“I think we’re on the right track, my lads,” said the vicar. “Now let’s divide, and we’ll search the coppice here, along the edge of the pit.”
The men went eagerly to work, and searched foot by foot the little thin sprinkling of fir trees and gorse that hung upon the edge of the declivity, but without avail – there was not a spot that could have sheltered a human form that was not scanned, and the divided party met at last upon the low ground at the slope of the hill, where the cart track cut its way in, and the lime-kiln stood half-way into the pit.
The vicar paused for a moment by the kiln, and peered in. It was not burning, and in a few minutes he was able to satisfy himself that no one had been in there, and with a shudder he turned away, spreading his men so that step by step they examined the rough white and gray blocks that had been thrown aside or had fallen. Some were fresh and of the purest white, with here and there delicate traces of the pectens and cardiums of a former shelly world; others were hoary and grey, and covered with a frosty lichen; while others, again, were earth-stained and brown.
In accordance with their leader’s instructions, each block was eagerly examined, the vicar’s idea being that it was possible for a cruel murder to have taken place, and for the token of the hideous crime to have been hidden, by laying it in some depression, and piling up the pieces of chalk, of which ample lay ready, for hiding a hundred such crimes.
But, no; there were footmarks here and there, and traces of the edges of the blocks having been chipped by heavy boots; but no spot could be found where they could satisfy themselves that they had been removed.
By this time some forty more sturdy workmen had come up; the event, in the midst of their enforced idleness from the works, being hailed as an excitement; and any amount of muscle was ready to help if directed.
The long search was, however, in vain; and their leader was pondering as to what he should do next, when a rough voice shouted:
“See here, lads. We’ll do ony mander o’ thing to find Joe Banks’s bairn. Come on! let’s hurl ivery bit o’ calk out o’ the pit.”
There was a shout at this, and the men were about to put their project in execution, when the vicar held up his hand.
“It’s waste of strength, my lads,” he said. “I am fully convinced that none of these blocks have been moved. Better search the lanes along the road.”
“Aw raight, parson,” was the cry; and the men left the pit to proceed along the road, the vicar on in front, so as to reach The Four Alls.
Before they had gone far they encountered the rest of their party, returning without further success than that of making the announcement that the men they sought had called there about nine, and had then gone on, being taken up for a lift by a man with a cart.
“What man, and what cart?” said one of the police constables, who had now come up.
The men did not know, and this being an important point, the whole party now hastened on to the little roadside inn – a shabby, dilapidated place, whose shed at the side, which represented the stabling, was falling away from the house, and whose premises generally seemed to be arranged by the owner as places for storing rubbish, dirt, and green scummed pools of water.
“Can you give us any information about the two men who came here last night?” said the vicar.
“Say?” said the man, staring.
“Gentleman wants to know wheer them chaps is gone,” said the constable.
“How should I know?” said the man, surlily. “Californy or Roosalum, for owt I know.”
“No nonsense, Brumby,” said the constable. “You’d best speak out. Who wheer they?”
“Friends o’ mine,” said the man, taking his pipe out of his mouth for a moment, to relieve himself of a tremendous volume of smoke.
“What were their names?”
“How should I know? They come here, and has a bit o’ rafrashment, and they goes again. What do I keer, so long as they wares their money.”
“Who had they got wi’ ’em?”
“Nobbut their own sens.”
“But I mean when they comed.”
“Look ye here, I hadn’t going to answer all your queshtons.”
“Well, look here; had they any one wi’ ’em when they went away?”
“Nobbat theer own sens,” said the man, sulkily.
“Well, who gave them a lift?”
“Don’t know, on’y as it weer a man in a cart.”
“But you must ha’ seen his name.”
“No, I musn’t if it wern’t painted on,” bawled the man. “What d’yer come wherretin’ me for about it? I don’t ask my customers who comes in for a gill o’ ale wheer they come from, nor wheer they’re going.”
“Had they a young girl with them?” said the vicar, who was getting out of patience.
“Not as I know on,” said the man. “One had nobbut a whip.”
There was evidently nothing to be got out of him, so the party returned to Dumford, the policeman undertaking to communicate by telegraph with the towns through which the men would be likely to pass, as this would be the surest and quickest way.
As the day wore on, the other parties returned to assemble and discuss the matter; though there was little to discuss, for Joe Banks had returned without a trace being found of his child, and the same ill fortune had attended Podmore and Richard Glaire.
The latter, soon as he reached home, however, sought Mrs Glaire, who was lying down, apparently ill at ease, with Eve in attendance upon her, the young girl rising with a shiver as her cousin entered the room, and leaving without encountering his eyes.
“Where is Daisy Banks, mother?” said Richard, hoarsely, as soon as they were alone. “I’ve kept up this foolery of searching all day, to quiet these people, and now I insist upon knowing where she is.”
“I should ask you that,” said Mrs Glaire, angrily; “but if I did I should not learn the truth. Where have you taken her?”
“Taken her?” said Richard, savagely. “Where should I take her? You know I was at home all last night.”
“Where you had planned to take her,” said Mrs Glaire, coldly.
“I planned!” cried Richard. “Why, I left her with you. Plans, indeed!”
“Daisy Banks was not with me ten minutes,” said Mrs Glaire, quietly. “I said plans, because – ”
“Because what?” cried Richard. “Do you wish me to tell you?”
“Yes, if you have anything to tell.”
“Because you paid that chattering ass, Slee, to carry letters to and fro, between you and Daisy, after you had given me your word of honour that you would see her no more. Because you then, after gradually bringing the silly girl over to your purposes, paid or bribed, which you will, Simeon Slee, the man who has been one of the projectors of this wretched strike, to act as your pander to take this girl off to London, to await your coming. It is your doing; so now you had better seek her.”
“How did you know all this?”
“How did I know?” said Mrs Glaire, contemptuously. “How are such things known? You leaned upon a bruised reed, and it broke and entered your hand.”
“Did Sim Slee tell you all this, then?” said Richard, stamping with fury.
“Yes; and he would have told me long ago, had I given him what the knave wants – money.”
“A treacherous scoundrel!” cried Richard; “trusting him as I did.”
“You knew him to be a treacherous, prating scoundrel, so why did you trust him?”
“Because I was a fool,” roared the young man, biting his nails with rage.
“Exactly; because you were a fool, and because no honest man would help you to be guilty of the great sin you meant to commit, of stealing the daughter of the man who had been your father’s best friend – the man who helped him to make his fortune. Scoundrels are necessary to do scoundrels’ work.”
“But he cheated me,” cried Richard; “he took my money, and he has not performed his promise.”
“Of course not,” said Mrs Glaire. “But when did you know this?” cried Richard.
“You own to it, then?” cried Mrs Glaire, gazing sharply at him.
“Never mind whether I own it or not. A scoundrel! I’ll serve him out for this.”
“I have known it only a few hours,” said Mrs Glaire, sinking back on her couch, and watching the young man, as he stamped up and down the room.
“But he has thrown me over,” cried Richard. “I don’t know where the girl is.”
“Who has thrown you over?” said Mrs Glaire, contemptuously.
“You needn’t believe me without you like,” said Richard; “but I am speaking the truth now. Sim Slee was to take her across to Lupsthorpe station, and go with her to town.”
“And stay with her till I came, after the heat of the row was over; for no one would have missed him.”
“Well?” said Mrs Glaire, contemptuously.
“Well, he has thrown me over,” said Richard. “I met him this morning, and found he had not been.”
“What did he say?” said Mrs Glaire.
“Swore he couldn’t find her.”
“Then the wolf set the fox to carry off the lamb, and now the fox says he has not seen the prey,” said Mrs Glaire, smiling.
“Damn your riddles and fables!” cried Richard, who was beside himself with rage. “I tell you he has sold me.”
“What you might have expected,” said his mother.
“The scoundrel has hidden her somewhere,” cried Richard; “and it’s his plan to get more money out of me.”
“What you might have expected,” said Mrs Glaire, again. “You had better set the police to watch him and find him out.”
“Not while I can do it better myself,” said the young man, with a cunning grin upon his countenance. “You have both been very clever, I dare say you think; and if the truth were known, you have been setting Sim Slee to get her away, so as to marry me to your pet; but you won’t succeed.”
“You are wrong, Richard; I would not trust Sim Slee with the value of a penny. I gave him ten pounds for his information, and I have not seen him since. You had better employ the police.”
“Curse the police!” cried Richard, looking hard at his mother’s face, and feeling that she was telling him the truth; “what good are they? I might have been killed before they would have interfered. But I’ve not done with Master Sim Slee yet.”
“Then you will not employ the police?”
“No,” said Richard, sharply; “the matter’s tangled enough as it is; but he’s got the wrong man to deal with, has Sim Slee, if he thinks he has cheated me so easily.”
“Better leave him alone,” said Mrs Glaire, wearily. “You have enough to attend to with your own affairs.”
“This is my affair,” cried Richard.
“Bombast and sound,” said his mother. “I suppose you and Slee are in collusion, and this is done to blind me, and the rest of the town. But there, you must follow your own course.”
“I mean to,” said Richard; and the breach between him and his mother seemed to be getting wider than ever.
There was a goodly meeting at the Bull and Cucumber that evening, for the discussion of the disappearance of Daisy Banks. Sim Slee was there, and one of the chief spokesmen.
“Well, what do you say, Sim?” said the landlord, with a wink at his other guests, as much as to say, “Let’s draw him out.”
“Say!” cried Sim; “why, that Dick Glaire’s a lungeing villin. Look at him: a man fixed in business as he is, and plenty o’ money, and he knows nowt but nastiness. He ought to be hung.”
“Where weer you to-day, Sim?” said another. “I didn’t see thee helping.”
“Helping!” said Sim; “why, I was in the thicket all day. Search indeed! what’s the good o’ searching for what aint theer?”
“Do you know wheer she is?” said the landlord.
“If yow want to know wheer Daisy Banks is, ask Dicky Glaire, and – ”
“And what?” said several, for Sim had stopped short.
“And he wean’t tell yow,” said Sim. “He knows, though. Why, he’s been mad after the lass for months; and if she weer my bairn, I’d half kill him; that’s what I’d do wi’ him. He’s a bad lot, and it’s a pity as Dumford can’t get shoot of him. Such rubbish! he’s ony fit to boon the roads.”
“Well, Sim,” said the grocer, “when they make you boon master, you can use him up o’ purpose.”
“Hello!” said Sim, “what! are yow here? I thowt as the Bull and Cowcumber wasn’t good enew for such as thee.”
“You niver thowt so, Sim,” said the jovial little grocer, laughing, “till I wouldn’t give thee any more credit till thou had paid what thee owdst.”
“I can pay yow any day,” said Sim, chinking the money in his pocket.
“Yes, but yow wean’t,” said the grocer, imitating Sim’s broad Lincoln dialect. “Yes, I wanted to hear a bit o’ the news,” he continued, “so I thowt I’d put up the shuts and have a gill and a pipe, same as another man; for I niver object to my ’lowance, as is good for any man as works hard.”
“So ’tis, so ’tis,” chorussed several.
“How chuff we are to-night,” said Sim, with a sneer; “why, yow’re getting quite sharp. Yow wearn’t so nation fast wi’ your tongue fore yow took to trade and was only a bricklayer. It’s all very fine for a man to marry a grocer’s widow, and take to her trade and money, and then come and teach others, and bounce about his money.”
“Oh, I’m not ashamed of having handled the mortar-trowel before I took to the sugar-scoop,” said the grocer, laughing.
“When it used to be to the boy,” continued Sim, mimicking the other’s very slow drawling speech: “‘Joey, wilt thou bring me another brick?’ and then thou used to groan because it weer so heavy.”
“Sim Slee’s in full swing to-night,” said another guest.
“He will be if he don’t look out, for Tom Podmore says he’s sure he had a hand in getting away Daisy Banks,” said another; “and Joe Banks is sure of it. I wouldn’t be surprised if he hung him.”
“Don’t you be so nation fast,” said Sim, changing colour a little, but laughing it off the next moment. “Iv I were a owry chap like thee, Sam’l Benson, I’d wesh mesen afore I took to talking about other folk. It was Sam’l, you know,” continued Sim, to the others, “that owd parson spoke to when he weer a boy. ‘When did thee wesh thee hands last, Sam?’ he says, pointing at ’em wi’ his stick. ‘When we’d done picking tates,’ says Sam, He, he, he! and that was three months before, and parson give ’im a penny to ware in soap.”
There was a hearty laugh at this, in which the man of whom the story was told joined.
“Strange different sort o’ man this one to the last parson,” said the grocer.
“Ay, he is. Do you mind owd parson’s dunk pigs?” said Johnson, the butcher.
“To be sure,” said the landlord, rapping his pipe. “I’ve got four of the same breed now.”
“He used to come and see you pretty oftens, didn’t he?” said the grocer.
“Oh, yes; he’d come toddling up on the saints’ days to Mrs Winny’s there, and sit for a bit, and then come across here, and sit and wait, and have a gill o’ ale, and then if there was anybody coming up to church, Jacky Budd – Jacky Budd’s father, you know – would come and fetch him, and if there was nobody coming Jacky used to lock the church doors again and go back home.”
“He was a rum one, he was. Fond of his garden, too.”
“Well, so’s this un,” said the landlord. “He’s getten it to raights now.”
“Course he has,” said Slee. “Getten it done for nowt, wi’ Tom Podmore and big Harry, and iver so many more wucking for him.”
“You let th’ parson alone, Sim,” said the landlord, who was a bit of an autocrat in his own parlour, “and he’ll let thee alone.”
“I should hope he would. He’s fun me a hot one a’ready,” said Sim.
“He’s a good sort, is parson,” said Johnson, the butcher; “and it’s how do, and shake hands, as friendly with ye, as if you was the best in the land.”
“Yes,” said the grocer; “and he don’t come begging and borrowing always.”
“Begging, no,” said Johnson, chuckling. “Why, he’s paid me thutty pounds this last ten days for meat.”
“Thutty pounds!” said the landlord.
“Ay, all that.”
“What for?” said Sim.
“Meat for soup,” said Johnson.
“Ah, and I’ve took a lot of him for grosheries,” said the grocer.
“Yes; he’s giving away a sight o’ money,” said the landlord, “to them as is on strike and wants it. He says to me, only yesterday, when I went across to take him a bit o’ Marquory – it was some as we’d got very fine – ‘Thankye, Robinson,’ he says, ‘so that’s Mercury, is it?’ – he called it ‘Mercury.’ ‘I never see any before,’ he says. ‘We call it Good King Henry down in the South.’ ‘Yes, sir,’ I says, ‘that’s marquory, and as good a vegetable as you can eat.’ ‘Makes a difference in your trade, this strike, I suppose,’ he says. ‘Our takings aint been above half, sir,’ I says, ‘since it begun.’ ‘Sorry for it,’ he says, ‘sorry for it. I don’t dislike to see men come and have their pipe and glass in moderation, and then chat after work; and I’m sure, Robinson,’ he says, ‘you are not the man to let any one exceed.’ ‘Never do if I can help it, sir,’ I says; and then he talked for ever so long, and then he took me in and give me a glass o’ wine, and shew’d me his silver cups as he’d won at college, and rowing and running, and one thing and another; and when I was coming away he says, ‘Tell me,’ he says, ‘if you hear of anybody very hard pushed through the strike, and I’ll see what I can do.’”
“Here’s parson’s very good health,” said Johnson, the butcher; and it was drunk by all present but Sim, who uttered a loud, “Yah!”
“They say he’s makkin’ up to Mrs Glaire, don’t they?” said the grocer.
“Ay, they say so,” said the butcher; “and that owd Purley’s sister and Miss Primgeon are both in a regular takkin’ about it. They’ve both been wucking slippers for him.”
“He was fine and on about Daisy Banks, to-day,” said the landlord. “I heerd, too, as Joe Banks quarrelled wi’ him for interfering ’bout her, just afore she went.”
“How did you hear that?” said the grocer.
“Joe Banks’s Missus towd mine,” said the landlord. “But, say, lads, what’s this ’bout Bultitude’s John Maine?”
“Don’t know – what?” said first one and then another.
“Why, I hear as he was seen talking to a couple of owry-looking poacher chaps, down the road – them two, as they think, had something to do wi’ Daisy Banks going off.”
“Yes, I see ’em,” said Sim; “and I see John Maine talking to ’em.”
“Regular rough couple,” continued the landlord. “They comed here just as my Missus was busy wi’ her sweeping-brush, and wanted her to buy a three-gill bottle, or give ’em a gill o’ ale for it.”
“And she wouldn’t,” said Sim, grinning.
“Yes, she would, and did,” said the landlord. “She was all alone in the house; for I was out in the close, and she thowt it best to be civil to ’em; but she kept a pretty sharp eye on ’em all the time.”
“Then John Maine’s had a hand in it; see if he ain’t,” said Sim.
“Don’t know so much about that,” said the landlord. “Some say as you know more than you keer to tell.”
“Perhaps I do, and perhaps I don’t,” said Sim, sententiously. “There’s things as I know on, and things as I don’t. I’m going now.”
“Tell the owd woman to hap you up well to-night, Sim,” said one.
“Say, Sim,” said another, “ask her to get out her scithers and coot thee hair.”
“You’re going agates early, Sim,” said another.
“Yes, I’m off,” said Sim; “and mebbe it’ll be some time before you see me here again, or mebbe I shall be here again to-morrow night. Good-night, all,” and he went out, looking very triumphant, telling himself that he had been too much for “that lot,” and that he knew what he was about.
There were those present, though, who were not above saying that it was on account of Tom Podmore coming in, to sit near the door, looking wearied out with anxiety as he let his head drop upon his hand, and sat there thoughtful and silent, while those present, knowing his feelings towards the missing girl, changed the subject that they were resuming, and entered upon the question of the duration of the strike.