Front Page Titles (by Subject) Chapter II: PASTIME - Illustrations of Political Economy, vol. 4
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Chapter II: PASTIME - Harriet Martineau, Illustrations of Political Economy, vol. 4 
Illustrations of Political Economy (3rd ed) in 9 vols. (London: Charles Fox, 1834). Vol. 4.
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Lady F—'s “experience” might have been of a very different kind from that which now lay in her way, if her regard to “stability” hail been less. When very young,—at the period of her father's misfortunes and death,—she had been strongly tempted to marry Mr. Waldie, a merchant, who was thought by the few friends of the destitute girl to have done her great honour by offering her his hand at such a crisis, and to have proved the disinterestedness of his attachment in a way which should have ensured it a better return. Letitia refused him, however; giving to her protectors the very sufficient reason that she did not love Mr. Waldie; and keeping to herself the further justification that she had no confidence in the steadiness of his principles and conduct. His impulses were generous, but fitful; and there was an excitement about him which had never yet been absorbed by any pursuit, or allayed by any possession. This might take any turn as he grew older,—either benevolent or selfish. It might be philanthropy,— but it might also be wine, billiards, roving, or many other things which would involve the slavery of his wife;—and Letitia, unblinded by passion, was able to perceive that there is little enough of rational freedom at the best in the condition of a wife, and that a woman's only hope of that which the marriage law at present denies her rests in the steady principle as well as the enlightened views of her husband. Her friends soon after exclaimed against Mr. Waldie's fickleness in a case which did not, in her opinion, testily fickleness of affection so much as rashness of conduct. He offered (as soon as he found his cause hopeless with Letitia) to her elder sister; and Maria, being really, and having been long, attached to him, married him, not unwarned by her sister of the tendency of his failings. The tenderest affection henceforth subsisted between the sisters. Maria was full of gratitude to Letitia for having refused Mr. Waldie; and Letitia as full of respectful compassion for Maria when she witnessed her devotion to her husband, and could not stifle the conviction that that husband's first affection had not died out the more rapidly for being too suddenly repressed. Maria was satisfied that she had as much of Mr. Waldie's affection as he would ever have to bestow on one permanent object; and that she was much happier than she could ever have been without him, so that she called herself, and all who spoke on the matter called her, a very fortunate wife.
Mr. Waldie had begun life as a rich man. His business was almost as considerable as any in the city; his abode on the Surrey side of London was elegant, and beautifully situated, and he kept two carriages. The wonder had been, during all the four years of Letitia's professional career, why so rich a brother-in-law should have allowed her to live by any such means. Mr. Waldie incessantly and truly pleaded that he could not help it; and much was said of her unconquerable love of the fine arts, and of the eccentricities into which her passion for independence led her. The sisters knew of very good reasons besides these why Letitia should not submit to live on the bounty of a brother-in-law, even if he were as generous as Mr. Waldie; and when the matter ended in Letitia becoming lady F—, her eccentricities met with all due respect.
Lady Frances never could conceive why Letitia called her present life an idle one, and seemed to think entertaining her sister's children the most serious business she had. Lady Frances thought no life so busy as that of persons of rank during the season. For her part, she saw tradespeople loiter about much more than she had time to do. Did not the baker's man stop for a few minutes' talk with the kitchen-girl in the area? Were not fishmongers seen leaning with folded arms against their stalls? Did not shopmen read newspapers behind the counter, and merchants' clerks stop in the Strand to look at caricatures? All this while, ladies of her rank never could get through all the shopping they planned for a morning, unless they gave up one or two of the exhibitions; and nobody ever went down Regent-street in such a hurry as lord B. or the duke of C.; unless it was the newsman or letter-carrier. She, for one, had been intending for weeks to call on poor old lady Y., and had never found time; while Letitia, who had such superior tastes too, complained (if you asked her) that she had not enough to do. With her books, and her harp, and her singing, —she was very careful to keep up her singing,— with all these in addition to her “social duties,” so engrossing during the season, one would have thought she had had enough on her hands; but she had asked her husband to read German with her; and they actually sat down, like school children, with a dictionary between them, every morning before his lordship went out. Moreover, she was polishing up her little French girl, —perhaps for a governess for her sister's children. Very sweet children those were; and it was natural that Letitia should love them, as being her sister's; but it seemed realty to be giving up too much to them to refuse a sweet spring ride to Hampton Court, because she had promised to take the little things into the park with her, that particular day. The worst of it was, Letitia was infecting her husband with this notion of not having enough to do. He ....
“You will hear no more of that,” quietly observed the earl. “Henry will have quite enough on his hands henceforward. He has accepted office.”
“Poor Letitia!” exclaimed lady Frances, laughing. “She will have more time hanging heavy than ever, unless, indeed, Henry makes her his private secretary.”
“He might do worse,” observed the earl.
“And, proud as you think Henry, he will not disdain to let his wife cast many lights into the affairs he is taking in hand. If he knows most of the theory and practice of trade, she has had the most to do with individual and social character.”
“Of course, sir, as she had to make human nature a professional study. When Henry has to do with bonds and liabilities, she can enact Portia; when he studies insurance, she will find something à propos in the Tempest; and she must have many a fine smuggling scene at her tongue's end.”
“True. It is a happy thing for a man of business, as Henry will find, to have an accomplished wife to lighten and recompense his toil.”
This was one of the many thoughts in lord F—'s mind when he sought Letitia to tell her that the negociation was concluded, and that he was to take office immediately. He found her and Thérèse in the music-room, busy with the three little Waldies. The youngest was sitting on the table, clutching aunt Letitia's curls, while she was explaining to the eldest what Bewick's old man was doing in the churchyard. The second kneeled on Thérèse's lap, babbling French, of which she knew about as much as of English. A charming discord of sweet sounds greeted lord F—'s ears as he entered the room. The “Da, da, da,” of the baby; the coqueting in French about a kiss between Thérèse and her charge; and the anxious questions and explanations of the two engaged upon Bewick, made the uncle prefer looking on in silence, till Letitia turned to him with,
“It will not do. We must give it up at present. There is no making little children understand about old age, and death, and churchyards.”
The child turned her frowning face upon her uncle, as if appealing to him for light. He could not but try. He found she had seen Brixton church, seen something there this very morning; whether a wedding or a funeral, it required some time to find out; and this involved a description of each. Then came the question.
“Why are people white when they are married, and black when they are buried?”
In the middle of the explanation, she turned to the picture,
“Is that little boy with his hoop going to be buried? Is that old man going to be buried?”
No: they were neither of them dead yet; but the old man would be before very long, for he was very, very old ....
“Then, was he rather new once?”
Uncle could no longer keep so grave as the subject required, and besides, did not know how to convey that old and new would not do in all cases so well as old and young. He too gave up.
“Shall we ride?” asked Letitia, as lord F—looked at his watch. “I can send Thérèse home with the children.”
“Suppose we take them ourselves. This may be the last morning for some time that I shall be able to devote to you and yours.”
“It may be the last time we shall see Maria for some weeks,” replied Letitia. “I am glad you can go.”
As soon as they were seated in the carriage, lady F—explained that Waldie was so much out of spirits, and looked so wretchedly ill, that his wife was bent on getting him from home. She was sure he must have overworked himself at business, and he did not attempt to account for his depression in any other way.
“You had better take them down to Weston with you,” said lord F—. “It will be a comfort to you to have your sister with you till I can join you.”
“None whatever,” said Letitia, smiling. “While you are a man of business, I will not be a woman of pleasure. I will stay in town till you can introduce Weston and me to each other.”
And Letitia would hear nothing about the heat, the emptiness of the town, the solitude to which she would be doomed while her husband was being initiated into his office. In town she would stay while her husband remained; and so it was settled, as this happened not to be one of the points which his lordship had fixed unalterably within himself.
“There is papa!” exclaimed the eldest child, quitting her stand at the carriage window, and clinging to her aunt's neck, as soon as they entered the sweep which led up to Mr. Waldie's door.
“Yes; it is your papa. I wonder what brings him home so long before dinner to-day.”
Waldie had been standing with his hands in his pockets, gazing on vacancy, till the sound of the carriage wheels roused him. When he saw who was come, he appeared suddenly busy among his shrubs, and turned his back towards the house door.—Maria appeared, with a smile; but there was discomposure under it.
“Go and tell papa, my dear. He did not see the carriage. Go and ask him to come in.”
But the child for once was slow to obey. She clung closer to her mamma the more she was bid to go.
“We will go together,” said Letitia, leading the way to where Waldie was half buried among the shrubs. When he could no longer pretend not to see them, he came forward and shook hands; but his countenance was black as night. His anxious wife busied herself in pointing out how grievously the Portugal laurels were blighted.
“Blighted! aye, look! Not a leaf that does not crumble like ashes in my hand,” said Waldie, twitching off a spray and crumbling the leaves. “I had set my heart upon these laurels, and now to see them ruined in this way .... Damn the blight!” muttered he between his teeth.
“I hear there is much mischief done in Kent,” observed lord F—.
“in Kent! Yon would think there had been a shower of Gomorrah rain by the look of the place. Young ash plantations, miles long, with their shoots crisped and black, worse than my laurels. Curse the blight!”
“And the hops . . . .” lord F—was going on to inquire; but Mrs. Waldie held up her finger to stop him. He broke off suddenly, and Waldie turned round upon his wife with a look which made her change colour. In order to relieve everybody, lord F—summoned up all his experiences of the mischiefs done by blight at Weston, diverging gradually upon topics nearly related,—modes of improving, embellishing, &c., and ending with an invitation to the Waldies to go down and occupy the place for the few weeks of its greatest beauty. Waldie glanced quickly from one to another, as if suspicious of some plot to humour and amuse him, and then bluntly intimated that his going from home at present was out of the question. Scarcely another word could be got out of him, even when the ladies had walked away into the greenhouse, and the children had tried who could run fastest from papa, leaving him alone with lord F—.
“Do not you think him looking very ill, —very much altered.” inquired Maria of her sister, with a quivering lip.
“Very unlike himself to-day, certainly. Something has discomposed him. But you must not fancy him more ill than he is. No man varies more from hour to hour, you know. He may be quite a different man to-morrow.”
Maria shook her head, and then asked Letitia to observe what they came to see, without delay. She should not like her husband to think they were consulting about his looks. Letitia snatched up the plant in question, and carried it to lord F—to ask whether there were any of the kind in the Weston greenhouses.
“You had better take it with you,” said Waldie. “It requires a greenhouse, and we shall have no greenhouses when we remove.”
“Remove!” said his wife faintly.
“Remove! yes, my dear. You would not stay here, would you? The blights ruin everything I set my heart upon; and you know I cannot bear to see a house so exposed as ours, with not a tree to cast a particle of shade on any part of it. There is Erpingham's house, down below, with those fine spreading sycamores beside it.... that is something like a house. We could live there for a lifetime, and never grow tired of it. But you see it will take a lifetime for our clumps to grow roof-high. I shall move into the city.”
“Nevertheless we shall find you still here, five years hence,” said lord F—, smiling. “When the blights are over, you will love this pretty place too well to leave it.”
“Curse the blights!” was the reply.
“You have not been in town to-day, Waldie?” said lord F—. “Then you have probably not heard that I have taken office . . . .”
“At the Board of Trade?—Well! I suppose one ought to be glad of it, —I suppose you expect to be congratulated; but, upon my soul, I do not know how to feel upon it. There is such a curse clinging to trade. People talk of the honour and glory of being a British merchant, and of legislating for British merchants. I wish both you and I, my lord, may not find more plague than profit in it.”
“I know I am about to encounter much perplexity,“Waldie—perhaps some abuse, and certainly, much painful knowledge about the distresses of the country. Nevertheless, I have accepted office—or I should the say, we have taken office; for Letitia remains in town as long as business detains me here.”
“I am glad you allow wives to be official too,” said Letitia, smiling. “Come plague, come profit, brother, it is hardly fair that they, should have double the one and only half the other; which is the case when they are shut out from that department of their husbands' concerns.”
“‘Double, double toil and trouble’....” said lord F—.
“And watchfulness, and struggle, and woe,” continued Letitia, “when they feel they could solace and help, and are not allowed. When I find I can do neither, I will go down to Weston without another word.”
“My dear,” said Waldie, “would you like to take the children down to Weston? I must stay in town, but . . . .”
“O, indeed, we want no change. Unless you .... you . . . .”
“Then we will remain at home this summer, lord F—, thank you. Our wives both prefer it, I see.”
And Mr. Waldie put some cheerfulness into his manner as he handed lady F—into the carriage. At the first opening in the trees, Letitia saw him draw his wife's arm within his own, and walk with her towards the house.
“It cannot be the blight that has soured him so,” observed lady F—to her husband. “That must be a mere pretence.”
“Blights destroy other things besides Portugal laurels,” replied her husband. “Did not you see how I was forbidden to enlarge upon hops?”
“What can he have to do with hops? O! I begin to see. Speculation is to be his ruin,—not wine, or gaming.”
“Must he he ruined?” enquired lord F—.
“Yes. There is wide ruin in success, where it comes from speculation. Ruin of peace.—Who would possess paradise, if it were on an island which might be sunk in the sea at any moment? O! poor Maria!”