Personally, Fortescue was known but to the very few, but his methods were known to all. He paid them generously, but he ruled them with a rigid discipline that knew no relaxation. It was murmured that Fletcher Hill—the hated police-magistrate—was at his back, for he never failed to visit the mine when his duty took him in that direction, and there was something of military precision in its management which was strongly reminiscent of his forbidding personality. It was Fletcher Hill who meted out punishment to the transgressors who were brought before him at the police-court at Trelevan, and his treatment was usually swift and unsparing. No prisoner ever expected mercy from him.
He was hated at the mine with a fierce hatred, in which Fortescue had but a very minor share. It was recognized that Fortescue’s methods were of a decent order, though his lack of personal interest was resented, and also his friendship with Fletcher Hill, which some even declared to be a partnership. The only point in his favour was the fact that Bill Warden knew the man and never failed to stand up for him. For some reason Warden possessed an enormous influence over the men. His elevation to the sub-managership had been highly popular, and his projected promotion to the post of manager, now filled by Harley, gave them immense satisfaction. He had the instincts of a sportsman and knew how to handle them, and a personality, that was certainly magnetic, did the rest.
Harley had a certain following, but the general feeling towards him was one of contempt. Most men recognized that he was nothing but a self-seeker, and there were few who trusted him. He did his best to achieve popularity, but his efforts were too obvious. Bill Warden’s breezy indifference held an infinitely greater appeal in the eyes of the crowd.
Harley’s resignation was of his own choosing. He declared himself in need of a rest, and no one attempted to persuade him otherwise. His day was over, and Warden’s succession to the post seemed an inevitable sequence. As Hill sardonically remarked, there was no other competitor for the chieftainship of that band of cutthroats.
For some reason he had postponed his departure till after Hill’s official visit to Trelevan. He and Warden shared the largest house in the miners’ colony in Barren Valley. It was close to the mine at the end of the valley, and part of it was used as the manager’s office. It overlooked the yellow torrent and the black wall of mountain beyond—a savage prospect that might have been hewn from the crater of a dead volcano.
A rough track led to it, winding some twenty feet above the stream, and up this track Fletcher Hill drove the two visitors on the evening of the day succeeding their arrival at Trelevan.
There was a deadness of atmosphere between those rocky walls that struck chill even to Adela’s inconsequent soul. “What a ghastly place!” she commented. “I should think Ezekiel’s valley of dry bones must have been something like this.”