“I mean that, in common with others, I believed you guilty of inveigling Daisy Banks away.”
“It don’t matter to me what people think,” said Richard, roughly.
“I am sorry I misjudged you,” continued the vicar; “and once more I ask your pardon.”
“It don’t matter,” said Richard.
“Mrs Glaire,” the vicar continued, kindly, as he drew a chair to her side and took her hand, “you did a foolish, cruel thing in this.”
“Then you know all?” she sobbed.
“Yes, all – from the lips of Daisy herself. I will not blame you, though, for the act has recoiled upon yourself, and it is only by great mercy that, embittered as these men were through it, a horrible crime has not been committed.”
“I did it – I did it to save him,” sobbed Mrs Glaire. “I am a mother, and he is my only boy.”
“Poor, stricken Banks is a father, and Daisy is his only child. Mrs Glaire, you did him a cruel wrong. Why did you not trust me?”
“I was mad and foolish,” she sobbed. “I dared not trust any one, even Daisy; and I thought it would be best for all – that it would save her, and it has been all in vain. Look at him,” she cried angrily; “after all, he defies me, insults his cousin’s love, and, when the poor, foolish girl comes back, his first act is to seek her, to the forgetting of his every promise to us both.”
Eve had covered her face with her hands.
“Daisy is as bad as he,” continued Mrs Glaire, angrily.
“There you are mistaken,” said the vicar; “her act to-night was to warn your son of his dreadful danger. She went to save him from a terrible death.”
“Pray say no more,” said Mrs Glaire, shuddering; and Richard turned of a sallow yellow.
“It has been a terrible affair,” said the vicar; “but I sincerely hope that all is over, for your act has borne fruits, Mrs Glaire, and Daisy has seen the folly of the past.”
Richard looked up wonderingly, but refused to meet their visitor’s eye.
“I have spoken hastily, and I owe you an apology, Miss Pelly,” continued the vicar, rising; “but it was better to be plain even before you. I was only too glad, though, to come and apologise to Mr Glaire for the wrong I had done.”
“But poor Joe Banks?” exclaimed Mrs Glaire.
“He seems to have been struck down by an apoplectic fit. He was shocked, no doubt, at finding that so dastardly an attempt had been made, and at the sight of your son and his child in such imminent peril. I hope, however, and sincerely believe, that he will recover. I have just come from there. Good night.”
He pressed Mrs Glaire’s hand, and held that of Eve for a few moments, saying to himself, “Poor girl, I have lightened her heart of some of its load. I have somewhat cleared the man she loves.”
“Good night, Mr Glaire,” he said, turning to Richard.
“I’ll see you out,” said Richard; and he followed him to the now vacant hall.
“What did you mean,” he said, roughly, “about Daisy?”
“I mean,” said the vicar, laying his hand upon the young man’s shoulder, “that she has awakened to the folly and weakness of her dealings with you, sir, and to the truth, honesty, and faith of the man who has loved her for so long.”
“Podmore?” hissed Richard.
“What do you mean?” cried Richard, angrily.
“Act as a man of honour.”
“I don’t understand you.”
“And all will be forgiven. Good night.”
“Curse him!” cried Richard, with an impatient stamp; and he stood gnawing his fair moustache. Then, with a smile of triumph, damped by a hasty glance of fear up and down the street, he hurriedly closed the door.
The weeks slipped rapidly by, and a great change had come over Dumford. The sky was blackened once more with smoke, the furnaces roared, there was the loud chink of metal heard, and the hiss of steam as the engines thudded and clanked, while at dinner time the great gates gave forth their troops of grimy workmen.
Homes looked bright once more, and “my maister” was not seen with lowering brow leaning against the door-post all day long, but tired and hearty, ready to play with the bairns, or busy himself in his bit of garden.
The trade, too, had brightened up, and one and all thanked goodness that their troubles were over, and prayed that they might be long in coming again.
Something of a search had been made for Sim Slee, and the police authorities had been pretty active; but Sim and the “deppitation” managed to keep out of sight, and Richard Glaire was in no wise anxious to have the matter too closely investigated.
He kept to his story that he found the train laid in the foundry, and Banks the foreman destroyed it, and the place was saved. This he opened at once, and the men gladly resumed work, the vicar’s influence telling upon them, and one and all being ready to ignore the past, and try to condone it by regular attendance at the time-keeper’s wicket.
Banks recovered rapidly, and, on learning the truth, sent for Richard, who, however, refused to go to the house to see him, while on his part the foreman declined to resume his position at the foundry.
“No, sir,” he said to the vicar; “I weer in the wrong, and I shouldn’t feel it weer raight to go back theer again. I’m sorry I misjudged him as I did, and I weer too hard upon him; but he hasn’t used me well, neither has Mrs Glaire. But theer, let bygones be bygones. I shan’t starve, and I’m only too happy to hev my poor lass back again, safe and sound – safe and sound, while the missus is in high feather to find that Daisy and her fav’rite, Tom Podmore, hev come together efter all.”
That same day, as it happened, Mrs Glaire called at the cottage, with Eve Pelly, and while the former talked with her old foreman,
Eve went into the little garden with Daisy.
“I’ve called to ask you to come back, Joe Banks, at my son’s wish,” said Mrs Glaire. “He desires that we bury the past, and that you resume your post, for the place is not the same without you.”
“Nay, Mrs Glaire, nay,” said Banks, shaking his head; “that can never be again. I should hev had to give it up some day, so let it be now. And, as you say, ma’am, let bygones be bygones. We were both in the wrong.”
“Both, Joe,” said Mrs Glaire, sadly; “but you will forgive me. I did what I did for the best.”
“Ay, I believe thee, but it weer very hard to bear. I deserved it, though, for I might hev knowed that he niver meant to wed my poor lass. Bud theer that’s all past and gone – past and gone. Hey, ma’am, look at them two i’ the garden. They seem good friends enew now. And so she’s to be married to Master Dick to-morrow?”
“Yes, Joe,” said Mrs Glaire, hastily, “it will be for the best. My son is all that I could wish for now;” and they sat looking out at the two young girls as they stood talking.
Their conversation had been on indifferent things for some time, but Daisy felt a guilty knowledge of something she ought to tell, for Eve was so sweet and gentle with her; not one word or look of reproach had been said, but there had so far been no word of the future.
At length Daisy spoke out.
“Do you quite forgive me, Miss Eve?” she said. “I could not help it then, though I fought against it, and was wretched all the time.”
“Yes, Daisy, yes,” cried Eve, eagerly; and she took the other’s hand; “but tell me truly – do you – do you – oh, I cannot say it.”
“Do I care for Mr Richard Glaire?” said Daisy, with a strange smile. “Do I feel hurt because you will be married to him to-morrow? Not a bit. Don’t think that, dear Miss Eve, for I love poor Tom with all my heart, and only wish I could make him a better wife.”
“And you will be married soon, too?” exclaimed Eve.
“Maybe in a month or two,” said Daisy, looking sadly at her visitor; “we do not want to hurry it on. I wish you every happiness, Miss Eve.”
“And I you, Daisy,” said Eve, looking at her with a wondering wistful look, and asking herself how it was that Richard should have conceived so mad a passion for this girl, while for her his attentions had been of the coldest type.
“Mr Selwood is going to marry you, then?” said Daisy, quietly, for want of something to carry on the conversation. “But what ails you, Miss Eve, are you ill?”
“No, no, nothing,” said Eve, hastily. “It is hot to-day, that’s all.”
And then the two girls stood silent for a while, Eve thinking that the vicar came so seldom now, and then his visits were so quiet and formal; while Daisy kept asking herself one question, and that was —
“Shall I tell her?”
And the answer —
“No, it would be cruel now, and once they and I are married, all that will be over.”
When the visitors had gone, Daisy went up to her bedroom, and took from a little drawer a note which she had received the previous night. It ran as follows: —
“You know how I love you, and how I have watched for weeks for a chance to speak to you. I have been night after night at the old places, believing you would come, but not one glance have I had of you, not one word. Dearest Daisy, by all our old meetings, I ask you to give me one more. Don’t heed the chatter of the place, but come up to the old spot as soon as you receive this, for I am obliged to write. If too late I will be there to-morrow night. Only come and say one loving word to me, and all you have heard shall be as nothing. I cannot live without you, so come, and if you will I am ready to take you anywhere – far away, as I have promised you before.”
Daisy sat looking at the letter, and read it again and again.
“Only to think,” she said at last; “a few months ago I should have sighed and sobbed over that note, and been almost ready to be dragged by him where he would, while now – it makes me almost sick. What could I have seen in his soft boyish face to make me feel as I did. But what shall I do? It seems cruel to let that poor girl go to the church with such a man, only that she might save him. And suppose he makes her miserable for life.”
Daisy turned pale, and sat thinking till she heard her father call, and then she hastily thrust the letter into her bosom, her face grew radiant, and she hurried down, for her father’s words had been —
“Daisy, lass, here’s Tom!”
That same evening Eve Pelly was in the garden with Mrs Glaire – the old familiar garden where she had spent so many happy hours, while now she was sad with a sadness that made the tears rise and fill her eyes.
The old place, with its abundant flowers, its roses climbing the old red-brick wall, the well-shaven lawn, with its quaint rustic vases and flower-beds, and the seats where she had read and worked since a child. It was her dear old home, and she was not going to leave it, but all the same, on this the eve of her marriage, it seemed to her that the end had come, and that she was about to bid it all farewell.
It had been an anxious day, for many friends had called, and present after present had been brought, all of which, in spite of herself, she had received with tears, and gladly escaped afterwards to the solitude of her own room.
Even the workmen had clubbed together, and, in spite of past hard times, bought a handsome silver teapot, which came “With the men’s dooty to Miss Eve.”
For they recalled her sweet gentle face, patiently watching by or bringing flowers to many a sick wife or child; and it was said that every man in the works, with all his belongings, was to be at the church next morning.
Mrs Glaire was with Eve, but at last she said she would go in, the latter pleading that she would like to stay a little longer in the soft glow of the evening sun; and so it happened that at last she was left, and feeling glad at heart that Richard had been away all day, she sat down alone to think.
It was so strange she could hardly realise it, and yet this was the last day, and to-morrow she would be Richard’s wife.
The warm glow of the setting sun was around her, but a deadly pallor was upon her face, and she began to tremble.
“Am I going to be ill?” she asked herself; and then, making an effort, she tried to shake off the feeling.
“Richard’s wife,” she mused. “May I have strength to make him love me dearly, and to be to him the best of wives.”
It was a fervent wish, but as it passed her trembling lips, the tears began to flow, and though she fought against it, the thoughts would come rushing through her brain of what might have been had some one else known her sooner, and not looked down upon her as a poor weak, simple girl.
“Oh, but this is dreadful,” she moaned; “disloyal to poor Dick – cruel to myself. What shall I do!”
She was hastily drying her eyes, when a step on the gravel startled her, and Jacky Budd appeared, red-nosed as of old, and bearing a small round basket, and a packet.
“From Master Selwood, Miss Eve. Parson said I was to gi’e ’em to yow, so I brote ’em down the garden mysen, and my dooty to you, Miss, and may you be very happy, and I’d take it kindly if yow’d let me drink your health, and long life to you.”
Eve smiled her thanks as she placed a shilling in his hand, sending Jacky away a happy man, as he calculated that that shilling contained eight gills of ale, and to him what he called comfort for his sorrows.
As the gardener went away Eve’s agitation became excessive, and she hardly dared to lift the lid of the basket.
But a short time since, and she had mentally reproached him for forgetting her, as no token whatever had arrived, only a formal note to her aunt, saying that he would be at the church at ten the next morning, while all the time his thoughts had been of her, for here was the token.
A glad flush overspread her cheeks, as at last she took the basket and raised the lid, to find within a large bouquet of costly white exotics, the stephanotis amongst which sent forth its sweet perfume, mingled with that of orange blossoms – a gift to a bride.
“A gift to a bride,” she whispered, and the flush faded, even as the sunbeams were paling fast in the trees above her head.
A bitter sigh escaped her lips – a sigh that was almost a moan, and as she raised the bouquet and kissed it, the tears fell fast, and lay glistening like rain amidst the petals.
“If he knew; if he knew,” she whispered, “it would be cruel; but he does not know – he never will know, and after to-night this must be as a dream.”
Almost mechanically she took the little square white packet that lay on the garden seat by her side, and breaking the seal, on which was the vicar’s crest, she found a small square morocco case; and when at last her trembling fingers had pressed the snap and raised the lid, there upon pale blue velvet lay a large oval locket, crusted with diamonds and pearls, a costly gift that glistened in the fading light, and beside it a scrap of paper, with the words —
“God bless you! May you be very happy.”
Eve sat with one hand laid upon her bosom to still its throbbings, and then her lips were pressed to the locket – longer still to the scrap of paper, before the case was shut, and she sat gazing up at the first stars in the pale, soft sky.
A low, deep sigh escaped her lips, and then with a weary look round —
“I am stronger now,” she said, and rose to go, but only shrank back in her seat as she heard a rustling noise, and then a thud, as if some one had jumped from the wall, while before she could recover herself, Tom Podmore stood before her.
“Is – is anything wrong?” she gasped; for in her nervous state this sudden apparition suggested untold horrors to her excited brain.
“It’s only me, Miss Eve. I wanted just a word.”
“Why – why did you not come to the house?” she faltered,
“Don’t be scarred, miss. I only wanted to be sure o’ seeing you alone. I just want to ask you something.”
“Yes,” she said, composing herself.
“I want to ask you to forgive me, miss, if I hurt your feelings, and do something as’ll make you feel bitter again me.”
“You would not hurt me, Tom?” said Eve, rising and laying her hand upon his arm.
“God knows I wouldn’t, miss, any more than I would one of His angels,” said the young fellow, excitedly; “and that’s why I’ve come. I couldn’t feel as it weer raight not to come, and even though you may think it spiteful, it isn’t, but on’y for your sake alone.”
“Yes,” said Eve, who felt giddy. “You have something dreadful to tell me.”
“No, Miss,” said the young man, solemnly, “not to tell you, only a note to gi’e you.”
“A note – from Mr Selwood?”
“No, miss,” said Tom, not seeing the warm flush in the girl’s face, “a note as weer sent last night to my Daisy, and which she give to me an hour ago.”
“A note?” faltered Eve, again.
“Yes, miss, a note. Daisy talked it ower wi’ me, and I said as you ought to see it; and even if it hurts you sore, I felt I must gi’e it to you, and theer it is.”
Eve felt the paper, and was aware of the fact that her visitor had scrambled over the wall, and was gone, and still she stood clutching the paper tightly, till a voice made her start, and thrust the paper into her bosom.
“Eve, my child, it is damp and late.”
It was Mrs Glaire calling, and, picking up her presents, Eve slowly went up the garden, feeling like one in a dream, till she entered through the open window, where Mrs Glaire was waiting.
“Why, you are quite cold, my child,” said Mrs Glaire, tenderly, as she closed the windows, and led the trembling girl to an easy chair by the tea-table, the shaded lamp shedding a pleasant glow upon the steaming urn.
“It is getting cold, aunt,” said Eve, with a shiver; and she drank the tea poured ready for her with avidity.
“More presents, my darling?” said Mrs Glaire, leaning over and kissing her. “Eve, child, you are making me very happy.”
Eve’s arms were flung round her neck, and she sobbed there in silence for a few moments.
“Don’t cry, my darling; try and think it is for the best. It is – you know it is, and the past must all be forgotten. But where is Dick? He must be buying presents, or arranging something, or he would be here,” she said, cheerfully. “By the way, Eve, what are those? Did Richard send them?”
“No, aunt,” said Eve, hoarsely; “they are from Mr Selwood.”
“Always a kind, good friend,” said Mrs Glaire, whose voice shook a little as she looked at the gifts. “Make Richard think better of him, Eve, for he is a true, good friend.”
Eve did not answer, for her hand was upon her breast, and beneath that hand she could feel the paper. Her great dread was that Richard should come back, and she prayed that he might not return.
Ten o’clock sounded, and then eleven, from the little pendule on the chimney-piece, and still he did not come; and Mrs Glaire, noticing the poor girl’s agitation, proposed rest.
“I will sit up for Dick, Eve,” she said, cheerfully. “He is preparing some surprise;” but, as soon as her niece had kissed her lovingly, and left the room, a haggard look came over the mother’s countenance, and she knelt down for a few moments beside the couch.
She started up, though, for she heard her son’s step in the hall, and he entered directly, looking hot and flushed.
“Where’s Evey?” he asked.
“Gone to bed, my boy,” replied Mrs Glaire. “Dick, you should have stayed at home to-night.”
“Oh, all right,” he said, lightly, and with a bitter sneer; “it’s the last night, and I thought I might have a run.”
“I’m not blaming you, dear,” said Mrs Glaire, kissing his forehead; “only poor Eve looked so sad and ill to-night.”
Had she seen her then, she would have cried out in fear, for, with an open paper in her hand, Eve was pacing up and down her room, to throw herself at last upon her knees in agony, and after many hours sob herself to sleep.
It was gala day in Dumford. The past bitter times were forgotten, and the men had rigged up an arch of evergreens. The children were in their best, and gardens had been stripped of their flowers. Half the town had been twice to the Bull to see the barouche and the four greys that had been ordered from Ranby, and the postboys, in their white beaver hats, had been asked to drink more times than was safe for those they had to drive.
The church, too, was decorated with flowers from the vicarage garden, and new gravel laid down from porch to gate. The ringers were there, and the singers, and the musicians making their way to the loft, while the various pews and sittings were filled to a degree “not knowed,” Jacky Budd said, “for years an’ years.”
The school children were ready, armed with baskets of flowers, and had been well tutored by the school-mistress to throw them as the bride and bridegroom came out. This lady sighed as she saw the preparations, and told Jacky Budd to open more windows, because the bodies smelt so bad, and Jacky said they did, and it gave him quite a sinking: but the hint was not taken.
In the vicarage Murray Selwood sat looking pale and stern, beside his untasted breakfast, and it was not till, with affectionate earnestness and the tears in her eyes, Mrs Slee had begged him to take a cup of tea, that he had yielded, and eaten also a slice of toast.
“I know thou’rt ill, sir,” she said. “Let me send for Mr Purley.”
“No, no, Mrs Slee,” he said, shaking off his air of gloom; “only a fit of low spirits. I shall be better soon.”