CHANGES AT MILTON.
Too Long; Didn't Read“Here we go up, up, up;And here we go down, down, downee!”Nursery Song.
Meanwhile at Milton the chimneys smoked, the ceaseless roar and mighty beat and dazzling whirr of machinery struggled and strove perpetually. Senseless and purposeless were wood and iron and steam in their endless labours; but the persistence of their monotonous work was rivalled in tireless endurance by the strong crowds, who, with sense and with purpose, were busy and restless in seeking after—What? In the streets there were few loiterers,—none walking for mere pleasure; every man’s face was set in lines of eagerness or anxiety; news was sought for with fierce avidity; and men jostled each other aside in the Mart and in the Exchange, as they did in life, in the deep selfishness of competition. There was gloom over the town. Few came to buy, and those who did were looked at suspiciously by the sellers; for credit was insecure, and the most stable might have their fortunes affected by the sweep in the great neighbouring port among the shipping houses. Hitherto there had been no failures in Milton; but from the immense speculations that had come to light in making a bad end in America, and yet nearer home, it was known that some Milton houses of business must suffer so severely that every day men’s faces asked, if their tongues did not, “What news? Who is gone? How will it affect me?” And if two or three spoke together, they dwelt rather on the names of those who were safe than dared to hint at those likely, in their opinion, to go: for idle breath may, at such times, cause the downfall of some who might otherwise weather the storm; and one going down drags many after. “Thornton is safe,” say they. “His business is large—extending every year; but such a head as he has, and so prudent with all his daring!” Then one man draws another aside, and walks a little apart, and with head inclined into his neighbour’s ear, he says, “Thornton’s business is large; but he has spent his profits in extending it; he has no capital laid by; his machinery is new within these two years, and has cost him—we won’t say what!—a word to the wise!” But that Mr. Harrison was a croaker,—a man who had succeeded to his father’s trade-made fortune, which he had feared to lose by altering his mode of business to any having a larger scope; yet he grudged every penny made by others more daring and far-sighted.