He shook his head and drank his tea.
Mrs. Northover changed the subject.
"How's the works?" she asked. "Do the people like the new master?"
"Just the same—same hours, same money—everything. And Mister Daniel's brother, Mister Raymond's, come to it to learn the business. He is a cure!"
"He's over there now," said Job, waving his hand in the direction of 'The Tiger.' "Drinking port wine he is with that young sport, Motyer, and others like him. I don't like Motyer's face. He's a shifty chap, and a thorn in his family's side by all accounts. But Mister Raymond have a very open countenance and ought to have a good heart."
"What do you mean when you say he's a 'cure,' Sarah?" asked her aunt.
"He's that friendly with us girls," she answered. "He's supposed to be learning all there is to spinning, but he plays about half his time and you can't help laughing. He's so friendly as if he was one of us; but Sabina Dinnett is his pet. Wants to make her smoke cigarettes! But there's no harm to him if you understand."
"There's always harm to a chap that plays about and don't look after his own business," declared Job. "I understand his brother's been very proper about him, and now it's up to him; and he ain't at the Mill to offer the girls cigarettes."
"He's got his own room and Mister Best wishes he'd bide in it," explained Sarah, "but he says he must learn, and so he's always wandering around. But everybody likes him, except Levi Baggs. He don't like anybody. He'd like to draw us all over his hackling frames if he could."
They chattered awhile, then worked again; but Sarah stayed to supper, and it was not until half-past ten o'clock that she started for home.
Another Bridetown girl—Alice Chick, the spinner—had been spending her half holiday in Bridport. Now she met Sarah, by appointment, at the top of South Street and the two returned together.
The Carding Machine was a squat and noisy monster. Mr. Best confessed that it had put him in mind of a passage from Holy Writ, for it seemed to be all eyes, behind and before. The eyes were wheels, and beneath, the mass of the carder opened its mouth—a thin and hungry slit into which wound an endless band. Spread upon this leathern roller was the hemp tow—that mass of short material which Levi Baggs, the hackler, pruned away from his long strides. As for the minder, Sally Groves, she seemed built and born to tend a Carding Machine. She moved with dignity despite her great size, and although covered in tow dust from head to foot and powdered with a layer of pale amber fluff, she stood as well as another for the solemnity of toil, laboured steadfastly, was neither elated, nor cast down, and presented to younger women a spectacle of skill, resolution and good sense. The great woman ennobled her work; through the dust and din, with placid and amiable features, she peered, and ceased not hour after hour, to spread the tow truly and evenly upon the rolling board. One of less experience might have needed to weigh her material, but Sally never weighed; by long practice and good judgment, she produced sliver of even texture.
The carder panted, crashed and shook with its energies. It glimmered all over with the bright, hairy gossamer of the tow, which wound thinly through systems of fast and slow wheels. Between them the material was lashed and pricked, divided and sub-divided, torn and lacerated by thousands of pins, that separated strand from strand and shook the stuff to its integral fibres before building it up again. Despite the thunder and the suggestion of immense forces exerted upon the frail material, utmost delicacy marked the operations of the card. Any real strain must have torn to atoms the fine amber coils in which it ejected the strips of shining sliver. Enormous waste marked the operation. Beneath the machine rose mounds of dust and dirt, and fluff, light as thistledown; while as much was sucked away into the air by the exhaust above.
In a lion-coloured overall and under a hat tied beneath her chin with a yellow handkerchief, Sally Groves pursued her task. Then came to her Sabina Dinnett and, ceasing not to spread her tow the while, Sally spoke serious words.
"I asked Nancy Buckler to send you along when your machine stopped a minute. You won't be vexed with me if I say something, will you?"
"Vexed with you, Sally? Who ever was vexed with you?"
"I'm old enough to be your mother, and 'tis her work if anybody's to speak to you," explained Sally; "but she's not here, and she don't see what I can't help seeing."
"What have you seen then?"
"I've seen a very good-looking young man by the name of Raymond Ironsyde wasting a deuce of a lot of his time by your spinning frame; and wasting your time, too."
Sabina changed colour.
"Fancy you saying that!" she exclaimed. "He's got to learn the business—the practical side, Sally. And he wants to master it carefully and grasp the whole thing."
Miss Groves smiled.
"Ah. He didn't take long mastering the carder," she said. "Just two minutes was all he gave me, and I don't think he was very long at the drawing heads neither; and I ain't heard Sarah Northover say he spent much of his time at the spreader. It all depends on the minder whether Mister Raymond wants to know much about the work!"
"But the spinning is the hardest to understand, Sally."
"Granted, but he don't ask many questions of Alice Chick or Nancy Buckler, do he? I'm not blaming him, Lord knows, nor yet you, but for friendship I'm whispering to you to be sensible. He's a very kind-hearted young gentleman, and if he had a memory as big as his promises, he'd soon ruin himself. But, like a lot of other nice chaps full of generous ideas, he forgets 'em when the accident that woke 'em is out of his mind. And all I say, Sabina, is to be careful. He may be as good as gold, and I dare say he is, but he's gone on you—head over heels—he can't hide it. He don't even try to. And he's a gentleman and you're a spinner. So don't you be silly, and don't think the worse of me for speaking."
Sabina entertained the opinions concerning middle-age common to youth, but she was fond of Sally and set her heart at rest.
"You needn't be frightened," she answered. "He's a gentleman, as you say; and you know I'm not the sort to be a fool. I can't help him coming; and I can't be rude to the young man. For that matter I wouldn't. I won't forget what you've said all the same."
She hurried away and started her machine; but while her mind concentrated on spinning, some subconscious instincts worked at another matter and she found that Sally had cast a cloud upon a coming event which promised nothing but sunshine.
She had agreed to go for a walk with Raymond Ironsyde on the following Sunday, and he had named their meeting-place: a bridge that crossed the Bride in the vale two miles from the village. She meant to go, for the understanding between her and Raymond had advanced far beyond any point dreamed of by Sally Groves. Sabina's mind was in fact exceedingly full of Raymond, and his mind was full of her. Temperament had conspired to this state of things, for while the youth found himself in love for the first time in his life, and pursued the quest with that ardour and enthusiasm until now reserved for sport, Sabina, who had otherwise been much more cautious, was not only in love, but actually felt that shadowy ambitions from the past began to promise realisation. She was not vain, but she knew herself a finer thing in mind and body than most of the girls with whom she worked. She had read a great deal and learned much from Mr. Churchouse, who delighted to teach her, and from Mr. Best, with whom she was a prime favourite. She had refused several offers of marriage and preserved a steady determination not to wed until there came a man who could lift her above work and give her a home that would embrace comfort and leisure. She waited, confident that this would happen, for she knew that she could charm men. As yet none had come who awakened any emotion of love in Sabina; and she told herself that real love might alter her values and send her to a poor man's home after all. If that happened, she was willing; but she thought it improbable; because, in her experience, poor men were ignorant, and she felt very sure no ignorant man would ever make her love him.
Then came into her life one very much beyond her dreams, and from an attitude of utmost caution before a physical beauty that fascinated her, she woke into tremendous excitation of mind at the discovery that he, too, was interested. To her it seemed that he had plenty of brains. His ideas were human and beautiful. He declared the conditions of the workers to be not sufficiently considered. He was full of nebulous theories for the amelioration of such conditions. The spectacle of women working for a living caused Raymond both uneasiness and indignation. To Sabina, it seemed that he was a chivalric knight of romance—a being from a fairy story. She had heard of such men, but never met with one outside a novel. She glorified Raymond into something altogether sublime—as soon as she found that he liked her. He filled her head, and while her common-sense vainly tried to talk as Sally Groves had talked, each meeting with the young man threw her back upon the tremendous fact that he was deeply interested in her and did not care who knew it. Common-sense could not modify that; nor would she listen to common-sense, when it suggested that Raymond's record was uninspiring, and pointed to no great difference between him and other young men. She told herself that he was misunderstood; she whispered to herself that she understood him. It must be so, for he had declared it. He had said that he was an idealist. As a matter of fact he did not himself know the meaning of the word half as well as Sabina.
He filled her thoughts, and believing him to be honourable, in the everyday acceptation of the word, she knew she was safe and need not fear him. This fact added to the joy and excitement of a situation that was merely thrilling, not difficult. For she had to be receptive only, and that was easy: the vital matter rested with him. She did not do anything to encourage him, or take any step that her friends could call "forward." She just left it to him and knew not how far he meant to go, yet felt, in sanguine moments, that he would go all the way, sooner or later, and offer to marry her. Her friends declared it would be so. They were mightily interested, but not jealous, for the girls recognised Sabina's advantages.
When, therefore, he asked her to take a walk on a certain Sunday afternoon, she agreed to do so. There was no plotting or planning about it. He named a familiar place of meeting and proposed to go thence to the cliffs—a ramble that might bring them face to face with a dozen people who knew them. She felt the happier for that. Nor could Sally Groves and her warning cast her down for long. The hint that Raymond was a gentleman and Sabina a spinner touched a point in their friendship long past. The girl knew that well enough; but she also knew what Sally did not, and told herself that Raymond was a great deal more than a gentleman, just as she—Sabina—was something more than a spinner. That, however, was the precious knowledge peculiar to the young people themselves. She could not expect Sally, or anybody else, to know it yet.
As for the young man, life had cut away from him most of his former interests and amusements. He was keeping regular hours and working steadily. He regarded himself as a martyr, yet could get none to take that view. To him, then, came his love affair as a very present help in time of trouble. The emotions awakened by Sabina were real, and he fully believed that she was going to be essential to his life's happiness and completion. He knew nothing about women, for his athletic pursuits and ambitions to excel physically produced an indifference to them. But with the change in his existence, and the void thereby created, came love, and he had leisure to welcome it. He magnified Sabina, and since her intellect was as good as his own and her education better, he assured himself that she was in every respect superior to her position and worthy of any man's admiration.
He did not analyse his feelings or look ahead very far. He did not bother to ask himself what he wanted. He was only concerned to make Sabina 'a chum,' as he said, to himself. He knew this to be nonsense, even while he said it, but in the excitement of the quest, chose to ignore rational lines of thought.
They met by the little bridge over Bride, then walked southerly up a hill to a hamlet, and so on to the heights. Beneath the sponge-coloured cliffs eastward swept the grand scythe of Chesil Bank; but an east wind had brought its garment of grey-blue haze and the extremity of the Bank, with Portland Bill beyond, was hidden. The cliffs gave presently and green slopes sank to the beaches. They reached a place where, separated from the sea by great pebble-ridges, there lay a little mere. Two swans swam together upon it, and round about the grey stone banks were washed with silver pink, where the thrift prospered.
Sabina had not talked much, though she proved a good listener; but Raymond spoke fitfully, too, at first. He was new to this sort of thing and told her so.
"I don't believe I've ever been for a walk with a girl in my life before," he said.
"I can't walk fast enough for you, I'm afraid."
"Oh yes, you can; you're a very good walker."
At last he began to tell her about himself, in the usual fashion of the male, who knows by instinct that subject is most interesting to both. He dwelt on his sporting triumphs of the past, and explained his trials and tribulations in the present. He represented that he was mewed up like an eagle. He described how the tragic call to work for a living had sounded in his ear when he anticipated no such painful experience. Before this narrative Sabina affected a deeper sympathy than she felt, yet honestly perceived that to such a man, his present life of regular hours must be dreary and desolate.
"It's terrible dull for you, I'm sure," she said.
"It was," he confessed, "but I'm getting broken in, or perhaps it's because you're so jolly friendly. You're the only person I know in the whole world who has got the mind and imagination to see what a frightful jar it was for an open-air man like me to be dropped into this. People think it is the most unnatural thing on earth that I should suddenly begin to work. But it's just as unnatural really as if my brother suddenly began to play. Even my great friend, Arthur Waldron, talks rubbish about everybody having to work sooner or later—not that he ever did. But you were quick enough to see in a moment. You're tremendously clever, really."
"I wish I was; but I saw, of course, that you were rather contemptuous of it all."
"So I was at first," he confessed. "At first I felt that it was a woman's show, and that what women can do well is no work for men. But I soon saw I was wrong. It increased my respect for women in a way. To find, for instance, that you could do what you do single-handed and make light of it; that was rather an eye-opener. Whenever any pal of mine talks twaddle about what women can't do, I shall bring him to see you at work."
"I could do something better than spin if I got the chance," she said, and he applauded the sentiment highly.
"Of course you could, and I'm glad you've got the pluck to say so. I knew that from the first. You're a lot too clever for spinning, really. You'd shine anywhere. Let's sit here under this thorn bush. I must get some rabbiting over this scrub. The place swarms with them. You don't mind if I smoke?"
They rested, and he ventured to make a personal remark after Sabina had taken off her gloves to cool her hands.
"You've hurt yourself," he said, noting what seemed to be an injury. But she made light of it.
"It's only a corn from stopping the spindles. Every spinner's hands are like that. Alice Chick has chilblains in winter, then she gets a cruel, bad hand."
The slight deformity made Raymond uncomfortable. He could not bear to think of a woman suffering such a stigma in her tender flesh.
"They ought to invent something to prevent you being hurt," he said, and Sabina laughed.
"Why, there are very few manual trades don't leave their mark," she answered, "and a woman's lucky to get nothing worse than a scarred hand."
"Would it come right," he ventured to ask, "if you gave up spinning?"
"Yes, in no time. There are worse things happen to you in the mills than that—and more painful. Sometimes the wind from the reels numbs your fingers till you can't feel 'em and they go red, and then blue. And there's always grumbling about the temperature, because what suits hemp and flax don't suit humans. If some clever man could solve these difficulties, it would be more comfortable for us. Not that I'm grumbling. Our mill is about as perfect as any mill can be, and we've got the blessing of living in the country, too—that's worth a lot."
"You're fond of the country."
"Couldn't live out of it," she said. "Thanks to Mr. Churchouse, I know more about things than some girls."
"I should think you did."
"He's very wise and kind and lends me books."
"A very nice old bird. I nearly went to live with him when I came to Bridetown. Sorry I didn't, now."
She smiled and did not pretend to miss the compliment.
"As to the Mill," he went on; "don't think I'm the sort of chap that just drifts and is contented to let things be as they were in the time of his father and grandfather."
"Certainly not. No doubt it's safer and easier and the line of least resistance and all that sort of thing. But when I've once mastered the business, you'll see. I didn't want to come in, but now I'm in, I'm going to the roots of it, and I shall have a pretty big say in things, too, later on."
"Fancy!" said Sabina.
"Oh yes. You mustn't suppose my brother and I see alike all round. We don't. He wants to be a copy of my father, and I've no ambition to be anything of the kind. My father wasn't at all sporting to me, Sabina, and it doesn't alter the fact because he's dead. The first thing is the workers, and whatever I am, I'm clever enough to know that if we don't do a good many things for the workers pretty soon, they'll do those things for themselves. But it will be a great deal more proper and breed a lot more goodwill between labour and capital, if capital takes the first step and improves the conditions and raises the wages all round. D'you know what I would do if I had my way? I'd go one better than the Trade Unions! I'd cut the ground from under their feet! I'd say to Capital 'instead of whining about the Trades Unions, get to work and make them needless.'"
But these gigantic ideas, uttered on the spur of the moment by one who knew less than nothing of his subject, did not interest Sabina as much as he expected. The reason, however, he did not know. It was that he had called her by her name for the first time. It slipped out without intention, though he was conscious of it as he spoke it; but he had no idea that it had greatly startled her and awoke mingled feelings of delight and doubt. She was delighted, because it meant her name must have been often in his thoughts, she was doubtful, because its argued perhaps a measure less of that respect he had always paid her. But, on the whole, she felt glad. He waited for her to speak and did not know that she had heard little, but was wondering at that moment if he would go back to the formal 'Miss Dinnett' again, or always call her 'Sabina' in future.
After a pause Raymond spoke.
"Now tell me about yourself," he said. "I'm sure you've heard enough about me."
"There's nothing to tell."
"How did you happen to be a spinner?"
"Mother was, so I went into it as a matter of course."
"I should have thought old Churchouse would have seen you're a genius, and educated you and adopted you."
"Nothing of a genius about me. I'm like most other girls."
"I never saw another girl like you," he said.
"You'd spoil anybody with your compliments."
"Never paid a compliment in my life," he declared.
Their conversation became desultory, and presently Sabina said she must be going home.
"Mother will be wondering."
On the way back they met another familiar pair and Sabina speculated as to what Raymond thought; but he showed no emotion and took off his hat to Sarah Northover and Nicholas Roberts, the lathe worker, as they passed by. Sarah smiled, and Nicholas, a thin, good-looking man, took off his hat also.
"I must go and study the lathes," said Raymond after they had passed. "That's a branch of the work I haven't looked at yet. Roberts seems a good chap, and he's a very useful bowler, I find."
"He's engaged to Sarah; they're going to be married when he can get a house."
"That's another thing that must be looked to. There are scores of cottages that want pulling down here. I shall point that out to the Lord of the Manor when I get a chance."
"You're all for changes and improvements, Mister Ironsyde."
"Call me Raymond, Sabina."
"I couldn't do that."
"Why not? I want you to. By the way, may I call you Sabina?"
"Yes, if you care to."
They parted at the entrance gate of 'The Magnolias,' and Raymond thanked her very heartily for her company.
"I've looked forward to this," he said. "And now I shall look forward to the next time. It's very sporting of you to come and I'm tremendously grateful and—good-bye, Sabina—till to-morrow."
He went on up the road to North Hill House and felt the evening had grown tasteless without her. He counted the hours to when he would see her again. She went to work at seven o'clock, but he never appeared at the Mill until ten, or later.
He began to see that this was the most serious thing within his experience. He supposed that it must be enduring and tend to alter the whole tenor of his life. Marriage was one of the stock jokes in his circle, yet, having regard for Sabina, this meant marriage or nothing. He felt ill at ease, for love had not yet taken the bit and run away with him. Other interests cried out to him—interests that he would have to give up. He tried to treat the matter as a joke with himself, but he could not. He felt melancholy, and that night at supper Waldron asked what was wrong, while Estelle told him he must be ill, because he was so dull.
"I don't believe the spinning works are good for you," she said.
"Ask for a holiday and distract your mind with other things," suggested Waldron. "If you'd come out in the mornings and ride for a couple of hours before breakfast, as I do, you'd be all right."
"I will," promised Raymond. "I want bucking up."
He pictured Sabina on horseback.
"I wish to God I was rich instead of being a pauper!" he exclaimed.
"My advice is that you stick it out for a year or more, till you've convinced your brother you'll never be any good at spinning," said Arthur Waldron. "Then, after he knows you're not frightened of work, but, of course, can't excel at work that isn't congenial, he'll put money into your hands for a higher purpose, and you will go into breeding stock, or some such thing, to help keep up the sporting instincts of the country."
With that bright picture still before him Raymond retired. But he was not hopeful and even vague suggestions on Waldron's part that his friend should become his bailiff and study agriculture did not serve to win from the sufferer more than thanks. The truth he did not mention, knowing that neither Waldron, nor anybody else, would offer palatable counsel in connection with that.
Daniel Ironsyde sat with his Aunt Jenny after dinner and voiced discontent. But it was not with himself and his personal progress that he felt out of tune. All went well at the Mill save in one particular, and he found no fault either with the heads of the offices at Bridport, or with John Best, who entirely controlled the manufacture at Bridetown. His brother caused the tribulation of his mind.
Miss Ironsyde sympathised, but argued for Raymond.
"He has an immense respect for you and would not willingly do anything to annoy you, I'm sure of that. You must remember that Raymond was not schooled to this. It takes a boy of his temperament a long time to find the yoke easy. You were naturally studious, and wise enough to get into harness after you left school; Raymond, with his extraordinary physical powers, found the fascination of sport over-mastering. He has had to give up what to your better understanding is trivial and unimportant, but it really meant something to him."
"He hasn't given up as much as you might think," answered Daniel. "He's always taking holidays now for cricket matches, and he rides often with Waldron. It was a mistake his going there. Waldron is a person with one idea, and a foolish idea at that. He only thinks a man is a man when he's tearing about after foxes, or killing something, or playing with a ball of some sort. He's a bad influence for Raymond. But it's not that. It's not so much what Raymond doesn't do as what he does do. He's foolish with the spinners and minders at the Mill."
"He might be," said Jenny Ironsyde, "but he's a gentleman."
"He's an idiot. I believe he'd wreck the whole business if he had the power. Best tells me he talks to the girls about what he's going to do presently, and tells them he will raise all their wages. He suggests to perfectly satisfied people that they are not getting enough money! Well, it's only human nature for them to agree with him, and you can easily see what the result of that would be. Instead of having the hands willing and contented, they'll grow unsettled and grumble, and then work will suffer and a bad spirit appear in the Mill. It is simply insane."
"I quite agree," answered his aunt. "There's no excuse whatever for nonsense of that sort, and if Raymond minded his own business, as he should, it couldn't happen. Surely his own work doesn't throw him into the company of the girls?"
"Of course it doesn't. It's simply a silly excuse to waste his time and hear his own voice. He ought to have learned all about the mechanical part weeks ago."
"Well, I can only advise patience," said Miss Ironsyde. "I don't suppose a woman would carry much weight with him, an old one I mean—myself in fact. But failing others I will do what I can. You say Mr. Waldron's no good. Then try Uncle Ernest. I think he might touch Raymond. He's gentle, but he's wise. And failing that, you must tackle him yourself, Daniel. It's your duty. I know you hate preaching and all that sort of thing, but there's nobody else."
"I suppose there isn't. It can't go on anyway, because he'll do harm. I believe asses like Raymond make more trouble than right down wicked people, Aunt Jenny."
"Don't tell him he's an ass. Be patient—you're wonderfully patient always for such a young man, so be patient with your brother. But try Uncle Ernest first. He might ask Raymond to lunch, or tea, and give him a serious talking to. He'll know what to say."
"He's too mild and easy. It will go in at one ear and come out of the other," prophesied Daniel.
But none the less he called on Mr. Churchouse when next at Bridetown.
The old man had just received a parcel by post and was elated.
"A most interesting work sent to me from 'A Well Wisher,'" he said. "It is an old perambulation of Dorsetshire, which I have long desired to possess."
"People like your writings in the Bridport Gazette," declared Daniel. "Can you give me a few minutes, Uncle Ernest? I won't keep you."
"My time is always at the service of Henry Ironsyde's boys," answered the other, "and nothing that I can do for you, or Raymond, is a trouble."
"Thank you. I'm grateful. It is about Raymond, as a matter of fact."
"Ah, I'm not altogether surprised. Come into the study."
Mr. Churchouse, carrying his new book, led the way and soon he heard of the younger man's anxieties. But the bookworm increased rather than allayed them.
"Do you see anything of Raymond?" began Daniel.
"A great deal of him. He often comes to supper. But I will be frank. He does not patronise my simple board for what he can get there, nor does he find my company very exciting. He wouldn't. The attraction, I'm afraid, is my housekeeper's daughter, Sabina. Sabina, I may tell you, is a very attractive girl, Daniel. It has been my pleasure during her youth to assist at her education, and she is well informed and naturally clever. She is inclined to be excitable, as many clever people are, but she is of a charming disposition and has great natural ability. I had thought she would very likely become a schoolmistress; but in this place the call of the mills is paramount and, as you know, the young women generally follow their mothers. So Sabina found the thought of the spinning attractive and is now, Mr. Best tells me, an amazingly clever spinner—his very first in fact. And it cannot be denied that Raymond sees a good deal of her. This is probably not wise, because friendship, at their tender ages, will often run into emotion, and, naturally flattered by his ingenuous attentions, Sabina might permit herself to spin dreams and so lessen her activities as a spinner of yarn. I say she might. These things mean more to a girl than a boy."
"What can I do about it? I was going to ask you to talk sense to Raymond."
"With all the will, I am not the man, I fear. Sense varies so much from the standpoint of the observer, my dear Daniel. You, for example, having an old head on young shoulders, would find yourself in agreement with my sentiments; Raymond, having a young and rather empty head on his magnificent shoulders, would not. I take the situation to be this. Raymond's life has been suddenly changed and his prodigious physical activities reduced. He bursts with life. He is more alive than any youth I have ever known. Now all this exuberance of nature must have an outlet, and what more natural than that, in the presence of such an attractive young woman, the sex instinct should begin to assert itself?"
"You don't mean he is in love, or anything like that?"
"That is just exactly what I do mean," answered Mr. Churchouse.
"I thought he probably liked to chatter to them all, and hear his own voice, and talk rubbish about what he'll do for them in the future."
"He has nebulous ideas about wages and so on; but women are quicker than men, and probably they understand perfectly well that he doesn't know what he's talking about so far as that goes. How would it be if you took him into the office at Bridport, where he would be more under your eye?"
"He must learn the business first and nobody can teach him like Best."
"Then I advise that you talk to him yourself. Don't let the fact that you are only a year and three months older than Raymond make you too tolerant. You are really ten, or twenty, years older than he is in certain directions, and you must lecture him accordingly. Be firm; be decisive. Explain to him that life is real and that he must approach it with the same degree of earnestness and self-discipline as he devotes to running and playing games and the like. I feel sure you will carry great weight. He is far from being a fool. In fact he is a very intelligent young man with excellent brains, and if he would devote them to the business, you would soon find him your right hand. The machinery does honestly interest him. But you must make it a personal thing. He must study political economy and the value of labour and its relations to capital and the market value of dry spun yarns. These vague ideas to better the lot of the working classes are wholly admirable and speak of a good heart. But you must get him to listen to reason and the laws of supply and demand and so forth."
"What shall I say about the girls?"
"It is not so much the girls as the girl. If he had manifested a general interest in them, you need have said nothing; but, with the purest good will to Raymond and a great personal affection for Sabina, I do feel that this friendship is not desirable. Don't think I am cynical and worldly and take too low a view of human nature—far from it, my dear boy. Nothing would ever make me take a low view of human nature. But one has not lived for sixty years with one's eyes shut. Unhappy things occur and Nature is especially dangerous when you find her busy with such natural creatures as your brother and Sabina. A word to the wise. I would speak, but you will do so with far greater weight."
"I hate preaching and making Raymond think I'm a prig and all that sort of thing. It only hardens him against me."
"He knows better. At any rate try persuasion. He has a remarkably good temper and a child could lead him. In fact a child sometimes does. He'd do anything for Waldron's little girl. Just say you admire and share his ambitions for the welfare of the workers. Hint at supply and demand; then explain that all must go according to fixed laws, and amelioration is a question of time and combination, and so on. Then tackle him fearlessly about Sabina and appeal to his highest instincts. I, too, in my diplomatic way will approach him with modern instances. Unfortunately it is only too easy to find modern instances of what romance may end in. And to say that modern instances are exceedingly like ancient ones, is merely to say, that human nature doesn't change."
Fired by this advice, Daniel went straight to the works, and it was about eleven o'clock in the day when he entered his brother's office above the Mill—to find it empty.
Descending to the main shop, he discovered Raymond showing a visitor round the machines. Little Estelle Waldron was paying her first visit to the spinners and, delighted at the distraction, Raymond, on whose invitation she had come, displayed all the operation of turning flax and hemp into yarn. He aired his knowledge, but it was incomplete and he referred constantly to the operators from stage to stage.
Round-eyed and attentive, Estelle poured her whole heart and soul into the business. She showed a quick perception and asked questions that interested the girls. Some, indeed, they could not answer. Estelle's mind approached their work from a new angle and saw in it mysteries and points calling for solution that had never challenged them. Neither had her problems much struck Raymond, but he saw their force when she raised them and pronounced them most important.
"Why, that's fundamental, really," he said, "and yet, be shot, if I ever thought of it! Only Best will know and I shouldn't be surprised if he doesn't."
They stood at the First Drawing Frame when Daniel appeared. They had followed the flat ribbon of sliver from the Carding Machine. At the Drawing Frame six ribbons from the Carder were all brought together into one ribbon and so gained in quality, while losing more impurities during a second severe process of combing out.
"And even now it's not ready for spinning," explained Raymond. "Now it goes on to the Second Drawing Frame, and four of these ribbons from the First Drawer are brought together into one ribbon again. So you see that no less than twenty-four ribbons from the Carder are brought together to make stuff good enough to spin."
"What do the Drawing Frames do to it?" asked Estelle; "it looks just the same."
"Blessed if I know," confessed Raymond. "What do they do to it, Mrs. Chick?"
A venerable old woman, whose simple task was to wind away the flowing sliver into cans, made answer. She was clad in a dun overall and had a dim scarlet cap of worsted drawn over her white hair. The remains of beauty homed in her brown and wrinkled face; her grey eyes were gentle, and her expression wistful and kindly.
"The Drawing Heads level the 'sliver,' and true it, and make it good," she said. "All the rubbish is dragged out on the teeth and now, though it seems thinner and weaker, it isn't really. Now it goes to the Roving Frame and that makes it still better and ready for the spinners."
Then came Daniel, and Raymond, leaving Estelle with Mrs. Chick, departed at his brother's wish. The younger anticipated trouble and began to excuse himself.
"Waldron's so jolly friendly that I thought you wouldn't mind if I showed his little girl round the works. She's tremendously clever and intelligent."
"Of course I don't mind. That's nothing, but I want to speak to you on the general question. I do wish, Raymond, you'd be more dignified."
"Dignified! Me? Good Lord!"
"Well, if you don't like that word, say 'self-respecting.' You might take longer views and look ahead."
"You may bet your boots I do that, Dan. This life isn't so delightful that I am content to live in the present hour, I assure you. I look ahead all right."
"I mean look ahead for the sake of the business, not for your own sake. I don't want to preach, or any nonsense of that kind; but there's nobody else to speak, so I must. The point is that you don't see in the least what you are doing here. In the future my idea was—and yours, too, I suppose—that you came into the business as joint partner with me in everything."
"Jolly sporting of you, Dan."
"But that being so, can't you see you ought to support me in everything?"
"No, you don't. You're not taking the right line in the least, and what's more, I believe you know it yourself. Don't think I'm selfish and careless about our people, or indifferent to their needs and rights. I'm quite as keen about their welfare as you are; but one can't do everything in a moment. And you're not helping them and only hindering me by talking a lot of rubbish to them."
"It isn't rubbish, Dan. I had all the facts from Levi Baggs, the hackler. He understands the claims of capital and what labour is entitled to, and all the rest of it."
"Baggs is a sour, one-sided man and will only give you a biased and wrong view. If you want to know the truth, you can come into Bridport and study it. Then you'll see exactly what things are worth, and what we get paid in open market for our goods. All you do by listening to Levi is to waste your time and waste his. And then you wander about among the women talking nonsense. And remember this: they know it's nonsense. They understand the question very much better than you do, and instead of respecting you, as they ought to respect a future master, they only laugh at you behind your back. And what will the result be? Why, when you come to have a voice in the thing, they'll remind you of all your big talk. And then you've got to climb down and they'll not respect you, or take you seriously."
"All right, old chap—enough said. Only you needn't think the people wouldn't respect me. I get on jolly well with them as a matter of fact. And I do look ahead—perhaps further than you do. I certainly wouldn't promise anything I wouldn't try to perform. In fact, I'm very keen about them. And I believe if we scrapped all the machinery and got new—"
"When you've mastered the present machinery, it will be time to talk about scrapping it," answered Daniel. "People are always shouting out for new things, and when they get them—and sacrifice a year's profits very likely in doing so—often the first thing they hear from the operatives is, that the old machinery was much better. Our father always liked to see other firms make the experiments."
"That's the way to get left, if you ask me."
"I don't ask you," answered the master. "I'm telling you, Raymond; and you ought to remember that I very well know what I'm talking about and you don't. You must give me some credit. To question me is to question our father, for I learned everything from him."
"But times change. You don't want to be left high and dry in the march of progress, my dear chap."
"No—you needn't fear that. If you're young, you're a part of progress; you belong to it. But you must get a general knowledge of the present situation in our trade before you can do anything rational in the shape of progress. I've been left a very fine business with a very honoured name to keep up, and if I begin trying to run before I can walk, I should very soon fall down. You must see that."
"Yes, that's all right. I'm a learner and I know you can teach me a lot."
"If you'd come to me instead of to the mill people."
"You don't know their side."
"Much better than you do. I've talked with our father often and often about it. He was no tyrant and nobody could ever accuse him of injustice."
Raymond flashed; but he kept his mouth shut on that theme. The only bitter quarrels between the brothers had been on the subject of their father, and the younger knew that the ground was dangerous. At this moment the last thing he desired was any difference with Daniel.
"I'll keep it all in mind, Dan. I don't want to do anything to annoy you, God knows. Is there any more? I must go and look after young Estelle."
"Only one thing; and this is purely personal, and so I hope you'll excuse me. I've just been seeing Uncle Ernest, and nobody wished us better fortune than he does."
"He's a good old boy. I've learned a lot about spinning from him."
"I know. But—look here, Raymond, I do beg of you—I implore of you not to be too friendly with Sabina Dinnett. You can't think how I should hate anything like that. It isn't fair—it isn't fair to the woman, or to me, or to the family. You must see yourself that sort of thing isn't right. She's a very good girl—our champion spinner Best says; and if you go distracting her and taking her out of her station, you are doing her a very cruel turn and upsetting her peace of mind. And the others will be jealous, of course, and so it will go on. It isn't playing the game—it really isn't. That's all. I know you're a sportsman and all that; so I do beg you'll be a sportsman in business too, and take a proper line and remember your obligations. And if I've said a harsh, or unfair word, I'm sorry for it; but you know I haven't."
Seeing that Sabina Dinnett was now in paramount and triumphant possession of Raymond's mind, he felt thankful that his brother, by running on over this subject and concluding upon the whole question, had saved him the necessity for any direct reply. Whether he would have lied or no concerning Sabina, Raymond did not stop to consider. There is little doubt that he would. But the need was escaped; and so thankful did he feel, that he responded to the admonishment in a tone more complete and with promises more comprehensive than Daniel expected.
"You're dead right. Of course I know it! I've been a silly fool all round. But I won't open my mouth so wide in future, Dan. And don't think I'm wasting my time. I'm working like the devil, really, and learning everything from the beginning. Best will tell you that's true. He's a splendid teacher and I'll see more of him in future. And I'll read all about yarn and get the hang of the markets, and so on."
"Thank you—you can't say more. And you might come into Bridport oftener, I think. Aunt Jenny was saying she never sees you now."
"I will," promised Raymond. "I'm going to dine with you both on my birthday. I believe she'll be good for fifty quid this year. Father left her a legacy of a thousand."
They parted, and Raymond returned to Estelle, who was now watching the warping, while Daniel went into his foreman's office.
Estelle was radiant. She had fallen in love with the works.
"The girls are all so kind and clever," she said.
"Rather so. I expect you know all about everything now."
"Hardly anything yet. But you must let me come again. I do want to know all about it. It is splendidly interesting."
"Of course, come and go when you like, kiddy."
"And I'm going to ask some of them to tea with me," declared Estelle. "They all love flowers, and I'm going to show them our garden and my pets. I've asked seven of them and two men."
"Ask me, too."
She brought out a piece of paper and showed him that she had written down nine names.
"And if they like it, they'll tell the others and I shall ask them too," she said. "Father is always wanting me to spend money, so now I'll spend some on a beautiful tea."
Raymond saw the name of Sabina Dinnett.
"I'll be there to help you," he promised.
"Nicholas Roberts is the lover of Miss Northover," explained Estelle, "and Benny Cogle is the lover of Miss Gale. That's why I asked them. I very nearly went back and asked Mister Baggs to come, because he seems a silent, sad man; but I was rather frightened of him."
"Don't ask him; he's an old bear," declared Raymond.
Thus, forgetting his brother as though Daniel had ceased to exist, he threw himself into Estelle's enterprise and planned an entertainment that must at least have rendered the master uneasy.
Arthur Waldron did more than love his daughter. He bore to her almost a superstitious reverence, as for one made of superior flesh and blood. He held her in some sort a reincarnation of his wife and took no credit for her cleverness himself. Yet he did not spoil her, for her nature was proof against that.
Estelle, though old for her age, could not be called a prig. She developed an abstract interest in life as her intellect unfolded to accept its wonders and mysteries, yet she remained young in mind as well as body, and was always very glad to meet others of her own age. The mill girls were indeed older than she, but Mr. Waldron's daughter found their minds as young as her own in such subjects as interested her, though there were many things hidden from her that life had taught them.
Her father never doubted Estelle's judgment or crossed her wishes. Therefore he approved of the proposed party and did his best to make it a success. Others also were glad to aid Estelle and, to her delight, Ernest Churchouse, with whom she was in favour, yielded to entreaty and joined the company on the lawn of North Hill House. Tea was served out of doors, and to it there came nine workers from the mill, and two of Mr. Best's own girls, who were friends of Estelle. Nicholas Roberts arrived with his future wife, Sarah Northover; Sabina Dinnett came with Nancy Buckler and Sally Groves from the Carding Machine, while Alice Chick brought old Mrs. Chick; Mercy Gale came too—a fair, florid girl, who warped the yarn when it was spun.
Mr. Waldron was not a ladies' man, and after helping with the tea, served under a big mulberry tree in the garden, he turned his attention to Mr. Roberts, already known favourably to him as a cricketer, and Benny Cogle, the engine man. They departed to look at a litter of puppies and the others perambulated the gardens. Estelle had a plot of her own, where grew roses, and here, presently, each with a rose at her breast, the girls sat about on an old stone seat and listened to Mr. Churchouse discourse on the lore of their trade.
Some, indeed, were bored by the subject and stole away to play beside a fountain and lily pond, where the gold fish were tame and crowded to their hands for food; but others listened and learned surprising facts that set the thoughtful girls wondering.
"You mustn't think, you spinners, that you are the last word in spinning," he said; "no, Alice and Nancy and Sabina, you're not; no more are those at other mills, who spin in choicer materials than flax and hemp—I mean the workers in cotton and silk. For the law of things in general, called evolution, seems to stand still when machinery comes to increase output and confuse our ideas of quality and quantity. Missis Chick here will tell you, when she was a spinner and the old rope walks were not things of the past, that she spun quite as good yarn from the bundle of tow at her waist as you do from the regulation spinners."
"And better," said Mrs. Chick.
"I believe you," declared Ernest, "and before your time the yarn was better still. For, though some of the best brains in men's heads have been devoted to the subject, we go backwards instead of forwards, and things have been done in spinning that I believe will never be done again. In fact, the further you go back, the better the yarn seems to have been, and I'm sure I don't know how the laws of evolution can explain that. The secret is this: machinery, for all its marvellous improvements, lags far behind the human hand, and the record yarns were spun in the East, while our forefathers still went about in wolf-skins and painted their faces blue. You may laugh, but it is so."
"Tell us about them, Mister Churchouse," begged Estelle.
"For the moment we needn't go back so far," he said. "I'll remind you what a girl thirteen years old did in Ireland a hundred years ago. Only thirteen was Catherine Woods—mark that, Sabina and Alice—but she was a genius who lived in Dunmore, County Down, and she spun a hank of linen yarn of such tenuity that it would have taken seven hundred such hanks to make a pound of yarn."
He turned to Estelle.
"Sabina and the other spinners will appreciate this," he said, "but to explain the marvel of such spider-like spinning, Estelle, I may tell you that seventeen and a half pounds of Catherine's yarn would have sufficed to stretch round the equator of the earth. No machine-spun yarn has ever come within measurable distance of this astounding feat, and I have never heard of any spinner in Europe or America equalling it; yet even this has been beaten when we were painting our noses blue."
"Where?" asked Estelle breathlessly.
"In the land of all wonders: Egypt. Herodotus tells us of a linen corselet, presented to the Lacedemonians by King Amasis, each thread of which commanded admiration, for though very fine, each was twisted of three hundred and sixty others! And if you decline to believe this—"
"Oh, Mister Churchouse, we quite believe it I'm sure, sir, if you say so," interrupted Mrs. Chick.
"Well, a later authority, Sir Gardiner Wilkinson, tells us of equal wonders. The linen which he unwound from Egyptian mummies has proved as delicate as silk, and equal, if not superior, to our best cambrics. Five hundred and forty threads went to the warp and a hundred and ten to the weft; and I'm sure a modern weaver would wonder how they could produce quills fine enough for weaving such yarn through."
"There's nothing new under the sun, seemingly," said old Mrs. Chick.
"Indeed there isn't, my dear, and so, perhaps, in the time to come, we shall spin again as well as the Egyptians five or six thousand years ago," declared Ernest.
"And even then the spiders will always beat us I expect," said Estelle.
"True—true, child; nor has man learned the secret, of the caterpillar's silken spinning. Talking of caterpillars, you may, or may not, have observed—"
It was at this point that Raymond, behind the speaker's back, beckoned Sabina, and presently, as Mr. Churchouse began to expatiate on Nature's spinning, she slipped away. The garden was large and held many winding paths and secluded nooks. Thus the lovers were able to hide themselves from other eyes and amuse themselves with their own conversation.
Sabina praised Estelle.
"She's a dear little lady and ever so clever, I'm sure."
"So she is, and yet she loses a lot. Though her father's such a great sportsman, she doesn't care a button about it. Wouldn't ride on a pony even."
"I can very well understand that. Nor would I if I had the chance."
"You're different, Sabina. You've not been brought up in a sporting family. All the same you'd ride jolly well, because you've got nerve enough for anything and a perfect figure for riding. You'd look fairly lovely on horseback."
"Whatever will you say next?"
"I often wonder myself," he answered. "This much I'll say any way: it's meat and drink to me to be walking here with you. I only wish I was clever and could really amuse you and make you want to see me, sometimes. But the things I understand, of course, bore you to tears."
"You know very well that isn't so," she said. "You've told me heaps of things well worth knowing—things I should never have heard of but for you. And—and I'm sure I'm very proud of your friendship."
"Good Lord! It's the other way about. Thanks to Mister Churchouse and your own wits, you are fearfully well read, and your cleverness fairly staggers me. Just to hear you talk is all I want—at least that isn't all. Of course, it is a great score for an everyday sort of chap like me to have interested you."
Sabina did not answer and after a silence which drew out into awkwardness, she made some remark on the flowers. But Raymond was not interested about the flowers. He had looked forward to this occasion as an opportunity of exceptional value and now strove to improve the shining hour.
"You know I'm a most unlucky beggar really, Sabina. You mightn't think it, but I am. You see me cheerful, and joking and trying to make things pleasant for us all at the works; but sometimes, if you could see me tramping alone over North Hill, or walking on the beach and looking at the seagulls, you'd be sorry for me."
"Of course, I'd be sorry for you—if there was anything to be sorry for."
"Look at it. An open-air man brought up to think my father would leave me all right, and then cut off with nothing and forced to come here and stew and toil and wear myself out struggling with a most difficult business—difficult to me, any way."
"I'm sure you're mastering it as quickly as possible."
"But the effort. And my muscles are shrinking and I'm losing weight. But, of course, that's nothing to anybody but myself. And then, another side: I want to think of you people first and raise your salaries and so on—especially yours, for you ought to have pounds where you have shillings. And my wishes to do proper things, in the line of modern progress and all that, are turned down by my brother. Here am I thinking about you and worrying and knowing it's all wrong—and there's nobody on my side—not a damned person. And it makes me fairly mad."
"I'm sure it's splendid of you to look at the Mill in such a high-minded way," declared Sabina. "And now you've told me, I shall understand what's in your mind. I'm sure I thank you for the thought at any rate."
"If you'd only be my friend," he said.
"It would be a great honour for a girl—just a spinner—to be that."
"The honour is for me. You've got such tons of mind, Sabina. You understand all the economical side, and so on."
"A thing is only worth what it will fetch, I'm afraid."
"That's the point. If you would help me, we would go into it and presently, when I'm a partner, we could bring out a scheme; and then you'd know you'd been instrumental in raising the tone of the whole works. And probably, if we set a good example, other works would raise their tone, too, and gradually the workers would find the whole scheme of things changing, to their advantage."
Sabina regarded this majestic vision with due reverence. She praised his ideals and honestly believed him a hero.
They discussed the subject while the dusk came down and he prophesied great things.
"We shall live to see it," he assured her, "and it may be largely thanks to you. And when you have a home of your own and—and—"
It was then that she became conscious of his very near presence and the dying light.
"They'll all have gone, and so must I," she said, "and I hope you'll thank Miss Waldron dearly for her nice party."
"This is only the first; she'll give dozens more now that this has been such a success. She loves the Mill. If you come this way I can let you out by the bottom gate—by the bamboo garden. You've bucked me up like anything—you always do. You're the best thing in my life, Sabina. Oh, if I was anything to you—if—but of course it's all one way."
His voice shook a little. He burned to put his arms round her, and Nature shouted so loud in his humming ears that he hardly heard her answer. For she echoed his emotion.
"What can I say to that? You're so kind—you don't know how kind. You can't guess what such friendship means to a girl like me. It's something that doesn't come into our lives very often. I'm only wondering what the world will be like when you've gone again."
"I shan't go—I'm never going. Never, Sabina. I—I couldn't live without you. Kiss me, for God's sake. I must kiss you—I must—or I shall go mad."
His arms were round her and he felt her hot cheek against his. They were young in love and dared not look into each other's eyes. But she kissed him back, and then, as he released her, she ran away, slipped through the wicket, where they stood and hastened off by the lane to Bridetown. He glowed at her touch and panted at his triumph. She had not rebuked him, but let him see that she loved him and kissed him for his kiss. He did not attempt to follow her then but turned full of glory. Here was a thing that dwarfed every interest of life and made life itself a triviality by comparison. She loved him; he had won her; nothing else that would be, or had been, in the whole world mattered beside such a triumph. His head had touched the stars.
And he felt amazingly grateful to her. His thoughts for the moment were full of chivalry. Her life must be translated to higher terms and new values. She should have the best that the world could offer, and he would win it for her. Her trust was so pathetic and beautiful. To be trusted by her made him feel a finer thing and more important to the cosmic scheme.
In itself this was a notable sensation and an addition of power, for nobody had ever trusted him until now. And here was a radiant creature, the most beautiful in the world, who trusted him with herself. His love brought a sense of splendour; her love brought a sense of strength.
He swung back to the house feeling in him such mastery as might bend the whole earth to his purposes, take Leviathan with a hook, and hang the constellations in new signs upon the void of heaven.
Sarah Northover and another young woman were tending the Spread Board. To this came the 'long line' from the hackler—those strides of amber hemp and lint-white flax that Mr. Baggs prepared in the hackler's shop. The Spread Board worked upon the long line as the Carder on the tow. Over its endless leathern platform, or spreading carriage, the long fibre was drawn into the toothed gills of the machine and converted into sliver for the Drawing Frames.
With swift and rhythmic flinging apart of her arms over her head, Sarah separated the stricks into three and laid them overlapping on the carriage. The ribbon thus created was never-ending and wound away into the torture chambers of wheels and teeth within, while from the rear of the Spreader trickled out the new-created sliver. Great scales hung beside Sarah and from time to time she weighed fresh loads of long line and recorded the amount.
Her arms flashed upwards, the divided stricks came down to be laid in rotation on the running carriage, and ceaselessly she and her fellow worker chattered despite the din around them.
"My Aunt Nelly's coming to see me this morning," said Sarah. "She's driving over to talk to Mister Waldron about his apple orchard and have a look round. Last year she bought the whole orchard for cider; and if she thinks well of it, she'll do the same this year."
"I wonder you stop here," answered the other girl, "when you might go to your aunt and work in her public-house. I'd a long sight sooner be there than here."
"You wouldn't if you was engaged to Mister Roberts," answered Sarah. "Of course seeing him every day makes all the difference. And as to work, there's nothing in it, for everybody's got to work at 'The Seven Stars,' I can tell you, and the work's never done there."
"It's the company I should like," declared the other. "I'd give a lot to see new people every day. In a public they come and go, before you've got time to be sick of the sight of 'em. But here, you see the same people and hear the same voices every day of your blessed life; and sometimes it makes me feel right down wicked."
"It's narrowing to the mind I dare say, unless you've got a man like Mister Roberts with a lot of general ideas," admitted Sarah. "But you know very well for that matter you could have a man to-morrow. Benny Cogle's mate is daft for you."
The other sniffed.
"It's very certain he ain't got no general ideas, beyond the steam engine. He can only talk about the water wheel to-day and the boilers to-morrow. When I find a chap, he'll have to know a powerful lot more about life than that chap—and shave himself oftener also."
"He'd shave every day if you took him, same as Mister Roberts does," said Sarah.
Elsewhere Mr. Best was starting a run of the Gill Spinner, a machine which took sliver straight from the Drawing Frames and spun it into a large coarse yarn. A novice watched him get the great machine to work, make all ready and then, at a touch, connect it with the power and set it crashing and roaring. Its voice was distinctive and might be heard by a practised ear above the prevailing thunder.
Then came Mrs. Nelly Northover to this unfamiliar scene, peeped in at a door or two and failed to see Sarah, who laboured at the other end of the Mill. But the hostess of 'The Seven Stars' knew Sabina Dinnett and now shook hands with her and then stood and watched in bewildered admiration before a big frame of a hundred spindles.
Sabina was spinning with a heart very full of happiness. On the previous evening she had promised to wed Raymond Ironsyde, and her thoughts to-day were winged with over-mastering joy. For life had turned into a glorious triumph; the man who had asked her to marry him was not only a gentleman, but far above the power of any wrong-doing. She knew in the very secret places of her soul, that he could never act away from his honest and noble character; that he was a knight above reproach, incapable of wronging any living thing. There was an element of risk for most girls who fell in love with those better born than themselves; but none for her. Other men might deceive and abuse, and suffer outer influences to chill their love, when the secret of it became known; but not this man. His rare nature had been revealed to her; he desired the welfare of all people; he was moved with nothing but the purest principles and loftiest feeling. He would not willingly have brought sorrow to a child. And she had won this unique spirit! He loved her with the love that only such a man was great enough to show; and she echoed it and knew that such a passion must be unchanging, everlasting, built not only to make their united lives unspeakably happy and gloriously content, but to run over also into the lives of others, less blessed, and leave the sad world happier for their happiness. There was not a cloud in the sky of her romance and she shared with him for the moment the joy of secrecy. But that would not be long. They had determined to hug their delicious knowledge for a little while and then proclaim the great tidings to the world.
So she followed the old road, along which her sisters had tramped from immemorial time, and would still tramp through the generations to come, when her journey was ended and the wonderful country of man's love explored—its oases visited, its antres endured.
Now Sabina played priestess to the Spinning Machine—a monster reared above her, stupendous and insatiable.
Along the summit of the Spinning Frame, just within reach of tall Sabina's uplifted hand, there perched a row of reels from which the finished material descended through series of rollers. The retaining roller aloft gave it to the steel delivery roller which drew the thin, sad-looking stuff with increased speed downward. And here at its moment of most shivering tenuity, when the perfected and purified material seemed reduced to an extremity of weakness, came the magic change. Unseen in the whirring complexity of the spinner, it received the momentous gift that translates fibre to yarn. In a moment it changed from stuff a baby's finger could break to thread capable of supporting fifteen pounds of pressure. For now came the twist—that word of mighty significance—and the tiny thread of new-born yarn descended to the spindle, vanished in the whirl of the flier and reappeared, an accomplished miracle, winding on the bobbin beneath.
Upon the spindle revolved the flier—a fork of steel with guide eye at one leg of the fork—and through the guide eye came the twisted yarn to wind on the bobbin below. There, as the bobbin frame rose and fell, the thread was perfectly delivered to the reel and coiled off layer by layer upon it.
Mrs. Northover stared to see the nature of a Spinner's duties and the ease with which she controlled the great, pulsing, roaring frame of a hundred spindles. Sabina's eyes were everywhere; her hands were never still; her feet seemed to dance a measure to the thunder of the Frame. Now she marked a roving reel aloft that was running out, and in a moment she had broken the sliver, swept away the empty reel and hung up a full one. Then she drew the new sliver down to the point of the break and, in a moment, the two merged and the thread ran on. Now her fingers touched the spindles, as a musician touches the keys, and at a moment's pressure the machine obeyed and the yarn flew on its way obedient. Now she cleared a snarl, or catch, where a spindle appeared to have run amuck or created hopeless confusion; now she readjusted the weights that kept a drag on the humming bobbins. Her twinkling hands touched and calmed and fed the monster. She knew its whims, corrected its errors, brought to her insensate machine the complement of brain that made it trustworthy. And when the bobbins were all full, she hastened along the Frame, turned off the driving power and silenced the huge activity in a moment. Then, like lightning, she cut her hundred threads and lifted the bobbins from their spindles until she had a pile upon her shoulder. In a marvellously short time she had doffed the bobbins and set up a hundred empty ones. Then the cut threads were readjusted, the power turned on and all was motion again.
Sabina had never calculated her labours, until Raymond took the trouble to do so; then she learned a fact that astonished her. He found that it took a hundred and fifty minutes to spin one thousand and fifty yards; and as each spindle spun two and a half miles in ten hours, her daily accomplishment was two hundred and fifty miles of yarn.
"You spin from seventy to eighty thousand miles of single yarn a year," he told her, and the fact expressed in these terms amazed her and her sister spinners.
Now Nelly Northover praised the performance.
"To think that you slips of girls can do anything so wonderful!" she said. "We talk of the spinners of Bridport as if they were nobodies; but upon my conscience, Sabina, I never will again. I've always thought I was a pretty busy woman; but I'd drop to the earth I'm sure after an hour of your job, let alone ten hours."
"It's use, Mrs. Northover. Some take to it like a duck to water. I did for one. But some never do. If you come to the Frame frightened, you never make a spinner. They're like humans, the Spinning Frames; if they think you're afraid of them, they'll always bully you, but if you show them you're mistress, it's all right. They have their moods and whims, just as we have. They vary, and you never know how the day will go. Sometimes everything runs smoothly; sometimes nothing does. Some days you're as fresh at the end as the beginning; some days you're dog-tired and worn out after a proper fight."
"There's something hungry and cruel and wicked about 'em to my eye," declared Mrs. Northover.
"We're oftener in fault than the Frames, however. Sometimes the spinner's to blame herself—she may be out of sorts and heavy-handed and slow on her feet and can't put up her ends right, or do anything right; and often it's the fault of the other girls and the 'rove' comes to the spinner rough; and often, again, it's just luck—good or bad. If the machine always ran perfect, there'd be nothing to do. But you've got to use your wits from the time it starts to the time it stops."
"The creature would best me every time," said the visitor, regarding Sabina's machine with suspicion and something akin to dislike.
The spinner stopped a fouled spindle and rubbed her hand.
"Sometimes the yarn's always snarling and your drag weights are always burning off and the stuff is full of kinks and the sliver's badly pieced up—that's the drawing minder's fault—and a bad drawing minder means work for me. Your niece, Sarah, is a very good drawing minder, Mrs. Northover. Then you'll get ballooning, when the thread flies round above the flier, and that means too little strain on the jamb and the bobbin has got to be tempered. And often it's too hot, or else too cold, for hemp and flax must have their proper temperature. But to-day my machine is as good and kind as a nice child, that only asks to be fed and won't quarrel with anybody."
Mrs. Northover, however, saw nothing to praise, for Sabina's speech had been broken a dozen times.
"If that's what you call working kindly, I'd like to see the wretch in a nasty mood," she said. "I lay you want to slap it sometimes."
Sabina was mending a drag that had burned off. The drags were heavy weights hanging from strings that pressed upon the side of the bobbins and controlled their speed. The friction often burned these cords through and the weights had to be lifted and retied again and again.
"We want a clever invention to put this right," she said. "A lot of good time's wasted with the weights. Nobody's thought upon the right thing yet."
"I'm properly dazed," confessed Nelly Northover. "You live and learn without a doubt—nothing's so true as that."
Her niece had seen her and approached, as the machinery began to still for the dinner-hour.
"Morning, Sarah. Can you do such wonders as Miss Dinnett?" she asked.
"No, Aunt Nelly. I'm a spreader minder. But I'll be a spinner some day, if Mr. Roberts likes for me to stop, here after I'm married."
"Sarah would soon learn to spin," declared Sabina.
Then she turned to bid Raymond Ironsyde good morning. His brother was away from Bridport on a tour with one of his travellers, that he might become acquainted with many of his more important customers. Raymond, therefore, felt safe and was wasting a good deal of his time. He had brought a basket of fruit from North Hill House—a present from Estelle—and he began to dispense plums and pears as the women streamed away to dinner.
They knew him very well now and treated him with varying degrees of familiarity. Early doubts had vanished, and they took him as a good natured, rather 'soft' young man, who meant well and was friendly and harmless. The ill-educated are always suspicious, and Levi Baggs declared from the first that Raymond was nothing better than his brother's spy, placed here for a time to inquire into the ambitions and ideas of the workers and so help the firm to combat the lawful demands of those whom they employed; but this theory was long exploded save in the mind of Mr. Baggs himself. The people of Bridetown Mill held Raymond on their side, and all were secretly interested to know what would spring of his frank friendship with Sabina.
In serious moments Raymond felt uneasy at the relations he had established with the workers, and Mr. Best did not hesitate to warn him again and again that discipline was ill served by such easy terms between employer and employed; but his moments of perspicuity were rare, for now his mind and soul were poured into one thought and one only. He was riotously happy in his love affair and could not pretend to his fellow creatures anything he did not feel. Always amiable and accessible, his romance made him still more so, and he was constitutionally unable at this moment to take a serious view of anything or anybody.
One ray of hope, however, Mr. Best recognised: Raymond did show an honest and genuine interest in the machines. He had told the foreman that he believed the great problem lay there, and where machinery was concerned he could be exceedingly intelligent and rational. This trait in him had a bearing on the future and, in time to come, John Best remembered its inception and perceived how it had developed.
Now, his fruit dispensed, Raymond talked with Sabina about the Spinning Frame and instructed Mrs. Northover, who was an acquaintance of his, in its mysteries.
"These are old-fashioned frames," he declared, "and I shan't rest till I've turned them out of the works and got the latest and best. I'm all for the new things, because they help the workers and give good results. In fact, I tell my brother that he's behind the times. That's the advantage of coming to a subject fresh, with your mind unprejudiced. Daniel's all bound up in the past and, of course, everything my father did must be right; but I know better. You have to move with the times, and if you don't you'll get left."
"That's true enough, Mr. Ironsyde, whatever your business may be," answered Mrs. Northover.
"Of course—look at 'The Seven Stars.' You're always up to date, and why should my spinners—I call them mine—why should they have to spin on machines that come out of the ark, when, by spending a few thousand, they could have the latest?"
"You've got to balance cost against value," answered the innkeeper. "It don't do to dash at things. One likes for the new to be tried on its merits first, and then, if it proves all that's claimed for it, you go in and keep abreast of the times according; but the old will often be found as good as the new; and so Mr. Daniel no doubt looks before he leaps."
"That's cowardly in my opinion," replied Raymond. "You must take the chances. Of course if you're frightened to back your judgment, then that shows you're a second class man with a second class sort of mind; but if you believe in yourself, as everybody does who is any good, then you go ahead, and if you come a purler now and again, that's nothing, because you get it back in other ways. I'm not frightened to chance my luck, am I, Sabina?"
"Never was such a brave one, I'm sure," she said, conscious of their secret.
"If you haven't got nerve, you're no good," summed up the young man; "and if you have got nerve, then use it and break out of the beaten track and welcome your luck and court a few adventures for your soul's sake."
"All very well for you men," said Mrs. Northover. "You can have adventures and no great harm done; but us women, if we try for adventures, we come to a bad end."
"Nobody's more adventurous than you," answered Raymond. "Look at your gardens and your teas for a bob ahead. Wasn't that an adventure—to give a better tea than anybody in Bridport?"
"I believe women have quite as many adventures as men," declared Sarah Northover, who was waiting for her aunt, "only we're quieter about 'em."
"We've got to be," answered Mrs. Northover. "Now come on to your mother's, Sarah. There's Mr. Roberts waiting for us outside."
In the silent and empty mill Raymond dawdled for a few minutes with Sabina, talked love and won a caress. Then she put on her sunbonnet and he walked with her to the door of her home, left her at 'The Magnolias' and went his way with Estelle's fruit basket.
A great expedition had been planned by the lovers for a forthcoming public holiday. They were going to rise in the dawn, before the rest of the world was awake, and tramp out through West Haven to Golden Cap—the supreme eminence of the south coast, that towers with bright, sponge-coloured precipices above the sea, nigh Lyme.
THE OLD STORE-HOUSE
Through a misty morning, made silver bright by the risen sun, Sabina and Raymond started for their August holiday. They left Bridetown, passed through a white fog on the water-meadows and presently climbed to the cliffs and pursued their way westward. Now the sun was over the sea and the Channel gleamed and flashed under a wakening, westerly breeze.
To West Haven they came, where the cliffs break and the rivers from Bridport flow through sluices into the little harbour.
Among the ancient, weather-worn buildings standing here with their feet in the sand drifts, was one specially picturesque. A long and lofty mass it presented, and a hundred years of storm and salt-laden winds had toned it to rich colour and fretted its roof and walls with countless stains. It was a store, three stories high, used of old time for merchandise, but now sunk to rougher uses. In its great open court, facing north, were piled thousands of tons of winnowed sand; its vaults were barred and empty; its glass windows were shattered; rust had eaten away its metal work and rot reduced its doors and sashes to powder. Rich red and auburn was its face, with worn courses of brickwork like wounds gashed upon it. A staircase of stone rose against one outer wall, and aloft, in the chambers approached thereby, was laid up a load of sweet smelling, deal planks brought by a Norway schooner. Here too, were all manner of strange little chambers, some full of old nettings, others littered with the marine stores of the fishermen, who used the ruin for their gear. The place was rat-haunted and full of strange holes and corners. Even by day, with the frank sunshine breaking through boarded windows and broken roof, it spoke of incident and adventure; by night it was eloquent of the past—of smugglers, of lawless deeds, of Napoleonic spies.
Raymond and Sabina stood and admired the old store. To her it was something new, for her activities never brought her to West Haven; but he had been familiar with it from childhood, when, with his brother, he had spent school holidays at West Haven, caught prawns from the pier, gone sailing with the fisher folk, and spent many a wet day in the old store-house.
He smiled upon it now, told her of his childish adventures and took her in to see an ancient chamber where he and Daniel had often played their games.
"Our nurse used to call it a 'cubby hole,'" he said. "And she was always; jolly thankful when she could pilot us in here from the dangers of the cliffs and the old pier, or the boats in the harbour. The place is just the same—only shrunk. The plaster from the walls is all mouldering away, or you might see the pictures we used to draw upon them with paint from the fishermen's paint pots. Down below they bring the sand and grade it for the builders. They've carted away millions of tons of sand from the foreshore in the last fifty years and will cart away millions more, no doubt, for the sea always renews it."
She wandered with him and listened half-dreaming. The air for them was electric with their love and they yearned for each other.
"I wish we could spend the whole blessed day in this little den together," he said suddenly putting his arms round her; and that brought her to some sense of reality, but none of danger. Not a tremor of peril in his company had she ever felt, for did not perfect love cast out fear, and why should a woman hesitate to trust herself with one, to her, the most precious in the world?
He suggested dawdling awhile; but she would not.
"We are to eat our breakfast at Eype Beach," she reminded him, "and that's a mile or two yet."
So they went on their way again, breasted the grassy cliffs westward of the haven, admired the fog bank touched with gold that hung over the river flats, praised Bridport wakening under its leafy woods, marked the herons on the river mud in the valley and the sparrow-hawk poised aloft above the downs. She took his arm up the hill and, like birds themselves, they went lightly together, strong, lissome, radiant in health and youth and the joy of a shared worship that made all things sweet.
They talked of the great day when the world was to know their secret. The secret itself proved so attractive to both that they agreed to keep it a little longer. Their shared knowledge proved amusing and each told the other of the warnings and advice and fears imparted by careful friends of both sexes, who knew not the splendid truth.
How small the wisdom of the wise appeared—how peddling and foolish and mean—contrasted with their superb trust. How sordid were the ways of the world, its fears and suspicions, from the vantage point to which they had climbed. Material things even suggested this thought to Raymond, and when before noon, they stood on the green crown of Golden Cap, with the earth and sea spread out around them in mighty harmonies of blue and green, he told Sabina so.
"We ought to be perched on a place like this," he said, "because we are to the rest of the world, in mind and in happiness, as we are here in body too."
"Only the sea gulls can go higher, and I always feel they're more like spirits than birds," she answered.
"I've got no use for spirits," he told her. "The splendid thing about us is that we're flesh and blood and spirit too. That's the really magnificent combination for happy creatures. A spirit at best can only be an unfinished thing. People make such a fuss about escaping from the flesh. What the deuce do you want to escape from your flesh for, if it's healthy and tough and fine?"
"When they get old, they feel like that."
"Let the old comfort the old then," he said. "I'm proud of my flesh and bones, and so are you, and so we ought to be; and if I had to give them up and die, I should hate it. And if I found myself in another world, a poor shivering idea and nothing else, without flesh and bones to cover me, or clothes to cover them, I should feel ashamed of myself. And they might call it Paradise as much as they liked, but it would be Hades to me. Of course many of the ghosts would pretend that they liked it; but I bet none would really—so jolly undignified to be nothing but an idea."
"That's just what I feel too; and of course it's utterly wrong of us," she said. "It shows we have got a lot to learn. We only feel like this because we're young. Perhaps young ghosts begin like that; but I expect they soon get past it."
"I should never want to get past it," he said.
He rolled over on the grass and played with her hand.
"How could you love and cuddle a ghost?"
"No doubt you could love it. I don't suppose you could cuddle it. You wouldn't want to."
"No—that's true, Sabina. If this cliff carried away this moment, and we were both smashed to pulp and arrived together in another world without any clothes and both horribly down on our luck—but it's too ghastly a picture. I should howl all through eternity—to think what I'd missed."
They talked nonsense, played with their thoughts and came nearer and nearer together. One tremendous and masterful impulse drew them on—a raging hunger and thirst on his part and something not widely different on hers. Again and again they caught themselves in each other's arms, then broke off, grew serious and strove to steady the trend of their desires.
Golden Cap was a lonely spot and few visited it that day. Once a middle-aged man and woman surprised them where they sat behind a rock near the edge of the great precipices. The man had grown warm and mopped his face and let the wind cool it.
He was ugly, clumsily built, and displayed large calves in knickerbockers and a hot, bald head.
"How hideous human beings can be," said Raymond after they had gone.
"He wasn't hideous in his wife's eyes, I expect."
"Middle-age is mercifully blind no doubt to its own horrors," he said. "You can respect and even admire old age, like other ruins, if it's picturesque, but middle-age is deadly always."
He smoked and they dawdled the hours away until Sabina declared it was tea time. Then they sought a little inn at Chidcock and spent an hour there.
The weather changed as the sun went westerly; the wind sank to a sigh and brought with it rain clouds. But they were unconscious of such accidents. Sabina longed for the cliffs again, so they turned homeward by Seaton and Thorncombe Beacon and Eype Mouth. Their talk ran upon marriage and Raymond swore that he could not wait long, while she urged the importance to him of so doing.
"'Twould shake your brother badly if you wed yet awhile, be sure of that," she said. "He would say that you weren't thinking of the work, and it might tempt him to change his mind about making you a partner."
"Oh damn him. Don't talk about him—or work either. I shall never want to work again, or think of work, or anything else on earth till—till—What does he matter anyway—or his ideas? It's a free country and a man has the right to plan his life his own way. If he wants to get the best out of me, he'd better give me five hundred a year to-morrow and tell me to marry you."
"We don't want five hundred. That's a fortune. I'm a good manager and know very well how far money can go. With your money and mine."