"With these words on his lips, with this thought in his heart, he started for the mill. What plan he intended to adopt, what form of vengeance he intended to take, it matters not, but assuredly it was with thoughts of vengeance in his heart that he followed that dark and lonely road to the mill. Once there he would have hung about waiting for his victim to issue forth. It may be that he had picked up a heavy stone, may be that he had an open knife in his hand; but while he was waiting, probably his foot struck against a coil of rope, which, as you will hear, had been carelessly thrown out a few minutes before.
"Then doubtless the idea of a surer method of vengeance than that of which he had before thought came into his mind. A piece of the rope was hastily cut off, and with this the prisoner stole quietly off until he reached the spot where two gates facing each other on opposite sides of the lane afforded a suitable hold for the rope. Whether after fastening it across the road he remained at the spot to watch the catastrophe which he had brought about, or whether he hurried away into the darkness secure of his vengeance we cannot tell, nor does it matter. You will understand, gentlemen, that we are not in a position to prove these details of the tragedy. I am telling you the theory of the prosecution as to how it happened. Murders are not generally done in open day with plenty of trustworthy witnesses looking on. It is seldom that the act of slaying is witnessed by human eye. The evidence must therefore to some extent be circumstantial. The prosecution can only lay before juries the antecedent circumstances, show ill will and animus, and lead the jury step by step up to the point when the murderer and the victim meet in some spot at some time when none but the all seeing eye of God is upon them. This case is, as you see, no exception to the general rule.
"I have shown you that between the prisoner and the deceased there was what may be termed a long standing feud, which came to a climax two or three hours before this murder. Up to that fatal evening I think I shall show you that the prisoner was wholly in fault, and that the deceased acted with great good temper and self command under a long series of provocations; but upon this evening his temper appears to have failed, and I will admit frankly that he seems to have committed a very outrageous and brutal assault upon the prisoner. Still, gentlemen, such an assault is no justification of the crime which took place. Unhappily it supplies the cause, but it does not supply an excuse for the crime.
"Your duty in the case will be simple. You will have to say whether or not the murder of William Mulready is accounted for upon the theory which I have laid down to you and on no other. Should you entertain no doubt upon the subject it will be your duty to bring in a verdict of guilty; if you do not feel absolutely certain you will of course give the prisoner the benefit of the doubt."
The evidence called added nothing to what was known at the first examination. The two servants testified to the fact of the unpleasant relations which had from the first existed between the deceased and the prisoner, and detailed what they knew of the quarrel. Charlie's evidence was the most damaging, as he had to state the threat which Ned had uttered before he went out.
The counsel for the defense asked but few questions in cross examination. He elicited from the servants, however, the fact that Mr. Mulready at home was a very different person from Mr. Mulready as known by people in general. They acknowledged that he was by no means a pleasant master, that he was irritable and fault finding, and that his temper was trying in the extreme, He only asked one or two questions of Charlie.
"You did not find your stepfather a very pleasant man to deal with, did you?"
"Not at all pleasant," Charlie replied heartily.
"Always snapping and snarling and finding fault, wasn't he?"
"Yes, sir, always."
"Now about this threat of which we have heard so much on the part of your brother, did it impress you much? Were you frightened at it? Did you think that your brother intended to kill your stepfather?"
"No, sir, I am sure he didn't; he just said it in a passion. He had been knocked about until he could hardly stand, and he just said the first thing that came into his head, like fellows do."
"You don't think that he went out with any deliberate idea of killing your stepfather?"
"No, sir; I am sure he only went out to walk about till he got over his passion, just as he had done before."
"It was his way, was it, when anything put him out very much, to go and walk about till he got cool again?"
For the defense Mr. Simmonds was called, and produced the threatening letters which Mr. Mulready had laid before him. He stated that that gentleman was much alarmed, and had asked that a military force should be called into the town, and that he himself and his colleague had considered the danger so serious that they had applied for and obtained military protection.
Luke Marner and several of the hands at the mill testified to the extreme unpopularity of their employer among his men, and said that they should never have been surprised any morning at hearing that he had been killed.
Dr. Green and Mr. Porson testified very strongly in favor of Ned's character. This was all the evidence produced. Mr. Grant then addressed the jury, urging that beyond the fact of this unfortunate quarrel, in which the deceased appeared to have been entirely to blame and to have behaved with extreme brutality, there was nothing whatever to associate the prisoner with the crime. The young gentleman before them, as they had heard from the testimony of gentlemen of the highest respectability, bore an excellent character. That he had faults in temper he admitted, such faults being the result of the lad having been brought up among Indian servants; but Dr. Green and Mr. Porson had both told them that he had made the greatest efforts to master his temper, and that they believed that no ordinary provocation could arouse him. But after all what did what they had heard amount to? simply this, the lad's mother had been married a second time to a man who bore the outward reputation of being a pleasant, jovial man, a leading character among his townsmen, a popular fellow in the circle in which he moved.
It had been proved, however, by the evidence of those who knew him best, of his workpeople, his servants, of this poor lad whom the prosecution had placed in the box as a witness against his brother, that this man's life was a long lie; that, smiling and pleasant as he appeared, he was a tyrant, a petty despot in his family, a hard master to his hands, a cruel master in his house, What wonder that between this lad and such a stepfather as this there was no love lost. There were scores, ay and thousands of boys in England who similarly hated their stepfathers, and was it to be said that, if any of the men came to a sudden and violent death, these boys were to be suspected of their murder. But in the present case, although he was not in a position to lay his finger upon the man who perpetrated this crime, they need not go far to look for him. Had they not heard that he was hated by his workpeople? Evidence had been laid before them to show that he was a marked man, that he had received threatening letters from secret associations which had, as was notorious, kept the south of Yorkshire, and indeed all that part of the country which was the seat of manufacture, in a state of alarm. So imminent was the danger considered that the magistrates had requested the aid of an armed force, and at the tame this murder was committed there were soldiers actually stationed in the mill, besides a strong force in the town for the protection of this man from his enemies.
The counsel for the prosecution had given them his theory as to the actions of the prisoner, but he believed that that theory was altogether wide of the truth. It was known that an accident had taken place to the machinery, for the mill was standing idle for the day. It would be probable that the deceased would go over late in the evening to see how the work was progressing, as every effort was being made to get the machinery to run on the following morning.
"What so probable, then, that the enemies of the deceased—and you know that he had enemies, who had sworn to take his life—should choose this opportunity for attacking him as he drove to or from the town. That an enemy was prowling round the mill, as has been suggested to you, I admit readily enough. That he stumbled upon the rope, that the idea occurred to him of upsetting the gig on its return, that he cut off a portion of the rope and fixed it between the two gateposts across the road, and that this rope caused the death of William Mulready. All this I allow; but I submit to you that the man who did this was a member of the secret association which is a terror to the land, and was the terror of William Mulready, and there is no proof whatever, not even the shadow not even the shadow of a proof, to connect this lad with the crime.
"I am not speaking without a warrant when I assert my conviction that it was an emissary of the association known as the Luddites who had a hand in this matter, for I am in possession of a document, which unfortunately I am not in a position to place before you, as it is not legal evidence, which professes to be written by the man who perpetrated this deed, and who appears, although obedient to the behests of this secret association of which he is a member, to be yet a man not devoid of heart, who says that if this innocent young man is found guilty of this crime he will himself come forward and confess that he did it.
"Therefore, gentlemen of the jury, there is every reason to believe that the slayer of William Mulready is indeed within these walls, but assuredly he is not the most unfortunate and ill treated young man who stands in the dock awaiting your verdict to set him free."
The summing up was brief. The judge commenced by telling the jury that they must dismiss altogether from their minds the document of which the counsel for the defense had spoken, and to which, as it had not been put into court, and indeed could not be put into court, it was highly irregular and improper for him to have alluded. They must, he said, dismiss it altogether from their minds. Their duty was simple, they were to consider the evidence before them. They had heard of the quarrel which had taken place between the deceased and the prisoner. They had heard the threat used by the prisoner that he would kill the deceased if he had an opportunity, and they had to decide whether he had, in accordance with the theory of the prosecution, carried that threat into effect; or whether on the other hand, as the defense suggested, the deceased had fallen a victim to the agent of the association which had threatened his life. He was bound to tell them that if they entertained any doubt as to the guilt of the prisoner at the bar they were bound to give him the benefit of the doubt.
The jury consulted together for a short time and then expressed their desire to retire to consider their verdict. They were absent about half an hour and on their return the foreman said in reply to the question of the judge that they found the prisoner "Not Guilty."
A perfect silence reigned in the court when the jury entered the box, and something like a sigh of relief followed their verdict. It was expected, and indeed there was some surprise when the jury retired, for the general opinion was that whether guilty or innocent the prosecution had failed to bring home unmistakably the crime to the prisoner. That he might have committed it was certain, that he had committed it was probable, but it was assuredly not proved that he and none other had been the perpetrator of the crime.
Of all the persons in the court the accused had appeared the least anxious as to the result. He received almost with indifference the assurances which Mr. Wakefield, who was sitting at the solicitor's table below him, rose to give him, that the jury could not find a verdict against him, and the expression of his face was unchanged when the foreman announced the verdict.
He was at once released from the dock. His solicitor, Dr. Green, and Mr. Porson warmly shook his hand, and Charlie threw his arms round his neck and cried in his joy and excitement.
"It is all right, I suppose," Ned said as, surrounded by his friends, he left the court, "but I would just as lief the verdict had gone the other way."
"Oh! Ned, how can you say so?" Charlie exclaimed.
"Well, no, Charlie," Ned corrected himself. "I am glad for your sake and Lucy's that I am acquitted; it would have been awful for you if I had been hung—it is only for myself that I don't care. The verdict only means that they have not been able to prove me guilty, and I have got to go on living all my life knowing that I am suspected of being a murderer. It is not a nice sort of thing, you know," and he laughed drearily.
"Come, come, Ned," Mr. Porson said cheerily, "you mustn't take too gloomy a view of it. It is natural enough that you should do so now, for you have gone through a great deal, and you are overwrought and worn out; but this will pass off, and you will find things are not as bad as you think. It is true that there may be some, not many, I hope, who will be of opinion that the verdict was like the Scotch verdict 'Not Proven,' rather than 'Not Guilty;' but I am sure the great majority will believe you innocent. You have got the doctor here on your side, and he is a host in himself. Mr. Simmonds told me when the jury were out of the court that he was convinced you were innocent, and his opinion will go a long way in Marsden, and you must hope and trust that the time will come when your innocence will be not only believed in, but proved to the satisfaction of all by the discovery of the actual murderer."
"Ah!" Ned said, "if we ever find that out it will be all right; but unless we can do so I shall have this dreadful thing hanging over me all my life."
They had scarcely reached the hotel where Mr. Porson, the doctor, and Charlie were stopping, when Mr. Simmonds arrived.
"I have come to congratulate you, my boy," he said, shaking hands with Ned. "I can see that at present the verdict does not give so much satisfaction to you as to your friends, but that is natural enough. You have been unjustly accused and have had a very hard time of it, and you are naturally not disposed to look at matters in a cheerful light; but this gives us time, my boy, and time is everything. It is hard for you that your innocence has not been fully demonstrated, but you have your life before you, and we must hope that some day you will be triumphantly vindicated."
"That is what I shall live for in future," Ned said. "Of course now, Mr. Simmonds, there is an end of all idea of my going into the army. A man suspected of a murder, even if they have failed to bring it home to him, cannot ask for a commission in the army. I know there's an end to all that."
"No," Mr. Simmonds agreed hesitatingly, "I fear that for the present that plan had better remain in abeyance; we can take it up again later on when this matter is put straight."
"That may be never," Ned said decidedly, "so we need say no more about it."
"And now, my boy," Mr. Porson said, "try and eat some lunch. I have just ordered a post chaise to be round at the door in half an hour. The sooner we start the better. The fresh air and the change will do you good, and we shall have plenty of time to talk on the road."
CHAPTER XVI: LUKE MARNER'S SACRIFICE
Not until they had left York behind them did Ned ask after his mother. He knew that if there had been anything pleasant to tell about her he would have heard it at once, and the silence of his friends warned him that the subject was not an agreeable one.
"How is my mother?" he asked at last abruptly.
"Well, Ned," Dr. Green replied, "I have been expecting your question, and I am sorry to say that I have nothing agreeable to tell you."
"That I was sure of," Ned said with a hard laugh. "As I have received no message from her from the day I was arrested I guessed pretty well that whatever doubt other people might feel, my mother was positive that I had murdered her husband."
"The fact is, Ned," Dr. Green said cautiously, "your mother is not at present quite accountable for her opinions. The shock which she has undergone has, I think, unhinged her mind. Worthless as I believe him to have been, this man had entirely gained her affections. She has not risen from her bed since he died.
"Sometimes she is absolutely silent for hours, at others she talks incessantly; and painful as it is to tell you so, her first impression that you were responsible for his death is the one which still remains fixed on her mind. She is wholly incapable of reason or of argument. At times she appears sane and sensible enough and talks of other matters coherently; but the moment she touches on this topic she becomes excited and vehement. It has been a great comfort to me, and I am sure it will be to you, that your old servant Abijah has returned and taken up the position of housekeeper.
"As soon as your mother's first excitement passed away I asked her if she would like this, and she eagerly assented. The woman was in the town, having come over on the morning after you gave yourself up, and to my great relief she at once consented to take up her former position. This is a great thing for your sister, who is, of course, entirely in her charge, as your mother is not in a condition to attend to anything. I was afraid at first that she would not remain, so indignant was she at your mother's believing your guilt; but when I assured her that the poor lady was not responsible for what she said, and that her mind was in fact unhinged altogether by the calamity, she overcame her feelings; but it is comic to see her struggling between her indignation at your mother's irresponsible talk and her consciousness that it is necessary to abstain from exciting her by contradiction."
Dr. Green had spoken as lightly as he could, but he knew how painful it must be to Ned to hear of his mother's conviction of his guilt, and how much it would add to the trials of his position.
Ned himself had listened in silence. He sighed heavily when the doctor had finished.
"Abijah will be a great comfort," he said quietly, "a wonderful comfort; but as to my poor mother, it will of course be a trial. Still, no wonder that, when she heard me say those words when I went out, she thinks that I did it. However, I suppose that it is part of my punishment."
"Have you thought anything of your future plans, Ned?" Mr. Porson asked after they had driven in silence for some distance.
"Yes, I have been thinking a good deal," Ned replied, "all the time I was shut up and had nothing else to do. I did not believe that they would find me guilty, and of course I had to settle what I should do afterward. If it was only myself I think I should go away and take another name; but in that case there would be no chance of my ever clearing myself, and for father's sake and for the sake of Charlie and Lucy I must not throw away a chance of that. It would be awfully against them all their lives if people could say of them that their brother was the fellow who murdered their stepfather. Perhaps they will always say so now; still it is evidently my duty to stay, if it were only on the chance of clearing up the mystery.
"In the next place I feel that I ought to stay for the sake of money matters. I don't think, in the present state of things, with the Luddites burning mills and threatening masters, any one would give anything like its real value for the mill now. I know that it did not pay with the old machinery, and it is not every one who would care to run the risk of working with the new. By the terms of the settlement that was made before my mother married again the mill is now hers, and she and Charlie and Lucy have nothing else to depend upon. As she is not capable of transacting business it falls upon me to take her place, and I intend to try, for a time at any rate, to run the mill myself. Of course I know nothing about it, but as the hands all know their work the foreman will be able to carry on the actual business of the mill till I master the details.
"As to the office business, the clerk will know all about it. There was a man who used to travel about to buy wool, I know my mother's husband had every confidence in him, and he could go on just as before. As to the sales, the books will tell the names of the firms who dealt with us, and I suppose the business with them will go on as before. At any rate I can but try for a time. Of course I have quite made up my mind that I shall have no personal interest whatever in the business. They may think that I murdered Mulready, but they shall not say that I have profited by his death. I should suppose that my mother can pay me some very small salary, just sufficient to buy my clothes. So I shall go on till Charlie gets to an age when he can manage the business as its master; then if no clue has been obtained as to the murder I shall be able to give it up and go abroad, leaving him with, I hope, a good business for himself and Lucy."
"I think that is as good a plan as any," Mr. Porson said; "but, however, there is no occasion to come to any sudden determination at present. I myself should advise a change of scene and thought before you decide anything finally. I have a brother living in London and he would, I am sure, very gladly take you in for a fortnight and show you the sights of London."
"Thank you, sir, you are very kind," Ned said quietly; "but I have got to face it out at Marsden, and I would rather begin at once."
Mr. Porson saw by the set, steady look upon Ned's face that he had thoroughly made up his mind as to the part he had to play, and that any further argument would be of no avail. It was not until the postchaise was approaching Marsden that any further allusion was made to Ned's mother. Then the doctor, after consulting Mr. Porson by various upliftings of the eyebrows, returned to the subject.
"Ned, my boy, we were speaking some little time ago of your mother. I think it is best that I should tell you frankly that I do not consider her any longer responsible for her actions. I tell you this in order that you may not be wounded by your reception.
"Since that fatal day she has not left her bed. She declares that she has lost all power in her limbs. Of course that is nonsense, but the result is the same. She keeps her bed, and, as far as I can see, is likely to keep it. This is perhaps the less to be regretted, as you will thereby avoid being thrown into contact with her; for I tell you plainly such contact, in her present state of mind, could only be unpleasant to you. Were you to meet, it would probably at the least bring on a frightful attack of hysterics, which in her present state might be a serious matter. Therefore, my boy, you must make up your mind not to see her for awhile. I have talked the matter over with your old nurse, who will remain with your mother as housekeeper, with a girl under her. You will, of course, take your place as master of the house, with your brother and sister with you, until your mother is in a position to manage—if ever she should be. But I trust at any rate that she will ere long so far recover as to be able to receive you as the good son you have ever been to her."
"Thank you," Ned said quietly. "I understand, doctor."
Ned did understand that his mother was convinced of his guilt and refused to see him; it was what he expected, and yet it was a heavy trial. Very cold and hard he looked as the postchaise drove through the streets of Marsden. People glanced at it curiously, and as they saw Ned sitting by the side of the men who were known as his champions they hurried away to spread the news that young Sankey had been acquitted.
The hard look died out of Ned's face as the door opened, and Lucy sprang out and threw her arms round his neck and cried with delight at seeing him; and Abijah, crying too, greeted him inside with a motherly welcome. A feeling of relief came across his mind as he entered the sitting room. Dr. Green, who was one of the trustees in the marriage settlement, had, in the inability of Mrs. Mulready to give any orders, taken upon himself to dispose of much of the furniture, and to replace it with some of an entirely different fashion and appearance. The parlor was snug and cosy; a bright fire blazed on the hearth; a comfortable armchair stood beside it; the room looked warm and homely. Ned's two friends had followed him in, and tears stood in both their eyes.
"Welcome back, dear boy!" Mr. Porson said, grasping his hand. "God grant that better times are in store for you, and that you may outlive this trial which has at present darkened your life. Now we will leave you to your brother and sister. I am sure you will be glad to be alone with them."
And so Ned took to the life he had marked out for himself. In two months he seemed to have aged years. The careless look of boyhood had altogether disappeared from his face. Except from his two friends he rejected all sympathy. When he walked through the streets of Marsden it was with a cold, stony face, as if he were wholly unaware of the existence of passersby. The thought that as he went along men drew aside to let him pass and whispered after he had gone, "That is the fellow who murdered his stepfather, but escaped because they could not bring it home to him," was ever in his mind. His friends in vain argued with him against his thus shutting himself off from the world. They assured him that there were very many who, like themselves, were perfectly convinced of his innocence, and who would rally round him and support him if he would give them the least encouragement, but Ned shook his head.
"I dare say what you say is true," he would reply; "but I could not do it—I must go on alone. It is as much as I can bear now."
And his friends saw that it was useless to urge him further.
On the day after his return to Marsden Luke Marner and Bill Swinton came back on the coach from York, and after it was dark Ned walked up to Varley and knocked at Bill's door.
On hearing who it was Bill threw on his cap and came out to him. For a minute the lads stood with their hands clasped firmly in each other's without a word being spoken.
"Thank God, Maister Ned," Bill said at last, "we ha' got thee again!"
"Thank God too!" Ned said; "though I think I would rather that it had gone the other way."
They walked along for some time without speaking again, and then Ned said suddenly:
"Now, Bill, who is the real murderer?"
Bill stopped his walk in astonishment.
"The real murderer!" he repeated; "how ever should oi know, Maister Ned?"
"I know that you know, Bill. It was you who wrote that letter to Mr. Wakefield saying that the man who did it would be at the trial, and that if I were found guilty he would give himself up. It's no use your denying it, for I knew your handwriting at once."
Bill was silent for some time, It had never occurred to him that this letter would be brought home to him.
"Come, Bill, you must tell me," Ned said. "Do not be afraid. I promise you that I will not use it against him. Mind, if I can bring it home to him in any other way I shall do so; but I promise you that no word shall ever pass my lips about the letter. I want to know who is the man of whose crime the world believes me guilty. The secret shall, as far as he is concerned, be just as much a secret as it was before."
"But oi dunno who is the man, Maister Ned. If oi did oi would ha' gone into the court and said so, even though oi had been sure they would ha' killed me for peaching when oi came back. Oi dunno no more than a child."
"Then you only wrote that letter to throw them on to a false scent, Bill? Who put you up to that, for I am sure it would never have occurred to you?"
"No," Bill said slowly, "oi should never ha' thought of it myself; Luke told oi what to wroit, and I wroited it."
"Oh, it was Luke! was it?" Ned said sharply. "Then the man who did it must have told him."
"Oi didn't mean to let out as it waar Luke," Bill said in confusion; "and oi promised him solemn to say nowt about it."
"Well," Ned said, turning sharp round and starting on his way back to the village, "I must see Luke himself."
Bill in great perplexity followed Ned, muttering: "Oh, Lor'! what ull Luke say to oi? What a fellow oi be to talk, to be sure!"
Nothing further was said until they reached Luke's cottage. Ned knocked and entered at once, followed sheepishly by Bill.
"Maister Ned, oi be main glad to see thee," Luke said as he rose from his place by the fire; while Polly with a little cry, "Welcome!" dropped her work.
"Thanks, Luke—thanks for coming over to York to give evidence. How are you, Polly? There! don't cry—I ain't worth crying over. At any rate, it is a satisfaction to be with three people who don't regard me as a murderer. Now, Polly, I want you to go into the other room, for I have a question which I must ask Luke, and I don't want even you to hear the answer."
Polly gathered her work together and went out. Then Ned went over to Luke, who was looking at him with surprise, and laid his hand on his shoulder.
"Luke," he said, "I want you to tell me exactly how it was that you came to tell Bill to write that letter to Mr. Wakefield?"
Luke started and then looked savagely over at Bill, who stood twirling his cap in his hand.
"Oi couldn't help it, Luke," he said humbly. "Oi didn't mean vor to say it, but he got it out of me somehow. He knowed my fist on the paper, and, says he, sudden loike, 'Who war the man as murdered Foxey?' What was oi vor to say? He says at once as he knowed the idea of writing that letter would never ha' coom into my head; and so the long and short of it be, as your name slipped owt somehow, and there you be."
"Now, Luke," Ned said soothingly, "I want to know whether there was a man who was ready to take my place in the dock had I been found guilty, and if so, who he was. I shall keep the name as a secret. I give you my word of honor. After he had promised to come forward and save my life that is the least I can do, though, as I told Bill, if I could bring it home to him in any other way I should feel myself justified in doing so. It may be that he would be willing to go across the seas, and when he is safe there to write home saying that he did it."
"Yes, oi was afraid that soom sich thawt might be in your moind, Maister Ned, but it can't be done that way. But oi doan't know," he said thoughtfully, "perhaps it moight, arter all. Perhaps the chap as was a-coomin' forward moight take it into his head to go to Ameriky. Oi shouldn't wonder if he did, In fact, now oi thinks on't, oi am pretty sure as he will. Yes. Oi can say for sartin as that's what he intends. A loife vor a loife you know, Maister Nod, that be only fair, bean't it?"
"And you think he will really go?" Ned asked eagerly.
"Ay, he will go," Luke said firmly, "it's as good as done; but," he added slowly, "I dunno as he's got money vor to pay his passage wi'. There's some kids as have to go wi' him. He would want no more nor just the fare. But oi doan't see how he can go till he has laid that by, and in these hard toimes it ull take him some time to do that."
"I will provide the money," Ned said eagerly. "Abijah would lend me some of her savings, and I can pay her back some day."
"Very well, Maister Ned. Oi expect as how he will take it as a loan. Moind, he will pay it hack if he lives, honest. Oi doan't think as how he bain't honest, that chap, though he did kill Foxey. Very well," Luke went on slowly, "then the matter be as good as settled. Oi will send Bill down tomorrow, and he will see if thou canst let un have the money. A loife vor a loife, that's what oi says, Maister Ned. That be roight, bain't it?"
"That's right enough, Luke," Ned replied, "though I don't quite see what that has to do with it, except that the man who has taken this life should give his life to make amends."
"Yes, that be it, in course," Luke replied. "Yes; just as you says, he ought vor to give his loife to make amends."
That night Ned arranged with Abijah, who was delighted to hand over her savings for the furtherance of any plan that would tend to clear Ned from the suspicion which hung over him. Bill came down next morning, and was told that a hundred pounds would be forthcoming in two days.
Upon the following evening the servant came in and told Ned that a young woman wished to speak to him. He went down into the study, and, to his surprise, Mary Powlett was shown in. Her eyes were swollen with crying.
"Master Ned," she said, "I have come to say goodby."
"Good-by, Polly! Why, where are you going?"
"We are all going away, sir, tomorrow across the seas, to Ameriky I believe. It's all come so sudden it seems like a dream, Feyther never spoke of such a thing afore, and now all at once we have got to start. I have run all the way down from Varley to say goodby. Feyther told me that I wasn't on no account to come down to you. Not on no account, he said. But how could I go away and know that you had thought us so strange and ungrateful as to go away without saying goodby after your dear feyther giving his life for little Jenny. I couldn't do it, sir. So when he started off to spend the evening for the last time at the 'Cow' I put on my bonnet and ran down here. I don't care if he beats me—not that he ever did beat sir, but he might now—for he was terrible stern in telling me as I wasn't to come and see you."
Ned heard her without an interruption. The truth flashed across his mind. It was Luke Marner himself who was going to America, and was going to write home to clear him. Yet surely Luke could never have done it—Luke, so different from the majority of the croppers—Luke, who had steadily refused to have anything to say to General Lud and his schemes against the masters. Mary's last words gave him a clue to the mystery—"Your dear feyther gave his life for little Jenny." He coupled it with Luke's enigmatical words, "A loife for a loife."
For a minute or two he sat absolutely silent. Mary was hurt at the seeming indifference with which he received the news. She drew herself up a little, and said, in an altered voice,
"I will say goodby, sir. I hope you won't think I was taking a liberty in thinking you would be sorry if we were all to go without your knowing it."
Ned roused himself at her words.
"It is not that, Polly. It is far from being that. But I want to ask you a question. You remember the night of Mr. Mulready's murder? Do you remember whether your father was at home all that evening?"
Polly opened her eyes in surprise at a question which seemed to her so irrelevant to the matter in hand;
"Yes, sir," she replied, still coldly. "I remember that night. We are not likely any of us to forget it. Feyther had not gone to the 'Cow.' He sat smoking at home. Bill had dropped in, and they sat talking of the doings of the Luddites till it was later than usual. Feyther was sorry afterward, because he said if he had been down at the 'Cow' he might have noticed by the talk if any one had an idea that anything was going to take place."
"Then he didn't go out at all that night, Polly?"
"No, sir, not at all that night; and now, sir, I will say goodby."
"No, Polly, you won't, for I shall go back with you, and I don't think that you will go to America."
"I don't understand," the girl faltered.
"No, Polly, I don't suppose you do; and I have not understood till now. You will see when you get back."
"If you please," Mary said hesitatingly, "I would rather that you would not be there when feyther comes back. Of course I shall tell him that I have been down to see you, and I know he will be very angry."
"I think I shall be able to put that straight. I can't let your father go. God knows I have few enough true friends, and I cannot spare him and you; and as for Bill Swinton, he would break his heart if you went."
"Bill's only a boy; he will get over it," Polly said in a careless tone, but with a bright flush upon her cheek.
"He is nearly as old as you are, Polly, and he is one of the best fellows in the world. I know he's not your equal in education, but a steadier, better fellow, never was."
Mary made no reply, and in another minute the two set out together for Varley. In spite of Ned's confident assurance that he would appease Luke's anger, Mary was frightened when, as they entered the cottage, she saw Luke standing moodily in front of the fire.
"Oi expected this," he said in a tone of deep bitterness. "Oi were a fool vor to think as you war different to other gals, and that you would give up your own wishes to your feyther's."
"Oh, feyther!" Polly cried, "don't speak so to me. Beat me if you like, I deserve to be beaten, but don't speak to me like that. I am ready to go anywhere you like, and to be a good daughter to you; forgive me for this once disobeying you."
"Luke, old friend," Ned said earnestly, putting his hand on the cropper's shoulder, "don't be angry with Polly, she has done me a great service. I have learned the truth, and know what you meant now by a life for a life. You were going to sacrifice yourself for me. You were going to take upon yourself a crime which you never committed to clear me. You went to York to declare yourself the murderer of Mulready, in case I had been found guilty. You were going to emigrate to America to send home a written confession."
"Who says as how oi didn't kill Foxey?" Luke said doggedly. "If oi choose to give myself oop now who is to gainsay me?"
"Mary and Bill can both gainsay you," Ned said. "They can prove that you did not stir out of the house that night. Come, Luke, it's of no use. I feel with all my heart grateful to you for the sacrifice you were willing to make for me. I thank you as deeply and as heartily as if you had made it. It was a grand act of self sacrifice, and you must not be vexed with Polly that she has prevented you carrying it out. It would have made me very unhappy had she not done so. When I found that you were gone I should certainly have got out from Bill the truth of the matter, and when your confession came home I should have been in a position to prove that you had only made it to screen me. Besides, I cannot spare you. I have few friends, and I should be badly off indeed if the one who has proved himself the truest and best were to leave me. I am going to carry on the mill, and I must have your help. I have relied upon you to stand by me, and you must be the foreman of your department. Come, Luke, you must say you forgive Polly for opening my eyes just a little sooner than they would otherwise have been to the sacrifice you wanted to make for me."
Luke, who was sorely shaken by Mary's pitiful sobs, could resist no longer, but opened his arms, and the girl ran into them.
"There, there," he said, "don't ee go on a crying, girl; thou hasn't done no wrong, vor indeed it must have seemed to thee flying in the face of natur to go away wi' out saying goodby to Maister Ned. Well, sir, oi be main sorry as it has turned out so. Oi should ha' loiked to ha' cleared thee; but if thou won't have it oi caan't help it. Oi think thou beest wrong, but thou know'st best."
"Never mind, Luke, I shall be cleared in time, I trust," Ned said. "I am going down to the mill tomorrow for the first time, and shall see you there. You have done me good, Luke. It is well, indeed, for a man to know that he has such a friend as you have proved yourself to be."
CHAPTER XVII: A LONELY LIFE
The machinery had not started since the death of Mr. Mulready, the foreman having received several letters threatening his life if he ventured to use the new machinery; and the works had therefore been carried on on their old basis until something was settled as to their future management.
The first few days after his return Ned spent his time in going carefully through the books with the clerk, and in making himself thoroughly acquainted with the financial part of the business. He was assisted by Mr. Porson, who came every evening to the house, and went through the accounts with him. The foreman and the men in charge of the different rooms were asked to give their opinion as to whether it was possible to reduce expenses in any way, but they were unanimous in saying that this could not be done. The pay was at present lower than in any other mill in the district, and every item of expenditure had been kept down by Mr. Mulready to the lowest point.
"It is clear," Ned said at last, "that if the mill is to be kept on we must use the new machinery. I was afraid it would be so, or he would never have taken to it and risked his life unless it had been absolutely necessary. I don't like it, for I have strong sympathies with the men, and although I am sure that in the long run the hands will benefit by the increased trade, it certainly cause great suffering at present, so if it had been possible I would gladly have let the new machinery stand idle until the feeling against it had passed away; but as I see that the mill has been running at a loss ever since prices fell, it is quite clear that we must use it at once."
The next morning Ned called the foreman into his office at the mill, and told him that he had determined to set the new machinery at work at once.
"I am sorry to be obliged to do so," he said, "as it will considerably reduce the number of hands at work; but it cannot be helped, it is either that or stopping altogether, which would be worse still for the men. Be as careful as you can in turning off the hands, and as far as possible retain all the married men with families. The only exception to that rule is young Swinton, who is to be kept on whoever goes."
That evening Luke Marner called at the house to see Ned.
"Be it true, Maister Ned, as the voreman says, the new machines is to be put to work?"
"It is true, Luke, I am sorry to say. I would have avoided it if possible; but I have gone into the matter with Mr. Porson, and I find I must either do that or shut up the mill altogether, which would be a good deal worse for you all. Handwork cannot compete with machinery, and the new machines will face a dozen yards of cloth while a cropper is doing one, and will do it much better and more evenly."
"That be so, surely, and it bain't no use my saying as it ain't, and it's true enough what you says, that it's better half the hands should be busy than none; but those as gets the sack won't see it, and oi fears there will be mischief. Oi don't hold with the Luddites, but oi tell ye the men be getting desperate, and oi be main sure as there will be trouble afore long. Your loife won't be safe, Maister Ned."
"I don't hold much to my life," Ned laughed bitterly, "so the Luddites won't be able to frighten me there."
"I suppose thou wilt have some of the hands to sleep at the mill, as they do at some of the other places. If thou wilt get arms those as is at work will do their best to defend it. Cartwright has got a dozen or more sleeping in his mill."
"I will see about it," Ned said, "but I don't think I shall do that. I don't want any men to get killed in defending our property."
"Then they will burn it, thou wilt see if they doan't," Luke said earnestly.
"I hope not, Luke. I shall do my best to prevent it anyhow."
"Oi will give ee warning if a whisper of it gets to moi ears, you may be sure, but the young uns doan't say much to us old hands, who be mostly agin them, and ov course they will say less now if oi be one of those kept on."
"We must chance it, Luke; but be sure, whatever I do I shan't let the mill be destroyed if I can help it."
And so on the Monday following the waterwheel was set going and the new machinery began to work. The number of hands at the mill was reduced by nearly one half, while the amount of cloth turned out each week was quadrupled.
The machinery had all the latest improvements, and was excellently arranged. Mr. Mulready had thoroughly understood his business, and Ned soon saw that the profits under the new system of working would be fully as great as his stepfather had calculated.
A very short time elapsed before threatening letters began to come in. Ned paid no heed to them, but quietly went on his way. The danger was, however, undoubted. The attitude of the Luddites had become more openly threatening. Throughout the whole of the West Riding open drilling was carried on.
The mills at Marsden, Woodbottom, and Ottewells were all threatened. In answer to the appeals of the mill owners the number of troops in the district was largely increased. Infantry were stationed in Marsden, and the 10th King's Bays, the 15th Hussars, and the Scots Greys were alternately billeted in the place. The roads to Ottewells, Woodbottom, and Lugards Mill were patrolled regularly, and the whole country was excited and alarmed by constant rumors of attacks upon the mills.
Ned went on his way quietly, asking for no special protection for his mill or person, seemingly indifferent to the excitement which prevailed. Except to the workmen in the mill, to the doctor, and Mr. Porson he seldom exchanged a word with any one during the day.
Mr. Simmonds and several of his father's old friends had on his return made advances toward him, but he had resolutely declined to meet them. Mr. Porson and the doctor had remonstrated with him.
"It is no use," he replied. "They congratulated me on my acquittal, but I can tell by their tones that there is not one of them who thoroughly believes in his heart that I am innocent."
The only exception which Ned made was Mr. Cartwright, a mill owner at Liversedge. He had been slightly acquainted with Captain Sankey; and one day soon after Ned's return as he was walking along the street oblivious, as usual, of every one passing, Mr. Cartwright came up and placing himself in front of him, said heartily:
"I congratulate you with all my heart, Sankey, on your escape from this rascally business. I knew that your innocence would be proved: I would have staked my life that your father's son never had any hand in such a black affair as this. I am heartily glad!"
There was no withstanding the frank cordiality of the Yorkshireman's manner. Ned's reserve melted at once before it.
"Thank you very much," he said, returning the grasp of his hand; "but I am afraid that though I was acquitted my innocence wasn't proved, and never will be. You may think me innocent, but you will find but half a dozen people in Marsden to agree with you."
"Pooh! pooh!" Mr. Cartwright said. "You must not look at things in that light. Most men are fools, you know; never fear. We shall prove you innocent some day. I have no doubt these rascally Luddites are at the bottom of it. And now, look here, young fellow, I hear that you are going to run the mill. Of course you can't know much about it yet. Now I am an old hand and shall be happy to give you any advice in my power, both for your own sake and for that of your good father. Now I mean what I say, and I shall be hurt if you refuse. I am in here two or three times a week, and my road takes me within five hundred yards of your mill, so it will be no trouble to me to come round for half an hour as I pass, and give you a few hints until you get well into harness. There are dodges in our trade, you know, as well as in all others, and you must be put up to them if you are to keep up in the race. There is plenty of room for us all, and now that the hands are all banding themselves against us, we mill owners must stand together too."
Ned at once accepted the friendly offer, and two or three times a week Mr. Cartwright came round to the mill, went round the place with Ned, and gave him his advice as to the commercial transactions. Ned found this of inestimable benefit. Mr. Cartwright was acquainted with all the buyers in that part of Yorkshire, and was able several times to prevent Ned from entering into transactions with men willing to take advantage of his inexperience.
Sometimes he went over with Mr. Cartwright to his mill at Liversedge and obtained many a useful hint there as to the management of his business. Only in the matter of having some of his hands to sleep at the mill Ned declined to act on the advice of his new friend.
"No," he said; "I am determined that I will have no lives risked in the defense of our property. It has cost us dearly enough already."
But though Ned refused to have any of his hands to sleep at the mill, he had a bed fitted up in his office, and every night at ten o'clock, after Charlie had gone to bed, he walked out to the mill and slept there: Heavy shutters were erected to all the lower windows, and bells were attached to these and to the doors, which would ring at the slightest motion.
A cart one evening arrived from Huddersfield after the hands had left the mill, and under Ned's direction a number of small barrels were carried up to his office.
Although three months had now elapsed since his return home he had never once seen his mother, and the knowledge that she still regarded him as the murderer of her husband greatly added to the bitterness of his life. Of an evening after Lucy had gone to bed he assisted Charlie with his lessons, and also worked for an hour with Bill Swinton, who came regularly every evening to be taught.
Bill had a strong motive for self improvement. Ned had promised him that some day he should be foreman to the factory, but that before he could take such a position it would, of course, be necessary that he should be able to read and write well. But an even higher incentive was Bill's sense of his great inferiority in point of education to Polly Powlett. He entertained a deep affection for her, but he knew how she despised the rough and ignorant young fellows at Varley, and he felt that even if she loved him she would not consent to marry him unless he were in point of education in some way her equal; therefore he applied himself with all his heart to improving his education.
It was no easy task, for Bill was naturally somewhat slow and heavy; but he had perseverance, which makes up for many deficiencies, and his heart being in his work he made really rapid progress.
Sometimes Ned would start earlier than usual, and walk up with Bill Swinton, talking to him as they went over the subjects on which he had been working, the condition of the villagers, or the results of Bill's Sunday rambles over the moors.
On arriving at Varley Ned generally went in for half an hour's talk with Luke Marner and Mary Powlett before going off for the night to sleep at the mill. With these three friends, who all were passionately convinced of his innocence, he was more at his ease than anywhere else, for at home the thought of the absent figure upstairs was a never ceasing pain.
"The wind is very high tonight," Ned said one evening as the cottage shook with a gust which swept down from the moor.
"Ay, that it be," Luke agreed; "but it is nowt to a storm oi saw when oi war a young chap on t' coast!"
"I did not know you had ever been away from Varley," Ned said, "tell me about it, Luke."
"Well, it coomed round i' this way. One of t' chaps from here had a darter who had married and gone to live nigh t' coast, and he went vor a week to see her.
"Theere'd been a storm when he was there, and he told us aboot the water being all broke up into furrowes, vor all the world like a plowed field, only each ridge wur twice as high as one of our houses, and they came a moving along as fast as a horse could gallop, and when they hit the rocks vlew up into t' air as hoigh as the steeple o' Marsden church. It seemed to us as this must be a lie, and there war a lot of talk oor it, and at last vour on us made up our moinds as we would go over and see vor ourselves.
"It war a longer tramp nor we had looked vor, and though we sometoimes got a lift i' a cart we was all pretty footsore when we got to the end of our journey. The village as we was bound for stood oop on t' top of a flattish hill, one side of which seemed to ha' been cut away by a knife, and when you got to the edge there you were a-standing at the end o' the world. Oi know when we got thar and stood and looked out from the top o' that wall o' rock thar warn't a word among us.
"We was a noisy lot, and oi didn't think as nothing would ha' silenced a cropper; but thar we stood a-looking over at the end of the world, oi should say for five minutes, wi'out a word being spoke. Oi can see it now. There warn't a breath of wind nor a cloud i' the sky. It seemed to oi as if the sky went away as far as we could see, and then seemed to be doubled down in a line and to coom roight back agin to our feet. It joost took away our breath, and seemed somehow to bring a lump into the throat. Oi talked it over wi' the others afterward and we'd all felt just the same.
"It beat us altogether, and you never see a lot of croppers so quiet and orderly as we war as we went up to t' village. Most o' t' men war away, as we arterward learned, fishing, and t' women didn't know what to make o' us, but gathered at their doors and watched us as if we had been a party o' robbers coom down to burn the place and carry 'em away. However, when we found Sally White—that war the name of the woman as had married from Varley—she went round the village and told 'em as we was a party of her friends who had joost walked across Yorkshire to ha' a lock at the sea. Another young chap, Jack Purcell war his name, as was Sally's brother, and oi, being his mate, we stopt at Sally's house. The other two got a lodging close handy.
"Vor the vurst day or two vokes war shy of us, but arter that they began to see as we meant no harm. Of course they looked on us as foreigners, just as we croppers do here on anyone as cooms to Varley. Then Sally's husband coom back from sea and spoke up vor us, and that made things better, and as we war free wi' our money the fishermen took to us more koindly.
"We soon found as the water warn't always smooth and blue like the sky as we had seen it at first. The wind coom on to blow the vurst night as we war thar, and the next morning the water war all tossing aboot joost as Sally's feyther had said, though not so high as he had talked on. Still the wind warn't a blowing much, as Sally pointed owt to us; in a regular storm it would be a different sort o' thing altogether. We said as we should loike to see one, as we had coom all that way o' purpose. The vorth noight arter we got there Sally's husband said: 'You be a going vor to have your wish; the wind be a getting up, and we are loike to have a big storm on the coast tomorrow.' And so it war. Oi can't tell you what it war loike, oi've tried over and over again to tell Polly, but no words as oi can speak can give any idee of it.
"It war not loike anything as you can imagine. Standing down on the shore the water seemed all broke up into hills, and as if each hill was a-trying to get at you, and a-breaking itself up on the shore wi' a roar of rage when it found as it couldn't reach you. The noise war so great as you couldn't hear a man standing beside you speak to you. Not when he hallooed. One's words war blowed away. It felt somehow as if one war having a wrastle wi' a million wild beasts. They tells me as the ships at sea sometoimes floates and gets through a storm loike that; but oi doan't believe it, and shouldn't if they took their Bible oath to it, it bain't in reason.
"One of them waves would ha' broaked this cottage up loike a eggshell. Oi do believes as it would ha' smashed Marsden church, and it doan't stand to reason as a ship, which is built, they tells me, of wood and plank, would stand agin waves as would knock doon a church. Arter the storm oi should ha' coom back next morning, vor I felt fairly frightened. There didn't seem no saying as to what t' water moight do next toime. We should ha' gone there and then, only Sally's husband told us as a vessel war expected in two or three days wi' a cargo of tubs and she was to run them in a creek a few miles away.
"He said as loike as not there moight be a foight wi' the officers, and that being so we naterally made up our moinds vor to stop and lend un a hand. One night arter it got dark we started, and arter a tramp of two or three hours cam' to the place. It were a dark noight, and how the ship as was bringing the liquor was to foind oot the place was more nor oi could make oot. Jack he tried to explain how they did it, but oi couldn't make head nor tails on it except that when they got close they war to show a loight twice, and we war to show a loight twice if it war all roight for landing.
"Oi asked what had becoom of the revenue men, and was told as a false letter had been writ saying a landing was to be made fifteen mile away. We went vorward to a place whar there war a break in the rocks, and a sort of valley ran down to the sea. There war a lot of men standing aboot, and just as we coom up thar war a movement and we hears as the loights had been shown and the vessel war running in close. Down we goes wi' the others, and soon a boat cooms ashore. As soon as she gets close the men runs out to her; the sailors hands out barrels and each man shoulders one and trudges off. We does the same and takes the kegs up to t' top, whar carts and horses was waiting for 'em. Oi went oop and down three toimes and began to think as there war moor hard work nor fun aboot it. Oi war a-going to knock off when some one says as one more trip would finish the cargo, so down oi goes again: Just when oi gets to t' bottom there war a great shouting oop at top.
"'They're just too late,' a man says; 'the kegs be all safe away except this lot,' for the horses and carts had gone off the instant as they got their loads. 'Now we must run for it, for the revenue men will be as savage as may be when they voinds as they be too late.' 'Where be us to run?' says oi. 'Keep close to me, oi knows the place,' says he.
"So we runs down and voinds as they had tumbled the bar'ls into t' boat again, and t' men war just pushing her off when there war a shout close to us. 'Shove, shove!' shouted the men, and oi runs into t' water loike t' rest and shooved. Then a lot o' men run up shouting, 'Stop! in the king's name!' and began vor to fire pistols.
"Nateral oi wasn't a-going to be fired at for nowt, so oi clutches moi stick and goes at 'em wi' the rest, keeping close to t' chap as told me as he knew the coontry. There was a sharp foight vor a minute. Oi lays aboot me hearty and gets a crack on my ear wi' a cootlas, as they calls theer swords, as made me pretty wild.
"We got the best o't. 'Coom on,' says the man to me, 'there's a lot moor on 'em a-cooming.' So oi makes off as hard as oi could arter him. He keeps straight along at t' edge o' t' water. It war soft rowing at first, vor t' place war as flat as a table, but arter running vor a vew minutes he says, 'Look owt!' Oi didn't know what to look owt vor, and down oi goes plump into t' water. Vor all at once we had coomed upon a lot o' rocks covered wi' a sort of slimy stuff, and so slippery as you could scarce keep a footing on 'em. Oi picks myself up and vollers him. By this toime, maister, oi war beginning vor to think as there warn't so mooch vun as oi had expected in this koind o' business. Oi had been working two hours loike a nigger a-carrying tubs. Oi had had moi ear pretty nigh cut off, and it smarted wi' the salt water awful. Oi war wet from head to foot and had knocked the skin off moi hands and knees when oi went down. However there warn't no toime vor to grumble. Oi vollers him till we gets to t' foot o' t' rocks, and we keeps along 'em vor aboot half a mile.
"The water here coombed close oop to t' rocks, and presently we war a-walking through it. 'Be'st a going vor to drown us all?' says oi. 'We are jest there,' says he. 'Ten minutes later we couldn't ha' got along.' T' water war a-getting deeper and deeper, and t' loomps of water cooms along and well nigh took me off my feet. Oi was aboot to turn back, vor it war better, thinks oi, to be took by t' king's men than to be droonded, when he says, 'Here we be.' He climbs oop t' rocks and oi follows him. Arter climbing a short way he cooms to a hole i' rocks, joost big enough vor to squeeze through, but once inside it opened out into a big cave. A chap had struck a loight, and there war ten or twelve more on us thar. 'We had better wait another five minutes,' says one, 'to see if any more cooms along. Arter that the tide ull be too high.'
"We waits, but no one else cooms; me and moi mate war t' last. Then we goes to t' back of the cave, whar t' rock sloped down lower and lower till we had to crawl along one arter t'other pretty nigh on our stomachs, like raats going into a hole. Oi wonders whar on aarth we war agoing, till at last oi found sudden as oi could stand oopright. Then two or three more torches war lighted, and we begins to climb oop some steps cut i' the face of t' rock. A rope had been fastened alongside to hold on by, which war a good job for me, vor oi should never ha' dared go oop wi'out it, vor if oi had missed my foot there warn't no saying how far oi would ha' fallen to t' bottom. At last the man avore me says, 'Here we be!' and grateful oi was, vor what wi' the crawling and the climbing, and the funk as oi was in o' falling, the swaat was a-running down me loike water. The torches war put out, and in another minute we pushes through some bushes and then we war on t' top of the cliff a hundred yards or so back from t' edge, and doon in a sort of hollow all covered thickly over wi' bushes. We stood and listened vor a moment, but no sound war to be heard. Then one on em says, 'We ha' done 'em agin. Now the sooner as we gets off to our homes the better.' Looky for me, Jack war one of the lot as had coom up through the cave. 'Coom along, Luke,' says he, 'oi be glad thou hast got out of it all roight. We must put our best foot foremost to get in afore day breaks.' So we sets off, and joost afore morning we gets back to village. As to t'other two from Varley, they never coom back agin. Oi heerd as how all as war caught war pressed for sea, and oi expect they war oot in a ship when a storm coom on, when in coorse they would be drownded. Oi started next day vor hoam, and from that day to this oi ha' never been five mile away, and what's more, oi ha' never grudged the price as they asked for brandy. It ud be cheap if it cost voive toimes as much, seeing the trouble and danger as there be in getting it ashore, to say nothing o' carrying it across the sea."
"That was an adventure, Luke," Ned said, "and you were well out of it. I had no idea you had ever been engaged in defrauding the king's revenue. But now I must be off. I shall make straight across for the mill without going into Varley."
One night Ned had as usual gone to the mill, and having carried down the twelve barrels from the office and placed them in a pile in the center of the principal room of the mill he retired to bed. He had been asleep for some hours when he was awoke by the faint tingle of a bell. The office was over the principal entrance to the mill, and leaping from his bed he threw up the window and looked out. The night was dark, but he could see a crowd of at least two hundred men gathered in the yard.
As the window was heard to open a sudden roar broke from the men, who had hitherto conducted their operations in silence.
"There he be, there's the young fox; burn the mill over his head. Now to work, lads, burst in the door."
And at once a man armed with a mighty sledgehammer began to batter at the door.
Ned tried to make himself heard, but his voice was lost in the roar without. Throwing on some clothes he ran rapidly downstairs and lighted several lamps in the machine room. Then he went to the door, which was already tottering under the heavy blows, shot back some of the bolts, and then took his place by the side of the pile of barrels with a pistol in his hand.
In another moment the door yielded and fell with a crash, and the crowd with exultant cheers poured in.
They paused surprised and irresolute at seeing Ned standing quiet and seemingly indifferent by the pile of barrels in the center of the room.
"Hold!" he said in a quiet, clear voice, which sounded distinctly over the tumult. "Do not come any nearer, or it will be the worse for you. Do you know what I have got here, lads? This is powder. If you doubt it, one of you can come forward and look at this barrel with the head out by my side. Now I have only got to fire my pistol into it to blow the mill, and you with it, into the air, and I mean to do it. Of course I shall go too; but some of you with black masks over your faces, who, I suppose, live near here, may know something about me, and may know that my life is not so pleasant a one that I value it in the slightest. As far as I am concerned you might burn the mill and me with it without my lifting a finger; but this mill is the property of my mother, brother, and sister. Their living depends upon it, and I am going to defend it. Let one of you stir a single step forward and I fire this pistol into this barrel beside me."
And Ned held the pistol over the open barrel.
A dead silence of astonishment and terror had fallen upon the crowd. The light was sufficient for them to see Ned's pale but determined face, and as his words came out cold and steady there was not one who doubted that he was in earnest, and that he was prepared to blow himself and them into the air if necessary.
A cry of terror burst from them as he lowered the pistol to the barrel of powder. Then in wild dismay every man threw down his arms and fled, jostling each other fiercely to make their escape through the doorway from the fate which threatened them. In a few seconds the place was cleared and the assailants in full flight across the country. Ned laughed contemptuously. Then with some difficulty he lifted the broken door into its place, put some props behind it, fetched a couple of blankets from his bed, and lay down near the powder, and there slept quietly till morning.
Luke and Bill Swinton were down at the factory an hour before the usual time. The assailants had for the most part come over from Huddersfield, but many of the men from Varley had been among them. The terror which Ned's attitude had inspired had been so great that the secret was less well kept than usual, and as soon as people were astir the events of the night were known to most in the village. The moment the news reached the ears of Luke and Bill they hurried down to the mill without going in as usual for their mug of beer and bit of bread and cheese at the "Brown Cow." The sight of the shattered door at once told them that the rumors they had heard were well founded. They knocked loudly upon it.
"Hullo!" Ned shouted, rousing himself from his slumbers; "who is there? What are you kicking up all this row about?"
"It's oi, Maister Ned, oi and Bill, and glad oi am to hear your voice. It's true, then, they haven't hurt thee?"
"Not a bit of it," Ned said as he moved the supports of the door. "I think they got the worst of it."
"If so be as what oi ha' heard be true you may well say that, Maister Ned. Oi hear as you ha' gived 'em such a fright as they won't get over in a hurry. They say as you was a-sitting on the top of a heap of gunpowder up to the roof with a pistol in each hand."
"Not quite so terrible as that, Luke; but the effect would have been the same. Those twelve barrels of powder you see there would have blown the mill and all in it into atoms."
"Lord, Maister Ned," Bill said, "where didst thou get that powder, and why didn't ye say nowt about it? Oi ha' seen it up in the office, now oi thinks on it. Oi wondered what them barrels piled up in a corner and covered over wi' sacking could be; but it warn't no business o' mine to ax."
"No, Bill, I did not want any of them to know about it, because these things get about, and half the effect is lost unless they come as a surprise; but I meant to do it if I had been driven to it, and if I had, King Lud would have had a lesson which he would not have forgotten in a hurry. Now, Luke, you and Bill had better help me carry them back to their usual place. I don't think they are likely to be wanted again."
"That they won't be," Luke said confidently; "the Luddites ull never come near this mill agin, not if thou hast twenty toimes as many machines. They ha' got a froight they won't get over. They told me as how some of the chaps at Varley was so freighted that they will be a long toime afore they gets round. Oi'll go and ask tonight how that Methurdy chap, the blacksmith, be a feeling. Oi reckon he's at the bottom on it. Dang un for a mischievous rogue! Varley would ha' been quiet enough without him. Oi be wrong if oi shan't see him dangling from a gibbet one of these days, and a good riddance too."
The powder was stowed away before the hands began to arrive, all full of wonder and curiosity. They learned little at the mill, however. Ned went about the place as usual with an unchanged face, and the hands were soon at their work; but many during the day wondered how it was possible that their quiet and silent young employer should have been the hero of the desperate act of which every one had heard reports more or less exaggerated.
A lad had been sent over to Marsden the first thing for some carpenters, and by nightfall a rough but strong door had been hung in place of that which had been shattered. By the next day rumor had carried the tale all over Marsden, and Ned on his return home was greeted by Charlie with:
"Why, Ned, there is all sorts of talk in the place of an attack upon the mill the night before last. Why didn't you tell me about it?"
"Yes, Maister Ned," Abijah put in, "and they say as you blew up about a thousand of them."
"Yes, Abijah," Ned said with a laugh, "and the pieces haven't come down yet."
"No! but really, Ned, what is it all about?"
"There is not much to tell you, Charlie. The Luddites came and broke open the door. I had got several barrels of powder there, and when they came in I told them if they came any further I should blow the place up. That put them in a funk, and they all bolted, and I went to sleep again. That's the whole affair."
"Oh!" Charlie said in a disappointed voice, for this seemed rather tame after the thrilling reports he had heard.
"Then you didn't blow up any of 'em, Maister Ned," Abijah said doubtfully.
"Not a man jack, Abijah. You see I could not very well have blown them up without going up myself too, so I thought it better to put it off for another time."
"They are very wicked, bad men," Lucy said gravely.
"Not so very wicked and bad, Lucy. You see they are almost starving, and they consider that the new machines have taken the bread out of their mouths, which is true enough. Now you know when people are starving, and have not bread for their wives and children, they are apt to get desperate. If I were to see you starving, and thought that somebody or something was keeping the bread out of your mouth, I dare say I should do something desperate."
"But it would be wrong all the same," Lucy said doubtfully.
"Yes, my dear, but it would be natural; and when human nature pulls one way, and what is right pulls the other, the human nature generally gets the best of it."
Lucy did not exactly understand, but she shook her head gravely in general dissent to Ned's view.
"Why did you not tell us when you came home to breakfast yesterday?" Charlie asked.
"Because I thought you were sure to hear sooner or later. I saw all the hands in the mill had got to know about it somehow or other, and I was sure it would soon get over the place; and I would rather that I could say, if any one asked me, that I had not talked about it to any one, and was in no way responsible for the absurd stories which had got about. I have been talked about enough in Marsden, goodness knows, and it is disgusting that just as I should think they must be getting tired of the subject here is something fresh for them to begin upon again."
As they were at tea the servant brought in a note which had just been left at the door. It was from Mr. Thompson, saying that in consequence of the rumors which were current in the town he should be glad to learn from Ned whether there was any foundation for them, and would therefore be obliged if he would call at eight o'clock that evening. His colleague, Mr. Simmonds, would be present.
Ned gave an exclamation of disgust as he threw down the note.
"Is there any answer, sir?" the servant asked. "The boy said he was to wait."
"Tell him to say to Mr. Thompson that I will be there at eight o'clock; but that—no, that will do.
"It wouldn't be civil," he said to Charlie as the door closed behind the servant, "to say that I wish to goodness he would let my affairs alone and look to his own."
When Ned reached the magistrates at the appointed hour he found that the inquiry was of a formal character. Besides the two justices, Major Browne, who commanded the troops at Marsden, was present; and the justices' clerk was there to take notes.
Mr. Simmonds greeted Ned kindly, Mr. Thompson stiffly. He was one of those who had from the first been absolutely convinced that the lad had killed his stepfather. The officer, who was of course acquainted with the story, examined Ned with a close scrutiny.
"Will you take a seat, Ned?" Mr. Simmonds, who was the senior magistrate, said. "We have asked you here to explain to us the meaning of certain rumors which are current in the town of an attack upon your mill."
"I will answer any questions that you may ask," Ned said quietly, seating himself, while the magistrates' clerk dipped his pen in the ink and prepared to take notes of his statement.
"Is it the case that the Luddites made an attack upon your mill the night before last?"
"It is true, sir."
"Will you please state the exact circumstances."
"There is not much to tell," Ned said quietly. "I have for some time been expecting an attack, having received many threatening letters. I have, therefore, made a habit of sleeping in the mill, and a month ago I got in twelve barrels of powder from Huddersfield. Before going to bed of a night I always pile these in the middle of the room where the looms are, which is the first as you enter. I have bells attached to the shutters and doors to give me notice of any attempt to enter. The night before last I was awoke by hearing one of them ring, and looking out of the window made out a crowd of two or three hundred men outside. They began to batter the door, so, taking a brace of pistols which I keep in readiness by my bed, I went down and took my place by the powder. When they broke down the door and entered I just told them that if they came any further I should fire my pistol into one of the barrels, the head of which I had knocked out, and, as I suppose they saw that I meant to do it, they went off. That is all I have to tell, so far as I know."
The clerk's pen ran swiftly over the paper as Ned quietly made his statement. Then there was a silence for a minute or two.
"And did you really mean to carry out your threat, Mr. Sankey?"
"Certainly," Ned said.
"But you would, of course, have been killed yourself."
"Naturally," Ned said dryly; "but that would have been of no great consequence to me or any one else. As the country was lately about to take my life at its own expense it would not greatly disapprove of my doing so at my own, especially as the lesson to the Luddites would have been so wholesale a one that the services of the troops in this part of the country might have been dispensed with for some time."
"Did you recognize any of the men concerned?"
"I am glad to say I did not," Ned replied. "Some of them were masked. The others were, so far as I could see among such a crowd of faces in a not very bright light, all strangers to me."
"And you would not recognize any of them again were you to see them?"
"I should not," Ned replied. "None of them stood out prominently among the others."
"You speak, Mr. Sankey," Mr. Thompson said, "as if your sympathies were rather on the side of these men, who would have burned your mill, and probably have murdered you, than against them."
"I do not sympathize with the measures the men are taking to obtain redress for what they regard as a grievance; but I do sympathize very deeply with the amount of suffering which they are undergoing from the introduction of machinery and the high prices of provisions; and I am not surprised that, desperate as they are, and ignorant as they are, they should be led astray by bad advice. Is there any other question that you wish to ask me?"
"Nothing at present, I think," Mr. Simmonds said after consulting his colleague by a look. "We shall, of course, forward a report of the affair to the proper authorities, and I may say that although you appear to take it in a very quiet and matter of fact way, you have evidently behaved with very great courage and coolness, and in a manner most creditable to yourself. I think, however, that you ought immediately to have made a report to us of the circumstances, in order that we might at once have determined what steps should be taken for the pursuit and apprehension of the rioters."
Ned made no reply, but rising, bowed slightly to the three gentlemen and walked quietly from the room.
"A singular young fellow!" Major Browne remarked as the door closed behind him. "I don't quite know what to make of him, but I don't think he could have committed that murder. It was a cowardly business, and although I believe he might have a hand in any desperate affair, as indeed this story he has just told us shows, I would lay my life he would not do a cowardly one."
"I agree with you," Mr. Simmonds said, "though I own that I have never been quite able to rid myself of a vague suspicion that he was guilty."
"And I believe he is so still," Mr. Thompson said. "To me there is something almost devilish about that lad's manner."
"His manner was pleasant enough," Mr. Simmonds said warmly, "before that affair of Mulready. He was as nice a lad as you would wish to see till his mother was fool enough to get engaged to that man, who, by the way, I never liked. No wonder his manner is queer now; so would yours be, or mine, if we were tried for murder and, though acquitted, knew there was still a general impression of our guilt."
"Yes, by Jove," the officer said, "I should be inclined to shoot myself. You are wrong, Mr. Thompson, take my word for it. That young fellow never committed a cowardly murder. I think you told me, Mr. Simmonds, that he had intended to go into the army had it not been for this affair? Well, his majesty has lost a good officer, for that is just the sort of fellow who would lead a forlorn hope though he knew the breach was mined in a dozen places. It is a pity, a terrible pity!"
CHAPTER XVIII: NED IS ATTACKED
As Ned had foreseen and resented, the affair at the mill again made him the chief topic of talk in the neighborhood, and the question of his guilt or innocence of the murder of his stepfather was again debated with as much earnestness as it had been when the murder was first committed. There was this difference, however, that whereas before he had found but few defenders, for the impression that he was guilty was almost universal, there were now many who took the other view.
The one side argued that a lad who was ready to blow himself and two or three hundred men into the air was so desperate a character that he would not have been likely to hesitate a moment in taking the life of a man whom he hated, and who had certainly ill treated him. The other side insisted that one with so much cool courage would not have committed a murder in so cowardly a way as by tying a rope across the road which his enemy had to traverse. One party characterized his conduct at the mill as that of the captain of a pirate ship, the other likened it to any of the great deeds of devotion told in history—the death of Leonidas and his three hundred, or the devotion of Mutius Scaevola.
Had Ned chosen now he might have gathered round himself a strong party of warm adherents, for there were many who, had they had the least encouragement, would have been glad to shake him by the hand and to show their partisanship openly and warmly; but Ned did not choose. The doctor and Mr. Porson strongly urged upon him that he should show some sort of willingness to meet the advances which many were anxious to make.
"These people are all willing to admit that they have been wrong, Ned, and really anxious to atone as far as they can for their mistake in assuming that you were guilty. Now is your time, my boy; what they believe today others will believe tomorrow; it is the first step toward living it down. I always said it would come, but I hardly ventured to hope that it would come so soon."
"I can't do it, Mr. Porson; I would if I could, if only for the sake of the others; but I can't talk, and smile, and look pleasant. When a man knows that his mother lying at home thinks that he is a murderer how is he to go about like other people?"
"But I have told you over and over again, Ned, that your mother is hardly responsible for her actions. She has never been a very reasonable being, and is less so than ever at present. Make an effort, my boy, and mix with others. Show yourself at the cricket match next week. You know the boys are all your firm champions, and I warrant that half the people there will flock round you and make much of you if you will but give them the chance."
But Ned could not, and did not, but went on his way as before, living as if Marsden had no existence for him, intent upon his work at the mill, and unbending only when at home with his brother and sister.
His new friend, Cartwright, was, of course, one of the first to congratulate him on the escape the mill had had of destruction.
"I was wondering what you would do if they came," he said, "and was inclined to think you were a fool for not following my example and having some of your hands to sleep at the mill. Your plan was best, I am ready to allow; that is to say, it was best for any one who was ready to carry out his threat if driven to it. I shouldn't be, I tell you fairly. If the mill is attacked I shall fight and shall take my chance of being shot, but I could not blow myself up in cold blood."
"I don't suppose I could have done so either in the old times," Ned said with a faint smile. "My blood used to be hot enough, a good deal too hot, but I don't think anything could get it up to boiling point now, so you see if this thing had to be done at all it must have been in cold blood."
"By the way, Sankey, I wish you would come over one day next week and dine with me; there will be no one else there except my daughter."
Ned hastily muttered an excuse.
"Oh, that is all nonsense," Mr. Cartwright said good humoredly; "you are not afraid of me, and you needn't be afraid of my daughter. She is only a child of fifteen, and of course takes you at my estimate, and is disposed to regard you as a remarkable mixture of the martyr and the hero, and to admire you accordingly. Pooh, pooh, lad! you can't be living like a hermit all your life; and at any rate if you make up your mind to have but a few friends you must be all the closer and more intimate with them. I know you dine with Porson and Green, and I am not going to let you keep me at arm's length; you must come, or else I shall be seriously offended."
So Ned had no resource left him, and had to consent to dine at Liversedge. Once there he often repeated the visit. With the kind and hearty manufacturer he was perfectly at home, and although at first he was uncomfortable with his daughter he gradually became at his ease with her, especially after she had driven over with her father to make friends with Lucy, and, again, a short time afterward, to carry her away for a week's visit at Liversedge. For this Ned was really grateful. Lucy's life had been a very dull one. She had no friends of her own age in Marsden, for naturally at the time of Mr. Mulready's death all intimacy with the few acquaintances they had in the place had been broken off, for few cared that their children should associate with a family among whom such a terrible tragedy had taken place.
Charlie was better off, for he had his friends at school, and the boys at Porson's believed in Ned's innocence as a point of honor. In the first place, it would have been something like a reflection upon the whole school to admit the possibility of its first boy being a murderer; in the second, Ned had been generally popular among them, he was their best cricketer, the life and soul of all their games, never bullying himself and putting down all bullying among others with a strong hand. Their championship showed itself in the shape of friendship for Charlie; and at the midsummer following Mr. Mulready's death he had received invitations from many of them to stay with them during the holidays, and had indeed spent that time on a series of short visits among them.
He himself would, had he had his choice, have remained at home with Ned, for he knew how lonely his brother's life was, and that his only pleasure consisted in the quiet evenings; but Ned would not hear of it.
"You must go, Charlie, both for your sake and my own. The change will do you good; and if you were to stop at home and refuse to go out people would say that you were ashamed to be seen, and that you were crushed down with the weight of my guilt. You have got to keep up the honor of the family now, Charlie; I have proved a failure."
It was September now, and six months had elapsed since the death of Mr. Mulready. The getting in of the harvest had made no difference in the price of food, the general distress was as great as ever, and the people shook their heads and said that there would be bad doings when the winter with its long nights was at hand.
The mill was flourishing under its new management. The goods turned out by the new machinery were of excellent quality and finish, and Ned had more orders on hand than he could execute. The profits were large, the hands well paid and contented. Ned had begged Dr. Green and the other trustees of his mother's property to allow him to devote a considerable part of the profits to assist, during the hard time of winter, the numerous hands in Varley and other villages round Marsden who were out of employment; but the trustees said they were unable to permit this. Mrs. Mulready absolutely refused to hear anything about the mill or to discuss any questions connected with money, therefore they had no resource but to allow the profits, after deducting all expenses of living, to accumulate until, at any rate, Lucy, the youngest of the children, came of age.
Ned, however, was not to be easily thwarted, and he quietly reverted to the old method of giving out a large quantity of work to the men to be performed by the hand looms in their own cottages, while still keeping his new machinery fully employed. There was, indeed, a clear loss upon every yard of cloth so made, as it had, of course, to be sold at the lower prices which machinery had brought about; still the profits from the mill itself were large enough to bear the drain, and means of support would be given to a large number of families throughout the winter. Ned told Dr. Green what he had done.
"You see, doctor," he said, "this is altogether beyond your province. You and Mr. Lovejoy appointed me, as the senior representative of the family, to manage the mill. Of course I can manage it in my own way, and as long as the profits are sufficient to keep us in the position we have hitherto occupied I don't see that you have any reason to grumble."
"You are as obstinate as a mule, Ned," the doctor said, smiling; "but I am glad enough to let you have your way so long as it is not clearly my duty to thwart you; and indeed I don't know how those poor people at Varley and at some of the other villages would get through the winter without some such help."
"I am very glad I hit upon the plan. I got Luke Marner to draw up a list of all the men who had families depending upon them; but indeed I find that I have been able to set pretty nearly all the looms in the neighborhood at work, and of course that will give employment to the spinners and croppers. I have made a close calculation, and find that with the profit the mill is making I shall just be able to clear our household expenses this winter, after selling at a loss all the cloth that can be made in the looms round."
"At any rate, Ned," the doctor said, "your plan will be a relief to me in one way. Hitherto I have never gone to bed at night without an expectation of being awakened with the news that you have been shot on your way out to the mill at night. The fellows you frightened away last month must have a strong grudge against you in addition to their enmity against you as an employer. You will be safe enough in future, and can leave the mill to take care of itself at night if you like. You will have the blessings of all the poor fellows in the neighborhood, and may henceforth go where you will by night or day without the slightest risk of danger."
"You are right, no doubt," Ned said, "though that did not enter my mind. When I took the step my only fear was that by helping them for a time I might be injuring them in the future. Hand weaving, spinning, and cropping are doomed. Nothing can save them, and the sooner the men learn this and take to other means of gaining a livelihood the better. Still the prices that I can give are of course very low, just enough to keep them from starvation, and we must hope that ere long new mills will be erected in which the present hand workers will gradually find employment."
Hardly less warm than the satisfaction that the announcement that Sankey was about to give out work to all the hand looms excited in the villages round Marsden, was that which Abijah felt at the news.
Hitherto she had kept to herself the disapprobation which she felt at Ned's using the new machinery. She had seen in her own village the sufferings that had been caused by the change, and her sympathies were wholly with the Luddites, except of course when they attempted anything against the life and property of her boy. Strong in the prejudices of the class among whom she had been born and reared, she looked upon the new machinery as an invention of the evil one to ruin the working classes, and had been deeply grieved at Ned's adoption of its use. Nothing but the trouble in which he was could have compelled her to keep her opinion on the subject to herself.
"I am main glad, Maister Ned. I b'lieve now as we may find out about that other affair. I never had no hope before, it warn't likely as things would come about as you wanted, when you was a-flying in the face of providence by driving poor folks to starvation with them noisy engines of yours; it warn't likely, and I felt as it was wrong to hope for it. I said my prayers every night, but it wasn't reasonable to expect a answer as long as that mill was a-grinding men to powder."
"I don't think it was as bad as all that, Abijah. In another ten years there will be twice as many hands employed as ever there were, and there is no saying how large the trade may not grow."
Abijah shook her head as if to imply her belief that an enlargement of trade by means of these new machines would be clearly flying in the face of providence, however, she was too pleased at the news that hand work was to be resumed in the district to care about arguing the question. Even the invalid upstairs took a feeble interest in the matter when Abijah told her that Master Ned had arranged to give work to scores of starving people through the winter.
As a rule Abijah never mentioned his name to her mistress, for it was always the signal for a flood of tears, and caused an excitement and agitation which did not calm down for hours; but lately she had noticed that her mistress began to take a greater interest in the details she gave her of what was passing outside. She spoke more cheerfully when Lucy brought in her work and sat by her bedside, and she had even exerted herself sufficiently to get up two or three times and lie upon the sofa in her room. It was Charlie who, full of the news, had rushed in to tell her about Ned's defense at the mill. She had made no comment whatever, but her face had flushed and her lips trembled, and she had been very silent and quiet all that day. Altogether Abijah thought that she was mending, and Dr. Green was of the same opinion.
Although the setting to work of the hand looms and spindles relieved the dire pressure of want immediately about Marsden, in other parts things were worse than ever that winter, and the military were kept busy by the many threatening letters which were received by the mill owners from King Lud.
One day Mr. Cartwright entered Ned's office at the mill.
"Have you heard the news, Sankey?"
"No, I have heard no news in particular."
"Horsfall has been shot."
"You don't say so!" Ned exclaimed.
"Yes, he has been threatened again and again. He was over at Huddersfield yesterday afternoon; he started from the 'George' on his way back at half past five. It seems that his friend Eastwood, of Slaithwaite, knowing how often his life had been threatened, offered to ride back with him, and though Horsfall laughed at the offer and rode off alone, Eastwood had his horse saddled and rode after him, but unfortunately did not overtake him.
"About six o'clock Horsfall pulled up his horse at the Warren House Inn at Crossland Moor. There he gave a glass of liquor to two of his old work people who happened to be outside, drank a glass of rum and water as he sat in the saddle, and then rode off. A farmer named Parr was riding about a hundred and fifty yards behind him. As Horsfall came abreast of a plantation Parr noticed four men stooping behind a wall, and then saw two puffs of smoke shoot out. Horsfall's horse started round at the flash, and he fell forward on his saddle.
"Parr galloped up, and jumping off caught him as he was falling. Horsfall could just say who he was and ask to be taken to his brother's house, which was near at hand. There were lots of people in the road, for it was market day in Huddersfield, you know, and the folks were on their way home, so he was soon put in a cart and taken back to the Warren House. It was found that both balls had struck him, one in the right side and one in the left thigh. I hear he is still alive this morning, but cannot live out the day."
"That is a bad business, indeed," Ned said.
"It is, indeed. Horsfall was a fine, generous, high spirited fellow, but he was specially obnoxious to the Luddites, whose doings he was always denouncing in the most violent way. Whose turn will it be next, I wonder? The success of this attempt is sure to encourage them, and we may expect to hear of some more bad doings. Of course there will be a reward offered for the apprehension of the murderers. A laborer saw them as they were hurrying away from the plantation, and says he should know them again if he saw them; but these fellows hang together so that I doubt if we shall ever find them out."
After Mr. Cartwright had gone Ned told Luke what had happened.
"I hope, Luke, that none of the Varley people have had a hand in this business?"
"Oi hoape not," Luke said slowly, "but ther bain't no saying; oi hears little enough of what be going on. Oi was never much in the way of hearing, but now as I am head of the room, and all the hands here are known to be well contented, oi hears less nor ever. Still matters get talked over at the 'Cow.' Oi hears it said as many of the lads in the village has been wishing to leave King Lud since the work was put out, but they have had messages as how any man turning traitor would be put out of the way. It's been somewhat like that from the first, and more nor half of them as has joined has done so because they was afeared to stand out. They ain't tried to put the screw on us old hands, but most of the young uns has been forced into joining.
"Bill has had a hard toime of it to stand out. He has partly managed because of his saying as how he has been sich good friends with you that he could not join to take part against the maisters; part, as oi hears, because his two brothers, who been in the thick of it from the first, has stuck up agin Bill being forced into it. Oi wish as we could get that blacksmith out of t' village; he be at the bottom of it all, and there's nowt would please me more than to hear as the constables had laid their hands on him. Oi hear as how he is more violent than ever at that meeting house. Of course he never mentions names or says anything direct, but he holds forth agin traitors as falls away after putting their hands to the plow, and as forsakes the cause of their starving brethren because their own stomachs is full."
"I wish we could stop him," Ned said thoughtfully. "I might get a constable sent up to be present at the meetings, but the constables here are too well known, and if you were to get one from another place the sight of a stranger there would be so unusual that it would put him on his guard at once. Besides, as you say, it would be very difficult to prove that his expressions applied to the Luddites, although every one may understand what he means. One must have clear evidence in such a case. However, I hope we shall catch him tripping one of these days. These are the fellows who ought to be punished, not the poor ignorant men who are led away by them."
The feeling of gratitude and respect with which Ned was regarded by the workpeople of his district, owing to his action regarding the hand frames, did something toward lightening the load caused by the suspicion which still rested upon him. Although he still avoided all intercourse with those of his own station, he no longer felt the pressure so acutely. The hard, set expression of his face softened somewhat, and though he was still strangely quiet and reserved in his manner toward those with whom his business necessarily brought him in contact, he no longer felt absolutely cut off from the rest of his kind.