The Parson O' Dumford
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He took the tool and dug for a few minutes lustily, stooping down after each newly-turned spadeful to pick up and remove the long, white trailing roots that matted it together, horrifying Jacky, who took off his hat and wiped his dewy forehead, for it made him perspire freely to see such reckless use of muscular power.
“Thanky, sir; yes, I see,” said Jacky, taking the spade again with a sigh, and fervently wishing that he had not undertaken the job. “Hallo! here’s the Missus.”
He paused, and rested his foot on the spade, as just then Mrs Glaire, driving a little four-wheel chaise, drawn by an extremely chubby pony, like a heavy cart-horse cut down, drew up by the vicarage gate.
The little lady was greatly agitated, though she strove hard to keep an equable look upon her countenance, returning the vicar’s salute quietly, as he walked down to the gate; whilst such an opportunity of a respite from the spade not being one to be neglected, Jacky Budd stuck that implement firmly amongst the weeds, and followed closely.
“Shall I hold Prinkle, mum?” he said, going to the pony’s head.
“Yes – no, Jacky, I’m not going to stay,” said Mrs Glaire. “Are you at work here, then?”
“Mind he does work, then, Mr Selwood,” she continued; “and don’t let him have any beer, for he’s a terribly lazy fellow.”
Jacky looked appealingly at his mistress, then smiled, and looked at the vicar, as much as to say, “You hear her – she will have her joke.”
“Is anything the matter?” said the vicar, earnestly.
“Well, yes; not much, Mr Selwood: but I am getting old and nervous, and I thought I would ask you to come up. You seemed to have so much influence with the men.”
“Certainly I’ll come up, if I can be of any use.”
“Pray get in then,” said Mrs Glaire, and the springs of the little vehicle went down as the vicar stepped in, while, during the minute or two that ensued, as Mrs Glaire drove up to the foundry, she told him that the works had not been opened till mid-day, when it had been agreed upon by her son – at her wish – that he would receive some of the workmen at the counting-house, and try to make some arrangement about terms.
“I went to the works, too,” she said, “not to interfere, but to try and be ready to heal any breach that might arise. Of course I called in as if by accident, as I was going for a drive.”
“And has anything occurred?” said the vicar.
“No; but I was afraid, for Richard is very impetuous, and I thought as – as you saw what you did yesterday – ”
“My dear Mrs Glaire, pray always look upon me as an old friend, who has your welfare and that of the people thoroughly at heart. Oh, here we are.”
His remarks were cut short by the pony turning sharply in at the great gates, as if quite accustomed to the place, and as the men, who were pretty thick in the yard, made way, some of them roughly saluting the occupants of the chaise, the pony stopped of its own accord in front of the counting-house.
The vicar sprang out and helped Mrs Glaire to alight, following her into the building, where Richard was sitting, looking very sulky, at the head of a table, and about a dozen of the men were present, Simeon Slee being in the front rank.
“It’s going agen my advice, Mester Richard Glaire,” he was saying.“If the men did as I advise, they’d stand out, but I’m not the man to stand in the way of a peaceable settlement, and as you’ve come to your senses, why I agree.”
“I didn’t agree for you to come to the works, Slee,” said Richard, sharply.
“Yes, yes, yes,” chorused half-a-dozen voices; “all or none, Maister. All or none.”
“I can stand out,” said Sim, loftily. “I can afford to be made a martyr and a scapegoat, and bear the burthen. I don’t want to come back to work.”
“And I don’t want and don’t mean to have you,” said Richard, hotly. “I sent to you all this morning, forgiving the brutal treatment I met with yesterday – ”
“Your own fault,” said a voice. “Howd thee tongue, theer,” said one of the men, who seemed to take a leading part. “Bygones is bygones. You sent for us, Maister Richard, and we’ve come. You says, says you, for the sake o’ peace and quiet you’d put wage where it were, and you’ve done it, but it must be all or none. Fair play’s fair play, ain’t it, parson?”
“Yes, yes, Richard, give way,” whispered Mrs Glaire; and with an impatient stamp of his foot Richard Glaire gave his lip a gnaw, and exclaimed —
“There, very well; Slee can come back; but mind this, if he begins any of his games and speech-making in the works again, he goes at once.”
“Oh, I can stay away,” said Slee, in an injured tone; but his fellow-workmen held to his side, and, to Mrs Glaire’s great relief, an amicable settlement was arrived at, and the men were about to go, when Banks, the old foreman, burst into the place in a towering passion.
“Howd hard theer,” he roared, looking fiercely round. “You’re a pretty set o’ cowardly shacks, you are. Do you call that a fighting fair?”
“What is it, Banks?” exclaimed Richard, starting.
“Don’t make no terms wi’ ’em at all, for they wean’t keep to ’em, the blackguards.”
“But what is it?” cried Richard, impatiently.
“What is it? What is it, Missus Glaire? Why, I was watching here mysen till nine o’clock, and left all safe.”
“Well?” cried Richard, turning pale.
“Look here, Joe Banks,” cried the man who had been speaking before; “tak’ it a bit easy, theer. None o’ us ain’t done nowt, ha’e we, lads?”
“No,” was chorused, Sim Slee’s voice being the loudest.
“Done nowt!” roared Banks, like an angry lion. “D’yer call it nowt to steal into a man’s place, and coot and carry off every band in t’ whole works?”
“Have they – have they done that, Banks?” cried Richard.
“Have they?” roared the foreman; “ask the sneaking cowards.”
“No, no, we hain’t,” cried the leader, bringing his hand down on the table with a thump. “It’s a loi, ain’t it, lads – a loi?”
“Yes,” was chorused; “we ain’t done nowt o’ t’ sort.”
“Then who did it?” cried Banks; and there was a silence.
“Look here,” cried Richard, who had been brought very unwillingly to this concession by Mrs Glaire, and gladly hailed an excuse for evading it. “Look here, Banks, are all those wheel-bands destroyed?”
“Ivery one of ’em,” said Banks.
“Then I’ll make no agreement,” cried Richard, in a rage. “You may strike, and I’ll strike. It’s my turn now – be quiet, mother, I’m master here,” he cried, as Mrs Glaire tried to check him. “I won’t have my property destroyed, and then find work for a pack of lazy, treacherous scoundrels. There’s a hundred pounds’ worth of my property taken away. Make it up, and put it back, and then perhaps I’ll talk to you.”
“But I tell you, Mester, it’s none o’ us,” cried the leader.
“None of you!” sneered Richard. “Why, the bands are gone, and I’m to give way, and pay better, and feed you and yours, and be trampled upon. Be off, all of you; go and strike, and starve, till you come humbly on your knees and beg for work.”
“Had you not better try and find out the offender, Mr Glaire?” interposed the vicar, who saw the men’s lowering looks. “Don’t punish the innocent with the guilty.”
“Well spoke, parson,” cried a voice.
“You mind your own business, sir,” shouted Richard. “I know how to deal with my own workmen. You struck for wages, and you assaulted me. I’ll strike now, you cowards, for I’ll lock you out. The furnaces are cold; let them stop cold, for I’ll lose thousands before I’ll give in. I’ll make an example of you all.”
“You’ll repent this, Mester Richard Glaire,” shouted Slee.
“I’ll repent when I see you in gaol, you mouthing demagogue!” cried Richard. “Now, get off my premises, all of you, for I’ll hold no more intercourse with any of the lot.”
“But I tell you, Mester,” said the leader, a short, honest-looking fellow, “it’s – ”
“Be off, I tell you!” shouted Richard. “Where are my bands?”
The man wiped his forehead, and looked at his companions, who one and all looked from one to another, and then, as if feeling that there was a guilty man amongst them – one who had, as it were, cut the ground from beneath their feet – they slowly backed out, increasing their pace though, towards the last, as if each one was afraid of being left.
“Go after them, Banks, and see them off the premises,” said Richard, with a triumphant look in his eye. “Let’s see who’ll be master now.”
The foreman went after the deputation, and there was a low murmuring in the yard, but the men all went off quietly, and the great gates were heard to clang to.
“Oh, Richard, my boy,” said Mrs Glaire, “I’m afraid you’ve made matters worse.”
“I’ll see about that,” said Richard, rubbing his hands, and giving a look askant at the vicar, who stood perfectly silent. “They’ll be down on their knees before the week’s out, as soon as the cupboard begins to be nipped. Are they all gone, Banks?”
“Yes, they’re all gone,” said the foreman, returning. “I wouldn’t ha’ thowt it on ’em.”
“Stop!” cried Richard, as a sudden idea seemed to strike him. “What time did you go away, Joe?”
“And all was right then?”
“That I’ll sweer,” said the foreman; “I went all over the works. It must ha’ been done by some cowardly sneak as had hid in the place.”
“I know who it was,” said Richard, with his eyes sparkling with malicious glee.
“Know who it was?” said Banks. “Tell me, Maister Richard, and I’ll ’bout break his neck.”
“It was that scoundrel Tom Podmore.”
“Who? Tom Podmore! Yah!” said the foreman, in a tone of disgust; and then with a chuckle. “I dessay he’d like to gi’e you one, Maister Dick; but go and steal the bands! It ain’t in him.”
“But I tell you I saw him!” cried Richard.
“Saw him? When?”
“Hanging about the works here last night between nine and ten.”
“You did!” cried the foreman, eagerly.
“That I did, myself,” said Richard, while the vicar scanned his eager face so curiously that the young man winced.
Joe Banks stood thinking with knitted brow for a few moments, and then, just as Mrs Glaire was going to interpose, he held up his hand.
“Wait a moment, Missus,” he said. “Look here, Maister Richard, you said you saw Tom Podmore hanging about the works last night?”
“There’s nobbut one place wheer a chap could ha’ been likely to ha’ gotten in,” said Banks, thoughtfully. “Wheer might you ha’ sin him?”
“In the lane by the side.”
“That’s the place,” said the foreman, in a disappointed tone. “That theer window. Was he by hissen?”
“Yes, he was quite alone,” said Richard, flinching under this cross-examination.
“And what was you a-doing theer, Maister Richard, at that time?” said the foreman, curiously.
“I – I – ” faltered Richard, thoroughly taken aback by the sudden question; “I was walking down to go into the counting-house, with a sort of idea that I should like to see if the works were all right.”
“Ho!” said the foreman, shortly; and just then the eyes of the young men met, and it seemed to Richard that there was written in those of the vicar the one word, “Liar!”
“Did you speak, sir?” said Richard, blanching, and then speaking hotly.
“No, Mr Glaire, I did not speak, but I will, for I should like to say that from what I have seen of that young man Podmore, I do not think he is one who would be guilty of such a dastardly action.”
“How can you know?” said Richard, flushing up. “You only came to the town yesterday.”
“True,” said the vicar; “but this young man was my guide here, and I had some talk with him.”
“I hope you did him good,” said Richard, with an angry sneer.
“I hope I did, Mr Glaire,” said the vicar, meaningly, “and I think I did, for he told me something of his life, and I gave him some advice.”
“Of course,” from Richard.
“Richard, my son, pray remember,” exclaimed Mrs Glaire.
“Oh yes, I remember, mother,” cried Richard, stung with rage by the doubting way in which his charge had been received; “but it is just as well that Mr Selwood here should learn at once that he’s not coming to Dumford to be master, and do what he likes with people.”
“It is far from my wish, Mr Glaire,” said the vicar, with a bright spot burning on each cheek, for he was young and impulsive too, but the spots died out, and he spoke very calmly. “My desire here is to be the counsellor and friend of both master and man – the trusty counsellor and faithful friend. My acquaintance with this young workman Podmore was short, but I gave him a few friendly words on his future action, and the result was that he came and fought for his master like a man when he was in the midst of an angry mob.”
“So he did, parson, so he did,” said Banks, bluntly.
“And came in a malicious, cowardly way at night to destroy my property,” cried Richard.
“Nay, nay, lad, nay,” said Banks, sturdily. “Parson’s raight. Tom Podmore ain’t the lad to do such a cowardly trick, and don’t you let it be known as you said it was him.”
“Let it be known!” said Richard, grinding his teeth. “Why, I’ll set the police after him, and have him transported as an example.”
“Nay, nay, lad,” said Banks, “wait a bit, and I’ll find out who did this. It wasn’t Tom Podmore – I’ll answer for that.”
“Let him prove it, then – and he shall,” cried Richard, who hardly believed it himself; but it was so favourable an opportunity for having an enemy on the hip, that he was determined, come what might, not to let it pass.
Five minutes later the parties separated, the works were shut up, and Richard Glaire did not reject the companionship of the vicar and the foreman to his own door, for there were plenty of lowering faces in the street – women’s as well as men’s; but the party were allowed to pass in sullen silence, for the strikers felt that “the maister” had something now of which to complain, and the better class of workmen were completely taken aback by the wanton destruction of the machinery bands.
Volume One – Chapter Thirteen.