Sybil, or The Two Nations

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Chapter 7

At the end of a court in Wodgate, of rather larger dimensions than usual in that town, was a high and many-windowed house, of several stories in height, which had been added to it at intervals. It was in a most dilapidated state; the principal part occupied as a nail-workshop, where a great number of heavy iron machines were working in every room on each floor; the building itself in so shattered a condition that every part of it creaked and vibrated with their motion. The flooring was so broken that in many places one could look down through the gaping and rotten planks, while the upper floors from time to time had been shored up with props.

This was the Palace of the Bishop of Wodgate, and here with his arms bare and black, he worked at those locks, which defied any skeleton key that was not made by himself. He was a short, thickset man, powerfully made, with brawny arms disproportionately short even for his height, and with a countenance, as far as one could judge of a face so disfigured by his grimy toil, rather brutal than savage. His choice apprentices, full of admiration and terror, worked about him; lank and haggard youths, who never for an instant dared to raise their dingy faces and lack-lustre eyes from their ceaseless labour. On each side of their master, seated on a stool higher than the rest, was an urchin of not more than four or five years of age, serious and demure, and as if proud of his eminent position, or working incessantly at his little file;—these were two sons of the bishop.

"Now boys," said the bishop, in a hoarse, harsh voice, "steady, there; steady. There's a file what don't sing; can't deceive my ear; I know all their voices. Don't let me find that un out, or I won't walk into him, won't I? Ayn't you lucky boys, to have reg'lar work like this, and the best of prog! It worn't my lot, I can tell you that. Give me that shut, you there, Scrubbynose, can't you move? Look sharp, or I won't move you, won't I? Steady, steady! All right! That's music. Where will you hear music like twenty files all working at once! You ought to be happy boys, oughtn't you? Won't there be a treat of fish after this, that's all! Hulloa, there, you red-haired varmint, what are you looking after? Three boys looking about them; what's all this? Won't I be among you?" and he sprang forward and seized the luckless ears of the first apprentice he could get hold off, and wrung them till the blood spouted forth.

"Please, bishop," sang out the boy, "it worn't my fault. Here's a man what wants you."

"Who wants me?" said the bishop, looking round, and he caught the figure of Morley who had just entered the shop.

"Well, what's your will? Locks or nails?"

"Neither," said Morley; "I wish to see a man named Hatton."

"Well, you see a man named Hatton," said the bishop; "and now what do want of him?"

"I should like to say a word to you alone," said Morley.

"Hem! I should like to know who is to finish this lock, and to look after my boys! If it's an order, let us have it at once."

"It is not an order," said Morley.

"Then I don't want to hear nothing about it," said the bishop.

"It's about family matters," said Morley.

"Ah!" said Hatton, eagerly, "what, do you come from him?"

"It may be," said Morley.

Upon this the bishop, looking up to the ceiling of the room in which there were several large chinks, began calling out lustily to some unseen person above, and immediately was replied to in a shrill voice of objurgation, demanding in peremptory words, interlarded with many oaths, what he wanted. His reply called down his unseen correspondent, who soon entered his workshop. It was the awful presence of Mrs Hatton; a tall, bearded virago, with a file in her hand, for that seemed the distinctive arm of the house, and eyes flashing with unbridled power.

"Look after the boys," said Hatton, "for I have business."

"Won't I?" said Mrs Hatton; and a thrill of terror pervaded the assembly. All the files moved in regular melody; no one dared to raise his face; even her two young children looked still more serious and demure. Not that any being present flattered himself for an instant that the most sedulous attention on his part could prevent an outbreak; all that each aspired to, and wildly hoped, was that he might not be the victim singled out to have his head cut open, or his eye knocked out, or his ears half pulled off by the being who was the terror not only of the workshop, but of Wodgate itself,—their bishop's gentle wife.

In the meantime, that worthy, taking Morley into a room where there were no machines at work except those made of iron, said, "Well, what have you brought me?"

"In the first place," said Morley, "I would speak to you of your brother."

"I concluded that," said Hatton, "when you spoke of family matters bringing you here; he is the only relation I have in this world, and therefore it must be of him."

"It is of him," said Morley.

"Has he sent anything?"

"Hem!" said Morley, who was by nature a diplomatist, and instantly comprehended his position, being himself pumped when he came to pump; but he resolved not to precipitate the affair. "How late is it since you heard from him?" he asked.

"Why, I suppose you know," said Hatton, "I heard as usual."

"From his usual place?" inquired Morley.

"I wish you would tell me where that is," said Hatton, eagerly.

"Why, he writes to you?"

"Blank letters; never had a line except once, and that is more than twelve year ago. He sends me a twenty-pound note every Christmas; and that is all I know about him."

"Then he is rich, and well to do in the world? said Morley."

"Why, don't you know?" said Hatton; "I thought you came from him!"

"I came about him. I wished to know whether he were alive, and that you have been able to inform me: and where he was; and that you have not been able to inform me."

"Why, you're a regular muff!" said the bishop.

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