the furnace roared with mighty flame. The men, like demons, in their fire-and-soot colouring, stood swart around, awaiting the moment when the tons of solid iron should have melted down into fiery liquid, fit to be poured, with still, heavy sound, into the delicate moulding of fine black sand, prepared to receive it. The heat was intense, and the red glare grew every instant more fierce; the policemen stood awed with the novel sight. Then, black figures, holding strange-shaped bucket-shovels, came athwart the deep-red furnace light, and clear and brilliant flowed forth the iron into the appropriate mould. The buzz of voices rose again; there was time to speak, and gasp, and wipe the brows; and then one by one, the men dispersed to some other branch of their employment.
No. B72 pointed out Jem as the man he had seen engaged in a scuffle with Mr. Carson, and then the other two stepped forward and arrested him, stating of what he was accused, and the grounds of the accusation. He offered no resistance, though he seemed surprised; but calling a fellow-workman to him, he briefly requested him to tell his mother he had got into trouble, and could not return home at present. He did not wish her to hear more at first.
So Mrs. Wilson's sleep was next interrupted in almost an exactly similar way to the last, like a recurring nightmare.
"Missis! missis!" some one called out from below.
Again it was a workman, but this time a blacker-looking one than before.
"What don ye want?" said she peevishly.
"Only nothing but"--stammered the man, a kind-hearted matter-of-fact person, with no invention, but a great deal of sympathy.
"Well, speak out, can't ye, and ha' done with it?"
"Jem's in trouble," said he, repeating Jem's very words, as he could think of no others.
"Trouble?" said the mother, in a high-pitched voice of distress. "Trouble! God help me, trouble will never end, I think. What d'ye mean by trouble? Speak out, man, can't ye? Is he ill? My boy! tell me, is he ill?" in a hurried voice of terror.
"Na, na, that's not it. He's well enough. All he bade me say was, 'Tell mother I'm in trouble, and can't come home tonight.'"
"Not come home to-night! And what am I to do with Alice? I can't go on, wearing my life out wi' watching. He might come and help me."
"I tell you he can't," said the man.
"Can't, and he is well, you say? Stuff! It's just that he's getten like other young men, and wants to go a-larking. But I'll give it him when he comes back."
The man turned to go; he durst not trust himself to speak in Jem's justification. But she would not let him off.
She stood between him and the door, as she said--
"Yo shall not go till yo've told me what he's after. I can see plain enough you know, and I'll know too, before I've done."
"You'll know soon enough, missis!"
"I'll know now, I tell ye. What's up that he can't come home and help me nurse? Me, as never got a wink o' sleep last night wi' watching."
"Well, if you will have it out," said the poor badgered man, "the police have got hold on him."
"On my Jem!" said the enraged mother. "You're a downright liar, and that's what you are. My Jem, as never did harm to any one in his life. You're a liar, that's what you are."
"He's done harm enough now," said the man, angry in his turn, "for there's good evidence he murdered young Carson, as was shot last night."
She staggered forward to strike the man for telling the terrible truth; but the weakness of old age, of motherly agony, overcame her, and she sank down on a chair, and covered her face. He could not leave her.
When next she spoke, it was in an imploring, feeble, child-like voice.
"O master, say you're only joking. I ax your pardon if I have vexed ye, but please say you're only joking. You don't know what Jem is to me."
She looked humbly, anxiously up to him.
"I wish I were only joking, missis; but it's true as I say. They've taken him up on charge of murder. It were his gun as were found near th' place; and one o' the police heard him quarrelling with Mr. Carson a few days back, about a girl."
"About a girl!" broke in the mother, once more indignant, though too feeble to show it as before. "My Jem was as steady as"--she hesitated for a comparison wherewith to finish, and then repeated, "as steady as Lucifer, and he were an angel, you know. My Jem was not one to quarrel about a girl."
"Ay, but it was that, though. They'd got her name quite pat. The man had heard all they said. Mary Barton was her name, whoever she may be."
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