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- A Life's Morning - 30/80 -
Dagworthy was absent not quite a fortnight, and he returned looking anything but the better for his holiday. The wholesome colour of his cheeks had changed almost to sallowness those who met him in Dunfield looked at him with surprise and asked what illness he had been suffering. At the mill, they did not welcome his re-appearance; his temper was worse than it had been since the ever-memorable week which witnessed his prosecution for assault and battery. At home, the servants did their best to keep out of his way, warned by Mrs. Jenkins. She, good woman, had been rash enough to bring the child into the dining-room whilst Dagworthy was refreshing himself with a biscuit and a glass of wine upon his arrival; in a minute or two she retreated in high wrath.
'Let him dom me, if he loikes,' she went away exclaiming; 'ah'm ovver auld to care much abaht such fond tantrums; but when he gets agaate o' dommin his awn barn, it fair maaks my teeth dither ageean. The lad's aht on his 'eead.'
That was seven o'clock in the evening. He dined an hour later, and when it was dark left the house. Between then and midnight he was constantly in and out, and Mrs. Jenkins, who was kept up by her fears that 't' master' was seriously unwell, made at length another attempt to face him. She knocked at the door of the sitting-room, having heard him enter a minute or two before; no answer was vouchsafed, so she made bold to open the door. Dagworthy was sitting with his head upon the table, his arms stretched out; he appeared to be asleep.
'Mr. Richard!' she said softly. 'Mr. Richard!'
He looked up. 'Well? What is it?'
'Yo' scahr'd me; ah thowt summat 'ad come to yo'. What's wrong wi' yo', Mr. Richard? You look as if you could hardly he'd your heead up.'
To her surprise he spoke quite calmly.
'Yes, I've got a bit of a headache. Get me some hot water, will you? I'll have some brandy and go to bed.'
She began to advise other remedies, but Dagworthy speedily checked her.
'Get me some hot water, I tell you, and go to bed yourself. What are you doing up at this hour?'
He went to business at the usual time next morning, and it seemed as if the worst had blown over; at home he was sullen, but not violent.
The third day after his return, on entering his office at the mill, he found Hood taking down one of a row of old ledgers which stood there upon a shelf.
'What are you doing?' he asked abruptly, at the same time turning his back upon the clerk.
Hood explained that he was under the necessity of searching through the accounts for several years, to throw light upon a certain transaction which was giving trouble.
'All right,' was the reply, as Dagworthy took his keys out to open his desk.
A quarter of an hour later, he entered the room where Hood was busy over the ledger. A second clerk was seated there, and him Dagworthy summoned to the office, where he had need of him. Presently Hood came to replace the ledger he had examined, and took away the succeeding volume. A few minutes later Dagworthy said to the clerk who sat with him--
'I shall have to go away for an hour or so. I'm expecting a telegram from Legge Brothers; if it doesn't come before twelve o'clock, you or Hood must go to Hebsworth. It had better be Hood; you finish what you're at. If there's no telegram, he must take the twelve-thirteen, and give this note here to Mr. Andrew Legge; there'll be an answer. Mind you see to this.'
At the moment when Dagworthy's tread sounded on the stairs, Mr. Hood was on the point of making a singular discovery. In turning a page of the ledger, he came upon an envelope, old and yellow, which had evidently been shut up in the hook for several years; it was without address and unsealed. He was going to lay it aside, when his fingers told him that it contained something; the enclosure proved to be a ten-pound note, also old and patched together in the manner of notes that have been sent half at a time.
'Now I wonder how that got left there?' Hood mused. 'There's been rare searching for that, I'll be bound. Here's something to put our friend into a better temper.'
He turned the note over once or twice, tried in vain to decipher a scribbled endorsement, then restored it to the envelope. With the letter in his hand, he went to the office.
'Mr. Dagworthy out?' he asked of his fellow-clerk on looking round.
The clerk was a facetious youth. He rose from his seat, seized a ruler, and began a species of sword-play about Hood's head, keeping up a grotesque dance the while. Hood bore it with his wonted patience, smiling faintly.
'Mr. Dagworthy out?' he repeated, as soon as he was free from apprehension of a chance crack on the crown.
'He is, my boy. And what's more, there's a chance of your having a spree in Hebsworth. Go down on your knees and pray that no telegram from Foot Brothers--I mean, Legge--arrives during the next five-and-twenty minutes.'
'If not, you're to takee this notee to Brother Andrew Leggee,--comprenez? The boss was going to send me, but he altered his mind, worse luck.'
'Twelve-thirteen?' asked Hood.
'Yes. And now if you're in the mind, I'll box you for half a dollar--what say?'
He squared himself in pugilistic attitude, and found amusement in delivering terrific blows which just stopped short of Hood's prominent features. The latter beat a retreat.
Twelve o'clock struck, and no telegram had arrived; neither had Dagworthy returned to the mill. Hood was indisposed to leave the envelope to be given by other hands; he might as well have the advantage of such pleasure as the discovery would no doubt excite. So he put it safely in his pocket-book, and hastened to catch the train, taking with him the paper of sandwiches which represented his dinner. These he would eat on the way to Hebsworth.
It was a journey of ten miles, lying at first over green fields, with a colliery vomiting blackness here and there, then through a region of blight and squalor, finally over acres of smoke-fouled streets, amid the roar of machinery; a journey that would have crushed the heart in one fresh from the breath of heaven on sunny pastures. It was a slow train, and there were half a dozen stoppages. Hood began to eat his sandwiches at a point where the train was delayed for a few minutes by an adverse signal; a coal-pit was close by, and the smoke from the chimney blew in at the carriage windows, giving a special flavour to the bread and meat. There was a drunken soldier in the same compartment, who was being baited by a couple of cattle-drovers with racy vernacular not to be rendered by the pen. Hood munched his smoky sandwich, and with his sad eyes watched the great wheel of the colliery revolve, and the trucks rise and descend. The train moved on again. The banter between the other three passengers was taking an angry turn; to escape the foul language as far as possible, Hood kept his head at the window. Of a sudden the drunken soldier was pushed against him, and before he could raise his hands, his hat had flown off on the breeze.
He turned round with angry remonstrance. The soldier had fallen back on to the seat, and was grinning inanely; the drovers were enjoying the joke beyond measure.
'Theer, lad!' one of them cried. 'Tha's doon it nah! Tha'll a' to buy him a new 'at for his 'eead, soon as we get i'to Hebs'orth.'
''Appen he's got no brass,' suggested the other, guffawing.
It was the case; the soldier had a copper or two at most. The drovers of course held themselves free of responsibility. Hood felt in his own pocket; but he was well aware that a shilling and three-halfpence was all he carried with him--save the bank-note in his pocket-book. Yet it was impossible to go through Hebsworth with uncovered head, or to present himself hatless at the office of Legge Brothers. Already the train was slackening speed to enter the station. Would any hatter trust him, on his representing whence he came? He feared not. Not the least part of his trouble was the thought of having to buy a new hat at all; such an expense was ill to be borne just now. Of course--he said to himself, with dreary fatalism--a mishap is sure to come at the worst time. It was the experience of his life.
Hood was a shy man; it was misery to have attention drawn to himself as it naturally would be as soon as he stepped out on to the platform. But there was no help; with a last angry look at the drunken soldier, he nerved himself to face the ordeal. As he walked hurriedly out of the crowd, the cry 'Cab, sir?' fell upon his ears. Impossible to say how he brought himself to such a pitch of recklessness, but in a moment he was seated in a hansom, having bidden the driver take him to the nearest hatter's. The agony of embarrassment has driven shy men to strange audacities, but who ever dared more than this? _He would be compelled to change the note_!
Whatever might be the cause, whether it was the sudden sense of refuge from observation, or the long unknown pleasure of riding in a cab, as he sped along the streets he grew almost merry; at length he positively laughed at the adventure which had befallen him. It mattered nothing whether he gave Dagworthy the money in a note or in change, and, on being told the story, his employer might even feel disposed to pay for the hat. He _would_ pay for the hat! By the time the cab drew up, Hood had convinced himself of this. He was in better spirits than he had been for many a day.
'Can you change me a ten-pound note?' were his first words to the hatter. 'If you can't, I must go elsewhere; I have nothing smaller.'
The salesman hesitated.
'You want a silk hat?'
'Yes, but not an expensive one.'
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