BY EDEN PHILLPOTTS
Author of "Old Delabole," "Brunel's Tower," etc.
I THE FUNERAL II AT 'THE TIGER' III THE HACKLER IV CHAINS FOR RAYMOND V IN THE MILL VI 'THE SEVEN STARS' VII A WALK VIII THE LECTURE IX THE PARTY X WORK XI THE OLD STORE-HOUSE XII CREDIT XIII IN THE FOREMAN'S GARDEN XIV THE CONCERT XV A VISIT TO MISS IRONSYDE XVI AT CHILCOMBE XVII CONFUSION XVIII THE LOVERS' GROVE XIX JOB LEGG'S AMBITION XX A CONFERENCE XXI THE WARPING MILL XXII THE TELEGRAM XXIII A LETTER FOR SABINA XXIV MRS. NORTHOVER DECIDES XXV THE WOMAN'S DARKNESS XXVI OF HUMAN NATURE XXVII THE MASTER OF THE MILL XXVIII CLASH OF OPINIONS XXIX THE BUNCH OF GRAPES XXX A TRIUMPH OF REASON XXXI THE OFFER DECLINED
I THE FLYING YEARS II THE SEA GARDEN III A TWIST FRAME IV THE RED HAND V AN ACCIDENT VI THE GATHERING PROBLEM VII THE WALK HOME VIII EPITAPH IX THE FUTURE OF ABEL X THE ADVERTISEMENT XI THE HEMP BREAKER XII THE PICNIC XIII THE RUNAWAY XIV THE MOTOR CAR XV CRITICISM XVI THE OFFER OF MARRIAGE XVII SABINA AND ABEL XVIII SWAN SONG XIX NEW WORK FOR ABEL XX IDEALS XXI ATROPOS XXII THE HIDING-PLACE
The people were coming to church and one had thought it Sunday, but for two circumstances. The ring of bells at St. Mary's did not peal, and the women were dressed in black as the men.
Through the winding lanes of Bridetown a throng converged, drawn to the grey tower by a tolling bell; and while the sun shone and a riot of many flowers made hedgerows and cottage gardens gay; while the spirit of the hour was inspired by June and a sun at the zenith unclouded, the folk of the hamlet drew their faces to sadness and mothers chid the children, who could not pretend, but echoed the noontide hour in their hearts.
All were not attired for a funeral. A small crowd of women, with one or two men among them, stood together where a sycamore threw a patch of shade on a triangular space of grass near the church. There were fifty of these people—ancient women, others in their prime, and many young maidens. Some communion linked them and the few men who stood with them. All wore a black band upon their left arms. Drab or grey was their attire, but sun-bonnets nodded bright as butterflies among them, and even their dull raiment was more cheerful than the gathering company in black who now began to mass their numbers and crane their heads along the highway.
Bridetown lies near the sea in a valley under a range of grassy downs. It is the centre of a network of little lanes with cottages dotted upon them, or set back behind small gardens. The dwellings stood under thatch, or weathered tile, and their faces at this season were radiant with roses and honeysuckles, jasmine and clematis. Pinks, lilies, columbines made the garden patches gay, and, as though so many flowers were not enough, the windows, too, shone with geraniums and the scarlet tassels of great cactus, that lifted their exotic, thorny bodies behind the window panes. Not a wall but flaunted red valerian and snapdragon. Indeed Bridetown was decked with blooms.
Here and there in the midst stood better houses, with some expanse of lawn before them and flat shrubs that throve in that snug vale. Good walnut trees and mulberries threw their shadows on grass plat and house front, while the murmur of bees came from many bright borders.
South the land rose again to the sea cliffs, for the spirits of ocean and the west wind have left their mark upon Bride Vale. The white gulls float aloft; the village elms are moulded by Zephyr with sure and steady breath. Of forestal size and unstunted, yet they turn their backs, as it were, upon the west and, yielding to that unsleeping pressure, incline landward. The trees stray not far. They congregate in an oasis about Bridetown, then wend away through valley meadows, but leave the green hills bare. The high ground rolls upward to a gentle skyline and the hillsides, denuded by water springs, or scratched by man, reveal the silver whiteness of the chalk where they are wounded.
Bride river winds in the midst, and her bright waters throw a loop round the eastern frontier of the hamlet, pass under the highway, bring life to the cottage gardens and turn more wheels than one. Bloom of apple and pear are mirrored on her face and fruit falls into her lap at autumn time. Then westward she flows through the water meadows, and so slips uneventfully away to sea, where the cliffs break and there stretches a little strand. To the last she is crowned with flowers, and the meadowsweets and violets that decked her cradle give place to sea poppies, sea hollies, and stones encrusted with lichens of red gold, where Bride flows to one great pool, sinks into the sand and glides unseen to her lover.
"They're coming!" said one of the crowd; but it was a false alarm. A flock of breeding lambs of the Dorset horned sheep pattered through the village on their way to pasture. The young, healthy creatures, with amber-coloured horns and yellow eyes, trotted contentedly along together and left an ovine reek in the air. Behind them came the shepherd—a high-coloured, middle-aged man with a sharp nose and mild, grey eyes. He could give news of the funeral, which was on the way behind him.
An iron seat stood under the sycamore on the triangular patch of grass, and a big woman sat upon it. She was of vast dimensions, broad and beamy as a Dutch sloop. Her bulk was clad in dun colour, and on her black bonnet appeared a layer of yellow dust. She spoke to others of the little crowd who surrounded her. They came from Bridetown Spinning Mill, for work was suspended because Henry Ironsyde, the mill owner, had died and now approached his grave.
"The Ironsydes bury here, but they don't live here," said Sally Groves. "They lived here once, at North Hill House; but that's when I first came to the Mill as a bit of a girl."
The big woman fanned herself with a handkerchief, then spoke a grey man with a full beard, small head, and discontented eyes. He was Levi Baggs, the hackler.
"We shall have those two blessed boys over us now, no doubt," he said. "But what know they? Things will be as they were, and time and wages the same as before."
"They'll be sure to do what their father wished, and there was a murmur of changes before he died," said Sally Groves; but Levi shook his head.
"Daniel Ironsyde is built like his father, to let well alone. Raymond Ironsyde don't count. He'll only want his money."
"Have you ever seen Mr. Raymond?" asked a girl. She was Nancy Buckler, a spinner—hard-featured, sharp-voiced, and wiry. Nancy might have been any age between twenty-five and forty. She owned to thirty.
"He don't come to Bridetown, and if you want to see him, you must go to 'The Tiger,' at Bridport," declared another girl. Her name was Sarah Northover.
"My Aunt Nelly keeps 'The Seven Stars,' in Barrack Street," she explained, "and that's just alongside 'The Tiger,' and my Aunt Nelly's very friendly with Mr. Gurd, of 'The Tiger,' and he's told her that Mr. Raymond is there half his time. He's all for sport and such like, and 'The Tiger's' a very sporting house."
"He won't be no good to the mills if he's that sort," prophesied Sally Groves.
"I saw him once, with another young fellow called Motyer," answered Sarah Northover. "He's very good-looking—fair and curly—quite different from Mr. Daniel."
"Light or dark, they're Henry Ironsyde's sons and be brought up in his pattern no doubt," declared Mr. Baggs.
People continued to appear, and among them walked an elderly man, a woman and a girl. They were Mr. Ernest Churchouse, of 'The Magnolias,' with his widowed housekeeper, Mary Dinnett, and her daughter, Sabina. The girl was nineteen, dark and handsome, and very skilled in her labour. None disputed her right to be called first spinner at the mills. She was an impulsive, ambitious maiden, and Mr. Best, foreman at the works, claimed for her that she brought genius as well as understanding to her task. Sabina joined her friend, Nancy Buckler; Mrs. Dinnett, who had been a mill hand in her youth, took a seat beside Sally Groves, and Mr. Churchouse paced alone. He was a round-faced, clean-shaven man with mild, grey eyes and iron grey hair. He looked gentle and genial. His shoulders were high, and his legs short. Walking irked him, for a sedentary life and hearty appetite had made him stout.
The fall of Henry Ironsyde served somewhat to waken Ernest Churchouse from the placid dream in which he lived, shake him from his normal quietude, and remind him of the flight of time. He and the dead man were of an age and had been boys together. Their fathers founded the Bridetown Spinning Mill, and when the elder men passed away, it was Henry Ironsyde who took over the enterprise and gradually bought out Ernest Churchouse. But while Ironsyde left Bridetown and lived henceforth at Bridport, that he might develop further interests in the spinning trade, Ernest had been well content to remain there, enjoy his regular income and live at 'The Magnolias,' his father's old-world house, beside the river. His tastes were antiquarian and literary. He wrote when in the mood, and sometimes read papers at the Mechanics' Institute of Bridport. But he was constitutionally averse from real work of any sort, lacked ambition, and found all the fame he needed in the village community with which his life had been passed. He was a childless widower. Mr. Churchouse strolled now into the churchyard to look at the grave. It opened beside that of Henry Ironsyde's parents and his wife. She had been dead for fifteen years. A little crowd peered down into the green-clad pit, for the sides, under the direction of John Best, had been lined with cypress and bay. The grass was rank, but it had been mown down for this occasion round the tombs of the Ironsydes, though elsewhere darnel rose knee deep and many venerable stones slanted out of it. Immediately south of the churchyard wall stood the Mill, and Benny Cogle, engineman at the works, who now greeted Mr. Churchouse, dwelt on the fact.
"Morning, sir," he said, "a brave day for the funeral, sure enough."
"Good morning, Benny," answered the other. His voice was weak and gentle.
"When I think how near the church and Mill do lie together, I have thoughts," continued Benny. He was a florid man of thirty, with tow-coloured hair and blue eyes.
"Naturally. You work and pray here all inside a space of fifty yards. But for my part, Benny Cogle, I am inclined to think that working is the best form of praying."
Mr. Churchouse always praised work for others and, indeed, was under the impression that he did his share.
"Same here," replied the engineman, "especially while you're young. Anyway, if I had to choose between 'em, I'd sooner work. 'Tis better for the mind and appetite. And I lay if Mr. Ironsyde, when he lies down there, could tell the truth, he'd rather be hearing the Mill going six days a week and feeling his grave throbbing to my engines, than list to the sound of the church organ on the seventh."
"Not so," reproved Mr. Churchouse. "We must not go so far as that. Henry Ironsyde was a God-fearing man and respected the Sabbath as we all should, and most of us do."
"The weaker vessels come to church, I grant," said Benny, "but the men be after more manly things than church-going of a Sunday nowadays."
"So much the worse for them," declared Mr. Churchouse. "Here," he continued, "there are naturally more women than men. Since my father and Henry Ironsyde's father established these mills, which are now justly famous in the county, the natural result has happened and women have come here in considerable numbers. Women preponderate in spinning places, because the work of spinning yarn has always been in their hands from time immemorial. And they tend our modern machinery as deftly as of old they twirled the distaff and worked the spinning-wheel; and as steadily as they used to trudge the rope walks and spin, like spiders, from the masses of flax or hemp at their waists."
"The females want religion without a doubt," said Benny. "I'm tokened to Mercy Gale, for instance; she looks after the warping wheels, and if that girl didn't say her prayers some fine morning, she'd be as useless as if she hadn't eat her breakfast. 'Tis the feminine nature that craves for support."
A very old man stood and peered into the grave. He was the father of Levi Baggs, the hackler, and people said he was never seen except on the occasion of a funeral. The ancient had been reduced to a mere wisp by the attrition of time.
He put his hand on the arm of Mr. Churchouse and regarded the grave with a nodding head.
"Ah, my dear soul," he said. "Life, how short—eternity, how long!"
"True, most true, William."
"And I ask myself, as each corpse goes in, how many more pits will open afore mine."
"'Tis hid with your Maker, William."
"Thank God I'm a good old man and ripe and ready," said Mr. Baggs. "Not," he added, "that there's any credit to me; for you can't be anything much but good at ninety-two."
"While the brain is spared we can think evil, William."
"Not a brain like mine, I do assure 'e."
A little girl ran into the churchyard—a pretty, fair child, whose bright hair contrasted with the black she wore.
"They have come and father sent me to tell you, Mr. Churchouse," she said.
"Thank you, Estelle," he answered, and they returned to the open space together. The child then joined her father, and Mr. Churchouse, saluting the dead, walked to the first mourning coach and opened the door.
It was a heavy and solid funeral of Victorian fashion proper to the time. The hearse had been drawn by four black horses with black trappings, and over the invisible coffin nodded a gloomy harvest of black ostrich plumes. There were no flowers, and some children, who crept forward with a little wreath of wild roses, were pushed back.
The men from the Mill helped to carry their master into the church; but there were not enough of them to support the massive oak that held a massive man, and John Best, Levi Baggs, Benny Cogle and Nicholas Roberts were assisted by the undertakers.
From the first coach descended an elderly woman and a youth. The lady was Miss Jenny Ironsyde, sister of the dead, and with her came her nephew Daniel, the new mill-owner. He was five-and-twenty—a sallow, strong-faced young fellow, broad in the shoulder and straight in the back. His eyes were brown and steady, his mouth and nose indicated decision; the funeral had not changed his cast of countenance, which was always solemn; for, as his father before him, he lacked a sense of humour.
Mr. Churchouse shook hands and peered into the coach.
"Where's Raymond?" he asked.
"Not come," answered Miss Ironsyde. She was a sturdy woman of five-and-fifty, with a pleasant face and kindly eyes. But they were clouded now and she showed agitation.
"Not come!" exclaimed Ernest with very genuine consternation.
Daniel Ironsyde answered. His voice was slow, but he had a natural instinct for clarity and spoke more to the point than is customary with youth.
"My brother has not come because my father has left him out of his will, Mr. Churchouse."
"Absolutely. Will you take my aunt's arm and follow next after me, please?"
Two clergymen met the coffin at the lich-gate, and behind the chief mourners came certain servants and dependents, followed by the women of the Mill. Then a dozen business men walked together. A few of his co-workers had sent their carriages; but most came themselves, to do the last honour to one greatly respected.
Mr. Churchouse paid little attention to the obsequies.
"Not at his father's funeral!" he kept thinking to himself. His simple mind was thrown into a large confusion by such an incident. The fact persisted rather than the reason for it. He longed to learn more, but could not until the funeral was ended.
When the coffin came to the grave, Mary Dinnett stole home to look after the midday dinner. It had weighed on her mind since she awoke, for Miss Ironsyde and Daniel were coming to 'The Magnolias' to partake of a meal before returning home. There were no relations from afar to be considered, and no need for funeral baked meats in the dead man's house.
When all was ended and only old William Baggs stood by the grave and watched the sextons fill it, a small company walked together up the hill north of Bridetown. Daniel went first with Mr. Churchouse, and behind them followed Miss Jenny Ironsyde with a man and a child. The man rented North Hill House. Arthur Waldron was a widower, who lived now for two things: his little daughter, Estelle, and sport. No other considerations challenged his mind. He was rich and good-hearted. He knew that his little girl had brains, and he dealt fairly with her in the matter of education.
Of the Ironsyde brothers, Raymond was his personal friend, and Mr. Waldron now permitted himself some vague expression of regret that the young man should have been absent on such an occasion.
"Yes," said Miss Ironsyde, to whom he spoke, "if there's any excuse for convention it's at a funeral. No doubt people will magnify the incident into a scandal—for their own amusement and the amusement of their friends. If Raymond had enjoyed time to reflect, I feel sure he would have come; but there was no time. His father has made no provision for him, and he is rather upset. It is not unnatural that he should be, for dear Henry, while always very impatient of Raymond's sporting tastes and so on, never threatened anything like this."
"No doubt Mr. Ironsyde would have made a difference if he had not died so suddenly."
"I think so too," she answered.
Then Waldron and his daughter went homewards; while the others, turning down a lane to the right, reached 'The Magnolias'—a small, ancient house whose face was covered with green things and whose lawn spread to the river bank.
Mrs. Dinnett had prepared a special meal of a sort associated with the mournful business of the day; for a funeral feast has its own character; the dishes should be cold and the wine should be white or brown.
Mr. Churchouse was concerned to know what Daniel meant to do for Raymond; but he found the heir by no means inclined to emotional generosity.
Daniel spoke in a steady voice, though he showed a spark of feeling presently. The fire, however, was for his dead father, not his living brother.
"I'm very sorry that Raymond could have been so small as to keep away from the funeral," he said. "It was petty. But, as Aunt Jenny says, he's built like that, and no doubt the shock of being ignored knocked him off his balance."
"He has the defects of his qualities, my dear. The same people can often rise to great heights and sink to great depths. They can do worse things—and better things—than we humdrum folk, who jog along the middle of the road. We must forgive such people for doing things we wouldn't do, and remember their power to do things we couldn't do."
The young man was frankly puzzled by this speech, which came from his aunt. He shrugged his shoulders.
"I've got to think of father first and Raymond afterwards," he said. "I owe my first duty to my father, who trusted me and honoured me, and knew very well that I should obey his wishes and carry on with my life as he would have liked to see me. He has made a very definite and clear statement, and I should be disloyal to him—dishonest to him—if I did anything contrary to the spirit of it."
"Who would wish you to?" asked Ernest Churchouse. "But a brother is a brother," he continued, "and since there is nothing definite about Raymond in the will, you should, I think, argue like this. You should say to yourself, 'my father was disappointed with my brother and did not know what to do about him; but, having a high opinion of me and my good sense and honesty, he left my brother to my care. He regarded me, in fact, as my brother's keeper, and hoped that I would help Raymond to justify his existence.' Don't you feel like that?"
"I feel that my father was very long-suffering with Raymond, and his will tells me that he had a great deal more to put up with from Raymond than anybody ever knew, except my brother himself."
"You needn't take up the cudgels for your father, Dan," interposed Miss Ironsyde. "Be sure that your dear father, from the peace which now he enjoys, would not like to see you make his quarrel with Raymond your quarrel. I'm not extenuating Raymond's selfish and unthinking conduct as a son. His own conscience will exact the payment for wrong done beyond repair. He'll come to that some day. He won't escape it. He's not built to escape it. But he's your brother, not your son; and you must ask yourself, whether as a brother, you've fairly got any quarrel with him."
Daniel considered a moment, then he spoke.
"I have not," he said—"except the general quarrel that he's a waster and not justifying his existence. We have had practically nothing to do with each other since we left school."
"Well," declared Mr. Churchouse, "now you must have something to do with each other. It is an admirable thought of your Aunt Jenny's that your father has honoured your judgment by leaving the destiny of Raymond more or less in your hands."
"I didn't say that; you said it," interrupted the lady. "Raymond's destiny is in his own hands. But I do feel, of course, that Daniel can't ignore him. The moment has come when a strong effort must be made to turn Raymond into a useful member of society."
"What allowance did dear Henry make him?" asked Mr. Churchouse.
"Father gave him two hundred a year, and father paid all his debts before his twenty-first birthday; but he didn't pay them again. Raymond has told Aunt Jenny that he's owing two hundred pounds at this moment."
"And nothing to show for it—we may be sure of that. Well, it might have been worse. Is the allowance to be continued?"
"No," said Miss Ironsyde. "That's the point. It is to cease. Henry expressly directs that it is to cease; and to me that is very significant."
"Of course, for it shows that he leaves Raymond in his brother's hands."
"I have heard Henry say that Raymond beat him," continued Miss Ironsyde. "He was a good father and a forgiving father, but temperamentally he was not built to understand Raymond. Some people develop slowly and remain children much longer than other people. Raymond is one of those. Daniel, like my dear brother before him, has developed quickly and come to man's estate and understanding."
"His father could trust his eldest son," declared Mr. Churchouse, "and, as I happen to know, Daniel, you always spoke with patience and reason about Raymond—your father has told me so. It was natural and wise, therefore, that my late dear friend should have left Raymond to you."
"I only want to do my duty," said the young man. "By stopping away to-day Raymond hasn't made me feel any kinder to him, and if he were not so stupid in some ways, he must have known it would be so; but I am not going to let that weigh against him. How do you read the fact that my father directs Raymond's allowance to cease, Uncle Ernest?"
Mr. Churchouse bore no real connection to the Ironsydes; but his relations had always been close and cordial after he relinquished his share in the business of the mills, and the younger generation was brought up to call him 'uncle.'
"I read it like this," answered the elder. "It means that Raymond is to look to you in future, and that henceforth you may justly demand that he should not live in idleness. There is nothing more demoralising for youth than to live upon money it doesn't earn. I should say—subject to your aunt's opinion, to which I attach the greatest importance—that it is your place to give your brother an interest in life and to show him, what you know already, the value and dignity of work."
"I entirely agree," said Jenny Ironsyde. "I can go further and declare from personal knowledge that my brother had shadowed the idea in his mind."
They both regarded Daniel.
"Then leave it there," he bade them, "leave it there and I'll think it out. My father was the fairest man I ever met, and I'll try and be as fair. It's up to Raymond more than me."
"You can bring a horse to the water, though you can't make him drink," admitted Mr. Churchouse. "But if you bring your horse to the water, you've done all that reason and sense may ask you to do."
Miss Ironsyde, from larger knowledge of the circumstances, felt disposed to carry the question another step. She opened her mouth and drew in her breath to speak—making that little preliminary sound only audible when nothing follows it. But she did not speak.
"Come into the garden and see Magnolia grandiflora," said Mr. Churchouse. "There are twelve magnificent blossoms open this morning, and I should have picked every one of them for my dear friend's grave, only the direction was clear, that there were to be no flowers."
"Henry disliked any attempt to soften the edges at such a time," explained the dead man's sister. "He held that death was the skeleton at the feast of life—a wholesome and stark reminder to the thoughtless living that the grave is the end of our mortal days. He liked a funeral to be a funeral—black—black. He did not want the skeleton at the feast to be decked in roses and lilies."
"An opinion worthy of all respect," declared Mr. Churchouse.
Then he asked after the health of his guest and expressed sympathy for her sorrow and great loss.
"He'd been so much better lately that it was a shock," she said, "but he died as he wanted to die—as all Ironsydes do die—without an illness. It is a tradition that never seems to fail. That reconciled us in a way. And you—how are you? You seldom come to Bridport nowadays."
Mr. Churchouse rarely talked about himself.
"True. I have been immersed in literary work and getting on with my magnum opus: 'The Church Bells of Dorset.' You see one does not obtain much help here—no encouragement. Not that I expect it. We men of letters have to choose between being hermits, or humbugs."
"I always thought a hermit was a humbug," said Jenny, smiling for the first time.
"Not always. When I say 'hermit,' I mean 'recluse.' With all the will to be a social success and identify myself with the welfare of the place in which I dwell, my powers are circumscribed. Do not think I put myself above the people, or pretend any intellectual superiority, or any nonsense of that sort. No, it is merely a question of time and energy. My antiquarian work demands both, and so I am deprived by duty from mixing in the social life as much as I wish. This is not, perhaps, understood, and so I get a character for aloofness, which is not wholly deserved."
"Don't worry," said Miss Ironsyde. "Everybody cares for you. People don't think about us and our doings half as much as we are prone to fancy. I liked your last article in the Bridport Gazette. Only I seemed to have read most of it before."
"Probably you have. The facts, of course, were common property. My task is to collect data and retail them in a luminous and illuminating way."
"So you do—so you do."
He looked away, where Daniel stood by himself with his hands in his pockets and his eyes on the river.
"A great responsibility for one so young; but he will rise to it."
"D'you mean his brother, or the Mill?"
"Both," answered Ernest Churchouse. "Both."
Mrs. Dinnett came down the garden.
"The mourning coach is at the door," she said.
"Daniel insisted that we went home in a mourning coach," explained Miss Ironsyde. "He felt the funeral was not ended until we returned home. That shows imagination, so you can't say he hasn't got any."
"You can never say anybody hasn't got anything," declared Mr. Churchouse. "Human nature defeats all calculations. The wisest only generalise about it."
AT 'THE TIGER'
The municipal borough of Bridport stretches itself luxuriously from east to west beneath a wooded hill. Southward the land slopes to broad water-meadows where rivers meet and Brit and Asker wind to the sea. Evidences of the great local industry are not immediately apparent; but streamers and wisps of steam scattered above the red-tiled roofs tell of work, and westward, where the land falls, there stand shoulder to shoulder the busy mills.
From single yarn that a child could break, to hawsers strong enough to hold a battleship, Bridport meets every need. Her twines and cords and nets are famous the world over; her ropes, cables, cablets and canvas rigged the fleet that scattered the Spanish Armada.
The broad streets with deep, unusual side-walks are a sign of Bridport's past, for they tell of the days when men and women span yarn before their doors, and rope-walks ran their amber and silver threads of hemp and flax along the pavements. But steel and steam have taken the place of the hand-spinners, though their industry has left its sign-manual upon the township. For the great, open side-walks make for distinction and spaciousness, and there shall be found in all Dorset, no brighter, cheerfuller place than this. Bridport's very workhouse, south-facing and bowered in green, blinks half a hundred windows amiably at the noonday sun and helps to soften the life-failure of those who dwell therein. Off Barrack Street it stands, and at the time of the terror, when Napoleon threatened, soldiers hived here and gave the way its name.
Not far from the workhouse two inns face each other in Barrack Street—'The Tiger' upon one side of the way, 'The Seven Stars' upon the other; and at the moment when Henry Ironsyde's dust was reaching the bottom of his grave at Bridetown, a young man of somewhat inane countenance, clad in garments that displayed devotion to sport and indifference to taste, entered 'The Tiger's' private bar.
Behind the counter stood Richard Gurd, a middle-aged, broad-shouldered publican with a large and clean-shaven face, heavy-jaw, rather sulky eyes and mighty hands.
"The usual," said the visitor. "Ray been here?"
Mr. Gurd shook his head.
"No, Mr. Ned—nor likely to. They're burying his father this morning."
The publican poured out a glass of cherry brandy as he spoke and Mr. Neddy Motyer rolled a cigarette.
"Ray ain't going," said the customer.
"Not going to his father's funeral!"
"For a very good reason, too; he's cut off with a shilling."
"Dear, dear," said Mr. Gurd. "That's bad news, though perhaps not much of a surprise to Mr. Raymond."
"It's a devil of a lesson to the rising generation," declared the youth. "To think our own fathers can do such blackguard things, just because they don't happen to like our way of life. What would become of England if every man was made in the pattern of his father? Don't education and all that count? If my father was to do such a thing—but he won't; he's too fond of the open air and sport and that."
"Young men don't study their fathers enough in this generation, however," argued the innkeeper, "nor yet do young women study their mothers enough."
"We've got to go out in the world and play our parts," declared Neddy. "'Tis for them to study us—not us them. You must have progress. The thing for parents to do is to know they're back numbers and act according."
"They do—most of them," answered Mr. Gurd. "A back number is a back number and behaves as such. I speak impartial being a bachelor, and I forgive the young men their nonsense and pardon their opinions, because I know I was young myself once, and as big a fool as anybody, and put just the same strain on my parents, no doubt, though they lived to see me a responsible man and done with childish things. The point for parents is not to forget what it feels like to be young. That I never have, and you young gentlemen would very soon remind me if I did. But the late Mr. Henry Ironsyde found no time for all-round wisdom. He poured his brains into hemp and jute and such like. Why, he didn't even make a minute to court and wed till he was forty-five year old. And the result of that was that when his brace of boys was over twenty, he stood in sight of seventy and could only see life at that angle. And what made it worse was, that his eldest, Mister Daniel, was cut just in his own pattern. So the late gentleman never could forgive Mr. Raymond for being cut in another pattern. But if what you say is right and Mister Raymond has been left out in the cold, then I think he's been badly used."
"So he has—it's a damned shame," said Mr. Motyer, "and I hope Ray will do something about it."
"There's very little we can do against the writing of the dead," answered Mr. Gurd. Then he saluted a man who bustled into the bar.
"Morning, Job. What's the trouble?"
Job Legg was very tall and thin. He dropped at the middle, but showed vitality and energy in his small face and rodent features. His hair was black, and his thin mouth and chin clean-shaven. His eyes were small and very shrewd; his manner was humble. He had a monotonous inflection and rather chanted in a minor key than spoke.
"Mrs. Northover's compliments and might we have the big fish kettle till to-morrow? A party have been sprung on us, and five-and-twenty sit down to lunch in the pleasure gardens at two o'clock."
"And welcome, Job. Go round to the kitchen, will 'e?"
Job disappeared and Mr. Gurd explained.
"My good neighbour at 'The Seven Stars'—her with the fine pleasure gardens and swings and so on. And Job Legg's her potman. Her husband's right hand while he lived, and now hers. I have the use of their stable-yard market days, for their custom is different from mine. A woman's house and famous for her meat teas and luncheons. She does very well and deserves to."
"That old lady with the yellow wig?"
Mr. Gurd pursed his lips.
"To you she might seem old, I suppose. That's the spirit that puts a bit of a strain on the middle-aged and makes such men as me bring home to ourselves what we said and thought when we were young. 'Tis just the natural, thoughtless insolence of youth to say Nelly Northover's an old woman—her being perhaps eight-and-forty. And to call her hair a wig, because she's fortified it with home-grown what's fallen out over a period of twenty years, is again only the insolence of youth. One can only say 'forgive 'em, for they know not what they do.'"
"Well, get me another brandy anyway."
Then entered Raymond Ironsyde, and Mr. Gurd for once felt genuinely sorry to see his customer.
The young man was handsome with large, luminous, grey eyes, curly, brown hair and a beautiful mouth, clean cut, full, firm and finely modelled in the lips. His nose was straight, high in the nostril and sensitive. He resembled his brother, Daniel, but stood three inches taller, and his brow was fuller and loftier. His expression in repose appeared frank and receptive; but to-day his face wore a look half anxious, half ferocious. He was clad in tweed knickerbockers and a Norfolk jacket, of different pattern but similar material. His tie was light blue and fastened with a gold pin modelled in the shape of a hunting-horn. He bore no mark of mourning whatever.
"Whiskey and soda, Gurd. Morning, Neddy."
He spoke defiantly, as though knowing his entrance was a challenge. Then he flung himself down on a cushioned seat in the bow window of the bar-room and took a pipe and tobacco pouch from his pocket.
Mr. Gurd brought the drink round to Raymond. He spoke upon some general subject and pretended to no astonishment that the young man should be here on this day. But the customer cut him short. There was only one subject for discussion in his mind.
"I suppose you thought I should go to my father's funeral? No doubt, you'll say, with everybody else, that it's a disgrace I haven't."
"I shall mind my own business and say nothing, Mister Raymond. It's your affair, not ours."
"I'd have done the same, Ray, if I'd been treated the same," said Neddy Motyer.
"It's a protest," explained Raymond Ironsyde. "To have gone, after being publicly outraged like this in my father's will, was impossible to anybody but a cur. He ignored me as his son, and so I ignore him as my father; and who wouldn't?"
"I suppose Daniel will come up to the scratch all right?" hazarded Motyer.
"He'll make some stuffy suggestion, no doubt. He can't see me in the gutter very well."
"You must get to work, Mr. Raymond; and I can tell you, as one who knows, that work's only dreaded by them who have never done any. You'll soon find that there's nothing better for the nerves and temper than steady work."
Neddy chaffed Mr. Gurd's sentiments and Raymond said nothing. He was looking in front of him, his mind occupied with personal problems.
Neddy Motyer made another encouraging suggestion.
"There's your aunt, Miss Ironsyde," he said. "She's got plenty of cash, I've heard people say, and she gives tons away in charity. How do you stand with her?"
"Mind your own business, Ned."
"Sorry," answered the other promptly. "Only wanted to buck you up."
"I'm not in need of any bucking up, thanks. If I've got to work, I'm quite equal to it. I've got more brains than Daniel, anyway. I'm quite conscious of that."
"You've got tons more mind than him," declared Neddy.
"And if that's the case, I could do more good, if I chose, than ever Daniel will."
"Or more harm," warned Mr. Gurd. "Always remember that, Mister Raymond. The bigger the intellects, the more power for wrong as well as right."
"He'll ask me to go into the works, I expect. And I may, or I may not."
"I should," advised Neddy. "Bridetown is a very sporting place and you'd be alongside your pal, Arthur Waldron."
"Don't go to Bridetown with an idea of sport, however—don't do that, Mister Raymond," warned Richard Gurd. "If you go, you put your back into the work and master the business of the Mill."
The young men wasted an hour in futile talk and needless drinking while Gurd attended to other customers. Then Raymond Ironsyde accepted an invitation to return home with Motyer, who lived at Eype, a mile away.
"I'm going to give my people a rest to-day," said Raymond as he departed. "I shall come in here for dinner, Dick."
"Very good, sir," answered Mr. Gurd; but he shook his head when the young men had gone.
Others in the bar hummed on the subject of young Ironsyde after his back was turned. A few stood up for him and held that he had been too severely dealt with; but the majority and those who knew most about him thought that his ill-fortune was deserved.
"For look at it," said a tradesman, who knew the facts. "If he'd been left money, he'd have only wasted the lot in sporting and been worse off after than before; but now he's up against work, and work may be the saving of him. And if he won't work, let him die the death and get off the earth and make room for a better man."
None denied the honourable obligation to work for every responsible human being.
The warehouse of Bridetown Mill adjoined the churchyard wall and its northern windows looked down upon the burying ground. The store came first and then the foreman's home, a thatched dwelling bowered in red and white roses, with the mill yard in front and a garden behind. From these the works were separated by the river. Bride came by a mill race to do her share, and a water wheel, conserving her strength, took it to the machinery. For Benny Cogle's engine was reinforced by the river. Then, speeding forward, Bride returned to her native bed, which wound through the valley south of the works.
A bridge crossed the river from the yard and communicated with the mills—a heterogeneous pile of dim, dun colours and irregular roofs huddled together with silver-bright excrescences of corrugated iron. A steady hum and drone as of some gigantic beehive ascended from the mills, and their combined steam and water power produced a tremor of earth and a steady roar in the air; while a faint dust storm often flickered about the entrance ways.
The store-house reeked with that fat, heavy odour peculiar to hemp and flax. It was a lofty building of wide doors and few windows. Here in the gloom lay bales and stacks of raw material. Italy, Russia, India, had sent their scutched hemp and tow to Bridetown. Some was in the rough; the dressed line had already been hackled and waited in bundles of long hemp composed of wisps, or 'stricks' like horses' tails. The silver and amber of the material made flashes of brightness in the dark storerooms and drew the light to their shining surfaces. Tall, brown posts supported the rafters, and in the twilight that reigned here, a man moved among the bales piled roof-high around him. He was gathering rough tow from a broken bale of Russian hemp and had stripped the Archangel matting from the mass.
Levi Baggs, the hackler, proceeded presently to weigh his material and was taking it over the bridge to the hackling shop when he met John Best, the foreman. They stopped to speak, and Levi set down the barrow that bore his load.
"I see you with him, yesterday. Did you get any ideas out of the man?"
Baggs referred to the new master and John Best understood.
"In a manner of speaking, yes," he said. "Nothing definite, of course. It's too soon to talk of changes, even if Mister Daniel means them. He'll carry on as before for the present, and think twice and again before he does anything different from his father."
"'Tis just Bridetown luck if he's the sort to keep at a dead parent's apron-strings," grumbled the other. "Nowadays, what with education and so on, the rising generation is generally ahead of the last and moves according."
"You can move two ways—backward as well as forward," answered Best. "Better he should go on as we've been going, than go back."
"He daren't go back—the times won't let him. The welfare of the workers is the first demand on capital nowadays. If it weren't, labour would very soon know the reason why."
Mr. Best regarded Levi without admiration.
"You are a grumbler born," he said, "and so fond of it that you squeal before you're hurt, just for the pleasure of squealing. One thing I can tell you, for Mister Daniel said it in so many words: he's the same in politics as his father; and that's Liberal; and since the Liberals of yesterday are the Radicals of to-morrow, we have every reason to suppose he'll move with the times."
"We all know what that means," answered Mr. Baggs. "It means getting new machinery and increasing the output of the works for the benefit of the owners, not them that run the show. I don't set no store on a man being a Radical nowadays. You can't trust nobody under a Socialist."
Mr. Best laughed.
"You wait till they've got the power, and you'll find that the whip will fall just as heavy from their hands as the masters of to-day. Better to get small money and be free, than get more and go a slave in state clothes, on state food, in a state house, with a state slave-driver to see you earn your state keep and take your state holidays when the state wills, and work as much or as little as the state pleases. What you chaps call 'liberty' you'll find is something quite different, Baggs, for it means good-bye to privacy in the home and independence outside it."
"That's a false and wicked idea of progress, John Best, and well you know it," answered Levi. "You're one of the sort content to work on a chain and bring up your children likewise; but you can't stand between the human race and freedom—no more can Daniel Ironsyde, or any other man."
"Well, meantime, till the world's put right by your friends, you get on with your hackling, my old bird, else you'll have the spreaders grumbling," answered Mr. Best. Then he went into his home and Levi trundled the wheelbarrow to a building with a tar-pitched, penthouse roof, which stuck out from the side of the mill, like a fungus on a tree stem.
Within, before a long, low window, stood the hand dresser's tools—two upturned boards set with a mass of steel pins. The larger board had tall teeth disposed openly; upon the smaller, the teeth were shorter and as dense as a hair brush. In front of them opened a grating and above ran an endless band. Behind this grille was an exhaust, which sucked away the dust and countless atoms of vegetable matter scattered by Levi's activities, and the running band from above worked it. For the authorities, he despised, considered the operations of Mr. Baggs and ordained that they should be conducted under healthy conditions.
He took his seat now before the rougher's hackle, turned up his shirt sleeves over a pair of sinewy arms and powerful wrists and set to work.
From the mass of hemp tow he drew hanks and beat the pins with them industriously, wrenched the mass through the steel teeth again and again and separated the short fibre from the long. Presently in his hand emerged a wisp of bright fibre, and now flogging the finer hackling board, he extracted still more short stalks and rubbish till the finished strick came clean and shining as a lock of woman's hair. From the hanks of long tow he seemed to bring out the tresses like magic. In his swift hand each strick flashed out from the rough hank with great rapidity, and every crafty, final touch on the teeth made it brighter. Giving a last flick or two over the small pins, Mr. Baggs set down his strick and soon a pile of these shining locks grew beside him, while the exhaust sucked away the rubbish and fragments, and the mass of short fibre which he had combed out, also accumulated for future treatment.
He worked with the swiftness and surety of a master craftsman, scourged his tow and snorted sometimes as he struggled with it. He was exerting a tremendous pressure, regulated and applied with skill, and he always exulted in the thought that he, at least, of all the workers performed hand labour far more perfectly than any machine. But still it was not the least of his many grievances that Government showed too little concern for his comfort. He was always demanding increased precautions for purifying the air he breathed. From first to last, indeed, the hemp and tow are shedding superfluities, and a layman is astonished to see how the broad strips and ribbons running through the machines and torn by innumerable systems of sharp teeth in transit, emerge at the last gasp of attenuation to trickle down the spindles and turn into the glory of yarn.
From Mr. Baggs, the long fibre and the short which he had combed out of it, proceeded to the spinning mill; and now a girl came for the stricks he had just created.
Their future under the new master was still on every tongue at Bridetown Mill, and the women turned to the few men who worked among them for information on this paramount subject.
"No, I ain't heard no more, Sarah," answered the hackler to Miss Northover's question. "You may be sure that those it concerns most will be the last to hear of any changes; and you may also be sure that the changes, when made, will not favour us."
"You can't tell that," answered Sarah, gathering the stricks. "Old Mrs. Chick, our spreader minder, says the young have always got bigger hearts than the old, and she'd sooner trust them than—"
Mr. Baggs tore a hank through the comb with such vigour that its steel teeth trembled and the dust flew.
"Tell Granny Chick not to be a bigger fool than God made her," he said. "The young have got harder hearts than the old, and education, though it may make the head bigger for all I know, makes the heart smaller. He'll be hard—hard—and I lay a week's wages that he'll get out of his responsibilities by shovelling 'em on his dead father."
"How can he?" asked Sarah.
"By letting things be as they are. By saying his father knew best."
"Young men never think that," answered she. "'Tis well known that no young man ever thought his father knew better than himself."
"Then he'll pretend to for his own convenience."
"What about all that talk of changes for the better before Mister Ironsyde died then?"
"Talk of dead men won't go far. We'll hear no more of that."
Sarah frowned and went her way. At the door, however, she turned.
"I might get to hear something about it next Sunday very like," she said. "I'm going into Bridport to my Aunt Nelly at 'The Seven Stars'; and she's a great friend of Richard Gurd at 'The Tiger'; and 'tis there Mister Raymond spends half his time, they say. So Mr. Gurd may have learned a bit about it."
"No doubt he'll hear a lot of words, and as for Raymond Ironsyde, his father knew him for a man with a bit of a heart in him and didn't trust him accordingly. But you can take it from me—"
A bell rang and its note struck Mr. Baggs dumb. He ceased both to speak and work, dropped his hank, turned down his shirt sleeves and put on his coat. Sarah at the stroke of the bell also manifested no further interest in Levi's forebodings but left him abruptly. For it was noon and the dinner-hour had come.
CHAINS FOR RAYMOND
Raymond Ironsyde had spent his life thus far in a healthy and selfish manner. He owned no objection to hard work of a physical nature, for as a sportsman and athlete he had achieved fame and was jealous to increase it. He preserved the perspective of a boy into manhood; while his father waited, not without exasperation, for him to reach adult estate in mind as well as body. Henry Ironsyde was still waiting when he died and left Raymond to the mercy of Daniel.
Now the brothers had met to thresh out the situation; and a day came when Raymond lunched with his friend and fellow sportsman, Arthur Waldron, of North Hill House, and furnished him with particulars.
In time past, Raymond's grandfather had bought a thousand acres of land on the side of North Hill. Here he destroyed one old farmhouse and converted another into the country-seat of his family. He lived and died there; but his son, Henry, cared not for it, and the place had been let to successive tenants for many years.
Waldron was the last of these, and Raymond's ambition had always been some day to return to North Hill House and dwell in his grandfather's home.
At luncheon the party of three sat at a round table on a polished floor of oak. Estelle played hostess and gazed with frank admiration at the chattering visitor. He brought a proposition that made her feel very excited to learn what her father would think of it.
Mr. Waldron was tall and thin. He lived out of doors and appeared to be made of iron, for nothing wearied him as yet. He had high cheek-bones, and a clean-shaved, agreeable face. He took sport most seriously, was jealous for its rights and observant of its rituals even in the smallest matters. Upon the etiquette of all field sports he regarded himself, and was regarded, as an arbiter.
"Tell me how it went," he said. "I hope your brother was sporting?"
Mr. Waldron used this adjective in the widest possible sense. It embraced all reputable action and covered virtue. If conduct were 'sporting,' he demanded no more from any man; while, conversely, 'unsporting' deeds condemned the doer in all relations of life and rendered him untrustworthy from every standpoint.
"Depends what you call 'sporting,'" answered Raymond, whose estimate of the word was not so comprehensive. "You'd think it would have been rather a case for generosity, but Dan didn't seem to see that. It's unlucky for me in a way he's not larger-minded. He's content with justice—what he calls justice. But justice depends on the mind that's got to do it. There's no finality about it, and what Daniel calls justice, I call beastly peddling, if not actual bullying."
"And what did he call justice?"
"Well, his first idea was to be just to my father, who was wickedly unjust to me. That wasn't too good for a start, for if you are going to punish the living, because the dead wanted them to be punished, what price your justice anyway? But Daniel had a sort of beastly fairness too, for he recognised that my father's very sudden death must be taken into account. My Aunt Jenny supported me there; and she was sure he would have altered his will if he had had time. Daniel granted that, and I began to hope I was going to come well out of it; but I counted my chickens before they were hatched. Some people have a sort of diseased idea of the value of work and seem to think if you don't put ten hours a day into an office, you're not justifying your existence. Unfortunately for me Daniel is one of those people. If you don't work, you oughtn't to eat—he actually thinks that."
"The fallacy is that what seems to be play to a mind like Daniel's, is really seen to be work by a larger mind," explained Arthur Waldron. "Sport, for instance, which is the backbone of British character, is a thousand times more important to the nation than spinning yarn; and we, who keep up the great tradition of British sport on the highest possible plane, are doing a great deal more valuable work—unpaid, mark you—than mere merchants and people of that kind who toil after money."
"Of course; but I never yet met a merchant who would see it—certainly not Daniel. In fact I've got to work—in his way."
"D'you mean he's stopping the allowance?"
"Yes. At least he's not renewing it. He's offering me a salary if I'll work. A jolly good salary, I grant. I can be just to him, though he can't to me. But, if I'm going to draw the salary, I've got to learn the business and, in fact, go into it and become a spinner. Then, at the end of five years, if I shine and really get keen about it and help the show, he'll take me into partnership. That's his offer; and first I told him to go to the devil, and then I changed my mind and, after my aunt had sounded Daniel and found that was his ultimatum, I climbed down."
"What are you to do? Surely he won't chain an open-air man like you to a wretched desk all your time?"
"So I thought; but he didn't worry about that. I wanted to go abroad, and combine business with pleasure, and buy the raw material in Russia and India and Italy and so on. That might have been good enough; but in his rather cold-blooded way, he pointed out that to buy raw material, you wanted to know something about raw material. He asked me if I knew hemp from flax, and of course I had to say I did not. So that put the lid on that. I've got to begin where Daniel began ten years ago—at the beginning—with this difference, that I get three hundred quid a year. In fact there's such a mixture of fairness and unfairness in Daniel's idea that you don't know where to have him."
"What shall you do about it?"
"I tell you I've agreed. I must live, obviously, and I'd always meant to do something some day. But naturally my ideas were open air, and I thought when I got things going and took a scheme to my father—for horse-breeding or some useful enterprise—he would have seen I meant business and come round and planked down. But Daniel has got no use for horse-breeding, so I must be a spinner—for the time anyway."
Estelle ventured to speak.
"But only girls spin," she said. "You'd never be able to spin, Ray."
"Everybody's got to spin, it seems," he answered.
"Except the lilies," declared Estelle gravely. "'They toil not, neither do they spin,' you know."
Mr. Waldron regarded his daughter with respect.
"Just imagine," he said, "at her age. They've made her a member of the Field Botanists' Club. Only eleven years old and invited to join a grown-up club!"
Raymond was somewhat impressed.
"Fancy a kid like you knowing anything about botany," he said.
"I don't," answered the child. "I'm only just beginning. Why, I haven't mastered the grasses yet. The flowers are easy, of course, but the grasses are ever so difficult."
They returned to Ironsyde's plans.
"And when d'you weigh in?" queried his friend.
"That's the point. That's why I invited myself to lunch. Daniel doesn't want me in the office at Bridport; he wants me here—at Bridetown—so that I can mess about in the works and see a lot of John Best, the foreman, and learn all the practical side of the business. It seems rather footling work for a man, but he did it; and he says the first thing is to get a personal understanding of the processes and all that. Of course I've always been keen on machinery."
"Good, then we shall see something of each other."
"That's what I want—more than you do, very likely. The idea was that I went to Uncle Ernest, who is willing to let me have a room at 'The Magnolias' and live with him for a year, which is the time Daniel wants me to be here; but I couldn't stick Churchouse for a year."
"So what do you say? Are you game for a paying guest? You've got tons of room and I shouldn't be in the way."
"How lovely!" cried Estelle. "Do come!"
Arthur Waldron was quietly gratified.
"I'm sure I should be delighted to have a pal in the house—a kindred spirit, who understands sport. By all means come," he said.
"You're sure? I should be out most of my time at the blessed works, you know. Could I bring my horse?"
"Certainly bring your horse."
"That reminds me of one reasonable thing Dan's going to do," ran on the other. "He's going to clear me. I told Aunt Jenny it was no good beginning a new life with a millstone of debts round my neck—in fact we came down to that. I said it was a vital condition. Aunt Jenny had rather a lively time between us. She sympathises with me tremendously, however, and finally got Daniel to promise he would pay off every penny I owed—a paltry two hundred or so."
"A very sporting arrangement. Make the coffee, Estelle, then we'll take a walk on the downs."
"I'm going to Uncle Ernest to tea," explained Raymond. "I shall tell him then that I'm not coming to him, thanks to your great kindness."
"He will be disappointed," declared Estelle. "It seems rather hard of us to take you away from him, I'm afraid."
"Don't you worry, kiddy. He'll get over it. In fact he'll be jolly thankful, poor old bird. He only did it because he thought he ought to. It's the old, traditional attitude of the Churchouses to the Ironsydes."
"He's very wise about church bells, but he's rather vague about flowers," replied Estelle. "He's only interested in dead things, I think; and things that happened long, long ago."
"In a weird sort of way, a hobby is a man's substitute for sport, I believe," said Estelle's father. "Many have no feeling for sport; it's left out of them and they seem to be able to live comfortably without it. Instead they develop an instinct for something else. Generally it's deadly from the sportsman's point of view; but it seems to take the place of sport to the sportless. How old ruins, or church bells, can supersede a vital, living thing, like the sport of a nation, of course you and I can't explain; but so it is with some minds."
"It depends how they were brought up," suggested Raymond.
"No—take you; you weren't brought up to sport. But your own natural, good instinct took you to it. Same with me. The moment I saw a ball, I'm told that I shrieked till they gave it to me—at the age of one that was. And from that time forward they had no trouble with me. A ball always calmed me. Why? Because a ball, you may say, is the emblem of England's greatness. I was thinking over it not long ago. There is not a single game of the first importance that does not depend on a ball. If one had brains, one could write a book on the inner meaning of that fact. I believe that the ball has a lot to do with the greatness of the Empire."
"A jolly good idea. I'll try it on Uncle Ernest," promised Raymond.
He was cheerful and depressed in turn. His company made him happy and the thought that he would come to live at North Hill House also pleased him well; but from time to time the drastic change in his life swept his thoughts like a cloud. The picture of regular work—unloved work that would enable him to live—struck distastefully upon his mind.
They strolled over North Hill after luncheon and Estelle ran hither and thither, busy with two quests. Her sharp eyes were in the herbage for the flowers and grasses; but she also sought the feathers of the rooks and crows who assembled here in companies.
"The wing feathers are the best for father's pipes," she explained; "but the tail feathers are also very good. Sometimes I get splendid luck and find a dozen or two in a morning, and sometimes the birds don't seem to have parted with a single feather. The place to find them is round the furze clumps, because they catch there when the wind blows them."
The great hogged ridge of North Hill keeps Bridetown snug in winter time, and bursts the snow clouds on its bosom. To-day the breezes blew and shadows raced above the rolling green expanses. The downs were broken by dry-built walls and spattered with thickets of furze and white-thorn, black-thorn and elder. Blue milkwort, buttercups and daisies adorned them, with eye-bright and the lesser, quaking grass that danced over the green. Rabbits twinkled into the furzes where Waldron's three fox terriers ran before the party; and now and then a brave buck coney would stand upon the nibbled knoll above his burrow and drum danger before he darted in. It was a haunt of the cuckoo and peewit, the bunting and carrion crow.
"Here we killed on the seventeenth of January last," said Raymond's host. "A fine finish to a grand run. We rolled him over on this very spot after forty-five minutes of the best. It is always good to remember great moments in the past."
On the southern slope of North Hill there stood a ruined lime-kiln whose walls were full of fern and coated with mother o' thyme. A bank of brier and nettles lay before the mouth. They hid the foot of the kiln and made a snug and secluded spot. Bridetown clustered in its elms far below; then the land rose again to protect the hamlet from the south; and beyond stretched the blue line of the Channel.
The men sat here and smoked, while Estelle hunted for flowers and feathers.
She came back to them presently with a bee orchis. "For you," she said, and gave it to Raymond. "What the dickens is it?" he asked, and she told him. "They're rather rare, but they live happily on the down in some places. I know where." He thanked her very much.
"Never seen one before," he said. "A funny little pink and black devil, isn't it?"
"It isn't a devil," she assured him; "if anything, it's an angel. But really it's more like a small bumble-bee than anything. Perhaps you've never seen a bumble-bee either?"
"Oh, yes, I have—they don't sting." Estelle laughed.
"I thought that once. A boy in the village told me that bumble-bees have 'got no spears.' And I believed him and tried to help one out of the window once. And I very soon found that he had got a spear."
"That reminds me I must take a wasps' nest to-night," said her father. "I've not decided which way to take it yet. There are seven different ways to take a wasps' nest—all good."
They strolled homeward presently and parted at the lodge of North Hill House.
"You must come down and choose your room soon," said Estelle. "It must be one that gets the sun in it, and the moon. People always want the sun, but they never seem to want the moon."
"Don't they, Estelle! I know lots of people who want the moon," declared Raymond. "Perhaps I do."
"You can have your choice of four stalls for the horse," said Arthur Waldron. "I always ride before breakfast myself, wet or fine. Only frost stops me. I hope you will too—before you go to the works."
Raymond was soon at 'The Magnolias,' and found Mr. Churchouse expecting him in the garden. They had not met since Henry Ironsyde's death, but the elder, familiar with the situation, did not speak of Raymond's father.
He was anxious to learn the young man's decision, and proved too ingenuous to conceal his relief when the visitor explained his plans.
"I felt it my duty to offer you a temporary home," he said, "and we should have done our best to make you comfortable, but one gets into one's routine and I won't disguise from you that I am glad you go to North Hill House, Raymond."
"You couldn't disguise it if you tried, Uncle Ernest. You're thankful—naturally. You don't want youth in this dignified abode of wisdom. Besides, you've got no place for a horse—you know you haven't."
"I've no objection to youth, my dear boy, but I can't pretend that the manners and customs of youth are agreeable to me. Tobacco, for example, causes me the most acute uneasiness. Then the robustness and general exaggeration of the youthful mind and body! It rises beyond fatigue, above the middle-aged desire for calm and comfort. It kicks up its heels for sheer joy of living; it is ever in extremes; it lacks imagination, with the result that it is ruthless. All these characteristics may go with a delightful personality—as in your case, Raymond—but let youth cleave to youth. Youth understands youth. You will in fact be much happier with Waldron."
"And you will be happier without me."
"It may be selfish to say so, but I certainly shall."
"Well, you've had the virtue of making the self-denial and I think it was awfully good of you to do so."
"I am always here and always very happy and willing to befriend the grandson of my father's partner," declared Mr. Churchouse. "It is excellent news that you are going into the business."
"Remains to be seen."
The dining room at 'The Magnolias' was also the master's study. There were innocent little affectations in it and the room was arranged to create an atmosphere of philosophy and art. Books thronged in lofty book-shelves with glass doors. These were surmounted by plaster busts of Homer and Minerva, toned to mellowness by time. In the window was the writing desk of Mr. Churchouse, upon which stood a photograph of Goethe.
Tea was laid and a girl brought in the hot water when Mr. Churchouse rang for it. After she had gone Raymond praised her enthusiastically.
"By Jove, what a pretty housemaid!" he exclaimed.
"Pretty, yes; a housemaid, no," explained Mr. Churchouse. "She is the daughter of my housekeeper, Mrs. Dinnett. Mrs. Dinnett has been called to Chilcombe, to see her old mother who is, I fear, going to die, and so Sabina, with her usual kindness, has spent her half-holiday at home to look after me. Sabina lives here. She is Mrs. Dinnett's daughter and one of the spinners at the mill. In fact, Mr. Best tells me she is his most accomplished spinner and has genius for the work. In her leisure she does braiding at home, as many of the girls do."
"She's jolly handsome," declared Raymond. "She's chucked away in a place like this."
"D'you mean 'The Magnolias'?" asked the elder mildly.
"No, not 'The Magnolias' particularly, but Bridetown in general."
"And why should Bridetown be denied the privilege of numbering a beautiful girl amongst its population?"
"Oh—why—she's lost, don't you see. Working in a stuffy mill, she's lost. If she was on the stage, then thousands would see her. A beautiful thing oughtn't to be hidden away."
"God Almighty hides away a great many beautiful things," answered Mr. Churchouse. "There are many beautiful things in our literature and our flora and fauna that are never admired."
"So much the worse. When our fauna blossoms out in the shape of a lovely girl, it ought to be seen and give pleasure to thousands."
"I don't think Sabina has any ambition to give pleasure to thousands. She is a young woman of very fine temper, with a dignified sense of her own situation and an honest pride in her own dexterity."
"Engaged to be married, of course?"
"I think not. She and her mother are my very good friends. Had any betrothal taken place, I feel sure I should have heard of it."
"Do ring for her, Mr. Churchouse, and let me look at her again. Does she know how good-looking she is?"
"Youth! Youth! Yes, not being a fool, she knows she is well-favoured—much as you do, no doubt. I mean that you cannot shave yourself every morning without being conscious that you are in the Greek mould. I could show you the engraving of a statue by Praxiteles which is absurdly like you. But this accident of nature has not made you vain."
"Me! Good Lord!"
Raymond laughed long.
"Do not be puffed up," continued Mr. Churchouse, "for, with charm, you combine to a certain extent the Greek vacuity. There are no lines upon your brow. You don't think enough."
"Don't I, by Jove! I've been thinking a great deal too much lately. I've had a headache once."
"Lack of practice, my dear boy. Sabina, being a woman of observation and intelligence, is no doubt aware of the fact that she is unusually personable. But she has brains and knows exactly what importance to attach to such an accident. If you want to learn what spinning means, she will be able to teach you."
"Every cloud has a silver lining, apparently," said Raymond, and when Sabina returned, Ernest introduced him.
The girl was clad in black with a white apron. She wore no cap.
"This is Mr. Raymond Ironsyde, Sabina, and he's coming to learn all about the Mill before long."
Raymond began to rattle away and Sabina, without self-consciousness, listened to him, laughed at his jests and answered his questions.
Mr. Churchouse gazed at them benevolently through his glasses. He came unconsciously under the influence of their joy of life.
Their conversation also pleased him, for it struck a right note—the note which he considered was seemly between employer and employed. He did not know that youth always modifies its tone in the presence of age, and that those of ripe years never hear the real truth concerning the opinions of the younger generation.
When Raymond left for home and Mr. Churchouse walked out to the gate with him, Sabina peeped out of the kitchen window which commanded the entrance, and her face was lighted with very genuine animation and interest.
Mrs. Dinnett returned at midnight tearful, for the ancient woman at Chilcombe had died in her arms—"at five after five," as she said.
Mary Dinnett was an excitable and pessimistic person. She always leapt to meet trouble half way and invariably lost her nerve upon the least opportunity to do so. The peace of 'The Magnolias' had long offered her a fitting sanctum, for here life moved with the utmost simplicity and regularity; but, though as old as he was, Mary looked ahead to the time when Mr. Churchouse might fall, and could always win an ample misery from the reflection that she must then be at the mercy of an unfriendly world.
Sabina heard the full story of her grandmother's decease with every detail of the passing, but it was the face of a young man, not the countenance of an old woman, that flitted through her thoughts as she went to sleep that night.
IN THE MILL
John Best was taking Raymond Ironsyde round the spinning mill, but the foreman had his own theory and proposed to initiate the young man by easy stages.
"You've seen the storehouses and the hacklers," he said. "Now if you just look into the works and get a general idea of the scheme of things, that's enough for one day."
In the great building two sounds deafened an unfamiliar ear: a steady roar, deep and persistent, and through it, like a staccato pulse, a louder, more painful, more penetrating din. The bass to this harsh treble arose from humming belts and running wheels; the crash that punctuated their deep-mouthed riot broke from the drawing heads of the machines.
A lofty, open roof, full of large sky-lights, covered the operating room, and in its uplifted dome supports and struts leapt this way and that, while, at the height of the walls, ran rods supporting rows of silver-bright wheels from which the power descended, through endless bands, to the machinery beneath. The floor was of stone, and upon it were disposed the various machine systems—the Card and Spreader, the Drawing Frames, Roving Frames, Gill Spinners and Spinning Frames.
The general blurred effect in Raymond's mind was one of disagreeable sound, which made speech almost impossible. The din drove at him from above and below; and it was accompanied by a thousand unfamiliar movements of flying bands and wheels and squat masses of machinery that convulsed and heaved and palpitated round him. From nearly all the machines there streamed away continuous bright ribbons of hemp or flax, that caught the light and shone. This was the 'sliver,' the wrought, textile material passing through its many changes before it came to the spinners. The amber and lint-white coils of the winding sliver made a brightness among the duns and drabs around them and their colour was caught again aloft where whisps of material hung irregularly—lumps of waste from the ends of the bobbins—and there were also colour notes of warmth in the wooden wheels on many of the machines. These struck a genial tone into the chill greys and flash of polished steel on every side.
After the mechanical activity, movement came from the irregular actions of the workers. Forty women and girls laboured here, and while some old people only sat on stools by the spouting sliver and wound it away into the tall cans that received it, other younger folk were more intensively engaged. The massive figure of Sally Groves lumbered at her ministry, where she fed the Carding Machine. She was subdued to the colour of the hemp tow with which she plied it. Elsewhere Sarah Northover flashed the tresses of long lines over her head and seemed to perform a rhythmic dance with her hands, as she tore each strick into three and laid the shining locks on her spread board. Others tended the drawers and rovers, while Sabina Dinnett, Nancy Buckler and Alice Chick, whose high task it was to spin, seemed to twinkle here, there and everywhere in a corybantic measure as they served the shouting and insatiable monsters that turned hemp and flax to yarn.
They, indeed, specially attracted Raymond, by the activity of their work and the charm of their swift, supple figures, where, never still, they danced about, with a thousand, strenuous activities of hand and foot and eye. Their work dazed him and he wanted to stop here and ask Sabina many questions. She looked much more beautiful while spinning than in her black dress and white apron—so the young man thought. Her work displayed her neat, slim shape as she twirled round, stooped, leapt up again, twisted and stood on tip-toe in a thousand fascinating attitudes. Never a dancer in the limelight had revealed so much beauty. She was rayed in a brown gown with a short skirt, and on her head she wore a grey woollen cap.
But Mr. Best forbade interest in the spinners.
"You'll not get to them for a week yet," he said. "I'll ask you to just take in the general hang of it, Mister Raymond, please. Power comes from the water-wheel and the steam engine and it's brought down to each machine. Just throw your eyes round. You ain't here to look at the girls, if you'll excuse my saying so. You're here to learn."
"You can learn more from the girls than all these noisy things put together," laughed Raymond; while Mr. Best shook his head and proceeded with his instructions.
"Those exhausts above each system suck away the dust and small rubbish," he explained. "We shouldn't be able to breathe without them."
The other looked up and saw great leaden-coloured tubes, like organ pipes, above him. Mr. Best droned on and strove to lay a foundation for future knowledge. He was skilled in every branch of the work, and a past master of all spinning mysteries. His lucid and simple exposition had very well served to introduce an attentive stranger to the complex operations going on around him, but Raymond was not attentive. He failed to concentrate and missed fundamental essentials from the desire to examine more advanced and obviously interesting operations.
He apologised to John Best before the dinner-hour.
"This is only a preliminary canter," he said. "It's all Greek to me and it will take time to get the thing clear. It looks quite different to me from what it must to you. I'll get the general scheme into my head first and then work out the details. A man's mind can't make order out of this chaos in a minute."
He stood and tried to appreciate the trend of events. He enjoyed the adventure, but at present made no effort to do more than enjoy it. He would start to work later. He began to like the din and the dusty light and the glitter and shine of polished metal and bright sliver eternally winding into the cans. Round it hovered or sat the women like dull moths. They wound the stream of hemp or flax away and snapped it when a can was full. There was no pause or slackening, nothing but the whirl of living hands and arms and bodies, dead wheels and teeth and pulleys and pins operating on the inert tow. The mediators, animate and inanimate, laboured together for its manufacture; while the masses of mingled wood and steel, leather and brass and iron, moved in controlled obedience to the giant forces liberated from steam and water that drove all. The selfsame power, gleaned from sunshine and moisture and sublimated to human flesh and blood through bread, plied in the fingers and muscles and countless, complex mental directions of the men and women who controlled. From sun-light and air, earth and water had also sprung the fields of hemp and flax in far-off lands and yielded up their loveliness to foreign scutchers. The dried death of countless beautiful herbs now represented the textile fabric on which all this immense energy was applied.
Thus far, along an obvious line of thought, Raymond's reflections took him, but there his slight mental effort ended, and even this much tired him. The time for dinner came; Mr. Best now turned certain hand-wheels and moved certain levers. They shut off the power and gradually the din lessened, the pulsing and throbbing slowed until the whole great complexity came to a stand-still. The drone of the overhead wheels ceased, the crash of the draw-heads stopped. A startling silence seemed to grow out of the noise and quell it, while a new activity manifested itself among the workers. As a bell rang they were changed in a twinkling and, amid chatter and laughter, like breaking chrysalids, they flung off their basset aprons and dun overalls, to emerge in brighter colours. Blouses of pink and blue and red flashed out, straw hats and sun-bonnets appeared, and all streamed away like magic to their neighbouring houses. It was as though its soul had passed and left a dead mill behind it.
Raymond, released for a moment from the attentions of the foreman, strolled among the machines of the minders and spinners. Then his eyes were held by an intimate and personal circumstance that linked these women to this place. He found that on the whitewashed walls beside their working corners, the girls had impressed themselves—their names, their interests, their hopes. With little picture galleries were the walls brightened, and with sentiments and ideas. The names of the workers were printed up in old stamps—green and pink—and beside them one might read, in verses, or photographs, or pictures taken from the journals, something of the history, taste and personal life of those who set them there. Serious girls had written favourite hymns beside their working places; the flippant scribbled jokes and riddles; the sentimental copied love songs that ran to many verses. Often the photograph of a maiden's lover accompanied them, and there were also portraits of mothers and sisters, babies and brothers. Some of the girls had hung up fashion-plates and decorated their workshop with ugly and mean designs for clothing that they would never wear.
Raymond found that picture postcards were a great feature of these galleries, and they contained also, of course, many private jests and allusions lost upon the visitor. Character was revealed in the collections; for the most part they showed desire for joy, and aspiration to deck the working-place with objects and words that should breed happy thoughts and draw the mind where its treasure harboured. Each heart it seemed was holding, or seeking, a romance; each heart was settled about some stalwart figure presented in the picture gallery, or still finding temporary substance for dreams in love poetry, in representations of happy lovers at stiles, in partings of soldier and sailor lads from their sweethearts. Beside some of the old workers the walls were blank. They had nothing left to set down, or hang up.
Raymond was arrested by a little rhyme round which a black border had been pasted. It was original:
"I am coiling, coiling, coiling Into the can, And thinking, thinking, thinking, Of my dear man.
"He is toiling, toiling, toiling Out on the sea, And thinking, thinking, thinking Only of me.
Mr. Best joined Ironsyde.
"These walls!" he said. "It's about time we had a coat of whitewash. Mister Daniel thinks so too."
"Why—good lord—this is the most interesting part of the whole show. This is alive! Who's F.H.?"
"The girls will keep that. They like it, though I tell them it would be better rubbed out. Poor Flossy Hackett wrote that. She was going to marry a sailor-man, but he changed his mind, and she broke her heart and drowned herself—that's all there is to it."
"The damned rascal. I hope he got what he deserved."
Mr. Best allowed his mind to peep from the shell that usually concealed it.
"If he did, he was one man in a thousand. He married a Weymouth woman and Flossy went into the river—in the deep pool beyond the works. A clever sort of girl, but a dreamer you might say."
"I'd like to have had the handling of that devil!"
"You never know. She may have had what's better than a wedding ring—in happy dreams. Reality's not the best of life. People do change their minds. He was honest and all that. Only he found somebody else he liked better."
At this moment Daniel Ironsyde came into the works, and while John Best hastened to him, Raymond pursued his amusement and studied the wall by the spinning frame where Sabina Dinnett worked. He found a photograph of her mother and a quotation from Shakespeare torn off a calendar for the date of August the third. He guessed that might be Sabina's birthday. The quotation ran:—
"To thine own self be true; And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man."
There was no male in Sabina's picture gallery—indeed, no other picture but that of a girl—her fellow spinner, Nancy Buckler.
His brother approached Raymond.
"You've made a start, Ray?"
"Rather. It's jolly interesting. Best is wonderful, but he can't fathom my ignorance yet."
"It's all very simple and straightforward. Do you like your office?"
"Yes," declared the younger. "Couldn't beat it. When I want something to do, I can fling a line out of the window and fish in the river."
"You have plenty to do besides fish out of the window I should hope. Let us lunch. I'm stopping here this afternoon. Aunt Jenny wanted to know whether you'd come to Bridport to dinner on Sunday."
Daniel was entirely friendly now and he designed—if the future should justify the step—to take Raymond into partnership. But only in the event of very material changes in his brother's life would he do so. Their aunt felt sanguine that Raymond must soon recognise his responsibilities, settle to the business of justifying his existence and put away childish things; Daniel was less hopeful, but trusted that she might be right. Her imagination worked for Raymond and warned her nephew not to be too exacting at first. She pointed out that it was very improbable Daniel's brother would become a model in a moment, or settle down to the business of fixed hours and clerical work without a few lapses from the narrow and arduous path. So the elder was prepared to see his brother kick against the pricks and even warned John Best that it might be so. Brief acquaintance with Raymond had already convinced the foreman of this probability, and he found himself liking Daniel's brother from the first. The dangers, however, were not hid from him; but while he perceived the youthful instability of the newcomer and his impatience of detail, he presently discovered an interest in mechanical contrivances, a spark of originality, and a feeling for new things that might lead to results, if only the necessary application were forthcoming and the vital interest aroused.
Mr. Best had a simple formula.
"The successful spinner," he often remarked, "is the man who can turn out the best yarn from a given sample of the raw. Hand identical stuff to ten manufacturers and you'll soon see where the best yarn comes from."
He knew of better yarns than came from the Ironsyde mill, and regretted the fact. That a time might arrive when Raymond would see with him seemed exceedingly improbable; yet he felt the dim possibility by occasional flashes in the young man, and it was a quality of Mr. Best's mind to be hopeful and credit other men with his own aspirations, if any excuse existed for so doing.
'THE SEVEN STARS'
On a Saturday in August, Sarah Northover, one of those who minded the 'spreader' at Bridetown Mill, came to see her aunt—the mistress of 'The Seven Stars,' in Barrack Street, Bridport.
She had walked three miles through the hot and dusty lanes and found the shady streets of Bridport cool by comparison, but there was work for her at 'The Seven Stars,' and Mrs. Northover proved very busy. A holiday party of five-and-twenty guests was arriving at five o'clock for tea, and Sarah, perceiving that her own tea would be a matter for the future, lent her aunt a hand.
Her tea gardens and pleasure grounds were the pride of Nelly Northover's heart. Three quarters of an acre extended here behind the inn, and she had erected swings for the children and laid a croquet lawn for those who enjoyed that pastime. Lawn tennis she would not permit, out of respect for her herbaceous border which surrounded the place of entertainment. At one corner was a large summer-house in which her famous teas were generally taken. The charge was one shilling, and being of generous disposition, Mrs. Northover provided for that figure a handsome meal.
She was a large, high-bosomed woman, powerfully built, and inclined to stoutness. Her complexion was sanguine, and her prominent eyes were very blue. Of a fair-minded and honest spirit, she suffered from an excitable temper and rather sharp tongue. But her moods were understood by her staff, and if her emotional quality did injustice, an innate sense of what was reasonable ultimately righted the wrong.
Sarah helped Job Legg and others to prepare for the coming party, while Mrs. Northover roamed the herbaceous border and cut flowers to decorate the table. While she pursued this work there bustled in Richard Gurd from 'The Tiger.' He was in his shirt-sleeves and evidently pushed for time.
"Wonders never cease," said Nelly, smiling upon him. "It's a month of Sundays since you was in my gardens. I'll lay you've come for some flowers for your dining table."
Reciprocity was practised between these best of friends, and while Mr. Gurd often sent customers to Mrs. Northover, since tea parties were not a branch of business he cared about, she returned his good service with gifts from the herbaceous border and free permission to use her spacious inn yard and stables.
"I'm always coming to have a look round at your wonderful flower-bed," said Richard, "and some Sunday morning, during church hours, I will do so; but you know how busy we all are in August. And I don't want no flowers; but I want the run of your four-stall stable. There's a 'beano' coming over from Lyme and I'm full up already."
"Never no need to ask," she answered. "I'll tell Job to set a man on to it."
He thanked her very heartily and she gave him a rose. Then he admired the grass, knowing that she prided herself upon it.
"Never seen such grass anywhere else in Bridport," he assured her. "There's lots try to grow grass like yours; but none can come near this."
"'Tis Job's work," she told him. "He's a Northerner and had the charge of a bowling-green at his uncle's public; and what he don't know about grass ain't worth knowing."
"He's a sheet-anchor, that man," confessed Richard; "a sheet-anchor and a tower of strength, as you might say."
"I don't deny it," admitted Nelly. "Sometimes, in a calm moment, I run my mind over Job Legg, and I'm almost ashamed to think how much I owe him."
"It ain't all one way, however. He's got a snug place, and no potman in Dorset draws more money, though there's some who draws more beer."
"There's no potman in Dorset with his head," she answered. "He's got a brain and it's very seldom indeed you find such an honest chap with such a lot of intellects. The clever ones are mostly the downy ones; but Job's single thought is the welfare of the house, and he pushes honesty to extremes."
"If you can say that, he must be a wonder, certainly, for none knows what honesty means better than you," said Mr. Gurd. He had put Nelly's rose into his coat.
"He's more than a potman, chiefly along of being such a good friend to my late husband. Almost the last sensible thing my poor dear said to me before he died was never to get rid of Job. And no doubt I never shall. I'm going to put up his money at Michaelmas."
"Well, don't make the man a god, and don't you spoil him. Job's a very fine chap and can carry corn as well as most of 'em—in fact far better; but a man is terrible quick to trade on the good opinion of his fellow man, and if you let him imagine you can't do without him, you may put false and fantastic ideas into his head."
"I'm not at all sure if I could do without him," she answered, "though, even if he knew it, he's far too fine a character to take advantage. A most modest creature and undervalued accordingly."
Then a boy ran in for Richard and he hastened away, while Nelly took a sheaf of flowers to the summer-house and made the table bright with them.
She praised her niece's activities.
"'Tis a shame to ring you in on your half-holiday," she said. "But you're one of the sensible sort, and you won't regret being a good girl to me in the time to come."
Then she turned to Job.
"Gurd's got a char-a-bank and a party on the way from Lyme, and he's full up and wants the four-horse stable," she told him. It was part of Job's genius never to be put about, or driven from placidity by anything.
"Then there's no time to lose," he said. "We're ready here, and now if Sarah will lend a hand at the table over there in the shade for the party of six—"
"Lord! I'd forgotten them."
"I hadn't," he answered. "They're cutting in the kitchen now and the party's due at four. So you'll have them very near off your hands before the big lot comes. I'll see to the stable and get in a bit of fresh straw and shake down some hay. Then I'll take the bar and let Miss Denman come to help with the tea."
He went his way and Sarah sat down a moment while her aunt arranged the flowers.
"There's no tea-tables like yours," she said.
"I pride myself on 'em. A lot goes to a tea beside the good food, in my opinion. Some human pigs don't notice my touches and only want to stuff; but the bettermost have an eye for everything sweet and clean about 'em. Such nicer characters don't like poultry messing round and common things in sight while they eat and drink. I know what I feel myself about a clean cloth and a bunch of fine flowers on the table, and many people are quite as particular as me. I train the girls up to take a pride in such things, and now and again a visitor will thank me for it."
"I could have brought a bunch of flowers from our little garden," said Sarah.
"It would be coals to Newcastle, my dear. We make a feature of 'em. Job Legg understands the ways of 'em, and you see the result. You can pick all day from my herbaceous border and not miss what you take."
"Nobody grows sweet peas like yours."
"Job again. He's mastered the sweet pea in a manner given to few. He'll bring out four on a stalk, and think nothing of it."
"Mister Best, our foreman, is wonderful in a garden, too," answered Sarah. "And a great fruit grower also."
"That reminds me. I've got a fine dish of greengages for this party. In the season I fling in a bit of fruit sometimes. It always comes as a pleasant surprise to tea people that they ain't called to pay extra for fruit."
She went her way and Sarah turned to a lesser entertainment under preparation in a shady corner of the garden.
A girl of the house was already busy there, and the guests had arrived. They were hot and thirsty. Some sat on the grass and fanned themselves. A young man did juggling feats with the croquet balls for the amusement of two young women.
Not until half-past six came any pause, but after that hour the tea drinkers thinned off; the big party had come and gone; the smaller groups were all attended to and tea was served in Mrs. Northover's private sitting-room behind the bar for herself, Sarah and the barmaid. Being refreshed and rested, Mrs. Northover turned to the affairs of her niece. At the same moment Mr. Legg came in.
"Sit down and have some tea," said Mrs. Northover.
"I've took a hasty cup," he answered, "but could very well do with another."
"And how's Mister Roberts, Sarah?" asked her aunt.
"Fine. He's playing in a cricket match to-day—Bridetown against Chilcombe. They've asked him to play for Bridport since Mister Raymond saw him bowl. He's very pleased about it."
"Teetotal, isn't he?" asked Mr. Job.
"Yes, Mister Legg. Nick have never once touched a drop in all his life and never means to."
"A pity there ain't more of the same way of thinking," said Mrs. Northover. "And I say that, though a publican and the wife of a publican; and so do you, don't you, Job?"
"Most steadfast," he replied. "When I took on barman as a profession, I never lifted pot or glass again to my own lips, and have stood between many a young man and the last half pint. I tell you this to your face, Missis Northover. Not an hour ago I was at 'The Tiger,' to let Richard Gurd know the stable was ready, and in the private bar there were six young men, all drinking for the pleasure of drinking. If the younger generation only lapped when 'twas thirsty, half the drinking-places would shut, and there wouldn't be no more brewers in the peerage."