Read CHAPTER TWENTY FOUR - UNCLE JACK AND I HAVE A RUN. of Patience Wins War in the Works , free online book, by George Manville Fenn, on ReadCentral.com.

I did not have any lessons in boxing, in spite of my earnest desire.

“We do not want to be aggressors, Cob,” said my Uncle Dick.

“But we want to defend ourselves, uncle.”

“To be sure we do, my lad,” he said; “and we’ll be ready as we can when we are attacked; but I don’t see the necessity for training ourselves to fight.”

So I did not meet and thrash my enemy, but went steadily on with my duties at the works.

In fact I was very little the worse for my adventure, thanks to Mrs Gentles, to whom I returned the cap she had lent me and thanked her warmly for her goodness.

She seemed very pleased to see me, and told me that her “mester” was quite well, only his leg was a little stiff, and that he was at work now with her boys.

The matters seemed now to have taken a sudden turn, as Mr Tomplin said they would:  the men were evidently getting over their dislike to us and the new steel, making it up and grinding it in an ill-used, half contemptuous sort of way, and at last the necessity for watching by night seemed so slight that we gave it up.

But it was felt that it would not be wise to give up the air of keeping the place looked after by night, so old Dunning the gate-keeper was consulted, and he knew of the very man ­one who had been a night watchman all his life and was now out of work through the failure of the firm by whom he had been employed.

In due time the man came ­a tall, very stout fellow, of about sixty, with a fierce look and a presence that was enough to keep away mischief by the fact of its being known that he was there.

He came twice, and was engaged to be on duty every night at nine; and in the conversation that ensued in the office he took rather a gruff, independent tone, which was mingled with contempt as he was told of the attempts that had been made.

“Yes,” he said coolly; “it’s a way the hands have wherever new folk come and don’t hev a reg’lar watchman.  There wouldn’t hev been none of that sort o’ thing if I had been here.”

“Then you don’t expect any more troubles of this kind?”

“More!  Not likely, mester.  We’ve ways of our own down here; and as soon as the lads know that Tom Searby’s on as watchman there’ll be no more trouble.”

“I hope there will not,” said Uncle Dick as soon as the man had gone.  “It will be worth all his wages to be able to sleep in peace.”

About this time there had been some talk of my father and mother coming down to Arrowfield, but once more difficulties arose in town which necessitated my father’s stay, and as my mother was rather delicate, it was decided that she should not be brought up into the cold north till the springtime came again.

“All work and no play makes ­you know the rest,” said Uncle Jack one morning at breakfast.  “I won’t say it, because it sounds egotistic.  Cob, what do you say?  Let’s ask for a holiday.”

“Why not all four go?” I said eagerly; for though the works were very interesting and I enjoyed seeing the work go oil, I was ready enough to get away, and so sure as the sun shone brightly I felt a great longing to be off from the soot and noise to where the great hills were a-bloom with heather and gorse, and tramp where I pleased.

Uncle Dick shook his head.

“No,” he said; “two of us stay ­two go.  You fellows have a run to-day, and we’ll take our turn another time.”

We were too busy to waste time, and in high glee away we went, with no special aim in view, only to get out of the town as soon as possible, and off to the hills.

Uncle Jack was a stern, hard man in the works, but as soon as he went out for a holiday he used to take off twenty years, as he said, and leave them at home, so that I seemed to have a big lad of my own age for companion.

It was a glorious morning, and our way lay by the works and then on past a series of “wheels” up the valley, in fact the same route I had taken that day when I was hunted by the boys.

But I had Uncle Jack by my side, and in addition it was past breakfast time, and the boys were at work.

We had nearly reached the dam into which I had so narrowly escaped a ducking, and I was wondering whether Uncle Jack would mind my just running to speak to the big honest woman in the row of houses we were about to pass, when he stood still.

“What is it?” I said.

“Cob, my lad,” he cried, “I want a new head or a new set of brains, or something.  I’ve totally forgotten to ask your Uncle Dick to write to the engineer about the boiler.”

“Let me run back,” I said.

“Won’t do, my boy; must see him myself.  There, you keep steadily on along the road as if we were bound for Leadshire, and I’ll overtake you in less than half an hour.”

“But,” I said, “I was going this way to meet Uncle Dick that day when he went to buy the stones, and what a holiday that turned out!”

“I don’t think history will repeat itself this time, Cob,” he replied.

“But will you be able to find me again?”

“I can’t help it if you keep to the road.  If you jump over the first hedge you come to, and go rambling over the hills, of course I shall not find you.”

“Then there is no fear,” I said; and he walked sharply back, while I strode on slowly and stopped by the open window of one factory, where a couple of men were spinning teapots.

“Spinning teapots!” I fancy I hear some one say; “how’s that done?”

Well, it has always struck me as being so ingenious and such an example of what can be done by working on metal whirled round at a great speed, that I may interest some one in telling all I saw.

The works opposite which I stopped found their motive power in a great wheel just as ours did, but instead of steel being the metal used, the firm worked in what is called Britannia metal, which is an alloy of tin, antimony, zinc, and copper, which being mixed in certain proportions form a metal having the whiteness of tin, but a solidity and firmness given by the three latter metals, that make it very durable, which tin is not.

“Oh, but,” says somebody, “tin is hard enough!  Look at the tin saucepans and kettles in every kitchen.”

I beg pardon; those are all made of plates of iron rolled out very thin and then dipped in a bath of tin, to come out white and silvery and clean and ready to keep off rust from attacking the iron.  What people call tin plates are really tinned plates.  Tin itself is a soft metal that melts and runs like lead.

As I looked through into these works, one man was busy with sheets of rolled-out Britannia metal, thrusting them beneath a stamping press, and at every clang with which this came down a piece of metal like a perfectly flat spoon was cut out and fell aside, while at a corresponding press another man was holding a sheet, and as close as possible out of this he was stamping out flat forks, which, like the spoons, were borne to other presses with dies, and as the flat spoon or fork was thrust in it received a tremendous blow, which shaped the bowl and curved the handle, while men at vices and benches finished them off with files.

I had seen all this before, and how out of a flat sheet of metal what seemed like beautiful silver spoons were made; but I had never yet seen a man spin a teapot, so being holiday-time, and having to wait for Uncle Jack, I stood looking on.

I presume that most boys know a lathe when they see it, and how, out of a block of wood, ivory, or metal, a beautifully round handle, chess-man, or even a perfect ball can be turned.

Well, it is just such a lathe as this that the teapot spinner stands before at his work, which is to make a handsome tea or coffee-pot service.

But he uses no sharp tools, and he does not turn his teapot out of a solid block of metal.  His tool is a hard piece of wood, something like a child’s hoop-stick, and fixed to the spinning-round part of the lathe, the “chuck,” as a workman would call it, is a solid block of smooth wood shaped like a deep slop-basin.

Up against the bottom of this wooden sugar-basin the workman places a flat round disc or plate of Britannia metal ­plate is a good term, for it is about the size or a little larger than an ordinary dinner plate.  A part of the lathe is screwed up against this so as to hold the plate flat up against the bottom of the wooden sugar-basin; the lathe is set in motion and the glistening white disc of metal spins round at an inconceivable rate, and becomes nearly invisible.

Then the man begins to press his wooden stick up against the centre of the plate as near as he can go, and gradually draws the wooden tool from the centre towards the edge, pressing it over the wooden block of basin shape.

This he does again and again, and in spite of the metal being cold, the heat of the friction, the speed at which it goes, and the ductility of the metal make it behave as if it were so much clay or putty, and in a very short time the wooden tool has moulded it from a flat disc into a metal bowl which covers the wooden block.

Then the lathe is stopped, the mechanism unscrewed, and the metal bowl taken off the moulding block, which is dispensed with now, for if the spinner were to attempt to contract the edges of his bowl, as a potter does when making a jug, the wooden mould could not be taken out.

So without the wooden block the metal bowl is again fixed in the lathe, sent spinning-round, the stick applied, and in a very short time the bowl, instead of being large-mouthed, is made to contract in a beautiful curve, growing smaller and smaller, till it is about one-third of its original diameter, and the metal has seemed to be plastic, and yielded to the moulding tool till a gracefully formed tall vessel is the result, with quite a narrow mouth where the lid is to be.

Here the spinner’s task is at an end.  He has turned a flat plate of metal into a large-bodied narrow-mouthed metal pot as easily as if the hard cold metal had been clay, and all with the lathe and a piece of wood.  There are no chips, no scrapings.  All the metal is in the pot, and that is now passed on to have four legs soldered on, a hole cut for the spout to be fitted; a handle placed where the handle should be, and finally hinges and a lid and polish to make it perfect and ready for someone’s tray.

I stopped and saw the workman spin a couple of pots, and then thinking I should like to have a try at one of our lathes, I went on past this dam and on to the next, where I meant to have a friendly word with Mrs Gentles if her lord and master were not smoking by the door.

I did not expect to see him after hearing that he was away at work; but as it happened he was there.

For as I reached the path along by the side of the dam I found myself in the midst of a crowd of women and crying children, all in a state of great excitement concerning something in the dam.

I hurried on to see what was the matter, and to my astonishment there was Gentles on the edge of the dam, armed with an ordinary long broom, with which he was trying to hook something out of the water ­what, I could not see, for there was nothing visible.

“Farther in ­farther in,” a shrill voice cried, making itself heard over the gabble of fifty others.  “My Jenny says he went in theer.”

I was still some distance off, but I could see Gentles the unmistakable splash the broom in again, and then over and over again, while women were wringing their hands, and giving bits of advice which seemed to have no effect upon Gentles, who kept splashing away with the broom.

Just then a tall figure in bonnet and shawl came hurrying from the other end of the path, and joined the group about the same time as I did.

There was no mistaking Mrs Gentles without her voice, which she soon made heard.

“Whose bairn is it?” she cried loudly, and throwing off her bonnet and shawl as she spoke.

“Thine ­it’s thy little Esau ­playing on the edge ­got shoved in,” was babbled out by a dozen women; while Gentles did not speak, but went on pushing in the broom, giving it a mow round like a scythe, and pulling it out.

“Wheer?  Oh, my gracious!” panted Mrs Gentles, “wheer did he go in?”

Poor woman!  A dozen hands pointed to different parts of the bank many yards apart, and I saw her turn quite white as she rushed at her husband and tore the broom from his hands.

“What’s the good o’ that, thou Maulkin,” [scarecrow] she cried, giving him a push that sent him staggering away; and without a moment’s hesitation she stooped, tightened her garments round her, and jumped right into the dam, which was deeper than she thought, for she went under in the great splash she made, losing her footing, and a dread fell upon all till they saw the great stalwart woman rise and shake the water from her face, and stand chest deep, and then shoulder deep, as, sobbing hysterically, she reached out in all directions with the broom, trying to find the child.

“Was it anywheers about here ­anywheers about here?” she cried, as she waded to and fro in a state of frantic excitement, and a storm of affirmations responded, while her husband, who seemed quite out of place among so many women, stood rubbing his head in a stolid way.

“Quiet, bairns!” shrieked one of the women, stamping her foot fiercely at the group of children who had been playing about after childhood’s fashion in the most dangerous place they could find.

Her voice was magical, for it quelled a perfect babel of sobs and cries.  And all the while poor Mrs Gentles was reaching out, so reckless of herself that she was where the water reached her chin, and could hardly keep her footing.

“Call thysen a man!” shouted the woman who had silenced the children.  “Go in or thou’llt lose thy wife and bairn too.”

But Gentles paid no heed to the admonition.  He stood rubbing his ear softly, though he gave a satisfied grunt as he saw the fierce virago of a woman who had spoken, leap in after Mrs Gentles, and wade out so as to hold her left hand.

Where had the child tumbled in?  No one knew, for the frightened little ones who had spread the news, running away home as soon as their playmate had toppled in with a splash, were too scared to remember the exact spot.

I had not been idle all this time, but as the above scene was in progress I had taken off jacket, vest, and cap, handing them to a woman to hold, and had just finished kicking off my boots and socks, carefully watching the surface of the water the while, under the impression that the poor child would rise to the surface.

All at once I caught sight of something far to the right of us, and evidently being taken by the current towards the sluice where the big wheel was in motion.

It might be the child, or it might only be a piece of paper floating there, but I had no time to investigate that, and, running along the path till I was opposite the place, I plunged head-first in, rose, shook the water from my eyes, and swam as rapidly as my clothes would allow towards the spot.

The women set up a cry and the children shrieked, and as I swam steadily on I could hear away to my left the two women come splashing and wading through the water till they were opposite to where I was swimming.

“Oh, quick!  Quick, my lad!” cried Mrs Gentles; and her agonised voice sent a thrill through me far more than did the shrieking chorus of the women as they shouted words of encouragement to me to proceed.

I did not need the encouragement, for I was swimming my best, not making rapid strokes, but, as Uncle Jack had often shown me in river and sea, taking a long, slow, vigorous stroke, well to the end, one that is more effective, and which can be long sustained.

But though I tried my best, I was still some feet from the spot where I had seen the floating object, when it seemed to fade away, and there was nothing visible when I reached the place.

“There!  There!” shrieked Mrs Gentles; “can’t you see him ­there?”

She could not see any more than I could, as I raised myself as high as possible, treading water, and then paddling round like a dog in search of something thrown in which has sunk.

The little fellow had gone, and there was nothing for it but to dive, and as I had often done before, I turned over and went down into the black water to try and find the drowning child.

I stayed down as long as I could, came up, and looked round amidst a tremendous chorus of cries, and then dived again like a duck.

Pray, don’t think I was doing anything brave or heroic, for it seemed to me nothing of the kind.  I had been so drilled by my uncles in leaping off banks, and out of a boat, and in diving after eggs thrown down in the clear water, that, save the being dressed, it was a very ordinary task to me; in fact, I believe I could have swum steadily on for an hour if there had been any need, and gone on diving as often as I liked.

So I went under again and again, with the current always taking me on toward the sluice, and giving way to it; for, of course, the child would, I felt, be carried that way too.

Every time I rose there was the shrieking and crying of the women and the prayerful words of the mother bidding me try; and had not her woman friend clung to her arm, I believe she would have struggled into deep water and been drowned.

I caught glimpses of her, and of Gentles standing on the bank rubbing his ear as I dived down again in quite a hopeless way now, and, stopping down a much shorter time, I had given a kick or two, and was rising, when my hands touched something which glided away.

This encouraged me, and I just took my breath above water, heard the cries, and dived again, to have the water thundering in my ears.

For a few moments I could feel nothing; then my left hand touched a bundle of clothes, and in another moment I was at the surface with the child’s head above water, and swimming with all my might for the side.

There was a wild shriek of excitement to greet me, and then there was very nearly a terrible catastrophe for finale to the scene, for, as soon as she saw that I had hold of her child, the frantic mother shook off her companion, and with a mingling of the tragic and ludicrous reached out with the broom to drag us both in.

Her excitement was too much for her; she took a step forward to reach us, slipped into deep water, went under, and the next minute she had risen, snatched at me, and we were struggling together.

I was quite paralysed, while the poor woman had lost her head completely, and was blind by trying to save herself ­holding on to me with all her might.

Under the circumstances it is no wonder that I became helpless and confused, and that we sank together in the deep water close now to the dam head, and then all was black confusion, for my sensations were very different to what they were when I made my voluntary dives.

It was matter of moments, though, and then a strong hand gripped me by the arm, we were dragged to the side, and a dozen hands were ready to help us out on to the bank.

“Give me the child,” said a strange voice.  “Which is the house?  Here ­ the mother and one woman, come.  Keep the crowd away.”

In a confused way I saw a tall man in black take the child in his arms, and I thought how wet he would make himself; while Mrs Gentles, panting and gasping for breath, seized me by the hand; and then they passed on in the middle of the crowd, augmented by a number of workmen, and disappeared into the cottage I knew so well.

“What!  Was it you, Uncle Jack?” I said, looking up in his grave big eyes.

“Yes, my boy; and I only just came in time.  How are you?”

“Horribly wet,” I said grimly and with a shiver.  Then forcing a laugh as he held my hands tightly in his.  “Why, you’re just as bad.”

“Yes, but you ­are you all right?”

“Oh, yes, uncle!  There’s nothing the matter with me.”

“Then come along and let’s run home.  Never mind appearances; let’s get into some dry clothes.  But I should like to hear about the child.”

It was an easy thing to say, but not to do.  We wanted to go to Gentles’ house, but we were surrounded by a dense crowd; and the next minute a lot of rough men were shaking both Uncle Jack’s hands and fighting one with the other to get hold of them, while I ­

Just fancy being in the middle of a crowd of women, and all of them wanting to throw their arms round me and kiss me at once.

That was my fate then; and regardless of my resistance one motherly body after another seized me, kissing my cheeks roundly, straining me to her bosom, and calling me her “brave lad!” or her “bonny bairn!” or “my mahn!”

I had to be kissed and hand-shaken till I would gladly have escaped for very shame; and at last Uncle Jack rescued me, coming to my side smiling and looking round.

“If he’s thy bairn, mester,” cried the virago-like woman who had helped Mrs Gentles, “thou ought to be proud of him.”

“And so I am,” cried Uncle Jack, laying his hand upon my shoulder.

Here there was a loud “hurrah!” set up by the men, and the women joined in shrilly, while a couple of men with big mugs elbowed their way towards us.

“Here, lay holt, mester,” said one to Uncle Jack; “drink that ­it’ll keep out the cold.”

At the same moment a mug was forced into my hand, and in response to a nod from Uncle Jack I took a hearty draught of some strong mixture which I believe was gin and beer.

“How is the child?” said Uncle Jack.

“Doctor says he can’t tell yet, but hopes he’ll pull bairn through.”

“Now, my lads,” said Uncle Jack, “you don’t want us to catch cold?”

“No. ­Hurray!”

“Nor you neither, my good women?”

“Nay, God bless thee, no!” was chorused.

“Then good-bye!  And if one of you will run down to our place and tell us how the little child is by and by, I’ll be glad.”

“Nay, thou’llt shake han’s wi’ me first,” said the big virago-like woman, whose drenched clothes clung to her from top to toe.

“That I will,” cried Uncle Jack, suiting the action to the word by holding out his; but to his surprise the woman laid her hands upon his shoulders, the tears streaming down her cheeks, and kissed him in simple north-country fashion.

“God bless thee, my mahn!” she said with a sob.  “Thou may’st be a Lunnoner, but thou’rt a true un, and thou’st saved to-day as good a wife and mother as ever stepped.”

Here there was another tremendous cheer; and to avoid fresh demonstrations I snatched my clothes from the woman who held them, and we hurried off to get back to Mrs Stephenson’s as quickly and quietly as we could.

Quickly!  Quietly!  We were mad to expect it; for we had to go home in the midst of a rapidly-increasing crowd, who kept up volley after volley of cheers, and pressed to our sides to shake hands.

That latter display of friendliness we escaped during the finish of our journey; for in spite of all Uncle Jack could do to prevent it, big as he was, they hoisted him on the shoulders of a couple of great furnacemen, a couple more carrying me, and so we were taken home.

I never felt so much ashamed in my life, but there was nothing for it but to be patient; and, like most of such scenes, it came to an end by our reaching Mrs Stephenson’s and nearly frightening her to death.

“Bless my heart!” she cried, “I thought there’d been some accident, and you was both brought home half-killed.  Just hark at ’em!  The street’s full, and the carts can hardly get by.”

And so it was; for whenever, as I towelled myself into a glow, I peeped round the blind, there was the great crowd shouting and hurrahing with all their might.

For the greater part they were workmen and boys, all in their shirt-sleeves and without caps; but there was a large sprinkling of big motherly women there; and the more I looked the more abashed I felt, for first one and then another seemed to be telling the story to a listening knot, as I could see by the motion of her hands imitating swimming.

Two hours after we were cheered by the news that my efforts had not been in vain, for after a long fight the doctor had brought the child to; and that night, when we thought all the fuss was over, there came six great booms from a big drum, and a powerful brass band struck up, “See, the Conquering Hero comes!” Then the mob that had gathered cheered and shouted till we went to the window and thanked them; and then they cheered again, growing quite mad with excitement as a big strapping woman, in a black silk bonnet and a scarlet shawl, came up to the door and was admitted and brought into the parlour.

I was horrified, for it was big Mrs Gentles, and I had a dread of another scene.

I need not have been alarmed, for there was a sweet natural quietness in the woman that surprised us all, as she said with the tears running down her cheeks: 

“I’m only a poor common sort of woman, gentlemen, but I think a deal o’ my bairns, and I’ve come to say I’ll never forget a prayer for the bonny boy who saved my little laddie, nor for the true brave gentleman who saved me to keep them still.”

Uncle Jack shook hands with her, insisting upon her having a glass of wine, but she would not sit down, and after she had drunk her wine she turned to me.

I put out my hand, but she threw her arms round my neck, kissed me quickly on each cheek, and ran sobbing out of the room, and nearly oversetting Mr Tomplin, who was coming up.

“Hallo, my hero!” he cried, shaking hands with me.

“Please, please don’t, Mr Tomplin,” I cried.  “I feel as if I’d never do such a thing again as long as I live.”

“Don’t say that, my boy,” he cried.  “Say it if you like, though.  You don’t mean it.  I say, though, you folks have done it now.”

We had done more than we thought, for the next morning when we walked down to the office and Uncle Jack was saying that we must not be done out of our holiday, who should be waiting at the gate but Gentles.

“Ugh!” said Uncle Jack; “there’s that scoundrel.  I hate that man.  I wish it had been someone else’s child you had saved, Cob.  Well, my man,” he cried roughly, “what is it?”

Gentles had taken off his cap, a piece of politeness very rare among his set, and he looked down on the ground for a minute or two, and then ended a painful silence by saying: 

“I’ve been a reg’lar bad un to you and yours, mester; but it was the traade as made me do it.”

“Well, that’s all over now, Gentles, and you’ve come to apologise?”

“Yes, mester, that’s it.  I’m down sorry, I am, and if you’ll tek me on again I’ll sarve you like a man ­ay, and I’ll feight for thee like a man agen the traade.”

“Are you out of work?”

“Nay, mester, I can always get plenty if I like to wuck.”

“Do you mean what you say, Gentles?”

“Why, mester, wouldn’t I hev been going to club to-day for money to bury a bairn and best wife a man ivver hed if it hadn’t been for you two.  Mester, I’d do owt for you now.”

“I believe you, Gentles,” said Uncle Jack in his firm way.  “Go back to your stone.”

Gentles smiled all over his face, and ran in before us whistling loudly with his fingers, and the men all turned out and cheered us over and over again, looking as delighted as so many boys.

“Mr Tomplin’s right,” said Uncle Dick; “we’ve done it at last.”

“No, not yet,” said Uncle Jack; “we’ve won the men to our side and all who know us will take our part, but there is that ugly demon to exorcise yet that they call the traade.”

That night I was going back alone when my heart gave a sort of leap, for just before me, and apparently waylaying me, were two of the boys who had been foremost in hunting me that day.  My temper rose and my cheeks flushed; but they had come upon no inimical errand, for they both laughed in a tone that bespoke them the sons of Gentles, and the bigger one spoke in a bashful sort of way.

“Moother said we was to come and ax your pardon, mester.  It were on’y meant for a game, and she leathered us both for it.”

“And will you hev this?” said the other, holding out something in a piece of brown-paper.

“I sha’n’t take any more notice of it,” I said quietly; “but I don’t want any present.”

“There, moother said he’d be over proud to tak it,” said the younger lad resentfully to his brother.

“No, I am not too proud,” I said; “give it to me.  What is it?”

“Best knife they maks at our wucks,” said the boy eagerly.  “It’s rare stoof.  I say, we’re going to learn to swim like thou.”

They both nodded and went away, leaving me thinking that I was after this to be friends with the Arrowfield boys as well as the men.

They need not have put it in the newspaper, but there it was, a long account headed “Gallant rescue by a boy.”  It was dressed up in a way that made my cheeks tingle, and a few days later the tears came into my eyes as I read a letter from my mother telling me she had read in the newspaper what I had done, and ­

There, I will not set that down.  It was what my mother said, and every British boy knows what his mother would say of an accident like that.

It was wonderful how the works progressed after this, and how differently the men met us.  It was not only our own, but the men at all the works about us.  Instead of a scowl or a stare there was a nod, and a gruff “good morning.”  In fact, we seemed to have lived down the prejudice against the “chaps fro’ Lunnon, and their contrapshions;” but my uncles knew only too well that they had not mastered the invisible enemy called the trade.