‘I’ll not say a word. Go on.’
‘Did ye see Dudley?’
‘I think I saw him getting up the ladder.’
’In the mill? Ha! that’s him. He never went beyond Todcaster. He staid in Feltram after.’
It was my turn to look pale now. My worst conjecture was established.
’That’s a bad un, he is—oh, Miss, Miss Maud! It’s nout that’s good as keeps him an’ fayther—(mind, lass, ye promised you would not tell no one)—as keeps them two a-talkin’ and a-smokin’ secret-like together in the mill. An’ fayther don’t know I found him out. They don’t let me into the town, but Brice tells me, and he knows it’s Dudley; and it’s nout that’s good, but summat very bad. An’ I reckon, Miss, it’s all about you. Be ye frightened, Miss Maud?’
I felt on the point of fainting, but I rallied.
’Not much, Meg. Go on, for Heaven’s sake. Does Uncle Silas know he is here?’
’Well, Miss, they were with him, Brice told me, from eleven o’clock to nigh one o’ Tuesday night, an’ went in and come out like thieves, ’feard ye’d see ’em.’
‘And how does Brice know anything bad?’ I asked, with a strange freezing sensation creeping from my heels to my head and down again—I am sure deadly pale, but speaking very collectedly.
‘Brice said, Miss, he saw Dudley a-cryin’ and lookin’ awful black, and says he to fayther, “‘Tisn’t in my line nohow, an’ I can’t;” and says fayther to he, “No one likes they soart o’ things, but how can ye help it? The old boy’s behind ye wi’ his pitchfork, and ye canna stop.” An’ wi’ that he bethought him o’ Brice, and says he, “What be ye a-doin’ there? Get ye down wi’ the nags to blacksmith, do ye.” An’ oop gits Dudley, pullin’ his hat ower his brows, an’ says he, “I wish I was in the Seamew. I’m good for nout wi’ this thing a-hangin’ ower me.” An’ that’s all as Brice heard. An’ he’s afeard o’ fayther and Dudley awful. Dudley could lick him to pot if he crossed him, and he and fayther ‘ud think nout o’ havin’ him afore the justices for poachin’, and swearin’ him into gaol.’
‘But why does he think it’s about me?’
‘Hish!’ said Meg, who fancied she heard a sound, but all was quiet. ’I can’t say—we’re in danger, lass. I don’t know why—but he does, an’ so do I, an’, for that matter, so do ye.’
‘Meg, I’ll leave Bartram.’
‘Can’t. What do you mean, girl?’
’They won’t let ye oot. The gates is all locked. They’ve dogs—they’ve bloodhounds, Brice says. Ye can’t git oot, mind; put that oot o’ your head.