"Both of them, Dowley. In that day a man will be his own property, not the property of magistrate and master. And he can leave town whenever he wants to, if the wages don't suit him! — and they can't put him in the pillory for it."
"Perdition catch such an age!" shouted Dowley, in strong indignation. "An age of dogs, an age barren of reverence for superiors and respect for authority! The pillory — "
"Oh, wait, brother; say no good word for that institution. I think the pillory ought to be abolished."
"A most strange idea. Why?"
"Well, I'll tell you why. Is a man ever put in the pillory for a capital crime?"
"Is it right to condemn a man to a slight punishment for a small offense and then kill him?"
There was no answer. I had scored my first point! For the first time, the smith wasn't up and ready. The company noticed it. Good effect.
"You don't answer, brother. You were about to glorify the pillory a while ago, and shed some pity on a future age that isn't going to use it. I think the pillory ought to be abolished. What usually happens when a poor fellow is put in the pillory for some little offense that didn't amount to anything in the world? The mob try to have some fun with him, don't they?"
"They begin by clodding him; and they laugh themselves to pieces to see him try to dodge one clod and get hit with another?"
"Then they throw dead cats at him, don't they?"
"Well, then, suppose he has a few personal enemies in that mob and here and there a man or a woman with a secret grudge against him — and suppose especially that he is unpopular in the community, for his pride, or his prosperity, or one thing or another — stones and bricks take the place of clods and cats presently, don't they?"
"There is no doubt of it."
"As a rule he is crippled for life, isn't he? — jaws broken, teeth smashed out? — or legs mutilated, gangrened, presently cut off? — or an eye knocked out, maybe both eyes?"
"It is true, God knoweth it."
"And if he is unpopular he can depend on dying, right there in the stocks, can't he?"
"He surely can! One may not deny it."
"I take it none of you are unpopular — by reason of pride or insolence, or conspicuous prosperity, or any of those things that excite envy and malice among the base scum of a village? You wouldn't think it much of a risk to take a chance in the stocks?"
Dowley winced, visibly. I judged he was hit. But he didn't betray it by any spoken word. As for the others, they spoke out plainly, and with strong feeling. They said they had seen enough of the stocks to know what a man's chance in them was, and they would never consent to enter them if they could compromise on a quick death by hanging.
"Well, to change the subject — for I think I've established my point that the stocks ought to be abolished. I think some of our laws are pretty unfair. For instance, if I do a thing which ought to deliver me to the stocks, and you know I did it and yet keep still and don't report me, you will get the stocks if anybody informs on you."
"Ah, but that would serve you but right," said Dowley, "for you must inform. So saith the law."
The others coincided.
"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.