THE DRYING LOFTS

A dozen great piles of “water leaf” had come up from the vat room to
the hand presses, and here the paper, from which tons of crystal water
had already been expressed below, under new and tremendous pressure
yielded still more. Indeed, with half a dozen men bearing on the levers
of the presses, the “water leaf,” that had appeared so dry, beaded and
glittered and then exuded further rivulets of moisture. For the last
turn of the screw a great beam was thrust into the press and as many
men as could get purchase upon it lent their united strength. Ernest
Trood, passing through the pressing room, gave a hand, and a stack of
newly made paper was subjected to such strain that one had thought it
must disintegrate beneath it.

Here, under this tremendous impost, the grain mark, or pattern imparted
to each sheet by the felts at the first pressing in the vat room, was
removed.

For the drying lofts the paper was next destined and hither Ernest
Trood now found himself summoned by a messenger. Mr. Trenchard desired
to speak with him.

The drying lofts were enormous airy chambers that ascended to an
unceiled roof. Through the twilight gloom of these apartments,
the sheets of paper, large and small, glimmered, hanging aloft in
multi-coloured reams like fairy washing; pink and blue, yellow and
snow-white. The paper seemed to make dim rainbows aloft, where it
ascended tier on tier in many thousands of separate pieces. Every sheet
was suspended over ropes, strung across transverse beams on light
scaffolding, that filled the lofts and ascended into the dark dome of
the roof. Above them spun drying fans, to expel the exhausted air and
suck away the moisture exuding from the masses of paper; while on the
floors beneath there wound and twisted an elaborate system of hot-air
pipes, which raised the temperature at will.

Drying is a process that demands watchfulness and judgment, for wet
paper suspended here on the tackle does not respond in all its parts
simultaneously. From the deckle edge it dries inward and the last spot
to dry is the centre of each sheet. The dry workers, with a hand-tool
like a T square, hang their sheets over the russet, cow-hair ropes;
then when the rope is loaded, pull it aloft; but the art of drying lies
in the regulation of heat and air. The heat is great, yet regular;
every operation is ordered for cleanliness and purity, so that not a
speck of dust may fall to mar a sheet.

Here came Matthew Trenchard upon a question of temperature. The talk
concerned technical details of ventilation and did not take long, since
Trood and his master seldom differed. But there was a more doubtful
human problem upon which Trenchard desired to learn Trood’s opinion.

“I’ve heard from Kellock,” he said, “and before I answer him, I want to
hear you speak—also Pinhey.”

“It’s not likely that Nicholas Pinhey and me would say the same,”
answered Ernest. “We differ where we can on most subjects, and shall on
this, I reckon.”

“He won’t influence me—more will you,” answered Trenchard. “You and
I will probably think alike, as we’re used to do. What I want from
Nicholas has to do with Mrs. Dingle, who works in the glazing house—or
did. Let’s go into the flat room and I’ll send for him.”

The flat room was another chamber for paper drying. Hither came
the great sheets of “double elephant” and “imperial”—precious and
wonderful papers for the artist and draughtsman, that could not be hung
over a rope or creased. They rested upon beds of webbing, which were
lifted one above the other and offered free access to the warm air that
plied through them. Here dried noble sheets of a quality that rejoiced
the painter who touched their surface, and felt their solid texture.

Nicholas Pinhey, spotless and trim, with shining spectacles and a white
apron, appeared and Mr. Trenchard briefly stated the situation. He
was carrying a “cross,” the little tool used to hang the paper on the
lines, and he tapped his points against the wall of the flat room as he
uttered them.

“It seems Kellock, who is on holiday, has run away with Mrs. Dingle.
I’ve just heard from him stating the facts as far as they may be
supposed to concern me. He doesn’t seem to think it is anybody’s
business but his own.”

“A man may be ill and not know it,” said Mr. Pinhey, “and he may be
suffering from the sickness of sin and not know it. But we know it.”

“I’m not a sin-doctor—I’m a paper maker, Nicholas. And the sole
question for me is whether Kellock comes back, or does not. He writes
very decently, says he is prepared to justify his conduct if I feel it
is any concern of mine, and adds that he will be well pleased to return
if I want him.”

“Don’t let him slip, for the Lord’s sake,” begged Ernest Trood. “You’ll
wait a month of Sundays before you’ll get another vatman in the same
street as him. Vatmen will be as rare as curates very soon. He’s a
most orderly chap and a rare worker, which the clever ones often are
not, and a great believer in discipline. You may be sure, according to
his lights, that he’s done the best for all parties in this matter of
Medora Dingle.”

“How can you, Trood?” asked Mr. Pinhey indignantly. “And you call
yourself a Christian man, for I’ve heard you do it.”

“The mistake you make, Nicholas, is to drag religion into a lot of
things where it don’t belong,” answered Trood.

“There’s nothing where religion don’t belong,” declared the finisher,
“and if that was understood and religion applied to every problem of
living and working and dying, this world would be different from what
it is.”

“The question is, of course, Ned Dingle,” explained Trenchard. “I don’t
want to back up one man against the other or interfere in any way over
their domestic affairs. I’m not here to probe and pry, but to make
paper along with the rest of you. Both Ned and Jordan are very good
fellows; but it’s quite clear they won’t see alike in this matter.”

“Don’t be too sure,” advised Mr. Trood. “Least said soonest mended, and
for all anybody can swear to the contrary it may be a put-up thing.
Of course Ned would have to pretend a lot of temper in that case—to
blind the public eye; because if it got out that Kellock had agreed
to take over his wife for the better happiness and understanding of
all parties, the Law would step in very quick and queer their pitch.
If these things were settled by common sense, the Law would lose
money—the last thing it ever loses. But it may be like that—Kellock
being such a shrewd and long-sighted man. So I should just keep Jordan
and let Dingle say what he’s going to do. Ned’s not showing more
feeling, so far, than the case demands. He may be thanking God in
secret and be quite as religious-minded as Nicholas could wish.”

“It’s generally known of course,” said Trenchard.

“Such things can’t be hid and didn’t ought to be,” replied Mr. Pinhey.
“We’re a very high-toned lot here for the most part, and me and Trood
have something to do with that I believe; and I should be very sorry if
he was to pander to evil.”

“Nobody’s pandering to evil, Nicholas,” explained Matthew Trenchard.
“But business is business and will continue to be so. I don’t lose
Kellock if I can help it; but Dingle’s a very good man, too, and I wish
to consider him.”

“Dingle’s nothing to Kellock,” asserted Trood; “and I shouldn’t for an
instant say Kellock was all wrong and Dingle all right. Women don’t run
away from their husbands for nothing. I believe Ned’s been knocking her
about, and she was divided between them in the past, and now, finding
she backed the wrong one, she’s gone over to the other. It seems to be
a private affair in my opinion.”

“Sin’s never a private affair. It’s everybody’s affair and ought to be
everybody’s enemy,” said Pinhey.

“Then let nature take its course,” suggested Ernest Trood. “Let Dingle
divorce her in a respectable way, and let us spare their feelings all
we can.”

“Obviously they can’t both stop here after this,” observed Trenchard,
“and if Kellock comes back, Dingle will go.”

“You’ll be putting a premium on vice if you agree to that, Mr.
Trenchard.”

“There’s no vice in it, Nicholas,” answered Trood. “It’s like an old
woman to talk that way. You know very well indeed that Jordan Kellock’s
not a vicious person.”

“I know very well he is, then. And them as don’t go to church, or
chapel, like him, have nothing to stand between them and temptation.
And this is the result.”

Trenchard laughed at Pinhey.

“That’s where the shoe pinches—eh, Nicholas? But we mustn’t be
narrow-minded because we live in a narrow valley. That’s what I tell
others besides you. Kellock is a man of high feelings and great ideals.
I don’t agree with much that he dreams; but I know this: that the
dreamer who makes his dreams come true is the salt of the earth. He’s
very young and he’s got a mighty lot to learn—and he’ll learn it.
Whether he has the brains to go far I can’t say, but at present he’s
very valuable to me and as he’s willing to come back, I take him back.
As for Ned, I shall see him to-day and hear all that he cares to tell
me. I’m heartily sorry for his troubles; but he’s a sane sort of chap,
too, and no doubt has come to some conclusion about the future.”

“That only leaves the woman then,” said Trood.

“She’ll go in any case,” declared the master.

“I won’t answer for the glazing room if she don’t,” promised Mr.
Pinhey. “In a manner of speaking, after five-and-twenty years there,
I may be said to set the tone of the glazing room, Mr. Trenchard, and
if she were to come into it again and take her place at the crib, the
other women, if I know ’em, would rise up and depart.”

“Not them, Nicholas. You don’t know women if you think that. Women
don’t cut off their noses to spite their faces in my experience.”

“You can’t touch pitch and not be defiled, Ernest.”

“Who wants to touch pitch? The girl ain’t pitch; and if she were, she’s
not the sort to influence anybody. Just a silly, everyday, selfish
creature, vain of her good looks and with no more sense than, please
God, she should have. The mystery is that Lydia Trivett, who’s made of
sense, should have put none into her child.”

“She’ll go as a matter of course,” repeated Matthew Trenchard. “Her own
feeling would decide that question. I hate interfering with anybody
here, Pinhey, and because a great many of you pay me the compliment to
consult me about your private affairs, that’s no reason why I should
ever go into them on my own account.”

“But when those that work under you do wrong, then, as their employer
and leader, I submit in all civility it’s up to you to learn them
right,” argued Nicholas. “It’s putting a bonus on sin if Kellock stops
here.”

Trood snorted and called Pinhey a fool; but Trenchard spoke gently to
him.

“I admire your clean and resolute religious views of life, if I don’t
always share them,” he answered; “but we mustn’t be self-righteous,
Nick, and we mustn’t think our own standard of conduct covers all the
ground. You wait till we know more about it. Sin’s like conscience, a
matter of education, Nicholas, and what’s sin in one man is no sin at
all in another. We mustn’t fling the first stone too readily, because
few of us have got the judicial mind, or the impartial and unprejudiced
outlook, or the knowledge of the facts that belong, or ought to belong,
to the judgment seat.”

“We can all read the Scriptures,” answered Mr. Pinhey firmly, “and if
our judgment is founded on the Word, Mr. Trenchard, it is founded on
the Rock of Ages, with Whom is no shadow of turning. And I don’t say
I’ll stop under the same roof as an adulterer, I don’t indeed.”

“You’ll do your duty, Nicholas; I’m sure of that,” answered the other,
and Pinhey, sighing profoundly, went his way.

“There’s no fool like a pious fool,” said Trood scornfully, “and I hope
to Heaven you’ll let Kellock stop. Beatermen, like Dingle, are got
again, but such vatmen as Jordan Kellock are not.”

“I know that mighty well, Ernest, and just for that reason we must
look sharp into it and not let self-interest bend us into anything
wrong. With some men I’d fire them on a job like this and have no more
words about it; but Kellock’s different. He’s honourable, so far as my
experience goes, and scrupulous in small things—a straight man every
way. He has himself well in hand and he’s got ambitions. He would
hardly have done such a grave thing as this on foolish impulse. But I
don’t want to be prejudiced for him any more than against him. I’ll
leave it till I’ve heard Ned.”

“And don’t you let Dingle turn you from him,” begged Ernest. “It stands
to reason that Dingle won’t have much good to say of him. Whatever he
feels in secret, he must curse Kellock openly. In my opinion you ought
to hear Kellock also on his own defence, before you sack him.”

“Perhaps I ought; and perhaps I will,” answered the other. “I shan’t
lose Kellock if it’s in right and reason to keep him. Send Ned to me
after dinner at one o’clock.”

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