“I don’t want any supper, mother,” said the girl, hurriedly.
“Then I want thee to ha’e some!” exclaimed Mrs Banks; “so look sharp.”
Daisy gave a sigh and hurried upstairs, and, as the door closed, Joe brought his hand down on the table with a thump that made the cups and saucers dance.
“Now, look here, old woman – that’s my bairn, and I wean’t have her wherrited. If she is – ”
“I’m going to say what’s on my mind, Joe, when it’s for my child’s good,” said Mrs Banks, stoutly.
“Are you?” said Joe, taking another cup of tea and undoing another button; “then so am I. Lookye here, my lass! I wouldn’t ha’ took a step to throw Daisy in young Maister’s way, but as he’s took to her, why, I wean’t ha’ it interfered wi’ – so now, then.”
“Don’t blame me, then, Joe; that’s all,” said Mrs Banks.
“Who’s going to?” said Joe. “So now let’s have none of your clat.”
Daisy came in then, and took her place at the table, making a very sorry pretence at eating, and only speaking in monosyllables till her mother pressed her.
“Did Mrs Glaire send you home with anybody?”
“Did you come home alone?”
“Humph: who came with you?”
Mrs Banks looked mollified, and Joe surprised.
“Has Miss Eve been playing to you, to-night?”
“What have you been doing then?”
“I – I – haven’t been at the House,” stammered Daisy.
Joe turned sharply round.
“Have you been a-walking with Tom, then?”
“No, mother, I only met him – coming home – and he walked beside me,” said the girl, with crimson cheeks.
“Theer, theer, theer,” said Joe, interposing, “let the bairn alone. Daisy, my lass, mak’ me a round o’ toast.”
How Joe was going to dispose of a round of toast after the meal he had already devoured was a problem; but Daisy darted a grateful look at him, made the toast – which was not eaten – and then, after the things were cleared away, read for an hour to her father, straight up and down the columns of the week-old county paper, till it was time for bed, without a single interruption.
But Mrs Banks made up for it when they went to bed, and the last words Joe heard before going to sleep were —
“Well, Joe, I wash my hands of the affair. It’s your doing, and she’s your own bairn.”
And Joe Banks went to sleep, and dreamed of seeing himself in a new suit of clothes, throwing an old shoe after Daisy as she was being carried off by Richard Glaire in a carriage drawn by four grey horses, the excitement being such that he awoke himself in the act of crying “Hooray!” while poor Daisy was kneeling by her bedside, sobbing as though she would break her heart.
“Here, just hap me up a bit,” said Sim Slee to his wife, as he lay down on a rough kind of couch in their little keeping-room, as the half sitting-room, half kitchen was called; and in obedience to the command, Mrs Slee happed him up – in other words, threw a patchwork counterpane over her lord.
“If you’d come home at reasonable times and tak’ thee rest you wouldn’t be wantin’ to sleep in the middle o’ the day,” said Mrs Slee, roughly.
“Ah, a deal you know about things,” grumbled Sim.
“I’stead o’ your own,” grumbled Mrs Slee.
“Howd thee tongue, woman,” said Sim. “I’m not going to sleep, but to think over matters before I go and see Joe Banks this afternoon. I can think best lying down.”
Mrs Slee resumed her work, which was that of making a hearthrug of shreds of cloth, and soon after Sim was thinking deeply with his mouth open, and his breath coming and going with an unpleasant gurgle.
As soon as he was asleep, Mrs Slee began busily to prepare the humble dinner that was cooking, and spread the clean white table for her lord’s meal. A table-cloth was a luxury undreamed of, but on so white a table it did not seem necessary.
When all was ready, she went across the room and touched Sim, who opened his eyes and rose.
“That’s better,” he said. “I feel as tiff as a band now. Where’s the Rag Jack’s oil?”
Without a word, Mrs Slee went to a little cupboard and produced a dirty-looking bottle of the unpleasant-looking liquid, one which was looked upon in the district as an infallible cure for every kind of injury, from cuts and bruises down to chilblains, and the many ailments of the skin.
“How did you do that?” said Mrs Slee, sharply, as her husband held out a finger that was torn and evidently festering.
“Somebody was nation fast the other day, and pulled me off the foundry wall.”
“Where you’d got up to speak, eh?” said Mrs Slee.
“Where I’d got up to speak,” said Sim, holding his hand, while his wife dressed it with the balm composed by the celebrated Rag Jack, a dealer who went round from market to market, and then tied it up in a bit of clean linen.
“That’s better,” said Sim, taking his place at the table. “What is there to yeat?”
“There’d be nothing if it was left to you – but wind,” said his wife, sourly, as she took the lid off a boiler, hanging from the recking-hooks of the galley balk, and proceeded to take out some liquid with a tea-cup.
“But, then, it ain’t,” said Sim, smiling. “You see, I knew where to pick up a good missus.”
“Yes,” retorted his wife, “and then tried to pine her to dead for all you’d do to feed her. Will ta have a few broth?”
“Yes,” said Sim, taking the basin she offered him and sniffing at it. “Say, wife, you’ve been waring your money at a pretty rate.”
“I’ve wared no money ower that,” said Mrs Slee. “Thou mayst thank parson for it.”
“Yah!” growled Sim, dipping his spoon, and beginning angrily; “this mutton’s as tough as a bont whong.”
“There, do sup thee broth like a Christian, if thee canst!” exclaimed Mrs Slee. “Wilt ta have a tate?”
Sim held out his basin for the “tate” his wife was denuding of its jacket, and she dropped it into the broth.
“Say!” exclaimed Sim, poking at the potato with his spoon, “these taters are strange and sad.”
Mrs Slee did not make any reply, but went on peeling potatoes one by one, evidently in search of a floury one to suit her husband, who objected to those of a waxy or “sad” nature. But they were all alike, and he had to be content.
“I’ll have a few more broth,” said Sim, at the end of a short space of time, and before his wife had had an opportunity to partake of a mouthful; and this being ladled out for him and finished, Sim condescended to say “that them broth wasn’t bad.”
“Have you got any black beer?” he now asked.
Mrs Slee had – a little, and the bottle of black beer, otherwise spruce, being produced, Sim had a teaspoonful of the treacly fluid mixed in a mug of hot water with a little sugar; and then, leaving his wife to have her meal, he rose and went out.
A week had passed since the discovery of the loss of the bands, and though Sim had been dodging about and watching in all directions, he had never once hit upon Joe Banks alone, so he had at last made up his mind to go straight to his house, and, to use his own words, “beard the lion in his den.”
A good deal had taken place in the interval, and among other things, Richard Glaire, in opposition to the advice of his mother and Banks, had applied for a warrant against Tom Podmore, for destroying or stealing the bands; but as yet, from supineness or fear on the part of the local police, it had not been put in force.
For things did not look pleasant in Dumford; men were always standing about in knots or lounging at the doors of their houses, looking loweringly at people who passed. There had been no violence, and, in a prosperous little community, a week or two out of work had little effect upon a people of naturally saving habits and considerable industry; but those who were wise in such matters said that mischief was brewing, and it was reported that meetings were held nightly at the Bull and Cucumber – meetings of great mystery, where oaths were taken, and where the doors were closed and said to be guarded by men with drawn swords.
“Hallo, Sim Slee, off preaching somewhere?” said a very stout man, pulling up his horse as he overtook Sim on his way to the foreman’s house. He was indeed a very stout man, so stout that he completely filled the gig from side to side, making its springs collapse, and forming a heavy load for his well-fed horse.
“No, I ain’t going preaching nowheer, Mester Purley,” said Sim, sulkily, as he looked up sidewise in the speaker’s merry face.
“I thought you were off perhaps to a camp meeting, or something, Sim, and as I’m going out as far as Roby, I was going to offer you a lift along the road.”
There was a twinkle in the stout man’s eyes as he spoke, and he evidently enjoyed the joke.
“No, you warn’t going to offer me a ride, doctor,” said Sim. “Do you think I don’t know?”
“Right, Sim Slee, right,” said the doctor, chuckling. “I never gave a man a lift on the road in my life, did I, Sim? Puzzle any one to sit by my side here, wouldn’t it?”
“Strange tight fit for him if he did,” said Sim.
“So it would, Sim; so it would, Sim,” laughed the doctor. “I’ve asked a many though in my time; ha – ha – ha.”
“That you have, doctor,” said Sim, looking at the goodly proportions of the man by his side. For it was Mr – otherwise Dr – Purley’s one joke to ask everybody he overtook, or any of his convalescent patients, if they would have a lift in his gig. He had probably fired the joke as many times as he was days old; but it was always in use, and it never struck him that it might grow stale.
“What’s the matter with your hand, Sim?” said the doctor, touching the bound-up member with his whip.
“Bit hurt – fell off a wall,” said Sim, thrusting it in his breast.
“And you have been poisoning it with Rag Jack oil, eh? I’ll be bound you have, and when it’s down bad you’ll come to me to cure it. Say, Sim, some of your fellows knocked the young master about pretty well – he’s rare and bruised.”
“I wish ivery bit of gruzzle in his body was bruzz,” said Sim, fiercely.
“Do you now!” said the doctor, smiling. “Well, I suppose it’ll come to broken heads with some of you, and then you’ll be glad of me. Who stole the bands?”
Sim jumped and turned pale, so suddenly and sharply was the question asked.
“How should I know?” he cried, recovering himself.
“Some of you chaps at the Bull, eh, Sim? Artful trick, very. Say, Sim, if you want a doctor for your society, remember me. Ck!” This last was to the horse, which went off immediately at a sharp trot, with the springs of the gig dancing up and down, as the wheels went in and out of the ruts.
“Remember you, eh!” said Sim, as the doctor went out of hearing. “Have you for the medical man? Yes, when we want ivery word as is spoke blabbed all over the place. It’s my belief,” continued Sim, sententiously, “as that fat old blobkite tells the last bit o’ news, to every baby as soon as it’s born, and asks them as he’s killed whether they’d like a ride in his gig. Hallo! there’s owd Joe Banks leaning over his fence. What a fierce-looking old maulkin he is; he looks as sour as if he’d been yeating berry pie wi’out sugar. Day, Banks,” he said, stopping.
“Day,” said Joe, shortly, and staring very hard at the visitor.
“I think it’ll rean soon, mun.”
“Do yow?” said Joe, roughly.
“I weer over to Churley yesterday,” said Sim, “and it reant all day.”
“Did it?” said Joe.
“Ay, it did. ’Twas a straange wet day.”
“Where are you going?” said Joe.
“Oh, only just up to Brown’s to see if I could buy a bit o’ kindling for the Missus.”
“Go and buy it, then,” said Joe, turning his back, “and let me get shut o’ thee.”
“Say, Joe Banks,” said Sim, quite unabashed, “as I have met thee I should just like to say a word or two to thee.”
“Say away then.”
“Nay, nay. Not here. Say, mun, that’s a fine primp hedge o’ yourn,” he continued, pointing to the luxuriant privet hedge that divided the garden of the snug house from the road.
“You let my primp hedge bide,” said Joe, sharply; “and if you’ve got any mander o’ message from your lot, spit it out like a man.”
“Message! I a message!” said Sim, with a surprised air. “Not I. It was a word or two ’bout thy lass.”
Joe Banks’s face became crimson, and he turned sharply to see if any one was at door or window so as to have overheard Sim’s words.
As there was no one, he came out of the gate, took his caller’s arm firmly in his great fist, and walked with him down the lane out of sight of the houses, for the foreman’s pretty little place was just at the edge of the town, and looked right down the valley.
Sim’s heart beat a little more quickly, and he felt anything but comfortable; but, calling up such determination as he possessed, he walked on till Joe stopped short, faced him, and then held up a menacing finger.
“Now look here, Sim Slee,” said Joe; “I just warn thee to be keerful, for I’m in no humour to be played wi’.”
“Who wants to play wi’ you?” said Sim; “I just come in a neighbourly way to gi’e ye a bit o’ advice, and you fly at me like a lion.”
“Thou’rt no neighbour o’ mine,” said Joe, “and thou’rt come o’ no friendly errant. Yow say yow want to speak to me ’bout my lass. Say thee say.”
“Oh, if that’s the way you tak’ it,” said Sim, “I’m going.”
“Nay, lad, thee ain’t,” said Joe. “Say what thee’ve got to say now, for not a step do yow stir till yo’ have.”
Sim began to repent his visit; but seeing no way of escape, and his invention providing him with no inoffensive tale, he began at once, making at the same time a good deal of show of his bound-up hand, and wincing and nursing it as if in pain.
“Well, Joe Banks, as a man for whom, though we have differed in politics and matters connected with the wucks, I always felt a great respect – ”
“Dal thee respect!” said Joe; “come to the point, man.”
“I say, Joe, that it grieves me to see thee stick so to a mester as is trying to do thee an injury.”
“An yow want to talk me over to join thy set o’ plotting, conspiring shackbags at the Bull, eh?”
“I should be straange and proud to feel as I’d browt a man o’ Joe Banks’s power and common sense into the ways o’ wisdom, and propose him as a member o’ our society,” said Sim.
“I dare say thee would, Sim; strange and glad. But that’s not what thee come to say. Out wi’ it, mun; out wi’ it.”
“That is what I come to say, Joe,” said Sim, turning white, as he saw the fierce look in Joe’s eyes.
“Nay; thee said something ’bout my lass.”
“I only were going to say as I didn’t like to see such a worthy man serving faithful a mester as was trying to do him an injury.”
“What do you mean?” said Joe, quite calmly.
Sim hesitated, but he felt obliged to speak, so calmly firm was the look fixed upon him, though at the same time the foreman’s fists were clenched most ominously.
“Well, Joe,” said Sim, with a burst, “Dicky Glaire’s allus after thy bairn, and I saw him the other night, at nearly midnight, trying to drag her into the counting-house.”
“Thee lies, thee chattering, false – hearted maulkin!” roared Joe, taking the trembling man by the throat and shaking him till his teeth clicked together.
“Don’t! don’t! murder!” cried Sim, holding up his injured hand with the rag before Joe’s face. “Don’t ill-use a helpless man.”
“Thou chattering magpie!” roared Joe, throwing him off, so that Sim staggered back against the prickly hedge, and quickly started upright. “I wish thee weer a man that I could thrash till all thee bones was sore. Look here, Sim Slee, if thee says a word again about my lass and the doings of thee betters it’ll be the worse for thee.”
“My poor hand! my poor hand!” moaned Sim, nursing it as if it were seriously injured.
“Then thee shouldn’t ha’ made me wroth,” said Joe, calming down, and blaming himself for attacking a cripple.
“I didn’t know that thou wast going to wink at thee lass being Dicky Glaire’s mis – ”
Sim did not finish the word, for Joe Banks’s fist fell upon his mouth with a heavy thud, and he went down in the road, and lay there with his lips bleeding, and a couple of his front teeth loosened.
“Thou lying villin,” said Joe, hoarsely, “howd thee tongue, if thee wants to stay me from killing thee. I’d ha’ let thee off, but thou wouldst hev it. Don’t speak to me again, or I shall – ”
He did not trust himself to finish, but strode off, leaving Slee lying in the dust.
“Poor Master Richard,” he muttered – “a scandal-hatching, lying scoundrel – as if the lad would think a wrong word about my lass. Well,” he added, with a forced laugh, “that has stopped his mouth, and a good many more, as I expect.”
As he disappeared, Sim Slee slowly sat up, took out his handkerchief and wiped his bleeding mouth. Then rising he walked on half a mile to where a stream, known as the Beck, crossed the road, and there he stooped down and bathed his cut lip till the bleeding ceased.
“All raight, Mester Joe Banks,” he said, with a malicious look in his eye. “All raight, I’ll put that down to you, my lad. I shan’t forget it. Some men fights wi’ their fists, and some don’t. I’m one as don’t; but I can fight other ways. I’ll be even wi’ you, Joe Banks; I’ll be even wi’ you. Thou blind owd bat. Think he’ll marry her, dosta! Ha! ha! ha! ha! All raight. Let it go on. Suppose I help it now, and then get thee on our side after – a blind old fool, I shan’t forget this.”
Sim Slee washed his handkerchief carefully in the brook, spread it in the sun to dry, and then lay down amongst the furze bushes to think, till, seeing a couple of figures in the distance on the hill-side, he caught up his handkerchief and, stooping down, ran along under the shelter of the hedge, and on and on till he reached a fir plantation, through which he made his way till he was within easy reach of the two figures, in utter ignorance of his proximity.
“’Tis them,” he muttered, peering out from the screen of leaves formed by the undergrowth of the edge of the plantation. “’Tis them. Got his arm round her waist, eh! A kiss, eh! Ha – ha – ha! Joe Banks, I shall be upsides wi’ you yet.”
He glided back, and then, knowing every inch of the ground, he went to the end of the copse, out on to the open hill-side, and, running fast, made a circuit which brought him out on the track far beyond the figures, who were hidden from him by the inequalities of the waste land, close by where the vicar found Tom Podmore on his arrival.
Then, hastening on, he approached, stooping until he had well measured his distance, when, pausing for a few minutes to gain his breath, he walked on with his footsteps inaudible on the soft, velvety turf, till, coming suddenly upon the two figures, seated behind a huge block of stone, he stopped short, as if in surprise.
“Beg pardon, sir, didn’t see,” he said, with a smile and a leer.
“What the deuce do you want?” said Richard Glaire, starting to his feet, while, with a faint cry, Daisy Banks ran a few steps.
“Why you quite scar’d me, sir,” said Sim, “starting up like that. I’ve only been for a walk out Chorley way. It’s all raight, Miss Banks, don’t be scar’d; it’s only me. I know, Mr Glaire, sir, I know. Young folks and all that sort o’ thing. We ain’t friends about wuck matters, but you may trust me.”
He gave Richard a peculiar smile, shut one eye slowly, and walked on, smiling at Daisy, whose face was crimson as he passed.
“Oh, Richard! oh, Richard!” she sobbed, “why did you tempt me to come? Now he’ll go straight home and tell father.”
“Tempt you to come, eh, Daisy!” said Richard. “Why, because I love you so; I’m not happy out of your sight. No, he won’t tell – a scoundrel. There, you go home the other way. I’ll follow Master Sim Slee. I know the way to seal up his lips.”
He caught Daisy in his arms, and kissed her twice before she could evade his grasp, and then ran off after Slee, who was steadily walking on, smiling, as he caressed his tender, bruised lip with his damp handkerchief.
Once he pressed his thumb down on his palm in a meaning way, and gave an ugly wink. Then he chuckled, but checked his smiles, for they hurt his swollen face.
“Not bad for one day, eh! That’s ointment for Mester Joe Banks’s sore place, and a bit o’ revenge at the same time. This wean’t have nowt to do wi’ the strike; this is all private. Here he comes,” he muttered, twitching his ears. “I thowt he would. Well, I mean to hev five pun’ to howd my tongue, and more when I want it. And mebbe,” he continued, with an ugly leer, “I can be a bit useful to him now and then.”
A minute later Richard Glaire had overtaken Sim Slee, and a short conversation ensued, in the course of which something was thrust into the schemer’s hand. Then they parted, and that night, in spite of his swollen lip, Sim Slee delivered a wonderful oration on the rights of the British workman at the meeting at the Bull, at which were present several of the men after Sim’s own heart; but the shrewd, sensible workmen were conspicuous by their absence, as they were having a quiet meeting of their own.