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   Chapter 8 TRACKED DOWN.

Dick and Brownie By Mabel Quiller-Couch Characters: 17965

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04

"I tell you that there's my dog! He was stolen from me, and I'm going to 'ave the law of whoever's got 'im."

Tom Smith went blustering back into the public-house, almost speechless with anger. To have been so near Dick and then to have missed him, was almost more than he could bear. If he had known he had missed Huldah too, he would have been even more angry.

"You can't have the law of people for taking in a stray," remarked one man, quietly. They none of them liked Tom Smith, and most of them wished he would go on his way and leave them to their quiet gossip.

"Perhaps he ran away," suggested another, drily.

Tom Smith glowered at him sullenly. "What should he run away for?" he asked, sharply.

"Well, that's more'n I can say," answered the man, calmly. "It seems to be his way, by the look of him just now. Dogs do it sometimes, when they think they'd like a change."

"I know he didn't run away; he was stolen, and I'd give five shillings to know who'd got him, and where he lives."

He did not mean what he said, and he never intended to part with five shillings, but he did want to find Dick, and he meant to do it, too. For once he was taken at his word.

"Hand over your five bob. I can tell you where the dog lives." The voice came from over by the window, and all eyes were turned in that direction. A young man, a stranger to all there, was standing leaning eagerly towards Tom Smith, his hand held out. He had been sitting silent until this moment, but listening attentively to all that was being said.

Tom Smith turned towards him, looking very foolish; and, as usual, when he felt small he began to bluster. "Likely tale I'm going to hand over five shillings now! How do I know you knows anything about the dog; what one I means, or where he lives, or anything at all about him? Besides, I don't give the five bob unless I actually gets hold of the dog."

"I tell you I do know him; he's a yaller dog, a long-legged thing with a short tail, and he goes about with a girl, and he's called Dick. I shouldn't have said I know'd him if I didn't."

"A girl!" Tom Smith's cruel eyes lightened with eagerness.

"Have you seen a girl with him? a kid about twelve-year old?

When? Now? Are you sure? Why, 'twas she that stole him!"

"What should a child of that age want to steal a dog for?" asked one of the other men.

"Better ask her, if you want to know!" retorted the other, rudely. "I'll give 'ee another shilling if you can help me lay my hands on the both of them."

"Right you are," agreed Bob, promptly, and without a single qualm of conscience. "We'd better start; 'tis about four miles from here they live, and it'll be dark soon."

"Ugh!" Tom Smith looked vexed; he was a lazy man, and he did not relish the prospect of a four miles' tramp. "I've got to wait for my old woman to come back," he muttered.

Emma Smith was going round the town with a big basket of tins and brushes and things, trying to sell some, while he hung about the public-house, enjoying himself doing nothing. Her round was a long one, and few people seemed tempted to buy of such a slovenly, disagreeable-looking woman, one who grew rude too, if people did not want any of her goods.

So it was that Huldah had got safely home without being overtaken, and once within that cosy kitchen felt herself safe from all danger. She little dreamed that at that moment the three persons she feared most in the world were starting out from Belmouth in search of her. Poor Huldah!

It was six o'clock and quite dark by the time the trio, and Charlie and the van, reached Wood End; and many a time before they got there Bob Thorp would have thrown up the job, if he had not wanted the money so badly. For the whole of the four miles Tom Smith grumbled, bullied his wife, beat Charlie, and snapped and snarled at everyone and everything.

"I don't wonder at anybody's running away from you," remarked Bob at last, losing all patience. "If I was your wife I'd do the same."

Whereupon Tom snarled again with rage, "She'd better let me catch her trying it on, that's all," he said, threateningly, and glared at his wife, as though she had threatened to do so.

A little way beyond the village they drew up, and without troubling to ask anyone's leave Tom drove the van into a field,-where they had no possible right to be, and poor tired Charlie and his tired mistress were left to themselves for, at any rate, a few minutes' peace.

The two men walked on again in silence until they reached the top of Woodend Lane, There Bob Thorp drew up, and showed a decided disinclination to go any further.

"'Tis down there they live, the first cottage you come to; you can't mistake it. There's only an old woman, I b'lieve, besides the girl and the dog. I'd better keep away, 'cause they knows me, leastways the girl does, and-and the dog. If you'll hand over that six bob now, I'll be getting home. I've got a good step to go yet."

Tom Smith agreed almost pleasantly. "Right you are," he said, diving his hand into an inside pocket, "and, thank 'ee, I'll manage the rest, and I'd better manage it alone. I don't want to draw my friends into any trouble over it,-leastways not those that have done me a good turn."

He fumbled for some time over the counting out of the money, but when at last he had put it into Bob's hand, the latter turned abruptly away, and with only a brief 'good-night' plunged hurriedly down the dark lane.

"Good-night," said Bob, "and thank 'ee. Three florins isn't it?" But Tom Smith was out of sight, and Bob was glad to hurry away too, as fast as his legs could take him. He did not feel altogether pleased, though he did try to cheer himself by chinking his money in his pocket, and planning how he would spend it. All the way he went he seemed to see again Huldah's pained, sorrowful face, as she knelt in the road beside her dog, and tried to shelter him with her own body. How she must love the ugly yellow creature, and how he loved her! and how they would feel it, if they were parted. What a life they'd lead, if they had to go back to the van and that ill-tempered, grumbling pair!

"I couldn't wish anybody any worse harm than to have to live with that fellow," he muttered to himself. "'Tis a poor look-out for 'em, poor toads!"

The thought of Huldah, and the desire not to be mixed up in the affair, sent him home and to bed, to be out of the way. So he went to sleep, and tried to forget what he had done, and his three florins remained untouched in his pocket until morning.

In the meantime Tom Smith had made his way stealthily down the lane until he reached the little cottage. At the gate he stopped, and peering about him, listened for a time, while he tried to plan what his first move should be. Should he be civil and friendly, or should he just go in and frighten them all? As he stood there debating he looked like some mean beast of prey, waiting to spring on his victim. A cheerful light shone out of one of the little windows, and in the stillness of the night the sound of voices reached him. One he recognised at once as Huldah's. A savoury smell of cooking was wafted out to him, and roused him to greater anger.

"That little hussy is a-selling of her baskets, I'll be bound, and she and the old woman live on the fat of the land with the money that they bring. My baskets, I calls 'em. It's sheer thieving! A fine old yarn she'll have told, too, and a nice character she'll have give'd me, ugh, the little-"

A ripple of laughter sounded through the silence. To him it seemed as though Huldah were mocking him. Hesitating no longer, he strode up the path and knocked heavily on the door. Instantly the voices and the laughter ceased. There was a spring at the door and a growl. Dick had scented the enemy! Then after a moment's pause a voice asked timidly, "Who is there?"

Tom Smith heard the alarm in the voice, and rejoiced. It gave him the greatest pleasure always to know that he inspired fear in anyone.

"Open the door. It's me, Tom Smith, and I've come after that dog of mine that you've stole!"

No answer came, nor was the door opened.

"Open the door, I say, or I'll fetch the police for you! pack of thieves that you are!"

The threat of the police would have made Huldah smile, if she had not been in such a state of terror for herself, and even more so for Dick. She knew that her "uncle" would not go within a mile of a policeman if he could help it. Indeed, she longed and prayed for a policeman to come along then, that she might appeal to him for protection.

Unfortunately for them, though, not even a bolt stood between them and their enemy, and before Huldah could step forward to shoot it, or turn the key, the latch was raised, and Tom Smith was in the kitchen. With one well-aimed kick he sent Dick into the furthest corner, and with equally sure aim he seized Huldah by the wrist. "Now, you come along of me, and no nonsense, do you hear

? A fine dance you've led me and your poor aunt! You deserves a good hiding, both of 'ee, and I ain't sure but what you'll get it yet."

"Let her alone," gasped Mrs. Perry, "let her go-she isn't yours. You've no-right-to her." Her face was grey white, her heart seemed to have stopped beating, and she could hardly speak.

Tom Smith took no notice of her whatever, he was not going to waste time in arguing-bullying was more in his line. "Now then, come along. If you makes any noise, I'll turn the p'lice on the old lady there, for harbouring thieves and receiving stolen property. Stop it now!" as Huldah wrenched herself away. "P'raps that'll teach you," and he caught her a heavy blow on the ear.

Mrs. Perry screamed. "Don't hurt her-oh, don't do them any harm!" she pleaded. "Promise not-to beat them." It seemed to her impossible to resist him, they were helpless there, those two alone. Huldah and Dick must go.

Huldah's heart sank with overwhelming sorrow. Was she really to be given up? was she to leave her new home, her new happiness, her work, Mrs. Perry, Miss Rose,-all to go back to the old torture? Oh no, it could not be. She could never bear it! Mrs. Perry spoke as if she would have to; but what would she herself do there alone? She would be almost frightened to death.

Poor Huldah grew frantic. "I am not going. I can't go, and Miss

Rose said you can't make me. I am not yours. Oh, Miss Rose, Miss

Rose do come and save us!"

With a little whimper of pain Dick crawled out of his corner and came towards her. He seemed to realise that his little mistress was in danger, and he meant to stand by her.

"Shut up your noise!" shouted her "uncle," and dealt her another sharp blow on the side of the head.

Mrs. Perry screamed, and fell fainting into the chair, and with the same Tom Smith picked up Huldah in his arms and made for the door.

The sound of footsteps and bitter cries died away in the lane, and a deep oppressive silence followed. The kettle sang and boiled and bubbled over, the supper burnt in the pan, the fire died down, and still that senseless form lay huddled up in her chair, her white face turned upwards to the ceiling, as though beseeching help.

Minutes passed before any sign of life came back to her, and with a shuddering sigh she opened her eyes again. At first she was dazed, and her mind a blank, then the open door, the empty room, the stillness, brought all back to her in a sudden overwhelming rush of sorrow.

For a few moments she sat, weak, white, and trembling, trying to think; then rising stumblingly to her feet she picked up her shawl, and wrapping it over her head and shoulders, she groped her way out of the house, down the garden, and out into the darkness of the night.

Stumbling, tottering, having to pause every few minutes, to rest her shaking limbs and gasp for breath, she made her way up the lane. She must find Miss Rose. Miss Rose must know, Miss Rose would help them! Oh it must come right! She could not lose her child and Dick. She could not live without them now!

Tears welled up, and poured down her ashy face, as she thought of those two, and what they might be enduring now.

"Dear Father, protect them!" she prayed. "Dear Jesus, take care of them!" and all the way she went her pleadings beat at Heaven's gate for the two poor waifs she so loved. "Dear Jesus, protect them, and bring them back to me. I love them so, and they are all I have."

Her heart laboured so heavily she could scarcely breathe, her head throbbed distractingly, her limbs shook so much under her that she could scarcely drag herself along. Every now and then she fancied she heard a scream or Huldah's sobs; then again she thought she heard Dick's bark, and each time she stopped and listened, and gazed into the darkness, but presently the loneliness and darkness so oppressed her that she could not bring herself to stop again. All she could do was to stumble onward until the vicarage was reached, and arrived there she sank down on the doorstep exhausted. The fright and the walk, so long for her, had nearly killed her.

Dinah came quickly to the door, in response to the frightened frantic knock, and as she opened it Martha Perry fell in at her feet, faint and helpless.

"My-Huldah"-she panted, "he's found her; he's taken her-away-and Dick too! Help me-to-" then, as they raised her and carried her into the kitchen, she lost consciousness entirely.

When she opened her eyes again Miss Rose was standing beside her. "Huldah! where's my Huldah?" she cried, her poor eyes filling with tears. "What-can we do?"

Miss Rose's face was very white, but her eyes were brave and smiling. "It's all right, Martha, dear. She will be back with you to-morrow, I hope. We have sent to the police; they are to take the matter up, and see it through, and we have telegraphed to Belmouth, and Woodleigh, and Crinnock, to tell the police there to look out for the man, and stop him."

Mrs. Perry moaned with disappointment, she could not help it, when she thought of poor Huldah, every moment going further and further from them all. Longing, hoping, expecting every moment that someone would overtake them and save her, straining her ears to hear help coming,-and then, at last, in utter hopeless despair realising that she was left to herself, helpless, broken-hearted! She would not know that it was only for one night, and that help was coming in the morning.

Martha tried to smile back at Miss Rose, and to seem pleased, but her misery was too great. Then an idea came to her, which brought her swiftly to her feet, with new hope in her heart. Perhaps, oh, perhaps, Huldah and Dick might manage again to escape! If they did, they would go to her, surely! Of course she should be at home to receive them! She told Miss Rose, and though Miss Rose scarcely believed it possible, she thought it kinder to humour her,-besides which there was just the chance,-a chance which could not be missed.

So the two went back to the cottage, where the lamplight still shone out cheerfully through the open door. For a moment hope leaped in their hearts, then a glance round the little kitchen assured them that it was deserted still, and hope died down again.

"Never mind; morning will soon be here," said Miss Rose, hopefully, "and 'joy cometh with the morning.' Now I am going to make up a good fire, and I will read to you, and you must try, Martha, dear, to listen, and not to think of anything else."

She made Martha comfortable in the old armchair, with her feet upon a stool, and a shawl about her knees, then she took down the well-worn Bible, and began to read. Her sweet voice rose and fell evenly, soothingly; for more than an hour she read on, unwearied, never faltering, selecting all the most helpful and comforting passages she could find; and by-and-by Martha Perry's face grew less drawn and anxious, her sad eyes grew tired, then the lids closed in a blessed, peaceful slumber, and Miss Rose's voice ceased, and silence fell on the little cottage.

The night sped on, the cold grew greater, the darkness deeper. Miss Rose sat quietly at the table, the open Bible before her, keeping watch over the sleeping woman and the fire, her ear always alert for a sound outside. Her hearing grew so strained that over and over again she thought she heard footsteps coming, Huldah's quick, brisk step and Dick's pat-pat patter; again and again she tip-toed to the door, and opening it wide peered out into the darkness. But no real sound broke the silence, save the hoot of an owl, and by-and-by the chirping of the waking birds.

Then at last day dawned, and streaks of light appeared in the sky, turning presently to a glorious fiery radiance, as the sun rose, flooding the sky and all the world with brightness and with hope.

Martha Perry stirred stiffly in her chair, and opened her eyes. "Oh, Miss Rose, I've been asleep, and left you keeping watch all by yourself! Oh, I am ashamed!"

"Not by myself, Martha. I had this," laying her hand on the open

Bible, "and I felt God nearer me than ever in my life before, I

think. He is going to help us, I know. I feel that He has given me

His word this night!"

"She has not come?" sighed Martha, glancing round the kitchen, as though expecting to see Huldah hiding somewhere. "Oh, what a night of misery she must have endured!"

"She has not come yet, but she is coming, and brownie is very brave, Martha, and patient and hopeful. She has the blessed gift of making the best of what can't be helped, and she has a wonderful faith. Look, Martha, look at the sky, does it not already sing to us 'joy cometh with the morning'?"

Martha Perry walked to the door and looked out, and even her timid, doubting heart could not but feel calmed and comforted.

"'God's in His heaven: All's right with the world,'" quoted Miss Rose, softly, as they stood there together. And already help was on its way to Huldah.

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