A TRIANGULAR DUEL.
"For why? Because the good old rule
Sufficeth them, the simple plan,
That they should take who have the power,
And they should keep who can."—Wordsworth.
To knit in loving knowledge rich and poor."
The Saint's Tragedy.
"Excuse me, old fellow, but with all your socialistic tendencies you manage to make yourself deuced comfortable. This is the jolliest den of a smoking-room I know."
The speaker was a bright, plump little man, satisfied, to judge by the smile that always lurked about his mouth, with himself and his condition; one who, in a good-natured sort of way, took life easy, and supposed that all others might do the same if they would. Why should he bother? He possessed ample means to live upon; not enough to cause him anxiety. He was influenced by no desire to add to his belongings or to enlarge his life. The world was made for him to walk about in, with his hands in his pockets, and he liked his part well!
A school-fellow of Dr. Courtenay, he, to escape the English winter, had come on a few months' visit to his friend.
"I see no objection to a man enjoying the due reward of his toil," replied the doctor. "I've earned all I have, and most I possess is contained within the walls of this abode."
It certainly was a room to add relish to a good cigar. The dado was of leather-work, the walls above covered with a fine Indian matting. Upon the ledge that ran round the walls stood photographs, articles of vertu, and bric-à-brac, that told of European and Eastern travel. On the walls, between dark oak cabinets and brackets, were hung whips, pipes, fencing-sticks, with a few good studies in oils.
The doctor was stretched at length in a lounge that having done duty on shipboard was now lined with red cushions. His companion was coiled up "like a happy little dog," as the doctor termed it, on another lounge, pulling at a cherry-wood pipe almost as long as himself.
Seated opposite these, straddle-legs on a chair, with elbows resting on the back, his dark eyes watching the pair in an amused, half-attentive manner, was a young cleric in short undress coat. His high forehead was surmounted by thick black hair, the close-shaven face revealing a decided mouth, and the set, solid features of a Manning.
Frank Brown was vicar of the suburban parish. In his time he had rowed in "the 'Varsity" boat, played in the College Eleven, and been one of the men who were listened to at "The Union." By birth and earlier predilections a Conservative, he had, under the influence of parochial experience in the East of London, and now in his new but poor parish, developed into what he termed an "Eclectic" or a "Philosophical Radical."
"No one objects to your being comfortable, doctor," he interjected. "You do not try to eat two dinners at the same time, and to waste three men's shares of the good things of this life; but why may not all be better off? Why must these poor fellows of mine experience such a struggle just to live? Surely God has made this world capable of supporting millions more than now cumber it."
"Partly of their own fault," began the doctor.
"Entirely, say I," put in the little man. "Divide your pipes and tobacco of all kinds to-morrow—and you'll need another distribution next week."
"We have heard that before, Tom," continued the doctor. "It is partly men's own fault that the wolf is always at some doors, that you can never drive him far from certain portals, but it is chiefly the result of our social system."
"We've heard that before," suggested the little man.
"The principle of competition, that dominates our commercial and social life, involves that the weaker go to the wall. The labourers are the weaker. The strongest among them compete with each other until they drag each other down to a common condition of helplessness."
"But their Labour Unions and Standards of Wages," suggested Tom, "are supposed to keep up prices and check the effects of competition."
"And you know full well that those are not only extreme measures, disastrous in their consequences, but that they are artificial devices opposed to the nature of things."
"Just what I say," retorted Tom; "you cannot check the free and healthful play of competition."
"Yes, you can," replied the doctor; "give men a share in the results of their labour, and their work will be doubly effective, whilst the reward of all parties will be augmented. 'Is it not better,' said the founder of the 'Maison La Claire,' 'to make 500 francs a day and give 300 to the workmen, than to earn 200 francs and keep it all yourself?'"
"But the trouble is," persisted the little man, "your workmen say, 'Share the profits with us, bear the losses yourself!'"
"Not necessarily. Labour will take its fair risk if you put it in a position to do so. Pay the men in cash a quarter of what you give them now. Let the remainder of their interest be invested in the concern."
"But how can they live on a quarter of what they starve on now? You'll be called a sweater, and have the agitators down on you again."
"Men can exist comfortably, if accepted principles of co-operation and economy be adopted, on the fourth of what is now expended. For instance, a man now earns £2 a week. Most of it is expended in the cost of living; nothing remains at the end of the year."
"Owing to your Protection run mad," remarked Tom.
"No doubt the cost of living is ruinous to the working-man, but unavoidably so under existing circumstances. Everything now tends to draw men to the city. Lead back some of them to the country. Let them, through their managers, be their own provisioners and salesmen, and they can live on a fourth of that they now spend."
"The squatter can feed a family well on ten shillings a week," suggested the clergyman.
"But what are you going to do with them in the country? The squatter and farmer don't want them."
"I'd bind them together, maintaining them for the cost of their house-rent in town. Then put them in the way of cultivating the soil and supporting themselves otherwise."
"But these men, who are 'on strike' wherever they get a chance, are not going to work for their 'tucker,'" objected Tom.
"Yes, they will," observed Frank Brown, "if they see a prospect of ultimately winning by their industry a home and independence for themselves and their children."
"What do they care for that?" growled the little man.
"Everything," continued the clergyman. "Scratch the Englishman, wherever he lives, and you find the farmer beneath the surface, and the earth-hunger in his breast."
"And a lot of good it does him!"
"It makes him the colonizing creature of the world. Leads him to cross seas, subdue wildernesses, make gardens of howling deserts, and ports for the commerce of England on every shore," said the cleric.
"But you have not stuff to deal with like that. The race is degenerate. Your men are loafers."
"You should have seen them at the doctor's meeting the other day. You should have noted the eager, intelligent manner in which they received his suggestions," continued the clergyman, warmly.
"Where were the idlers I see gathering on waste lands beside your streets and lounging in your parks?" asked Tom.
"Not there," replied Frank. "Our scheme has no attraction for them. They like relief works, so much a week, and soup-kitchens, and all the means adopted for pauperizing them. Our better fellows would starve rather than avail themselves of such methods."
"Was our friend the agitator with the broken nose present?" inquired the little man, poking the doctor playfully with the end of his pipe. "I did not think, Courtenay, that you were coming to that, when I knew and respected you in the old country!"
"He was there, sure enough, looking blacker than ever," replied Frank, "but kept in check by an older man who talked like a book, and brandished his arms."
"My right-hand man," added the doctor, "a fellow named Elms, who knows something of everything."
"A dangerous kind of character," remarked Tom. "But what's coming of all this talk?—we've heard the like before, you know."
"Yes, and you are going to see something of it put into practice at length."
"But Where's your money? You must have capital, abuse it as you may."
"I do not underrate it, I assure you," said the doctor; "but I want labour to rely more on itself, to learn its true strength, the vast fund of resource it has in reserve, if it will combine for production rather than for destruction."
"But Where's your money to begin with?" persisted the little man. "You know I'm a man of business."
"Excuse me, old fellow, I never knew that before!" said the doctor, slapping the thigh of his neighbour. "I observe that if ever there is a thick-skulled, narrow-minded, short-sighted machine of a dotard knocking around, he claims to be a business man above everything. None of your schemes for him!"
"Because the present order suits him well enough," suggested Tom.
"While he does not see that it is shaken to its very foundations—that he and all he has may be swept away by some tidal wave of social devastation unless a better way be found."
"But what of the money?" persisted Tom.
"That is the difficulty so far, I admit. I have nothing to invest. A few hundreds have been promised by some friends, but what are they?"
"Never mind," said the clergyman; "it will come, I am sure. You will be able to work out your schemes by some means yet."
The doctor lay back on his lounge looking doubtful and troubled.
"It's faith you are depending upon then, Rev. Sir," said Tom. "What'll faith do for you, if you have not the cash?"
"Faith!" exclaimed the young man, jumping up—"faith with power that comes of enthusiasm and high aim, of sympathy for sorrow and suffering, with impatience of wrongs; faith such as animates our good friend—incentive rare enough in these cold, calculating days— will overcome everything. Mark my words, the doctor will do it!"
"On the strength of capital, not of faith," persisted the incorrigible Tom.