TRAGEDY IN THE SIZING ROOM

Jordan Kellock accepted the attitude of the Mill to his achievement
with as little emotion as possible. He concealed his own feelings, and
since he did not attach great importance to the opinions of his fellow
workers, their jests or silence were alike indifferent to him. He was
conscious of well-doing and felt no doubt that the future would serve
amply to justify his action.

He worked as usual and presently discovered that neither Ernest Trood,
the foreman, nor Matthew Trenchard himself proposed to discuss his
private affairs with him. The master never mentioned it, and when he
met Kellock, shook hands with his usual large friendliness and trusted
the vatman had enjoyed his holiday.

“You went to the Exhibition I hope?” he asked. And Jordan replied that
he had done so.

“Our pictures made a proper sensation,” he declared. “I stood by and
watched the public for an hour, and the people were more astonished at
our water-mark pictures than anything in the show.”

“You shall see what the press said,” replied Trenchard. “We’ve had very
good notices about it and far beyond the trade too. Art papers have
taken up water-marks and pointed out what I told you long ago, that the
craft ought to have a great future.”

Of Medora nothing was said, but Trood mentioned her briefly a few days
later. He took Kellock aside.

“It’s official, and no more,” he remarked. “But I suppose you stand for
Mrs. Dingle now, and are going to marry her as soon as it can be done?”

“That is so, Trood.”

“Well, she went away without warning, and forfeits her money
accordingly. You know the law on that subject.”

“That’s all right,” said Kellock. “She didn’t mean nothing uncivil or
improper, but the circumstances required her to act as she did.”

Trood nodded and left him. In common with most of the other responsible
men in the Mill, he never addressed Kellock on the subject of Medora.
Jordan noticed this, and felt that though people abstained from
comment, his action had created a body of opinion that was to some
extent unfriendly. None hesitated to regret the departure of Ned
Dingle, and none attempted to conceal that regret in the presence
of Kellock. A few men refused to recognise him farther, and when he
saluted them as usual, cut him. Robert Life was one of these, and he
found that those who came immediately under the influence of Nicholas
Pinhey—the men at the glazing rollers—had been imbued with particular
animosity. There Medora herself had worked.

As for her, she lived through a familiar experience, and discovered
that anticipation is greater than reality, both for good and evil. She
had built up a very elaborate picture of her return to Dene, and of
the attitude of her circle. It was a vision wherein she occupied the
centre, as a being mysterious and arresting, a figure to challenge
hatred, or enthusiasm, a compelling heroine, who might provoke furious
enemies, or win loyal friends, but could by no possibility leave anyone
indifferent. She had pictured herself as the protagonist, the cynosure,
the paramount object of interest. When she walked abroad in her London
clothes, all eyes would be upon her, and she would move among them,
gentle, indifferent, inscrutable, her secrets hidden, herself doubtless
a subject of ceaseless and heated discussion.

But she missed the least consciousness of creating a sensation; she
even missed the unpleasantness which she had designed to endure so
finely, that Jordan might see the superb stuff of which she was really
made. The limelight of public attention was wanting, and her return
fell almost as flat as when she had come home from her honeymoon
with Ned Dingle. So far as Medora could see, nobody really cared a
button about her. She met with the same experiences as Jordan, but
took them differently. He returned to his occupation and, in the full
tide of work, was able to keep his mind free of his private affairs,
and find other interests among his fellow craftsmen. But Medora had
no distraction during this period. She possessed not even a house to
look after, until Kellock found a house. Following on the first clash
with her fellow creatures, and the discovery that some were amiable as
usual, and some unprepared to recognise her, or have anything more to
do with her, Medora began to be unspeakably bored with life and this
flat anticlimax. The spring days dragged, and she knew not how to fill
them. But her partner, perceiving this, set her a variety of tasks, and
she found herself making notes for him from books, and copying extracts
out of speeches delivered by the leaders of labour’s cause. At first
she performed her tasks with energy, and Kellock praised her devotion;
but he blamed her handwriting, which was very indifferent.

“Some day I’ll run to a typewriter,” he had promised.

The matter upon which he occupied her quite failed to interest Medora.
It was dreary in itself and depressing in all that it implied, because
their future, so far as she could see, held mighty little promise of
much comfort or prosperity, if Jordan proposed to devote his life to
these thorny and controversial subjects. It was magnificent, and might
mean fame for him after he was dead; but promised remarkably little fun
for Mrs. Kellock in the meantime.

Daisy Finch proved faithful and often came to see Medora at “The
Waterman’s Arms.” She believed that the opposition need not be taken
seriously.

“It’s only a nine days’ wonder,” declared Daisy. “When you’re married
to Mr. Kellock, everybody will come round.”

Then Miss Finch plunged into her own affairs. She was betrothed to
Kellock’s coucher at the Mill, one Harold Spry.

“And your mother thinks he’s a very sensible man, and we’re going into
Paignton on Saturday, by the motor bus for him to buy me a proper
engagement ring.”

“He’s a very good coucher, for I’ve heard Jordan say so; and I know
he’s very nice looking, and I’m very glad about it, Daisy. It’s good
news, for certain.”

“I never encouraged him, I’m sure,” declared Miss Finch, “but I always
felt greatly addicted to him in a manner of speaking, Medora.”

“I hope you’ll be happy, but don’t hurry it; get to know each other’s
natures well, and all that. And if you find you can’t agree about
anything that’s vital to happiness, then part before it’s too late,”
said her friend. “It isn’t given to every girl to do what I did, Daisy.
You want a rare lot of courage, and the power to rise superior to the
world against you.”

“He agrees with me in everything,” said Daisy.

“They always begin like that. But I feel you’re going to be one of the
happy ones.”

“And you, too, I hope soon.”

“There are greater things than happiness, I find,” confessed Medora,
“though like all young creatures, I used to put happiness first and
last. But if you’ve got much in the way of brains, you can’t be happy
for long. Jordan very soon learned me that.”

“Surely to God he’s going to make you happy?” asked Daisy.

“Oh, yes, but it’s the happiness of people at large he’s out for. He’s
got a great mind and thinks in numbers, not in individuals, even though
one of them’s his wife. That may sound sad to you.”

“It do,” said Daisy.

“But it isn’t really. It makes you forget yourself—in time. I shall
rise to it as I age, and I’m ageing fast.”

“I don’t want to forget myself,” said Daisy, “and I’m sure Mr. Spry
wouldn’t let me if I did. He’s death on spoiling me.”

“Be happy while you can,” advised Medora. “And bring your young man to
supper one night.”

They talked of the works, for despite the larger interests of Kellock,
Medora still found the politics of the Mill her chief subject.

“Do you think they’d be nasty if I was to go in one day on some
pretence and see ’em?” she asked.

Daisy considered.

“You’d be welcome for your mother’s sake in the rag house,” she
answered; “but I wouldn’t go in your own shop, if I was you. I dare say
it’s jealousy, but the women in the glazing shop—it’s old Pinhey’s
fault largely, I believe. He’s a religious old devil.”

“For some things I’d almost like to be back again,” declared Medora.
“Just for the minute, till we’ve got a house and so on, I’m at a loose
end. I do a lot of writing for Jordan, and he finds me very useful,
and is going to get me a typewriter. But just for the minute—it would
distract my mind. There’s nothing small about Mr. Trenchard—he’d let
me come back, I reckon.”

Daisy did not venture an opinion, and the talk returned to Harold
Spry. But from that day, Medora’s determination to go into the works
increased. She did not tell Jordan, suspecting that he would have
forbidden such an experiment, nor did she mention the matter to her
mother; but she decided that she would stroll in some day.

Ned Dingle had not yet left Dene, and once she passed him returning
home from Totnes. He took no notice of her, and she hesitated whether
to speak, but perceived that he desired no such thing, for he hurried
past. She stole one glance under her eyelids at him, and thought he
looked much as usual. He stared straight in front of him, and blushed
as he passed her.

She mentioned the incident to Kellock.

“I haven’t seen him yet,” he said. “He hasn’t got work to his liking,
so Knox tells me. I’m waiting to hear from him.”

Two days later, Medora took her courage in her hands, and went up to
the Mill at eleven o’clock, while work was in full swing. She had
considered where to go, and decided that she would drop into the
vat room and speak to Jordan about some trivial matter. She took an
addition to his dinner in the shape of an orange. But having actually
arrived, an inspiration led her to the sizing room. Thither came the
paper from the drying lofts, and the simple work was done by little
girls. No sharp word or unpleasant attitude of mind was likely to reach
her there.

She entered unseen, and passed through the dim and odorous chambers
where the sizerman, old Amos Toft, mixed the medium. Here, in two
steaming vats, Amos melted his gelatine, made of buffalo hide, and
added to the strong-smelling concoction those ingredients proper to
the paper to be sized. Trade secrets controlled the mixture, but alum
contributed an important factor, for without it, the animal compound
had quickly decayed.

In the sizing room a narrow passage ran between long troughs. The place
steamed to its lofty, sunny roof, and was soaked with the odour of the
size. Through the great baths of amber-coloured liquid there wound an
endless wool blanket, and at one end of each great bath sat two little
girls with stacks of dry paper beside them. They disposed the sheets
regularly two together on the sizing felt, and the paper was drawn into
the vats and plunged beneath the surface. For nearly three minutes it
pursued its invisible way, and presently, emerging at the other end,
was lifted off by other young workers and returned to the drying lofts
again.

Little Mercy Life, the vatman’s daughter, was sizing some pretty,
rose-coloured sheets, and Medora admired them.

“Well, Mercy, how are you?” she asked, and the child smiled and said
she was very well.

“What lovely paper! And how are you, Nelly? How’s your sister?”

“To home still,” said Mercy’s companion, “but the doctor says she’ll
get well some day.”

An impulse brought the orange out of Medora’s pocket.

“Here’s something for you,” she said. “You can share it between you
presently.”

They thanked her, and chatted happily enough about their work and play.
Medora told them that she had been in London, and interested them with
what she saw at the Zoological Gardens.

“My! To think!” said Mercy. “I thought squirrels was always red.”

A few adults passed through the sizing house, among them Mr. Trood. He
hesitated, seemed surprised to see her, but said “good morning,” not
unpleasantly, and hoped she was all right.

“I dare say you half wish you were back again, Medora?” he asked, and
she jumped at the suggestion and told him that she often did.

“Just peeped in for the pleasure of seeing friends,” she said.

He went his way and Medora was about to leave the children and seek
Kellock, when an adventure very painful befell her.

For old Amos Toft belonged to the tribe of Mr. Pinhey. He was inflamed
with indignation at the spectacle of Medora contaminating youth, and
departed presently that he might tell Mrs. Life, in the glazing shop,
what was happening. Whereupon, Mercy Life, the elder, leapt from
her stool at the crib, and much incensed, hastened to her child’s
protection.

Medora greeted her with a smile, but it vanished before the other’s
sharp challenge.

They were talking of primroses at the time, for Nelly and Mercy had
plucked a great bunch on Sunday and promised to bring some to Medora.
They were to come to tea with her when they could.

“Here—I’ll thank you to get out of this, Mrs.—whatever you call
yourself!” began the angry woman.

“What’s the matter with you?” asked Medora, “and who are you to tell me
what I’m to do? Where’s your manners?”

The other snorted scornfully.

“You brazen-faced thing,” she cried. “Yes, a front of brass to come
here, or show your face among honest women I should think. But you
can’t have it both ways. You can’t be a friend for children and give
’em oranges—give it back, Mercy—and be a scarlet woman both. And I
won’t have you talking to my child anyway.”

Medora adopted a superior tone. She took the orange from the girl and
addressed her.

“I’m sorry you’ve got such a fool for a mother, Mercy. And I hope when
you grow up, you’ll have more sense than she has.”

Then she addressed Mrs. Life.

“How little you understand,” she said. “I’m sorry for you being such a
narrow-minded creature. I always thought you was one of the sensible
sort. And you needn’t fear for your little girl. I was only asking her
to come to tea and bring me some primroses.”

She marched out, regardless of Mrs. Life’s reply, and went to seek
Jordan who was at his vat making big paper. He handled a heavy mould
and passed over snow-white sheets to his coucher, who turned them on
to the felt with extreme care. Jordan became very nervous at sight
of Medora, but she felt quite at ease among the men and none in the
vat room quarrelled with her. She congratulated Harold Spry on his
engagement and told him that Daisy was a treasure. Then she gave
Kellock the orange and watched him.

But Medora was only hiding herself. Her heart flamed and her
indignation at the recent affront burned fiercely within her. Her
sole purpose at that moment was to get level and more than level with
Mrs. Life, whose husband worked at the vat next to Jordan’s, and she
now turned on him unwisely and addressed him. He was employed with
brilliant, orange-coloured pulp and making currency paper.

“You tell your wife to be broader-minded, Robert Life,” she said
suddenly, and he stared at her.

“She’s broad-minded enough for me and all God-fearing creatures I
believe,” he answered. “If you want to keep on the narrow path, you’ve
got to be narrow-minded about some things, young woman.”

This was too much for Kellock. His pale face flushed. He set down his
mould, dried his hands and beckoned to Medora.

“I want to speak to you for five minutes,” he said and they moved
together into the open space outside the vat house. But she gave him no
time to speak. She poured out her wrongs in a flood.

“It’s up to you now,” she said. “This isn’t going on. I’m not going to
have my life made a burden by every beastly, cross-grained cat in Dene
for you, or anybody. An ignorant creature like her to call me a bad
woman! That’s the limit.”

“You must be patient,” he said. “You shouldn’t have come, Medora. It
was a very doubtful thing to do. You must allow for people. We’ve
talked all this out before.”

“If we’ve done right, we’ve done right,” she answered; “and if we’ve
done right, it isn’t for me to sit down under insult, or for you to let
me be insulted. I was born a fighter and you say you was; and if so,
you’d best to begin with fighting your future wife’s enemies.”

“That’s all right,” he admitted. “But I ask you to be reasonable. It
wasn’t reasonable to come here and face the women.”

“I didn’t face the women then. I didn’t go near ’em. I was only asking
a child or two to come into tea. Then that sour slattern, Mercy Life,
flew at me as if I’d come to poison her little girl. And I want to know
what you’re going to do about it; and I’ve a right to know.”

“Keep calm, keep calm and go home, Medora. Go back to the ‘Arms.’ We’ll
talk about it to-night. It’s hard waiting, but—”

“I won’t wait. I’ve no right to be asked to wait.”

“Well, as to that, we’ve got to wait. You say it’s up to me. But you
know different.”

“I’ll drown myself if there’s much more of it—God’s my judge,” vowed
Medora, then she went her way as the bell rang the dinner hour.

Kellock felt deeply perturbed, and was glad of the interval, for he
could not have resumed his work just then. He ate his meal alone and
then wandered up the valley with painful thoughts for companions. That
Medora could have done so foolish and inconsiderate a thing surprised
him harshly. It was part of his illusion concerning her that she was
a girl of unusual reasoning powers and excellent mental endowments.
Once or twice, indeed, she had said and done what cast a shadow on
this conviction; but never had she indicated the possibility of such a
futile act as this. That she should have come to the Mill at her own
inclination appeared flagrantly foolish.

But that evening, in face of her tears and hysterical emotion, he
undertook to anticipate the position and hasten the solution if
possible. Not, indeed, until he promised to seek out Ned Dingle and
demand action from him, did Medora recover. Then she was herself again,
humble and grateful and penitent and full of admiration for Jordan.

“You’re so large-minded and look at things with a male grasp and a
male’s power of waiting,” she said, “but you can’t expect that from
me. You must make allowances, Jordan. I suffer a lot more than you do,
because I’ve got such a power of feeling and I’m cruel proud.”

“I’m properly jealous for you,” he answered, “and I’d come between
every breath of scandal and you if I could. But we must allow for human
nature and prejudice.”

“And jealousy,” she said.

“We must allow for the outlook of every-day people and give ’em as
little chance to scoff as possible. I’ll put it to Mr. Dingle the first
minute I can; and you must do your part, Medora, and lie low till I’ve
seen him and shown him his duty.”

You may also like