“I think we may strike a light now, Maine,” said the vicar, quietly; and as he did so, and lit the chamber candle, John Maine moistened his hand to take a good grip of his waddy.
“Oh, we shan’t need that,” said the vicar, smiling. “Come along.”
He led the way downstairs to the study, where, on looking in, there lay one man extended upon the hearth-rug; another was on the couch; and the third slept heavily in the easy chair, with his head hanging over the arm, his uneasy position causing him to utter the snorts and mutterings that had ascended the stairs.
It was only a matter of ten minutes or so for the watchers to drag their prisoners down to the little cellar, where some straw was placed beneath their heads to save them from suffocation. Then the great key was turned, and the vicar and his companion returned to the study.
“Now for number four, John Maine,” said the vicar. “Come along.”
He resumed his boots, and John Maine was following his example when a low chirp was uttered, and a head appeared at the window.
John Maine was nearest, and he made a dash at the owner; but with a rush he disappeared, and before the garden-gate could be reached wheels and the sound of a horse galloping came to the pursuers’ ears.
“He has gone, John Maine,” said the vicar, coolly. “Never mind, the police may come across him. We have to go back and watch our prisoners.”
They re-entered the house, to find that the servant girl had not been alarmed, and taking it in turns to lie down on the couch, the vicar and John Maine kept watch and ward till morning, when, awaking in a fearful state of alarm, the scoundrels began to try the door, and at last appealed pitifully for mercy, as the vicar was replacing in order the cups and pieces of plate arranged ready for conveyance to the cart.
Soon after he walked up to the station, and afterwards made his way to the farm, to set them at rest about John Maine, with the result that has been seen.
The day following that on which the scoundrels who had made the attempt on the vicarage had been sent off to the county town, the vicar was in his garden musing on his future, and thinking whether it was his duty to leave Dumford and go far away, as life there had become a torture; but everything seemed to tend towards the point that it was his duty to stay and forget self in trying to aid others. In spite of the past, it seemed to him that he had done good; Richard Glaire had listened to reason; the strike was nearly over, and the men had settled down into a calmer state of resignation to their fate. So quiet were they that he more than suspected that they had some inkling of the change coming on. Then, too, he had made peace at the farm, where the wedding of John Maine and Jessie was shortly to take place, John, at his instigation, having frankly told the farmer the whole of his past life, to be greeted with a tremendous clap on the shoulder and called “a silly sheep.”
“Just as if thou could’st help that, lad,” said the old man.
And then Eve’s wedding.
“Poor girl! she wishes it,” the vicar said to himself, continuing his musing, as he stooped to tie up a flower here and there. “It would be madness to interpose, and God help her, she will redeem him, and – I hope so – I hope so.”
“Well, I must stay,” he said, with a weary smile upon his face. “I am a priest, and the priests of old looked upon self-denial as a duty. Let it be mine to try and perfect the peace that is coming back to this strange old place.”
He started and looked round, but no one was visible, and yet a deep rough voice he seemed to know had spoken.
“Paarson!” was repeated, apparently close to his feet where he was standing by the garden hedge.
“Who is it?”
“Niver mind who it is,” said the voice. “I joost want a word wi’ you.”
“Where are you?”
“Lying down here i’ th’ dyke. I had to creep here ’mong the nattles like a big snail.”
“Well, come out, man, and speak to me.”
“Nay, nay, that wean’t do.”
“What, is it you, Harry?”
“Howd your tongue, wilt ta, paarson. I don’t want the lads to know as I comed and telled you. I’ve come along fower dykes.”
“What does it all mean?” said the vicar, leaning over the hedge, to see the great hammerman lying on his face in the ditch on the field side.
“Don’t ask no questions, paarson, for I wean’t tell nowt, ’cause I’m sweered not to; but I don’t like what’s going on.”
“Well, but tell me, Harry, I beg – I insist – ”
“I wean’t tell thee nowt, paarson, on’y this here. Yow wouldn’t like them as you knows hurt, so joost tell Dicky Glaire to look out.”
“But why – when? I must know more.”
The only answer was a loud rustling, and the great body of the hammerman could be seen crawling through the nettles as he made his way pretty quickly along in the opposite direction to that in which he had come, and the vicar forbore to pursue, as it might have tended to betray him.
“I’m not without friends, after all,” he said, musing. “Then this quietness is only the precursor of some other storm. I’ll go up at once.”
He made Iiis way straight to the House, and all was very quiet in the town. Men were lounging about, and their thin sad-faced wives were to be seen here and there busy within, but no sign was visible of the coming storm; and for a while the vicar was ready to doubt the possibility of anything threatening, till he recalled Big Harry’s action, and felt certain that the man’s words must be true. Any doubt he might have had was, however, dispelled a moment or two later, for he saw Tom Podmore coming towards him; but as soon as the young man caught sight of the vicar he turned sharply round and went away.
“There is something wrong, and he’s mixed up in it,” muttered the vicar. “Of course, he is Big Harry’s friend, and so the great fellow knew it. Perhaps, though, he sent him to caution me!”
It was a random shot, but it hit the mark, for Tom, being held in suspicion by his fellows, could not well stir in the matter; and in talking it over with Big Harry, the latter had declared he would warn parson, and so he had.
The vicar was shown in directly, and found the family at the House seated together. He was rather shocked to see Eve’s pallid face; but she brightened up at his coming, and seemed to him to be trying to show him how happy they once more were.
Mrs Glaire, too, looked pale and careworn, but she was eager in her ways, and glad to see him, while Richard, in a half-civil way, but with a shifty look in his eye, shook hands and muttered something about the weather.
“Here, Eve, we’ll go down the garden together,” said Richard; “Mr Selwood’s come to see my mother.”
“No,” said the vicar, quietly, “I have come to see you.”
“To see me?”
“Yes; on very important business.”
“If you’ve come from those scoundrels,” said Richard, hotly, “I won’t hear a word. Let them come themselves.”
“Richard!” said Mrs Glaire, imploringly. “I don’t care, mother. I’ve given way to a certain extent, and I’ll go no further.”
“But I have not come from the men,” said the vicar.
“Then what is it?” said Richard, who had a horror of being left alone with his visitor. “Speak out.”
“I would rather tell you in private,” said the vicar, glancing uneasily at the two women.
“If it is any fresh trouble, Mr Selwood, pray speak out,” said Mrs Glaire, anxiously. “But Miss Pelly?”
“Richard is to be my husband in a few days, Mr Selwood,” said Eve, smiling sadly, as she rose and stood beside him, with her hands resting on his shoulder. “If it is trouble, I have a right to share it with him.”
“There, let’s have it,” said Richard, rudely. “They will have to hear whatever it is.”
The vicar hesitated a moment or two, and tried to collect himself, for Eve’s last words sent a pang through his breast, as they seemed to tear the last fibre that had held her to him.
At last he spoke.
“I have little to tell. My news is shadowy and undefined, but I fear it is very real.”
“Well, tell me, man, tell me,” said Richard; who, while assuming an air of bravado, began to look white.
“I will, Mr Glaire. One of your workmen came secretly to me within the last half-hour to bid you be on your guard.”
“I haven’t been off,” said Richard, insolently. “Who was it?”
“That I cannot tell you,” said the vicar. “The man said he had been sworn to secrecy, but he did not like the business, and came at all risks to tell me.”
“It was that scoundrel, Tom Podmore,” cried Richard.
“It was not Podmore,” replied the vicar.
“Then it was that old villain, Joe Banks – an old hypocrite. Forced his way down the garden to me the other evening to bully me.”
“Richard, my boy, for heaven’s sake,” cried Mrs Glaire.
“It was not your old foreman, Mr Glaire,” said the vicar, quietly. “I have told you all. It is very little, but it may mean much. If you will take my advice you will counteract the people’s plans by opening your works to-morrow.”
“Yes, Richard, do!” exclaimed Mrs Glaire and Eve in a breath.
“I said I’d open them on a certain day, and I won’t stir a peg from that decision,” cried Richard, obstinately.
“Whom the gods will destroy, they first make mad,” muttered the vicar to himself, in the old Latin.
“It would be giving way to them,” said Richard, “and that I’ll never do.”
“But you give way when you do open,” said the vicar.
“I’m not going to argue that,” said Richard, haughtily; “I’ve made up my mind, and I shall keep to it.”
“Then leave your orders, and go quietly away for a few days, till the works are in full swing again.”
Richard had made up his mind to do that very thing; but, as the vicar proposed it, and Eve eagerly acquiesced, he was dead against it on the instant.
“I shall stay here,” he said firmly, “and have the police to guard the house.”
“It is like inviting attack,” said the vicar, excitedly. “For your mother’s and Miss Pelly’s sake, don’t do that. It is throwing down the gauntlet to a set of men maddened by a belief in their wrongs. Many of them are fierce with hunger.”
“Bah! Stuff!” said Richard; “they’ve got plenty saved up, and – he, he, he! – nicely they’ve humbugged you into relieving them with soup and bread and meat. You don’t know Dumford yet, Mr Selwood.”
“If I am to know it as you know it,” thought the vicar, “I hope I never shall;” but he did not give utterance to his thoughts.
“I shall go – ” began Richard; then, insolently – “You won’t go and betray me, parson, will you?”
The vicar did not reply.
“I shall go and stay over at the works, mother,” said Richard.
“What!” exclaimed Mrs Glaire.
“Stay over at the works till the opening day. Let the brutes think I have left the town; and, with a few blankets and some provisions, I shall do. I’ll go over to-night.”
“But, Richard, this is folly,” cried Eve, beginning to tremble.
“You don’t know anything about it,” he said, sharply. “If the beasts mean mischief again, they’ll try to get me away from here, and most likely they are watching every train to catch me. If I slip over in the middle of the night, I shall be safe; for no one will think I am there. What do you say, parson?”
The vicar sat thinking for a few moments, and then gave in his acquiescence to the plan.
“But you must keep strictly in hiding,” he said.
“Well, it won’t be for long,” replied Richard; “and won’t be more dull than being in here.”
Eve winced a little, but she turned and tried to smile.
“But would it be wise, Mr Selwood?” exclaimed Mrs Glaire, eagerly.
“Yes; I think it would,” said the vicar, “if he can get there unseen. If these misguided men do search for him, that is one of the last places they will go to, I feel sure. But will you keep closely in hiding? Would it not be better to give way at once?” he continued, addressing Richard.
“I have said what I mean to do,” said Richard, sharply; “and what I say I keep to.”
The vicar bowed his head, and lent himself as much as was likely to be acceptable to the scheme; ending by saying, with a smile on his face —
“I hope, Miss Pelly, that this is the last of these unpleasant affairs we shall ever have here; for rest assured I shall lose no time in trying to bring the people to a better way of thinking.”
He rose and left them, it being thoroughly understood that Richard was to go into hiding that very night, while the vicar would communicate with the police, to ensure some protection for the house; though all felt it to be needless, as any attack was certain to be made on Richard personally.
As he reached the door, though, the vicar turned to Richard —
“Shall I come and be your companion every night? I will come. I can sleep on a bare board with any fellow, and,” he added, smiling, “I enjoy a pipe.”
Richard jumped eagerly at the idea, and was about to say yes, but the evil part of his nature prevailed.
“No,” he said rudely; “when I want Mr Selwood’s help I will ask for it.”
“As you will, Mr Glaire,” was the reply; “and I hope you will. Good-bye, Mrs Glaire – Miss Pelly, and I sincerely hope this will prove a false alarm.”
“If that fellow thinks he’s coming to my place after the marriage, he’s grievously mistaken,” said Richard to himself, and the door closed.
Meanwhile the vicar called at the station, and after a few words about the burglary and the forthcoming examination —
“By the way, Smith,” he said to the constable, “will you and your man oblige me by keeping a strict watch over the House – Mr Glaire’s – for the next week? I have my reasons.”
“Certainly, sir,” was the reply; “and, by the way, sir, my missus’s duty to you for the port wine: it’s doing her a sight o’ good.”
“Glad of it, Smith; send down for some more when that’s done.”
“He’s a good sort,” muttered the policeman, “that he is; but he ought to have sent up for me the other night.”
The vicar strolled back towards the bottom of the town, and turning off, was making his way towards the foreman’s cottage, when he came upon Big Harry with a stick and a bundle, going across the field – cut to the station.
The great fellow tried to get away, but the vicar hailed him, and he stopped.
“Now, don’t thee ask queshtuns, paarson,” he exclaimed; “I tell’d ye I’m sweered, and can’t say owt.”
“I will not ask you anything, Harry,” said the vicar; “only thank you, as I do, for your hint. But where are you going?”
“Sheffle first, Birming after. I’m sick o’ this.”
“Going to get work?”
“Why not stop another week?”
“No,” said the big fellow; “I wean’t stay another day. I’m off.”
“You’ve got some other reason for going?”
“Paarson, I wean’t tell’ee owt,” said the big fellow; “theer.”
“Good-bye, Harry,” said the vicar, smiling, and holding out his hand. “I hope I shall see you back again, soon.”
“That you will, paarson, soon as iver they’ve done striking; as for me, I’m longing to get howd of a hammer again. Good-bye.”
“I should like to know more,” said the vicar, as he saw the great fellow go striding away. “There’s some atrocious plan on hand, and he’s too honest to stop and join in it, while he’s too true to his friends to betray them. There’s some fine stuff here in Dumford; but, alas! it is very, very rough.”
His walk to the cottage was in vain. “My master” was out, so Mrs Banks, who looked very sad and mournful, declared.
“He’s out wandering about a deal, sir, now. But hev you had word o’ my poor bairn?”
“I am very sorry to say no, Mrs Banks,” said the vicar, kindly; and he left soon after, to be tortured by the feeling that he would be doing wrong in marrying Richard Glaire and his cousin, for he still suspected him of knowing Daisy’s whereabouts, and could get no nearer to his confidence now than on the first day they met.
He inadvertently strolled to the spot where they had first encountered, and stood leaning against the stile, thinking of all that had since passed, wondering the while whether he might not have done better amongst these people if he had been the quiet, reserved, staid clergyman of the usual type – scholarly, refilled, and not too willing to make himself at home.
“It is a hard question to answer,” he said at last, as he turned to go home, listening to the ringing song of the lark far up in the blue sky, unstained by the smoke of the great furnace and the towering shaft; “it is a hard question to answer, and I can only say – God knows.”
It was the day of the plot concocted by Sim’s Brotherhood, the members of which body had been perfectly quiet, holding no meeting, and avoiding one another as they brooded over their wrongs, and in their roused state of mind rejoiced at the idea of their cunning revenge.
Had the vicar been ignorant of coming danger he would have suspected it, for men who had been in the habit of frankly returning his salutations or stopping to chat, now refused to meet his eye, or avoided him by crossing the road.
He shuddered as he thought of what might be done, but as the last day had come, he was in hopes that it might pass over safely, for Richard had kept closely to his hiding-place, and the rumour had got abroad that he had left the town.
He bore this good news to the House.
“Let him only keep to his hiding-place to-night, Mrs Glaire,” he said; “and to-morrow give out the announcement that the works are opened, and the men once met, we shall have tided over our trouble.”
“Yes, our trouble,” said Mrs Glaire, pressing his hand. “Mr Selwood, I repent of not taking you more into my confidence.”
“I am glad you have made so great a friend of me as you have,” was the reply; and he rose to go.
“You will stop and see Eve,” said Mrs Glaire.
“No,” he said, sadly; “not now. Good-bye, good-bye.”
“I’ve done him grievous wrong,” exclaimed Mrs Glaire, wringing her hands as soon as she was alone; “but it was fate – fate. I must save my poor wilful wandering boy.”
The vicar prayed for that day and night to hasten on, that his poor people might be met, ere they assembled for any ill design, by the news of Richard Glaire’s yielding to them, and the opening of the works; but night seemed as if it would never come. He could not rest; the dread of impending evil was so strong upon him, and he was going about from house to house all day, and called several times at the police-station.
His mind was in a whirl, and yet the town had never seemed more quiet nor fewer people about. The works, with their dull windows and blank closed doors, looked chill and bare; and as he passed he scanned the place, and wondered whereabouts Richard could be hidden. Then he began to think of the coming marriage, and his heart grew heavier still; and at last, after endless calls, he went to the vicarage, and threw himself into a chair, to find Mrs Slee quite excited about him.
“Thee’s hardly had bite or soop to-day, sir,” she cried. “Yow’ll be ill;” and in spite of his remonstrances, she brought him in the dinner that had been waiting for hours, and insisted upon his eating it.
He partook of it more for the sake of gaining strength than from appetite, and then made up his mind to go up the town, and watch the night through; for it was now dark.
It was about eight o’clock that a woman in a cloak, and wearing a thick veil, entered the town, followed by a great burly man, and going straight up to the House, rang and asked to see Mrs Glaire.
“I don’t think you can see her, she’s out,” said the girl, looking at the visitor suspiciously, the man having stopped back; but as she was closing the door, it was pushed open, and Tom Podmore almost forced his way in.
The girl was about to scream, but, on recognising him, she stared wonderingly.
“Let me speak to her for a moment, Jane Marks,” he said. “Shoot the door.”
“No, no; I can’t. I shall get into trouble,” said the girl.
“I’ve come to save you fro’ trouble,” said Tom. “Do as I tell you, quick. This is no time for stopping, when at any moment a mob of savage workmen may be ready to tear down the place.”
He pointed to the veiled figure as he spoke, and the girl drew back, while the strange visitor shrank to the wall. But only for a moment; the next she uttered a sob, and holding out her hands, she cried —
“Oh, Tom, Tom; did you know me?”
“Know you,” he said bitterly; “yes, I’d tell thee anywheers.”
“Wean’t you tak’ my hands?” she cried. “Niver again, lass, niver again.”
“Is this the way you meet me, then, Tom?”
“Ay, lass. How would’st thou hev me meet thee? Why hev you comed here?”
“Oh, Tom, I was i’ Sheffle, and I met Big Harry. He told me such dreadful things about father.”
“I wonder he didn’t tell thee the old man weer dead.”
“Oh, Tom, if you knew all,” cried the girl.
“Ay, lass, I know enew.”
“Tom, you don’t – you can’t know. But there, I can’t stay. It’s so dreadful. Let me go by.”
“No, Daisy,” said the young man passionately. “You can’t go by. I believe I hate thee now, but I can’t leave thee. You must go wi’ me.”
“Go with you – where?” cried the girl.
“To your own home, where your poor broken-hearted mother’s waiting for thee.”
“Oh, I shall go mad,” exclaimed Daisy. “Tell me. Where is Mrs Glaire? Where is Mr Richard?”
“You weak, silly girl,” said Tom, catching her arm. “I knew it was so, though they said strange things about thee. Oh, Daisy,” he said, piteously, as he sought to stay her, “leave him. Go home. Don’t for thee own sake stop this how. You threw away my poor, rough love, and I’ve towd my sen ower and ower again that I hated thee, but I don’t, Daisy. I’m only sorry for thee, I can’t forget the past.”