“What do I call the common good?” repeated the landlady. “That all people should study the welfare of other people, and not only their own.”
“They are not to study their own welfare?” said the doctor.
“Ah, that I did not say,” replied the landlady. “Let them study their own welfare, and that of others also.”
“Well then,” said the doctor, “what is the welfare of a collier?”
“The welfare of a collier,” said the landlady, “is that he shall earn sufficient wages to keep himself and his family comfortable, to educate his children, and to educate himself; for that is what he wants, education.”
“Ay, happen so,” put in Brewitt, a big, fine, good-humoured collier. “Happen so, Mrs. Houseley. But what if you haven’t got much education, to speak of?”
“You can always get it,” she said patronizing.
“Nay—I’m blest if you can. It’s no use tryin’ to educate a man over forty—not by book-learning. That isn’t saying he’s a fool, neither.”
“And what better is them that’s got education?” put in another man. “What better is the manager, or th’ under-manager, than we are?— Pender’s yaller enough i’ th’ face.”
“He is that,” assented the men in chorus.
“But because he’s yellow in the face, as you say, Mr. Kirk,” said the landlady largely, “that doesn’t mean he has no advantages higher than what you have got.”
“Ay,” said Kirk. “He can ma’e more money than I can—that’s about a’ as it comes to.”
“He can make more money,” said the landlady. “And when he’s made it, he knows better how to use it.”
“‘Appen so, an’ a’!—What does he do, more than eat and drink and work?—an’ take it out of hisself a sight harder than I do, by th’ looks of him.—What’s it matter, if he eats a bit more or drinks a bit more—”
“No,” reiterated the landlady. “He not only eats and drinks. He can read, and he can converse.”
“Me an’ a’,” said Tom Kirk, and the men burst into a laugh. “I can read—an’ I’ve had many a talk an’ conversation with you in this house, Mrs. Houseley—am havin’ one at this minute, seemingly.”
“Seemingly, you are,” said the landlady ironically. “But do you think there would be no difference between your conversation, and Mr. Pender’s, if he were here so that I could enjoy his conversation?”
“An’ what difference would there be?” asked Tom Kirk. “He’d go home to his bed just the same.”
“There, you are mistaken. He would be the better, and so should I, a great deal better, for a little genuine conversation.”
“If it’s conversation as ma’es his behind drop—” said Tom Kirk. “An’ puts th’ bile in his face—” said Brewitt. There was a general laugh.
“I can see it’s no use talking about it any further,” said the landlady, lifting her head dangerously.
“But look here, Mrs. Houseley, do you really think it makes much difference to a man, whether he can hold a serious conversation or not?” asked the doctor.