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John Brent/Chapter XXXIII

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“Cast Thy Bread Upon the Waters”[edit]

“I am short, and I shall try to make a long story short,” said Padiham. “I wish to tell you, in as few words as I may, why Mr. Clitheroe and his daughter are in my house.

“Look at me, a stunted man! Life in a coal-mine stunted me. I suppose I was born under-ground. I know that I never remember when I was not at work, either harnessed like a dog, and dragging coals through a shop where I could not stand upright, or, when I grew stronger, — bigger I was not to grow, — down in the darkest holes, beating out with a pickaxe stuff to make other men’s houses warm and cheery. If I had had air and sun and light and hope, I might have been a shapely man.

“It was in Lancashire, the coal-mine where I had been shut up, boy and man, some twenty years, as I reckon. There came one day a weakly man, who hadn’t been used to work hard, into the shaft, and they put him at drawing out the coals I dug. Hugh was the name he gave, and he hadn’t been long enough under-ground to get his face black, before we’d baptized him Gentleman Hugh. I had never seen a gentleman to know him, but I had a feeling of what one ought to be, and so had my mates in the pit. Gentleman Hugh seemed to us to suit the nick-name we gave him. We’re roughs down in the coal-pits, and some of us are brutes enough; but Gentleman Hugh managed to get us all on his side, and there wasn’t a man of us that wouldn’t give him a lift.

“Gentleman Hugh took a fancy to me, and so did I to him. Nature had misused me, and life had misused him. We had something to pity each other for. But I had the advantage in the dark damp hole where we worked. I had lost nothing; I knew of nothing better; I was healthy and strong, if I was stunted; I could help Gentleman Hugh, and save him wearing himself out. And so I did. He was the first person or creature I had ever cared for.

“I did what I could for him in lightening his work; but he gave me back a hundred times what I could give. I was hands without head, or without any head that could make my hands of use. He had head enough, and things in his head, but his hands were never meant for tools to get a living. Gentleman Hugh waked up my brains. I knew how to pick and dig, and sometimes wondered if that was all I should ever be at. But air and daylight seemed as if they did not belong to me. I was a drudge, and never thought of anything but drudging, until Gentleman Hugh came down into my shaft and began to tell me what there was outside of coal-mines.

“He told me about himself; that he was Hugh Clitheroe, a gentleman, and how he had been ruined by factories and coal speculations. It was his losing his fortune in a coal-mine that set him on coming into ours to make his bread, and poor bread too, for a gentleman. He said he was sick of daylight. It was better to be a drudge, so he said, down in the blackest and wettest hole of any coal-pit in Lancashire, than to beg bread of men that pretended to be his friends when he was rich, and sneered at him for his folly in losing his wealth. I found out that there were wrongs and brutality above ground as well as under it.

“By and by, when Gentleman Hugh and I had got to be friends, he took me one holiday and showed me his daughter. She was a sweet little lass. He had left her with the rough women, the miners’ wives. But she had her own way with them, just as he had had with us. They called her little Lady Ellen, and would have cut up their own brats, if they hadn’t been too tough, if she had wanted such diet. Little Ellen, sweet lass! was not afraid of me, Dwarf George and Runt George as they called me. She did not run away and cry, or point and laugh at me as the other children did. She was picking daisies on the edge of an old coal-pit when we first saw her, — a little curly-haired lass of five years old. She was crowned with daisies, and she didn’t seem to me to belong to the same class of beings as the grimy things I had been among all my days. She gave me a daisy, and asked me if I knew who made it. And when I said I didn’t know, unless it came of itself, she named God to me. Nobody had named God to me before except in oaths.

“Do I tire you, sir,” said Padiham, “with this talk about myself?”

“Certainly not; you interest me greatly.”

“The old gentleman will hardly be ready to see you yet. It is almost nine, and at the stroke of nine he has his breakfast. I always go up then to give him good morning. You can go with me.”

“Meantime, tell me how you found them again.”

“I found them by a drawing of hers. But I will go on straightforward with my story.

“I couldn’t stay a dolt, though I had to drudge for many a day after I first saw little Ellen, and she gave me the daisy and named God to me. Whenever I could get away, and that was only once a quarter or a half-year, I went up to see her. She made a friend of me, and told me to take care of her father. He was very much down, quite broken and helpless, with just enough strength to do half his appointed work. So I helped him with the rest.

“After a long time the owners found out that he had education, and they took him into the office. All the men were sorry to lose Gentleman Hugh, and when he went, I lost heart, and took to drinking up my miserable earnings with the rest. There I was, a drudge in the dark, and getting to be a drunkard, when Gentleman Hugh came to me and told me how some one had left him a legacy, and I must get out of the pit and share with him. He said little Ellen would not be happy unless she had me.

“So he took me up into the air and sun, and put me to school. But I could never learn much out of books. Put tools in my hands and I can make things, and that is what my business is in the world. You see those arms, well made as your own. You see those hands, strong as a vice; and those fingers, fine as a woman’s. They are tools, and able to handle tools. The rest of my body is stunted; my brain is stunted. I’m no fool; but I’m not the man I ought to be. Every day I feel that I cannot put my thoughts into the highest form.”

“Every man of any power feels that,” I said, “by whatever machinery his power finds expression.

“Perhaps so. Well, when Mr. Clitheroe had once given me a start in the open air, and I had got tools in my hands, pretty soon they began to talk of me as one of the masters in Lancashire. There’s a great call in England for thorough workmen. I came up to London. I fell in with the gentleman who sent you here, and I got on well. There’s as much good work goes out of this little shop as out of some big establishments with great names over the door. People try to get me to start a great shop, and make a great fortune, and have George Padiham talked about. But I’m Dwarf George, born in a coal-mine and stunted in a coal-mine; and Lamely Court, with my little shop in the basement, suits me best.

“I never forgot how I owed all my good luck to Gentleman Hugh and my dear little Ellen. If it had not been for them, I should have died underground of hard work, before thirty, as most of my mates did. Their help of me gave me a kindly feeling toward broken-down gentlefolks. I owed the class my luck, and when I got on and had money to spend, having no one of my own to spend it for, I looked up people as badly off as Gentleman Hugh was when I first knew him, and helped them. They are a hard class to help — proud as Lucifer sometimes, with their own kind. I took this house here, out of the way as much as any spot in London. Whenever I knew of a gentleman, or a gentlewoman, given out, or worn out, so that they couldn’t take care of themselves, I brought them in here. If they were only given out, I put stuff into them again, cheered them up, and found some work for them to do. Gentlefolks are not such fools, if they only had education. If I found one that was worn out beyond all patching, I packed him into a snug corner up-stairs, and let him lie there. They like it better than public hospitals and retreats.

“All the while I was getting on and getting rich in a small way, with some small shares in patents I own. But I kept my eye on Gentleman Hugh. I knew what would come to him, and I never took in ten shillings that I did not put away one for him and his daughter.

“I knew of his going to America with the Mormons, — damn ’em! I went down to Clitheroe to persuade him to give up the plan. He would not. He quarrelled with me, — our first hard words. He forbade his daughter to write to me.

“I knew he would come back some time or other, stripped and needy. I watched the packet’s lists of passengers. He did not come under his own name; but I saw last winter an old Lancashire name on a list of arrivals, — the name of that worn-out shaft where Ellen had picked the daisy for me. It was a favorite spot of his. Part of his money had gone down it, and he used to sit and stare into it as if the money was going to bubble up again. I traced them by that to London. Here for a time I lost them.

“He got very low in London, — poor old man!” continued Padiham.

“Nothing dishonest, I hope,” said I.

“No, no. Only gambling, with a crazy hope of getting even with the world again. In this way he spent all that he had left, and Ellen’s hard earnings beside. It made him wild for her to refuse him; so she was forced to give him all that she could spare, — all except just enough to pay for a poor place to live in and poorer fare. She never knew where he spent the long nights; she only saw him creep back to his garret in the early morning destitute and half alive. Richard Wade, you may read books, and hear tales, and go through the world looking for women that help and hope, and never give up helping and hoping; but you’ll never find another like her, — no, not like my dear lass, — as grand a beauty, too, as any at the Queen’s court.”

“You are right, Padiham. None like her.”

“But I promised you to talk as short as I could. I must tell you how I found them. The poor gentle-folks that I take care of generally know something of ornamental work that they learnt to do, for play, when they were better off. I set them at doing what they can do best, and sell it for them. There is always some one among my family can draw. What of their drawings I can’t dispose of at the print-shops I buy myself, and scatter ’em round among mechanics to light up their benches. You were right when you said a man cannot be a good artisan unless he has a bit of the artist in him.

“It was by going to a print-shop with drawings to sell that I found my dear lass. She had painted me, and sold the picture to the dealer for bread. I wouldn’t have noticed the picture except for the dwarf in it, and now I wouldn’t be a finished man for the world. Yes, there I was. Dwarf George, picking daisies on the edge of a coal-pit; there I was, just as I used to look, with the coal-dust ground into me, trying to make friends with the fresh innocent daisies in the sunshine.

“By that picture I found them just in time. When I got to their garret, Ellen was lying sick, ill in body, and tired and sorrowed out. Their money was all gone, for Gentleman Hugh had been robbed of his last the night before. I brought my dear child and her father here. What I had was theirs.

“As soon as her father was safe with me, his old friend, she got well. As soon as his daughter was out of the way of harm and want, and the old gentleman had nothing to be crazy about and nothing to run away from, he stopped dead. He fell into a palsy.

“There he is now up-stairs. Ellen chose the upper room, where they could look over the house-tops and of clear days see the Surrey Hills. I’ve got some skill in my fingers for mending broken men, but Hugh Clitheroe can’t be mended. It’s as well for him that he can’t. He’s been off track too long ever to run steady in this world. But he has come to himself, and sees things clearer at last. He lies there contented and patient, waiting for his end. He sees his daughter, who has gone with him though thick and thin, by his side, and knows she will love him closer every day. And he knows that his old mate. Dwarf George, is down here in the basement, strong enough to keep all up and all together.”

“Let me be the one, Mr. Padiham,” said I, “to ask the honor of shaking hands with you. I think better of the world for your sake.”

“Young man,” said he, with his clear, frank voice, “a noble woman like my Ellen betters every true man. There strikes nine. A pleasant church-clock that! I gave it to ’em. Now you’re well tired of my talk, I dare say. Come, Ellen will have all she has missed when she sees you and your friend. Many times she has told me of that ride of yours. Many times she has cried, as a woman only cries for one loss, when she told me how day after day she waited to hear from you, and had never heard.”

“She wrote?”

“Repeatedly.”

“We never heard.”

“Her father took her letters from her to post.”

“And kept them or destroyed them for some crazy suspicion.”

“She dreaded you might have been chased and cut off by the Mormons. She would not believe that you had forgotten her.”

“Forgotten! Come, I’ll follow you.”