> "I saw where stark and cold he lay, > Beneath the gallows-tree, > And every one did point and say, > ''Twas there he died for thee!'
> * * *
> "Oh! weeping heart! Oh! bleeding heart!
> What boots thy pity now?
> Bid from his eyes that shade depart, > That death-damp from his brow!"
> —"THE BIRTLE TRAGEDY."
So there was no more peace in the house of sickness except to Alice, the dyin_lice.
But Mary knew nothing of the afternoon's occurrences; and gladly did sh_reathe in the fresh air, as she left Miss Simmonds' house, to hasten to th_ilsons'. The very change, from the indoor to the outdoor atmosphere, seeme_o alter the current of her thoughts. She thought less of the dreadful subjec_hich had so haunted her all day; she cared less for the upbraiding speeche_f her fellow-workwomen; the old association of comfort and sympathy receive_rom Alice gave her the idea that, even now, her bodily presence would sooth_nd compose those who were in trouble, changed, unconscious, and absent thoug_er spirit might be.
Then, again, she reproached herself a little for the feeling of pleasure sh_xperienced, in thinking that he whom she dreaded could never more beset he_ath; in the security with which she could pass each street corner—each shop, where he used to lie in ambush. Oh! beating heart! was there no other littl_hought of joy lurking within, to gladden the very air without! Was she no_oing to meet, to see, to hear Jem; and could they fail at last to understan_ach other's loving hearts!
She softly lifted the latch, with the privilege of friendship. HE was no_here, but his mother was standing by the fire, stirring some little mess o_ther. Never mind! he would come soon: and with an unmixed desire to do he_raceful duty to all belonging to him, she stepped lightly forwards, unhear_y the old lady, who was partly occupied by the simmering, bubbling sound o_er bit of cookery; but more with her own sad thoughts, and wailing, half- uttered murmurings.
Mary took off bonnet and shawl with speed, and advancing, made Mrs.
Wilson conscious of her presence, by saying—
"Let me do that for you. I'm sure you mun be tired."
Mrs. Wilson slowly turned round, and her eyes gleamed like those of a pent-u_ild beast, as she recognised her visitor.
"And is it thee that dares set foot in this house, after what has come t_ass? Is it not enough to have robbed me of my boy with thy arts and th_rofligacy, but thou must come here to crow over me—me—his mother? Dost tho_now where he is, thou bad hussy, with thy great blue eyes and yellow hair, t_ead men on to ruin? Out upon thee with thy angel's face, thou white_epulchre! Dost thou know where Jem is, all through thee?"
"No!" quivered out poor Mary, scarcely conscious that she spoke, so daunted, so terrified was she by the indignant mother's greeting.
"He's lying in th' New Bailey," slowly and distinctly spoke the mother, watching the effect of her words, as if believing in their infinite power t_ain. "There he lies, waiting to take his trial for murdering young Mr.
There was no answer; but such a blanched face, such wild, distended eyes, suc_rembling limbs, instinctively seeking support!
"Did you know Mr. Carson as now lies dead?" continued the merciless woman.
"Folk say you did, and knew him but too well. And that for the sake of such a_ou, my precious child shot yon chap. But he did not. I know he did not. The_ay hang him, but his mother will speak to his innocence with her last dyin_reath."
She stopped more from exhaustion than want of words. Mary spoke, but in s_hanged and choked a voice that the old woman almost started. It seemed as i_ome third person must be in the room, the voice was so hoarse and strange.
"Please say it again. I don't quite understand you. What has Jem done? Pleas_o tell me."
"I never said he had done it. I said, and I'll swear, that he never did do it.
I don't care who heard 'em quarrel, or if it is his gun as were found near th_ody. It's not my own Jem as would go for to kill any man, choose how a gir_ad jilted him. My own good Jem, as was a blessing sent upon the house wher_e was born." Tears came into the mother's burning eyes as her heart recurre_o the days when she had rocked the cradle of her "first-born"; and then, rapidly passing over events, till the full consciousness of his presen_ituation came upon her, and perhaps annoyed at having shown any softness o_haracter in the presence of the Delilah who had lured him to his danger, sh_poke again, and in a sharp tone.
"I told him, and told him to leave off thinking on thee; but he wouldn't b_ed by me. Thee! wench! thou wert not good enough to wipe the dust off hi_eet. A vile, flirting quean as thou art. It's well thy mother does not know (poor body) what a good- for-nothing thou art."
"Mother! O mother!" said Mary, as if appealing to the merciful dead. "But _as not good enough for him! I know I was not," added she, in a voice o_ouching humility.
For through her heart went tolling the ominous, prophetic words he had use_hen he had last spoken to her—
"Mary! you'll maybe hear of me as a drunkard, and maybe as a thief, and mayb_s a murderer. Remember! when all are speaking ill of me, yo will have n_ight to blame me, for it's your cruelty that will have made me what I feel _hall become."
And she did not blame him, though she doubted not his guilt; she felt ho_adly she might act if once jealous of him, and how much cause had she no_iven him for jealousy, miserable guilty wretch that she was! Speak on, desolate mother. Abuse her as you will. Her broken spirit feels to hav_erited all.
But her last humble, self-abased words had touched Mrs. Wilson's heart, sor_s it was; and she looked at the snow-pale girl with those piteous eyes, s_opeless of comfort, and she relented in spite of herself.
"Thou seest what comes of light conduct, Mary! It's thy doing that suspicio_as lighted on him, who is as innocent as the babe unborn. Thou'lt have muc_o answer for if he's hung. Thou'lt have my death too at thy door!"
Harsh as these words seem, she spoke them in a milder tone of voice than sh_ad yet used. But the idea of Jem on the gallows, Jem dead, took possession o_ary, and she covered her eyes with her wan hands, as if indeed to shut ou_he fearful sight.
She murmured some words, which, though spoken low, as if choked up from th_epths of agony, Jane Wilson caught. "My heart is breaking," said she feebly.
"My heart is breaking."
"Nonsense!" said Mrs. Wilson. "Don't talk in that silly way. My heart has _etter right to break than yours, and yet I hold up, you see. But, oh dear! o_ear!" with a sudden revulsion of feeling, as the reality of the danger i_hich her son was placed pressed upon her. "What am I saying? How could I hol_p if thou wert gone, Jem? Though I'm as sure as I stand here of th_nnocence, if they hang thee, my lad, I will lie down and die!"
She wept aloud with bitter consciousness of the fearful chance awaiting he_hild. She cried more passionately still.
Mary roused herself up.
"Oh, let me stay with you, at any rate, till we know the end.
Dearest Mrs. Wilson, mayn't I stay?"
The more obstinately and upbraidingly Mrs. Wilson refused, the more Mar_leaded, with ever the same soft entreating cry, "Let me stay with you." He_tunned soul seem to bound its wishes, for the hour at least, to remainin_ith one who loved and sorrowed for the same human being that she did.
But no. Mrs. Wilson was inflexible.
"I've, maybe, been a bit hard on you, Mary, I'll own that. But I cannot abid_ou yet with me. I cannot but remember it's your giddiness as has wrought thi_oe. I'll stay with Alice, and perhaps Mrs. Davenport may come help a bit. _annot put up with you about me. Good-night. To-morrow I may look on yo_ifferent, maybe. Good-night."
And Mary turned out of the house, which had been HIS home, where HE was loved, and mourned for, into the busy, desolate, crowded street, where they wer_rying halfpenny broadsides, giving an account of the bloody murder, th_oroner's inquest, and a raw-head-and-bloody- bones picture of the suspecte_urderer, James Wilson.
But Mary heard not; she heeded not. She staggered on like one in a dream. Wit_ung head and tottering steps, she instinctively chose the shortest cut t_hat home which was to her, in her present state of mind, only the hiding- place of four walls, where she might vent her agony, unseen and unnoticed b_he keen unkind world without, but where no welcome, no love, no sympathisin_ears awaited her.
As she neared that home, within two minutes' walk of it, her impetuous cours_as arrested by a light touch on her arm, and turning hastily she saw a littl_talian boy with his humble show-box, a white mouse, or some such thing. Th_etting sun cast its red glow on his face, otherwise the olive complexio_ould have been very pale; and the glittering tear-drops hung on the long- curled eye-lashes. With his soft voice and pleading looks, he uttered, in hi_retty broken English, the words—
"Hungry! so hungry."
And as if to aid by gesture the effect of the solitary word, he pointed to hi_outh, with its white quivering lips.
Mary answered him impatiently, "O lad, hunger is nothing—nothing!"
And she rapidly passed on. But her heart upbraided her the next minute wit_er unrelenting speech, and she hastily entered her door and seized the scant_emnant of food which the cupboard contained, and she retraced her steps t_he place where the little hopeless stranger had sunk down by his mut_ompanion in loneliness and starvation, and was raining down tears as he spok_n some foreign tongue, with low cries for the far distant "Mamma mia!"
With the elasticity of heart belonging to childhood he sprang up as he saw th_ood the girl brought; she whose face, lovely in its woe, had tempted hi_irst to address her; and, with the graceful courtesy of his country, h_ooked up and smiled while he kissed her hand, and then poured forth hi_hanks, and shared her bounty with his little pet companion. She stood a_nstant, diverted from the thought of her own grief by the sight of hi_nfantine gladness; and then bending down and kissing his smooth forehead, sh_eft him, and sought to be alone with her agony once more.
She re-entered the house, locked the door, and tore off her bonnet, as i_reedy of every moment which took her from the full indulgence of painful, despairing thought.
Then she threw herself on the ground, yes, on the hard flags she threw he_oft limbs down; and the comb fell out of her hair, and those bright tresse_wept the dusty floor, while she pillowed and hid her face on her arms, an_urst forth into loud, suffocating sobs.
O earth! thou didst seem but a dreary dwelling-place for thy poor child tha_ight. None to comfort, none to pity! And self-reproach gnawing at her heart.
Oh, why did she ever listen to the tempter? Why did she ever give ear to he_wn suggestions, and cravings after wealth and grandeur? Why had she though_t a fine thing to have a rich lover?
She—she had deserved it all: but he was the victim,—he, the beloved. She coul_ot conjecture, she could not even pause to think who had revealed, or how h_ad discovered her acquaintance with Harry Carson. It was but too clear, som_ay or another, he had learnt all; and what would he think of her? No hope o_is love,—oh, that she would give up, and be content: it was his life, hi_recious life, that was threatened! Then she tried to recall the particulars, which, when Mrs. Wilson had given them, had fallen but upon a deafene_ar,—something about a gun, a quarrel, which she could not remember clearly.
Oh, how terrible to think of his crime, his blood-guiltiness; he who ha_itherto been so good, so noble, and now an assassin! And then she shrank fro_im in thought; and then, with bitter remorse, clung more closely to his imag_ith passionate self-upbraiding. Was it not she who had led him to the pi_nto which he had fallen? Was she to blame him? She to judge him? Who coul_ell how maddened he might have been by jealousy; how one moment'_ncontrollable passion might have led him to become a murderer! And she ha_lamed him in her heart after his last deprecating, imploring, propheti_peech!
Then she burst out crying afresh; and when weary of crying, fell to thinkin_gain. The gallows! The gallows! Black it stood against the burning ligh_hich dazzled her shut eyes, press on them as she would. Oh! she was goin_ad; and for awhile she lay outwardly still, but with the pulses careerin_hrough her head with wild vehemence.
And then came a strange forgetfulness of the present, in thought of the long- past times;—of those days when she hid her face on her mother's pitying, loving bosom, and heard tender words of comfort, be her grief or her erro_hat it might;—of those days when she had felt as if her mother's love was to_ighty not to last for ever;—of those days when hunger had been to her (as t_he little stranger she had that evening relieved) something to be though_bout, and mourned over;—when Jem and she had played together; he, with th_ondescension of an older child, and she, with unconscious earnestness, believing that he was as much gratified with important trifles as sh_as;—when her father was a cheery-hearted man, rich in the love of his wife, and the companionship of his friend;—when (for it still worked round to that), when mother was alive, and HE was not a murderer.
And then Heaven blessed her unaware, and she sank from remembering, t_andering, unconnected thought, and thence to sleep. Yes! it was sleep, thoug_n that strange posture, on that hard cold bed; and she dreamt of the happ_imes of long ago, and her mother came to her, and kissed her as she lay, an_nce more the dead were alive again in that happy world of dreams. All wa_estored to the gladness of childhood, even to the little kitten which ha_een her playmate and bosom friend then, and which had been long forgotten i_er waking hours. All the loved ones were there!
She suddenly wakened! Clear and wide awake! Some noise had startled her fro_leep. She sat up, and put her hair (still wet with tears) back from he_lushed cheeks, and listened. At first she could only hear her beating heart.
All was still without, for it was after midnight, such hours of agony ha_assed away; but the moon shone clearly in at the unshuttered window, makin_he room almost as light as day, in its cold ghastly radiance. There was a lo_nock at the door! A strange feeling crept over Mary's heart, as if somethin_piritual were near; as if the dead, so lately present in her dreams, were ye_liding and hovering round her, with their dim, dread forms. And yet, wh_read? Had they not loved her?—and who loved her now? Was she not lonel_nough to welcome the spirits of the dead, who had loved her while here? I_er mother had conscious being, her love for her child endured. So she quiete_er fears, and listened—listened still.
"Mary! Mary! open the door!" as a little movement on her part seemed to tel_he being outside of her wakeful, watchful state. They were the accents of he_other's voice; the very south-country pronunciation, that Mary so wel_emembered; and which she had sometimes tried to imitate when alone, with th_ond mimicry of affection.
So, without fear, without hesitation, she rose and unbarred the door. There, against the moonlight, stood a form, so closely resembling her dead mother, that Mary never doubted the identity, but exclaiming (as if she were _errified child, secure of safety when near the protecting care of it_arent)—
"O mother! mother! you are come at last?" she threw herself, or rather fell, into the trembling arms of her long-lost, unrecognised aunt, Esther.