One hot, still afternoon—the tar-paper on the roof smelt like ships—Dan, in his shirt-sleeves, was smoothing down a new schooner’s bow, and Mr Springett was talking of barns and houses he had built. He said he never forgot any stick or stone he had ever handled, or any man, woman, or child he had ever met. Just then he was very proud of the Village Hall at the entrance of the village, which he had finished a few weeks before.
‘An’ I don’t mind tellin’ you, Mus’ Dan,’ he said, ‘that the Hall will be my last job top of this mortal earth. I didn’t make ten pounds—no, nor yet five—out o’ the whole contrac’, but my name’s lettered on the foundation stone—Ralph Springett, Builder—and the stone she’s bedded on four foot good concrete. If she shifts any time these five hundred years, I’ll sure-ly turn in my grave. I told the Lunnon architec’ so when he come down to oversee my work.’
‘What did he say?’ Dan was sandpapering the schooner’s port bow.
‘Nothing. The Hall ain’t more than one of his small jobs for him, but ’tain’t small to me, an’ my name is cut and lettered, frontin’ the village street, I do hope an’ pray, for time everlastin’. You’ll want the little round file for that holler in her bow. Who’s there?’ Mr Springett turned stiffly in his chair.
A long pile of scaffold-planks ran down the centre of the loft. Dan looked, and saw Hal o’ the Draft’s touzled head beyond them. [See ‘Hal o’ the Draft’ in Puck of Pook’s Hill.]
‘Be you the builder of the Village Hall?’ he asked of Mr Springett.
‘I be,’ was the answer. ‘But if you want a job—’
Hal laughed. ‘No, faith!’he said. ‘Only the Hall is as good and honest a piece of work as I’ve ever run a rule over. So, being born hereabouts, and being reckoned a master among masons, and accepted as a master mason, I made bold to pay my brotherly respects to the builder.’
‘Aa—um!’ Mr Springett looked important. ‘I be a bit rusty, but I’ll try ye!’
He asked Hal several curious questions, and the answers must have pleased him, for he invited Hal to sit down. Hal moved up, always keeping behind the pile of planks so that only his head showed, and sat down on a trestle in the dark corner at the back of Mr Springett’s desk. He took no notice of Dan, but talked at once to Mr Springett about bricks, and cement, and lead and glass, and after a while Dan went on with his work. He knew Mr Springett was pleased, because he tugged his white sandy beard, and smoked his pipe in short puffs. The two men seemed to agree about everything, but when grown-ups agree they interrupt each other almost as much as if they were quarrelling. Hal said something about workmen.
‘Why, that’s what I always say,’ Mr Springett cried. ‘A man who can only do one thing, he’s but next-above-fool to the man that can’t do nothin’. That’s where the Unions make their mistake.’
‘My thought to the very dot.’ Dan heard Hal slap his tight-hosed leg. ‘I’ve suffered in my time from these same Guilds—Unions, d’you call ’em? All their precious talk of the mysteries of their trades—why, what does it come to?’
‘Nothin’! You’ve justabout hit it,’ said Mr Springett, and rammed his hot tobacco with his thumb.
‘Take the art of wood-carving,’ Hal went on. He reached across the planks, grabbed a wooden mallet, and moved his other hand as though he wanted something. Mr Springett without a word passed him one of Dan’s broad chisels. ‘Ah! Wood-carving, for example. If you can cut wood and have a fair draft of what ye mean to do, a’ Heaven’s name take chisel and maul and let drive at it, say I! You’ll soon find all the mystery, forsooth, of wood- carving under your proper hand!’ Whack, came the mallet on the chisel, and a sliver of wood curled up in front of it. Mr Springett watched like an old raven.
‘All art is one, man—one!’ said Hal between whacks; ’and to wait on another man to finish out—’
‘To finish out your work ain’t no sense,’ Mr Springett cut in. ‘That’s what I’m always sayin’ to the boy here.’ He nodded towards Dan. ‘That’s what I said when I put the new wheel into Brewster’s Mill in Eighteen hundred Seventy-two. I reckoned I was millwright enough for the job ’thout bringin’ a man from Lunnon. An’ besides, dividin’ work eats up profits, no bounds.’
Hal laughed his beautiful deep laugh, and Mr Springett joined in till Dan laughed too.
‘You handle your tools, I can see,’ said Mr Springett. ‘I reckon, if you’re any way like me, you’ve found yourself hindered by those—Guilds, did you call ’em? —Unions, we say.’
‘You may say so!’ Hal pointed to a white scar on his cheekbone. ‘This is a remembrance from the Master watching-Foreman of Masons on Magdalen Tower, because, please you, I dared to carve stone without their leave. They said a stone had slipped from the cornice by accident.’
‘I know them accidents. There’s no way to disprove ’em. An’ stones ain’t the only things that slip,’ Mr Springett grunted. Hal went on:
‘I’ve seen a scaffold-plank keckle and shoot a too-clever workman thirty foot on to the cold chancel floor below. And a rope can break—’
‘Yes, natural as nature; an’ lime’ll fly up in a man’s eyes without any breath o’ wind sometimes,’ said Mr Springett. ‘But who’s to show ‘twasn’t a accident?’
‘Who do these things?’ Dan asked, and straightened his back at the bench as he turned the schooner end-for-end in the vice to get at her counter.
‘Them which don’t wish other men to work no better nor quicker than they do,’ growled Mr Springett. ‘Don’t pinch her so hard in the vice, Mus’ Dan. Put a piece o’ rag in the jaws, or you’ll bruise her. More than that’—he turned towards Hal—‘if a man has his private spite laid up against you, the Unions give him his excuse for workin’ it off.’
‘Well I know it,’said Hal.
‘They never let you go, them spiteful ones. I knowed a plasterer in Eighteen hundred Sixty-one—down to the wells. He was a Frenchy—a bad enemy he was.’
‘I had mine too. He was an Italian, called Benedetto. I met him first at Oxford on Magdalen Tower when I was learning my trade—or trades, I should say. A bad enemy he was, as you say, but he came to be my singular good friend,’ said Hal as he put down the mallet and settled himself comfortably.
‘What might his trade have been—plastering’ Mr Springett asked.
‘Plastering of a sort. He worked in stucco—fresco we call it. Made pictures on plaster. Not but what he had a fine sweep of the hand in drawing. He’d take the long sides of a cloister, trowel on his stuff, and roll out his great all-abroad pictures of saints and croppy-topped trees quick as a webster unrolling cloth almost. Oh, Benedetto could draw, but ’a was a little-minded man, professing to be full of secrets of colour or plaster—common tricks, all of ’em—and his one single talk was how Tom, Dick or Harry had stole this or t’other secret art from him.’
‘I know that sort,’ said Mr Springett. ‘There’s no keeping peace or making peace with such. An’ they’re mostly born an’ bone idle.’
‘True. Even his fellow-countrymen laughed at his jealousy. We two came to loggerheads early on Magdalen Tower. I was a youngster then. Maybe I spoke my mind about his work.’
‘You shouldn’t never do that.’ Mr Springett shook his head. ‘That sort lay it up against you.’
‘True enough. This Benedetto did most specially. Body o’ me, the man lived to hate me! But I always kept my eyes open on a plank or a scaffold. I was mighty glad to be shut of him when he quarrelled with his Guild foreman, and went off, nose in air, and paints under his arm. But’—Hal leaned forward—‘if you hate a man or a man hates you—’
‘I know. You’re everlastin’ running acrost him,’ Mr Springett interrupted. ‘Excuse me, sir.’ He leaned out of the window, and shouted to a carter who was loading a cart with bricks.
‘Ain’t you no more sense than to heap ’em up that way?’ he said. ‘Take an’ throw a hundred of ’em off. It’s more than the team can compass. Throw ’em off, I tell you, and make another trip for what’s left over. Excuse me, sir. You was sayin’—’
‘I was saying that before the end of the year I went to Bury to strengthen the lead-work in the great Abbey east window there.’
‘Now that’s just one of the things I’ve never done. But I mind there was a cheap excursion to Chichester in Eighteen hundred Seventy-nine, an’ I went an’ watched ’em leadin’ a won’erful fine window in Chichester Cathedral. I stayed watchin’ till ’twas time for us to go back. Dunno as I had two drinks p’raps, all that day.’
Hal smiled. ‘At Bury, then, sure enough, I met my enemy Benedetto. He had painted a picture in plaster on the south wall of the Refectory—a noble place for a noble thing—a picture of Jonah.’
‘Ah! Jonah an’ his whale. I’ve never been as far as Bury. You’ve worked about a lot,’ said Mr Springett, with his eyes on the carter below.
‘No. Not the whale. This was a picture of Jonah and the pompion that withered. But all that Benedetto had shown was a peevish grey-beard huggled up in angle-edged drapery beneath a pompion on a wooden trellis. This last, being a dead thing, he’d drawn it as ’twere to the life. But fierce old Jonah, bared in the sun, angry even to death that his cold prophecy was disproven—Jonah, ashamed, and already hearing the children of Nineveh running to mock him—ah, that was what Benedetto had not drawn!’
‘He better ha’ stuck to his whale, then,’ said Mr Springett.
‘He’d ha’ done no better with that. He draws the damp cloth off the picture, an’ shows it to me. I was a craftsman too, d’ye see?’
‘“Tis good,” I said, “but it goes no deeper than the plaster.”
‘“What?” he said in a whisper.
‘“Be thy own judge, Benedetto,” I answered. “Does it go deeper than the plaster?”
‘He reeled against a piece of dry wall. “No,” he says, “and I know it. I could not hate thee more than I have done these five years, but if I live, I will try, Hal. I will try.” Then he goes away. I pitied him, but I had spoken truth. His picture went no deeper than the plaster.’
‘Ah!’ said Mr Springett, who had turned quite red. ‘You was talkin’ so fast I didn’t understand what you was drivin’ at. I’ve seen men—good workmen they was—try to do more than they could do, and—and they couldn’t compass it. They knowed it, and it nigh broke their hearts like. You was in your right, o’ course, sir, to say what you thought o’ his work; but if you’ll excuse me, was you in your duty?’
‘I was wrong to say it,’ Hal replied. ‘God forgive me—I was young! He was workman enough himself to know where he failed. But it all came evens in the long run. By the same token, did ye ever hear o’ one Torrigiano—Torrisany we called him?’
‘I can’t say I ever did. Was he a Frenchy like?’
‘No, a hectoring, hard-mouthed, long-sworded Italian builder, as vain as a peacock and as strong as a bull, but, mark you, a master workman. More than that—he could get his best work out of the worst men.’
‘Which it’s a gift. I had a foreman-bricklayer like him once,’ said Mr Springett. ‘He used to prod ’em in the back like with a pointing-trowel, and they did wonders.’
I’ve seen our Torrisany lay a ’prentice down with one buffet and raise him with another—to make a mason of him. I worked under him at building a chapel in London—a chapel and a tomb for the King.’
‘I never knew kings went to chapel much,’ said Mr Springett. ‘But I always hold with a man—don’t care who he be—seein’ about his own grave before he dies. ’Tidn’t the sort of thing to leave to your family after the will’s read. I reckon ’twas a fine vault?’
‘None finer in England. This Torrigiano had the contract for it, as you’d say. He picked master craftsmen from all parts—England, France, Italy, the Low Countries—no odds to him so long as they knew their work, and he drove them like—like pigs at Brightling Fair. He called us English all pigs. We suffered it because he was a master in his craft. If he misliked any work that a man had done, with his own great hands he’d rive it out, and tear it down before us all. “Ah, you pig—you English pig!” he’d scream in the dumb wretch’s face. “You answer me? You look at me? You think at me? Come out with me into the cloisters. I will teach you carving myself. I will gild you all over!” But when his passion had blown out, he’d slip his arm round the man’s neck, and impart knowledge worth gold. ’Twould have done your heart good, Mus’ Springett, to see the two hundred of us masons, jewellers, carvers, gilders, iron-workers and the rest—all toiling like cock-angels, and this mad Italian hornet fleeing one to next up and down the chapel. Done your heart good, it would!’
‘I believe you,’ said Mr Springett. ‘In Eighteen hundred Fifty-four, I mind, the railway was bein’ made into Hastin’s. There was two thousand navvies on it—all young—all strong—an’ I was one of ’em. Oh, dearie me! Excuse me, sir, but was your enemy workin’ with you?’
‘Benedetto? Be sure he was. He followed me like a lover. He painted pictures on the chapel ceiling—slung from a chair. Torrigiano made us promise not to fight till the work should be finished. We were both master craftsmen, do ye see, and he needed us. None the less, I never went aloft to carve ’thout testing all my ropes and knots each morning. We were never far from each other. Benedetto ’ud sharpen his knife on his sole while he waited for his plaster to dry—wheet, wheet, wheet. I’d hear it where I hung chipping round a pillar-head, and we’d nod to each other friendly-like. Oh, he was a craftsman, was Benedetto, but his hate spoiled his eye and his hand. I mind the night I had finished the models for the bronze saints round the tomb; Torrigiano embraced me before all the chapel, and bade me to supper. I met Benedetto when I came out. He was slavering in the porch Like a mad dog.’
‘Workin’ himself up to it?’ said Mr Springett. ‘Did he have it in at ye that night?’
‘No, no. That time he kept his oath to Torrigiano. But I pitied him. Eh, well! Now I come to my own follies. I had never thought too little of myself; but after Torrisany had put his arm round my neck, I—I’—Hal broke into a laugh—‘I lay there was not much odds ’twixt me and a cock-sparrow in his pride.’
‘I was pretty middlin’ young once on a time,’ said Mr Springett.
‘Then ye know that a man can’t drink and dice and dress fine, and keep company above his station, but his work suffers for it, Mus’ Springett.’
‘I never held much with dressin’ up, but—you’re right! The worst mistakes I ever made they was made of a Monday morning,’ Mr Springett answered. ‘We’ve all been one sort of fool or t’other. Mus’ Dan, Mus’ Dan, take the smallest gouge, or you’ll be spluttin’ her stem works clean out. Can’t ye see the grain of the wood don’t favour a chisel?’
‘I’ll spare you some of my follies. But there was a man called Brygandyne—Bob Brygandyne—Clerk of the King’s Ships, a little, smooth, bustling atomy, as clever as a woman to get work done for nothin’—a won’erful smooth-tongued pleader. He made much o’ me, and asked me to draft him out a drawing, a piece of carved and gilt scroll-work for the bows of one of the King’s Ships—the Sovereign was her name.’
‘Was she a man-of-war?’asked Dan.
‘She was a warship, and a woman called Catherine of Castile desired the King to give her the ship for a pleasure-ship of her own. I did not know at the time, but she’d been at Bob to get this scroll-work done and fitted that the King might see it. I made him the picture, in an hour, all of a heat after supper—one great heaving play of dolphins and a Neptune or so reining in webby-footed sea-horses, and Arion with his harp high atop of them. It was twenty-three foot long, and maybe nine foot deep—painted and gilt.’
‘It must ha’ justabout looked fine,’ said Mr Springett.
‘That’s the curiosity of it. ’Twas bad—rank bad. In my conceit I must needs show it to Torrigiano, in the chapel. He straddles his legs, hunches his knife behind him, and whistles like a storm-cock through a sleet-shower. Benedetto was behind him. We were never far apart, I’ve told you.
‘“That is pig’s work,” says our Master. “Swine’s work. You make any more such things, even after your fine Court suppers, and you shall be sent away.”
‘Benedetto licks his lips like a cat. “It is so bad then, Master?” he says. “What a pity!”
‘”Yes,” says Torrigiano. “Scarcely you could do things so bad. I will condescend to show.”
‘He talks to me then and there. No shouting, no swearing (it was too bad for that); but good, memorable counsel, bitten in slowly. Then he sets me to draft out a pair of iron gates, to take, as he said, the taste of my naughty dolphins out of my mouth. Iron’s sweet stuff if you don’t torture her, and hammered work is all pure, truthful line, with a reason and a support for every curve and bar of it. A week at that settled my stomach handsomely, and the Master let me put the work through the smithy, where I sweated out more of my foolish pride.’
‘Good stuff is good iron,’ said Mr Springett. ‘I done a pair of lodge gates once in Eighteen hundred Sixty-three.’
‘Oh, I forgot to say that Bob Brygandyne whipped away my draft of the ship’s scroll-work, and would not give it back to me to re-draw. He said ’twould do well enough. Howsoever, my lawful work kept me too busied to remember him. Body o’ me, but I worked that winter upon the gates and the bronzes for the tomb as I’d never worked before! I was leaner than a lath, but I lived—I lived then!’ Hal looked at Mr Springett with his wise, crinkled-up eyes, and the old man smiled back.
‘Ouch!’ Dan cried. He had been hollowing out the schooner’s after-deck, the little gouge had slipped and gashed the ball of his left thumb,—an ugly, triangular tear.
‘That came of not steadying your wrist,’ said Hal calmly. ‘Don’t bleed over the wood. Do your work with your heart’s blood, but no need to let it show.’ He rose and peered into a corner of the loft.
Mr Springett had risen too, and swept down a ball of cobwebs from a rafter.
‘Clap that on,’ was all he said, ’and put your handkerchief atop. ’Twill cake over in a minute. It don’t hurt now, do it?’
‘No,’ said Dan indignantly. ‘You know it has happened lots of times. I’ll tie it up myself. Go on, sir.’
‘And it’ll happen hundreds of times more,’ said Hal with a friendly nod as he sat down again. But he did not go on till Dan’s hand was tied up properly. Then he said:
‘One dark December day—too dark to judge colour—we was all sitting and talking round the fires in the chapel (you heard good talk there), when Bob Brygandyne bustles in and—“Hal, you’re sent for,” he squeals. I was at Torrigiano’s feet on a pile of put-locks, as I might be here, toasting a herring on my knife’s point. ’Twas the one English thing our Master liked—salt herring.
‘“I’m busy, about my art,” I calls.
‘“Art?” says Bob. “What’s Art compared to your scroll-work for the Sovereign? Come.”
‘“Be sure your sins will find you out,” says Torrigiano. “Go with him and see.” As I followed Bob out I was aware of Benedetto, like a black spot when the eyes are tired, sliddering up behind me.
‘Bob hurries through the streets in the raw fog, slips into a doorway, up stairs, along passages, and at last thrusts me into a little cold room vilely hung with Flemish tapestries, and no furnishing except a table and my draft of the Sovereign’s scrollwork. Here he leaves me. Presently comes in a dark, long-nosed man in a fur cap.
‘“Master Harry Dawe?” said he.
‘“The same,” I says. “Where a plague has Bob Brygandyne gone?”
‘His thin eyebrows surged up in a piece and come down again in a stiff bar. “He went to the King,” he says.
‘“All one. Where’s your pleasure with me?” I says, shivering, for it was mortal cold.
‘He lays his hand flat on my draft. “Master Dawe,” he says, “do you know the present price of gold leaf for all this wicked gilding of yours?”
‘By that I guessed he was some cheese-paring clerk or other of the King’s Ships, so I gave him the price. I forget it now, but it worked out to thirty pounds—carved, gilt, and fitted in place.
‘“Thirty pounds!” he said, as though I had pulled a tooth of him. “You talk as though thirty pounds was to be had for the asking. None the less,” he says, “your draft’s a fine piece of work.”
‘I’d been looking at it ever since I came in, and ’twas viler even than I judged it at first. My eye and hand had been purified the past months, d’ye see, by my iron work.
‘“I could do it better now,” I said. The more I studied my squabby Neptunes the less I liked ’em; and Arion was a pure flaming shame atop of the unbalanced dolphins.
‘“I doubt it will be fresh expense to draft it again,” he says.
‘“Bob never paid me for the first draft. I lay he’ll never pay me for the second. ’Twill cost the King nothing if I re-draw it,” I says.
‘“There’s a woman wishes it to be done quickly,” he says. “We’ll stick to your first drawing, Master Dawe. But thirty pounds is thirty pounds. You must make it less.’
‘And all the while the faults in my draft fair leaped out and hit me between the eyes. At any cost, I thinks to myself, I must get it back and re-draft it. He grunts at me impatiently, and a splendid thought comes to me, which shall save me. By the same token, It was quite honest.’
‘They ain’t always,’ says Mr Springett. ‘How did you get out of it?’
‘By the truth. I says to Master Fur Cap, as I might to you here, I says, “I’ll tell you something, since you seem a knowledgeable man. Is the Sovereign to lie in Thames river all her days, or will she take the high seas?”
‘“Oh,” he says quickly, “the King keeps no cats that don’t catch mice. She must sail the seas, Master Dawe. She’ll be hired to merchants for the trade. She’ll be out in all shapes o’ weathers. Does that make any odds?”
‘“Why, then,” says I, “the first heavy sea she sticks her nose into’ll claw off half that scroll-work, and the next will finish it. If she’s meant for a pleasure-ship give me my draft again, and I’ll porture you a pretty, light piece of scroll-work, good cheap. If she’s meant for the open-sea, pitch the draft into the fire. She can never carry that weight on her bows.
‘He looks at me squintlings and plucks his under-lip.
‘“Is this your honest, unswayed opinion?” he says.
‘”Body o’ me! Ask about!” I says. “Any seaman could tell you ’tis true. I’m advising you against my own profit, but why I do so is my own concern.
‘“Not altogether”, he says. “It’s some of mine. You’ve saved me thirty pounds, Master Dawe, and you’ve given me good arguments to use against a willful woman that wants my fine new ship for her own toy. We’ll not have any scroll-work.” His face shined with pure joy.
‘“Then see that the thirty pounds you’ve saved on it are honestly paid the King,” I says, “and keep clear o’ women-folk.” I gathered up my draft and crumpled it under my arm. “If that’s all you need of me I’ll be gone,” I says. “I’m pressed.”
‘He turns him round and fumbles in a corner. “Too pressed to be made a knight, Sir Harry?” he says, and comes at me smiling, with three-quarters of a rusty sword.
‘I pledge you my Mark I never guessed it was the King till that moment. I kneeled, and he tapped me on the shoulder.
‘“Rise up, Sir Harry Dawe,” he says, and, in the same breath, “I’m pressed, too,” and slips through the tapestries, leaving me like a stuck calf.
‘It come over me, in a bitter wave like, that here was I, a master craftsman, who had worked no bounds, soul or body, to make the King’s tomb and chapel a triumph and a glory for all time; and here, d’ye see, I was made knight, not for anything I’d slaved over, or given my heart and guts to, but expressedly because I’d saved him thirty pounds and a tongue-lashing from Catherine of Castille—she that had asked for the ship. That thought shrivelled me with insides while I was folding away my draft. On the heels of it—maybe you’ll see why—I began to grin to myself. I thought of the earnest simplicity of the man—the King, I should say—because I’d saved him the money; his smile as though he’d won half France! I thought of my own silly pride and foolish expectations that some day he’d honour me as a master craftsman. I thought of the broken-tipped sword he’d found behind the hangings; the dirt of the cold room, and his cold eye, wrapped up in his own concerns, scarcely resting on me. Then I remembered the solemn chapel roof and the bronzes about the stately tomb he’d lie in, and—d’ye see? —the unreason of it all—the mad high humour of it all—took hold on me till I sat me down on a dark stair-head in a passage, and laughed till I could laugh no more. What else could I have done?
‘I never heard his feet behind me—he always walked like a cat—but his arm slid round my neck, pulling me back where I sat, till my head lay on his chest, and his left hand held the knife plumb over my heart—Benedetto! Even so I laughed—the fit was beyond my holding—laughed while he ground his teeth in my ear. He was stark crazed for the time.
‘“Laugh,” he said. “Finish the laughter. I’ll not cut ye short. Tell me now”—he wrenched at my head—“why the King chose to honour you,—you—you—you lickspittle Englishman? I am full of patience now. I have waited so long.” Then he was off at score about his Jonah in Bury Refectory, and what I’d said of it, and his pictures in the chapel which all men praised and none looked at twice (as if that was my fault!), and a whole parcel of words and looks treasured up against me through years.
‘“Ease off your arm a little,” I said. “I cannot die by choking, for I am just dubbed knight, Benedetto.”
‘“Tell me, and I’ll confess ye, Sir Harry Dawe, Knight. There’s a long night before ye. Tell,” says he.
‘So I told him—his chin on my crown—told him all; told it as well and with as many words as I have ever told a tale at a supper with Torrigiano. I knew Benedetto would understand, for, mad or sad, he was a craftsman. I believed it to be the last tale I’d ever tell top of mortal earth, and I would not put out bad work before I left the Lodge. All art’s one art, as I said. I bore Benedetto no malice. My spirits, d’ye see, were catched up in a high, solemn exaltation, and I saw all earth’s vanities foreshortened and little, laid out below me like a town from a cathedral scaffolding. I told him what befell, and what I thought of it. I gave him the King’s very voice at “Master Dawe, you’ve saved me thirty pounds!”; his peevish grunt while he looked for the sword; and how the badger-eyed figures of Glory and Victory leered at me from the Flemish hangings. Body o’ me, ’twas a fine, noble tale, and, as I thought, my last work on earth.
‘“That is how I was honoured by the King,” I said. “They’ll hang ye for killing me, Benedetto. And, since you’ve killed in the King’s Palace, they’ll draw and quarter you; but you’re too mad to care. Grant me, though, ye never heard a better tale.” ‘He said nothing, but I felt him shake. My head on his chest shook; his right arm fell away, his left dropped the knife, and he leaned with both hands on my shoulder—shaking—shaking! I turned me round. No need to put my foot on his knife. The man was speechless with laughter—honest craftsman’s mirth. The first time I’d ever seen him laugh. You know the mirth that cuts off the very breath, while ye stamp and snatch at the short ribs? That was Benedetto’s case.
‘When he began to roar and bay and whoop in the passage, I haled him out into the street, and there we leaned against the wall and had it all over again—waving our hands and wagging our heads—till the watch came to know if we were drunk.
‘Benedetto says to ’em, solemn as an owl: “You have saved me thirty pounds, Mus’ Dawe,” and off he pealed. In some sort we were mad-drunk—I because dear life had been given back to me, and he because, as he said afterwards, because the old crust of hatred round his heart was broke up and carried away by laughter. His very face had changed too.
‘“Hal,” he cries, “I forgive thee. Forgive me too, Hal. Oh, you English, you English! Did it gall thee, Hal, to see the rust on the dirty sword? Tell me again, Hal, how the King grunted with joy. Oh, let us tell the Master.”
‘So we reeled back to the chapel, arms round each other’s necks, and when we could speak—he thought we’d been fighting—we told the Master. Yes, we told Torrigiano, and he laughed till he rolled on the new cold pavement. Then he knocked our heads together.
‘“Ah, you English!” he cried. “You are more than pigs. You are English. Now you are well punished for your dirty fishes. Put the draft in the fire, and never do so any more. You are a fool, Hal, and you are a fool, Benedetto, but I need your works to please this beautiful English King.”
‘“And I meant to kill Hal,” says Benedetto. “Master, I meant to kill him because the English King had made him a knight.”
‘“Ah!” says the Master, shaking his finger. “Benedetto, if you had killed my Hal, I should have killed you—in the cloister. But you are a craftsman too, so I should have killed you like a craftsman, very, very slowly—in an hour, if I could spare the time!” That was Torrigiano—the Master!’
Mr Springett sat quite still for some time after Hal had finished. Then he turned dark red; then he rocked to and fro; then he coughed and wheezed till the tears ran down his face. Dan knew by this that he was laughing, but it surprised Hal at first.
‘Excuse me, sir,’ said Mr Springett, ‘but I was thinkin’ of some stables I built for a gentleman in Eighteen hundred Seventy-four. They was stables in blue brick—very particular work. Dunno as they weren’t the best job which ever I’d done. But the gentleman’s lady—she’d come from Lunnon, new married—she was all for buildin’ what was called a haw-haw—what you an’ me ’ud call a dik—right acrost his park. A middlin’ big job which I’d have had the contract of, for she spoke to me in the library about it. But I told her there was a line o’ springs just where she wanted to dig her ditch, an’ she’d flood the park if she went on.’
‘Were there any springs at all?’ said Hal.
‘Bound to be springs everywhere if you dig deep enough, ain’t there? But what I said about the springs put her out o’ conceit o’ diggin’ haw-haws, an’ she took an’ built a white tile dairy instead. But when I sent in my last bill for the stables, the gentleman he paid it ’thout even lookin’ at it, and I hadn’t forgotten nothin’, I do assure you. More than that, he slips two five-pound notes into my hand in the library, an’ “Ralph, he says—he allers called me by name—“Ralph,” he says, “you’ve saved me a heap of expense an’ trouble this autumn.” I didn’t say nothin’, o’ course. I knowed he didn’t want any haws-haws digged acrost his park no more’n I did, but I never said nothin’. No more he didn’t say nothin’ about my blue-brick stables, which was really the best an’ honestest piece o’ work I’d done in quite a while. He give me ten pounds for savin’ him a hem of a deal o’ trouble at home. I reckon things are pretty much alike, all times, in all places.’
Hal and he laughed together. Dan couldn’t quite understand what they thought so funny, and went on with his work for some time without speaking.
When he looked up, Mr Springett, alone, was wiping his eyes with his green-and-yellow pocket-handkerchief.
‘Bless me, Mus’ Dan, I’ve been asleep,’ he said. ‘An’ I’ve dreamed a dream which has made me laugh—laugh as I ain’t laughed in a long day. I can’t remember what ’twas all about, but they do say that when old men take to laughin’ in their sleep, they’re middlin’ ripe for the next world. Have you been workin’ honest, Mus’ Dan?’
‘Ra-ather,’ said Dan, unclamping the schooner from the vice. ‘And look how I’ve cut myself with the small gouge.’
‘Ye-es. You want a lump o’ cobwebs to that,’ said Mr Springett. ‘Oh, I see you’ve put it on already. That’s right, Mus’ Dan.’