The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists
How far their conjectures were fulfilled will appear later.
Shortly after it became so dark that it was necessary to light the candles, and Philpot remarked that although he hated working under such conditions, yet he was always glad when lighting up time came because then knocking off time was not very far behind.
About five minutes to five, just as they were all putting their things away for the night, Nimrod suddenly appeared in the house. He had come hoping to find some of them ready dressed to go home before the proper time. Having failed in this laudable enterprise he stood silently by himself for some seconds in the drawing-room. This was a spacious and lofty apartment with a large semi-circular bay window. Round the ceiling was a deep cornice. In the semi-darkness the room appeared to be of even greater proportions than it really was. After standing thinking in this room for a little while Hunter turned and strode out to the kitchen, where the men were preparing to go home. Owen was taking off his blouse and apron as the other entered. Hunter addressed him with a malevolent snarl:
'You can call at the office to-night as you go home.'
Owen's heart seemed to stop beating. All the petty annoyances he had endured from Hunter rushed into his memory, together with what Easton had told him that morning. He stood, still and speechless, holding his apron in his hand and staring at the manager.
'What for?' he ejaculated at length. 'What's the matter?'
'You'll find out what you're wanted for when you get there,' returned Hunter as he went out of the room and away from the house.
When he was gone a dead silence prevailed. The hands ceased their preparations for departure and looked at each other and at Owen in astonishment. To stand a man off like that—when the job was not half finished—and for no apparent reason; and of a Monday, too. It was unheard of. There was a general chorus of indignation. Harlow and Philpot especially were very wroth.
'If it comes to that,' Harlow shouted, 'they've got no bloody right to do it! We're entitled to an hour's notice.'
'Of course we are!' cried Philpot, his goggle eyes rolling wildly with wrath. 'And I should 'ave it, too, if it was me. You take my tip, Frank: Charge up to six o'clock on yer time sheet and get some of your own back.'