Ragged Trousered Philanthropists/Chapter 19
During the following week the work at 'The Cave' progressed rapidly towards completion, although the hours of daylight were now so few that the men worked only from 8 a.m. till 4 p.m., and had their breakfast before they came. This made forty hours a week, so that those who were paid sevenpence an hour earned £1 3s. 4d, those who got sixpence-halfpenny drew £1 1s. 8d, those whose wages were fivepence an hour were paid the princely sum of 16s. 8d. for their week's hard labour, and those whose rate was fourpence halfpenny 'picked up' 15s.
And yet there are people who say that Drink is the cause of poverty.
By Tuesday night all the inside work was finished with the exception of the kitchen and scullery. The painting of the kitchen had been delayed owing to the non-arrival of the new cooking range, and the scullery was still used as the paint shop. The outside work was also progressing rapidly, for though, according to the specification, all the outside woodwork was supposed to have three coats, and the guttering, rain pipes and other ironwork, two coats, Crass and Hunter had arranged to make two coats do for most of the windows and woodwork, and all the ironwork had one coat only. The windows were painted in two colours, the sashes dark green and the frames white. All the rest—gables, doors, railings, guttering, etc.—was dark green; and all the dark green paint was made with boiled linseed oil and varnish, no turpentine being allowed.
'This is some bloody fine stuff to 'ave to use, ain't it?' remarked Harlow to Philpot on Wednesday morning. 'It's more like a lot of treacle than anything else.'
'Yes; and it won't arf blister next summer when it gets a bit of sun on it,' replied Philpot with a grin.
'I suppose they're afraid that if they was to put a little turps in it wouldn't bear out, and they'd 'ave to give it another coat.'
'You can bet yer life that's the reason,' said Philpot; 'but all the same I mean to pinch a drop to put in mine as soon as Crass is gorn.'
'Why, didn't you know? There's another funeral on to-day.'
'I reckon Crass and Slyme must be making a small fortune out of all these 'ere funerals,' said Harlow; 'this makes the fourth in the last fortnight. What is it they gets for 'em?'
'A shillin' for takin' 'ome the corfin and liftin' in the corpse, and four bob for the funeral five bob altogether.'
'That's a bit of all right, ain't it?' said Harlow. 'A couple of them in a week besides your week's wages. Five bob for two or three hours' work!'
'Yes, the money's all right, mate, but they're welcome to it for my part. I don't want to go messin' about with no corpses,' replied Philpot, with a shudder.
'Who is this last party what's dead?' asked Harlow. after a pause.
'It's a parson what used to belong to the Shinin' Light Chapel. He'd been abroad for 'is 'olerdays. It seems 'e was ill before 'e went away, but the change did 'im a lot of good; in fact, 'e was quite recovered, and 'e was coming back again. But while 'e was standin' on the platform waitin' for the train, a porter runned into 'im with a barrer load o' luggage, and 'e blowed up.'
'Yes,' repeated Philpot solemnly. 'Blowed up! Busted! Exploded! All into pieces. But they swep 'em all up and put it in a corfin and it's to be planted this afternoon.'
Harlow maintained an awestruck silence, and Philpot continued:
'I had a drink the other night with a butcher bloke what used to serve this parson with meat, and we was talkin' about what a strange sort of death it was, but 'e said 'e wasn't at all surprised to 'ear of it; the only thing as 'e wondered at was that the man didn't blow up long ago, considerin 'the amount of grub as 'e used to make away with. He ses the quantities of stuff as 'e's took there and seen other tradesmen take was something chronic. Tons of it!'
'What was the parson's name?' asked Harlow.
'Belcher. You must 'ave noticed 'im about the town. A very fat chap,' replied Philpot. 'I'm sorry you wasn't 'ere on Saturday to see the corfin plate. Frank called me in to see the wordin' when 'e'd finished it. It had on: "Jonydab Belcher. Born January 1st 1849. Ascended, December 8th 19__"'
'Oh, I know the bloke now!' cried Harlow. 'I remember my youngsters bringin' 'ome a subscription list what they'd got up at the Sunday School to send 'im away for a 'olerday because 'e was ill, and I gave 'em a penny each to put on their cards because I didn't want 'em to feel mean before the other young 'uns. It seems to be gettin' colder, don't it?'
'It's enough to freeze the ears orf a brass monkey!' remarked Easton as he descended from a ladder close by, and placing his pot of paint on the ground began to try to warm his hands by rubbing and beating them together. He was trembling, and his teeth were chattering with cold.
'I could just do with a nice pint o' beer, now,' he said as he stamped his feet on the ground.
'That's just what I was thinkin',' said Philpot wistfully, 'and what's more, I mean to 'ave one, too, at dinner time. I shall nip down to the "Cricketers." Even if I don't get back till a few minutes after one, it won't matter, because Crass and Nimrod will be gorn to the funeral.'
'Will you bring me a pint back with you, in a bottle?' asked Easton.
'Yes, certainly,' said Philpot.
Harlow said nothing. He also would have liked a pint of beer, but, as was usual with him, he had not the necessary cash.
Having restored the circulation to a certain extent, they now resumed their work, and only just in time, for a few minutes afterwards they observed Misery peeping at them round the corner of the house and they wondered how long he had been there and whether he had overheard their conversation.
At twelve o'clock Crass and Slyme cleared off in a great hurry, and a little while afterwards Philpot took off his apron and put on his coat to go to 'The Cricketers.' When the others found out where he was going, several of them asked him to bring back a drink for them, and then someone suggested that all those who wanted some beer should give twopence each. This was done: one shilling and fourpence was collected and given to Philpot, who was to bring back a gallon of beer in a jar. He promised to get back as soon as ever he could, and some of the shareholders decided not to drink any tea with their dinners, but to wait for the beer, although they knew that it would be nearly time to resume work before he could get back. It would be a quarter to one at the very earliest.
The minutes dragged slowly by, and after a while the only man on the job who had a watch began to lose his temper and refused to answer any more enquiries concerning the time. So presently Bert was sent up to the top of the house to look at a church clock which was visible therefrom, and when he came down he reported that it was ten minutes to one.
Symptoms of anxiety now began to manifest themselves amongst the shareholders, several of whom went down to the main road to see if Philpot was yet in sight, but each returned with the same report—they could see nothing of him.
No one was formally 'in charge' of the job during Grass's absence, but they all returned to their work promptly at one because they feared that Sawkins or some other sneak might report any irregularity to Crass or Misery.
At a quarter past one Philpot was still missing and the uneasiness of the shareholders began to develop into a panic. Some of them plainly expressed the opinion that he had gone on the razzle with the money. As the time wore on this became the general opinion. At two o'clock, all hope of his return having been abandoned, two or three of the shareholders went and drank some of the cold tea.
Their fears were only too well founded, for they saw no mere of Philpot till the next morning, when he arrived looking very sheepish and repentant and promised to refund all the money on Saturday. He also made a long rambling statement from which it appeared that on his way to the 'Cricketers' he met a couple of chaps whom he knew who were out of work, and he invited them to come and have a drink. When they got to the pub they found there the Semi-Drunk and the Besotted Wretch. One drink led to another, and then they started arguing, and he had forgotten all about the gallon of beer until he woke up this morning.
Whilst Philpot was making this explanation they were putting on their aprons and blouses and Crass was serving out the lots of colour. Slyme took no part in the conversation, but got ready as quickly as possible and went outside to make a start. The reason for this haste soon became apparent to some of the others, for they noticed that he had selected and commenced painting a large window that was so situated as to be sheltered from the keen wind that was blowing.
The basement of the house was slightly below the level of the ground and there was a sort of a trench or area about three feet deep in front of the basement windows. The banks of this trench were covered with rose trees and evergreens, and the bottom was a mass of slimy, evil smelling, rain-sodden earth. To second coat these windows Philpot and Harlow had to stand in all this filth, which soaked through their worn and broken boot soles. As they worked, the thorns of the rose trees caught and tore their clothing and scratched the flesh of their half-frozen hands.
Owen and Easton were working on ladders at the windows immediately above Philpot and Harlow; Sawkins, on another ladder, was painting one of the gables, and the other men were busy at different parts of the outside of the house; and the boy Bert was painting the iron railings of the front fence. The weather was bitterly cold and a dreary expanse of grey cloud covered the wintry sky.
As the men worked they stood almost motionless, their right arms being the only part of their bodies that was exercised. The window painting required great care and deliberation, otherwise the glass would be 'messed up,' or the white paint of the frames would 'run into' the dark green of the sashes, for both colours were wet at the same time, each man having two pots of paint and two sets of brushes. The wind was not blowing in sudden gusts, but swept by in a strong persistent current that penetrated their clothing and left them trembling and numb with cold. It blew from the right, and this added to their discomfort, because the uplifted right arm left that side of the body fully exposed. They were able to keep their left hands in their trousers pockets and the left arm close to the side most of the time, which made a lot of difference.
Another reason why it is worse for the wind to strike from the right is that the buttons on a man's coat are always on the right side and consequently the wind gets underneath. Philpot realised this all the more because some of the buttons of his coat and waistcoat were missing.
As they worked on, trembling with cold, and with their teeth chattering, their faces and hands turned that pale violet colour generally seen on the lips of a corpse. Their eyes became full of water and the lids were red and inflamed. Philpot's and Harlow's boots were soon wet through, and their feet were sore and intensely painful with cold.
Their hands, of course, suffered the most, becoming so numbed that they were unable to feel the brushes they held; in fact, presently, as Philpot was taking a dip of colour, the brush fell into the pot, and then, finding that he was unable to move his fingers, he put his hand into his trousers pocket to thaw, and began to walk about, stamping his feet upon the ground. His example was quickly followed by Owen, Easton, and Harlow, and they all went round the corner to the sheltered side of the house where Slyme was working, and began walking up and down, rubbing their hands, stamping their feet, and swinging their arms to warm themselves.
'If I thought Nimrod wasn't comin', I'd put my overcoat on and work in it,' remarked Philpot, 'but you never knows when to expect the blighter, and if 'e saw me in it, it would mean the bloody push.'
'It wouldn't interfere with our workin' if we did wear 'em,' said Easton, 'in fact, we'd be able to work all the quicker if we wasn't so cold.'
'Even if Misery didn't come, I suppose Crass would 'ave something to say if we put 'em on,' continued Philpot.
'Well, yer couldn't blame 'im if 'e did say something, could yer?' said Slyme, offensively. 'Crass would get into a row 'imself if 'Unter came and saw us workin' in overcoats. It would look ridiclus.'
Slyme suffered less from the cold than any of them, not only because he had secured the most sheltered window, but also because he was better clothed than most of the rest.
'What's Crass supposed to be doin' inside?' asked Easton, as he tramped up and down, with his shoulders hunched up and his hands thrust deep into the pockets of his trousers.
'Blowed if I know,' replied Philpot; 'messin' about touchin up or makin' colour. He never does 'is share of a job like this; 'e knows 'ow to work things all right for 'isself.'
'What if 'e does? We'd do the same if we was in 'is place, and so would anybody else,' said Slyme, and added sarcastically: 'or p'raps you'd give all the soft jobs to other people and do all the rough yerself!'
Slyme knew that although they were speaking of Crass they were also alluding to himself, and as he replied to Philpot he looked slyly at Owen, who had so far taken no part in the conversation.
'It's not a question of what we would do,' chimed in Harlow, 'it's a question of what's fair. If it's not fair for Crass to pick all the soft jobs for 'imself and leave all the rough for the other chaps, it wouldn't make it any more right for us to do the same if we 'ad the chance.'
'No one can be blamed for doing the best he can for himself under existing circumstances,' said Owen, in reply to Slyme's questioning look. 'That is the principle of the present system—every man for himself and the devil take the rest. For my own part I don't pretend to practise unselfishness. I don't pretend to guide my actions by the rules laid down in the Sermon on the Mount. But it's certainly surprising to hear you, who profess to be a follower of Christ, advocating selfishness; or rather, it would be surprising except that the name of "Christian" has ceased to signify one who follows Christ, and has come to mean only liar and hypocrite.'
Slyme made no answer. Possibly the fact that he was a true believer enabled him to bear this insult with meekness and humility.
'I wonder what time it is?' interposed Philpot.
Slyme looked at his watch. It was nearly ten o'clock.
'Jesus Christ! is that all?' growled Easton as they returned to work. 'Two hours more!'
The wind blew colder and colder. The sky, which at first had shown small patches of blue through rifts in the masses of clouds, had now become uniformly grey. There was every indication of an impending fall of snow.
The men perceived this with conflicting feelings. If it did begin to snow they would not be able to continue this work, and therefore they found themselves involuntarily wishing that it would snow, or rain, or hail, or anything that would stop the work. But on the other hand, if the weather prevented them getting on with the outside, some of them would have to 'stand off', because the inside was practically finished. None of them wished to lose any 'time' if they could help it, because there were only ten days more before Christmas.
Twelve o'clock came at last, and almost before Grass's whistle had ceased to sound the men were all assembled in the kitchen before a roaring fire. Sweater had sent in two tons of coal, and had given orders that large fires were to be lit each day in nearly every room to make the house habitable by Christmas.
'I wonder if it's true as the firm's got another job to do for old Sweater?' remarked Harlow, as he was toasting a bloater on the end of a pointed stick.
'True? No!' said the man on the pail scornfully. 'It's all bogey. You know that empty 'ouse as they said Sweater 'ad bought—the one that Rushton and Nimrod was seen lookin'at?'
'Yes,' replied Harlow. The other men listened with evident interest.
'Well, they wasn't pricing it up at all! The landlord of that 'ouse is abroad, and there was some plants in the garden as Rushton thought 'e'd like, and 'e was tellin' Misery which ones 'e wanted. And afterwards old Pontius Pilate came up with Ned Dawson and a truck. They made two or three journeys and took bloody near everything in the garden as was worth takin'. What didn't go to Rushton's place went to 'Unter's.'
The disappointment of their hopes for another job was almost forgotten in their interest in this story.
'Who told you about it?' said Harlow.
'Ned Dawson 'imself. It's right enough what I say. Ask 'im.'
Ned Dawson, usually called 'Bundy's mate', had been doing odd jobs at the yard, and had only come back to 'The Cave' that morning, and on being appealed to he corroborated Dick Wantley's statement.
'They'll be gettin' theirselves into trouble if they ain't careful,' remarked Easton.
'Oh no, they won't; Rushton's too artful for that. It seems the agent is a pal of 'is, and they worked it between 'em.'
'Wot a bloody cheek, though!' exclaimed Harlow.
'Oh, that's nothing to some o' the things I've knowed 'em do before now,' said the man on the pail. 'Why, don't you remember, back in the summer, that carved hoak hall table as Rushton pinched out of that 'ouse on Grand Parade?'
'Yes, that was a bit of all right, too, wasn't it?' cried Philpot, and several of the others laughed.
'You know, that big 'ouse we did up last summer—No 596,' Wantley continued, for the benefit of those not 'in the know'. 'Well, it 'ad bin empty for a long time, and we found this 'ere table in a cupboard under the stairs. A bloody fine table it was, too. One of them bracket tables what you fix to the wall, without no legs. It 'ad a 'arf round marble top to it, and underneath was a carved hoak figger, a mermaid, with 'er arms up over 'er 'ead 'oldin' up the table top—something splendid! Must 'ave been worth at least five quid. Well, just as we pulled this 'ere table out, who should come in but Rushton, and when 'e seen it 'e tells Crass to cover it over with a sack and not to let nobody see it. And then 'e clears orf to the shop and sends the boy down with the truck and 'as it took up to 'is own 'ouse; and it's there now, fixed in the front 'all. I was sent up there a couple of months ago to paint and varnish the lobby doors, and I seen it meself. There's a pitcher called "The Day of Judgmint" 'angin' on the wall just over it—thunder and lightnin' and earthquakes and corpses gettin' up out o' their graves—something bloody 'orrible; and underneath the picture is a card with a tex out of the Bible: "Christ is the 'ead of this 'ouse; the unknown guest at every meal, the silent listener to every conversation." I was workin' there for three or four days and I got to know it orf by 'eart.'
'Well, that takes the biskit, don't it?' said Philpot.
'Yes; but the best of it was,' the man on the pail proceeded; 'the best of it was, when ole Misery 'eard about the table, 'e was so bloody wild because 'e didn't get it 'imself that 'e went upstairs and pinched one of the venetian blinds, and 'ad it took up to 'is own 'ouse by the boy, and a few days arterwards one of the carpenters 'ad to go and fix it up in 'is bedroom.'
'And wasn't it never found out?' enquired Easton.
'Well, there was a bit of talk about it. The agent wanted to know where it was, but Pontius Pilate swore black and white as there 'adn't been no blind in that room, and the end of it was that the firm got the order to supply a new one.'
A number of similar stories were related by several others concerning the doings of their different employers, but after a time the conversation reverted to the subject that was uppermost in their thoughts—the impending slaughter, and the improbability of being able to obtain another job, considering the large number of men who were already out of employment.
'I can't make it out, myself,' remarked Easton; 'things seems to get worse every year. There don't seem to be 'arf the work about that there used to be, and even what there is is messed up anyhow, as if the people who 'as it done can't afford to pay for it.'
'You should ask Owen to explain it for yer,' said Crass, with a jeering laugh. ''E knows all about wot's the cause of poverty, but 'e won't tell nobody.'
Crass had never yet had an opportunity of producing the 'Obscurer' cutting, and he made this remark in the hope of turning the conversation into a convenient channel. But Owen did not respond, and went on reading his newspaper.
'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.'
The others laughed.
When Philpot had finished eating his dinner he went out of the kitchen and presently returned with a small pair of steps, which he opened and placed in a corner of the room, with the back of the steps facing the audience.
'There you are, me son!' he exclaimed to Owen. 'There's a pulpit for yer.'
'Yes! Come on 'ere!' cried Crass, feeling in his waistcoat pocket for the cutting. 'Tell us wot's the real cause of poverty.'
''Ear, 'ear!' shouted the man on the pail. 'Git up into the bloody pulpit and give us a sermon.'
As Owen made no response to these invitations the crowd began to hoot and groan.
'Come on, man,' whispered Philpot, winking his goggle eye persuasively at Owen; 'come on, just for a bit of fun, to pass the time away.'
Owen accordingly ascended the steps, much to the secret delight of Crass, and was immediately greeted with a round of enthusiastic applause.
Philpot having been unanimously elected Chairman, Owen commenced:
'Mr Chairman and Gentlemen, in some of my previous lectures I have endeavoured to convince you that money is in itself of no value and of no real use whatever. In this I am afraid I have been rather unsuccessful.'
'Not a bit of it, mate,' cried Crass, sarcastically; 'we all agrees with it.'
''Ear, 'ear!' shouted Easton. 'If a bloke was to come in 'ere now and orfer to give me a quid I'd refuse it!'
'So would I,' said Philpot.
'Well, whether you agree or not, the fact remains. A man might possess so much money that, in England, he would be comparatively rich, and yet if he went to some country where the cost of living is very high he would find himself in a condition of poverty. Or he might be in a place where the necessaries of life could not be bought for money at all. Therefore it follows that to be rich consists not necessarily in having much money, but in being able to enjoy an abundance of the things that are made by work; and that poverty consists not merely in being without money, but in being short of the necessaries and comforts of life—or in other words in being short of the Benefits of Civilisation, those things that are all, without exception, produced by work. Whether you agree or not with anything else that I say, you will all admit that that is our condition at the present time. We do not enjoy a full share of the benefits of civilisation—we are all in a state of more or less abject poverty.'
'And 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 in the country was shared out equal to-day, 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?'
'Share again, of course.'
This answer came derisively from several places at the same instant, and then they all began speaking at once, vicing with each other in ridiculing the foolishness of 'them there Socialists,' whom they called 'The Sharers Out.'
'I never said anything about "sharing out all the money,"' said Owen, during a lull in the storm, 'and I don't know of any Socialist who advocates it. Give me your authority for saying that Socialists believe in sharing out all the money equally!'
'Come to think of it,' remarked Crass, as he drew the 'Obscurer' cutting from his waistcoat pocket, 'I've got a little thing 'ere that I've been goin' to read to yer. It's out of the "Obscurer." I'd forgotten all about it.'
Remarking that the print was too small for his own eyes, he passed the slip of paper to Harlow, who read aloud as follows:
'PROVE YOUR PRINCIPLES; OR, LOOK
AT BOTH SIDES.
'I wish I could open your eyes to the true misery of our condition: injustice, tyranny, and oppression!' said a discontented hack to a weary looking cob, as they stood side by side in unhired cabs.
'I'd rather have them opened to something pleasant, thank you,' replied the cob.
'I am sorry for you. If you could enter into the noble aspirations—' the hack began.
'Talk plain. What would you have?' said the cob, interrupting him.
'What would I have? Why, equality, and share and share alike all over the world,' said the hack.
'You mean that?' said the cob.
'Of course I do. What right have those sleek, pampered hunters and racers to their warm stables and high feed, their grooms and jockeys? It is really heart-sickening to think of it,' replied the hack.
'I don't know but you may be right,' said the cob; 'and to show I'm in earnest, as no doubt you are, let me have half the good beans you have in your bag, and you shall have half the musty oats and chaff I have in mine. There's nothing like proving one's principles.'—Original Parables by Mrs Prosser.'
'There you are!' cried several voices.
'What does that mean?' cried Crass, triumphantly. 'Why don't you go and share your wages with the chaps what's out of work?'
'What does it mean?' replied Owen, contemptuously. 'It means that if the Editor of the "Obscurer" put that in his paper as an argument against Socialism, either he is of feeble intellect himself or else he thinks that the majority of his readers are. That isn't, an argument against Socialism; it's an argument against the hypocrites who pretend to be Christians, the people who profess to "love their neighbours as themselves," who pretend to believe in "Universal Brotherhood" and who assert they do not love the world or the things of the world. As for why I don't do it—why should I? I don't pretend to be a Christian. But you're all "Christians"—why don't you do it?'
'We're not talkin' about religion,' exclaimed Crass, impatiently.
'Then what are you talking about? I never said anything about "sharing out" or "bearing one another's burdens." I don't profess to "give to everyone who asks of me" or to "give my cloak to the man who takes away my coat." I have read that Christ taught that his followers must do all these things, but as I do not pretend to be one of his followers I don't do them. But you believe in Christianity: why don't you do the things that He said?'
As nobody seemed to know the answer to this question, the lecturer proceeded:
'In this matter the difference between so-called "Christians" and Socialists is this: Christ taught the Fatherhood of God and the Brotherhood of men. Those who to-day pretend to be Christ's followers hypocritically profess to carry out those teachings now. But they don't. They have arranged "the Battle of Life" system instead!
'The Socialist—very much against his will—finds himself in the midst of this horrible battle, and he appeals to the other combatants to cease from fighting and to establish a system of Brotherly Love and Mutual Helpfulness, but he does not hypocritically pretend to practise brotherly love towards those who will not agree to his appeal and who compel him to fight with them for his very life. He knows that in this battle he must either fight or go under. Therefore, in self defence, he fights; but all the time he continues his appeal for the cessation of the slaughter. He pleads for the changing of the system. He advocates Co-operation instead of Competition. But how can he co-operate with people who insist on competing with him? No individual can practise cooperation by himself! Socialism can only be practised by the Community—that is the meaning of the word. At present, the other members of the Community—the "Christians"—deride and oppose the Socialist's appeal.
'No Socialist suggests "sharing out" money or anything else in the manner you say. And another thing: if you only had a little more sense you might be able to perceive that this stock "argument" of yours is really an argument against the present system, inasmuch as it proves that Money is in itself of no use whatever. Suppose all the money was shared out equally, and suppose there was enough of it for everyone to have ten thousand pounds; and suppose they then all thought they were rich and none of them would work. What would they live on? Their money? Could they eat it or drink it or wear it? It wouldn't take them very long to find out that this wonderful money, which under the present system is the most powerful thing in existence, is really of no more use than so much dirt. They would speedily perish, not from lack of money, but from lack of wealth—that is, from lack of the things that are made by work. And also it is quite true that if all the money were distributed equally amongst all the people to-morrow, it would all be up in heaps again in a very short time. But that only proves that while the present Money System remains it will be impossible to do away with poverty, for heaps in some places mean little or nothing in other places. Therefore while the money system lasts we are bound to have poverty and all the evils it brings in its train.'
'Oh, of course everybody's an idjit except you,' sneered Crass, who was beginning to feel rather fogged.
'I rise to a pint of order,' said Easton.
'And I rise to order a pint,' cried Philpot.
'Order what the bloody 'ell you like,' remarked Harlow, 'so long as I haven't got to pay for it.'
'Mine's a pint of porter,' observed the man on the pail.
'The pint is,' proceeded Easton, 'when does the lecturer intend to explain to us what is the real cause of poverty?'
''Ear, 'ear!' cried Harlow. 'That's what I want to know, too.'
'And what I should like to know is, who is supposed to be givin' this 'ere lecture?' enquired the man on the pail.
'Why, Owen, of course,' replied Harlow.
'Well, why don't you try to keep quiet for a few minutes and let 'im get on with it?'
'The next blighter wot interrupts,' cried Philpot, rolling up his shirt sleeves and glaring threateningly round upon the meeting, 'goes out through the bloody winder!'
At this everybody pretended to be very frightened, and edged away as far as possible from Philpot, except the man on the pail, who perhaps felt safer than the others because he was, as usual, surrounded by a moat.
'Poverty,' resumed the lecturer, 'consists of a shortage of the necessaries of life which are produced from the Raw Materials by the Workers, aided by Machinery.
'Now there is plenty of Raw Material, plenty of Labour, plenty of Machinery—and yet nearly everybody is going short of nearly everything.
'It is the Money System which is the cause of this shortage, which makes the worker starve in the midst of the means of abundance, and binds him in helpless idleness with a fetter of gold.
'Let us examine the details of this imbecile Money System.'
Owen took a piece of charred wood from the grate and drew a quadrangular figure on the wall.
|This represents the whole of the adult population of the country.|
'To discover the cause of shortage of the things that can be made by work, we must find how the people spend their time. This oblong represents the whole of the adult population of the country. All these people help to consume the things made by work, but though the majority are workers, only a comparatively small number actually produce the benefits of civilization, or the necessaries of life.'
The lecturer turned to the drawing on the wall to make some addition to it, then paused irresolutely and let his arm drop to his side.
He knew how unwilling his hearers were to think about such subjects as the cause of poverty. He knew they would ridicule what he said and refuse to try to understand his meaning if it was at all obscure. They would not worry their heads about such an unimportant matter; it would be different if it were a smutty story, or a game of hooks and rings or shove halfpenny, or some question concerning football, cricket or horseracing. The problem of the Cause of Poverty was only something that concerned their own and their children's welfare. Such an uninteresting subject must be put before them so plainly that they would be compelled to understand it at a glance, and this seemed almost impossible.
Observing his hesitation, some of the men began to snigger.
''E seems to 'ave got 'imself into a bit of a fog,' remarked Crass to Slyme, in a loud whisper; and both laughed.
The sound roused Owen, and he continued:
'This figure represents the adult population of this country. We will now divide them into separate classes. Those who help to produce, those who do nothing, those who do harm, and those who are engaged in unnecessary work.'
'And,' sneered Crass, 'those who are engaged in unnecessary talk.'
'First we will separate those who not only do nothing, but do not even pretend to be of any use, people who would consider themselves disgraced if they by any chance did any useful work. This class includes Tramps, Beggars, the Aristocracy, Society People, Great Landowners, and those people possessed of hereditary wealth generally.'
As he spoke he drew a vertical line across one end of the oblong.
|Tramps, Beggars, 'Society People,' The 'Aristocracy,' Great Landowners, All those possessed of hereditary Wealth.|||
'These people do absolutely nothing except devour or enjoy the things produced by the labour of others.
'Our next division represents those who do work of a kind—"mental" work if you like to call it so—work that benefits themselves and harms other people. Employers—or rather Exploiters—of Labour, Thieves, Swindlers, Pickpockets, profit-seeking Shareholders, Burglars, Bishops, Financiers, Capitalists, and those persons humourously called "Ministers" of religion. If you remember that the word "minister" means "servant", you will be able to see the joke. None of these people produce anything themselves, but by means of cunning and scheming they contrive between them to obtain possession of a very large portion of the things produced by the labour of others.
|Tramps, Beggars, 'Society People,' The 'Aristocracy,' Great Landowners, All those possessed of hereditary Wealth.||Exploiters of Labour, Thieves, Swindlers, Pickpockets, Burglars, Bishops, Financiers, Capitalists, Shareholders, 'Ministers' of Religion.|||
'Number three stands for those who work for wages or salaries, doing unnecessary work: that is, producing or doing things which, though useful and necessary to the Imbecile System, cannot be described as the necessaries of life or the benefits of civilisation. This is the largest section of all. It comprises Commercial Travellers, Canvassers, Insurance Agents, Commission Agents, the greater number of Shop Assistants, the majority of Clerks, Workmen employed in the construction and adornment of business premises, People occupied with what they call "Business", which means being very busy without producing anything. Then there is a vast army of people engaged in designing, composing, painting or printing advertisements, things which are for the most part of no utility whatever, the object of most advertisements being merely to persuade people to buy from one firm rather than another.'
During the delivery of this part of the lecture the audience began to manifest symptoms of impatience and dissent. Perceiving this, Owen, speaking very rapidly, continued:
|Tramps, Beggars, 'Society People,' The 'Aristocracy,' Great Landowners, All those possessed of hereditary Wealth.||Exploiters of Labour, Thieves, Swindlers, Pickpockets, Burglars, Bishops, Financiers, Capitalists, Shareholders, 'Ministers' of Religion.||All those engaged in
'If you go down town you will see half a dozen drapers' shops within a stone's throw of each other, all selling the same things. You can't possibly think that all those shops are really necessary? You know that one of them would serve the purpose for which they are all intended. If you will admit that five out of the six shops are really unnecessary, you must also admit that the men who built them, and the assistants engaged in them, and the men who design and write and print their advertisements, are all doing unnecessary work, wasting their time and labour, which might be employed in helping to produce those things we are short of at present. You must admit that none of these people are engaged in producing either the necessaries of life or the benefits of civilisation. They handle them, and haggle over them, and display them, and make profit out of them, but these people themselves produce nothing that is necessary to life or happiness, and the things that some of them do produce are only necessary to the present imbecile system.'
'What the 'ell sort of a bloody system do you think we ought to 'ave, then?' interrupted the man on the pail.
'Yes. You're very good at finding fault,' sneered Slyme, 'but why don't you tell us 'ow it's all going to be put right?'
'Well, that's not what we're talking about now, is it?' replied Owen. 'At present we're only trying to find out how it is that there is not sufficient produced for everyone to have enough of the things that are made by work. Although most of the people in number three work very hard they produce Nothing.'
'This is a lot of bloody rot!' exclaimed Crass, impatiently.
'Even if there is more shops than what's actually necessary,' cried Harlow, 'it all helps people to get a livin'! If half of 'em was shut up it would just mean that all them what works there would be out of a job. Live and let live, I say: all these things makes work.'
''Ear 'ear!' shouted the man behind the moat.
'Yes, I know it makes "work",' replied Owen, 'but we can't live on mere "work", you know. To live in comfort we need a sufficiency of the things that can be made by work. A man might work very hard and yet be wasting his time if he were not producing something necessary or useful.
'Why are there so many shops and stores and emporiums? Do you imagine they exist for the purpose of giving those who build them, or work in them, a chance to earn a living? Nothing of the sort. They are carried on, and exorbitant prices are charged for the goods, to enable the proprietors to amass fortunes, and to pay extortionate rents to the landlords. That is why the wages and salaries of nearly all those who do the work created by these businesses are cut down to the lowest possible point.
'We knows all about that,' said Crass, 'but you can't get away from it that all these things makes Work; and that's what we wants—Plenty of Work.'
Cries of ''Ear, 'ear' and expressions of dissent from the views expressed by the lecturer resounded through the room, nearly everyone speaking at the same time. After a while, when the row had in some measure subsided, Owen resumed:
'Nature has not provided ready made all the things necessary for the life and happiness of mankind. In order to obtain those things we have to Work. The only rational labour is that which is directed to the creation of those things. Any kind of work which does not help us to attain this object is a ridiculous, idiotic, criminal, imbecile waste of time.
'That is what the great army of people represented by division number three are doing at present; they are all very busy, working very hard, but to all useful intents and purposes they are doing Nothing.
'The next division stands for those who are engaged in really useful work: the production of the benefits of civilisation, the refinements and comforts of life.'
'Hooray,' cried Philpot, winking his goggle eyes at the meeting, 'this is where we come in!'
|Exploiters of Labour, Thieves, Swindlers, Pickpockets, Burglars, Bishops, Financiers, Capitalists, Shareholders, 'Ministers' of Religion.||All those engaged in
|All those engaged in necessary work—the production of the benefits of civilisation.|
'As most of the people in number four are out of work at least one quarter of their time, we must reduce the size of this division by one fourth—so. The grey represents the unemployed.'
The lecturer now drew a small square upon the wall below the other drawing. This square he filled in solid black.
|All those engaged in
|All those engaged in necessary work—the production of the benefits of civilisation.|
|This represents the
total of the things
|All those engaged in
|All those engaged in necessary work—the production of the benefits of civilisation.|
|How the things produced by the people in division 4 are 'shared out' amongst the different classes of the population.|
'This represents the total amount of the benefits of civilisation and necessaries of life produced by the people in number four. We now proceed to "share out" the things in the same way as they are actually divided amongst the different classes of the population under the present imbecile system.
'As the people in divisions one and two are universally considered to be the most worthy and deserving, we give them two thirds of the whole.
'The remainder we give to be 'shared out' amongst the people represented by divisions three and four.
'Now, you musn't run away with the idea that the people in three and four take their share quietly and divide the things equally between them. Some get more than their fair share, some get very little, some none at all. It is in these two divisions that "the battle of life," rages most fiercely.
'And all these people in numbers three and four are so fully occupied in this dreadful struggle to secure a little that but few of them pause to enquire why there are not more of the things they are fighting for, or why it is necessary to fight like this at all! The best of everything is reserved exclusively for the enjoyment of the people in divisions one and two, while the workers subsist on block ornaments, margarine, adulterated tea, mysterious beer, and are content, only grumbling when they are unable to obtain even such fare as this.'
Owen paused, and a gloomy silence followed, but suddenly Crass brightened up. He had detected a serious flaw in the lecturer's argument.
'You say the people in one and two gets all the best of everything, but what about the Tramps and Beggars? You've got them in division one!'
'Yes; I know. You see, that's the proper place for them. They belong to the loafer class. They are no better mentally or morally than any of the other loafers in that division, neither are they of any more use. Of course, when we consider them in relation to the amount they consume of the things produced by others they are not so harmful as the other loafers, because they consume comparatively little. But all the same they are in their right place in that division. All those people in division one don't get the same share. The section represents not individuals but the Loafer Class.'
'But I thought you said you was goin' to prove that money was the cause of poverty,' said Easton.
'So it is,' said Owen. 'Can't you see that it's money that's caused all these people to lose sight of the true purpose of labour—the production of the things we need? They are suffering from the delusion that it doesn't matter what kind of work they do, or whether they merely do nothing, so long as they get money for doing it. Under the present extraordinary system that's the only object they have in view—to get money. Their ideas are so topsy-turvey that they regard with contempt those who are engaged in useful work! With the exception of criminals and the poorer sort of loafers, the working classes are considered to be the lowest and least worthy in the community. Those who manage to get money for doing unproductive work are considered more worthy of respect on that account. Those who do nothing themselves but get money out of the labour of others are regarded as being more worthy still! But the ones who are esteemed most of all and honoured above all the rest are those who obtain money for doing absolutely nothing!'
'But I can't see as that proves that money is the cause of poverty,' said Easton.
'Look here,' said Owen; 'the people in division four produce everything, don't they?'
'Yes, we knows all about that,' interrupted Harlow; 'but they get's paid for it, don't they? They gets their wages.'
'Yes, and what does their wages consist of?' said Owen.
'Why, money of course,' replied Harlow, impatiently.
'And what do they do with their money when they get it? Do they eat it, or drink it, or wear it?'
At this apparently absurd question several of those who had hitherto been attentive listeners laughed derisively; it was really very difficult to listen patiently to such nonsense.
'Of course they don't,' answered Harlow, scornfully, 'they buy the things they want with it.'
'Do you think that most of them manage to save a part of their wages—put it away, in the bank.'
'Well, I can speak for meself,' replied Harlow, amid laughter; 'it takes me all my bloody time to pay my rent and other expenses and to keep my little lot in shoe leather; and it's dam little I spend on beer, p'raps a tanner or a bob a week at the most.'
'A single man can save money if he likes,' said Slyme.
'I'm not speaking of single men,' replied Owen, 'I'm referring to those who live natural lives.'
'What about all the money what's in the Post Office Savings Bank, and Building and Friendly Societies?' said Crass.
'A very large part of that belongs to people who are in business, or who have some other source of income than their own wages. There are some exceptionally fortunate workers who happen to have good situations and higher wages than the ordinary run of workmen. Then there are some who are so placed—by letting lodgings for instance—that they are able to live rent free; others whose wives go out to work; and others again who have exceptional jobs and work a lot of overtime. But these are all exceptional cases.'
'I say as no married workin' man can save any money at all,' shouted Harlow, 'not unless 'e goes without some of even the few things we are able to get—and makes 'is wife and kids go without as well.'
''Ear, 'ear!' said everybody except Crass and Slyme, who were both thrifty working men, each of whom had some money saved in one or other of the institutions mentioned.
'Then that means,' said Owen, 'that the wages received by the people in division four is not equivalent to the work they do.'
'Wotcher mean, quiverlent?' cried Crass. 'Why the 'ell don't yer talk plain English without draggin' in a lot of long words wot nobody can't understand?'
'I mean this,' replied Owen, speaking very slowly. ' Everything is produced by the people in number four. In return for their work they are given Money, and the things they have made become the property of the people who do nothing. Then, as the money is of no use, the workers go to shops and give it away in exchange for some of the things they themselves have made. They spend—or give back—all their wages; but as the money they got as wages is not equal in value to the things they produced, they find that they are only able to buy back a very small part. So you see that these little disks of metal, this Money, is a device for enabling those who do not work to rob the workers of the greater part of the fruits of their toil.'
The silence that ensued was broken by Crass.
'It sounds very pretty,' he sneered, 'but I can't make no 'ead or tail of it, meself.'
'Look here!' cried Owen. 'The Producing Class—these people in number four, are supposed to be paid for their work. Their wages are supposed to be equal in value to their work. But it's not so. If it were, by spending all their wages, the Producing Class would be able to buy all they have produced.
'But even if we include the whole of the working classes,' continued Owen, 'that is, the people in number three as well as those in number four, we find that their combined wages are insufficient to buy the things made by the producers. The total value of the wealth produced in this country during the last year was ₤1,800,000,000, and the total amount paid in wages during the same period was only ₤600,000,000. In other words, by means of the Money Trick, the workers were robbed of two-thirds of the value of their labour. All the people in numbers three and four are working and suffering and starving and fighting in order that the rich people in numbers one and two may live in luxury and do nothing. These are the wretches who cause poverty: they not only devour or waste or hoard the things made by the workers, but as soon as their own wants are supplied they compel the workers to cease working and prevent them producing the things they need. Most of these people,' cried Owen, his usually pale face flushing red and his eyes shining with sudden anger, 'most of these people do not deserve to be called human beings at all. They're devils! They know that whilst they are indulging in pleasures of every kind, all around them men and women and little children are existing in want or dying of hunger.'
The silence which followed was at length broken by Harlow.
'You say the workers is entitled to all they produce, but you forget there's the raw materials to pay for. They don't make them, you know.'
'Of course the workers don't create the raw materials,' replied Owen. 'But I am not aware that the capitalists or the landlords do so either. The raw materials exist in abundance in and on the earth, but they are of no use until labour has been applied to them."
'But then, you see, the earth belongs to the landlords!' cried Crass, unguardedly.
'I know that; and of course you think it's right that the whole country should belong to a few people——'
'I must call the lecturer to horder,' interrupted Philpot. 'The land question is not before the meeting at present.'
'You talk about the producers being robbed of most of the value of what they produce,' said Harlow, 'but you must remember that it ain't all produced by hand labour. What about the things what's made by machinery?'
'The machines themselves were made by the workers,' returned Owen, 'but of course they do not belong to the workers, who have been robbed of them by means of the Money Trick.'
'But who invented all the machinery?' cried Crass.
'Certainly not the wealthy loafer class, or the landlords, or the employers,' replied Owen. 'Most inventors have lived and died unknown and often in actual want. The workers produce Everything. Look around you: Factories, Machinery, Houses, Railways, Tramways, Canals, Furniture, Clothing, Food, the very roads you walk on, are all made by the working class, whose wages only buy back a very small part of the things they produce. Therefore what remains in the possession of their masters represents the difference between the value of their work and their wages paid for doing it. This systematic robbery has been going on for generations. The value of the accumulated loot is enormous, and all of the wealth at present in the possession of the rich is the property of the Working Class, stolen from them by means of the Money Trick.'
Owen got down from his pulpit, and his listeners stared uncomfortably at each other. They were compelled to do a little thinking on their own account, and it was an unusual and painful process.
For some moments an oppressive silence prevailed. Several men had risen from their seats and were attentively studying the diagrams on the wall, and nearly all the others were trying to think of something to say in defence of those who robbed them of the fruits of their toil.
'I don't see no bloody sense in always runnin' down the rich,' said Harlow, at last. 'There's always been rich and poor in the world, and there always will be.'
'Of course,' said Slyme, 'it says in the Bible that the poor shall always be with us.'
'What the bloody 'ell kind of system do you think we ought to 'ave?' demanded Crass, 'If hevery thing's wrong, 'ow's it goin' to be haltered?'
At this everybody brightened up again and exchanged looks of satisfaction and relief. Of course! It wasn't necessary to think about these things at all! Nothing could ever be altered: it had always been more or less the same, and it always would be.
'It seems to me that you all hope it is impossible to alter it,' said Owen. 'Without trying to find out whether it could be done, you persuade yourselves that it is impossible, and then, instead of being sorry, you're glad!'
Some of them laughed in a silly, half ashamed way.
'How do you reckon it could be altered?' said Harlow.
'The way to alter it is, first, to enlighten ——'as to the real cause of their sufferings, and then
'Well,' interrupted Crass, with a self-satisfied chuckle, 'it'll take a bloody better man than you to henlighten me!'
'I don't want to be henlightened into Darkness!' said Slyme, piously.
'But what sort of a system do you propose, then,' repeated Harlow, 'after you've got 'em all enlightened? If you don't believe in sharing out all the money equal, how are you goin' to alter it?'
'I don't know 'ow 'e's goin' to alter it,' sneered Crass, looking at his watch and standing up, 'but I do know what the time is—two minits past one!'
'The next lecture,' said Philpot, addressing the meeting as they all prepared to return to work, 'the next lecture will be postponded till to-morrower at the usual time, when it will be my painful dooty to call upon Mr Owen to give 'is well known and most hobnoxious address entitled "Work, and how to avoid it." Hall them as wants to be henlightened kindly attend.'
'Or hall them as don't get the sack to-night,' remarked Easton, grimly.