Through the Fray by G. A. Henty
Chapter XIX: The Attack on Cartwright's Mill
Ned still slept at the mill. He was sure that there was no chance of a renewal of the attack by the workpeople near, but an assault might be again organized by parties from a distance. The murder of Mr. Horsfall had caused greater vigilance than ever among the military. At some of the mills the use of the new machinery had been discontinued and cropping by hand resumed. This was the case at the mills at Ottewells and Bankbottom, both of which belonged to Messrs. Abraham & John Horsfall, the father and uncle of the murdered man, and at other mills in the neighborhood. Mr. Cartwright and some of the other owners still continued the use of the new machinery. One night Ned had just gone to bed when he was startled by the ringing of the bell. He leaped from his bed. He hesitated to go to the window, as it was likely enough that men might be lying in wait to shoot him when he appeared. Seizing his pistols, therefore, he hurried down below. A continued knocking was going on at the front entrance. It was not, however, the noisy din which would be made by a party trying to force their way in, but rather the persistent call of one trying to attract attention.
"Who is there?" he shouted through the door; "and what do you want?"
"Open the door, please. It is I, Polly Powlett," a voice replied. "I want to speak to you particularly, sir.
"I have come down, sir," she said as Ned threw open the door and she entered, still panting from her long run, "to tell you that Cartwright's mill is going to be attacked. I think some of the Varley men are concerned in it. Anyhow, the news has got about in the village. Feyther and Bill are both watched, and could not get away to give you the news; but feyther told me, and I slipped out at the back door and made my way round by the moor, for they have got a guard on the road to prevent any one passing. There is no time to spare, for they were to join a party from Longroyd Bridge, at ten o'clock at the steeple in Sir George Armitage's fields, which ain't more than three miles from the mill. It's half past ten now, but maybe they will be late. I couldn't get away before, and indeed feyther only learned the particulars just as I started. He told me to come straight to you, as you would know what to do. I said, 'Should I go and fetch the troops?' but he said No--it would be sure to be found out who had brought them, and our lives wouldn't be worth having. But I don't mind risking it, sir, if you think that's the best plan."
"No, Polly; on no account. You have risked quite enough in coming to tell me. I will go straight to Cartwright's. Do you get back as quickly as you can, and get in the same way you came. Be very careful that no one sees you."
So saying he dashed upstairs, pulled on his shoes, and then started at full speed for Liversedge. As he ran he calculated the probabilities of his being there in time. Had the men started exactly at the hour named they would be by this time attacking the mill; but it was not likely that they would be punctual--some of the hands would be sure to be late. There would be discussion and delay before starting. They might well be half an hour after the time named before they left the steeple, as the obelisk in Sir George Armitage's field was called by the country people. He might be in time yet, but it would be a close thing; and had his own life depended upon the result Ned could not have run more swiftly.
He had hopes that as he went he might have come across a cavalry patrol and sent them to Marsden and Ottewells to bring up aid; but the road was quiet and deserted. Once or twice he paused for an instant, thinking he heard the sound of distant musketry. He held his breath, but no sound could he hear save the heavy thumping of his own heart.
His hopes rose as he neared Liversedge. He was close now, but as he ran into the yard he heard a confused murmur and the dull tramping of many feet. He had won the race, but by a few seconds only. The great stone built building lay hushed in quiet; he could see its outline against the sky, and could even make out the great alarm bell which had recently been erected above the roof. He ran up to the doorway and knocked heavily. The deep barking of a dog within instantly resounded through the building. Half a minute later Mr. Cartwright's voice within demanded who was there.
"It is I, Ned Sankey--open at once. The Luddites are upon you!"
The bolts were hastily undrawn, and Ned rushed in and assisted to fasten the door behind him.
"They will be here in a minute," he panted out. "They are just behind."
The noise had already roused the ten men who slept in the building; five of these were Mr. Cartwright's workmen, the other five were soldiers. Hastily they threw on their clothes and seized their arms; but they were scarcely ready when a roar of musketry was heard, mingled with a clatter of falling glass, nearly every pane in the lower windows being smashed by the discharge of slugs, buckshot and bullets.
This was followed by the thundering noise of a score of sledge hammers at the principal entrance and the side doors. Mr. Cartwright and one of his workmen ran to the bell rope, and in a moment its iron tongue was clanging out its summons for assistance to the country round. A roar of fury broke from the Luddites; many of them fired at the bell in hopes of cutting the rope, and the men plied their hammers more furiously than before. But the doors were tremendously strong and were backed with plates of iron.
The defenders were not idle; all had their allotted places at the windows, and from these a steady return was kept up in answer to the scattering fire without. Ned had caught up the gun which Mr. Cartwright had laid down when he ran to the bell rope, and with it he kept up a steady fire at the dark figures below.
There was a shout of "Bring up Enoch!" This was a name given to the exceedingly heavy hammers at that time used in the Yorkshire smithies. They were manufactured by the firm of Enoch & James Taylor, of Marsden, and were popularly known among the men by the name of their maker. A powerful smith now advanced with one of these heavy weapons and began to pound at the door, which, heavy as it was, shook under his blows.
Ned, regardless of the fire of the Luddites, leaned far out of the window so as to be able to aim down at the group round the door, and fired. The gun was loaded with a heavy charge of buckshot. He heard a hoarse shout of pain and rage, and the hammer dropped to the ground. Another man caught up the hammer and the thundering din recommenced.
Mr. Cartwright had now joined Ned, leaving his workmen to continue to pull the bell rope.
"You had better come down, Sankey. The door must give way ere long; we must make a stand there. If they once break in, it will soon be all up with us."
Calling together three or four of the soldiers the manufacturer hurried down to the door. They were none too soon. The panels had already been splintered to pieces and the iron plates driven from their bolts by the tremendous blows of the hammer, but the stout bar still stood. Through the yawning holes in the upper part of the door the hammermen could be seen at work without.
Five guns flashed out, and yells and heavy falls told that the discharge had taken serious effect. The hammering ceased, for the men could not face the fire. Leaving Ned and one of the soldiers there, Mr. Cartwright hurried round to the other doors, but the assault had been less determined there and they still resisted; then he went upstairs and renewed the firing from the upper windows. The fight had now continued for twenty minutes, and the fire of the Luddites was slackening; their supply of powder and ball was running short. The determined resistance, when they had hoped to have effected an easy entrance by surprise, had discouraged them; several had fallen and more were wounded, and at any time the soldiers might be upon them.
Those who had been forced by fear to join the association--and these formed no small part of the whole--had long since begun to slink away quietly in the darkness, and the others now began to follow them. The groans and cries of the wounded men added to their discomfiture, and many eagerly seized the excuse of carrying these away to withdraw from the fight.
Gradually the firing ceased, and a shout of triumph rose from the little party in the mill at the failure of the attack. The defenders gathered in the lower floor.
"I think they are all gone now," Ned said. "Shall we go out, Mr. Cartwright, and see what we can do for the wounded? There are several of them lying round the door and near the windows. I can hear them groaning."
"No, Ned," Mr. Cartwright said firmly, "they must wait a little longer. The others may still be hiding close ready to make a rush if we come out; besides, it would likely enough be said of us that we went out and killed the wounded; we must wait awhile."
Presently a voice was heard shouting without: "Are you all right, Cartwright?"
"Yes," the manufacturer replied. "Who are you?"
The questioner proved to be a friend who lived the other side of Liversedge, and who had been aroused by the ringing of the alarm bell. He had not ventured to approach until the firing had ceased, and had then come on to see the issue.
Hearing that the rioters had all departed, Mr. Cartwright ordered the door to be opened. The wounded Luddites were lifted and carried into the mill, and Mr. Cartwright sent at once for the nearest surgeon, who was speedily upon the spot. Long before he arrived the hussars had ridden up, and had been dispatched over the country in search of the rioters, of whom, save the dead and wounded, no signs were visible.
As day dawned the destruction which had been wrought was clearly visible. The doors were in splinters, the lower window frames were all smashed in, scarce a pane of glass remained in its place throughout the whole building, the stonework was dotted and splashed with bullet marks, the angles of the windows were chipped and broken, there were dark patches of blood in many places in the courtyard, and the yard itself and the roads leading from the mill were strewn with guns, picks, levers, hammers, and pikes, which had been thrown away by the discomfited rioters in their retreat.
"They have had a lesson for once," Mr. Cartwright said as he looked round, "they won't attack my mill again in a hurry. I need not say, Sankey, how deeply I am obliged to you for your timely warning. How did you get to know of it?"
Ned related the story of his being awakened by Mary Powlett. He added, "I don't think, after all, my warning was of much use to you. You could have kept them out anyhow."
"I don't think so," Mr. Cartwright said. "I imagine that your arrival upset all their plans; they were so close behind you that they must have heard the knocking and the door open and close. The appearance of lights in the mill and the barking of the dog, would, at any rate, have told them that we were on the alert, and seeing that they ran on and opened fire I have no doubt that their plan was to have stolen quietly up to the windows and commenced an attack upon these in several places, and had they done this they would probably have forced an entrance before we could have got together to resist them. No, my lad, you and that girl have saved the mill between you."
"You will not mention, Mr. Cartwright, to any one how I learned the news. The girl's life would not be safe were it known that she brought me word of the intention of the Luddites."
"You may rely on me for that; and now, if you please, we will go off home at once and get some breakfast. Amy may have heard of the attack and will be in a rare fright until she gets news of me."
Mr. Cartwright's house was about a mile from the mill. When they arrived there it was still closed and quiet, and it was evident that no alarm had been excited. Mr. Cartwright's knocking soon roused the servants, and a few minutes later Amy hurried down.
"What is it, papa? What brings you back so early? it is only seven o'clock now. How do you do, Mr. Sankey? Why, papa, how dirty and black you both look! What have you been doing? And, oh, papa! you have got blood on your hands!"
"It is not my own, my dear, and you need not be frightened. The attack on the mill has come at last and we have given the Luddites a handsome thrashing. The danger is all over now, for I do not think the mill is ever likely to be attacked again. But I will tell you all about it presently; run and get breakfast ready as soon as you can, for we are as hungry as hunters, I can tell you. We will go and have a wash, and will be ready in ten minutes."
"We can't be ready in ten minutes, papa, for the fires are not lighted yet, but we will be as quick as we can; and do please make haste and come and tell me all about this dreadful business."
In half an hour the party were seated at breakfast. Amy had already been told the incidents of the fight, and trembled as she heard how nearly the rioters had burst their way into the mill, and was deeply grateful to Ned for the timely warning which had frustrated the plans of the rioters.
In vain did the soldiers scour the country. The Luddites on their retreat had scattered to their villages, the main body returning to Huddersfield and appearing at their work as usual in the morning. Large rewards were offered for information which would lead to the apprehension of any concerned in the attack, but these, as well as the notices offering two thousand pounds for the apprehension of the murderers of Mr. Horsfall, met with no responses. Scores of men must have known who were concerned in these affairs, but either fidelity to the cause or fear of the consequences of treachery kept them silent.
Mr. Cartwright was anxious to offer a handsome reward to Mary Powlett for the service she had rendered him, but Ned told him that he was sure she would not accept anything. Mr. Cartwright, however, insisting on the point, Ned saw Mary and sounded her upon the subject. She was indignant at the idea.
"No, Master Ned," she said, "I would not take money, not ever so. I came down to tell you because I thought it wicked and wrong of the men to destroy the mill, and because they would no doubt have murdered Mr. Cartwright and the people there; but I would not take money for doing it. Even if nobody ever got to know of it, it would always seem to me as if I had sold the hands, and they have suffered enough, God knows."
"I don't think Mr. Cartwright thought of offering you money. I told him that I was sure that you wouldn't take it, but he hoped that he might be able to do something for you in some other way."
"No, thank you, sir," Mary said with quiet dignity; "there isn't any way that I could take anything for doing what I did."
"Well, Mary, we won't say anything more about it. I only spoke, you know, because Mr. Cartwright insisted, and, of course, as he did not know you he could not tell how different you were from other girls. There is no suspicion, I hope, that you were away from the village?"
"No, sir, I don't think so. Two of the men sat here talking with feyther till past eleven o'clock, but they thought that I was in bed, as I had said goodnight and had gone into my room an hour before, and I did not see any one about in the village as I came back over the moor behind."
"None of the hands belonging to the village are missing, I hope, Mary. I was glad to find that none of them were among the killed and wounded round the mill."
"No, sir, except that John Stukeley has not been about since. The smithy was not opened the next morning and the chapel was closed yesterday. They say as he has been taken suddenly ill, but feyther thinks that perhaps he was wounded. Of course men don't speak much before feyther, and I don't talk much to the other women of the village, so we don't know what's going on; anyhow the doctor has not been here to see him, and if he had been only ill I should think they would have had Dr. Green up. Old Sarah James is nursing him. I saw her this morning going to the shop and asked her how he was; she only said it was no business of mine. But she doesn't like me because sometimes I nurse people when they are ill, and she thinks it takes money from her; and so it does, but what can I do if people like me to sit by them better than her? and no wonder, for she is very deaf and horribly dirty."
"I don't think they are to be blamed, Polly," Ned said, smiling. "If I were ill I should certainly like you to nurse me a great deal better than that bad tempered old woman."
The attack on Cartwright's mill made a great sensation through that part of the country. It was the most determined effort which the Luddites had yet made, and although it showed their determination to carry matters to an extremity, it also showed that a few determined men could successfully resist their attacks. Nothing else was talked about at Marsden, and as Mr. Cartwright everywhere said that the success of the resistance was due entirely to the upsetting of the plans of the rioters by the warning Ned had given him, the latter gained great credit in the eyes of all the peaceful inhabitants. But as it would make Ned still more obnoxious to the Luddites, Major Browne insisted on placing six soldiers permanently at the mill and on four accompanying him as an escort whenever he went backward or forward.
Ned was very averse to these measures, but the magistrates agreed with Major Browne as to the danger of assassination to which Ned was exposed from the anger of the croppers at his having twice thwarted their attempts, and he the more readily agreed as the presence of this guard soothed the fears which Charlie and Lucy felt for his safety whenever he was absent from the town. What perhaps most influenced him was a conversation which he had with Mrs. Porson.
"Your mother was speaking of you to me today, Ned," she said; "it is the first time she has done so since I made her acquaintance. She began by saying, 'Please, Mrs. Porson, tell me all about this attack on George Cartwright's mill; Abijah and Lucy have been talking about it, but Abijah always gets confused in her stories, and of course Lucy knows only what she is told. I should like to know all about it.' Of course I told her the whole story, and how much Mr. Cartwright says he is indebted to you for the warning you brought him, and how every one is speaking in praise of your conduct, and what a good effect it has had.
"I told her that of course the Luddites would be very much incensed against you and that it was adding to the risks that you already ran. She lay on the sofa quietly with her eyes shut all the time I was speaking. I could see her color come and go, and some tears fell down her cheeks; then she said in a tone which she tried to make hard and careless, but which really trembled, 'The military ought to put a guard over my son. Why does he go risking his life for other people? What business is it of his whether Cartwright's mill is burned or not?' I said that Mr. Cartwright had been very kind to you, and that I knew that you were much attached to him. I also said that the military were anxious that you should have an escort to and from the mill, but that you objected. I said that I was afraid that your life had not much value in your own eyes, for that it was by no means a happy one. 'It has value in other people's eyes,' she said irritably, 'in Lucy's and in his brother's. What would they do if he was to throw it away? Who would look after the mill and business then? He has no right to run such risks, Mrs. Porson, no right at all. Of course he is unhappy. People who let their tempers master them and do things are sure to be unhappy, and make other people unhappy, too; but that is no reason that he should cause more unhappiness by risking his own life needlessly, so, Mrs. Porson, please talk to your husband and tell him to make my son have an escort. I know he always listens to Mr. Porson.'"
"Naturally my mother is anxious, for the sake of Charlie and Lucy, that I should live to carry on the mill until Charlie is old enough to run it himself," Ned said bitterly.
"I do not think that it is only that, Ned," Mrs. Porson said kindly. "That was only the excuse that your mother made. I could see that she was deeply moved. I believe, Ned, that at heart she still loves you dearly. She has this unhappy fixed idea in her mind that you killed her husband, and believing this she cannot bear to see you; but I am sure she is most unhappy, most deeply to be pitied. I cannot imagine anything more dreadful than the state of mind of a woman who believes that a son of hers has murdered her husband. I think that if you quite realized what her feelings must be you would feel a little less bitter than you do.
"I know, Ned, how much you have to try you, but I am sure that I would not exchange your position for that of your mother. Her pain must be far greater than yours. You know that you are innocent, and hope that some day you may be able to prove it. She thinks she knows that you are guilty, and is in constant dread that something may occur that may prove your guilt to the world."
"Perhaps you are right, Mrs. Porson," Ned said wearily; "at any rate I will put up with the nuisance of this escort. I suppose it will not be for very long, for I expect that we shall not hear very much more of the Luddites. The failures upon Cartwright's mill and mine must have disheartened them, and the big rewards that are offered to any one who will come forward and betray the rest must make them horribly uncomfortable, for no one can be sure that some one may not be tempted to turn traitor."
"What is the matter with Bill?" Ned asked Luke Marner that afternoon. "I see he is away."
"Yes, sir, he be a-sitting with John Stukeley, who they say is main bad. It seems as how he has taken a fancy to t' lad, though why he should oi dunno, for Bill had nowt to do wi' his lot. Perhaps he thinks now as Bill were right and he were wrong; perhaps it only is as if Bill ha' got a name in the village of being a soft hearted chap, allus ready to sit up at noight wi' any one as is ill. Anyhow he sent last noight to ask him to go and sit wi' him, and Bill sent me word this morning as how he couldn't leave the man."
"Do you know what is the matter with him?"
"I dunno for certain, Maister Ned, but I has my suspicions."
"So have I, Luke. I believe he got a gunshot wound in that affair at the mill."
Luke nodded significantly.
"Dr. Green ought to see him," Ned said. "A gunshot wound is not a thing to be trifled with."
"The doctor ha' been up twice a day on the last three e days," Luke replied. "Oi suppose they got frighted and were obliged to call him in."
"They had better have done so at first," Ned said; "they might have been quite sure that he would say nothing about it to the magistrates whatever was the matter with Stukeley. I thought that fellow would get into mischief before he had done."
"It war a bad day for the village when he coomed," Luke said; "what wi' his preachings and his talk, he ha' turned the place upside down. I doan't say as Varley had ever a good name, or was a place where a quiet chap would have chosen to live, For fighting and drink there weren't a worse place in all Yorkshire, but there weren't no downright mischief till he came. Oi wur afraid vor a bit when he came a-hanging aboot Polly, as the gal might ha' took to him, for he can talk smooth and has had edication, and Polly thinks a wonderful lot of that. Oi were main glad when she sent him aboot his business."
"Well, there is one thing, Luke; if anything happens to him it will put an end to this Luddite business at Varley. Such a lesson as that in their midst would do more to convince them of the danger of their goings on than any amount of argument and advice."
"It will that," Luke said. "Oi hear as they are all moighty down in the mouth over that affair at Cartwright's. If they could not win there, when they were thirty to one, what chance can they have o' stopping the mills? Oi consider as how that has been the best noight's work as ha' been done in Yorkshire for years and years. There ain't a-been anything else talked of in Varley since. I ha' heard a score of guesses as to how you found owt what was a-going on in toime to get to the mill--thank God there ain't one as suspects as our Polly brought you the news. My own boys doan't know, and ain't a-going to; not as they would say a word as would harm Polly for worlds, but as they gets a bit bigger and takes to drink, there's no saying what mightn't slip out when they are in liquor. So you and oi and Bill be the only ones as ull ever know the ins and outs o' that there business."