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Chapter II.: SIGNS OF THE TIME. - 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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SIGNS OF THE TIME.
Charles Luyon was wont to hasten home at dinner-time with as much cheerfulness in his countenance as alacrity in his gait. He always had a smile ready when his timid wife looked anxiously in his face, and generally some tidings which were not bad, when her aged father, M. Raucourt, asked his invariable question,—“What news, Charles?” Times were now, however, altering so speedily that it was evident that Charles must vary his entré. His smile he was likely enough to preserve, happen what might; but in the article of news he began to be perplexed; for whatever was now stirring was of a kind with which it was painful to confuse and trouble a very old man, who never went abroad, but yet managed to know something of what was going on by fixing his seat constantly at the window, and using his eyes, which were less infirm than his understanding. The children too, who were old enough to be inquisitive, began to be very pertinacious in their questions why their walks were circumscribed, and what was the meaning of various strange sights and sounds which they met at every turn. In satisfying them why the drums beat, and why orators talked so loud in the mobs, Charles never used the word riot,—much less rebellion, or revolution, either of which might have been fatal to his wife's peace; for she had been bred a royalist by her father, and had a perfect horror of even a disrespectful word against the royal family or the noblesse. What Charles was in politics, she could never tell. He seemed to adopt no party, to talk sensibly on what took place before his eyes, and (judging' by what had already come to pass) to prophecy clearly respecting the future. He pointed out to her that the people were starving, and of course disaffected; but he did not say where the blame rested, contenting himself with hoping the best, as he did on all occasions.
On the day that he received the tidings of the ravages of the storm in Guienne, Marguerite did, for once, perceive a slight shade on her husband's brow. The family were standing at the window, beside the old man's easy chair, eagerly gazing into the street, which was filled from end to end with a mob. The aspect of the people was terrific, and their clamour, compounded of the shrill voices of the fishwomen and the more deep-toned yells of haggard and half-famished men, was deafening. The old gentleman looked full of glee, for he had contrived to persuade himself that all this was rejoicing for some royal festival. The wiser children looked in their mother's face for an explanation; but she could attend to nothing else when she saw her husband enter.
“Thank God, Charles, you are home! How did you get in?”
“I have been in this half hour.'
“And shut up by yourself? There is something the matter, Charles.”
Charles gave in brief the story of the storm, which included the tidings that certain olive and almond groves, her own property, were utterly destroyed.
“Charles, Charles,” interrupted the old man, as soon as the mob had passed; “what news to-day?”
“I am afraid what you have just seen tells only too plainly, sir. The people are gone to the palace to vociferate for bread.”
“Well, well, fashions change,” observed M. Raucourt. “In my days the king gave away wine instead of bread.”
“If he did so now, sir, it would be a good thing for my trade. It would empty my cellars to supply such a crowd as has just gone by.”
“Does not your wine sell, this year?”
“Not very well, sir. People buy little of anything at present; but better times will certainly come.”
“But, papa, why do not all these people buy bread, if they want it so very much?” asked Julien.
“Because there is very little to be bought; and that little is too dear for poor people to buy.”
“So they want the king to buy it for them?”
“Yes; but the king says he has no money. He is borrowing some, however, and I hope the people will soon be relieved, somehow or other.”
“Who lends the king money, papa?”
“I am going to lend him some; and so will verybody else that has any.”
Little Pauline thought it would be the better and quicker way for her papa to buy the bread himself for the poor, instead of lending money to the king to do so. She was told that perhaps the people might begin to love the king again if he tried to relieve them; and that his majesty would be much pleased at this, for they had not been at all fond of him lately. This news set Marguerite sighing, and the children thinking what they had that they could lend the king. Grandpapa was consulted, while his son and daughter retired from the window to read Antoine's letter. M. Raucourt thought the king would not wish for Julien's bird-organ, as he often heard finer music than it could make, and it would now buy very little bread; but why it would buy so little, he could not tell. He recommended Pauline's making her offering to the queen;—that beautiful, graceful lady that every Frenchman worshipped when she became his queen, and whom every Frenchman would mourn in the dust when the time must come for her to die. The old man was entering upon his favourite long story of the queen's entry into her capital, when Pauline stopped him with an enquiry whether this beautiful lady would like to have her silk-worms, and how much bread they would buy. As soon as grandpapa could speak for laughing, he told the child that the queen carried more silk on her head at that moment than these worms would spin in a hundred years. The little dog Joli, with his collar and silver bell, was next proposed, and thought more eligible. Joli was called, and looked for in vain under sofa, and chairs, and behind mamma's harp. While Pauline went in search of him, Julien interrupted papa to know why his bird-organ would buy very little bread, when it had once cost so much money.
“Money enough, papa, to buy many loaves of bread.”
“Yes, my dear; because the men who made that organ ate up several loaves of bread while they were at work upon it; and it was necessary to pay themselves for that bread, as well as for the wood, and the steel, and the brass, and the wear of their tools.”
“Then would not people eat as much bread if they made another bird-organ to-day?”
“Yes; and such an organ would cost me twice as much money as I gave for yours last year. It would buy only the same number of loaves, however, because each loaf costs twice as much money as it used to do.”
“But grandpapa says my organ will buy very little bread.”
“True; because it was made when bread was cheap; and an organ made to-day would be made when bread is very dear. I gave the organmaker money enough to buy twelve loaves; and now the same money would buy only six loaves.”
“And perhaps six loaves would not be enough for the people while they were making the organ?”
“Certainly not. They must have twelve; and so I should have to pay twice as much for another organ made to-day as you could sell yours for, supposing it as good as new.”
“But why is not there more bread, papa? I should like that there should be so much that I might give the people twenty-four loaves when I give the king my organ.”
“When that time comes, my dear, the people will not want to beg bread, and you shall have a better present to offer at court.—But, do you know, Julien, there is going to be less bread than ever, I am afraid.”
Marguerite drew her little son to her, and described to him the state of the peasantry round uncle Antoine's vineyards; and how grandpapa's olives were all blown down, and everything eatable destroyed, except what had hitherto been considered food for swine.
“One woman,” she continued, “offered a comfortable coat of her husband's to several shivering people who would have liked it very much; but they could not give so much as a single handful of barley for it. There were some who would have given a whole field for a sack of wheat; but they could not get it.”
“One miserly person,” observed Charles, “happened to save a small stock of cabbages, of which he was willing to sell three. He was offered a blanket, and would not take it; and then a pretty crucifix; and then a clock——”
“But perhaps he did not want any of these things.?”
“Neither could he be said to want what he took at last. When he found that the highest price was offered that he was likely to get, he accepted it; and it was a diamond pin, given by lady Alice de Thou to a destitute family.”
“Was it like the diamond in mamma's watch?”
“Much larger. It was so valuable that, a month ago, it would have bought uncle Antoine's best vineyard.—It bought only three cabbages now, because the people must have cabbages and did not want diamonds.”
“Then the very poor people pay much more than the rich, I suppose? The poorer they are, the more they pay?”
“Not when there is enough of what they want. The baker over the way knows that if he charged a poor man too high, the man would go to some other baker to buy; so they keep their prices pretty equal. But as soon as there is too little of what everybody wants, every one is eager to get his share, and promises more than his neighbour; till, as we see, a diamond pin may be given for three cabbages. There is too little corn in France now; and that is the reason why we give more for it than will pay the baker, and the miller, and the farmer, and his labourers for what it cost them to prepare it for us.”
“The same will be the case with your papa's wine,” added Marguerite. “He charged yesterday as much as it had cost him to cultivate the ground, and ripen the wine, and pay for having it brought here, and for the use of his cellars, and a certain sum over for us to live upon. After to-day, everybody will know how the storm has ruined the vineyards; every one will be afraid that there will not be wine enough, and they will offer more and more for it, till—”
“Till papa is rich enough to take Pauline and me to Versailles, to see the court.”
Charles told how much money he should want to get his vineyards into repair again, and what high wages he must pay the country people, while provisions continued as dear as at present. —Marguerite meanwhile sighed, and observed that there was little pleasure now in going to Versailles, to hear people, even of the better classes, criticise the expensiveness of the queen's dress, and the haughtiness of her air, as often as she appeared.
Pauline now burst into the room in a state of wonder and consternation. She had not been able to find Joli anywhere about the house, and on employing the servants in the search, had recovered her favourite in a somewhat different condition from that in which she had last seen him. He was found crouching in the street, just outside the door, no longer the beautiful animal, with a silky white coat, enamelled collar and silver bell, but actually dyed, the hind part red, the fore part blue, with a stripe of white left in the middle. Instead of the collar, were bands of ribbon of the same three colours. The poor animal and its mistress seemed equally terrified, and both perhaps felt themselves insulted when everybody laughed. Pauline cried, and Joli whined.
“Is he hurt, my love?” inquired mamma.
Julien waved his handkerchief, and Joli jumped and snapped at it as usual; and even Pauline laughed through her tears, when she saw the gaudy little creature frisking about in masquerade.
“Since he is safe,” said Charles, “never mind the collar and bell. We will get another when times are better, and there are fewer thieves about.”
“There is something worse than theft here,” observed Marguerite, sadly. “I abhor those colours.”
“Then let us wash them off, if we can; and mind, Pauline, if you wish your dog to be safe, you must keep him within doors till his coat is perfectly white again.”
The washing availed little, as the dog was not besmeared but dyed. To get rid of as much red and blue as possible, mamma cut off the new collar, and gave Pauline a piece of white satin ribbon. Grandpapa helped the child to tie it on, and sent her also for a white lily,—his favourite flower, —and fastened it where the bell had been; and then Joli looked something like a royalist dog again.
“I do wonder, Charles,” said his wife, while this was doing, “that you go on always talking of better times coming, and of the fine things that are to happen by and by. You have done so ever since I knew you; ever since——”
“Yes, love, ever since the days when you were so very sure that your father would never approve me; that my business would never flourish; that, for one reason or another, we should never come together.”
“Ah! I was not a cool judge in that case.”
“Nor I, I am sure, my dear.”
“You seldom are, if there is any room at all for hope. Plunge you into an abyss of distress, and you are the calmest of judges. I would trust you to find your way in utter darkness; but the least glimmering you take for daylight. At this very moment, when you know that all affairs have been looking more and more gloomy for these ten years past; when the people are starving and rebellious, when your trade is almost annihilated, and my dowry destroyed, with that of thousands of your neighbours, you still talk of the good times that are coming”
“You think this very senseless, my love, I dare say?”
“It is very provoking, Charles. At first it was always said in the spring that things would be better in the autumn; and in the autumn, that all would come right in the spring. Now, you have somewhat extended your hope: it is either next year, or by and by, or hereafter; but still you go on hoping, when everybody else is preparing.”
“Cannot one hope and prepare at the same time?” asked Charles. “It seems to me that it is for want of this that so much evil now threatens us. The court goes on hoping without making any preparation; and the people, having no hope from the present system, are preparing to overthrow it too completely and too suddenly.”
“Mercy!” cried Marguerite; “what will become of us?”
“We shall live to grow wise in the experience of a state of transition, or die, leaving this wisdom to be inherited by others. In either case, the wisdom will remain; and the world (including our children) will be the better for it. Meanwhile, there is dinner waiting below for those who are hungry. Do not let the thoughts of to-morrow spoil the comfort of to-day.”
Before the day was over, however, its comfort was spoiled, and even Charles was compelled to look anxiously to the morrow. After dinner, a shriek of anguish was heard from the children. They had forgotten to secure Joli; and he was found hung up on the next lamp-post, strangled in his new white collar, and the lily stuck insultingly in his mouth. There was no use now in blaming the folly and carelessness which had occasioned tile catastrophe. The only thing to be done was to impress upon the entire household the necessity of parading no more lilies, and avoiding all ornaments of white, red, or blue.