Matters did not improve, for Richard, after being, to his great disgust, thoroughly beaten, and having his ball driven into all kinds of out-of-the-way places by his adversaries, found on re-entering the drawing-room that he was to play a very secondary part.
Eve recollected that Mr Selwood could sing a little, and he sang in a good manly voice several songs, to which she played the accompaniment.
Then Eve had to sing as well, a couple of pretty ballads, in a sweet unaffected voice, and all this time the whist-table was waiting and Richard pretending to keep up a conversation with the doctor, who enjoyed the music and did not miss his whist.
At length the last ballad was finished, tea over, and Richard had made his plans to exclude Eve from the whist-table, when he gnashed his teeth with fury, for his mother said —
“Eve, my dear, why don’t you ask Mr Selwood to try that duet with you?”
“What, the one Richard was practising, aunt?”
“Yes, my dear, that one.”
“Oh, no,” exclaimed the vicar. “If Mr Glaire sings I will not take his place. Perhaps he will oblige us by taking his part with you.”
“But Dick doesn’t know it, Mr Selwood,” said Eve, laughing merrily, “and he’s sure to break down. He always does in a song. Do try it.”
Dick turned livid with rage, for this was more than he could bear, and, seeing his annoyance, Mr Selwood pleasantly declined, saying —
“But I have an engagement on; I am to win some money of the doctor here, for my poor people.”
“Didn’t know it was the correct thing to gamble to win money for charity.”
“Oh, I often do,” said the vicar, pleasantly. “Now I’ll be bound, Mr Glaire, if I’d asked you for a couple of guineas to distribute, you’d think me a great bore.”
“You may depend upon that,” said Richard. “I never give in charity.”
“But at the same time, you would not much mind if I won that sum from you at whist.”
“You’d have to win it first,” said Richard, with a sneer.
“Exactly,” said the vicar; “and I might lose.”
“There, don’t talk,” said Richard; “let’s play. Come along, mamma.”
Mrs Glaire was about to excuse herself, but seeing her son’s looks, she thought better of her decision, and to keep peace went up to the table; Eve saying she would look on.
It fell about then that the vicar and Mrs Glaire were partners, and as sometimes happens, Richard and his partner, the doctor, had the most atrocious of hands almost without exception. This joined to the fact that Mrs Glaire played with shrewdness, and the vicar admirably, so disgusted Richard that at last he threw down the cards in a pet, vowing he would play no more.
“Well, it is time to leave off, really,” said the vicar, glancing at his watch. “Half-past ten.”
“Don’t forget to give your winnings away in charity, parson,” said Richard, in a sneering tone.
“Dick!” whispered Eve, imploringly.
“Hold your tongue,” was the reply.
“No fear,” said the vicar, good-temperedly, as he was bidding Mrs Glaire good night; “shall I send you an account? Good night, Miss Pelly. Thanks for a delightful evening. Good night, Mr Glaire.”
He held out his hand, and gave Richard’s a grip that made him wince, and then, after a few words in the hall, he was gone, with the doctor for companion.
“Thank goodness!” exclaimed Richard, savagely.
“Why, Dick, dear, how cross you have been,” said Eve, while Mrs Glaire watched the game.
“Cross! Enough to make one,” he cried, angrily; and then, mimicking the vicar’s manner, “Good night, Miss Pelly. Thanks for a delightful evening.”
“Well, I’m sure it was, Dick,” said Eve; “only you would be so cross.”
“And well I might, when you were flirting in that disgraceful way all the evening.”
“Oh, Dick!” exclaimed Eve, reproachfully; and the tears stood in her eyes.
“Well, so you were,” he cried, “abominably. If anybody else had been here, they would have said that you were engaged to be married to that cad of a parson, instead of to me.”
The tears were falling now as Eve laid her hand upon her cousin’s shoulder.
“Dick, dear,” she whispered; “don’t talk to me like that; it hurts me.”
“Serve you right,” he growled.
“If I have done anything to annoy you to-night, dear, it was done in all innocence. But you don’t – you can’t mean it.”
“Indeed, but I do,” he growled, half turning his back.
Mrs Glaire was sitting with her back to them, and still kept busy over her work.
“I am so sorry, Dick – dear Dick,” Eve said, resting her head on the young man’s shoulder. “Don’t be angry with me, Dick.”
“Then promise me you’ll never speak to that fellow any more,” he said, quickly.
“Dick! Oh, how can I? But there, you don’t mean it. You are only a little cross with me.”
“Cross!” he retorted; “you’ve hurt me so to-night that I’ve been wishing I’d never seen you.”
“Oh, Dick!” she exclaimed, as she caught his hand, and raised it to her lips. “Please forgive me, and believe me, dear Dick, that I have not a single thought that is not yours. Please forgive me.”
“There, hold your tongue,” he said, shortly; “she’s looking.”
Poor little Eve turned away to hide and dry her tears, and then Mrs Glaire, looking quite calm and satisfied with the prospect of events, said —
“Eve, my child, it is past eleven.”
“Yes, aunt, I’m going to bed. Good night.”
“Good night, Richard.”
“Good night,” he said, sulkily; and he bent down his head and brushed the candid white forehead offered to him with his lips, while, his hands being in his pockets, he at the same time crackled between his fingers a little note that he had written to Daisy, appointing their next interview, this arrangement having been forgotten in the hurry of the day’s parting. And as he spoke he was turning over in his mind how he could manage to get the note delivered unseen by Banks or his wife, for so far as he could tell at the moment, he had not a messenger he could trust.
Matters did not improve at Dumford as the days went on, and Murray Selwood found that he could not have arrived at a worse time, so far as his own comfort was concerned, though he was bound to own that the occasion was opportune for his parish, inasmuch as he was able to be of no little service to many of the people who, in a surly kind of way, acknowledged his help, and took it in a condescending manner, while, with a smile, he could not help realising the fact that the sturdy independent folks looked down upon him as a kind of paid official whom they were obliged to suffer in their midst.
He had secured a servant with great difficulty, for the girls of the place, as a rule, objected to domestic service, preferring the freedom and independence of working for the line-growing farmers of the neighbourhood, and spending the money earned with the big draper of the place. Not our independent friends, but Barmby the parish churchwarden, who coolly told the vicar that he could produce more effect upon the female population with a consignment of new hats or bonnets from town, than a parson could with a month’s preaching; and it must be conceded to Mr Barmby that his influence was far more visible than that of his clerical superior.
All efforts to patch up a peace between the locked-out men and their employer were without avail, even though the vicar had seen both parties again and again.
“Let them pay for my machine-bands,” said Richard Glaire – “Two hundred pounds, and come humbly and confess their faults, and I’ll then take their application into consideration.”
“But don’t you think you had better make a greater concession?” said the vicar. “You are punishing innocent and guilty alike.”
“Serve ’em right,” said Richard, turning on his heel, and leaving the counting-house, where Mr Selwood had sought him.
“What do you say, Mr Banks?” said the vicar.
“Well, sir, what I say is this,” said Joe, pulling out and examining a keen knife that he took from his pocket, “what I say is this – that he ought to find out whom this knife belongs to, and punish him.”
“Yes,” said Joe, grimly. “I’ve been well over the place, and I found this knife lying on a bench. It is the one used for cootting the bands; there’s the greasy marks on it. Now, the man as that knife belongs to,” he said, closing the blade with a snap, “is him as coot the bands.”
“By the way, did you ever find the bands?” said the vicar.
“Find ’em, parson, oh yes, I fun ’em; chucked into one of the furnaces they weer.”
“Well, not exactly bunt, but so cockered up and scorched, as to be no more good. I only wish I knew who did it.”
“It was a cowardly trick,” said the vicar, “and I wish it were known, so that this unhappy strife might be stayed.”
“Oh, that’ll come raight soon,” said Banks, drily. “Just wait till Master Dick has been over to the bank and seen how his book stands once or twice, and we’ll soon bring this game to an end.”
“And meanwhile the poor people are starving.”
“Not they, sir,” said Joe, with a chuckle. “People here are too saving. They’ll hold out a bit longer yet.”
Joe remained to smoke a pipe amongst the extinct forges, while the vicar paid a morning call at the big house, to find Mrs Glaire and Eve gone for a walk, and Jacky Budd visible in the garden, fast asleep on a rustic chair, with the flies haunting his nose.
Turning from there he went down the street, and had to bow to Miss Purley, who was at the doctor’s window, and to Miss Primgeon, who was at the lawyer’s window, both ladies having been there ever since he passed. Then reaching the vicarage, it was to find that he had had a visitor in his turn in the shape of his churchwarden, Mr Bultitude, “Owd Billy Bultitude,” as he was generally called in the town, just outside which he had a large farm and was reported to be very wealthy.
“Parish matters, I suppose,” said the vicar; and he stood debating with himself for a few minutes as to whether he should go across the fields, ending by making a start, and coming across Richard Glaire deep in converse with Sim Slee, just by the cross-roads.
Something white was passed by Richard to the gentleman of the plaid waistcoat, as the vicar approached, and then they moved on together for a few yards, unaware of the coming footsteps.
“That looks like coming to terms,” said the vicar to himself, joyfully. “Well, I’m glad of it,” and he was about to speak on the subject, when Richard started round with a scowl upon his countenance, and Slee thrust his hands into his pockets and went off whistling.
“As you will, master Dick,” said the vicar to himself; “but I mean to try hard yet to get the whip hand of you, my boy.” Then, aloud, “What a delightful morning.”
“Look here, Mr Selwood,” said Richard, roughly, “are you playing the spy upon my actions?”
“Not I,” said the vicar, laughing, “I am going over to Bultitude’s farm; I cannot help your being in the way. Good morning.”
“He was watching me,” muttered Dick, biting his nails. “I wonder whether he saw that note.”
As he stood looking after the vicar, Sim Slee came softly back to wink in a mysterious way, and point with his thumb over his shoulder.
“They’re all alike,” he said – “all alike, parsons and all.”
“What do you mean?” said Dick, roughly. “I thought you’d gone with that note.”
“Thowt I wouldn’t go yet,” said Sim, with another confidential jerk of the thumb over his shoulder. “Joe Banks is sure to be at home now.”
“I tell you he’s down at the foundry, and will stay there all day,” cried Dick, angrily.
“All raight: I’ll go then,” said Sim; “but I say, sir, they’re all alike.”
“What do you mean?”
“Why that parson – that dreadfully good man.”
“Well, what about him?”
“Don’t you know where he’s gone?”
“Yes, he said: old Bultitude’s.”
“Did he say what for?” said Sim, grinning. “No, of course not.”
“Ho – ho – ho! Ho – ho – ho!” laughed Sim, stamping on the ground with delight. “Don’t you see his game?”
“Curse you, speak out,” cried Dick, furiously. “What do you mean?”
“Only that he’s getting all the women under his thumb. He’ll be having crosses and candles in the chutch direckly, like the Ranby man.”
“Curse you for a fool, Slee,” cried Richard, impatiently; and he was turning away when Sim exclaimed —
“Don’t you know as Miss Eve walked over there half-an-hour ago?”
“What?” roared Dick.
“Oh! she’s only gone over to see Miss Jessie, of course; but if you’ll light a cigar, sir, and sit down on yon gate, you’ll see if he don’t walk home with her. Now I’m off.”
“Stop a moment, Sim,” cried Dick in a husky voice. “Have – have you ever seen anything?”
“Who? I? Oh, no! Nowt,” said Sim; “leastwise I only saw ’em come out of Ranby wood with a basket of flowers yesterday, that’s all.”
He went off then, chuckling to himself and rubbing his hands, leaving the poison to work, as, with his face distorted with rage, Dick started off at a sharp walk for Bultitude’s farm; but, altering his mind, he leaped a stile, lit a cigar, and stood leaning against a tree smoking, unseen by any one who should pass along the lane, but able to command the path on both sides for some distance, up and down.
Meanwhile the vicar, enjoying the pleasant walk, had been telling himself that he could always leave the grimy town and its work behind in a few minutes to enjoy the sweets of the country, which were here in all their beauty; and after thinking of Eve Pelly for about five minutes, he made a vigorous effort, uttered the word taboo, and began humming a tune.
Unfortunately for his peace of mind, the tune he inadvertently began to hum was one of those which Eve sang the other night, so he left off with a hasty “Pish!” and stooping down, began to botanise, picking a flower here and there, and then climbing up the rough side of the lane to cull a pretty little fern, whose graceful fronds drooped from a shadowy niche.
He threw the fern impatiently down, as he reached the path once more, and his brow furrowed, for memory told him directly that it was the pretty little asplenium, the peculiarities of whose growth he had explained to Eve when he met her with Mrs Glaire the day before, and had passed with them through Ranby wood, the latter lady probably being too insignificant to be taken in by Mr Sim Slee’s comprehensive vision.
Walking rapidly on, to calm his thoughts, he came across the object of his search, busily dragging a sheep out of a little narrow grip or drain that had been cut in the field, and into which the unfortunate animal had rolled feet uppermost, its heavy wet fleece, and the size of the drain, making it impossible for the timid beast to extricate itself.
“Fahrweltered, parson,” said the bluff-looking farmer, as he came up.
“I beg your pardon,” said the vicar.
“Fahrweltered – fahrweltered,” said the farmer, laughing; “we say in these parts a sheep’s fahrweltered when he gets on his back like that. I expect,” he continued, with a roguish twinkle of his eye, “you’ve found some of your flock fahrweltered by this time.”
“Indeed, I have,” said the vicar, laughing; “and so far the shepherd has not been able to drag them out.”
“No, I s’pose not,” said the farmer, carefully wiping his hands upon a big yellow silk handkerchief before offering one to be shaken. “You’ve got your work coot out, my lad, and no mistake. But come on up to the house, and have a bit of something. I come over to you about the meeting, and the books, and the rest of it.”
The vicar followed him up to the farm-house, where the heavy stack-yard, abundant display of cattle, and noises of the yard told of prosperity; and then leading the way through the red-brick passage into the long, low, plainly-furnished sitting-room, the first words Murray Selwood heard were —
“Jess, Miss Pelly, I’ve brought you a visitor.”
The vicar’s cheek burned, as he could not help a start, but he recovered himself directly as he saw Eve Pelly’s sweet face, with its calm unruffled look, and replied to the frank pressure of her hand, as she said she was delighted to see him.
“This is my niece, Jessie,” said the farmer in his bluff way. “She says, parson – ”
“Oh, uncle!” cried the pleasant, bright-faced girl.
“Howd your tongue, lass; I shall tell him. She says, parson, she’s glad our old fogy has gone, for it’s some pleasure to come and hear you.”
“Oh, Mr Selwood, please,” said the girl, blushing, “I didn’t quite say that. Uncle does – ”
“’Zaggerate,” said the old man, laughing. “Well, perhaps he does. But come, girl, get in a bit of lunch. There, what now, Miss Pelly; are we frightening you away?”
“Oh, no,” said Eve, smiling, “only I must go now.”
“Sit thee down, lass, sit thee down. Parson’s going back directly, and he’ll walk wi’ thee and see thee safe home.”
And so it came about that innocently enough an hour afterwards the vicar and Eve Pelly were walking back together with, as they came in sight of Richard Glaire, Eve eagerly speaking to her companion, and becoming so earnest in her pleading words for her cousin, that she laid one little hand on the vicar’s arm.
“You will like him when you come to know him, Mr Selwood,” she was saying, in her earnest endeavour that Richard should be well thought of by everybody. “Poor boy, he has been so annoyed and worried over the strike, that he is not like the same. It is enough to make him cross and low-spirited, is it not?”
“Indeed it is,” said the vicar, quietly; “and you may be quite at rest with respect to your cousin, for he will, for he will always find a friend in me.”
He had been about to say, “for your sake,” but a glance at the sweet, candid face arrested his words, and he told himself that anything that would in the slightest degree tend to disturb her pure faith and belief in the man who was to be her husband would be cruelty, for there was the hope that her gentle winning ways and innocent heart would be the means of influencing Richard Glaire, and making him a better man.
“Hallo, you two!” made them start, as Richard leaped over the stile, and seemed surprised to find that neither of them looked startled or troubled at his sudden apparition. “Here, Eve, take my arm. I’m going home.”
“Thank you, Dick,” she said, quietly. “I have something to carry.”
He scowled and relapsed into a moody silence, which no efforts on the vicar’s part could break. Fortunately, the distance back to the town was very short, and so he parted from them at the foot of the High street, the rest of the distance being occupied by Richard in a torrent of abuse of Eve, and invectives against the vicar, whom he characterised as a beggarly meddling upstart, and ended by sending the girl up to her room in tears.
Richard Glaire made the most of his short time for scolding, and sulked to a great extent with his cousin for the next few days, and then the tables were turned, for it came to pass one evening that all being bright and as beautiful without, as it was dull and cheerless within, Eve proposed to her aunt that they should take a walk as far as Ranby Wood.
“Do you expect to meet Mr Selwood, Eve?” said Mrs Glaire, rather bitterly.
The bitterness, was, however, unnoticed by Eve, who replied quietly —
“Oh no, aunt dear. I don’t think there is the slightest chance of that; for don’t you remember he said he was going to dine with Doctor Purley?”
“To be sure, yes; I had forgotten,” said Mrs Glaire, somewhat relieved; though had she been asked she would have been puzzled to say why.
The result was that they started, leaving the town, crossing the little hill, and reaching the pleasant paths of the wood where the lichened trunks of the old oak trees were turned to russet gold in the setting sunshine, and all above seemed so peaceful and beautiful that the tears rose to Mrs Glaire’s eyes, and she sat down upon a fallen trunk, thinking of how beautiful the world was, and how it was marred by man, through whom came the major part of the troubles that annoyed them.
“What’s that?” she exclaimed, hastily, as voices in angry contention approached.
“I don’t know, aunt,” said Eve, half rising in alarm. “Let’s go.”
“No one will interfere with us, child,” said Mrs Glaire, restraining her. “It’s Squire Gray’s keeper and young Maine,” she continued. “Why are they quarrelling?”
“I think I know, aunt,” said Eve, in an agitated voice. “Oh, surely they don’t mean to fight. It is about Jessie Bultitude: for Brough, the keeper, is always going to the farm with excuses, and it annoys John Maine.”
It was very evident, though, that they were going to fight, for just then the keeper, a great black-whiskered fellow in velveteens and gaiters, exclaimed —
“Well, look here, I’ll show you whether you’ve a raight to come across here. I ’ain’t forgot about the rabbits.”
As he spoke he began to strip off his coat, and his companion, a rather good-looking young fellow, whose face was flushed with passion, seemed disposed to imitate his example, when he caught sight of the ladies, and turned of a deeper red.
The keeper too resumed his coat, and whistling to his black retriever, who had been showing his teeth, and seemed disposed to join in the fray, he turned off into a side path and disappeared.