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Chapter VI.: SUSPENSE. - 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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Lewis soon became a more important person in the Berkeley family than any member of it had anticipated, or illegible it would have been at all good for the boy himself to have known. Anxieties were multiplying; the banking business was in a very doubtful state; and the most sagacious practical men could not pretend to foresee what was likely to follow the transition from a long and burdensome war to peace. The farmers had begun to complain some time before. After several unfavourable seasons, during which they had been growing rich, their fields began to be as productive aa they had ever been; and the difficulties in the way of the importation of corn were, about the name time, lessened by the peace; so that the prices of corn fell so rapidly and extensively as to injure the landed interest, and cause ruin to some, and a very general abatement of confidence.
The banks, of course, suffered immediately by this; and there was too much reason to fear that the last days of many were at hand. Bank paper was now at its lowest point of depreciation; the difference between the market-price of gold and the legal value of guineas being thirty percent.; and there was no prospect of a safe ami quiet restoration of paper to the value of gold, by a gradual contraction of its issues on the part of They were too near home, and knew very well what ought to be thought of Bank of England paper in comparison with guineas, which were openly bought and sold, till the law above referred to was extended to that country. The Canadians were tried next, bundles of paper-money being sent out to pay the army, and everybody else with whom Government had to do. But, instead of taking them quietly, as Englishmen were compelled to do, they consulted together upon the notes, appraised them, and used them in exchange at a discount of thirty percent. This being the case in any part of the world, was enough to render any other part of the world discontented with bank paper; and set he people in England looking about them to see how many banks they had, and what was the foundation of their credit. There was little comfort in the discovery that, while scarcely any gold was forthcoming, the number of banks had increased, since Bank of England notes had been rendered inconvertible, from about 280 to above 700; and that a great many of these were watching the fortunes of the farming interest with a nervous anxiety which did not tell at all well for their own.
Mr. Berkeley now never missed going to D— on market days; and the girls found themselves more interested than they could once have conceived possible in the accounts Henry Craig brought them of what was said of the state of the times in the farm-houses he visited, and by Mr. Martin when he returned from making his sales in the county. It appeared that there was quite as much speculation abroad respecting the stability of the banks as about the supply of corn; and the bank at D—and Mr. Cavendish's concern did not, of course, escape remark.
Mr. Cavendish had, to Horace's surprise, got over his difficulties about the license. He had quietly paid the fines, and gone on; being observed, however, to undersell more and more, and drive his business more quickly and eagerly every day; so as to afford grounds of suspicion to some wise observers that he was coming to an end of his resources. It was impossible but that he must be carrying on his business at a tremendous loss, and that a crash must therefore be coming. —Mr. Berkeley's disapprobation and dislike of this man and his doings grew into something very like hatred as times became darker. He knew that Cavendish's failure must cause a tremendous run on the D— bank; and these were not days when bankers could contemplate a panic with any degree of assurance. As often as he saw lighters coining and going, or stacks of deals being unbuilt, or coals carted on Cavendish's premises, he came home gloomy or pettish; and yet, as Melea sometimes ventured to tell him, the case would be still worse if there was nothing stirring there. If busy, Cavendish must be plunging himself deeper in liabilities; if idle, his resources must be failing him: so, as both aspects of his affairs must be dismal, the wisest tiling was to fret as little as possible about either. —These were the times when Lewis's presence was found to be a great comfort. His uncle was proud of him,—his aunt fond of him; the occupation of teaching him was pleasant and-useful to his cousins; and there was endless amusement to them all in the incidents and conversations which arose from his foreign birth and rearing. None of them could at present foresee how much more important a comfort this little lad would soon be.
Rather late in the autumn of this year, Fanny left home for a week to pay a long-promised visit to a friend who lived in the country, ten miles from Haleham. This promise being fulfilled, she and Melea and Lewis were to settle down at home for a winter of diligent study, and of strenuous exertion to make their own fire-side as cheerful as possible to the drooping- spirits of their father and mother. If they could but get over this one winter, all would be well; for Mr. Berkeley had laid his plans for withdrawing from the bank at Midsummer; preferring a retreat with considerable loss to the feverish anxiety under which he was at present suffering. His pride was much hurt at his grand expectations of his banking achievements having come to this; but his family, one and all, soothed him with reasonings on the sufficiency of what he expected to have remaining, and with assurances that his peace of mind was the only matter of concern to them. He believed all they said at the time; but present impressions were too much for him when he was at business; and whatever might be his mood when his daughters parted from him at the gate in the morning, it was invariably found, when he came back to dinner, that he had left his philosophy somewhere in the road, and was grievously in want of a fresh supply. Mrs. Berkeley already began to count the months till Midsummer; and Melea's eyes were full of tears when Fanny was mounting her horse for her little journey. Melea did not think she could have so dreaded one week of her sister's absence.
The first day passed pretty comfortably, no news having arrived of the stoppage of any bank in town or country, and nothing reaching the ears of the Berkeleys respecting any transactions of the Cavendishes. On the next, Lewis, who had been amusing himself with sweeping away the dead leaves to make a clear path for his uncle up to the house, came running in, broom in hand, to announce that Mr. Berkeley was coming, full gallop, by the field way from D)—. Before Mrs. Berkeley knew what to make of this strange news, her husband burst in, in a state of nervous agitation from head to foot.
“What is the matter?” cried everybody.
“Lewis, go and finish your sweeping,” said his uncle, upon which the dismayed boy was withdrawing.—“Lewis, come back,” was the next order, “and stay with your aunt all day. Have nothing to say to the servants.”
“The bank has failed?” said Melea, inquiringly.
“No, my dear; but there is a run upon it, and to-morrow is market-day. I must be off to town instantly; but no one must see the least sign of alarm.—Get on your habit, Melea. Your horse will be at the door in another minute.”
“Yes. We go out for our ride;—leisurely, you know, leisurely, till we are past Cavendish's, and out of sight of the town; and then for a gallop after the mail. I think I may overtake it.”
When Melea came down, dressed in a shorter time than ever horsewoman was dressed before, her mother had stuffed a shirt and night-cap into Mr. Berkeley's pocket, replenished his purse, promised to be at D—to meet him on his return from town in the middle of the next day, and summoned a smile of hope and a few words of comfort with which to dismiss him.
The groom was ordered to fall back out of earshot; and during the tedious half mile that they were obliged to go slowly, Melea learned a few particulars. She asked the nature of the alarm, and whether the old story of the forgeries had anything to do with it.
“Nothing whatever. It is pure accident. The most provoking thing in the world! The merest accident!”
“People's minds are in a state to be acted upon by trifles,” observed Melea. “I hope it may soon blow over, if it is not a well-founded alarm.”
“No, no. Such a hubbub as I left behind me is easy enough to begin, but the devil knows where it will end. It was that cursed fool, Mrs. Millar, that is the cause of all this.”
“What! Mrs. Millar the confectioner?”
“The same,—the mischievous, damned old”
“The rest was lost between his teeth. Melea had never thought Mrs. Millar a fool, or mischievous, and knew she was not old, and had no reason for supposing the remaining word to be more applicable than the others. Perceiving, however, that they were just coming in sight of Cavendish's premises, she supposed that her father's wrath might bear a relation to them, while he vented it on the harmless Mrs. Millar. He went on:—
“A servant boy was sent to Mrs. Millar's for change for a a £5 note of our bank; and the devil took him there just when the shop was full of people, eating their buns and tarts for luncheon. The fool behind the counter—”
“And who was that?”
“Why, who should it be but Mrs. Millar?— never looked properly at the note, and gave the boy a pound's worth of silver. When he showed her that it was a five, she took it up between her hands, and with her cursed solemn face said,” Oh, I can't change that note? The boy carried home the story; the people in the shop looked at one another; and the stupid woman went on serving her buns, actually the only person that did not find out what a commotion she had begun. The bun-eaters all made a circuit by our bank in their walk, and one of them came in and gave us warning; but it was too late. In half an hour, the place was besieged, and to avoid being observed, I had to make my way out through Taylor's garden at the back.”
“Poor Mrs. Millar!” said Melea. “I am as sorry for her as for anybody.”
“O, you never saw any one in such a taking —as she deserves to be. She came, without her bonnet, into the middle of the crowd, explaining and protesting:, and all that; with not a soul to mind what she said now, though they were ready enough to snap up her words an hour before. She caught a glimpse of me, when she had made her way up the steps, and she actually went down on her knees to ask me to forgive her; but I swore I never would.”
“O father!” cried Melea, more troubled than she had yet been. At the moment, she received a signal to look as usual while the Broadhursts' carriage passed, but on no account to stop to speak. Whether her father, with his twitching countenance, could look as usual, was Melon's doubt. Doubting it himself, he teazed his horse, and made it bolt past the carriage on one side, while his daughter saluted the Broadhursts on the other.
“Well carried off, child!” he cried.
“Take care, Sir. They are looking after us.”
“Aye; pronouncing me a wonderful horseman for my years, I dare say; but I must put that matter to the proof a little more before I get quietly seated in the mail.—Well; I may be off now, I think; and here we part. God bless you, my dear! Thank God we have not met Cavendish or any of his tribe! I should have rode over the children, depend upon it. Fare-well, my love!”
“Not yet,” said Melea, settling herself as it' for a feat. “I can gallop as well as you. and I must see you into the mail,—for my mother sake.”
“You will soon have had enough; and when you have, turn without speaking to me. George follow your mistress, and never mind me, or where I take it into my head to go. Now for it!”
The gallop lasted till George wondered whether master and Young mistress were not both out of their right minds. At length, the mail was seen steadily clearing a long reach of hill before them. George was shouted to ride on and stop it; a service which he could scarcely guess how he was to perform, as it had been all he could do to keep up with his charge for the last four miles. The mail disappeared over the ridge before the panting horses had toiled half way up the long hill; but it was recovered at the top, and at last overtaken, and found to have just one place vacant inside. Mr. Berkeley made time for another word.
“I charge you, Melea, to let Fanny know nothing of this. Not a syllable, mind, by message or letter, before she comes home. Time enough then.”
Remonstrance was impossible; but Melea was much grieved. She mourned over the prohibition all the way home; but she was particularly glad that Henry had not been mentioned. She was sure her mother would desire that he should come to them, and help them to support one another during the inevitable suspense, and the misfortunes which might follow.
When Melea reached home, she found her mother preparing to set off for D—, where (as the run would probably continue for some days, requiring the presence of all the partners) it was her intention to take a lodging, in order that the few hours of rest which her husband would be able to snatch might be more undisturbed than they could be in a friend's house. Melea begged hard that Mrs. Millar might be allowed to accommodate them, in sign of forgiveness and regard; and as her dwelling was conveniently placed with respect to the bank, and she was known to have everything comfortable about her, Mrs. Berkeley had no objection to make the first application to the grieved and penitent cause of all this mischief.
Melea and Lewis must stay at home. Painful as it was to separate at such a time, the effort must be made; for, besides that it was better for Mr. Berkeley to have no one with him but his wife, it was necessary that no difference in the proceedings of the family should be perceived in Haleham. The house must be seen to be open, the family on the spot, and all going on, as nearly as possible, in the common way.—The mother and daughter did not attempt to flatter each other that all would end well. They were both too ignorant of the extent of the alarm, as well as of the resources of the bank, to pretend to judge. They were firm, composed, and thoughtful; but self-possession was the best thing they at present wished and hoped for. When the silent parting kiss had been given, and the sound of wheel, died away in the dusk, Melea sank down on the sofa, and remained motionless for a time which appeared endless to poor Lewis. He stood at the window, looking out, long after it was too dark to see anything. He wished Melea would bid him ring for lights. He was afraid the fire was going out, but he did not like to stir it while Melea had her eyes fixed upon it. He could not steal out of the room for his slate, because he had been bidden to stay where he was for the rest of the day. When he was too tired and uneasy to stand at the window any longer, he crept to the hearth-rug, and laid himself down on his face at full length.
Melea started up, stirred the fire into a blaze, and sat down beside Lewis, stroking his head, and asking him whether he thought he could be happy for a few days with only herself to be his companion after school hours; and whether he could keep the secret of his aunt's absence, and of his uncle's not coming home to dinner as usual. While Lewis was conscientiously measuring his own discretion, patience, and fortitude, previous to giving his answer, Mr. Craig was shown in.
Henry did not come in consequence of any alarm, as Melea saw by the lightness of his step and the gaiety of his manner of entering the room. He presently stopped short, however, on seeing only two of the family, sitting by firelight, at an hour when music and merry voices were usually to be heard in the bright, busy room. “Is anybody ill?” “What then is the matter?” were questions which led to a full explanation.— Henry was very sorry that Fanny could not be sent for. He thought the prohibition wrong; but, as it existed, there was nothing to be done but to obey it. He would, however, do all he could to supply Fanny's place to Melea. After a long consultation about matters of minor moment, the most ample review of past circumstances, and the steadiest mutual contemplation of what might be in prospect, the friends parted,— Henry uncertain whether there was most joy or sorrow in his full heart,—(joy in Melea, and sorrow for this trial,)—and Melea relying upon the support that his promised visits would afford her. She would see him, he had told her, two or three times a day while the suspense lasted; and he should nut set foot out of Haleham while there was a chance of her sending him notice that he could be of the slightest service.