AN UNEXPECTED ADHERENT

The train which brought Count Litvinoff from London was punctual to the
minute, but the trap which was to take him to Thornsett Edge was not,
and he was lounging discontentedly among his rugs and luggage at the
melancholy little station of Firth Vale.

When Roland had left London, some weeks before, he had parted from
Litvinoff with the understanding that he was to spend Christmas with
him at Thornsett Edge. Young Ferrier had felt that the Count would
be a thousand times better company than his own thoughts, and he
preferred asking him to inviting any of his college friends, from whom
Richard’s absence would provoke comment, and to whom it would have to
be explained. For Richard had gone away, leaving no address save that
of a solicitor in London, and he had written to the trustees, and steps
were being taken for closing the mill. Roland would rather have been
anywhere than near the property he was so soon to lose, but Gates urged
him to stay at Thornsett till the New Year, and with Count Litvinoff as
his guest he hoped to keep ghosts of old times at bay as successfully
in his old home as he could hope to do anywhere else. And Litvinoff had
accepted the invitation with fervour, for the Stanleys were back at
Aspinshaw.

The day he had pitched on for his journey was a bitterly cold one in
the middle of December, and the waiting-room at Firth Vale had no
big fires, soft carpets, and luxurious lounges. It had nothing but
a bench, a table, a Bible, a Prayer-book, and a large stone jug of
cold water. Litvinoff was got up quite after the English manner, in a
light, long travelling ulster with a hood, and a tourist hat of the
same stuff; but in spite of his precautions against weather he was very
cold, and not a little cross at his prolonged waiting. He was just
debating whether it would not be better to walk, and trust his traps
to the mercy of chance, when the station shivered and shuddered as the
‘local’ came slowly and heavily in.

As it stopped, a stout woman, of about forty-five, with the usual
number of blue bandboxes, bundles in handkerchiefs, and brown baskets
disposed about her person, came hurrying down the stone steps,
accompanied by a hard-featured, grizzled man some years older.
Litvinoff watched their descent with a smile, but as they reached the
bottom step his face grew suddenly serious. He turned sharply, and,
passing into the little waiting-room, became deeply absorbed in the
‘Scripture roll’ which hung opposite the door, until the train had
glided out of the station.

He saw without turning his head that only the woman had gone. The man
remained on the platform, gazing after the retreating line of carriages
till he started and turned round at Litvinoff’s voice.

‘I beg your pardon, but do you know a place about here called Thornsett
Edge?’

‘Ah do,’ said the man, after a prolonged stare. ‘It’s a matter o’ three
miles off.’

‘Can I get a trap here?’ In reply he learned that there was no trap
nearer than the fly at the ‘Jolly Sailors,’ and that was half a mile
the other side of Thornsett.

‘Then I suppose I must walk. Can you tell me the way?’

‘Ah can show you,’ said the man. ‘Ah’m going up to the village; Ah live
there.’

He spoke shortly; but Litvinoff had a reason for wishing to talk to
the man, and so was content to ignore a curtness of manner which at any
other time he would have been the first to resent.

In a few minutes the two were walking over the hard road side by side.

‘Do you happen to know Mr Ferrier?’

‘Ay; Ah work i’ their mill.’

‘I suppose they are great favourites hereabouts?’

‘They’re good lads enow,’ said the elder man; ‘better nor most o’ them.’

‘Better than most of whom?’

‘Most of the masters and gentlefolks and that like,’ said the man,
rather sullenly.

‘You don’t seem to like gentlemen, my friend.’

‘Ah don’t like them well enough to believe either as they’re my friends
or as Ah’m theirs,’ was the answer, given with a haughty resentment of
Litvinoff’s epithet, which that gentleman found amusing.

‘I’m afraid that’s true enough in most cases.’

The man looked a little surprised at having his sentiments met by this
ready echo from such an unlikely quarter.

‘The toad don’t love the harrow,’ he said slowly; ‘but it ain’t often
as you can get the harrow to see that.’

‘Are you quite sure the toad sees it? It seems to bear it quietly
enough.’

‘What else can we do?’ asked the man fiercely.




‘That’s exactly what I’m giving my life to trying to find out,’ said
Litvinoff, very quietly.

The workman stopped short, and looked at the gentleman from head to
feet. His gaze was calmly returned.

He turned and went on with a half laugh:

‘Have you came down here to find that out, and is Mr Roland going to
help you?’

‘I can’t answer for Mr Roland Ferrier, but as for myself–look here,
my friend’ (with an emphasis on the word), ‘in trying to help the
“toads,” as you call them, I was driven from my own country, and had to
fly for my life, with a pack of soldier wolves at my back.’

‘Ay? How was that?’ The man was interested in spite of himself, and
Litvinoff forthwith plunged into an account of the flight across the
frontier on that most exciting night of all his life.

His listener had not heard many exciting stories–they are not rife in
Firth Vale–and to this story the fact that it was told by the chief
actor lent an unusual interest. The Count was a good story-teller, and
the way in which he told his tale left room for no doubt of its truth.
When the recital was ended the listener drew a long breath.

‘Ah’m glad you gave them the slip,’ he said; ‘the devils! Eh, but
you’re a lucky man to have had such things in your life, and to have
done something. You don’t know what it’s like to have your life all
bearing and no doing. Why, sometimes when you see how things go wi’
some poor folks you’re most ready to curse the A’mighty as lets such
things be.’

The tone of the words, and the words themselves, told Litvinoff that
the man’s icy distrust of him had melted in the warmth of admiring
sympathy.

‘Ah! here comes Mr Roland,’ he said a minute after, as a tall figure
came in sight; ‘he’ll show you now. My nearest way’s over here,’
pointing to one of those uncertain erections of loose stones which do
duty for walls in that part of the country. ‘Ah hope Ah shall see you
again. If you have nothing better to do any time I shall be right glad
to see you at our place. Any one at Thornsett’ll tell you where I live.
My name’s Hatfield–John Hatfield.’

‘As I thought,’ said Litvinoff, as he advanced to meet Roland, and to
receive his profuse regrets at the sudden casting of a shoe, which had
prevented the mare from getting to the station with the dog-cart, which
ought to have been in attendance. ‘But come along,’ he said; ‘it’s
a jolly day for a walk, and I’ll send down for your things as soon
as we get home. That was John Hatfield you were with. He’s rather a
character.’

‘He seems to be one of us,’ said Litvinoff, as they walked on together.

‘How do you mean?’

‘He doesn’t appear to be particularly satisfied with the present
system.’

‘No; and he has good wages too,–nearly two pounds a week.’

‘Affluence,’ said Litvinoff.

‘Ah, well,’ said Roland, laughing–‘it’s very good as things go–but he
has some reason for hating his betters.’

‘Some reason besides the two pounds a week, do you mean?’

‘Yes; his daughter, an awfully pretty, nice girl, made a fool of
herself–but I’ll tell you about that some other time. Shall we go this
way? It is a little longer, but it leads round by Aspinshaw, and I want
to call there to ask after Mrs Stanley; she has a cold. Old Stanley
will be delighted to see you; he’s always talking about you. I don’t
know how he stands your revolutionary ideas.’

Litvinoff laughed.

‘I never air them to him. I never talk revolution unless there is some
chance of making a convert; but some things are too impossible, and Mr
Stanley as a revolutionist is not to be conceived.’

‘Miss Stanley seems to be quite a convert, however, although she always
had a leaning that way. But I don’t think the conversion is a star
in your crown. She lays the credit of it to some man–I forget his
name–whom she heard in town. I suppose you know him?’

‘Ah, yes; I remember Miss Stanley took me down splendidly one morning
by saying that _now_ she understood our views, thanks to this man
Petrovitch. And I, who had been vainly flattering myself that I had
made them intelligible to her!’

‘By George, yes!’ said Roland, secretly pleased. ‘That was rather a
facer. But then she didn’t hear you at the Agora. Is this Petrovitch a
gentleman?’

‘Upon my word, I don’t know. It seems he knows me, but somehow or other
we never seem to meet. It is not impossible that I may have known him
under some other name. I must ask Miss Stanley to describe him to me.’

‘Oh, she’ll do that with a great deal of pleasure,’ said Roland; ‘it’s
her great topic at present. That’s Aspinshaw, over there to the right.’

It was a very pretty house, and somehow managed to escape, even at
this dreary season, such dreariness as hung over Thornsett Edge,
though it was built of the same grey stone, and had the same moorland
background. There was a good deal of ivy about it, and the grounds were
less regular and more full of evergreens and shrubs than the Ferriers’
garden.

As the two young men walked up the private road they heard from the
rear of the house a confused barking of dogs, and above the noise a
girl’s clear voice, raised in vain endeavour to still the joyful tumult.

‘La belle Clare,’ Litvinoff spoke softly, raising his hat as though he
saw her, and quickening his pace a little.

‘Shall we go round this way?’ said Roland; ‘we don’t stand on ceremony
with each other down here.’

‘By all means,’ said Litvinoff, and they turned into the stable-yard,
passing down by the laurel hedge that alone divided it from the garden.

‘By God! what’s that?’ cried the Count, suddenly stopping; and then
both men sprang through the hedge. No time to go round now, for there
had been the sharp report of a gun, a woman’s shriek, and a heavy fall.