Will of the Mill, by George Manville Fenn.
A Huguenot settlement in the Derbyshire dales, in the middle of England, in the mid-nineteenth century.
The Vicar's son, and the mill-owner's son are great friends. They become friends with a visiting artist, who is lodging in the house of one of the key-workers at the Mill, where they manufacture silk. The artist falls down an old mine-shaft up in the hills, and the boys find him. At home they are missed and a rescue party is sent out, and finds them all.
One day the mill mysteriously goes on fire, and, equally mysteriously, the fire pump has been disabled. Just in time it is repaired by the man the artist is staying with. The man's name was originally Boileau, but like so many Huguenots, he has anglicised it to Drinkwater.
Drinkwater goes mad, and has an obsessional hatred for the mill-owner. It is thought possible that he actually set the fire having previously disabled the fire-pump.
But far worse is to befall. One night, in the autumn rains, the dam that feeds the mill bursts its banks, and the village is flooded, with much being washed away. Did Drinkwater do this too? There is a dramatic finish to the book.
WILL OF THE MILL, BY GEORGE MANVILLE FENN.
DOWN IN THE COUNTRY.
"Here, I say, Josh, such a game!"
"What is it?"
The first speaker pointed down the gorge, tried to utter words, but began to choke with laughter, pointed again, and then stood stamping his feet, and wiping his eyes.
"Well," cried the other, addressed as Josh, "what is it? Don't stand pointing there like an old finger-post! I can't see anything."
"It's—it's—it's—he—he—he!—Oh my!—Oh dear!"
"Gahn! What an old silly you are! What's the game? Let's have a bit of the fun."
"Don't stand stuttering there in that stupid way."
"I couldn't help it—there, I'm better now. I was coming along the top walk, and there he was right down below, sitting under his old white mushroom."
"Well, I can't see anything to laugh at in that. He always is sitting under his old white umbrella, painting, when he isn't throwing flies."
"But he isn't painting. He's fast asleep; and I could almost hear him snore."
"Well, if you could hear him snore, you needn't make a hyena of yourself. I don't see anything to laugh at in that."
"No; you never see any fun in anything. Don't you see the sun's gone right round, and he's quite in the shade?"
"Well, suppose he is; where's the fun?"
Will Willows wiped his eyes, and then, with a mirthful look, continued—
"Oh, the idea struck me as being comic—keeping a great umbrella up when it wasn't wanted."
"Oh, I don't know," said Josh, solemnly; "a shower might come down."
"But, I say, Josh, that won't do. I've got such a rum idea."
"Let's have it."
"Come along, then."
A few words were whispered, though there was not the slightest need, for no one was in sight, and the rattle and whirr of machinery set in motion by a huge water-wheel, whose splashings echoed from the vast, wall-like sides of the lovely fern-hung glen in which it was placed, would have drowned anything lower than a shout.
Willows' silk-mill had ages ago ceased to be a blot in one of the fairest valleys in beautiful Derbyshire, for it was time-stained with a rich store of colours from Nature's palette; great cushions of green velvet moss clung to the ancient stone-work, rich orange rosettes of lichen dotted the ruddy tiles, huge ferns shot their glistening green spears from every crack and chasm of the mighty walls of the deep glen; and here and there, high overhead, silver birches hung their pensile tassels, and scrub oaks thrust out their gnarled boughs from either side, as if in friendly vegetable feeling to grasp hands over the rushing, babbling stream; for Beldale—Belle Dale, before the dwellers there cut it short—formed one long series of pictures such as painters loved, so that they came regularly from the metropolis to settle down at one of the picturesque cottages handy to their work, and at times dotted the dale with their white umbrellas and so-called "traps."
Nature was always the grandest of landscape gardeners, and here she may be said to have excelled. Her work had been very simply done: some time or other when the world was young the Great Gray Tor must have split in two, forming one vast jagged gash hundreds of feet deep, whose walls so nearly matched, that, if by some earthquake pressure force had been applied, they would have fitted together, crushing in the verdant growth, and the vast Tor would have been itself again.
But, needless to say, this had never happened, and the lovely place, so well named, became Belle Dale.
High up in the Pennine Range the waters gathered in the great reservoirs of bog and moss to form a stream, an infant river, which ran clear as crystal, of a golden hue, right down the bottom of the gorge; here trickling and singing musically, there spreading into a rocky pool, plunging down into fall after fall, to gather again into black, dark hollows as if to gain force for its next spring; and nowhere in England did moss, fern, and water-plant grow to greater perfection than here, watered as they were by the soft, fall-made mists.
All through the summer the place was full of soft, dark nooks, and golden hollows shaded by birch, through whose pensile twigs the sunshine seemed to fall in showers of golden rain—cascades of light that plunged into the transparent waters, and flashed from the scales of the ruddy-spotted trout.
No two boys ever had brighter homes, for their dwellings were here—Josh Carlile's at the Vicarage, planted on a shelf where the arrow-spired church looked down from near the head of the dale, where the first fall plunged wildly full thirty feet beside the little, mossy, stone-walled burial-ground. It was the home of mosses of every tint, from the high-up, metallic green in the cracks among the stones, down to the soft pink and cream patches of sphagnum, sometimes of their own vivid green when charged with water ready to spurt out at the touch of a traveller's foot.
Will's home—nest, he called it—was far below, at the mill, that pleasant home built first by one of his exiled ancestors, an old Huguenot who fled from France full of fervour, for his religion's sake, seeking refuge in old England, where, like many others, he found a safe asylum to live in peace, and think.
Old Guillaume Villars had "Monsieur" written before his name; but he was one of France's fine old working gentlemen, a great silk-weaver, and his first thought was to find a place where he and his following, a little clan, could earn their bread as sturdy workers living by the work of their hands; no beggars nor parasites they, but earnest toilers, the men who introduced their industry every here and there.
Some two hundred years ago, old Guillaume found Belle Dale ready with its motive power to his hand. He wanted water for his silk-mill: there it was, and, in a small way, he and his began their toil.
Their nearest neighbours, few indeed, soon found them quiet, earnest, religious men, and the welcome they had was warm. In their gratitude they said, "France to us is dead; this in future is our home;" and, though clinging to their language, they cast aside their fine patrician names, making them English and homely like those of the dwellers near. There was something almost grotesque at times in the changes that they made, but they were not noticed here. The D'aubignes became Daubeneys, or homely Dobbs; Chapuis, Shoppee; Jean Boileau, the great silk-weaver's right hand, laughingly translated his name to Drinkwater; and, as the time went on and generations passed, a descendant, "disagreeable old Boil O!" as the two boys called him, was the odd man, Jack-of-all-trades, and general mechanician at Beldale Mill, the servant of old Guillaume Villars' son, many generations down—John Willows now, father of Will of the Mill.
A long piece of pedigree this, but we must say who's who, and what's what, and, by the same rule, where's where; so here we have Beldale Mill and the boys—just the place they loved and looked forward to reaching again from the great school at Worksop, when the holidays came round.
There was no such place for beauty, they felt sure; no such fishing anywhere, they believed; in fact, everything the country boy could wish for was to their hand. Collect?—I should think they did: eggs, from those of the birds of prey to the tiny dot of the golden-crested wren; butterflies and moths, from the Purple Emperors that were netted as they hovered over the tops of the scrub oaks, and hawk-moths that darted through the garden, the only level place about the bottom of the glen. Fishing too—the artist who came down was only too glad to make them friends, seeing how they knew the homes of the wily trout in the rocky nooks below the great fall down by the sluice, where the waters rushed from beneath the splashing wheel; and in the deep, deep depths of the great dam where the waters were gathered as they came down from the hills above, forming a vast reserve that never failed, but kept up the rattle and clatter of looms from year to year, and formed a place where the boys early learned to dive and swim, making their plunges from one of the ferny shelves above. They were pretty high, some of these shelves, and required a cool head and steady nerve to mount to them in safety; but they had been improved in time. By a little coaxing, James Drinkwater had been induced by the boys to climb with them on the one side or the other of the gorge, armed with hammer and cold chisel, to cut a step here, and knock out a stone there, so that most of the shelves formed by the strata of limestone had been made accessible, and glorious places to ascend to for those who loved to scramble.
One of these shelves—the best of all, so Will said—was quite three hundred feet above the dam. It was filled with bristling, gnarled oak, and the walls beneath were draped with Nature's curtains, formed of the long strands of small-leaved ivy; and there, if you liked, you could look down, to the left, upon a lovely garden, the mossy roofs of mill and house, all to the left; while to the right you looked up the zig-zag gorge with its closed-in, often perpendicular walls, to see the glancing waters of the stream, and far up, the great plunging fall, flashing with light when the sun was overhead, deep in shadow as it passed onward towards the west.
Best of all, Will said, was lying on your breast looking right into the dam, pitching down collected pebbles, which fell with a splashless "chuck!" making "ducks' eggs," as they called it, and sending the white Aylesburys scuttling out of the way.
So much for the home of Will of the Mill.
FISHING FOR FUN.
It was up one of the shelves at the side of the great ravine that Will silently hurried his comrade, the Vicar's son, to where they could look down at the shelf below, a fairly open, verdant space, which offered before it on the other side of the stream just such a rocky landscape full of colour, light and shade, as artists love.
Will held up his hand to ensure silence, and then, taking hold of a projecting oak bough, peered down and signed to Josh to come and look. There was not much to see; there was an easel and a small canvas thereon, an open black japanned paint-box, a large wooden palette blotched with many colours lying on a bed of fern, and whose thumb-hole seemed to comically leer up at the boys like some great eye. Then there was a pair of big, sturdy legs, upon which rested a great felt hat, everything else being covered in by a great opened-out white umbrella, perfectly useless then, for, as Will had said, all was now in the shade.
Both boys had a good look down, drew back and gazed at each other with questioning eyes, before Josh, whose white teeth were all on view, stooped down and made a slight suggestion, a kind of pantomime, that he should drag up a great buckler fern by the roots, and drop it plump on the umbrella spike.
Will's eyes flashed, and he puckered up his mouth and pouted his lips as if in the act of emitting a great round No.
Josh's eyes began to question, Will's teeth to glisten, as he thrust one hand into his pocket and drew out a ring of tough water-cord. This he pitched to his companion, with a sign that he should open it out, while from another pocket he took out a small tin box, opened the lid, and drew forth a little cork, into whose soft substance the barbs of a large, bright blue, double eel-hook had been thrust.
Busy-fingered Josh watched every movement, and it was his turn now to shake his sides and indulge in a hearty, silent laugh, as he handed one end of the unwound cord.
This was deftly fitted on, and then, with every movement carefully watched and enjoyed, Will silently crept into the gnarled oak, till he was seated astride one of the horizontal projecting boughs, which began to play elastically up and down, but made no sign of loosening the parent stem, firmly anchored in the crevices of the limestone rock.
It was only a few feet out, and then the boy was exactly over the umbrella, some forty feet below. Then he began to fish, glancing from time to time through the leaves, as he sat watching and rubbing his hands.
The first gentle cast was a failure; so was the second; but the third time never fails. Will twisted the cord on his fingers, with the result that the double hook turned right over, and the barbed points, in answer to a gentle twitch, took hold of the white fabric, after passing right through.
Had there been earth below, in which the umbrella staff could have been stuck, the manoeuvre must have failed; but the shelf was nearly all rock, against some fragments of which the stick was propped. There was no failure then. There came up a faint rasping sound as of wood over stone, as the cord tightened, and then very slowly the umbrella began, parachute-like, to rise in the air, higher and higher, as it was hauled up hand over hand till the spike touched the lower twigs of the horizontal oak bough.
The next moment it was being retained in its novel place by Will making fast the line, winding it in and out between two dead branches; and then the boy quietly urged himself back to where Josh was chuckling softly as he peered down. For he was having a good view of that which had been hidden from Will, but which it was his turn now to share; and, judging from his features, he did enjoy it much.
But it was only the face and upper portion of a big, muscular, tweed-clothed man, lying back with his hands under his head, eyes closed fast, and mouth wide open, fast asleep.
He was a sturdy-looking fellow, with a big brown beard and moustache; but the boys did not stop to look, only began to retrace their steps so as to get down upon a level with the shelf upon which the sleeper lay.
"Capital!" whispered Josh. "What will he say?"
"Don't know; don't care!" was the reply.
"We'd better get away, hadn't we?"
"No-o-oo! We must stop. I wouldn't be away on any account."
"But then he'll know we did it, and get in a rage."
"Pst! Be quiet."
Will hurriedly led the way till they reached a clump of bushes where they could squat down with a good view of the sleeper, who remained perfectly still.
Josh looked up at the umbrella, which looked as if the oak tree had bloomed out into one huge white flower. Pointing up with one hand, he covered his face with the other to stifle a laugh, and Will uttered a warning.
Just at that moment, heard above the murmur of the machinery in the mill, and the wash and splash of the water, there arose the peculiar strident buzz of a large bluebottle, busily on the lookout for a suitable spot on which to lay eggs.
Evidently it scented the artist, and began darting to and fro over his open mouth.
In an instant there was an angry ejaculation, one hand was set at liberty, and several blows were struck at the obnoxious fly, which, finding the place dangerous, darted off, and the artist went loudly to sleep again. The boys exchanged glances, and Josh stole out one hand, pulled a hart's-tongue fern up by the roots, and, with admirable aim, pitched it so that it fell right on the sleeper's chest.
The artist sat up suddenly, staring about him, while the boys crouched perfectly motionless in their hiding-place.
"What's that?" reached their ears, and they saw the sleeper feeling about till his hand came in contact with the dry fern root.
"Why, it must have been that," he muttered aloud, and he turned it over and over.
Josh uttered a faint sound as if he were about to burst out laughing.
"It must have come from above, somewhere. If it was those boys—" The artist looked up suspiciously as he spoke, and then, with a start, he turned himself over on his hands and knees, to begin gazing wonderingly up at the cotton blossom hanging from the tree.
"Well," he said, "I never felt it; it must have been one of those gusts which come down from the mountain."
Will pressed his hands tightly over Josh's mouth, for he could feel him heaving and swaying about as if he were about to explode.
"Blows up this valley sometimes," continued the artist, "just like a hurricane."
"Pouf!" went Josh, for Will's efforts were all in vain.
"Ah-h-ah! I knew it!" cried the artist, springing to his feet in a rage. "You dogs! I see you!"
It was the truth the next moment, for Josh rushed off to get into safety, closely followed by Will, whilst their victim gave chase.
Hunted creatures somehow in their hurry to escape pursuit, have a natural inclination for taking the wrong route, the one which leads them into danger when they are seeking to be safe.
It was so here. Josh led, and Will naturally followed; but his comrade might have gone round by the mill, run for the stepping-stones, where he could have crossed and made for the rough hiding-places known to him on the other side of the stream; or he might have dodged for the garden-gate, darted through, and made for the zig-zag path leading to the open moorland; but instead of this, he dashed down to the waterside, ran along by it, and then took the ascending path right up the glen, getting more and more out of breath, and with Will panting heavily close behind.
"Oh, you chucklehead!" cried the latter, huskily. "Why did you come along here? You knew we couldn't go far."
"It's all right. He won't follow. He'll be tired directly; he's so fat."
"I don't care," cried Will, stealing a look over his shoulder; "fat or thin, he's coming along as hard as he can pelt."
"Yes, but he's about done."
"He isn't, I tell you; he's coming faster than you can go. Go along: look sharp!"
The boys ran on, Josh getting more and more breathless every moment, while he began to lose heart as he heard the artist shouting to him to stop.
"Here, Will," he cried, "which way had I better go? Up the long crack, or make for the fox's path?"
"One's as bad as the other," cried Will. "Fox's path. Here, go on faster. Let me lead; I know the way best. I never saw such an old chucklehead. Why did you come this way?"
He brushed by his companion as he spoke, his legs making a whishing sound as he tore through clumps of fern and brake, running on and on over the rapidly-rising ground till the path was at an end, and they drew closer to a spot where the rocks closed in, forming a cul de sac, unless they were willing to take a leap of some twenty feet into a deep pool, or climb up the rocky wall just in front.
"We can't jump," panted Will.
"No," half whispered Josh. "Oh, what a mess we are in! You will have to beg his pardon, Will."
"You'll have to hold your tongue, or else we shall be caught. It's all right; come on. I can get up here."
The boy proved it by springing at the rocky face, catching a projecting block and the tufts of heath and heather, kicking down earth and stone as he rose, and scrambling up some fifteen feet before gaining a resting-place, to pause for a moment to look down and see how his companion was getting on.
To his horror, Josh was almost at the bottom of the wall, and, scarlet with fury and exertion, the artist panting heavily about two score yards behind.
"I've got you, you dogs! It's no use, I've got you!"
"Oh!" groaned Will, ready to give up, wondering the while whether the artist would thrash him with his elastic maul-stick.
"No, he hasn't," cried Josh. "Run, run! Never mind me."
"Shan't run," snarled Will, between his teeth. "Here, catch hold of my hands."
He lay down on his chest, hooking his feet in amongst the tough roots of the heather.
"Come on, I tell you! Catch hold."
Obeying the stronger will, Josh made a desperate scramble, putting into it all the strength he had left, and, regardless of the angry shouts of the artist, he scrambled up sufficiently high for Will to grasp him by the wrists. He could do no more, for his feet slipped from beneath him, and he hung helpless, and at full length, completely crippling his companion, who had the full weight dependent on his own failing strength.
Encouraged by this, the breathless artist made his final rush, and succeeded in getting Josh by the ankles, holding on tightly in spite of the boy's spasmodic movement, for as he felt the strong hands grasp his legs, he uttered a yell, and began to perform motions like those of a swimming frog.
"Be quiet! Don't!" roared Will. "You'll have me down."
"Let go, you dog!" shouted the artist. "I've got him now."
"Let go yourself," cried Will, angrily. "Can't you see you are pulling me down?"
"Oh, yes, I can see. Let go yourself."
"Shan't!" growled Will, through his set teeth. "Kick out, Josh, and send him over."
"I can't!" cried Josh.
"He'd better! I'd break his neck."
"Never mind what he says, Josh. Kick! Kick hard!"
"Kick! I've got you tight. I could hold you for a wee—wee—"
He was going to say "week," but Fate proved to him that this was a slight exaggeration on his part, and instead of finishing the word week he gave vent to a good loud "oh!" Tor the heather roots had suddenly given way, and the three contending parties descended the sharp slope with a sudden rush, to be brought up short amongst the stones that accompanied them in a contending heap, forming a struggling mass for a few moments, before the strongest gained the day, the artist rising first, and seating himself in triumph upon the beaten lads, to begin dragging out his handkerchief to mop his face, as he panted breathlessly—
"There, I've got you now!"
THE ARTIST'S REVENGE.
It was not manly on Josh's part, but he was weak, beaten, quite in despair; the artist was a heavy man; and he had his companion Will upon him as well.
Consequently his tone was very pathetic, as he whimpered out—
"Here, you'd better let me alone!"
"Likely!" said the artist. "I wanted a model, and now you have got to sit for me."
Will didn't whimper in the least. Pain and anger had put him in what would have been a towering rage if he had not been prostrate on the ground.
"Here, you get up," he said, in a bull-dog tone.
"By and by," cried the artist, coolly, as he began to recover his breath. "I haven't made up my mind what I am going to do yet."
"If you don't get up, I'll bite," cried Will.
"You'd better! It's my turn now; I've got a long score to settle against you two fellows, and I'm going to pay you out."
As he spoke, the artist took out his pipe and tobacco pouch, and began to fill up.
"Get up!" shouted Will. "You hurt."
"So do you," said the artist, "you nasty, bony, little wretch! You feel as if you must be half-starved."
As he uttered the words there was a loud scratching, and he struck a match, lit his pipe, and began to smoke, while the boys, now feeling themselves perfectly helpless, lay waiting to see what he would do next.
"Ha!" said the artist. "I think that'll about do. You chaps are never happy unless you are playing me some trick. I've put up with it for a long time; but you know, young fellows, they say a worm will turn at last. Well, I'm a worm, and I'm going to turn, and have my turn."
"What are you going to do?" cried Will.
"Want to know?"
"Of course I do."
"You'd better leave us alone," whimpered Josh.
"Think so? Well, I will, after I've done. I'm going to wash some of the mischief out of you. I shall just tie your hands together—yes, I can easily do it now—and then drop you both into the pool."
"What?" yelled Josh. "Why, you'd drown us!"
"Hold your noise, Josh. He daren't."
"Daren't! Why not? You are only boys, and all boys are a nuisance. You've spoilt five of my canvases, and wasted a lot of my paint, making scarecrows—at least, one of you did. But there, I won't be hard; I'll only drop in the one who did it. Who was it? Was it you, Josh Carlile?"
Josh was silent.
"Ah! I expect it was. It was he, wasn't it, Will?"
Will was silent too.
"Now I'm sure it was. Now then, Will; out with it. Tell me. It was Josh Carlile, wasn't it?"
"Shan't tell," cried Will; "and if you don't let us get up directly, I'll poke holes through all your canvases, and pitch your paints into the dam."
The artist filled his mouth as full of tobacco smoke as he could, bent down, and puffed it in a long stream full in the boy's face, making him struggle afresh violently, but all in vain.
"Well, you are a nice boy—very," said the artist. "Your father must be very proud of you. It is quite time you were washed; you've a deal of mischief in you that would be much better out. Now then, it was Josh Carlile, wasn't it?"
"I won't tell you. Pitch us in if you dare. Don't you mind, Josh. He's only saying it to frighten us."
"Yes; a very nice boy," said the artist, gravely; "but as I promised, I won't be hard, for anyhow you've got some pluck. Look here, how did you manage to get my gamp up yonder?"
"Went up above and fished for it," said Will, coolly.
"Fished for it? What with?"
"Water-cord and an eel-hook," growled Will. "I say, Mr Manners, this is bad manners, you know; you do hurt awfully."
"Ha, ha, ha!" laughed the artist, boisterously. "Fished it up with an eel-hook? Well, I suppose I am heavy. Look here, if I let you get up, will you fish it down?"
"Won't promise," growled Will.
"All right; I believe you will," and he rolled off, leaving the boys at liberty to spring up, Josh to begin rubbing himself all over, Will to dash to the first big stone, catch it up, and make an offer as if to throw it at the artist's head.
The latter blew a cloud of smoke at the passionate-looking lad, and sat looking him full in the face.
"All right," he said, coolly; "chuck!"
Will raised the stone as high as he could, and hurled it with all his might high in the air so that it should fall with a heavy splash into the pool below.
"Ha!" cried the artist. "Feel better now?"
"Yes," said Will, brushing himself down. "But I say, Mr Manners, you are a jolly weight."
"Yes, I suppose I am. I say, I'm going to have a try after the trout to-night. Where had I better go?"
"Likely I'm going to tell you after serving me like this!"
"Of course it is. I was going to ask you to come."
"Will you ask me, if I do?"
"Likely I'm going to ask you after serving my gamp like that!"
"Oh, I'll soon get that down," replied Will, cheerily. "Here! you go, Josh. I put it up. I'm tired now; I had all his weight on me."
"Well, but I had all his weight and yours too, and I'm sore all over."
"You can't be," said Will. "You must be sore all under, for you were at the bottom."
"Oh, but I can't, Will. I feel as if I was tired out."
"All right," cried Will, "I'll go;" and, springing up, he scampered down to the level where the easel and canvas still stood, and climbed up as the others followed more slowly; and a few minutes later the umbrella came parachute-like down, to be folded up by its owner. Will shouldered the easel, Josh tucked the canvas under his arm, and they all walked up-stream together as if nothing had happened, towards Drinkwater's attractive little cottage, which formed the temporary home of the lover of rustic art, and discoursing the while about the red-spotted beauties whose haunts Will was to point out that evening after tea.
The cottage with its pretty garden was reached, and the boys handed their loads to the owner.
"What time will you be here?" he said.
"We ought to start at five," replied Will, "but we can't get here till nearly six, because Josh is going to have tea with me."
"Look here, both of you come up and have tea with me. Mrs Drinkwater shall put two extra cups."
"Mean it?" cried Will.
"Mean it?" said the bluff artist. "Why, of course!"
The next minute the boys were walking down together towards the mill.
"Say, Josh," said Will, thoughtfully, "he isn't such a bad fellow, after all."
"No," said josh, dubiously, "but he's an awful weight."
LOST ON THE TOR.
"Well, go and ask Mr Manners to come up, then," said Mr Willows, one morning a few days later, as Will and Josh stood waiting; "that is," he went on, "if you really think that he would like to come. I should be very pleased to see him. But don't worry the man."
"Oh, I'm sure he would, father," said Will; "wouldn't he, Josh?"
"Yes," said Josh, quickly. "I know he's been wanting to see the place."
"He's thrown out hints," said Will.
"Oh, has he?" said the mill-owner, with a smile. "Thrown out hints, eh? Well, I shall be delighted to see him. But I thought you two chaps were not on very good terms with him."
"Oh yes, father; it's all right now. Of course we thought that he was only a painter, but he is really a splendid chap. Come on, Josh; we'll get him to come up now."
"Only a painter," said Mr Willows, with a laugh, as he looked after them.
The two lads started for the cottage where the artist, who was making picture after picture of the neighbourhood, took his meals—when, that is, he did not picnic in the open, which was fairly frequently—and where he slept—and one could sleep in that crisp mountain air.
"No, my dears," said Mrs Drinkwater, who had come down to the little white gate to speak to them, "Mr Manners is out, I am very sorry."
"Oh!" said Will.
"Where's he gone?" asked Josh.
"He went off very early this morning, sir," said the woman. "He told me to cut him some sandwiches. He said that I would be away all day, as he was going as far as the Tor."
"And never asked us!" cried Josh. "What a jolly shame!"
"Humph! It is a pity," said Will, and he turned away. "I say, why shouldn't we go after him?"
"Perhaps he doesn't want us."
"Nonsense!" said Will.
"Then let's go. I'm willing, only I thought you would say that it was too far."
"It's you that would say that."
"Bosh!" said Josh.
"Go on. Be funny. Bosh, Josh! That's a joke, I suppose."
"Oh, all right; I'm ready," said Josh. "But it is no end of a long way."
"Why, we've been there lots of times before now."
"Yes, but we started early in the morning."
"It doesn't matter," said Will. "I have been wanting to go there again for a long time."
The Great Gray Tor was surrounded by mists which were wreathed round it half-way up, while the dark summit peering out above the vapour looked like some vast head emerging from a miniature sea.
"It's glorious," said Will, as the two boys got away into the wild rugged country, clothed here and there with marshes where numbers of flowers were growing luxuriantly, their blooms making bright splashes of colour. "Fancy his wanting to paint all this, though!"
"Oh, I believe he would paint anything."
"Well, he will soon have finished everything here. He's done the mill, and the sunsets, and old Drinkwater's cottage. There will be nothing left soon for him to daub."
"Oh, yes; there will," said Josh, knowingly, as they trudged on. "I heard my father talking about it. He said these artist chaps had a new way of looking at everything each day of their lives. So that means that he will want to paint everything all over again. Glad I am not an artist. I don't like doing things over again."
"Ho!" said Will. "I don't care."
"No more do I," said Josh, "for I'm not an artist and I am not going to be one. But what are you staring at?"
"I've lost the way," said Will, at last.
"Ditto," said Josh. "Have you really? Shout. Mr Manners might hear."
Josh did so.
"Bah! Nobody could hear that."
Josh shouted once more.
"Shout again," said Will.
"No, you have a try. I shall be hoarse."
"All right then.—Mr Manners—ahoy!"
"He won't hear the Mister," said Josh, scornfully.
"No, of course not," said Will. "Manners—ahoy!"
"Ahoy!" came in a faint whisper.
"It's an echo," said Josh.
"Well, I know that, stupid."
"He may have come round another way," hazarded Josh.
"May anything," said Will. "But I don't believe there is another way.— Mr Manners!—Ahoy!" he shouted.
"Ahoy-oy?" came back faintly again.
"It is only the echo. Seems too foolish to lose your way in a place like this."
"Good as anywhere else," said Josh, cheerily. "But there's the Tor, and there's Mr Manners."
"Where is he?" said Will, sharply.
"Why, at the Tor."
"Ugh! There, come on. None of your jokes."
"Well, we can't be far wrong," said Josh.
"We might be miles out," said Will; "and it will be dark soon. We were precious stupids to come all this way on the bare chance of meeting him. He may have gone off home."
"Then we should have been sure to meet him."
"Why?" said Will.
"Because he would have come this way. It's the only safe one, on account of the bogs. Somewhere near here a man and a horse were swallowed up once."
"Don't believe it," said Will.
"You ask father."
It was steady uphill work now; then real climbing; here and there their way was checked by a miniature heather-crowned crater, down which they peered, to see stony ledges and then a sheer fall.
"He is only an ignorant Londoner after all," said Will, thoughtfully, as they scrambled on. "He might have let himself fall down one of those places."
"Any one might do that," said Josh. "Hark! What's that?"
"Didn't hear anything," said Will.
"That's because you don't listen. Now!" said Josh, sharply.
Will uttered a cry.
"Yes," he said, excitedly.
"You heard it?"
There was a groan.
"There!" cried Will. "It's Mr Manners, and something's happened to him.—Manners!—Ahoy!"
No answer came.
"Wouldn't be having a game with us, would he?"
"No," said Josh. "I don't think he'd do that."
"Then let's go on a bit farther."
The late afternoon sun lit up the valley away to the left, which the Tor had hitherto concealed from their view. They scrambled on in the heat over the rough stone escarpments and amidst the gorse.
"Now, let's listen again," said Will.
They halted, and Josh wiped his streaming face.
"Shout again," he said huskily.
"Manners!—Ahoy!" shouted Will.
There was no response.
"Perhaps it wasn't he," said Josh.
"Perhaps he's so busy painting something or another that he hasn't been able to hear."
"Oh, perhaps anything," said Will. "Come on, I am certain now. It's that big cleft where we found the stonechats. He will have fallen down there, paint and all."
"Help!" came faintly now. "Help—help!"
"Hear that?" panted Josh, looking scared, and then radiant.
"Yes," said Will; "I hear. He's in danger." And the two lads tore on as fast as they could up the steep slippery incline.
THE SEARCH PARTY.
"Master Will has not been back, sir," said the servant, when Mr Willows inquired towards evening as to the whereabouts of his son.
"But," he said to himself, "he was going to fetch that artist. Oh, he will be all right."
Yet as evening wore on the mill-owner began to feel anxious, and his anxiety caused him to take his hat and stick and walk up to the Vicarage.
"Will?" said the Vicar, "No. Isn't he at the mill?"
"Ah!" said the Vicar. "I have not seen either of them all day."
"Humph! They ought to be able to take care of themselves by this time. But I shall go on to Drinkwater's cottage and inquire."
"I'll come with you," said the Vicar, eagerly, and he took his hat off its peg in the square-shaped wainscotted hall. "Our two lads," he said, as they walked quickly along the road to the cottage, "are so much together that I always feel that when Josh is out he is sure to be at the mill. That is why I never feel particularly surprised when he does not come back to meals."
"Just so; but they are so ready to be up to mischief that I am beginning to be afraid. Ah! at last," continued Mr Willows, with a sigh, as they reached the cottage, where lights shone already through the white-curtained windows.
He passed through the nicely kept garden and knocked at the door, which was opened by Mrs Drinkwater, who curtseyed when she saw who her visitors were.
"Have you seen my son, Mrs Drinkwater?" asked Mr Willows. "Did he come here to-day to see Mr Manners?"
"Yes, sir; this morning," said the woman, making way for the two visitors to enter the neatly furnished sitting-room, where supper was on the way.
"Oh! this morning? But I am disturbing you at supper. Evening, James," he said, as he and his companion entered the room, to see Drinkwater, who was just finishing his meal.
"Good-evening, sir. Disturbing me? No matter, master," said the man, rising and standing facing the newcomers, with one hand on the table. "So Master Will was here this morning, wife?"
"Yes, yes," cried the woman; "as I say. He and Mr Josh came down together. They were looking for Mr Manners then, and seemed disappointed-like that he was out."
"Of course," said the mill-owner; "of course. They would be. They wanted the artist to come to the mill. Well, well! And afterwards what happened?"
"Well, sir, Mr Manners had gone, and that's all I know, sir. The two young gentlemen went away together."
"They went to look for him, naturally. But where had he gone?"
"He was going to the Tor, sir. He went away early, with his canvas and things, to paint a picture."
"You hear, Carlile? Something must have happened, or they would have been back by now. We must go. Look here, Drinkwater, you will come with us?"
"Yes, master," said the man, with surly readiness.
"It may be some accident," continued Mr Willows.
"Oh, I pray not, sir," said the woman. "Those two dear lads, and Mr Manners, who is always so cheerful!"
"Come then," cried Mr Willows. "What are you looking for?"
"Rope, sir," said the man, gruffly. "It may be useful—and a lantern. We shall want it at least;" and as he spoke the words he pulled out of the chest over which he had been stooping a coil of hempen rope. He then took a little lantern from a ledge and lit it. "Now I am ready, master."
"You are an excellent fellow, Drinkwater," said the mill-owner, clapping his hand on the other's shoulder, as they stepped out.
"Nay, nay, master," said the man. "I have the bad fits on me sometimes, and bad they are."
"Bad fits?" said Mr Willows, in a puzzled way. "What do you mean?"
The man nodded.
"Yes," he said, "yes. That's what they are. I can't help them, master."
"Oh," said the mill-owner; "you must try."
The bright light from the cottage door, at which the woman stood watching them, streamed out and lit up their path for a few steps. Then they were in the pitch darkness, and in danger of completely losing their way, for it was rough broken country that lay between the little settlement and the Tor. In that district villages were few and far between, and beyond Beldale there was uncultivated land for many miles.
"They would be sure to come back this way, wouldn't they?" asked Mr Willows. "Don't you think so, James?"
"Pretty nigh certain, master," was the response, and the man held the lantern aloft and glanced round. "It's a rough enough way and no mistake, if you can call it a way; but it's the only one I knows of. But don't you fret, sir. Master Will can take care of himself, and as for Mr Manners, he's big enough, while Master Josh is a handy one too, They are sure to be all right, sir, take my word for it."
"Yes," said Mr Willows; "but there are many dangerous places there out in the wilds, and boys are over-venturesome."
"Humph! The swamp? Ay," said the man, thoughtfully. "Yes, to be sure. But we shall find them, never fear."
The Great Tor looked quite near at times, in the daylight, but that was merely base deception on the part of the atmosphere, for it was quite a long way, while now, at night, it was not to be seen at all. It was on the tip of John Willows' tongue several times to ask Drinkwater if he were sure, but he reflected what would be the use? For the man was plodding steadily on, and the tiny rays of his lantern fell on the rough grass and stones. Evidently he knew quite well what he was about, for there was a certainty in his movements—never any hesitation.
"Suppose," said the Vicar, "that they have gone back home another way."
"Aren't no use supposing, sir. I don't think as they have," said the man, quietly. "This 'ere's the only safe way through the bog."
"Very well," said Mr Willows, shortly. "We must just press on. I wish Mr Manners wouldn't lead our lads so far afield."
"Yet, if they followed him—" said the Vicar.
"Ah, yes, to be sure. He strikes one as being a good reliable man. Ah!" And he gave a snatch at the Vicar's arm. "I was nearly down that time. Terribly rough."
"Terribly," was the reply. "Drinkwater!"
"Let us keep one each side of you. It is so dark, and the lantern will help us better that way."
THE ARTIST'S PLIGHT.
The two boys were at the edge of the fissure at length, and leaned over to peer down through the bracken and heather which grew on the sides of the rough descent.
"Help!" came up faintly.
"Mr Manners! where are you? It's all right. We're here."
"Thank Heaven! That you, boys? Ah! I am on a shelf down here—been here for hours—a long way down; and I have sprained something. Can you get help?"
"Well, we are here," said Will, "and I am coming down."
"So am I," said Josh.
"No, no. It is too dangerous," came up.
"Is it?" said Will. "You lie quiet, Mr Manners. We are coming. There," he continued to Josh, "take hold of the bracken, and keep your big boots out of my face, can't you?" For he was already on his way down.
"Same size as yours," said Josh. "I say, it's precious deep! Coming, Mr Manners—coming!"
"Be careful," came faintly.
"Oh, yes; we will be careful," said Will. "Ah! I say, Josh, look out there. I slipped. It's sheer down. Oh, now I see. Hallo, Mr Manners! Come on, Josh. 'Tisn't as dark as I thought. Here we are;" and the boy slipped the rest of the way down, to a fairly wide ledge, on which the artist lay in rather an awkward position.
"Mr Manners, are you much hurt?" asked Will, as he dropped down softly by the artist's side.
"Yes, my boy? I am rather badly. But take care. Take care, Josh!"
"Oh, we are all right, sir. What's the matter?"
"I fell while trying to get to that peak there for a better view."
"But where does it hurt?" said Will.
"I've twisted my arm," said the artist, "and injured my ankle to boot. That's a joke. Look here, Will; you could help me to get my arm free. It's—it's painful; that's what it is."
"Wait a minute," said Will; and he altered his position on the ledge, shifting himself along so as to be nearer to where the artist lay. "Now," he said. "Ah!"
"Yes, I am heavy, am I not?" said the artist, with a sort of chuckle. "Oh!" he continued, with a groan. "I don't think it's possible for you to do it."
"I think it is," said Will. "You, Josh—Steady!—Yes, that's right; get down on his other side. Now, Mr Manners, I will help to pull you over, and Josh shall push. Now—are you ready?"
"Ready! Ay, ready!" said the artist, with a ghastly attempt at a smile.
"Now then, Josh!"
By an united effort the position of the artist was altered, and the victim to a nasty fall gave a sigh as he folded his injured left arm across his chest.
"I—I—Brave boys! Good lads! I—"
"Oh, that's all right, sir," said Will. "I say, Josh!"
"Phew!" whistled Josh. "Then he must be very bad."
"I'm afraid he is."
"Couldn't we ease him up a bit?"
"No. What I want to know is what we have got to do."
"We have just got to hold on," said Josh, doggedly. "That's what we've got to do."
"No. You run back, I tell you," gasped Will. "Fetch help."
"Run back!" said Josh, scornfully. "Six miles! I don't believe I could find the way; and anyhow I am not going to leave you two here."
"But I can hold him fast; and how are we to get help if you don't? I shall be here to see him."
"So shall I," said Josh.
"No, I tell you. Climb up and get back home. How are they to know?"
"I don't know," said Josh. "Did they know where we were coming?"
"No. How could they?"
"Then it's just wait till morning. Heigh-ho!"
"But Mrs Drinkwater—"
"Of course!" cried Josh. "What a stupid I was! Mrs Drinkwater knew."
"She mightn't remember," said Will.
"Of course she would. Didn't she tell us where he had gone?"
"Yes," answered Will; "but—there, Josh, you had better be off."
"No. Why don't you go?"
"What, and leave you here?"
"There!" said Josh. "It's just the same. But what's that?"
"I didn't hear anything."
"I did—a call. There, can't you hear it now?"
"It's a bird," said Will, as they both listened. "That's all. But there, if you won't go, I tell you what you might do—clamber up and hoist a signal."
"Your handkerchief," said Will.
"Would it do any good?" asked Josh. "It's a precious long way up. How is he?"
Will leaned over the unconscious man.
"Asleep, I think," he said quietly. "How dark it's getting. Look up there! Why, the sky's nearly black."
"I think I will climb up and shout," said Josh. "They are sure to come and look for us, and that will help them."
"Right," said Will. "But mind how you go!"
"Oh, yes; I'll be careful," said Josh, and he began slowly to climb. "It's much easier here," he said breathlessly.
Will listened to his scrambling.
"How are you getting on?" he asked.
"Capitally. I'm near the top."
A few more minutes elapsed, and then a voice came down—
"I've fastened my handkerchief to the stump of a bush."
"How shall we get Mr Manners up when they do come?"
"Push and pull," said Will.
"But he's awfully heavy."
"Oh, I know; but we shall manage. I say, I wonder where his paint-box and things are. Perhaps they all went down with him."
"Not they," said Josh, as his foot kicked against something. "They are all up here. I've got them. Isn't he awake yet?"
"No—yes—I say, Mr Manners, are you better?"
"I—Where am I?—Oh, yes, I remember. Better? I think so. What are you doing here?"
"Came to find you, and—"
From above there came a shout.
"Hallo!" said Will. "That's Josh found then."
"That you, boys?" came from somewhere far above, out of the darkness, and it was Josh who answered, while Will said in a low tone:
"I say, Mr Manners, I am glad. Now don't you think you could get up? It's father and Mr Carlile."
The artist made a brave attempt.
"I could stand on one leg," he said, "but that's about all I'm good for. My ankle gives way at once."
"Then we must just wait," said Will. "That's the only thing to do. It was my father who called. Say, Josh!"
"That you, my boy?" came from above.
"I must sit down again," said the artist, in a low tone, for he had been standing supporting himself against the wall of the ledge.
"No, sir," said Drinkwater, as he flashed his lantern round. "If Mr Manners has hurt himself and can't walk, as Mr Josh says he has, we shan't be able to haul him up. The rope I brought wouldn't do it; and besides, we should have no purchase here."
"Then what are we to do?" said Mr Willows, impatiently. "Tell me what you advise."
"There's another way down," said the man, sturdily. "We couldn't pull him up there. I know the place he's on. We can get to it if we go along here; there's a zig-zag path."
"Capital!" said the mill-owner. "Come along."
The path the man referred to was a roundabout one, but it led them to the place where the artist lay.
"It's a good job we came, sir," said Mr Willows. "Not a nice place to spend the night in. You fell down here?"
"Yes," said the artist; "unfortunately."
"Humph!" said the mill-owner. "Now we have got to get you up."
"What a pity he's such a heavy-weight," said Will to Josh, in a whisper.
"Drinkwater has found a special way down here. You will have to lean on two of us and manage it somehow. Mr Carlile, take the lantern, will you, please? Now, Drinkwater, get hold of Mr Manners' other arm."
"Do you think you can do it?" said Mr Willows.
"Don't know," said the artist; "but I will try."
"That's the style," said the mill-owner. "There, lean heavily on me. You, Drinkwater, get firm hold of his other arm. Slowly does it!" And the little procession started.
"It took me a long while to get here," said the artist, "but as for getting back—"
"Don't you worry about that," said the Vicar. "We shall manage all right, never fear."
It was after about an hour that the Vicar went up to Mr Willows.
"Now let me have a turn, Drinkwater," he said.
"We are getting along so well that I think we had better not change," said the mill-owner.
Mr Carlile nodded.
"Remember," he said, "that I am ready to act as relief directly I am needed."
"I'll remember that," said Mr Willows. "Here, Will, what are you doing?"
"Carrying Mr Manners' tackle," said the lad.
"Oh! then you, Josh. Take the lantern for a bit."
"Not at all," said the Vicar, stoutly. "That little bit of duty I do cling to, and I am not going to surrender the light to any one. How are you feeling, Mr Manners?"
"Fairly, thank you," was the response; "but I am thankful that the journey is not twice as far."
"Well, yes," said Mr Willows, dryly. "We can do with it as short as it is. Have a rest now, sir?"
"No, no," said the artist; "not for a bit."
It was a slow march home indeed, and later frequent rests had to be indulged in.
"I say," said Will to Josh, "it's a pretty holiday, isn't it! Here, you take these things. Catch hold."
The march was resumed.
"Drinkwater is a trump," said Will at last.
"Rather a surly one," said Josh. "Why can't he be amiable?"
"I don't know."
"Whatever he says has got a sort of a sting in it."
"Hush! He'll hear."
"I wish he had."
"Look here, my man," said Mr Carlile at last, "have a rest now for a bit. I will go on the other side of Mr Manners."
"No, no, sir; I can manage, thank ye," said Drinkwater. "I am a strong one, you know, and it comes easy to such as me."
"So I see. But even the strong need rest, you know."
The man shook his head.
"I don't need no rest," he said. "I have worked hard all my life, and it won't hurt me to do a bit more."
"Hark at that," said Josh. "Old grumpus!"
"Better leave him alone," said Willows. "He will have his own way. Don't interfere."
"Oh, very well," said the Vicar. "Want a rest, Mr Manners?"
"No, no. We had better get on. What time is it?"
"Midnight—just after," said the mill-owner.
"Your wife will be anxious about you, Drinkwater," said the artist.
"Not she," was the response. "My wife knows me."
"Old stupid!" said Will. "As if we didn't know that! How could she help knowing him when she's his wife?"
"I wonder your father puts up with him as he does," said Josh.
"Yes; I often wonder that," said Will. "But then old Boil O does know such a lot. Look at to-night, for instance. Where should we have been without him?"
"That's why he thinks he can be disagreeable, I suppose," said Josh.
The cottage was reached at last, and evidently Mrs Drinkwater had been waiting anxiously all the time. She came hurriedly down the garden path to meet the travellers.
"Oh, Mr Manners," she said, "you have hurt, yourself!"
"A trifle," he answered. "But you will know how to treat an injured ankle, Mrs Drinkwater."
"I think I do, sir," said the woman, brightly, as she preceded the little party into the cottage, and hastily put a cushion in the dark brown Windsor chair which stood sentry-like by the fire.
Into this the artist was helped.
"Thank you, gentlemen," he said, with a smile, as he gazed at his rescuers. "Thank you, boys, and you, Drinkwater—very sincerely, one and all. I am grateful. Astonishing how helpless an accident like this makes a man. Now with a cold compress and a rest I ought soon to be all right again."
"I trust so," Mr Willows, with a smile, looking down at him; "only don't be in too much of a hurry to think you are well. It is a case for one remedy, and that is r-e-s-t. How are you going to get to bed? Shall I remain and assist?"
"It's only up two stairs, sir," said Mrs Drinkwater, "and my man will help."
"Of course he will," said the artist. "I shall be quite all right. Good-night, friends, and a thousand thanks. One day may I be able to do as much for you."
"I'll take good care you don't," said Willows, with a laugh; and then as they started for home he clapped Will on the shoulder. "Your artist's a splendid fellow," he said.
"Soon be able to walk all right; eh. Mr Manners?" asked Will, who with Josh had come up to the cottage.
"Soon, my lad? Yes, I think so," said the artist, cheerily. "I was talking to Drinkwater here about painting his portrait; but he won't hear a word of it. But I have got him in my mind's eye all the same, and I shall paint him whether he likes it or not," continued Mr Manners, as he looked laughingly at the boys, and then went on dipping his brush in the colours on the palette, rubbing it round and twiddling it in the pigment, while his landlord, pipe in mouth, gazed at him rather surlily. "Wouldn't he make a fine picture? Eh?" And the artist leaned back in his chair and smiled good-humouredly first at Drinkwater and then at the boys, ending by shaking his head at his injured ankle, which was resting on another chair placed nearly in front of him.
"I don't want my portrait painted, I tell ye," said the man, gruffly.
"Hark at him!" said Manners. "I should have thought he would be pleased."
"What's the matter, Boil O?" asked Will. "Did you get out of bed the wrong way this morning?"
"No, sir," said the man, shortly.
"Oh," said Will.
"Leave the sulky bear alone," put in Josh.
"Be quiet," said Will to his companion. "I say, Boil O, old chap, when are you going to make me that fishing-rod you promised?"
"Oh, I have no time to make fishing-rods for boys," said the man. "I have to work."
"Look at him. How busy he is!" cried Will, with mock seriousness, while the artist made a vermilion smudge on his canvas as the ground plan of a sunset.
"No, sir, no time. Your father keeps me too busy."
"Shame," said Will. "Why, my father was saying only the other day that you had done so much good work for him all your life, that he would be very pleased to see you take things a bit easier now; so there."
"'Tain't true," said the man.
"What!" cried Will, his face growing very red. "Don't you believe what I say?"
"Not that exactly; but you don't know all I've done—no more than Mr Willows does, nor Mr Manners."
"Oh, doesn't he?" said Will.
"I know you to be a very faithful and good friend, Drinkwater," said the artist, making a dab, and then leaning back in his chair with his head on one side to judge the effect.
"Look at him," said Will, in a whisper, to Josh. "He always wags his head like that when he's at work painting. What does he do it for?"
"Oh, I heard what you said," continued the artist. "I do it because I can judge distance better that way. But as I was saying, Drinkwater here is a very good friend indeed, and if it had not been for his kindness, my little accident would have been twice as annoying as it is. Thanks to his help, I am able to go out painting and fishing all the same, and I am very grateful to him."
"I don't want that, master," said the man. "I don't want thanks;" and he slouched off, leaving the boys and the artist to continue the conversation.
"Surly old toad!" said Will. "What's wrong with him?"
"Something must have put him out," said the artist.
"But he's always getting into his nasty tempers."
"Ah, well, he'll soon come round. He has been most thoughtful for me."
"But I say, Mr Manners," said Josh, "you will be able to come fishing to-night, won't you?"
"Don't know," said the artist.
"Oh, yes," cried Will. "We will look after you; won't we, Josh?"
"All right, I'll come; but in a few days, you know, I shall be quite all right again."
"Hooray!" cried Will. "But I was forgetting: father sent me up here with his compliments, and he hopes you are going on A1."
"So did mine," said Josh.
"I am very grateful to Mr Willows and Mr Carlile," said the artist. "Very kind of them to have thought of me."
Mr Manners' prophecy was quite right. In a few days practically all trace of his unfortunate mishap on the Tor had vanished, and there followed not merely one fishing trip, but several, for the artist's chief recreation was throwing a fly, and one evening as he whipped the stream he turned quickly to the boys, who were a few yards away.
"See that?" he said.
"No," said Will. "Was it a bite?"
"No, no,—amidst those trees,—Drinkwater."
"Oh," said Josh. "What about him?"
"I thought he wanted to speak to me," said the artist. "It looked as though he crept away because he saw you."
"Glad he's gone," said Will. "I don't want him. He's too plaguey disagreeable, isn't he, Josh?"
"Yes," said the lad addressed.
"No, no," said the artist. "I am afraid something's wrong. He was too good over my accident for me to run him down."
"Don't run him down then," said Will; "but he is getting to be an old curmudgeon all the same."
"He has been with your father a long time."
"What, old Boil O?" said Will, who had begun to draw in. "Oh, yes, years and years. He used to be a very good sort of a chap, but of late something's made him as cross as a bear."
"Perhaps he doesn't like you calling him Boil O," said the artist, taking out his book and carefully selecting a fresh fly, fastening the other in his hat.
"Oh, he doesn't mind that," said Will. "Besides, it's his name, or was his name before it was changed to Drinkwater."
"I wish I could find out what has upset him," said the artist.
"It's nonsense, Mr Manners," said Will. "Old Boil O was always like that at times, and he's as close as—as anything. He gets some pepper in him somehow. But he will come round. He always does. It's just his way. He's a strange chap. Fancy his creeping about after you like that."
"I take it as a compliment," said the artist, smiling. "Drinkwater and I are very good friends."
"Well, my father likes him," said Will, "and thinks he's a very good workman, but his rough manners—"
"You are not speaking of me, I hope?" said the artist.
"Speaking of you! No. But my father says that he often feels irritated by him."
"Ah!" said the artist, reflectively. "He never shows them to me when we have a pipe together at night. He is a very interesting character, Will. Of course, as somebody said, 'manners makyth man—'"
"Oh," said Will, "I thought Manners made pictures."
"No wonder you lost that fish," said the artist, dryly, "if you waste your time making bad jokes."
A QUEER CHARACTER.
"Old Boil O's in a regular rage," said Josh, laughing.
"Well, but he hasn't been talking to you about it, has he?" replied Will.
"Yes; said your father must be getting off his head to go and buy up such a miserable ramshackle piece of rubbish. It was only fit to knock to pieces and sell for old copper."
"Old Drinkwater had better keep his tongue quiet," said Will, shortly, "or he'll make my father so much off his head that he will give him what he calls the sack."
"Nonsense! Your father would not turn away such an old servant as that."
"He wouldn't like to, of course," said Will, loftily; "but Boil O has grown so precious bumptious, and he doesn't care to do this, and he doesn't care to do that. I believe he thinks he's master of the whole place."
"Well, he always was so ever since I can remember; but—tchah!—your father would not turn him away. My father says he is the most useful man he ever knew. Why, he's just like what we say when we count the rye-grass: soldier, sailor, tinker, tailor—you know."
"Oh, yes, I know," said Will, "and he isn't soldier nor thief; but he can do pretty well everything, from making a box, plastering and painting, to mending a lock or shoeing a horse. But such impudence! My father mad, indeed! I think it was a very wise thing for him to do, to buy that engine so cheaply. The old mill's nearly all wood. Suppose it were to catch fire?"
"Bother!" said Josh. "Why hasn't it caught fire all these two hundred years since it was built?"
"Because everybody's been so careful," said Will. "But it might catch fire any day."
"Pigs might fly," said Josh. "Well, suppose it did. Haven't you got plenty of water to put it out?"
"Yes, but how are you going to throw it up to the top? Why, with that engine hose and branch, now old Boil O's put the pump suckers right, you could throw the water all over the place a hundred feet, I daresay, in a regular shower. Ha, ha, ha! I say, Josh, what a game!"
"What's a game?"
"Shouldn't I like to have the old thing out, backed up to the dam, with some of the men ready to pump—a shower, you know."
"Well, I suppose you mean something, but I don't understand."
"Well, everybody puts up an umbrella in a shower."
"Yah! What an old thick-head you are!—old Manners sitting under his umbrella, and we made it rain."
Josh's face expanded very gradually into the broadest of grins, wrinkling up so much that it was at the expense of his eyes, which gradually closed until they were quite tightly shut.
"Oh, no," he said at last. "It would be a game, but,"—he began to rub himself gently with both hands—"the very thought of it makes me feel as if my ribs were sore. He was such a weight."
"Yes, we mustn't play any more tricks; he's such a good chap. But about old Boil O—I don't like his turning so queer. He went on at me like a madman—I felt half frightened—said all sorts of things."
"What sort of things?"
"Oh, that father imposed upon him because he was a poor man, and set him to do all kinds of dirty jobs about the place because he was willing. Said he'd repent it some day. When you know father picks out those jobs for him because he's such a clever old chap and does the things better than the clumsy workmen from the town. But as for imposing upon him," said the boy, proudly, "father would not impose upon anybody."
"No, that he wouldn't. My father says he's the most noble-hearted, generous man he ever knew; he's always ready to put his hand in his pocket for the poor."
"So he is," cried Will. "Impose! Why, do you know what he pays old Boil O every week?"
"Then I shan't tell you, because that's all private; but just twice as much as he pays any of the other men."
"And he has that cottage rent-free, hasn't he?"
"Yes, and Mrs Drinkwater makes a lot every year by letting her rooms to the artists who come down. She charges just what she likes, and the people are glad to pay it, because it's such a nice place, and Mrs Waters makes them so comfortable. Why, look at old Bad Manners—this is the third year he's been down to stay a couple of months. Now what has old Boil O got to grumble about."
"Nothing," said Josh; "only against himself. My father says that he was born in a bad temper. Why, he won't even say 'Good-morning' sometimes, only gives you a surly scowl or a snap as if he were going to bite."
"'Let dogs delight to bark and bite, for 'tis their nature to'—that's poetry. Hollo! What's the matter now?"
The two lads looked sharply round in the direction of the mill-yard, from whence a loud, strident voice was heard, saying something in angry tones, which rose at last to a passionate outburst, drowning the deep voice of someone responding, and echoing strangely from the high, cliff-like walls above the picturesque old mill.
"It's old Drink in one of his fits," said Josh. "Come on; let's see what's the matter."
Will had already started off at a dog trot, and the boys ran side by side towards the mill-yard, where quite a little group of the silk-weavers and their wives and daughters were hurrying out to ascertain the cause of the trouble.
"Why, there's father there," said Josh.
"What is the matter now?" cried Will.
The next minute they knew, for, as they readied the spot where grave-looking John Willows stood looking like a patriarch amongst his people, beside his friend the gray-headed Vicar, a short, almost dwarfed, thick-set, large-headed man, with a shiny bald head fringed by grisly, harsh-looking hair,—and whose dark, wrinkled face was made almost repellent by the shaggy brows that overhung his fierce, piercing, black eyes—took a step forward menacingly, and holding out his left hand, palm upwards, began beating it with his right fist, fiercely shouting in threatening tones—
"It's been so from the first, John Willows, ever since I came to this mill as a boy. You've been a tyrant and a curse to all the poor, struggling people who spent their days under you, not as your servants, but as your slaves."
"Oh! Oh! Oh! No! No! No!" rose from the hearers, in a murmured chorus of protest.
"Silence there!" yelled the man, furiously.
"You cowardly fools! You worms who daren't speak for yourselves! Silence, I say, and let one who dares speak for you."
The Vicar stepped forward and laid his hand on the speaker's shoulder.
"Drinkwater, my good fellow! My good friend! Pray be calm. You don't know what you are saying!—you don't know what you are saying!"
"Oh, yes, I do, Parson. Don't you interfere," added the man, fiercely.
"But, my dear sir—"
"Oh, yes, I know! I know you, too, better than you know yourself. You belong to his set. You side with the money. Make friends with the mammon of unrighteousness, as you'd say, with that with which he grinds down all these poor, shivering wretches—money, money, money! Piling up his money-bags, and making us slaves!"
"Drinkwater, I cannot stand and listen to this without raising my voice in protest."
"Because it gives you a chance to preach," said the man, with a bitter sneer.
Will's father stepped forward, but the Vicar raised his hand.
"One moment, Mr Willows," he said, quietly. "No, James Drinkwater," he went on, gravely, "I raise my voice in protest, because everyone who hears you knows that what you say is utterly false. They are the angry words of an over-excited man. You are not yourself. You have let your temper get the better of you through brooding over some imaginary grievance, and to-morrow when you are calm I know from old experience that you will bitterly regret the insults you have heaped upon the head of as good and true-hearted a man as ever stepped this earth."
Drinkwater was about to reply, but he was checked by a fresh speaker, for Will suddenly threw up his cap high in the air with as loud a hurrah as he could utter, acting as fugleman to the group around, who joined in heartily, helped by Josh, in a cheer, strangely mingled, the gruff with the shrill of the women's voices.
"Well done!" whispered Will, half-bashfully shrinking back, and gripping his comrade's arm. "Oh, Josh, I never knew your father could preach like that!"
"Cowards! Pitiful, contemptible worms! That's right; put your necks lower under his heel. I'll have no more of it. From this day, after the words he's said to me this morning, never another stroke of work I will do here."
"Stop, James Drinkwater," cried Will's father, firmly; "as the Vicar says, you are not yourself. Don't say more of the words of which you will bitterly repent, when you grow calm—when this fit has passed—and can see that the fault I found this morning was perfectly justified by your neglect, in a fit of temper, of a special duty—a neglect that might have resulted in a serious accident to the machinery, perhaps loss of life or limb to some of the people here."
"It's a falsehood," shouted the man. "If I left out those screws it was because I was dazed—suffering from overwork—work forced upon me that I was not fit to do, but heaped upon me to save your pocket and the blacksmith's bill."
"No," said John Willows, gravely; "I asked you to repair that engine because I knew it was a mechanical task in which you delighted to display your skill—because you would do it better than the rough smith of the town."
"Nay, it was to save your own pocket."
"That is untrue," said Mr Willows, "and, if any of your fellow-workers like to go into the office, the clerk will show them that a liberal payment, to show my satisfaction over the way the work was done, has been added as a bonus to your weekly wage."
Another cheer arose at this, which seemed to add fresh fuel to the angry fire blazing in the half-demented man's breast.
"Bah!" yelled Drinkwater, more furious than ever. "Oil! To smooth me down. But it's too late now. It has meant years of oppression, and the end has come. But don't think I mean to suffer like these cowardly worms. I too have been your worm for years, and the worm has turned at last—a worm that means to sting the foot that has trampled upon it so long. Here, what do you want, boy?" For Will had stepped forward, and thrust his hand through the man's arm.
"You, James, old chap. You come away. Mr Carlile was right; you don't know what you are saying, or you wouldn't talk to father like that."
"Let go!" cried the man, fiercely trying to shake the boy off; but Will clung tightly.
"No—come and take his other arm, Josh—here, come on up to the cottage, Jem. What's the good of going on—"
Will did not finish his sentence, for a heavy thrust, almost a blow, sent him staggering back towards Josh, who had hurried up, and was just in time to save his companion from a heavy fall.
This was too much for Will's father, whose calm firmness gave way.
"Yes," he said, angrily, "it does now come to that! You talk of putting an end to the oppression under which you seem to writhe. It shall be so. I, as your employer, tell you most regretfully, James Drinkwater, that from this day your connection with the mill must cease—I will not say entirely, for it would cause me bitter regret to lose so old and valued a servant; but matters cannot longer go on like this. In justice to others, as well as myself, this must come to an end. You have always been a difficult man with whom to deal, but, during the past six months, a great change has come over you, and I am willing to think that much of it is due to some failing in your health. There: I will say no more. This shall not be final, James. I speak for your wife's sake as well as your own. Go back to the cottage, and, if you will take advice, you will go right away for a month, or two, or three. You are not a poor man, as you have proved to me by your acts, by coming to your bitter tyrant to invest your little savings again and again. Now, sir, speak out as you did just now, so that all your fellow-workers may hear. Are not these words true?"
James Drinkwater stood alone out there in the bright sunshine, which glistened on his polished bare crown as he glared at his employer, whilst his hands kept on opening and shutting in company with his lips.
"Yes," he uttered, at last, in a low, fierce growl, "that's true enough. Why shouldn't I? Do you think I want to end my days in the Union when you kick me off like a worn-out dog? Yes, yes, I'll go; but look out. Long years of work have not crushed all the spirit out of your slave. Look out! Look out! The worm has turned, and the days are coming when you will feel its sting."
He snatched himself fiercely round, and made for the stony slope— half-rugged steps—which led upwards towards the dam, and the Vicar hurried after him; but hearing his steps, the man turned and waved him back, before striding along till he stopped suddenly in the middle of the great stone dam, raised his clenched hands towards the sunlit heavens, and then shook them at the group below.
The next minute he made a rush towards the path leading upward towards his cottage, passing Mr Manners, who was hurrying down, and disappeared amongst the trees.
"Why, hollo!" shouted the artist. "What's the matter with my landlord? I was going to strip for a swim. Has he turned mad? I thought he was going to jump in."
"I'm afraid that he ought to see a doctor," said the Vicar, gravely. "He is evidently suffering from a terrible fit of excitement," and as they joined Mr Willows and the murmuring group of work-people below, he continued; "You see a great deal of him, Mr Manners. Have you noticed anything strange in his ways?"
"Strange?" said the artist, bluffly. "Well, yes, he's always strange—a silent, morose sort of fellow. But I don't dislike him; he's a very straightforward, good man, who rather looks down on me. We hardly ever speak, but I have noticed that his wife has seemed a little more troubled than usual lately. I left her crying only just now, and asked what was the matter; but all I could get was that her husband was not well. What's been going on here? I heard him shouting as soon as I came outside."
"Ah! That sounds bad," continued the artist, as soon as the Vicar had related the incident that had passed. "Poor fellow! He doesn't drink, I know: sober as a judge. Temper—that's what it is."
"I don't like to hear those threats," said the Vicar.
"Pooh! Wind! Fluff! People say all sorts of things when they are in a passion, and threaten high jinks. I do sometimes, don't I, boys? Take no notice, Mr Willows. We are not going to have the peace of our happy valley spoiled because somebody gets in a fantigue. Well, boys, how does the fire-engine go?"
"Haven't tried it yet," said Will.
"H'm! Can't we have a bit of a blaze? I should like to come and help to put it out."
"I think we ought to have got it out to play on poor old Boil O, for he's been quite red-hot."
"Look here, young fellow, you're rather fond of those little games, as I well know."
The boys both looked very guilty, and turned scarlet.
"You take a little bit of advice. Don't you try such a trick as that on him. It wouldn't do."
AMONG THE TROUT.
The next week passed, and the next, and more than one of the employes said a word or two to Will about how strange it seemed without James Drinkwater.
They were not alone, for Mr Willows made the same remark to his son.
"The place doesn't seem the same, Will, without James in his old place. By the way, have you seen anything of him since?"
"Yes, father; Josh and I went up to take Mr Manners some flies, and James was in the garden digging; but, as soon as he saw me, he slipped away round by the back, and went off into the woods. Josh said that he shied at me."
"But you, my boy? You didn't show any resentment for his behaviour to you?"
"I? Oh, no: not I, father; I didn't mind. I knew he was in a temper. I should have gone and shaken hands with him if he had stopped."
"Quite right, my boy. He'll be better soon, and come back, like the true, honest fellow he is, and ask to be taken on."
"But what about his threats, father?"
"Pooh!" ejaculated Mr Willows. "Mr Manners was right."
One afternoon Josh came down as usual from the Vicarage, rod in hand.
"What about fishing, Will?" he said. "There's a lot of fly out on the upper waters. Get your rod, and let's rout out old RA, and see if we can't show him some better sport than we had the other evening."
"Ah, yes," said Will. "I believe he thought we took him where there wasn't a fish, just to play him a trick."
"Yes, that comes of getting a bad character," said Josh. "He'll be treating us like the shepherds did the boy in the fable who cried 'wolf!'"
"Oh, bother! There were plenty of fish up there, only they had been having a good feed, and wouldn't rise."
The boy hurried off to where his long, limber, trout rod was resting on three hooks, all ready with winch, taper line, and cast, under the eaves of the mill-shed nearest to the water.
"What flies are you going to try?" said Josh.
"Oh, black gnats."
"No, I wouldn't," said Josh. "Red spinner is the one for to-night."
"Ah, to be sure! Have you got any?"
"Not one; but you have, or else you would not have proposed them."
"Come on; but I say, doesn't it look black!" said Josh.
"Yes, we shall have some rain to-night, I think," said Will; "and if it does come down and Bad Manners gets wet, he'll think it another trick!"
The boys shouldered their rods, and went up upon the dam, whose waters looked deep and dark, and smooth as glass, save where here and there a big trout quietly sucked down some unfortunate fly, forming ever-expanding rings on the mirror-like surface.
"My! There's a whopper!" cried Josh, as the fish broke the surface with a loud smack.
"What are you going to do?" cried Will.
"Do? Why, have a few throws; they are rising splendidly."
"More reason why we should fetch old Manners."
"All right," said Josh, securing his fly again to one of the lower rings of his rod, shouldering it, and following his companion along the ascending path leading to the cottage.
They had passed along the second of the zig-zags when, at the third turn, they came suddenly upon Drinkwater standing in the shade of a drooping birch, gazing intently down upon the mill.
The boys were close upon him before he heard their steps, and then, starting violently, he wrenched himself round, leaped actively upon a heap of stones at his side, seized one of the hanging boughs, dragged himself up, and dived at once into the dense undergrowth, disappearing with a loud rustling amongst the bracken.
"All right, old chap!" said Will, cavalierly, "just as you like! But you are fifty, and I wouldn't behave like a sulky boy."
"Oh, take no notice," said Josh. "Father says that he is sure to come round."
"Not going to," said Will. "Come along."
Ten minutes later they reached the cottage gate, to find Drinkwater's sad-looking, patient-faced wife looking anxiously over the hedge.
"How are you, Mrs Waters?" cried Will, cheerily. "We haven't come for tea this time. We are going to catch some trout—a good creelful—for you to cook."
"I hope you will, my dears," said the woman, gently. "Mr Manners was sadly disappointed the other night. He said he thought that you had played him another trick."
"There, what did I say?" cried Will. "Is he in his room?"
"No, my dears; he's painting down by the birches, below the cave."
"All right," cried Will. "Look here; I'll take his rod and basket."
The creel was hanging from a nail beneath the cottage porch, and the rod stood up like a tall reed with its spear stuck in one of the garden beds; and, quite at home, Will took them from their resting-places, swung the creel strap across his back, laid the rod alongside his own over his shoulder, and then walked sharply on along familiar paths, with a booming noise growing louder and louder as they progressed, till at one of the turns of the stream they came full in sight of the great fall where the water was thundering down into the rocky hollow it had carved, and a faint mist of spray rose to moisten the overhanging ferns.
"Big mushroom, Josh!" cried Will, pointing to the great, open umbrella. "What shall we do? Say we are coming with a stone?"
"No, no," said Josh; "no larks now."
"Well, I could hit it like a shot," said Will, picking up a rounded pebble.
"Why, so could I, if you come to that," said Josh.
"Not you! Come, let's try."
"No, no; I don't want to tease him. Let's get him on to fish."
"You couldn't hit it," said Will.
"All right; think so if you like," said Josh, and Will sent his stone flying with a tremendous jerk right away into the trees beyond the stream.
"Coo-ee!" he shouted. "Mr RA! Ahoy!"
"Don't!" cried Josh.
"He won't like it. Father says that he told him once that he was sadly disappointed that he had not had more success with the pictures he sent to town."
"Poor old chap!" said Will. "Well, I suppose they were not very good."
"That's what father thinks," said Josh.
"How does he know?" said Will.
"Oh, he says that if they were good they wouldn't all come back."
"Well, RA goes on painting them all the same," said Will. "Coo-ee! Mr Manners, ahoy!"
This time the artist looked up, rose from his seat, stretched himself, and waved his palette in the air.
"Hollo, young 'uns," he said, as they came up; "off fishing again?"
"Yes," said Will, "and I've brought your rod."
"Very much obliged to you," said the artist, sarcastically. "But not this time, thank you; I would rather paint."
"Oh—oh!" cried Will. "Do come! I've brought your basket too."
"To put nothing in, eh? No, not this time, thanks."
"But it's a good evening, Mr Manners, and the fish are rising splendidly."
"Honour?" cried the artist, with a searching look.
"Bright!" cried Josh, earnestly.
"All right, then. Here, I want to put in that little bit of sunlight, and then I'll come. How do you think it looks?" he said, resuming his seat and beginning to paint once more.
The boys were silent for a few moments, as they examined the picture critically.
"Lovely," said Will, at last.
"Yes," said Josh; "I like it better than that last you did."
"Mean it, boys?"
"Why, of course!" said the lads together.
"Hum! Hum! Yes, it isn't so bad as usual," said the artist, sadly. "I may say it is pretty. But that's all. I have tried very hard, but there is nothing great in my stuff. I suppose I haven't got the right touch in me. But never mind; painting has given me many a happy day amongst the most beautiful scenes in creation, and I suppose that I oughtn't to grumble if it gives me honest pleasure instead of coin. Why, it has made me friends, too, with a pair of as reckless young ruffians as ever gloried in playing a trick. My word, Josh, I must be a good man! If I hadn't a better temper than your friend Drinkwater, Master Will, I should have loosened both your skins with a good licking more than once."
"Well, don't do it now," said Will, grinning. "Mine feels quite loose enough, and I want you to come and fish."
"Brought my rod, then, have you? But what am I to do with my traps?"
"Fold up the umbrum," said Will, "and I'll climb up here and stuff them into the cave. Then they'll be out of the wet when the rain comes."
"Ah, to be sure," said the artist. "Capital! But it isn't going to rain."
"It is," said Will, decisively. "Look yonder: the old Tor's got his nightcap on."
"So he has," cried the artist, eagerly, as he looked up at the mountainous top, miles away, nearly hidden by a faint white mist. "Here, hold hard a minute; I must dash that in my picture."
"No, no," cried the boys, in a breath. "You can do that any time. Come on."
"Well, it seems a pity," said the artist, "but somehow you two always make me feel quite a boy again and ready to take holiday and play. There, put away my traps."
A few minutes later, umbrella, easel, and colour-box were safely stowed away in a narrow opening in the face of the limestone rock, and the three were trudging on upwards to a mighty bend. There a great rift opened out into a wide amphitheatre, where, shallow and bright with flashing stickle, the stream danced among the stones, to calm down directly after in deep pool after pool, which looked like so many silvery mirrors netted by the rings formed by the rising fish.
"Now, Mr Manners," cried Josh, "what do you say to that? Are there any trout in Willows' waters?"
"Yes, splendid! We ought to get some fish to-night. Here, where are your creels?"
"Haven't brought them," said Will. "We are going to help fill yours."
And they did, for the fish rose to nearly every cast, quarters and half-pounders, the artist to his great delight landing two both well over a pound, for it was one of those evenings when, as if warned by their natural instinct of a fast to come, the trout rose at every fly, taking in their heedless haste the artificial as well as the true, and only finding their mistake when gasping out their brief life upon the bracken laid at the bottom of the artist's creel.
The trio fished on till the creel was nearly full, so intent upon their sport that they paid no heed to the gathering clouds, Nature's harbingers of the storm about to break among the hills, till a bright flash of light darted down the vale, followed almost instantaneously by a mighty crash, which went roaring and rumbling on in echoes, to die distantly away.
"Hold on!" shouted Will. "Look sharp; we shall have to run. It'll be wet jackets as it is. I say, Mr M, lucky I put away your traps! Wasn't I right?"
"Right you were, young 'un," cried the artist, making a whizzing noise as he wound up his multiplying winch. "But I'm not going to bark my shins running amongst these stones. Now then, boys. 'Tention! Shoulder rods! Right face! March!" And he led off at a rapid rate down by the side of the stream. "Here, lads, that's heavy," he cried at the end of a few minutes, just as the rain began to make chess pawns upon the surface of the pools. "I'll carry it now."
"No, no," cried Will. "But let's shelter here for a few minutes. It's only going to be a shower now."
He ran into where a great mass of slatey-looking rock stood out from the perpendicular side of the gorge, heedless of the fact that it necessitated splashing in through the shallow water, which nearly covered his boots.
"Nice dry spot this," said the artist, laughing, as they stood in the ample shelter.
"Oh, it is only wetting one's feet," said Will. "We are quite dry upstairs."
"Oh, I don't mind," said the artist. "My word! It is coming down. How it hisses! But you are right: it won't last long."
In less than half an hour the sky was nearly clear again, but water enough had fallen to make the stream which rushed by their feet rise full five inches, bringing forth the remark from Josh that they were getting it warmly higher up in the hills.
Possibly he alluded to the lightning, for flash after flash divided the heavens in zig-zag lines, though none seemed to come near them, and they were soon after tramping on, wet-footed only, back towards Vicarage, cottage, and mill.
"I say, hark at the fall!" cried Will, as they neared the spot where they had picked up their friend.
"Yes, it is coming down," said Josh. "Well, your father wanted it."
"Yes," said Will; "the dam was getting low. I say, Mr Manners, I told old Mother Waters to get her frying-pan ready, for there'd be some fish."
"Yes, and you were right this time," said the artist; "but I'm not going to take in all these. Here, Will, pick out four brace of the best."
"Shan't!" said Will, shortly. "We get quite as many as we want. Take them all in yourself. One moment—send Mr Carlile up some instead. Here, come on; it's going to rain again. My! Isn't the fall thundering down!"
Will was right. Another heavy shower was coming over from the hills; but it did not overtake the party before they had all reached home, and then Nature made up for a long dry time by opening all her reservoirs, to fill pool, gully, and lynn, the waters roaring for hours down the echoing vale, till the next morning the placid stream was one foaming torrent that seemed to threaten to bear away every projecting rock that stood in its way, while every sluice was opened at the mill to relieve the pressure of the overburdened dam.
A NIGHT GOSSIP.
As has been pointed out, the artist was a quiet man, and the tranquil life of the little village was exactly to his taste. Mrs Drinkwater looked well after his few wants, and until the disturbance at the mill, when Drinkwater had been turned off, there had been nothing to trouble him. Since that occurrence, however, he had frequently come across his landlady with traces of tears in her eyes, and that evening when after parting with the two lads he reached the pretty cottage, she came out to meet him at the gate.
"Oh, Mr Manners, sir," she said, "I'm afraid I'm afraid—"
"Afraid what of, Mrs Drinkwater?"
"I'm afraid that something's happened to my man. He has not been home to-day."
The artist led the poor woman into the kitchen.
"Sit down, Mrs Drinkwater," he said, kindly. "Now just listen to me. I, too, am deeply concerned about Drinkwater. Can't you reason with him—make him see how wrong all this behaviour is, and convince him that he has only one sensible thing to do, namely, go and ask pardon of Mr Willows?"
"Oh, I do wish I could, sir; but Jem won't listen to me. He might listen to you, sir."
"Ah, but you see this is not my business, Mrs Drinkwater."
"No, sir, but he respects you, and he might perhaps pay attention to what you said."
"Maybe," said the artist, thoughtfully. "Well, I will see what I can do."
"Thank you, sir—thank you!"
"When did you see him last?"
"It's two days ago now, sir."
"Well, Mrs Drinkwater, we must hope for the best. I have always found your husband willing and obliging up to quite recently. It seems to me that if matters are put to him in a quiet common-sense way he will listen. Hang it all, he will have to listen! We can't have you crying your eyes out because he chooses to behave like a brute to you."
"Oh, my Jem really means well, sir," said the woman; "I know he does. He has always been a good husband to me."
Late that evening the artist thought over affairs. It was a pleasant soft summer night, and when he was alone he quietly opened the cottage door, and lighting his pipe, sat down on the little rustic seat which was just outside. There was hardly a sound—nothing but the night wind sweeping through the valley, the far-off plash of water, the purring noise of a big moth as it flew past and then hovered a second, attracted by the gleam of the artist's pipe.
There was a step, loud and heavy, and Manners started to his feet as a burly figure suddenly appeared just in front of him.
"Hallo, Drinkwater!" he cried. "You, my man?"
"Me it is, Mr Manners."
"Oh, that's all right. I was wanting to see you."
"Wanting to see me? What for?" said the man, gruffly.
"Oh, for several reasons. I don't like my landlord to go off for days together, nobody knows where."
"Not wanted now," said the man, sourly—"Nobody wants me now."
"That's not a fact, Drinkwater," said the artist, firmly. "Not a bit true. To begin with, I want you."
"Pictures to see too?"
"No, not pictures. I just want to talk to you; that's all. Have you got your pipe? Oh, I see you have. Here's my pouch. Come, fill and light up, and sit down here. It's a lovely night, isn't it?"
"Humph!" grunted the man, as he obeyed and began to smoke.
"Now," said the artist, cheerily, after a few minutes' silence, "what's wrong with you? At least, I need not ask that. You have quarrelled with your old friend and employer, for no reason, and it's no end of a pity, I can assure you. You will not mind my speaking out plainly like this, as man to man, for I have known you a long time now; and besides, I'm under a debt to you for helping me that night."
"Humph!" said the man again.
"Now," said the artist, "has all this sulking done you any good?"
"Good!" growled the man. "Good! No. There has been no good in my life. I have slaved it all away for a thankless taskmaster."
"Bah!" said the artist, with a laugh. "Mr Willows a taskmaster! Why, it's too absurd! He's one of the very best men that ever lived; and in your heart of hearts you know it, Drinkwater. You know it quite well."
"I want revenge," said the man.
"Ha, ha, ha!" laughed the artist. "Revenge! Why, Drinkwater, it's really funny. Revenge! What are you going to do? Blow up the mill?"
"Eh?" said the man, shifting uneasily in his seat and turning to stare at his companion. "Blow up the mill? What, me?"
"There, there," said Manners, "I didn't mean it. It was only a joke. Think it over, Drinkwater. Think it over," he continued, as the man rose; and the artist held out his hand, but whether it was the darkness which prevented his seeing the gesture, or for some other reason, the hand was not taken, and a moment later the man had entered the cottage, while the artist got up to follow him, for it was very late and he was tired.
"What has he got in his head?" he mused. "I don't like his manner at all."
ON THE WATCH.
Josh and the Vicar were down at the mill in good time the next morning, to find Will and his father in the bright sunshine under a cloudless sky, on the bank overlooking the wide pool, and, just as they reached them, with a hearty "Good-morning!" Manners came up.
Overhead, all was bright and clear, and, from Nature's newly washed face, a fresh, sweet scent rose into the air; but the lower part of the valley seemed quite transformed. Sluices and waterfalls were gushing down everywhere, making for the main stream, which added to the general roar of water as it rushed along, racing for the overcharged river far away.
Every moment some fresh sign of the mischief which had been done by the flood glided by. The stream was no longer crystal-like and clear, but turgid with the soil swept from high up the banks; leaves, twigs, broken branches, and even trees, mostly root upwards, went bobbing by, every now and then to become anchored for a few moments amongst the stones, and forming some little dam which kept the water back till there was weight enough to overcome the obstacle and send it onwards with a rush.
"Well," cried Manners, in his bluff way, "how is it, Mr Willows? I woke up this morning, looked out of the window, and then dressed in a flurry, to hurry down, half expecting that the mill had been swept away."
"I, too," said the Vicar, "felt a bit nervous; the storm was awful, and I wondered whether such a weight of waters might not have made an opening somewhere in your dam."
"Well, to be candid," said Mr Willows, "I woke long before daybreak and came out with Will here to see how we stood. But we are all right. My ancestors were simple men, but what they did they did with all their hearts. It must have been very slow work year by year, the quarrying and bringing down all these stones; but they planted them well, the lime they burned was of the best, and it is harder now than the stone itself. The dam has stood two hundred years, and it is so solid that it looks as if it would stand two hundred more."