Read CHAPTER III - Jim the Blacksmith of My Brave and Gallant Gentleman, free online book, by Robert Watson, on ReadCentral.com.

The village of Brammerton seemed only half awake. A rumbling cart was slowly wending its way up the hill, three or four old men were standing yarning at the inn corner; now and again, a busy housewife would appear at her door and take a glimpse of what little was going on and disappear inside just as quickly as she had shown herself. The sound of the droning voices of children conning their lessons came through the open window of the old schoolhouse.

These were the only signs and sounds of life that forenoon in Brammerton. Stay! there was yet another. Breaking in on the general quiet of the place, I could hear distinctly the regular thud of hard steel on soft, followed by the clear double-ring of a small hammer on a mellow-toned anvil.

One man, at any rate, was hard at work, Jim Darrol, big, honest, serious giant that he was.

Light of heart and buoyant in body, I turned down toward the smithy. I looked in through the grimy, broken window and admired the brawny giant he looked there in the glare of the furnace, with his broad back to me, his huge arms bared to the shoulders. Little wonder, thought I, Jim Darrol can whirl the hammer and put the shot farther than any man in the Northern Counties.

How the muscles bulged, and wriggled, and crawled under his dark, hairy skin! What a picture of manliness he portrayed! And, best of all, I knew his heart was as good and clean as his body was sound.

I tiptoed cautiously inside and slapped him between the shoulders. He wheeled about quickly. He always was a solemn-looking owl, but this morning his face was clouded and grim. As he recognised me, a terrible anger seemed to blaze up in his black eyes. I could see the muscles tighten in his arms and his fingers close firmly over the shaft of the hammer he held. I could see a new-born, but fierce hatred burning in every inch of his enormous frame.

“Hello, Jim, old man! Who has been rubbing you the wrong way?” I cried.

His jaws set. He raised his left hand and pointed with his finger to the open doorway.

“Get out!” he growled, in a deep, hoarse voice.

I stood dumbfounded for a brief moment, then I replied roughly and familiarly: “Oh, you go to the devil! Keep your anger for those who have caused it.”

“Get out, will you!” he cried again, taking a step nearer to me, his brows lowered, his lips drawn to a thin line.

I had seen these danger signals in Jim before, but never with any ill intent toward me. I was so astounded I could scarcely think aright. What could he mean? What was the matter?

“Jim, Jim,” I soothed, “don’t talk that way to old friends.”

“You’re no friend of mine,” he shouted. “Will you get out of here?”

In some respects, I was like Jim Darrol: I did not like to be ordered about.

“No! I will not get out,” I snapped back at him. “I mean to remain here until you grow sensible.”

I went over to his anvil, set my leg across it and looked straight at him.

He raised his hammer high, as if to strike me; and I felt then that if I had taken my eyes from Jim’s for the briefest flash of time, my last minute on earth would have arrived.

With an oath, the first I ever heard him utter, he cast the hammer from him, sending it clattering into a corner among the old horse shoes.

“Damn you, I hate you and all your cursed aristocratic breed,” he snarled. And, with the spring of a tiger, he had me by the throat, with those great, grabbing hands of his, his fingers closing cruelly on my windpipe as he tried to shake the life out of me.

I had always been able to account for Jim when it came to fisticuffs, but never at close quarters. This time, his attack was violent as it was unexpected. I did not have the ghost of a chance. I staggered back against the furnace wall, still in his devilish clutch. Not a gasp of air entered or left my body from the moment he clutched me.

He shook me as a terrier does a rat.

Soon my strength began to go; my eyes bulged; my head felt as if it were bursting; dancing lights and awful darknesses flashed and loomed alternately before and around me. Then the lights became scarcer and the darknesses longer and more intense. As the last glimmer of consciousness was leaving me, when black gloom had won and there was no more light, I felt a sudden release, painful and almost unwelcome to the oblivion to which I had been hurling. The lights came flashing back to me again and out of the whirling chaos I began to grasp the tangible once more. As I leaned against the side of the furnace, pulling at my throat where those terrible fingers had been, gasping, gasping, for glorious life-giving, life-sustaining air, I gradually began to see as through a haze. Before long, I was almost myself again.

Jim was standing a few paces away, his chest heaving, his shaggy head bent and his great hands clenched against his thighs.

I gazed at him, and as I gazed something wet glistened in his eyes, rolled down his cheeks and splashed on the back of his hand, where it dried up as if it had fallen on a red-hot plate.

I took an unsteady step toward him and held out my hand.

“Jim,” I murmured, “my poor old Jim!”

His head remained lowered.

“Strike me,” he groaned huskily. “For God’s sake strike me, for the coward I am!”

“I want your hand, Jim,” I answered. “Tell me what is wrong? What is all this about?”

At last he looked into my eyes. I could see a hundred conflicting emotions working in his expressive face.

“You would be friends after what I have done?” he asked.

“I want your hand, Jim,” I said again.

In a moment, both his were clasped over mine, in his vicelike grip.

“George, George!” he cried. “We’ve always been friends, chums. I have always known you were not like the rest of them.”

He drew his forearm across his brow. “I am not myself, George. You’ll forgive me for what I did, won’t you?”

“Man, Jim, there is nothing done that requires forgiving; only, you have the devil’s own grip. I don’t suppose I shall be able to swallow decently for a week.

“But you are in trouble: what is it, Jim? Tell me; maybe I can help.”

“Ay, it’s trouble enough, God forbid. It’s Peggy, George, my dear little sister, Peggy, that has neither mother nor father to guide her; only me, and I’m a blind fool. Oh! I can’t speak about it. Come over with me and see for yourself.”

I followed him slowly and silently out of the smithy, down the lane and across the road to his little, rose-covered cottage. We went round to the back of the house. Jim held up his hand for caution, as he peeped in at the kitchen window. He turned to me again, and beckoned, his big eyes blind with tears.

“Look in there,” he gulped. “That’s my little sister, my little Peggy; she who never has had a sorrow since mother left us. She’s been like that for four hours and she gets worse when I try to comfort her.”

I peered in.

Peggy was sitting on the edge of a chair and bending across the table. Her arms were spread out in front of her and her face was buried in them. Her brown, curly hair rippled over her neck and shoulders like a mountain stream. Great sobs seemed to be shaking her supple body. I listened, and my ears caught the sound of a breaking heart. There was a fearful agony in her whole attitude.

I turned away without speaking and followed Jim back to the smithy. When we got there, something pierced me like a knife, although all was not quite clear to my understanding.

“Jim, Jim,” I cried, “surely you never fancied I I was in any way to blame for this. Why! Jim, I don’t even know yet what it is all about.”

He laughed unpleasantly. “No, George, no! Oh! I can’t tell you. Here ”

He went to his coat which hung from a hook in the wall. He pulled a letter from his inside pocket. “Read that,” he said.

I unfolded the paper, as he stood watching me keenly.

The note was in handwriting with which I was well familiar.

“My dear little Peggy,

I am very, very sorry, but surely you know that what you ask is impossible. I shall try to find time to run out and see you at the usual place, Friday night at nine o’clock. Do not be afraid, little woman; everything will come out all right. You know I shall see that you are well looked after; that you do not want for anything.

Burn this after you read it. Keep our secret, and bear up, like the good little girl you are. Yours affectionately,

H ”

As I read, my blood chilled in my veins, was, there could be no mistaking it.

“My God! Jim,” I cried, “this is terrible. Surely, surely ”

“Yes! George,” he said, in a tensely subdued voice, “your brother did that. Your brother, with his glib tongue and his masterful way. Oh! well I know the breed. They are to be found in high and low places; they are generally not much for a man to look at, but they are the kind no woman is safe beside; the kind that gets their soft side whether they be angels or she-devils. Why couldn’t he leave her alone? Why couldn’t he stay among his own kind?

“And now, he has the gall to think that his accursed money can smooth it over. Damn and curse him for what he is.”

I had little or nothing to say. My heart was too full for words and a great anger was surging within me against my own flesh and blood.

“Jim, does this make any difference between you and me?” I asked, crossing over to him on the spongy floor of hoof parings and steel filings. “Does it, Jim?”

He caught me by the shoulders, in his old, rough way, and looked into my face. Then he smiled sadly and shook his head.

“No, George, no! You’re different: you always were different; you are the same straight, honest George Brammerton to me; still the same.”

“Then, Jim, you will let me try to do something here? You will promise me not to get into personal contact with Harry, at least until I have seen him and spoken with him. Not that he does not deserve a dog’s hiding, but I should like to see him and talk with him first.”

“Why should I promise that?” he asked sharply.

“For one thing, because, doubtless, Harry is home now. And again, there is going to be a week-end House Party at our place. Harry’s engagement of marriage with Lady Rosemary Granton is to be announced; and Lady Rosemary will be there.

“It would only mean trouble for you, Jim; and, God knows, this is trouble enough.”

“What do I care for trouble?” he cried defiantly. “What trouble can make me more unhappy than I now am?”

“You must avoid further trouble for Peggy’s sake,” I interposed. “Jim, let me see Harry first. Do what you like afterwards. Promise me, Jim.”

He swallowed his anger.

“God! it will be a hard promise to keep if ever I come across him. But I do promise, just because I like you, George, as I hate him.”

“May I keep this meantime?” I asked, holding up Harry’s letter to Peggy.

“No! Give it to me. I might need it.”

“But I might find greater use for it, Jim. Won’t you let me have it, for a time at least?”

“Oh! all right, all right,” he answered, spreading his hands over his leather apron.

I left him there amid the roar of the fire and the odour of sizzling hoofs, and wended my way slowly up the dust-laden hill, back home, having forgotten entirely, in the great sorrow that had fallen, to tell Jim my object in calling on him that day.