“Curse him! I hate him,” Richard said in his heart. “He’s brave and strong, and big and manly, and he does nothing but degrade me before Eve. I hate him – I hate him.”
“What a contemptible cad he is,” said Murray Selwood in his heart; “and yet he must have his good points, or that sweet girl would not love him as she evidently does. Poor girl, poor girl! But there: it is not fair to judge him now.”
“Of course, you must know best, Mr Glaire,” he said aloud, “for I am quite a stranger. I will see your mother and cousin safely home, and I hope next time we shall have a more pleasant meeting. You are put out now, and no wonder. Good-bye.”
He held out his hand with a frank, pleasant smile upon his countenance, and the two women and the foreman looked curiously on as Richard shrank away, and with a childish gesture thrust his hand behind him. But it was of no use, that firm, unblenching eye seemed to master him, the strong, brown muscular hand remained outstretched, and, in spite of himself, the young man felt drawn towards it, and fighting mentally against the influence the while, he ended by impatiently placing his own limp, damp fingers within it, and letting them lie there a moment before snatching them away.
Directly after, leaning on the vicar’s arm, and with Eve on her other side, Mrs Glaire was being led through the knots of people still hanging about the streets. There was no attempt at molestation, and once or twice a faint cheer rose; but Mr Selwood was fully aware of the amount of attention they drew from door and window, for the Dumford people were not at all bashful as to staring or remark.
At last the awkward steps were reached, and after supporting Mrs Glaire to a couch, the new vicar turned to go, followed to the door by Eve.
“Good-bye, and thank you – so much, Mr Selwood,” she said, pressing his hand warmly.
“I did not think we should meet again so soon. And, Mr Selwood – ”
She stopped short, looking up at him timidly.
“Yes,” he said, smiling. “Don’t be afraid to speak; we are not strangers now.”
“No, no; I know that,” she cried, eagerly. “I was only going to say – to say – don’t judge dear Richard harshly from what you saw this morning. He was excited and hurt.”
“Of course, of course,” said the vicar, pressing the little hand he held in both his. “How could any one judge a man harshly at such a time? Good-bye.”
“And with such a little ministering angel to intercede for him,” muttered the vicar, as the door closed. “Heigho! these things are a mystery, and it is as well that they should be, or I don’t know what would become of poor erring man.”
On reaching the vicarage, Murray Selwood found one of the rooms made bright and comfortable with the furniture that had been sent in, and the table spread ready for a composite meal, half breakfast, half dinner, with a dash in it of country tea.
Everything was scrupulously clean, and Mrs Slee was bustling about, not looking quite so wan and unsociable as when he saw her first.
“I’ve scratted a few things together,” she said, acidly, “and you must mak’ shift till I’ve had more time.
“Only bruised it a bit: knocked the skin off,” said Mr Selwood, smiling.
“Don’t tell me,” said Mrs Slee, sharply. “You’ve been faighting.”
“Well, I knocked a man down, if you call that fighting,” said the vicar, smiling, as he saw Mrs Slee hurriedly produce a basin, water, and a coarse brown, but very clean, towel, with which she proceeded to bathe his bleeding hand.
“Oh, it’s nothing,” he said, as he took out his pocket-book. “You’ll find scissors and some sticking-plaister in there.”
“I don’t want no sticking-plaister,” she said, taking a phial of some brown liquid from inside a common ornament. “This’ll cure it directly.”
“And what may this be?” said the vicar, smiling, as he saw his leech shake the bottle, and well soak a small piece of rag in the liquid.
“Rag Jack’s oil,” said Mrs Slee, pursing up her lips, and then anointing and tying up the injured hand. “It cures everything.”
The vicar nodded, not being without a little faith in homely country simples; and then the rag was neatly sewed on, and an old glove cut so as to cover the unsightly bandage.
“Did they upset you?” she then queried.
“Well, no,” he said; and he briefly related what had taken place. “By the way, I hope that gentleman in the red waistcoat is no relation of yours. Is he?”
“Is he?” retorted Mrs Slee, viciously dabbing down a dish of tempting bacon, with some golden eggs, beside the crisp brown loaf and yellow butter. “Is he, indeed! He’s my master.”
Mrs Slee hurried out of the room, but came back directly after.
“You’ve no spoons,” she said, sharply; and then making a dive through her thin, shabby dress, she searched for some time for a pocket-hole, and then plunging her arm in right to the shoulder, she brought out a packet tied in a bit of calico. This being undone displayed a paper, and within this another paper was set free. Carefully folded, and fitted into one another, within this were half a dozen very small-sized, old-fashioned silver teaspoons, blackened with tarnish.
“They are quite clean,” grumbled Mrs Slee, giving a couple of them a rub. “They were my grandmother’s, and she gave ’em to me when I was married – worse luck. I keep ’em there so as they shan’t be drunk. He did swallow the sugar-tongs.”
“Does your husband drink, then?” said Mr Selwood, quietly.
“Is there anything he don’t do as he oughtn’t since they turned him out of the plan?” said the woman, angrily. “There, don’t you talk to me about him; it makes me wild when I don’t want to be.”
She hurried out of the room again, shutting the door as loudly as she possibly could without it’s being called a bang; and then hunger drove everything else out of the young vicar’s mind, even the face of Eve Pelly, and – a minor consideration – his bruised hand.
“A queer set of people indeed,” he said, as he progressed with his hearty meal. “What capital bread, though. That butter’s delicious. Hah!” he ejaculated, helping himself to another egg and a pinky brown piece of bacon; “if there is any fault in those eggs they are too fresh. By Sampson, I must tell Mrs Slee to secure some more of this bacon.”
Ten minutes later he was playing with the last cup of tea, and indulging it with more than its normal proportions of sugar and milk, for the calm feeling of satisfaction which steals over a hearty man after a meal – a man who looks upon digestion as a dictionary word, nothing more – had set in, and Murray Selwood was thinking about his new position in life.
“Well, I suppose I shall get used to it – in time. There must be a few friends to be made. Hallo!”
The ejaculation was caused by some one noisily entering the adjoining room with —
“Now then, what hev you got to yeat?”
“Nowt.” was the reply.
The voices were both familiar, for in the first the vicar recognised that of the man in the red waistcoat – “My master,” as Mrs Slee called him.
“You’ve been cooking something,” he continued loudly.
“Yes. The parson’s come, and it’s his brakfast.”
“Brakfast at this time o’ day! Oh, then, it’s him as I see up at foundry wi’ them Glaires.”
“Don’t talk so loud, or he’ll hear you,” said Mrs Slee, sharply.
“Let him. Let him hear me, and let him know that there’s a free, enlightened Englishman beneath the same roof. Let him know that there’s one here breathing the free – free light – breath of heaven here. A man too humble to call himself a paytriot, but who feels like one, and moans over the sufferings of his down-trampled brothers.”
“I tell you he’ll hear you directly, and we shall have to go.”
“Let him hear me,” shouted Simeon, “and let him drive us out – drive us into the free air of heaven. It’ll only be a new specimint of the bloated priesthood trampling down and gloating over the sufferings of the poor. Who’s he – a coming down here with his cassicks and gowns to read and riot on his five hundred a year in a house like this, when the hard-working body of brothers on the local plan can preach wi’out having it written down, and wi’out cassicks and gowns, and get nothing for it but glory! Let him hear me.”
“Thou fulsome! hold thy stupid tongue,” cried Mrs Slee.
“Never!” exclaimed Simeon, who counted this his opportunity after being baffled in the forenoon. “I’ll be trampled on no more by any bloated oligarch of a priest or master. I’ve been slave too – too long. I’m starving now, but what then? I can be a martyr to a holy cause – the ’oly cause of freedom. Let him riot in his food and raiment – let him turn us out, and some day – some day – I say some day – ”
Mr Slee paused in his oratory, for his wife had clapped her hand over his mouth; but just then the door opened, and the vicar stood in the opening.
Mrs Slee dropped her hand, while Simeon thrust his right into his breast, orator fashion, and faced the new-comer with inborn dignity.
“How do, Mr Slee,” said the vicar, quietly. “We met before this morning. I merely came to say that I cannot help hearing every word that is spoken in this room.”
“The words that I said – ” began Simeon.
“And,” continued the vicar, “I have quite done, if you will clear away, Mrs Slee. I am going to see about a few more necessaries for the place, and to look out for a gardener, unless your husband likes the job.”
“Garden!” said Simeon; “I dig!”
“I often do,” said the vicar, coolly. “It’s very healthy work. Famous for the appetite. By the way, Mr Slee, I heard you say you were hungry. Mrs Slee, pray don’t save anything on the table; you are quite welcome.”
He walked out of the place, and Mrs Slee, who, poor woman, looked ravenously hungry, hastened to spread their own table.
“That for you,” said Simeon, snapping his fingers after the retreating form. “I care that for you – a bloated priest. Of course, we’re to eat his husks – a swine – his leavings. No; I’ll rather starve than be treated so.”
“Howd thy silly tongue, thou fulsome!” exclaimed Mrs Slee, “and thank the Lord there is something sent for thee. You talk like that! Oh, Sim, Sim, if ever there was a shack, it’s thou.”
“Mebbe I am, mebbe I’m not,” said Sim, as he looked curiously on, while his wife filled up the steaming teapot, put the half dish of bacon down to warm, and then proceeded to cut some thick slices of bread and butter.
Sim turned his eyes away and tried to look out of the window, but those thick slices, with the holes well filled with butter, were magnetic, and drew his eyes back again.
“I tell ye what, woman,” he began, wrenching his eyes away, “that the day is coming when the British wuckman will tear himself from under the despot’s heel.”
“There, do hold thee clat, and – there, yeat that.”
Mrs Slee thrust a great slice of the tempting bread and butter into her husband’s hand, and his fingers clutched it fiercely.
“Yeat that – yeat that?” he cried. “Yeat the bread of a brutal, Church – established tyrant? Yeat the husks of his leavings? Never! I’d sooner – sooner – sooner – sooner – Yah!”
Mr Simeon Slee’s words came more and more slowly, as he prepared to dash the bread and butter down; but as his eyes rested upon the slice, he hesitated, and as he hesitated he fell, for the temptation was too great for the hungry hero. He uttered a kind of snarling ejaculation, and then treating the bread as if it were an enemy, he bit out of it a great semicircle, while throwing himself into a chair, he sat and ate slice after slice with bacon, in silence, washing all down with cups of tea.
Mr Slee stirred his tea with a fork-handle, for it was noticeable that the silver teaspoons had disappeared – a line of procedure adopted by Sim as soon as his hunger was appeased, for he had certain meetings of his brotherhood to attend, so he told his wife; and he did not return till late, his coming being announced by sundry stumbles in the passage, and a peculiar thickness of utterance, due doubtless to the exhaustion consequent upon many patriotic utterances at the hostelry known as the Bull for short – the Bull and Cucumber in fact.
Seekers for derivations of signs had puzzled themselves a good deal over the connection between a bull and that familiar gourd of the cucurbitaceae known as a cucumber. It is perhaps needless to add that the learned were baffled, but the incongruity was never noticed by the people of Dumford, and as their pronunciation of the sign was the Bull and Cow-cumber, the connection did not sound at all out of place.
Mr Selwood heard Sim return, and lay for some time listening to his patriotic utterances – fragments, in fact, of the speech he had delivered at the meeting – and it became very evident to the new occupant of the vicarage that life with Mr Simeon Slee beneath his roof would not be very pleasant.
“I don’t like the idea of turning out the poor woman, either,” he said to himself, as he lay turning from side to side, courting the rest that would not come.
“I’ve been a bit excited to-day, I suppose,” he muttered; and then he tried all the known recipes short of drugs for obtaining rest, from saying a speech backwards to getting out of bed and brushing his hair.
But sleep would not come till close upon morning, for that face before him was the sweet appealing face of Eve Pelly, and in the stillness of the night he seemed to be hearing her words again and again – “Don’t judge dear Richard harshly from what you saw this morning.”
“Dear Richard, dear Richard, dear Richard” – he found himself repeating over and over again. “And she loves him, and believes in him. He is everything to her, and if she found out that he was a scoundrel it would break her heart.”
“And set her free,” something in the corner of his own seemed to whisper; and he started, and sat up in bed with the perspiration standing on his brow.
“Am I sane? Am I in my right senses?” he said, feeling his pulse and counting its beats. “I must be a little out of tone. Humph! I’ll have such a walk to-morrow! Bah! it’s the excitement of coming down here, and it has been rather a lively day.”
He punched and turned his pillow fiercely, threw himself down, and closed his eyes once more, shutting out the dimly-seen lattice window, with its fringe of ivy leaves; but as he did so there was Eve Pelly’s face again, and that gentle look which accompanied the appealing curve of her lips, as she said, “Don’t judge dear Richard harshly.”
The would-be sleeper started up in bed again, and sat there feeling hot and feverish for some time.
“Look here, Murray, dear boy,” he said at last. “You are down here for a great purpose. You have here in your charge some four thousand souls to teach and tend, and help on in life’s course. Don’t fidget, my boy. I’m not going to preach, only to say a few words to the point. Now, look here: You are the spiritual head of the parish; you have your Master’s work to do. In short, you are a teacher. Now mind this, a teacher who cannot govern himself is a broken reed. Are you a broken reed?” This was all said in a low voice, and then for a few moments there was silence in the room, to be broken by the young man saying in a somewhat louder voice in answer to his own words: “I hope not.”
“Good,” he continued, in the former tone. “I like that: it sounds humble and hopeful. Now look here, you will see a great deal of what goes on in this place. In fact, you have seen a good deal already, and you have learned what is the state of affairs with one of the principal families. You have heard that Richard Glaire is engaged to his cousin; that the said cousin loves him; and that this weak young man is playing fast and loose.”
“Good. Well, your duty is plain; the young fellow doubtless has his good points. Make him your friend, and improve them – for her sake – gain an influence over him. You can, and you will, Murray Selwood. Yours may be a hard duty, but you must do it.”
“Yes, verily, and by God’s help so I will.”
“Good. Now you may go to sleep.”
After this he lay down, and by a strange exercise of will, and in the belief that he was going to conquer a feeling absolutely new to him, he fell asleep directly.
But it was no peaceful rest such as generally came to his pillow, for he lay tossing in dreams of Eve Pelly turning to him constantly for help from some great trouble that was ever pursuing her – a danger that he could not avert. Then Richard Glaire had him by the throat, charging him with robbing him of his love; and then he was engaged in a mad struggle with the young man, holding him over a gulf to hurl him in, incited thereto by the young workman.
Then once more Eve Pelly’s appealing face was before him, praying him to spare dear Richard, the man she loved, and then —
“Thank God, it’s morning!” he exclaimed, waking with a start, to consult his watch, and finding it was half-past six.
Banks, the foreman, stayed late at the foundry on the night of the disturbance. His master remained in the counting-house smoking cigars till he was very white and ill, feelings which he attributed to the assault made upon him that day – a very sudden one by the way, and one which had arisen, as has been intimated, on account of a rather unfair reduction that had been made in the rate of pay.
But this was not all, for the fact was, that after being left to go on in its quiet, old-fashioned way for years, probably from its insignificance, Dumford had suddenly been leavened by Sim Slee with a peculiar version of his own of the trades-union doctrines of some of the larger towns – doctrines which he had altered to suit his own ends.
Hence arose a society which was the pride of Sim Slee, and known amongst the workmen as the Brotherhood. Meetings were held regularly, speeches made, and Simeon Slee, who heretofore had confined himself to idleness, drink, and local preaching, till expelled as a disgrace to the plan, became a shining light in the brotherhood, on account of what the more quiet workmen called his power of putting things, though the greater part held aloof, from the contempt in which this leader was held.
In previous days, with one or two exceptions, the word of the master of the works had been law, and wages were raised or lowered as trade flourished or fell, with nothing more than a few murmurs; but now times were altered, men had begun to think for themselves, and the behaviour of Richard Glaire had grown so arbitrary and unjust that the consequence was the riot we have seen.
Richard Glaire was about as unsuitable a person as it is possible to imagine to have such a responsibility as the management of a couple of hundred men; but he did not believe this, and he sat, after the departure of his mother, nursing his wrongs, and making plans for the punishment of his workmen.
At one time he was for having the assistance of the military, but as he cooled down he was obliged to acknowledge that his request would be ridiculed.
Then he determined on getting summonses against about twenty of the ringleaders, whom he meant to discharge.
Once he called Banks, and asked him what it would be best to do.
“Put the wage right again,” said the foreman.
Whereupon Richard Glaire turned upon him in a burst of childish passion, and declared that he was in league with the scoundrels who had assaulted him.
“There, I shall go till you’ve had time to cool down,” said Banks, grimly. “Your metal’s hot, Master Richard, and it wean’t be raight again till you’ve had a night’s rest.”
Richard made no reply, but sat biting his lips and making plans till dusk, when he cautiously stole out of the building by a side door, of which he alone had the key.
Banks stayed on for another couple of hours, plodding about the building, examining doors, the extinct forges and furnaces, looking at the bands of the huge lathes, and displaying a curious kind of energy, as by means of a small bull’s-eye lantern he peered in and out of all sorts of out-of-the-way places.
“There’s no knowing what games Master Sim might try on,” he remarked to himself; “blowings up and cutting bands, and putting powther in the furnace holes; he’s shack enew for ought, and I dessay some on ’em will be stupid enough to side wi’ him. What’s that?”
He stopped and listened, for it seemed to him that he had heard a noise below him in the ground floor.
The sound was not repeated, so he went on cautiously through the great black workshop, with its weird assemblage of shafts, cranks, and bands, looking, in the fitful gleams cast by the lantern, like a torture-chamber in the fabled Pandemonium.
A stranger would have tripped and fallen a dozen times over the metal-cumbered floor; but every inch and every piece of machinery was so familiar to the foreman that he could have gone about the place blindfold, even as he did once or twice in the dark when he closed his bull’s-eye lantern, thinking he heard a noise.
All seemed right in this workshop, so he descended to the foundry, going over it and amongst the furnaces, now growing cold.