21 NOVEMBER 1914, Page 22


THEY were both small and rather spare, with bright eyes and some dignity of carriage; both wore speckled capes on their shoulders—Susan's, that is to say, the hen's, was there always, but Mrs. Jones presumably took hers off at night. Dress was a point in which the dependant excelled the mistress, Nature having provided for the former a neat, bard- wearing suit periodically renewed, while the clothes of the latter were in general miscellaneous and inefficient, since their renewal depended on her own exertions, and Mrs. Jones had more serious things to consider than clothes. Providence and Mrs. Jones between them supplied food and raiment—both, it will be admitted, insufficient in quantity—to a family of four, because the lawful breadwinner was in the county asylum through overmuch taking thought for the items referred to above. The struggle for food is the first object of existence among most sentient beings, high and low, and with the existence of the struggle no moralist has any right to quarrel. But it was owing to the unfortunate fact that Mrs. Jones's husband was a creature gifted with the capability of looking before and after that he was driven by oircematance to consider the exigencies of food and raiment too seriously and succumbed to his considera- tions. Miss ix addition to other reasons, was why Mrs. Jones was at present combining a should-be desperate struggle for bare existence with the apparently superfluous luxury of supporting *tam as a pet. The hex did not—or at any rate it was alleged by critics that she could sot possibly—pay for her keep. Thus it was that Mrs. Jones came under censure in some quarters for affording herself luxuries when she could not afford necessaries. It is moreover improbable that Mrs. Jones coald ever have explained—even if she had tried to— why it was that she went on cherishing that fowl when the immediate three shillings or more for which it oould have been sold would have made an important difference to her house- keeping during three hard weeks. Not only that, but against the possible three shillings was to be debited the item of a hen's keeps a dead loss during cold weather, since the most industrious fowl alive must, at intervals, go off work and cease laying for a time, But Mrs. Jones clung to Susan, and the aim of this narrative is to prove that Mrs. Jones, though economically wrong, was ethically right.

For tie extremely necessitous philosophy must remain an unattainable hammy, since its exercise implies some degree of detachment, and the very poor can never, in the nature of things, be detached from pressure of circumstances. That is where poverty eemes in. Those that neither sow nor gather into barns are ideals too far remote from creatures at the opposite end of the scale overdriven by cares and want of riches. There was certainly no visible similarity between Mrs. Jones's lot and that of her hen. There was, however, a certain similarity of moral outlook, and this it was that redeemed Mrs. Jones's situation from hopelessness. Mrs. Jones, in spite of her fragility and miscellaneous clothing, had in her air something of an odd invincible quality that shows itself remarkably amongst the very poor of all classes, an indescribable something that guarantees the individual against total submersion, the quality which promises that he will not sink but rise, if it be only to float dead on the surface). Mrs. Jones had the courage of the extremely poor, a courage perpetually amazing to the rich, because the funda- mental difference of outlook between the two is that the rich man thinks he cannot do without and the poor man knows he can. Mrs. Jones's family did without a good deal on a fluc- tuating weekly income of nine to ten shillings—supplemented by gifts in kind and a very small quantity of garden produce. Her only audible grievance was that she was unable to keep her husband—helpless and incapable of work as he was—at home with her and the children, who would all have suffered cheerfully the possibility of injury to themselves rather than have him separated from them in sickness. He had been, his wife said, such a good man to them all.

Jones had been a farmer's labourer in excellent work ; that is to say, he worked from six to six in all weathers at eighteen shillings weekly, raised to twenty-one shillings in harvest, when working hours were longer. He belonged to a good labouring class, having been himself one of eleven reared on a nine shillings weekly wage. His parents had lived rent free in a four-roomed cottage with a garden and a pig and wood at Michaelmas, and appeared to thrive. They were one and all good workers. Mrs. Jones's husband, one of the youngest, was the best scholar; he was slight and rather feebly built and active as a weasel. When at the age of twenty-two he got a good job with the farmer, he married and thought his luck exceptional. He had, deep down within him, the born countryman's craving to possess a bit of the land that had reared him and his fathers, and by which they lived. So he saved and bought a field while the children were still young. It was a pinch; that would not have mattered for the sake of property; but things went badly. The land was poor, and once he was ill and they got into debt, and the dread of a danger hitherto unrealized seemed to haunt him afterwards, he was like a gambler who is used to stake all, but who has become suddenly afraid of losing. He did not know that he was gambling, because it would never have entered his head to consider health and wage-earning capacity as stakes in a game ; so he never thought of complaining, and when subsequently he was overtaken, before thirty-five, by the awful scourge of insanity it did not occur to him or his wife to connect it with conditions of early penury, insufficient feeding, overcrowding, intermarriage, bad water supply, or any such social bugbears. They said it was the Lord's will, and Mrs. Jones went out chasing.

She was the gambler now, and the luck, on the whole, was more heavily against her, because with greater odds she stood to win less. There was one thing, however, that favoured her —the feminine instinct to preserve appearances that carries a woman further in the teeth of circumstances than a man's reasoned economies. Feminine courage is an incalculable quality ; it quails before a trivial bogy, and shrinks from no obvious impossibility. This, incidentally, was where Susan came in; this also accounted for that odd ineradicable air of self-containment that distinguished Mrs. Jones in the speckled cape of every day no less than on the infrequent occasions when she faced the world in her best clothes. The position was, briefly, this. She could earn enough money to feed the five of them, but that was insufficient. There was something else that would be maintained at all costs, and that was the instinct to rise. She was not of the pattern that becomes submerged; she had a quality of indestructibility that is vital in the formation of class she and her four newcomers into a hungry world were no negligible quantities to be dismissed because only indirectly concerned with the world's work. There they were, all of them ballasted with that rising quality, and how all of them were going to grow up and turn out was a question which ought to concern society, because, oddly—or perhaps not !--it did not appear to concern the objects them- selves very deeply.

Mrs. Jones took short views of life, less by theory than because she found it the only way of getting through the difficult business of living. Jones's failure to keep his views short enough had sent him to the asylum. The rent and the bread bill were Mrs. Jones's chief cares. These having been dealt with, she next pursued the inquiry of how to preserve ideals, though she certainly never would have expressed it that way. What Mrs. Jones and her family did without in process of this inquiry was even more surprising than what they did with, and that, if a dispassionate observer will take the trouble to consider how far ten shillings goes when laid out upon the necessary weekly expenses of a family, was very little indeed. But they made an appearance. The children were perforce left much by themselves ; perhaps their spirits were subdued by penury, for at all events they were neither rough nor troublesome, as neglected children might be; neither at school treats were they incredibly hungry or apt to snatch like some who were better fed and worse mannered. A staple fare of tea and bread and butter is apt to subdue natural appetites to its own standard of insufficiency. Mrs. Jones's family bought its air of refinement rather dearly. The principle on which Mrs. Jones, probably less than half consciously, modelled her economies was that man does not live by bread alone. That was why her children had Sunday clothes, although Sunday's dinner was sketchy : that was why she could enter- tain friends to tea and go a little shorter during the rest of the week; that was why she added her mite to the parish collection of little garments for the " waifs and strays," those whose destitution was of that worst kind of all—dearth of self-respect. Those who criticized the hen also blamed the giving of garments, saying Mrs. Jones was unable to afford it. Mrs. Jones knew by experience which form of want is the worse, and avoided that one. Also she invariably took a small gift of some kind, apples or cheese or a cake, to her husband when she made her monthly pilgrimage to visit him, thirty miles away, a long and weary and costly journey which she never omitted.

A struggle for bare existence, so long as it never rises above that, goes ill in the formation of class. It crushes instead of educating. And character is vital in the building of class. Despite criticism, Mrs. Jones clung to her ideals. Whence we arrive at the conclusion that the hen beloved of the Jones menage is to be regarded as in the nature of a beacon-light giving notice to all and sundry that here amid the waste of insufficiency is something better than the penury that only takes thought for the morrow. Nor did Mrs. Jones's ideal betray her. July came and brought the Flower Show, and a prize was offered for the best set of twelve eggs. Susan, who had been taking a rest, began suddenly to lay within leas than a fortnight of the show. Upon Susan's perspicacity and resourcefulness Mrs. Jones undertook to stake the threepence which was entry-money for the competition ; it was a risk. but she waited in hope. Nor did Susan fail her. Eleven eggs were duly laid, smooth, brown, exact in size, shape, and colour ; eleven only, and a dozen were wanted; but on the morning of the show the twelfth egg was produced and Susan won the first prize, five precious shillings and those twelve eggs to the good. Mrs. Jones, in the person of Susan, had cast her bread on the waters. . . .

These things, including the twelfth egg, are in the nature of an allegory, and the moral is as follows : Character is necessary in the formation of class; idealism is necessary in the formation of character. When you get your idealist, are you going to tie him down to living by bread alone P In addition to the foregoing, a supplementary dilemma may be presented. Since meat perishes and the ideal endures, is it worse to let the rising generation grow up with insufficient idealism or with insufficient meat ?