Charles Dickens, Bleak House: Ch. 63

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Steel and Iron

George's Shooting Gallery is to let, and the stock is sold off, and George himself is at Chesney Wold attending on Sir Leicester in his rides and riding very near his bridle-rein because of the uncertain hand with which he guides his horse.  But not to-day is George so occupied.  He is journeying to-day into the iron country farther north to look about him.

As he comes into the iron country farther north, such fresh green woods as those of Chesney Wold are left behind; and coal pits and ashes, high chimneys and red bricks, blighted verdure, scorching fires, and a heavy never-lightening cloud of smoke become the features of the scenery.  Among such objects rides the trooper, looking about him and always looking for something he has come to find.

At last, on the black canal bridge of a busy town, with a clang of iron in it, and more fires and more smoke than he has seen yet, the trooper, swart with the dust of the coal roads, checks his horse and asks a workman does he know the name of Rouncewell thereabouts.

"Why, master," quoth the workman, "do I know my own name?"

"'Tis so well known here, is it, comrade?" asks the trooper.

"Rouncewell's?  Ah!  You're right."

"And where might it be now?" asks the trooper with a glance before him.

"The bank, the factory, or the house?" the workman wants to know.

"Hum!  Rouncewell's is so great apparently," mutters the trooper, stroking his chin, "that I have as good as half a mind to go back again.  Why, I don't know which I want.  Should I find Mr. Rouncewell at the factory, do you think?"

"Tain't easy to say where you'd find him—at this time of the day you might find either him or his son there, if he's in town; but his contracts take him away."

And which is the factory?  Why, he sees those chimneys—the tallest ones!  Yes, he sees THEM.  Well!  Let him keep his eye on those chimneys, going on as straight as ever he can, and presently he'll see 'em down a turning on the left, shut in by a great brick wall which forms one side of the street.  That's Rouncewell's.

The trooper thanks his informant and rides slowly on, looking about him.  He does not turn back, but puts up his horse (and is much disposed to groom him too) at a public-house where some of Rouncewell's hands are dining, as the ostler tells him.  Some of Rouncewell's hands have just knocked off for dinner-time and seem to be invading the whole town.  They are very sinewy and strong, are Rouncewell's hands—a little sooty too.

He comes to a gateway in the brick wall, looks in, and sees a great perplexity of iron lying about in every stage and in a vast variety of shapes—in bars, in wedges, in sheets; in tanks, in boilers, in axles, in wheels, in cogs, in cranks, in rails; twisted and wrenched into eccentric and perverse forms as separate parts of machinery; mountains of it broken up, and rusty in its age; distant furnaces of it glowing and bubbling in its youth; bright fireworks of it showering about under the blows of the steam-hammer; red-hot iron, white-hot iron, cold-black iron; an iron taste, an iron smell, and a Babel of iron sounds.

"This is a place to make a man's head ache too!" says the trooper, looking about him for a counting-house.  "Who comes here?  This is very like me before I was set up.  This ought to be my nephew, if likenesses run in families.  Your servant, sir."

"Yours, sir.  Are you looking for any one?"