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- MARY BARTON - 80/90 -
"Darling! we will go whenever you wish; whenever you feel strong enough. I asked Job to tell Margaret to get all in readiness for you to go there at first. She'll tend you and nurse you. You must not go home. Job proffered for you to go there."
"Ah! but I must go home, Jem. I'll try and not fail now in what's right. There are things we must not speak on" (lowering her voice), "but you'll be really kind if you'll not speak against my going home. Let us say no more about it, dear Jem. I must go home, and I must go alone."
"Not alone, Mary!"
"Yes, alone! I cannot tell you why I ask it. And if you guess, I know you well enough to be sure you'll understand why I ask you never to speak on that again to me, till I begin. Promise, dear Jem, promise!"
He promised; to gratify that beseeching face, he promised. And then he repented, and felt as if he had done ill. Then again he felt as if she were the best judge, and knowing all (perhaps more than even he did), might be forming plans which his interference would mar.
One thing was certain! it was a miserable thing to have this awful forbidden ground of discourse; to guess at each other's thoughts, when eyes were averted, and cheeks blanched, and words stood still, arrested in their flow by some casual allusion.
At last a day, fine enough for Mary to travel on, arrived. She had wished to go, but now her courage failed her. How could she have said she was weary of that quiet house, where even Ben Sturgis's grumblings only made a kind of harmonious bass in the concord between him and his wife, so thoroughly did they know each other with the knowledge of many years! How could she have longed to quit that little peaceful room where she had experienced such loving tendence! Even the very check bed-curtains became dear to her under the idea of seeing them no more. If it was so with inanimate objects, if they had such power of exciting regret, what were her feelings with regard to the kind old couple, who had taken the stranger in, and cared for her, and nursed her, as though she had been a daughter? Each wilful sentence spoken in the half- unconscious irritation of feebleness came now with avenging self-reproach to her memory, as she hung about Mrs. Sturgis, with many tears, which served instead of words to express her gratitude and love.
Ben bustled about with the square bottle of Goldenwasser in one of his hands, and a small tumbler in the other; he went to Mary, Jem, and his wife in succession, pouring out a glass for each, and bidding them drink it to keep their spirits up; but as each severally refused, he drank it himself; and passed on to offer the same hospitality to another, with the like refusal, and the like result.
When he had swallowed the last of the three draughts, he condescended to give his reasons for having done so.
"I cannot abide waste. What's poured out mun be drunk. That's my maxim." So saying, he replaced the bottle in the cupboard.
It was he who, in a firm commanding voice, at last told Jem and Mary to be off, or they would be too late. Mrs. Sturgis had kept up till then; but as they left her house, she could no longer restrain her tears, and cried aloud in spite of her husband's upbraiding.
"Perhaps they'll be too late for the train!" exclaimed she, with a degree of hope, as the clock struck two.
"What! and come back again! No! no! that would never do. We've done our part, and cried our cry; it's no use going over the same ground again. I should ha' to give 'em more out of yon bottle when next parting time came, and them three glasses they ha' made a hole in the stuff, I can tell you. Time Jack was back from Hamburg with some more."
When they reached Manchester, Mary looked very white, and the expression of her face was almost stern. She was in fact summoning up her resolution to meet her father if he were at home. Jem had never named his midnight glimpse of John Barton to human being: but Mary had a sort of presentiment, that wander where he would, he would seek his home at last. But in what mood she dreaded to think. For the knowledge of her father's capability of guilt seemed to have opened a dark gulf in his character, into the depths of which she trembled to look. At one moment she would fain have claimed protection against the life she must lead, for some time at least, alone with a murderer! She thought of his gloom, before his mind was haunted by the memory of so terrible a crime; his moody, irritable ways. She imagined the evenings as of old; she, toiling at some work, long after houses were shut, and folks abed; he, more savage than he had ever been before with the inward gnawing of his remorse. At such times she could have cried aloud with terror, at the scenes her fancy conjured up.
But her filial duty, nay, her love and gratitude for many deeds of kindness done to her as a little child, conquered all fear. She would endure all imaginable terrors, although of daily occurrence. And she would patiently bear all wayward violence of temper; more than patiently would she bear it--pitifully, as one who knew of some awful curse awaiting the blood-shedder. She would watch over him tenderly, as the innocent should watch over the guilty; awaiting the gracious seasons, wherein to pour oil and balm into the bitter wounds.
With the untroubled peace which the resolve to endure to the end gives, she approached the house that from habit she still called home, but which possessed the holiness of home no longer. "Jem!" said she, as they stood at the entrance to the court, close by Job Legh's door, "you must go in there and wait half-an-hour. Not less. If in that time I don't come back, you go your ways to your mother. Give her my dear love. I will send by Margaret when I want to see you."
She sighed heavily.
"Mary! Mary! I cannot leave you. You speak as coldly as if we were to be nought to each other. And my heart's bound up in you. I know why you bid me keep away, but"--
She put her hand on his arm, as he spoke in a loud agitated tone; she looked into his face with upbraiding love in her eyes, and then she said, while her lips quivered, and he felt her whole frame trembling--
"Dear Jem! I often could have told you more of love, if I had not once spoken out so free. Remember that time, Jem, if ever you think me cold. Then, the love that's in my heart would out in words; but now, though I'm silent on the pain I'm feeling in quitting you, the love is in my heart all the same. But this is not the time to speak on such things. If I do not do what I feel to be right now, I may blame myself all my life long! Jem, you promised"--
And so saying she left him. She went quicker than she would otherwise have passed over those few yards of ground, for fear he should still try to accompany her. Her hand was on the latch, and in a breath the door was opened.
There sat her father, still and motionless--not even turning his head to see who had entered; but perhaps he recognised the footstep-- the trick of action.
He sat by the fire; the grate, I should say, for fire there was none. Some dull grey ashes, negligently left, long days ago, coldly choked up the bars. He had taken the accustomed seat from mere force of habit, which ruled his automaton body. For all energy, both physical and mental, seemed to have retreated inwards to some of the great citadels of life, there to do battle against the Destroyer, Conscience.
His hands were crossed, his fingers interlaced; usually a position implying some degree of resolution, or strength; but in him it was so faintly maintained, that it appeared more the result of chance; an attitude requiring some application of outward force to alter-- and a blow with a straw seemed as though it would be sufficient.
And as for his face, it was sunk and worn--like a skull, with yet a suffering expression that skulls have not! Your heart would have ached to have seen the man, however hardly you might have judged his crime.
But crime and all was forgotten by his daughter, as she saw his abashed look, his smitten helplessness. All along she had felt it difficult (as I may have said before) to reconcile the two ideas, of her father and a blood-shedder. But now it was impossible. He was her father! her own dear father! and in his sufferings, whatever their cause, more dearly loved than ever before. His crime was a thing apart, never more to be considered by her.
And tenderly did she treat him, and fondly did she serve him in every way that heart could devise, or hand execute.
She had some money about her, the price of her strange services as a witness; and when the lingering dusk grew on she stole out to effect some purchases necessary for her father's comfort.
For how body and soul had been kept together, even as much as they were, during the days he had dwelt alone, no one can say. The house was bare as when Mary had left it, of coal, or of candle, of food, or of blessing in any shape.
She came quickly home; but as she passed Job Legh's door, she stopped. Doubtless Jem had long since gone; and doubtless, too, he had given Margaret some good reason for not intruding upon her friend for this night at least, otherwise Mary would have seen her before now.
But to-morrow,--would she not come in to-morrow? And who so quick as blind Margaret in noticing tones, and sighs, and even silence?
She did not give herself time for further thought, her desire to be once more with her father was too pressing; but she opened the door, before she well knew what to say.
"It's Mary Barton! I know her by her breathing! Grandfather, it's Mary Barton!"
Margaret's joy at meeting her, the open demonstration of her love, affected Mary much; she could not keep from crying, and sat down weak and agitated on the first chair she could find.
"Ay, ay, Mary! thou'rt looking a bit different to when I saw thee
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