He replied that the men could remain, if they would sign an agreement to forego certain suicidal practices, and to pay fines in case of disobedience; said fines to be deducted from their earnings.
Then the secretary suggested a conference at the "Cutlers' Arms." Little assented: and there was a hot argument. The father of all file-cutters objected to tyranny and innovation: Little maintained that Innovation was nearly always Improvement--the world being silly--and was manifestly improvement in the case under consideration. He said also he was merely doing what the Union itself ought to do: protecting the life of Union men who were too childish and wrong-headed to protect it themselves.
"We prefer a short life and a merry one, Mr. Little," said the father of all file-cutters.
"A life of disease is not a merry one: slow poisoning is not a pleasant way of living, but a miserable way of dying. None but the healthy are happy. Many a Croesus would give half his fortune for a poor man's stomach; yet you want your cutlers to be sick men all their days, and not gain a shilling by it. Man alive, I am not trying to lower their wages."
"Ay, but you are going the way to do it."
"The trade is full already; and, if you force the men to live to threescore and ten, you will overcrowd it so, they will come to starvation wages."
Little was staggered at this thunderbolt of logic, and digested the matter in silence for a moment. Then he remembered something that had fallen from Dr. Amboyne; and he turned to Grotait. "What do you say to that, sir? would you grind Death's scythe for him (at the list price) to thin the labor market?"
Grotait hesitated for once. In his heart he went with the file- cutter: but his understanding encumbered him.
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