Helbeck of Bannisdale - Volume II

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Language: English
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"Look out there! For God's sake, go to your places!"

The cry of the foreman reached the ears of the clinging women. They fell apart—each peering into the crowd and the tumult.

Mounted on a block of wood about a dozen yards from them—waving his arm and shouting to the stream of panic-stricken workmen—they saw the man who had been their guide through the works. Four white-hot ingots, just uncovered, blazed deserted on their truck close to him, and a multitude of men and boys were pushing past them, tumbling over each other in their eagerness to reach the neighbourhood of the furnace. The space between the ingots and some machinery near them was perilously narrow. At any moment, those rushing past might have been pushed against the death-bearing truck. Ah! another cry. A man's coat-sleeve has caught fire. He is pulled back—another coat is flung about him—the line of white faces turns towards him an instant—wavers—then the crowd flows on as before.

Another man in authority comes up also shouting. The man on the block dismounts, and the two hold rapid colloquy. "Have they sent for Mr. Martin?" "Aye." "Where's Mr. Barlow?" "He's no good!" "Have they stopped the mills?" "Aye—there's not a man'll touch a thing—you'd think they'd gone clean out of their minds. There'll be accidents all over the place if somebody can't quiet 'em."

Suddenly the buzzing groups behind the foreman parted, and a young broad-shouldered workman, grimed from head to foot, his blue eyes rolling in his black face, came staggering through.

"Gie ma a drink," he said, clutching at the old woman; "an let ma sit down!"

He almost fell upon an iron barrow that lay face downwards on the path. Laura, sitting crouched and sick upon the ground, raised her head to look at him. Another man, evidently a comrade, followed him, took the mug of cold tea from the old woman's shaking hand, lifted his head and helped him drink it.

"Blast yer!—why ain't it spirits?" said the youth, throwing himself back against his companion. His eyes closed on his smeared cheeks; his jaw fell; his whole frame seemed to sink into collapse; those gazing at him saw, as it were, the dislocation and undoing of a man.

"Cheer up, Ned—cheer up," said the older man, kneeling down behind him—"you'll get over it, my boy—it worn't none o' your fault. Stand back there, you fellows, and gie im air."

"Oh, damn yer! let ma be," gasped the young fellow, stretching himself against the other's support, like one who feels the whole inner being of him sick to death, and cannot be still for an instant under the anguish.

The woman with the tea began to cry loudly and ask questions. Laura rose to her feet, and touched her.

"Don't cry—can't you get some brandy?" Then in her turn she felt herself caught by the arm.

"Miss Fountain—Miss Laura—I can get you out of this!—there's a way out here by the back."

Mason's white countenance showed over her shoulder as she turned.

"Not yet—can't anyone find some brandy? Ah!"

For their guide came up at the moment with a bottle in his hand....