Then he threaded his way amongst the sunken moulds for castings; looked up at the cranes, paused before the massive crucibles used for melting bell-metal or ingots for the great steel bells, and ended by stopping again to listen.
“I’ll sweer I heerd a noise,” he muttered, taking a short constable’s staff from his pocket, and twisting its stout leather thong round his wrist. “It will be strange and awkward for somebody if I find him playing any of his tricks here.”
He went cautiously on tip-toe in the direction from which the noise had seemed to come, going up a short ladder to a raised portion of the foundry, which formed an open floor where lighter work was done.
He advanced very cautiously in the dark, holding his staff ready to deliver a blow, or guard his head, and the next minute there was the sound of some tool being moved on a bench, and then something alighted at his feet, setting up a soft purring and beginning to rub up against his legs.
“Why, Tommy,” he said, “you scar’d me, my boy. It was you, was it? After rats, eh, Tommy? Poor old puss, then.”
He turned on his lantern, took a good look round, and then, apparently satisfied, he pulled out an old-fashioned silver watch and consulted its face.
“Eight o’clock, eh? Why, they’ll think at home that I’m lost.”
As he spoke he made his light play round for a few minutes, and then, apparently satisfied, he put it out, placed the lamp on a shelf, and went out and across the yard to the kind of lodge, where a man was waiting to take the duty of the watchman for the night.
“All raight, Mester Banks?”
“All right, Rolf,” was the reply. “I’ve been all round.”
Directly after the old foreman was on his way homeward, but he had hardly taken a dozen strides down the lane under the wall, before the head of Simeon Slee was cautiously raised above the edge of one of the great crucibles, or melting-pots, and then for a time he remained motionless.
“You’re a clever one, Joe Banks, you are,” he said at last, as he raised himself up and sat on the edge of the great pot. “You can find out everything, yow can; you can trample on the raights of the British wucking-man, and get the independent spirits discharged, eh? But you’re one of the ungodly bitter ones, and you must be smitten wherever you can. Let’s see how the wuck ’ll go on to-morrow.”
The speaker threw his legs over the side, and then paused to dust his trousers and his coat before proceeding further.
“It’s hot lying in hiding there,” he muttered, pulling off his coat and rolling up his sleeves. “I have to toil and moil like a slave for the cause.”
His next proceeding was to open a great clasp knife and try its edge, which was keen as that of a razor; and then, armed with this, and quite as much at home in the works as the foreman, he went about with lithe steps as cautious as a cat, and, cutting through the bands that connected the wheels of the lathes with the great shaft that set them in motion, he dragged them down and piled them together till he had collected a goodly heap.
This was not accomplished all at once, and with ease, for, setting aside the watchfulness with which the task had to be done, and the care to ensure silence, the bands were heavy, hard to cut, and they had to be borne some distance.
“Phew! it’s hot,” he muttered in one of his pauses, during which he ran to the nearest door, and listened. “What a slave I am to the cause.”
Then he chuckled and laughed over the mischief he had done, and ended by laboriously dragging all the great leather bands and straps to the uncovered hole of a furnace, down which he dropped them, so that they fell far back from the mouth below, which opened on the stoke-hole; and he knew that the chances were ten to one that if the present heat did not destroy them, a fire would be lit by the careless stokers, and the bands consumed before they were missed, as, if business were resumed on the following day, the firemen would be there long before the ordinary workers.
“Theer,” said Sim, when he had finished, “I wonder what Joe Banks would say now if he knew o’ this?”
He resumed his coat, out of the pocket of which he took a piece of strong line, some fifteen feet long, and walked cautiously, listening the while, towards one of the windows which looked down on the lane, one side of which was formed by the works and the wall of the yard, and from which the little door before mentioned gave access to the proprietor’s private room in the counting-house.
Sim Slee had entered by this window, being a light, active man, and he was about to descend from it, and make his escape by hitching the strong light steel hook attached to the end of his rope to the sill, just as he had entered by throwing it up till it caught, it being so constructed that a sharp wave sent along the slackened rope would set it free. But before descending Sim stood, rope in hand, listening, watched by the cat at a respectable distance, that sage black animal being evidently impressed with the fact that the intruder in the works was wonderfully rat-like in his actions.
Tommy did not approach him, nor yet purr, but crouched there watching while Sim stood with one ear close to the window, then sharply turned his head and thrust it out into the night air, drew it back again as sharply, and then cautiously thrust it out once more, so that unseen he could see and listen to what went on below.
For there were two figures just below the opening, and as Sim listened, holding his breath, one of them exclaimed:
“I won’t, I won’t, Mr Richard, and you’ve no business to ask me.”
“Mr. Richard,” said the other, reproachfully; “I thought it was to be Dick – your own Dick.”
“Oh, don’t – don’t – don’t talk like that,” sobbed the other. “Oh, I wish I really, really knew whether you meant it all.”
“Meant it all, Daisy! how can you be so cruel, when you know how dearly I love you? But come into the counting-house, and we can sit there and talk.”
“I can’t – I won’t!” said Daisy; “and you know you oughtn’t to ask me, Mr Richard. What would father say if he were to hear of it?”
“Father would only be too pleased,” whispered the young man, “for he believes in me, if you don’t, Daisy. He’d like you to be my own beautiful darling little wife, that I should make a lady.”
“But, do you really, really mean it, Mr Richard?” said Daisy, with a hysterical sob.
“‘Really mean it! Mr Richard!’” said the young fellow, reproachfully. “Oh, Daisy, have you so mean an opinion of me? Do you take me for a contemptible liar?”
“Oh no, no, no,” sobbed the girl; “but they say – I always thought – I believed that you were engaged to Miss Eve.”
“A poor puny thing,” said Richard, in a contemptuous tone; “and besides, she’s my cousin.”
“But she thinks you love her,” said Daisy.
“Poor thing!” laughed Richard.
“And I believe you love her.”
“Indeed I don’t, nor anybody else but you, you beautiful little rosebud. Oh, Daisy, Daisy, how can you be so cruel!”
“I’m not, I’m not cruel,” sobbed poor Daisy; “but I want to do what’s right.”
“Of course,” whispered Richard. “But come along, let’s go in the counting-house – to my room – it’s safer there.”
“I won’t, I won’t,” cried Daisy, indignantly. “At such a time of night, too! You oughtn’t to ask me.”
“I only asked you for your own sake,” said Richard, “because people might talk if they saw you with me here.”
“Oh yes,” sobbed Daisy; “and they would. I must go.”
“Stop a moment,” said Richard, catching her wrist. “Perhaps, too, it was a little for my own sake, because the men are so furious against me.”
“Oh yes, I heard,” cried Daisy, with her voice shaking; “but they did not hurt you to-day?”
“Not hurt me!” said Richard. “Why, they nearly killed me.”
“No, no,” sobbed Daisy.
“But they did; and they would if I hadn’t been rescued.”
Daisy suppressed a hysterical cry, and Richard passed his arm round her little waist, and drew her to him.
“Then you do love me a little, Daisy?” he whispered.
“No, no, I don’t think I do,” sobbed the girl, without, however, trying to get away. “I believe you were going to meet Miss Eve this morning, and were disappointed because I was there.”
“Indeed I was not,” said Richard. “But I’m sure you were expecting to see that great hulking hound, Tom Podmore.”
“That I was not,” cried Daisy, impetuously; “and I won’t have you speak like that of poor Tom, for I’ve behaved very badly to him, and he’s a good – good, worthy fellow.”
“‘Poor Tom!’” said Richard, with a sigh. “Ah, Daisy, Daisy.”
“Don’t, Mr Richard, please,” sobbed Daisy, who was crying bitterly.
“‘Poor Tom – Mr Richard,’” said the young man, as if speaking to himself.
“Don’t, don’t, Mr Richard, please.”
“Well, Dick, then. But there, I must go now.”
“Not just now, darling Daisy,” whispered Richard, passionately. “Come with me – here we are close by the door.”
“No, no, indeed I will not,” cried Daisy, firmly.
“Not when I tell you it isn’t safe for me to be in the streets at night, for fear some ruffian should knock out my brains?”
“Oh, Dick, dear Dick, don’t say so.”
“But I’m obliged to,” he said, trying to draw her along, but she still resisted.
“I wouldn’t have you hurt for the world,” she sobbed; “but, Richard – Dick, do you really, really love me as much as you have said?”
“Ten thousand times more, my darling, or I shouldn’t have been running horrible risks to-night to keep my appointment with you.”
“And you – you want to make me your wife, Richard – to share everything with you?”
“You know I do, darling,” he cried, in a low, hoarse whisper.
“Then, Dick, dear, it wouldn’t be proper respect to your future wife to take me there to your works at this time of night,” said the girl, simply, as she clung to him.
“Not when the streets are unsafe?” he cried.
“Let’s part now, directly,” said Daisy. “I would sooner die than any one should hurt you, Richard; but you’d never respect your wife if she had no respect for herself. Good night, Richard.”
“There, I was right,” he cried, petulantly, as he snatched himself away. “You do still care for Tom.”
“No, no, Dick, dear Dick. I don’t a bit,” sobbed the girl. “Don’t, pray don’t, speak to me like that.”
“Then will you come with me – only because it isn’t safe here?” whispered Richard.
“No, no,” sobbed the girl, firmly, “I can’t do that, and if you loved me as you said, you wouldn’t ask me.”
“Bah!” ejaculated Richard, angrily. “Go to your dirty, grimy lout of a lover then;” and as the girl clung to him he thrust her rudely away.
Sim Slee, more rat-like than ever, had been rubbing his hands together with delight, as he looked down at the dimly-seen figures, and overheard every word.
“There’ll be a faight, and Dicky Glaire will be bunched about strangely,” muttered Sim, as Daisy gave a faint scream, for a figure strode out of the darkness.
“She wouldn’t have far to go,” said the figure, hoarsely.
“Tom!” cried Daisy, shrinking to the wall.
“Yes, it’s Tom, sure enew,” said the new-comer. “Daisy Banks, it’s time thou wast at home, and I’m goin’ to see thee theer.”
“How dare you interfere, you insolent scoundrel!” cried Richard, striding forward; but he stopped short as Tom drew himself up.
“Look ye here, Richard Glaire – Mester Richard Glaire,” said Tom, hoarsely, “I’m goin’ to tak’ Daisy Banks home to her father wi’out touching of you; but if yow try to stop me, I’ll finish the job as I stopped them lads from doing this morning. Now go home while you’re raight, for it wean’t be safe to come a step nigher.”
Richard Glaire drew back, while the young fellow took Daisy by the wrist, and drew her arm through his own, striding off directly, but stopping as Richard cried:
“You cowardly eavesdropper; you heard every word.”
“Just about,” said Tom, coolly; “I come to tak’ care o’ Daisy here; and if she’d said ‘Yes,’ by the time yow’d got the key of your private door theer, I should ha’ knocked thee down and had my foot o’ thee handsome face, Mester.”
He strode off, Daisy having hard work to keep up with him, sobbing the while, till they were near her home, when she made an effort to cease crying, wiped her eyes, and broke the silence.
“Did – did you hear what I said, Tom?” she whispered.
“Ivery word, lass, but I only recollect one thing.”
“What was that?”
“That thou did’st not love me a bit.”
Daisy gave a sob.
“You mustn’t mind, Tom,” she said, in a low voice, “for I’m a bad, wretched girl.”
“I should spoil the face of any man who said so to me,” he said, passionately; and then he relapsed into his quiet, moody manner.
“There’s plenty of better girls than me, Tom, will be glad to love you,” she said.
“Yes,” he said, softly, “plenty;” and then with a simple pathos he continued bitterly, “and I’ve got plenty more hearts to give i’ place o’ the one as you’ve ’bout broke.”
Daisy’s breath came with a catch, and they went on in silence for a time – a silence that the girl herself broke.
“Tom,” she said, hoarsely, and he gave quite a start. “Tom, are you going to tell mother and father what you’ve heard and seen?”
“No, lass,” he said, sadly, “I’m not o’ that sort. I came to try and take care o’ thee, not as I’ve any call to now. Thou must go thy own gate, for wi’ such as thou fathers and mothers can do nowt. If Dick Glaire marries thee, I hope thou’lt be happy. If he deceives thee – ”
“What, Tom?” whispered the girl, in an awe-stricken tone, for her companion was silent.
“I shall murder him, and be hung out of my misery,” said Tom. “There’s your door, lass. Go in.”
He waited till the door closed upon her, and then strode off into the darkness.
Meanwhile Sim Slee leaned cautiously from the window watching Richard, who stood now just beneath him, grinding his teeth with impotent rage as he saw Daisy disappear.
“Why didn’t that fool smash the lungeing villain!” said Slee to himself; and then he leaned a little further out.
“I’d like to drop one of these ingots on his head, only it would be mean – Yah! go on, you tyrant and oppressor and robber of the poor, and – oh, my! what a lark!” he said, drawing in his head as Richard Glaire disappeared, when he threw himself on the floor, hugging himself and rolling about in ecstasy, while the cat on a neighbouring lathe set up its back, swelled its tail, and stared at him with dilated eyes.
“Here’s a lark!” said Sim again. “Why, we shall get owd Joe Banks over to our side. Oh yes, of course he sides with the mesters, he does. He hates trades unions, he does. He says my brotherhood’s humbug, and he’s too true to his master to side wi’ such as me. Ho, ho, ho! I shall hev’ you, Joe Banks, and you’ll bring the rest. I shall hev’ you; and if you ain’t enrolled at the Bull before a month’s out, my name ain’t Simeon Slee.”
“Let me see,” said Sim, sitting up sedately and brushing the dirt from his coat, “I’ve to speak at Churley o’ Tuesday. I’ll let ’em have it about suthing as ’ll fit exact to the case. An’ it’s a wonderful power is speech. Hey! that it is.”
He looked out and listened for a few minutes, and then, all being apparently clear, he placed his knee on the window-sill, slid down the rope, gave it a jerk which set the hook free, caught it nimbly, and rolling the line up, went on preening and brushing himself still like a rat till he reached the Bull and Cucumber, where he was received by the party assembled with a good deal of pot-rattling on the table.
It fell to him, as has been intimated, to make a speech or two that night, for the affairs of the day were largely discussed; and in the course of his delivery he named no names, he said, leastwise he did not say it weer, nor he didn’t say it weern’t Joe Banks, foreman at the foundry, but what he did say was that there was more unlikely things on the cards than for a certain person to jine their ranks, and become one of a brotherhood of which every man there was proud.
“Well, I don’t know so much about that, Sim Slee,” said one of the men. “This here don’t seem like the societies that we hear on.”
“What do you mean?” said Sim.
“Mean! Why, as instead of our being joined sensible like to get what’s reasonable fro’ the master, we comes here to hear thee spout.”
“That’s your ignorance, Peter Thorndike,” said Sim. “Yow’d like to be head man pr’haps, and tak’ the lead.”
“Nay,” said the man, “I want to tak’ no leads, for I can’t talk like thee; but I want what’s sensible and raight for both sides, and I don’t see as we’re agoing to get it by calling ourselves brothers, and takking oaths, and listening to so much o’ thy blather.”
“Peter Thorndike,” said Sim, folding his arms like an image of Napoleon at St. Helena, “thou’rt only a child yet, and hast much to learn. Don’t I tell thee as afore long Joe Banks ’ll be over on our side, and a great time coming for Dicky Glaire?”
“Yes, you telled me,” growled the man, “but I don’t know as I believe it. I wants what’s fair, and that’s what we all wants, eh, lads?”
“Yes, yes,” chorused the others. “Then you shall have it,” said Sim, raising one hand to speak.
“I’ words,” said Thorndike, “and they don’t make owt to yeat. Sim Slee, your brotherhood’s all a sham.”
Tea had been waiting for some time at the house before Richard Glaire made his appearance – for he had of late insisted upon oversetting the old-fashioned homely customs of his boyhood, and dined late.
The drawing-room looked pleasant, for it was well lighted; the tea-service was bright and handsome: and Eve’s hand was visible in many places about the room, where flowers were prettily arranged in vases; in the handsomely-worked cosy which covered the teapot; and in the various pieces of needlework that had grown from her leisure time.
Mrs Glaire, still somewhat upset by the excitement of the day, was lying on a couch, with her face screened from the lamp, whose soft light fell upon Eve as she sat trying to read, but with her thoughts wandering far away. In fact, from time to time she glanced towards the window, and at every sound a bright look of pleasure took that of the anxiety depicted upon her sweet young face.
Then the animation would die out, and she sat apparently listening.
A sigh from the couch aroused her; and, crossing the room, she bent down to tenderly stroke the grey curls back from Mrs Glaire’s forehead before kissing her.
“Poor aunty,” she cooed; “she does want her tea so badly. Let me give you one – just one little cup.”
“No, Eve,” said Mrs Glaire; “I’ll wait till Richard comes.”
“Where can he be?” said Eve, anxiously. “How late he is.” Then seeing how her words had impressed her aunt, she hastened to add: “Don’t fidget, aunt dear; he’s only stopping to have a cigar. He’ll soon be here.”
“Eve, my child,” said Mrs Glaire, who had been brooding over a trouble other than that which had disturbed her during the day, “bring a stool and sit down by me.”
Eve hastened to obey, and, drawing the young girl’s head down to her breast, Mrs Glaire went on:
“My child, you must not think me strange; but I want to talk to you – about Richard.”
“Yes, aunt,” said Eve, whose voice suddenly turned husky, as her heart began to accelerate its motion.
“You love Dick, Eve?”
“Oh, aunt dear, yes,” faltered the girl, with tears rising to her eyes.
“Of course you do, child. No girl could help loving my son.”
“Oh no, aunt.”
“I always meant him to marry you here, my dear; for it would be best for both of you. You have always looked upon him as to be your husband.”
“Yes, aunt dear, always.”
“Yes, and it will be best for you both,” said Mrs Glaire, repeating herself, as if she found some difficulty in what she had to say.
There was silence then for a few minutes, during which the tea-urn went on humming softly, and both women listened for the truant’s footsteps, but he did not come.
“Richard is quite a man now,” said Mrs Glaire, after clearing her throat. “Yes, aunt dear, quite.”
“Does he – does he ever talk much to you about – about love?”
“Oh no, aunt dear,” said Eve, in a surprised tone. “But he is always very, very kind to me, and of course he does love me very much. He would never think of talking about it, aunt dear; he shows it.”
“Yes, yes, of course,” said Mrs Glaire.
“But – but – does he ever talk to you about – being married?”
“Married, aunt? Oh no!”
“He ought to,” said Mrs Glaire, with a sigh. “Eve, my child, I think it would be better for you both if you were married.”
“Do you, aunt; why?” said Eve, na?vely.
“It would be better for me too,” said Mrs Glaire, evading the question.
“Would it, aunt?” said Eve, looking at her for a moment, and then hanging her head as if in deep thought.
“Yes, my dear, I should feel happier – I should feel that Richard was settled. That he had a good, true, dutiful wife, who would watch over him and guide him when I am gone.”
“Oh, aunty, aunty, aunty,” cried the girl, turning and twining her arms round her neck to kiss her tenderly, “you are low-spirited and upset with that terrible trouble to-day. You must not talk like that. Why, you look so young and bright and happy sometimes, that it’s nonsense for you to say dear Dick wants some one to look after him. Of course we shall be married some day – when Dick likes; but we never think of such a thing – at least, I’m sure I don’t.”