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It is rather hard for a lad who thinks that he has been behaving somewhat as a hero to come to the conclusion that he has been making a fool of himself; but this was the result of Ned Sankey's cogitation over what Mr. Porson had said to him. Perhaps he arrived more easily at that conclusion because he was not altogether unwilling to do so. It was very mortifying to allow that he had been altogether wrong; but, on the other hand, there was a feeling of deep pleasure at the thought that he could, in Mr. Porson's deliberate opinion, go into the army and carry out all his original hopes and plans. His heart had been set upon this as long as he could remember, and it had been a bitter disappointment to him when he had arrived at the conclusion that it was his duty to abandon the idea. He did not now come to the conclusion hastily that Mr. Porson's view of the case was the correct one; but after a fortnight's consideration he went down on New Year's Day to the school, and told his master that he had made up his mind.
"I see, sir," he said, "now that I have thought it all over, that you are quite right, and that I have been behaving like an ass, so I shall set to work again and try and make up the lost time. I have only six months longer, for Easter is the time when Mr. Simmonds said that I should be old enough, and he will write to the lord lieutenant, and I suppose that in three months after that I should get my commission."
"That is right, Ned. I am exceedingly glad you have been able to take my view of the matter. I was afraid you were bent upon spoiling your life, and I am heartily glad that you have been able to see the matter in a different light."
A day or two afterward Ned took an opportunity of telling his mother that he intended at Easter to remind Mr. Simmonds of his promise to apply for a commission for him; and had he before had any lingering doubt that the decision was a wise one it would have been dissipated by the evident satisfaction and relief with which the news was received; nevertheless, he could not help a feeling of mortification at seeing in his mother's face the gladness which the prospect of his leaving occasioned her.
It was some time since Ned had seen his friend Bill Swinton, for Bill was now regularly at work in Mr. Mulready's factory and was only to be found at home in the evening, and Ned had been in no humor for going out. He now, however, felt inclined for a friendly talk again, and the next Sunday afternoon he started for Varley.
"Well, Maister Ned," Bill said as he hurried to the door in answer to his knock, "it be a long time surely sin oi saw thee last-- well nigh six months, I should say."
"It is a long time, Bill, but I haven't been up to anything, even to coming up here. Put on your cap and we will go for a walk across the moors together."
In a few seconds Bill joined him, and they soon left the village behind.
"Oi thought as how thou didn't feel oop to talking loike, Moister Ned. Oi heared tell as how thou did'st not get on well wi' Foxey; he be a roight down bad un, he be; it were the talk of the place as how you gived him a clout atween t' eyes, and oi laughed rarely to myself when oi seed him come through t' mill wi' black and blue all round 'em. There warn't a hand there but would have given a week's pay to have seen it done."
"I am afraid I was wrong, Bill," Ned said, feeling ashamed rather then triumphant at the thought. "I oughtn't to have done it, but my beastly temper got the best of it."
"Doan't say that Maister Ned; he deserves ten toimes worse nor ye gived him, and he will get it some time if he doan't mind. Oi tell ee there be lots of talk of him, and Captain Lud's gang be a getting stronger and stronger. Oi tell ye, t' maisters be agoing to have a bad time on it afore long, and Foxey be sure to be one of the first served out."
"Well, don't you have anything to do with it, Bill. You know I have told you over and over again that no good can come of such bad doings, and that the men will only make matters much worse for themselves. My father used to say that no good ever came of mob violence. They may do some harm for a time, but it is sure to recoil on their own heads."
"Oi doan't ha' nowt to do wi' it," Bill replied, "cause oi told yer oi wouldn't; but oi've some trouble to keep oot o't. Ye see oi am nointeen now, and most o' t' chaps of moi age they be in 't; they meet at the 'Dog' nigh every noight, and they drills regular out on t' moor here, and it doan't seem natural for oi not to be in it, especial as moi brothers be in it. They makes it rough for me in t' village, and says as how I ain't got no spirit, and even t' girls laughs at me."
"Not Polly Powlett, I am sure, Bill."
"No, not Polly," Bill replied. "She be a different sort. A' together it be a bit hard, and it be well for me as oi 'm main strong and tough, for oi ha' to fight pretty nigh every Saturday. However, oi ha thrashed pretty nigh every young chap in Varley, and they be beginning now to leave oi alone."
"That's right, Bill; I am sure I have no right to preach to you when I am always doing wrong myself; still I am quite sure you will be glad in the long run that you had nothing to do with King Lud. I know the times are very hard, but burning mills and murdering masters are not the way to make them better; you take my word for that. And now how are things going on in Varley?"
"No great change here," Bill replied. "Polly Powlett bain't made up her moind yet atween t' chaps as is arter her. They say as she sent John Stukeley, the smith, to the roight about last Sunday; he ha' been arter her vor the last year. Some thowt she would have him, some didn't. He ha' larning, you see, can read and wroite foine, and ha' got a smooth tongue, and knows how to talk to gals, so some thought she would take him; oi knew well enough she wouldn't do nowt of the koind, for oi ha' heard her say he were a mischievous chap, and a cuss to Varley. Thou know'st, Maister Ned, they do say, but in course oi knows nowt about it, as he be the head of the Luddites in this part of Yorkshire.
"Luke Marner he be dead against King Lud, he be, and so be many of the older men here; it's most the young uns as takes to them ways; and nateral, Polly she thinks as Luke does, or perhaps," and Bill laughed, "it's Polly as thowt that way first, and Luke as thinks as she does. However it be, she be dead set agin them, and she's said to me jest the same thing as thou'st been a-saying; anyhow, it be sartain as Polly ha' said no to John Stukeley, not as she said nowt about it, and no one would ha' known aboot it ef he hadn't gone cussing and swearing down at the 'Dog.'
"I thinks. Maister Ned, as we shall ha' trouble afore long. The men ha been drilling four or five years now, and oi know as they ha' been saying, What be the good of it when nowt is done and the wages gets lower and lower? They have preachments now out on t' moor on Sunday, and the men comes from miles round, and they tells me as Stukeley and others, but him chiefly, goes on awful agin t' maisters, and says, There's Scripture vor it as they owt to smite 'em, and as how tyrants owt vor to be hewed in pieces."
"The hewing would not be all on one side, Bill, you will see, if they begin it. You know how easily the soldiers have put down riots in other places."
"That be true," Bill said; "but they doan't seem vor to see it. Oi don't say nowt one way or t' other, and oi have had more nor half a mind to quit and go away till it's over. What wi' my brothers and all t' other young chaps here being in it, it makes it moighty hard vor oi to stand off; only as oi doan't know what else vor to do, oi would go. Oi ha' been a-thinking that when thou get'st to be an officer oi'll list in the same regiment and go to the wars wi' thee. Oi am sick of this loife here."
"Well, Bill, there will be no difficulty about that if you really make up your mind to it when the time comes. Of course I should like to have you very much. I have heard my father say that each officer has a soldier as his special servant; and if you would like that, you see, when we were alone together we should be able to talk about Varley and everything here just as we do now. Then I suppose I could help you on and get you made first corporal and then a sergeant."
"Very well, Maister Ned, then we will look on that as being as good as settled, and as soon as thou gets to be an officer oi will go as one of your soldiers."
For an hour they walked across the moor, talking about a soldier's life, Ned telling of the various parts of the world in which England was at that time engaged in war, and wondering in which of them they would first see service. Then they came back to the village and there parted, and Ned, feeling in better spirits than he had been from the day when he first heard of his mother's engagement to Mr. Mulready, walked briskly down to Marsden.
For a time matters went on quietly. Few words were exchanged between Ned and Mr. Mulready; and although the latter could not but have noticed that Ned was brighter and more cheerful in his talk, he was brooding over his own trouble, and paid but little heed to it.
The time was fast approaching when he could no longer go on as at present. The competition with the mills using the new machinery was gradually crushing him, and it was necessary for him to come to a determination either to pluck up heart and to use his new machines, or to close his mill.
At last he determined to take the former course and to defy King Lud. Other manufacturers used steam, and why should not he? It was annoying to him in the extreme that his friends and acquaintances, knowing that he had fitted the mill with the new plant, were always asking him why he did not use it.
A sort of uneasy consciousness that he was regarded by his townsmen as a coward was constantly haunting him. He knew in his heart that his danger was greater than that of others, because he could not rely on his men. Other masters had armed their hands, and had turned their factories into strong places, some of them even getting down cannon for their defense: for, as a rule, the hands employed with the new machinery had no objection to it, for they were able to earn larger wages with less bodily toil than before.
The hostility was among the hands thrown out of employment, or who found that they could now no longer make a living by the looms which they worked in their own homes. Hitherto Mr. Mulready had cared nothing for the goodwill of his hands. He had simply regarded them as machines from whom the greatest amount of work was to be obtained at the lowest possible price. They might grumble and curse him beneath their breaths; they might call him a tyrant behind his back, for this he cared nothing: but he felt now that it would have been better had their relations been different: for then he could have trusted them to do their best in defense of the mill.
Having once determined upon defying King Lud, Mr. Mulready went before the magistrates, and laying before them the threatening letters he had received, for the first had been followed by many others, he asked them to send for a company of infantry, as he was going to set his mill to work. The magistrates after some deliberation agreed to do so, and wrote to the commanding officer of the troops at Huddersfield asking him to station a detachment at Marsden for a time.
The request was complied with. A company of infantry marched in and were billeted upon the town. A room was fitted up at the mill, and ten of them were quartered here, and upon the day after their arrival the new machinery started.
Now that the step was taken, Mr. Mulready's spirits rose. He believed that the presence of the soldiers was ample protection for the mill, and he hoped that ere they left the town the first excitement would have cooled down, and the Luddites have turned their attention to other quarters.
Ned met Bill on the following Sunday.
"I suppose, Bill," he said, "there is a rare stir about Foxey using his new machinery?"
"Ay, that there be, and no wonder," Bill said angrily, "there be twenty hands turned adrift. Oi bee one of them myself."
"You, Bill! I had no idea you bad been discharged."
"Ay; oi have got the sack, and so ha' my brother and young Jarge Marner, and most o' t' young chaps in the mill. Oi suppose as how Foxey thinks as the old hands will stick to t' place, and is more afeerd as the young uns might belong to King Lud, and do him a bad turn with the machinery. Oi tell ye, Maister Ned, that the sooner as you goes as an officer the better, vor oi caan't bide here now and hold off from the others, Oi have had a dog's loife for some time, and it ull be worse now. It would look as if oi hadn't no spirit in the world, to stand being put upon and not join the others. T' other chaps scarce speak to me, and the gals turn their backs as oi pass them. Oi be willing vor to be guided by you as far as oi can; but it bain't in nature to stand this. Oi'd as lief go and hang myself. Oi would go and list tomorrow, only oi don't know what regiment you are going to."
"Well, Bill, it is hard," Ned said, "and I am not surprised that you feel that you cannot stand it; but it won't be for long now. Easter will be here in a fortnight, and then I shall see Mr. Simmonds and get him to apply at once. I met him in the street only last week, and he was talking about it then. He thinks that it will not be long after he sends in an application before I get my commission. He says he has got interest in London at the Horse Guards, and will get the application of the lord lieutenant backed up there; so I hope that in a couple of months at latest it will all be settled."
"Oi hope so, oi am sure, vor oi be main sick of this. However, oi can hold on for another couple of months; they know anyhow as it ain't from cowardice as I doan't join them. I fowt Jack Standfort yesterday and licked un; though, as you see, oi 'ave got a rare pair of black eyes today. If oi takes one every Saturday it's only eight more to lick, and oi reckon oi can do that."
"I wish I could help you, Bill," Ned said: "if father had been alive I am sure he would have let you have a little money to take you away from here and keep you somewhere until it is time for you to enlist; but you see I can do nothing now."
"Doan't you go vor to trouble yourself aboot me, Maister Ned. Oi shall hold on roight enow. The thought as it is for two months longer will keep me up. Oi can spend moi evenings in at Luke's. He goes off to the 'Coo,' but Polly doan't moind moi sitting there and smoking moi pipe, though it bain't every one as she would let do that."
Ned laughed. "It's a pity, Bill, you are not two or three years older, then perhaps Polly mightn't give you the same answer she gave to the smith."
"Lor' bless ee," Bill said seriously, "Polly wouldn't think nowt of oi, not if oi was ten years older. Oi bee about the same age as she; but she treats me as if I was no older nor her Jarge. No, when Polly marries it won't be in Varley. She be a good many cuts above us, she be. Oi looks upon her jest as an elder sister, and oi doan't moind how much she blows me up--and she does it pretty hot sometimes, oi can tell ee; but oi should just loike to hear any one say a word agin her; but there be no one in Varley would do that. Every one has a good word for Polly; for when there's sickness in the house, or owt be wrong, Polly's always ready to help. Oi do believe that there never was such a gal. If it hadn't been for her oi would ha' cut it long ago. Oi wouldn't go agin what ye said, Maister Ned; but oi am danged if oi could ha' stood it ef it hadn't been for Polly."
"I suppose," Ned said, "that now they have got the soldiers down in Marsden it will be all right about the mill."
"Oi caan't say," Bill replied; "nateral they doan't say nowt to me; but oi be sure that some'ats oop. They be a-drilling every night, and there will be trouble avore long. Oi doan't believe as they will venture to attack the mill as long as the sojers be in Marsden; but oi wouldn't give the price of a pint of ale for Foxey's loife ef they could lay their hands on him. He'd best not come up this way arter dark."
"He's not likely to do that," Ned said. "I am sure he is a coward or he would have put the mill to work weeks ago."
Secure in the protection of the troops, and proud of the new machinery which was at work in his mill, Mr. Mulready was now himself again. His smile had returned. He carried himself jauntily, and talked lightly and contemptuously of the threats of King Lud. Ned disliked him more in this mood than in the state of depression and irritation which had preceded it. The tones of hatred and contempt in which he spoke of the starving workmen jarred upon him greatly, and it needed all his determination and self command to keep him from expressing his feelings. Mr. Mulready was quick in perceiving, from the expression of Ned's face, the annoyance which his remarks caused him, and reverted to the subject all the more frequently. With this exception the home life was more pleasant than it had been before.
Mr. Mulready, in his satisfaction at the prospect of a new prosperity, was far more tolerant with his wife, and her spirits naturally rose with his. She had fully shared his fears as to the threats by the Luddites, and now agreed cordially with his diatribes against the workpeople, adopting all his opinions as her own.
Ned's acquaintance with Bill Swinton had long been a grievance to her, and her constant complainings as to his love for low company had been one of the afflictions to which Ned had long been accustomed. Now, having her husband by her side, it was a subject to which she frequently reverted.
"Why can't you leave me alone, mother?" Ned burst out one day when Mr. Mulready had left the room. "Can't you leave me in quiet as to my friends, when in two or three months I shall be going away? Bill Swinton is going to enlist in the same regiment in which I am, so as to follow me all over the world.
"Would any of the fine friends you would like me to make do that? I like all the fellows at school well enough, but there is not one of them would do a fiftieth part as much for me as Bill would. Even you, mother, with all your prejudices; must allow that it will be a good thing for me to have some one with me who will really care for me, who will nurse me if I am sick or wounded, who would lay down his life for mine if necessary. I tell you there isn't a finer fellow than Bill living. Of course he's rough, and he's had no education, I know that; but it's not his fault. But a truer or warmer hearted fellow never lived. He is a grand fellow. I wish I was only half as true and as honest and manly as he is. I am proud to have Bill as a friend. It won't be long before I have gone, mother. I have been fighting hard with myself so that there shall be peace and quietness in the house for the little time I have got to be here, and you make it harder for me."
"It's ridiculous your talking so," Mrs. Mulready said peevishly, "and about a common young fellow like this. I don't pretend to understand you, Ned. I never have and never shall do. But I am sure the house will be much more comfortable when you have gone. Whatever trouble there is with my husband is entirely your making. I only wonder that he puts up with your ways as he does. If his temper was not as good as yours is bad he would not be able to do so."
"All right, mother," Ned said. "He is an angel, he is, we all know, and I am the other thing. Well, if you are contented, that's the great thing, isn't it? I only hope you will always be so; but there," he said, calming himself with a great effort as his father's last words again came into his mind, "don't let's quarrel, mother. I am sorry for what I have said. It's quite right that you should stick up for your husband, and I do hope that when I go you will, as you say, be more comfortable and happy. Perhaps you will. I am sure I hope so. Well, I know I am not nice with him. I can't help it. It's my beastly temper, I suppose. That's an old story. Come, mother, I have only a short time to be at home now. Let us both try and make it as pleasant as we can, so that when I am thousands of miles away, perhaps in India, we may have it to look back upon. You try and leave my friends alone and I will try and be as pleasant as I can with your husband."
Mrs. Mulready was crying now.
"You know, Ned, I would love you if you would let me, only you are so set against my husband. I am sure he always means kindly. Look how he takes to little Lucy, who is getting quite fond of him."
"Yes, I am very glad to think that he is, mother," Ned said earnestly. "You see Lucy is much younger, and naturally remembers comparatively little about her father, and has been able to take to Mr. Mulready without our prejudices. I am very glad to see that he really does like her--in fact I do think he is getting quite fond of her. I shall go away feeling quite easy about her. I wish I could say as much about Charlie. He is not strong, like other boys, and feels unkindness very sharply. I can see him shrink and shiver when your husband speaks to him, and am afraid he will have a very bad time of it when I am gone."
"I am sure, Ned, he will get on very well," Mrs. Mulready said. "I have no doubt that when he gets rid of the example you set him-- I don't want to begin to quarrel again--but of the example you set him of dislike and disrespect to Mr. Mulready, that he will soon be quite different. He will naturally turn to me again instead of looking to you for all his opinions, and things will go on smoothly and well."
"I am sure I hope so, mother. Perhaps I have done wrong in helping to set Charlie against Mulready. Perhaps when I have gone, too, things will be easier for him. If I could only think so I should go away with a lighter heart. Well, anyhow, mother, I am glad we have had this talk. It is not often we get a quiet talk together now."
"I am sure it is not my fault," Mrs. Mulready said in a slightly injured tone.
"Perhaps not, mother," Ned said kindly. "With the best intentions, I know I am always doing things wrong. It's my way, I suppose. Anyhow, mother, I really have meant well, and I hope you will think of me kindly after I have gone."
"You may be sure I shall do that, Ned," his mother said, weeping again. "I have no doubt the fault has been partly mine too, but you see women don't understand boys, and can't make allowances for them."
And so Ned kissed his mother for the first time since the day when she had returned home from her wedding tour, and mother and son parted on better terms than they had done for very many months, and Ned went with a lightened heart to prepare his lessons for the next day.
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