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Chapter VI.: NEWS FROM HOME. - Harriet Martineau, Illustrations of Political Economy, vol. 6 (Messrs. Vanderput and Snoek, The Loom and the Lugger Parts 1 & 2) 
Illustrations of Political Economy (3rd ed) in 9 vols. (London: Charles Fox, 1834). Vol. 6.
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NEWS FROM HOME.
Slyk and Heins were equally anxious to lose no time in viewing the scene of their undertaking; the former, because he disliked any delay in getting possession of the young merchant's money, and the latter, because he was anxious to signalize himself by illustrious success. They set forth the next morning for the dwelling of the peasant who had undertaken to lodge the workmen during the time of their being employed in the neighbourhood. The whole family party accompanied them, except Christian and his inseparable friend Gertrude, who remained behind to enjoy pleasures which would be less fatiguing to the invalid. The decoy was to be visited; and the garden, with its rare flowers ranged in their beds as by the rod of a magical mathematician. Christian pointed out to his companion, as he was being carried in at the gate, the motto which he had chosen for an inscription, “Peaceful is my garden.”
“And now, Kaatje, you may go, if you will leave me the silver whistle. You can Work in the summer-house, you know; and we will call you when I want to be moved. Do you like this place, Gertrude?”
Gertrude thought it the pleasantest spot in the whole garden. The shade was welcome, and it was a pretty sight to see the herons wading in the stream so near them; and the boat jutted out behind the summer-house so as to make a good object for a painter. Christian hoped they might use the boat while Heins was with them. It was seldom entered at other times, except for the purpose of being kept in readiness for an escape, in case of a flood. Every house had its boat in that neighbourhood; for the sea was very rough at times, and the river had risen four inches higher last winter than had been known for many years, so that it had been determined to raise the dyke before the danger could recur. Meantime every house had its boat.
“You think of that boat sometimes, I dare say,” observed Gertrude, “when your cough keeps you awake, and you hear the wind roar and the waters splash. Do you feel afraid at such times?
“No; I do not think God would let us perish so. He has suffered the storks to build on the summer-house, though we cannot get them to settle on the house. See; we have put up a frame for them to build on, and they will not come; but there are two nests on the summer-house roof.”
“What do you suppose from that?” inquired Gertrude, who was far from being exempt from the superstition of the ‘country with respect to the stork, there supposed to be a holy bird.
“I think that if a flood came, we must get to the summer-house as fast as we could, and stay there till the storks flew away; and then we must go down into our boat.”
“And what would you do while you were waiting for the waters to subside? If they continued to rise, and nobody came, would you be afraid?”
“Not if M. Aymond was but with us, to pray for us. Or if God would put a rainbow in the cloud, it would be a sign that people had been saved from a much worse flood. Do you know, I call that boat our ark; but there is not room in it for half the creatures we should like to save. Luc's dog might go, and Roselyn's parrot, and perhaps Kaatje's calf might find a corner; but our poor cows must all be drowned. I hope there will never be a flood.”
All further speculation was stopped by the arrival of a special messenger from Amsterdam, with letters from the dignitary Vanderput to his sister and his partner. Gertrude, after she had satisfied herself that nothing was the matter, read her despatch without remark, and then directed the messenger to overtake Mr. Snoek, and deliver his letter without delay.
Mr. Snoek, meanwhile, was in raptures at all that he saw and heard. Not having been made aware that the work was even begun, he was amazed to find a lake where he expected to tread the trembling soil of a moist pasture land. How this came to be water when it should have been the well-limed soil which he had described, Slyk went on explaining from the moment they entered the district, till the party arrived at the door of the boor's dwelling. The truth of the matter was that he was himself surprised and struck with the apprehension that some of his devices had failed, that money was wanted to set the lime-kilns at work, and pay the delvers; and that, as Dutch labourers had little idea of working for anything but ready money, they had gone away. They must be recoverable, however; they must be still in the neighbourhood, at some temporary work, and not unwilling to be recalled, when pay should be again forthcoming.
“They may well be willing to come back,” observed Jan, the boor. “My wife and I made them as comfortable as so many burgomasters. And their wages were such as fully to make up to them for being brought so far from home. But, Mr. Slyk, unless you employ them soon,—unless you engage them before they are discharged from their present work, you will have to alter your terms.”
“No fear!” replied Slyk. “If the knave that should have sent you a remittance a fortnight ago does not make haste, I will make him answerable for spoiling the best work that was ever undertaken in this district.”
“There can be no difficulty in getting money to go on with,” observed Heins. “It is a most absurd reason for stopping the work.”
“Most absurd, indeed,” replied Slyk. “Neither you nor I, my dear sir, shall leave room for such an excuse, I am sure. We would both rather turn our pockets inside out. The fellows shall be recalled this very day, if we can muster our resources. You shall see the vein,—you shall be shown, layout but first, Jan, let us view your establishment. Where do you lodge our men?”
Jan led the way into the house, which was built and laid out after the fashion of the better sort of peasants’ houses of that period. A range of stalls for cattle extended along each side of the long low room of which the dwelling consisted: and a space was boarded off at the upper end of the apartment for the use of the family. Here was the ample hearth on which the turf fire burned; and here the beds, ranged in recesses of the walls, and the cupboards which contained the domestic apparatus of the establishment. In the present instance, the cows had been dismissed to a temporary shelter provided for them at a little distance from the house, and their stalls had been fitted up with beds for the workmen, so that tobacco-smoke had of late issued from the recesses which had been wont to exhale the sweet breath of cows. The clothing which the cows wore in damp weather still hung against the partitions of the stall, denoting their original destination.
“Do you know, papa,” said Francesca, who had been talking with Jan's wife, “it was only for brandy that these people struck, after all. They were not in such a hurry for their money but that they could have waited for a remittance; but for spirits they could not wait.”
“How should they?” inquired Jan, “Working, as they did, up to their knees in water for seven or eight hours a-day, how should they exist without brandy?”
Every body agreed that spirits were the only safeguard against the perils of ditch water, and that eight hours a day was very hard work indeed. Few labourers could be brought to exceed six. But why, Slyk asked rather angrily, was brandy wanting? There was plenty to be had at Winkel, and Jan might have been obliging enough to purchase a supply, for which he knew very well he should have been presently paid. Jan opened a cupboard door, in order to display the evidence of his having no cash at command just now. Some pictures, handsomely framed and carefully covered with canvass, were laid up there, to be sold at the next Rotterdam fair. Jan's wife piqued herself on her taste in paintings, and her husband had before found it answer well to trust to it for the investment of money which must otherwise lie where it could gather neither profit nor interest. He, and other Dutch peasants, had made money by selling again the judicious purchases they were enabled to make from time to time. Those who dared not venture upon pictures had small speculations in gold chains and other expensive ornaments; and a yet humbler class had their little ventures of books and foreign toys. Every thing sold at the Rotterdam fair; and every Dutchman might be trusted to make his speculation answer.
Jan having proved that his capital did not exist in a form that would immediately exchange for brandy, intimated that he had something to say in private, and to show out of doors to the gentlemen. As they went out, Heins declared his intention of furnishing an abundant supply of spirits out of the stock at Amsterdam, which, had been destined for England, but was scarcely likely to be wanted there till the course of exchange had turned. At present, while the exchange was in favour of Holland, the British merchants were, of course, stimulated to export as much as they could, and would receive no produce from Dutch ports, clandestinely or openly, till they had paid their debts by exportation. Slyk made a light mention of this being one convenient method in which Heins's proposed assistance might be advanced; and an immediate supply of brandy, salt butter, and meat was promised.
What Jan had to show was of no little importance. No one knows better than a Dutchman that water is never idle, even when it appears perfectly stagnant. The pools which had spread over the ground whence the turf had been dug, lay so still that the birds might have used them for a looking-glass in which to dress their plumage; but these waters were, nevertheless, at work, as Jan proved by leading his guests to one spot of the inner dyke, where the soil appeared to be slightly giving way. On this stormy coast, as in other parts of Holland, the sea-dyke was not the only protection provided for the pastures which lay beneath its level. It was all-sufficient for common times and seasons, but in the event of a slight irruption, or of any accident to the mills on the neighbouring canals, it was desirable to have a channel provided to carry off an occasional flood. Such a channel was furnished by erecting a land-dyke within the sea-dyke, leaving the space between to serve as a passage for any overflow of water. The whole range of the sea-dyke near Winkel was in admirable order. No dyke in the country was more thickly planted with the reed which assists the gathering and hardening of the sand thrown up by the waves. Its top was broad enough for two carriages to pass with ease; and its internal slope was of a soil so hard that nothing but the matted grass would grow upon it. The inner dyke was yet hardly consolidated: but the process was hastened by the planting of trees to a great extent. The young wood throve, and gave promise of binding the whole soil in a net-work of roots. The only doubtful point was the one now indicated by Jan. The bog water had spread to the foot of this mound; and just there, the roots of a young willow seemed to be starting. This was all: but, to the eye of a Dutchman, it conveyed much.
Slyk gave positive orders for the immediate erection of a mill to aid the drainage; and that no more turf should be dug till an abundance of lime was prepared to fill up the drained field, and till the bank was ascertained to be in a sound condition. He made Heins observe that there was very little water between the dykes, and no probability of more before all should have been rendered secure.—Jan prepared himself to set off in pursuit of the workmen, authorized to bring them back by the granting of even better terms than before, if such should be demanded.
Heins observed that the masters of labourers in some other countries were more happily circumstanced than he and his friend. In England, men asked work of the masters, who were therefore in a situation to exercise a choice, and to exert some authority; but in Holland, the masters had to seek for labourers, and were consequently at their mercy as often as there happened to be no scarcity of work. Even at present, when, through the quantity of wealth in the country, it was difficult to find employment for capital at home, and there was therefore more labour to be disposed of than in the days of comparative poverty, the labouring classes were able to make their own terms, from the abundance which they possessed. One of the difficulties attending” any new undertaking was the management that was necessary to bring the requisitions of the labourer into agreement with the interests of the master.
“Another difficulty,” observed Slyk, “is the poor encouragement that is given to liberal undertakings in this country. Our banks will bring on a general distress, if they do not mend their measures. If they are so timid and so ill-humoured as they are now about discounting bills, and lending money to the spirited individuals who exert themselves to benefit their country, everything will go to ruin. It is a part of their regular duty to assist those who would enrich, those who would beautify the face of the land; but there is more trouble than most enterprises will pay in getting a few bills discounted.”
Before he had finished his complaint, the messenger from Amsterdam had appeared and delivered Vandefput's letter to Heins. There was something in Heins's frowning brow and falling countenance as he read, which induced Jakob to take up his theme again as soon as he could obtain a hearing. He enlarged once more on the avarice and cowardice of the banks, which refused to aid even such an undertaking as the one before their eyes. Heins would scarcely believe it, but the Leyden bank had within a week refused to discount bills drawn by Cats of Haerlem upon Geysbuk of Rotterdam.
Heins could very easily believe it. The refusal of the bank probably arose from the same cause which would now, he feared, prevent him from making the advances he had destined to the undertaking before him. He found that the turn of the exchange had given such a stimulus to importation that he had less money at command, unfortunately, than he could have had at any other conjuncture.—But he had promised, Slyk reminded him. He had promised brandy, butter, and meat immediately, and money to a considerable amount layout
Subject to the consent of his partner, Heins observed; and his partner now wrote him word that their joint capital was already completely invested.
“But you have capital of your own, independent of the partnership,” said Slyk; “you, and your mother also. I beg your pardon for seeming to interfere in your concerns, my dear fellow; but I am not one to stand by quietly, and see a young friend, just left to his own guidance, let slip so splendid an opportunity as this of making thirty per cent, of his spare capital. I have a great regard for your mother too, and would fain see that her worldly concerns do not suffer from her being deprived of her husband, my very good friend. If she were here, with three thousand guilders in her right hand, I would merely say, ‘here is our ground, there is the sea,’ and leave the rest to her own good sense.”
Heins looked about him for some time before he made any reply, and then lamented that this soil was not already fit for pasturage, as some German and Danish cattle were on the point of arriving to be fattened; and it would have been one way of aiding the scheme to deposit them on this spot. Jakob explained that there was a farm at a little distance which belonged, he declared, to, himself. He would say no more than that any advances made by Heins might be repaid in the feed of these cattle, and thus made independent of whatever risk might be thought to attend the grand scheme.
Long did Heins pace to and fro on the dyke, pondering his resources, and reconsidering the letter of his partner, which was as follows:—
“I am sorry that your absence occurs just at this time, however short it may be: for every day may make so important a difference in the course of exchange as may materially affect our commercial concerns. How long the exchange may remain as it is there is no saying, as there is a rumour of the enforcement of tithe on the cultivation of madder in Great Britain; and this will bring the madder of a Presbyterian country like ours, which pays no tithe, into the market, at an advantage which must tempt those merchants to export largely who are now importing. If, besides this, certain relaxations of monopoly which are talked of should take place, to the advantage of Dutch commerce, our exports to Great Britain will be so abundant as presently to turn the course of exchange. It is our part, then, while we can get bills cheap, to urge our business to the fair limits of our capital, that we may have the fewer debts to pay to England when that competition for bills arises which must certainly follow the present abundance. I did business with Visscher this afternoon, as you were not here to do it for me. He is too busy (making his fortune, I suppose, out of the variations of exchange) to have a word to say to his old friends till after ‘Change hours. I fancy that the bills on England which have fallen in value bring a pretty profit into the broker's pocket when transmitted to Paris, where the exchange is greatly in favour of England. Visscher must be making much more by this state of things than he lost a while ago by the variation which took place in consequence of the depreciation of money in Paris. A fine lot of bills in his hands, which would have borne a premium over night, were gladly disposed of at a discount the next day. Visscher has never forgiven the over-issue of paper which caused this; but he is making up for it now. His charge per cent, on these transactions is no trifling gain in these busy days. When the exchange is once more at par, he will spare us a day at Saardam to talk over a little speculation in which it seems to me that we may share with advantage.
“It is rumoured on ‘Change to-day that a certain provincial bank has taken up a suspicion of the means by which a present neighbour of yours is floating a scheme which he boasts of as promising great things. It is said that a confederation of needy men have tried the now unusual trick of drawing on one another in a circle, and thus raising money to carry on their scheme, which they may or may not be eventually able to pay. The bank in question has been gradually getting out of the scrape for some time past, not forcing the parties to a bankruptcy, but making more and more difficulty about discounting their bills. The other banks which have been favoured with the custom of the parties are taking the hint, it is said, and looking close into the character of the transaction. If so, the truth of the matter will soon appear. Meanwhile, should any speculator fall in your way, beware of his representations; particularly if he talks of the distress of the country, and attributes it to the timidity of the banks. The country is prosperous, and the banks know what they are about full as well as he. When I have said ‘beware,’ I have said that which makes me think it worth while to send a special messenger with my letter. Besides this, I have only to say that I shall be glad to see you at home; and that if your mother has any fine pasturage untenanted, our Danish cattle may as well be landed in her neighbourhood, and fattened on her meadows as on those of a stranger. Arrange this as you please. * * *”
In the days when extensive alterations in the currency of trading countries were common, commerce was much indebted to the intervention of such men as Visscher. The bill-brokers held the power of equalizing the exchange, or of preventing its variations from exceeding a certain limit. The variations of the real exchange can, it is true, never exceed the limit fixed by the cost of transmitting metals; for, as soon as the premium which a merchant has to pay on the bill he wishes to purchase is higher than the expense of sending gold and silver, he, and others circumstanced like himself, will pay debts in money, the competition for bills will be lessened, and their price will fall: but the tendency which the exchange has to correct itself is much assisted by the operations of the bill-brokers, who, as they deal in the bills of many countries, can transport this kind of currency from places where it is superabundant to places where it is scarce. Like all other traders, they seek to buy where their article is cheapest, and to sell where it is dearest; and this, of course, lessens the cheapness and the dearness in different places. At the present time, the bills on England were cheap at Amsterdam, and dear in Leghorn; and Visscher, and other bill-brokers, by buying up bills on England, and transmitting them to Leghorn, assisted in equalizing the demands of Holland and England, and also of Leghorn and England, on each other, and thus aided in restoring the exchange to par.
But when the currency of any country is altered, no operations of the bill-brokers, or of any one else, can prevent the exchange from appearing to sustain a great variation, though those who understand the circumstances, and are not apt to be alarmed by the mere sound of words, know that, in such a case, if the exchange be really at par, it cannot be nominally so, and do not therefore trouble themselves about the apparent difference. This nominal variation does not affect trade; because the decrease in the price of goods to be exported answers to the discount which the exporting merchant sustains on his foreign bill: that is, if an English merchant draws a bill on Amsterdam for 1000 guilders in return for 90. worth of goods, the discount at which the Englishman sells his bill exactly answers the saving he has made from the price of the goods exported being lowered through the depreciation of the English currency: while the premium which the bill would bear in Paris answers to the apparent surplus of the 100 guilders. The holders of bills drawn before the alterations in the currency took place are affected by such changes; and such liabilities to profit and loss are among the evils attendant upon fluctuations in currency; but the amount of exportation and importation, and therefore the real exchange, are in no wise affected by alterations in the representative of their value.
If the course of the exchange is watched with anxiety, it should be with regard to the nominal and not the real variation. As a test of the state of the currency of the country its deviations are important, and cannot be too narrowly observed by those in whom the power resides of enlarging and contracting the currency. But the real variation might be safely left to itself, even if there were no intervention of bill-brokers by which equalization is secured. The variation can never pass the amount by which the cost of transmitting payments in metal exceeds that of making payment in bills. This cost can never be great while there is a set of persons, like bill-brokers, to buy bills where they are cheapest, and sell them where they are dearest; and thus, by arbitrating the exchanges of different countries, equalize the whole. As such equalization aids the security of property, commerce is largely indebted to the intervention of this class of dealers.
If any means could be found by which the rise and fall of money could take place at once and equally all over the trading world, there would be an end to nominal variations of exchange, and commerce would be divested of one of its mysteries: but this can never be while production is more abundant in one place than another; and while the cost of the carriage of commodities increases with distance. Mrs. Snoek found it cheaper living at Winkel than at Amsterdam: that is, the great articles of consumption were produced at hand, and had no cost of carriage to bear; and the value of the precious metals was therefore higher at Winkel than in Amsterdam, go much higher as to induce the Amsterdam exporter who made purchases of her butter and cheese to pay her in that commodity which was cheap to him while it was dear to her,—money. In return for the produce of her farm, which was shipped from her neighbourhood, there was a flow of money from Amsterdam to Winkel; a flow which would continue till money, becoming more plentiful at Winkel, fell in value so as to make it better worth the while of both parties that Mrs. Snoek should be paid in commodities. If the respective commodities should balance each other in value, so as to show that there was the same proportion of money in both places, no money would be transmitted; but if money at length abounded at Winkel more than at Amsterdam, it would become worth Mrs. Snoek's while, in her turn, to buy the merchant's commodities with that which was cheap to her while it was dear to him. Such inequalities must exist in different parts of the same country, and, much more, in different countries; and, while they do exist, the coins of countries will change their relative value, and there will be nominal variations of the exchange, wholly independent of the total amount of sales between different countries.
At present, as in all former times, money was dearer at Winkel than at Amsterdam; Mrs. Snoek delivered the produce of her farm to be shipped at the dyke near her own abode, and was paid in money from Amsterdam. As this suited her views of prudence, she designed to remain, with her family, where she was, while Winkel continued to be a cheap place of residence. Slyk was happy to hear this, both as it afforded a prospect of many opportunities of confirming his hold on Heins's speculative enthusiasm and his purse; and because it was likely to bring more of Messrs. Vanderput and Snoek's herds of lean foreign cattle to fatten on the pastures round Winkel. Mrs. Snoek had but little pasturage to let while she kept up a fine dairy of her own; and Jakob's drained fields would be tenanted as fast as they were ready to bear the weight of the herds that hungered for the rich verdure which springs from such a soil as he “could boast of. This matter was settled on the road homewards; Heins. seeing nothing in such an arrangement inconsistent with the caution recommended by his partner; and Mrs. Snoek thinking it well that her son should obtain something from Jakob in exchange for the advances made or to be made. Not that her opinion was asked by Heins, Being a man of business, he cared little for the opinion of any woman; but, nevertheless, he had no objection to her approbation.
Orders were left with Jan to bring back the work-people without delay; and Gertrude was sorry to hear, before Heins's departure in the afternoon, that he hoped to come again shortly to visit his family, and his very good friends the Slyks. She did not choose to acknowledge the look which conveyed that they would not be the only causes of his return. She had the hope, however, that his Danish cattle were included with herself in his unexpressed regards.