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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesA Prince Of Sinners - Part 1 - Chapter 9. Henslow Speaks Out
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A Prince Of Sinners - Part 1 - Chapter 9. Henslow Speaks Out Post by :bambito Category :Long Stories Author :E. Phillips Oppenheim Date :May 2012 Read :1725

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A Prince Of Sinners - Part 1 - Chapter 9. Henslow Speaks Out

PART I CHAPTER IX. HENSLOW SPEAKS OUT

The bomb was thrown. Some ten thousand people crowded together in the market-place at Medchester, under what seemed to be one huge canopy of dripping umbrellas, heard for the first time for many years a bold and vigorous attack upon the principles which had come to be considered a part of the commercial ritual of the country. Henslow made the best of a great opportunity. He spoke temperately, but without hesitation, and concluded with a biting and powerful onslaught upon that class of Englishmen who wilfully closed their eyes to the prevailing industrial depression, and endeavoured to lure themselves and others into a sense of false security as to the well-being of the country by means of illusive statistics. In his appreciation of dramatic effect, and the small means by which an audience can be touched, Henslow was a past master. Early in his speech he had waved aside the umbrella which a supporter was holding over him, and regardless of the rain, he stood out in the full glare of the reflected gaslight, a ponderous, powerful figure.

"No one can accuse me," he cried, "of being a pessimist. Throughout my life I have striven personally, and politically, to look upon the brightest side of things. But I count it a crime to shut one's eyes to the cloud in the sky, even though it be no larger than a man's hand. Years ago that cloud was there for those who would to see. To-day it looms over us, a black and threatening peril, and those who, ostrich-like, still hide their heads in the sand, are the men upon whose consciences must rest in the future the responsibility for those evil things which are even now upon us. Theories are evil things, but when theory and fact are at variance, give me fact. Theoretically Free Trade should--I admit it--make us the most prosperous nation in the world. As a matter of fact, never since this country commenced to make history has our commercial supremacy been in so rotten and insecure a position. There isn't a flourishing industry in the country, save those which provide the munitions of war, and their prosperity is a spasmodic, and I might almost add, an undesirable thing. Now, I am dealing with facts to-night, not theories, and I am going to quote certain unassailable truths, and I am going to give you the immediate causes for them. The furniture and joinery trade of England is bad. There are thousands of good hands out of employment. They are out of work because the manufacturer has few or no orders. I want the immediate cause for that, and I go to the manufacturer. I ask him why he has no orders. He tells me, because every steamer from America is bringing huge consignments of ready-made office and general furniture, at such prices or such quality that the English shopkeepers prefer to stock them. Consequently trade is bad with him, and he cannot find employment for his men. I find here in Medchester the boot and shoe trade in which you are concerned bad. There are thousands of you who are willing to work who are out of employment. I go to the manufacturer, and I say to him, 'Why don't you find employment for your hands?' 'For two reasons,' he answers. 'First, because I have lost my Colonial and some of my home trade through American competition, and secondly, because of the universally depressed condition of every kindred trade throughout the country, which keeps people poor and prevents their having money to spend.' Just now I am not considering the question of why the American can send salable boots and shoes into this country, although the reasons are fairly obvious. They have nothing to do with my point, however. We are dealing to-night with immediate causes!

"And now as to that depression throughout the country which keeps people poor, as the boot manufacturer puts it, and prevents their having money to spend. I am going to take several trades one by one, and ascertain the immediate cause of their depression--"

He had hold of his audience, and he made good use of his advantage. He quoted statistics, showing the decrease of exports and relative increase of imports. How could we hope to retain our accumulated wealth under such conditions?--and finally he abandoned theorizing and argument, and boldly declared his position.

"I will tell you," he concluded, "what practical means I intend to bring to bear upon the situation. I base my projected action upon this truism, which is indeed the very kernel of my creed. I say that every man willing and able to work should have work, and I say that it is the duty of legislators to see that he has it. To-day there are one hundred thousand men and women hanging about our streets deteriorating morally and physically through the impossibility of following their trade. I say that it is time for legislators to inquire into the cause of this, and to remedy it. So I propose to move in the House of Commons, should your votes enable me to find myself there, that a Royal Commission be immediately appointed to deal with this matter. And I propose, further, to insist that this Commission be composed of manufacturers and business men, and that we dispense with all figure-heads, and I can promise you this, that the first question which shall engage the attention of these men shall be an immediate revision of our tariffs. We won't have men with theories which work out beautifully on paper, and bring a great country into the throes of commercial ruin. We won't have men who think that the laws their fathers made are good enough for them, and that all change is dangerous, because Englishmen are sure to fight their way through in the long run--a form of commercial Jingoism to which I fear we are peculiarly prone. We don't want scholars or statisticians. We want a commission of plain business men, and I promise you that if we get them, there shall be presented to Parliament before I meet you again practical measures which I honestly and firmly believe will start a wave of commercial prosperity throughout the country such as the oldest amongst you cannot remember. We have the craftsmen, the capital, and the brains--all that we need is legislation adapted to the hour and not the last century, and we can hold our own yet in the face of the world."

* * * * *

Afterwards, at the political club and at the committee-room, there was much excited conversation concerning the effect of Henslow's bold declaration. The general impression was, this election was now assured. A shouting multitude followed him to his hotel, popular Sentiment was touched, and even those who had been facing the difficulty of life with a sort of dogged despair for years were raised into enthusiasm. His words begat hope.

In the committee-room there was much excitement and a good deal of speculation. Every one realized that the full effect of this daring plunge could not be properly gauged until after it had stood the test of print. But on the whole comment was strikingly optimistic. Brooks for some time was absent. In the corridor he had come face to face with Mary Scott. Her eyes flashed with pleasure at the sight of him, and she held out her hand frankly.

"You heard it all?" he asked, eagerly.

"Yes--every word. Tell me, you understand these things so much better than I do. Is this an election dodge, or--is he in earnest? Was he speaking the truth?

"The honest truth, I believe," he answered, leading her a little away from the crowd of people. "He is of course pressing this matter home for votes, but he is very much in earnest himself about it."

"And you think that he is on the right track?"

"I really believe so," he answered. "In fact I am strongly in favour of making experiments in the direction he spoke of. By the bye, Miss Scott, I have something to tell you. You remember telling me about Lord Arranmore and his refusal to subscribe to the Unemployed Fund?"

"Yes!"

"He has been approached again--the facts have been more fully made known to him, and he has sent a cheque for one thousand pounds."

She received the news with a coldness which he found surprising.

"I think I can guess," she said, quietly, "who the second applicant was."

"I went to see him myself," he admitted.

"You must be very eloquent," she remarked, with a smile which he could not quite understand. "A thousand pounds is a great deal of money."

"It is nothing to Lord Arranmore," he answered.

"Less than nothing," she admitted, readily. "I would rather that he had stopped in the street and given half-a-crown to a hungry child."

"Still--it is a magnificent gift," he declared. "We can open all our relief stations again. I believe that you are a little prejudiced against Lord Arranmore."

"I?" She shrugged her shoulders. "How should I be? I have never spoken a word to him in my life. But I think that he has a hard, cynical face, and a hateful expression."

Brooks disagreed with her frankly.

"He seems to me," he declared, "like a man who has had a pretty rough time, and I believe he had in his younger days, but I do not believe that he is really either hard or cynical. He has some odd views as regards charity, but upon my word they are logical enough."

She smiled.

"Well, we'll not disagree about him," she declared. "I wonder how long my uncle means to be."

"Shall I find out?" he asked.

"Would it be troubling you? He is so excited that I dare say he has forgotten all about me."

Which was precisely what he had done. Brooks found him the centre of an animated little group, with a freshly-lit cigar in his mouth, and every appearance of having settled down to spend the night. He was almost annoyed when Brooks reminded him of his niece.

"God bless my soul, I forgot all about Mary," he exclaimed with vexation. "She must go and sit somewhere. I shan't be ready yet. Henslow wants us to go down to the Bell, and have a bit of supper."

"In that case," Brooks said, "you had better allow me to take Miss Scott home, and I will come then to you."

"Capital, if you really don't mind," Mr. Bullsom declared. "Put her in a cab. Don't let her be a bother to you."

Brooks found her reluctant to take him away, but he pleaded a headache, and assured her that his work for the night was over. Outside he led her away from the centre of the town to a quiet walk heading to the suburb where she lived. Here the streets seemed strangely silent, and Brooks walked hat in hand, heedless of the rain which was still sprinkling. "Oh, this is good," he murmured. "How one wearies of these crowds."

"All the same," she answered, smiling, "I think that your place just now is amongst them, and I shall not let you take me further than the top of the hill."

Brooks looked down at her and laughed.

"What a very determined person you are," he said. "I will take you to the top of the hill--and then we will see."

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