“Thank you kindly, sir,” said Maine. “I know you do,” and, backing out, the next moment he was gone.
“Strange young man that – strange people altogether,” said the vicar. “Oh, here’s the soup.”
For just then Mrs Slee bustled in with a napkin-covered tray, bearing a basin and spoon, the former emitting clouds of steam.
The vicar took the basin, sat down, stirred it, smelt it, tasted it, and replaced the spoon, while Mrs Slee watched his face eagerly.
“Wants another pinch of salt, and another dash of pepper. Fetch them, Mrs Slee, and some bread.”
Mrs Slee, looking as ungracious as ever, but with an eagerness which she could not conceal, hurried out to return with the required articles, when more salt was added and a dash of pepper. Then a slice of bread was cut from the home-made loaf, and the vicar tasted – tasted again, and then, in the calmest and most unperturbed manner possible, went on partaking of the soup, every mouthful being watched with intense eagerness by the woman waiting for his judgment.
“Capital soup this, Mrs Slee; capital brew!”
Mrs Slee did not smile, as the vicar diligently hunted the last grains of rice in the bottom of the basin with his spoon, but she gave a sigh of satisfaction.
“This will go off like a shot. How much have you got of it? Almost equal to our soup at Boanerges.”
“There’s about sixty quarts of it, sir.”
“Sixty? Not half enough. You’ll have to start the copper again directly, Mrs Slee. Ah, by the way, Bailey will bring two hundred loaves this evening, and we’ll give them away with the soup in the morning.”
“Two hundred loaves!” exclaimed Mrs Slee. “Bless the man, where am I to put them?”
“Oh, we’ll stack them in the hall if we can’t put them anywhere else, Mrs Slee,” said the vicar, laughing. “And let that soup cool. It’ll be like jelly in the morning. I’m going to walk over to Bultitude’s, and I’ll call at the butcher’s about the beef.”
“But that broth would bear as much watter to it, and that would make twice as much.”
“Now, Mrs Slee, I won’t have a good thing spoiled,” said the vicar. “I don’t believe you mind the trouble of making it.”
“That I’m sure I don’t,” said Mrs Slee, sharply; “only you’re giving away cartloads of bread and meat, and pailsful of soup to folks as wean’t say thank you for it, and laugh at you for your pains.”
“They won’t laugh at me while they’re eating that beautiful soup, Mrs Slee, which does you credit. If they like to laugh afterwards, – well, let them.”
“Oh, I don’t want no praise for the broth,” said Mrs Slee, ungraciously. “You telled me how to mak’ it. But I don’t like to see you robbing yourself for them as is sure to be ungrateful.”
“We won’t mind that, Mrs Slee,” said the vicar, smiling; “and now I’m going off to Bultitude’s, and I’ll see if I can’t get there this time. By the way, Mrs Slee, I should like a little tureen of that soup for my dinner; it’s splendid.
“He’s a strange good man,” said Mrs Slee, grimly, as she watched the vicar down the path; “and he must hev a vast o’ money, giving away as he is raight and left. Well, I won’t hev him cheated if I can help it, for the more he gives the more he may. Who’s yon at the back?”
The last remark was jerked out as a soft tap was heard at the kitchen door, and on going to answer it, there stood Sim Slee.
“Didn’t I tell thee as thou needn’t come here?” said Mrs Slee. “I thowt you wouldn’t darken parson’s door again.”
“What’s that as smells?” said Sim, giving a sniff.
“Soup for them as you and your strike folk have left to pine to dead,” snapped Mrs Slee.
“Is that some on it in they pancheons?” said Sim.
“Yes, it is,” said his wife, sulkily.
“I heered tell on it,” said Sim. “He’ve been a scrattin about at all the butchers’, and buying up weighs of cag mag as they couldn’t sell. I saw a basket o’ stinking bones come up to the gate, and I heerd at the Bull as he’s gotten four beasts’ heads promised. Yah! it’s a shame as such as him should hev a place like this, and five hundred a year.”
“Thou fulsome!” exclaimed Mrs Slee, angrily. “I wean’t stand by and hear parson talked about like that.”
“All raight,” said Sim, sneering; “he’s won you ower then. But what hev you gotten to eat?”
“Nowt,” said Mrs Slee, shortly.
“Here, just take thee scithers, and coot the dwiny ends off my collar,” said Sim, holding up the ragged but scrupulously clean collar of the shirt he wore; and this duty was diligently performed by his wife.
“Some one telled me as the soup meat was covered wi’ maddick bees,” said Sim, as soon as the task was done.
“Then some one telled thee a lie,” said Mrs Slee, sharply.
“Power up a few of it in a basin,” said Sim, after examining the broad earthen pans in which the thick soup steamed. “Let’s see what sorter stuff the downtrodden serf is to be compelled to eat.”
“It isn’t good enough for such as thou,” said Mrs Slee, sharply.
Sim took up the spoon, and with an air of disgust raised some of the soup and let it drop back, exhaling as it did so a most tantalising odour for a hungry man.
“I just come by Riggall’s, the bone-setter’s,” said Sim; “and he says as he won’t hev parson meddling wi’ his trade, if doctor does. Why, he tied up Binney Mawtrop’s hand as he got in the wheel.”
“Yes, and I held a basin and a sponge for him,” said Mrs Slee, eyeing her husband. “He owt to hev let him bleed to dead, of course.”
“Say, owd lass,” said Sim, “is this stuff fit to yeat?”
“Fit to yeat, thou unconditioned fulsome! it ain’t fit for thee. Bread and watter’s what such shacks as thou ought to hev, and nowt besides.”
“Thy tongue’s gotten a strange and rough edge to it this morning, moother,” said Sim, grinning, and longing to convey the spoon to his mouth, but feeling that it would not be consistent.
“There, sit thee down,” said Mrs Slee. “I know what you mean. There, sit down, and don’t get theeing and thouing me about. A deal you care for me.”
This was in answer to a rough caress, as she bustled about, and got a basinful of the soup for her lord, with a great hunk of bread; and without more ado Sim took his seat.
“Oh, I’m not going to yeat this,” he said. “I’m just going to taste what sorter moock he gives the pore out of his bounty.”
“Howd thee tongue and eat,” said Mrs Slee, contemptuously.
Sim played with the spoon, and splashed the soup about, ending by tasting it and retasting, and then taking some bread and going heartily to work.
“Say, moother,” he exclaimed, “it won’t do; that’s the broth you’ve been makking for the parson hissen. It ain’t to give away.”
“That’s made o’ the meat as the parson went and scratted up from the butcher’s, and the baskets o’ bones and beasts’ heads, and all the rubbish he could get together,” said Mrs Slee sourly.
“I’ll say it’s good soup,” said Sim, finishing his basin. “Say, moother, give’s another soop.”
“He said I was to give some to anybody who wanted,” said Mrs Slee; and then, with a grim smile, she refilled his basin, while Sim drew out his handkerchief, spread it on his knees, and polished off the second basin in a very few minutes.
“You can’t get me to believe as that soup’s going to be gin away,” he said as he rose. “That’ll be wattered till it’s thin as thin. Theer, I’m off again. I’ve a deal to see to;” and without another word he hurried away.
“Yes, he’s gotten his fill,” said Mrs Slee, directing a look of contempt after her husband; but as she crossed the kitchen she saw something white under the chair Sim had occupied, and stooping down picked up a note in a very small envelope, whose address she spelled out: “Miss Banks, By hand.”
“What’s he gotten to do wi’ takkin letters to Daisy Banks?” she exclaimed, as a hot feeling of jealousy came upon her for the moment. Then, with a half-laugh she said, “No, no, it ain’t that: he’s too old and unheppen, and she’s ower young and pretty. He’s takkin it for some one. Whose writing will it be? He’s coming back.”
She stopped short, hearing a step, and darted out of the kitchen just as Sim came softly up, peered in and looked eagerly about the floor and under the table.
“Mebbe I’ve dropped it somewheers else,” he muttered, starting off again, while Mrs Slee had another good look at the letter, and ended by depositing it in her bosom.
“I’ll give it to parson,” she said at last, and then resumed her work.
Meanwhile, Murray Selwood was retracing his steps on the way to Bultitude’s farm, but before he reached the place he came upon John Maine once more, looking eagerly across the fields.
“Well, Maine, how’s the head?” said the vicar, making the young man start, for the grass had deadened his tread. “What can you see – game?”
“I’m afraid it is, sir,” said the young man, bluntly – “the sportsman and the hare.”
“H’m!” ejaculated the vicar, as he caught sight of two figures on the hill-side, far distant; but the day was so beautifully clear that he could make out Richard Glaire and a companion. “Mr Glaire and his cousin?” he said hastily.
“No, sir,” said the young man, quietly, “that’s what it ought to be. It’s Mr Richard Glaire and one of the town girls. I think it’s Daisy Banks. Do you know him well, sir?”
“Yes, pretty well,” said the vicar, eyeing the young man’s saddened face intently.
“Well, sir, it’s no business of mine,” said the young fellow; “but if I was a friend of Mr Richard Glaire, I should tell him to keep at home, and not do that; for the men are getting hot again him, and he may fall into trouble.”
“John Maine, if any violence is intended against Mr Glaire,” said the vicar, “I wish you to tell me at once.”
“I don’t know of any, sir,” said Maine, “only Tom Podmore’s dreadfully put out about Daisy Banks, and the strike people are growing more bitter every day. If I do hear of anything, sir, I’ll tell you.”
They came directly upon old Bultitude, looking bluff and ruddy in his velveteens and gaiters.
“Ah, parson, fine day! how are you? What’s the matter?”
“Well, Maine here isn’t well,” said the vicar.
“What’s wrong, lad? Why, thou said’st nowt when you came in a bit ago.”
“Oh, it’s nothing, sir, nothing,” said John Maine, hastily.
“Let him go and lie down for an hour,” said the vicar, looking at the young man’s ghastly face.
“Not got fever, hev you, my lad?” said the old gentleman kindly, as they walked up to the house. “Here, Jess, pull down the blinds in the far room, and let John Maine come and lie down a bit theer.”
At his summons, Jessie’s young, pleasant face appeared at the window. It had no more pretensions to beauty than a pair of soft, dark eyes, and a bright, rosy colour, and the eyes looked very wistfully at John Maine, who now made an effort.
“No, no, sir,” he said. “I won’t lie down. I’ll get to work again; there’s nothing like forgetting pain.”
“Well, perhaps you’re right, Maine,” said the vicar. “Well, Mr Bultitude, we don’t get over our strike.”
“Parson, it makes me wild,” said the old man. “I can’t bear it, and I shall be glad – strange and glad to see it over; for I hate to see a pack of men standing about the town doing o’ nowt. Can’t you do owt wi’ the works people?”
The vicar shook his head. “I’ve tried both ways – hard,” he said; “master and men, but no good comes of it.”
While this conversation was going on, Jessie had stepped anxiously forward, and laid her hand upon John Maine’s arm.
“Is anything serious the matter, John?” she said anxiously. “Are you very ill?”
He started when she touched him as if he had been stung, and withdrew his arm hastily; and then, without so much as a glance at the girl’s earnest, appealing eyes, he turned away and followed the vicar down the path, for he had shaken hands and parted from the farmer.
“I’ll see you across the home close, sir,” said John Maine.
“Thank you, do,” said the vicar; “but I think your bull pretty well knows me now. Hallo! here comes Mr Brough, the Squire’s keeper, with his black looks and black whiskers. He always looks at me as if he thought I had designs on the squire’s game. Hallo! Maine, bad friends? What does that mean?” he continued, as the man gave him a surly salute and then passed on, gun over shoulder, bestowing upon the young bailiff a sneering, half-savage look that was full of meaning.
“Tom Brough has never been very good friends with me, sir, since I thrashed him for annoying Miss Jessie there, up at the farm.”
“Seems as if his love has not yet returned,” said the vicar, as he strode away, thinking of the various little plots and by-plots going on in his neighbourhood; and then sighing deeply as he felt that there was trouble in store for himself, in spite of his stern discipline and busy efforts to keep his mind too much employed to think of the countenance that haunted his dreams.
It seemed to be the vicar’s fate to appear as playing the spy upon Richard Glaire, for, on Iiis return, taking a round-about way back, so as to make a call upon one or two people whom he had relieved of some part of the suffering induced by the strike, he was once more striking for the High Street, when he heard the words sharply uttered:
“Well, I’ll pay you this time; but let me find that you fail me again and don’t you expect – Confound – !”
“How do, Mr Glaire,” said the vicar, for he had come suddenly upon Richard, laying down the law pretty sharply to Sim Slee, and he was close to them before it was seen on either side.
“Really,” said the vicar to himself as he strode on, “I’ve not the slightest wish to see what that unfortunate young man does; but it seems to me that I am to be bound to bear witness to a great deal. Heigho! these are matters that must be left to time.”
He entered his own gate soon after, and having received Mrs Slee’s report, that lady handed him the note she had found.
“Mr Glaire’s hand,” he said, involuntarily and with his brows knit. “Where did you get this?”
“My master came to see me, and he must ha’ dropped it,” said Mrs Slee.
“Then take it to him,” said the vicar, quietly, as he resumed his calm aspect. “It is nothing to do with us.”
“I don’t know about that,” said Mrs Slee, sharply. “What call has young master Dick Glaire to be writing letters to she?”
“Take the letter to your husband, Mrs Slee,” said the vicar, quietly; and then left alone, he threw himself into his chair, and covered his face with his hands, trying hard to resist temptation, for he knew well enough that if he had kept that letter and dishonourably shown it to Eve Pelly, so serious a breach would be created that his future success would be almost certain. But, no; he could not stir a step to make her unhappy. She loved this man, who was quite unworthy of her; and if she ever was awakened from her dream his must not be the hand that roused her.
He started as he heard the door close loudly, and saw Mrs Slee go down the path to seek out her husband, and return the letter.
There was time now to call her back, but he did not move, only sat and watched her bear away that which he knew might have been used as the lever to overthrow Richard Glaire.
Once only did he hesitate, but it was when his thoughts reverted to Daisy Banks and the possibility of ill befalling her, through her intimacy with Richard Glaire.
“But I cannot take action on a letter that falls accidentally into my hands,” he said. “If I speak to the girl’s father it must be on the subject of what I have seen; and that I will do.”
He gave the matter a little consideration, and then determined to act at the risk of being considered a meddler, and walked straight to Joe Banks’s pleasant little home, where he found Mrs Banks and Daisy alone, the girl being in tears.
He was turning; back, so as to avoid being present during any family trouble, when Mrs Banks arrested him.
“Don’t you go away, sir, please, for I should like you to have your word with this girl as well as me. It’s no use to speak to her father and – Hoity-toity, miss.”
Poor Daisy did not stop to hear the rest; for already growing thin with worry and mental care connected with her love affair, Mrs Banks was leading her rather a sad life in her husband’s absence, ostensibly to benefit Tom Podmore, but really hardening the girl’s heart against him, if she had felt any disposition to yield: she now started up to hide her tears, and ran out of the room.
“Well, that’s fine manners, miss!” exclaimed Mrs Banks, apostrophising the absent one. “I’m always telling her and Joe, my husband, sir, that no good can come of her listening to young Master Dick Glaire.”
“Then you don’t approve of it, Mrs Banks?” said the vicar, quietly.
“Approve of it, sir? No, nor anybody else, except her foolish father, who’s the best and kindest man in the world: only when he takes an obstinate craze there’s no turning him.”
The vicar found the matter already to his hand, and was spared the trouble of introducing the subject; but he would rather have found Joe Banks present.
“Does he approve of it?” he said, quietly.
“Approve of it, sir! yes. I tell him, and all his neighbours tell him, that it’s a bit of foolish vanity; but they can’t turn him a morsel.”
“Hallo, moother,” said Joe Banks, entering the room, “can’t you let that rest?”
“No, Joe, and I never shall,” exclaimed Mrs Banks.
“Don’t you tak’ any notice, sir,” said Joe. “She heven’t talked you round, hev she?”
“No, Mr Banks,” said the vicar, quietly; “it was not necessary. I have no right to interfere in these matters, but – ”
“Well, speak out, sir; speak out,” said Joe, rather sternly. “Say out like a man what you mean.”
“If I did, Mr Banks, I should say that you were imprudent to let this matter proceed.”
“Because it is a well-known fact that Mr Glaire is engaged to his cousin.”
“There, Joe; there, Joe; what did I tell thee?” cried Mrs Banks, triumphantly; while Daisy, who could hear nearly all that was said, crouched with burning face in her room, shivering with nervous excitement, though longing to hear more.
“All raight, parson, I know,” said Joe; “I see. The missus has sent you.”
“Indeed, no, Banks,” said the vicar. “I speak as a friend, without a word from anybody.”
“Then, what do you mean by it?” cried Joe, exploding with passion. “What raight have you to come interferin’ in a man’s house, and about his wife and daughter? This is my own bit o’ freehold, Mr Selwood, and if you can’t pay respect to me and to mine, and see that if Master Richard Glaire, my old fellow-workman’s boy, chooses to marry my gal, he’s a raight to, why I’d thank you to stay away.”
“Don’t be angry with me, Mr Banks,” said the vicar, laying his hand upon the other’s arm; “I indeed wish you and yours well.”
“Then keep to wishing,” said Joe sharply. “I’m not an owd fool yet. Think I don’t know? Here’s the Missus, and Missus Glaire, and Tom Podmore, all been at you; and ‘All raight, leave it to me,’ says you. ‘I’ll put it all raight.’ And now you’ve had your try, and you can’t put it raight. I’ll marry my gal to anybody I like and she likes, in spite of all the parsons in Lincolnshire.”
“Don’t you tak’ any notice of what he says, sir, please,” cried Mrs Banks. “He’s put out, and when he is, and it’s about something that he knows he’s wrong over – ”
“No, he isn’t,” roared Joe.
“He says anything, sir,” continued Mrs Banks.
“No, he don’t,” roared Joe. “He’s a saying raight, and what he says is, that he won’t be interfered wi’ by anyone. He’s got trouble enew ower the strike, and he won’t hev trouble ower this; so perhaps Mr Selwood ’ll stop away from my place till he’s asked to come again.”
“Joe, you ought to be ashamed of yoursen,” cried Mrs Banks. “He’ll come and beg your pardon for this, sir, or I’ll know the reason why.”
“No, he wean’t,” roared Joe. “So now go; and if you hadn’t been such a straightforward chap ower the row again Master Richard, I’d hev said twice as much to you.”
“Yes, I’ll go,” said the vicar quietly. “Good day, Mrs Banks. Good day, Banks; you’ll find I’m less disposed to meddle than you think, and give me credit for this some day. Come, you’ll shake hands.”
“Dal me if I will,” cried Joe.
“Nonsense, man; shake hands.”
“I wean’t,” roared Joe, stuffing his hands in his pockets, and turning his back.
“Well, Mrs Banks, you will,” said the vicar; and then, as he went away, he said:
“Mrs Banks, and you, Mr Banks, please recollect this: I shall forget all these words before I get home; so don’t either of you think that we are bad friends, because we are not; and you, Mr Banks, you are of too sterling stuff not to feel sorry for what you have said.”
“There, it wean’t do,” roared Joe; “I wean’t be talked ower;” but the vicar hardly heard his words, for he was striding thoughtfully away.