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Chapter IV.: AN AFTERNOON TRIP. - 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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AN AFTERNOON TRIP.
Matilda could not imagine why Elizabeth had not gone home, instead of waiting all this time at the station-house. It must be past Mrs. Storey's dinner hour, and there seemed some reason to fear that Elizabeth meant to stay for the rest of the day. If she did, however, she must invite herself, Matilda resolved; for it was far from being her own inclination to have any guest on this particular occasion;—the day of her husband's return after an absence of half a week,—the terrible first absence after a marriage of six weeks. They had met only for one hour in the forenoon; dinner-time would soon bring him home, and it would be too provoking to have a third person to intrude, especially if that third person were Elizabeth, of whom the Lieutenant was more fond than his wife could at all account for, Elizabeth might see, if she chose, that she was unwelcome; for Matilda had no intention of concealing the fact. She neither sat down, nor asked Elizabeth to do so; but, throwing off her bonnet, and stirring the fire, employed herself next in rectifying the time-piece by her own watch.
“My dear,” Elizabeth began, strenuously warming herself.
“I wish she would not call me ‘ my dear,’” thought Matilda; “it is so old maidish.” But Matilda might have known that a wife of twenty is very naturally called ‘ my dear’ by a sister-in-law of thirty-five.
“My dear,” resumed Elizabeth, “you talked of going to see Mr. Pim's school. We may as well go together. Fix your time.”
Matilda could not fix any time at present. Her husband had been absent, and her engagements must depend on his for some days to come.
“Very well. I know he is always out between ten and one o'clock; and that will be your time. I shall expect you some morning soon, between ten and twelve, as the school breaks up at noon. It lies straight past our door; but if you wish me to call you, I can easily come up.”
“O, by no means, thank you. But we shall meet before the end of the week, and can fix all about it. Mr. Pim wishes us not to go till the end of the week, when the children will have their catechism at their tongues' ends.”
“As to meeting, I do not know,” replied Elizabeth. “I am going to be very busy for some days. And indeed it is time I was at home now; for I promised my mother to cut out a cap for her before dark.” And Elizabeth extended her hand to take her muff.
“Indeed!” cried Matilda, briskly. “Let me walk part of the way home with you. And you must allow me to help you with your work. You know I have nothing to do, and——”
“So it seems, indeed,” replied Elizabeth, looking round with a supercilious smile, upon the bare work-table-, the perfectly-arranged book shelves, and the closed piano, which collectively presented a picture of a most bride-like lack of occupation.
“If you are inclined to send up your mother's handkerchiefs,” said Matilda, coldly, “it will give me great pleasure to make them.”
“Not for the world,” Elizabeth declared. So fond as her brother was of Matilda's music, and so much as they were to read together, Matilda could have no time for anybody's affairs but her own;—a decision which Matilda submitted to in silence. Elizabeth proceeded to deliver a dozen messages from her mother to the young housekeeper, about the butcher, and the milkman, and their own, dear, favourite fisherman, who supplied them so much better than the one Matilda patronized. She must positively begin to buy her fish of him directly, though they would not for the world interfere with her little domestic plans; but she might not know that George liked above all things——
Matilda sprang to the window, seeing something through the gathering dusk like the skirt of a coat. It was only the sentinel, however, and she drew back disappointed, and applied herself to examine whether her hyacinths were duly supplied with water.
“Just one thing more,” Elizabeth said. “You will excuse my mother observing (but indeed we could not help it) the plaiting of George's shirts. It is impossible you should know all his ways yet,—indeed how should you?—so, I will just mention that he has been used——”
“How very dark it is growing!” observed Matilda, once more peering out into the dusk, “O no, it is not so bad out of doors,” she added, when she had thrown up the sash. “It is impossible to tell what the weather is like, the windows being double, and such a state as they are always in with the damp from the sea. I wish, with all your management, Elizabeth, you would teach one how to keep one's windows clear and bright by the sea-side. It spoils half the pleasure of working or reading in this window-seat. In the summer time, however, when one can sit with the window open, it will be delightful. But it really is getting dark.”
“I am going,” said Elizabeth, quietly. “You shall have your husband all to yourself to-day, my dear. By the way, do you mean to tell him of that little affair down below this morning?”
“Do I mean to tell him?” cried Matilda, astonished. “To be sure. I tell him everything.”
“0, very well. I would only just give a hint that that plan may not always be prudent, my dear: that is all. You are in a very responsible situation, you should remember; such ticklish terms as your husband and his men are on with the people about you. A little indiscretion on your part,—perfectly natural at your age,—may bring on bloodshed, you are aware. Do you know, my dear, I would not be in your place for the world.”
“Would not you?” replied Matilda, with astonishing tranquillity.
“Why, only think of the incident of this day. How do we know what may arise out of it, if you repeat it to George? He must take notice of it, when otherwise it might pass over.”
“Without his hearing how you shrieked and ran away,” thought Matilda; and she was strongly tempted to say it, but refrained: and when Elizabeth at length found that she really must be going if she meant to be at home before dark, the sisters by marriage parted on friendly terms.
The Lieutenant looked somewhat graver than usual when he came in to dinner, and little disposed to talk while a third person was present. Moreover, he had the air of listening in the intervals between the clattering of plates and knives, and the creaking of the servant's shoes. Before drawing to the fire, when the door was at length closed behind table-cloth and cheese, he went to the window to look out,-—the dull window which allowed little to be seen through its salted panes. He was about to repair to an upper window, but Matilda wrapped her head in a shawl, and threw up the sash.
“You would have me believe,” she said, in answer to her husband's fears, “that I am not fit to live in this place: but I scorn both wind and fog. If you should wish to set a watch in Parson Darby's hole, I believe I should serve your purpose as well as any body;—as long, I mean, as no fighting was required.”
“Let us see what you will make of it to-night, without going to Parson Darby's hole. If your eyes and ears are better than mine, I may be glad of them presently.”
“What am I to look and listen for? This booming sea is enough to prevent our hearing anything else, unless it be two of your gruff men talking close by the window. What else do you expect me to hear?”
“Possibly a whittle, which may be heard among all conceivable combinations of hoarse sounds.”
“But your own men whistle.”
“Not to-night. They have orders to the contrary.”
“Mr. Pim whistles perpetually, when he is not mimicking a whining, whipped scholar, or waiting the explosion of some practical joke. What is to be done with poor Mr. Pim, if he is caught in the fact?”
“He will take care to be caught in no fact that will do him any harm. Only tell me if you hear a whistle; that is all. And point out any signal you may see;—but, I dare say, you do not know how to look for one.”
“I wish you would take me out, and teach me.”
“What, now? This bitter evening? My love, you could scarcely keep your footing in this wind. And it is so dark——”
“So much the better for a first lesson. If you are really going yourself, do take me with you.”
In two minutes Matilda was ready, laughing at the appearance she made with her head swathed in a shawl, and the rest of her person in a cloak, to save the annoyance which her usual out-of-doors dress would have been in a high wind. Clinging to her husband, making many a false step, and invariably laughing as she recovered her footing, she gained the ridge of the cliff', and stood amidst all the sublimity of a gusty night on the wild sea-shore. The blast took away her breath, as fast as she gained it, and her husband's voice was almost lost in the roar and dash from beneath, while the lightest of her shriller tones made itself heard through the commotion.
“Now show me how to look for a signal,” she said. “They do not surely light fires on the headlands?”
“If they wished it, they must ask leave of the wind,” replied her husband, “as well as of us; and they know they will have no leave of the one or the other, to-night. No: they make their fires in the clefts and caverns, and——”
“I see one! I see one!” cried Matilda, eagerly pointing to a gleam which came and went, like a bright speck on the horizon.
“That, my love!” cried her husband, laughing. “They must be bold smugglers who would run in to such a light as that. That is the light on Belltoot, made to look distant by the fog. You should turn eastwards; and seek rather for indications of a light, than for the light itself. If you see a dull red streak, or the least glimmer upon the passing fog, show it me. It will tell that there is a fire in a chalk pit or a cavern.”
After looking for some time in vain, Matilda inquired whether there was reason to suppose that the smugglers were particularly busy this night. Not knowing who might be near in the darkness, her husband pressed her arm in token that questions of this nature would be better answered at home.
They walked on till they fell in with one of the sentinels, who was of opinion that nothing out of the common way would be done to-night, as the storm was rising to such a height as would make it too hazardous for even the most daring smugglers to run in at Birling Gap, or at any other place on the neighbouring coast.
“You hear, Matilda,” said the Lieutenant. “Now, have you seen all that you wish to see?'
“By no means,” she replied, laughing: “but it does not seem likely that we should gain anything by staying; so you had better go down and finish your wine, and we can come again tomorrow night.”
The sudden calm and quiet of the little parlour made the Lieutenant rub his hands under the sense of comfort, while Matilda put back her lank hair from over her eyes, and prepared to tell the story of the morning. The Lieutenant had however already heard it. Matilda was glad of this, and went on to ask if any harm could possibly arise from telling her husband every thing that happened to her, and all that she observed. No harm in the world, but possibly a great deal of good. It might put her on her guard against doing and saying things which were perfectly innocent and amiable in themselves, but which might be imprudent under certain circumstances;—such as showing herself indignant on seeing a gipsy boy ducked, when the neighbours were already quite angry enough on his account. The Lieutenant loved to see her ardour in such causes; but he was sorry to say it did not consist with the prudence necessary to be observed by any one connected with him, in his present office. This as enough to make Matilda vituperate the office, till she remembered that by its means her husband was detained by her side, instead of being dispatched to the other end of the world. It required this and many other comforting considerations to reconcile the Lieutenant himself to this service, uncongenial as it was to the spirit of an active and enterprising officer, who had no particular pleasure in playing the spy on a grand scale, and who found it galling to a kindly temper to live among a host of enemies. He had hesitated long about accepting the appointment, entertaining, in addition to his disinclination, a fear that it would be an effectual bar to further promotion. If it had not been that his mother and sister depended mainly on him for support, and that, having waited till forty, he wished to marry, he would hardly have bartered the hope of professional eminence for pecuniary advantage; but, circumstanced as he was, he thought it right to accept an appointment which allowed him to enjoy the fruits of former service while gaining more by present duty. Though satisfied that he had done right, and fully sensible of the blessing of having a home always about him, he had no objection to hear the Preventive Service found fault with in a quiet way by his own fireside, and foreign service exalted at its expense.
“What could put it into your head, Matilda, that harm could come of your telling me every thing.' The prudence I speak of relates to your reserve with our neighbours, not with me. What could have put such an idea into your head?”
“Elizabeth thought that I had better not tell you every thing. But if I really have a difficult part to act, I shall be miserable without your help. I never could act for myself in my life.”
“Never.” asked her husband, with a smile. “I think you can boast of one act of remarkable decision, my love.”
“Half the merit, at least, was yours,” replied Matilda, laughing. “And as for guiding myself without you, it is out of the question. So I must tell you all that happens, and you must teach me how to behave to our neighbours.'”
Her husband paused for a moment to reflect what a pity it was that, when Matilda's natural behaviour was all that was charming, she should be put under restraint by the position she filled. It was a hard task to have to teach her to suspect her neighbours, and to frame her conduct by her suspicions.
“You have no reason for trying to manage me by reserves,” said he. “Elizabeth has, no doubt, her own little mysteries.”
Matilda looked up surprised. She had never before heard the Lieutenant speak of his sister but with fondness and confidence.
“1 mean no reproach,” he continued. “Elizabeth is a good creature, and the best of sisters to me. I only mean that she has her womanish tastes, which, like other women, she must gratify; and she knows it is the properest and kindest thing to let me know nothing of her confidential visits to the fishermen's wives. I cannot prevent her doing what every body else does; and it is better that I should not be obliged to take any notice.”
“What do you mean?” cried Matilda. “Is it possible that Elizabeth has anything to do with smugglers? that——”
“Ah, now you have started upon a new scent, my dear; and let us see what you can make of it before you get home again.—Now you are fancying Elizabeth out at sea at night in the lugger we are looking for, or helping to land the goods; and the first day that passes without your seeing her, you will fancy she has taken a trip to Guernsey. Do not you begin to see how a thousand little mysterious circumstances are now explained? Cannot you account for——”
Matilda held up her hand as petitioning to be heard, while her fond husband delighted himself with her signs of impatience under his raillery.—She protested that she knew perfectly well what his charge against Elizabeth amounted to; that she contrived to buy articles of dress better and cheaper by the seaside than these could be procured in shops. She only wished to say, that she desired to acquit Elizabeth as far as her testimony would go. She had no reason to suppose, from anything that she had seen, that Elizabeth was given to such practices.
“It may be some time before she takes you into her confidence in these matters, my dear. Meantime, do not let us talk of ‘ charge’ and ‘ acquittal,’ as if Elizabeth had committed a crime. If I thought so, I would not have credited the fact on any testimony whatever.”
“How then can you be what you are?” exclaimed Matilda. “If you think smuggling is no crime, why do you engage to spend your days in suspicion, and your nights in watching, and even to spill human blood, if necessary, to prevent contraband trading.'”
“My office springs out of a set of arbitrary regulations which may possibly be necessary to the general good of society. At any rate, they subsist, and they must be maintained as long as the nation does not decide that they shall be abolished. This is all we Preventive officers have any concern with. It does not follow that we must condemn a lady for preferring one sort of lace or silk stockings to another, or for trying to get them, when she knows government has failed in the attempt to keep them out of the country.”
“You say this just because Elizabeth is in question,” replied Matilda. “Suppose I were to report it to the Admiralty, or the Board of Trade—how would it look upon paper?”
“I dare say you would not find a man at the Admiralty, or any where else,—a sensible man,—who would declare a taste for foreign commodities,—for as large a variety of commodities as possible, of the best kinds, to be anything but a good. No man of sense wishes the society in which he lives to be in that state of apathy which does not desire what is best, but only to be saved trouble. Neither does he recommend that the desire of that which is best should be gratified at the greatest possible expense and trouble.”
“Certainly, one would rather see one's neighbours wishing for French silks, than being content with skins of beasts; and, if they must have silks, one would rather get the material from Italy and India than have establishments for silkworms at home at a vast expense.”
“To be sure. And we might as well at once wish for English beet-root sugar, or for claret made from hot-house grapes, as condemn Elizabeth for desiring to have foreign lace. As for our countrymen liking to have tobacco duty-free, when the duty amounts to a thousand per cent. on the prime cost,—there is nothing to be wondered at in that. Moreover, the desire of foreign commodities is the cause of a great saving. These goods are not permanently desired because they are foreign. Their having acquired a reputation as foreign must arise from their being better or cheaper than our own. Our own productions of the same kind are either improved through the competition thus caused, or they give way in favour of other productions which we can in turn offer to foreigners better and cheaper than their own. If nobody cared for claret and tobacco, thousands of our people, who are busy in preparing that which is given in exchange for these articles, would be idle; and if we were bent upon growing our own tobacco, and forcing vines instead of buying of our neighbours, the expense would be tremendous, and would answer no good purpose on earth that I can see. So Elizabeth is as much at liberty to wish for Brussels lace, if she prefers it to Honiton, as I feel myself to fill my glass with this good Port in preference to my mother's gooseberry.”
“I should think nobody doubts all this about wine, and sugar, and tobacco,” said Matilda. “But when it comes to the question of manufactures that really can maintain a rivalship,—then is the time, I suppose, when it is said to be wrong to wish for foreign goods. As long as really good silks, and really beautiful laces are made in England, at a moderate price, is there any occasion to buy of foreigners?”
“Whether there is occasion, is soon proved by the fact of our looking or not looking abroad. As I said before, if these articles are to be had as good at home, we shall not look abroad; if not, it is a waste of money and trouble to be making them, when we might be making something which foreigners would be glad to take in exchange for their laces and silks. If the rival manufactures are a match for each other, let them fight it out, and the nations will be sure not to be charged more than is necessary for their purchases. If they are not a match for each other, it is sheer waste to uphold the weakest; and the taste for foreign goods is of use as it points out infallibly when the weakness lies at home.”
“I have heard all this allowed as to necessary articles; such as brandy and sugar, which are never made in England. But I have had many a lecture against buying luxuries anywhere but at home; and really it seems a very small sacrifice to be content with home-made luxuries instead of foreign.”
“Those who so lectured you, love, were more intent upon fitting you to be the wife of a Preventive officer, than upon teaching you plain sense. They did not tell you that this is a sort of sacrifice which (like many other arbitrary sacrifices) hurts all parties. They did not point out to you that every purchase of a foreign luxury presupposes something made at home with which the purchase is effected. The French fan you played with so prettily the first time——”
“O, do you remember that fan? that evening?”
“Remember the first ball at which I danced with you, love! It would be strange if I forgot it.”
And the Lieutenant lost the thread of his argument for a while.
“Well!” said Matilda, at length; “what clumsy, home-made thing do you think I gave for that fan?”
“You probably gave nothing more clumsy than a bright golden guinea, or a flimsy banknote: but, having got to the bottom of the money exchanges, we should find that some yards of cotton, or a few pairs of scissors had been exchanged for that fan, with a profit to the manufacturer of either article that it might happen to be. Thus, every purchase of a foreign article, be it a necessary or a luxury, presupposes some domestic production for which we thereby obtain a sale.”
“And the same must be the case with the French fan-makers. They, or their neighbours, procure cotton gowns or scissors for their wives which they must have paid more for at home. So there is an advantage to each, unless my fan could have been as well made in England.”
“In which case, there would have been a fan made instead of so many pairs of scissors; that is all; and you would have been just as well pleased with an English fan.”
“Would you?” inquired Matilda, smiling.
“I never saw a fan I liked so well,” replied the Lieutenant: “but there is no saying what I might have thought of any other fan under the same circumstances.”
“Well, I shall tell Elizabeth, if she lets me into her confidence, that she may come here dressed in French fabrics, without any fear of displeasing you?”
“I shall not take upon myself to be displeased about the matter, while those who have more concern in it than I are not strict. If French silks rustle in the royal presence, and bandanas are flourished by law-makers in full assembly, I do not see why the officers of government should embarrass themselves with scruples. My business is to prevent contraband goods from being landed hereabouts, and not to find out who has the benefit of them when they are once on shore.”
This reminded the Lieutenant to look out again, and Matilda remained musing at the fire for a few moments. It seemed to her that our native manufacturers were very ill-used, being deprived of the stimulus to improvement which is caused by free and fair competition, while they were undersold in their own market, with the connivance of those who mocked them with the semblance of protection. She thought the dwellers on the coast ill-used; their duty to the government being placed, by arbitrary means, in direct opposition to their interests, and their punishment being severe and, from its nature, capricious, in proportion as temptation was made too strong for them. Her husband's shout of “Holloa, there!” to some person without brought her to the window, where she saw against the dim sky the outline of one who appeared motionless and dumb.
It was not for a considerable time that any explanation could be elicited. At last a melancholy, gruff voice said, “I thought I might chance to see my lady. I was only looking about for my lady.”
“And where did you expect to find me, Nicholas?” asked Matilda, looking out over her husband's shoulder. “You may have seen me sit on yonder gun, or lean over the fence sometimes; but I do not choose such an hour or such weather as this.”
Nicholas only knew that he could have no rest a till he had apologized for not having answered when he was spoken to in the morning. He wished to say that he must not speak while on watch; but, as to being disrespectful to the lady——”
The lady acquitted him of any such enormity, and would have sent him away happy with the assurance that she did not now conclude him stony-hearted for laughing when Uriah Faa was ducked. The Lieutenant had, however, a word to say to him about the state of things on the beach. No alarm had been given, Nicholas reported, though he would not, for his part, swear that the expected vessel might not be near. He had not seen that vessel, nor any other; for, as the Lieutenant might have observed, it was too dark to see anything: but he would not swear that it might not be to be seen, if it was now daylight. This being all that could be got out of him, Nicholas was permitted to depart to his rest; rest which he wanted not a little, for he had lingered about for more than an hour at the close of his watch, in the vague hope of seeing Matilda, without taking any measures to do so. He stretched his tired limbs before the fire, thinking (though he was nearly a quarter of a mile from the big stone on the beach) that he was a happy man, as everybody was very kind to him.