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Title: Men of Mawm
Author: Riley, W. (William)
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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                      WHAT  THIS  BOOK  IS  ABOUT

    For a short space Mr. Riley forsook the white for the red rose,
    and wrote _The Lady of the Lawn_ as a result. He has now
    definitely returned to his own country, and in his new novel is
    told the story of Maniwel Drake, who has lost an arm; but
    maintains his cheerful and genial nature, and Baldwin Briggs,
    whose motto is “All for my-sen.”

    The story deals with one of those contrasts of conflicting
    personalities that Mr. Riley loves to draw. There are dramatic
    episodes as well as character studies, and the local colour that
    Mr. Riley loves to introduce. Above all there blows through the
    book the breath of the Moors, without which a Riley book would
    not be a Riley book.



                         =_BY THE SAME AUTHOR_=

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                                 MEN OF
                                  MAWM


                                   BY
                                W. RILEY


                       HERBERT  JENKINS  LIMITED
                     3  YORK  STREET,  ST.  JAMES’S
                       LONDON,  S.W.1 ❦ ❦ MCMXXII



                             [Illustration]


          _Printed in Great Britain by Love & Malcomson, Ltd._
                         _London and Redhill._



                                CONTENTS

        CHAPTER                                                PAGE
             I. IN WHICH INMAN ENTERS MAWM                        7
            II. INMAN RECEIVES A COLD RECEPTION AND SOME
                  INFORMATION                                    17
           III. MANIWEL DRAKE MAKES A SUGGESTION                 27
            IV. THE WOMAN ENTERS WITH THE SERPENT                37
             V. JAGGER DRAKE SETS HIS TEETH                      48
            VI. BALDWIN’S SCAFFOLDING GIVES WAY AND ALSO HIS
                  RESERVE                                        60
           VII. NANCY SPEAKS HER MIND                            69
          VIII. NANCY QUESTIONS HER HEART AND MANIWEL
                  QUESTIONS HIS SON                              80
            IX. ONE LOVER WALKS OUT AND ANOTHER WALKS IN         91
             X. THE COMPANY AT THE “PACKHORSE” IS INVITED TO
                  DRINK A HEALTH                                101
            XI. THE CONDITIONS ARE WINTRY                       110
           XII. BALDWIN’S SKY BECOMES SLIGHTLY OVERCAST         121
          XIII. INMAN PROVES HIMSELF COMPETENT                  131
           XIV. JOHN CLEGG IS “WANTED” AND MANIWEL ISN’T        141
            XV. THE VILLAGERS DISCUSS THE DISASTER              150
           XVI. INMAN SHOWS THE SUBTLETY OF A VERY VENOMOUS
                  SERPENT                                       160
          XVII. NANCY’S BABY IS BORN AND JAGGER LOSES HIS
                  TEMPER                                        170
         XVIII. BALDWIN ALLOWS AN OPPORTUNITY TO SLIP           179
           XIX. THE BILL OF SALE IS COMPLETED                   190
            XX. THERE IS A SENSATIONAL ROBBERY                  202
           XXI. IN WHICH EVENTS MOVE QUICKLY                    210
          XXII. BALDWIN FINDS NEW LODGINGS                      221
         XXIII. NANCY IS OVERWHELMED                            231
          XXIV. INMAN’S POPULARITY IS SEEN TO WAVER             241
           XXV. NANCY DISCUSSES THE SITUATION WITH JAGGER       250
          XXVI. MANIWEL LETS JAGGER INTO A SECRET               260
         XXVII. NANCY PLAYS THE PART OF DETECTIVE               269
        XXVIII. MANIWEL AND JAGGER JOIN IN THE GAME             280
          XXIX. THE TABLES ARE TURNED MORE THAN ONCE            290
           XXX. SWITHIN TELLS HIS STORY                         300
          XXXI. WE TAKE LEAVE OF THE MEN OF MAWM                309



                              MEN OF MAWM


                               CHAPTER I

                IN WHICH JAMES INMAN ENTERS MAWM AND IS
                           FAVOURED BY FORTUNE

TO one who had no love for them the Yorkshire moors could hardly have
been less attractive than on this bleak, damp afternoon in early
November, when the air was moist though no rain had fallen, and a mist
that was too thin to hide more than the smaller details of the landscape
made the distant hills a grey shadow against the lighter grey of the
sky.

There was snow on the mountains, but only on their crowns; only there,
and in the deeper fissures that faced north and so paid no toll to the
sun. The nearer mountains were almost black, like the moor that
stretched its weary length to the sky-line; like the dry walls, that
divided the lower slopes of the moor into curiously-shaped allotments.

The road was little better than a track, but it was just
distinguishable, for which mercy James Inman was thanking the gods as he
strode along. He had not found much to thank them for after leaving the
village of Scaleber, and his acknowledgements were not too cordial.

His one anxiety was to reach the hamlet of Mawm before darkness set in,
and to find there at least warmth and possibly good fortune.

Everything was still; weirdly, painfully so. There must have been birds
in the great crags that rose terrace above terrace from the grey-green
grass and lost themselves in the low-lying clouds; but they had shown no
sign of life. The lonely farm he passed might have been deserted, for no
sound came from it—not even the inquiring bark of a dog. The moor
bird’s cry is not agreeable, but the man would have welcomed anything
that cut the silence. A howling wilderness was better than a wilderness
of death.

He had climbed six hundred feet or more in an hour, and the exertion had
put no strain on either heart or lungs. He was in excellent physical
condition, and, though perhaps a little too lean to be perfectly
proportioned, a fine athletic-looking man. His dress was superior to
that of a labourer or even a journeyman, but it was ill-fitting as if
bought ready-made for the emergency of a funeral, and it was entirely
black. He carried neither stick nor baggage and was without overcoat. A
bowler hat shabbier than the rest of his outer clothing, was worn low
down on his head and almost concealed his hair. The face was expressive
of determination and self-confidence and these qualities made it
striking; but one would have needed to scan the features a second time
or a third before pronouncing the man even passably good-looking. He
trod firmly; yet despite his unwillingness to company with darkness on
that grim waste he was not forcing the pace. Three miles an hour on such
a rough upland road was enough and more than enough.

When the track became a mere stretch of grass the man paused. He was in
the shadow of two high mountains whose summits were barely two hundred
and fifty feet above his head. Night lurked already in the dark gullies,
and he cursed the folly that had led him to risk the shorter bridle
route when a third-rate road had been available, and nothing saved but a
mile or two of foot-drill at the most.

With a shrug of the shoulders he went forward again; but another
quarter-hour brought him to the apex of the path and the mountains ran
out on to the moor. It was downhill now and he plodded on, sometimes
half uncertain of his way, until the descent became abrupt, when he
narrowed his eyelids and sought for signs of the village which he knew
must lie some five hundred feet below. He failed to find them, however,
for in the murk of advancing night it was difficult to discern grey
houses against grey hillsides, and what was worse he lost the path, and
was some time in finding it again.

At length he struck the road and saw the glimmer of lights in the
valley.

“That’ll be Mawm,” he muttered. “The longest way round ’ud have been the
shortest way home. Now which end of the village has this old
hammer-slinger his shop, I wonder?”

The location could have been of little consequence, for the houses were
few in number and straggled to no great distance. Fortune, however, had
placed Baldwin Briggs’ woodyard at the extreme northerly end of the
village, so that Inman stumbled upon it without the necessity of seeking
information, being also guided by the sound of voices in altercation.

A low wall bounded the road on which the front of the two-storied shop
abutted and several men of advanced years were leaning against it and
giving silent audience to the disputants at the door. To these the
stranger joined himself.

“You’ve changed, Mr. Briggs,” a man about Inman’s own age was saying in
an emphatic but not loud voice; “I’ve heard father say ’at when you and
him worked for Mr. Clegg there was nobody readier than you to ask for
your wages raising. Oft and oft I’ve heard him say it, and ’at you egged
the others on to stand by you. Now it’s like skinning the flint to get
another penny out of you, for all you’re putting your own prices up
every few months. You’ve changed, I say.”

The voice fell away and became almost plaintive and the stranger’s lip
curled contemptuously.

Mr. Briggs’ hands were lost in his pockets, and his whole attitude (for
in the dim light his features were scarcely visible) betokened
indifference. When he spoke his voice was charged with contempt, and his
sneering tone brought an approving smile to the newcomer’s face.

“Nay, I’ve none changed, Jagger; not I. I was for my-sen then and I’m
for my-sen now.”

“And that’s God’s truth,” replied the other bitterly. “And your heart’s
like your own grunstone too. I’m hanged if I’d stay with you if my hands
weren’t tied, but needs must when the devil drives, and father’s too old
to shift.”

“_My_ hands aren’t tied,” the other replied with a sudden fierce passion
that electrified the atmosphere and startled the stranger. The voice
became a hiss, and the man’s face was bent forward until his cap almost
touched the other’s forehead. A string of curses followed which, so far
from relieving the pressure, seemed only to accentuate the master’s
wrath.

“_My_ hands aren’t tied,” he repeated, “and I’ll just manage without
your help, Jagger Drake. I’m stalled of your long tongue and your
milksop ways; and to be shut of you at t’ cost of a week’s wages’ll be a
cheap bargain, so you can take yourself off to where they’ll do better
for you. Here——:”

He pulled out a purse, and having carefully counted sundry silver coins
offered them to the young man who mechanically stretched out his hand to
receive them. When they were in his palm the fingers did not close over
them, nor did the hand drop.

“I’m sacked, then?” he asked in a low, uncomprehending voice.

“You’re sacked,” the other answered hotly. “Do you think I’m forced to
stand here to be jawed at; let alone ’at you rob me out o’ good money,
nearhand as oft as you do a job for me?”

“Rob you?”

“Aye, rob me! What else is it but robbery when you spend half as long
again over a job as any other man? I haven’t forgot that there bit o’
work at Lane End, and the lip you gave me.”

The man’s temper was still warm; but at the mention of Lane End the
other recovered himself. He lowered his hand and thrust the coins
uncounted into his trousers’ pocket, and the stunned look left his face.

“If I’ve to choose between robbing widows and robbing you, Baldwin
Briggs,” he said, “I’ll none need to think twice. And widow or no widow,
honest folks don’t scamp their work; and I’ve been brought up in t’
wrong school for tricks o’ that sort. So if that’s your last word I’ll
get my bass and make my way home.”

He turned as he spoke and Mr. Briggs said nothing, but spat angrily
after the retreating figure. Not one of the elderly men had uttered a
word or moved a hand during the colloquy, and they remained motionless
when the stranger crossed the road and going up to the master-carpenter
laid a hand on his arm.

“Are you filling this chap’s place?” he asked.

Mr. Briggs turned with an angry gesture, but at sight of the stranger he
controlled his features and took stock of the situation whilst staring
into the newcomer’s face. He was naturally cautious, and his brain
worked slowly. Some instinct told him that the man was a carpenter,
probably skilled at his trade—“a likely lad” as he put it in his
thoughts.

On the other hand Jagger Drake was a good worker and a steady,—some of
his customers would have no other—with no fault worth speaking of but a
ridiculous conscientiousness; and the episode which had just ended had
been more than half “play-acting” designed to bring the lad to his
senses and show him on what dangerous ground he was standing.

Inman bided his time but never moved his eyes from the other’s face, and
in the steely concentrated gaze there was a suggestion of hypnotic
power. Interpreting the master’s hesitation as a sign of wavering he
went on in a firm but studiously respectful voice:

“I’ll do a job whilst yon chap’s planning it out. I’ll do in five
minutes what’ll take him twenty, and do it right too. Yon chap’s too
slow to go to his own funeral.”

“Where d’you come from?” Mr. Briggs growled.

“From Scaleber,” he said, offering the tag end of truth. “My name’s
James Inman and luck sent me here—your luck and mine. I came to seek a
job with you, and when I heard you sack yon ninny I knew I’d come in the
nick of time.”

“Oh, did you?” replied Mr. Briggs sharply. “It takes two to make a
bargain, young fellow, and I wouldn’t be too sure o’ that. Trade’s slack
just now and I’m thinking I can do without another man for a week or two
till it mends. I’ll sleep on it, anyway.”

Inman saw the mouth tighten and read the sign. He had already recognised
and regretted his blunder and was feeling round for another starting
point when Jagger re-appeared from the shed at the back with his “bass”
over his shoulder, and without even looking in their direction walked
smartly down the road.

A red flush tinged the sallow features of the master and again Inman
read the sign.

“Ought to work for a woman, he did,” he observed with a sneer; “man
milliner, or something o’ that sort.”

Mr. Briggs’ expression was ugly. “Come inside,” he said.

Inman’s eyes swept the workshop with a swift, comprehensive glance.
“American machines,” he said to himself; “old Hotspur isn’t altogether a
Rip Van Winkle.”

The office was upstairs and the master led the way there. An oil lamp
was burning on a table and by its light Mr. Briggs scanned the
newcomer’s face.

“You’re a joiner by trade?” he inquired.

The other nodded. “I’ve papers, if you care to see them,” he said; and
tossed a packet on to the desk against which the master was leaning.

“What makes you come here if you’re such a dab hand as all that?” he
asked suspiciously when he had read one or two of the documents. “Been a
bit of a rolling stone, haven’t you?”

“I’m moorland born,” Inman replied, “and town life doesn’t suit me. Now
I’m getting older I sort o’ want to settle down.”

Mr. Briggs scowled. He did not like glibness, and the young man was an
adept in that smooth art. All strangers were under suspicion, and a
stranger who turned up from nowhere in time to step into another man’s
shoes—a stranger who travelled so light that he had not even a spare
collar for his neck, and whose tone was domineering although under
control, was doubly suspicious. Mr. Briggs stared steadily and
thoughtfully at his visitor, and frowned until his eyes were almost
hidden by the pepper-coloured tufts of hair that overhung them. Inman
bore the scrutiny well and made his face expressionless.

“It’s a rum tale,” said the master, “and as for getting older you’ll not
have topped twenty-six, I’ll warrant.”

“Barely,” replied the other. “I was six and twenty three weeks since.
Now come, Mr. Briggs, I’m just the man for you. I can handle tools, as
these papers tell you, and you’re wanting a man to handle ’em. I’ll
fetch my bass across to-morrow and start on Monday. You shall give me
what you gave yon other chap, and if I don’t satisfy you, you can sack
me, same as you did him.”

He would have said more, but the change that came over the master’s face
caused him to pull up abruptly. Mr. Briggs was a loosely-built,
shambling man of sixty, with long legs that would not have passed the
test of his own straight-edge, a neck of many hollows, and a face that
was chiefly remarkable for the prominence of the cheek-bones and a
peculiarly knobbed nose. Hair of the same pepper-coloured variety that
thatched his eyebrows grew thickly on his cheeks and chin, but was
shaved from the upper lip. In revenge, perhaps, for that slight, some
seeds had rooted themselves on the end of the nose and flourished there.

In spite of this abnormality there was nothing repulsive about Baldwin
Briggs’ features except when one of those sudden gusts of passion swept
over them and distorted them. Then a row of large, discoloured teeth,
with sundry gaps of irregular shape, was disclosed, and the
pepper-coloured hair on the nose actually bristled. It was a disturbance
of this kind that checked the easy flow of Inman’s speech.

He stood unmoved until the spluttered oaths had run out, but was
inwardly surprised at the quick, volcanic outburst, and contemptuously
amused. Not a sign of this, however, was revealed by his expression.

“Devil take you, with your ‘shalls’ and your ‘cans’,” hissed Mr. Briggs.
“When I want a boss I’ll let you know. You’re a piece too clever, young
fellow, for a plain man like me. You’re a cock ’at crows over loud and
’ud want all t’ yard to yourself. Here!” he tossed the envelope back to
Inman, who caught it and thrust it into his pocket; then, as he turned
down the lamp, he remarked gruffly:

“I’ll bid you good-night. There’s nothing here for you, young man.”

Inman allowed his eyes to drop and spoke softly.

“I’m sorry, sir,” he said, “I’ve been used to town ways, and my tongue
was a bit free, maybe. I meant no harm, and as for being boss, that’s a
cap that doesn’t fit my head. If you care to try me I’ll serve you well,
and you’ll get no ‘lip’ from me.”

The allusion was craftily designed to bring the master back to
realities, but the tone was not aggressive, and Mr. Briggs’ features
unbent.

“I let no man tell me what I ‘shall’ give him,” he growled. “That’s for
me to say. You’re not in t’ town here bear in mind, with a union to
stand aside you with a stick. I give a man what he’s worth to me, and if
he doesn’t like it, he chucks it, or I chuck him.”

“Quite so,” Inman assented. “That’ll do for me.”

“You’re more ready to toe t’ line than I altogether care about,” the
other went on. He was still suspicious, and whilst the mastery in the
grey eyes fascinated it also irritated him.

“I want a job in the country,” Inman said soothingly. “I want to be
among men o’ my own breed—among moormen. I’m sick to death of the
little painted images of men they have in the towns. They told me in
Scaleber you were a just man, Mr. Briggs—not soft, but just—and I’ll
trust you to give me what I’m worth—that’s all I meant, however badly I
put it.”

The master threw a keen glance at him, and seeing nothing but frankness
and something not unlike humility in the face and attitude, allowed
himself to be appeased.

“Well, I’ll try you for an odd week,” he said, “and see what you’re made
of. I could like to teach yon lad a lesson. He’ll be back in t’ morning,
like enough, with his cap in his hands; but I’ll see him blaze before
I’ll stand his jaw. Where’ll you put up for to-night?”

“I’ll find a spot somewhere,” Inman replied indifferently.

“Will you step in and have a bite o’ bread before you go down t’
village?” Mr. Briggs inquired gruffly, and with no heartiness to season
the invitation. “My sister’ll happen know o’ somebody ’at’ll give you a
bed.”

A light came into the man’s eyes for a second or two, but he quickly
curtained it.

“No thanks,” he said. “I’ll not trouble you. There’ll be an inn, I
reckon. I’ll go down there.”


                               CHAPTER II

              IN WHICH INMAN RECEIVES A COLD RECEPTION AND
                            SOME INFORMATION

A FEEBLE moon lit up the darkness that had fallen rapidly whilst he
had been engaged with the master-carpenter, and enabled Inman to find
his way without difficulty down the sloping street to the green, where
the weather-beaten inn squatted in close proximity to the purling
river—a baby stream of mysterious origin, and only a mile or two old,
if one may put it so.

A few other houses, substantially but plainly built of millstone grit
and limestone, and varying from the humble whitewashed cottages of the
labouring classes to the more pretentious dwellings of farmers and
apartment-providers faced the green on three sides. An hotel of somewhat
imposing dimensions stood back a few yards from the main road on the
west; but after one brief glance in that direction Inman turned on his
heel, and crossing the stream and the upper section of the green entered
the low door of “The Packhorse,” and found himself in a well-filled
room, where he discerned amidst the smoke the features of the phlegmatic
elders who had been silent witnesses of the scene at the carpenter’s.

His entrance interrupted the conversation for a few seconds only, and
when he had ordered and been served with a pot of ale, he rested his
chin on his hands and set himself to pick up the threads. It was quite
evident that the incident in which he had taken part had been under
discussion for some time, and he was quick to realise that his action,
the ultimate result of which was not known, had aroused some measure of
resentment. The knowledge amused without embarrassing him; but he masked
his features as carefully as he had done in the master’s office.

“A trew word, as Jagger tell’d him,” said an elderly man whose beard
bore wintry evidences of a former fiery splendour. “I mind when he wor
nowt but a wisp of a lad and laiked taws[1] wi’ t’ rest on us he wor a
rare trader; and there worn’t many he didn’t diddle out o’ all their
glass uns. Allus for his-sen, wor Baldwin, and t’ owder he gets t’ worse
he becomes.”

“It’s t’ way o’ t’ world, Swith’n,” a spare, undersized man of advanced
age observed in a thin, leaking voice that whistled at every sibilant.
“I made a verse of it when I wor a young man i’ my prime. I can’t think
o’ things same as I use to could. When I try to call ’em up it’s same as
they start a-dancin’ a polka, and I can’t pick out one from t’other. I
know ‘pelf’ came at t’ end o’ one line and ‘self’ at t’other. It wor a
good rhyme, and t’ plain meanin’ of it wor ’at it’s i’ t’ way o’ Natur’
for a man to look after his-sen. I had a gift i’ them days for puttin’
my thoughts into verse.”

“And uncommon well you did it, Ambrus; that’s a fact,” admitted Swithin,
whilst two or three others grunted approval.

“Common metre, short metre, six-lines-eights and sometimes a peculiar
metre,” said the old man with manifest gratification; “it wor all one to
me when I wor i’ that gifted mood. My mother traced it back to her
gran’father ’at ’ad been a fearful good hand at a bass fiddle i’ t’ Gurt
Revival, and could play any tune o’ Wesley’s in his cups.”

“Aye, there’s been gifts wasted i’ your family, Ambrus; there’s no
getting over that,” said Swithin with a solemn headshake, “but none o’
your lot has had t’ gift o’ making brass. Contraireywise, brass pours in
to Baldwin same as watter to t’ Cove.”

“But it doesn’t pour out i’ t’ same way,” laughed a younger man. “T’
Cove passes it on to watter t’ land, Swithin. Baldwin hugs it to
his-sen.”

“Not so fast, lad,” replied Swithin; “tha wants to make sure ’at that
egg tha’s laid isn’t a pot ’un before tha clucks so loud. Has tha never
heard tell ’at there’s tremendious deep pits behind t’ Cove ’at’s got to
be filled wi’ t’ watter from t’ Tarn before any creeps out into t’ river
bed? It serves it-sen, does t’ beck, before it spares owt for anybody
else; and all t’ land gets is t’ overflow. Same way wi’ Baldwin.”

He glanced round the company and reading approval in Inman’s eyes
allowed his own to suggest what would have been a wink in a more jocund
man.

“Nay, nay,” he continued as nobody seemed disposed either to applaud or
challenge his contention; “I’m one ’at ’ud go a long way o’ t’ same road
wi’ Baldwin ’cause it’s both natur’ and religion. Natur’ seems all for
it-sen, and I suppose them ’at set things going ordered it i’ that way.”

“Maniwel wouldn’t say so,” the young man who had spoken before ventured
to interpose.

“Maniwel’ll maybe fiddle another tune if Baldwin holds to his word and
sacks Jagger,” returned Swithin complacently. “Not but what I’m sorry
for Jagger,” he added after a short interval. “As well-meaning a lad as
there is i’ t’ village, and as handy wi’ his tools as here and there
one. Baldwin can spare Jagger as ill as any.”

It was evident that Swithin had voiced the common opinion, and each man
present offered his quota of evidence relating to the skill and even
more the conscientiousness of the dismissed workman. Only old Ambrose
and Inman remained silent, and the latter scarcely troubled to hide the
amused contempt that the recital of his predecessor’s virtues called
forth. He was on the point of speaking when there came an interruption
from Ambrose, whose features had been working convulsively for some
time.

“I’ve got the hang on it,” he said absently:

        “Whether it’s pudden or parish or pelf,
        He’s a noodle what doesn’t look after hisself.”

“I wouldn’t take my Bible oath, neighbours, to them two words ‘parish’
and ‘noodle’ but t’ meanin’ was t’ same, chewse how.”

Inman thought this a fitting moment for breaking silence.

“Well done, grandad,” he exclaimed. “You deserve your pot filling for
that. Take it out o’ this, landlord,” he said, tossing a half-crown to
that worthy who was standing with his back to the fire; “or rather fill
up these other pots, and let me know if I owe you ought.”

The act of generosity evoked no response, except that one or two of the
younger men grunted a “Good ’ealth!” as they raised the mug to their
lips, but Inman was in no way disconcerted.

“A moorman needs no introduction to moormen,” he said pleasantly. “I
don’t blame you for being shy o’ strangers, but that’ll wear off. We
shall neighbour kindly, I don’t doubt, for I may as well tell you I’ve
signed on for Mr. Briggs, and I shall be making my home with you.”

A chilling silence greeted this communication, and the air thickened
with the reek from a dozen pipes, diligently pulled at.

“It’s every man for himself as our friend here remarked a minute or two
ago,” he continued. “There’d be no progress if it wasn’t so. It’s the
survival of the fittest, as these science chaps put it. The weak _have_
to go to the wall, or we’d be a nation of noodles before long. You were
right, grandad; noodle’s the word.”

Even yet nobody spoke. Inman’s speech had cut across the smooth flow of
conversation like another Moses’ rod, and dried it up. Every man stared
stonily at the deal table or sand-strewn floor, and the landlord frowned
and found himself tongue-tied.

“It isn’t my fault, mind you,” Inman continued more sharply, “that this
other young fellow’s got the sack. That was just accident; just a piece
of luck. ‘Fortune favours the brave,’ and good luck comes to them who
deserve it. That’s my theory; it’s Nature’s way of ensuring progress.
There’s no mercy in Nature for the individual if he stands in the way of
progress. It cares no more for milksops—for noodles, grandad—than it
cares for the fly that’s fast in this spider’s web; no more than I care
for the spider.”

A grim smile spread over his face as he stretched out a thumb and finger
and carelessly squeezed the life out of the little creature on which his
eye had been resting for the last few moments; but there was no
responsive smile on the countenances of the grim men who watched him.
Nearly every forehead carried a frown or its shadow, and where this was
missing there was a half-hostile stolidity.

“Every man’s for himself,” he went on, with a hint of impatience in his
tone, for the frosty air of the bar-parlour was beginning to tell on
him; “but lame dogs have to pretend that they don’t like rabbits. Stuff
and nonsense! A man who isn’t for himself deserves to go under and it’s
a kindness to help him.”

He leaned back defiantly; but there was still no reply. Swithin pushed
back his chair and pulled forward his hat. “I’ll be saying ‘good-night’
neighbours,” he said, “I’ll have to be stirring i’ good time i’ t’
morning,” and several others rose and left the room with him. Ten
minutes later the rest had emptied their mugs and gone, and Inman was
left with old Ambrose and the innkeeper. There was a scowl upon the
latter’s face that caused the young man to say with a laugh:

“Come, come, landlord, the loss of a handful of coppers won’t bank you.
Mix yourself and me a whisky apiece and keep grandad’s pot filled.
There’s room for three round that fire—pull a chair up to it and bid
dull care begone.”

He crossed over himself and sat down comfortably with his legs stretched
out on the hearth. Ambrose occupied the corner seat, and the landlord,
whose brow had cleared as he perceived that the defection of his regular
customers was not likely to impoverish his till, seated himself at the
opposite end.

“A bit touchy, these neighbours of ours,” Inman suggested with a laugh.
“Don’t exactly hold out the right hand of fellowship, d’you think? But
I’m a moorman myself, though I’ve been a renegade the last ten years,
and I know their feelings for ‘offcomeduns,’ as we called newcomers in
my part of the world.”

“And what part might that ha’ been?” inquired the landlord.

“Worth way,” he answered shortly. “There’s surly dogs bred in Worth
Valley, I can tell you—dogs with a snap in their teeth; dogs that like
to be _top_ dog and intend to be.”

It was said meaningly, though it was accompanied by another laugh, and
the landlord eyed him thoughtfully.

“This man, Jagger; what sort of a fellow is he?” Inman went on. “Not one
of your best customers, I reckon?”

“He never tastes,” the landlord replied, “unless its a ginger-ale or
summat o’ that sort now and again. It isn’t oft he darkens this door,
but his father, Maniwel’ll come and sit for an hour now and then, though
he puts naught much i’ my pocket. All t’ same”—the landlord’s clan
loyalty triumphing over the narrower emotion of self-interest—“they’re
nayther of ’em a bad sort; nayther Maniwel nor Jagger.”

“Two o’ t’ best,” Ambrose added. “I mind well makin’ happen six verses
for Maniwel to recite at a teetotal meetin’—dearie me! it mun be forty
year back. Terrible bad word it is, an’ all, for verse. That wor afore
Maniwel happened his accident.”

“Afore he happened his accident!” the landlord laughed. “Why, man alive!
he was a lad when he said them verses, and it isn’t more’n ten year
since he lost his arm.”

“I shouldn’t wonder,” assented Ambrose; “it was sin’ I giv’ up making
verses now I come to think of it. If I’d ha’ been i’ my prime I could
ha’ made a set o’ grand verses out o’ Maniwel’s arm.”

“Who is this Maniwel?” inquired Inman with some impatience. “Jagger’s
father, you say, and a kind of local oracle, I gather?”

“Oracle or no oracle,” replied the landlord, who was not going to commit
himself on a term with whose meaning he was unfamiliar; “he’s most
people’s good word, and if Baldwin Briggs isn’t among ’em it’s because
Maniwel won’t knuckle under to him. And why should he, when they worked
side by side at t’ same bench and saw-mill for thirty year and more, and
him t’ best man o’ t’ two? There is them ’at says ’at if he hadn’t lost
his arm Baldwin ’ud never ha’ getten t’ business; but that’s as may be.
To make matters worse there’s a lass i’ t’ case, and where there’s
lasses there’s mischief.”

Ambrose chuckled. “A trew word, Albert, and brings up a verse about
lasses I——”

“Never mind your verses,” Inman broke in. “What about this particular
lass, landlord; and how did she come to concern this Maniwel and Baldwin
Briggs?”

“Well, you see,” the landlord explained, “t’ saw-mill belonged her
father, Tom Clegg, and it was only a poorish sort of a business in Tom’s
time. Tom had part brass and only this lass to leave it to, and besides
being as queer as Dick’s hatband, he’d summat growing in his inside ’at
took all t’ sperrit out of him, as it would out o’ most men.

“Well, he tried to sell t’ business when he knew he couldn’t last much
longer but nobody’d give him his price, so he let on a new scheme.
Maniwel and Baldwin were his main hands, and he made each on ’em t’ boss
for a year. He went off down south wi’ t’ lass, and Baldwin took hold,
and varry well he did. Then, when t’ year was up and they’d ta’en their
stock, it was Maniwel’s turn and it seemed as if he were going to top
Baldwin when t’ accident happened, and t’ saw caught his thumb. It
seemed naught much at t’ time but he’d ha’ done better to ha’ seen a
doctor, for it turned to blood-poisoning and there was naught for it but
to take his arm off. Aye, and even then he near-hand lost his life.

“Of course Baldwin had to take hold again then, for by this time Tom was
at t’ last gasp, and to mend matters he died afore Maniwel came out o’
t’ hospital. When they read his will it turned out ’at he’d left all his
brass to his lass, but part on it was to stop i’ t’ business for
capital. And he left t’ goodwill o’ t’ business to him ’at ’ad made t’
most brass during t’ year he’d been i’ charge, barring ’at he’d to pay
his lass part o’ t’ profits. It was all worked out by a lawyer so as
Nancy wasn’t a partner, you understand; but she must ha’ done fairly
well, for Baldwin’s made brass, there’s no question o’ that.”

Inman’s face expressed his interest.

“Then Baldwin got the business, you say?”

“More’n that,” continued the landlord; “he’d to be guardian to t’ lass.
She wouldn’t be more’n eleven or twelve at t’ time, and Baldwin wasn’t a
married man, but he took t’ job on, I can tell you.”

“And what about Maniwel?” inquired Inman. “Was there no law over t’ job?
If it had been me I should ha’ tried to make a case out.”

“Maniwel’s no fighting man,” the landlord replied, “and he was on his
back. But there was them ’at ’ud have made a fight for him if he’d ha’
let ’em. All t’ same t’ lawyers said Baldwin was in t’ right.”

“Pigeon livers run in families,” said Inman. “I could have guessed
father when I saw son. But what of the girl, landlord? It was a mad whim
of the father to hand her over in a haphazard sort of way to the highest
bidder, and one of his own workmen at that. How did the lass take it?
Was she dove or donkey—lamb or lion?”

The landlord spat into the fire and withheld reply for some moments.

“You mun ask someb’dy ’at knows better ’n me,” he said at length
cautiously. “Nancy’s as deep as t’ Tarn, and as proud and hot-tempered
as a broody hen. She stops with him, anyway, though she’s been her own
missus a year and more. Some say they fratch like two bantams, but I’ve
never come across them ’at’s heard ’em; and as for Keturah
Briggs—that’s Baldwin’s sister ’at’s always kept house for him—she’s a
quarry you can neither pick nor blast. They keep theirselves _to_
theirselves, and give naught away, does t’ Briggses.”

“And is she content, this Nancy,” inquired Inman indifferently, “to be
shut up in a village like this? Has she no desire, think you, to see the
world and have her fling like other lasses?”

The question ended on a half-suppressed yawn; but the landlord shot an
inquiring glance before he replied:

“You said you were moorland born yourself, and hankered after t’ moors.
Maybe Nancy’s t’ same, but if you’ve signed on wi’ Baldwin you’ll be
able to ask her. She’s been away a toathri weeks in a town; but whether
it’s smittled her or no I know no more’n you. She’s back again, choose
how. Maybe there’s summat i’ t’ village she can’t get i’ t’ town?”

“Fresh air and sunshine?” queried Inman sleepily. “That’s so, I suppose;
but lasses like pictures, and the pit of a music-hall or a band in the
park in summer time, where they can see what other women carry on their
heads and backs.”

“Aye, that’s right enough,” responded the landlord; “but I’ve known when
a pair o’ corduroy breeches and a coat you couldn’t pawn has had a
bigger pull than all t’ ribbons and laces you could lay your hands on.”

A quick light leaped to Inman’s eyes, and a frown that was instantly
suppressed mounted his brow.

“I see,” he queried, with an inflection of amusement; “then Miss Nancy
has a lover?”

“That’s more’n I’ve said,” replied the landlord curtly. “She doesn’t
hand me her secrets to lock up.”

Inman laughed and rose. “I’ll have a bed with you, landlord,” he said,
“if you’ll get one ready. This good fire after a rough walk has made me
sleepy. I’ll stroll round for half an hour before turning in.”

-----

[1] Played marbles.


                              CHAPTER III

               IN WHICH MANIWEL DRAKE MAKES A SUGGESTION

THE cottage had its full complement of occupants when Jagger entered,
and the noise of his “bass” as he dropped it on the stone floor and
pushed it noisily with his foot alongside an old-fashioned chest of
drawers that stood against the wall, caused each of them to look up.
Hannah, his sister and the family housekeeper, turned again at once to
the grid-iron on which something was grilling for the evening meal; but
the father’s eyes fixed themselves on the young man’s face.

“That’s right, lad,” he said, as he let the weekly paper he had been
reading fall to his knees; “take it out of t’ bass! It’s as meek as
Moses and’ll say naught. Who’s been treading on your corns this time?”

“T’ bass may lie there while I find another job,” said Jagger surlily,
untying his apron as he spoke. “I’m paid off. Baldwin’s stalled, and so
am I.”

Hannah said nothing, but an exclamation came from the other side of the
hearth where Grannie Drake was busy with her darning needles—a wordless
exclamation produced by the tip of the tongue and the roof of the mouth
in conjunction; and the old woman rested her hands on her lap whilst she
turned her spectacled eyes on her grandson.

“Stalled of each other, are you?” It was the father who spoke and there
was humour in his voice and in the eyes that scrutinised the other’s
face. “Well, bad news’ll keep. Get you washed and we’ll have our tea;
and then if you think you’ve got to make all our coffins ’cause
Baldwin’s sacked you I’ll help you to take t’ measures.”

Jagger’s face clouded more heavily and Hannah stole a glance at it as
her brother opened the scullery door; but he avoided her gaze; and she
wheeled round and looked into her father’s eyes with a smile on her lips
that was both question and comment. Maniwel had picked up his paper
again and was apparently engaged with its contents but the smile reached
his consciousness and he glanced up and met his daughter’s eyes.

“You two ought to have changed places,” he said with grim pleasantry,
“Jagger’d have made a good lass.”

“And me a fine lad!” she commented. “It can’t be helped; we’re as we
are.”

She turned the kidneys on to a hot dish and the good smell filled the
room. “I could almost wish it was Baldwin I had on t’ bars,” she
remarked and her father laughed.

“According to t’ Book, lass, t’ best way would be to heap t’ fire on his
head and try to melt his heart. Your grannie turns her nose up. You
think they’re getting t’ grid-iron ready for him in t’ hot place, eh
mother? Well, maybe they are; but that’s devil’s work, anyway.”

He tossed the newspaper into the window bottom as he spoke and drew his
chair up to the table. The sleeve of his right arm was pinned to his
coat, but if the defect were overlooked, he was a fine figure of a
man—tall, erect, broad-shouldered and well-proportioned. His hair and
beard were thick and only faintly streaked with grey, and the firm lips
and deep chin and straight nose, together with the placidly-playful
brown eyes, indexed a character that was at the same time virile and
sympathetic. In some respects the son was like him; but the mouth was
sulkier, the chin weaker, and the eyes lacked humour—you had to turn to
the daughter to find the father’s features reproduced more successfully,
though not his frame.

“It’ll blow over, softhead,” said Hannah, with sisterly candour as
Jagger made slow headway, staring moodily at his plate instead of
eating. “Get on with your tea before it goes cold. I wouldn’t miss a
good meal for t’ best man living; much less for one o’ t’ worst.”

“It isn’t going to blow over,” the young man burst out hotly. “If it
does there’ll be another storm before t’ week’s out and we shall have it
all to go through again. I’ve got just about to t’ far end, father, and
I may as well chuck it now as next week or next month.”

Maniwel raised his eyes for a moment and regarded his son steadily, but
all he said was:

“Get on with your tea as Hannah tells you. If you’ve got to fight
trouble never do it on an empty belly. Them kidneys are wasted on you.”

He himself was eating with evident enjoyment and making good progress in
spite of his handicap; and it was grannie who continued the
conversation.

“A bad lot is Baldwin Briggs, and the son and grandson of bad ’uns;
black-hearted as t’ bog and hard as t’ rock on Gordel; all for
theirselves, and ne’er troubling to put a fair face on i’ front o’ their
neighbours; and that mean they’d let crows pick their bones to save a
burying——”

They were strong words for such a thin, weak voice; and they conveyed
the impression of a strong will. The deeply seamed shrivelled face, in
which the sunken eyes were dim as unclean lanterns and the receding
mouth gave away the secret of tenantless gums, was that of a woman who
had ruled her household in her day, and with a firm hand. Her eyes were
fixed on her grandson and the jaw continued to move long after her son
interrupted her.

“Now come, mother,” said he, “let’s give Baldwin a rest. A bad ’un he
may be, but if badness was passed on from his grandfather same as t’
twist of his mouth and them nose-whiskers of his, he’s more to be pitied
than blamed. But trouble’s as you make it, and a poor seasoning for meat
at any time. Jagger’ll none burst if he bottles his for a while, so
we’ll just keep t’ cork in and enjoy what’s set before us, if you
please.”

Jagger made an impatient gesture; but catching the warning look in
Hannah’s eye restrained himself, and went on with his meal. Grannie,
however, ate little and was not to be silenced; indeed she was
apparently unconscious of the prohibition. The half-sightless eyes
stared into space as if she saw there the ghosts of the dead whom memory
had summoned.

“There was never but one son born to any Briggses. There mud be as many
as half a dozen lasses, and Keturah’s great-aunt, I bethink me, had
nine; but there was never more nor one lad in any o’ their families, and
he was always a Baldwin and always a bad ’un, and came to a bad end.”

Maniwel’s fist came down upon the table with a force that set all the
pots a-dancing.

“That’ll do, mother,” said he. “Give a dog a bad name and it’ll live up
to it. Baldwin isn’t dead yet, and there’s room for him to mend. Pour
your grannie out a cup more tea, Hannah, and keep her busy, or we shall
be having all t’ Briggses’ corpses for generations back laid aside o’ t’
table before we’ve finished.”

He began roughly but ended on a note of humour and the meal was
completed without further incident.

Then as grannie returned to her seat and Hannah cleared the table
Maniwel bade his son draw up to the hearth.

“Now,” he said, “let’s hear what’s been amiss between you and Baldwin.”

The look of strain and annoyance had never left the young man’s face,
and he scowled heavily, goaded by his father’s half bantering tone. His
long legs were thrust out on to the hearth, his hands were buried in his
trousers pockets, and his temper, like his limbs, was at full stretch.

“You think it’s same as it has been before,” he said sullenly—“we’ve
fallen out and we shall fall in again; but if he comes on his bended
knees I’ve finished with him. I’d sooner beg my bread or starve than
I’d——”

“Aye, aye,” interrupted his father. “You can cut out all t’
high-and-mighty, lad, and get down to bed-rock. What’s he sacked you
for?”

“For asking for a rise,” Jagger answered hotly. “I work hours and hours
overtime as you know well without as much as a ‘Thank-ye’ for my labour;
and t’ harder I work t’ less he thinks of me. I told him he was fond
enough of putting his claim in when he was man instead of master, and he
laughed in my face. He said he was for himself then and he’s for himself
now, and for once in his life he spoke t’ truth. But it didn’t end
there. He says I rob him because I won’t scamp my work and diddle his
customers; and that filled t’ cup up, and I brought my bass home. You
have it all there; he isn’t a man, he’s a devil.”

“Maybe he is,” the father replied coolly, “or if he isn’t he keeps a
lodging-house in his inside for them o’ that breed, same as most of us;
and they’re like as they’ve got t’ upper hand o’ t’ Briggses, as your
grannie says. However, we’ll keep to bed-rock—Baldwin’ll none come on
his bended knees; but if you were to bend your stiff neck and go to
him——.”

“I’ll see him hanged first!”

“Well, he keeps inside o’ t’ law, does Baldwin, and I doubt if they’ve
started making t’ rope ’at’ll hang him, so we’ll move on a step; what
are you thinking of doing?”

The frown on Jagger’s brow beetled the deep caverns of his eyes; but the
tone in which he replied that he supposed he must leave the village and
seek a job in the town, where jobs were plentiful and wages were
regulated by the unions, was not convincing.

“And what sort of a show would you make in a town?” Hannah’s voice broke
in. “You that has t’ moor in your blood! You’d choke! Ling doesn’t grow
on paved streets and it’s poor fishing you’ll get in a bath-room!”

“You can do without what you can’t get. Needs must when the devil
drives, as I told Baldwin. I shan’t be t’ first who’s left t’ village
and made his way in t’ town.”

“If you make your way in t’ town you’ll be t’ first i’ our family that
ever managed it,” said his father. “Not that I’m again’ you trying it,
mind you, if there isn’t a better way, though there is an old wife’s
tale that no Drake comes to any good that turns his back on t’ moor.”

“It’s true, Maniwel; God’s truth it is,” the old woman across the hearth
interposed sharply; “and no old wife’s tale, neither. Didn’t they bring
your Uncle Ben back with a stroke on him and all his money ’at he’d
piled up sunk like a rock i’ t’ Tarn; and him thankful for sup and bite
out o’ them he’d looked down on. And there was your great-uncle,
Rueben——”

“Aye, aye, mother,” her son broke in pleasantly; “and there was his
father before him, that they buried at t’ cross roads with a stake in
his inside and made a tale of. I know all t’ catalogue of shockers; but
I’m t’ wrong man to be frightened o’ boggards, and I could wish our
Jagger was. If t’ finger o’ duty pointed me to t’ town I’d follow it
same as Luther talked about if it rained boggards and I’d to wade
through ’em up to t’ waist, but I doubt if Jagger’s grit enough.”

“You’re over hard on him, father,” expostulated Hannah who was standing,
dish-cloth in hand, at the scullery-door; and her brother forced a
bitter laugh.

“What do I care how hard he is! I know he thinks I’m a milksop because I
haven’t his spirit, and don’t laugh when things go all wrong. But where
is there another thinks as he does ’at if you go straight all ’ll turn
out for t’ best? What has he to show for his belief but an empty
sleeve?”

A red flush surged over his neck and face as he completed the sentence;
and half-ashamed of his outburst he looked into his father’s face.

“Nay, lad, you’ve no ’casion to run t’ red flag up,” Maniwel replied;
but there was nothing bantering in his tone now, and his face had
sobered. “If we’d windows to our hearts you’d happen be capped to see
what there is inside o’ mine, both good and bad; but one thing you
_would_ find if you looked close—you’d find ’at my belief, as you call
it, had brought me a deal more than an empty sleeve, and you’d see
naught ’at I’m ashamed of in my thoughts of you.”

“You oughtn’t to have said that, Jagger,” said his sister reproachfully;
but her father waved the rebuke aside.

“I’d sooner a blain showed on his lip than fester under t’ skin, and
I’ve tried to learn you both to speak your minds. For twenty years I’ve
done my best to walk t’ street called Straight, and I’ve got it rooted
in my mind ’at there’s no better road. Baldwin favours t’ street called
Crook’d, as long as it isn’t _too_ crook’d, ’cause he thinks it’s a
short cut to t’ Land o’ Plenty. I think he’s mista’en; but whether he is
or no I should be sorry for any lad o’ mine to follow him; and that’s
why I’m glad ’at Jagger goes by t’ straight road even if he grumbles at
t’ ruts.”

There was just a hint of suspicion in the eyes Jagger turned on his
father’s face but what he saw there reassured him and his brow cleared a
little. His tone, however, was still gruff as he said:

“Crook’d ways seem to pay all right. They landed Baldwin’s feet in Mr.
Clegg’s shoes and put money in his purse; and t’ street called Straight
has done precious little for us. If it pays to do right, how is it that
you happened your accident and how is it I get sacked? I suppose it’ll
be made up to us i’ heaven!”

The suggestion was something less than a sneer, in that it conveyed a
want of understanding as honest as Job’s in similar, if more tragic,
circumstances, and the father read it as such.

“All I know about heaven,” he said, “and all I want to know, is ’at t’
street called Straight runs through it as well as to it, and if it
doesn’t put money in your purse it keeps t’ fountain sweet in your soul,
and that’s something. But walking straight doesn’t take t’ bite out o’
t’ teeth of a circ’lar saw when you run your thumb again’ it, and it
doesn’t take trouble out o’ life. All t’ same if you’re frightened o’
trouble you’re as like to meet with it on t’ crook’d road as on t’
straight.”

“Now look you here, lad,” he continued as his son made no reply; “if
you’ll get out o’ t’ cradle and give up supping dill-water, but stand on
your feet like a man I’ll help you to plan something out. I’m none for
you going back to Baldwin, though I don’t doubt he expects it; and I’m
none for you leaving t’ village unless you’re forced. You’re a moorman,
and t’ moor’s in your blood as Hannah says, same as it’s i’ mine. It’ll
call you and rive at your heart strings if you put t’ sea between you
and it. You’d hear t’ pipit ‘peep-peeping’ over t’ heather and t’
jackdaws cawing on Gordel; and you’d see t’ trout leaping i’ t’ beck and
t’ dippers plunging their white breasts into t’ water below t’ Cove if
you were in t’ thick o’ London streets——”

“And it’s a bad end you’d come to, Jagger. Some can do it and be no
worse for’t, but there’s naught but ill follows them Drakes that leaves
t’ moor; don’t ee do it, my lad!” Grannie’s voice was pleading, and her
eyes were troubled.

“Let’s hear what father has in his mind,” said Hannah who had joined the
group and drawn a chair up to the hearth. Then she turned to her father.
“You oughtn’t to plague him with talking of ‘dill-water’ and such like.
If it was me it ’ud get my back up.”

“Aye, right enough,” said Maniwel with a significance that the girl
resented though it left Jagger unmoved; “but I’ll get to t’ point.
There’s been a notion i’ my head for some time back ’at we happen
couldn’t do better than start i’ business for ourselves. There’s room
for two i’ t’ village, if one’s a small ’un, and small we should have to
be ’cause all t’ brass we should have ’ud be that three hundred ’at’s
lying out at interest wi’ John Clegg. But if Jagger’s willing I’ll call
it in, and we’ll fix up a bit of a shop and get to work. It’ll be a poor
do if between us we can’t make a living; for if I’ve got shut of an arm
I’ve kept my head, and that’ll come in handy when Jagger loses his. T’
big jobs’ll have to go to Baldwin ’cause we shan’t have neither machines
nor capital; but there’ll be enough little ’uns to keep some meal i’ t’
barrel, I’ll warrant. What think you, lad?”

A complete change had come over Jagger whilst his father was speaking
and the face was now that of another man. The brow became unbent and the
eyes mild and pleasant. He withdrew his hands from his pockets and
rubbed them together slowly like one who anticipates a satisfaction near
at hand.

“By gen, it’s a trump card! I’d give a dollar to see Baldwin’s face when
he hears tell what we’re doing! Jobs? There’ll be no lack of ’em. I
mayn’t have your headpiece for scheming out ways and means, but Baldwin
hasn’t a man in his shop ’at can come near me at my job, and there’s
more than him knows it. It’ll serve the old lickpenny right, and teach
him not to rob widows. Where’ll we find a shop?”

Maniwel looked at him steadily for a moment or two, and Hannah watched
her father’s face, knowing what he was thinking.

“When folks are in a hurry to swallow they have to have their meat
minced for ’em. It ’ud suit me better, lad, if you’d get off spoon-food,
and begin to chew for yourself. You’ve jumped at this plan o’ mine same
as a bairn at a rattle. You’d better sleep on it, and then we’ll talk
about t’ shop. But if we do start for ourselves it shall be in t’ street
called Straight, anyway. Baldwin’s for himself all t’ way through; we’ll
be for ourselves and company.”

Hannah turned to look at her brother; but it was evident he had only
partly heard his father’s remarks, being engaged with his own thoughts;
and her brow bent into an expression of impatience.


                               CHAPTER IV

               IN WHICH THE WOMAN ENTERS WITH THE SERPENT

THREE hours later Hannah and Jagger were alone, but for a while
neither of them had much to say. To watch the changing expression on the
woman’s face you would have said that tenderness and contempt were
striving for the mastery on the battlefield of her soul and that the
issue was uncertain. Hannah was only thirty but Nature had taken little
pains in her fashioning, leaving her angular in outline and pinched in
features; and responsibility had unloaded its burden on her shoulders at
an age when most girls are unfettered or at worst in leading-strings,
for the mother had died when Hannah was fourteen. Ten years later the
grandmother, recently widowed, had come to share the home and the income
and to add to the girl’s trials. Grannie was masterful; but Hannah was
mistress and had no mind at twenty-four to bend her neck to the
authority of seventy-five. The encounters that took place were by tacit
consent of both parties confined to occasions when the men-folk were out
of hearing, and victory was not always on one side, but in the end
Hannah triumphed, and her crowning achievement, the trophy of her
success, was not in the subjugation but the conversion of her
grandmother. In the hour that grannie lay down her arms she confessed
that she “liked a lass o’ mettle,” and could rest satisfied that one of
the family had “a bit o’ bite in her,” now that Maniwel had turned queer
in his head, and had bred a son whose bark was loud enough but who never
bared his teeth in the good old moorland fashion. From that time
Hannah’s ascendancy had been undisputed, but the conflict, and the
anxiety that had attended her father’s accident, had left their mark
upon her features which contradicted the parish register by ten years at
least.

You had only to enter the cottage to discover at once where Hannah’s
energies found their outlet and justification. If her house was no
cleaner than the houses of her neighbours it was to their credit and not
to her disparagement. Not all the women of Mawm made pretensions of
godliness but there were few who did not worship at the shrine of
cleanliness, and with no mere lip-service—were they not Yorkshire folk
and moor-folk?

“Cleanliness next to godliness?” Yea, verily; and in that order.

There was something about the Drakes’ cottage, however, that was not
found everywhere; something not quite definable—a daintiness, a touch
of refinement, revealed in the harmony of colours and the sight of
flowers, perhaps, and accentuated by the absence of anything that
jarred. It was Hannah’s doing, but it aroused neither admiration nor
envy in the breasts of her neighbours, none of whom was very concerned
to inquire how it was that the Drakes’ home was the cosiest and
pleasantest in the village.

Having been sent into the world by a watchful Providence four years in
advance of her brother, and installed by force of circumstances in the
position of mother to the boy of ten, the girl recognised in the
position a special responsibility which she changed into a privilege.
Other lads, other young men, rather annoyed her; she treated them with
the scant attention that is almost a discourtesy; but she lavished a
mother’s as well as a sister’s affection on Jagger, and did her best to
correct the faults in his character which the maternal instinct enabled
her to remark even before they became apparent to the quick eyes of her
father. It was quite in accordance with her nature that she rarely
discussed her hopes and fears and difficulties with her father, though
she endowed him in her thoughts with all the virtues of the superman; a
sense of loyalty to her brother and also a recognition of her father’s
ability to deal with the situation held her back. But she lost no
opportunity to repress the boy’s tendencies to indulge in a
half-feminine peevishness that made him moody and irritable, and,—to
one of her temperament—even contemptible. It had the same effect on her
father; but what she fought against in herself she could not tolerate in
another, so the exhibition of disdain in look or word always brought her
to arms.

The room was looking particularly attractive in the yellow light of the
lamp and the red glow of the dwindling fire, and as Hannah leaned back
in the chair grannie had vacated an hour before and listened to the wind
which was now howling about the door, her eyes rested with an appraising
scrutiny on this article and that as if she were determining what ravage
of to-day would call for first attention on the morrow.

Jagger had not moved from his place on the hearth, and sat with his head
in his hands gazing into the embers where he had already built
sufficient wooden castles to line the banks of the Rhine. It was one of
Jagger’s faults (or excellences, if that is your point of view) that he
was ready to build without troubling his brain over much on the subject
of foundations.

Hannah’s eyes fell from the two hams that were suspended from the
rafters to the bowl of chrysanthemums on the chest of drawers, and
finally rested on the big Bible that lay open beneath the lamp, where
her father had left it when he went upstairs to bed, and her thoughts
were diverted.

“There are some queer ideas in t’ Bible,” she remarked, “some of them he
read to-night there isn’t many goes by—not in this neighbourhood,
anyway.”

Jagger roused himself and yawned. “I never heard a word he read,” he
admitted. “I was putting t’ new shop up and getting some bill-heads
printed—‘Drake and Son, Timber Merchants and Contractors, Mawm.’ I
could very near forgive Baldwin for sacking me.”

“‘Timber Merchants and Contractors!’” repeated Hannah with a scornful
intonation that ought to have crumpled up her brother like a blighted
leaf. “‘All kinds of jobbing work promptly attended to’ would be nearer
t’ mark. If you weren’t my own brother I should think you a fool. One
minute you’re at t’ bottom o’ Gordel and all t’ Scar tumbling on you,
and t’ next you’re atop o’ Fountain Fell with your head in t’ clouds.
You’d be in a poor way if it wasn’t for father; and it ’ud pay you to
take a leaf out of his book as I’ve told you hundreds o’ times. _He_
keeps his head in all weathers, and naught moves him. He’s a pauper
compared wi’ Baldwin; but to listen to him you’d think he was a
millionaire, like Mr. Harris. ‘As having nothing, yet possessing all
things.’ His face fair lit up when he read it.”

Jagger’s lip curled and he spoke impatiently. “It’s a fad he’s got into
his head and it’s turned him soft. You ask grannie what she thinks about
it! With notions like his no man could make his way—always bending his
back for someone else to climb up on his shoulders. I’m tired of being
naught but a ladder, but father thinks it’s what we’re here for. You’ve
to look after yourself in this world, and leave other folks to look
after theirselves.”

Hannah leaned back in her chair and regarded her brother with a scornful
look.

“That’s Baldwin’s motto,” she said. “You’d better go partners with
_him_, Jagger Drake. ‘All for my-sen!’ I thought that was what him and
you had quarrelled over. You want to know your own mind, my lad, and
find out whose side you’re on before you start in business for
yourself.”

“I’m not such a mean devil as Baldwin is,” he returned, flushing a
little; and his sister replied:

“Happen you dursn’t be; but ‘all for my-sen’ ’ud soon bring you to where
he stands. You can’t blow both hot and cold at t’ same time; and you
want to know where you are, as I say, before you put your sign up.”

The only reply was a scowl and Hannah changed her tone.

“I’m vexing you,” she said soothingly; “I know you didn’t mean it. It’s
as father says, you go t’ straight road if you grumble at t’ ruts; but I
wish from my soul you weren’t always looking as if you’d made a meal o’
baking-powder.”

The conversation was interrupted at this point by a knock at the door
and the raising of the latch, and as Hannah got to her feet a girl
entered the room and unwrapped the scarf that had covered her neck and
shoulders. Jagger’s face lost its look of inertness when he recognised
the visitor.

“Nay, Nancy! Who’d have thought of you popping in at this time o’
night?” was Hannah’s greeting; but the tone was cordial and not as
overcharged with surprise as the words implied.

“Do you call it late?” the newcomer asked indifferently. “In Airlee we
should have said the evening was just beginning. _I’m_ not going to bed
just yet, but I won’t keep you two up though Jagger’ll be able to lie a
bit longer than usual in the morning. Keturah’s only just told me that
you’re sacked,” she continued, turning eyes that were more curious than
sympathetic on the young man; “and that a stranger has got your job; and
I dodged them both and came down to see what you’re going to do.”

“A stranger got my job, do you say?” inquired Jagger as Nancy sat down
in his father’s chair. “Who is he?”

He was vexed, and face and tone showed it; it was just another instance
of Baldwin’s cursed good luck.

“I don’t know. Somebody who had walked over from Scaleber to seek a job,
and heard you rowing.”

“We didn’t row,” returned Jagger. “I just told Mr. Briggs a thing or two
that was on my mind as quietly as I’m talking to you now, and then he
slipped his temper and went for me tooth and nail. Called me a thief
into t’ bargain, and that bides a bit of swallowing.”

“He’ll take you on again,” said Nancy confidently; “not because he loves
you, but because he knows when he’s well served; and I daresay he’ll
give you your rise, too, when his gorge goes down. You’re short of tact,
Jagger. You get naught out of Baldwin by holding a pistol at his head.”

Jagger laughed, knowingly and triumphantly. “I’ve a card up my sleeve
that’ll pull Mr. Briggs’ face to twice its length. If he was to double
my wage I wouldn’t go back to a man that’s called me thief. I’m starting
for myself, Nancy, as soon as I can get a few things together.”

“Starting for yourself—here?” The question was rapped out, and the
expression of the speaker’s eyes became suddenly hostile.

“Aye, here,” he replied; and he looked across at his sister so that he
missed the shadow that swept over their visitor’s face and left it
black. In just the same way does the Tarn that lies on the lap of the
wild moor, 900 feet above the village and overlooked by mountains that
lift their heads hundreds of feet higher still, display its mood—at one
moment calm, unruffled, streaked and dotted with blue, or brilliantly
white with cloud reflections; the next, grey and angry-looking as a
storm leaps up from the south, making the sky leaden.

Nancy Clegg was only in her twenty-third year, but she was a woman
full-grown and quite conscious of her developed powers. There was an air
of distinction about her that other young women lacked—an air that had
brought men to her side and kept them there even in the city where she
had been spending a few weeks with her uncle’s family, and though she
was rather sparely built, on the model of the moorwoman, she had none of
Hannah’s angularities to destroy the symmetry of her figure, and her
black hair and clear black eyes together with a straight, fine nose and
expressive lips would have made her noticeable in any company and
aroused admiration in most. Few women ever had their features in better
control than she; but there were occasions when she gave them free play
and this was one of them. Hannah noticed the change, and her mouth
tightened.

“Oh, I see!” said Nancy, and the coldness in the voice caused Jagger to
look up. Instantly his face fell as he saw that his communication was
ill-received.

“Why shouldn’t I?” he inquired petulantly. “I should never have thought
of starting for myself if he hadn’t sacked me, but you can’t always be
lying down and letting a man wipe his feet on you. A bit of
competition’ll do Baldwin good, and teach him a lesson!”

“I suppose you won’t expect me to congratulate you, seeing that I’ve an
interest in the business?” she replied coldly; and she stretched out her
hand for the scarf which she proceeded to wrap about her shoulders. “If
you’ve made up your mind there’s nothing more to be said, and I might
have spared myself my errand. Don’t get up, Hannah. I can let myself
out.”

Poor Jagger! A chill like that of night when the wet mists steal down
the sides of Cawden sent a shiver over his spirits and choked his
speech. In his eagerness to avenge himself upon his master he had
forgotten that Nancy would be affected by the scheme, and Nancy was the
all-important consideration. When he had spoken of his father’s age as
the barrier to his freedom of action he had been half-conscious of
insincerity, and he knew now, if he had not definitely acknowledged it
to himself before, that it was she of the black locks and black eyes and
not his sire who made the thought of leaving Mawm unpalatable. His mind
was not quick enough to grapple with the situation, however, and whilst
he was groping round for a way of escape Hannah’s voice cut the silence.

“It was father’s idea,” she said with a coldness equal to Nancy’s own,
as she rose and moved towards the door. “Maybe he hadn’t just thought
how it ’ud concern you; but by all accounts Mr. Briggs turns trade
enough away to keep one pair o’ hands busy. You know father well enough,
Nancy, to be sure he’ll do naught to hurt you, and I’m sorry if you take
it amiss. If you were Jagger’s sister you’d be tired o’ seeing him eat
dirt to keep in with a master ’at holds him down. _I’d_ have chucked it
long since, if it had been me.”

“Jagger’s a right to please himself, and I’m not disputing it,” said
Nancy haughtily; “but if there’s to be two firms in the village you
can’t expect me to be any friend to the second.”

Jagger had found his tongue by now and he followed the girl to the door
and stood with her in the opening, uttering vehement protests to which
Hannah closed her ears and Nancy listened reluctantly.

“You’d best think it over,” she said in tones that had lost nothing of
their iciness as she turned away. “I’ll say naught about it at home,
Jagger, in the hope that you’ll change your mind.”

She walked away rapidly; but hearing footsteps quicken behind her
thought Jagger was following and wheeled round with an impatient
dismissal on her lips.

It was some other, however, who hurried up—a stranger obviously, for a
bowler hat was silhouetted against the sky and gear of that kind was
never seen on the heads of the male fraternity of Mawm except on
Sundays. Although a glance was all she gave him when she perceived her
mistake there was something that seemed familiar in the man’s outline,
and for a second or two she puzzled over it and wondered why she was
followed; but though she went on her way more quickly she was not
afraid.

“You walk fast, Miss Clegg!” The voice was low and carried a laugh in
its tones and Nancy started and stood still.

“Who are you?” she inquired; but the revelation came to her as the
moonlight fell upon his face, and her heart beat more quickly than
exertion could account for; yet her subdued exclamation—“If it isn’t
Mr. Inman!” was coloured by annoyance rather than pleasure.

“James Inman, at your service,” he replied, raising his hat with a
courtesy that was deliberately theatrical. “I believe I told you when
you doubted my word, that I should find ways and means to see you again;
and here I am.”

Nancy tossed her head—a trick she had not needed to learn in the town,
and answered him sharply.

“If you’ve followed me here because you think that I’m likely to take
any interest in you, Mr. Inman, the sooner you’re undeceived the better
for us both. And if it’s you that’s got a job at our shop let me tell
you straight that it goes against you, and I’ve only to let Mr. Briggs
know what you’re after for you to be sent about your business.”

Inman laughed. “And what worse should I be then than I am now? I should
have had ten minutes with my heart’s delight, and that’s worth a month
of dreams. And why shouldn’t your guardian know that I’m after a wife?
Other men before me have hunted that quarry and not been burned at the
stake for it. If I hunt fair what harm is there in it? But perhaps you
think he’ll be vexed to find that Jagger Drake has a competitor.”

Nancy’s cheeks grew red with anger, but even as hot words rose to her
tongue her judgment cooled them, and her thoughts ran on ahead and
reviewed the situation. Baldwin and Jagger were at enmity; and though a
word in the older man’s ear might start the fires of his wrath against
the newcomer, they were not likely to burn the more fiercely at the
knowledge that this young man was Jagger’s rival for her affections. The
effect might be quite opposite, for the large contempt in which Baldwin
held the Drakes, both father and son, might lead him to favour another
suitor.

Nancy had remained standing and she held Inman by a haughty stare whilst
these thoughts crossed her mind at telegraphic speed.

“You don’t leave your meaning to be guessed at, anyway,” she said in her
most freezing tones; “but a woman isn’t like a hare; she can choose who
she lets hunt her, and I don’t choose to be hunted by you. Those are
plain words, Mr. Inman, and I hope you appreciate them.”

“I do,” he replied. “I’m a moorman and you’re a moorwoman. Moor-folk
don’t go by round-about ways when there’s a straight cut. I tell you as
I told you before that I love you and would make you my wife. ‘Not like
a hare!’ Of course you aren’t. I want no woman for a wife who’s like a
hare. An oily towns-man would have turned the tables on you and crooned
out that he was hunting a ‘dear’; but I don’t deal in soft nothings.
Maybe Jagger Drake does; I heard him this afternoon when he whined like
a whipped dog, and I took his measure. If you marry him you’ll have a
baby in your arms to start with——”

“I’ve listened to you long enough,” Nancy broke in at this point with
increased hauteur. “Who’s been coupling my name with Jagger Drake’s I
don’t know, but it’s no concern of either theirs or yours; and as
there’s sure to be some eyes spying on us, and I’ve no wish to have my
character taken away, as it’s likely enough it will be if I stop talking
with a strange man, the first night he’s in the village, I’ll just wish
you good-bye; and if you take my advice you’ll set off back where you
came from to-morrow morning.”

“One minute then,” he replied, as she turned away with a frown on her
face. “We mayn’t have another opportunity as good as this for
understanding one another. You call me a stranger, and you propose to
treat me as a stranger. So be it, I learn my lessons quickly, and I
shan’t worry you, you may rely on that. But I’ve buried my mother since
you saw me last, and I’ve a mind to get back to the moors. If I stop
with Mr. Briggs I can help to ginger up the business, though it’s plain
enough to see that he thinks himself God Almighty and wants no help. But
if he won’t have me, or if you think fit to put a spoke in the wheel,
I’ll just start for myself and maybe get our young friend Jagger to help
me. Soft as he is there are sure to be some old women who’ll fancy him
for their work, and I’ll bet between us we can make things hum.
Whichever way I go, your road’ll cross mine, Miss Nancy, and we’ll go on
arm in arm before the end; but it shall be of your own free will, I
promise you that!”

She was staring him in the face with curling lip; but the effort to keep
back hot, indignant words and to hide their nearness from him almost
choked her; and all the time she was conscious of an icy feeling at her
heart. He was meeting her glance with a smile of quiet assurance; and
when she said—“We are just strangers, Mr. Inman. I shall not interfere
with Mr. Briggs’ business arrangements, so you may be easy on that
point. All I want is to be left alone!” he merely nodded, and raising
his hat, wished her good-night.


                               CHAPTER V

                  IN WHICH JAGGER DRAKE SETS HIS TEETH

LIKE an impatient housewife whose activities have been thwarted, and
who rises whilst others sleep to make onslaught on her foes with mop and
besom, the wind busied itself in the night with the work of sweeping
away the frosty mists which for a week past had been clinging to the
sides of the hills and stretching across the gullies like thin, silvered
cobwebs; and when the sun peeped over the shoulder of Cawden and sent
his heralds with streaming banners of pink and lances tipped with gold
to warn such few laggards as were still abed of his coming, the village
was looking as bright as a healthy babe fresh from its morning bath.
There was nothing babe-like, of course, about such a venerable place
except the river, which tumbled and tinkled along its course as if it
rejoiced in its liberty after being shut in underground so long, but
which, seen from the slopes a few hundred yards away, seemed as restful
as the grey hamlet itself.

If you estimate the importance of a place by its size you would never
bestow a second glance at Mawm, even if the beam of bigness in your eye
permitted you to see it, for the hamlet is a mere mote among the
mountains; a speck of grey upon the moors. If you doze for twenty
seconds you may pass through it in your car and find when you rouse
yourself no hint of its existence; and you will have missed—what people
with beams in their eyes must often miss—a pleasing picture in shotted
green and grey that you might have carried away with you, and that would
have enriched your gallery of memories through all the years.

Like a humble lodge at the entrance gate of the park which holds some
lordly dwelling-house, Mawm stands at the junction of three roads one of
which brings the traveller from the amenities of the railway, five miles
distant, whilst the others transport him at once to the heart of the
moors and the deep cold shadows of the Pennines. From those wild heights
the winter gales sweep down upon the hamlet, lashing it with whips of
ice and half burying it in snow, bracing and hardening men of Viking
blood, and sending to their rest beneath the graveyard sod at Kirkby
Mawm, lower down the valley, those of softer breed. In summer it is
still wind-swept; but the breezes are kindlier (though still rough and
sharp-toothed), and they load themselves with the fragrant spices of the
moors—the sweetness of heather and mountain berries and peaty-bog. And
at all seasons of the year the air is pure as purity itself.

But Mawm is a guardian of other and rarer treasures than these. Beyond
the village, but only a few strides away, great inland cliffs that are
the wonder of all who see them rear their giant forms; and in the Cove
and Scar you will find rock scenery whose like few countries can produce
and which is unmatched in all Britain. With these gifts of air and earth
and earth’s convulsions for their heritage the men of Mawm are a strong
race and fortunate, though not all are conscious of their good fortune.

Maniwel Drake (the greater number of his acquaintances did not know that
his name figured as Emmanuel in the parish register, and he himself had
almost forgotten it), was not to be numbered with these dullards. A man
of the moors, whose ancestors on both sides for generations back had
been moorland folk, the air of the uplands was to him the best of
tonics, sweeping over his soul no less than his body, and containing
what the old physiologists called “a hidden food of life.” No gale,
however wild, had ever been able to pierce the defences of his hardy
frame and undermine his constitution, and he had long ago shaken off the
ill-results of the accident which, by reason of the light regard in
which he had held it, had well-nigh cost him his life. With his one arm
he could do more work than many could accomplish with two; but until now
he had been content to lend a hand when and where it was needed, and his
earnings had been precarious, which would have mattered more, if his
wants had not been few.

His whitewashed cottage neighboured with the little one-arched bridge
that spanned the stream, and its tiny panes gathered the greater part of
the sun’s rays, for they faced east and south, and as they looked down
the valley with no nearer obstruction than hills that were miles distant
the house was always so bright that a speck of dust had not the faintest
chance to escape Hannah’s observant eyes. It was because the house was
sunny and close to the laughter-loving stream that Maniwel had chosen
it. It harmonised with his nature.

He was thinking of Jagger and the new scheme as he leaned against the
parapet of the bridge, with the sun’s rosy beams playing about his
uncovered head like an incipient halo—particularly of Jagger, and of
Jagger’s mother on whose vitals some slow cancerous disease had fixed
its wolfish teeth some months before the lad’s birth, tearing at her
strength and leaving her for the rest of her weary life querulous and
spiritless who up to then had known neither ache nor pain. It was
Jagger’s misfortune to have been born with a weight on his spirits which
it was as difficult to dislodge as the Old Man of the Sea from the
shoulders of Sindbad—it is not only the sins of parents that are
visited on the children: often it is their sorrows. Like Naaman the
Syrian, Jagger combined with many excellencies one outstanding
defect—he was a good workman, skilful, painstaking and conscientious,
and he was a creditable member of the community; but he was a grumbler.

Maniwel’s eyes, travelling observantly about the green though his
thoughts were indoors, apprised him that a stranger had left the
“Packhorse,” and was walking towards the bridge, and his quick wit told
him that this was Jagger’s successor. Inman had no need to guess that
the tall figure on the bridge was the father of his despised rival, for
the landlord had pointed him out as they parted company at the door of
the inn; and if the path had not led in that direction, curiosity would
have taken him there.

Each took the other’s measure as Inman approached; but whereas the
younger man flashed a hawk-like glance at Maniwel’s face and let that
suffice, Maniwel himself indulged in a scrutiny that took in every
detail of the newcomer’s dress, from the serviceable, thick-soled boots
to the incongruous bowler hat; yet so unmoved were the features, so
deliberate was the sweep of the eye that even a close observer might
have thought him indifferent.

Inman raised his head and nodded and would have passed on but for the
inviting note in Maniwel’s greeting.

“Promises well for a fine day, I’m thinking.”

“I can do with it,” said Inman bluntly. “It’ll be seven miles, I
understand, to Scaleber, and I’ve got to do the double journey.”

“Seven miles by t’ low road,” replied Maniwel; “and a trifle less by
that over t’ top.”

“I came by the straight road last night,” Inman replied grimly, “and I’m
having no more of straight roads. I’ll give the low road a turn in
future.”

They were looking into each other’s faces, and Inman was puzzled and
half irritated by the expression of shrewdness and serenity that he saw
on his side of the picture. Instinctively he recognised in the father a
man of different calibre from the son; a man whose gentleness could not
be mistaken for weakness; a man whose eyes and jaw told conflicting
stories of their owner’s character. The note of easy playfulness in
Maniwel’s voice vexed him because it placed him at a disadvantage.

“I don’t know about t’ top road being straight. They’re both about as
straight as a dog’s hind leg if it comes to that. They’re same as lots
of us folk—they go straight when it’s easier then to go crook’d. But
there’ll be a grand breeze on t’ top this morning, and all t’ scents in
t’ moor’s bottle let loose into t’ bargain.”

Inman stared at him and broke into a laugh.

“I’m no judge of scents and hair-oil,” he replied. “I leave that sort o’
thing for women and dandies. The low road’ll do for me.”

He turned away and at that moment Hannah opened the house-door and
beckoned her father with an upward movement of the hand, whereupon he
went down and stood beside her in the angle of the bridge.

“That’ll be him that’s got Jagger’s job,” she said, “and it reminds me
that t’ fat’s in t’ fire and no mistake”; but the wry smile about her
lips and the light that shone in her grey eyes seemed to contradict the
declaration.

“Then there’ll be a bit o’ spluttering, likely,” said her father calmly.
“Whose fat is it?”

Hannah made a significant motion towards the upper storey and lowered
her voice as she replied:

“Nancy came in last night and Jagger told her what you had in your minds
about starting for yourselves. My word! It was hoity-toity in a minute.
She might have been sitting on t’ hot oven-plate by t’ way she got to
her feet. If Jagger weds her I fancy t’ hen’ll crow louder than t’ cock
in their farmyard.”

Maniwel nodded, and looked down into his daughter’s face more soberly
than she had expected.

“That ’ud be because she’s a sort o’ interest in t’ concern. I’d thought
about that, and reckoned on Jagger tumbling to it first thing; but when
he didn’t I said naught. There’s something in it from t’ lass’s point o’
view. What did Jagger say?”

“Say! He was as dumb as a dumpling till she’d taken herself to t’ door,
then he ran up and started twittering like a hedge-sparrow with a cuckoo
in its nest. But he might as well have saved his wind, for her ladyship
was standing on stilts, and she wasn’t for getting down when she took
herself home.”

“I daresay,” commented Maniwel. “Then Jagger’ll have chucked t’ new
scheme up, I reckon? I half expected as much.”

“I don’t know what he’ll have done by now,” she replied. “He shifts like
t’ hands of t’ clock till you can’t tell where he is. I’d be ashamed not
to have a mind o’ my own.”

“Aye,” said her father grimly, “a man ’at can’t walk unless he’s tied
tight to someb’dy else, same as he was running a three-legged race,
isn’t likely to make much headway, and I doubt he’ll have to fit his
stride to Nancy’s if he weds her. However, she’s put him in t’ sieve and
we shall have to see what comes of it.”

“He wasn’t for dropping t’ idea when he went to bed,” said Hannah as she
turned indoors where the newly-lighted fire was now roaring in the
grate; “and if he keeps t’ same look on his face he ought to do well in
t’ undertaking line—Baldwin wouldn’t have a cat’s chance; but we shall
have to wait and see what he says when he comes down to his breakfast.”

The father sat down and spreading his legs on the hearth, gave himself
up to thought whilst Hannah laid the cloth and began to prepare the
meal. When she came and stood over the fire where the kettle was singing
cheerfully he looked up into her face.

“Will she wed him, lass?” he asked. “If he swallows his pride and begs
on again——”

“If he does aught o’ t’ sort I shall give him up for a bad job——” she
broke in hotly; but her father laid his left hand on her arm.

“It’s either that or leaving t’ village if he’s to keep in with Nancy,”
he said. “She’s her father’s child, and Tom Clegg was a stiff-necked ’un
and could never see no way but his own. Not but what he had his good
points, and at his worst he was a lot better than Baldwin; but when he
set himself it ’ud ha’ taken powder to shift him. I don’t want to wrong
t’ lass, and maybe I don’t know her well enough; but it strikes me
she’ll turn awk’ard if Jagger crosses her, and there’s no telling what
lengths a lass like her’ll go to.”

“Then let her go,” said Hannah impatiently. “She’ll be no great loss ’at
I can see, barring ’at she’s a tidy bit o’ money. Jagger says he reckons
naught o’ t’ money; but if you scrape t’ gilt off Nancy there’s very
little left, if you ask me. I could find him——”

“I daresay you could,” her father interrupted again. “But Jagger’ll bait
his own hook, lass, and either land his fish or lose it. We’ll get back
to where we started from; if he begs on again, I doubt she’ll scorn him;
if he leaves t’ village——”

The kettle boiled over at that moment and Maniwel rose and lifted it on
to the hob. When he sat down again Jagger was standing on the hearth.

“Well, what if I leave t’ village?” he asked with a firmer note in his
voice than either his father or sister had expected to find there. “It’s
me you’re talking about, I suppose—me and Nancy? Beg on again I won’t,
so that’s flat; whether she scorns me or she doesn’t. Baldwin and me’s
parted company for good; but what if I leave t’ village?”

He seated himself in grannie’s chair, leaning forward with his elbows on
his knees and looking with a steady gaze into his father’s eyes—eyes
that rested complacently upon the stalwart frame and supple hands and
that only became slightly shadowed when they settled on the face.
Jagger’s lips were closed firmly, and though the eyebrows narrowed into
a frown, there was scarcely a suggestion of sulkiness about the mouth,
and the whole expression appeared to indicate a fixity of purpose that
had been wanting the night before.

“If you leave t’ village,” the father replied, “you leave her behind,
and what’ll happen then——”

“But suppose I _don’t_ leave her behind?” he broke in. “Suppose I take
her with me? She’s sick to death of Keturah, and Baldwin nags at her
till she’s almost made up her mind to finish with ’em. She’s had a taste
of freedom while she’s been at her uncle’s, and is beginning to want a
home of her own—she’s as good as said so. I’ve naught but my two hands,
I know; but pay’s good in t’ towns and if she cared to help me to
furnish a little home to start with it ’ud be much if I couldn’t make
ends meet and tie. If only you two and grannie could bring yourselves to
go with us——”

“Steady, lad!” the father interposed as Hannah threw back her head and
seemed about to speak. “You’re galloping a bit over fast, same as a colt
’at isn’t used to t’ shafts. You can leave us three out o’ your
calculations and think about yourself. Your grannie and me are same as
t’ ling—rooted i’ moorland soil—and we should make naught out in t’
backyard of a town; and Hannah isn’t t’ sort to resin another woman’s
fiddle. Dost think Nancy’ll go wi’ you?”

“I’m not saying she would,” he answered, without hesitation and with a
look that spoke more confidently than his tongue; “but she’s going to
have t’ chance. Letting her help to provide t’ home is a pill that bides
a bit of swallowing; but you can’t have it all ways; and I’d pay her
back when I get on to my feet——”

“You’ve eaten dirt while you’ve got used to t’ taste,” Hannah broke in
excitedly. “Would I, if I were a man, beg any woman to make me a home!
I’d go single all my days first! I’ll lend you my petticoats, Jagger.”

The hot blood rushed to the young man’s cheeks and he turned angry eyes
on his sister; but the father checked the torrent of words that began to
pour from his lips.

“Sit you down, lad! Hannah’s as much at fault with _her_ false pride as
you are with yours. If a man and woman love each other so as to forsake
all others and live together till death parts ’em it’s a small matter
which o’ t’ two buys t’ furniture. It isn’t what’s bought wi’ brass ’at
makes a home, it’s what brass can’t buy. I aren’t sure but what Jagger’s
right, only I doubt he’ll make a mullock of it when he names it to
Nancy; and I wish I could be as sure as he seems to be ’at she’ll see it
in t’ same light. I wouldn’t do t’ lass a wrong; but her father set
brass first, and for aught I know she may do t’ same. Love is of God;
but t’ love o’ money isn’t; and you have it in t’ Book ’at you cannot
serve God and mammon. Now suppose by some odd chance she doesn’t fall in
wi’ t’ idea—what then?”

“Then we put t’ sign-board up, same as we talked about,” said Jagger
stoutly.

“You mean it?”

“I mean it! If she doesn’t like it, I can’t help it. Go back to Baldwin,
I won’t, and there’s an end on’t.”

Maniwel gazed at his son long and steadily and Jagger’s face put on a
look of stubbornness.

“I mean it,” he repeated doggedly. “The day she says ‘No’ sees t’ new
firm started.”

“Good lad!” said Hannah. “If Nancy has any sense she’ll rather have a
bull-dog on t’ rug than a pet poodle on her lap. But pull your chair up
to t’ table for t’ porridge is cooling on your plates, and a spoiled
breakfast oft means a spoiled day.”

                 *        *        *        *        *

The greater part of the tea-things had been cleared away when Jagger
entered the cottage in the evening. All day he had been on the watch for
Nancy, but it was late afternoon before he had found his opportunity.
His face was white and his eyes were troubled, but his voice was quite
firm when he spoke.

“If you’ve naught to do, father,” he said, “we’ll look round for a shop.
There’s that barn of Haggas’s standing empty; I daresay we could rent it
for very little. I want no tea. What say you if we go down and see Ben?”

“Then Nancy doesn’t favour t’ scheme?” inquired his father.

“Nancy’s chucked both t’ scheme and me,” he replied gruffly. “She’d
scarce listen; and naught’ll do but I must go back to Baldwin and help
to work t’ business up to fill all their pockets. It’s of no consequence
’at mine’s empty.”

His father regarded him for a minute in silence; but Hannah made light
of the quarrel, preaching patience, and the virtue of the cold-shoulder
treatment, to which Jagger gave no heed.

“I was afraid you’d make a mullock of it, lad,” said his father at
length. “There’s edges on all women that you can’t get off with either
chisel or smoothing plane, and it’s a mistake to try sandpaper. You told
her a straight tale, I reckon?”

“I told her all she’d listen to. I hid naught from her,” he replied.

“Then pour him out his tea, Hannah,” said Maniwel. “A man can sup when
he can’t bite, and a drop o’ tea’ll very likely set t’ wheels going.
I’ll go down and see Ben; I’d thought of his place myself. You’ll be
best on t’ hearthstun for a bit till your face shortens.”

“T’ street called Straight is about as full o’ troubles as Gordel’s full
o’ stones,” said Jagger with some bitterness when his father’s back was
turned.

“T’ Book says ’at man’s born to trouble,” returned his sister, “and I
daresay you’d run up against it whichever road you travelled; but
there’s no need to wed it, and that’s what you will do if you marry
Nancy, as I’ve told you all along. She’ll want to be t’ top dog, Jagger,
and all t’ peace you’ll get’ll be when she’s having her own way.”

“I thought you reckoned to be her friend,” growled Jagger.

“So I am,” she replied, “and I’m yours too. That’s why I’m talking. What
Nancy wants is someb’dy ’at’ll master her and tame her temper, and that
isn’t you.”

Jagger scowled. He had emptied the cup his sister had set before him;
but he refused to eat and after a while Hannah threw a shawl over her
head and left the house. Then grannie, whose eyes had been fixed on him
with dog-like sympathy and intentness, leaned forward and said:

“Nancy’ll have more to bide than thee, lad. It’s been written in her
face ever since she was a little ’un ’at she’s marked for sorrow. She’s
like all t’ Cleggs—t’ black Cleggs, we used to call ’em ’cause of their
hair—proud and blind wi’ hot temper till they take t’ wrong turning in
their hurry. It was so wi’ her father. He’d been warned ’at t’ mare ’ud
throw him; but he knew better, and she set her foot on him when he was
under her belly, and it killed him i’ t’ long-run. Then there’s his
brother, John——”

“Aye, there’s Nancy’s uncle,” prompted Jagger when the old woman
hesitated. He had been listening with a tolerance that was tinged with
contempt yet not free from curiosity, and he now repeated the inquiry as
grannie remained silent. “What ails Uncle John? He’s done well enough,
hasn’t he?”

“I don’t trust him, lad!” She shook her head solemnly and turned her dim
eyes not to him but to the fire where she seemed to see portents that
were slow to clothe themselves in words. “It’s same wi’ t’ Cleggs as wi’
t’ Drakes; there’s naught but mischief happens to them what leave t’
moors. John was always under-hand; fair-looking as t’ bog, and
fair-spoken as a lass ’at wants a new gown; but shifty, lad, shifty. You
may beware of a Clegg ’at leaves t’ moor. There was his grandad——”

“Uncle John’s got on all right, anyway,” said Jagger, who knew that if
the old lady once set out on the stream of reminiscence she would carry
him along with her to wearisome lengths. “He’s made money, and he’s done
us a good turn as well as Nancy and Baldwin; gives us double what we
should get from t’ bank.”

“Maybe,” she replied. “I know naught about it; but it’s written in his
fam’ly’s fate ’at he’ll come to mischief i’ t’ long run if he leaves t’
moor.”

“Well, if he does it won’t bother us,” said Jagger with a yawn. “Nancy
settled that when she threw me overboard, and t’ bit we have with him’ll
be wanted now. All t’ same, grannie, I should like to swop places with
Uncle John.”


                               CHAPTER VI

              IN WHICH BALDWIN’S SCAFFOLDING GIVES WAY AND
                            ALSO HIS RESERVE

“BREATHES there a man with soul so dead—?” You would have said that
even Baldwin’s dank soul must have fired as he left the Tarn road and
struck across the moor to Walker’s farm. Inman, who walked uncomfortably
beside him, accommodating his long strides to the other’s nervous steps,
felt the thrill of the morning in his veins if not in his soul and would
have liked to quicken the pace and enliven the solitude with a whistled
melody. As it was, the keen November wind was left to do the whistling,
with the long bent grass for its pipe, and it did it so tunefully that
Inman remarked upon it.

“The bag-pipes are busy this morning,” he said.

The pepper-coloured tufts on Mr. Briggs’ eyebrows almost touched, as he
turned uncomprehending eyes on his companion’s face, and the look was
easy of interpretation. Inman knew that his master thought him a fool
and was therefore prepared for the reply:

“I suppose you know what you’re talking about; I don’t.”

The tone was so cold that Inman thought it best to be silent. He
therefore shifted his bass to the other shoulder and made no further
attempt at conversation. Nine out of ten moormen are influenced more or
less consciously by the moor’s moods, and frequently reflect
them—Baldwin was the tenth man, impervious to such spiritual currents
by reason of his brass-bound soul as was horny-hided Siegfried to the
thrust of his enemies. They covered the remaining distance like mutes,
Baldwin with his eyes on the ground, and Inman sweeping the waste with a
careless glance until they reached the farm where new buildings awaited
their labour.

Inman dropped his tools and looked critically at the scaffolding.

“Did Drake fix them sticks?” he asked. “They aren’t safe.”

Baldwin’s anger blazed out immediately. The structure had been erected
since Jagger left, and his own judgment told him that it was faulty. The
poles were thinnings of sycamore which had been lying about on the farm
and had seemed good enough for the purpose, though in reality they were
much too brittle. Inman’s quick eyes had detected evidences of this; but
Baldwin was not to be instructed by a stranger. It was for him to decide
whether the erection was safe or not, and he said so in language
overcharged with emphasis, bidding Inman doff his coat and get to work
without more ado.

For a moment Inman hesitated, then without a word took off his coat,
rolled up his short sleeves and mounted the ladder. Before his master
could climb up and stand beside him he had tested the plank with his
foot and formed his conclusions, but what they were not even a movement
of his shoulders made known, and he picked up his tools and began to
work.

For a while Baldwin did little more than watch him; and though he had
schooled himself in the art of concealing his satisfaction those who
knew him would have judged by the way he at length turned to his own
task that he was well pleased with the skill and industry of his new
hand. Inman needed no instruction and no prodding. Jagger Drake himself
was not more skilful and was incomparably slower. The master had to
acknowledge to himself that no man he had ever employed had framed so
well on such short acquaintance as this mysterious newcomer from
nowhere; and he experienced a sense of relief that he was careful not to
communicate by any relaxation of tone or feature to the man whose whole
attention seemed to be centred on his work.

Inman guessed what was passing in the other’s mind; and though he
controlled his features as carefully as Baldwin himself, he was in
reality in a state of tension regarding the stability of the structure
on which they were standing; but all went well until the afternoon when
on a sudden heavy movement of the master the far pole gave way.

Inman acted with the promptitude of a man who had formed his plans long
before. Baldwin had been unable to repress a sharp exclamation of alarm
as he felt the plank incline beneath his feet, and his fingers opened
involuntarily but found nothing to clutch and he must inevitably have
fallen to the ground if the collar of his coat had not been seized in a
strong grip.

“I have you! Keep still!” Inman’s calm voice said; and Baldwin felt
himself being swayed towards the near pole which was still standing.
Inman’s strength was marvellous. He was grasping the newly-erected
water-duct with his left hand and resting his feet against the sloping
board. The dead weight of Baldwin’s body caused the sharp edge of the
woodwork to cut deep into the flesh but he was scarcely conscious of
pain as he swung his master towards the pole.

“Get your legs round it,” he said.

The noise of the fallen ladder and scaffolding had brought out the
inmates of the farm and Baldwin was helped to the ground, whereupon
Inman lowered himself down without assistance, and Baldwin caught sight
of the bleeding hand.

“Best have that bathed and bandaged,” he said; and the women took him
indoors.

Work for that day was finished, and the two men by and by walked back
together, Inman’s damaged hand hidden in the pocket of his coat. They
had gone some distance before Baldwin spoke, and the gruff words came
reluctantly as if pushed from behind by some more generous prompter.

“It might ha’ been a nasty fall if you hadn’t grabbed my coat. I’ll say
one thing for you—you’ve nerve and strength.”

Inman, who was thinking in his heart that he would as soon have wrung
the miserable old fellow’s neck, replied carelessly that he was glad
that he had saved him from accident and that it would be as well if he
was allowed to see to the scaffolding in future.

This reminder brought a scowl on to the master’s face and a harder note
into his voice.

“If Jagger’d ha’ been there—but Abe Thompson’s feet aren’t big enough
for Jagger’s shoes. It was him ’at said there was tackling enough on t’
spot without sending any up. Did I read i’ yon papers o’ yours ’at
you’ve had a foreman’s job?”

“I was foreman at Marshall’s for four years,” he replied. “When I left I
was under-manager.”

“Then why the devil did you seek a job with me?” Baldwin burst out.
“There’s no under-managers wanted i’ my concern, and not likely to be.
I’m not one to pay men fancy wages for walking about wi’ their hands in
their pockets. I can manage my own business, young man.”

“So I’ve observed,” Inman replied—and though there was not the
slightest inflection of sarcasm, Baldwin shot a suspicious and
half-angry glance at the man’s face. “I’m not seeking any other job but
what I’ve got.”

“You’re seeking something, or you wouldn’t have signed on with a little
man like me,” growled Baldwin. “If I’m not one o’ your smart town folk I
don’t go about wi’ my eyes full o’ sawdust, and there’s something behind
all this ’at I should be better pleased if I knew of.”

“Then I’ll tell you,” said Inman coolly. “It isn’t a thing I could
mention when I asked you to give me a job, but there’s no reason why I
should keep it secret from you now, Mr. Briggs. I met Miss Nancy when
she was staying with her uncle a week or two ago—I’ve known Mr. John
Clegg off and on since I was a lad—and I asked her to marry me. You’ll
very likely say I was over hasty; but I’m a man who knows his own mind,
and bad to shake off when I’ve set my heart on a thing. Now, you can put
two and two together.”

Baldwin’s brain worked slowly, as has been said; but it was capable of
spurts of activity, and it had been speeding about whilst Inman was
making his confession, gathering together these strange occurrences and
the thoughts they gave rise to and putting them on the scales of his
judgment to determine whether or no the weight was to his advantage.
From force of habit as well as policy the scowl deepened on his brow as
he replied:

“Putting two and two together isn’t all t’ sum. You’ve said naught about
how Nancy looks at it, and that may make a deal o’ difference.”

“Miss Nancy was taken by surprise,” Inman answered. “She wasn’t used to
my blunt ways and—well, she gave me no encouragement.”

“And though she gave you ‘No’ for an answer, you followed her here on t’
off-chance ’at she’d change her mind, if she saw more of you?”

“I usually get what I set my mind on,” Inman answered, so calmly that
Baldwin turned his eyes upon him in amazement at the note of assurance.
“She knows I shan’t plague her; if she becomes my wife it’ll be of her
own free will; and I’m willing to take my chance.”

He smiled as he completed the sentence, and the look and tone of
assurance kindled Baldwin’s wrath.

“I’ve a good mind to send you about your business,” he stormed,
peppering the declaration with the hottest words in his vocabulary.
“You’re the coolest devil I ever came across, and I’d as lief have old
Nick himself in the place. If Nancy has said ‘No’——”

Inman laid his hand on the other’s arm and spoke more sternly though
even yet with studied restraint.

“Listen, Mr. Briggs! If you sack me I shall find a job somewhere
about——”

“It won’t be wi’ Drake’s, that’s certain,” broke in Baldwin hotly,
“Jagger’ll none be keen on finding a job for a rival; and who else is
there, nearer nor Scaleber?”

“We needn’t discuss it, Mr. Briggs,” Inman replied. “I’m more likely to
want to put a spoke in Jagger Drake’s wheel than to help him to put one
in yours. You’ve seen enough to know that I can take Jagger’s place, and
you’ve nobody else that can; and seeing that I’ve promised not to molest
Miss Nancy what harm will there be in keeping me on?”

The cunningly-designed argument left Baldwin without an answer, and the
milder tone in Inman’s voice served to modify him. After all, as he said
to himself, Nancy was her own mistress and had for some time past shown
an independence of spirit that had been anything but welcome. Now that
Jagger had set up in opposition there was no reason why he should lose
the services of the one man who could help to checkmate the Drakes’
move—indeed self-interest pointed in the opposite direction. He
therefore said:

“When a man’s been Nancy’s guardian it’s naught but right he should
think of her interests. But what you say seems right enough, and I’ll
take to it ’at I could like to scotch this new scheme o’ Maniwel’s. It’s
true ’at I haven’t a man i’ t’ shop, bar, happen you, ’at can take
Jagger’s place; and you’re a man with a head on. I must think it over;
or else I had been going to say ’at I’d make you foreman.”

“That’s as you think fit,” replied Inman. “I shouldn’t care, of course,
to take my orders from anyone but you; but you must please yourself. As,
for these Drakes—two heads are better than one and naught ’ud give me
more pleasure than to scheme against ’em.”

Baldwin concentrated his thoughts on the subject, and Inman knew better
than to attempt to pursue his advantage. At length the master spoke:

“I see naught gained by sleeping on it. It’s all one to me who Nancy
marries and I’m not likely to be consulted; but it ’ud go again’ t’
grain to have her marry Jagger. That being so there’s no reason why I
should put my finger in your pie, to say naught about my owing you
something for this morning’s do. T’ foreman’s job’s waiting, and you can
have it if you’ve a mind.”

A smile crossed Inman’s lips; but Baldwin did not see it, and he was
gratified by the thanks the young man offered and even more by the brisk
inquiry that followed:

“And now, Mr. Briggs, let us turn to these Drakes. Running ’em to earth
is a sport just to my liking. I suppose they’ve no money?”

“Maniwel’ll have a bit wi’ John Clegg,” replied Baldwin, “unless he’s
had to draw it out, which I hardly think he will ha’ done. There’ll be a
toathri hundred pound there, I fancy.”

“But why with John Clegg?” inquired Inman, bending puzzled brows upon
his master.

“Well, you see,”—now that Inman was fellow-conspirator, Mr. Briggs was
willing to indulge him with an explanation—“Tom Clegg, who had t’
business before me, always banked with his brother John, and it was
through him that Maniwel and me got a chance to put our bits o’ savings
in with him. John could find use for brass in his business, and pay five
per cent., which was a deal better than t’other banks ’ud do. So I’ve
always banked with him, same as Tom did; and I feel sure Maniwel’ll have
a bit lying there.”

Inman became thoughtful, and beyond saying “I see,” made no remark for
some minutes. He was wondering how he could ascertain if Nancy’s money
was also in her uncle’s keeping without arousing suspicion of his
motives when Baldwin answered the unspoken question.

“It’s a funny thing ’at t’ only one ’at doesn’t fairly trust John is his
own niece. Nancy doesn’t believe in having all her eggs in one basket,
and them ’at’s been laid since her father died she banks i’ Keepton,
where she just gets half t’ interest her uncle ’ud pay her. But women
haven’t much business about ’em and it’s her own look-out and not mine.”

“That’s so,” Inman agreed absently. He was relieved to find that Nancy
had so much sense, and was undecided what course his own interests
should lead him to pursue in continuing the conversation.

“Can Drake get the money at short notice?” he asked.

“Nay, he’ll have to give him six months. Of course, I’ve a different
arrangement, and he sends me bankers’ drafts to pay my accounts with;
but even I couldn’t draw t’ lump out under six months, so it’s certain
Maniwel can’t.”

Again Inman was silent for a space, thinking hard.

“I don’t know but what Miss Nancy’s right,” he said with unusual
hesitation. “John Clegg isn’t a banker, though he calls himself
one—he’s a moneylender.” He looked inquiringly into Baldwin’s face but
saw no look of concern or suspicion there; and the voice was indifferent
enough that replied:

“I caren’t what he is. He went off o’ t’ moor and made his way i’ t’
town. Tom put his trust in him, and for twenty years he’s never let us
down. He calls himself a banker, and he pays five per cent. on wer
brass, and that’s good enough for me. Whether Maniwel knows he’s i’ t’
Jew line or no, I can’t say; but his brass is as safe as houses.”

A comment rose to Inman’s lips but he checked it there, and remained
silent so long that Baldwin looked up suspiciously.

“You seem to have something up your sleeve,” he said. He had surrounded
himself so long with an atmosphere of distrust that he was as sensitive
to the moods of those about him as a spider to the vibrations of its
web.

“I was wondering if there was any way of keeping the Drakes’ money
back,” he replied readily, but in a thoughtful tone. “Lack of capital’ll
hamper ’em, you see. I’ve only seen this Maniwel’s face once, but I
guess he’s not the man to plunge much. I mean he’s not likely to get far
into debt.”

“He’s t’ last i’ t’ world,” admitted Baldwin, appeased at once by this
evidence of his companion’s discrimination.

“I don’t see at this minute how it’s to be managed,” continued Inman,
“but it’ll come to me. There’s always ways and means for those who’re
prompt to handle ’em. All we’ve got to do is to bide our time, and as
you say, keep the sawdust out of our eyes.”

They had reached the shop by this time and the subject was necessarily
dropped; but Inman remained thoughtful during the remainder of the day,
and paid no attention to the rough handling the other man received, and
especially the incompetent Abe, at the hands of the master.


                              CHAPTER VII

                     IN WHICH NANCY SPEAKS HER MIND

ALTHOUGH Keturah had been up and busy for the better part of two
hours, and Nancy was in the habit of rising at the same time and taking
a subordinate share in such household duties as the older woman’s
methodical housewifery allocated to the period before breakfast, the
girl still lay in bed with her eyes wide open and her arms behind her
head, and listened unmoved to the clatter downstairs, the increasing
volume of which told her quite plainly that mistress Keturah was in a
bad temper. The result of the ebullition she could have foretold with
accuracy; and she smiled as it occurred to her that in similar
circumstances, if she had been living in a city like Airlee, she could
have found a café within a hundred yards of her home which would have
spared her the trouble of preparing a meal for herself. That everything
would be cleared away, and the kettle cold upon its iron stand when she
should presently appear in the kitchen was as certain as the tides.

The thought amused her, but set no machinery in motion save that of the
brain which, indeed had been running for some time. For a few minutes
Nancy let her mind contrast the conditions of town and country life. At
her uncle’s a maid had brought her an early cup of tea at an hour when
in Mawm the breakfast things had all been washed up and put away; and
had drawn back the curtains, perhaps in order that the sight of bricks
and chimney-pots through a smoke-laden atmosphere might beget a desire
to rise and escape. To Nancy that “early” cup was just softness and a
nuisance, not to be compared with the breezes that blew straight from
the moors upon her bed, through the window which was never closed except
when northerly gales drove rain before them.

From the maid Nancy turned her thoughts to the master, and admitted to
herself, not for the first time, that she would have liked Uncle John
better if he had held up his head and looked at people like a man,
instead of glancing at them sideways with the look of a dog that has
been in mischief and is afraid somebody knows. His own daughter, her
cousin Ellen, said he was a “screw”; but Nancy saw no signs of that
characteristic in the home; and he had always seemed fond of her and
treated her as generously as could be expected of a man of his type.
Still there was something—and because of that indefinable something
Nancy banked her profits in Keepton, and allowed her uncle—who was too
deeply absorbed in his own affairs to trouble himself about hers—to
think she was as extravagant as her cousin. Aunt Eleanor, on the other
hand, was a downright nice woman, with only one fault worth speaking of,
and which she had transmitted to her daughter—that she looked upon
country places as “holes,” and upon Mawm as the least endurable of them
all. Aunt and cousin were towns-women through and through, and the
latter had certain superficialities of education that Nancy lacked and
despised; but though they had money, “society” closed its doors to them,
and their friends were all of the lower middle classes from which both
parents had sprung and to which by every right save that of money they
still belonged. That was how she had made the acquaintance of Inman,
with whose mother Uncle John had lodged when he began business for
himself, and whom the so-called “banker” held in high esteem as a young
fellow who knew how to use his elbows in “pushing along.”

She was stopping in bed to think about Inman and to try to determine
what her relations with him in these new circumstances were to be; where
too she must place him in her scale of values. Apart from his rough
wooing and the complacency with which he took its rejection she had
nothing against the man; there was, indeed, something in his sturdy
independence and almost impudent conceit that appealed to her
moorwoman’s spirit; though her lips curled scornfully as she recalled
the air of calm certainty with which on two occasions—once in Airlee
and again on the night of his arrival in the village—he had received
her cold refusal. It was evident enough that he thought he had only to
wait, and the bird would be found in the snare. Would it! The curl on
the girl’s lips straightened into a thin line of defiance at the mental
suggestion. It would have paid the man, she said to herself, to be a
little less cocksure, and a little more humble; to have given the leaven
time to work instead of wanting to bake his cake and eat it within five
minutes. Then, perhaps—

That was a greater concession than she had made before; and it startled
her to discover how far and how quickly she had advanced since her last
interview with Jagger. Jagger was in disgrace. He had developed a quite
unaccountable stubbornness that she was determined to punish, and she
quite forgot in her vexation how often she had called him a “lad in
leading-strings,” and bidden him shake a loose leg. Nancy’s objection to
leading-strings did not extend to those she held in her own hands.

And yet, if Jagger was a rebel, Inman was a despot whose whole bearing
showed that he would break his neck sooner than bend it to any woman’s
yoke; why then did she turn her thoughts to him with a more favourable
inclination? Is it that after all, woman likes to be mastered, and is
flattered by the attentions of a masterful man who promises her nothing
but his name, and who, when he has fulfilled that promise will expect
her to be content with such poor crumbs of attention as he can spare
from his dogs? Or is it that her almost unconquerable spirit matches
itself against man’s obstinacy and believes it can make it yield?

Although Nancy told herself with suspicious reiteration that Inman was
obnoxious to her it was in reality an evil hour for Jagger’s prospects
of early marriage when Nancy set the two men side by side and took their
measures. On the physical side there was not much to choose. Jagger was
as fine an animal as Inman; more agile if less weighty—“the spotted
panther and the tusked boar” might figure them. Intellectually, the
balance swayed heavily on Inman’s side, for Jagger had none of his
father’s alertness and would have made a poor show in a duel of words
with the towns-man. Inman’s mind was quick and had been well sharpened
in debate; John Clegg had intimated that his name was known in certain
political circles in Yorkshire as that of a man who might have to be
reckoned with by and by when he had made money enough to be listened to
with respect. As to the other branch of the spiritual; the branch that
deals with morals and the soul; Nancy left that out of account
altogether as people mostly do, forgetting that the kernel is of more
importance than the shell.

Only once did the scale swing over to Jagger’s side and that was when
Nancy weighted it with considerations that she did not recognise as
spiritual when she put into it Jagger’s love for the moors, and, all
that the moors stood for—for freedom and wild beauty and the joy of
life; and his love for herself, which was of the same order; deep and
unchangeable. She was so accustomed to all this that she perhaps failed
to notice how heavily the scale banged.

At length she rose and dressed, spending more time than usual over her
toilet because her thoughts refused to clothe themselves satisfactorily;
and she was in an unsettled frame of mind when she went downstairs.

Keturah was kneading bread, and much more vigorously than the process
required, when Nancy entered the kitchen. One sullen glance of inquiry
she flung over her shoulders, and seeing neither illness nor penitence
in the girl’s expression tightened her lips.

She was an elderly sharp-featured woman, rather tall and spare, with
hair that had grown thin and scanty and was twisted into a bunch not
much bigger than a walnut at the back of her head. It was
pepper-coloured, like her brother’s, but of a warmer tint, as if damp
had got to it, which was not improbable seeing that the reservoir that
supplied the tears which self-pity always called forth must have been
very near to her eyes. They were dry enough now because vexation was
choking the ducts.

“I’d forgotten it was baking-day,” said Nancy, as she lifted the lid of
the kettle and peeped inside, “but I had a bad night and wasn’t rested.”

Silence greeted the explanation, and Nancy said no more but proceeded to
prepare her breakfast.

“Where’s the butter?” she asked, as she returned from the larder with a
half loaf and the empty dish in her hand.

“_I_ can’t help it if it’s finished,” Keturah snapped. “One pair o’
hands can’t get a man his breakfast, and put him up his dinner, and be
off down t’ road for butter and get bread into t’ bowl so as it can be
rising all in a minute. You should ha’ seen we were short o’ butter last
night, i’stead o’ bending over fancy work, same as you’d naught to do
but ring t’ bell and there’d be a toathri servant lassies to come and
put you a cob on t’ fire. You mud well have a poor night, and naught but
right too, making a slavey of one ’at’s nearhand old enough to be your
gran’mother, and then expecting me to be running errands like a
six-year-old, while you lie i’ bed and rest yourself.”

What had begun as a snap ended as a wail; but Nancy was unmoved.

“Well, you’ve salted the bread already I suppose,” she returned coolly;
“and you’ll not improve the dough by crying over it. Dry toast’ll do for
me nicely, for there’s a bit of dripping with the ham, I see, and I’d as
soon have it cold as not.”

“I’ll warrant you!” said Keturah, with a note of disappointment added to
that of vexation. “If there’s a bit o’ something tasty hidden away
you’ll nose it out like a dog with a bone. I’d meant that mouthful o’
ham for my own supper, for it’s little enough support I get ’at has all
t’ weight o’ t’ house on my shoulders. But it’s t’ way o’ t’ world; them
’at work their fingers to t’ bone for fine ladies must be content to
lick t’ dish out for their share o’ t’ pudding.”

“It’s the rule of the house, isn’t it?” replied Nancy indifferently.
“‘Catch as catch can.’ You should bury your bones deeper, Keturah, if
you don’t want ’em to be found.”

The woman flashed into temper; but her spirit was too moist to fire and
the spark ended in a sizzle.

“You’ve been that aggravating, Nancy, since you came back from your
uncle’s I could find it i’ my heart to box your ears. But well you know
I’m past it, and I was always too soft wi’ you when you were a child.
Many and many’s the time I’ve screened and petted you, when a good
hiding ’ud ha’ been a better kindness, and I’m rightly served for acting
silly. I might ha’ known that there is them that bites the hand that
strokes ’em.”

The pathos in the metaphor opened the water-gates and made it necessary
for Keturah to pass the rolled-up sleeve of her blouse across her eyes;
but Nancy was not melted by the exhibition; on the contrary, her tone
was distinctly cold and superior.

“You’re forgetting yourself, Keturah, and I’ll thank you not to talk
about boxing my ears as if I was a child. I’m my own mistress and I
intend to be, and if you don’t like it, you’ve only to say so, and I’ll
find other quarters where my money’ll perhaps be more acceptable, and
there’ll be less spite and malice dished up instead of breakfast.”

With these words, the water having boiled by this time, Nancy seated
herself at the table in the window and began to eat, turning her back
upon Keturah, who sighed heavily as she set the baking bowl on a stool
in front of the fire. The tears hung in her eyes, however, for whatever
her faults, Keturah was admittedly economical, and there was no sense in
allowing tears to run to waste, especially as Nancy would be sure to
assume that they were flowing.

The atmosphere remained heavy and humid throughout the day, though Nancy
caught up with her work (which was never very exacting) long before
noon, and might have been considered to have atoned for her morning
lapse. On her way home with the butter towards tea-time she caught sight
of Baldwin and Maniwel standing together in the street, and guessed from
their manner that relations were strained. After a while Baldwin entered
the kitchen and having hung his hat on the peg, kicked a small stool
which had the temerity to stand in his way into a corner, and seated
himself at the table with a scowl on his face that was as threatening as
a thundercloud.

“So you’ve managed to get down, have you?” he growled, as he turned his
weasel eyes on Nancy who was buttering bread.

“I’ve been down an hour or two,” she replied with studied indifference;
“just long enough to get the dust out of my eyes.”

“It was nigh on ten before she landed,” Keturah explained, exaggerating
the hour by something like forty minutes. “What we’re coming to I
dursn’t think, but it’s plain to see who’s missus and who’s maid——”

Nancy dropped the knife and faced them both with flashing eyes.

“If it’s the maid you expect me to be then I hand in my notice,” she
said scornfully. “As to being missus, it isn’t of _this_ house I’d want
the job, anyway. I’m neither missus nor maid I’d have you to know, but a
lodger; and a lodger who pays well, as you don’t need to be told; and I
don’t know that lodgers have to be at the beck and call of them they
pay. You’ve only to say another word and I’ll leave to-morrow—they’d be
glad enough to have me at Uncle John’s. I’m sick to death of your
snappiness and bad temper, and you may as well know it.”

Keturah had lifted her apron to her eyes, cowed by this display of hot
resolution which was much fiercer than anything that had preceded it;
and Baldwin pushed back his chair and stamped his foot.

“Have done, will you!” he shouted. “Do you think I care if you take
yourself to blazes this minute, and your brass with you? Am I fast,
think you, for t’ few shillings a week you seem to think keeps t’ house
going——?”

“Of course you’re not,” Nancy broke in with a cold disdain that lashed
like a whip, “but you make a profit on them, and you’d sooner lose a
tooth than lose money. You’ve stung me into saying this. I’ve held
myself in till I’ve nearly choked, but I’ve stood your sneers and nasty
talk as long as I’m going to. You quarrel with a man like Maniwel, and
because you can’t get the best of him you come home and try to take it
out of me. I’m not having any more—Good Heavens! Why should I? Here!
you can butter the bread for yourself!”

She pushed the loaf towards the angry man and crossed over to the rug,
where she leaned her head against the mantelpiece, and Baldwin’s anger
bubbled up so furiously that at first he could only splutter out a
succession of oaths. Then he said:

“But what can you expect?”—he was apparently directing the inquiry to
Keturah, but his eyes were on Nancy’s averted head. “She’s like to side
wi’ Maniwel, seeing ’at he’s Jagger’s father! Aye, even though he’s
taking bite and sup out of her mouth. Isn’t her interests and mine t’
same? What ’ud John Clegg think to a man ’at reckons he’s fain to wed a
lass, and at t’ same time sets up to rob her of her business...?”

“What would he think of a master who sacked his best man rather than pay
him a fair wage?” she asked, wheeling round and speaking hotly. “Who was
it forced him to begin for himself? You wind the clock up and then blame
it for going!”

“If I sacked my best man I found a better,” he answered, somewhat
discomfited by the logic of the attack. “Inman’s worth six of Jagger.”

“Then what are you grumbling about?” she replied still fiercely. “What
harm can Jagger do you with a non-such like Inman to help you? But
whether he hurts you or he doesn’t I’m not going to be the ash-heap
where you throw all your nasty tempers, and you may as well make your
mind up to it.”

“But you can’t deny, Nancy, ’at you’ve been same as a dog with a sore
tail ever since Jagger left,” pleaded Keturah whose idea of storms fell
short of whirlwinds, and who, like many another nagging woman was a
coward at heart. “I’m sure there’s been no living with you, you’ve been
that contrairy.”

“Then we’d better part,” rejoined Nancy, “and that’ll maybe suit us
all.”

Hereupon Baldwin growled a suggestion that instead of clacking like a
couple of condemned hens it would be advisable to get on with the tea.
Although his brain worked slowly it worked accurately along a certain
brass-lined groove, and he had already repented of his attack on Nancy,
with whom it was not policy to quarrel beyond remedy. The girl, however,
was not so easily appeased.

“I can have mine when you’ve finished,” she said, “then foul looks won’t
turn the milk sour.”

“And that’ll be making work,” protested Keturah, “or anyway it’ll be
spreading it out. Draw your chair up and take no notice of Baldwin. You
ought to know by this time ’at he’s either to uncork his-self or burst,
same as other men.”

“I’m going to uncork _my_self,” said Nancy with a fierceness that
surprised herself and which was the outcome of her own disturbed mind.
“Father might have guessed if he’d looked at your faces what a life
you’d lead me between you, and what a life you would have led me if it
hadn’t been for my money-bags. But you knew how to use the oil-can when
he was alive, and he’d too much to bear to think things out for himself
or he’d have put Maniwel in your place. Oh, yes he would——” she
continued, as Baldwin’s face grew red and his hands tightened on the
arms of his chair—“I’ve thought it many a thousand times same as all t’
rest o’ t’ village, and I may as well let it come out. You have to
uncork yourself, have you, or else burst? Well, you can see how you like
other folk to uncork _them_selves!”

Keturah was standing horrified, but sundry soliloquies such as “Eh,
dear, dear!” “Now, hark to t’ lass!” “If this doesn’t beat all!” showed
that her breath had not been altogether lost, whereas anger had
momentarily paralysed Baldwin’s tongue. When he recovered himself he
rose, and seizing Nancy roughly by the shoulder pushed her towards the
door.

“Outside wi’ you!” he shouted, and the oaths he poured out called forth
a protest even from his sister whose “Nay, for shame, Baldwin!” fell on
deaf ears. “Way wi’ you to Maniwel, you ungrateful——” But why continue
to string together the coarse language that made Keturah hold her apron
to her ears and caused Nancy to wrench herself free and wheel round upon
him with a face that was white but strangely composed.

“That’ll do, Baldwin Briggs,” she said. “This house is mine, not yours,
and if anyone goes it’ll not be me. You’d perhaps forgotten that, same
as I had. You’ve had the use of it so long that you’d come to think it
was yours. I said I was your lodger, but it’s _you_ who’re lodgers, and
I’ll leave when it suits me. You’d best get your teas, if you can eat
any. I want none. Maybe we shall all have cooled by morning.”

With these words she crossed the room and went upstairs; and Baldwin and
Keturah looked at each other, and finding nothing to say turned to the
table and made a sorry meal.


                              CHAPTER VIII

                 IN WHICH NANCY QUESTIONS HER HEART AND
                        MANIWEL QUESTIONS HIS SON

ALAS! for Nancy. Heroics, she discovered, were all very well in their
way, but they were only the husks of satisfaction, containing
nourishment for neither body nor soul, and leaving behind them a bitter
task and the beginnings of a headache. And though to retire to one’s
room some five hours before the usual time might be a picturesque way of
registering a protest it was one that reacted awkwardly on the
protestor, obliging her to fast when hungry, and (for lack of a candle)
to company with darkness; the only alternative being to swallow her
pride and return for supplies. Rather than eat so nauseous a dish of
humble pie Nancy preferred to treat herself as a prisoner, and she flung
up the window and let the cold night air blow upon her hot cheeks as she
sat there, resting her elbows on the sill.

The breath of the uplands is tonic at all times; but on the wild moors
of Mawm when winter grips the Pennines and forges its weapons of offence
on the rocky heights, the tonic is that of iron and steel, a tonic that
spurs and goads. “According to its quality and temperature air hath an
effect on manners,” the old physiologists affirmed, “and that of
mountains is a potent predisposer to rebellion.” We have let the theory
die; but these forefathers of our scientists were no fools, and we find
the proof of their hypothesis in the high places of the land, where
rebels are bred and flourish. Nancy may have cooled as she sat there,
watching the stars light their lamps in the black sky; but the cooling
was that of iron that has been bent to a purpose and is no longer
malleable.

For half an hour she never changed her position, and was unconscious
that her elbows were sore from the pressure of her weight upon the
window-frame; but even when she saw that a splinter had pierced the
flesh and drawn blood she scarcely moved, being too busy with her
thoughts to concern herself with trifles.

The house and the shop to which it was attached, were hers, though
Baldwin rented them, and the sum was included in the payment she
received once a year; if she were married she would live there and
Baldwin might find other quarters. If she were married a great many
problems would solve themselves automatically, therefore, obviously, the
one thing to do was to marry.

It was significant that in this crisis Inman was banished from her mind
and Jagger occupied all her thoughts. If her head busied itself with
speculations now and then, her heart told her that it was Jagger whom
she loved, and Jagger had only been waiting until his prospects were
brighter and his savings more considerable. He would see the matter from
her point of view, and if he was a little stupid at first she would
easily talk him round. Nancy, it will be seen, like most women who have
experimented in love, was not disposed to under-estimate her powers; and
her plan of campaign took no account of opposition. In drafting it she
forgot hunger and headache and became mildly exhilarated. Jagger and she
would marry as soon as possible, and Baldwin would be made to understand
that in his own interests something in the nature of a partnership with
her husband would have to be arranged. Baldwin would be awkward but no
more awkward than she; and there was always Uncle John in the
background—a reserve force that she did not doubt could be used on her
side in an emergency.

It all looked very simple and easy of execution as she ran a mental eye
over it when completed—all light and no shade, like an architect’s
ground-plan; and she put it aside and began upon the details with the
satisfaction of a resolute woman who has no doubt of her ability to get
her own way.

The first thing was to see Jagger and unfold the scheme, but she could
scarcely go down to the cottage and spread it out in the presence of
Maniwel and Hannah. No girl, however unconventional and business-like
would propose marriage to the most willing of lovers in the presence of
witnesses. She would contrive a meeting on the morrow, and make her
peace with Jagger, admitting that she had been too precipitate, and
wheedling him into a similar admission, after which she would have a
straight talk with Baldwin and lay down her terms.

A noise in the workshop, which was on the same level as her room and
divided from it only by a thick wall, ceased at this moment and the
cessation of sound made her conscious for the first time that it had
existed. She knew that Inman was leaving work, for nobody but Baldwin
and he put in any overtime, and it brought a smile to her face to
realise how completely she had forgotten him. A moment later she heard
his voice in the street below.

“Going home, are you? It’s a lonely road in the dark. I’ll step along
with you, part way.”

“Lord! I aren’t afraid o’ the dark, Mr. Inman,” a voice that Nancy
recognised as belonging to Swithin’s granddaughter replied with a
giggle.

“What if bargest snaps at you, Polly?” he suggested. “There’s no moon,
and he may be on the moor.”

“How you talk!” she replied, but the voice was fainter, and Nancy knew
they were walking away together; and she turned with a smile on her lips
and began to undress.

“All the better!” she muttered. “James Inman doesn’t come into the
play.”

When she got into bed she was quite composed, even though the painful
throbbing of her head for some time drove sleep away. She was very much
in love with herself and her scheme, and physical discomfort counted for
little. When at length she lost consciousness, though the wind rose and
blew through the open window with such force as to disorder the room,
she slept soundly until morning.

Meantime in the cottage by the stream, Maniwel and Jagger had also been
busy with their plans. The father’s description of his encounter with
Baldwin had roused the son’s wrath.

“He’s a low lot,” he said savagely; “a dirty, under-handed cad ’at’s
doing all he can to block t’ road for us. It takes me all my time to
keep my fingers off him; and yon Inman’s just such another, if he isn’t
t’ worst o’ t’ two.”

“Let ’em be, lad,” said his father calmly, “Baldwin snarls and snaps;
but his tantrums go over me same as a dull plane on a greasy board. But
it’s different wi’ you and Nancy, and I’m afraid there’s a gap there
that’ll bide a bit o’ bridging. By what Baldwin let slip she’s badly
huffed wi’ you and me over our new shop; and a lass like Nancy’ll suck a
humbug o’ that sort a long time before she swallows it.”

“All t’ better for her,” said Hannah as her brother’s face became moody;
“it’ll save it from sticking in her throat. You just sit tight, Jagger,
and let her go on sucking. T’ longer she sucks t’ smaller it’ll get, and
t’ more used she’ll get to t’ taste.”

“You hold your noise, Hannah,” her father interposed good humouredly.
“I’d as soon trust t’ ferret to settle what’s best for t’ rabbit as one
lass for another. I’m thinking you were a bit too blunt wi’ Nancy, lad,
when she came in that night.”

“I told her straight, if that’s what you mean,” replied Jagger promptly.
“I thought t’ straight road was what you favoured.”

“So it is,” returned his father caustically, “but t’ straight road isn’t
always t’ shortest, and when you’re dealing wi’ a lass like Nancy, ’at’s
got a will of her own and is as bad to move as Balaam’s donkey when she
sets herself, t’ longest way round might be t’ shortest way home. Eh,
lad! I could like to do your courting for you for an odd hour or so.”

Jagger smiled. “She’ll come round, you’ll see. I know what she has to
stand from Baldwin,—aye, and Keturah, too. They’ll put kindling under
her till she boils over, now ’at she scarcely puts her nose out o’
doors; mark my words, if they don’t.”

“What about Christmas?” inquired Hannah. “If she misses coming to tea
it’ll be t’ first time since her father died. It wants short o’ three
weeks, so you’ve got to look handy if you bring her round.”

“Now, what say you, lad?” continued his father; and though the tone was
whimsical it was also half serious. “Am I to do a bit o’ courting for
you? All Nancy wants is t’ smooth plane on her and I fancy I could
manage it.”

“I’d like to see my lad’s father come a-courting me,” said Hannah. “I’d
take t’ yard brush to t’ pair of ’em——”

“Shut up, Hannah!” said Jagger impatiently, as he turned his eyes on his
father. “What would you say to Nancy if it was you?”

“It isn’t what I’d say, but t’ way I’d say it. T’ same helm ’at sends t’
ship on to t’ rocks ’ud steer it into deep water. But I’m only plaguing
you, lad. Hannah’s right enough; you’ll have to fend for yourself.”

“If she talks till she’s black in t’ face,” said Jagger sullenly,
“she’ll not get me to give t’ shop up and go back to Baldwin.”

“Well, I wouldn’t be in a hurry to tell her so,” returned his father,
“or she’ll happen think t’ new hobby-horse has put you out o’ love wi’
t’ old doll.”

Grannie had been silent all this time but now her voice broke in:

                      “A Clegg lass,
                      And a wedding for brass!
                      A Clegg wife,
                      And it’s sorrow or strife!”

“That’s a true word, Maniwel, and always has been, though it’s few
lassies the Cleggs have bred; and they may thank the Lord for that,
seeing as how the few they’ve had supped sorrow by t’ canful. You’ll not
rec’llect Nancy’s aunt—nay it ’ud be her great-aunt....”

“No, but I know t’ tale, mother, and it’s time it was coffined. If
there’s a spell on t’ Clegg lassies I could like Nancy to break it, and
Jagger’s more sense than to be frightened out of his wits wi’ jingles.
But we’ll put ’em all on one side, and just read a chapter out o’ t’
Book for a bit of a lightening, before we go to bed. When it comes to
troubles there’s them in t’ Book could give us all a long start and
catch up with us quick. Jagger ’ud stare if he’d Job’s troubles to hug.”

The Book was put away and grannie left them, but the father sat on long
past his usual hour, and by and by Hannah yawned and rose up to turn the
key in the lock of the outer door.

“Quakers’ meetings turn me sleepy,” she said; and wished them
good-night.

Not until stillness overhead told him that Hannah was in bed did Maniwel
speak. A man of sound sense and judgment, prompt to decide which road to
take when two ways met, and impatient of “softness,” like most moorland
folk, he was himself more emotional than any of his neighbours. The
trait had been present, though not so strongly marked, before the death
of his wife, and had developed with the added responsibility her loss
brought him; but it was really due to the mellowing influences of his
religion—a religion he owed to an unschooled old shepherd who had spent
a few months on the lonely farm where Maniwel’s parents had been
employed. His only debt to the man was for the seed he had dropped as he
had gone about his work. There had been no set preparation of the
ground, no tilling or forcing, and the crop that was eventually produced
would probably have been regarded by the sower as full of tares, for
Maniwel’s creed was his own, and not something that had been
standardised, like a plumber’s fittings. He had found it in the Gospels
and without reducing it to a formula had fashioned his life on it, to
the dismay of his father and the distrust of his mother, both of whom
were worthy people who looked upon religion as a kind of medicine that
it was advisable to have within reach for times of serious sickness, but
which was likely to upset the stomach, and indeed the whole course of
life, if taken regularly as a cordial. Yet if religion is what Mr.
Carlyle called it—the thing a man honestly believes in his
heart—Maniwel’s parents were not without it, for every superstition and
old wife’s tale that lingered on the moors found a place in their creed.

Maniwel’s religion, then, was old enough to be new-fashioned, and
therefore to be looked upon with misgiving by those who insisted on
adherence to theological articles; but inasmuch as he kept up with his
creed instead of hitching his wagon to a theoretical star, they were
constrained to admit that he was a decent sort of chap, and a better
guide and comforter than most when there was “a bit o’ bother on.”

His love for his two children was very deep, though that for his son was
not unmixed with irritation at his sulkiness and want of stamina;
conditions attributable, he told himself, to the circumstances that
attended his birth and early up-bringing. He was concerned for him now,
and with womanly clairvoyance could read something of both his mind and
Nancy’s.

“Jagger!” he said, and the tone roused the young man from his dreams and
caused him to turn an almost startled look on his father. “I’ve stopped
up to have a word wi’ you when there’s nobody else by. A mother ’ud
manage a job o’ this sort better than a man, but when the mother’s
wanting a man must do his best. I was young myself once and I’ve stood
where you’re standing. Your mother was all in all to me i’ them days,
lad; and if I’d missed her t’ moor ’ud have become a wilderness. It’s a
question she’d have asked you—do you feel i’ that way regarding Nancy?”

“Aye, God knows I do,” replied Jagger with emphasis.

“You want to be mortal sure on’t,” continued his father. “If you love t’
new business better than her—if you’d rather give her up than it—then
you can afford to lose her.... Nay, you’d better hearken and let me
talk; it’ll pay you better, if it isn’t for me to say so. Baldwin threw
out a hint—he tried to pull it back but it was too late—’at yon young
fellow ’at’s got your job is after her an’ all; but if you care for each
other as you think you do there’s no ’casion to worry about that; there
was more than me ’ud ha’ liked your mother.”

“I’ll wring his neck for him yet,” muttered Jagger savagely.

“Words, lad! Naught but words! It’s that I don’t like to hear i’ you. If
she favours Inman she’ll wed him, and his neck’ll be safe enough, so
we’ll let that pass. What I want you to be sure of is that she’s the
right lass for you; and if you’re sure o’ that then I want you to go the
right way to get her.”

Maniwel’s eyes were shining with a tender light, and his face looked
almost young again as the glow from the grate cast its reflection over
it. He was leaning forward a little, searching his son’s face and trying
to catch the eyes that were bent downward.

“It’s a fact what grannie says—though I’ve no patience with their silly
rhymes, ’at stand for more than t’ Bible wi’ some folks—’at most o’ t’
Clegg women have supped sorrow when they wed. It’s a job when lassies
are run after for their brass and not for theirselves, and that’s what’s
happened wi’ most o’ t’ Cleggs. When a man and a maid come together,
lad, brass has to be thought on; but it’s a poor foundation for a happy
home. ‘Love never faileth,’ we read i’ t’ Book,—it stands like t’ Cove;
but brass fails oft enough, and so does fancy. Are you sure, lad? Are
you sure?”

“Yes,” he said hoarsely; “my love for Nancy’ll stand like t’ Cove;
there’s naught’ll shake it.”

The father gazed at him in silence, not yet satisfied, but wondering how
far it was wise to go and bewailing his lack of woman’s ready intuition.

He was not sure of Nancy—how should he be? But after all that was his
son’s affair and one it was ill to meddle with. If they loved each other
with all their hearts he would wish them Godspeed in spite of all the
doggerel in the witch-wives’ collection.

“Then I’d go t’ straight road wi’ her, lad,” he continued. “Make it in
your way to see her before another day’s out, and just tell her ’at you
think more of her than of aught else there is i’ t’ wide world. As like
as not she’ll say ’at i’ that case you’ll do as she wants you and make
friends wi’ Baldwin; and all t’ time it’ll be you and not Baldwin she’s
thinking about, and if you’ll only bide your time and look where you’re
going, you’ll as like as not come back wi’ your arm round her waist. But
women has to be humoured and made to think ’at they’re getting their own
way; and when they’ve got a whimsey i’ their head it’s no use taking t’
hammer and punch to it, ’cause that only drives it deeper in; you’ve got
t’ use t’ oil-can and loosen it bit by bit till they hardly know they’ve
lost it. And i’stead o’ bending your brows while you look like t’ Gordel
i’ a thunderstorm it ’ud pay you to put a smile on, and a face like t’
Cove when t’ afternoon sun shines on it. ‘Laugh and the world laughs
with you,’ it says on t’ almanack, and t’ worst gift your mother left
wi’ you—and, poor lass, she couldn’t help it—was a long face and a
quick temper. I’m afraid for you, Jagger, but I wish you well, lad; and
I’m stumbling along t’ road your mother ’ud ha’ gone easy.”

The young man looked steadily into his father’s face, but the shadow was
still deep on his forehead.

“Then if that’s her last word you’d have me knuckle under to Baldwin,
and be t’ laughing stock o’ t’ country-side?” he asked in a low hard
voice.

“If I loved her better than aught else i’ t’ world I’d be like t’ man in
t’ parable ’at was seeking goodly pearls; I’d sell all ’at I had to get
her,” replied his father. “Mind you, lad, I’m straight wi’ you; I don’t
think Baldwin’ll have you back; but I daresay he’d like t’ chance o’
refusing you and glorying in it, for little minds take pleasure i’
little things. But i’ that case, you see, you’ll ha’ won your case wi’
Nancy——”

“And if he’s more sense than you give him credit for,” interrupted
Jagger, in a voice that had grown even more bitter; “if he knows which
side his bread’s buttered on, and takes me back with this Inman to be my
boss, and the pair of ’em to force me to do their dirty work or else be
called a thief, you’d have me swallow it?”

He set his teeth as he finished his inquiry, and kept his eyes fixed on
his father’s; but the older man was unmoved.

“There’s nobody can force you to do dirty work,” he said, “and if Nancy
’ud want you to do it, then t’ pearl isn’t worth t’ price ’at’s asked
for it. But I’d like to think better o’ t’ lass. Her father was a queer
’un, but straight; and if you don’t use t’ file where you should use t’
plane I think you’d smooth things out. If you can’t—well, t’ straight
road is t’ only right road. You may sell all you have to buy t’ pearl,
but you may neither borrow nor steal. Right’s right, Sundays and
week-days and t’ year through.”

Jagger removed his eyes and the tense look left his face. For a while he
did not speak and the father was also silent. Then he said:

“I’ll try to see her to-morrow. She’ll be going to Betty Walker’s and I
can meet her as she comes down t’ Cove road. But she’s a temper of her
own and I bet a dollar we fratch.”

Something not unlike a sigh, but with a touch of impatience in it,
escaped Maniwel’s lips.

“If you meet her wi’ your prickles out you might as well stop at home,”
he said. “Turn ’em inside so as they’ll check your tongue, and then
you’ll maybe win through.”


                               CHAPTER IX

                IN WHICH ONE LOVER WALKS OUT AND ANOTHER
                                WALKS IN

PURE is the air on Mawm moor, charged with the virtues of the sea and
the strength of the hills! and pure are the streams that fill the
runnels and tinkle their accompaniment to the music of the breeze as it
sweeps the strings of bent grass and reed!

Good and desirable as these things are, however, Mawm can claim in their
possession nothing extraordinary. There are other moors where the air is
as heavily charged with life’s elixir and the waters course as sweet and
fresh.

But in the Cove, Mawm has something altogether unique; it has, as I have
said, one of the most imposing natural wonders of the land. To picture
it imagine yourself first on a wide stretch of moorland, hemmed in by
mountains—a grassy moor, whose surface is scarred by great terraces of
fissured limestone in whose crevices the winds and the birds have
dropped seeds of ferns and flowers that peep above the tops and splash
the scene with colour.

Imagine an impossible giant furnished with an impossible spade, standing
on the edge of the moor where it begins to fall steeply down into the
valley. He is a giant of the unrecorded past when impossible things
happened; when frozen waters sundered continents and shattered mountains
and scooped out valleys; when great rocks were hurled as if they had
been shuttlecocks from peaks that seemed firm as the world’s
foundations, and embedded themselves on far distant slopes where they
were alien to the soil.

It is a hollow, crescent-shaped spade on which our giant sets his foot,
and he thrusts it vertically through the solid limestone, piling up the
débris (soon to be covered with the short grass of the moors) on either
side as he proceeds until instead of the green declivity you see a
perpendicular cliff, little short of three hundred feet in height and
nearly a quarter of a mile wide, dazzlingly white when the southern sun
rests there; spectral in the colder moonlight.

From underneath its base the river emerges; the baby river, conceived
nobody quite knows where on the wild heights above, and carried in that
dark womb of nature until its birth at the foot of the Crag—a giant’s
child, itself destined to be a slave, whose lot it will be to bear to
the sea the filth and off-scouring of factory and dye-house. That,
however, is later history; our concern is with Meander; let the towns
lower down account for Styx!

The face of the gigantic cliff has its seams and wrinkles, and at a
point midway rapidly-narrowing ledges run out from either side and paint
streaks of green across the grey; but each tapers off and disappears
long before the centre of the crescent is reached. On the western ledge
a few dwarfed ash-plants have rooted themselves on the steeply-shelving
soil, and their presence gives the illusion of breadth and inspires in
the adventurer an entirely false sense of security. One tree stands
within a foot or two of the ledge’s vanishing-point; but few are the
youths of Mawm who have ventured within many yards of it without
self-reproach and prayer.

Save for the call of the jackdaw and other birds that nest in the
crannies, and the faint puling of the stream, the Cove is quiet in
winter-time as a cathedral cloister, and has something of the
cathedral’s air of mystery and awe. And when the sun is setting in a
haze that betokens snow and frost, and a section of the white cliff
borrows a warmer hue from the blood-red globe whose rays penetrate the
western windows, the sense of reverence is heightened; and though a man
may not bare his head as he stands there it is much if he does not lower
his voice.

It was just after two o’clock when Nancy left the road at the point
where it begins to fall, and having stood for a moment to watch the sun
tripped down the slippery hillside to the foot of the Cove. It was an
adventure to slide over the short grass, to cling to the slender boles
of the stunted trees in order to check the pace or save herself from
falling, but it was an adventure to which she was accustomed, and which
involved no greater risk than that of a twisted ankle or a bruised knee;
and with one as agile as Nancy there was little fear of either.

Her cheeks burned as she reached the bottom, and more hotly when Jagger
walked forward and greeted her.

“I thought you’d be at Betty’s,” he said, “and guessed you’d come this
way.”

He was the answer to her thoughts—one might say to her prayers; the
embodiment of the image she had been carrying with her all the
afternoon; the substance of her hopes and fears.

Very strong and masculine and altogether desirable he looked as he stood
there, though his clothes were well worn and the collar he had put on
for the occasion of Saturday was badly frayed. An uneasy smile was on
his face, and his hands played awkwardly with the stick they held; but
Nancy knew by intuition that he had come to make his peace, and her
heart bounded; yet the perverse adviser who is the instrument of our
worse selves, bade her harden her voice and hold back the answering
smile which had almost escaped control. She had been rehearsing the
smooth things she would say if they should meet; but now that the
movement had come from the other side she stiffened, yielding to the
traitor within the gates; and by that act wrecked her hopes.

“If I’d known you were here I’d as like as not have kept to the road.
I’ve things that want thinking out.”

It was a lie; but how was he to know it? How was he to know that all he
had to do was to seize her in his arms and master her? His own voice
hardened, and the light died down in his eyes, yet he made a brave
attempt at self-control, remembering his father’s advice, and it was not
perhaps entirely his fault that his tone was querulous and unconvincing.

“I’m wanting to make it up, Nancy. I’ve been miserable this last three
weeks; and it’s a shame it should have come to this just when we’d got
to an understanding. If it hadn’t been for you I shouldn’t have been so
particular about a rise, and Baldwin and me wouldn’t have quarrelled.
Not but what it ’ud have had to come sooner or later, for there’s nobody
knows better than you that he taxes your patience past all bearing, and
there comes a time when a fellow’s bound to make a stand.”

He paused, realising that this was not what he had meant to say, and
Nancy stood with her eyes averted and her hands clasped in front of her.

“I don’t know that all this gets us much forrader,” she answered coldly,
hating herself all the while for her coldness, but yielding to the
miserable pressure from within. “I’d been thinking that maybe you’d come
and say you were sorry, and fall in with what’s best for both of us. To
go straight away, same as you did, and plan to start for yourself when
you knew the business was my living as well as Baldwin’s, didn’t seem as
if you thought overmuch o’ me——”

Where were all the tender thoughts, all the pleasing projects, she had
entertained for hours past and been seeking an opportunity to reveal?
Where were all the cajoling artifices she had designed to melt his
stubborn mood and convict him of folly? All flung to the winds forsooth,
for no better reason than that he had made the first overtures for
peace.

“I’m sorry,” he answered; but only too doggedly; “not for what I did but
for t’ way I did it. I wouldn’t have hurt you for t’ world, neither i’
your pocket or any other way, and I wasn’t meaning ought o’ t’ sort——”

“There’s a way of showing that,” Nancy interrupted, with a degree more
warmth in her tone. “If you mean what you say you’ll be willing to drop
it——” She avoided the word “shop” or “business,” but Jagger understood
her. “You’ll see for yourself you were too hasty, and if you’d only
taken me into your confidence we could have planned something together
that would have put a flea in Baldwin’s ear.”

“What could we have planned?” asked Jagger, on whose horizon a ray of
light was breaking, though he was still suspicious, still half-hostile
because of the confidence of the girl’s rebuke.

“We could have told him we were going to be married,” she said, “and you
could have left the rest to me.” Perhaps the cold note that crept into
her voice again was intended to screen the wave of colour that swept
over her face, which Jagger never saw because he was gazing at a
possibility. “I should have told him that he’d have to make you a
partner, seeing that you were going to be my husband, and that it was my
property and partly my money.”

She ended haltingly, because her coldness was disappearing and she was
drawing near to the starting point that she had planned before they met;
also because she began to wonder if there had been anything bold and
unmaidenly in her explanation.

Half timidly she stole a glance at Jagger’s face, and the look she saw
there stopped all further utterance.

“And do you think I’d truckle to a man like Baldwin Briggs for all t’
partnerships i’ t’ world?” he broke in hotly. “Would I sell my soul to
the devil for money? It’s bad enough to work for a man like him for
wages; but to share t’ responsibility for all his thieving underhanded
ways is a thing I wouldn’t have for all t’ brass i’ t’ Bank of England.
Me a partner with Baldwin Briggs! I’ll beg i’ t’ streets first!”

He drove the stick into the ground in his temper, and Nancy froze for a
moment, and then a wave of hot anger and humiliation swept over her.

“So that’s your love, is it?” she cried. “It’s to humble me and turn me
away with your foot that you’ve come here! Thank God I’ve found you out
before it was too late! Aye, and God forgive me ’at I should have
lowered myself to talk o’ marrying you, only to be scorned and spat at.
To tell me to my face that I’d have you sell your soul to the devil! I
hate you, Jagger Drake! Get you gone before I sell my soul to the devil
and do you a mischief! Get you gone, I say!”

If only the tears had come then, all might have been well; but the
springs were parched,—dried up by the heat of her indignation, and it
was fire and not moisture that shone in her eyes. Jagger faced the
storm, and like Lot’s wife when the ashes of Sodom fell on her, was
turned to stone. Too late he remembered his father’s caution, the
torrent of his temper had passed the sluice-gates and could not be
recalled though its force was spent. For a few moments he remained
immovable whilst the fierce anger of the girl he loved expended itself
in words that battered and dulled his senses without reaching his
understanding; then with a groan he turned away like a fool, and
stumbled up the hillside to the road.

Yet though his spirits were heavy as lead, it was upon the girl and not
him that the catastrophe fell with crushing weight. Bitterly as he
cursed the fate that had parted them again in anger, he was too sure of
his love for her, too convinced of her love for him, to doubt that the
hour of their reconciliation was only delayed; and the thought that was
uppermost in his mind as he neared his home was of his father’s kindly
scorn—a scorn that cut across the soul sometimes like the lash of a
whip.

Nancy read the situation more truly, though perhaps she did not read it
at all, but just listened to the malevolent inward voice that told her
the breach was widened beyond repair at last.

She was heartsick, and nursed an anger that would not be pacified: the
anger of self-reproach and humiliation; and as she stood there with set
teeth and clenched hands, breathing like one who endures severe physical
pain and is restraining the impulse to cry aloud, she knew that she
would not marry Jagger Drake, and that the fault was hers, no less than
his. Instinctively she realised that the moment of reconciliation had
passed and would not return; and for a while she was stunned; conscious
of nothing but shame and bitter resentment. She hated Jagger, but not as
bitterly as she hated herself.

Slowly the sun sank and the haze thickened; but she still stood there
with her eyes on the Cove. On the moor above a shepherd was gathering
his sheep. She could not see him, but occasionally the sound of his
voice reached her ear, and more regularly the sharp admonitory bark of
dogs. Incuriously she turned her eyes in the direction and saw through
the mist the shadowy forms of the flock 300 feet above her head. There
were two dogs, she noticed, and by that sign knew that the voice she had
heard was Swithin’s. One of the dogs was young and frolicsome, and had
much to learn of life’s responsibilities. It was fussing about the
outside of the flock now, harassing the sheep instead of guiding them,
out of mere playfulness and mischief. One of them, tormented beyond
endurance, broke away from the rest and ran down the slope towards the
side of the Cove, pursued by the dog which made no attempt to head it
off until a stern cry from the shepherd sought to bring it to a sense of
its duty, when it stood still and gazed upwards. By this time the older
dog was tearing down the precipitous slope, but the sheep was already on
the grassy track that ran out on to the narrow ledge on the cliff face,
where the shepherd could not see it.

“There’s the devil of a mess there,” said a voice in Nancy’s ear that
she recognised as Inman’s.

She experienced no sensation of surprise, just as she had felt none of
excitement or suspense at what was happening before her eyes. For the
moment she was dead to all external experiences and thrills, and the
real was shadowy as a dream.

“Ben will fetch her back,” she said. “It was Robin’s fault: he drove her
there and now hangs back.”

It was true. Swithin was clambering down the steep slope with an old
man’s slow speed and the young dog was standing a body’s length behind
Ben who was on the ledge, silent and calculating. Then there came an
angry call, and Robin turned and slunk back up the hill at a careful
distance from his master.

Meantime the sheep was also standing with its head turned inquiringly in
the direction of old Ben, who was creeping quietly forward.

“If it goes another step its number’s up,” said Inman coolly. “I’ve been
on there as far as it was safe to go, and I know what I’m talking about.
It’s barely room to turn now.”

“Lots of animals have lost their lives there,” Nancy replied in a dull
voice. “Once a fox got on and couldn’t get back. It dropped to the
bottom.”

She was roused now and fascinated with the tragedy that was taking place
before her eyes; but Inman took a cigarette from the case in his
waistcoat pocket and lit it deliberately.

“The old dog’s got it weighed up,” he said, as he tossed the match away.
“What’s he going to do?”

Almost as he spoke, the question was answered. The sheep had half
turned, but seemed to hesitate, and suddenly Ben sprang forward, quite
over the sheep’s back; struggled for a second or two to keep his
feet,—and fell down the face of the cliff.

Nancy clutched Inman’s arm and closed her eyes. When she opened them
again the sheep was making its way up the hill to join the flock, and
Swithin was clambering over the rocks to where Ben’s body lay in the
water. To the sickness of Nancy’s soul there was added a physical nausea
that caused her to lean heavily against Inman’s supporting arm.

“He gave his life for her, and died like a hero. What is there better
than dying game?” Inman’s voice was calm and matter-of-fact. “He’d have
come to a gun-shot, or a pennorth o’ poison sooner or later, so what’s
the odds? The other dog—Robin, did you call him? a better name ’ud be
Jagger—’ll take his place, I suppose.”

Still she was silent; but the arm that was about her waist did not
tighten, and she could not complain that he took advantage of her
faintness.

“It was horrible,” she said at length, as she made an attempt he did not
resist to stand erect. “Life is full of horrible things.”

“Not a bit of it,” he said, and he threw the half-smoked cigarette into
the stream as he spoke. “Life is full of very pleasant things if you
know where to look. Ben’s dead and done for, and Swithin ’ud do better
to get back to his work instead of standing blubbering and cursing over
a carcass. Every dog has his day, and Ben ended his nobly, though I
daresay the sheep ’ud have come off all right if he’d left her alone. It
was Jagger’s fault—I beg pardon, I mean Robin’s. He had his fun out of
her, and what does it matter to him if he drove her crazy so long as he
saved his own skin? Did you see how he crept away? All the same I
suppose he’ll get Ben’s job. It’s the way of the world!”

“Jagger’s no coward,” she answered listlessly. It was no concern of hers
to defend the man who had gone out of her life, and the protest was the
last spark from the ashes of a love that was nearly cold. Nothing that
Inman could say would cause her to fire again.

“Coward!” he repeated, without emotion of any kind. “We don’t call
babies cowards, whether they’re dog-babies or men-babies. Jagger’s a
baby, playing at being a man. He’s in trouble o’ some sort now—I met
him down the road with a face as long as a fiddle, running to his daddy
to have his sore finger kissed.”

She had no reply ready and indeed was not disposed to reply. Her heart
was like an arid desert where every fountain of emotion was dry. Life
was like a desert, too, with no prospect save that of limitless
dreariness. She had been dreaming of marriage; of a home of her own
where she would be free from Baldwin’s petty tyrannies and Keturah’s
complaints. She had fashioned a husband out of her own fancy, and he had
fallen to pieces—crumbled like dust at the first test. What better was
Jagger, in spite of all his protestations, than Inman or even Baldwin?
He was all for himself, just as they were, though self-righteousness
might deceive him. And he had humiliated her bitterly, which Inman had
never done. Inman was masterful and showed his worst side——.

The sun had passed behind the mountains and Nancy shivered. Inman drew
her arm within his own and moved forward up the hill, and she made no
protest, realising in a dull half-conscious way that her future had been
determined for her.

The next morning she left the village and went to stay with her uncle.


                               CHAPTER X

               IN WHICH THE COMPANY AT THE “PACKHORSE” IS
                        INVITED TO DRINK A HEALTH

CHRISTMAS! The weather that ushered in the festive season was false to
all the hoary traditions of crisp air and powdery snow, and could hardly
have behaved more churlishly. When the sun turned away its red face from
the melancholy scene at the Cove on that fateful Saturday afternoon in
early December, it showed itself no more for a whole fortnight. The thin
haze, which had been beautiful as gossamer when the noon-day sun shone
through it, and resplendent as samite when the fingers of dying day
embroidered it with gold, became a clammy mist, cold as the touch of
death, that found the crevices in the human frame where aches and pains
lay dormant and stirred them to activity. Old Cawden, shirted and
night-capped, hid his great bulk from sight. Vapours rose like
water-sprites from the stream and mingled with the cloud overhead. Robin
and starling sat—who knows how miserably?—in their nests, and left
crabbed winter to its mood of peevish silence.

On Christmas Eve a Viking’s wind, the “black-north-easter,” awoke in the
caverns of the Pennines, and went out to sweep the mists from the moors
with his broom of sleet, and right well he did his work. All through the
hours of Christmas Day he carried on, and with such fierce zeal that
hailstones danced in the streets of Mawm almost without cessation, like
goblins set free by some Lord of Misrule to celebrate their Saturnalia!
Shades of Charles Dickens! There was little enough of his genial spirit
upon the moors that Christmastide!

Conditions improved a little on Boxing Day, and the wind that blustered
up the valley from the south, and barked at the heels of the
black-north-easter, was kindlier and more playful. Patches of blue
appeared among the clouds. The sun opened a sleepy eye at intervals and
smiled on the grey old village, as much as to say that this game of
hide-and-seek would not last for ever; and when evening fell the stars
came out and studded a blue-black sky from horizon to horizon, with not
a single cloud to dim the lustre of any one of them.

The sanded bar-parlour of the “Packhorse,” gaily decorated with holly
and one huge bunch of mistletoe, was full, and business brisk. The
landlord was kept on the run, but managed to find time to contribute an
occasional scrap to the conversation of his guests, which was under no
restraint. Prominent amongst the crowd because of his position near the
fire, where he occupied an arm-chair and faced old Ambrose, was Maniwel
Drake, whose custom it had always been to make the evening of Boxing Day
the occasion of one of his rare visits to the inn; and it was plain to
see that his presence had affected the drift of the elders’ talk.

“It’s nowt but what you could expect,” piped old Ambrose. “There wor a
sayin’ o’ my mother’s when I wor a young lad ’at’s trew as Holy Gospil
to this day, ’at there’s no gettin’ white meal out of a coal sack; and
by that figger o’ speech I do Baldwin no wrong, neebours; not even this
blessed Kersmas-time when we’re meant to be i’ love an’ charity, same as
it says i’ t’ Prayer Book.”

“That’s a trew word, Ambrose,” said Swithin “Kersmas or Midsummer-day, a
coal sack’s a coal sack and t’ description fits Baldwin same as a dinner
o’ broth. But by his-sen Baldwin’s no match for Maniwel, being a bit
over slow i’ t’ uptake; and what bothers me is ’at this young fellow
should ha’ turned up just i’ t’ nick o’ time, as you may put it, to fill
Jagger’s place and scheme for his maister, for there’s no getting over
it ’at he has a gift God never gave him and the devil’s own headpiece
for mischief-making.”

“Well, well,” said Maniwel cheerily; “we’re partly as we’re made,
Swithin, and partly as we make ourselves, and there’s few of us ’at
don’t carry both coal-sacks and meal-sacks about wi’ us; and it’s as
much as we can do to see ’at we don’t use one for t’other ourselves
without peeping into our neighbour’s storeholes. Baldwin isn’t all bad,
as I can bear witness ’at worked alongside of him thirty year and more.”

“Maybe not,” conceded Swithin in a doubtful voice. “There’s worse, I
dare say, if bad ’uns could all be put through t’ sieve. This here Inman
now——”

“Aye,” interrupted old Ambrose with as much energy as his feeble frame
was capable of; “but they’re both plannin’ an’ schemin’ for one end
which is nayther more nor less nor to put a spoke i’ Maniwel’s wheel;
an’ t’owd saying is reyt, ’at a man mud as weel eat the divel his-sen as
t’ broth he’s boiled in. Baldwin swallows all this young fellow puts on
his plate; and if one’s worse nor t’other it’s both on ’em. You can
trust Maniwel to see what isn’t there; but I say they’re a pair o’ ill
’uns, an’ nowt but mischief is like to come when sich a pair o’ black
crows get their ’eads together.”

“My word, but Ambrose has getten steam up,” said the landlord
admiringly, as he leaned for a moment against the mantelpiece and held
one hand towards the flame. “Since Inman came he’s had to bottle
his-self a bit; but wi’ him being away for t’ holidays he’s blowing off
i’ t’ old style.”

“He’s a black-hearted ’un,” began the old man again excitedly, but
Maniwel interposed.

“He’s no friend o’ mine, right enough, Ambrose; but i’ this country we
reckon a man innocent while he’s proved guilty, and it’s no blame to
this Inman ’at he does his best for his own master. And seeing ’at
Jagger and me know ’at we have t’ good will of all our neighbours we
don’t ruffle our feathers over their goings-on same as a hen when it
sees a hawk. Right enough, they’ve tried to rut t’ road a bit, but they
can’t block it, so you’ve no ’casion to worry about us.”

“It was Inman ’at put Baldwin up to t’ trick of holding t’ whip over Joe
Gardiner,” said one of the younger men. “Joe told me himself ’at Inman
had done it, and threatened him ’at if he carried timber for you they’d
start a dray o’ their own.”

“All right, my lad,” replied Maniwel, who knew better than any present
what ingenious plans had been prepared and executed to hamper his
business; how not only the carrier had been suborned to delay the
carriage of his goods, but the timber-merchants themselves had been
warned of the risk they were running in affording him supplies. These,
and a dozen similar annoyances he and his son had suffered in silence,
and had succeeded in countering with more or less difficulty.

“I don’t doubt but what you’re right, and no doubt he’d ha’ liked me and
Jagger to pull a face over t’ job. But I’m a pig-headed chap myself, and
bad to move when I get set; and it’s a theory o’ mine ’at a man who goes
t’ straight road’ll find fewer pits to fall into than them ’at goes
crook’d. And that being so I’ve never been one to wet my handkercher and
try to make t’ ship move wi’ groaning into t’ sails; but just keep
jogging on wi’ a good heart, and when one stick fails me, find another.”

A movement of pots and feet indicated the applause of Maniwel’s
audience, for though there was not a man among them who understood and
shared his philosophy, his uprightness and geniality had made most men
his well-wishers.

“And how be ye getting on, Maniwel, if it’s a fair question?” asked
Swithin. “If nobbut them got on ’at deserved it you’d none be long on t’
road; but it’s a trew word ’at I’ve seen the wicked i’ great prosperity,
and there’s some we could name ’at brass fair oozes out on.”

“Aye, reyt enough,” broke in the thin eager voice of old Ambrose; “but
there’s a verse I made when I wor a young man ’at puts it in a nutshell.
When a man’s in a gifted mood he sees things as clear as Cove watter,
and two o’ them lines comes back to me at this minute:

                           ‘Too mich o’ owt
                           Is good for nowt’;

and it’ll ’appen turn out ’at Baldwin’ll go as dry as a gill i’ summer
time.”

“It’ll none be James Inman’s fault if he isn’t drained,” said one of the
younger men.

“Nay, but I wouldn’t go as far as that,” old Ambrose replied, shaking
his head to emphasise the negative; “hawks willn’t pick out hawks’ een,
and Baldwin is gettin’ into years and’ll maybe be thankful to have an
able-bodied young fellow o’ t’ same kidney to fetch and carry for him.”

“Aye, but not to share what he fetches,” persisted the other, “they’re
both playing for their own hand, and yon Inman’s t’ cleverest rogue o’
t’ two.”

“Nay, nay, come now!” Maniwel broke in, “it’s t’ wrong time o’ t’ year
for calling any man a rogue; and it ’ud seem most of us better to look
after our own ’tatie patch than to count t’ thistles in our neighbour’s
plot. You were asking me how we’re getting on, Swithin, and all I can
say is ’at things might be a deal worse; and we’ve good hopes ’at when
I’ve got my brass in they’ll be a deal better. As to t’ wicked
prospering—well, there’s some kinds o’ prosperity ’at ’ud be dear at a
gift.”

Swithin had laid down his pipe and cleared his throat preparatory to
answering this argument when the abrupt entrance of Inman turned all
eyes in the direction of the door. With easy deliberateness the newcomer
unwound the scarf from his neck and opened his great-coat, but removed
neither. An amused and half-contemptuous smile was on his lips, and his
dark eyes swept the company and rested for a moment with malignant
satisfaction on the undisturbed features of Maniwel.

“We’re favoured to-night, I see,” he remarked. “‘The gods have come down
in the likeness of men!’”

Nobody answered him, and he stood with his back to the closed door with
the sardonic smile deepening about his lips.

“I haven’t had the opportunity of wishing you the usual compliments,
gentlemen,” he continued. “Absence must be my apology, and my absence
can be explained in a few words. I prefer to be my own messenger when I
have any news, good or ill, to share with my neighbours, and what I have
to tell you is altogether good. I have been married whilst I was away,
and have just brought my bride home with me. She has bid me leave this
sovereign with you, Albert, so that the company may drink her
health—the health of Nancy Inman, lately Nancy Clegg. I won’t ask you
to drink mine.”

He put the coin into the astonished landlord’s hand as he spoke, and
curled his lip contemptuously as he noted the hostile silence which
greeted the communication. Only one man spoke—it was he who had
revealed his thoughts a moment before.

“A lass ’at’ll wed thee is no loss to nob’dy,” he muttered sourly.

“Indeed!” said Inman, wheeling round and fixing the speaker with an eye
that stabbed. “I’ll remember that to your credit, Jack Pearce.”

“Nay,” said Maniwel calmly; “you’d best forget it. Jack spoke before he
thought. There’s one at my house ’at’ll be sorry he’s lost her, if so be
as Mr. Inman’s speaking truth, which I don’t doubt.”

“The truth’s here, in black and white,” Inman replied with equal
calmness; “anyone can see it who wants”; and he offered a paper to the
landlord.

“Then poor Nancy’s tied a knot wi’ her tongue ’at she willn’t be able to
loosen wi’ her teeth,” wailed old Ambrose, and would have said more but
Inman interrupted him.

“I fancy you find me in the way, gentlemen, and will discuss this happy
event more freely in my absence. There are some of you I cannot expect
to honour this toast with any enthusiasm; but I won’t remain to spy on
you. I am to share my wife’s home, and you will excuse me if I now
return there to share her company.”

He spoke mockingly, like an actor who had rehearsed his part until he
knew it by heart, but when he was about to withdraw Maniwel’s voice
stopped him.

“This’ll be sore news for Jagger, Mr. Inman, and well you know it. But
disappointment comes to us all one time or another; and the lad played
his cards badly and must make t’ best on’t. Maybe he’ll come to see ’at
you were t’ best man for her; maybe she’ll come to see ’at you
weren’t—there’s no telling. But anyway I’ll drink her health, my lad,
wi’ a right good will, for I wish t’ lass naught but good, so if you
were thinking ’at I should be one to stand out you’re mista’en. And
there’s one word I’d say to you ’at it’ll do you no harm to remember—‘A
good Jack makes a good Jill,’ and it’s t’ same with a bad ’un.”

The voice and the eyes were alike sympathetic and sincere, and Inman was
disconcerted; but only for a moment.

“Much obliged, I’m sure,” he said dryly. “I hope you’ll spend a
profitable evening in this Mutual Improvement Class, gentlemen. I’m
sorry I can’t.”

When the door closed upon him Maniwel spoke again.

“This’ll be a sad blow, neighbours, for Jagger; but he’s got to keep his
feet. I should be sorry for him to hear of it from anyone else, and I’ll
step round home now, and help to buck him up. But if you’re agreeable
we’ll just drink to the lass first. God bless her! say I.”

“Aye, and God help her!” growled the protester.

                 *        *        *        *        *

A dim light from a storm lantern threw into strong relief the features
of father and son as they sat, the younger man on the bench; the older
on an upturned box, amid the shadows of the workshop. Jagger’s eyes were
on the ground, on the heap of shavings that he had been turning over
with his foot for half an hour; gathering them into a heap, dispersing
them, and gathering them again.

Maniwel’s eyes were fixed on his son’s face. Talking was over, or almost
over. He had said all that he could think of; and if earnest solicitude
for another’s welfare, keen anxiety that character should be hardened
and tempered by adversity, is prayer, then Maniwel was praying. The door
was barred, and there had been no interruption of any kind.

At length Jagger raised his head and met his father’s gaze. His own face
was white and weary-looking; there were lines on the brow that looked in
that feeble light like ink-smudges, and there were similar shadows at
the corners of the mouth.

He had received the communication and all his father’s comments in
absolute silence and now that he spoke his voice was hard and resolute.

“You’ll have heard, maybe, that ’Zekiel’s little lad died this
afternoon. They came down soon after you went across to Albert’s, and I
went back with ’em. They want to bury on Wednesday, so I’ll stay up and
be getting on with the job.”

“I’ll bide wi’ you, lad,” said the father. “I’ve done naught this last
three days”; but Jagger shook his head.

“Nay, get you to bed. I shall lose no sleep and you would. I’ve got
something else to coffin beside Billy.”

“Well, happen you’ll be better by yourself. But when you’ve nailed your
trouble up, lad, put it out o’ sight, and don’t let its ghost walk about
wi’ you. There’s two ways of dealing wi’ trouble—you can either lie
down and let it crush t’ sperrit out of you, or you can climb on t’ top
of it and get an uplift.”

Jagger looked steadily into his father’s eyes.

“That’s so,” he said firmly. “I’ve got to put my back into this business
now and make it move, and, by gen, I will.”


                               CHAPTER XI

                   IN WHICH THE CONDITIONS ARE WINTRY

WINTER tightened its grip on the moor when the New Year came in. The
weather-wise knew it would be so, when night after night a deep halo of
gold and brown circled the moon, and the farmers gathered their sheep
together lest they should be lost in the drifts with which long
experience had made them familiar.

January passed, however, and their expectations were not realised; but
the long bent grass curved beneath the weight of its frosted jewels; and
the surface of the moor and the shelving sides of the hills were so
silvered that scarcely a hint of green was given over the whole extent.
The waters of the tarn were frozen, inches thick, and the ruts in the
road were hard as chiselled masonry.

Overhead the sky was faintly blue, and the sun pursued his daily course
from Cawden to Fountains’ Fell, shawled in mist, like an age-worn and
enfeebled pilgrim who will do his duty while he has strength to move at
all, but who has no warmth to spare for those who travel in his company.

If the sun was sluggish and ineffective no such fault could be found
with the winds that whistled over the moors and in the chimneys of farm
and cottage, for they were strong as wild horses, and biting as fine
hail. Woe to the ears that were exposed to the full force of the blast
upon the uplands, for they were seared as with hot irons! Yet who that
was healthy and stout of heart; who that was moorland born, and was,
with the ling and the cotton-grass part and parcel of the moor but felt
his pulse beat to a quicker and more joyous rhythm as he fought the wind
or leaned his back against it!

Of that doughty company was old Squire Harris, lord of the manor and
owner, though not master, of thousands of broad rebellious acres;
master, on the other hand, of the hearts of men and women who owed him
no allegiance governed by the purse; a man of whom Mawm was proud, and
whose kindliness and justice earned him the respect even of evildoers.
Heavy of body and light of heart he sat his horse on this cold February
morning, paying no heed to the stinging attentions of the wind, but with
an observant eye on the work that was going on in the yard of the home
farm.

“A good lad at his job, Yorke,” he said approvingly to the steward who
was standing at the stirrup; “Jagger always framed well from being a
lad; and Briggs has been a fool to part with him. Did you say his father
was about?”

“He left not ten minutes ago,” replied the steward. “You’ll overtake him
if you’re going towards the village.”

The squire nodded and moved away. Five minutes later he caught sight of
Maniwel’s sturdy figure and cantered up to his side.

“Well, Drake!” he said heartily as he checked his horse’s pace; “your
head would make the fortune of one of these new-fangled painters, for
it’s a study in bright colours—blue ears and pink cheeks!”

“A Happy New Year to you, Mr. Harris—what’s left of it!” returned the
other. “It’s better to be blue outside than inside, anyway; and after
all it’s a bit o’ real Yorkshire, is this wind; and what more can a man
want i’ February?”

“Right you are, Drake! A man who wants ought better wants a thrashing
for his greediness, eh? You and I drink life in with every breath, don’t
we? Beats all your orange-scented breezes into a cocked hat. A Happy New
Year to you, too, my friend, and prosperous! How are things looking?”

“Neither pink nor blue,” answered Maniwel with a twinkle in his eye,
“thank you kindly for asking. Some days they’re drab wi’ a bit o’ blue
in; and other some they’re drab wi’ a bit o’ pink.”

“But never black, I hope,” inquired Mr. Harris.

“I’m colour blind to black,” answered Maniwel, “when it gets as far as a
blue-drab I stir t’ fire up. There’s always something cheerful there.”

The squire looked down at the honest face admiringly.

“And what about these rumours that are flying round that you’re not
being treated fairly?” he asked. “Is there anything in them? Can I put
in a word usefully anywhere?”

“No, sir,” said the other firmly, “though it’s like you to name it. What
you’ve heard, I don’t know, but when tales begin to fly about they pick
up more than they started with, and I dare bet I’ve naught to put up
with i’ business no worse than what you’ve had i’ politics.”

“Perhaps not,” returned Mr. Harris with a laugh; “but if some of these
stories are true, or only partly true, they’re beyond what’s fair and I
shouldn’t hesitate to tell the parties so. However, I admire your grit,
and you shall have what I can put in your way, I promise you. I’ve told
Mr. Yorke so.”

“Thank you kindly, Mr. Harris; and you shall have honest work in return;
but as to putting a word in wi’ them ’at wish us harm it ’ud happen only
breed more slyness and bitterness. I’ve a notion ’at t’ best way o’
dealing wi’ ill-will is to live it down and try to make a’ enemy into a
friend. It’s a slow way, and it doesn’t always come off, but it’s worth
trying.”

“Very well,” said the squire cheerily, “but it takes a deal of oil to
soften the grindstone, Drake! However, you can but try. Is Jagger of
your way of thinking? I thought he was looking well, if just a wee bit
frost-bitten.”

“Jagger was converted as sudden as a Methody, t’ night o’ Boxing Day,”
replied Maniwel; “and t’ penitent form was t’ saw-bench in t’ new shop.
If he isn’t altogether o’ my way o’ thinking he has his face that road.”

“Converted? How so?” The squire turned puzzled eyes on the other, who,
looking up and catching the expression, allowed a smile to overspread
his face.

“Aye, converted! Put away childish things and became a new creature! You
wouldn’t know him for t’ same man, if you had to live wi’ him. He was
always more of a lass than his sister; but from that night he’s been a
man; and that’s what I call conversion, though it happen isn’t what ’ud
go by that name wi’ t’ Methodies.”

“I see,” laughed the squire, “I suppose there was a cause for the
change?—but you needn’t tell me. Yorke gave me a hint when I remarked
on the improvement in Jagger’s bearing. His disappointment won’t be an
unmixed evil, I hope. Well, good luck, Drake! Let me know if I can be of
service to you.”

The horse leaped forward at a touch of the bridle and Maniwel was left
to his reflections; but before he had covered another mile the squire
reined up again, as he overtook a second solitary pedestrian.

“So it’s you, Mistress Nancy, is it?” he said, looking down
mischievously into the face that was upturned to his own. “Isn’t the air
fresh enough down below that you must needs come up here for your
promenade? Or is your skin too hard to be turned into a pin-cushion for
the wind? Mine is stabbed in ten thousand places!”

“It nips a bit, sir,” she answered; “but that’s nothing. I thought a
sharp walk on the moor would do me good.”

“I see!” The squire was reading the face that had been quickly turned
away from his scrutinising gaze. The girl was not ill at ease in his
company, but her expression was hard in harmony with her surroundings,
and there was nothing in her voice that responded to the squire’s
geniality. All the same she was an attractive picture, for the tawny
cheeks were suffused with a rich red, and the black eyes sparkled like
polished jet, besides which she had a good figure and an elastic step,
and held her head like a woman of spirit.

“I see!” he repeated; and paused before he continued—“You’ve been
entering into the holy estate of matrimony, I’m told, whilst I was away.
I’m afraid I forget the name; but you must allow me to wish you much
happiness. Mistress Nancy.”

“Thank you, sir. The name is Inman,” she replied; and though she had
schooled herself to repeat the word without revealing the abhorrence it
caused her, a slight curl of the lip and contraction of the brow
afforded signs the squire was not slow to interpret, especially as the
information had been given in the coldest of tones.

“I shall be making your husband’s acquaintance, no doubt,” he said
kindly. “Meantime I wish you a Happy New Year—the happiest you have
ever experienced!”

“Thank you, sir,” she answered in the same unemotional voice. “I wish
you the same!”

When he was out of sight she stopped and stamped her foot.

“Why can’t they leave me alone?” she muttered angrily. “The happiest I
ever experienced! It’s likely, isn’t it?”

She had reached a point in the road which was on a level with the top of
the Cove, a hundred yards distant, and as she raised her clouded face
she caught sight of the familiar landmarks and raised her hands to her
eyes as if memory as well as vision could be blotted out. Then, with an
impatient exclamation she turned and opening the gate on the opposite
side of the road, raced across the crisp grass of the moor as though she
fled from a pursuer.

It was in vain, for the huntsman was within her breast, and when she
stopped from sheer exhaustion on the steep slopes of Kirkby Fell, she
realised the fruitlessness of flight and laughed at her folly.

“Fool and coward!” she said aloud; and her feelings found relief in the
very sound of her voice though it was charged with scorn. “Can’t you lie
on the bed you’ve made for yourself without whining and crying like a
chained puppy? Are you going to let everybody see what an idiot you’ve
been? ‘Marry in haste and repent at leisure!’ That’s what they’ll say,
wagging their wise heads. What business is it of theirs if I do
repent—the twopenny-ha’penny gossips?”

The wind whistled on the height and stung her ears until they became
ashen-coloured rather than blue; but she experienced no sense of
physical discomfort, though after the one hot outburst she turned her
feet homewards. By and by she raised her eyes, and looking eastwards saw
the great sweep of the Cove far below, and again averted her head. But
she recovered herself in a moment, and forced her gaze back.

“You silly fool!” she said. “The Cove’ll neither tell tales nor snigger
at you!”

She lashed her soul with scorn as mercilessly as the wind scourged her
body, and what the force outside of her could not accomplish the spirit
inside effected with ease, for she shuddered as she looked on the scene
of her frustrated hopes, though she made her eyes sweep the whole
circumference of the crag.

“Now!” she said in a quieter tone; “go back, Nancy Inman, and speak
smoothly to your lord, and put blinkers on your eyes when Baldwin and
Keturah sneer at you.”

The mid-day meal had been in progress some minutes when Nancy entered
the kitchen, and the girl read in the black looks of each face promise
of an impending storm.

“I’m sorry I’m late,” she said, with an indifference that belied her
words; “I went further than I thought.”

Baldwin contracted his brow until the pepper-coloured tufts above his
eyes pointed straight towards her; but he remained silent and Keturah
merely sulked. Inman looked steadily into his wife’s face and said:

“It isn’t just a question of being late. There’s your share of the work
to do, and Keturah says you’re leaving it all to her——”

Before he could finish the reproof or Nancy could reply Keturah’s
resolution gave way, and raising her apron to her eyes she broke in——

“What’s t’ use o’ talking about me? I’m just my lady’s servant, to fetch
and carry for her from t’ time she gets up in a morning to when she lays
her down at night. I knew what it ’ud be, well I did, when Baldwin said
we mud all live together, for if I don’t know her fine-lady ways ’at’s
brought her up from a child I’d like to know who does. But it’s come to
a nice pass when one o’ my years, and ’at’s been a mother to her, has to
be her slavey.”

Baldwin pushed back his chair with a hasty exclamation.

“Slavey be ——!” He used an expression that was not fit for the women’s
ears, and followed it up with the usual succession of spluttered oaths;
until Inman whose vexation had not been deep and was rapidly changing to
contempt took advantage of a lull caused by the older man’s choking to
remark coolly:

“There’s no need to talk about slaveys or anything of the sort; and
there’s no need to spill either water or—aught else over the job.
Nancy’s made a mistake that she won’t repeat——”

Nancy had drawn a chair up to the table, but the space in front of her
was empty, for Baldwin was too excited to serve her; and at her
husband’s words she threw back her head. Inman fixed an eye of steel
upon her.

“That she won’t repeat,” he said again with slow emphasis, and Nancy’s
lip curled though she remained silent. “It’s right that there should be
a fair division of labour, and Nancy’ll do her share——”

Baldwin’s face had been working strangely during this judicial delivery
and he now seized the carving knife and brought the handle down upon the
table with such vehemence that Keturah screamed.

“And who the devil are you to lay down the law same as you were master
and I was man? A nice pass, as Keturah says, if we’ve to be set i’ wer
places i’ wer own house. For two pins I’ll bundle you both out, neck and
crop. A man ’at can’t make his wife toe t’ line isn’t fit to be wed; but
you’re not going to lord it over me, if Keturah cares to sup all Nancy
gives her. You’re sadly too ready, young man, with your wills and your
won’ts, as I’ve told you before; and I’m beginning to be sorry I ever
set eyes on you, for there’s been t’ devil to pay ever since.”

“You see what a storm you’ve raised,” said Inman, looking across at his
wife, who was sitting back in her chair, pleating the edge of the
tablecloth between her fingers. His voice was stern but there was a
scornful look in his eye which partly counteracted the tone. As she made
no reply he turned to his master.

“If you hadn’t lost your temper you wouldn’t blame me for what I
couldn’t hinder. It isn’t my fault that Nancy wasn’t here to help with
the dinner, and I’ve said it shan’t happen again. I can say no more. As
to turning us out neck and crop——” he paused and looked significantly
at Baldwin who scowled in reply; “perhaps Nancy and I had better talk
things over between ourselves.”

There was no mistaking the veiled threat though the voice was quite
calm, and Baldwin fired again; but before he could speak Inman continued
in a more conciliatory tone.

“I meant no offence in what I said a while back, and nobody can say that
I’ve tried to be master. I’ve served you well, and you know it, but if
we can’t live peaceably together we must make other arrangements. Hadn’t
we best let t’ matter drop now and get on with our dinner?”

“I’m sure,” said Keturah with a timid glance at her brother who had at
length suffered himself to fill Nancy’s plate and push it across the
table; “it’s no wish o’ mine to make trouble; but there’s things flesh
and blood can’t stomach, and when a body isn’t as young as she once was
it stands to reason ’at she can’t be expected to wait hand and foot on
them ’at’s years younger——”

Nancy rose and walked round Keturah’s chair in order to reach the
mustard, and Inman smiled grimly though he remarked:

“It isn’t to be expected. Nancy didn’t give it a thought or she wouldn’t
have done it; but as you’ll have no reason to complain again I’d let it
drop now if I were you.”

Nancy smiled provokingly and by ill-luck Baldwin saw her and his wrath
blazed out afresh. He had been only half placated by Inman’s smooth
words—indeed his foreman’s coolness always irritated him more than an
outburst of temper as he had sense enough to know that it placed him at
a disadvantage. He now turned to Nancy, the veins on his forehead
swelling into tense blue cords.

“You ——!” Imagination must supply the coarse expressions that sent
Keturah’s hands to her ears and a scowl to Inman’s brow. “You sit there
making game o’ us; same as you’d naught to do but pull t’ strings and we
should all dance to your tune. But you’ve t’ wrong pig by t’ ear, I can
tell you, when you’ve Baldwin Briggs to deal wi’. A nice fool I should
ha’ been to turn t’ business over to another man just because you’ve wed
him. Shut your mouth!” he roared, turning angrily about as Inman
interjected a word; “You’ve had your say; and I don’t doubt but what
you’re hand-in-glove wi’ t’ lass for all your smooth talk. Partners!
I’ll see you both blaze first. I wasn’t born i’ a frost. ‘Do nowt and
take all!’ that’s your motto.”

His eyes were on Nancy again, and for the first time she deigned a
reply.

“That only shows what a good scholar I’ve been,” she said with calm
contempt. “‘All for my-sen’ has been the watchword in this house ever
since you came into it, so why blame me for adopting it?”

Amusement and something not unlike admiration was in Inman’s eyes; but
he veiled his feelings. The next moment he said:

“We’ll have no stirring up strife, Nancy. Mr. Briggs knows that it was
none o’ my doing to ask to be made partner; and whether he believes me
or not I want no partnership. But he can’t blame a wife for seeking t’
best she can get for her husband, and especially when she takes ‘No’ for
an answer and makes no more to do about it. I say again we’d best forget
what’s been said and try to cool down. I’ve told you you’ll have no more
trouble with Nancy.”

The girl met his meaning glance defiantly, but allowed her expression to
speak for her; and Baldwin made no reply of any sort.

When the meal was finished Inman signalled to his wife to follow him
into the parlour, which had been allocated to their use.

“You silly fool!” he began when they were alone; lowering his voice to a
whisper and in a tone that was entirely without malice. “Why can’t you
play your cards patiently when you’ve a handful of trumps? You’ve only
to wait a while and you shall be lady to your heart’s content; but
you’ll spoil all if you set Baldwin against me.”

She looked up into his face disarmed by the unexpected gentleness.

“There was nothing whatever to do,” she replied. “It was cold meat; the
potatoes were ready for the pan, and Keturah allows nobody to mix her
puddings. If I’d laid the cloth it would have been as much as I should
have done.”

“Very likely,” assented Inman. “The time’ll come maybe when you can set
Keturah her work; but it isn’t yet, and we’ve got to lie low for a
while. Partner!”—he laughed with sinister meaning and looked into his
wife’s eyes which reflected none of his humour. “We’ll have no
partnerships now, my lass. ‘All for my-sen’ is a game two can play at,
and the cleverest wins.”

He said no more nor did he kiss his wife as he took his leave of her,
matrimonial trimmings of that kind not being to his taste—for which
relief Nancy was thankful. She remained standing with her eyes on the
ground for quite a long time after he was gone, professing to debate
with herself her future line of conduct but fearing all the time that
she would obey. The power of those steely eyes was over her awake and
asleep.

“Silly fool indeed!” she muttered as she returned to the kitchen.


                              CHAPTER XII

                     IN WHICH BALDWIN’S SKY BECOMES
                            SLIGHTLY OVERCAST

DESPITE frequent tiffs and an occasional battle-royal like that which
has just been described, Inman’s influence with his master strengthened
as the days went by. However cunning and suspicious a man may be he is
in danger of being outwitted if he has no better weapons than a quick
temper and a slow brain to oppose to the coolness and acumen of an alert
adversary. And when the adversary protests friendship, and, refusing to
be provoked, offers indisputable evidences of loyalty and goodwill, the
most churlish nature must be affected, as the continual dropping of
water will in course of time smoothen the grittiest rock.

Such evidences were too conspicuous to be overlooked for Inman never
tired of devising ingenious schemes for crippling the enterprise of the
Drakes; and Baldwin stored in his memory an admiration that nothing
would have wrung from his lips, as he saw with what subtle ingenuity
Inman spread his nets and succeeded in obliterating all traces of his
operations. Suspicion there might be, but where concealment was
advisable Inman took care there should be no proof. Baldwin reconciled
his mind to what was unpalatable in his foreman’s manner because of the
Machiavelian service he was rendering to his interests. The one bitter
ingredient in the cup of his satisfaction was the knowledge that his
competitors—father and son alike—went steadily on their way,
undisturbed by all the hindrances that were set in their path.

One day towards the end of April Baldwin summoned Inman to the office.
The morning’s letters lay open on the desk, and one of them the master
held in his hand and perused a second time with a sullen look.

“There’s something here I don’t like,” he said when the foreman had
obeyed his command to close the door. “John Clegg wants me to hold back
my payments this month; says he’s hard put to it what wi’ one and
another calling their brass in, and very little new money coming forrad;
wants me to gi’ three months bills to Johnsons and Greens and put some
o’ t’others off a bit. It’s a nasty look wi’ ’t ’at I don’t fancy.”

Inman’s brows contracted. “Is it the first time this has happened?” he
asked.

“Nay, there was another some years back,” Baldwin replied, “when he wor
for holding me up i’ t’ same way; but there wasn’t so much owing then.
It’s been a heavy quarter, has this——”

“How did you go on, on that occasion?” asked Inman, edging his master
back to essentials. “It came all right in the end, I suppose?”

“It came all right at t’ time,” explained Baldwin sourly. “I got my back
up, and when he saw it he caved in. It wor naught but a try-on; a dodge
to diddle me out of a bit o’ interest, I reckon, ’at didn’t come off;
and from that day to this all’s gone square. I suppose he thinks I’m
getting old and addled now, and he can have another try; damn him.”

“He’ll be having to make provision for paying Drake his money out,” said
Inman thoughtfully. “If there’s been one or two more on the same
hop—and there may have been for aught we know—he’ll want time to turn
round, that’s all.”

“That’s all! is it?” snapped Baldwin. “Then it’s too much! Am I to have
my credit ruined to pay them two devils t’ money they’ll use again’ me?
I’ll see ’em blaze first! He can try it on wi’ someb’dy else—I aren’t
having it!”

“Hadn’t you best go over to see him?” suggested Inman, “and tell him
straight out how things stand between you and Drakes? After all, he’s
Nancy’s uncle; and when you pointed out that she’d suffer as well as you
if the firm got a bad name he’d be sure to see that it ’ud be the best
plan to put old Drake off, who’d make no bones about it, but think it
was the way Providence was leading him. Then you’d be getting a bit of
your own back at t’ same time.”

Baldwin’s eyes showed his satisfaction at this advice, for the strained
look gave place to one of cunning; but he suppressed any note of
enthusiasm as he replied:

“I should spoil t’ job if _I_ was to see him, for my temper’s that hot
it ’ud flame out t’ minute he crossed me; and I couldn’t put it into
words same as you. And you being Nancy’s husband, and a friend of his by
what you’ve told me, it ’ud come more natural ’at you should see him,
pointing out as you say ’at Nancy’s a partner in a manner o’ speaking,
and ’at Maniwel’s set on doing her a’ injury. That’s t’ card you want t’
play wi’ John; and happen you’d pull it off where I should mullock it.”

“It’s one of those jobs where they don’t expect a man to take the
master’s place,” said Inman with crafty hesitation. “I’d go in a minute
if I thought it was the best plan; but will Mr. Clegg like it?”

“Of course he will; and if he doesn’t he can lump it,” replied Baldwin,
who knew that he was no match for his foreman in a wordy argument with a
man of the world like his banker. “If you hadn’t ha’ been Nancy’s
husband it ’ud ha’ been different; but seeing as you are there’s naught
more fitting. If you could catch t’ noon train you could be back i’ t’
morning, or maybe to-night.”

“Very well,” said Inman; “but don’t expect me before morning. These are
jobs that can’t be hurried, and a bit of time lost is neither here nor
there.”

The glamour of spring sunlight was on the landscape as Inman set out
upon his six-mile tramp to the station, and even the grey hills looked
warm and hospitable, whilst the meadows of the low-lands were a mosaic
of rich greens of varied shade. Signs of new and joyous life were
everywhere. Yellow celandines and dandelions caught the sunshine on
their outspread petals and sparkled in the shadows of the dry walls and
river banks. Nor was the eye the only recipient of April’s gifts, for
the sweet scents that Nature had released at the coming of spring
greeted another sense; the delicate odours of budding trees and the good
smell of newly-turned earth. And with all these bounties another equally
good—a brave, bracing wind from the heights, sharp and sweet, charged
with the power to stimulate and purify. It was a day to make a man shout
aloud for very joy of being alive.

But let Nature do her utmost—spread her glories like a peacock,—a
man’s thoughts may curtain his senses and stifle every emotion except
that which is uppermost, so that the hills may clap their hands never so
loudly and he will be deaf as the dead to their music. Inman’s thoughts
were not of yellow sunlight but of yellow gold; and though he was
devising traps as he walked along the road with his eyes on the ground,
they were certainly not intended to catch sunbeams. Beyond the curt
statement that he was going to Airlee on the firm’s business he had
given his wife no explanation of his journey; but it was Nancy’s
interests that occupied his thoughts to the exclusion of all others, for
Nancy’s interests were now his. Baldwin might go to the devil for all he
cared; and if a push of his foot could speed him there it should be
given with great goodwill, provided always he did not lose his own
balance in the act, and that the kick should be from behind. A finer
ambassador than Inman could not have been found in all the empire if
Baldwin’s object was to save the throne regardless of who should occupy
it. “All for my-sen!” A smile flitted across the man’s hard face as the
thought occurred to him.

                 *        *        *        *        *

Soon after six o’clock that evening Nancy visited the Cove for the first
time since the fatal quarrel with Jagger. She had thought she would
never see the place again with pleasure—there had been one hour of
bitter repentance when she had vowed that the scene of her folly should
have no existence for her in the future—but she was surprised to find
her heart warm as she looked upon the great crag and saw the jackdaws
wheeling about in the neighbourhood of their nests. The sun would not
set for another hour, but its couch was behind the mountains and Mawm
would see it no more until the morrow, yet there was a wash of amber on
the limestone, and the rock looked genial and friendly. There was
something soul-stirring and at the same time strangely soothing in the
contemplation of the ponderous cliff that faced unmoved the most violent
storms and all the vicissitudes of the years. Cold as it was Nancy sat
down on a rock beside the stream, and the rippling water, murmuring like
an infant on its mother’s lap, turned her thoughts in another direction
and brought the hot blush to her cheeks.

Raising her eyes she became conscious that a man was descending the
lower slope a hundred yards away, and her face lost its colour as she
recognised Jagger, and saw that she was unobserved. She was not afraid
to encounter him, though they had not met in privacy before since her
marriage, and had exchanged scarcely a dozen words; rather, her senses
were numbed and she watched him incuriously, as if he had been a bird
that had dropped down to the river to drink; and when she saw him bend
his head and stand motionless, though she knew what his thoughts must
be, no emotion of pity or contempt disturbed her, and she experienced no
desire to steal away and escape his notice. Her feelings were turned to
stone, like the man who stood as rigid as the boulders at his feet.

Even when he wheeled round and came towards her with his eyes still on
the ground; when she knew that she must inevitably be discovered, her
pulse beat no more quickly; but when he brushed against her dress, and
uttered a startled exclamation of recognition as his eyes leaped to her
face she smiled.

“I’ve been watching you this last five minutes,” she said in a calm
voice, but with the weary intonation of a care-worn woman.

He was much more at a loss for words than she, yet he recovered his
self-possession in a moment.

“I’ve never been here since that day,” he began; and the girl nodded.

“Nor me, neither,” she said; “but I’m glad I came.”

“Are you? I was wondering if I hadn’t better have stayed away; if I
hadn’t better cross t’ Cove off t’ map and have done with it. It hurts,
Nancy! It’ll always hurt!”

“Hurts!” she answered with an emphasis of mockery. “Your hurt is just an
empty place, a bit of an ache, same as when you’ve fasted too long. _My_
hurt is a serpent ’at I’ve taken of my own free will and pressed to my
bosom, and it bites deeper every day.”

The despair in her voice moved him strongly but hardly more than her
calmness. There was no flash in her spirit; but there was strength and a
certain stern attractiveness, as there is in the bog; and his heart
ached with a sore longing.

“He isn’t unkind to you, is he?” he forced himself to ask, and she
laughed contemptuously.

“Unkind? What is it to be unkind?” She looked down contemplatively, as
if the question interested her. “Is he unkind?” she repeated in a low
voice. “I never thought of that. He doesn’t beat me, if that’s what you
mean, except now and again with his tongue and his looks; and two can
play at that game.”

“Beat you!” The man’s lips tightened and he spoke through his teeth; “t’
first time ’at I hear ’at he’s laid hands on you I’ll do him in! Beat
you! Devil as he is he isn’t black-hearted enough for that!”

“I don’t know that he is a devil,” she replied listlessly; “but he knows
how to raise one, and he’s so cold and sure of himself that he makes me
scream inside, though he’s never heard me and never will. I’m afraid of
him; but he doesn’t know it, and I’m not whining; I’m just telling you
how I feel. I’m like a baby in his hands. He’s a man who gets what he
wants _always_. He wanted my money so he took me, same as you must take
t’ purse with what’s inside it. And he perhaps wanted a woman, too, and
one’s as good as another to such as him.”

“And now he shoves you on one side; makes dirt of you,” said Jagger
bitterly. “Can’t I see it in his face? And he’ll take a pride in doing
it, and more by half if he thinks it ’ud hurt me, and that you’d care.
But that’s more’n I ought to have said.”

“More than I ought to let you say,” she replied, “but for this once you
shall say what you like and that must end it. It was here we fell out,
and it’s here I’ll tell you that I know it was my fault. I meant to make
it up with you; I’d thought about nothing else for hours on end; but
there’s something—I don’t know what it is, if it isn’t fate—that pulls
one way when we pull another, and pulls harder than us. And then I was
mad with you because you took me at my word; and _he_ came along and I
married him whilst I was sore—married him at a Registry; no service or
anything.”

He had never taken his eyes from her face; never sought to interrupt her
during this recital. One foot he had raised and placed on the rock where
she was sitting; and pity softened the deep lines on his forehead as the
evening light mellows the harsh brows of Gordel.

“Nay, Nancy,” he said sorrowfully; and at the sound of her name, or
perhaps at the tender note in his voice, the blood surged to her face
again; “you mustn’t blame yourself, or anyway you mustn’t take all the
blame. Father warned me, but I was too big a fool to heed him. I came
that afternoon on purpose to make friends wi’ you, and it wasn’t fate
but just hot temper ’at ruined all. It’s changed my nature, Nancy. When
father brought word ’at you were married something fell like a
thunderbolt i’ my head and has rested on my heart ever since; but I’m a
different man—whether I’m better or worse I don’t fairly know.”

“Yes, you’re changed,” she said, “and so am I; but the thunderbolt that
fells one tree lets more air in for that next to it. It’s me that’s
crushed, not you. You’ll make your way, I can see, for this mishap has
put ginger into you, and I shall be glad to see you get on. But James’ll
move heaven and earth to ruin you: there’s naught so sure as that; and
he’s a cleverer headpiece than you, Jagger.”

“He can soon have that,” said Jagger with a new note of modesty that was
entirely free from sulkiness; “but he’s welcome to do his worst as far
as I’m concerned. What’s it matter to me what he does? When we opened t’
new shop I was all for making money; but I’ve learned a hard lesson
since then, and I know now ’at money can’t buy t’ best things. I don’t
care whether we get on or we don’t so long as we can pay our way, and
there’s little fear o’ that; but work’s life, and good work’s
luxury—all t’ luxury I care about now, and Inman can’t ruin a man ’at
builds on them foundations.”

“He’ll try to,” she answered.

“Let him try!” he answered. “He can shove as he likes but he’ll never
shift t’ Cove—there’s some things too strong even for him. I’m on t’
old man’s side, Nancy, though I’m only a watcher. It’s a game between
God and t’ devil; and as long as my father lives I’ll back ’at Inman
doesn’t come out on top. Anyway, I’m walking t’ straight road, and he’s
welcome to do his worst.”

“You sound like Hannah!”

She looked up as she spoke, and the sorrow he saw in her eyes—a sorrow
shot through with yearning and pain—stabbed him to the heart and caused
him to lose control. Before she could guess his purpose he had stooped
and kissed her on the lips, and for a moment or two she yielded without
protest. The next she rose to her feet and pushed him gently away.

“You shouldn’t have done that,” she said. “If he knew he’d kill you; but
whether he knows or he doesn’t it isn’t walking t’ straight road that
you talk about. But it’s the first and last time, and there’s been
nobody to see and tell tales, so there’s no harm done. Only, never
again, remember! I’m his wife, and I’ll be no other man’s sweetheart.”

He bent his head at the rebuke; and she brightened as love and pity
stirred in her heart at the sight of his face.

“Tell your father I miss him, Jagger; and grannie too. I could like to
call in and see ’em; but it wouldn’t do. There’s no man’s word has the
same weight with me as your father’s, and you can tell him I took his
advice and bought stock with most o’ the money I had with Uncle John.
Baldwin doesn’t know because uncle made me promise not to tell him. It
was easier than I’d thought on to get round uncle, but I’ve always been
able to manage him better’n most folks, and he’s paid me out bit by bit
until I haven’t above five hundred with him now, and I’m letting that
stop.”

“Father’s never said aught o’ this to me,” said Jagger. “Was he uneasy
about the money, or what?”

“Not that I know of; but he knew I was. I can’t tell how it is; but I’ve
never been quite comfortable about Uncle John myself. There seems to be
money enough, and yet he always looks worried.”

“It’s a funny thing,” said Jagger, “’at them ’at have too much seem as
badly worried as them ’at have too little. I’ll tell father what you
say.”

“And Jagger! Ask Hannah to come to see me, I know she’ll scorn me; but
she’s a good heart and when she knows mine’s nearly broken she’ll not
bear malice. Tell her I want a friend and I haven’t one.”

“Yes, you have,” he said, “you’ve _that_, anyway!”

“Poor Jagger!” she replied in a low voice. “What a mess we’ve made of
it! I’m going now. Don’t follow till I’m out of sight.”

She turned away as she spoke and walked quickly up the hill with the
darkness gathering around her, and never once looked back. When she had
passed through the gate on to the road Jagger also moved away, but in
the other direction. Until his form mingled with the shadows on the
hillside there was silence in the glen; then a young girl rose
cautiously on the farther side of the wall and looked round before she
sought the path Nancy had taken.

It was Polly Marsden—Swithin’s granddaughter who had been there all the
time, disappointed of the company she had expected.

“It wasn’t my fault if I heard ’em,” she said to herself, perhaps to
quieten the too rapid beating of her heart. “What are ears for if not to
hear with?”


                              CHAPTER XIII

                IN WHICH INMAN PROVES HIMSELF COMPETENT

NANCY’S mood alternated between a strange sense of peacefulness and
extreme depression all that evening. Cold as it was she shut herself up
in the parlour, away from Baldwin’s snappy ill-temper and Keturah’s
tearful peevishness, and busied herself with that kind of sewing which
raises in the breast of most young wives a tumult of hopes and fears. At
intervals she let the little garment fall to her knee, and gazed long
and steadily at the window, as if in the pale light that was upon the
hills she would find healing for her soul’s sores. How often she had
climbed old Cawden by moonlight in Jagger’s company! She had never
doubted that they would one day marry and live happily together; it had
seemed as inevitable as that Gordale beck should merge its waters with
the stream that flowed from the Cove, and when memory reproduced the
vivid pictures of the past, flooding the shadows with excess of light,
her spirits became tranquillised and she would smile.

But an anodyne is not a cure; and when her eyes fell to her lap and her
fingers took up again the work on which she was engaged, bitterness
returned to her heart, and the weary way that stretched its interminable
length before her was sunless as the Psalmist’s shadowed valley.
Yet—Jagger loved her still, and she——!

Nancy merely skirted the borders of that forbidden ground, but to peep
into a paradise that is closed to us is to invite a vision of hell, and
the periods of depression grew longer and more painful, until she could
endure the parlour no longer, and attributing to her head the ache that
was at her heart, went early and supperless to bed.

It was not yet dark, and through her window she could see a couple of
curlews wheeling in the air; their wild cries rang pleasantly in her
ears; their free, erratic movements interested and amused her, now that
sleep refused its office. She felt a sense of oneness with them and with
the wild, untameable moor on which they rested, and she gave fancy its
fling and let it sweep or hover where it would! She cherished no hopes,
dreamed no false dreams; but between sleeping and waking dropped a
curtain on the sombre present and walked in the sunlit past.

She was still dozing, still ruminating, when the clock downstairs struck
one, and the sound had hardly died away when a handful of gravel was
thrown against the window. Instantly she was out of bed. It was by this
time very dark but she went confidently forward and put out her hand,
conscious as she did so that one of her bare feet had been cut by a
sharp fragment of spar. A voice from below that she recognised as her
husband’s bade her steal down silently and open the door.

“Don’t bring a light,” he whispered. “They mustn’t see me; and take care
how you draw back the bolts.”

She made no reply but fumbled for her slippers and dressing-gown and put
them on. Why there should be all this need of secrecy she never asked
herself; but she walked quietly and trapped her finger in trying to
steady the big bolt as she drew it back—it was rusty and not easy to
move.

“Shove this under the bed,” he said in a low voice as he pushed a small
cigar box into her hands; “I’ll follow you in a minute when I’ve locked
up.”

Without a word she obeyed, and not until he joined her and lit the
candle, having first drawn down the blind, did she open her lips.

“I didn’t expect you to-night,” she said.

“I’ve walked from Keepton,” he replied. “I’m dead beat. It isn’t that
the box is over heavy, though there’s five hundred pounds in gold there.
Baldwin mustn’t know a word about it—nobody must. It’s yours. Your
Uncle——”

He stopped, and Nancy saw that his face was grey and his breath coming
in deep heaves.

“Wait a minute,” she said. “The whisky-bottle’s in the sideboard. I’ll
get you a drop.”

She took the tumbler, and stole downstairs again, whilst Inman bent his
head between his knees. In a minute or two she was back with the drink,
and she locked the door behind her.

“That’s right,” said Inman when he had gulped the dose. “It’s a long
walk, and I hurried more than I need have done; but I like a woman who
keeps her head, and you’ll need to keep yours with that suspicious old
devil nosing round. I don’t mind him knowing I’ve got back—the old
fool’ll think I’ve rushed home to please him, but he mustn’t smoke the
swag or the game’s up; he’s a scent for brass like a terrier for rats.”

Nancy was listening quite unmoved. Her foot and her finger were causing
her pain; but she paid them no heed for her eyes were on her husband and
she was trying to surmise what deep game he was playing.

“You’d better tell me all about it,” she said with a coldness he either
did not notice or chose to ignore.

“So I will,” he replied, “but first, is there anywhere that we can lock
up that box—any place Keturah doesn’t get her fingers in?”

She shook her head; then bethought herself. “What about that old
portmanteau of yours. It’s on the top o’ the closet. Doesn’t it lock?”

“The very thing!” he exclaimed; and he climbed up and brought it down.
Then, having fitted a key to it from a bunch he took from his pocket, he
put the box inside and returned it to its place.

“That’s better!” he said in a tone of relief. “It’s safe there till we
get it away, bit by bit.”

Still Nancy said nothing, but the look of inquiry in her eyes was not
unmixed with suspicion, and Inman laughed.

“Your face is a picture, Nancy. Afraid I’ve turned highwayman, I
suppose? You needn’t worry; there’s nobody after me, not even Uncle
John. Get into bed, child; you’re shivering!”

She was too proud to examine the wound on her foot; too much afraid that
he should think she was inviting his sympathy. She therefore drew on her
stockings with the muttered explanation that her feet were like ice, and
returned to bed.

Five minutes later Inman unfolded his story.

“The old boy’s pretty well on his last legs, or I’m no judge. What ails
him? Oh, his health’s all right; don’t you trouble your head about
that—in fact, don’t trouble it about anything whilst you have me to
look after you. It’s Uncle John’s business, not his body, that’s
tottering. He’s had a jolly good run for his money; but the weasels are
after him now, and they’ll have their teeth in his neck before three
months are up, mark my words!”

Nancy’s heart sank. Uncle John had always been too absorbed in his
account books to have time to spare for strengthening family ties,—a
duty which he would have regarded, if he had ever given it a moment’s
thought, as falling within the province of his wife and daughter; but he
had been kind in his own off-hand way, and he was her father’s brother;
it was impossible to view his impending ruin with unconcern. Moreover,
her husband’s jaunty, well-satisfied tone grated on her ears.

“He’s sailed as near the wind as any man I’ve ever known, this last ten
years,” continued Inman, with a change of voice that was as noticeable
as the change of metaphor. “The cutest old money-grubber in Airlee, bar
none. A man who kept his conscience in his pew at church alongside his
Prayer Book, and never missed it when he sat at his desk. If there’s
been one man more than another that I’ve looked up to it’s been John
Clegg. But he’s gone on too fast and too far—that’s where your uncle’s
made his mistake. If he’d sold out five years since—but then a man like
him couldn’t stop, no more’n an engine that’s jammed its brakes and is
running at full steam.”

“I don’t suppose you can imagine that all this is very agreeable to me,”
interposed Nancy wearily. “If Uncle John is ruined a good many other
people must be ruined with him; and poor Aunt Ann and Jennie——”

Inman gave a short sneering laugh.

“You needn’t lose any sleep over your Aunt Ann and Jennie. A man who’ll
provide for his loving niece’ll have a little nest egg hidden away
somewhere for self and family, you bet. Your uncle’s no fool, my lass!
Not that he got on his knees exactly, to ask me to bring your bit away.
He’d have given you a three months’ bill or something o’ that sort if
yours truly had been willing, but that wheeze didn’t work. To tell you
the truth there was a time when I’d hold the stick over him; but when he
saw he’d met his match he turned quite pleasant, and we parted the best
o’ friends.”

“And you’ve brought all my money back with you?” Nancy asked.

“If I’d dropped it in the river you couldn’t talk grumpier,” Inman
replied coldly “This is what I get for grabbing five hundred pounds out
o’ the ruins!”

“Nay, I’m glad enough it’s saved, if what you say is true,” Nancy said;
but still without enthusiasm. “Was that what you went for? and—what
about Baldwin?”

The thought of his participation in the looked-for catastrophe had been
slow to reach her, as the startled note in her voice evidenced. Inman
laughed and lowered his voice still more.

“Yes, that’s what I went for; but Baldwin mustn’t guess it. He thinks,
and he’s got to go on thinking, that I went to pull _his_ chestnuts out
o’ the fire; but he’ll have to be satisfied with fair words and
promises. He’ll be pleased, you’ll see, with what I’ve done; or, anyway,
_I_ shall see it, for he’ll none talk about it till we get into the
office—but——”

He said no more, and Nancy could not see the smile that curved about his
lips: the grim smile of the fisherman who feels the line jerk and is
confident that the hook has held.

“But what——?” inquired Nancy.

“I was thinking what a good motto that of his is—‘all for my-sen’”;
said her husband grimly.

“What do you think will happen to Uncle John?” Nancy inquired. “I can’t
help being anxious about him. He’s always treated me well, and you too.”

“Oh, he may pull through,” he replied indifferently. “There’s a
thousand-to-one-chance, of course; and if he doesn’t I suppose he’ll
make an arrangement with his creditors; they’re mostly widows and simple
sort o’ folks with no fight in ’em, poor devils; folks that snapped at
seven per cent. interest and asked no questions. Your uncle’ll be right
enough. Let’s drop him now, and get to sleep; but remember you don’t
know anything; _not anything_, if they try to pump you.”

He turned over on his side and was breathing heavily in a few minutes;
but Nancy lay awake for another hour at least, weighing the situation
and balancing her love of money with sympathy for her aunt and cousin,
and compassion for the poor investors who were to lose their savings.

“My bit ’ud only be a drop in a bucket, anyhow,” she said to herself;
and found some ease in the reflection; “I wonder what Maniwel ’ud think
of it—and Jagger?”

At breakfast Baldwin could not conceal his satisfaction at Inman’s
prompt return; but muttered that what had to be said would keep, and
went on with his meal, stealing a glance at his foreman’s face when he
thought himself unobserved, as if he would read there the result of his
mission. Inman, however, gave nothing away, though he followed promptly
when his master rose and left the kitchen.

“Well?” said Baldwin in the aggressive tone anxiety always put into his
voice, when the office door closed upon them; “Have you wasted your
journey, or were you as clever as you made out you’d be? Has he climbed
down, or what?”

His eyebrows stood out fiercely; but there was fear at the man’s heart,
and Inman knew it and was pleased.

“I don’t think it’s been altogether wasted,” he replied with studied
hesitation, “though I could have liked to come back with an easier
mind——”

“Be hanged to your easier mind!” spluttered Baldwin. “Is he going to let
us have t’ brass, or isn’t he?—that’s t’ question I want answering. Are
we to be shamed wi’ wer creditors, or aren’t we? I’ve no time to stand
here while you’re raking your mind ower to find fine words.”

Inman looked at him steadily but gave no other sign of impatience.

“I think he’ll let you have the money,” he said calmly. “He’ll do his
level best, anyway, and he’s promised not to pay Drakes or anyone till
you’ve had what you want.”

“That’s what I’m waiting to get at,” growled Baldwin; “only I don’t like
that word ‘think.’ If I’d ha’ gone I’d ha’ known; I wouldn’t ha’
thought; and John ’ud ha’ heard a piece o’ my mind into t’ bargain.”

“I was man, not master,” Inman explained, “that was why I should have
liked it better if you’d gone yourself. I said all I dare say, seeing
that I wasn’t boss; and I’d all my work cut out, I can tell you, to get
him to promise.”

“It was a try-on, that’s what it was!” Angry as Baldwin showed himself
there was a note of relief in his voice, and Inman knew that his
master’s greatest care now was to conceal his satisfaction. “He can’t
bear to part. T’ more he has and t’ more he wants,—the selfish devil.
That’s one good thing you’ve worked anyway. I’ll bet he won’t try t’
same game on wi’ me again for a long time. There’s naught like letting
’em see ’at you can put your foot down.”

Inman made no comment, but looked steadily at his boots. He was skilled
in all the cunning of face language; and though Baldwin had little of
that lore he would have been a fool if he had not realised that his
ambassador was holding something back.

“You look glum enough for a burying, spite o’ all your cleverness wi’
John,” he sneered. “What ails you?”

Inman appeared to rouse himself; but he spoke with unusual hesitation.

“Nay, it’s naught but an uneasy feeling.... It isn’t that there’s
exactly aught to go by; but....”

“But what? Get it out, man, can’t you? The devil take you and your
uneasy feelings! John Clegg’s safe as t’ Bank of England, I tell you. If
he doesn’t die worth his hundred-thousand I’m no prophet; and he’ll ha’
scraped it up wi’ a bit o’ interest here and a bit there, where mugs
have been silly enough to let him, to say naught of his money-lending,
and he won’t ha’ worked _that_ at a loss, no fear.”

Inman allowed a look of relief to creep into his expression, and a more
hopeful tone sounded in his voice as he said:

“Well, certainly he ought to have made money and I always reckoned him
to be very well off—not a hundred-thousand man, maybe; I wouldn’t have
gone so far; but comfortable. It was just that I didn’t altogether like
the look of things; and if he isn’t badly worried he’s a good
play-actor. But you’re likely to know better’n me; and as I’ve naught
fairly to go by, no more’n what I’ve told you, we can leave it at that.”

Baldwin frowned; and a smile developed in Inman’s eyes as he removed his
coat and walked over to the bench where his work awaited him. He had
dropped his seed carefully—a seed of suggestion, of suspicion, that was
sure to germinate and torment his master’s soul as it grew; but he had
not committed himself, and if events should shape badly, as was
inevitable, he would always be able to claim that his mouth had been
stopped by his master. Which was just what he had intended.

After dinner Baldwin took Inman aside out of earshot of the other men
who were lounging about, waiting for the hour to strike.

“What did John say about Maniwel?” he asked. “Are you sure they’ll not
get their brass when t’ time comes?”

“I’m certain of it,” Inman replied confidently. “They wouldn’t have got
it in any case, if his word’s to be trusted; but they’d very likely have
had part—something to be going on with. I spiked that gun, if I did
naught else, and Drake’ll have to whistle for his money.”

“But what did he say about ’em starting up in opposition to Nancy, as
you may say?” persisted Baldwin.

“He didn’t speak for a while, but just tapped his desk, and then he said
a curious thing,” Inman replied with his eyes on his master’s face. “He
said, ‘Well, he’s a right to start for himself if he wants, I reckon,
and I’ve a notion that he’ll get on. I never thought myself that our Tom
treated him fairly, and when a man bides his time and goes straight I’ve
noticed he often gets the upper hand at the finish. He’ll perhaps sell
Baldwin a pennorth yet.’ That’s pretty nearly word for word what he
said.”

The older man’s face was a picture during this recital, and his eyes
blazed as he turned to Inman, whose own features were almost
expressionless.

“Sell me a pennorth, will he? And John Clegg could bring his-self to say
that again’ a man ’at has his thousands wi’ him! I’ll give him six
months notice to pay back every blessed ha’penny! I’ll see him rot afore
he shall have my brass to lend to Maniwel Drake to set him on his feet.
As like as not that’s what he is doing. And to have it thrown i’ one’s
face ’at Maniwel wasn’t treated fair! I must say you’ve got it off very
glib, young man, and’ll have turned it over i’ your mouth like a’ acid
drop, I don’t doubt——”

“Mr. Briggs,” Inman interrupted quickly. “I’m Nancy’s husband, and you
don’t need to be told I’m no friend of Drake’s. It’s a poor return for
what I did yesterday to be bullyragged same as if I was your enemy.”

“Well, well,” said Baldwin with an impatient toss of the head; “it’s
enough to make any man talk a bit wild. You’d better blow t’ whistle.
It’s gone one!”


                              CHAPTER XIV

           IN WHICH JOHN CLEGG IS “WANTED” AND MANIWEL ISN’T

IT was exactly a month later, towards the end of the merry month of
May and within a week of Baldwin’s pay-day that news reached Mawm that
John Clegg was “wanted” by the police. No merrier day had been known
that year. Before the cocks awoke to their trumpeting a cuckoo had
proclaimed the dawn, and had continued to obtrude its strange call upon
the air that vibrated all day with the music of more melodious
songsters. Curlews, black-headed gulls and lapwings, wheeling and crying
as they felt the sweep of the mountain breeze, had brought life and
action to the desolate moors, where the pink flowers of the bilberry
washed whole tracts with sunset tints that deepened as the day advanced.
One or two swallows had been seen above the river when the sun was
hottest, but had soon flown south again leaving behind them the hope of
summer. On every hand such stunted trees as the uplands could boast were
either thick with foliage or at least bursting into leaf, and the
meadows and pastures were spangled with gay spring flowers. The merry
day had ended merrily; and when the sun went down to his couch in the
west he flung his rich trappings to the sky which let them fall upon the
mountain tops, where they lay until night cast her shadows over them.

No man from his well-padded seat in the theatre ever watched the play
with keener enjoyment than Maniwel this entertainment of Nature’s
providing, though his chair was the hard stone parapet of the bridge
beside his cottage. All through the day his soul had responded to the
call of spring, to the warm grasp of the sun. The somewhat melancholy
chanting of the moor birds had quickened his pulse; had stirred up
memories of youth and youth’s ambitions; and he had discussed the future
with Jagger in a spirit of breezy optimism that had fired the younger
man. In another week their little capital would be in their own
hands—it was not so very little after all for people in a small way.
With one or two necessary machines and a supply of loose cash they would
soon get into their stride, after which it was just a question of
steadiness and hard, good work.

Maniwel had dismissed business from his thoughts, as a man must who
would enjoy the play, and was feasting his senses on the scene before
him when a motor-car, easily recognisable as the squire’s, sped up the
road from the valley, and a hand beckoned him to approach.

Maniwel obeyed the summons and was greeted by Mr. Harris in a voice that
was lowered so that the chauffeur would not hear.

“I say, Drake; hasn’t Nancy Clegg an Uncle John of that name in Airlee?”

“She has, sir,” he replied. “John and Tom were brothers, you’ll
remember; and it’s John he always banked with, same as Baldwin does to
this day.”

Mr. Harris looked with grave eyes into the other’s face.

“I’m afraid it’s a bad look-out, in that case, for Briggs,” he said;
“and I suppose for Nancy, too. John Clegg has absconded, and the police
have possession of his office!”

He put the evening paper into Maniwel’s hand as he spoke; but the joiner
thrust it into his pocket without looking at it; and though his face
expressed concern it remained calm.

“Dear! dear! that’s a bad job, that is,” he said. “I’m thinking Nancy’ll
be hard hit, poor lass, not so much by t’ loss of her money as by t’
disgrace ’at’ll come to t’ name. It’ll be a sad blow for Baldwin. You
weren’t thinking of calling and telling him t’ news, were you, sir?”

The squire smiled. “I’m not one to play on the hole of the asp, Drake,”
he said. “I don’t envy the lot of the man who tells Briggs. If you keep
it quiet it’s not likely that anyone else will hear of it, and to-morrow
morning’s paper will be the best messenger.”

Maniwel’s face showed that he was thinking deeply. “I’m not worried
about Nancy,” he said. “I believe it isn’t a vast deal ’at she’ll have
left wi’ her uncle; but Baldwin——! It’ll be like to crush him, will
this; and to come on him all of a sudden——!”

He looked into the squire’s eyes; but Mr. Harris remained silent, and
Maniwel continued:

“I doubt if he’s a friend i’ t’ village. There was a time when I
wouldn’t ha’ thought twice about going; but now he’d happen look at it
in a wrong light. All t’ same if there’s no other way I think it ’ud
only be neighbourly to step across and soften t’ news a bit.”

“As you like, Drake,” replied the squire as he tucked the rug about his
knees. “I think myself you’ll be seeking trouble instead of softening
it. But I admire your spirit, and if you had been in Briggs’ place I
should have reminded you of the saying of the old Roman—‘Fortune can
take away riches but not courage.’ I’m afraid it would be lost on
Briggs.”

“Thank you, sir,” said Maniwel; “Jagger and me’ll maybe need to remember
it, for we’d a little matter of three hundred pounds wi’ him ourselves
’at we were expecting to draw t’ first o’ next month. But that’s neither
here nor there. T’ loss of it is bad to bide; but it leaves us just
where we were, you see, whereas wi’ Baldwin it means all t’ difference
i’ t’ world.”

The squire held out his hand and grasped Maniwel’s.

“I’m sorry, Drake, very sorry——” He seemed about to say more but
checked himself. “Tell Jagger to keep his heart up! I don’t need to tell
you.”

“Thank you, sir,” said the other smiling. “I’ll match my Jew again’ your
Roman—‘Be of good cheer!’ He said when they were distressed by t’
waves; and t’ boat got safe to land, you’ll recollect. I shall lose no
sleep over t’ job.”

The squire pressed his hand again and the car moved rapidly away, whilst
Maniwel went indoors to make himself acquainted with the story of the
disaster.

When he had read the columns twice over he sought his son. Jagger was
still working in the shop where the light was dim, and he scarcely
raised his head when his father entered.

“There’s bad news, lad!” said Maniwel abruptly; “—news you’d never
guess.”

“Nought to do wi’ John Clegg, has it?” asked Jagger, straightening
himself from the bench.

“That’s a good shot, lad! He’s run away; cleared off wi’ every penny he
could lay his hands on! I thank God from my heart ’at you an’ me hasn’t
a sin o’ that sort on our souls. There’s hundreds ruined, according to
t’ paper.”

Jagger had not moved. His hands still grasped the plane where his eyes
also rested.

“It’s naught but what I’ve expected,” he said in a hard voice. “I’ve
dreamt night after night ’at t’ money was lost, and someway I’ve never
built on it. We lose fifteen pound a year interest, and we’re where we
were before—on t’ Street called Straight.”

It was almost a sneer; but it was instantly atoned for, and with a quick
glance at his father’s face he went on:

“Nay, I’ll say naught about it. T’ devil’s won that trick, but t’ game
isn’t finished yet. I care naught about t’ money now ’at Nancy’s——”

He stopped as comprehension widened, and a new light came into his eyes.

“By Jove, it’s worth it! I never thought about Baldwin! T’ devil’s
trumped after all, for Baldwin’ll be floored. I’d ha’ paid three hundred
pounds wi’ pleasure to ha’ floored Baldwin!”

He chuckled with satisfaction, but the smile faded when he caught sight
of his father’s face.

“Jagger!” said Maniwel almost sternly. “I’m sorry to hear a son o’ mine
talk like a child o’ the devil. ‘Satan hath desired to have thee, that
he may sift thee like wheat.’ But you’re a beginner, and you’ve a deal
to learn. If Baldwin was to fall down Gordel and break his leg you’d
none let him lie to crawl home by himself; and I’m off there now to talk
things over wi’ him, if so be as he’ll let me.”

“You are?” said Jagger, with closed teeth.

“I’m off there now,” repeated his father.

“Then there’s no more to be said”; and Jagger turned to his work.

Keturah had just lit the lamp when Maniwel knocked at the door and
raised the latch in the familiar fashion of the country. Baldwin was
sitting by the hearth smoking the one pipe in which he indulged himself
of an evening. His eyebrows met in a scowl as he recognised his visitor
and the tone in which he bade him enter was anything but cordial.

“It’s thee, is it? It’s long since tha was i’ this house afore.”

Involuntarily his speech broadened into the homelier dialect which both
men had used to employ with each other in former days, and Maniwel
followed suit.

“Aye,” he replied, “and I don’t know ’at I durst ha’ come, Baldwin, if
it hadn’t been ’at I wor thrussen. But it’s a saying ’at trouble makes
strange bedmates, and there’s trouble for both on us, lad. I’ one way
happen it’s worse for me nor what it is for thee, for I stand to lose
all I’ve saved; but I’m flayed tha’ll find it harder to bide, for tha
drops from a bigger height.”

Whilst Maniwel was speaking a grey shade had spread over Baldwin’s face,
though it was the tone in which the words were spoken rather than the
words themselves that sent a chill to his heart. The scowl left his brow
and his eyes widened, like the mouth that no longer offered its
hospitality to the long, black clay, and he was dumb; unable to swear at
the intruder or to bid him quicken his explanation—dumb with a
foreboding that left him sick and helpless in the presence of his enemy.

“It’s all in t’ _Evening Post_,” Maniwel went on. He had not seated
himself, but leaned against the dresser as if his stay was likely to be
short; and Keturah was too concerned at the sight of her brother to
remember the duties of hostess—“John Clegg’s made off, taking all wi’
him, and there’s a warrant out for his arrest——”

The cold statement of fact broke the spell like the touch of a fairy’s
wand, and Baldwin jumped to his feet and snatched the paper from
Maniwel’s hand.

“Tha’rt a liar!” he shouted. “—— tha for bringing thy black lies into
my house! I won’t believe it if I see it i’ print——!” He was tearing
the paper open as he spoke and his eyes fell at once upon the record
that ran in heavy type across two columns.

                   “WELL-KNOWN MONEY-LENDER ABSCONDS!
                          IMMENSE LIABILITIES”

It was enough. The name of John Clegg met his gaze on the first line and
he threw the paper from him and sank back into his chair with a groan.
Keturah’s apron was to her eyes and she was weeping volubly when the
door of the parlour opened and Nancy appeared.

Before she had time to speak Baldwin turned round and vented his wrath
upon her.

“Curse you and all your —— lot!” he said savagely. “Thieves and
robbers, that’s what you are! You might well pay your brass into t’
bank, you sly ratten—when you knew your uncle was naught no better nor
a pick-purse. Honour among thieves! I don’t doubt but what he warned
you, —— him....”

Keturah had sunk into a chair and was holding her apron to her ears in
the usual way, but Nancy turned her white face away from the angry man
and moved towards the table where the paper was lying. All the time a
torrent of coarse abuse which nobody heeded was pouring from Baldwin’s
lips.

Maniwel laid his hand on the paper.

“Wait a minute, lass,” he said kindly. “There’s news there ’at’ll cut
you like a knife. Your uncle John’s missing, and things look black
again’ him there’s no denying. But it’ll happen all turn out better than
like, and anyway it’s not for us to judge him over hard ’at doesn’t know
all. There’s One above ’at’ll judge both him and us.”

“And you’ve lost all?” she said calmly, though her hands shook and her
face was colourless.

“We shall see,” he replied soothingly. “It’s early days yet to talk
about ‘all’. That’s what I want to say to Baldwin.” He turned his head
in the direction of the fireplace again. “We’ve got to keep up wer
hearts and wer heads, and see ’at we make t’ best of a bad job. There’ll
be summat left to share out, surely.”

Another volley of coarse abuse from Baldwin was the only reply he
received. Nancy was reading the report,—steadily—but with mouth firmly
closed; and Keturah had covered her head and was rocking her chair,
consoling herself with groans. Maniwel went over to the hearth where
Baldwin’s feet were on the ruins of his pipe.

“What a man says in his temper is easy forgi’en, Baldwin,” he said. His
eyes were almost woman-like in their tenderness, but the firmness in the
voice was that of a man and a strong man. “It’s bound to be a sad blow
for tha, but t’ ship isn’t allus wrecked when it strikes a rock, and if
there’s owt I can do to help tha tha’s nobbut to speak t’ word and we’ll
put wer heads together——”

“If tha’ll be good enough to take thy-sen off, Maniwel Drake, tha’ll be
doing me t’ only service I ask of tha,” said Baldwin, his voice
trembling with the passion he was endeavouring to restrain. “Tha’s had
what tha come for—t’ pleasure o’ seeing me knocked off o’ my feet wi’
t’ news tha brought; tha can get thee gone now and tell t’ funny tale to
Jagger. Put wer heads together, will we? Let me tell tha Baldwin
Briggs’s none done yet; and there’s a lad’ll put his head alongside mine
’at’s worth all t’ Drake fam’ly rolled into one. He seed this coming;
and if I’d ta’en a bit o’ notice tha’d happen ha’ had less ’casion to
make game o’ me.”

“You’re out of your mind——” began Nancy hotly; and it was not the
anger that flashed into Baldwin’s eyes that stopped her; but the hand
Maniwel laid on her arm.

“The lass is right,” he said sternly; “—tha’rt out o’ thy mind, or
tha’d shame to say such things to a man’s ’at’s wanted to be thi friend.
But it’s out o’ t’ abundance o’ t’ heart ’at t’ mouth speaks, and thi
heart’s so full o’ muck ’at no clean thought can get either in or out.
When a man walks crook’d he sees crook’d; and there’ll come a time when
tha’ll know what it is to lack a friend. If Nancy’s husband can help
tha, well and good; I’m glad on’t. If tha’s laid up treasure i’ any
man’s heart it’s more than tha’s ever done afore sin’ I knew tha—nay,
tha’s no ’casion to grind thi teeth; lame as I am I could throw tha on
t’ fire-back wi’ my one hand, but there’s better fuel i’ t’ bucket. I’m
going now; but I’ve one thing more to say t’ first. Tha’rt as miserable
a soul as ever drew breath, and if tha loses thi brass tha can’ scarce
be more miserable. Tha’s made it harder for me to offer tha help another
time; but what I call tha I call tha to thi face and not behind thi
back, and if tha finds ’at t’ stick tha’s trusting to fails tha,
remember tha’s still a friend i’ Maniwel Drake—tha hears me?”

“I’ll see tha blaze before I’ll ask thy help!” Baldwin almost hissed.

“Tha’s seen me blaze just now,” returned Maniwel calmly; “or anyway
tha’s heard t’ crackle. If a man doesn’t blaze i’ thi comp’ny it isn’t
for lack o’ kindling. I’m going now; but I’m sorry for tha from my soul,
and tha knows where to turn when tha comes to t’ far end.”

He let his eyes rest for a moment on Baldwin who spat disgustedly into
the fire, and with a word of farewell to Nancy left the house.

On his way home he met Inman returning from the inn.

“I fancy you’re wanted,” he said pausing in his walk. “Baldwin’s i’
trouble.”

Inman raised his eyebrows, nodded, and sauntered on.


                               CHAPTER XV

              IN WHICH THE VILLAGERS DISCUSS THE DISASTER

NEVER had an unfortunate business man more alert and resourceful
adviser than Baldwin found in Inman at this crisis. Promptly, yet with
no lessening of deference—nay, with a greater show of it—the mate
became captain of the ship and held the helm with a master’s hand. In
the inn and elsewhere Inman made light of the disaster. It was hard
luck, he admitted; but when a man had plenty left, and had always lived
and was content to live, as if he had nothing, there was no need to make
a fuss about the loss of a thousand or two.

“It’s his heirs who may pull long faces,” he explained lightly; “and he
damns them with a good grace, and doesn’t seem quite to know who they
are.”

Baldwin himself kept indoors, and only his workpeople saw his face and
heard his voice, and if both were a trifle sourer the difference was not
very marked.

Inman, on the other hand, was friendlier and more approachable. He
walked with a lighter step, and whistled softly as he worked, to the
satisfaction of his master who looked upon these proceedings as a
deliberate act of policy on his astute subordinate’s part; and also of
the men, who appreciated anything that lightened and sweetened the
usually sultry atmosphere of the shop. There was another reason for the
master’s gratification, though it was one that was carefully hidden from
everybody else, in the circumstance that his foreman’s energies were
employed, and with apparently equal zeal, in two directions, one of
which was to save the business from wreckage and the other to ensure the
discomfiture of the Drakes. This latter object he pursued with an
ingenuity and relentless determination that seemed almost superhuman to
the slow-witted master, who never chuckled now except when news was
brought that another scheme for his competitors’ downfall had hatched
out successfully.

“He’s nowt i’ my line, isn’t t’ lad,” said Swithin; “and never has been
from t’ first night when he stole Jagger’s job fro’ him; but one thing I
say and that I stand tul, ’at he’s turned out a rare friend for Baldwin
in his time o’ trouble.”

“Mebbee, mebbee,” Ambrose’s thin voice broke in; and from the look on
the others’ faces it was evident the two disputants were having the
field to themselves. “A hungry dog is fain of a dirty pudden,’ as t’
t’owd speyk puts it, and this young fella gives him summat he hasn’t wit
enough to get for his-sen. But when a man’s gifted same as I’ve been,
and partic’lar when he’s lived to my years, Swith’n there’s things he
can see wi’ his een shut; and I can see Baldwin harvestin’ trouble by t’
peck ’at this young fella’s scattered for seeds o’ kindness.”

The old man’s words carried conviction and Swithin himself felt their
force.

“There’s no man can say I’m a friend to either on ’em, Ambrus, and I’m
not one to deny ’at you’ve t’ gift o’ seeing farther nor most folk——”

“It wor born in me, Swithin, same as t’ talent to make verses,” broke in
Ambrose in a pleased voice. “They both run together, as you may say, and
I take no credit for’t.”

“But I gie you credit for’t,” returned Swithin, stoutly, “and I don’t
match my-sen alongside o’ you, Ambrus; not for a minute, when it comes
to seeing what’s i’ folks’ minds. I’ve never ta’en to t’ lad, and I
shouldn’t wonder if there isn’t a deal o’ trewth i’ what you say. T’
more I dwell on’t, and t’ less I like t’ lewk on’t, I will admit. They
say he’s lent Baldwin all his own brass to tide him over while he can
turn his-sen round; and if all’s to be believed ’at’s tell’d he got
Keturah to put her bit in when Baldwin couldn’t move her. Now you heard
what t’ lad said for his-sen that first night when he come into t’ bar
and crushed t’ life out o’ t’ spider: ‘there’s no mercy i’ Natur’’ he
said, ‘for the man what stands i’ t’ way o’ progress,’ I ask you if them
wasn’t his varry words; and now I’m asking my-sen, if he’s having mercy
on Baldwin, _what’s he doin’ it for_?”

“Aye, and I’ll ask you something,” interposed the same young man who had
defied Inman to his face on one occasion;—“he’s got Baldwin to sell all
his property; turned every stick and stone into brass to save t’
business, so they say; _but who’s bought all t’ property_? Now, can any
of you tell me that?”

He looked round upon the faces of those whose eyes were turned
inquiringly towards him; but there was no answer to be read on any of
them. Only old Ambrose replied:

“T’ farm our Robin leases wor bought in by some lawyer chap; but who he
was I can’t bethink me, though I seed it i’ t’ paper.”

“Aye, we’ve all seen it i’ t’ paper,” Jack went on savagely; “t’ first
lot was bought by this lawyer from Airlee; t’ next it was a’ auctioneer
from Airlee; them three cottages went to another man from Airlee, and
that other man was a clerk i’ t’ same lawyer’s office, and t’ same
lawyer’s name is on t’ bottom of all t’ auctioneer’s bills. If you can’t
smoke aught after that, I’ll help you; but them ’at’s both years and
wisdom’ll happen put two and two together.”

Swithin was eyeing the speaker unkindly, as he did any young man who
promised to score at the expense of his elders; but Ambrose was less
sensitive.

“You’ll be meanin’ I reckon ’at all t’ property has getten into t’ same
hands? Well, it’s a sayin’ ’at all things has a’ end and a pudden has
two; but what end there is i’ cloakin’ a thing up so as you don’t know
whose brass is payin’ for t’ property I don’t see just at this minute.
But it’s trew enough ’at

                 ‘There’s things out o’ seet
                 What’ll come to the leet
                 If we nobbut have patience, and bide.’

as I once wrote when I was in my gifted mood. There was three more
lines, but they’ve clean gone out o’ my mind, and I don’t know ’at it
matters——”

“You were never more gifted nor when you made that verse, Ambrus,”
interrupted Jack; “and if we all live to see t’ end we shall see what a
cunning devil this Inman is. It’s naught to none of us who t’ property
belongs to; but I can tell you who t’ lawyer is ’at’s bought it——”

“We know who he is, so you’re telling us nowt, Swithin broke in
derisively; and Jack turned upon him with a note in his voice that the
remark hardly accounted for.

“I’m telling you what none of you’s had wit to pick out for yourselves;
’at it’s Inman’s lawyer—him ’at he’s recommended to Baldwin for this
John Clegg business,—’at’s bought up all t’ property. _Now_ do I let a
bit o’ daylight in?”

From the expression on the men’s faces it was evident that he had; but
the operation was not one that Swithin approved when he was not the
operator, and he frowned on the young man as he said:

“You’ve gone round and round, Jack, same as a pegged goat; but you’ve
just brought us back to t’ point I left off at—‘What’s he doing it
for?’ That’s what you haven’t tell’d us, and that’s what I ask?”

“Aye, there’s lots of things you can ask,” answered Jack hotly, whilst a
red flush overspread his face and his brow grew black. “I could ask what
he’s doing it for when he meets your Polly first i’ one place then i’
another, but always where he thinks they won’t be seen. ‘There’s no
mercy i’ Nature!’ No, by gen, there’s none in his; and one o’ these days
you’ll be finding it out i’ your house to your sorrow.”

Without waiting to see the effect of this outburst—perhaps because he
was too ashamed of what it revealed—he pulled forward his cap and left
the assembly. Swithin’s mouth was wide open; but except for a furtive
glance none of the men dared to look at him, save only old Ambrose.

“It’s t’ way o’ Natur’, Swithin——” he began; but by this time the
other had found his breath, and he broke forth:

“T’ way o’ Natur’; If he hurts our Polly——! but I don’t believe a word
on’t, and I’ll break yon Jack Pearce his neck for him! She’s more sense
nor to let such as Inman go near her. Why, bless her, it ’ud kill her
mother if owt happened t’ lass!”

“Don’t ye be too sure, Swithin, ’at there’s naught in it,” one of the
older men interposed quickly. “My missus has heard t’ tale, and there’s
more nor one has seen ’em together. It’s all round t’ village, anyway;
if you start a scandal it doesn’t go on crutches, you know—t’ women see
to that.”

“There’s happen nowt in it,” another added. “Jack’s a bit touchy, you
see. He’s been spreading t’ net his-self for Polly, and he’s like to be
jealous.”

The younger men laughed and Swithin experienced a sense of relief.

“I’ll net him!” he muttered; “spreading his rotten lies through all t’
village.”

“All t’ same,” said old Ambrose; “when a wed man smirks on a young lass
he owt to be watched. It’s a trew word ’at there’s nivver a foul face
but there’s a foul fancy to match it; and a foul face that lad has, wi’
mischief written deep. And when a man’s all for his-sen, even though
it’s i’ t’ way o’ Natur’, a lass’s mother counts for nowt.”

Swithin shifted uneasily on his seat; and the landlord, who had heard
most of the triologue, but had been too busy to take part, now tried to
divert the conversation into another channel.

“I feel sorry for yon two,” he said, indicating the Drakes’ dwelling
with a jerk of his head. “What they’ve had to put up with sin’ they
started ’ud try the patience o’ Job, for there’s been nasty underhanded
tricks played on ’em ’at ’ud ha’ driven some men out o’ t’ village. If
you take pleasure i’ smartness there’s no question but what Inman’s
smart, and keeps himself inside o’ t’ law into t’ bargain.”

“Aye, aye, Albert; but you’re nobbut a young man and hasn’t got your
second sight yet,” said Ambrose knowingly. “A man ’at laiks wi’ a rope
round his neck may last for a while but he’ll be throttled at t’ finish.
There’s a sayin’ about a green bay-tree ’at I can’t call to
mind—whether it’s i’ t’ Bible or one o’ my verses I couldn’t just say.
I’ve lost a deal wi’ being a poor scholar, and it grieves me to think
’at if I’d nobbut—but I’ve lost t’ track o’ what I was sayin’, for owd
age sets my head a-hummin’ like a top.”

“It caps me,” said Albert when the weak voice quavered to a standstill,
“’at Maniwel takes it all so pleasant-like; and as for Jagger, I can’t
reckon him up noway. I believe if they were to rive his shop down he’d
nayther swear nor laugh; but just set to work and build it up again.”

“He cares nowt about owt sin’ Inman wed Nancy,” commented Swithin. “That
explains Jagger, and there’s no more to be said.”

“Nay, there’s more nor that, Swithin,” said Ambrose. “You can judge t’
foal better when you know it’s sire, and Maniwel explains Jagger. T’
lad’s been a bit slow at findin’ his feet, but there’s nowt like a storm
for drivin’ a man to t’ rock, and Jagger frames to follow after his
fayther.”

“He mud do worse,” said some man whom Ambrose could not see.

“And that’s a trew word,” said Swithin, still gloomily, for his thoughts
were divided.

“Right enough,” the landlord admitted; “but whether it’s a fault or a
merit for Maniwel to take things so calm-like is a thing ’at a man can’t
easy settle in his mind. Baldwin’s spread tales about ’em while there’s
scarce a timber-yard i’ t’ country ’at’ll give ’em credit. They’ve
clipped Joe his wings so as he dursn’t carry for ’em. Any man ’at
supplies Maniwel is crossed off Baldwin’s books; and even them ’at’s
given him a bit o’ work has been warned ’at if they go there for t’
little jobs they needn’t turn to Baldwin for them ’at’s too big for
Maniwel to tackle. And now ’at he’s lost his brass, be it much or
little, what chance has he?”

Most of those present shook their heads in reluctant agreement with the
landlord, but Swithin turned so that he could look Albert in the face,
and snapped an aggressive—“Well?”

“I was only meaning,” the landlord explained, “’at it doesn’t seem sort
o’ natural for a man to be so cheerful i’ them circumstances, and to
bear no grudge——”

“Well, ’cos why is he cheerful and doesn’t bear no grudge?” questioned
Swithin, whose manner in this examination was anything but cheerful, and
who seemed to be seeking a vent for his over-charged feelings. “I’ll
tell you ’cos why! Have you never heard tell o’ God’s will? Well,
Maniwel believes ’at there’s a power at t’ back o’ that man ’at goes
straight and tries to do his duty by his neighbour ’at not all the
devils i’ hell can stand again’, let alone such little devils as this
Inman.”

His head fell as he mentioned the name, and not one of the company
needed to be told that the seed Jack Pearce had dropped was already
germinating.

Old Ambrose knew it; but his soul had been fired by this new thought,
and he broke out eagerly:

“Aye, you’ve hit t’ nail fair on t’ head this time, Swith’n. I couldn’t
ha’ put it better my-sen—not when I was i’ my gifted prime, and I
shouldn’t wonder if it comes o’ you goin’ to t’ chapil, if not reg’lar,
a toathri times i’ t’ year. I was a chapil-goer my-sen when I was a
young fella and I call to mind a famous sermon by an owd man called
Laycock—he was a local, but a grander preycher nor some ’at wore white
chokers. It was i’ t’ days when they didn’t watter t’ Gospil down same
as they do now, when they’re flayed o’ callin’ t’ devil hard names
chance he happens to hear ’em. Owd Laycock pictur’d him as a bull in a
mad hig ’at no man could stand up again’. But he tewk both t’ man and t’
bull down to t’ railway; and he set t’ man on t’ Scotchman and t’ bull
atween t’ lines; and he opened t’ Scotchman’s throttle up yonder aboon
t’ Junction; and eh, dear, there wasn’t as much wind left i’ that bull
when t’ train had passed as there is i’ my poor bellowses at this
minute. I made a set o’ grand verses, but they’re clean gone. It seems a
sad waste o’ good stuff.”

“It was a sadder waste of a good bull,” murmured one of the company
whose business made him a judge of such matters.

“T’ bull ’ud ha’ made a sad waste of a good man, wouldn’t it?” snapped
Swithin.

“It was only what you mud call a parrible—this o’ owd Laycock’s,”
Ambrose explained soothingly. “But what caps me is ’at Maniwel hasn’t so
much as a foul look for t’ bull—meanin’ by that word both Baldwin and
Nancy’s husband; but contraireywise ’ud go out of his road to do ’em a
kindness.”

Before he could complete his observation, a shower that had been
threatening for some time began to fall heavily, and the company
dispersed—some to their homes and others to the parlour of the inn
where the entrance of Inman prevented any continuation of the
discussion.

Jealousy is a good stone on which to sharpen a man’s wits; but there was
another in the village, in whom that trait was entirely wanting, who was
watching the course of events with a quick intelligence that read into
every move of Inman’s its proper significance. In one matter Maniwel was
misled, for Nancy’s name figured in the list of creditors with the sum
of £500 against it, and he was thankful that the girl’s loss was no
larger. To what extent she was still interested in the joinery business
he could not be sure; but he knew that by the terms of her father’s will
Baldwin had the option to reduce his indebtedness, and from the known
fact that the machinery was Baldwin’s own he concluded that little of
the original loan was now owing.

Baldwin’s name figured high up in the list of creditors; and the outlook
in his case was dark as the realisable assets were small, and it seemed
likely that they would be absorbed in their entirety by the expense of
collection.

Although Maniwel was naturally magnanimous, and less ready than most to
attribute selfish motives to Inman, he was too shrewd an observer to
overlook the evidences of duplicity that multiplied as the days went by;
for it is a mistake to suppose that a large heart can be indulged only
at the expense of a small brain. The wisdom of the serpent may be
usefully combined with the harmlessness of the dove, and Maniwel had
long ago reached the conclusion that Inman was working for his own ends
and hoodwinking the master who regarded him as his only friend. He was
convinced that Inman was the purchaser of all Baldwin’s property, and he
shared his convictions with his own family but with no one else.

Jagger was indifferent. The money had been Nancy’s to start with—why
shouldn’t it return to her? As for a double-dyed rascal like
Inman—well, such men were apt to over-reach themselves and he could
afford to wait. Meantime, any stick, however crooked, was good enough to
beat such a dog as Baldwin with, and the harder Inman laid it on the
better he would be pleased.

Hannah’s pity was reserved for Nancy, whose miseries had earned her
forgiveness long ago. As for Grannie, she shook her head mournfully and
said:

“Didn’t I tell you—

                      ‘A Clegg wife
                      And it’s trouble or strife.’

“He comes off a black moor, does her husband. Wasn’t it there where t’
bog slid down and sought to drown ’em off t’ face o’ t’ earth, they was
that wicked, same as Sodom and Gomorrah? A race o’ cut-throats and
kidnappers, I’ve heard my father tell, where t’ men was rakes and t’
sons o’ rakes, and t’ women a set o’ trollops. What was she doing, I
wonder, to mate wi’ such-like? But sorrow was written on t’ lass’ face,
as I’ve tell’d you many a time.”

“Never heed t’ old tales, mother,” Maniwel would say, as he saw the
seamed face grow troubled. “There’s good, bad and middling on them moors
same as there is on these. You may be thankful ’at he can’t do us no
damage, choose how bad he is——!”

“Can’t he!” commented Jagger.

“No!” continued Maniwel. “I said us. I don’t deny ’at he can put a
toathri obstacles i’ t’ way o’ t’ business; but I reckon naught o’ that.
When I was a young man I didn’t set much store by flat-racing; but if
there was a hurdle race you couldn’t ha’ held me back. They put a bit o’
spice into life, does obstacles; and there’s one thing I will say: there
isn’t much chance, o’ sleeping i’ t’ daytime when Inman’s planking down
his hurdles i’ t’ road, but I lose no sleep at nights.”


                              CHAPTER XVI

              IN WHICH INMAN SHOWS THE SUBTLETY OF A VERY
                            VENOMOUS SERPENT

DURING these fateful weeks Nancy’s aversion to her husband settled
into a milder form of repugnance as she thought she recognised on his
part a warmer feeling towards herself. The reason for this increase of
amiability she might easily have surmised if she had been acquainted
with all the facts, which was far from being the case, for Inman told
her just as much as he wished her to know. One might have thought that
his affability would have aroused suspicion: that she might have
realised that there is no need for the highwayman to waste powder and
shot when a smile, which costs nothing, will serve his turn as well. But
Nancy was in no mood for analysing motives, and was only too thankful
that a protector was at hand to stand between her and the ill-temper
which Baldwin expended upon her with a savage coarseness that exceeded
anything she had previously experienced. The very sight of her,
reminding him as it did of the man who had robbed him, and of her better
fortune—for what was a paltry five hundred to one with her
means?—goaded him to vulgar reproaches and accusations which Nancy
would have found intolerable if it had not been for the knowledge that
her husband was only waiting his time. Inman was not always present on
these occasions; but when he was he would let his eyes rest on her with
a meaning look, and she knew that he was conveying the message he had
spoken in private a hundred times.

“Have patience, lass! It’ll be your turn after a while! I’m booking it
all down!”

In reality, of course, she was mistress of the situation, with the key
at her girdle, and she was quite aware of it. Baldwin’s resources were
almost exhausted and Inman’s savings she guessed were inconsiderable.
She was the only capitalist of the three, and if Baldwin had been wise
he would have made her his friend, in which case she might not have
acquiesced so carelessly in the use of her money for the appropriation
of his property. As it was, he alienated her sympathy and made her
hostile.

She seldom replied to any of his taunts, and was even silent when her
husband encouraged her, contenting herself with a shrug and an
expression of weary indifference, and Inman would continue:

“You’re safe enough in my hands. Leave it to me, and don’t worry your
head over whys and wherefores. Your interests are mine, and I’ll steer
the ship into calm waters, you’ll see; but it won’t be Baldwin Briggs
who’ll be master when it gets there.”

He always laughed as he ended, and Nancy sometimes smiled. His strong
self-confidence struck a chord in her nature that responded readily. She
did not love him; she did not even respect him; sometimes when she
happened to touch him as they lay side by side in bed she would shiver
and draw back as if he had been some loathsome animal; but he was the
only protector she had, and he saved her the trouble of thinking for
herself at a time when she found it difficult to think. That is why she
acquiesced without question, and with a dull glow of satisfaction at her
heart and the beginnings of a sense of triumph, when Inman told her what
he had planned regarding the purchase of Baldwin’s property.

“It’ll tide him over for a bit,” he said, “but it’s a plank and not a
jolly-boat, and he’s bound to go under.”

His eyes smiled into Nancy’s as he said it; but the rest of his face was
passive.

“He doesn’t seem to think so,” said Nancy.

“No,” remarked her husband grimly; “he feels safe because my arm’s round
him; but the time will come when——”

He opened his hands and flung his arms wide—a significant completion of
the sentence; and seeing his wife’s eyes soften he added with a laugh:

“Then, maybe, we’ll save him and make him galley-slave, the foul-mouthed
devil.”

When the report spread round the neighbourhood that Inman was the
purchaser that astute individual only stared. Once, when he was directly
challenged, he replied that he didn’t discuss business matters except
with principals, and added:

“Lies are as thick on the ground as weeds. He’s a fool who wastes his
time stubbing ’em up!”

“Doesn’t Baldwin guess?” Nancy asked, when he was relating this
encounter.

“All Baldwin does is to curse to all eternity those who’ve bought at
half value,” laughed her husband. “There’s no wonder you look worn and
withered, Nancy!—he’s blasted you! Let him guess! Let ’em all guess!
Priestley’s a safe lawyer, and’ll give naught away.”

This was only one move in the game and a legitimate one; there were
others, more devilish, that required a clear head, infinite patience and
the unscrupulous use of means which Inman judged it prudent to conceal
from Nancy’s eyes. Every evening when the men had gone Baldwin and Inman
would return to the office and discuss the situation out of earshot of
the women. On one of the earliest of these occasions Inman had produced
from a cupboard of which he had been given the key a bottle of whisky
and a single tumbler.

“You don’t touch this stuff?” he said. “You were a wise man not to begin
it, for it’s a habit ’at isn’t easy dropped. I wish I could do without
it; but I’ve always found in my case that a drop of whisky’s a help when
I’m hard pushed, and gingers me up a bit. I don’t recommend it, mind
you, all the same, to them that aren’t used to it.”

He was mixing himself a glass as he spoke, with a veiled eye on his
master who looked as if he was going to forbid the indulgence. Inman,
however, took no notice.

“A cup of coffee or a bottle o’ bitters might get you to the same place
in time,” he said; “but this lands you there quicker, and time’s money
just now. It gives your brain a spurt and comforts your heart, _I_ find;
but those who haven’t begun it had better keep off it.”

He turned a deaf ear to Baldwin’s mutterings, and from that moment
showed himself unusually resourceful. No actor on the stage of a crowded
theatre who was drawing the plaudits of his audience that night was
playing his part more admirably than Inman to this company of one. He
had no great liking for spirits, and he was on ordinary occasions
studiously abstemious; but he could drink hard on occasion and be little
the worse for it, and he counted on this capability now, when he had an
object in view—the object of guiding a pair of unaccustomed feet into
the perilous groves of Bacchus.

Midway in the course of their deliberations on that first occasion he
had stretched out his hand for the bottle again and had checked himself.

“That won’t do!” he said with a laugh; “—too much is as bad as too
little,” and he had risen and returned the bottle and tumbler to the
cupboard, putting the key in his pocket—an action which had made the
desired impression on Baldwin.

For a time the ingenious and infernal scheme seemed likely to fail; but
if his hopes were disappointed Inman continued the same tactics and
displayed no hurry. At one time he would leave the bottle untouched
until the ineffectiveness of his suggestions led Baldwin to bring down
his hand upon the table with a hot recommendation that the condemned
stuff should be fetched out and his counsellor should get a move on. At
another he would profess physical weariness and depression, and would
refuse almost angrily to drink on the ground that a man might go too far
in drowning sorrow. On such an occasion Baldwin might storm as he liked
and Inman would remain unmoved.

“We’ll leave it over till to-morrow. You wouldn’t have a man do what
you’ve too much sense to do yourself?”

The subtle poison worked slowly, but still it worked. One night, when he
had been more than usually harassed because the bank at Keepton where he
had opened an account had definitely refused an overdraft on the ground
that the security he was able to offer was insufficient, and Inman’s
ingenuity had been unequal to the task of raising money in any other
direction, Baldwin sat in the kitchen, brooding over his misfortunes,
long after the others had gone to bed. He was weighted with care and
dreaded the sleepless hours that stretched in front of him.

After a while he went out and quietly entered the office. It would not
have surprised Inman to know that the duplicate of the key that locked
his cupboard was in the master’s bunch; it might not have surprised him,
but it would certainly have gratified him, if he could have seen the
door unlocked and the whisky bottle produced. Baldwin had only a vague
idea of proportions, but he followed his foreman’s example and mixed
himself a stiff glass. That night he slept heavily and was untroubled by
dreams. Thereafter the two men drank together, not without protest on
Inman’s part, and Baldwin soon outdistanced his teacher. Then Inman knew
that the game was won.

All the village was aware that Baldwin was drinking heavily before the
news reached the ears of Keturah and Nancy.

Although it had been planned with that object Inman professed great
annoyance when he found that the confidence he had reposed in Albert
(very sympathetic confidence) had been abused; and his frowning silence
when the matter was mentioned in his hearing was sufficient confirmation
of the truth of the report. It was Hannah who told Nancy. Her kindly
heart had been touched by the message Jagger had brought her; and
knowing that Nancy’s condition caused her to stand in special need of a
friend in whom she could confide and who could be of service to her in a
hundred ways she determined that nothing short of actual prohibition by
Inman himself should keep her away.

Hannah was a woman of action; a woman for an emergency; and though
sharp-spoken, a healer of breaches rather than a maker of them. Inman
gave her a keen glance when he found the two together; said “How d’ye
do?” in acknowledgement of her nod; and so tacitly recognised the
friendship. It was the first real crumb of comfort Nancy had tasted
since her marriage.

“You know he’s taken to drink, I suppose?”

“Who? James?” inquired Nancy, not wholly indifferent to what this might
portend.

Hannah shook her head. “Nay, I mean Baldwin. It’s all over t’ place ’at
he goes to bed drunk night after night.”

It was on Nancy’s lips to deny it; but one or two suspicious
circumstances she had observed held back the contradiction.

“James has never said aught,” she remarked hesitatingly.

“Maybe not,” replied Hannah, who was careful not to make mischief
between husband and wife. “They say your husband’s done his level best
to keep him off it,—locked t’ drink up, and Baldwin broke t’ lock, he
was that mad for’t. But I’ve happen done wrong to tell you, for you’ll
be safe enough with your husband in t’ house. All t’ same when you’re as
you are it’s as well to know.”

“Yes, I’m glad you’ve told me,” Nancy said. “I daresay folks are making
a deal out o’ very little; but I’ll keep my eyes open and say naught.”

When Keturah heard of it she was at first tearfully indignant, but it
was her nature to believe the worst, and her sense of helplessness led
her to patch up a kind of peace with Nancy upon whom she was ready to
lean now that the only prop she had known was likely to fail her. Later,
when Baldwin was at no pains to conceal his condition, fear dried her
tears, and drove her into a mood of despondency that left her limp and
unequal to the strain of her ordinary household duties.

The seeds thus sown bore the crop of results Inman had foreseen, and
hearing of Baldwin’s moral wreckage, the firms that had continued to
give him credit now withheld it, whilst others gambled with the risk by
charging higher prices. It was in vain that Inman interviewed and
pleaded with them, for he was always forced to admit reluctantly in the
end that in their place he would have done the same.

“The business is sound enough,” he would say; “but of course I’m not
master and Mr. Briggs is. It’s a sad pity that trouble’s driven him to
this; but we’ve to take facts as they are and I can’t blame you, though
I wish you could see your way just this once——”

“Would you, if you were in my place?”

Inman hesitated. In conducting these negotiations he gave the impression
of a man whose inflexible loyalty was baffled by a strict
conscientiousness.

“If I could be absolutely sure that he would allow me to guide him, I
would say yes. So far he has done so on most occasions. Once or twice
lately—but he wasn’t master of himself then, and I’m hoping he’ll pull
himself together.”

“Find somebody to guarantee the account, Mr. Inman, and you shall have
the old terms with pleasure. What about your wife?” Everybody knew by
this time that Nancy had ample means.

Inman shook his head. “I’ve tried my best, but you know what timid
creatures women are; and my wife’s as far in as she cares to be.”

“That’s exactly our position, Mr. Inman.”

This was how it always ended, and Inman would shake hands with a
downcast expression on his honest face, and a note of regret in his
voice as he assured the principal that he couldn’t blame him.

One man in the village refused to join in the general chorus of
condemnation. There is a variation of a familiar proverb that reads: “A
friend loveth at all times, and is born as a brother for adversity.”
Maniwel Drake was such a friend.

He had been having a hard struggle in his business as we have seen; but
so far his shoulders had been broad enough for the burdens they had had
to carry, and his heart had always been light. Since Jagger’s
“conversion” he had scarcely had a care in the world; for the loss of
his little capital had left him unmoved, and it is true to say that the
contemplation of Baldwin’s misfortune had given him more sorrow than
anything he had experienced since the death of his wife. It afforded him
little satisfaction to realise that as Baldwin’s embarrassments
increased his own diminished; that the “hurdles” were being removed one
by one out of his path; and that a moderate prosperity was opening out
before him.

It was not until Baldwin took to drink that Maniwel allowed himself to
give way to depression, however, and when he found that his son received
the news with an indifference that was not far removed from satisfaction
his wrath was aroused.

“If there’s rejoicing in the presence o’ the angels of God over a sinner
’at repenteth,” he said, “there’s like to be rejoicing amongst t’other
sort over one ’at sinks deeper into t’ mire; but I should grieve for a
son o’ mine to join in such a devil-dance! I’m for lending Baldwin a
hand if it can be done at all. He’s both ox and ass, is Baldwin; and if
he can be got out o’ t’ pit it’s our duty to do it.”

“And have your labour for your pains,” commented Jagger.

“It won’t be t’ first time I’ve worked for naught, and been no worse
for’t,” replied Maniwel.

He chose his opportunity when he had seen Inman pass on his way to the
station, and early in the afternoon he walked up to Baldwin’s workshop.
There was no one downstairs and all was quiet above, but when he reached
the next storey he heard a sound in Baldwin’s office and went in, as he
had always done—as everybody did—without waiting for an answer to his
knock.

There was a bottle on the table and a glass half full of spirits was in
Baldwin’s hand. He set it down angrily when he recognised his visitor,
and with a curse bade him begone.

“I neither know nor care what brings tha!” he shouted. “Get outside,
afore I help tha down!”

“Baldwin!” said Maniwel in a firm but kindly tone; “there never was a
time, lad, when tha needed a friend more than tha does now, and I doubt
if tha has one i’ t’ world, barring my-sen. I’ve come as a friend——”

“I won’t listen to tha,” shouted the infuriated man, who had already had
drink enough to inflame his passion. “I tell tha I’ll do tha an injury
if tha doesn’t take thi-sen off! Damn tha! Isn’t it enough ’at tha’s
ruined me; thee and thy son——!”

“God help tha, lad!” broke in Maniwel; “tha can’t do me half as big an
injury as tha’s doing thi-sen, and I’m flayed them ’at’s advising tha is
doing tha no good.”

His eye had fallen on the second glass in the cupboard, and his voice
became more pleading. “Don’t thee pin thi faith to Inman, lad. I’d do no
man a wrong; but it’s borne in on me ’at that lad’s working for his own
ends, and when he’s finished wi’ tha he’ll toss tha on t’ midden same as
an old shoe! Cannot tha trust me, lad? Tha’s never known Maniwel Drake
go back on his word, and I promise tha I’ll help tha, if I have to
suffer for’t.”

Baldwin’s anger had made him impotent, but at these words he drained his
glass and then dashed it at Maniwel’s feet where it lay broken in a
thousand fragments. Curse followed curse as he refused his old mate’s
offer and threatened him with mischief. Maniwel went a step forward and
laid his hand on the other’s arm.

“I’ll go, lad. It’s ill trying to reason wi’ a man ’at’s i’ drink; but
just try to let this one word get through t’ drink to thi memory. When
tha comes to thi-sen and wants a friend, tha’ll find him where he’s
always been—at Maniwel Drake’s.”

With these words and without a backward glance, he left the room, and
returned home.


                              CHAPTER XVII

             IN WHICH NANCY’S BABY IS BORN AND JAGGER LOSES
                               HIS TEMPER

THERE are some men who take an almost scientific interest in
compassing the ruin of others. Along certain channels the current of
humane and kindly feeling may flow as with other men, but let some
particular individual injure them, or stand in the way of their
advancement, and their conduct becomes inhuman; and they will watch the
sufferings they produce with something of the detached and impersonal
interest of the chemist who expects that his mixture of chemicals must
ultimately shatter the vessel that contains it, and whose only care is
to safeguard himself from injury in the process.

Inman was of this class. It afforded him positive pleasure to see how
the coils he wound so cunningly tightened about his unsuspecting victim.
The knowledge that he was unsuspected added to his enjoyment; tickled
his sense of humour. He believed with all his soul that Baldwin’s
motto—“all for my-sen” could not be bettered; it was the view of life
held by all healthy animals—by the cross-grained buck-rabbit as much as
by the stoat; and the game of stalking the stalker was one that afforded
him endless amusement.

It gratified him too to realise that he was succeeding in another
direction: that the villagers were looking upon him with a less
unfriendly eye as Baldwin’s increasing demoralisation and coarseness of
language cooled their already luke-warm sympathies. It was to the man’s
credit, they said, that he should keep his head and his temper, and work
industriously and cleverly in his master’s interests, when everybody
knew what provocation to wrath the master offered. Inman never
manifested ill-temper; never advanced beyond a half-humorous sneer;
maybe (they argued) he showed his worst side to the world, as the men of
his wild country were said to do. There were others, however, who shook
their heads meaningly, and kept firm hold of their distrust.

Meantime Inman’s grip upon his master tightened, and a more domineering
note crept into his voice when he addressed him; but only when they were
alone; only when evening brought them to the council-room and the
bottle.

“I tell you,” said Inman, “Nancy’s gone as far as she will go. If you
think you can do better than I’ve done, try her yourself—_I’m_ willing.
I daresay in spite of all your foul language and black looks she loves
you as much as she does me.” There was a harder note than usual in his
voice, as if his patience was almost exhausted, and his lip took an ugly
curve as he spoke of Nancy’s love, for she had been irritable of late,
and once or twice hot words had passed between them.

They were sitting at the table in the dimly-lit office, each with a
glass in front of him; but Inman was making a mere pretence of drinking.

“You’ve taught her her lesson too well for her to forget it,” he
continued as Baldwin merely sent Nancy to an unknown destination.

“She says a man who’s all for himself isn’t to be trusted without
security, and what can I say? _You_ wouldn’t do it if you were in her
place.”

Baldwin scowled and said nothing that could be distinguished.

“There’s one way out and only one, that I can see; but I’ve mentioned it
till I’m tired. _I’ll_ lend you five hundred;—it’s all I can lay my
hands on; but five hundred’ll see you out o’ the ditch; five hundred’ll
put you on your feet. And what do I ask for it? Five per cent., that’s
all; just what you pay Nancy; and you boggle at it!”

“I do naught o’ t’ sort,” flashed Baldwin fiercely. “I’ll pay you ten;
I’ll pay you a damned sight more’n you’ll get anywhere else; but I’ll
see you blaze before I’ll give you a bill o’ sale; so there you have
it!”

Inman turned on his seat with a gesture of restrained impatience.

“You’d sooner sink in the bog than clutch a dirty rope and be saved!
It’s damned folly! I don’t like bills o’ sale, who does? But if you
think I’m going to lend my money for your creditors to grab if the worst
comes to the worst, you’re mistaken. I can save the business yet; but
I’m man and not master, and may be sacked at a minute’s notice, same as
you sacked Jagger. It’s either a bill o’ sale, or we flounder on for
another month or so and then—”

He shrugged his shoulders; but Baldwin was not looking. He had emptied
his glass and the bottle and his eyes were on the table. Inman watched
him, and a smile, that was nearly as ugly as the frown it replaced,
spread over his face.

“What objection is there to it?” he went on with less heat. “I only want
it for security; it isn’t same as I was taking aught from you. Has to be
registered, you say? Well, you’ll be registered a deal more in another
month or two if you don’t do it. And that’ll go against the grain when
the _Herald_ and all the other papers have you listed as bankrupt.”

The other’s face became distorted with passion, but the oaths he poured
out left Inman unmoved.

“I’m trying to save you, aren’t I?” he continued; “but you’re same as a
man that’s drowning; you kick and struggle till you’d pull a strong
swimmer down with you, and I’m not having any. Will five hundred set you
on your feet? Are you sober enough to answer me that?”

It was the first time that he had adopted this tone with his victim, but
he had measured his distance and knew how far he could go.

“I’m as sober as you,” the other growled thickly. “Five hundred ’ud pull
me through; but I tell you I’ll see you hanged before I’ll give you that
bill!”

“Very well,” said Inman calmly. “Perhaps before we separate you’ll tell
me why, and what you propose to do instead. My money’s right where it is
even if it doesn’t bring in five per cent.”

Baldwin said nothing; and Inman regarded him for quite a minute in
silence. He then remarked:

“I’ve finished with that suggestion now. Next time it’s mentioned it’ll
come from you; but there’s one thing I want to point out. These folk
you’ve dealt with all these years aren’t willing to do much for you now
’at you’re down; and you’ve no bank to give you a helping hand. Suppose
you had to come to grief in the end what harm would it do you if I was
to get the machinery, and leave the other creditors to whistle for their
brass? What have they done for you that you’ve to consider them?”

He looked at his watch, and without waiting for an answer rose and went
out, turning his steps towards the moors, where there was other game to
be snared; and Baldwin sat on, staring moodily at the chair his foreman
had vacated.

An hour later Nancy’s baby was born and news spread through the village
that the mother’s life was despaired of. The event had not been expected
so soon, but there was plenty of competent help available, and it was
not the midwife’s inefficiency that caused the old doctor, who had been
summoned by telegraph, to shake his head.

“Where’s the father?” he inquired. “Tell him I want him, sharp.”

Keturah hastened to the workshop, but found only Baldwin whom she could
not waken from a drunken sleep. Hannah ran home to ask her brother to
seek him.

“He’s not in t’ ‘Packhorse,’” she gasped. “Go fetch him, lad. It’s for
poor Nancy’s sake!”

“And bridle your tongue and temper!” said Maniwel. “If you’ll take the
moor road, I’ll walk down Kirkby way.”

Just beyond Baldwin’s workshop Jack Pearce caught Jagger’s arm.

“Are you after Inman?” he asked; and putting his lips to the other’s ear
whispered something that caused Jagger to fling off the detaining hand
and clench his fists.

“Are you sure, Jack? As certain as there’s a God in heaven if I catch
him at that game I’ll lay him out!”

“I’d like to help you at that job,” said Jack; “but I’m best away. I’m
dirt in her eyes. If I caught ’em together there’d be murder done,
though he could pay me wi’ one hand.”

“He can’t me!” said Jagger grimly; and he strode away into the darkness.

It was not really dark, for in September day lingers on the uplands to
chat with night; but there are gloomy places in the shadows of the great
hills which those who love the light are careful to avoid. It was
towards one of these that Jagger hurried with a fierce anger at his
heart that made him oblivious of everything except his mission, and even
that was obscured by the deeper purpose of punishment.

Of punishment—not revenge. Nancy lay dying, perhaps by this time was
already dead; and the man who ought to have been at hand in the
emergency: the man whose quick brain might have suggested something,
however impossible or futile: the father of the child who was to lose
its mother; was indulging in an amour with another woman—a child whose
hair until a few months ago was hanging down her back.

Mountain linnets rose from their nests in alarm as his feet crunched the
stiff grass. A couple of gulls wheeled over his head. Even in the dim
light the moor was rich in colour, and the mantle night had thrown down
upon it could not wholly hide the madder-brown of the soil that peeped
out in patches from amidst the orange and crimson bushes, the russet-red
fronds of dead bracken, and the sober array of grasses, straw-coloured
and green. If this riot of subdued colour failed to reach Jagger’s
perceptions it was because a warmer tint was before his eyes—he was
“seeing red.”

Strangely enough, when he stumbled upon the guilty pair and found that
he had been observed, although too late for escape or concealment, he
held himself well in hand. Like a voice by telephone his father’s words
vibrated on his brain—“Bridle your tongue and temper!” Until that
moment he had given them no second thought; reaching him now by that
mysterious wireless that baffles explanation they served to bring him to
his senses and to push Nancy’s need into the forefront of his thoughts.

Polly had released herself from Inman’s arms and stood by, half-tearful,
half-defiant, looking on Jagger whose stern eyes had never once been
turned to her face. Inman, with an uneasy sneer upon his lips, had
thrust his hands deep into his pockets and was putting on a front of
dare-devilry and scorn.

“I’m seeking you, Inman,” Jagger began. He had walked hotly and was a
little out of breath, but the words came steadily enough.

“Your baby’s come, and Nancy’s dying—maybe dead. Get away down, as
straight as you can go, and I’ll see Polly safe.”

The girl gave a startled gasp, and shrunk farther back into the deeper
shadows of the rock that overhung them. Inman’s face lost its look of
disdain and for once the man found himself at a loss for words.

“Do you hear me?” continued Jagger, speaking in a low passionless voice
that ought to have warned the other of danger. “Why don’t you go?
Haven’t I told you your wife’s dying? For her sake—at any rate until t’
sod covers her,—I’ll say naught about what I’ve seen. Get you gone!”

“All in good time!” replied Inman in a cold voice as he recovered
himself. “You’ve delivered your message, and there’s no need for you to
stop any longer. I’ll go down when it suits me, but not at your
bidding.”

The look of a madman was in Jagger’s eyes, and a madman’s unreasoning
anger was in his heart. His father’s warning slipped into the
background, yet his voice remained low as he said:

“So you’ll stop up here, you dirty blackguard with your light o’ love,
while the wife you stole lies dying! If I served you as you deserve I’d
kick you every step o’ t’ way home; but I’d be doing her a better turn
to lay you out here on t’ hillside, and leave t’ crows to pick your
stinking bones.”

He paid the penalty of his violence the next moment, and though anger
now blazed in Inman’s eyes it was not he, but Polly, who turned the
tables upon him. Her white face quivered with passion as she left
Inman’s side and confronted Jagger.

“Light o’ love, am I? Then whose light o’ love is Nancy, I’d like to
know? Who is it goes kissing and cuddling i’ t’ Cove of a night, Jagger
Drake? It’s _you_ ’at ’ud better be by her bed-side, if so be ’at she’s
dying; _you_, ’at she’s rued she didn’t wed, and gives her kisses to! T’
pot might well call t’ pan, Jagger Drake!”

“Is this true, Polly?” said Inman, seizing the girl by the shoulders and
looking into her face.

“I’ve seen ’em with these eyes and heard ’em with these ears!” she
replied. “I wasn’t spying on ’em neither. They were one side o’ t’ wall
and me t’other.”

“And you never told me!” he went on, tightening his grasp on her
shoulder until the pain made her wince.

“And I never would ha’ done,” she answered doggedly. “It was six o’ one
and half-a-dozen o’ t’other”; and she began to sob.

He pushed her away roughly and turned to Jagger, who was standing
utterly crestfallen and unhinged, deprived of the power of thought and
action by this unexpected development.

“I could be almost glad of this,” said Inman, as he bent forward until
his face approached his opponent’s; “but I’ve got to thrash you for it.
Strip!”

“Aye, by gen I will!” A fierce joy arose in Jagger’s heart. The sense of
discomfiture and humiliation fled like the gloom of night at a clear
daybreak. His coat was instantly on the ground and he was rolling up his
sleeves. “But there’s one thing I’ll say to you first, chance you don’t
live to hear it after, or me to tell it. I never wronged you but wi’ one
kiss, and it wasn’t Nancy’s wish. She’s always walked t’ straight road,
and barring that one time so have I. Now I’m ready for you!”

The fight had not been in progress a minute before Polly covered her
eyes with her hands and ran away screaming. They were both strong and
powerful men; and if Jagger had attacked in the heat of his anger it
might have gone badly with him, for Inman’s passion never suffered him
to lose his self-control. Now, however, the one was no whit cooler than
the other, and the result was not long in doubt. No boxer or wrestler on
the moor could stand up to Jagger Drake with any hope of success. Every
native for miles round knew it; but Inman was not a native, and the fact
was unknown to him; at the same time the knowledge would probably have
made no difference, for cowardice was not among the number of his vices.
He got in a few heavy blows whilst Jagger awaited his opportunity, and
the seeming ineffectiveness of his opponent perhaps threw him off his
guard, for the first knock he received on the jaw sent him like a log to
the ground.

His white face looked ghastly in the darkness as Jagger bent over it. He
was unconscious, but Jagger’s practised eye and ear told him there was
no danger; and moistening his handkerchief in a near-by runnel he bathed
the prostrate man’s brow until the quivering of the eyelids showed that
sense was returning.

A little later Inman sat up. “Pass me my coat,” he said; and Jagger
handed it to him without a word.

“You’re a better man than me with your fists,” he continued, as he
looked up with proud defiance into the other’s set face. “You know how
to hit, and where. _So do I._ I’ll hit where it’ll hurt, you bet; where
it’ll hurt till hell ’ud be a picnic. I’m no saint, and I neither forget
nor forgive. You needn’t wait, Mr. Drake. I’ll come down at my leisure.”

“Very good!” said Jagger contemptuously. “Get on with your hitting!” and
turned away.

“If it was only me,” he said to himself as he walked slowly towards the
village, “I daresay he’d find a way to ruin me, for he’s the devil
himself; but he can’t hurt father.”

He was thinking of the business; but the business had not been in
Inman’s thoughts.


                             CHAPTER XVIII

               IN WHICH BALDWIN ALLOWS AN OPPORTUNITY TO
                                  SLIP

HANNAH was bending over the fire stirring something in a pan when
Inman entered the kitchen, and he went straight up to her and laying a
hand on her shoulder said:

“Keturah’ll manage that, whatever it is; and if she can’t I’ll pay
somebody else to do it. Get you off home and bandage your brother; and
never set foot in this house again while I’m its master.”

Hannah flashed round, and though her eyes widened at the sight of his
swollen face she was not cowed.

“There’s work been done while you’ve been fighting,” she said; “and
there’s work yet to be done if your wife’s life is to be saved; and work
’at only women can do——”

“Have done, woman!” he commanded, “and get your things on, if you have
any. I don’t want to lay my hands on you; but, by my soul if you aren’t
out of this house in another minute I’ll throw you out!”

“Lord save us!” ejaculated Keturah, who had been frightened into silence
by Inman’s look and voice. “This is what comes o’ whisky-drinking. Eh,
dear! Eh, dear! and Nancy on her dying bed at this minute!”

“Take t’ spoon, Keturah,” said Hannah, as Inman uttered an impatient
exclamation. “We mustn’t have a row i’ t’ house, choose what else we
have. I’ll go, seeing as I must; and I hope an’ trust ’at t’ worst is
over and Nancy’ll pull through now. Maybe you’ll find time to run across
and bring me word.”

“It’s come to a bonny pass,” wailed Keturah with a spark of spirit, as
she took up the spoon and Hannah’s work; “when we’ve to be at t’ beck
and call of a man nob’dy’d set eyes on this time was a twelve-month, and
ordered about same as we was slaves, and he’d use t’ whip to wer
backs——”

“And so I would for two pins,” Inman broke in sharply. “Shut your mouth,
woman! It’s a sick house,” he added with a sneer—“and we must have
quiet! Tell your brother,” he said to Hannah as he held open the door
for her to pass out, “that I shall begin the treatment I spoke of this
very night, and he can have that thought to sleep on. And don’t forget
that this door’s closed to you!”

He went upstairs without returning to the kitchen and Keturah heard his
voice on the landing in conversation with the doctor. By and by the two
men came down together and passed into the parlour.

“I care nothing about the child’s life,” Inman said in a tone that was
strange to Keturah; “but I hope you’ll not let the mother slip through
your fingers. You don’t often hear a man talk of disappointments at a
time like this I daresay, but it’ll be a big disappointment to me if she
dies. If there’s anything else to be done; any other man you think could
help——”

“It will be settled one way or the other, my lad, before any other man
could get here,” interposed the doctor. “She’s putting up a better fight
now than I gave her credit for, and I wouldn’t say that she hasn’t a
chance. No! no! not for me,” he added as Inman produced a bottle and a
couple of tumblers. “A drop before I go to bed, maybe; but never whilst
there’s work to be done.”

“Then I ought to sign off the stuff for a month or two,” said Inman with
a hard laugh, “for I’ve work to do that I’d be sorry to spoil.”

The doctor looked up at him curiously and his eyes rested on Inman’s
swollen and discoloured face.

“You’ve been in the wars yourself, I see,” he remarked. “That’s a nasty
bruise you’ve got!”

“Yes,” said Inman, “it is”; and vouchsafed no other reply.

When he left his shake-down in the parlour the next morning he found the
doctor drinking a cup of tea in the kitchen. The old man’s eyes were
tired and he looked weary; but his voice was cheery as he said:

“I must get away for a few hours. There are others who must be seen; but
though your wife isn’t out of the wood yet, we have not worked all night
for nothing. I’ll be round again at noon.”

“I’m much obliged to you,” said Inman calmly. “I wouldn’t have her die
for the world. I want her to get well and strong—aye, by Jove, and to
have her feelings. She hasn’t been out of my thoughts all night.”

The doctor stared at him. “Very natural, of course,” he said. He was
thinking to himself that he would never have expected this reserved,
obstinate-looking young fellow to be so deeply affected by the anxiety
that throws some men off their balance at these times.

Baldwin was unbearable that morning and for once Inman was not
conciliatory. Both men felt that they were objects of interest to the
others and both knew that their affairs would have been discussed in the
public-house the night before; but whereas Baldwin was too muddled by
drink and worry to pay any attention to the idle talk of his neighbours
Inman was chafing under a sense of deep humiliation; and his ill-temper
which he had carefully cloaked from the men, found an outlet when he was
summoned to the office just before noon.

No sooner was the door closed than Baldwin let loose a flood of coarse
language on which the information he intended to impart was carried in
disjointed fragments that told Inman nothing.

“Look here, Mr. Briggs!” he said, so sharply that Baldwin stopped with
an abruptness that proved his astonishment. “If you’ve anything to say
get it said, and don’t unload all your foul talk on to me. Why the devil
should I have my ears turned into sewers for all your filth? The post
can have brought you naught you haven’t expected. If you want my help,
get to the point, and if you don’t I’ll go back. I’m in a mood to jack
the whole thing up this morning, and let you go to hell your own way.”

His tone was so surly and menacing that Baldwin, who had dropped into a
chair and was staring at him with blinking eyes that had something of
fear in them as well as wonder, found himself without words.

“If you’ve aught to say to me about the shop—aught ’at either I or the
other chaps have got to do, I’ll take your instructions. If it’s your
business affairs you’re troubled with you must fight ’em out yourself;
I’ve said all I can say.”

“Oh, you have, have you? And I must, must I?”—the spark of life in
Baldwin’s spirit manifested itself in one last kick against this
unwelcome dictatorship; but his dependence on the other’s strength made
actual opposition impossible, and the defiant tone ended in a surly
whine.

“You’ll be same as all t’ rest, I reckon. When t’ old dog’s teeth are
gone and there’s naught left but its bark, every cur’ll snap at it.”

“Every dog has its day,” commented Inman cynically. “I’ve offered to
prolong yours, and these writs you are talking about needn’t have
worried you. I can say no more.”

Baldwin’s eyes rested wearily upon the letters that strewed the table in
front of him. For a moment or two he said nothing; but his brow bent
more and more until tiny drops of moisture appeared above the coarse
pepper-coloured hairs which bristled like those of a wild boar. Inman
watched him in silence.

“Have you that brass handy?” The eyes were not raised from the table,
and the voice was a hollow echo of Baldwin’s.

“You can have it as soon as the document’s ready.”

“Then get t’ document, and be hanged to you!”

Baldwin rose and went over to the cupboard; but Inman interposed.

“There’s nothing there; you finished it last night, and it’s perhaps as
well. You’d best keep sober this afternoon and think the matter over. If
you’re in the same mind to-morrow morning I’ll go over to Keepton and
fix the thing up. I’m not going to have it said ’at I took advantage of
you. It wouldn’t take two straws to make me back out altogether, for I
tell you straight I don’t care to trust a man who drinks himself blind
every night.”

Without waiting to see what effect these words had upon his master,
Inman turned upon his heel and went out; but when Baldwin joined him at
the dinner table a few minutes later the storm—if storm there had
been—had spent itself, and both men recovered themselves a little
during the meal.

Somewhat late in the evening the nurse asked Inman if he would keep an
eye on his wife and child for a few minutes as Keturah was in the
village, and he found an opportunity he had been seeking.

They were both asleep when he entered the room, the child’s head resting
in the hollow of the mother’s arm where she had asked for it to be laid.
The most dangerous crisis was past and the doctor now thought that Nancy
would pull through. Inman just glanced at the pair, and though emotion
shone in his eyes it was not that of tenderness. When he had satisfied
himself that his wife’s slumber was real he bestowed no further thought
upon her, but quietly mounted a chair and lifted down his bag from the
top of the cupboard and placed it on the dark landing, whence he removed
it to the parlour when the nurse relieved him a few minutes later.

Keturah had not returned and the transaction had passed unobserved by
anyone. Inman smiled his self-congratulations as he slung the bag over
the moulding of the old-fashioned bookcase, where it raised a cloud of
dust that assured him the place of concealment was well-chosen. When
Keturah came hurrying in he was standing in the kitchen with his back to
the fire.

Baldwin looked up when supper was over. He had not tasted drink that day
and his mood had changed since morning.

“Maniwel’s got that job we’ve been after up at Far Tarn,” he began when
Inman accepted his suggestion that they should return to the office.

“Has he?” Inman replied indifferently.

Baldwin surveyed him with something of his old fierceness; and the look
of premature superciliousness that he thought he saw in his foreman’s
face combined with the tone of contemptuous unconcern, led to a result
which neither man had anticipated a moment before.

“I’ll do without your brass,” he said in one of his old gusts of anger
that quickly brought Inman to his senses again. “It’s plain to see who’s
to be t’ boss when you’ve ’commodated me wi’ your five hundred, for
you’re holding your head already, both i’ t’ house and t’ shop, as if
you were gaffer. You may take yourself off to another market, young man,
and as soon as you like. There’s been naught but mischief i’ t’ place
ever sin’ you set your foot in’t, and I’ll try if getting rid o’ t’
Jonah’ll save t’ ship. If it doesn’t we can but sink and ha’ done wi’t.”

It would be difficult to say which of the two men was the more surprised
by this deliverance. Baldwin had invited Inman to accompany him to the
office with the express object of accepting the unwelcome terms. He had,
indeed, dwelt upon the alternatives so long that the terms had almost
ceased to be unwelcome, and he had persuaded himself that with this
relief he would soon be able to find his feet again, when it would be no
great matter to get rid of the yoke that was so galling to his pride,
and consign the bill of sale to those blazes that were so often on his
tongue.

Inman, too, without the effort of conscious thought, had known that his
master was about to bend his head to the yoke; had been so convinced of
it from reliable inward witness that he had allowed his whole manner to
forestall the consummation and thereby jeopardise it. Even now, so
accustomed had he become to the foretaste of success and the realisation
of his strength, he hardly troubled to stoop to conciliate, choosing to
regard the outburst as a mere ebullition of temper that would expend
itself as quickly as a child’s squib.

“I meant no offence,” he said without warmth; “and of course you can
please yourself about the money.”

“Can I?” interrupted Baldwin, in quite his old style. He was surprised
at his own boldness, but was aware of an exhilaration to which he had
been a stranger for some weeks. It was as though some force outside his
own volition was egging him on to resist the cynical adviser, and abide
by the threat he had expressed to get rid of him. It was seldom that his
brain evolved a metaphor; but that of Jonah which had flashed across his
mind like an inspiration held him with a force that seemed to him almost
supernatural and that gave him new courage.

“Can I?” he repeated, frowning portentously at his companion. “I can
please myself! Well, that’s something to be thankful for, choose
how!”—his slow wits were still turning over the image that had startled
them—“I reckon I’m master o’ t’ ship even if t’ ship is sinking, and I
can chuck Jonah overboard if I like——” He was trying to hold the
conversation and examine this new thought at the same time, and he found
the task beyond his powers. The suggestion that he should dismiss
Inman—send him about his business as abruptly as he had engaged
him—was clamouring for acceptance, and he was trying to weigh it,
instead of risking the hazard. “Every bit o’ ill-luck there’s been came
wi’ you; and I’m hanged if I’ve a spoon ’at’s long enough to sup wi’ t’
devil. You can clear out, I tell you, wi’ your ‘cans’ and your ‘please
yourselves,’ and I’ll go see Green and a toathri more myself and maybe
patch matters up wi’ ’em. I’ve been a damned fool ’at I haven’t done it
afore.”

Why the thought of Maniwel insisted on obtruding itself Baldwin could
not explain, but so it was. The fact irritated him with the vague
feeling that it had a meaning he could not interpret.

The long and hesitating harangue had not been unwelcome to Inman, who
had been sending out thought-scouts in all directions during its
progress, and had determined on his line of action.

“I suppose I’m a damned fool too,” he said cunningly, and with no sudden
change of tone to quicken the other’s suspicions. “What with the worry
of the business and anxiety over Nancy——” the softening of voice that
the mention of his wife’s name occasioned could not be
misunderstood—“to say nothing of the row I had with Jagger only last
night ’ud drive most men off their heads, let alone making ’em a bit
ill-tempered.”

“What occasion had you to fall out wi’ Jagger?” snapped Baldwin, whose
curiosity allowed him to be side-tracked. “It’s no sort of a game to go
about trying to bash other men their heads in——”

“That’s so,” replied Inman, with studied calm, “but when a man’s been
interfering with your wife and admits it——! However, that’s between
him and Nancy and me, and I’m not wanting a scandal made of it. All I
say is ’at it isn’t to be wondered at if I don’t speak as civil as I
ought to do. Maybe I’ve been a fool to meddle with your business at all.
I ought to ha’ remembered it was none o’ mine, and wouldn’t put a penny
in my pocket whichever way it went.”

He both sounded and looked dejected, and Baldwin, however suspicious by
nature, was too simple to realise that all this was consummately clever
acting, and he began to soften. Yet the taste of power was pleasant; and
he could not forget that strange sense of guidance which had impelled
him to send Inman about his business, putting thoughts into his mind
which he had never framed, and ascribing his misfortunes to the man who
had seemed to be his one friend and deliverer.

It was all very puzzling and he took refuge in silence and a heavy
scowl. The desk was littered with papers, and he turned and rummaged
amongst them as if the clue by which he might release himself was to be
found there. Inman waited; and Baldwin never guessed how the cast-down
eyes searched his face in an endeavour to read the thoughts it indexed.
The attempt was less successful than usual and Inman cursed himself
inwardly for his precipitancy. Was he to lose everything, just when it
had been in his grasp? The sigh that escaped him was not entirely
theatrical.

Baldwin looked up and signified with a motion of the head that Inman
might leave; and when the sign was ignored stormed out in the familiar
way.

“I beg your pardon,” said Inman; “I didn’t understand you. Am I to take
it that I’m sacked?”

“You’re to take yourself out o’ my sight,” snapped his master. “I’ll say
naught no more while I’ve slept on’t.”

Baldwin glanced at the clock when he found himself alone. A strong
impulse bade him swallow his pride and go down to see Maniwel; but
instead of yielding to it he began to reason. It was after ten, and
Maniwel went to bed in good time—it was Jagger who sat up late.
Besides, what good would it do? Maniwel was at his wits’ end for
money—must be; he would sympathise no doubt; but an overdraft at the
bank was the sort of sympathy he wanted and Maniwel could not get one
himself. “Go!” said the persuasive voice. “To the man who’s stealing
your business from you?” another voice questioned. Baldwin listened and
hesitated until the hands of the clock pointed to eleven, and then went
to bed.

                 *        *        *        *        *

In his cottage by the bridge Maniwel sat over the fire alone. The Bible
was open on the table behind him, and he was thinking of the passage he
had read before the others went upstairs—“if he shall hear thee thou
hast gained thy brother.”

Jagger had been very elated at securing the contract for the work at Far
Tarn and at the accommodating attitude of the timber-merchants who were
to supply the material.

“That’ll be one in the eye for Inman,” he had said exultingly.

“Get off to bed, lad! You’ve to be up early to-morrow!” was all his
father had replied.

“Thou hast gained thy brother!” Maniwel’s thoughts worked upon that
short sentence for an hour and brought both Baldwin and Inman within
their scope. It was not to be wondered at that his first concern was for
his old workmate.

“I doubt that young man’s working tha harm, lad,” he said aloud, but in
a low voice, as if Baldwin had been seated in grannie’s chair where his
eyes were resting. “Tha played me a fouler trick than anyone knows on
and was fain to be rid of me; but I’m grieved, lad, to see tha brought
so low.”

Again he fixed his eyes on the fire, and again his lips began to move.

“I happen did wrong to leave tha; though, right enough, tha never asked
me to stop, and I know I should ha’ been i’ thi way. I fear tha’rt going
t’ wrong road, lad,—body and soul; and this young fellow’s helping tha.
The Lord deliver tha from him, and all such like! I’d give my other hand
to save tha, for it’s a sad thing when a man loses his brass, but it’s a
sadder when he loses his soul!”

There was a longer pause this time before he continued:

“It ’ud be no good going up to see tha again. It’s turned ten, and
tha’ll be ower drunk, poor lad, to be talked to. I’d like to warn tha
again’ Inman, for it’s borne in on me ’at he’s working thi ruin o’ set
purpose, and maybe if we were to put wer heads together we could pull
through. I’d give aught for an hour’s talk wi’ tha, lad, i’ thi right
mind; but when drink’s in, wit’s out——”

He continued in this strain until nearly midnight, and then went
sorrowfully to bed.


                              CHAPTER XIX

                 IN WHICH THE BILL OF SALE IS COMPLETED

THE golden moment passed and did not return. The next morning found
Baldwin ill and depressed, with a great craving for the bottle his weak
mind had forsworn the night before, and a foreboding that he had made a
fool of himself and an enemy of Inman. That crafty individual, however,
was in chastened mood and more than ordinarily patient and thoughtful. A
full whisky-bottle had replaced the empty one in the office cupboard;
but the foreman busied himself in the workshop and never turned his head
in that direction the whole day. Once, when a question was asked him
relating to some work that could not be completed for some considerable
time, he appeared to hesitate and referred the questioner to Mr. Briggs,
with the quiet explanation that he might have left before then; a remark
that infuriated the master, who called upon the devil to witness that he
did not know what Inman was talking about.

During the morning Maniwel, who had tormented himself with reproaches
during the night, sent up word that he would like to speak with Baldwin,
who dictated the surly reply that he had no time to waste. Repulsed by
the master, Maniwel next turned to the man, and waylaid Inman the same
evening as he walked home from the hotel, to which he had now
transferred his custom.

“I would like a word wi’ you, my lad,” he began with characteristic
directness, “about my old mate, Baldwin. It isn’t i’ t’ nature o’ things
’at you should be over friendly wi’ me, I know, but I can’t see a man
going down t’ hill as fast as Baldwin’s going without asking if there’s
naught can be done to steady him.”

“And what gives me the honour of being picked out for your questions?”
Inman inquired with cold sarcasm. “Am I to understand ’at you think I’m
responsible, or what?”

“I’ve said naught o’ t’ sort,” Maniwel replied gently. “Most o’ what
I’ve heard has been t’other way about, and they say you’ve done your
best to check him. I’ve lived long enough to know ’at a man’ll fly to t’
bottle when he’s i’ trouble without help from nob’dy. Nay, it’s because
I hear he sets a deal o’ store by you, and’ll let you guide him when
he’ll listen to nob’dy else, ’at I thought I’d like to say ’at if there
was ought I could do——”

“If you’ll give me a turn, old man,” Inman broke in with an icy passion
that told Maniwel there was nothing good to be expected there, “I’ll
save you any further waste o’ breath. Sanctimonious sermons are naught
i’ my line, and you’d do better to let charity begin at home and get
Jagger to hearken. He’ll happen tell you which o’ t’ Ten Commandments
he’s been breaking!

“But there’s one thing I will say: if I’d been minded to put the brake
on before you spoke, and try to hold Baldwin back, I wouldn’t now—I’d
push him forward wi’ both hands sooner than give you pleasure, you
canting old humbug. So you can get back home and see what good your
damned interference has done your old mate!”

He had advanced his face close to Maniwel’s as he hissed out the closing
words, but the action had not the effect he expected.

“Then God forgi’e you, my lad!” said Maniwel sadly, “and save you from
having a man’s blood required at your hands. But I won’t believe aught
as bad of you; nobbut I’ll say this one thing: the devil’s a master that
pays poor wages, and when a man has his feet on t’ slippy road ’at leads
to t’ pit it doesn’t take both hands to push him forrad.”

“I’ll keep my feet without your help, old man,” Inman replied
sneeringly, “but heark ye! I’ll bring you and your precious Jagger to
your knees yet; I’ll——”

“That’s true, lad! and you couldn’t bring us to a better place.” There
was a half-humorous sternness in Maniwel’s voice now. “You and Baldwin
have brought me to my knees long sin’, and I shall get there again, I
warrant. More’n that neither you nor your master can do! But I’m sorry
if I’ve done harm where I meant good, and I leave it wi’ you.”

Inman went straight to the office where Baldwin was seated with his
glass before him, and helped himself liberally.

“The devil take all hypocrites!” he said.

Baldwin’s brow twisted into a note of sullen interrogation.

“Maniwel Drake wants me to get you to kneel at the penitent form,” he
explained. “I’ve just sent him home with a flea in his ear.”

Baldwin’s voice was thick, but he was understood to consign Maniwel and
all his house to a place where fleas would lose their power to torment,
and he asked no further questions.

October passed and with the garnering of the bracken harvest the last of
the summer feathered visitors took their leave of the moors and winter
residents arrived daily. A Saint Luke’s summer had brought a succession
of warm sunny days, which splashed the bramble leaves with wonderful
colourings of crimson and orange, and stained the leaves of Herb Robert
with the blood of the dying year.

Nancy, pacing painfully her bedroom floor for a short time each day,
looked out upon the hills that were scorched to varied tints of copper
and gold, and drank in courage from the sight. Every evening a robin
came and sang for her before it turned in for the night. Once or twice
she had seen a woodcock frolicking in the dim light of early dawn and
had known by that sign that autumn had come. She would have given much
to be as free; but for her freedom was far behind, a mere dream, a
memory. She stretched out her arm and touched the sleeping infant—the
only link of the fetter she did not hate to contemplate—and wondered
what of solace or misery was wrapped up for her in that little bundle of
life. He had his father’s features; there was no mistaking the nose and
jaw; yet he was hers, and to bring him into the world she had almost
given her life. For his sake, she sometimes told herself, she had paid
an even bigger price, for she had fought against death.

Inman hated her. How she knew it she could not have explained, for until
the boy came he had been always endurable though he spared her the
pretence of affection. The first time her eyes fell upon him after the
severity of the crisis was over, she knew that he hated her and that he
wished her to know it. Lazily, she had wondered what had happened to
effect the change when she had given him a son; but no disappointment
mixed with the curiosity, for her feeling towards him was colder and
more colourless than hatred, being just elementary indifference and
there was no fear, for the indifference extended to her own safety.

It interested her to note that none of the women who visited her spoke
ill of her husband, though they referred to Baldwin’s downward course
with many a gloomy anticipation of quick disaster. Even Keturah appeared
to find him tolerable, and shared the general opinion that it was he who
kept the ship afloat, and would save it if salvation was still possible.
Nancy smiled and said nothing, waiting the development of events with a
strange incuriosity that was the result of her slack hold on life.

Since the nurse’s departure Nancy and Keturah had slept together, and
except at meal times, whole days passed when husband and wife never saw
each other. Occasionally a day would end without the interchange of a
spoken word. She was therefore surprised when he entered the parlour one
evening in November when the two women were sitting together in the
firelight, and with an authoritative movement of the head bade Keturah
withdraw.

“I suppose you don’t need to be told,” he said in a hard voice into
which he tried to impart sufficient warmth for his purpose, “that
Baldwin’s on his last legs?”

“It’s what you’ve led me to expect,” she replied listlessly.

“You take it coolly,” he replied with ill-suppressed irritation.

“Why shouldn’t I?” she answered. “It’s what you’ve been looking for,
isn’t it?—what you’ve been working for?”

He uttered an angry exclamation, and sat down beside her, putting his
face close to hers and speaking in a low voice. He was obviously holding
himself under restraint with some difficulty.

“Listen!” he said. “I’m inclined to save him, if he can be saved. It’ll
come to the same thing in the end, but I see no other way of becoming
top dog than by giving him a lift for a few months. You wouldn’t
understand if I was to explain——”

“Then tell me what you want of me,” she said wearily. “There’s something
you want me to do or you wouldn’t have come—I’ve wit enough to
understand that. It’s money, I suppose?”

“It’s money,” he admitted sullenly; “but it isn’t money _you_ can lend.
You’re in with him already, and if the business fell to pieces you’d be
in no better position than any other creditor. They’d try their best to
make out ’at you were a partner——”

“Now you’re explaining,” she interrupted with a smile, “and you’ve
already told me I shan’t understand.”

He again made a gesture of impatience—and again controlled himself.

“If _I_ could lend him the money it ’ud be different,” he went on. “He’d
give me what they call a bill of sale, and I should come in before the
other creditors when he crashed——”

Nancy smiled, and the frown deepened on Inman’s face as he observed it.

“Now we’re coming to it,” she said. “You want me to give _you_ a cheque,
I suppose?”

He shook his head. “That wouldn’t do; it ’ud be too patent. Baldwin
thinks I’ve five hundred o’ my own—my life’s savings!” he added with a
short laugh, looking meaningly into Nancy’s face.

She knew at once what he meant, though she had forgotten all about the
hidden store; but she purposely held her peace.

“There’s that five hunderd in the bag,” he whispered. “It ’ud be better
out o’ the way. Nobody but us two knows it’s there, and it ’ud be gaol
for us both if they did——”

“You want me to let you have it to lend Baldwin?” she asked. “You’re
welcome to it for aught I care, and him too.”

It was the answer he had led up to; but the note of unconcern stirred
his anger. He knew why she was so listless; it was because Jagger was
lost to her, of course, and he added this to the list of memories that
he was keeping green for the hour of vengeance.

With a curt acknowledgment he went away and sought his master. He would
have taken the money without his wife’s leave if it had seemed to be the
better course; but there was a certain satisfaction in making her
accessory to the fact—one never knew that it might not prove
convenient. Baldwin had swallowed his gruel at last, and the bill of
sale had been prepared and was in the safe. All that was necessary now
was to produce the money and complete the transaction, and for that
purpose a clerk from the lawyer’s office in Airlee was to attend the
next day.

“It’ll be in gold,” he said to Baldwin, as he sat down in the spare
chair and half filled his glass with whisky and water. “Gold tells no
tales and leaves no traces, but it had best be banked sharp.”

Baldwin looked up stupidly.

“Who’re you learning their business?” he asked savagely. “Do you think I
was born in a frost?”

“Of course not,” returned Inman humbly, for he was not to be caught off
his guard this time; “but it’s a lot o’ money to have lying about in
cash, and I should be easier in my mind to know it was banked before I
went to Hull.”

Baldwin consigned man and gold to an entirely different port and Inman
refrained from further recommendations.

During the night winter got a grip of the moor, and when morning came
the ground was hard and there was the promise of snow. A bitter wind was
blowing from the north, and Inman listened to its weird piping with
feelings of annoyance and apprehension that revealed themselves in an
air of thoughtfulness and a puckered brow.

“Confound it all!” he muttered as he turned away from the window and
went downstairs.

There was no one in the kitchen and after he had visited the sideboard
in the parlour and concealed a bottle beneath his coat, he passed out
and entered the shop, the door of which was unlocked, though it was too
early for any of the men to have arrived. When he reached the upper
floor the sound of stertorous breathing furnished the explanation—the
master had not been a-bed, and was sleeping off his drunken fit in the
office. Inman glanced at the unpleasant picture and then turned away
contemptuously.

“You’ve finished the whisky, I see,” he muttered. “‘All for my-sen,’ as
usual! But I’ll return good for evil—you shall have a change this time.
You’ll want a friend before the day’s out.” Whereupon he opened his coat
and deposited the new bottle upon the shelf in the cupboard.

Baldwin was far from sober when he awoke, and curtly refused his
breakfast; but he consented to drink the cup of coffee Inman brought
him, though not until a liberal measure of rum had been mixed with it.
After that he brightened, but had more sense than to attempt to leave
the office, and he had not moved from his chair when the lawyer’s clerk
arrived close on noon.

The transaction was completed in a few minutes; the gold counted by
Baldwin and the clerk, and locked up in the safe. Then Inman drew
himself erect and threw back his shoulders, but seeing himself observed
by his master hid the satisfaction he felt, and said:

“I wish it had been in a cheque; but I’ve had to gather it together from
here and there, you see. I want Mr. Briggs to take it over to Keepton
to-day and bank it, or else let me go earlier and break my journey.”

He turned his eyes on his master as he spoke and contrived to allow a
doubt of Baldwin’s ability to journey anywhere appear in them. Instantly
there was a flash.

“I daresay I can manage to mind my own business,” Mr. Briggs snapped.
“Some folks is a damned sight too ready to put their fillings in. If _I_
take it I shall know where it is!”

Mr. Jones laughed and Inman allowed himself to smile.

“If you don’t get it in to-day, Mr. Briggs—though I think you’d do well
to take Mr. Inman’s advice—you’d better sleep with the safe key under
your pillow,” remarked the clerk facetiously.

“I’m much obliged to both of you,” he replied with rising temper as he
saw the humour on both faces and interpreted it to his disadvantage. “I
can mebbe attend to my own business now ’at I reckon you’ll ha’ finished
yours.”

Mr. Jones recognised his mistake and at once resumed his professional
air.

“I am sure you can,” he said, as he closed his case and looked round for
his hat. “Lawyers think it necessary to caution their clients, but of
course, in your case it’s a mere formality. I wish you good-morning, Mr.
Briggs.”

“Take him down to t’ pub and give him his dinner before he goes,” said
Baldwin, as he let his hand fall into the one the clerk proffered him.

“A cold spot this!” said Mr. Jones as the two walked down the street.
“Feels like snow, too; and, by Jove, looks like it!”

Inman grunted assent. The sky was leaden-coloured, and a few light
flakes had already fallen, as he knew.

“I hope it holds off. I’ve to travel to Hull through the night,” he
said. “We’ve opened a new account there that’ll make us independent of
these local fellows who’ve cut up so rough.”

“Why the dickens must you go through the night, this weather? Won’t it
run to an hotel bill?” Mr. Jones inquired.

“You’ve hit it exactly,” Inman replied caustically. “Mr. Briggs doesn’t
believe in his men wasting either time or money.”

“Will he pull through now?” the clerk asked, lowering his voice to a
confidential whisper.

“If he keeps off the drink—yes,” replied Inman. “That’s my only
anxiety. It wouldn’t surprise me to find the money still in the safe
when I get back.”

“Well, it won’t run away,” laughed the other, and Inman shrugged his
shoulders.

“If he wasn’t too fuddled to do it, _he_ might,” he answered.

They parted at the door of the hotel and Inman returned slowly to the
shop with his eyes fixed thoughtfully on the ground. There was no spring
in his step, no brighter light in his eye, but rather a look of
increased anxiety. With some men the effort to over-reach and cheat
their fellows is such an ordinary and natural act that its successful
accomplishment affords them no more than an ordinary and unemotional
satisfaction, allowing no exhilaration of spirit or relaxation of
strain. Inman was of this number, and now that he had reached this
advanced point in the ascent of the difficult Hill of Fortune he found
his only pleasure in forming his plans for the conquest of the summit
and bending his energies to the final struggle.

He entered the office to find Baldwin asleep again, and without saying a
word to the men who turned away their heads significantly when he
glanced in their direction he went downstairs and sought Keturah.

“Is Nancy about?” he asked.

“Nay, she’s one of her bad girds on, and is lying down,” she replied.

“Mr. Briggs hasn’t been down to his dinner, I suppose?” he inquired more
mildly than was his wont.

“What we’re all coming to I don’t know,” she replied, ignoring the
direct question; “but I see naught before us but t’ poor-house”; and she
threw her apron over her head and gave way to tears.

Inman had never treated her less roughly. “Keturah,” he said, “put your
apron down and listen to me. I’m not one to shove my worries on to other
folks, and particularly on to women, but I’m in the devil of a hole, and
you’re Baldwin’s sister. If I wasn’t going to be away for a day or two I
wouldn’t trouble you; but what am I to do? Now can you follow me?”

The quietness of his voice calmed and yet frightened her, as bullying
would never have done; and she turned her worn face to his and bade him
proceed.

“You’re right about the poor-house,” he said with an emphasis that
struck a chill to the woman’s heart; “and I’m beginning to wonder if I
can save you from it. I’ve lent him five hundred pounds of my own
savings this morning, which he knows ought to go to the bank this
afternoon, and he’s too drunk to take it.”

“Eh, dear! eh, dear!” Keturah sank into a chair and began to sob, but
Inman checked her.

“Stop that baby work! If Nancy was able to go about she’d act for me,
but as she isn’t there is only you.”

“Aye, more’s the pity!” wailed Keturah. “Nancy’s more in her nor me, and
’ud know what to do.”

“I’m going to tell you what to do,” Inman replied firmly. “You must get
him to bed to-night at all costs and keep the drink away from him.
There’s no more in the cupboard and no one must fetch him any. If he’s
allowed to sleep in his chair again it’s a thousand to one he chokes. I
don’t want to alarm you, but it’s a fact that his face was blue when I
roused him this morning.”

“The Lord save us!” ejaculated Keturah, “and you going to be away all t’
night!”

“Get him to bed,” continued Inman, “and you’ll be able to talk to him
to-morrow morning. Then you must tell him that I left word that he was
not to forget the bank. You’ll remember!”

Keturah sighed and clasped her hands helplessly.

“Aye, I’ll think on hard enough, but what am I to do if he won’t come? I
can’t lug him in!”

“I’ve thought of that,” Inman replied, and his unaccustomed gentleness
gave Keturah the first ray of hope she had had for many a day. “I’ll see
him last thing and try to get him in; but if I fail, and he doesn’t come
of his own accord by bedtime, you must get the men to carry him in and
lay him down. We mustn’t have him die in the office.”

“The Lord help us!” Keturah wailed again; “to think it’s come to this
pass, and him ’at never used to touch t’ stuff. Eh, dear! I’m sure it’s
enough to drive a woman off her head!”

Inman said nothing and she saw him no more until he came in for his tea,
when his face was still gloomy.

“I’ve done my best,” he said, “but he won’t budge. However, the booze is
all done and I’ve put the lamp and matches out of his way. In another
hour or two he’ll either be more reasonable or too drunk to know what’s
happening, and you can then have him carried in. I’ve mentioned it to
Frank and he’ll step round about nine.”

It was after six when he left the house and was driven off to catch the
slow train for Airlee, where he would have to spend two or three hours
before the mail left for Hull. During the long drive he spoke only once
to the stable boy who drove him, when he remarked that it was a wild,
black night and would snow before morning.

“Ending up wi’ ‘Damn it!’” the youthful Jehu remarked to the equally
youthful porter at the station, as the two watched the train bear Inman
away. “I’d as soon drive Old Nick his-self as yon!”

Meantime, no sooner had the lights of the trap disappeared round the
bend in the road than Keturah made her way to Nancy and reported the
position of affairs.

“Run across and ask Hannah to come!” said Nancy.

“Aye, t’ cat’s away, is it?” commented Keturah. “However, I’ve no
objection, I’m sure. We can do wi’ somebody i’ t’ house ’at has a
headpiece on her shoulders!”


                               CHAPTER XX

                IN WHICH THERE IS A SENSATIONAL ROBBERY

BALDWIN woke at the hour custom had made mechanical and lay for a
while trying to recollect how he had got to bed. As a matter of fact he
had stumbled indoors of his own accord during the evening, and had made
his way upstairs without asking for supper; so that when Frank came
round there had been no need for his services, and in the relief both
experienced neither he nor Keturah had thought of examining the workshop
door, which was consequently left unlocked.

With her mind eased of this anxiety Keturah had slept soundly and only
Nancy knew with what force the wind had swept down from the moor. It had
been so strong that she had been compelled to rise before midnight and
close her window, after which she fell asleep for an hour or two. When
she next woke the panes were covered with snow, and the storm was still
raging. By the time Keturah went downstairs the gale had abated but snow
was still falling heavily and lay several inches thick upon the roadway.

It was not until they were seated together at breakfast that Keturah
ventured to deliver herself of Inman’s reminder. Baldwin was morose, but
not unusually so, and he merely growled the reply that when he wanted a
woman to nurse him he’d let her know, whereupon Keturah subsided, well
content to have come off so lightly. Ten minutes later he returned to
the shop, and within a quarter-hour staggered home again, his face the
colour of ashes.

“Robbed!” he gasped as he sank into a chair and let his hands fall to
his sides. He was the picture of hopeless despair, and his head sank
upon his breast as though every muscle had lost its power to serve.
“Robbed!” he groaned again. “T’ safe prised open and every penny ta’en!
Every penny! Every penny!”

In the moment of his utter wretchedness he forgot to swear, and could
only groan; but as Keturah screamed and put her hand to her side he
raised his head and looked at her.

“Every penny, Keturah!” he groaned, holding out his trembling arms to
his sister like a troubled child who seeks the refuge of its mother’s
breast. “They’ve robbed me of every penny! Five hunderd golden
sovereigns gone—clean gone!”

Roused by the shrill scream Nancy came downstairs. The sense of what
seemed to Keturah an overwhelming disaster had wiped out all the
antipathies of past weeks and dried up tears and reproaches alike, and
she was kneeling on the rug with her arm on her brother’s shoulders,
crooning into ears that were deaf to all she said, meaningless
assurances that all would yet be well.

Baldwin’s face showed that he was insensible to all that was passing and
conscious only of one great fact.

“Robbed, lass!” he repeated, gazing vacantly into Nancy’s eyes. “Every
penny’s ta’en——!”

Nancy waited for nothing more; but hastened into the shop, and finding
that the men assembled there knew nothing, despatched Frank for the
policeman.

The “Packhorse” was uncomfortably full that evening but nobody
complained of inconvenience or overcrowding, though there were those
there whose faces were seldom seen in that company, and some who had
walked through deep snowdrifts and past other houses of entertainment in
order to be present. Albert was doing a roaring trade but found time to
drop an observation from time to time as he moved about.

“In Hull, you say?” Swithin inquired. “And what time might he ha’ gone
to Hull?”

“Our Jackie drave him down for t’ eight train,” the speaker replied,
“and wor fain to see t’ last on him, for he wor as glum as a slug all t’
road, and never gave t’ lad a copper for his-sen, same as most of ’em
does.”

“And they sent him a telegraph to come back, say ye?” pursued Swithin
whose duties had kept him out of the village all day so that he had some
leeway to make up.

“Before ten i’ t’ morning,” another volunteered. “Our Frank handed it
in. ’E were to ’ave ’elped to get Baldwin to bed by Inman’s orders, if
so be ’at ’e ’adn’t been able to ’elp ’is-self. ’Owsomever ’e’d getten
to bed when Frank got there; an’ seemin’ly ’e ’adn’t locked t’ shop
door; but that wor nowt out o’ t’ common, an’ nob’dy noticed nowt amiss
till Baldwin went to t’ safe—”

“Aye, aye, we’ve heard that before,” Swithin broke in. “We know ’at t’
safe worn’t locked for all there wor five hunderd pound in it and at t’
drawer wor prized oppen—it’s Inman’s doings I’m wanting to get at.”

“’E wired back by eleven,” the other went on, “but he couldn’t get here
afore five. They stopped t’ Scotchman for him, same as he’d been t’
squire his-self, and t’ inspector wor waitin’ down at t’ station wi’ a
motor-car. Ah seed ’em pass my-self, an’ no notice ta’en o’ speed-limits
seemin’ly.”

Swithin’s eyes rested on the speaker with such concentration that the
man became uneasy and Ambrose noticed it.

“Tha’s no ’casion to fidget, lad,” he piped; “Swith’n noan suspicions
thee o’ steylin’ t’ brass; but he’s a fearful cute hand at puttin’ two
an’ two together, when he sets his-sen, and he’s seein’ summat ’at’s hid
from ordinary een. It’s a gift wi’ some men. A far-seein’ man was his
fayther afore him, as noan on ye’ll recollect; but Swith’n’s as like him
as if he’d been spit out of his mouth.”

“What I see and what I say, Ambrus, is two different things,” returned
Swithin who was obviously pleased by the old man’s compliment. “There’s
a time to speak your thoughts and a time to bottle ’em; but what I’ve
seen I’ve seen, let any man deny it ’at will.”

He looked round at the company defiantly; but meeting with nothing that
could be regarded as a challenge: indeed with nothing but eager
interest, he first lifted his pot to his lips and then continued, with
his eyes on Ambrose.

“Two and two together I _can_ put, Ambrus; but when it’s two and a nowt,
where are you then? If Inman hadn’t ha’ been i’ Hull mebbe I’d ha’ had
summat to say ’at ’ud ha’ made some folks’ hair stand on end; but seeing
as he _wor_ in Hull there’s an end on’t.”

With this enigmatical statement he returned to his ale, and Ambrose
signalled to the company to keep silence.

“He’s in labour, as you may put it,” he whispered confidentially to his
neighbour; “and mun hev his time.”

Whether or no this remark helped to speedy parturition may not be easily
determined; but at any rate Swithin was at that moment delivered; and
after looking round to make sure that he had the ears of all present
said, in the formal voice of a constable who is giving evidence on
oath—

“It was t’ards midnight, or mebbe a piece after, ’at I turned out o’ t’
shippen i’ t’ long close to straighten my back and get a breath o’ air.
Crumple wor late wi’ her cawving, and I dursn’t leave her for more’n a
minute or two at a time; but straighten my back I felt I must, and so
stood at t’ door.

“It wor black as coal, an’ a gale o’ wind blowing fit to shift t’
shippen into t’ beck, but I reckoned nowt o’ that so long as t’ snaw
held off; and wor just about to turn in again when a heap o’ stones came
tumbling down off o’ t’ wall not five yards away.

“‘That’s nowt!’ ye’ll say; ‘a strong breeze’ll oft fetch a dry wall
down’, and that I’ll take tul; but a strong breeze doesn’t say ‘Damn
it!’—no, not t’ strongest breeze ’at ’ivver blew over Mawm!”

He paused, whilst his eyes slowly swept the company to see what effect
this communication had produced, but when two or three voices broke in
with questions he raised his hand in deprecation and continued—

“Not knowing who it mud be ’at was prowling round t’ shippen at that
time o’ night I stepped inside for a fork; but I nayther saw nor heard
naught no more though I searched round wi’ t’ lantern. A piece after,
Crumple’s time come, and I’d summat else to do nor think o’ boggarts.”

Nobody spoke, though there was now ample opportunity, and when Albert
had replenished his pot Swithin fixed his eyes on Ambrose and said—

“Now if any man among t’ lot of ye can put two and two together, ye’re
welcome; but I call it two and a nowt.”

“There’s nob’dy i’ this neighbourhood, Swith’n,” returned the old man,
“but what’s as well-known to ye as soil to t’ sexton—are ye tellin’ us
’at ye couldn’t reckernize t’ voice?”

“I _thought_ I reckernized t’ voice, Ambrus, but I wor mista’en; and
that’s why i’stead o’ putting two and two together I call it two and a
nowt. More’n that I won’t say.”

“But whoever t’ chap was,” said Albert, “he were a long way wide o’
Baldwin’s shop if he were i’ t’ long close. A fellow running away wi’
brass in his pocket ’ud be on t’ road to nowhere down there; whereas if
a tramp were coming from t’ Gordel end—from Girston, happen—he’d mebbe
be tempted to cut across t’ fields to save a mile or so on his way to t’
main road. Or, as like as not, he was for finding a bed i’ t’ shippen,
till he saw t’ glimmer o’ your lantern.”

This commonplace solution of the mystery, whilst it pleased none of the
company whose thirst for sensation was even greater than that for
liquor, offended Swithin, who took refuge in silence after he had
remarked that there were evidently those present who could put two and
two together to their own satisfaction though, thank God, every man had
a right to his own thoughts.

“If you ask me,” Jack Pearce broke in with some heat, “I don’t believe
there’s been any robbery. Where’s Inman got his five hunderd quid from?
‘Had it by him,’ they say; as if folks kept bags o’ gold i’ t’ long
drawer wi’ their spare shirts! It’s ridic’lous! and naught but a put-up
job, to my thinking!”

All eyes now fixed themselves upon the young man whose flushed face
revealed the angry state of his feelings; but it was a cold and even
hostile gaze, for thrills were uncommon experiences in Mawm, and to be
robbed of one of this magnitude was an unfriendly act, on a par with
that which they were gathered to discuss. Jack felt this and stood upon
his defence.

“He’s as cute and slippy as the Old Lad himself, is Inman, and I’ll bet
my last dollar it’s all a made up dodge to gain a bit o’ time for
Baldwin. Who’s seen t’ colour o’ t’ brass, I’d like to know? He lives by
his wits, does Inman, more’n by joinering.”

“Whisht, lad! Whisht!” said the landlord, who alone had any sympathy for
the hot-tempered youth. “You may think what you like but you mustn’t
speak it out loud, for t’law’s again’ it!”

“Tha’s getten thi knife into Inman,” said Frank’s father, “and we all
know why. He’s no friend o’ any of us ’at I know on, but they aren’t all
thieves ’at dogs bark at, and choose where he got t’ brass from, get it
he did, for our Frank not only ’eard t’ chink on’t, but saw it wi’ his
own eyes. Aye, and I’ll tell you more—he saw it after Inman had gone
and so did t’others, for they pept through a crack i’ t’ boards and saw
Baldwin bring it out o’ t’ safe and frame to count it, but he were ower
far gone, and so put it back.”

“Then I’m glad I don’t work for Baldwin,” said Jack sullenly, and with a
significance there was no mistaking.

“And so you may be,” continued the other. “But Frank’s tell’d t’ police
all he knows, and they don’t suspicion any o’ t’ men—anyway they’ve
found nowt so far to warrant owt o’ t’ sort.”

“Well, come now,” said the landlord, who was anxious to prevent the
conversation from becoming acrimonious; “Jack meant naught wrong, so
there’s no harm done. And as to any i’ t’ village having ta’en t’ brass
I’d pledge my living again’ it. I make no charge again’ nob’dy, but
there was a stranger having a snack in t’ ‘Royal’ at same time as Inman
and t’ lawyer, and whether or no they dropped ought ’at they shouldn’t
isn’t to be known; but as Swithin says, we’ve a right to wer own
thoughts.”

Conversation at this point became general as each man advanced a theory
based upon the information that had been given, or asked a question of
his neighbour preparatory to forming one. Silence, however, fell upon
the company again when during a lull Ambrose was heard to say—

“—and, if so be as they don’t lay their hands on t’ thief and get hold
o’ t’ brass, it’s like to go hard wi’ Baldwin, for if all’s trew ’at’s
tell’d, he wor at t’ last gasp, as you may put it, and could get no more
credit. I’m flayed t’ ship’ll land on t’ ass-midden this time, Swith’n.”

“That’s a trew word, Ambrus,” the other replied, “and if so be as Inman
lands alongside him I don’t know ’at there’ll be any pity wasted. Not
but what he’s worked hard for Baldwin, for you mun give t’ devil his
due; and for a man to lose t’ lump, and be beggared as you may say, all
in a minute, is broth ’at none of us ’ud like to sup.”

“And do you mean to tell me,” Jack exclaimed with a return of temper,
“’at Inman’ll have lent all this brass and not be covered for’t?” He
snapped his fingers contemptuously, as he asked the question. “You can
tell that tale to t’ infant-class! What was it Ambrose said, not above a
month back, when Inman caught his breeches on that nail i’ Jane
Wilki’son’s gateway and made her pay t’ price of a new pair, ommost; and
her a widow? I ask you, what did Ambrose say? Wasn’t it, ’at he’d nails
’at ’ud scratch his grannie out of her grave? And d’you think a man like
that’ll put down a penny and not pick up tuppence? He’s no such blamed
fool!”

The sense of the company was with Jack this time, and even Swithin had
nothing to say in reply. As for Ambrose, the quotation from his past
pronouncement tickled his vanity, and he nodded his head approvingly as
he remarked:—

“I did say it, lad, though it had slipped my mem’ry. There wor a time
when I wor full o’ wise sayin’s o’ that sort, and took a pleasure i’
shapin’ ’em; but I’ve getten ower old now and it’s only odd ’uns that
come back to me. A robbery now ’ud ha’ been a godsend when I wor i’ my
gifted prime; but we’d nowt o’ that sort—nowt nobbut a toathri apples
missin’ and t’ like o’ that, ’at wor just marlackin’, as you mud say.
But it’s gettin’ late, neebours; and I’m a bit shakken wi’ what we’ve
been going’ through. I’ll be shapin’ for home.”


                              CHAPTER XXI

                      IN WHICH EVENTS MOVE QUICKLY

WHEN Inman entered the kitchen and saw Baldwin seated in his chair
upon the hearth—a whipped, miserable dog with no spirit left in
him—his anger blazed forth with such sudden fierceness that the
inspector, who had found him cool and level-headed as they discussed the
disaster on the journey home, opened his eyes in amazement; and the
detective, a shrewd, kindly-looking man with little of the official
about him, observed the newcomer with keen professional interest.

Sobered and at the same time stunned by the magnitude of the disaster
that had overtaken him, Baldwin had remained all day in his chair upon
the hearth, oblivious for the most part to what was taking place around
him, and requiring to be roused like a dazed and drunken man when the
police plied him with questions.

Neither food nor drink had passed his lips since breakfast, though
Nancy’s heart had softened at sight of his dejection and she had made
him a cup of tea, and set it upon the grate at his side. It was there
still, untouched, an hour later, and Nancy sat and watched him, with her
baby on her knee, too humane and sympathetic to return to her room and
leave Keturah to face the trouble alone, for though the older woman’s
eyes were now dry they were red and swollen with the waters that had
passed over them before the fountain became exhausted.

At first sight of the pitiable, abject figure a black scowl leaped to
Inman’s brow and he crossed over to the rug and in a voice of
carefully-suppressed passion exclaimed:

“So this is what comes of your whisky-drinking, you drunken brute!
You’ve ruined me as well as yourself; foul-mouthed devil that you are!”

Baldwin raised his eyes but there was no sense of fear or resentment to
be seen in them, only hopeless misery. He was too utterly prostrated,
too benumbed by this culminating stroke of fate to feel the lash of
Inman’s tongue, much less to writhe under it, and all he could say was:

“Every penny ta’en! Every penny!”

“And whose fault is that?” Inman almost hissed. “Whose fault is it that
it wasn’t banked yesterday? Didn’t I warn you? Didn’t Jones? But you
were master and I was man, and there was that cursed bottle of rum to
finish! It serves me right for being fool enough to lend my money to a
drunken sot like you. I might as well have dropped three hundred pounds
down the drain, for your miserable bits o’ scrap metal’ll never fetch
two hundred!”

“Who’s ta’en it, I can’t think,” the other soliloquised wearily with his
eyes on Inman; “but every penny’s gone!”

Inman turned away with an impatient exclamation, and seeing the
detective, growled an apology for his outburst.

The man with the keen, kindly eyes was looking on him with what appeared
to be mild curiosity.

“I should like a few words with you in the office,” he said, and the
three men left the house.

“Yon man hasn’t much to learn from you and me, Harker,” said the
inspector, as the two officials motored back to headquarters a couple of
hours later. “The way he pumped those two women would have done credit
to a K.C.; and as for the old man—there won’t be much blood left in
him, I fancy, when that chap’s finished squeezing.”

“It strikes me _we’ve_ a deal to learn from this manager, or what he
calls himself,” said Mr. Harker dryly. He had made very few remarks so
far, though he had asked many questions.

“He’s evidently inclined to suspect this young fellow with the peculiar
handle to his name,” continued the inspector.

“Or, anyhow, very anxious that other people should suspect him!” From
Mr. Harker’s caustic tone it was easy to infer that Inman’s zeal had
left no favourable impression. “But he’s wasting his powder and shot.
The two men aren’t on good terms. Inman married this Jagger Drake’s
sweetheart, and it hasn’t turned out a love match, I understand. Since
then Jagger has thrashed our friend, and he’s still sore about it.
There’s more life in a hole like this than most folk think, Martin. All
the same, Jagger Drake hasn’t helped himself to this swag!”

It was evident that Detective Harker had been making good use of his
opportunities.

“Have you formed a theory?”

“Not a workable one, so far. To be quite frank, I could think the
business had been cooked, but I can’t at present see why or how. If I’m
right there’s only one man who can throw light on the subject, and he
won’t.”

“Meaning Inman?” The inspector’s voice betrayed quite as much scepticism
as interest.

“That man is one of the finest actors I’ve ever met,” the detective
answered quietly. “I should have suspected collusion between him and his
master; but that’s out of the question—the old man is no actor. This
job interests me, but it’ll have to be worked carefully. He’s a smart
man who’s helped himself to this rhino, whoever he is. I expect his
smartness’ll trip him up if we give him time.”

“They’re all a lot o’ bungling idiots,” Inman remarked to Nancy as the
car moved away. “They see what you tell ’em and what can’t be missed.
That Harker is half asleep. I suggested a Scotland Yard man to the
inspector, but he seemed huffed, so I dropped it.”

His tone was surly, but Nancy distinguished another note in it that she
did not quite understand; something between satisfaction and relief or a
mixture of both; something infinitely less harsh than she had expected.
She had been bracing herself for an angry encounter with her husband,
for there had been no mistaking the look he shot her when his minute
inquiries elicited the information that Hannah had spent the evening
with her. It had been a silent promissory-note for settlement at the
earliest opportunity, and had been accepted as such. Now that the
favourable moment had come, she was surprised and also relieved to find
that her husband’s mood had changed.

Inman had not forgotten, but it was his constant fate to be compelled by
considerations of what was prudent in his own interests to defer the
settlements from which he promised himself so much satisfaction. To hurt
his wife and through her sufferings to cut her lover to the quick was
one of the two absorbing passions that occupied his thoughts by day and
night. But when he was about to strike, self-interest always held his
arm. He had been sorely vexed that hitherto his threat to injure Jagger
had come to naught; it humiliated him to think that his rival was
laughing in his sleeve at the emptiness of the warning; but what could
he do so long as the two passions were at variance? Nancy held the purse
and the purse was deep. Until that had changed hands he was not master
of the situation; revenge must be deferred.

It may be questioned whether the prospect of vengeance does not afford
as great satisfaction as its accomplishment; it is at any rate certain
that Inman’s soul nourished itself upon foretastes and that the kindlier
note in his voice was the traitorous servant of his ill-intent.

There was a fire in the parlour and he took Nancy there, bidding Keturah
get Baldwin off to bed. The baby was sleeping on the sofa, and Inman
closed the door and stood with his back to the mantelpiece.

“What the deuce made you tell Hannah about the money?” he began. “I
should have expected you to have more sense.”

“I didn’t; she told me!” Nancy looked up from her sewing to see what
effect the denial had upon her husband.

“She told you!” The voice was incredulous, yet in spite of himself he
believed her, knowing that Nancy would never purchase pardon with a lie.

“All the village knew it,” she repeated quietly.

He stared at the head that was bent down again upon her work, and turned
over this new information in his mind.

“Then the devil must have been playing with the brass whilst I was at
the ‘Royal’!”

She said neither yes nor no, and his mouth tightened. He would have
liked to seize her by the shoulders and shake her out of her cold
complacency. The entire absence of any sense of fear, of any
apprehension of danger, stung him almost beyond his power of endurance;
but once again the stronger passion of greed held him in check.

“Haven’t they found any clue?” Nancy asked, when there had been silence
between them for some moments.

“_They_ haven’t,” he answered suggestively. “They haven’t an idea
between them. A set o’ wooden skittles, bowled over by any bungling
prentice that tries his hand at burglary—that’s what _they_ are. What
clue there is they won’t see when it’s pointed out to ’em. At any rate,
that fool of a detective won’t.”

“Then there _is_ a clue?” she asked, and the hot blood rushed to her
cheeks the more violently when she tried to restrain it. Her quick wit
told her that it was Jagger whom he suspected; and indignant words were
not far from her lips when her husband spoke.

“Whatever I think I’m not thinking out loud. If I hadn’t had so much
sense before, what’s just happened ’ud have taught me. Somebody who knew
it was there took it, that’s clear enough; and there are certain people
who are going to be watched.”

She was very angry, yet common-sense came to her help and warned her
that she would do well to restrain herself. After all, Jagger would
easily free himself of such a ridiculous suspicion; and for her to show
resentment would do him no good.

Inman guessed what was passing in his wife’s mind and added the incident
to the other stored-up memories which rankled in his mind and punished
him sorely; but for the moment nothing but gentleness could serve his
purpose, and he went on in a softer tone.

“Let it drop, lass. If I’m wronging anybody in my thoughts it’ll do ’em
no harm. There may be naught in it, but it’s my duty to you as well as
myself to look round and try to find a key ’at’ll fit t’ lock.

“But we’ll put it o’ one side; there’s other things have to be thought
about, and you and me’ll have to make our minds up. Baldwin’ll be made
bankrupt, that’s certain, but the shop’s yours, and the machinery’ll be
mine—ours, I should say; what are we going to do about it?”

She glanced up questioningly. This tone of sympathetic plain speaking
appealed to the best in her nature and partially deceived her. Like a
flash the suggestion presented itself that life with this man need not
after all be the intolerable burden she had feared, even though love
might be wanting; that she had perhaps mistaken anxiety for coldness and
absence of mind for callousness.

“Is it too late to save him?” she asked.

She looked up quickly as she spoke, and the sight of her husband’s face
dismissed at once all her mocking fancies.

“To save——?” Inman’s mouth opened in astonishment; but immediately
took on curves of disdain as he replied:

“Don’t talk like a fool, Nancy! We’ve thrown enough into that muck-heap,
and now we’ve got to think about ourselves. Baldwin wouldn’t have
considered twice about sending you to the devil—let him go there
himself! He’ll be made bankrupt, I tell you, and there won’t be more’n a
few shillings in the pound for his creditors. The question is, am I to
take the business over, or what?”

He played with his silver watch-chain, waiting for an answer, but not
looking into his wife’s face, and Nancy speedily made up her mind.

For better or worse she had tied herself to the man, and whatever his
qualities as a husband, there could be no question of his business
ability. If she were to thwart him by withholding her money, what
purpose would she serve? Would she not indeed be sowing for herself the
seeds of certain trouble? The more time her husband devoted to business
the less there would be to spend with her. Let the machinery be kept
running there, and the wheels of their domestic life would probably run
smoothly.

“I don’t doubt but what you’ll make things hum,” she said, and although
there was no enthusiasm in the tone, a look of satisfaction came into
Inman’s eyes as he recognised the implication of the tense she had
employed.

“Lend me the money,” he replied, “and I’ll make this the best country
business in Craven. I’ll——But it’s no use dreaming dreams; I’ve
thought this thing out and I know what I can do. I can make you rich in
a few years, Nancy!”

“Can you?” Nancy had better have withheld the exclamation or have
uttered it with less meaning, for its weary note told a story with which
Inman was already too familiar; but the contraction of brow was only
momentary, and he forced himself to laugh.

“Never mind! You shall see! And you shall have five per cent. for pin
money as we go along.”

Nancy smiled, not realising what damage that runaway sigh had done her,
not suspecting the volcanic anger that was hidden beneath her husband’s
smooth words.

“Do as you like,” she said. “Leave me a couple of hundreds in the bank
and you can have the rest.”

It was better than he had expected, but he veiled his gratification and
appeared to hesitate.

“I shall be able to manage,” he said finally. “I should like to launch
out, but we’ll talk it over again when I’ve had a chat with the bank
manager. It ’ud pay you to sell your investments; but there’s always the
property for additional security, of course. Besides, I’m not captain
yet. Baldwin’s still on the bridge.”

He laughed and stretched himself. Nancy wondered if he would kiss her if
only on the forehead, as he had been wont to do when she had happened to
please him, though not since his child had come. She half hoped he would
not; yet when he left the room with no word of farewell her spirits
sank.

“He _does_ hate me,” she said to herself. “Well, after all, it makes no
difference. We must live as well as we can!”

A month later the business became Inman’s. He had not spared his master
in the evidence he had been called upon to give, and Baldwin had been
severely lectured by Registrar, Official Receiver and various crabbed
lawyers, each of whom was at pains to point out that by refusing to take
the advice of such a counsellor as his foreman—a counsellor, who, as
the Official Receiver remarked, had been a veritable
god-out-of-the-machine if Baldwin had not been too pig-headed and
intemperate to make use of him—he had brought himself and his creditors
into this unenviable position. The Registrar complimented Inman on his
devotion to duty and expressed his sympathy with him in the loss of so
much of his savings. It was true, he said, that bills of sale were not
regarded with favour by the Court, but he quite recognised that in this
case it had been regarded more or less as a formality, and the readiest,
if not the only method of partially securing the loan.

Baldwin, too broken already on the wheel of fortune to suffer any
further pain from the hard blow he received, left the Court an
undischarged bankrupt, and Inman by arrangement with the Official
Receiver, obtained the goodwill of the business at a merely nominal
figure, and the goodwill of the unsecured creditors for nothing at all.

It was the afternoon of Christmas Eve before the last formality was
completed that left Inman master of the wrecked ship, and he hurried
home to deal promptly with his predecessor.

The evening meal was being cleared away when he got down from the trap
in which he had been driven from the station and strode into the
kitchen. Nancy rose in order to brew some fresh tea, and he recognised
her purpose.

“Sit still, Nancy,” he said. There was a changed note in his voice that
only Baldwin failed to recognise. “Keturah’ll have to work for her
living if she stops on here, and there’s no need for my wife to bark if
we keep a dog. Get up, Keturah, and mash my tea.”

“I’ll make it myself, James,” said Nancy, as Keturah seemed paralysed by
this unexpected attack; but Inman bade her be seated.

“Keturah’ll either do as she’s told,” he said, with an ugly look about
his mouth and an ominous glitter in his eyes; “or she’ll find fresh
lodgings along with her brother. Baldwin leaves here to-night, and I’m
not very particular if Keturah goes with him—they’ve both eaten the
bread o’ idleness long enough at my expense. You needn’t open your
mouth, Nancy,” he went on with a rough composure that was more
discomfiting than anger. “I’m master here, and master I’m going to be.
Keturah can stop, I say, if she likes, and I’ll pay her wages; but she
stops as servant. There’ll be no more whining and crying about ‘fine
ladies’—I’ll see to that. Baldwin finds fresh quarters and finds ’em
to-night. I’ve no use for him.”

Keturah’s apron was over her face by this time, but harsh words and hard
looks put new spirit into Baldwin, who for the first time in all these
weeks rose to his feet in a passion and called to his help the oaths he
had neglected in his dejection.

It was to no purpose. Inman pushed him from him with a rough touch that
was almost a blow.

“Carry your dirty talk outside, you hound!” he said. Then with a sneer
that disfigured his face, he added: “I’ve taken over your motto with the
business, Baldwin—‘all for my-sen.’ Both the motto and the business are
good, but they’ve got to be worked with gumption, d’you see? And they’re
going to be. You’re in my way now, and you’ve got to get out. I’m going
to do by you what you’d ha’ done by me. Does that get past your thick
skull?”

Keturah was wailing aloud, and he turned on her fiercely and bade her be
silent. Nancy, white, and with lips tightly compressed, was gripping the
sides of her chair, her eyes fixed on her husband, her brain busily
employed in considering what was best to be done, and reaching no
conclusion.

Baldwin’s rebellion had been a mere gust, and the storm subsided as
quickly as it had arisen.

“Where can I go?” he faltered, as he looked dully into the eyes that
were turned contemptuously upon him.

“To hell—or the Union! Who else’ll have you?”

“James!” Nancy faced her husband with hot indignation flashing from the
eyes that looked fearlessly into his. “How can you say such things, and
on Christmas Eve, too! You’ve punished him enough—only a brute ’ud kick
a man so hard when he’s down!”

She turned to Baldwin, and laid a reassuring hand on his shoulder. “Take
no notice of him,” said she soothingly. “He doesn’t mean it! He’s just
getting a bit of his own back!”

“Don’t I?” said her husband, as he disengaged her hand with a grip that
hurt. “I’ll show you whether I mean it or not. Get away to the other
baby and leave the brute to his work—get away, I say!”

She had clenched her free fist and beaten the hand that held her; but
she was powerless, and he raised her from her feet and almost flung her
into the parlour.

“I’m master here,” he said. “There isn’t room for two. You’d better shut
yourself in for your own comfort.”

A little while later Baldwin knocked timidly at Maniwel’s door.


                              CHAPTER XXII

                  IN WHICH BALDWIN FINDS NEW LODGINGS

THE cottage by the bridge contrasted strongly with Nancy’s home. Two
or three gaily coloured mottoes suitable to the season had been tacked
to the wall, and a couple of attractive almanacks recently distributed
by enterprising tradesmen in advance of the New Year, bore them company,
and diverted attention from the framed funeral cards which grannie
regarded with an owner’s mournful pride, and Hannah with an impatient
contempt that was manifested every time she dusted them. Sprigs of
holly, bright with scarlet berries, peeped from the vases on the
mantelpiece, lay between the plates and dishes on the rack above the
dresser, and were wreathed about the faded face of the grandfather’s
clock in the corner. Grandfather’s? Great-great-grandfather’s, grannie
would have told you, for it had ticked away in her grandsire’s time, and
even then the cow upon the dial (which was now a mere ghost of a cow,
and a badly dismembered ghost, too!) was losing its horns and tail.
There were other sprigs upon the window-ledge but these could not be
seen because the blind was drawn. There was, however, no mistletoe, for
Hannah was thirty-one and the “baleful plant” was among the childish
things she had put away.

Because it was Christmas Eve, Maniwel and Jagger had knocked off work at
five o’clock, although business was brisk, and the younger man made it
his only recreation, rarely leaving the shop until the supper-hour
struck. Even now, as he sat with his head in his hands at the table, he
was studying plans, and Hannah looked across at her father, who was deep
in a book, and then turned to grannie.

“I wish to goodness t’ Sperrit ’ud move someb’dy to talk!” she said. “I
should be fain of a few more young’uns to sing for us, for all they
bring a lot o’ muck in. It’s fair wearisome sitting by t’ hour together,
same as we were a lot o’ mutes.”

“Nay, I don’t know about that, lass,” replied the old woman. “I was
never one for a deal o’ chattering myself, and there’s awlus a deal to
think about. I can pass my time nicely wi’ them ’at’s gone, for they
were a better breed i’ my young days nor what we’ve getten now.”

“And whose fault is that?” inquired Maniwel, who had not been too
absorbed in his book to overhear what was said. “Who brought these we’ve
got now into t’ world? There’s a bit i’ t’ Book ’at you must ha’ missed,
where it reads ’at we’re not to talk about t’ former days being better
than our own, ’cause there’s no sense in it. What about t’ mischief
nights ’at father used to tell about, when they lifted t’ gates off o’
their hinges, and stole t’ goose out o’ t’ larder, and such like tricks
at Christmas time? You’d look well if they were to fetch to-morrow’s
dinner while you were abed, mother.”

“I should happen miss it less nor some,” replied the old woman placidly.
“I reckon naught o’ bits o’ marlacks same as them. Lads is lads, and
mischief comes nat’ral to ’em; and if there’s less on’t now it’s ’cos
they haven’t t’ sperrit they used to have, let t’ Book say what it
will.”

Maniwel looked across at his mother with great good-humour. He knew that
her grumblings were not very sincere, and that she was probably happier
than she had been in the old days that had been drab enough until the
sunset tints of life’s eventide fell upon them. She spent the greater
part of her time now dreaming dreams, and it pleased him to rouse her,
and see the light of battle shine feebly in her eye again.

“Nay, mother,” he said; “you’ll wriggle loose choose how fast we tie you
up. I never saw such a woman—why you’re as slippy as an eel. When
there’s a bit o’ mischief goes on i’ t’ village you shake your head and
think t’ Owd Lad’s got us on his fork; and when there isn’t, you say ’at
we’re short o’ sperrit and t’ world’s going back’ards way! It’s heads
win and tails loses every time!”

“I say grannie’s right!” Jagger had turned on his chair and was
stretching out his long legs on the rug. He was a different man from the
one who had sat there so disconsolately twelve months before. Little by
little he had shaken off the melancholy that had enwrapped him and had
clothed himself in his father’s mantle of tranquillity. But even yet the
garment lacked the trimmings that beautified the older man’s and made it
conspicuous—cheerfulness and breezy optimism were missing. In their
stead was a fixed determination to take things quietly as they came, and
to push vigorously along the path he had mapped out for himself. The
encounter with Inman which had been deplored by the father as a mistake
in tactics as well as an evidence of the existence of “old Adam” had
given the son much satisfaction. Inman might sneer as he
liked—everybody for miles round knew that he had been laid out by his
rival, and the defeated man had no sympathisers. Jagger felt that it was
good for his self-respect to have that victory to his account, and he
had held himself more erect and viewed the world more hopefully ever
since.

“_I_ say grannie’s right!” he said. “Shifting gates once a year, and
lifting a goose or two for a lark, are just lads’ tricks—mischief ’at
means naught. But when grown men plan out Mischief Nights a toathri
times a month it looks as if the Old Lad _had_ somebody on his fork, and
if I could just catch him I’d shove t’ fork that far in he wouldn’t get
off again easy!”

“I’ll warrant you, lad,” said his father, and the two men’s eyes met.
“I’d like to see you with a grip on his collar myself.”

“It wouldn’t take long neither,” returned Jagger significantly. “There’s
only one in this village ’at’s as clever as the devil himself, and as
black-hearted; but he’ll go a step too far one o’ these days.”

“Sure enough! Them ’at dig pits are like to fall in ’em. If it goes on
much longer, lad, we shall have to watch.”

“Aye, but it’s more’n a man can do to work all t’ day and watch all t’
night. Let him be!” Jagger spoke as if the anticipated pleasure of
seeing Nemesis at work outweighed all the grievous afflictions which
were but for a moment.

Certainly the succession of trifling mishaps that had at first
half-amused, half-enraged the village and had latterly aroused a large
measure of resentment, had been conceived and carried out with such
impish ingenuity as to convince a small minority that the culprit must
be one of a gang of rough lads from Kirkby Mawm who were well-known to
belong to the devil’s household brigade of mischief-makers. It was hard
to believe that any grown man would take pleasure in changing the labels
on the Drakes’ oil-cans as they stood on the cart in the carrier’s shed
ready for despatch, so that the man who was waiting for boiled oil found
himself supplied with linseed, and the farmwife whose stock of paraffin
had run out stamped her foot in wrath when thick lubricating oil began
to pour from the neck of the tin. After that, of course, the carrier
boarded up his shed; but he might have saved himself the expense for the
rascal was too wise to return upon his tracks.

It looked a lad’s trick, too, when the door at the Grange which Maniwel
had painted white was seen in the morning to be covered with soot and
the sweep’s bag lying on the ground a few yards away: when Farmer
Lambert’s new cart was dragged from the Drakes’ painting shed during the
night and its coat of gorgeous scarlet ruined by the rain which had
fallen in torrents. There was some division of opinion, I repeat, on the
question of authorship; but there was none on the market value of Police
Constable Stalker as an officer of the law, which it was unanimously
agreed could hardly be lower.

Whether or no Inman was aware that he was regarded with suspicion by any
of his neighbours he bore himself at this time with a detached and
contemptuous air that was his best defence; and he offered a simple
explanation of each mishap as it occurred that always drew a waverer or
two to his side.

“Just another piece of blooming carelessness,” he would say with a shrug
of the shoulders. “They’re both of ’em half-asleep most o’ their time.”

The subtle poison worked, if only slowly; and even those who were
well-disposed to the Drakes and ready to lay the charge at Inman’s door
began to wonder if it was quite safe to entrust their jobs to a firm
whose operations were attended with such bad luck. Fortunately Mr.
Harris remained their constant friend, and work had never yet been
scant.

In the policeman Inman found a staunch ally. Every hint that was dropped
by the crafty plotter with a sportive humour that concealed itself
behind a mask of cynical unconcern was accepted and acted upon by
Stalker as if it had been a divine revelation. Nothing, of course, could
have served Inman’s purpose better; and he controlled the constable’s
movements to an extent that would have surprised the sergeant, who was
kept in blissful ignorance of these trifling occurrences. Stalker had no
qualms of conscience because he was quite certain that he was on the
track of a criminal, and that with Inman’s unobtrusive help he would one
day lay his hands upon him. For this reason the coldness or abuse of the
villagers made as little impression upon him as their scorn. He was a
dull and easily-befooled officer; but he had learned that if the law
moved slowly, it also moved majestically, and he could bide his time. He
accepted the suggestion of his prompter that these mishaps to the Drakes
were all arranged by Jagger himself to throw dust in his eyes and divert
his attention from the weightier matter of the robbery; and he was
determined to take good care that the device should not succeed.

All this, of course, was not known to the Drakes; but both father and
son had a shrewd suspicion of how matters stood, though their attitude
towards the suspect differed materially. When Jagger said, therefore:
“Let him be!” the look that accompanied the injunction was more
expressive than the words.

“Twelve months since,” said Hannah with sisterly satisfaction, “you’d
ha’ been ready to creep into your grave over t’ job. It isn’t all to t’
bad.”

“Not by a long way,” added the father. “I’m o’ Jagger’s way o’ thinking,
and I lay all t’ blame for this mischief on yon lad; but choose what
harm he’s done he’s made a man o’ Jagger, so we’ve no ’casion to be over
hard on him. He’ll tire o’ these kids’ tricks i’ time, and maybe repent
on ’em. As for getting hold of his throttle, it ’ud suit me better to
get hold of his ’at has him on t’ fork.”

“There isn’t a ha’porth o’ difference between ’em,” said Jagger
emphatically.

“Yes, there’s this much,” corrected his father; “’at t’ Old Lad’s i’ t’
sperrit and t’ young lad’s i’ t’ flesh, and while a man’s i’ t’ flesh
there’s hope for him; and I’d sooner break t’ lad off his bad ways than
I’d break his back for him. T’ devil knows a good hammer when he sees
it, and a good hammer’s a good friend if we could steal it away. I could
like to do that bit o’ thieving.”

“They’ve black hearts that comes off o’ that black moor,” said grannie,
shaking her head in deprecation of her son’s optimism; but he laughed
the implication away.

“There’s few black hearts ’at’s fast dye, mother. They’ll wash clean,
and if we could get t’ sun to ’em they’d maybe bleach.”

It was uneven warfare, for they were all against him. Grannie shook her
head and muttered to herself; Hannah told her father he didn’t know his
man, and proceeded to enlighten him by recalling incidents which she
assumed he had forgotten and Jagger listened with an expression of
tolerant amusement until his sister had finished, when he said—

“It’s Christmas time, Hannah. There’s to be peace and goodwill, you
understand! a sort of a truce: God and t’ devil sitting down at one
table!”

He spoke in a tone of good-tempered derision, but avoided his father’s
eye in which he would have seen an unexpected look of humour.

“Now, that’s smart, isn’t it? You’ve wiped the floor wi’ your old dad
this time! I suppose you never heard o’ God and t’ devil sitting down
together? Reach t’ Book across, Hannah!”

He found at once the passage he wanted and read—

“Jesus answered them. Have not I chosen you twelve, and one of you is a
devil? He spake of Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon: for he it was that
should betray Him, being one of the twelve.”

He paused and glanced across at his son; but meeting with no response,
turned over the leaves of the Book and read again—

“And when He had dipped the sop He gave it to Judas Iscariot, the son of
Simon.”

He handed the book back to Hannah, and gazed steadily at Jagger.

“That was t’ last time, lad. How oft do you think He’d supped wi’ him
before?”

“He didn’t cure him,” said Jagger who was secretly proud of his father’s
ready wit, though not willing to acknowledge defeat; “Judas was a rank
wrong ’un, same as Inman: one o’ them you can’t cure.”

“I don’t know whether He cured him or He didn’t,” replied Maniwel; “but
I’ve always had an idea ’at Judas rued when he found ’at he’d gone ower
far, and there’s never no telling what drove him to put t’ rope round
his neck.”

“I could wish Inman ’ud get as far as that,” said Jagger flippantly.

“If I thought you weren’t lying, lad,” Maniwel replied sternly after
looking at him searchingly for a moment; “I should be ashamed of you.
The Lord pity you if it’s true!”

Jagger flushed and Hannah took up arms in his defence.

“You must remember what he’s had to put up with, father; more’n you and
me. There isn’t many ’ud have taken it so quietly!”

“That may be, lass, and I’m not denying it; but it ’ud grieve me to
think ’at Jagger was a murderer in his heart—”

“Sure-_ly_ there’s someb’dy knocking!” said grannie whose head had been
bent towards the door during this admonition.

“I heard naught,” said Hannah, but she rose and went to the door. “There
is someb’dy!” she said as she raised the latch and opened it; “Why, it’s
Mr. Briggs!”

“Baldwin!” Maniwel was on his feet in an instant—“Bring him in, lass!”

It was a scared and pitiable figure that stepped hesitatingly into the
cheerful light, and leaned against the dresser. An old workshop cap
remained forgotten on his head, and the worn coat was that in which he
had been accustomed to do his roughest work. Very old and frail he
looked as his dull eyes fixed themselves on Maniwel, and the hands that
hung straight down moved tremulously.

“He’s turned me out, Maniwel!”

It was almost a cry: it was certainly an appeal, though the words were
not so eloquent as the eyes.

“Turned tha out!” repeated Maniwel incredulously. “What does tha mean
Inman?”

Hannah was still holding the door ajar; but catching her brother’s eye
she closed it. Jagger had risen too, and was standing with his back to
the fire, a frown overspreading his face.

“Turned me out, Maniwel, to fend for my-sen! I mud go to t’ Union, he
said, or to t’ devil!”

“Tha did right to come here, lad,” said Maniwel, unconscious of any
humour in the remark. “You’ve been having a toathri words I reckon.
He’ll come round, tha’ll see, after a bit. Come and sit tha down by t’
fire and tha shalt have a bit o’ supper wi’ us.”

Baldwin did not move. His eyes wandering vacantly round the room had
found Jagger and were resting there with no change of expression, but
with a fixity that made the young man uncomfortable.

“Take your cap off, Mr. Briggs, and come nearer t’ fire,” said
Hannah—though she anticipated the action by removing it herself. “Why,
you’re fair dithering wi’ cold! Come now, t’ kettle’s on t’ boil, and
I’ll soon have a cup o’ tea ready.”

He suffered her to lead him to the hearth and to place him in her
father’s chair; but he still stared at Jagger as if something beneath
his consciousness was seeking to determine whether the young man was to
be regarded as friend or foe.

Grannie looked across and smiled, for she was old enough to forget
readily grievances that were not her own.

“Nay, Baldwin,” she said; “this is like owd times!”

“So it is, mother,” said her son heartily. “He’s a bit upset just now,
and his breath’s been ta’en; but when he’s swallowed a drink o’ tea
he’ll feel himself, you’ll see!”

Baldwin removed his eyes to Maniwel’s face, and a look of returning
intelligence appeared there.

“We’ve had no words, lad,” he said. “He’s getten t’ business, that’s
all, so I’ve to shift—at my age, and it’ll be Christmas to-morrow. Damn
him, Maniwel!”

“Nay, lad,” said the other sadly, “neither thee nor me’s no ’casion to
do that, for he’s damning himself, I’m flayed. We’ll see what he’s like
i’ t’ morning: we’re none that short o’ room but what we can put tha up
for a night; aye, and for good, if it comes to that. Tha needn’t dream
about t’ Union, Baldwin, nor t’ devil, neither. What say you, Jagger?”

“He can stay for aught I care,” replied his son, though the concession
lacked graciousness.

“You hear that!” Maniwel dulled his perceptions to the want of warmth.
“My bed’ll hold two, but tha’ll happen sleep better by thiself, and t’
sofa’ll hold me nicely....”

“He’ll have my bed,” said Jagger, “so that’s settled.” Then he went over
to his father and looked hard in his face.

“Didn’t I tell you he was a devil?” he said; and Maniwel did not find
the inquiry ambiguous.


                             CHAPTER XXIII

                     IN WHICH NANCY IS OVERWHELMED

ALTHOUGH the excitements of a moorland village are ordinarily few in
number and mild in quality they are of sturdy habit when they do occur,
and too well cared for to die of inanition like the starved and
overcrowded sensations of the towns.

Rumour which flies on swift wing in the busy centres and is quickly
chased away by denial, finds a comfortable breeding-ground in the lonely
places, and is cherished by the natives, who regard it as a veritable
bird of paradise with a voice of which only the echo is heard.

Moreover a village is not as accommodating as a town; and the farther it
is removed from industrial influences the less likely is it to view any
sudden change with the philosophic calm which lowers its voice to
whisper “The King is dead!” and forthwith raises it to shout “Long live
the King!”

Mawm furnished an illustration of both these facts. Baldwin Briggs had
been a fixture in the village: a piece of grit hewn out of the side of
their own bleak hills and therefore naturally rough and unyielding—even
coarse. Nobody had cared for him very much, for there had been in his
nature none of the kindliness that either begets or responds to
kindliness; yet there had been no marked aversion on the part of his
neighbours, who were aware that all sorts of natures like all sorts of
rock enter into the composition of a world.

If the truth may be told most of his acquaintances were secretly pleased
when news came that Baldwin had lost a considerable portion of his
money; and even when it was seen that the disaster was of greater
magnitude than they had realised their attitude suffered little change.
He had always made them uneasily conscious of his superiority as a man
of means; the crash brought down the millstone grit from its proud
position among the clouds to the level of the humbler and commoner
limestone, and gave to every villager whom he had cursed or snubbed a
comfortable sense of nearer equality. Providence was avenging these
insults: it was not for them to find fault with Providence.

When, however, the shock developed into an earthquake: when Providence
took the unwelcome shape of this foreigner, Inman; Mawm scowled and
muttered. To be driven from the devil he knew to the deep sea he
distrusted was an experience no man had bargained for; and when the
devil was such a broken-spirited boggart as Baldwin, the villagers’
sympathies warmed towards the man who was bone of their bone; for after
all there is a vast difference between a devil and a poor devil.

Baldwin, then, found not only Maniwel, but the bulk of his neighbours
well-disposed when with the foundering of his ship he lost all that he
had, and was so utterly beggared that even heart and hope—salvage which
many ship-wrecked souls manage to bear away with them, and with which
they find life still worth living—went with the rest. They greeted him
in friendly fashion when they met (which was indeed seldom for he
shunned society) but he responded with a scarcely perceptible nod and
kept his eyes on the ground until they had passed.

“It’ll go agen t’ grain, having to take his orders thro’ Maniwel and
Jagger, an’ living on their charity, as you mud say”—this was the
universal opinion, freely expressed and with much wise head-shaking: a
very natural conclusion.

It was incorrect. In the hour of his calamity Baldwin came to himself
and clung with a pitiful and almost childish sense of security to the
friend of his youth. Like the seeds in Arctic soil which have been
quickened into life by the warmth of some explorer’s camp fire and have
forced their tender shoots through the hard crust of earth, an
unsuspected virtue quickened in Baldwin, who by his actions—for words
failed him—showed himself grateful.

The dog-like look in his eyes made Maniwel uneasy and Jagger irritable.

“Come, come!” the father would say, “Tha owes us naught! Tha’rt working
for thi’ living, aren’t tha?” and the young man would growl out that it
pleased him to think they had taken the wind out of “yon beggar’s”
sails.

It was indeed a thought that comforted Jagger and compensated for much
that was not agreeable, that by his ungenerous and even brutal action
Inman had over-reached himself, alienating the sympathies of those who
had been growing more favourably disposed towards him and deepening the
dislike of the rest, so that he was left for a while almost without
customers. Inman himself recognised his mistake, and was vexed and
disconcerted, though he turned an unperturbed face to the world, saving
his ill-humour for his wife, whom he made to suffer vicariously for this
cunning move of Maniwel’s as he chose to regard it.

He was not the man, however, to be disheartened by one repulse, and he
had sufficient knowledge of human nature to realise that the coolness of
his neighbours would gradually disappear as they accustomed themselves
to the changed conditions, and that the best way to secure their trade
was to make adequate preparations for turning out good and expeditious
work. None of the workpeople had left him and he made it his first
business to secure their favour by treating them well. The interval of
stagnation was filled by painting the premises and making improvements
in the shop. Within a fortnight a new machine was installed; before a
month had passed two others followed; and everybody knew that the new
proprietor was going to make a bid for trade on a large scale. Little
wonder if, with such ample stores of warp and woof to draw upon, report
and rumour worked as busily as a weaver’s shuttle, and produced a pile
of material which the villagers cut and shaped according to their skill
and judgment.

This, however, was not all. The sensation caused by the robbery and its
dramatic sequel in Baldwin’s downfall was still keen when a new crop of
rumours arose simultaneously with a change in the weather. Up to now the
landscape had been wrapped in its thick warm mantle of snow, and for
weeks on end the occupants of the scattered farms on the uplands had
been compelled to shut themselves up in their snug kitchens and turn
over and over again such scraps of spirit-stirring news as reached them
from the throbbing centre of their world—this moorland metropolis of
Mawm.

It was towards the middle of January that the weather broke, and a rapid
thaw was followed by torrential rains and wild winds that swept over the
moors from the south-west and washed every secret crevice of the
Pennines.

On one of the wildest and darkest of these nights a man of the far moors
whose thirst for good ale and good company had kept him at the
“Packhorse” until closing-time, and who had then accepted Swithin’s
invitation to accompany him to the shippen in the Long Close where he
had a heifer to dispose of, had an experience on his homeward journey
that sent him down to the inn again the next night, and made him for a
short time the most important figure upon the stage.

Briefly the story he told was this.

As he was making his way over the fields in the direction of Gordel and
the Girston road he “plumped fair into a fellow” who was walking towards
him, and who uttered an impatient exclamation at the encounter. Job
wished to know what the hangment he was doing there at that time of
night; but received no answer, unless a suggestion that the questioner
should betake himself to the devil could be regarded in that light. As
the stranger was in Job’s words, “a likelier-looking chap” than himself
and might for anything he knew be armed, as ill-disposed night prowlers
were reported to be, he thought it prudent not to continue longer than
was necessary in the man’s company, so wished him “Good night” as a
measure of precaution and made his way as quickly as possible to the
road.

Arrived there curiosity got the better of other impulses and he stood
and looked over the Close; and as sure as he was sitting on the bench of
that bar-parlour a glimmer of light had caught his eye in the distance:
a light that had moved up and down in the neighbourhood of the shippen
for about a quarter of an hour and had then disappeared.

Job, like the rest of the company, was hopeful that Swithin would be
able to put two and two together.

Swithin, however, was unfriendly and discouraging.

“I saw nowt o’ no tramp,” he replied. “Job found a mare’s nest. Some
fella’ll ha’ been taking a short cut to t’ high road, and Job’ll ha’
seen t’ light of my lantern through a chink i’ t’ shippen.”

“Chinks doesn’t move up and down an’ back’ards an’ forrads same as a
chap was seeking his gallus button,” returned Job doggedly: and Swithin
turned on him with a fierceness that seemed out of all proportion to the
occasion.

“His gallus button! What does tha mean?” he asked almost menacingly.

“It was only a figger o’ speech,” Job answered surlily; at a loss to
know how he had aroused the old man’s ire.

“Then keep your figgers o’ speech and your daft boggart tales to
yourself,” growled Swithin.

“You’ve no ’casion to cut up so rough ’cos I didn’t fancy t’ heifer,”
said Job hotly; and disappointed that his communication had been
received so coolly, he soon took his departure.

The report spread, rumour companied with it; statements credible and
incredible multiplied; a mysterious stranger of sinister appearance who
lurked in the shadows and was never seen by day was believed in by every
villager except Inman and Swithin. The old man was particularly
incredulous and aggravatingly sarcastic. The word “daft” was always on
his lips; but the evidence of things not seen was good enough for the
generality, and faith in the obscure alien was almost universal.

Police Constable Stalker was not numbered with the believers. Whether it
was that Inman’s scepticism had influenced him or that the evidence was
not of the kind that is accepted in a police-court, he remained as
scornful and sceptical as Swithin himself. When his detractors ventured
to suggest that it was his business to lay the ghost or lay hands on it
he had one ready reply that reduced them to silence—

“A man can’t be everywhere at once!” he said. “We shall have to see if
we can’t arrange for a few ‘specials!’”

It was not until January had usurped February’s prerogative by filling
the dykes to overflowing that the weather moderated. Three days of
brilliant sunshine ushered in the year’s second month: three spring-like
days when the grass beside the swollen river lost its grey winterly look
and lay yellow-green in the warm sunlight.

Nancy, her well-shawled baby in her arms, left her home in the early
afternoon to walk for a while in the crisp, sweetly-scented air. The
footbridge near the house was under water so she turned down the road
and crossed the green in front of the “Packhorse,” at that hour deserted
of customers. From the doorway of the inn Albert threw her a pleasant
greeting.

“A grand day, Nancy! It’s good to see you about again. Have you ought i’
your poke you want to sell?”

“You haven’t money enough to buy, Albert,” she replied readily.

“Is that so?” he went on with affected astonishment. “These pedigree
pups does cost a sight o’ brass, I know!”

She smiled and passed on; but the words in their careless humour had
struck her heart like a blow. “These pedigree pups!” What was her
child’s pedigree? “By James Inman ex Nancy Clegg!” The burden she was
carrying that had been so light a moment or so before grew suddenly
heavy, and she was conscious of an aching arm. The sunshine that had
shed its radiance upon her spirits was blotted out by this leaden cloud,
and she was conscious of an aching heart. The wild grandeur of nature,
the wind-swept hills that she had thought to look upon with so much
pleasure, mocked her with a sense of harshness and stony indifference.
They were old—hoary with age: of what concern to them were the sorrows
of the puny mortals who came and went in the grey hamlet that sheltered
at their feet, and who were soon buried in the earth and forgotten? With
what fervent heat she had loved them! how cold they were to her!

Mechanically she drew the knitted wrap further across the sleeping
child’s face—in order to protect it from the frost the action said; but
as her heart told her, so that she might not see her husband’s features
reproduced on a smaller scale.

Her heart spoke and she listened. Immediately there came a revulsion of
feeling as sudden and tempestuous as the gales that leap full-grown from
the secret places of the mountains, and she pulled the wrap back and
raised the little head to her lips.

“My precious!” she said.

He opened his eyes and smiled into hers, gurgling his appreciation of
the light that shone there and the comfort of her arms; and not a shadow
lingered on her face. All the optimism of mother-love, all the brave
predictions that a woman associates with her first-born boy helped to
drive the black mood back. The child was her one comfort: the bow God’s
mercy had set in the cloud to show that her sinful folly had not doomed
her to utter despair. He was hers to mould and train as she would, for
her husband cared nothing for him,—she could almost thank God that it
was so—and they two would be companions in the days that lay ahead,
roaming the wild moors together and climbing to the very summits of the
mountains. She laughed aloud as in fancy she heard his laugh—the laugh
of the agile lad who makes fun of his mother’s tardiness; she lived in a
paradise of the future: a paradise ready-made on those bleak, grey
uplands, which were no longer frosty and heartless and old, but young
and bright as the spring-time....

She had gone far enough along the Tarn road—too far, indeed, for her
strength—and she turned back. The baby river, a good distance below,
seemed to her unusually loud and boisterous. The noise of its roaring
echoed strangely from the sides of old Cawden on whose lower slopes the
path she was treading ran. She would have noticed it more if her
forehead had not been buried so often against the soft flesh of her
baby’s neck. It was not until she reached the point where the Tarn road
joins that from Gordel that she became aware that the sound of rushing
water came not from the river below but from the hill above.

I have said already that the neighbourhood of Mawm is famous for its
natural curiosities; but of all the phenomena connected with it there is
none more remarkable than that which is associated with the hamlet’s
guardian hill.

At irregular intervals (for the action is uncertain and governed by
undiscovered causes) there pours from the foot of Cawden and from a
usually dry outlet a flood of water which has cut a deep channel at the
foot of the somewhat steep bank that flanks one side of the Gordel road
at this point. The bank shelves down to the Tarn road, and there the
torrent discharges itself upon the roadway, raging along its improvised
bed on its mad rush to the river with such force that the road is not
infrequently washed bare to the rock. For several hours the flood may
continue, and subside as quickly as it arose; and years may elapse
before there is any return of the eruption.

It was one of these capricious outbursts with which Nancy was now
confronted, and her passage was stopped by the sheet of water that
spread over the junction of the two roads for a considerable area and
was of uncertain depth. One glance told her that she must not attempt to
ford the stream there, and a second showed her that there was an easy
alternative. She had only to walk a few steps up the green and it would
be a simple matter to leap from the bank to the road, for the water was
still confined to its deep but narrow channel.

Not a soul was in sight though she heard men’s voices not far away. No
anticipation of difficulty troubled her, however; she could almost
stride across such an insignificant chasm; and she quickened her steps
in order to accomplish the movement before those who were approaching
should be at hand to poke fun at her.

That unnecessary haste was fatal. The bank was soft and muddy, and her
shoe caught in it as she jumped. She reached the other side but fell
back, and the baby was swept from her arms....

They carried her home, senseless: some said dead, like the infant which
Jagger bore in his arms. It was he and Jack Pearce whose voices Nancy
had heard. It was he who ran and seized the child but could not save its
fragile life. When they reached the village women pressed forward to
look on the white face of the mother, but gave no thought to the bairn
which might have been sleeping, for aught they knew, on Jagger’s breast.

The whole place was astir by the time they came to the bridge, and as
the procession of bearers and followers passed up the street Inman was
seen striding towards it. At sight of him Jagger hurried forward.

“Nancy’s stunned!” he explained. “She fell crossing t’ stream up above
yonder. She may ha’ hurt her head; but I doubt it isn’t that—t’ baby’s
dead: drowned!”

Without a word Inman took the child upon his own arm and turned
homewards. Jagger hesitated. A few yards separated them from the nearest
of the crowd.

“I’m downright sorry, lad!” he said with an effort.

“To the devil with your sorrow!” Inman answered; and Jagger left him.


                              CHAPTER XXIV

              IN WHICH INMAN’S POPULARITY IS SEEN TO WAVER

THERE were those in Mawm who said that with the death of his child
Inman experienced a change of heart, but what really happened was that
he seized the occasion when the sympathies of his neighbours were yet
warm towards him to ingratiate himself with them by an appearance of
thankfulness and goodwill. He was, as the clear-sighted detective had
decided, a superb actor; and he was quick to perceive that in this
misfortune there was a providential opportunity for the display of his
gifts, and that it had come in the nick of time to restore him to the
favour of the community. For the community as a body of people he cared
not one jot, it was for customers, and for them only, that he played his
part. For their sake—that is to say for his own—he composed his
features, whenever he was likely to be observed, into an expression of
resigned melancholy, that served its purpose with an unemotional but not
unkindly people, who admired, too, the way in which he put aside his
personal sorrow and interested himself in their business affairs.

It was the same in the workshop and in the home. If some subliminal
sense kept Frank and the rest from liking him, they began to recognise
his good qualities, and found life under his stern but orderly
mastership a good deal more tolerable than it had been with the looser
administration of Baldwin. Instinctively each man felt that the business
was going to prosper, and that though he was only a cog in the machine
he would be well cared for because the cog was an essential part of the
whole.

In the home Keturah suddenly found the roughness smoothed out of the
hard voice, and herself addressed in kindlier fashion than she had
experienced since Nancy’s marriage. Could she be blamed, if she thanked
the impersonal and hazy being who stood for her God, that the child had
been “ta’en?” After all, at her time of life, children running about the
house and “mucking it up” were a scarcely tolerable nuisance.

Altogether then, the first two weeks of February saw Inman’s position
strengthened. Unemotional themselves, the villagers were favourably
disposed towards a man who could “sup his gruel and say nowt.” The more
fickle remembered that Baldwin had always been a cross-grained and surly
fellow, and told themselves that he might have given Inman more cause
for resentment than outsiders could be aware of. It was with Inman as
with Gordel, when thin watery mists soften the cragged outlines and veil
its threatening features—he was no longer “fearsome” and forbidding: he
was even attractive in his own way.

There were those who held contrary opinions: stubborn souls who refused
to trim their sails to the prevailing breeze and continued to regard
Inman with a suspicion they could not justify; but there was one who
knew the truth: who knew that if the man’s heart was changed it was not
the angels who had cause to rejoice.

All the bitterness he was compelled to dissemble, all the contempt he
felt but must not show, Inman unloaded on his wife when they were alone.
As he had stood by her side, waiting for her to show signs of returning
consciousness, he had prayed that her life might be spared: that he
might not be robbed of the vengeance he had promised himself. That the
prayer was addressed to nobody in particular does not matter.

It seemed for a time as if the petition would be denied him, for Nancy
rallied from one swoon to fall into another; but she was young and
strong and her body resisted death’s claim. In a fortnight she was
sitting up in her room, and her husband’s brow was black.

“What are you whining for?” he asked her, when she looked up into his
face and cried, the first time they were alone;—“If you hadn’t been so
busy sweet-hearting your eyes and ears ’ud have been open! You’ve got
what you deserved!”

The tears dried on Nancy’s cheeks, and the feeling of pity for the
father who had been bereaved like herself gave place to a nausea that
was too physical to be called hate. She did not tell him the insinuation
was a lie, but knocked for Keturah, and fell into her arms when she
came, deathly sick. From that moment Inman had persecuted her, assuming
her guilt from the slender evidence that it was Jagger who had recovered
the child, and her own confusion, but making no inquiries lest his
suspicion should be removed, and as she grew stronger the hatred he took
no trouble to conceal spread to her own heart and revealed itself in her
face. There was then open war between them, carefully concealed,
however, from everyone but themselves.

One circumstance gave Nancy satisfaction. Her husband showed no
disposition to share her room.

“You may stay where you are!” he said to Keturah when she suggested that
Nancy no longer required her services: “I’m going to stop where I am.”

It was at this time that the Drakes experienced a more serious mishap
than had hitherto befallen them. On reaching their work at a building
which was being erected at some little distance from the village, they
found one morning to their dismay that the stays to the roof principals
had been removed, and that the whole superstructure had fallen, doing
much damage.

Father and son looked at each other in silence. Each knew that this was
a serious disaster.

“It’s no accident, father!” said Jagger, speaking through closed teeth.

“It’s no accident, lad! Them stays has been ta’en down since we left!”

“_He’ll_ give it out ’at they weren’t right fixed,” continued
Jagger;—“’at we’re too damned careless to be trusted to knock a
soap-box together. Look what he said when he set t’ timber loose!”

He referred to an occasion when timber, which they had set in the stream
to season had been found farther down the river when daylight came, and
Inman had said with a sneer that the Drakes were too damned careless to
tie a knot in a rope.

“I’ve watched his house for two nights and he never left it,” Jagger
went on. “Stalker saw me t’ second time and didn’t seem to like it. He
said he was down on fellows ’at were hiding behind walls at two o’clock
i’ t’ morning when there was so much mischief afloat. I could ha’
knocked his head off! a chap ’at can neither collar t’ rascal himself
nor let other folks have a try.”

Maniwel looked grave. “Does he know ’at we suspect Inman?”

“’Course he does. But Inman’s thrown him t’ sop, and Stalker can see
naught wrong in him. I could almost think he’d set him on to watch
_me_.”

“It’s a mess, lad! He plays a deep game and he’s ommost over clever for
you and me. He’ll do us a bigger mischief if he can, you’ll see,
especially now ’at we’ve ta’en on Baldwin. There’s a few deep ruts i’ t’
Straight Road.”

Though his face and voice were both sober there was a twinkle in the
eyes he turned to his son.

“T’ game isn’t ended yet. Bide your time!”

Jagger’s teeth were still closed and his face was set and stern; but
there was no sound of discouragement in the voice and Maniwel’s own
features relaxed.

“Aye, we’ll bide our time. ‘In quietness and confidence’—that’s a good
motto and it’ll see us through. What had best be our next move, think
you?”

“T’ next move,” replied his son, “is to get to work and do this job over
again. You’d better go down and bring one or two back with you. I shame
for anybody to see it, but that can’t be helped. It’s his trick.”

He had taken off his coat as he spoke and was folding up his sleeves. “I
wish I had him here,” he continued grimly as he bent his arm and doubled
his fist. “T’ next trick ’ud be mine. If I’d a fair chance I’d make t’
lion lie down so as t’ lamb ’ud be safe enough: I would that!”

The disaster was discussed at length the same evening in the bar parlour
of the “Packhorse” where until the entrance of Frank’s father opinion
was fairly evenly divided, the older men being warm in their assertions
of foul play, but some of the younger ones inclining to the theory that
Jagger’s workmanship must be unsound.

“You’ll have heard, I reckon, ’at t’ new boss has lamed his-self?”

Bill Holmes delivered himself of the inquiry the moment he was seated,
with the air of a man who feels sure he is imparting brand-new
information. The silence of the company whose eyes fixed themselves upon
him interrogatively, confirmed this belief, and he lit his pipe with
provoking deliberation.

“We’ve heard nowt o’ t’ sort,” said Swithin, as Bill professed to find
difficulties in making his pipe draw; “but I for one aren’t capped. What
sort of a accident is it ’at he’s happened?”

“I thowt you’d mebbe ha’ ’eard tell,” said Bill, who was elated to find
himself for once on the parliamentary front-bench and was determined to
make the most of his opportunity.

“He sent for our Frank into t’ house and telled ’im to keep ’is mouth
shut: ’at he’d fallen ’ard on t’ road when he wor goin’ into t’ shop
afore dayleet and twisted ’is ankle beside ’urtin’ his knee-cap.”

Swithin sat back in his chair, a look of satisfaction on his face, and
several of the others, including some of Inman’s defenders, exchanged
significant glances.

“There wor a black frost, reyt eniff, first thing,” said Ambrose. “It’s
hard weather, and that slippy i’ places I thowt once ower I should ha’
to bide at home—”

“It is slippy, Ambrose,” Swithin broke in. He was never happier than
when circumstances allowed him to adopt the tone and manner of an
examining counsel, and he looked round upon the company with the same
glance of command that always brought his dogs to attention when sheep
were to be shepherded. “We’re all aware o’ that fact. But I’ve a
question or two I want to put to Bill if so be ’at he’s a mind to answer
’em.” He cleared his throat, and fixed the witness with his eye. “If
Frank had to keep his mouth shut how comes it ’at he’s opened it?

“’Cos Inman’s lowsened him,” replied Bill. “He sees it’s goin’ to keep
him laid up for a day or two, so it’s n’ewse tryin’ to ’ide it.”

“I thowt as much! He didn’t leet to say, I reckon, what made him so
partic’lar to keep it quiet at first?”

“He was ’opin’ it wor nowt much,” replied Bill; “but he’s war hurt nor
he thowt on, so t’ tale wor like to come out onnyway.”

Swithin had bent forward to catch the reply; but he again sat back and
allowed his features to express his satisfaction.

“You’ve been putting two and two together, Swith’n, that’s easy seen,”
said Ambrose admiringly. “Them een o’ yours has scanned t’ moor for
stray sheep while you can see beyond ord’nary. It’s a gift ’at you’ve
made t’ most on.”

“A child ’ud put two and two together i’ this case, Ambrus,” returned
the other, “but there’s grown men ’at willn’t see what’s straight i’
front o’ their noses, and willn’t believe when they’re tell’d. You’ll
ha’getten a glimmer yoursen, I’m thinking?”

Ambrose summoned a wise look and nodded his head in a knowing way,
replying craftily—

“Owd fowk is far’er sighted nor t’ young’uns, Swith’n. Put it into words
for t’ benefit o’ t’ comp’ny.”

“I will!” said Swithin; but he drained his mug before undertaking the
task.

“Suppose a man slips on his doorst’n and hurts his-sen—I put it to you
as man to man: is there owt to be ashamed on, and to hold back? Is there
owt to make a man say ’at you mun keep your mouth shut ower t’ job? Why
t’ king his-sen could happen a’ accident o’ that sort!

“But, I’ll put it to you another way: supposing a man had been where
he’d no business i’ t’ night-time, and had catched his foot i’ t’ trap
he wor setting for someb’dy else (and that’s a figger o’ speech as Job
’ud say, for there’s things ’at it’s best not to put into words)
wouldn’t it be his first thowt to keep mum about t’ accident, till he
fun owt ’at it couldn’t be done? I’m putting two and two together,
Ambrus, but you may do t’ sum for yoursens.”

“You’re in your gifted mood at this minute, Swith’n,” the old man
replied with ungrudging admiration, “and well we all see it.”

“It’s mebbe lucky for some folks,” continued Swithin, “’at they can
crawl home wi’ a sore foot, and not be pinned to t’ ground wi’ a beam on
their belly. It’ll happen be a lesson to ’em, but I doubt there’s worse
to come.”

“I’ll say ‘Amen’ to that, Swith’n,” said Ambrose, “but you munnot brade
o’ t’ cat and start licking your mouth afore t’ trap’s oppened.”

Before Swithin could reply Bill Holmes, who had more than once sought an
opportunity to edge in another word, remarked in an aggrieved tone—

“If you weren’t all i’ such a hurry to put your own fillin’s in I sud a’
finished my tale. Swithin isn’t t’ only one ’at can put two and two
together. Our Frank picked it out ’at it wor a lame tale, for when he
went tul ’is work t’ shop wor locked up, and Keturah ’ad to tak’ t’ bolt
an’ chain off t’ ’ouse door afore she could ’and ’im t’ key. Mebbe
there’s more nor Swithin can say what that points tul.”

“It points to this,” said Swithin who evidently interpreted the feelings
of all present, “’at Inman’s a liar when he says he fell on his way tul
his work; and if Jagger’s owt about him he’ll set t’ police agate ower
t’ top o’ Stalker’s head.”

Ambrose shook his head slowly, though the movement was not intended to
indicate his personal disapproval.

“Maniwel ’ud be again’ you, Swith’n. They say Jagger was as mad as if
he’d sat on a nettle; but his fayther’s all for killing fowk wi’
kindness. There’s Baldwin, for a case i’ point. Him and Maniwel’s as
thick as two thieves, and they tell me they cahr ower t’ hearthst’n of a
night, crackin’ o’ owd times, till it’s a picter. I made a wonderful
grand verse about it i’ my head when I wor waiting for sleep i’ t’
night-time, and I thowt for sure I should call it to mind i’ t’ mornin’
but when I woke it wor as clean gone as Baldwin’s gowden sovrins. My
memory’s nowt no better nor a riddle, neebours, now ’at I’ve getten into
years.”

“It’s little use Baldwin is to Jagger,” added one of the company. “By
all ’at’s said he doesn’t earn his keep by a long way. He’s goin’ down
t’ hill fast, if you ask me.”

“It’s a true word, Sam,” replied Swithin. “Baldwin’s marked for Kingdom
Come, onnybody may see; and t’ sooner they ’liver him his papers t’
better for him and iwerybody else. Inman sent him tul his long home when
he put him to t’ door, though reyt eniff he wor on t’ road ivver after
t’ robbery. It worn’t kindness ’at killed _him_, Ambrus.”

“Nay, but it wor kindness ’at killed t’ devil in him,” persisted the old
man. “A bairn could handle him now.”

“Softenin’ o’ t’ brain, Ambrose, more nor softenin’ o’ t’ ’eart,” said
Sam.

“Be that as it may,” returned Ambrose, “he’s getten his mouth sponged
clean and that’s a merricle—”

At this moment the landlord, who had been summoned from the room whilst
the conversation was in progress, put his head in at the door.

“Swithin!” he said in such a strange voice that all present turned to
look at him and saw a look of consternation on his face, “you’re wanted
at once.”

Swithin looked startled; but rose painfully and having knocked the ashes
out of his pipe went over to the landlord.

“Who is it wants me?” he asked.

“Jack Pearce!” Albert answered. “He’s just outside.”

He closed the door behind the old man and turned to the company.

“Their Polly’s made away wi’ herself, poor lass! She couldn’t stand t’
shame on’t; and there’s Jack Pearce swearing he’ll swing for Inman!”


                              CHAPTER XXV

              IN WHICH NANCY DISCUSSES THE SITUATION WITH
                                 JAGGER

IN hamlets like Mawm, which are familiarised with nothing except the
commonplace (for even the natural phenomena which arouse the wonder and
admiration of every visitor are just ordinary features of the landscape
to those who have looked upon them from their birth) an occasional
episode is welcomed as a spice that gives an agreeable flavouring to
life; but a succession of episodes, like an over-measure of spice, soon
creates distaste and even revulsion. Ever from the date of the robbery
startling events had succeeded each other with such rapidity that the
villagers were stupefied by the unaccustomed whirligig. It was as if the
earth which had always been so substantial and secure had become subject
to sudden tremors and upheavals, which had already wrought the ruin of
some familiar structures, and might for anything they knew bring the
solid mass of the mountains down upon their heads.

Swithin Marsden and Jack Pearce, drawn together at last by the strong
twofold cord of a common sorrow and a common hate, took care that the
community should trace these disturbing occurrences and disasters to
their origin in Inman, and that astute man’s star set as quickly as it
had risen. When the mourners returned from following Polly Marsden’s
body to its resting place at Kirkby Mawm it is doubtful if the man had
more than one staunch adherent in the whole neighbourhood.

One, however, there was. Police-Constable Stalker, all the more because
public opinion was now ranged definitely on the other side, persisted
that Inman was an injured man; and he set aside the wrong done to
Swithin’s granddaughter as a venial offence which many of the
master-carpenter’s critics had good reason for condoning if they would
but examine their own secret records. The suggestion that the Drakes
owed their troubles to the same agency he dismissed with the cryptic
assertion that “them ’at lives t’ longest’ll see t’ most;” and he
allowed it to be understood that he was devising a trap which would
provide the neighbourhood with a climax in sensations if all went well.

The accident which meanwhile kept Inman a prisoner was a misfortune that
individual heartily cursed. The extent of it nobody knew but himself,
for his wife’s offer of help was refused with an emphasis that forbade
repetition. In plain words she was told to keep away from his room, and
even Keturah’s ministrations were declined.

“He’s damaged his leg; that’s what he’s done,” said the woman. “He can
hardly shift himself off o’ t’ bed. It caps me he doesn’t send for t’
doctor.”

Nancy was indifferent. Although she was moving about again she was still
weak, and too dispirited to concern herself over the ailment or attitude
of a man who hated her. His rough dismissal had been, indeed, a relief,
and afforded her a sense of freedom and an opportunity for its enjoyment
which were as welcome as they were unexpected.

Her baby’s death had left her without an interest in life, and it had
done more: it had half-persuaded her that it was useless to fight
against fate.

                      “A Clegg wife
                      And it’s sorrow or strife!”

In her case the burden was double-weighted: it was sorrow and strife.
Well, she was young, and by and by would be herself again; if sorrow was
to be her lot she would bear it without complaining, and if strife—she
would not be trodden on by any man.

She was young and she was also strong; and with the coming of the bright
cold days, when the frost silvered the landscape until the warm sun
swept the white dust away into the shadows Nancy’s limbs regained their
vigour though her spirits remained low. Keturah would have kept her from
Polly’s funeral if she could; but Nancy’s mind was made up.

“I wonder you can shame to go,” the older woman said, “and your own
husband, more’s the pity, t’ cause of all t’ trouble. I should want to
hide my head i’ my apron if it was me.”

“I’ll go _because_ he’s my husband,” Nancy replied. “They all know me,
and they knew he married me for my money. If poor Polly had had money
he’d never have looked my way, and it might have saved us both. If only
I could have seen the road that lay before me she could have had mine
and welcome.”

She had made no change of dress for her baby; but she now removed the
flowers from a black hat and went to the house where the mourners were
assembled, passing through the crowd at the door, and entering the room
where the mother was sitting in her garments of heavy crêpe with the
other members of the family about her. A look of astonishment came into
the woman’s eyes as she held her handkerchief away for a moment; but
there was no animosity there, and when Nancy stooped and kissed her
forehead she said—

“Eh, lass, but my heart aches for ye!”

“And mine for you!” returned Nancy. “If I could change places with
Polly, I would!”

She looked at nobody else; but in the little passage outside the room
Hannah put her arm on her shoulder.

“You shall go home with me when they leave,” she said; and careless of
her husband’s disapproval she went.

It was then that she heard for the first time the full story of her
husband’s crimes and suspected crimes. It was then that she learned how
Jagger had punished Inman when he found him with Polly on the night
Nancy’s baby was born. Hannah’s anger was burning fiercely and Nancy’s
wrongs added fresh fuel to the flames. No sense of delicacy led her to
hide anything from her friend; and when Nancy went home she understood
why her husband hated her, and she became conscious of a change of
spirit; of a strange exhilaration that left life no longer colourless or
purposeless. From that moment her wits began to work with a cautious
intelligence that would have surprised her husband, and the Drakes had a
very alert agent within the enemy’s camp.

One afternoon of the same week she climbed the Cove road with the
deliberate intention to intercept Jagger on his homeward journey, though
a visit to Far Tarn farm was the avowed object of the journey. Her
departure was well timed, and they met at the junction of the roads
where their paths would diverge. Though both hearts were beating more
quickly than usual there was nothing lover-like in their greeting, and
Nancy speedily made known her business.

“I came on purpose to meet you, Jagger,” she said, “and there’s no time
to be lost, because though there isn’t a soul to be seen there’s never
no telling who’ll come along—and carry tales.”

Jagger nodded. “I’d say, let ’em come, if it was only me; but you’re
right, Nancy. There’s no sense in making trouble.”

“It’s a plan I’ve got in my head,” she said. “Hannah’s told me all about
James, and the low tricks he’s always playing on you; and how sometimes
you stay up most o’ t’ night to try to catch him at it. You won’t manage
it, Jagger! He’s too fly for you! He’s hobbled just now, of course; but
he’s mending fast—he was in the shop all the morning—and he’ll soon be
about again. I want you to lie low and leave me to do the watching!”

Her eyes were bright; but there was no other sign of excitement, and the
lips closed resolutely. Jagger, however, shook his head.

“Nay, nay, Nancy, that ’ud never do! He’s the dad of all for cunning and
mischief, and if he finds you at that game he’ll make you smart for it.
It’s no woman’s work, this. Jack Pearce has promised to share wi’ me, so
it’ll not come that hard on either of us to lose a night’s sleep now and
then. Leave it to us, and get your rest. I’m sorry he’s who he is,
Nancy; but I won’t have you dragged into it.”

“Listen, Jagger!” said Nancy earnestly. “He’s got Stalker on his side
and they’ve always their heads together. Stalker’s soft as putty and
James keeps him oiled and shapes him as he likes. He’s made him believe
you’re a wrong un—that much I found out, for I’ve listened: it’s a
nasty, low-down trick, but I did it, and I’ll do it again. I couldn’t
hear much, for James talks low; but I got enough to know that Stalker is
keeping his eye on you and what can you do when you’re handicapped like
that?”

Something like a smile came into Jagger’s eyes, though the face that was
upturned to his was white and anxious.

“Twelve months since, Nancy, I should have had t’ blue devils with all
this: I should have laid down and let trouble roll over me; but now I’m
hanged if I don’t find a pleasure in it. It’s same as when you hold t’
axe to t’ grunston’—rough treatment, and brings t’ fire out of you at
t’ time; but brightens you up and sharpens you wonderful. There’s a vast
difference between father and me—for he’s _over_ soft, and ’ud give his
other hand to save Inman’s soul, where I’d lend him a rope to hang
himself with;—but he’s smittled me i’ one or two ways, and I’m sticking
to t’ Straight Road; for whether there’s ought watches over me or no I’m
certain sure there’s something watches over him and we shall come out on
top.”

Nancy had glanced round the moor apprehensively more than once during
this long declaration; but finding nothing to arouse her fears was not
unwilling to prolong the conversation.

“It’s made a man of you, Jagger,” she said. “It’s naught no more than a
game with you, same as your boxing. James may fell you once or twice or
a dozen times, but you’re always looking forward to t’ time when it’ll
be your turn, and he’ll be counted out. _I_ know you; and I’m glad to
see it in a way; though it’s a poor thought that if I hadn’t married
James maybe you’d never have made much out.”

She ended so wearily that Jagger’s face saddened, and his voice lost its
note of defiance and became troubled like her own.

“It won’t bide thinking about, Nancy; better leave it. Maybe I _do_ make
a game of it; but it was either that or going to t’ dogs—”

“I’m glad you didn’t do that, Jagger!” she broke in hastily. “Once over,
when I came to myself, I wondered if you would, and I fret and prayed
about it. Oh—if you knew how often I’ve thanked God that I hadn’t
_that_, on my conscience! If I’d seen you go wrong—! But we won’t talk
about it, only, it isn’t a game to _me_; it’s just a dragging on, with
naught but a weary, miserable life stretching away, year in year out, as
flat and drab as the moor, till one or both of us drop into our graves.”

She repented the words the moment they were uttered, for the expression
on Jagger’s face told her how deeply they had sunk; but it was too late.

“Nancy, lass! you’re breaking your heart; or I’ve broken it for you!”

His voice thrilled with the sorrow and bitterness that struggled to find
expression; and he would have put his arms around her with a man’s
instinctive eagerness to protect and comfort the woman he loves; but
Nancy shrank back, and relieved the strain by changing the tone of her
voice and forcing a laugh.

Her wit was more subtle than his, which would have mistaken a sedative
for a cure. His clumsy efforts would have extended the wound he was
wishful to close: she intuitively chose the remedy that would both
soothe and heal; yet her love was as strong as his, and her heart ached
for the clasp of his arms.

“It’s same as a play, isn’t it? We shall be talking about running away
together next, same as they do in books; but there’s naught o’ that sort
on the Straight Road. Eh, Jagger; you thought I was whining like a
baby!”

His face was still clouded and she rallied him upon his gloom.

“I wondered if you were as grand as you thought you were!” she lied. “It
didn’t need as much as a tear to damp all the sparks out of your axe
when it ran against a woman’s grindstone! You ought to have known that I
should never think the moor drab. Look at it, man!”

He raised his eyes, following the direction of her arm as it swept a
half circle over the landscape. The light was yellow, for it was towards
sunset, and the moor stretched its great length before them like
burnished metal—brass and copper. The greens were washed over with
gold: there was gold in the russets, gold on the pale straws, and the
trailing roads were no longer white but faintly yellow. On the western
horizon there was a slight haze, delicately pink; and clouds of a deeper
hue slashed the blue of the sky.

“Drab!” Nancy laughed mock-mirthfully. “It’s as good as a rainbow,
Jagger! I’m like you: when trouble comes I make a game of it: I won’t be
beaten! Maybe, somewhere on ahead, life’ll be pink, like that. We’ve got
to jog on when it’s stormy and keep smiling!”

“You’re a wonder, Nancy!” said Jagger; and the cloud that still lingered
over his eyes had itself caught the sunset tints.

“I’m a fool!” she replied. “I’m wasting time and running risks instead
of saying my say and getting on with my business. Let’s leave all this
nonsense and get back to where we started. I’m going to watch James
instead of you. Let Stalker think you’ve given it up. Make out that
you’re tired of watching and finding nothing, and then when I’ve aught
to tell you they’ll be off their guard. You aren’t deep enough for
James.”

“Happen not,” he assented grudgingly; “but t’ pace is too hot to last.
He’ll trip before long, you’ll see. I don’t like t’ thought of you being
mixed up with it, Nancy. If he was to pick it out he’d raise hell, and
if he was to touch you—”

“If he was to touch me,” she said proudly, “he’d know about it, but I
doubt if he will. He’s all for himself, Jagger, and his skin’s dear to
him. He’d like to, well enough, I daresay; but he dursn’t. Don’t you
worry about me. I was born on the moor.”

She saw the danger light return to his eyes and at that signal changed
her tone.

“Get you gone!” she said quietly; “we’ve stood three times too long
already. I’ll find ways and means of letting you know if there’s aught
to tell.”

She moved away as she spoke, without a word of farewell, and never once
turned her head, so that she did not see how he stood, shading his eyes
with his hand, watching her figure grow smaller and less distinct as the
distance between them increased.

All the man’s complacency had been shattered by the interview, and he
knew that the anodyne of hard work had left the sore in his heart
untouched: that the hours he had crowded with plans and projects in the
hope of obliterating thoughts of what might have been had been to that
extent hours wasted. Yet, though he knew himself maimed and marred by
this severance from the woman he loved: though the look in her eyes and
the tone of her voice had inflamed every spirit-nerve until the sense of
pain was intolerable, he was conscious at the same time of a kind of
fierce satisfaction because the pain could not make him writhe. Whatever
Nancy had withheld from him she had at any rate given him manliness; and
he could hold up his head among other men and walk unashamed.

When he could no longer see her he walked smartly homewards, busying his
thoughts with the subject that was never far from them, of Inman’s
enmity and Stalker’s attitude of hostility. He had said nothing when
Nancy spoke of the conference between her husband and the policeman
because there had been nothing to say. Everybody knew that they were
taking place, just as everybody knew that Jagger was suspected by the
two of knowing more than any other living soul about the robbery. The
suspicion was too ridiculous to afford him a moment’s uneasiness. Why
should he worry when he had the confidence and goodwill of his
neighbours, every one of whom scouted the notion of his dishonesty as a
conceit that only the brain of an unfriendly foreigner could entertain?

It puzzled Jagger that so little attention had been paid by the police
to the occurrence, and he felt a sense of personal grievance, (though a
keener sense of amusement left the grievance without sting), at the
thought that their lack of interest and enterprise kept an innocent man
under suspicion. No doubt to these townspeople the loss of five hundred
pounds was an event of no great moment, but Inman was not to be blamed
if he refused to regard it with the same equanimity, and applied himself
to the task of which the professional detectives appeared to have tired.

Jagger laughed to himself as these thoughts passed through his mind.
“And whilst he’s following this false scent with his precious Stalker,”
he said, “the real fox is getting away. The daft fools!”

Then a grimmer smile spread over his face. “He calls _me_ a fool,” he
muttered; “but he can’t have it both ways. If I took t’ money I’ve been
too clever for them to find it. Seemingly, he thinks better of me than
he’s willing to take to. Maybe, he’ll find ’at I’m cleverer than he
thinks, for I’ll lay him by the heels yet. He’ll go a bit too far with
his underhanded night jobs, I’ll warrant.”

Thus switched back to his own concerns his thoughts naturally returned
to Nancy, and the shadow of uneasiness that had never entirely left his
face deepened again.

“I’d rather she’d kept out of it,” he said, “but she’s bad to shift when
she sets herself, same as most moor-folk; and she’s afraid o’ naught.
However, she has her wits about her, and maybe she’ll pull it off.”


                              CHAPTER XXVI

               IN WHICH MANIWEL LETS JAGGER INTO A SECRET

“NOT so bad for an old man, Jagger!” said Maniwel, as he passed a rag
with a few last caressing touches over the shining surface of a small
bookcase:—“I say, not so bad for an old fellow wi’ one arm! Bear in
mind, young gaffer, ’at I’ve glass-papered it, stained and polished it,
on my lonesome; and you’ve never put finger to’t. Come over here,
Baldwin, and tha shalt be t’ boss and pass t’ job!”

Jagger smiled and ungrudgingly admitted that he couldn’t have done
better work himself, but Baldwin had to be summoned a second time before
he approached.

“Does tha hear, Baldwin? I’m waiting to hear tha say it’ll do!”

The breezy, encouraging note in Maniwel’s voice brought Baldwin from the
shadows.

“It ails naught ’at I see on,” he said; “but it’s making game o’ me to
ask for my opinion, when you know better’n I do.”

There was a trace of peevishness in the reply, and he would have turned
again to his work if Maniwel had not arrested him.

“Nay, that willn’t do, Baldwin! Tha’s none going to get out o’ thi
responsibilities i’ that fashion. We’re a limited comp’ny o’ three and I
brade o’ t’ parsons i’ thinking ’at three heads is better than two. I
know there’s such things as figure-heads; but neither thee nor me is
ornimental enough for that job. Now just cast thi eye over t’ job, same
as if a ’prentice had done it and then speak thi mind.”

“There’s no sense i’ this sort o’ play-acting, Maniwel,” said Baldwin;
but he bent forward and examined the work carefully.

“Tha’s missed a piece o’ t’ underside o’ this bit o’ moulding,” he
remarked a moment or two later; “—there’s an inch or so wi’ no polish
on’t.”

Jagger shot a glance at his father and caught the wink which was
intended for him alone.

“Well, that licks all!” said Maniwel, when he had assured himself that
the criticism was just. “I wouldn’t ha’ liked Mr. Harris to ha’ picked
that out, and it’s a good job that eye o’ thine isn’t dimmed Baldwin. Is
there aught else, thinks tha?”

Baldwin found nothing else and Maniwel picked up the rag again. After a
while Baldwin left the shop and Jagger paused in his work.

“That was a bit o’ humbug: you left it on purpose for him to find. If
his brain hadn’t been softening he’d ha’ known it.”

“His brain’s right enough,” Maniwel replied “He never had more than he
could make use of, and what he had he didn’t work over hard. If it’s
softening, a bit o’ exercise’ll harden it. It’s his self-respect he’s
been letting go and I’m wanting him to get it back, or we shall be
having him on t’ coffin-board before long.”

If Jagger’s thoughts could have been read it would possibly have been
found that this prospect afforded him no great dissatisfaction, and it
was thus that his father interpreted his silence.

“There’s many a twisted bit o’ timber can be put to good use if you’ll
study how to fit it in,” he remarked. “A boss ’at’s gifted wi’
gumption’ll see ’at naught’s wasted, and turn t’ rubbish into profit.
I’m looking forward to Baldwin being a help to t’ concern.”

Jagger smiled and went on with his work, having learned by experience
that there was nothing to be gained by disputing his father’s
philosophy, but after an interval of silence he again allowed his saw to
remain suspended in mid-course.

“How much were you saying there is in t’ bank?” he inquired.

“Above two hundred pound,” replied Maniwel. “We’ve had a good friend i’
t’ squire, lad; a ready-money friend means a deal to them ’at’s short o’
brass.”

“If we’d had a better shop,” said Jagger contemplatively, “we could ha’
put in an engine before so long.”

“Aye, aye, but we must be content to creep till we find we can walk.
Steady does it, my lad! We’re doing better than like.”

Jagger’s saw went on biting into the board, but before long it was
allowed to rest again.

“What did you send Baldwin home for?”

Maniwel came forward and leaned against the bench where he could see his
son’s face and watch its expression.

“’Cause I knew you’d something you wanted to say,” he answered; “and
there was naught partic’lar for him to do. He’ll be company for
grannie.”

“Knew _I_’d something to say?” The question was intended for a denial;
but Jagger’s cheeks told another story.

“And I guessed,” continued his father calmly; “’at it had something to
do wi’ him. Out wi’t!”

“You beat all!” said Jagger in a tone that showed how admiration had
conquered discomfiture. “It’s as bad as having them X-rays you read
about i’ t’ shop! A man may think what he isn’t prepared to speak, and I
don’t know ’at I was going to say aught.”

“When there’s any bile about, whether on t’ mind or t’ stomach,” said
Maniwel dryly, “t’ best way is to get shut on’t. We shall none fall out
if you speak your mind straight about Baldwin.”

Now that the opportunity was afforded and his confidence invited it
surprised Jagger to find how little there was to say, and how difficult
it was to say that little. In the olden days he would probably have
sought refuge in surly silence; but now he looked frankly into his
father’s face and blurted out—

“Home isn’t t’ same since Baldwin came into it. He’d choke t’ song out
of a throstle with his sour looks! It isn’t ’at I grudge him bite and
sup, and he’s welcome to try to pick up a living alongside of us, but I
can’t bide a wet-blanket on our own hearthston’, and I know Hannah feels
t’ same.”

“I’m not capped, lad; I feel t’ same way myself, and if all for my-sen’
was my motto I’d pay some decent body a toathri shillings a week to take
him in and do for him—”

“If that was your motto,” interrupted Jagger, “you’d let him go to t’
Union.”

“If you and Hannah says he musn’t stop,” continued Maniwel ignoring the
correction; “course he’ll have to go, and we’ll talk it over among
ourselves and see what’s best to be done. But I’ll take to’t ’at I could
like to try a bit longer. He’s lost his nasty tongue, and his temper’s
had most o’ t’ fizz ta’en out on’t, and mebbe after a bit t’ sun’ll get
through t’ crust and he’ll be more likeable. Now if you and Hannah could
just bring yourselves to think ’at he’s a millionaire uncle ’at’s asked
himself to stay wi’ us for a bit....”—he looked slyly into his son’s
face and saw the mouth twist into a smile—“and ’at it ’ud happen pay
you to put up wi’ a bit o’ discomfort for t’ sake—”

“That’ll do, father!” Jagger was laughing now. “I doubt if Hannah and me
could manage as much as that. All we can expect Baldwin to leave us is
his room, and that’ll be welcome. But we’ll say no more about it. If you
feel t’ same way as us and are willing to put up with it Hannah and
me’ll make t’ best of it.”

“Nay, lad, we’ll go on a piece further, now we’ve getten started. You
and me’s partners and should know each other’s minds; and I’ve something
to tell you ’at I once thought to take wi’ me to t’ grave. You’ll tell
nob’dy else while either Baldwin or me’s living and after we’re gone
there’ll be no need to say aught. Sit you down, lad!”

There was an unaccustomed note of gravity in Maniwel’s voice and a
pained look in his eyes, which Jagger observed with surprise and
uneasiness, but he made no remark and seated himself on a trestle where
he could look into his father’s face.

Maniwel had hoisted himself on to the bench, and his hand played among
the loose shavings for a while before he lifted his head and spoke.

“You know what your grannie says about t’ Briggses?—a black, bad lot,
cursed wi’ meanness and low, underhanded ways. It was so wi’ Baldwin’s
father and his father before him. There wasn’t a fam’ly on t’ moor ’at
had a worse name than what they had, and it was t’ lad’s misfortun’ mind
you, not his fault, to be born into such a lot.

“Him an’ me’s of an age. We picked up a bit o’ schooling together and we
went marlocking together. I liked him as well as I liked Old Nick, but
his folks were our nearest neighbours, and there wasn’t so many lads to
laik wi’ up on t’ moor so we were forced, as you may say, to be mates.
We fell out many a time i’ t’ week, and fell in again. He took a delight
i’ torturing birds and animals, and I’ve thrashed him many a dozen times
for’t. He was awlus a coward and a sneak, and ’ud scream same as a
rabbit wi’ a weasel on its back t’ minute he was touched. He was a dull
lad at his books, barring ’at he was quick at figures same as all his
lot; but he was a rare hand at a bargain, and beat his dad at being
nippy—”

A humorous recollection brought a twinkle into Maniwel’s eyes, and he
went on—

“We were biggish lads when I got stuck i’ t’ bog one day; and a rare
mess I was in I can tell you. It wasn’t oft ’at I was flayed; but t’
sweat poured out o’ me that time, and t’ harder I struggled to get loose
t’ deeper I sunk. You may bet I hollered for Baldwin, and when he came
up he stood on t’ edge and says—‘Now, tha’s made a mullock on it! What
is it worth to help tha out? Is it worth thi new knife?’ He got t’
knife, but I leathered him his jacket while he roared for mercy when I’d
getten my strength back.”

Jagger’s face was hard and his father laughed.

“I could tell you more tales o’ t’ same sort, but that’ll do for a
sample. When t’ time come for us to leave school we were both ’prenticed
at t’ same time to Tom Clegg, and we worked side by side for many a year
as you know. Tom was a queer ’un, wi’ a heap o’ funny notions in his
noddle, but he kept a firm grip on t’ shop as long as he’d his health,
and Baldwin and me were his main hands. He liked me t’ best o’ t’ two, I
know; but he saw how keen Baldwin was, and he thought he got more work
out o’ t’ men than what I did. Happen he did, for he was awlus a driver,
and as long as he could squeeze a bit more brass out o’ Tom for his-self
he was ready enough to squeeze a bit more work out o’ t’ men.

“Well, Tom was ta’en badly as you know, and when he couldn’t get t’
price he wanted for his business he let on that scheme ’at put it i’ t’
long run into Baldwin’s hands. It’s trewth I’m telling you when I say
’at he’d made dead certain ’at I should get it, for he knew I’d a better
headpiece than Baldwin; but he reckoned to want what he called
‘fairation’ so he gave us both the same chance.

“I’m coming now to t’ point I set out for. Baldwin did well; but I
should ha’ beaten him hand over hand if I hadn’t happened my accident,
and Baldwin saw it. That accident, lad, was planned for me——!”

Jagger uttered an exclamation of dismay and rose from his seat, with
anger flashing from his eyes. Maniwel’s voice had been quite calm and
low, and he did not raise it now.

“Sit down, lad, and keep your hand on t’ brake! Remember, what I’m
telling you now is a trust. Twelve months since you’d have been t’ last
I should ha’ spoken to, for this meat’s over strong for babes; but
you’re a man now.

“I say it was planned, and that’s all I’m going to tell you, and it’s
all you need to know. He isn’t aware ’at I fun him out, and he isn’t
going to be tell’d. He’s hugged his sin about wi’ him all these years,
and nob’dy knows but his-self what he’s suffered.”

“Suffered!” Jagger’s tone was as low as his father’s, but charged with
unbelief and contempt. “It’s _you_ that’s suffered, you and
us,—aye—and Nancy too! I could screw the dirty devil his neck round
when I look at that empty sleeve! You shouldn’t ha’ told me if you want
me to keep my hands off him!”

“When you’ve finished blowing t’ steam off I’ll go on,” said his father.
“I reckoned I should upset you a bit, and it’s naught but nat’ral, but
you must hear me out. I _know_ he’s suffered—why, he turned again’ me
from that very moment and couldn’t bide me in his sight; and though he
couldn’t fashion but take you on it must ha’ cost him summat to see you
i’ your father’s place. Them at wrote t’ Owd Book knew what they were
talking about, lad. They didn’t say ’at sin was sure to be fun out; but
‘be sure your sin’ll find _you_ out!’ and you may bet on’t ’at Baldwin’s
fun _him_ out long sin’.”

Jagger grunted, and his father smiled.

“There’s one thing ’at shames me,” he continued, “and that’s seeming to
make it out ’at I’m better than other folks. I’m no saint, as I happen
needn’t tell them ’at lives wi’ me; but I reckoned things up when I was
a young man and I come to t’ conclusion ’at there must be a better way
o’ living than most folks followed, and I said to myself ’at I’d give t’
Owd Book a fair trial and see if there was aught in it. I read there ’at
t’ best way to get on i’ t’ world was to put t’ cart before t’ horse, by
doing good to them ’at hate you and praying for them ’at despitefully
use you and persecute you. It’s a queer sort o’ teaching when you come
to think on’t, but I threshed it out i’ my mind and fun it was right.
_There’s no other way ’at pays._ That’s why I lost naught but my arm
when I happened my accident—neither my peace o’ mind nor my goodwill to
Baldwin; and that’s why you and Hannah’s had no ’casion to grumble about
wet blankets all these years. I’ve waited a long while for my revenge on
Baldwin; but you see I’ve getten it at last: ‘If thine enemy hunger,
feed him; if he thirst, give him drink’. What think you, lad?”

He raised his eyes as he asked the question, and the look on his son’s
face disappointed him. Instead of understanding there was bitterness and
resentment: the hot indignation of a loyal and straight-dealing son
against the treachery of a false friend. A smile spread slowly over the
father’s features as he saw that no reply was forthcoming.

“T’ meat’s a bit over strong, is it?” he went on. “Chew it, lad, while
you get t’ taste on’t; and just think on ’at if you’d been Baldwin’s son
i’stead o’ mine it’s a thousand to one you’d ha’ been born wi’ his
sperrit. Baldwin has no childer—him and Keturah’s t’ last o’ their
race, and it’s happen as well—but when t’ time comes ’at he has to hand
in his last time-sheet I could like to think it ’ud be a clean ’un. So
I’m for giving him a leg up, d’ye see?”

“What have you told me this story for?” Jagger asked. His father’s
calmness had affected him and he now had his feelings under control,
though he was not yet appeased. “He’s paid for all t’ dirty tricks he’s
played _me_, and I’d rubbed t’ reckoning off t’ slate; but I’m hanged if
I can forgive him that empty sleeve.”

“This empty sleeve,” said Maniwel, “is t’ price I’ve paid for t’ man.
Say no more about it—_I’m_ satisfied. I’ve tell’d you for two reasons.
One on ’em’s this: mebbe Baldwin’ll feel called on to tell you his-self
one o’ these days, and I’d like him to know ’at you knew. It ’ud help
him and it’ll save you from saying or doing aught you’d have to rue.

“But there’s another thing ’at’s weighed wi’ me: you’ve getten a worse
enemy than ever I had. Yon Inman is plotting again’ you, and you’re
plotting again’ him, and it means naught but trouble. When you’ve getten
used to t’ thought I could like you to try my plan o’ getting rid of a’
enemy.”

“Happen I will,” said Jagger grimly, “when I see him beggared same as
Baldwin.”

“If he’d ha’ let me, I’d ha’ tried to save Baldwin from beggary,”
replied his father with a calm dignity that showed he had understood the
implication.

Jagger flushed hotly. “I didn’t mean that,” he protested and Maniwel
said—“Right, lad; there’s no bones broken.”

“Then would you have me let Inman go his own way, and play any devil’s
trick he likes on us?” said Jagger, and his father shook his head.

“Nay, lad,” he said with greater animation; “watch him and best him! You
can’t please me better than by showing him you’re t’ best man o’ t’ two,
so long as you keep on t’ Straight Road. But spare him a bit o’ pity,
for hate’s same as a knife ’at lacks a haft—a tool ’at hurts him ’at
tries to stab wi’t.”

“It’s a bit too tough for my teeth, is your meat,” said Jagger.

“Then just swallow t’ juice,” said his father, as a smile spread over
his face and twinkled in his eyes; “and put t’ rest on’t out. Come lad;
we’ll go in and see how t’ blanket’s going on.”


                             CHAPTER XXVII

               IN WHICH NANCY PLAYS THE PART OF DETECTIVE

A MILE away from the village the traveller on the Girston Road may
pass a solitary and substantial farm and never know that he is within a
field-length of the most alluring and perhaps the greatest of Mawm’s
natural wonders.

There is nothing in the configuration of the landscape that suggests the
extraordinary. Low-lying hills on the right slope gently down to
grey-green pastures which have been wrested from the moors. The road
itself, hemmed in by loosely-built limestone walls, is little better
than a cart-track, and runs out upon the moor when it reaches the last
gaunt farm, a mile or two farther on. The hills on the left are loftier,
but no less kindly in their sober green homespun, and the brook that
tumbles over its rocky bed and roars beneath the bridge is not more
boisterous than many another moorland stream.

If, however, curiosity should cause you to leave the road at the stile,
or if ignoring that provision for shortening your journey you pass
through the yard at the back of the farm, and with the stream for your
guide make your way up the narrowing valley, you will by and by acquaint
yourself with the stupendous spectacle of Gordale Scar, a chasm

                     “——terrific as the lair,
                     Where the young lions couch.”

It is at a sudden bend in the hills that you come unawares upon the
astonishing vision, but before you reach that point the landscape
clothes itself in sack-cloth and throws ashes on its head as if it
realised that the green pastures were to end in the Valley of the Shadow
of Death, and it must drape itself seemly. In winter especially there is
a look of Sodom and Gomorrah about the place—a charred, lifeless look
that is weird and depressing. On the one hand the slender stems of ash
and hazel, rising grey from the grey hill-slope, seem as though some
storm of fire had swept them. Here and there a dead tree, stripped of
its bark, still mocks the power of the wild winds that are forcing it
earthwards. On the left the cragged hill sweeps round in a quick
semi-circle to shut in the valley. Like ragged ramparts its serrated,
rocky outline shows crisp against the sky; screes of loose stone, from
which here and there a huge boulder uprears its bulk, cover the sides;
and other boulders, hurled down by successive avalanches, line the bank
of the stream.

This, however, is only the cheerless bodement of what is beyond. When
the sweep of the semi-circle forces you round the curve of the hill the
vision of stern grandeur and majesty may well rob you of speech.

The hills have drawn together until they almost meet, but they are no
longer hills—they are stupendous, unscaleable precipices of rock, three
hundred feet high. Grim and forbidding—black rather than grey—they
offer no hospitality to the foot of man; but jackdaws and ravens make
their home there, and birds of prey may sometimes be seen perching on
the crags.

Into this roofless cavern—for there is evidence that the beetling rocks
that project overhead once met in a great arch—the stream projects
itself by a series of waterfalls which roar in time of flood like the
“young lions” of Wordsworth’s fancy, and rushes along its stony channel
scattering white foam upon the piled-up boulders that almost fill the
floor of the chasm and make progress difficult. Steps have been cut in
the rock beside the lower waterfall so that even the inexpert may climb
to the “upper air,” and on their way to the higher reaches of the stream
may trace out for themselves the course of the great convulsions that
gave to Mawm its wonderland. Level with the summit of the cliffs is the
moor with its far-stretching fissured platforms of grey limestone.

Awe-inspiring even in brilliant sunshine the chasm is really “terrific”
at night. Then the frowning cliffs roof themselves in with blackness and
the roar of the Stygian stream is direful. Man shuns it, and the birds
that shriek and chatter there are birds of ill-omen.

Between the hours of twelve and one on a dark night in the last week of
March when yet the faint crescent of a new moon gave a glimmer of light,
a man made his way stealthily across the field, and in the shadow of the
high walls, towards the Scar. When he reached the entrance he sat down
on a rock with his back to the cliff, and for the space of ten minutes
remained absolutely motionless. But though his body was still, his
intelligence was alert, and his senses were scouting for him. He was
accustoming himself to the sounds that become easily distinguishable
when one listens intently; and training his eyes to penetrate the
darkness. Directly opposite to where he sat the ravine touched hands
with the valley; the frowning western cliff ran out upon the moor and
became dismembered; the upper part falling back from the lower. On the
intervening space a portion of the steep slope was carpeted with green;
but the greater part was covered with a thick deposit of loose shingle,
the plunder snatched by wild free-booting storms from the rocks
overhead. Below there was another wall of rock of no great height above
the stream that raged at its base.

Inman—for the nocturnal visitor was he—rose at last, and as if
satisfied that no further precautions of an elaborate nature were
necessary, crossed the stream and set himself to scale the rock.
Apparently he was familiar with his task, for he climbed confidently and
before long had his feet upon the shingle. It was here that the more
serious part of the adventure began, and from the hesitating way in
which he set out upon the second part of his journey it was evident that
he regarded it with some distaste.

Every movement of his feet sent a mass of loose stones hurtling down the
slope, and he made slow progress. To his sensitive ears the noise was
appalling, for the air was still and sound travelled far. In the
distance a dog began to bark, and kept on barking loudly and uneasily,
but although Inman cursed it in his heart he did not allow it to affect
his movements. Helping himself forward with his hands, he had almost
reached the stretch of green at which he was aiming when a too eager
step set the unstable track in motion; and in spite of his efforts—it
may be even because of them—he was carried with ever-accelerating speed
down the precipitous incline and only saved himself at the very edge of
the low cliff.

For some minutes he lay prone, thinking deeply, whilst the shingle
continued to roll past him. After a while it ceased to fall, and he had
just determined to rise and make a second attempt when he became
convinced that the dog was loose and coming in his direction, whereupon
panic seized him, and having groped with his toes until he found a
crevice in the rock, he lowered himself to the ground.

Arrived there, he listened again and was satisfied the barking was
nearer, so instead of returning by the fields which would almost
certainly have meant an encounter with the dog, he made his way to the
foot of the waterfall, and by means of the steps cut in the face of the
rock reached the hazardous path that led to the moors.

He was now safe from pursuit by any dog; but imagination was by this
time active, and a movement that he thought he heard in the ravine below
checked the impulse to stay, and he hurried on. Angry disappointment at
the failure of his enterprise filled his thoughts with bitterness, and
his brow was black as Gordale itself as he strode over the moor. To
severe mental disturbance there was also added physical discomfort, for
rain began to fall heavily, and he was soon very wet. By the time he
reached the road he was in a disagreeable mood; but his spirits revived
somewhat when he found himself on his own doorstep and reflected that he
had reached home unobserved.

“The usual Inman luck!” he said to himself with gloomy satisfaction.

He was of a different mind the next moment, for the new Chubb lock he
had fixed failed to respond to the demand of the key and he found
himself locked out. Very stealthily he raised the latch and put his knee
to the door. It was secured by the heavy lock, and the latch of the
Chubb was evidently pegged back. Someone had tampered with it in his
absence!

The frown deepened on his face, but he did not lose his self-command,
and having looked cautiously round he struck a match, and shading it
with his hands stooped down and examined the flagstone in front of the
door. Satisfied with what he saw, he turned and entered his workshop,
where he made his way to the office, but sleep was far from his eyes and
thoughts, and he was conscious of no lack. When day came stealing down
the moors, he went out and tried the latchlock on the house-door again.
This time it responded at once, and he nodded his head slowly as if a
hypothesis had received support, and went upstairs to his room.

When he heard Keturah bustling about in the kitchen he went across the
landing into his wife’s room. Nancy, in bed and awake, looked up in
surprise when Inman came and stood beside her.

“What ails you?” she asked.

For a moment he allowed his stern eyes to be his sole weapon of attack,
but when her face remained fearless he began to speak.

“Innocent child!” he sneered; “innocent lamb! What a pity your husband
isn’t simple and innocent too! Then you could play with his hair, and
coo him to sleep with nice little songs, and sell him to his enemies,
like the painted woman in the Bible!”

“Have you lost your reason, James, or are you drunk?”

Though a savage gleam was replacing the sneer in the cold eyes she
thrust back fear and spoke quite calmly.

“You devil!” he replied without opening his teeth. “I could find it in
my heart to admire your pluck and your cunning if it wasn’t too
dangerous. You’re playing your part well, but your acting’s thrown away
on me, my lass. Your lip trembles at the corners and your heart’s
sinking in spite of your bold face. You know you’re found out, and will
have to be punished; you hell-spawn, you!”

His coolness and the note of concentrated hate and power in his voice
chilled Nancy’s heart, and made her conscious that unless he was
conciliated her husband was in a mood to torture her; but she was never
less disposed to conciliate; on the contrary, she experienced a reckless
desire to laugh and risk the consequences; and when she spoke her voice
was charged with contemptuous and half-amused defiance.

“God knows what you’re getting at! If you’ve anything to say, get it
said like a man, and don’t think you can frighten me out o’ my wits by
glowering at me as if I’d turned street-walker——”

As she uttered the word she knew by the look that leaped to his eyes
that she had given him his opportunity, and she stopped involuntarily.

“That pulls you up, does it?” he asked. “As _if_ you’d turned
street-walker, you say! That reminds me, I’ve a little visit of
inspection to make to your wardrobe.”

He turned as he spoke and walked over to the recess where her clothes
were hanging and she raised herself on her elbow and watched him.

“If you’re seeking the coat and skirt I wore this morning,” she said,
“you might have seen that they’re hanging over the chair to dry on this
side of the bed. I don’t put my things away wet.”

“Then you admit you were out this morning?” He wheeled round as he asked
the question, and his eyes blazed.

“And why not?” she answered. “If you’d been awake you’d have heard me
go. There’s no law against a woman going out if she can’t sleep, is
there? What’s all the fuss about?”

Not a line of the man’s expression changed.

“Tell me truly why you went,” he demanded, striding up to the bed again,
and looking into her face with a threatening scowl.

“Tell me!” he repeated, and seizing her wrist in his strong palm he
twisted it roughly.

“I have told you already!” she replied, and set her teeth to hold back
an exclamation of pain.

“I’ll have the truth if I murder you!” he said, bending her arm until
the pain brought unwilling tears to her eyes.

Still she was silent, and her lips closed firmly, whereupon the tiger in
the man conquered his self-control, and in a sudden gust of rage he
seized her by the throat, and as he tightened his grip upon it, hissed:

“Then listen and I’ll tell _you_! You spied on me, you she-devil!
Whether you’d any other motive than curiosity I don’t know, but you’ve
got to tell me everything or I’ll choke the life out of you. Now speak!”

He widened his fingers, but still kept them on her throat, and she never
raised her hands in what must have been a vain effort to free herself,
but kept them tightly clasped on her breast.

“Do your worst!” she said hoarsely. “Brute and coward! Kill me, if you
like, and hang for me! Do you think it’s any catch to live tied to a man
like you? I wouldn’t say a word to save you from hell!”

Strangely, her boldness sobered him, and he threw her head back on the
pillow with a movement that was almost a blow, and walked over to the
window. In less than a minute he turned and spoke from that position.

“Is it me or yon rake-hell of a Jagger you’re after? Answer me that!”

Scorn flashed from the dark eyes at the inquiry, but there was no other
reply.

“Will you give me your word not to leave the house again at night?”

“I’m not your slave!” she answered. “You’ve called me devil and
threatened to kill me—I’ll promise you nothing!”

“Then you’re a prisoner in this room,” he said. “You can get up or not,
just as you please, but here you’ll remain until I release you”; and
with these words he left the room, locking the door behind him.

Nancy made no attempt to rise, but leaned back on her pillows and
considered the situation. She realised at once what must have happened;
that in the interval between her reaching her room and the moment,
nearly an hour later, when she remembered she had turned the lock in the
outer door and omitted to drop the latch, her husband had returned and
made his deductions.

“He would see my footmarks, too, if he sought for them,” she reflected.
“What a stupid mess I made of it!”

Though he had treated her so roughly she was surprised to find herself
thinking of her husband without resentment. A bracelet of red on her
wrist showed with what merciless force he had gripped her, and her arm
and shoulder ached as with the gnawing pain of a bared nerve; but to a
woman of her hard race these things were trifles, and less than might
have been expected from a man of Inman’s breed. She even excused him,
realising the mortification he must feel at the suspicion that his own
wife was plotting against him. It was a game they were playing, and she
had made a wrong move—a pitiably careless move which well merited
punishment; but he had nothing more than inference to go upon when he
charged her with spying, and the game was not over.

She rose and dressed, made the bed and tidied the room, and finally
seated herself by the open window. The moors lay warm in the embrace of
the sunshine and unseen birds were chirping their grace for the bounties
of the moistened earth. Nancy wondered if she was to be left
breakfastless, but she was not hungry enough to be concerned. “They say
fasting sharpens the wits,” she reflected.

What was the meaning of the Gordale adventure? All the night through she
had puzzled her brains and found no answer. She had feared to follow
when she saw her husband pass over the stile that led to the Scar; but
curiosity had got the better of nervousness and she had gone round by
the farm, forgetting the watch-dog in the yard whose noisy greeting
drove her back to the roadway. Eventually she had climbed the wall some
distance away, and reached the chasm when the rumbling of the stones was
just beginning. Fascinated by what her senses told her was proceeding,
she had taken up her position behind a rock and awaited results.

The barking of the dog had given her no concern, though she was
surprised that it was continued so long; and when the catastrophe
occurred and Inman found himself on comparatively level ground again,
she had been unable to account for the speed with which he left the
gorge and for his choice of that inconvenient exit. It had, however, put
pursuit out of the question, and she had returned home by the much
shorter field-path, arriving a full half hour before Inman. She had
fastened back the latch before leaving and locked the door with the big
key, as she had felt certain that her husband’s project would enable her
to return first, and it was preoccupied thoughts and the force of habit
that had led her to secure the door in the old familiar way, by which
unfortunate blunder she was now finding herself thwarted.

She was thinking about it, but making no progress towards a solution of
the mystery when Inman entered with her breakfast.

“Close that window!” he commanded, as he set down the tray on the bed.

“I prefer it open,” she replied. “Even prisoners are allowed air.”

He made no reply but left the room, returning a minute later with screws
and screwdriver, by means of which he made the window secure. Neither of
the two spoke until the work was finished, and Nancy poured out her tea
with a steady hand.

“Hadn’t you better board it up?” she asked as he put the screwdriver in
his pocket. “What’s to hinder me from breaking the window?”

“The thought that I’ll break your neck!” he replied grimly.

She laughed mockingly, all the moorwoman in her roused to defy him.

“You dursn’t!” she said. “You’re all for yourself, James, and a man
who’s all for himself isn’t for doing the hangman a good turn! Your
mind’s willing enough, I daresay, but putting me out o’ my misery
wouldn’t help your game.”

“That’s true!” he replied, with a calmness equal to her own. “You’ve
beaten me so far, but I’ll find a way of hurting you, my lass. I’ll
squeeze the blood from your heart drop by drop before I’ve done! Aye,
and from that pet-rabbit of yours, too! He’ll scream when the weasel
gets his teeth in his neck! There’ll be no mercy then!”

“You can’t hurt him!” she said proudly. “He’s too big and good for you!”

She thought he would have struck her, but he restrained himself and left
the room without a word, locking the door behind him; and for a moment
Nancy’s heart sank. She was thinking not of herself but of Jagger.

“He can’t hurt him,” she repeated. “Maniwel’ll see to that!”

Subconsciously there was the feeling that Maniwel was in favour with the
high court of Heaven, and that his influence would shield his son.

“I must get word to Jagger somehow,” she said to herself. “What James is
up to I can’t think; but he’ll finish the job to-night if I’m out o’ the
way, and he ought to be watched.

“He’s locked me up, has he?” she went on a moment later, as a faint
smile overspread her face “Love laughs at locksmiths and so does hate.”


                             CHAPTER XXVIII

              IN WHICH MANIWEL AND JAGGER JOIN IN THE GAME

INMAN’S mind took holiday from the work on which his hands were
employed that day, and busied itself in shaping a course of action that
would meet the requirements of the moment. He was disturbed to find that
the machinery was not adequate to its task, that it moved slowly and
during long periods was entirely unproductive.

Nancy’s attitude puzzled him, but it did more: it gave him greater
concern than the circumstances, as he construed them, warranted. Not for
one moment would he allow himself to believe that she had followed him
to Gordale, for he was of that number of men, themselves superior to
superstitious fears and unafraid of the terror by night in its most
gruesome forms or haunts, who assume that all women are cowards in the
dark and the ready prey of silly fears; and hold them to be
constitutionally incapable of adventuring alone in Erebus.

There were moments when he persuaded himself that her own simple
explanation was the right one, and she had been merely restless, and
then he cursed himself for having shown his hand. But his reason, as
well as prejudice and apprehension, refused to entertain the thought
long; her eyes had given the lie to her lips. He dismissed, too, though
less quickly, the reflection that mere curiosity, the very natural
desire of a wife to discover what takes her husband abroad at night, had
led her to follow him. His lip curled with something like satisfaction
as it occurred to him that she perhaps suspected another intrigue!

But the revolution of the machine always brought back his thoughts to
Jagger. It was for her lover she was working—the lover whom he had
injured but neither disheartened nor destroyed, and who no doubt found
means of pouring his complaints into her sympathetic ears. It was
intuition rather than reason that led him to the right conclusion, and
told him that though he might throw dust in Stalker’s eyes and make that
credulous fool drunk with flattery and greed, he could not deceive his
wife. She knew both husband and lover too well to misjudge either.

It was characteristic of the man that in the course of his reflections
it never once crossed his mind that his policy had been mistaken.
Far-sighted as he thought himself, he was incapable of understanding how
the loyalty of a woman like Nancy would have kept her from abusing her
husband’s confidences, if they had been offered her, however distasteful
his projects might have been to her judgment and heart. He was naturally
secretive and distrustful; and like all men who scheme only for
themselves, suspicious of everybody. His cleverness was cunning; there
was always the danger that he might over-reach himself—in the common
expression he was “too clever by half.” His greatest fault was
precipitancy; he had to struggle hard against the temptation to stand
beside the snares he set in order that he might see the prey enter. The
Wise Man asserts that “he that maketh haste to be rich shall not be
unpunished.” He might have added that the punishment was likely to be
self-administered; a man cannot spur himself fiercely and constantly and
escape wounds!

Inman’s success so far had been quick and gratifying, but he was not
satisfied, and the greatest obstacles in the path of his contentment
were the Drakes—father and son. The old man he disliked not because he
was a competitor (for competition was in the nature of things and not to
be avoided), but because of his air of cheerful assurance, because of
his frank, fearless eye and the reproach of his unfailing goodwill. The
younger he hated, and with just cause (as he thought) on account of his
continued intimacy with Nancy. That a single kiss had been the extent of
their illicit connection his prurient mind rejected as incredible; and
he was like the rest of his kind in regarding as unpardonable in the
wife what was venial in the husband.

His mind had been undecided, and therefore he had locked Nancy in her
bedroom, just as he might have locked a dangerous weapon in a drawer—to
keep her from doing any mischief until the opportunity should have
passed.

There remained Keturah. Despite her tearful peevishness there was a
grain of obstinacy in the woman’s nature which made her hardly
manageable, and might prove awkward if Nancy should gain her ear and
sympathies. His quick judgment decided that she must be got out of the
way for a day or two; and when the morning post brought her a letter
that opened the floodgates wide he became inwardly elated.

“This is what Maniwel would call an answer to prayer,” he said to
himself. “My luck’s changed, I shall go on all right now.”

To Keturah he turned a gloomy face.

“Ill, is she? And what’s Nancy to do if you go traipsing off to nurse
another woman?”

“I wouldn’t ha’ cared,” wailed Keturah, “if there’d been anyone
near-hand to do for her; but to be on her back and not a soul i’ t’
house if her girds come on——! It caps me what’s ta’en Nancy. She was
right enough when she went to bed.”

“I suppose we should be able to manage,” he conceded with lessened
gruffness. “Get upstairs and put your things on, and see you don’t
disturb Nancy. You’ll not be more than two or three days, I reckon?”

“But I’d best just have a word with her before I go?” she protested.

“You’d best do as I tell you,” he snapped, “or you won’t go at all!”

It was not much better than prison fare that Inman took upstairs during
the day, and he was content with simple meals himself. When night fell
he set an inch or two of candle on the dressing table, with the curt
recommendation to get to bed and make up for the previous night’s loss
of sleep, to which she made no reply.

No sooner had the sound of his footsteps on the stairs ceased than a
change came over her. She rose with alacrity, drew down the blind and
lit the candle, after which she went up to the door and secured it on
the inside with the bolt Inman had fixed as a measure of precaution when
he had brought home Nancy’s money. A smile was in her eyes but her mouth
was determined. “What a clever fool he is!” she said to herself; “and
how thoughtful of him to send Keturah away. Every plan he makes fails!”

The recess beside the fireplace had been made into a closet which served
the purpose of a wardrobe, and was filled with Nancy’s clothes. A shelf
ran across the upper portion, filled with hat boxes and the like, and
the various skirts and coats which concealed the background were
themselves screened by similar garments that were suspended from hooks
affixed to the shelf.

This outer layer of everyday apparel Nancy proceeded to remove, together
with one or two others from the row behind. It was then possible to see
that the back of the recess was composed of a door of plain boards and
ancient workmanship which had at one time afforded a means of
communication with the next apartment.

Treading cautiously, she crossed the strip of carpet and stepped out on
to the landing. Her husband was still in the house, for she could hear
his voice below in conversation with another, which she recognised as
Stalker’s, and she had to wait awhile before the two men came out and
stood in the passage.

“I shall be back i’ t’ village by twelve at t’ latest,” the policeman
was saying. “I reckon t’ sergeant’ll meet me down Kirkby way somewhere
about eleven. I’ll be back afore Drake gets stirring—if he stirs at
all.”

“Then you think he’s given the job up?” Inman asked.

“He knows I’ve my eye on him,” the other replied. “Whether he’s stalled
or no time’ll tell.”

“I’ve to see Tom Horton at Kirkby,” Inman remarked. “He sits up late,
does Tom, and if I walk down with you we can talk things over as we go
along. When I get back I’ll keep an eye on the Drakes’ house for a bit.”

The outer door closed, and from the window Nancy saw their shadowy forms
disappear round the corner of the road. Without a moment’s hesitation
she went downstairs and unbarring the kitchen window, climbed out, and
having closed the sash behind her sped towards the beck and across the
green to the Drakes’ house. The retreating forms of her husband and his
companion could just be discerned in the faint moonlight far down the
road as she knocked at the door.

“Is Jagger in?” she whispered when Hannah came. “Tell him I want him—at
once—and come you with him.”

“Come where?” asked Hannah, in astonishment.

“Here!” said Nancy impatiently. “Bring him out and shut the door.
There’s no time to lose!”

She had one eye on the road as she spoke, and she kept it there when
Hannah and Jagger joined her; but however apprehensive she may have been
of her husband’s return, she told her story clearly and concisely.

“What’ll you do?” she asked when Jagger made no immediate comment. “I
can’t make head or tail of it.”

“I’ll go see what I can make on’t,” he said, “before he gets a chance to
get there. It’s a rum do!”

“And if he finds you there?” she asked.

“If he finds me there, there’ll happen be trouble,” he replied; “but
I’ve t’ same right to be i’ Gordel that he has. Anyway, I’m going.”

“Will you take Jack with you?” she asked anxiously. “James’ll do you a
mischief if he can.”

“Aye, take Jack,” said Hannah. “It’s as well to be on t’ safe side.”

“Two ’ud happen bungle it,” he said. “I’m a match for Jim Inman any day.
I’ll go now, before either of ’em gets back.”

Nancy returned home, and the gloom of Gordel settled on her spirits as
she bolted herself into her prison-house again. The candle had set fire
to its paper packing and burnt itself out; but when she drew up the
blind a gleam of light entered from the sky and she had no difficulty in
replacing the garments on their hooks. When the work was finished she
did not undress. A sense of weariness and hopelessness crushed her. Her
husband would know that she had tricked him and would make her pay the
penalty. What would it be? How long would this sort of thing continue?
The long vista of the road she was destined to travel with a husband who
hated her and whom she despised spread itself before her. She was
afraid, too, for Jagger, and a hundred times over upbraided herself for
having sent him into danger, without adequate cause; a hundred times
over lamented the curiosity that had moved her to do it. Once or twice
it crossed her mind that it would have been better to have seen Maniwel
instead of Jagger; he was so sane and strong and dependable—so safe,
too; for Nancy shared the prevalent belief or superstition that no real
harm could befall Maniwel Drake; but another inward counsellor brushed
the suggestion aside.

“He’d say, ‘What business is it of ours? Let him go his own gait; and
get you up to bed!’”

Troubled as she was, Nancy smiled, for the voice told her that curiosity
was stronger than reason, and that at heart it pleased her to know that
Jagger would not shirk the adventure. A moment later a shiver ran
through her, and her heart beat painfully as she pictured a struggle
between two strong men in that lonely ravine. A bank of clouds quenched
the light of the young moon, and with her imagination quickened by the
darkness that wrapped her round, the vision became so real that she
almost screamed, and the sound in her throat roused her.

“You silly fool!” she said aloud. “You’re getting hysterical. Stir
yourself!”

She went over to the window and endeavoured to look out, but there was
little to be seen except a few faint stars and the black outline of
earth that touched the sky.

“I’ll have it out with him,” she determined. “I’ll tell him we’d better
separate. He’s got most of the money, and that’s all he cares about.
It’ll be a relief to us both!”

The decision steadied her.

“I may as well go to bed,” she continued, “but I’ll keep the bolt on the
door. He’ll be fit to choke me when he comes home if he’s happened
across Jagger!”

Meantime Jagger, having taken rapid counsel with himself and Hannah, had
determined to consult his father, who had already gone upstairs and was
ready for bed.

“I thought I heard voices beneath t’ window,” he remarked when Jagger
had told his story. “And what do you reckon to make out o’ t’ job?”

“I make naught out,” he replied firmly, “but I’ll go and see what’s to
be made out on t’ spot.”

“Then you’ve no theory?” Maniwel was drawing on his trousers as he
spoke; and instead of answering Jagger inquired what his father was
dressing for.

“’Cause I’m going wi’ you,” he replied; “and it’s as Nancy says, there’s
no time to lose.”

“_You_ going?” Jagger asked in amazement. “What call is there for you to
go? You don’t think I’m afraid o’ t’ chap, do you? I shall be easier i’
my mind if you’re safe i’ bed.”

“I’m going wi’ you,” his father repeated. “There’s things to be said ’at
it’ll save time to say on t’ road.”

“But——” began Jagger. He was uneasy at the thought of leaving his
father below whilst he climbed the rocks.

“There’s no ‘buts’ about it, lad. You ought to know by this time ’at
your father’s bad to shift when he’s made his mind up. You’ll maybe none
be sorry ’at t’ old man went wi’ you before t’ night’s out!”

Jagger made no further remonstrance, and a few minutes later the two men
left the house, after instructing Hannah to keep a light in the kitchen
for another half hour and then go to bed. The door-key Maniwel put in
his pocket.

“Then you can’t fairly reckon t’ job up?” he asked again when the last
house on the Gordel Road had been left behind.

“Can you?” Jagger replied.

“Well, I don’t hardly know whether I’ve got t’ right pig by t’ ear,”
said his father slowly; “but I’ve a sort of a notion. Happen there’s
naught in it, but that’s to be tried for. Did you ever climb t’ shingle
at t’ spot Nancy tells about?”

“I can’t say ’at I ever did,” he replied. “I don’t know ’at I’ve taken
much notice of t’ place.”

“Me and Baldwin’s been up many a time when we were lads. It isn’t easy,
but there’s ways o’ getting up ’at isn’t _that_ hard, and a chap might
light o’ one by chance and think it was a soft job, then t’ next time he
tried he might find his-self bested. If Inman’s aiming to get up it’s
’cause he’s been there before, you mark my words, and he’s desp’rate
anxious to get there again.”

“But what can he want up t’ cliff side?” inquired Jagger; “it’s that ’at
puzzles me. A man doesn’t go bird-nesting in t’ dark.”

“That depends, my lad, on what sort o’ eggs there may happen to be i’ t’
nest. Suppose, now, he’s made a nest of his own i’ one o’ t’ hidey-holes
aboon t’ shingle, and wants t’ eggs in his pocket! It’s nobbut a notion
I’ve getten in my noddle, lad, but I’m going to tell you how to scram’le
up, and where to look.”

“Something o’ t’ same sort was at t’ back o’ my mind,” said Jagger, “but
it licks me what he could want to hide up there.”

“I’m saying naught,” returned his father, “’cause I’ve naught but a
notion to go by. I’m same as I’ve fun a lock that’s short of a key.
You’ll see what you make out, lad, but it wouldn’t cap me if you were to
find summat ’at’ll make your eyes bulge.”

He refused to say any more, and they crossed the fields to the ravine in
silence until Jagger laid his hand on his father’s arm.

“I could ha’ thought there was somebody i’ front of us,” he said. “Hark
you!”

They were at the very entrance to the chasm and at the foot of the rocks
with the screes above them. Both men listened intently, but there was no
sound except the flapping of a bird’s wings high above.

“It’s been one o’ t’ daws you heard,” said Maniwel.

“I didn’t hear it exactly,” replied Jagger; “I sensed it.”

“You’re nervy, lad,” said his father. “It’s as well I came wi’ you. Now
just take a bit o’ notice while I tell you which way to go.”

His voice sounded loud and Jagger remonstrated with him in a low voice,
but Maniwel was unmoved.

“We’er doing naught to be ashamed on, lad, and there’s no ’casion to
muffle t’ clappers. If you find aught ’at we’ve no concern wi’ you’ll
leave it where it is; and if you chance across summat ’at doesn’t belong
either to Inman or us you’ll bring it down and we’ll let t’ police have
it. Put this box o’ matches i’ your pocket. You’ll mebbe want a light
before you’ve finished, and I don’t know ’at it matters if anybody sees
you.”

“I’m down about your being by yourself if Inman comes,” said Jagger.

“You’ve no ’casion to fret yourself,” replied his father. “I’ll cross t’
beck and get under t’ rock. We’re a bit ahead o’ his time, I reckon;
but, anyway, I’ve a good stick i’ my hand. Now up wi’ you, lad, and
think on o’ what I’ve tell’d you!”

Jagger was soon at the foot of the screes, and his father crossed the
noisy stream and made his way to the densely-black shadows of the high
cliff that overhung his head. The gloom of the ravine had no terrors for
him, and he deliberately sought its darkest corner behind a projecting
limb of the rock.

“It’ll be as snug a cubby-hole as a man need want,” he muttered, “and I
can keep an eye both on Jagger and t’ field-path.”

Jagger was half-way up the screes by this time, and the shingle was
giving away the secret of the ascent as it clattered down into the beck.

“He’s framing all right,” thought Maniwel, “but t’ job’s only just
begun, and he’ll happen be there when t’other fellow comes. I’ll stand
here and wait to see what turns up.”

He moved forward, and the same moment a hand was placed over his mouth,
while a man’s low, firm voice said:

“Keep quite still! I shall do you no harm. My name is Harker and I’m a
police officer!”


                              CHAPTER XXIX

             IN WHICH THE TABLES ARE TURNED MORE THAN ONCE

INMAN parted company with the policeman at Tom Morton’s door; but his
business with the man was concluded in five minutes and he then took a
direction which would probably have astonished the constable, for
instead of returning to Mawm by the high road, he went down to the
river, and following its course upstream to the point where the Gordale
beck joined it, made a bee-line for the ravine.

In doing this he had neither overlooked his expressed determination to
keep a watchful eye on the Drakes’ house, nor intentionally deceived
Stalker; but had yielded to an imperative impulse which he did not stop
to question. This was the more surprising because he was usually too
logical and also too stubborn to be moved by those sudden mental thrusts
to which many people yield so readily, and if he did so now it was
because his mind was in a condition of excited eagerness that was not
without a trace of panic.

Despite the coolness he had maintained in his wife’s presence after he
had conquered the first almost uncontrollable impulse to render her
incapable of doing him further mischief he was at heart afraid of Nancy.
There had always been about her something he had not understood; a
suggestion of strength held in reserve—of that super-strength which we
call fortitude, and he began to fear that her resourcefulness might
match his own. His thoughts were full of her as he strode along in the
darkness, and of the relations that must exist between them in the
future when the successful issue of his present enterprise should enable
him to settle down to the only important business of life—that of
making money and piling it up. Once let him get into his stride, and
nothing should hinder him from pushing on; as for the Drakes, they might
go to the dogs or the devil, or potter along to the end of their
journey, patching up poor men’s fences and knocking together an
occasional poor man’s coffin. Henceforward they were beneath his
contempt—

He paused there, knowing it was a lie; that though he had married Nancy
for her money and for the opportunities the alliance would bring him;
though he had himself been unfaithful to her and was unrepentant, he was
bitterly jealous of Jagger. The difficulty he had never yet surmounted
was how to hurt his enemy in a vital spot and escape injury himself; but
he never lost hope. His attempt to throw suspicion for the theft of the
money on Jagger had influenced nobody except Stalker, who was a gullible
fool. That, too, would have hit Nancy hard; would have wounded her pride
as well as her heart, but prudence suggested that it would be best
henceforth to imitate the police and let the matter drop. There would,
however, be other openings. Life was long and full of snares, into which
the wariest old bird might run. And he would be wealthy before many
years had passed, and what was there money could not accomplish?

It was the one article in his short creed that he believed with all his
soul, yet even as it crossed his mind he knew that it would never buy
Nancy’s love; but the thought brought a smile to his face. He could very
well do without love; in that market tinsel had all the attractiveness
of pure gold, and tinsel was cheap. A smooth tongue and a kiss or two
could purchase it.

So his thoughts raced along, but always in a circle, for they inevitably
brought him back to the point where a vague uneasiness clouded his
satisfaction, and the sense of anxiety was somehow connected with his
wife. What if she were free again?—but that was impossible.

Once or twice he wondered if there was no possibility of patching up a
peace; but he knew in his heart that she was too straight to tolerate
his methods, and he told himself it was a pity. With a nature like hers,
if only it had not been spoiled by this unprofitable conscientiousness,
what an admirable helpmate she might have been!

When he reached the Gordale road and climbed the stile into the pasture
he dismissed these reflections, and concentrated his thoughts on the
task that had baffled him the previous night. All was very still, but
the darkness was not dense, for the sky was bright with stars as if
frost was in the air. Suddenly, as he raised his eyes to the cliff that
was his goal, he saw a faint light that flickered for a moment and then
went out. A second or two later another appeared and was carried along
the surface of the rock until its life, too, was spent.

Inman stood still, but his pulse raced. Someone had anticipated him.
Someone was searching the crevices which held his secret, and the result
was inevitable. The overthrow of his schemes, so utterly unexpected,
fell upon him with the force of a cataclysm, sweeping him from his feet
and producing for a moment or two real physical dizziness.

He recovered himself quickly, and as another light glimmered on the rock
he hastened along, finding cover in the shadows of the high walls,
though he felt sure the searcher was too busily engaged to discover his
approach. By the time the next match was struck he was cowering behind a
rock at the entrance to the ravine; and there was murder in his heart
when he recognised the familiar form of Jagger Drake.

He had dreaded it all along, though he had slighted and pushed aside the
suggestion. His wife had tracked him only too well and had betrayed him
to the enemy. In the moment of realisation he became desperate and
thought only of vengeance, yet even so his mind set itself automatically
and instantaneously to the work of counter-plotting. His fingers reached
down and grasped a stone. There were few men whose aim was better than
his; few whose right arm had more of weight and muscle in it. It was
only necessary to stay there in hiding until the other’s feet should be
on that treacherous slope of loose shingle when he would be powerless to
defend himself, and one or two shots would bring him headlong to the
foot of the cliff with a broken neck. If he should not be dead it would
be no hard task to lend nature a hand—almost as easy as to take away
the treasure-trove before any other eye should see it—and the man’s
death would lie at his own door. Men would ask why the silly fool should
have climbed the Scar at night. And it would be Nancy who had sent him
to his fate!

These thoughts flashed across his mind; were examined and rejected in a
moment, for they were speedily followed by a second and better
suggestion. Before another minute had passed he was making his way back,
at first cautiously, then with increasing speed to the high road and the
village.

He had been gone a half-hour before the whistling cry of a curlew was
heard from the cliff side, and the two men in hiding lifted up their
heads and listened. A moment later it was repeated, more loudly and this
time not so successfully, for there was something less of the bird and
more of the schoolboy in it—a note of triumph that is missing from the
bird’s call.

“What is it?” the detective asked; and Maniwel replied with a similar
reproduction of the moorbird’s music.

“He’s fun what he’s after,” he replied. “We might as well get down.”

It was in a recess well above his head that Jagger had found the object
of his search. Behind a clump of yew that had secured root-hold in a
narrow crevice of the cliff and spread its foliage before a shallow
opening in the rock, his hand had encountered something softer than
stone or wood; something that proved to be a small leather bag.

It was heavy—eight or nine pounds he judged—and he had a little
difficulty in transferring it to his pocket, for the toes of his boots
had not much grip upon the inch-wide ledge of rock from which he was
stretching upwards, but by and by he found himself on the turf again
with the screes immediately below. He was so eager to be down that he
sent the loose stones clattering to the river bed like a miniature
avalanche, and his father could not forbear a warning cry.

“Steady, lad, steady! You’ll hurt yourself if you fall to t’ bottom!”

“No fear o’ that,” replied Jagger, who was already on the edge of the
lower cliff, making ready to descend. “By gen, father, we’ve dropped on
it this time. It’s a job for t’ police, right enough—a bag-full o’
brass.”

He was too excited to moderate his voice, and when the old man bade him
“Whisht!” he only laughed.

“I care for nobody,” he said. “He can come when he likes now. He’s a
deep beggar, is Inman, but, by gen, he’s let himself in for’t this time!
It’ll open Stalker’s eyes!”

“Don’t jaw so much!” an impatient and authoritative voice broke in, “but
get down and let us see what you’ve found. Time’s precious!”

Jagger nearly overbalanced himself in his surprise.

“Who’ve you got with you?” he inquired suspiciously as he began the
descent. For just a moment he thought it must be Inman himself, for the
voice was half familiar, but when the detective replied, “You’ll know me
when you see me. We’ve met before,” enlightenment came.

“It’s Mr. Harker!” he said. “This licks all!”

The bag was secured with string and Jagger struck a match whilst the
officer untied it. But the sight of the contents was not really
necessary to confirm what was already certain—that the missing gold was
in their hands; and Mr. Harker tied it up again and pushed it along the
table of rock towards Jagger.

“Now, listen to me,” he said. “You found the swag and you’ve got to deal
with it exactly as you would have done if we hadn’t been here. I want to
tell you what’ll happen. Stalker’ll arrest you and you’ll have to go
with him!”

“Arrest me!” It was too dark to see the astonishment that spread over
Jagger’s face; but it revealed itself in his voice.

“We’ve seen what you haven’t,” the detective proceeded quickly. “You
haven’t been the only star on the stage. Inman’s been and caught you at
the game; and it’s easy to guess what he hurried away for.”

“But why should he arrest me?” pursued Jagger, who had not anticipated
any such untoward result of the enterprise. “I should hand t’ bag
straight over to Stalker!”

“He’ll arrest you for having stolen property in your possession,”
returned the officer, “and you’ll have to go down to Keepton; but you
needn’t worry; you’ll have a front seat for the play, that’s all.”

Something in the detective’s tone raised Jagger’s spirits and he
inquired more cheerfully:

“Then I’m to get away by myself, am I? What about father?”

“Your father’ll keep with me. Otherwise Stalker would arrest you both,
as it would be his duty to do. If you don’t meet him you must follow
your own course; but let me see you stirring, or the other fellows will
be here, if I’m not mistaken.”

A grim smile was on Jagger’s face now, and he moved away briskly,
carrying the bag in his hand.

“He’s not likely to show fight under provocation, is he?” the detective
asked Maniwel, as they followed slowly a minute or two later. “I should
imagine he might be a bit of a bruiser, and it would be a pity to give
Stalker an excuse for putting the bracelets on him.”

“Twelve months since I wouldn’t ha’ answered for him,” the father
replied; “but he’ll keep himself in now, you’ll see. What’ll you do wi’
Inman?”

“Leave that to me!” was the significant answer.

                 *        *        *        *        *

Before Inman found Stalker he had so rehearsed and perfected his story
that all apprehension of evil to himself had been dismissed from his
mind, which was possessed with a fierce joy. It was worth the loss of
the money to have Jagger shut up in prison and branded as a thief; it
was a price he would willingly have pledged himself to pay at any time.
From the moment he had set foot in the village on his return from Hull
he had done his best to throw suspicion on his rival, and in all his
consultations with Stalker he had taken care to keep the suggestion
alive. The oil of flattery, applied with featherlike delicacy of touch,
had made the slow-moving constable quick to discover guilt in actions
and circumstances that could have had no relation to the crime apart
from Inman’s cunning inventiveness; and he had allowed himself to be
persuaded that time and patience would give him his prisoner. The only
cloud on his satisfaction, therefore, when Inman found him and hurried
him along the Gordale Road was that the glory of having tracked the
criminal should belong not to him but to his patron.

“I’ll bet a hundred pounds to a penny he’s hidden the plunder there,”
Inman said, as he tried to quicken the policeman’s heavy pace. “My only
fear is that he’ll slip us, and perhaps hide it again nearer home. He
was striking a match to look for it when I came away, and you took the
deuce of a lot of finding.”

The grumbling tone passed unnoticed by the policeman, who was thinking
to himself that it was well for him that he was accompanied by a man of
such strong determination and powerful physique, for Jagger’s fame as a
fighting man was proverbial in the hill-country, and he was not likely
to “take his sops” without a struggle.

“Was he by himself?” he inquired.

“Yes,” replied Inman, with a note of confidence.

The thought that Nancy might have guided her lover there had occurred to
him on his way back, but that fear (or hope, for he hardly knew in which
light he regarded it) had been removed when he called at his home and
satisfied himself by his wife’s deep breathing that she was asleep in
her room, with the door secured.

“A leather bag, did you say?” Stalker continued.

“Unless he’s changed it,” Inman replied impatiently. “You’ll search him,
I suppose? It isn’t likely he’ll be wearing it in his button-hole like a
posy!”

They had reached the stile and were about to pass over when the
policeman became aware that someone was approaching from the direction
of the Scar, and he whispered an instruction to his companion to secrete
himself on the farther side. When Jagger was descending into the road,
Stalker stepped forward and swept the light of his bull’s-eye upon him.

“I see you’ve getten it with you, my lad!” he said. “I’ve waited a long
time; but there’s an end to t’ longest road. I suppose you’ll come along
quietly?”

The suddenness of the encounter and the flash of the lamp startled
Jagger; and his voice was not as steady as he had meant it to be when he
replied:

“I’ve got it, right enough, and you’d have got it if you’d waited. I was
on my way to find you; but I suppose those who hid it away picked it out
’at their game was up, and set you on my track to keep your nose off o’
their trail.”

“It wor very thoughtful on you,” Stalker answered with pleasant sarcasm;
“an’ as you was to ha’ left it wi’ me I may as well take it. By gen,
it’s no light weight! Happen you’ll take charge on’t, Mr. Inman, while
we get to t’ village, and leave me my two hands free?”

Inman stepped forward and Jagger observed him for the first time.

“So you’re there, are you?” he remarked. “I thought by this time you’d
have put five miles o’ moor between you and Mawm. _You_ know who hid t’
bag on t’ Scar side, choose who you got to steal it.”

“You are quite right,” he answered with no emotion of any kind. “I’ve
known all along both who stole it and who hid it; but the trouble was I
didn’t know where until I followed you. Stalker knows that I knew.”

“That’s all right, sir,” said the constable, “and we needn’t stop here
i’ t’ lane arguing about it. We’ll be stepping forrad, and t’ least
said’ll be t’ soonest mended, for it’s my duty to warn you ’at aught you
say may be used in evidence again’ you.”

Jagger made no reply, and walked between his two captors thinking his
own thoughts. At intervals his companions exchanged a brief sentence,
but for the most part the journey was continued in silence, so that when
the outskirts of the village had been reached the sound of footsteps in
the rear was clearly heard.

The constable gripped Jagger’s sleeve. “If it’s a rescue you’re thinking
on,” he said, “I shall have to put cuffs o’ your wrists.”

Jagger laughed, and his indifference surprised the constable and
disturbed Inman.

Whoever was approaching was making good progress, and in a few moments a
firm voice rang out the question:

“Is that you, Stalker, in front?”

“Yes, sir,” replied the constable, who thought the sergeant must be
again in the neighbourhood, and experienced a sense of relief at this
unexpected lightening of his responsibilities.

He halted as he spoke, and Mr. Harker and Maniwel came up. At sight of
them Inman’s face dropped.

“I’ve arrested this man, sir,” Stalker explained, “wi’ the money ’at was
stolen from Briggs in his possession on information laid by Mr. Inman.”

“I know,” the detective replied curtly; “and I’ve a warrant for the
arrest of James Inman on the same charge. You can leave Drake to me,
Stalker, and give your attention to the other prisoner. I’ve my car in a
shed a hundred yards away, and we’ll get down there at once and make our
way to Keepton.”


                              CHAPTER XXX

                    IN WHICH SWITHIN TELLS HIS STORY

IT was anything but a pleasant night, for a damp mist was clinging to
the sides of the hills and condensing on the grey walls of the cottages,
which looked as though some invisible hand was squeezing out a sponge
upon them, yet the bar parlour of the “Packhorse” was uncomfortably
crowded. On the other hand, that of the “Royal” was deserted, and the
landlord might as well have closed his doors and gone across the green
to the help of his competitor, whose legs and arms were kept in
perpetual motion.

It was easy to see even at a glance who was monopolising the limelight
on this occasion, for every chair was turned so that its occupant might
catch a sight (albeit in some cases at the expense of an uncomfortable
twisting of the neck) of Swithin’s face.

He sat in his usual seat upon the hearth, with old Ambrose in the
arm-chair on the other side, and wore the pleased and self-satisfied
expression of the man whose ship has come into port at last, and who can
proceed at his leisure to unload the cargo and reveal its treasures.

Again and again had the tale been told, but each batch of newcomers
found it easy to draw forth a repetition, for Swithin was like a
gramophone in his readiness to oblige the company; and as he fortunately
lacked the mechanical precision of that instrument, even those who had
heard the story more than once bent forward to listen to it again, being
convinced that there would be variations in the treatment though not in
the theme.

Never had Swithin shown himself to better advantage. The account that he
had been required to give in Court had been prepared in advance during
the long weeks that followed the hour of his enlightenment, when his
faculty of putting two and two together had enabled him to see what the
detective was “getting at,” and made him that astute officer’s confidant
and ally. If he stood on stilts during the narration it was because he
was even yet in spirit and imagination addressing the bench of
magistrates who had complimented him on his evidence.

“‘Suck-cink and to t’ point,’ the Chairman said, when he tell’d me I
could stand down!” There could be no doubt that Swithin was immensely
proud of that high-sounding commendation. Nobody present was familiar
with the word the old man had rolled so appreciatively on his tongue,
but what of that? It was manifestly an expression that was used by the
lords of the land to the men they delighted to honour.

“It caps all ever I ’eard tell of; and to think ’at if it ’adn’t been
for Swithin he might never ha’ been fun out!”

“Nay, to think ’at if it hadn’t ha’ been for Swithin, Jagger’d mebbe ha’
got five year!”

It was not honey to Swithin, for the old man cared nothing for such
sickly sweetness, but it was beer and ’bacca in overflowing measure.

“Nay, nay,” he said in a protesting tone that invited contradiction;
“it’s Detective-Sergeant Harker Jagger’s got to thank, not me. A fine
chap you have there, neighbours. Before ever I tipped him t’ wink, as
you may put it, he had t’ thief spotted—_nosed_ him—that’s what it is
wi’ such as Harker. T’ minute he set eyes on him and heard him bluster,
says he to his-sen, ‘That’s my man!’ and there wor nowt to go by. Then I
puts my bit in, on t’ quiet; and as sly as a couple of stoats we’ve
worked together ever sin’; for there’s them at isn’t in t’ force,
neighbours, ’at happen ought to ha’ been.”

“It’s a gift, Swith’n; it’s a gift, lad!” wheezed Ambrose.

“I’m not denying it, Ambrus,” replied Swithin modestly. “I says, ‘If it
wasn’t Inman’s voice ’at cursed when he ran agen t’ wall that night ’at
I wor waiting o’ Crumple to cauve you can call me a liar, says I, and
have done wi’ ’t.’ And he just opened his note-book and put down all I
tell’d him. Then when t’ snaw melted he fun t’ button, and that cooked
Inman his goose.”

“Found what button?” inquired Job; who lived so far away that he had
been one of the last to arrive.

“T’ button off Inman’ owercoat,” replied Swithin. “He fun it t’ same
night you met him i’ t’ Long Close and suspicioned him for t’ thief and
flayed me wi’ your talk about a gallus-button. Not ’at I’m blaming you
for being on t’ wrong scent, ’cos we aren’t all born alike, and some’s
bound to make fools o’ theirsel’s. It wor me ’at fun out for him ’at
after that ’at Inman’s coat wor short o’ that button; but I’ll tak’
to’t, neighbours, ’at it wor Mr. Harker ’at guessed ’at he’d hid t’
money away i’ t’ Scar.”

This admission manifestly caused Swithin an effort; but he brightened
again as he proceeded.

“T’ way he pieced it together caps all, and kep’ his-sen out o’ sight,
so ’at Inman and Stalker thowt he’d dropped t’ business. They’d ha’
stared if they’d ha’ known ’at Detective Swith’n Marsdin was on t’ job!”

He broke off to hide a chuckle in his mug, but the company was too
interested to smile.

“Detective Marsdin by day and Detective Harker by night,” he continued.
“You should ha’ seen Inman’s face i’ t’ dock when he heard Harker
putting two and two together. He had it all as clean as a whistle fro’
t’ time Inman slammed t’ carriage door tul. It seems t’ train he
travelled by wor pulled up by signal a few hunderd yards out o’ t’
station, and him having a carriage to his-sen there wor nowt easier nor
for him to drop out. That wor t’ first link i’ t’ chain.”

Swithin paused and took a refresher.

“Number two! At three o’clock t’ next morning a man summat after his
build catches t’ Scotchman at t’ Junction, and lands i’ Airlee i’ time
to get a’ early train for Hull. That brings us to Number Three!

“T’ ticket collector at Hull swears ’at a man wi’ a brown owercoat ’at
lacked a button passed t’ barrier at nine i’ t’ morning, and t’ same man
passed back at two i’ t’ afternoon. He reckernized him by t’ loose
threads where t’ button sud ha’ been.”

Again Swithin paused, and allowed his eyes to travel over the company
and take toll of their appreciation. Again, too, he refreshed himself
with a drink.

“We had t’ job weighed up by this time,” he went on; not thinking it
necessary to inform his hearers that much of this information had
reached his ears for the first time that morning; “but we hadn’t fun
where he’d hidden t’ brass, and Harker wasn’t for hurrying his-sen. When
there wor no moon he left me i’ charge, as you may say; but there worn’t
many nights i’ t’ month when he didn’t turn up his-sen; and how many
hours, neighbours, when you’ve been warm i’ your beds that man’s been
shivering i’ Gordel he could mebbe tell you better’n me.

“T’ first time he tracked him there, wor t’ night Maniwel’s roof-tree
wor let down. Harker watched him do it, and then followed him across t’
moor to t’ Scar. But Inman wor ower quick for him, and Harker wor flayed
o’ making a noise when he were climbing down t’ slippy rocks wi’ so much
loose stone about, so all he knew wor ’at Inman wor groaning and pitying
his-sen on t’ stones i’ t’ bottom. But by what he made out he’d slipped
down t’ cliff-side and hurt his knee-cap, and a bonny job he had to
trail his-sen home. It wor me ’at let day-light into Harker when he
tell’d me; and it wor me ’at showed him where he could hide his-sen and
spy on him.

“He’d a bit to wait wol Inman’s knee mended, but there came a darkish
night when Inman turned up again, and a woman close on his heels. He
guessed it wor Nancy, but he didn’t follow ayther on ’em, flayed o’ one
or t’other of ’em picking him out. He always had a car and a bike i’ our
shed and kep’ t’ key in his pocket, so he could get off back before
daylight. He knew Inman ’ud be sure to try agen t’ next night, and t’
rest you know as well as me.”

“Well, this is a licker!” remarked Job; “but I’m one o’ them ’at’s heard
nowt, Swithin, or next to nowt. They didn’t keep Jagger, then?”

“Keep Jagger!” The contempt in the old man’s voice was the most emphatic
of negatives. “Do you think, Job, wi’ a man like Mr. Harris i’ t’ chair
they wor likely to keep Jagger? And ’at after what Harker had to tell
’em?’ ‘We’re very much obliged to you, Mr. Drake,’ he says, smiling,
‘and hope you haven’t been put to no inconvenience,’ he says. It wor
different wi’ t’other, and there wor no smiles for him, I can tell you.
He’s got to go to t’ ’Sizes.”

“But they tell me Maniwel’s bailin’ him out,” said Job incredulously.

“And it’s trewth they tell you,” returned Swithin, “‘the trewth, the
’ole trewth, and nothing but the trewth,’” he added with fond
reminiscence of his police-court experiences. “And that’s where I part
comp’ny wi’ Maniwel, being what t’ Scriptur’ calls casting your pearls
before swine.”

“Hearken tul him!” interjected Ambrus, in a thin but decidedly approving
voice. “He’s in his gifted mood to-day, is Swith’n!”

“Two hunderd pound he has to lay down alongside two hunderd more ’at
some Airlee fella offered; to say nowt o’ t’ three hunderd Inman has to
find his-sen. Mr. Harris tell’d him to take his time and think it ower,
and Jagger’s face wor as black as a chimley; but there’s no moving
Maniwel when he sets his-sen; and Jagger stuck up for his dad as we come
home i’ t’ train. He’s a lad ’at’s going to tak’ a bit o’ sizing up, is
Jagger.”

“It’ll be a sad job, neebours,” said Ambrose, “if so be as Maniwel loses
his bits o’ savings after all t’ labour him and Jagger’s put intul their
business, and yon Inman’s a lad ’at I’d trust as far as I could trace
him. But it’s allus been a sayin’ o’ Maniwel’s ’at when a man’s past
mending he’s past fending, and he’s for casting out devils wi’
fair-spokken words. Eh! neebours, but it grieves me to think ’at there’s
all these gurt happenin’s i’ t’ village and my poor owd brain a-whirlin’
round same as a lad’s peg-top. If I’d ha’ been i’ my prime I could ha’
made a set o’ grand verses out on it all, but ivery dog has his day, and
mine’s near-hand ower. Hows’ever, I hope it’ll be Maniwel, and not yon
lad ’at’ll see me put away.”

“If you’ve to wait, Ambrose, while Inman puts you away,” said Swithin
when the old man’s monody had ended, “you’ll have a few years to live
yet; and I should say my-sen ’at Mawm’s finished wi’ him. And good
riddance to bad rubbish, says I, though I’m sorry for Nancy, poor lass!”

There were others who at that moment were thinking of Nancy. Maniwel and
his family were taking counsel together, and even the father’s brow was
troubled.

“I never once gave her a thought, lad,” he said, lifting his eyes to his
son’s face. “It’s awk’ard.”

“Awkward!” repeated Jagger. “What you’ve got to do is to say ’at you’ve
thought better of it, and let him stop where he is. It was a mad idea to
offer all t’ bit we have i’ t’ bank to bail out a scamp like him. I
thought you must ha’ lost your senses when I heard you.”

“It seems such a shame after all t’ mischief he’s done you,” said Hannah
indignantly. “It isn’t as if it ’ud make any difference either, ’cos
there’s naught so certain as ’at he’ll get a long sentence at t’
finish.”

“Now, mother, it’s your turn, and then we’ll hear what Baldwin has to
say.”

“Nay,” said Baldwin, with an emphatic movement of the head, “I’m saying
naught; it’s none o’ my business.”

“Then come, mother!” said Maniwel, with half-humorous encouragement.

“He comes off a black moor, Maniwel,” said the old woman. “Them of his
breed isn’t to be trusted. They’re slippy as eels, and cunning as foxes,
and their heart’s nowt but a bog. They’re t’ devil’s own childer from t’
start...!”

“Why, now, I think that’s as far as we need go, mother,” Maniwel
interrupted with a twinkle in his eye; “for if we went further we could
hardly fare worse. I reckon if he was t’ devil’s own bairn from t’ start
it’s time he had a step-father, and as there’s nob’dy else willing it’ll
ha’ to be me.

“I may ha’ been a bit hasty, Jagger, i’ offering brass ’at didn’t belong
to me, but if we lose it I’ll try to make it up to you, lad; and if I
can’t you’ll none bear me a grudge. I can’t fairly put into words what’s
at t’ back o’ my mind, but yon lad’s nob’dy akin to him by what I can
make out, and this is t’ last chance there’ll be for a good while o’
showing him a kindness. He’ll ha’ lots o’ time for reckoning things up
after a bit, and I could like him to think ’at he’d a friend ’at ’ud
give him a hand and help him to keep straight when he came out. I could
like better still, lad, to think ’at he’d a houseful o’ friends.”

He looked hard at his son, who avoided the glance and still looked
gloomy.

“There’s some men kindness won’t cure,” he growled.

“That’s true,” his father replied, “but you never know who they are.
You’ve got to go on trying, same as t’ doctors, and it’s capping what
bad cases pull round sometimes, if you’ve a bit o’ patience. Now come,
lad! you wouldn’t have me go to Inman and say, ‘I’ve been thinking t’
thing over, and we’re flayed if we bring you home you’ll nobbut get
worse, and mebbe smittle someb’dy else into t’ bargain, so we’ve decided
to leave you to t’ prison doctor?’”

With a hasty exclamation Baldwin pushed back his chair and went out of
doors, and Hannah smiled.

“It was getting over warm for him i’ front o’ t’ fire,” she remarked
caustically. “_He’s_ pulling round very slow.”

“He’s none that bad,” said her grandmother, with a note of defiance in
her voice.

“He’s none that good, neither,” returned Hannah. “It’ll take a deal o’
father’s honey to sweeten him to my taste.”

“Shut up, Hannah,” said her brother, who seemed relieved now that
Baldwin was not present. “He’s making himself useful i’ t’ shop, and his
temper’s improving. He’ll be going back to Keturah, let’s hope, when
Inman’s out o’ t’ road. It’s _him_ I’m bothered about. It’s all very
well experimenting on t’ devil wi’ kindness, but what about Nancy? He’ll
kill her!”

“I’ll go see t’ lass,” said his father, “and talk it over. She’d best go
away while after t’ trial, happen.”

“You’ve no ’casion to bother,” returned his son; “I’ve seen her myself
and she won’t budge. She’s as bad to move as you.”

“But as I’ve getten her into t’ mess I must try to get her out,” said
Maniwel. “She’ll be blaming me, and no wonder; but I doubt if t’ lass
’ud have me go back o’ my word. I’ll step across.”

“Please yourself,” said Jagger, “but she’s made her mind up. She’s
staying where she is, choose what happens. I said Hannah ’ud sleep wi’
her, but she shook her head. She’s got it fixed in her mind that he’s
too fond of his skin to hurt her—‘all for my-sen doesn’t put his neck
in a noose,’ she says. And she won’t blame you, you’ll see. As like as
not she’ll thank you.”

“Then it’ll be summat fresh,” said Maniwel, “and a change is good for
everybody. We shall find some way out between us, I’ll warrant.”


                              CHAPTER XXXI

               IN WHICH WE TAKE LEAVE OF THE MEN OF MAWM

WHETHER it was fate or providence that led Maniwel Drake to risk his
savings in order to procure for his enemy a few weeks liberty, who shall
determine? When men are the sport of circumstances they cry, “Who can
control his fate?” When kindly breezes bring them into the haven where
they would be they talk smoothly of Providence. Theologians and
philosophers have disputed over the terms in all ages; but amidst the
clash of argument one truth stands out clearly—that a man inevitably
reaps what he sows. Within a month Maniwel had lost his money and Inman
his life.

“It wor fated to be so,” said old Ambrose; but Jagger regarded it as an
act of Providence.

Inman came home, to the surprise of his wife, who had not believed that
his pride would suffer him to face his neighbours; and in the language
that was current “brazzened it out.” His features were impassive, and
there was a stern repelling look in his eyes that made men chary of
seeking his company. He had no doubt formed his plans from the first,
but he masked his intentions with guile and succeeded in disarming
suspicion. With the men of Mawm it was in his favour that he paid no
lip-service to the Drakes for the kindness they had done him, and
avoided all communication with them.

His business seemed to occupy all his thoughts; and the arrangements he
made for its continuance during the three years his lawyer told him he
might expect to be away lacked nothing in completeness. He sat for hours
with Nancy and Frank, looking into accounts and discussing possibilities
with something like subdued zest; but he never once referred to the
subject of his arrest and the circumstances that had led up to it; and
Nancy told herself that the silence was portentous. She took the
precaution to bolt her bedroom door at night and slept little.

Several weeks before his liberty was to end he disappeared in
circumstances that made pursuit impossible—that made even his flight
doubtful.

It was a cold April day, fitfully bright, with frequent showers of
sleet. Towards the middle of the afternoon the wind brought up great
banks of leaden cloud which discharged themselves in snow. Before
nightfall a blizzard was raging with a severity that even Mawm found
exceptional, and for eighteen hours there was no cessation of its fury.
Huge drifts, in some cases ten feet deep, made the roads impassable, and
the farmers’ faces were clouded, for scores of ewes had perished in the
storm together with their lambs, and foxes were busy in the poultry
houses.

Inman was seen in the street before the snow came, and not until his
dead body was found a fortnight later was it known for certain that he
had planned an escape. He had pledged his word not to leave the village,
and Stalker’s successor was supposed to keep an observant eye on him;
but there had been no definition of boundaries, so that there was always
the possibility that he had been cut off by the storm and had found
shelter in some upland farm with which there was no present means of
communication.

Maniwel cherished no such hope. “He’s gone, lad,” he said to Jagger, and
his son nodded.

“It can’t be helped,” he replied.

A farmer, seeking his dead sheep, found him when the thaw came, in a
shallow depression not two yards deep, into which he had stumbled as he
walked, doubtless with his head bent to the challenge of the rising
gale, across the moor.

There he had lain, stunned and with a broken leg, less than twenty feet
from the path by which he had entered Mawm a year and a half before, and
there death had overtaken him. On his body was the evidence of his
intention—notes and gold to a large amount which he had brought from
their hiding-place, and with which, no doubt, he had hoped to start life
afresh.

The village of Mawm has still the carpenter’s shop, and the business is
prosperous in a moderate way. Baldwin Briggs has an interest in it, but
the name upon the sign-board is “Drake and Son.” Little new machinery
has been added, for though capital was not entirely lacking the Drakes
have the conservatism of the Yorkshire countryman, and are afraid of
moving too fast. They have “made brass” but not piled it up very high;
yet there is enough and a little to spare, and Nancy Drake is satisfied.
She has two children, sturdy boys both of them, who are the pride of
their grandfather’s heart, and a husband who grows more like his father
every day. So Swithin says, and now that Ambrose, like grannie, sleeps
lower down the valley there is no greater authority in Mawm.

Hannah and her father occupy the old home, and there is a rumour in the
village that Jack Pearce would like to share it with them, or
alternatively to take Hannah to one of his providing.

Baldwin and Keturah, too, are in familiar quarters. Nancy was glad to
get away when Jagger married her, and he rented a good, square house
across the stream where there is a garden for the children.

Baldwin has aged very much, and his temper is still occasionally raspy,
but if he gives trouble it is only Keturah who knows it, and she is
certainly no more fretful than before; indeed, there are those who
assert that the fountain of her tears is almost dry.

Fate or Providence? “I was against it at t’ time,” says Jagger. “It
seemed like a fool’s trick, and it was a lot o’ brass to lose; but it
was a providence for all that.”

Nancy says nothing.

                                THE END



                           TRANSCRIBER NOTES

Obvious misspelled words and printer errors have been corrected. Where
more than one spelling occurs, the majority used word was applied but
archaic spellings, if used, were maintained. Author's consistent use of
“my-sen” versus Yorkshire use of “mi sen” has been maintained.

Inconsistencies in punctuation have been maintained.

The author’s use of contractions has been maintained with spaces removed
where appropriate to conform to Yorkshire dialect: “for ’t” to “for’t”,
“on ’t” to “on’t”, “in ’t” to “in’t”, “to ’t” to “to’t”, “of ’t” to
“of’t”, “t’ other” to “t’other”, “more ’n” to “more’n”, wi’ ’t to wi’t
and all “’ll” contractions have been joined including “’at ’ll” to
“’at’ll”.

Italics are represented thus _italics_ and bold thus =bold=.





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