The Mutable Many - Robert Barr - ebook
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First published in 1896 and considered one of Robert Barr’s best works, this historical novel set in London at the beginning of the 20th century and centering on an industrial strike and a love triangle. The men in Monkton and Hope’s factory strike. Sartwell, their manager, refuses to compromise with them, but discusses the situation with Marsten, one of their number, who clings to his own order, at the same time that he avows his love for Sartwell’s daughter Edna. Sartwell forbids him to speak to her. The strike is crushed, Marsten is dismissed, and becomes secretary to the Labor Union. He sees Edna several times, she becomes interested in him, and her father sends her away to school... A great read, „The Mutable Many” is thoroughly recommended for inclusion on the bookshelf of any home and for lovers of historical novels.

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Liczba stron: 587

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Contents

CHAPTER I

CHAPTER II

CHAPTER III

CHAPTER IV

CHAPTER V

CHAPTER VI

CHAPTER VII

CHAPTER VIII

CHAPTER IX

CHAPTER X

CHAPTER XI

CHAPTER XII

CHAPTER XIII

CHAPTER XIV

CHAPTER XV

CHAPTER XVI

CHAPTER XVII

CHAPTER XVIII

CHAPTER XIX

CHAPTER XX

CHAPTER XXI

CHAPTER XXII

CHAPTER XXIII

CHAPTER XXIV

CHAPTER XXV

CHAPTER XXVI

CHAPTER XXVII

CHAPTER XXVIII

CHAPTER XXIX

CHAPTER XXX

CHAPTER XXXI

CHAPTER XXXII

CHAPTER XXXIII

CHAPTER XXXIV

CHAPTER XXXV

CHAPTER XXXVI

CHAPTER XXXVII

CHAPTER XXXVIII

CHAPTER I

The office of Monkton & Hope’s great factory hung between heaven and earth, and, at the particular moment John Sartwell, manager, stood looking out of the window towards the gates, heaven consisted of a brooding London fog suspended a hundred feet above the town, hesitating to fall, while earth was represented by a sticky black-cindered factory-yard bearing the imprint of many a hundred boots. The office was built between the two huge buildings known as the “Works.” The situation of the office had evidently been an after-thought–it was of wood, while the two great buildings which it joined together as if they were Siamese twins of industry, were of brick. Although no architect had ever foreseen the erection of such a structure between the two buildings, yet necessity, the mother of invention, had given birth to what Sartwell always claimed was the most conveniently situated office in London. More and more room had been acquired in the big buildings as business increased, and the office–the soul of the whole thing–had, as it were, to take up a position outside its body.

The addition, then, hung over the roadway that passed between the two buildings; it commanded a view of both front and back yards, and had, therefore, more light and air than the office Sartwell had formerly occupied in the left-hand building. The unique situation caused it to be free from the vibration of the machinery to a large extent, and as a door led into each building, the office had easy access to both. Sartwell was very proud of these rooms and their position, for he had planned them, and had thus given the firm much additional space, with no more ground occupied than had been occupied before–a most desirable feat to perform in a crowded city like London.

Two rooms at the back were set apart for the two members of the firm, while Sartwell’s office in the front was three times the size of either of these rooms and extended across the whole space between the two buildings. This was as it should be; for Sartwell did three times the amount of work the owners of the business accomplished, and, if it came to that, had three times the brain power of the two members of the firm combined, who were there simply because they were the sons of their fathers. The founders of the firm had with hard work and shrewd management established the large manufactory whose present prosperity was due to Sartwell and not to the two men whose names were known to the public as the heads of the business.

Monkton and Hope were timid, cautious, somewhat irresolute men, as capitalists should be all the world over. They had unbounded confidence in their manager, and generally shifted any grave responsibility or unpleasant decision to his shoulders, which bore the burdens placed upon them with equanimity. Sartwell was an iron man, with firm resolute lips, and steely blue eyes that were most disconcerting to any one who had something not quite straight to propose. Even the two partners quailed under these eyes and gave way before them if it came to a conflict of opinion. Sartwell’s rather curt “It won’t do, you know” always settled things.

Sartwell knew infinitely more about the works than they did; for while they had been at college the future manager was working his way up into the confidence of their fathers, and every step he took advanced his position in the factory. The three men were as nearly as possible of the same age, and the hair of each was tinged with grey; Sartwell’s perhaps more than the others.

It was difficult to think of love in connection with the two partners, yet it is pleasing to know that when love did come to them at the proper time of life, it had come with gold in one hand and a rigid non-conformist conscience in the other. The two had thus added wealth to wealth by marrying, and, as their wives were much taken up with deeds of goodness, done only after strict and conscientious investigation, so that the unworthy might not benefit, and as both Monkton and Hope were somewhat timorous men who were bound to be ruled by the women they married, some of their wealth found its way into the coffers of struggling societies and organizations for the relieving of distress.

Thus there came to impregnate the name of Monkton & Hope (Limited) a certain odour of sanctity which is most unusual in business circles in London. The firm, when once got at, could be counted on for a subscription almost with certainty, but alas! it was not easy to get at the firm. The applicant had to come under the scrutiny of those searching eyes of Sartwell’s, which had a perturbing habit of getting right at the heart of a matter with astonishing quickness; and when once he said “It won’t do, you know,” there was no going behind the verdict.

A private stairway led from the yard below to the hall in the suspended building which divided the large office of the manager from the two smaller private rooms of the firm. This stairway was used only by the three men. The clerks and the public came in by the main entrance, where a watchful man sat behind a little arched open window over which was painted the word “Enquiries.”

Outside in the gloom the two great lamps over the gateposts flared yellow light down on the cindery roadway and the narrow street beyond. Through the wide open gateway into the narrow stone-paved street poured hundreds of workingmen. There was no jostling and they went out silently, which was unusual. It seemed as if something hovered over them even more depressing than the great fog cloud just above their heads. Sartwell, alone in his office, stood somewhat back from the window, unseen, and watched their exit grimly, sternly. The lines about his firm mouth tightened his lips into more than their customary rigidity. He noticed that now and then a workman cast a glance at his windows, and he knew they cursed him in their hearts as standing between them and their demands, for they were well aware that the firm would succumb did Sartwell but give the word. The manager knew that at their meetings their leader had said none was so hard on workingmen as a workman who had risen from the ranks. Sartwell’s name had been hissed while the name of the firm had been cheered; but the manager was not to be deterred by unpopularity, although the strained relations between the men and himself gave him good cause for anxiety.

As he thought over the situation and searched his mind to find whether he himself were to blame in any way, there was a rap at his door. He turned quickly away from the window, stood by his desk, and said sharply, “Come in.”

There entered a young man in workman’s dress with his cap in his hand. His face was frank, clear-cut, and intelligent, and he had washed it when his work was done, which was a weakness not indulged in by the majority of his companions.

“Ah, Marsten,” said the manager, his brow clearing when he saw who it was. “Did you get that job done in time?”

“It was off before half-past five, sir.”

“Right. Were there any obstacles thrown in your way?”

“None that could not be surmounted, sir.”

“Right again. That’s the way I like to have things done. The young man who can accomplish impossibilities is the man for me, and the man who gets along in this world.”

The young fellow turned his cap over and over in his hands, and, although he was evidently pleased with the commendation of the manager, he seemed embarrassed. At last he said, hesitatingly:

“I am very anxious to get on in the world, sir.”

“Well, you may have an opportunity shortly,” replied the manager.

Then he suddenly shot the question:

“Are you people going to strike?”

“I’m afraid so, sir.”

“Why do you say ‘afraid’? Are you going out with the others, or do you call your soul your own?”

“A man cannot fight the Union single-handed.”

“You are talking to a man who is going to.”

The young man looked up at his master.

“With you it is different,” he said. “You are backed by a wealthy company. Whether you win or lose, your situation is secure. If I failed the Union in a crisis, I could never get another situation.”

Sartwell smiled grimly when the young man mentioned the firm. He knew that there lay his weakness rather than his strength, for although the firm had said he was to have a free hand, yet he was certain the moment the contest became bitter the firm would be panic-stricken. Then, if the women took a hand in, the jig was up. If the strikers had known on which side their bread was buttered they would have sent a delegation of their wives to Mrs. Monkton and Mrs. Hope. But they did not know this, and Sartwell was not the man to show the weakness of his hand.

“Yes,” said the manager, “I have the entire confidence of Mr. Monkton and Mr. Hope. I wonder if the men appreciate that fact.”

“Oh yes, sir; they know that.”

“Now, Marsten, have you any influence with the men?”

“Very little, I’m afraid, sir.”

“If you have any, now is the time to exert it; for their sakes, you know, not for mine. The strike is bound to fail. Nevertheless I don’t forget a man who stands by me.”

The young man shook his head.

“If my comrades go, I’ll go with them. I am not so sure that a strike is bound to fail, although I am against it. The Union is very strong, Mr. Sartwell. Perhaps you do not know that it is the strongest Union in London.”

The manager allowed his hand to hover for a moment over a nest of pigeon-holes, then he drew out a paper and handed it to Marsten.

“There is the strength of the Union,” he said, “down to the seventeen pounds eight shillings and twopence they put in the bank yesterday afternoon. If you want any information about your Union, Marsten, I shall be happy to oblige you with it.”

The young man opened his eyes as he looked at the figures.

“It is a very large sum,” he said.

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