Front Page Titles (by Subject) Chapter V.: HUSBANDS AND WIVES. - Illustrations of Political Economy, vol. 5
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Chapter V.: HUSBANDS AND WIVES. - Harriet Martineau, Illustrations of Political Economy, vol. 5 
Illustrations of Political Economy (3rd ed) in 9 vols. (London: Charles Fox, 1834). Vol. 5.
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HUSBANDS AND WIVES.
Mr. and Mrs. Cavendish were at this time seized with a not unreasonable panic lest they should lose their popularity—and with it, all else that they had. They knew that the inhabitants of a country town are quick in discovering when friendships cool, and mutual confidence abates; and they feared that, when it should be perceived that the rector no longer rode over two or three times a-week to Mr. Berkeley's, and that the two bankers were now never seen chatting in tlie street, conjecture might, begin to be busy as to the cause of these change-,; anil they had little hope that their reputation would stand in any instance in which it should be brought into opposition with that of the Ions? resident and much respected Berkeley family. Mrs. Cavendish made the most she could of the intercourse between the ladies of the two households. Wherever she dropped in, she was sure to be in a particular hurry, because she was coma: to the Berkeley's to show Mrs. Berkeley this, or to tell Miss Berkeley that, or to ask dear Melea the other. From every point of view she was sure to see the Berkeley's groins' towards her house, and she never went out but she expected to find on her return that they had called. The children were encouraged to watch for every shadow of an invitation, and were not chidden when they gave broad hints that they liked gathering ruses in the rosary, and were very fond of strawberries, and very clever at haymaking. and quite used to pluck green pease; or that they wanted flower-seeds, or anything else that could be had within the Berkeleys' gates. They were very frequently invited, as Fanny and Melea liked to give pleasure even to disagreeable children, and would not be deterred from doing so by their disapprobation of the parents, or dislike of the governess. If, however, they let a week slip away without an invitation, on the eighth day a procession was sure to be seen winding up towards the house, viz. Miss Egg, bearing a little basket or bag. with some pretence of a present, a cream-cheese, or a dozen smelts fresh from the wherry, or a specimen of some fancy in knitting, or perhaps a quite new German waltz: on either side of Miss Egg, various grades of tippets and bonnets, bespeaking the approach of a large body of straw berry-eaters; and behind, poor Rhoda, toiling on in the heat, with a heavy, crying baby, hanging half over her shoulder, and the pleasant idea in her mind that when she had taught this member of the family to use its legs a little more, and its lungs a little less, it would only be to receive another charge, which would soon grow as heavy, and must inevitably be as fretful. The majority of the party were invariably offended by seeing how Rhoda was the first to be taken care of; how she was made to sit down in the hall, the baby being taken from her by Melea, and a plate of fruit brought by Fanny, while the other visiters were supposed capable of making their way into the dining-room to pay their respects to Mrs. Berkeley, and talk about the heat and the sweet prospect, till the young ladies should be ready to lead the way into the shrubbery and kitchen-garden. These visits were made the more irksome to the Berkeley's, from the certainty that everything that each of them said would be quoted, with their names at full length, twenty times during the first day; and that every body in Haleham would have heard it before the time for the next meeting should have come round. They were patient, however; too patient and good-natured, as it soon appeared; for the Cavendishes built upon their kindness to the children a hope that they would visit the parents on terms of seeming intimacy.
Mr. and Mrs. Cavendish agreed, that the present time, while Mr. Berkeley was absent for a few days, when Horace was not likely to appear, and before the affair of the license should come out, afforded a good opportunity for a bold stroke for popularity. Mr. Cavendish had settled a pretty little estate on his wife: their wedding-day approached; and it would be charming to give a rural fête, in the midst of which, and in the presence of everybody in Haleham, this estate should be presented by the fond husband to the gratified wife, the children standing round to witness this moral display of conjugal affection. The idea was charming in every way; for, as it was Mrs. Cavendish's party, it was not supposed possible that Mrs. Berkeley and her daughters could refuse to go, it being conveyed to them that Mr. Longe was at Brighton.
It was, however, found possible for the Berkeleys to refuse, and for many who did not decline the invitation to be unavoidably prevented, by various devised accidents, from attending. The whole thing was a failure; and up to the hour of the poorer part of the company showing themselves, it was undecided whether the scheme should not, after all, change its entire character, and the display be transformed from one of conjugal gallantry to one of rural beneficence. The dinner for the poor folks was boiling in the coppers, and the tables were spread under the trees; and the barn was dressed up for the shopkeepers' sons and daughters to dance in. These two parts of the scheme must go forward. But the marquee, pitched for the higher guests, was too likely to be empty; and there was little pleasure in a man presenting his wife with an estate on her wedding-day, when there were only poor and middling people to look on. Mr. Craig”, however, was sure to come, and as sure to relate to the Berkeleys what passed; and certainly it was the sort of thing which must tell well. This consideration decided the matter. The gift was proffered with tenderness, and received with rapture. The husband bestowed the kiss, the wife shed her tears, the children wondered, the people for the most part admired, and those who did not admire, applauded;—all as planned. As he was desired, Mr. Craig delivered Mrs. Cavendish's message of love to the Berkeleys, and of sorrow that their kind hearts should have lost the pleasure of sympathising with her on this happy day. Mr. Craig added, of his own accord, that they might sympathize with her still, if they desired it; the affair being not yet over. He had left the fête early, and gone round by the Berkeleys', on pretence of delivering his message, instead of proceeding straight home.
“How long must we sympathize?” inquired Fanny. “Does she mean to keep up her happiness till twelve o'clock?”
“The dancers will keep up theirs till midnight, I should think,” replied Henry. “The barn is really a pretty sight, and the whole place is well lighted. If you will come with me, Melea, only as far as the gate, you will see the lights between the trees, red and green and purple. It is not often that Haleham has coloured lamps to show.”
Melea thanked him, but coloured lights, however pretty on some occasions, were too artificial in a landscape like that seen from the while gate.
“Then, come and admire some that are not coloured. The stars are out overhead, and I never saw the glow-worms so bright.”
“Glow-worms! are there glow-worms?” cried Melea. But Mrs. Berkeley wanted to hear more about the fête. She supposed every body was there.
“No, ma'am; nobody.”
Fanny here observed, that this was the first time that she had ever known Henry reckon the ladies and gentlemen as everybody. “Who was dancing in the barn,” she asked, “if nobody was there?”
“Even that part of the affair was very flat to me,” said Henry. “Those that I take the most interest in were either absent or uncomfortable.”
“Who? the Martins?”
“I knew beforehand that they went unwillingly, so that it gave me no pleasure to see them there.”
“Well: old Enoch Pye—”
“Went away almost before dinner was over, though he was put at the head of one of the tables.”
“He went away! and what became of poor Mrs. Parndon? Did she follow in time to take his arm?”
“She was not there; and I fancy that was the reason of his leaving. I believe a neighbour told him that something had happened to distress her.”
“O, what ? What has happened?” cried all the ladies, who felt infinitely more sympathy for Mrs. Parndon and Hester than for Mrs. Cavendish.
Henry knew no more than that some sort of bad news had come from London by this day's post. He would learn the next morning what it was, and whether he could be of any service, unless Melea, who was more in the widow's confidence, would undertake the task. Henry was sure that Melea would make the better comforter; and he would come up in the course of the morning, and hear whether his consolations and assistance were wanted. This was readily agreed to, as it was an understood thing that there was no one but her daughter whom Mrs. Parndon loved, and could open her mind to so well as her dear Miss Melea,—always excepting her old friend, Mr. Pye.
Mrs. Parndon was alone, and at work as usual, when Melea entered her little parlour, now no longer dressed up with flowers, as it used to be while Hester lived there. The room could not be without ornament while the drawings of the late Mr. Parndon and his daughter hung against the walls: but, with the exception of these, everything indicated only neatness and thrift. The floor-cloth looked but a comfortless substitute for a carpet, even in the middle of summer; the hearth-rug, composed of the shreds and snipping from three tailors' boards, disposed in fancy patterns, was the work of the widow's own hands. The window was bare of curtains, the winter ones being brushed and laid by, and the mistress seeing no occasion for muslin hangings, which had been only a fancy of Hester's: so the muslin was taken to make covers for the pictures, and the mirror and the little japanned cabinet, that they might be preserved from the flies in summer, and from the dust of the fires in winter. Even the widow's own footstool, pressed only by parlour shoes, which were guiltless of soil, was cased in canvass. Everything was covered up, but the work-basket, crammed with shirts and worsted Stockings, which stood at the mistress's elbow.
She looked up eagerly as the door opened; but a shade of disappointment passed over her countenance when she saw that it was Melea, whom, however, she invited, in a kind but hurried manner, to sit down beside her.
“Now, you must proceed with your work, just as if I was not here,” said Melea. The widow immediately went on seaming-, observing, that she had indeed a great deal of work on hand.
“As much, I think, as when your son and daughter were in frocks and pinafores, and wearing out their clothes with romping and climbing. Does Hester send down her husband's shirts for you to make and mend?”
“She might, for that matter,” replied the widow; “for she is kept very busy at her drawing; but I cannot persuade her to do more than let me work for Philip, who should be no charge on her hands, you know. She lets me make for Philip, but not mend. These things are not his.”
Melea's look of inquiry asked whose they were: to which the widow bashfully replied, that Mr. Pye had no one but his washerwoman to see after his linen, and so had been persuaded, as he was very neat and exact, to let an old friend go once a week, and look out what wanted mending. She was sure Melea would think no harm of this.
None in the world, Melea said. It was pleasant to see old friends pay kind offices to one another,—especially two who seemed to be left alone to each other's care, like Mr. Pye and Mrs. Parndon. She did not know what would become of Mr. Pye without Mrs. Parndon, and she had no doubt he did friendly service in his turn. The widow smiled, and shook her head, and observed, that indeed Enoch did need somebody to watch over him. He was growing very deaf, though, poor man, he did not like to allow it; and it was very desirable to have some one at his elbow, to set him right in his little mistakes, and to give customers and strangers a hint to speak up if they wished to have their business properly done.
“It is a pity you cannot carry your work-basket to his counter, these fine mornings, instead of sitting here for hours all by yourself,” observed Melea “I have no doubt, Mr. Pye would thank you for your company.”
Mrs. Parndon had no doubt either; but the thing was quite out of the- question. It would be highly improper. What would not all Haleham say, if she began such a practice?
Melea begged pardon, and went on to ask about Hester. She had not been aware that Hester had gone on drawing much since she married.
The widow sighed, and observed, that times were worse for people in Edgar's line of employment than any one would suppose who saw how the fanners were flourishing. The higher some people rose, the lower others fell: as she had good reason to know; and could, therefore, bear testimony that there was now little real prosperity, however some might boast. The Martins, for instance, were growing rich at a mighty rate, and would have laid by quite a little fortune before their lease was out; while she, an economical widow, with what everybody once thought a pretty provision for life, found her income worth less and less every year, just when, for her children's sake, she should like it to be more: and heaven knew she was likely to have use enough for it now. Melea did not venture to ask the meaning of this, or of the heavy sigh which followed. She merely inquired whether Edgar did not retain his situation at the Mint “O, yes; but salaries were nothing now to what they were; and it was expensive living in London, even though the young people lived in the upper part of Philip's house, for mutual accommodation; that Philip, poor Philip, might have a respectable-looking, showy shop, and Edgar and his wife have rattier less to pay than for a floor in a stranger's house.” Melea was very sorry to find that the young people had to think so much about economy: she had hoped that that would never be necessary.
“Why, Miss Melea, young men have expenses; and they don't think so much as their wives about suiting them to the times. And so the wives,—that is, such wives as my Hester, feel that they should help to fill the purse, if they can. So, she says, she was far from being hurt when Edgar gave her notice, some months ago, that he should wish her to look for employment again, of the same sort that she had before her marriage. The only thing that hurt her was, that it was so long before she could get anything that would pay; for the publishers are overrun with artists, they declare. She would fain have worked for Mr. Pye, as before; but I would not let her say anything about that; nor Philip either: for people here all have the idea of her having made a fine match, (as indeed it is, when one thinks of Edgar.) and it would not look well for her to be taking money from Mr. Pye, as if she was still Hester Parndon.”
“O, poor Hester!” thought Melea, who could scarcely restrain her grief at this series of unexpected disclosures “With an expensive husband, a proud brother, a selfish mother, you are driven to seek the means of getting money, and thwarted in the seeking! O, poor Hester!”
“She tried at the bazaars,” continued Mrs. Parndon; “but most of her beautiful drawings only got soiled and tossed about, till she was obliged to withdraw them; and those that were sold went for less by far than her time was worth. But now she does not want Mr. Pye's help, nor anybody's. She has got into high favour with a bookseller, who publishes children's books for holiday presents, full of pictures. Look! here is the first she did for him; (only, you understand, I don't show it here as hers.) This, you see, was a pretty long job, and a profitable one, she says; and she has so much more to do before the Christmas holidays, that she is quite light of heart about the filling up of her leisure, she tells me. To save her time, I would have had her send me down her husband's making and mending, as I said: but she has many candle-light hours, when she sits up for Edgar, and cannot draw; and she likes to have plenty of needlework to do then, and that nobody should sew for her husband but herself.”
“Many candle-light hours in June,” thought Melea. “Then, how many will there be of candle-light solitude in winter? O poor Hester!”
“Perhaps her brother spends his evenings with her?” she inquired of the widow.
“Why, one can scarcely say that Philip has any evenings,” replied Mrs. Parndon. “Philip was always very steady, you know, and more fond of his business than anything else. He keeps to it all day, till he is tired, and then goes to bed, at nine in winter, and very little later in summer. Besides, you know, they don't profess to live together, though they are in the same house. Edgar has some high notions, and he would soon put an end to the idea that he and his wife have not their apartments to themselves. —But, is it not strange, Miss Melea, that my son Philip, so uncommonly steady as he is, should have got into trouble? Is it not odd that he, of all people, should be in danger of disgrace?”
Melea did not in her own mind think it at all strange, as his stupidity was full as likely to lead him into trouble as his steadiness to keep him out of it. She waited, however, with a face of great concern, to hear what this threatened disgrace might be.
“You are the only person, Miss Melea, that I have mentioned it to, ever since I heard it yesterday morning, except Mr. Pye, who missed me from the feast yesterday, and kindly came to hear what was the matter, and spent the whole evening with me, till I was really obliged to send him away, and pretend to feel more comfortable than I was, to get him to leave me. But I dare say people are guessing about it, for everybody knew that I meant to be there yesterday, and that it must be something sudden that prevented me; for Mrs. Crane was here, and saw my silk gown laid out ready, before the post came in: and they could hardly think I was ill, the apothecary being there to witness that he had not been sent for. But I thought I would keep the thing to myself for another post, at least, as it may all blow over yet.”
Melea looked at her watch, and said she now understood why Mrs. Parndon seemed disappointed at seeing her. She had no doubt taken her knock for the postman's.—O dear, no! it was scarcely post-time yet; but, though Mr Pye had not exactly said that he should look in in the morning, she supposed, when she heard the knock, that it might be he; (she could not get him to walk in without knocking;) and she had prepared to raise her voice a little to him; and she was a little surprised when she found it was not he;—that was all.
But what was the matter? if Melea might ask; —if Mrs. Parndon really wished her to know.
“Why, Miss Melea, nothing more, Philip has done nothing more than many other people are doing in these days; but it so happens that punishment is to fall upon him more than upon others. A little while ago, Edgar introduced a young man into Philip's shop,—(whether he was a friend of Edgar's, Hester does not say) telling Philip that he would find it worth while to be liberal in his dealings with this gentleman; and that they might be of great mutual accommodation. Nobody being in the shop, the gentleman, upon Philip's looking willing, produced a bag of guineas to sell.”
“But selling guineas is unlawful, is it not?”
“That is the very cause of all this trouble: but they say there is not a goldsmith in all London that does not buy guineas; so that it is very hard that one should be picked out for punishment. Well; they agreed upon their bargain, Edgar standing by seeing them weighed, and being a witness to the terms. Just before they had quite finished, somebody came into the shop, and the stranger winked at Philip to sweep the guineas out of sight, and whispered that he would call again for the money. It so happened that when he did call again, and was putting the notes he had just taken into his pocket-book, the very same person came in that had interrupted them before. He pretended to want a seal; but there is no doubt that he is a common informer; for it was he who swore the offence against Philip.”
“Philip has really been brought to justice, then.”
“O dear, Miss Melea! what an expression for me to hear used about one of my children! Yes; he was brought before the Lord Mayor; but he was allowed to be bailed; and Edgar will move heaven and earth to get him off; as, indeed, he ought to do, he having been the one to lead him into the scrape. I am trusting that the letter I expect to-day may bring news of its having taken some favourable turn.”
“If not,” said Melea, “you must comfort yourself that the case is no worse. Though Philip has fairly brought this misfortune upon himself by transgressing a law that everybody knows, it is a “very different thing to all his friends from his having incurred punishment for bad moral conduct. The offence of buying and selling guineas is an offence created for the time by the curious state our currency is now in. It is not like any act of intemperance, or violence, or fraud, which will remain a crime long after guineas cease to be bought and sold, and was a crime before guineas were ever coined.”
“That is very much the same thing that Mr. Pye said. He tells me not to think of it as I would of coining or forging. Yet they are crimes belonging to the currency too, Miss Melea!”
“They are direct frauds; robberies which are known by those who perpetrate them to be more iniquitous than common robberies, because they not only deprive certain persons of their property, but snake public confidence, which is the necessary safeguard of all property. Buying guineas to make watch-chains of the gold puts the government to the expense of coining more; and this is a great evil; but much blame rests with those who have made gold so valuable as to tempt to this sale of coin, and then punish the tempted. This sort of offence and punishment cannot last long.”
“And then my poor son's error will not be remembered against him, I trust. How soon do you suppose this state of things will change, Miss Melea ?”
“People say we are to have peace very soon indeed; and presently after, the Bank of England is to pay in cash again; and then gold coin will cease to be more valuable than it pretends to be.”
“So soon as that!” exclaimed Mrs. Parndon, laying down her work.
“Yes. I should not wonder if all temptation to trade in guineas is over within a year.”
The widow did not look at all pleased to hear this, anxious as she had seemed for the time when the kind of offence her son had committed should be forgotten.
While she was in a reverie, there was a knock at the door.
“The postman! the postman!” cried Melea, as she ran to open it.
Though it was not the postman, Mrs. Parndon looked far from being disappointed for it was Mr. Pye.
“Why, now, Mr. Pye,” said she; “if you would only have done what I asked you,—come in without knocking, you would not have put us in a fluster with thinking you were the postman.”
Mr. Pye was sorry, looked bashful, but did not promise to open the door for himself next time. He spoke of the heat pushed back his wig, pulled it on again, but so as to leave his best ear uncovered; and then sat, glancing irresolutely from the one lady to the other, while the widow looked as if waiting to be sympathized with. Finding herself obliged to begin, she said,—
“You may speak before Miss Melea, Mr. Pye. She knows the whole; so you need not keep your feelings to yourself because she is here.”
This intimation did not put Enoch at his ease; while Melea could not help waiting to see what would ensue on this permission to indulge sensibility.
“Have you seen Mr. Craig?” asked Enoch. “I know him to have a message of peace, which may support you while waiting for that which I hope will come in another way. You should hear what a comforter Mr. Craig is!”
Melea was sure Mr. Craig would come as soon as he should know that Mrs. Parndon wished to see him. The widow conveyed, however, that she had been so piously comforted the night before, that she had rather chosen to depend on a renewal from the same source than to send for the clergyman, though, if matters went worse instead of better, she should need all the supports of friendship and religion. And poor Mrs. Parndon's tears began to flow. Enoch could never bear to see this. He walked about the room, returned to take his old friend's hand, tried to speak, and found that his voice would not serve him. Melea began to think she had better be going, when the expected letter arrived.
Instead of opening it, the widow handed it to Mr. Pye, with a sign of request that he would read it first. Such a confidence embarrassed far more than it flattered poor Enoch, whose scrupulosity had never before been so directly invaded. He offered the letter beseechingly to Melea, who, of course, would not receive it; and, at length, finding that the widow's tears went on to flow faster, he took courage to break the seal, put on his glasses, and read. A crow of delight from him soon told the ladies that the news was good. Melea started up; the widow's handkerchief was lowered, and Enoch cast a wistful look at her over his spectacles, as if wondering whether she wag strong enough to bear what he had to impart. A sweet, encouraging smile made him redden all over, and hasten to say that Philip was safe, the whole affair settled, and Edgar the immediate cause of this happy issue.
“But how? Did not he buy the guineas, after all? Was it not against the law? Or, oh! were guineas no longer more valuable than paper?” This last question was asked with considerable trepidation, and answered by Melea's reading the letter, which was as follows:—
“My dear Mother,—I am almost sorry I wrote to you at all yesterday, as my letter must have made you more uneasy than, as it turns out, there was occasion for. It struck my husband, as soon as he had time to think the matter over quietly, that there were a good many light guineas among those that Philip bought. He established the fact so clearly, (having them brought from the very drawer that the informer saw them swept into,) that Philip was discharged without any more difficulty; and the informer is very ill pleased with the turn the affair has taken. You may suppose Philip will use particular care henceforth, knowing that he has this informer for an enemy; and I am afraid the man will be Edgar's enemy too. But it is a great satisfaction, as I hope you will feel, that Edgar has got him off; and I hope they will both keep clear of anymore such dangers. It is near post-time; so I will only add that we suppose nobody need know, down at Haleham, anything about this business, unless it should happen to be in the newspapers; and then, if they should ask, you may be able to make light of it.
“Love from Philip, (who is in his shop as if nothing had happened.) and from your affectionate daughter.
Melea did not understand the case, happy as she was at its termination. What made it more a crime to sell heavy guineas than light ones'?
Enoch informed her that a guinea which weighs less than 5 dwts. 8 grs. is not a guinea in law. It may pass for twenty-one shillings, but the law does not acknowledge that it is worth to much.
“I wonder how much Edgar got for such an one,” said the widow, “and how much for the heavy ones?”
“The heavy ones sell, under the rose, I understand, for a £1 bank-note, four shillings, and sixpence, while those who thus exchange them for more than a£1 bank-note and one shilling are liable to fine and imprisonment. But a man may sell a light guinea for twenty-four shillings and threepence, and nobody will find fault with him;—a single half grain of deficiency in the weight making the coin nothing better in the eye of the law than so much gold metal.”
“Then a light guinea, unworthy to pass, is actually more valuable in α legal way just now than a heavy one,” said Melea. “How very strange! How very absurd it seems!”
“Moreover,” observed Enoch, “if you melt a light guinea, you may get from it 5 dwts. 71/2 grs. of bullion. But you must not melt heavy guineas,—and each of them will legally exchange for no more than 4 dwts., 14 grs. of gold. So a light guinea is worth, to a person who keeps the law, 171/2 grs. of gold more than a heavy one.”
“How could they expect my son to keep such law?” sighed the widow,—not for her son, but for her own long-standing mistake in congratulating herself on the good weight of the guineas she had hoarded for many months. It was a sad blow to find, after all, that they had better have been light. She resolved, however, under the immediate pain which Philip had caused her, to keep her coin, in hopes that times would once more turn round, and that, without breaking the law, she might not only get more than a note and a shilling for each heavy guinea, but more than for one despised by the law.
Another knock! It was Henry Craig, come, partly to see whether he could be of service to Mrs Parndon, but much more for the purpose of telling Melea that Lewis had arrived, and of walking home with her. He at once took Melea's hint not to seem to suppose that anything was the matter, and to conclude that the widow would be interested in the fact and circumstances of the young East-Indian's unlooked-for arrival. It was not many minutes before Melea accepted his arm and departed, seeing that Mrs. Parndon was growing fidgetty lest they should outstay Mr. Pye.
“Well, Mrs. Parndon, good morning. I am glad I came to see you just when I did. I shall not forget our conversation.”
“Must you go, Miss Melea? and Mr. Craig? Well; I would not think of detaining you, I am sure, with such an attraction as Master Lewis awaiting you at home. It was truly kind of you to stay so long. Pray, Mr. Pye, be so kind as to open the door for Miss Melea. My respects at home, as usual, you know, Miss Melea; and many thanks to you, Mr. Craig, for your goodness in calling. Mr. Pye, pray have the kindness to open the door.”
Mr. Pye, not hearing, stood bowing; and Henry Craig was found all-sufficient to open the door. The last glimpse Melea had through it, was of the widow drawing an arm-chair cosily next her own, and putting it with a look of invitation to Mr. Pye. As he was not seen following them by the time they had reached the end of the street, the young folks had no doubt that he had surrendered himself prisoner for another hour.