Nonfiction > Upton Sinclair, ed. > The Cry for Justice

Upton Sinclair, ed. (1878–1968).
The Cry for Justice: An Anthology of the Literature of Social Protest.  1915.
(From “A Motley”)

By John Galsworthy

(English novelist and dramatist, 1867–1933)
SHE held in one hand a threaded needle, in the other a pair of trousers, to which she had been adding the accessories demanded by our civilization. One had never seen her without a pair of trousers in her hand, because she could only manage to supply them with decency at the rate of seven or eight pairs a day, working twelve hours. For each pair she received seven farthings, and used nearly one farthing’s worth of cotton; and this gave her an income, in good times, of six to seven shillings a week. But some weeks there were no trousers to be had and then it was necessary to live on the memory of those which had been, together with a little sum put by from weeks when trousers were more plentiful. Deducting two shillings and threepence for rent of the little back room, there was therefore, on an average, about two shillings and ninepence left for the sustenance of herself and husband, who was fortunately a cripple, and somewhat indifferent whether he ate or not. And looking at her face, so furrowed, and at her figure, of which there was not much, one could well understand that she, too, had long established within her such internal economy as was suitable to one who had been “in trousers” twenty-seven years, and, since her husband’s accident fifteen years before, in trousers only, finding her own cotton.… He was a man with a round, white face, a little grey mustache curving down like a parrot’s beak, and round whitish eyes. In his aged and unbuttoned suit of grey, with his head held rather to one side, he looked like a parrot—a bird clinging to its perch, with one grey leg shortened and crumpled against the other. He talked, too, in a toneless, equable voice, looking sideways at the fire, above the rims of dim spectacles, and now and then smiling with a peculiar disenchanted patience.  1
  No—he said—it was no use to complain; did no good! Things had been like this for years, and so, he had no doubt, they always would be. There had never been much in trousers; not this common sort that anybody’d wear, as you might say. Though he’d never seen anybody wearing such things; and where they went to he didn’t know—out of England, he should think. Yes, he had been a carman; ran over by a dray. Oh! yes, they had given him something—four bob a week; but the old man had died and the four bob had died too. Still, there he was, sixty years old—not so very bad for his age.…  2
  They were talking, he had heard said, about doing something for trousers. But what could you do for things like these, at half a crown a pair? People must have ’em, so you’d got to make ’em. There you were, and there you would be! She went and heard them talk. They talked very well, she said. It was intellectual for her to go. He couldn’t go himself owing to his leg. He’d like to hear them talk. Oh, yes! and he was silent, staring sideways at the fire as though in the thin crackle of the flames attacking the fresh piece of wood, he were hearing the echo of that talk from which he was cut off. “Lor’ bless you!” he said suddenly. “They’ll do nothing! Can’t!” And, stretching out his dirty hand he took from his wife’s lap a pair of trousers, and held it up. “Look at ’em! Why you can see right throu’ ’em, linings and all. Who’s goin’ to pay more than ’alf a crown for that? Where they go to I can’t think. Who wears ’em? Some institution I should say. They talk, but dear me, they’ll never do anything so long as there’s thousands like us, glad to work for what we can get. Best not to think about it, I says.”  3
  And laying the trousers back on his wife’s lap he resumed his sidelong stare into the fire.  4

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