Front Page Titles (by Subject) Chapter VII.: ONE FOR HIMSELF. - Illustrations of Political Economy, vol. 4
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Chapter VII.: ONE FOR HIMSELF. - 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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ONE FOR HIMSELF.
Lord and lady F— found, as all people find, that drawbacks and trials attend the most exact fulfilment of wishes. Lord F— had power, was conscious of usefulness, and was therefore freed from the discontent with himself and his position which had tormented him from his college days till now; but new trials came with office. Not only toil, perplexity, and difficulty, but the relinquishment of pursuits which lie loved, and the deprivation of much of his wife's society. She felt this deprivation yet more. It was painful to know that he was in his study, and to be obliged to spend three-fourths of the day alone; but she had also to bear to have him called away suddenly, and to be disappointed of his return day after day.
On one occasion, some weeks after they settled themselves at Weston, this happened while their abode was full of guests, among whom were the earl and lady Frances. Lord F— was called to town,—believed he might have to go farther,—could not tell how soon he should be able to return. The first two days passed heavily away,—not to the guests, who enlivened the country round with their outdoor sports, and the rumours that went abroad of their indoor revelry,—but to the wife who was far more busy watching for Henry's return than playing the hostess, gracefully as she filled her office. The happiest part of her day was when shut ill with her father-in-law in the library, or reading in her boudoir, or taking her solitary morning walk when her guests were dispersed whithersoever their pleasures led them.
One day, about noon, having watched for the cessation of a heavy shower, she went out with the first returning sunbeams, and took her way towards the ruin, with her sketch-book in her hand, as usual. She was quite alone, this being the hour for Thérèse to go to her priest, and Letitia not caring to be attended by any one with whom she could not converse. The grass was too wet to allow her to sit down to sketch, and the place too beautiful, glowing in the mellow light of an October noon, to allow her to wander elsewhere in search of a subject for her pencil. She seated herself on a stone in a sheltered corner of the ruin, and began, while studying the perspective of an arch, to take notice of the trilling of a thrush which was hid among the ivy. As often as the bird ceased, she mimicked its note, to incite it to begin again; and with such success, that the bird and the lady were presently engaged in a very noisy and merry duet, answering, following one another, outtrilling each other, till the nook rang again. In the midst of this, Letitia suddenly stopped, fancying she saw a slow-moving shadow among the ivy at some distance. She sprung up, and looking through the arch, saw that some one was leaning on the sun-dial, with his face buried in his hands. She retreated, without another look, further into the recess where she had been sitting, believing the stranger more likely to think himself unobserved than if she were to show herself in the open space round the ruin. Hearing no sound of footsteps near, she hoped, after a few minutes, that he was gone, and began to draw; but, before long, she perceived that lie was leaning against the wall at some distance, and gazing fixedly at her. The moment she saw his face, she knew him, though he stood within the shadow.
“Mr. Waldie!” she exclaimed, “what brings you here?”
He approached, and sat on the ground at her feet, without answering.
“What brings you here?” repeated Letitia, in her quietest tone, perplexed by the expression of his countenance.
“Indeed, I scarcely know. I can get no rest. I felt I must go somewhere, so I came here. I thought I should find you; and it was just what I wished, to meet you without going to the house.”
“Maria—the children—are they well, or has anything happened?”
“All well yet: but something will happen soon. Letitia, I am on the verge of ruin.”
“I thought as much. Then why are you here? Lord F— is absent, and I cannot help you. Away and be doing, Mr. Waldie! Do you quit your home, and saunter about here, when you are on the verge of ruin? Is this wide? Is this manly?”
“I cannot conceive what made me come,” cried Waldie, starting up. “But I suppose it was because I was afraid to stay where I was. O Letitia, tell me what to do, for my head is so confused, I can devise nothing;—go with me and I will hasten home!”
“What are your difficulties? What way of escape is there? Tell me all, or I will advise nothing.”
“Tell you all! When have I not done so? Do not you— are not you— have not you always....”
“Tell me the whole, brother, as you would tell your wife; or hasten hack, and save her if there be yet time.”
With more distinctness than Letitia had hoped, Waldie explained to her that he had been engaged in several speculations, all of which, except one, the largest, and still undecided, had turned out badly. Upon this one, everything now depended; and its only chance of success rested upon several thousand pounds being raised within two days. He had bought up tile whole of certain kinds of India spices which had vet arrived in the market; another cargo, the last of the season, was daily expected to arrive; and upon its purchase depended tile price of the commodity, and the returns to the capital he had invested in it. This was no time for reproaching him with the folly of such a speculation, or his weakness in wandering down into the country, and leaving his fate to be decided by chance. His credit, he declared, was exhausted; he had no further securities to offer; he did not know which way to turn himself; and so he had left the whole affair behind him. “O for lord F—!” thought Letitia: but she did not even know where he was this day and would be the next; and the post which was to tell her would not arrive till the evening. She suggested all the ways she could think of to raise money; some of which were received with a melancholy smile, some with a painful laugh. Confused as Waldie seemed to be, he admitted clearly and repeatedly that if furnished with securities for the amount required by noon the next day, he had great hope of being able to obtain it at more or less cost. This decided Letitia what to do. Site made distinct memoranda of the particulars, promising that they should be communicated to no more than one adviser; she desired Waldie to hasten back to town, without a moment's delay, in order to commence the negotiation for funds, and promised that some one from her should meet him at his office in towel at two o'clock the next day, with the necessary securities, if they could be obtained, and with news of failure if they could not. She did not tell him that she meant to go herself; but the hope of obtaining her husband's assistance, and the conviction that Maria must stand in need of her support, determined her to undertake the journey. Having, by dint of peremptoriness, got rid of Waldie, she walked rapidly towards the house, gave her orders to Thérèse to prepare for their journey, and to the housekeeper to provide for the comfort of her guests during the three days of her absence; desired the carriage to take her up at the east gate in twenty minutes, and proceeded to seek the earl in that part of the grounds towards which he was seen last to wander. She found him reading the newspaper in the sun, ready to welcome her as he saw her approach, but struck silent when he observed the expression of anxiety in her flushed countenance. She rapidly charged him with her apologies for leaving home so suddenly and strangely, and begged to depute her office of hostess to lady Frances. She then inquired, to the astonishment of the earl, how she might best obtain legal advice in a hurry, if it should be necessary, and whether the earl could put her in the way of obtaining securities for the required amount within a few hours. On her promise to take no step without the advice of her husband or of the lawyer to whom he would give her an introduction, the earl furnished her with some valuable information, wondering all the while what sudden fancy had possessed her; for he had no idea that she could have seen any one, or received any letter, since they parted in the breakfast-room an hour before.
“Time was,” said she, while the earl wrote a few lines to his lawyer, “when I could have raised this money by pledging my own exertions. Now, not all my jewels,—not all my resources of every kind will avail me so well as three months of my old profession would do. It is well Henry has gained power; for I have lost much.”
“Take care you are not tempted to resume it,” replied tile earl, smiling. “You want money, and the way to get it is open. If you are tempted, remember how it would dismay Henry at his breakfast-table to see the announcement of lady F—'s reappearance. Remember that though we talked of the peerage taking up that the profession of the fine arts, that day is not come yet;—nor will it have arrived by the time you enter the peerage, my dear. Which will be home first, you or Henry?”
Letitia tore a leaf out of her sketch-book, which she still carried, and wrote a note for her husband in case of his immediate return. The earl charged himself with it, as she had no time to go back and seal it; and putting her ann within his own, led her to the gate where the carriage was to meet her. He thought, as she did, that it was best to avoid the risk of encountering anybody who might look for an explanation.
“Farewell, my dear,” said he, as the carriage stopped. “We shall be glad to see you back again; meanwhile, all success to your measures!”
“How good you are to trust me for meaning something better than folly, as I see you do!” said Letitia, with tearful eyes. “This looks so like a madcap expedition!”
“When I have seen you do a foolish thing, my dear, I will believe that you may do another. Till then, my faith is strong. Nay, give me a happier smile before you go. Has your power ever failed you at need? I do not know what you expect from it, but I will venture to predict that it will not now fail you for the first to time.”
Before the carriage had well cleared the gate, it stopped again at the earl's command. He appeared at the window to say,
“It never occurred to me to ask whether I can be of use by going with you. Say that you wish it, and I am ready, this moment.”
“You are kind; but I do not wish it:” and again the carriage rolled on.
With a beating heart, Letitia made her inquiry at the door of her town-house. Lord F—was not there. He had gone down into the country,—(not to Weston),—that afternoon, leaving a letter to be forwarded to her, which had been put into the post-office some hours before. Letitia's best hope was over. It was midnight;—too late to go to her lawyer. She gave orders to be driven to her sister's, thinking it better to alarm her a few hours sooner than to risk any loss of time or of counsel.
She carried little new alarm into Maria's abode. There were lights seen in the windows, and Maria herself was up and dressed. This was the second night that she had not gone to rest, for it was the second that Waldie was absent without notice, or any intimation where he might be found. notice, The unhappy wife flew to the door on hearing the carriage-wheels. When she saw her sister and Thérèse alone alight, she assumed a forced calmness of manner, as if bracing herself up to bear the worst. Letitia judged it best to use no disguise, from which Maria had suffered all too much already. Inwardly moved by the downcast look of perplexity with which the tidings were received, she told of Waldie's appearance at Weston, of his errand,—if errand it might be called,—and intended return. It was some relief to Maria to suppose him engaged in town, providing for the approaching crisis, instead of being kept away by any of the horrible causes which she could not prevent from filling her imagination by turns.
The lawyer, Mr. Bland, was—not much to his content — called away from his breakfast and newspaper, the next morning, by tile ladies, whom, being ladies, he could not think of keeping in waiting till he had made himself master of all the news. Coldly and solemnly he sat himself down to listen to their affair, and prepared himself with his snuff-box to get over as well as he could the tedium of hearing a business statement from women. He would have cut the matter short near the beginning, with assurance of the impossibility of raising securities for so large an amount before two o'clock; but Letitia would not be silenced. She showed that she understood the case, pointed out the advantage that might accrue to all parties from the transaction, and indicated such satisfactory means of ascertaining whether the speculation could in reality fail, if the proper funds were provided, that the surly Mr. Bland was won over to promise that he would see what could be done; whereupon the ladies immediately left him, promising to return in four hours, to convey him and his securities to the place where tile business was to be transacted.
“Where shall we go?” asked Maria. “What can we do with ourselves for these long four hours?”
“If you have courage to go with me,” replied her sister, “you will find ample employment for the time. If not, we part here, and I advise you to take a country drive to refresh yourself. I am going into the depths of the city to find up a money-lender, who has proved a very convenient help to certain young gentlemen of lord F—'s acquaintance. One may as well try to have two strings to one's bow, since the worst that can happen is to be laughed at, as women are every day when they propose to meddle with business.”
“Is this the worst that can happen?” asked the timid Maria. “Do you understand the law in such matters? I would not have you involved, Letitia, even to save us.”
“Trust me for doing nothing that my husband would not have me do,” replied Letitia. “Will you come? Our dress tells nothing, does it? It might belong to anybody, from a milliner to a maid of honour. Will you trust yourself with me?”
Maria gave herself up to her sister's guidance, They quitted the carriage about half a mile from the house they were in search of.
“I know the lane,” observed Letitia, “but not the number. We must venture a guess upon the house. I wilt make no inquiries.”
They walked two or three times along the narrow and dark lane, all the dwellings of which appeared to Maria equally desolate and unpromising; but her sister, who had fixed on one from the beginning, was confirmed in her opinion by seeing half a pint of blue milk taken in at the front door, while a fruiterer's boy, taken carrying a covered basket, through whose sides might be discerned the richest of grapes, sides turned into a court which led to tile back of the premises.
“Blue milk in public for the serving man's breakfast,” said Letitia, “and purple grapes in private for the master's luncheon. This suits the man exactly. This must be the place.”
So saying, she walked up as the milkman made way, and asked for Mr. Simeon. The wizened, sly-looking old serving-man replied that Mr. Simeon was engaged on business. Perhaps the ladies had mistaken this place for the shop in — street. Only the wholesale jewellery business was carried on here. No; they wanted Mr. Simeon, and would wait till he was at liberty. After several messages backwards and forwards, the ladies were beckoned in, with apologies for the parlour not being at liberty. A dingy wareroom having been passed, it was next required of them to mount a sort of ladder into what they supposed would prove a loft, but was in reality a counting-house, so dark that it appeared questionable whether any business could be carried on at any hour of any season without lamps. Maria would have sunk down on the first chair, if chair there had been: and in the absence of any, was fain to perch herself on the high stool, which afforded little rest for want of a footstool. Letitia, who was always conscious of inward enjoyment when in strange scenes and circumstances, peered round in the gloom to make her observations. It was well that she kept to herself her remarks on chests and padlocks, on the flask which stood on a corner shelf, and on the bareness of the whole place, which left nothing but the said flask which could be carried away: it was well that she made no audible remarks on these things, as some one was present before either she or her sister was aware. Mr. Simeon had entered by an unseen door, and his compliments to the ladies were the first intimation of his presence. She observed a manoeuvre to get them placed opposite the little light throe was, and disappointed it: being disposed to reconnoitre the person with whom she was about to deal. She was surprised to find him a well-made, middle-aged man, whose countenance, as far as she could see, corresponded with his address, which was mild and courteous. She explained, without delay, that her business was to ascertain on what terms so many thousand pounds could be borrowed for a month.
On no terms which were not sanctioned by the law of the realm. Perhaps the ladies were aware of the law?
Letitia replied that the same terms might suit the present ease as had been agreed upon by Mr. Simeon for loans of five, ten, and forty thousand pounds, at such, and such and such dates.
This proof of some knowledge of his transactions. This caused the money-lender to pause and attentively consider his guests; after which he observed, consider as if half to himself, that debts of honour were troublesome things, and especially to ladies, to whom ways and means were less open than to gentlemen. Letitia supposed that Mr. Simeon knew best, from the nature of his business; but she had believed that gaming was obsolete among ladies. She knew no ladies who were addicted to play. Simeon's further remarks glanced upon unpaid jewellery, the flight of Chancery-wards to the continent, and divers other suppositions, all of which were baffled by one or other sister, who did not choose to allow occasion for any scandal against themselves, in case of the present transaction becoming known. Letitia cut the investigation short by requesting to look at the statute which regulates the rate of interest on monies lent, and which she concluded to be in the possession of a money-lender. It was brought, and with it a taper, by whose light Mr. Simeon was enabled to perplex himself still further about the quality of his fair visitors.
“It is an unjust law, madam, a cruel law, worthy only of the Mahomedans, who call it a sin to lend monies on interest; but it is the law....”
“And must therefore be obeyed, Mr. Simeon. The forfeit—' the treble value of the monies, or other things, so lent, bargained, &c.'—I wonder they do not ordain the treble value of silks and sugars to be forfeited when the price rises. As well one commodity as another.”
“Ah, madam, that would raise the prices unconscionably. People must have commodities; and if they cannot get them by a straight-forward course, they must have their little plans and managements. There is risk and trouble in such plans; and for this the planners must be paid. So much being added, the prices would rise unconscionably.”
“That is to say, sir, that we are to pay you unconscionably, if you can make a little plan to furnish us with this money. Let us hear your terms, supposing we can furnish you with unquestionable security.”
Mr. Simeon seemed disposed, however, to descant a little longer on the hardship of the law, which not only, he observed, obliged him to be wary and even apparently rigid in his proceedings,—not only was a perpetual and most injurious hinderance in the way of commerce,— not only showed that the makers of the statute did not understand the office of a circulating medium,—not only brought the holy law of Moses (by which the taking of interest was falsely supposed to be forbidden) into contempt,—but had actually brought two charming ladies from their native regions of refinement into a dark hole quite unworthy of their presence! He was recalled to business, and obliged to state the rate of interest he would receive through one of the circuitous and safe methods which necessity has invented. He was not sufficiently aware with whom he had to deal.
“Your terms, Mr. Simeon, would suit a time when money is scarce; whereas you know as well as I that it is plentiful, and that the rate of profit has not for many years been so low as at present.”
Mr. Simeon endeavoured to mystify her by pointing out that the kind of profit in question had nothing to do with other profits, the lending of money being an unique ease. It would not do.
“Consider interest in what light you will, sir, it comes to tills. Interest is the nett profit on capital, and that nett profit cannot but be low in the present state of the market. There is a money-lending market, as you well know, though your department of it is discountenanced; and we are not in such a hurry but we can walk through it and learn what terms some of your neighbours have to offer. Our object is gained in finding that you can advance what is wanted.”
Mr. Simeon shook his head, and observed that the securities were not yet before him, that he had entered into large engagements already this morning, and that there were sundry other difficulties in the way of a conclusion of the bargain. To which the ladies replied that both parties had better take time to consider; and that a messenger should wait on Mr. Simeon at three o'clock to put an end to the treaty, or conduct him to the place where the securities would be waiting for him. To this the man of money agreed, only requesting to appoint a later hour, on account of prior engagements.
The ladies were urged to refresh themselves with some rare foreign wine, to accept an escort home, and to do or permit many other things which might afford a chance of their revealing themselves: but in vain.
On leaving tile place, Maria proposed making a circuit to join the carriage.
“Why?” asked her sister. “We have done nothing to be ashamed of.”
“Why then conceal your name?”
“Simply because it had nothing to do with the business, our errand being merely exploratory; and it might have altered the terms ill a way injurious to your husband. Now that our errand is done, let them follow us and see who we are, if they like.”
“But tile errand itself!”
“Is anything but a pleasant one, certainly; but my conscience is at ease as to my share of it. We keep the letter of the statute, you know, and that is enough. No one is bound to keep the spirit of a bad law, since evasion is the only means of bringing on its repeal. As for the usury laws,—they have been repeatedly condemned by committees of the legislature; and the more they are evaded, the better is the chance of getting rid of them. Do not you see this? Do not you see that perpetual evasion of any law is a sufficient proof of its badness?”
“You have such courage!” exclaimed Maria. “All I wish for is to get through life as quietly as I can, and bring up my children to do the same.”
“Beware of teaching them blind obedience, Maria,” said Letitia, when once more seated in the carriage; “your girls equally with your son. Obedience, by all means; but a rational, discriminating, and therefore loving and hearty obedience to the public laws as well as to those of your own house. Your little ones will learn hereafter that your object in forbidding them to set foot on the hearth-rug in your absence, is to guard them from being burned. Let them learn at the same future time the purposes of the laws under which they live, that they may be ready to do their part in that renovation of the system which is required as years roll on. If you would not have your children retain a superstitious dread of a hearth-rug through life, neither would you have them cling to laws enacted in the infancy of the state, and inappropriate to its present condition,”
“Implicit obedience is at least safe,” observed Maria.
“Safe to a certain point, but no father. If you continue the law of the hearth-rug for twenty years to come, your obedient children will never be burned by crossing it; but do you suppose they will not by that time have discovered other means of getting the warmth they wish for? They will creep under it; they will creep round it; they will jump over it. So is it, and so should it be with absurd, antiquated laws.”
“Who is to judge which are absurd and which sound?”
“The bulk of tile subjects of them. A sound law can never be evaded by more than a solitary simpleton here and there, against whom society will rise up; since it is the paramount interest of society to keep good laws in effectual operation. When the time comes for the bulk of society to approve and enforce the usury laws, you and I will pay no more visits to Mr. Simeon. Till then, or till their repeal, let there be opposition to the spirit and grudging obedience to the letter, unless we are prepared for the consequences of a breach of both.”
“Not I, nor, I hope, anybody belonging to me,” replied Maria. “O, Letitia, what o'clock is it? I cannot trust my watch.”
“Far enough from two o'clock, my dear. So you will not be amused, even with talk about the usury laws. Well? I will keep all drowsy subjects to lull you to sleep with to-night, when all will be settled;— all redeemed, I trust; and when you will own at last that watching has nearly worn you out.”
Mr. Bland looked as immitigably solemn as ever, when he appeared at his own door on the carriage stopping. He would have had the ladies wait the result at his house; but Letitia's business was not finished till she had ascertained whether Simeon's help would be wanted or not. Mr. Bland was obliged to let his law papers be tossed into her lap, and to edge in his stick and portly person as well as he could. He had been busy since the morning interview, and had fully satisfied himself in the matter of the spices; but he said to himself, while being whirled along, that the affair could hardly be brought to a satisfactory conclusion, since a woman had so much to do in it. If it had not been for the Earl's recommendation of the case, he would have eschewed the whole matter; and the oddest thing was that his lordship did not say whether he was himself informed of the particulars.
“Is Mr. Waldie here?” inquired the trembling wife, in a choking voice, of one of the clerks who appeared when the carriage stopped.
“He is, madam; but particularly engaged at present, except—”
“Except to this gentleman,” said Letitia, handing Mr. Bland's card with her own, which brought an immediate request that the party would alight.
Mr. Waldie was in the act of shutting somebody into an inner room when his wife appeared at the door. He looked pale and worn, but composed and active. He received his wife and her sister as if nothing extraordinary had happened, stated that the money would be forthcoming if the securities were so; and went straight to business with Mr. Bland.
As soon as satisfied that all was likely to be well, the ladies proposed to withdraw into the inner room, and await the issue.
“That room? No; not there, my dear,” said he. “Yet you will not mind my other man of business being there. He will not be in your way long.”
So they were ushered into the apartment where stood—Mr. Simeon.
“You will be saved the trouble of another excursion at four o'clock, Mr. Simeon, observed Letitia.” We have only to regret having consumed some of your time already this day. You will hardly see us again till we have debts of honour to pay, or a Chancery elopement to provide for.”
Mr. Simeon considered himself a gainer by the transaction in proportion to the honour his poor counting-house had enjoyed; an honour the more precious for its being confined within his own breast. He knew his duty too well to reveal what had passed.
“Do as you please about that,” replied Letitia. “You and Mr. Waldie must agree about your keeping Mr. Waldie's secrets; but, for my part, I have none. You owe neither honour nor duty to me, aware, as you no doubt are, that I did not come to borrow money on my own account.”
Mr. Simeon merely mentioned the temptation of talking about the affair, because it was really an extraordinary case. Not that it was a rare thing for ladies to want money; but that they usually employed agents to procure it., How indeed should it be otherwise? since not one woman in five thousand understood even the forms of business; and these solitary exceptions were in a class which had no dealings with moneylenders. On this, followed a meries of narratives of fair ones' difficulties for want of cash, which amused Letitia exceedingly, from the romance of adventure which was mixed up with the most sordid borrowing transactions. Tile heroines were only A. B. and C.; but they became real personages in Letitia's imagination on the instant; and she was almost sorry when Mr. Simeon was called into the next room to review his securities and perform his promises.
It seemed an age before Mr. Waldie threw open the door, announcing that all was well. tie briefly thanked Letitia for having saved him; urged them to return home and rest from their anxieties; and was only sorry that he could not accompany them, or even promise to follow them for some days, as he should be incessantly occupied till the expected cargo was secured. He perceived that his wife's countenance fell on hearing this, and rallied her; asking what there was now left to be afraid of?—She did not know, but—
“She is worn out,” said Letitia. “I will take care that she shall recruit herself, and wait patiently, unless you try her too long.—You may he quite easy,” she continued to her sister, when Waldie's last grave smile dismissed them. “All is safe, with him as well as with his affairs. How calm he is! How entirely himself! He will speculate no more, believe me.”
Maria shook her head, as her tears fell fast. It was not only that her nerves and spirits were shaken by what she had gone through. Her confidence was utterly overthrown, and she felt the present relief to be no more than a respite.