Mary Barton, by Elizabeth Gaskell

XXX. Job Legh’s Deception.

“Oh! sad is the night-time,

The night-time of sorrow,

When through the deep gloom, we catch but the boom

Of the waves that may whelm us tomorrow.”

Job found Mrs. Wilson pacing about in a restless way; not speaking to the woman at whose house she was staying, but occasionally heaving such deep oppressive sighs as quite startled those around her.

“Well!” said she, turning sharp round in her tottering walk up and down as Job came in.

“Well, speak!” repeated she, before he could make up his mind what to say; for, to tell the truth, he was studying for some kind-hearted lie which might soothe her for a time. But now the real state of the case came blurting forth in answer to her impatient questioning.

“Will’s not to the fore. But he’ll maybe turn up yet, time enough.”

She looked at him steadily for a minute, as if almost doubting if such despair could be in store for her as his words seemed to imply. Then she slowly shook her head, and said, more quietly than might have been expected from her previous excited manner —

“Don’t go for to say that! Thou dost not think it. Thou’rt well-nigh hopeless, like me. I seed all along my lad would be hung for what he never did. And better he were, and were shut49 of this weary world, where there’s neither justice nor mercy left.”

49 Shut; quit.

She looked up with tranced eyes as if praying, and then sat down.

“Nay, now thou’rt off at a gallop,” said Job. “Will has sailed this morning, for sure; but that brave wench, Mary Barton, is after him, and will bring him back, I’ll be bound, if she can but get speech on him. She’s not back yet. Come, come, hold up thy head. It will all end right.”

“It will all end right,” echoed she; “but not as thou tak’st it. Jem will be hung, and will go to his father and the little lads, where the Lord God wipes away all tears, and where the Lord Jesus speaks kindly to the little ones, who look about for the mothers they left upon earth. Eh, Job, yon’s a blessed land, and I long to go to it, and yet I fret because Jem is hastening there. I would not fret if he and I could lie down to-night to sleep our last sleep; not a bit would I fret if folk would but know him to be innocent — as I do.”

“They’ll know it sooner or later, and repent sore if they’ve hanged him for what he never did,” replied Job.

“Ay, that they will. Poor souls! May God have mercy on them when they find out their mistake.”

Presently Job grew tired of sitting waiting, and got up, and hung about the door and window, like some animal wanting to go out. It was pitch dark, for the moon had not yet risen.

“You just go to bed,” said he to the widow; “you’ll want your strength for tomorrow. Jem will be sadly off, if he sees you so cut up as you look to-night. I’ll step down again and find Mary. She’ll be back by this time. I’ll come and tell you everything, never fear. But now, you go to bed.”

“Thou’rt a kind friend, Job Legh, and I’ll go, as thou wishest me. But, oh! mind thou com’st straight off to me, and bring Mary as soon as thou’st lit on her.” She spoke low, but very calmly.

“Ay, ay!” replied Job, slipping out of the house.

He went first to Mr. Bridgnorth’s, where it had struck him that Will and Mary might be all this time waiting for him.

They were not there, however. Mr. Bridgnorth had just come in, and Job went breathlessly upstairs to consult with him as to the state of the case.

“It’s a bad job,” said the lawyer, looking very grave, while he arranged his papers. “Johnson told me how it was; the woman that Wilson lodged with told him. I doubt it’s but a wildgoose chase of the girl Barton. Our case must rest on the uncertainty of circumstantial evidence, and the goodness of the prisoner’s previous character. A very vague and weak defence. However, I’ve engaged Mr. Clinton as counsel, and he’ll make the best of it. And now, my good fellow, I must wish you good-night, and turn you out of doors. As it is, I shall have to sit up into the small hours. Did you see my clerk as you came upstairs? You did! Then may I trouble you to ask him to step up immediately?”

After this Job could not stay, and, making his humble bow, he left the room.

Then he went to Mrs. Jones’s. She was in, but Charley had slipped off again. There was no holding that boy. Nothing kept him but lock and key, and they did not always; for once she had him locked up in the garret, and he had got off through the skylight. Perhaps now he was gone to see after the young woman down at the docks. He never wanted an excuse to be there.

Unasked, Job took a chair, resolved to wait Charley’s reappearance.

Mrs. Jones ironed and folded her clothes, talking all the time of Charley and her husband, who was a sailor in some ship bound for India, and who, in leaving her their boy, had evidently left her rather more than she could manage. She moaned and croaked over sailors, and seaport towns, and stormy weather, and sleepless nights, and trousers all over tar and pitch, long after Job had left off attending to her, and was only trying to hearken to every step and every voice in the street.

At last Charley came in, but he came alone.

“Yon Mary Barton has getten into some scrape or another,” said he, addressing himself to Job. “She’s not to be heard of at any of the piers; and Bourne says it were a boat from the Cheshire side as she went aboard of. So there’s no hearing of her till tomorrow morning.”

“To-morrow morning she’ll have to be in court at nine o’clock, to bear witness on a trial,” said Job sorrowfully.

“So she said; at least somewhat of the kind,” said Charley, looking desirous to hear more. But Job was silent.

He could not think of anything further that could be done; so he rose up, and, thanking Mrs. Jones for the shelter she had given him, he went out into the street; and there he stood still, to ponder over probabilities and chances.

After some little time he slowly turned towards the lodging where he had left Mrs. Wilson. There was nothing else to be done; but he loitered on the way, fervently hoping that her weariness and her woes might have sent her to sleep before his return, that he might be spared her questionings.

He went very gently into the house-place where the sleepy landlady awaited his coming and his bringing the girl, who, she had been told, was to share the old woman’s bed.

But in her sleepy blindness she knocked things so about in lighting the candle (she could see to have a nap by firelight, she said), that the voice of Mrs. Wilson was heard from the little back-room, where she was to pass the night.

“Who’s there?”

Job gave no answer, and kept down his breath, that she might think herself mistaken. The landlady, having no such care, dropped the snuffers with a sharp metallic sound, and then, by her endless apologies, convinced the listening woman that Job had returned.

“Job! Job Legh!” she cried out nervously.

“Eh, dear!” said Job to himself, going reluctantly to her bedroom door. “I wonder if one little lie would be a sin, as things stand? It would happen give her sleep, and she won’t have sleep for many and many a night (not to call sleep), if things goes wrong tomorrow. I’ll chance it, any way.”

“Job! art thou there?” asked she again with a trembling impatience that told in every tone of her voice.

“Ay! sure! I thought thou’d ha’ been asleep by this time.”

“Asleep! How could I sleep till I know’d if Will were found?”

“Now for it,” muttered Job to himself. Then in a louder voice, “Never fear! he’s found, and safe, ready for tomorrow.”

“And he’ll prove that thing for my poor lad, will he? He’ll bear witness that Jem were with him? O Job, speak! tell me all!”

“In for a penny, in for a pound,” thought Job. “Happen one prayer will do for the sum total. Any rate, I must go on now. Ay, ay,” shouted he, through the door. “He can prove all; and Jem will come off as clear as a new-born babe.”

He could hear Mrs. Wilson’s rustling movements, and in an instant guessed she was on her knees, for he heard her trembling voice uplifted in thanksgiving and praise to God, stopped at times by sobs of gladness and relief.

And when he heard this, his heart misgave him; for he thought of the awful enlightening, the terrible revulsion of feeling that awaited her in the morning. He saw the shortsightedness of falsehood; but what could he do now?

While he listened, she ended her grateful prayers.

“And Mary? Thou’st found her at Mrs. Jones’s, Job?” said she, continuing her inquiries.

He gave a great sigh.

“Yes, she was there, safe enough, second time of going. God forgive me!” muttered he, “who’d ha’ thought of my turning out such an arrant liar in my old days.”

“Bless the wench! Is she here? Why does she not come to bed? I’m sure she’s need.”

Job coughed away his remains of conscience, and made answer —

“She was a bit weary, and o’erdone with her sail! and Mrs. Jones axed her to stay there all night. It was nigh at hand to the courts, where she will have to be in the morning.”

“It comes easy enough after a while,” groaned out Job. “The father of lies helps one, I suppose, for now my speech comes as natural as truth. She’s done questioning now, that’s one good thing. I’ll be off, before Satan and she are at me again.”

He went to the house-place, where the landlady stood wearily waiting. Her husband was in bed, and asleep long ago.

But Job had not yet made up his mind what to do. He could not go to sleep, with all his anxieties, if he were put into the best bed in Liverpool.

“Thou’lt let me sit up in this arm-chair,” said he at length to the woman, who stood, expecting his departure.

He was an old friend, so she let him do as he wished. But, indeed, she was too sleepy to have opposed him. She was too glad to be released and go to bed.

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Last updated Friday, March 14, 2014 at 22:17