Later, a space was cleared in the middle of the flat, and several times a day Spats came up, and looked at this cleared space critically, with his eminently respectable hat at the same angle, and his hands hard in his pockets. On a few occasions the junior partner assisted, but only the initiated could make anything of the boss’s conversation, it being usually a series of short and sudden barks and growls, with an occasional breathless word breaking through.
The Beauties were bewildered. They went to the packer for enlightenment. Feathers had not been taken into the confidence of the firm. He chose to be frivolous.
“We bin thinkin’ iv puttin’ in a chute,” he said, soberly, building up two thousand tin-foil bags, which are more slippery than the souls of Presbyterian Chinese. “Y’ see,” he continued, “the wear’n’tear on the stair carpet is bringin’ the firm t’ beggary, ’n’ we’re thinkin’ iv fittin’ the buildin’ with all the modern appliances for dumpin’ fact’ry rats inter th’ open. Yer flung in et this end, ’n’ slid out et th’ other, like bags iv bran, pee-destrians bein’ purlitely requested t’ look both ways afore crossin’.”
At odd times the packer said the new structure was to be a three-penny bar, a conservatory, a donkey-engine for vending saveloys, a merry-go-round, and a fever ward. What he sought to convey was that the firm kept nothing from him, but he respected its confidence.
One morning, two 24-feet lengths of hardwood, 12 x 4, were introduced. A timid mechanic came with them, and bolted them to the factory floor in the cleared space, and then fled like a man glad to escape with his life. The herd of Beauties on Odgson’s top flat were not generous to strangers. Then hangers were secured to the massive cross beams above, and a length of shafting, with two pulleys, was put in place by the foreman of the printers.
The foreman of the printers, assisted by Fuzzy Ellis, opened the big cases. That is to say, the foreman of the printers prized open the cases, and Fuzzy got his finger caught every time the slats sprang back, and put himself in the way of the hammer, and lost a bit of ear when the hoop-iron flew up and hit him, and sat on such loose boards as had nails sticking through them, and let all the heavy articles and implements fall on his feet, and tripped over everything else, and was breathless and stark distracted all the time. Odgson supervised, and barked at odd moments, when he could no longer contain himself.
Rupert Luke, the foreman of the printers, was an extremely deliberate, intensely melancholy man, whose face never in any circumstances lost its expression of dog-like lugubriousness. Everybody laughed at Luke, he was so sad. There was something indescribably comic about his unspoken woe. For the rest, he was an extremely untidy tradesman, and was always stuccoed from head to toe in printers’ inks of a dozen colours. His hair looked like old combings, and generally had at least three samples of cheap ink rubbed in to it. He had a moth-eaten moustache in four independent clumps, red-lidded, watery eyes, and flabby cheeks that sagged down below the line of his jaw, like the fleshy decorations on a common breed of hens. He was nicknamed the Pelican.
The cases were found to contain a great assortment of wheels, rollers, pulleys, steel sheets, spindles, quaint saw-toothed blades, and curiosities in cast and wrought iron. The worst suspicions of the pasters were confirmed; obviously Spats was introducing machinery. There was a flutter in the dovecot. Feathers abandoned subterfuge.
“Fact is,” said the packer, “we’re gettin’ a bit soured on wimmin, me ’n’ the proprietary, ’specially me, ’n’ we’re barrin’ the females, ’n’ puttin’ down a mill that’ll do everythin’ fer nix, work overtime nine nights a week, ’n’ never look fer tea money. Yeh sling a bale iv paper in et one end, let her whiz, ’n’ she spits up envelopes by the million, ’n’ does no cluckin’ about it. Pull another crank, ’n’ she fair floods the fact’ry with bags while yer lookin’ round fer yer ’at. She squirts all manner iv bags, sugar, fruit, confection’, canister, ’n’ brown bags, ’n’ cuts Hoggy’s corns, and polishes the door plate when not otherwise engaged. Seems t’ me you toms had better book engagements et the Zoo, wimmin’s goin’ t’ be great curiosities in a year ’r two.”
“That ole motor car’s goin’ t’ do our work, ’n’ we get the hunt” said Harrerbeller Harte.
“Same ez if,” replied Feathers. “On’y it won’t squeal over fines, nor use impolite language t’ the foreman when the clock stops.”
“Oh, ma! I feel that somethin’s goin’ t’ ’appin,” said Harrerbeller.
Naturally this created a prejudice against the machinery, and against the good-looking young fitter, who commenced to build up the parts. He entered upon the job with great confidence, and then the girls got at him. Sotto voce insults were nagged in his ears for two hours, and he was a common cockshie all the time, the pasters spattering him with the crust from their paste tubs, a missile that hits hard and sticks close. Then the young fellow hastily collected his tools, and went down, looking like an infuriated bread pudding, and he told Spats that he would fight any man in the factory for two pen’orth of glue, but he wouldn’t spend another ten minutes in the company of those disreputable she-heathens up stairs for all the powers, human and divine.
So Rupert Luke, nicknamed the Pelican, and Fuzzy Ellis were invited to piece the new machine together. It was the only machine of the kind in the country, and neither Rupert nor Fuzzy had engineering skill. What Ellis lacked in knowledge he strove to make up with diseased energy and misdirected haste. If the Pelican succeeded in getting a couple of parts into their proper places, Fuzzy generally fell over them, or plunged into them, and mixed the sections up again, and all the time he looked like a man trying to collect his valuables in a burning house. When this happened, the printers’ foreman sighed profoundly, and sat and looked at the fallen machinery for some minutes in a state of hopeless woe, but he never complained. As he always expected the worst, there was no occasion to complain.
Anything the Beauties could do to complicate matters and delay Luke in arriving at a complete understanding of the machine, they did with criminal goodwill, and bolts got into the cogs, and nails under the rollers in mysterious ways; nuts were loosened if Luke merely turned his back, and parts that worked in harmony one moment ceased to revolve the next, and when they were urged something always broke. Then Rupert would rake up his head of oakum, and almost shed tears in his grief over the cussedness of inanimate things, and Fuzzy would paw wildly among the parts, like a terrier after a rat, catching his nose in the cogs or his fingers under the rollers, and battering himself with the revolving arm. Fortunately, the hospital was quite handy.
Feathers alone was sympathetic; he would pause on his way to the stack with a parcel, and commiserate the Pelican.
“She’s got yer beat again, Mr. Luke,” he said. “Take it from me, this ain’t no bag machine. It’s a case iv mistaken identity. She’s a ’ot pie mill. Yeh put in a ton iv weaveled flour ’n’ ole mutton cuttin’s et this end, give ’er ’er head, ’n’ she pays out double-decker ’am ’n’ beef bulls-eyes till the fact’ry’s bogged under, ’n’ the traffic’s all stopped with pies from ’ere t’ Dan. Barry ’n’ back.”
Odgson himself was never so concerned about anything as about that misfortunate machine. The packer insisted that Spats had dreamed it one night after a debauch of dried eels and tinned milk, and had had it built in a local madhouse, and was now engaged in the distressing task of trying to find out what it was good for. He spent most of his time staring at the machine, and his glossy belltopper wandered all over his head as he studied the thing with the comprehension of a damp hen. Sometimes hard down on his nose, sometimes balanced precariously on his occiput, now on one ear, now on the other, that belltopper was an emotional barometer.
Hoggy’s only contribution to the struggle was a spitting noise like an angry cat, which he emitted every time Ellis made a slip, and the sound threw poor Fuzzy into convulsions of aimless zeal, in which he always hurt himself. During the months spent in erecting the machine, pulling it to pieces, and collecting it together in another way, altering, repairing, and experimenting, the foreman of the flat was never without an injury. There were times when he had all his fingers done in bundles, and free-hand designs in sticking plaster all over him.
One afternoon when the Pelican, after deep study and hard breathing, had got something like logical, consecutive movement out of the parts, a shrill cry broke the stillness of the hot room; and it was found that Fuzzy had his spare tussock of chin whiskers run into the mill. Luke, in the excitement of the moment, backed her up rather suddenly, and Fuzzy’s hair got woven in another set of rollers. Ellis yelled again. Feathers described the disturbance for Goudy’s edification:
“In ten secs Hoggy ’n’ the whole Co. was on the job. Fifteen wild printers came up the stairs, ’n’ the pasters swarmed ’n’ swelled the disturbance. Seven Irish carters outer Egg Lane, four clerks, ’n’ the woman that washes the front offices, rushed the flat, ’n’ pointed out where the Pelican’s treatment iv the case was a herror iv judgment. Mike, the peanut man, bein’ eager for the Ryle ’Umane Society’s medal fer life savin’, waded in ter break up the machine with a sled, ’n’ Billy the Boy headed a forlorn ’ope what tried ter pull Fuzzy outer the mill be the ’ind leg.
“Meanwhile, Fuzzy was risin’ t’ remark, ’n’ his remarks was like lunch time et a cat show. Every time anyone gave the machine a twist, he yelled like a barretone tom tab in a graveyard, ’n’ every time anyone touched him, he squealed like a million kittens.
“All the rabid partners was busy unscrewin’ ’n’ screwin’, the pasters was mostly advisin’ Luke ter run Fuzzy through the mill ’n’ chance what he’d come out, ’n’ Benno there, with a presence iv mind that was trooly ’eroic, snatched up a bucket iv water ’n’ threw it over the miserable victim. A marvellous intellec’ Benno has—he’d ha’ done the same iv Ellis had bin drownin’. They had t’ pick the mill mostly t’ pieces t’ unwind Fuzzy, ’n’ there he is. That strained look’s due t’ the pressure on his back ’air. He thinks he’ll never be able t’ shut his mince pies again.”
Fuzzy was in retirement behind his guillotine, sitting crouched on a small box, nursing his hurts, and trying to hide his mortification. Nobody could look at him without thinking of the brahmapootra rooster that has been beaten in fair fight, and has gone under the barn to escape criticism. But he was back, fussing about the machine again within the hour, showing the Pelican what to do, stuttering explanations, and poking his battered fingers into dangerous places, and Luke, who in these days was an outre study in black oil from the bearings and stale paste, bore it all without permitting it to aggravate his settled sorrow to any noticeable extent.
The printer’s foreman rearranged the machine to his own satisfaction, and then followed many days during which he spent all the time he could spare from his duties below endeavouring to persuade the bag mill to mill bags. A large roll of grey sugar paper revolved at one end, various brass receptacles distributed paste, the paper was folded over blades, and drifted through rollers, and a revolving arm broke it in lengths, and everything happened but bags. Strange complications of paper, paste, anti-friction, and human skin and hair were born of all this labour, but nothing remotely resembling a bag.
The firm was nearly demented; Fuzzy was threatened with brain fever, and had once so far forgotten authority and his awe of Odgson as to cry out desperately in the face of that great man that he wished he was dead; two little girls were away injured; and the mother of Billy the Boy, a large, fat, sullen woman, was in possession below, demanding compensation for a hole in Billy’s head inflicted by the revolving arm. Billy’s head was none the worse for the hole, but his fond mother came and sat on a case in the lower flat and stubbornly refused to budge, assailing everybody, from Spats to the office boy, with bitter demands for hundreds of pounds down, in addition to fifty for medical expenses.
Eventually, however, a real bag issued from the drying press, and its advent created another burst of excitement. Fuzzy squealed down the pipe for Odgson. Never before in the whole history of the firm had anybody dared to squeal down the pipe for Odgson. Odgson came up, and all the partners, and the confidential clerk, and the ledger-keeper followed, and all examined the bag critically. Triplets might have been born to the firm without provoking half as much emotion.
Luke revolved the mill again, and more bags danced out all in order.
Feathers was skipping about amongst the pasters, trying to stem a threatened revolt. The Beauties, fancying that the triumph of the machine was at hand, were expressing their disgust in chorus, crying reflections on the Firm, and casting odium on Hoggy’s belltopper.
It was decided that the momentous time had arrived when steam-power should be put on the machine. That was Tuesday. On the following Thursday, when the town traveller came up to sort out a big order, he saw the machine lying helpless again in miserable disorder, and the pasters were slapping their brushes in a big rush, and singing gaily at their work.
“Hell-o-o-o!” said Goudy.
“Yes, Scotty,” said Feathers. “They put the steam on her, ’n’ she’s tossed in her agate.” He put up his hands, and brought the corners of his mouth hard down. “Yeh never did, Goudy! Don’t mag ter me, yeh never did! Phew! Yeh ain’t even got an idear. ’Twas ’ell ’n’ free beer here yes’day, ’n’ iv yeh know any gazob on yer round what’s in need iv an ole clothes wringer ’r a ’ump-backed mangle what’ll do on a pinch fer a sausage mill, ’r a knife polisher, ’r a new patent fer rollin’ dough, yeh can refer him t’ the Firm. We’re sellin’ out iv the notion iv growin’ bags be machinery at a halarmin’ sacrifice.
“I dunno what indooced ’er t’ do it,” he continued. “The whole bag iv tricks was here, includin’ some fine female relations iv the Firm, what ud come along t’ commit the idjis sin iv spillin’ God’s good drink on a dumb ’n’ deaf bleedin’ machine. The Pelican shot the bolt, ’n’ she revolved somethin’ lovely, scorin’ off her own bat, ’n’ the bags was hoppin’ out thick ez fleas, ’n’ the Firm was huggin’ itself with both ’ands, ’n’ the Firm’s missus ’n’ married daughters was sayin’ how awfully, perfectly, beastly clever it was, ’n’ lookin’ at it critical through them long-handled spectacles, when all iv a sudden she began t’ buck up. There was a long, rippin’, tearin’ sound, a snort, ’n’ a rumble, ’n’ erbout a pint iv teeth off the cogs was jerked inter the elder dorter’s back hair. Then the mill started t’ ’ump her back like a rattled cat, miles iv puckered paper got wadded in her works, gathered, bulged, ’n’ burst up, ’n’ heaved great streams ’n’ wads ’n’ shavin’s all over the flat, spoutin’ ’em like a bloomin’ Vesuvius.
“There was another burst iv thunder sound, ’n’ two quarts iv hot paste spirted out, ’n’ took Spats clean in the whiskers, ’n’ got a flyin’ fall out of him over a roll in something under 4 secs.
“‘Stop ’er!’ howled Duff, ’n’ he made a good bid fer it, but she shot out a steel roller weighin’ a quarter ’underd, ’n’ whacked him hard ’n’ good fair in the dyspepsy, ’n’ the junyer partner went down then ’n’ there, ’n’ revolved nine times on his own elbow.
“‘Stop ’er!’ squealed Mrs. Spats, ’n’ she did a dash with ’er silk sunshade worth pounds, havin’ a idear she might poke its eye out, but it et up ’er gold-mounted brolly, ’n’ batted ’er in the basket with 28 lb. iv grey sugar paper done up tough, ’n’ she retired ’urt.
“‘Stop ’er!” screamed Fuzzy, ’n’ what ’e did I dunno, but when I saw him next he had his napper plunged in a tub iv dough, ’n’ his feet was dancin’ polkers in the air, ’n’ the jigger was openin’ out fer new flights iv fancy.
“Presently the Pelican got a dawnin’ idear the machine was n’t quite hittin’ it accordin’ t’ the bye-law, ’n’ he rushed fer an openin’, but the revolvin’ arm was bent out, ’n’ it got home a left lead ’n’ a right cross, ’n’ the rag went in from the Pelican’s corner. All this time the idyit iv a mill was tearin’ out leagues iv what yer might call premature sugar bags, ’n’ stockin’ the blighted factory with ’em, ’n’ it was spatterin’ hot paste ez if it was bein’ whacked out by a maxim, ’n’ the frenzy iv it turned Hoggy’s whiskers grey, ’n’ doubled up his second dorter in a squealin’ fit that was more disorderly than one iv fat Martha’s.
“The crowds iv strangers what had come up the stairs looked on awe-strick, ’n’ one was dumped down two flights, ’ead over tuck, with a fat punch from a two-pound cog-wheel biff in the binge. Silly Dodd’s light was put out with a junk iv a castin’, Booser M‘Gunn, the comp., went ter beddy-bye with a brass bearin’ rolled up in his clothes, ’n’ Harrerbeller was squirted in the eye with such vi’lence that she jes’ said ‘Oh, mother!’ ’n’ went off like a little child.
“Be this time the Beauts had gone under cover, ’n’ every one what wasn’t disabled was watchin’ the insurrection frim behind bales ’n’ stacks, ’n’ frim under tables, ’n’ there was the bally mill crimpin’ up raw material, ’n’ chuckin’ out fathoms iv tucks, fair daft.
“Then jist ez sudden ez ‘Kiss me, Charley,’ all was over. Fuzzy fell limp from somewhere aloft into a pool iv slops on fat Martha’s board, ’n’ the loose belt was dancin’ over the shaftin’.
“Ellis, in one iv his brightest himpersonations iv the Idyit Boy, ’ad jumped on Martha’s board t’ throw the belt off, ’n’ be the dilly nature iv him, got himself yanked up ’tween belt ’n’ pully, where he got a squeezin’ that made his boots pop. Then the belt slid off, ’n’ peace was declared.
“Fuzzy’s away, bandaged, ’n’ plastered, ’n’ docketed in the ’orspital now, ’n’ Booser M‘Gunn’s wearin’ a faint smile ’n’ a wet compress, ’n’ we’re all ’appy.”
Ellis was back in his place two days later, fearing somebody else would be getting injured in his absence, and then the new bag mill was covered under a long, black pall, and the Beauties were gaily chanting its obsequies.