SAVED AS BY FIRE
It was a narrow, gloomy yard, paved with rough flags dinted and worn by the wheels of traffic and the tread of many feet. On one side stood the factory, cheerless and gray, with its storied heights, and long rows of windows that on summer evenings flamed with the reflected caresses of the setting sun, and in the shorter days of winter threw the light of their illuminated rooms like beacon fires across the miles of moor. Flanking the factory were sheds and outbuildings and warehouses, through the open doors of which were seen skips and trollies and warps, and piles of cloth pieces ready for the market in the great city beyond the hills. Within a stone’s-throw the sluggish river crept along its blackened bed, no longer a stream fresh from the hills, but foul with the service of selfish man.
It was breakfast hour, and the monotonous roar of machinery was hushed, no longer filling the air with the pulsations of mighty manufacture. The thud of the ponderous engines had ceased; the deafening rattle of the looms was no more heard; a myriad spooming spindles were at rest. A dreamy sound of falling waters floated from the weir, and the song of birds in a clump of stunted trees made music in the quiet of the morning light—it was Nature’s chance to teach man in one of the brief pauses of his toil, had he possessed the ear to hearken or the heart to understand.
Beneath the shelter of a ‘lean-to’ a group of men sat, hurriedly gulping their morning meal, finding time, all the same, for loud talk and noisy chaff. They were prosaic, hard-faced men, with lines drawn deeply beneath their eyes, and complexions sallow, despite the breezes of the hills among which they were reared. From childhood they had been the slaves of labour; the bread they ate was earned by sweat and sorrow, while their spare hours were given to boisterous mirth—the rebound of exacting toil. Two or three were conning the betting news in a halfpenny paper of the previous evening, and talking familiarly of the chances of the favourites, while others disputed as to sentiments delivered in the last great political speech.
In one corner sat Amos Entwistle, the butt of not a little mirth from a half-dozen sceptics who had gathered round him. They addressed him as ‘Owd Brimstone,’ and made a burlesque of his Calvinistic faith, one going so far as to call him ‘a glory bird,’ while another declared he was ’booked for heaven fust-class baat payin’ for his ticket.’
‘Why should he pay for his ticket,’ asked an impudent-looking youth, ‘when th’ Almeety’s gan it him? Th’ elect awlus travels for naught, durnd they, Amos?’
‘Thaa’s more Scripture larning abaat thee nor I thought thaa had,’ said Amos, withdrawing his wrinkled face from the depths of a can out of which he was drinking tea. ’But it’s noan knowledge ’at saves, Dan; th’ devils believe and tremble.’