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"Has he a forge?"
"Yes; and bellows, and quant.i.ties of molds, and strips of steel. He is working on a large scale."
"It shall be looked into, sir, by the proper persons. Indeed, the sooner they are informed, the better."
"Yes, but mind, no violence. You are strong enough to drive him out of the country without that."
"I should hope so."
Coventry then rose, and left the place; but he had no sooner got into the street, than a sort of horror fell on him; horror of himself, distrust and dread of the consequences, to his rival but benefactor.
Almost at the door he was met by Mr. Ransome, who stopped him and gave him Little's address; he had obtained it without difficulty from Bayne.
"I am glad you reminded me, sir," said he; "I shall call on him myself, one of these days."
These words rang in Coventry's ears, and put him in a cold perspiration.
"Fool!" thought he, "to go and ask a public officer, a man who hears every body in turn."
What he had done disinclined him to return to Cairnhope. He made a call or two first, and loitered about, and then at last back to Raby, gnawed with misgivings and incipient remorse.
Mr. Grotait sent immediately for Mr. Parkin, Mr. Jobson, and Mr. Potter, and told them the secret information he had just received.
They could hardly believe it at first; Jobson, especially, was incredulous. He said he had kept his eye on Little, and a.s.sured them the man had gone into woodcarving, and was to be seen in the town all day.
"Ay," said Parkin, "but this is at night; and, now I think of it, I met him t'other day, about dusk, galloping east, as hard as he could go."
"My information is from a sure source," said Grotait, stiffly.
Parkin.--"What is to be done?"
Jobson.--"Is he worth another strike?"
Potter.--"The time is unfavorable: here's a slap of dull trade."
The three then put their heads together, and various plans were suggested and discussed, and, as the parties were not now before the public, that horror of gunpowder, vitriol, and life-preservers, which figured in their notices and resolutions, did not appear in their conversation. Grotait alone was silent and doubtful. This Grotait was the greatest fanatic of the four, and, like all fanatics, capable of vast cruelty: but his cruelty lay in his head, rather than in his heart.
Out of Trade questions, the man, though vain and arrogant, was of a genial and rather a kindly nature; and, even in Trade questions, being more intelligent than his fellows, he was sometimes infested with a gleam of humanity.
His bigotry was, at this moment, disturbed by a visitation of that kind.
"I'm perplexed," said he: "I don't often hesitate on a Trade question neither. But the men we have done were always low-lived blackguards, who would have destroyed us, if we had not disabled them. Now this Little is a decent young chap. He struck at the root of our Trades, so long as he wrought openly. But on the sly, and n.o.body knowing but ourselves, mightn't it be as well to shut our eyes a bit? My informant is not in trade."
The other three took a more personal view of the matter. Little was outwitting, and resisting them. They saw nothing for it but to stop him, by hook or by crook.
While they sat debating his case in whispers, and with their heads so close you might have covered them all with a tea-tray, a clear musical voice was heard to speak to the barmaid, and, by her direction, in walked into the council-chamber--Mr. Henry Little.
This visit greatly surprised Messrs. Parkin, Jobson, and Potter, and made them stare, and look at one another uneasily. But it did not surprise Grotait so much, and it came about in the simplest way. That morning, at about eleven o'clock, Dr. Amboyne had called on Mrs. Little, and had asked Henry, rather stiffly, whether he was quite forgetting Life, Labor and Capital. Now the young man could not but feel that, for some time past, he had used the good doctor ill; had neglected and almost forgotten his benevolent hobby; so the doctor's gentle reproach went to his heart, and he said, "Give me a day or two, sir, and I'll show you how ashamed I am of my selfish behavior." True to his pledge, he collected all his notes together, and prepared a report, to be ill.u.s.trated with drawings. He then went to Cheetham's, more as a matter of form than any thing, to see if the condemned grindstone had been changed. To his infinite surprise he found it had not, and Bayne told him the reason. Henry was angry, and went direct to Grotait about it.
But as soon as he saw Jobson, and Parkin, and Potter, he started, and they started. "Oh!" said he, "I didn't expect to find so much good company. Why, here's the whole quorum."
"We will retire, sir, if you wish it."
"Not at all. My orders are to convert you all to Life, Labor, and Capital (Grotait p.r.i.c.ked up his ears directly); and, if I succeed, the Devil will be the next to come round, no doubt. Well, Mr. Grotait, Simmons is on that same grindstone you and I condemned. And all for a matter of four shillings. I find that, in your trade, the master provides the stone, but the grinder hangs and races it, which, in one sense, is time lost. Well, Simmons declines the new stone, unless Cheetham will pay him by time for hanging and racing it; Cheetham refuses; and so, between them, that idiot works on a faulty stone. Will you use your influence with the grinder?"
"Well, Mr. Little, now, between ourselves don't you think it rather hard that the poor workman should have to hang and race the master's grindstone for nothing?"
"Why, they share the loss between them. The stone costs the master three pounds; and hanging it costs the workman only four or five shillings.
Where's the grievance?"
"Hanging and racing a stone shortens the grinder's life; fills his lungs with grit. Is the workman to give Life and Labor for a forenoon, and is Capital to contribute nothing? Is that your view of Life, Labor, and Capital, young man?"
Henry was staggered a moment. "That is smart," said he. "But a rule of trade is a rule, till it is altered by consent of the parties that made it. Now, right or wrong, it is the rule of trade here that the small grinders find their own stones, and pay for power; but the saw-grinders are better off, for they have not to find stones, nor power, and their only drawback is that they must hang and race a new stone, which costs the master sixty shillings. Cheetham is smarting under your rules, and you can't expect him to go against any rule, that saves him a shilling."
"What does the grinder think?"
"You might as well ask what the grindstone thinks."
"Well, what does the grinder say, then?"
"Says he'd rather run the stone out, than lose a forenoon."
"Well, sir, it is his business."
"It may be a man's business to hang himself; but it is the bystanders'
to hinder him."
"You mistake me. I mean that the grinder is the only man who knows whether a stone is safe."
"Well, but this grinder does not pretend his stone is safe. All he says is, safe or not, he'll run it out. So now the question is, will you pay four shillings from your box for this blockhead's loss of time in hanging and racing a new stone?"
All the four secretaries opened their eyes with surprise at this. But Grotait merely said he had no authority to do that; the funds of the Union were set apart for specified purposes.
"Very likely," said Henry, getting warm: "but, when there's life to be TAKEN, your Union can find money irregularly; so why grudge it, when there's life to be saved perhaps, and ten times cheaper than you pay for blood?"
"Young man," said Grotait, severely, "did you come here to insult us with these worn-out slanders?"
"No, but I came to see whether you secretaries, who can find pounds to a.s.sa.s.sinate men, and blow up women and children with gunpowder, can find shillings to secure the life of one of your own members; he risks it every time he mounts his horsing."
"Well, sir, the application is without precedent, and I must decline it; but this I beg to do as courteously, as the application has been made uncourteously."
"Oh, it is easy to be polite, when you've got no heart."
"You are the first ever brought that charge against me."
"You ought to be ashamed of yourself," said Potter, warmly. "No heart!
Mr. Grotait is known for a good husband, a tender father, and the truest friend in Hillsborough."