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- MARY BARTON - 40/90 -
case Mr. Carson could not at all understand the man's motives for interesting himself in securing her marriage); or he was a friend, an accomplice, whom she had employed to bully him. So little faith in goodness have the mean and selfish!
"Before I make you into my confidant, my good man," said Mr. Carson, in a contemptuous tone, "I think it might be as well to inquire your right to meddle with our affairs. Neither Mary, nor I, as I conceive, called you in as a mediator." He paused: he wanted a distinct answer to this last supposition. None came; so he began to imagine he was to be threatened into some engagement, and his angry spirit rose.
"And so, my fine fellow, you will have the kindness to leave us to ourselves, and not to meddle with what does not concern you. If you were a brother or father of hers, the case might have been different. As it is, I can only consider you an impertinent meddler."
Again he would have passed on, but Jem stood in a determined way before him, saying--
"You say if I had been her brother, or her father, you'd have answered me what I ask. Now, neither father nor brother could love her as I have loved her--ay, and as I love her still; if love gives a right to satisfaction, it's next to impossible any one breathing can come up to my right. Now, sir, tell me! do you mean fair by Mary or not? I've proved my claim to know, and, by G--, I will know."
"Come, come, no impudence," replied Mr. Carson, who, having discovered what he wanted to know (namely, that Jem was a lover of Mary's, and that she was not encouraging his suit), wished to pass on. "Father, brother, or rejected lover" (with an emphasis on the word rejected) "no one has a right to interfere between my little girl and me. No one shall. Confound you, man! get out of my way, or I'll make you," as Jem still obstructed his path with dogged determination.
"I won't, then, till you've given me your word about Mary," replied the mechanic, grinding his words out between his teeth, and the livid paleness of the anger he could no longer keep down covering his face till he looked ghastly.
"Won't you?" (with a taunting laugh), "then I'll make you." The young man raised his slight cane, and smote the artisan across the face with a stinging stroke. An instant afterwards he lay stretched in the muddy road, Jem standing over him, panting with rage. What he would have done next in his moment of ungovernable passion, no one knows; but a policeman from the main street, into which this road led, had been sauntering about for some time, unobserved by either of the parties, and expecting some kind of conclusion like the present to the violent discussion going on between the two young men. In a minute he had pinioned Jem, who sullenly yielded to the surprise.
Mr. Carson was on his feet directly, his face glowing with rage or shame.
"Shall I take him to the lock-ups for assault, sir?" said the policeman.
"No, no," exclaimed Mr. Carson. "I struck him first. It was no assault on his side: though," he continued, hissing out his words to Jem, who even hated freedom procured for him, however justly, at the intervention of his rival, "I will never forgive or forget insult. Trust me," he gasped the words in excess of passion, "Mary shall fare no better for your insolent interference." He laughed, as if with the consciousness of power.
Jem replied with equal excitement--
"And if you dare to injure her in the least, I will await you where no policeman can step in between. And God shall judge between us two."
The policeman now interfered with persuasions and warnings. He locked his arm in Jem's to lead him away in an opposite direction to that in which he saw Mr. Carson was going. Jem submitted gloomily, for a few steps, then wrenched himself free. The policeman shouted after him--
"Take care, my man! there's no girl on earth worth what you'll be bringing on yourself if you don't mind."
But Jem was out of hearing.
XVI. MEETING BETWEEN MASTERS AND WORKMEN.
"Not for a moment take the scorner's chair; While seated there, thou know'st not how a word, A tone, a look, may gall thy brother's heart, And make him turn in bitterness against thee." --"LOVE-TRUTHS."
The day arrived on which the masters were to have an interview with a deputation of the workpeople. The meeting was to take place in a public room, at an hotel; and there, about eleven o'clock, the mill-owners, who had received the foreign orders, began to collect.
Of course, the first subject, however full their minds might be of another, was the weather. Having done their duty by all the showers and sunshine which had occurred during the past week, they fell to talking about the business which brought them together. There might be about twenty gentlemen in the room, including some by courtesy, who were not immediately concerned in the settlement of the present question; but who, nevertheless, were sufficiently interested to attend. These were divided into little groups, who did not seem by any means unanimous. Some were for a slight concession, just a sugar-plum to quieten the naughty child, a sacrifice to peace and quietness. Some were steadily and vehemently opposed to the dangerous precedent of yielding one jot or one tittle to the outward force of a turn-out. It was teaching the workpeople how to become masters, said they. Did they want the wildest thing here-after, they would know that the way to obtain their wishes would be to strike work. Besides, one or two of those present had only just returned from the New Bailey, where one of the turn-outs had been tried for a cruel assault on a poor north-country weaver, who had attempted to work at the low price. They were indignant, and justly so, at the merciless manner in which the poor fellow had been treated; and their indignation at wrong, took (as it often does) the extreme form of revenge. They felt as if, rather than yield to the body of men who were resorting to such cruel measures towards their fellow-workmen, they, the masters, would sooner relinquish all the benefits to be derived from the fulfilment of the commission, in order that the workmen might suffer keenly. They forgot that the strike was in this instance the consequence of want and need, suffered unjustly, as the endurers believed; for, however insane, and without ground of reason, such was their belief, and such was the cause of their violence. It is a great truth that you cannot extinguish violence by violence. You may put it down for a time; but while you are crowing over your imaginary success, see if it does not return with seven devils worse than its former self!
No one thought of treating the workmen as brethren and friends, and openly, clearly, as appealing to reasonable men, stating exactly and fully the circumstances which led the masters to think it was the wise policy of the time to make sacrifices themselves, and to hope for them from the operatives.
In going from group to group in the room, you caught such a medley of sentences as the following--
"Poor devils! they're near enough to starving, I'm afraid. Mrs. Aldred makes two cows' heads into soup every week, and people come many miles to fetch it; and if these times last, we must try and do more. But we must not be bullied into anything!"
"A rise of a shilling or so won't make much difference, and they will go away thinking they've gained their point."
"That's the very thing I object to. They'll think so, and whenever they've a point to gain, no matter how unreasonable, they'll strike work."
"It really injures them more than us."
"I don't see how our interests can be separated."
"The d--d brute had thrown vitriol on the poor fellow's ankles, and you know what a bad part that is to heal. He had to stand still with the pain, and that left him at the mercy of the cruel wretch, who beat him about the head till you'd hardly have known he was a man. They doubt if he'll live."
"If it were only for that, I'll stand out against them, even if it is the cause of my ruin."
"Ay, I for one won't yield one farthing to the cruel brutes; they're more like wild beasts than human beings."
(Well, who might have made them different?)
"I say, Carson, just go and tell Duncombe of this fresh instance of their abominable conduct. He's wavering, but I think this will decide him."
The door was now opened, and the waiter announced that the men were below, and asked if it were the pleasure of the gentlemen that they should be shown up.
They assented, and rapidly took their places round the official table; looking, as like as they could, to the Roman senators who awaited the irruption of Brennus and his Gauls.
Tramp, tramp, came the heavy clogged feet up the stairs; and in a minute five wild, earnest-looking men stood in the room. John Barton, from some mistake as to time, was not among them. Had they been larger-boned men, you would have called them gaunt; as it was, they were little of stature, and their fustian clothes hung loosely upon their shrunk limbs. In choosing their delegates, too, the operatives had had more regard to their brains, and power of speech, than to their wardrobes; they might have read the opinions of that worthy Professor Teufelsdreck, in Sartor Resartus, to judge from the dilapidated coats and trousers, which yet clothed men of parts and of power. It was long since many of them had known the luxury of a new article of dress; and air-gaps were to be seen in their garments. Some of the masters were rather affronted at such a
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