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by 'Robert Tressell' (Robert Noonan)
The original, squashed down to read in about an hour
This, the 'first working-class novel' was written by a Dublin-born decorator, working in Southern England, who died of tuberculosis before it was published. Its exposition of working-class life in the early 20th Century, and its vision of an ideal Socialist society, has been and remains both a record of its times and an inspiration to many.
Abridged: GH 4.8% of the original ¼ Million words.
The house was named 'The Cave'. It was a large old-fashioned three-storied building in about an acre of ground, a mile outside the town of Mugsborough. It was being altered and renovated for its new owner by Rushton & Co., Builders and Decorators. There were twenty-five men working there, carpenters, plumbers, plasterers, bricklayers and painters, besides several unskilled labourers. The air was full of the sounds of hammering and sawing, the ringing of trowels, the rattle of pails, the splashing of water brushes, and the scraping of the stripping knives.
At twelve o'clock Bob Crass - the painters' foreman - blew a blast upon a whistle and all hands assembled in the kitchen, where Bert the apprentice had already prepared the tea in the large galvanized iron pail. By the side of the pail were a number of old jam-jars, mugs, dilapidated tea-cups and one or two empty condensed milk tins. Each man on the 'job' paid Bert threepence a week for the tea and sugar - they did not have milk - and the lad was generally considered to be making a fortune.
'How did you get on yesterday?' asked Crass, addressing Bundy, the plasterer, who was intently studying the sporting columns of the Daily Obscurer.
'No luck,' replied Bundy, gloomily. 'I had a bob each way on Stockwell, in the first race, but it was scratched before the start.'
Then there was Frank Owen, who was as usual absorbed in a newspaper. He was generally regarded as a bit of a crank: for he took no interest in racing or football and was always talking a lot of rot about religion and politics.
There were Ned Dawson, and Barrington, the labourers.
Easton was reading the Obscurer and was conscious of a growing feeling of indignation and hatred against foreigners of every description, who were ruining this country, and he began to think that it was about time we did something to protect ourselves.
'Why, even 'ere in Mugsborough,' chimed in Sawkins, 'We're overrun with 'em! Nearly all the waiters and the cook at the Grand Hotel where we was working last month is foreigners.'
'Some of you seem to think,' said Owen, sneeringly, 'that it was a great mistake on God's part to make so many foreigners. You ought to hold a mass meeting about it: pass a resolution that they may be utterly exterminated from the face of the earth, which rightly belongs to the British people". Presently, when there is an election, you go and vote in favour of a policy of which you know nothing. You are not fit to vote.'
Crass became very angry. 'I pays my rates and taxes,' he shouted, 'an' I've got as much right to express an opinion as you 'ave.'
'As for not trying to find out wot side is right,' said Crass, somewhat overawed by Owen's manner and by what he thought was the glare of madness in the latter's eyes, 'I reads the Ananias every week, and I generally takes the Daily Chloroform, or the Hobscurer, so I ought to know summat about it.'
'Just listen to this,' interrupted Easton, wishing to create a diversion and beginning to read from the copy of the Obscurer which he still held in his hand:
HUNDREDS OUT OF EMPLOYMENT.
WORK OF THE CHARITY SOCIETY.
789 CASES ON THE BOOKS.
'The greatest cause of poverty is hover-population,' remarked Harlow.
'Drink is the cause of most of the poverty,' said Slyme, a young man who had been through some strange process that he called 'conversion', unaware that total abstinence was an insult to the Founder of Christianity.
'Another thing is women,' said Harlow, 'there's thousands of 'em nowadays doin' work wot oughter be done by men.'
'In my opinion ther's too much of this 'ere eddication, nowadays,' remarked old Linden. 'Wot the 'ell's the good of eddication to the likes of us?'
'None whatever,' said Crass, 'it just puts foolish idears into people's 'eds and makes 'em too lazy to work.'
'There's no need for us to talk about drink or laziness,' returned Owen, impatiently, 'the theories that drunkenness, laziness or inefficiency are the causes of poverty are so many devices invented and fostered by those who are selfishly interested in preventing us from discovering the real causes.'
'It can't never be haltered,' interrupted old Linden. 'There's always been rich and poor in the world, and there always will be.'
'Let us begin at the beginning,' said Owen. 'First of all, what do you mean by Poverty?'
'Why, if you've got no money, of course,' said Crass impatiently.
The others laughed disdainfully.
'Well, that's true enough as far as it goes,' returned Owen, 'that is, as things are arranged in the world at present. But money itself is not wealth: it's of no use whatever. Supposing for example that you and Harlow were shipwrecked on a desolate island, and YOU had saved nothing from the wreck but a bag containing a thousand sovereigns, and he had a tin of biscuits and a bottle of water. Who would be the richer there?'
'What I call poverty is when people are not able to secure for themselves all the benefits of civilization; the necessaries, comforts, pleasures and refinements of life, leisure, books, theatres, pictures, music, holidays, travel, good and beautiful homes, good clothes, good and pleasant food.'
Everybody laughed. It was so ridiculous. The idea of the likes of THEM wanting or having such things!
'All these things,' Owen proceeded, 'are produced by those who work. We do our full share of the work, therefore we should have a full share of the things that are made by work. As things are now, instead of enjoying the advantages of civilization we are really worse off than slaves, for if we were slaves our owners in their own interest would see to it that we always had food and - '
At this moment a footstep was heard in the passage leading to the kitchen.
Mr Hunter, as he was called to his face and as he was known to his brethren at the Shining Light Chapel, or 'Misery' or 'Nimrod'; as he was named behind his back by the over whom he tyrannized, was the general or walking foreman or 'manager' of the firm. He stood over the men, ever threatening them with dismissal and their wives and children with hunger. Behind Misery was Rushton, ever bullying and goading him on to greater excesses and efforts for the furtherance of the good cause - which was to enable the head of the firm to accumulate money.
As Hunter dismounted his bicycle near the 'Cave' he observed a number of men hanging about.
'Good afternoon, sir.'
'Any chance of a job, sir?'
'Full up,' replied Hunter, without stopping.
Another. 'Any chance of a job, sir?'
Hunter did not reply at once. Yes, this was the time. Hunter knew this man, Newman, a good workman, he had worked for Rushton & Co. before.
'Well,' Hunter said, 'I might - perhaps - be able to let you have a day or two. 'Tomorrow at seven. Of course you know the figure? Six and a half.'
Newman was taken by surprise and hesitated. He had never worked under price; indeed, he had sometimes gone hungry rather than do so; but now it seemed that others were doing it. And then he was so awfully hard up.
'Are you coming or not?'
'Yes, sir,' said Newman.
Hunter, nodded in a friendly way to the man, who went off feeling like a criminal.
As he arrived at The Cave Hunter stood thinking. Someone must be got rid of to make room for the cheap man tomorrow. What was to be done?
Jack Linden was about sixty-seven years old, but as is usual with working men, he appeared older, because he had had to work very hard all his life, frequently without proper food and clothing. His life had been passed in the midst of a civilization which he had never been permitted to enjoy the benefits of. But of course he had always been of opinion that they were never intended for the likes of him. He called himself a Conservative and was very patriotic. At the time when the Boer War commenced, Linden was an enthusiastic jingo: his enthusiasm had been somewhat damped when his youngest son, a reservist, had to go to the front, where he died of fever and exposure.
Linden was still working at the vestibule doors when the manager came downstairs. Misery stood watching him for some minutes without speaking. At last he said loudly:
'How much longer are you going to be messing about those doors? There's plenty of better men than you walking about.
'I must clean the work down, sir, before I go on painting.'
'I'm not talking about what you're doing, but the time it takes you to do it!' shouted Hunter.
Linden did not answer: he was paralysed with fear. Recovering himself, he hastily removed his pipe from his mouth.
Misery strode up.
'I don't pay you for smoking,' he said, loudly. 'Make out your time sheet, take it to the office and get your money. I've had enough of you!'
Owen and his family occupied the top floor of a house which had been transformed into a series of flats. Lord Street was still a most respectable neighbourhood, the inhabitants generally being of a very superior type: Mr Trafaim wore a top hat, boasted of his French descent, and was a shop-walker at Sweater's Emporium. No. 3 was tenanted by an insurance agent, and in No. 4 dwelt a tallyman's traveller.
The area supplied a striking answer to those futile theorists who prate of the equality of mankind, for the inhabitants instinctively formed themselves into groups, the more superior types drawing together. But whatever differences existed amongst them regarding each other's social standing they were unanimous on one point at least: they were indignant at Owen's presumption in coming to live in such a refined locality. This low fellow, this common workman, with his paint-bespattered clothing, was a disgrace to the street; his wife was not much better, and their child was not fit to play with theirs.
Owen's wife and little son were waiting for him in the living room. There were three or four chairs, and an oblong table, covered with a clean white tablecloth, set ready for tea. In the recess at the right of fireplace - an ordinary open grate - were a number of shelves filled with a miscellaneous collection of books, most of which had been bought second-hand.
'You know, I've been thinking lately,' observed little Frankie, 'that it's a great mistake for Dad to go out working at all. I believe that's the very reason why we're so poor.'
'Nearly everyone who works is more or less poor, dear, but if Dad didn't go out to work we'd be even poorer than we are now. We should have nothing to eat.'
'But Dad says that the people who do nothing get lots of everything. How can that happen?'
'It's not possible for anyone to become rich without cheating other people.'
'What about our schoolmaster then? He doesn't do any work.'
'Don't you think it's useful and and also very hard work teaching all those boys every day?'
'What about the vicar?'
'Ah, the vicar is one of the very worst. The vicar goes about telling the workers that God meant them to work very hard and to give all the good things they make to those who do nothing, and that they should be very thankful to God and to the idlers for being allowed to have even the very worst food to eat and the rags, and broken boots to wear.'
'The vicar doesn't believe it himself: he only pretends to. For instance, Jesus said that His disciples should be unselfish and help those who are in need. But the vicar says that is all nonsense.'
'And don't the people know he's only pretending?'
'Hark!' said his mother, holding up her finger.
'Dad!' cried Frankie, rushing to the door and flinging it open.
'It's all right, old chap,' said Owen, drawing the child nearer to him and kissing the curly head. 'Listen, and see if you can guess what I've got for you under my coat. I found it on my way home'
In the silence the purring of a kitten was distinctly audible.
'A kitten!' cried the boy, taking it out of its hiding-place.
While Frankie amused himself playing with the kitten, Owen explained reason of his late homecoming.
'I called to see old Linden. To see if I could help find him a job. But even in the summer nobody will be inclined to take him on. He's too old.'
'It's a dreadful prospect for the two children,' answered his wife.
After the child was in bed, Owen sat alone by the table in the draughty sitting-room, thinking. Although there was a bright fire, the room was very cold, being so close to the roof.
Owen stood up and began walking about the room, oppressed with a kind of terror. Presently he opened the newspaper:
Wife And Two Children Killed
Suicide of the Murderer
It was one of the ordinary poverty crimes. The man had been without employment for many weeks and they had been living by pawning or selling their furniture and other possessions. When the police entered the house, they found the dead bodies of the woman and the two children, with their throats severed, laid out side by side upon the bed. There was no bedstead and no furniture in the room except the straw mattress and the ragged clothes and blankets. No particle of food was found in the house, and on a nail in the wall in the kitchen was hung a piece of blood-smeared paper on which was written in pencil:
'This is not my crime, but society's.'
Owen thought it very strange that the man should have chosen to do it that way, when there were so many other cleaner, easier and more painless ways. No; HE would kindle some charcoal on a tray or something in the middle of the room, and then they would all three just lie down together and sleep; and that would be the end of everything. There would be no pain, no blood, and no mess.
Or one could take poison.
'Come on, Saturday!' shouted Philpot, just after seven o'clock one Monday morning as they were getting ready to commence work.
It was still dark outside, but the scullery was dimly illuminated by the flickering light of two candles.
'Has anyone seen old Jack Linden since 'e got the push?' inquired Harlow.
'It's a grand finish, isn't it?' observed Owen. 'After working hard all one's life to be treated like a criminal at the end.'
'Oh, for God's sake,' cried Harlow. 'We 'ad enough of that last week. You can't expect a boss to employ a man when 'e's too old to work.'
'I don't see no sense in always grumblin',' Crass proceeded. 'These things can't be altered. You can't expect there can be plenty of work for everyone with all this 'ere labour-savin' machinery what's been invented.'
'Machinery is undoubtedly the cause of unemployment,' replied Owen, 'but it's not the cause of poverty. If you think that the machinery, which makes it possible to produce all the necessaries of life in abundance, is the cause of the shortage, it seems to me that there must be something the matter with your minds.'
'Oh, of course we're all bloody fools except you,' snarled Crass. The cutting from the Obscurer which he had in his pocket would take a bit of answering! When you have a thing in print - in black and white - why there it is, and you can't get away from it! If it wasn't right, a paper like that would never have printed it.
The discussion was soon stopped as the client himself - Mr Sweater - arrived with Ruston to inspect progress. The two seemed puzzlingly interested in the drains, and less than interested in the men.
About five minutes to five, just as they were all putting their things away for the night, Nimrod suddenly appeared in the house. He had come hoping to find some of them ready dressed to go home before the proper time. Having failed in this laudable enterprise, he stood silently by himself for some seconds in the drawing-room. Owen was taking off his blouse and apron as the other entered. Hunter addressed him with a malevolent snarl:
'You can call at the office tonight as you go home.'
Owen's heart seemed to stop beating. He stood, still and speechless, staring at the manager.
'What for?' he ejaculated at length. 'What's the matter?'
'You'll find out what you're wanted for when you get there,' returned Hunter as he went out of the room and away from the house.
Rushton & Co.'s premises consisted of a double-fronted shop with plate glass windows. The front part of the shop was stocked with wall-hangings, cases of brushes, tins of varnish and enamel, and similar things.
Owen stood outside this window for two or three seconds before knocking. The door was opened by Hunter, and Owen went in. Rushton was seated in an armchair at his desk, smoking a cigar; 'You're a bit of a hartist, ain't yer?'
'Yes,' replied Owen at last, a little surprised. 'I can do detailed work'.
'It's that drawing-room at the 'Cave'.
He handed a photograph to Owen as he spoke. It represented a room decorated in a Moorish style.
'Could you do anything like that?'
'I'll tell you what I CAN do,' Owen replied. 'I can make you a watercolour sketch at home, and I can let you know how long the job would take.'
Rushton brightened up. 'All right.' he said with an affectation of good nature, 'but you mustn't pile it on too thick, in any case, you know, because 'e don't want to spend too much money on it. In fact, if it's going to cost a great deal 'e simply won't 'ave it done at all.'
The question of what profit could be made out of the work never occurred to Owen, it would in due course by fully considered by Mr Rushton. In fact, it was the only thing about the work that Mr Rushton would think of at all: how much money could be made out of it. This is what is meant by the oft-quoted saying, 'The men work with their hands - the master works with his brains.'
Back at the Cave, Misery flitted silently from one room to another, peering round corners and listening at doors in the hope of seeing or hearing something which would give him an excuse for making an example of someone. Disappointed in this, he presently crawled upstairs to the room where Owen was working and, handing to him the roll of papers he had been carrying, said:
'Mr Sweater had decided to 'ave this work done, so you can start on it as soon as you like.'
It is impossible to describe the emotions experienced by Owen as he heard this announcement. It meant that he would be paid for the extra time he had spent on the drawings, besides an extra penny an hour.
Misery then went into the hall, where he remained alone for a considerable time, brooding. At last, he turned and entered the room where Philpot and Harlow were working.
'You both get sevenpence an hour, don't you?' he said.
They both replied to the affirmative.
'Well, of course you can please yourselves,' Hunter continued, 'but after this week we've decided not to pay more than six and a half. Take it or leave it.'
Misery went on to find Newman in an upper room, working at his usual fault of taking the time to do a proper job, even going so far as to buy his own sandpaper.
'You can make out yer time-sheet and come to the office for yer money at five o'clock,' said Nimrod at last. 'We shan't require your valuable services no more after tonight.'
Newman went white.
'Why, what's wrong?' said he. 'What have I done?'
'Oh, it's not wot you've DONE,' replied Misery. 'You've not done enough, that's all!'
'My God!' said Newman, 'What WILL become of us?'
Crass, Philpot, Easton and Bundy went home by way of the 'Cricketers Arms', a pretentious-looking building with plate-glass windows and a profusion of gilding. The landlord, a well-fed, prosperous-looking individual in white shirt-sleeves, and a bright maroon fancy waistcoat with a massive gold watch-chain and a diamond ring, was conversing in an affable, friendly way with one of his regular customers, a shabbily dressed, bleary-eyed, degraded, beer-sodden, trembling wretch, who spent the greater part of every day, and all his money, in this bar.
'Wot cheer, Bob?' said the landlord, affably. ''Ow goes it?'
'One pint, two 'arves, and a pint o' porter for meself,' said Philpot.
Two hours later, Easton stumbled into his house. The baby was asleep in the cradle. Slyme, the lodger, had gone up to his own room, and Ruth was sitting sewing by the fireside. The table was still set for two persons, for she had not yet taken her tea.
'I've come at last, you see, my dear; better late than never.'
He found it very difficult to speak plainly, for his lips trembled and refused to form the words.
She shrank away, shuddering with involuntary disgust as he pressed his wet lips and filthy moustache upon her mouth. His fetid breath, foul with the smell of tobacco and beer, and the odour of the stale tobacco smoke that exuded from his clothes filled her with loathing. He kissed her repeatedly and when at last he released her she hastily wiped her face with her handkerchief and shivered.
This is a dull and uninteresting chapter. The reader is nevertheless entreated to peruse it, because it contains certain information necessary to an understanding of this history.
The town of Mugsborough was governed by a set of individuals called the Municipal Council, mostly well-to-do or retired tradesmen. One of the most energetic members was Mr Jeremiah Didlum, the house-furnisher, who did a large hire system trade in furniture taken from those who failed to pay the instalments or who want of employment had reduced to the necessity of selling their household possessions.
Then there was the Chief of the Band - Mr Adam Sweater, the Mayor, the first citizen in a community composed for the most part of ignorant semi-imbeciles, slaves, slave-drivers and psalm-singing hypocrites. Mr Sweater's drapery business employed a great number of girls as indentured apprentices, some of whom had paid premiums of from five to ten pounds. They were 'bound' for three years. For the first two years they received no wages: the third year they got a shilling or eightpence a week. At the end of the third year they usually got the sack.
For many years these Brigands had looked with greedy eyes upon the huge profits of the Gas Company. So the Brigands formed themselves in association called 'The Mugsborough Electric Light Coy. Ltd.', and bound themselves by a solemn oath to drive the Gas Works Bandits out of the town. They were lucky enough to buy a suitable site for the works from the Municipality - or, in other words, from themselves - for about half its value.
Councillor Weakling moved that the offer be refused. (Shame.) It was not more than half the value of the land. (Derisive laughter.) Councillor Didlum proposed that the duty on all coal brought into the borough be raised from two shillings to three shillings per ton.
This masterly stratagem did not work, the Gas company continued to prosper, and it became clear that the Mugsborough Electric Light Coy. was a veritable white elephant.
During the next four weeks the usual reign of terror continued at 'The Cave'. The men slaved like so many convicts under the vigilant surveillance of Crass, Misery and Rushton.
They all cursed Crass. They all reviled Hunter. They all hated and blamed Rushton. Yet if any one of them had been in his place they would have been compelled to act in the same way. Blame the system.
If you, reader, had been one of them, would you have behaved any differently? It only proves that the present system compels selfishness. One must either trample upon others or be trampled upon oneself. Blame the system.
'Wot's become of Professor Owen?' remarked Harlow with a laugh.
Observed Easton; 'Don't you remember 'e said as money was the cause of poverty?'
'So it is,' said Owen, who entered at that moment. 'I'll show you how the Great Money Trick is worked.'
Owen opened his dinner basket and took from it two slices of bread.
'These pieces of bread represent the raw materials which exist naturally in and on the earth for the use of mankind, created by the Great Spirit for the benefit and sustenance of all.'
'Now,' continued Owen, 'I represent the landlord and capitalist class: I claim that all these raw materials belong to me.'
'Now you three - Easton, Philpot, Harlow - represent the Working class: you have nothing. I, the capitalist, also possess these three knives, to represent the machinery of production; the factories, tools, railways, and so forth. And these three coins' - taking three halfpennies from his pocket - 'represent my Money Capital. We'd be able to do the trick better if we had sovereigns, but I forgot to bring any with me.'
'I'd lend you some,' said Philpot, regretfully, 'but I left me purse on our grand pianner.'
'Now this is the way the trick works - '
I shall pay each of you one pound per week to cut this bread into usable little blocks. These blocks represent the necessaries of life. You can't live without these things, but as they belong to me, you will have to buy them from me: my price for these blocks is - one pound each.'
They each bought back and at once consumed one-third of the produce of their labour. The capitalist class also devoured two of the square blocks, and so the net result of the week's work was that the kind capitalist had consumed two pounds worth of the things produced by the labour of the others, and reckoning the squares at their market value of one pound each, he had more than doubled his capital. As for the working classes, Philpot, Harlow and Easton, having each consumed the pound's worth of necessaries they had bought with their wages, they were again in precisely the same condition as when they started work - they had nothing.
After a while the rest of the crowd began to laugh, and their merriment increased when the kind-hearted capitalist, just after having sold a pound's worth of necessaries to each of his workers, suddenly took their tools - the Machinery of Production - the knives away from them, and informed them that as owing to Over Production all his store-houses were glutted with the necessaries of life, he had decided to close down the works.
'But what about the necessaries of life?' demanded Harlow. 'We must have something to eat.'
'Of course you must,' replied the capitalist, affably; 'and I shall be very pleased to sell you some.'
'But we ain't got no bloody money!'
During the last few weeks ever since he had been engaged on the decoration of the drawing-room, Owen had been so absorbed in his work that he had no time for other things. As he walked homewards, feeling unutterably depressed and weary, he began to think of the future; and the more he thought of it the more dreadful it appeared. Even supposing he did not fall too ill to work, or lose his employment from some other cause - what was there to live for?
As he turned the corner of Kerk Street he saw a man reading out a verse of a hymn:
'I heard the voice of Jesus say,
Behold, I freely give,
The living water, thirsty one,
Stoop down and drink, and live.
Owen looked and saw that it was Hunter.
"The wicked shall be turned into hell" he shouted. "He that believeth not shall be damned."
'Why, you don't believe the Bible yourselves.' Exclaimed one of the crowd. 'Read out the 17th verse of the XVIth chapter of Mark.'
"And these signs shall follow them that believe. They shall drink any deadly thing it shall not hurt them: they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall heal."
'Well, you can't heal the sick, so I have here a bottle of strychnine. Drink it! And if it doesn't harm you, we'll know that you really are a believer !'
'Now, if you'll allow me, I'll explain to you what that there verse means,' said Hunter.
'Are you going to drink it or not?' demanded the man with the bottle.
One of the evangelists, Miss Didlum, was seated at a small organ, whereupon she began to play, and the 'believers' began to sing; 'Oh, that will be Glory for me!'
'Yes! that's the honly way!' shouted Nimrod.
'Amen,' cried all the other believers.
During the following week the work at 'The Cave' progressed rapidly towards completion. According to the specification, all the outside woodwork was supposed to have three coats, but Crass and Hunter had arranged to make two coats do.
'It won't arf blister when it gets a bit of sun on it,' said Philpot with a grin.
'We ain't 'ad no lectures at all lately, 'ave we?' said Harlow in an injured tone. 'I think it's about time Owen explained what the real cause of poverty is. I'm beginning to get anxious about it.'
Owen accordingly ascended some steps - much to the delight of Crass - and commenced:
'Mr Chairman and gentlemen: We do not enjoy a full share of the benefits of civilization - we are all in a state of more or less abject poverty.'
'The reason why we're short of the things that's made by work,' interrupted Crass, mimicking Owen's manner, 'is that we ain't got the bloody money to buy 'em.'
'Yes,' said the man on the pail; 'and as I said before, if all the money was shared out equal today according to Owen's ideas - in six months' time it would be all back again in the same 'ands as it is now, and what are you goin' to do then?'
'No Socialist suggests "Sharing out" money or anything else in the manner you say.' said Owen.
Owen now asked Philpot to pass him a piece of charred wood from under the grate, and drew upon the wall a quadrangular figure about four feet in length and one foot deep.
'This represents the whole of the adult population of the country. We will now divide them into separate classes.'
'Look here,' said Owen. 'The people in number four produce everything!'
'But,' interrupted Harlow. 'They gets their money.'
And what do they do with their money? Do they eat it, or drink it, or wear it?'
'Of course they don't,' answered Harlow scornfully. 'They buy things with it.'
'What sort of System do you propose, then?' said Harlow.
'The next lecture,' said Philpot, 'will be postponded till tomorrer, when Mr Owen is to give 'is well-known address entitled "Work and how to avoid it."'
It is now what is usually called the festive season -possibly because at this period a greater number of people are suffering from hunger and cold. The scene is Mr Sweater's office with Messrs Rushton, Didlum, and Grinder.
'Something will 'ave to be done, and that very soon,' Grinder was saying. 'The Electric company is practically bankrupt now.'
'It's all right,' answered Sweater, who lowered his voice almost to a whisper. 'You know we still have a little money in hand; we'll declare a dividend of 15 per cent. Of course, we'll have to cook the accounts a little, but the other shareholders are not going to ask any awkward questions.'
'Afterwards,' resumed Sweater, 'I'll arrange for a report in the Weekly Ananias. The article will declare that it's a great pity that the Electric Light Supply should be in the hands of a private company, and to suggest that an effort be made to acquire it for the town.
'Wot I likes about this 'ere business is that we're not only doin' ourselves a bit of good,' said Grinder with a laugh, 'we're not only doin' ourselves a bit of good, but we're likewise doin' the Socialists a lot of 'arm. When the ratepayers 'ave bought the Works, and they begins to kick up a row because they're losin' money over it - we can tell 'em that it's Socialism! And then they'll say that if that's Socialism they don't want no more of it.'
The other brigands laughed gleefully, and some of Didlum's whisky went down the wrong way and nearly sent him into a fit.
Old Jack Linden had tried hard to earn a little money by selling bloaters, but they often went bad, and even when he managed to sell them all the profit was so slight that it was not worth doing. Once he was given a job by a big provision firm to carry an advertisement about the streets. He felt very much ashamed whenever he encountered any of his old mates, some of whom laughed at him. His daughter-in-law, Mary, had some work making blouses for Sweater & Co, but that soon ended.
Slowly, piece by piece, in order to buy food and to pay the rent, the furniture was sold. Every time Didlum came he affected to be doing them a very great favour by buying the things. Once or twice he asked Mary if she did not want to sell their clock - a fine piece her late husband had made for his mother - until at last there was nothing else left. He gave them ten shillings for it.
Mary had expected the old woman to be heartbroken at having to part with this clock, but she was surprised to see her almost indifferent. The truth was, that lately both the old people seemed stunned, and incapable of taking an intelligent interest in what was happening around them.
From time to time nearly all their other possessions she carried out and sold. They felt the loss of the bedclothes more than anything else, for although all the clothes they wore during the day, and all the old clothes and dresses in the house, and even an old coloured tablecloth, were put on the beds at night, they did not compensate for the blankets, and they were often unable to sleep on account of the intense cold.
One week about the middle of February, when they were in very sore straits indeed, old Jack applied to the secretary of the Organized Benevolence Society for assistance. Linden explained to them that they were actually starving. He had been out of work for sixteen weeks.
After some preliminaries it was arranged that Linden and his wife were to go into the workhouse. Mary accompanied the old people to the gates of their future dwelling-place, and when she returned home she found there a letter from the house agent giving notice to leave the house before the end of the week. Nothing was said about the rent that was due. Perhaps Mr Sweater thought that as he had already received nearly six hundred pounds in rent from Linden he could afford to be generous - or perhaps he thought there was no possibility of getting the money.
Times were hard once the 'Cave' was completed. During January and February, Owen, Crass, Slyme and Sawkins continued to work at irregular intervals for Rushton & Co. But putting it all together Owen's earnings had not averaged ten shillings a week for the last six weeks. Often they had no coal and sometimes not even a penny to put into the gas meter, and then, having nothing left good enough to pawn, he sometimes obtained a few pence by selling some of his books.
During the last weeks of February the severity of the weather increased. Three cases of death from destitution appeared before the coroner. One was a plasterer who had walked from London with the hope of finding work somewhere in the country. He had no money in his possession; all that his pockets contained being several pawn-tickets and a letter from his wife.
As time went on the long-continued privation began to tell upon Owen and his family. Once, when there was a bitterly cold east wind blowing, Owen was out canvassing for work when he contracted a severe cold: his chest became so bad that he found it almost impossible to speak, because the effort to do so often brought on a violent fit of coughing.
Later, Owen went out into the scullery to wash his hands, and a few seconds afterwards he was terrified to find his mouth suddenly filled with blood. Through the deathlike silence of the night there came from time to time the chimes of the clock of a distant church, but he continued to sit there motionless, possessed with an awful terror.
So this was the beginning of the end! He imagined the pitiable future for his child: worked, driven, and bullied, carrying loads, dragging carts. If he lived, it would be to grow up with his body deformed and dwarfed by unnatural labour and with his mind stultified, degraded and brutalized by ignorance and poverty. Owen resolved that it should never be! He would not leave them alone and defenceless in the midst of the 'Christian' wolves who were waiting to rend them as soon as he was gone. If he could not give them happiness, he could at least put them out of the reach of further suffering. If he could not stay with them, they would have to come with him. It would be kinder and more merciful.
Every day a bedraggled army of the unemployed marched through the streets, canvassing for help. The majority of the skilled workers held aloof from these processions, although privation reigned supreme in their desolate homes, where there was often neither food nor light nor fire, they were too 'proud' to parade their misery before each other or the world.
Then there was the Soup Kitchen, which was really an inferior eating-house in a mean street, most of those who benefited were unskilled labourers or derelicts: with but few exceptions the unemployed artisans - although their need was just as great as that of the others - avoided the place as if it were infected with the plague.
Another brilliant scheme, practical and statesmanlike, so different from the wild projects of demented Socialists, was started by the Rev. Mr Bosher, a popular preacher, the Vicar of the fashionable Church of the Whited Sepulchre. He collected some subscriptions from a number of semi-imbecile old women who attended his church. With some of this money he bought a quantity of timber and opened what he called a Labour Yard, where he employed a number of men sawing firewood. Being a clergyman, and because he said he wanted it for a charitable purpose, of course he obtained the timber very cheaply - for about half what anyone else would have had to pay for it.
As a result many persons withdrew their custom from those who usually supplied them with firewood, and gave their orders to the Yard; and they had the satisfaction of getting their fuel cheaper than before and of performing a charitable action at the same time.
As a remedy for unemployment this scheme was on a par with the method of the tailor in the fable who thought to lengthen his cloth by cutting a piece off one end and sewing it on to the other; but there was one thing about it that recommended it to the Vicar - it was self-supporting.
One of the most important agencies for the relief of distress was the Organized Benevolence Society. Altogether during the last year the Society had received from various sources about three hundred pounds in hard cash. This money was devoted to the relief of cases of distress.
The largest item in the expenditure of the Society was the salary of the General Secretary, Mr Sawney Grinder - a most deserving case - who was paid one hundred pounds a year.
Although the people who got the grocery and coal orders, the 'Nourishment', and the cast-off clothes and boots, were very glad to have them, yet these things did far more harm than good. They humiliated, degraded and pauperized those who received them, and the existence of the societies prevented the problem being grappled with in a sane and practical manner. The people lacked the necessaries of life: the necessaries of life are produced by Work: these people were willing to work, but were prevented from doing so by the idiotic system of society which these 'charitable' people are determined to do their best to perpetuate.
The management of the affairs of the world - the business of arranging the conditions under which we live - is at present in the hands of Practical, Level-headed, Sensible Business-men. Sir Graball D'Encloseland, a 'Secretary of State', paid £5,000 a year. When he first got the job the wages were only a beggarly £2,000, but as he found it impossible to exist on less than £100 a week he decided to raise his salary to that amount; and the foolish people who find it a hard struggle to live paid it willingly, and when they saw the beautiful motor car and the lovely clothes and jewellery he purchased for his wife with the money, and heard the Great Speech he made - telling them how the shortage of everything was caused by Over-production and Foreign Competition, they clapped their hands and went frantic with admiration.
All through the summer the crowd of ragged-trousered philanthropists continued to toil and sweat at their noble and unselfish task of making money for Mr Rushton. Painting the outsides of houses and shops, washing off and distempering ceilings, building new rooms or other additions to old houses or business premises, digging up old drains, repairing leaky roofs and broken windows.
There were some who were - as they thought - exceptionally lucky: the firms they worked for were busy enough to let them work two hours' overtime every night. Most of these arrived home so tired that they never had any inclination for study or any kind of self-improvement, even if they had had the time. They had plenty of time to study during the winter: and their favourite subject then was, how to preserve themselves from starving to death.
There were a few - generally fellows who had been contaminated by contact with Socialists, who said that they did not desire to work overtime at all - ten hours a day were quite enough for them. What they wanted, they said, was not more work, but more grub, more clothes, more leisure, more pleasure and better homes. They wanted to be able to go for country walks or bicycle rides, to go out fishing or to go to the seaside and bathe and lie on the beach and so forth. The majority said that such things were never intended for 'the likes of us'.
Yet the work they were forced to do was often more in the nature of 'scamping'. Even in good-class houses paint was slapped on rough wood without rubbing-down. Beautiful and expensive plush paper at eighteen shillings a roll was put on without a lining paper but 'lapped' so that it might open as the paper dries and to show the white wall underneath, a thing which should never be done.
A job to restore the bankrupt 'MACARONI'S ROYAL ITALIAN CAFE' led to two men losing their jobs. Confronted with the work of clearing out all manner of abominations - fragments of fat and decomposed meat, legs of rabbits and fowls - it is no surprise that the two took a pint of beer each to fortify themselves. It is equally no surprise that they took another few pints, and left off scraping and scrubbing, and began throwing buckets of water over the dresser and the walls, laughing uproariously all the time. They soon found themselves out of work.
Yet there is no more cowardly, dastardly slander than is contained in the assertion that the majority or any considerable proportion of working men neglect their families through drink. It is a condemned lie. They are few and far between, and are regarded with contempt by their fellow workmen.
One Sunday morning towards the end of July, a band of about twenty-five men and women on bicycles invaded the town. They carried banners of crimson embroidered with 'International Brotherhood and Peace' and 'One for all and All for one.' A crowd gathered and these Socialists held a meeting, two speeches being delivered before the crowd. Some of them lingered amongst the crowd after the main body had departed, and for a long time after the meeting was over little groups remained excitedly discussing the speeches or the leaflets.
Now and then a transient gleam of sunshine penetrated the gloom in which the lives of the philanthropists were passed.
The event of the year was the Beano, which took place on the last Saturday in August, after they had been paying in for about four months. The cost of the outing was to be five shillings a head, so this was the amount each man had to pay in, but it was expected that the total cost - the hire of the brakes and the cost of the dinner - would come out at a trifle less than the amount stated, and in that case the surplus would be shared out after the dinner. When the eventful day arrived, the hands, instead of working till one, were paid at twelve o'clock and rushed off home to have a wash and change.
The brakes were to start from the 'Cricketers' at one. Some had taken their Sunday clothes out of pawn especially for the occasion. Their boots were the worst part of their attire: without counting Rushton and his friends, there were thirty-seven men altogether, including Nimrod, and there were not half a dozen pairs of really good boots amongst the whole crowd.
The mean streets of Windley were soon left far behind and they found themselves journeying along a sunlit, winding road, bordered with hedges of hawthorn, holly and briar, past rich, brown fields of standing corn, shimmering with gleams of gold, past apple-orchards where bending boughs were heavily loaded with mellow fruits exhaling fragrant odours, through the cool shades of lofty avenues of venerable oaks, whose overarched and interlacing branches formed a roof of green, gilt and illuminated with quivering spots and shafts of sunlight that filtered through the trembling leaves; over old mossy stone bridges, spanning limpid streams that duplicated the blue sky and the fleecy clouds; and then again, stretching away to the horizon on every side over more fields, some rich with harvest, others filled with drowsing cattle or with flocks of timid sheep that scampered away at the sound of the passing carriages.
They reached the long-desired Queen Elizabeth at twenty minutes to four, and were immediately ushered into a large room where a round table and two long ones were set for dinner. The cloths that covered the tables and the serviettes, arranged fanwise in the drinking glasses, were literally as white as snow, and about a dozen knives and forks and spoons were laid for each person.
The dinner was all that could be desired; it was almost as good as the kind of dinner that is enjoyed every day by those persons who are too lazy to work but are cunning enough to make others work for them.
When all were well-filled, Mr Grinder stood up to address them. He praised their working hard for their livin'. (Hear, hear.) They could take it from him that, if ever the Socialists got the upper hand there would just be a few of the hartful dodgers who would get all the cream, and there would be nothing left but 'ard work for the rest. (Hear. hear.) That's wot hall those hagitators was after: they wanted them (his hearers) to work and keep 'em in idleness. (Hear, hear.)
Loud cheers greeted the termination of his speech, but it was obvious from some of the men's faces that they resented Grinder's remarks. These men ridiculed Socialism and regularly voted for the continuance of capitalism, and yet they were disgusted and angry with Grinder!
Barrington stood up. ''The fact that I am a Socialist and that I am here today as one of Mr Rushton's employees should be an answer to the charge that Socialists are too lazy to work for their living. If Mr Grinder had ever tried, he would know that manual workers have to concentrate their minds and their attention on their work or they would not be able to do it at all. It is the bad employer--the sweating, slave-driving employer--who sets the pace and the others have to adopt the same methods--very often against their inclinations--or they would not be able to compete with him.'
Yet here is a form of insanity shown by a Socialist. Although they had sense enough to understand the real causes of poverty, and the only cure for poverty, they were nevertheless so foolish that they entertained the delusion that it is possible to reason with demented persons, whereas every sane person knows that to reason with a maniac is not only fruitless, but rather tends to fix more deeply the erroneous impressions of his disordered mind.
The outlook for the approaching winter was gloomy in the extreme. One of the leading daily newspapers published an article prophesying a period of severe industrial depression. 'As the warehouses were glutted with the things produced by the working classes, there was no need for them to do any more work - at present; and so they would now have to go and starve.'
Every day at meals since Barrington's unexpected outburst at the Beano dinner, the men had been trying their best to 'kid him on' to make another speech. Then, one day, an argument broke out over lunch.
'Socialism means, "What's yours is mine, and what's mine's me own,"' observed Bundy, and Crass expressed the opinion - which he had culled from the columns of the Obscurer - that it meant robbing the industrious for the benefit of the idle and thriftless.
'I will try to describe to you the plan upon which the Co-operative Commonwealth of the future will be organized.
'In the days of feudalism a master painter, a master shoemaker, or any other master tradesmen, was really a skilled artisan working on his own account. They were not rich as we understand wealth now, but they did not starve and they were not regarded with contempt, as are their successors of today.
With the discovery of steam machinery, mankind became possessed of a similar power to the Wonderful Lamp. Machinery produces an enormous, overwhelming, stupendous abundance and superfluity of every material thing necessary for human existence and happiness.
'The consequence of this is that the majority of the people are in a condition of more or less abject poverty.'
'It is childish to imagine that any measure of Tariff Reform or Political Reform such as a paltry tax on foreign-made goods or abolishing the House of Lords will solve this.'
'Socialism is not a wild dream of Superhuman Unselfishness. No one will be asked to sacrifice himself for the benefit of others or to love his neighbours better than himself.'
'India is a rich productive country. Every year millions of pounds worth of wealth are produced by her people, only to be stolen from them by means of the Money Trick by the capitalist and official class. Her industrious sons and daughters are poor for the same reason that we are poor - Because we are Robbed.
And for that disease there is no other remedy than the PUBLIC OWNERSHIP and cultivation of the land, the PUBLIC OWNERSHIP OF the mines, railways, canals, ships, factories and all the other means of production, and the establishment of an Industrial Civil Service - a National Army of Industry - for the purpose of producing the necessaries, comforts and refinements of life in abundance - for the use and benefit of THE WHOLE OF THE PEOPLE.'
'Yes: and where's the money to come from for all this?' shouted Crass, fiercely.
'We certainly don't propose to buy them with money, for the simple reason that there is not sufficient money in existence to pay for them. The people who own all these things now never really paid for them with money - they obtained possession of them by means of the "Money Trick" which Owen explained to us.'
'The ancestors of the present holders of much of our land obtained possession of it by simply passing Acts of Enclosure: the nation should regain possession by passing Acts of Resumption. As to the shareholders - The State would continue to pay to the shareholders the same dividends they had received on an average for, say, the previous three years.
'At first, all public servants will continue to be paid in metal money, but those who desire it will be paid in paper money of the same nominal value, which will be accepted in payment for their purchases at the National Stores and at the National Hotels, Restaurants and other places. The money will resemble bank-notes. It will be made of a special very strong paper, and will be of all value, from a penny to a pound.
'As we shall employ the greatest possible number of labour-saving machines, and adopt the most scientific methods in our farms and factories, the quantities of goods we shall be able to produce will be so enormous that we shall be able to pay our workers very high wages - in paper money - and we shall be able to sell our produce so cheaply, that all public servants will be able to enjoy abundance of everything.
'In the centre of every district a large Institute or pleasure house could be erected, containing a magnificently appointed and decorated theatre; Concert Hall, Lecture Hall, Gymnasium, Billiard Rooms, Reading Rooms, Refreshment Rooms, and so on. A detachment of the Industrial Army would be employed as actors, artistes, musicians, singers and entertainers. In fact everyone that could be spared from the most important work of all - that of producing the necessaries of life - would be employed in creating pleasure, culture, and education.
'In time the nation will be the sole employer of labour, and as no one will be able to procure the necessaries of life without paper money, and as the only way to obtain this will be working, it will mean that every mentally and physically capable person in the community will be helping in the great work of PRODUCTION and DISTRIBUTION. Consequently there will be produced such a stupendous, enormous, prodigious, overwhelming abundance of everything that soon the Community will be faced once more with the serious problem of OVER-PRODUCTION.
'To deal with this, it will be necessary to reduce the hours of our workers to four or five hours a day. At the age of forty-five, everyone will be allowed to retire from the State service on full pay. All these will be able to spend the rest of their days according to their own inclinations; some will settle down quietly at home, and amuse themselves in the same ways as people of wealth and leisure do at the present day - with some hobby, or by taking part in the organization of social functions, such as balls, parties, entertainments, the organization of Public Games and Athletic Tournaments, Races and all kinds of sports.
'Some will prefer to continue in the service of the State. Actors, artists, sculptors, musicians and others will go on working for their own pleasure and honour... Others will prefer to travel on the State steamships to different parts of the world to see for themselves all those things of which most of us have now but a dim and vague conception. The wonders of India and Egypt, the glories of Rome, the artistic treasures of the continent and the sublime scenery of other lands.
'These are the principles upon which the CO-OPERATIVE COMMONWEALTH of the future will be organized. The State in which no one will be distinguished or honoured above his fellows except for Virtue or Talent. Where no man will find his profit in another's loss, and we shall no longer be masters and servants, but brothers, free men, and friends.
Why, then, and for what we are waiting?
There are but three words to speak
"We will it," and what is the foreman
but the dream strong wakened and weak?
'I should like to ask the speaker,' someone said, 'what's to become of the King, and the Royal Family, and all the Big Pots?'
'I am much more concerned about what is to become of ourselves if these things are not done,' replied Barrington. 'They will fare the same as the other rich people.'
'Well, wot's to prevent artful dodgers like old Misery and Rushton,' said Harlow, 'saving up and buying and selling things and so livin' without work?'
'Under Socialism no one would be allowed to trade without a licence, and no licences would be issued.'
'Wouldn't a man be allowed to save up his money if he wanted to, demanded Slyme with indignation.
'There will be nothing to prevent a man going without some of the things he might have if he is foolish enough to do so, but he would never be able to save up enough to avoid doing his share of useful service. Besides, what need would there be for anyone to save?'
'I've read somewhere,' said Harlow, 'that whenever a Government in any country has started issuing paper money it has always led to bankruptcy.
'The paper money that will be issued under a Socialist Administration will not be a promise to pay in gold or silver. It will be a promise to supply commodities, and as there could be no dearth of those things there could be no possibility of bankruptcy.'
'I should like to know who's goin' to appoint the hofficers of this 'ere hindustrial harmy,' said the man on the pail. 'We don't want to be bullied and chased about by a lot of sergeants and corporals like a lot of soldiers, you know.'
'Under Socialism the workers will be part of the community; the officers or managers and foremen will be the servants of the community, and if any one of these men were to abuse his position he could be promptly removed.'
'How are you goin' to prevent the selfish and cunnin', as you call 'em, from gettin' on top THEN as they do now?' said Harlow.
'The fact that all workers will receive the same pay, no matter what class of work they are engaged in, or what their position, will ensure our getting the very best man to do all the higher work and to organize our business.'
Crass laughed: 'What! Everybody to get the same wages?'
'Yes: there will be such an enormous quantity of everything produced, that their wages will enable everyone to purchase abundance of everything they require.'
'Is there any more questions?' demanded Philpot.
'Yes,' said Harlow. 'If there won't be no extry pay, what encouragement will there be for anyone to worry his brains out trying to invent some new machine, or make some new discovery?'
'Well,' said Barrington, 'Under Socialism the principal incentive to great work will be the same as now - Honour and Praise. But, under the present system, Honour and Praise can be bought with money.
'What would you do with them what spends all their money in drink?' asked Slyme.
'Under Socialism there will be no such class as this. Everyone will be educated, and social life and rational pleasure will be within the reach of all.'
'What,' demanded a loud voice, 'what of them wot WON'T WORK'!'
'I can assure you that we would not treat them as you treat them now. We would not dress them up in silk and satin and fine linen: we would not embellish them, as you do, with jewels of gold and silver; neither should we allow them to fare sumptuously every day. In the Co-operative Commonwealth there will be no place for loafers; whether they call themselves aristocrats or tramps.'
'I should like to know who's goin' to do all the dirty work?' said Slyme. 'Who'd be fool enough to choose to be a scavenger, a sweep, a dustman or a sewer man?'
'It would be very easy to deal with any difficulty of that sort,' replied Barrington, 'if we found that we could not get any men; we should make life easier in that department, say reducing the working day to four hours, or if necessary to two.
'What about religion?' said Slyme. 'I suppose there won't be no churches nor chapels; we shall all have to be atheists.'
'Everybody will be perfectly free to enjoy their own opinions and to practise any religion they like; but no religion or sect will be maintained by the State.
'Is it true,' said Easton, 'that Socialists intend to do away with the Army and Navy?'
'Yes; it is true. Socialists believe in International Brotherhood and peace. Nearly all wars are caused by profit-seeking capitalists and by aristocrats who make it the means of glorifying themselves in the eyes of the deluded common people. Socialists advocate the establishment of a National Citizen Army, for defensive purposes only.
'I'll second that,' said Easton.
The next morning after breakfast, Philpot, Sawkins, Harlow and Barrington went to the Yard to get the long ladder - the 65 - so called because it had sixty-five rungs. It was really what is known as a builder's scaffold ladder, not at all suitable for painters' work, being altogether too heavy. However, as none of the others were long enough to reach the high gable at the 'Refuge' they were working on, they managed, with a struggle, to put it on one of the handcarts and soon passed through the streets of mean and dingy.
At a signal from Crass, Dawson and Sawkins began to haul on the rope, and the top of the ladder began to rise slowly into the air.
For a brief space they strove fiercely to support the overpowering weight, but Philpot had no strength, and the ladder, swaying over to the left, crashed down, crushing him upon the ground and against the wall of the house. He fell face downwards, with the ladder across his shoulders; the side that had iron bands round it fell across the back of his neck, forcing his face against the bricks at the base of the wall. He uttered no cry and was quite still, with blood streaming from the cuts on his face and trickling from his ears.
Philpot was dead, and, even in death, now prey to the money-grubbing rivalries of undertakers.
Now and then, whenever a 'job' 'came in', a few of Rushton's men were able to put in a few hours' work, but Barrington never went back. His manner of life was the subject of much speculation on the part of his former workmates, who were not a little puzzled by the fact that he was much better dressed than they had ever known him to be before, and that he was never without money. He generally had a tanner or a bob to lend, and was always ready to stand a drink, to say nothing of what it must have cost him for the quantities of Socialist pamphlets and leaflets that he gave away broadcast.
About the middle of October an event happened that drew the town into a state of wild excitement, and such comparatively unimportant subjects as unemployment and starvation were almost forgotten. Sir Graball D'Encloseland had been promoted to yet a higher post in the service of the country, and a higher and more honourable salary. In consequence, it was necessary for him to resign his seat and seek re-election. The town was soon deluged with mendacious literature and smothered with huge posters:
For the Liberals there was; 'Vote for Adam Sweater! The Working-man's Friend! Free Trade and Cheap Food.' Or, for the Tories; 'Vote for D'Encloseland: Tariff Reform and Plenty of Work!'
This beautiful idea - 'Plenty of Work' - appealed strongly to the Tory workmen. They did not think it right that they should Live, and enjoy the benefits of civilization. All they desired for themselves and their children was 'Plenty of Work'.
Barrington, Owen and a few others who had subscribed enough money between them to purchase a lot of Socialist leaflets, employed themselves distributing them to the crowds at the Liberal and Tory meetings. In their attempts to persuade others to refrain from voting for either of the candidates, they were opposed even by some who professed to believe in Socialism, who said that as there was no better Socialist candidate the thing to do was to vote for the better of the two.
Barrrington was puzzled to see a young man with a scar he recognised as one of the bicycling Socialists here speaking for the Liberals, and confronted him.
The man with the scar laughed, and thrusting his hand into his trouser pocket drew it out again full of silver coins.
'That is my reason. I'm looking after myself now. Look here: you're a Socialist; well, I'm a Socialist too: that is, I have sense enough to believe that Socialism is practical and inevitable and right; it will come when the majority of the people are sufficiently enlightened to demand it, but that enlightenment will never be brought about by reasoning or arguing with them, for these people are simply not intellectually capable of abstract reasoning--they can't grasp theories. You know what the late Lord Salisbury said about them when somebody proposed to give them some free libraries: He said: "They don't want libraries: give them a circus." You see these Liberals and Tories understand the sort of people they have to deal with; they know that although their bodies are the bodies of grown men, their minds are the minds of little children. That is why it has been possible to deceive and bluff and rob them for so long.'
In the end...
Sweater - 4,221 votes
D'Encloseland - 4,200 votes
Truly the wolves have an easy prey.
As the unemployed workmen stood in groups at the corners or walked aimlessly about the streets, they often saw Hunter pass by on his bicycle, looking worried and harassed. At intervals - whenever a job came in - Owen, Crass, Slyme, Sawkins and one or two others, continued to be employed at Rushton's, but they seldom managed to make more than two or three days a week, even when there was anything to do.
During all this time Hunter, who looked more worried and miserable as the dreary weeks went by, was occupied every day in supervising what work was being done and in running about seeking for more. Nearly every night he remained at the office until a late hour, poring over specifications and making out estimates. The police had become so accustomed to seeing the light in the office that as a rule they took no notice of it, but one Thursday night the constable on the beat observed the light there much later than usual.
It was an easy task for the burly policeman to force open the office door: a single push of his shoulder wrenched it from its fastenings and as it flew back the socket of the lock fell with a splash into a great pool of blood that had accumulated against the threshold, flowing from the place where Hunter was lying on his back, his arms extended and his head nearly severed from his body. On the floor, close to his right hand, was an open razor. An overturned chair lay on the floor by the side of the table where he usually worked, the table itself being littered with papers and drenched with blood.
These papers justified the subsequent verdict of the Coroner's jury that Hunter committed suicide in a fit of temporary insanity, for they were covered with a lot of meaningless scribbling, the words wrongly spelt and having no intelligible connection with each other.
The revulsion of feeling that Barrington experienced during the progress of the election was intensified by the final result. The blind, stupid, enthusiastic admiration displayed by the philanthropists for those who exploited and robbed them; their extraordinary apathy with regard to their own interests; the patient, broken-spirited way in which they endured their sufferings. He felt like a criminal because he was warmly clad and well fed in the midst of all this want and unhappiness.
One evening, he set off to see Owen, stopping by the way to 'play santa' to the working-men's children he saw staring sadly in the toyshop window.
Owen had not been doing very well during these last few months. Most of the money he earned went for rent, to pay which they often had to go short of food. Lately his chest had become so bad that the slightest exertion brought on fits of coughing and breathlessness, which made it almost impossible to work even when he had the opportunity.
When Barrington came in Owen was sitting in a deck-chair by the fire in the sitting-room. He had been to work that day with Harlow, washing off the ceilings and stripping the old paper from the walls of two rooms in Rushton's home, and he looked very haggard and exhausted.
'I have never told you before,' said Barrington, after they had been talking for a while, 'but I suppose you have guessed that I did not work for Rushton because I needed to do so in order to live. I just wanted to see things for myself. My father is a wealthy man. He doesn't approve of my opinions, but I have a fairly liberal allowance which I spent in my own way. I'm going to pass Christmas with my own people, but in the spring I intend to fit out a Socialist Van, and then I shall come back here, and we'll start a branch of the party.'
Owen's eye kindled and his pale face flushed. Barrington took his leave shortly afterwards. His train left at eight; and he requested that the boy might be permitted to go a little way with him.
There was a stationer's shop at the end of the street. He went in here and bought a sheet of notepaper and an envelope, and, having borrowed the pen and ink, wrote a letter which he gave to the boy.
When he arrived home, his father opened it;
'Enclosed you will find two bank-notes, one for ten pounds and the other for five. The first I beg you will accept from me for yourself in the same spirit that I offer it, and as I would accept it from you if our positions were reversed. If I were in need, I know that you would willingly share with me whatever you had and I could not hurt you by refusing. The other note I want you to change tomorrow morning. Give three pounds of it to Mrs Linden and the remainder to Bert White's mother.
'Wishing you all a happy Xmas and hoping to find you well and eager for the fray when I come back in the spring,
'Yours for the cause,
The gloomy shadows enshrouding the streets, concealing for the time their grey and mournful air of poverty and hidden suffering, and the black masses of cloud gathering so menacingly in the tempestuous sky, seemed typical of the Nemesis which was overtaking the Capitalist System.
But from these ruins was surely growing the glorious fabric of the Co-operative Commonwealth. Mankind, awaking from the long night of bondage and mourning and arising from the dust wherein they had lain prone so long, were at last looking upward to the light that was riving asunder and dissolving the dark clouds which had so long concealed from them the face of heaven. The light that will shine upon the world wide Fatherland and illumine the gilded domes and glittering pinnacles of the beautiful cities of the future, where men shall dwell together in true brotherhood and goodwill and joy.
● Copyright © 2014 Glyn Hughes.
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