THE OLD PRIORY

There was none to drag up the melancholy blossoms of Medora’s woe
and display the fact that they had no roots; but she kept them alive
nevertheless; and since she was tickled to persist in folly by the
increasing interest created from her alleged sufferings, she woke up
to find those sufferings real at last. She had now earned a great
deal of pity and won a reputation for patience and endurance. She had
also awakened a certain measure of feeling against Ned, which was
inevitable, and now conditions which she had implied, knowing at the
bottom of her heart they did not exist, began to develop in reality.
The man was not built to watch Medora’s histrionics in patience for
ever, and she found him growing harsh and rough.

Then there was no more play-acting for Medora. Outraged in every
instinct, her sense of humour dead and her self-consciousness morbidly
hypertrophied, she began to hate the man she had married. The cause of
his changed attitude she forgot; and the bad usage for which she had
deliberately played, when it came she resented with all her soul. Now
she ceased to be a wife to him and daily threatened to leave him.

A series of incidents more or less painful led to the threshold of
complete estrangement and Medora was always ahead of her husband and
always a good stage farther advanced to the final rupture than was he.
Indeed he never knew until the climax burst upon him that it was so
near. He did wrong things at this season, was hard when he should have
been gentle, and allowed himself brutalities of speech and action.
But again and again after such ebullitions, he was contrite, abased
himself and implored Medora to help him to a better comradeship and
understanding.

Each sought to confide, and Ned confided in Medora herself, while she
went elsewhere. Her interest was rapidly shifting and her husband’s
efforts at reconciliation meant nothing now. For the time being she
heartily loathed him, and the sound of his voice in the house, and
the fall of his foot. Yet between his furies he had struggled hard to
restore their friendship. He had confessed the incident with Kellock
and described to Medora how, in his passion that anybody should presume
to come between them, even with good advice, he had turned on the
vatman, knocked him into the water and then pulled him out again.

“He meant well; but it shows what a state I’m in that I could do it. He
forgave me quickly enough, but I couldn’t forgive myself. And I only
tell you, Medora, to show what a perilous and unnatural frame of mind
I’ve got to. It’s all so properly cruel—as if some unseen devil had
poked his claws into our affairs and was trying to tear ’em apart. And
God knows I’ll do any mortal thing that man can do to right it.”

She was, however, much more interested in the disaster to Kellock.

“What did he say that made you try to murder him?” she asked.

“I didn’t try to murder him—I only shut his mouth. So I don’t know
what he was going to say. He admitted I was right anyway, and that it
was not his place to interfere.”

“Nobody’s got the right to talk sense to you seemingly.”

“I’m not telling you this for you to begin on me again,” he said. “I’m
telling you to show you what you’re doing and what you’ve done to my
temper. If anybody had told me a year ago I’d forget myself and knock a
man down for trying to do me a good turn, I’d never have believed it.
Yet such is my state that I did so. And since then I’ve asked Jordan to
speak about the thing and give me any advice he could; but he’s told me
frankly the time has passed for that. He won’t speak now. He forgave
me for knocking him into the water; but I can see with half an eye he
don’t want any more to do with me.”

Medora, well knowing why this was, yet pretended not to know.

“You must ask yourself for a reason then and no doubt your conscience
will find it, Ned. We must cut a loss before long—you and me—for I
don’t want to die under this. I can’t stand very much more and I dare
say you feel the same.”

“What d’you mean by ‘cut a loss’?” he asked.

But after any pregnant remark of this description, Medora temporised
for a time and preferred to be indefinite.

“I don’t know what I mean,” she answered. “There’s times when I wish I
was out of it, young as I am. I can suffer and suffer of course. I’m
strong and there’s no limit to my endurance. But I’m beginning to ask
myself ‘why?’ And for that matter there are one or two others asking me
the same question.”

“No doubt,” he said. “The woman’s always right if her face is pretty
enough. You’ve got the art always to be in the right, and there’s only
one on God’s earth, and that’s me, who knows you’re wickedly in the
wrong quite as often as I am. It’s your wrongs in other people’s mouths
that made me do wrong; and when you saw me setting out with all my
heart to be patient and win you back again, you set yourself wickedly
to work to break down my patience and egg me on. Again and again you’ve
kept at me till I’ve gone too far and done evil; and then you’ve run
about everywhere and let everybody know what a coward and brute I am.”

“That’s the way you talk,” she said, “and I can only listen with my
heart broken. You say these things for no reason but to make me angry,
and as to patience, even you will grant, if there’s any justice left
in you, that my patience has never broke down from the first. And when
the people have talked, I’ve laughed it off and put a bright face on
it.”

“Yes, I know that bright face—as though you were saying, ‘you see I’m
an angel already and only want the wings.’”

“Oh, your tongue!” she answered. “To think that ever you could scourge
a good wife with such bitter, biting words.”

Then she wept and he cursed and went out. It was a scene typical of
others; but from the moment that Medora heard of Kellock’s immersion
she could not rest until she had let him know she knew it. They were
meeting now unknown to Dingle, for though Jordan at first protested
against any private conference, Medora quickly over-ruled him. For
a month she had made it clear that only the wisdom of Mr. Kellock
was keeping her sane; and he believed it. Nor was this altogether
untrue, for Medora, now genuinely miserable, began to seek increasing
sustenance and support from her old lover.

As in the case of all her other schemes for entertainment and
exaltation, she crept to this and let it develop slowly. As the rift
between her and Ned grew wider, the gap narrowed between her and Jordan
Kellock. At each meeting she decreased the distance between them, yet
never by definite word or deed appeared to be doing so. Kellock himself
did not realise it. He knew the fact and taxed his own conscience with
it at first; but then for a time his conscience left him in doubt as
to his duty, until in the light of Medora’s increasing sufferings, it
spoke more distinctly and chimed dangerously with his inclination.

His whole life was dominated by this great matter. It had become
personal and he wrestled with his difficulties by day and night. Medora
was one of those women who have a marvellous power of influencing
other judgments. She had a fatal gift to waken dislike and distrust
of another person in the mind of a third. She had already created
aversion for Ned in the minds of several women; now Jordan, despite
his own reason, felt himself beginning to hate Dingle as heartily
as Medora appeared to do. He fought this emotion for a time; but
found it impossible any longer to maintain an impartial attitude.
He told himself that it was only false sentiment to pretend farther
impartiality. Justice demanded antagonism to Ned in the future—not
because Medora had once been Jordan’s whole hope and desire and was now
herself unhappy and friendless; but because, as an honest man, Kellock
could not longer be impartial.

His views of life were changing; his orderly mind was beginning to
suspect that strong action might be necessary. Justice was the word
most often on his lips; and yet knowing that he loved Medora, he was
intelligent enough to perceive that inclination might be deluding him
and making apparently simple what, in reality, was complex. For a time
he hesitated; then came a day when he met Medora by appointment and
felt it impossible to stand outside her life any longer. She, indeed,
forced his hand and made it clear that she was going to take definite
steps for her own salvation.

Medora, on her way to Priory Farm one Sunday afternoon, had arranged to
meet Kellock at the ruins of the building that gave the farm its name.
Here they would be safe from any interruption.

The fragment of masonry crowned Mr. Dolbear’s orchard on the summit of
the hill that fell into Cornworthy. Here, heaved up against the sky
in its ivy mantle, stood the meagre remains of an old priory, one of
the smaller houses of the Austin nuns, founded by the Norman lords of
Totnes.

It consisted of a great gateway with a roof vaulted, ribbed and bossed,
and a lesser entrance that stood to the north of the first. They
pierced the mass and bore above them a chamber, of which only the floor
and ruined walls remained. It was reached by a stair, where stone
steps wound in the thickness of the wall and opened on to the crown
of the ruin fifty feet above. The space aloft was hung with polypody
and spleenwort in the chinks of its crumbling mortar, and ivy knots
seemed to hold the mass together. A whitethorn had found foothold
and rose above the central block of stone. Through a ruined aperture
facing east, one might see the orchard sloping to the valley bottom and
Cornworthy’s scattered dwellings, ascending on the farther hill. The
picture, set in the grey granite frame of the priory window, revealed
thatched houses grouped closely, with land sweeping upwards on either
side, so that the hamlet lay in a dingle between the breasts of the
red earth. The land climbed on beyond the village and threw a hogged
back across the sky. Here were broad fallows and hedgerows where the
leafless elms broke the line with their grey skeletons. To this exalted
but secret place, Medora and Kellock were come. He had indeed been
there some time when she arrived.

“If you sit here,” he said, “you’re out of the wind.”

“We’re safe now,” she answered. “And ’twas like you to put yourself
about and tramp all this way. But I’ve got to be terrible careful,
Jordan, for if my husband thought I’d any friends working for me and
thinking for me, I don’t know what awful thing he’d do against me. Nuns
used to live here in past ages,” she continued. “Oh, my God! I wish I’d
been one of them. Then I should have spent my days in peace and be at
rest now.”

“Sit down and let’s use our time as best we can,” he advised.

“Time—time—I want for time to end. For two pins I’d jump out of that
window and end all time so far as I’m concerned.”

“You mustn’t talk or think like that, or else I shall fear I can’t be
any use. I tell you, before God, that my life’s all centred in you and
your troubles now. I shan’t have no peace till you have peace.”

“I’ll live for you then; and that’s about all I want to live for any
longer,” declared Medora. She felt in a theatrical mood and Ned’s
recent confession enabled her to speak with a great oncoming of warmth
and emotion. Her perception had fastened upon it from the first and
measured its value.

And now in the Priory ruin, she made the most of the matter. She had
worked it up and found it a tower of strength.

“I know what happened,” she said. “You hid it, Jordan, like the man you
are; but he told me how he knocked you into the water—cruel devil.”

“I’m sorry he told you.—I asked him not to.”

“He wanted me to see what he could do, and would do again, and will do
again. He properly hates me now, and I shall soon be going in fear of
my life—I know that well enough. Not that I care much for my life; but
it’s awful to live with a tiger.”

“You don’t mean that, Medora?”

“I do then. He’s far ways different from what he was, or what
anybody thinks. He may pretend in the works; but he’s got the temper
of a devil; and sometimes I wish he’d strike and finish me; and
sometimes—I’m young and I don’t like to think of dying—sometimes I
say to myself I’ll make a bolt for it and go out into the world and
chance it. The world would be kinder than him and anyway it couldn’t be
crueller.”

“This is fearful—fearful,” he exclaimed. “I can’t stand you saying
these things, Medora.”

“I wouldn’t if they weren’t true. It can’t go on. I hate to distress
you, but there’s not a soul in the world cares a button what becomes
of me but you. I’m punished for the past I suppose. I deserve it.
I took that cruel tyrant when I might have took you—there, don’t
listen to me. I’m mad to-day.” She worked herself into tears and wept
convulsively, while he stared helplessly out at the world. His mind
moved. He could not stand her continued suffering, and the confession
and assurance of danger inspired him to thoughts of action. Something
must be done. She was in evident peril now. Any day might bring the
awful news of a disaster beyond repair. Such things were in every
newspaper. Not for an instant did he doubt the critical nature of the
situation. He hated to think Medora must presently return home to sleep
under the same roof as her husband. To his order of mind the situation
appealed with the uttermost gravity, for not an inkling of the true
Medora tinctured his impression and he was as ignorant of the true
Ned. He trusted the woman absolutely and he loved her. He steadfastly
believed now that the most precious life in the world to him was in
torment and in danger. She had, under dreadful stress of emotion as it
appeared, more than once expressed her regret at the fatal step in the
past. She had mourned frankly and explicitly at taking Dingle, when she
might have married Kellock himself.

Here then was the tremendous problem for him; and so pressing and
immediate did it appear, that the young man was driven out of his usual
level attitude of mind and customary deliberation before the demands of
life. For the moment his future ambitions and purposes were lost: he
was only urged by the instant necessity to decide what might best be
done for Medora’s sake. Immense prospects opened before him—knightly
deeds, and unconventional achievements calling for great efforts and an
indifference to all commonplace, social standards.

He was prepared at a future time to make war upon society for the sake
of his class, if the occasion demanded it. He fully intended presently
to stand forth with the protagonists of labour and fight for socialism.
He anticipated that battle and was educating and priming himself for
it. As yet the great revolt belonged to the future and there his
ultimate ambition lay; but now an immediate personal appeal confronted
him—a matter in which he himself and his own happiness were deeply
involved. And more than himself, for he felt that Medora’s future now
hung in the balance. Her destiny waited on him.

But he did not tell Medora the result of his reflections. For the
moment he bade her be of good cheer and trust him.

While she sobbed, he considered and then, feeling it was time to speak,
comforted her.

“I’m glad you’ve told me all this,” he said. “It shows you know where
you can put your faith. And since you come to me with it, Medora, I’ll
make it my business. I’m only a human man and I loved you with all my
heart, and I do love you with all my heart still, and now the case is
altered. I should never have thought of you again—not in that way—if
your married life had turned out all right; but as it’s turned out all
wrong, then it’s up to me to come into your life again. May I do so?”

“You’re the only thing in my life,” she said, drying her eyes.
“Everything else makes me want to end it—yes, I’ve thought often of
that, Jordan. But I’ll thankfully put myself in your hands and be
patient a bit longer if you tell me to.”

“It ain’t a case for waiting,” he said. “It’s a case for doing. I don’t
know what fear is myself, and more did you till he made you. It looks
very much to me as if you’d have to come to me, Medora.”

“Oh, my God—could you?”

“Yes, I could, and I will.”

“Think of yourself—it’s like your bravery to put me first and I’d be
your slave and live for you and thank Heaven for its blessings; but I
don’t want to ruin your life, you good, brave man.”

“Nobody can ruin your life but yourself,” he answered, “and if I save
your life, it won’t be to ruin my own. Say you’d like it to be so and
leave the rest to me. I mean it, Medora.”

A dream that had often filled the girl’s waking thoughts suddenly
promised to come true and for a moment she was frightened. But only for
a moment. She hardly hesitated. Here was romance, fame, the centre of
the stage—everything. She knew very well that she could trust him, and
if ever she loved and adored the impassive vatman it was at this moment.

She took his hand and pressed her lips to it.

“Like it!” she cried. “It would be heaven on earth—heaven on earth.
And God’s my judge you shan’t repent it. I’ll live for you and die for
you.”

“So be it, Medora. It’s done.”

He put his arms round her and kissed her. Then both felt a secret
desire to be alone and consider the magnitude of the decision. He
voiced this wish.

“We’ll part now,” he said. “You go down to your mother and I’ll go
home. Be quite easy in your mind and cheerful and content. Leave the
rest to me. I’ll write to you to-night after I’ve gone all through it.
It ain’t so difficult as it sounds if we back each other up properly.
I’ll see you get the letter to-morrow out of sight of everybody at the
works. Be round by the vat house half after eleven. You’ve got a man to
deal with—remember that.”

“God bless you,” she answered very earnestly. “I’m yours now, and
never, never shall you repent of it, Jordan. You can trust me same as I
trust you in everything.”

They descended the winding stair of the ruin and then parted. Medora
went down through the orchard to her mother’s home at Priory Farm,
while Kellock, climbing through the hedge, presently set his face to
Dene and strolled down the Corkscrew Lane with his mind full of the
future. He found that thought persisted in drifting away from Medora to
her husband. He had just told her that she had a man to deal with; and
now it was impressed on Kellock that he, also, had to deal with a man.

Meantime Ned’s wife reached the farm, and before she did so, she bathed
her eyes at a little stream under the orchard hedge.

She appeared in an unusually contented frame of mind and Lydia was
glad to see her so. Another guest had arrived, for Philander Knox, at
Mrs. Trivett’s invitation, visited Priory Farm. A friendship had sprung
up between him and the widow, for modest though Lydia might be, she
could not fail to perceive her company was agreeable to Mr. Knox. He
would listen to her opinions in a flattering manner and often expressed
surprise to mark how her sense chimed with his experience. His own
philosophy and general outlook on life were approved by Mrs. Trivett
and on this occasion she had invited him to drink tea at Priory Farm
and meet her brother and his family.

He had come and, as all who first penetrated into the life of the
farm, found himself bewildered by its complications. The children, the
mother, and the helpless father appeared to revolve as a system of
greater and lesser planets around the steadfast sun of Lydia. She moved
in the chaos as though it were her proper environment—“like a ship in
a storm,” as Mr. Knox afterwards told her.

Philander had designed to enliven the tea with humorous chatter. He
wished to impress Mr. Dolbear and his wife favourably, for he was a
sociable person and anxious to increase the number of friends in his
new home; but he found a meal at Priory Farm no occasion for much
intercourse or advancement of amenities. It proved a strenuous and
rather exasperating affair. The children dominated the tea and the tea
table. They chattered until they had eaten all they could and departed;
then, when the visitor hoped that his opportunity had come, he found,
instead, that their mother took up the conversation and discussed the
vanished youngsters one by one. She lingered over each as a gardener
over his treasures, or a connoisseur over his collection. They were an
incomparable group of children, it appeared; and what puzzled Philander
was to find that Lydia enjoyed the subject as much as Mary herself. She
also knew the children by heart and was evidently devoted to each and
all of them.

Tom Dolbear said very little, but enjoyed listening. His brood rejoiced
him and he lived now in hope of another boy.

It was Medora who strove to change the subject and allow Bobby and
Milly and Clara and Jenny and the rest to drop out of the conversation.

“Mr. Knox will be sick to death of your babies, Aunt Polly,” she said.

“Far from it,” he declared. “A finer, hopefuller family I never wish to
see.”

Mr. Dolbear then invited Philander to come into the garden and smoke,
but finding the ladies were not prepared to accompany them, he declined.

“If it’s all the same to you, I’ll rest here until I must get going,”
he answered. “I’m not used to your hills yet and they weary my legs a
lot. Never a great walker—after the way of town birds that have lived
all their lives by a tram line.”

So he sat and smoked, while Lydia cleared the tea things and Medora
helped her.

With Mrs. Trivett there were few opportunities for speech. She came
and went and worked. Then the dusk fell and the younger Dolbears were
brought in to go to bed. Medora nursed the baby for a time and her
mother noticed that she was more than usually cheerful.

Knox then declared that he must be going home and offered to escort
Medora. She agreed and having thanked Tom for his hospitality and hoped
that he might be privileged to accept it again at some future time, he
took his leave. On the way home he spoke to his companion.

“Your mother’s a wonderful woman, Mrs. Dingle,” he said. “I see these
things from the outside and I’m properly astonished at her cleverness.”

“So she is,” admitted Medora. “But I wish she wouldn’t work so hard all
the same. She does her day at the Mill and then comes back home and
instead of getting her proper rest—well, you see what it is.”

“She’s like the mainspring of a watch,” declared Philander. “’Tis a
most delicate contrivance, yet all depends upon it; and if I may say
so, as an outsider, you can see with half an eye that her relations
depend upon her for everything.”

“They do—they do. If anything happened to mother, I don’t know what
would become of Aunt and Uncle—let alone all the children.”

“They don’t know their luck,” he said, and Medora agreed with him.

“I’m glad you see it. I’ve often thought that—so have other people. My
mother at Priory Farm is like a cheese-cake in a pigstye.”

“Strong, but not too strong. She must have great affection for them to
stand it.”

“Once a man offered for mother,” said Medora; “and, at the first
whisper of it, Uncle Tom and Aunt Polly pretty well went on their knees
to her not to leave them.”

“I can well believe it. It didn’t come to anything, however?”

“No, no—mother’s not for another husband.”

“If anything might make her think upon such a change, it would be that
household surely.”

“No,” answered Medora. “It’s just that helpless household that would
make her sacrifice herself. Duty’s her God. She’s mother to all those
children—more their mother than Aunt Polly in a way—for my aunt is so
busy bringing them into the world, that she’s got to leave all the rest
of the work to other people.”

Mr. Knox shook his head.

“It’s contrary to nature that such a fine woman as Mrs. Trivett should
hide her light under that bushel,” he asserted. “It’s a very selfish
thing to let her slave and wear her fingers to the bone like that; but
it often happens so. A husband and wife with a long family always seem
to fasten on some good-natured, kindly creature and drag her in their
house to be a slave to their children. There’s no selfishness like the
selfishness of a pair with a long quiver. They’ll fairly batter the
life out of anybody who’s fool enough to lend a hand; and the more such
a person does for the other woman’s children, the more she may do. But
I should hope your mother was too proud to let herself be used as a
nursemaid to her own nieces.”

“She’s never proud where children are concerned,” answered Medora.
“She’ll stop there till she’s worn out.”

“A very gloomy picture and I hope you’re wrong, Mrs. Dingle,” he
answered.

Continue Reading

ASSAULT AND BATTERY

In the engine house a small, hump-backed man sat picking over the
masses of wet rag brought to him by Henry Barefoot from the boilers.
For, despite the sorters and the magnet, enemies to paper still lurked
in the sodden rag, and the little man ran the sloppy stuff through his
fingers, extracting from time to time fragments of rubber, whalebone,
pearl, and other substances.

The engine house was a lofty chamber on two floors, with windows that
faced the west. Here, Ned Dingle reigned, and half a dozen men worked
under him. Much happened to the rag before it came to Ned, for after
its final picking, it was washed again, and broken before the beater
turned it into pulp. When the little hump-backed man had passed it,
the rag was set revolving with water in oval, lead-lined breakers.
On one side the washer, like a steamer’s paddle-wheel, churned in a
bladed barrel, so that the rag was not only cleaned again, but also
torn to the smallest fragments; on the other side a drum of brass wire
sucked away the dirty water, while from the upper end clean water was
perpetually spurting in. Round and round the rag revolved for three
hours, by which time its character had changed entirely. It was, in
fact, rag no more, but a substance like curds: “half stuff,” or rag
transformed and half-way to its final stages.

From the breakers the pulpy mass left the engine house for a time,
and sojourned in the bleaching tanks beneath. It flowed down through
pipes to a subterranean chamber, where the air was sharp with the
smell of chemicals, and twelve great, gaping wells ranged round a
narrow passage way. Here came the “half stuff” to repose on beds of
Delabole slate, and endure the operations of the bleach for half a day
or more. Then the liquid was drained off, the snow-white, solid masses
forked out on to little trolleys, and so returned to Ned Dingle in the
engine house. Again it revolved until the bleach was thoroughly washed
out of it, for it is a principle of great paper making that the less
chemicals, the better the pulp; and now perfected, washed, broken and
bleached, the material came to the beater for final dissection.

The beaters’ engines were oval in form and resembled the breakers. They
stood upon the lower floor of the engine house, and each communicated
directly with the breaker above it, and the vat room far beneath. From
final washing, the pulp flowed directly to Mr. Dingle, and, as before,
revolved, and was churned by a paddle-wheel set with fine knives. Ned
controlled it, and on his judgment depended the quality of the pulp
that would presently flow down to Kellock, Knox, and the other vatmen.

He was explaining the process to a young man, who had just been
promoted to his assistant from the breakers above.

“It’s got to meet every test that experience can bring against it,
Jacob,” he said. “And if it did not, I should mighty soon hear of it.”

He regulated the churning wheel with a footplate, and presently,
satisfied that the mass, which was now like fine cream after revolving
in the beating tank for many hours, had reached perfection, Ned took a
test to satisfy himself.

Two hand-bowls, or dippers, he lifted, scooped up a few ounces of the
pulp, then mixed it with pure water, and flung the liquid backwards
from one dipper to the other, pouring off and adding fresh water until
what was left in his bowl resembled water barely stained with soap. The
pulp was now so diluted that it needed sharp eyes to see anything in
the water at all; but Dingle, taking it to the window, set it slowly
dribbling away over the edge of the bowl, and as it flowed, the liquid
revealed tiny fragments and filaments all separate, and as fine as
spider’s thread. The spectacle of these attenuated fibres of cotton
told the beaterman that his engine was ready and the pulp sufficiently
fine. The masses of rag, once linen and lace, and every sort of textile
fabric woven of cotton, had become reduced to its limit of tenuity, and
was now far finer stuff than in the cotton pod of its creation. It had
been beaten into countless millions of fibrils, long and short, and all
so fine as to need sharpest scrutiny of human eye to distinguish them.

Jacob—a future beaterman—followed Ned’s operations closely; then he
made a test himself and watched the cotton gossamer flow over the edge
of his bowl.

“And next week,” declared Ned, “something finer still has got to be
made—so fine that I shall have to borrow a pair of spectacles to see
it—good as my eyes are. And that’s the pulp for the Exhibition moulds.
It’s to be a record—such paper as never before was made in the world.
But this is just ordinary, first class rag pulp—stuff that will last
till doomsday if properly handled. Now it’s going down to Knox’s vat.”

He sent a boy to the vat room to warn Philander that a re-inforcement
was about to descend. Then he sought a square shaft in the corner of
the engine house, took off the lid and revealed an empty, lead-lined
box, having six holes at the bottom. Each was securely stopped and all
communicated with the great chests that held the pulp for the paper
makers below.

He opened one hole, drew a valve from the beating engine and allowed it
slowly to empty into the box. The white mass sank away out of it; there
was a gurgle and a splash of air from the valve as the engine emptied;
while with a wooden rake Ned scraped the last of the pulp to the
aperture, whence it ran to the box above the chests in the vat room.

“No. 4 chest is being filled, so it’s No. 4 hole I’ve opened in the
box,” he explained. “Now it’s all run down very quick you see, and my
beater is empty.”

Then the breaker above disgorged another load of “half stuff” into the
beater, and after he had used a beating roll, he set the paddle-wheel
going again and the new consignment revolved on its way.

Ned took a keen interest in his work and though he might be casual and
easy-going in all other affairs of life, it was clear that he could be
serious enough over the operations of the beater. He was very thorough
and never left anything to chance. Opportunity for initiative did not
enter into his labours; but the hard and fast lines of perfection he
followed with keen application, and it was his fair boast that he had
never sent bad pulp to the vatmen. Though a mechanical calling, Ned did
not approach it in a mechanical spirit. It was his particular gift and
privilege to feel a measure of enthusiasm in the craft, and he prided
himself upon his skill.

Novelty now awaited him, for the pulp presently to be made would differ
in quality from the familiar material. The beating it to an impalpable
fineness would be his work. The pulp was also to be dyed with new
tinctures, not used until now.

For not only snowwhite material descended to the vat room. The dyeing
was a part of Mr. Dingle’s operation in many cases, and the various
colours of foreign currency papers went into the stuff during its
sojourn in the beaters.

Dingle, satisfied with his pupil, put on his coat when the dinner bell
rang, the steam pulses of the works subsided and the power stopped.
He took his basket and descended a long flight of steps to the vat
room, where Kellock, Life and the other paper makers had just knocked
off work. Others joined them, for the vast and airy vat room was a
favourite place for dinner; but Medora did not come. For several weeks
now she had ceased to meet Ned at the hour of the mid-day meal. The
fact was, of course, noted and debated behind Dingle’s back; but none
spoke of it in front of him.

The change in Medora at this stage of her existence was obvious enough
to all; while that which marked her husband did not appear so clearly.
The reason had been easy to see, though few knew enough about them to
see it. Medora, while really disingenuous, revealed her tribulation,
because she desired everybody to perceive it; while Ned, naturally an
open and simple creature, endeavoured with the instinct of a decent
male to hide his worries from the public eye. He failed, however,
because he was not built to play a part, while Medora succeeded to
perfection. Thus she created an impression of secret woes that did not
really exist, while Ned attempted to conceal anxieties which were real
enough. His temper suffered under a strain that he was not created to
endure, for his wife’s attitude, having first puzzled him, began to
anger him. He lost his temper with her on certain occasions and her
sublime patience under his rough tongue by no means turned his wrath
from her. For nothing is more maddening, if you are the smiter, than to
have the other cheek turned to you by a sufferer, who displays obvious
gusto at your chastisement. Ned soon saw that Medora liked him to be
violent and brutal. It was meat and drink to her to see him in a rage.
He guessed, and not wrongly, that if he had beaten her, she must have
relished the pain—not for itself, but for the exquisite pleasure of
relating her sufferings to other people afterwards.

She was changed, as any woman is who for pleasure or profit plays a
part. Indeed many persist in such histrionics when profit has long
ceased, for simple artistic delight at the impersonation. It is natural
to prefer a rôle which we can perform to perfection, before others
wherein we are not so effective.

The suffering and wronged and ill-treated heroine proved an
impersonation that suited Medora’s temperament exactly, and having once
assumed it, she promised to persist in it beyond the limits of her
husband’s patience. She would doubtless tire sooner or later, since it
is the instinct of every actor to desire new parts and new successes;
but she was not going to tire of it while she made such a hit, won so
much attention and created such a dramatic and exciting atmosphere
about her. In fact Medora now felt herself to be the centre of her own
little stage, and the experience so much delighted her that it was
difficult sometimes to retain the air of crushed, Christian resignation
proper to the character.

But the situation she had created out of nothing real, now developed
and began to take unto itself dangerous elements of reality. Such
theatricals do not stand still, and instead of subsiding, as Lydia
hoped it would, Mrs. Dingle’s objections and grievances, woven of
gossamer at first, began to grow tougher. She guessed that she would
catch more than herself in these elaborate reticulations, and she
persisted until she found another was becoming entangled also.

At first, to do her justice, Medora hesitated here. But she could not
pour her woes into Kellock’s ears without a reaction from him, and his
attitude towards her confession naturally influenced her. For, while
some of her elders suspected, according to the measure of their wits,
that Medora was acting, one man saw no shadow of deception. Every word
rang true on his ear, for circumstances combined hopelessly to hoodwink
him. His own serious nature, from which any powers of illusion or
sleight were excluded, read nothing but the face value into Medora’s
woeful countenance and the word value into her hopeless speeches. Not
for him to answer mock heroics with banter, or reply to burlesque with
irony. Had he been made of different stuff, he might have saved Medora
from herself at this season; but being himself, the admirable man was
terribly perturbed and indeed found himself beset with sore questions
and problems from which both his character and personal attitude to
the girl precluded escape. For he loved her, and the fact that she
was an unhappy woman did not lessen his love; while, beyond that, his
altruistic instincts must have brought him into a delicate complication
in any case when once invited to participate. And now he did enter,
with motives that could not honestly be considered mixed, for he was
thus far influenced only by a conviction that it might be possible to
help both sufferers to a better understanding. He knew that he enjoyed
a far larger measure of intellect than Ned, and he felt that to shirk
an effort for Medora’s sake would be cowardly. He had indeed convinced
himself that it was his duty to act.

He proceeded to tackle Ned, but he approached the task without the
attitude of mind vital to success. For success in such a ticklish
matter demanded in Kellock a standpoint of absolute impartiality. He
must, if he were to do any good whatever, come to Dingle with a mind
as open and unprejudiced as possible; whereas, though he knew it not,
Jordan’s mind by no means stood in that relation to the pair. Had it
done so, he had probably not interfered; for in truth it could not
be altruism alone that prompted him to the step he was now about to
take, but a very active and sincere sympathy for Medora in her alleged
griefs. He believed her with all his heart and he had a great deal more
concern for Mrs. Dingle’s point of view, which he accepted, than for
her husband’s, which he had neither heard nor considered.

The men had eaten their dinner, and Ned, out of a cheerful demeanour,
which he brought from his work, presently sank into taciturnity. From
no will to do so, but powerlessness to prevent it, he showed those
about him that his thoughts were not pleasant. Indeed the most casual
had noticed that he was of late only himself in the engine house, and
that nothing but work sufficed to take him out of himself. Away from
it, he brooded and did not chatter and jest as of old.

To-day he was more than usually abstracted and Kellock seized the
opportunity. Ned’s meal was finished in ten minutes and when he began
to stuff his pipe, the other asked him to come for a stroll up the
valley.

“Let’s go up to the ponds and see if there are any birds about, Ned,”
he said.

A little surprised, since the bird that interested Kellock was unknown,
Ned nevertheless agreed to take a walk.

“Certainly,” he answered. “Me and Trood flushed a woodcock there
yesterday, and I dare say on Saturday Trood will bring him down. He’s a
mark on a woodcock—never misses ’em.”

They strolled together up the valley where it fell gently to the Mill.

A quarter of a mile above the works the coomb narrowed to a
bottle-neck, through which a water-fall came down. The road wound
through this gap and on one side of it rose old, blue limestone
quarries, their jagged scarps and ridges fledged with gorse and oak
scrub; while on the other side of the water a limestone bluff ascended,
weathered to fine colour, and above it towered Scotch firs and ivy-clad
beeches that followed the foot of the hill and flung their arms around
a little mere, lying in the hollow of the undulating land.

In spring this cup shone emerald green; but now the place was grey and
silver. Alders and sallows towered black against the bright water;
sedges and reed mace had huddled into tangle of russet and amber. They
brightened where the sun touched them and burned over the placid lake,
while the highest colour note was a spindle tree, whereon hung its
harvest of pink and orange fruit, though all the leaves were fled. The
flame of it cast a brilliant reflection into the face of the mirror
below; and as Ned and Jordan approached by a winding way, that skirted
the mere, coot and moorhen scuttled off leaving double trains behind
them, widening out upon the waters.

Here it was that Kellock broached the great matter at his heart; and
because it was at his heart, whereas he imagined it solely in his head,
he found within the space of two minutes that he had made a very
grievous mistake.

Beside the lake spoke Jordan, while Ned had his eyes in the sedges and
distant mud flats for a woodcock.

“It’s about your wife I wanted to say a word, and I know we’re too good
friends for you to object. You see, Ned, when you look at the past—”

“To hell with the past,” answered Dingle shortly. “It’s the future I
look at. You take my tip and keep out of this—specially seeing you
wanted her yourself once.”

“I must speak,” answered the vatman mildly, “and just for that
reason, Ned. When she took you, you’ll remember I followed a very
self-respecting line about it. But at your wish—at your wish, Ned—I
kept my friendship for Medora and you; and it’s out of that friendship
I want to say I think things might be bettered.”

“She’s been washing our dirty linen for your pleasure then?”

“Not at all. But—”

“God damn it!” burst out the other. “Ain’t there to be any peace left
in the world? You get out of this and keep out of it, or—”

“Don’t be silly, Ned,—listen.”

“To you? Not much. There’s some hooken-snivey going on here by the
looks of it. Blast you—there—that’s my answer to you!”

Dingle, in a white-hot passion, swung his arm, hit Kellock on the side
of his head with a tremendous blow and knocked him down. They were on
the edge of the lake and Medora’s champion rolled over and fell into
water ten feet deep. He was stunned and sank, then came to the surface
again.

Ned’s rage vanished with the blow, for now he saw in a moment the
gravity of the situation. Kellock appeared to be unconscious and would
certainly drown if left in the water.

The man on the bank flung himself upon his stomach, leant over, gripped
his victim by the collar and dragged him breast high under the bank. In
this position Kellock came at once to his senses.

“I’m sorry—I’m cruel sorry,” said Dingle. “Lift up your hands and put
’em round my neck—then I’ll heave you out.”

Kellock opened his eyes and panted, but did nothing for a moment.

“For God’s sake make an effort—I can’t help you else. Get your arms
round my neck, Jordan.”

The other obeyed and in a few moments he was safe. Ned fished his cap
out of the water, wrung it and handed it to him.

“I’m bitter sorry—my cursed temper.”

Kellock sat down for a moment and pressed the water out of his clothes.
He was quite calm.

“I dare say it was natural,” he answered. “If you’d but listened—”

“You can’t listen to things if you’re in hell. Take my arm. No good
biding here. I’ll see you to your house. You can have the law of me.
I deserve it. I’m no bloody good to anybody in the world now-a-days.
Better I was locked up, I reckon.”

“Don’t talk rot. We’re all learners. You’ve learned me something
anyway. See me home. I’m dazed, but I shall be all right in a minute.
And don’t let on about this. I shall say I slipped on the edge of the
water and fell in and bruised my head—just an accident and my fault.
And so it was my fault.”

“I won’t have that. You rub it in. I’ve earned it. I shall tell the
people what I am, if you don’t.”

“That won’t do,” answered the other. “Think of me as well as yourself
in that matter. You’re popular; I’m not; and if they hear you’ve
knocked me into the water, they’ll say there was a reason for it.”

Dingle did not answer, but he knew this to be true.

“Least said soonest mended then.”

“For your wife’s sake, Ned.”

“Leave her out, please. I’m in your debt and I shan’t forget it.”

They met some women returning to the works and lied to them. All
expressed great concern. Then Ned brought Kellock to his rooms and
begged him to drink some spirits which he refused to do.

“Mind we tell the same tale about this,” said Jordan. “I fell in and
you grabbed me from the bank and brought me ashore. After all it’s the
truth, so far as it goes.”

Dingle agreed and then returned to his work; while the injured man,
though in considerable pain, only waited to change his clothes and then
hastened back to the Mill, to explain his accident and be chaffed for
his carelessness.

Continue Reading

THE BLUE MARK

From the rag house, through trap doors, the rag descended from Lydia
and her fellow workers to a huge object like a mowing machine. The rags
came to this monster and passed through its whirling knives. Then,
having been clipped pretty small, they were carried on an endless
ribbon up again to the magnet. Two great magnetized rollers revolved,
and, in a dingy niagara, every fraction of the old rag tumbled over
them, to run an electric gauntlet and receive a challenge. The bossy
rollers were even quicker than the women’s fingers, and a fraction of
metal, however small, responded to their attraction instantly. There
was a click and instead of falling with its neighbours, the offending
rag found itself arrested and pilloried on a boss. It clung to the
roller, and, as the cylinder turned, became de-magnetized again and
fell in a place apart. The danger to future processes was thus lessened
materially and but little foreign matter in shape of metal escaped to
be a nuisance later on.

To the duster then came the harassed rag and in open wire barrels amid
revolving wooden prongs it was whirled round and round and further
cleansed.

Then to Henry Barefoot it went, and Henry always declared that in his
hands the material received first serious treatment.

“The rag don’t know it’s born till it gets to the boilerman,” he was
wont to say.

The boiler-house lay under an arched roof of corrugated iron. It was
a damp place, full of hot air and the heavy scent of washing. The
steam thinned and feathered away through holes in the roof. In the
floor were deep square hollows and here the boilers revolved, with
a solemnity proper to their size. They were huge metal receptacles
capable of holding a ton each; and when the rag was packed, with water
and alkalies to cleanse it, the loaded giant turned ponderously over
and over, churning the mass for three or four hours. Then the seething
clouts were dragged forth, their pollutions drained away and further
stages of lustration entered upon.

Thus far the rag had come under rough control and reign of law. By air
and water and chastening of many blows it was reduced to a limp and
sodden condition, amenable to discipline, more or less prepared for the
tremendous processes between its final disintegration as rag and its
apotheosis as paper.

A paper man will tell you he turns “old shirts into new sheets”: and
that indeed is what he does; but a long and toilsome journey lies
between the old shirt and its apotheosis.

Henry Barefoot was a placid man, as long as the rag came to him exactly
when he wanted it. Under ordinary circumstances he accomplished his
part in the great machine as obscurely as any invisible wheel, or
steam pipe. But if the women delayed, or he was “hung up,” as he put
it, then his chivalry broke down and he swore long and loud at those
who interfered with his activities. At such times he became tragic and
exceedingly profane. He expanded and broke into uncouth gestures and
simian scowls. He appealed to Heaven in these great moments and asked
of the sky why women had been created. Sometimes his sister, Alice, was
sent for from the thresher to pacify him, and when she failed, Lydia
Trivett, at the sound of Henry’s roaring in the boiler-house, would
slip from her lattice and strive to calm his fury.

The women had fled before him at one of these explosions and Alice
having also failed, approached Mrs. Trivett and begged her to
intervene.

She went, to find Mr. Barefoot standing with steam about him and his
hand lifted to the corrugated iron roof above his grey head.

“Oh, my God, my God!” he said. “What have I done to be the prey of a
lot of worthless females—”

“Your rag’s waiting, Henry,” interrupted Lydia.

“His rag’s out, I should think,” said a woman from behind Lydia. “An
evil-speaking toad—always blasting us. And how can we help it?”

“You know very well, Henry, there must be a hitch sometimes with such a
lot of dirty rag,” explained Lydia. “We’ve all got to keep going, and
it’s no more good or sense cussing us than it is for them in the engine
house to cuss you. And men wouldn’t do this work half as well as women,
as you’d very soon find if we were gone. And it’s a very ill-convenient
thing for you to lose your temper, and nobody will be sorrier than you
in an hour’s time.”

As the rag now awaited him, Henry subsided.

“It’s a plot against me,” he said, “and I’ve no quarrel with you,
Lydia. It ain’t your department. It’s they baggering women at the
magnet, and they want for me to get the sack as I very well know. But
they’ll get fired themselves—every trollop of ’em—afore I shall.”

“They don’t want you to get fired. Why should they? What have you done
to them? Why, you haven’t even asked one of ’em to marry you,” said
Lydia.

“No—they needn’t hope that,” he answered. “I’ve seen too much of woman
since I came here ever to want one for my own.”

So the breeze subsided and Henry filled his empty boiler, growling
himself back to his usual calm the while. It was characteristic of
him that between these dynamic discharges, he preserved an amiable
attitude to those among whom he worked, and when a storm had passed, he
instantly resumed friendly relations.

Within an hour of this scene, when dinner time came, he descended to
the ground floor and cautioned two girls who were skipping off down a
flight of steps that led from the rag house to the ground below.

“Don’t you go so fast,” he said. “When slate steps are wet with rain,
they’re beastly slippery, and some day one of you maidens will fall and
break yourselves.”

Mrs. Trivett put on her old black bonnet, for she was going out
to dinner with another woman; but as she prepared to depart, her
son-in-law met her.

“It’s important,” he said. “I want half an hour with you, mother, and
I dare say Mrs. Ford won’t mind if you go along with her to-morrow
instead.”

Mrs. Ford made no difficulty and Lydia returned to the rag house with
Ned, who brought his meal with him.

“I’ve got a tid-bit for you here,” he explained. “A bit of jugged hare
which you’ll like. And I wouldn’t trouble you but for a very good
reason.”

They sat in a corner among some rag bales, beyond earshot of others who
were eating their meal in the rag house.

“Where’s Medora?” asked Mrs. Trivett.

“She’s having dinner in the glazing room to-day. So I took the
opportunity. It’s about her I want to talk. But eat first. I don’t want
to spoil the jugged hare.”

He brought out a small pudding basin containing the delicacy and his
mother-in-law ate heartily and declared the dish very good.

“Medora can cook, whatever she can’t do,” said Lydia.

“There’s nothing she can’t do,” he answered; “but there’s a damned lot
of things she won’t do. And that’s the trouble to me. Time was when we
saw alike every way and never had a word or a difference of opinion;
but that time’s past seemingly, and I want to know why; and if you
know, I wish you’d tell me. It’s all in a nutshell so far as I can
see. What am I doing to vex her? God’s my judge I don’t know. I’m the
same as I always have been. A chap like me don’t change. I only want
to be patient and cheerful and go on with my life as I’m going. It’s
her that’s changed. She used to love a bit of fun and laughter and be
friendly and easy-going and jolly and kind. That’s what she was when
I married her anyway. But she’s changed and I’m getting fairly fed
up, because I don’t know of any fault in myself to explain it. If I’d
pretended to be different from what I am before we were married and
deceived her in anything, then she’d have a case against me. But nobody
can say I did. She knew just what I was, and I thought I knew just what
she was.”

“You did, Ned,” said Mrs. Trivett earnestly. “You take my word that you
did know just what she was. And what she was, she is still under her
skin. She can’t change really, any more than you can, or anybody else.
She took you because you suited her and she knew she’d be happy with
you. And what’s happening to her just now is a passing thing calling
for patience. Women have their funny moods and whims—Medora like the
rest.”

“I grant that, but how long is it going to last? I know they get queer
in their heads sometimes, but she’s down in the mouth always now. I
can’t pleasure her, do what I may, and the things that always delighted
her a year ago bore her now. Damn it! She looks at me sometimes as if
she was a schoolmistress and I was a wicked boy.”

“It’s like this with her; and it’s the same with lots of people who
have had nothing but a good time all their lives. Instead of knowing
their luck, they take their luck to be just the usual state of things,
and they don’t look round and see the scores of people without their
good fortune: they only fancy that other people are more fortunate
than them. They get so bored with the good that they begin to picture
something better. Everybody wants better bread than is made of wheat
sometimes, and especially them that have never tasted worse. We, that
have had to eat barley bread, know our luck—t’others don’t. The thing
for you is to be patient. You’re all right and you’re going on all
right so far as I can tell. I’ll take your word of that and I very
well understand your difficulties. But you’re a man and you’ve got the
brains.”

“She says not,” he answered. “That’s one of the nice things I’m called
to hear now. She didn’t quarrel with my sense or my nonsense a year
ago. Now she says right out that she wishes I had more intellects.
Not a very nice thing to hear. I might be a stone-breaker, or a
hedge-tacker with no sense at all.”

“Be patient with her. It’s a whim, and what’s responsible for it I
don’t know more than you. But it will pass. She can’t go on pretending
she’s an unhappy woman—”

“No, and she shan’t,” he said. “I’m only a human man myself, and it’s a
proper outrage for her to make out she’s being bullied and evil treated
by a chap that worshipped the ground under her feet and would again.
She’s mean, mother.”

“No, Ned, she’s foolish; she ain’t mean.”

“She is mean. List to this. Two night ago Kellock came to supper with
us—to help eat that jugged hare—and the talk was serious to death,
as it always is with him—him being such a serious man. And presently,
among a lot of other soaring notions, Medora wondered what was the
height of bliss. And she said the height of bliss was to feel she was
doing good, noble work in the world and helping to make people happier.”

Mrs. Trivett sniffed, but did not respond.

“Well,” continued Ned, “I didn’t say nothing to that, though it sounded
a bit thin to me; but Kellock declared it was a very grand thought, and
for his part the height of bliss was to feel you’d got a move on, and
was leaving a mark and doing solid spade work, that would lift the next
generation to more happiness. And, of course, Medora purred over that.
And then she asked me what my height of bliss was—in a pitying tone of
voice, as though she and Jordan belonged to another world. Well, I said
my height of bliss was lying in my new bath-room of a Saturday night,
with the hot water up to my chin, thinking of my savings in the bank.”

“You didn’t, Ned!”

“I did—just to give ’em a shake up. And just to remind Medora I built
that bath-room on to my house—not because I wanted it, but because she
did. Well, I knew Kellock wouldn’t see the joke, because he ain’t built
to; but, damn it—I did think Medora would. I expected she’d laugh
and lighten up the talk a bit. But not her. She pulled a long face,
and said I ought to be ashamed to confess such ideas. And that was
mean—you can’t deny it.”

“It was,” admitted Medora’s mother. “Her sense of fun’s deserted her;
or else she’s hiding it of a purpose.”

“Another thing,” grumbled Mr. Dingle, “that same night when Kellock
was gone, I got a bit angered with her, God forgive me, and I took her
rough by the arm, and it left a bit of a blue mark on her skin. I very
nearly went on my knees for sorrow after, and she forgave me, and made
it up. Well, you’d think a decent woman would have kept her sleeve down
for a day or two till the mark was gone; but I went to speak to her in
the glazing room yesterday, and there was her forearm bare for all the
women to see, and the chaps at the presses. And when they asked her
how she came by it, as they did, she made a business of not telling
them—which, of course, did tell them. And that was mean, too.”

Mrs. Trivett looked anxious, and put her hand on his arm.

“Don’t you knock her about, Ned. I know how aggravating a woman can be;
but don’t you do that. I’m not standing up for her, and I’ll talk to
her again and try to show her what she’s doing; but don’t you give her
a shadow of excuse for this silliness, because, in her present mood,
she’ll be very quick to take advantage of it. I know you very well, and
I was properly glad when Medora took you and not the other, because I
knew her, too, and felt she’d be happier with you in the long run. But
I only say again, be patient until seventy times seven, there’s a good
man, for that’s all you can do about it at present.”

“So I will then,” he promised, “and we’ll leave it at that. And if
you’ll take your chance to talk sense to her, I’ll be a good bit
obliged.”

The rain had ceased, and Lydia went out for a breath of air, while Ned
lighted his pipe and accompanied her. A good few of the workers were
at hand, and Mr. Knox, seeing Mrs. Trivett and her son-in-law, joined
them. Kellock passed, but did not stop, and Philander Knox praised him.

“Now, there’s a chap that’ll go far—either here or somewhere else,”
he said. “Most of you Devon people I’ve yet met with are pretty
easy-going, like myself; but that man is not. He’s more than a paper
maker. Dingle here, and Life, and old Pinhey, the finisher, and Trood
are content to go on their way, and leave other people to do the same.
Kellock is not.”

“He’s got ideas,” said Lydia.

“He has. I’ve took a room in the same house where he lodges, and I’ve
heard him air his notions. They’re commonplace talk where I come from,
but a bit ahead of the times in the West Country. We middle-aged folk
ain’t interested in ’em, but the rising generation is. He told me
straight out that we ought to have shop stewards in the Mill.”

“Not at all,” said Dingle. “We don’t want nothing of that here.”

“A burning mind for the rights of labour,” continued Knox, “and though
you may think we don’t want shop stewards, and I may think so, and the
boss may think so, shop stewards are a sign of the times, and they’ll
come everywhere before long.”

“I hope not,” said Lydia.

“And shop stewardesses,” added Philander; “and if that happened, you’d
have to rise to it, Mrs. Trivett, for the good of the young women.”

Lydia laughed.

“They might be wanted in some places—not here,” she said. “We all
work very comfortably and steady, and there’s none discontented in my
department, that I know about.”

“Just because you’re the head of it and are a very clever and human
sort of woman,” answered Mr. Knox. “You’ve got the touch, and you
understand the nature of the female and how to keep her in a good
temper, and how to get a fair day’s work for a good day’s wages.”

Ned left them at this juncture, and Mr. Knox proceeded. Much to her
surprise he praised Mrs. Trivett in good set terms.

“Well, well!” she said. “It ain’t often I hear my virtues mentioned,
and I’m afraid you’ve named a good few I can’t lay claim to. Women’s
only a greater puzzle than men, in my experience, and I don’t pretend
that I know half that goes to either sort.”

“Character is a great mystery,” he added.

“So it is then, and I don’t want to look farther than at home to know
it.”

Mrs. Trivett was speaking to herself rather than Philander in this
speech; she did not design any confession, but he appeared to guess
what was in her mind. Indeed, he did, for he had seen her in company
with Dingle, which was an unusual incident at the Mill, and he heard
much of the rumour that Ned and his wife were out. He had also heard
of the blue mark on Medora’s arm, from Mr. Pinhey, whose operations as
finisher took place in the glazing room.

“And if there’s a blue mark on her arm, who knows what marks there may
be hidden elsewhere?” murmured Mr. Pinhey, with horrified eyes, behind
his spectacles.

“As a man once married, though without a family, I can understand
that,” answered Knox to Lydia. “And if I may say so, I venture
respectfully to sympathise with what’s in your mind. I’ve heard about
Mrs. Dingle, and nothing but kindness, for I’m sure everybody likes
her, though not as well as they like you. And if it’s not pushing in,
which is the last thing I would do, I should be interested to know
if, between Kellock and her husband, she took the right one in your
opinion.”

Mrs. Trivett felt some concern that a newcomer should have learned so
much of the family history. But he spoke with such propriety that she
could not be annoyed. She liked Mr. Knox, and found him, as everybody
else did, a good-natured and amiable person. It was true that Mr. Trood
had said that Knox was “downy,” but his downiness had not yet appeared
to simpler eyes.

She parried his question.

“You know them both—what do you think?”

“I know them, but I can’t say I know her,” he answered. “However, I
know her mother, if I may say so, without offence, and if Mrs. Dingle
favours you, then I’d say without hesitation that she chose the right
party.”

“She’s like me and not like me,” explained Lydia. “I was pretty near
what she is at her age.”

“Better looking, I expect,” he interrupted.

“No, nothing like so fine—just a little go-by-the-ground woman, same
as I am now. But in character, not unlike her. And if I’d had so good a
time as she has had, no doubt I should have made the same mistakes and
not known reality better than her.”

“You can have too much reality,” declared Philander. “Most of us poor
people have such a deuce of a lot of reality that we get tired of it.
There’s thousands for that matter that never have anything else; and
reality ain’t fattening if you belong to the labouring classes. But if
she’d took Jordan Kellock, then she’d have known what reality was, and
very likely gone down under it, like a mole under a cart wheel. He’s a
wonderful good, earnest man—worth all the rest of us put together,
I dare say; but as a husband for a young, pretty, laughter-loving
woman—no. He ain’t built that way, and if your Medora finds that
Dingle isn’t all she dreamed—as what man is after the gilt’s off the
gingerbread?—then let her be sure she’d have done still worse along
with Kellock.”

Mrs. Trivett was moved, and nodded vigorously. “Very good sense, and
you echo me,” she answered. “I’ve thought much the same. You’re an
understanding man, and kind-hearted seemingly, and have been married
yourself, so you see things in a large spirit. I think my girl took the
right one.”

“Then she did, for you’d make no mistake,” declared Knox. “And if the
right one, then we can trust time to prove it. I’m a great believer in
the marriage state myself. It’s a power for good most times, and so I
hope you found it.”

But Mrs. Trivett was not prepared for any further confidences on this
occasion. She did not answer his question, though she expressed herself
a believer in marriage.

Continue Reading

THE MARTYR

On a Saturday afternoon full of sunshine was presented the rich but
simple picture of Ashprington village under conditions of autumn. The
hamlet lay on a slope under a hillcrest and through it fell steep paths
by meadow and orchard past the cottages to Bow Bridge far distant in
the vale.

Crowning Ashprington rose the church-tower of uniform grey,
battlemented, with a great poplar standing on its right, and a yew tree
throwing shadow upon the western porch. Then fell the land abruptly,
and the whole foreground was filled with an apple orchard, that rippled
to the churchyard walls and spread a rich cloth of scarlet and gold
around them.

At this hour the tree-foundered village seemed oppressed and smothered
with falling leaves. Its over-abundant timber mastered the place and
flung down foliage in such immense masses that the roads and alleys,
drinking fountain, little gardens subtending the street and the roofs
of the cottages were all choked with them.

But it was a dry and joyous hour, the latter rains had yet to fall and
submerge Ashprington in mud and decay. Virginian creeper flamed on the
house fronts and dahlias, michaelmas daisies and chrysanthemums still
flaunted in the gardens.

Through this cheerful scene came Miss Finch and Medora Dingle with
their baskets to pick blackberries. Medora’s home was a stone’s throw
from the church and they now crossed the churchyard to enter certain
fields beyond it.

The well-kept sward spread level with the arms of the apple trees over
the wall, for the ground fell sharply from the graveyard to the orchard
below; and now, at the limits of the burial place, cider apples fell on
the graves and spattered their mounds and flat surfaces with gold.

Daisy stopped at a tomb and removed a windfall of fruit from the broken
marble chips that covered it.

“That’s old Mr. Kellock,” she said. “He wouldn’t like them there, would
he—such a thrifty old man as he was.”

“And such a tidy one,” added Medora.

“He was Mr. Jordan’s grandfather and left him all his money I believe,”
continued Daisy; but her friend knew more about that matter than she
did.

“He hadn’t anything to leave over and above his cottage. That was left
to Jordan Kellock and he sold it, not wanting to be troubled with house
property. It wasn’t worth much.”

They passed through the shining fruit trees and stopped to admire them;
then Medora, since Mr. Kellock had been mentioned, felt she might
return to that subject.

“I often wonder what he’ll do,” she said. “You feel that he won’t be
content to stop at Dene all his life.”

“Why not?” asked Daisy. “He’s got proper good money and is a big man
here.”

“He’d be a big man anywhere,” answered Medora. “It isn’t only a matter
of wages with him,” she added. “Of course we know as a vatman he’s one
of the best in England, and makes as good paper as there is in the
world, I suppose. But he’s got more to him than that, Daisy. He’s not
content with being prosperous and well-thought of. He thinks great
thoughts and has great ambitions. I dare say the people here don’t see
that, for he’s a cut above the most of them.”

“He is,” admitted Daisy. “There’s something, I don’t know what about
him; but it makes me uncomfortable with him.”

“That’s just his greatness acting on you,” explained Medora. “I felt
like that once too, but he did me the kindness to explain himself.”

“We all know he would have given all he’d got to marry you.”

“Don’t speak about that. At any rate I understand him better than any
other woman—or man for that matter. And though it wasn’t to be, I
understand him still; and I know he’s out for big things sooner or
later. He’ll make a mark in the world of labour some day.”

Daisy looked with admiration at Medora.

“I’m sure I shouldn’t know what to answer if he talked to me about such
deep subjects,” she said. “But then you’re married, and you’ve always
got a man in the house to help your brain power.”

Medora, secretly nettled at the preposterous suggestion of Ned
enlarging her mental outlook, turned to the blackberries and felt a
helpless disappointment that even her friend should guess so little
of her difficulties and troubles. For now she began day by day to
weave round herself and her married life a hollow and false tissue of
imaginary tribulations and trials supposed to be sprung from her union
with Edward Dingle. Medora set about a sort of histrionics inspired
by nothing but her own vague unrest and her own amazing ignorance of
reality. Even to herself she could not explain this futile experiment
in emotions, yet she persisted and presently, finding certain of her
circle were deceived, and even hearing words of pity on a woman’s
lips, she deluded herself as to the truth of her gathering misfortunes
and assured her conscience that the disaster came from without and
not within. For at first, in the perpetration of this stupid pose,
conscience pricked before Ned’s puzzled eyes; but presently, when
a silly woman told Medora that she was a martyr, this nonsense of
her own brewing seemed indeed the bitter drink life had set to her
lips. She echoed and amplified the notion of martyrdom. It was just
what she wanted to excuse her own folly to herself. From accepting
the idea, she soon began to credit it. To win the full flavour of
the make-believe this was necessary. Then developed the spectacle of
a masquerading woman, herself creating the atmosphere in which she
desired her world to see her suffer and shine.

As all who acquire a taste for martyrdom, Medora proved amazingly
ingenious in plaiting the scourges and selecting the members of the
inquisition from her own household. She had reached a preliminary stage
in this weak-minded pastime and enjoyed it exceedingly. Ned was much
mystified; but the attitude of Ned mattered little. Her real object and
the goal of the game lay far beyond Ned. Whereunto all this would lead,
Medora did not know; and she told herself that she did not care.

The day was to add a considerable scene to her unfolding drama, though
Mrs. Dingle did not guess it when she set out. She had no premonition
of the interesting adventure that awaited her when presently she
drifted, by hedgerows and lanes, somewhat westward of Ashprington, upon
the high road to Totnes.

They were filling their baskets, and for a time Medora had forgotten
all about herself and was taking a healthy interest in Daisy’s
suspicions concerning a young man who worked at Dene Mill, when a
bicycle bell warned them and there flashed along upon his way home,
Jordan Kellock.

He stopped and they showed him their blackberries and invited him to
help himself. Then, together they walked homeward and Medora became
concerned to part from Daisy if possible. An opportunity occurred ere
long and when the elder pointed out that Miss Finch would gain half a
mile by a short cut, her friend took the hint.

“My basket’s heavy and you’ve got company, so I’ll go this way home,”
said Daisy with great tact. Then she bade them good-bye and descended a
steep lane to Bow Bridge.

Immediately she had gone, Medora’s manner changed from cheerfulness to
a more pensive mien.

“Sometimes it’s so hard to pretend you’re happy,” she explained.

“I’m sorry you’ve got to pretend,” he answered.

He had fought awhile against any sort of secret understanding with
Medora, but something of the kind now existed, though Jordan could not
have explained how it had come about. It seemed not unnatural, however,
because he knew the woman so well and felt so supremely interested in
her happiness. He believed, in his youthful inexperience, that he might
be able to help both Ned and Medora by virtue of his brains and good
sense; and he imagined that his championship of Medora, so to call it,
emanated entirely from his own will to right and justice. Had anybody
hinted to him that Medora was amusing herself with this very delicate
material, he must have refused to believe it. He believed in her good
faith as he believed in the stars, and he trusted himself completely
for a man above the power of temptation. Indeed, as yet he had felt
none.

To-day, however, the young woman went further than she had ventured to
go.

“I can talk to you, Jordan, and I often thank God I can,” she said,
“because there’s nobody else on earth—not one who understands me like
you do.”

Not in the ear of him who really understands her does a woman ever
confess to be understood; but the listener quite agreed with Medora and
believed the truth of what she asserted.

“If thought and true friendship could make me understand, then I do,”
he answered. “Ned’s such a real good chap at heart that—”

“He’s not,” she said positively. “To my bitter grief I know he’s not.
Like you, I thought so, and I made myself go on thinking so, for
loyalty; but it’s no good pretending that any more. He’s deceived you
as he has me. He’s not good hearted, for all his laughter and noise,
else he wouldn’t persecute me.”

“Don’t say that.”

“I’m not going into details,” declared Medora, quite aware that there
were no details to go into; “but he’s that rough and harsh. Loses his
temper if you look at him. He wasn’t like you, and showed me everything
about himself when we were courting. He hid the things that matter, and
if I’d known then half, or a quarter, of what I know now, I wouldn’t
have taken him, Jordan.”

“Don’t say that,” he begged again.

“I’ve got to say it. And I’ll say more. It’s a relief to speak where
your honesty is known, and no false meaning is put to your words. I’ll
say this, that I made a dreadful mistake, and every year that goes over
my head will show it clearer. I can bear it, of course. We women are
built to suffer and keep our mouths shut. It’s only men that run about
with their troubles. Yes, I can bear it, Jordan, and I shall bear it to
my grave; but it’s hard for a girl of my age to look ahead through all
the years of her life and see nothing but dust and ashes. And though
I’m brave enough to face it, I’m too frank and open-natured to hide it,
and the bitter thing is that people guess that I’m not happy.”

“Don’t put it as strongly as that, Medora. Don’t actually say you’re an
unhappy woman.”

“You’re either happy, or else you’re not—at any rate, when you’re
young,” she said. “I see the old get into a sort of frozen condition
sooner or later, when they’re neither one nor the other, being sunk to
a kind of state like a turnip in ground; but the young are different.
They feel. Why, Daisy, only a few minutes ago, saw my mind was
troubled, though I tried ever so to hide it. You know people know it.”

“I won’t deny that. Everybody’s more or less sorry. But between husband
and wife, of course, no wise man or woman ventures to come.”

“Yes, they do,” she answered. “My own mother for one. Kindness made
alive to everybody else no doubt, but not to me. She doesn’t blame my
husband anyway, so she must blame me, I suppose.”

“I wouldn’t say that. It may be no matter for blame—just the point of
view. The great thing is to get at a person’s point of view, Medora.”

“And don’t I try? Don’t I interest myself in Ned? I’ve got a brain,
Jordan.”

“I know that very well.”

“And I can’t help seeing only too bitter clear, that my husband’s not
interested in anything that wants brains to it. He’s all for sport and
talk and pleasure. I like to think about interesting subjects—human
nature and progress, and the future of labour, and so on. And if I try
to talk about anything that really matters, he just yawns and starts
on shooting birds and football. For the less brains a person has got,
the more they want to be chattering. I’ve married a boy in fact, when I
thought I’d married a man; and my charge against Ned is that he hid the
truth of himself from me, and made me think he was interested in what
interested me, when he was not.”

She had mentioned the subjects which she knew attracted Jordan. It was
indeed his wearisome insistence on such things that had made her turn
of old to the less intelligent and more ingenuous Dingle. In reality
she had no mind for abstractions or social problems.

“As we grow older, we naturally go for the subjects that matter,” said
Kellock. “I’ve always wanted to leave the world better than I found it,
you know, Medora.”

“And so you will—you’re built to do it,” declared she. “And I shall
watch you do it, Jordan. And though I’ve lost it all, I shall see some
other woman at your right hand helping you to make a name in the world.
And I shall envy her—yes, I shall. I can say that to you, because I
can trust you never to repeat it.”

“You shake me up to the roots of my being when you talk like this,” he
assured her. “Oh, my God, Medora, it seems a cruel sort of thing that
just at the critical time, and before it was too late, you couldn’t
have seen and felt what you see and feel now. It was bad enough then.
You’ll never know or guess what I felt when you had to say ‘no’ to
me. But I had one thing to keep me going then—the certainty you were
too clever to make a mistake. I said to myself a million times: ‘She
knows best; she knows that Dingle will make her a happier woman than I
could.’ But now—now—when you say what you’ve said. Where am I now?”

They talked in this emotional strain for ten minutes, and she wove with
native art a web of which both warp and woof were absurdly unreal. Her
nature was such that in a task of this sort she succeeded consummately.
By a thousand little touches—sighs, looks, and shakes or droops of
the head—she contributed to her comedy. She abounded in suggestions.
Her eyes fell, her sentences were left unfinished. Then came heroic
touches, and a brave straight glance with resolution to take up the
staggering weight of her cross and bear it worthily to the end.

Medora was charming, and in her subconscious soul she knew that
her performance carried conviction in every word and gesture. She
revelled in her acting, and rejoiced in the effect it occasioned on
the listener. Long ago, Kellock had set her, as she guessed, as a
lovely fly in amber, never to change, though now for ever out of his
reach. He had accepted his loss, but he continued to regard her as
his perfect woman, and she cherished the fact as a great possession.
Perhaps, had it been otherwise, she had not entered upon her present
perilous adventure; but she knew that Jordan Kellock was a knight of
weak causes, and one who always fought for the oppressed, when in his
power to do so; and now she had created a phantom of oppression, which
his bent of mind and attitude to herself prevented him from recognising
as largely unreal.

Kellock was young; he had loved Medora in the full measure of a
reserved nature, and to-day she deluded him to the limit of his
possibilities. Her complete triumph indeed almost frightened her. For a
few moments he became as earnestly concerned as on the great occasion
when he had asked her to marry him. Then she calmed the man down, and
told him that he must not waste his time on her troubles.

“It’s selfish of me to tell you these things—perhaps it’s wrong,”
she said, truly enough; but he would not grant that. His emotion was
intense; his pain genuine. Her intuition told her that here was a man
who might err—if ever he erred—in just such a situation as she was
creating. She was surprised to find the ease with which it was possible
to rouse him, and felt this discovery enough for that day. She grew
elated, but uneasy at the unexpected power she possessed. Her sense of
humour even spoke in a still, small voice, for humour she had.

Chance helped her to end the scene, and, a hundred yards from home, Ned
himself appeared with his gun over his shoulder and a hare in his hand.

Dingle was in cheerful spirits.

“A proper afternoon I’ve had,” he said. “Ernest Trood asked me to go
out shooting along with him and some friends, and we’ve enjoyed sport,
I promise you. A rare mixed bag. We began in the bottom above the
Mill, and got a woodcock first go off, and then we worked up and had a
brace and a half of partridges, a brace of pheasants, and a hare, and
eight rabbits. I knew what you’d like, Medora, and I took a partridge,
and the hare for my lot. I shot them, and four rabbits and one of the
pheasants.”

“What a chap for killing you are,” said Jordan, while Ned dragged a
partridge from his pocket and handed it to his wife.

Nobody loved nice things better than she, but she took the bird
pensively and stroked its grey and russet feathers.

“Poor little bird, your troubles are ended,” she said. Then she
assumed a cheerful air, which struck Jordan as unspeakably pathetic.

“I’ve been busy, too. Look at my blackberries.”

Ned praised the blackberries, and in his usual impulsive fashion
offered Kellock the hare; but Jordan declined it.

“Thrown away upon me,” he said.

“Come and help us to eat it one night then,” suggested Dingle, and
Medora echoed his wish.

“I’m sure you’re very kind. I’ll come up to supper any evening, if you
mean it.”

Then he mounted his bicycle and rode off down the hill.

“He came along from Totnes, while Daisy and I were picking
blackberries, and he stopped and would carry my basket for me,” she
explained.

“He looked a bit down in the mouth, didn’t he?”

“He was. He’s such a man to feel other people’s troubles.”

“Whose? Not yours, I should hope?”

She laughed.

“Good powers, no! I’m not one to tell my troubles—you know that, or
ought to. I’m a proud woman, whatever you may be. It isn’t personal
things, but general questions that bother him. Poverty and want and
injustice, and all that. I cheered him up, and tried to make him
forget.”

“He’ll do better to leave such subjects alone,” said Dingle. “The woes
of the world in general ain’t his job; and if he tries to make them his
job, he may find it won’t pay him to do so.”

“That’s your pettifogging opinion; but if every man in good employment
was as selfish as you, the poor might remain poor for ever,” she
answered.

“Well, don’t you be a fool, anyway, there’s a dear. You’ve got to look
after me, not the poor in general. And nobody can look after me better
than you, when you please. It’s a choice between beer and tea this
minute, so choose which I’m to have.”

“Tea,” she said. “If you can be patient for a little.”

They went in together, and he was pleased to find Medora amiable and
willing, though ignorant that her good temper sprang not from his
inspiration.

Continue Reading

THE RAG HOUSE

The place where Lydia Trivett worked and controlled the activities
of twenty other women was a lofty, raftered hall lighted from the
north by a row of windows under which the sorters sat. In the midst
of the chamber the material was piled in huge, square bales covered
with sacking. The parcels came from all parts of Europe, where linen
and cotton rag could be obtained; and before they were handled, the
contents entered a thresher for preliminary dusting. The thresher
throbbed and thundered within a compartment boarded off from the
workshop. Here in a great wooden case, a roller with iron-shod teeth
revolved, while above this lower, moving wheel, fixed prongs stood
similarly armed, so that their teeth passed between each other at every
turn. Here spun the rags and whirled and tossed, while the dust of
France, Belgium, England, Ireland, Scotland was sucked away from them.
Every rag that entered Dene Mill was subjected to this rough initial
embrace, where Alice Barefoot, a tall, strong woman, attended the
thresher. She was herself of the colour of dust, with a high complexion
and lion-coloured hair, tied up in a yellow kerchief. She prided
herself on doing man’s work and, indeed, accomplished her heavy labours
very completely. The dusted rag she piled in tall baskets, stopped the
thresher, then opened the door of the chamber and bore the rag out to
the sorters. They sat each before her lattice with the material heaped
at her left. The practised workers dealt very swiftly with the stuff,
running it between their hands and knowing its composition by touch.
Wool or silk sometimes intruded, but was flung aside, for only cotton
passed to the empty baskets at each woman’s right. The workers were
clad in white overalls and their heads were covered with white caps and
bonnets. Wonderful cleanliness marked them and the atmosphere of the
brightly lighted shop was clear despite the flocculent material that
passed through it.

For purity of air and water, chemicals and working hands is a vital
matter to the paper maker. Every operation must needs be as cleanly as
sleepless precaution can make it.

From the mountain of rags on her left the sorter plucked material and
picked it over the lattice, an open wire-work sieve spread before
her. Standing beside it was a short upright knife used to cut the
rags and sever from them the buttons, hooks and eyes, whalebones
and other extraneous additions that had belonged to their earlier
incarnations. These knives were made from old steel scythes worn too
thin for husbandry, but here answering a final purpose of value. The
hones hummed from time to time, for the busy knives needed constant
sharpening. Their cutting edge turned away from the workwoman and to it
she brought the material—fragments of every garment ever manufactured
from spun cotton.

The history of many a single rag had been a feminine epic, from its
plucking in a far off cotton field to its creation, use, adventures,
triumphs, tragedies and final dissolution. Here they were from the dust
heaps of a continent, from the embracing of bodies noble and simple,
high and low, young and old, sweet and foul.

Their tags and buttons were swiftly cut away and each grille exhibited
a strange assortment of trophies—pearl and glass, metal and foil,
whalebone and indiarubber. Even so many foreign substances escaped the
sorters, to be captured at a later period in the purification of the
rag.

The women sat back to back and there was little speech among them.
Their hands twinkled in a sort of rhythmic measure from right to left
and left to right. Then, as their baskets were filled, came Alice
Barefoot to carry them away and pile fresh accumulations from the
thresher.

To-day the work was old rag; but sometimes a consignment of fragments
and overplus from the collar and shirt factories arrived clean and
white. Out of them had garments been cut and the remnants needed
nothing but shortening and dismemberment upon the knives and picking
over for coloured threads, or rubbish that hang about them.

Here reigned Lydia and herself worked at a lattice with the rest. She
had only come to the Mill when her husband died; but her skill proved
great and her influence greater. Blind-folded she could have done her
sorting and separated by touch the cotton, or linen, from any other
textile fabric. She was clad in a big white garment and had wrapped
her head and neck in a pale blue handkerchief so that her face only
appeared.

Next to her sat a girl, and sometimes they spoke.

Daisy Finch was a big blonde maiden, a friend of Medora’s; and
concerning Medora the pair kept up a fitful conversation. But Lydia’s
eyes were about her while her hands swiftly ran through the rags. She
marked all that was going on from her place at the end of the row, and
sometimes cried out a direction, or word of admonition.

“She don’t tell me nothing,” said Daisy. “She just leaves you with
a sort of general feeling she ain’t happy, then she’ll turn it off
and say, ‘talk of something else,’ though all the time we haven’t
been talking of anything in particular. Of course it ain’t anybody’s
business.”

“Nobody’s and everybody’s,” declared Lydia; “but nobody’s in the sense
that you can meddle directly in it.”

“They was made for each other you might say—such a laughing thing as
Medora used to be.”

“You never know who’s made for each other till they come to be fit
together. And then life wears down the edges with married people most
times, like it do with a new set of false teeth. Keep her good luck
before Medora. Remind her, when you get a chance, how fortunate she
is. Life’s gone so easy with her that she takes for granted a lot she
ought to take with gratitude.”

“It’s just a passing worry I dare say,” suggested Daisy. “When she
forgets herself, she’ll often laugh and chatter in the old way.”

“Well, she’s fonder of you than most, so you help her to forget herself
as often as you can.”

Daisy promised to do so and the elder thanked her.

When the bell rang, they stopped work, and while some, Lydia among
them, went to their baskets for dinner, most flung off their overalls,
donned hats and jackets and hurried home.

As for Mrs. Trivett, she stopped in the shop, ate her meal, then
produced a newspaper and read while others talked.

The day was fine and warm and many groups took their food together in
the sun round about the Mill.

Outside the vat house were Jordan Kellock and Robert Life, another
vatman, while the new-comer, Philander Knox, ate his dinner beside
them. On a bench at hand, Medora and Ned shared the contents of their
basket, and the talk ran up and down.

Mr. Knox had won permanent employment without difficulty. Indeed he
proved a paper maker of the first rank, and while Mr. Trood deprecated
Knox’s very unusual stroke, he admitted that the result was as good as
possible.

Of this matter they were now speaking.

“Ernest Trood is a great formalist,” said Kellock. “He believes in what
you may call tradition and a sort of stroke that you’d say was the
perfection of the craft. But you can’t make a man to a model. You can
show him another man who works on a good pattern—no more.”

“The stroke comes just like every other stroke, whether it’s cricket,
or billiards, or shooting, I reckon,” said Ned Dingle. “It comes, or
else it don’t come. Take me: I’ve tried a score of times to make
paper; but I can’t do it. I can’t get the stroke. But you might have an
apprentice new to it and find, after a month or two, he’d prove himself
in the way to be a paper maker.”

Mr. Knox, who had already won a friendly greeting from his new
associates, in virtue of an amiable character and humorous disposition,
admitted that the vatman was born, not made.

“And you may very near say as much for the beaterman,” he added. “I
never want to see better pulp than you send down to the vat room, Ned
Dingle.”

“’Tis the life and soul of the paper to have such pulp as yours, Ned,”
confirmed Kellock, and the beater was pleased. Praise always excited
Ned and made him chatter.

“I don’t know what there is to it—just thoroughness no doubt and a
keen eye and no scamping of the tests. I take a lot more tests than
most beaters I reckon,” he said.

They discussed their craft and Ned told how for the purposes of
the new water-mark pictures destined for a forthcoming exhibition,
extraordinary pulp would be necessary.

“Soft as milk it will have to be,” he declared.

“I’ve seen the like,” said Knox. “Stuff you’d think couldn’t hold
together. It’s got to find every tiny crevice of the mould; but such
pulp takes the dyes exceeding well.”

“Our dyes are Trenchard’s secret,” answered Dingle. “He’s a great
chemist, as a paper master needs to be. I’d give a lot to look in the
laboratory; but only Trood goes there.”

“A very understanding foreman is Ernest Trood,” admitted Mr. Knox; then
he turned to Medora.

“How’s they fingers?” he asked.

“Better,” she said. “You knock your fingers about rattling them against
the crib.”

“The fingers always suffer,” he admitted. “For my part I shake when
there’s a spell of very hot pulp for the thick papers. I’m feared of my
life the skin will go somewhere and put me out of action for a bit. If
some man could invent a possible glove, many a tender-skinned vatman
would bless him. But a glove would kill the stroke no doubt.”

Dingle pressed more food from their basket on Medora and the well meant
action apparently annoyed her. What passed between them was not heard,
save the last words.

“Don’t be a fool,” she said. “Can’t I have my own way even in that?”

“Hush!” replied Ned. “Have it as you will.”

But she grew angry; her face lowered and she pressed her lips together.

The others joked and Mr. Knox offered Medora a piece of pie.

“Hard hearted devil, you are, Dingle,” he exclaimed. “To eat the cheese
and offer your poor girl the bread.”

Medora jumped up and at the same moment Daisy Finch came along to seek
her. They departed together and strolled from the works up the valley.

But Ned Dingle was evidently disturbed. His face had fallen and he lit
his pipe and went slowly after the women.

“Take my tip and leave her alone,” shouted Knox; then he caught sight
of Kellock’s perturbed countenance and turned to him.

“Aren’t they good friends?” he asked.

“Of course they are—none better.”

“Sometimes a bit of chaff makes a breeze end in laughter,” said the
elder; “and sometimes it don’t.”

“Chaff’s a ticklish thing,” answered Jordan.

“To you it might be, because you’re one of the serious sort, that never
see much to laugh at in anything,” retorted Philander; “but that’s your
loss. Alice Barefoot in the rag house is the same. Can’t see a joke and
mistook my fun yesterday for rudeness. I might have known by her eye
she weren’t a laughter-loving creature. But Mrs. Dingle can laugh.”

“She laughs when there’s anything to laugh at,” said Kellock drily.

“The art is to find something to laugh at in everything,” explained
Philander Knox. “And married people ought to practice that for their
own salvation more than any.”

“How is it you ain’t married?” asked Robert Life. He was a man of few
words and his wife worked in the glazing house with Medora.

“For the very good reason that my wife’s dead,” replied Mr. Knox. She’s
left me for a better place and better company—a very excellent wife
according to her lights, and I missed her.”

“I dare say you’ll find another here,” suggested a man who had come
along a minute before. It was Henry Barefoot, Alice’s brother, the
boilerman—an old sailor, who had drifted into the Mill when his
service days were done.

“If I do, Henry, it won’t be your sister, so don’t throw out no hopes,”
answered Knox.

Henry laughed.

“No man ever offered for her and no man ever will,” he declared. “Her
pride is to do man’s work and she never will do woman’s—not if all the
men in Devon went on their knees to her.”

“I’ve known others the same,” declared Philander. “They’re neuter bees,
to say it kindly, and they hum so terrible sorrowful over their toil
that the male give ’em a wide berth. Duty’s their watchword; and they
do it in a way to make us common people hate the word.”

“That’s Alice. You know the sort seemingly,” said Henry.

“I’ve met with ’em. They are scattered about. I used to pity ’em till
I found there wasn’t no need. They’re quite satisfied with themselves
for the most part, but seldom satisfied with other people.”

“Alice is a withering woman, though a very good housekeeper and looks
after me very well,” said Mr. Barefoot.

“As housekeepers they can’t be beaten,” admitted the other. “But Mrs.
Dingle is a very different pattern—a pretty creature—prettiest
I’ve seen for a month of Sundays. They pretty women are exacting in
marriage, because nine times out of ten they’ve been spoiled before.
She looks to me as though she wanted something she ain’t got.”

“Dingle don’t know what she wants, for in a minute of temper he told me
so,” said Mr. Life.

“Don’t he? Then you tell him to be quick and find out,” advised
Philander, “because with a rare piece like that, if he don’t, some
other young fellow very likely will.”

Then Kellock spoke, for this sentiment seemed outrageous to him.

“How can you say such an indecent thing!” he exclaimed. “A man of your
age ought to know better.”

“A man of your age perhaps don’t,” answered Mr. Knox. “And yet you’re
old enough to know the meaning of a pretty girl. But I’m afraid you’re
one of those chaps that’s had some useful things left out of him,
Kellock. You ain’t called ‘Jordan’ for nothing I expect. No doubt you
wouldn’t wish to comfort Mrs. Dingle; but then you’re not everybody,
and other young men might feel called to cheer her up—no more than
that of course. And why you should flush so red and use the word
‘indecent’ to such a decent man as me, I can’t guess.”

“You would if you knew more about it, however,” said Henry Barefoot.
“You ain’t up in our history yet, else you’d understand that Kellock
here was one of the ‘also ran’ lot after Medora Dingle. No offence,
Jordan—of course such things can’t be hid.”

“You oughtn’t to talk about such private matters, Barefoot,” answered
Kellock calmly, “and a conversation like this is improper, and for my
part I don’t wish to hear any more of it. No self-respecting man would
pry into such a delicate subject.”

“Who’s prying?” asked Philander. “I merely say, from my knowledge of
human beings in general, that if a pretty young woman’s not happy
and her husband hasn’t got the trick to make her so, ’tis almost any
odds some other chap will come along and have a try. That’s what
would happen in most Christian countries anyway—whether Devonshire’s
different I don’t know, being a stranger to these parts.”

“We men mind our own business in Devonshire,” said Kellock, and Knox
answered promptly.

“Then I’m right,” he said, “because a pretty girl down on her luck is
every man’s business.”

“She’ll get a fright I dare say,” prophesied Robert Life. “I’ve known
more than one young married woman, restless like, who ran a bit of
risk; but as a rule their eyes are opened in time and the husband makes
good.”

Kellock, heartily loathing this conversation, left the others, and when
he was gone, Life explained to Mr. Knox the situation.

“Another man might be dangerous,” said Henry Barefoot, “for by all
accounts Medora liked him very well and was in two minds to the last
which she’d take. But Kellock’s a good and sober creature and a great
respecter of law and order. You can trust him not to break out.”

“You speak as a bachelor and your sister’s brother, Henry,” answered
Philander. “Where there’s a woman and a man that once loved her, you
can no more trust either of ’em not to break out than you can trust a
spring in autumn. Kellock’s clearly a virtuous soul, and he certainly
won’t break out if he can help it. You can see by his eyes he’s not
a lady’s man, and never will be in any large and generous sense. But
so much the more danger, for where that sort dines they sleeps when
love’s the trouble. Let them love once and they’ll love for ever, no
matter what happens; and if she was fool enough to go playing about
with him, she might overthrow him to his own loss in the long run.”

These forebodings were cut short by the work bell and Mr. Knox,
expressing a hope that he might be mistaken, shook out his pipe and
followed Robert back into the vat room.

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