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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 72

Chapter VI

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Chapter VI.

HHere's a nice, thick letter for you, Netta, from Lucy,' cried Agnes, one morning, as she unlocked the letter bag-; "and as you only gave us scraps out of her last letter, you must read this aloud for the benefit of the family."

"I shall be very glad to do so," said Netta, "if the family will have patience; it is not always easy work to wade through one of Lucy's long letters, though they are interesting; but I will do my best," and Netta began:—

"My Dear Netta,—As Joe is writing to his mother this evening, I thought I would write you a few lines—that is, if; baby will let me. Poor little chappy! he is troubled very much with his teeth just now; but there are two little pearls through, and I hope the others will soon follow. As a rule, he is so good, the best of all my babies, excepting, of course, your little name, sake; she is—but there! I am not going to write another word about the children to-night, for I have something else that I want to tell you.

"I am glad to say that Joe has succeeded now in persuading all his employees to put a little away every pay-night towards an old age pension—with one exception, and he is such a nice young fellow, too. He has not been with us very long; he lost all his money—a considerable sum—in some of the Australian banks some little while ago, and it has almost made a wreck of him He says he will not save another penny till he can get Government security that he will have it back in his old age.

"Joe says it would be such a good thing if Government would issue an 'annuity stamp '—say from threepence to twenty shillings—to be sold at all post-offices within the colony. The page 31 money would then go directly into the coffers of the State; they could give a fair rate of interest, and there would be, of course, State security that the pension would be paid at the proper time. I don't understand all the details, but you should hear Joe explain it all; he talks like a book.

"Well, last Friday—pay-night,—two of the young fellows brought their stamp-book—as they call their little account-book, for Joe says he thinks the 'stamp' will be issued some day—to put down their usual half-a-crown, Joe thought they looked a little shame-faced, and wondered what was the matter. They said that, instead of the usual two shillings and sixpence, they would like to put away seven shillings and sixpence. However, Joe persuaded them to put the five shillings in the savings bank, and go on with the half-a-crown stamp.

"'How is this, boys?' said Joe. 'When I spoke to you first about it you thought you could not spare the two and sixpence, and now you say you can put away seven shillings and sixpence every week! Why, if you had done that ever since you have been with me, you might have had comfortable homes now to bring your girls to.'

"'That's what Tom and me was saying,' answered Dick.

"'Oh, that is it!' said Joe, smiling. 'Perhaps you would not mind telling me how you can spare so much. Have you changed your lodging, or anything?'

"'No, sir; but it's like this,' answered Dick: 'When Tom and me made up our minds to save the two and sixpence, we thought we'd give up smoking,—them cigarettes cost a lot of money. Then we used to go to the pub every night to play billiards or cards, and there was a good deal of gambling going on. Some weeks we were lucky, and it was very nice to have a handful of sovereigns jingling in your pocket; but the next week they would all go, and more with them; so we gave that up. Then Tom has a cousin that belongs to an improvement society or club, and he took us there one night, and all the fellows were so good; they shook hands with us, and made us feel quite at home like; and so we go there now instead of to the pub.'

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"'I am very glad to hear it, boys,' said Joe. 'I must look in some night to see you.'

"'Whew! I am glad you did not look in last night,' said Tom, with crimson cheeks, and speaking for the first time.

"'Why, Tom, what was up last night?' asked Joe.

"'Tom made his first speech last night,' answered Dick; 'and first-rate he did it, too. He spoke on the "Old Age Pension," and he gave your arguments to a T. Then there was what they call a discussion, and all the fellows said that it was the right and proper thing to do; that we could not be manly and independent without doing it. And it was carried unanimously "That there ought to be a law to compel everyone that could, to make some provision for old age—the rich as well as us working chaps, for the rich may not be always rich."'

"'Well, Dick,' said Joe, 'you must let me know when you are going to make your first speech, and I will come and hear it.'

"'Oh!' said poor Dick, 'I ain't had any learning like Tom. I can talk well enough here amongst ourselves, but when I mixes with well-dressed, well-educated young fellows, I have to be mum. I do know that much.'

"You are a step in advance of some folks, thought Joe.

"'My dad died when I was nine, and I never cared much for schooling; so mother let me stay at home to help her and do odd jobs. We lived in Shoreditch then, and folks ain't particular there—leastways, they wasn't then.'

"However, Joe persuaded Dick to join some evening classes and he has just been here for some books. Joe introduced him to me as our future Premier! He says Dick is a very smart, intelligent young fellow, and will not be surprised if he turns out to be a very clever man; and even his being Premier, you know, is not an impossibility in a country like outs."

"What a blessing it would be," said Netta, putting down the letter, "if there really were an old age pension. Don't you think, papa, there is a possibility of it ever becoming law?"

"Not here. As I have said before," replied Mr. Bateman, "our landed estates, as well as our pauper institutions, are too deeply-rooted—that is, for the universal pension that Joe speaks page 33 of. In a new country it might be brought about, if they set about it in time."

"But, papa," said Netta, "you know Cox, the draper?

"What! Not that corner shop?"

"No, papa, that large place in Duke Street. I was speaking to Mr. Cox on the subject, and he said he acted on that principle now. At the birth of each child he puts a certain amount away, and so on at each birthday; and he says that his children are not to touch it until they are, at least, fifty years of age—that is, unless they are really in distress."

"My dear Netta," said Mr. Bateman, severely for him, "to whom have you not spoken on this old age pension? I am afraid you will worry and annoy people with it."

"There is no fear of my worrying or annoying Mr. Cox with it," said Netta, laughing; "he is more enthusiastic on the subject than I am. And I am not surprised, for he has two uncles and an aunt dependent upon him, beside his father and mother. Of course, he does not mind his father and mother, and one uncle he is very fond of—his mother's brother: but the other uncle and his aunt—the Bridgewaters,—he does think it a little hard to have to support them. It seems the Bridgewaters thought themselves much above the Coxes at one time, and scarcely noticed them. But I must go on with Lucy's letter."

"I am afraid, dear," she continued, "that you will think my letter very 'shoppy.' I tell Joe sometimes that he is always talking 'shop,' and that if I worked at the factory, he would, perhaps, pay me a little attention sometimes! Then he gives me one of his looks that always make me think my Joe is the wisest and best man in the world—and baby is the image of him. The same eyes, the same nose, and as for the mouth——"

"And,' said Netta, glancing over another closely-written sheet of paper, "this is how Lucy keeps her promise not to write a word about the children! Shall I go on?"

"I am afraid, dear, you must excuse me," said Mr Bateman, "not but that Lucy's letters are always interesting. I think like Joe, that if people live by 'shop,' there is no reason why they should be ashamed to speak of it. Besides, it would go a great page 34 way towards the solution of the labour trouble, if all employers were more like Mr. Wiseman—treat their employees with more consideration, live more among them, and take more interest in their everyday life. But," continued Mr. Bateman, as he took up the morning paper, "it surprises me! It astonishes me beyond measure to hear of those continued strikes! Having so many intelligent working men among us, I cannot understand why they don't hoard their savings; have a union for capital if they like. If all the money that has been wasted on strikes during the last ten years had been put into a common fund, they would have had capital enough by this time for any undertaking!"

"What a sum for an old age pension fund!" exclaimed Netta.

Mr. Bateman gave Netta an amused look, but went on: "Let them, then, choose the business which they think would pay best, and work it on co-operative principles. If they find that pay, let them take up some other branch, and so become capitalists themselves."

"Why don't you write and tell them so, papa?" asked Netta.

"My dear, they have been told a hundred times; but, instead of listening, they go on cutting the ground from under their own feet."

When Mr. Bateman left the table, Addie begged to hear the rest of Lucy's letter, which, she declared, was much the more interesting part.

"But," said Addie, with wrinkled brow, and a face altogether as if she were studying the most difficult proposition in Euclid, "I don't see how anyone can say what babies' noses will be like when they grow up."

"That's like you, Addie," said Netta; you puzzle your little brain over that! What are strikes compared to babies' noses?"

"Well, they are not half as nice to think about," said Addie, demurely. "If I had my way, I would do something dreadful to the men, for it is the little babies who have to suffer."

"I am so glad you are going to stay in to-day," said Addie, as she sat down to give a few finishing touches to her dolls; "it is so cold outside."

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"I am not sorry myself," answered Netta. "I am dreadfully lazy; I feel as if I could sit in this great chair in front of the fire all day."

"It would he the best thing you could do," said Agnes. "If you don't take a little more rest than you have been doing lately, I am afraid that in a little while you will have no choice in the matter."

"Come in," said Netta, raising her voice as she heard a bock at the door.

"Please, Miss Netta, there's a little girl here, who wants to speak to you!" said the servant.

"Who is she, Jane?" asked Netta.

"I don't know, Miss," replied the girl. "She is a pretty little thing, but, oh! so thinly clad. She seems to have very little on except an old silk shawl—which, I dare say, was a beauty in its day—tied round her."

"Oh! 'tis little Flossie Jackson," said Netta; "bring her in here, Jane, please."

"Well, Flossie," she said encouragingly, as the little girl came in, looking very shy; "what message have you for me to-day?"

"Please, Miss Bateman," said the child, "mamma had to go out this morning, and grandpapa is ill; and could you please come and sit with him till mamma comes back?"

Addie began to pucker up her lips; but a look at Flossie soon brought back all the soft lines again, and she said pleasantly, "Will you have a piece of cake, Flossie?"

Flossie looked at her with her great, hungry eyes, and gave her head a very decided nod.

"Have you had your breakfast, Flossie?" asked Agnes. The tears welled up in the child's eyes, and she shook her head.

"Bertie has not had any breakfast either," she said; "but mamma promised we should have a nice breakfast when she came back, if we would let grandpapa have all there was this morning."

"Come with me then, Flossie," said Agnes, taking hold of the child's little, thin, cold hand, "and we will see if we can get something warmer than cake!"

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"Dear, dear!" sighed Mr. Bateman, as Netta was preparing to go with little Flossie, "I remember old Mr. Jackson when he kept his brougham, and a very pretty little one he had, too!"

"How is it, papa?" exclaimed Netta; "is Fanarth a special resort for people who have been very much reduced in circumstances, or is it the same everywhere else?"

"There are some natures, dear, more sympathetic that others, and find out such cases," replied her father; "but, to a great degree, I am afraid it is the same all over the world."