Page:Melbourne and Mars.djvu/10

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8
MELBOURNE AND MARS.

Mother always kept a bit of money by her for a rainy day when we were comparatively well off; but a time frame when all was spent, and we had only bread, dripping, porridge and skim milk and a few vegetables to live upon; meat and butter, eggs and cheese we seldom saw, and as a result we became weaker and lower in health, and lived dull and hopeless lives. Our faces grew pale and our clothing shabby, and when we tried to sing on Sunday afternoons our voices almost cried.

Power-loom weavers earned more than we did, and so it was decided that we should go to the mill. My two sisters went to weaving, and I and my brother to spinning. We worked from five in the morning to seven at night, and had to snatch our meals. The four of us earned a little more than a pound a week. This enabled us to live more liberally, or would have done if we had had time to eat and enjoy life. Our lives were all work and sleep, and we had much unkind treatment from our employers. Father seemed to undergo a change. His garden did not interest him. We seemed to have fallen upon lawless times. Our garden beds were pillaged when there was anything worth taking, and hard times and poverty made men mad. Bread was dear, wages were low, and all the people were quarrelsome and unhappy. The air was full of storm; men gathered at street corners and in pothouses and talked excitedly about politics and the price of corn.

Father spent some of his time this way, and got mixed up with a lot of men whom he would have cared little to meet a few years before. Poverty works such changes. These men were ground down on all hands by the action of laws that they neither made nor sanctioned, and being ignorant they became the prey of demagogues who put their one sided statements before them. The result was the production of a crop of men ready for any crime, and especially for acts of personal violence.

About this time an election took place. Party feeling ran high. Men wore the colors of their candidates conspicuously displayed, and street fights became very common. In those several men were severely injured, and some were killed outright. For the election day special constables were sworn in, and a body of troops were sent for and held in readiness. The mills were stopped, the shops closed. The polling booths were a constant scene of riot, disorder and sometimes bloodshed. Mother kept us at home all day, and tried lo persuade father to stay at home too; but he went to record his vote in Penny-street in the afternoon, promising to come back before tea and tell us the news. Teatime came, but no father; bedtime, and still no father. Knowing that we had to be at work at five o'clock next morning mother sent us to bed and waited up alone. Waited till the day broke and until we had gone to work. It was the first time that father had spent a night away from home, and he had never to spend another night there.

At a little before the time for closing the poll father was coming out of