WILLIAM'S family spreads, with ramifications, through. out the lower stratum of the village wave-earning class. William is seventy-four, but he comes of a long- lived stock that regards threescore and ten as merely the
conclusion of middle age. The family characteristics are strongly marked in all the members of this class. They are "no scholars," odd and uncertain in temper, curiously secretive, taciturn in general, though gifted on occasions with wonderfully vivid expression, and, especially in the case of the elder generation, extraordinarily good men to work. William is by conviction a Baptist, but has attended church with persistence ever since he got the old-age pension through the intervention of Parson. When his cough is more than usually noisy be takes it to chapel because, as he explains, he would not have the bad manners to disturb the quality with coughing. It is in respect to that old-age pension that William's character and history are now under discussion.
Five years ago William was supposed to be on his last lege. His cough was shocking, his feet unsteady, he bad bad some sort of seizure, and it was considered impossible that he should outlast the winter. Nevertheless he was still at work. Re worked at the mines where he had been employed for forty years. How be managed was a marvel, but his employer was lenient, and the men—with the good-fellowship of their class —combined to pass over all the easy jobs to William. Work starts at six, and he walked (or tottered) a mile every day in all weathers to get there. And he coughed devastatingly in chapel every Sunday evening.
The pension came into being. William, in common with the large majority of his class, regarded it from the start as a Governmental snare to draw money out of the pockets of taxpayers into the hands of Government officials, with a small proportion laid out by the way in insufficiently supplying the needs of the aged poor. William was unable to do full work, but drawing the wage he did he could not get the pension. Doctor signed certificates that he was unfit to work, Parson exhorted him to give up, but William refused to trust his future to the mercies of a Liberal Government. " Gove'n- snout " in the abstract is usually suspect by William's class, which is apt to assume self-interest as a universal motive- force. Moreover, the (Conservative) Board of Magistrates was unwilling to bestow the pension on a person of William's activity and resources. Negotiations were carried on with energy between Parson and Doctor on the one hand and the Board on the other.
The circumstances were these. William owned his house and garden. The cottage was so small that the grandfather's clock had to have one hole cut in the ceiling for its head and another scooped out of the floor for its feet before it could stand upright in the living-room, and even then you could not see the top half of twelve o'clock till you went close. The house had a garden and a well, and William hoed his cabbages himself and his old wife (nearly lame) boiled them in his pan, and they both thanked the Lord they need be "beholden to no one for nothing." William had bought that cottage out of his own earnings and his wife's, and they had a little money in the bank besides. William had a fine contempt for the men who could not save and feed his children out of eighteen shillings weekly. He got seven shillings weekly when he married, and when there were five children, and the eldest still too young to go crow-scaring, Mrs. William went out sharing. Food was cheaper then, and luxuries, William considers, fewer. You baked your own bread, and cheese was fourpence a pound, and a slice of bread and cheese for dinner " were," says William, "a proper dinner. Tidden now ; you'm leery again two hour after." Bacon was four shillings and eiepenee a side, and the poor seldom thought about butcher's moat. Potatoes, he declares, were larger and better than they have ever been since, and be vows he has seen sacks of them trampled down for manure, and it is because of former wastefulness that they are now small and dear. This may be a tradition of the famine, for it does not sound authentic, but William sticks to it. . Also, he says, you did much with turnips then, and farmers were liberal with their sackfuls. Skim-milk before the days of separators was worth drinking. A few farmers still sell it and a quart
costs three-halfpence. There were many substitutes then for tea, burnt crusts among others; but now, though there is more
to spend, employers are less liberal. The children grew up somehow, schooling was erratic, and truanting profitable for industrious youths of eight. William's children had turned
into ►rough and illiterate but respectable men and women; they had all left borne to find work, and one, a widower, sent Ida two little girls to he brought up by grandmother. He paid for the children; that was the bone of contention worried by the Magistrates, whose views on William's income and responsibilities differed from Parson's. They held—it was this that distressed Parson—that William was misstating his income with a view to defrauding Government. Such suspicions with regard to a man who worked so inveterately, had lived so thriftily, and showed such independence shocked Parson's sense of justice. Battles ensued, and Parson eventually got William his pension. William came to church —a mark of gratitude which rather disconcerted his ally— and it subsequently transpired that the Magistrates had been right and Parson wrong about William's misrepre- sentation of his income ; and the moral of this tale is that if you get thrift and sobriety on seven shillings a week, you had better be satisfied, for if you expect a high standard of ethics you may be disappointed. The instructive point is in the nature of the fraud practised by the highly respectable William on his reverend and confiding friend. William to his dying day would neither have begged nor stolen, but he would practise fraud on an impersonal body to get what he con- sidered his rights. His point was that they would in the nature of things defraud him if possible. William, returning in Parson's dog-cart after his first unsuccessful encounter with a sceptical Board, said: "I did zay all along they would pinch the half on it for theireelves." Argument failed to convince him; he was sure that no scheme of any corporate body could be disinterested. Those in power must mean to feather their own nests. Belief in all-prevailing self-interest is not confined to William and his class. William did not succeed in getting his full pension at first, and he is to this day convinced that that fifth shilling was deduoted by the Magistrates or their colleagues for private uses. You do not get liberality of judgment from Williams class.
It is the Williams who go to make up the lower class in village life, men of industry and character but without education, and thus narrowed in outlook. William for all that owns his own house; he is a man of property, and can thus raise the standard of his family. His grandchildren's father was a rough, uneducated labourer ; the children them- selves show marks of refinement and capacity for rising; they will probably get beyond their grandfather's standard of life and ethics too.
It was about a year later that Parson, still smarting under the memory of the fraud he had unconsciously abetted, extracted William by main force from a lawsuit upon which that redoubtable veteran was proposing to enter with respect to a wheeled chair "loaned" by the chapel ministers for the use of their sick. Mrs. William, crippled for years, WM accustomed to be drawn to chapel by her spouse in it on fine Sundays. After using the chair for three years, William con- sidered himself to have established a claim of ownership, and accordingly " went to law with a neighbour who borrowed it without his leave. He had already given up three days work, and worn out, his wife lamented, much shoe-leather in pursuit of vengeance for his imaginary wrong, when Parson, in collusion with a kindly Magistrate, between coercion and persuasion, managed to induce him to give up his case, and fetched him back from Court, subdued but unrepentant, under a stream of pasitoral admonition. The possession of property gives a man independence as nothing else can give it ; though it may show itself at times in exasperating forms, it is a powerful asset in the formation of character. It is probable that grandfather still regrets that lawsuit. Crushed by poverty P Not William !