Front Page Titles (by Subject) COUSIN MARSHALL. - Illustrations of Political Economy, vol. 3
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
COUSIN MARSHALL. - Harriet Martineau, Illustrations of Political Economy, vol. 3 
Illustrations of Political Economy (3rd ed) in 9 vols. (London: Charles Fox, 1832). Vol. 3.
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The text is in the public domain.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
A VERY HOT MORNING.
The gray light of a summer's morning was dawning on the cathedral towers of the city of——, when Mr. Burke, a surgeon, returned on horseback from tile country, where he had been detained by a patient till past midnight. It was Sunday morning, and he was therefore less surprised than grieved to see what kind of people they were who still loitered in the streets, and occasionally disturbed the repose of those who slept after their weekly toils. Here and there lay on a door-step, or in the kennel, a working man, who had spent his week's wages at the alehouse, and on being turned out when the clock struck twelve, had sunk down in a drunken sleep. Farther on were more of the same class, reeling in the middle of the street, or holding by the walls of the houses, with just sense enough to make their way gradually homewards, where their wives were either watching anxiously, or disturbed with miserable dreams on their account. The sound of the horse's hoofs on the pavement roused the watchmen, of whom one rubbed his eyes, and came out of his box to learn the hour from the church clock, while another began to make a clearance of the tipplers, bidding them move on with threats which were lost upon their drowsy ears. One of these guardians of the night, however, was too far gone in slumber to be roused like the rest. Perhaps his own snoring prevented his hearing that any one passed by. Mr. Burke tickled this man's ear with his riding whip, and asked him the meaning of certain clouds of dun smoke which were curling up, apparently at some little distance, between the gazers and the pale eastern sky. The watchman's wit served him just so far as to suggest that there ought to be no smoke in that direction at this hour of a Sunday morning, and that he supposed smoke must come from fire. Upon this hint, Mr. Burke rode off at full trot, through such byways as would lead him most directly to the spot. Before he got there, however, his fears were confirmed by the various methods in which information of a fire is given. Rattles were sprung in quick succession, shouts and whoops were echoed from street to street, a red blaze was reflected from every chimney, and glittered like the setting sun on the windows of the upper storys, and the clangor of bells followed in less time than could have been supposed possible. Window after window was thrown up, as Mr. Burke passed, and night-capped heads popped out with the incessant inquiry—“Fire! Where?”
This was what Mr. Burke was as anxious as any one to know, and he therefore increased his speed till he arrived on the spot, and found that it was not a dwelling-house, but a large grocery warehouse, that was in flames. Having satisfied himself that no lives were in danger, and that every one was on the alert, he hastened homewards to deposit his horse, and quiet his sister's alarms, and returned to give assistance.
When he came back, two or three engines were on the spot, but unable to work from a deficiency of water. The river was not far distant; but so many impediments arose from the disposition of some of the crowd to speculate idly on the causes of the fire, and of others to bustle about without doing any good, that the flames were gaining ground frightfully. As more gentlemen arrived, however, they assisted Mr. Burke in his exertions to form two lines down to the river side, by one of which the full, and by the other the empty, buckets might be passed with regularity and speed. Meanwhile, the crowd felt themselves at liberty to crack their jokes, as nothing but property was yet at stake.
A child clapped its hands in glee, as a pale blue flame shot up where there had been no light before.
“That's rum,” said a man. “If there be raisins beside it, 'tis a pity we are not near enough to play snap-dragon.”
“There will be a fine treat for the little ones when all is cool again,” observed another. “A fine store of lollipops under the ruins. Look how the hogsheads of sugar light one after another, like so many torches!”
“They say tea is best made of river water,” said a third; “and it can't but boil in such a fire; so suppose you fetch your tea-service, neighbour.”
“Rather tea than beer,” replied another. “Did you taste the beer from the brewery fire? Pah! 'twas like what sea-water will be when the world is burnt.”
“I missed my share then,” answered the neighbour; “but I got two or three gallons of what was let out because the white-washer's boy was drowned in it. That was none the worse, that I could find out. My wife was squeamish about it, so I had it all to myself. Heyday! what's this about? Why, they won't let a man look on in peace!”
The constables were now vigorously clearing a space for the firemen, as there was some apprehension that the flames were spreading backwards, where there were courts and alleys crowded with dwellings of the poor. The fear was soon perceived to be too well founded. From an arched passage close by the burning building there presently issued a half-dressed woman with two children clinging to her, a third girl shivering and crying just behind, and a boy following with his arms full of clothes and bedding. Mr. Burke was with them instantly.
“Have the houses behind caught fire?”
“Ours has, sir; and it can't be saved, for there is no way to it but this. Not a thing could we get out but what we have on; but, thank, God, we are all safe!”
“O, mammy, mammy!” cried the elder girl. “She has not been out of bed this week, .sir. She'll die with cold.”
Mr. Burke had observed the ghastly look of the woman. He now bade her compose herself, and promised that the children should be taken care of, if she would tell him where she wished to go. She answered doubtfully that her sister lived in the next street.
“O, not there, mother!” said the boy. “Let us go to John Marshall's.”
“Tis too far, Ned. My sister will surely take us in at such a time as this. Lord have mercy! The flames dizzy one so!”
And the poor woman fell against the wall. Mr. Burke raised her, and bidding Ned go before to show the way, he half led and half carried her the short distance to her sister's house, the little ones running barefooted, holding by the skirts of his coat. On their way, they met a man whom the children proclaimed with one voice to be John Marshall.
“I was coming to you,” said he, supporting the widow Bridgeman on the other side. “This is a sad plight I see you in, cousin; but cheer up! If you can get as far as our place, my wife bids me say you will be kindly welcome.”
Mr. Burke thought the nearest resting-place was the best; and Marshall yielded, hoping the sister's door would be open, as it ought. It was but half open, and in that half stood the sister, Mrs. Bell, arguing with Ned that the place was too small for her own family, and that his mother would be more comfortable elsewhere, and so forth. Mr. Burke cut short the argument by pushing a way, and depositing his charge upon the bed within. He then gave his name to the amazed Mrs. Bell, desired her to lend the children some clothing, and to keep her sister quiet till he should come again, sent Marshall for his wife, who would apparently nurse the widow Bridgeman better than her own sister, and then returned with Ned to see if any of the widow's little furniture could be saved. Before they reached the spot, however, the tenement was burned to the ground, and the two or three next to it were pulled down to stop the fire, so that nothing more was to be done.
The widow seemed at first so much revived by the treatment which Mr. Burke ordered, and her cousin Marshall administered, that there was room for hope that the shock would leave her little worse than it found her; and the benevolent surgeon went home at six o'clock to refresh himself, bearing tidings to his sister, not only that the fire was extinguished, but that it appeared to have done no irreparable mischief beyond the destruction of property. He was not fully aware, however, in how weak a state his patient had previously been.
“Mammy!” said little Ann Bridgeman, who sat on a low stool, with a blue apron of her aunt's over her shoulders, her only covering except her shift, “Mammy, there goes the church bell.”
“Hush!” said Jane, the eldest, who was more considerate.
“Mammy is awake,” persisted Ann, looking again into the curtainless bed to see that the widow's eyes were open. “Do you hear the bell, mammy? And we cannot go to church.”
“'Tis a strange Sunday, indeed, my child,” replied her mother. “When I prayed last night, after all our work was done, that this might be a day of rest, I little thought what would happen.”
Her cousin, Mrs. Marshall, came to her and begged that she would try to rest, and not to trouble herself with uneasy thoughts.
“My mind is so tossed about!” replied the poor woman. “It distracts me to think what we are to do next. And there sit the poor children without so much as a petticoat to wear; and the room is all as if the fire was roaring about me; and a letter from my husband, the only one I ever had, that I thought to have carried to my grave with me, is burned; and I might as well have saved it, if I had had a minute's thought; and———”
The sick woman burst into a hysterical cry which shook her frame so, that her cousin began to think how she could calm her. She ventured on a bold experiment when she found that her patient's talk still ran upon the letter, and that the consolations of Mrs. Bell, who now came to the bedside, only made the matter worse.
“Well now, I wonder,” said Mrs. Bell, “that you should trouble yourself so about a letter, when you will be sure to remember what is in it. One would think it was a bank note by the way you cry after it.”
“A bank note!” cried the poor woman. “I would have set light to my house with a handful of bank notes, if I had had them, sooner than lose that letter; and yet nobody would think so by the way I left it behind me. There it was in the box with my rent, and with my mother's gold thimble, nigh at hand as I got out of bed, and 1 might just as well have saved it. O Lord! what a wretch I am!” she cried. “Take the children away! Don't let them come near me any more. Lord forgive me! Lord have mercy upon me!” and she raved fearfully.
“She's out of her senses,” said Mrs. Bell, “and all for that trumpery letter. I'll make her believe we have found it.”
“And so make her worse than ever when she discovers the trick,” said Mrs. Marshall. “No, that won't do.” And she turned to the sick woman,— “I say, Mary, you would not mind so much about the letter if you were to see your husband very soon, would you?”
“Surely no,” replied the widow, looking perplexed, but immediately calm. “But my husband is gone, long ago, is not he? But perhaps I am going too. Is that what you mean, cousin Marshall?”
“I don't know whether you be or no, Mary; but you have no strength for raving as you did just now. If you wish to live for your children's sake, you must be quiet.”
“I was thinking a deal about dying last night, and what was to become of the children; but I forgot all about it to-day. Poor things! they have no friends but you,” looking from Mrs. Bell to her cousin Marshall. “You will see to them, I am sure. You will not cast them out upon the world; and depend upon it, it will be repaid to you. I will pray God day and night, just as I would here, to watch over them and reward those that are kind to them; particularly whichever of you takes Sally; for I am much afraid Sally will go blind.” As she gazed earnestly in the faces of her relations, Mrs. Bell tried to put her off with bidding her make her mind easy, and trust in Providence, and hope to live. Her cousin Marshall did better.
“I will take charge of Sally and of one of the others,” said she. “I promise it to you; and you may trust my promise, because my husband and I have planned it many a time when we saw what a weakly way you were in. They shall be brought up like our own children, and you know how that is.”
“God bless you for ever, cousin! And as for the other two———”
“Leave that to me,” replied Mrs. Marshall, who saw that the patient's countenance began to resume its unsettled expression. “Leave it all to me, and trust to my promise.”
“Just one thing more,” said the widow, starting up as her cousin would have retired. “Dear me! how confused my head is,—and all because you have moved the bed opposite the window, which my head never could bear. Listen now. In the cupboard on the left side the bed, —at least, that is where it was,—you will find a japanned box that I keep my rent in. At the bottom of that box there is a letter———”
“Well, well, Mary. That will do by-an-by.”
“Let me finish, cousin. Give that letter to Ned, and bid him keep it, because———”
“Aye, I understand. Because it is his father's writing, and the only one you ever had.”
“Why, you know all about it!” exclaimed the widow, smiling, with a look of surprise. “I did not know I had ever told anybody. Well, now, I can't keep awake any longer; but be sure you wake me in time in the morning. I must be up to wash the children's things, for they want them sadly.”
She dropped asleep instantly when her cousin had hung a shawl at the foot of the bed to hide the strange window. Ned had gone some minutes before for Mr. Burke, who pronounced, on seeing her, that she would probably never wake again. This proved true; and before night she was no more.
The fire created a great sensation in the city. The local newspapers described it as the most awful that had occurred in the place within the memory of man; and the London prints copied from them. Strangers came in from the country to visit the smoking ruins, and the firm to whom tile warehouses belonged were almost overwhelmed with sympathy and offers of assistance. Mrs. Bell was disposed to make a profit out of all this. She would have stationed Ned, in a tattered shirt, on the ruins of his mother's dwelling to beg, and have herself carried about a petition in behalf of the orphan children. The funeral, at least, ought, she thought, .to be paid for by charity; but , there was no moving the Marshalls on any of these points. They were so sure that the widow would have died, at all events, in a very short time, that they could not see why the fire should throw the expense of her funeral on the public; and even Mrs. Bell could not pretend that anything of much value had been lost in the fire except the rent, which would never be called for. The Marshalls countenanced Ned's dislike, to go near the idle boys who were practising leaping on the ruins, and found it a far more natural and pleasant thing to dress the little Bridgemans in some of their own children's clothes and take them home, than to appeal to strangers on their behalf.
“You may do as you please, neighbour,” cried Mrs. Bell, after an argument upon this subject. “If you choose to burden yourselves with two children in addition to your own five, it is no concern of mine; only don't expect me to put any such dead-weight upon my husband's neck.”
“Your husband earns better wages than mine, Mrs. Bell.”
“And that is what makes me wonder at your folly in not sending the children to the workhouse at once. No need to tell me what a little way a man's wages go in families like yours and mine.”
“You have a good deal of help in other ways to make out with, indeed, neighbour,” observed Mrs. Marshall. “You have found the gentry very kind to you this year; so much so that I think the least you can do is to keep these children from being a burden on the rates, for the little time till they can shift for themselves.—I believe you bought neither coals nor blankets last winter.”
“Bless your heart, cousin, the coals we got did not last half the winter through; for my husband likes a good fire when he can get it, and always expected to find one in the grate when he came home from the Leopard, however late at night it might be; and I had to sell one of the blankets presently. The other, on the bed there, is the only one we have till winter, when I hope to get a new one, if the ladies are not too particular about my having had two already. But, really, it tries one's patience to wait upon them ladies. Do you know I am disappointed again about the bag of linen against my confinement. I may be down any day now, and every bag is engaged, so that they can't promise with any certainty. So I must just take my chance for getting through somehow.”
“And how is your baby provided?”
“O, they gave me a few trifles for it, which will do till I get about again, and can carry it to show how poorly it is off”
“Well,” said Mrs. Marshall, “I do wonder you can bear to live from hand to mouth in that way. You got your first set of baby-linen at the same time that I did, and with your own money; and why yours should not have lasted as well as mine, I can't think. Mine are not all worn out yet, and I always managed to replace, by timely saving, those that were. However, if you can't clothe your own children, I don't wonder so much that you will not feed your sister's. Poor things! must they go to the workhouse?”
“Unless you choose to take them all, cousin. So wonderful a manager as you are, perhaps you might contrive it.”
Mrs. Marshall shook her head mournfully. She had not lodging room for more than two girls among her own, and could not have engaged that her husband's rent should be ready if more than two in addition were to share their daily meals. As it was, they must give up one dish of meat a week, and make some other reductions of the same kind.
“Better ask the gentry to help you, at once,” said Mrs. Bell; “but I suppose you are too proud?”
“We will try what our own charity can do before we ask it from those who have less concern in the matter,” said Mrs. Marshall. “There is one thing I mean to ask, however, because I cannot anyhow get it for them myself; and that is, to have them taught like my own children. Poor Sally must learn to knit while she has some eyesight left.”
“Which of the others do you mean to take?” enquired Mrs. Bell, as if quite unconcerned in the matter.
Mrs. Marshall called in the four children from the next room to consult them, to her cousin's utter amazement. She told them the plain truth, —that she had promised their mother to take charge of two of them, and that one of the two should be Sally; that the other two must live in the workhouse till they could earn their own subsistence; and that she wished them to agree with her which had best remain with her and Sally. Ned looked at his aunt with tears in his eyes; to which she answered by promising to see him sometimes, and to bring him some gingerbread when she had a penny to spare. Ned, who was too old to be spoken to in this way, brushed his sleeve across his eyes, and observed to cousin Marshall that Jane had better go with him to the workhouse, because she was the oldest and would be soonest out of it, and because Sally liked to have little Ann to do things for her that she could not see to do herself. Cousin Marshall was quite of this opinion; and so the matter was settled.
A long private conversation followed after Mrs. Bell had left the room; if conversation it might be called which consisted of sobs and tears on the part of the children, and exhortations and pity on that of their friend.
“Remember, Ned,” said she, “the one thing you must be always thinking about after you go into the workhouse is how soon yon can get out again. It is God's will that has taken your mother from you, and that has made your relations poor, and so we must try and not think your lot a disgrace; but it will be a disgrace if you stay long. Keep this up in Jane's mind too, for I am afraid of her forgetting it, as she is rather giddy.—I am not sorry, Jane, to see you cry so much, because I hope it will make you remember this strange day. I have heard of workhouse frolics, my dear. Never let me hear of them from you. You will have a service, I hope, in a few years, and you must try to make yourself fit to live with a different sort of people from those you will find in the workhouse.”
Mrs. Bell, who had come back in time to hear the last few words, began to tell all she had heard about tile pleasant kind of life people might lead in a workhouse if they chose; but her cousin cut her short by bidding the children take leave at once.
Few events wrung tears from this stout-hearted woman; but she kept her apron to her eyes the whole way home, and could not speak to any body all day.
Miss Burke had gone into the country the morning after the fire, and remained some weeks. When she returned, she inquired of her brother what had become of the family who had been burnt out. She was an occasional visitor at the workhouse school, and besides knew some of the elderly paupers, and went to see them now and then. Her visits were made as disagreeable as possible by the matron, who hated spies, as she declared, and had good reasons for doing so; many practices going forward under her management which would not bear inspection. She was sometimes politic enough to keep out of sight, when she was aware that something wrong had already met tile lady's eye; but she more frequently confronted her near the entrance with such incivility as might, she hoped, drive her away without having seen anything. The master was an indolent, easy man, much afraid of the more disorderly paupers, and yet more of his wife. He seldom appeared to strangers till called for; but was then quite disposed to make the best of everything, and to agree in all opinions that were offered. There was little more use, though less inconvenience, in pointing out abuses and suggesting remedies to him than to his wife; yet Mr. Burke and his sister conscientiously persevered in doing this,—the gentleman from the lights he obtained in his office of surgeon to the workhouse infirmary, and the lady, from her brother's reports and her own observations.
Miss Burke's first inquiry at the workhouse gate was for nurse Rudrum. The porter's office consisted merely in opening the gate; so that when the lady had entered the court, she had to make further search. The court was half-full of people, yet two women were washing dirty linen at the pump in the midst. Several men were seated cutting pegs for the tilers and shoemakers, and others patching shoes for their fellow-paupers; while several women stood round with their knitting, laughing loud; and some of the younger ones venturing upon a few practical jokes more coarse than amusing. At a little distance, sat two young women shelling peas for a grand corporation dinner that was to take place the next day, and beside them stood a little girl whose business was apparently to clean a spit on which she was leaning, but who was fully occupied in listening to the conversation which went on over the pea-basket. This group looking the least formidable, Miss Burke approached to make her inquiry. Being unperceived, the conversation was carried on in the same loud tone till she came quite near, when one of the young women exclaimed,
“I don't want to hear any more about it. I wonder you had the heart to do it.”
“To do what?” asked Miss Burke. “Something that you do not look ashamed of,” she continued, turning to the first speaker.
“Lord, no,” said the girl with a bold stare. “It is only that a young mistress of mine, that died and left a child a week old, bade me see that it was taken care of till her husband came back, who was gone abroad; and I could not be troubled with the little thing, so I took it direct to the Foundling Hospital; and I heard that the father came home soon after, and the people at the hospital could not the least tell which was his child, or whether it was one that had died. I kept out of the way, for I could not have helped them, and should only have got abused; for they say the young man was like one gone mad.”
“And was it out of your own head that you took the child there, or who mentioned the hospital to you?”
“I knew enough about it myself,” said the woman with a meaning laugh, “to manage the thing without asking anybody. It is a fine place, that Foundling Hospital, as I have good reason to say.”
“Pray find the matron,” said Miss Burke to the little spit-cleaner, who was listening with open mouth; “and ask whether Miss Burke can be admitted to see nurse Rudrum. I think,” she continued, when the little girl was out of hearing, “you might choose your conversation better in children's company.”
“And in other people's company too,” said the other sheller of peas. “I've not been used to such a place as this, and I can't bear it.”
“You'll soon get used to it, Susan, my love,” replied the bold one.
“Where do you come from, Susan, and why are you here?” inquired Miss Burke.
With many blushes, Susan told that she was a servant out of place, without friends and with no one to give her a character, her last master and mistress having gone off in debt and left her to be suspected of knowing of their frauds, though she had been so ignorant of them as not to have attempted to secure her own wages. It was a hard case, and she did not know how to help herself; but she would submit to any drudgery to get out of the workhouse.
“And who are you?” said the lady to the other. “Are you a servant out of place too?”
“And without a character?”
“O yes, quite,” said the woman with a laugh. “It is well for me that there are some places where characters don't signify so much as the parson tells us. Susan and I are on the same footing here.”
Susan rose in an agony, and by mistake emptied the shelled peas in her lap among the husks.
“There! never mind picking them out again,” said the other. “If I take such a trouble, it shall be for my own supper, when the rest are done.”
“So you really think,” said Miss Burke, “that you and Susan are on the same footing because you live under the same roof and sit on the same seat? I hope Susan will soon find that you are mistaken.”
At this moment appeared Mrs. Wilkes the matron, shouting so that all the yard might hear.
“Is it nurse Rudrum you want? She is out of her mind and not in a state for prayer. Gentlefolks are enough to send poor people out of their minds with praying and preaching.”
“I am not going either to pray or preach,” replied Miss Burke; “and you well know that it is some years since nurse Rudrum was in her right mind. I only ask the way to her.”
“Yonder lies your way, madam. Only take care of the other mad people, that's all.”
Surprised and vexed to perceive Miss Burke persevering in her purpose, notwithstanding this terrifying warning, she continued,
“Remember, if you please, that the doctors don't allow their patients to be made methodists of; though God knows how many are sent here by the methodists. You'll please to take it all upon yourself, ma'am.”
Miss Burke, not seeing how all this concerned herself and nurse Rudrum, who were about equally far from methodism, pursued her way, as well as she could guess, to the right ward.—She could not easily miss it when once within hearing of nurse Rudrum's never-ceasing voice, or the tip tap of her ancient high-heeled shoes, which she was indulged in wearing, as it was a fancy not likely to spread. Nurse was employed as usual, pacing to and fro in the ward appropriated to the harmless insane, knitting as fast as her well-practised fingers would go, and talking about Jupiter.
“Miss Burke, I declare,” cried she, as soon as her visitor appeared. “You are welcome, as you always are—always very welcome; but,” and she came nearer and looked very mysterious, “you are come from them people at a distance, I doubt. Now don't deny it if you be. If they have practised upon me, you didn't know it; so no need to deny it, you know.”
“I am come from Mr. Earle's, nurse; and Mr. Earle sent his love to you, and hopes you will accept some tea and sugar; and the young ladies will come and see you when they visit me, and in the meanwhile they have sent you a Sunday shawl.”
A dozen curtseys, and “My duty to them, my duty and many thanks; and I dare say it is because they are so sorry about them people at a distance that practise upon my ancle, without so much as shaking their heads.”
“O, your ancle! I was to ask particularly how your ancle is. You seem able to walk pretty briskly.”
“That's to disappoint 'em, you see,” and she laughed knowingly. “I only tell you, you know, so you'll be quiet. They can't touch me anywhere else, because of Jupiter in my cradle.”
“What was that, nurse?”
“O that was when they made me a watch-planet; and a fine thing it was to keep me from harm,—all except my ancle, you see. It was Jupiter, you know; and I feel it all over me now sometimes,—most in my elbows. It was only Jupiter; none of the rest of them. That was my mother's doing; for Jupiter is the most religious of all the planets.”
And so she ran on till her visitor interrupted her with questions about some of her companions in the ward.
“Aye—a queer set for me to be amongst, a'n't they? That poor man! Look at his sash;” and she giggled while she showed how a poor idiot was fastened by a leathern belt to a ring in the wall. “He spins a good deal as it is; but if he could walk about, he would do nothing. He has no more sense than a child, and people of that sort are always for tramp, tramp, tramping from morning till night, till it wearies one's ears to hear them.”
And nurse resumed her walk. When she returned to the same place, she went on,—
“If these people could be made to hold their tongues, they would be better company; but yon never heard such a clatter; they wont hear one speak. That girl sings to her spinning-wheel the whole day long, and she has but one tune. They say I am growing deaf; but l'm sure I hear that song for ever, as much when she is not singing as when she is. But do you think that I am growing deaf, really now?”
Miss Burke could only say that when people got to nurse's age, and so on.
“Well now, 'tis only because of Jupiter,—listening as a watch-planet should, you know. You should have heard his music last night;— that that I used to sing to the little Earles, when master Charles was afraid to go to bed alone because of the ghost-story I told him; and I put him to bed in Miss Emma's room for once, and nobody knew: so don't tell my mistress, for she never forgave such a thing.”
Miss Burke smiled and sighed; for this master Charles was now a man of forty, and Mrs. Earle had been in her grave nearly twenty years. As the visitor was about to take leave, nurse laid her hand on the lady's arm, drew up her tight little person to its best advantage, and gravely said,
“One thing more, Miss Burke. You will give me leave to ask why I am detained in this place, among idiots and dolts that are no companions for me? This is a poor reward for my long service, and so you may tell Mr. Earle.”
“We hoped you had everything comfortable, nurse. You always seem in good spirits.”
“Comfortable! You mean as to tea and sugar and shawls; but what is that compared with the company I keep? The Earles don't know what they miss by what they do. Many a time I would go and see them, and carry them a piece of gingerbread, if I was not prevented.”
“Well, nurse, you shall come and see them at our house by and by. In the meanwhile,— you know the boys in the yard are very rude, and they are too apt to teaze old people. We think you are more comfortable out of their way.”
Nurse still looked haughty and dissatisfied.
“Besides,” continued Miss Burke, “watch-planets are not common, you know; and who knows how they might be treated in the world?”
“True, true, true, cried the delighted old woman.” “There are but two in the world besides me, and they are at Canterbury, where my mother lived nuise twenty years. 'Tis only them that study the stars that bow before watch-planets. Well! we shall all study the stars up above, and then will be the time for us watch-planets.”
So saying, nurse Rudrum returned to the track she had worn in the floor, and Miss Burke heard the well known pit pat all the way down stairs.
The lady now turned into the school, where she was equally welcome to mistress and scholars, especially after an absence of some duration, as now. The mistress, Mrs. Mott, was not exactly the person the ladies would have appointed to the office, if the choice had been left to them; but, all things considered, the appointment might have been worse filled. Mrs. Mott, a starched, grim-looking personage, had kept a dame school in a village for many years, during which time she had acquired a very high opinion of herself and her modes of tuition;—an opinion which she continued to instil into the guardians of the poor, by whom she was appointed to her present office; their choice being also aided by the consideration that Mrs. Mott must have parish assistance at all events, and might as well do something in exchange for it. The ladies who interested themselves about the children, seeing that the choice lay between having no school at all and having Mrs. Mott for a schoolmistress, made the best of the latter alternative.
When the lady entered, Mrs. Mott was doing what she rather prided herself upon,—carrying on two affairs at once. She was fixing work for the girls,—plying her needle as fast as possible —and leading a hymn which the children sang after her, kneeling on their benches, with their hands clasped before them, and every little body rocking from side to side to mark the time. When it was over, and the children scrambled down into their seats, a universal grin of pleasure greeted Miss Burke from her old acquaintance, and a stare of wonder from the new comers who yet knew her only by reputation. Mrs. Mott, meanwhile, went on drawing out her thread most indefatigably, and murmuring as if under some emotion.
“Good morning, Mrs. Mott. It is some time since I saw you last.”
“Time, madam! Aye: time is given, time is given where all else is given. 'Tis ours to seize it ere it flies.”
“How are your family, Mrs. Mott? I hope your sons are doing better.”
“Son, madam, son! I suppose you don't know that the Lord has made choice of Jack?”
Miss Burke was much concerned; and tried to hear the story notwithstanding a hubbub at the bottom of the school, which at length roused the teacher's wrath.
“Tommy bit Jemmy,” was the reply of twenty little voices to the inquiry of what was the matter.
“Tommy is a bad boy and must be punished,” was the verdict; and the sentence speedily followed. “We are going to prayers, and I will have no disturbance while prayers are going on; but I will have justice. So, as soon as prayers are over, Jemmy shall bite Tommy in whatever part he chooses.”
Miss Burke considered how she might best interfere with the process without setting aside the mistress's authority. She waited till prayers were over, and then called the two boys before her. She represented to the sobbing culprit the enormity of biting human flesh, and then asked Jemmy if he had any urgent desire to bite Tommy.
“I don't want to bite him, unless I'm bid,” was the reply.
“Very well; then, suppose you forgive him instead. This will make him very careful not to hurt you another time. Will it not, Tommy?”
Tommy agreed, and words instead of wounds were exchanged.
The next inquiry was for the Bridgemans. Ned was called out of the ranks of departing school-boys, and Jane was sent for, being detained from school this day to help to prepare for the corporation dinner. On her appearance, she was recognized as the cleaner of spits, who had listened so eagerly to the praises of the Foundling Hospital. Miss Burke told them how she had heard of their circumstances, and her intention to visit them from time to time. She asked them if they were happy.
“Yes, ma'am,” replied Jane, readily; “a deal happier than we thought.”
Ned, however, only bit his lip to keep back his tears. Miss Burke framed her speech to suit both.
“You know,” she said, “that we all consider that you are here only for a time, and we trust a short time. It has pleased God to take from you your natural protectors and teachers; and children like you must be taken care of, and taught, before you can find a way in the world. But, if you choose, you may soon make yourselves fit for a better and a happier place than this; and the more cheerfully you set about it, Ned, the more quickly you will learn. You, Jane, should seek out the more sober and quiet young women to talk to, instead of listening to the foolish gossip that goes on in the yard. Has Susan been kind to you?”
“She always keeps by herself when she can, ma'am.”
“She will be kind to you, however, I am sure, if you deserve it; and I believe she can teach you many things you will like to learn.”
In order to unloose Ned's tongue, the lady the several inquiries about their comforts. made had nothing to complain of but that they did not like milk-broth, which composed their dinner twice a week, and that the workhouse dress was very hot and heavy. The first evil could not be helped—the other seemed very reasonable; and Miss Burke determined to urge an objection to it through her brother, as it appeared that a thick woollen dress was the most liable to dirt of any that could be fixed upon, and the most unseemly when worn into holes; besides this, the children were exposed to colds from the temptation to throw off the dress when heated, and from exchanging it for their own old clothes on Sundays and holidays. Jane had, as her brother declared, been scarcely ever without colds since she entered the workhouse, as cousin Marshall had been kind enough to provide her with a complete suit on her entrance, which Jane was fond of wearing whenever she went to church, or to the gardens, or——”
“To the gardens! What gardens?”
The public tea-gardens, where the girls and boys were treated very often on Sundays, sometimes under guidance, and sometimes without any. Jane was very eloquent in describing these frolics, and others which took place within the walls.
Miss Burke had little hope of counteracting such influences as these by an occasional visit; but she now said what she thought most likely to impress the mind of the poor girl, and then proceeded to find Susan, in order to recommend Jane to her care. She was glad to see Wilkes, the master, unaccompanied by his wife, and conversing with a gentleman whom she knew to be one of the visitors. Before she reached them, she perceived that Ned was following her with a wistful look.
“Have you anything more to say to me?” she inquired.
“Only, ma'am, that perhaps you may know when we may get out. I should like to see the time when we shall get out.”
“I wish I could tell you, my dear boy; but I can only guess, like you. I guess it will be when Jane is fit for service, and you for labour in the fields or elsewhere.”
“I can labour now,” said the boy, brightening. “If they would try me, I am sure l could dig all day.”
“Be patient, Ned; and then, if you turn out a clever workman when the right time comes, who knows but you may not only keep out of the workhouse yourself, but prevent somebody else from coming in?”
Ned smiled, pulled his forelock, and went away cheered.
Mr. Nugent, the visitor, met Miss Burke with an observation on the improvement of workhouses which rendered them accessible to female benevolence; whereas they were once places where no lady could set her foot. Miss Burke gravely replied that there was much yet for benevolence to do. The necessary evils of a workhouse were bad enough; and it was afflicting to se them needlessly aggravated,—to see poverty and indigence confounded, and blameless and culpable indigence, temporary distress, and permanent destitution, all mixed up together, and placed under the same treatment. These distinctions were somewhat too nice for the gentleman's perceptions; at least, while announced in abstract terms. He stood in an attitude of perplexed attention, while Wilkes asked whether she would have the paupers live in separate dwellings.
Miss Burke observed that the evil began out of the workhouse; and that the want of proper distinctions there made classification in the house an imperative duty.
“We are too apt,” she said, “to regard all the poor alike, and to speak of them as one class, whether or not they are dependent; that is, whether they are indigent or only poor. There must always be poor in every society; that is, persons who can live by their industry, but have nothing beforehand. But that there should be able-bodied indigent, that is, capable persons who cannot support themselves, is a disgrace to every society, and ought to be so far regarded as such as to make us very careful how we confound the poor and the indigent.”
“I assure you, ma'am,” said Wilkes, “it grieves me very much to see honest working men, or sober servants out of place, come here to be mixed up with rogues and vagabonds.”
“But they are all indigent alike,” observed Mr. Nugent, “or your honest labourers would not have to come here.”
“All indigent, certainly, sir; but not all alike. We have had cottagers here for a time, after losing cows and pigs by accident; and even little farmers after a fire on their premises; and labourers, when many hundreds were turned off at once from the public works. Now, this sort of indigence is very different from that which springs out of vice.”
“It seems to me,” said Miss Burke, “that as wide a distinction ought to be made between temporary and lasting indigence, and between innocent and guilty indigence, within the workhouse, as between poverty and indigence out of it; and as the numbers are, I believe, very unequal, I should think it might easily be done. I suppose, Mr. Wilkes, those who require permanent support, the invalids and the thoroughly depraved, are few in comparison with those who come in and go out again after a time.”
“Very few indeed, ma'am. Mr. Nugent knows that our numbers are for ever varying. One year we may have seven hundred in the house, and another year not so much as three hundred. It seems to me the surest way of making the industrious into vagabonds, and the sober into rogues, to mix them all up together; to say nothing of the corruption to the children.”
“I heard the other day,” said Mr. Nugent, “that few of the children who have been brought up here turn out well. But it can't be helped, madam. The plan of out-door pay must have its limits, and our building a new house for the moral or immoral, is out of the question in the present state of the funds. The rate has increased fearfully of late, as your brother will tell you. I confess I do not see what is to become of the system altogether, if we go on as we have been doing for the last five years.”
Miss Burke observed that she was far from wishing to urge any new expenses. She rather believed that much money would be saved by enabling the industrious to pursue their employments undisturbed, and by keeping the young and well-disposed out of the contagion of bad example. She pointed out the case of Susan as one of great hardship, and that of little Jane as one of much danger. Wilkes confirmed the fact of Susan being a good girl, and a well-qualified servant, and told that the other woman had been discharged from various services for theft an other crimes.
Mr. Nugent who, in the midst of his talk about improvement, disliked trouble and innovation, related that an attempt at classification had once been made by building a wall across the yard, to separate the men and women; but that the wall had been pulled down in a riot of the paupers, after which it was considered too formidable an undertaking to rebuild it.
Miss Burke thought, on her way home, that classification must begin among the guardians of the poor, before much reformation could be looked for. The intrepid and active among the gentlemen, if separated from the fearful and indolent, might carry the day against the ill-conducted paupers; but such a result was scarcely to be hoped while the termagant Mrs. Wilkes monopolized all authority within the walls, and the majority of the guardians insisted on the let-alone plan of policy being pursued; a plan under which everything was let alone but the rates, which increased formidably from year to year.
TEA AND TALK.
Mr. Burke came in earlier than usual this evening, the first time since his sister's return that he could enjoy her society in peace. When he arrived wet and chilly from a stormy ride, and found a little fire, just enough for a rainy summer's evening, burning brightly in the grate, the tea apparatus prepared, his slippers set ready, his study gown awaiting him, and a pile of new medical books laid within reach, as if to offer him the choice of reading or conversation, he wished within himself that Louisa would leave home no more till he was married, if that time should ever come. This wish was pardonable; for he was, to use his own expression, so accustomed to be spoiled by his sister that he scarcely knew what comfort was while she was away.
“Any notes or messages for me, Louisa?” he inquired, before resigning himself to his domestic luxuries.
“Alas, yes!” she replied, handing him two or three from their appointed receptacle.
“These will all do to-morrow,” he cried; “so make tea while I change my coat.” A direction which was gladly obeyed. On his return he flung the books on a distant table, stretched himself out with feet on fender, coaxed his dog with one hand, and stirred his steaming cup with the other.
“I wish I were a clergyman,” were his first words.
“To have parsonage comforts without getting wet through in earning them, I suppose,” said Louisa, laughing.
“You are far from the mark, Louisa.”
Louisa made many guesses, all wrong, about capricious patients, provoking consulting physicians, unpaid bills, jealous competitors, and other causes of annoyance.
“No, no, dear. It is a deeper matter than any of these. The greatest question now moving in the world is, ‘What is charity?’”
“Alas, yes! And who can answer it? Johnson gave a deficient answer, and Paley a wrong one; and who can wonder that multitudes make mistakes after them?”
“A clergyman, Louisa, a wise clergyman who discerns times and seasons, may set many right; and God knows how many need it! tie will not follow up a text from Paul with a definition from Johnson and an exhortation from Paley. He will not suppose because charity once meant alms-giving that it means it still; or that a kind-hearted man must be right in thinking kindness of heart all-sufficient, whether its manifestation be injurious or beneficial. He will not recommend keeping the heart soft by giving green gooseberries to a griped child,—as he might fairly do if he carried out Paley's principle to its extent.”
“A professional illustration,” replied Louisa. “You want me to carry it on unto the better charity of giving the child bitter medicine. But, brother, let the clergyman preach as wisely and benignantly as he may, why should you envy him? Cannot you, do not you, preach as eloquently by example?”
“That is the very thing,” replied her brother. “I am afraid my example preaches against my principles.—O, dear, if it was but as easy to know how to do right as to do it!”
“What can have wounded your conscience to-day?” replied Louisa. “You are generally as ready in applying principles as decided in acting upon them. What can have placed you in a new position since morning?”
“Nothing: but my eyes are more opened to that in which I already stood; and really, Louisa, it is a very questionable one. I will tell you.—I am a medical officer of various charities which would be good if benevolent intention and careful management could make them so, but of the tendency of which I think very ill. The question is whether I am not doing more harm than good by officiating at the Dispensary and Lying-in Hospital, while it is clear to me that the absence of these charities would be an absence of evil to society?”
“You must remember, brother, that your secession would have no other effect than to put another medical officer in your place. I am afraid you are not yet of consequence enough,” laughing, “to show that these institutions must stand or fall with you.”
“That argument of yours, Louisa, has done long and good service to many a bad cause. I can allow it no more weight with me than with a discontented Catholic in good old Luther's days. No; my plea to my own doubts has hitherto been that my office gave me the opportunity of promoting my own views both among the benefactors and the poor; but I begin to think I may do so much more effectually by resigning my office in those charities which I consider to be doing harm, openly stating my reasons, of course.”
“Have you long meditated this, brother?”
“Yes, for several months; but a particular circumstance has roused my attention to-day. These anniversary times always disgust me,— these stated periods for lauding the benevolent and exhibiting the benefited. I am sure the annual dinner would be better attended by the subscribers to the Dispensary, for instance, if the custom of parading round the room as many of the patients as could be got hold of were discontinued. But it is the matter of fact of the Report, and the way in which it is viewed by the patrons, that has startled me to-day. I was referred to, as usual, by the secretary and one or two more for information respecting certain classes of patients, and I was shown the Report which is to be read after dinner to-morrow. You will scarcely guess what is the principal topic of congratulation in it.”
“That Lord B———takes the chair to-morrow, perhaps? Now, do not look angry, but let me guess again. That the subscriptions have increased?”
“Aim in an opposite direction, and you will hit it.”
“That the funds are insufficient? Can this be it?”
“Just so. The number of patients has increased so much, that a further appeal is made to the public in behalf of this admirable charity, which has this year relieved just double the number it relieved ten years ago.”
“I thought,” said Louisa, “that its primary recommendation, ten years ago, was that it was to lessen the amount of sickness among the poor.”
“True,” replied her brother; “and upon this understanding many subscribed who are now rejoicing over the numbers of the sick. If the plague were to visit us, they might see the matter in its right light. They would scarcely rejoice that five hundred more were brought to the pest-house daily.”
“But how comes the increase?” inquired Louisa. “I understand it in the case of the Lying-in Charity, which seems to me the worst in existence, except perhaps foundling hospitals; but this is different———”
“From all other institutions, it is to be hoped,” interrupted her brother. “It is dreadful to see the numbers of poor women disappointed of a reception at the last moment, and totally unprovided. The more are admitted, the more are thus disappointed; and those who are relieved quit the hospital in a miserable state of destitution.”
“Probably, brother. What else could be expected under so direct a bounty on improvidence—under so high a premium on population? But how do you imagine the number of sick increases so fast? Are your Dispensary patients in due proportion to the general increase of numbers in the place?”
“Alas, no! They are much more numerous. Not only do numbers increase very rapidly; but from their increasing beyond the means of comfortable subsistence, the people are subject to a multitude of diseases arising from hardship alone. It would make your heart ache if I were to tell you how large a proportion of my Dispensary patients are children born puny from the destitution of their parents, or weakly boys and girls, stunted by bad nursing, or women who want rest and warmth more than medicine, or men whom I can never cure until they are provided with better food.”
“How you must wish sometimes that your surgery was stocked with coals and butcher's meat!”
“If it were, Louisa, the evil would only be increased, provided this sort of medicine were given gratis, like my drugs. There is harm enough done by the poor taking for granted that they are to be supplied with medicine and advice gratis all their lives: the evil is increasing every day by their looking on assistance in child-birth as their due; and if they learn to expect food and warmth in like manner, their misery will be complete.”
“But what can we do, brother? Distress exists: no immediate remedy is in the hands of the poor themselves. What can be done?”
“These are difficulties, Louisa, which dog the heels of all bad institution.— We must do this. We must make the best of a vast amount of present misery, thankful that we see at length the error of having caused it. We must steadily refuse to increase it, and employ all the energies of thinking heads and benevolent hearts in preventing its recurrence, and shortening to the utmost its duration. Here is ample scope for all the tenderness of sensibility which moralists would encourage, and for all the wisdom which can alone convert that tenderness into true charity.”
“What should be our first step, brother?”
“To ascertain clearly the problem which we are to solve. The grand question seems to me to be this—How to reduce the number of the indigent? which includes, of course, the question, How to prevent the poor becoming indigent?”
“If this had been the problem originally proposed, brother, there would have been little indigence now: but formerly people looked no further than the immediate relief of distress, and thought the reality of the misery a sufficient warrant for alms-giving.”
“And what is the consequence, Louisa? Just this: that the funds raised for the relief of pauperism in this country exceed threefold the total revenues of Sweden and Denmark. Aye; our charitable fund exceeds the whole revenue of Spain; and yet distress is more prevalent than ever, and goes on to increase every year. The failure of British benevolence, vast as it is in amount, has hitherto been complete; and all for want of right direction,”
“Well, brother, how would you direct it? How would you set about lessening the number of the indigent?”
“I would aim at two objects: increasing the fund on which labourers subsist, and proportioning their numbers to this fund.—For the first of these purposes, not only should the usual means of increasing capital be actively plied, but the immense amount which is now unproductively consumed by the indigent should be applied to purposes of production. This cannot be done suddenly; but it should be done intrepidly, steadily, and at a gradually increasing rate. This would have the effect, at the same time, of fulfilling tile other important object,—that of limiting the number of consumers to a due proportion to the fund on which they subsist.”
“You would gradually abolish all charitable institutions then ——O no! not all. There are some that neither lessen capital nor increase population. You would let such remain.”
“There are some which I would extend as vigorously and perseveringly as possible; viz. all which have the enlightenment of the people for their object. Schools should be multiplied and improved without any other limit than the number and capabilities of the people.”
“What! all schools? Schools where maintenance is given as well as education?”
“The maintenance part of the plan should be dropped, and the instruction remain.”
“But, brother, if one great evil of gratuitous assistance is that the poor become dependent upon a false support, does not this apply in the case of a gratuitous education?”
“The time will come, I trust, Louisa, when the poorer classes will provide wholly for themselves and their families; but at present we must be content with making them provide what is essential to existence. To enable them to do this, they must be educated; and as education is not essential to existence, we may fairly offer it gratis till they have learned to consider it indispensable. Even now, I would have all those pay something for the education of their children who can; but let all be educated, whether they pay or not.”
“The blind, and the deaf and dumb, I suppose, among others?”
“Yes; and in these cases I would allow of maintenance also, since the unproductive consumption of capital in these cases is so small as to be imperceptible, and such relief does not act as a premium upon population. A man will scarcely be in any degree induced to marry by the prospect of his blind or deaf children being taken off his hands, as the chances are ten thousand to one against any of his offspring being thus infirm. Such relief should be given till there are none to claim it.”
“I heard the other day, brother, of a marriage taking place between a blind man and woman in the asylum at X———.”
“Indeed! If anything could make me put these institutions on my proscribed list, it would be such a fact as that. The man could play the organ, and the woman knit, and make sash-line, I suppose?”
“Just so; and they could each do several other things, but, of course, not those common offices which are essential to the rearing of a family. It struck me immediately as a crime against society. Well—what other charities should stand?”
“Whatever else I resign, Louisa, I shall retain my office at the Casualty Hospital. I hope this kind of relief will be dispensed with in a future age; but the people are not yet in a condition to provide against the fractures, wounds and bruises which befall them in following their occupations. This institution may rank with Blind Asylums.”
“And what do you think of alms-houses for the aged?”
“That they are very bad things. Only consider the numbers of young people that marry under the expectation of getting their helpless parents maintained by the public! There are cases of peculiar hardship, through deprivation of natural protection, where the aged should be taken care of by the public. But the instances are very rare where old people have no relations; and it should he as universal a rule that working men should support their parents, as that they should support their children. If this rule were allowed, we might see some revival of that genial spirit of charity and social duty among the poor, whose extinction we are apt to mourn, without reflecting that we ourselves have caused it by the injudicious direction of our own benevolence.—This reminds me of the Bridgemans. Mark how those poor children are disposed of. Two are taken care of by distant relations who have never in their lives accepted charity, except the schooling of their children. A nearer relation, who has, to my knowledge, uselessly consumed many a pound of the charitable fund, sends the other two to the workhouse.”
“A case very appropriate to what you have been saying, brother. But how is poor Sally? Can nothing save her sight?”
“Nothing, I fear. I have already spoken of her case to several governors of the Blind Asylum, where I hope she may be received on the first vacancy. The Marshalls are too sensible, I am sure, not to see the advantage of getting her placed there; and it may be the means of releasing one of the others from the workhouse.”
Louisa now related her morning's adventures. Her brother smiled as he warned her that she would, no doubt, be pronounced an eccentric young woman by Mr. Nugent, and declared that he thought her in the way to be admirably disciplined. between the railings of Mrs. Wilkes, the rude wonder of the paupers, and the more refined speculations of those who had different notions of charity from herself.
Louisa considered that an important constituent of charity was its capability of “bearing all things.” She blushed while she described to her best friend the little trials she was exposed to in her attempts to do good. Abuse from beggars she little regarded, as it was the portion of all who passed along the streets of this ill-regulated city without giving alms; much harder things to bear were the astonishment of her fellow-members of the school committee at her refusing to sanction large gifts of clothing to the children; the glances of the visitors of the soup and blanket charities, when she declined subscribing and yielding her services; and, above all, the observations of relatives whom she respected, and old friends whom she loved, on the hardness of heart and laxity of principle shown by those who thought and acted as she did.
“Laxity of principle!” exclaimed her brother. “That is a singular charge to bring in such a case;—as if less vigour of principle was required to reflect on the wisest, and to adopt unusual, methods of doing good than to let kindly emotions run in the ruts of ancient institutions! I should say that the vigour of principle is on your side.”
“Better make no decision about it, brother. It is not the province of charity to meddle with motives, whatever its real province may be.— But about your medical offices;—it seems to me that you must resign them, thinking as you do.”
“And then what a hard-hearted, brutal fellow I shall be thought,” said her brother, smiling.
“No, no: only an oddity. But the speculations upon you may prove good for the cause of charity.”
“It shall be done, Louisa; and that as soon as we have determined on the best manner. I shall give up the Dispensary and the Lying-in Charity, and keep the Casualty Hospital. As for the Workhouse Infirmary———”
“Aye; I was wondering what you would say to that.”
“I like it no better, but considerably worse, than many others; but it stands on a different footing, inasmuch as it is established by law; and it seems to me that I must follow other methods of abolition than that of withdrawing my services. There is no place of appeal for such an act, as there is in the case of a voluntary charity.”
“There is little enough that is voluntary in this case, to be sure, brother. Such complaints about the rate from the payers! Such an assertion on the part of the poor of their right to a maintenance by the state! Whence arises this right?”
“I do not admit it,” replied her brother. “Those who do admit it, differ respecting its origin. Some assert the right of every individual born into any community to a maintenance from the state; regarding the state and its members as holding the relation of parent and children. This seems to me altogether a fallacy;—originating in benevolent feelings, no doubt, but supported only by a false analogy. The state cannot control the number of its members, nor increase, at its will, the subsistence-fund; and, therefore, if it engaged to support all the members that might be born to it, it would engage for more than it might have the power to perform. —Others, who admit this in the abstract, plead for the right of the indigent of Great Britain to a maintenance from the state, on the ground of the disabilities to which the poor are peculiarly liable in this country, from the aristocratic nature of some of our institutions, the oppressive amount of taxation, and its pressure upon the lower classes. I admit a claim to relief here; but the relief should not be given, even could it be effectual, in the shape of an arbitrary institution like that of our pauper system. The only appropriate relief is to be found in the removal of the grievances complained of; in the modification of certain of our institutions; in the lightening, and, yet more, in the equalization of taxation.—Mark what a state we have arrived at from our mistaken recognition of this right to support! Though the subsistence-fund has increased at a rapid rate within a hundred years, through the improvements introduced by art and civilization, the poor-rate has, in that time, increased from five or six hundred thousand pounds a year to upwards of eight millions!”
“Some say,” observed his sister, “that it is not the recognition of the right which has caused the mischief, but the imperfect fulfilment of the original law. You know better than I whether this is true.”
“It is clear,” replied her brother, “that neither the letter nor the spirit of the original law was adhered to; but it is also clear that, in that law, the state promised more than it could perform. Did you ever read the famous clause of the famous 43d of Elizabeth? No? There lies Blackstone. I will show it you.”
“But first tell me what state the poor were in when that act was passed.”
“For the credit of Elizabeth's government, it is certainly necessary to premise what you inquire about.—From the year 597, that is, from Pope Gregory's time, tithes paid to the clergy were expressly directed to be divided into four parts, as Blackstone here tells us, you see; one part for the bishops, one for the clergyman, incumbent, or parson; one for repairing and keeping up tile church; and one for the maintenance of the poor.”
“But do the clergy pay a fourth part of their tithes to the poor?”
“O no,” replied her brother, laughing. “That troublesome order was got rid of many hundred years ago; and so was the clause respecting the share of the bishops; so that tithes became, in a short time, a very pretty consideration. Well; though some notice of the poor was occasionally taken by the legislature, no complaints of their state made much noise till Henry VIII. suppressed the monasteries. These monasteries had supported crowds of idle poor, who were now turned loose upon the country; and with them a multitude of vagabond monks, who were a nuisance to the whole kingdom. It became necessary to stop the roaming, begging, and thieving, which went on to the dismay and injury of all honest people; and for this purpose, the famous act of Elizabeth was framed. This statute enacts, ‘That the churchwardens and overseers shall take order, from time to time, (with the consent of two or more justices,) for setting to work the children of all such whose parents shall not be thought able to keep and maintain their children; and also for setting to work all such persons, married or unmarried, having no means to maintain them, and using no ordinary or daily trade to get their living by; and also to raise, by taxation, &c., a convenient stock of flax, to set the poor on work; and also competent sums of money for and towards the necessary relief of the lame, impotent, old, blind, and such other among them, being poor and not able to work.’ You see how this is aimed at vagabonds as well as designed for the impotent. Many a monkish bosom, no doubt, heaved a sigh at the mention of ‘a convenient stock of flax.’”
“Surely, brother,” said Louisa, “the state promises by this act just what you said no state could fairly promise, without having the control of its numbers; it promises to support all its indigent members.”
“It does; and it promises another thing equally impossible of fulfilment. Here is an engagement to find employment for all who would not or could not procure it for themselves. Now, as the employment of labour must depend on the amount of the subsistence-fund, no law on earth can enforce the employment of more labour than that fund can support.”
“Then this promise has not been fulfilled, I suppose?”
“Many attempts have been made to fulfil it, all of which have had the effect of diverting industry from its natural channel, and taking the occupation of the independent labourer out of his hands to put it into that of the pauper. This is so ruinous an operation, that the wonder is how the pauper system has failed to swallow up all our resources, and make us a nation of paupers.”
“In which case,” observed Louisa, “the state would be found to have engaged to maintain itself in a pauper condition. What a blunder! Twenty-four millions of paupers are bound by law to maintain twenty-four millions of paupers!”
“This is the condition we shall infallibly be brought to, Louisa, unless we take speedy means to stop ourselves. We are rolling, down faster and faster towards the gulf, and two of our three estates, Lords and Commons, have declared that we shall soon be in it;—that in a few more years the profits of all kind of property will be absorbed by the increasing rates, and capital will therefore cease to be invested; land will be let out of cultivation, manufactures will be discontinued, commerce will cease, and the nation become a vast congregation of paupers.”
“Dreadful! brother. How can we all go quietly about our daily business with such a prospect before us?”
“A large proportion of the nation knows little about the matter: some hope that fate, or Providence, or something will interfere to save us; others think that it is no business of theirs; and those whose business it is are at a loss what to do.”
“But how long has there been so much cause for alarm?”
“Only within a few years. Thanks to the ungracious mode of executing the law, it effected less mischief during a century and a half than might have been anticipated. When persons could be relieved only in their own parishes, and when that relief was given in a manner which exposed the applicant to a feeling of degradation among his neighbours, few asked relief who could by any means subsist without it. Workhouses, too, were regarded as odious places, and to the workhouse paupers must go, in those days, if out of employ; and all who had any sense of comfort or decency delayed to the very last moment classing themselves with paupers. So that, up to 1795, the state was less burdened with pauperism than, from the bad system it had adopted, it deserved.”
“What makes you fix that precise date?”
“Because in that year a change took place in the administration of the poor-laws, which has altered the state of the country disastrously. There was a scarcity that season, and consequently much difficulty with our paupers, among whom now appeared not only the helpless, but able-bodied, industrious men, who could no longer maintain their families. It was most unfortunately agreed by the county magistrates, first of Berkshire, and afterwards of other parts of the middle and south of England, that such and such ought to be and should henceforth be the weekly income of the labouring poor; and a table was published exhibiting the proportions of this income according to the size of families and the price of bread.”
“But how could that mend the matter?” exclaimed Louisa. “These magistrates and the public could not increase the quantity of bread, and where was the use then of giving money? It was merely taking bread from those who had earned it, to give it to those who had not.”
“Just so; but these magistrates did not happen to view the matter as you do; and we have great cause to rue their short-sightedness.— Mark how the system has worked!—All labourers are given to understand that they ought to have a gallon loaf of wheaten bread weekly for each member of their families, and one over; that is, three loaves for two people, and eleven for ten. John comes and says that his wife and four children and himself must have seven loaves, costing twelve shillings; but that he can earn only nine shillings. As a matter of course, three shillings are given him from the parish.—Next comes Will. He has a wife and six children, and must have nine loaves, or fourteen shillings and eightpence. He earns ten shillings, and receives the rest from the parish. Hal is a vagabond whom no capitalist will admit within his gates. Work is out of the question; but his family must be fed, and want eight loaves: so the parish pays him thirteen shillings and eight-pence.”
“So that in fact,” observed Louisa, “eleven loaves are earned by these three families, and the twelve still deficient are taken from other earners. How very unjust! How very ruinous! But does this kind of management still go on?”
“Universally in the agricultural counties, with such slight variations as are introduced by local circumstances.—Great allowance must be made for the pressure of difficulties at the time when this system was adopted; but the system itself is execrable, however well-meaning its authors. The industry of the lower classes has been half ruined by it, and their sense of independence almost annihilated. The public burdens have become well nigh overwhelming; and the proportion of supply and demand in all the departments of industry is so deranged that there is no saying when it can be rectified.”
“It is rather hard upon the poor,” observed Louisa, “that we should complain of their improvidence when we bribe them to it by promising subsistence at all events. Paupers will spend and marry faster than their betters as long as this system lasts.”
“It makes one indignant to see it,” replied her brother. “I am now attending an industrious young man, a shopkeeper, who has been attached for years, but will not marry till his circumstances justify it. He has paid more to the rates every year; and half a dozen vagabond paupers have married in his parish during the time that he has been waiting.”
“All these things, brother, bring us round to the question, what are we to do?”
“You must enlighten the children in your school, and all the poor you have any influence over, Louisa. As for me,—it is unnecessary to open my lips upon it to my country patients, for I seldom enter a farmhouse without hearing complaints of the system. But our towns are too quiet about the matter. General, calm, enlightened deliberation is required, and that without loss of time.—I am prepared with testimony respecting the increase of sickness and mortality which accompanies the augmentation of the poor-rate. Most happy should I be to have the opportunity of delivering it.”
“Our wise men,” said Louisa, “must start afresh the old question, and the nation must gather round them to be taught anew, ‘What is Charity?’”
No one could pass the gates of the workhouse on pay-day without seeing how much misery existed among the claimants of out-door relief; but few could guess, without following these applicants to their homes, how much guilt attended, not only their poverty, but the advancement of their claims;—guilt which would never have been dreamed of unless suggested and encouraged by a system which destroys the natural connexion between labour and its rewards.
Mrs. Bell's husband was now out of work, after having earned and regularly spent twenty-five shillings a week for many months. His third child had died after a long illness, and one which had proved expensive to the parish, from whence this family now derived four and sixpence a week. Mrs. Bell, who always went herself to receive the weekly allowance, lest her husband, through his dislike of tile business, should not “manage it cleverly,” took credit to herself for having given notice that the doctor need not take any more trouble about her poor boy, as he was past hope and nothing more could be done for him; but she omitted to state the reason of his being past hope, (viz., that he was dead,) because it would have been inconvenient to give up the allowance received on his account. So no doctor came to ask awkward questions, and the money was a great comfort indeed. Mrs. Bell had truly managed the whole matter very “cleverly.” She got another blanket, even out of due season, because the boy was apt to be cold at night. The Sick Poor Society allowed her a certain sum weekly as long as the child lived; and two or three kind neighbours gave her leave to call at their houses when they had a wholesome joint for dinner, to carry away a slice and vegetables for the patient; and if all these desired her to call on the same day, she managed to borrow a couple of basins and obey directions; for though the patient could not eat three dinners at a time, nor perhaps even one, there were others in the house who liked savoury meat, and it was only returning their thanks for the “nourishing cordial” in poor Bob's name. Then came the lamentations over the impossibility of burying him decently, and the thanksgivings for a half-crown here and there for the purpose; and then hints about any old rag of black, and the pain to maternal feelings of having no mourning for so dear a child; and the tears at sight of the black stuff gown, and the black silk bonnet, and the black cotton shawl,—all so much too good for her before they were put into her hands, but pronounced rusty, rotten old rubbish when surveyed at home. Then came the commands to the children to say nothing about Bob unless they were asked, and the jealousy of that prying, malicious old widow Pine, who peeped through her lattice a full hour before she should properly have awaked, and just in time to see the coffin carried out of the yard. Lastly came the subtraction of poor Bob's parish allowance from the rest before the money was delivered into her husband's hand. The early waking of widow Pine, and the use she might make of what she saw, no mortal could prevent; but all that devolved upon herself, Mrs. Bell flattered herself that she had “managed very cleverly,”
One day when she was going to the workhouse for her allowance, her husband accompanied her part of the way. Widow Pine was before them in the street, stepping feebly along, supported by a stick in one hand and by the wall on the other side.
“She'll trip over the tatters of her gown,” exclaimed Bell. “Poor old soul! she is not fit to walk the streets,—bent double, and ready to be knocked down by the first push. She will not trouble the parish long.”
“She will die in the streets,” replied his wife, “and with bad words in her mouth. She is for ever prying about people's affairs, and saying malicious things of her neighbours. The old hypocrite! she sits see-sawing herself, and drawling hymns while she combs her grey hair that never was cut, and all the while pricking up her ears for scandal.”
“You and she never had much love to lose,” replied Bell, obeying his wife's motion to cross the street to avoid passing at the widow's elbow. She saw them, however, and sent her well-known piping after them, striking the pavement with her stick, to attract the notice of the passers by.
“I wish you joy of your blue gown, Mrs. Bell! 'Tis no great thing to lose a child that comes to life again every parish pay-day!”
“Never mind the old wretch,” said Bell. “By the by, I have observed you put off your black sometimes. What is it for?”
“The officers are so quick-sighted about a new gown. They might take off some pay if they knew I had a friend that would give me a gown; and it really is a rag not worth disputing about.”
The husband was satisfied, but much annoyed with the abuse that came from over the way.
“I'll crush you, yet!” railed the old woman. “I can, and I will, such a pack of knaves and liars as you are! You'll soon hear from the parish, I warrant you! You'll soon be posted for cheats!”
“I say, goody, hold your foul tongue, or I'll correct you as you little think for,” said Bell.
“You! what harm can you do me, I wonder? —you that are lost, and I a holy person.”
“A holy person! How do you mean holy?” asked Bell, laughing.
“How do you mean holy! Why, sure of heaven, to be sure. I'm sure of heaven, I tell you, and you are lost! God has given me nothing else, for a miserable life I've had of it; but he has given me grace, and is not that enough?”
“You must keep it close locked up somewhere, for never a one found out you had it,” said Mrs. Bell. “I doubt the Talbots that have been so kind to you have never seen much of your grace.”
“Kind to me! The proud, mean, slandering folks! You little know the Talbots if you think they can be generous to anybody. They'll meet you hereafter when I shall be in a better place!”
“That is pretty well,” said Bell, “when you have”had bed and board, clothes and comfort, from that family from your youth up. Suppose I tell them what you say, neighbour.”
“As you please. It is only what I have told them myself. I shall look to hear you curse them soon, Mrs. Bell, for they have been told how you take parish money for your dead child. So you got a blanket to keep the boy warm? He is in a hot place now,—a little unregenerate devil as he was! If he was not to be saved, you are well off to be rid of him so soon.”
The husband and wife quickened their pace till they got out of hearing, the one full of disgust, the other of the fear of detection. She was anxious to receive her money before the widow should arrive; but there was already such a crowd about the gates that she saw she must wait long for her turn.
Two of the paupers had secured a seat on the door-step of an opposite house: the one, a well-known beggar, whose occupation had never been effectually interfered with by the police; the other, a young man, who was jeered at as a stranger by some who weekly resorted to this place. One gave him joy of his admission to the pauper brotherhood; another asked how he liked waiting on the great; a third observed that he could not judge till he had waited two hours in the snow of a winter's noon.
“Never fret yourself for their gibes, Hunt,” said Childe, the beggar. “You are more in the way to do well than you have been this many a day. You may make what you will of the great, if you do but know how to set about it.”
“I'm glad to hear it,” said Hunt, fidgeting about in a state of great agitation. “l'm sure the rich know well enough what to make of us. Not a word do we ever hear from them about our right to be kept from starvation; and they expect us to be wonderfully grateful for a parish dole, while they cut off a pound of meat a week from every poor soul's allowance within yonder walls, and advise us to mix illegibleye with our wheaten bread.—'Tis true, as l'm alive! A man told me so just now as he came out of yonder gate.”
“Well; let us get the pound of meat for our share, if we can. I'll bet you a wager, Hunt, I'll get a shilling a week more out of them for this very prank of theirs.”
“Done!” cried Hunt. “I bet you a penny roll they will be too sharp for you.” “A penny roll!” exclaimed Childe. “A pint of wine is the lowest bet I ever lay, man, A pint of red port to be paid to-night. Come!”
“You might as well ask me to bet a diamond,” said Hunt, laughing bitterly. “How am I to get port wine?”
“I'll show you when our business here is done,” said Childe. “Your father was my friend, or I should not open my confidence so easily. But just stand a minute at that fat woman's elbow, will you? Just to screen me a bit. There; that will do. Don't look round till I bid you.”
When Hunt had permission to look round, he scarcely knew his companion. Childe had slipped off his worsted stocking and bound it over his forehead and chin, so as to look very sickly; He sprinkled a few grains from his snuff-box into his eyes, so as to look blear-eyed, and forthwith set himself to tremble all over, except his right arm which appeared stiff.
“I have had a slight stroke of palsy this week, you see,” said he. “I can just get abroad to show that I must have another shilling a week.—Hang it, Hunt, it is not worth the trouble for such a trifle, if it was not for the bet!”
Hunt thought a shilling a week no trifle, and wondered how Childe came by such mighty notions.
“Because I've an e at the end of my name, man, that's all. That little letter makes a great man of me. It is worth house and board and tobacco and clothes to me for the whole of my old age. You think I am mad, I see; but, hark'ee! did you never hear of Childe's hospital?”
“Yes; near London. Is not it?”
“Yes; and I have the next turn there, and a merry life I make of it till I get in, fearing that the confinement may be rather too close for my liking. However, it is not a thing to be sneezed at. The money gathers so fast that' tis thought we Childes shall have silver spoons by the time I enter the brotherhood. I like gentility, and I would give up a little roving for the sake of it.”
“But how had you the luck to get on the list?” inquired Hunt. “Who befriended you?”
“Lord bless you, how little you know about such things! 'Twas I befriended the trustees, not they me. They are beholden to me for saving them the trouble of searching further for a Child with an e at the end of his name. None others will do by the terms of the bequest, which is for the support of thirteen aged men of the same name with the pious founder.—A deal of pride in his piety, I doubt, Hunt.—Well: the funds have grown and grown, and the trustees can't use them up any how, though their dinners and plate and knick-knackeries are the finest of the fine, I'm told; and the thirteen aged men have all they ask for. You should see what a figure I cut on the list of candidates,—alone in my glory, as they say;— ‘honest industry’— ‘undeserved poverty’— ‘infirmities of advancing years,’ and so forth. I wonder they did not make a soldier or a sailor of me at once,— ‘to justify their choice,’ as they finish by saying. Why, man, you look downright envious!”
“I wish any great man of the name of Hunt had endowed an hospital,” sighed Hunt; “but I am afraid there would be too many claimants to give me a chance.”
“To be sure. There's not one in ten thousand meets with such luck as mine. Bless you! there would be a string of Hunts a mile long, in such a case.”
And the beggar threw himself back, laughing heartily; but suddenly stopped, saying,
“Mercy! how nearly I had lost my bet! People in the palsy do not laugh, do they?”
“When do you expect to get into this hospital?” inquired Hunt, who could think of nothing else; “and how do you keep yourself so sleek meanwhile;”
“I shall depart to that better place when any one of the old pensioners departs to a better still,”of replied the beggar; “meanwhile, I grow fat in the way I will show you presently. Now for it. It is our turn. Do you keep just behind me and see how I manage.”
The method was worth watching. Childe won his way slowly among the groups, preserving his paralytic appearance wonderfully, and exciting the compassion of all who took notice of him.
“And who may you be, friend?” inquired the officer, as Childe approached the counter where the pay was being distributed. “Bless me! Childe! My poor fellow, how you are altered! You have had a stroke, I am afraid?”
“If it's ordained that the grasshopper must become a burden,” said Childe, mumbling in his speech, “we must submit, and be thankful to have lived so long. But you will not refuse me another shilling, sir.”
The officer was about to comply, when an assistant who stood by him remarked that the applicant looked wonderfully ruddy for a paralytic man, and that his eyes were as bright as ever. Hunt, who stood behind, jogged his arm, from which the stick immediately fell. Childe appeared to make several ineffectual efforts to pick it up, and looked imploringly towards the people behind him, as if complaining that they pressed upon him. The officer spoke sharply to Hunt—
“Pick up the man's stick, you brute! You knocked it out of his hand, and you stand staring as if you liked to see how helpless he is.—You observe, John, his right arm is quite useless. Give him another shilling.”
Hunt wished he had abstained from his practical hint. Before he could state his case, a woman got the officer's ear.—Sarah Simpson, spinster, by name and title. She was a clean, tight little body, poorly dressed, and sickly in appearance. She appeared excessively nervous, her eyes rolling and her head twitching incessantly. She pleaded for more pay, saying that she had a note from one of the guardians respecting it: but for this note her trembling hands searched in vain, while she was pushed about by the people who still continued to fill the room.
“Make haste, good woman,” said the officer. “We can't wait on you all day.”
At this moment, the poor creature turned round and swore a tremendous oath at a man who had taken upon him to hurry her.
“Upon my word, that is pretty well for a spinster!” observed the officer. “If you are not satisfied with your pay, madam, I would recommend your going into the workhouse. You have nobody dependent on you, I believe, and I should think the workhouse a very proper place for you.”
“She has been there already,” said the assistant. “Her tongue put me in mind of that. The master tells me such oaths were never heard within the walls as this woman's.”
“Mercy, gentlemen, what did I say?” asked the poor creature, whose eyes now rolled fright-fully. “I am not myself at times, gentlemen, when I'm hurried, gentlemen. I have such a —such a—such a strife and strangling here,” she continued fretfully, a tearing open her gown, and shaking herself like a passionate child.
“Well, well, that's enough of your symptoms; we are not your doctors,” said the assistant; “take your money and make way.”
In a hurried manner she closed her gown and drew back, forgetting her money, which however Hunt put into her hand.
“Only two shillings!” exclaimed the poor creature, returning timidly to the counter. “A'n't I to have what the gentleman recommended, then, sir?”
“You are to have no more money, so let us have no more words,” said the officer. “You have your full share already.”
Mrs. Bell, whose period of waiting seemed coming to an end, advanced to say that Sarah Simpson was subject to flights at times, when she did not know what words came out of her mouth; but that she was a humble, pious Christian as could be.
“I am afraid your recommendation is not worth much,” observed the officer. “Let us see.—Your husband, yourself, and how many children?”
Mrs. Bell, suspecting herself suspected, hesitated whether to say four or five. suspected, She shaped her answer dubiously,—
“Four and sixpence a week is what we have had, sir”
“How many children?” thundered the officer.
“Four,” admitted the terrified Mrs. Bell, who was glad to get away with three and sixpence, and a rating from the men in authority, accompanied by sneers and jests from the hearers. On her way home, she laid the entire blame on the ill-nature of her neighbours, especially on the spite of old widow Pine.
Hunt obtained a small allowance, and left the place, grumbling at its amount and at the prospect of having to spend it all in wine to pay his wager. Childe, however, gave him his first lesson in the mysteries of begging. Under the pretence of sport, he practised the art for the first time in a street on the outskirts of the city, through which many gentlemen passed in their way home to dinner from their counting-houses. Hunt was astonished at his own success, and began to calculate how much alms might be given away in a year in fills single street, if he and Childe had the begging department all to themselves. It might be enough, he thought, to enable them to set up a shop.—When the parish clock struck eight, Childe came to him and said it was near supper-time. Hunt was glad of it, for he was very hungry, having had nothing since morning. Childe begged pardon for the freedom of calling him a fool, but could not conceive why he had not taken a chop in the middle of the day, as it was his custom to do: it was sticking rather too close to the main chance to sit without food from morning till evening for fear of missing a monied passenger.
Hunt followed his tutor to a public-house in the heart of the city, called the Cow and Snuffers. Hunt had supposed this house too respectable to be the resort of beggars; but was informed that the fraternity thought nothing too good for them when their day's business was at an end, and the time of refreshment was come; not as it comes to poor artizans in their sordid homes, but rather to convivial men of wealth.
“Stay!” said Childe, as they were about to enter the house. “How much can you afford to spend? Five shillings, I suppose, at the least.—Never start at such a trifle as that, man! You will make it up between four and five tomorrow afternoon.”
Hunt had not intended to beg any more; but he deferred the consideration of the matter for the present, and followed Childe to a small room upstairs, furnished with washing apparatus, and with a wardrobe well stocked with respectable clothing. Three or four persons were already in this room dressing, their beggar apparel being thrown into a corner, and looking-glass, brushes, and towels, being all in requisition. Hunt was declared, after a brushing, to be presentable without a change of apparel, especially as he was a stranger. Childe was about to open a door on the same floor, when a waiter stopped his hand and intimated that they must mount higher, as the room in question was occupied by the monthly meeting of the Benefit Club. The cloth was laid upstairs, and it was hoped the apartment might be found quite as comfortable.
On the question being put to the vote among the beggars already assembled, it was pronounced an intolerable nuisance to be turned out of their apartment regularly once a month by these shabby fellows, who were always thinking how they should save money instead of spending it. The landlord was rung for, and requested to intimate to the workpeople that a large convivial party desired to change rooms with them. The landlord objected that the apartment had been positively engaged from the beginning by the club, and he could not think of turning them out. Being assailed, however, by various questions,—how he could bring the two companies into comparison?—whether he could honestly declare that the custom of the club was worth more than a few shillings in the year?—and, lastly, how he would like to lose the patronage of the beggars' company?—he consented to carry a message—the answer to which was a civil refusal to budge. Message after message was sent in vain. The club, having ascertained that there were unoccupied rooms in the house which would suit the purpose of the other party as well, very properly chose to keep the landlord to his engagement.
“It's monstrous, upon my soul!” cried a lady beggar, making her entrèe with a curtsey, which she had first practised on the boards of a barn, when personating Juliet,—“it is really monstrous to be poked into an attic in this way;— and to miss the view of the cathedral, too, which is so attractive to strangers!”
The appearance of this lady suggested a last appeal.
“Tell them,” said Childe, “that there's a lady in the case,—a lady who is partial to the view of the cathedral.”
The club sent their compliments, and would be happy to accommodate the lady with a seat among them, whence she might view the cathedral at leisure, while they settled their accounts.
The club were pronounced ill-mannered wretches, and the representations of the landlord about the probable overroasting of the geese, were listened to. Supper was ordered. Roast goose top and bottom;—an informality for which apology was made to Hunt, on the ground that the company liked nothing so well as goose in the prime of the pea-season;—abundance of pease; delicate lamb chops and asparagus, and so forth. Hunt had never before beheld such a feast.
“It will be long enough,” observed a junior member, “before those shabby fellows below treat themselves with such a set-out as this. I never liked their doings when I was an operative: I was one of the other sort.”
“What other sort?”
“One of the good livers, and not one of the frugal. I and some friends of mine used to sup something in this fashion when we earned near three guineas a week, We used to get our fowls from London.”
“Bravo! and what made you leave off trade?”
“I was turned off in bad times, and I shall tell you no more; for I hate to think of that winter of cold and water-gruel. My nose was positively frost-bitten, and my stomach like a wet bladder most part of the twenty-four hours. Pah! it was horrid.”
“You would have exchanged conditions with one of the frugal at that time, probably.”
“Why, I did envy one his bit of fire, and another his mess of broth; and the next winter I may envy them again, for I hear the magistrates have got scent of me; but no more of that now.—Miss Molly, your very good health! May I ask what you have done with your seven small children
“Left some of them on the bridge, and the rest in the Butcher's-row, with directions where to find me when the halfpence grow too heavy for them. I hope it is going to rain so that they will get little; for I don't want to be bored with the brats any more to-night.”
“They must be quite too much for you sometimes.”
“Hang it! they are. It is all I can do to remember their parentage, in case of its being convenient to return them. Two of them are getting to a troublesome age now,—so impertinent! I must really get rid of them, and borrow another baby or two.”
“Gentlemen,” said Childe, when the cloth was drawn and the door closed behind the waiter,“we have long wanted a general-officer in our company, and I flatter myself I have found one who will fill the department excellently, if he can be induced to join us. Hunt, what say you?will you be one of us?”
Hunt wished to know what would be expected of him.
“The fact is,” said Childe, “I took a hint during my travels last year, which is too good
to be let drop. General Y——, whom, as a boy,
I used to see reviewing the troops, gamed and drank himself down into pauperism, and I met him last year walking the streets, not begging, but taking a vast deal of money; for it was whispered who he was, and everybody gave him something. 'Tis a case of the first water, you see, and it is a pity not to profit by it. You will find your part very easy. You have only to let your beard grow a little, and walk barefoot and bareheaded, buttoning your coat up to your chin in the way of military men, and as if to hide the want of a shirt. You must look straight before you as if you saw nobody, and keep your left hand in your bosom and your right by your side. You will find many a shilling put into it, I expect, and very little copper.—If you think it as well to very the story, we can make you an admiral, with some resemblance to a pigtail; but you are hardly round-shouldered enough for a seaman, are there is something in the upright military walk that catches the eye better.”
Hunt had some scruples of conscience, which were discovered and combated with wonderful address by his tutor. The argument which proved finally successful was, that if lie believed he had a right to comfortable support, and could not obtain it either by work, or by allowance from the public fund, he must get it in any way he could.—Nobody inquired whether this permission was to extend to thieving, in case the gentry should take it into their heads to leave off giving alms; nor did any one trouble himself to consider where, short of murder, the line was to be drawn in the prosecution of this supposed right. Hunt had some confused notion that the act of begging is inconsistent with a claim of right: if he changed his petition into a demand, the act became one of highway robbery; between which and petty larceny and burglary, there are only degrees of the same guilt: there must be some flaw in this reasoning, since the gallows stood at the end of it. It might have been proved to him that, if he had the supposed right to support, he was now about to urge it in the wrong quarter ; and that, therefore, no species of begging is defensible on this very common plea. It might also have been proved that the right itself is purely imaginary; but he was now in a company whence it was most convenient to banish all questions of right except those involved in the settlement of bets, and of precedence in taking the chair.
There was much laughter at the sober folks below; the murmur of whose business-like voices rose occasionally during a pause, and who were heard descending the stairs before the clock struck ten. The waiter just then came up with a fresh supply of gin, Miss Molly having an inclination for another glass.
“How much do those people spend each time, pray?”
“Twopence a-piece, and a shilling over.”
In reply to the mirth which followed, Childe pointed out that the very object of their meeting was the promotion of frugality; and that his only wonder therefore was, that they did not meet somewhere where they need spend nothing at all.
The waiter, who had looked grave during the laugh, now observed that the members of the club drank so little because they had something better to do. They read the newspapers, and took an important part in elections, and had the satisfaction of helping one another in many ways. He could speak to the satisfaction of being a member of one of these clubs, and the pride he felt in it. There was no occasion to fear any magistrate or constable living, or to have anything to do with the parish; and they were, moreover, prepared so as to be at no man's mercy in times of trouble and. sickness; and when they were past work, there was a fund to go to, over which they held a right; and this, in his opinion, was worth more than jollity with want in prospect. The man was ordered away, and threatened with being thrown out of the window for his impertinence, and a riotous chorus was struck up on his disappearance; but there were, possibly, others besides Hunt, who sighed at his words, before they began to sing in praise of gin and revelry.
COUSIN MARSHALL's CHARITIES.
Marshall was a member of the benefit club which met at the Cow and Snuffers. He had followed his father's advice and example by enrolling his name in it while yet a very young man; and he was now every day farther from repenting that he had thus invested the earnings of his youth. His companions, who knew him to be what is commonly called ‘a poor creature,’ smiled, and said that his club served him instead of a set of wits. He was not a man whose talents could have kept him afloat in bad times, and his club served admirably for a cork-jacket. His wife, who never seemed to have found out how much cleverer she was than her husband, put the matter in a somewhat different light, She attributed to her husband all the respectability they were enabled to maintain, and which concealed from the knowledge of many that Marshall earned but moderate wages from being a slow and dull, though steady workman. She gave him the credit, not only of the regularity of their little household, (which was, indeed, much promoted by the sobriety of his habit,) but of the many kindnesses which they rendered to their neighbours, — from sending in a fresh egg to an invalid next door, to taking home two orphans to be maintained. If it had not been for her husband's way of storing his earnings, as cousin Marshall truly observed, these offices of goodwill would have been out of the question; and this observation, made now and then at the close of a hard day's work, when Sally was trying to knit beside him, dropping, unperceived, as many stitches, poor girl! as she knitted, and when little Ann was at play among his own children before the door, made the slow smile break over his grave face, and constituted him a happy man.
Sally's eyes grew daily worse. Mrs. Marshall had long suspected, but could never make sure of the fact, that she injured them much by crying. As often as Sally had reason to suppose she was watched, she was ready with the complaint “my eyes always water so;” and how many of these tears came from disease, and how many from grief, it was difficult to make out. She was seldom merry, now and then a little fretful, but generally quiet and grave. Her great pleasures were to sit beside cousin Marshall, on the rare occasions when she could turn out all the little ones to play, and mend clothes of an afternoon; or to forget how old she was growing, and be taken on John Marshall's knee, and rest her aching forehead on his shoulder when he had an evening hour to spare. From the one she heard many stories of her mother as a girl no bigger than herself; and from the other, tidings of Ned and Jane, when, as often happened, John had been to see them. Mrs. Marshall now began to intersperse frequent notices of the Blind Asylum in her talk, trying to excite poor Sally's interest in the customs, employments, and advantages of the place; and she gave her husband a private hint to do the same, in order to familiarise the girl with the thought of the place she must shortly go to. John obeyed the the hint; but he did it awkwardly. Whatever was the subject now started in his presence, it always ended in praises of the Blind Asylum, and declarations how much he should like to go there if it should please the Almighty to take away his eyesight. Sally was not long in fathoming the intention of this. At first she pressed down her forehead closer when John said ‘a-hem’ on approaching the subject; but soon she slid from his knee, and went away at the first sign.
“I think, John,” said his wife, one evening when this happened, John,“poor Sally has heard enough for the present about this Asylum. It pains her sadly, I am afraid; but the time must be at hand, for she is very nearly blind now; and as to a vacancy, some of the people are very old.”
“I was going to say, wife, one of them is dead, and Sally can be got in on Saturday, as Mr. Burke bids me tell you. I met him to-day, and that was his message.”
Cousin Marshall's thoughts were at once painfully divided, between satisfaction at having Sally thus comfortably provided for, and the sorrow of parting with her; between the doubt how her clothes were to be got ready, and the dread of telling the girl what was to come to pass. She decided on sending her to bed in the first place, in order to hold a consultation in peace; so she went in search of her, led her up herself to the little nook which had been partitioned off for her as an invalid, helped her to bed, instead of letting Ann do it, swallowed her tears while hearing the simple prayer she had taught her, kissed her, and bade her good night.
“Cousin Marshall,” said the little girl, after listening a minute, “what are you doing at the window?”
“Hanging up an apron, my dear, to keep the morning sun off your face.”
“O, don't do that! I don't see much of the light now, and I like to feel the sun and know when it shines in.”
“Just as you like. But what are you folding your clothes under your head for? You shall have a pillow. O yes; I have a pillow—I'll bring it.”
Sally nestled her head down upon it as if for comfortable repose, while her cousin went down to meditate on her concerns. It was settled between the husband and wife, that either Ned or Jane should be immediately taken home in Sally's place, and that circumstances at the workhouse should determine which it should be.
Mrs. Marshall was wont to sleep as soundly as her toil and wholesome state of mind and conscience deserved; but this night she was disturbed by thoughts of the disclosure she must make in the morning. She scarcely closed her eyes while it was dark, and after it began to dawn, lay broad awake, watching the pink clouds that sailed past her little lattice, and planning how the washing, ironing, and preparing of Sally's few clothes was to be done, in addition to the day's business. Presently she thought she heard the noise of somebody stirring behind the little partition. She sat up and looked about her, thinking it might be one of the many children in the room; but they were all sound asleep in their wonted and divers postures. After repeated listenings, she softly rose to go and see what could all Sally. She found her at the window; not, alas! watching the sunrise—for no sunrise should Sally ever more see—but drying her pillow in its first rays. The moment she perceived she was observed, she tossed the pillow into bed again, and scrambled after it; but it was too late to avoid explanation.
“It grieves me to chide you, my dear,” said cousin Marshall; “but how should your eyes get better, if you take no more care of them? Here is your pillow wet through, wetter than it could have been if you had not been crying all night, and you are looking up at the flaring sky, instead of shutting your poor eyes in sleep.”
“If I sleep ever so sound, cousin, I always wake when the sun rises, and I try sometimes how much I can see of him. It was scarce a blink to-day; so you need not fear its making my eyes ache any more. They never will be tried with bright light again! It is little more than a month since I could see yon tiled roof glistening at sunrise, and now I can't.”
“That is no rule, my dear; the sun has moved somewhat, so that we can't see it strike straight upon it. That tiled roof looks blue to me now, and dull.”
“Does it indeed?” cried Sally, starting up. “However, that is no matter, cousin; for my eyes are certainly very bad, and soon I shall not be able to do anything.”
“O, but l hope you will soon be able to do more than ever I have been able to teach you. If you have not me beside you to take up stitches in your knitting, you will learn not to let them drop; and that is far better. And you will make sashline, and the more delicate sort of baskets; and you are better off than most at their first going into the Asylum, in having learned to wash a floor neatly, and to join your squares by the feel, almost as well as we that can see. Miss Burke could scarcely believe you were Sally, the first day she came, you were washing the floor so nicely.”
Sally would have smiled at the compliment, but that she was too full of panic about the Asylum.
“But, cousin,”she said,“it will be all so strange! I don't know any of the people, and I shall have no one to talk to. And that brown stuff dress, and little black bonnet, and the white handkerchiefs, all alike! I don't like to wear a charity dress. I remember——”
Before Sally could relate what it was that she remembered, her cousin stopped her with a gentle rebuke. She did not mind what Sally said about the place and the people being strange; it was natural, and it was an evil soon cured, and she hoped there would be less to teaze the girl in the Asylum, than among the rough children at home; but she could not see what reason there was for so much pride as should disdain to wear a charity dress. Sally explained that it was not pride exactly; but she remembered how she and her sisters used to stare at the pupils of the Blind Asylum, as they met them going to church, and how she got out of the way in a great hurry, and followed them to see how they would manage to turn in at the gate; and sometimes when the master was not observing, she would look quite under their bonnets, without their finding it out, to see what their countenances were like. She should not like now to have anybody do the same to her. It was in vain that her cousin reasoned, that if she did not know it, it would not signify. The bare idea made her cry again as if she could not be comforted.
“You did not think at those times, Sally, of doing as you would be done by. If anybody had told you then that you would be one of those pupils, you would have left off following them. But it seems to me that blind people remember as soon as anybody to do as they would be done by; and so I hope you will find. I have often been in that Asylum, and it cheers one to see how cheerful the people are. ‘It is God's will,’ they say, when one asks them about their blindness. They are always ready with the word, ‘It is God's will.’ And it is not the word only, for they make the best of His will. If they make any little mistake, or do any little mischief unawares, they are thankful to be set right, and seem to forget it directly. But I hope you need not go there, Sally, to learn to say, cheerfully, ‘It is God's will.’”
Sally tried to stop her tears.
“And as for doing as you would be done by,” continued cousin Marshall, “now is your time. You have always found my husband tender to you, have not you?—and little Ann ready to guide and help you? Well, you don't know the concern John would feel, if he saw you leave us unwillingly, and I am afraid we could scarcely pacify Ann; but if you go with a steady heart and a cheerful face, they will see at once what a fine thing it is for you to be got into such a place. Just think now, if it was Ann instead of you, how would it make you most easy to see her?”
“O, cousin Marshall, I will try. Many's the time I have been glad it was not Ann. But when—when?”
Her cousin told her directly, that she was to go in the next day but one, so that she would soon be settled now, and find her lot come easy to her. After talking a while longer with her so as to leave her quite composed, and bidding her go to sleep, as it was far too early to get up yet, she left her, and set quietly about her business, keeping on the watch to prevent husband and children making any noise in dressing, that Sally might sleep, if possible, into the middle of the day. One object in beginning her toil so early, was to have time to go to the workhouse, in the afternoon, with the news of the release of one of the children there.
On entering the workhouse, she heard more news than she came to tell. A service had been obtained for Jane at farmer Dale's, a little way in the country, whither she was to be removed next market-day. Immediately on the announcement of the plan, Ned had disappeared, and had not been heard of since.
Jane seemed to regard this event but little, so occupied was she with making up her mind whether on the whole she liked the change or not. It was a fine thing, she supposed, to be out of the workhouse; but there would be an end of workhouse frolics, and perhaps harder toil than she had been accustomed to. On cousin Marshall's inquiry, whether she had not earned a little money to carry away in her pocket, she replied that she had been obliged to spend it as fast as earned. How? Chiefly in buying a dinner every Monday when she could; for she could never abide milk-broth; and the rest went for a better bonnet for Sundays, the one she brought with her being too shabby to wear at church and the gardens.
“Church and the gardens!” exclaimed cousin Marshall, very sternly. “It is mostly vain and dainty girls like you, Jane, that come to learn how welcome milk is to an empty stomach, and that are kept away from church, to say nothing of the gardens, for want of decent covering. It is a great misfortune, Jane, to be a parish girl, but it is a far greater to forget that you are one.”
There was much matter of concern for John when he returned from work this night, in speculating upon where poor Ned could be, and upon what would become of Jane, with her very handsome face, her bold manner, and her vain and giddy mind. The good couple hoped she was going to a hard service, where she would be out of the way of temptation.
John Marshall ran no great risk in offering to take his oath that poor Ned was after no harm. He was the last person in the world likely to plan mischief, or to wish to be idle with impunity. The fact was that he had long been uneasy on Jane's account, seeing that she was not steady enough to take care of herself; and the idea of being separated from her, added to the disgust of his pauper situation, which he had been bred up to detest, was too much for him. He had absconded with the intention of finding work, if possible, in or near Titford, the village where farmer Dale lived. For the sake of leaving his pauper dress behind him, he chose Sunday for the day of departure, and stole away from church in the afternoon. He had but threepence in his pocket, one penny of which went for bread that night, when he had walked two-thirds of the distance, and found a place of rest under a stack. Another penny was spent in like manner at the baker's shop at Titford, on his arrival there at ten on the Monday morning. He found a stream at which to refresh himself; and then, trying how stout-hearted he could make himself, inquired the way to farmer Dale's, peeped through the farm-yard gate, and seeing a woman feeding the fowls, went in, and asked for work.
“We have nothing to spare for strangers,” said she. “We must give more than we can afford to our own people.”
“I ask no charity,” said Ned. “I ask for work.”
“Where do you come from?” “From a distance. No matter where.” The woman, who proved to be Mrs. Dale, was he had run away from his parents and was a naughty boy. Ned explained that he was an orphan and only desired that it should be proved whether he was naughty or not, by setting him to work, and trying whether he did not labour hard and honestly. Had he any money? He produced his penny. How did he get it? He earned it. Why not earn more in the same way? It was impossible. What could he do? He thought he could do whatever boys of his age could generally do. How would he manage if he could not get work here? He would walk on till he found some. Begging by the way, Mrs. Dale supposed. No, he never begged. Where did he sleep last night? Under a stack. Further back than this it was impossible to gather any information of his proceedings. Mrs. Dale went in search of her husband, to plead for the boy,—a thing which she would not have done, unless she had been particularly interested in the lad; for farmer Dale had grown sadly harsh of late about beggars and idle people. He proved so on this occasion; for instead of hearing what Ned had to say, he made signs to him over the fence to be gone, and when the poor lad lingered, shook his fist at him in a way so threatening, as to show that there was no hope.
Ned went to two more places with no better success. One large establishment remained to be tried; and, disheartened as he was, Ned determined to apply; though it was hardly to be expected that the master of such a place would take up with such a labourer as he. He resolved to make his application to no one but-the master himself, and sat down to wait patiently for a good opportunity, which occurred when the gentleman came home to dinner, and his wife met him at the gate of the flower-garden. Ned followed, and respectfully urged his petition. Long and close was the examination he underwent, before the gentleman, equally struck with his reserve on some points and his openness on others, resolved to give him a trial. Ned was well satisfied with the offer of twopence that night, and of fourpence a day afterwards, as long as he should pick up stones and do inferior work of other kinds to the satisfaction of his employers. Mr. Effingham, for that was the gentleman's name, would not allow him to spend his third penny for his dinner; but ordered him a slice of bread and meat from the kitchen; after eating which, Ned set to work with a grave face and a lightened heart.
On receiving his twopence, he was asked where he meant to lodge. He did not know; but if there was any empty barn or shed where he might lay down a little straw, he would take it as a favour to be allowed to sleep there till he should have saved a few pence to pay for a lodging. He was taken at his word, and for a month slept soundly in the corner of an old barn, his only disturbance being the rats, three or four of which were frequently staring him full in the face when he woke in the morning.
After a few days, he began to linger about farmer Dale's premises, at leisure times, in hopes of ascertaining whether Jane had arrived, but could see nothing of her, and did not choose to inquire, knowing that after once having met her they could frequently exchange a few words without incurring the danger to himself in which he might be placed by asking for her. He was beginning to fear that the plan might be changed, and that Jane was not coming at all, when he heard tidings of her in a way that he little expected.
He was working in the field one day, when the bailiff approached, accompanied by farmer Dale. They were discussing the very common subject among farmers of the inconveniences of pauper labour.
“Don't you find these parish children a terrible plague?”inquired Dale. “They are the idlest, most impudent people I ever had to do with.”
“It is just the same with us,” replied the bailiff, “the men being quite as bad as the boys, or worse. How should it be otherwise when they do not work for themselves? One may see the difference by comparing this boy here with his neighbours. Ned is a hard-working lad as can be, and gives no trouble.”
Ned turned round on hearing this and made his bow. He smiled when the bailiff went on to say,
“He is not a parish boy, but was taken on against my wish because he wanted a living, and work, work, was all his cry. It was very well he came, for we find it does. not always follow that a great many labourers do a great deal of work. This lad does nearly as much as two parish boys, as I told them the other day; and I am sorry I did, as I fear it has made them plague him instead of mending themselves.”
“I cannot see,” said Dale, “what is to become of us farmers if these infernal rates are to go on swallowing up our substance, and putting us at the mercy of our own labourers. There is a piece of land of mine up yonder that I might make a pretty thing of; and I cannot touch it, because the tithe and the poor-rate together would just swallow up the whole profit.”
“What a waste it is,” rejoined the bailiff, “when a subsistence is wanted for so many!”
“And then I don't know that we gain anything by employing paupers and paying their wages out of the rates; for they just please themselves about working, and when they are paid, say to my face, ‘No thanks: for you must pay us for doing nothing, if you did not for doing something.’ I had words like that thrown in my teeth this very morning by a parish girl we have taken, and who seems to have learned her lesson wonderfully for the time she has been with us. Says she to my wife, ‘What care I whether I stay or go? The parish is bound to find me.’ It will be something more of a punishment soon, perhaps, to be sent away, for she seems to like keeping company with the farm-servants very well;—a flirting jade! with a face that is like to be the ruin of her.”
Ned felt too sure that this must be Jane.
“I would pack her off before worse came of it,” “said the bailiff.
“I shall try her a little longer,” said Dale: “there is no knowing whether one would change for the better, In my father's time, or at least in my grandfather's, a man might have his choice among independent labourers that had some regard to character, and looked to what they earned but now the case is quite changed, except in the neighbourhood of flourishing large farms where the poor-rate is a very trifling concern. One may look round in vain for the cottagers one used to meet at every turn: they have mostly flocked to the towns, and are sent out to us again as pauper-labourers. There are more labourers than ever; more by far than we want; but they are labourers of a different and a much lower class.”
“And the reason is evident enough,” replied the bailiff. “Proprietors have suffered so much from the burden that is brought upon the land by cottagers' families, that they let no cottages be built that are not absolutely necessary. In towns, the burden is a very different thing, as land is divided into such small portions, and the houses built upon it let so high that the increase of the rate does not balance the advantage; to say nothing of its being divided among so many. The consequence is that the overflow from the villages goes into the towns, and the people come out into the country for work. If it were not for the poor-rate, we should see in every parish many a rood tilled that now lies waste, and many a row of cottages tenanted by those who now help to breed corruption in towns.”
“And then,” said Dale, “we might be free from the promises and cheats of overseers. God keep me from being uncharitable! but, upon my soul, I am sick of having to do with overseers. One undertakes to farm the poor; and then it would make any heart ache to see how they are treated, while he pockets every penny that can be saved out of their accommodation. Another begins making himself popular with pretending to reduce the rate; and then, the most respectable of the paupers pine at home without relief, while we are beset with beggars at every turn. The worst of all is such a man as our present overseer, who comes to taunt one with every increase of the rate, and to give hints how little scruple he should have in distraining for it. And this is the pass we shall all come to soon, unless I am much mistaken.”
“As for beggars,” replied the bailiff, “one would wonder where they come from. They swarm from all quarters like flies on the first summer day.”
“One may see what brings them,” said Dale, with a bitter laugh. “The flies come in swarms when there is a honey-pot near; and the beggars are brought by your master's charity purse. I reckon, from what I have seen here, that every blanket given away brings two naked people, and every bushel of coals a family that wants to be warmed.”
The bailiff, instead of defending his master, laughed significantly, and led the way onwards, leaving Ned to meditate with a heavy heart on as much as he understood of what they had been saying.
WHAT COMES OF PARISH CHARITIES.
It was not long before Ned accomplished an interview with his giddy sister, and bitterly was he disappointed at her appearing not altogether glad to see him. Each time that they conversed, she seemed more constrained, and insisted further on the danger of his being discovered and incurring the displeasure of the superiors of the workhouse. Ned would listen to no hints about going up the country or back into the town: he chose to remain where he could keep an eye on Jane, and where moreover his own labour sup-plied him with necessaries, and enabled him to lay by a few pence now and then. The first of these reasons for keeping his place was soon removed, to the dismay and grief of all connected with Jane.
After having tried in vain for a fortnight to catch a sight of her, and afflicted himself perpetually with the thought of her depression of spirits the last time they met, Ned took the resolution of walking up to farmer Dale's door and asking to speak to Jane Bridgeman. The farmer happened to be within hearing, and came forward to give the answer .
“Bless me, is it you? After the character your master gave me of you, I should not have thought of finding you asking after Jane Bridgeman. But you are all alike, paupers or no paupers, as long as there are paupers among us to spread corruption. Off with you, if you want to find the person you ask for! She is not here, thank God! and never shall she enter these doors again. It was a great folly ever to take her in, only that another might have been as bad.— Where is she!—-Nay; that is no concern of mine. I suppose she will lie in in the workhouse she came from; but whether she went straight there, or where she went, I neither know nor care. Off with you from my premises, if you please!”
And the farmer shut the door in Ned's face. His wife had more compassion. She saw Ned turn red and pale and look very wretched, and she knew him for the same lad who had many months before asked work in a tone that pleased her. She now went out at the back gate, and met him in the farm-yard. Ned at once owned, in answer to her enquiries, that Jane was his sister, and by this means learned much of her history. She had never settled well to her business from the day of her arrival, and had seemed far more bent on being admired than on discharging her duty. Her mistress was pleased to observe, however, after a time, that she grew graver in her deportment, though she became more careless than ever about her work. It was true, she forgot everything that was said to her, and gave much trouble by her slovenliness; but she no longer smiled at compliments from the farm-servants, or acted the coquette in her necessary intercourse with them. Mrs. Dale thought her patience with the girl strangely rewarded when Jane came one day to give her warning that she wished to leave her present service at the earliest term. She would neither give a reason nor say where she meant to go. When the day arrived, she waited till her master went out, and then appeared, to bid her mistress farewell. In answer to repeated questions about where she was going, she at length sank down on a chair, sobbed convulsively, and owned that she had neither protection nor home in prospect; that she had been cruelly deceived, and that she meant to find some hiding-place where she might lie down and her shame die with her. It was some time before she would give any hint who it was that had deceived and who seduced her, and she never revealed his name; but Mrs. Dale believed it to be a pauper labourer who had disappeared a few days before, probably to avoid being obliged to marry Jane when their guilt should be discovered. On ascertaining that the girl had relations, Mrs. Dale recommended that she should go to her cousin Marshall, open her whole heart to her, and follow her advice as to what should next be done; but Jane's sobs be came more violent than ever at this suggestion. “They will tear me to pieces!” she cried. “They will never put up with disgrace; and I am the first that has disgraced them. I can never look cousin Marshall in the face again!”—Neither would she go to the workhouse. She loathed the idea of Mrs. Wilkes as much as she dreaded that of cousin Marshall; and Mrs. Dale was much perplexed, not daring to keep her another day, and not choosing to turn her out wholly destitute. After a long conversation, which served to soften the poor girl's heart and win her confidence, Mrs. Dale proposed a plan which was adopted,—that she should write a letter to cousin Marshall, urging that what was done could not be undone, and that the most likely way to make Jane's penitence real and lasting was to look to her present safety instead of driving her to desperation. Mrs. Dale expressed in very strong terms her concern that the respectability of the family should have been thus stained; and took the liberty of declaring her admiration of the parental kindness with which the poor orphans had been treated, and her earnest wishes that it might be better rewarded in the instance of the others than in that of poor Jane. With this letter in her hand, Jane was put into the carrier's cart, leaving as a last request to Ned that lie would not follow her or give up his place on her account; and, partly for his sake, she promised that no persuasion should prevent her going straight to her cousin Marshall's, and following the advice of her friends in every particular. Mrs. Dale had since ascertained that she was received at her cousin's; and had remained in their house up to the last market-day, when the inquiry was made: but the farmer's wife did not know what sad circumstances the family were in when Jane arrived to add to their sorrow.
John Marshall had died after a few days' illness; and it was on the very night of his funeral that Jane alighted at his widow's door. Her first feeling on hearing of the event was joy that one person the less,—and he one whom she much respected,—would know of her disgrace. The next moment she felt what a wretch she must be,—what a state she must be reduced to, —to rejoice in the death of one who had been like a parent in tenderness, where no parental duty enjoined the acts of kindness he had done. She hastily bade Ann not tell her cousin of her arrival, and said she would beg a shelter for the night at her aunt Bell's: but she was told that aunt Bell was in great distress too, and could not possibly receive her; so there was no escape, and Jane was led in, trembling like a criminal under sentence, and pulling her cloak about her, to meet the kind-hearted cousin who had never frowned upon her. Her agitation was naturally misunderstood at first; but, after some time, her refusal even to look up, and the force with which she prevented their relieving her of her cloak made her cousin suspect the fact, and dismiss the young people, in order to arrive at an explanation.—She could not read the letter, and Jane would not hear of Ann being called in to do it, but made an effort to get through it herself. Cousin Marshall said nothing for some time; not even the thought which was uppermost in her mind—how glad she was that the fact never reached her husband's ear! At last, she merely assured Jane that she should be taken care of, and advised her to go to bed, and leave everything to be settled when there had been more time for thought.
“I cannot go,” said Jane. “I will not leave you while you look so cold upon me, cousin.”
“I will go with you, then,” said Mrs. Marshall calmly. “We” must “have the same bed, and I am ready.”
“You said you forgave me,” cried the weeping Jane; “and I am sure this is not forgiving me. I never saw you look so upon anybody!”
“I never had reason, Jane; nobody belonging to me ever had to make such a confession as yours to-night. I pity you enough, God knows! for you must be very miserable; but I cannot look upon you as I do upon your innocent sisters; how should I?—Poor Sally! I remember her great comfort about being blind was that it was not Ann; and if you have any comfort at all, I suppose it must be that.”
“Indeed, indeed, I had rather be anybody than what I am. I had rather be drowning this minute, or even on the gallows: I had rather die any how than be as I am. I hope I shall die when my time comes.”
Cousin Marshall quietly represented the sin fulness of this thought, and Jane tempted her to say more and more, being able to bear anything better than the silence of displeasure. What, her cousin asked, could bring her to this pass? What madness could make her plunge herself into this abyss of distress after all the warning
and watching, all the——But it was foolish to
say more, Mrs. Marshall continued, when she might be led to say what would do no good and would be therefore unkind.
Jane would not let it drop. She laid much of the blame on the workhouse, where it was a common boast among the women how early they had got married, being so far better off than honester people that they need not trouble themselves about what became of themselves and their children, since the parish was bound to find them. It was considered a kind of enterprise among the paupers to cheat their superiors, and to get the the girl early married by rendering marriage desirable on the score of decency, and of the chance of the mall being able to support his children hereafter. Jane's leading idea was the glory of getting married at sixteen; and the last thing she thought of was the possibility of being deceived; and now that her intended husband was gone nobody knew whither, she was as much astonished and terrified at her own position as any of her friends could be. This explanation caused some inward relentings towards her; but cousin Marshall thought it too early yet to show them; and to avoid the danger of doing so, insisted on both going to bed, where neither of them slept a wink or exchanged a word during the whole night.
Before morning, Mrs. Marshall had arranged her plan. Jane's arrival was on no account to be mentioned, and she was to be kept entirely out of sight for the three months which were to pass before her confinement. By these means, the persecution of parish officers might be avoided, and an opportunity afforded for observing whether the shock had really so sobered Jane as to render her more fit to take care of herself than she was before. If she appeared truly penitent, Mrs. Marshall would try to obtain a service for her at some distance, where her disgrace would not follow her, and would also take charge of the infant, with such help as Jane could spare out of her wages; and then the parish need never know anything about the matter. Jane was most happy to agree to these terms, and settled herself in this bedroom for three long months, intending to work diligently for her infant, and to take all the needle-work of the family off her cousin's hands, with as much of the charge of the children as was possible within so confined a space. What more she wanted of exercise was to be taken with Mrs. Marshall very early in these spring mornings, before their neighbours should be stirring. The young people were so trained to obedience, that there was no fear of their telling anything that they were desired to keep to themselves.
Things went on as quietly as could be looked for in such unhappy circumstances. No difficulties arose for some time, and Jane bad only to struggle with her inward shame, her grief at witnessing Ann's sorrow, her terror at the risks which must be daily run, and her inability to get rest of body or mind. She could scarcely be persuaded to come down in the evening when the door was shut and the window curtain drawn: she started at every noise, and could not get rid of a vague expectation that her lover would find her out and come to comfort her;— an expectation which made her turn pale whenever she heard a man's voice under the window, or a tap at the door below. Besides these fears, circumstances happened now and then to try her to the utmost.
Early one morning, before Jane was up, and while Mrs. Marshall and her young people were dressing, a step was heard slowly ascending the stairs, the door opened, and Sally appeared with a smiling countenance and the question,
“Are you awake yet, cousin Marshall, and all of you?”
Mrs. Marshall made a sign to the children by putting her finger on her lip, and pointing to Jane. She bad no intention that Sally should be made unhappy by knowing the truth at present, and was besides afraid to trust her with such a secret among her companions“at the Asylum, who were all accustomed to have no concealments from one another.
“Why don't you answer?” said Sally, groping for the bed. I do believe you are all asleep, though I thought I heard you moving, and the door was on the latch belows.”
“We are all awake, my dear, and one or two gone out; but we are surprised to see you so early. What brings you at such a time, and who came with you?”
Sally explained that the ward of the Asylum in which she worked was to be whitewashed this day; and she and a few others whose friends lived near had leave to enjoy a long holiday. Three of them had taken care of one another, the streets being clear at this hour; and she had found her way easily for the short distance she had to come alone. While she spoke, Jane was gazing at her, tearful, and longing to throw herself on her sister's neck. The temptation became almost irresistible when Sally, feeling for a place on which to sit down, moved herself within reach.
“Take care where you sit, my dear,” said Mrs. Marshall. “Here, I will give you a seat on my chest.”
This chest was directly opposite the bed, so that Jane could see the face under the black bonnet, and convince herself that the old womanish little figure in brown stuff gown and white kerchief was really the sister Sally she had last seen in blue frock and pinafore. During the whole day, Jane sat on the stairs behind the half-shut door, listening to Sally's cheerful tales about the doings at the Asylum, and to her frequent inquiries about both her sisters, and trembling when any of the little ones spoke, lest they should reveal her presence. Many perplexing and dangerous questions too were asked.
“Which of you sighs so? I should not ask if it could be you, cousin; but it comes from the other side.”
Again, when Jane's dinner was being carried to her.
“Ah, we are not allowed to move at dinnertime, happen what will: and you used not to let us either; and now Ann has gone upstairs twice since we sat down.” Again,
“I have” leave to knit what I please on Saturdays; so I am knitting a pair of mittens for Jane, against she comes to see me, which I hope she will one day; but be sure you none of you tell her about the mittens. I spoiled two pair in trying, and she would be so sorry to know how I wasted my time and the cotton.”
“Poor dear!” said Mrs. Marshall at night, when Sally was gone; “it seems wicked to take advantage of her infirmity to deceive her; but it is all for her good, placed where she is by her blindness. It would be far more cruel to tell her all, when it may be that she need never know it.”
Jane took all this upon herself; but, while she blamed herself for having caused this new practice of concealment, she was far more grieved at it in John Marshall's case. She did not strictly owe any confidence to Sally, but she did to John Marshall; and the idea that he had left her the same blessing with the rest of her family when he died, gave her far more pain than any tears or reproaches from Sally could ever do.
One Sunday, when cousin Marshall had gone to church in the morning with her family, and left her house apparently shut up, as usual; and when, moreover, it was so fine a day as to have taken almost all the neighbours from their homes, Jane came down to prepare the dinner, feeling quite secure from interruption. She was standing kneading the dumplings, when a noise was heard outside, and she had but a moment's time to escape upstairs before her aunt Bell lifted the latch and entered. Seeing the dough on the board and nobody there to knead it, she naturally proceeded to the bedroom, where she found Jane on the bed with coverings thrown over her. Questions and explanations followed.—How long had Jane been unwell, and did she expect to go back to her place when recovered? Why did she not let her aunt know of her arrival? though, to be sure, there was no use in expecting help from her, distressed as she was. Jane was really glad to turn the conversation away from her own troubles to those of Mrs. Bell, who was, as she herself said, as good as a widow, her husband having absconded. Dear! had not Jane heard of it? He had been advertised by the overseers in the newspapers, and a great fuss had been made about it; but, for her part, she was convinced it was the best thing he could do for her and the children, to go and find a settlement in a distant parish, leaving his family to be provided for by his own. Where had he gone?— Why, supposing she knew, was it likely she should tell before the year was out? However, he had made all safe by not giving a hint in which direction he should travel. Jane asked what was the necessity of keeping the secret for a year? He would surely be out of reach before the year was over, if at all. Mrs. Bell laughed and said she saw Jane did not know how to get a settlement; and explained to her that her husband's aim was to obtain a claim on a distant and prosperous parish, which must be done either by living forty days on an estate of his own, worth thirty pounds, or in a rented tenement of the yearly value of ten pounds, or by serving an apprenticeship, or by going through a year's service on a yearly hiring as an unmarried man. This last was, of course, the only means within his power; and to make sure of it, it was his part to keep to himself whence he had come, and that he had a wife and family; and her's to remain ignorant whither he had gone, and not to inquire for her husband for a year at least.
“Do you call this a cheat, my dear?” she went on. “Lord! what a tender conscience you have! It is no worse than what is done every day. Would you think it such a very wicked thing now,—suppose a young creature like you should have happened to have a misfortune, and should wish her infant to have a settlement in a particular parish,—would you think it such a very wicked thing to hide yourself and keep your condition a secret from the officers till your child was born?” And Mrs. Bell looked inquisitively in her niece's face.
“That would be telling no lie,” replied Jane, her face making the confession which she kept her tongue from uttering.
“Well; and whose fault is it, my dear, that lies are told about the matter? If the laws put such difficulty in the way of getting relief, we are driven to tell fibs; for relief we must have.”
Mrs. Marshall, who had overheard some of the conversation, and now came to Jane's assistance, observed that the fault seemed to her to be in the laws giving relief at all. Mischiefs out of number came of it, and no good that she saw. The more relief the law gave, the more it might give, to judge by the swarms of paupers; and all this made it the more difficult for honest and independent folks to get their bread. She thought her own experience, and Mrs. Bell's together, might be enough to show how bad the system was.
“Mine, I grant you,” cried Mrs. Bell; “but what have you had to do with it? You, that pride yourself on never having touched a penny of parish money.”
“Thanks, under God, to my husband, cousin Bell, we have been beholden to nobody but ourselves for our living. We have never had to bear the scornful glance from the rate-payers, nor the caprice of the overseer, nor any of the uncertainty of depending on what might fail us, nor the shame of calling our children paupers.— I say things freely, cousin Bell, because I know you have been too long used to them to mind them.—We have never crossed the threshold of the workhouse on our own account; nor ever been driven to expose our want when it was the greatest; or tempted to fib by word or act to get more than our share of other people's money. Yet, the worst things we have suffered have risen out of these poor-laws; and the worst thing about them is, that those suffer by them who desire to have nothing to do with them. They prevent people going where their labour is wanted, and would be well paid, and keep them in a place where there are far more hands than there is work for. Honest, hardworking men, like my husband, have always felt the hardship of either being obliged to stay where wages were low from the number of labourers, or to give up their settlements for the chance of work in some other place.”
“He had better have run off by himself, and left his settlement to you and the children,” observed Mrs. Bell.
“John Marshall was not the man to do that, cousin. But, as I was saying, many a time when we were brought very low, so much so that my husband had not had his pint, nor the children anything but bread for a week, and less of that than they could have eaten,—at many such times we have been told of this parish and that parish where there was plenty of work and good wages, and have had half a mind to go and try our fortune; but we always remembered that so many more needy people would be likely to do the same, that it would soon cease to be a good parish, and we might have left a place where we were known and respected, for what would prove to be no good. I have heard that these favourite parishes. are seldom long prosperous under the best management, for paupers contrive, by all sorts of tricks, to get a settlement in them.”
“Well; that makes an end, however, of your complaint of there not being labour where labour is wanted.”
“Indeed it does not, cousin Bell; for they are mostly idle men and cheats that wander about making experiments on such places. Sober, good labourers, would be much more ready to go where they are wanted, if it were not for the fear of losing their settlements. Such end, as my husband did, by staying in their own parish to have their labour poorly paid, and to see rogues and vagabonds consuming what would have added to their wages, if labour had been left to earn its due reward.”
Mrs. Bell did not care about all this; all she knew was that people must live, and that she and her family could not have lived without the parish, and a deal of help besides.
“The very thing I complain of most, cousin Bell, is, that those who have the relief are those that know and care the least about the matter. It is they that are above taking the relief that have good reason to know, and much cause to care, that their labour cannot be properly paid, and that their children cannot have a fair chance in the world, while the money that should pay their wages is spent without bringing any more gain than if it was thrown into the sea. It is because such as you, cousin .Bell, care about nothing but getting relief, that such husbands as mine lose their natural rest through anxiety, and pinch themselves and work themselves into their graves, and die, not knowing but their families may come to be paupers after all.—I am warm, cousin, but you'll excuse me; nothing chafes me so easily as thinking of this; the more from remembering nearly the last words my husband spoke. ‘I hope,’ says he,—but I thought there was little hope in his tone, or in his face,— ‘I hope you and yours will be able to keep free of the parish. Get the boys into my club, if they live to be old enough; and then they will keep their mother and sisters free of the parish.’—I thank God! we can get on at present; but I sometimes think some of us will end our days in the workhouse, if idle and needy people go on to increase as they do, and to eat up the substance they never helped, as we have done, to make.”
“It will be some time yet, cousin Marshall, before your boys can belong to the club.”
“Yes; but in the meanwhile there is the Savings Bank, where the girls can put their little savings as well as the boys. Not that they have done anything in that way yet, except my eldest and Ann. But the others are earning their own clothes.”
Mrs. Bell asked Jane whether it was not a nice thing for her sister Ann to have a little money in the bank ready for such occasions as Jane's present illness? She supposed Jane was now using it up; and to be sure it was a charming thing to have such help at hand. Mrs. Marshall, who knew that one of Jane's griefs was depriving Ann of her little store, saved her the pain of replying by inviting Mrs. Bell down to dinner.
At the close of the meal, Mrs. Bell cast a longing eye on the few fragments she had left. Her children had only a crust of bread to eat this day; and she complained much of the hardships they were reduced to, showing how her only gown was wearing out, and relating that it was ruinous work to do as she was doing now, pawning her blanket in the morning to release her gown, and the gown in the evening to release the blanket. Cousin Marshall was grieved for the children, but, charitable as she was known to be, she offered no help. She had nothing to spare, and had done her utmost in giving a hearty dinner; and, if she had had the means, she would have bestowed them where they might have afforded real relief, which no charity ever did to Mrs. Bell.
This woman seldom visited her neighbours without leaving them cause to wish that she had staid away. This was the case in the present instance. She whispered her suspicions of Jane's situation, either to the parish officers, or to some one who carried it round to them; and the consequence was that the poor girl was hunted up, taken before a magistrate to be sworn, and removed to the workhouse to abide her confinement. In return to her bitter reproaches the next time they met, Mrs. Bell laughed, and said she thought she had done them all a great kindness.—Cousin Marshall ought to be very glad to be relieved of the charge, and Jane would be sure of a husband if her lover could be found up. Jane's views had, however, been altered by her intercourse with Mrs. Marshall. She would much rather have gone to service and tried to atone for what was done, than remain to be the pauper-wife of a man who had cruelly deceived her,—who would not marry unless he could be caught,—and who, being an unwilling, would be probably an unkind, husband. Her good cousin feared something worse for her than the misery of her lot: she feared that this misery might drive her to habitual vice; and that her re-entrance into the workhouse might prove the date from which she would become a castaway from her family for ever.
WHAT IS CHARITY?
Ned heard of Jane's return to the workhouse, and of her confinement, from Mr. Burke, who attended Mr. Effingham's family, and who recognized, to his great surprise, Ned Bridgeman in the boy who one day opened the gate for him, and followed to hold his horse. Whenever he came, from that time forward, he inquired for Ned, and was ready to make the wished-for reply to the customary petition, not to tell the officers or anybody belonging to them, where he was, but just to inform cousin Marshall and his sisters that he was well and likely to go on earning a living. It was in vain to reason with him, that the parish could desire nothing more than that he should maintain himself, and that the officers would be glad to leave him unmolested. He had eloped, and was possessed with the idea that he should be carried back whence he came; and had, moreover, such a horror of the place and people connected with his short period of pauperism, that he longed above all things to keep out of sight of the one, and be forgotten by the other. The pauper labourers who worked with him in the field, discovered something of this, and amused themselves by alarming him with dark hints, from time to time, that some danger impended. They were not over-fond of him, harmless and good-natured as he was. The bailiff was apt to hold him up as an example to them in an injudicious way, and Ned's horror of pauperism,—his pride, as his companions called it,—was not exactly the quality to secure their good fellowship. They teazed the boy sadly, and Mr. Burke thought he looked more and more grave every time he saw him. The gentleman was not, therefore, much surprised when he was told one day that Ned was missing, nor did he give much heed to the remarks on the unsteadiness of the boy who had twice absconded. On finding that, so far from having done anything dishonest, Ned had left nearly half-a-crown of his savings in Mr, Effingham's hands, Mr, Burke made inquiry into the circumstances, and found that, as he suspected, Ned had been assured that the officers were after him, and so cruelly taunted with his sister's shame, that it was no wonder he had gone farther up the country, where he might work in peace, if work was to be found. Nothing could be done but to take charge of his money, and invest it where it might increase till the owner should be forthcoming to claim it. So Mr. Burke pocketed the two shillings and fourpence half-penny as carefully as if it had been a hundred pounds, and saw that it was placed in the Savings Bank with Ann's, and made as light as he could to the family of the fact that he no longer knew where the lad was; adding that Ned was a boy whom he would trust all over the world by himself, and prophesying that he would re-appear some day to be a credit and a help to his orphan sisters.
On one occasion when Mr. Burke was entering the village of Titford, he overtook Mr. Effingham walking slowly with his head bent down, and his hands in his pockets. He looked up when greeted by his Friend, who accosted him With—
“I am afraid you are to be one of my patients to-day, to judge by your gait and countenance. What can be the matter? No misfortune at home, I hope?”
“No; but I have just heard something that has shocked me very much. There is an execution at Dale's”
“How hard that poor math has struggled!” observed Mr. Burke. “And has it even come to this at last?”
“Even so; and through no fault of his own that I can see. They are distraining for the rate.”
“Aye, that is the way, Effingham. Thus is our pauper list swelled, year by year. It grows at both ends. Paupers multiply their own numbers as fast as they can, and rate-payers sink down into rate-receivers. This will probably be Dale's fate, as it has been that of many little farmers before him. And if it is, he will only anticipate by a few years the fate of others besides small farmers, of shopkeepers, manufacturers, merchants, and agriculturists of every class; always providing that some radical amendment of the system does not take place.”
“God help us!” cried Effingham. “If so, our security is gone, as a nation, and as individuals.”
“At present, Effingham, the security of property is to the pauper, and not to the proprietor, however rich he may be. The proprietor is compelled, as in the case before us, to pay more and more to the rate till his profits are absorbed, and he is obliged to relinquish his undertakings one after another; field after field goes out of cultivation, his capital is gradually transferred to his wages-fund, which is paid away without bringing an adequate return; and when all but his fixed capital is gone, that becomes liable to seizure, and the ruin is complete. There is no more security of property, under such a system, than there is security of life to a poor wretch in a quicksand, who feels himself swallowed up inch by inch. The paupers meanwhile are sure of their relief as long as the law subsists. They are to be provided for at all events, let what will become of other people. While Dale has been fretting by day, and tossing by night under the burden of his cares, his pauper labourers have been supporting a very different kind of burden, —the burden of the pauper song.
“This very security of property which is the most precious of an independent man's rights,” said Effingham, “seems to be the most pernicious thing in the world to the indigent. One may fairly call it so in relation to them, for they seem to consider the produce of the, rate as their property.”
“It is really so,” replied Burke. “They know it to be the lawful property of the pauper body, and that the only question is how it is to be distributed? As long as they know this, they will go on multiplying the claims upon it till nothing is left with which to satisfy them.”
“It is very odd,” said Effingham, “that none of the checks that have ever been tried have done any good; they seem rather to have made the matter worse.”
“I do not think it strange, Effingham. None of the remedies have struck at the root of the evil, and none could therefore effect lasting good. The test is just this: do they tend to lessen the number of the indigent? Unless they do this, they may afford relief to a generation, or shift a burden from one district to another, or from one class of producers upon another; but they will not improve the system. Look at the experiments tried! First, paupers were to wear a badge, a mark of infamy. Of course, the profligate and hardened were the readiest to put it on, and those who had modesty and humble pride refused it, and obtained help only through the compassion of overseers, who evaded the regulation so perpetually, that it was abolished as useless. While it lasted, profligate pauperism increased very rapidly. Next came the expedient of workhouses, in which the poor were expected to do more work, and be fed less expensively than in their own houses. But here again the rogue and vagabond class reaped the advantage, the houses being detested by the sober and quiet; and the choice of the latter to pine at home, rather than be shut up in a workhouse, occasioned a diminution of the rate for some time; but that time has long been over, and now the maintenance of a pauper costs three or four times as much in a workhouse as out of it, there being no inducement to the paupers to work, and but little to their managers to economise. And this is just what any one might have foretold from the beginning, if he had seen what experience has plainly taught us, that indigence must spread while numbers increase, and while the subsistence-fund, on which they are to be supported, is consumed unproductively.”
“But why unproductively?” said Effingham. “I cannot help thinking that there must be some mode of management, by which manufactures might be carried on by paupers with pretty good Success.”
“Suppose it to be so, according to what I imagine you to mean by success,—suppose a certain quantity of produce to be achieved and disposed of,—this is in itself a great evil. Capital raised by forcible, arbitrarily applied, and made to bring a return from an artificial market, can never be so productive as if it found a natural channel; and its employment in this artificial manner is a serious injury to individual capitalists. In the neighbourhood of a workhouse where work is really done, a manufacturer, while paying to the rate, bitterly feels that he is subscribing the means by which his trade is to be stolen from him. It is adding insult to injury to set in the faces of rate-payers workhouse manufactures, which are to have a preference in the market to their own. In all these cases, however, the object fails. To all remedies yet tried, the same fundamental objection applies: they all encourage the increase of population, while they sink capital. What we want is the very reverse of this,—we want a reproduction of capital with increase, and a limitation of numbers with in a due proportion to this fund.”
“What do you think, then, of the methods proposed for the amelioration of the system?”
“Which? There are so many.”
“The cottage system, for one.”
“It will not bear the test. Under no system does population increase more rapidly;—witness Ireland; and in addition to the worst evils that afflict Ireland, we should have that of a legal claim to support, which effectually prevents the due improvement of capital. Cottages would prove no better than workhouses, depend upon it.”
“Well, then, what do you think of assessing new kinds of property?”
“Worse and worse! This would be only casting more of our substance into the gulf before its time. It would be helping to increase the number of paupers; it would be encouraging the unproductive consumption of capital; it would be—”
“Like pouring water into one of your dropsical patients,” said Effingham, smiling.
“Just so, Effingham; and it needs no great skill to foresee the result in both cases.”
“Then there are Benefit Clubs,” replied Effingham. “Some think that if they were made obligatory by law, they might soon supersede the poor-rate. What do you think of them?”
“No man approves such societies more than I, as long as they are voluntary; but fellowship of this kind would lose its virtue, I doubt, by being made compulsory. There are no means that I know of, of compelling a man who will not earn to store his earnings; and the frugal and induetrious will do it without compulsion, as soon as they understand the matter: so that in fact the worst classes of society would be left as free to roam, and beg, and steal, as if the institution did not exist.”
“But Friendly Societies and Benefit Clubs will bear your test. They tend to the increase of capital, and, by encouraging prudence, to the limitation of numbers.”
“True; and therefore I wish they were in universal operation among the working classes; but this must be by voluntary association. It will be a work of time to convince our whole population of their advantages; and even then the less industrious part will rather depend on the poor-rate, if it still subsists. We must have recourse to some speedier method of lessening our burdens, giving all possible encouragement to Friendly Societies in the mean time.”
“What method? It seems to me that relief is already given in every possible way.”
“Aye; there is the mistake, Effingham. People think they give relief in giving money.”
“I seldom give money,” replied Effingham.
“No; but you give what money will buy, which is, begging your pardon, worse than ineffectual. Now, if you have no objection, I should like to know how much you spent on coals and blankets the first Christmas you settled here, and how much last year?”
“I began with devoting five pounds a-year to this purpose; but it increased sadly. I stopped short two years ago at twenty pounds; but it grieved me to the heart to do so, for more objects remain now unsupplied than I supplied at first.”
“Probably; and are these new applicants strangers from other parishes brought round you by your bounty, or are more of your near neighbours in a condition for receiving charity?”
“Dale reproaches me with having brought an inundation of paupers from a distance; but really our own population has increased wonderfully.”
“And the more support you offer them, friend, the more surprisingly they will increase, them, if there can be anything surprising in the case. Surely you do not mean to go on giving coals and blankets?”
“What can I do? You would call me cruel to withdraw the gift, if you could see the destitution of the poor creatures. I am completely at a loss how to proceed. If I go on, poverty increases; if I stop, the people will freeze and pine before my eyes. What a dilemma!”
“Much like that of government about its pauper subjects. I should recommend the same method to both.”
“To fix a maximum, I suppose; to declare the amount beyond which relief shall not be given? I have tried that, and it does not succeed. Twenty pounds a-year is my maximum, and is known to be so; but every one hopes to have a portion of it, and reckons upon his share nearly as confidently as if all were sure of it.”
“Of course; and there is the additional evil of admitting the principle of a claim to support, which is at the bottom of the mischief.—No; to fix a maximum is to unite the evils of the maintenance and the abolition of the pauper system; and both are bad enough singly. If I were you, and if I were the government, I would immediately disavow the principle in question, med take measures for ceasing to act upon it. If I were you, I would explain to my neighbours that, finding this mode of charity create more misery than it relieves, I should discontinue it in the way which appears to inflict the least hardship. I would give notice that, after the next Christmas donation, no more coals and blankets shall be given except to those aged and sickly people who at present look for them; and that no new applicants whatever shall be placed on the list, the object being to have the charity die out as soon as possible.”
“But I shall be railed at wherever I turn my face. I should not wonder if they pull my house about my ears. They will rob my poultry-yard, and burn my ricks. They will—”
“Very like the situation of government!” exclaimed Mr. Burke. “The very same difficulties on a smaller scale. Friend, you must bear the railing for a time, since it comes as a natural consequence of what you have already done. I am sure so benevolent a man as you would rather endure this personal inconvenience than add to the misery around you. You are capable of heroism in retrieving a mistake, Effingham As for your house and other property, you must take measures to protect it. You must firmly and gently repress tendencies to violence which arise, as you now perceive, from an error of your own.”
“I will consider, resolve, and act; and that without delay, for the evil is pressing,” Said Effingham.
“I wish government would do the same,” replied Mr. Burke. “We hear much of consideration, but the resolve is yet to be made; and how long the act may be in following, it is impossible to guess. Meanwhile, we are going headlong to ruin as fast as you would do if you answered all the petitions for charity which would be brought upon you by unbounded readiness to give. Your private fortune would be gone in a twinkling, and so will vanish our national resources.”
“What period would you fix for abolishing the rate?”
“The best plan, in my opinion, yet proposed, is this:—to enact that no child born from any marriage taking place within a year from the date of the law, and no illegitimate child born within two years from the same date, shall ever be entitled to parish assistance. This regulation should be made known, and its purpose explained universally; and this, if properly done, might, I think, prevent violence, and save a vast amount of future distress. The people should be called together, either in their places of worship or elsewhere, in such a manner as to attract the whole population to listen, and the case should be explained to them by their pastors or others. It is so plain a case, and so capable of illustration, that I see no great difficulty in making the most ignorant comprehend it.”
“And yet the details are vast.”
“Vast, but not complicated; so the whole might be conveyed in a parable which any child can understand. I think 1 dare undertake to prove to any rational being that national distress cannot be relieved by money, and that consequently individual distress cannot be so relieved without inflicting the same portion of distress elsewhere. A child can see that if there is so much bread in a country and no more, and if the rich give some of the poor two shillings a day that they may eat more bread, the price of bread will rise, and some who could buy before must go without now. Since no more bread is created by this charity, the only tiling done is to take some of it out of the reach of purchasers to give it to paupers.”
“True: the only real charity is to create more bread; and, till this can be done, to teach men to be frugal of what they have.—I happen to know a case which illustrates your doctrine, Owen, who lives in this village, earned ten shillings a week before the last scarcity. He bought eight shillings' worth of flour for his family, and had two to spare for other necessaries. During the scarcity, he received fourteen shillings a week from his parish, in addition to the ten he earned; but the price of corn had risen so much that he now gave twenty-two shillings out of his twenty-four for the same quantity of flour; so that he had still two shillings left for other necessaries; and thus, was no richer with twenty-four shillings than he had been with ten,”
“If there had been many such cases,” observed Mr. Burke, “the price of corn would have been even higher than it was. The best charity to the public as well as to this man would have been to teach him that he had better look after other kinds of food, and not insist on such an abundance of flour. Do not you think he could have understood this? and if he could, why should not his brethren understand the state of the pauper system, and be brought to acquiesce in the measures now necessary to be taken?—If the regulation I have described had been made when first proposed, there would have been much less difficulty than now. If not done now, there is no saying how soon it may be out of our power to do anything. We are now borne down, we shall soon be crushed, by the weight of our burdens.”
“We must hasten to give our testimony,” said Effingham: “I, by withdrawing my donations, and declaring why; you, by—but you have given yours, I suspect. I see now the reasons of your resigning your offices at both the charitable institutions where I and others took so much pains to get you in. I was more than half angry at it when I thought of our canvass, and all the disagreeablenesses belonging to it;—and all done and endured for nothing. But I see now how it is. I can only hope that your going out of office may do more good than your going in; and what more can I say?”
“Nothing more gratifying to my self-complacency, I am sure,” said Mr. Burke, smiling “I have had my recompense already in finding that many more than I expected attend to my reasons, and take them into consideration as a matter of real importance. My hopes sometimes mount so high as to flatter me that all Great Britain may soon be effectually employed upon the problem—How to reduce the number OF THE INDIGENT.”
COUSIN MARSHALL's END.
It was some years before any tidings came of Ned that could be depended upon. At length a countryman called on the widow Marshall one market-day, saying that he had had a world of trouble in finding her out in the small place she had got into outside the city, but was determined not to meet Ned Bridgeman again without having seen her and delivered Ned's packet into her own hand. Mrs. Marshall had nobody living with her now but her youngest daughter, who happened not to be at home at this hour; and as Mrs. Marshall could not read, she was obliged to wait till evening to know what was in the letter, and what the guinea was for which the packet contained. She obtained great satisfaction from the countryman concerning Ned, sent him her love and blessing, and the promise of an answer to his letter when there should be an opportunity of sending one, which might happen by means of the present messenger within six months. Many times before the evening did cousin Marshall open the letter, and examine it, and admire as much of it as was apparent to her; viz. the evenness of the lines and the absence of blots. The guinea, too, was a very good sign. The letter proved that his workhouse schooling had not been lost upon him; and the money, that her methods of education had taken effect. Her answer, written down by her daughter, was as follows:—
“Your letter was very welcome to us, since you could not come yourself. I do not wonder you met with hardships and difficulty in settling. Such is the way with many people in these days who wish to be beholden to nobody; but such generally meet with their deserts at last, as I am glad to hear you have. We have put your guinea into the Savings Bank for you, my dear boy, as, thank God! we none of us want it at present, and there was half-a-guinea of yours there before. Now I dare say you are wondering how it came there? It is the half-crown of wages you left behind you at Titford that Mr. Burke took care of, and it has grown into half-a-guinea by not being touched, which I hope will be good news to you. I quite approve your wish about the Friendly Society, knowing how my husband did the wisest thing in belonging to one, and at times could have got through in no other way. There is nothing about your sisters that should give you any scruple. Sally, poor thing, is very contented in the Asylum; and, as the people there are fond of her, has fewer troubles than many that have their eyesight. I have not seen so many tears from her since she went in as when my Susan read your letter to her, and she sends you her love. Ann is pretty well off in service, having nothing to complain of but her mistress's temper, with which she will contrive to bear, I hope, for she has a sweet one of her own. She will write to you herself, and tell you as much as we know about Jane, which is but little, and that little very sad. She is quite lost, I fear; but you may depend on my keeping my eye upon her. I thank you, my dear boy, for your questions about me and mine. My children have all left me but the one that holds the pen, and she is going to marry too. I hope she will have an easier life than her sisters, who are much put to it with their large families. I begin to feel myself growing old when I see so many grandchildren about me; and perhaps it is owing to that that I feel far more troubled about how their parents are to get through than I ever did for John Marshall and myself, when we had another little family added, as it were, to our own eight. But God preserve me from failing in my trust!—trusting as I wish to do, not to other people's charity, but to one's own labour and thrift, which has His blessing sooner than the other. Many a merciful lesson has been given me about trusting, — one since I had your letter. On Saturday, my eldest grandson and daughter were both out of work. Today is Monday, and they have each got a place. Indeed God Almighty is very good to us. But Susan is tired, not having kept up her schooling, I am afraid, so well as you. However, it looks a long letter, though I have many more things to say to you if you were here. Old as I call myself, I may see you on this side the grave, or will try to think so till you say not. Till then, I send you my love and blessing, which I hope you know you have had all this long while.”
The close of cousin Marshall's very long life was not altogether so serene as the character of its days of vigour might seem to deserve. Her children were so burdened with families of their own that they could offer no further assistance than that she should lodge with them by turns. She was positive, however, in her determination to live alone; and a small room in a poor place on the outskirts of the city was her dwelling. In one way or another she earned a little matter, and lived upon it, to the astonishment of some who received twice as much from the parish and could not make it do. Her adopted children found the utmost difficulty in making her accept any assistance, clearly as it was her due from those to whom she had been a mother in their orphan state. It grieved Ned to the heart to see her using her dim sight to patch her cloak for the twentieth time, when he had placed at her disposal the guinea and half, with all that had accumulated upon it, in the Savings Bank.
“Not yet. When I want it. I can do for myself still,” were always her answers; and though, without consulting her, he laid in coals and bought clothes for her during the two only visits that he was able to make to that neighbourhood, and though these presents were, after some scruples, accepted, he never could prevail upon her to use the little fund during his absence for her daily comforts. She was somewhat unpopular among her neighbours, who did not relish her occasional observations on the multiplication of alehouses, or her reports of what a comely, robust man her John Marshall was, for all he had seldom a pint and pipe to refresh himself with when his day's work was done. Nobody was more openhearted and sociable; but he could not afford both ale and independence,—to say nothing of charity; and everybody knew he was a father to the orphan.—The neighbours observed that he was certainly very kind to the parish; but that, for their parts, they could not afford to give charity to the parish. It was more natural for the parish to give to them. Such degeneracy as this roused cousin Marshall to prophesy evil. She was rather too ready with her forebodings that those who thus spoke would die in the workhouse, and with her horror at the warning seeming to create no alarm. But what roused her indignation above everything was the frequent question how, after all her toils and savings, she was better off than her cousin, Mrs. Bell? Mrs. Bell had never more heard of her husband, and had at length been taken into the workhouse with her family; of whom one daughter had followed Jane's example, and gained her point of a pauper marriage; one son was an ill-doing pauper labourer; and another, having been transported for theft, was flourishing at Sydney, and likely to get more money than all cousin Marshall's honest children put together. Mrs. Bell was proud of this son's prosperity, and would not have been sorry to hear any day of the other getting transported in like manner. —Now and then it occurred to cousin Marshall that there was little use in answering those who could ask such a question as wherein she was better off than Mrs. Bell; but it oftener happened that her replies were given in a style of eloquence that did not increase her popularity.—Death came at last, in time to save her from the dependence she dreaded, though not from the apprehension of it. In crossing her threshold, one winter's day, with her apron full of sticks, she tripped and fell. She seemed to sustain no injury but the jar; but that was fatal. She survived just long enough to see the daughter who lived in the neighbourhood, and make a bequest of her Bible to one child, her bed to another, her few poor clothes to a third, pointing out the corner of her chest where was deposited the little hoard she had saved for her burial.
“God has been very good to me and mine,” she said. “They tell me I have not always said so; but I meant no mistrust, I may have been too much in a hurry to go where ‘the wicked cease from troubling and the weary are at rest:’ but it is all right now that I am really going at last. Thank God! I can say to the last that He has been very good to me.”
She left her blessing for every one by name, and died.
Mr. Burke met the funeral train coming out of the churchyard, and immediately knew Ned, long as it was since they had met.
“Your cousin Marshall's funeral!” he exclaimed. “My wife and Louisa and I inquired for her in vain, a long while ago, and supposed she had been dead some time. She must have been a great age.”
In answer to Mr. Burke's inquiries how she had passed her latter days, and in opposition to Ned's affectionate report of her, a neighbour observed, with a shake of the head, that she was awfully forsaken at times.
“It was but the day before she died, sir, that she complained that the Almighty had forgotten her, and that she was tired of looking to be released.”
Ned brushed his hand across his eyes as he observed that her neighbours were not capable of judging of such a woman as cousin Marshall, and not worthy to find fault with what she let fall in her dark moments.
“My wife said at the time, however,” replied the man, “that it would be well if a judgment did not come upon her for such words; and, sure enough, by the same hour the next day she was dead; and not in a natural way either.”
Mr. Burke smiled at Ned, who gravely observed that his cousin had lived too late to be done justice to. By what he had heard her tell, he judged that a hundred years ago she would have been honoured and tended in her old age, and saved all she had suffered from fear of the parish, and have had it told on her tombstone how many children she had bred up by her industry. It would not be difficult, for that matter, to put up a tombstone now; but where would be the use of it, unless it was honoured? The want lay there.
“I hope,” said Mr. Burke, “that we may as reasonably say that your cousin lived too early as that she lived too late. The time will come, trust me, when there will be end of the system under which she has suffered. It cannot always be that the law will snatch the bread from the industrious to give it to the idle, and turn labour from its natural channel, and defraud it of its due reward, and authorise the selfish and dissolute to mock at those who prize independence, and who bind themselves to self-denial that they may practise charity. The time will come, depend upon it, when the nation will effectually take to heart such injustice as this. There is much to undo, much to rectify, before the labours of the poor, in their prime, shall secure to them a serene old age; but the time will come, though by that day yonder grave may be level with the turf beside it, and there may be none to remember or speak of Cousin Marshall.”
Summary of Principles illustrated in this Volume.
In a society composed of a natural gradation of ranks, some must be poor; i. e. have nothing more than the means of present subsistence.
Any suspension of these means of subsistence, whether through disaster, sickness, or decrepitude, converts the poor into the indigent.
Since indigence occasions misery, and disposes to vice, the welfare of society requires the greatest possible reduction of the number of the indigent.
Charity, public and private, or an arbitrary distribution of the subsistence-fund, private, has hitherto failed to effect this object; the proportion of the indigent to the rest of the population having increased from age to age.
This is not surprising, since an arbitrary distribution of the subsistence-fund, besides rendering consumption unproductive, and encouraging a multiplication of consumers, does not meet the difficulty arising from a disproportion of numbers to the means of subsistence.
The small unproductive consumption occasioned by the relief of sudden accidents and rare infirmities is necessary, and may be justifiably provided for by charity, since such charity does not tend to the increase of numbers; but, with this exception, all arbitrary distribution of the necessaries of life is injurious to society, whether in the form of private almsgiving, public charitable institutions, or a legal pauper-system.
The tendency of all such modes of distribution having been found to be to encourage improvidence with all its attendant evils,—to injure the good while relieving the bad,—to extinguish the spirit of independence on one side,—and of charity on the other,—to encourage peculation, tyranny, and fraud,—and to increase perpetually the evil they are meant to remedy,—but one plea is now commonly urged in favour of a legal provision for the indigent.
This plea is that every individual born into a state has a right to subsistence from the state.
This plea, in its general application, is grounded on a false analogy between a state and its members, and a parent and his family.
A parent has a considerable influence over the subsistence-fund of his family, and an absolute control over the numbers to be supported by that fund; whereas the rulers of a state, from Whom a legal provision emanates, have little influence over its subsistence-fund, and no control whatever over the number of its members.
If the plea of right to subsistence be grounded on the faults of national institutions, the right ought rather to be superseded by the rectification of those institutions, than admitted at the cost of perpetuating an institution more hurtful than all the others combined.
What, then, must be done to lessen the number of the indigent, now so frightfully increasing?
The subsistence-fund must be employed productively, and capital and labour be allowed to take their natural course; i. e. the pauper system must, by some means or other, be extinguished.
The number of consumers must be proportioned to the subsistence-fund. To this end, all encouragements to the increase of population should be withdrawn, and every sanction given to the preventive check; i. e. charity must be directed to the enlightenment of the mind, instead of to the relief of bodily wants.
If not adopted speedily, all measures will be too late to prevent the universal prevalence of poverty in this kingdom, the legal provision for the indigent now operating the extinction of our national resources at a perpetually increasing rate.
printed by william clowes, stamford-street.