Page images

a purpose foreign to his own personal enjoyment. On the other hand, the squire would assist Mrs. Jones in any of her plans, if it cost him nothing; so she showed her good sense by never asking Sir John for advice, or the squire for subscriptions; and by this prudence gained the full support of both.

Mrs. Jones resolved to spend two or three days in a week in getting acquainted with the state of the parish, and she took care never to walk out without a few little good books in her pocket, to give away. This, though a cheap, is a most important act of charity : it has various uses; it furnishes the poor with religious knowledge, which they have so few ways of obtaining; it counteracts the wicked designs of those who have taught us at least one lesson, by their zeal in the dispersion of wicked books—I mean, the lesson of vigilance and activity; and it is the best introduction for any useful conversation which the giver of the book may wish to introduce.

She found, that among the numerous wants she met with, no small share was owing to bad management, or to imposition : she was struck with the small size of the loaves. Wheat was now not very dear, and she was sure a good deal of blame rested with the baker. She sent for a shilling loaf to the next great town, where the mayor often sent to the baker's shops to see that the bread was proper weight. She weighed her town loaf against her country loaf, and found the latter two pounds lighter than it ought to be. This was not the sort of grievance to carry to Sir John; but luckily the squire was also a magistrate, and it was quite in his way; for though he could not give, yet he would counsel, calculate, contrive, reprimand, and punish. He told her he could remedy the evil, if some one would lodge an information against the baker; but that there was no act of justice which he found it so difficult to accomplish.

The Informer. She dropped in on the blacksmith. He was at dinner. She inquired if his bread was good. “Ay, good enough, mistress, for you see it is as white as your cap, if we had but more of it. Here's a sixpenny loaf; you might take it for a penny roll!” He then heartily cursed Crib the baker, and said he ought to be hanged. Mrs. Jones now told him what she had done; how she had detected the fraud, and assured him the evil should be redressed on the morrow, provided he would appear and inform: “I inform!” said he, with a


shocking oath, “hang an informer! I scorn the office.” You are nice in the wrong place,” replied Mrs. Jones; “ for you don't scorn to abuse the baker, nor to be in a passion, nor to swear, though you scorn to redress a public injury, and to increase your children's bread. Let me tell you, there is nothing in which you ignorant people mistake more than in your notions about informers. Informing is a lawful way of obtaining redress; and though it is a mischievous and a hateful thing to go to a justice about every trifling matter, yet laying an information on important occasions, without malice, or bitterness of any kind, is what no honest man ought to be ashamed of. The shame is to commit the offence, not to inform against it. I, for my part, should perhaps do right, if I not only informed against Crib, for making light bread, but against you, for swearing at him.”

“Well, but, madam," said the smith, a little softened, “ don't you think it a sin and a shame to turn informer?“ So far from it, that when a man's motives are good,” said Mrs. Jones, “and in such clear cases as the present, I think it a duty and a virtue. If it is right that there should be laws, it must be right that they should be put in execution ; but how can this be, if people will not inform the magistrates when they see the laws broken? I hope I shall always be afraid to be an offender against the laws, but not to be an informer in support of them. An informer by trade is commonly a knave. A rash, malicious, or passionate informer is a firebrand; but honest and prudent informers are almost as useful members of society as the judges of the land. If you continue in your present mind on this subject, do not you think that you will be answerable for the crimes you might have prevented by informing, and thus become a sort of accomplice of the villains who commit them?.

“Well, madam,” said the smith, “I now see plainly enough that there is no shame in turning informer when my cause is good.” “And your motive right; always mind that,” said Mrs. Jones. Next day the smith attended ; Crib was fined in the usual penalty ; his light bread was taken from him, and given to the poor. The justices resolved henceforward to inspect the bakers in their district; and all of them, except Crib, and such as Crib, were glad of it; for honesty never dreads a trial. Thus had Mrs. Jones the comfort of seeing how useful people may be without expense ; for if she could have given the poor fifty pounds, she would not have done them so great, or so lasting a benefit, as she did them in seeing their loaves restored to their lawful weight;

and the true light in which she had put the business of informing was of no small use, in giving the neighborhood right views on that subject.

There were two shops in the parish; but Mrs. Sparks, at the Cross, had not half so much custom as Wills, at the Sugar-loaf, though shed sold her goods a penny in a shilling cheaper, and all agreed that they were much better. Mrs. Jones asked Mrs. Sparks the reason. “Madam,” said the shopkeeper, “Mr. Wills will give longer trust. Besides this, his wife keeps a shop on a Sunday morning while I am at church.” Mrs. Jones now reminded Mr. Simpson to read the king's proclamation against vice and immorality next Sunday at church; and prevailed on the squire to fine any one who should keep open-shop on a Sunday. This he readily undertook ; for while Sir John thought it good-natured to connive at breaking the laws, the squire fell into the other extreme, of thinking that the zealous enforcing of penal statutes would stand in the stead of all religious restraints. Mrs. Jones proceeded to put the people in mind, that a shopkeeper who would sell on a Sunday, would be more likely to cheat them all the week, than one who went to church.

She also labored hard to convince them how much they would lessen their distress, if they would contrive to deal with Mrs. Sparks for ready money, rather than with Wills on long credit; those who listened to her found their circumstances far more comfortable at the year's end, while the rest, tempted, like some of their betters, by the pleasure of putting off the evil day of payment, like them, at last found themselves plunged in debt and distress. She took care to make a good use of such instances in her conversation with the poor, and, by perseverance, she at length brought them so much to her way of thinking, that Wills found it to be his interest to alter his plan, and sell his goods on as good terms, and as short credit, as Mrs. Sparks sold hers. This completed Mrs. Jones's success; and she had the satisfaction of having put a stop to three or four great evils in the parish of Weston, without spending a shilling in doing it.

Patty Smart and Jenny Rose were thought to be the two best managers in the parish. They both told Mrs. Jones, that the poor would get the coarse pieces of meat cheaper, if the gentlefolks did not buy them for soups and gravy. Mrs. Jones thought there was reason in this; sọ away she went to Sir John, the squire, the surgeon, the attorney, and the steward, the only persons in the parish who could afford to buy these costly things. She told them, that if they would all be so good as to buy only prime pieces, which they could

very well afford, the coarse and cheap joints would come more within the reach of the poor. Most of the gentry readily consented. Sir John cared not what his meat cost him, but told Mrs. Jones, in his gay way, that he would eat any thing, or give any thing, so that she would not tease him with long stories about the poor. The squire said, he should prefer vegetable soups, because they were cheaper ; and the doctor preferred them because they were wholesomer. The steward chose to imitate the squire; and the attorney found it would be quite ungenteel to stand out. So gravy soups became very unfashionable in the parish of Weston; and I am sure, if rich people did but think a little on this subject, they would become as unfashionable in many other places.

When wheat grew cheaper, Mrs. Jones was earnest with the poor women to bake large brown loaves at home, instead of buying small white ones at the shop. Mrs. Betty had told her, that baking at home would be one step towards restoring the good old management. Only Betty Smart and Jenny Rose baked at home in the whole parish; and who lived so well as they did? Yet the general objection seemed reasonable. They could not bake without yeast, which often could not be had, as no one brewed except the great folks and the public-houses. Mrs. Jones found, however, that Patty and Jenny contrived to brew as well as to bake. She sent for these women, knowing that from them she could get truth and reason. “How comes it,” said she to them, “ that you two are the only poor women in the parish who can afford to brew a small cask of beer? Your husbands have no better wages than other men.” “True, madam," said Patty,“ but they never set foot in a public-house. I will tell you the truth. When I first married, our John went to the Checkers every night, and I had my tea and fresh butter twice a day at home. This slop, which consumed a deal of sugar, began to rake my stomach sadly, as I had neither meat nor milk; at last (I am ashamed to own it) I began to take a drop of gin, to quiet the pain; till, in time, I looked for my gin as regularly as for my tea. At last the gin, the ale-house, and the tea, began to make us both sick and poor, and I had like to have died with my first child. Parson Simpson then talked so finely to us on the subject of improper indulgences, that we resolved, by the grace of God, to turn over a new leaf; and I promised John, if he would give up the Checkers, I would break the gin bottle, and never drink tea in the afternoon, except on Sundays, when he was at home to drink it with me. We have kept our word, and both our eating and drinking, our health and our consciences, are

better for it. Though meat is sadly dear, we can buy two pounds of fresh meat for less than one pound of fresh butter, and it gives five times the nourishment. And dear as malt is, I contrive to keep a drop of drink in the house for John; and John will make me drink half a pint with him every evening, and a pint a day when I am a nurse."

Public-Houses. As one good deed, as well as one bad one, brings on another, this conversation set Mrs. Jones on inquiring why So many ale-houses were allowed. She did not choose to talk to Sir John on this subject, who would only have said, “Let them enjoy themselves, poor fellows; if they get drunk now and then, they work hard.” But those who have this false good-nature forget, that while the man is enjoying himself, as it is called, his wife and children are ragged and starving. True Christian good-nature never indulges one at the cost of many, but is kind to all. The squire, who was a friend to order, took up the matter. He consulted Mr. Simpson. « The Lion," said he, “is necessary. It stands by the road-side : travellers must have a resting-place. As to the Checkers and the Bell, they do no good, but much harm.” Mr. Simpson had before made many attempts to get the Checkers put down; but, unluckily, it was Sir John's own house, and kept by his late butler. Not that Sir John valued the rent, but he had a false kindness, which made him support the cause of an old servant, though he knew he was a bad man, and kept a disorderly house. The squire, however, now took away the license from the Bell. And a fray happening soon after at the Checkers (which was near the church), in time of divine service, Sir John was obliged to suffer the house to be put down as a nuisance. You would not believe how many poor families were able to brew a little cask, when the temptation of those ale-houses was taken out of their way. Mrs. Jones, in her evening walks, had the pleasure to see many an honest man drinking his wholesome cup of beer by his own fire-side, his rosy children playing about his knees, his clean, cheerful wife singing her youngest baby to sleep, rocking the cradle with her foot, while, with her hands, she was making a dumpling for her kind husband's supper. Some few, I am sorry to say, though I don't choose to name names, still preferred getting drunk once a week at the Lion, and drinking water at other times.-Thus Mrs. Jones, by a little exertion and perseverance, added to the temporal comforts of a whole parish,

« PreviousContinue »