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Luddite Spring: 51 - Animals

... It is you that is wrong, Mister Staithes, not them. If you don’t start treating them right, then the time might come when the Devil will come for you with them as his soldiers!” ...

Ronnie Bray continues his dramatic story of a great uprising.

“Just you look at them,” cried Staithes, agitatedly. He was pointing through his office window at a group of children struggling to open a six-hundred pound bale of wool that was to be graded. “They are like animals pushing, pulling, and not caring for each other’s well-being,” he ranted. “See how the little ones are poised off by bigger childer, pushed onto their backs on the floor, and nobody helps them back to their feet. Animals, that’s what they are! Animals, and that’s all they are. You say I ought to educate them. Hah! Might as well try to educate bears or monkeys as to try to knock sense into that lot!”

“Happen you are right, Master Staithes,” countered Abraham Lockwood, , “But at least you should give them the chance to see if anything can be shoved into their heads before you give up on them!”

“Mister Lockwood, you are a bigger fool than you’re made out to be! You preach every Sunday some foolishness about God making all men equal. That’s because you can’t see what’s in front of your eyes. These would kill each other for a penny just like they’re doing now and you can’t see that the Devil has them in his grip and has stripped their souls of every bit of humanity that God stuck into them when they was born! You are wasting your time preaching Jesus at these. They are godless and Hell-bound as sure as certain!”

Lockwood had made a point of calling on Staithes soon after Gledhill had called on him. He hoped to rescue him from the clutches of the devil without telling him the direct cause of his concern. He stuck his thumbs deeper through the wings of his black weskit and jutted his chin towards Staithes’ middle.

“There isn’t a man born that has no God in him!” he challenged. “Some of them have had most of the goodness kicked out of them, and that’s a fact. Nevertheless, that does not mean that they’re lost. If you will treat them right and give them fair wages, they’ll turn into God fearing Christians, every man jack of them! But, if you keep them on starvation wages and beat them black and blue at every turn you will drive them deeper into the Devil’s arms. It is you that is wrong, Mister Staithes, not them. If you don’t start treating them right, then the time might come when the Devil will come for you with them as his soldiers!”

“Let them come! Then we’ll see who’s equal to who!” Staithes shot back angrily.

Lockwood was disturbed by Staithes’ warlike tone. “If you would treat them better,” he exploded, “then they would be better. You cannot treat them as you do and then blame them for the way they behave. You are too hard on them.”

“I treat them well enough. They thrive in my mill!”

“That’s not true, Mister Staithes, and you know it!”

“I know that some people exaggerate what they think goes on in here. That’s what I know!”

“Exaggerate? Come with me to Saint Matthew’s and look at the death register. You will find disproportionate deaths of young ones. The greater part of the names inscribed in the death and burying book were killed or maimed right here on your premises.”

“Nonsense!” cried Staithes.

Lockwood continued as if Staithes had not spoken. “And they are only the ones whose names are recorded in the parson’s book. There’s as many again, and more, that have died here or been fatally injured by your machines and bullies whose names are not written in the parish register because they were too poor to let the vicar bury them. Go and look round Potter’s Field if you want to know your real harvest of dead children. I’m surprised they don’t haunt you of a night!”

Staithes did not like that. He had plenty of ghosts visit him, accusing him, and now this little man was threatening to have his own workers come against him as the Devil’s army on top of his concern about the Luddite business. He did not enjoy being told something he already feared. He couldn’t say what he wanted to say to Lockwood, because the Little Bishop was not a man to be trifled with. He wanted to give him an unfiltered yard or two of his mind and toss him out into the muddy yard upside down. However, exercising more self-restraint than he was wont to do, he held his temper and used his discretion because his fellow merchants, especially those of an independent turn of mind, revered Lockwood. Lockwood could summon stout defenders from Nonconformist churches to his side, and that alignment could cost Staithes some important business. Therefore, he bit his angry tongue and forbore to vent at the diminutive religious. He bade him ‘Good day’ as civilly as he was able, and opened the office door, then gave a thrust of his head that meant, “Get out!”

Lockwood accepted the invitation with his usual good grace, and left, shaking his head.

Although Staithes was not religious in the accepted sense, there was a place in his mind that was inhabited by an indefinite and ever-changing form that might be God, or might just as easily be the Devil. It could be the Angel of Life or, just as easily, the Angel of Death. He wasn’t sure, and his torments prevented him from deciding one way or the other. He did not mind this indecision because, he told himself, being ambivalent meant that one side or the other could not blame him, and Judgement Day, if it should come at all, was a long way off.

Despite all he did not know, he did know that men could be dangerous, especially those in good standing with important, that is, with wealthy, men, and it was folly to provoke them. Therefore, he was more than a little forbearing with the little preacher. just in case!

Infuriatingly, the Little Bishop’s words, “If you don’t start treating them right, then the time might come when the Devil will come for you with them as his soldiers!” rang inside his head like to echo of a huge bronze bell, making him fret more, sleep less, and be even more overtaken with dread.


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