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Put Yourself in His Place Part 69

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"It might issue a commission to examine the Hillsborough trades, and, when accurately informed, might put some practical restraints both on the murder and the suicide that are going on at present. A few of the suggestions I have thrown out might, I think, be made law.

"For instance, the master who should set a dry-grinder to a trough without a fan, or put his wet-grinders on a mud floor and no fire, or his file-cutters in a room without taps and basins, or who should be convicted of willfully buying a faulty grindstone, might be made subject to a severe penalty; and the munic.i.p.al authorities invested with rights of inspection, and encouraged to report.

"In restraint of the workmen, the Legislature ought to extend the Factory Acts to Hillsborough trades, and so check the heartless avarice of the parents. At present, no cla.s.s of her Majesty's subjects cries so loud, and so vainly, to her motherly bosom, and the humanity of Parliament as these poor little children; their parents, the lowest and most degraded set of brutes in England, teach them swearing and indecency at home, and rob them of all decent education, and drive them to their death, in order to squeeze a few shillings out of their young lives; for what?--to waste in drink and debauchery. Count the public houses in this town.

"As to the fork-grinding trade, the Legislature might a.s.sist the masters to extinguish it. It numbers only about one hundred and fifty persons, all much poisoned, and little paid. The work could all be done by fifteen machines and thirty hands, and, in my opinion, without the expense of grindstones. The thirty men would get double wages: the odd hundred and twenty would, of course, be driven into other trades, after suffering much distress. And, on this account, I would call in Parliament, because then there would be a temporary compensation offered to the temporary sufferers by a far-sighted and, beneficent measure.

Besides, without Parliament, I am afraid the masters could not do it.

The fork-grinders would blow up the machines, and the men who worked them, and their wives and their children, and their lodgers, and their lodgers' visitors.

"For all that, if your theory of Life, Labor, and Capital is true, all incurably destructive handicrafts ought to give way to machinery, and will, as Man advances."

CHAPTER XXIII.

"What! eloped?"

"Heaven forbid! Why, mother, I didn't say she was alone with him; her father was of the party."

"Then surely you are distressing yourself more than you need. She goes to London with her papa, and Mr. Coventry happens to go up the same day; that is really all."

"Oh, but, mother, it was no accident. I watched his face, and there was no surprise when he came up with his luggage and saw her."

Mrs. Little pondered for a minute, and then said, "I dare say all her friends knew she was going up to London to-day; and Mr. Coventry determined to go up the same day. Why, he is courting her: my dear Henry, you knew before to-day that you had a rival, and a determined one. If you go and blame her for his acts, it will be apt to end in his defeating you."

"Will it? Then I won't blame her at all."

"You had better not till you are quite sure: it is one way of losing a high-spirited girl."

"I tell you I won't. Mother!"

"Well, dear?"

"When I asked leave to come to the station and see her off, she seemed put out."

"Did she forbid you?"

"No; but she did not like it somehow. Ah, she knew beforehand that Coventry would be there."

"Gently, gently! She might think it possible, and yet not know it. More likely it was on account of her father. You have never told him that you love his daughter?"

"No."

"And he is rather mercenary: perhaps that is too strong a word; but, in short, a mere man of the world. Might it not be that Grace Carden would wish him to learn your attachment either from your lips or from her own, and not detect it in an impetuous young man's conduct on the platform of a railway, at the tender hour of parting?"

"Oh, how wise you are, and what an insight you have got! Your words are balm. But, there--he is with her for ever so long, and I am here all alone."

"Not quite alone, love; your counselor is by your side, and may, perhaps, show you how to turn this to your advantage. You write to her every day, and then the postman will be a powerful rival to Mr.

Coventry, perhaps a more powerful one than Mr. Coventry to you."

Acting on this advice, Henry wrote every day to Grace Carden. She was not so constant in her replies; but she did write to him now and then, and her letters breathed a gentle affection that allayed his jealousy, and made this period of separation the happiest six weeks he had ever known. As for Grace, about three o'clock she used to look out for the postman, and be uneasy and restless if he was late, and, when his knock came, her heart would bound, and she generally flew upstairs with the prize, to devour it in secret. She fed her heart full with these letters, and loved the writer better and better. For once the present suitor lost ground, and the absent suitor gained it. Mrs. Little divined as much from Grace's letters and messages to herself; and she said, with a smile, "You see 'Les absents n'ont pas toujours tort.'"

CHAPTER XXIV.

I must now deal briefly with a distinct vein of incidents, that occurred between young Little's first becoming a master and the return of the Cardens from London.

Little, as a master, acted up to the philanthropic theories he had put forth when a workman.

The wet-grinders in his employ submitted to his improved plates, his paved and drained floor, and cozy fires, without a murmur or a word of thanks. By degrees they even found out they were more comfortable than other persons in their condition, and congratulated themselves upon it.

The dry-grinders consented, some of them, to profit by his improved fans. Others would not take the trouble to put the fans in gear, and would rather go on inhaling metal-dust and stone-grit.

Henry reasoned, but in vain; remonstrated, but with little success. Then he discharged a couple: they retired with mien of martyrs; and their successors were admitted on a written agreement that left them no option. The fan triumphed.

The file-cutters were more troublesome; they clung to death and disease, like limpets to established rocks; they would not try any other bed than bare lead, and they would not wash at the taps Little had provided, and they would smuggle in dinners and eat with poisoned hands.

Little reasoned, and remonstrated, but with such very trifling success, that, at last, he had to put down the iron heel; he gave the file-cutters a printed card, with warning to leave on one side, and his reasons on the other.

In twenty-four hours he received a polite remonstrance from the secretary of the File-Cutters' Union.

He replied that the men could remain, if they would sign an agreement to forego certain suicidal practices, and to pay fines in case of disobedience; said fines to be deducted from their earnings.

Then the secretary suggested a conference at the "Cutlers' Arms." Little a.s.sented: and there was a hot argument. The father of all file-cutters objected to tyranny and innovation: Little maintained that Innovation was nearly always Improvement--the world being silly--and was manifestly improvement in the case under consideration. He said also he was merely doing what the Union itself ought to do: protecting the life of Union men who were too childish and wrong-headed to protect it themselves.

"We prefer a short life and a merry one, Mr. Little," said the father of all file-cutters.

"A life of disease is not a merry one: slow poisoning is not a pleasant way of living, but a miserable way of dying. None but the healthy are happy. Many a Croesus would give half his fortune for a poor man's stomach; yet you want your cutlers to be sick men all their days, and not gain a shilling by it. Man alive, I am not trying to lower their wages."

"Ay, but you are going the way to do it."

"How do you make that out?"

"The trade is full already; and, if you force the men to live to threescore and ten, you will overcrowd it so, they will come to starvation wages."

Little was staggered at this thunderbolt of logic, and digested the matter in silence for a moment. Then he remembered something that had fallen from Dr. Amboyne; and he turned to Grotait. "What do you say to that, sir? would you grind Death's scythe for him (at the list price) to thin the labor market?"

Grotait hesitated for once. In his heart he went with the file-cutter: but his understanding enc.u.mbered him.

"Starvation," said he, "is as miserable a death as poisoning. But why make a large question out of a small one, with rushing into generalities? I really think you might let Mr. Little settle this matter with the individual workmen. He has got a little factory, and a little crochet; he chooses to lengthen the lives of six file-cutters. He says to them, 'My money is my own, and I'll give you so much of it, in return for so much work plus so much washing and other novelties.' The question is, does his pay cover the new labor of washing, etc., as well as the old?"

"Mr. Grotait, I pay the highest price that is going."

"In that case, I think the Unions are not bound to recognize the discussion. Mr. Little, I have some other reasons to lay before my good friend here, and I hope to convince him. Now, there's a little party of us going to dine to-morrow at 'Savage's Hotel,' up by the new reservoir; give us the pleasure of your company, will you? and, by that time, perhaps I may have smoothed this little matter for you." Little thanked him, accepted the invitation, and left the pair of secretaries together.

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Put Yourself in His Place Part 69 summary

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