Through the Fray by G. A. Henty
Chapter XVIII: Ned is Attacked
As Ned had foreseen and resented, the affair at the mill again made him the chief topic of talk in the neighborhood, and the question of his guilt or innocence of the murder of his stepfather was again debated with as much earnestness as it had been when the murder was first committed. There was this difference, however, that whereas before he had found but few defenders, for the impression that he was guilty was almost universal, there were now many who took the other view.
The one side argued that a lad who was ready to blow himself and two or three hundred men into the air was so desperate a character that he would not have been likely to hesitate a moment in taking the life of a man whom he hated, and who had certainly ill treated him. The other side insisted that one with so much cool courage would not have committed a murder in so cowardly a way as by tying a rope across the road which his enemy had to traverse. One party characterized his conduct at the mill as that of the captain of a pirate ship, the other likened it to any of the great deeds of devotion told in history--the death of Leonidas and his three hundred, or the devotion of Mutius Scaevola.
Had Ned chosen now he might have gathered round himself a strong party of warm adherents, for there were many who, had they had the least encouragement, would have been glad to shake him by the hand and to show their partisanship openly and warmly; but Ned did not choose. The doctor and Mr. Porson strongly urged upon him that he should show some sort of willingness to meet the advances which many were anxious to make.
"These people are all willing to admit that they have been wrong, Ned, and really anxious to atone as far as they can for their mistake in assuming that you were guilty. Now is your time, my boy; what they believe today others will believe tomorrow; it is the first step toward living it down. I always said it would come, but I hardly ventured to hope that it would come so soon."
"I can't do it, Mr. Porson; I would if I could, if only for the sake of the others; but I can't talk, and smile, and look pleasant. When a man knows that his mother lying at home thinks that he is a murderer how is he to go about like other people?"
"But I have told you over and over again, Ned, that your mother is hardly responsible for her actions. She has never been a very reasonable being, and is less so than ever at present. Make an effort, my boy, and mix with others. Show yourself at the cricket match next week. You know the boys are all your firm champions, and I warrant that half the people there will flock round you and make much of you if you will but give them the chance."
But Ned could not, and did not, but went on his way as before, living as if Marsden had no existence for him, intent upon his work at the mill, and unbending only when at home with his brother and sister.
His new friend, Cartwright, was, of course, one of the first to congratulate him on the escape the mill had had of destruction.
"I was wondering what you would do if they came," he said, "and was inclined to think you were a fool for not following my example and having some of your hands to sleep at the mill. Your plan was best, I am ready to allow; that is to say, it was best for any one who was ready to carry out his threat if driven to it. I shouldn't be, I tell you fairly. If the mill is attacked I shall fight and shall take my chance of being shot, but I could not blow myself up in cold blood."
"I don't suppose I could have done so either in the old times," Ned said with a faint smile. "My blood used to be hot enough, a good deal too hot, but I don't think anything could get it up to boiling point now, so you see if this thing had to be done at all it must have been in cold blood."
"By the way, Sankey, I wish you would come over one day next week and dine with me; there will be no one else there except my daughter."
Ned hastily muttered an excuse.
"Oh, that is all nonsense," Mr. Cartwright said good humoredly; "you are not afraid of me, and you needn't be afraid of my daughter. She is only a child of fifteen, and of course takes you at my estimate, and is disposed to regard you as a remarkable mixture of the martyr and the hero, and to admire you accordingly. Pooh, pooh, lad! you can't be living like a hermit all your life; and at any rate if you make up your mind to have but a few friends you must be all the closer and more intimate with them. I know you dine with Porson and Green, and I am not going to let you keep me at arm's length; you must come, or else I shall be seriously offended."
So Ned had no resource left him, and had to consent to dine at Liversedge. Once there he often repeated the visit. With the kind and hearty manufacturer he was perfectly at home, and although at first he was uncomfortable with his daughter he gradually became at his ease with her, especially after she had driven over with her father to make friends with Lucy, and, again, a short time afterward, to carry her away for a week's visit at Liversedge. For this Ned was really grateful. Lucy's life had been a very dull one. She had no friends of her own age in Marsden, for naturally at the time of Mr. Mulready's death all intimacy with the few acquaintances they had in the place had been broken off, for few cared that their children should associate with a family among whom such a terrible tragedy had taken place.
Charlie was better off, for he had his friends at school, and the boys at Porson's believed in Ned's innocence as a point of honor. In the first place, it would have been something like a reflection upon the whole school to admit the possibility of its first boy being a murderer; in the second, Ned had been generally popular among them, he was their best cricketer, the life and soul of all their games, never bullying himself and putting down all bullying among others with a strong hand. Their championship showed itself in the shape of friendship for Charlie; and at the midsummer following Mr. Mulready's death he had received invitations from many of them to stay with them during the holidays, and had indeed spent that time on a series of short visits among them.
He himself would, had he had his choice, have remained at home with Ned, for he knew how lonely his brother's life was, and that his only pleasure consisted in the quiet evenings; but Ned would not hear of it.
"You must go, Charlie, both for your sake and my own. The change will do you good; and if you were to stop at home and refuse to go out people would say that you were ashamed to be seen, and that you were crushed down with the weight of my guilt. You have got to keep up the honor of the family now, Charlie; I have proved a failure."
It was September now, and six months had elapsed since the death of Mr. Mulready. The getting in of the harvest had made no difference in the price of food, the general distress was as great as ever, and the people shook their heads and said that there would be bad doings when the winter with its long nights was at hand.
The mill was flourishing under its new management. The goods turned out by the new machinery were of excellent quality and finish, and Ned had more orders on hand than he could execute. The profits were large, the hands well paid and contented. Ned had begged Dr. Green and the other trustees of his mother's property to allow him to devote a considerable part of the profits to assist, during the hard time of winter, the numerous hands in Varley and other villages round Marsden who were out of employment; but the trustees said they were unable to permit this. Mrs. Mulready absolutely refused to hear anything about the mill or to discuss any questions connected with money, therefore they had no resource but to allow the profits, after deducting all expenses of living, to accumulate until, at any rate, Lucy, the youngest of the children, came of age.
Ned, however, was not to be easily thwarted, and he quietly reverted to the old method of giving out a large quantity of work to the men to be performed by the hand looms in their own cottages, while still keeping his new machinery fully employed. There was, indeed, a clear loss upon every yard of cloth so made, as it had, of course, to be sold at the lower prices which machinery had brought about; still the profits from the mill itself were large enough to bear the drain, and means of support would be given to a large number of families throughout the winter. Ned told Dr. Green what he had done.
"You see, doctor," he said, "this is altogether beyond your province. You and Mr. Lovejoy appointed me, as the senior representative of the family, to manage the mill. Of course I can manage it in my own way, and as long as the profits are sufficient to keep us in the position we have hitherto occupied I don't see that you have any reason to grumble."
"You are as obstinate as a mule, Ned," the doctor said, smiling; "but I am glad enough to let you have your way so long as it is not clearly my duty to thwart you; and indeed I don't know how those poor people at Varley and at some of the other villages would get through the winter without some such help."
"I am very glad I hit upon the plan. I got Luke Marner to draw up a list of all the men who had families depending upon them; but indeed I find that I have been able to set pretty nearly all the looms in the neighborhood at work, and of course that will give employment to the spinners and croppers. I have made a close calculation, and find that with the profit the mill is making I shall just be able to clear our household expenses this winter, after selling at a loss all the cloth that can be made in the looms round."
"At any rate, Ned," the doctor said, "your plan will be a relief to me in one way. Hitherto I have never gone to bed at night without an expectation of being awakened with the news that you have been shot on your way out to the mill at night. The fellows you frightened away last month must have a strong grudge against you in addition to their enmity against you as an employer. You will be safe enough in future, and can leave the mill to take care of itself at night if you like. You will have the blessings of all the poor fellows in the neighborhood, and may henceforth go where you will by night or day without the slightest risk of danger."
"You are right, no doubt," Ned said, "though that did not enter my mind. When I took the step my only fear was that by helping them for a time I might be injuring them in the future. Hand weaving, spinning, and cropping are doomed. Nothing can save them, and the sooner the men learn this and take to other means of gaining a livelihood the better. Still the prices that I can give are of course very low, just enough to keep them from starvation, and we must hope that ere long new mills will be erected in which the present hand workers will gradually find employment."
Hardly less warm than the satisfaction that the announcement that Sankey was about to give out work to all the hand looms excited in the villages round Marsden, was that which Abijah felt at the news.
Hitherto she had kept to herself the disapprobation which she felt at Ned's using the new machinery. She had seen in her own village the sufferings that had been caused by the change, and her sympathies were wholly with the Luddites, except of course when they attempted anything against the life and property of her boy. Strong in the prejudices of the class among whom she had been born and reared, she looked upon the new machinery as an invention of the evil one to ruin the working classes, and had been deeply grieved at Ned's adoption of its use. Nothing but the trouble in which he was could have compelled her to keep her opinion on the subject to herself.
"I am main glad, Maister Ned. I b'lieve now as we may find out about that other affair. I never had no hope before, it warn't likely as things would come about as you wanted, when you was a-flying in the face of providence by driving poor folks to starvation with them noisy engines of yours; it warn't likely, and I felt as it was wrong to hope for it. I said my prayers every night, but it wasn't reasonable to expect a answer as long as that mill was a-grinding men to powder."
"I don't think it was as bad as all that, Abijah. In another ten years there will be twice as many hands employed as ever there were, and there is no saying how large the trade may not grow."
Abijah shook her head as if to imply her belief that an enlargement of trade by means of these new machines would be clearly flying in the face of providence, however, she was too pleased at the news that hand work was to be resumed in the district to care about arguing the question. Even the invalid upstairs took a feeble interest in the matter when Abijah told her that Master Ned had arranged to give work to scores of starving people through the winter.
As a rule Abijah never mentioned his name to her mistress, for it was always the signal for a flood of tears, and caused an excitement and agitation which did not calm down for hours; but lately she had noticed that her mistress began to take a greater interest in the details she gave her of what was passing outside. She spoke more cheerfully when Lucy brought in her work and sat by her bedside, and she had even exerted herself sufficiently to get up two or three times and lie upon the sofa in her room. It was Charlie who, full of the news, had rushed in to tell her about Ned's defense at the mill. She had made no comment whatever, but her face had flushed and her lips trembled, and she had been very silent and quiet all that day. Altogether Abijah thought that she was mending, and Dr. Green was of the same opinion.
Although the setting to work of the hand looms and spindles relieved the dire pressure of want immediately about Marsden, in other parts things were worse than ever that winter, and the military were kept busy by the many threatening letters which were received by the mill owners from King Lud.
One day Mr. Cartwright entered Ned's office at the mill.
"Have you heard the news, Sankey?"
"No, I have heard no news in particular."
"Horsfall has been shot."
"You don't say so!" Ned exclaimed.
"Yes, he has been threatened again and again. He was over at Huddersfield yesterday afternoon; he started from the 'George' on his way back at half past five. It seems that his friend Eastwood, of Slaithwaite, knowing how often his life had been threatened, offered to ride back with him, and though Horsfall laughed at the offer and rode off alone, Eastwood had his horse saddled and rode after him, but unfortunately did not overtake him.
"About six o'clock Horsfall pulled up his horse at the Warren House Inn at Crossland Moor. There he gave a glass of liquor to two of his old work people who happened to be outside, drank a glass of rum and water as he sat in the saddle, and then rode off. A farmer named Parr was riding about a hundred and fifty yards behind him. As Horsfall came abreast of a plantation Parr noticed four men stooping behind a wall, and then saw two puffs of smoke shoot out. Horsfall's horse started round at the flash, and he fell forward on his saddle.
"Parr galloped up, and jumping off caught him as he was falling. Horsfall could just say who he was and ask to be taken to his brother's house, which was near at hand. There were lots of people in the road, for it was market day in Huddersfield, you know, and the folks were on their way home, so he was soon put in a cart and taken back to the Warren House. It was found that both balls had struck him, one in the right side and one in the left thigh. I hear he is still alive this morning, but cannot live out the day."
"That is a bad business, indeed," Ned said.
"It is, indeed. Horsfall was a fine, generous, high spirited fellow, but he was specially obnoxious to the Luddites, whose doings he was always denouncing in the most violent way. Whose turn will it be next, I wonder? The success of this attempt is sure to encourage them, and we may expect to hear of some more bad doings. Of course there will be a reward offered for the apprehension of the murderers. A laborer saw them as they were hurrying away from the plantation, and says he should know them again if he saw them; but these fellows hang together so that I doubt if we shall ever find them out."
After Mr. Cartwright had gone Ned told Luke what had happened.
"I hope, Luke, that none of the Varley people have had a hand in this business?"
"Oi hoape not," Luke said slowly, "but ther bain't no saying; oi hears little enough of what be going on. Oi was never much in the way of hearing, but now as I am head of the room, and all the hands here are known to be well contented, oi hears less nor ever. Still matters get talked over at the 'Cow.' Oi hears it said as many of the lads in the village has been wishing to leave King Lud since the work was put out, but they have had messages as how any man turning traitor would be put out of the way. It's been somewhat like that from the first, and more nor half of them as has joined has done so because they was afeared to stand out. They ain't tried to put the screw on us old hands, but most of the young uns has been forced into joining.
"Bill has had a hard toime of it to stand out. He has partly managed because of his saying as how he has been sich good friends with you that he could not join to take part against the maisters; part, as oi hears, because his two brothers, who been in the thick of it from the first, has stuck up agin Bill being forced into it. Oi wish as we could get that blacksmith out of t' village; he be at the bottom of it all, and there's nowt would please me more than to hear as the constables had laid their hands on him. Oi hear as how he is more violent than ever at that meeting house. Of course he never mentions names or says anything direct, but he holds forth agin traitors as falls away after putting their hands to the plow, and as forsakes the cause of their starving brethren because their own stomachs is full."
"I wish we could stop him," Ned said thoughtfully. "I might get a constable sent up to be present at the meetings, but the constables here are too well known, and if you were to get one from another place the sight of a stranger there would be so unusual that it would put him on his guard at once. Besides, as you say, it would be very difficult to prove that his expressions applied to the Luddites, although every one may understand what he means. One must have clear evidence in such a case. However, I hope we shall catch him tripping one of these days. These are the fellows who ought to be punished, not the poor ignorant men who are led away by them."
The feeling of gratitude and respect with which Ned was regarded by the workpeople of his district, owing to his action regarding the hand frames, did something toward lightening the load caused by the suspicion which still rested upon him. Although he still avoided all intercourse with those of his own station, he no longer felt the pressure so acutely. The hard, set expression of his face softened somewhat, and though he was still strangely quiet and reserved in his manner toward those with whom his business necessarily brought him in contact, he no longer felt absolutely cut off from the rest of his kind.
Ned had continued his practice of occasionally walking up with Bill Swinton to Varley on his way to the mill. There was now little fear of an attempt upon his life by the hands in his neighborhood; but since the failure on the mill he had incurred the special enmity of the men who had come from a distance on that occasion, and he knew that any night he might be waylaid and shot by them. It was therefore safer to go round by Varley than by the direct road. One evening when he had been chatting rather later than usual at Luke Marner's, Luke said:
"Oi think there's something i' t' wind. Oi heerd at t' Cow this evening that there are some straangers i' the village. They're at t' Dog. Oi thinks there's soom sort ov a council there. Oi heers as they be from Huddersfield, which be the headquarters o' General Lud in this part. However, maister, oi doan't think as there's any fear of another attack on thy mill; they war too badly scaared t'other noight vor to try that again."
When Ned got up to go Bill Swinton as usual put on his cap to accompany him, as he always walked across the moor with him until they came to the path leading down to the back of the mill, this being the road taken by the hands from Varley coming and going from work. When they had started a minute or two George, who had been sitting by the fire listening to the talk, got up and stretched himself preparatory to going to bed, and said in his usual slow way:
"Oi wonders what they be a-doing tonoight. Twice while ye ha' been a-talking oi ha' seen a chap a-looking in at t' window."
"Thou hast!" Luke exclaimed, starting up. "Dang thee, thou young fool! Why didn't say so afore? Oi will hoide thee when oi comes back rarely! Polly, do thou run into Gardiner's, and Hoskings', and Burt's; tell 'em to cotch up a stick and to roon for their loives across t' moor toward t' mill. And do thou, Jarge, roon into Sykes' and Wilmot's and tell 'em the same; and be quick if thou would save thy skin. Tell 'em t' maister be loike to be attacked."
Catching up a heavy stick Luke hurried off, running into two cottages near and bringing on two more of the mill hands with him. He was nearly across the moor when they heard the sound of a shot. Luke, who was running at the top of his speed, gave a hoarse cry as of one who had received a mortal wound. Two shots followed in quick succession. A minute later Luke was dashing down the hollow through which the path ran down from the moor. Now he made out a group of moving figures and heard the sounds of conflict. His breath was coming in short gasps, his teeth were set; fast as he was running, he groaned that his limbs would carry him no faster. It was scarce two minutes from the time when the first shot was fired, but it seemed ages to him before he dashed into the group of men, knocking down two by the impetus of his rush. He was but just in time. A figure lay prostrate on the turf; another standing over him had just been beaten to his knee. But he sprang up again at Luke's onward rush. His assailants for a moment drew back.
"Thou'rt joist in toime, Luke," Bill panted out. "Oi war well nigh done."
"Be t' maister shot?"
"No, nowt but a clip wi' a stick."
As the words passed between them the assailants again rushed forward with curses and execrations upon those who stood between them and their victim.
"Moind, Luke, they ha' got knoives!" Bill exclaimed. "Oi ha' got more nor one slash already."
Luke and Bill fought vigorously, but they were overmatched. Anger and fear for Ned's safety nerved Luke's arm, the weight of the last twenty years seemed to drop off him, and he felt himself again the sturdy young cropper who could hold his own against any in the village. But he had not yet got back his breath, and was panting heavily. The assailants, six in number, were active and vigorous young men; and Bill, who was streaming with blood from several wounds, could only fight on the defensive. Luke then gave a short cry of relief as the two men who had started with him, but whom he had left behind from the speed which his intense eagerness had given him, ran up but a short minute after he had himself arrived and ranged themselves by him. The assailants hesitated now.
"Ye'd best be off," Luke said; "there ull be a score more here in a minute."
With oaths of disappointment and rage the assailants fell back and were about to make off when one of them exclaimed: "Ye must carry Tom off wi' thee. It ull never do to let un lay here."
The men gathered round a dark figure lying a few yards away. Four of them lifted it by the hands and feet, and then they hurried away across the moor. As they did so Bill Swinton with a sigh fell across Ned's body. In two or three minutes four more men, accompanied by George and Polly, whose anxiety would not let her stay behind, hurried up. Luke and his companions had raised Ned and Bill into a sitting posture.
"Are they killed, feyther?" Polly cried as she ran up breathless to them.
"Noa, lass; oi think as t' maister be only stunned, and Bill ha' fainted from loss o' blood. But oi doan't know how bad he be hurted yet. We had best carry 'em back to t' house; we can't see to do nowt here."
"Best let them stay here, feyther, till we can stop the bleeding. Moving would set the wounds off worse."
"Perhaps you are right, Polly. Jarge, do thou run back to t' house as hard as thou canst go. Loight t' lanterns and bring 'em along, wi' a can o' cold water."
Although the boy ran to the village and back at the top of his speed the time seemed long indeed to those who were waiting. When he returned they set to work at once to examine the injuries. Ned appeared to have received but one blow. The blood was slowly welling from a wound at the back of his head.
"That war maade by a leaded stick, oi guess," Luke said; "it's cut through his hat, and must pretty nigh ha' cracked his skool. One of you bathe un wi' the water while we looks arter Bill."
Polly gave an exclamation of horror as the light fell upon Bill Swinton. He was covered with blood. A clean cut extended from the top of the ear to the point of the chin, another from the left shoulder to the breast, while a third gash behind had cut through to the bone of the shoulder blade.
"Never moind t' water, lass," Luke said as Polly with trembling hands was about to wash the blood from the cut on the face, "the bluid won't do un no harm--thou must stop t' bleeding."
Polly tore three or four long strips from the bottom of her dress. While she was doing so one of the men by Luke's directions took the lantern and gathered some short dry moss from the side of the slope, and laid it in a ridge on the gaping wound. Then Luke with Polly's assistance tightly bandaged Bill's head, winding the strips from the back of the head round to the chin, and again across the temples and jaw. Luke took out his knife and cut off the coat and shirt from the arms and shoulder, and in the same way bandaged up the other two wounds.
After George had started to fetch the lantern, Luke had at Polly's suggestion sent two men back to the village, and these had now returned with doors they had taken off the hinges. When Bill's wounds were bandaged he and Ned were placed on the doors, Ned giving a faint groan as he was moved.
"That's roight," Luke said encouragingly; "he be a-cooming round."
Two coats were wrapped up and placed under their heads, and they were then lifted and carried off, Polly hurrying on ahead to make up the fire and get hot water.
"Say nowt to no one," Luke said as he started. "Till t' master cooms round there ain't no saying what he'd loike done. Maybe he won't have nowt said aboot it."
The water was already hot when the party reached the cottage; the blood was carefully washed off Ned's head, and a great swelling with an ugly gash running across was shown. Cold water was dashed in his face, and with a gasp he opened his eyes.
"It be all roight, Maister Ned," Luke said soothingly; "it be all over now, and you be among vriends. Ye've had an ugly one on the back o' thy head, but I dowt thou wilt do rarely now."
Ned looked round vaguely, then a look of intelligence came into his face.
"Where is Bill?" he asked.
"He be hurted sorely, but oi think it be only loss o' blood, and he will coom round again; best lie still a few minutes, maister, thou wilt feel better then; Polly, she be tending Bill."
In a few minutes Ned was able to sit up; a drink of cold brandy and water further restored him. He went to the bed on which Bill had been placed.
"He's not dead?" he asked with a gasp, as he saw the white face enveloped in bandages.
"No, surelie," Luke replied cheerfully; "he be a long way from dead yet, oi hoape, though he be badly cut about."
"Have you sent for the doctor?" Ned asked.
"Then send for Dr. Green at once, and tell him from me to come up here instantly."
Ned sat down in a chair for a few minutes, for he was still dazed and stupid; but his brain was gradually clearing. Presently he looked up at the men who were still standing silently near the door.
"I have no doubt," he said, "that I have to thank you all for saving my life, but at present I do not know how it has all come about. I will see you tomorrow. But unless it has already got known, please say nothing about this. I don't want it talked about--at any rate until we see how Bill gets on.
"Now, Luke," he continued, when the men had gone, "tell me all about it. My brain is in a whirl, and I can hardly think."
Luke related the incidents of the fight and the flight of the assailants, and said that they had carried off a dead man with them. Ned sat for some time in silence.
"Yes," he said at last, "I shot one. I was walking along with Bill when suddenly a gun was fired from a bush close by; then a number of men jumped up and rushed upon us. I had my pistol, and had just time to fire two shots. I saw one man go straight down, and then they were upon us. They shouted to Bill to get out of the way, but he went at them like a lion. I don't think any of the others had guns; at any rate they only attacked us with sticks and knives. I fought with my back to Bill as well as I could, and we were keeping them off, till suddenly I don't remember any more."
"One on them hit ye from behind wi' a loaded stick," Luke said, "and thou must ha' gone doon like a felled ox; then oi expects as Bill stood across thee and kept them off as well as he could, but they war too much for t' lad; beside that cut on the head he ha' one on shoulder and one behind. Oi war only joost in toime, another quarter of a minute and they'd ha' got their knives into thee."
"Poor old Bill," Ned said sadly, going up to the bedside and laying his hand on the unconscious figure. "I fear you have given your life to save one of little value to myself or any one else."
"Don't say that, Master Ned," Polly said softly; "you cannot say what your life may be as yet, and if so be that Bill is to die, and God grant it isn't so, he himself would not think his life thrown away if it were given to save yours."
But few words were spoken in the cottage until Dr. Green arrived. Ned's head was aching so that he was forced to lie down. Polly from time to time moistened Bill's lips with a few drops of brandy. George had been ordered off to bed, and Luke sat gazing at the fire, wishing that there was something he could do.
At last the doctor arrived; the messenger had told him the nature of the case, and he had come provided with lint, plaster, and bandages.
"Well, Ned," he asked as he came in, "have you been in the wars again?"
"I am all right, doctor. I had a knock on the head which a day or two will put right; but I fear Bill is very seriously hurt."
The doctor at once set to to examine the bandages.
"You have done them up very well," he said approvingly; "but the blood is still oozing from them. I must dress them afresh; get me plenty of hot water, Polly, I have brought a sponge with me. Can you look on without fainting?"
"I don't think I shall faint, sir," Polly said quietly; "if I do, feyther will take my place."
In a quarter of an hour the wounds were washed, drawn together, and bandaged. There was but little fresh bleeding, for the lad's stock of life blood had nearly all flowed away.
"A very near case," the doctor said critically; "as close a shave as ever I saw. Had the wound on the face been a quarter of an inch nearer the eyebrow it would have severed the temporal artery. As it is it has merely laid open the jaw. Neither of the other wounds are serious, though they might very well have been fatal."
"Then you think he will get round, doctor?" Ned asked in a low tone.
"Get round! Of course he will," Dr. Green replied cheerily. "Now that we have got him bound up we will soon bring him round. It is only a question of loss of blood."
"Hullo! this will never do," he broke off as Ned suddenly reeled and would have fallen to the ground had not Luke caught him.
"Pour this cordial down Swinton's throat, Polly, a little at a time, and lift his head as you do it, and when you see him open his eyes, put a pillow under his head; but don't do so till he begins to come round. Now let me look at Ned's head.
"It must have been a tremendous blow, Luke," he said seriously. "I, only hope it hasn't fractured the skull. However, all this swelling and suffusion of blood is a good sign. Give me that hot water. I shall put a lancet in here and get it to bleed freely. That will be a relief to him."
While he was doing this an exclamation of pleasure from Polly showed that Bill was showing signs of returning to life. His eyes presently opened. Polly bent over him.
"Lie quiet, Bill, dear; you have been hurt, but the doctor says you will soon be well again. Yes; Master Ned is all right too. Don't worry yourself about him."
An hour later both were sleeping quietly.
"They will sleep till morning," Dr. Green said, "perhaps well on into the day; it is no use my waiting any longer. I will be up the first thing."
So he drove away, while Polly took her work and sat down to watch the sleepers during the night, and Luke, taking his stick and hat, set off to guard the mill till daylight.
Ned woke first just as daylight was breaking; he felt stupid and heavy, with a splitting pain in his head. He tried to rise, but found that he could not do so. He accordingly told George to go down in an hour's time to Marsden, and to leave a message at the house saying that he was detained and should not be back to breakfast, and that probably he might not return that night. The doctor kept his head enveloped in wet bandages all day, and he was on the following morning able to go down to Marsden, although still terribly pale and shaken. His appearance excited the liveliest wonder and commiseration on the part of Charlie, Lucy, and Abijah; but he told them that he had had an accident, and had got a nasty knock on the back of his head. He kept his room for a day or two; but at the end of that time he was able to go to the mill as usual. Bill Swinton was longer away, but broths and jellies soon built up his strength again, and in three weeks he was able to resume work, although it was long before the ugly scar on his face was healed. The secret was well kept, and although in time the truth of the affair became known in Varley it never reached Marsden, and Ned escaped the talk and comment which it would have excited had it been known, and, what was worse, the official inquiry which would have followed.
The Huddersfield men naturally kept their own council. They had hastily buried their dead comrade on the moor, and although several of them were so severely knocked about that they were unable to go to work for some time, no rumor of the affair got about outside the circle of the conspirators. It need hardly be said that this incident drew Ned and Bill even more closely together than before, and that the former henceforth regarded Bill Swinton in the light of a brother.
At the end of the Christmas holidays Mr. Porson brought home a mistress to the schoolhouse. She was a bright, pleasant woman, and having heard from her husband all the particulars of Ned's case she did her best to make him feel that she fully shared in her husband's welcome whenever he came to the house, and although Ned was some little time in accustoming himself to the presence of one whom he had at first regarded as an intruder in the little circle of his friends, this feeling wore away under the influence of her cordiality and kindness.
"Is it not shocking," she said to her husband one day, "to think that for nearly a year that poor lad should never have seen his own mother, though she is in the house with him, still worse to know that she thinks him a murderer? Do you think it would be of any good if I were to go and see her, and tell her how wicked and wrong her conduct is?"
"No, my dear," Mr. Porson said, smiling, "I don't think that course would be at all likely to have a good effect. Green tells me that he is sure that this conviction which she has of Ned's guilt is a deep and terrible grief to her. He thinks that, weak and silly as she is, she has really a strong affection for Ned, as well as for her other children, and it is because this is so that she feels so terribly what she believes to be his guilt. She suffers in her way just as much, or more, than he does in his. He has his business, which occupies his mind and prevents him from brooding over his position; besides, the knowledge that a few of us are perfectly convinced of his innocence enables him to hold up. She has no distraction, nothing to turn her thoughts from this fatal subject.
"Green says she has several times asked him whether a person could be tried twice for the same offense, after he has been acquitted the first time, and he believes that the fear is ever present in her mind that some fresh evidence may be forthcoming which may unmistakably bring the guilt home to him. I have talked it over with Ned several times, and he now takes the same view of it as I do. The idea of his guilt has become a sort of monomania with her, and nothing save the most clear and convincing proof of his innocence would have any effect upon her mind. If that is ever forthcoming she may recover, and the two may be brought together again. At the same time I think that you might very well call upon her, introducing yourself by saying that as I was a friend of Captain Sankey's and of her sons you were desirous of making her acquaintance, especially as you heard that she was such an invalid. She has no friends whatever. She was never a very popular woman, and the line every one knows she has taken in reference to the murder of her second husband has set those who would otherwise have been inclined to be kind against her. Other people may be convinced of Ned's guilt, but you see it seems to every one to be shocking that a mother should take part against her son."
Accordingly Mrs. Porson called. On the first occasion when she did so Mrs. Mulready sent down to say that she was sorry she could not see her, but that the state of her health did not permit her to receive visitors. Mrs. Porson, however, was not to be discouraged. First she made friends with Lucy, and when she knew that the girl was sure to have spoken pleasantly of her to her mother she opened a correspondence with Mrs. Mulready. At first she only wrote to ask that Lucy might be allowed to come and spend the day with her. Her next letter was on the subject of Lucy's music. The girl had long gone to a day school kept by a lady in Marsden, but her music had been neglected, and Mrs. Porson wrote to say that she found that Lucy had a taste for music, and that having been herself well taught she should be happy to give her lessons twice a week, and that if Mrs. Mulready felt well enough to see her she would like to have a little chat with her on the subject.
This broke the ice. Lucy's backwardness in music had long been a grievance with her mother, who, as she lay in bed and listened to the girl practicing below had fretted over the thought that she could obtain no good teacher for her in Marsden. Mrs. Porson's offer was therefore too tempting to be refused, and as it was necessary to appear to reciprocate the kindness of that lady, she determined to make an effort to receive her.
The meeting went off well. Having once made the effort Mrs. Mulready found, to her surprise, that it was pleasant to her after being cut off for so many months from all intercourse with the world, except such as she gained from the doctor, her two children, and the old servant, to be chatting with her visitor, who exerted herself to the utmost to make herself agreeable. The talk was at first confined to the ostensible subject of Mrs. Porson's visit; but after that was satisfactorily arranged the conversation turned to Marsden and the neighborhood. Many people had called upon Mrs. Porson, and as all of them were more or less known to Mrs. Mulready, her visitor asked her many questions concerning them, and the invalid was soon gossiping cheerfully over the family histories and personal peculiarities of her neighbors.
"You have done me a world of good," she said when Mrs. Porson rose to leave. "I never see any one but the doctor, and he is the worst person in the world for a gossip. He ought to know everything, but somehow he seems to know nothing. You will come again, won't you? It will be a real kindness, and you have taken so much interest in my daughter that it quite seems to me as if you were an old friend."
And so the visit was repeated: but not too often, for Mrs. Porson knew that it was better that her patient should wait and long for her coming, and now that the ice was once broken, Mrs. Mulready soon came to look forward with eagerness to these changes in her monotonous existence.
For some time Ned's name was never mentioned between them. Then one day Mrs. Porson, in a careless manner, as if she had no idea whatever of the state of the relations between mother and son, mentioned that Ned had been at their house the previous evening, saying: "My husband has a wonderful liking and respect for your son; they are the greatest friends, though of course there is a good deal of difference in age between them. I don't know any one of whom John thinks so highly."
Mrs. Mulready turned very pale, and then in a constrained voice said: "Mr. Porson has always been very kind to my sons."
Then she sighed deeply and changed the subject of conversation.
"Your wife is doing my patient a great deal more good than I have ever been able to do," Dr. Green said one day to the schoolmaster. "She has become quite a different woman in the last five or six weeks. She is always up and on the sofa now when I call, and I notice that she begins to take pains with her dress again; and that, you know, is always a first rate sign with a woman. I think she would be able to go downstairs again soon, were it not for her feeling about Ned. She would not meet him, I am sure. You don't see any signs of a change in that quarter, I suppose?"
"No," Mrs. Porson replied. "The last time I mentioned his name she said: 'My son is a most unfortunate young man, and the subject pains me too much to discuss. Therefore, if you please, Mrs. Porson, I would rather leave it alone.' So I am afraid there is no chance of my making any progress there."