“You can’t miss it: the second tunning to the right, and then it’s the second field.”
“And you wean’t buy the bud then, mum – that theer goldfinch as I told you off?”
“Bird, no,” cried Mrs Slee; “what do I want with such clat. Let the poor thing go. You ought to be ashamed of yoursens.”
“We just about are,” said one of the men: and then, as John Maine remained breathless behind the hedge, he heard the grating of feet upon the gravel, and one said to the other:
“Say, Jem, lad, did you see?” and he made a smacking noise with his lips.
“I see,” replied Jem, “everythink.” Then, “If that theer Johnny Maine don’t show up, we’ll precious soon have the owd badger out of his earth.”
John Maine shrank back with a cloud of thoughts hurrying through his brain, foremost among which was that these men had been spying up at the vicarage. Through any window there could be seen the valuable plate on the sideboard and shelves, and the plan of offering a bird for sale was but an excuse for getting up to a house – a plan which he knew of old.
For a few moments he felt disposed to turn back; then he was for facing them boldly: but all doubts were set at rest by footsteps coming in his direction; so, stepping out boldly, he was soon after face to face with his two old companions, who seemed to be strolling about with their hands in their pockets, enjoying an evening pipe.
“Here he is!” exclaimed Ike, grinning; “I knew he’d come. But howd your noise, Jem; don’t make a row. Johnny don’t care about being seen too much along of us. It’s all raight. He knows a thing or two. There’ll be a bit of a game on soon, lad, and we shall want you. We don’t know one another, we don’t. Now, which is the gainest way to the cricket-field?”
John Maine pointed in the direction, and Jem came close up with a leer, saying:
“Say, lad, recklect that plate job, eh? Melted down at Birmingham or Sheffle, an’ no questions asked.”
John Maine shuddered as he recalled the time when he was innocently made the bearer of a heavy package to a bullion melter, and told afterwards whence the silver had been obtained.
Before he had recovered himself, the two scoundrels had sauntered away, leaving him shivering, as he thought over their words, and understood them as a threat of denunciation, unless he kept his own counsel.
Then, in imagination, he saw a party drive over from one of the big towns in a light spring-cart, drawn by a weedy screw of a horse; an entry made at the vicarage, and everything of value swept away, while he was helpless to arrest the robbery, except at the cost of his worldly position.
He stood thinking for a time, and then strode on across the fields to the cricket ground, where a little half-hearted play was going on, the men of Dumford being too much influenced by the strike to care much for any thing save their tobacco. He caught sight of the two men once or twice; but they took not the slightest heed of his presence, and instead of their watching him he watched them, following them at last into the town, and seeing them go along the main street past the Glaires’ house, and away up the hill, Richard coming down and passing them.
“Can they be going right away?” thought John Maine hopefully, till he recollected a low, poacher-haunted public-house about a mile beyond the chalk pit, and rightly set that down as their destination.
He turned back with a sigh, to see Tom Podmore leaning thoughtfully against one of the houses, and going up, the two young men engaged in conversation for a few minutes, each rigorously abstaining from all mention of the other’s love affairs, and soon after they parted, for John Maine to seek his sleepless pillow.
There was no newspaper in Dumford, only those which came from Ramford and Lindum, but news flew quite fast enough without, and by breakfast-time on the morning of the day following the events spoken of in the past chapter, it was known that Daisy Banks had not been home all night.
Joe Banks himself spread the news by going and making inquiries in all directions directly he was up.
For, on waking about half-past five, according to his regular custom, and jumping out of bed to dress and go into his garden, as he had no work, he found to his astonishment that his wife had not been to bed; and she now came to him, crying bitterly, to say that she had been sitting up all night waiting for Daisy.
“Why didn’t you tell me?” he roared.
“I wanted to screen her, Joe,” moaned Mrs Banks.
“What time did she go out?” said Joe, trying to recall the past night.
“About eight, and I expected her back every minute after ten.”
“Here, give me my hat,” cried Joe; and he was off to the main street, where, in answer to inquiries, he found that Daisy had been seen in the High Street soon after eight.
“What’s wrong?” said Tom Podmore, coming out of his house.
“Daisy! hev you seen my Daisy?” said Joe, furiously.
“Yes, I see her go up the street last night at about eight,” said Tom, “as if going up the hill by the chalk pit.”
“Did you folly her?”
“No,” said Tom, sadly; “I never folly her now. But what’s it mean – isn’t she at home?”
“No,” said Joe, sharply. “She’s not been at home all night. Wheer can she be?”
“Better ask Master Dick Glaire,” said Tom, uttering a groan. “He can tell ye.”
“Howd thee tongue, thee silly fool,” cried Joe, angrily. “How should he know owt about where she is? Here, come along. I’ll soon show thee thou’rt wrong.”
He led the way to the Big House, where one of the maids was just opening the shutters; and, on being beckoned to, she came to the door.
“Where’s Master Richard?” said Joe.
“Fast asleep in bed,” said the girl.
“Art sure?” said Joe.
“Yes, certain,” said the girl.
“Was he out last night?”
“Yes,” said the girl; “but he came home early, and then went out for a bit; but he was in very soon, and sat up to let missus in, while I went to bed.”
“What time will he be up?” said Joe.
“Not before nine,” said the girl. “Shall I tell him you want him?”
“No,” said Joe. “I’ll come on again soon.”
Tom seemed surprised and troubled, for he had fully expected to find that Richard Glaire was from home.
“Thou’rt wrong, lad,” said Joe, drawing his breath through his teeth. “Some ill has fallen to the poor lass.”
“What’s up, Joe Banks?” said Harry, the big hammerman, straddling slowly up.
“Did’st see owt o’ my Daisy last night?” said Joe.
Harry pulled off his cap, and gave his head a rub before answering.
“Yes, I see her go up ta hill, ’bout eight it weer.”
“Did you see her come back?” asked Tom, eagerly.
“No, lad, no. I see Master Richard Glaire come along though,” said the big fellow, under the impression that that might act as a clue.
“Yes,” said Tom, bitterly. “I saw him, and again at about ten, talking to Sim Slee, and then the lads followed him up street, and he ran into the house.”
“Sim Slee!” said Joe, thinking. “We’ll ask him; but let’s go to the police.”
At the station no news could be heard, and as time went on, plenty of neighbours could be found to say that they had seen Daisy Banks go up the hill; and amongst these was the chattering old woman at the public-house. But no one had seen her return.
“Come along o’ me, lad,” said Joe Banks; and they strode up the hill, a heavy sense of dread gathering over each of the men, as they thought of the chalk pit, and the possibility of Daisy having fallen in, to lie there dead or dying, on the rough, hard blocks at the bottom.
The morning was bright and beautiful, and the sun made the dew-sprinkled strands and twigs glitter like gems; but to those who sought Daisy Banks, all seemed gloomy, and in spite of all his bitter feelings, Tom Podmore’s heart was terribly stirred within him, so that he uttered a wild cry when just at the top, and ran ahead to pick up something soaked and wet with the night dew.
“It’s her basket,” he cried.
Joe staggered, and seemed to turn sick; but recovering himself, he ran up to the younger man.
“Yes, it’s her basket,” he said, huskily. “Tom, lad, look over the rail – I – I can’t.”
Joe Banks sank down on his knees, and covered his face with his rough hands, while Tom shuddered, and then calling up his fortitude, looked over the rail down the steep-sided pit, and uttered a cry as he drew back, ran down the lane to the end of the slope, leaped the gate across the track where the carts descended, and running over the scattered lumps of chalk, made his way down into the deepest part of the pit, where to him it had seemed that Daisy was lying at the bottom of the wall of grey rock.
But, no, it was only her dew-soaked shawl; and though he looked in all directions, he found nothing else but a glove.
“She must have been here,” he said to himself, and in an agitated way he clambered about over the blocks of chalk, and the d?bris fallen from above; but nothing was visible, and he stood at last looking round.
There was the face of the chalk before him, and he was shut in by it right and left, the walls gradually falling lower as he turned back and passed the extinct lime-kiln, till they sloped down to the level of the track – the pit having been gradually dug in the side of the hill, every load taken out cutting farther into the side, and making the principal wall of chalk more precipitous and high.
Still, not satisfied, Tom Podmore ran back and hunted in all directions; but as far as he could see nothing was visible, and he turned once more to find the father coming to join him, trembling, and looking ashy pale.
“Hev you found her, Tom? hev you found her?” he gasped, and on Tom shaking his head, he caught him by the arm. “Yes,” he exclaimed, in a piteous voice, “that’s her shawl. Where is she gone?”
“I heven’t found her,” said the young man, hoarsely. “She’s not there.”
“Not there? Not fallen in? Thank God, thank God! But are ye sure, lad? are ye sure?”
“I’ve hunted the place all over,” said Tom, sadly; and then Joe Banks clutched his arm tightly, and they went straight back to the town, where Joe stopped at the Big House and was admitted, Tom Podmore following.
“Wheer’s the master?” said Joe, hastily.
“Just come down and gone out,” said the girl. “Shall I tell missus?”
“Yes,” said Joe. “No;” and then to himself, “I can’t meet her now.”
He hurried out and down the street, head after head being thrust out, while the people outside their doors gave him looks of condolence, and shook their heads by way of sympathy.
“Tom, lad,” said Joe, “I can’t kinder understand this; it’s amairzin. But look here, lad; go and ask the boys to come and help you, and mebbe you’ll get a hundred of ’em ready to search for my bairn. Get the police, too. I’m off to find the young master.”
Tom started off on his recruiting expedition, while Daisy’s father hurried down the street to try and find Richard Glaire, though not with the most remote idea of coupling him with the girl’s disappearance.
He had nearly reached the vicarage, and was passing one of the side lanes, when he heard voices in altercation, and on glancing round it was to see the man he sought holding Sim Slee by the throat, and shaking him violently.
“You treacherous hound!” he was saying, “and after the way I’ve trusted you.”
“Joe Banks, here, Joe Banks, help!” yelled Sim; but before Daisy’s father could reach the couple, Richard Glaire threw the democrat off, so that he staggered against the wall.
“You dog!” cried Richard, grinding his teeth.
“All right,” whimpered Sim. “All right, Mr Richard Glaire, Esquire. I’ve stood up for you enew lately; now tak’ care of yoursen.”
“I’ll break your head, you scoundrel, if you don’t go,” roared Richard.
Sim rubbed the dust from his person and shook himself straight, looking side-wise the while at his assailant before sidling off, shaking his fist; and then, when about fifty yards away, turning round and shouting:
“I’ll be even with you for this, Dick Glaire.”
Richard made a rush at him, when Sim took to his heels and ran, while the young man turned back to where Joe Banks stood holding poor Daisy’s basket and shawl.
“Master Dick,” said the old man sternly, “I want to ask thee a question, and I want yow, as your father’s son, to give me a straightforward answer.”
“But what does this all mean, Joe? what’s this about Daisy?”
“Answer my question,” said the old man, sternly; and then he paused for a moment, as he fixed his clear eyes on the young man’s shifty face, before saying hoarsely:
“Were you out walking wi’ my lass, Daisy, last night?”
“No,” said Richard, firmly; “certainly not.”
“And thee didn’t see her last night at all?”
“Yes, oh yes,” said Richard, eagerly. “I did see her, and said, ‘How d’ye do.’”
“Wheer?” said Joe Banks, without moving a muscle.
“Up by the chalk pit, at the top of the hill. I’d been having a round.”
“What time?” said Joe, shortly.
“Well, let me see,” said Richard, hesitating. “I came straight down home, and it was about half-past eight when I got in.”
Joe stood thinking: the servant-girl had said that her master had come in early.
“And you didn’t see my bairn after?” said Joe, gazing full in the young man’s eyes.
“Certainly not,” said Richard.
“Will yow swear it?” said Joe.
Richard hesitated for a moment, and then, with a half-laugh, said:
“Oh, yes, if you like.”
“Perhaps I shall like, my lad; but I don’t ask you to sweer now. You’ve heerd, I s’pose?”
“I’ve heard something, Joe, but can’t quite make it out,” said the young man.
“It’s easy,” said Joe, hoarsely. “My poor bairn came up town last night, and she hasn’t been back. We foun’ these here up by the chalk pit.”
“But she hadn’t fallen in?”
“No, my lad, no,” said the old man, quietly, for he was thinking deeply. “But thankye, thankye. They wanted to make me believe as you meant harm to the lass – all on ’em; but I knew you, lad, well, as your poor owd father’s son.”
“Aw raight, my lad, aw raight. I never thowt it of you, never; but the tongues would wag; and I said if thee loved the bairn thee should’st hev her. You do her harm! Not you, lad; you cared too much for her. But harm’s come to her some way. Let’s find her.”
“But how could they say such things of me?” said Richard, with virtuous indignation shining out of his eyes.
“Oh, they’re a chithering lot,” exclaimed Joe. “They’d seen thee talk to the bairn, or mebbe seen thee heving a walk wi’ her, and that weer enew to set their tongues clacking. But we must be going, mun, for we’re losing time; and if any one’s done wrong by my bairn – ”
Richard shrank away, startled at the lurid flash from the old man’s eyes, as setting his teeth, and clenching his massive fist, he shook it at vacancy, and then, without another word, strode on, accompanied by Richard, who was trembling now like a leaf.
“Let me go in here for a moment or two,” said Richard, as they came abreast of the House; and as the door was thrown open, it was to show Mrs Glaire and Eve both standing dressed in the hall.
“Oh, Mr Banks,” exclaimed the latter, running to the old foreman, “this is very dreadful,” and she caught one of his hands in hers.
“Thanky’e, dear bairn, thanky’e,” he said, smiling upon her with quivering lip.
“But I saw her last night,” cried Eve.
“Ay? What time, miss, what time?” said Joe, eagerly.
“About eight,” said Eve, quickly. “She said, I think, that she was going to meet Richard.”
“She said that?” said the old man, starting, while Richard turned pale.
“No, I remember,” said Eve, piteously; “I told her she was going to meet him.”
“Yes, yes,” said Joe, thoughtfully. “You were jealous of the poor bairn.”
Eve started back, blushing crimson.
“But are you sure she has not been home, Joe Banks?” said Mrs Glaire, looking at him wistfully.
“Sure, ay, quite sure,” said Joe, sternly. “Here is the poor bairn’s shawl, and her basket too. I’ll leave ’em here, if you’ll let me.”
He laid them down in the hall, and stepped out to where there was quite a crowd of workmen now, waiting to help in the search; but as they caught sight of Richard Glaire, who now came forward, there was a savage groan.
“Ask him where he’s put thee bairn, Joe Banks; he knows,” cried a shrill voice, that of some woman; and another groan arose, making Richard draw back shivering.
“Look at the white-faced coward,” shouted a man. “Ask him, Joe Banks, ask him.”
“Nay, nay, lads,” said the foreman, sternly. “Ye’re aw wrong. I hev asked him, and he’s told me. He knows nowt about the poor bairn.”
A murmur arose at this, but Joe Banks turned round to where Richard stood.
“You come along o’ me, Master Richard, and no one ’ll lay a finger on thee whiles thou’rt by my side. He was at home aw night, lads, and it’s not him as would do her harm.”
The little crowd seemed only half satisfied; but they gave place as, making an effort, the young man stepped out, and then in a purposeless way the search was about to begin, when there was a cheer given, for the vicar came hurrying up the street.
He looked hot and flushed, and his eyes met those of Richard Glaire so sternly that, for the moment, the young man blushed, but he recovered himself directly, to give an insolent stare in return.
“Mr Banks,” exclaimed the vicar, “this is grievous news indeed;” and ignoring the foreman’s half-distant manner, he shook his hand warmly.
“Thanky, parson,” said Joe, hoarsely.
“You are about to make a general search, of course,” he said; “but where are the police?”
“One’s gone across to station, and the other’s up at the chalk pit,” said a voice.
“First of all,” said the vicar, “did any one here see Daisy Banks after she went up the road?”
There was silence for a few moments, and then Richard said firmly:
“I saw her for a few moments up by the pit.”
“And not after?” said the vicar, fixing his eyes on the young man.
“I object to this cross-examination,” said Richard, hotly. “This is not a magistrate.”
“Parson asked thee a plain question, lad; give him a plain answer,” said Joe, quietly. “Thou’st nowt to fear.”
“No, then,” said Richard, loudly. “I was at home.”
“Mr Banks, then, you had better take twenty men; you go with these twenty, Podmore; and – ”
He hesitated a moment, when Joe Banks said:
“Master Richard will take another twenty.”
“And another score will perhaps go with me,” said the vicar. “Then we’ll each take one road; and mind, my men, every ditch, copse, and pond must be well searched; and, above all, mind and ask at every cottage on the road, who has passed, and what carts or carriages have gone along since last night.”
The parties were soon told off, when the vicar exclaimed:
“But stop! There were two strangers here yesterday.”
“Yes,” chorused several. “Two ill-looking chaps from one of the big towns.”
“Ay,” cried big Harry; “and I sin ’em go up towards the chalk pit.”
“So did I,” said another.
There was silence for a moment or two, and Tom Podmore seemed to feel the place go round, but he roused himself directly as he heard the vicar’s clear ringing voice:
“Then if some treacherous, unmanly scoundrel has not carried off, or persuaded this poor girl to leave father, mother, and home, for his own bad ends, we have found the clue. But mind this, my lads, we are going to run down those two men, but no violence. Let’s take them, but we must prove that they have been guilty.”
“Aw raight, parson;” and the whole party were for a rush up the road towards the chalk pit; but the vicar kept them to their separate tasks; and, glancing upwards, he caught a glimpse of two pale faces at the Big House, and the faces were those of Eve Pelly and Mrs Glaire.
Then each party started, and the search began.
The chalk pit naturally formed the great attraction, and on reaching it, the spots were pointed out where basket and shawl were found; but though a careful search was made by a portion of the force, nothing was for some time found to account for the disappearance.
The party had, however, divided here, and a portion of them, under Big Harry, had hastened along the road toward the Four Alls, the name of the little public-house where it was expected to hear some tidings of the men who had been seen in the town, and who must have passed, even if they were guiltless of wrong. The vicar, however, chose to remain behind, with about ten of his party, and together they began to make a more careful search about the pit – the first investigation being of the low post-and-rail fence which ran along the edge, to see if it was perfect in every part.
Yes, there was no doubt of it; not a rail was broken, or post bent out of the perpendicular, as would probably have been the case had any one fallen against it or been pushed over. Not even a piece of the shallow turf growing on the very brink of the pit was disordered, and the vicar was about to give up that part of the search, when he made a leap forward, and took from a rough splintered portion of the divided fir-pole which formed the rail a tiny scrap of red worsted, such as might very well have been torn from Daisy’s shawl.