Front Page Titles (by Subject) Chapter X.: HOPE DECLINING. - Illustrations of Political Economy, vol. 3
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Chapter X.: HOPE DECLINING. - 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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Alas! what is so fleeting as popularity! Allen's was in great part gone before morning. Some mischievously disposed persons, who had marked what impression had been made on the mind of the secretary by Mr. Wentworth's speech, and who had afterwards ascertained that he wished to propose a compromise with the masters, took upon themselves to make known that the favourite secretary had turned tail and meant to betray the cause. A general gathering about the waggon of all who scorned to be betrayed was advised, in order to keep his friends at a distance and to raise a hiss with the more effect. When, confident of his reception, Allen advanced with a smiling countenance, in order to express his gratification at the mark of esteem he had received, he was startled by a burst of groans and hisses. For a moment he looked about him to see if Clack or any other unpopular person was standing near; but signs not to be mistaken convinced him too soon that he was the object of the people's dislike. He coloured scarlet, and was about to cover his face with his hands, but checked himself, and, by a strong effort, stood it out. Those who were near him saw how the papers in his hand shook; but his countenance was fixed and his attitude firm. After many vain attempts to make himself heard, he stripped off his new coat, folded it up and placed it in the hands of the committee-men near, and sent a messenger home for his working dress. This he communicated to the meeting the first moment that they would let him speak. He would not accept any gift from those to whom his services were no longer acceptable. He was ready to resign his office,–an arduous office, which they no doubt remembered had been forced upon him,—as soon as they should direct him into whose hands he should deliver his papers. In the meanwhile, he would proceed with their business, forgetful of all personal considerations.
All propositions, whether made by himself or others, tending to a compromise, were rejected, and the meeting, after a stormy discussion, in which no point was settled, broke up. The whole affair put Clack and his friends in glee, and filled wiser people with grief and apprehension of the consequences.
The first consequence was that all the children were turned off. The masters were bent on bringing the affair to a close as speedily as possible; and, being disappointed in the hope that the men would propose a compromise, endeavoured to drive them to it.
This was thought by some parents far from being the worst thing that had happened. While the Committee shook their heads over this weighty additional item of weekly charge, many tender mothers stroked their children's heads and smiled when they wished them joy of their holiday, and bade them sleep on in the mornings without thinking of the factory bell.— It was some days before the little things got used to so strange a difference from their usual mode of life. Some would start up from sound sleep with the question, “Father, is it time?” Some talked in their sleep of being too late, and went on to devour their meals hastily, as if their time was not their own.—It would have amused some people and made others melancholy to watch the sports of these town-bred children. One little girl was seen making a garden;—that is, boring a hole between two flints in a yard with a rusty pair of scissors and inserting therein a daisy which by some rare chance had reached her hands. Others collected the fragments of broken plates and teacups from the kennels, and spread them out for a mock feast where there was nothing to eat. The favourite game was playing at being cotton-spinners, a big boy frowning and strutting and personating the master, another with a switch in his hand being the overlooker, and the rest spinners or piecers, each trying which could be the naughtiest and get the most threats and scolding. Many were satisfied with lolling on the stairs of their dwellings and looking into the streets all day long; and many nursed their baby brothers and sisters, sitting on the steps or leaning against the walls of the street. Hannah Bray, when not abroad with her father, took pains to stir up her little neighbours to what she called play. She coaxed her father into giving them a ball, and tried to teach the children in the next yard to play hide and seek; but she often said she never before saw such helpless and awkward people. They could not throw a ball five feet from them, or flung it in one another's faces so as to cause complaints and crying-fits. In hiding, they always showed them-selves, or came out too soon or not soon enough, or jostled and threw one another down; and they were the worst runners that could be conceived. Any one of them trying to catch Han-nah looked like a duck running after a greyhound. Hannah began with laughing at them all round; but observing that her father watched their play with tears in his eyes, she afterwards contented herself with wondering in silence why some children were so unlike others.
The affairs of all concerned in the strike looked more and more dismal every day. There were more brawls in the streets; there was less peace at home; for none are so prone to quarrel as those who have nothing else to do, and whose tempers are at the same time fretted by want. All the men who were prone to drink now spent hour after hour at the alehouse, and many a woman now for the first time took to her “drop of comfort” at home. Many a man who had hitherto been a helper to his wife and tender to his children, began to slam the door behind him, after having beaten or shaken the little ones all round, and spoken rough words to their trembling mother. While she, dashing away her tears, looked for something to do, and found one thing that she would wash if she had fuel and soap, and another that she would mend if she had material and cotton.—Now was the time to see the young woman, with the babe in her arms, pushing at the curtained door of the dram-shop, while her husband held it against her,—he saying,—“Well, I tell you I'm coming in five minutes; I shan't be five minutes,”—and she plaintively replying, “Ah, I know, you always say so.”—Now was the time to see the good son pacing slowly to the pawnbroker's to pledge his aged mother's last blanket to buy her bread. These were the days when the important men under the three balls civilly declared, or insolently swore, that they could and would take no more goods in pawn, as their houses were full from top to bottom, and there was no sale for what they had encumbered themselves with. Never before had they been so humbly petitioned for loans,—a mother shewing that her winter shawl or her child's frock would take very little room,—or a young girl urging that if a pawnbroker did not want her grandmother's old bible he could get more for it at a book-stall than she could. These were the times for poor landlords to look after their rents, and for hard landlords to press for them. These were the days for close scrutiny to be made by the Union Committee whether men's wives were really lying-in, and whether each really had the number of children he swore to; and, therefore, these were the times when knaves tried to cheat and when honest men were wounded at having their word questioned. Now was the time when weak-minded men thought themselves each worse off than his neighbour. Many landlords were pronounced the hardest that ever owned two paltry rooms; many an applicant was certain the committee had been set against him by some sneaking enemy. In the abstract it was allowed, however, that the sneakers had the most to bear. Hare, for one, was in the depth of distress. Opposition was made, week after week, to his having any relief from the committee because he was not a hearty member of the Union; and on one occasion, when he had with the utmost difficulty obtained an extra shilling for his lying-in wife, and had failed in his plea that he was dumped for rent, he found on returning home that his landlord had sent in the officers during his abrence, who had taken away all the little he possessed, but the mattress on which his wife lay. It was laid on the floor, the bedstead being gone; and the children and their mother were left crying within four bare walls.—Allen, to whose knowledge this hard case was brought, could do little to relieve it; but he almost succeeded in convincing his nervous wife that their own sufferings were light in comparison. Yet they had many painful sacrifices to make,—the more painful to Allen because his wife was not convinced that they were necessary. She urged that he might now ask for some of the money the Committee had formerly offered him, since his services had not been repaid even in empty good-will, to the degree that he deserved. It was his duty, she thought, to demand more than the common weekly allowance; and the least he could do for his children was to take the suit of clothes back again which he had thrown away in a pet. Failing in her arguments, she had recourse to two measures,— one of action and the other of persuasion. She went secretly to the Committee, and asked in her husband's name for the clothes, which she sold on her way home, trying to persuade herself that she was only doing a mother's duty in providing her children with bread; and then she assailed her husband on the subject of taking work at the master's prices. She knew that he now wished for a compromise and thought the strike had been continued too long, and she would not see why he was bound to wait till the Union viewed the matter as he did. She thought it very cruel to talk of honour, and very absurd to plead duty when he knew that his family were in want, and could not deny that it was not by his own choice that he had filled so conspicuous a station. It made Allen very miserable to hear her talk in this manner, sobbing between almost every word she said; especially when little Martha looked wistfully from one to the other, not understanding the grounds of the dispute, but hoping that it would end in father's leaving off walking about the room in that manner, and in mother's stopping her sobs, and in there being something better than those nasty potatoes for dinner. Once or twice she tried to make her bulfinch sing so loud that they could not hear one another speak; but this did not do, for her mother twitched off her apron and flung it over the cage, so that the poor bird cowered down in a corner for the whole day afterwards.
One morning when Allen had persuaded his wife that he was immovable, and that the best thing she could do was to go out and buy some potatoes with what money they had, he came and leaned over the table to see Martha feed her bird.
“You are as fond of that bird as ever, Martha.”
“Yes,—and I have so much time to teach him things now.”
“Had you rather play with him or be at the factory all day?”
“I don't know. My knees are so much better since I have been at home, and I like playing with Billy; but mother has got to cry so lately; and, father, we are all so tired of potatoes, we don't know how to eat them.”
“Poor child! I wish we could give you anything better. But, Martha, do you think you could bear to stay at home without Billy?”
Martha's countenance fell.
“You see, my dear child, we have sold almost everything we have; and when we can scarcely get food for ourselves, it does not seem to me right to keep animals to feed. This was why I sold the dog so many weeks ago.”
“But, father, it is only just a halfpenny now and then. Mother has always found me a halfpenny now and then for Billy.”
“A halfpenny is as much to us now, child, as a guinea is to some people; besides we could get money by Billy. Ah! I knew it would make you cry to say so.”
And he left her and walked about the room in the way which it always frightened Martha to see. She sobbed out a few words,—
“I can't—I can't help crying, father, but I don't mean—I wish you would take Billy and sell him.”
“Listen to me, my dear child,” said Allen sitting down by her, and putting his arm round her waist. “You were always a very good little girl in working industriously as long as you had work. Now you cannot earn money by working, but you can get some by giving up your bird. Now, you know I always tried to make you as comfortable as I could when you earned money, and I promise you, that I will do the same if you will let me sell your bird. The very first money that I can properly spare, when better days come, shall go to buy you a bird, and this very bird if we can get it back again.”
Martha thanked him, and said the bird should go for certain; but if this very bird could not be got back again, she would rather have a triangle like Hannah's, and then, she thought, they might all grow rich. Allen smiled and said they would see about that when the time came; in the meanwhile, if Billy was to go, the sooner the better, and all the more as she had just cleaned the cage; and he took his hat.
Martha struggled with her tears, and asked if she might go too. Her father thought she had better not: but she said nobody could make Billy sing all his songs so well as herself; so her father kissed her, and let her follow him down stairs, asking Field's wife who happened to be in good humour, to have an eye to the children till their mother came home.
It was a sad trial to Martha to hear the bird-fancier speak slightingly of her pet, and remark that the cage was very shabby. She had a great mind at first to make Billy seem dull, which she knew how to do: but remembering that this would punish nobody but her father, she put away the evil thought, and made Billy sing his best songs in his clearest tone. The bargain was made; her father bade the bird-fancier pay the money into her hand, and whispered that he wished he had anything which would sell for so much. When they were on the threshold, she once more turned round. The man was twirling the cage in a business-like manner, between his hands. “O, once more!” cried Martha, running back. Once more Billy fluttered at the sight of her, and put out his beak between the wires to meet her lips; and then she went away without looking back any more. Every day for the next fortnight, however, little Martha lingered about the bird-fancier's door, doing all she could without being observed, to set Billy singing. One day she was remarked by her parents to be very silent; and after that she went out less. She had missed Billy, though his empty cage still hung in the shop; and having made bold to ask, had found that he was sold to a country customer; really gone for ever. This hope destroyed, Martha tried to comfort herself, as she had proposed, with visions of a triangle.