“A lungeing villain,” muttered Joe Banks to himself, “he knows nowt but nastiness. Strange thing that a man can’t make up to a pretty girl wi’out people putting all sorts o’ bad constructions on it. Why they’re all alike – Missis Glaire, the wife and all. My Daisy, too. To say such a word of her.”
He hastened home, filled his pipe, lit it, and went out and sat down in the garden, in front of his bees, to smoke and watch them, while he calmed himself down and went over what had gone by, before thinking over the future.
This was a favourite place with Joe Banks on a Sunday, and he would sit in contemplative study here for hours. For he said it was like having a holiday and looking at somebody else work, especially when the bees were busy in the glass bells turned over the flat-topped hives.
“I’d no business to hit a crippled man like that,” mused Joe; “but he’d no business to anger me. Be a lesson to him.”
He filled a fresh pipe, lit it by holding the match sheltered in his hands, and then went on —
“Be a lesson to him – a hard one, for my hand ain’t light. Pity he hadn’t coot away, for he put me out.”
“Now, what’ll I do?” mused Joe. “Shall I speak to the maister?”
“No, I wean’t. He’ll speak to me when it’s all raight, and Daisy and him has made it up. I’ll troost him, that I will; for though he’s a bit wild, he’s a gentleman at heart, like his father before him. Why of course I’ll troost him. He’s a bit shamefaced about it o’ course; but he’ll speak, all in good time. Both of ’em will, and think they’re going to surprise me. Ha – ha – ha! I’ve gotten ’em though. Lord, what fools young people is – blind as bats – blind as bats. Here’s Daisy.”
“It’s so nice to see you sitting here, father,” said the girl, coming behind him, and resting her chin on his bald crown, while her plump arms went round his neck.
“Is it, my gal? That’s raight. Why, Daisy lass, what soft little arms thine are. Give us a kiss.”
Daisy leaned down and kissed him, and then stopped with her arms resting on his shoulders, keeping her face from confronting him; and so they remained for a few minutes, when a smile twinkled about the corners of the foreman’s lips and eyes as he said —
“Daisy, my gal, I’ve been watching the bees a bit.”
“Yes, father,” she said, smiling, though it was plain to see that the smile was forced. “Yes, father, you always like to watch the bees.”
“I do, my bairn, I do. They’re just like so many workmen in a factory; but they don’t strike, my gal, they don’t strike.”
“But they swarm, father,” said Daisy, making an effort to keep up the conversation.
“Yes,” chuckled Joe, taking hold of the hand that rested on his left shoulder. “Yes, my bairn, I was just coming to that. They swarm, don’t they?”
“And do you know why they swarm, Daisy?”
“Yes, father; because the hive is not big enough for them.”
“Yes, yes,” chuckled Joe, patting the hand, and holding it to his rough cheek.
The tears rose to Daisy’s eyes, and she tried to withdraw her hand, for Joe had touched on a tenderer point than he imagined; but he held it tightly and gave it a kiss.
“There, there, my pet,” he said, tenderly, “I won’t tease you. I knew it would come some day all right enough, and I don’t mind. I only want my little lass to be happy.”
“Oh, father – father – father,” sobbed Daisy, letting her face droop till it rested on his head, while her tears fell fast.
“Come, come, come, little woman,” he said, laughing; “thou mustn’t cry. Why, it’s all raight.” There was a huskiness in his voice though, as he spoke, and he had to fight hard to make the dew disappear from his eyes. “Here, I say, Daisy, my lass, that wean’t do no good: you may rain watter for ever on my owd bald head, and the hair won’t come again. There – tut – tut – tut – you’ll have moother here directly, and she’ll be asking what’s wrong.”
Daisy made a strong effort over self, and succeeded at last in drying her eyes.
“Then, you are not cross with me, father?” faltered Daisy.
“Cross, my darling? not a bit,” said Joe, patting her hand again. “You shan’t disgrace the man as has you, my dear; that you shan’t. Why, you’re fit to be a little queen, you are.”
Daisy gave him a hasty kiss, and ran off, while Joe proceeded to refill his pipe.
“Cross indeed! I should just think I hadn’t,” he exclaimed – “only with the women. Well, they’ll come round.”
But if Joe Banks had stood on the hill-side a couple of hours earlier, just by the spot where Tom Podmore had sat on the day of the vicar’s arrival, he would perhaps have viewed the matter in a different light, for – of course by accident – Daisy had there encountered Richard Glaire, evidently not for the first time since the night when they were interrupted by Tom in the lane.
It was plain that any offence Richard had given on the night in question had long been condoned, and that at every meeting he was gaining a stronger mastery over the girl’s heart.
“Then you will, Daisy, won’t you?” he whispered to her.
“No, no, Dick dear. Don’t ask me. Let me tell father all about it.”
“What?” he cried.
“Let me tell father all about it, and I’m sure he’ll be pleased.”
“My dear little Daisy, how well you are named,” he cried, playfully; and as he looked lovingly down upon her, the foolish girl began to compare him with the lover of her mother’s choice – a man who was nearly always blackened with his labours, and heavy and rough spoken, while here was Richard Glaire professing that he worshipped her, and looking, in her eyes, so handsome in his fashionably-cut blue coat with the rosebud in the button-hole, and wearing patent leather boots as tight as the lemon gloves upon his well-formed hands.
“I can’t help my name,” she said, coquettishly.
“I wouldn’t have it changed for the world, my little pet,” he whispered, playing with her dimpled chin; “only you are as fresh as a daisy.”
“What do you mean, Dick?” she said, nestling to him.
“Why you are so young and innocent. Look here, my darling: don’t you see how I’m placed? My mother wants me to marry Eve.”
“But you don’t really, really, really, care the least little bit for her, do you, Mr Richard?”
“‘Mr Richard!’” reproachfully.
“Dear Dick, then,” she whispered, colouring up, and glancing fondly at him, half ashamed though the while at her boldness.
“Of course I don’t love her. Haven’t I sworn a hundred times that I love only you, and that I want you to be my darling little wife?”
“Yes, yes,” said the girl, softly.
“Well, then, my darling, if you go and tell your father, the first thing he’ll do will be to go and tell my mother, and then there’ll be no end of a row.”
“But she loves you very much, Dick.”
“Worships me,” said Dick, complacently.
“Of course,” said the girl, softly; and her foolish little eyes seemed to say, “She couldn’t help it,” while she continued, “and she’d let you do as you like, Dick.”
“Well, but you see the devil of it is, Daisy, that I promised her I wouldn’t see you any more.”
“Why did you do that?” said the girl, sharply.
“To save rows – I hate a bother.”
“Richard, you were ashamed of me, and wouldn’t own me,” said Daisy, bursting into tears.
“Oh, what a silly, hard-hearted, cruel little blossom it is,” said Richard, trying to console her, but only to be pushed away. “All I did and said was to save bother, and not upset the old girl. That’s why I want it all kept quiet. Here, as I tell you, I could be waiting for you over at Chorley, we could pop into the mail as it came through, off up to London, be married by licence, and then the old folks would be in a bit of a temper for a week, and as pleased as Punch afterwards.”
“Oh, no, Richard, I couldn’t, couldn’t do that,” said the girl, panting with excitement.
“Yes, you could,” he said, “and come back after a trip to Paris, eh, Daisy? where you should have the run of the fashions. What would they all say when you came back a regular lady, and I took you to the house?”
“Oh, Dick, dear Dick, don’t ask me,” moaned the poor girl, whose young head was in a whirl. “I couldn’t – indeed I couldn’t be so wicked.”
“So wicked! no, of course not,” said Richard, derisively – “a wicked little creature. Oh, dear, what would become of you if you married Richard Glaire!”
“You’re teasing me,” she said, “and it’s very cruel of you.”
“Horribly,” said Richard. “But you will come, Daisy?”
“I couldn’t, I couldn’t,” faltered the girl.
“Yes, you could, you little goose.”
“Dick, my own handsome, brave Dick,” she whispered, “let me tell father.”
He drew back from her coldly.
“You want to be very obedient, don’t you?”
“Oh, yes, dear Richard,” she said, looking at him appealingly.
“You set such a good example, Daisy, that I must be very good too.”
“Yes, dear,” she said, innocently.
“Yes,” he said, with a sneer; “so you go and tell your father like a good little child, and I’ll be a good boy, too, and go and tell my mother, and she’ll scold me and say I’ve been very naughty, and make me marry Eve.”
“Oh, Richard, Richard, how can you be so cruel?” cried the poor girl, reproachfully.
“It isn’t I; it’s you,” he said, smiling with satisfaction as he saw what a plaything the girl’s heart was in his hands. “Are you going to tell your father?”
“Oh, no, Dick, not if you say I mustn’t.”
“Well, that’s what I do say,” he exclaimed sharply.
“Very well, Dick,” she said, sadly.
“And look here, Daisy, my own little one,” he whispered, kissing her tear-wet face, “some day, when I ask you, it shall be as I say, eh?”
“Oh, Dick, darling, I’ll do anything you wish but that. Don’t ask me to run away.”
“Do you want to break off our match?” he said, bitterly.
“Oh, no – no: – no – no.”
“Do you want to make my home miserable?”
“You know I don’t, Richard.”
“Because, I tell you I know my mother will never consent to it unless she is forced.”
“But you are your own master now, Richard,” she pleaded.
“Not so much as you think for, my little woman. So come, promise me. I know you won’t break your word if you do promise.”
“No, Dick, never,” she said, earnestly; and if there had been any true love in the young fellow’s breast he would have been touched by the trusting, earnest reliance upon him that shone from her eyes as she looked up affectionately in his face.
“Then promise me, Daisy, dear,” he whispered; “it is for the good of both of us, and – Hang it all, there’s Slee.”
Daisy was sent off as we know, and the tears fell fast as she hastened home, feeling that love was very sweet, but that its roses had thorns that rankled and stung.
“Oh, Dick, Dick,” she sobbed as she went on, “I wish sometimes that I’d never seen you, for it is so hard not to do whatever you wish.”
She dried her eyes hastily as she neared home, and drew her breath a little more hardly as about a hundred yards from the gate she saw Tom Podmore, who looked at her firmly and steadily as they passed, and hardly responded to her nod.
“He knows where I’ve been. He knows where I’ve been,” whispered Daisy to herself as she hurried on; and she was quite right, for her conscious cheeks hoisted a couple of signal flags of the ruddiest hue – signals that poor Tom could read as well as if they had been written down in a code, and he ground his teeth as he turned and watched her.
“She’s such a good girl that any one might troost her,” he muttered, as he saw her go in at the gate, “or else I’d go and tell Joe all as I knows. But no, I couldn’t do that, for it would hurt her, just as it would if I was to half kill Dick Glaire. She’ll find him out some day perhaps – not as it matters to me though, for it’s all over now.”
He walked back, looking over the green fence as he passed, and Mrs Banks waved her hand to him from the window; but his eyes were too much occupied by the sight of Daisy leaning over her father, and he walked on so hurriedly that he nearly blundered up against a great stalwart figure coming the other way.
“What cheer, owd Tommy?” cried the stalwart figure, pulling a short black pipe out of his mouth.
“Hallo, Harry,” said Tom, quietly, at least as quietly as he could, for the words were jerked out of his mouth by the tremendous clap on the shoulder administered by the big hammerman.
“What’s going to be done, Tommy?” growled the great fellow. “I’m ’bout tired o’ this. I wants to hit something.”
He stretched out his great sinewy arm, and then drawing it back, let it fly again with such force that a man would have gone down before it like a cork.
“Come along,” said Tom, who wished to get away from the neighbourhood of Banks’s cottage for fear Mrs Banks should call to him.
Harry was a man whose brain detested originality. He was a machine who liked to be set in motion, so he followed Tom like a huge dog, and without a word.
As they came abreast of the vicarage they saw the vicar at work gardening, and Jacky Budd making believe to dig very hard in the wilderness still unreclaimed.
Even at their distance, Jacky’s pasty face and red ripe nose, suggestive of inward tillage, were plainly to be seen, and just then a thought seemed to strike Tom, who turned to his companion, staring with open mouth over the hedge.
“Like a job, Harry?”
“Hey, lad, I should.”
“Come in here then,” said Tom, laying his hand on the gate.
“That I will, lad,” said Harry. “I want to scrarp some un, and I should ’mazin like a fall wi’ that theer parson.”
Tom smiled grimly, and entered, followed by Harry.
They were seen directly by the vicar, who came up and shook hands with Tom.
“Ah, Podmore, glad to see you. Well, Harry, my man,” he continued, holding out his hand to the other, “is the lump on your forehead gone?”
Harry took the vicar’s hand and held it in a mighty grip, while with his left he removed his cap and looked in the lining, as if to see if the bruise was there.
“Never thowt no more ’bout it, parson.” Then gazing down at the soft hand he held, he muttered, “It’s amaazin’!”
“What’s amazing?” said the vicar, smiling.
“Why that you could hit a man such a crack wi’ a hand like this ’ere.”
“Don’t mind him, sir; it’s his way,” said Tom, apologetically. “Fact is, parson, we’re tired o’ doing nowt.”
“I’m glad to hear you say so, Podmore,” said the vicar, earnestly. “I wish from my heart this unhappy strife were at an end. I’m trying my best.”
“Of course you are, sir,” said Tom; “but I thowt mebbe you’d give Harry here and me a bit o’ work.”
“Work! what work?” said the vicar, wonderingly.
“Well, you said I’d best get to work, and I’ve got nowt to do. That Jacky Budd there’s picking about as if he was scarred o’ hurting the ground: let me and Harry dig it up.”
The vicar looked from one to the other for a moment, and as his eyes rested on Harry, that giant gave Tom a clap on the shoulder hard enough to make a bruise, as he exclaimed —
“Hark at that now, for a good’n, parson. Here, gie’s hold of a shovel.”
The vicar led the way to the tool-house, furnished his visitors with tools, and then stood close at hand to supply the science, while the way in which the two men began to dig had such an effect on Jacky Budd that he stood still and perspired.
A dozen great shovelfuls of earth were turned over by Harry, who then stopped short, threw off his coat and vest, tightened the belt round his waist, and loosening the collar of his shirt, proceeded to roll up the sleeves before moistening his hands and seizing the spade once more, laughing heartily as he turned over the soft earth like a steam plough.
“Slip int’ it, Tommy. Well, this is a game. It’s straange and fine though, after doin’ nowt for a week.”
Tom was digging steadily and well, for he was a bit of a gardener in his way, having often helped Joe Banks to dig his piece in the early days of his love.
“Better borry some more garden, parson; we shall ha’ done this ’ere in ’bout an hour and a half,” said Harry, grinning; and then – crack!
“Look at that for a tool!” he cried, holding up the broken shovel, snapped in two at the handle.
“Try this one, Harry,” said Jacky Budd, handing his own spade eagerly; “I’ve got some hoeing to do.”
Harry took the tool and worked away a little more steadily, with the result that poor Jacky Budd was deprived of a good deal of the work that would have fallen to his lot; a deprivation, however, that he suffered without a sigh.
“Now, I ain’t agoing to beg, parson,” said Harry, after a couple of hours’ work, “but my forge wants coal, and a bite o’ bread and a bit o’ slip-coat cheese would be to raights.”
“Slip-coat cheese?” said the vicar.
“He means cream cheese,” said Tom, who had been working away without a word, keeping Jacky busy clearing away the weeds.
“No, I don’t,” growled Harry. “I mean slip-coat, and a moog o’ ale.”
“Shall I go and fetch some, sir?” said Jacky Budd, eagerly.
“Thank you, no, Budd,” said the vicar, quietly. “I won’t take you from your work;” and, to Jacky’s great disgust, he went and fetched a jug of ale from his little cellar himself.
“He ain’t a bad un,” cried Harry, tearing away at the earth. “Keeps a drink o’ ale i’ the plaace. I thowt parsons allus drunk port wine.”
“Not always, my man,” said the vicar, handing the great fellow the jug, and while he was drinking, up came Jacky with his lips parted, and a general look on his visage as if he would like to hang his tongue out like a thirsty hound and pant.
“Shall I get the leather, sir, and just nail up that there bit o’ vine over the window?”
“Get the what, Budd?” said the vicar, who looked puzzled.
“The leather, sir, the leather.”
“He means the lather, sir,” said Tom, quietly, “the lather to climb up.”
“Oh, the ladder,” said the vicar. “Yes, by all means,” he continued, smiling as he saw the clerk’s thirsty look. “I won’t ask you to drink, Budd,” he went on as he handed the mug to Tom, who took a hearty draught. “You told me you did not drink beer on principle; and I never like to interfere with a man’s principles, though I hold that beer in moderation is good for out-door workers.”
“Thanky, sir, quite right, sir,” said Jacky, with a blank look on his face. “I’ll get the leather and a few nails, and do that vine now.”
“Poof!” ejaculated Harry, with a tremendous burst of laughter, as he went on digging furiously. “Well, that’s alarming.”
“What’s the matter, old mate?” said Tom.
“Nowt at all. Poof!” he roared again, turning over the earth. “Jacky Budd don’t drink beer on principle. Poof!”
The vicar paid no heed to him, only smiled to himself, and the gardening progressed at such a rate that by five o’clock what had been a wilderness began to wear a very pleasant aspect of freedom from weeds and overgrowth, and with the understanding that the two workers were to come and finish in the morning, they resumed their jackets and went off.
Their visit to the vicarage had not passed unnoticed, however; for Sim Slee had been hanging about, seeking for an opportunity to have a word with his wife, and not seeing her, he had carried the news to the Bull and Cucumber.
“Things is coming to a pretty pass,” he said to the landlord. “That parson’s got a way of getting ower iverybody. What do you think now?”
“Can’t say,” said the landlord.
“He’s gotten big Harry and Tom Podmore working in his garden like two big beasts at plough.”
“He’ll be gettin’ o’ you next, Sim,” said the landlord, laughing.
“Gettin’ o’ me!” echoed Sim. “Not he. He tried it on wi’ me as soon as we met; but I wrastled with him by word o’ mouth, and he went down like a stone.”
“Did he though, Sim?”
“Ay, lad. Yon parson’s all very well, but he’s fra London, and he’ll hev to get up pretty early to get over a Lincoln man, eh?”
“Ay,” said the landlord; “but he ain’t so bad nayther. A came here and sat down just like a christian, and talked to the missus and played wi’ the bairns for long enough.”
“Did he though,” said Sim. “Hey, lad, but that’s his artfulness. He wants to get the whip hand o’ thee.”
“I dunno ’bout that,” said the landlord, who eked out his income from the publican business with a little farming. “I thowt so at first, and expected he’d want to read a chapter and give me some tracks.”
“Well, didn’t he?” said Sim.
“Nay, not he. We only talked once ’bout ’ligious matters, and ’bout the chapel – ay, and we talked ’bout you an’ all.”
“’Bout me?” said Sim, getting interested, and pausing with his mug half way to his lips.
“Yes,” said the landlord. “It come about throof me saying I see he’d gotten your missus to keep house for him.”
“Give me another gill o’ ale,” said Sim, now deeply interested.
The landlord filled his mug for him, and went on —
“I said she were ’bout the cleanest woman in these parts, and the way she’d fettle up a place and side things was wonderful.”
“Yow needn’t ha’ been so nation fast talking ’bout my wife,” said Sim.
“I niver said nowt agen her,” said the landlord, chuckling to himself. “And then we got talking ’bout you and the chapel.”
“What did he know ’bout me and the chapel?” cried Sim, angrily.