Sybil/Book 6/Chapter 8

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Sybil by Benjamin Disraeli
Book 6/Chapter 8


"Life's a tumbleabout thing of ups and downs," said Widow Carey stirring her tea, "but I have been down this time longer than I can ever remember."

"Nor ever will get up, Widow," said Julia at whose lodgings herself and several of Julia's friends had met, "unless we have the Five Points."

"I will never marry any man who is not for the Five Points," said Caroline.

"I should be ashamed to marry any one who had not the suffrage," said Harriet.

"He is no better than a slave," said Julia.

The widow shook her head. "I don't like these politics," said the good woman, "they bayn't in a manner business for our sex."

"And I should like to know why?" said Julia. "Ayn't we as much concerned in the cause of good government as the men? And don't we understand as much about it? I am sure the Dandy never does anything without consulting me."

"It's fine news for a summer day," said Caroline, "to say we can't understand politics with a Queen on the throne."

"She has got her ministers to tell her what to do," said Mrs Carey, taking a pinch of snuff. "Poor innocent young creature, it often makes my heart ache to think how she is beset."

"Over the left," said Julia. "If the ministers try to come into her bed-chamber, she knows how to turn them to the right about."

"And as for that," said Harriet, "why are we not to interfere with politics as much as the swell ladies in London?"

"Don't you remember, too, at the last election here," said Caroline, "how the fine ladies from the Castle came and canvassed for Colonel Rosemary?"

"Ah!" said Julia, "I must say I wish the Colonel had beat that horrid Muddlefist. If we can't have our own man, I am all for the Nobs against the Middle Class."

"We'll have our own man soon, I expect," said Harriet. "If the people don't work, how are the aristocracy to pay the police?"

"Only think!" said Widow Carey shaking her head. "Why, at your time of life, my dears, we never even heard of these things, much less talked of them."

"I should think you didn't, widow, and because why?" said Julia; "because there was no march of mind then. But we know the time of day now as well as any of them."

"Lord, my dear," said Mrs Carey; "what's the use of all that? What we want is, good wages and plenty to do; and as for the rest, I don't grudge the Queen her throne, nor the noblemen and gentlemen their good things. Live and let live say I."

"Why, you are a regular oligarch, widow," said Harriet.

"Well, Miss Harriet," replied Mrs Carey, a little nettled; "'tisn't calling your neighbours names that settles any question. I'm quite sure that Julia will agree to that, and Caroline too. And perhaps I might call you something if I chose, Miss Harriet; I've heard things said before this, that I should blush to say, and blush to hear too. But I won't demean myself, no I won't. Holly-hock, indeed! Why holly-hock?"

At this moment entered the Dandy and Devilsdust.

"Well young ladies," said the Dandy. "A-swelling the receipt of customs by the consumption of Congo! That won't do, Julia; it won't, indeed. Ask Dusty. If you want to beat the enemy, you must knock up the revenue. How d'ye do, widow?"

"The same to you, Dandy Mick. We is deploring the evils of the times here in a neighbourly way."

"Oh, the times will soon mend," said the Dandy gaily. "Well, so I think," said the widow; "for when things are at the worst, they always say—"

But you always say they cannot mend, Mick," said Julia interrupting her.

"Why in a sense, Julia, in a certain sense, you are right; but there are two senses to everything, my girl," and Mick began singing, and then executed a hornpipe to the gratification of Julia and her guests.

"'Tis genteel," said Mick, receiving their approbation. "You remember it at the Circus?"

"I wonder when we shall have the Circus again?" said Caroline.

"Not with the present rate of wages," said Devilsdust.

"It's very hard," said Caroline, "that the Middle Class are always dropping our wages. One really has no amusements now. How I do miss the Temple!"

"We'll have the Temple open again before long," said the Dandy.

"That will be sweet," exclaimed Caroline. "I often dream of that foreign nobleman who used to sing, 'Oh, no, we never!'"

"Well, I cannot make out what puts you in such spirits, Mick," said Julia. "You told me only this morning that the thing was up, and that we should soon be slaves for life; working sixteen hours a day for no wages, and living on oatmeal porridge and potatoes, served out by the millocrats like a regular Bastile."

"But, as Madam Carey says, when things are at the worst—"

"Oh! I did say it," said the widow, "surely, because you see, at my years, I have seen so many ups and downs, though I always say—"

"Come, Dusty," said Julia, "you are more silent than ever. You won't take a dish I know: but tell us the news, for I am sure you have something to say."

"I should think we had," said Dusty.

Here all the girls began talking at the same time, and without waiting for the intelligence, favouring one another with their guesses of its import.

"I am sure it's Shuffle and Screw going to work half time," said Harriet. "I always said so."

"It's something to put down the people," said Julia: "I suppose the Nobs have met, and are going to drop wages again."

"I think Dusty is going to be married," said Caroline.

"Not at this rate of wages I should hope," said Mrs Carey, getting in a word.

"I should think not," said Devilsdust. "You are a sensible woman, Mrs Carey. And I don't know exactly what you mean, Miss Caroline," he added, a little confused. For Devilsdust was a silent admirer of Caroline, and had been known to say to Mick, who told Julia, who told her friend, that if he ever found time to think of such things, that was the sort of girl he should like to make the partner of his life.

"But Dusty," said Julia, "now what is it?"

"Why, I thought you all knew," said Mick.

"Now, now," said Julia, "I hate suspense. I like news to go round like a fly-wheel."

"Well," said Devilsdust, dryly, "this is Saturday, young women, and Mrs Carey too, you will not deny that."

"I should think not," said Mrs Carey, "by the token I kept a stall for thirty year in our market, and never gave it up till this summer, which makes me always think that, though I have seen many ups and downs, this—"

"Well, what has Saturday to do with us?" said Caroline; "for neither Dandy Mick nor you can take us to the Temple, or any other genteel place, since they are all shut from the Corn Laws, or some other cause or other."

"I believe it's the machines more than the Corn Laws that have shut up the Temple," said Harriet. "Machines, indeed! Fancy preferring a piece of iron or wood to your own flesh and blood. And they call that Christianlike!"

"It is Saturday," said Julia, "sure enough; and if I don't lie in bed to-morrow till sunset, may I get a bate ticket for every day for a week to come."

"Well, go it my hearty," said Mick to Devilsdust. "It is Saturday, that they have all agreed."

"And to-morrow is Sunday," said Devilsdust solemnly. "And the next day is the blackest day in all the week," said Julia. "When I hear the factory bell on Monday morning, I feel just the same as I did when I crossed with my uncle from Liverpool to Seaton to eat shrimps. Wasn't I sick coming home, that's all!"

"You won't hear that bell sound next Monday," said Devilsdust solemnly.

"You don't mean that?" said Julia.

"Why, what's the matter?" said Caroline. "Is the Queen dead?"

"No bell on Monday morning," said Mrs Carey, incredulously.

"Not a single ring if all the Capitalists in Mowbray were to pull together at the same rope," said Devilsdust.

"What can it be?" said Julia. "Come, Mick; Dusty is always so long telling us anything."

"Why we are going to have the devil's own strike," said Mick unable any longer to contain himself and dancing with glee.

"A strike!" said Julia.

"I hope they will destroy the machines," said Harriet.

"And open the Temple," said Caroline, "or else it will be very dull."

"I have seen a many strikes," said the widow, "but as Chaffing Jack was saying to me the other day—"

"Chaffing Jack be hanged," said Mick. "Such a slow coach won't do in these high-pressure times. We are going to do the trick and no mistake. There shan't be a capitalist in England who can get a day's work out of us, even if he makes the operatives his junior partners."

"I never heard of such things," said Mrs Carey in amazement.

"It's all booked, though," said Devilsdust. "We'll clean out the Savings' Banks; the Benefits and Burials will shell out. I am treasurer of the Ancient Shepherds, and we passed a resolution yesterday unanimously, that we would devote all our funds to the sustenance of Labour in this its last and triumphant struggle against Capital."

"Lor!" said Caroline, "I think it will be very jolly."

"As long as you can give us money, I don't care, for my part, how long we stick out," said Julia.

"Well," said Mrs Carey, "I didn't think there was so much spirit in the place. As Chaffing Jack was saying the other day—"

"There is no spirit in the place," said Devilsdust, "but we mean to infuse some. Some of our friends are going to pay you a visit to-morrow."

"And who may they be?" said Caroline.

"To-morrow is Sunday," said Devilsdust, "and the miners mean to say their prayers in Mowbray Church."

"Well, that will be a shindy!" said Caroline.

"It's a true bill, though," said Mick. "This time to-morrow you will have ten thousand of them in this town, and if every mill and work in it and ten mile round is not stopped, my name is not MICK RADLEY!"