Read CHAPTER NINE - A QUEER CHARACTER. of Will of the Mill , free online book, by George Manville Fenn, on

“Old Boil O’s in a regular rage,” said Josh, laughing.

“Well, but he hasn’t been talking to you about it, has he?” replied Will.

“Yes; said your father must be getting off his head to go and buy up such a miserable ramshackle piece of rubbish.  It was only fit to knock to pieces and sell for old copper.”

“Old Drinkwater had better keep his tongue quiet,” said Will, shortly, “or he’ll make my father so much off his head that he will give him what he calls the sack.”

“Nonsense!  Your father would not turn away such an old servant as that.”

“He wouldn’t like to, of course,” said Will, loftily; “but Boil O has grown so precious bumptious, and he doesn’t care to do this, and he doesn’t care to do that.  I believe he thinks he’s master of the whole place.”

“Well, he always was so ever since I can remember; but ­tchah! ­your father would not turn him away.  My father says he is the most useful man he ever knew.  Why, he’s just like what we say when we count the rye-grass:  soldier, sailor, tinker, tailor ­you know.”

“Oh, yes, I know,” said Will, “and he isn’t soldier nor thief; but he can do pretty well everything, from making a box, plastering and painting, to mending a lock or shoeing a horse.  But such impudence!  My father mad, indeed!  I think it was a very wise thing for him to do, to buy that engine so cheaply.  The old mill’s nearly all wood.  Suppose it were to catch fire?”

“Bother!” said Josh.  “Why hasn’t it caught fire all these two hundred years since it was built?”

“Because everybody’s been so careful,” said Will.  “But it might catch fire any day.”

“Pigs might fly,” said Josh.  “Well, suppose it did.  Haven’t you got plenty of water to put it out?”

“Yes, but how are you going to throw it up to the top?  Why, with that engine hose and branch, now old Boil O’s put the pump suckers right, you could throw the water all over the place a hundred feet, I daresay, in a regular shower.  Ha, ha, ha!  I say, Josh, what a game!”

“What’s a game?”

“Shouldn’t I like to have the old thing out, backed up to the dam, with some of the men ready to pump ­a shower, you know.”

“Well, I suppose you mean something, but I don’t understand.”

“A shower ­umbrella.”

“Well, everybody puts up an umbrella in a shower.”

“Yah!  What an old thick-head you are! ­old Manners sitting under his umbrella, and we made it rain.”

Josh’s face expanded very gradually into the broadest of grins, wrinkling up so much that it was at the expense of his eyes, which gradually closed until they were quite tightly shut.

“Oh, no,” he said at last.  “It would be a game, but,” ­he began to rub himself gently with both hands ­“the very thought of it makes me feel as if my ribs were sore.  He was such a weight.”

“Yes, we mustn’t play any more tricks; he’s such a good chap.  But about old Boil O ­I don’t like his turning so queer.  He went on at me like a madman ­I felt half frightened ­said all sorts of things.”

“What sort of things?”

“Oh, that father imposed upon him because he was a poor man, and set him to do all kinds of dirty jobs about the place because he was willing.  Said he’d repent it some day.  When you know father picks out those jobs for him because he’s such a clever old chap and does the things better than the clumsy workmen from the town.  But as for imposing upon him,” said the boy, proudly, “father would not impose upon anybody.”

“No, that he wouldn’t.  My father says he’s the most noble-hearted, generous man he ever knew; he’s always ready to put his hand in his pocket for the poor.”

“So he is,” cried Will.  “Impose!  Why, do you know what he pays old Boil O every week?”


“Then I shan’t tell you, because that’s all private; but just twice as much as he pays any of the other men.”

“And he has that cottage rent-free, hasn’t he?”

“Yes, and Mrs Drinkwater makes a lot every year by letting her rooms to the artists who come down.  She charges just what she likes, and the people are glad to pay it, because it’s such a nice place, and Mrs Waters makes them so comfortable.  Why, look at old Bad Manners ­this is the third year he’s been down to stay a couple of months.  Now what has old Boil O got to grumble about.”

“Nothing,” said Josh; “only against himself.  My father says that he was born in a bad temper.  Why, he won’t even say `Good-morning’ sometimes, only gives you a surly scowl or a snap as if he were going to bite.”

“`Let dogs delight to bark and bite, for ’tis their nature to’ ­that’s poetry.  Hollo!  What’s the matter now?”

The two lads looked sharply round in the direction of the mill-yard, from whence a loud, strident voice was heard, saying something in angry tones, which rose at last to a passionate outburst, drowning the deep voice of someone responding, and echoing strangely from the high, cliff-like walls above the picturesque old mill.

“It’s old Drink in one of his fits,” said Josh.  “Come on; let’s see what’s the matter.”

Will had already started off at a dog trot, and the boys ran side by side towards the mill-yard, where quite a little group of the silk-weavers and their wives and daughters were hurrying out to ascertain the cause of the trouble.

“Why, there’s father there,” said Josh.

“What is the matter now?” cried Will.

The next minute they knew, for, as they readied the spot where grave-looking John Willows stood looking like a patriarch amongst his people, beside his friend the gray-headed Vicar, a short, almost dwarfed, thick-set, large-headed man, with a shiny bald head fringed by grisly, harsh-looking hair, ­and whose dark, wrinkled face was made almost repellent by the shaggy brows that overhung his fierce, piercing, black eyes ­took a step forward menacingly, and holding out his left hand, palm upwards, began beating it with his right fist, fiercely shouting in threatening tones ­

“It’s been so from the first, John Willows, ever since I came to this mill as a boy.  You’ve been a tyrant and a curse to all the poor, struggling people who spent their days under you, not as your servants, but as your slaves.”

“Oh!  Oh!  Oh!  No!  No!  No!” rose from the hearers, in a murmured chorus of protest.

“Silence there!” yelled the man, furiously.

“You cowardly fools!  You worms who daren’t speak for yourselves!  Silence, I say, and let one who dares speak for you.”

The Vicar stepped forward and laid his hand on the speaker’s shoulder.

“Drinkwater, my good fellow!  My good friend!  Pray be calm.  You don’t know what you are saying! ­you don’t know what you are saying!”

“Oh, yes, I do, Parson.  Don’t you interfere,” added the man, fiercely.

“But, my dear sir ­”

“Oh, yes, I know!  I know you, too, better than you know yourself.  You belong to his set.  You side with the money.  Make friends with the mammon of unrighteousness, as you’d say, with that with which he grinds down all these poor, shivering wretches ­money, money, money!  Piling up his money-bags, and making us slaves!”

“Drinkwater, I cannot stand and listen to this without raising my voice in protest.”

“Because it gives you a chance to preach,” said the man, with a bitter sneer.

Will’s father stepped forward, but the Vicar raised his hand.

“One moment, Mr Willows,” he said, quietly.  “No, James Drinkwater,” he went on, gravely, “I raise my voice in protest, because everyone who hears you knows that what you say is utterly false.  They are the angry words of an over-excited man.  You are not yourself.  You have let your temper get the better of you through brooding over some imaginary grievance, and to-morrow when you are calm I know from old experience that you will bitterly regret the insults you have heaped upon the head of as good and true-hearted a man as ever stepped this earth.”

Drinkwater was about to reply, but he was checked by a fresh speaker, for Will suddenly threw up his cap high in the air with as loud a hurrah as he could utter, acting as fugleman to the group around, who joined in heartily, helped by Josh, in a cheer, strangely mingled, the gruff with the shrill of the women’s voices.

“Well done!” whispered Will, half-bashfully shrinking back, and gripping his comrade’s arm.  “Oh, Josh, I never knew your father could preach like that!”

“Cowards!  Pitiful, contemptible worms!  That’s right; put your necks lower under his heel.  I’ll have no more of it.  From this day, after the words he’s said to me this morning, never another stroke of work I will do here.”

“Stop, James Drinkwater,” cried Will’s father, firmly; “as the Vicar says, you are not yourself.  Don’t say more of the words of which you will bitterly repent, when you grow calm ­when this fit has passed ­and can see that the fault I found this morning was perfectly justified by your neglect, in a fit of temper, of a special duty ­a neglect that might have resulted in a serious accident to the machinery, perhaps loss of life or limb to some of the people here.”

“It’s a falsehood,” shouted the man.  “If I left out those screws it was because I was dazed ­suffering from overwork ­work forced upon me that I was not fit to do, but heaped upon me to save your pocket and the blacksmith’s bill.”

“No,” said John Willows, gravely; “I asked you to repair that engine because I knew it was a mechanical task in which you delighted to display your skill ­because you would do it better than the rough smith of the town.”

“Nay, it was to save your own pocket.”

“That is untrue,” said Mr Willows, “and, if any of your fellow-workers like to go into the office, the clerk will show them that a liberal payment, to show my satisfaction over the way the work was done, has been added as a bonus to your weekly wage.”

Another cheer arose at this, which seemed to add fresh fuel to the angry fire blazing in the half-demented man’s breast.

“Bah!” yelled Drinkwater, more furious than ever.  “Oil!  To smooth me down.  But it’s too late now.  It has meant years of oppression, and the end has come.  But don’t think I mean to suffer like these cowardly worms.  I too have been your worm for years, and the worm has turned at last ­a worm that means to sting the foot that has trampled upon it so long.  Here, what do you want, boy?” For Will had stepped forward, and thrust his hand through the man’s arm.

“You, James, old chap.  You come away.  Mr Carlile was right; you don’t know what you are saying, or you wouldn’t talk to father like that.”

“Let go!” cried the man, fiercely trying to shake the boy off; but Will clung tightly.

“No ­come and take his other arm, Josh ­here, come on up to the cottage, Jem.  What’s the good of going on ­”

Will did not finish his sentence, for a heavy thrust, almost a blow, sent him staggering back towards Josh, who had hurried up, and was just in time to save his companion from a heavy fall.

This was too much for Will’s father, whose calm firmness gave way.

“Yes,” he said, angrily, “it does now come to that!  You talk of putting an end to the oppression under which you seem to writhe.  It shall be so.  I, as your employer, tell you most regretfully, James Drinkwater, that from this day your connection with the mill must cease ­I will not say entirely, for it would cause me bitter regret to lose so old and valued a servant; but matters cannot longer go on like this.  In justice to others, as well as myself, this must come to an end.  You have always been a difficult man with whom to deal, but, during the past six months, a great change has come over you, and I am willing to think that much of it is due to some failing in your health.  There:  I will say no more.  This shall not be final, James.  I speak for your wife’s sake as well as your own.  Go back to the cottage, and, if you will take advice, you will go right away for a month, or two, or three.  You are not a poor man, as you have proved to me by your acts, by coming to your bitter tyrant to invest your little savings again and again.  Now, sir, speak out as you did just now, so that all your fellow-workers may hear.  Are not these words true?”

James Drinkwater stood alone out there in the bright sunshine, which glistened on his polished bare crown as he glared at his employer, whilst his hands kept on opening and shutting in company with his lips.

“Yes,” he uttered, at last, in a low, fierce growl, “that’s true enough.  Why shouldn’t I?  Do you think I want to end my days in the Union when you kick me off like a worn-out dog?  Yes, yes, I’ll go; but look out.  Long years of work have not crushed all the spirit out of your slave.  Look out!  Look out!  The worm has turned, and the days are coming when you will feel its sting.”

He snatched himself fiercely round, and made for the stony slope ­ half-rugged steps ­which led upwards towards the dam, and the Vicar hurried after him; but hearing his steps, the man turned and waved him back, before striding along till he stopped suddenly in the middle of the great stone dam, raised his clenched hands towards the sunlit heavens, and then shook them at the group below.

The next minute he made a rush towards the path leading upward towards his cottage, passing Mr Manners, who was hurrying down, and disappeared amongst the trees.

“Why, hollo!” shouted the artist.  “What’s the matter with my landlord?  I was going to strip for a swim.  Has he turned mad?  I thought he was going to jump in.”

“I’m afraid that he ought to see a doctor,” said the Vicar, gravely.  “He is evidently suffering from a terrible fit of excitement,” and as they joined Mr Willows and the murmuring group of work-people below, he continued; “You see a great deal of him, Mr Manners.  Have you noticed anything strange in his ways?”

“Strange?” said the artist, bluffly.  “Well, yes, he’s always strange ­a silent, morose sort of fellow.  But I don’t dislike him; he’s a very straightforward, good man, who rather looks down on me.  We hardly ever speak, but I have noticed that his wife has seemed a little more troubled than usual lately.  I left her crying only just now, and asked what was the matter; but all I could get was that her husband was not well.  What’s been going on here?  I heard him shouting as soon as I came outside.”

“Ah!  That sounds bad,” continued the artist, as soon as the Vicar had related the incident that had passed.  “Poor fellow!  He doesn’t drink, I know:  sober as a judge.  Temper ­that’s what it is.”

“I don’t like to hear those threats,” said the Vicar.

“Pooh!  Wind!  Fluff!  People say all sorts of things when they are in a passion, and threaten high jinks.  I do sometimes, don’t I, boys?  Take no notice, Mr Willows.  We are not going to have the peace of our happy valley spoiled because somebody gets in a fantigue.  Well, boys, how does the fire-engine go?”

“Haven’t tried it yet,” said Will.

“H’m!  Can’t we have a bit of a blaze?  I should like to come and help to put it out.”

“I think we ought to have got it out to play on poor old Boil O, for he’s been quite red-hot.”

“Look here, young fellow, you’re rather fond of those little games, as I well know.”

The boys both looked very guilty, and turned scarlet.

“You take a little bit of advice.  Don’t you try such a trick as that on him.  It wouldn’t do.”