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As for Polly herself, I believe she would have fallen down and worshipped her preserver if he hadn't positively forbidden it. In fact, I think she did so once. Anyhow, she was found in the attitude usually associated with adoration-kneeling at the doctor's feet and crying her heart out, as the saying is." "H'm!" I ejaculated.
"Yes," returned Macalister; "I quite understand you. The people of the place talked about it a good deal. But there was nothing in the business, I am certain. Dr. Wentworth repudiated every insinuation indignantly. He explained the position thus: The library where he was then sitting opened out from the dining-room, where his housekeeper, Peggy Jenkins, was employed during the whole of the interview, the door between the two apartments being ajar, and the austere old Puritan of a servant, all eyes and ears, perfectly cognizant of everything that was going on. Indeed, never a word would have been said about the business at all but for a bit of a row which occurred towards the end of it between the doctor and Dick Dimper, an under-gamekeeper with Kershaw—a beast of a fellow, to whom Polly's parents had engaged her, and who was savagely jealous of the doctor and everybody else.
"He was a noted desperado, Dick, with a reputation as good as a score of man-traps for his master, who, I think, must have kept him solely on that account-not for his honesty or good looks, that is certain. Since the accident Polly had made a kind of confessor of the doctor, whom she looked up to as a father, and whom she visited on this very night, with the news that she had been promised in marriage to Dimper, a calamity which she entreated her protector to avert. Dick, cunning knave, had watched her entrance, and, gaining admission to the doctor's library through the always open surgery, with which it communicated one way, had suddenly broken in upon the pair with the vilest and most furious reproaches. He left the house much quicker than he came. Dr. Wentworth, seizing him by the waistband with one hand, and by the nape of the neck with the other, pitched him head over heels into the street.
"I'll have it out of you yet,' screamed Dick directly he found his legs again. I'll murder you both, as sure as hell -you and her, too!'
"The doctor made a move as though to give the fellow a chance of at once putting his threat into effect, but Dick, wisely deciding not to risk another grip of the lion's paw, fairly turned tail and fled.
"It is only a theory I have," Macalister went on," but if a
certain place is paved with good intentions never carried out, some very much more respectable limbo must be found for those evil ones which man has put upon the shelf; in which case the scoundrel Dimper has a point in his favour! So far from showing any sign of making good his threat against the doctor, Dick became a reformed character from the very instant almost of his ejection from the surgery. That night he wrote the old soldier a letter full of contrite expressions (and grammatical mistakes), which he wound up by saying he hoped as the gentleman would forgiv a chap as was no skolard, but very much in luv." He, however, carefully avoided meeting Dr. Wentworth ever afterwards, and always found some excuse for not accompanying him on his shooting or fishing expeditions with the Master.'
"This, you should be told, was what the people used to call the great man then owning, besides the great works to which Wentworth was surgeon, the souls of the people employed at them. As to their bodies, of course there never was any question; he had paid for those, and could, therefore, do what he liked with them. And he did what he liked with them accordingly, sparing neither man in his anger nor▬▬.”
"Slightly outside the story, Angus, isn't it?" I queried. "Wait till you hear the finish, and you'll see. However, to proceed.
"Dimper's good behaviour had the natural effect of placing him higher than ever in the esteem of Polly Morgan's parents, and gave a famous handle to the arguments they used in urging his suit to a favourable 'issue. The girl's obstinacy at last brought affairs to a crisis. The business got to the ear of the great man at the Towers, as the fine old fifteenth century house in which the Master had located himself was called. Polly, he declared, should marry his under-gamekeeper and no nonsense about it. Dick, whatever his faults had been, was a steady fellow enough now, who got good wages (and took good care of them), with free house-rent and firing in addition. It wasn't every day a pit girl, the daughter of a puddler, born thrall to the house of Kershaw, met such a chance. She must come up
to the Towers to talk matters over with the Master.
"The man who delivered this message was perfectly horrified to find that the girl refused, point-blank, to obey.
"Tell your master,' she replied resolutely, that this is no business of his.'
"No business of his gasped the messenger, whom such flat blasphemy had well-nigh struck speechless.
"I said no business of his,' Polly repeated with emphasis. 'And besides, even if it were, I am not going up to the Towers by myself. If your master wants to talk to me let him come down here and see me in the presence of my parents.'
"Such rank rebellion was visited with signal and summary punishment. Mary and her father were both paid off the same day, the latter being simultaneously given notice to leave the cottage he occupied at the end of a month, on penalty of being double-rented."
"For herself the girl cared nothing, but the sight of her poor old father crying and declaring he was ruined so softened her heart that in the end she consented to accompany her mother to the Towers with a view of begging that the family might be restored to its owner's favour, they on their part undertaking that the marriage should come off without further delay.
"But the Master, finding, possibly, that the girl was shapely and fair to look upon, appeared to change his mind on the subject all at once. In a tone of generous concession he suddenly said: 'If you prefer remaining single, Mary, there is a way in which it can be done. You cannot possibly hope to. remain at the works, you know, for there Dimper, who is a devilishly determined fellow, will hunt you to the death if you do not have him.'
"Not if you forbid him, sir,' said Mary eagerly, her whole soul lighting up with the chance which she saw of escape.
"Humph! I can't interfere in my men's love affairs,' returned Mr. Kershaw, lifting his eyes and rubbing his cheeks with his finger-tips, as was always his wont when something was said which did not exactly suit his book.
"But you have interfered, sir, in this case,' was Mary's prompt rejoinder.
"Child remonstrated the mother, fairly quaking at the prospect of the conversation taking a turn which would upset all her original calculations.
"Yes, I have interfered,' Mr. Kershaw replied, freed from the embarrassment into which Mary's proposal had temporarily thrown him. I have interfered, and I am deuced sorry I did. However, I may as well carry the business through now. I was going to say, when you stopped me, that I will, if you like, speak to Lady Kershaw' (Mr. Kershaw, you must know, had married a lady of title) 'as to the necessity there exists for getting you away from the works out of Dimper's reach altogether. I have no doubt she will agree with me, and be very glad to take you into service at the Towers, where you will be perfectly safe from the man's attentions.'
There!' cried the simple-minded mother, lost in admiration at so magnificent an offer. What a splendid chance for you, girl. Take it, and say "thank you" to the gentleman for his kindness.'
"Please, sir,' Polly said, very white, very nervous, but perfectly decided; 'I know nothing of domestic service, and I
fear that a life in-doors will not suit one like me, who has always been used to the open.'
"Ah!' exclaimed the Master, biting his lip in his annoyance. 'You want, after all, to get married, I see. Well, have the man of your choice by all means. I'll send you down a cask of beer for the wedding.'
"And with that, gratefully if not exactly gracefully curtseying, the two women went out from the presence.'
"Polly was as good as her word, which is wonderful in a woman, you know. The wedding came off at the time appointed. Some say the Doctor danced at it, some say he didn't, a fact of which history is not near so certain as that Mr. Kershaw's beer was drunk (with half a kilderkin in addition), and by no one more liberally than by delighted Dick Dimper, whose bad nature it brought to the surface better than any course of medicine would have done.
"If she thinks with her doll face and baby ways to blind me,' he was heard saying towards the close of the festivities, just as the guests were about to depart, she'll darned soon find out her mistake. It'll be easy work a-spoiling those nice eyes of hers. What does that infernal doctor fellah want hanging around here day after day for? And why did old Kershaw send the beer down, eh? It isn't often he is so blessed thoughtful as all that. He wouldn't be thoughtful now either if he hadn't some reason, blow him. But let 'em try any of their blooming tricks on this chicken, and some of them shall know why Richard Dimper carries a gun-by God, they shall!'
"These horrid words were remembered against the fellow six months later when an event occurred which moved Metalopolis to its very depths. It was a cold, starless night, just before Christmas; the ground hard-frozen and black, and the wind moaning and sobbing around, like a troop of Banshees; a night on which, as my poet-countryman expresses it:
--a child might understand
The de'il had business on his hand.
Dick, who had speedily thrown off his hyprocrite's mask, had taken to drink very heavily. The hope of reclaiming him fresh within her fresh young heart, Polly, when it got late, used to visit the inns he was known to frequent, with a view of bringing him home. Between the neat little cottage they occupied and her drunken husband's last house of call was a lonely bit of roadway, affected by an occasional poacher, it may
be, but rarely by anyone else save the Dimper household and its visitants. Dick had stayed out longer and later than usual when Polly, with, for escort, a great deer hound, which her husband had in keeping for Mr. Kershaw, started out in search of him. To the right of the girl and her protector burned brightly-all the more brightly that the wind was fanning it with never ceasing breath-a huge heap of cinders, which the dwellers in such vicinities invariably designate the tip.' The embers crackled and glowed with a heat which, despite the prevailing chill, could be distinctly felt by the wayfarer, who was duly grateful therefor.
"Emerging into the black shadow beyond, and shivering for the warmth by which she had been so suddenly deserted, Polly drew more closely about her the cloak she wore, and then, before she was aware of the fact, found herself face to face with, almost in the arms of, a tall, dark man, well muffled up, with a gun upon his shoulder and a dog at heel much like Mary's own. Before the girl had sufficiently recovered her surprise to be able to speak, both dogs, obeying a word and a gesture from the man, scampered away out of sight down the road it was Mary's intention to travel.
"What exactly passed between the two people at that fateful interview none but God and themselves can ever know. Mary's voice, it afterwards transpired, was heard in indignant remonstrance, after which she was seen shaking herself free of the grasp of the man, who appeared holding her by the wrist. spectator of this much was her husband Dick, at the sound of whose footsteps the other man made off. Eternal darkness has settled down upon the great after event which it was everybody's desire to know. The little here given you is only what has been pieced together from scraps of talk obtained from a man in drink.
"Dr. Wentworth, reading late into the night of the 25th of December, as was not unusual with him, was somewhat startled by the unearthly howling of a hound at his door.
"Ah, Dexter, old fellow,' he said addressing the creature whom he got up to let in; what is it, boy? What is it?'" "For answer, the great brute put up his forepaws on the doctor's shoulders, and in doing so struck to the ground with his nose the book which the doctor had been reading. The owner, having recovered possession of it, led to the light on his library table his dumb and unexpected visitor.
"Good God!' was his exclamation immediately he did so. The book and the jaws of the brute, which had been in contact with it, were one mass of slime and blood.