Though Sim Slee had omitted on two occasions to convey letters to Daisy Banks making appointments for meetings in different parts of the country walks round Dumford, Daisy had had a pretty good supply of messages; and feeling as it were compelled to obey, she had gone on more than one occasion with sinking heart, to return with aching eyes, whose lids looked swollen and red with weeping.
For the girl was simply wretched, and time after time she looked back to the days when her heart was whole, and as she threw herself wearily on her bed she sobbed herself again and again to sleep, wishing that her very life were ended; the deceit she was obliged to practise, the anger of her mother, and the open sneers and innuendoes of neighbours wounding her so that the smart was almost more than she could bear.
Whether Dick chose east, west, north, or south for the appointment, poor Daisy could never get out of the town without encountering some one to give her a peculiar look, more than once driving the poor girl to make pretence of calling at some place that she did not want to visit, and as often turning her back home, making Richard Glaire, who had been kept waiting and “fooled,” as he called it, write her the cruellest and most angry letters, some even of a threatening nature.
It happened one evening that poor Daisy, who had broken faith the night before, was going slowly up the High Street, with a basket on her arm, as if bound on some marketing expedition, when it seemed as if it was impossible that she could get to her trysting place, where she knew that Dick must have been waiting for an hour.
First the landlord of the Bull was standing at his door smoking, and he gave a sneering nod, which seemed to say, “I know where you are going, my lass.”
A little further on sat Miss Purley, at her window, ready to put up her great square, chased gold eye-glass, and stare at the blushing girl with all the indignant force of thirty-nine tinged yellow, against nineteen of the freshest pink.
Again a little further, and she came suddenly upon Eve Pelly, who came from the big house, started, stopped, caught her hands, ejaculating “Oh, Daisy!” and then breaking down, turned suddenly away and re-entered the house.
To her horror, poor Daisy found that this meeting had been witnessed by Miss Primgeon, the lawyer’s sister, who was seated at her window, staring as hard as she could.
Not twenty yards farther on there stood Tom Podmore, leaning against a corner of a lane, also watching her; but as she approached he turned away without a word.
It was almost unbearable, and now a feeling of anger began to rise in Daisy’s bosom, making her pant, and flush up, as she determined to go on at all hazards.
Jane Budger, who kept the little beerhouse, and knew all the gossip of the place, which she retailed with gills of ale to her customers, saw her, stared, or rather squinted at her, and moved her hands as she exclaimed:
“Yes, my dear, I know where you are agate for to-night.”
Then there seemed a peculiar meaning in the innocent remark of one neighbour who met her in the street, and observed that the stones were “strange and slape.” So it was with another a little higher up, who remarked that the road was “very clatty.”
Next she met Big Harry in the muddiest part of the main street, and he exclaimed to her:
“Saay, lass, it’s solid soft.”
A little farther on she passed the druggist’s, where the great bottle of the trophies of his dental work seemed to grin at her in a ghastly way, for it was three parts full of extracted teeth.
Again a little further, and as she was passing Riggall’s, the bone-setter’s, his ghastly sign over his front door, of a skull and cross-bones, made her shudder; for it seemed to tell her of the goal to which she was steering, and so affected her, that outside the town in the winding road, she sat down shivering upon the mile-stone, crying as though her heart would break.
“What shall I do! What shall I do!” she sobbed, when she started up with a faint shriek, for a light hand was laid upon her shoulder.
“Miss Eve!” she cried, on seeing the pale tearless girl before her.
“Yes, Daisy, it is I,” said Eve.
“No, no, Miss Eve. No, no, dear; not that way.”
“Is Dick waiting for you up there?” said Eve, huskily.
“Don’t ask me, Miss; don’t ask me, please,” cried Daisy, imploringly, as they walked down a side lane.
“I thought he was,” said Eve, speaking in a very low deep voice, as if her emotion was stifling her. “I followed you to speak to you.”
“You’ve been following and watching me,” cried Daisy, with a burst of passion. “You all do; everybody watches me. What have I done that I should be so cruelly used? I wonder some one don’t want to put me in prison.”
“Daisy!” cried Eve, hoarsely, as she caught her by the wrist, “what have I done to you that you should have been so cruel and treacherous?”
“I haven’t been,” cried Daisy, with a burst of pettish sobs.
“Have I not always been kind and affectionate to you?”
“Yes, yes; I know that,” cried Daisy.
“And you reward me by trying to rob me of my promised husband.”
“I didn’t, I didn’t,” sobbed Daisy. “I didn’t want to; but he was always following me, and hunting me, and worrying me.”
“Daisy, Daisy!” cried Eve, with a passionate cry, as she threw herself on her knees to the homely girl, “give him back to me; oh, give him back.”
“Miss Eve! Miss Eve!” cried the girl, startled at the vehemence and suddenness of this outburst, “oh, do please get up. What can I do?”
“Oh, Daisy, you’ll break my heart. You’ll kill poor aunt. What have we done, that you should come like a blight upon us?”
Eve rose slowly and stood facing the girl, over whom a change seemed to be coming as she said sulkily:
“It wasn’t my doing.”
“But you must have led him on,” moaned poor Eve. “You, who are so bright and pretty, while I – while I – ”
Daisy gave her now a jealous, vindictive look, as if she felt danger; and that this gentle girl was about to rob her of the man she loved, and she exclaimed:
“I must go. I won’t stop to be scolded. You want to win him back; but he belongs to me.”
“Daisy, Daisy!” cried Eve, catching at her shawl; but it was too late – the girl had turned and run back into the road, hastening on to the place where she was to have found Richard Glaire, up by the chalk pit; and as she hastened on, she would not look back. Still poor Eve followed her sadly as far as the road, and then turned back towards the town, saying sadly: —
“I could not move her. It is too late, too late.”
Long before Eve Pelly had reached the town, with its knots of men out of work, Daisy had climbed the hill to the chalk pit, where Richard was waiting, smoking angrily.
“At last!” he cried. “I was just going back.”
He gave a glance round, and was about to throw his arms round the flushed and panting girl, when he started back, and stood staring, as Mrs Glaire came slowly forward from amongst the trees, and taking Daisy’s wrist in her hand, she pointed down the road.
“There, you can go back,” she said, quietly. “I wish to speak to Daisy Banks.”
“No, no, Richard – Dick, dear, don’t leave me with her; she’ll kill me!” screamed Daisy, frightened by the pale, resolute-looking little woman, who held her so tightly.
“Silence, child!” cried Mrs Glaire.
“Oh, come, let’s have an end of this,” cried Richard.
“I intend to try for an end,” said Mrs Glaire, sharply, “for with you I can make no compact that will not be broken.”
“Oh, if it’s coming to that,” said Richard, sharply, “I shall bring matters to an end.”
“Go, sir! Go home,” said Mrs Glaire, sternly.
“Come, you needn’t bully that poor girl,” said Dick, with a half-laugh; then seeing the hand still pointing down the road, he grew uneasy, fidgeted, and ended by saying – “There, just as you like.”
“Dick, don’t leave me,” gasped Daisy.
“Don’t you be a little silly,” laughed Richard. “She won’t hurt you. I say, mother, you’d better make matters up with Daisy and bring her home, for I think I shall marry her after all.”
“Don’t, don’t leave me, Dick,” whispered Daisy, straining to reach him; but her wrist was tightly clasped, and she sank shivering on the bank by the deep chalk pit, whose side was separated from the lane by a low post and rail fence, beyond which the descent was a sheer precipice of seventy or eighty feet, the old weakened side being dotted with flowers; a place which, as she stood holding Daisy’s wrist still tightly and watching her son till he disappeared down the road, Mrs Glaire remembered to have been a favoured spot in her girlhood for gathering nosegays; and where, more than once, she had met her dead husband in the happy days of her own courtship.
As these thoughts came back from the past, a feeling of pity for the poor girl beside her stole into Mrs Glaire’s heart, and she trembled in her purpose; but after a few moments’ indecision, she told herself that it was for the happiness of all, and that Daisy Banks must suffer in place of Eve.
The stars were beginning to peer out faintly and the glow in the west was paling; but still she stood holding the wrist tightly; while, after making a few energetic efforts to free herself, Daisy submitted like a trapped bird, and crouched there palpitating, and not daring once to raise her eyes to those of the angry mother of the man she believed she loved; but who had at all events obtained so strong a hold upon her that she was forced to submit her will to his, and obey his every command.
“Two can play at that game,” said Richard to himself, as he walked sharply down the hill and back into the town, where, not heeding Eve, who was in the dining-room, he hastily wrote a short letter, and then putting on his hat, went out again, smoking a cigar, apparently to have a stroll, and sauntered down towards the Bull and Cucumber, where he gave a long, low whistle, uttered twice, and then walked on for some distance.
His signal had the required effect, for Sim Slee came after him with a soft pace like a cat, and together the two men went on in the darkness, Richard talking earnestly to his companion, and passing money to him, whose chink was very audible.
“Now you quite understand?” said Richard, earnestly.
“Understand? He, he, he!” chuckled Sim. “I’ve got it quite by heart. I say, won’t Joe Banks be popped?”
“Hold your tongue, and keep names quiet. Now you quite understand. I shall not show my face in the matter at all.”
“Oh, no, of course not,” said Sim. “All right, Mr Glaire, sir. You couldn’t have a troostier man than me.”
“I don’t know,” said Richard; “perhaps I oughtn’t to have given you the money till after.”
“Oh, you may troost me, Mr Richard, I’m square, sir, and honourable. It’ll all be done lovely.”
“Then I shall not see you again,” said Richard; and they parted.
“Ho, ho, ho!” chuckled Sim, slapping his legs. “Here’s a game. Some on ’em ’ll be chattering all over the place ’bout this, and, ho, my!”
He had another long enjoyable laugh, to start up half frightened, for a dark figure approached him so suddenly, that it was close upon him before he was aware of the fact.
“What are you laughing at?” said the newcomer, sharply. “What devil’s game hev yow and that Dick Glaire been hatching?”
“Hatching? Devil’s game, Tom Podmore? why, can’t a man laugh in the lane if he likes? But there, I’m off up to the mill, for it’ll reean to-night, mun.”
Tom Podmore strode off after Richard Glaire, muttering angrily, and on getting close to the town, it was to see the young man walking right in the middle of the road, to avoid the men standing about on the pebble-paved sidewalks.
It was well he did so, for there were plenty of hands ready to be raised against him, and had one struck at him, it would have been the signal for a rain of blows: for scores of men in the place were now vowing vengeance against the man whom they accused of starving their wives and bairns. In fact, it had so far been Richard Glaire’s insolent temerity that had saved him from assault. He had gone boldly about, urged thereto by his eagerness to meet little Daisy Banks, but for which engagements he would probably have stayed indoors, and run greater risks on the few occasions when he showed himself.
As it was, he hastened his steps this night, on seeing the dark groups about, and when Tom Podmore closed up, he almost ran the last few steps, dashed open the door, and, closing it, stood panting in the hall.
It was about half-past ten now, and he listened, with his hand upon the bolt, to the muttering voices without for a few minutes, till one of the maids came in to gaze at him curiously.
“Here, fasten up this door,” he said harshly.
“Fasten the door, sir?” said the girl.
“Yes, fasten the door, stupid,” he cried, angrily.
“But missus hasn’t come in yet,” said the girl.
“Not come in?” said Richard, starting as he recalled where he had left her; and then, with a hasty pish! “I daresay she’s at Purley’s. I’ll fasten the door. Don’t sit up.”
The girl was leaving the hall, when he called after her:
“Where’s Miss Eve?”
“Gone to bed, sir, with a sick headache.”
“She’s always got a sick headache,” growled Richard.
“I wish you had ’em your sen,” muttered the girl.
“There, bring some hot water and a tumbler into the dining-room,” said Richard, as the girl was turning to go.
He went into the dining-room, got out the spirit-stand, and, on the hot water being brought, mixed himself a stiff glass of brandy and water, and drank it rapidly, listening occasionally to the footsteps and loud talking without.
A second glass followed shortly after, and then, tired out with the day’s work, the young man threw himself on the sofa. The sounds outside by degrees grew indistinct and distant, and then, with a pale, ghost-like Eve following him always, he was journeying through foreign lands with Daisy, who looked lovingly up in his face. Then, Tom Podmore seemed to be pursuing him and threatening his life. Next it was the vicar; and then, at last, after struggling hard to get away, Joe Banks stood over him with a flashing light, and as he waited to hear him say, “Where is my child?” – waited with a feeling of suspense that seemed prolonged for years, the voice said coldly and sternly:
“Why are you not in bed?”
He started into wakefulness to see that it was his mother standing over him with a chamber candlestick, looking very cold and white.
“How could I go to bed when you were not back?” he said sulkily.
“You can go to bed now,” she said, quietly.
“Where have you been?”
She made no answer.
“Were there many of those scoundrels about?” he asked.
“The men would not injure me,” she said, in the same low voice.
“But how did you get in?”
“Eve came down and admitted me,” was the reply.
Mrs Glaire made no answer.
“Oh, if you like to be sulky you can,” said Richard, coolly; and, lighting a chamber candle, he strode off to bed.
As he turned to wind up his watch in a sleepy manner, he found that it had run down, so with an impatient gesture he laid it aside, finished undressing, and tumbled into bed.
“Some of them will open their eyes to-morrow,” he muttered, with a half-laugh. “Well, it was time to act. I’m not going to be under petticoat government all my life.”
At the same time Mrs Glaire was seated pale and shivering in the dining-room, while all else in the house were sleeping soundly, and the street was now painfully still, for the murmuring workers of the foundry had long since sought their homes, more than one sending up a curse on Richard Glaire, instead of a prayer for his well-being and peace.
“If I could only tell him everything,” muttered John Maine, as he strode away from the vicar’s side, and made for the farm.
He was not half-way back, when he met Tom Brough, the keeper, who favoured him with a sneering, contemptuous kind of smile that made the young man’s blood boil. He knew him to be a rival, though he felt sure that Jessie did not favour his suit in the slightest degree. Still her uncle seemed to look upon Brough as a likely man to make his niece a good partner; for Tom Brough expected to come in for a fair amount of property, an old relative having him down in his will for succession to a comfortable farm – a nice thing, argued old Bultitude, for a young couple beginning life.
It might have been only fancy, but on reaching the crew-yard, old Bultitude seemed to John Maine to speak roughly to him. However, he took no notice, but went about his duties, worked very hard for a time, and went in at last to the evening meal, to find Jessie looking careworn and anxious.
After tea he sent a boy up with a message to the cricket-field, saying that he was too unwell to come; and after this he went to his own room to sit and think out his future, breaking off the thread of his musings and seeking Jessie, whom he found alone, and looking strange and distant.
“Jessie,” he began, and she turned her face towards him, but without speaking, and then there was a minute’s pause.
“Jessie,” he began again, and the intention had been to speak of his own affairs, but his feelings were too much for him, and he turned off the primary question to pass to one that had but a secondary place in his mind.
Jessie did not reply, but looked up at him timidly, in a way that checked rather than accelerated his flow of words.
“I wanted to speak to you about Daisy Banks,” he said at last.
“Yes; what about her?” said Jessie, wonderingly.
“I ought not to speak perhaps; but you have no mother, and Mr Bultitude does not seem to notice these things.”
“I don’t know what you mean,” said Jessie, wonderingly.
John Maine would gladly have backed out of his position, but it was too late, and he was obliged to flounder on.
“I meant about Daisy Banks and Mr Richard Glaire.”
“Well?” said Jessie, looking full at him. “What about them?”
“I meant that I don’t think you ought to be so intimate with her now.”
“And why not?”
“The Dumford people couple her name very unpleasantly with Mr Richard’s, and for your sake I thought I’d speak.”
“For shame!” cried the girl, rising, and looking angrily at him. “That young Podmore has been talking to you.”
“No, indeed, indeed, poor Tom never mentions her name.”
“I won’t believe, John Maine, that you could be so petty and ungenerous yourself. Mr Glaire loves Daisy, and she confided all to me. Such words as yours are quite an insult to her, and – and I cannot – will not stay to hear them.”
The girl’s face was burning, and she ran out of the place to hide her tears, while John Maine, whose intention had been to say something very different, sighed bitterly, and went back to his room. There, however, everything looked blacker than ever, and he could see nothing in the gloom – devise no plan. He knew that the best proceeding would be to set the scoundrels he had seen that morning at defiance – that everybody whose opinion was worth a rush would applaud his frank declaration that he had turned from his evil courses to those which were reputable; but then the people he knew – Mr Bultitude – Jessie – the vicar – his friends in Dumford – what would they say? There seemed to be but one chance for him – to pack up a few things in a bundle and go and seek his fortune again elsewhere – perhaps to live in peace for a few years before he should be again hunted down by some of the wolves amongst whom his early lot had been cast.
“John – John!”
He started. It was Jessie calling, and hastily going downstairs, it was to see her with the flush gone out of her cheeks, and looking pale and anxious, as she held out a strip of paper.
“Two rough-looking men gave this to the boy for you,” she said, looking at him in a troubled way.
He took the paper hastily, and turned away with a dark red glow spreading over his temples. He divined who had sent the note, and shivered as he thought of how the boy would chatter to everybody about the farm. Perhaps Jessie had questioned him already, and set him down as being the friend and companion of the senders:
Turning away, he walked out into the yard to find that the paper had originally been used for holding an ounce of tobacco, and upon it was scrawled in pencil:
“We ave bin spekkin yu hat the krikt fele Ude betr cum.”
“2 OLE FRENDS.”
“You had better come!” What should he do? Set them at defiance or go away at once?
Torn by doubts he could do neither, but stood hesitating, till, in a fit of desperation, he strode off in the direction of the cricket-field.
He had saved a little money, and he might perhaps bribe them to take it and go, leaving him in peace, though he felt the while that such a proceeding would only be an invitation to them to come back, and demand more; but even if they did, a fortnight’s respite was worth all he possessed; and, besides, it would give him time to turn round and devise some plan for freeing himself of his incubus.
To reach the cricket-field he had to pass the back-door of the vicarage; taking, as he did, the cut through the fields; and as he neared it, separated from it by a high hedge, his blood turned cold as he heard Mrs Slee’s shrill voice exclaim: