THE PROTEST

At one end of the glazing house—a lofty and bright workroom at the
top story of the Mill—stood the dry press, to which the choice papers
demanding extra finish came after glazing. Here they were piled between
heavy slabs of hot metal and subject to great pressure; but the primal
business of glazing had already been done between metal rollers. A
range of these presented the principal object in this workshop.

Girls prepared the paper for the rollers, and Medora had once been of
this cheerful and busy throng. Hither came the paper from its final
drying after the size bath, and the workers stood with a heap of sheets
on one side of them and a little stack of polished zinc plates on the
other. With her left hand each girl snatched a sheet of paper, with
her right a plate of zinc; and then she inter-leaved the paper with
the metal until a good wad rose in her crib. The paper was now ready
for the glazing rollers, and men, who tended these massive machines,
ran the sheets and zinc wads between the steel rollers, backward and
forward twice and thrice under tremendous strain. Then what was dim and
lustreless reappeared with a bright and shining surface, and the sheets
returned again to the girls, who separated zinc and paper once more.

Mr. Pinhey had often preached on this text—indeed his simile was worn
threadbare, though he repeated it to every new-comer in the glazing
house and rolling room.

“With paper as with humans,” he would say, “nothing like a sharp pinch
to bring out the polish; that is if a man’s built of stuff good enough
to take a polish. Of course some are not; we know that only too well.”

The distinctive sounds in this great shop were three and did he hear
them, a paper maker with his eyes shut would know exactly where he was.
First, the steady thud of the plates on the side of the wooden cribs;
next, the ceaseless rustle and hiss of the paper flying between the
girl’s hands as it is laid upon the zinc or snatched off it; and lastly
the rumble of the rolling machines sounding a bass as they grip the
piles of paper and metal and squeeze them up and down.

The very precious papers went to the dry press; but the mass of them
passed directly to the sorters, who graded all stock into three
qualities—perfect, less perfect, and inferior. No inferior paper
ever left Dene Mill. It was pulped again; but could not aspire to the
highest standard having once sunk beneath it.

And lastly it came to Mr. Pinhey—the finisher—who seemed a figure
conceived and planned for this lofty purpose. Spick and span in his
snowy apron, with delicate hands and quick eyes behind their shining
glasses, he moved spotless through the mountains and masses of the
finished article; he passed amid the ordered blocks magisterially—a
very spirit of purity who reigned over the reams and called them
by their names. Wove and laid Imperial, Super-royal, Medium, Demy,
Foolscap and Double Foolscap were all included. Here towered orange
and old rose sections; here azure and ultramarine; here sea green,
here opaline pink and every delicate shade of buff and cream, to the
snowy whiteness of the great papers and mightiest sheets. From fairy
note to “double elephant” ranged Mr. Pinhey’s activity. He worked among
the papers, great and small, and put the last touch of perfection and
completeness before they passed away into the larger world.

But to-day Nicholas was concerned with a little affair outside the
province of the finisher. On a sheet of palest pink, a sheet that
seemed actually itself to blush at the delicacy of its task, Mr. Pinhey
had written a few sentences in his happiest manner and was handing it
round the shop, that men and women might set their names thereto. He
told everybody that he much disliked such an appeal and protest, but
that his sense of propriety made it necessary, for conscience sake, to
proceed. He was honest in this assurance and did not deceive himself.
Some of his co-workers, who declined to sign, thought that Mr. Pinhey
was conducting his cathartic mission from private motives, not of
the highest, and frankly told him so; but they were wrong. The man
steadfastly believed that religion demanded his action. He had debated
the problem for many weeks and at last come to the conclusion that a
strong step must be taken.

The fact that Jordan Kellock should continue to earn his living at
Dene Mill, while he lived in sin out of it, had become a mental
possession with Mr. Pinhey. He believed that such a situation must
be an active challenge to Providence, a perpetual blister to the
Everlasting Intelligence on Whose watchful keeping that human hive
depended. It seemed to Nicholas that this negation of right could not
go on for ever, and he presently convinced himself that what appeared
to be nobody’s business, was in reality everybody’s business. He
suspected that many of the more sober and God-fearing agreed with
him, and he knew that, so far as the glazing house was concerned, the
majority always agreed as a matter of course with his views. Only
the irreligious or low-minded ever questioned him, and when they had
committed that error, he did not rest until he had got them out of his
department.

And now he had drafted an appeal to Mr. Trenchard and was procuring all
possible signatures for it.

It began “We the undersigned,” and it expressed a pious conviction that
the presence of Jordan Kellock in the vat house was a source of danger
to the prosperity of the Mill, and a threat to the spiritual stability
of younger people, who would see in his support and encouragement an
indication that morals counted for less than professional ability and
that skill and craft were rated higher than a right way of living and
scrupulous obedience to Divine precept.

He was pleased with the composition, but took no credit to himself.
He felt that his hand had been guided when he wrote it, and believed
that every word was in the right place by a direct act of inspiration.
And now he desired the largest number of signatures possible—from the
heads of departments for choice. Unhappily there were strong forces
opposed to Nicholas and he knew that not only would the foreman,
Ernest Trood, refuse to sign, but he might influence others against
so doing. Neither could Medora’s mother be easily approached, though
she had always represented a force for good. He decided, however, to
invite Lydia’s opinion. She could at least see the other side, and Mr.
Pinhey felt that she would not misunderstand a man of his repute if he
discussed the painful subject on the plane where he habitually moved.
For he, too, very constantly spoke of “moving on a plane,” even as the
unregenerate Kellock was used to do. Indeed, they had no little in
common—a fact that came to Mr. Pinhey’s shocked ear on this identical
day.

During the dinner hour, fountain-pen in hand, Nicholas proceeded upon
his task, nerved thereto by most exalted sentiments. The certainties
all signed with gusto; but among the doubtful attestors, Mr. Pinhey was
disappointed to find few prepared to support him. Lydia he approached,
where she sat reading a newspaper in her workroom. Indeed her thoughts
were far from the printed page, but she opened it from force of habit
until the work bell rang again.

“I’ll thank you to read this, Mrs. Trivett,” said Nicholas, as he
presented his blushing manifesto. “You may for a moment doubt whether
I ought to ask you, of all people, to sign it. I’ve been advised not.
But we’re old friends, I believe, and I know you’ll never quarrel with
the man who does his duty, even if you don’t see his duty with the same
eyes as him.”

“Duty’s often a doubtful matter,” she said, “and we mistake inclination
for duty sometimes. You can easily hoodwink yourself about duty,
Nicholas.”

She read the protest and gave it back to him and shook her head.

“Do as you think right,” she said. “But don’t ask me to sign that.
You’ll guess without being told what a sad thing this is for a mother;
but I’m not going to take sides this time of day. I’ve told them what
I think about it and how I’ve suffered over it, and I’ve told other
people also; but there’s nothing gained that I can see by this. There’s
more in it than meets the eye, and Jordan Kellock is the sort of man to
feel the punishment of his own conscience much sharper than the voice,
or vote, of his fellow men.”

“‘Conscience!’” exclaimed Mr. Pinhey. “How can you say that the man who
does a thing like that have got a conscience, Mrs. Trivett?”

“Because I know he has—so do you if you’ll think. There’s very few
so fussy and nice about life and its duties and bearings as Jordan
Kellock. We all know what he is; and until this happened, nobody
respected him more than you. And now he’s done a thing that your
conscience and mine don’t approve. But remember this, he’d never have
done it if his own conscience hadn’t supported him.”

“It was the devil getting the better of his conscience,” argued
Nicholas. “He was always weak, because he was self-righteous, though
Lord knows, seeing his foggy religious opinions, none had less reason
to be. He had got his own theory of morals seemingly, and since it
didn’t come out of the Word, it was worthless as you’d expect. So when
the trial came and your daughter—”

“Leave it, there’s a good man. I’m not going to argue upon it. I hope
they’ll soon be properly married and this sad business allowed to pass
by and be forgot. For the minute it’s up to Ned Dingle, and I’ve been
bitter sorry for him, and he knows all I think about it; but there’s no
more can be done to right the wrong and ease people who feel like you,
till Ned does it.”

“Your heart is speaking against your morals, Lydia, if I may say so.”

“You may say what you like, of course.”

“You can’t rise to the thought that it is painful for some of us to
earn our living under the same roof as that man?”

“No,” she said. “I’ve never met the man or woman so bad that I couldn’t
work under the same roof with them.”

He shrugged his shoulders.

“It’s doubtfully Christian to be so large-minded in my opinion,” he
said. “Do the other women up here think the same?”

“Alice Barefoot will sign; but her brother, Henry, will not.”

“Being an old sailor, no doubt he won’t,” said Mr. Pinhey. He won Miss
Barefoot’s support, however, and then skirmished in the neighbourhood
of the vat house. Jordan was not there, and after Mr. Life had appended
his signature and Harold Spry, Kellock’s coucher, had declined to do
so, Nicholas approached Philander Knox.

“I don’t know your exact opinions,” he said; “but I should be glad if
you can feel on this subject with most of us serious people. You know
the facts and feel it oughtn’t to go on, I expect—that is if you take
life seriously, as no doubt you do.”

“The thing is to take other people’s lives seriously and your own
pretty light,” said Knox. “That’s the best way, because it keeps your
sense of proportion about fair, Pinhey.”

Nicholas liked these problems, but was doubtful here.

“Do you mean as a matter of morals?” he asked.

“No—as a matter of business,” replied Philander. “Because if you put
yourself first always, your fellow creatures will be mighty quick to
put you second, or third, or out of the running altogether. Nobody
bores people worse than the man who is always thinking about himself.
But if you show a proper interest in others and their hopes and fears
and likes and dislikes, then the better sort will gladly give as well
as take. If you want anything for nothing in this world, you won’t get
it; but the more you give, the more you’ll receive, in my experience.
In the matter of giving don’t stint and don’t squander; and don’t give
where you’ll get nothing back of course—that’s foolish.”

Mr. Pinhey shook his head.

“Worldly wise, not heavenly wise,” he declared. “Be so good as to read
this document, Knox, and let me have the pleasure of seeing you sign
it. It’s the elder people I want to do so. In fact I’m not showing it
to the young ones. Better such things should not enter their innocent
minds.”

Mr. Knox read Kellock’s indictment and grinned.

“What do you know of sin, you old caterpillar?” he asked very rudely.
“Good powers, my man, d’you see what you’re doing? You’re shaving with
a blunt razor over another chap’s wounds. Blow out reason’s candle if
you like to walk without light; but don’t from your darkness presume to
show other people their road. That’s damned impertinent and only makes
the other sort cuss.”

Mr. Pinhey shrank resentfully.

“If you make reason your guide,” he said, “God help you, Philander
Knox. And—”

“Tear it up—tear it up and save Trenchard the trouble, Pinhey. Be
guided by a man who’s moved in a larger world than yourself.”

“A larger and a wickeder world, if you can talk like that about sin,”
answered Nicholas, who had grown pinker than his paper.

“I’m not talking about sin. I’d as soon talk about sin to a bluebottle
as you. You’re one of the born good sort, you are, and the funny thing
is that you’ve worked in the same business with Kellock all these years
and years and don’t know he’s the same order of creation as yourself.
Why, my dear man, he might be your son!”

“This is too much and I won’t stand it,” answered Mr. Pinhey. “I ask
you to recall that, Knox; or I won’t know you from this hour forward.”

“Don’t be fussy. We’re both well past our half century and can air our
opinions without getting cross. I mean that Kellock is a serious-minded
chap with a strong character and steadfast opinions. He’s just as
anxious to leave the world better than he found it as you are. And he
means to do so; and very likely, if he’s not too deadly in earnest
and too narrow in his virtues, he may. You must grant him his good
character, Pinhey, and then ask yourself whether a man with his past
would have done this without what seemed good and high reasons. I’m not
saying he was right for a minute; but I’m saying he weighed it in all
its bearings and from his mistaken and inexperienced point of view made
this big error.”

“And aren’t we here to show him his error?”

“No, we can’t show it to him. You wouldn’t convince him if you talked
for a month from your point of view. Sit tight—that’s all you’ve got
to do. I believe he’s made a big mistake and I believe he’ll see it for
himself before he’s six months older. But let his own nature work and
don’t say more till you know more. What looks like wickedness to one
man’s eye may seem goodness to another man’s.”

Mr. Pinhey had now grown calm.

“Then I won’t waste more of your time,” he answered. “You speak, I
suppose, what you believe according to reason; but I wouldn’t say you
were a very good advertisement even for reason, Knox. I know your eyes
will be opened about that man sooner or later. I can only trust that
he’s one by himself. I stand on the old paths and I believe most of us
here do the same. But if we’re going to set up Kellock and his ways as
a model, then I don’t see myself what’s to become of civilisation, or
religion either.”

He departed, completed his rounds and confessed to disappointment at
the result. Still he had mustered a respectable following and the
document he left at Matthew Trenchard’s private house that evening
was signed by twenty-eight men and women in more or less responsible
positions.

To his everlasting surprise and indignation, Mr. Pinhey never heard of
the protest again. He might as well have dropped it into the Dart, or
posted it on the west wind.

A week passed and nothing happened. Nicholas had met the master
frequently and found him just as usual—cheery, practical, busy. He
fumed in secret. He told Robert Life and old Mr. Amos Toft, who mixed
the size, that were it not for the fact that he only wanted a year to
qualify for his pension, he would resign.

Mrs. Trivett and Philander Knox discussed the matter on an occasion
when they met at close of work. It was the day on which Lydia had to
announce her decision with respect to her admirer, and they both knew
the time had come.

“We’ll give the Corkscrew a miss and go round the pond,” he said. “You
can’t talk climbing that Jacob’s ladder of a hill—at least I can’t.”

Her heart sank, for she had desired to make the painful interview
as brief as possible. But the event proved that Lydia need not have
feared, for Mr. Knox took her black news in an unexpected spirit.

They spoke first, however, of Medora and Jordan Kellock.

“I never heard the like,” said Lydia. “It shows the danger of doing
such things and not counting the cost. They was so wrapped up in
their own affairs that they never saw it takes three people to make a
divorce, and now that injured man is opening their eyes. It’s all as
wrong as wrong can be, yet where are you going to put the blame?”

“I’m not going to put the blame anywhere,” answered Mr. Knox. “There’s
a lot too much meddling, in my opinion, and if they’re only left alone,
those three people may work out their own salvation in their own way.
I’m fed up with ’em: one would think the welfare of Dene hung on their
capers. To hear old Pinhey, you’d say it depended on our opinion
about ’em whether we’d ever get to heaven ourselves. Where you can’t
help, don’t worrit. They’re all right; but what about me? This is the
appointed time, Lydia, and I hope I may add that this is the day of
salvation.”

She jumped at the suggestion to lighten her refusal.

“I expect you may; and you’ll look back at this evening and feel you
are better a free man. Yes, you must regard yourself as free, please—I
couldn’t do it—I couldn’t take another. I’m fond of you, if that is
anything, and I’m proud you could have a fancy for me; for a reminder
that I’m a woman, coming from such a man as you, naturally makes me a
bit above myself. But my life’s run into a mould, you see. It’s found
its channel, like a river does; and it’s made its bed. I say again I
like you—I even love you, if the word ain’t nonsense at fifty; but
I’ve seen my duty clear since we spoke about it. I couldn’t fairly
leave my sister-in-law and brother. ’Twould be like taking a screw out
of a machine. The screw ain’t much in itself but a lot depends upon it.”

“You won’t marry me, you mean?”

“Won’t ain’t the word. I’d be very pleased to be your wife if I was a
free party, but in a sense I’m not free. You can’t be in two places at
once, like a flash of lightning, and I can’t keep house for you and
look after Mary’s family and do my bit at Priory Farm. And it amounts
to this—my brother, when he heard what was afoot, made it very clear
that Priory Farm simply couldn’t get on without me. That may seem a
vain thing to you; but it’s the truth—absurd, I dare say; but they’re
built like that. You, on the contrary, would get on without me well
enough.”

“Speak for yourself, but not for me,” he said, “and not for your
brother, Tom, and his mate. Rabbits in a hutch have got to be looked
after, I grant, but you mustn’t believe everything you hear—even from
Tom Dolbear. Answer this: if you died to-morrow, what would happen at
Priory Farm? Why, my dear woman, in six weeks they’d have somebody
in your place who looked after the children all her time; and they’d
wonder why they never thought of that before. We won’t argue about it,
however. When you say ‘duty,’ I’m dumb, of course. But tell me this
before we drop the subject: would you marry me if things were otherwise
and your sense of duty didn’t come between?”

Mrs. Trivett was immensely relieved to find how quietly he had taken
his reverse.

“Of course I would,” she said. “You’re one of the best, and if it
hadn’t been that I’d got to work out my life same as I’m doing, I’d
have been glad enough to come to you. People at our time of day have
got judgment, if ever they’re going to have it, and in my opinion we
should have made a well-matched pair enough. But such good things are
not for me. I’ve been happily married once, and can’t expect it again.”

He continued to be quite restrained.

“I venture to think you’re about as wrong as you can be, Lydia, and
your usual good sense has gone astray. But I know duty’s your guiding
star, and I’m happy to think duty changes its shape from time to time,
like most other human contrivances.”

“I’ll always try to do it, my dear man, however it looks.”

“You will—that’s why I’m keeping so quiet now, instead of breaking out
and making a noise and lowering myself in your opinion. The beauty of
a woman like you is that you’re steadfast—a slave, if not a martyr to
what you think right. That being so, I take your word for the minute,
and leave the rest to Providence.”

She was puzzled, but very glad he could be so gentle with her.

“You’ve took it like the wise man you are,” she said. “I might have
known you would; but I was afraid you wouldn’t.”

“I haven’t took it,” he answered. “There are some things you don’t
take, and this is one of them. I’ve a great trust in the future, Lydia
Trivett. The future, though it plays many people false, have always
treated me in a very sportsmanlike and trustworthy manner so far.”

“That’s because you make your future just the same as you make your
paper, and leave nothing to chance.”

“You never spoke a truer word,” he answered. “I’m not going to brag
before the event; but if ever I was properly interested in a bit of my
future, it’s now; and if I can get the pattern right, and stamp my will
and purpose upon it, I dare say you’ll be a good bit surprised yet.”

She became uneasy.

“Don’t you meddle with fate, however. That’s not our work,” she said.

“And what would you be inclined to call ‘fate’?” he asked.

“Well,” she answered, “in a manner of speaking, you might call ‘fate’
my dear brother, Tom, and his wife. And I’ll ask you not to touch them,
Philander.”

“I promise that. That wouldn’t be playing the game,” he admitted. “I’d
be very sorry if they had anything to do with my future, Lydia. You
might as well try to carve butter, or a turnip, into an enduring thing.
I shall treat your brother and his wife the same as I’ve always treated
them. For the present, we’ll just go on as we’re going, please—good
friends, and nothing more. I’ve a right to ask that.”

“I wish you’d take ‘no’ for an answer, however.”

“There’s nothing final about anything in this world except death, my
dear. While she’s alive it’s never too late for a woman to change her
mind. And if you did, it would be very unfortunate if I was in such a
position I couldn’t listen to you. You may ask me to marry you, yet,
Lydia—if Providence so wills it—though not leap year, I believe.”

She laughed, and such was his amiability that he saw her all the way
home.

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