“If you do not loose me, Mr Richard, I shall scream for help,” cried the girl, now growing frightened.
“And who’s to hear you if you do?” he said, mockingly.
“Those who are coming to destroy your works,” exclaimed Daisy, now fully roused to the peril of her position.
“Let them come!” cried Richard, as he held her more tightly; “when they do,” he added, with a laugh, “I’ll let you go.”
He was drawing Daisy’s face round to his in spite of her struggles, when, in an instant, she ceased to fight against him, as she exclaimed in a low, awe-stricken whisper – “Hush! what was that?” Richard loosed his hold on the instant, and stood listening.
“Nothing but a trick of yours, Miss Daisy,” he cried, catching her arm as she was gliding from him into the darkness.
“Hush! there it is again,” whispered the girl. “I heard it plainly. Pray, pray, let us go.”
“No one can have got in here,” muttered Richard, turning pale, for this time he had distinctly heard some sound from below. “Here, wait a moment, and I’ll go and see.”
“No, no,” faltered Daisy. “Not alone; and you must not leave me. There is danger – there is, indeed, Mr Richard.”
“Give me your hand, then,” he whispered. “Curse the place; it’s dark enough by night to frighten any one. Mind how you come.” Daisy clung convulsively to his hand and arm, as they descended to the second floor, where all seemed to be still, not a sound reaching their ears; and from thence to the first floor, where all was as they had left it.
Here Richard paused for a few moments, but could hear nothing but the beating of their own hearts, for now he, too, was horribly alarmed.
“It’s nothing,” he said at last. “Daisy, you’ve been inventing this to make me let you go.”
Daisy made no reply, for the horror of some impending evil seemed to be upon her, and with her lips parched, and tongue dry, she could not even utter a word; but clung to him, and tried to urge him away.
“Come along, then, into the counting-house,” he said, infected now by the girl’s manifest fears. “Mind how you come; the steps are worn. Take care.”
But for his arm Daisy would probably have fallen, but he aided her, and she reached the floor in safety.
“Stop a moment, silly child,” he said, “and I’ll light a match, just to look round and show you that you are frightened at nothing.”
“No, no,” gasped Daisy. “Quick, quick, the door.”
“Well, then, little one, just to prevent our breaking our necks over this cursed machinery.”
“No, no,” moaned Daisy. “I know the way. Here, quick.”
But Richard was already striking the wax match he had taken from a box, and then as the light blazed up he uttered a cry of horror, and let it fall, while Daisy, who took in at a glance the horror of their situation, sank beside the burning match, which blazed for a few moments on the beaten earth, and then went out, leaving them in a darkness greater than before.
As Richard Glaire followed Daisy Banks and reached the works, he made for the great gates, took a rapid glance up and down the dark street to see that it was quite forsaken, and then slipped a latch-key in the wicket, which yielded quietly, and he passed in.
“Will she be here?” he said; and then it struck him suddenly that it was impossible: the works had been closely shut up.
“But she came here – to find me.
He crossed the yard, entered the great pile of buildings, and listened; then returning, he went to the counting-house, and through the passage to the dark opening into the alley, to find it on the latch.
“She is here,” he exclaimed, joyously; and, leaving it as it was, he proceeded to the great building, and then began to peer about in the darkness and listen, ending by seeking the first ladder leading to the half-floor.
“She’s playing with me,” he said, half laughing. “She’s a plucky little thing, though, to come here by herself;” and then he ascended, and stopped at one of the windows looking towards the town to listen, but all seemed still.
He had hardly placed his foot on the second flight of stairs, and begun to ascend, when the light of a bull’s-eye lantern was flashed all over the foundry.
“Dark as Jonah’s sea-parlour, my lad,” said a voice. “Come along, all of you,” and several men, who had entered by the counting-house door, and then gone back to fetch something, came silently into the great gloomy place.
They were evidently in their stocking feet, and moved about without a sound, two of them being dimly seen by the lantern light to be carrying small kegs.
“Be keerful wi’ that lantern, Barker,” said the first speaker, who had evidently been drinking.
“Yes, I’m careful enough,” said the man; “but these nails and bits of metal are dreadful to the feet.”
“He, he, he!” laughed Slee, “we shall clear all them away soon. I’m glad I comed. I’m not the man to stay away when theer’s a job o’ this sort on. Look alive, Stocktle.”
“I’m looking alive enew,” said one of the men with the kegs; “but it seems a burning shame to spoil the owd place wheer we’ve made so many honest shillings.”
“None o’ your snivelling, Joe Stocktle,” exclaimed Sim Slee. “Don’t you come powering your warm watter on the powther. Is the place a-bringing you money now, or starving your missus and the bairns?”
“That’s a true word,” said the man, sulkily; and he placed his keg on the earth, beside one of the thick furnace walls, as Joe Banks, without another word, placed his there too, right in the centre of the building, where the great wall went up as a support to the various floors, close to the huge chimney-shaft, which was continued up a couple of hundred feet above the building.
“It’ll send the owd shaft down too,” said Sim; “and if we’re lucky, the place ’ll catch fire and blaze like owt.”
“Pray be quick, my lads; and we’d better go now,” whispered Barker. “Hush! wasn’t that a noise?”
“On’y an owd tom cat,” said Slee. “He lives here, and scarred me finely when I came for the bands. Yow can do wi’out us, now, Joe Banks?”
“Wait a moment,” said the foreman, slowly. “Get me a crowbar off yon bench.”
Slee fetched the tool, taking the light with him, and casting weird shadows about the vast foundry, as he carried the lantern, and made its light flicker about. Then returning, he stood looking on, and holding the light, his hand trembling as he lighted Joe Banks, while he and the man called Stocktle loosed the top hoops, and wrenched out the heads of the kegs with a recklessness that made Barker’s blood run cold, and he, too, shivered so that his teeth chattered.
“Seems a shame to blow up t’owd shop,” said Stocktle, again. “Must do it, I s’pose.”
“Of course you must, you maulkin,” whispered Slee. “Theer’s all the lads hinging about the market-place to see ’em go up. Now, Joe Banks, tak’ this lantern. You knows what to do. Here’s the fuse. Shove it in your pocket. Wait till we’ve gone, then upset both kegs, and then make a good long train right to the door, wheer you’ll put your fuse into ground, with a handful o’ powther at the end. Open the lantern, and howd fuse to it a moment, shoot lantern up, and if fuse is well leeted, coot off as hard as you can. Here’s the pot. Half fill un, so as to lay a long train.”
Joe Banks took the small watering-can handed to him, and proceeded to half fill it from one of the kegs, trying it afterwards, to see if the black grains poured freely from the spout; and finding they did, he set it down. “Pray come along,” whispered Barker. “I’m wi’ you,” said Slee; and he followed Barker hastily, the two men making for the counting-house door.
“Tak’ care o’ yoursen, Joe Banks,” said the man left behind. “Shall I stop and help you? Them two’s coot awaya.”
“No; go after them,” said the foreman, speaking almost for the first time.
“Raight,” said Stocktle, “On’y look out for yoursen, owd Guy Fox, and don’t get blowed up too. Are you all raight?”
“Yes,” was the reply; and the man glided silently amongst the furnaces into the darkness, leaving the stern grey-headed man to his dark task.
He was quick over it, tilting and half emptying the kegs against the wall; and then, with the pot in one hand, the lantern in the other, he made a path of light along the floor, in which he trickled down a black zigzag pattern for many yards, till the pot was nearly empty, when he poured all the rest in a patch, took out the long black fuse, laid one end in the powder, and drew out the other, ready to thrust in the lantern.
“It’s a mean, cowardly trick,” muttered Banks, darkening the lantern as he put down the pot and stood erect. “What would my owd brother workman say if he could see me now? Ay, and what would he say to his black-hearted son for robbing me of all I howd dear? It’s a judgment on him, and he deserves it. Ay, but it’s not like me to do such a thing; but I’ve said I’d do it, and I will. Who’s yon? Curse him; I wish it were Dick Glaire, and I’d fire the train at once if I died wi’ him.”
The foreman stood ready, as he heard whispers and descending steps, and ground his teeth together, as he made out that there was a woman’s voice as well as a man’s.
“It must be Richard Glaire,” he muttered, “and who will it be wi’ him?”
He stood listening again, feeling in his mad excitement neither fear of detection nor death, for his sole desire was to obtain one great sweeping revenge on the man whom he now hated with a deadly hate; and as he listened the thought grew more strongly that this must be Richard holding a meeting with Eve Pelly.
“It can be no one else,” he muttered, pressing his hands to his fevered head, and then stooping to feel the fuse and powder. “I don’t want to hurt her, poor lass, but she’s an enemy now, like her scoundrel o’ a cousin. A villain! a villain! He’s forsaken my poor bairn, then, to come back here and mak’ love to she. If I shrunk from it before, I feel strong now. But I’ll be sure first, for, mad as I am again him, I wouldn’t send an innocent man to his account. But it must be him, it must be him, sent by his fate to die in the midst of his place.”
Joe Banks stood trying to think, but he was in so excited and fevered a state that the effort was vain. He could see nothing but ruin and death. He had promised to fire the train, and he was ready to do it, for passion had long usurped reason, and should he die in the ruins, he cared but little.
Meantime, as he stood intently listening, and with his hand upon the catch of his lantern, ready to apply it to the fuse at any moment, the whisperings continued, ceased within a few yards of where he stood; and then came the sound of a box being opened. There was a sharp, crackling scratch, and a tiny white flame flashed out in the midst of the darkness.
It lasted but a few moments, for Richard uttered a cry of dread, and let it fall, but in those moments Joe Banks had seen who struck the match, and that a female companion had sunk fainting to the earth, and the hot rage, that had almost turned his brain, grew ten times hotter.
“You madman!” cried Richard, who had divined what was to take place; and in his dread he became for the time brave, and sought to grasp the man who was charged with the deadly design. “You madman!” he cried. “What are you about to do? Here, help!”
He sought to grasp the foreman, and had not long to wait, for, choking with rage, the injured man stepped forward to seize him in turn, and they closed in a furious struggle, which resulted in the younger man seeming like a child in the mighty arms of his adversary, who lifted him from the ground, dashed him down, and then, panting with exertion and rage, planted a foot upon his chest and held him there close by the end of the train, while he felt round for the dark lantern he had dropped.
“Banks, Joe Banks, are you mad?” cried Richard, who was half stifled by the pressure upon his breast.
“Yes,” said the foreman, grimly; “mad.”
“What are you going to do?” panted Richard, struggling to remove the foot.
“To do, liar, coward, villain! was it not enew that you had all you could want, but you must come and rob me o’ my poor bairn?”
“Joe – Joe Banks!” panted Richard, in protestation; but his words were stifled, for the maddened man pressed his foot down more firmly on his chest.
“Silence, you villain!” cried Banks, in a low fierce whisper, “or I’ll crash in your chest or break your skull with a piece of iron. Are you going to marry that Eve Pelly?”
“Yes, Joe, yes; but – ”
“Silence!” hissed the foreman, “unless you want to say your prayers. Speak a word aloud, and I’ll kill you dead. Now, you want to know why I’m here? I’ll tell you. The poor lads thrown out o’ work by your cruel ways said they’d blow up the works, for you had injured them so that they would have revenge; and then I said I had greater wrong to bear, and I would do it. Do you want to know more?” he continued, with a savage chuckle. “There lies the powther all of a heap, two barrels full, and here’s the train down by your feet. It’s aw ready, and there would have been no works by this time if you had not come with she.”
“Joe, listen,” panted Richard, struggling ineffectually against the pressure.
“Silence!” hissed Banks; and his foot was pressed so savagely down that Richard Glaire thought his end had come, and lay half swooning, with dazzling lights dancing before his eyes, the sound of bells ringing in his ears, and a horrible dread upon him that if he spoke again the words would be his last. And all this time, like a low hissing sentence of death, went on the words of the foreman, as he bent over him.
“I tell thee I hev but to put the light to the train, and you – . Yes, we shall be blown into eternity unless I run fro’ the place.”
“Your child – Daisy!” panted Richard, in his horror.
“I hev no bairn,” cried Banks, who then uttered an ejaculation indicative of satisfaction, for he had been feeling about, and reached the lantern.
“Banks, Joe Banks, for mercy’s sake,” groaned Richard, hoarsely, “I’m not fit to die.”
“Nay, thou’rt not, and thou’lt be worse if I let thee live, and if thou survives that poor lass will lead a living death.”
“Joe – mercy!” cried Richard, as the pressure on his breast increased.
“Ask it fro’ up yonder,” said the foreman solemnly. “I’ll gi’e you two minutes to pray while the fuse burns. It’ll last two minutes; see, lad.”
“Joe, Joe,” panted his victim, feebly struggling as against some horrible nightmare, while with starting eye-balls he glared up at the weird, distorted face of his foreman, upon which the light shone strangely as he opened the lantern door, held it to the fuse for a moment, closed it, and hurled it to the other side of the foundry, while the slow match began to burn gradually towards the powder.
“He’s mad, he’s mad!” moaned Richard, gazing hard with a feeling of horrible fascination at the burning fuse, whose faint sparkling light made the face of Banks look to him like that of some demon. “Joe, for my father’s sake!”
“Not for his. Yo’ canno’ be your father’s bairn.”
“Joe, for Daisy’s sake,” panted Richard, again. “Mercy, mercy! it has nearly burned out.”
“Pray, fool, pray,” hissed Banks. “It may save you from the curse I give you for blasting my home. I wean’t run. Let it go, for thou’rt sent here to-night to die. It’s God’s vengeance on you for what you’ve done. See the powther catches.”
“It’s devil’s work, not God’s!” shrieked Richard, as, grasping the foot that pressed him down, he made a final effort for life, just as the train caught fire, flashed up, and began to run in a serpentine course towards the barrels.
Another moment and it would have been too late. As it was, Joe Banks took a couple of strides, and swept the powder aside in the middle of the train, so that when the lurid serpent that seemed running its wavy course along the floor, lighting up the works with a strange glow, reached its maker’s foot, it fluttered, sparkled here and there to right and left, and then all was darkness.
“You’re raight,” said Banks, solemnly, from out of the darkness, while, half blinded by the glare, Richard feebly struggled to his knees, and crouched there, bathed in a chilly sweat. “You’re raight; it is devil’s work, and I canno’ do it. Richard Glaire, I believe I’m mad; and when I found you here, wi’ her as lies theer moaning, I said we’d all die together.”
“This is horrible, horrible!” moaned Richard.
“Mebbe it is,” said Banks, sadly; “but for you, lad, the bitterness o’ death is past. It’s devil’s work, indeed, and it shall not be mine. Get up, and tak’ yon poor lass away, lest the fit comes ower me again, and I forget as I’m a man.”
Richard groaned, for he was weak and helpless as a babe.
“I give you your life before,” continued Banks, moving to where a dim light showed where the lantern lay, and returning with it open, so that its glow shone upon Richard Glaire’s white face. “I give it to you again, man. Go, and God forgive you what you’ve done to me.”
Richard made an effort to rise, and stood tottering on his feet, speechless with the reaction from the horror through which he had passed, while Banks crossed to where Daisy was beginning to recover from her swoon.
“Poor bairn!” he said softly; “and I should ha’ slain thee too. Get up, Miss Eve, and some day you may pray for and forgive me.”
He turned the light full upon her as she rose to her knees, then covered her eyes, for the light dazzled her.
“Where am I?” she cried; then, as recollection flashed back, she started up with a cry of “Father – father!”
Joe Banks stood motionless for a few moments, staring wildly at what seemed to him like some horrible vision; and it was not until Daisy rose to her feet that he fully realised what he had so nearly achieved; then the lantern dropped from his hand; he clasped his temples with his sinewy hands, and uttered a hoarse cry that echoed through the gloomy place —
As the words left his lips he turned slightly, and fell heavily upon the ground, just as there were shouts, the rush of feet; and, bearing lights, a couple of policemen, Tom, Harry, and about a dozen of the tradespeople, headed by the vicar, rushed into the place.
“Thank Heaven, we’re in time,” exclaimed the vicar. “Back, every man with lights,” he shouted; “there’s a train.”
There was a rush back for the entrance, but the vicar stood firm, and, taking one of the policemen’s lanterns, he cautiously stepped forward, tracing the train, and scattering it with his feet till he saw the heap that had trickled from the opened kegs.
“Keep your places with the lights,” he cried. “Harry! Tom! buckets of water, quick!”
Half-a-dozen started for the yard, where there was a large iron tank outside the door, and bucketsful were brought in rapidly, with which, while the vicar lighted them, Tom and Harry deluged the heap of powder.
“There’s no danger now,” said the vicar, as the ground was saturated in every direction. “Good heavens! what a diabolical attempt.”
And not till now was attention drawn to Richard Glaire, who sat upon a block of metal, watching the actions of those around him, as their lights feebly illumined the great, gloomy place. He was white as ashes, trembling as if stricken with the palsy; and when spoken to stared vacantly at the vicar.
“Are you hurt, Mr Glaire?” he said kindly.
For answer, Richard burst into an hysterical fit of sobbing, and cried like a child.
“Fetch a little brandy, some one,” said the vicar. “He will be better after this. He must have had some terrible shock. Who is this?” he continued, directing his light to where Banks lay insensible, with the blood trickling from a cut upon his forehead, where he had struck it against a rough piece of slag in falling.
“It’s Joe Banks,” growled Harry, as the vicar knelt down and quickly bandaged the wound.
At that moment, Daisy, who had remained crouching behind the brickwork of one of the furnaces, came forward trembling.
“Daisy Banks!” cried the vicar in astonishment. “You here?”
“Don’t speak to me; don’t speak to me,” she cried wildly, as she threw herself sobbing beside her father to passionately raise his head, and kiss him again and again. “He’s dead, he’s dead, and I’ve killed – I’ve killed him.”
There was silence for a few moments, which no one cared to break, and Tom Podmore stood with folded arms and heaving breast, gazing down at the weeping figure of her he so dearly loved.
“He’s not dead, my poor girl,” said the vicar, kindly; “only in a swoon. That bleeding will do him good. Constables, we must get him home at once, or – no, you must guard this place. Harry, Podmore, and two more – a stout piece of carpet from the nearest house. We can carry him in that.”
“Bring him home – to my place,” said Richard Glaire, who had somewhat recovered.
“I think not, Mr Glaire,” said the vicar, firmly. “His own house will be best.”
“Excuse me, sir,” said the chief policeman. “He’s the leader, I believe; we must have him at the station. The doctor can see him there. He had laid the train, and was to fire it. Harry and Podmore here know.”