THE COLLAPSE

On the third day the rain abated, and work was resumed at the
well. For the first few hours it went steadily on; but before
noon an awful catastrophe had occurred, and it became known all
over Willowton that the brickwork had fallen in, and that Chapman
and Hayes were entombed under the _débris._

Mr. Rutland was at the Workhouse Infirmary when the news reached
him. The doctor was there too, and the two gentlemen drove off at
once to the scene of the disaster, where stood Annie Chapman with
a white drawn face, her baby in her arms and three other little
ones clinging to her skirts as usual. Martin’s girl stood by her.
The children were out of school, and they too were there, a
hundred or more of them with wide eyes and horror-struck faces.
What was _not_ there was any sensible, capable man to take
command and keep the crowd back; for it was not yet the
dinner-hour, and the labourers were still in the fields, and
Martin, on the principle that what is important had better be
done by yourself, had rushed off, after sending a boy to fetch
Mr. Rutland, to telegraph to Ipswich for scientific help from the
firm who had supplied Hayes, and who had given advice as to the
mode of proceeding at the outset. Martin returned scarcely a
minute later than Mr. Rutland and the doctor, and hurriedly
informed them of his action in the matter.

Having made a clear space of some thirty feet or so round the
spot where the unfortunate men were perhaps even now lying with
the life crushed out of them, the doctor threw himself on the
ground and listened anxiously for some sound of life. If they
lived, the men would, of course, shout loudly and untiringly for
assistance; and then–as it was was just possible that, even if
they could not make themselves heard, some sound might reach
them–Mr. Rutland leaned over the chasm and shouted words of
encouragement and cheer. But he might have shouted to the empty
air, for never a sound reached them.

When one o’clock struck from the church tower the vicar sent the
children to their homes, and with kindly firmness insisted on
Annie Chapman’s going back too and getting some refreshment. The
children’s needs was a good excuse.

“I would not keep you away if you wish to come back,” he said.
“No one has, alas, a greater right to be here than you. Come when
the children are gone into school again. I will have the
tarpaulin shelter that was taken down on account of the rain put
up again, and you can rest there.”

Annie thanked him with a look; she was beyond speaking, and
seemed dazed. “Martin’s gal” went home with her, helped her with
the children’s dinner, and came back to watch with her all that
long, weary afternoon.

It was two hours before the Ipswich man arrived in a carriage
drawn by a strong, fast horse, white with foam, and reeking with
the heat of his rapid run. An assistant quickly unpacked the
apparatus for lowering the men who had volunteered for the
dangerous task of removing the fallen bricks. The accident, the
man said, was due to the violence of the rain, which had
percolated through the earth so quickly that it had loosened the
soil all round the well to a depth of some twenty or thirty feet,
and caused the brickwork to bulge inwards and fall. How far down
the mischief extended, of course, he was as unable to determine
as any one else; but one thing was sufficiently obvious–that
_time_ was everything. Another downfall would be almost certain
destruction, and the unfortunate men, he said, had two dangers,
not one, to contend with. At any moment the springs might begin
to work, and they might have escaped death from the fall of the
well only to be drowned by the rising water. It was a truly awful
predicament, and as it always happens when a real calamity
overtakes any of their mates, those who had most reviled them for
refusing to strike now came forward with offers of help, and even
forbore to make unpleasant remarks of any sort.

Corkam, who was, of course, soon on the scene, actually held his
tongue too until the work of rescue was fairly set in hand, and
each man had been told off to his hours of duty, when he
entertained a favoured group with various supercilious remarks,
and an assurance that these things were much better done in
‘Meriky. No one, however, paid much attention to him. They
naturally could think of nothing but the horror and the magnitude
of the present catastrophe. Things that had or had not happened
years ago in a foreign country mattered very little to any one
now in the face of this horrible reality; and Martin told him so
pretty plainly, and not a little roughly, with the desirable
result that he went off to the bridge to give his friend Farley
the latest details. And nobody missed him particularly!

Continue Reading

RAIN AT LAST

On the following day the heat became almost intolerable. People
went about their work, and got through it somehow, but everything
in nature appeared to be at its last gasp. The farmers had given
up any further hope of a hay crop, and had begun to feel anxious
about the harvest. When night fell the tiny cool breeze that had
sprung up most evenings to refresh the earth a little was
absent–a dead weight was over everything. The Chapman children
were unusually restless, and Tom, tired with his work, grumbled
fretfully as his wife moved about, first consoling one child and
then the other, and rocking the restless infant to and fro. On
such nights as this sleep is well-nigh impossible; and it was
well for Annie that she had the children to attend to, for her
heart was heavy with a terrible foreboding. Merry, careless Annie
was smitten with an unaccountable miserable feeling of coming
calamity. It had been growing and growing ever since Tom had
“taken on” at the well, and to-night it seemed to have reached
its height, and Annie longed most intensely for morning. Never
had a night seemed so long and unbearable.

The vicar, too, was lying sleepless through the long hot hours,
puzzling over the unexpected strike of the well-diggers,
wondering at their folly, and coming very near the truth when he
thought of the changed aspect of many of his parishioners, when
he remembered the averted looks, the nervous salutations that had
taken the place of the ready smiles, the respectful yet friendly
greetings that only a few short weeks ago met him at every turn.
He had really been almost too busy to notice it; and even now he
thought this notion that he was losing his hold on the affections
of the people he lived for and spent his life for was probably a
creation of his own troubled brain, born of the heat and the
anxiety and overstrain of those same past weeks. The rain could
not be far off now, he thought, for all day long the sky had been
overcast, and a steaming, stifling blanket seemed to have been
thrown over everything. As he tossed and fretted the first heavy
drops pattered on his window-sill. It had come–the blessed,
blessed rain–and the long, hard drought was over!

He sprang from his bed and stood at the open casement, listening
with delight to the growing volume of water that splashed down on
to the baked earth and ran off the roofs into the dry, warped
water-butts. He stood there, with the welcome spray leaping up
and shooting into his face and dropping on to his bare feet, till
he felt almost cold; and then with a thankful heart he regained
his bed, and for the first time for some nights fell asleep. What
mattered anything now? the rain had come–Willowton was
saved–“the plague was stayed!”

There were others in the clustering houses in the back streets
who, sitting up with their sick and dying, felt the bands that
had tightened round their weary heads suddenly loosed, felt the
killing physical strain give way as the first drops fell on their
roofs.

Milly Greenacre, from behind her white dimity curtains, rubbed
her sleepy eyes and turned over again, with the comforting
thought that the rain had at last come. The cattle, lying out in
their baked pastures, lifted their thirsty heads, lowing with
pleasure for the heaven-sent moisture. The birds in the orchard
awoke at dawn, and enjoyed a long-anticipated bath. Milly’s white
pigeons came out of their cot, and lay on the little gravel-path,
with wings upturned, enjoying to the full the fall of the great
cool drops. The horses in the far-off farm stables neighed
joyfully at each other, and every creature alive drank in new
life at every pore; even the fever-stricken patients rallied and
gained strength. Soon the grass would grow green again, and the
springs would begin to work, and all would be well. And yet
nothing in the future could undo the past; nothing could give
back to the mourners their loved ones. Willowton had indeed paid
the penalty of its own disregard of the laws of health; but now,
please God, the others would be saved.

All through the day that followed this blessed night the rain
fell–not quietly, or even with a break, but heavily,
incessantly, and unremittingly. People paddled out in it under
cloaks and umbrellas, and rejoiced with each other. The work at
the well was necessarily suspended for the time, for the rough
wooden shelter over it proved of little protection from the
tropical violence of the rain.

“That don’t kinder rain at all,” old Greenacre said; “that come
down whole water.”

Continue Reading

BACK TO THE WORK

Annie Chapman never had liked her husband working at the well.
She said as little as she could, and she scarcely knew why, but a
sort of nameless fear always crept over her when people spoke of
the work. Though she took her husband his “‘levenses” and his
“fourses” every day, she never could be induced to look down into
its depths, which naturally grew deeper day by day.

It was a hot walk though a short one, and Annie’s head throbbed
with the intensity of the heat, and her feet felt as if they were
weighted with lead. It was like walking on hot flags, she
thought, as she plodded over the common with the last baby in her
arms. The men had rigged up a sort of rough tent with four poles
and a stack-cover, and placed a couple of benches underneath it,
and Annie stopped to rest under its grateful shade. She was a
little early, and Tom was still at work ninety feet below her.
She shuddered as she thought of it, and Martin’s daughter, who
had come on the same errand for her father, laughed at her.

“You’re never cold, Mrs. Chapman!” she said. “That must be a
goose walkin’ over your grave.”

“Likely as not,” said Annie, answering in the same vein; “there
are plenty on ’em about.”

The girl laughed. She was a nice, bright, curly-haired, freckly
girl. She looked kindly at Annie, and held out her arms for the
baby.

“I don’t believe you half like your husband takin’ on with my
father,” she said.

“How do you know?” asked Annie, rather sharply for her.

“Why, Chapman told fayther so. He said you was rare put about
when he told you, and if it weren’t that he think that’s only
duin’ what he oughter, he’d ha’ chucked the job long ago. But he
would not go back on fayther, he say, after he’ve giv his word;
and he’s a good man, he is,” she added warmly. “Fayther he think
a lot o’ him. He’s a good un to work, he say, and a good mate
tew, and fayther don’t say that a’ ivrybody, I can tell yew.”

Annie felt pleased. It is always pleasant to hear nice things, of
course, about those we love, and Annie was generally so busy
muddling along with her household and children all day that she
had very little time for gossiping or exchanging many words with
her neighbours; and she scarcely knew how her Tom stood amongst
his fellows, for he was quiet and unobtrusive, and was not a man
to make many friends.

“He think a lot a’ your father too,” she answered, giving tit for
tat with truth.

“I wish they’d come up,” Annie said at last. “If they’re not
quick I’ll have to go back without seein’ Tom.”

“Why don’t you put your head over and call down to him?” said the
girl.

Annie shuddered again.

“Oh no, no, I dursn’t”

“Well, I will,” said her companion. “I know Mr. Hayes’ll let
me.–Won’t you now, Mr. Hayes?”

The big man who sat on the edge of the temporary woodwork that
was erected at the mouth of the well turned a good-natured,
sunburnt visage towards her.

“All right, my gal! come on, I’ll hold ye. They’ve got on well
to-day. They’re down a sight deeper than last time you looked.”

The man held back the ropes that hung from a windlass over the
top, and the girl stooped over the brink. She could see the heads
of both men down at what appeared to her an unfathomable depth.
She uttered a little cry of dismay. The earth had been getting
softer and easier to dig into for the last two days and they had
made considerable progress. Martin looked up as the shadow cast
by the girl’s head and shoulders darkened the pit a little.

“Hullo! That’s you, my gal, is it? Well, I’m coming. I want my
fourses bad, I can tell you.”

“Well, come on up then, father; and tell Mr. Chapman his wife
have been waitin’ for him ever so long, and she’ve got to go home
directly, to give the children their teas.”

“All right, then.–You go up first, Tom.” And nothing loath, Tom
put his foot into the loop, and gripping the rope with both hands
was soon drawn up.

“My eye, it is hot up here,” he said, as half blinded by the sun
he made his way to the tent. Martin soon followed, and the women
unpacked their baskets. Annie had brought Tom a bottle of his
favourite fromerty and a large harvest-bun. Martin liked tea, so
his daughter had a pot full of it rolled up in an old shawl to
keep it hot, for Martin held that hot tea is the most cooling of
drinks. “Drinkin’ cold things when you’re hot only makes you all
the hotter!” Well, every one to his taste, and the big man
preferred beer. He was a stranger, and the same man who had made
such cruel remarks on Geo Lummis’s muscles.

He lodged at Martin’s house, so “Martin’s gal,” as Polly was
generally called in the village, had brought his “fourses” too.
He quaffed off his half-pint of good home-brew, made by Mrs.
Martin herself, and with a sigh of enjoyment flung the drops at
the bottom of the glass on to the thirsty ground.

“That ‘ud be a rum job,” he said, as he seated himself on the
form, “if that dowser chap ha’ happened ar a mistake, and we
don’t find no water arter all.”

“We’ll find it all right,” said Martin decidedly. “He knowed what
he was about. He said that was a long way down, and I believe
him.”

That Martin should believe him was quite sufficient for himself
and Chapman, for Martin was one of those people that carry about
them a quiet power of making every one else trust them. He
possessed that nameless intangible quality that we know as
“character.” Martin was not particularly clever, he was not
entertaining or amusing in conversation; but he undoubtedly
possessed a great deal of character, and in his quiet,
deliberate, commonplace way he carried as much weight as any man
in the parish. If it had not been for Martin, it is pretty
certain the wells would never have been begun, much less
finished. It was Martin whose example made Chapman, Lake, and the
other two Willowton men at the railway well come forward in the
first instance and volunteer their services. It was Martin who
gave the other men courage to come forward with with their offer
of work. It was Martin who kept Lake and Chapman up to the mark
when, seeing the difficulty and hardness of the work, they
wavered, and, urged on by “the bridge,” were inclined to strike
for more wages.

“What, give in,” he said, “when we’ve go so far–sixty feet or
more below th’ surface? More money yer want? Well, I’m all fur
gettin’ all we can. I haven’t no sort er objection te money
myself; but fair play’s a jewel, I say, and we’ve took this risk,
and we’ve jest got te keep it. A few more shillin’s won’t make
our lives na safer, and we’ve got a good wage–three shillin’s a
day ter start on, and a shillin’ more for every ten feet; and I
say that’s good pay, and we don’t want na better–leastways we
didn’t ought to. Do you think folks is _made_ o’ money?” he
asked, warming to his subject. “I don’t say as Mr Rutland and the
doctor are goin’ to pay us out o’ their own porckets–in coorse
they’re not; but they’re responsible–that’s how I take it. And
they are payin’ us fair and punctual; and I’m not goin’ to say
that I don’t believe but what if they get more money than they
want by their subscription boxes, and they offer me a bonus, that
I’ll refuse it,” with a twinkle in his honest gray eye. “No, if
they like to remember the well-diggers when the water is come, I
won’t hev northin’ to say agin it, I’m sure; and nor wud yue now.
Jest yue put that in your pipes and smoke it!”

He lounged off as he spoke with a “good-night” over his shoulder,
and next morning, when, having “smoked it” with much thought
overnight, the two men arrived on the scene, they found Martin
there before them. He made no remark, and work began as usual.
The idea of going back never entered either of their heads again,
though the railway-well men had carried out their threat and
struck.

When Lake, who lived in Gravel-pit Lane, went down with the
fever, it was Martin who suggested to Mr. Rutland to get back the
stranger, who had only gone away that morning reluctantly; for he
was an experienced digger, and saw little risk in the railway
well, and would willingly have gone on with the work if he had
not been thrown out by the pusillanimity of his mates. He came at
once, and both the Willowton men took to him. He was pleasant to
work with, for he was both able and hard-working, and never,
“shirked a spadeful,” as Martin told the vicar, with just a touch
of pride at his own sagacity in suggesting him. Mr. Rutland had
been doubtful when it was proposed to him. He did not think it
wise to bring him in again, but Martin’s good sense overruled
him.

“There’s nobody in the place durst come and help us,” he said,
“time them tue others is out a’ work; they wouldn’t leave ’em
alone, not a minute. That’s only a stranger we can hev now, as
matters are, and he hadn’t northin’ ter due with the strike.”

“Who do you think had then?” asked the vicar, little expecting so
prompt a reply.

“Why, that scum Corkam!” asserted Martin stoutly. “He’s at th’
bottom a’ most a’ these here messes, he is! He goes a-talkin’ ar
a lot o’ rubbidge about ‘Meriky (as I don’t believe he ever
landed on), and he tell ’em a sight o’ stories about the big
wages over there, and he don’t say northin’ about the house rent
they have to pay, nor the price o’ wittles, nor clothin’, which I
know (‘cos my brother lived out in them parts for years) don’t
leave them not sa very much over for theirselves to due what they
like with arter all. And they’ve got ter goo and leave the old
place and their friends and relations, and work a sight harder
fur their money than we due here.”

“Just so, that’s just it, Martin,” said the vicar. “A little
knowledge is a dangerous thing. Corkam has got a little
knowledge–a smattering of facts about many countries; but he is
like a parrot–he repeats what he has been told, and has never
gone into the subject himself,–not had the chance, most likely.”

“You’re right, sir; that’s about the size on it! And them chaps
on the bridge of an evenin’, they’ll swaller anythin’ he like tue
tell ’em. That there young Lummis—”

“Oh, George Lummis! Yes, poor fellow, it’s heartbreaking to see
him idling away his whole life like that. But somehow I fancy
George will break loose one of these days. One day Master Corkam
will tell him something he can’t swallow, or offend his sense of
right and wrong, for there’s nothing really bad about Geo–at
present, at any rate. I still have hopes of Geo, and I hear he is
making an excellent nurse to his mother.”

In speaking thus the vicar was not talking at random. He had for
some time past been unaccountably interested in Geo. To his keen
sight–lazy, good-for-nothing as he appeared–Geo was full of
possibilities. There came into the young fellow’s sleepy,
handsome face a look sometimes that made you fancy that under
certain circumstances he might rise even to some great height of
heroism.

The vicar had been fortunate enough, as long ago as last summer,
to catch that expression one day when he came accidentally upon
him lying on the bank in the flowery meadow, lazily dropping
leaves into the stream and watching them float way. Mr. Rutland
was one of those very rare philanthropists who can resist the
temptation of improving the occasion. He saw a whole sermon in
the picture before him, and could have drawn half a dozen lessons
from the vagaries of the leaves–some of which spun round and
round and disappeared rapidly into the flowing water, others that
caught in weeds and remained prisoners or drifted under the
bank–but he did not. Geo had looked up as he caught the sound of
his footstep, and there was a look in his face that took the
vicar by surprise. It was, he thought (and he almost felt ashamed
of being so imaginative) an expression that might have been on
the face of a hero of the middle ages–a look, brave, clear,
determined, as of a man braced for some great deed, and yet he
was idling away his time on the grass, tipping leaves in the
stream. A man of less tact and less human sympathy than the vicar
would have stopped and made some remark, or at any rate have
given him the customary greeting; but Mr. Rutland refrained, and
passed on as if he had not noticed him. There was something
fermenting in Geo’s brain, he saw, and he felt certain it was,
whatever it might be, for good.

Nothing, as far as Mr. Rutland knew, ever came of this. Geo
worked hard at the “haysel” and the harvest that had followed, it
is true, and he took on occasional jobs at various farms in the
neighbourhood, but for the most part he idled away his days, as
we have already seen. His latent heroism, if he possessed any,
remained dormant. But the vicar always remembered the look when
people meted out to Geo their not unjust strictures on his
useless life.

In the meantime Geo was growing daily in the good graces of Nurse
Blunt. No patient of hers, she often told Milly, was more
carefully tended than Mrs. Lummis. Geo was a born nurse, and was
as gentle and dexterous as a woman, and even old Jimmy’s grunts
of disapproval failed to convince her that there was “nothin’ in
him.”

Continue Reading

THE STRIKE AT THE WELL

One would have thought that so excellent a work as the digging of
the wells would be allowed to go on quietly, but unfortunately
the fact that the scheme happened to have been originated by the
vicar and the doctor was enough to make some people condemn it;
and we all know, when once the thin end of the wedge of
discontent and distrust has forced its way into anything, how
difficult–nay, how often impossible–it is to dislodge it. And
so it was that the men at the railway well, when they had dug to
the depth of nearly fifty feet and had found no water, began to
get impatient and disheartened. Most of the wells in Willowton
were not more than thirty or forty feet deep, and were fed, of
course, chiefly by surface drainage; hence their deadly poison.
These new wells were on the higher ground above the village, and
naturally water was to be found there only at a deeper level; but
these men either would not or could not take this in. Two of them
had had very little experience whatever in the work, and like all
novices, they looked for immediate results; and when these were
not forthcoming, they grumbled at the dowser, their employers,
and everything else. Their evil counsellors advised a strike for
higher wages than the unprecedented amount they were already
receiving, and so it happened that one hot morning, when the
vicar went up to see how they were progressing, he found the well
deserted, and no signs of the men anywhere. He walked up to it
and looked in. It was partially covered with planks in the usual
way, apparently just as they had left it the night before. He was
puzzled. The men had apparently struck. But why? he asked
himself. And nothing he could recall threw any light upon the
matter.

“That is the worst,” he thought “of employing irregular workmen.”
But it had been impossible at such short notice to procure all
professional well-sinkers, and he had thought himself very
fortunate to have secured two, one for each well; while all the
men, except Chapman, had seen the work going on at various farms
in the neighbourhood, if they had not actually assisted. They
were perfectly well aware of the nature of the work; they had
volunteered for it, and gone at it cheerfully enough. The strike
was altogether inexplicable.

The vicar paid his visit to the Union, and an hour later came on
to the bridge, where he saw all four men seated on the parapet,
smoking, and talking loudly and ostentatiously, as if they wished
to engage the attention of the passers-by. They were a
rough-looking gang, however, and nobody seemed inclined to stop.
Curiously enough, neither Corkam nor Farley was present.

“Good-morning, my men,” he said pleasantly when he got within
speaking distance. “How is it you are not at work?”

A sort of sullen silence had come over them at his approach. No
one attempted to break it, but each looked covertly at the other
for guidance–all except the stranger, who turned his back and
became apparently deeply interested in the ducks on the water.

“You’re all here, aren’t you? No accident, I hope?” said the
vicar.

“No accident as I know on,” answered the foreman at last.

He was a man who had been in the choir, but had left for some
stupid reason or fancied slight, known only to himself. Mr.
Rutland had been extremely kind to him always, and had helped him
more than once with money when an accident during harvest had
kept him out of work.

“Well,” said the vicar, turning very red with an evident effort
to keep his temper, “since none of you have anything to say, I
will wish you good-morning.”

“Well, but we have something to say,” said another man roughly.

This man had had three children down with the fever, and the
doctor had given them every attention, even sitting up half the
night on occasion when two of them had been in a very critical
state. He had behaved very differently then from what he was
doing now. He thrust his hands into his trousers pockets, and
tried to look as callous as he could.

The vicar looked at him for the eighth part of a second with
disgust.

“Well, then, Cadger, stand up and say it properly,” he said
authoritatively.

The man slipped off the parapet, and stood looking very
uncomfortable, for all his swagger, under the vicar’s scrutiny.

“Now, then,” said the vicar sharply, “what is it? what is your
complaint?”

“We’ve struck,” said two or three voices at once.

The vicar never once glanced at the graceless creatures still
dangling their legs, though less aggressively; he addressed
himself to Cadger.

“Oh, have you?” he said as calmly as he could. “What have you
struck for?”

“More wages,” said Cadger, glancing at his comrades for
directions.

“Which you won’t have,” said the vicar quietly. He was quite calm
now and very white. “You agreed for what was considered by
yourselves, and by everybody else, a very generous wage. You have
no right to ask more. I, for one, will certainly not advocate it.
There is reason in all things, and money is not so plentiful in
Willowton as you seem to think. I am disappointed in you, Cadger,
particularly; I had thought better things of you. I fancied you,
at least, were anxious to take your share in lessening the
terrible trouble that has been put upon us; but I see now you
only thought of your own interest. With my consent, I tell you
honestly, you will not get a penny more.”

“He! he!” laughed one or two of the men; but the vicar never
looked round.

“But,” he added, “I am only one. You can bring your complaint in
proper form before the committee, and, of course, if the majority
agree, what I say will not stand; so you have your remedy.”

He walked away as he finished speaking, and Cadger sat down
again. He did not say anything, for somehow or other, though he
felt very valiant at first, he began now to feel rather small.
There was an uncomfortable silence for a few minutes, and then
the stranger, whose name was Hayes, knocked the ashes out of his
pipe against the root of a tree and spoke.

“He don’t look such a bad sort,” he said reflectively.

“I don’t mind him so much,” said Cadger patronizingly, “when he
mind ‘is own business.”

“Oh, indeed!” said the stranger with a twinkle. “Well, now,
whatever is ‘is business?”

“Well, I s’pose that’s te preach in th’ church, and give the
money tue th’ poor, and wisit th’ sick.”

“Yis. Well, go on; northin’ more’n that?”

“Well yis,” went on the man, never seeing that Hayes was “pulling
his leg:” “he’ve got ter due th’ christenin’, and th’ marryin’,
and th’ buryin’.”

“Well, that last ought ter give ‘im plenty o’ work in this hole,”
said Hayes rather brutally. “Well, go on. Anythin’ more?”

“Well, he’ve got ter see after the schule, an’ the clothin’ club,
an’ the parish room, an’ sech like things.”

“And don’t he take no trouble about the choir? Don’t he have no
Bible classes, nor confirmation classes, nor nothin’?”

“Oh yis, hev them,” Cadger allowed.

“Well, then, there’s them concerts, and trips to the seaside, and
school treats you was tellin’ me about the other day. Don’t he
have nothin’ to do with them?”

“Oh yis; he manages them, in coorse.”

“Oh, ‘ndeed! Well, now, how about the cricket clubs and the
football clubs?”

“Oh, he’s treasurer for them tue.”

“Well, then–I don’t hold much with parsons myself, but I should
like to know wat’s _not_ his business!”

“That’s not ‘is business to come interferin’ wi’ us,” said the
man who had laughed derisively. It was he who had insulted the
memory of Geo’s father.

“Oh, ain’t it? Well— Don’t be angry,” as the man fired up; “I
only ask for information. Who had the startin’ o’ these here
wells?”

Nobody seemed anxious to answer this question, and Hayes did it
himself.

“Why, the parson hisself, didn’t he? And aren’t he and the doctor
answerable for the money? If any one has a right to say anything,
I should think the parson has. But you’re on the strike, and
right or wrong you’re in for it; but I don’t mind tellin’ of yer
I ain’t–I’m only one to four, and that’s no good holdin’ out.
But I ain’t one a’ yer sneakin’ sort; I ain’t afeared ter speak
out, no more’n th’ parson, and I tell yer honest I hain’t struck.
I can’t goo on by myself; but I’ve been a well-sinker all my
days, and I know I niver had sech good pay offered to me before,
and I’m content. If they don’t give in, why, the well, I s’pose
will have to be closed. But that don’t matter to me; I can get
plenty a’ jobs at Ipswitch, an’ I can go back where I come from,
quite agreeable.”

He put his pipe back into his mouth when he had finished his
harangue, and puffed away for some moments in silence; and then
the storm broke. The other men were furious at his words. They
called him by every opprobrious name they could think of.

“All right,” he said at last, leisurely pulling off his jacket;
“let’s fight it out.”

He stood up boldly in the middle of the road, with his head
thrown back and his fists clenched; but nobody seemed inclined to
accept his invitation.

A butcher’s cart that was passing pulled up to see the fun, and
in a minute or less there was quite a crowd of small boys
standing round the angry group. Encouraged by the “gallery,”
Hayes, who had hitherto been perfectly good-humoured, was
beginning to be really angry, and in another minute would
probably have let fly at one or other of his late mates; but the
policeman, who happened to be at hand, stepped up in the nick of
time and placed a heavy hand on his shoulder.

Hayes was sobered in a minute.

“All right, master, I don’t want to fight. There ain’t one a’
them but wot I could pound into mincemeat if I liked, but I’ll
let ’em off since you’ve come.”

He pulled down his shirt sleeves as he spoke, and Cadger and his
mates took the opportunity of slipping off, and in five minutes
the bridge was clear. Indeed, the whole scene had not lasted
quarter of an hour; and when Farley and Corkam emerged from the
back parlour of the Swan, their mortification and disgust at
having missed it knew no bounds. But there had been one silent
spectator who concerns our story–it was Geo Lummis. He had heard
it all, every word, as he hung over the bridge watching the
stream. It was no business of his, so he did not interfere; and
knowing that he would be questioned and cross-questioned a
hundred times over by both of them if they knew he had been
there, he turned off abruptly and went home.

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ANOTHER FEVER VICTIM

The account the doctor gave Nurse Blunt of the deplorable state
of the sickness in Willowton would have made a weaker woman
quail, but Nurse Blunt was strong in body and mind.

“I mayn’t sit up night, sir, as you know,” she said, “but I’ll do
my best all day; and I’ll begin at six o’clock to-morrow morning
if you’ll give me list of the most urgent cases.”

The doctor took out his pocket-book.

“Four cases in Gravel-pit Lane,” he read, “two in the main
street, three in the back alley. None of these are particularly
dangerous ones, but they all require great care, as you know, and
the difficulty is to prevent their relations feeding them with
forbidden things.”

“I know that well, sir,” said the nurse sorrowfully; “I’ve had a
great many sad experiences of that. Many a poor thing has died
through being given solid food at a time when nothing but milk
should have been allowed.”

“Yes,” assented the doctor, “of course, it is as you say; and it
has been the cause of death to several of our people. I cannot
make them see the necessity for following my orders implicitly;
they think it does not matter, or I won’t find out. Well, perhaps
I don’t, but nature does, and we soon see the result.”

“Where shall I go first?” asked nurse.

“Well, there is a new case declared only this afternoon–a Mrs.
Lummis, a nice woman, a widow. She has no one really to look
after her but a lazy ne’er-do-weel of a son. Perhaps you had
better go there first. She will not keep you long. Everything
will be neat; and though very poor, I fancy she knows what ought
to be. If wanted, I’ll give you an order for milk. Major Bailey
has telegraphed from South Africa that his dairy (and he keeps a
lot of cows) is at our disposal. You’d better tell her son he
must go for it every morning.” He wrote out an order as he spoke.
“The others have all got them,” he continued.

And after receiving a few more important directions, the nurse
took her leave and strolled back through the village to her
lodgings.

Milly and her grandfather were still up when she got back, though
they usually “turned in” earlier. Milly, of course, waited to
hear whether her lodger wanted anything before she retired for
the night.

“Nothing, thank you,” she said in answer to her inquiries; “but
if you’ll let me have breakfast at eight o’clock I should be
glad. And perhaps you can tell me which of these places comes
first. I like to take my patients as they come; it saves time and
trouble, and they get to know when to expect me.”

She handed Milly the doctor’s paper, and Milly explained. Nurse
took out a pencil and made some notes on the margin.

“Oh! and then there’s Mrs. Lummis,” she said.

“I am to go there first. Where does she live?”

“Mrs. Lummis!” echoed Milly with surprise. “Is she ill?”

“So the doctor says. And it appears she has no one to look after
her but a good-for-nothing son. Poor woman! I’m sorry for her,
for I shan’t be able to give her much of my time with a list like
this!”

Milly would have liked to say something in defence of George
Lummis, for she had, or fancied she had, seen something of
another side of his character when he had jumped across the
stream and stood beside her so meekly while she spoke to him
about his wasting his time on the bridge. She had fancied there
was something rather fine about him, he had looked so strong and
honest and capable for the moment; but then a little later how
different had been his appearance! The remembrance of that kept
her quiet; she had nothing to say.

Old Jimmy woke up just in time to hear nurse’s remark. “Yes,” he
said, “a good-fur-northin’, idlin’ young fule.” And if Milly had
not stopped him with a timely reminder that it was nearly
half-past nine, he would have plunged into the history of all
poor Geo’s antecedents for several generations. As it was, nurse
was not particularly interested, and backed up Milly’s suggestion
that it was high time all good people went to bed.

In the meantime, in the little house on the hill that lazy, idle
good-for-nothing was making ready for the night.

He pulled down the little blind over the open window, and set a
jug of milk and water with a glass by his mother’s bedside, and
smoothed the sheet over her hot and tossing limbs.

“You just sing out, mother, if you want anything,” he said,
speaking in a comfortable, low-toned voice that did not jar on
her aching nerves. “Or if you can’t sleep. I’ll come and set by
you. I’d like to do that now if you’d let me.”

“No, no, Geo my boy, that I won’t; I’m quite comfortable as far
as that goes. If it wasn’t for the heat, maybe I’d get some sleep
myself. You go to bed now, and when you wake come in and see
after me. I’ll call you sure enough if I want you.”

So Geo came away, and throwing himself on his bed was soon sound
asleep.

In the house next door a girl was ill. Mrs. Lummis had been
helping to nurse her. If only she could be left, her mother would
come and see after her, she well knew; for the poor are always at
their best in times of illness, and the way they help each other
is a pattern to those above them. But the girl was very bad
indeed, not likely to recover, and Mrs. Lummis could not look for
help from the nearly worn-out mother. It was a comfort that Geo
seemed to be so handy. She was lucky, she thought, to have such a
son; but she felt anxious, knowing that her illness was likely to
be a long one. She knew not of the likelihood of the nurse
coming to her. Like everybody else in the village, she knew of
her advent, but nobody had told her she had really come. If she
had she would have passed a less miserable night, perhaps; for,
of course, nothing was farther away from her than sleep.

After all she had heard, nurse was rather surprised, when she
knocked at the door about seven o’clock next morning, to find it
opened to her by a pleasant, bright-faced young man, who looked
as if he had just dipped his head into a tub of cold water, so
fresh was his colour.

“_You_ haven’t been up all night, I’ll be bound,” she inwardly
ejaculated; “but you look different from what I expected.”

“I am the new nurse,” she said in answer to the astonishment that
shot out of his blue eyes, “and the doctor has sent me to see
after your mother. What sort of night has she had?”

“Pretty bad,” said Geo. “I was just gettin’ th’ kettle to boil,
and thought I’d make her some tea.”

“Milk is better for her,” said the nurse.

“That’s too early for milk yet,” said Geo; “you can’t get milk at
the shop before eight o’clock.”

“Oh, well, I’ve got a ticket for you,” and the nurse produced it
out of her little black bag.

“Why, that’s for the Hall!” said Geo with surprise.

“Yes, that’s all right; the doctor sent it. You’d better take a
can and go and fetch it at once. I’ll see after your mother if
you’ll just take me to her.”

“But I think I’d better first let her know,” said Geo, thinking
this newcomer was taking rather too much on herself.

Nurse read his thoughts and flushed a little. She was so full of
the importance of her mission, so anxious to do her work
thoroughly, that she sometimes forgot the little courtesies due
to everybody, sick or well.

“Certainly,” she said, rather curtly. “I’ll wait till you come
down.”

George disappeared up the steep little staircase that led out of
the sitting-room to the bedroom overhead. He was gone a few
minutes, and when he came back he said his mother would be glad
to see nurse if the doctor had sent her, and he showed her up.
The sick woman, who looked thin and flushed with fever, looked
half frightened at the nurse for a moment, and then began to cry.

“Leave her to me,” said nurse to Geo, who did not understand.
“She’ll be all right in a minute or two.”

So Geo went off in his usual leisurely way for the milk, and the
nurse talked soothingly to the sick woman, took her temperature,
which was very high, and gave her some fever medicine.

“Are you going to do for her?” asked the nurse bluntly when Geo
returned.

“I s’pose so,” answered Geo in the same way.

“Well, I’ll call in some time again this afternoon. You need not
stop with her all day, but you must come in and out; and give her
nothing but milk, but plenty of it. But can you be spared from
your work? Oh,” as Geo hesitated, “I forgot.”

Geo saw she had already heard about him. It was unnecessary to
explain.

“I’ll due wot yue say,” he said simply, opening the door and
letting her out; and then he went back to his mother, who spoke
gratefully of the nurse and seemed glad of her help.

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