"Well," said Henry, "it is provoking; but you mustn't ask me to meddle. It's your business."
"It is, and I'll show you I'm bad to beat." With this doughty resolve he went off and drove the contractors; they drove the brickmakers, and the brickmakers got fresh hands from a distance, and the promise of some more.
Bolt rubbed his hands, and kept popping into the yard to see how they got on. By this means he witnessed an incident familiar to brickmakers in that district, but new to him. Suddenly loud cries of pain were heard, and two of the brickmakers held up hands covered with blood, and transfixed by needles. Some ruffian had filled the clay with needles. The sufferers were both disabled, and one went to the hospital. Tempered clay enough to make two hundred thousand bricks had been needled, and had to be cleared away at a loss of time and material.
Bolt went and told Henry, and it only worried him; he could do nothing. Bolt went and hired a watchman and a dog, at his own expense. The dog was shot dead one dark night, and the watchman's box turned over and sat upon, watchman included, while the confederates trampled fifty thousand raw bricks into a shapeless mass.
The brickmasters, however, stood firm, and at last four of the old hands returned to him, and accepted the sixpence profit due to the master's invention. These four were contribution-men, that is to say, they paid the Union a shilling per week for permission to make bricks; but this weekly payment was merely a sort of blackmail, it entitled them to no relief from the Union when out of work: so a three-weeks' strike brought them to starvation, and they could cooperate no longer with the genuine Union men, who were relieved from the box all this time. Nevertheless, though their poverty, and not their will, brought them back to work, they were all threatened, and found themselves in a position that merits the sympathy of all men, especially of the very poor. Starvation on one side, sanguinary threats on the other, from an Union which abandoned them in their need, yet expected them to stick by it and starve. In short, the said Union was no pupil of Amboyne; could not put itself in the place of these hungry men, and realize their dilemma; it could only see the situation from its own point of view. From that intellectual defect sprang a crime. On a certain dark night, Thomas Wilde, one of these contribution-men, was burning bricks all by himself, when a body of seven men came crawling up to within a little distance. These men were what they call "victims," i.e., men on strike, and receiving pay from the box.
Now, when a man stands against the fire of a kiln, he cannot see many yards from him: so five of the "victims" stood waiting, and sent two forward. These two came up to Wilde, and asked him a favor. "Eh, mister, can you let me and my mate lie down for an hour by your fire?"
"You are welcome," said honest Wilde. He then turned to break a piece of coal, and instantly one of those who had accepted his hospitality struck him on the back of the head, and the other five rushed in, and they all set on him, and hit him with cartlegs, and kicked him with their heavy shoes. Overpowered as he was, he struggled away from them, groaning and bleeding, and got to a shed about thirty yards off. But these relentless men, after a moment's hesitation, followed him, and rained blows and kicks on him again, till he gave himself up for dead. He cried out in his despair, "Lord, have mercy on me; they have finished me!" and fainted away in a pool of his own blood. But, just before he became insensible, he heard a voice say, "Thou'll burn no more bricks." Then the "victims" retired, leaving this great criminal for dead.
After a long while he came to himself, and found his arm was broken, and his body covered with cuts and bruises. His house was scarcely a furlong distant, yet he was an hour crawling to it. His room was up a short stair of ten steps. The steps beat him; he leaned on the rail at the bottom, and called out piteously, "My wife! my wife! my wife!" three times.