“The very man. Get him here, and keep him till I come back.”
“I will, sir; but, say, parson – Mr Selwood, sir – for the Lord’s sake don’t let Dick Glaire take that pistol thing. If they get hold of him now, they’ll beat him sore, but if he should shute a man, they’ll niver let him see the light again.”
“I’ll do my best, Podmore,” said the vicar, sadly. “You do yours.”
They parted at the gate, bound on the same mission, that of saving the man who was making them both sick at heart with the desire that they felt could never be fulfilled.
Affairs were not very satisfactory at the farm, and Jessie’s eyes more than once looked as if they had been red with crying. For the girl was greatly troubled at heart, since John Maine’s behaviour puzzled her.
It was impossible for anything of note to take place in Dumford, without the news of it reaching the farm, so that she soon heard that Daisy, her old friend and school-fellow, had disappeared; that the two rough fellows who had been hanging about were supposed to have had something to do with her disappearance; while, to make matters more complicated, John Maine had been seen talking to these two men, and had afterwards warned her about holding communication with Daisy.
John Maine had always been civil and pleasant to Daisy. Daisy had more than once laughingly said she liked him. Now she was gone, John Maine’s behaviour was very strange. Could he have had anything to do with getting her away, and was he in any way acting with Richard Glaire, whom some people suspected of complicity?
No: she would not believe anything against him, come what might; but there was some secret connected with his earlier life that he kept back, and – she could not say why – she thought he ought to be more trusting and communicative with her. Not that there was anything between them, though she told herself she thought she did like John Maine – a little.
Old Bultitude was very cross and snappish too, and he had taken it somewhat to heart that Daisy should have been the companion and friend of his Jessie.
“See here, lass,” he said, “thou must howd no more communication with that bairn o’ Banks’s. She’s a bad un.”
“Oh, uncle!” exclaimed Jessie, “she may have been robbed and murdered.”
“Not she,” said old Bultitude, filling his pipe and ramming the tobacco in viciously. “If she had been, they’d ha’ fun her body. Folks don’t rob and murder, unless it’s to get money. Daisy Banks had no money wi’ her; and, as to being jealous, I hardly think Tom Podmore, as she pitched over, would murder her – but there’s no knowing.”
A few minutes later Eve Pelly arrived at the farm, looking pale and thin; and the two girls were soon telling each other their troubles, Eve with a quiet reticent manner; Jessie all eagerness to make the girl she looked upon as her superior the repository of her inmost thoughts.
Eve took care not to let Jessie know that this was to be almost a formal leave-taking, for she had come down after asking Mrs Glaire’s leave, and with the full intention of yielding to her wishes.
The conversation naturally turned upon Daisy and her disappearance, when Jessie broke out impetuously with —
“Well, it’s no use to keep it back, Miss Eve.
“Don’t speak like that, Jessie,” cried Eve, flushing up.
“I must when it’s for your good, Miss Eve,” said Jessie, warmly; “and if the truth was known, I believe Mr Richard has had her carried off to London or somewhere.”
“It is impossible, Jessie,” cried Eve. “My cousin would never be so base.”
“Well, I don’t, know as to that,” retorted Jessie; “it’s base enough to be pretending to be engaged to one young lady, and carrying on with another.”
“Well, it’s the truth. A gentleman told me that he had often seen them together. Oh, Miss Eve, dear, I am sorry. I didn’t mean to hurt you.”
She was down on her knees before her visitor directly after, begging her pardon, and kissing her, for Eve’s face had sunk in her hands, and she was sobbing bitterly. A minute before and she was ready to fight energetically on behalf of the man who was to have been her husband, but now her defences had been turned, and she gave up.
She soon dried her eyes though, and when Jessie would have turned the conversation to another point she resumed it herself.
“I’ve been thinking about that very, very much,” she said; “night and day – night and day.”
“Poor child!” said Jessie, stroking her face. “It must be terribly hard to feel jealous.”
“No, no, no, no,” said Eve, hastily. “I did not mean that; but about poor Daisy’s disappearance. You know they found her shawl and basket.”
“Yes,” said Jessie, nodding.
“Well,” said Eve, hesitating – “don’t you think it possible that anybody who hated her very much might – might – ”
“Might have killed her?” said Jessie, looking at Eve strangely.
“Yes,” said Eve, with a shudder.
Jessie’s eyes dilated as she looked at the speaker, and thought of her uncle’s words a short time before.
“It is very terrible to think on,” said Jessie, slowly.
“Yes,” said Eve, in an agitated voice; “but it is almost more terrible for any one you love – you care for, to be thought guilty of having taken the poor creature away.”
“But who could have had any such feeling towards poor Daisy,” exclaimed Jessie, “except one? and I don’t think Tom Podmore – ”
“Hush!” cried Eve, laying her hand upon her friend’s arm, “he’s coming now across the field.”
“So he is,” cried Jessie, starting and turning pale, for a flood of strange thoughts came across her mind. John Maine and Tom Podmore had been so intimate. John Maine had been so strange, and in his way had warned her about thinking any more of Daisy. Was that to throw her off the scent, and to keep her from grieving after and trying to find where Daisy had gone? The very room seemed to swim round for a few moments, as she recalled some mysterious acts on the part of the man she loved; and she shuddered as the idea suggested itself to her that her uncle and Eve might be right, and poor Daisy had been done to death by her old lover, with his friend for accomplice.
It was then with a feeling of relief that she saw Eve rise to go, saying:
“Let me go out through the garden, Jessie, and then I can get into the lane without being seen by your visitor.”
“Yes, yes,” said Jessie, hastily; “but, dear darling Miss Eve, pray don’t say what you have said to me to another soul.”
“No,” said Eve, sadly, “I should not do that;” and then her friend saw her out through the garden, and returned to see the young man of whom they had been speaking side by side with John Maine, in earnest conversation across the yard.
Jessie had good cause to start and think over the matters of the past few days, for a great deal of unpleasantry had taken place at the farm, all of which, when analysed, tended to help the dreadful suspicion; and, as she thought it over, she determined in her own mind that no temptation should ever cause her to swerve, since she saw how the weakness of one vain girl had brought such misery to so many homes.
She tried to drive away the suspicion that had been planted and replanted in her heart; but it was of no use, and she turned at last to her own room, to have a cry to herself – a woman’s fomentation for a mental pain; but in this case it was of no avail.
Old Bultitude was morose and harsh with his labourers, going up in the tall tower-like structure which commanded a view of the old farm, and called by the builder a gazebo, but by the labourers the gozzybaw, and from here old Bultitude watched his men and found fault to a degree that Jessie felt must be caused by something out of the ordinary course, while most of his remarks had, it was plain enough, an indirect application to unfulfilled work appertaining to John Maine.
Then Tom Brough, the keeper, had managed to find his way again and again to the farm, to have long conversations with the old farmer, who made a point of asking his advice about this beast, or that cow; about the hay off the twenty acres; and the advisability of thrashing out the wheat from such and such a one of the neatly-made long-backed stacks in the rick-yard.
John Maine, however, had seemed to bear this shifting of the farmer’s confidence pretty fairly; and Jessie had seen it with pain, as she whispered to herself that the true interpretation of the changes in the young man, which she had seen from day to day, was that he had something on his mind which she was not to share.
“Yes; he has something on his mind,” she had said; “and he does not confide in me.”
John Maine seemed to confide in no one: he only behaved strangely, night after night letting himself out, to be gone for hours, sometimes to return wet through, little thinking that he had been watched; and that Jessie, with tears and bitterness of heart, knew all of his goings out and comings in; and it was only by accident, and from the fact of her warning him, that he became aware that she had more than once screened his absence.
It was one night about eleven. Everybody in the early house had gone to rest an hour and a half before, as John Maine stole downstairs softly, and was about to turn the key of a back-door, when a warm hand was laid upon his, and a voice he well knew whispered —
“If you value your home here, go back to bed. Some one has told my uncle that you go out o’ nights, and he is on the watch.”
He stretched out his hands, but they only came in contact with the whitewashed wall, and he knew that he was alone.
But had any one spoken, or was it only fancy? No; it was no fancy. His motions had been watched, and Jessie had come between him and trouble. As to the spy upon his actions, that was plain enough. Tom Brough had been busy, and had seen him when watching of a night, and what should he do? He had his object for these nocturnal rambles, and he was bound to continue them, but this night he was bound to stay.
Yes, he must stay, if only for Jessie’s sake; and casting off his indecision he returned softly to his room, where he threw off his things and went to bed.
An hour slowly passed, during which he lay restless and wakeful. Then, when worn out with restless impatience, and half determined to go out at all hazards, a step was heard in the passage, a board creaked; there was a light shining beneath the door, and then after a pause the handle was turned gently, and the light flashed in his face.
“Maine! John Maine!” said the farmer, sharply.
“Yes; what is it? Anything wrong?” said the young man, starting up.
“One of the horses seems very uneasy,” said the farmer. “I’m afraid there’s something wrong in the stable. I came to ask you to go down, but he seems quieter now, and mebbe it isn’t worth while. Try and keep yoursen wacken for ’bout an hour, and if you hear owt go down and see.”
John Maine said he would, and old Bultitude went off, muttering to himself, while the young man lay thinking and wondering how he was to carry out his plans in the future. What was he to do? How was he to do it? The only way he could see out of the difficulty was that the burden must be thrown on the shoulders of Tom Podmore.
Day had hardly broken before John Maine, who had heard no more of the restless horse, was up, and that day, seeking out Tom Podmore, he had had a long and earnest conversation with him, with the result of getting his mind more set at ease.
And now it had come about in turn that Tom Podmore had had to seek out John Maine, to ask his help, with the result that, old Bultitude being away, his foreman just went in and told Jessie he was going out; and as she did not turn her face to him as he spoke, he went away sighing heavily; while pale, and trembling, Jessie ran to the window, and, in hiding behind the blind, watched the two young men till they were out of sight.
Meanwhile the vicar had missed Eve, who had taken another route, and made his way up to the big house, where he was shown into the room to find Mrs Glaire lying, very pale and weak, upon the couch.
She apologised for not rising, and as he took her hand, he felt that it was hot and feverish.
“I ought to be the doctor,” he said pleasantly, as he retained the hand. “There’s too much fever here.”
“No doctor will cure that,” she said, with a sad smile. “I only want peace of mind, and then I shall be well; and you have come to bring more bad news.”
“Oh,” said the vicar, carelessly, “I only wanted a bit of a chat with your son.”
“Mr Selwood,” said Mrs Glaire, “don’t please speak to me like that. It is dreadful to me; and makes me feel as if I could not trust and believe in the one man in whom I wish to confide.”
“Then in heaven’s name,” he began, but she interrupted him.
“I have had faith and trust in you, Mr Selwood, from the first day you came.”
“Then you shall continue it,” he said, firmly. “I was reticent because I thought you too ill to bear bad tidings.”
“I can bear all,” she said, softly; “pray tell me the worst.”
“Well,” he said, quietly, “we will not talk of worst, for there is no danger that cannot be warded off.”
“If my son likes?” said Mrs Glaire.
“If your son likes,” continued the vicar. “The fact is, Mrs Glaire, the people are getting furious against him, and without going into the question of right or wrong, the sufferings of their wives and children are maddening the men. This lock-out ought to end.”
“Yes,” said Mrs Glaire, sighing, “it ought.”
“It was a dastardly trick, that destruction of the machinery, but I believe it was the work of one brain, and one pair of hands.”
“Why do you think so?”
“I have had endless communications with the locked-out men, and, as far as I can judge character, I find them very rough, very independent, but, at the same time, frank and honest, and I cannot find one amongst them who does not look me full in the face with a clear unblushing eye, and say, ‘Parson, if I know’d who did that dirty sneaking business, I’d half kill him.’ This in these or similar words.”
Mrs Glaire bowed her head.
“Yes,” she said; “you have given the men’s character in those words, but they are cruelly bitter against my son.”
“They are,” said the vicar, hesitating to tell his news.
“And they think he has persuaded Daisy Banks to leave her home.”
“Almost to a man, though her father holds out.”
“Joe Banks always will be staunch,” said Mrs Glaire. “And you think with the men about that, Mr Selwood?”
“I would rather not answer that question,” he said.
“Then we will not discuss it,” she replied rather hotly. “But you came to bring me some tidings, Mr Selwood,” she continued, holding out her hand. “Forgive me if I feel as a mother, and defend my son.”
“I am here to defend him too,” said the vicar, taking and kissing the hand extended to him; and as he did so the door softly opened, and Eve glided into the room, to half shrink back and retire; but on hearing the vicar’s words she sank into a seat as if unnerved, and the conversation went on.
“Tell me now, what is the danger?” said Mrs Glaire.
“It is this,” said the vicar; “I am firmly persuaded that this house is a sanctuary, and that for the sake of yourself and your niece, Mr Richard Glaire is safe so long as he stays here.”
“And he will stay here till I can bring him to reason about these people. I would pay the money he demands at once, but he insists that it shall be the hard earnings of his workmen themselves, and I am powerless.”
“I am willing to lend the men the amount myself, but they will not take it, and I am afraid it would not be received if its source were known.”
“No,” said Mrs Glaire, “you must not pay it. My son would never forgive you. But go on.”
“I repeat,” said the vicar, “that your son is safe while he remains here.”
“And I say that he shall stay,” said Mrs Glaire sharply. “He shall not leave. He has no intention of leaving.”
“He has made up his mind, it seems, to leave by the mail-train to-night,” said the vicar; and as the words left his lips, and Mrs Glaire started into a sitting position, a faint cry behind made them turn round, and the vicar had just time to catch Eve in his arms, as she was gliding to the floor.
“Poor child!” he muttered, as he held her reverently, and then placed her in a reclining chair, while a shadow of pain passed across his face, as he felt for whom this display of trouble and suffering was caused.
“It is nothing, nothing, Mr Selwood – aunt,” faltered Eve, fighting bravely to over come her weakness; “but, aunt, you will not let him go. Mr Selwood, you will not let him be hurt.”
“No, my child, no,” he said sadly, “not if my arm can save him.”
“Thank you; I knew you would say so, you are so brave and strong,” she cried, kissing his hand; and as her lips touched the firm, starting veins, a strange hot thrill of excitement passed through his nerves, but only to be quenched by the bitter flood of misery that succeeded it; and then, making a mighty effort over self, he turned to Mrs Glaire, who was speaking:
“But are you sure – do you think it is true?” she exclaimed.
“I believe it,” he said quietly; “and it is absolutely necessary that he should on no pretence leave the house.”
“And who says I am to be a prisoner?” asked Richard, entering the room.
“I, for one,” said the vicar, “if you value your safety, I may say your life.”
“And by what right do you come meddling again with my private affairs?” said Richard, offensively.
“The right of every man who sees his neighbour’s life in danger to come and warn him.”
“Then don’t warn me,” said Richard; “I don’t want warning. It’s all rubbish.”
“It is no rubbish that a certain party of the men are holding meetings and threatening to injure you,” said the vicar, rather warmly.
“Bah! they’re always doing that, and it don’t frighten me,” said Richard, coarsely.
“Then you were not going, Richard?” said his mother, eagerly. “You were not thinking of being so mad?”
“Going? no; not I,” said Richard, “though I don’t see anything mad in it.”
Eve gave a sigh of relief, which sounded like a knell to the vicar, who, however, said frankly:
“I am very glad, then, that I have been deceived.”
“And,” said Richard, sneeringly, “next time you hear a cock-and-bull story about me, perhaps you will keep it to yourself, sir, and leave me to go my ways in peace.”
“Richard!” exclaimed Mrs Glaire, while, with a flush of shame upon her face, Eve rose and hastily placed her hand in the vicar’s, saying softly:
“Oh, Mr Selwood.”
Only those three words, but they were balm to him, as he pressed the soft little hand, and raised it to his lips, while, stung by this display, Richard started forward to make some offensive observation, but the door opened, and the maid appeared.
“Well, what is it?” cried Richard. “Why didn’t you knock?”
“I did, sir,” said the girl, “but you didn’t hear. Jacky Budd says, sir, he can’t carry your portmantle across the close because of the stiles, and he must take it to the station in a barrow.”
“In time for the mail-train, Mr Glaire?” said the vicar, in spite of himself, though, for Eve’s sake, he regretted it afterwards.
“Damn!” snarled Richard. “No, – go away. Such fools.”
He ground his teeth and stamped about the room, while Mrs Glaire’s eyes sought those of the vicar, and in her apologetic look he read plainly enough the mother’s shame for the graceless boy she had brought into the world.
The look of triumph passed from his countenance as rapidly as it had come, as he caught a glance of sorrow and appeal from Eve, which seemed to say, “Forgive him, and save him against himself.”
“You will give up all thought of going now, Mr Glaire,” he said, quietly. “Of course you wished to keep your departure a secret; but you see the intelligence reached me, and is now perhaps the property of the whole town.”
“Through you?” said Richard, recovering himself, and speaking with a cunning sneer upon his face.
“This is no time for sneers, Mr Glaire,” said the vicar, calmly. “The information was brought to me direct from the meeting.”
“By one of your spies?”
“By one of the workmen whom I have made my friend, and whom you have made your enemy; and he sends me as his messenger to pour coals of fire upon your head, saying, ‘Save this man, for if he goes out to-night it may be at the cost of his life.’ Mr Glaire, you will not go now?”
“Not go!” roared Richard, bringing his fist down heavily upon the table. “But I will go. Look here; I start from this house at seven o’clock to catch the mail-train; now go and tell the scoundrels you have made your friends – the men you have encouraged in their strike against me.”
“I encouraged them?” said the vicar, smiling at the absurdity of the charge, when he had striven so bravely for peace.
“Yes; you who have fed their wives and children, and lent them money so as to enable them to hold out against me – you, whose coming has been a curse to the place, for you have fostered the strike from the beginning.”