JAMES FRAMPTON felt that he had done a good day’s work. How it would turn out eventually he did not know. But for the time being he had laid this pestilent crew by the heels. It had been bad enough to know that they were preaching their dissenting nonsense on the village greens in the neighbourhood. But this combining in secret societies to force up their wages was more than the country could stand. He knew that workers in the North of England were organizing pretty strongly. He thought that deplorable. But after all the North was the North, and this industrialism which was overrunning the nation was peculiar. The men were confined in close compartments, and their being so closely connected made them mix more, he supposed. He wasn’t quite sure either if he quite liked all this machinery in the North of England. That was not what had made England what she was. As he thought of our island story he remembered Crecy and the gallant yeomen. It was the farmers and farm labourers who had brought them power. And whatever might be the justification for workmen combining and shewing a lack of civility to their masters in the North under those conditions of confinement, he was determined that the country could not stand farm labourers going the same way. There must be discipline or the country would go to the dogs.
Thinking very much on these lines he took his nightly stroll to the ‘Dorchester Arms’. He knew he would meet a great many men of like mind in the parlour there. Over the wine they would discuss all sorts of things, and he was likely to be a little hero after the exploits of the day. Well, he could comport himself with due dignity, and he hoped with modesty. As he mounted the stairs to an upper room, he could hear a lively conversation proceeding. Many farmers from the surrounding country had come in that day, and some of them had been in the Court and were telling the others about it. John Day was expressing strong opinions about the men as he entered the door.
‘Ah, here’s Mr. Frampton. He’ll tell us what is going to happen to them. Are they going up to the Assizes, Mr. Frampton?’ he said.
‘Let me sit down, gentlemen, before you begin asking me questions,’ said Frampton. ‘It seems nice and snug in here. I’ll take my coat off and come over by the fire. Shall we all sit round and chat? But first of all, drink up, and order your liquor. I’ll pay this time.’
The bell was rung and presently the potman came along to take their orders. After the usual complimentary clinking of glasses and drinking Mr. Frarnpton’s health, the real conversation began.
‘You want to know what’s to be done with them?’ said Frampton. ‘I suppose you mean those farm labourers from Tolpud die.
‘Ay, Loveless and Standfieid and that lot,’ said John Day.
‘Well, of course I can’t tell. They will have justice you may be sure of that. There will be a Judge sent down and he will try the case on its merits. I have been talking it over with a few legal men and they say the case is clear enough. They’ve administered an oath and that’s against the law of the land. And there’s a sentence of seven years’ transportation for it. That’s what we put on the bill, and a copy of the bill has been found on George Loveless’s person. So he can’t say he didn’t know about it.’
‘But, Mr. Frampton,’ said a bluff old farmer at the other side of the chimneypiece, ‘I’m a freemason and we swore all sorts of secret oaths. Does it mean we were doing what was illegal and could be transported for it?’
‘It does that, George,’ said Frampton. He saw a chance of scoring a point and adding to such reputation as he had for wit. Like all really dull and conventional men, he liked to be thought a bit of a dog. ‘Ah, George, I shall have you before me yet. You’ve confessed it now. Seven years’ transportation you’ve earned. If it wasn’t for your general good character I should feel it my duty to report you.’
George Smith began to get angry. He was soon up in arms against anyone who poked fun at him, so he shouted in his great bull-like voice:
‘Stop your silly chaffing, James Frampton. If you want to fight come outside and have it. I could smash you up in two ticks, you miserable old skinflint. I should just like you to have me in front of you at Court. I’d make them sit up and take notice when I told them about some of your goings on at this place, that I would. What about New Year’s Day? Would you like me to blow off about that, eh?’
‘Come, come,’ said John Day. ‘He’s only chaffing, George. We don’t want any quarrelling tonight.’
‘Well, let him keep his chaffing to himself, then,’ said Smith slightly mollified, ‘I’m not going to stand it from him or anyone else. I am a man who says what I think, and there isn’t a beak in Dorsetshire who’ll stop me either.’
‘Come and shake hands and have another drink. I didn’t mean anything, George. I didn’t want to ruffle you. But really you know you asked me if you had disobeyed the law in swearing secret oaths at the Masonic Lodge. Well, you have, but nobody would say anything about it to you, because you see the Masons are known to be loyal subjects of His Majesty, and they are all with us who are governing the country. Besides, it is necessary for some of us to do things in secret, but we cannot allow these labourers to do it. That is a very different thing. It would never do. We represent the Constitution, and the Church, and the landed gentry. These labourers have to work for us. How could the country be managed if everyone was to do as they liked? Every Tom, Dick, or Harry cannot be a farmer. You farmers wouldn’t be able to work your farms if you had no labourers. The labourers must be kept in their proper places, and that is down there.’
James Frampton pointed to the floor, and all of them thought of the gathering of workingmen, mainly labourers who would be at the bar at that moment, and who would touch their hats if they met them in the street or in the road. Discipline must be maintained. Without discipline how could one feel that the country was safe?
‘But what’s going to happen to them?’ insisted John Day. ‘Do you think they’ll get transportation?’
‘Serve ’em jolly well right if they do,’ cut in another voice. ‘Lot of canting hypocrites I call them. Water drinkers every one of them. I asked Tom Standfield one day why he didn’t drink and make himself happy like any other man, and he said he couldn’t afford it. Getting seven shillings a week and him without a child, and said he couldn’t afford it! I told him he was a liar. He wanted to spend his money on something else, that was it. He said it wasn’t; except that he wanted to keep his body and soul together. And he’s getting seven shillings a week! So I thought I’d try him. So I said, “Well, I’ll pay for a drink. Come along into the ‘Arms’ and say what you’ll have.” Do you think he would go in with me? Not him. So I told him that it wasn’t because he couldn’t afford it that he wouldn’t drink. It was just some silly Methodist notion he had. Well, he then said he thought it was a silly habit, and anyhow he’d never been drunk in his life and didn’t intend to be. So I told him to mind what he was saying about his betters and he went away to his prayer meeting or whatever it was he wanted to go to. Canting hypocrite!’
‘Oh well,’ said Frampton, ‘I don’t know that I can say anything against him for that. We get quite enough drunks before us without adding to them. If the man can’t stand his liquor, well he shouldn’t have it. I hate these Methodists with their talk about freedom and speaking as if they could get into the presence of God Himself. Blasphemous it seems to me. What’s a parson for if it isn’t to look after our religion for us? But it does seem to keep these men sober.’
‘Ay, and it makes them crafty,’ said lawyer Stark. ‘I thought we had cleared that nest of Dissenters out of Tolpuddle eight years ago. We refused employment to at least a dozen of them. The farmers were with us and we thought we had broken them. But they seem worse than ever. And this man George Loveless is past a joke. He has such a confounded way of getting them together and going and talking on the village greens and getting other little groups of people to start new Methodist meetings. I heard him speak once at Piddletrenthide. I’ll not deny that he can speak well. He preaches better than the parson, in fact. But what assumption! What can he know about the Bible? He’s never been to College. He’s just puffed up because he is able to find such a flow of words. The people like them. They seem to be proud of having a man from among them who they say can speak better than any other man in the county. They even say he is a match for lawyers and parsons and judges. But they’ll see. Wait till we get him before the judge. He may try to put up his long-winded speeches there, but the judge will know how to deal with him.’
Mr. Woolaston, another magistrate, had come into the room whilst lawyer Stark was speaking and he gathered that they were talking about the men who were in gaol because of that day’s decision. He was full of another idea.
‘I don’t think all that matters much,’ he said. ‘The dangerous thing is that there is so much disturbance going on all over the country. You remember reading in the Times about those men in Lancashire who have been breaking machines, and you know nearly twenty of them were transported to Australia for doing it. Well, I have reliable information that the men of Lancashire and Yorkshire are not pacified yet. They still join their Unions in large numbers and they are pressing the masters all the time to increase their wages. There is a lot of trade being done in other parts of the world, and the machines are wanted and the men to work them. The masters there are being tyrannized over to pay more than was ever paid to a working man before. They say they must keep their works going or they will lose trade. And so they have to pay the wages the men demand. Then I am told that the farmers in Lancashire can hardly keep a labourer because they can get so much more at the mills, and the farming in the North generally is going to rack and ruin. Now they are wanting us to pay men more wages here. Well, our men cannot get higher wages, because there is nothing else for them to go to. So we won’t pay more. You know that man Loveless came and told us we ought, and he got a parson to promise to help him, but we stopped that. Parson Warren did not understand what he was doing when he promised that he would help them and he isn’t going to do it. But that’s not all. I believe one of these men is really Captain Swing, or else he knows who he is.’
‘Captain Swing,’ said George Smith, bridling again at the thought of the villain who was terrorizing the countryside. ‘But Captain Swing hasn’t come to Dorsetshire, has he?’
‘He’s very near,’ said Mr. Woolaston. ‘Hayricks have started burning in a mysterious way not so very far away. That Hammett man is a quiet sort of a chap. He says he wasn’t at that meeting Edward Legg told you about, Mr. Frampton. But Edward was certain that was the name, though he says he doesn’t very clearly recollect the faces. I’ve told him to stick to the names and take no chances. He knows the names and can swear to them. It is just these silent men who are so dangerous. I shouldn’t be a bit surprised if Hammett turns out to be Captain Swing after all.’
‘Oh, but that couldn’t be,’ broke in John Day. ‘Hammett is a good workman. He never misses a day’s work, and the fires have been breaking out all over the country. He doesn’t seem to have gone out of his native village for years, except when he has been with the other Tolpuddle men going to various villages about here.’
‘Nobody thinks that Captain Swing does all the burning himself. There’s a sort of an underground organization. Nobody knows how it is done. But the fires take place at all sorts of places. Someone is at the back of it. How do you know what Hammett does after his work is done? Or any of them for that matter? We know that George Loveless is nearly always preaching somewhere or other. But that may easily be a cover for the other thing. I shouldn’t at all wonder but what we’ve got Captain Swing among this lot.’
‘They’re good workmen I hear,’ said John Day again, anxious to give what credit he could.
‘Ay, they’re good enough workmen—that I’ve heard from all the farmers thereabouts,’ said George Smith. ‘I was talking to the farmer who employs some of them last week, and he said what splendid chaps they were. You could see they were fine upstanding men as you saw them in Court this morning. But he says he shan’t mind if they’re transported. Ten shillings a week they want, he says, and he’s paying them seven shillings and his life will be a misery with them until he gives way. He’s seen their black looks and he knows they’ll leave him just in the middle of a busy time or something if they don’t get it. Well, says he, supposing I lose two of them at ten shillings a week, I can have three at seven shillings a week each and I’m only a shilling a week worse off and got an extra man. He says he knows he couldn’t get other men as good as them, but it would have to be mighty poor men if three couldn’t do more than the work of two of them.’
‘Ay, the silly fellows with their clap-trap. They don’t see that. We provide the work for them, and we must make it pay or. we can’t pay them. They want to kill the goose that lays the golden eggs, that’s what they do,’ chipped in a brawny farmer who hadn’t said anything up till now. If he hadn’t spoken he had been busy imbibing and was just a little inclined to be tipsy. He was notoriously a silent man in those parts and needed a very considerable skinful to make him talk at all. Samuel Goodwin his name was. He hadn’t another word to say, but went on with his drinking. Those words of wisdom were to last him for many a week. He stumbled home to tell his wife of his smartness. ‘ I told them they wanted to kill the goose that lays the golden eggs,’ he said. It was a phrase that he had heard before, but he felt it was original in that connection. Nobody had ever talked before about George Loveless killing the goose of the golden eggs. So for weeks that story did duty, and for months his own farm labourers had to put up with remarks about the golden eggs they were picking up at the rate of seven shillings a week.
James Frampton felt that perhaps some of this conversation might get outside. To some extent he was anxious that it should. But he wanted everybody to feel that English justice was doing its duty. It could be stern and unpleasant, but it must be just, and so he began to talk about the fair trials that these men would have. ‘And if they can prove their innocence of the charge,’ he added, ‘they will go free without a stain on their characters. I am sure I hope they can prove their innocence. We shall see that they are defended by Counsel. I don’t think we have yet got the whole gang. I should like to think we have. No doubt when they are questioned some of them will give their other companions away and so we shall get the whole company by the heels. There were only six there besides Edward Legg at the meeting he attended, but he is certain there are others. He asked them who their friends were, but they have not let him see their books, and he didn’t like to press them too hard for fear they should suspect what he was after and we should find the birds had flown when we tried to take them. But I don’t doubt that some of them will try to escape by giving away their comrades.’
‘Well, I don’t know about the rest of them, but I had a good look at George Loveless and James Hammett in the Court,’ said Farmer Smith. ‘I say they deserve all they will get, but if ever I saw men who would stick to their comrades, those two will. You’ll find they will not squeal. They’ll take their punishment whatever it is. And I shouldn’t think young Brine will either. He is no chapel man. He likes his drink of ale with the rest, but he’s a real man, and drunk or sober he’ll stick to his word.’
‘Well, we shall see,’ answered the magistrate. ‘Anyhow, gentlemen, we’ve done a good day’s work today, and I’m going home.’
And so the party broke up, very well satisfied with itself and with the knowledge that the men who had been troubling them were cooling their heels in the Dorchester gaol for one night at least.