Daisy, who had resumed the natural tint of her complexion – a peachy hue touched rather warmly by the brown of the sun – became as though the new-comer’s tie was reflected to her very temples; the young workman’s face grew black as night, and his teeth grated together as his pockets suddenly bulged out, indicative of doubled fists, and he stared at the dandy in a menacing way that betokened evil.
As for Eve, she ran forward with a little joyous cry and took the young man’s arm.
“Ah, Dick,” she cried, “I didn’t expect you. How kind of you to come.”
“Didn’t come to meet you,” said the young man, shortly, as he fixed a glass with some difficulty in his eye to stare at the stranger.
“Then you ought to have come,” said Eve, quickly. “Take that stupid glass out of your eye, you silly boy,” she whispered. Then aloud, “I’ve been in such trouble, Dick, dear.”
“Dick, dear!” He did not know why it was, but this very familiar appellation from those soft red lips seemed to jar on the stranger’s ears, and he drew a longer breath than usual.
“I actually got bogged, Dick, and was sinking, when this gentleman came and saved me. Dick, dear, this is our new vicar. Mr Selwood, this is Mr Richard Glaire of the Foundry.”
“Glad to know you, Mr Glaire,” said the vicar, holding out his hand.
“How do?” said the new-comer, shortly, and his hand went out in a slow, awkward, unwilling way, retiring afterwards from the hearty grasp it received in a very sharp manner, for thin effeminate hands, that do not return an honest pressure, fare badly in a manly grasp, especially if they happen to be half-covered with unnecessary rings.
“How do? Glad to see you,” said the young owner of the Foundry, though it was always more looked upon since his father’s death as the property of Mrs Glaire. “Find this rather dull place.”
“I don’t think I shall,” said the vicar, looking at him curiously.
“Very dull place,” said the young man. “Very. Come, Evey. You’ll call, I suppose?”
“Of course I shall,” said the vicar, smiling. “I mean to know everybody here.”
“Thanks, much,” said Mr Glaire, glancing at Daisy, who gave herself an angry twitch and turned away. He then drew Eve’s arm through his own, and, raising his hat slightly to the vicar, was turning away when his eye lit on the young workman. “Hallo you, Tom Podmore,” he cried, “how is it you’re not at work?”
“That’s my business,” growled the man. “I’ll tell you that when you ain’t got young missus there wi’ you, and I wean’t afore.”
Richard Glaire looked at the sturdy fellow uneasily, and directed a second glance at Daisy, his vacillating eyes resting for a moment on the pocketed double fists before repeating his words shortly —
“Come along, Evey.”
“Wait a moment, Dick, dear,” she said, disengaging her arm. “How rude you are!” she added in an undertone. “Good day, Mr Selwood, and thank you very much,” she said, ingenuously.
She held out her hand, and the constraint that was in spite of himself creeping over the new vicar was thawed away by the genial, innocent sunshine of the young girl’s smile.
“Good-bye,” he said, frankly; and his face lit up with pleasure. “I shall call very soon, and we won’t forget the botany.”
“Oh, no,” said Eve, as her arm was once more pinioned. “Come, Daisy, you are coming up to the house.”
“No, thank you, miss; I must go home now.”
As she spoke she hurried forward, tripped over the stile first, and was gone.
A minute later and Eve had lightly touched Richard Glaire’s arm, and climbed the stile in her turn, leaving the vicar to follow slowly, forgetful of the presence of the young workman – Podmore.
He was brought back from his dreamy musings on the relation existing between the young fellow who had just gone, and the sweet innocent girl who was his companion, by a rough grasp being laid upon his arm, and turning sharply, there stood Tom Podmore, with the veins in his forehead swelling, and his face black with rage.
“Look here, parson,” cried the young workman, in a voice husky with emotion; and as he spoke he dashed his cap upon the ground and began to roll up his sleeves, displaying arms fit, with their sturdy rolls of muscle, for a young Hercules. “Look here, parson. You’re a straanger here, and I’ll tell ’ee. That’s my master, that is, and I shall kill him afore I’ve done.”
“Hush, man, hush!” cried the young vicar.
“I don’t keer, I shall. Why ain’t I at work, eh? Never another stroke will I do for him; wish that my hammer may come on my head if I do. Look here, parson,” he went on, catching the other’s arm hard in a grasp of iron, “that’s his lass, that is – that’s his young lady – Miss Eve Pelly; God bless her for a perfect angel, and too good for him. He’s engaged to her, he is – engaged to be married, and he’s got thousands and thousands of his own, and the Foundry, and horses to hunt wi’, and he ain’t satisfied. No, no; I ain’t done yet. Look here, ain’t all that enough for any man? You know what’s right, and what ain’t. What call’s he got to come between me and she?”
He jerked one fist in the direction taken by Daisy, and went on.
“Things ran all right between us before he steps in with his London dandy air, and his short coot hair, and fine clothes. Old Joe Banks was willing; and as for Missus Banks, why, bless her, she’s always been like a mother to me. I’d saved up a hundred and sixty pun’ ten, all hard earnings, and we was soon to be married, and then he comes between us and turns the girl’s head. You come on to me when I’d gone up the hill-side there, to chew it all over, after she’d huffed me this morning, and I coot up rough. I say, warn’t it enough to make any man coot up rough?”
“It was, indeed, Podmore,” said the vicar, kindly.
“But I wean’t stand it, that I wean’t,” roared the young man, like an angry bull. “A man’s a man even if he is a master. I’ll fight fair; but if I don’t break every bone in his false skin, my name ain’t Tom Podmore.”
This burst over, he resumed his cap and snatched down his sleeves, looking half ashamed of his effusion in the presence of a stranger, and he shrank away a little as the vicar laid his hand upon his arm.
“Look here, Podmore,” he said kindly; “when I went first to school they used to give me for a copy to write, ‘Do nothing rashly.’ Don’t you do anything rashly, my friend, because things done in haste are repented of at leisure. I have come down here to be a friend, I hope, to everybody, and as you were the first man I met in Dumford, I shall look upon you as one of the first to have a call upon me.”
“Thanky, sir, thanky kindly,” said Podmore, in a quieter tone. “I don’t know how it is, but you’ve got a kind of way with you that gets over a fellow.”
“She seems a nice, pretty, well-behaved girl, that Daisy Banks,” said the vicar.
“There isn’t a better nor a truer-hearted girl nor a prettier nowhere for twenty miles round,” cried the young fellow, flushing up with a lover’s pride. “Why look at her, sir, side by side with Miss Eve, that’s a born lady. Why, Miss Eve’s that delicate and poor beside my Daisy, as there ain’t no comparison ’tween ’em. My Daisy, as was,” he added, sorrowfully. “Something’s come over her like of late, and it’s all over now.”
The great strong fellow turned his back, and resting one hand upon the stile, his broad shoulders gave a heave or two.
“I shan’t take on about it,” he said, roughly, as he turned round with a sharp, defiant air of recklessness. “I ain’t the first fool that’s been jilted by a woman, ay, parson – hundred and sixty pound ’ll buy a sight o’ gills o’ ale. Don’t you take no heed o’ what I said.”
He was turning away, but a strong hand was upon his shoulder.
“Look here, Podmore,” said the vicar, firmly, “you said something about fools just now. You are not a fool, and you know it. You leave the ale alone – to the fools – and go back and get to work as hard, or harder, than you ever worked before. I shall see you again soon, perhaps bowl to you in the cricket field. As for your affairs, you leave them to me. Do you know why Englishmen make the best soldiers?”
“Do I know why Englishmen make the best soldiers, parson?” said Podmore, staring. “No: can’t say I do.”
“Because, my lad, they never know when they are beaten. Now, you are not beaten yet. Good-bye.”
He held out his hand, and the great grimy, horny palm of the workman came down into it with a loud clap, and the grip that ensued from each side would have been unpleasant to any walnut between their palms.
Then they parted, taking different routes, and ten minutes later the Reverend Murray Selwood was walking quietly through the empty town street, quite conscious though that head after head was being thrust out to have a look at the stranger.
There was the usual sprinkling of shops and private houses, great blank red-brick dwellings, which told their own tale of being the houses of the lawyer, the doctor, and their newer opponents. Then there was the factory-looking place, with great gates to the yard, and a time-keeper’s lodge inside, surmounted by a bell in its little wooden hutch. The throb of machinery could be heard, and the shriek of metal being tortured into civilised form came painfully to the ear from time to time. Smoke hung heavily in the air – smoke tinged with lurid flame; and above all came the roar of the reverberating furnaces, where steel or some alloy was being fused for the castings which had made out-of-the-way, half-savage Dumford, with its uncouth, independent people, famous throughout the length and breadth of the land.
There were very few people visible, for the works had not yet begun to pour forth their masses of working bees, but there were plenty of big rough lads hanging about the corners of the streets.
“I wonder what sort of order the schools are in,” said the new vicar to himself, as he neared the church, towards which he was bending his steps, meaning to glance round before entering the vicarage. “Yes, I wonder what sort of a condition they are in. Bad, I fear. Very bad, I’m sure,” he added.
For at that moment a great lump of furnace refuse, or glass, there known as slag, struck him a heavy blow in the back.
He turned sharply, but not a soul was visible, and he stooped and picked up the lump, which was nearly equal in size to his fist.
“Yes, no doubt about it, very bad,” he said. “Well, I’ll take you to my new home, and you shall have the first position in my cabinet of specimens, being kept as a memorial of my welcome to Dumford.”
“Well,” he said, as he reached the church gate, “I’ve made two friends already, and – perhaps – an enemy. By Jove, there’s another brick.”
Mrs Glaire lived in a great blank-looking red-brick house in the main street, two ugly steep stone steps coming down from the front door on to the narrow kidney pebble path, and encroaching so upon the way that they were known as the tipsy-turvies, in consequence of the number of excited Dumfordites who fell over them in the dark. Though for the matter of that they were awkward for the most sober wayfarer, and in a town with a Local Board would have been condemned long before.
The ugliness of the Foundry House, as it was called, only dwelt on the side giving on the street; the back opened upon an extensive garden, enclosed by mighty red-brick walls, for the greater part concealed by the dense foliage, which made the fine old garden a bosky wilderness of shady lawn, walk, and shrubbery.
For Mrs Glaire was great upon flowers, in fact, after “my son, Richard,” her garden stood at the top of her affections, even before her niece, Eve, whom she loved very dearly all the same.
Mrs Glaire was a little busy ant of a woman, with a pleasant, fair face, ornamented with two tufts of little fuzzy blonde curls, which ought to have hung down, but which seemed to be screwed up so tightly that they took delight in sticking out at all kinds of angles, one or two of the most wanton – those with the rough ends – that had been untwisted by Mrs Glaire’s curl-papers, even going so far as to stick straight up.
On the morning when the new vicar made his entry into Dumford, Mrs Glaire was out in her garden busy. She had on her brown holland apron, and her print drawn hood, the strings of which seemed to cut deeply into her little double chin, and altogether did nothing to improve her personal appearance. A little basket was in one hand half-filled with the dead leaves of geraniums which she had been snipping off with the large garden scissors she held in the other hand – scissors which, for fear of being mislaid, were attached to a silken cord, evidently the former trimming of some article of feminine attire, and this cord was tied round her waist.
She had two attendants – Prince and the gardener, Jacky Budd – Jacky: for it was the peculiarity of Dumford that everybody was known by a familiar interpretation of his Christian name, or else by a sobriquet more quaint than pleasant.
Prince was a King Charles spaniel, with the shortest of snub noses, the most protrusive of great intelligent eyes, and long silky ears that nearly swept the ground. Prince had a weakness, and that was fat. He had been fed into such a state of rotundity that he had long ceased running and barking, even at cats, against which he was supposed to have a wonderful antipathy, and he passed his time after his regular meals in sleeping, when he was lying down, and wheezing when he was standing up, and never if he could possibly help it did he move from the position in which he was placed.
Jacky Budd, the gardener, was a pale, sodden-looking man, the only tinge of colour in his countenance being in his nose, and that tinge was given by a few fiery veins. He had a knack when addressed of standing with one thumb stuck in the arm-hole of his ragged vest, which was stretched and worn in consequence, and this attitude was a favourite with him on Sundays, and was maintained just inside the south door till all the people were in church, when he went to his own sitting beneath the reading desk, for Jacky Budd, in addition to being a gardener, was the parish clerk.
Jacky had his weakness, like Prince, but it was very different from that of the dog; in fact, it was one that troubled a great many of the people of Dumford, who looked upon it with very lenient eyes. For though the gentleman in question had been suspended by the late vicar for being intoxicated in church, and saying out loud in reading the psalms, “As it (hic) was in the beginning (hic) is now (hic) and ever shall be (hic),” he was penitent and forgiven at the end of the week, and he sinned no more until the next time.
The late vicar was compelled to take notice of the backsliding, even though people said he was troubled with the same weakness, for Miss Purley, the doctor’s sister, burst out laughing quite loud in consequence of a look given her by Richard Glaire from the opposite pew. Her brother was there, and to pass it off he made a stir about it, and had her carried out, to come back after a few minutes on tip-toe and whisper to two or three people that it was a touch of hysterics.
Those who knew Jacky could tell when he had been drinking from the stolid look upon his countenance, and Mrs Glaire was one of those who knew him.
“Come along, Prince,” she cried in a shrill chirpy treble, and stooping down she lifted and carried Prince a few yards, to set him down beside a rustic flower-stand, rubbing his leg with the rim of the basket, and Prince went on wheezing, while his mistress began to snip.
Jacky followed slowly with a pot of water, a fluid that he held in detestation, and considered to be only useful for watering flowers.
“Now, Jacky,” exclaimed his mistress, “these pots are quite dry. Give them all some water.”
“Yes, mum,” said Jacky; and raising the pot, he began with trembling hands to direct erratic streams amongst the flowers, then shaking his head, stopping, and examining the spout as if that were in fault.
“Stone got in it, I think,” he muttered.
“You’ve been drinking again, Jacky,” exclaimed his mistress, shaking the scissors at him threateningly.
“Drinking, mum! drinking!”
This in a tone of injured surprise.
“Yes, you stupid man. Do you think I don’t know? I can smell you.”
“Drinking!” said Jacky, putting his hand to his head, as if to collect his thoughts.
“Yes, so I did; I had a gill of ale last night.”
“Now, Jacky, I won’t have it,” exclaimed Mrs Glaire. “If you try to deceive me I won’t keep you on.”
“What, and turn away a faithful servant as made this garden what it is, mum, and nursed Master Dick when he was a bit of a bairn no bigger than – ”
Jacky stooped down to try and show how many inches high Dick Glaire was when his nursing days were on; and as the gardener placed his hand horizontally, it seemed that about six inches must have been the stature of the child. But this was a dangerous experiment, and Jacky nearly overbalanced himself. A sharp question from his mistress, however, brought him upright, and somewhat sobered him.
“Have you heard any more about that, Jacky?”
“’Bout Master Richard, mum?”
“Yes, Jacky. But mind this, I hate talebearing and the gossip of the place.”
“You do, mum; you allus did,” said Jacky, winking solemnly to himself; “but that’s a fact.”
“I won’t believe it, Jacky,” said Mrs Glaire, snipping off sound leaves and blossoms in her agitation.
“It’s a fact, mum, and I don’t wonder at your feeling popped.”
“I’m not cross at all, Jacky,” exclaimed Mrs Glaire, with her face working, “for I don’t believe my son would stoop in that way.”
“But it’s a fack, mum; and you must send him away, or he’ll be taking a wife from among the Midianitish women. That’s so.”
“Now, I don’t want to hear gossip, man; but what have you heard? There, do stand still or you’ll tread on Prince.”
“Heard, mum? Lots. You should say, ‘What have you seen?’”
“Seen! Have you seen anything?”
Jacky put his thumb very far into his arm-hole, and spread his fingers very wide, as he rolled his head solemnly.
“You won’t tell Master Richard as you heard of it from me, mum?”
“No, Jacky, no; certainly not.”
“And get me kicked out without a moment’s notice?”
“No, no, certainly not. Now tell me directly.”
“Well, mum, Missus Hubley says as she knows he’s always arter her.”
“What, Daisy Banks?”
“But she’s a mischief-making, gossiping old woman!” exclaimed Mrs Glaire; “and her word isn’t worth anything. You said you had seen something.”
Jacky nodded, and screwed up his face as he laid his finger beside his nose.
“If you don’t speak directly, man, I shall do you a mischief,” exclaimed the little woman, excitedly. “Tell me all you know this instant.”
“Well, you see, mum, it was like this: last night was very dark, and my missus said to me, ‘Jacky,’ she says, ‘take the boocket and go down to Brown’s poomp and get a boocket o’ watter.’ Because you see, mum, the sucker being wore, our poomp’s not agate just now.”
“Well!” exclaimed Mrs Glaire, impatiently.
“Well, mum, I goes round by Kitty Rawson’s corner, and out back way, and I come upon Master Richard wi’ his arm round Daisy Banks’s waist.”
“Now, Jacky,” exclaimed Mrs Glaire, with a hysterical sob, “if this is not the truth I’ll never, never forgive you.”
“Truth, mum,” said Jacky, in an ill-used tone. “I’ve been clerk here a matter o’ twenty year, and my father and grandfather before me, and would I tell a lie, do you think? Speak the truth without fear or favour. Amen.”
“Go away now,” cried Mrs Glaire, sharply.
“Wean’t I water all the plants, mum?”
“No; go away, and if you say a word to a soul about this, I’ll never forgive you, Jacky, never.”
“Thanky, mum, thanky,” said Jacky, turning to go, and nearly trampling on Prince.
“No, come here!” exclaimed Mrs Glaire, whose face was working. “Go round to the foundry, and tell Joe Banks I want to speak to him. Tell him I’m in the garden.”
“Jacky,” she said, calling him back.
“Don’t you dare to say a word about what it’s for.”
Jacky went off round by his tool-shed, out into the street, and down to the foundry gates, where, after a word with the gateman, he went on across the great metal-strewn yard in search of Mrs Glaire’s sturdy foreman.
Meanwhile that lady caught up her dog, and carried him to a garden seat, where, upon being set down, he curled up and went to sleep, his tail and ears combined, making a comfortable coverlid. Then taking off her scissors and placing them in her basket, Mrs Glaire seated herself, sighing deeply, and taking out from a voluminous pocket, which took sundry evolutions with drapery to reach, a great ball of lambswool and a couple of knitting pins, she began to knit rapidly what was intended to be some kind of undergarment for her only son.
“Oh, Dick, Dick,” she muttered; “you’ll break my heart before you’ve done.”
The knitting pins clicked loudly, and a couple of bright tears stole down her cheeks and dropped into her lap.