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   Chapter 9 TO THE RESCUE.

Dick and Brownie By Mabel Quiller-Couch Characters: 18646

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


When Bob Thorp awoke that same morning about six o'clock, his first thought was that he had six shillings in his pocket. Six shillings got without working for them, so that he had every right to look on them as an extra, and spend them on himself.

Having made up his mind on this point, he lay for a happy half-hour, thinking how he should lay it out to get most pleasure out of it. "Why, I know!" he almost exclaimed aloud, as a particularly pleasant idea struck him. "I'll go to the big football match at Crinnock. It's going to be a clipper, they say. Ain't I glad I thought of it! I shall have just enough to do it comfortably."

The idea so excited him that he jumped out of bed then and there, and, banging at his poor mother's door, he bade her get up sharp, and light the fire, and get the breakfast, because he had to be off early. Then he dressed himself in the best he'd got, and presented himself in the kitchen.

In answer to his mother's surprised looks and questionings, he explained that he had to go away on business, in search of a job, and must look his best; and his mother, rejoicing in the prospect of a day of freedom from him, cooked him the last egg she had, and gave him as big a breakfast as he could eat; and he ate it heartily, without a qualm of conscience for his deception towards her.

At the railway station he met quite a crowd, all going in the same direction as himself; neither the darkness nor the cold could affect their energy or spirits, and Bob's spirits rose too, as he followed the stream of travellers into the little gas-lit booking office for his ticket.

"Third return, Crinnock," he said, loudly, tossing a shining new florin on to the counter.

At the sound of it the booking clerk half hesitated in stamping the ticket he held in his hand, glanced sharply at the florin, and hurriedly picking it up, scanned it closely.

"Bad 'un," he said, shortly, handing it back to Bob. "Ninepence, please." Then, seeing the look of blank dismay on Bob's face, he added, "Been had?"

Bob's cheeks were white, and his hand shaking, as he dived in his pocket for the other two florins,-the only money he possessed in the world. He saw himself tricked, cheated out of a day's pleasure, made to look small in everyone's eyes.

He turned out the two other florins upon the counter, and at the first ring of them on the wood he knew the truth, and his passion blazed out fiercely against the man who had fooled him under cover of the darkness.

"I'll have the law of him!" he stammered, almost speechless with anger. "I know where he is, or pretty near, and I'll set the p'lice on him, I will. Why-why-I might have been had up myself for trying to pass bad money! Oh I'll make him sorry he ever tried his games on me, I will!"

Back through the waiting crowd Bob elbowed his way, in search of a policeman. His disappointment about the football match was swallowed up in his longing for revenge.

"Look here, bobby," he said, going up to the constable who was standing on the platform to see the crowd off peacefully. "Look at this!" thrusting the coins under his very nose. "Bad money, that's what 'tis,-passed off on me last night! But I know who done it, and where he is,-leastways where he was last night, and he can't have got so very far. He's Tom Smith, the hawker, and he'd got his van in a field nigh 'pon the top of Woodend Lane last night-put it there without a with-your-leave or a by-your-leave! Trespassing, that's what he was, and that's another thing you can have him up for. He was there to kidnap a child and a dog what he said was his; but I'll bet they wasn't-and that's another thing against him. Of course he'd move on as soon as he'd got the kid, but he can't have got so very far with that old horse of his-he looked as if he'd drop dead if he was made to go another mile."

The policeman stayed to see the train depart with the crowd safely packed inside it, then turned away with Bob. He was as anxious as Bob himself to follow up the case. Policemen did not get much chance in little country places, and promotion came slowly. "What was he giving you six shillings for?" he asked, as Bob and he trudged up the hill from the station.

Bob looked foolish. "Oh-for-for showing him the way," he stammered.

The policeman looked at him sharply. "What way?" he asked.

"To-to Woodend Lane," he answered, shortly, wondering distractedly how he could avoid giving true explanations; but the policeman, to his relief, did not press the matter further, and whatever his thoughts were, he kept them to himself.

Presently he asked, casually, "Where was the child he wanted to get hold of? In Woodend Lane?"

"Yes-I mean I dunno. I don't know nothing about it."

"I only asked, 'cause we've had word to keep a look-out for a man, probably with a caravan, who has stolen a child and a dog from Wood-"

"Why, look, what's that over there?" interrupted Bob, in sudden excitement.

"That over there" was a shabby brown caravan, hung about with tins and brushes, standing beneath a high hedge in a corner of a distant field. From the road beneath it, it would not be visible to any passer-by, but looking across country as they were the glitter of the tins flashing in the rays of the morning sun caught the eye, and discovered the van in its hiding-place.

"Here goes!" cried the policeman, excitedly. "A chap don't get a chance like this every day. Come along, young fellow, and don't make a noise."

Avoiding every possible risk of being observed approaching, Bob Thorp, led by the constable, made his way to the field where the caravan stood. Tethered to the hedge close by was Charlie, and securely roped to the van lay poor Dick.

"That's the dog," whispered Bob Thorp, excitedly.

Dick growled slightly at the faint sounds which now reached him, and more violently when he recognised his old enemy.

"Lie down, can't you?" bellowed a hoarse voice, roughly; and walking cautiously round to the front of the van they found the very man they were in search of lying on the ground rolled in a rug, with a couple of sacks over him. At the sight of Bob Thorp and the policeman he sprang to his feet at once.

"Anything you want, gentlemen? Anything I can sell you?" he asked, impudently. "A nice scrubbing-brush or-"

"'Tis you needs the scrubbing-brush, by the looks on you," said Bob, cheekily.

"And I want you," said the constable, sharply.

"Want me? What for?" he demanded, indignantly; but his face had suddenly turned an unhealthy gray colour, and in his eyes they could plainly read his alarm.

"Passing bad money," answered the policeman, quietly.

"Who says so? Who brought that charge against me?"

"'Im," the policeman jerked his head and his thumb towards Bob.

"And who's he, that his word should be took agin mine? Who's to say he hasn't been passing it himself, and-and of course he's got to put it off on someone, when he's found out."

"Well, you can fight that out before the magistrates. You've got to come along of me now. If you can explain it, that is all right, and you will soon be back again."

"All right," said Tom, agreeing, because he saw the uselessness of holding out. His brain was busy, though, trying to think out a plan. "I must just step inside, and break it to my wife-"

"Oh yes, and empty your pockets of all the rest of the bad money you've got!" burst out Bob, unable to control himself. "Likely tale that, eh!"

The policeman stepped over and laid his hand on Tom Smith's

shoulder. "There's one or two other little matters too," he said.

"You're wanted for some little affair about a girl and a dog.

Is that the dog?"

"She's my own niece-"

"Is she? All right; you've only got to prove it, and that you're her lawful guardian, and a fit and proper person-"

A sharp scream suddenly rent the air, and made them all start. Emma Smith, waking from her heavy sleep, had heard the sound of voices, and looking cautiously out of the window, had caught sight of the policeman grasping her husband by the arm. Day and night for years she had been fearing this, and now it had actually happened! The shock was too much for her. Scream after scream pierced their ears, as she staggered out of the van and flung herself upon her husband.

The screams, which roused Dick to a fury of barking, and startled even poor old worn-out Charlie, wakened Huldah from the deep sleep into which she had fallen, exhausted by sorrow.

Springing from her bed, she saw the policeman, and that he had his hand on her uncle, holding him securely, in spite of Aunt Emma's attack. But why was Bob Thorp there, too? Huldah recognised him with a shock of surprise and fear.

For a moment she gazed frightened yet fascinated at the group, then across her mind flashed the thought, Here was her chance of escape! Quick as thought she caught up a knife from the table, and slipping down the steps cut the rope which held Dick, then, sheltered from view by the van itself, she clambered through the hedge with the dog at her heels, and away and away as fast as her feet could cover the ground. Her aunt's screams deadened any other noise, and her aunt's furious attack took all the attention of the three men, so that escape was easy.

It never entered Huldah's head that

the policeman had come on her account, and that she was safer now than ever in her life before. She did not know there had been time to communicate with the police, and the one thought that had filled her mind all these weary hours was escape, and getting back to Mrs. Perry.

At first she raced wildly, but before very long her strength gave out, her excitement died down. Her pace grew slower and slower, more and more halting, and then finally she stopped. Thoughts of her Aunt Emma would force themselves on her mind. If her uncle was taken to jail, her aunt would be left alone with the horse and van. What would she do, day and night alone? How could she manage? Could she, Huldah, go and leave her like that!-but could she live that dreadful life again! Every day going further and further from Miss Rose and Mrs. Perry, and the dear little cottage, never perhaps to see them again! Huldah sat down on a bank underneath the hedge, to try and think the matter out. Dick came back from his happy wanderings and sat beside her, staring at her with wistful eyes, for he saw that she was in trouble, but why she should be was more than he could understand,-for were they not away together, and on their way home?

He gave a little whine, and Huldah looked up at him. "Oh, Dick, what can I do? Mrs. Perry will be so frightened there alone, and she'll be troubling about us so, and-and there's Miss Rose too"-more tears trickled down Huldah's cheeks,-"yet I can't go and leave Aunt Emma all alone now, with the van and Charlie to look after, and Uncle Tom in jail. Oh, what can I do? what can I do!"

Dick was puzzled too, but at that moment a fresh burst of screams burst on her ears, terrible, noisy screams, and bitter cries and shoutings. Tom Smith was being led away by the constable, and his wife had flung herself on the ground in hysterics, real or feigned.

Huldah crept back to the hedge and peered through. Her heart was heavy as lead. Her body ached with the blows she had received the night before, and her head throbbed painfully too, but these were as nothing compared with the pain of her poor little aching disappointed heart. On the other side of the hedge she saw her aunt lying on the ground, sobbing, screaming, and beating the ground with her fists.

Huldah crept back through the hedge, and up to her side. "Aunt Emma,

don't take on like that," she said, gently, trying to comfort her.

"He'll be back soon. They won't do anything to him, for certain."

She little dreamed how black the case was against him.

But the sight of the girl seemed to change her aunt's overwhelming grief to sudden and violent anger against herself. Springing to her feet, she snatched the heavy whip from the van, and brought it down with all the force of which she was capable across Huldah's shoulders.

"It's all your fault!" she screamed, "it's all your fault! It was only to get hold of you that he offered the fellow the money, and if you hadn't run away he'd never have had to do it. 'Tis all your fault he's took, and I'll make you smart for it, my lady!" and seizing the poor shrinking, frightened child, she beat her until her arm dropped to her side exhausted.

"Stop that!" cried a stern voice, loudly. Huldah and her aunt fell back, shocked and startled by the sight of another policeman close to them. In the noise and excitement they had not heard anyone approaching. "Give me that whip."

Huldah gave one terrified glance at the man in blue, and fell fainting at his feet.

Emma Smith handed over the whip meekly enough. She was thoroughly scared now, for she never doubted that Huldah was dead, and that the policeman would declare that she had killed the child. In her terror for herself, her anxiety about her husband was forgotten. She began to wail and sob and beg forgiveness. She threw herself on the ground, calling loudly to Huldah to open her eyes and get up. She tried coaxings and all sorts of promises, but the policeman only thrust her aside.

"Go and get some cold water," he said, sternly.

She crept away meekly, and presently brought back a little drop in a broth basin. "That's all there is," she said, apologetically. It was very little, but with it the big man bathed the child's face and hands, and dabbed her lips and her brow.

"Go and get a blanket," he ordered. "She oughtn't to be lying on the cold wet ground so long. She doesn't seem to be coming round." He felt Huldah's pulse, and laid his hand over her heart. "It is beating," he muttered, in a tone of relief. Then he lifted her on to the blanket, and wrapped her in it, then bathed her brow again, until presently a faint quiver of the body and a fluttering sigh showed that consciousness was returning.

At last Huldah opened her eyes and looked vaguely about her, wondering where she was. At sight of her aunt and the policeman the old look of terror came back to her face, and she struggled to sit up.

"Don't you hurry yourself, now," said the policeman, kindly. "And don't you be afraid of me. I've come to look after you, and take you back to your friends."

"You can't," muttered Emma Smith, sullenly. "She's mine.

The child's right enough; they all want a hiding sometimes."

"Sometimes, perhaps, but not constant; and never as you lays it on. I should be taking you up for murder if you did it often in your way!"

Emma Smith only looked more sullen. "Well, she's mine, and no one else's, and I'm going to keep her."

"Look here, my woman, what's the good of going on like that? You've got to prove, first of all, that she is yours, and then that you're a fit and proper person to have her. In the meantime I've got my orders to fetch her away, and if you want her you can apply to the magistrates, and prove to them all that you've been saying. Now, then, where's her bonnet and shawl?"

"She hasn't got any," sulkily.

"Then you've got to provide her with some. Hurry up; but first of all, has she had anything to eat or drink to-day?"

"No, nor won't have. I haven't got anything for myself."

"That seems unlucky; but if you'll come along of me you shall have a good cup of tea and a bit of breakfast. Now then, missie, are you ready?"

Huldah had sat speechless all this time. She felt giddy and ill, and quite worn out. She was so dazed too, she could not think what to do, or what she ought to do. Things seemed to have got beyond her, and to be taken out of her hands.

She struggled to her feet, and let the policeman wrap her, head and all, in the old shawl. She wondered vaguely if she would feel better able to walk when once she had started; but even the standing on her feet seemed too much for her, and it was with a real sense of relief that she felt the man lift her in his arms and stride away with her.

No word of farewell was said, but in a moment or two she heard her aunt's rough voice calling after them, "You've no right to that dog, and if you takes him I'll have the law of you!"

The policeman stopped, and turned round. "Oh, by the way, I've forgot one thing now. I want to see your dog-licence."

But Emma Smith only walked away into the van muttering angrily, and banging the door after her, left them to go their way in peace.

Huldah scarcely knew how that walk passed. She was conscious now and then of a feeling of shame, for letting herself be carried. She felt she ought to walk, but before she could say so the old faintness stole over her again, and she knew that to walk was beyond her power. Now and then she heard the policeman talking in a friendly voice to Dick, who walked close beside them, and Dick's excited bark. She was wondering how much further they had to go, when they drew up, and Huldah found herself being laid on a wooden bench in a room where two or three policemen were standing round a fire.

To her surprise, she was no longer afraid of them, they were too kind and gentle for that. One of those standing by the fire, an elderly man, came over to where she lay.

"Well, young woman," he said, cheerfully, "and when did you have anything to eat last? Day before yesterday, by the look of you."

Huldah tried to remember. "It wasn't quite so long ago as that," she said, feebly. "I had some dinner-yesterday, I think. When was yesterday?"

The man laughed. "Don't you worry," he said, kindly; "you've been living two days in one, and have got muddled. You will feel better when you've had a basin of hot bread and milk. Bring her over to the fire, Harry, she's starved with the cold."

"Harry," her first friend, carried her over, and put her in a big armchair by the fire, and presently one of the others brought her a basin of hot bread and milk, and a plateful of food for Dick, and before Huldah had taken a half of it she was feeling altogether a different person.

"I didn't feel hungry, but I s'pose I was," she said, simply, looking up with grateful, friendly eyes at the old policeman. "I feel ever so much better now."

"Ay, ay; we don't always know what we want, nor what is good for us,-but here's somebody as'll be good for you, unless I'm very much mistaken!" and Huldah, following the direction of his eyes as they travelled to the door, gave one long low cry of rapturous delight, for there walking in to the police station were Mrs. Perry and Miss Rose!

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