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Bayne seemed staggered by a blow so polysyllabic; and Henry, to finish him, added, "Where there's a mult.i.tude, there's a mixture." Now the first sentence he had culled from the Edinburgh Review, and the second he had caught from a fellow-workman's lips in a public-house; and probably this was the first time the pair of phrases had ever walked out of any man's mouth arm in arm. He went on to say, "And as for Cheetham, he is not a bad fellow, take him altogether. But you are a better for telling me the truth. Forewarned, forearmed."
He went home thoughtful, and not so triumphant and airy as yesterday; but still not dejected, for his young and manly mind summoned its energy and spirit to combat this new obstacle, and his wits went to work.
Being unable to sleep for thinking of what he should do he was the first to reach the works in the morning. He lighted his furnace, and then went and unlocked the room where he worked as a handle maker, and also as a cutler. He entered briskly and opened the window. The gray light of the morning came in, and showed him something on the inside of the door that was not there when he locked it overnight. It was a very long knife, broad toward the handle, but keenly pointed, and double-edged. It was fast in the door, and impaled a letter addressed, in a vile hand--
"TO JAK THRE TRADES."
Henry took hold of the handle to draw the knife out; but the formidable weapon had been driven clean through the door with a single blow.
Then Henry drew back, and, as the confusion of surprise cleared away, the whole thing began to grow on him, and reveal distinct and alarming features.
The knife was not one which the town manufactured in the way of business, it was a long, glittering blade, double-edged, finely pointed, and exquisitely tempered. It was not a tool, but a weapon.
Why was it there, and, above all, how did it come there?
He distinctly remembered locking the door overnight. Indeed, he had found it locked, and the window-shutters bolted; yet there was this deadly weapon, and on its point a letter, the superscription of which looked hostile and sinister.
He drew the note gently across the edge of the keen knife, and the paper parted like a cobweb. He took it to the window and read it. It ran thus:
"This knifs wun of too made ekspres t'other is for thy hart if thou doesnt harken Trade and leve Chetm. Is thy skin thicks dore thinks thou if not turn up and back to Lundon or I c.u.m again and rip thy ---- carkiss with feloe blade to this thou ---- c.o.kny
Any one who reads it by the fireside may smile at the incongruous mixture of a sanguinary menace with bad spelling. But deeds of blood had often followed these scrawls in Hillsborough, and Henry knew it: and, indeed, he who can not spell his own name correctly is the very man to take his neighbor's life without compunction; since mercy is a fruit of knowledge, and cruelty of ignorance.
And then there was something truly chilling in the mysterious entrance of this threat on a dagger's point into a room he had locked overnight.
It implied supernatural craft and power. After this, where could a man be safe from these all-penetrating and remorseless agents of a secret and irresponsible tribunal.
Henry sat down awhile, and pored over the sanguinary scrawl, and glanced from it with a shudder at the glittering knife. And, while he was in this state of temporary collapse, the works filled, the Power moved, the sonorous grindstones revolved, and every man worked at his ease, except one, the best of them all beyond comparison.
He went to his friend Bayne, and said in a broken voice, "They have put me in heart for work; given me a morning dram. Look here." Bayne was shocked, but not surprised. "It is the regular routine," said he. "They begin civil; but if you don't obey, they turn it over to the sc.u.m."
"Do you think my life is really in danger?"
"No, not yet; I never knew a man molested on one warning. This is just to frighten you. If you were to take no notice, you'd likely get another warning, or two, at most; and then they'd do you, as sure as a gun."
"Oh, that is the Hillsborough word. It means to disable a man from work.
Sometimes they lie in wait in these dark streets, and fracture his skull with life-preservers; or break his arm, or cut the sinew of his wrist; and that they call DOING him. Or, if it is a grinder, they'll put powder in his trough, and then the sparks of his own making fire it, and scorch him, and perhaps blind him for life; that's DOING him. They have gone as far as shooting men with shot, and even with a bullet, but never so as to kill the man dead on the spot. They DO him. They are skilled workmen, you know; well, they are skilled workmen at violence and all, and it is astonishing how they contrive to stop within an inch of murder. They'll chance it though sometimes with their favorite gunpowder. If you're very wrong with the trade, and they can't DO you any other way, they'll blow your house up from the cellar, or let a can of powder down the chimney, with a lighted fuse, or fling a petard in at the window, and they take the chance of killing a houseful of innocent people, to get at the one that's on the black books of the trade, and has to be DONE."
"The beasts! I'll buy a six-shooter. I'll meet craft with craft, and force with force."
"What can you do against ten thousand? No; go you at once to the Secretary of the Edge-Tool Grinders, and get your trade into his Union.
You will have to pay; but don't mind that. Cheetham will go halves."
"I'll go at dinner-time."
"And why not now?"
"Because," said Henry, with a candor all his own, "I'm getting over my fright a bit, and my blood is beginning to boil at being threatened by a sneak, who wouldn't stand before me one moment in that yard, knife or no knife."
Bayne smiled a friendly but faint smile, and shook his head with grave disapprobation, and said, with wonder, "Fancy postponing Peace!"
Henry went to his forge and worked till dinner-time. Nay, more, was a beautiful whistler, and always whistled a little at his work: so to-day he whistled a great deal: in fact, he over-whistled.
At dinner-time he washed his face and hands and put on his coat to go out.
But he had soon some reason to regret that he had not acted on Bayne's advice to the letter. There had been a large trade's meeting overnight, and the hostility to the London craftsman had spread more widely, in consequence of remarks that had been there made. This emboldened the lower cla.s.s of workmen, who already disliked him out of pure envy, and had often scowled at him in silence; and, now, as he pa.s.sed them, they spoke at him, in their peculiar language, which the great friend and supporter of mechanics in general, The Hillsborough Liberal, subsequently christened "THE DASH DIALECT."
"We want no ---- c.o.c.kneys here, to steal our work."
"Did ever a ---- anvil-man handle his own blades in Hillsborough?"
"Not till this ---- k.n.o.bstick came," said another.
Henry turned sharp round upon them haughtily, and such was the power of his prompt defiant att.i.tude, and his eye, which flashed black lightning, that there was a slight movement of recoil among the actual speakers.
They recovered it immediately, strong in numbers; but in that same moment Little also recovered his discretion, and he had the address to step briskly toward the gate and call out the porter; he said to him in rather a loud voice, for all to hear, "if anybody asks for Henry Little, say he has gone to the Secretary of the Edge-Tool Forgers' Union." He then went out of the works; but, as he went, he heard some respectable workman say to the sc.u.m, "Come, shut up now. It is in better hands than yours."
Mr. Jobson, the Secretary of the Edge-Tool Forgers, was not at home, but his servant-girl advised Little to try the "Rising Sun;" and in the parlor of that orb he found Mr. Jobson, in company with other magnates of the same cla.s.s, discussing a powerful leader of The Hillsborough Liberal, in which was advocated the extension of the franchise, a measure calculated to throw prodigious power into the hands of Hillsborough operatives, because of their great number, and their habit of living each workman in a tenement of his own, however small.
Little waited till The Liberal had received its meed of approbation, and then asked respectfully if he might speak to Mr. Jobson on a trade matter. "Certainly," said Mr. Jobson. "Who are you?"
"My name is Little. I make the carving-tools at Cheetham's."
"I'll go home with you; my house is hard by."
When they got to the house, Jobson told him to sit down, and asked him, in a smooth and well-modulated voice, what was the nature of the business. This query, coming from him, who had set the stone rolling that bade fair to crush him, rather surprised Henry. He put his hand into his pocket, and produced the threatening note, but said nothing as to the time or manner of its arrival.
Mr. Jobson perused it carefully, and then returned it to Henry. "What have we to do with this?" and he looked quite puzzled.
"Why, sir, it is the act of your Union."
"You are sadly misinformed, Mr. Little. WE NEVER THREATEN. All we do is to remind the master that, if he does not do certain things, certain other things will probably be done by us; and this we wrap up in the kindest way."
"But, sir, you wrote to Cheetham against me."
"Did we? Then it will be in my letter-book." He took down a book, examined it, and said, "You are quite right. Here's a copy of the letter. Now surely, sir, comparing the language, the manners, and the spelling, with that of the ruffian whose scrawl you received this morning--"