Page:Ragged Trousered Philanthropists.djvu/392

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The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists

uppers of which were an eighth of an inch thick and very stiff. Across the front of the boot the leather had warped into ridges and valleys which chafed his chilblained feet and made them bleed. The soles were five-eigths of an inch thick, hard and inflexible, and almost as heavy as iron, and studded with hob nails.

As he watched the poor boy bending over his task Owen thought of Frankie, and with a feeling akin to terror wondered whether he would ever be in a similar plight.

When Bert saw Owen he left off working and wished him good morning, remarking that it was very cold.

'Why don't you light a fire? There's lots of wood lying about the yard,' said Owen.

'No,' replied Bert, shaking his head. 'That would never do! Misery wouldn't 'arf ramp if 'e caught me at it. I used to 'ave a fire 'ere last winter till Rushton found out, and 'e kicked up an orful row and told me to move meself and get some work done and then I wouldn't feel the cold.'

'Oh, he said that, did he?' said Owen, his pale face becoming suddenly suffused with blood. 'We'll see about that.'

He went out into the yard and crossing over to where, under a shed, there was a great heap of waste wood, stuff that had been taken out of places where Rushton and Company had made alterations, he gathered an armful of it and was returning to the paintshop when Sawkins, who was clearing the place up, accosted him.

'You musn't go burnin' any of that, you know! That's all got to be saved and took up to the bloke's house. Misery spoke about it only this mornin'.'

Owen did not answer. He carried the wood into the shop and after throwing it into the fireplace he poured some old paint over it, and applying a match produced a roaring fire. Then he brought in several more armfuls of wood and piled them in a corner of the shop. Bert took no part in these proceedings, and at first rather disapproved of them because he was afraid there would be trouble when Misery came, but when the fire was an accomplished fact he warmed his hands and shifted his work to the other side of the bench so as to get the benefit of the heat.

Owen waited for about half-an-hour to see if Hunter would return, but as he did not appear, he decided not to wait any longer. Before leaving he gave Bert some instructions: