Read CHAPTER FIVE - THE SEARCH PARTY. of Will of the Mill , free online book, by George Manville Fenn, on

“Master Will has not been back, sir,” said the servant, when Mr Willows inquired towards evening as to the whereabouts of his son.

“But,” he said to himself, “he was going to fetch that artist.  Oh, he will be all right.”

Yet as evening wore on the mill-owner began to feel anxious, and his anxiety caused him to take his hat and stick and walk up to the Vicarage.

“Will?” said the Vicar, “No.  Isn’t he at the mill?”

“No ­nor Josh.”

“Ah!” said the Vicar.  “I have not seen either of them all day.”

“Humph!  They ought to be able to take care of themselves by this time.  But I shall go on to Drinkwater’s cottage and inquire.”

“I’ll come with you,” said the Vicar, eagerly, and he took his hat off its peg in the square-shaped wainscotted hall.  “Our two lads,” he said, as they walked quickly along the road to the cottage, “are so much together that I always feel that when Josh is out he is sure to be at the mill.  That is why I never feel particularly surprised when he does not come back to meals.”

“Just so; but they are so ready to be up to mischief that I am beginning to be afraid.  Ah! at last,” continued Mr Willows, with a sigh, as they reached the cottage, where lights shone already through the white-curtained windows.

He passed through the nicely kept garden and knocked at the door, which was opened by Mrs Drinkwater, who curtseyed when she saw who her visitors were.

“Have you seen my son, Mrs Drinkwater?” asked Mr Willows.  “Did he come here to-day to see Mr Manners?”

“Yes, sir; this morning,” said the woman, making way for the two visitors to enter the neatly furnished sitting-room, where supper was on the way.

“Oh! this morning?  But I am disturbing you at supper.  Evening, James,” he said, as he and his companion entered the room, to see Drinkwater, who was just finishing his meal.

“Good-evening, sir.  Disturbing me?  No matter, master,” said the man, rising and standing facing the newcomers, with one hand on the table.  “So Master Will was here this morning, wife?”

“Yes, yes,” cried the woman; “as I say.  He and Mr Josh came down together.  They were looking for Mr Manners then, and seemed disappointed-like that he was out.”

“Of course,” said the mill-owner; “of course.  They would be.  They wanted the artist to come to the mill.  Well, well!  And afterwards what happened?”

“Well, sir, Mr Manners had gone, and that’s all I know, sir.  The two young gentlemen went away together.”

“They went to look for him, naturally.  But where had he gone?”

“He was going to the Tor, sir.  He went away early, with his canvas and things, to paint a picture.”

“You hear, Carlile?  Something must have happened, or they would have been back by now.  We must go.  Look here, Drinkwater, you will come with us?”

“Yes, master,” said the man, with surly readiness.

“It may be some accident,” continued Mr Willows.

“Oh, I pray not, sir,” said the woman.  “Those two dear lads, and Mr Manners, who is always so cheerful!”

“Come then,” cried Mr Willows.  “What are you looking for?”

“Rope, sir,” said the man, gruffly.  “It may be useful ­and a lantern.  We shall want it at least;” and as he spoke the words he pulled out of the chest over which he had been stooping a coil of hempen rope.  He then took a little lantern from a ledge and lit it.  “Now I am ready, master.”

“You are an excellent fellow, Drinkwater,” said the mill-owner, clapping his hand on the other’s shoulder, as they stepped out.

“Nay, nay, master,” said the man.  “I have the bad fits on me sometimes, and bad they are.”

“Bad fits?” said Mr Willows, in a puzzled way.  “What do you mean?”

The man nodded.

“Yes,” he said, “yes.  That’s what they are.  I can’t help them, master.”

“Oh,” said the mill-owner; “you must try.”

The bright light from the cottage door, at which the woman stood watching them, streamed out and lit up their path for a few steps.  Then they were in the pitch darkness, and in danger of completely losing their way, for it was rough broken country that lay between the little settlement and the Tor.  In that district villages were few and far between, and beyond Beldale there was uncultivated land for many miles.

“They would be sure to come back this way, wouldn’t they?” asked Mr Willows.  “Don’t you think so, James?”

“Pretty nigh certain, master,” was the response, and the man held the lantern aloft and glanced round.  “It’s a rough enough way and no mistake, if you can call it a way; but it’s the only one I knows of.  But don’t you fret, sir.  Master Will can take care of himself, and as for Mr Manners, he’s big enough, while Master Josh is a handy one too, They are sure to be all right, sir, take my word for it.”

“Yes,” said Mr Willows; “but there are many dangerous places there out in the wilds, and boys are over-venturesome.”

“Humph!  The swamp?  Ay,” said the man, thoughtfully.  “Yes, to be sure.  But we shall find them, never fear.”

The Great Tor looked quite near at times, in the daylight, but that was merely base deception on the part of the atmosphere, for it was quite a long way, while now, at night, it was not to be seen at all.  It was on the tip of John Willows’ tongue several times to ask Drinkwater if he were sure, but he reflected what would be the use?  For the man was plodding steadily on, and the tiny rays of his lantern fell on the rough grass and stones.  Evidently he knew quite well what he was about, for there was a certainty in his movements ­never any hesitation.

“Suppose,” said the Vicar, “that they have gone back home another way.”

“Aren’t no use supposing, sir.  I don’t think as they have,” said the man, quietly.  “This ’ere’s the only safe way through the bog.”

“Very well,” said Mr Willows, shortly.  “We must just press on.  I wish Mr Manners wouldn’t lead our lads so far afield.”

“Yet, if they followed him ­” said the Vicar.

“Ah, yes, to be sure.  He strikes one as being a good reliable man.  Ah!” And he gave a snatch at the Vicar’s arm.  “I was nearly down that time.  Terribly rough.”

“Terribly,” was the reply.  “Drinkwater!”

“Yes, sir.”

“Let us keep one each side of you.  It is so dark, and the lantern will help us better that way.”