The night was hot and overcast,
the sky red, rimmed with the lingering sunset of mid-summer. They sat at
the open window, trying to fancy the air was fresher there. The trees and
shrubs of the garden stood stiff and dark; beyond in the roadway a gas-
lamp burnt, bright orange against the hazy blue of the evening. Farther
were the three lights of the railway signal against the lowering sky. The
man and woman spoke to one another in low tones.
"He does not suspect?" said the man, a
"Not he," she said peevishly, as though
that too irritated her. "He thinks of nothing but the works and the
prices of fuel. He has no imagination, no poetry."
"None of these men of iron have," he
said sententiously. "They have no hearts."
"He has not," she said. She
turned her discontented face towards the window. The distant sound of a
roaring and rushing drew nearer and grew in volume; the house quivered;
one heard the metallic rattle of the tender. As the train passed, there
was a glare of light above the cutting and a driving tumult of smoke;
one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight black oblongs--eight
trucks--passed across the dim grey of the embankment, and were suddenly
extinguished one by one in the throat of the tunnel, which, with the
last, seemed to swallow down train, smoke, and sound in one abrupt gulp.
"This country was all fresh and
beautiful once," he said; "and now--it is Gehenna. Down that
way--nothing but pot-banks and chimneys belching fire and dust into the
face of heaven . . . . . But what does it matter? An end comes, an end
to all this cruelty . . . . . to-morrow." He spoke the last word
in a whisper.
"To-morrow," she said, speaking
in a whisper too, and still staring out of the window.
"Dear!" he said, putting his hand on
She turned with a start, and their eyes
searched one another's. Hers softened to his gaze. "My dear one!" she
said, and then: "It seems so strange --that you should have come into my
life like this--to open--" She paused.
"To open?" he said.
"All this wonderful world--" she
hesitated, and spoke still more softly--"this world of love to
Then suddenly the door clicked and
closed. They turned their heads, and he started violently back. In the
shadow of the room stood a great shadowy figure--silent. They saw the face
dimly in the half-light, with unexpressive dark patches under the
penthouse brows. Every muscle in Raut's body suddenly became tense. When
could the door have opened? What had he heard? Had he heard all? What had
he seen? A tumult of questions.
The new-comer's voice came at last, after
a pause that seemed interminable. "Well?" he said.
"I was afraid I had missed you, Horrocks,"
said the man at the window, gripping the window-ledge with his hand. His
voice was unsteady.
The clumsy figure of Horrocks came
forward out of the shadow. He made no answer to Raut's remark. For a
moment he stood above them.
The woman's heart was cold within her. "I
told Mr. Raut it was just possible you might come back," she said, in a
voice that never quivered.
Horrocks, still silent, sat down abruptly
in the chair by her little work-table. His big hands were clenched; one
saw now the fire of his eyes under the shadow of his brows. He was trying
to get his breath. His eyes went from the woman he had trusted to the
friend he had trusted, and then back to the woman.
By this time and for the moment all three
half understood one another. Yet none dared say a word to ease the pent-up
things that choked them.
It was the husband's voice that broke the
silence at last.
"You wanted to see me?" he said to Raut.
Raut started as he spoke. "I came to
see you," he said, resolved to lie to the last.
"Yes," said Horrocks.
"You promised," said Raut, "to show me
some fine effects of moonlight and smoke."
"I promised to show you some fine
effects of moonlight and smoke," repeated Horrocks in a colourless
"And I thought I might catch you
to-night before you went down to the works," proceeded Raut, "and come
There was another pause. Did the man mean
to take the thing coolly? Did he after all know? How long had he been in
the room? Yet even at the moment when they heard the door, their attitudes
. . . . Horrocks glanced at the profile of the woman, shadowy pallid in
the half-light. Then he glanced at Raut, and seemed to recover himself
suddenly. "Of course," he said, "I promised to show you the works under
their proper dramatic conditions. It's odd how I could have forgotten."
"If I am troubling you--" began Raut.
Horrocks started again. A new light had
suddenly come into the sultry gloom of his eyes. "Not in the least," he
"Have you been telling Mr. Raut of all
these contrasts of flame and shadow you think so splendid?" said the
woman, turning now to her husband for the first time, her confidence
creeping back again, her voice just one half-note too high. "That dreadful
theory of yours that machinery is beautiful, and everything else in the
world ugly. I thought he would not spare you, Mr. Raut. It's his great
theory, his one discovery in art."
"I am slow to make discoveries," said
Horrocks grimly, damping her suddenly. "But what I discover . . . . ."
"Well?" she said.
"Nothing;" and suddenly he rose to his
"I promised to show you the works," he
said to Raut, and put his big, clumsy hand on his friend's shoulder.
"And you are ready to go?"
"Quite," said Raut, and stood up also.
There was another pause. Each of them
peered through the indistinctness of the dusk at the other two. Horrocks'
hand still rested on Raut's shoulder. Raut half fancied still that the
incident was trivial after all. But Mrs. Horrocks knew her husband better,
knew that grim quiet in his voice, and the confusion in her mind took a
vague shape of physical evil. "Very well", said Horrocks, and, dropping
his hand, turned towards the door.
"My hat?" Raut looked round in the
"That's my work-basket," said Mrs.
Horrocks, with a gust of hysterical laughter. Their hands came together on
the back of the chair. "Here it is!" he said. She had an impulse to warn
him in an undertone, but she could not frame a word. "Don't go!" and
"Beware of him!" struggled in her mind, and the swift moment passed.
"Got it?" said Horrocks, standing with
the door half open.
Raut stepped towards him. "Better say
good-bye to Mrs. Horrocks," said the ironmaster, even more grimly quiet in
his tone than before.
Raut started and turned. "Good-evening,
Mrs. Horrocks," he said, and their hands touched.
Horrocks held the door open with a
ceremonial politeness unusual in him towards men. Raut went out, and then,
after a wordless look at her, her husband followed. She stood motionless
while Raut's light footfall and her husband's heavy tread, like bass and
treble, passed down the passage together. The front door slammed heavily.
She went to the window, moving slowly, and stood watching--leaning
forward. The two men appeared for a moment at the gateway in the road,
passed under the street lamp, and were hidden by the black masses of the
shrubbery. The lamp-light fell for a moment on their faces, showing only
unmeaning pale patches, telling nothing of what she still feared, and
doubted, and craved vainly to know. Then she sank down into a crouching
attitude in the big arm-chair, her eyes wide open and staring out at the
red lights from the furnaces that flickered in the sky. An hour after she
was still there, her attitude scarcely changed.
The oppressive stillness of the evening
weighed heavily upon Raut. They went side by side down the road in
silence, and in silence turned into the cinder-made by-way that presently
opened out the prospect of the valley.
A blue haze, half dust, half mist,
touched the long valley with mystery. Beyond were Hanley and Etruria, grey
and dark masses, outlined thinly by the rare golden dots of the street
lamps, and here and there a gaslit window, or the yellow glare of some
late-working factory or crowded public-house. Out of the masses, clear and
slender against the evening sky, rose a multitude of tall chimneys, many
of them reeking, a few smokeless during a season of "play." Here and there
a pallid patch and ghostly stunted beehive shapes showed the position of a
pot-bank, or a wheel, black and sharp against the hot lower sky, marked
some colliery where they raise the iridescent coal of the place. Nearer at
hand was the broad stretch of railway, and half invisible trains
shunted--a steady puffing and rumbling, with every run a ringing
concussion and a rhythmic series of impacts, and a passage of intermittent
puffs of white steam across the further view. And to the left, between the
railway and the dark mass of the low hill beyond, dominating the whole
view, colossal, inky-black, and crowned with smoke and fitful flames,
stood the great cylinders of the Jeddah Company Blast Furnaces, the
central edifices of the big ironworks of which Horrocks was the manager.
They stood heavy and threatening, full of an incessant turmoil of flames
and seething molten iron, and about the feet of them rattled the
rolling-mills, and the steam hammer beat heavily and splashed the white
iron sparks hither and thither. Even as they looked, a truckful of fuel
was shot into one of the giants, and the red flames gleamed out, and a
confusion of smoke and black dust came boiling upwards towards the sky.
"Certainly you get some fine effects of
colour with your furnaces," said Raut, breaking a silence that had
Horrocks grunted. He stood with his
hands in his pockets, frowning down at the dim steaming railway and the
busy ironworks beyond, frowning as if he were thinking out some knotty
Raut glanced at him and away again. "At
present your moonlight effect is hardly ripe," he continued, looking
upward. "The moon is still smothered by the vestiges of daylight."
Horrocks stared at him with the
expression of a man who has suddenly awakened. "Vestiges of daylight? . .
. . Of course, of course." He too looked up at the moon, pale still in the
midsummer sky. "Come along," he said suddenly, and, gripping Raut's arm in
his hand, made a move towards the path that dropped from them to the
Raut hung back. Their eyes met and saw a
thousand things in a moment that their eyes came near to say. Horrocks'
hand tightened and then relaxed. He let go, and before Raut was aware of
it, they were arm in arm, and walking, one unwillingly enough, down the
"You see the fine effect of the railway
signals towards Burslem," said Horrocks, suddenly breaking into loquacity,
striding fast, and tightening the grip of his elbow the while. " Little
green lights and red and white lights, all against the haze. You have an
eye for effect, Raut. It's a fine effect. And look at those furnaces of
mine, how they rise upon us as we come down the hill. That to the right is
my pet--seventy feet of him. I packed him myself, and he's boiled away
cheerfully with iron in his guts for five long years. I've a particular
fancy for him. That line of red there--a lovely bit of warm orange
you'd call it, Raut--that's the puddlers' furnaces, and there, in the hot
light, three black figures--did you see the white splash of the
steam-hammer then?--that's the rolling mills. Come along! Clang, clatter,
how it goes rattling across the floor! Sheet tin, Raut, --amazing stuff.
Glass mirrors are not in it when that stuff comes from the mill. And,
squelch!--there goes the hammer again. Come along!"
He had to stop talking to catch at his
breath. His arm twisted into Raut's with benumbing tightness. He had come
striding down the black path towards the railway as though he was
Raut had not spoken a word, had simply
hung back against Horrocks' pull with all his strength.
"I say," he said now, laughing
nervously, but with an undernote of snarl in his voice, "why on earth
are you nipping my arm off, Horrocks, and dragging me along like this?"
At length Horrocks released him. His
manner changed again. "Nipping your arm off?" he said. "Sorry. But it's
you taught me the trick of walking in that friendly way."
"You haven't learnt the refinements of
it yet then," said Raut, laughing artificially again. "By Jove! I'm
black and blue."
Horrocks offered no apology. They stood
now near the bottom of the hill, close to the fence that bordered the
railway. The ironworks had grown larger and spread out with their
approach. They looked up to the blast furnaces now instead of down; the
further view of Etruria and Hanley had dropped out of sight with their
descent. Before them, by the stile rose a notice-board, bearing still
dimly visible, the words, "Beware of the Trains," half hidden by
splashes of coaly mud.
"Fine effects," said Horrocks, waving his
arm. "Here comes a train. The puffs of smoke, the orange glare, the round
eye of light in front of it, the melodious rattle. Fine effects! But these
furnaces of mine used to be finer, before we shoved cones in their
throats, and saved the gas."
"How?" said Raut. "Cones?"
"Cones, my man, cones. I'll show you one
nearer. The flames used to flare out of the open throats, great--what is
it?--pillars of cloud by day, red and black smoke, and pillars of fire by
Now we run it off in pipes, and burn it
to heat the blast, and the top is shut by a cone. You'll be interested in
"But every now and then," said Raut, "you
get a burst of fire and smoke up there."
"The cone's not fixed, it's hung by a
chain from a lever, and balanced by an equipoise. You shall see it nearer.
Else, of course, there'd be no way of getting fuel into the thing. Every
now and then the cone dips, and out comes the flare."
"I see," said Raut. He looked over his
shoulder. "The moon gets brighter," he said.
"Come along," said Horrocks abruptly,
gripping his shoulder again, and moving him suddenly towards the railway
crossing. And then came one of those swift incidents, vivid, but so rapid
that they leave one doubtful and reeling. Halfway across, Horrocks' hand
suddenly clenched upon him like a vice, and swung him backward and through
a half-turn, so that he looked up the line. And there a chain of lamp-lit
carriage-windows telescoped swiftly as it came towards them, and the red
and yellow lights of an engine grew larger and larger, rushing down upon
them. As he grasped what this meant, he turned his face to Horrocks, and
pushed with all his strength against the arm that held him back between
the rails. The struggle did not last a moment. Just as certain as it was
that Horrocks held him there, so certain was it that he had been violently
lugged out of danger.
"Out of the way," said Horrocks, with a
gasp, as the train came rattling by, and they stood panting by the gate
into the ironworks.
"I did not see it coming," said Raut,
still, even in spite of his own apprehensions, trying to keep up an
appearance of ordinary intercourse.
Horrocks answered with a grunt. "The
cone," he said, and then, as one who recovers himself, "I thought you
did not hear."
"I didn't," said Raut.
"I wouldn't have had you run over then
for the world," said Horrocks.
"For a moment I lost my nerve," said
Horrocks stood for half a minute, then
turned abruptly towards the ironworks again. "See how fine these great
mounds of mine, these clinker-heaps, look in the night! That truck yonder,
up above there! Up it goes, and out-tilts the slag. See the palpitating
red stuff go sliding down the slope. As we get nearer, the heap rises up
and cuts the blast furnaces. See the quiver up above the big one. Not that
way! This way, between the heaps. That goes to the puddling furnaces, but
I want to show you the canal first." He came and took Raut by the elbow,
and so they went along side by side. Raut answered Horrocks vaguely. What,
he asked himself, had really happened on the line? Was he deluding himself
with his own fancies, or had Horrocks actually held him back in the way of
the train? Had he just been within an ace of being murdered?
Suppose this slouching, scowling monster
did know anything? For a minute or two then Raut was really afraid
for his life, but the mood passed as he reasoned with himself. After all,
Horrocks might have heard nothing. At any rate, he had pulled him out of
the way in time. His odd manner might be due to the mere vague jealousy he
had shown once before. He was talking now of the ash-heaps and the canal.
"Eigh?" said Horrocks.
"What?" said Raut. "Rather! The haze in
the moonlight. Fine!"
"Our canal," said Horrocks, stopping
suddenly. "Our canal by moonlight and firelight is an immense effect.
You've never seen it? Fancy that! You've spent too many of your evenings
philandering up in Newcastle there. I tell you, for real florid
effects--But you shall see. Boiling water . . . "
As they came out of the labyrinth of
clinker-heaps and mounds of coal and ore, the noises of the rolling-mill
sprang upon them suddenly, loud, near, and distinct. Three shadowy workmen
went by and touched their caps to Horrocks. Their faces were vague in the
darkness. Raut felt a futile impulse to address them, and before he could
frame his words, they passed into the shadows. Horrocks pointed to the
canal close before them now: a weird-looking place it seemed, in the
blood-red reflections of the furnaces. The hot water that cooled the
tuyeres came into it, some fifty yards up-- a tumultuous, almost boiling
affluent, and the steam rose up from the water in silent white wisps and
streaks, wrapping damply about them, an incessant succession of ghosts
coming up from the black and red eddies, a white uprising that made the
head swim. The shining black tower of the larger blast-furnace rose
overhead out of the mist, and its tumultuous riot filled their ears. Raut
kept away from the edge of the water, and watched Horrocks.
"Here it is red," said Horrocks,
"blood-red vapour as red and hot as sin; but yonder there, where the
moonlight falls on it, and it drives across the clinker-heaps, it is as
white as death."
Raut turned his head for a moment, and
then came back hastily to his watch on Horrocks. "Come along to the
rolling-mills," said Horrocks. The threatening hold was not so evident
that time, and Raut felt a little reassured. But all the same, what on
earth did Horrocks mean about "white as death" and "red as sin?"
They went and stood behind the puddlers
for a little while, and then through the rolling-mills, where amidst an
incessant din the deliberate steam-hammer beat the juice out of the
succulent iron, and black, half-naked Titans rushed the plastic bars, like
hot sealing-wax, between the wheels. "Come on," said Horrocks in Raut's
ear, and they went and peeped through the little glass hole behind the
tuyeres, and saw the tumbled fire writhing in the pit of the
blast-furnace. It left one eye blinded for a while. Then, with green and
blue patches dancing across the dark, they went to the lift by which the
trucks of ore and fuel and lime were raised to the top of the big
And out upon the narrow rail that
overhung the furnace, Raut's doubts came upon him again. Was it wise to be
here? If Horrocks did know--everything! Do what he would, he could not
resist a violent trembling. Right under foot was a sheer depth of seventy
feet. It was a dangerous place. They pushed by a truck of fuel to get to
the railing that crowned the place. The reek of the furnace, a sulphurous
vapor streaked with pungent bitterness, seemed to make the distant
hillside of Hanley quiver. The moon was riding out now from among a drift
of clouds, halfway up the sky above the undulating wooded outlines of
Newcastle. The steaming canal ran away from below them under an indistinct
bridge, and vanished into the dim haze of the flat fields towards Burslem.
"That's the cone I've been telling you
of," shouted Horrocks; "and, below that, sixty feet of fire and molten
metal, with the air of the blast frothing through it like gas in
Raut gripped the hand-rail tightly, and
stared down at the cone. The heat was intense. The boiling of the iron and
the tumult of the blast made a thunderous accompaniment to Horrocks'
voice. But the thing had to be gone through now. Perhaps, after all . . .
"In the middle," bawled Horrocks,
"temperature near a thousand degrees. If YOU were dropped into it . . . .
flash into flame like a pinch of gunpowder in a candle. Put your hand out
and feel the heat of his breath. Why, even up here I've seen the
rain-water boiling off the trucks. And that cone there. It's a damned
sight too hot for roasting cakes. The top side of it's three hundred
"Three hundred degrees!" said Raut.
"Three hundred centigrade, mind!" said
Horrocks. "It will boil the blood out of you in no time."
"Eigh?" said Raut, and turned.
"Boil the blood out of you in . . . No,
"Let me go!" screamed Raut. "Let go my
With one hand he clutched at the
hand-rail, then with both. For a moment the two men stood swaying. Then
suddenly, with a violent jerk, Horrocks had twisted him from his hold. He
clutched at Horrocks and missed, his foot went back into empty air; in
mid-air he twisted himself, and then cheek and shoulder and knee struck
the hot cone together.
He clutched the chain by which the cone
hung, and the thing sank an infinitesimal amount as he struck it. A circle
of glowing red appeared about him, and a tongue of flame, released from
the chaos within, flickered up towards him. An intense pain assailed him
at the knees, and he could smell the singeing of his hands. He raised
himself to his feet, and tried to climb up the chain, and then something
struck his head. Black and shining with the moonlight, the throat of the
furnace rose about him.
Horrocks, he saw, stood above him by one
of the trucks of fuel on the rail. The gesticulating figure was bright and
white in the moonlight, and shouting, "Fizzle, you fool! Fizzle, you
hunter of women! You hot-blooded hound! Boil! boil! boil!"
Suddenly he caught up a handful of coal
out of the truck, and flung it deliberately, lump after lump, at Raut.
"Horrocks!" cried Raut. "Horrocks!"
He clung crying to the chain, pulling
himself up from the burning of the cone. Each missile Horrocks flung hit
him. His clothes charred and glowed, and as he struggled the cone dropped,
and a rush of hot suffocating gas whooped out and burned round him in a
swift breath of flame.
His human likeness departed from him.
When the momentary red had passed, Horrocks saw a charred, blackened
figure, its head streaked with blood, still clutching and fumbling with
the chain, and writhing in agony--a cindery animal, an inhuman, monstrous
creature that began a sobbing intermittent shriek.
Abruptly, at the sight, the ironmaster's
anger passed. A deadly sickness came upon him. The heavy odour of burning
flesh came drifting up to his nostrils. His sanity returned to him.
"God have mercy upon me!" he cried. "O
God! what have I done?"
He knew the thing below him, save that it
still moved and felt, was already a dead man--that the blood of the poor
wretch must be boiling in his veins. An intense realisation of that agony
came to his mind, and overcame every other feeling. For a moment he stood
irresolute, and then, turning to the truck, he hastily tilted its contents
upon the struggling thing that had once been a man. The mass fell with a
thud, and went radiating over the cone. With the thud the shriek ended,
and a boiling confusion of smoke, dust, and flame came rushing up towards
him. As it passed, he saw the cone clear again.
Then he staggered back, and stood
trembling, clinging to the rail with both hands. His lips moved, but no
words came to them.
Down below was the sound of voices and
running steps. The clangour of rolling in the shed ceased abruptly.