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- MARY BARTON - 60/90 -


points again to him; maybe you saw us! I wanted him just to come over and speak to you himsel, Mary, but he was pressed for time; and he said your evidence would not be much either here or there. He's going to the 'sizes first train on Monday morning, and will see Jem, and hear the ins and outs from him, and he's gived me his address, Mary, and you and Will are to call on him (Will 'special) on Monday at two o'clock. Thou'rt taking it in, Mary; thou'rt to call on him in Liverpool at two, Monday afternoon?"

Job had reason to doubt if she fully understood him; for all this minuteness of detail, these satisfactory arrangements, as he considered them, only seemed to bring the circumstances in which she was placed more vividly home to Mary. They convinced her that it was real, and not all a dream, as she had sunk into fancying it for a few minutes, while sitting in the old accustomed place, her body enjoying the rest, and her frame sustained by food, and listening to Margaret's calm voice. The gentleman she had just beheld would see and question Jem in a few hours, and what would be the result?

Monday: that was the day after to-morrow, and on Tuesday, life and death would be tremendous realities to her lover; or else death would be an awful certainty to her father.

No wonder Job went over his main points again--

"Monday; at two o'clock, mind; and here's his card. 'Mr. Bridgnorth, 41, Renshaw Street, Liverpool.' He'll be lodging there."

Job ceased talking, and the silence roused Mary up to thank him.

"You're very kind, Job; very. You and Margaret won't desert me, come what will."

"Pooh! pooh! wench; don't lose heart, just as I'm beginning to get it. He seems to think a deal on Will's evidence. You're sure, girls, you're under no mistake about Will?"

"I'm sure," said Mary, "he went straight from here, purposing to go to see his uncle at the Isle of Man, and be back Sunday night, ready for the ship sailing on Tuesday."

"So am I," said Margaret. "And the ship's name was the John Cropper, and he lodged where I told Mary before. Have you got it down, Mary?" Mary wrote it on the back of Mr. Bridgnorth's card.

"He was not over-willing to go," said she as she wrote, "for he knew little about his uncle, and said he didn't care if he never know'd more. But he said kinsfolk was kinsfolk, and promises was promises, so he'd go for a day or so, and then it would be over."

Margaret had to go and practise some singing in town; so, though loth to depart and be alone, Mary bade her friends good-bye.

XXIV. WITH THE DYING.

"Oh, sad and solemn is the trembling watch Of those who sit and count the heavy hours Beside the fevered sleep of one they love! Oh, awful is it in the hushed midnight, While gazing on the pallid moveless form, To start and ask, 'Is it now sleep or death?'" --ANONYMOUS.

Mary could not be patient in her loneliness; so much painful thought weighed on her mind; the very house was haunted with memories and foreshadowings.

Having performed all duties to Jem, as far as her weak powers, yet loving heart could act; and a black veil being drawn over her father's past, present, and future life, beyond which she could not penetrate to judge of any filial service she ought to render: her mind unconsciously sought after some course of action in which she might engage. Anything, anything, rather than leisure for reflection.

And then came up the old feeling which first bound Ruth to Naomi; the love they both held towards one object; and Mary felt that her cares would be most lightened by being of use, or of comfort to his mother. So she once more locked up the house, and set off towards Ancoats; rushing along with downcast head, for fear lest anyone should recognise her and arrest her progress.

Jane Wilson sat quietly in her chair as Mary entered; so quietly, as to strike one by the contrast it presented to her usual bustling and nervous manner.

She looked very pale and wan: but the quietness was the thing that struck Mary most. She did not rise as Mary came in, but sat still and said something in so gentle, so feeble a voice, that Mary did not catch it.

Mrs. Davenport, who was there, plucked Mary by the gown, and whispered, "Never heed her; she's worn out, and best let alone. I'll tell you all about it, upstairs."

But Mary, touched by the anxious look with which Mrs. Wilson gazed at her, as if waiting the answer to some question, went forward to listen to the speech she was again repeating.

"What is this? Will you tell me?"

Then Mary looked and saw another ominous slip of parchment in the mother's hand, which she was rolling up and down in a tremulous manner between her fingers.

Mary's heart sickened within her, and she could not speak.

"What is it?" she repeated. "Will you tell me?" She still looked at Mary, with the same child-like gaze of wonder and patient entreaty.

What could she answer?

"I telled ye not to heed her," said Mrs. Davenport, a little angrily. "She knows well enough what it is--too well, belike. I was not in when they sarved it; but Mrs. Heming (her as lives next door) was, and she spelled out the meaning, and made it all clear to Mrs. Wilson. It's a summons to be a witness on Jem's trial--Mrs. Heming thinks to swear to the gun; for yo see, there's nobbut* her as can testify to its being his, and she let on so easily to the policeman that it was his, that there's no getting off her word now. Poor body; she takes it very hard, I dare say!"

*Nobbut; none-but. "No man sigh evere God NO BUT the oon bigetun sone."--Wickliffe's Version.

Mrs. Wilson had waited patiently while this whispered speech was being uttered, imagining, perhaps, that it would end in some explanation addressed to her. But when both were silent, though their eyes, without speech or language, told their hearts' pity, she spoke again in the same unaltered gentle voice (so different from the irritable impatience she had been ever apt to show to everyone except her husband--he who had wedded her, broken-down and injured),--in a voice so different, I say, from the old, hasty manner, she spoke now the same anxious words--

"What is this? Will you tell me?"

"Yo'd better give it me at once, Mrs. Wilson, and let me put it out of your sight. Speak to her, Mary, wench, and ask for a sight on it; I've tried and better-tried to get it from her, and she takes no heed of words, and I'm loth to pull it by force out of her hands."

Mary drew the little "cricket"* out from under the dresser, and sat down at Mrs. Wilson's knee, and, coaxing one of her tremulous ever-moving hands into hers, began to rub it soothingly; there was a little resistance--a very little, but that was all; and presently, in the nervous movement of the imprisoned hand, the parchment fell to the ground.

*Cricket; a stool.

Mary calmly and openly picked it up, without any attempt at concealment, and quietly placing it in sight of the anxious eyes that followed it with a kind of spell-bound dread, went on with her soothing caresses.

"She has had no sleep for many nights," said the girl to Mrs. Davenport, "and all this woe and sorrow,--it's no wonder."

"No, indeed!" Mrs. Davenport answered.

"We must get her fairly to bed; we must get her undressed, and all; and trust to God in His mercy to send her to sleep, or else"--

For, you see, they spoke before her as if she were not there; her heart was so far away.

Accordingly they almost lifted her from the chair, in which she sat motionless, and taking her up as gently as a mother carries her sleeping baby, they undressed her poor, worn form, and laid her in the little bed upstairs. They had once thought of placing her in Jem's bed, to be out of sight or sound of any disturbance of Alice's; but then again they remembered the shock she might receive in awakening in so unusual a place, and also that Mary, who intended to keep vigil that night in the house of mourning, would find it difficult to divide her attention in the possible cases that might ensue.

So they laid her, as I said before, on that little pallet bed; and, as they were slowly withdrawing from the bedside, hoping and praying that she might sleep, and forget for a time her heavy burden, she looked wistfully after Mary, and whispered--

"You haven't told me what it is. What is it?"

And gazing in her face for the expected answer, her eyelids slowly closed, and she fell into a deep, heavy sleep, almost as profound a rest as death.

Mrs. Davenport went her way, and Mary was alone,--for I cannot call those who sleep allies against the agony of thought which solitude sometimes brings up.

She dreaded the night before her. Alice might die; the doctor had that day declared her case hopeless, and not far from death; and at times, the terror so natural to the young, not of death, but of the


MARY BARTON - 60/90

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