Sybil, or The Two Nations

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Chapter 3

"I have seen a many things in my time Mrs Trotman," said Chaffing Jack as he took the pipe from his mouth in the silent bar room of the Cat and Fiddle; "but I never see any like this. I think I ought to know Mowbray if any one does, for man and boy I have breathed this air for a matter of half a century. I sucked it in when it tasted of primroses, and this tavern was a cottage covered with honeysuckle in the middle of green fields, where the lads came and drank milk from the cow with their lasses; and I have inhaled what they call the noxious atmosphere, when a hundred chimneys have been smoking like one; and always found myself pretty well. Nothing like business to give one an appetite. But when shall I feel peckish again, Mrs Trotman?"

"The longest lane has a turning they say, Mr Trotman."

"Never knew anything like this before," replied her husband, "and I have seen bad times: but I always used to say, 'Mark my words friends, Mowbray will rally.' My words carried weight, Mrs Trotman, in this quarter, as they naturally should, coming from a man of my experience,—especially when I gave tick. Every man I chalked up was of the same opinion as the landlord of the Cat and Fiddle, and always thought that Mowbray would rally. That's the killing feature of these times, Mrs Trotman, there's no rallying in the place."

"I begin to think it's the machines," said Mrs Trotman.

"Nonsense," said Mr Trotman; "it's the corn laws. The town of Mowbray ought to clothe the world with our resources. Why Shuffle and Screw can turn out forty mile of calico per day; but where's the returns? That's the point. As the American gentleman said who left his bill unpaid, 'Take my breadstuffs and I'll give you a cheque at sight on the Pennsylvanian Bank.'"

"It's very true," said Mrs Trotman. "Who's there?"

"Nothing in my way?" said a woman with a basket of black cherries with a pair of tin scales thrown upon their top.

"Ah! Mrs Carey," said Chaffing Jack, "is that you?"

"My mortal self, Mr Trotman, tho' I be sure I feel more like a ghost than flesh and blood."

"You may well say that Mrs Carey; you and I have known Mowbray as long I should think as any in this quarter—"

"And never see such times as these Mr Trotman, nor the like of such. But I always thought it would come to this; everything turned topsy-turvy as it were, the children getting all the wages, and decent folk turned adrift to pick up a living as they could. It's something of a judgment in my mind, Mr Trotman."

"It's the trade leaving the county, widow, and no mistake."

"And how shall we bring it back again?" said the widow; "the police ought to interfere."

"We must have cheap bread," said Mr Trotman.

"So they tell me," said the widow; "but whether bread be cheap or dear don't much signify, if we have nothing to buy it with. You don't want anything in my way, neighbour? It's not very tempting I fear," said the good widow, in a rather mournful tone: "but a little fresh fruit cools the mouth in this sultry time, and at any rate it takes me into the world. It seems like business, tho' very hard to turn a penny by; but one's neighbours are very kind, and a little chat about the dreadful times always puts me in spirits."

"Well, we will take a pound for the sake of trade, widow," said Mrs Trotman.

"And here's a glass of gin and water, widow," said Mr Trotman, "and when Mowbray rallies you shall come and pay for it."

"Thank you both very kindly," said the widow, "a good neighbour as our minister says, is the pool of Bethesda; and as you say, Mowbray will rally."

"I never said so," exclaimed Chaffing Jack interrupting her. "Don't go about for to say that I said Mowbray would rally. My words have some weight in this quarter widow; Mowbray rally! Why should it rally? Where's the elements?"

"Where indeed?" said Devilsdust as he entered the Cat and Fiddle with Dandy Mick, "there is not the spirit of a louse in Mowbray."

"That's a true bill," said Mick.

"Is there another white-livered town in the whole realm where the operatives are all working half-time, and thanking the Capitalists for keeping the mills going, and only starving them by inches?" said Devilsdust in a tone of scorn.

"That's your time of day," said Mick.

"Very glad to see you, gentlemen," said Mr Trotman, "pray be seated. There's a little baccy left yet in Mowbray, and a glass of twist at your service."

"Nothing exciseable for me," said Devilsdust.

"Well it ayn't exactly the right ticket, Mrs Trotman, I believe," said Mick, bowing gallantly to the lady; "but 'pon my soul I am so thirsty, that I'll take Chaffing Jack at his word;" and so saying Mick and Devilsdust ensconced themselves in the bar, while good-hearted Mrs Carey, sipped her glass of gin and water, which she frequently protested was a pool of Bethesda.

"Well Jack," said Devilsdust, "I suppose you have heard the news?"

"If it be anything that has happened at Mowbray, especially in this quarter, I should think I had. Times must be very bad indeed that some one does not drop in to tell me anything that has happened and to ask my advice."

"It's nothing to do with Mowbray."

"Thank you kindly, Mrs Trotman," said Mick, "and here's your very good health."

"Then I am in the dark," said Chaffing Jack, replying to the previous observation of Devilsdust, "for I never see a newspaper now except a week old, and that lent by a friend, I who used to take my Sun regular, to say nothing of the Dispatch, and Bell's Life. Times is changed, Mr Radley."

"You speak like a book, Mr Trotman," said Mick, "and here's your very good health. But as for newspapers, I'm all in the dark myself, for the Literary and Scientific is shut up, and no subscribers left, except the honorary ones, and not a journal to be had except the Moral World and that's gratis."

"As bad as the Temple," said Chaffing Jack, "it's all up with the institutions of the country. And what then is the news?"

"Labour is triumphant in Lancashire," said Devilsdust with bitter solemnity.

"The deuce it is," said Chaffing Jack. "What, have they raised wages?"

"No," said Devilsdust, "but they have stopped the mills."

"That won't mend matters much," said Jack with a puff.

"Won't it?"

"The working classes will have less to spend than ever."

"And what will the Capitalists have to spend?" said Devilsdust. "Worse and worse," said Mr Trotman, "you will never get institutions like the Temple re-opened on this system."

"Don't you be afraid Jack," said Mick, tossing off his tumbler; "if we only get our rights, won't we have a blowout!"

"We must have a struggle," said Devilsdust, "and teach the Capitalists on whom they depend, so that in future they are not to have the lion's share, and then all will be right."

"A fair day's wage for a fair day's work," said Mick; "that's your time of day."

"It began at Staleybridge," said Devilsdust, "and they have stopped them all; and now they have marched into Manchester ten thousand strong. They pelted the police—"

"And cheered the red-coats like blazes," said Mick.

"The soldiers will fraternise," said Devilsdust.

"Do what?" said Mrs Trotman.

"Stick their bayonets into the Capitalists who have hired them to cut the throats of the working classes," said Devilsdust.

"The Queen is with us," said Mick. "It's well known she sets her face against gals working in mills like blazes."

"Well this is news," said Mrs Carey. "I always thought some good would come of having a woman on the throne;" and repeating her thanks and pinning on her shawl, the widow retired, eager to circulate the intelligence.

"And now that we are alone," said Devilsdust, "the question is what are we to do here; and we came to consult you, Jack, as you know Mowbray better than any living man. This thing will spread. It won't stop short. I have had a bird too singing something in my ear these two days past. If they do not stop it in Lancashire, and I defy them, there will be a general rising."

"I have seen a many things in my time," said Mr Trotman; "some risings and some strikes, and as stiff turn-outs as may be. But to my fancy there is nothing like a strike in prosperous times; there's more money sent under those circumstances than you can well suppose, young gentlemen. It's as good as Mowbray Staty any day."

"But now to the point," said Devilsdust. "The people are regularly sold; they want a leader."

"Why there's Gerard," said Chaffing Jack; "never been a better man in my time. And Warner—the greatest man the Handlooms ever turned out."

"Ay, ay," said Devilsdust; "but they have each of them had a year and a half, and that cools blood."

"Besides," said Mick, "they are too old; and Stephen Morley has got round them, preaching moral force and all that sort of gammon."

"I never heard that moral force won the battle of Waterloo," said Devilsdust. "I wish the Capitalists would try moral force a little, and see whether it would keep the thing going. If the Capitalists will give up their red-coats, I would be a moral force man to-morrow."

"And the new police," said Mick. "A pretty go when a fellow in a blue coat fetches you the Devil's own con on your head and you get moral force for a plaister."

"Why, that's all very well," said Chaffing Jack: "but I am against violence—at least much. I don't object to a moderate riot provided it is not in my quarter of the town."

"Well that's not the ticket now," said Mick. "We don't want no violence; all we want is to stop all the mills and hands in the kingdom, and have a regular national holiday for six weeks at least."

"I have seen a many things in my time," said Chaffing Jack solemnly, "but I have always observed that if the people had worked generally for half time for a week they would stand anything."

"That's a true bill," said Mick.

"Their spirit is broken," said Chaffing Jack, "or else they never would have let the Temple have been shut up."

"And think of our Institute without a single subscriber!" said Mick. "The gals is the only thing what has any spirit left. Julia told me just now she would go to the cannon's mouth for the Five Points any summer day."

"You think the spirit can't be raised, Chaffing Jack," said Devilsdust very seriously. "You ought to be a judge."

"If I don't know Mowbray who does? Trust my word, the house won't draw."

"Then it is U-P," said Mick.

"Hush!" said Devilsdust. "But suppose it spreads?"

"It won't spread," said Chaffing Jack. "I've seen a deal of these things. I fancy from what you say it's a cotton squall. It will pass, Sir. Let me see the miners out and then I will talk to you."

"Stranger things than that have happened," said Devilsdust. "Then things get serious," said Chaffing Jack. "Them miners is very stubborn, and when they gets excited ayn't it a bear at play, that's all?"

"Well," said Devilsdust, "what you say is well worth attention; but all the same I feel we are on the eve of a regular crisis."

"No, by jingo!" said Mick, and tossing his cap into the air he snapped his fingers with delight at the anticipated amusement.

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