Fear is a resourceful demon, with whom we are engaged in perpetual conflict from the cradle to the grave. Fear assumes many forms, and has always a shrewd eye for the joints in that armour of courage and confidence which we put on in self-defence. One man conquers fear of danger only to fall a prey to fear of public opinion; another succumbs to superstitious fear, while a third, steadfast against all these, comes under the thraldom of the most insidious and malign of all forms of fear—the fear of death.
The power of fear has of late been forcibly impressed on my mind by hearing from his own lips the story of my friend, Job Hesketh. Six months ago I should have said that Job was entirely unconscious of fear. I have never known a man so good-humouredly indifferent to public opinion. “Say what thou thinks and do what thou says” was the golden rule upon which he acted, and which he commended to others. Superstition, in its myriad forms, was for him a lifelong jest. Thirteen people at table had never been known to take the keen edge off his Yorkshire appetite, and he liked to make fun of his friends’ dread of ghosts, witches and “gabbleratchets.” Nothing pleased him better than to stroll of an evening round the nearest cemetery, and he had often been heard to declare: “I’d as sooin eat my supper off a tombstone as off wer kitchen table.”
He faced danger with reckless unconcern every day of his life. He was employed as a “vessel-man” at the Leeds Steel Works, working on a twelve-hours’ shift, and his duty was to attend to the huge “vessels” or crucibles in which the molten pig-iron is converted by the Bessemer process into steel. The operation is one of enthralling interest and beauty, and Job Hesketh’s soul was in his work. The molten iron from the blast furnaces flows along its channel into huge “ladles” or cauldrons, and from there it is conveyed into a still larger reservoir or “mixer,” where the greater part of the slag—which floats as a scum on the surface—is drawn off. Then the purified metal passes into other cauldrons, which are borne along by hydraulic machinery and their contents gently tipped into the crucibles, which lower their gaping mouths to receive the daffodil stream of molten iron. When their maws are full, the crucibles are once more brought into an erect position, and the process of converting iron into steel begins. A blast of air is driven through the liquid metal, and the “vessels” are at once changed into fountains of fire. A gigantic spray of flame and sparks rises from their gaping mouths and ascends to a height of twenty feet, changing its colour from green to gold and from gold to violet and blue as the impure gases of sulphur and phosphorus are purged by the blast. For twenty minutes this continues, and then the roar of the blast and the fiery spray die down. What entered the crucible as iron is now ready to be poured forth as