“Call yourselves Englishmen? A hundred to one!”
The new vicar’s bold onslaught saved Richard Glaire for the moment, and the men fell back, freeing the foreman as they did so. It was only for the moment though, and then with a yell of fury the excited mob closed in upon their victims.
Matters looked very bad for the new vicar, and for him he had tried to save, for though the foreman was now ready and free to lend his aid, and Richard Glaire, stung by his position into action, had recovered himself sufficiently to turn with all the feebleness of the trampled worm against his assailants, the fierce wave was ready to dash down upon them and sweep them away.
Harry, the big hammerman, had somewhat recovered himself, and was shaking his head as if to get rid of a buzzing sensation, and murmurs loud and deep were arising, when the shrill voice of the man in the red waistcoat arose.
“Now, lads, now’s your time. Trample down them as is always trampling on you and your rights. Smite ’em hip and thigh.”
“Come on, and show ’em how to do it,” roared a sturdy voice, and Tom Podmore thrust himself before the vicar, and faced the mob. “Come on and show ’em how, Sim Slee; and let’s see as you ain’t all wind.”
There was a derisive shout at this, and the man in the red waistcoat began again.
“Down with them, boys. Down with Tom Podmore, too; he’s a sneak – a rat. Yah!”
“I’ll rat you, you ranting bagpipe,” cried Tom, loudly. “Stand back, lads; this is new parson, and him as touches him has to come by me first. Harry, lad, come o’ my side; you don’t bear no malice again a man as can hit like that.”
“Not I,” said Harry, thrusting his great head forward, to stare full in the vicar’s face. “Dal me, but you are a stout un, parson; gie’s your fist. It’s a hard un.”
It was given on the instant, and the hearty pressure told the vicar that he had won a new ally.
“As for the governor,” cried Tom, “you may do what you like wi’ him, lads, for I shan’t tak’ his part.”
“Podmore,” whispered the vicar, “for Heaven’s sake be a man, and help me.”
“I am a man, parson, and I’ll help you like one; but as for him” – he cried, darting a malignant look at Richard Glaire.
He did not finish his sentence, for at that moment the man in the red waistcoat mounted a post, and cried again:
“Down with ’em, lads; down with – ”
He, too, did not finish his sentence, for at that moment, either by accident or malicious design, the orator was upset; and, so easily changed is the temper of a crowd, a loud laugh arose.
But the danger was not yet passed, for those nearest seemed ready to drag their employer from his little body-guard.
“You’ll help me then, Podmore?” cried the vicar, hastily. “Come, quick, to the gate.”
The veins were swelling in Tom Podmore’s forehead, and he glanced as fiercely as any at his master, but the vicar’s advice seemed like a new law to him, and joining himself to his defenders, with the great hammerman, they backed slowly to the gate, through the wicket, by which Richard Glaire darted, and the others followed, the vicar coming last and facing the crowd.
The little door in the great gates was clapped to directly, and then there came heavy blows with stones, and a few kicks, followed by a burst of hooting and yelling, after which the noise subsided, and the little party inside began to breathe more freely.
“Thanky, Tom Podmore, my lad,” said Banks, shaking him by the hand.
Tom nodded in a sulky way, and glowered at his master, but he pressed the foreman’s hand warmly.
“I’d fight for you, Joe Banks, till I dropped, if it was only for her sake; but not for him.”
Meanwhile Harry, the big hammerman, was walking round the vicar and inspecting him, just as a great dog would look at a stranger.
“Say, parson, can you wrastle?” he said at last.
“Yes, a little,” was the reply, with a smile.
“I’d maybe like to try a fall wi’ ye.”
“I think we’ve had enough athletics for one day,” was the reply. “Look at my hand.”
He held out his bleeding knuckles, and the hammerman grinned.
“That’s my head,” he said. “’Tis a hard un, ain’t it?”
“The hardest I ever hit,” said the vicar, smiling.
“Is it, parson – is it now?” said Harry, with his massive face lighting up with pride. “Hear that, Tom? Hear that, Joe Banks?”
He stood nodding his head and chuckling, as if he had received the greatest satisfaction from this announcement; and then, paying no heed to the great bruise on his forehead, which was plainly puffing up, he sat down on a pile of old metal, lit his pipe, and looked on.
“I hope you are not hurt, Mr Glaire?” said the vicar. “This is a strange second meeting to-day.”
“No,” exclaimed Richard, grinding his teeth, “I’m not hurt – not much. Banks, go into the counting-house, and get me some brandy. Curse them, they’ve dragged me to pieces.”
“Well, you would be so arbitrary with them, and I told you not,” said Banks. “I know’d there’d be a row if you did.”
“What!” cried Richard, “are you going to side with them?”
“No,” said Banks, quietly. “I never sides with the men again the master, and never did; but you would have your own way about taking off that ten per cent.”
“I’ll take off twenty now,” shrieked Richard, stamping about like an angry child. “I’ll have them punished for this outrage. I’m a magistrate, and I’ll punish them. I’ll have the dragoons over from Churley. It’s disgraceful, it’s a regular riot, and not one of those three wretched policemen to be seen.”
“I see one on ’em comin’,” growled Harry, grinning; “and he went back again.”
“Had you not better try a little persuasion with your workpeople?” said the vicar. “I am quite new here, but it seems to me better than force.”
“That’s what I tells him, sir,” exclaimed Banks, “only he will be so arbitrary.”
“Persuasion!” shrieked Richard, who, now that he was safe, was infuriated. “I’ll persuade them. I’ll starve some of them into submission. What’s that? What’s that? Is the gate barred?”
He ran towards the building, for at that moment there was a roar outside as if of menace, but immediately after some one shouted —
“Three cheers for Missus Glaire!”
They were given heartily, and then the gate bell was rung lustily.
“It’s the Missus,” said Banks, going towards the gates.
“Don’t open those gates. Stop!” shrieked Richard.
“But it’s the Missus come,” said Banks, and he peeped through a crack.
“Open the gates, open the gates,” cried a dozen voices.
“I don’t think you need fear now,” said the vicar; “the disturbance is over for the present.”
“Fear! I’m not afraid,” snarled Richard; “but I won’t have those scoundrels in here.”
“I’ll see as no one else comes in,” said Harry, getting up like a small edition of Goliath; and he stood on one side of the wicket gate, while Banks opened it and admitted Mrs Glaire, with Eve Pelly, who looked ghastly pale.
Several men tried to follow, but the gate was forced to by the united efforts of Harry and the foreman, when there arose a savage yell; but this was drowned by some one proposing once more “Three cheers for the Missus!” and they were given with the greatest gusto, while the next minute twenty heads appeared above the wall and gates, to which some of the rioters had climbed.
“Oh, Richard, my son, what have you been doing?” cried Mrs Glaire, taking his hand, while Eve Pelly went up and clung to his arm, gazing tremblingly in his bleeding face and at his disordered apparel.
“There, get away,” cried Richard, impatiently, shaking himself free. “What have I been doing? What have those scoundrels been doing, you mean?”
He applied his handkerchief to his bleeding mouth, looking at the white cambric again and again, as he saw that it was stained, and turning very pale and sick, so that he seated himself on a rough mould.
“Dick, dear Dick, are you much hurt?” whispered Eve, going to him again in spite of his repulse, and laying her pretty little hand on his shoulder.
“Hurt? Yes, horribly,” he cried, in a pettish way. “You see I am. Don’t touch me. Go for the doctor somebody.”
He looked round with a ghastly face, and it was evident that he was going to faint.
“Run, pray run for Mr Purley,” cried Mrs Glaire.
“I’ll go,” cried Eve, eagerly.
“I don’t think there is any necessity,” said the vicar, quietly. “Can you get some brandy, my man?” he continued, to Banks. “No, stay, I have my flask.”
He poured out some spirit into the cup, and Richard Glaire drank it at a draught, getting up directly after, and shaking his fist at the men on the wall.
“You cowards!” he cried. “I’ll be even with you for this.”
A yell from the wall, followed by another from the crowd, was the response, when Mr Selwood turned to Mrs Glaire.
“If you have any influence with him get him inside somewhere, or we shall have a fresh disturbance.”
“Yes, yes,” cried the anxious mother, catching her son’s arm. “Come into the counting-house, Dick. Go with him, Eve. Take him in, and I’ll speak to the men.”
“I’m not afraid of the brutal ruffians,” cried Richard, shrilly. “I’ll not go, I’ll – ”
Here there was a menacing shout from the wall, and a disposition shown by some of the men to leap down; a movement which had such an effect on Richard Glaire that he allowed his cousin to lead him into a building some twenty yards away, the vicar’s eyes following them as they went.
“I’ll speak to the men now,” said the little lady. “Banks, you may open the gates; they won’t hurt me.”
“Not they, ma’am,” said the sturdy foreman, looking with admiration at the self-contained little body, as, hastily wiping a tear or two from her eyes, she prepared to encounter the workmen.
Before the gates could be opened, however, an ambassador in the person of Eve Pelly arrived from Richard.
“Not open the gates, child?” exclaimed Mrs Glaire.
“No, aunt, dear, Richard says it would not be safe for you and me, now the men are so excited.”
For a few minutes Mrs Glaire forgot the deference she always rendered to “my son!” and, reading the message in its true light, she exclaimed angrily —
“Eve, child, go and tell my son that there are the strong lock and bolts on the door that his father had placed there after we were besieged by the workmen ten years ago, and he can lock himself in if he is afraid.”
The Reverend Murray Selwood, who heard all this, drew in his breath with a low hissing noise, as if he were in pain, on seeing the action taken by the fair bearer of Richard Glaire’s message.
“Aunt, dear,” she whispered, clinging to Mrs Glaire, “don’t send me back like that – it will hurt poor Dick’s feelings.”
“Go and say what you like, then, child,” cried Mrs Glaire, pettishly. “Yes, you are right, Eve: don’t say it.”
“And you will not open the gates, aunt, dear?”
“Are you afraid of the men, Eve?”
“I, aunt? Oh, no,” said the young girl, smiling. “They would not hurt me.”
“I should just like to see any one among ’em as would,” put in Harry, the big hammerman, giving his shirt sleeve a tighter roll, as if preparing to crush an opponent bent on injuring the little maiden. “We should make him sore, shouldn’t we, Tom Podmore, lad?”
“Oh, nobody wouldn’t hurt Miss Eve, nor the Missus here,” said Tom, gruffly. And then, in answer to a nod from Banks, the two workmen threw open the great gates, and the yard was filled with the crowd, headed by Sim Slee, who, however, hung back a little – a movement imitated by his followers on seeing that Mrs Glaire stepped forward to confront them.
“It’s all raight, lads,” roared Harry, in a voice of thunder. “Three cheers for Missus Glaire!”
The cheers were given lustily, in spite of Sim Slee, who, mounting on a pile of old metal, began to wave his hands in protestation.
“Stop, stop!” he cried; “it isn’t all raight yet. I want to know whether we are to have our rights as British wuckmen, and our just and righteous demands ’corded to us. What I want to know is – ”
“Stop a moment, Simeon Slee,” said Mrs Glaire, quickly; and a dead silence fell on the crowd, as her clear, sharp voice was heard. “When I was young, I was taught to look a home first. Now, tell me this – before you began to put matters straight for others, did you make things right at home?”
There was a laugh ran through the crowd at this; but shaken, not daunted, the orator exclaimed —
“Oh, come, that wean’t do for me, Mrs Glaire, ma’am – that’s begging of the question. What I want to know is – ”
“And what I want to know is,” cried Mrs Glaire, interrupting, “whether, before you came out here leading these men into mischief, you provided your poor wife with a dinner?”
“Hear, hear,” – “That’s a good one,” – “Come down, Sim,” – “The Missus is too much for ye!” were amongst the shouts that arose on all sides, mingled with roars of laughter; and Sim Slee’s defeat was completed by Harry, the big hammerman, who, incited thereto by Banks, shouted —
“Three more cheers for the Missus!” These were given, and three more, and three more after that, the workmen forgetting for the time being the object they had in view in the defeat of Simeon Slee, who, vainly trying to make himself heard from the hill of old metal, was finally pulled down and lost in the crowd, while now, in a trembling voice, Mrs Glaire said —
“My men, I can’t tell you how sorry I am to find you fighting against the people who supply you with the work by which you live.”
“Not again you, Missus,” cried half a dozen.
“Yes, against me and my son – the son of your old master,” said Mrs Glaire, gathering strength as she proceeded.
“You come back agen, and take the wucks, Missus,” roared Harry. “Things was all raight then.”
“Well said, Harry; well said,” cried Tom Podmore, bringing his hand down on the hammerman’s shoulder with a tremendous slap. “Well said. Hooray!”
There was a tremendous burst of cheering, and it was some little time before Mrs Glaire could again make herself heard.
“I cannot do that,” she said, “but I will talk matters over with my son, and you shall have fair play, if you will give us fair play in return.”
“That’s all very well,” cried a shrill voice; and Sim Slee and his red waistcoat were once more seen above the heads of the crowd, for, put out of the gates, he had managed to mount the wall; “but what we want to know, as an independent body of sittizens, is – ”
“Will some on yo’ get shoot of that chap, an’ let Missus speak,” cried Tom Podmore.
There was a bit of a rush, and Sim Slee disappeared suddenly, as if he had been pulled down by the legs.
“I don’t think I need say any more,” said Mrs Glaire, “only to ask you all to come quietly back to work, and I promise you, in my son’s name – ”
“No, no, in yours,” cried a dozen.
“Well,” said Mrs Glaire, “in my own and your dead master’s name – that you shall all have justice.”
“That’s all raight, Missus,” cried Harry. “Three more cheers for the Missus, lads!”
“Stop!” cried Mrs Glaire, waving her hands for silence. “Before we go, I think we should one and all thank our new friend here – our new clergyman, for putting a stop to a scene that you as well as I would have regretted to the end of our days.”
Mrs Glaire had got to the end of her powers here, for the mother stepped in as she conjured up the trampled, bleeding form of her only son; her face began to work, the tears streamed down her cheeks, and, trembling and sobbing, she laid both her hands in those of Mr Selwood, and turned away.
“Raight, Missus,” roared Harry, who had certainly partaken of more gills of ale than was good for him. “Raight, Missus. Parson hits harder nor any man I ever knowed. Look here, lads, here wur a blob. Three cheers for new parson!”
He pointed laughingly to his bruised forehead with one hand, while he waved the other in the air, with the result that a perfect thunder of cheers arose, during which the self-instituted, irrepressible advocate of workmen’s rights made another attempt to be heard; but his time had passed, the men were in another temper, and he was met with a cry raised by Tom Podmore.
“Put him oonder the poomp.” Simeon Slee turned and fled, the majority of the crowd after him, and the others slowly filtered away till the yard was empty.
“Take my arm, Mrs Glaire,” said the vicar, gently; and, the excitement past, the overstrung nerves slackened, and the woman reasserted itself, for the doting mother now realised all that had gone, and the risks encountered. Trembling and speechless, she suffered herself to be led into the counting-house, and placed in a chair.
“I – I shall be – better directly,” she panted.
“Better!” shrieked her son, who was pacing up and down the room; “better! Mother, it’s disgraceful; but I won’t give way a bit – not an inch. I’ll bring the scoundrels to reason. I’ll – ”
“Dick, dear Dick, don’t. See how ill poor aunt is,” whispered Eve.
“I don’t care,” said the young man, furiously. “I won’t have it. I’ll – ”
“Will you kindly get a glass of water for your mother, Mr Glaire?” said the vicar, as he half held up the trembling woman in her chair, and strove hard to keep the disgust he felt from showing in his face – “I am afraid she will faint.”
“Curse the water! No,” roared Richard. “I won’t have it – I – I say I won’t have it; and who the devil are you, that you should come poking your nose into our business! You’ll soon find that Dumford is not the place for a meddling parson to do as he likes.”
“Dick!” shrieked Eve; and she tried to lay a hand upon his lips.
“Hold your tongue, Eve! Am I master here, or not?” cried Richard Glaire. “I won’t have a parcel of women meddling in my affairs, nor any kind of old woman,” he continued, disdainfully glancing at the vicar.
There was a slight accession of colour in Murray Selwood’s face, but he paid no further heed to the young man’s words, while, with her face crimson with shame, Eve bent over her aunt, trying to restore her, for she was indeed half fainting; and the cold clammy dew stood upon her forehead.
“Here’s a mug o’ watter, sir,” said the rough, sturdy voice of Joe Banks, as he filled one from a shelf; and then he threw open a couple of windows to let the air blow in more freely.
“Don’t let anybody here think I’m a child,” continued Richard Glaire, who, the danger passed, was now white with passion; “and don’t let anybody here, mother or foreman, or stranger, think I’m a man to be played with.”
“There’s nobody thinks nothing at all, my lad,” said Joe Banks, sharply, “only that if the parson there hadn’t come on as he did, you’d have been a pretty figure by this time, one as would ha’ made your poor moother shoother again.”
“Hold your tongue, sir; how dare you speak to me like that!” roared Richard.
“How dare I speak to you like that, my lad?” said the foreman, smiling. “Well, because I’ve been like a sort of second father to you in the works, and if you’d listened to me, instead of being so arbitrary, there wouldn’t ha’ been this row.”
“You insolent – ”
“Oh yes, all raight, Master Richard, all raight,” said the foreman, bluffly.
“Dick, dear Dick,” whispered Eve, clinging to his arm; but he shook her off.
“Hold your tongue, will you!” he shrieked. “Look here, you Banks,” he cried, “if you dare to speak to me like that I’ll discharge you; I will, for an example.”
Banks laughed, and followed the raving man to the other end of the great counting-house to whisper:
“No you wean’t, lad, not you.”
Richard started, and turned of a sickly hue as he confronted the sturdy old foreman.
“Think I didn’t know you, my lad, eh?” he whispered; and driving his elbow at the same time into the young man’s chest, he puckered up his face, and gave him a knowing smile. “No, you wean’t start me, Richard Glaire, I know. But I say, my lad, don’t be so hard on the poor lass there, your cousin.”
“Will you hold your tongue?” gasped Richard. “They’ll hear you.”
“Well, what if they do?” said the sturdy old fellow. “Let ’em. There’s nowt to be ashamed on. But there, you’re popped now, and no wonder. Get you home with your moother.”
“But I can’t go through the streets.”
“Yes, you can; nobody ’ll say a word to you now. Get her home, lad; get her home.”
It was good advice, but Richard Glaire would not take it, and his mother gladly availed herself of the vicar’s arm.
“You’ll come home now, Richard,” said Mrs Glaire, feebly; and she looked uneasily from her son to the foreman, as she recalled their conversation in the garden, and felt unwilling to leave them alone together.
“I shall come home when the streets are safe,” said Richard, haughtily. “They are safe enough for you, but I’m not going to subject myself to another attack from a set of brute beasts.”
“I don’t think you have anything to fear now,” said the vicar, quietly.
“Who said I was afraid?” snarled Richard, facing sharply round, and paying no heed to the remonstrant looks of cousin and mother. “I should think I know Dumford better than you, and when to go and when to stay.”
The young men’s eyes met for a moment, and Richard Glaire’s shifty gaze sank before the calm, manly look of the man who had so bravely interposed in his behalf.