John Brent/Chapter XXXI
It was with much curiosity and interest in Padiham that I stepped down into the basement, and entered his shop. I reverence as much a great mechanic, in degree, perhaps in kind, as I do any great seer into the mysteries of Nature. He is a king, whoever can wield the great forces where other men have not the power. And none can control material forces without a profound knowledge, stated or unstated, of the great masterly laws that order every organism, from dust to man and a man-freighted world. A great mechanic ranks with the great chiefs of his time, prophets, poets, orators, statesmen.
Padiham was in his shop at work. No mistaking him. A stunted, iron-gray man, not misshapen, but only shut together, like a one-barrelled opera-glass.
A very impressive head was Padiham’s. No harm had been done to that by whatever force had driven in his legs and shut his ribs together. His head was full grown. In contrast with his body, it seemed even overgrown. His hair and beard were iron-gray. He had those heavy, square eyebrows that compel the eyes from roving, and shut them down upon the matter in hand, so that it cannot escape. Not a man, this, to err on facts or characters. A pretender person, a sham fact, he would test at once and dismiss. Short’s Cut-off had never met a sterner critic than this man with the square forehead and firm nose.
He was hard at work at a bench, low according to his stature, filing at some fine machinery. The shop was filled with a rich sunny duskiness. Here and there surfaces of polished brass sparkled. Sunbeams, striking through the dim windows, glinted upon bits of bright steel strewn about. I perceived the clear pungent odor of fresh steel filings, very grateful after the musty streets, seething in June sunshine and the exhalations of the noisome Thames. It was a scene of orderly disorder, ruled by the master-workman there.
Padiham had, of course, observed my entrance. He took no notice of me, and continued his work.
I held my station near the door. I did not wish to spoil his job by the jar of an interruption. Besides, I thought it as well to let him speak first. I was prepared for an odd man; he might make the advances, if he pleased.
Padiham went on filing, in a grim, intelligent way. I glanced about the shop.
There were models all about of machines, some known, some strange to me; disconnected portions of inventions lying side by side, and wanting only a bolt or a screw to be organized and ready to rush at pumping, or lifting, or dragging, or busy duty of some useful kind. There was store, too, of interesting rubbish, — members of futile models, that could not do busy duty of their kind for some slight error, and worth careful study as warnings; for failure with mechanics is the schoolmaster of success. Drawings of engines hung all about the walls. As guardian genius of the spot, there was a portrait of that wise, benignant face of my friend of this morning, that great engineer who had directed me hither.
Apart in a dusky corner, by the chimney and forge, hung two water-color drawings in neat gilt frames. They were perhaps a little incongruous with the scenery of the gnome’s cavern. I did not, of course, expect to find here a portrait of a truculent bruiser or a leering bar-maid. Beery journeymen keep such low art hanging before them to seduce them from any ambition to become master hands and beguile them back of beer. Padiham would of course need drawings of models and machines, and enjoy them; but I did not look for Art proper in his shop. There, however, in the dim background, hung the two cheerful drawings, in their neat frames. They renewed and repeated the feeling which the gay roses in the upper windows had given me. My fancy supplied a link between the drawings and the flowers. They infused a pleasant element of refinement into the work-a-day atmosphere of the shop.
One of these drawings — I could just faintly distinguish their subject, and not the skill, greater or less, of their handling — was a view of an old brick many-gabled manor-house on a lawn dotted with stately oaks. Its companion — and the light hardly permitted me to decipher it — seemed to be a group of people seated on the grass, and a horse bending over them. I glanced at these objects as my eye made the tour of the shop; but my head was filled with Short’s Cut-off and this grim dwarf before me.
Presently Padiham laid down his file, and took up a pair of pincers from the confusion on his bench. He gave a bit of wire a twist, and, as he did so, looked at me. The square eyebrows seemed to hold me stiff, while he inspected. He studied my face, and then measured me from top to toe. There was a slight expression of repellence in his features, as if he thought, “This big fellow probably fancies that his long legs make him my master; we’ll try a match.”
He addressed me in a sweet, hearty voice, quite in discord with his gruff manner. No man could be a bear and roar so gently. I perceived the Lancashire accent. The dialect, if it had ever been there, was worn away. Tones are older in a man than words. He can learn a new tongue; his organ he hardly alters. If Nature has ordained a voice to howl, or snarl, or yelp, or bray, it will do so now and then, stuff our mouths with pebbles as we may.
Padiham’s frank, amiable voice neutralized his surly manner, as he said: “Now then, young man, what are you staring at? Do you want anything with me? Say so, if you do. If not, don’t stand idling here; but go about your business.”
“I want you to do a job for me.”
“Suppose I say, I don’t want to do it?”
“Then I’ll try to find a better man.”
“Umph! where’ll you look for him?”
“In the first shop where there’s one that knows enough to give good words to a stranger.”
“Well; say what your job is.”
“You’re ready to do it then?”
“I’m not ready to waste any more time in talk.”
“Nor I. I want some working models of a new patent Cut-off.”
“I won’t undertake any tom-foolery.”
“If you can make tom-foolery out of this, you’re a cleverer man than I am.”
“That may not be much to say. I’ve had so many shams brought to me in the way of cut-offs that I shall not spend time on yours unless it looks right at first glance.
“You’ll see with half an eye that this means something.”
“Show me your drawings; that will settle it.”
I produced the working drawings.
Padiham studied them a few moments. 1 volunteered no explanation.
Presently he looked up, and fixed me with his square eyebrows, while he examined me from head to foot again.
“Did you invent this?” said he.
“Umph! Thought not. Too tall. Who did?”
“Don’t Mister the man that thought out this. His whole name I want, without handles. He don’t need ’em.”
“George, — that’s my name too. I suppose he is a Yankee. I know every man in England likely to have contrived this; but none of them have quite head enough.”
“He is an American.”
“Is he a Mormon?”
“No. It is an odd question.”
“I don’t know much about your country, except that you invent machines, keep slaves, blow up steamboats, and beguile off Englishmen with your damned Mormonism. The Mormons have done so much harm in my country, — Lancashire that is, — that I’ve sworn I’d never have anything to do with any Yankee, unless I first knew he was not one of those wolves. But if you’re not, and George Short is not, I’ll do your job. Now tell me precisely what you want made, for I can’t spend time with you.”
“I want six sets of these models at once.”
“I’ll order the castings this evening. I have materials here for the fine parts. Can you handle tools? — I mean useful tools, — files and saws and wrenches, not pens and sand-boxes.”
“I’m a fair workman with your tools.”
“You can help me then. Come over to-morrow morning at seven. No; you’re an idler, and I’ll give you till eight. If you’re not here by that time you’ll find me busy for the day.”
So saying, Padiham turned off to his work. He gave me no further attention; but filed away grimly. I watched him a moment. What intensity and earnestness were in this man! Like other great artists, who see form hidden within a mass of brute matter, he seemed to be urged to give himself, body and soul, to releasing the form from its cell, to setting free the elemental spirit of order and action locked up in the stuff before him.
His brief verdict upon my friend’s invention settled its success in my mind. Not that I doubted before; but the man’s manner was conclusive. He pronounced the fiat of the practical world, as finally as the great engineer had done of the theoretical. I thrilled for old Short, when this Dwarf, lurking away in a by-court of London, accepted him as his peer. The excitement of this interview had for a time quite expelled my anxieties. For a time I had lost sight of the two figures that haunted me, and ever vanished as I pursued. They took their places again as I left the shop and issued from Lamely Court into the crowded thoroughfare at hand.
I took a cab, and drove to my hotel, and so to Biddulph’s. The dinner at the Baronet’s shall not figure in these pages. It was my first appearance as hero. I and my horse were historic characters in this new circle. I was lionized by Lady Biddulph, a stately personage, inheritress of a family rustle, — a rustle as old as the Plantagenets, and grander now by the accumulations of ages. A lovely young lady, with dark hair, who blushed when I took my cue and praised Biddulph, she also lionized me. A thorough-bred American finds English life charming, especially if he is agreeably lionné; a scrubby American considers England a region of cold shoulder, too effete to appreciate impertinence.
Lady Biddulph gave me further facts of the history of the Clitheroes.
“Our dear Ellen!” she concluded. “If she had known how much I loved her, she would have disregarded her natural scruples,” — and she glanced at her son, — “and let me befriend and protect her. It goes to my heart to see Mr. Brent so worn and sad. He, too, has become very dear to us all. I have adopted him as my son as long as he pleases, and try to give him a mother’s sympathy.”
Brent walked back with me to Smorley’s.
“How different we are!” he said, as we parted. “I am all impulse; you are all steadiness.”
“Suffering might throw me off my balance. Remember that I have had trial and experience, but no torture.”
“Torture, that is the word; and it has unmanned me like a wearing disease. Your coming makes a man of me again.”
“Give me a day or two for Short’s Cut-off and the mechanical nineteenth century, and we will take our knight-errantry upon us again. We are dismounted cavaliers now, to be sure, — no Pumps or Fulano to help us, — but we shall find, I will not doubt, some other trusty aid against the demon forces.”
Brent bade me good night with a revival of his old self. We were to meet again to-morrow.
I sat down to gladden Short with the story of my success to-day, and wrote hard and fast to catch to-morrow’s steamer.
The dwarf, I knew, would be a man after Short’s own heart, — these men of iron and steel are full of magnetism for each other. I gave Short a minute description of Padiham’s shop.
As I described, I found that my observation had been much keener than I supposed. Every object in the shop came back to me distinctly. I saw the Rembrandt interior, barred with warm sunbeams; the grim master standing there over his vice; the glinting steel; the polished brass; the intelligent tools, ready to spring up and do their duty in the craftsman’s hands; that little pretty plaything of a steam-engine, at rest, but with its pocket-piece of an oscillating cylinder hanging alert, so that it could swing off merrily at a moment’s notice, and its piston with a firm grip on the crank, equally eager to skip up and down in the cylinder on its elastic cushion of steam.
All the objects in Padiham’s shop, one after another, caught my look, as I reviewed the whole in memory. Suddenly I found myself gazing intently at my image of those two water-color drawings in neat gilt frames, hanging in a dusky corner by the chimney, — those two drawings which had revived in my mind the sentiment of the bright, healthy roses in the upper windows.
Suddenly these drawings recurred to me. They stared at me like an old friend neglected. They insisted upon my recognition. There was a personality in them which gazed at me with a shy and sad reproach, that I had given them only a careless glance, and so passed them by.
The drawings stared at me and I at them.
An ancient, many-gabled brick manor-house, on a fair lawn dotted with stately oaks, — that was the first.
Had I not already seen a drawing, the fellow of this? Yes. In Biddulph’s hands at Fort Laramie. The same gables, the same sweet slope of lawn, the same broad oaks, and one the monarch of them all, — perhaps the very one Wordsworth had rounded into a sonnet.
And the companion drawing that I hardly deciphered in the dimness, — that group of figures and a horse bending over them?
How blind I was!
Fulano surely. He and no other.
And that group?
Ourselves at the Luggernel Springs. Brent lying wounded, while I gave him water, and a, lady bound up his wounds.
Can this be so? Am I not the victim of a fancy? Is this indeed my noble horse? Is he again coming forward to bear us along the trail of our lost friend.
I stared again at my mental image of the two drawings. I recalled again every word of my interview with Padiham.
The more I looked, the more confident I became. Short’s Cut-off had held such entire possession of me in the afternoon, that I could only observe with eyes, not with volition, could not value the treasure I was grasping ignorantly. But I had grasped it. This is Fulano! Except for him, I might doubt. Except for his presence, the other drawing of an old brick manor-house would be a commonplace circumstance.
“Now let me see,” I thought, pushing aside my letter to Short for a moment, “what are my facts?
“Mr. Clitheroe and his daughter have disappeared, and are probably in London.
“I have found — God be thanked! — a clew, perhaps a clew. Work by the lady’s hand.
“And where? In Padiham’s shop.
“Padiham is a Lancashire man. So is Mr. Clitheroe.
“Padiham has a horror of Mormons. Why was I so hurried as not to pursue the conversation, and discover what special cause he had for his disgust?
“Padiham, in a secluded part of London, keeps a hospital for the poor and the sick.
“There are bright roses in the upper windows. No masculine fingers know how to lure blossoms into being so tenderly.
“Bright roses in the rooms above; able drawings giving refinement to the rusty shop below.
“Can it be that they are there, under the very roof of that grim good Samaritan?
“In the three millions have I come upon my two units?
“Going straight forward and minding my own business, have I effected in one day what Brent has failed in utterly after a search of months?
“But let me not neglect the counter facts?
“I did not recognize these pictures when I saw them. Perhaps what I find in them now is fancy. My own vivid remembrance of the scene at Luggernel may be doing artist-work, and dignifying some commonplace illustration of an old ballad. Ours was not the first such group since men were made and horses made for them. Fulano has had no lack of forefathers in heroism.
“And the manor-house? There are, perhaps, in Padiham’s own county, a hundred such ancient many-gabled brick halls, a hundred lawns fair as the one that falls away gently from Mr. Clitheroe’s ancestral mansion, scores of oaks as stately as the one that was lucky enough to shadow Wordsworth, and so cool his head for a sonnet in grateful recompense.
“Padiham may have a daughter who draws horses and houses to delude me, — imaginative fellow that I am becoming!
“Or, what do I know? Suppose these fugitives have taken refuge with Padiham, — it may be to escape pursuit. Poor Mr. Clitheroe! Who knows what poverty may have permitted him to do? Better to hide in Lamely Court than to be stared at in a prison!
“My facts are slender basis for conclusion,” — so I avowed to myself on this review.
“But I would rather have a hope than no hope. The filmiest clew is kinder than no clew.
“I will finish my letter to old Short, dear boy, inventor of a well-omened Cut-off”; I will sleep like a top, with no mysterious disappearances to disturb me; I will be with the Dwarf by seven. If that is Fulano in the drawing, he shall carry double again. He shall conduct the Lover and Friend to the Lady.”