John Brent/Chapter XXXII
How jubilant I felt the next morning as I made my way toward Lamely Court! The Thames really seemed to me a pure and lucent current. I began to fancy that there might be a stray whiff of ozone in the breezes of Albion.
What a cheerful clock it was, in some steeple near at hand, that struck seven as I set foot upon Padiham’s steps! What a blessing to a neighborhood to have a clock so utterly incredulous of dolefulness, — a clock that said All’s well to the past hour, and prophesied All’s well to the coming!
“Now,” I thought, “I must have my wits about me. My business is with Padiham the mechanic, not with Padiham the good Samaritan. My time and mind belong to Short’s Cut-off. I must not dash off into impertinent queries about people the dwarf may know nothing of, may wish to tell nothing of. Keep cool, Richard Wade! mind your own business, and then you can mind other people’s. Be ready to be disappointed! Destiny is not so easy to propitiate as you seemed to believe last night.
As the clock dallied on its last stroke of seven, I entered Padiham’s shop.
My first glance — eyes never looked more earnestly — was toward the two drawings.
There they were, — fact not fancy.
I could still hold to the joy of a hope.
They were too far away in this dusky corner for absolute recognition; but there were the familiar gables of the old hall; and there was my horse, yes, himself, bending over that very group of Luggernel Springs. I must cling to my confidence; I would not doubt. If I doubted, I should become a stupid bungler over the models, and probably disgust Padiham by my awkwardness.
“Good morning, Mr. Padiham.”
“Good morning,” said he, in that hearty voice which resolutely declined being surly.
He was standing, filing away, just where I had left him yesterday. Put him on a pair of properly elongated legs, shake the reefs out of his ribs, in short, let Procrustes have half an hour at him, and a very distinguished-looking man would be George Padiham. In fact, as he was, his remarkable head raised him above pity. Many of us would consent to be dwarfed, to be half man below the Adam’s apple, if above it we could wear the head of a Jupiter Tonans, such a majestic head as this stunted man, the chief artisan of all England.
Padiham was as gruff as yesterday, but his gruffness gave him flavor. Better a boor than a flunkey. There is excitement in talking with a man who respects you exactly in proportion to your power, and ignores you if you are a muff.
We went at our work without delay. For nearly two hours I put myself and kept myself at Short’s Cut-off. Padiham’s skill and readiness astonished me. Great artists are labor-saving machines to themselves; they leap to a conclusion in a moment, where a potterer would be becalmed for a tide.
By and by, I found that I could be of no further use to this master craftsman.
“You understand this job better than I do,” said I.
“I understand it,” said he.
“I’ll take a short spell,” said I, “and look about the shop a little.”
“Don’t be setting my tools by the ears.”
“No; I want to see those pictures by the chimney.”
He said nothing. His lathe buzzed. His chisel tortured bars of metal until they shrieked. The fragrance of fresh-cut steel filled the shop.
I sprang to the dusky corner. My heart choked me. I wanted to shout so that John Brent, miles away across the wilderness of the great city, could hear and come with one step.
For here was what I hoped.
Here we were, our very selves, in this bold, masterly drawing. John Brent himself, the wounded knight; myself, bringing him water from the fountain; our dear Ellen, kneeling beside; and bending over us, Don Fulano, the chiefest hero of that terrible ride through the canon.
And more, if I needed proof. For here, in among the water-plants by the spring, there in the grass under Wordsworth’s oak, lurked the initials, E. C.
Found! Ah, not yet. A clew; but perhaps a clew that would break in my hands, as I traced it.
I lost no time.
“These are pretty pictures,” said I, crushing myself into self-possession.
“What has that got to do with this job?”
“You think I’m a pretty good mechanic?”
“Middling. You handle tools well enough for a gentleman.”
“Well, if I were not a bit of an artist, I should not even be a middling mechanic. I like to see fine art, such as these drawings, hung up before a working man. I can understand how appreciating such things has helped you to become the first mechanic in England.”
“Who says I am that?”
“So the first engineer in England told me when he sent me here.”
“O, he sent you! I supposed you did not find your own way.”
“There has been no chance in my coming here,” said I, and my heart thanked God.
“You’re right about those drawings, young man,” Padiham said, and his voice seemed to find a sweeter tone even than before. “They do me good, and put a finer edge on my work. They’re good work, and by a good hand.”
The dwarf turned about and surveyed me strictly. Then he started his lathe again, tore off a narrow ringlet of steel from a bit he was shaping, and flung another stream of steely perfume into the air.
“Whose hand?” I asked again.
“Do you ask because you want to know, or only to make idle talk?”
“I want to know.”
“I think the drawings are good. I should like a pair by the same hand. Can you direct me to the artist?”
“The artist don’t like strangers. I will order you what you want.”
“That will not do. I prefer to talk over the subjects with the painter.”
The dwarf turned again and gave me a probing look, and again took up his chisel and cut shining curls without reply.
I grew impatient of this parley. He knew something, and it must out.
“Look at me, George Padiham!” I said. “Stop your lathe a minute, and charge me for the time a hundred times over! I know the hand that painted these pictures. My portrait and my friend’s, and my horse’s portrait, are here on your wall. Only one person in the world can have painted them, Ellen Clitheroe. Here are her initials in the corner. You know where she is. I wish to see her. I must see her, at once, now!”
“Keep cool, young man! This is my shop. I’m master here. I’ve put bigger men than you out of this door before. What’s all this must and shall about? What’s your name?”
Padiham left his lathe, came toward me, surveyed me earnestly again, and then took down the drawing wherein I appeared. He compared the man standing before him with his counterfeit presentment. There could be no mistaking me. I had the honor to resemble myself, as the artist had remembered me.
“You’re the man,” said Padiham. “I’ve heard of you. I wasn’t looking sharp not to have known you when you first came in and stood there by the door waiting for me to speak first. Richard Wade, give me your hand! I suppose if I am the best mechanic in England, called so on good authority, you wont mind striking palms with me.”
I shook him by the hand pretty vigorously.
“You’ve got a middling strong grip of your fist for one of the overgrown sort,” said he. “Where’s your friend, John Brent?”
“Here in London, searching for Miss Clitheroe!”
“Where’s your horse? — the Black?”
“Dead! Shot and drowned in the Missouri, helping off a fugitive slave.”
“That’s brave. Well, Richard Wade, my dear child Ellen Clitheroe and her father are here in my house. They are safe here, after all their troubles, up in that room where perhaps you marked the roses in the window. She has been sick at heart to have heard nothing from you since she came to England. It will be the one thing she lacks to see you, and if you will let me say a few words to you first, I’ll take you to them.”
“Go on. If you have protected my friends, you are my friend, and I want to hear what you have to say.”