As the days passed, and no information could be obtained respecting Daisy Banks, and the efforts of the police to trace the two strangers proved utterly fruitless, John Maine was in a state of mind not to be envied. By degrees it oozed out more and more that he had been seen with the two men, and the police came down to the farm, to question him, looking suspiciously at him, as he told them that they were men he had met once before in the neighbourhood of Nottingham; and when the constables left he had the annoyance of feeling that he would be watched, for it was evident that he was looked upon with suspicion.
Joe Banks had been nearly mad with excitement, and leaving his sobbing wife day after day, he had searched and researched the country round, aided by Tom Podmore, Harry, and a score of the other men. Richard Glaire had made no show of assisting after the first day, for he had awakened to the fact that the town was not a safe home for him, and it was fully his intention to leave the place for awhile; but, for his own reasons, he preferred to wait a little longer.
Sim Slee was about now a good deal, and another encounter had taken place between him and Richard, after which Sim had gone round to the vicarage back-door, to implore help from his wife, asserting that he was half killed, and begging her to come home and attend on him.
As it happened, the vicar heard him, and came to see how bad were his injuries, and to offer to set his housekeeper at liberty.
“I’ll manage without you, Mrs Slee, if you like,” he said kindly.
“But I don’t like,” said Mrs Slee; “there’ll be fifty people here soon for soup and bread, and how can you get shoot of ’em all wi’out me?”
“Thou must come home, lovey,” said Sim, in a dismal voice. “I’m very bad. I’ve got money enew, too, now to keep us for weeks.”
“Where dids’t thou get money from?” said Mrs Slee, sharply.
“Never thou mind,” said Sim. “I’ve gotten it, and now come home.”
“But how did you get knocked about like that?” said the vicar, smiling to himself.
“That cursed Dicky Glaire set upon me,” moaned Sim, one of whose eyes was swollen up, while there was a cut across the bridge of his nose. “He’s mad wi’ me because I wouldn’t help him to carry off Daisy Banks to London, and he’s leathered me this how. But I’ll hev it out of him yet.”
“Did Dicky Glaire want yow to get her away?” said Mrs Slee.
“Yes, a coward, and I wouldn’t,” said Sim, “so he’s done it his sen.”
“Be careful what you are saying, Mr Slee,” said the vicar, snipping a strip of sticking-plaister off a piece in his pocket-book with his nail-scissors, and breathing upon it to make it warm.
“Keerful,” said Sim; “he deserves to be hung for it.”
“Do you mean to assert that Mr Glaire has done this? Because if so, you will have to substantiate your statement before a magistrate.”
“I don’t say for certain as he has,” said Sim; “but he wanted me to, and I wouldn’t.
“Stand still, man, and don’t be such a cur,” cried the vicar, sharply, for he had been applying the plaister to Sim’s slight cut, and the hero had begun to howl dismally.
“It’s half killing me,” cried Sim, again.
“Take hold of his head, Mrs Slee; the cut is nothing at all.”
Mrs Slee seized Sim pretty roughly, and held him by his ears, while the plaister was affixed, the great orator moaning and flinching and writhing till he was set at liberty.
“Is it bad, sir?” said Mrs Slee, then.
“So bad,” said the vicar, “that if a schoolboy of nine or ten received such a drubbing from a playmate, he would have washed his face and said nothing about it.”
“Said nowt about it!” cried Sim. “Aye, it’s easy for them as aint hurt to talk. Thou’lt come home wi’ me, lovey?”
“No. Go thee gate,” said Mrs Slee.
“Do ’ee come, lovey,” said Sim.
“I wean’t,” said Mrs Slee, shortly; and without more ado, she took her lord by the shoulders, and guided him to the door, which she closed upon him, leaving him to make his way up the street, vowing vengeance against Richard Glaire, the parson, and all the world.
In fact, mischief was brewing, and would have come to a head sooner but for the episode of Daisy’s disappearance. A deputation of the men had waited upon Richard Glaire, and offered terms for coming back to work; but he had obstinately held out for the reparation to be made, increasing the value he had previously set upon the destroyed bands, and declaring that if he were not paid a hundred and fifty pounds damages, he would keep the works closed.
“Thou’lt be sorry for this, Maister,” said the man who acted as spokesman.
“Sorry!” said Richard, defiantly. “I’m sorry I ever had such a set of curs to work for me.”
“But we’ve telled you as it was none o’ us.”
“I don’t care who it was,” retorted Richard; “I want a hundred and fifty pounds for the damage done; and I ought to have payment for my losses by the foundry standing still.”
“Our wives and bairns ’ll soon be pined to dead,” said another man.
“You should have thought of that before,” said Richard, coldly. “A hundred and fifty pounds made up amongst you, and the fires may be lit, and we’ll go on once more; till that’s paid I’ll keep the place locked up if I’m ruined by it.”
Then came the disappearance of Daisy Banks, and it wanted but little on the part of Sim Slee to half madden the weaker spirits against the man who was starving their wives and children, and had robbed Joe Banks of his daughter.
It so happened that Joe Banks, on the day following Sim’s doctoring, about a fortnight after the disappearance, during which time he had not seen Mrs Glaire, but only Eve, who had been again and again to try and administer comfort to Mrs Banks, came upon a knot of men, listening to an oration made by Sim Slee, who, as soon as he saw Joe coming up in company with Tom Podmore, who was his staunch and faithful ally throughout, cried loudly:
“Here he comes! Here comes the downtrodden, ill-used paytriot, who has served the rotten family for thirty year, and then been robbed for his pains. He’s agoing to join my brotherhood now, lads – him and Tom Podmore.”
“Hooray!” cried the men.
“And he’ll be a captain and a leader among us as is going to beat down the oppressors and robbers of our flocks and herds. He’s agoing, lads, to pull down with us the bloated Aristorchus, as is living on his oil olive, and honey, while we heven’t bread to put in the mouths of our bairns.”
There was a groan here from the little crowd, some of whom readily accepted Sim Slee’s Aristorchus, as they would have taken in any loud-sounding word in their present humour.
“Come on, brave captain, as hev had your eye-lids opened to the malice and wickedness of your employer, and join them as is going to groan no more under the harrows and ploughshares of oppression. It is said as the ox or beast shan’t be muzzled as treadeth out the corn, and we aint agoing to let that oppressor, Dicky Glaire, muzzle us any more.”
“Hooray!” cried the growing crowd.
“Come on, then, brave captain. Lads, Joe Banks is a man as we’ll be proud to serve wi’; and wi’ Tom Podmore too, for they’ve cast off their slough” – Sim called this “sluff” – “of blindness, and hev awaked to the light and glory of liberty. Come on.”
“What do you mean?” said Joe Banks, firmly.
“Mean, brave captain and leader!” cried Sim, making his plaid waistcoat wrinkle with his exertions; “why, that we’re going to trample down him as robbed thee of thy bairn.”
“Who’s that?” said Joe Banks, sternly.
“Who’s that? Ask anybody here if it aint Dicky Glaire, the oppressor, as is going to sneak outer the town to-night to catch the mail train over yonder at the station, and then going to laugh and sneer and mock at the poor, grey old father as he’s deceived, and – ”
“It’s a lie,” roared Joe. “Who says Richard Glaire took away my poor murdered bairn?”
“Everybody,” said Sim, who was standing on a wall about five feet high, his plaistered face giving him rather a grotesque aspect. “Everybody says it.”
“No,” roared Joe, “it’s you as says it, you lying, chattering magpie. Howd thee tongue, or I’ll – ”
He seized the speaker by the legs, and had him down in an instant, clutched by the throat, and began shaking him violently.
“Go on,” said Sim, who this time preserved his presence of mind. “I aint the first paytriot as has been a martyr to his cause; kill me if you like.”
“Kill thee, thou noisy starnel of a man! Say as it’s a lie again your maister, or I’ll shake thee till thou dost.”
“I wean’t say it’s a lie,” cried Sim. “Ask anybody if it aint true.”
Joe Banks looked round furiously, and a chorus broke out of, “It’s true, lad; it’s true.”
“There,” cried Sim, triumphantly. “What hev you to say to that? Ask Tom Podmore what he thinks.”
“I will,” cried Joe Banks, who was somewhat staggered by the unanimity of opinion. “Tom Podmore, speak out like a true man and tell these all as it’s a lie.”
Tom remained silent.
“D’ye hear, Tom? Speak out,” cried Joe.
“I’d rather not speak,” said Tom, quietly.
“But thou must, lad, thou must,” cried Sim. “Are you going to see a man a martyr for a holy cause, when you can save him?”
“Speak! speak!” cried Joe, panting with rage and emotion; “tell ’em you know it’s a lie, Tom.”
“I can’t,” said Tom, who was driven to bay, “for I believe Richard Glaire has got her away.”
“Theer, I telled you,” said Sim. “He wanted me to help him, only you wean’t believe.”
“No, no, no,” roared Joe; “and I wean’t believe it now. He wouldn’t, he couldn’t do it. He told me he hadn’t; and he wouldn’t tell me a lie.”
The little crowd opened as the true-hearted old fellow strode away, without turning his head, and Tom Podmore followed him towards his home, and at last spoke to him.
Joe turned upon him savagely.
“Go away,” he cried. “I’ve done wi’ you. I thowt as Tom Podmore were a man, instead o’ one o’ them chattering maulkin-led fools; but thou’rt like the rest.”
Tom Podmore stopped short, with his brow knit, while Joe Banks passed on out of sight.
“He’ll find out, and believe different some day,” said Tom, slowly. “Poor old man, it’s enough to break his heart. But I wean’t break mine.”
As he stood, the noise of cheering came from where he had left Sim Slee talking, and he stood listening and thinking.
“They’ll be doing him a mischief ’fore they’ve done, and then they’ll end the old works. Damn him! I hate him,” he cried, grinding his teeth; “but I can’t stand still and let Sim Slee’s lot bruise and batter his face as they would till they’d ’most killed him. He’s soft, and smooth, and good-looking, and I’m – well, I’m a rough un,” he continued, smiling with contemptuous pity on himself. “It’s no wonder she should love him best, poor lass; but she’d better hev been a honest lad’s wife – missus to a man as wouldn’t hev said an unkind thing to her to save his life. But they say it’s womankind-like: they takes most to him as don’t keer for ’em.”
He stood thinking irresolutely, as the noise and cheering continued: and once he turned to go; but the next moment he was himself, and saying softly:
“Daisy, my poor little lass, it’s for thee – it’s for thee;” he strode hastily to the Big House, knocked, and was admitted.
“Tell Mr Richard I want to see him,” said Tom; and the servant-girl smiled pleasantly at the fine, sturdy young fellow.
“I don’t think he’ll see thee, Mr Podmore,” said the girl, “because he’s so cross about the foundry people. I’ll tell him a gentleman wants to see him.”
She tripped away, and in a few minutes Richard came down to stand scowling at him.
“What do you want?” he said, glaring at his rival.
Tom Podmore writhed mentally, and his nerves tingled with the desire to take Richard Glaire by the throat, and shake him till he could not breathe; but he controlled himself, and said sturdily:
“I come to tell thee some ill news.”
“What is it?” said Richard, thrusting his hand into his breast, for his visitor had taken a step forward.
Tom Podmore saw the motion and smiled, but he paid no further heed, and went on bluntly:
“Thou wast going away by train to-night.”
“Who says so?” cried Richard, turning pale.
“The lads out there – Sim Slee’s gang,” said Tom; “and I come to warn thee.”
“Warn me of what?” said Richard.
“To warn thee as they mean to lay wait for thee, and do thee a mischief.”
“Who says so?”
“I know it,” said Tom: “so if you’ll tak’ a good bit of advice thou’lt stay at home, and not go out.”
“It’s a trick – a trap,” cried Richard. “If it were true, you’re not the man to come and tell me.”
“Why not?” said Tom bluntly.
“Because you hate me, and believe I’ve taken away your wretched wench.”
“Damn thee!” cried Tom, seizing him by the arm and throat; and as he brought the young fellow to his knees, quite paralysing his effort to get his hand into Iiis breast; “thou may’st say what thee likes again me; but if thee speaks ill of her I can’t bear it; so I warn thee. Hate thee I do, and yet I come to tell thee of danger, and – ”
A faint shriek made Tom start, for, pale as death, Eve Pelly rushed to Richard’s help, and clutched at Tom Podmore’s sturdy arms, which dropped at her touch as if those of Eve had been talismanic.
“Aw raight, Miss,” he said smiling. “I wean’t hurt him; but I come to do him good, and he made me mad.”
“Mad, yes,” cried Richard, who had regained his feet, and now drew a pistol. “You were mad to come here; but I’m ready for you and the rest of your rascally crew, and for all your malicious traps and plans.”
“Richard!” shrieked Eve, who tried to catch his arm; but she was flung off, and would have fallen, but for Tom Podmore, before whom she stood, screening him as she begged him to leave the house.
“Yes, Miss, I’ll go,” said Tom, smiling; “not as I’m afraid of him and his pistol. What I did he browt upon himself. I’ve done what I thowt was raight, so he must tak’ his chance. I on’y come to warn him as there’s a dozen or two of the lads as listen to Sim Slee made themselves into a gang agen him.”
“What, our workmen?” cried Eve.
“Well, only some o’ the outsiders, Miss; t’others wean’t have nowt to do wi’ it. That’s all.”
As he spoke he smiled sadly at the poor pale face before him, and then was gone.
Tom Podmore walked straight away from the Big House, listening to the noise and shouting as he went to the Vicarage, where Murray Selwood was in conference with Jacky Budd, respecting certain improvements to be made in the shrubbery, when the season suited for planting.
“And what would you plant here, Budd?” he said to the thirsty soul.
“Oh, I should put a few laurels there, sir.”
“And in that corner?”
“Oh, I should put a few laurels there, sir.”
“And in the centre bed?”
“A few laurels, sir.”
“And by the bare patch by the edge?”
“Just a few laurels, sir.”
“And along the side of the house?”
“Couldn’t put anything better than a few laurels, sir.”
“And for the new hedge to separate the two gardens?”
“Oh, a few laurels, sir.”
“Then you would put laurels all about?”
“Well, yes, sir; you see they’re so evergreen and – ”
“Oh, here’s Podmore,” said the vicar, going down to the gate. “Well, my lad, how are you? I’m glad to see you.”
“Thanky’ kindly, sir,” said Tom, pressing firmly the hand given to him in so friendly a way. “Can I speak to you a minute?”
“Of course you can. Come into the house.”
He led the way into the vicarage, and placed a chair for Tom in the study, but the young man did not take it, and remained silent.
“I’m deeply grieved,” said the vicar, laying his hand on the young fellow’s shoulder; “deeply, Tom Podmore. I had hoped that she would have come to her senses, and made a better choice.”
“Don’t, sir, please don’t,” said Tom, turning away his head; and, laying his arm against the wall, he placed his forehead against it, and his broad shoulders heaved. “I can’t bear to hear a word spoke again her, sir.”
“I’ll not speak against her, Podmore, believe me, poor girl; and I deeply regret that her father was too blind to listen to me.”
“You spoke to him, then?” said Tom, sadly.
“I did; and I have striven hard to be friends with Richard Glaire, and to bring him to a better feeling; but I failed with both.”
“Then you think as I do, sir,” said Tom, sadly – “You think as she’s been took away?”
“I cannot help thinking so,” was the reply. “If I am misjudging, I am very sorry; but I have done everything I could to trace her, even to having a man down from town, who has been constantly searching ever since she disappeared, and he has discovered nothing.”
“And have you done this, sir?”
“Yes; why should I not?” said the vicar, sadly. “But you have come for some reason, Podmore. What can I do for you?”
“Well, sir, I’ve comed about these goings on up yonder in the town.”
“There’s no fresh violence, I hope,” cried the vicar, hastily.
“Not as yet, sir; but there’s going to be, I’m afraid. You see, sir, there’s about a couple of dozen as has been got over by Sim Slee, and he’s made ’em join him in some kind of brotherhood, as he calls it. The older men as has got heads on their shoulders laughs at it all, and looks upon Sim as a chattering fool.”
“Fools do mischief sometimes,” said the vicar, half to himself.
“Yes, sir, they do; but all the best of the men tak’ Sim Slee at what he’s worth; but there’s a few, you see, as are ’mazed by his big words, and are ready to be led into any mischief.”
“Yes; and you know of this?” said the vicar, anxiously.
“Yes, sir, I’ve found as they’ve got to know that Mr Richard Glaire’s going away to-night.”
“Is he going away?” said the vicar.
“So Sim Slee’s telling on ’em, sir; but what does it mean ’bout Sim Slee being so thick wi’ him just afore, and now dead again’ him?”
“Some quarrel,” said the vicar. “Sim Slee must be made to speak out somehow.”
“He’s been speaking to some purpose to-day,” said Tom, sharply; “and I think they mean mischief against the maister to-night, when he’s going away.”
“And you’ve come to tell me this!” said the vicar, looking at the sturdy rough young fellow admiringly.
“Yes,” said Tom, simply. “I went and told him at the house, but he turned on me, and said things I couldn’t bear, and made me grip him, when Miss Eve came out and atween uz, and that stopped me.”
“And then he pulled out a pistol and threatened me.”
“What made you grip him?” said the vicar, using the young man’s words.
“He – he spoke again’ her,” said Tom, hoarsely; and as he spoke the veins in his forehead swelled, and an angry frown came upon his countenance.
“Then you went to the house to warn Richard Glaire of his danger, and he – ”
“Threatened me, and said it was a trap I was laying,” said Tom.
“And then you came to tell me he was in danger. And what for?”
Tom was silent for a few moments. Then glancing up in the clear firm face which seemed to demand an answer, he said, almost in a whisper:
“I couldn’t abear for him to be knocked about, if I could stop it.”
“For Daisy’s sake?”
“For Daisy’s sake,” said the young man; and the next moment the vicar’s hand had closed upon his in a firm grasp.
“Then we’ll try and save him, Tom,” said the vicar quietly. “I’m very glad you’ve come, Tom. I’ve seen very little of you lately.”
Tom looked up at him curiously, said something about being much obliged, and was turning to go, when the vicar stopped him.
“We must make some plans for the poor fellow’s safety,” he said. “He must not be hurt. I’ll go up first, and try if I can prevail upon him not to go.”
“And if he will not be prevailed upon, we must try and act as we can. I think and hope that they will not attempt to touch him while I am by his side.” Tom shook his head.
“I wouldn’t, sir, because I know you; but time back I would, if there’d been twenty parsons round him. They won’t hurt you, sir, but they’ll beat him if he attempts to go.”
“Let’s hope not; let’s hope not,” said the vicar; “and now I’ll go up to the house, while you’ll wait here.”
“Wait here?” said Tom.
“Yes; why not? I shall want to lay my hands upon you at a moment’s notice. But stop. If he goes, it will be by the mail. That’s at eight, and the station is two miles, say three-quarters of an hour for ample time. If he means to go, he will go afoot, so as not to excite attention.”
“Yes; and he’ll go by the little door in the wall at the bottom of the garden, and off across the home close,” said Tom.
“Do you know that?” said the vicar.
“No, sir; but that’s how he used to go to meet her; and as he’s going to join her to-night, I thowt that’s the way he’d go.”
“Very likely,” said the vicar; “and they’re sure to know it, and watch. But look here, Tom Podmore, are you willing to help him get away?”
“To join her?”
“Yes; I was thinking, that mebbe if he got away to join the poor bairn he’d marry her; for I s’pose he’s fond o’ the poor lass. But he must be that. She’d mak’ onny man – the very worst – fond on her.”
“Do you know any one you could get here to help you?” said the vicar. “I mean a stout sturdy fellow with brains, who could be depended on to help you back me up if we have to make a struggle for it.”
“John Maine, sir, at Bultitude’s.”