Front Page Titles (by Subject) Chapter VIII.: CONSEQUENCES. - Illustrations of Political Economy, vol. 4
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Chapter VIII.: CONSEQUENCES. - 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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Those who had educated Waldie were partly answerable for his propensity to speculation, which arose more from a restless ambition than from a desire of overgrown wealth. The foundation of the fortunes of his family was laid by an ancestor who, a few hundred years ago, introduced a new manufacture, which he had learned abroad, into this country. Though, from having to take workmen away From other manufactures, and to engage them to learn his own, he gave higher wages than any of his neighbours, his profits were also very great, as his article bore a high price in the market, in the way that new articles of convenient manufacture generally dr. If profits may be said (as they are by some said) to be as much the reward of labour as wages,— that is, the reward of present superintendence, and of the labour out of which arose the capital employed, it is certain that this first rich member of the Waldie family reaped as large a proportionate reward as his workmen; for long after their wages and his profits were lowered by his silk stuffs becoming more common, and the difficulty of getting workmen being less, he continued to grow rich from his having more capital to employ in bringing him profits. If every hundred pounds did not produce seventy-five, he had, in course of time, for every such hundred, five that brought 50 per cent., and afterwards fifteen that brought 25 per cent.; so that he continued to grow rich, just as individuals and countries may in these days, if accumulation proceeds faster than profits fall. His descendants for some generations carried on this manufacture, for which there was a permanent demand, and so steady a one that the variations in its price arose only from the variations in the prices of other things, and not from changes of fashion. Now and then the price of provisions fell, which enabled these manufacturers to lower their men's wages, these and enjoy larger profits, till the time came for profits to fall also; and sometimes the reverse happened, when the price of provisions rose. Sometimes complaints were made against the largeness of their profits, when the fact was that largeness they gave precisely the same proportion of their produce to their workmen as before, but there were more workmen to divide this proportion; which was no fault of their masters. With these few variations, the family continued to prosper, being for the most part content with the ordinary rate of profits, and making up by continual accumulation for their gradual fall;—that fall which must take place wherever the supply of food is restricted. They were all proud of the ancestor who had founded the wealth of their family, and sent his praises down from generation to generation. The present Mr. Waldie had been early accustomed to listen to them, and impressed with the idea that it was time for somebody else to be adding glory to the family, as it had become much less distinguished in these times of improvements than in the first days of its wealth. He quitted the manufacture, and became a merchant, thinking that this occupation would afford better opportunities for the gratification of his ambition than the straightforward old manufacture. No wonder he was tempted by schemes which promised a higher than extraordinary rate of profits! No wonder he dealt in articles whose extremely varying prices were determined by other than the usual circumstances,—which prices he hoped to catch at the highest, and then to have done with the article! No wonder that he guessed respecting such uncertain circumstances as the changes of fashion, wet and dry seasons, the extent of particular crops on the other side the globe; and then proceeded to act upon these guesses! Sometimes he was right, sometimes wrong. Sometimes he made five thousand pounds at a stroke, sometimes lost ten in a season. Much as his capital was lessened on the whole by his speculations, this was by no means the worst result of his proceedings. Like all other gamesters, he became so fond of the excitement, that, much as he often suffered from it, he could no longer live without it; and the domestic influence which is tile most powerful means of winning a man from bad habits of any kind, was not so powerful in Waldie's case as if his first affections had not been disappointed. Attentive as lie always was to his wife when with her, kind as he had till lately been to his children, vehement as were the fancies he took, now to Portugal laurels, now to tall trees, now to bay-windows or new drawingroom furniture, his happiness was not in his home, but in the heats and chills of his hopes, in city news of disasters at sea, of changeable weather, of new inventions or improvements of manufactured articles, and of political changes,—of anything that might affect his speculations. His poor wife knew nothing for a long while of his unfortunate ventures, though she heard enough of exultation over his good ones. She believed that he must be growing enormously rich, and sighed over the idea, since it seemed that the richer he became, the less pleasure he took in his home. When he first began to alter his tone, (which he did very suddenly,) when he talked one day of bringing up their children to provide for themselves, and moving into a small house in the city, and the next of purchasing some splendid estate, and again of giving up his carriages and sending away half his servants, she was confounded; not knowing how much to believe, or to wish to believe; whether to suppose poverty to be in prospect, or her husband to have lost the soundness of his judgment. It was now some comfort to know how their affairs stood, though she would rather have heard it from her husband than from Letitia. She had long seen that Waldie's family ambition could not be gratified. Whichever way the scale might turn at last, whether he left his family in poverty or magnificence, it was impossible that his memory should be honoured like that of the ancestor who had prospered by uniting prudence and industry with his zeal of enterprise. Whether all was to be swallowed up in Kentish hops and Russian tallow, or all redeemed and even doubled by India spices, those of Waldie's descendants who knew his history, would, in either case, pity or despise him as a gambler.—How much of pity his fate would call for, not even the most alarmed imaginations of his timid wife had fully conceived. She had fancied him, over and over again, in gaol, in poverty; the idea of suicide even had flashed across her mind; but that which actually happened took her more by surprise than arrest, or ruin, or death by his own hand.
Two anxious days were passed by the sisters in expectation of the decision of Waldie's affairs, and still he did not appear. Notes came two or three times a day from himself or from his clerk, who wrote at his desire, requesting Mrs. Waldie not to leave home, as her husband did not know how soon he might be with her, to take a few days' repose on the conclusion of his business. Letitia heard from her husband also on his arrival at home, and from the earl, both desiring her not to leave her sister till she could do so with comfort; which, in Letitia's mind, meant till Waldie should have come home. On the third morning arrived this extraordinary note.
“My own dearest Maria” (substituted for “Letitia,” scratched out)
Coming, coming, coming, as rich as Croesus! Light tile bonfire. Ring the bells. Hurrah! Spices for ever! Coming, coming, coming!
“I do wish Waldie would control his spirits a little,” said Maria, showing the note to her sister, and then looking as if she would fain have withdrawn it. “How can he bring himself to write in such a way?”
Letitia had nothing to say at the moment; not even congratulations on the wealth of Croesus having crowned all these vicissitudes. She asked for the children. They were gone out with Thérèse and their own nurse-maid. She offered a turn in the shrubbery; but Maria was not, she presently saw, strong enough to walk. She threw open the bay-windows, and beckoned her sister to come and be refreshed by the feel of the mild autumn air, the bloom of the autumn roses, and the tranquil beauty of the green prospect. There they sat, watching and working, letting drop a few words now and then, but keeping up nothing like conversation, and looking out as often as a horseman might be seen through the trees, or a carriage heard in the road. At last, the sound of a horse's hoofs reached them, far too rapid for safety, they were sure; and immediately Waldie was seen on horseback, approaching at tremendous speed, with something white before him, which proved to be his two elder children.
“Mercy! Mercy!” cried his wife, putting her hands before her eyes.
“Thank God! the gate is open. They are in! Safe!” exclaimed Letitia, as the horseman wheeled round the corner and up to the window, checking his steed so suddenly as to throw it on its haunches, setting the pebbles flying in all directions, and mingling his loud hurrah with the laughter of the younger child, who saw nothing but fun in all this. The elder one was convulsed with terror.
It was well some one was on the spot; for Waldie threw down both the children as if they had been mere bundles of clothes. They were caught,—not, however, without so much slight bruising as called forth their cries to add to the confusion.
“O Waldie,” shrieked his wife, “what are you about?”
“Look, look, look!” he cried, flourishing his whip over his head, clapping spurs to his horse, and trampling the beds, walks, and lawn alike, and finishing by making his horse leap high and still higher shrubs. He finished by fixing his eye upon the greenhouse, as if he contemplated a leap there too.
“Mr. Waldie,” said Letitia, in her steadiest tone, “what are you doing?”
In a moment he was oil had flung the bridle on the neck of the sweating and trembling horse, and was by her side, swearing deep oaths that she had ever governed his life and ever should govern it. With her in wealth, as with her in poverty, he would. . . .
Maria had rushed into the house upon this, but not the less did Letitia by eye, and gesture, and word, command him from her, and prevail for the moment. He obeyed when she pointed his way into the house, and she was still standing, faint in body and spirit, with the poor children clinging to her, when Thèrése came in from the road, breathless, and sinking with terror. When she saw the children safe, she burst into tears: she had feared that she might have to answer for their lives, from not having had presence of mind to evade Waldie's vehement desire that the children should have a ride.—Her mistress gave her a few directions, which she hastened into the house to execute, and Letitia, after giving the servants a charge to take the children into the nursery and keep them there, repaired to her sister. She found Maria lying across the bed, groaning in heart-breaking grief.
“Sister!” said she, gently, after watching silently beside her for a few moments—“Sister, your husband wants you. He is ill, fearfully ill; and who should tend him but you?—Nay; why this despair? A brain fever, all may be well. . .”
“Letitia; do not deceive me. it is mockery to attempt it.”
“Maria, if I wished to deceive you, I dare not. What I have done will prove this. Thèrése is packing up, and I am going in half an hour. It grieves me to leave you; but I must
“O yes, yes; you must go.”
At this moment, there was a tremendous knocking at the room door, which was luckily fastened. It was Waldie, still calling upon Letitia, who would not answer. Maria dared not. The knocking went on till there seemed some probability of the door giving way, when,
perhaps from having his attention diverted by the servants, the madman quitted his object, and ran down stairs.
“Yes, yes: you must go,”ted Maria, bitterly.
Letitia could forgive the tone in which this was spoken,
“Listen, Maria, what you must do. Command yourself, and go and tell the butler that his master has a brain-fever, and desire him not like yourself, till some one comes to relieve you of your charge. I will immediately send proper advice and help from town.—Farewell, sister. I shall not come again till you send for me. As soon as I can be of any comfort, send. My husband will wish it.”
“But Waldie will insist on going with you. He will never let you drive off. He will. .. .”
“All this is provided against. I can plead an errand near the turnpike, and shall go out with Thèrése by the little shrubbery gate. The carriage will overtake us. Do not detain me. Farewell.”
Letitia said nothing about removing the children. She thought that if, as was probable, Waldie's state should prove such as to render Maria's presence improper, her children would be her best comfort.— in a few minutes, Maria saw, but diverted her husband from seeing, Letitia and Thèrése hastening from the back of the house through the shrubbery, and disappearing down the road. It was with a strange mixture of bitter and yearning feelings that the unhappy wife witnessed such a conclusion as this of a visit which had been planned and endured for her sake.
There was ample time in after years for the sisters to explain, and forgive, and renew the confidence which had been unshaken till this day. Waldie was never more an impediment to their intercourse. He was kept under close restraint from the hour after Letitia's departure, when he insisted on searching every corner of the house for her, and was frantic at having sought in vain, up to the moment when, after years, first of madness and then of imbecility, death released himself and his friends from the burden of his existence.
More than once Maria tremblingly asked the confidential physician whether her sister's presence was likely to be of any service; and almost rejoiced to be answered with a decided negative.
It was perfectly true that Waldie had become, as is commonly said, as rich as Croesus. But what to Maria was all the splendour in which she might have henceforth lived, if she had so chosen? What to her was the trebling of the fortunes of her children? As a compensation for the love which had been disappointed, the domestic hopes which had been rudely overthrown, these things were nothing, though there were some in the world who called them prosperity.