THE TALE OF THE LOST LAND
CHAPTER 33: SIXTH CENTURY POLITICAL ECONOMY
"Well, all right, let it go, since you vote me down. But there's
one thing which certainly isn't fair. The magistrate fixes a
mechanic's wage at one cent a day, for instance. The law says that
if any master shall venture, even under utmost press of business,
to pay anything over that cent a day, even for a single day, he
shall be both fined and pilloried for it; and whoever knows he did
it and doesn't inform, they also shall be fined and pilloried. Now
it seems to me unfair, Dowley, and a deadly peril to all of us,
that because you thoughtlessly confessed, a while ago, that within
a week you have paid a cent and fifteen mil--"
Oh, I tell you it was a smasher! You ought to have seen them to
go to pieces, the whole gang. I had just slipped up on poor
smiling and complacent Dowley so nice and easy and softly, that
he never suspected anything was going to happen till the blow
came crashing down and knocked him all to rags.
A fine effect. In fact, as fine as any I ever produced, with so
little time to work it up in.
But I saw in a moment that I had overdone the thing a little.
I was expecting to scare them, but I wasn't expecting to scare
them to death. They were mighty near it, though. You see they
had been a whole lifetime learning to appreciate the pillory; and
to have that thing staring them in the face, and every one of them
distinctly at the mercy of me, a stranger, if I chose to go and
report--well, it was awful, and they couldn't seem to recover
from the shock, they couldn't seem to pull themselves together.
Pale, shaky, dumb, pitiful? Why, they weren't any better than
so many dead men. It was very uncomfortable. Of course, I thought
they would appeal to me to keep mum, and then we would shake hands,
and take a drink all round, and laugh it off, and there an end.
But no; you see I was an unknown person, among a cruelly oppressed
and suspicious people, a people always accustomed to having advantage
taken of their helplessness, and never expecting just or kind
treatment from any but their own families and very closest intimates.
Appeal to me to be gentle, to be fair, to be generous? Of course,
they wanted to, but they couldn't dare.