Front Page Titles (by Subject) Chapter VI.: PARISH CHARITIES. - Illustrations of Political Economy, vol. 3
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Chapter VI.: PARISH CHARITIES. - Harriet Martineau, Illustrations of Political Economy, vol. 3 
Illustrations of Political Economy (3rd ed) in 9 vols. (London: Charles Fox, 1832). Vol. 3.
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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.