Front Page Titles (by Subject) Chapter VIII.: A TETE-A-TETE. - Illustrations of Political Economy, vol. 3
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Chapter VIII.: A TETE-A-TETE. - Harriet Martineau, Illustrations of Political Economy, vol. 3 
Illustrations of Political Economy (3rd ed) in 9 vols. (London: Charles Fox, 1832). Vol. 3.
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It was the policy of the Committee to hold the public meetings of the workmen on pay-days, in order that they might appear on the green refreshed and in good spirits, and thus give the masters the most favourable impression possible of their resources and of the vigour with which they meant to maintain the strike. This arrangement had not the effect of raising the spirits of the leaders. Pay-day was an anxious and painful day to them. In addition to all the sad stories of distress which they must hear, and the discontent which they must witness, there was a perpetual dread of the fund appearing to decline, and of the confidence of the people being therefore shaken. It was frequently necessary to borrow money,—sometimes as much as a hundred pounds at a time,— on the security of what was to come in during the next week; and even those least disposed to foresight could not help asking themselves and each other what was to be done next time, if the remittances of the week should not superabound.
Allen was turning these things over in his mind as he proceeded to the Spread-Eagle on the morning of the day when Clack was expected to be dismissed from the Committee by the public voice. News was afloat which did not tend to cheer his spirits, though he thought he discerned in it a sign that the measures already taken concerning Clack were prudent. Ann Howlett, Clack's betrothed, had been taken up on a charge of breach of contract, and had been committed to prison by the magistrate. This woman having been singled out as an example seemed to indicate enmity against Clack; and if it was indeed necessary to propitiate the masters by sacrificing him, it was well that the sacrifice was offered by the Committee before the arrest of the woman instead of in consequence of it. A more painful piece of intelligence followed. Immediately after this arrest, a carrier, who was conveying work into the country for Mortimer and Rowe, was attacked on his way out of the town, his cart ransacked, himself beaten, and the work carried off in triumph. Ten or twelve men had been concerned in the outrage; and it was acknowledged that they belonged to the Union; but Allen in vain attempted to learn who they were. His integrity was so well known, that it was understood that he would deliver the offenders up to justice, be they who they might; and therefore, though many knew, no one would tell. Mute signs and obscure hints conveyed that Clack headed the enterprise; but nothing in the shape of evidence was offered.
Mr. Rowe was standing at his window when Allen's gossips left him to pursue his way. The gentleman threw up the sash, looked cautiously up and down the street, to ascertain whether he was observed, and then mysteriously beckoned to Allen to come into the house.
“What do you want with me, sir?”
“I want a little conversation with you, that's all. Can't you come in for a quarter of an hour?”
“If I could find any one to take my place at the board,” replied Allen, who thought that some overture might be coming. “If you will let me step to the Spread-Eagle or write a note, I am at your service.”
The plan of writing a note was preferred, on condition that Allen should not say whence or why he wrote. He saw that the gentleman glanced over his shoulder, to see whether he kept his word, and turning sharp round, held up the paper in Rowe's face, saying.
“There is honour on the part of us men, I assure you, sir, whatever suspicion there is on the part of you gentlemen. Read the note, if you please.”
Rowe did as he was desired, disclaiming suspicion, of course, and getting entangled in a complimentary speech which Allen listened to very quietly, waiting, with his arms by his side, for the end of it.
As an ending did not come readily, however, the gentleman broke off in order to send the note. He gave a penny to a child in the street to carry the note to the Spread-Eagle, and run away directly without saying where he came from; and then returning, made Allen sit down and take a glass of ale,—particularly fine ale,— such capital ale that the gentleman often indulged himself in a draught with a friend.
When nothing more remained to be said about ale, Mr. Rowe sighed, and observed what a pity it was that people should fall out to their mutual injury, and that those who had power to reconcile differences should not endeavour to do so.
Allen asked what party was meant by this description.
“You,” replied Rowe, shaking him warmly by the hand. “You must know, Allen, that you can do what you please in the Union; and I only wish you knew how the masters look up to you, and respect your manly, moderate conduct. Any proposition from you would meet with attention from both parties; if you would—”
“I beg pardon, sir; but you forget that my propositions are before the masters already, and do not meet with attention. My propositions are those adopted by the Union—”
“Yes, yes; I know well enough what they are; but you must bring forward something new. Is there nothing else you can propose that we can support without going from our word?”
“Just tell me plainly,” said Allen, “since you seem to like plain speaking: will you yourself make a concession about raising the wages to a middle point, if we yield some of our demands of equal importance?”
“Why, you see,” replied Rowe, edging his chair closer, and filling Allen's glass, “I don't want to come forward the first in this kind of thing. Indeed, as a junior partner, I ought not so to commit myself. I can't be the first, you see; but I have no objection to be the second. Yes, you may, between you and me, depend upon my being the second.”
“Between you and me!” exclaimed Allen, laughing. “That leaves me nothing to propose to the meeting. See now how they would laugh at me!— ‘My fellow-workmen, I propose that we should lower our demands because a person (I am not at liberty to say who) offers, between himself and me, to yield in part after others have yielded.’ Why, sir, they would jeer me off the stand, or bid me say to their concealed opponent, ‘Thank you for nothing. If others have yielded first, we shall owe nothing to you.’”
“Well but, Allen, you don't seem to me to know the difficulty I am in, if you use my name. You don't know how unpleasant—”
“Pardon me, sir, I do know. You and I are neither of us men of nerve, Mr. Rowe, and so far, you have chosen your listener well. Clack would have laughed in your face, by this time, and been half way to the Spread-Eagle to tell the people there all that you have been saying; but I have so far a sympathy with you that I know the misery of looking round and seeing entanglement with one party or another on every side—blame from one or another sure to come. I know the longing to be somehow out of the scrape, the shrinking back with the hope of keeping out of sight, the dread of every one that comes near lest some new difficulty should be arising. I can pity you, sir, for all these feelings, for I have felt them myself.”
“Have you? have you indeed?” replied Rowe, grasping his hand again. “What a sad thing it is for you, then, to be a leader of a turnout”
“I am of a different opinion, sir. Because these feelings are natural to some persons, it does not follow that they should be indulged. It will not do to indulge them, sir, believe me. We have our duties as well as men of our make on the field of battle; and we must surrender ourselves, like them, to our duties, or be disgraced in our own eyes. Happen what will within us or without us, it is for you and me to speak out, to act openly, and bear the consequences. You will excuse my freedom.”
Another grasp of the hand, with a speech about the secretary's integrity; upon which Allen rose, saying,—
“Then as we are of one mind, sir, suppose we go together to the meeting, and say what we have to say there, instead of shut up in this parlour. I believe I can promise you a courteous hearing.”
“O no, no; that is quite out of the question. I have no offer, you know, to make on behalf of the masters,—nothing to say that I should think of occupying the meeting with.”
“Then you can have nothing to say to me, sir, since, as an individual, I have no power to negotiate. Good morning, Mr. Rowe.”
“Stay a moment, Allen. You understand that the men are not to know of this interview; and it is of more importance still that the masters should not. Promise me, Allen.”
“I can promise no such thing,” said Allen, returning from the door. “I regard your consent to be the second to raise wages as a concession, and I was going to report it to Mr. Wentworth.”
“For God's sake don't!”
“I must,” said Allen, firmly; and all entreaty, all reproach, was in vain.
“At least, don't give up the name. The fact will do just as well without the name. Give me your word to conceal the name till you see me again.”
Out of pure compassion, Allen yielded thus far. Mr. Rowe accompanied him to the house-door, harping upon “the name, the name,” till Allen turned round to say gravely.
“A promise once given is enough, sir, between honest men. I have given you my word.”
“True, true, my good friend. It is only a trick I have got of repeating my sentences.”
And the gentleman shut the door behind his guest, feeling very like a child who has persuaded her maid not to tell her governess who broke the china cup; knowing all the time that the mishap must come to light, and trembling every time any one goes near the cupboard.