"there is hardly a town where the slaves do not outnumber the free as ten to one"

Slavery is common, because the punishment for even the slightest of offences is enslavement:

'The laws are framed for the object of reducing the greater part of the people to servitude.' (p29)

Slaves, or 'bondsmen' as they are called, are forced to wear the 'brazen bracelet': a stout brass wire, tightened by a bar of iron, tight against the arm, which 'forms a smaller ring at the outside. By this smaller ring a score of bondsmen may be seen strung together with a rope.'

Slaves are not sold openly on the market, but are 'leased' between owners. A 'bondsmen' is meant to earn his freedom by a protracted period of enforced labour, but the truth is few ever manage to do so, so low is their labour valued. Many die in servitude, their debt unpaid and inherited by their offspring:

'Debt alone under their laws must crowd the land with slaves, for, as wages are scarcely known, a child from its birth is often declared to be in debt.' (p31)

This might have echoed Jefferies' own predicament. The dairy farm he grew up on was very small, with 39 acres (160,000 m2) of pasture. His parents struggled to make it pay for itself, and a mortgage of £1,500 would later begin a slide into debt for his father, who lost the farm in 1877 and became a jobbing gardener (mirrored by Felix's father, Baron Aquila, who is treated like a 'mere gardener').