Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1209
In a large room on the ground floor of Dreissiger’s house the weavers were bringing in their finished webs. Pfeifer, manager for Dreissiger, inspected each piece and assessed its value. He had a sharp eye for flaws and the amounts he named were low. From the complaints aired, the weavers were near starvation. In general, however, the weavers were a docile, tractable lot.
Old Baumert came in carrying a bundle wrapped in cloth. It was the body of his pet dog. Baumert had not had the heart to kill the animal himself, but he had had it butchered to provide meat for his family. The dog was only a skinny, half-grown pup, not large enough to feed his destitute family.
Most of the weavers were squat and sickly, but Becker was a young, impudent giant. When he heard the price Pfeifer would allow for his web, he refused on the ground that such an amount was alms, not wages. In fury Pfeifer called for Dreissiger, who upheld his manager. A diversion was created when a child fainted. Dreissiger was angry because the child’s parents had sent him so far with the heavy web; he ignored the crowd’s explanation that the child was starving.
Because of the tension in the room, Dreissiger harangued the weavers. In his view he provided work; if the weavers did not want to do his work, they could go elsewhere. Then he made a portentous announcement: he was engaging two hundred more weavers, and the new rates of pay would be lower.
The Baumerts occupied one room in the house of William Ansorge, a former weaver. Old Baumert was too feeble to do much and his wife was crippled. One daughter, Emma, was twenty-two. She had a boy of four fathered by a consumptive weaver who had died before they could be married. Bertha, the second daughter, was a pallid girl of fifteen. The two sisters spent long hours at the loom. Their landlord, Ansorge, was too old to weave any more; he led a miserable existence mending baskets.
When old Baumert came in, he brought with him Moritz Jaeger, a returned soldier. Jaeger was a fine strapping youth with good clothes and money in his pockets, the center of interest as he told of his successes in the army. He kindly provided a bottle of brandy which cheered the family immensely.
Bertha cooked their dog meat in the oven. With meat and brandy they would have a feast. Ansorge joined them as the smell of cooking meat spread through the house. To his intense disgust, Baumert’s stomach could not hold the meal; two years had passed since he had tasted meat.
Jaeger was appalled at the misery of the weavers. Able to read, he was pessimistic about any relief for the workers. The papers had recently published the report of the Berlin inspector who had been sent to investigate their living conditions. The bureaucrat had asserted solemnly that there was no one in want among them. Jaeger had found a different answer.
He began to read to them a marching song that told the woes of the weavers. Inflammatory in tone, it named Dreissiger as an oppressive villain. As he read the stanzas, Ansorge and Baumert caught some of its revolutionary spirit, and they were stirred to fight for their rights.
In the common room of the public house, Welzel, the publican, served a commercial traveler. The salesman, a competent city man, was flirting with Anna, Welzel’s red-haired daughter. Wiegand, a joiner, had that day made a coffin for a dead weaver. The man had died of starvation; he needed only a light coffin. The traveler expressed his surprise that the supposedly destitute weavers should hold such elaborate funerals. Wiegand, who was a cunning man, was of the opinion that the weavers were a wrong-headed lot; no one need be in want if he were enterprising.
When Ansorge and Baumert came in, the talk grew more animated as other weavers aired their wrongs. A peasant happening in told the assembly that the...
(The entire section contains 1209 words.)
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