PUT YOURSELF IN HIS PLACE
By Charles Reade
"I will frame a work of fiction upon notorious fact, so that anybody shall think he can do the same; shall labor and toil attempting the same, and fail—such is the power of sequence and connection in writing."—HORACE: Art of Poetry.
Hillsborough and its outlying suburbs make bricks by the million, spin and weave both wool and cotton, forge in steel from the finest needle up to a ship's armor, and so add considerably to the kingdom's wealth.
But industry so vast, working by steam on a limited space, has been fatal to beauty: Hillsborough, though built on one of the loveliest sites in England, is perhaps the most hideous town in creation. All ups and down and back slums. Not one of its wriggling, broken-backed streets has handsome shops in an unbroken row. Houses seem to have battled in the air, and stuck wherever they tumbled down dead out of the melee. But worst of all, the city is pockmarked with public-houses, and bristles with high round chimneys. These are not confined to a locality, but stuck all over the place like cloves in an orange. They defy the law, and belch forth massy volumes of black smoke, that hang like acres of crape over the place, and veil the sun and the blue sky even in the brightest day. But in a fog—why, the air of Hillsborough looks a thing to plow, if you want a dirty job.
More than one crystal stream runs sparkling down the valleys, and enters the town; but they soon get defiled, and creep through it heavily charged with dyes, clogged with putridity, and bubbling with poisonous gases, till at last they turn to mere ink, stink, and malaria, and people the churchyards as they crawl.
This infernal city, whose water is blacking, and whose air is coal, lies in a basin of delight and beauty: noble slopes, broad valleys, watered by rivers and brooks of singular beauty, and fringed by fair woods in places; and, eastward, the hills rise into mountains, and amongst them towers Cairnhope, striped with silver rills, and violet in the setting sun.
Cairnhope is a forked mountain, with a bosom of purple heather and a craggy head. Between its forks stood, at the period of my story, a great curiosity; which merits description on its own account, and also as the scene of curious incidents to come.
It was a deserted church. The walls were pierced with arrow-slits, through which the original worshipers had sent many a deadly shaft in defense of their women and cattle, collected within the sacred edifice at the first news of marauders coming.
Built up among the heathery hills in times of war and trouble, it had outlived its uses. Its people had long ago gone down into the fruitful valley, and raised another church in their midst, and left this old house of God alone, and silent as the tombs of their forefathers that lay around it.
It was no ruin, though on the road to decay. One of the side walls was much lower than the other, and the roof had two great waves, and was heavily clothed, in natural patterns, with velvet moss, and sprinkled all over with bright amber lichen: a few tiles had slipped off in two places, and showed the rafters brown with time and weather: but the structure was solid and sound; the fallen tiles lay undisturbed beneath the eaves; not a brick, not a beam, not a gravestone had been stolen, not even to build the new church: of the diamond panes full half remained; the stone font was still in its place, with its Gothic cover, richly carved; and four brasses reposed in the chancel, one of them loose in its bed.
What had caused the church to be deserted had kept it from being desecrated; it was clean out of the way. No gypsy, nor vagrant, ever slept there, and even the boys of the village kept their distance. Nothing would have pleased them better than to break the sacred windows time had spared, and defile the graves of their forefathers with pitch-farthing and other arts; but it was three miles off, and there was a lion in the way: they must pass in sight of Squire Raby's house; and, whenever they had tried it, he and his groom had followed them on swift horses that could jump as well as gallop, had caught them in the churchyard, and lashed them heartily; and the same night notice to quit had been given to their parents, who were all Mr. Raby's weekly tenants: and this had led to a compromise and flagellation.
Once or twice every summer a more insidious foe approached. Some little party of tourists, including a lady, who sketched in water and never finished anything, would hear of the old church, and wander up to it. But Mr. Raby's trusty groom was sure to be after them, with orders to keep by them, under guise of friendship, and tell them outrageous figments, and see that they demolished not, stole not, sculptured not.
All this was odd enough in itself, but it astonished nobody who knew Mr. Raby. His father and predecessor had guarded the old church religiously in his day, and was buried in it, by his own orders; and, as for Guy Raby himself, what wonder he respected it, since his own mind, like that old church, was out of date, and a relic of the past?
An antique Tory squire, nursed in expiring Jacobitism, and cradled in the pride of race; educated at Oxford, well read in books, versed in county business, and acquainted with trade and commerce; yet puffed up with aristocratic notions, and hugging the very prejudices our nobility are getting rid of as fast as the vulgar will let them.
He had a sovereign contempt for tradespeople, and especially for manufacturers. Any one of those numerous disputes between masters and mechanics, which distinguish British industry, might have been safely referred to him, for he abhorred and despised them both with strict impartiality.
The lingering beams of a bright December day still gilded the moss-clad roof of that deserted church, and flamed on its broken panes, when a young man came galloping toward it, from Hillsborough, on one of those powerful horses common in that district.
He came so swiftly and so direct, that, ere the sun had been down twenty minutes, he and his smoking horse had reached a winding gorge about three furlongs from the church. Here, however, the bridle-road, which had hitherto served his turn across the moor, turned off sharply toward the village of Cairnhope, and the horse had to pick his way over heather, and bog, and great loose stones. He lowered his nose, and hesitated more than once. But the rein was loose upon his neck, and he was left to take his time. He had also his own tracks to guide him in places, for this was by no means his first visit; and he managed so well, that at last he got safe to a mountain stream which gurgled past the north side of the churchyard: he went cautiously through the water, and then his rider gathered up the reins, stuck in the spurs, and put him at a part of the wall where the moonlight showed a considerable breach. The good horse rose to it, and cleared it, with a foot to spare; and the invader landed in the sacred precincts unobserved, for the road he had come by was not visible from Raby House, nor indeed was the church itself.
He was of swarthy complexion, dressed in a plain suit of tweed, well made, and neither new nor old. His hat was of the newest fashion, and glossy. He had no gloves on.
He dismounted, and led his horse to the porch. He took from his pocket a large glittering key and unlocked the church-door; then gave his horse a smack on the quarter. That sagacious animal walked into the church directly, and his iron hoofs rang strangely as he paced over the brick floor of the aisle, and made his way under the echoing vault, up to the very altar; for near it was the vestry-chest, and in that chest his corn.
The young man also entered the church; but soon came out again with a leathern bucket in his hand. He then went round the church, and was busily employed for a considerable time.
He returned to the porch, carried his bucket in, and locked the door, leaving the key inside.
That night Abel Eaves, a shepherd, was led by his dog, in search of a strayed sheep, to a place rarely trodden by the foot of man or beast, viz., the west side of Cairnhope Peak. He came home pale and disturbed, and sat by the fireside in dead silence. "What ails thee, my man?" said Janet, his wife; "and there's the very dog keeps a whimpering."
"What ails us, wife? Pincher and me? We have seen summat."
"What was it?" inquired the woman, suddenly lowering her voice.
"Cairnhope old church all o' fire inside."
"Bless us and save us!" said Janet, in a whisper.
"And the fire it did come and go as if hell was a blowing at it. One while the windows was a dull red like, and the next they did flare so, I thought it would all burst out in a blaze. And so 'twould, but, bless your heart, their heads ha'n't ached this hundred year and more, as lighted that there devilish fire."
He paused a moment, then said, with sudden gravity and resignation and even a sort of half business-like air, "Wife, ye may make my shroud, and sew it and all; but I wouldn't buy the stuff of Bess Crummles; she is an ill-tongued woman, and came near making mischief between you and me last Lammermas as ever was."
"Shroud!" cried Mrs. Eaves, getting seriously alarmed. "Why, Abel, what is Cairnhope old church to you? You were born in an other parish."
Abel slapped his thigh. "Ay, lass, and another county, if ye go to that." And his countenance brightened suddenly.
"And as for me," continued Janet, "I'm Cairnhope; but my mother came from Morpeth, a widdy: and she lies within a hundred yards of where I sit a talking to thee. There's none of my kin laid in old Cairnhope churchyard. Warning's not for thee, nor me, nor yet for our Jock. Eh, lad, it will be for Squire Raby. His father lies up there, and so do all his folk. Put on thy hat this minute, and I'll hood myself, and we'll go up to Raby Hall, and tell Squire."
Abel objected to that, and intimated that his own fireside was particularly inviting to a man who had seen diabolical fires that came and went, and shone through the very stones and mortar of a dead church.
"Nay, but," said Janet, "they sort o' warnings are not to be slighted neither. We must put it off on to Squire, or I shall sleep none this night."
They went up, hand in hand, and often looked askant upon the road.
When they got to the Hall, they asked to see Mr. Raby. After some demur they were admitted to his presence, and found him alone, so far as they could judge by the naked eye; but, as they arrived there charged to the muzzle with superstition, the room presented to their minds some appearances at variance with this seeming solitude. Several plates were set as if for guests, and the table groaned, and the huge sideboard blazed, with old silver. The Squire himself was in full costume, and on his bosom gleamed two orders bestowed upon his ancestors by James III. and Charles III. In other respects he was rather innocuous, being confined to his chair by an attack of gout, and in the act of sipping the superannuated compound that had given it him—port. Nevertheless, his light hair, dark eyebrows, and black eyes, awed them, and co-operated with his brilliant costume and the other signs of company, to make them wish themselves at the top of Cairnhope Peak. However, they were in for it, and told their tale, but in tremulous tones and a low deprecating voice, so that if the room SHOULD happen to be infested with invisible grandees from the other world, their attention might not be roused unnecessarily.
Mr. Raby listened with admirable gravity; then fixed his eyes on the pair, in silence; and then said in a tone so solemn it was almost sepulchral, "This very day, nearly a century and a half ago, Sir Richard Raby was beheaded for being true to his rightful king—"
"Eh, dear poor gentleman! so now a walks." It was Janet who edged in this—
"And," continued the gentleman, loftily ignoring the comment, "they say that on this night such of the Rabys as died Catholics hold high mass in the church, and the ladies walk three times round the churchyard; twice with their veils down, once with bare faces, and great eyes that glitter like stars."
"I wouldn't like to see the jades," quavered Abel: "their ladyships I mean, axing their pardon."
"Nor I!" said Janet, with a great shudder.
"It would not be good for you," suggested the Squire; "for the first glance from those dead and glittering eyes strikes any person of the lower orders dumb, the second, blind; the third, dead. So I'm INFORMED. Therefore—LET ME ADVISE YOU NEVER TO GO NEAR CAIRNHOPE OLD CHURCH AT NIGHT."
"Not I, sir," said the simple woman.
"Nor your children: unless you are very tired of them."
"Heaven forbid, sir! But oh, sir, we thought it might be a warning like."
"Why, sir, th' old Squire lies there; and heaps more of your folk: and so Abel here was afear'd—but you are the best judge; we be no scholars. Th' old church warn't red-hot from eend to eend for naught: that's certain."
"Oh it is me you came to warn?" said Raby, and his lip curled.
"Well, sir," (mellifluously), "we thought you had the best right to know."
"My good woman," said the warned, "I shall die when my time comes. But I shall not hurry myself, for all the gentlemen in Paradise, nor all the blackguards upon earth."
He spake, and sipped his port with one hand, and waved them superbly back to their village with the other.
But, when they were gone, he pondered.
And the more he pondered, the further he got from the prosaic but singular fact.
In the old oak dining-room, where the above colloquy took place, hung a series of family portraits. One was of a lovely girl with oval face, olive complexion, and large dark tender eyes: and this was the gem of the whole collection; but it conferred little pleasure on the spectator, owing to a trivial circumstance—it was turned with its face to the wall; and all that met the inquiring eye was an inscription on the canvas, not intended to be laudatory.
This beauty, with her back to creation, was Edith Raby, Guy's sister.
During their father's lifetime she was petted and allowed her own way. Hillsborough, odious to her brother, was, naturally, very attractive to her, and she often rode into the town to shop and chat with her friends, and often stayed a day or two in it, especially with a Mrs. Manton, wife of a wealthy manufacturer.
Guy merely sneered at her, her friends, and her tastes, till he suddenly discovered that she had formed an attachment to one of the obnoxious class, Mr. James Little, a great contract builder. He was too shocked at first to vent his anger. He turned pale, and could hardly speak; and the poor girl's bosom began to quake.
But Guy's opposition went no further than cold aversion to the intimacy—until his father died. Then, though but a year older than Edith, he assumed authority and, as head of the house, forbade the connection. At the same time he told her he should not object, under the circumstances, to her marrying Dr. Amboyne, a rising physician, and a man of good family, who loved her sincerely, and had shown his love plainly before ever Mr. Little was heard of.
Edith tried to soften her brother; but he was resolute, and said Raby Hall should never be an appendage to a workshop. Sooner than that, he would settle it on his cousin Richard, a gentleman he abhorred, and never called, either to his face or behind his back, by any other name than "Dissolute Dick."
Then Edith became very unhappy, and temporized more or less, till her lover, who had shown considerable forbearance, lost patience at last, and said she must either have no spirit, or no true affection for him.
Then came a month or two of misery, the tender clinging nature of the girl being averse to detach itself from either of these two persons. She loved them both with an affection she could have so easily reconciled, if they would only have allowed her.
And it all ended according to Nature. She came of age, plucked up a spirit, and married Mr. James Little.
Her brother declined to be present at the wedding; but, as soon as she returned from her tour, and settled in Hillsborough, he sent his groom with a cold, civil note, reminding her that their father had settled nineteen hundred pounds on her, for her separate use, with remainder to her children, if any; that he and Mr. Graham were the trustees of this small fund; that they had invested it, according to the provisions of the settlement, in a first mortgage on land; and informing her that half a year's interest at 4 12 per cent was due, which it was his duty to pay into her own hand and no other person's; she would therefore oblige him by receiving the inclosed check, and signing the inclosed receipt.
The receipt came back signed, and with it a few gentle lines, "hoping that, in time, he would forgive her, and bestow on her what she needed and valued more than money; her own brother's, her only brother's affection."
On receiving this, his eyes were suddenly moist, and he actually groaned. "A lady, every inch!" he said; "yet she has gone and married a bricklayer."
Well, blood is thicker than water, and in a few years they were pretty good friends again, though they saw but little of one another, meeting only in Hillsborough, which Guy hated, and never drove into now without what he called his antidotes: a Bible and a bottle of lavender-water. It was his humor to read the one, and sprinkle the other, as soon as ever he got within the circle of the smoky trades.
When Edith's little boy was nine years old, and much admired for his quickness and love of learning, and of making walking-stick heads and ladies' work-boxes, Mr. Little's prosperity received a severe check, and through his own fault. He speculated largely in building villas, overdid the market, and got crippled. He had contracts uncompleted, and was liable to penalties; and at last saw himself the nominal possessor of a brick wilderness, but on the verge of ruin for want of cash.
He tried every other resource first; but at last he came to his wife, to borrow her L1900. The security he offered was a mortgage on twelve carcasses, or houses the bare walls and roofs of which were built.
Mrs. Little wrote at once to Mr. Raby for her money.
Instead of lending the trust-money hastily, Raby submitted the proposal to his solicitor, and that gentleman soon discovered the vaunted security was a second mortgage, with interest overdue on the first; and so he told Guy, who then merely remarked, "I expected as much. When had a tradesman any sense of honor in money matters? This one would cheat his very wife and child."
He declined the proposal, in two words, "Rotten security!"
Then Mr. James Little found another security that looked very plausible, and primed his wife with arguments, and she implored Guy to call and talk it over with them both.
He came that very afternoon, and brought his father's will.
Then Edith offered the security, and tried to convey to the trustee her full belief that it was undeniable.
Guy picked terrible holes in it, and read their father's will, confining the funds to consols, or a first mortgage on land. "You take the money on these conditions: it is almost as improper of you to wish to evade them, as it would be of me to assist you. And then there is your child; I am hound in honor not to risk his little fortune. See, here's my signature to that."
"My child!" cried Edith. "When he comes of age, I'll go on my knees to him and say, 'My darling, I borrowed your money to save your father's credit.' And my darling will throw his arms round me, and forgive me."
"Simpleton!" said Guy. "And how about your daughters and their husbands? And their husbands' solicitors? Will they throw their arms round your neck, and break forth into twaddle? No! I have made inquiries. Your husband's affairs are desperate. I won't throw your money into his well; and you will both live to thank me for seeing clearer than you do, and saving this L1900 for you and yours."
James Little had writhed in his chair for some time: he now cried out wildly,
"Edith, you shall demean yourself no more. He always hated me: and now let him have his will, and seal my dishonor and my ruin. Oblige me by leaving my house, Mr. Raby."
"Oh, no, James!" cried Edith, trembling, and shocked at this affront. But Guy rose like a tower. "I've noticed this trait in all tradespeople," said he grimly. "They are obsequious to a gentleman so long as they hope to get the better of him; but, the moment they find it is impossible to overreach him, they insult him." And with this he stalked out of the house.
"Oh, my poor James, how could you?" said Edith.
"Forgive me," said he, quietly. "It is all over. That was our last chance."
Guy Raby walked down the street, stung to the quick. He went straight to his solicitor and arranged to borrow L1900 on his own property. "For," said he, "I'll show them both how little a snob can understand a gentleman. I won't tamper with her son's money, but I'll give her my own to throw into his well. Confound him! why did she ever marry him?"
When the business was virtually settled, he came back to the house in great haste.
Meantime Mr. James Little went up to his dressing-room, as usual, to dress for dinner; but he remained there so long that, at last, Mrs. Little sent her maid to tell him dinner was ready.
The girl had hardly reached the top of the stairs, when she gave a terrible scream that rang through the whole house.
Mrs. Little rushed upstairs, and found her clinging to the balusters, and pointing at the floor, with eyes protruding and full of horror. Her candle-stick had fallen from her benumbed hand; but the hall-lamp revealed what her finger was quivering and pointing at: a dark fluid trickling slowly out into the lobby from beneath the bedroom door.
It was blood.
The room was burst into, and the wretched, tottering wife, hanging upon her sobbing servants, found her lover, her husband, her child's father, lying on the floor, dead by his own hand; stone dead. A terrible sight for strangers to see; but for her, what words can even shadow the horror of it!
I drop the veil on her wild bursts of agony, and piteous appeals to him who could not hear her cries.
The gaping wound that let out that precious life, her eye never ceased to see it, nor her own heart to bleed with it, while she lived.
She was gently dragged away, and supported down to another room. Doctor Amboyne came and did what he could for her; and that was—nothing.
At this time she seemed stupefied. But when Guy came beaming into the room to tell her he had got her the money, a terrible scene occurred. The bereaved wife uttered a miserable scream at sight of him, and swooned away directly.
The maids gathered round her, laid her down, and cut her stays, and told Guy the terrible tidings, in broken whispers, over her insensible body.
He rose to his feet horrified. He began to gasp and sob. And he yearned to say something to comfort her. At that moment his house, his heart, and all he had, were hers.
But, as soon as she came to herself, and caught sight of him, she screamed out, "Oh, the sight of him! the sight of him!" and swooned away again.
Then the women pushed him out of the room, and he went away with uneven steps, and sick at heart.
He shut himself up in Raby Hall, and felt very sad and remorseful. He directed his solicitor to render Mrs. Little every assistance, and supply her with funds. But these good offices were respectfully declined by Mr. Joseph Little, the brother of the deceased, who had come from Birmingham to conduct the funeral and settle other matters.
Mr. Joseph Little was known to be a small master-cutler, who had risen from a workman, and even now put blades and handles together with his own hands, at odd times, though he had long ceased to forge or grind.
Mr. Raby drew in haughtily at this interference.
It soon transpired that Mr. James Little had died hopelessly insolvent, and the L1900 would really have been ingulfed.
Raby waited for this fact to sink into his sister's mind; and then one day nature tugged so at his heart-strings, that he dashed off a warm letter beginning—"My poor Edith, let bygones be bygones," and inviting her and her boy to live with him at Raby Hall.
The heart-broken widow sent back a reply, in a handwriting scarcely recognizable as hers. Instead of her usual precise and delicate hand, the letters were large, tremulous, and straggling, and the lines slanted downward.
"Write to me, speak to me, no more. For pity's sake let me forget there is a man in the world who is my brother and his murderer.
Guy opened this letter with a hopeful face, and turned pale as ashes at the contents.
But his conscience was clear, and his spirit high. "Unjust idiot!" he muttered, and locked her letter up in his desk.
Next morning he received a letter from Joseph Little, in a clear, stiff, perpendicular writing:
"SIR,—I find my sister-in-law wrote you, yesterday, a harsh letter, which I do not approve; and have told her as much. Deceased's affairs were irretrievable, and I blame no other man for his rash act, which may God forgive! As to your kind and generous invitation, it deserves her gratitude; but Mrs. Little and myself have mingled our tears together over my poor brother's grave, and now we do not care to part. Before your esteemed favor came to hand, it had been settled she should leave this sad neighborhood and keep my house at Birmingham, where she will meet with due respect. I am only a small tradesman; but I can pay my debts, and keep the pot boiling. Will teach the boy some good trade, and make him a useful member of society, if I am spared.
"I am, sir, yours respectfully,
"Sir,—I beg to acknowledge, with thanks, your respectable letter.
"As all direct communication between Mrs. James Little and myself is at an end, oblige me with your address in Birmingham, that I may remit to you, half-yearly, as her agent, the small sum that has escaped bricks and mortar.
"When her son comes of age, she will probably forgive me for declining to defraud him of his patrimony.
"But it will be too late; for I shall never forgive her, alive or dead.
"I am, sir, your obedient servant,
When he had posted this letter he turned Edith's picture to the wall, and wrote on the canvas—
"GONE INTO TRADE."
He sent for his attorney, made a new will, and bequeathed his land, houses, goods, and chattels, to Dissolute Dick and his heirs forever.
The sorrowful widow was so fond of her little Henry, and the uncertainty of life was so burnt into her now, that she could hardly bear him out of her sight. Yet her love was of the true maternal stamp; not childish and self-indulgent. She kept him from school, for fear he should be brought home dead to her; but she gave her own mind with zeal to educate him. Nor was she unqualified. If she had less learning than school-masters, she knew better how to communicate what she did know to a budding mind. She taught him to read fluently, and to write beautifully; and she coaxed him, as only a woman can, over the dry elements of music and arithmetic. She also taught him dancing and deportment, and to sew on a button. He was a quick boy at nearly everything, but, when he was fourteen, his true genius went ahead of his mere talents; he showed a heaven-born gift for—carving in wood. This pleased Joseph Little hugely, and he fostered it judiciously.
The boy worked, and thought, and in time arrived at such delicacies of execution, he became discontented with the humdrum tools then current. "Then learn to make your own, boy," cried Joseph Little, joyfully; and so initiated him into the whole mystery of hardening, forging, grinding, handle-making, and cutlery: and Henry, young and enthusiastic, took his turn at them all in right down earnest.
At twenty, he had sold many a piece of delicate carving, and could make graving-tools incomparably superior to any he could buy; and, for his age, was an accomplished mechanic.
Joseph Little went the way of all flesh.
They mourned and missed him; and, at Henry's earnest request, his mother disposed of the plant, and went with him to London.
Then the battle of life began. He was a long time out of employment, and they both lived on his mother's little fortune.
But Henry was never idle. He set up a little forge hard by, and worked at it by day, and at night he would often sit carving, while his mother read to him, and said he, "Mother, I'll never rest till I can carve the bloom upon a plum."
Not to dwell on the process, the final result was this. He rose at last to eminence as a carver: but as an inventor and forger of carving tools he had no rival in England.
Having with great labor, patience, and skill, completed a masterpiece of carving (there were plums with the bloom on, and other incredibles), and also a set of carving-tools equally exquisite in their way, he got a popular tradesman to exhibit both the work and the tools in his window, on a huge silver salver.
The thing made a good deal of noise in the trade, and drew many spectators to the shop window.
One day Mr. Cheetham, a master-cutler, stood in admiration before the tools, and saw his way to coin the workman.
This Cheetham was an able man, and said to himself, "I'll nail him for Hillsborough, directly. London mustn't have a hand that can beat us at anything in our line."
He found Henry out, and offered him constant employment, as a forger and cutler of carving-tools, at L4 per week.
Henry's black eyes sparkled, but he restrained himself. "That's to be thought of. I must speak to my old lady. She is not at home just now."
He did speak to her, and she put her two hands together and said, "Hillsborough! Oh Henry!" and the tears stood in her eyes directly.
"Well, don't fret," said he: "it is only saying no."
So when Mr. Cheetham called again for the reply, Henry declined, with thanks. On this, Mr. Cheetham never moved, but smiled, and offered him L6 per week, and his journey free.
Henry went into another room, and argued the matter. "Come, mother, he is up to L6 a week now; and that is every shilling I'm worth; and, when I get an apprentice, it will be L9 clear to us."
"The sight of the place!" objected Mrs. Little, hiding her face in her hands instinctively.
He kissed her, and talked good manly sense to her, and begged her to have more courage.
She was little able to deny him, and she consented; but cried, out of his sight, a good many times about it.
As for Henry, strong in the consciousness of power and skill, he felt glad he was going to Hillsborough. "Many a workman has risen to the top of the tree in that place," said he. "Why, this very Cheetham was grinding saws in a water-wheel ten years ago, I've heard uncle Joe say. Come, mother, don't you be a baby! I'll settle you in a cottage outside the smoke; you shall make a palace of it; and we'll rise in the very town where we fell, and friends and foes shall see us."
Mr. Cheetham purchased both the carving and the tools to exhibit in Hillsborough; and the purchase-money, less a heavy commission, was paid to Henry. He showed Mrs. Little thirty pounds, and helped her pack up; and next day they reached Hillsborough by train.
Henry took a close cab, and carried his mother off to the suburbs in search of a lodging. She wore a thick veil, and laid her head on her son's shoulder, and held his brown though elegant hand with her white fingers, that quivered a little as she passed through the well-known streets.
As for Henry, he felt quite triumphant and grand, and consoled her in an off-hand, hearty way. "Come, cheer up, and face the music. They have all forgotten you by this time, and, when they do see you again, you shall be as good as the best of them. I don't drink, and I've got a trade all to myself here, and I'd rather make my fortune in this town than any other; and, mother, you have been a good friend to me; I won't ever marry till I have done you justice, and made you the queen of this very town."
And so he rattled on, in such high spirits, that the great soft thing began to smile with motherly love and pride through her tears, ere they found a lodging.
Next day to the works, and there the foreman showed him a small forge on the ground floor, and a vacant room above to make his handles in and put the tools together; the blades were to be ground, whetted, and finished by cheaper hands.
A quick-eared grinder soon came up to them, and said roughly, "Ain't we to wet new forge?"
"They want their drink out of you," said the foreman; and whispered, in great anxiety, "Don't say no, or you might as well work in a wasp's nest as here."
"All right," said Henry, cheerfully. "I'm no drinker myself, but I'll stand what is customary."
"That is right," said Foreman Bayne. "'Twill cost you fifteen shillings. But Peace is cheap at as many guineas."
The word was given, and every man who worked on the same floor with Henry turned out to drink at his expense, and left off work for a good hour. With some exceptions they were a rough lot, and showed little friendliness or good-humor over it. One even threw out a hint that no cockney forges were wanted in Hillsborough. But another took him up, and said, "Maybe not; but you are not much of a man to drink his liquor and grudge him his bread."
After this waste of time and money, Henry went back to the works, and a workman told him rather sulkily, he was wanted in the foreman's office.
He went in, and there was a lovely girl of eighteen, who looked at him with undisguised curiosity, and addressed him thus: "Sir, is it you that carve wood so beautifully?"
Henry blushed, and hesitated; and that made the young lady blush herself a very little, and she said, "I wished to take lessons in carving." Then, as he did not reply, she turned to Mr. Bayne. "But perhaps he objects to teach other people?"
"WE should object to his teaching other workmen," said the foreman; "but," turning to Henry, "there is no harm in your giving her a lesson or two, after hours. You will want a set of the tools, miss?"
"Of course I shall. Please put them into the carriage; and—when will he come and teach me, I wonder? for I am wild to begin."
Henry said he could come Saturday afternoon, or Monday morning early.
"Whichever you please," said the lady, and put down her card on the desk; then tripped away to her carriage, leaving Henry charmed with her beauty and ease.
He went home to his mother, and told her he was to give lessons to the handsomest young lady he had ever seen. "She has bought the specimen tools too; so I must forge some more, and lose no time about it."
"Who is she, I wonder?"
"Here is her card. 'Miss Carden, Woodbine Villa, Heath Hill.'"
"Carden!" said the widow. Then, after a moment's thought, "Oh, Henry, don't go near them. Ah, I knew how it would be. Hillsborough is not like London. You can't be long hid in it."
"Why, what is the matter? Do you know the lady?"
"Oh, yes. Her papa is director of an insurance company in London. I remember her being born very well. The very day she was christened—her name is Grace—you were six years old, and I took you to her christening; and oh, Harry, my brother is her godfather. Don't you go near that Grace Carden; don't visit any one that knew us in better days."
"Why, what have we to be ashamed of?" said Henry. "'Tisn't as if we sat twiddling our thumbs and howling, 'We have seen better days.' And 'tisn't as if we asked favors of anybody. For my part I don't care who knows I am here, and can make three hundred a year with my own hands and wrong no man. I'd rather be a good workman in wood and steel than an arrogant old fool like your b—. No, I won't own him for yours or mine either—call him Raby. Well, I wouldn't change places with him, nor any of his sort: I'm a British workman, and worth a dozen Rabys—useless scum!"
"That you are, dear; so don't demean yourself to give any of them lessons. Her godfather would be sure to hear of it."
"Well, I won't, to please you. But you have no more pluck than a chicken—begging your pardon, mother."
"No, dear," said Mrs. Little, humbly, quite content to gain her point and lose her reputation for pluck; if any.
Henry worked regularly, and fast, and well, and in less than a fortnight a new set of his carving-tools were on view in Hillsborough, and another in London; for it was part of Mr. Cheetham's strategy to get all the London orders, and even make London believe that these superior instruments had originated in Hillsborough.
One day Miss Carden called and saw Bayne in the office. Her vivid features wore an expression of vexation, and she complained to him that the wood-carver had never been near her.
Bayne was surprised at that; but he was a man who always allayed irritation on the spot. "Rely on it, there's some reason," said he. "Perhaps he has not got settled. I'll go for him directly."
"Thank you," said the young lady. Then in the same breath, "No, take me to him, and perhaps we may catch him carving—cross thing!"
Bayne assented cheerfully, and led the way across a yard, and up a dirty stone stair, which, solid as it was, vibrated with the powerful machinery that steam was driving on every side of it. He opened a door suddenly, and Henry looked up from his work, and saw the invaders.
He stared a little at first, and then got up and looked embarrassed and confused.
"You did not keep your word, sir," said Grace, quietly.
"No," he muttered, and hung his head.
He seemed so confused and ashamed, that Bayne came to his assistance. "The fact is, no workman likes to do a hand's-turn on Saturday afternoon. I think they would rather break Sunday than Saturday."
"It is not that," said Henry, in a low voice.
Grace heard him, but answered Mr. Bayne: "Oh dear, I wish I had known. I fear I have made an unreasonable request: for, of course, after working so hard all the week—but then why did you let me purchase the tools to carve with? Papa says they are very dear, Mr. Bayne. But that is what gentlemen always say if one buys anything that is really good. But of course they WILL be dear, if I am not to be taught how to use them." She then looked in Mr. Bayne's face with an air of infantine simplicity: "Would Mr. Cheetham take them back, I wonder, under the circumstances?"
At this sly thrust, Bayne began to look anxious; but Henry relieved him the next moment by saying, in a sort of dogged way, "There, there; I'll come." He added, after a pause, "I will give you six lessons, if you like."
"I shall be so much obliged. When will you come, sir?"
"Next Saturday, at three o'clock."
"I shall be sure to be at home, sir."
She then said something polite about not disturbing him further, and vanished with an arch smile of pleasure and victory, that disclosed a row of exquisite white teeth, and haunted Henry Little for many a day after.
He told his mother what had happened, and showed so much mortified pride that she no longer dissuaded him from keeping his word. "Only pray don't tell her your name," said she.
"Well, but what am I to do if she asks it?"
"Say Thompson, or Johnson, or anything you like, except Little."
This request roused Henry's bile. "What, am I a criminal to deny my name? And how shall I look, if I go and give her a false name, and then she comes to Bayne and learns my right one? No, I'll keep my name back, if I can; but I'll never disown it. I'm not ashamed of it, if you are."
This reduced poor Mrs. Little to silence; followed, in due course, by a few meek, clandestine tears.
Henry put on his new tweed suit and hat, and went up to the villa. He announced himself as the workman from Cheetham's; and the footman, who had probably his orders, ushered him into the drawing-room at once. There he found Grace Carden seated, reading, and a young woman sewing at a respectful distance. This pair were types; Grace, of a young English gentlewoman, and Jael Dence of a villager by unbroken descent. Grace was tall, supple, and serpentine, yet not thin; Jael was robust and ample, without being fat; she was of the same height, though Grace looked the taller. Grace had dark brown eyes and light brown hair; and her blooming cheek and bewitching mouth shone with expression so varied, yet vivid, and always appropriate to the occasion, grave or gay, playful or dignified, that her countenance made artificial faces, and giggling in-the-wrong-place faces, painfully ridiculous. As for such faces as Jael's, it killed them on the spot, but that was all. Jael's hair was reddish, and her full eyes were gray; she was freckled a little under the eyes, but the rest of her cheek full of rich pure color, healthy, but not the least coarse: and her neck an alabaster column. Hers was a meek, monotonous countenance; but with a certain look of concentration. Altogether, a humble beauty of the old rural type; healthy, cleanly, simple, candid, yet demure.
Henry came in, and the young lady received him with a manner very different from that she had worn down at the works. She was polite, but rather stiff and dignified.
He sat down at her request, and, wondering at himself, entered on the office of preceptor. He took up the carving-tools, and explained the use of several; then offered, by way of illustration, to work on something.
"That will be the best way, much," said Grace quietly, but her eye sparkled.
"I dare say there's some lumber to be found in a great house like this?"
"Lumber? why, there's a large garret devoted to it. Jael, please take him to the lumber-room."
Jael fixed her needle in her work, and laid it down gently on a table near her, then rose and led the way to the lumber-room.
In that invaluable repository Henry soon found two old knobs lying on the ground (a four-poster had been wrecked hard by) and a piece of deal plank jutting out of a mass of things. He pulled hard at the plank; but it was long, and so jammed in by miscellaneous articles, that he could not get it clear.
Jael looked on demurely at his efforts for some time; then she suddenly seized the plank a little higher up. "Now, pull," said she, and gave a tug like a young elephant: out came the plank directly, with a great rattle of dislocated lumber.
"Well, you are a strong one," said Henry.
"Oh, one and one makes two, sir," replied the vigorous damsel, modestly.
"That is true, but you threw your weight into it like a workman. Now hand me that rusty old saw, and I'll cut off as much as we want."
While he was sawing off a piece of the plank, Jael stood and eyed him silently a while. But presently her curiosity oozed out. "If you please, sir, be you really a working man?"
"Why, what else should I be?" was the answer, given rather brusquely.
"A great many gentlefolks comes here as is no better dressed nor you be."
"Dress is no rule. Don't you go and take me for a gentleman, or we sha'n't agree. Wait till I'm as arrogant, and empty, and lazy as they are. I am a workman, and proud of it."
"It's naught to be ashamed on, that's certain," said Jael. "I've carried many a sack of grain up into our granary, and made a few hundred-weight of cheese and butter, besides house-work and farm-work. Bless your heart, I bayn't idle when I be at home."
"And pray where is your home?" asked Henry, looking up a moment, not that he cared one straw.
"If you please, sir, I do come from Cairnhope village. I'm old Nat Dence's daughter. There's two of us, and I'm the youngest. Squire sent me in here, because miss said Hillsborough girls wasn't altogether honest. She is a dear kind young lady; but I do pine for home and the farm at times; and frets about the young calves: they want so much looking after. And sister, she's a-courting, and can't give her mind to 'em as should be. I'll carry the board for you, sir."
"All right," said Henry carelessly; but, as they went along, he thought to himself, "So a skilled workman passes for a gentleman with rustics: fancy that!"
On their return to the drawing-room, Henry asked for a high wooden stool, or chair, and said it would be as well to pin some newspapers over the carpet. A high stool was soon got from the kitchen, and Jael went promptly down on her knees, and crawled about, pinning the newspapers in a large square.
Henry stood apart, superior, and thought to himself, "So much for domestic servitude. What a position for a handsome girl—creeping about on all fours!"
When all was ready, he drew some arabesque forms with his pencil on the board. He then took an exquisite little saw he had invented for this work, and fell upon the board with a rapidity that, contrasted with his previous nonchalance, looked like fury. But he was one of your fast workmen. The lithe saw seemed to twist in his hand like a serpent, and in a very short time he had turned four feet of the board into open-work. He finished the edges off with his cutting tools, and there was a transformation as complete as of linen cloth turned lace.
Grace was delighted. "Shall I ever be able to do that?"
"In half a day. That's not carving; that's trickery. The tool does it all. Before I invented this saw, a good workman would have been a day over that; but now YOU can do it in half an hour, when you are master of the instrument. And now I'll show you honest work." He took one of the knobs and examined it; then sawed off a piece, and worked on the rest so cunningly with his various cutters, that it grew into a human face toward their very eyes. He even indicated Jael Dence's little flat cap by a means at once simple and ingenious. All the time he was working the women's eyes literally absorbed him; only those of Grace flashed vivid curiosity, Jael's open orbs were fixed with admiration and awe upon his supernatural cleverness.
He now drew some more arabesques on the remaining part of the board, and told Miss Carden she must follow those outlines with the saw, and he would examine her work on Monday morning. He then went off with a quick, independent air, as one whose every minute was gold.
"If you please, miss," said Jael, "is he a real working man, or only a gentleman as makes it his pastime?"
"A gentleman! What an idea! Of course he is a working man. But a very superior person."
"To be sure," continued Jael, not quite convinced, "he don't come up to Squire Raby; but, dear heart, he have a grander way with him than most of the Hillsborough gentlefolks as calls here."
"Nonsense!" said Grace, authoritatively. "Look at his nails."
Henry came twice a week, and his pupil made remarkable progress. She was deferential, attentive, enthusiastic.
By degrees the work led to a little conversation; and that, in due course, expanded into a variety of subjects; and the young lady, to her surprise, found her carver well-read in History and Sciences, and severely accurate in his information, whereas her own, though abundant, was rather loose.
One day she expressed her surprise that he could have found time to be so clever with his fingers and yet cultivate his mind.
"Well," said he, "I was lucky enough to have a good mother. She taught me all she knew, and she gave me a taste for reading; and that has been the making of me; kept me out of the public-house, for one thing."
"Ah! you WERE fortunate. I lost my mother, sir, when I was but eight years old."
"Oh dear, that was a bad job," said Henry brusquely but kindly.
"A very bad job," said Grace, smiling; but the next moment she suddenly turned her fair head away and tears stole down her cheeks.
Henry looked very sorry, and Jael, without moving, looked at Grace, and opened those sluices, her eyes, and two big drops of sympathy rolled down her comely face in a moment.
That day, when young Little shut the street-door of "Woodbine Villa" and stepped into the road, a sort of dull pain seemed to traverse his chest. It made his heart ache a little, this contrast of the sweet society he had left and the smoky town toward which he now turned his face. He seemed to be ejected from Paradise for the next five days. It was Monday yet he wished the next day was Saturday, and the intervening period could be swept away, so that he might be entering that soft Paradise instead of leaving it.
And this sentiment, once rooted, grew rapidly in an aspiring nature, and a heart that had never yet entertained a serious passion. Now the fair head that bowed over the work so near him, the lovely hand he had so often to direct, and almost to guide, and all the other perfections of mind and body this enchanting girl possessed, crept in at his admiring eyes, and began to steal into his very veins, and fill him with soft complacency. His brusque manner dissolved away, and his voice became low and soft, whenever he was in her delicious presence. He spoke softly to Jael even, if Grace was there. The sturdy workman was enthralled.
Often he wondered at himself. Sometimes he felt alarmed at the strength of his passion and the direction it had taken.
"What," said he, "have I flirted with so many girls in my own way of life, and come away heart-whole, and now to fall in love with a gentlewoman, who would bid her footman show me the door if she knew of my presumption!"
But these misgivings could neither cure him nor cow him. Let him only make money, and become a master instead of a workman, and then he would say to her, "I don't value birth myself, but if you do, why, I am not come of workpeople."
He traced a plan with workmanlike precision:—Profound discretion and self-restraint at "Woodbine Villa:" restless industry and stern self-denial in Hillsborough.
After his day's work he used to go straight to his mother. She gave him a cup of tea, and then they had their chat; and after that the sexes were inverted, so to speak: the man carved fruit, and flowers, and dead woodcocks, the woman read the news and polities of the day, and the essays on labor and capital, and any other articles not too flimsy to bear reading aloud to a man whose time was coin. (There was a free library in Hillsborough, and a mechanic could take out standard books and reviews.) Thus they passed the evening hours agreeably, and usefully too, for Henry sucked in knowledge like a leech, and at the same time carved things that sold well in London. He had a strong inclination to open his heart about Miss Carden. Accordingly, one evening he said, "She lost her mother when she was a child."
"Who lost her mother?" asked Mrs. Little.
"Miss Carden," said Henry, very softly.
The tone was not lost on Mrs. Little's fine and watchful ear; at least her mind seized it a few seconds afterward.
"That is true," said she. "Poor girl! I remember hearing of it. Henry, what is that to you? Don't you trouble your head about that young lady, or she will trouble your heart. I wish you did not go near her."
And then came question upon question, and vague maternal misgivings. Henry parried them as adroitly as he could: but never mentioned Miss Carden's name again.
He thought of her all the more, and counted his gains every week, and began to inquire of experienced persons how much money was wanted to set up a wheel with steam power, and be a master instead of a man. He gathered that a stranger could hardly start fair without L500.
"That is a good lump!" thought Henry: "but I'll have it, if I work night as well as day."
Thus inspired, his life became a sweet delirium. When he walked, he seemed to tread on air: when he forged, his hammer felt a feather in his hand. The mountains in the way looked molehills, and the rainbow tangible, to Youth, and Health, and Hope, and mighty Love.
One afternoon, as he put on his coat and crossed the yard, after a day's work that had passed like a pleasant hour, being gilded with such delightful anticipations, the foreman of the works made him a mysterious signal. Henry saw it, and followed him into his office. Bayne looked carefully out of all the doors, then closed them softly, and his face betrayed anxiety, and even fear.
"Little," said he, almost in a whisper, "you know me: I'm a man of peace, and so for love of peace I'm going to do something that might get me into a wrangle. But you are the civillest chap ever worked under me and the best workman, take you altogether, and I can't bear to see you kept in the dark, when you are the man whose skin—only—if I act like a man to you, will you act like one to me?"
"I will," said Henry; "there's my hand on it."
Then Bayne stepped to his desk, opened it, and took out some letters.
"You must never tell a soul I showed them you, or you will get me into a row with Cheetham; and I want to be at peace in-doors as well as out."
"I give you my word."
"Then read that, to begin."
And he handed him a letter addressed to Mr. Cheetham.
"SIR,—We beg respectfully to draw your attention to a matter, which is of a nature to cause unpleasantness between you and the Trades. We allude to your bringing a workman in from another town to do work that we are informed can be done on the premises by your own hands.
"We assure you it would be more to your interest to work in harmony with the smiths and the handle-makers in your employ, and the trade generally. Yours respectfully,
"THE COMMITTEE OF THE EDGE-TOOL FORGERS' UNION."
Henry colored up at this, and looked grieved; but he said, "I am sorry to be the cause of any unpleasantness. But what can I do?"
"Oh," said Bayne, with a sardonic grin, "they are sure to tell you that, soon or late. Read this:"
No. 2 was dated a week later, and ran thus:
"MR. CHEETHAM: SIR,—I think you do very ill to annoy a many craftsmen for one. Remember, you have suffered loss and inconvenience whenever you have gone against Trades. We had to visit you last year, and when we came your bands went and your bellows gaped. We have no wish to come again this year, if you will be reasonable. But, sir, you must part with London hand, or take consequences.
Henry looked grave. "Can I see a copy of Mr. Cheetham's reply?"
Bayne stared at him, and then laughed in his face, but without the gayety that should accompany a laugh. "Cheetham's reply to Balaam! And where would he send it? To Mr. Beor's lodgings, No. 1 Prophet Place, Old Testament Square. My poor chap, nobody writes replies to these letters. When you get one, you go that minute to the secretary of whatever Union you are wrong with, and you don't argue, or he bids you good-morning; you give in to whatever he asks, and then you get civility; and justice too, according to Trade lights. If you don't do that, and haven't learned what a blessing Peace is, why, you make up your mind to fight the Trade; and if you do, you have to fight them all; and you are safe to get the worst of it, soon or late. Cheetham has taken no notice of these letters. All the worse for him and you too. Read that."
No. 3 ran thus:
"DEAR SIR,—I take the liberty of addressing you on the subject of your keeping on this knobstick, in defiance of them that has the power to make stones of Hillsborough too hot for you and him. Are you deaf, or blind, or a fool, Jack Cheatem? You may cheat the world, but you don't cheat the devil, nor me. Turn cockney up, with no more ado, or you'll both get kicked to hell some dark night by
Henry was silent; quite silent. When he did speak, it was to ask why Mr. Cheetham had kept all this from him.
"Because you shouldn't take fright and leave him," was the unhesitating reply.
"For that matter they threaten him more than they do me."
"They warn the master first; but the workman's turn is sure to come, and he gets it hottest, because they have so many ways of doing him. Cheetham, he lives miles from here, and rides in across country, and out again, in daylight. But the days are drawing in, and you have got to pass through these dark streets, where the Trades have a thousand friends, and you not one. Don't you make any mistake: you are in their power; so pray don't copy any hot-headed, wrong-headed gentleman like Cheetham, but speak them fair. Come to terms—if you can—and let us be at peace; sweet, balmy peace."
"Peace is a good thing, no doubt," said Henry, "but" (rather bitterly) "I don't thank Cheetham for letting me run blindfold into trouble, and me a stranger."
"Oh," said Bayne, "he is no worse than the rest, believe me. What does any master care for a man's life? Profit and loss go down in figures; but life—that's a cipher in all their ledgers."
"Oh, come," said Harry, "it is unphilosophical and narrow-minded to fasten on a class the faults of a few individuals, that form a very moderate portion of that class."
Bayne seemed staggered by a blow so polysyllabic; and Henry, to finish him, added, "Where there's a multitude, there's a mixture." Now the first sentence he had culled from the Edinburgh Review, and the second he had caught from a fellow-workman's lips in a public-house; and probably this was the first time the pair of phrases had ever walked out of any man's mouth arm in arm. He went on to say, "And as for Cheetham, he is not a bad fellow, take him altogether. But you are a better for telling me the truth. Forewarned, forearmed."
He went home thoughtful, and not so triumphant and airy as yesterday; but still not dejected, for his young and manly mind summoned its energy and spirit to combat this new obstacle, and his wits went to work.
Being unable to sleep for thinking of what he should do he was the first to reach the works in the morning. He lighted his furnace, and then went and unlocked the room where he worked as a handle maker, and also as a cutler. He entered briskly and opened the window. The gray light of the morning came in, and showed him something on the inside of the door that was not there when he locked it overnight. It was a very long knife, broad toward the handle, but keenly pointed, and double-edged. It was fast in the door, and impaled a letter addressed, in a vile hand—
"TO JAK THRE TRADES."
Henry took hold of the handle to draw the knife out; but the formidable weapon had been driven clean through the door with a single blow.
Then Henry drew back, and, as the confusion of surprise cleared away, the whole thing began to grow on him, and reveal distinct and alarming features.
The knife was not one which the town manufactured in the way of business, it was a long, glittering blade, double-edged, finely pointed, and exquisitely tempered. It was not a tool, but a weapon.
Why was it there, and, above all, how did it come there?
He distinctly remembered locking the door overnight. Indeed, he had found it locked, and the window-shutters bolted; yet there was this deadly weapon, and on its point a letter, the superscription of which looked hostile and sinister.
He drew the note gently across the edge of the keen knife, and the paper parted like a cobweb. He took it to the window and read it. It ran thus:
"This knifs wun of too made ekspres t'other is for thy hart if thou doesnt harken Trade and leve Chetm. Is thy skin thicks dore thinks thou if not turn up and back to Lundon or I cum again and rip thy —— carkiss with feloe blade to this thou —— cokny
Any one who reads it by the fireside may smile at the incongruous mixture of a sanguinary menace with bad spelling. But deeds of blood had often followed these scrawls in Hillsborough, and Henry knew it: and, indeed, he who can not spell his own name correctly is the very man to take his neighbor's life without compunction; since mercy is a fruit of knowledge, and cruelty of ignorance.
And then there was something truly chilling in the mysterious entrance of this threat on a dagger's point into a room he had locked overnight. It implied supernatural craft and power. After this, where could a man be safe from these all-penetrating and remorseless agents of a secret and irresponsible tribunal.
Henry sat down awhile, and pored over the sanguinary scrawl, and glanced from it with a shudder at the glittering knife. And, while he was in this state of temporary collapse, the works filled, the Power moved, the sonorous grindstones revolved, and every man worked at his ease, except one, the best of them all beyond comparison.
He went to his friend Bayne, and said in a broken voice, "They have put me in heart for work; given me a morning dram. Look here." Bayne was shocked, but not surprised. "It is the regular routine," said he. "They begin civil; but if you don't obey, they turn it over to the scum."
"Do you think my life is really in danger?"
"No, not yet; I never knew a man molested on one warning. This is just to frighten you. If you were to take no notice, you'd likely get another warning, or two, at most; and then they'd do you, as sure as a gun."
"Oh, that is the Hillsborough word. It means to disable a man from work. Sometimes they lie in wait in these dark streets, and fracture his skull with life-preservers; or break his arm, or cut the sinew of his wrist; and that they call DOING him. Or, if it is a grinder, they'll put powder in his trough, and then the sparks of his own making fire it, and scorch him, and perhaps blind him for life; that's DOING him. They have gone as far as shooting men with shot, and even with a bullet, but never so as to kill the man dead on the spot. They DO him. They are skilled workmen, you know; well, they are skilled workmen at violence and all, and it is astonishing how they contrive to stop within an inch of murder. They'll chance it though sometimes with their favorite gunpowder. If you're very wrong with the trade, and they can't DO you any other way, they'll blow your house up from the cellar, or let a can of powder down the chimney, with a lighted fuse, or fling a petard in at the window, and they take the chance of killing a houseful of innocent people, to get at the one that's on the black books of the trade, and has to be DONE."
"The beasts! I'll buy a six-shooter. I'll meet craft with craft, and force with force."
"What can you do against ten thousand? No; go you at once to the Secretary of the Edge-Tool Grinders, and get your trade into his Union. You will have to pay; but don't mind that. Cheetham will go halves."
"I'll go at dinner-time."
"And why not now?"
"Because," said Henry, with a candor all his own, "I'm getting over my fright a bit, and my blood is beginning to boil at being threatened by a sneak, who wouldn't stand before me one moment in that yard, knife or no knife."
Bayne smiled a friendly but faint smile, and shook his head with grave disapprobation, and said, with wonder, "Fancy postponing Peace!"
Henry went to his forge and worked till dinner-time. Nay, more, was a beautiful whistler, and always whistled a little at his work: so to-day he whistled a great deal: in fact, he over-whistled.
At dinner-time he washed his face and hands and put on his coat to go out.
But he had soon some reason to regret that he had not acted on Bayne's advice to the letter. There had been a large trade's meeting overnight, and the hostility to the London craftsman had spread more widely, in consequence of remarks that had been there made. This emboldened the lower class of workmen, who already disliked him out of pure envy, and had often scowled at him in silence; and, now, as he passed them, they spoke at him, in their peculiar language, which the great friend and supporter of mechanics in general, The Hillsborough Liberal, subsequently christened "THE DASH DIALECT."
"We want no —— cockneys here, to steal our work."
"Did ever a —— anvil-man handle his own blades in Hillsborough?"
"Not till this —— knobstick came," said another.
Henry turned sharp round upon them haughtily, and such was the power of his prompt defiant attitude, and his eye, which flashed black lightning, that there was a slight movement of recoil among the actual speakers. They recovered it immediately, strong in numbers; but in that same moment Little also recovered his discretion, and he had the address to step briskly toward the gate and call out the porter; he said to him in rather a loud voice, for all to hear, "if anybody asks for Henry Little, say he has gone to the Secretary of the Edge-Tool Forgers' Union." He then went out of the works; but, as he went, he heard some respectable workman say to the scum, "Come, shut up now. It is in better hands than yours."
Mr. Jobson, the Secretary of the Edge-Tool Forgers, was not at home, but his servant-girl advised Little to try the "Rising Sun;" and in the parlor of that orb he found Mr. Jobson, in company with other magnates of the same class, discussing a powerful leader of The Hillsborough Liberal, in which was advocated the extension of the franchise, a measure calculated to throw prodigious power into the hands of Hillsborough operatives, because of their great number, and their habit of living each workman in a tenement of his own, however small.
Little waited till The Liberal had received its meed of approbation, and then asked respectfully if he might speak to Mr. Jobson on a trade matter. "Certainly," said Mr. Jobson. "Who are you?"
"My name is Little. I make the carving-tools at Cheetham's."
"I'll go home with you; my house is hard by."
When they got to the house, Jobson told him to sit down, and asked him, in a smooth and well-modulated voice, what was the nature of the business. This query, coming from him, who had set the stone rolling that bade fair to crush him, rather surprised Henry. He put his hand into his pocket, and produced the threatening note, but said nothing as to the time or manner of its arrival.
Mr. Jobson perused it carefully, and then returned it to Henry. "What have we to do with this?" and he looked quite puzzled.
"Why, sir, it is the act of your Union."
"You are sadly misinformed, Mr. Little. WE NEVER THREATEN. All we do is to remind the master that, if he does not do certain things, certain other things will probably be done by us; and this we wrap up in the kindest way."
"But, sir, you wrote to Cheetham against me."
"Did we? Then it will be in my letter-book." He took down a book, examined it, and said, "You are quite right. Here's a copy of the letter. Now surely, sir, comparing the language, the manners, and the spelling, with that of the ruffian whose scrawl you received this morning—"
"Then you disown the ruffian's threat?"
"Most emphatically. And if you can trace it home, he shall smart for interfering in our business."
"Oh, if the trade disowns the blackguard, I can despise him. But you can't wonder at my thinking all these letters were steps of the same—yes, and Mr. Bayne thought so too; for he said this was the regular routine, and ends in DOING a poor fellow for gaining his bread."
Mr. Jobson begged to explain.
"Many complaints are brought to us, who advise the trades. When they are frivolous, we are unwilling to disturb the harmony of employers and workmen; we reason with the complainant, and the thing dies away. When the grievance is substantial, we take it out of the individual's hands and lay it before the working committee. A civil note is sent to the master; or a respectable member of the committee calls on him, and urges him to redress the grievance, but always in kind and civil terms. The master generally assents: experience has taught him it is his wisest course. But if he refuses, we are bound to report the refusal to a larger committee, and sometimes a letter emanates from them, reminding the master that he has been a loser before by acts of injustice, and hinting that he may be a loser again. I do not quite approve this form of communication. But certainly it has often prevented the mischief from spreading further. Well, but perhaps he continues rebellious. What follows? We can't lock up facts that affect the trade; we are bound to report the case at the next general meeting. It excites comments, some of them perhaps a little intemperate; the lower kind of workmen get inflamed with passion, and often, I am sorry to say, write ruffianly letters, and now and then do ruffianly acts, which disgrace the town, and are strongly reprobated by us. Why, Mr. Little, it has been my lot to send a civil remonstrance, written with my own hand, in pretty fair English—for a man who plied bellows and hammer twenty years of my life—and be treated with silent contempt; and two months after to be offering a reward of twenty or thirty pounds, for the discovery of some misguided man, that had taken on himself to right this very matter with a can of gunpowder, or some such coarse expedient."
"Yes, but, sir, what hurts me is, you don't consider me to be worth a civil note. You only remonstrated with Cheetham."
"You can't wonder at that. Our trade hasn't been together many years: and what drove us together? The tyranny of our employers. What has kept us together? The bitter experience of hard work and little pay, whenever we were out of union. Those who now direct the trades are old enough to remember when we were all ground down to the dust by the greedy masters; and therefore it is natural, when a grievance arises, we should be inclined to look to those old offenders for redress in the first instance. Sometimes the masters convince us the fault lies with workmen; and then we trouble the master no more than we are forced to do in order to act upon the offenders. But, to come to the point: what is your proposal?"
"I beg to be admitted into the union."
"Why, of course, the one I have offended, through ignorance. The edge-tool forgers."
Jobson shook his head, and said he feared there were one or two objections.
Henry saw it was no use bidding low. "I'll pay L15 down," said he, "and I'll engage not to draw relief from your fund, unless disabled by accident or violence."
"I will submit your offer to the trade," said Jobson. He added, "Then there, I conclude, the matter rests for the present."
Henry interpreted this to mean that he had nothing to apprehend, unless his proposal should be rejected. He put the L15 down on the table, though Mr. Jobson told him that was premature, and went off as light as a feather. Being nice and clean, and his afternoon's work spoiled, he could not resist the temptation; he went to "Woodbine Villa." He found Miss Carden at home, and she looked quietly pleased at his unexpected arrival: but Jael's color came and went, and her tranquil bosom rose and fell slowly, but grandly, for a minute, as she lowered her head over her work.
This was a heavenly change to Henry Little. Away from the deafening workshop, and the mean jealousies and brutality of his inferiors, who despised him, to the presence of a beautiful and refined girl, who was his superior, yet did not despise him. From sin to purity, from din to cleanliness, from war to peace, from vilest passions to Paradise.
Her smile had never appeared so fascinating, her manner never so polite yet placid. How softly and comfortably she and her ample dress nestled into the corner of the sofa and fitted it! How white her nimble hand! how bright her delicious face! How he longed to kiss her exquisite hand, or her little foot, or her hem, or the ground she walked on, or something she had touched, or her eye had dwelt on.
But he must not even think too much of such delights, lest he should show his heart too soon. So, after a short lesson, he proposed to go into the lumber-room and find something to work upon. "Yes, do," said Grace. "I would go too; but no; it was my palace of delight for years, and its treasures inexhaustible. I will not go to be robbed of one more illusion, it is just possible I might find it really is what the profane in this house call it—a lumber-room—and not what memory paints it, a temple of divine curiosities." And so she sent them off, and she set herself to feel old—"oh, so old!"
And presently Henry came back, laden with a great wooden bust of Erin, that had been the figure-head of a wrecked schooner; and set it down, and told her he should carve that into a likeness of herself, and she must do her share of the work.
Straightway she forgot she was worn out; and clapped her hands, and her eyes sparkled. And the floor was prepared, and Henry went to work like one inspired, and the chips flew in every direction, and the paint was chiseled away in no time, and the wood proved soft and kindly, and just the color of a delicate skin, and Henry said, "The Greek Statues, begging their pardons, have all got hair like mops; but this shall have real hair, like your own: and the silk dress, with the gloss on; and the lace; but the face, the expression, how can I ever—?"
"Oh, never mind THEM," cried Grace. "Jael, this is too exciting. Please go and tell them 'not at home' to anybody."
Then came a pretty picture: the workman, with his superb hand, brown and sinewy, yet elegant and shapely as a duchess's, and the fingers almost as taper, and his black eye that glowed like a coal over the model, which grew under his masterly strokes, now hard, now light: the enchanting girl who sat to him, and seemed on fire with curiosity and innocent admiration: and the simple rural beauty, that plied the needle, and beamed mildly with demure happiness, and shot a shy glance upward now and then.
Yes, Love was at his old mischievous game.
Henry now lived in secret for Grace Carden, and Jael was garnering Henry into her devoted heart, unobserved by the object of her simple devotion. Yet, of the three, these two, that loved with so little encouragement, were the happiest. To them the world was Heaven this glorious afternoon. Time, strewing roses as he went, glided so sweetly and so swiftly, that they started with surprise when the horizontal beams glorified the windows, and told them the brightest day of their lives was drawing to its end.
Ah, stay a little while longer for them, Western Sun. Stand still, not as in the cruel days of old, to glare upon poor, beaten, wounded, panting warriors, and rob them of their last chance, the shelter of the night: but to prolong these holy rapturous hours of youth, and hope, and first love in bosoms unsullied by the world—the golden hours of life, that glow so warm, and shine so bright, and flee so soon; and return in this world—Never more!
Henry Little began this bust in a fervid hour, and made great progress the first day; but as the work grew on him, it went slower and slower; for his ambitious love drove him to attempt beauties of execution that were without precedent in this kind of wood-carving; and, on the other hand, the fastidiousness of a true craftsman made him correct his attempts again and again. As to those mechanical parts, which he intrusted at first to his pupil, she fell so far short of his ideal even in these, that he told her bluntly she must strike work for the present: he could not have THIS spoiled.
Grace thought it hard she might not be allowed to spoil her own image; however, she submitted, and henceforth her lesson was confined to looking on. And she did look on with interest, and, at last, with profound admiration. Hitherto she had thought, with many other persons, that, if a man's hand was the stronger, a woman's was the neater; but now she saw the same hand, which had begun by hewing away the coarse outlines of the model, bestow touches of the chisel so unerring and effective, yet so exquisitely delicate, that she said to herself, "No woman's hand could be so firm, yet so feather-like, as all this."
And the result was as admirable as the process. The very texture of the ivory forehead began to come under those master-touches, executed with perfect and various instruments: and, for the first time perhaps in the history of this art, a bloom, more delicate far than that of a plum, crept over the dimpled cheek. But, indeed, when love and skill work together, expect a masterpiece.
Henry worked on it four afternoons, the happiest he had ever known. There was the natural pleasure of creating, and the distinct glory and delight of reproducing features so beloved; and to these joys were added the pleasure of larger conversation. The model gave Grace many opportunities of making remarks, or asking questions, and Henry contrived to say so many things in answer to one. Sculptor and sitter made acquaintance with each other's minds over the growing bust.
And then the young ladies and gentlemen dropped in, and gazed, and said such wonderfully silly things, and thereby left their characters behind them as fruitful themes for conversation. In short, topics were never wanting now.
As for Jael, she worked, and beamed, and pondered every word her idol uttered, but seldom ventured to say anything, till he was gone, and then she prattled fast enough about him.
The work drew near completion. The hair, not in ropes, as heretofore, but its silken threads boldly and accurately shown, yet not so as to cord the mass, and unsatin it quite. The silk dress; the lace collar; the blooming cheek, with its every dimple and incident; all these were completed, and one eyebrow, a masterpiece in itself. This carved eyebrow was a revelation, and made everybody who saw it wonder at the conventional substitutes they had hitherto put up with in statuary of all sorts, when the eyebrow itself was so beautiful, and might it seems have been imitated, instead of libeled, all these centuries.
But beautiful works, and pleasant habits, seem particularly liable to interruption. Just when the one eyebrow was finished, and when Jael Dence had come to look on Saturday and Monday as the only real days in the week, and when even Grace Carden was brighter on those days, and gliding into a gentle complacent custom, suddenly a Saturday came and went, but Little did not appear.
Jaet was restless.
Grace was disappointed, but contented to wait till Monday.
Monday came and went, but no Henry Little.
Jael began to fret and sigh; and, after two more blank weeks, she could bear the mystery no longer. "If you please, miss," said she, "shall I go to that place where he works?"
"Where who works?" inquired Grace, rather disingenuously.
"Why, the dark young man, miss," said Jael, blushing deeply.
Grace reflected and curiosity struggled with discretion; but discretion got the better, being aided by self-respect. "No, Jael," said she; "he is charming, when he is here; but, when he gets away, he is not always so civil as he might be. I had to go twice after him. I shall not go nor send a third time. It really is too bad of him."
"Dear heart," pleaded Jael, "mayhap he is not well."
"Then he ought to write and say so. No, no; he is a radical, and full of conceit; and he has done this one eyebrow, and then gone off laughing and saying, 'Now, let us see if the gentry can do the other amongst them.' If he doesn't come soon, I'll do the other eyebrow myself."
"Mayhap he will never come again," said Jael.
"Oh, yes, he will," said Grace, mighty cunningly; "he is as fond of coming here as we are of having him. Not that I'm at all surprised; for the fact is, you are very pretty, extremely pretty, abominably pretty."
"I might pass in Cairnhope town," said Jael, modestly, "but not here. The moon goes for naught when the sun is there. He don't come here for me."
This sudden elegance of language, and Jael's tone of dignified despondency, silenced Grace, somehow, and made her thoughtful. She avoided the subject for several days. Indeed, when Saturday came, not a word was said about the defaulter: it was only by her sending for Jael to sit with her, and by certain looks, and occasional restlessness, she betrayed the slightest curiosity or expectation.
Jael sat and sewed, and often looked quickly up at the window, as some footstep passed, and then looked down again and sighed.
Young Little never came. He seemed to have disappeared from both their lives; quietly disappeared.
Next day, Sunday, Jael came to Miss Carden, after morning church, and said, meekly, "if you please, miss, may I go home?"
"Oh, certainly," said Grace, a little haughtily. "What for?"
Jael hung her head, and said she was not used to be long away. Then she lifted her head, and her great candid eyes, and spoke more frankly. "I feel to be drawed home. Something have been at me all the night to that degree as I couldn't close my eyes. I could almost feel it, like a child's hand, a pulling me East. I'm afeared father's ill, or may be the calves are bleating for me, that is better acquaint with them than sister Patty is. And Hillsborough air don't seem to 'gree with me now not altogether as it did at first. If you please, miss, to let me go; and then I'll come back when I'm better company than I be now. Oh dear! oh dear!"
"Why, Jael, my poor girl, what IS the matter?"
"I don't know, miss. But I feel very unked."
"Are you not happy with me?"
"'Tis no fault of yourn, miss," said Jael, rustic, but womanly.
"Then you are NOT happy here."
No reply, but two clear eyes began to fill to the very brim.
Grace coaxed her, and said, "Speak to me like a friend. You know, after all, you are not my servant. I can't possibly part with you altogether; I have got to like you so: but, of course, you shall go home for a little while, if you wish it very, very much."
"Indeed I do, miss," said Jael. "Please forgive me, but my heart feels like lead in my bosom." And, with these words, the big tears ran over, and chased one another down her cheeks.
Then Grace, who was very kind-hearted, begged her, in a very tearful voice, not to cry: she should go home for a week, a fortnight, a month even. "There, there, you shall go to-morrow, poor thing."
Now it is a curious fact, and looks like animal magnetism or something, but the farm-house, to which Jael had felt so mysteriously drawn all night, contained, at that moment, besides its usual inmates, one Henry Little: and how he came there is an important part of this tale, which I must deal with at once.
While Henry was still visiting Woodbine Villa, as related above, events of a very different character from those soft scenes were taking place at the works. His liberal offer to the Edge-Tool Forgers had been made about a week, when, coming back one day from dinner to his forge, he found the smoky wall written upon with chalk, in large letters, neatly executed:—
"Why overlook the handlers?
He was not alarmed this time, but vexed. He went and complained to Bayne; and that worthy came directly and contemplated the writing, in silence, for about a minute. Then he gave a weary sigh, and said, with doleful resignation, "Take the chalk, and write. There it is."
Henry took the chalk, and prepared to write Bayne's mind underneath Mary's. Bayne dictated:
"I have offered the Handlers the same as the Forgers."
"But that is not true," objected Henry, turning round, with the chalk in his hand.
"It will be true, in half an hour. We are going to Parkin, the Handlers' Secretary."
"What, another L15! This is an infernal swindle."
"What isn't?" said Bayne, cynically.
Henry then wrote as desired; and they went together to Mr. Parkin.
Mr. Parkin was not at home. But they hunted him from pillar to post, and caught him, at last, in the bar-parlor of "The Packsaddle." He knew Bayne well, and received him kindly, and, on his asking for a private interview, gave a wink to two persons who were with him: they got up directly, and went out.
"What, is there any thing amiss between you and the trade?" inquired Mr. Parkin, with an air of friendly interest.
Bayne smiled, not graciously, but sourly. "Come, come, sir, that is a farce you and I have worn out this ten years. This is the London workman himself, come to excuse himself to Mary and Co., for not applying to them before: and the long and the short is, he offers the Handlers the same as he has the Smiths, fifteen down, and to pay his natty money, but draw no scale, unless disabled. What d'y say? Yes, or no?"
"I'll lay Mr. Little's proposal before the committee."
"Thank you, sir," said Little. "And, meantime, I suppose I may feel safe against violence, from the members of your union?"
"Violence!" said Mr. Parkin, turning his eye inward, as if he was interrogating the centuries. Then to Mr. Bayne, "Pray, sir, do you remember any deed of darkness that our Union has ever committed, since we have been together; and that is twelve years?"
"WELL, Mr. Parkin," said Bayne, "if you mean deeds of blood, and deeds of gunpowder, et cetera—why, no, not one: and it is greatly to your honor. But, mind you, if a master wants his tanks tapped and his hardening-liquor run into the shore or his bellows to be ripped, his axle-nuts to vanish, his wheel-bands to go and hide in a drain or a church belfry, and his scythe-blades to dive into a wheel-dam, he has only to be wrong with your Union, and he'll be accommodated as above. I speak from experience."
"Oh, rattening!" said Mr Parkin. "That's is a mighty small matter."
"It is small to you, that are not in the oven, where the bread is baked, or cooled, or burnt. But whatever parts the grindstones from the power, and the bellows from the air, and the air from the fire, makes a hole in the master's business to-day, and a hole in the workman's pocket that day six months. So, for heaven's sake, let us be right with you. Little's is the most friendly and liberal offer that any workman ever made to any Union. Do, pray, close with it, and let us be at peace; sweet—balmy—peace."
Parkin declared he shared that desire: but was not the committee. Then, to Henry: "I shall put your case as favorably as my conscience will let me. Meantime, of course, the matter rests as it is."
They then parted; and Henry, as he returned home, thanked Bayne heartily. He said this second L15 had been a bitter pill at first; but now he was glad he had offered it. "I would not leave Hillsborough for fifteen hundred pounds."
Two days after this promising interview with Mr. Parkin, Henry received a note, the envelope of which showed him it came from Mr. Jobson. He opened it eagerly, and with a good hope that its object was to tell him he was now a member of the Edge-Tool Forgers' Union.
The letter, however, ran thus:
"DEAR SIR,—I hear, with considerable surprise, that you continue to forge blades and make handles for Mr. Cheetham. On receipt of this information I went immediately to Mr. Parkin, and he assured me that he came to the same terms with you as I did. He says he intimated politely, but plainly, that he should expect you not to make any more carving-tool handles for Mr. Cheetham, till his committee had received your proposal. He now joins me in advising you to strike work for the present. Hillsborough is surrounded by beautiful scenes, which it might gratify an educated workman to inspect, during the unavoidable delay caused by the new and very important questions your case has raised.
"P.S.—A respectable workman was with me yesterday, and objected that you receive from Mr. Cheetham a higher payment than the list price. Can you furnish me with a reply to this, as it is sure to be urged at the trade meeting."
When he read this, Little's blood boiled, especially at the cool advice to lay down his livelihood, and take up scenery: and he dashed off a letter of defiance. He showed it to Bayne, and it went into the fire directly. "That is all right," said this worthy. "You have written your mind, like a man. Now sit down, and give them treacle for their honey—or you'll catch pepper."
Henry groaned, and writhed, but obeyed.
He had written his defiance in three minutes. It took him an hour to produce the following:
"DEAR SIR,—I am sorry for the misunderstanding. I did not, for a moment, attach that meaning to any thing that fell either from you or Mr. Parkin.
"I must now remind you that, were I to strike work entirely, Mr. Cheetham could discharge me, and even punish me, for breach of contract. All I can do is to work fewer hours than I have done: and I am sure you will be satisfied with that, if you consider that the delay in the settlement of this matter rests with you, and not with me,
"I am yours respectfully, HENRY LITTLE.
"I furnish you, as requested, with two replies to the objection of a respectable workman that I am paid above the list price.
"1.—To sell skilled labor below the statement price is a just offense, and injury to trade. But to obtain above the statement price is to benefit trade. The high price, that stands alone to-day, will not stand alone forever. It gets quoted in bargains, and draws prices up to it. That has been proved a thousand times.
"2.—It is not under any master's skin to pay a man more than he is worth. It I get a high price, it is because I make a first-rate article. If a man has got superior knowledge, he is not going to give it away to gratify envious ignorance."
To this, in due course, he received from Jobson the following:
"DEAR SIR,—I advised you according to my judgment and experience: but, doubtless, you are the best judge of your own affairs."
And that closed the correspondence with the Secretaries.
The gentle Jobson and the polite Parkin had retired from the correspondence with their air of mild regret and placid resignation just three days, when young Little found a dirty crumpled letter on his anvil, written in pencil. It ran thus:
"Turn up or youl wish you had droped it. Youl be made so as youl never do hands turn agin, an never know what hurt you.
When he had sworn (and, as a Briton, I think he had denied himself that satisfaction long enough), he caught up a strip of steel with his pincers, shoved it into the coals, heated it, and, in half a minute, forged two long steel nails. He then nailed this letter to his wall, and wrote under it in chalk, "I offer L10 reward to any one who will show me the coward who wrote this, but was afraid to sign it. The writing is peculiar, and can easily be identified."
He also took the knife that had been so ostentatiously fixed in his door, and carried it about him night and day, with a firm resolve to use it in self-defense, if necessary.
And now the plot thickened: the decent workmen in Cheetham's works were passive; they said nothing offensive, but had no longer the inclination, even if they had the power, to interfere and restrain the lower workmen from venting their envy and malice. Scarcely a day passed without growls and scowls. But Little went his way haughtily, and affected not to see, nor hear them.
However, one day, at dinner-time, he happened, unluckily, to be detained by Bayne in the yard, when the men came out: and two or three of the roughs took this opportunity and began on him at once, in the Dash Dialect, of course; they knew no other.
A great burly forger, whose red matted hair was powdered with coal-dust, and his face bloated with habitual intemperance, planted himself insolently before Henry, and said, in a very loud voice, "How many more trade meetings are we to have for one —— knobstick?"
Henry replied, in a moment, "Is it my fault if your shilly-shallying committees can't say yes or no to L15? You'd say yes to it, wouldn't you, sooner than go to bed sober?"
This sally raised a loud laugh at the notorious drunkard's expense, and checked the storm, as a laugh generally does.
But men were gathering round, and a workman who had heard the raised voices, and divined the row, ran out of the works, with his apron full of blades, and his heart full of mischief. It was a grinder of a certain low type, peculiar to Hillsborough, but quite common there, where grinders are often the grandchildren of grinders. This degenerate face was more canine than human; sharp as a hatchet, and with forehead villainously low; hardly any chin; and—most characteristic trait of all—the eyes, pale in color, and tiny in size, appeared to have come close together, to consult, and then to have run back into the very skull, to get away from the sparks, which their owner, and his sire, and his grandsire, had been eternally creating.
This greyhound of a grinder flung down a lot of dull bluish blades, warm from the forge, upon a condemned grindstone that was lying in the yard; and they tinkled.
"—— me, if I grind cockney blades!" said he.
This challenge fired a sympathetic handle-maker. "Grinders are right," said he. "We must be a —— mean lot and all, to handle his —— work."
"He has been warned enough; but he heeds noane."
"Hustle him out o' works."
"Nay, hit him o'er th' head and fling him into shore."
With these menacing words, three or four roughs advanced on him, with wicked eyes; and the respectable workmen stood, like stone statues, in cold and terrible neutrality; and Henry, looking round, in great anxiety, found that Bayne had withdrawn.
He ground his teeth, and stepped back to the wall, to have all the assailants in the front. He was sternly resolute, though very pale, and, by a natural impulse, put his hand into his side-pocket, to feel if he had a weapon. The knife was there, the deadly blade with which his enemies themselves had armed him; and, to those who could read faces, there was death in the pale cheek and gleaming eye of this young man, so sorely tried.
At this moment, a burly gentleman walked into the midst of them, as smartly as Van Amburgh amongst his tigers, and said steadily, "What is to do now, lads?" It was Cheetham himself, Bayne knew he was in the office, and had run for him in mortal terror, and sent him to keep the peace. "They insult me, sir," said Henry; "though I am always civil to them; and that grinder refuses to grind my blades, there."
"Is that so? Step out, my lad. Did you refuse to grind those blades?"
"Ay," said the greyhound-man sullenly.
"Then put on your coat, and leave my premises this minute."
"He is entitled to a week's warning, Mr. Cheetham," said one of the decent workmen, respectfully, but resolutely; speaking now for the first time.
"You are mistaken, sir," replied Mr. Cheetham, in exactly the same tone. (No stranger could have divined the speakers were master and man.) "He has vitiated his contract by publicly refusing to do his work. He'll get nothing from me but his wages up to noon this day. But YOU can have a week's warning, if you want it."
"Nay, sir. I've naught against you, for my part. But they say it will come to that, if you don't turn Little up."
"Why, what's his fault? Come now; you are a man. Speak up."
"Nay, I've no quarrel with the man. But he isn't straight with the trade."
"That is the secretaries' fault, not mine," said Henry. "They can't see I've brought a new trade in, that hurts no old trade, and will spread, and bring money into the town."
"We are not so —— soft as swallow that," said the bloated smith. "Thou's just come t' Hillsborough to learn forging, and when thou'st mastered that, off to London, and take thy —— trade with thee."
Henry colored to the brow at the inferior workman's vanity and its concomitant, detraction. But he governed himself, by a mighty effort, and said, "Oh, that's your grievance now, is it? Mr. Cheetham—sir—will you ask some respectable grinder to examine these blades of mine?"
"Certainly. You are right, Little. The man to judge a forger's work is a grinder, and not another forger. Reynolds, just take a look at them, will ye?"
A wet grinder of a thoroughly different type and race from the greyhound, stepped forward. He was thick-set in body, fresh-colored, and of a square manly countenance. He examined the blades carefully, and with great interest.
"Well," said Henry, "were they forged by a smith, or a novice that is come here to learn anvil work?"
Reynolds did not reply to him, nor to Mr. Cheetham: he turned to the men. "Mates, I'm noane good at lying. Hand that forged these has naught to learn in Hillsbro', nor any other shop."
"Thank you, Mr. Reynolds," said Henry, in a choking voice. "That is the first gleam of justice that I—" He could say no more.
"Come, don't you turn soft for a word or two," said Cheetham. "You'll wear all this out in time. Go to the office. I have something to say to you."