“There is no time to argue that, Mr Glaire,” said the vicar, quietly; “and let me advise you once more. Give up this foolish idea of leaving, if not for your own sake, for that of your mother and your cousin here.”
“I shall not,” cried Richard. “I have made my arrangements, and I shall go, and let the blood of the man be on his own head who tries to stop me.”
“As you will,” said the vicar, calmly, as he turned to go.
The two women appealed to him in a breath, but he did not look at them, merely fixed Richard with his eyes, as he said quietly:
“Then you must be saved against your will.”
The next minute he was gone.
The street was getting pretty full of people as the vicar walked sharply back towards his house, but they were all remarkably quiet. Sim Slee was there, but he turned off down a side lane, and there was this ugly appearance in their mien, that those who generally had a nod and smile for him refused now to meet the vicar’s eye.
He knew it would be madness to try and persuade Sim’s party against their plans, and only so much wasted time, so he contented himself with preparing his own, and, to his great satisfaction, found Tom Podmore and his other ally in waiting.
As he was passing the Bull and Cucumber though, Robinson, the landlord, made a sign to him that he wished to speak, and the vicar went up to him.
“Ah, Robinson, how’s your wife?”
“She’s a very poor creature, sir. She coot her hand the other day with a bit of pot – old cheeny, and it’s gone bad. She hasn’t looked so bad ta year as she does now.”
“I’m sorry to hear this.”
“It’s a bad job, sir, for she can’t side the room, or remble the kitchen things, or owt. She tried to sile the milk this morning, and had to give it up, and let the lass do it instead.”
“Sile the milk?” said the vicar. “Ah, you mean strain it?”
“Ah, wi’ uz,” said the landlord, “we always call it sile. We strain a thing through a temse.”
“Oh, do you?” said the vicar, wondering whether there was any connection between temse and tammies or tammy cloth. “But you were going to say something important to me, were you not?”
“Well, I weer, sir; only I shouldn’t like it to seem to ha’ come from me. Fact is, I were down at bottom o’ the close in the bit of a beck, picking some watter cress for tea, and fine and wetcherd (wet shod) I got, when, as I was a stooping there, I heered Master Sim Slee cooming along wi’ two or three more, and blathering about; and I heerd him talking o’ you and Master Dicky Glaire, and it were plain enew that they was makking some plans, and not for good, mind you. I hadn’t going to tell tales out o’ school, but if you’d keep at home to-night, parson – ”
“You fancy there’s mischief brewing?” said the vicar, sternly.
“Well, yes, sir, I do,” said the landlord. “You see, the men hold a kind of lodge or brotherhood meeting at my place, and I can’t help knowing of some o’ their doings.”
“Well, Mr Robinson, if mischief is brewing, it’s my business to try and spoil the brew; so I am going out to-night, and if you’ve any respect for me, you’ll come and help me in my task.”
He hurried on, and a short time after, the landlord saw him go by, with Tom Podmore and John Maine following at a short distance.
“Parson’s a chap with brains in his head,” said the landlord.
The vicar was not without hope that Richard would think better of the matter, and keep indoors, and after a turn or two up and down the street, which was pretty well thronged, the men looking stolid and heavy, but civilly making way for him, and always with a friendly word, it seemed as if there was nothing to fear, when from the lane at the side of the Big House there came a loud shout, and in an instant the whole of the men in the High Street seemed galvanised into life.
The vicar made for the lane, and had nearly reached it, when he saw Richard Glaire hatless and with his coat half-ripped from his back, rush out, pursued by shout and cry; and before the vicar and his little band of followers could get up, the young man was surrounded by a knot of men striking at him savagely, one of them hitting up the hand that held a pistol, which exploded, the bullet striking the opposite wall far over the heads of his assailants, and the weapon then fell to the ground.
A storm of furious cries arose, above which was a wild shriek from one of the windows of the big house – a shriek that sent two-fold vigour to the vicar’s arms, as he struggled with the crowd that kept him back.
“Quick, Tom! Maine! Harry!” he cried. “Now, a rush together,” he said, as they forced themselves to his side; and with all their might they made for the spot where Richard Glaire seemed to be undergoing the fate of being torn to pieces, for he was now stripped to shirt and trousers, and his face was bleeding; but, literally at bay, he fought savagely for his life.
The dash made by Mr Selwood saved him for the time, for though the vicar and his followers, with whom was now the landlord, did not reach the young man, they rent the crowd of assailants so as to make an avenue for him to escape, and he darted off at full speed towards the vicarage.
“My house, Glaire,” shouted the vicar. “No, the church,” amidst the storm of yells and cries, as he tried to fight his way free.
“After him, lads!” cried the shrill voice of Sim Slee; “and down wi’ them as interferes.”
“Dal me, if I don’t feel the brains of any man as hurts parson,” cried the stentorian voice of one of the ringleaders. “Howd him, boys, and them others too. Give up, parson: it’s no good to faight for that blaguard.”
“If you are men and not cowards – ” shouted the vicar, but his voice was drowned, he was seized by three men who held him good-temperedly enough in spite of his struggles, and with sinking heart, he found himself, separated from his followers, Big Harry being down with six men sitting on him to quell the mighty heaves he gave to set himself free.
“We wean’t hurt thee, parson,” said one of the men who kept him and his fellows prisoners. “See there, lads!”
He went down like a shot, for, by a clever twist learnt in wrestling, the vicar upset him on to the men holding Harry, and then by a mighty effort set himself at liberty, so staggering his captors that Harry got free as well. Then there was a charge, and Tom Podmore was up, and these three ran down the street after the crowd who pursued Richard.
“Harry, my lad! Tom, stick to me,” cried the vicar, panting for breath. “I shall never forgive myself or be forgiven if harm comes to that young man,” he added to himself; and then dashing on with about as unclerical an aspect as was possible, he rapidly gained on Richard’s pursuers, with Tom behind him, and Big Harry lumbering like an elephant at his heels.
Meanwhile the whole town was at the windows or in the streets; children were crying and women shrieking, while the more prudent tradespeople were busily putting up their “shuts.” As for Richard, he had gone off like a hunted hare, doubling here and there to avoid the blows struck at him, and more than once it seemed as if he would escape; but the men had taken their steps well, and knowing that he would make for the station road, there was always a picket ready to cut him off, and drive him back to run the gauntlet afresh.
He had not heard the vicar’s words, which were drowned by the savage hoots and yells, mingled with curses upon him, from half-starved women; but, oddly enough, he made straight for the house of the very man whom he hated, and nearly reached it, but was headed back, and fainting and exhausted, he only escaped capture by a clever double, by leaping a hedge, crossing the vicarage garden, and leaping another hedge, landing in the pasture-land leading towards Joe Banks’s cottage, the vicarage standing at the apex formed by the roads leading to Ranby and the open land.
This double made a number of his pursuers run round by the road, and gave time to the vicar and his followers to close up to the hunted man.
“Make for the church,” cried the vicar, who was close behind now; but his words were unheeded. All he could do was to get nearly behind the young man, determined to turn and face the crowd when they came up; but Richard, maddened with fear, paid no heed to advice, his breath was failing, he tottered, and was ready to fall; the pursuers gained upon them, and at last seeing the harbour, the hunted man dashed through the gate, in at Joe Banks’s open door, closely followed by the vicar, Tom, and Big Harry, and then stood at bay in the farthest corner.
“Help, quick! Banks, help!” cried the vicar hoarsely, and recovering from his astonishment, the foreman picked up the heavy poker, and joined the little rank of defenders, a swing of the iron forming a space which none of those who crowded into the room, and darkened door and window as they thronged the garden, dared to cross.
“Stand back, you cowards!” cried the foreman, flushing with rage, and forgetting his own trouble in the excitement of the moment.
“Gi’e him up! drag him out!” was roared.
“A hundred on you to four!” cried Joe. “Stand back, or I’ll brain the first man who comes near.”
“We don’t want to hurt thee, Joe Banks,” cried a voice. “Nor the parson, nor the others; but we wean’t go wi’out Richard Glaire.”
“Back! every man of you,” cried the vicar. “Shame, cowards, shame!”
“Aw raight, parson,” cried another. “It’s cowardly mebbe, but we mean to hev him aw the same.”
“If you hev him, you’ll hev to tak’ me first,” cried Joe Banks, fiercely. “You, Big Harry, hev the legs out o’ that deaf Tommy table, and gi’e one apiece to Parson and Tom.”
The men tried to stop him, but a swing from Joe’s poker sent them back, and the Hercules of the hammer seized the little three-legged table, shattered it in a moment, and armed his companions with the thick heavy cudgels that had formed its supports.
“Now, lads, we’re ready for you,” said Joe, grimly. “Hit hard at the first as tries to lay a finger on the maister.”
There was a groan at this, taken up from without, those in the garden clamouring at those within to drag out Dicky Glaire.
“Down wi’ him, lads; down wi’ him,” cried a high-pitched voice; and Sim Slee, panting with his exertions, partly edged his way and partly was lifted in.
“I’ll down wi’ thee, thou prating fool!” cried Joe fiercely. “Are ye men, to listen to that maulkin?”
“Yes, they are,” cried Sim; “and you’re an owd fool to faight.”
“Shall we try to drive them out, Banks?” whispered the vicar.
“No good,” said Joe, sturdily. “Let’s hear what they’ve gotten to say; it’ll give you and the others breath, and mebbe by that time the maister can faight a bit, too. I’m an owd fool, am I?” he said, “eh, Sim Slee?”
“Yes; to faight for the man as has gotten away thee bairn.”
“Thou lies, thou chattering jay,” cried the old man furiously; “say it again, and I’ll brain thee.”
“I do say it again,” cried Sim, who was quite out of the foreman’s reach. “It’s true, aint it, lads?”
“Yes, yes, he’s gotten her away.”
“It’s a lie,” cried Joe Banks again. “Tell ’em, Maister Dick; tell the cowards they lie.”
“Yes, yes,” said Richard hoarsely, as he stood now leaning against the wall, bathed in perspiration, bleeding, ragged, haggard, and faint. “I have not got her away.”
“Thee lies, Dick Glaire,” shrieked Sim. “He paid me to get her awaya, and I wouldn’t do it.”
“It’s false,” cried Richard again, as he looked round at his fierce pursuers, and then at the doors and windows for a way of escape.
“It’s true,” cried Sim, exultantly. “It’s my turn now, Dick Glaire. Yow’d smite me and coot me feace for not doing thee dirty work, will ta? Now harkye here, lads, at this.”
He drew a piece of paper from his pocket, and read aloud: —
“Be ready at nine to-night. She’ll join you by the gate of Lamby’s close; then straight off with her to the station, take your tickets, as I told you, to London, and stay with her at the address I gave you till I come.”
“Now then, Joe Banks,” he said, holding out the note, “whose writing’s that?”
“It’s a lie – a forgery,” cried Richard, whose face now was of a sickly green.
Joe Banks passed his hand before his face, and seemed dazed for a moment; then, catching at the note, he took a candle from the drawers on which it stood, and, as he did so, Richard started forward, and made a snatch at the paper, but a menacing movement on the part of the crowd made him start back, while the vicar looked from face to face, and saw Tom Podmore’s stern scowl, and the fire gathered in Joe Banks’s eyes.
“He’ll murder him,” he said to himself; and, shifting his position, he got between Joe and Richard Glaire.
“Hold your tongue, for your life,” he whispered to the trembling man. “Your only chance is to beg for his mercy: for his child’s sake. Daisy must be your wife.”
“Curse you!” cried Richard, through his teeth. “You were always against me.”
Then he shrank back trembling against the wall, as in the midst of profound silence, the old man read the letter straight through.
“Who gi’e thee this, Sim Slee?” he said twice in a husky voice.
“No, no,” gasped Richard; “a lie – a lie. It’s a forgery. I did not get away Daisy Banks; so help me God, I didn’t, Joe.”
“Damn thee for a liar!” cried the old man, furiously; and before the vicar could prevent him, he had Richard by the throat, and down upon his knees, faintly protesting his innocence. “It’s no forgery. It’s thee own false writing same as these,” he cried; “your cursed love-letters to my poor bairn.”
He tore a bundle of notes from his breast, notes Richard had warned poor Daisy to burn, but which the weak girl had treasured up in secret, to be found in her room when she had gone.
“Look!” he cried, as he held Sim Slee’s fatal note of instructions out beside the others; “are these lies and forgeries? Mebbe you think I’ll believe thee now, as I’ve troosted thee throughout. Didn’t I think thou wert thy poor owd father’s honest son – the gentleman he had tried to mak’ thee? Didn’t I stand by thee when all ta town was again thee, fowt for thee, looked on thee as my son, and you turn and sting me like a cowardly snake in the grass?”
“He did, Joe, he did,” cried a voice in the crowd, as they stood back now, content to watch for the punishment that should fall on their enemy, while Sim Slee, the man who had betrayed him, smiled like a despicable modern Judas, gloating in the revenge he was taking on the employer who had struck him in the face.
“Damn thee, be silent!” roared Joe, as, with a wild look of fury, he seized the poker as if to strike, and Richard crouched to the ground, and uttered a shriek of dread.
“For God’s sake, Banks!” cried the vicar, catching at his arm, but unable to stay him. “Man, are you mad?”
“A’most, parson,” he said, turning on him. “Thou told me to tak’ care; thou gave me fair warning ’bout it all, and like a fool – no, like a man who wouldn’t believe it – I turned upon thee when thou wast raight, for I couldn’t and wouldn’t believe he was such a liar and villain. Look at him, lads, look at the cold-blooded snake, as could stoop to ruin a poor trustin’ fool of all he held dear in life, and now all he has to say is a lie.”
“I am innocent, Joe, indeed,” cried the young man.
“Thou lies,” cried Banks, furiously; and he raised his weapon again, but only to dash it into the fireplace. Then, stooping, he caught the shivering man by the throat, dragged him up, and held him against the wall, while not a sound was heard but the panting of breath, and the hoarse mutterings of the stricken father.
“Banks, Banks!” cried the vicar imploringly.
“Let me be, parson, let me be,” he said in a low voice. “Thou’rt a good man, and may trust me.” Then aloud, “Richard Glaire, I’m a poor, half-broken workman, and thou’st robbed me.”
“No, no,” panted Richard, “Mr Selwood, Harry, Podmore, help!”
“Silence,” cried Joe Banks; “we’ve gotten thee, and thou tries to hide it all by lying. I’ve gotten thee, though, now, and my eyes are opened to it all. I could strangle thee where thou stands; but I promised thee father I’d stand by thee, and I have again all men, as know’d thee for what thou wast. But I can’t do it now, and kill, perhaps, every hope of my poor bairn, so come.”
He caught the young man tightly by the collar, and waved the others aside, so that they fell back before him as he went out unmolested with his prisoner into the starlit lane, and stood the centre of the crowd – now at a respectful distance.
“My lads,” he said, aloud, while the vicar, who had signed to his companions to be ready, stood with every muscle strained to spring forward and try to save the shivering man from violence. “My lads, this man’s done you all a bad turn, but most of all to me.”
There was a murmur of acquiescence at this.
“I’ve always fowt for ye when I could, but I’ve always stuck to the maister,” continued Joe, in a low, hoarse voice that was terrible in its earnestness.
“You hev, Joe, you hev,” was murmured, for the men were impressed by the terrible earnestness of the old foreman.
“I’ve gotten something to ask of ye, then,” said Joe.
“What is it?”
“Let me hev the punishment of this man – this cold-blooded villain.”
“Yes, yes,” rose like a whirlwind.
“And you’ll leave him to me?” said Joe, through his teeth.
“Joe, oh Joe, what are you going to do?” wailed his wife, coming panting up, having returned from the next town by the train by which Richard Glaire had meant to leave.
“Thou shalt see, moother,” said Joe quietly; “I’m going to punish the thief that stole our bairn.”
“But, Joe!” cried Mrs Banks piteously.
“Howd thee tongue, and see,” he cried sternly. “Richard Glaire, thou’rt a damned villain, but I can’t strike down the man my poor bairn has clasped in her poor weak arms. The way’s open to thee: go, and God’s mercy be held from thee if thou dost not make my poor child amends.”
Richard Glaire tried to speak, but his tongue refused its office, and he looked, shivering, from one to the other, as the stern old man stood pointing up towards the town, while the men who, but a short time before, were ready to tear and trample him under foot, stood back right and left, leaving an open lane for him to pass.
“Banks, God bless you!” whispered the vicar, catching the old man’s hand.
“And you too, parson,” said the other, simply. “Mebbe you’ll tak’ him home.”
The help was needed, for Richard Glaire tottered as his arm was drawn through the vicar’s; and then, followed by Tom Podmore and the big hammerman, they passed unmolested through the crowd, to find another further on, consisting of the women of the place, who had restrained the frantic mother and Eve Pelly from following; and the latter was kneeling now in the midst of a knot of women beside poor Mrs Glaire.
“Lift her and carry her home, Harry,” said the vicar; and the great fellow raised Mrs Glaire like a babe. “Podmore, I leave Miss Pelly to you. Somebody ask Mr Purley to come on to the house at once. Quick. By Jove, he has fainted!”
These latter words were to himself, as Richard Glaire staggered and would have fallen but for the vicar’s hold; and lifting him on his own shoulder, he led the strange procession till they entered the house, where he stayed with his two stout companions, John Maine going home, to keep guard with the police, who now arrived after being locked in the station and kept there by the men.
But there was no need, for the eruption was over, and the night’s silence was only broken by Richard’s moans as he lay there bruised and sore, mad almost against his men, and ready to rail at the whole world for the injuries he had received.
After the storm came a calm, during which there was magisterial talk in the neighbourhood to which reports of the proceedings had extended, of sending for the military, of having additional police force in the town; and then, as Richard Glaire made no movement, as no property was destroyed, and the injury was confined to one man, the affair began to be looked upon as an ordinary assault.
A good deal of this was due to the fact that trade troubles were not uncommon, and so long as the policemen were not forced into taking action by the magnitude of the offence, they found it better to close their eyes to the proceedings, and not to interfere “till somebody called murder.” In the riot in question the police had been good-humouredly locked up, and kept prisoners, as their captors said, laughing, “so as not to spoil their uniforms;” and, after a show of resistance, when they were informed that the lads were “only going to serve sum’un out,” they came to the conclusion that the majesty of the law, as represented by two officials, was no match for a hundred and fifty excited men, and waited patiently till the affair was over.