Upton Sinclair, ed. (18781968). The Cry for Justice: An Anthology of the Literature of Social Protest. 1915.
Children of the Dead End
By Patrick MacGill
(A young Irishman, called the Navvy poet; born 1890. From the age of twelve to twenty a farm laborer, ditch-digger and quarryman. As this work goes to press, he is fighting with his regiment in Flanders)
NEARLY every second year the potatoes went bad; then we were always hungry, although Farley McKeown, a rich merchant in the neighboring village, let my father have a great many bags of Indian meal on credit. A bag contained sixteen stone of meal and cost a shilling a stone. On the bag of meal Farley McKeown charged sixpence a month interest; and fourpence a month on a sack of flour which cost twelve shillings. All the people round about were very honest, and paid up their debts when they were able. Usually when the young went off to Scotland or England they sent home money to their fathers and mothers, and with this money the parents paid for the meal to Farley McKeown. What doesnt go to the landlord goes to Farley McKeown, was a Glenmornan saying.
The merchant was a great friend of the parish priest, who always told the people if they did not pay their debts they would burn for ever and ever in hell. The fires of eternity will make you sorry for the debts that you did not pay, said the priest. What is eternity? he would ask in a solemn voice from the altar steps. If a man tried to count the sands on the sea-shore and took a million years to count every single grain, how long would it take him to count them all? A long time, youll say. But that time is nothing to eternity. Just think of it! Burning in hell while a man, taking a million years to count a grain of sand, counts all the sand on the sea-shore. And this because you did not pay Farley McKeown his lawful debts, his lawful debts within the letter of the law. That concluding phrase, within the letter of the law, struck terror into all who listened, and no one, maybe not even the priest himself, knew what it meant.