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Messrs. Bolt and Little put their heads together, and played a prudent game. They kept the works going for a month, without doing anything novel, except what tended to the health and comfort of their workmen.
But, meantime, they cleared out two adjacent rooms: one was called the studio, the other the experiment-room.
In due course they hired a couple of single men from Birmingham to work the machine under lock and key.
Little with his own hands, affected an aperture in the party-wall, and thus conveyed long saws from his studio to the machine, and received them back ground.
Then men were lodged three miles off, were always kept at work half an hour later than the others, and received six pounds per week apiece, on pain of instant dismissal should they breathe a syllable. They did the work of twenty-four men; so even at that high rate of wages, the profit was surprising. It actually went beyond the inventor's calculation, and he saw himself at last on the road to rapid fortune, and, above all, to Grace Carden.
This success excited Bolt's cupidity, and he refused to contract the operation any longer.
Then the partners had a quarrel, and nearly dissolved. However, it ended in Little dismissing his Birmingham hands and locking up his "experiment-room," and in Bolt openly devoting another room to the machines: two long, two circular.
These machines coined money, and Bolt chuckled and laughed at his partner's apprehensions for the space of twenty-one days.
On the twenty-second day, the Saw-grinders' Union, which had been stupefied at first, but had now realized the situation, sent Messrs. Bolt and Little a letter, civil and even humble; it spoke of the new invention as one that, if adopted, would destroy their handicraft, and starve the craftsmen and their families, and expressed an earnest hope that a firm which had shown so much regard for the health and comfort of the workmen would not persist in a fatal course, on which they had entered innocently and for want of practical advice.
The partners read this note differently. Bolt saw timidity in it. Little saw a conviction, and a quiet resolution, that foreboded a stern contest.
No reply was sent, and the machines went on coining.
Then came a warning to Little, not violent, but short, and rather grim. Little took it to Bolt, and he treated it with contempt.
Two days afterward the wheel-bands vanished, and the obnoxious machines stood still.
Little was for going to Grotait, to try and come to terms. Bolt declined. He bought new bands, and next day the machines went on again.
This pertinacity soon elicited a curious epistle:
"MESSRS. BOLT AND LITTLE,
When the blood is in an impure state, brimstone and treacle is applied as a mild purgative; our taking the bands was the mild remedy; but, should the seat of disease not be reached, we shall take away the treacle, and add to the brimstone a necessary quantity of saltpetre and charcoal.
On receipt of this, Little, who had tasted the last-mentioned drugs, showed such undisguised anxiety that Bolt sent for Ransome. He came directly, and was closeted with the firm. Bolt handed him the letters, told him the case, and begged leave to put him a question. "Is the police worth any thing, or nothing, in this here town?"
"It is worth something, I hope, gentlemen."
"How much, I wonder? Of all the bands that have been stolen, and all the people that have been blown up, and scorched and vitrioled, and shot at, and shot, by Union men, did ever you and your bobbies nail a single malefactor?"
Now Mr. Ransome was a very tall man, with a handsome, dignified head, a long black beard, and pleasant, dignified manners. When short, round, vulgar Mr. Bolt addressed him thus, it really was like a terrier snapping at a Newfoundland dog. Little felt ashamed, and said Mr. Ransome had been only a few months in office in the place. "Thank you, Mr. Little," said the chief constable. "Mr Bolt, I'll ask you a favor. Meet me at a certain place this evening, and let me reply to your question then and there."
This singular proposal excited some curiosity, and the partners accepted the rendezvous. Ransome came to the minute, and took the partners into the most squalid part of this foul city. At the corner of a narrow street he stepped and gave a low whistle. A policeman in plain clothes came to him directly.
"They are both in the 'Spotted Dog,' sir, with half a dozen more."
"Follow me, and guard the door. Will you come, too, gentlemen?"
The "Spotted Dog" was a low public, with one large room and a sanded floor. Mr. Ransome walked in and left the door open, so that his three companions heard and saw all that passed.
"Holland and Cheetham, you are wanted."
"Wilde's affair. He has come to himself, and given us your names."
On this the two men started up and were making for the door. Ransome whipped before it. "That won't do."
Then there was a loud clatter of rising feet, oaths, threats, and even a knife or two drawn; and, in the midst of it all, the ominous click of a pistol, and then dead silence; for it was Ransome who had produced that weapon. "Come, no nonsense," said he. "Door's guarded, street's guarded, and I'm not to be trifled with."
He then handed his pistol to the officer outside with an order, and, stepping back suddenly, collared Messrs. Holland and Cheetham with one movement, and, with a powerful rush, carried them out of the house in his clutches. Meantime the policeman had whistled, there was a conflux of bobbies, and the culprits were handcuffed and marched off to the Town Hall.
"Five years' penal servitude for that little lot," said Ransome.
"And now, Mr. Bolt, I have answered your question to the best of my ability."
"You have answered it like a man. Will you do as much for us?"
"I'll do my best. Let me examine the place now that none of them are about."
Bolt and Ransome went together, but Little went home: he had an anxiety even more pressing, his mother's declining health. She had taken to pining and fretting ever since Dr. Amboyne brought the bad news from Cairnhope; and now, instead of soothing and consoling her son, she needed those kind offices from him; and, I am happy to say, she received them. He never spent an evening away from her. Unfortunately he did not succeed in keeping up her spirits, and the sight of her lowered his own.
At this period Grace Carden was unmixed comfort to him; she encouraged him to encroach a little, and visit her twice a week instead of once, and she coaxed him to confide all his troubles to her. He did so; he concealed from his mother that he was at war with the trade again, but he told Grace everything, and her tender sympathy was the balm of his life. She used to put on cheerfulness for his sake, even when she felt it least.
One day, however, he found her less bright than usual, and she showed him an advertisement--Bollinghope house and park for sale; and she was not old enough nor wise enough to disguise from him that this pained her. Some expressions of regret and pity fell from her; that annoyed Henry, and he said, "What is that to us?"
"Nothing to you: but I feel I am the cause. I have not used him well, that's certain."
Henry said, rather cavalierly, that Mr. Coventry was probably selling his house for money, not for love, and (getting angry) that he hoped never to hear the man's name mentioned again.
Grace Carden was a little mortified by his tone, but she governed herself and said sadly, "My idea of love was to be able to tell you every thought of my heart, even where my conscience reproaches me a little. But if you prefer to exclude one topic--and have no fear that it may lead to the exclusion of others--"
They were on the borders of a tiff; but Henry recovered himself and said firmly, "I hope we shall not have a thought unshared one day; but, just for the present, it will be kinder to spare me that one topic."
"Very well, dearest," said Grace. "And, if it had not been for the advertisement--" she said no more, and the thing passed like a dark cloud between the lovers.
Bollinghope house and park were actually sold that very week; they were purchased, at more than their value, by a wealthy manufacturer: and the proceeds of this sale and the timber cleared off all Coventry's mortgages, and left him with a few hundred pounds in cash, and an estate which had not a tree on it, but also had not a debt upon it.
Of course he forfeited, by this stroke, his position as a country gentleman; but that he did not care about, since it was all done with one view, to live comfortably in Paris far from the intolerable sight of his rival's happiness with the lady he loved.
He bought in at the sale a few heirlooms and articles of furniture--who does not cling, at the last moment, to something of this kind?--and rented a couple of unfurnished rooms in Hillsborough to keep them in. He fixed the day of his departure, arranged his goods, and packed his clothes. Then he got a letter of credit on Paris, and went about the town buying numerous articles of cutlery.
But this last simple act led to strange consequences. He was seen and followed; and in the dead of the evening, as he was cording with his own hands a box containing a few valuables, a heavy step mounted the stair, and there was a rude knock at the door.
Mr. Coventry felt rather uncomfortable, but he said, "Come in."
The door was opened, and there stood Sam Cole.
Coventry received him ill. He looked up from his packing and said, "What on earth do you want, sir?"
But it was not Cole's business to be offended. "Well, sir," said he, "I've been looking out for you some time, and I saw you at our place; so I thought I'd come and tell you a bit o' news."
"What is that?"
"It is about him you know of; begins with a hel."
"Curse him! I don't want to hear about him. I'm leaving the country. Well, what is it?"
"He is wrong with the trade again."
"What is that to me?--Ah! sit down, Cole, and tell me."
Cole let him know the case, and assured him that, sooner or later, if threats did not prevail, the Union would go any length.
"Should you be employed?"
"If it was a dangerous job, they'd prefer me."
Mr. Coventry looked at his trunks, and then at Sam Cole. A small voice whispered "Fly." He stifled that warning voice, and told Cole he would stay and watch this affair, and Cole was to report to him whenever any thing fresh occurred. From that hour this gentleman led the life of a malefactor, dressed like a workman, and never went out except at night.
Messrs. Bolt and Little were rattened again, and never knew it till morning. This time it was not the bands, but certain axle-nuts and screws that vanished. The obnoxious machines came to a standstill, and Bolt fumed and cursed. However, at ten o'clock, he and the foreman were invited to the Town hall, and there they found the missing gear, and the culprit, one of the very workmen employed at high wages on the obnoxious machines.
Ransome had bored a small hole in the ceiling, by means of which this room was watched from above; the man was observed, followed, and nabbed. The property found on him was identified and the magistrate offered the prisoner a jury, which he declined; then the magistrate dealt with the case summarily, refused to recognize rattening, called the offense "petty larceny," and gave the man six months' prison.
Now as Ransome, for obvious reasons, concealed the means by which this man had been detected, a conviction so mysterious shook that sense of security which ratteners had enjoyed for many years, and the trades began to find that craft had entered the lists with craft.
Unfortunately, those who directed the Saw-grinders' Union thought the existence of the trade at stake, and this minor defeat merely exasperated them.
Little received a letter telling him he was acting worse than Brinsley, who had been shot in the Briggate; and asking him, as a practical man, which he thought was likely to die first, he or the Union? "You won't let us live; why should we let you?"
Bolt was threatened in similar style, but he merely handed the missives to Ransome; he never flinched.
Not so Little. He got nervous; and, in a weak moment, let his mother worm out of him that he was at war with the trades again.
This added anxiety to her grief, and she became worse every day.
Then Dr. Amboyne interfered, and, after a certain degree of fencing--which seems inseparable from the practice of medicine--told Henry plainly he feared the very worst if this went on; Mrs. Little was on the brink of jaundice. By his advice Henry took her to Aberystwith in Wales, and, when he had settled her there, went back to his troubles.
To those was now added a desolate home; gone was the noble face, the maternal eye, the soothing voice, the unfathomable love. He never knew all her value till now.
One night, as he sat by himself sad and disconsolate, his servant came to tell him there was a young woman inquiring for Mrs. Little. Henry went out to her, and it was Jael Dence. He invited her in, and told her what had happened. Jael saw his distress, and gave him her womanly sympathy. "And I came to tell her my own trouble," said she; "fie on me!"
"Then tell it me, Jael. There, take off your shawl and sit down. They shall make you a cup of tea."
Jael complied, with a slight blush; but as to her trouble, she said it was not worth speaking of in that house.
Henry insisted, however, and she said, "Mine all comes of my sister marrying that Phil Davis. To tell you the truth, I went to church with a heavy heart on account of their both beginning with a D--Dence and Davis; for 'tis an old saying--
"'If you change the name, and not the letter,
You change for the worse, and not for the better.'
"Well, sir, it all went wrong somehow. Parson, he was South country; and when his time came to kiss the bride, he stood and looked ever so helpless, and I had to tell him he must kiss her; and even then he stared foolish-like a bit before he kissed her, and the poor lass's face getting up and the tear in her eye at being slighted. And that put Patty out for one thing: and then she wouldn't give away the ribbon to the fastest runner--the lads run a hundred yards to the bride, for ribbon and kiss, you know;--wasn't the ribbon she grudged, poor wench; but the fastest runner in Cairnhope town is that Will Gibbon, a nasty, ugly, slobbering chap, that was always after her, and Philip jealous of him; so she did for the best, and Will Gibbon safe to win it. But the village lads they didn't see the reason, and took it all to themselves. Was she better than their granddam? and were they worse than their grandsires? They ran on before, and fired the anvil when she passed: just fancy! an affront close to her own door: and, sir, she walked in a doors crying. There was a wedding for you! George the blacksmith was that hurt at their making free with his smithy to affront her, he lifted his arm for the first time, and pretty near killed a couple of them, poor thoughtless bodies. Well, sir, Phil Davis always took a drop, you know, and, instead of mending, he got worse; they live with father, and of course he has only to go to the barrel; old-fashioned farmers like us don't think to spy on the ale. He was so often in liquor, I checked him; but Patty indulged him in every thing. By-and-by my lord gets ever so civil to me; 'What next?' said I to myself. One fine evening we are set upstairs at our tea; in he comes drunk, and says many things we had to look at one another and excuse. Presently he tells us all that he has made a mistake; he has wedded Patty, and I'm the one he likes the best. But I thought the fool was in jest; but Patty she gave a cry as if a knife had gone through her heart. Then my blood got up in a moment. 'That's an affront to all three,' said I: 'and take your answer, ye drunken sow,' said I. I took him by the scruff of the neck and just turned him out of the room and sent him to the bottom of the stairs headforemost. Then Patty she quarreled with me, and father he sided with her. And so I gave them my blessing, and told them to send for me in trouble; and I left the house I was born in. It all comes of her changing her name, and not her letter." Here a few tears interrupted further comment.
Henry consoled her, and asked her what she was going to do.
She said she did not know; but she had a good bit of money put by, and was not afraid of work, and, in truth, she had come there to ask Mrs. Little's advice, "poor lady. Now don't you mind me, Mr. Henry, your trouble is a deal worse than mine."
"Jael," said he, "you must come here and keep my house till my poor mother is better."
Jael colored and said, "Nay, that will not do. But if you could find me something to do in your great factory--and I hear you have enemies there; you might as well have a friend right in the middle of them. Eh, but I'd keep my eyes and ears open for you."
Henry appreciated this proposal, and said there were plenty of things she could do; she could hone, she could pack, she could superintend, and keep the girls from gabbling; "That," said he, "is the real thing that keeps them behind the men at work."
So Jael Dence lodged with a female cousin in Hillsborough, and filled a position of trust in the factory of Bolt and Little: she packed, and superintended, and the foreman paid her thirty shillings a week. The first time this was tendered her she said severely, "Is this right, young man?" meaning, "Is it not too much?"
"Oh, you will be raised if you stay with us three months."
"Raised?" said the virtuous rustic! Then, looking loftily round on the other women, "What ever do these factory folk find to grumble at?"
Henry told Grace all about this, and she said, rather eagerly, "Ah, I am glad of that. You'll have a good watch-dog."
It was a shrewd speech. The young woman soon found out that Little was really in danger, and she was all eyes and ears, and no tongue.
Yet neither her watchfulness, nor Ransome's, prevailed entirely against the deviltries of the offended Union. Machinery was always breaking down by pure accident; so everybody swore, and nobody believed: the water was all let out of the boiler, and the boiler burst. Bands were no longer taken but they were cut. And, in short, the works seemed to be under a curse.
And, lest the true origin of all these mishaps should be doubted, each annoyance was followed by an anonymous letter. These were generally sent to Little. A single sentence will indicate the general tone of each.
1. "All these are but friendly warnings, to save your life if possible."
2. "I never give in. I fight to death, and with more craft and duplicity than Bolt and Ransome. They will never save you from me, if you persist. Ask others whether I ever failed to keep my word."
3. "If I but move my finger, you are sent into eternity."
Henry Little's nerve began to give way more and more.
Meantime Cole met Mr. Coventry, and told him what was going on beneath the surface: at the same time he expressed his surprise at the extraordinary forbearance shown by the Union. "Grotait is turning soft, I think. He will not give the word to burn Sebastopol."
"Then do it without him."
Cole shook his head, and said he daren't. But, after some reflection, he said there was a mate of his who was not so dependent on Grotait: he might be tempted perhaps to do something on his own hook, Little being wrong with the trade, and threatened. "How much would you stand?"
"How far would your friend go?"
"I'll ask him."
Next day Cole walked coolly into the factory at dinner-time and had a conversation with Hill, one of the workmen, who he knew was acting for the Union, and a traitor in his employers' camp. He made Hill a proposal. Hill said it was a very serious thing; he would think of it, and meet him at a certain safe place and tell him.
Cole strolled out of the works, but not unobserved. Jael Dence had made it her business to know every man in the factory by sight, and observing, from a window, a stranger in conversation with Hill, she came down and met Cole at the gate. She started at sight of him: he did not exactly recognize her; but, seeing danger in her eye, took to his heels, and ran for it like a deer: but Jael called to some of the men to follow him, but nobody moved. They guessed it was a Union matter. Jael ran to Little, and told him that villain, who had escaped from Raby Hall, had been in the works colloguing with one of the men.
Ransome was sent for, and Cole described to him.
As for Hill, Jael watched him like a cat from that hour, since a man is known by his friends. She went so far as to follow him home every evening.
Cole got fifty pounds out of Coventry for Hill, and promised him twenty. For this sum Hill agreed to do Little. But he demanded some time to become proficient in the weapon he meant to use.
During the interval events were not idle. A policeman saw a cutter and a disguised gentleman talking together, and told Ransome. He set spies to discover, if possible, what that might mean.
One day the obnoxious machines were stopped by an ACCIDENT to the machinery, and Little told Jael this, and said, "Have you a mind to earn five pound a week?"
"Ay, if I could do it honestly?"
"Let us see the arm that flung Phil Davis down-stairs."
Jael colored a little, but bared her left arm at command.
"Good heavens!" cried Little. "What a limb! Why mine is a shrimp compared with it."
"Ay, mine has the bulk, but yours the pith."
"Oh, come; if your left arm did that, what must your right be?"
"Oh," said Jael, "you men do every thing with your right hand; but we lasses know no odds. My left is as strong as my right, and both at your service."
"Then come along with me."
He took her into the "Experiment Room," explained the machine to her, gave her a lesson or two; and so simple was the business that she soon mastered her part of it; and Little with his coat off, and Jael, with her noble arms bare, ground long saws together secretly; and Little, with Bolt's consent, charged the firm by the gross. He received twenty-four pounds per week, out of which he paid Jael six, in spite of her "How can a lass's work be worth all that?" and similar remonstrances.
Being now once more a workman, and working with this loyal lass so many hours a day, his spirits rose a little, and his nerves began to recover their tone.
But meantime Hill was maturing his dark design.
In going home, Little passed through one place he never much liked, it was a longish close, with two sharp rectangular turns.
Since he was threatened by the trade, he never entered this close without looking behind him. He did not much fear an attack in front, being always armed with pistols now.
On a certain night he came to this place as usual, went as far as the first turn, then looked sharply round to see if he was followed; but there was nobody behind except a woman, who was just entering the court. So he went on.
But a little way down this close was a small public-house, and the passage-door was ajar, and a man watching. No sooner was Little out of sight than he emerged, and followed him swiftly on tiptoe.
The man had in his hand a weapon that none but a Hillsborough cutler would have thought of; yet, as usual, it was very fit for the purpose, being noiseless and dangerous, though old-fashioned. It was a long strong bow, all made of yew-tree. The man fitted an arrow to this, and running lightly to the first turn, obtained a full view of Little's retiring figure, not fifteen yards distant.
So well was the place chosen, that he had only to discharge his weapon and then run back. His victim could never see him.
He took a deliberate aim at Little's back, drew the arrow to the head, and was about to loose it, when a woman's arm was flung round his neck.
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