Patience Wins; or, War in the Works, by George Manville Fenn.
The boy hero of the book, his father and his three uncles live in Canonbury, London, and run a factory in Bermondsey, the other side of the Thames in London. But they feel they need to expand, and they buy a steel working business in the North of England. Here they try to introduce various profitable practices, such as improved methods for working the steel, and various ingenious and new items of factory equipment.
But these new ideas are objected-to by the Trades Unions, and the despicable behaviour of the work-force is due to this attitude. All sorts of the most dreadful and wicked deeds are perpetrated, and unpleasant things are done to the few workmen who seem to be coming round to sense. The Uncles reflect on how much more amenable and sensible a London workforce would have been in the same circumstances. But eventually various incidents occur in which it can be seen what excellent people the hero and his Uncles really are, and the whole town starts to welcome them. Hence the title of the book—"Patience Wins".
It's not a long book, but there is plenty of action. It is not in the general tradition of Manville Fenn books, but it is a very good read.
PATIENCE WINS; OR, WAR IN THE WORKS, BY GEORGE MANVILLE FENN.
A FAMILY COUNCIL.
"I say, Uncle Dick, do tell me what sort of a place it is."
"Oh, you'll see when you get there!"
"Uncle Jack, you tell me then; what's it like?"
"Like! What, Arrowfield? Ask Uncle Bob."
"There, Uncle Bob, I'm to ask you. Do tell me what sort of a place it is?"
"Get out, you young nuisance!"
"What a shame!" I said. "Here are you three great clever men, who know all about it; you've been down half a dozen times, and yet you won't answer a civil question when you are asked."
I looked in an ill-used way at my three uncles, as they sat at the table covered with papers; and except that one would be a little darker than the other, I could not help thinking how very much they were alike, and at the same time like my father, only that he had some grey coming at the sides of his head. They were all big fine-looking men between thirty and forty, stern enough when they were busy, but wonderfully good-tempered and full of fun when business was over; and I'm afraid they spoiled me.
When, as I say, business was over, they were ready for anything with me, and though I had a great feeling of reverence, almost dread, for my father, my three big uncles always seemed to me like companions, and they treated me as if I were their equal.
Cricket! Ah! Many's the game we've had together. They'd take me fishing, and give me the best pitch, and see that I caught fish if they did not.
Tops, marbles, kite-flying, football; insect and egg collecting; geology, botany, chemistry; they were at home with all, and I shared in the game or pursuit as eagerly as they.
I've known the time when they'd charge into the room at Canonbury, where I was busy with the private tutor—for I did not go to school—with "Mr Headley, Mr Russell would like to speak to you;" and as soon as he had left the room, seize hold of me, and drag me out of my chair with, "Come along, Cob: work's closed for the day. Country!"
Then away we'd go for a delicious day's collecting, or something of the kind.
They used to call it slackening their bands, and mine.
Time had glided on very happily till I was sixteen, and there was some talk of my being sent to a great engineer's establishment for five or six years to learn all I could before being taken on at our own place in Bermondsey, where Russell and Company carried on business, and knocked copper and brass and tin about, and made bronze, and gun-metal, and did a great deal for other firms with furnaces, and forges, and steam-engines, wheels, and lathes.
My father was "Russell"—Alexander—and Uncle Dick, Uncle Jack, and Uncle Bob were "Company." The business, as I say, was in Bermondsey, but we lived together and didn't live together at Canonbury.
That sounds curious, but I'll explain:—We had two houses next door to each other. Captain's quarters, and the barracks.
My father's house was the Captain's quarters, where I lived with my mother and sister. The next door, where my uncles were, they called the barracks, where they had their bedrooms and sitting-room; but they took all their meals at our table.
As I said before things had gone on very happily till I was sixteen—a big sturdy ugly boy.
Uncle Dick said I was the ugliest boy he knew.
Uncle Jack said I was the most stupid.
Uncle Bob said I was the most ignorant.
But we were the best of friends all the same.
And now after a great deal of discussion with my father, and several visits, my three uncles were seated at the table, and I had asked them about Arrowfield, and you have read their answers.
I attacked them again.
"Oh, I say," I cried, "don't talk to a fellow as if he were a little boy! Come, Uncle Dick, what sort of a place is Arrowfield?"
"Land of fire."
"Oh!" I cried. "Is it, Uncle Jack?"
"Land of smoke."
"Land of fire and smoke!" I cried excitedly. "Uncle Bob, are they making fun of me?"
"Land of noise, and gloom, and fog," said Uncle Bob. "A horrible place in a hole."
"And are we going there?"
"Don't know," said Uncle Bob. "Wait and see."
They went on with their drawings and calculations, and I sat by the fire in the barrack room, that is, in their sitting-room, trying to read, but with my head in a whirl of excitement about Arrowfield, when my father came in, laid his hand on my head, and turned to my uncles.
"Well, boys," he said, "how do you bring it in? What's to be done?"
"Sit down, and let's settle it, Alick," said Uncle Dick, leaning back and spreading his big beard all over his chest.
"Ah, do!" cried Uncle Jack, rubbing his curly head.
"Once and for all," said Uncle Bob, drawing his chair forward, stooping down, taking up his left leg and holding it across his right knee.
My father drew forward an easy-chair, looking very serious, and resting his hand on the back before sitting down, he said without looking at me:
"Go to your mother and sister, Jacob."
I rose quickly, but with my forehead wrinkling all over, and I turned a pitiful look on my three uncles.
"What are you going to send him away for?" said Uncle Dick.
"Because this is not boys' business."
"Oh, nonsense!" said Uncle Jack. "He'll be as interested in it as we are."
"Yes, let him stop and hear," said Uncle Bob.
"Very good. I'm agreeable," said my father. "Sit down, Jacob."
I darted a grateful look at my uncles, spreading it round so that they all had a glance, and dropped back into my seat.
"Well," said my father, "am I to speak?"
This was in chorus; and my father sat thinking for a few minutes, during which I exchanged looks and nods with my uncles, all of which was very satisfactory.
"Well," said my father at last, "to put it in short, plain English, we four have each our little capital embarked in our works."
Here there were three nods.
"We've all tried everything we knew to make the place a success, but year after year goes by and we find ourselves worse off. In three more bad years we shall be ruined."
"And Jacob will have to set to work and keep us all," said Uncle Dick.
My father looked round at me and nodded, smiling sadly, and I could see that he was in great trouble.
"Here is our position, then, boys: Grandison and Company are waiting for our answer in Bermondsey. They'll buy everything as it stands at a fair valuation; that's one half. The other is: the agents at Arrowfield are waiting also for our answer about the works to let there."
Here he paused for a few moments and then went on:
"We must look the matter full in the face. If we stay as we are the trade is so depreciating that we shall be ruined. If we go to Arrowfield we shall have to begin entirely afresh; to fight against a great many difficulties; the workmen there are ready to strike, to turn upon you and destroy."
Uncle Dick made believe to spit in his hands.
"To commit outrages."
Uncle Jack tucked up his sleeves.
"And ratten and blow up."
Uncle Bob half took off his coat.
"In short, boys, we shall have a terribly hard fight; but there is ten times the opening there, and we may make a great success. That is our position, in short," said my father. "What do you say?"
My three uncles looked hard at him and then at one another, seemed to read each other's eyes, and turned back to him.
"You're oldest, Alick, and head of the firm," said Uncle Dick; "settle it."
"No," said my father, "it shall be settled by you three."
"I know what I think," said Uncle Jack; "but I'd rather you'd say."
"My mind's made up," said Uncle Bob, "but I don't want to be speaker. You settle it, Alick."
"No," said my father; "I have laid the case before you three, who have equal stakes in the risk, and you shall settle the matter."
There was a dead silence in the room, which was so still that the sputtering noise made by the big lamp and the tinkle of a few cinders that fell from the fire sounded painfully loud. They looked at each other, but no one spoke, till Uncle Dick had fidgeted about in his chair for some time, and then, giving his big beard a twitch, he bent forward.
I heard my other uncles sigh as if they were relieved, and they sat back farther in their seats listening for what Uncle Dick, who was the eldest, might wish to say.
"Look here," he cried at last.
Everybody did look there, but saw nothing but Uncle Dick, who kept tugging at one lock of his beard, as if that was the string that would let loose a whole shower-bath of words.
"Well!" he said, and there was another pause.
"Here," he cried, as if seized by a sudden fit of inspiration, "let's hear what Cob has to say."
"Bravo! Hear, hear, hear!" cried my two uncles in chorus, and Uncle Dick smiled and nodded and looked as if he felt highly satisfied with himself; while I, with a face that seemed to be all on fire, jumped up excitedly and cried:
"Let's all go and begin again."
"That's it—that settles it," cried Uncle Bob.
"Yes, yes," said Uncle Dick and Uncle Jack. "He's quite right. We'll go."
Then all three beat upon the table with book and pencil and compasses, and cried, "Hear, hear, hear!" while I shrank back into my chair, and felt half ashamed of myself as I glanced at my father and wondered whether he was angry on account of what I had proposed.
"That is settled then," he said quietly. "Jacob has been your spokesman; and now let me add my opinion that you have taken the right course. What I propose is this, that one of us stays and carries on the business here till the others have got the Arrowfield affair in full swing. Who will stay?"
There was no answer.
"Shall I?" said my father.
"Yes, if you will," they chorused.
"Very good," said my father. "I am glad to do so, for that will give me plenty of time to make arrangements for Jacob here."
"But he must go with us," said Uncle Dick.
"Yes, of course," said Uncle Jack.
"Couldn't go without him."
"But his education as an engineer?"
"Now, look here, Alick," said Uncle Dick, "don't you think he'll learn as much with us down at the new works as in any London place?"
My father sat silent and thoughtful, while I watched the play of his countenance and trembled as I saw how he was on the balance. For it would have been terrible to me to have gone away now just as a new life of excitement and adventure was opening out.
"Do you really feel that you would like Jacob to go with you?" said my father at last.
There was a unanimous "Yes!" at this, and my heart gave a jump.
"Well, then," said my father, "he shall go."
That settled the business, except a general shaking of hands, for we were all delighted, little thinking, in our innocence, of the troubles, the perils, and the dangers through which we should have to go.
A FIERY PLACE.
No time was lost. The agreements were signed, and Uncle Dick packed up his traps, as he called them, that is to say, his books, clothes, and models and contrivances, so as to go down at once, take possession of the works, and get apartments for us.
I should have liked to go with him, but I had to stay for another week, and then, after a hearty farewell, we others started, my father, mother, and sister seeing us off by rail; and until I saw the trees, hedges, and houses seeming to fly by me I could hardly believe that we were really on our way.
Of course I felt a little low-spirited at leaving home, and I was a little angry with myself for seeming to be so glad to get away from those who had been so patient and kind, but I soon found myself arguing that it would have been just the same if I had left home only to go to some business place in London. Still I was looking very gloomy when Uncle Jack clapped me on the shoulder, and asked me if I didn't feel like beginning to be a man.
"No," I said sadly, as I looked out of the window at the flying landscape, so that he should not see my face. "I feel more as if I was beginning to be a great girl."
"Nonsense!" said Uncle Bob; "you're going to be a man now, and help us."
"Am I?" said I sadly.
"To be sure you are. There, put that gloomy face in your pocket and learn geography."
They both chatted to me, and I felt a little better, but anything but cheerful, for it was my first time of leaving home. I looked at the landscape, and the towns and churches we passed, but nothing seemed to interest me till, well on in my journey, I saw a sort of wooden tower close to the line, with a wheel standing half out of the top. There was an engine-house close by—there was no doubt about it, for I could see the puffs of white steam at the top, and a chimney. There was a great mound of black slate and rubbish by the end; but even though the railway had a siding close up to it, and a number of trucks were standing waiting, I did not realise what the place was till Uncle Jack said:
"First time you've seen a coal-pit, eh?"
"Is that a coal-pit?" I said, looking at the place more eagerly.
"Those are the works. Of course you can't see the shaft, because that's only like a big square well."
"But I thought it would be a much more interesting place," I said.
"Interesting enough down below; but of course there is nothing to see at the top but the engine, cage, and mouth of the shaft."
That brightened me up at once. There was something to think about in connection with a coal-mine—the great deep shaft, the cage going up and down, the miners with their safety-lamps and picks. I saw it all in imagination as we dashed by another and another mine. Then I began to think about the accidents of which I had read; when men unfastened their wire-gauze lamps, so that they might do that which was forbidden in a mine, smoke their pipes. The match struck or the opened lamp set fire to the gas, when there was an awful explosion, and after that the terrible dangers of the after-damp, that fearful foul air which no man could breathe for long and live.
There were hundreds of thoughts like this to take my attention as we raced on by the fast train till, to my surprise, I found that it was getting dark, and the day had passed.
"Here we are close to it," said Uncle Jack; "look, my lad."
I gazed out of the window on our right as the train glided on, to see the glare as of a city on fire: the glow of a dull red flickered and danced upon the dense clouds that overhung the place. Tall chimneys stood up like black stakes or posts set up in the reflection of open furnace doors. Here a keen bright light went straight up through the smoke with the edges exactly defined—here it was a sharp glare, there a dull red glow, and everywhere there seemed to be fire and reflection, and red or golden smoke mingled with a dull throbbing booming sound, which, faintly heard at first, grew louder and louder as the train slackened speed, and the pant and pulsation of the engine ceased.
"Isn't something dreadful the matter?" I said, as I gazed excitedly from the window.
"Matter!" said Uncle Jack laughing.
"Yes, isn't the place on fire? Look! Look! There there!"
I pointed to a fierce glare that seemed to reach up into the sky, cutting the dense cloud like millions of golden arrows shot from some mighty engine all at once.
"Yes, I see, old fellow," said Uncle Jack. "They have just tapped a furnace, and the molten metal is running into the moulds, that's all."
"But the whole town looks as if it were in a blaze," I said nervously.
"So did our works sometimes, didn't they? Well, here we are in a town where there are hundreds upon hundreds of works ten times as big as ours. Nearly everybody is either forging, or casting, or grinding. The place is full of steam-engines, while the quantity of coal that is burnt here every day must be prodigious. Aha! Here's Uncle Dick."
He had caught sight of us before we saw him, and threw open the carriage-door ready to half haul us out, as he shook hands as if we had not met for months.
"That's right," he cried. "I am glad you've come. I've a cab waiting. Here, porter, lay hold of this baggage. Well, Cob, what do you think of Arrowfield?"
"Looks horrible," I said in the disappointed tones of one who is tired and hungry.
"Yes, outside," said Uncle Dick; "but wait till you see the inside."
Uncle Dick was soon standing in what he called the inside of Arrowfield—that is to say the inside of the comfortable furnished lodgings he had taken right up a hill, where, over a cosy tea-table with hot country cakes and the juiciest of hot mutton chops, I soon forgot the wearisome nature of our journey, and the dismal look of the town.
"Eat away, my boys," cried Uncle Dick. "Yeat, as they call it here. The place is all right; everything ready for work, and we'll set to with stout hearts, and make up for lost time."
"When do we begin, uncle—to-morrow?"
"No, no: not till next Monday morning. To-morrow we'll have a look over the works, and then we'll idle a bit—have a few runs into the country round, and see what it's like."
"Black dismal place," I said dolefully.
"Says he's tired out and wants to go to bed," said Uncle Jack, giving his eye a peculiar cock at his brothers.
"I didn't," I cried.
"Not in words, my fine fellow, but you looked it."
"Then I won't look so again," I cried. "I say, don't talk to me as if I were a little boy to be sent to bed."
"Well, you're not a man yet, Cob. Is he, boys?"
Uncle Dick was in high spirits, and he took up a candle and held it close to my cheek.
"What's the matter?" I said. "Is it black? I shouldn't wonder."
"Not a bit, Cob," he said seriously. "You can't even see a bit of the finest down growing."
"Oh, I say," I cried, "it's too bad! I don't pretend to be a man at sixteen; but now I've come down here to help you in the new works, you oughtn't to treat me as if I were a little boy."
"Avast joking!" said Uncle Dick quietly, for the comely landlady came in to clear away the tea-things, and she had just finished when there was a double knock at the front door.
We heard it opened, and a deep voice speaking, and directly after the landlady came in with a card.
"Mr Tomplin, gentlemen," she said. "He's at the door, and I was to say that if it was inconvenient for you to see him to-night, perhaps you would call at his office when you were down the town."
"Oh, ask him in, Mrs Stephenson," cried Uncle Dick; and as she left the room—"it's the solicitor to whom I brought the letter of introduction from the bank."
It was a short dark man in black coat and waistcoat and pepper-and-salt trousers who was shown in. He had little sharp eyes that seemed to glitter. So did his hair, which was of light-grey, and stood up all over his head as if it was on white fire. He had not a particle of hair on his face, which looked as if he was a very good customer to the barber.
He shook hands very heartily with all of us, nodding pleasantly the while; and when he sat down he took out a brown-and-yellow silk handkerchief and blew his nose like a horn.
"Welcome to Yorkshire, gentlemen!" he said. "My old friends at the bank send me a very warm letter of recommendation about you, and I'm at your service. Professional consultations at the usual fee, six and eight or thirteen and four, according to length. Friendly consultations—Thank you, I'm much obliged. This is a friendly consultation. Now what can I do for you?"
He looked round at us all, and I felt favourably impressed. So did my uncles, as Uncle Dick answered for all.
"Nothing at present, sir. By and by we shall be glad to come to you for legal and friendly advice too."
"That's right," said Mr Tomplin. "You've taken the Rivulet Works, I hear."
"Yes, down there by the stream."
"What are you going to do?—carry on the old forging and grinding?"
"Oh, dear, no!" said Uncle Dick. "We are going in for odds and ends, sir. To introduce, I hope, a good many improvements in several branches of the trades carried on here, principally in forging."
Mr Tomplin drew in his lips and filled his face with wrinkles.
"Going to introduce new inventions, eh?" he said.
"Yes, sir, but only one at a time," said Uncle Jack.
"And have you brought a regiment of soldiers with you, gentlemen?"
"Brought a what?" said Uncle Bob, laughing.
"Regiment of soldiers, sir, and a company of artillerymen with a couple of guns."
"Ha! Ha! Ha!" laughed Uncle Dick, showing his white teeth. "Mr Tomplin means to besiege Arrowfield."
"No, I don't, my dear sir. I mean to turn your works into a fort to defend yourselves against your enemies."
"My dear sir," said Uncle Jack, "we haven't an enemy in the world."
"Not at the present moment, sir, I'll be bound," said Mr Tomplin, taking snuff, and then blowing his nose so violently that I wondered he did not have an accident with it and split the sides. "Not at the present moment, gentlemen; but as soon as it is known that you are going to introduce new kinds of machinery, our enlightened townsmen will declare you are going to take the bread out of their mouths and destroy everything you make."
"Take the bread out of their mouths, my dear Mr Tomplin!" said Uncle Jack. "Why, what we do will put bread in their mouths by making more work."
"Of course it will, my dear sirs."
"Then why should they interfere?"
"Because of their ignorance, gentlemen. They won't see it. Take my advice: there's plenty to be done by clever business men. Start some steady manufacture to employ hands as the work suggests. Only use present-day machinery if you wish to be at peace."
"We do wish to be at peace, Mr Tomplin," said Uncle Bob; "but we do not mean to let a set of ignorant workmen frighten us out of our projects."
"Hear, hear!" said Uncle Dick and Uncle Jack; and I put in a small "hear" at the end.
"Well, gentlemen, I felt it to be my duty to tell you," said Mr Tomplin, taking more snuff and making more noise. "You will have attacks made upon you to such an extent that you had better be in the bush in Queensland among the blacks."
"But not serious attacks?" said Uncle Jack. "Attempts to frighten us?"
"Attempts to frighten you! Well, you may call them that," said Mr Tomplin; "but there have been two men nearly beaten to death with sticks, one factory set on fire, and two gunpowder explosions during the past year. Take my advice, gentlemen, and don't put yourself in opposition to the workmen if you are going to settle down here."
He rose, shook hands, and went away, leaving us looking at each other across the table.
"Cheerful place Arrowfield seems to be," said Uncle Dick.
"Promises to be lively," said Uncle Jack.
"What do you say, Cob?" cried Uncle Bob. "Shall we give up, be frightened, and run away like dogs with our tails between our legs?"
"No!" I cried, thumping the table with my fist. "I wouldn't be frightened out of anything I felt to be right."
"Bravo! Bravo! Bravo!" cried my uncles.
"At least I don't think I would," I said. "Perhaps I really am a coward after all."
"Well," said Uncle Dick, "I don't feel like giving up for such a thing as this. I'd sooner buy pistols and guns and fight. It can't be so bad as the old gentleman says. He's only scaring us. There, it's ten o'clock; you fellows are tired, and we want to breakfast early and go and see the works, so let's get to bed."
We were far enough out of the smoke for our bedrooms to be beautifully white and sweet, and I was delighted with mine, as I saw what a snug little place it was. I said "Good-night!" and had shut my door, when, going to my window, I drew aside the blind, and found that I was looking right down upon the town.
"Oh!" I ejaculated, and I ran out to the next room, which was Uncle Dick's. "Look!" I cried. "Now you'll believe me. The town is on fire."
He drew up the blind, and threw up his window, when we both looked down at what seemed to be the dying out of a tremendous conflagration—dying out, save in one place, where there was a furious rush of light right up into the air, with sparks flying and flickering tongues of flame darting up and sinking down again, while the red and tawny-yellow smoke rolled away.
"On fire, Cob!" he said quietly. "Yes, the town's on fire, but in the proper way. Arrowfield is a fiery place—all furnaces. There's nothing the matter, lad."
"But there! There!" I cried, "where the sparks are roaring and rushing out with all that flame."
"There! Oh! That's nothing, my boy. The town is always like this."
"But you don't see where I mean," I cried, still doubting, and pointing down to our right.
"Oh, yes! I do, my dear boy. That is where they are making the Bessemer steel."
A BAD BEGINNING.
I thought when I lay down, after putting out my candle, that I should never get a wink of sleep. There was a dull glow upon my window-blind, and I could hear a distant clangour and a curious faint roar; but all at once, so it seemed to me, I opened my eyes, and the dull glow had given place to bright sunshine on my window-blind, and jumping out of bed I found that I had slept heartily till nearly breakfast time, for the chinking of cups in saucers fell upon my ear.
I looked out of the window, and there lay the town with the smoke hanging over it in a dense cloud, but the banging of a wash-jug against a basin warned me that Uncle Dick was on the move, and the next moment tap, tap, tap, came three blows on my wall, which I knew as well as could be were given with the edge of a hair-brush, and I replied in the same way.
"Ha, ha!" cried Uncle Bob, "if they are going to give us fried ham like that for breakfast—"
"And such eggs!" cried Uncle Jack.
"And such bread!" said Uncle Dick, hewing off a great slice.
"And such coffee and milk!" I said, taking up the idea that I was sure was coming, "we won't go back to London."
"Right!" said Uncle Dick. "Bah! Just as if we were going to be frightened away by a set of old women's tales. They've got police here, and laws."
The matter was discussed until breakfast was over, and by that time my three giants of uncles had decided that they would not stir for an army of discontented workmen, but would do their duty to themselves and their partner in London.
"But look here, boys," said Uncle Dick; "if we are going to war, we don't want women in the way."
"No," said Uncle Jack.
"So you had better write and tell Alick to keep on the old place till the company must have it, and by that time we shall know what we are about."
This was done directly after breakfast, and as soon as the letter had been despatched we went off to see the works.
"I shall never like this place," I said, as we went down towards the town. "London was smoky enough, but this is terrible."
"Oh, wait a bit!" said Uncle Dick, and as we strode on with me trying to take long steps to keep up with my companions, I could not help seeing how the people kept staring at them. And though there were plenty of big fine men in the town, I soon saw that my uncles stood out amongst them as being remarkable for their size and frank handsome looks. This was the more plainly to be seen, since the majority of the work-people we passed were pale, thin, and degenerate looking little men, with big muscular arms, and a general appearance of everything else having been sacrificed to make those limbs strong.
The farther we went the more unsatisfactory the town looked. We were leaving the great works to the right, and our way lay through streets and streets of dingy-looking houses all alike, and with the open channels in front foul with soapy water and the refuse which the people threw out.
I looked up with disgust painted on my face so strongly that Uncle Bob laughed.
"Here, let's get this fellow a bower somewhere by a beautiful stream," he cried, laughing. Then more seriously, "Never mind the dirt, Cob," he cried. "Dirty work brings clean money."
"Oh, I don't mind," I said. "Which way now?"
"Down here," said Uncle Dick; and he led us down a nasty dirty street, worse than any we had yet passed, and so on and on, for about half an hour, till we were once more where wheels whirred, and we could hear the harsh churring noise of blades being held upon rapidly revolving stones. Now and then, too, I caught sight of water on our right, down through lanes where houses and works were crowded together.
"Do you notice one thing, Cob?" said Uncle Dick.
"One thing!" I said; "there's so much to notice that I don't know what to look at first."
"I'll tell you what I mean," he said. "You can hear the rush and rumble of machinery, can't you?"
"Yes," I said, "like wheels whizzing and stones rolling, as if giant tinkers were grinding enormous scissors."
"Exactly," he said; "but you very seldom hear the hiss of steam out here."
"No. Have they a different kind of engines?"
"Yes, a very different kind. Your steam-engine goes because the water is made hot: these machines go with the water kept cold."
"Oh, I see! By hydraulic presses."
"No, not by hydraulic presses, Cob; by hydraulic power. Look here."
We were getting quite in the outskirts now, and on rising ground, and, drawing me on one side, he showed me that the works we were by were dependent on water-power alone.
"Why, it's like one of those old flour-mills up the country rivers," I exclaimed, "with their mill-dam, and water-wheel."
"And without the willows and lilies and silver buttercups, Cob," said Uncle Jack.
"And the great jack and chub and tench we used to fish out," said Uncle Bob.
"Yes," I said; "I suppose one would catch old saucepans, dead cats, and old shoes in a dirty pool like this."
"Yes," said Uncle Dick, "and our wheel-bands when the trades'-union people attack us."
"Why should they throw them in here?" I said, as I looked at the great deep-looking piece of water held up by a strong stone-built dam, and fed by a stream at the farther end.
"Because it would be the handiest place. These are our works."
I looked at the stone-built prison-like place in disgust. It was wonderfully strongly-built, and with small windows protected by iron bars, but such a desolate unornamental spot. It stood low down by the broad shallow stream that ran on toward the town in what must once have been the bed of the river; but the steep banks had been utilised by the builders on each side, and everywhere one saw similar-looking places so arranged that their foundation walls caught and held up the water that came down, and was directed into the dam, and trickled out at the lower end after it had turned a great slimy water-wheel. "This is our place, boys; come and have a look at it." He led us down a narrow passage half-way to the stream, and then rang at a gate in a stone wall; and while we waited low down there I looked at the high rough stone wall and the two-storied factory with its rows of strong iron-barred windows, and thought of what Mr Tomplin had said the night before, coming to the conclusion that it was a pretty strong fortress in its way. For here was a stout high wall; down along by the stream there was a high blank wall right from the stones over which the water trickled to the double row of little windows; while from the top corner by the water-wheel, which was fixed at the far end of the works, there was the dam of deep water, which acted the part of a moat, running off almost to a point where the stream came in, so that the place was about the shape of the annexed triangle: the works occupying the whole of the base, the rest being the deep stone-walled dam.
"I think we could keep out the enemy if he came," I said to Uncle Bob; and just then a short-haired, palefaced man, with bent shoulders, bare arms, and an ugly squint, opened the gate and scowled at us.
"Is your master in?" said Uncle Dick.
"No-ah," said the man sourly; "and he wean't be here to-day."
"That's a bad job," said Uncle Dick. "Well, never mind; we want to go round the works."
"Nay, yow wean't come in here."
He was in the act of banging the gate, but Uncle Dick placed one of his great brown hands against it and thrust it open, driving the man back, but only for a moment, for he flew at my uncle, caught him by the arm and waist, thrust forward a leg, and tried to throw him out by a clever wrestling trick.
But Uncle Dick was too quick for him. Wrenching himself on one side he threw his left arm over the fellow's neck, as he bent down, the right arm under his leg, and whirled him up perfectly helpless, but kicking with all his might.
"Come inside and shut that gate," said Uncle Dick, panting with his exertion. "Now look here, my fine fellow, it would serve you right if I dropped you into that dam to cool you down. But there, get on your legs," he cried contemptuously, "and learn to be civil to strangers when they come."
The scuffle and noise brought about a dozen workmen out of the place, each in wooden clogs, with a rough wet apron about him, and his sleeves rolled up nearly to the shoulder.
They came forward, looking very fierce and as if they were going to attack us, headed by the fellow with the squint, who was no sooner at liberty than he snatched up a rough piece of iron bar and rolled up his right sleeve ready for a fresh attack.
"Give me that stick, Cob," said Uncle Dick quickly; and I handed him the light Malacca cane I carried.
He had just seized it when the man raised the iron bar, and I felt sick as I saw the blow that was aimed at my uncle's head.
I need not have felt troubled though, for, big as he was, he jumped aside, avoided the bar with the greatest ease, and almost at the same moment there was a whizz and a cut like lightning delivered by Uncle Dick with my light cane.
It struck the assailant on the tendons of the leg beneath the knee, and he uttered a yell and went down as if killed.
"Coom on, lads!" cried one of the others; and they rushed towards us, headed by a heavy thick-set fellow; but no one flinched, and they hesitated as they came close up.
"Take that fellow away," said Uncle Jack sternly; "and look here, while you stay, if any gentleman comes to the gate don't send a surly dog like that."
"Who are yow? What d'ye want? Happen yow'll get some'at if yo' stay."
"I want to go round the place. I am one of the proprietors who have taken it."
"Eh, you be—be you? Here, lads, this is one o' chaps as is turning us out. We've got the wheels ti' Saturday, and we wean't hev no one here."
"No, no," rose in chorus. "Open gate, lads, and hev 'em out."
"Keep back!" said Uncle Dick, stepping forward; "keep back, unless you want to be hurt. No one is going to interfere with your rights, which end on Saturday night."
"Eh! But if it hedn't been for yow we could ha kep' on."
"Well, you'll have to get some other place," said Uncle Dick; "we want this."
He turned his back on them and spoke to his brothers, who both, knowing their great strength, which they cultivated by muscular exercise, had stood quite calm and patient, but watchful, and ready to go to their brother's aid in an instant should he need assistance.
"Come on and look round," said Uncle Dick coolly; and he did not even glance at the squinting man, who had tried to get up, but sank down again and sat grinning with pain and holding his injured leg.
The calm indifference with which my three uncles towered above the undersized, pallid-looking fellows, and walked by them to the entrance to the stone building had more effect than a score of blows, and the men stopped clustered round their companion, and talked to him in a low voice. But I was not six feet two like Uncle Bob, nor six feet one like Uncle Jack, nor six feet three like Uncle Dick. I was only an ordinary lad of sixteen, and much easier prey for their hate, and this they saw and showed.
For as I followed last, and was about to enter the door, a shower of stones and pieces of iron came whizzing about me, and falling with a rattle and clangour upon the cobble stones with which the place was paved.
Unfortunately, one piece, stone or iron, struck me on the shoulder, a heavy blow that made me feel sick, and I needed all the fortitude I could call up to hide my pain, for I was afraid to say or do anything that would cause fresh trouble.
So I followed my uncles into the spacious ground-floor of the works, all wet and dripping with the water from the grindstones which had just been left by the men, and were still whizzing round waiting to be used.
"Plenty of room here," said Uncle Dick, "and plenty of power, you see," he continued, pointing to the shaft and wheels above our heads. "Ugly-looking place this," he went on, pointing to a trap-door at the end, which he lifted; and I looked down with a shudder to see a great shaft turning slowly round; and there was a slimy set of rotten wooden steps going right down into the blackness, where the water was falling with a curiously hollow echoing sound.
As I turned from looking down I saw that the men had followed us, and the fellow with the squint seemed to have one of his unpleasant eyes fixed upon me, and he gave me a peculiar look and grin that I had good reason to remember.
"This is the way to the big wheel," said Uncle Dick, throwing open a door at the end. "They go out here to oil and repair it when it's out of gear. Nasty spot too, but there's a wonderful supply of cheap power."
With the men growling and muttering behind us we looked through into a great half-lit stone chamber that inclosed the great wheel on one side, leaving a portion visible as we had seen it from the outside; and here again I shuddered and felt uncomfortable, it seemed such a horrible place to fall into and from which there would be no escape, unless one could swim in the surging water below, and then clamber into the wheel, and climb through it like a squirrel.
The walls were dripping and green, and they echoed and seemed to whisper back to the great wheel as it turned and splashed and swung down its long arms, each doubling itself on the wall by making a moving shadow.
The place had such a fascination for me that I stood with one hand upon the door and a foot inside looking down at the faintly seen black water, listening to the echoes, and then watching the wheel as it turned, one pale spot on the rim catching my eye especially. As I watched it I saw it go down into the darkness with a tremendous sweep, with a great deal of splashing and falling of water; then after being out of sight for a few moments it came into view again, was whirled round, and dashed down.
I don't know how it was, but I felt myself thinking that suppose anyone fell into the horrible pit below me, he would swim round by the slimy walls trying to find a place to cling to, and finding none he would be swept round to the wheel, to which in his despair he would cling. Then he would be dragged out of the water, swung round, and—
"Do you hear, Cob?" cried Uncle Jack. "What is there to attract you, my lad? Come along."
I seemed to be roused out of a dream, and starting back, the door was closed, and I followed the others as they went to the far end of the great ground-floor to a door opening upon a stone staircase.
We had to pass the men, who were standing about close to their grindstones, beside which were little piles of the articles they were grinding—common knives, sickles, and scythe blades, ugly weapons if the men rose against us as they seemed disposed to do.
They muttered and talked to themselves, but they did not seem inclined to make any farther attack; while as we reached the stairs I heard the harsh shrieking of blades that were being held upon the stones, and I knew that some men must have begun work.
The upper floor was of the same size as the lower, but divided into four rooms by partitions, and here too were shafts and wheels turning from their connection with the great water-wheel. Over that a small room had been built supported by an arch stretching from the works to a stone wall, and as we looked out of the narrow iron-barred window down upon the deep dam, Uncle Bob said laughingly:
"What a place for you, Cob! You could drop a line out of the window, and catch fish like fun."
I laughed, and we all had a good look round before examining the side buildings, where there were forges and furnaces, and a tall chimney-shaft ran up quite a hundred feet.
"Plenty of room to do any amount of work," cried Uncle Jack. "I think the place a bargain."
"Yes," said Uncle Bob, "where we can carry out our inventions; and if anybody is disagreeable, we can shut ourselves up like knights in a castle and laugh at all attacks."
"Yes," said Uncle Dick thoughtfully; "but I wish we had not begun by quarrelling with those men."
"Let's try and make friends as we go out," said Uncle Jack.
It was a good proposal; and, under the impression that a gallon or two of beer would heal the sore place, we went into the big workshop or mill, where all the men had now resumed their tasks, and were grinding away as if to make up for lost time.
One man was seated alone on a stone bench, and as we entered he half turned, and I saw that it was Uncle Dick's opponent.
He looked at us for a moment and then turned scowling away.
My uncles whispered together, and then Uncle Dick stepped forward and said:
"I'm sorry we had this little upset, my lads. It all arose out of a mistake. We have taken these works, and of course wanted to look round them, but we do not wish to put you to any inconvenience. Will you—"
He stopped short, for as soon as he began to speak the men seemed to press down their blades that they were grinding harder and harder, making them send forth such a deafening churring screech that he paused quite in despair of making himself heard.
"My lads!" he said, trying again.
Not a man turned his head, and it was plain enough that they would not hear.
"Let me speak to him," said Uncle Bob, catching his brother by the arm, for Uncle Dick was going to address the man on the stone.
Uncle Dick nodded, for he felt that it would be better for someone else to speak; but the man got up, scowled at Uncle Bob, and when he held out a couple of half-crowns to him to buy beer to drink our healths the fellow made a derisive gesture, walked to his stone, and sat down.
"Just as they like," said Uncle Dick. "We apologised and behaved like gentlemen. If they choose to behave like blackguards, let them. Come along."
We turned to the door, my fate, as usual, being to come last; and as we passed through not a head was turned, every man pressing down some steel implement upon his whirling stone, and making it shriek, and, in spite of the water in which the wheel revolved, send forth a shower of sparks.
The noise was deafening, but as we passed into the yard on the way to the lane the grinding suddenly ceased, and when we had the gate well open the men had gathered at the door of the works, and gave vent to a savage hooting and yelling which continued after we had passed through, and as we went along by the side of the dam we were saluted by a shower of stones and pieces of iron thrown from the yard.
"Well," said Uncle Bob, "this is learning something with a vengeance. I didn't think we had such savages in Christian England."
By this time we were out of the reach of the men, and going on towards the top of the dam, when Uncle Dick, who had been looking very serious and thoughtful, said:
"I'm sorry, very sorry this has happened. It has set these men against us."
"No," said Uncle Jack quietly; "the mischief was done before we came. This place has been to let for a long time."
"Yes," said Uncle Bob, "that's why we got it so cheaply."
"And," continued Uncle Jack, "these fellows have had the run of the works to do their grinding for almost nothing. They were wild with us for taking the place and turning them out."
"Yes," said Uncle Dick, "that's the case, no doubt; but I'm very sorry I began by hurting that fellow all the same."
"I'm not, Uncle Dick," I said, as I compressed my lips with pain. "They are great cowards or they would not have thrown a piece of iron at me;" and I laid my hand upon my shoulder, to draw it back wet with blood.
"Bravo, Spartan!" cried Uncle Bob, as he stood looking on, when, after walking some distance, Uncle Dick insisted upon my taking off my jacket in a lane and having the place bathed.
"Oh, it's nothing," I said, "only it was tiresome for it to bleed."
"Nothing like being prepared for emergencies," said Uncle Jack, taking out his pocket-book, and from one of the pockets a piece of sticking-plaster and a pair of scissors. "I'm always cutting or pinching my fingers. Wonder whether we could have stuck Cob's head on again if it had been cut off?"
I opined not as I submitted to the rough surgery that went on, and then refusing absolutely to be treated as a sick person, and go back, I tramped on by them, mile after mile, to see something of the fine open country out to the west of the town before we settled down to work.
We were astonished, for as we got away from the smoky pit in which Arrowfield lay, we found, in following the bank of the rivulet that supplied our works, that the country was lovely and romantic too. Hill, dale, and ravine were all about us, rippling stream, hanging wood, grove and garden, with a thousand pretty views in every direction, as we climbed on to the higher ground, till at last cultivation seemed to have been left behind, and we were where the hills towered up with ragged stony tops, and their slopes all purple heather, heath, and moss.
"Look, look!" I cried, as I saw a covey of birds skim by; "partridges!"
"No," said Uncle Bob, watching where they dropped; "not partridges, my lad—grouse."
"What, here!" I said; "and so near the town."
"Near! Why we are seven or eight miles away."
"But I thought grouse were Scotch birds."
"They are birds of the moors," said Uncle Bob; "and here you have them stretching for miles all over the hills. This is about as wild a bit of country as you could see. Why, the country people here call those hills mountains."
"But are they mountains?" I said; "they don't look very high."
"Higher than you think, my lad, with precipice and ravine. Why, look— you can see the top of that one is among the clouds."
"I should have thought it was a mist resting upon it."
"Well, what is the difference?" said Uncle Bob, smiling.
Just then we reached a spot where a stream crossed the road, and the sight of the rippling water, clear as crystal, took our attention from the hills and vales that spread around. My first idea was to run down to the edge of the stream, which was so dotted with great stones that I was soon quite in the middle, looking after the shadowy shapes that I had seen dart away.
My uncles followed me, and we forgot all about the work and troubles with the rough grinders, as we searched for the trout and crept up to where we could see some good-sized, broad-tailed fellow sunning himself till he caught sight of the intruders, and darted away like a flash of light.
But Uncle Dick put a stop to our idling there, leading us back to the road and insisting upon our continuing along it for another mile.
"I want to show you our engine," he said.
"Our engine out here!" I cried. "It's some trick."
"You wait and see," he replied.
We went on through the beautiful breezy country for some distance farther, till on one side we were looking down into a valley and on the other side into a lake, and I soon found that the lake had been formed just as we schoolboys used to make a dam across a ditch or stream when we were going to bale it out and get the fish.
"Why," I cried, as we walked out on to the great embankment, "this has all been made."
"To be sure," said Uncle Dick. "Just the same as our little dam is at the works. That was formed by building a strong stone wall across a hollow streamlet; this was made by raising this great embankment right across the valley here and stopping the stream that ran through it. That's the way some of the lakes have been made in Switzerland."
"What, by men?"
"No, by nature. A great landslip takes place from the mountains, rushes down, and fills up a valley, and the water is stopped from running away."
We walked right out along what seemed like a vast railway embankment, on one side sloping right away down into the valley, where the remains of the stream that had been cut off trickled on towards Arrowfield. On the other side the slope went down into the lake of water, which stretched away toward the moorlands for quite a mile.
"This needs to be tremendously strong," said Uncle Jack thoughtfully, as we walked on till we were right in the middle and first stood looking down the valley, winding in and out, with its scattered houses, farms, and mills, and then turned to look upward towards the moorland and along the dammed-up lake.
"Why, this embankment must be a quarter of a mile long," said Uncle Jack thoughtfully.
"What a pond for fishing!" I cried, as I imagined it to be peopled by large jack and shoals of smaller fish. "How deep is it, I wonder?"
Did you ever know a boy yet who did not want to know how deep a piece of water was, when he saw it?
"Deep!" said Uncle Dick; "that's easily seen. Deep as it is from here to the bottom of the valley on the other side: eighty or ninety feet. I should say this embankment is over a hundred in perpendicular height."
"Look here," said Uncle Jack suddenly; "if I know anything about engineering, this great dam is not safe."
"Not safe!" I said nervously. "Let's get off it at once."
"I daresay it will hold to-day," said Uncle Dick dryly, "but you can run off if you like, Cob."
"Are you coming?"
"Not just at present," he said, smiling grimly.
I put my hands in my pockets and stood looking at the great embankment, which formed a level road or path of about twelve feet wide where we stood, and then sloped down, as I have said, like a railway embankment far down into the valley on our left, and to the water on our right.
"I don't care," said Uncle Jack, knitting his brows as he scanned the place well, "I say it is not safe. Here is about a quarter of a mile of earthen wall that has no natural strength for holding together like a wall of bonded stone or brick."
"But look at its weight," said Uncle Bob.
"Yes, that is its only strength—its weight; but look at the weight of the water, about a mile of water seventy or eighty feet deep just here. Perhaps only sixty. The pressure of this water against it must be tremendous."
"Of course," said Uncle Dick thoughtfully; "but you forget the shape of the wall, Jack. It is like an elongated pyramid: broad at the base and coming up nearly to a point."
"No," said Uncle Jack, "I've not forgotten all that. Of course it is all the stronger for it, the wider the base is made. But I'm not satisfied, and if I had made this dam I should have made this wall twice as thick or three times as thick; and I don't know that I should have felt satisfied with its stability then."
"Well done, old conscientious!" cried Uncle Bob, laughing. "Let's get on."
"Stop a moment," I cried. "Uncle Dick said he would show us our engine."
"Well, there it is," said Uncle Dick, pointing to the dammed-up lake. "Isn't it powerful enough for you. This reservoir was made by a water company to supply all our little dams, and keep all our mills going. It gathers the water off the moorlands, saves it up, and lets us have it in a regular supply. What would be the consequences of a burst, Jack?" he said, turning to his brother.
"Don't talk about it man," said Uncle Jack frowning. "Why, this body of water broken loose would sweep down that valley and scour everything away with it—houses, mills, rocks, all would go like corks."
"Why, it would carry away our works, then," I cried. "The place is right down by the water side."
"I hope not," said Uncle Jack. "No I should say the force would be exhausted before it got so far as that, eight or nine miles away."
"Well, it does look dangerous," said Uncle Bob. "The weight must be tremendous. How would it go if it did burst?"
"I say, uncle, I'm only a coward, please. Hadn't we better go off here?"
They all laughed, and we went on across the dam.
"How would it go!" said Uncle Jack thoughtfully. "It is impossible to say. Probably the water would eat a little hole through the top somewhere and that would rapidly grow bigger, the water pouring through in a stream, and cutting its way down till the solidity of the wall being destroyed by the continuity being broken great masses would crumble away all at once, and the pent-up waters would rush through."
"And if they came down and washed away our works just as we were making our fortunes, you would say I was to blame for taking such a dangerous place."
"There, come along," cried Uncle Bob, "don't let's meet troubles half-way. I want a ramble over those hills. There, Cob, now we're safe," he said, as we left the great dam behind. "Now, then, who's for some lunch, eh?"
This last question was suggested by the sight of a snug little village inn, where we had a hearty meal and a rest, and then tramped off to meet with an unexpected adventure among the hills.
As soon as one gets into a hilly country the feeling that comes over one is that he ought to get up higher, and I had that sensation strongly.
But what a glorious walk it was! We left the road as soon as we could and struck right away as the crow flies for one of several tremendous hills that we saw in the distance. Under our feet was the purple heath with great patches of whortleberry, that tiny shrub that bears the little purply grey fruit. Then there was short elastic wiry grass and orange-yellow bird's-foot trefoil. Anon we came to great patches of furze of a dwarf kind with small prickles, and of an elegant growth, the purple and yellow making the place look like some vast wild garden.
"We always seem to be climbing up," said Uncle Dick.
"When we are not sliding down," said Uncle Jack, laughing.
"I've been looking for a bit of level ground for a race," said Uncle Bob. "My word! What a wild place it is!"
"But how beautiful!" I cried, as we sat down on some rough blocks of stone, with the pure thyme-scented air blowing on our cheeks, larks singing above our heads, and all around the hum of insects or bees hurrying from blossom to blossom; while we saw the grasshoppers slowly climbing up to the top of some strand of grass, take a look round, and then set their spring legs in motion and take a good leap.
"What a difference in the hills!" said Uncle Jack, looking thoughtfully from some that were smooth of outline to others that were all rugged and looked as if great jagged masses of stone had been piled upon their tops.
"Yes," said Uncle Dick. "Two formations. Mountain limestone yonder; this we are on, with all these rough pieces on the surface and sticking out everywhere, is millstone-grit."
"Which is millstone-grit?" I cried.
"This," he said, taking out a little hammer and chipping one of the stones by us to show me that it was a sandstone full of hard fragments of silica. "You might open a quarry anywhere here and cut millstones, but of course some of the stone is better for the purpose than others."
"Yes," said Uncle Jack thoughtfully. "Arrowfield is famously situated for its purpose—plenty of coal for forging, plenty of water to work mills, plenty of quarries to get millstones for grinding."
"Come along," cried Uncle Bob, starting up; and before we had gone far the grouse flew, skimming away before us, and soon after we came to a lovely mountain stream that sparkled and danced as it dashed down in hundreds of little cataracts and falls.
Leaving this, though the sight of the little trout darting about was temptation enough to make me stay, we tramped on over the rugged ground, in and out among stones or piled-up rocks, now skirting or leaping boggy places dotted with cotton-rush, where the bog-roots were here green and soft, there of a delicate pinky white, where the water had been dried away.
To a London boy, accustomed to country runs among inclosed fields and hedges, or at times into a park or upon a common, this vast stretch of hilly, wild uncultivated land was glorious, and I was ready to see any wonder without surprise.
It seemed to me, as we tramped on examining the bits of stone, the herbs and flowers, that at any moment we might come upon the lair of some wild beast; and so we did over and over again, but it was not the den of wolf or bear, but of a rabbit burrowed into the sandy side of some great bank. Farther on we started a hare, which went off in its curious hopping fashion to be out of sight in a few moments.
Almost directly after, as we were clambering over a steep slope, Uncle Bob stopped short, and stood there sniffing.
"What is it?" I cried.
"Fox," he said, looking round.
"Nonsense!" cried Uncle Dick.
"You wouldn't find, eh? What a nasty, dank, sour odour!" cried Uncle Jack, in his quiet, thoughtful way.
"A fox has gone by here during the last few minutes, I'm sure," cried Uncle Bob, looking round searchingly. "I'll be bound to say he is up among those tufts of ling and has just taken refuge there. Spread out and hunt."
The tufts he pointed to were right on a ridge of the hill we were climbing, and separating we hurried up there just in time to see a little reddish animal, with long, drooping, bushy tail, run in amongst the heath fifty yards down the slope away to our left.
"That's the consequence of having a good nose," said Uncle Bob triumphantly; and now, as we were on a high eminence, we took a good look round so as to make our plans.
"Hadn't we better turn back now?" said Uncle Jack. "We shall have several hours' walk before we get to Arrowfield, and shall have done as much as Cob can manage."
"Oh, I'm not a bit tired!" I cried.
"Well," said Uncle Dick, "I think we had better go forward. I'm not very learned over the topography of the district, but if I'm not much mistaken that round hill or mountain before us is Dome Tor."
"Well?" said Uncle Jack.
"Well, I propose that we make straight for it, go over it, and then ask our way to the nearest town or village where there is a railway-station, and ride back."
"Capital!" I cried.
"Whom will you ask to direct us?" said Uncle Jack dryly.
"Ah! To be sure," said Uncle Bob. "I've seen nothing but a sheep or two for hours, and they look so horribly stupid I don't think it is of any use to ask them."
"Oh! We must meet some one if we keep on," said Uncle Dick. "What do you say? Seems a pity not to climb that hill now we are so near."
"Yes, as we are out for a holiday," said Uncle Bob. "After to-day we must put our necks in the collar and work. I vote for Dick."
"So do I," said Uncle Jack.
"Come along then, boys," cried Uncle Dick; and now we set ourselves steadily to get over the ground, taking as straight a line as we could, but having to deviate a good deal on account of streams and bogs and rough patches of stone. But it was a glorious walk, during which there was always something to examine; and at last we felt that we were steadily going up the great rounded mass known as Dome Tor.
We had not been plodding far before I found that it was entirely different to the hills we had climbed that day, for, in place of great masses of rugged, weatherworn rock, the stone we found here and there was slaty and splintery, the narrow tracks up which we walked being full of slippery fragments, making it tiresome travelling.
These tracks were evidently made by the sheep, of which we saw a few here and there, but no shepherd, no houses, nothing to break the utter solitude of the scene, and as we paused for a rest about half-way up Uncle Dick looked round at the glorious prospect, bathed in the warm glow of the setting sun.
"Ah!" he said, "this is beautiful nature. Over yonder, at Arrowfield, we shall have nature to deal with that is not beautiful. But come, boys, I want a big meat tea, and we've miles to go yet before we can get it."
We all jumped up and tramped on, with a curious sensation coming into my legs, as if the joints wanted oiling. But I said nothing, only trudged away, on and on, till at last we reached the rounded top, hot, out of breath, and glad to inhale the fresh breeze that was blowing.
The view was splendid, but the sun had set, and there were clouds beginning to gather, while, on looking round, though we could see a house here and a house there in the distance, it did not seem very clear to either of us which way we were to go.
"We are clever ones," said Uncle Dick, "starting out on a trip like this without a pocket guide and a map: never mind, our way must be west, and sooner or later we shall come to a road, and then to a village."
"But we shall never be able to reach a railway-station to-night," said Uncle Bob.
"Not unless we try," said Uncle Jack in his dry way.
"Then let's try," said Uncle Dick, "and—well, that is strange."
As we reached the top the wind had been blowing sharply in our faces, but this had ceased while we had been lying about admiring the prospect, and in place a few soft moist puffs had come from quite another quarter; and as we looked there seemed to be a cloud of white smoke starting up out of a valley below us. As we watched it we suddenly became aware of another rolling along the short rough turf and over the shaley paths. Then a patch seemed to form here, another there, and these patches appeared to be stretching out their hands to each other all round the mountain till they formed a grey bank of mist, over the top of which we could see the distant country.
"We must be moving," said Uncle Dick, "or we shall be lost in the fog. North-west must be our way, but let's push down here where the slope's easy, and get beyond the mist, and then we can see what we had better do."
He led the way, and before we could realise it the dense white steamy fog was all around us, and we could hardly see each other.
"All right!" said Uncle Dick; "keep together."
"Can you see where you are going, Dick?" said Uncle Jack.
"No, I'm as if I was blindfolded with a white crape handkerchief."
"No precipices here, are there?" I cried nervously, for it seemed so strange to be walking through this dense mist.
"No, I hope not," cried Uncle Dick out of the mist ahead. "You keep talking, and follow me, I'll answer you, or else we shall be separated, and that won't do now. All right!"
"All right!" we chorused back.
"All right!" cried Uncle Dick; "nice easy slope here, but slippery."
"All right!" we chorused.
We stopped short in horror wondering what had happened, for Uncle Dick's words seemed cut in two, there was a rustling scrambling sound, and then all was white fog and silence, broken only by our panting breath.
"Dick! Where are you?" cried Uncle Jack taking a step forward.
"Mind!" cried Uncle Bob, catching him by the arm.
It was well he did, for that was the rustling scrambling noise again falling on my ears, with a panting struggle, and two voices in the dense fog seeming to utter ejaculations of horror and dread.
A NIGHT OF ANXIETY.
I looked in the direction from which the sounds came, but there was nothing visible, save the thick white fog, and in my excitement and horror, thinking I was looking in the wrong direction, I turned sharply round.
I looked in another direction.
Then I seemed to lose my head altogether, and hurried here and there with my hands extended, completely astray.
It only took moments, swift moments, for all this to take place, and then I heard voices that I knew, but sounding muffled and as if a long way off.
"Cob! Where are you, Cob?"
"Here," I shouted. "I'll try and come."
"No, no!"—it was Uncle Jack who spoke—"don't stir for your life."
"But," I shouted, with my voice sounding as if I was covered with a blanket, "I want to come to you."
"Stop where you are," he cried. "I command you."
I stayed where I was, and the next moment a fresh voice cried to me, as if pitying my condition:
"Yes," I cried.
"There is a horrible precipice. Don't stir."
It was Uncle Bob who said this to comfort me, and make me safe from running risks, but he made me turn all of a cold perspiration, and I stood there shivering, listening to the murmur of voices that came to me in a stifled way.
At last I could bear it no longer. It seemed so strange. Only a minute or two ago we were all together on the top of a great hill admiring the prospect. Now we were separated. Then all seemed open and clear, and we were looking away for miles: now I seemed shut-in by this pale white gloom that stopped my sight, and almost my hearing, while it numbed and confused my faculties in a way that I could not have felt possible.
"Uncle Jack!" I cried, as a sudden recollection came back of a cry I had heard.
"He is not here," cried Uncle Bob. "He is trying to find a way down."
"Where is Uncle Dick?"
"Hush, boy! Don't ask."
"But, uncle, I may come to you, may I not?" I cried, trembling with the dread of what had happened, for in spite of my confused state I realised now that Uncle Dick must have fallen.
"My boy," he shouted back, "I daren't say yes. The place ends here in a terrible way. We two nearly went over, and I dare not stir, for I cannot see a yard from my feet. I am on a very steep slope too."
"But where has Uncle Jack gone then?"
"Ahoy!" came from somewhere behind me, and apparently below.
"Ahoy! Uncle Jack," I yelled.
"Ahoy, boy! I want to come to you. Keep shouting here—here—here."
I did as he bade me, and he kept answering me, and for a minute or two he seemed to be coming nearer. Then his voice sounded more distant, and more distant still; then ceased.
"Cob, I can't hear him," came from near me out of the dense gloom. "Can you?"
"No!" I said with a shiver.
"Ahoy, Jack!" roared Uncle Bob.
"Ahoy-oy!" came from a distance in a curiously stifled way.
"Give it up till the fog clears off. Stand still."
There was no reply, and once more the terrible silence seemed to cling round me. The gloom increased, and I sank on my knees, not daring to stand now, but listening, if I may say so, with all my might.
What had happened? What was going to happen? Were we to stay there all night in the darkness, shivering with cold and damp? Only a little while ago I had been tired and hot; now I did not feel the fatigue, but was shivering with cold, and my hands and face were wet.
I wanted to call out to Uncle Bob again, but the sensation came over me—the strange, wild fancy that something had happened to him, and I dared not speak for fear of finding that it was true.
All at once as I knelt there, listening intently for the slightest sound, I fancied I heard some one breathing. Then the sound stopped. Then it came nearer, and the dense mist parted, and a figure was upon me, crawling close by me without seeing me; and crying "Uncle Bob!" I started forward and caught at him as I thought. My hands seized moist wool for a moment, and then it was jerked out of my hands, as, with a frightened Baa! Its wearer bounded away.
"What's that?" came from my left and below me, in the same old suffocated tone.
"A sheep," I cried, trembling with the start the creature had given me.
"Did you see which way it went?"
"Then it must be safe your way, Cob. I'll try and crawl to you, lad, but I'm so unnerved I can hardly make up my mind to stir."
"Let me come to you," I cried.
"No, no! I'll try and get to you. Where are you?"
"Here," I cried.
"All right!" came back in answer; but matters did not seem all right, for Uncle Bob's voice suddenly seemed to grow more distant, and when I shouted to him my cry came back as if I had put my face against a wall and spoken within an inch or two thereof.
"I think we'd better give it up, Cob," he shouted now from somewhere quite different. "It is not safe to stir."
I did not think so, and determined to make an attempt to get to him.
For, now that I had grown a little used to the fog, it did not seem so appalling, though it had grown thicker and darker till I seemed quite shut-in.
"I'll stop where I am, Cob," came now as if from above me; "and I daresay in a short time the wind will rise."
I answered, but I felt as if I could not keep still. I had been scared by the sudden separation from my companions, but the startled feeling having passed away I did not realise the extent of our danger. In fact it seemed absurd for three strong men and a lad like me to be upset in this way by a mist.
Uncle Dick had had a fall, but I would not believe it had been serious. Perhaps he had only slipped down some long slope.
I crouched there in the darkness, straining my eyes to try and pierce the mist, and at last, unable to restrain my impatience, I began to crawl slowly on hands and knees in the direction whence my uncle's voice seemed to come.
I crept a yard at a time very carefully, feeling round with my hands before I ventured to move, and satisfying myself that the ground was solid all around.
It seemed so easy, and it was so impossible that I could come to any harm this way, that I grew more confident, and passing my hand over the rough shale chips that were spread around amongst the short grass, I began to wonder how my uncles could have been so timid, and not have made a brave effort to escape from our difficulty.
I kept on, growing more and more confident each moment in spite of the thick darkness that surrounded me, for it seemed so much easier than crouching there doing nothing for myself. But I went very cautiously, for I found I was on a steep slope, and that very little would have been required to send me sliding down.
Creep, creep, creep, a yard in two or three minutes, but still I was progressing somewhere, and even at this rate I thought that I could join either of my companions when I chose.
I had made up my mind to go a few yards further and then speak, feeling sure that I should be close to Uncle Bob, and that then we could go on together and find Uncle Jack.
I had just come to this conclusion, and was thrusting out my right hand again, when, as I tried to set it down, there was nothing there.
I drew it in sharply and set it down close to the other as I knelt, and then passed it slowly from me over the loose scraps of slaty stone to find it touch the edge of a bank that seemed to have been cut off perpendicularly, and on passing my hand over, it touched first soft turf and earth and then scrappy loose fragments of shale.
This did not startle me, for it appeared to be only a little depression in the ground, but thrusting out one foot I found that go over too, so that I knew I must be parallel with the edge of the trench or crack in the earth.
I picked up a piece of shale and threw it from me, listening for its fall, but no sound came, so I sat down with one leg over the depression and kicked with my heel to loosen a bit of the soil.
I was a couple of feet back, and as I kicked I felt the ground I sat upon quiver; then there was a loud rushing sound, and I threw myself down clinging with my hands, for a great piece of the edge right up to where I sat had given way and gone down, leaving me with my legs hanging over the edge, and but for my sudden effort I should have fallen.
"What was that?" cried a voice some distance above me.
"It is I, Uncle Bob," I panted. "Come and help me."
I heard a fierce drawing in of the breath, and then a low crawling sound, and little bits of stone seemed to be moved close by me.
"Where are you, boy?" came again.
"Can you crawl to me? I'm close by your head."
"No," I gasped. "If I move I'm afraid I shall fall."
There was the same fierce drawing in of the breath, the crawling sound again, and a hand touched my face, passed round it, and took a tight hold of my collar.
"Lie quite still, Cob," was whispered; "I'm going to draw you up. Now!"
I felt myself dragged up suddenly, and at the same moment the earth and stones upon which I had been lying dropped from under me with a loud hissing rushing sound, and then I was lying quite still, clinging to Uncle Bob's hand, which was very wet and cold.
"How did you come there?" he said at length.
"Crawled there, trying to get to you," I said.
"And nearly went down that fearful precipice, you foolish fellow. But there: you are safe."
"I did not know it was so dangerous," I faltered.
"Dangerous!" he cried. "It is awful in this horrible darkness. The mountain seems to have been cut in half somewhere about here, and this fog confuses so that it is impossible to stir. We must wait till it blows off I think we are safe now, but I dare not try to find a better place. Dare you?"
"Not after what I have just escaped from," I said dolefully.
"Are you cold?"
"Ye-es," I said with a shiver. "It is so damp."
"Creep close to me, then," he said. "We shall keep each other warm."
We sat like that for hours, and still the fog kept as dense as ever, only that overhead there was a faint light, which grew stronger and then died out over and over again. The stillness was awful, but I had a companion, and that made my position less painful. He would not talk, though as a rule he was very bright and chatty; now he would only say, "Wait and see;" and we waited.
The change came, after those long terrible hours of anxiety, like magic. One moment it was thick darkness; the next I felt, as it were, a feather brush across my cheek.
"Did you feel that?" I said quickly.
"Feel what, Cob?"
"Something breathing against us?"
"No—yes!" he cried joyfully. "It was the wind."
The same touch came again, but stronger. There was light above our heads. I could dimly see my companion, and then a cloud that looked white and strange in the moonlight was gliding slowly away from us over what seemed to be a vast black chasm whose edge was only a few yards away.
It was wonderful how quickly that mist departed and went skimming away into the distance, as if a great curtain were being drawn, leaving the sky sparkling with stars and the moon shining bright and clear.
"You see now the danger from which you escaped?" said Uncle Bob with a shudder.
"Yes," I said; "but did—do you think—"
He looked at me without answering, and just then there came from behind us a loud "Ahoy!"
"Ahoy!" shouted back Uncle Bob; and as we turned in the direction of the cry we could see Uncle Jack waving his white handkerchief to us, and we were soon after by his side.
They gripped hands without a word as they met, and then after a short silence Uncle Jack said:
"We had better get on and descend on the other, side."
"But Uncle Dick!" I cried impetuously; "are you not going to search for Uncle Dick?"
The brothers turned upon me quite fiercely, but neither of them spoke; and for the next hour we went stumbling on down the steep slope of the great hill, trying to keep to the sheep-tracks, which showed pretty plainly in the moonlight, but every now and then we went astray.
My uncles were wonderfully quiet, but they kept steadily on; and I did not like to break their communings, and so trudged behind them, noting that they kept as near as seemed practicable to the place where the mountain ended in a precipice; and now after some walking I could look back and see that the moon was shining full upon the face of the hill, which looked grey and as if one end had been dug right away.
On we went silently and with a settled determined aim, about which no one spoke, but perhaps thought all the more.
I know that I thought so much about the end of our quest that I kept shuddering as I trudged on, with sore feet, feeling that in a short time we should be turning sharp round to our left so as to get to the foot of the great precipice, where the hill had been gnawed away by time, and where the loose earth still kept shivering down.
It was as I expected; we turned sharp off to the left and were soon walking with our faces towards the grey-looking face, that at first looked high, but, as we went on, towered up more and more till the height seemed terrific.
It was a weary heart-rending walk before we reached the hill-like slope where the loose shaley rock and earth was ever falling to add to the debris up which we climbed.
"There's no telling exactly where he must have come over," said Uncle Jack, after we had searched about some time, expecting moment by moment to come upon the insensible form of our companion. "We must spread out more."
For we neither of us would own to the possibility of Uncle Dick being killed. For my part I imagined that he would have a broken leg, perhaps, or a sprained ankle. If he had fallen head-first he might have put out his shoulder or broken his collar-bone. I would not imagine anything worse.
The moon was not so clear now, for fleecy clouds began to sail across it and made the search more difficult, as we clambered on over the shale, which in the steepest parts gave way under our feet. But I determinedly climbed on, sure that if I got very high up I should be able to look down and see where Uncle Dick was lying.
To this end I toiled higher and higher, till I could fairly consider that I was touching the face of the mountain where the slope of debris began; and I now found that the precipice sloped too, being anything but perpendicular.
"Can you see him, Cob?" cried Uncle Jack from below.
"No," I said despondently.
"Stay where you are," he cried again, "quite still."
That was impossible, for where I stood the shale was so small and loose that I was sliding down slowly; but I made very little noise, and just then Uncle Jack uttered a tremendous—
There was a pause and he shouted again:
"Ahoy!" came back faintly from somewhere a long way off.
"There he is!" I cried.
"No—an echo," said Uncle Jack. "Ahoy!"
"Ahoy!" came back.
"There, you see—an echo."
"Ahoy!" came again.
"That's no echo," cried Uncle Bob joyfully. "Dick!"
He shouted as loudly as he could.
"There! It was no echo. He's all right; and after falling down here he has worked his way out and round the other side, where we went up first, while we came down the other way and missed him."
"Dick, ahoy!" he shouted again; "where away?"
"Ahoy!" came back, and we had to consult.
"If we go up one way to meet him he will come down the other," said Uncle Bob. "There's nothing for it but to wait till morning or divide, and one of us go up one side while the other two go up the other."
Uncle Jack snapped his watch-case down after examining the face by the pale light of the moon.
"Two o'clock," he said, throwing himself on the loose shale. "Ten minutes ago, when we were in doubt, I felt as if I could go on for hours with the search. Now I know that poor old Dick is alive I can't walk another yard."
I had slipped and scrambled down to him now, and Uncle Bob turned to me.
"How are you, Cob?" he said.
"The skin is off one of my heels, and I have a blister on my big toe."
"And I'm dead beat," said Uncle Bob, sinking down. "You're right, Jack, we must have a rest. Let's wait till it's light. It will be broad day by four o'clock, and we can signal to him which way to come."
I nestled down close to him, relieved in mind and body, and I was just thinking that though scraps of slaty stone and brashy earth were not good things for stuffing a feather-bed, they were, all the same, very comfortable for a weary person to lie upon, when I felt a hand laid upon my shoulder, and opening my eyes found the sun shining brightly and Uncle Dick looking down in my face.
"Have I been asleep?" I said confusedly.
"Four hours, Cob," said Uncle Jack. "You lay down at two. It is now six."
"But I dreamed something about you, Uncle Dick," I said confusedly. "I thought you were lost."
"Well, not exactly lost, Cob," he said; "but I slipped over that tremendous slope up yonder, and came down with a rush, stunning myself and making a lot of bruises that are very sore. I must have come down a terrible distance, and I lay, I suppose, for a couple of hours before I could get up and try to make my way back."
"But you are not—not broken," I cried, now thoroughly awake and holding his hand.
"No, Cob," he said smiling; "not broken, but starving and very faint."
A three miles' walk took us to where we obtained a very hearty breakfast, and here the farmer willingly drove us to the nearest station, from whence by a roundabout way we journeyed back to Arrowfield, and found the landlady in conference with Mr Tomplin, who had come to our place on receiving a message from Mrs Stephenson that we had gone down to the works and not returned, her impression being that the men had drowned us all in the dam.
"DO LET ME COME."
The rest of the week soon slipped by, and my uncles took possession of the works, but not peaceably.
The agent who had had the letting went down to meet my uncles and give them formal possession.
When he got there he was attacked by the work-people, with words first, and then with stones and pails of water.
The consequence was that he went home with a cut head and his clothes soaked.
"But what's to be done?" said Uncle Dick to him. "We want the place according to the agreement."
The agent looked up, holding one hand to his head, and looking white and scared.
"Call themselves men!" he said, "I call them wild beasts."
"Call them what you like," said Uncle Dick; "wild beasts if you will, but get them out."
"But I can't," groaned the man dismally. "See what a state I'm in! They've spoiled my second best suit."
"Very tiresome," said Uncle Dick, who was growing impatient; "but are you going to get these people out? We've two truck-loads of machinery waiting to be delivered."
"Don't I tell you I can't," said the agent angrily. "Take possession yourself. There, I give you leave."
"Very well," said Uncle Dick. "You assure me that these men have no legal right to be there."
"Not the slightest. They were only allowed to be there till the place was let."
"That's right; then we take possession at once, sir."
"And good luck to you!" said the agent as we went out.
"What are you going to do?" asked Uncle Bob.
"To-night. Will you come?"
"Will I come?" said Uncle Bob with a half laugh. "You might as well ask Jack."
"It may mean trouble to-morrow."
"There's nothing done without trouble," said Uncle Bob coolly. "I like ease better, but I'll take my share."
I was wildly excited, and began thinking that we should all be armed with swords and guns, so that I was terribly disappointed when that evening I found Uncle Dick enter the room with a brown-paper parcel in his hand that looked like a book, and followed by Uncle Jack looking as peaceable as could be.
"Where's Uncle Bob?" I said.
"Waiting for us outside."
"Why doesn't he come in?"
I wondered what Uncle Bob was busy about; but I noticed that my uncles were preparing for the expedition, putting some tools and a small lantern in a travelling-bag. After this Uncle Jack took it open downstairs ready for starting.
"Look here, Cob," said Uncle Dick; "we are going down to the works."
"Yes, my lad, to-night."
"But you can't get in. The men have the key."
"I have the agent's keys. There are two sets, and I am going down now. Look here; take a book and amuse yourself, and go to bed in good time. Perhaps we shall be late."
"Why, you are going to stop all night," I cried, "so as to be there before the men?"
"I confess," he said, laughing in my excited face.
"And I sha'n't see any of the fun," I cried.
"There will not be any fun, Cob."
"Oh, yes, there will, uncle," I said. "I say, do let me come."
He shook his head, and as I could make no impression on him I gave up, and slipped down to Uncle Jack, who was watching Mrs Stephenson cut some huge sandwiches for provender during the night.
"I say, uncle," I whispered, "I know what you are going to do. Take me."
"No, no," he said. "It will be no work for boys."
He was so quiet and stern that I felt it was of no use to press him, so I left the kitchen and went to the front door to try Uncle Bob for my last resource.
I opened the door gently, and started back, for there was a savage growl, and I just made out the dark form of a big-headed dog tugging at a string.
"Down, Piter!" said Uncle Bob. "Who is it? You, Cob? Here, Piter, make friends with him. Come out."
I went out rather slowly, for the dog was growling ominously; but at a word from Uncle Bob he ceased, and began to smell me all round the legs, stopping longest about my calves, as if he thought that would be the best place for a bite.
"Pat him, Cob, and pull his ears."
I stooped down rather unwillingly, and began patting the ugliest head I ever saw in my life. For Piter—otherwise Jupiter—was a brindled bull-dog with an enormous head, protruding lower jaw, pinched-in nose, and grinning teeth. The sides of his head seemed swollen, and his chest broad, his body lank and lean, ending in a shabby little thin tail.
"Why, he has no ears," I said.
"They are cut pretty short, poor fellow. But isn't he a beauty, Cob?"
"Beauty!" I said, laughing. "But where did you get him?"
"Mr Tomplin has lent him to us."
"But what for?"
"Garrison for the fort," my boy. "I think we can trust him."
I commenced my attack then.
"I should so like to go!" I said. "It isn't as if I was a nuisance. I wasn't so bad when we were out all night by Dome Tor."
"Well, there, I'll talk them over," he said. "Here, you stop and hold the dog, while I go in."
"What, hold him?"
"Yes, to be sure. I won't be long."
"But, uncle," I said, "he looks such a brute, as if he'd eat a fellow."
"My dear Cob, I sha'n't be above a quarter of an hour. He couldn't get through more than one leg by that time."
"Now you're laughing at me," I said.
"Hold the dog, then, you young coward!"
"I'm not," I said in an injured tone; and I caught at the leather thong, for if it had been a lion I should have held on then.
I wanted to say, "Don't be long," but I was ashamed, and I looked rather wistfully over my shoulder as he went in, leaving me with the dog.
Piter uttered a low whine as the door closed, and then growled angrily and gave a short deep-toned bark.
This done, he growled at me, smelled me all round, making my legs seem to curdle as his blunt nose touched them, and then after winding the thong round me twice he stood up on his hind-legs, placing his paws against my chest and his ugly muzzle between them.
My heart was beating fast, but the act was so friendly that I patted the great head; and the end of it was, that I sat down on the door-step, and when Uncle Bob came out again Piter and I had fraternised, and he had been showing me as hard as he could that he was my born slave, that he was ready for a bit of fun at any time, and also to defend me against any enemy who should attack.
Piter's ways were simple. To show the first he licked my hand. For the second, he turned over on his back, patted at me with his paws, and mumbled my legs, took a hold of my trousers and dragged at them, and butted at me with his bullet head. For the last, he suddenly sprang to his feet as a step was heard, crouched by me ready for a spring, and made some thunder inside him somewhere.
This done, he tried to show me what fun it was to tie himself up in a knot with the leathern thong, and strangle himself till his eyes stood out of his head.
"Why, you have made friends," said Uncle Bob, coming out. "Good dog, then."
"May I go?" I said eagerly.
"Yes. They've given in. I had a hard fight, sir, so you must do me credit."
Half an hour after, we four were on our way to our own works, just as if we were stealing through the dark to commit a burglary, and I noticed that though there were no swords and guns, each of my uncles carried a very stout heavy stick, that seemed to me like a yard of bad headache, cut very thick.
The streets looked very miserable as we advanced, leaving behind us the noise and roar and glow of the panting machinery which every now and then whistled and screamed as if rejoicing over the metal it was cutting and forming and working into endless shapes. There behind us was the red cloud against which the light from a thousand furnaces was glowing, while every now and then came a deafening roar as if some explosion had taken place.
I glanced down at Piter expecting to see him startled, but he was Arrowfield born, and paid not the slightest heed to noise, passing through a bright flash of light that shot from an open door as if it were the usual thing, and he did not even twitch his tail as we walked on by a wall that seemed to quiver and shake as some great piece of machinery worked away, throbbing and thudding inside.
"Here we are at last," said Uncle Dick, as we reached the corner of our place, where a lamp shed a ghastly kind of glow upon the dark triangular shaped dam.
The big stone building looked silent and ghostly in the gloom, while the great chimney stood up like a giant sentry watching over it, and placed there by the men whom it was our misfortune to have to dislodge.
We had a perfect right to be there, but one and all spoke in whispers as we looked round at the buildings about, to see in one of a row of houses that there were lights, and in a big stone building similar to ours the faint glow of a fire left to smoulder till the morning. But look which way we would, there was not a soul about, and all was still.
As we drew closer I could hear the dripping of the water as it ran in by the wheel where it was not securely stopped; and every now and then there was an echoing plash from the great shut-in cave, but no light in any of the windows.
"Come and hold the bag, Jack," whispered Uncle Dick; and then laughingly as we grouped about the gate with the dog sniffing at the bottom: "If you see a policeman coming, give me fair warning. I hope that dog will not bark. I feel just like a burglar."
Piter uttered a low growl, but remained silent, while Uncle Dick opened the gate and we entered.
As soon as we were inside the yard the bag was put under requisition again, a great screw-driver taken out, the lantern lit, and with all the skill and expedition of one accustomed to the use of tools, Uncle Dick unscrewed and took off the lock, laid it aside, and fitted on, very ingeniously, so that the old key-hole should do again, one of the new patent locks he had brought with him in the brown-paper parcel I had seen.
This took some little time, but it was effected at last, and Uncle Dick said:
"That is something towards making the place our own. Their key will not be worth much now."
Securing the gate by turning the key of the new lock, we went next to the door leading into the works, which was also locked, but the key the agent had supplied opened it directly, and this time Uncle Dick held box and lantern while Uncle Jack took off the old and fitted on the second new lock that we had brought.