Read CHAPTER FIFTEEN - I HAVE AN IDEA. of Patience Wins War in the Works , free online book, by George Manville Fenn, on ReadCentral.com.

The work was started the next morning, and for a fortnight or so everything went on in the smoothest manner possible.  The men were quite cheerful and good-tempered, doing their tasks and taking their wages, and though we kept our regular watch nothing disturbed us in the slightest degree.

“An’ so you fun ’em in the wheel-pit, did you, Mester Jacob?” said Gentles to me one dinner-hour as he sat by his grindstone eating his bread and meat off a clean napkin spread over his knees.

“Yes,” I said, looking at him keenly.

“But how came you to find ’em, mester?”

I told him.

“Did you, now?” he cried, shutting his eyes and grinning.  “Think o’ that!  Why, I put you up to the eels, and so I might say it was me as found the bands, only you see it was not you nor yet me ­it was the eel.”

He nearly choked himself with laughing, but my next words sobered him, and he sat up looking painfully solemn and troubled of face.

“I’ll be bound you know who threw those bands into the water, Gentles,” I said.

One of his eyes quivered, and he looked at me as if he were going to speak.  He even opened his mouth, and I could see his tongue quivering as if ready to begin, but he shut it with a snap and shook his head.

“Don’t tell any stories about it,” I said; “but you do know.”

“Don’t ask me, mester,” he cried with a groan.  “Don’t ask me.”

“Then you do know,” I cried.

“I don’t know nowt,” he said in a hoarse whisper.  “Why, man alive, it wouldn’t be safe for a chap like me to know owt.  They’d put a brick round my neck and throw me in the watter.”

“But you do know, Gentles,” I persisted.

“I don’t know nowt, I tell ’ee,” he cried angrily.  “Such friends as we’ve been, Mester Jacob, and you to want to get me into a scrarp.”

“Why, Gentles!” I cried.  “If you know, why don’t you speak out like a man?”

“‘Cause I’m a man o’ peace, Mester Jacob, and don’t want to harm nobody, and I don’t want nobody to harm me.  Nay, I know nowt at all.”

“Well, I think you are a contemptible coward, Gentles,” I said warmly.  “You’re taking my uncles’ money and working on their premises, and though you know who has been base enough to injure them you are not man enough to speak.”

“Now don’t ­don’t ­don’t, my lad,” he cried in a hoarse whisper.  “Such friends as we’ve been too, and you go on like that.  I tell ’ee I’m a man of peace, and I don’t know nowt at all.  On’y give me my grinstone and something to grind ­that’s all I want.”

“And to see our place blown up and the bands destroyed.  There, I’m ashamed of you, Gentles,” I cried.

“But you’ll be friends?” he said; and there were tears in his eyes.

“Friends!  How can I be friends,” I cried, “with a man like you?”

“Oh dear, oh dear!” I heard him groan as I left the workshop; and going to Piter’s kennel I took off his collar and led him down to the dam to give him a swim.

He was a capital dog for the water, and thoroughly enjoyed a splash, so that before the men came back he had had a swim, shaken himself, and was stretched out in the sunshine under the wall drying himself, when, as I stooped to pat him, I noticed something about the wall that made me look higher in a hurried way, and then at the top, and turn off directly.

I had seen enough, and I did not want to be noticed, for some of the men were beginning to come back, so stooping down I patted Piter and went off to the office.

As soon as the men were well at work I went into one of the sheds, where there were two or three holes under the benches where the rats came up from the dam, and where it was the custom to set a trap or two, which very rarely snared one of the busy little animals, though now and then we did have that luck, and Piter had the pleasure of killing the mischievous creature if the trap had not thoroughly done its work.

I soon found what I wanted ­an old rusty spring trap with its sharp teeth, and, shaking off the dust, I tucked it under my jacket and strolled off to the smith’s shops, where I found Pannell hammering away as hard as ever he could.

He was making reaping-hooks of my uncles’ patent steel, and as I stood at the door and watched him I counted the blows he gave, and it was astonishing how regular he was, every implement taking nearly the same number of blows before he threw it down.

“Well, Pannell,” I said, “arn’t you sorry to have to work so hard again?”

He whisked a piece of hot steel from his forge and just glanced at me as he went on with his work, laying the glowing sparkling steel upon the anvil.

“Sorry!” ­bang ­“no” ­bang ­“not a” ­bing, bang, bang ­“not a” ­bang, bang, bing, bang, bang ­“bit of it.”

That was how it sounded to me as he worked away.

“Wife” ­bang ­“bairns” ­bing, bang, bang, bing, chinger, chinger, bing, bang ­“eight” ­bang ­“of ’em.  I hate” ­bang ­“to do” ­bang ­“nowt” ­bang ­“but” ­bang ­“smoke all” ­bang ­“day.”

“I say, Pannell,” I said, after glancing round and seeing that we were quite alone, “how came you to throw our bands in the wheel-pit?”

“What!” he cried, pincers in one hand, hammer in the other; and he looked as if he were going to seize me with one tool and beat me with the other.  “Yah!  Get out, you young joker!  You know it warn’t me.”

“But you know who did it.”

Pannell looked about him, through the window, out of the door, up the forge chimney, and then he gave me a solemn wink.

“Then why don’t you speak?”

The big smith took a blade of steel from the fire as if it were a flaming sword, and beat it into the reaping-hook of peace before he said in a hoarse whisper: 

“Men’s o’ one side, lad ­unions.  Mesters is t’other side.  It’s a feight.”

“But it’s so cowardly, Pannell,” I said.

“Ay, lad, it is,” he cried, banging away.  “But I can’t help it.  Union says strike, and you hev to strike whether you like it or whether you don’t like it, and clem till it’s over.”

“But it’s such a cowardly way of making war, to do what you men do.”

“What they men do, lad,” he whispered.

“What you men do,” I repeated.

“Nay, they men,” he whispered.

“You are one of them, and on their side, so what they do you do.”

“Is that so?” he said, giving a piece of steel such a hard bang that he had to repeat it to get it into shape.

“Of course it is.”

“Well, I s’pose you’re right, lad,” he said, thoughtfully.

“Why don’t you tell me, then, who threw the bands in the wheel-pit, so that he could be discharged?”

“Me!  Me tell!  Nay.  Look at that now.”

That was a piece of steel spoiled by the vehemence of his blows, and it was thrust back into the fire.

“I will not say who gave me the information,” I said.

He shook his head.

“Nobody shall ever know that you told me.”

He took a little hook he was forging and made a motion with it as if I were a stalk of wheat and he wanted to draw me to him.

“Lad,” he said, “man who tells on his mate aren’t a man no longer.  I am a man.”

We stood looking at each other for some time, and then he said in his rough way: 

“It aren’t no doing o’ mine, lad, and I don’t like it.  It aren’t manly.  One o’ the mesters did owt to me as I didn’t like I’d go up to him and ask him to tek off his coat like a man and feight it out, or else I’d go away; but man can’t do as he likes i’ Arrowfield.  He has to do what trade likes.”

“And it was the trade who threw our bands away, and tried to blow us up, and half-poisoned me and Piter.”

“Hah!” he said with a sigh.  “That’s it, lad.”

“Ah, well, I didn’t expect you’d tell me, Pannell,” I said, smiling.

“You see I can’t, my lad.  Now can I?”

“No; it wouldn’t be honourable.  But I say, Pannell, I mean to do all I can to find out who plays us these dirty tricks.”

The big smith looked about him before speaking again.

“Don’t, my lad,” he whispered.  “Yow might get hurt, and I shouldn’t like that i’deed.”

“Oh, I won’t get hurt!” I said.  “Look here, Pannell, do you see this?”

“Ay, lad.  Trap for the rats.  I’ve sin scores on em.”

“We set them to catch the rats,” I said, hesitating a moment or two before making my venture.  “I say, Pannell,” I said, “we’re very good friends you and I.”

“Course we are, lad; for a Londoner you’re quite a decent chap.”

“Thank you,” I said, smiling.  “Well, on the quiet, I want you to do me a favour.”

“Long as it aren’t to tell on my mates, lad, I’ll do owt for you.  There!”

That there was as emphatic as a blow from his hammer on the anvil.

“I thought you would, Pannell,” I said.  “Well, look here.  My uncles are as good and kind-hearted men as ever lived.”

“And as nyste to work for as ever was,” said Pannell, giving an emphatic bang on his work as he hammered away.

“Well, I’m very fond of them,” I said.

“Nat’rally, lad, nat’rally.”

“And as I know they’re trying to do their best for everybody who works for them, as well as for themselves, so as to find bread for all ­”

I stopped just then, for the big smith’s face was very red, and he was making a tremendous clangour with his hammer.

“Well,” I said, “it worries me very much to see that every now and then a big rat gets to their sack of wheat and gnaws a hole in it and lets the grain run out.”

“Where do they keep their wheat?” said Pannell, leaving off for awhile.

“Here,” I said.

“Ah!  There’s part rats about these here rezzywors,” he said, thoughtfully.  “Why don’t you set that trap?”

“Because it isn’t half big enough ­not a quarter big enough,” I said; “but I wish to catch that rat, and I want you to make me a big trap-like this, only four times as large, and with a very strong spring.”

“Eh?”

“I want to set that trap, and I want to catch that, great cowardly rat, and I want you to make me a trap that will hold him.”

“Eh?”

“Don’t you understand?” I said, looking at him meaningly as he stood wiping the perspiration from his brow with the back of his hand.

“Yow want to set a trap to catch the big rat as comes and makes a hole in the mester’s sack.”

“Yes,” I said.  “I want to catch him.”

“What!  Here about the works?”

“Yes,” I said.  “Now do you see?”

Poof!

Pannell gave vent to a most curious sound that was like nothing so much as one that might have been emitted if his forge bellows had suddenly burst.  To give vent to that sound he opened his mouth wide, clapped his hands on his leather apron, and bent nearly double.

“Why, Pannell!” I exclaimed.

Poof!  He stamped first one leg on the black iron dust and ashes, and then the other, going round his anvil and grumbling and rumbling internally in the most extraordinary manner.

Then he looked me in the face and exploded once more, till his mirth and the absurdity of his antics grew infectious, and I laughed too.

“And you’re going to set a big trap to catch that there” ­poof ­“that theer very big rat, eh?”

“Yes,” I said, “if I can.”

“And you want me,” he whispered, with his eyes starting with suppressed mirth, “to make you that theer big trap.”

“Yes.”

“Then I’ll do it,” he whispered, becoming preternaturally solemn.  “Stop!  ‘Tween man an’ man you know.”

He held out his great black hard hand, which I grasped.

“On my honour, Pannell, I’ll never tell a soul that you made the trap, not for ten years, or twenty, if you like.”

“That’s enough,” he said, giving his leg a slap.  “Haw, haw, haw, haw, haw!  Here, give us the model.  When dyer want it, lad?”

“As soon as ever you can get it made, Pannell.”

He looked at me with his face working, and scraping a hole in the ashes he buried the trap, seized hammer and pincers, and worked away again, but stopped every now and then to laugh.

“I say,” he said suddenly, “it’ll sarve ’em right; but if they knowed as I did it they’d wait for me coming home and give me the knobsticks.  Ay, that they would.”

“But they will not know, Pannell,” I said.  “It’s our secret, mind.”

“Hey, but I’d like to see the rat i’ the trap!” he whispered, after exploding with another fit of mirth.

“Let’s have the trap first,” I said.  “I don’t know that I shall catch him then.”

“What are you going to bait with?” he said between two fierce attacks upon a piece of steel.

“Oh, I have not settled that yet!”

“I’ll tell ’ee,” he whispered with his face working.  “Bait it with a wheel-band.”

He roared with laughter again, and if I had had any doubts before of his understanding that I wanted a very strong man-trap, I had none now.