Read CHAPTER TWO - A FIERY PLACE of Patience Wins War in the Works , free online book, by George Manville Fenn, on ReadCentral.com.

No time was lost.  The agreements were signed, and Uncle Dick packed up his traps, as he called them, that is to say, his books, clothes, and models and contrivances, so as to go down at once, take possession of the works, and get apartments for us.

I should have liked to go with him, but I had to stay for another week, and then, after a hearty farewell, we others started, my father, mother, and sister seeing us off by rail; and until I saw the trees, hedges, and houses seeming to fly by me I could hardly believe that we were really on our way.

Of course I felt a little low-spirited at leaving home, and I was a little angry with myself for seeming to be so glad to get away from those who had been so patient and kind, but I soon found myself arguing that it would have been just the same if I had left home only to go to some business place in London.  Still I was looking very gloomy when Uncle Jack clapped me on the shoulder, and asked me if I didn’t feel like beginning to be a man.

“No,” I said sadly, as I looked out of the window at the flying landscape, so that he should not see my face.  “I feel more as if I was beginning to be a great girl.”

“Nonsense!” said Uncle Bob; “you’re going to be a man now, and help us.”

“Am I?” said I sadly.

“To be sure you are.  There, put that gloomy face in your pocket and learn geography.”

They both chatted to me, and I felt a little better, but anything but cheerful, for it was my first time of leaving home.  I looked at the landscape, and the towns and churches we passed, but nothing seemed to interest me till, well on in my journey, I saw a sort of wooden tower close to the line, with a wheel standing half out of the top.  There was an engine-house close by ­there was no doubt about it, for I could see the puffs of white steam at the top, and a chimney.  There was a great mound of black slate and rubbish by the end; but even though the railway had a siding close up to it, and a number of trucks were standing waiting, I did not realise what the place was till Uncle Jack said: 

“First time you’ve seen a coal-pit, eh?”

“Is that a coal-pit?” I said, looking at the place more eagerly.

“Those are the works.  Of course you can’t see the shaft, because that’s only like a big square well.”

“But I thought it would be a much more interesting place,” I said.

“Interesting enough down below; but of course there is nothing to see at the top but the engine, cage, and mouth of the shaft.”

That brightened me up at once.  There was something to think about in connection with a coal-mine ­the great deep shaft, the cage going up and down, the miners with their safety-lamps and picks.  I saw it all in imagination as we dashed by another and another mine.  Then I began to think about the accidents of which I had read; when men unfastened their wire-gauze lamps, so that they might do that which was forbidden in a mine, smoke their pipes.  The match struck or the opened lamp set fire to the gas, when there was an awful explosion, and after that the terrible dangers of the after-damp, that fearful foul air which no man could breathe for long and live.

There were hundreds of thoughts like this to take my attention as we raced on by the fast train till, to my surprise, I found that it was getting dark, and the day had passed.

“Here we are close to it,” said Uncle Jack; “look, my lad.”

I gazed out of the window on our right as the train glided on, to see the glare as of a city on fire:  the glow of a dull red flickered and danced upon the dense clouds that overhung the place.  Tall chimneys stood up like black stakes or posts set up in the reflection of open furnace doors.  Here a keen bright light went straight up through the smoke with the edges exactly defined ­here it was a sharp glare, there a dull red glow, and everywhere there seemed to be fire and reflection, and red or golden smoke mingled with a dull throbbing booming sound, which, faintly heard at first, grew louder and louder as the train slackened speed, and the pant and pulsation of the engine ceased.

“Isn’t something dreadful the matter?” I said, as I gazed excitedly from the window.

“Matter!” said Uncle Jack laughing.

“Yes, isn’t the place on fire?  Look!  Look!  There there!”

I pointed to a fierce glare that seemed to reach up into the sky, cutting the dense cloud like millions of golden arrows shot from some mighty engine all at once.

“Yes, I see, old fellow,” said Uncle Jack.  “They have just tapped a furnace, and the molten metal is running into the moulds, that’s all.”

“But the whole town looks as if it were in a blaze,” I said nervously.

“So did our works sometimes, didn’t they?  Well, here we are in a town where there are hundreds upon hundreds of works ten times as big as ours.  Nearly everybody is either forging, or casting, or grinding.  The place is full of steam-engines, while the quantity of coal that is burnt here every day must be prodigious.  Aha!  Here’s Uncle Dick.”

He had caught sight of us before we saw him, and threw open the carriage-door ready to half haul us out, as he shook hands as if we had not met for months.

“That’s right,” he cried.  “I am glad you’ve come.  I’ve a cab waiting.  Here, porter, lay hold of this baggage.  Well, Cob, what do you think of Arrowfield?”

“Looks horrible,” I said in the disappointed tones of one who is tired and hungry.

“Yes, outside,” said Uncle Dick; “but wait till you see the inside.”

Uncle Dick was soon standing in what he called the inside of Arrowfield ­that is to say the inside of the comfortable furnished lodgings he had taken right up a hill, where, over a cosy tea-table with hot country cakes and the juiciest of hot mutton chops, I soon forgot the wearisome nature of our journey, and the dismal look of the town.

“Eat away, my boys,” cried Uncle Dick.  “Yeat, as they call it here.  The place is all right; everything ready for work, and we’ll set to with stout hearts, and make up for lost time.”

“When do we begin, uncle ­to-morrow?”

“No, no:  not till next Monday morning.  To-morrow we’ll have a look over the works, and then we’ll idle a bit ­have a few runs into the country round, and see what it’s like.”

“Black dismal place,” I said dolefully.

“Says he’s tired out and wants to go to bed,” said Uncle Jack, giving his eye a peculiar cock at his brothers.

“I didn’t,” I cried.

“Not in words, my fine fellow, but you looked it.”

“Then I won’t look so again,” I cried.  “I say, don’t talk to me as if I were a little boy to be sent to bed.”

“Well, you’re not a man yet, Cob.  Is he, boys?”

Uncle Dick was in high spirits, and he took up a candle and held it close to my cheek.

“What’s the matter?” I said.  “Is it black?  I shouldn’t wonder.”

“Not a bit, Cob,” he said seriously.  “You can’t even see a bit of the finest down growing.”

“Oh, I say,” I cried, “it’s too bad!  I don’t pretend to be a man at sixteen; but now I’ve come down here to help you in the new works, you oughtn’t to treat me as if I were a little boy.”

“Avast joking!” said Uncle Dick quietly, for the comely landlady came in to clear away the tea-things, and she had just finished when there was a double knock at the front door.

We heard it opened, and a deep voice speaking, and directly after the landlady came in with a card.

“Mr Tomplin, gentlemen,” she said.  “He’s at the door, and I was to say that if it was inconvenient for you to see him to-night, perhaps you would call at his office when you were down the town.”

“Oh, ask him in, Mrs Stephenson,” cried Uncle Dick; and as she left the room ­“it’s the solicitor to whom I brought the letter of introduction from the bank.”

It was a short dark man in black coat and waistcoat and pepper-and-salt trousers who was shown in.  He had little sharp eyes that seemed to glitter.  So did his hair, which was of light-grey, and stood up all over his head as if it was on white fire.  He had not a particle of hair on his face, which looked as if he was a very good customer to the barber.

He shook hands very heartily with all of us, nodding pleasantly the while; and when he sat down he took out a brown-and-yellow silk handkerchief and blew his nose like a horn.

“Welcome to Yorkshire, gentlemen!” he said.  “My old friends at the bank send me a very warm letter of recommendation about you, and I’m at your service.  Professional consultations at the usual fee, six and eight or thirteen and four, according to length.  Friendly consultations ­Thank you, I’m much obliged.  This is a friendly consultation.  Now what can I do for you?”

He looked round at us all, and I felt favourably impressed.  So did my uncles, as Uncle Dick answered for all.

“Nothing at present, sir.  By and by we shall be glad to come to you for legal and friendly advice too.”

“That’s right,” said Mr Tomplin.  “You’ve taken the Rivulet Works, I hear.”

“Yes, down there by the stream.”

“What are you going to do? ­carry on the old forging and grinding?”

“Oh, dear, no!” said Uncle Dick.  “We are going in for odds and ends, sir.  To introduce, I hope, a good many improvements in several branches of the trades carried on here, principally in forging.”

Mr Tomplin drew in his lips and filled his face with wrinkles.

“Going to introduce new inventions, eh?” he said.

“Yes, sir, but only one at a time,” said Uncle Jack.

“And have you brought a regiment of soldiers with you, gentlemen?”

“Brought a what?” said Uncle Bob, laughing.

“Regiment of soldiers, sir, and a company of artillerymen with a couple of guns.”

“Ha!  Ha!  Ha!” laughed Uncle Dick, showing his white teeth.  “Mr Tomplin means to besiege Arrowfield.”

“No, I don’t, my dear sir.  I mean to turn your works into a fort to defend yourselves against your enemies.”

“My dear sir,” said Uncle Jack, “we haven’t an enemy in the world.”

“Not at the present moment, sir, I’ll be bound,” said Mr Tomplin, taking snuff, and then blowing his nose so violently that I wondered he did not have an accident with it and split the sides.  “Not at the present moment, gentlemen; but as soon as it is known that you are going to introduce new kinds of machinery, our enlightened townsmen will declare you are going to take the bread out of their mouths and destroy everything you make.”

“Take the bread out of their mouths, my dear Mr Tomplin!” said Uncle Jack.  “Why, what we do will put bread in their mouths by making more work.”

“Of course it will, my dear sirs.”

“Then why should they interfere?”

“Because of their ignorance, gentlemen.  They won’t see it.  Take my advice:  there’s plenty to be done by clever business men.  Start some steady manufacture to employ hands as the work suggests.  Only use present-day machinery if you wish to be at peace.”

“We do wish to be at peace, Mr Tomplin,” said Uncle Bob; “but we do not mean to let a set of ignorant workmen frighten us out of our projects.”

“Hear, hear!” said Uncle Dick and Uncle Jack; and I put in a small “hear” at the end.

“Well, gentlemen, I felt it to be my duty to tell you,” said Mr Tomplin, taking more snuff and making more noise.  “You will have attacks made upon you to such an extent that you had better be in the bush in Queensland among the blacks.”

“But not serious attacks?” said Uncle Jack.  “Attempts to frighten us?”

“Attempts to frighten you!  Well, you may call them that,” said Mr Tomplin; “but there have been two men nearly beaten to death with sticks, one factory set on fire, and two gunpowder explosions during the past year.  Take my advice, gentlemen, and don’t put yourself in opposition to the workmen if you are going to settle down here.”

He rose, shook hands, and went away, leaving us looking at each other across the table.

“Cheerful place Arrowfield seems to be,” said Uncle Dick.

“Promises to be lively,” said Uncle Jack.

“What do you say, Cob?” cried Uncle Bob.  “Shall we give up, be frightened, and run away like dogs with our tails between our legs?”

“No!” I cried, thumping the table with my fist.  “I wouldn’t be frightened out of anything I felt to be right.”

“Bravo!  Bravo!  Bravo!” cried my uncles.

“At least I don’t think I would,” I said.  “Perhaps I really am a coward after all.”

“Well,” said Uncle Dick, “I don’t feel like giving up for such a thing as this.  I’d sooner buy pistols and guns and fight.  It can’t be so bad as the old gentleman says.  He’s only scaring us.  There, it’s ten o’clock; you fellows are tired, and we want to breakfast early and go and see the works, so let’s get to bed.”

We were far enough out of the smoke for our bedrooms to be beautifully white and sweet, and I was delighted with mine, as I saw what a snug little place it was.  I said “Good-night!” and had shut my door, when, going to my window, I drew aside the blind, and found that I was looking right down upon the town.

“Oh!” I ejaculated, and I ran out to the next room, which was Uncle Dick’s.  “Look!” I cried.  “Now you’ll believe me.  The town is on fire.”

He drew up the blind, and threw up his window, when we both looked down at what seemed to be the dying out of a tremendous conflagration ­dying out, save in one place, where there was a furious rush of light right up into the air, with sparks flying and flickering tongues of flame darting up and sinking down again, while the red and tawny-yellow smoke rolled away.

“On fire, Cob!” he said quietly.  “Yes, the town’s on fire, but in the proper way.  Arrowfield is a fiery place ­all furnaces.  There’s nothing the matter, lad.”

“But there!  There!” I cried, “where the sparks are roaring and rushing out with all that flame.”

“There!  Oh!  That’s nothing, my boy.  The town is always like this.”

“But you don’t see where I mean,” I cried, still doubting, and pointing down to our right.

“Oh, yes!  I do, my dear boy.  That is where they are making the Bessemer steel.”