Violet was walking into the Glassworks with Mr Dickinson. He had told her, the night before that her first Wardian cases were ready and she couldn’t wait to see them. He was going to have them transported over to the house for her to see, but she was afraid that they might meet with some mishap and get broken or worse. So she begged Mr Dickinson to let her come to the factory itself and eventually he had said that she could. If only to get a moment’s peace to read his newspaper!
Now she had arrived and the heat and the smells hit her as she entered the noisy workshop. The glassblowers, half naked as they had stripped to the waist, were red-faced and glistening with sweat from the violent heat of the furnaces. He hurried Violet through the workshop to the cooling off room at the back.
There lined up against the wall were the most beautiful things Violet had ever seen. Her designs, her cases ready to be filled with green ferns and exotically coloured flowers. She stared at them in wonder.
“They are perfect” she said as she turned to Mr Dickinson with tears in her eyes
He looked a little embarrassed as he came over to them and showed her how they had been put together, where the hinges were, that allowed access and how they were fixed to their heavy metal stands.
All she could see was how the sunlight streamed through the multi-coloured glass panels and made a rainbowed walkway of the floor. She was mesmerised. She could just imagine them lined up row after row inside the in the spring. She thought of how they would look to the visitors and she vowed to tell all of them that they were like miniature Crystal Palaces that they could have in their own homes. She was sure that would help sell them, although they were so gorgeous they would really sell themselves. She confided her plans to Mr Dickinson, wondering aloud whether he would permit her to leave his service for the duration of the Great Exhibition.
He initially seemed surprised that she was even thinking about getting involved in the actual retailing of them, but then, on reflection nothing this young woman did surprised him anymore.
“I am sure that we will work something out.”
“Are you going to take Mrs Dickinson and Lucy down to see it?”
“I am sure that I will have to do that, especially once they know what you are planning to do down there.”
“Thing of all the extra business we will generate for you! This time next year you will need a second factory!”
He laughed and said “Nothing would please me more!”
“Well, I’d better get back to the house. Before I cause a problem for you here.” Replied Violet as she saw the glassblowers looking over at her as she chatted to their boss.
“Very well, I will see you later.”
Mr Dickinson smiled as she went, wondering what changes this female whirlwind was going to wrought in his life.
He didn’t have to wait long to find out.
Later that evening as the family sat down to their evening dinner there was an urgent knocking at the back door. Robert was out, running some errand for Mr Dickinson, so Violet was dispatched to see who was there.
Outside in the gloom was a workman, dressed in rough corduroys and a rough woollen shirt. He wasn’t even wearing a coat. Violet did not recognise him
“Is the master in?” he asked. He was out of breath and red in the face. Violet was worried
“Yes, who shall I say is calling?”
“Joseph, from the glassworks.”
“Is there a problem?” Violet couldn’t help but ask.
“I need to see the master!” he repeated
Violet ran to get him, then followed him back into the kitchen.
“Come in Joseph,” he urged his foreman “What is the trouble?”
He stood there shaking his head and wringing the cap in his hands.
“I don’t rightly know how to tell you this,” he began
“Is the factory on fire, man?” Mr Dickinson was getting worried by his lack of communication.
“No Sir,” he replied “It’s them fancy boxes we’ve all been working on.”
“What about them?” Violet demanded
He looked uncertainly at his boss, Mr Dickinson just nodded at him to continue.
“They’ve been damaged. I don’t know how it happened. When everyone had gone, I checked all round and saw them in the back room.”
“Badly damaged?” asked the factory owner.
“Smashed to pieces.” Joseph looked as if he might cry.”All bent out of shape and… .” he couldn’t continue.
Violet already had tears in her eyes. She looked in horror at Mr Dickinson.
“We must get down there and have a look. It might not be as bad as we think” Mr Dickinson tried to sound confident.
They put on their coats and followed Joseph back to the factory on foot. The place was deserted now, all the workers had left and only the night watchman remained to keep the furnaces stoked all night. They could never be let out.
As they entered the back room they fell silent. Violet looked at the shards of broken glass that littered the floor and fell to her knees. She picked one up, a sharp triangle of rose pink, it cut into her hand as she turned it over.
The frames were twisted a little out of shape, but all the glasswork was ruined.
“Who could have done this?” asked Mr Dickinson in bewilderment “I don’t understand!”
Joseph replied “I really don’t know. All our men are good workers, most have been here a long time.”
“Has there been any talk on the floor? Any complaints about doing this work instead of the usual orders?”
Joseph looked embarrassed.
“You need to tell me” the factory owner urged.
“That new man, he was saying as how women shouldn’t get mixed up in men’s work. I didn’t think anyone was paying him any mind…”
“What new man?” he asked
“Anthony, he was taken on at the end of last month. Been sacked from the tannery, he had, you gave him a chance here.”
Mr Dickinson could just recall the unhappy man. He’d heard that he had been sacked, but he had come up to the glassworks and told him such a tale about how he was victimised for speaking his mind, and how he had a wife and five children to support. He’d given him a job, as he believed in giving people a second chance.
Something stirred in Violet’s memory and she clutched a handkerchief to her bleeding hand.
“What was his other name?” she asked the trembling foreman
“Hendry, miss” he told her.
“Agnes!” exclaimed Violet “I knew it!”
“Who is that?” asked Mr Dickinson, perplexed
“She works up at The Grange, always made trouble for me and the other girls if she could. She is his sister, I believe.”
“Where does this Hendry live?” he asked Joseph
“I think I need to pay him a visit. Violet, dear you’d better get home and have Celia bandage that hand for you.”
Violet looked down once more at the shattered remains of her dreams. She was struggling to understand why someone, anyone would destroy such beautiful objects. And for what reason?
“Can they be mended?” she asked hopefully.
“We’ll have a proper look at them in the morning and see what can be done. I’d better get Master David to come over too. I don’t relish telling him about this.” He sighed as he guided her out of the room.
Joseph walked her back to the house.
She couldn’t stop thinking about David and what he would say. She knew that he had stretched his resources to the limit to get these few done as samples. She could not see his father being generous, if he knew about this. She spent a fitful night.