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Chapter 28 "John Cropper," ahoy!

  • > "A wet sheet and a flowing sea, >         A wind that follows fast >       And fills the white and rustling sail, >         And bends the gallant mast!
  • >       And bends the gallant mast, my boys, >         While, like the eagle free, >       Away the good ship flies, and leaves >         Old England on the lee."
  • >                          —ALLAN CUNNINGHAM.
  • Mary had not understood that Charley was not coming with her. In fact, she ha_ot thought about it, till she perceived his absence, as they pushed off fro_he landing-place, and remembered that she had never thanked him for all hi_ind interest in her behalf; and now his absence made her feel mos_onely—even his, the little mushroom friend of an hour's growth.
  • The boat threaded her way through the maze of larger vessels which surrounde_he shore, bumping against one, kept off by the oars from going right agains_nother, overshadowed by a third, until at length they were fairly out on th_road river, away from either shore; the sights and sounds of land being hear_n the distance.
  • And then came a sort of pause.
  • Both wind and tide were against the two men, and labour as they would the_ade but little way. Once Mary in her impatience had risen up to obtain _etter view of the progress they had made; but the men had roughly told her t_it down immediately, and she had dropped on her seat like a chidden child, although the impatience was still at her heart.
  • But now she grew sure they were turning off from the straight course whic_hey had hitherto kept on the Cheshire side of the river, whither they ha_one to avoid the force of the current, and after a short time she could no_elp naming her conviction, as a kind of nightmare dread and belief came ove_er, that everything animate and inanimate was in league against her one sol_im and object of overtaking Will.
  • They answered gruffly. They saw a boatman whom they knew, and were desirous o_btaining his services as a steersman, so that both might row with greate_ffect. They knew what they were about. So she sat silent with clenched hand_hile the parley went on, the explanation was given, the favour asked an_ranted. But she was sickening all the time with nervous fear.
  • They had been rowing a long, long time—half a day it seemed, at least—ye_iverpool appeared still close at hand, and Mary began almost to wonder tha_he men were not as much disheartened as she was, when the wind, which ha_een hitherto against them, dropped, and thin clouds began to gather over th_ky, shutting out the sun, and casting a chilly gloom over everything.
  • There was not a breath of air, and yet it was colder than when the sof_iolence of the westerly wind had been felt.
  • The men renewed their efforts. The boat gave a bound forwards at every pull o_he oars. The water was glassy and motionless, reflecting tint by tint of th_ndian-ink sky above. Mary shivered, and her heart sank within her. Still, no_hey evidently were making progress. Then the steersman pointed to a ripplin_ine on the river only a little way off, and the men disturbed Mary, who wa_atching the ships that lay in what appeared to her the open sea, to get a_heir sails.
  • She gave a little start, and rose. Her patience, her grief, and perhaps he_ilence, had begun to win upon the men.
  • "Yon second to the norrard is the John Cropper. Wind's right now, and sail_ill soon carry us alongside of her."
  • He had forgotten (or perhaps he did not like to remind Mary) that the sam_ind which now bore their little craft along with easy, rapid motion, woul_lso be favourable to the John Cropper.
  • But as they looked with straining eyes, as if to measure the decreasin_istance that separated them from her, they saw her sails unfurled and flap i_he breeze, till, catching the right point, they bellied forth into whit_oundness, and the ship began to plunge and heave, as if she were a livin_reature, impatient to be off.
  • "They're heaving anchor!" said one of the boatmen to the other, as the fain_usical cry of the sailors came floating over the waters that still separate_hem.
  • Full of the spirit of the chase, though as yet ignorant of Mary's motives, th_en sprung to hoist another sail. It was fully as much as the boat could bear, in the keen, gusty east wind which was now blowing, and she bent, an_aboured, and ploughed, and creaked upbraidingly as if tasked beyond he_trength; but she sped along with a gallant swiftness.
  • They drew nearer, and they heard the distant "ahoy" more clearly.
  • It ceased. The anchor was up, and the ship was away.
  • Mary stood up, steadying herself by the mast, and stretched out her arms, imploring the flying vessel to stay its course, by that mute action, while th_ears streamed down her cheeks. The men caught up their oars and hoisted the_n the air, and shouted to arrest attention.
  • They were seen by the men aboard the larger craft; but they were too busy wit_ll the confusion prevalent in an outward-bound vessel to pay much attention.
  • There were coils of ropes and seamen's chests to be stumbled over at ever_urn; there were animals, not properly secured, roaming bewildered about th_eck, adding their pitiful lowings and bleatings to the aggregate of noises.
  • There were carcases not cut up, looking like corpses of sheep and pigs rathe_han like mutton and pork; there were sailors running here and there an_verywhere, having had no time to fall into method, and with their mind_ivided between thoughts of the land and the people they had left, and th_resent duties on board ship; while the captain strove hard to procure som_ind of order by hasty commands given in a loud, impatient voice, to right an_eft, starboard and larboard, cabin and steerage.
  • As he paced the deck with a chafed step, vexed at one or two little mistake_n the part of the mate, and suffering himself from the pain of separatio_rom wife and children, but showing his suffering only by his outwar_rritation, he heard a hail from the shabby little river boat that wa_triving to overtake his winged ship. For the men fearing that, as the shi_as now fairly over the bar, they should only increase the distance betwee_hem, and being now within shouting range, had asked of Mary her mor_articular desire.
  • Her throat was dry, all musical sound had gone out of her voice; but in _oud, harsh whisper she told the men her errand of life and death, and the_ailed the ship.
  • "We're come for one William Wilson, who is wanted to prove an alibi i_iverpool Assize Courts to-morrow. James Wilson is to be tried for a murde_one on Thursday night when he was with William Wilson. Anything more, missis?" asked the boatman of Mary, in a lower voice, and taking his hand_own from his mouth.
  • "Say I'm Mary Barton. Oh, the ship is going on! Oh, for the love of Heaven, ask them to stop."
  • The boatman was angry at the little regard paid to his summons, and called ou_gain; repeating the message with the name of the young woman who sent it, an_nterlarding it with sailors' oaths.
  • The ship flew along—away—the boat struggled after.
  • They could see the captain take his speaking-trumpet. And oh! and alas! the_eard his words.
  • He swore a dreadful oath; he called Mary a disgraceful name! and he said h_ould not stop his ship for any one, nor could he part with a single hand, whoever swung for it.
  • The words came in unpitying clearness with their trumpet-sound. Mary sat dow_ooking like one who prays in the death agony. For her eyes were turned up t_hat heaven, where mercy dwelleth, while her blue lips quivered, though n_ound came. Then she bowed her head, and hid it in her hands.
  • "Hark! yon sailor hails us."
  • She looked up, and her heart stopped its beating to listen.
  • William Wilson stood as near the stern of the vessel as he could get; an_nable to obtain the trumpet from the angry captain, made a tube of his ow_ands.
  • "So help me God, Mary Barton, I'll come back in the pilot-boat time enough t_ave the life of the innocent."
  • "What does he say?" asked Mary wildly, as the voice died away in th_ncreasing distance, while the boatmen cheered, in their kindled sympathy wit_heir passenger.
  • "What does he say?" repeated she. "Tell me. I could not hear."
  • She had heard with her ears, but her brain refused to recognise the sense.
  • They repeated his speech, all three speaking at once, with many comments; while Mary looked at them and then at the vessel far away.
  • "I don't rightly know about it," said she sorrowfully. "What is the pilot- boat?"
  • They told her, and she gathered the meaning out of the sailors' slang whic_nveloped it. There was a hope still, although so slight and faint.
  • "How far does the pilot go with the ship?"
  • To different distances, they said. Some pilots would go as far as Holyhead fo_he chance of the homeward-bound vessels; others only took the ships over th_anks. Some captains were more cautious than others, and the pilots ha_ifferent ways. The wind was against the homeward-bound vessels, so perhap_he pilot aboard the John Cropper would not care to go far out.
  • "How soon would he come back?"
  • There were three boatmen, and three opinions, varying from twelve hours to tw_ays. Nay, the man who gave his vote for the longest time, on having hi_udgment disputed, grew stubborn, and doubled the time, and thought it migh_e the end of the week before the pilot-boat came home.
  • They began disputing and urging reasons; and Mary tried to understand them; but independently of their nautical language, a veil seemed drawn over he_ind, and she had no clear perception of anything that passed. Her very word_eemed not her own, and beyond her power of control, for she found hersel_peaking quite differently to what she meant.
  • One by one her hopes had fallen away, and left her desolate; and though _hance yet remained, she could no longer hope. She felt certain it, too, woul_ade and vanish. She sank into a kind of stupor. All outward object_armonised with her despair—the gloomy leaden sky—the deep dark waters below, of a still heavier shade of colour—the cold, flat yellow shore in th_istance, which no ray lightened up—the nipping, cutting wind.
  • She shivered with her depression of mind and body.
  • The sails were taken down, of course, on the return to Liverpool, and th_rogress they made, rowing and tacking, was very slow. The men talke_ogether, disputing about the pilots at first, and then about matters of loca_mportance, in which Mary would have taken no interest at any time, and sh_radually became drowsy; irrepressibly so, indeed, for in spite of her jerkin_fforts to keep awake, she sank away to the bottom of the boat, and there la_rouched on a rough heap of sails, rope, and tackles of various kinds.
  • The measured beat of the waters against the sides of the boat, and the musica_oom of the more distant waves, were more lulling than silence, and she slep_ound.
  • Once she opened her eyes heavily, and dimly saw the old grey, rough boatman (who had stood out the most obstinately for the full fare) covering her wit_is thick pea-jacket. He had taken it off on purpose, and was doing i_enderly in his way, but before she could rouse herself up to thank him sh_ad dropped off to sleep again.
  • At last, in the dusk of evening, they arrived at the landing-place from whic_hey had started some hours before. The men spoke to Mary, but though sh_echanically replied, she did not stir; so, at length, they were obliged t_hake her. She stood up, shivering and puzzled as to her whereabouts.
  • "Now tell me where you are bound to, missus," said the grey old man, "an_aybe I can put you in the way."
  • She slowly comprehended what he said, and went through the process o_ecollection; but very dimly, and with much labour. She put her hand into he_ocket and pulled out her purse, and shook its contents into the man's hand; and then began meekly to unpin her shawl, although they had turned awa_ithout asking for it.
  • "No! no!" said the old man, who lingered on the step before springing into th_oat, and to whom she mutely offered the shawl. "Keep it! we donnot want it.
  • It were only for to try you,—some folks say they've no more blunt, when al_he while they've getten a mint."
  • "Thank you," said she, in a dull, low tone.
  • "Where are you bound to? I axed that question afore," said the gruff ol_ellow.
  • "I don't know. I'm a stranger," replied she quietly, with a strange absence o_nxiety under the circumstances.
  • "But you mun find out then," said he sharply: "pier-head's no place for _oung woman to be standing on, gapeseying."
  • "I've a card somewhere as will tell me," she answered, and the man, partl_elieved, jumped into the boat, which was now pushing off to make way for th_rrivals from some steamer.
  • Mary felt in her pocket for the card, on which was written the name of th_treet where she was to have met Mr. Bridgnorth at two o'clock; where Job an_rs. Wilson were to have been, and where she was to have learnt from th_ormer the particulars of some respectable lodging. It was not to be found.
  • She tried to brighten her perceptions, and felt again, and took out the littl_rticles her pocket contained, her empty purse, her pocket-handkerchief, an_uch little things, but it was not there.
  • In fact, she had dropped it when, so eager to embark, she had pulled out he_urse to reckon up her money.
  • She did not know this, of course. She only knew it was gone.
  • It added but little to the despair that was creeping over her. But she tried _ittle more to help herself, though every minute her mind became more cloudy.
  • She strove to remember where Will had lodged, but she could not; name, street, everything had passed away, and it did not signify; better she were lost tha_ound.
  • She sat down quietly on the top step of the landing, and gazed down into th_ark, dank water below. Once or twice a spectral thought loomed among th_hadows of her brain; a wonder whether beneath that cold dismal surface ther_ould not be rest from the troubles of earth. But she could not hold an ide_efore her for two consecutive moments; and she forgot what she thought abou_efore she could act upon it.
  • So she continued sitting motionless, without looking up, or regarding in an_ay the insults to which she was subjected.
  • Through the darkening light the old boatman had watched her: interested in he_n spite of himself, and his scoldings of himself.
  • When the landing-place was once more comparatively clear, he made his wa_owards it, across boats, and along planks, swearing at himself while he di_o for an old fool.
  • He shook Mary's shoulder violently.
  • "D—- you, I ask you again where you're bound to? Don't sit there, stupid.
  • Where are going to?"
  • "I don't know," sighed Mary.
  • "Come, come; avast with that story. You said a bit ago you'd a card, which wa_o tell you where to go."
  • "I had, but I've lost it. Never mind."
  • She looked again down upon the black mirror below.
  • He stood by her, striving to put down his better self; but he could not. H_hook her again. She looked up, as if she had forgotten him.
  • "What do you want?" asked she wearily.
  • "Come with me and be d—d to you!" replied he, clutching her arm to pull he_p.
  • She arose and followed him, with the unquestioning docility of a little child.