アーサー・モリスン「ロンドン・タウンへ」12章122回

また、ときに彼が背後からのぞくのは、金属加工をしている見習いで、その見習いはハンマーを熱心に使っているのだが、技術をともなっていなかった。彼はしばらく様子を見ていたが、やがて怒鳴った。「おまえはもっと練習をしたほうがいい。そうすれば、いい仕事ができるだろう、練習にたえるほど、お前が強ければ。わたしは強くない。私の体は、ハンマーをそんな風に握るようにはできていないからな」見習いのぎこちない握り方やら、腕全部をつかっての動きやらを真似しながら、こういった。「私はやっつけられてしまいそうだ。繊細にできているから」(彼の腕は、見習いの胴回りほどもあった)「ハンマーはこう握るんだ、いいか」それからハンマーの取っ手の先端を、指のあいだにゆるく握り、手首をつかって着実に、しっかりと打ちつけた。ジョニーはその様子を眺めながら、記憶に残した。

 そしてまた三十分後、別の見習いの肘のところで立ちどまった。さっきの見習いより、少し年上の見習いだった。「これはまあ」親方はいった。「新しいやり方じゃないか。やすりを使って、鋳鉄の肌をなめすなんて。三十分もしないうちにやってきて、別のやすりをくれといっても知らないぞ。やすりが駄目になったと言っても知らないぞ」これを聞いていたジョニーは、鋳鉄にも肌があるということを知って驚き、新しいやすりでその作業をしてはいけないということも記憶して、誰かにその理由を訊いてみようと思った。

 やがて型押しの、長い作業台のところにくると、ジョニーは長身で、とても痩せた仕上げ工に気がついた。仕上げ工もにやりとして、ひそかに気がついたという合図をしてきた。それは隣の下宿人で、コーニスのペンキを塗ってくれた男だった。彼は体がとても大きいのに、内気すぎるとジョニーは思った。彼はにやりとしながら、真っ赤になっていた。「この作業場にきたのか?」彼は、自分の作業の仕上がりを確認するために手をやすめたとき、奇妙なささやき声で訊ねた。「おさえ輪を仕上げているところなんだ。たぶん朝食がおわったら、親方は君を手伝わせるだろう」

 

The foreman left him, and began to walk along the lines of machines; and the nearest apprentice grinned at Johnny, and winked. Johnny looked about, as the foreman had advised. This place, where he was to learn to make engines, and where he was to work day by day till he was twenty-one, and a man, was a vast room with skylights in the roof: though this latter circumstance he did not notice till after breakfast, when the gas was turned off, and daylight penetrated from above. A confusion of heavy raftering stretched below the roof, carrying belted shafting everywhere; and every man bent over his machine or his bench, for Cottam was a sharp gaffer. Johnny watched the leading hand scribing curves on metal along lines already set out by punctured dots. “Lining off,” said the leading hand, seeing the boy’s interest. And then, leaning over to speak, because of the workshop din: “Centre-dabs,” he added, pointing to the dots. That, at least, Johnny resolved not to forget: lining off and centre-dabs.

For some reason—perhaps the usual reason, perhaps another—three or four of the men were “losing a quarter” that Monday morning, and some of them were men with whom young apprentices had been working. Consequently, Cottam, in addition to his general supervision, had to keep particular watch on these mentorless lads, and Johnny learned a little from the gaffer’s remarks.

“Well, wotjer doin’ with that file?” he would ask of one. “You ain’t a-playin’ cat’s cradle now, me lad! Look ‘ere, keep ‘er level, like this! It’s a file, it ain’t a rockin’-‘orse!”

Or he would come behind another who was chipping bye-metal, and using a hammer with more zeal than skill. He would watch for a moment, and then break out, “Well, you are fond o’ exercise, I must say! Good job you’re strong enough to stand it. I ain’t. My constitootion won’t allow me to ‘old a ‘ammer like this ‘ere.” This with a burlesque of the lad’s stiff grasp and whole-arm action. “It ‘ud knock me up. Bein’ a more delicate sort o’ person,” (his arm was near as thick as the boy’s waist) “I ‘old a ‘ammer like this—see!” And he took the shaft end loosely in his fingers and hammered steadily and firmly from the wrist. Johnny saw that and remembered.

Again, half an hour later, stopping at the elbow of another apprentice, a little older than the last: “Come,” said the foreman, “that’s a noo idea, that is! Takin’ auf the skin from cast iron with a bran’ noo file! I ‘ope you’ve patented it. An’ I ‘ope you won’t come an’ want another file in about ‘alf an hour, ‘cos if you do you won’t git it!” Whereat Johnny, astonished to learn that cast iron had a skin, resolved not to forget that you shouldn’t take it off with a new file, and made a mental note to ask somebody why.

Presently, as he came by the long fitting-bench, Johnny grew aware of a fitter, immensely tall and very thin, who grinned and nodded in furtive recognition. It was, indeed, the next door lodger, who had painted the cornice. He was very large, Johnny thought, to be so shy; he positively blushed as he grinned. “You come to this shop?” he asked in his odd whisper, as he stooped to judge the fit of his work. “I’m beddin’ down a junk ring; p’raps the gaffer’ll put you to ‘elp me after breakfast.”

 

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