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Chapter II.: GEORGE GRAY'S WAY OF LIVING. - Harriet Martineau, Illustrations of Political Economy, vol. 1 (Life in the Wilds, Hill and the Valley, Brooke and Brooke Farm) 
Illustrations of Political Economy (3rd ed) in 9 vols. (London: Charles Fox, 1832). Vol. 1.
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GEORGE GRAY'S WAY OF LIVING.
We happened about this time to want an errand-boy, and looked round among the cottagers' families to see who were the poorest or the most burdened with young children, that we might offer the place where it would be most acceptable. My brothers and I were willing to teach reading and writing to the lad that should be chosen, for there was no chance of his having learned so much beforehand; and my mother hoped she should have patience to bear with the dulness and awkwardness common to most of the children of the village, and to train him to be not only an honest, but an intelligent servant.
My mother went with us one day to the cottage of George Gray, a labourer, who had eight children, and but small wages to maintain them upon, and who would probably be very glad to send his eldest boy to service.
The children were, as usual, at play near the cottage. Billy, the eldest, was mounted on a donkey, while three or four of the little ones were attempting to drive the animal on by beating him with sticks and bunches of furze.
“Do look at that stupid animal,” cried Frederick. “Why does he not canter away with the boy instead of standing to be beaten in that manner?”
“He is heavily clogged,” said my mother.
Before the words were spoken, Frederick and Arthur were off at full speed, crying, “Holla! holla! down with your sticks. How can you beat the pour animal so when you see he is clogged, and can't move a step with any one on his back?”
“He'll go well enough sometimes,” said one of the children, raising his bunch of furze for another blow.
“Stop!”——cried Arthur. “Don't you see that if he moves a step, down goes his head, and the rider slips off.”
One would have thought the donkey knew what was passing; for the next time he was touched, he stooped his head, kicked his hind-feet high in the air, and threw Billy to some distance. Away scampered the tormentors: my brothers laughed, and Willy got up whimpering and ashamed.
Well, Billy,” said my mother, “you have had riding enough for to-day; and to-morrow you will remember that donkeys cannot run with their legs tied.”
We left him hiding his face and rubbing his knees. The eldest girl was sitting on the step of the door, hushing the baby to sleep. Three or four others were making mud-pies just under the dunghill. Hannah Gray, their mother, was in the cottage, setting out the table for dinner: for it was near one o'clock. The potatoes, which formed their daily meal, were boiling on the fire.
In answer to my mother's inquiry how all went on at home, she answered that they were much as usual; that was, poorly off enough; for they had many mouths to fill, and but little to do it with. My mother thought that so fine-grown and healthy-looking as the children were, some of them might be able to bring in a little money. Their mother explained that the boys cut firing on the common and drove home the cow, and that Peggy nursed the baby. But she did not see how they could do anything more profitable. They were too young yet to work much, and would have hardship enough, poor things, when they grew up.—My mother believed that children thought it no hardship to be employed, but were proud to be useful, and often found their work as amusing as their play.
“Well, ma'am,” said Hannah, “I am sure I do not know what work I could give them that they would like.”
“Will you let me try?” inquired my mother. “I want a boy to clean the shoes and knives, and weed the flower-garden, and run errands; and I will make trial of your eldest boy, if you choose to let him come.”
Hannah dropped a curtsey and looked very thankful, but said she was afraid Billy was not fit to go into a gentleman's family, he was so unmannerly. My mother said she should not make that an objection, if he was a good boy; knowing as she did that those who wish to please soon learn the way.
Hannah declared the boy to be a good boy, and very sharp-witted, considering how little he had been taught. How to get clothes for him, however, she did not know; for the rent had been paid the day before, and she had not a shilling at command. It was settled that he was to be clothed instead of having money-wages at first.
On inquiring into the condition of his clothes, it appeared that he had neither shoes nor stockings.
“I thought, Mrs. Gray,” said my mother, “that your children never went to church barefoot.”
“They never did till lately, ma'am; but I cannot afford stockings for so many, nor shoes either; and they do not mind going without, poor things! I was so ashamed, ma'am, and my husband too, the first day they went to church on their bare feet. I thought everybody was taking notice, and I am sure the parson did when he spoke to us in the churchyard. But it can't be helped.”
“I am not quite sure of that,” replied my mother. “You know I promised that my housemaid should teach your girls to knit; but you have never sent them.”
“Why, ma'am, I am not the less obliged to you; but they have no time, you see. There's the baby to take care of.”
My mother looked out of the window and saw three little girls still making mud-pies.
“Why should not they be knitting at this moment,” said she, “instead of soiling their clothes and their faces, and learning habits of idleness?”
“Well, to be sure, ma'am, if you think they can learn—”
“Let them try. In another twelvemonth, those three girls will be able to knit stockings for the whole family, and the elder boys might earn their own shoe-leather presently.”
George Gray was now seen approaching, talking earnestly with a well-dressed young man. They entered the cottage together.
“Your servant, ma'am,” said George. “This is Tom Webster,” he added, seeing that Tom looked awkward.
“What is the matter, George?” said his wife, who saw by his face that something disagreeable had happened.
“What is the matter!” cried he, flinging his hat into a corner in a passion. “We are going to be ruined; that is what's the matter. Here have I been working as hard as a horse for years, and we have both been pinching ourselves just to be able to feed the children, and now after all we must go to ruin. We must give up our cow; we must give up our firing: the common is going to be inclosed!”
“Perhaps not, if we hold a meeting,” said Tom.
“Nonsense, Tom!” cried George. “You talk of your meeting; but what will be the use of all we can say, if the rich men and the parliament have settled the matter between them? No, no; the thing is done, and my landlord has got the last rent I shall ever pay.”
Hannah sank down in a chair as she heard these words.
“I hope you will find yourself mistaken there,” observed my mother. “Have you heard that, in case of the common being inclosed, a piece of ground will be given to every housekeeper in return for his right of common?”
“Surely, George,” said his wife, “that makes a difference?”
“A very great difference,” he replied, “if the lady be sure of it. I make bold, ma'am, to ask?”
On being assured of the fact, George turned round upon Tom to ask why he had not mentioned it.
“Such a promise as that is always made,” said Tom, “but it is never kept. Besides, if it was, what would you do with a piece of ground? You could not afford to till it,”
“Leave that to me.” said George, brightening up. “I may find my own ways and means to keep my cow after all: so remember I make no promises about the meeting till I am sure I have heard the whole truth about the common.”
Tom Webster went away, looking a little mortified; and, as it was dinner-time, and the potatoes were ready, my mother also took her leave, advising George not to be hasty in blaming public measures before he knew the reasons of them. George promised this all the more readily for hearing what favours were designed for his boy. Billy was called in to receive his firs lesson in good manners, and to hear what brilliant fortune was in store for him. He was to get himself measured by the tailor and shoemaker, and to make his appearance the next Monday morning.
Instead of turning homewards, we prolonged our walk through the lanes to a considerable distance.
When we entered the village, we observed as great a bustle in the street as if it had been the day of the much-talked-of meeting. A crowd was slowly making its way along the middle of the street. At first we thought it was a fight; but there was no scuffling, no rocking of the group backwards and forwards as in a fight, no giving way and closing again as if there was fear of any object within. Before we were near enough to see or bear, Sir H. Withers's carriage came along the street, and the crowd being obliged to give way to let it pass, we saw in the midst a ballad-singer—a youth with tattered dress and a bundle of papers. As the carriage passed, he raised his voice in song, as if to catch the ears of the coachman and footman who were looking back from the box. Ballad-singers and ballads were sufficiently rare at Brooke to justify their curiosity. They soon heard what made them long to stop and hear more, as they no doubt would have done if the carriage had been empty. The singer bawled after them in something like music,
“It is about Sir Henry Withers!” cried my brothers; and they were running off to hear more, when my mother called them back and bade them walk quietly beside her, and wait till they got home, to hear the rest of this beautiful song. We were favoured with another verse, however, when the ballad-man saw that we were fairly within hearing. It ran thus:
Just as the last quaver on the big pocket died away, we turned into Miss Black's shop, where I wanted to make a purchase.
Miss Black appeared from an inner room with her usual trailing curtsey, her everlasting brown silk gown, black silk apron, mits on her hands, and scissors at her girdle. The only variation ever observed in her indoor dress was in the cap, which changed its make and the colour of its ribbons every month: the reason of which was, that she wished to be neither in the front nor in the rear of the fashion, and therefore adopted the youngest but one of the fashions for her own. Perhaps this was on the same principle which leads some tender mammas to pet the youngest but one of their tribe, feeling that it is unjust to discard it in favour of a newer, while it is not quite able to take care of itself. Miss Black reaped the reward of thus bestowing her patronage where it was wanted; for she looked so well in whatever she wore, (from her manner of wearing it,) that her last month's stocks sold off among the farmers' families, within a few miles, who could aspire to nothing in the way of dress beyond looking as genteel as Miss Black.—In one respect she did not look like herself this day. There was a shade of care on her brow such as I had never seen before, but on occasion of the illness of a favourite apprentice, and once besides, when there was a report of a change in the silk-duties, and she could not make out whether it would be for her advantage or not. Her private anxieties, however, did not impair her civility to her customers, and she began, —
“Great revolutions in these days, ma'am, both in public and private. I am sure I hope Billy Gray will be as sensible as we could wish of his good fortune.”
My mother, laughing, inquired how this piece of domestic news could have travelled so far already. The matter had not been mentioned till two hours before.
“So I understand, ma'am. But Mr. Webster carries news fast, as he has nothing else to do, you know. It was he who told somebody at the bar of the Arms, where Mr. Gregson's boy was at the time, and Mr. Gregson just stepped across to tell me.—Not quite broad enough, miss? I am afraid I have not any of the same shade of any other breadth: but perhaps you are not exact about the shade.—Great revolutions as I was saying, madam.” And she sighed.
“Have you taken the alarm too about the common?”
“As to alarm, ma'am, I hardly know what to say, for I do not wish to meddle in politics, and am not clear on the point. But I really am perplexed; for do you know, ma'am, I have had Mr. Webster and Mr. Carey both with me to say that, as the owner of a cow, I must be present at their meeting either in person or by proxy; and you know, ma'am, nothing is so injurious to a business like mine as taking any part in public affairs. On the other hand, these gentlemen assure me that silence will be construed as an affront to the public of this place. If I could only make out how to avoid offending any party—Three yards and a half, miss? Thank you. Three yards and a half.—Then there is another circumstance, ma'am, which I am not afraid to mention to you. Mr. Webster assured me so positively that cockades would be worn at the meeting to mark the opposite parties, and he told me so particularly what the colours would be, that I did not hesitate to write to M— to order ribbons: and now Mr. Carey insists upon it that there will be no cockades; so that I am quite at a loss whether or not to countermand my order. He says that laurel will be worn by one party and oak by the other; but he does not even know whether there is to be gold-leaf. Now really, this being the day that I must write to M—, I am quite perplexed.” And she looked inquiringly at my mother, who asked her whether she was sure there would be any public meeting at all. This new doubt was very astonishing to Miss Black; but it determined her to countermand the ribbons; and she heaved a deep sigh when the matter was settled, as if a heavy load was removed from her mind.
Carey waylaid us at the door, under pretence of a necessary inquiry, but evidently for the purpose of finding out whether we had heard the ballad. While talking about it, he smirked, and rubbed his hands and checked himself so strangely, as to excite some suspicions in my mother's mind concerning the authorship. She remarked that it was astonishing that the people at M— should take so much interest in the affair as to print songs about it, and send somebody to sing them to us. Carey observed that ballad singers were always ready.—But this man, my mother was sure, was not a regular ballad-singer. Indeed! who was he then?—If my mother might guess, he was a gipsy, hired by some village poet; and that poet she fancied might be Mr. Carey.
Carey smiled, and fidgeted more than ever, while he pretended to disclaim the honour, and vowed that he never wrote a whole song in his life except on wedding occasions; and talked a great deal about his professional avocations, and the muses, and his desire at the same time to guide the public mind, &c.
My mother replied, that, as to the honour, there was none in stringing rhymes, unless they had reason in them; and that she hoped that before he and Webster composed their next joint production, they would make sure that they were “guiding the public mind” in the right track. She urged his calling in the remaining stock of ballads, but he was ready with the: answer that every one was sold. This fact and the pleasure he felt in becoming known to us as a poet, supported his self-complaceney under my mother's mortifying remarks; and be looked as smiling as ever when he made his parting bow and tripped away to his shop.
His reports of the conversations under the elm continued for some days to be very interesting. Tom Webster bustled and declaimed, while Sergeant Rayne quietly argued. The light and giddy sung the ballad daily and hourly when they had once caught the tune; while the grave and thoughtful weighed the pros and cons of the argument till they had made up their minds. It was finally agreed that no petition should be sent to parliament. In reply to the angry remonstrances of the orators, some declared that it was too late; others that it would be of no use; some said that it was a folly to suppose that the poor could hold out against the rich; others, that as Sir H. Withers and Mr. Malton had always been kind landlords and good men, they ought to he trusted now. Some few declared that, from all they could learn, it seemed to them that the measure of inclosing the common would be of service to the interests of the village.