Front Page Titles (by Subject) SOWERS NOT REAPERS. - Illustrations of Political Economy, vol. 7
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SOWERS NOT REAPERS. - Harriet Martineau, Illustrations of Political Economy, vol. 7 
Illustrations of Political Economy (3rd ed) in 9 vols. (London: Charles Fox, 1834). Vol. 7.
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SOWERS NOT REAPERS.
The nights of a certain summer of the present century would scarcely have been known for nights by those sober people who shut themselves in as it grows dark, and look out in the morning, perceiving only that the sum is come again. During the nights we speak of, repose did not descend with the twilight upon the black moors of Yorkshire, and the moon looked down upon something more glittering than the reflection of her own face in the tarns of Ingleborough, or in the reaches of the Wharf and the Don. Some of the polished and sharpened ware of Sheffield was exposed to the night dews in the fields, and passed from the hands of those who tempered to the possession of those who were to wield it.
Others were also abroad, with the view of relieving their hardships instead of seeking to avenge them. The dwellers on high grounds were so far worse off than the inhabitants of the valleys, that they could not quench their thirst, and lose in sleep their weariness and their apprehensions of hunger. During the day, there was drought within, and the images of drought without;—hay dried before it was mown; cattle with their tongues hanging out, panting in the parched meadows: horses lashing madly at the clouds of flies that descended upon them as they stooped to the slimy pools which had still some moisture in them; wells with cracked buckets and dangling ropes: and ditches where there was an equally small probability that children would find weeds and be drowned in the search. During the night, when some of these spectacles were hidden, it was necessary to take the chance of preventing a repetition of them on the following day; and those who had cattle growing lean, children growing fretful, and no remaining patience with a dry well, bore with the weariness of night-watching in the hope of relieving the more urgent evil of thirst.
On the night when the midsummer full moon gradually emerged from the partial eclipse caused by the smokes of Sheffield, and shone full on the hill-sides to the west, two women were sitting near a spring which had rarely, till lately, failed to bless the stony region in which it was wont to flow. They came to watch for any gush or drip which might betoken the fall of showers somewhere among the hills; and patient would their watch have appeared to an observer. The one sat on the stone fence which separated the road from a field of drooping oats, and never moved, except to cast a frightened look around her when an unseasonable bleat proceeded from the restless ewes on the moor, or the distant foundry clock was heard to strike. Her companion sat, also in silence, on the edge of the dry cistern where her pitcher rested, and kept her eyes fixed on the fitful lights of the foundry from whose neighbourhood she had come.
“I have been thinking, Mary,” said Mrs. Kay, leaving her seat on the wall, and speaking in a low voice to her sister-in-law,—“I have been thinking that my husband may, perhaps, come round for us when his hours are up at the foundry, instead of going straight home. I wish he may; for I declare I don't like being out in this way, all by ourselves.”
Mary made no answer.
“It is all so still and unnatural here. There's the foundry at work, to be sure; but to see the tilting-mill standing, all black and quiet, is what I never met with before. We may see it for some time to come, though; for there seems little chance of a sufficient fall to touch the wheel at present. Do you think there is, Mary?”
Mary shook her head; and Mrs. Kay, having examined the spring with eye and ear, stole back to her former seat.
After looking into the field behind her for some time, she came again to say,—
“My husband talks about the crops, and the harvest being at hand, and so on, but I do not see what sort of a harvest it is to be, unless we have rain directly. What a poor-looking oat-field that is behind the wall! and there are none any better on these high grounds, as far as I can see.”
“There would be some chance for the low grounds, if the springs would flow,” answered Mary.
“Why, yes. My husband was telling me that there is a corner left of one of Anderson's meadows down below, where the grass is as fresh and sweet as it there had been forty-eight hours' rain. It was but a corner; but there was one of the little Andersons, and his sister, raking up the grass after the mower, and piling their garden barrow with it. to give to there white pony. Even Anderson's beasts have been foddered, as if it was winter, for this fortnight past.”
Mary nodded, and her sister proceeded.
“I wonder how many more improvements of Anderson's we shall see after this next bad harvest; for bad it must be now. It seems to me that the less his land yields, the more he lays out upon it.”
“The less it yields, the more he wants, I suppose.”
“Yes; but it is an accident its yielding so ill for three years together; and where he gets the money, I don't know, except that bread has been dear enough of late to pay for any thing.”
“That's it, to be sure,” said Mary.
“Dear enough for any thing,” repeated Mrs. Kay. “When I used to have my fill of meat every day, I little thought that the bread I ate with it would grow scarce among us. No rise of wages, such as the masters make such a complaint of, can stand against it.”
Mary shook her head, and there was a long pause.
“I'll tell you what, Mary,” resumed the chief speaker, after a time, “there would be much more pleasure in talking with you, if you would talk a little yourself. It sets one down so not to know whether you are listening to what one says.”
“I always listen when I am spoken to,” replied Mary: “but people are not all made talkers alike.”
“Why, no, that they certainly are not. My husband laughs, and says that a pretty dull time you and Chatham must have of it, when you are out walking on Sundays. You will both get all you want to say in a week said in five minutes. Well, I don't wonder at your not answering that; but you will not be offended at a joke from your own brother; and you know he does not think the worse of Chatham for keeping his thoughts to himself, and—Mercy! what did I see over yonder!”
And in her hurry Mrs. Kay pushed the pitcher, which Mary caught before it went rattling down among the stones. She sat very quietly, watching the motions of a number of men who were crossing a gate from one field to another at some distance, and who seemed to be making for the road.
“Mary! Mary! what shall we do if they come here?” asked the trembling Mrs. Kay.
Mary rose and took up her pitcher, observing that they might sit safe enough in the shadow of Warden's mill, just to the left; and then they might have another chance for the spring as they came by in their way home. Mrs. Kay could scarcely be persuaded that going home would be perfectly safe as soon as it was daylight, and that the men who had evidently been out at drill would be dispersed by dawn.
The women crept along, under the shadow of the wall, and then quickly crossed the broad strip of moonlight which lay between them and the mill. Before they reached the steps, which happened to be on the shadowy side, Mrs. Kay was nearly unable to walk, and her terrors were not lessened by the apparition of a person standing on the first stage, and looking down on them from the top of the long flight of steps.
“Sit still,” said Mary, beginning to ascend, till she saw that Warden, the miller, was coming down to inquire their business. She then briefly explained what brought them upon his property.
“So you are looking for water,” he replied, “and I am looking for wind. For three weeks there has not been a breath, and not a steady breeze since long before that. The bakers are calling out upon us so as to keep us out of our beds, watching for any rack in the sky that may betoken a coming wind.”
“And have you ever seen, sir, such a sight as sent us here?” inquired the trembling Mrs. Kay. “Such a sight as there is in the fields there?”
“What, the nightly drill? O yes, many a night, though they may not be aware who has been overlooking them. They have never come near enough on light nights for me to pick them out by their faces, so that there is no occasion for me to take any notice; but I mark how they get on in shouldering their pikes and learning to obey orders. Here, as I stand by the fan-wheel, I hear the word of command quite plain through the still air; and once they came upon this very slope. It was too dark a night for them to see me; but I heard them stumble against the very steps you are sitting on, Mrs. Kay.”
“How long do you suppose it is to Last, Mr. Warden?”
“Till prices fall, or the people have burned a mill or two, perhaps. 'Tis a happy thing for you and yours, Mrs. Kay, that Oliver's foundry does not come under the ban. There it blazes away, night and day, and I hear no curses upon it, like what are visited upon the mills. It is well for you and yours that Kay has to ladle molten metal instead of having to manage machinery. I hope he is well, Mrs. Kay?”
Mrs. Kay did not answer, and was found to be in no condition for dialogue. Fear and fatigue had overpowered her, and she could only lean, faint and sobbing, against the rail.
“She is not strong,” observed Mary. “Do you happen to have any thing in the mill to revive her? My pitcher is empty.”
Warden fanned her with his hat, having no other means of refreshment in his power; and he carried on the conversation with Mary while doing so, that the poor woman might have time to recover herself. It was not merely machinery that was the object of the trained bands, he observed, In many parts they had pulled down corn stores; and it was rumoured that Kirkland's granaries were threatened by the very people who were now near them. If they really entertained the idea that it was a public injury to have a stock of corn laid by while the price was high, it was no wonder that they were angry with Kirkland, as well as with some people that had much more credit, without having done and suffered so much to get it. He should like to know what the country was to do without such men as Kirkland, when there had been three bad harvests following one another?
“Your mill would stand idle if there was not corn brought from here or there,” observed Mary. “But are those people that we saw bound for Kirkland's granaries? I should be sorry to think that they were about any mischief.”
“They could be about little but mischief at this time of night, and with arms too; but it is full late, I fancy, to be going so far. It is said my father-in-law's threshing-machine is doomed.”
“And what does he say to that?”
“O, he swears at the people because they can't be contented when he is. But, to my mind, it would not be so great a hardship this year as another, seeing how little corn there will be to thresh. Not that I approve such doings in any way; but when people are so badly off with the high price of provisions, and the uncertainty of peace, what can you expect?”
“You talked of noting faces; are there any of our people now in yonder fields, do you suppose?”
“Do you mean Sheffield people, or people of your village?”
“There are undoubtedly many from about Stockport, and out of Leicestershire, who go the round to stir up discontent, and teach the drill. But it is said there are a good many neighbours of ours among them too. What is more likely than that those who have not had their fill in the day should turn out at night to something that may amuse them better than lying awake, or dreaming of cheap bread? This is just what you have been doing, you see; and what Mrs. Kay had better have let alone, it seems. Come, Mrs. Kay, how are you now? Able to walk, do you think?”
Quite able now to walk, and to ask a hundred questions on the way about the cause of the terror which had shaken her, and the probable duration of the hardship which had reduced her; on neither of which matters was much satisfaction to be gained from the miller.
The spring was still dry, but Mary chose to watch till the children came to take her place in the morning. The miller took charge of Mrs. Kay till she was fairly within the light of the foundry fires, and then struck across the fields homewards, hoping that his mill would not again be the refuge of frightened women while he was on the spot.
Mary's watch was vain, and the more wearisome from her occasional fancy that it would not prove vain. More than once she was persuaded that she heard the trickling of water while listening intently after the moon had gone down; and when she fell asleep for a few moments, her thoughts were full of the hardship of having only one pitcher to fill when the water was overflowing every place. Not the less for this did she carry home this very pitcher, swinging empty at arm's length, when the village was up and awake, and the sun beating down hot upon the slippery turf, and glaring, reflected from the stone fences, upon the dusty road.
At the door she met a neighbour, Mrs. Skipper, the baker of the village, who supplied a use for the pitcher.
“Well, Mary Kay, and what's the news with you?”
“Nothing particular, Mrs. Skipper. Are you come to tell us again that bread is risen?”
“Why, that I am, I'm sorry to say; and I wish you would change looks with me, Mary, and then people would not taunt me as they do, when I say that bread has risen.”
“How would that alter the matter?”
“O, they talk about my being fresh-coloured, and all that, and say it's a sign that I live of the best, whatever I may charge to others. Just as if I made the bread dear, instead of the corn being as high to us bakers as to other people; and as if there was no assize of bread in London.”
“And as if you cared for being called handsome,” added Kay from behind, having come to breakfast in the midst of the greeting.
“I think you are handsome—very handsome,” said little John Kay, looking up earnestly into Mrs. Skipper's bonny face. She stooped down to give him a hearty smack, and promise him a half-penny bun if he would come and see her.
“There now, master John, you well nigh made me spill my cider, boy. Here, Mary, hold your pitcher. yes, it is for you—for all of you, I mean. You will give John a drop, I'm sure. Ah! I thought you would like it, now it is so difficult to get any thing good to drink. Do but taste it, Mr. Kay. Is not it good? It was sent me by a cousin of mine, and I thought I would bring you some, especially as I had to tell you that the bread is risen again. It is nineteen-pence now! What do you say to that, Mary?”
Mary, as usual, said nothing. She did not find that speech mended matters of this kind; and besides, it was time she was setting about her task of purifying the distasteful water which they must drink, if they meant to drink at all, till the springs should flow again. She emptied the clear, fresh-looking cider into her own pitcher, and returned Mrs. Skipper's with a look which was less indifferent than her manner.
“What I say is,” observed Kay, “that if bread is risen, our wages must rise. We are all of one mind about that—that a man cannot live for less than will keep him alive; to say nothing of his being fresh-coloured, Mrs. Skipper. We call none of us boast much of that.”
“Well, how's your wife, Mr. Kay? She was but poorly, I thought, when I saw her two days ago.”
“O, she is a poor thing enough. She was not much to boast of when she had an easy life compared with the present; and now she droops sadly. John can hardly call her very handsome indeed. Can you, John?”
“John, carry your mother a cup of cider, if she is awake,” said Mary; “and tell her I am home, getting breakfast.”
“There, that's right, Mary,” said Mrs. Skipper. “You have such a way of telling giddy people what they should not say and do. I am going my ways directly, to leave you to yours. But send one of the children after me for a nice hot roll for your sister. The new bread is just coming out of the oven. And be sure you tell me whether she likes the cider, you know.”
“And if she has not an appetite for the roll, we won't send it back, I promise you,” said Kay. “She has got into the way of not touching her breakfast, lately; and the same thing cannot be said of me, when I have been busy casting all night. Somebody will eat your roll, and thank you for it.”
“That means that I may send two; but—”
Kay protested, and Mrs. Skipper explained, and Mary announced breakfast.
“Breakfast, such as it is, Mrs. Skipper,” observed Kay. “No disrespect to your bread! But time was when I could afford it newer, and plenty of it, and a bit of something to relish it. One does not relish it so well when one can't cut and come again, but may have just so much and no more.”
Mrs. Skipper wished he could see what she saw of poor creatures that could get none,—not the smallest and driest loaf, to try whether they could relish it. If the potato crop failed, she did not know what was to become of them; or of herself either, if they went on to look in at her shop window. She had not the heart to draw the bread, with them looking on, and not stuff a bit into the children's mouths. And, dashing away the tears from her bright black eyes, widow Skipper hastened whence she came, hugging by the way the child who was sent to wait her pleasure about the roll.
Before sitting down to his scanty meal, Kay went to rally his wife about what she had seen and been alarmed at in her late expedition, and to advise her to cheer up, instead of giving way, as she seemed disposed now to do. She was up, but he supposed hardly awake yet; for she had not much to say, and seemed flurried, and not able to take exactly what he meant. He thought she had better have slept another hour.
A HARVEST EVE.
Mary rightly believed that there was a chance for the corn on the low grounds, if rain should speedily fall. By the time that the horned sheep, of the western moors had cropped the last bite of juicy grass in the dells, they were gathered together by the shepherd to abide the storms which were gathering about the summits of Wharnside and Pennygant. While they stood trembling and bleating in the rising blasts, the cattle in the vales left the muddy pools, and turned towards the shelter of the stooping and rustling trees; and many a human eye was raised to the whirling mills, whose inactivity had wearied expectation so long.
Neither the wind, nor the rain which followed, pleased every body, any more than any other wind and rain. Havoc was made by the blasts in Mr. Fergusson's young plantations, where a thousand saplings stood, dry enough for firewood, ready to be snapped by the first visitation of a gust. Trees of loftier growth strewed the Abbey lawn, and afforded matter of lamentation to the elder members of Mr. Fergusson's family, and of entertainment to the children, who watched for hours the operations of the woodmen in removing the fallen ornaments of the estate. Every washerwoman within some miles who happened to be pursuing her vocation that day, had to mourn the disappearance of cap or handkerchief from the line or bush; and how many kitchen chimneys smoked, no chimney doctor near would have ventured to say. Meanwhile, the millers and their men bestirred themselves cheerily, as sailors do when the breeze freshens after a long calm; and careful housewifes dislodged all unclean insects from their water tubs. and swept out their spouts in preparation for the first droppings. As might have been expected, the rain came, not in droppings, but m sheets. No woollen coat, woven or unwoven, saved the shepherd and his sheep from being drenched to the skin. Every tree became a commodious shower-bath to the horse or cow beneath it. Many an infirmity was exposed in thatch or tile which had never before been suspected; and everybody looked gloomy in Anderson's farm, (except the ducks,) from the apprehension that the meagre crops would be laid, past recovery. On the first cessation of the storm, matters did appear sad enough: in the villages, eyery thing smutted, from the smoke of the furnaces being beaten down; in the country, all brown and muddy-looking till the waters had had time to retire into the ditches, and the verdure to show itself; and even then, the straggling oats and prostrate wheat presented but a small improvement on their former appearance. Landlords and tenants crossed each other's path while taking their rounds, but could not agree as to the probabilities of the approaching harvest. Mr. Fergusson hoped that a day or two would make a great difference in the appearance of the fields; while Anderson was certain that it was too late for the crops to revive under the gentlest rain, and that they would prove to have been utterly destroyed by the flood which had swept down from the hills. Neither could establish his point till harvest came.
Then each proved to be right. On the high grounds, the produce was, in truth, scarcely worth carrying away, while in the vales there was better work for the harvest wain. Even there, however, there were more gleaners than reapers; and the artisans who came forth in the evening to see what had been done, agreed with the disappointed Irish, who must travel farther in search of harvest work, that the total crop would indeed turn out to be far below the average.
The best of the harvest fields did not present the usual images of peace and contentment.
“Out, out, out!” cried Anderson, to a troop of boys and girls who had pressed in at his heels as he entered a field whence the sheaves were not yet carried. “How many times am I to have the trouble of turning you out, I wonder? Wait, can't ye, till the corn is carried?”
At the flourish of his stick, the intruders took flight, and jostled each other at the gate, in their hurry to get out; but they returned, one by one, keeping in his rear, like a spider watching a fly, till they could stoop down behind a shock, and filch from the sheaves at their leisure. Following the example of the children, a woman dropped in at the gate, another entered from a gap in the fence, at a moment when the farmer had his back turned, while the heads of two or three men appeared over the wall. It was plain that the tenth commandment was not in the thoughts of any present, unless in Anderson's own.
“Here again, you rogue!” he cried, lifting up a boy by the collar from a hiding-place between two sheaves. “You are the very boy I told twice to go to the field below. There is plenty of room for you there.”
“But there is no corn there, sir.”
“Corn or no corn, there you shall go to be made an example of for pilfering from my sheaves. Here, Hoggets, take this lad down to the Lane field, and give him a good whipping in sight of them all.”
“O, no, no! Mercy, mercy!” cried the boy. “Mother said I should have no supper,— father said he would beat me, if I did not make a good gleaning. I won't go, I tell you; I won't. O, sir, don't let him beat me! Ask father! I Won't go.”
Mary Kay came up to intercede. The boy was her nephew; and she could assure Mr. Anderson that John was told to go home at his peril without an apron full of corn.
“Then let his parents answer for his flogging, as they ought to do, for driving the boy to steal,” said the farmer. “I am not to be encroached upon because they choose to be harsh with their boy; and I tell you, mistress, this pilfering must be put a stop to. This very season, when the crop is scanty enough at the best, I am losing more than I ever did before by foul gleaning. Let the boy's parents be answerable for the flogging he shall have. Hoggets, take him away.”
“Had you not better send Hoggets to flog the boy's father and mother?” Mary inquired. “that would be more just, I think.”
“O, do, sir, do!” entreated John; “and I will show him the way.”
“I dare say you would: and this aunt of yours would find some excuse next for their not being flogged.”
“I won't promise but I might,” said Mary; “for they may have something to say about what has driven them to covet your corn. It is not the going without one supper, but the being supperless eyery night. Instead of a beating, once and away, such as they promised the poor lad, it is the scourge of want, sir, for week after week, and month after month.”
“I am very sorry to hear it; and if they come and ask in a proper way, they may chance to get some help from me. But, as to countenancing my property being taken because they are poor, it would be a sin for their boy's sake, and for the sake of all the boys that would follow his example. So off with him!”
Mary was far from wishing to defend the act of pilfering from sheaves, and equally far from supposing that her brother and sister thought of any such mode of fulfilling their command when it was delivered to their boy. Mr. Anderson might be perfectly sure that Kay and his wife would not come and ask, in the “proper way” he alluded to, for what they were wearing themselves out in struggling to earn, and as for the boy, she believed she could answer for him that the being deprived of what he had gathered, or, at most, a private beating, would avail to make him observe other commands in endeavouring to fulfil those of his parents. Anderson still thought differently; and, perceiving at the moment half a dozen little beads peeping from behind so many shocks, was confirmed in his opinion that the boy must be flogged. Hoggets accordingly whipped up the little lad, slung him, screaming and writhing, over his shoulder, and disappeared behind the wall, while the farmer hunted out the other culprits, and sent them, for a punishment, to see their companion flogged in the field. Mary first detained them to see her restore John's hand-fulls of corn to the sheaves, and then went down to do the best she could for her poor little nephew in his agony.
She presently overtook him, and found that his agony was now of a more mixed character than she had expected. He was alternating between hope and fear. The quivering nostril and short sob told what his terror had been, while his raised eye, and efforts to compose himself, testified to his trust that he had found a deliverer. Two young ladies on horseback were talking with Hoggets, and looking compassionately on the culprit, while Hoggets touched his hat eyery instant, and had already lowered the boy from his disgraceful elevation. The Miss Fergussons only asked him to delay till they had overtaken Mr. Anderson, and endeavoured to procure pardon; and Hoggets thought it was not for him to resist the wishes of the ladies.
The whole matter was argued over again, and the farmer strongly urged with the plea that corn was more tempting to the poor than eyer before,— the quartern being now one shilling and eight-pence. The farmer thought that the stronger the temptation, the more exemplary should be the punishment. If he could supply eyery bread-eater near him with abundance of corn, so as to obviate the temptation, he would gladly do so, as he held prevention to be better than punishment; but, as he had not this in his power, the best thing he could do was to discourage compliance with temptation. In this case, however, as the boy had been a good deal punished by exposure, and by being off and on in his expectations of being flogged, enough was done for example, and John might run home as fast as he liked.
“That will not be very fast,” Mary observed, “since he is to be beaten at the end of his walk for bringing his mother's apron home empty. I have heard say, sir, by one that knows well, that our people are treated like this boy; brought low for want of food, driven to skulk and pilfer for it, and then disgraced and punished. But there is this difference, that you cannot prevent the want, and, in the case of the people, it might be prevented.”
“Chatham put that into your head, I suppose. It is just like one of his sayings. But I wish he would not make the worst of matters, as if any thing ailed the nation more than there has been ever since people herded together with mischief-makers among them here and there.”
Miss Fergusson hoped that there had not always been, and would not always be, such proceedings as some which were going on now. The coppice field had been green and smooth as velvet the evening before, and this morning at daybreak it was brown and trampled. The skulkers and meditators of violence had been there; and the records of her father's justice-room would show that the disgrace and punishment spoken of by Mary were fast following the destitution which is the cause of crime. She hoped Mr. Anderson did not suppose that this was the natural state in which people will always live, while congregating for the sake of the advantages of society.
Anderson hoped that men would grow wiser in time than to set up midnight drills as a remedy for the distress which always occurs from time to time; and then Mr. Fergusson would have less disagreeable justice-work to do. The ladies believed that the shortest way to obviate the folly would be to obviate the distress; and, as they moved on, were recommended to pray for a better harvest than had this year blessed the land.
John had stolen away in advance of their horses. Finding that they were proceeding to join their brothers, who had been grouse-shooting in the moors since daybreak, it occurred to the poor boy that by following in the track of the gentlemen, he might chance to pick up something which would serve as a propitiation at home for his failure in the article of corn. It was possible that a wounded bird or two might have been left by the sportsmen, and that those who could not purchase bread might sup off game:—no uncommon occurrence in a country where the tenants of a preserve are better fed than the inhabitants of a village. Halt resolving to try his fortune on the other side the hills, and never to face his parents again unless he could find a black cock, John plunged into the moors, keeping the ladies in view from a distance, as a sort of guide to the track that the sportsmen had been pursuing. He had not speed of foot to sustain, for any length of time, his share of the race. The riding party disappeared in the dusk; no living thing crossed his path, but many inanimate ones put on the appearance of a fluttering bird to deceive the agitated and hungry boy; and the breeze which stirred them did not cool his brow. He could nowhere find a pool of water from which he might drink. His legs bent under him; and at the thought of how far they must yet carry him before he could reach, shelter, north, south, east, or west, he began to cry.
Tears do not flow long when they may flow freely. It is the presence of restraint, or the interruption of thought, causing the painful idea to recur, which renders it difficult for a child to stop a fit of crying. John had no such restraint, and was subject to no further interruption than the silent appearance of light after light in the village below, and the survey of an occasional sheep, which came noiselessly to look at him and walk away again. By the time that the dew began to make itself felt upon his face, he was yawning instead of crying; and he rose from the turf as much from a desire to be moving again as from any anxiety as to what was to become of him this night. A manifold bleat resounded as he erected himself, and a score or two of sheep ran over one another as he moved from his resting place, giving hope that the shepherd was at no great distance. It was not long before he was seen through the grey twilight, moving on a slope a little to the west: and, to John's delight he turned out to be an acquaintance, Bill Hookey, who lived close by the Kays till he went upon the moors in Wilkins the grazier's service.
“How late are you going to be out, Will?” was John's first question.
“As late as it be before it is early,” replied Will. “Yon's my sleeping place, and I am going to turn in when I have made out what is doing on the river there. Look farther down,— below the forge, boy. They are quiet enough this minute, or the wind is lulled. When it blows again, you may chance to hear what I heard.”
“But about sleeping,” said John. “I am mortally tired, and I've a great way to go home. Can't you give me a corner in your hut till morning?”
“Why, I doubt there will be scarce room, for I promised two of my ewes that they should have shelter to-night; and this lamb is too tender, you see, to be left to itself. I don't see how they can let you be served.”
John promised to let the ewes have the first choice of a snug corner, and to be content with any space they might leave him, explaining that he wanted to be abroad early to glean, and that it would save him a long walk to sleep on this side Anderson's fields, instead of a mile to the east of them. He said nothing at present about his hunger, lest it should prove an objection to his abiding in Will's company. The objection came spontaneously, however, into the mind of the prudent Will.
“I hope you've your supper with you, lad, or you'll fare hardly here.”
“O, never mind supper,” said John, brushing his sleeve across his eyes. “I have gone without often enough lately.”
“Like many a one besides. Well, if you don't mind supper, so much the better for you. I have left but a scanty one for myself I was so mortal hungry at dinner time; and there is no more bread and milk in the jar than the lamb will want.”
“Can't I get some fresh sweet grass for the lamb that will do as well? Do let me! Pretty creature! I should like to feed it.”
The offer was scornfully declined, and he was told that he might help any of the older lambs to graze, but that he must, at his peril, touch this particularly precious, newly-dropped lamb. John was more disposed to graze on his own account than to assist any creature in eating what he could not share. It next occurred to him to propose a bargain. He thought it promised to be a cold night. Will agreed that it might be middlingly so. John had his mother's stout apron with him, and Will should be welcome to it to wrap the lamb in, if John might have some of the lamb's bread and milk. Will had, however, a provokingly comfortable woollen wrapper, one end of which was always at the service of the pet lamb for the time being. While the next mode of attack was being devised, the soft pacing of horses' feet on the turf, and the occasional striking of a hoof against a flint, were heard; and Will, offering an obeisance which was lost in the darkness, made bold to inquire what sport the gentlemen had had on the moors.
“Excellent sport, if we had bagged as many as we brought down,” answered one of the youths: “but thieves seem to be as plentiful as furzebushes hereabouts. There were so many loiterers about our steps that our dogs could not move quick enough when we brought down more than one bird at a time.”
“There will be a savoury supper or two eaten to-night by those who sport without pulling a trigger,” observed the other Mr. Fergusson. “But they are welcome to my share of the powder and shot they have helped themselves to.”
John's heart swelled at the thoughts of how he should like to be a sportsman after this fashion, especially as the gentleman declared that he should have been welcome.
The ladies had paused to listen to another such sound from afar as Will had described. Many of the twinkling lights from the village had disappeared, and there seemed to be a great bustle below the forge, displayed as often as the big bellows exerted themselves to throw out a peculiarly vivid flame to light up the banks of the river. Will was of opinion that the people were in a hurry for their corn, and unwilling to await Kirkland's time for opening his granaries, and unlading his lighters. There had been talk,— as he had overheard on the moors,—of going down the river to where the lighters took in their cargoes, and demanding the distribution of the corn upon the spot. Probably this was what was now being done at Kirkland's, instead of a few miles nearer the river's mouth.
“It is time we were off, if that be the case,” cried one of the gentlemen. “Kirkland must not be borne down in this manner, for the people's sake any more than for his own. Come, Charles. The girls will be safe enough with Jackson. Let us run down to the village. Here, little boy! You know Anderson's? You know Mr. Anderson himself?”
John hung down his head, and acknowledged that he knew Mr. Anderson.
“Well, here is a shilling for you. Run to Mr. Anderson, and beg him from me to come down, with his steadiest men, if he has any, to Kirkland's premises, as fast as possible. Off with you! What are you waiting for?”
“If he should be gone already, sir?”
“Why, then, go and call your father, if your father is not an ass, like the rest of the people hereabouts.”
John heard one of the young ladies check her brother for his expression, reminding him that nothing makes the ears grow so fast as the having an empty stomach; and the boy pondered for a moment whether his father's ears had lengthened since the time when the family had become subject to hunger. His hand involuntarily went up to the side of his own head; and then came the speculation whether he should offer Will a high price for the lamb's bread and milk on the spot, or wait to change his shilling at Mrs. Skipper's counter. A sharp rebuke from his employer for his delay sent him bounding down the slope, calling up his courage to face the farmer, and consoling himself with thoughts of real white bread, dispensed under Mrs. Skipper's bright smile.
Alas! Mrs. Skipper had no bright smile, this evening, even for John; much less for any one who had not so decided an opinion about her being very handsome. Anderson had looked full as grave as John expected, whether about the matter in hand, or the boy's past offence, was not clear; but the farmer's gravity was nothing to Mrs. Skipper's terror. She scolded everybody about her, ran from one neighbour to another for advice whether to barricade her windows, and could by no means attend to John's demand of a penny roll till he was on the point of helping himself; and, slipping the shilling into the till, Mrs. Skipper huffed him when he asked for change, and turned her back upon him so as to make him fear that he had made a more costly bargain, after all, than if he had bid for the lamb's bread and milk upon the moor. All this was not without cause. A friendly neighbour had come up from the river-side to warn her that it had been proposed by the people assembled round Kirkland's granaries, that, failing a supply of food from his stores, the hungry should help themselves out of the baker's shop. It seemed but too probable that the threat would be executed; for Mrs. Skipper found (and God forgive her, she said, for being sorry to hear it!) that Kirkland was prepared for the attack; having thrown open two granaries to show that they were empty, and promised that he had something particular to say about the wheat on board the lighters; something which was likely to send the people away as hungry as they came. A champion soon appeared in the person of Kay, who was almost the only man of the village who was not engaged on the more important scene of alarm. Women came in plenty, and children stood, like scouts, in the distance; but the women were found to be very poor comforters, and the children ran away as often as they were wanted for messengers. Mary was there; and her indifference to the danger served almost as well as Kay's promised valour to restore spirits to Mrs. Skipper. It was something to do when the most valuable part of the stock was carried away to be hidden in some safe place, and the oldest loaves ostentatiously placed so as to be stolen first, to taunt Mary with her not caring for what happened to her friends, and looking as indifferent as if she came merely to buy a threepenny loaf. Mary made no reply: but her brother declared that he must just say for her, that if she was indifferent about other people's concerns, so she was about her own. There was Chatham, very busy down by the river-side, with everybody listening to him but the one who had the most reason to be proud to hear what he said; and Mrs. Skipper would see, when she was cool, that it was rather hard to scold Mary for being better able to give assistance than if she was subject to being heated like some people. Mrs. Skipper begged a world of pardons. She was not half good enough for Mary to care at all about her, and she was ready to bite her tongue out for what she had said. As Mary did not intimate any wish to this effect, however, no such caillegibleastrophe took place, and the necessary disposition of affairs proceeded quietly.
Mrs. Skipper had not to wait long to know her fate. Chatham came to tell her that the people had been exasperated by finding that there was no good corn for them on Kirkland's premises, and had gone on towards Sheffield, to burn or pull down a mill or two, it was supposed, as some faces well known at the midnight drill were seen among them. If the few who remained behind should come and ask bread of Mrs. Skipper, he advised her to give it without any show of unwillingness.
“Mercy on me! that will be hard work, if they look beyond the bread on the counter,— two days old,” cried Mrs. Skipper. “Suppose they should get at the dough, what am I to do to-morrow? And the flour! There has not been time to hide half the flour! They will want to cut my head off every day for a week to come, if they strip me of my flour, and expect me to go on baking at the same price. O, Mr. Kay, what shall I do?”
“Do as dealers in com in another shape have done, often and often,” replied Chatham. “Bear your lot patiently as a dealer in that which the people want most, and in which they are most stinted.”
Mrs. Skipper looked doubtfully at Mary for a further explanation of what it was that she was to do.
“Do you mean,” asked Kay, “that they have stripped Kirkland of his corn, and expect him to sell more next week at the same price?”
“They would have done so, if Kirkland had had much wheat to part with. The trade of a corndealer, I have heard him and others say, has always been a hard one to carry on. All parties have joined against them, for as long a time as can be remembered.”
“Ay; the farmers are jealous, I suppose, of their coming between them and the people, thinking they could get better prices if there was nobody to be served between them and their customers. And the people, in the same way, think that they must pay higher for their bread, to enable the corndealers to live.”
“Forgetting that the farmers have something else to be doing than buying and selling corn, here and there, wherever it is wanted, and getting it from abroad when there is not enough at home, and government lets more come in. But it is not only the farmers and the people. The government used to punish the buying up of corn where it was plentiful, and selling it where it was scarce. Many a corndealer has been punished instead of thanked for doing this.”
“I do not see why any man need be thanked for doing what answers best to his own pocket, as it certainly does to buy cheap and sell dear. But to punish a man for coming between the people and want, seems to me to be more like an idle tale than anything to be believed.”
“Kirkland's father was taken up and tried for doing this very thing, not longer ago than a dozen years or so. The law was against him, (one of the old laws that we are learning to be ashamed of;) but it was too clear that he had done no harm, for anybody to wish that he should be punished. So they let him go.”
“Who told you this?”
“Kirkland himself told us so, just now. He said he had rather be brought to his trial in the same way, than have the people take the matter into their own hands to their own injury. I thought it was very brave of him to say so at the moment.”
“Why? Were the people angry?”
“Like to tear him to pieces.”
“And he within their reach?”
“Standing on the plank between the lighter and the wharf”
“Ugh! And they might have toppled him into the water any minute!” cried Mrs. Skipper. “I am sure I hope they won't come near me.”
“The most angry of them are gone on, as I told you,” replied Chatham. “And that is well for you, perhaps; for never did you see angrier faces. They called out, two hundred voices like one, that it was a sin they should have to pay twenty pence for their quartern while he had a houseful of wheat stored up, and more coming.”
“And so it is, if he can get more when that is done.”
“That is the very thing he cannot be sure of doing, as he told these people they must know very well. No one can be sure beforehand when and how he may get in corn from abroad; and, at any rate, it cannot be had till it has grown monstrously dear at home; and so he insisted upon it that he was doing the wisest thing in selling his corn as others sell it, and no cheaper; that we may not eat it all up now, and starve entirely before the end of the winter.”
“Well, I grumble as much as anybody else at our having to pay twenty pence for our loaf; begging your pardon, Mrs. Skipper, whose fault I know it is not. I, with a wife and children, can't reconcile myself to such a price, I grumble as much as anybody.”
“So do I,” said Chatham.
“Only you don't blame Kirkland.”
“Kirkland can't help the grievance, any more than you or I; and I am sure he suffers enough by it. There is a loss of some hundred pounds by this one cargo. It is more than half spoiled.”
“The sea-water has got to it, and it is downright rotten.”
“What a pity, when it is so particularly wanted! Such accidents signify twice as much at some times as at others; and that this should happen now—just when bread is at the highest! O dear! what a pity!”
“It would not signify half so much if there was more certainly coming, and the people knew what they had to depend on. But if more is ordered, it may come or it may not: and it may be in good time, or not arrive till the season is far advanced; and so much must be paid for shipping charges (always dear in autumn), that it may mount up as high as our own home supply, after all.”
“What a worry Kirkland must be in!” observed Kay. “He is not one of the quietest at any time; and now, between hurrying his correspondents abroad, and finding his cargo spoiled at home, and having the people gathering about him with their clamour, he must feel something like a dog with a saucepan tied to its tail.”
“Not like your master, Mr. Kay,” observed Mrs. Skipper. “There is no law to meddle with his selling his brass abroad or at home, as he likes; and so he knows what to expect, and how to live with his neighbours; and has little to worry him.”
“I beg your pardon, Mrs. Skipper. My master is prevented selling freely abroad and at home; and prevented by the same law that worries Kirkland. And the worry is great, I can tell you; though Oliver does not run about, losing his breath and fidgeting himself like Kirkland, but walks so solemn and slow, you might take him for a Quaker.”
“Well, I thought, as his foundry is always at work, and people must have things made of brass, and nobody objecting,—I thought things went easily enough with Oliver.”
“His foundry works at night,” said Chatham, “and his metal runs as well at Christmas as at Midsummer; and yet Oliver's prosperity depends on rain and sunshine as much as if zinc and copper were sown in the furrows and came up brass.”
“There, now,” said Mrs. Skipper, “that is one of your odd speeches, Chatham. And Mr. Kay nods as if he knew what you meant.”
“I have good reason to know,” replied Kay. “I and my fellow-workmen must have higher wages when corn is scarce, and then Oliver must put a better price upon his brass, without either his or our gaining anything by it: and then——”
“O ay; there will be less brass bought; that is what you mean.”
“Moreover, there are plenty of people abroad that want brass, and would take it if they could give us corn in exchange,—so regularly as that they and we might know what we are about. And so, as sure as sunshine or rain falls short, some of Oliver's furnaces die out: and as sure as Kirkland's corn-vessels might come and go, without let or hinderance, our foundry would send a light, night and day, over all the vale.”
“That is the way Chatham's sayings come out,” observed the widow: “but I think he might as well speak plain at once, and make no mysteries.”
“I spoke plain enough about what was going to happen to you and your bread,” said Chatham, “and now you will soon see whether it comes out true; for here is the street filling fast, I see.”
“Poor souls!” cried the widow, having run out at her door to look. “They do not seem creatures to be afraid of, when one comes close to them;—so tired and lagging! I say, Dixon, won't you have something to eat after your walk? Smith, you look worse still, and I saw how early you were off to your work this morning, and you have a good way to go to supper. Try a roll, won't you? Come, that's right, Bullen, set to, and tell me if it is not good bread: and you. Taylor.—carry it home to your wife, if you scruple to eat it yourself.—Bless you, make no speeches! I only wish I had more; but this is all, you see, except the dough that is laid for the morning, and that belongs to my customers, not to me.—Well; I am pleased you like it. I would have thought to get in some cheese, if I had known, before the shop was shut, that you would be passing.—Never make such a favour of it. I'll ask the same of you some day. Or you will remember me when times mend with you.—Do look, Mr. Kay; if they be not going to cheer!—I never thought to live to be cheered.—Bless them! how hearty they are!”
And laughing, sparkling, and waving her right arm vehemently, the dame watched in their progress down the street the neighbours whose approach she had thought, an hour before, she could scarcely survive. Kay followed the munching groups, to see what they would do next; and Chatham drew Mary's arm within his own, to escort her home, leaving the widow to bolt herself in, and survey at her leisure her bare shelves, and sweep down her empty shop-board, —soliloquizing, as she went on,
“I forgot these little sweet-cakes, or some of the children should have had them,—for they are rather stale. It is well they did not press for the dough, for I don't believe I could have refused them anything at the moment,—and then what should I have said to the Fergussons' man in the morning?—Well; it does look forlorn, now it is all over; and it was but this morning that I refused to take Mrs. Holmes's ten-shilling bonnet because I thought I could not afford it; and now I have given away,—let me see how many shillings' worth of bread! Ugh! I dare not think of it. But it is done, and can't be undone; and besides I dare say they would have taken it, if I had not given it; and, as I bargained with them, they will do the same for me some day. Smith does look rarely bad, to be sure. I wish he be not going; though, if he be, it will be pleasant to think that one gave him a meal when he was hungry. Not that it won't be pleasant to remember the same thing if he lives. I wonder what his poor wife's expectation is concerning him. if she loses him, l hope she will find it no more of a trouble than I have done. So much less than I thought! I think poor Mrs. Kay droops almost as much as Smith. But there's no knowing. Those weakly people often live the longest;—except, to be sure, when they have got into a habit like hers. Not a word has her husband ever let drop about it. I wonder whether he knows as much as I do. He shall never hear a word of it from me, nor not even Mary, though I fancy she can't be blind. Catch Mary Kay blind to anything! For all she looks so dull and stony when she chooses, she sees as sharp as a hawk,—and has such a way of setting one down. She's a good creature too, with all she does for those children; and nothing could be more handy than she was about the bread to-night. I wish she might chance to look in in the morning, and give me more of her handiness, to help to make the place look a little less forlorn than it does with all these empty shelves. I was very hasty, to be sure, in emptying them; but, as the parson said on Sunday, God loves a cheerful giver. So now, I will cast a look to see if the dough is rising, and go to bed; for it must be full late, I am sure.”
Chatham and Mary were meanwhile walking home, conversing after their fashion,—making six words do where others would use twenty. An incident occurred on which they understood each other without any words at all. A gleam of light fell across the street as a door on the shadowy side of the way slowly opened, to let out a woman, who walked along under the houses, slowly and with her head hung down. It was the door of the gin-shop that opened, and it would have been absurd to pretend not to know the woman. Mary instantly slackened her pace, and motioned to cross over to the dark side.
“She is steady enough,” said Chatham. “She will get on very well by herself.”
“To be sure she will. It is not quite come to that yet. But let her get home first, and not know that we have been following her. It is only merciful.”
“She shall have mercy from me;—more perhaps than from those who are answerable for her failing and sinking as she does, poor soul!”
Mary consented to turn back to the end of the street, to give a little more time, and asked whether grindstone cutting was not warm work in these sultry noons. She had learned all she wanted about grindstones by the time she could safely knock at her brother's door with the hope that there was somebody stirring within to open it.
“I say nothing about coming in to sit with you all till Kay comes, because——”
“I was not going to ask you to-night. Tomorrow evening, perhaps. Good night. I hear her coming. Good night.”
And Chatham was out of sight from within, before Mrs. Kay, her bonnet off and her cap, somehow not put on, opened the door, and left Mary to fasten it.
FASTERS AND FEASTERS.
There were two opposite lights on the horizon that night, to those who looked out from the village. While the moon sank serenely behind the dark western hills, a red flame shot up, amidst volumes of wreathing smoke, in the direction of Sheffield. Some persons were trying the often-repeated experiment of gaining bread by the destruction of that by which bread is gained. A metal-mill was gutted, its machinery broken, and its woodwork burned, because the sea water had got to Kirkland's corn; and more mills were threatened in case the price of bread did not fall within a few days. As no one could answer for the price of bread falling within the time specified, the only thing done was to take measures to avert the promised destruction. For this purpose, strict inquiries were made as to what the habitants of the district had been about the preceding evening: who had gone home from the harvest-field; who attended the arrival of Kirkland's corn: and how many there were who could give no good account of themselves. Early in the morning the officers of justice were abroad, and Mr. Fergusson and his sons were seen riding about, greeted not the less respectfully wherever they went from its being known that their object was to bring some of their neighbours to justice. Mr. Fergusson's character stood too high among his tenants to allow of their thinking the worse of him under any misfortunes that might happen. Let him do what he might in his character of magistrate, he was trusted to do what was right, as he showed himself, on all occasions, not only compassionate to the sufferings of the people, but as wise in discerning the causes of the suffering as anxious to relieve it when relief was in his power. Accordingly, hats were touched when he looked in the faces of those whom he met this morning, and ready answers given to his inquiries where the innocent were called upon to speak, and respectful ones from the guilty, when the necessity came upon them of making out a case. All the complaisance that there was, however, was engrossed by the Mr. Fergussons. The constables got only sneers and short answers, and men and women looked suspiciously on one another all through the district, none knowing what a neighbour might have the power to tell. Perhaps so many cross words were never spoken in one day in the vale, as the day after the burning of Halsted's mill. “What do you look at me for? You had better look to yourself,” was the common sentiment at the forge, in the field, and on the alehouse bench. As for the children, they were so perplexed with instructions what they were to say, that It was only to be hoped no one would ask them any questions.
It was not to be supposed that Mrs. Skipper could stay quietly at home while strangers were passing up and down the street about whom her journeyman could give her no information, and while reports were travelling round of one neighbour and another being compromised. She burst in at Kay's, just after he was gone to his work, when his wife was preparing to put away breakfast, and Mary was beating out the corn which she had gleaned the evening before, and which was destined to the mill this day.
“I have not brought you a hot roll this morning, Mrs. Kay; no, nor so much as a crust. I cannot afford any more of that at present; and so you will not look for it from me.”
“What do you speak in that way to me for? I don't know what you mean,” said Mrs. Kay, with an angry, puzzled stare.
“Nor I what you would be at, I'm sure,” replied Mrs. Skipper. “One would not believe you were the soft-spoken Mrs. Kay, now-a-days. You can be sharper in your speech than ever I am, let me tell you.”
“That is the more reason why you should be soft in yours,” said. Mary. “She has borne with you sometimes, when you have been better in health than she is now.”
“Well; that is true: and she does look so poorly. . . . . Ah! now, there's master John coming out with a speech about my fresh colour again.”
John was not thinking about anybody's colour. He wanted to know whether it was not true that he had had eleven-pence change from her the night before.
“To be sure you had, after taking a penny roll.”
John called his mother to witness. that she might tell his father, that he was in possession of a shilling before the troubles began at Kirkland's; to say nothing of those farther on. His father had doubted his getting that shilling honestly, and had desired his mother to take possession of the eleven pence till the whole was unquestionably accounted for; and now John wanted his money back again. Mrs. Kay did not, however, heed his request; and the matter ended in Mary's. persuading the boy that if he had the money by the time he was at liberty to go out, it would do very well, instead of pressing for it now that his mother was busy thinking of something else.
“Why, take care, Mrs. Kay!” cried her neighbour. “Your hand shakes so, you will certainly let the dish down, and that will cost you more than a meal of my best bread would have done. Well! that is a beautiful potato to have left among the peelings. And here's another! I wonder you let the children scatter their food about in that manner.”
“'Tis not the children,” observed Mary. “They have not more than they are very willing to eat, poor things! Their mother has but little appetite, and she is apt to slip her food back into the dish, that it may not make her husband uneasy.—I want, your help more than she does,” she continued, seeing that Mrs. Skipper's officious assistance was obstinately refused by the poor woman. “Will you step behind, and help me to beat and winnow my corn, if you have a minute to spare?”
With all her heart, Mrs. Skipper said; but she had an errand, though it was not to bring cider or hot bread. She had learned the secret of making potato-bread: not the doughy, distasteful stuff that many people were eating, but light, digestible, palatable bread. She would not tell the secret to everybody,—giving away her own trade; but when she saw a family of old friends eating potatoes, morning, noon, and night, she could not help telling them how they might get something better.
Mary thanked her, and observed that she did not know how she could put her gleaned corn to a better use than in making the experiment of a batch of mixed flour and potato-bread.
“Ah! do; and I will treat you to the baking, and look well to it myself. For my credit's sake, you know; having set you to try. Come, let us have the corn beat out.”
They went to the back of the house to thresh and winnow, and then the widow's first exclamation was about how sadly out of sorts Mrs. Kay seemed to be.
“These are not times for her,” replied Mary. “They bear harder upon such as she was than upon anybody. Who could have thought, you know, when she was an only child, brought up delicately for a poor man's daughter, that she would come to loathe a potato breakfast, and have no other?”
“Bless you! I know,” whispered the widow, with a wise look. “People may take things over-night that leave them no sense, nor temper, nor appetite in the morning. My dear, I see how it is.”
Mary was apparently too busy with the wheat to take any notice of this intimation. The next thing she said was,
“Where are all the potatoes to come from that will be wanted if people take to this new sort of bread? and indeed whether they do or not; for potatoes they must eat, either by themselves or made into bread. How are we to get enough?”
“The price is rising, they say; faster than the price of anything else, except corn: and if you go up yonder towards the moors, you will see what a quantity of new ground is being taken up for growing potatoes. I have had half a mind to try what I could do with a bit of a field myself. Anderson knows what he is about, generally; and what he tries in a large way might be safe for such as we in a small.”
“I would not try,” replied Mary.
“No, not if yon were me, because you think I fly from one thing to another, and do myself harm.”
“Besides.” said Mary, attempting no denial, “how will it be with you next year, if there should chance to be a fine wheat and barley crop? People do not live on potatoes when they can get bread; and I am sure it is not to be wished that they should. I hope there will be much less demand for potatoes next year; and it is likely there will. We have had so many bad seasons, it cannot be long before a good one comes.”
“And then what a pity it will be that so much money has been spent in fencing and managing these potato-grounds! It may chance to come to be worth while to turn the sheep on again. That would be a pity.”
“Say rather it is a pity they were ever turned off. The land on the moors is much more fit for them than for us to feed off; and leaving them there would leave the money that is spent on the land (more than it is worth, if matters went on in their usual course) to be used in a more profitable way.”
“In what way?”
“Why; take your own case. If you pay so much for hedging and ditching, and draining, and manuring the potato-ground you have a mind for, and the crop brings you no more next year than the same plot now brings as a sheep-feed, is not the money just lost that was laid out in making a field of it? My opinion is that it would bring less; and if it does not, it ought to do. Our people will be badly off indeed if food is so high next year as to make them take your potatoes at a price that would make your bargain a good one; and if they are obliged to do so, they will be eating up in those potatoes the money that should have set some of them to work at weaving or cutlery-employment. Better buy corn of Kirkland when we can, and let the sheep graze on.”
“Ay, when we can. There is the very thing. If we could always do that, as much as we pleased, we should not spend much of our money on the moors; but it is because it is all a chance whether we shall be buying of Kirkland next year, that one thinks of taking the chance of potatoes selling well.”
“I would not.”
“No, not you. You would spend your money, if you had any, in a little bargain of grindstones, for the sake of a certain person.”
“That would depend on the price of potatoes,” replied Mary, smiling, “for they would depend on the price of corn; and on the price of corn mainly depends the cutlery trade; and where is the use of grindstones unless the cutlery business flourishes?”
“There is another thing to be looked to; and that is, that those you help in cutting grindstones do not get themselves into trouble;—ay, by being abroad at night, and having the constables after them in the day, I would have you consider that, my dear. Merey! how frightened you look,—as white as my apron! Now, don't push me away because I let out a thing that made you frightened.”
“Angry—very angry,” said Mary.
“Not with me, to be sure; for I did not make it, be it true or not true; though I need not have cast it in your teeth as I did. It was Dick Rose told me; and he said he knew it from——”
“Do get me a little vinegar, Mrs. Skipper. I never pinched my finger so smartly before. I shall not be able to get my thimble on this week.”
“Well, now, it was that made you turn white, while you pretended to be so angry with me that you made my heart beat in my throat. I shall know you now another time, mistress Mary.”
“Not you,” thought Mary, as her giddy companion bustled into the house for vinegar.
“I don't see your sister,” said she, returning, “but I guessed 'where to look for the vinegar. Is the pain going? Well, only do you. ask Dick Rose about how the folks were seen creeping out of the quarry, one by one,—those that worked there, and some strangers that came to visit them; and how——”
“I shall not ask Dick Rose any such thing, when there is a person that can tell me so much better,” said Mary.
“Ay, if he will.”
“John, fetch me the large blue apron,” cried Mary; “and bring out Nanny with you. I promised she should lend a hand, and see the chaff fly.”
Before John could reach the door, a sharp scream,—the scream of a child,—was heard from within. Mary flew to see what had happened, but just as she was entering, her brother, seeing that some one was behind her, slammed the door in her face, and was heard to bolt it. Mrs. Skipper would not listen to what she had to say about the child having a fall, but exclaimed,
“Well, I should not have thought Mr. Kay could have behaved in that manner to you; and he looked at me quite fierce, so as I thought had not been in his nature.”
And she stepped to the window to tap, and ask an explanation: but she caught a glimpse of something that quieted her, and sent her to stoop down over the wheat again, without looking at Mary, or speaking another word. Kay was carrying his wife up stairs. The helpless arm, hanging over his shoulder, was just visible, and the awe-struck children, suspending their crying, moved Mrs. Skipper to concern too deep to be expressed in her usual giddy speech.
“Which way are you going?” asked Mary at length. “I am off for the mill, as soon as I can get in to take the children with me.”
“And I home; and you may depend on me, you know for what. My tongue does run too fast sometimes, I know; but you may depend on me, as it was only by a chance that I was here.”
“Thank you!” replied Mary, warmly. “And I will take it kindly of you to show me the way about the bread, as soon as my corn is ground.”
By the united resources of the children within, the door was unbolted, and the party allowed egress into the street, when Mrs. Skipper turned down, and Mary up; the children asking her, one to go out of the way for the sake of the pond on the heath, and another hoping to jump down five steps of the mill-ladder, four having been achieved last time. Mary would have been glad to forget their mother as easily as they.
When Warden saw her toiling up the slope on the top of which the mill stood, her bundle on her head, and a child tugging at each side of her gown, he civilly came down to relieve her, and told her that she was more welcome than on the occasion of her last visit. It was a fine breezy day, he observed, and perhaps she might like to look about her from the top of the mill, if she did not mind the shaking that there always was in a wind. Mary thanked him, but dared not leave the children, lest they should put themselves in the way of the sails. This difficulty was soon obviated by the miller's taking the girl upon his shoulder, and calling to his man to bring up the boy, and let him play among the sacks in the first story, or climb higher, as he liked.
“I suppose you saw the fire finely from here, if you chanced to be looking out last night,” Mary observed.
“My man did, as he stayed to take advantage of the wind. He says it lighted up every turn of the river between this and Sheffield. You may see the smoke still, among the other smoke. Half the country has flocked there this morning, my father-in-law told me just now, as the passed on his way to pay his rent. It is a good time to choose to pay his rent, when every body is thinking of something else than emptying” his pockets. Otherwise, it is not the safest and pleasantest thing in the world to be carrying money over the by-road between this and Fergusson's. Yonder he goes, continued the miller, stooping to the little girl whom he was keeping steady with his arm round her waist. “Yonder goes Mr. Anderson, on his black mare. You may see him trotting along the lane between those young oaks.”
“He will come back slower in the evening when he has left his money behind him,” observed Mary.
“He will not wait till evening. He will just finish with the steward, and come home again, for the Mr. Fergussons are abroad over the country to-day; and besides, my father-in-law is wanted at home every hour of the day while the improvements are going on. Look how busy he is thereabouts.”
“I see; they drive the poor sheep higher and higher up the moors, with their walls and their ditches.”
“Yes, year by year.“ Before these many bad ”seasons, the sheep used to browse on this very slope where my mill stands. I used to come up among the bleaters every morning.”
“You speak as if the bad seasons were the cause of the change.”
“And so they are, mainly. Where numbers increase as they have done here in my time, more food will be wanted at all events, be the seasons what they may. But when the soil yields scantily, for years together, the inclosing will go on faster, from the cry for food. Yonder field, red even now with poppies, would never have been sown if the nine-acres in the bottom had yielded as they ought. The nine-acres used to yield as much as was reaped this year in itself and the poppy-field together.”
“And there has been all the cost of taking it in besides.”
“Yes. and my father-in-law does wisely to pay that cost (if he must pay it) before his rent is raised. He and the steward will have an argument about that rent to-day, I fancy. The lease will be up soon now, and rents are rising every where; and I suppose my father-in-law is content to let his mount up too. He would not otherwise be carrying on all these works.”
“I wonder at his being content to pay more rent after so many short harvests.”
“It is easier than after larger; for corn sells dear, more than in proportion to its scarcity. Nobody can tell you better than Anderson that a single short harvest makes a heavy pocket; much more a succession of short harvests.”
“Till the poor get a-head of the rate-payers, I suppose,—no longer. When Mr. Anderson has to maintain half of us down in the village, because we cannot buy food, he will find us lighten his pockets as fast as bad years can fill them.”
“The manufacturers must help him then. They must raise their people's wages——”
“And so must Anderson.”
“They must raise their people's wages, and maintain the poor in the towns, and in the working villages.”
“I wish the manufacturers joy of their good nature. They first pay dear for their own bread, and then pay dear for the labour which is to buy their workmen's bread, and then spend what profits are left in supporting those whose labour they cannot employ; and all to make Anderson's and other farmers' pockets heavy for a little while after bad seasons. I wish them joy of their patience.”
“Anderson will want patience too, when his turn comes. Depend upon it, as soon as he gets fairly saddled with a high rent and high rates, there will come a fine crop or two to make prices as low in proportion as they now are high. He cannot bring down his men's wages all in a day; much less can the rates be disburthened at once; and so it will be well if he makes ready beforehand for such a change.”
“I hope he does make ready; but what I see there looks little like it.”
“What, you mean the bay-window and balcony now making to my house, and the shrubbery he is laying out. All that was not wish of mine, for I thought the white house looked very neat as it was before; and the bit of garden behind was as much as my wife and I had time to attend to. But her father liked that his daughter's house should be improving while he was adding so much to his own, and he made us accept of the alteration, whether we would or no. He said, that while he was sending my wife's sister to Paris, and bringing up her brothers to look higher than he once thought of for them, he could not leave her neglected, as if he was ashamed of her having married more humbly than the other girls will do.”
“And his own house looks hardly like the same place. His having built up among all the rambling old parts gives it one face as a whole.”
“Yes; three more bad years, and it will look like a gentleman's mansion. Yes, yes; these are the joyous rent-days, when the steward gets every farthing, and pretends to shake his head because it is no more; and when the farmers try to look dismal about the short crops, and then sing merry songs over their ale,—such of them as have not taken to port. Well, the millers' day will come in time, it is to be hoped.”
“When will that be?”
“When the people are not setting their wits to work to make potato-bread, and eating every thing that grows rather than flour. We have had more going and coming, more watching and jealousy about waste, and more grumbling because we cannot grind for nothing,—more trouble of all sorts about a few trumpery bundles of gleanings this last week, than about fifty sacks when I first became a miller.”
“I will give you as little trouble as I can with mine,” said Mary; “but you must not call it a trumpery bundle, for it is worth much to me. If you knew how much, I might trust you not to waste any of it.”
“You would not dream of my wasting, if you saw how carefully I look to every grain. Why, I drive away the very birds themselves, if they light when the sails stop at any time. We do not leave the sweepings to them and the wind, as we used to do, but sift them as a housemaid sifts for pins. That is the reason why I do not offer your young master a handfull for the pigeons, as I used to do.”
“Don't think of it, pray. He is going to play with the ducks on the pond as we go home, and that will do as well: besides, I hear him laughing now, merry enough without the pigeons.”
“Playing hide and seek with Jerry among the sacks, I fancy.”
“Where he must have done playing for to-day,” observed Mary. “How quiet every place looks for a working day!” she continued, giving one more glance round the horizon before she descended. “Except the sheep, creeping like mites on the uplands, and the labourers gathering like ants about the new inclosures, I see nobody stirring.”
“I seldom see it so quiet, except on a starlight night, when there is no noise but the whizzing of the sails when they go by starts; or perhaps an owl from my gable. But you see the people in the quarries stick to their work, as if they had no share in what was doing last night.” And the miller looked full at Mary as he spoke. “I see a man or two with his pick in yonder stone-pit, hewing away as if nothing had happened. Cannot you see them? Well, it is a wonder your head has stood the shaking in this breeze for so long. Many people can fix their sight on nothing after the first two minutes.”
Mary was determined to see more of the quarries before she went home than could be discerned from the mill-top. She let one child peep into the hopper to see how the corn ran down to be ground, and the other to exhibit his jump of five steps, with a topple at the end of it, and then walked quickly away towards the part of the heath where bilberries were to be found, and where she thought she might leave her charge safely employed while she looked into the quarry to see whether Chatham was really there, and whether or not he had had any transactions with the constables since she saw him last.
A POOR MAN'S INDUCTION.
It took but a little time to show the children how to find bilberries, and not very much longer to teach them not to eat what they found; after which Mary was at liberty to walk round to the mouth of the stone-quarry, beside which the fashioning of grindstones went on, in subservience to the cutlery business of Sheffield. She avoided the sheds where the sawing and smoothing proceeded, and looked only among the men who were excavating the stone. But few were at work this day; Chatham was one of them. He was engaged high up, with his face to the rock, and having no glances to spare for the scene below him, or for the narrow, rough path by which his present position must be attained.
Mary had never been here before, and she lingered in hopes that Chatham might turn, and encourage her to go on. She gathered rag-wort from the moist recesses by the way, and paused to observe how the ivy was spreading over a portion of the stone face of the quarry which had been left untouched for some time, and to listen to the water trickling down among the weeds by a channel which it had worn for itself. As Chatham still did not turn, she proceeded to climb the path, being aware that children who were playing in the bottom had given notice of her presence, and that face after face peeped out from beneath the sheds to gaze, and then disappeared again. When at length she laid her hand on the arm of the toiling man, he started as if his tool had broken under his blow.
“Mary! what brought you here?”
“I heard that the constables were after you.”
“So did I; and here I am, if they choose to come.”
“And what next?”
“My words and deeds will be taken up against me, perhaps. Perhaps it may be found that I am a good friend to all the parties that were quarrelling last night. This last is what I wish to be.”
“And trying to be so. you will get blamed by all in turn.”
“By all at once, if they so please. As often as they choose to ask my opinion, as they did last night, they shall have it, though they themselves try to hoot me down. I do not want to meddle; but, being bid to speak out, I will speak, out of the fire or the water, if they bid me burn or drown. So it is not the notion of a constable that can frighten me.”
“Out of fire or water, would you? Then much more would you speak in a moonlight field. O, tell me if you were there.”
“How did you spend your thoughts, Mary, those nights that you sat by the spring, during the drought? What were you thinking about when your sister threw down the pitcher that you caught? That must have been a weary night to you both.”
“You saw us! Then it is true; and you are one that hopes to get food by night-arming?”
“Not I. If the question of stinting food or getting plenty of it were waiting to be decided by arms,—the hungry on one side and the full on the other,—I would take up my pike with a hopeful heart, however sorry I might be that blood should be shed in settling so plain a matter. But what could a little band of pale complainers do, creeping under the shadows of yonder walls, with limbs as trembling as their hearts are firm? How should they be champions of the right while they are victims of the wrong? They must be fed before they can effectually struggle for perpetual food.”
“Poor wretches! they did look, it seemed to me, as if they had no life nor spirit in them.”
“The spirit goes from the sunk eye to swell the heart, Mary; and those that have not strength of arm this day, may prove, many a day hence, what their strength of purpose has been. This is what the authorities ought to look to. Instead of scouring the country to wake up a wretch from the noon-day sleep which he seeks because he has had no morning meal, they should provide against the time when his arm will be strong to make his hungry dreams come true. Instead of carrying one man in disgrace from his loom, and another from the forge, and another from the quarry, to tell the old story—‘We have been patient long, and can endure no longer,’ our rulers should be satisfying themselves whether this is one of the stories which is to have no end. It cannot be very pleasing to their ears. The wonder is, that if they are weary of it, they go on from century to century to cry, ‘Tell us this story again.’”
“They cannot yet be so weary of it as we.”
“No; for they hear others in turn with it,—tales of victories abroad, and of rejoicings at home in places where no poor man sets his foot. Their painters show them pictures of jolly rent-days, and the music they hear is triumphant and spirit-stirring. If they go abroad in the day, they laugh to see their enemies made mirth of in the streets; and if at night, they glorify themselves and one another in the light of illuminations. Thus they can forget our story for a while.”
“I would rather they should come here than go myself among them, to be the merriest of the merry.”
“Ay; if we could set each of them down in this vale as one of ourselves, they would be surprised to find how dismal night-lights are when they shine upon scowling brows and hollow cheeks; and how little spirit war-music has when it cannot drown the moans of the famished, and the cries of mothers weeping for their children.”
“It seems to me that their very religion helps to deceive them about us. Last Sunday, the clergyman looked comfortably about him, and spoke very steadily when he read about the springing corn in the furrows, and that the little hills rejoice on every side. I thought of the red poppies and the stones in Fergusson's new fields, and the scanty gleanings on the uplands, and my heart turned back from my Bible.”
“It should not have done that, Mary. It is not that the Bible is in fault, but that some people read it wrong. There is never any day of any year when there are not springing grains and ripening harvests on God's earth.”
“You ought to be able to speak to that, having gone so far round the world when you were a boy at sea.”
“I can speak to it. If there are angels hovering over the fields, as 'tis said there once were, and if the earth lies stretched beneath them as in a map, they may point to one fruitful place or another, and never cease their song, ‘Thou visitest the earth and waterest it. The pastures are clothed with flocks, and the valleys are covered over with corn. Thou crownest the year with thy goodness.’”
“But of what use is it to us that there is corn somewhere, if we have it not? Are we to bless God that he feeds some people somewhere, while there are still poppies and stones where we look for bread?”
“You might as well ask ‘of what use is the fruit on the tree to him who sits hungering at its foot?’ And, ‘is not a parched traveller to repine at his thirst, when a well is springing in the neighbouring shade?’ What would you say to hungering and thirsty men like these?”
“‘Bless God that there is fruit, and climb to reach it. Be thankful that there is water, and go down to take your fill.’”
“We are required by our rulers to do one half of this reasonable thanksgiving, and to fore-go the remainder. We are bidden to thank God for his gifts, but forbidden to reach and take. —How great is the folly of this, you would see at a glance, if you could go where I have been.”
“To see how perfectly happy people are in the fruitful places, while so many are suffering here? To see how unequal is the lot of dwellers in different countries?”
“Not so; but worse. There is but too much equality in the lot of dwellers in fruitful and on barren soils; between those who are too many for their food, and those who bury their spare corn out of their way. If some were satisfied while others suffer, the sufferers might be the more patient because all were not afflicted like themselves; but it is when all suffer, and might yield mutual relief, if they were not prevented, that patience is impossible. I would ask no man to have patience with our state who had seen the state of many others, striving after patience as painfully as we.”
“Why, there is the labouring man of Poland, for one. He creeps out of his log hut, shivering, half naked, in the first cold of autumn, to feed his pigs with the grain——”
“Grain! What sort of grain?”
“Wheat, or rye, as may happen; whichever happens to be rotting the fastest. Between him and the black forests on the horizon are plains, stretching away for leagues upon leagues, some sprinkled with a few cattle, and some showing a stubble that you would be glad to have the gleaning of; and others lying waste, though richer as soil than many a field of Anderson's.”
“O, but that is a shame, with the people so poor.”
“It would make the people no richer to till those wastes, unless the crops could sell. The people there do not want food——”
“So I think, if they feed their beasts on wheat and rye.”
“They want clothes, and good houses, and all that makes a dwelling comfortable; and yet, though our warehouses are overfull of broad cloth, and we could furnish twice as much metal-work as we do, if we had bread for the workmen, it is only by fits and starts that we will let Poland sell us corn, and clothe her sons. Then, again, near the Black Sea——”
“Is that sea really blacker than other seas?”
“The sun glitters there as bright as on the heaving Indian bays, and it is as blue when the sky is clear as any tarn in yonder hills. God has done all to make it beautiful, not only from above, but by spreading fertile tracts all along its shores. If man would do his part, sending ships upon its bosom, and leaving no spot desolate around, it might be made the happy place that, in my opinion, the whole earth might be made, and will be, some time or other.”
“The people are not happy there now, then?”
“Not what we should call happy, though they may like better than we should the flitting from plain to plain to gather corn, as bees flit from blossom to blossom for honey. They reap for three seasons from a field, and then move to another, leaving an exhausted soil and a desolate place behind them.”
“We might teach them husbandry, if they would let us have some of the fruits of it.”
“And then they might learn to live a little more like Christians than they do, and have some of the pleasures that we have, in the midst of all our hardships, in growing up from the state of brute beasts into that of thinking men. There are other parts,—in America,—where thinking men live who fret in the impossibility of making their children wiser and more civilized than themselves,—which should be every man's aim for his children. They can give them work,— but what is it all for?—food. They can give them work,—but what does it all consist of?— food. They can hold out a prospect of increase, —but of what?—food. They long for a thousand comforts, if they could but convert their corn into these comforts. They perceive that there are a thousand advantages and blessings over the sea, if they could but stretch out a long arm to throw corn into our lap, and reach home—things which we can now use no more than they, because we have too little bread, and they have too much. Though their sons are thus condemned to be clowns, and ours to be paupers, we must hope that they will learn from our follies so to deal together as that the clown may become a wise man, and the pauper take his stand on the rights of his industry.”
“But why, if so many countries are fruitful, is England alone barren?”
“England is fruitful in corn; but yet more so in men, and in arts which she chooses to make barren of food. England has corn on her hills, corn in her valleys, corn waving over her plains; yet this corn is not enough, or not always enough, for the multitudes who gather together in her villages, and throng her cities, and multiply about her workhouses. If this corn is not enough, England's duty is,—not to starve hundreds, or half-starve thousands of her children, but to bring out corn from all the apparatus of her arts. She should bring out corn from her looms, corn from her forges, corn from her mines; and when more than all this is wanted, let her multiply her looms and her forges, and sink new mines from which other millions may derive their bread.”
“You dig bread from this hard rock, I suppose, when you furnish grindstones on which the cutlery is to he prepared which may be exchanged with the Russian and the American for corn.”
“I do: and to limit this exchange is not only to limit the comforts of us workmen, but to forbid that there shall be more lives in our borders than the fruits of our own soil can support. There is room for myriads more of us, and for a boundless improvement of our resources; these resources are forbidden to improve, and these myriads to exist. Whence rulers derive their commission thus to limit that to which God has placed no perceivable bound, let them declare.”
“Then there are not too many of us, if all were wise.”
“By no means. If all were permitted to be as happy as God bids them be, there would be neither the recklessness of those who multiply without thought, nor the forced patience of those who have a conscience and listen to it. If all were wise, they would proportion their numbers to their food; but then that food would not be stinted by arbitrary laws which issue in evil to all. Our rulers turn away, if perchance they see in the streets infants that pine for a while, only to die; and pronounce that such children should never have been born. And it may be true; but it is not for our rulers to pronounce, except with shame; for it is only while waiting for their becoming just that it behoves the people to be as self-denying as they require.”
“Strangers that pass this way for their pleasure,” observed Mary, “wonder at the hardness of our shepherds in turning their tender lambs exposed upon the moors, where, if some thrive, many pine. Do not they themselves (as many of them as have to do with making laws) turn out the young of our cities into stony fields, where they pine like starving lambs?” There is small use in pitying—small kindness in saying that such should never have been born, if there are indeed fields where for stones they may gather bread.”
“When I see money buried in the furrows of such fields,” replied Chatham, “I feel that it is taken twice from those whose due it is;—from the mechanic who, instead of standing idle, would fain be producing corn on his anvil; and from the spiritless boor abroad, who would as willingly exchange his superfluity to supply his need. When I see the harrow pass over such fields, I see it harrow human souls; and voices cry out from the ground, however little the whistling husbandman may heed them.”
“The husbandman will not long whistle, if all must at length scramble for food. His turn to see his infants pine must come at last”
“At last! It comes early, for there are more to follow. There is the farmer to swear that it is hard upon him that his labourers must live, as it is upon his substance that they must live. Then comes he for whom the farmer labours in his turn. He complains that, let the sunshine be as bright, the dews as balmy as they may, he can reap scarcely half the harvest of his gains, and that he is pressed upon by the crowds who come to him for bread.”
“He can hardly wonder at this, when it is he himself who forbids their going elsewhere. To what third party would he commend them?”
“Perhaps he would quote Scripture, as may be done for all purposes, and tell them that the clouds drop fatness, and bid them look up and await the promised manna. Till it comes, however, or till he and his tribe have unlocked the paths of the seas, he has no more right to complain of the importunity which disturbs him than the child who debars the thrush from its native woods has to be angry when it will not plume itself and sing, but beats against its wires because its fountain is no longer filled.”
“I could not but think something like this when I saw even so good a man as our Mr. Fergusson on rough terms with some of the people he met on the way, when he went out to view the harvest-home.”
“The harvest-home which used to be a merry feast when it was clear that its golden fruits were to be wealth to all! Now, there is no knowing what is to become of it; whether it shall be divided and consumed in peace, or scrambled for by men possessed by the demon of want, or burned by those who cannot share, and are therefore resolved that none others shall enjoy. It is said, and no one contradicts, that the harvest-moon rose clear, and lighted up alike every mansion and cottage in the dale; but I was abroad to see her rise; and I declare that with my mind's eye I beheld her eclipsed, shedding a sickly light, maybe, upon the manor and the farm, but blight and darkness into the dwellings of the poor.”
“It has ever been God's hand that has drawn a shadow over sun and moon, but now—”
“Now man has usurped the office, and uses his power, not once and again to make the people quail, but day by day. To none is the sun so dark as to the dim-eyed hungerer. To none is the moon so sickly as to the watcher over a pining infant's cradle. Let man remove the shadow of social tyranny, let him disperse the mists which rise from a deluge of tears, and God's sun and moon will be found to make the dew-drops glitter as bright as ever on the lowliest thatch, and to shine mildly into humble chambers where those who are not kneeling in thanksgiving are blessing God as well by the soundness of their repose.”
“Are those whom you meet at midnight of the same mind with yon? Do they go to church on Sunday to bring away this sort of religion for the week?”
“They do not go to church,—partly because they know themselves to be squalid,—partly because, as you say, their hearts turn back from their Bible. They are slow to believe that their soul-sickness will be pitied somewhere, if not by man. They no doubt feel also some of the unwillingness of guilt; but I can tell,—I will tell those whom it may concern,—that the way to bring these men from their unlawful drill into the church aisle is to preach to them full. and not hungering, that God giveth to all living things food in its season. This, like all other words of God, is true; but with his vicegerents rests the blasphemy if shrunken lips whisper that it is a lie.—Such sufferers, if they did make Sabbath, have not the leisure that I have to work out their religion by themselves, during the week, making it and toil lighten each other.”
“So that is what you do in this place,—high up on the face of the stone, with no moving thing near you but these dancing weeds overhead, and no sound but the dull shock of your own blows! So your religion is what you think over all day!”
“In some form or other; but you know religion takes many forms;—all forms, or religion would be good for little. I am not always thinking of the church and the sermon; but sometimes of how I am to advise the people that come to me, and sometimes of what I could tell the powerful if I could get their ear; and oftener than all, Mary, of what was said between you and me the evening before, and what will be said this evening, and of what we may dare to look to in a future time.”
“With so much to think about, you could do without me,” said Mary, smiling. “You would hardly miss me much, if I was drowned to-morrow, till the country is quiet, and there is nothing more to be complained of.”
“Meanwhile, Mary, you want nothing more, I suppose, than to clean trenchers and wash and mend stockings. To do this would make you perfectly happy for evermore, would it?”
“It is light work cleaning trenchers for a half-starved family.” replied Mary: “and as for the stockings, the children are going barefoot, one by one. So, no light jesting, Chatham; but tell me—;”
“Who these men are just at your shoulder? They are constables, and come for me, I rather think.”
“And what next?” inquired Mary, as she had done half an hour before.
“I know no more than when you asked me last; but I suppose they will either let me come back here to think over the matters we have been talking about, or put me where I may consider them at more leisure still, not having my tools with me wherewith to hew down stone walls. You well know, in that case, Mary, what I shall be thinking about and doing; and so you will not trouble yourself or be frightened about me. Promise me.”
“Certainly: what should I be frightened about?” asked Mary, with white lips. “You cannot have done wrong,—you cannot have joined in—”
She stopped short, as the constable was within hearing. His office was an easy one, as Chatham cheerfully surrendered himself; and Mary turned to descend, as soon as he had flung on his coat and disposed of his tools. They were permitted to walk arm-in-arm, and to talk, if they chose to do it so as to be overheard. Not being at liberty in heart and mind for such conversation as the constable might share, they passed in silence the groups of workpeople, some of whom grinned with nervousness or mirth, and others gazed with countenances of grave concern; while a very few showed their sympathy by carefully taking no notice of what must be considered the disgrace of their companion. In a little while, Mary was told she must go no farther; and, presently after, she was at the door of her own home, with a child in each hand,— one talking of bilberries, and the other telling a story of a duckling in the pool, which had billed a worm larger than it knew what to do with; and how it ended with dropping the worm in deep water, and, after a vain poke in pursuit of it, had scuttled after the rest of the brood. All this Mary was, or seemed to be, listening to, when her brother looked out from the door, and told her impatiently that he had been watching for her this half-hour. His wife was asleep at present; but he had not liked to leave her alone in the house, much as he wished to go out and see what sort of a net the constables were drawing in.
“Have you heard of anybody that they have taken?” he inquired.
“Well! Anybody that we know?”
Kay looked at her for a moment, sent the children different ways, and then looked at her again.
“You are not down-hearted, Mary?”
“He will come out clear, depend upon it: my life upon it, it will turn out well. Oh! it will turn out a good thing,—a real good thing!”
“Ay, ay, in the end; but I mean——But come, sit you down. I am in no hurry to go out; and I will get you something after your long walk.”
“Pray do not; I do not wish it, indeed. I will help myself when I am hungry.”
As she seemed not to want him, Kay thought perhaps he had better go. Before he closed the door behind him, he saw that Mary was taking a long, deep draught of cold water.
As there was sufficient evidence, in the magistrate's opinion, of Chatham's having been once present at the midnight drill, and active among the crowd by the river-side the night before, he was committed to prison, it being left to himself to prove, at the time of trial, for what purposes he had mixed himself up with the rioters. As he was a very important personage in his village, his jeopardy excited much speculation and interest. For the first two or three days, there was much curiosity among the neighbours to see Mary, in order to observe how she took it. Mary was somehow always busy with her sister and the children; but when a gossip or two had become qualified to testify to her aspect—that she looked just as usual,—and when the children were found to have nothing particular to tell about her, everybody was vexed at having been troubled on behalf of a person who was never put out, happen what might.
Times were so flat this autumn that there was abundance of leisure for talking about whatever might turn up, and no lack of tongues to treat thereof. Some of the foundry-men were turned off, as it had been necessary to raise the wages of those who remained. As there was no in-crease of business at the time this rise of wages took place, and as Oliver himself was living at a larger expense as provisions became dearer, there was no alternative for him but to turn off some of his men, contract his business, and be as content as he could with smaller profits than he had ever before made. By the rise of wages, his remaining men were, for a short time, relieved from the extreme of misery they had endured in the interval between the great increase in the cost of provisions and the raising of their wages; but they were no richer than they had formerly been with two thirds of the nominal amount of the present recompense of their labour. Want still pressed, and must still press, up to the point of Oliver having no more wages to give, unless the deficiencies of the harvest might be supplied by large importations from abroad. In the uncertainty whether this would be done, and with the certainty before their eyes that there had not been food enough in the country for three years past, Anderson and the neighbouring farmers took in more and more land. and flung about the abundance of money they received for their dear corn.
This money was not the less buried in the inferior new land for its being passed from hand to hand among the labourers. The guinea that came out of Anderson's profits of the preceding year, to be paid to Kay as wages, was spent in buying a third less bread of Mrs. Skipper than might have been had in better years. The baker, in her turn, bought less flour of Warden with it than in former times; and Warden used it for a dear bargain with Kirkland, ad Kirkland with Anderson for wheat. Anderson paid it to the ploughman of his new fields, for less labour than the same sum had procured for better land, and with the prospect of a less return to the labour employed. The guinea would then go again into Mrs. Skipper's till for still less bread than before; while Anderson was making answer to all com-plaints about this waste, that he should not long be the better for it, as the taking in of every new field would oblige him to pay his landlord more of the produce of every superior field at the expiration of his lease.
The circulation of this morsel of wealth, dwindling on every transfer, was easily traceable in a small society like that of the village. The waste could be detected in every direction, and the landlord stood marked as the focus of it. Whether Mr. Fergusson was the better for the waste incurred on his account was a separate question; and, till it was decided, he stood in a remarkable relation to the people about him: he was their injurer and their benefactor;—their injurer, in as far as he was one of the persons for whose sake a bad system was upheld;—their benefactor, in his capacity of a wealthy and benevolent resident among them. He was taunted with being the landowner, and was offered obeisance as Mr. Fergusson. All were complaining that he received an unconscionable share of the fruits of their labour: but there was not one who would not have grieved at any misfortune that might befall him. They talked loudly against him and his class for narrowing the field of their exertions, and praised the pains and good-nature with which he devised employment for those who were perpetually being turned out of work.
The fact that he must have supported these extra labourers as paupers, if he had not rather chosen to get some work out of them in return for the cost of their subsistence, made no difference in the kindness with which Mr. Fergusson attended to their interests, and endeavoured to preserve in them a spirit of independence till better times. The effort was vain under a system which authorized men to say that they had not surrendered their independence, but that it had been taken from them, and that those who took it away might make the best they could of its absence. Notwithstanding all that Fergusson could do, paupers increased in the parish: and while a few stout men, who were turned off from the various works in the neighbourhood, were taken on by Anderson, to try their hands at a new kind of labour, many more lay about asleep on the moors, or gathered in knots to gossip, in the intervals of being worse employed.
No place could be obtained for Kay's boy, John, who pleased himself with looking about him while he had no business to do, and amusing himself as he best could. The less objection was made to this at home, as it was hoped that his curiosity might now and then make him forget the time, and justify his going without a meal—a consideration which was becoming of more and more importance in Kay's family. It happened that Bill Hookey, the shepherd-lad, was one day leaning against the door of a cutler's workshop, when his old companion. John, ran up, pushing back his hair from his hot forehead.
“I'd be glad to be as cool as you,” said John, “standing gaping here. I have been at the forge: crept in when they did not see me, and got behind the bellows. I gave them such a puff when they were not expecting it,—I nearly got flogged. They let me off for blowing for them till there was no more breath in my body than in the empty bellows. But I don't half like standing here: come to the other side: you will see just as well.”
Bill stuck out his legs colossus-fashion, and yawned again.
“'Twas just where you are standing that Brett was when the grindstone flew; and those grindstones make ugly splinters, I can tell you.”
“I a'n't afraid.”
“No, because you've been in the moors all your days, and have not seen mishaps with grindstones and such. You should have seen Duncan. The knife he was grinding flew up, and it was a done thing before he knew what he was about. The cut was only across the wrist; but the whole arm was perished, and good for nothing, just in that minute. The Duncans are all off to Scotland, with nothing to look to, after having had fine wages all this time—for he was a capital workman; but, as Anderson says, we have too many folks out of work here already to be expected to keep a Scotchman. What accidents do happen to people, to be sure!”
“Aye, they do.”
“Then I wonder you put yourself in the way of one, when you would be quite safe by just crossing over.”
“Oh! grindstones very often don't fly, nor knives either.”
“But they very often do.”
“He a'n't afraid,” observed Bill, nodding towards the cutler.
“No, because he is paid high for the risk. Well, I wonder any wages will tempt a man to have such a cough as that. I suppose, however, he don't believe where it will end, as we do. I often think, if several were to take turns, and change their work about, there would be a better chance. If ever I am a cutler, I will try that way, if I can get anybody else of the same mind.”
“Not you,” said Bill; “you will do like the people before you.”
“Perhaps I may, when the time comes, I may no more like to try my hand at a new thing than you. Have you asked anybody for work hereabouts?”
“The flock is all sold, higher up the country,” replied Bill. “They would not let me stay on the walk when the flock was gone.”
“I know that; and how you got it into your head that you might go on sleeping in the hut just the same when the place was a field as when it was a sheep-walk. They say they had to take you neck and heels to turn you out, if you would not have the roof down over your head. Why did not you bestir yourself in time, and get work from Anderson, before others stepped before you?”
“There are no sheep now for anybody to keep.”
“Well; if you have no mind to do anything but keep sheep cannot you go higher up, among the graziers, and offer yourself?”
“I don't know anybody thereabouts, nor yet the walks.”
“No, nor ever will, of your own accord,” thought John. “What would you be now, Bill, if you might never be a shepherd again?”
Bill only rubbed his hand over the back of his head, and shifted his weight from both legs to one. Few things could daunt John's love of talk.
“What became of the poor little lamb you were nursing that night that I was on the moors? It was too tender, surely, to walk up into the hills with the rest.”
“It be well if he be not dead by this time,” replied Bill. “I carried him full two miles myself, and I told 'em how to feed him and when; and, for all I could say, they minded no more when he complained—O, they don't understand him no more than if he was a puppy-dog. When I bid him good-bye, he looked up at me, though he could scarce speak to me. He did speak, though, but he would not so much as look at the new shepherd, and if it was not for the ewe——”
“What's coming?” cried John, interrupting his companion's new loquacity. “Let us go and see. I dare say it is somebody fresh taken up. Do you know, I went to see Chatham's jail, the other day. Father locked doors against me because l came home so late; but I had a mind to see what sort of a place it was. I may be in it some day. I should not mind being anywhere that Chatham has been.”
“You that can't stand being flogged!”
“Chatham is not going to be flogged. They say it will be ‘Death Recorded.’”
“Why can't they say so at once?”
“I don't know: but they often speak in the same way. I have heard Chatham say that they talk of ‘agriculture,’ and nobody means just the same as they do by it. Some say 'tis farmers, and some say 'tis landlords, and some that 'tis having corn.”
“I think it is keeping sheep.”
“No, no: the Parliament does not meddle with keeping sheep. When they are asked to ‘protect agriculture,’ Chatham says, Anderson understands, ‘take care of the farmer,’ and Mr. Fergusson, ‘have an eye to the landlords,’ and all the rest of us,—except you, you say.—‘let us have corn.’
Bill yawned, and supposed it was all one. John being of a different opinion, and seeing that a very knowing personage of the village, who vouchsafed him a word or two on occasion, was flourishing a newspaper out of the window of the public-house, ran off to try whether the doubtful definition was likely to be mended by the wise men of the Cock and Gun.
He found that there was a grand piece of news going from mouth to mouth, and that everybody seemed much pleased at it. He did not know, when he had heard it, what it meant; but as the hand which held the newspaper shook very much, and two or three men waved their hats, and women came running from their doors, and even the little children clapped their hands and hugged one another, he had no doubt of its being a very fine piece of news indeed. Bill had slowly followed, and was now watching what John meant to do next.
“I don't believe they have heard it at the foundry yet,” thought John. “I'll be the first to tell it them.”
And off he ran, followed by Bill, and gradually gained upon bv him. Now, Bill's legs were some inches longer than little John's, and, if he had the mind, there was no doubt he might be the first at the foundry to tell the news. This would have been very provoking, and the little runner put out all his strength, looking back fearfully over his shoulder, stumbling in consequence, and falling; rising as cold with the shock as he was warm when he fell, and running on again, rubbing his knee, and thinking how far he should be from hobbling like Bill, (with head hung back, bent knees, and dangling arms,) if he had Bill's capacity of limb. What Bill wanted was the heart to use his capacities. He soon gave over the race, even against his little friend John, first slackening his speed, and then contriving to miss the bustle both before and behind him by stopping to lean over a rail which looked convenient for a lounge.
John snapped his fingers triumphantly at the lazy shepherd-boy on reaching the foundry gate. He rushed in, disregarding all the usual decorums about obtaining entrance. Through the paved yard ran John, and into the huge vault where the furnaces were roaring, and where all the workmen looked so impish that it was no wonder he did not immediately discover his father among them. He nearly ran foul of one who was bearing a ladle of molten metal of a white heat, and set his toot on the exquisitely levelled sand-bed which was prepared to from the plate. Scolded on one side, jostled on another, the breathless boy could only ask eagerly for his father.
“Let go the lad's collar,” cried one of the workmen to another, adding in a low voice, “'Tis some mishap about his poor mother. Can't ye help him to find his father?”
Kay was roasting and fuming in the red glare of one of the furnaces when his boy's wide eves looked up in his face, while he cried,
“There's such news, father! The greatest news there has been this many a day. There's an Order in Council, father; and the people are all about the Cock and Gun, and the newspaper is bring read, and everybody coming out of their houses. Only think, father! It is certainly true. There is an Order in Council.”
“An Order in Council! Well, what of that? What is the Order about?”
“About? O, they did not Say what it is about,—at least, nobody that I heard speaking. But I'll run back and ask, directly.”
“You will do no such thing. You would bring back only half your story. What should a child know about an Order in Council?” he asked of his fellow-workmen, who began to gather round. “Can't one of you go and learn what it is he means?—for I suppose some news is really come; and I can't leave the furnace just now.”
John slunk away mortified to a corner where he could spread wet sand. in case any passing workman should be bountiful enough to spare him the brimmings of some overflowing ladle. It was very odd that his father did not seem to understand his news when everybody, down to the very babies, seemed to be so glad of it at the Cock and Gun.
The messenger soon returned, and then the tidings produced all the effects that the veriest newsmonger could have desired. John ceased his sand-levelling to creep near and listen how there had been issued an Order in Council for opening the ports, and allowing the importation of foreign grain. There was a great buzz of voices, and that of the furnace was the loudest of all.
“Now you hear, lad,” said one of the boy's tormentors. “The Order is for the importation of foreign grain.”
“Just as if I did not know that half-an-hour ago,” said John solemnly. “Why, I was at the Cock and Gun the minute after the news came.”
And the lad rescued himself from the man's grasp; and went in search of some one else whom he might throw into a state of admiration. He met Mr. Oliver himself, saying,
“What is all this about? The people stand in the heat as if it was no more than a warm bath; and my work is spoiling all the time, I suppose.”
“They are talking about the news, sir,—the great news that is just come.”
“News? What news?”
“The King is going to unbar the forts, sir; and he allows the importance of foreign grain.”
“It is high time he should. Your father and I have seen the importance you speak of, this long while.”
“I'll warrant you have, sir. And now, perhaps, father will let me go and see it, if you speak a word to him.”
Mr. Oliver laughed, and told him he would probably see more of it than he liked as he grew up. John thought he had rather not wait till then to see the sight; besides that he thought it hardly likely that the King should go on unlocking forts all that time. The fort that he could just remember to have seen, when his grandfather once took him a journey, might, he believed, be unlocked in five minutes. The young politician proceeded on his rounds, hoping to find a dull person here and there, who had rather go on with his castings, and be talked to, than flock with the rest round the main furnace.
“Well, good fellows,” said Mr. Oliver, “what is your opinion of this news?”
“That it is good, sir, as far as it goes; and that it will be better, if it teaches some folks to make such laws as will not starve people first, and then have to be broken at last.”
“The laws chop and change so that it seems to me overhard to punish a man for breaking them,” observed another. “That law against buying corn when it is wanted is bad enough in the best times, as we can all tell; but if you want damning proof, look to the fact that they are obliged to contradict it upon occasion;—not once only, but many times;—as often as it has wrought so well as to produce starvation.”
Kay thought, that putting out a little temporary law upon a great lasting one, was like sending a messenger after a kite,—which proves it ill-made and unlikely to sustain itself. Somebody wondered what Fergusson would think of the news.
“What matters it to us what he thinks?” answered another. “He has stood too long between us and our food;—not knowingly, perhaps; but not the less certainly for that.”
Mr. Oliver wished that his men could talk over their own case without abusing their neighbours. He would not stand and hear a word against Mr. Fergusson on these premises.
“Then let us say nothing about Mr. Fergusson, sir, for whom, as is due, I have a high respect. When I mentioned him, I meant him as the receiver of a very high rent; and I maintain that if we make corn by manufacturing, with fire and water, what will buy corn, we are robbed if we have not bread. Deny that who can.”
And the speaker brandished his brawny arm, and thrust forward his shining face in the glowing light, to see if any one accepted his challenge. But all were of the same mind.
Mr. Oliver, however, observed that, though he had as little cause as any one to relish the disproportionate prosperity of the landlords in a time of general distress, he wished not to forget that they were brought up to look to their rent as he to look to the returns of his capital, and his men to their wages.
“That is the very thing I complain of,” said Kay; “that is, I complain of the amount of rent thus looked for. In as far as a landowner's property is the natural fruit of his own and his ancestors' labour and services,—or accidents of war and state, if you will,—let him have it and enjoy it, so long as it interferes with no other man's property, held on as good a claim. But if by a piece of management this rent is increased out of another man's funds, the increase is not property,'—I take it,—but stolen goods. If a man has a shopkeeping business, with the capital, left him, the whole is his property, as long as he deals fairly; but if he uses any power be may have to prevent people buying of his neighbours, and thus puts any price he pleases upon his goods, do you mean to say that his customers may not get leave if they can to buy at other shops, without any remorse as to how the great shopkeeper may take such meddling with his ‘property?’ Give us a free trade in corn, and our landowners shall be heartily welcome to the best rents they can get. But, till that is done, we will not pretend to agree in making them a present of more of the fruits of our labour the more we want ourselves. The fruits of our labour are as much our property as their rents are theirs, to say the least; and if it was anything but food that was in question we would not be long in proving it; but food is just the thing we cannot do without, and we cannot hold out long enough to prove our point.”
“They will find it all out soon,” replied Mr. Oliver.” Whatever is ruinous for many of us must be bad for all, and such men as Fergusson will see this before long.”
“They will not see it, sir, till they feel it; and what a pass we must have crone to before they will feel enough to give up a prejudice some hundred years old!”
“Before we can ask them to give up the point entirely, we must relieve them of some ot the taxes which bear particularly upon them. Their great cry is about the weight of their taxation. They must first be relieved in that respect.”
“With all my heart. Let them go free of taxation as great folks, in the same way that my wife and Mary are let off free at cards on Christmas night, because they are women. This was the case with the old French nobility, I have heard. They paid no taxes: and so let it be with our landowners, if they choose to accept the favour of having their burdens borne by the sweating people to whom they would not own themselves obliged in respect of money matters if they met in the churchyard, though the time may not be far off when they must he side by side under the sod.”
“Their pride must be pretty well humbled before they would accept of that kind of obligation. They had need go to church, in those days, to learn to bear the humiliation.”
“Perhaps that is what they go to church for now, sir; for they are now taking much more from us than they would in the case I have mentioned. I don't say they all do it knowingly,— nor half of them. There are many of our rich men who would be offended enough at being told, ‘Your eldest son's bills at Eton were paid last year by contributions from three hedgers, and five brass-founders, and seven weavers, all of whom have families only half-fed.’ ‘Miss Isabella's beautiful bay mare was bought for her by the knife-grinder, who has gone to bed supperless, and the work-woman who will have no fire next winter, and the thirty little children who are kept from school that Miss Isabella's bay mare may be bought.’ O yes; there are many who are too proud to bear this being said to them, true though it be.”
“They would call you a leveller, Kay, if they could hear you.”
“Then I should beg leave to contradict them; for a leveller I am not.—I have no objection on earth to young gentlemen going to Eton, or young ladies riding bay mares, if these things are paid for by the natural rent which a free trade in corn would leave. If we have that free trade, and workpeople still go to bed supperless and sit up without fire, still let young gentlemen go to Eton, and young ladies ride bay mares. In that case, the landlords will be absolved, and the hardship must go to the account of imprudence in some other quarter. O, I am no leveller? Let the rich keep their estates, as long as they will let them find their own value in comparison with labour. It is the making and keeping up laws which make land of more and more value, and labour of less and less, that I complain of.”
“But you did not really mean, Kay,” said a bystander, “that you would let off every man that has land from paying taxes? It is the most unfair thing I ever heard of.”
“It is unfair enough, but much less unfair and ruinous than the present plan. It is better worth our while to pay the landowners' taxes than to lose ten times the amount to enable the landowners to pay them; and that is what we are doing now.”
“Ten times as much as the landlords pay in taxes?”
“Yes,” replied Oliver. “We pay, as a nation, 12,500,000l. more for corn than we should pay if our ports were open to the world. Of this, not more than one-fifth goes into the pockets of the landowners, the rest being, for the most part, buried in poor soils. Now if the landlords pay one-half of this fifth in taxes, it is as much as their burden can be supposed to be. And now, which of you would not be glad to take his share of this one-tenth, to get rid of the other nine?”
“Every one of us would go down on his knees to pray the landlords to permit us to pay their taxes, if we could but tell how to get at the gentlemen.”
“The landlords would need no such begging and praying, I trust,” said Mr. Oliver, “it they saw the true state of the case. I hope and believe they would be in a hurry to surrender their other tenth, if they could see at what an expense to the people it was raised.”
Some heartily believed it, but Kay asked why the landowners did not see the state of the case; —a question which it was not easy to answer, unless it was that they did not attend to it. And why did they not attend to it?—attend to it, not merely so far as to sanction an Order in Council for the admission of food when the people were on the brink of starvation, but so as to calculate justly how much corn we grow, how many of our people are properly fed upon that corn, how we may most cheaply get more corn, and—— (but that is a matter beyond human calculation) —how many more busy and happy people might live within our borders if we and the other parts of the earth had free access to each other. If our rich men once attended to this large question, they would see what we see; and seeing, they would surrender, and——”
“And be far richer, as well as happier, than they are now. But, never fear! They will feel soon; and feeling helps seeing marvellously.
“It was found so in the case of the bounty on the exportation of corn. The landowning legislators thought they saw plainly enough, once upon a time, that it was a capital thing for all parties to give a present to every man who would sell corn abroad:—it would employ more hands in tillage than were employed before; it would secure a supply in case of scarcity; it would increase the value of landed property by causing the greatest possible quantity of land to be cultivated. This is what they saw in vision,—or rather through a pair of flawed spectacles. It ended in the labourers producing only half as much wealth in a forced tillage as they might have made in manufactures, if food had been free; in exposing us to the danger of famine, as often as the deficiency of the crops exceeded what we sent out of the country, (no other nation being prepared to send us corn in a burry, as if we were regular buyers:) and lastly, in sending a great deal of capital out of this country into others where living was cheaper. At first, no doubt, tillage was brisk, and some of the objects seemed to be answered: but this that I have described was the end. Then the landlords saw, for the first time, that, in giving the bounty to our corn-sellers, they had been offering a bribe to foreigners to buy our corn cheaper than we could afford to sell it. A pretty bargain for us! So that pair of flawed spectacles broke to pieces on being examined, and——”
“And now they must break another pair before they will learn that they can see best with the eyes God gave them, if they will but put them to the right use. I am not for spectacles, unless there is something the matter with the eyes. And, in the same way, I am not for any man helping himself with the opinions of a class because he belongs to a class, unless he has such a faulty reason of his own that he would do worse if left to judge for himself. Let such of our landowners as are incompetent go on upholding the corn laws because their class has always done so; but let such of them as are men stand out, and judge for themselves, after looking the case plainly in the face. I am not afraid of what their judgment would be, especially as some of the richest and wisest have done so already. Honour be upon them!”
The men were perhaps the more disposed to give honour where honour was due from their notion on the smallness of the number of landowners in those days to whom they could award it. They gave three cheers to the Privy Council for having issued the present Order; and to the few landowners who advocated a free trade in corn. That done, they began to inquire what this order was to do for them, and found that it would just serve to avert the starvation of the people, now, and might probably lead to the rain of a good many farmers within a few months; which ruin must be ascribed, should it arrive, not to the Order in Council, but to the previous state of things which it was designed to repair. Prices had been rising so rapidly from week to week since the quarterly average had been taken, that there was no saying how far even oats might be out of the reach of the poorer classes, before the next quarterly average could be struck, and prices be proved to have risen to the point at which the law authorized the importation of corn. To save the people from perishing while waiting for the quarter to come round, this order was issued without leave of parliament; and, as it would have the effect of lessening the general panic, in the first, place, and also of bringing a large supply into the kingdom, the probability was that the farmers would find prices falling by spring-time, rapidly,—ruinously for them, calculating as they had done on high prices continuing till next harvest, and laying their plans of expense accordingly.
But all this would be a fine thing for Oliver, would not it?
In as far as cheaper living was a good to him and his people, and in as far as more manufactures would be wanted to go abroad, it would be a benefit; but fluctuations in the fortunes of any class of society,—be they farmers or any body else,—are bad for the rest of society. For every farmer that is ruined, the manufacturing and commercial world suffers; and Mr. Oliver would rather therefore,—not only that corn had not been so dear as it now was,— but that it should not be so cheap as it might now soon be, unless its cheapness could be maintained. Fluctuations apart, the cheaper the better; but it was a strange and unhappy way of going on, first to rain one class by high prices, and then to ruin another by low prices.
All this was allowed to be very true; yet the substantial fact remained, that the day of the manufacturer and mechanic was probably approaching, and that a season of cheap bread was in prospect, let what might follow in its train in the shape of disastrous consequence.
This was enough to proceed upon in rejoicing, and when the furnaces had been duly fed, by strong and willing hands, and a few plates cast amid more talking than was usual during so nice an operation, Oliver's day-men turned out like school-boys on a holiday morning, and tried which, could get first to the Cock and Gun. There they stood, regardless of the chill of the breeze after the heats of the foundry. How could they be sensible to it when they felt that the icy grasp of poverty on their heartstrings was relaxing, and the warm currents of hope had leave again to flow?
Kay was not one of the talkers at the public house. It was so long since he had bad any pleasant news to carry home, that he was impatient to lose no time about it.
This was one of Mrs. Kay's dismal days. She seldom made any complaints; but there were times when the tears would run down her face for hours together, while there appeared to be no particular reason: and she sometimes said she could not account for it herself. On those occasions, she was not moody, or disposed to speak by signs rather than words, as was often her way; she would speak, and move about, and even try to laugh; but still the tears would run down, and she was obliged to give the matter up. Thus it was to-day, though Mary had not yet parted with the hope that, between them, they might stop the tears.
“Which way did John run?” asked Mary. “Did you happen to see, sister?”
“Down by the coal wharf I think,” she replied, speaking rapidly. “O yes, it must have been by the coal wharf, because———No; it was not: that was yesterday. It could not have been to-day, because his father bade him go up the lane to gather acorns for the pig. That I should have forgot it was yesterday, he went to the wharf! But that is always the way with my head. It is so——”
“It will be better when you have tried the medicine from the dispensary a little longer. What a kind, pleasant gentleman that is at the dispensary! He told me he really believed you would be better directly, if———”
“I shall never be better,—never,—head nor heart, till I see these poor children of mine—— and my husband too——”
“Well well: cheer up! They will be better fed soon, please God. Don't let that trouble you. to night, when you feel yourself not strong.”
“And there's Chatham too. That lies at my heart, Mary, more than you know. I must tell you so, for you have been a kind sister to me and mine.”
“I should be sorry it should lie so heavy at your heart,” said Mary, very quietly. “I thank you for him; but you must not make yourself unhappy about me. I am thinking your husband will be home soon. The sun has been down some good while.”
After a silence, she went on:—
“You should have seen Betsy this morning, how prettily she made the bed, though she could scarce reach up to the bolster. Did you happen to look how she set about it?”
“No. I have been thinking, Mary, how completely you and I are changed. It is not so long since you used to check me for talking; or rather, I used to check myself, seeing that you were no talker. You used to say that people were not all made talkers alike; and you went up and down, and about the house, just like a dumb person, and sometimes looking as dull too. And now——I say, Mary, when I don't answer you, you must not always think that I am thankless. And I know what it must cost yon to be for ever saying something cheerful and pleasant, when Chatham is in gaol, and the cupboard is so often empty, and I such a poor, good-for-nothing—— No, no! Don't try to persuade me. I tell you I can't bear myself, and I don't ask you or any body to bear with me. Mercy! now here's my husband! and I in this condition.”
“Heyday! it is time I was coming home, I see,” cried Kay, good humouredly, as he entered. “You too, Mary! Well, dear, you have cause, so don't turn away; I have only wondered to see none of this before; but I have something for you both. Something we have not had this many a-day. Something better than ever was in this or any other physic bottle,” he continued, shaking the dispensary phial and telling the news.
Mary had no sooner made herself mistress of it than she disappeared, probably to devise the means of getting the intelligence conveyed to her lover. As soon as she was gone, Kay drew a chair beside his wife, saying,—
“Now we are alone, Margaret, and times are like to change, so as to give one the heart to speak, I have something to say to you.”
“O, no, don't,” cried she, starting up. “I know “what you are going to say.”
“You do not;” and he obliged her to sit down. “Don't tremble so, for I am not going to find fault with you in any way.”
“Then you ought. I am a poor, lost——”
“Not lost, Margaret. We have all near lost ourselves in such times as we have had of late; except indeed Mary, who will never lose herself, it is my opinion, it has come across me, Margaret, that I may have hurt you sometimes, with-out thinking, with light talk when you had not spirits for it, (not that I had real spirits, for that matter,) and with saying silly, things to Mrs. Skipper, and the like. Ah! I see you felt it so; and it is no wonder you should. But you may take my word for if, I think nothing of Mrs. Skipper, nor ever did. Only, one is driven on, one does not know how, to behave foolishly when one is near desperate at heart.”
“And that's my fault.”
“Not altogether. No! not by any means. There were many things besides—besides one—to make me unwilling to look back to the time when we used to walk in Fergusson's oak copse, and say——Nay, Margaret, if you cannot hold up your head in thinking of that time, where should you rest it but upon our husband's shoulder, as you did then? How can you turn away so, as if I was your enemy? Well, I turned away too from the thought of those days, knowing, all the while, that it was a bad sign to turn away.”
“And to think of all that has happened since! Of all these children, and of my being such a bad mother—”
“It was the children I most wanted to speak about, especially John. But come, now, Margaret, open your mind to me, and don't be afraid. It was want and downright weakness that first led you into it. Was not it?”
“O, it began long and long ago. When I was weakly as a girl, they used to give me things, and that was the beginning of it all. Then when I grew weakly again, it seemed to come most natural, especially because it was cheaper than bread, and the children wanted all we could get of that.”
“So, often when you have pretended to have no appetite, it was for the children's sake and mine. Well, I half thought so all the time.”
“No, not often; only at the beginning. Afterwards it was true that I could not eat,—no, not if the king's dinner had been before me. I did try for long to get the better of the habit, and three times I thought I had; but a sinking came, and I could not bear it. That was twice; and the third time, it was your joking sharply about——But that was no reason. I don't mean to say it was. You don't know what the support is for the time, John, whatever comes after it. It raises one; and yet I remember times—many times—when I knew I could not speak sensibly if you spoke to me, and yet I prayed and prayed that I might die before the morning light.”
“Does that mean that you were less afraid of God than of me?”
“No, I did not think of being afraid, exactly; but I wanted to be out of your way and the children's; and, for my own part, I should have been very glad to be at rest.”
After a long pause, John resumed.
“You said you tried three times to leave it off. Do you think you could try again?”
“No, John, I do not think I could.”
“Not for my sake,—as you say I drove you into it last time? Not for your own sake? for nobody knows but ourselves, I dare say. I have never breathed it, and Mary——”
“O, Mary has vexed me many a time,—taking such pains, and having so many reasons and excuses with the neighbours. Why,—do you sup pose I never met anybody? And then there was the night that Mrs. Skipper, of all people in the world, gave me her arm. I was forced to take it, but—”
“Mrs. Skipper! Really! She never breathed a word. Depend upon it, she never told any body.”
“If she did not, I am sure I have told plenty of people myself: so don't say any more about it, John.”
“I was just going to say, that now is the time for trying. We are going to have better living, I hope, which is what you will want; and I am sure Mary and I do not care what there is for us if we could see you recover. If you will only give us the word, we will watch and watch, night and day; and you shall have all manner of help, and comfort, and no more thoughts of cruel joking, or of Mrs. Skipper. O, Margaret, try!”
“I am almost sure I cannot,” muttered the poor woman; “but I will just try.”
“Ah! do, and I should not wonder.—You talk of being at rest; and it may be a rest in this very room,—on that very bed,—such as you little thought of when you wished your wish.”
Margaret shook her head. “If I go on, I die; if I leave off, I die; it is all one.”
“No, Margaret, it is not all one; for I have one more thing to say,—and the chief thing. The children do not fully understand yet, though I have seen John wonder-struck lately, and his aunt could not put him off.”
“Why should she?”
“Just because neither she nor I choose that the children should grow used to see drunkenness before their eyes indifferently. I speak plain, because it is about those who cannot speak for themselves. Do you know now what I mean to say?”
“I mean to say, (and to do it too,) that as often as I see you not yourself, I shall tell the children, not that their mother is ill, or low-spirited, or any thing else,—but what is really the case. Now, Margaret, how will you bear this? Remember I shall really do it, from this day.”
Margaret made no answer.
“You know I cannot let our children's morals get corrupted at home, and them ruined for here and hereafter by such a habit as this. I cannot, Margaret.”
“No; you cannot.”
“I am sure they have enough against them, at the best,—what with poverty, (temptation and no proper instruction,) and sometimes idleness, and sometimes over-work. They have enough before them at the best.”
“And who have they to look to but you and me? except Mary, and she would not set against your example. It goes against my heart more than you know to say an unkind word to you, and always did, when I seemed cruel. But I can say what you will think cruel, and I must, unless you take nay warning.”
“You do not know.”
“Yes, I know, down to the bottom of my soul, what the misery was, and how many, many excuses there are for you. But the children do not know this, and there is no making them understand, and I must think of them first. If it was only myself, I think I could sit up with you all night, and shield you all day, and even indulge you with the very thing itself, when I saw you sinking for want of it. But, as it is, whatever I may do when the children are out of the way, I will do as I said when they are by.”
“Do. I was not going to excuse myself when you stopped me just now,—but only to say you do not know how glad I should be to stop, if I could, though I shall never recover my head again now. It will go on roaring like the sea as long as ever I live.”
“No, no. With good food, you know——”
“I shall never relish food more; but I will try; and do you do as you said. I am not sure how I shall mind it in such a case: I never can tell any thing beforehand now. But you know your part: and if I fall back, you must all mind me as little as you can.”
“Only, don't think me less tender to you, Margaret.”
“No; O, no; you have given me warning, you know.”
“Your poor head! how it beats! You had better let me carry you to bed; you are not fit to sit up. Better let me lay, you on the bed.”
“Well, I can't go walking This is the sinking,—now.”
“And enough there has been to sink you. There! l'll stay beside you. Where's your apron to hang up before your eyes? Now, don't think of any thing but sleep.”
“O, but then I dream.”
“Well! I shall be here to wake you, in case of your starting. Only just give me the key of the cupboard, and do not ask Mary for it any more when I am away.”
On a bright morning of the following May, the stroke of the wood-cutter's axe had resounded through Fergusson's woods from day-break till the sun was high. More than one fine young tree which had shaken off the gathered dews at the first greeting of the morning light, now lay prostrate, no more to be refreshed by midnight dews, no more to uprear its leafy top in the early sunshine. Such seemed to meet with little pity in their fail. The very men whose hands had felled them sat down on their horizontal trunks, and kicked the bark with their clownish heels, while they munched their bread and cheese. Children dropped into the green recess from all quarters, to pluck oak boughs and leaves from the fallen stem, wherewith to ornament their hats, and lead a procession to the neighbouring Whit Monday fair. These trees should have flourished twenty, fifty, seventy years longer, if the affairs of their owner had gone on in a steady and natural course. When Mr. Fergusson had walked round his plantations to see these oaks put into the ground, his thoughts had glanced forward to the time when his descendants might give a last mournful look at the doomed trees, towering stately before their fall; and now he was compelled himself to sentence them to the axe before they had attained nearly the fullness of their massive growth, Frequent and sudden losses during the last few months and the prospect of more had obliged Mr. Fergusson to collect all his resources, or surrender some of his domestic plans. He must sacrifice either a portion of his woods or the completion of the new buildings at the Abbey. His oaks must be felled, or his sons give up some of the advantages of education that he had promised them. It was found impossible to collect two-thirds of the rent due to him; and the condition of his farms foretold too plainly that further deficiencies would ensue. Poppies flourished more luxuriantly than ever this season among the thin-springing cora in Anderson's new fields. The sheep had returned to their old haunts, and could not be kept out by the untended walls and ricketty gates which reminded the passenger of the field of the slothful. When Mr. Fergusson was disposed to stop in his walks for purposes ot meditation, he could hardly, choose his station better than within sight of one of Anderson's enclosures when any rapacious sheep happened to covet what was within. It was a sight of monotony to behold one sheep after another follow the adventurous one, each in turn placing its fore-feet on the breach in the fence, bringing up its hind legs after it, looking around for an instant from the summit, and then making the plunge into the dry ditch, tufted with locks of wool. The process might have been more composing if the field had been another man's property, or if the flock had been making its way out instead of in; but the recollection of the scene of transit served to send the landowner to sleep more than once, when occurring at the end of the train of anxious thoughts which had kept him awake. There, was little sleepiness, however, in the tone with which he called his tenant to account for letting his property thus go to destruction. Mr. Fergusson was as near losing his temper as he ever was, when he pointed out to Anderson a ditch here that was choked up in one part and overflowing in another; a gate, whose stuffing of briars was proved a mockery by the meddling children who had unhooked it from its lower hinge, and the groping swine which enlarged the gap thus made; and the cattle-sheds, roofless and grass-grown, which should be either pulled down or repaired. Anderson's tone was also high, as he declared that a half-ruined man could not keep his farm in as thrifty a manner as a prosperous one; and that if, as soon as he began to improve the property he held, his funds melted away beneath the fluctuations of the corn-market, it was unreasonable to expect him to spend his capital in repairs till he should see whether government would or would not do something to protect agriculture from the consequences of vicissitude. Fergusson thought it useless to wait, on this ground. Government had been protecting agriculture for some hundreds of years, and vet fluctuations there had always been, and fluctuations there would, always be, to judge by all experience. Anderson was not for this the less resolved to let his roofless cow-sheds and crumbling fences stand,—to be rebuilt if government should. extend its protecting care,—to stand as monuments, if agriculture should be neglected.
Monuments of what?—Anderson was a proud man, building for his own and his family's honour and glory when he was in prosperity, and finding something to be proud of in adversity;—Anderson would therefore have replied— ‘monuments of injury.’ Injury from an act of government by which the starving were rescued from destitution, and the oppressed allowed one more chance of the redemption of their fortunes. That act which all other classes received as one of tardy justice,— of absolute necessity,—Anderson complained of as an act of injury to himself, so deep that he left certain wrecks of his property to serve as tokens to a future race of the wrongs he had suffered.
And the fortunes of Anderson were injured,—and injured by the acts of government, though not, as his wisest friends thought, so much by the permission of importation as by the preceding restrictions. They rightly called his wrecks and ruins monuments of his ill-luck in speculation, as their poorer neighbours called them monuments of the injustice done to the productive classes by encouraging or compelling the disadvantageous investment of capital. Both parties were right: but Anderson was induced to speculate by acts of protection which failed in the proof; and the disadvantageous application of capital, originating in the same acts, issued in disaster to all parties. If the interests of Anderson were placed in apparent or real temporary opposition to those of his neighbours, the blame rested, not with him, but with the legislation which bad interfered to derange the natural harmonies of social interests; which had impaired the loyalty and embittered the spirits of artizans, curtailed the usefulness and enjoyments of manufacturers, puffed up the farmer with the pride, first of ostentation and then of injury, and compelled the landowner to lay low his young woods before they had attained half their growth.
There was but little prospect of improvement in Anderson's affairs for a long time to come. There had been enormous importations of corn during the winter,—importations which in the end proved as ruinous to the corn-dealer as to the farmer at home. The bargain with foreign corn-growers having been made in a panic was agreed upon at a panic price. The foreigners had naturally laid heavy duties on corn, both because it was known how much the English wanted food, and because what they bought was not a surplus regularly grown for sale, but a part of the stock of the countries they bought of. In the midst of a panic, and in entire uncertainty how long the ports might be open, the corn importers could not possibly calculate how much would be wanted, any more than the people ascertain how much was brought in. While all were thus in the dark, prices fell in the home market, till wheat which sold at all sold at 50s. per quarter, and much was left which was not even bid for. The importer's foreign debts must, however, be paid. He was unwilling to ware house his wheat, because there was promise of a fine home harvest for this year, and the perishable nature of his commodity rendered it unwise for him to store it against some future contingency. The only thing for him to do, therefore, was to obtain a drawback on what he had imported, and to export it at a lower price than be had paid for it, pronouncing himself and every body else a fool that had entered upon so ruinous a branch of commerce.
This resource of exportation would fail in Anderson's ease, if his harvest should prove never so flourishing. The high average price at home, caused by dependence on home growth, disables the home producer for competition in a foreign market, even if the uncertainty of a sale attending so irregular a commerce did not deter him from the attempt. A capricious demand abroad is the necessary consequence of alternate monopoly and relaxation at home; and when to this uncertainty is added the impediment of a higher average price, and the disadvantage of the known desire of the seller to sell, so small a chance of remuneration is left, that Anderson could not look with any confidence to this mode of disposing of the superabundance of his next crop. No great increase of demand at home was to be expected in the course of one season, as people cannot eat much more bread immediately because there happens to be a good supply, however certain an ultimate increase of demand may be, as the consequence of a single fruitful year. All that Anderson could look forward to, therefore, was waiting in hope of future temporary high prices, unless, indeed, all parties should grow so wise as to agree upon a freedom of trade which should secure permanent good profits to the farmers. Meantime, as capital invested in agricultural improvements is much less easily withdrawn and converted to other purposes than capital applied in manufactures, it was but too probable that the profits of Anderson's prosperous years were buried in useless drains and fences, and in stony soils, while he was burdened with an increased rent and a family now accustomed to a lavish expenditure. It was to be feared that more of Fergusson's young oaks must be brought low to supply the deficiencies of the tenant's half-yearly payments to his landlord.
The woodmen who sat on the fallen trunks thought little, while enjoying their meal and their joke, of all that was included in the fact of these trees having fallen.
Some talked of the work done and to be done this day. Others had thoughts at liberty for the fair to which so many persons within view were hastening; and yet others had eyes wherewith to look beyond the green slope where they were sitting, and to mark signs of the times in whatever they saw;—the whirling mill, with one or two additional powdered persons on the steps, or appearing at the windows;—the multiplication of the smokes of Sheffield;—the laden lighters below Kirkland's granaries;—Anderson's fields, waving green before the breeze;—sheep and cows grazing where there was to have been corn;—and, above all, Chatham taking his way to the accustomed quarry, in a very unaccustomed manner.
“Do look at that fellow, walking as if he was mazed,” said Jack to Hal. “He is not like one bound for the lair. He is on his way to work, seemingly; but what a lagging step for one going to his work!”
“Don't you see 'tis Chatham?”
“No more like Chatham than you. And yet it is,—yes,—that it is! You may know by the way his arm is stuck in his side. But that is not the gait Chatham used to have.”
“No, because he never took such a queer walk before. Don't you know he has been between four walls all these many months, and has but just got out? I have heard a man say that knew well. that the blue sky is a new sky when you have been shut out from it for a long while: and the grass seems really alive; and as for such boughs as this that dance in the wind, you could almost think they were going to speak to you.”
“Chatham seems to be fancying some such thing, he pays so little heed. If he is not going to pass without seeing us!—without once looking up into the wood! His thoughts are all in the middle of the vale. I'll step down, and have a chat with him.”
Before the last mouthful was stuffed into the mouth of the speaker, however, in preparation for descending to the road, livelier sounds than any that it was in his power to make, roused Chatham from his reverie. A train of little boys and girls, who bad disappeared a few minutes before, issued from the neighbouring sawpit, and from behind the piles of planks which lay around, their hats and bonnets stuck round With oak-leaves, aud their procession of boughs arranged in boy and girl style. As each one scrambled out of the pit, there was a shout; as they ranged themselves, there was more shouting; and as they marched down the green slope on their way to the fair, there was the most shouting of all.
“I don't think Chatham seems to relish his walk so much as you thought for,” said Jack to Hal. “He looks mighty melancholy.”
“What! laughing at the brats. And look! he is nodding to one and another.”
“Melancholy enough, for all that. For such a fine-made man, he is a hollow-faced, poor-looking fellow.”
“Just now. When he has been three mouths at his work, you will see the difference.”
“It is a lucky thing for him to have stepped into his work so naturally, as if he had only left it just from Saturday night till Monday morning. That is more than happens to many men who have been in prison. There was Joe Wilson never got the better of it, though he was only in a month. Not a stroke more of work did he get.”
“Because his was for stealing, and nobody could trust him afterwards. In Chatham's case, no one thinks he did or meant any harm, considering what the pressure of the times was. And if the masters believed that he had really broken the law, they would have had no objection to take him on again, in consideration of the cause, which they view as in some measure their own, against the farmers and landlords. Chatham is pretty sure of work at all times; but if he had been the, worst workman in all Yorkshire, he would have had plenty of masters courting him for having been punished for helping to bring in corn. It pleases him best, however, to bo going back to his old perch, so as to get the matter dropped as soon as possible.”
“Ay, ay, for more reasons than one.”
“Not only for the sake of Mary Kay, but because the mischief that he wanted to set right is over. It cannot be said now that our people hereabouts want bread; and so the sootier all ill-will is forgotten, the better. Hoy, oy! how does your dame get you such a wedge of cold meat as that? She must be a thriftier body than mine.”
“No thrift in the world served to get me cold meat six months ago; but times have changed since; and, as my wife says, it is mortal hard work I have to do here.”
“Mortal hard work,—swinging your heels, and looking at people going to the fair! Mine is as toilsome as yours, neighbour; and yet I have only a lump of hard cheese with my bread, while droves and droves of bullocks and sheep are passing within sight to the fair, making one think of mottled beef and juicy mutton. I wonder when the day will come for the working man to have his fill of meat, like him that does not work.”
“Chatham will tell you the very day;—whenever this vale, and all our others vales, are portioned out for the purposes they are most fit for,—thc choice parts for corn, and the meadows for pasture, and the heights for sheep-walks, and so on; instead of our insisting on growing wheat at all costs, and so preventing our having as much meat and cheese and butter and milk as we should like. If we could get our corn where we please, we should soon find other food growing more plentiful.”
“And a few things besides food. I suppose the Leeds men would take off all the wool we could grow?”
“Yes; and without bating an ounce of what they get already from abroad; for where we get corn, there we must carry cloth, among other things.”
“And then we must get more houses run up for our new weavers. By the way, if our landlords let more land to be built upon, that would fully make up for any difference from the fields being turned back into sheep-walks.”
“And with a much better chance of the rents being paid regularly for ten years together;— which is no small consideration to such men as Fergusson just now. There's Chatham walking away without speaking to one of us. Call him; your voice is loudest. Well done! You make the very cows turn and tow at us. He won't come. How he points towards his work, as much as to tell us we ought to be going to ours! All in good time, friend Chatham. We have not been shut up for months, with our hands before us, like you.”
“Nor yet been much busier than he, for that matter 'Tis a pity this fair did not fall on our idle time. There go the folks in a train, while we are dawdling here——
“Then don't let us dawdle. Off with you, children! We are going to lop the branches, and you may chance to get an ugly cut it you don't keep clear of the. hatchet. Come. neighbour.”
“In a minute, neighbour. Bless us! look at that monkey, down in the road! How the creature dances, like any Christian! And the music sounds prettily, does not it? 1 am just like a child for wanting to be off to the just Who is that rogue of a boy plaguing the beast? I think it is John Kay.”
“Not it. John is in your predicament,— can't go to the fair till night. It does seem hard to keep so young a lad sweating does those furnaces all the week, and on a holyday especially; but he is proud of being on full work, like a man, and left with the few in charge of the furnaces; and they say his parents have comfort of him, in respect of his carrying home his wages.”
That is very well; for they want all they can get, while that poor woman goes on pining as she does. She has got very feeble lately.”
“And well she may, taking nothing stronger than tea, after having lived so differently. She made the change suddenly too. 'Tis not six weeks since I saw her as bad as she ever was,— trying to reach home.”
“Ay; after striving and striving all the winter to get the better of it, poor soul! But that falling back seemed to be the finishing of her. She has never held up her head since, nor ever will, in my opinion, though she has more reason to hold up her head than for these five years past; as they say her family are for ever trying to make her think.”
“Poor Kay finds full work and cheap food come too late for him; for whatever fails to do his wife good brings little comfort to him. For all he used to do in the way of light words and silly fun, he has made a good husband; and no man can be more down-hearted than he is to see his wife in this way. No: that is not his boy John below. He would not let him be abroad plaguing monkeys when he may be called for any minute to see his mother die.—Bravo, boy, whoever you be! Little John Kay could not have done the thing more cleverly.”
“There runs the monkey! Look ye! Through the gap! over the slope in no time! He will be up in the tree before they can catch him. Did you ever see man in such a passion as his master? I don't wonder, having got within a mile of the fair, and full late too.”
“Ah! but you missed seeing how the lad slipped the chain the very moment the man beat the poor animal over the nose. Trust the beast for running away at the first hint! A fine time it will lake to get him back again!”
“Look at his red jacket, showing so unnatural on the tree top! Down he comes again.1 No, not he! it is only to get farther out on the branch.”
“That is a marked tree that he is upon. Suppose we cut it down next. It joins no other, and monkey must come down with it or without it.”
The harassed owner of the monkey received this proposal as a very bright thought. The monkey seemed to be of the same opinion, though not so fully approving of the idea. He chattered, screamed, whisked the skirts of his red coat and clapped his paws together as he saw the workmen gathering round the tree with shouts, leaving neglected nice bits of food winch monkey would fain have had the benefit of, and shaking their tools at him in token of what he had shortly to expect.
At the first shock, monkey became perfectly quiet, squatting with his fore paws clapped together, and looking down, like an amateur observer, on the progress of the work. In proportion as there was any movement below, he descended a little way, to look into the matter more closely, and then returned to his place on the fork of the branch. By the time it began to totter, a new ecstacy seemed to seize the beast. Again he mounted to the topmost bough that was strong enough to bear his weight; and when there, he again jabbered and screamed. Some thought this was terror at his approaching downfall, and others took it for delight at seeing the circle divide to leave room for the tree to fall. The master, however, believed that he saw some object which excited him on the road, which was hidden by the trees from less exalted spectators.
The master was right. There was a crowd gathering at a short distance, as was shortly made known by the busy hum which came upon the ears of those who were standing among the trees on the slope. From end to end of England was such a tumult of many voices heard when the news arrived which caused the present assemblage. The agricultural districts took it very quietly, to be sure; but the manufacturing towns and villages were all in a ferment throughout the island. Meetings were convened at the moment of the arrival of the newspapers; and while manufacturers assembled in town halls, or addressed the people from the balconies of inn-windows, workmen of all classes met on the green, in the wood, about the public house, or wherever they could most numerously collect, for the purpose of declaring their opinions to the government.
The intelligence which caused all this bustle related to what the House of Commons had been doing and planning about the corn-laws—a House of Commons which had the year before barely managed to retain the confidence of the manufacturing classes by throwing out the suggestion of a Committee of its own, that the prices to which corn must arrive at home before importation was permitted should be very much raised. A proposal like this, made at a time when the home price was at least 112s. per quarter, showed so determined an intention on the part of the proposers to render their country wholly self-dependent in the article of food, (i. e. to limit the population and wealth of the country to a certain bound, which should be agreeable to the landowners,) that the only chance the House of Commons had of preserving the allegiance of the bulk of the people was by rejecting the proposal; and the proposal had been accordingly rejected. The watchfulness of the people had not, however, been lulled. Their subsequent brief enjoyment of cheap food had strengthened their vigilance over the operations of the Commons' House; and they were the more intent as they knew that the landowners were suffering cruelly from the reduction of their rents and the deterioration of their estates; and that these landlords would probably attribute their losses to the late admission of foreign corn, rather than to the true cause,—the previous system of restriction. The event proved such vigilance to be very needful The late fall of prices had disclosed an appalling prospect to the owners of land. They found that their extraordinary methods of legislation had exposed their country to a much more extensive dependence on foreign supplies than they had attempted to obviate, and that they had been working hard to reduce their own rents, and hurt their own estates, by the very means they had taken to enrich themselves. During such a remarkably fruitful season as the present (the natural follower of several bad seasons) the supply would be so plentiful as to cause the poorer soils to be thrown back into pasturage, the demand meantime increasing (as it had been for some time increasing) up to the maximum supply; so that on the first occurrence of a merely average season, the nation would be more dependent on a foreign supply than it had ever been before. Under this panic, the House voted a series of resolutions, declaring it expedient to let exportation alone, and to impose very high duties on importation. The news of the passing of these resolutions, and of the preparation of two bills founded upon them, was that which stirred up all England to remonstrance, and occasioned the Yorkshire graziers to leave their droves in the fair, and the corn-dealers to quit their resort in the market, to hear what would be said by the manufacturers who came forth from their desks, the artificers who poured in from the enjoyment of their holyday, and the country labourers who dropped down from among the hills, or converged to the point of meeting from the wide-spreading fields.
The day being warm and the road dusty, it was natural that the sounds of the wood-cutters' labour should suggest to the gathering crowd the idea of meeting on the grass, in the outskirts of Fergusson's wood. Mr. Fergusson and his sons were found in the fair, and they gave permission, and promised to come presently and hear what was going on. Chatham was met on the road, just about to turn up towards the quarry; but he was easily persuaded to go back and help; and the whole party was approaching when Monkey offered them his uncouth welcome from the top of the tree.
This tree was left slanting to its fall when the people began to pour in from the road, and to possess themselves of the trunks which lay about, in order to pile them into a sort of hustings. The organ-man could find no one to assist him in catching his monkey, in case the rogue should vouchsafe to descend from his high place. Nobody could attend to the monkey now; and if he chose to run off from one side of the tree while his master was at the other, and lead the chase as far as Sheffield, he might, for any thing the woodmen seemed to care. Flinging down their tools, or resting them against their shoulders, they threw themselves along on the carpet of wild anemones which stretched beneath the trees; while the more restless mechanics flitted about among the stems, looking, with their smutted faces and leathern aprons, very unnatural inhabitants of such a place. Long after Chatham and others began to enlarge upon the matter which had brought them together, the frowning brows and eager gesticulations of these men, as they talked low with one another, showed that they had their own thoughts, and were not met merely to have notions put into their heads.
“Is it possible to mistake what these men arc thinking and feeling?” asked Chatham of Mr. Fergusson. “If the House of Commons could for once take their sitting here, with the Speaker on yon bit of grey rock, and the members on these trunks or on the flowery ground, like the Indians when they hold a council, they would legislate for these listeners after another fashion than they now do.”
“Why so? I see, as well as you, that these men are thinking and feeling strongly; but are they thinking that which should change the policy of a nation?”
“That which will change the policy of a nation, though not so soon as if the National Council could for once come here to legislate. Friends!” he said to some near him, whose sudden silence called the attention of others beyond them,— “I am telling this gentleman that I believe there is one thought in the minds of us all, though that thought might be spoken in many ways. One might say, that he felt himself injured by the high price of bread last year, and another by the falling off of work—one might point to the grave of his spirit-broken brother, and another hold up before us his pining child— one might be angry with our masters for altering our wages, so that we never know what to depend upon, and another may be grieved that Anderson should have sharpened his speech, and that Mr. Fergusson should come among us with so grave a countenance as this; but there is one plain thought at the bottom of all this,—that the prime necessary of life is the last thing that should be taxed. I should not wonder if Mr. Fergusson himself agrees with us there.”
“It depends upon what the object of the tax is,” replied Mr. Fergusson. “If the corn-tax be laid on to swell the revenue of the state, I grant that it is the very worst that could be imposed; because, while it presses so heavily on all as to cramp immeasurably the resources of the nation, it presses most on those who have little but the prime necessary of life, and the harder in proportion as they possess little else.”
“In what case will you then justify a corntax?”
“When it is laid on to balance an excess of taxes laid on the agriculturists over those laid on other classes.”
A confusion of voices here arose, in cries of—
“We will take them on ourselves!”
“You and yours shall live duty-free, if you give us corn free.”
“We pay your taxes many times over already.”
“I will work one day in the week for you for nothing but a free corn trade.”
“I will give you a share of my wages every Saturday night, and my vote, if you'll go up to Parliament, and speak our minds there.”
And many a black hand was held out to see if Mr. Fergusson would say “Done.” He did not quite say this, but he went on,—
“I am sure I can have no objection to a change in our system; for I have suffered as well as you.”
“Ay, and you would make it up by having corn dearer than ever,” cried one of the discontented.
“No, I would not, because I am convinced that this would only bring on a repetition of the same evils some time hence, and in an aggravated form. I dread, as much as you can do, further fluctuations of this kind, Which have injured us all in turn. More bad seasons followed by plenty, with a fickle legislation, and those of you who have pined will die; the masters who have ceased to be rich will be ruined; the farmers who have now buried some of their capital will find that they have got back a part only to lose the whole; and, as for me and mine, I should expect the gates that are now unhinged to be broken up for fuel, and the stones of my crumbling fences to be used for knocking me off my horse. If in those days I should go abroad, it would be to rescue my life from your rage, and not, as now, to economise the income which I can no longer spend among you. No, no; we must have no more mismanagement like that which has well nigh ruined us all.”
“What does he mean? Where is he going? Won't he live at the Abbey any more?” were the questions which went round, and caught Mr. Fergusson's ear.
“I told you,” he said, “that we had all suffered in turn, though I am far from pretending that we have suffered equally. I assure you that I spend many an anxious day, and many a sleepless night, in planning how I may fulfil all my engagements as a member of society, and keep my promises to my children. These engagements were made when I was prosperous; and now I am no longer prosperous. My steward comes to me every quarter-day with a smaller handful of receipts, and a longer bill of arrears; and wherever I turn, I see with my own eyes, and find many comforters to tell me, that my property is wasting for want of care, and that I must sustain great losses hereafter for want of a small expenditure which cannot be afforded now. If I or my tenants could just spare a hundred pounds here, and fifty there, and two hundred somewhere else, it would save me a thousand or two that will have to be spent at last. But it cannot be done. My sons are entering upon a new stage of a very expensive but necessary education; and though my daughters have given up their usual journey to London, I have no hundreds to spare. My tenants cannot scrape their rent together, and it is folly to ask them for their fifties.”
“The papers say you have lowered your rents.”
“It is true that I have; and I am sorry the papers take upon themselves to praise me for it as for an act of generosity. You all know now that I cannot get my full rents, so that I do not in fact give up any thing that I might have: and I consider it no more than justice to reduce the claims which I made when the Farmers were in very different circumstances from those in which they are at present placed. I have no objection to the newspapers stating the fact, because it may lead others to follow my example, and may afford a useful lesson to all; but 1 do object to the act being lauded as one of generosity, as much as I should to the House of Commons being praised for giving up the bills now in question, in case the whole nation should prove to be of your mind about them.”
“Very fair! very good! Spoken like one of the people!”
“I am one of the people,—taxed as one of the people, I assure you,” continued Mr. Fergusson. “Yon offer,—very sincerely, I have no doubt,— to take the taxes of the landowners upon your selves, in return for a free trade in corn. But you know perfectly well that such all arrangement cannot be made, even if we chose to accept your kind offer.”
“Why not? What prevents, if we are all of a mind?”
Chatham thought that it would take so long to bring all people into one mind on the point that it would be a quicker and probably equally good method to allow such a duty on imported corn as would cover the landlords' peculiar liabilities. A small duty,—at the most 5s. or 6s. per quarter,— would be found sufficient, he believed, at the be ginning; and such a duty as this would not materially impede importation. Under such a system of regular supply, pauperism would decrease, or ought to decrease, year by year; this would lessen the burdens of the agriculturist, and open the way for a further reduction of the duty, which should expire when that equalization of taxation should take place which must arrive as nations grow wiser.
“Without committing myself as to the amount of duty,” replied Sir. Fergusson, “I may say that I should not object to some such plan as Chatham proposes: and I would insist that the duty should, above all things, be fixed. It a duty is imposed on the basis of the distresses of the country, it may be right enough that it should be graduated, the duty lessening as prices rise: hut m the case of such a duty as Chatham advocates,—a mere set-off against our excess of taxation,—it should be so far fixed as that every one might know beforehand how it would operate, and all classes be able to make their calculations.”
“Why, yes,” said Chatham. “If any corntax is, generally speaking, bad, none can be so bad as one that makes twice as much uncertainty as there is occasion for. To impose a duty on the basis, as you say, sir, of the distresses of the country, seems an odd way of raising money for the state; and to make such a duty a gambling matter seems to me more odd still. In the case of such a graduated duty as you speak of, failing as home prices rise, the corn-dealer's business becomes an affair of gambling speculation. He sends for corn when wheat is at one price, and brings it in when wheat is at another. If the price has fallen, he has so much more duty to pay that the speculation may ruin him. If the price has risen, he may make enormous profits that he did not expect. I may say this much for the corn-dealer, as Kirkland is not here to speak for himself, that he had much rather pay a constant duty which would leave him no uncertainties to manage but the supplies of corn at home and abroad, than take the chance of enormous occasional profits at the risk of ruinous occasional loss.”
“Ay, Chatham: there you come to a very important part of the question,—the uncertainty of supply. If you can answer for our having a regular and unfailing supply of food from abroad, when we have too little for our people at home, you can answer for more than the House of Commons can; for they adopt as their principle the safety of lessening our dependence on foreign countries for food.”
“When they can answer for our having a regular and constantly increasing supply at home,” replied Chatham, “I may perhaps yield the question to them. When you can find any member of their committee who will tell me, at any seed-time, what will be the produce of an average sowing, I will consent to his making the nation depend on that produce. When you can bring me proof that the rich harvests of one district are not of use in repairing the deficiencies of a less favoured district, I will own it to be as safe to depend for supply on our own little island as on the collective corn districts of the globe. When you can convince me that we buy as advantageously by fits and starts as under a system of regular commerce, I will grant that regularly importing countries have not the steadiest market.”
A listener observed that Kirkland had lately said, in reference to his having had to hunt up corn abroad during the scarcity, that there was a difference of ten per cent. between “Will you sell?” and “Will you buy?”
“Kirkland learned that saying from a greater man than any of us,” observed Mr. Fergusson. “It was Franklin who said that true saying. But there are other uncertainties to be considered, besides the variations of the seasons. Clouds gather over men's tempers as well as over the face of the sky. Tempests of passion sweep away the fruits sown between nations in a season of promise Springs of kindness are dried up, as well at fountains of waters. We have not considered the risks of war.”
“Indeed but we have, sir,” replied Chatham, “and we come to the conclusion that when we are at war with all the nations whom God has blessed with his sunshine and his rain, we shall not deserve to touch God's bounties, and it will be high time that we should be starved off God's earth. If we wanted to restrict our own trade, sir, instead of throwing it open,—if we wanted to forbid our merchants buying of more than one or two countries, we might believe that war would bring starvation; but never while our ships may touch at all ports that look out upon the seas.”
“We do not grow half our own hemp,” said a man with a coil of tow about his waist. “Has the British navy ever wanted for ropes? If our enemies at sea ever meant to hurt us. their readiest way would have been to stint us in cordage; and, since they have not done it during all this war, it must be, I take it, because they can't.”
“Certainly,” replied Chatham. “In cases like these, Mr. Fergusson, our conclusions about the choice of an evil or a danger must be compounded of the greatness and of the degree of probability. Now here is, under the old restrictive system, a vast amount of certain evil, which you and the House of Commons seem to think little of; in comparison with a much greater evil which it is barely within the tree of possibility to happen. Here are present labourers who have had their spirits bowed and their bodies worn by want, and who can look out from this green to the spot where their kindred are laid under the sod, mown down by this sharp law like meadow flowers under the scythe. Here are present the gentle who have been made fierce, the once loyal who were made rebels,—ay, and the proudly innocent who have been disgraced by captivity——”
While Chatham stopped tot breath, one and another cried out to Mr. Fergusson,
“If you think us rude in our speech to you, sir, you may lay it to the bread-tax.” “Get the bread-tax taken off, and you will hear no more of the midnight drill.” “Masters and men never would have quarrelled, sir, but for the bread-tax.”
“From this place, you may see,” Chatham went on, “not only poppies coming up instead of wheat, and stones strewed where lambs should have been browsing, but hovels with mouldering thatch where there should have been slated houses, and a waste wilderness stretching beyond where there might have been the abodes of thousands of busy, prosperous beings; and all through the pressure ot restrictive law.”
“And where there is not a waste, there will soon be a deserted mansion,” added Mr. Fergusson. “I told yon I was going away. My sons must finish their education abroad; and we all go together, that we may live within our means in a manner that we could not do at home. This is one consequence of the late fluctuations——”
“I can tell you, sir,” said Oliver, showing himself from behind a knot of his own men,— “I can tell you another consequence that would have happened if the late fluctuation had not taken place. If prices had not fallen, and fallen just when they did, I must have gone abroad to live, where 1 might work to some purpose,—where my. capital might have been employed in producing wealth, instead of being given to my workmen to buy dear food. Moreover, if prices now rise again so as to make you. change your mind and stay, I must go; so it comes just to the question, which of us can best be spared?”
“If it comes to that,” replied Mr. Fergusson, “it is clear that I can best be spared. Without saying anything about our respective characters and influence, it is plain that it signifies much less where I spend my revenue, than whether you invest your capital at home or abroad. If it must come to this, I am the one to go.”
“And what but a bad state of the law could have brought the matter to this point?” said Chatham. “What greater curse need a nation have than a legislation which condemns either the rent-receiver or the capitalist to banishment?”
Oliver's men proceeded to agree in whispers that he was not in earnest about going abroad; that it was only said to make the landlord wonder, and put the question in a strong light. A man must suffer much and long; before he would leave his own land, and the workmen that were used to his ways, and all that he had ever been accustomed to.
“True,” said Oliver, overhearing their remarks; “and I have suffered much and long. It is true that banishment is the last attempt that many a man will make to improve his fortunes; but it is an attempt which must and will be made, if the fortunes of our manufacturers continue to decline. I know all that you can tell me about the hardship to the workmen who are left behind to be goon driven into the workhouse. I feel how I should grieve to turn you all off, and shut up my foundry; but it is one of the natural consequences of a legislation like that which we have lived under. If our manufactures remain unsold on account of the cost of feeding the labourers, it is certain that the manufacturers will carry their capital,—the subsistence-fund of the people,—to some cheaper land.”
And how much was it supposed that the price of wheat would fall if the ports were opened? was the question proposed by the workmen, in their alarm at the idea of manufacturing capital being forced out of the country.
Six, seven, eight, or, at most, nine shillings, was the utmost fall, on the average of the last ten years, anticipated by Chatham, Oliver, and Fergusson,— a fall which, accompanied as it would be with regularity of supply, and freedom from panic and from the intolerable sense of oppression, would prove an all-important relief to the manufacturer and artisan, without doing the landlord and farmer any injury. Such a fall as this would drive out of cultivation none but the poorest soils, which ought never to have passed under the plough; there would be an end of the farmer's sufferings from vicissitude; and the small reduction of the landlords' rents would be much more than compensated by the advantages which must accrue to them from the growth of a thriving population within their borders.
Chatham observed that many might object to the estimate just given of the probable fall of price on opening the ports,—and it was indeed a matter which required large observation and close calculation; but he, for one, was not disposed to rest the question on probabilities of this nature, but rather on the dilemma,—” If the price of corn is heightened by a restrictive system, why should the nation be taxed for the sake of the landlords? if not,—why do the landlords fear a free trade in corn?”
“There is yet another consideration,” observed Mr. Fergusson, “and a very important one, Chatham. You have said nothing of Ireland, while the fact is that Ireland sends us three times as much corn as she sent us ten years ago. There seems no reason why so fertile a country should not supply us with more and more till our prices fall the nine shillings per quarter we were talking, and even till we are able to export. What do you say to this?”
“That it is owing to the establishment of a free trade in corn between us and Ireland that we employ so much more than formerly of her industry, and enjoy so much more of its fruits. What has been proved so great a good in the experiment with one country, is the finest possible encouragement to extend the system to all. If you object, as I see you are ready to do, that this success with respect to Ireland renders a further emancipation of the trade unnecessary, I answer, that the corn-laws are by the same rule unnecessary, —an unnecessary mockery and irritation of the people. If they are not yet unnecessary because Ireland does not yet fully supply us,—in exact proportion as they are not unnecessary, they are hurtful. From this dilemma, Mr. Fergusson, you cannot escape, and you had best help us to press it upon the House of Commons. If you will join us, sir, in drawing up our address to Parliament on the principles we have been arguing about for this hour past, I rather think we ourselves may find, and may help to show the House, that landowners and their neighbours have the same interests, and are willing to be all happy together, if the legislature will let them. Whenever we see a wealthy and wise landowner taking up the question on its broad principles, land addressing the legislature, whether from his seat in the Lords or by petition to the Commons, as a citizen rather than as one of a protected class, I shall feel a joyful confidence that these broad principles will soon be recognized and acted upon by the loftiest members of the state.”
“It is time,” replied a voice from below, “for they have long been forced upon the lowliest.”
“This is one of the deep things that is better understood by many an one that has never learned his letters than by some who are boasted of for their scholarship,” observed another. “Wakeful nights and days of hardship drive some truths deep and firm into the minds of the veriest fool, which the wise man, in his luxury, finds it difficult to learn.”
“You say truly enough that it is time,” said a third, with sternness in his look and tone. “The charity comes too late which sticks bread between the teeth of a famished man; and the justice we seek will be a mockery if it does not come in time to prevent another such season of misery as we have endured, and as they threaten us with again. Yet they talk of playing the same game over again. Come, Chatham, make haste down, and draw up what we are to say, and let us sign before the sun goes down. We have not an hour to lose.”
“Not an hour to lose, as you say, neighbour, when for many it is already too late. Mend the system as fast as you will, there is many and many a home where there will never be comfort more.”
Several who were present knew that Chatham must be thinking of Kay's family when he said these words. He went on,
“You might as well hope to close up the clefts of yonder ash, and to make it rich with growing grafts, struck as it was by last year's lightning, as to heal the spirit of a man whose fortunes have been blighted by the curse of partial laws, and to repair his wrongs. For him it is too late. He stands the monument of social tyranny till his last hour of decay. For him it is too late; but not yet for others. There are thousands yet in infancy,—millions yet to be born whose lot depends on what is done with the corn-laws in our day.”
“Mine and that of my descendants does,” observed Oliver; “though, in one sense, it is also too late for me. I have lost my place in the market abroad; and for this my work-people are suffering and will suffer. But let no chance of recovery be lost through our delay. Come, Chatham; let us be gone, and give the people the opportunity of declaring their wishes before they disperse, and fancy that, because dispersed, they have no power. Let every man raise his voice so that the legislature may understand.”
All present were so eager to do this that no leisure seemed to be left for the follies which usually lurk in some corners of all popular assemblies, from the largest to the smallest. No monkey tricks were played by any but the monkey, though country clowns and many boys were present. When the animal, after being well nigh given up in despair by his irritated master, made a sudden descent on the head and shoulders of a listener, he was very quietly delivered over to his owner to receive the chastisement which was prepared for him, and which no one troubled himself to turn round to witness. All were too busy watching Chatham writing with a pencil and on paper furnished by Mr. Fergusson, who sat beside him on his woodland seat, now agreeing, now dissenting, but in no case desiring to hinder the full execution of the object for which his neighbours were assembled.
When a short petition to the Commons' House against the imposition of further restrictions on the foreign corn-trade had been drawn up, and fully agreed to by a large majority, it was carried away with all expedition to be copied and signed while the fair was yet thronged; and the wood was found by the noonday sun nearly as quiet as when visited by the midnight moon;—as nearly so as the blackbird and the linnet would permit.
THE BREAKING UP.
Kay was indeed one of the many to whom a temporary relie, from the bread-tax came too late. Five years before, no man could be found more eager m the statement of his case of hardship: five months before, he had still some hope that a perpetuation of the then ample supply of food might yet avail to restore his domestic peace. His wife might struggle through her difficulties, and be once more a mother to his children, and in aspect and mind something like the woman he married. Now, however, all hope of this was over, and Kay had had no heart to attend the meeting in the wood, or to mix with his former companions more than could not be avoided. He went straight from the foundry to the side of his wife's chair, as long as she was able to sit up, and to nurse her when she at length took to her bed. He owed her the exemplary attention she received from him; for the same poverty which had seduced her into a fatal habit had embittered his temper, and they had need of mutual forgiveness. Since the noble effort each had made,—he to warn his children against her example, and she to break away from the indulgence which had become necessary,—neither had sinned against the other. No rough word was heard from his lips, and self-denial, by Mary's help, never failed. Mrs. Kay sank slowly and very painfully. She well knew that she must sink, either way, and to this she had no objection; but often and often, in the solitude of her daily sufferings and the restlessness of her nightly dozings, she thought that every body was hard upon her; that they might have let her sink a little more rapidly, and give her what she longed for. They did not seem to feel for her as she thought they might, or they would indulge her without letting the children perceive it. Mary must know sometimes, when she saw her very low, what it must be that she wanted; but instead of taking any notice, she only began to talk about any thing that would win away her mind for a while. Then all these secret complainings were thrust away as if they were suggestions of the devil, and a throng of reproachful recollections would come,—of her husband's patience in smoothing her pillow twenty times in a night, and holding her head for hours when her startings had frightened her; and of Mary's never seeming tired, with all that was upon her, or saving a word about what she gave up for her in keeping Chatham waiting so long. She knew that it was only on her account that they were not married yet, and she hoped she should soon be under the sod, and no hinderance to any body; meanwhile, nobody but she would perceive, so much as Mary had to say now, and so cheerfully as she spoke, that she was giving up any thing for a sister who had deserved so little from her.
Mrs. Kay expressed all this so fully and forcibly to her husband one day, that he told Mary he really believed it would make all parties happier if she would marry Chatham at once. The affair was soon settled, and every body concerned was so evidently satisfied, that very few neighbours ventured to pronounce above their breath how shocking it was to marry from a house where there must soon be a death.
Mrs. Skipper, who had throughout been profuse of neighbourly attentions, came to sit with Mrs Kay while the party were gone to church on the Sunday morning when the marriage took place. She was far trom being the most considerate and judicious of nurses; but Mrs. Kay did not seem so alive to this as her husband and Mary, and appeared to like that she should occasionally supply their place. This morning she showed herself with eves more red and swollen than a nurse should ever exhibit. Mrs. Kay directly perceived this.
“O dear, Mrs. Skipper, what has happened to you? I am sure some misfortune has happened. Tell me! Tell us at once.”
“Why, love, tis no misfortune of mine particularly, but every body's misfortune.”
“Why, that is worse still! Nothing has come in the way of the wedding?” And she tried to start up in her bed.
“Bless you, no! Lie still. The wedding is likely to go on well enough; and in my opinion it is high time they were off to church. No, no. It is only that the Fergussons are gone.”
“Gone!” cried every voice in the house.
“Yes. Just slipped away quietly on a Sunday morning, when nobody was suspecting, that they might not have their hearts halt broke, I suppose——”—A loud sob stopped the good woman's utterance.
“Well, I am sure, Mrs. Skipper, it gives us all much concern,” said Kay. “They are good people,—the Fergussons,—and of great consequence to all the people about them: and it will e a sad thing to see the Abbey shut up, and the grounds left to themselves. It is not the less melancholy” for our having looked forward to it this long while.”
“Why no, but rather the more,” said Chatham, “because we know what misfortune sent them away. When the wind has torn the linnets' nest, we know that they will fly away; and the wood will miss them the more, and not the less, for the fear that they will not venture to build in the same place again.”
“And 'tis six years, come Michaelmas,” said Mrs. Skipper, “that they have had hot bread from me every morning, except while they were just gone to London. They have been the best customers that ever I had. and now there is no knowing——They looked very grave, every one of them that I could see, as they whisked}l past. I wonder whether they saw how I cried. I hope they did. I am sure I don't care who saw, for I am not ashamed of being sorry for such as they.”
“I thought they would have stayed till harvest,” said Mary. “Such a beautiful harvest as it will be this Year. I have been telling my sister, Mrs. Skipper, what a fine promising season it is. “John and I shall manage a better gleaning this year.”
“Why, yes, Mrs. Kay,” observed the widow, “I could not help thinking, when I saw the sun shining, and the fields waving, and the people all abroad in their best, that it is hard upon you to be lying here, so dull, when you have not seen a green field, nor a number of people, for I don't know when. well, I must tell you all about It, instead, when they are gone. Now, Mary, what are you going in that way for, as grave as a quaker, and more so than the quaker I saw married once? I know you have a gown more fit to be married in than that. Go and put it on in a minute,—your light green one, I mean, and I will lend you my pink handkerchief. I will step for it, and bring it before you have got your gown on. And you shall have this cap,—the ribbon is pink, you see; and mv other better one will do just as well for me. Come! Make haste!”
Such was not Mary's will, however: and as her brother declared it quite time to be gone, she proceeded at once to the altar in her dark-coloured gown, thus leaving a fruitful topic for Mrs. Skip-per to enlarge upon to her patient, as soon as the party had closed the door behind them. Before they went out, Mary offered a smiling hint to the widow not to cry any more about the Fergussons, or any thing else, if she could help it, while they were away; and to keep her charge as cheerful, if she could, as she had been for the last few hours; hours of more ease than she had known lot some time past.
On their return, they found Mrs. Skipper,—not crying,—but in great trouble,—in far too deep a trouble for tears. She was leaning over the bed, looking aghast, when Chatham and Mary entered, arm in arm, with Kay and his two elder children following.
“Why, Mrs. Skipper, what have yon. been doing to my wife?” cried Kay, seeing that the sick woman's eves were fixed, and her whole countenance quite different from what he had ever seen it before.
“Nothing, Mr. Kay; but I thought you never would have come back. She took such a strange way the minute you were gone, 1 had the greatest mind to call you back.”
“I wish you had,” said Mary, who had already thrown off her bonnet, and was chafing the cold hands that lay helpless on the bed clothes.
“Ah! she has changed much within a few minutes too. Her hand lies still now; but I had to put it down several times. She kept stretching it out as if she thought to reach something; and I supposed she was thirsty, but——”
A mournful shake of the head from Kay stopped her. He said she had often done this when she was not quite herself.
“Yes: often and often,” said Mary; “and I have seen her as bad as this before. Look, she is coming about. She sees us now.”
“If she be not trying to speak!” whispered Mrs. Skipper.
Mrs. Kay spoke, but she was wandering. She told Mary that next Sunday should be the day for Chatham and her to be married, as she herself should be buried out of their way by that time. Then perceiving Chatham, she tried to give him some advice incoherently, and far too painfully to be ever referred to after that day by any of them, about not letting his wife come to poverty,—extreme poverty: and about distrusting her in such a case, if she were an angel from heaven.
“For God's sake stop her!” cried Kay, taking a sudden turn through the room; and Mary stopped her by a kiss, though her own tears were dropping like rain. Mrs. Kay proceeded with her self:-accusations, however, as long as she could speak at all; and the awe-struck children were taken out of the room by Chatham.
“No, no!” said Mary, whispering her emphatic contradictions into the ear of the dying woman, as soon as she could command her voice. “You have done the noblest——you have gone through the hardest trial God will not forget your struggles as you forget them yourself, your children shall never forget them. Well, well. It was suffering,—it was hunger that did all that! Don't dwell upon that! All that was over long ago; and now the pain is over,—just over; and we know what the promises are. If we deserved them as well——”
“Bless you! Bless you, Mary!” cried the husband, in a broken voice.
But the painful impression of his wife's words remained as strong as ever when the restless eyes were finally closed, and a faint smile rested on the lips whence the breath had departed. John was terrified by his father's manner of fetching him into the room, and saying, as he showed him the corpse.
“You heard her say that she had been wicked. You heard her say——but never mind all that. You will not know for this many a year how noble a woman your mother was, and what she did for your sake. And if I ever hear you say a word', —if I see you give the lease look against her——”
John slunk away as Mary took her brother's arm, and led him beside Chatham, while she hung up a curtain before the bed, and made Mrs. Skipper somewhat ashamed of being so much less able to exert herself than the nearer connexions of the dead. The widow presently slipped out to consult with her neighbours on the necessary arrangements, and to express the most vehement admiration for the departed, while preserving the strictest honour respecting the particulars of the closing scene.
Since that day, the curse of the bread-tax has alighted again and again on that busy vale. Again has the landowner had the painful choice of sinking from his rank at home or going abroad to preserve it. Again has the farmer found himself, now marvellously rich, and now unaccountably poor. Again has the manufacturer repined at having to surrender his resources to support the burden of factitious pauperism,—to take too low a place in the markets abroad in order that his agricultural neighbour may be upheld in too high an one at home. Again has the corn-dealer staked his all upon the chances of man's caprice, with about as much confidence as he would upon the cast of the die. Again gloom has brooded over the dwellings of the poor, and evil passions have wrought there, in proportion to the pressure of want,—the main spring of the vast machinery of moral evil by which society is harrowed and torn. And as often as a gleam of hope and present plenty has visited the cottage of a long-suffering artizan, it has been clouded by the repinings of some neighbour whose adversity has been, by ingenious methods of misrule, made coincident with his prosperity. In this busy vale, as in every valley of England inhabited by thinking men, there is one question still for ever rising through the night air, and borne on the morning breeze,—” How long? “—and on many a hill there are thinking men to take up the inquiry, and echo “How long?”
Summary of Principles illustrated in this Volume.
As exchangeable value is ultimately determined by the cost of production, and as there is an incessant tendency to an increase in the cost of producing food, (inferior soils being taken into cultivation as population increases,) there is a perpetual tendency in the exchangeable value of food to rise, however this tendency may be temporarily checked by accidents of seasons, and by improvements in agricultural arts.
As wages rise (without advantage to the labourer) in consequence of a rise in the value of food, capitalists must either sell their productions dearer than is necessary where food is cheaper, or submit to a diminution of their profits.
Under the first alternative, the capitalist is incapacitated for competition with the capitalist of countries where food is cheaper: under the second, the capital of the country tends, through perpetual diminution, to extinction.
Such is the case of a thickly-peopled country depending for food wholly on its own resources.
There are many countries in the world where these tendencies have not yet shown themselves; where there is so much ferthe land, that the cost of producing food does not yet increase; and where corn superabounds, or would do so, if there was inducement to grow it.
Such inducement exists in the liberty to exchange the corn with which a thinly-peopled country may abound, for the productions in which it is deficient, and with which a populous country may abound. While, by this exchange, the first country obtains more corn in return for its other productions, and the second more of other productions in return for its corn, than could be extracted at home, both are benefited. The capital of the thickly-peopled country will perpetually grow; the thinly-peopled country will become populous; and the only necessary limit of the prosperity of and all the will be the limit to the fertility of the world.
But the waste of capital caused by raising corn dear and in limited quantity at home, when it might be purchased cheap and in unlimited quantity abroad, is not the only evil attending a restriction of any country to its own resources of food; a further waste of capital and infliction of hardship are occasioned by other consequences of such restriction.
As the demand for bread varies little within any one season, or few seasons, while the supply is perpetually varying, the exchangeable value of corn fluctuates more than that of any article whose return to the cost of production is more calculable.
Its necessity to existence causes a panic to arise on the smallest deficiency of supply, enhancing its price in undue proportion; and as the demand cannot materially increase on the immediate occasion of a surplus, and as corn is a perishable article, the price falls in an undue proportion.
These excessive fluctuations, alternately wasting the resources of the consumers and the producers of corn. are avoided where there is liberty to the one class to buy abroad in deficient seasons, and to the other to sell abroad ill times of superabundance.
It is not enough that such purchase and sale are permitted by special legislation when occasion arises, as there can be no certainty of obtaining a sufficient supply, on reasonable terms, in answer to a capricious and urgent demand.
Permanently importing countries are thus more regularly and cheaply supplied than those which occasionally import and occasionally export; but these last are, if their corn exchanges be left free, immeasurably more prosperous than one which is placed at the mercy of man and circumstance by a system of alternate restriction and freedom.
By a regular importation of corn, the proper check is provided against capital being wasted on inferior soils; and this capital is directed towards manufactures, which bring in a larger return of food from abroad than could have been yielded by those inferior soils. Labour is at the same time directed into the most profitable channels. Any degree of restriction on this natural direction of labour and capital is ultimately injurious to every class of the community,—to land owners, farming and manufacturing capitalists, and labourers.
Labourers suffer by whatever makes the prime necessary of life dear and uncertain in its supply, and by whatever impairs the resources of their employers.
Manufacturing capitalists suffer by whatever tends needlessly to cheek the reciprocal growth of capital and population, to raise wages, and disable them for competition abroad.
Farming capitalists suffer by whatever exposes their fortunes to unnecessary vicissitude, and tempts them to an application of capital which can be rendered profitable only by the maintenance of a system which injures their customers.
Landowners suffer by whatever renders their revenues fluctuating, and impairs the prosperity of their tenants, and of the society at large on which the security of their property depends.
As it is the interest of all classes that the supply of food should be regular and cheap, and as regularity and cheapness are best secured by a free trade in corn, it is the interest of all classes that there should be a free trade in corn.
Printed by W. Clowes, Duke-street, Lambeth.