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Chapter 20 Mary's dream—and the awakening

  • > "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.
  • Carson."
  • 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.