Mrs. Northover sighed.
"In another man, it would be craft to say such clever things," she answered; "but, in you, I know it's just simple goodness of heart and Christian fellowship. 'Tis amazing how we think alike."
"Not now," he corrected her. "Too late now. I wish to God we had thought alike; for then, instead of looking at my money as I'd look at a pile of road scrapings, I should see it with very different eyes. My windfall would have been poured out here in such a fashion that the people would have wondered. This place is my life, in a manner of speaking. My earthly life, I mean; which you may say is ended now. I was, in my own opinion, as much a part of 'The Seven Stars,' as the beer engine. And when uncle died this was my first thought. Or I should say my second, because in the natural course of events, you were the first."
She sighed again and Mr. Legg left this delicate ground.
"If the man can only be brought to see he's wrong about his fanciful opinion of 'The Tiger,' all may go right for you," he continued. "I don't care for his feelings over-much, but your peace of mind I do consider. At present he dares to think you're a silly woman whose goose is a swan. That's very disorderly coming from the man who's going to marry you. Therefore you must get some clear-sighted person to open his eyes, and make it bitter clear to him that 'The Tiger' never was and never will be a place to draw nice minds and the female element like us."
"There's nobody could put it to him better than you," she said.
"At another time, perhaps—not now. I'm not clever, Nelly; but I'm too clever to edge in between a man like Gurd and his future wife. If we stood different, then nobody would open his mouth quicker than me."
"We may stand different yet," she answered. "There was a good deal of passion when we met, and not the sort of passion you expect between lovers, either."
"If that is so," he answered, "then we can only leave it for the future. But this I'll certainly say: if you tell me presently that you're free to the nation once more and have changed your mind about Richard, then I'd very soon let him know there's a gulf fixed between 'The Tiger' and 'The Seven Stars'; and if you said the word, he'd see that gulf getting broader and broader under his living eyes."
"I'd have overlooked most anything but what he actually said," she declared. "But to strike at the garden—However, I'll see him, and if I find he's feeling like what I am, it's quite in human reason that we may undo the past before it's too late."
"And always remember it's his own will you shall live at 'The Tiger,'" warned Job. "Excuse my bluntness in reminding you of his words; which, no doubt, you committed to memory long before you told me about 'em; but the point lies there. You can't be in two places at once, and so sure as you sign yourself 'Gurd,' you'll sell, or sublet 'The Seven Stars.' In fact, even a simple brain like mine can see you'll sell, for Richard will never be content to let you serve two masters; and where the treasure is, there will the heart be also. And to one of your delicate feelings, to know strange hands are in this house, and strange things being done, and liberties taken with the edifice and the garden, very likely. But I don't want to paint any such dreadful picture as that, and, of course, if you honestly love Richard, though you're the first woman that ever could—then enough said."
"The question is whether he loves me. However, I'll turn it over; and no doubt he will," she answered. "I see him to-morrow."
"And don't leave anything uncertain, if I may advise," concluded Mr. Legg. "I speak as a child in these matters; but, if he's looking at this thing same as you are, and if you both feel you'd be finer ornaments of society apart, than married, all I say is don't let any false manhood on his part, or modesty on yours, keep you to it. Better be good neighbours than bad partners. And if I've said too much, God forgive me."
Fired by these opinions Nelly went to her meeting with Richard and the first words uttered by Mr. Gurd sent a ray of warmth to her heart, for it seemed he also had reviewed the situation in a manner worthy of his high intelligence.
But he approached the subject uneasily and Mrs. Northover was too much a woman to rescue him at once. She had been through a good deal and felt it fair that the master of 'The Tiger' should also suffer.
"It's borne in upon me," he said, after some generalities and vague hopes that Nelly was well, "that, perhaps, there's no smoke without fire, as the saying is."
"Meaning what?" asked she.
"Meaning, that though we flared up a bit and forgot what we owe to ourselves, there must have been a reason for so much feeling."
"There certainly was."
"We needn't go back over the details; but you may be sure there must have lurked more behind our row than just a difference of opinion. People don't get properly hot with each other unless there's a reason, Nelly, and I'm beginning to fear that the reason lies deeper than we thought."
He waited for her to speak; but she did not.
"You mustn't think me shifty, or anything of that kind; but I do feel, where there was such a lot of smoke and us separated all these weeks, and none the worse for separation apparently, that, if we was to take the step—in a word, it's come over me stronger and stronger that we might do well to weigh what we're going to do in the balance before we do it."
Her delight knew no bounds. But still she did not reply, and Mr. Gurd began to grow red.
"If, by your silence, you mean that I'm cutting a poor figure before you, and you think I want to be off our bargain, you're wrong," he said. "Your mind ought to move quicker and I don't mind telling you so. I'm not off my bargain, because I'm a man of honour, and my word, given to man, woman or child, is kept. And if you don't know that, you're the only party in Bridport that don't. But I say again, there's two sides to it, and look before you leap, though not a maxim women are very addicted to following, is a good rule for all that. So I'll ask you how the land lies, if you please. You've turned this over same as me; and I'll be obliged if you'll tell me how you're viewing it."
"In other words you've changed your mind?"
"My mind can wait. I may have done so, or I may not; but to change my mind ain't to change my word, so you need have no anxiety on that account."
"Far from being anxious," answered Mrs. Northover, "I never felt so light-hearted since I was a girl, Richard. For why? My name for honest dealing is as high as yours, I believe, and if you'd come back to me and asked for bygones to be bygones, I should have struggled with it, same as you meant to do. But, seeing you're shaken, I'm pleased to tell, that I'm shaken also. In fact, 'shaken' isn't a strong enough word. I'm thankful to Heaven you don't want to go on with it, because, more don't I."
"If anything could make me still wish to take you, it's to hear such wisdom," declared Mr. Gurd, after a noisy expiration of thanksgiving. "I might have known you wasn't behind me in brain power, and I might have felt you'd be bound to see this quite as quick as me, if not quicker. And I'm sure nothing could make me think higher of you than to hear these comforting words."
Mrs. Northover used an aphorism from Mr. Legg.
"Our only fault was not to see each other's cleverness," she said, "or to think for a moment, after what passed between us, we could marry without loss of self-respect. It's a lot better, Richard, to be good neighbours than bad partners. And good neighbours we always have been and shall be; and whether we'd be good partners or not is no matter; we won't run the risk."
"God bless you!" he answered. "Then we part true friends, and if anything could make me feel more friendly than I always have felt, it is your high-mindedness, Nelly. For high-mindedness there never was your equal. And if many and many a young couple, that flies together and then feels the call to fly apart again, could only approach the tender subject with your fair sight and high reasoning powers, it would be a happier world."
"There's only one thing left," concluded Mrs. Northover, "and that's to let the public know we've changed our minds. With small people, that wouldn't matter; but with us, we can't forget we've been on the centre of the stage lately; and it would never do to let the people suppose that we had quarrelled, or sunk to anything vulgar."
"Leave it to me," he answered. "It only calls for a light hand. I shall pass it off with one of my jokes, and then people will treat it in a laughing spirit and not brood over it. Folk are quick to take a man's own view on everything concerning himself if he's got the art to convince."
"We'll say that more marriages are made on the tongues of outsiders than ever come to be celebrated in church," suggested Mrs. Northover, "and then people will begin to doubt if it wasn't all nonsense from the first."
"And they won't be far wrong if they do. It was nonsense; and if we say so in the public ear, none will dare to doubt it."
THE OFFER DECLINED
Estelle talked to Raymond and endeavoured to interest him in Sabina's child.
"Everybody who understands babies says that he's a lovely and perfect one," declared Estelle. "I hope you're going to look at him before you go away, because he's yours. And I believe he will be like you, some day. Do the colours of babies' eyes change, like kittens' eyes, Ray?"
"Haven't the slightest idea," he answered. "You may be quite sure I shall take care of it, Estelle, and see that it has everything it wants."
"Somehow they're not pleased with you all the same," she answered. "I don't understand about it, but they evidently feel that you ought to have married Sabina. I suppose you're not properly his father if you don't marry her?"
"That's nonsense, Estelle. I'm quite properly his father, and I'm going to be a jolly good father too. But I don't want to be married. I don't believe in it."
"If Sabina knew you were going to love him and be good to him, she would be happier, I hope."
"I'm going to see her presently," he said.
"And see the baby?"
"Plenty of time for that."
"There's time, of course, Ray. But he's changing. He's five weeks old to-morrow, and I can see great changes. He can just begin to laugh now. Things amuse him we don't know. I expect babies are like dogs and can see what we can't."
"I'll look at him if Sabina likes."
"Of course she'll like. It's rather horrid of you, in a way, being able to go on with your work for so many weeks without looking at him. It's really rather a slight on Sabina, Ray. If I'd had a baby, and his father wouldn't look at him for week after week, I should be vexed. And so is Sabina."
"Next time you see her, ask her to name a day and I'll go whenever she likes."
Estelle was delighted.
"That's lovely of you and it will cheer her up very much, for certain," she answered. Then she ran away, for to arrange such a meeting seemed the most desirable thing in the world to her at that moment. To Sabina she went as fast as her legs could take her, and appreciating that he had sent this guileless messenger to ensure a meeting without preliminaries and without prejudice, Sabina hid her feelings and specified a time on the following day.
"If he'll come to see me to-morrow in the dinner-hour, that will be best. I'll be alone after twelve o'clock."
"You'll show him the baby, won't you, Sabina?"
"He won't want to see it."
"Does he want to?"
"Honestly he doesn't seem to understand how wonderful the baby is," explained the child. "Ray's going to be a splendid father to him, Sabina. He's quite interested; only men are different from us. Perhaps they never feel much interest till babies can talk to them. My father says he wasn't much interested in me till I could talk, so it may be a general thing. But when Ray sees him, he'll be tremendously proud of him."
Sabina said no more, and when Raymond arrived to see her at the time she appointed, he found her waiting near the entrance of 'The Magnolias.'
She wore a black dress and was looking very well and very handsome. But the expression in her eyes had changed. He put out his hand, but she did not take it.
"Mister Churchouse has kindly said we can talk in the study, Mister Ironsyde."
He followed her, and when they had come to the room, hoped that she was quite well again. Then he sat in a chair by the table and she took a seat opposite him. She did not reply to his wish for her good health, but waited for him to speak. She was not sulky, but apparently indifferent. Her fret and fume were smothered of late. Now that the supreme injury was inflicted and she had borne a child out of wedlock, Sabina's frenzies were over. The battle was lost. Life held no further promises, and the denial of the great promise that it had offered and taken back again, numbed her. She was weary of the subject of herself and the child. She could even ask Mr. Churchouse for books to occupy her mind during convalescence. Yet the slumbering storm in her soul awoke in full fury before the man had spoken a dozen words.
She looked at Raymond with tired eyes, and he felt that, like himself, she was older, wiser, different. He measured the extent of her experiences and felt sorry for her.
"Sabina," he said. "I must apologise for one mistake. When I asked you to come back to me and live with me, I did a caddish thing. It wasn't worthy of me, or you. I'm awfully sorry. I forgot myself there."
"Can that worry you?" she asked. "I should have thought, after what you'd already done, such an added trifle wouldn't have made you think twice. To ruin a woman body and soul—to lie to her and steal all she's got to give under pretence of marriage—that wasn't caddish, I suppose—that wasn't anything to make you less pleased with yourself. That was what we may expect from men of honour and right bringing up?"
"Don't take this line, or we shan't get on. If, after certain things happened, I had still felt we—"
"Stop," she said, "and hear me. You're making my blood burn and my fingers itch to do something. My hands are strong and quick—they're trained to be quick. I thought I could come to this meeting calm and patient enough. I didn't know I'd got any hate left in me—for you, or the world. But I have—you've mighty soon woke it again; and I'm not going to hear you maul the past into your pattern and explain everything away and tell me how you came gradually to see we shouldn't be happy together and all the usual dirty, little lies. Tell yourself falsehoods if you like—you needn't waste time telling them to me. I'll tell you the truth; and that is that you're a low, mean coward and bully—a creature to sicken the air for any honest man or woman. And you know it behind your big talk. What did you do? You seduced me under promise of marriage, and when your brother heard what you'd done and flung you out of the Mill, you ran to your aunt. And she said, 'Choose between ruin and no money, and Sabina and money from me.' And so you agreed to marry me—to keep yourself in cash. And then, when all was changed and you found yourself a rich man, you lied again and deserted me, and wronged your child—ruined us both. That's what you did, and what you are."
"If you really believe that's the one and only version, I'm afraid we shan't come to an understanding," he said quietly. "You mustn't think so badly of me as that, Sabina."
"Your aunt does. That's how she sees it, being an honest woman."
"I must try to show you you're wrong—in time. For the moment I'm only concerned to do everything in my power to make your future secure and calm your mind."
"Are you? Then marry me. That's the only way you can make my future secure, and you well know it."
"I can't marry you. I shall never marry. I am very firmly convinced that to marry a woman is to do her a great injury nine times out of ten."
"Worse than seducing her and leaving her alone in the world with a bastard child, I suppose?"
"You're not alone in the world, and your child is my child, and I recognise the fullest obligations to you both."
"Liar! If you'd recognised your obligations, you wouldn't have let it come into the world nameless and fatherless."
"You want everything your own way, and you think you can bend everything to your own way. But you'll not bend me no more. You've broke me, and you've broke your child. We're rubbish—rubbish on the world's rubbish heap—flung there by you. I, that was so proud of myself! We'll go to the grave shamed and outcast—failures for people to laugh at or preach over. Your child's doomed now. The State and the Church both turn their backs on such as him. You can't make him your lawful son now."
"I can do for him all any father can do for a son."
"You shall do nought for him! He's part of me—not you. If you hold back from me, you hold back from him. God's my judge he shan't receive a crust from your hands. You've given him enough. He's got you to thank for a ruined life. He shan't have anything more from you while I can stand between. Don't you trouble for him. You go on from strength to strength and the people will praise your hard work and your goodness to the workers—such a pattern master as you'll be."
"May time make you feel differently, Sabina," he answered. "I've deserved this—all of it. I'm quite ready to grant I've done wrong. But I'm not going to do more if I can help it. I want to be your friend in the highest and worthiest sense possible. I want to atone to you for the past, and I want to stand up for your child through thick and thin, and bear the reproach that he must be to me as long as I live. I've weighed all that. But power can challenge the indifference of the State and the cowardice of the Church. The dirty laws will be blotted out by public opinion some day. The child can grow up to be my son and heir, as he will be my first care and thought. Everything that is mine can be his and yours—"
"That's all one now," she said. "He touches nothing of yours while I touch nothing of yours. There's only one way to bring me and the child into your life, Raymond Ironsyde, and that's by marrying me. Without that we'll not acknowledge you. I'd rather go on the streets than do it. I'd rather tie a brick round your child's neck and drown him like an unwanted dog than let him have comfort from you. And God judge me if I'll depart from that if I live to be a hundred."
"You're being badly advised, Sabina. I never thought to hear you talk like this. Perhaps it's the fact that I'm here myself annoys you. Will you let my lawyer see you?"
"Marry me—marry me—you that loved me. All less than that is insult."
"We must leave it, then. Would you like me to see my child?"
"See him! Why? You'll never see him if I can help it. You'd blast his little, trusting eyes. But I won't drown him—you needn't fear that. I'll fight for him, and find friends for him. There's a few clean people left who won't make him suffer for your sins. He'll live to spit on your grave yet."
Then she left the room, and he got up and went from the house.
THE FLYING YEARS
But little can even the most complete biography furnish of a man's days. It is argued that essentials are all that matter, and that since one year is often like another, and life merely a matter of occasional mountain peaks in flat country, the outstanding events alone need be chronicled with any excuse. But who knows the essential, since biographists must perforce omit the spade work of life on character, the gradual attrition or upbuilding of principles under experience, and the strain and stress, that, sooner or later, bear fruit in action? Even autobiography, as all other history, needs must be incomplete, since no man himself exactly appreciated the vital experiences that made him what he is, or turns him from what he was; while even if the secret belongs to the protagonist, and intellect and understanding have enabled him to grasp the reality of his progress, or retrogression, he will be jealous to guard such truths and, for pride, or modesty, conceal the real fountains of inspiration that were responsible for progress, or the temptations to error that found his weakest spots, blocked his advance, and rendered futile his highest hopes. The man who knows his inner defeats will not declare them honestly, even if egotism induces an autobiography; while the biographist, being ignorant of his hero's real, psychological existence, secret life, and those thousand hidden influences that have touched him and caused him to react, cannot, with all the will in the world to be true, relate more than superficial truths concerning him.
Ten years may only be recorded as lengthening the lives of Raymond Ironsyde, Sabina Dinnett and their son, together with those interested in them. Time, the supreme solvent, flows over existence, submerging here, lifting there, altering the relative attitudes of husband and wife, parent and child, friend and enemy. For no human relation is static. The ebb and flow forget not the closest or remotest connection between members of the human family; not a friendship or interest stands still, and not a love or a hate. Time operates upon every human emotion as it operates upon physical life; and ten years left no single situation at Bridetown or Bridport unchallenged. Death cut few knots; since accident willed that one alone fell among those with whom we are concerned. For the rest, years brought their palliatives and corrosives, soothed here, fretted there; here buried old griefs and healed old sores; here calloused troubles, so that they only throbbed intermittently; here built up new enthusiasms, awakened new loves, barbed new enmities.
Things that looked impossible on the day that Ironsyde heard Sabina scorn him, happened. Threats evaporated, danger signals disappeared; but, in other cases, while the jagged edges and peaks of bitterness and contempt were worn away by a decade of years, the solid rocks from which they sprang persisted and the massive reasons for emotion were not moved, albeit their sharpest expressions vanished. Some loves faded into likings, and their raptures to a placid contentment, built as much on the convenience of habit as the memories of a passionate past; other affections, less fortunate, perished and left nothing but remains unlovely. Hates also, with their sharpest bristles rubbed down, were modified to bluntness, and left a mere lumpish aversion of mind. Some dislikes altogether perished and gave place to indifference; some persisted as the shadow of their former selves; some were kept alive by absurd pride in those who pretended, for their credit's sake, a steadfastness they were not really built to feel.
Sabina, for example, was constitutionally unequal to any supreme and all-controlling passion unless it had been love; yet still she preserved that inimical attitude to Raymond Ironsyde she had promised to entertain; though in reality the fire was gone and the ashes cold. She knew it, but was willing to rekindle the flame if material offered, as now it threatened to do.
Ernest Churchouse had published his book upon 'The Bells of Dorset' and, feeling that it represented his life work, declared himself content. He had grown still less active, but found abundant interests in literature and friendship. He undertook the instruction of Sabina's son and, from time to time, reported upon the child. His first friend was now Estelle Waldron, who, at this stage of her development, found the old and childlike man chime with her hopes and aspirations.
Estelle was passing through the phase not uncommon to one of her nature. For a time her early womanhood found food in poetry, and her mind, apparently fashioned to advance the world's welfare and add to human happiness, reposed as it seemed on an interlude of reading and the pursuit of beauty. She developed fast to a point—the point whereat she had established a library and common room for the Mill hands; the point at which the girls called her 'Our Lady,' and very honestly loved her for herself as well as for the good she brought them. Now, however, her activities were turned inward and she sought to atone for an education incomplete. She had never gone to school, and her governesses, while able and sufficient, could not do for her what only school life can do. This experience, though held needless and doubtful in many opinions, Estelle felt to miss and her conscience prompted her to go to London and mix with other people, while her inclination tempted her to stop with her father. She went to London for two years and worked upon a woman's newspaper. Then she fell ill and came home and spent her time with Arthur Waldron, with Raymond Ironsyde, and with Ernest Churchouse. A girl friend or two from London also came to visit her.
She recovered perfect health, and having contracted a great new worship for poetry in her convalescence, retained it afterwards. Ernest was her ally, for he loved poetry—an understanding denied to her other friends. So Estelle passed through a period of dreaming, while her intellect grew larger and her human sympathy no less. She had developed into a handsome woman with regular features, a large and almost stately presence and a direct, undraped manner not shadowed as yet by any ray of sex instinct. Nature, with her many endowments, chose to withhold the feminine challenge. She was as stark and pure as the moon. Young men, drawn by her smile, fled from her self. Her father's friends regarded her much as he did: with a sort of uneasy admiration. The people were fond of her, and older women declared that she would never marry.
Of such was Miss Jenny Ironsyde. "Estelle's children will be good works," she told Raymond. For she and her nephew were friends again. The steady tides of time had washed away her prophecy of eternal enmity, and increasing infirmity made her seek companionship where she could find it. Moreover, she remembered a word that she had spoken to Raymond in the past, when she told him how a grudge entertained by one human being against another poisons character and ruins the steadfast outlook upon life. She escaped that danger.
It is a quality of small minds rather than of great to remain unchanged. They fossilise more quickly, are more concentrated, have a power to freeze into a mould and preserve it against the teeth of time, or the wit and wisdom of the world. The result is ugly or beautiful, according to the emotion thus for ever embalmed. The loves of such people are intuitive—shared with instinct and above, or below, reason; their hate is similarly impenetrable—preserved in a vacuum. For only a vacuum can hold the sweet for ever untainted, or the bitter for ever unalloyed. Mary Dinnett belonged to this order. She was now dead, and concerning the legacy of her unchanging attitude more will presently appear.
As for Nelly Northover, she had long been the wife of Mr. Job Legg. That pertinacious man achieved his end at last, and what his few enemies declared was guile, and his many friends held to be tact, won Nelly to him a year after her adventure with Mr. Gurd. None congratulated them more heartily than the master of 'The Tiger.' Indeed, when 'The Seven Stars' blazed out anew on an azure firmament—the least of many changes that refreshed and invigorated that famous house—'The Tiger' also shone forth in savage splendour and his black and orange stripes blazed again from a mass of tropical vegetation.
And beneath the inn signs prosperity continued to obtain. Mr. Gurd grew less energetic than of yore, while Mrs. Legg put on much flesh and daily perceived her wisdom in linking Job for ever to the enterprise for which she lived. He became thinner, if anything, and Time toiled after him in vain. Immense success rewarded his innovations, and the tea-gardens of 'The Seven Stars' had long become a feature of Bridport's social life. People hinted that Mr. Legg was not the meek and mild spirit of ancient opinion and that Nelly knew it; but this suggestion may be held no more than the penalty of fame—an activity of the baser sort, who ever drop vinegar of detraction into the oil of content.
John Best still reigned at the Mill, though he had himself already chosen the young man destined to wear his mantle in process of time. To leave the works meant to leave his garden; and that he was unprepared to do until failing energies made it necessary. A decade saw changes among the workers, but not many. Sally Groves had retired to braid for the firm at home, and old Mrs. Chick was also gone; but the other hands remained and the staff had slightly increased. Nancy Buckler was chief spinner now; Sarah Roberts still minded the spreader, and Nicholas continued at the lathes. Benny Cogle had a new Otto gas engine to look after, and Mercy Gale, now married to him, still worked in the warping chamber. Levi Baggs would not retire, and since he hackled with his old master, the untameable man, now more than sixty years old, still kept his place, still flouted the accepted order, still read sinister motives into every human activity. New machinery had increased the prosperity of the enterprise, but to no considerable extent. Competition continued keen as ever, and each year saw the workers winning slightly increased power through the advance of labour interests.
Raymond Ironsyde was satisfied and remained largely unchanged. He had hardened in opinion and increased in knowledge. He lacked imagination and, as of old, trusted to the machine; but he was rational and proved a capable, second class man of sound judgment and trustworthy in all his undertakings. Sport continued to be a living interest of his life, and since he had no ties that involved an establishment, he gladly accepted Arthur Waldron's offer of a permanent home.
It came to him after he had travelled largely and been for three years master of the works. Arthur was delighted when Raymond accepted his suggestion and made his abode at North Hill. They hunted and shot together; and Waldron, who now judged that the time for golf had come in his case, devoted the moiety of his life to that pastime.
Ironsyde worked hard and was held in respect. The circumstance of his child had long been accepted and understood. He exhausted his energy and patience in endeavours to maintain and advance the boy; and those justified in so doing lost no opportunity to urge on Sabina Dinnett the justice of his demand; but here nothing could change her. She refused to recognise Raymond, or receive from him any assistance in the education and nurture of his son. She had called him Abel, and as Abel Dinnett the lad was known. He resembled her in that he was dark and of an excitable and uneven temperament. He might be easily elated and as easily cast down. Raymond, who kept a secret eye upon the child, trusted that in a few years his turn would come, though at present denied. At first he resented the resolution that shut him out of his son's life; but the matter had long since sunk to unimportance and he believed that when Abel came to years of understanding, he would recognise his own interests and blame those responsible for ignoring them in his childhood. Upon this opinion hinged the future of not a few persons. It developed into a conviction permanently established at the back of his mind; but since Sabina and others came between, he was content to let them do so and relied upon his son's intelligence in time to come. For years he did not again seek the child's acquaintance after a rebuff, and made no attempt to interfere with the operations of Abel's grandmother and mother—to keep them wholly apart. Thus, after all, the gratification of their purpose was devoid of savour and Ironsyde's indifferent acquiescence robbed their will of its triumph. He had told Mary Dinnett, through Ernest Churchouse, that she and her daughter must proceed as they thought fit and that, in any case, the last word would be with him. Here, however, he misvalued the strength of the forces arrayed against him, and only the future proved whether the seed sowed in Abel Dinnett's youthful heart was fertile or barren—whether, by the blood in his own veins, he would offer soil of character to develop enmity to the man who got him, or reveal a nature slow to anger and impatient of wrath.
For Ernest Churchouse these problems offered occupation and he stood as an intermediary between the interests that clashed in the child. He made himself responsible for a measure of the boy's education and, sometimes, reported to Estelle such development of character as he perceived. In secret, inspired by the rival claims of heredity and environment, Ernest strove to cast a scientific horoscope of little Abel's probable future. But to-day contradicted yesterday, and to-morrow proved both untrustworthy. The child was always changing, developing new ideas, indicating new possibilities. It appeared too soon yet to say what he would be, or predict his character and force of purpose.
Thus he grew, and when he was eight years old, his first friend and ally—his grandmother—died. Mr. Churchouse, who had long deplored her influence for Abel's sake, was hopeful that this departure might prove a blessing.
Now Sabina had taken her mother's place and she looked after Ernest well enough. He always hoped that she would marry, and she had been asked to do so more than once, but felt tempted to no such step.
Thus, then, things stood, and any change of focus and altered outlook in these people, that may serve to suggest discontinuity with their past, must be explained by the passage of ten years. Such a period had renewed all physically—a fact full of subtle connotations. It had sharpened the youthful and matured the adult mind; it had dimmed the senses sinking upon nature's night time and strengthened the dawning will and opening intellect. For as a ship furls her spread of sail on entering harbour, so age reduces the scope of the mind and its energies to catch every fresh ripple of the breeze that blows out of progress and change. The centre of the stage, too, gradually reveals new performers; the gaze of manhood is turned on new figures; the limelight of human interest throws up the coming forces of activity and intellect; while those who yesterday shone supreme, slowly pass into the penumbra that heralds eclipse. And who bulk big enough to arrest the eternal march, delay their own progress from light to darkness, or stay the eager young feet tramping outward of the dayspring to take their places in the day? Life moves so fast that many a man lives to see the dust thick on his own name in the scroll of merit and taste a regret that only reason can allay.
Fate had denied Sabina Dinnett her brief apotheosis. From dark to dark she had gone; yet time had purged her mind of any large bitterness. She looked on and watched Raymond's sojourn in the light from a standpoint negative and indifferent. The future for her held interest, for she could not cease to be interested in him, though she knew that he had long since ceased to be interested in her. From the cool cloisters of her obscurity she watched and was only strong in opinion at one point. She dreamed of her son making his way and succeeding in the world; she welcomed Mr. Churchouse's assurance as to the lad's mental progress and promise; but she was determined as ever that not, if she could help it, should Abel enter terms of friendship with his father.
Thus the relations subsisted, while, strange to record, in practice they had long been accepted as part of the order of things at Bridetown. They ceased even to form matter for gossip. For Raymond Ironsyde was greater here than the lord of the manor, or any other force. The Mill continued to be the heart of the village. Through the Mill the lifeblood circulated; by the Mill the prosperity of the people was regulated; and since the master saw that on his own prosperity reposed the prosperity of those whom he employed, there was none to decry him, or echo a disordered past in the ear of the well-ordered present.
THE SEA GARDEN
Bride river still flowed her old way to her work and came, by goldilocks and grasses, by reedmace and angelica, to the mill-race and water-wheel. But now, where the old wheel thundered, there yawned a gap, for the river's power was about to be conserved to better purpose than of old, and as the new machines now demanded greater forces to drive them, so human skill found a way to increase the applied strength of a streamlet. Against the outer wall of the Mill now hung a turbine and Raymond, Estelle and others had assembled to see it in operation for the first time. Bride was bottled here, and instead of flashing and foaming over the water wheel as of yore, now vanished into the turbine and presently appeared again below it.
Raymond explained the machine with gusto, and Estelle mourned the wheel, yet as one who knew its departure was inevitable.
It was summer time, and after John Best had displayed the significance of the turbine and the increased powers generated thereby, Raymond strolled down the valley beside the river at Estelle's invitation.
She had something to show him at the mouth of the stream—a sea garden, now in all its beauty and precious to her. For though her mind had winged far beyond the joys of childhood and was occupied with greater matters than field botany, still she loved the wild flowers and welcomed them again in their seasons.
Their speech drifted to the people, and he told how some welcomed the new appliance and some doubted. Then Raymond spoke of Sabina Dinnett in sympathetic ears.
For now Estelle understood the past; but she had never wavered in her friendship with Sabina, any more than had diminished her sister-like attachment to Raymond. Now, as often, he regretted the attitude his child preserved towards him and expressed sorrow that he could not break down Abel's distrust.
"More than distrust, in fact, for the kid dislikes me," he said. "You know he does, Chicky. But I never can understand why, because he's always with his mother and Uncle Ernest, and Sabina doesn't bear me any malice now, to my knowledge. Surely the child must come round sooner or later?"
"When he's old enough to understand, I expect he will," she said. "But you'll have to be patient, Ray."
"Oh, yes—that's my strong suit nowadays."
"He's a clever little chap, so Sabina says; but he's difficult and wayward. He won't be friends with me."
Raymond changed the subject and praised the valley as it opened to the sea.
"What a jolly place! I believe there are scores of delightful spots at Bridetown within a walk, and I'm always too busy to see them."
"That's certain. I could show you scores."
"I ought to know the place I live in, better. I don't even know the soil I walk on—awful ignorance."
"The soil is oolite and clay, and the subsoil, which you see in the cliffs, is yellow sandstone—the loveliest, goldenest soil in the world," declared Estelle.
"The colour of a bath sponge," he said, and she pretended despair.
"Oh dear! And I really thought I had seen the dawning of poetry in you, Ray."
"Merely reflected from yourself, Chicky. Still I'm improving. The turbine has a poetic side, don't you think?"
"I suppose it has. Science is poetic—at any rate, the history of science is full of poetry—if you know what poetry means."
"I wish I had more time for such things," he said. "Perhaps I shall have some day. To be in trade is rather deadening though. There seems so little to show for all my activities—only hundreds of thousands of miles of string. In weak moments I sometimes ask myself if, after all, it is good enough."
"They must be very weak moments, indeed," said Estelle. "Perhaps you'll tell me how the world could get on without string?"
"I don't know. But you, with all your love of beautiful things, ought to understand me instead of jumping on me. What is beauty? No two people feel the same about it, surely? You'd say a poem was beautiful; I'd say a square cut for four, just out of reach of cover point, was beautiful. Your father would say, a book on shooting high pheasants was beautiful, if he agreed with it; John Best would say a good sample of shop twine was beautiful."
"We should all be right, beauty is in all those things. I can see that. I can even see that shooting birds with great skill, as father does, is beautiful—not the slaughter of the bird, which can't be beautiful, but the way it's done. But those are small things. With the workers you want to begin at the beginning and show them—what Mister Best knows—that the beauty of the thing they make depends on it being well and truly made."
"Yes; they're reaching out for more happiness, like everybody else."
"I wouldn't back the next generation of capitalists to hold the fort against labour."
"Perhaps the next generation won't want to," she said. "Perhaps by that time we shall be educated up to the idea that rich people are quite as anti-social as poor people. Then we shall do away with both poverty and riches. To us, educated on the old values, it would come as a shock, but the generation that is born into such a world would accept it as a matter of course and not grumble."
"Don't believe it, Chicky. Every generation has its own hawks and eagles as well as its sheep. The strong will always want the fulness of the earth and always try to inspire the weak to help them get it. With great leadership you must have equivalent rewards."
"Why? Cannot you imagine men big enough to work for humanity without reward? Have there not been plenty of such men—before Christ, as well as since?"
"Power is reward," he answered. "No man is so great that he is indifferent to power, for his greatness depends upon it; and if power was dissipated to-morrow and diluted until none could call himself a leader, we should have a reaction at once and the sheep would grow frightened and bleat for a shepherd. And the shepherd would very soon appear."
They stood where the cliffs broke and Bride ended her journey at the sea. She came gently without any splendid nuptials to the lover of rivers. Her brief course run, her last silver loop wound through the meadows, she ended in a placid pool amid the sand ridges above high-water mark. The yellow cliffs climbed up again on either side, and near the chalice in the grey beach whence, invisible, the river sank away to win the sea by stealth, spread Estelle's sea garden—an expanse of stone and sand enriched by many flowers that seemed to crown the river pool with a garland, or weave a wreath for Bride's grave in the sand. Here were pale gold of poppies, red gold of lotus and rich lichens that made the sea-worn pebbles shine. Sea thistle spread glaucous foliage and lifted its blue blossoms; stone-crops and thrifts, tiny trefoils and couch grasses were woven into the sand, and pink storks-bill and silvery convolvulus brought cool colour to this harmony spread beside the purple sea. The day was one of shadow and sunshine mingled, and from time to time, through passages of grey that lowered the glory of Estelle's sea garden, a sunburst came to set all glittering once more, to flash upon the river, lighten the masses of distant elm, and throw up the red roofs and grey church tower of Bridetown and her encircling hills.
"What a jolly place it is," he said taking out his cigar case.
Then they sat in the shadow of a fishing boat, drawn up here, and Raymond lamented the unlovely end of the river.
While he did so, the girl regarded him with affection and a secret interest and entertainment. For it amused her often to hear him echo thoughts that had come to her in the past. In a lesser degree her father did the like; but he belonged to a still older generation, and it was with Raymond that she found herself chiefly concerned, when he announced, as original, ideas and discoveries that reflected her own dreams in the past. Sometimes she thought he was catching up; sometimes, again, she distanced him and felt herself grown up and Raymond still a boy. Then, sometimes, he would flush a covey of ideas outside her reflections, and so remind her of the things that interested men, in which, as yet, women took no interest. When he spoke of such things, she strove to learn all that he could teach concerning them. But soon she found that was not much. He did not think deeply and she quickly caught him up, if she desired to do so.
Now he uttered just the same, trivial lament that she had uttered when she was a child. She was pleased, for she rather loved to feel herself older in mind than Raymond. It added a lustre to friendship and made her happy—why, she knew not.
"What a wretched end—to be choked up in the shingle like that," he said, "instead of dashing out gloriously and losing yourself in the sea!"
She smiled gently to herself.
"I thought that once, then I was ever so sorry for poor little Bride."
"A bride without a wedding," he said.
"No. She steals to him; she wins his salt kisses and finds them sweet enough. They mate down deep out of sight of all eyes. So you needn't be sorry for her really."
"It's like watching people try ever so hard to do something and never bring it off."
"Yes—even more like than you think, Ray; because we feel sad at such apparent failures, and yet what we are looking at may be a victory really, only our dull eyes miss it."
"I daresay many people are succeeding who don't appear to be," he admitted.
"Goodness can't be wasted. It may be poured into the sand all unseen and unsung; but it conquers somehow and does something worth doing, even though no eye can see what. Plenty of good things happen in the world—good and helpful things—that are never recorded, or even recognised."
"Like a stonewaller in a cricket match. The people cuss him, but he may determine who is going to win."
She laughed at the simile.
They went homeward presently, Estelle quietly content to have shown Raymond the flower-sprinkled strand, and he well pleased to have pleasured her.
A TWIST FRAME
Raymond Ironsyde grumbled sometimes at the Factory Act and protested against grandmotherly legislation. Yet in some directions he anticipated it. He went, for example, beyond the Flax Mill Ventilation Regulations. He loved fresh air himself, and took vast pains to make his works sweet and wholesome for those who breathed therein. Even Levi Baggs could not grumble, for the exhaust draught in his hackling shop was stronger than the law demanded, and the new cyclone separators in the main buildings served to keep the air far purer than of old.
Ironsyde had established also the Kestner System of atomising water, to regulate temperature and counteract the electrical effects of east wind, or frost, on the light slivers. He was always on the lookout for new automatic means to regulate the drags on the bobbins. He had installed an automatic doffing apparatus, and made a departure from the usual dry spinning in a demi-sec, or half-dry, spinning frame, which was new at that time, and had offered excellent results and spun a beautifully smooth yarn.
These things all served to assist and relieve the workers in varying degree, but, as Raymond often pointed out, they were taken for granted and, sometimes, in his gloomier moments, he accused his people of lacking gratitude. They, for their part, were being gradually caught up in the growing movements of labour. The unintelligent forgot to credit the master with his consideration; while those who could think, were often soured by suspicion. These ignorant spirits doubted not that he was seeking to win their friendship against the rainy days in store for capital.
Ironsyde came to the works one morning to watch a new Twist Frame and a new operator. The single strand yarn for material from the spinners was coming to the Twist Frame to be turned into twines and fishing lines. Four full bobbins from the spinning machine went to each spindle of the Twist Frame, and from it emerged a strong 'four-ply.' It was a machine more complicated than the spinner; and, as only a good billiard player can appreciate the cleverness of a great player, so only a spinner might have admired the rare technical skill of the woman who controlled the Twist Frame.
The soul of the works persisted, though the people and the machines were changed. The old photographs and old verses had gone, but new pictures and poems took their places in the workers' corners; and new fashion-plates hung where the old ones used to hang. The drawers, and the rovers, the spreaders and the spinners still, like bower-birds, adorned the scenes of their toil. A valentine or two and the portrait of a gamekeeper and his dog hung beside the carding machine; for Sally Groves had retired and a younger woman was in her place. She, too, fed the Card by hand, but not so perfectly as Sally was wont to do.
Estelle had come to see the Twist Frame. She cared much for the Mill women and spent a good portion of her hours with them. A very genuine friendship, little tainted with time-serving, or self-interest, obtained for her in the works. On her side, she valued the goodwill of the workers as her best possession, and found among them a field for study in human nature and, in their work, matter for poetry and art. For were not all three Fates to be seen at their eternal business here? Clotho attended the Spread Board; the can-minders coiling away the sliver, stood for Lachesis; while in the spinners, who cut the thread when the bobbin was full, Estelle found Atropos, the goddess of the shears.
Mr. Best, grown grizzled, but active still and with no immediate thoughts of retirement, observed the operations of the new spinner at the Twist Frame. She was a woman from Bridport, lured to Bridetown by increase of wages.
John, who was a man of enthusiasms, turned to Estelle.
"The best spinner that ever came to Bridetown," he whispered.
"Better than Sabina Dinnett?" she asked; and Best declared that she was. So passage of time soon deadens the outline of all achievement, and living events that happen under our eyes, offer a statement of the quick and real with which beautiful dead things, embalmed in the amber of memory, cannot cope.
"Sabina, at her best, never touched her, Miss Waldron."
"Sabina braids still in her spare time. Nobody makes better nets."
"This is a cousin of Sarah Roberts," explained the foreman. "Spinning runs in the Northover family, and though Sarah is a spreader and never will be anything else, there have been wondrous good spinners in the clan. This girl is called Milly Morton, and her mother and grandmother spun before her. Her father was Jack Morton, one of the last of the old hand spinners. To see him walking backwards from his wheel, and paying out fibre from his waist with one hand and holding up the yarn with the other, was a very good sight. He'd spin very nearly a hundred pounds of hemp in a ten hours' day, and turn out seven or eight miles of yarn, and walk every yard of it, of course. The rope makers swore by him."
"I'm sure spinning runs in the blood!" agreed Estelle. "Both Sarah's little girls are longing for the time when they can come into the Mill and mind cans; and, of course, the boy wants to do his father's work and be a lathe hand."
"You've hit it," he declared. "It runs in the blood in a very strange fashion. Take Sabina's child. By all accounts, his old grandmother did everything in her power to poison his mind against the Mill as well as the master. She was a lot bitterer than Sabina herself, as the years went on; and if you could look back and uncover the past, you'd find it was her secret work to make that child what he is. But the Mill draws him like cheese draws a mouse. I'll find him here a dozen times in a month—just popping in when my back's turned. Why he comes I couldn't say; but I think it is because his mother was a spinner and the feeling for the craft is in him."
"His father is a spinner, too, for that matter," suggested Estelle.
"In the larger sense of ownership, yes; but it isn't that that draws him. His father's got no great part in him by all accounts. It's the mother in him that brings him here. Not that she knows he comes so often, and I dare say she'd be a good deal put about if she did."
"Why shouldn't he come, John?"
He shrugged his shoulders.
"I see no reason against. One gets so used to the situation that its strangeness passes off, but it's very awkward, so to say, that nothing can be done for Abel by his father. Sabina's wrong to hold out there, and so I've told her."
"She doesn't influence Abel one way or the other. The child seems to hate Mister Ironsyde."
"Well, he loves the Mill, though you'd think he might hate that for his father's sake."
"He's hard for a little creature of ten years old," said Estelle. "He won't make friends with me, but holds off and regards me—just as rabbits and things regard one, before they finally run away. I pretend I don't notice it. He'll listen and even talk if I meet him with his mother; but if I meet him alone, he flies. He generally bolts through a hole in the hedge, or somewhere."
"He links you up with Mister Raymond," explained Mr. Best. "He knows you live at North Hill House, and so he's suspicious. You can disarm him, however, for he's got reasoning parts quite up to the average if not above. He's the sort of boy that if you don't want him to steal your apples, you've only got to give him a few now and then; and then he rises to the situation and feels in honour bound to be straight, because you've lifted him to be your equal."
"I call that a very good character."
"It might be a lot worse, no doubt."
"I wanted him to come to our outing, but he won't do that, though his mother asked him to go."
The outing, an annual whole holiday, was won for the Mill by Estelle, and for the past four years she had taken all who cared to come for a long day by the sea. They always went to Weymouth, where amusement offered to suit every taste.
"More than ever are coming this year," John told her. "In fact, I believe pretty well everybody's going but Levi Baggs."
"I'm glad. We'll have the two wagonettes from 'The Seven Stars' as usual. If you are going into Bridport you might tell Missis Legg."
"The two big ones we shall want, and they must be here sharp at six o'clock," declared Mr. Best. "There's nothing like getting off early. I'll speak to Job Legg about it and tell him to start 'em off earlier. You can trust it to Job as to the wagonettes being opened or covered. He's a very weather-wise person and always smells rain twelve hours in advance."
THE RED HAND
The Mill had a fascination for all Bridetown children and they would trespass boldly and brave all perils to get a glimpse of the machinery. The thunder of the engines drew them, and there were all manner of interesting fragments to be picked up round and about. That they were not permitted within the radius of the works was also a sound reason for being there, and many boys could tell of great adventures and hairbreadth escapes from Mr. Best, Mr. Benny Cogle and, above all, Mr. Baggs. For Mr. Baggs, to the mind of youth, exhibited ogre-like qualities. They knew him as a deadly enemy, for which reason there was no part of the works that possessed a greater or more horrid fascination than the hackling shop. To have entered the den of Mr. Baggs marked a Bridetown lad as worthy of highest respect in his circle. But proofs were always demanded of such a high achievement. When Levi caught the adventurer, as sometimes happened, proofs were invariably apparent and a posterior evidence never lacked of a reverse for the offensive; but youth will be served, even though age sometimes serves it rather harshly, and the boys were untiring. Unless Levi locked the shop, when he went home at noon to dinner, there was always the chance of a raid with a strick or two possibly missing as proof of success.
Sabina had told Abel that he must keep away from the works, but he ignored her direction and often revolved about them at moments of liberty. He was a past master in the art of scouting and evading danger, yet loved danger, and the Mill offered him daily possibilities of both courting and escaping peril. Together with other little boys nourished on a penny journal, Abel had joined the 'Band of the Red Hand.' They did no harm, but hoped some day, when they grew older, to make a more' painful impression on Bridetown. At present their modest ambition was to leave the mark of their secret society in every unexpected spot possible. On private walls, in church and chapel, or the house-places of the farms, it was their joy to write with chalk, 'The Red Hand has been here.' Then followed a circle and a cross—the dark symbol of the brotherhood. Once a former chief of the gang had left his mark in the hackling shop and more than one member had similarly adorned the interior of the Mill; but the old chief had gone to sea at the age of thirteen, and, though younger than some of the present members, Abel was now appointed leader and always felt the demand to attempt things that should be worthy of so high a state.
They were not the everyday boys who thus combined, but a sort of child less common, yet not uncommon. Such lads scent one another out by parity of taste and care less for gregarious games than isolated or lonely adventures. They would rather go trespassing than play cricket; they would organise a secret raid before a public pastime. Intuitively they desire romance, and feeling that law and order is opposed to romance, find the need to flout law and order in measure of their strength, and, of course, applaud the successful companion who does so with most complete results.
Now 'the old Adam'—a comprehensive term for independence of view and unpreparedness to accept the tried values of pastors and masters—was strong in Abel Dinnett. He loved life, but hated discipline, and for him the Mill possessed far more significance than it could offer to any lesser member of the band, since his father owned it. For that much Abel apprehended, though the meaning of paternity was as yet hidden from him.
That Raymond Ironsyde was his father he understood, and that he must hate him heartily he also understood: his dead grandmother had poured this precept into his young mind at its most receptive period. For the present he was still too youthful to rise beyond this general principle, and he was far too busy with his own adventures to find leisure to hate any one more than fitfully. He told the Red Handers that some day he designed a terrific attack on Raymond Ironsyde; and they promised to assist and support him; but they all recognised their greater manifestations must be left until they attained more weight in the cosmic and social schemes, and, for the moment, their endeavour rose little higher than to set their fatal sign where least it might be expected.
To this end came dark-eyed Abel to the Mill at an hour when he should have been at his dinner. Ere long his activities might be curtailed, for he was threatened with a preparatory school in the autumn; but before that happened, the Red Hand must be set in certain high places, and the hackling shop of Levi Baggs was first among them.
Abel wore knickerbockers and his feet and legs were bare, for he had just waded across the river beyond the Mill, and meant to retreat by the same road. He had hidden in a may bush till the people were all gone to their meal, and then crossed the stream into the works. That the door of the hackler's would be open he did not expect, for Levi locked it when he went home; but there was a little window, and Abel, who had a theory that where his head could go, his body could follow, believed that by the window it would be possible to make his entrance. The contrary of what he expected happened, however, for the window was shut and the door on the latch. Fate willed that on the very day of Abel's attack, Mr. Baggs should be spending the dinner-hour in his shop. His sister, who looked after him, was from home until the evening, and Levi had brought his dinner to the works. He was eating it when the boy very cautiously opened the door, and since Mr. Baggs sat exactly behind the door, this action served to conceal him. The intruder therefore thought the place empty, and proceeded with his operations while Levi made no sound, but watched him.
Taking a piece of chalk from his pocket Abel wrote the words of terror, 'The Red Hand has been here,' and set down the circle and cross. Then he picked up one of the bright stricks, that lay beside the hackling board, and was just about to depart in triumph, when Mr. Baggs banged the door and revealed himself.
Thus discomfited, Abel grew pale and then flushed. Mr. Baggs was a very big and strong man and the culprit knew that he must now prepare for the pangs that attended failure. But he bore pain well. He had been operated upon for faulty tendons when he was five and proved a Spartan patient. He stood now waiting for Mr. Baggs. Other victims had reported that it was Levi's custom to use a strap from his own waist when he beat a boy, and Abel, even at this tense moment, wondered whether he would now do so.
"It's you, is it?" said Mr. Baggs. "And the Red Hand has been here, has it? And perhaps the red something else will go away from here. You're a darned young thief—that's what you are."
"I ain't yet," argued Abel. His voice fluttered, for his heart was beating very fast.
"You're as good, however, for you was going to take my strick. The will was there, though I prevented the deed."
"I had to show the Band as I'd been here."
"Why did you come? What sense is there to it?"
Abel regarded Mr. Baggs doubtfully and did not reply.
"Just to show you're a bit out of the common, perhaps?"
Abel clutched at the suggestion. His eyes looked sideways slyly at Mr. Baggs. The ogre seemed inclined to talk, and through speech might come salvation, for he had acted rather than talked on previous occasions.
"We want to be different from common boys," said the marauder.
"Well, you are, for one, and there's no need to trouble in your case. You was born different, and different you've got to be. I suppose you've been told often enough who your father is?"
"Yes, I have."
"Small wonder then that you've got your knife into the world at large, I reckon. What thinking man, or boy, has not for that matter? So you're up against the laws and out for the liberties? Well, I don't quarrel with that. Only you're too young yet to understand what a lot you've got to grumble at. Some day you will."
Abel said nothing. He hardly listened, and thought far less of what Mr. Baggs was saying than of what he himself would say to his companions after this great adventure. To make friends with the ogre was no mean feat, even for a member of the Red Hand.
What motiveless malignity actuated Levi Baggs meanwhile, who can say? He was now a man in sight of seventy, yet his crabbed soul would exude gall under pressure as of yore. None was ever cheered or heartened by anything he might say; but to cast a neighbour down, or make a confident and contented man doubtful and discontented, affected Mr. Baggs favourably and rendered him as cheerful as his chronic pessimism ever permitted him to be.
He bade the child sit and gave him his portion of currant dumpling.
"Put that down your neck," he said, "and don't you think so bad of me in future. I treat other people same as they treat me, and that's a rule that works out pretty fair in practice, if you've got the power to follow it. But some folks are too weak to treat other people as they are treated—you, for example. You're one of the unlucky ones, you are, Abel Dinnett."
Abel enjoyed the pudding; and still his mind dwelt more on future narration of this great incident than on the incident itself. With unconscious art, he felt that the moment when this tale was told, would be far greater for him than the moment when it happened.
"I ain't unlucky, Mister Baggs. I would have been unlucky if you'd beat me; but you've give me your pudding, and I'm on your side till death now."
"Well, that's something. I ain't got many my side, I believe. The fearless thinker never has. You can come and see me when you mind to, because I'm sorry for you, owing to your bad fortune. You've been handicapped out of winning the race, Abel. You know what a handicap is in a race? Well, you won't have no chance of winning now, because your father won't own you."
"I won't own him," said the boy. "Granny always told me he was my bitterest enemy, and she knew, and I won't trust him—never."
"I should think not—nor any other wise chap wouldn't trust him. He's a bad lot. He only believes in machines, not humans."
The boy began to be receptive.
"He wants to be friends, but I won't be his friend, because I hate him. Only I don't tell mother, because she don't hate him so much as me."
"More fool her, then. She ought to hate him. She's got first cause. Do you know who ought to own these works when your father dies?"
"No, Mister Baggs."
"You. Yes, they did ought to belong to you in justice, because you are his eldest son. Everything ought to be yours, if the world were run by right and fairness and honour. But it's all took from you and you can't lift a finger to better yourself, because you're only his natural son, and Nature may go to hell every time for all the Law and the Church care. Church and Law both hate Nature. So that's why I say you're an unlucky boy; and that's why I say that, despite your father's money and fame and being popular and well thought on and all that, he's a cruel rogue."
Abel was puzzled but interested.
"If I'm his boy, why ain't my mother his wife, like all the other chaps' fathers have got wives?"
"Why ain't your mother his wife? Yes, why? After ten years he'll find that question as hard to answer as it was before you were born, I reckon. And the answer to the question is the same as the answer to many questions about Raymond Ironsyde. And that is, that he is a crooked man who pretends to be a straight one; in a word, a hypocrite. And you'll grow up to understand these things and see what should be yours taken from you and given to other people."
"When I grow up, I'll have it out with him," said Abel.
"No, you won't. Because he's strong and you're weak. You're weak and poor and nobody, with no father to fight for you and give you a show in the world. And you'll always be the same, so you'll never stand any chance against him."
The boy flushed and showed anger.
"I won't be weak and poor always."
"Against him you will. Suppose you went so far as to let him befriend you, could he ever make up for not marrying your mother? Can he ever make you anything but a bastard and an outcast? No, he can't; and he only wants to educate you and give you a bit of money and decent clothes for the sake of his own conscience. He'll come to you hat in hand some day—not because he cares a damn for you, but that he may stand well in the eyes of the world."
Abel now panted with anger, and Mr. Baggs was mildly amused to see how easily the child could be played upon.
"I'll grow up and then—"
"Don't you worry. You must take life as you find it, and as you haven't found it a very kind thing, you must put up with it. Most people draw blanks, and that's why it's better to stop out of the world than in it. And if we could see into the bottom of every heart, we should very likely find that all draw blanks, and even what looks like prizes are not."
Levi laughed after this sweeping announcement. It appeared to put him in a good temper. He even relaxed in the gravity of his prophecies.
"However, life is on the side of youth," he said, "and you may come to the front some day, if you've got enough brains. Brains is the only thing that'll save you. Your mother's clever and your father's crafty, so perhaps you'll go one better than either. Perhaps, some day, if you wait long enough, you'll get back on your father, after all."
"I will wait long enough," declared Abel. "I don't care how long I wait, but I'll best him, Mister Baggs."
"You keep in that righteous spirit and you'll breed a bit of trouble for him some day, I daresay. And now be off, and if you want to come and see me at work and learn about hackling and the business that ought to be yours but won't be, then you can drop in again when you mind to."
"Thank you, sir," said Abel. "I will come, and if I say you let me, nobody can stop me."
"That's right. I like brave boys that ain't frightened of their betters—so called."
Then Abel went off, crossed Bride among the sedges and put on his shoes and stockings again. He had a great deal to think about, and this brief conversation played its part in his growing brain to alter old opinions and waken new ideas. That he had successfully stormed the hackling shop and found the ogre friendly was, of course, good; but already, and long before he could retail the incident, it began to lose its rare savour. He perceived this himself dimly, and it made him uncomfortable and troubled. Something had happened to him; he knew not what, but it dwarfed the operations of the Red Hand, and it even made his personal triumph look smaller than it appeared a little while before.
Abel stared at the Mill while he pulled on his stockings and listened to the bell calling the people back to work.
By right, then, all these wonders should be his some day; but his father would never give them to him now. He vaguely remembered that his grandmother had said something like this; but it remained for Mr. Baggs to rekindle the impression until Abel became oppressed with its greatness.
He considered the problem gloomily for a long time and decided to talk to his mother about it. But he did not. It was characteristic of him that he seldom went to Sabina for any light on his difficulties. Indeed he attached more importance to Mr. Churchouse's opinions than his mother's. He determined to see Levi Baggs again and, meantime, he let a sense of wrong sink into him. Here the Band of the Red Hand offered comfort. It seemed proper to his dawning intelligence that one who had been so badly treated as he, should become the head of the Red Hand. Yet, as the possible development of the movement occurred to Abel, the child began to share the uneasiness of all conspiracy and feel a weakness inherent in the Band. Seen from that modest standard of evil-doing which belonged to Tommy and Billy Keep, Amos Whittle and Jacky Gale, the Red Handers appeared a futile organisation even in Abel's eyes. He felt, as greater than he have felt, that an ideal society should embrace one member only: himself. There were far too many brothers of the Red Hand, and before he reached home he even contemplated resignation. He liked better the thought of playing his own hand, and keeping both its colour and its purpose secret from everybody else in the world. His head was, for the moment, full of unsocial thoughts; but whether the impressions created by Mr. Baggs were likely to persist in a mind so young, looked doubtful.
He told his mother nothing, as usual. Indeed, had she guessed half that went on in Abel's brains, she might have sooner undertaken what presently was indicated, and removed herself and her son to a district far beyond their native village.
But the necessity did not exist in her thoughts, and when she recognised it, since the inspiration came from without, she was moved to resent rather than accept it.
There was a cricket luncheon at 'The Tiger' when Bridport played its last match for the season against Axminster. The western township had won the first encounter, and Bridport much desired to cry quits over the second.
Raymond played on this occasion, and though he failed, the credit of Bridetown was worthily upheld by Nicholas Roberts, the lathe-worker. He did not bowl as fast as of yore, but he bowled better, and since Axminster was out for one hundred and thirty in their first innings, while Bridport had made seventy for two wickets before luncheon, the issue promised well.
Job Legg still helped Richard Gurd at great moments as he was wont to do, for prosperity had not modified Job's activity, or diminished his native goodwill. Gurd carved, while Job looked after the bottles. Arthur Waldron, who umpired for Bridport, sat beside Raymond at lunch and condoled with him, because the younger, who had gone in second wicket down, had played himself in very carefully before the interval.
"Now you'll have to begin all over again," said Waldron. "I always say luncheon may be worth anything to the bowlers. It rests them, but it puts the batsman's eye out."
"Seeing how short of practice you are this year, you were jolly steady, Ray," declared Neddy Motyer, who sat on the other side of Ironsyde. "You stopped some very hot ones."
Neddy preserved his old interest in sport, but was now a responsible member of society. He had married and joined his father, a harness-maker, in a prosperous business.
"I can't time 'em, like I could. That fast chap will get me, I expect."
And Raymond proved a true prophet. Indeed far worse happened than he anticipated.
Estelle came to watch the cricket after luncheon. She had driven into Bridport with her father and Raymond in the morning and gone on to Jenny Ironsyde for the midday meal. Now she arrived in time to witness a catastrophe. A very fast bowler went on immediately after lunch. He was a tall and powerful youth with a sinister reputation for bowling at the man rather than the wicket. At any rate he pitched them short and with his lofty delivery bumped them very steeply on a lively pitch. Now, in his second over, he sent down a short one at tremendous speed, and the batsman, failing to get out of the way, was hit on the point of the jaw. He fell as though shot and proved to be quite unconscious when picked up.
They carried him to the pavilion, and it was not until twenty minutes had passed that Raymond came round and the game went on. But Ironsyde could take no further part. There was concussion of doubtful severity and he found himself half blind and suffering great pain in the neck and head.
Estelle came to him and advised that he should go to his aunt's house, which was close at hand. He could not speak, but signified agreement, and they took him there in an ambulance, while the girl ran on to advise his aunt of the accident.
A doctor came with him and helped to get him to bed. His mind seemed affected and he wandered in his speech. But he recognised Estelle and begged her not to leave him. She sat near him, therefore, in a darkened room and Miss Ironsyde also came.
Waldron dropped in before dusk with the news that Bridport had won, by a smaller margin than promised, on the first innings. But he found Raymond sleeping and did not waken him. Estelle believed the injured man would want her when he woke again. The doctor could say nothing till some hours had passed, so she went home, but returned a few hours later to stop the night and help, if need be, to nurse the patient. A professional nurse shared the vigil; but their duties amounted to nothing, for Raymond slept through the greater part of the night and declared himself better in the morning.
He had to stop with his aunt, however, for two or three days, and while Estelle, her ministration ended, was going away after the doctor pronounced Raymond on the road to recovery, the patient begged her to remain. He appeared in a sentimental vein, and the experience of being nursed was so novel that Ironsyde endured it without a murmur. To Estelle, who did not guess he was rather enjoying it, the spectacle of his patience under pain awoke admiration. Indeed, she thought him most heroic and he made no effort to undeceive her.
Incidentally, during his brief convalescence the man saw more of his aunt than he had seen for many days. She also must needs nurse him and exhaust her ingenuity to pass the time. The room was kept dark for eight-and-forty hours, so her method of entertaining her nephew consisted chiefly in conversation.
Of late years Raymond seldom let a week elapse without seeing Miss Ironsyde if only for half an hour. Her waning health occupied him on these occasions and, at his suggestion, she had gone to Bath to fight the arthritis that slowly gained upon her. But during his present sojourn at Bridport as her guest, Raymond let her lead their talk as she would, indeed, he himself sometimes led it into channels of the past, where she would not have ventured to go.
Life had made an immense difference to the man and he was old for his age now, even as until his brother's death he had been young for his age. She could not fail to note the steadfastness of his mind, despite its limitations. As Estelle had often done, she perceived how he set his faith on material things—the steel and steam—to bring about a new order and advance the happiness of mankind; but he was interested in social questions far more than of old time, and she felt no little surprise to hear him talk about the future.
"The air is full of change," she said, on one occasion.
"It always is," he answered. "There is always movement, although the breath of advance and progress seems to sink to nothing, sometimes. Now it's blowing a stiff breeze and may rise to a hurricane in a few years."
"It is for the stable, solid backbone of the nation—we of the middle-class—to withstand such storms," she declared, and he agreed.
"If you've got a stake in the world, you must certainly see its foundations are driven deep and look to the stake itself, that it's not rotting. Some stakes are certainly not made of stuff stout enough to stand against the storms ahead. Education is the great, vital thing. I often feel mad to think how I wasted my own time at school, and came to man's work a raw, ignorant fool. We talk of the education of the masses and what I see is this: they will soon be better educated than we ourselves; for we bring any amount of sense and modern ideas to work on their teaching, while our own prehistorical methods are left severely alone. I believe the boys who come to working age now are better taught than I was at my grammar school. I wish I knew more."
"Yet we see education may run us into great dangers," said Jenny Ironsyde. "It can be pushed to a perilous point. One even hears a murmur against the Bible in the schools. It makes my blood run cold. And we need not look farther than dear Estelle to see the peril."
"What do you think of Estelle?" he asked. "I almost welcome this stupid collapse, nuisance though it is, because it's made a sort of resting-place and brought me nearer to you and Estelle. You've both been so kind. A man such as I am, is so busy and absorbed that he forgets all about women; then suddenly lying on his back—done for and useless—he finds they don't forget all about him."
"You ask what I think about Estelle?" she said. "I never think about Estelle—no more than I do about the sunshine, or my comfortable bed, or my tea. She's just one of the precious things I take for granted. I love her. She is a great deal to me, and the hours she spends with a rather old-fashioned and cross-grained woman are the happiest hours I know."
"I'm like her father," he said. "I give Estelle best. Nothing can spoil her, because she's so utterly uninterested in herself. Another thing: she's so fair—almost morbidly fair. The only thing that makes her savage is injustice. If she sees an injustice, she won't leave it alone if it's in her power to alter it. That's her father in her. What he calls 'sporting,' she calls 'justice.' And, of course, the essence of sport is justice, if you think it out."
"I don't know anything about sport, but I suppose I have to thank cricket for your company at present. As for Estelle. I think she has a great idea of your judgment and opinion."
"If she does, it's probably because I generally agree with her. Besides—"
He broke off and lighted a cigarette.
"'Besides' what?" asked the lady.
"Well—oh I hardly know. I'm tremendously fond of her. Perhaps I've taken her too much as you say we take the sun and our meat and drink—as a matter of course. Yes, like the sun, and as unapproachable."
Miss Ironsyde considered.
"I suppose you're right. I can well imagine that to the average man a 'Una,' such as Estelle, may seem rather unapproachable."
"We're very good friends, though how good I never quite guessed till this catastrophe. She seemed to come and help look after me as a matter of course. Didn't think it a bit strange."
"She's simple, but in a very noble way. I've only one quarrel with her—the faith of her fathers—"
"Leave it. You'll only put your foot into it, Aunt Jenny."
"Never," she said. "I shall never put my foot into it where right and wrong are concerned—with Estelle or you, or anybody else. I'm nearly seventy, remember, Raymond, and one knows what is imperishable and to be trusted at that age."
Thus she negatived Mr. Churchouse's dictum—that mere age demanded no particular reverence, since many years are as liable to error as few.
Her nephew was doubtful.
"Right and wrong are a never-ending puzzle," he said. "They vary so from the point of view. And if you once grant there are more view points than one, where are you?"
"Right and wrong are not doubtful," she assured him, "and all the science in the world can't turn one into the other—any more than light can turn into darkness."
"Light can turn into darkness easily enough. I've learned that during the last three days," he answered. "If you fill this room with light, I can't see. If you keep it dark, I can."
Estelle came to tea and read some notes that Mr. Best had prepared for Raymond. They satisfied him, and the meal was merry, for he found himself free of pain and in the best spirits. Estelle, too, had some gossip that amused him. Her father was already practising at clay pigeons to get his eye in for the first of September; and he wished to inform Raymond that he was shooting well and hoped for a better season than the last. He had also seen a vixen and three cubs on North Hill at five o'clock in the morning of the preceding day.
"In fact, it's the best of all possible worlds so far as father is concerned," said Estelle, "and now he hears you're coming home early next week, he will go to church on Sunday with a thankful heart. He said yesterday that Raymond's accident had a bright side. D'you know what it is? Ray meant to give up cricket altogether after this year; but father points out that he cannot do so now. Because it is morally impossible for Ray to stop playing until he stands up again to that bowler who hurt him so badly. 'Morally impossible,' is what father said."