BERKELEY THE BANKER.
THE WIFE'S JOURNEY.
Hester had been married four years, and had scarcely seen the face of an old friend in all that time. Mr. Pye had once been obliged to visit London on business, and Mrs. Parndon took advantage of his escort to visit her daughter, which she had not previously appeared inclined to do. Her visit was, however, very short, as she declared that she always pined for home,—that she was bewildered with the bustle of London,—that she could not sleep well in any house but her own; and that, in short, Haleham was tlie best place for her. Hester anxiously endeavoured to find out whether there was anything in the ways of her household which was displeasing to her mother. Edgar happened to be absent—gone down to Brighton tor a holiday — which was very well, as it was certain that there was much in his habits which would astonish and terrify his good mother-in-law. His wife feared that Mrs. Parndon's visit being concluded before his return, was too plain a sign that she was aware of his domestic conduct being such as it would be painful to her to witness; it being unlikely, as the still loving wife said to herself, that anybody but herself should understand Edgar's reasons for all that he did, and make allowance for the practices that young men fall into when they are thrown together as clerks in a public establishment are. Since irregularity of hours had become far from the most trying circumstance in Edgar's way of life, Hester had carefully concealed even that one from her mother; and Mrs. Parndon made no reference to it during her stay: yet her hurry to be gone looked as if she might know it, and with it, much more; and this suspicion prevented Hester from saying anything about a repetition of her visit. Her voice was lost in tears when she saw her mother preparing with alacrity to depart, and when she remembered how long it might be before she should again be cheered by the sight of a Hale-ham face, or by conversation about the concerns of her early friends; concerns which were more interesting to her than ever as her own grew less and less pleasant in the contemplation.
Invitations were given, from time to time, to go down among these old friends;—invitations which she would fain have accepted, but on which Edgar made but one reply, as often as they were communicated to him—that he could not spare her. Her consolation in this answer was, that it would keep up his credit with the Haleham people as an attached husband; but it could not but appear strange to herself that he found it BO difficult to spare her when he dispensed with as much of her society as he could at home, and seized every opportunity of running down into the country, or taking a flight to the seaside without her. She could not help thinking, as she sat solitary, with the dusty beams of an August sun shining into her close parlour, that it would not have cost so very much to have taken a week's trip to Haleham;—not so much as any one of Edgar's many trips elsewhere, which were paid for, she supposed, out of the earnings of her pencil. She would not have troubled him for the money; she would have made a great effort to work harder, if he would have let her go. The prospect of once more beholding the harvest-fields and green lanes, the church-tower, and quiet, clean market-street of Haleham, would give her strength for an unusual effort; while it was really very difficult to draw every day and all day long, with nothing better under her window than the hot rattling street, and with nobody to speak to but Philip, who yawned incessantly between his counter and his bed.
Such a train of thought happened to pass through her mind one day when Edgar was no farther off than the Mint. She had been drawing all the morning—she had been drawing for two hours since dinner; and was now sitting with her hands pressed to her dazzled aching eyes. It was somewhat startling to feel a pail of hands folded over her own, and her cheek and forehead repeatedly kissed before she could recover the use of her eyes. It was only Edgar; but what joy that Edgar should be playing such a trick as this once more, after years of a most business-like gravity of deportment!
“Your poor head is aching, I am sure,” said he. “And this little hand is whiter than it should be. You are not well, Hester.”
“It is very foolish to sit down to draw directly after dinner in such hot weather as this,” observed Hester, struggling with tears which would come, she could scarcely have told why.
“My dear little woman, you are quite nervous and overworked and ill. You must go down to your mother, and see if she and Haleham cannot set you right again.”
Hester looked up at her husband, with a cheek no longer pale. He went on,—
“No time like the present. I will send and have your place taken by the early morning coach,”
“0, how very good you are!” cried Hester. “You cannot think—I am sure it will do me more good than—0, Edgar, you do not know how I have longed this summer to see those meadows again!”
“Well; you shall see them before to-morrow evening.”
“Had it not better be one day later?” inquired Hester, timidly, knowing that her husband did not like being opposed in any of his determinations. “It might be an inconvenience to my mother to have me go without notice; and I cannot get all my things together to-night; and one day more will finish these drawings.”
Edgar said if she meant to go at all, it must be the next morning.
“I should be paid for these to-morrow, if I carried them home myself,” once more urged Hester, thus intimating at the same time that she was bare of cash.
“Leave all that to me,” replied Edgar, good-humouredly. “I will take care and get your due out of your employer.”
Hester had no doubt of this. Her husband went on more to the purpose.
“You must want money, I know; and here is a supply for you. Aye, you look surprised to see such a parcel of notes, but they are all ones. I took care to bring you ones, because the Haleham people have been terribly pinched for small money since the crash. You would have found it difficult to get change for tens or fives.”
“How very kind of you to think of such little things, when you were planning this journey for me!” exclaimed the grateful wife. “But here is far more money than I can possibly want in a week,”
“Why should you stay only a week? So seldom as you leave home, I should be sorry to hurry you back again. My trips are short enough, to be sure; but you have no business at the Mint to bring you back just when you are beginning to enjoy yourself; and I am sure I should be sorry to hurry you.”
“But, Edgar, if I were to stay a month, I could not spend all this money.”
“Not on yourself, little woman, I dare say; for you are not one of the wives who like to see their husbands work hard that they may spend in idleness. You work as hard as I do; and if you do not bring me quite such a bundle of notes as this, neither do you bedizen yourself like half your neighbours in this street. But, Hester, we have carried our economy a little too far.”
“I am so glad to hear it!” cried Hester. “But I did not know how much we might spend; and it is always safer to spend too little than too much.”
“True; but now is a good time to be setting ourselves up with some things that we want. Get yourself a new gown or two, my dear, and a bonnet, and whatever else you think you really want.”
“I will go this moment, there is time before dark, and I can take my place myself,” cried Hester, hastily putting away her drawing materials; but her husband laid a heavy hand upon her shoulder.
“You shall do no such thing. You have enough to do to pack up, and make arrangements for the time of your absence; and I am sure we had both rather that you should spend your little money among your old Haleham friends. Philip will spare his boy to run and take your place, I am sure.”
The boy came for orders, and Hester was giving him a note out of her new treasure, when Edgar stopped her hand. He gave the boy a sovereign from his own pocket, observing that she should carry her little fund with her untouched.
“And while you are spending,” he went on, “you may as well get a few more things that we want very much.”
“My mother and I can make you some new shirts,” observed Hester.
“Yes; and I have always meant that you should have a more complete stock of house-linen than I could afford when we were married. That table-cover is terribly stained and shabby. I am nearly out of writing-paper too: you may get as large a stock of stationery as you please from your old friend Pye.”
“Do you mean that I am to get all these things at Haleham? Will not the Haleham people laugh at a Londoner going down to buy the goods they get from London?”
Never mind if they do. Tell them you had rather have accounts with old acquaintance than with new. You can take boxes that will hold your purchases; and if not, I shall not grumble at a little extra expense for carriage. And now go and pack up; for I have no doubt of there being a place for you.”
Hester felt as if in a dream. The journey might be a reality; the bundle of bank notes might be no illusion; but Edgar's consideration for her convenience, and for the gratification of the Haleham people, was wholly astonishing. She was haunted with a dread that a change would yet come over her happy prospects. When assured that her place was taken, she trembled at her husband's approaching footstep, lest he should be coming to recall his permission. When she went to bed, scarcely able to stand from fatigue, but too excited to expect immediate sleep, she was certain of not waking in time for the coach. Every thing seemed more probable than that she should, by the same hour the next night, be in the little light-green room, with its white curtains, and eastern window open to the moon, where she had slept the happy sleep of childhood and youth. Such enjoyment was, however, actually in store for her. Edgar did not change his mind, but rather seemed eager that nothing should delay her departure. She did not sleep too late, but, on the contrary, started up when the first brick-red reflection from the opposite chimnies entered her chamber. She had a full quarter of an hour to wait in the morning shadows of the inn-yard, amidst the shouts of the ostlers, the clatter of horses' hoofs, the stare of yawning loungers, and the importunities of porters. When fairly off the stones, and bowling over the smooth roads, she felt as much inclined to talk and be merry as any school-girl going home for the holidays. Her companions not looking particularly exhilarated, however, she kept her spirits to herself, and sat, with her face close to the open window, letting the dewy hedges and the flowery banks whirl away amidst a dreamy kind of half notice, watching for glimpses into the green lanes which led to retired farm-houses, and feeling disposed to nod to every meek-faced sheep that looked up from its browsing as the coach passed by. She was going back to Haleham a happy wife; for Edgar's revived attention was felt in combination with the delicious associations awakened by the scenery of a summer morning in the country; her many long days of disappointment, and nights of weary watching were forgotten; and all sense of pain and injury was lost in her present emotions of grateful pleasure.
What a bustle was there in Mrs. Parndon's house that afternoon! There was dinner to be brought up again, when the little maid had nearly finished what her mistress had left; and the sheets to be aired, and the hanging of the tent-bed to be put on; and Mrs. Price, the mantua-maker and milliner, to be sent for to take orders about improving Hester's shabby wardrobe with all possible speed; and a hundred reasons for this shabbiness to be invented,—such as London dust in the summer—leaving handsome winter things behind—and so forth. When Mrs. Price had been duly impressed with the necessity of her apprentice working all night, in order to Hester's genteel appearance before the old acquaintances who would certainly call; when the newest fashion of a morning cap had been sent over, approved, and purchased, and a bonnet promised by the time Mrs. Morrison should want to show herself in town in the middle of the day, —that is, by the time the mother's vanity was catered for—she began to think of indulging a mother's affection.
“Well, my dear,” said she, “I believe you are right, and we will keep snug for to-day, unless Mr. Pye should happen to go past. You will not object to his coming in; and he will never observe your gown being so much faded, depend upon it. Now, rest yourself on my bed. We can easily beat it up again; and I will sit beside you, and rub up your straw bonnet a-bit, while we talk. I think I can get off some of the tan, and I have a ribbon that is better than this; and then you can go out in it early in the morning, or in the gray of the evening, till Mrs. Price sends home your new one. Come, lie down; and I will get my work-basket in a minute.”
Hester was not at all tired. She had rather sit by the window and look at the London Pride in the court, and at the town's-people as they passed by. There was one corner of the window-seat too, whence she could catch an angle of the church tower.
Just as she pleased; only it would be as well not to let herself be seen over the blind till dusk. Could not she be just quilling up a frill or a collar while they sat, that would look a little better than the one she had on? Well, well: to be sure she might not be inclined for work, and there would be plenty of time, perhaps, when the bonnet was done. Whom or what did Hester want to hear about first?
Everybody. Everything. How was Mr. Pye? “O very well, in all respects but his hearing. Poor man! Everybody sees that his deafness is growing upon him sadly; but he does not like to have it noticed, and I am afraid it would hurt him very much to mention such a thing as his using a trumpet; but how he is to get on in his shop, all by himself, without it, I don't see. It was but “last week I was there when a lady from the country was buying- a little book; and while he was tying it up, she asked him what the bells were ringing for, forgetting that it was a royal birth-day.” ‘What are the bells ringing for, Mr. Pye?’ says she. ‘Eighteen-pence, Madam,’ said he ‘No,— the bells are ringing. Do you know what it is for?’ says she. ‘One and sixpence, Madam,’ said he. It it goes on so, ladies will not like coming to his shop; but he will never be persuaded to get a trumpet.”
“If we get him one,—if one came down from London on purpose for him, would he not use it? I think he would hardly refuse any gift from me.”
“If he thanked you, he would just put it by, and we should see no more of it.”
“Then he should have somebody to wait in his shop.”
“Aye: or somebody to be at his elbow to help him when he is puzzled. When he comes here of an evening, be has all sorts of ways of trying to find out what he is at a loss about, without exactly saying that he is at a loss. You cannot think what work I have sometimes to help him to guess out what people's orders can mean, when he has caught only half of them.”
“What weakness! What a pity he should give so much trouble to himself and everybody else! However, I suppose there is one good consequence of this false shame. He does not teaze his next neighbour to tell him all that everybody says.”
“No. I am generally with him when there is conversation going on; and he knows I tell him all that is worth hearing. Only, it is rather a pity that he pretends to have heard it the first time. However, we none of us know,—we might do the the same; and there is not a more upright, or a kinder man than Mr. Pye;—except, indeed, that he need not speak quite so sharply, sometimes when he happens to have heard what was said, and one repeats it all for his sake. But, as I said, we none of us know. I do to wonder whether he will come to-night! It is seldom he misses; especially since he has been a little out of spirits about his business.”
Hester was very sorry to hear of this. She had hoped that Mr. Pye's old-established concern had been one of the least likely to suffer from the changes of the times.
“After such a crash as Cavendish's,” replied the widow, “all concerns in the neighbourhood must feel a great difference. But, besides bad debts and much loss of custom, you would hardly believe how Mr. Pye's business has suffered only from the scarcity of small change. The great country folks come to buy children's books as they used to do, and they let their bills run up to a large even sum. But the middling and poor people, who do not run bills, have mostly left off sending for their little supply of stationery, and their cheap tracts, and even their almanacks. You may be in the shop the whole morning, and not a customer will come for a penny sheet of paper; which is a thing I should not have believed five years ago. Mr. Pye laughs, poor man, and says that if love-letters are written in Haleham now, it must be on the backs of old letters; for none of the Haleham lovers seem to have any pence to spare.”
“How do the grocers and drapers and butchers get on?” asked Hester. “The same inconvenience must affect them.”
“There is nothing for it but letting bills run, or serving two or three customers together, who pay each other afterwards as they may agree. Some of our shopkeepers excuse a small part of the price in consideration of being paid in change. They are very unwilling to take large notes. A ten will rarely change for any thing but two fives; and five may go round the town for days before any one will take it for a small payment.”
“It is very well,” observed Hester, “that my husband remembered this, and gave me only ones. To be sure he is the person to be aware of such things if any body is, for the Mint has been very busy lately coining bank tokens. But if small change bears a premium, I suppose much that has disappeared will soon come back again.”
The widow wished it might; and that it would bring with it the credit and the plenty of money in which Haleham had formerly rejoiced. Hester observed, that the credit must co-exist with the abundance of money in order to make it of any use; and that credit would ‘be now of some use, she supposed, in compensating’ for the scarcity of money, it' its diminution had not unfortunately been the cause of such scarcity. She was surprised, however, to find her mother, an annuitant, sighing for the days of high prices. She thought she must now find her income go much father than during the time when Cavendish's bank was flourishing. This was very true; and Mrs. Parndon's sighs were for Enoch and not for herself. She brightened when reminded to relate how the little matters of her housekeeping had grown cheaper since her daughter left her. When the list was gone through, Hester remarked that the recollection of this comforted her about the Berkelevs. Edgar had told her that the partners of the D—bank were living on allowances made by the creditors, while the affairs of the bank were being wound up. It was pleasant to think that such an allowance became worth more as money grew scarcer; and she hoped that what she at first thought a very poor income for Mr. and Mrs, Berkeley, might by this time have been proved enough to make them very comfortable. The young ladies too had salaries; and these were days when salaries were very advantageous.
“You forget, my dear, how far the debts of the family exceed the allowance and the earnings on which they live. The D——bank incurred these debts when money was cheap, and has to pay them now that money is dear; which adds to the difficulties of the partners in a way that nobody could have foreseen. It is a subject that poor Mr. Berkeley cannot bear. He is forever complaining of the injustice of it, though nobody can help him now.”
“It would be very well, however, if every body complained, mother; for there would be more care in future) how money was made too plentiful at one time and too scarce at another. You know you used to lament very much when not only nobody could help you, but very few were inclined, because there was a great appearance of prosperity while Haleham was filled with Cavendish's notes. But how is Mrs. Berkeley? for I always liked her better than the old gentleman; and the young ladies, whom I love best of all? It will be a sad blank not to see them here.”
“There is somebody who feels the blank more than you, Hester, and will help to fill it up some day. We all look to Mr. Craig to bring Miss Melea among us again, you know. He always gives me pleasant accounts about the young ladies, when I venture to ask him; and I am sure, from what he says, that they are in no wise down-hearted about a way of life that nobody at one time thought of their following.”
“Did they look so when they came in the spring?”
“By no means. Miss Melea has a grave look in her sweet face now; but that would be natural from her prospects, you know. And she laughs as merrily as ever when she is with the children at their play, and sings like an angel. She is fonder of children than ever, which is a very good sign of her being happy, so much more as she has to do with them now.”
“She always was fond of children, from the time she used to run races with the little Martins in the hay-field, outstripping them every one; and if she lives to be an old lady, sitting in her easy chair from morning to night, depend upon it she will always be the first person in the room that the children will run to.”
“Bless her bright face! one can hardly fancy it with the eyes dim and the hair grey; but the smile will never leave her. It will be the same if she lives to eighty. Pray Heaven she may! Here comes master Lewis, I declare. Well; you will have seen one person to-night, though not an old acquaintance. Come in, master Lewis, and see my daughter, Mrs. Edgar Morrison.”
When the introduction had been properly gone through, Lewis told his errand. He could not find Mr. Pye at home, and came to seek him here, to tell him that the schoolmaster was very wroth at a set of copy-books, which had been expected and inquired for for several days, not having made its appearance; and some of the boys had been obliged to have a fragment of a holiday this afternoon from this cause. They had been upon the heath to fly kites and play cricket, whence Lewis had brought the bunch of broom, heath, and harebells which Hester had been devouring with her eyes while lie was telling his story. Lewis observed that the boys were agreeably surprised at having gained a half holiday by Enoch's fault about the copy-books, instead of being punished for it as they had expected.
Hester was surprised at this; she thought the schoolmaster had been a remarkably good-tempered person. Lewis remembered that he had considered him so at first; but the master had been an altered man from the day of Cavendish's failure. He had not only lost four pupils, and the prospect of more, by that failure, but a great deal of money. He, like every one else, had been paid in Cavendish's notes; and Lewis remembered the awful morning when the master came into the school, as white as a sheet with passion, and called out the four Master Cavendishes to stand in a row before his desk, out of which he took a handful of bank-notes, held them up in the face of the whole school, declared them as worthless as if they had been forged, denounced their issuer as a swindler, and ordered the four little boys to march off, and never show their faces to him again, since they bore the disgrace of being their father's children.—Mrs. Parndon reminded Lewis that he should not have repeated this story, as the master was long ago ashamed of the cruel conduct into which his sense of injury had goaded him.—Hester would have wondered that Lewis was allowed to go to school any more to a man who could thus give way to his passion, but that she knew that the circumstance was totally unlike the general character of the man; and she now learned that Lewis went to him for the inferior parts of his education only, studying the classics and some still better things under Mr. Craig.
“Was nothing left of all the grand show the Cavendishes made to pay the creditors with ?” asked Hester. “Was it a dead loss to everybody?”
“There was about seven-pence in the pound,” replied her mother; “so they left few people to care what became of them. But it comes across my mind sometimes how that poor little tribe is fed. Nobody can conceive how they are living.”
“And the premises here stand empty?”
“Yes. They are in bad repute, from nobody having kept them long together. They look so desolate!”
Hester observed that it was growing dusk, that her straw bonnet was beautified nearly as much as it could be, and that it would be very refreshing to walk out a little way. Why should not they just go and peep about at Cavendish's, and see what kind of a state the place was in?
They were presently there, and Lewis shewed them a sly way of obtaining entrance into the yards. He had been before with many a boy to play see-saw on the two or three timbers that were left, or to fish from the wharf, or to salute the lingering pigeons.
These pigeons had, as slyly, found entrance into the deserted granary, which, though called empty, contained wherewith to support a flock of pigeons through many a year of neglect. At the sound of voices, they came peeping out of their hole, flapping their wings prodigiously, and perking their heads, and twisting their bright necks, while they eyed the strangers from the housetop. The very sound of their wings, and the feel of the weedy soil was luxury to Hester after four years of London canaries and London payement. She was running towards the timbers with a view to see-saw, when a ripple of the water caught her eye. She turned to the steps of the staithe, stood on the lowest above the stream, now touching it with the extremity of her shoe, and now stooping to look for the minnows. It made her thirsty to watch the weeds waving in the clear water when Lewis switched the surface, and to listen to the lapse of the stream.
While she was settling with Lewis that she would go and see him fish one day, and asking whether it was permitted now to loiter among the clumped alders a little way down the other bank, or to sit and read in the boat that was moored under their shade, the widow was walking round the house, trying what she could see through the windows, that were too thickly coated with dust to allow much revelation of matters within. She put on her spectacles to read the weather-stained board which told that these premises were to be sold or let: she lifted the knocker, in spite of the rust, and knocked, just to see that nobody would come: lastly, having pulled out the rickety handle of the door in trying whether it was fastened, and broken off a large splinter of the rotten window-sill in raising herself to look in, she stuck in the one and stuck on the other, with a guilty look round her, and went to tell Hester that it was quite time to be going home.
Just then the clock struck, and Hester could not move till she had listened to its last stroke;— its sound was so different, coming through the still evening air, from that of any London clock heard amidst the din of the streets. They had, however, kept Lewis from home too long, and Mrs. Parndon was secretly fidgeting lest Mr. Pye should have called in their absence. She could not object to see Lewis home, especially as the circuit would bring her back by her favourite way.
Hester asked fifty questions about the houses they passed, and walked slowly by wherever there were lights within, while the shutters were yet unclosed. Again and again she longed to walk in where there were girls at work round a table, or some whom she had known as girls, hushing a baby to sleep, or tying on the night-caps of ruddy-faced, drowsy boys. She did not know the apothecary's apprentice who was lighting the lamps behind the red and green jars; but every drawer with its gilt label was familiar to her. The butcher was shutting up shop; and the catch and snap of his shutters was exactly what she remembered it. There was, just as formerly, a crate and a litter of straw before the door of the crockery shop; and, as she looked in at the second-rate mantua-maker's window, she saw the curl-papered apprentice sweeping together the scattered pins, and doubling up the tapes and measures, preparatory to putting on her bonnet and shawl for a turn and a breath of fresh air.
“Now, Master Lewis, run home. We shall see you in from this corner, you know. Our respects at home, and my daughter will do herself the honour of calling within a day or two. Be sure you remember, Master Lewis.”
“0, I forgot all about the copy-books,” cried Lewis.
“Never mind! We are going past, and I will remind Mr. Pye.—This way, Hester. You forget your way, child.”
No. Hester was only exploring the extent of the dwelling. Was this small, ugly, upright red brick house, with a formal little garden in front, really the abode of the Berkeleys? When she remembered how Mr. Berkeley used to stretch himself out in his resting chair in the large bay window that overlooked his rosary and an expanse of meadows beyond, she could not imagine him breathing at his ease in a little parlour with only one window, and that within sight of the road.
“Why, there is Mr. Pye, I declare!” cried the widow, when she had peeped through the interstices of the picture books with which the window was decorated. “And I do not believe he has been beyond his door this evening.”
It was very true that he had not. He had got hold of his favourite newspaper, which told of all the religious meetings, and all the good publications of the week; and this refreshment of his spirit Enoch could not forego, even for Mrs. Parndon. He either would not or did not hear the tinkle of the shop-door bell: perhaps he thought” that a customer who came so late must be one who might wait till he had finished his paragraph: but Hester made bold to project her face over the top of his tall newspaper, and the next moment repented having thus surprised the nervous old man. He upset his single candle with his elbow, and when more light was brought, looked by no means certain whether he should see a ghost or a form of flesh and blood. He jerked his spectacles about wonderfully for some minutes, and could remember nothing at first about the order for copy-books. When he began to recover himself, he threw Hester into distress by asking in his simple, unceremonious way, whether Providence had blessed her as she deserved in husband and in home; and whether she was not come to show her young companions what rewards in marriage attend dutiful and diligent children. The best thing she could do,— and it quite satisfied him,—was to tell the story of her sudden journey. Then how Edgar's praises resounded through the shop, and into the little back parlour where the maid of all work was lingering to overhear the fine moral lesson of a London husband being the appropriate reward of filial duty! It was very well for her morals that it reached her thus; for she would not have found it in any of the books she was sometimes employed to dust in the window; and it is certain that Mr. Craig never preached it in church.
When Enoch had been brought to give a shy promise that he would look in at the widow's at spare hours, Hester was hurried home and to rest by her happy mother.
“How fagged you must be, my dear'.” she cried, as she saw her daughter stopping before some palings, and supposed it was to rest.
“Very little indeed,” replied Hester. “This mignionette smells so sweet in the night air, I must try whether it is not within reach. That in my window at home is always either black with smoke or brown with dust: and what is dew in London?”
So saying, she stole a few sprigs through the paling, promising to call and confess the next day.
“I am so glad we went out!” said she, at bed-time, cherishing her mignionette till the last moment before putting out her light. “It would have been a pity to lose one whole evening out of a single week.”
“And will you stay no more than a week? We shall not let you go so soon as that, I rather think.”
Hester kept down a sigh, hoped that Edgar's indulgent mood might last, and went to sleep to dream that she was called home the very next day.
THE WIFE'S HOLIDAY.
So complete a revulsion in the affairs of individuals had taken place throughout Haleham, that it would have been surprising if, while all other people were busy talking about the state of the currency, the Haleham folks had not been pre-eminently occupied with it. A grand crisis was thought to be at hand, and those who had profited and those who had suffered by past changes were equally eager, the one party to look forward, the other to look back, in order to gain some degree of insight into their state and prospects. All had dearly purchased the knowledge that bank-paper is not all alike, however carelessly one sort or another may pass from hand to hand. Everybody in Haleham now knew the difference between a paper currency that depends on confidence, and one that rests on authority. Both are in fact circulating credit; but the credit of Bank of England notes is avouched by government authority, and that of private banks rests only on private confidence. It was pretty clear that confidence had been in both cases betrayed. The Bank of England had not wisely regulated its issues, and had thereby impaired the sanction of government authority. Cavendish had acted knavishly, and thus injured commercial credit. Out of the evils of the system it arose that the honourable, and (at the time) solvent firm of the D—bank had stopped, and been thus compelled to aggravate the decline of public confidence. The consequences of these shocks tended to ruin the classes who had kept their ground during the former alterations in the currency, while they could not be said to repair former injuries. Some people were at first very ready to say, that the sudden reduction of the quantity of money was a fine thing, because all who had suffered from there being too much would now win back again what they had lost; but this was soon found not to he the case, so far as to make the new change anything but an evil. In many instances, the suffering parties had suffered beyond the reach of reparation. Besides those who had died, and those who had failed, and those who had mortgaged and sold their property, there were multitudes Whose contracts (originally advantageous and ultimately ruinous) had expired; and multitudes more whose loss of credit precluded them from sharing the advantages of a change in the amount of currency. Nobody had suffered more in proportion than the owners of house property, during the superabundance of money: but they did not profit by the reduction of its amount, for it was difficult to let houses at such a time of wavering credit; and house-rents fell with the prices of other things. All who had incurred debts through the previous rise of prices were injured anew by their fall; because, though their income might be increased, their debts were increased in the same proportion; and the injury outweighed the advantage by so much exactly as the debts exceeded the portion of income which was spared from consumption to pay them. A capricious good fortune attended those who had just made new contracts; but this was at the expense of the other party to the contracts. Annuitants and stipendiaries were richer than before, and thought it all very fair, in return for their season of adversity: but the productive classes felt it to be very unfair: and this very difference of opinion and feeling, by giving a new shock to mutual confidence, destroyed the partial advantages which might otherwise have arisen. Thus, while manufacturers, who had bought their raw material dear, and now had to sell it, in its manufactured state, cheap, pointed enviously to the owners of the houses they dwelt in, those owners would have been glad if things had remained as they were, rather than that they should have the prospect of lowering their rents, or having their buildings stand empty. While the shopkeeper, who had bought his stock dear, and was now selling under prime cost, was grumbling at his physician's fees, the physician would have been well pleased to buy as little as formerly with his guineas, on condition of having as many patients. They declared that the present was a fine harvest-time fur quack doctors; and that the undertakers were likely to profit by the numbers who killed themselves, or let themselves die, from not being able to afford a doctor. Few were contented; and the content of these was of a kind to impair and not strengthen the security of society; for it did not spring out of the recompense of toil and prudence. Their prosperity seemed to come by chance, and had therefore no good effect on themselves or others; while it weighed light in the balance against the evils which the same revulsion brought to ten times their number. One action on the currency, all wise men agreed, is a tremendous evil. A second, though of a strictly antagonist character, can be no reparation, but only a new infliction; and a third, if any one could harbour so preposterous an idea for a moment, can only augment the confusion, and risk the entire forfeiture of public faith,—the annihilation of commercial credit.
At the then present time, in 1818, it was no longer a question whether a change should or should not take place. The change was perfectly involuntary. It had already taken place to a large extent, as the natural and unavoidable consequence of the previous action on the currency. The over-issue of former years had caused a tremendous destruction of bank-paper, and had made all banking firms cautious about issuing more. Whether there should be a reduction of the quantity of money was, therefore, no more a matter of debate. There had been, in two years, such a reduction as had raised bank-paper to within 1/2 percent. of the value of gold. The only question was, whether advantage should be taken of this existing reduction to oblige the Bank of England to return to the old system of convertibility. Many who had prophesied for years that the Bank of England never would return to cash payments, persisted still that it was impossible. Others, who believed that to have plenty of money was to have plenty of everything, protested that the privilege of inconvertibility ought to remain. Others foretold a dreadful increase of the crime of forgery, and did not perceive that there would be a proportionate decrease in that of coining, and an end to the offences of melting and selling gold coin. Not a few prepared themselves to forget their chronology, and to declaim in future years on the effect of the return to cash payments in impoverishing half the traders in the country; as if this return had not been the consequence instead of the cause of a reduction in the quantity of the currency. Some who had been concerned in procuring the Restriction Act, and had borne their share in that measure with fear and trembling, were now not a little astonished to find that one party of debaters took what they had meant as merely an unavoidable expedient to be a permanent improvement in the currency system; and that they regarded the return to cash payments with an evil eye, not only as inflicting immediate hardship, but as a going back from an enlightened to a barbarous system. If all had thought like this party, the originators of the Restriction measure might have spared themselves their scruples and apprehensions in introducing a state of things during which light guineas were worth more, in a legal way, than heavy ones; during which men were tried, convicted, and punished for getting less in exchange for a heavy guinea than they might lawfully have gained for a light one: during which there was no measure for proportioning the amount of the circulating medium to the quantity of commodities; during: which the most tremendous and incessant fluctuations of price might take place without any check; during which the commercial credit of the whole nation rested between the hands of the Directors of the Bank of England. Some of our legislators thought that nothing but a desperate state of affairs could have warranted the adoption of so desperate an expedient; and were simple enough to think that the sooner it could be obviated, with safety to public credit, the better; and they would have been amused, if they had not been shocked, at hearing that the state out of which the currency was then able to emerge, was actually better than the system of security by checks which they now wished to substitute.
Among all these differences of opinion, there was abundance of discussion wherever there were people who were interested in exchanges; that is, in every corner of England. The children every where grew tired of the very words “cash payments,” and the women were disappointed at finding that when their husbands and brothers had exhausted the argument, whether there should and would be a return to cash payments, another subject for argument remained;—how this return could and should be effected: whether a definite time should be fixed, after which the privilege of inconvertibility should cease; or whether the cessation should take place, -whenever—be it sooner or later—Bank-paper and gold should be of exactly the same value.
A still further subject of debate was, whether the Bank should pay in coin, or in metal under some other shape. As paper-money is far more convenient in use than coined money, and would be liked better by every body, if it could but be made safe any plan by which security could be obtained, while the great expense of coinage is saved, was likely to be received with much attention. Such a plan had been proposed before this time, and was now much discussed. It was proposed that the Bank of England should pay its notes on demand, not in coin, hut in bars of metal, proved to be of the proper fineness, and divided into the proper weights. The being obliged to pay in precious metal on demand would be as great a security against an over-issue of paper as if the Bank had had to pay in coin, while the expense of coinage would be saved, the danger of runs would be prevented, and the people be kept supplied with the more convenient kind of currency. Such were the advantages expected by those who were friendly to the scheme; while such as were averse to whatever is new, offered all kinds of objections to it; and the advocates of a metallic currency were perpetually reminding the arguers that it would be as well to see whether there was any likelihood of the Bank resuming cash payments at all, before they settled how it was to be done.
There was talk in every shop in Haleham of bars of bullion; and many questions were put from one to another about whether any man would like to have his payment in bullion as well as in coin; and much information was given about the ease with which these bars might be turned into coin, by just carrying them to the Mint. Hester was much looked up to, both as being the wife of a person connected with the Mint, and as the bringer of anew supply of small notes into the little town. She found herself admirably served in the shops. The shirting she bought was warranted strong enough for the mainsail of a man-of-war, notwithstanding its beautiful fineness. The cover for her parlour table was of the richest pattern, picked out from an assortment of purple grounds and orange borders, of green grounds and yellow borders, of yellow grounds and blue borders. The stationery was of Enoch's very best. The writing-paper came from the heights, the account-books from the depths of his shop; and the pens, in symmetrical bundles, were brought out from recesses whence they issued as free from dust as if they had been plucked the hour before. When Hester took out her roll of notes to pay ready money for whatever she bought, the tradespeople and the loungers who beheld, all agreed that she had indeed made a very fine match.
“Very busy at the Mint, I trust, Mrs. Morrison,” was the address of many a shopkeeper to her. “I am sure I hope they mean to send out plenty more coin yet. There is a terrible scarcity, Ma'am; and it is a sad hinderance to business. Very little money stirring since the crash of the banks; and the gold that has come out of holes and hiding-places is nothing in comparison of the paper that is destroyed. Mr. Morrison is of my opinion, I hope, Ma'am?”
Hester was not aware what her husband thought of the matter, one way or other; but she did not say so; and began to think it odd that she, a Londoner, should know so little about the currency, while in the country every body seemed full of the subject.
“If there is so little gold and so few notes,” said she, “why is not more silver used? If the banks break and leave us very little paper, and if people have hidden, or melted, or sent away their guineas, it is the most improbable thing in the world that all the silver should be gone too. Such a quantity of silver would be a little troublesome to carry about, to be sure; but that would be better than such a stoppage of business as you are all complaining of from a want of money.”
The shopkeeper supposed that either there was not silver enough, or that it cost too much to coin it, or something.
“I should have thought you had understood your own affairs better,” said a voice from behind, which was at once known to be Mr. Craig's, and he came forward smiling to join in the conversation. “Where could you have been in 1816,” he said, addressing the shopkeeper, “not to know that silver is a legal tender only to the amount of forty shillings? If you, Mrs. Morrison, had bought three pounds worth of shirting here, your friend behind the counter might insist on your paying one pound out of the three in gold. You cannot lawfully pay more than two pounds in silver; and it is only by mutual consent that a larger payment is ever made in that kind of money.”
The shopkeeper looked as if this was news to him. Hester thought it a very absurd and unjust thing for the law to interfere with the kind of money in which people pay their neighbours. What objection in the world could there be to people using both gold and silver money to any amount that they chose to trouble themselves to carry?
“The experiment has been tried,” said Mr. Craig, “in many countries, and for long periods, and it does not answer; and therefore the law steps in to declare that gold shall be the only legal tender for any sum exceeding forty shillings. You know it is necessary to fix the relative value of gold and silver, and to keep to it, if both are used as money on equal terms.”
“And such fixed value does not always agree, I suppose, with its natural value. It may sometimes cost more to obtain gold, and sometimes silver; and then it is either impossible or injurious to make them keep the value originally fixed. Is this the reason?”
“This is the great objection to a double standard. If, from any circumstance, silver became more plentiful than it had been, a man would be anxious to pay his debts in silver. If he owed 100l. to his landlord, he would not pay him 100 sovereigns; he would go and get as much silver with his sovereigns as would coin into a hundred and ten pounds, and then pay his landlord the hundred, and keep the ten. Other people would do the same, and we should be deluged with silver coin, while the gold went to the melting-pot.”
“And all money would be worth less, from there being much more of it, I suppose?”
“Yes. There would thus be the two inconveniences of a needless fluctuation in the value of the currency, and of a new coinage being necessary as often as the one metal may be more easy to be had than the other.”
“Yes. If gold were the more plentiful of the two, people would be just as anxious to pay their debts in gold; and then the silver coin would disappear.”
“Certainly. Now, why should we expose ourselves to these inconveniences of a double standard, when a single one does quite as well, except for small payments?”
“But why may we tender so much as forty shillings in silver ? Why more than twenty 2”
“Because it is not worth any body's while, for the sake of the profit on payments of forty shillings, to coin more silver than the market will bear. Up to this amount, and not beyond it, we can reconcile the advantage of a variety of money with the safety of a single standard. Surely it is the simplest way to fix one standard, that is, to order what shall be the legal fineness and weight of coin of one metal, and to leave other kinds to the natural variations which they cannot be prevented from sharing with all commodities.”
“Why is gold made the standard? It cannot well be divided into money so small as shillings and sixpences; and surely, it would be better to have the legal tender uniform, instead of gold down to two pounds, and then silver. For that matter, copper would be better still, if it were not so heavy and bulky.”
“There are different opinions among wise men as to which of the two superior metals should be the standard. Nobody, I believe, wishes for copper.”
“But copper is a legal tender, I suppose, up to a shilling; or perhaps beyond it, as silver is to more than a pound.”
“Copper is a legal tender to the amount of fifteen shillings,”
“Well; I am sure that is enough. Nobody would wish for more. But why should we not have the easiest kind of legal tender of all,— paper money of all values? A note for a penny and a note for 100,000l. would be equally convenient; and both more so than any coin whatever.”
It was presently pointed out that paper-money being, in fact, circulating credit, and not a commodity, could not be made a standard, though it may represent a standard, and be used as its substitute. Bank-notes might, Mr. Craig observed, be made a legal tender, if so strictly convertible that their value should never vary from that of the metal they represent. No means had yet been found to make such an identity of value permanent; and while any variation existed, all dealers in money would be exposed to the evils of a double standard. He supposed the country had had enough of the legal tender of an inconvertible paper currency.
“Has paper then ever been made a legal tender in this country?”
“It was rendered so to all practical purposes. —though not under the very terms,—by the Restriction Act. Bank of England notes were received as cash in all government transaction and by almost all individuals after the crisis of 1797. The effect upon the country was much the same as if they had been avowedly legal tender; and it is thought that not one man in twenty was aware of their being any thing else.” “Nor is, to this day,” observed the shopkeeper. “Every man in this town who holds Bank of England notes would be confounded if you told him that his creditors are no more obliged to be satisfied with payment in those notes than in Cavendish's rotten rags. Would you have them no longer a good lender for practical purposes, when the Bank returns to cash payments?”
“I think one kind of paper might be legal tender for another. Country bank-notes being made convertible into Bank of England notes instead of coin, might, as it seems to me, be a very good thing for all parties, (if the Bank is to continue to hold its present station and privileges,)—provided, of course, that this Bank of England paper is strictly convertible into the precious metals”
“But would not that be hard upon the Bank of England? Should the Bank be thus made answerable for the issues of the country banks,?”
“Nay; the hardship is under the present system; for, according to it, the Bank of England is made answerable, without having any of that power of control which it would have under the other system. We know that country bankers do not keep much coin in sir coffers. As soon as a panic arises, they pledge or sell their government stock, and carry the notes they receive for it to be changed for gold at the Bank to answer the demands of their country customers. Thus the Bank is liable to a drain at any moment, without further limit than the stock held by all the country bankers. Now, as it need not issue more paper than it can convert on demand, it is not answerable for any proceedings of the country bankers, and holds a direct check over the issuer of all who are not careless of their credit.”
Hester had heard her husband tell how hard the Mint was worked during the panic, three years before. Demands for told came in from the country so fast, that, though all the presses were at work, night and day, they could scarcely turn out coin enough to keep up the credit of the Bank: and the stock of bullion in the coffers got illegible low. At least, so it was suspected by the people at the Mint. How much of this outcry for gold did Mr. Craig think would be superseded by the customers of country banks being referred to the Bank of England for metal money, instead of having it of their own bankers?
“As much,” replied Mr. Craig, “as the Bank may choose. It can proportion its issues to country bankers as it likes. But, in case of the adoption of this plan, it will be necessary that branch banks should be established by the Bank of England in all populous districts, so that the people may have every facility for converting their notes. Much less business would be done. much less confidence would exist, if there were delays and difficulties of any kind in converting notes which are convertible at all.”
“It is, then, only to prevent drains on the Bank of England coffers, and their consequences, that you would make its notes a legal tender for country paper? It seems to me odd,—likely to make confusion,—to have the same money,—the identical notes, legal tender in one sense and not in another.”
“If any other method of obviating such a drain can be found which involves less inconvenience, let it be so; but this peril of a drain is so illegible that it would be worth trying a few experiments to be rid of it. If means could also be devised for permanently rendering paper the precise representative of gold, Bank of England notes might become a uniformly legal tender.”
Hester supposed that to alter the value of the standard would be the worst measure of all; as its very name conveyed that it ought to be unchangeable. That which is used to measure the values of all other things cannot have its own value changed without making confusion among all the rest. Mr. Craig replied that the necessity of changing the value of a standard was the great objection, as they had just agreed, to the use of a double standard, one or other part of which must be changed from time to time to make them perfectly equal. He went on,
“The most fatal blow that the government of a commercial nation can inflict upon the people is to alter the standard;—whether by changing the denominations of money, or by mixing more alloy with the precious metal of the coins, or by issuing them, not less pure, but smaller. Of these three ways, the first is the most barefaced, and therefore the least mischievous in deceiving those who are injured; but the consequences of all in raising prices, in vitiating contracts, in introducing injustice into every unfinished act of exchange, and confusion into every new one, and consequently in overthrowing commercial credit, are alike fatal in all times, and under all circumstances.”
“And yet many governments have tried the experiment, after watching the effects upon their neighbours.”
“Yes. Each hopes to avoid take retribution which has overtaken the others: but, if they were wise, they would see why such retribution was inevitable. They would see that the temporary saving of their gold would soon be dearly paid for by the increased prices of whatever the government has to buy; and that if they would meet this evil by an increase of taxation, their design must he baffled by the impoverishment of the people. They would prepare themselves to behold in every corner of the land, profligate debtors exulting' in their advantage over their frugal and and laborious creditors, the aged servants of society stripped of the proceeds of their hoarded labour, the young brought up to witness the violable quality of public faith, and distrust of the government and of each other striking deep root into the heart of every class.“
“Our government will, surely, never try such an experiment?”
“We are now, you know, suffering under the effects of such an one. When the Restriction Act passed, nobody said anything about this. measure being, in fact, an alteration of the standard; but as inconvertible: bank-notes are practically a legal tender, and as their value depends, on the price of bullion and on the extent to which they are issued, these circumstances keep the standard, in fact, in a state of perpetual variation, instead of its being preserved invariable by law, as it pretends to be.”
“So, then, my mother suffered from a variation in the standard when her pension was swallowed up by high prices; and farmer Martin is injured in the same way by an opposite change in the standard.”
“And you, Mrs. Morrison.” said the shopkeeper, “profit by the same thing; for, I assure you, I must have obliged you to change one more note at least for that parcel of shirting, three years ago.”
“Is it possible,” asked Hester, “for the value of money to remain the same from one century to another ?—0 no; it certainly cannot; so many new mines as will be, discovered; and so much difference as there will be, as the arts improve, in the cost of producing the precious metals, and all other commodities. The value of metal money will gradually decline on the whole, I should think.”
“Then what will become of creditors? How are they to have their rights?”
“The equitable right of a creditor is only to the quantity of gold for which he contracted. If he is paid in less than this quantity, through any arbitrary interference, he is injured; but he must take the chance of any natural variation between the value of gold and other commodities. No law need pretend, or could avail, to fix this relative value, which depends on causes over which laws have no control. If a man enters into a long contract, he should take into his estimate the probability of money being worth less at the end than at the beginning of his bargain, if he satisfies himself that the value of money does, on the whole, deteriorate: and if he neglects to do this, he alone is to blame for his loss; for this is not a matter for government to charge itself with. If it ensures him his quantity, it has done its duty.”
The shopkeeper looked round his shop with a sigh, and wish ed that, when he entered upon hilease, and filled his shelves he had had no further loss to guard against than the natural decline of money. He had suffered, and was a suffering from the present reverse tendency of money. He had bought his linens and flannels, his gloves, illegible and ribbons dear, and was now, obliged to sell them cheap, while his rent was. though nominally the same, very much raised li! fact. He was less grieved for himself, and such as himself, however, than for families, like a certain one in the neighbourhood, which, through fluctuations in the currency, was reduced, without any fault, to a situation so far below what it ought to hold. He understood that though the D— bank was likely to pay even shilling in time, it might have done so directly, but that the debts which were contracted in one state of the currency must be paid in another, while the property in which the partners had invested their capital had fallen in value, in proportion to the rise of money. It was too hard that the very crisis which destroyed their credit should have at the same time almost doubled their debts, and depreciated their property. He wished to know whether it was true, if Mr. Craig had no objection to tell him, that there was money owing to Mr. Berkeley from abroad—a debt which nobody had thought of recovering till lately, and which Mr. Horace was going into a foreign country to look after? Mr, Craig believed that there was some truth in what was said about the debt; but none in the report of Horace's stirring in the matter. He then asked for what he came into the shop in search of;—a pair of gloves; and was furnished with home at what was mournfully (declared to lie considerably under prime cost.
Hester at the same time concluded her long task of shopping, and went to pay her respects to Mrs. Berkeley. She felt Very full of wrath at all tamperers with the currency as she opened the little green gate, and mounted the single step at the door, and lifted the slender stiff knocker, and cast a glance over the red front of the house, as she was waiting for admission. All these things were in sad contrast to the approach to their former abode.
As she was shown in, she felt how much more she had been at her case in old days, when, in visiting them, she found herself in the midst of unaccustomed luxuries, than now, when their abode was a good deal like her mother's. She scarcely knew how to be respectful enough to Mr. Berkeley when she saw him doing many things for himself that he had been used to have done for him, and when she heard of his performing his own little illegible in the town, where his servant had of old been daily seen going to and illegible for his bustling master. It was affecting to see Mrs. Berkeley reviving her knowledge and practice of many things which her condition of affluence had rendered it unnecessary for her to attend to for many years past.
She made no hardship of these things. She cheerfully said that she should want employment in the absence of her daughters if she had not to attend to her household affairs. Mr. Berkeley was very exact about the matters of the table, and Mrs. Berkeley did again what she had done in her youth;—she made such hashes and ragouts and fancy dishes of various kinds, as no cook she had ever had could pretend to. She kept her work basket at her elbow almost as constantly as Mrs. Parndon herself; and with Lewis for a helper, made the most of the shallow poor soil in their little garden, undeterred by recollections of the beloved green-house and the flourishing rosary of her late abode. She was encouraged in this by finding that Mr. Berkeley did not dislike her roses, though they came out of a garden next the road, instead of his favourite nook.
He now, on seeing Hester in the parlour, came up to the window with a bunch of roses in one hand and the newspaper in the other. He brought news that the pyrus japonica looked drooping, and that a company of ants had found their way to the apricot at the back of the house. There must be an end to them, or there would be an end to the apricots for this year.
“You have found nothing so important to us as that in the newspaper, I dare say,” observed his wife.
Mr. Berkeley threw the paper in at the window, peevishly declaring that there was nothing in newspapers worth reading now-a-days. He forgot that he did not think so at noon-time every day, when he was apt to swear at the offender who happened to be five minutes past the time of bringing the paper.
“There is one piece of new by the by,” said, “unless you have heard it already from Craig. Longe is married.”
“Indeed ! “To Miss Egg?”
“No, no. Too good a match for him by half. A fellow who begins looking; about him so impudently as he did. is sure to finish with marrying his cook.”
“His cook ! “What, the servant that went from the Cavendishes. It never can be, surely.?”
“Nay; I do rot know whose cook she is, or whether any body's cook. I only know that such is the way such fellows pair themselves at last.”
Hester was wondering what fellows;—rectors, or Cavendishes' cousins.—Mrs. Berkeley remarked, that she should wish to think well of the rector's lady for Henry Craig's sake. The curate should never be the worse off for the marriage of his rector.
“The curate's wife, you mean, my dear. You are looking forward to little presents of tithe pigs and apples, and an occasional pheasant. But, mind you, I will never touch a pheasant that comes out of Longe's house. I had rather be in the way of his gun myself.”
Hester took tins as a permission to speak of Melea's prospects.—happy prospects, as she called them.
“The young people talk of some such thing,?” said Mr. Berkeley, carelessly.” Young people always do, you know. But it is nonsense talking. Craig is as poor as a rat, and Melea will be long enough earning her wedding clothes.?” And he began hoeing up very diligently the weeds that were just visible in the border below the window. While he was not looking, Mrs. Berkeley held up with a smile the work she was doing. Hester had before observed that the work basket was piled very high.
“Is this for Miss Melea?” she delightedly enquired. Mrs. Berkeley nodded assent, and then gave the cautionary explanation that this was no sign that Melea was to be married soon, but only that a wedding wardrobe was not so very difficult to earn. She had pleasure in doing this work; it seemed to hasten the time when she and Mr. Berkeley should have a daughter near them once more.
Before they had time to pursue the topic, Mr. Berkeley came in, complaining of the heat. The first thing he did was to pick up the newspaper he had thrown away, fix himself in his reading light, give the paper the pat which was necessary to stiffen it in its full length, and mutter over it, as much at his ease as if nobody was by. Amidst the mutterings and occasional interjections, the other two carried on their conversation in an under tone. It was all about the curate, and the curate's house, and the curate's small accession of income, and large accession of pupils, which was as much for the advantage of Lewis in the way of companionship, as for Melea's, in a different way. At the close of a very cheerful picture of what was to be, Hester looked up and saw Mr. Berkeley still in reading posture, but looking over his spectacles at his wife, and evidently listening to what was passing. As soon as he saw himself observed, lie said, “Go on, my dear, pray. There is nobody here to be taken in by a fancy picture,—no novices that think people are all born to be married, and nothing else. Mrs. Morrison knows by this time that this is too cold a world for love to warm every corner of it. She knows—”
“I wonder you can be to unjust to Henry,” cried Mrs. Berkeley, who saw that Hester did not altogether relish the appeal made to her. “You know very well that if Melea's engagement was at an end to-day, you would wander about the house like a ghost, and find that the world had grown much colder all in a moment.”
“When did I ever say a word against Craig, pray?—at least, for more than three years. What I mean is, that the less people connect themselves, in such days as these, ihe better for them. That is the only way to slip through the world quietly, and to get out of it without having one's heart and soul torn to pieces before one's breath is out of one's body.”
“You would not have daughters, Sir,” Hester ventured to say. “You had rather be living all alone, with only your physician to feel your pulse when you die.”
“Mr. Berkeley's daughters and Mr. Berkeley's wife are not like any other wife and daughters,” said Mrs. Berkeley, smiling; “and Horace is also unique. Mr. Berkeley's doctrine is only generally applicable, you know; so we need not be offended.”
“I never choose to bo personal,” observed Mr. Berkeley. “I point out nobody's wife and children as the proper ones not to exist. I only mean that it must be a heavenly thing to have only one's self to care for.”
“I will believe it, my dear, when I find you in heaven, caring only for yourself.”
“I only speak to what I know,” replied Mr. Berkeley; “and. depend upon it, half the soft-hearted people that Craig and Melea are imitating', would be glad to shake off their vows and their cares together.”
Hester bore his enquiring look very well; for she still loved Edgar. She smiled, and hoped that these were not the notions Melea was to illegible entertained with when she came home to be Married.
“I say what I think, let who will be by.” replied Mr. Berkeley. “But it does not signify whether I hold my tongue or speak. “We are all made romantic when we are young, that we may be broken down with cares, in time to make room for others to go the same round. I and my children, like everybody else.-—My dear, do send some one to destroy that ants' nest. They are eating the apricots all this time.—Stay. I'll do it myself.”
In another minute, lie was busy with the ants, and Heater was left at liberty to hope that Melea might, by some chance, be happy, notwithstanding the romance of loving Henry Craig.
Fanny was, she found, pronounced much wiser, and more likely to die a natural death, as she was not going to be married. It was very true that she had at present few cares, though she had not yet seriously taken her father's advice to care for nobody but herself. She bestowed some little thought and feeling on her pupils, and on her family. What romance she had tended that way; but as it afforded no threatening of ultimately breaking her down with solicitude, her father acquiesced in her cheerful looks and even spirits, and thought this kind of romance very harmless.
These facts being fully ascertained, Hester took her leave before the last hapless insect had been hunted from its retreat in the shadow of an apricot leaf. Soon after she was gone, Mrs. Berkeley missed the apex of the pyramid of which her work basket formed the base. It was clear that Hester intended that the bride's wardrobe should be graced with some of her handy work. She had, indeed, carried off enough to employ her needle for as long a time as Edgar was likely to allow her to stay. When Mrs. Berkeley sent to beg that she would not consume her short leisure in an employment that she must have quite enough of at home, she replied that it was a most refreshing rest to her to sit at work by the open window, in the long summer afternoons, enjoying the smell of the sweet-williams in the court, and the striking of the old clock, and hearing from her mother anil the neighbours long stories of all that had happened in Haleham since her wedding-day.
Edgar did not send for his wife at the end of a week, as she had expected. Mrs. Parndon was much pleased at this. The first Sunday had been so wet that it would have been a pity for Hester to risk spoiling her new silk, and a still greater pity to have gone back to London without appearing at church in it. It was earnestly to be desired that she should stay over a second Sunday. Happily she did so; and yet more to her astonishment, over a third. There was nothing to make her uneasy in this extension of indulgence. Her husband Wrote to her, kindly, and often enough to satisfy her mother, and the enquirers at the post-office, who thought they might contrive, by a little watching and waiting, thus to learn more of Hester's domestic position than they could well ascertain by any questions they could put to her mother or herself.
As Mrs. Morrison recovered her bloom and spirits, day by day, it was a settled matter that her paleness, thinness, and odd, startled look, (so unlike any thing that used to be seen in her face) were all owing to the heats of a London summer, and that she was indeed the fortunate person she had been described by all mothers to their daughters for these three years. Hester illegible bestowed as little thought as she could on this question while at liberty to enjoy air and freedom. She ran in the meadows as if she had been still a girl; played ducks and drakes on the Martins' pond, and tripped along the street with a step which her mother thought not dignified enough for Mrs. Edgar Morrison.
Forgetting this hint, she was quickly passing Enoch's door one day, when she saw a finger, which from its length could not be mistaken, beckoning between two of the books in the window. She went in, and there was Mr. Pye, alone, saying several times over that he wished to speak with her, that he had a trifling thing to mention, a little matter to say between themselves. He declared himself very scrupulous, but knew she would be angry if he passed the thing over. What could be the matter't Had she, or anybody belonging to her, done anything to offend Mr. Pye?—Bless her ! no. How would that be possible? He was only afraid of the offence being the other way. When compelled to explain, he said he did it directly, because he supposed, he trusted, he should be saving her from a loss. Could she remember where she took the 1l. note she had paid him with? He hoped it was not too late to get it changed; for it was certainly a bad one.
Indeed ! 0 yes, she remembered perfectly. It was given her by—. She stopped short in a fit of prudence, for which she could afterwards hardly account. No. She would not answer for anything about it, till she had looked over her stock at home. She would just step home and bring another directly. Mr. Pye was quite right in supposing that she would have been angry if he had scrupled to mention it. It was much better to settle those little mistakes at once, since they do rest on the mind for a long time.— Just as she was leaving the shop, in the midst of Enoch's assurances that there was no hurry, and that he could not allow her to go home on purpose, she turned back to ask for the note, saying that she had always had a great curiosity to see a forged note; and that she never felt herself safe in taking notes, from her ignorance of the proper marks.
Mr. Pye liked giving lessons; and he set about his task on the present occasion in a most orderly manner. Happily, he first made Hester sit down; and next, he fortunately took such pains to rub and fix his spectacles, as to have no attention to spare for her face. He then unlocked his desk, and brought out an honest Bank of England note: then double-unlocked an inner recess, from which issued the offending one. Both were spread before Hester, and she was told to compare them, and try whether she could discover any difference.
She could perceive none. The leading marks of each were alike; and Hester thought they were such as any engraver might imitate. It appeared to her to signify little, that there were private marks, and water-marks which were less easy to imitate than the engraved parts. These might enable the Bank to know its own notes; but were of no use to the generality of people to whom it is of consequence to distinguish a good note from a bad one.
“You see,” said Enoch, holding the notes up to the light. “That water-mark, you observe, is very different from this; and the finish of that word, you perceive, is not imitated well in the forgery.”
“I see, now you point it out: but I should never have discovered it. Surely, people in general, shopmen and servants, and market people, do not know these signs as you do.”
Enoch complacently answered that very few had so practised an eye as his.
“But that is very wrong, surely?” observed Hester. “It must be possible to form notes of such a kind of engraving as would be too difficult to make it worth while to forge; of such a kind too as would strike the eye at once, so that even those who cannot read may learn to know a good note. What can look easier than to imitate such a note as this? The very sight of it is enough to tempt people to forge.”
Enoch observed that it was very true, and that it was proved by the dreadful increase of convictions on account oi the crime of forgery. In the year of the Restriction Act, there was only one conviction; the number increased as bank notes became more important as a medium of exchange; and, in the preceding year, there had been no less than two hundred and twenty-seven; sixty-two of which had been capital convictions for the actual commission of the crime, and the others for having had forged notes in possession.
Hester's deep but checked sigh attracted Enoch's attention.
“Ah! you are sighing for the convictions that are yet to come. But, my dear, they are clever fellows who made this note; and they will keep out of harm's way for some time to come, depend upon it. It is a very superior article indeed; not got up by one or two in a snug way, but regularly manufactured in a businesslike manner. I should not wonder if they keep themselves safe till the Bank calls in its one and two pound notes, and puts an end to their trade. I see there is talk of abolishing the small note circulation.”
“I am glad of it, I am sure. The sooner the better.”
“Well, now, I do not agree with you there. “We shall lose a great convenience in losing these notes. O, 1 do not mean for a moment to say that it is worth having sixty men hanged in a year for the sake of it. God forbid ! But there might be means found of preventing so much forgery. There might be an end of temptation to novices to forge; and as for those who have learned the trade already, they will not injure society long,”
“You mean that they will grow honest again when the temptation is removed.”
Enoch shook his head, and wished he could truly say that this was what he meant. He meant that people employed in such practices rarely quit them till they have brought punishment upon themselves. However sorry we may be for the carelessness and bad management by which temptation was at first made too strong for them, however we pity them, and make allowance for their first acts, we may be pretty sure that they will end by falling; into the hands of the law. Hester might well sigh for the makers of this note; for though new bank regulations should knock up their paper use illegible, they would turn to something else as bad, —forging bills of exchange, or stealing and passing them in a business-like way, or perhaps coining. Having once been used to get a great deal of money by dishonest means, they would not be satisfied with the little they could obtain by honest industry.
Hester, not wishing for more speculation of this kind, rose to go; and with some difficulty, got leave to carry away the bad note, in order, as she truly said, to study her lesson more carefully at home. Enoch charged her to bring it back again; but to this she made no reply.
She just returned to say,
“Do not let us mention this to my mother. It will vex her to think of my having lost a pound in such a way; and I am not at all sure that 1 can get the note changed.“
Enoch was quite willing to be silent. Not having made up his mind himself as to whether he ought to have put up with the loss in quiet for the sake of an old friend, he was well content that Mrs. Parndon should not have the opportunity of blaming him.
Hester hurried home, and into her own chamber, bolting the door after her. At every step on the way, some new circumstance occurred to her recollection, confirming the horrible suspicion which had entered her mind. Edgar's sudden and strange command of money, his unwonted kindness and liberality, his preventing her sending one of these notes to the coach-office in payment for her place, his anxiety that she should lay out the whole in a distant country town for goods which could be better bought in the street they lived in,-—all these circumstances seemed to be explained only too satisfactorily if the new notion she had in her head were true. In a paroxysm of resolution she proceeded to put it to the proof, looking about before she unlocked her money-drawer, to make sure that no one could see from any corner of the window, or from the key-hole, what she was about to do. Hester was not, however, very strong-minded. The first sight of the thin paper made her heart-sick. She thrust the bad note into the opposite corner of the drawer, and locked it up, feeling that for this one day she preferred suspense to certainty. Enoch must be paid. That was something to do. She would run and pay him directly, if she had but silver enough. She began counting her silver; in the midst of which operation, some one was heard trying at the door, and was answered by a long scream from within.
“Mercy on us! what's the matter?” cried the widow.
“Nothing: why nothing, mother,” said Hester, opening the door, “only you startled me, that's all, mother.”
“Startled you indeed! Why, you are shaking all over, child. What could you be doing? I came just to darn that hole in your window curtain while you were out, for I thought you were gone to the Martins an hour ago. What could you be doing, my dear?”
“I was looking out some change. I want some change. Can you lend me half a crown. No: five shillings I want. No, no, four will do. Can you lend me four shillings?”
“Indeed I cannot,” replied her mother, laughing. “With all your stock of money, you can get change from every shop in the town, and I like the appearance of your sending for it. Nanny shall step to the baker's in a minute. Give me a note, and I will send her.”
Hester went into the kitchen, apparently to save her mother the trouble; but it was to borrow four shillings of Nanny, instead of sending her to the baker's for twenty.
Enoch was jocose upon her paying him in silver lest she should make the same mistake again, though the chances were a thousand to one against another bad note falling in her way while the small note circulation lasted.
It was a beautiful day, as fresh as mild, and the country was in the perfection of its summer beauty. In order to avoid going home, Hester proceeded to the Martins, and staid till the latest moment she could without keeping her mother waiting for dinner. The summer wind blew away half her cares before she reached the farm; and by the time she left it, she pronounced herself the silliest person in the world for having taken up such a wild fancy as had terrified her this morning.
Rhoda had not yet left her father's house, nor was likely to do so at present. Her lover had employment, but had not yet nearly repaired the losses which Cavendish's villany had caused him, and Martin was not now so well able as formerly to enter into engagements to assist his daughter. His rent pressed heavily, now that prices had fallen so much; and the young people must wait. This ‘sentence fell irritatingly upon Rhoda's ear, month after month; —every Saturday night, when the farmer and his wife ascertained how much or how little was ready to go into the rent-purse, and every Sunday when Chapman brought her home from a long ramble in the lanes, whose turns and windings had lost the charms they possessed for her when she began to follow them in his company, four years ago. She should not have minded, she told Hester, if she had known from the beginning that they must wait five years: it was the disappointment, the suspense, that was so cruel; and she sometimes wished that they had married on Cavendish's coming. They could but have been ruined by the failure, like many other people; her little legacy would have been safe in the shape of furniture; and they could not well have been more anxious than they were now. Hester sagely took up Mr. Berkeley's argument on these occasions, and tried very perseveringly to persuade Rhoda that she and Chapman were comfortably free from care, and that they ought to be very glad that they were not married yet. Rhoda was equally sure that Hester could have no cares; how should she, with a husband so fond of her that he could not part with her oftener than once in four years, and in possession of a good salaried office, and with no children to provide for, and all so comfortable about her,—to judge from her dress, and the money she had spent at Haleham?
Thus these two school companions went forth this morning, arm in arm, to look after some farm-house pet that had strayed out upon the heath. Each was old in cares though young in years, and each fully persuaded that the other must be easy and fray at heart, in comparison with herself.—Mrs. Martin looked after them from the door of the dairy, as they took their way from the shady nook in which she stood through the orchard, and out upon the heath behind. She shook her head as she watched them, and thought to herself that theirs was not the step with which she went about her work and her pleasures at their age. There was little of girlhood remaining in the heavy gait and absent air with which they walked. There was something wrong in the state of things which took from life the ease and graces of its prime. It was a pity that Mrs. Martin was not within sight of the young' women half an hour afterwards, when the summer wind had refreshed their spirits, and made old merry thoughts chase one another over their minds like the wrinkles on the surface of the blue pond which lay open to the breeze. If she had seen them running round the brink to drive the waddling ducks into the water, or watching tlie sand-martins to their holes, or cherishing the rich brown hairy caterpillar that Hester had nearly trodden upon, or forgetting what they came for in counting how many little orange butterflies were perched at once upon the same corse bush, she would have been satisfied that to be turned loose; upon the heath in a west wind is a certain cure for the cares of the heart. Rhoda had the impression of being still a schoolgirl all the while, and Hester forgot her suspicion for as much as ten minutes at a time; and when she remembered it again, thought it too absurd to be dwelt upon any more. As if nobody had ever chanced to take a bad note before ! As if it was not very likely that in so large a parcel as Edgar had given her, there might be one bad among many good ! and at the cheering idea, she gave a new bound upon the turf, and began another race with the butterflies. The two mothers were pleased with the aspect of their respective daughters on their return; Rhoda with her hair blown about her glowing face, and Hester with an arm full of wild flowers, gathered partly from the heath, and partly from the hedges and ditches she had skirted on her way home.
Mrs. Parndon smilingly held up a letter: but Hester did not snatch it as usual. She received it with an absent look, and carried it into her chamber without first breaking the seal. In a moment she was heard saying,
“Don't put off dinner, mother. I will just take off my bonnet, and read my letter afterwards; and I have kept you waiting already.” And she actually sat down to dinner without having opened her letter. I he sight of the hand had revived all her painful feelings, and had put it into her head that if she remained unsatisfied about the notes, and if her husband should strangely give her further leave of absence, she should go back at once, and have an end put to her suspense.
The letter was short. LE. Edger glad she was enjoying herself in the country”: believed the weather had been very fine. and seasonable; did not see why she should hurry back; was not, for his own part, anxious that she should; was always willing' to accommodate: therefore begged she would stay where she, was; philip and self quite well London cursedly dull; every body looking blank about the times; and no wonder. —The west wind did not blow into Hester's chamber; nor, if it had found a way. would it now have acted as a cordial. It was too late to get rid of her suspicions. There was nothing lor it but satisfying them. The door was again bolted, the blind drawn down, a glass of water poured out, and the locked drawer opened. There was first. a nervous and hasty comparison of all the notes with the forged one; then a more careful examination: then the most deliberate and studious one. The result of all was the same. The same deficiencies, the same wrong turns were in all the notes. All were precisely alike, except that some had been more crumpled and dirtied than others; and the soil was, she thought, put on artificially.—She was resolved to go the next morning, and to let it be supposed that her husband had recalled her.
But what to do for money ! She had borrowed four shillings, and had nothing left but these notes. Asking her mother for some was out of the question, if she wished to avoid suspicion. Leaving this difficulty to be met by some bright idea at the moment, she swallowed some cold water, and re-appeared with her bonnet on, saying that she was going to bespeak a place in the morning's coach, as she must be at home before the next night.
Mrs. Parndon began reproaching Edgar very bitterly for giving such short notice; from which. of course, his wife very earnestly defended him. strong on the secret ground that he had given no notice at all. Mrs. Parndon laid down the law, notwithstanding, that all husbands are alike, all arbitrary, and fond of showing what their power is; also that she could not spare her daughter even to go so far as the coach-office; which errand could be as well discharged by Nanny; no money being wanted for deposit, as the coach merely passed through instead of starting from Haleham, and there was no knowing till it drove up whether there would be a place.
“Now, my dear, before we are interrupted,” said Mrs. Parndon, when Nanny was out of the house, “I have a little business to settle with you, which I did not intend to have brought on in such a hurry, but for Edgar's choosing to have you at his beck and call in this way. You know,” (in a whisper,) “that when gold was disappearing sometime ago, I laid by some guineas.”
Hester perfectly remembered. They were either in the cupboard behind the bed, she believed, or buried in the garden. They had been in both these hiding places, she knew; but she forgot which last. The widow looked wise, and said it did not signify where they now were; what she wanted to say was this. She had always been a cautious woman, having no one to advise with but Mr. Pye, whom she could not, from motives of delicacy, inform of her having money laid by; and she had, she feared, let the occasion pass for disposing of her gold to the greatest advantage. She should have trusted Philip with it some time ago. She had lately, however, put the case before Mr. Pye, as from a third unknown party, and he was decidedly of opinion that there would be no use in hoarding gold after the Bank had returned to cash payments; and that if any profit was to be made in such a way, it must be before that time. So she had made up her mind to trust her daughter with her treasure, in order to its reaching Philip's hands; and she should write to him to send her as much as could be obtained over and above their value as legal coin. It was a sad pity, to be sure, that she had not done this long and long ago; but lone women are liable to fall into grievous mistakes in the management of their affairs. It was not enough even to have such a friend as Mr. Pye.
As a friend merely,—Hester supposed in her own mind. She was very happy that so lucky a chance of getting money for her journey had turned up as to prevent her having to use any of her doubtful notes She hurried off with her mother to fetch the guineas, resolving to get two of them changed at some shop where Mrs. Parndon did not deal, and to send out of her own earnings what Philip should declare to be their true value.
When the bed-tick had been unripped and properly sewn up again, after the guineas had been taken out of it, the widow found tune and thoughts for what her daughter might have to do and feel on so sudden a conclusion of her visit. Could she do anything for her? pay any little bills after she was gone? pack her things this afternoon? or go and tell their friends that if they wished to bid her good bye they must come in after tea?
Hester accepted the offer of packing, in order to be free to go out herself. She talked of stepping to the washer-woman's, and of getting as far as the Berkeleys, to pay her respects, carry home the work she had finished, and say how sorry she was that she should not see Miss Melea married, as she had always hoped to do.
“Well, my dear,” said Mrs. Parndon, while they were waiting the next morning for the coach to drive up, “I wonder when we shall have you amongest us ago in !”
Mr. Pye. who was present, saw that Hester's eyes were full of tears, and concluding that her; mother had said something pathetic, turned to the bright side, as he thought, and expatiated on the delight that awaited her that evening in reaching her home again, and how Edgar's reception of her would more than make up for the sadness her Haleham friends caused her by their parting grief.
“You will come to town on business again, Mr. Pye? You will be looking in upon me some day, I dare say?”
Mr. Pye was ready to own that London was not to him what it used to appear; or perhaps it might be that he was not so fit for London as he was. The very walking along Cheapside flurried him, and he was nervous about the crossings, and people seemed to think him stupid; whereas he used to be considered tolerably apt at whatever business he had to transact. Hester understood that this was the irritation of infirmity, and said no more about his leaving home. Her mother, however, put in her word.
“O, Mr. Pye, you will be sure to go, one of these days. And you should be very much flattered at Mrs. Morrison's saying anything about it. I assure you, she has not invited me.”
This was the last hint Hester had the pleasure of hearing before she took her seat, and went on her dreary way.
THE WIFE'S RETURN.
Even the journey was less dreary than the arrival. Hester had hoped that Edgar would be out, that she might settle herself, and be ready to give him a wife-like greeting on his entrance. She trusted much to this for forgiveness for having come home without leave and without warning.
The house door was open, and there were pails and trestles in the passage, and a strong smell of paint. Remorse struck instantly upon Hester's heart. Edgar was making the house neat and pretty to surprise her on her return, and she was rewarding him with suspicion and disappointment.
For one moment she glanced in thought at the possibility of going back as quietly as she might, and keeping her trip a secret: but this would have been loo remarkable a proceeding to escape painful remark. She must go on now, and make the best of it.
The first person she met was a foot-boy, who said he belonged to the house, but who was a stranger to her. It occurred to her that Edgar might have removed, and she had perceived that a new. stout, oaken-door had been put up some feet within the passage; an alteration scarcely likely to occur as desirable to a man so perpetually absent from home as Edgar, and who lived up stairs. The boy, however, declared that his master's name was Morrison, and that he was now in the house, taking his wine with a gentleman, after dinner.
“Philip, no doubt,” thought Hester, hastily dismissing the porter, and running up to the dining-room before her courage failed. She was not sorry that Philip would be there to act as a restraint on their meeting. Edgar's back was towards her as she softly opened the door; and as he concluded it could be nobody but the boy, he did not dislodge his legs from the chair on which they reposed, or cease picking his strawberries. Opposite to him, sitting bolt upright, and his little face looking fierce in a pair of huge black whiskers, sat Cavendish! His start and stare first roused Edgar.
“W hat the deuce——” he began. “Did not you get my letter? You must have got my letter, bidding'you—telling you that you might stay longer.”
“I did; but .... I will tell you all about it by and by. I beg your pardon for bursting in: but I did not know you had any one With you, except Philip. I will go up stairs till you are at liberty.?”
Before the door was well shut, however, she was called back and told that she would scarcely know her away about the house after all that the work-people had been doing. She had better come in and sit down till she could be instructed how to turn herself about in her own home. She sat down accordingly by the window, thinking it would best please Edgar that she should not be in full view of Cavendish's face. When she had been offered wine and strawberries, and accepted the latter in consideration of her burning thirst, the two at the table seemed to have nothing more to say to each other. They dropped a few words now and then, which each left it to Hester to answer; and, in a quarter of an hour, Cavendish rose to go. Edgar whispered with him for some time outside the door, and then, to his wife's terror, came in and shut it. She could not help fixing her eyes upon his, though there was anger in his face.
“You are displeased with me for “coming home,” said she. “And I dare say it was very foolish, and you will think me very unkind: but O ! Edgar, you cannot think how uneasy I have been since yesterday morning! Those banknotes——”
“What of them?” asked Edgar, looking steadily at her.
“Mr. Pye said they were bad: that is, he said that one of them was bad——”
Edgar laughed violently. “So you have taken a journey——”
“I know what you will say..... I know how easy it is to make a laugh of it,” said Hester, sinking into tears: “but Mr. Pye showed me,——Edgar!” and she put a strong momentary control upon her convulsive sobs, “Edgar, they are all bad,—all that I have left.”
“And who gave you leave to show off your money to Mr. Pye, or Mr. Any-body? A pretty scrape you have brought me into !”
When Hester explained how she had kept her cares to herself, and Mr. Pye had seen only one note, her husband attempted to ridicule her out of the notion that had taken possession of her; but this was attempting too much. For once, the gentle, tractable Hester appeared sullen. She sat looking out of the window, and twisting the corner of her handkerchief, till Edgar was tired of talking to her.
“Well, Madam,” said he at length: “you do not seem disposed to make any answer. What would you have now ‘?”
Hester turned full round upon him to ask if he really wished to know what she would have. Edgar could only look rather silly, and ay “To be sure.”
“I would have your confidence, Edgar, as a wife should have. I have kept your secrets (those that you could not help my knowing) long enough, I am sure, to show that I may be trusted. Let you have done what you may, I am the one who ought to know all; for I may screen you from shame, and I must share your shame when it comes. I am not one to betray you, Edgar. I am your wife, and far more ready to excuse and forgive your—your—ways than you yourself will one day be to excuse them.”
“Women do not know what they ask for when they seek their husbands' confidence,” said Edgar. “As soon as they have got it, they would be glad enough to have been less curious.”
“Curious!” repeated Hester, offended at the word. “If it were curiosity, I might get the Newgate calendar, or set Philip talking, as he likes to do, by the three hours together about making money in an unlawful way.”—(She could not bring herself to utter the word “forgery.”) —“You think, I suppose, that it is curiosity that brought me home to-day.”
It was some damned troublesome thing, whether it was curiosity or anything else, Edgar swore. Hester trembled while she said that she could go back again, if he chose it; but that she had much rather stay and help him.
“Help me!” exclaimed Edgar. “What do you mean by helping me ?”
“Is it such a very new thing for wives to help their husbands?” Hester asked. “I mean, however, that whatever you are concerned in, I wish to be concerned in too. I do not want to be a spy. I want to be your wife. Let me help you to make notes, or send me quite away. I cannot bear to be in the house, and know what you are doing, and have none of your confidence, and no one to open my mind to.”
As it was evidently too late to attempt to conceal the fact from her, Edgar saw at once that it would be the safest plan to keep her at home.; and to implicate her so far as to secure her fidelity. He drew a chair beside her, preparatory to giving what he called “a candid explanation.”
“You must see, my love, that it is not for my own sake that I have placed myself in the circumstances you have unfortunately become acquainted with.”
“O, certainly. It was not for your own sake that you took a sudden fit of affection for me lately, and remembered that I had not breathed country air for four years. It was not for your own sake that you pressed your money upon me, and wished that I should spend it among my old friends. O no; this was all for my sake, and for the good of the Haleham people. I understand it all quite well,” said the miserable wife.
“If you looked about you while you were at Haleham, you must have understood,” said Edgar, “that there is no way of doing so much good just now as by putting cut money. Did you not find a terrible want of it every where? especially of small notes?—Well. Everybody sees and feels the same thing; and the country is full of discontent at the currency being so deplorably contracted as it is now. Of course, this discontent will be listened to in time, and the bank will meet the popular demand. In the mean while, those are benefactors to society who supply the want as far as they can. It is a dangerous service, Hester; but it is a very important one, I assure you.”
Hester was not to be quite so easily taken in; but she would not check her husband's communication by raising any objections. He went on.
“You must have seen, if you spent the notes as I desired, how acceptable they were at Haleham; how brisk they made the business there; how——”
“Just like tlie first issue of Cavendish's notes,” observed Hester.
“But there is this difference, my dear. Our notes are not those of a bank that will break. There will not be a crash——-”
“No; only a dead loss to the holders who present them at the Bank of England, or who find them out on going home from shopping or market. Only a stain upon commercial character,—a shock to commercial credit. Only a gain to us of whatever is lost by these holders or by the Bank of England. Only a robbery of them to enrich ourselves. I understand.”
“I am sure you do not, if you talk of my gains,” replied Edgar. “Why, my dear, the wealth of the Bank would not make up to me for the risk and trouble of passing notes. And when you see what we have been doing upstairs, you will be convinced that our expenses——”
“Very well,” said Hester, quietly; “I do not want convincing. Tell me what part I am to take. You may trust me for being very careful; for I am as well aware as you what is at stake. I do not know whether my being able to draw will be of any use to you.”
“I am not sure but it may,” replied Edgar. “Your best way of helping us, however, will be in doing our out-door work: in making our purchases; in——”
“In passing your notes, you mean. I am afraid,——I have so little presence of Mr. ind ——.” The sight of Edgar's grave looks reminded her to make no difficulties; and she went on. “However, I can plan what to say when they refuse a note; and when they make no difficulty, there is only the fear to go through: and that is not so bad as not being trusted. I can do anything, if I am trusted.”
“Had not you better go upstairs, and see what we have been doing ?” said Edgar. “And yet.—perhaps,—it may turn out a safer thing for you to be able to swear that you never saw our apparatus, or set foot on that floor, since——”
“I must know all now,” said Hester, rising: “and as for swearing,—when one is once in——”
“True, true,” replied her husband, astonished at her calmness, and beginning to think that he had mistaken his companion's capabilities all this while. “There are the keys. Go and look about you; and I will explain it all when you come down.”
“I suppose,” said Hester, returning from the door, “I suppose the gentleman who dined with you shares the office that I am to have. He does your out-door business too, does not he?”
“Who, Carter? What made you think so? He travels for a paper-maker.”
“Carter!” exclaimed Hester, reproachfully. “Edgar, you will gain nothing by such half-confidences as yours. You think because Cavendish now wears black whiskers, and because I sat behind him, that I should not know him. How blind you must think me !”
Edgar protested that he meant no deceit, but that he bad been so used of late to call Cavendish by his new name, as to forget that he had ever been known by any other. lie begged that Hester would be particularly careful to address him properly on all occasions, and also to spare his feelings by avoiding any allusion to Haleham and its inhabitants. Hester readily promised this, feeling that there would be little temptation to mention Rhoda and her lover, or any of their injured neighbours, in the presence of the swindler, whose sensibility had come somewhat too late to be of any advantage to them.
The rooms on the floor above were so altered that she could scarcely believe she was in the same house she had inhabited for years. The windows were blocked up, and each room lighted by a skylight, so built round, as she afterwards discovered, an to be nearly inaccessible from the roof; and when got at, so fenced with iron bars as to make entrance from above a work of considerable time and difficulty. There were new doors to both rooms, and another within a few feet of the head of the stairs; and all were of the same make with the strange door in the passage below;—thick oak doors, with abundance of bolts, and cross bars which slipped into holes in the solid walls. A new ladder, just long enough to reach the ceiling, stood in each room, which made Hester suppose that either the skylight could be opened from within, so as to afford a way of escape, or that there must be a concealed trap-door for the same purpose. The remaining furniture of the room would have told the most careless observer that no ordinary business was carried on there. There was a brick stove, built apparently to sustain a considerable heat: and there were rollers, such as are used in copper-plate printing. One of the keys on the bunch opened a closet wherein were iron frames, the size of bank-notes, with ivory numbers fixed in by a screw; copper-plates, with boards and cloths for taking: impressions, jars of printing ink, and the flannel jackets of those who were to use it. A recess which had formerly held lumber, had been emptied to make room for a store of coke. There was such completeness and such amplitude about the apparatus, that Hester was convinced a large gang must be implicated in her husband's proceedings. If it had not been for this, she would probably have turned fainthearted, and run away to Haleham after all:— faint-hearted, not on account of the danger, but of the guilt. But she felt something so imposing in the magnitude of these preparations for breaking the law, that, like too many people, she lost sight of much of the guilt in the feeling of extensive companionship. She had some dread of learning who the rest of the gang were; and did not at all like Cavendish being one of them, as she concluded he was.
Her husband made occasion to ask, the same evening, how she came to fancy that Carter had anything to do with his private affairs. He had told her that Carter travelled for a paper-making concern, and he now added that he lived in Yorkshire, and had merely taken a dinner in a friendly way while in town on one of his business journeys. This satisfied Hester, who did not remember at the moment what different kinds of paper are made; and that paper is one of the elements of a bank-note.
She was now uneasy until she should have discharged her mother's commission about the guineas. As a first step, she enquired of her husband whether Philip knew of all the proceedings that went on in his own house; and was told that he must be aware that there was something doing, about which it was better, for his own sake, not to ask, or to give any information; but that no confidence had been placed in him which could implicate him in any way. This determined Hester to trust him to value and exchange the guineas; and to delay speaking to him about it no longer than till her husband should be gone to business the next morning.
When Edgar had duly found fault with her for rising with red eyes, because it would prevent her going out to spend notes with the proper face of indifference; when he had looked to the fastenings of the new door above, and told her that nobody would be there till the white-washers had departed from below; when she had watched him along the street so as to be pretty sure that he would not return, she ventured down, and put her head in at the private door of the shop to see if Philip was alone. He was alone; and bending so intently over his work as to give his invariable start when spoken to.
“Are you too busy to let me speak with you?”
“Why, no: I cannot well say that I am; though many's the time I could have said so when you have come. But those were better days than we shall soon see again.”
“Is your business doing badly, like other people's? I thought you had got up a steady, flourishing business, that, depending on the wealthy, was not liable to be affected as inferior ones are.”
“There is no business that has not its bad times; and those of the goldsmiths are now coming; or rather, have come. It is not only that people have less money to spend on trinkets (which is true of the rich as well as others) but gold is so much dearer of late that the change of times tells both ways for those who deal in whatever is made of gold.”
“Aye, I see. If people could not now buy trinkets at your former prices, much less can they at a higher price.”
“And if the bank begins paying in cash,” resumed Philip, “I am afraid gold will be very scarce and dear for our handicraft purposes. One hears nothing now of buying and selling guineas. Do you know,” he continued, lowering his voice, “I have not had a single offer of coin to sell for months.”
“So much the better for one who wishes to deal with you in that way,” observed Hester.” If gold is scarce, you will give a good price for a batch of guineas.”
“That depends upon what commodity I pay in,” replied Philip. “If in goods, all very well: if in bank paper, you will remember that that is scarce too. Guineas are now worth only a trifle more than bank-notes; and since it is 0, I cannot but wonder that anybody has them to sell. Anybody that thought of doing so should have done it many months,—aye. full three years ago, to have made the best bargain.”
“My mother knows, that now. It is she that sends you this bag of coin,” said Hester, producing the treasure. “She must have notes for it, of course, and not goods, and I am sure. Philip, you will give her as much as you can afford, in consideration of her disappointment from having kept them too long.”
“That I will,” said Philip, “and more than I would give anybody else. It will be a good opportunity of giving her a present, which I was thinking of doing about this time. Which do you think she will like best,—to have as much as I suppose she expects for her guineas, or to have little above the same number of one pound notes, and a present of some pretty thing out of my stock?”
Hester rather thought her mother would prefer an exemption from disappointment to a testimony of remembrance from her son. All mothers would not have given cause to be thus judged; nor would all sons have received so mortifying an opinion with the indifference which Philip exhibited. The whole affair was to him a matter of business; the devising the present, the manner in which it should be bestowed, and finally, the way in which it would be accepted.
“Let me see,” said he, pondering his bargain. “What should I give to anybody else? Here is paper money now within 2 1/2 per cent, of gold: but likely to fall a bit, I fancy, before the Bank begins its cash payments, if it ever does such a thing.”
“And how low had paper fallen when guineas sold best.?” enquired Hester.
“Why, paper money is worth nearly 23 per cent, more now than it was in 1814. That was the year When my mother should have disposed of her hoard. Paper has risen so high, you see, that government thinks it a good time to fix its value by making Bank of England notes payable in cash. As far as the present value of paper is concerned, it may be a good time; but it is a bad time on other accounts.”
“Why? I should have thought it one of the best that could be chosen, There are no armies to be paid abroad. Think what a quantity of coin it must have taken to pay our soldiers on the continent during the war! Then there is, in the midst of all the distress that is complained of, some degree of that security and steadiness which follow upon a peace; and the gold that was hoarded is now brought out for use. All these circumstances seem likely to help the Bank to pay in specie. I should have thought this a particularly good time to begin again,”
“Aye; that is because you do not know. There has been a falling off from the mines lately; and this is just the time that several foreign states have chosen for calling in some of their paper currency. Gold would be getting dearer from these causes, even if we did not want “to buy more than usual of it. But wanting, as we do, thirty millions in gold, what can we expect but that it should be very dear !”
“Where are these thirty millions to come from?”
“Part from one place, and part from another. Here are some out of my mother's mattress, you see; and more will come from the mines, and the rest from various countries where we deal.”
“I could fancy thirty millions an immense sum to come from one place,—out of one market.” observed Hester: “but if it is to ba gathered together out of the whole world, I should think it would hardly be missed so as to raise the price of gold very much. It must be so little in comparison with the whole quantity that is in use !”
“I have heard that, supposing we look abroad for two-thirds of the metal wanted, (finding the other third at home,) we shall buy about one twenty-fifth part of what is in use. To be sure, this is not likely to raise the price very terribly; but there are people who say it will.”
“The same people, perhaps, who have always been very sure that the Bank never would pay in coin. These very persons are the most likely to be crying out, ten years hence, that the Bank had much better not have begun paying in coin.”
“O yes! They will go on complaining, as they do now, that the value of the currency has to be raised. But, for my part, I think that if we are ever to be made secure against the same troubles happening over again with the currency, it had best be when gold and paper have come within a little of the same value. I should not be afraid of fixing our paper when it comes within five percent, of gold, one way or the other; and, as I said, it is now within two and a half. Not that I would warrant our being safe yet, even if the Bank paid every note in gold to-morrow. There are people who think that more mischief will come yet.”
“Well; pray reckon my mother's money without taking any future mischief into the account.”
Philip nodded, and pursued his calculations. In due time, he made a declaration of the sum, in pounds, shillings, pence, and farthings, which he could afford for the gold. With a little stimulus from his sister, he came to a resolution to make it up such an even sum as might travel by post in the shape of a single bank-note; by which means Hester's mind would be eased of her commission, and Mrs. Parndon's relieved from suspense without delay.
“You are going out, I suppose,” said Philip. “You can get the note in ten minutes, if you like. I am always willing to pay ready money for what I buy, I am thankful to say.”
Hester would be obliged to him to procure the note, as she could not go out this morning. Meanwhile, she would just sit down at his desk, and write a few lines to her mother.
She did so, while Philip put on his hat and stepped to the Bank. She folded the note into the letter herself, sealed it, and committed it to the careful Philip to be carried to the post when his own letters should go. This done, she went slowly up to her parlour, drew her drawing-table listlessly into its accustomed light, and spent the rest of the morning in covering a sheet of paper with strokes which to any eye but her own would have meant nothing; but which, falling in her way more than a year afterwards., caused a cold shudder to run through her, by recalling tlie thoughts that were in her mind while her pencil was thus idly busy.
“My letter is gone, Philip, I suppose?” she enquired at dinner.
“Yes; and mother is saved the postage. I met Edgar just in time. He knew of somebody going through Haleham to-morrow.”
“You should always ask me,” observed Edgar, “when you have double letters to send. I generally know of somebody going to pass within a reasonable distance of any place you have to write to. I met Horace Berkeley; and he enquired if we had any commands, he intending to go down to-morrow. And if he had not, there is Williamson's traveller, setting off for D—— to-night. You should always give a double letter into my charge.”
Hester was not so grateful for such consideration as she would have been a few weeks before. She was vexed and alarmed at her letter having been thus intercepted; but two days set her at ease on this point, by bringing Mrs. Parndon's thankful acknowledgments of the receipt of the sum sent, and an answer, point by point, to what her daughter's letter contained. It had certainly arrived safe; and Hester reproached herself for suspecting her husband of more villainy than that of winch she had proof, and which he defended as being pursued on principle.
THE WIFE'S OBEDIENCE.
Irksome, beyond all powers of description, was Hester's life from this day forward. It would have been perfectly intolerable but for one circumstance; viz., that not only she loved him for whom she went through daily acts of guilt, and hourly emotions of terror, but that she hoped that he loved her. Watchful and suspicious as she had been made, it appeared to her that Edgar was really touched by the toils and sufferings she underwent for his sake; that with his confidence his affection revived, and that it was really once more a pleasure to him to meet her, and a pain to part from her. This consequence of her participation in his deeds, whether real or imaginary, was little enough of a compensation for the miseries they caused her; but it just sufficed to prevent her sinking,—to sustain her, as she said to herself, till, by some means or other, there should be an end of the long, weary fever fit of her present way of life. The constant presence of one thought, be it what it may, is enough to make a hell of the mind which it haunts. No artificial torture,—not even the perpetual water-drop,—can cause an equal amount of misery;— of misery which there are few to describe, as most who have felt it in an extraordinary degree are soon numbered in the class of those who can no more give an account of any thing. But many have felt something of this misery; something of the tension of brain which irresistibly impresses the idea of suicide; something of the irritability of nerve which drives the sufferer through air and water, into alternate crowds and solitude, in the vain hope of relief; something of the visions of waking darkness, prolonged from the fancies of the day, and instantly renewed with exaggeration, if sleep comes in ‘answer to the victim's prayer. Probably none have so little horror of madness as those who have been brought acquainted with the misery of a besetting thought: for they are probably the only persons who have prayed for madness,—prayed for it, as the easiest transition from their own, without its suffering. whether the apparent unconsciousness of madness is in fact exemption from this suffering, there are no means of knowing; since those who have experienced both states are for ever disqualified for making a comparison of them; but, judging from observation, there are few kinds of the moodiest madness which can compare in anguish with the state of one who is engrossed by a single thought, harassed by a single protracted emotion. The punishment of Sisyphus could be little to it; unless indeed he was condemned to think of nothing but of his stone. He had action to relieve his thought; and varied action, since he had to follow his stone down hill, as well as to push it up. If any part of his punishment reached the acme of suffering, it must have been the unin-termitting idea of the toilsome uselessness of his employment. If he was permitted a respite from this consciousness, his torment must have been less severe than that of the wife of a forger who is condemned to pass a certain number of bad notes every day. The very undertaking implies such a degree of attachment as must keep alive the most harassing fear; and what a responsibility to be connected with such a fear ! It was almost too much for Hester. If any idea but that of forged notes did find its way into her mind, it was of madness. She told her husband every day that she was becoming stupid, that she was growing nervous, that she was losing her memory, that she could not trust her understanding. She warned him that she became slower and slower in reckoning bills and counting change, and that she should soon be unfit to go to shops at all. She dreamed every night that Edgar was arrested through some mistake of hers, and had some alarming story for him every evening, in which he saw or pretended to see nothing at all.
More of Edgar's security was pretended than Hester was aware of. He saw that her state was such as to render it necessary that every thing should go smoothly at home if she was to do any good service abroad. She muttered in her sleep about arrest; she turned pale at every footstep overhead; and if such a sound occurred at dinner-time, did the worst tiling of all,—stole a glance at Philip, to see if he observed it. She even started at the sight of any crumpled piece of thin paper that might be lying about. The symptom which he least liked, however, was the daily growing reluctance to set about what was now her chief daily business. He was anxious that she should go out early to make her purchases, that she might come home and” be at peace “(as he called it) for the rest of the day: but she put off her excursions, sometimes till the afternoon, sometimes till the evening, while she suffered as much during the intervening hours as if her notes were being at that moment handled and glanced at by a shopman. At last, he had recourse to the plan of settling for her at breakfast time where she should go, and how far he could walk with her; and this bribe was more effectual than any entreaty whatever.
Hester would sit waiting breakfast, appearing to read the newspaper, but really watching for the opening of the door, and speculating on what kind of mood her husband's might be expected to be, he having been up and hard at work all night at his detestable employment. On these occasions, however, he made his appearance more fresh and smart even than usual, to avoid suspicion. Having given his wife a lively good morning, and looked up at the sky through his glass, and compared his handsome watch with the no less expensive one he had bought for Hester, he would, with an air of nonchalance, present her with the disgusting roll of notes, which she hastened to put out of sight. Edgar would then sit down to his well-furnished breakfast-table, as if he had the best title in the world to its luxuries, while his wife felt them all to be incumbrances, and was driving away the thought of where she should stow all the further ornaments with which she must go on to fill the house.
“Well, my love,” said Edgar, “what is your district to-day?”
“What a very bright morning it is !” was the reply. “This is just the light for finishing my drawing. If I do not go out till the afternoon, I can carry it home; and it is promised this week.”
“To-morrow will do for that, my dear; and I have to go into Gracechurch-street after breakfast, and you may as well make that your destination for to-day.”
“I have been there so very much lately.”
“Have you? Then it is better avoided. What say you to Cheapside?”
“I have twice had a note refused in that neighbourhood, and I never dare go there again.”
“You are right. It is surely a long time since you went to the Soho Bazaar.”
Hester gasped as she replied that that place was so close, there was no room to breathe,— scarcely any possibility of getting away quickly.
“This is a very fine day for the Park. You would enjoy a turn there after shopping in Ree gent-street.”
“What else can I buy?” asked Hester, listlessly looking round her. “I have no more room for furniture, and I am tired of getting new things for myself.”
“Besides, my dear, you could not wear them. It would not do to make any sudden difference in your appearance out of doors. Indoors it does not signify, as there is nobody to observe you but our own people. Indoors I can have the pleasure of seeing my pretty Hester look as she should do,—graceful and polished as the highest ladies of the land.”
“I wonder it gives you pleasure to see me dressed,” Hester was going to say; but Edgar proceeded with an explanation that one of her difficulties would soon be removed. She might very goon enlarge the range of her purchases, as Carter had been long enough a traveller for the paper-manufactory in Yorkshire, and was about to open a warehouse near, where Edgar and his friends might deposit and dispose of any purchased articles they might not want for themselves. Hester was glad to hear this. She would send thither immediately the portfolios of prints, which she had no pleasure in looking at, —the rows of handsomely bound books which she could not bring herself to open.
Well, was she ready? her husband wanted to know. He must go, and would set her on her way westwards, if she would put on her bonnet. She did so,—the same bonnet she had worn for some time, that there might be nothing for the neighbours to remark upon. While on their way, Hester observed that she did hope the shops would not be empty to-day. She lost all her presence of mind when she was the only customer, and there were shop-people standing about to watch her.
“You are always fancying that people are watching you,” said Edgar. “They are thinking of no such thing, depend upon it. You have only to take care that you do not put it into their heads. You should do as I do——What has that impudent fellow been following us for, these five minutes? Did you happen to see where he came from?”
“No,” whispered the trembling Hester, “but take no notice.” And she walked on with an appearance of more self-command than her husband expected of her. He grew more and more fidgety every moment, and presently crossed the street, his apprehended follower trudging on as before, and evidently bestowing no thought on those at whose heels he had accidentally been walking for a minute or two.
“He is not thinking of us,” observed Edgar. “That is well.”
An idea crossed Hester, which brightened her face surprisingly. “I have just remembered,” said she, “I really want something You say you like rosewood door-handles for the drawing-room better than brass, and it is time we were having the one or the other, and here are some of rosewood in this window. We can get rid of a note here. Come in and help me to choose a pair.”
Edgar was, however, in a prodigious hurry. He was off in a moment. His wife looked after him from the threshold with an unutterable pang. There was no contempt in it. She struggled yet against the belief of his total selfishness. She trusted, she expected to hear at dinner that he really could not spare any more time to her this morning. The next thought was that it really did not signify, as her business in the shop went off easily enough. She had never seen a note more ignorantly handled, more carelessly thrust into the till.
The same impunity attended her everywhere this day. She could have stood firmly by the counters if the seats had all been occupied, and she was not obliged to clasp her hands together in her lap lest their trembling should be observed. In only one instance did any particular attention seem to be paid to a note. One shopman handed it to another, who hastily pronounced by a knowing nod that it was very good; so that Hester received abundance of thanks with her change, and was bowed out of the shop like any one of the enviable purchasers who left it innocent.
It was no new idea to Hester to wish that she might meet with some accident,—something that would prevent her going out for several days, or weeks, or—for ever. She had often asked whether she might not give assistance upstairs, instead of passing notes: but Edgar always put her off with speeches about staining her pretty fingers with printing ink, or hurting them with the rollers: and sometimes he gave hints that there were people at work there with whom it would be no pleasure to her to associate. She was too honest to think of making herself ill for the sake of evading her task; but she could not be sorry this day when a sudden rain came on while she was in the Park, and wetted her to the skin. She had great hopes of catching a severe cold, and was certainly guilty of not doing her utmost to prevent it, either by keeping herself in exercise during the rain, or using proper precautions when she reached home.
When her husband recurred to their morning's conversation, reminding her that her task would become comparatively easy during the great London season, when the shops would be crowded with customers; when the dreary thought arose how many weeks and months must pass before even this alleviation could be hoped for, it was a pleasure to feel so ill that one week at least would be subtracted from the long series,— seven mornings when she would not have to stimulate her courage up to the point of enterprise, seven nights when she might close her eyes without dreading the waking.
Edgar was vexed almost beyond his patience when he found his wife really ill the next morning. He tried at first to persuade her that air would do her good, and that the amusement of shopping was far better than moping at home. When this would not do, the next thing was to desire her to have the attendance of a physician immediately, as expense was no object, and her health was of inexpressible importance to him. Hester begged to decline the physician, not choosing to fee him with bad notes, and loathing the idea of following up her occupation within her own doors, during her escape from its exercise without. She trembled too at the idea of admitting any stranger into the house. Her husband thought it would be an advantage, provided every thing; suspicious was kept out of sight. The matter was compromised by the apothecary being sent for,—a simple young man who was much affected by Mr. Morrison's extreme anxiety for his wife's recovery, and thereby induced to order her out of doors full three days sooner than he would have done in an ordinary case.
“A lovely day, as you say,” observed Edgar. “Mild and sunny, and just fit for an invalid. Would not you recommend Mrs. Morrison to recreate a little in the open air? Consider how long it is she saw any faces but ours.”
“I do not want to see any new faces,” said Hester. “I cannot bear them yet. All I want is to be alone.”
“Aye, aye; a little of the ennui and melancholy of illness, you see, Mr. Cotton.”
Mr. Cotton agreed that a little gentle change would be salutary to the nerves, though, as a distressing languor of the frame, and slight frequency of the pulse remained, it would be well not to urge exertion too far.
“I am sure” said Hester, “that if I went out to-day, I should fall before I could get back from the end of the street.”
“But you could not fall if you had a strong arm to hold you up; and I do not mean that you should go alone; of course I would go with you, or Philip.”
Hester gave him a look which reminded him of her determination not to implicate her brother in any of her shopping expeditions.
“I am going to have a friend to dine with me,” observed Edgar, to Mr. Cotton;” and it would be just the thing for her to saunter to the fruiterer's in the next street, and send in a little dessert, refreshing herself with a bunch of grapes there, you know. I should see a little bloom on her cheeks again when she came home, and then I should begin to think she was going to be herself again. Upon my soul, I don't know how to bear my life while she is shut up in this way.”
“I am glad of it,” thought Hester; “for now you know something of what my life is when I am not shut up. I suppose you have had enough of shopping.”
The apothecary was delighted with the little plan suggested by conjugal solicitude. He immediately prescribed a bunch of grapes, to be eaten at the fruiterer's, and Hester dared not refuse acquiescence. As she expected, her husband went no farther than the door with her; and the boy was presently in waiting to take care of her home.
Just before dinner, Edgar entered, and sat down by his wife, to explain to her, with a smile, that though he had spoken of a friend coming to dinner, there were really two, and that one of them was to be her visiter. Could she guess who it was? Poor Hester named one Haleham friend after another, till her vexed husband stopped her with the news that it was nobody whom she had yet visited, he believed, but one whom she would think it an honour to entertain. There was no occasion in the world for ceremony, however; and this was the reason why he had not told her till now——”
“Well, but who is it?” asked Hester, impatiently.
“Bless me! Hester, how pettish you have grown since you have been ill. One won't be able to speak to you soon. It is Mrs. Cavendish that is coming; but you know you must call her Mrs. Carter. I am glad I have found a friend for you at last, my love. It has been quite an uneasiness to me that you have been moped as you have been of late,—that you have depended so entirely on me——”
“Yes, Edgar, I have depended entirely on you.”
“There now, do not grow so nervous the moment one mentions a thing! Never mind about dressing, or about entertaining these people. They know you have been ill, and Mrs. Carter comes to entertain you.”
Mrs. Carter came accordingly, with an air of condescending kindness, praised everything she saw, vowed the house and furniture delightful, and protested that the little party at dinner was just the friendly, intellectual sort of thing she enjoyed above all things, when she could in conscience bring herself to desert her little tribe. She hoped Hester liked London; though she could not be expected to do so to an equal degree with anxious mothers who felt what a deprivation it was to their dear little creatures to be shut up in the narrow circle of a country-town. For her part, she and Mr. Carter often said what a happiness it was,—(though it was a trial at the time,) that they were obliged to leave Haleham when they did. If the Carter estate had happened to fail in to them then, it would (although certainly saving them from some painful circumstances) have been au injury to the children, by keeping them out of the way of the advantages which London alone can afford,
“How long had Mr. Cavendish changed his name?” Hester asked.
“O, my dear, these three years. His dear, pood, old great-uncle had lasted wonderfully; but he died at length just three years ago; after all, just in time to make us more comfortable than I assure yon we were after the misfortunes that were brought upon us by the stoppage of that unfortunate D—— bank. Aye, you wonder, I dare say, at our coming to live in such a neighbourhood as this, after all, but—-—”
“I know,” said Hester, “Mr. Carter is about to open a warehouse.”
“Your lord and master is as communicative and confidential as mine, I see,”' observed Mrs. Cavendish. “Well, I think we are well off in our husbands, as I tell my dear little tribe about mine on all occasions. And you should have seen how fond they grew of Mr. Morrison, the first day he came among them, and smiled upon them all, so sweetly ! I assure you they have asked many times since when he would come again. And you must come too. I promised my little folks that you would. When your poor dear head is better, you must come and spend a long day with me. It is the nicest thing in the world, our living so near, our husbands being connected as they are. If any little panic rises at any time, here we are to comfort one another. And I assure you I am dreadfully nervous, ever since that unfortunate affair at Haleham. Do you know, I absolutely forget about my husband having let his whiskers grow; and I have screamed three times this week when he has come in between light and dark, taking him for some stranger. I have a horror of strangers now; ever since——”
She could not help perceiving Hester's countenance of misery while she was saying this; so she interrupted herself.
“There now ! I have been barbarous enough to make your head ache with my nonsense. Now positively I will hold my tongue; but it is such a luxury to get an hour with an intimate friend, away from my little tribe !”
Edgar disappeared with his guests, at the end of an evening which Hester thought never would come to a close. On his return, some hours after, he found her, not asleep, nor even in bed, but leaning over the arm of the sofa, from which hung the locket farmer Williams had given her on the day preceding her marriage,—and weeping bitterly. She tried to speak first, but could not for sobs.
“Why, my poor little woman,” said Edgar, after a glance round which quieted his fear that intruders had been there—“my poor little woman ! we have quite tired you out to-day; but you should have gone to bed; you should——”
“I could not go,” said Hester. “I would not till I had spoken to you, Edgar. I have something that I must say to you.”
“Well, well, love; in the morning. It is very late now; and, look ye, the last candle is just burnt out. What could make you wait for me, child, when you know the people overhead were on the watch to let me in? I must make haste and help them. It is a busy night.”
“O, no, no. You must stay and hear me,” cried Hester, struggling for speech. “I must say it now. Indeed I must.”
“Aye; you are going to say what a much better husband that son of Williams's would have made. I know what that locket means, very well. If he had been alive, I should tell you that you ought to have known your own mind when you married me. Since he's dead, there is no more to be said, except that I do wish you would chirp up a little, and not let everybody see that there is something the matter. Do you know, I will not answer for the consequences?”
“Nor I, I am sure,” murmured Hester. “I had better go, Edgar; and that is what I was going to say. I have been joining in your plots all this time for your sake. I could not have borne it so long for anybody else. I could go on still, I think, it' it was with you alone; but I never promised to have anything to do with— with—-—”
“With Mrs. Cavendish, from whom you thought it an honour to have a nod at Haleham?”
“She was a respectable person then; or, at least, I supposed she was. And now she comes pretending to be so intimate, and talking about the whole connexion, as if she took for granted that I saw no more harm in it than she does. Edgar, this is too much.”
“She is too wise a woman to suit you, you little goose. She sees clearly what I thought I made you understand ages ago;—that we are doing the greatest service to the country by sending out money when it is so much wanted. How often have I told you this, I wonder ?”
Very often indeed, Hester allowed: but she did not yet look convinced.
“Well, what is it you wish to do?” inquired Edgar. “Would you have me go and tell Mrs. Carter that you decline the honour of her acquaintance?”
“I had rather you would let me go home.”
“And tell farmer Williams all about the arrangements of our second floor, the first time he takes you on his knee, and whispers to you about the locket. No, madam, it is rather too late for that.”
“I wish you would not call me ‘madam.’ I cannot bear it. I am sure I have done all you bade me for a long time, and never——and never——”
“Very true, my little wife. It is too bad to treat you like other wives, when you behave so differently from many that I see. I want you too much, and value you too much by far to part with you; and since you do not like Mrs. Carter, I am sorry that I brought her; but I thought it would be a pleasant surprise to you, that was all. Now, give me a kiss, and don't be angry with yourself for being weak-spirited after your illness, and you will sleep it all off, depend upon it.”
Hester felt that there was but one sleep that would cure her sorrows; but she did not say exactly this. She threw her arm round Edgar's neck, wailing forth rather than speaking her complaint, that she could not go on with her detestable employment of passing notes. She begged, she implored that this dreadful responsibility might be taken from her, or she would not answer for what she might do. She might throw herself into the river, some day; or go in a fit of desperation to the police, to give information.
Edgar coolly dared her to do the one or the other; and then, protesting that he loved her very much, and wished to be a kind husband, gave her notice that the continuance of his ten derness and confidence depended wholly on her doing her duty, as he laid it down for her. Hester was weak,—as she had been a thousand times before. She now deprecated as the crowning evil of all, the withdrawal of her husband's confidence. She promised every thing, under the influence of this threat; allowed herself to be carried to her room; watched for the kiss which she now dreaded would not be given; returned it eagerly; and, as she let her throbbing head sink helplessly on her pillow, found something like comfort in remembering that all must come to an end some time or other.
The purpose of Horace's visit to Haleham was to give his father the comfort of his assistance and sympathy respecting his affairs;—assistance and sympathy which were as much wanted now as they had ever been, from the peculiar condition of the monetary system of the country. There seemed to be no possibility of winding up the affairs,—no end to the hopes that this, and that, and the other incumbrance would be got rid of; and no fulfilment of the hope. The debts went on increasing in actual amount, in proportion to the pains taken to provide funds to pay them; and the recovery of these funds became, of course, more difficult, as those who owed them suffered under the same disadvantages as the partners of the D—— bank. Day after day, week after week, Mr. Berkeley came home to tell his wife that, after all he had paid, he was, in fact, as deep in debt as ever; while the calls upon the little income allowed him by his creditors were increasing perpetually. His rent, though nominally the same as three years before, was worth full one-third more to his landlord; and, as for taxes, they were exorbitant. There seemed great danger that Mr. Berkeley, loyal as he had always been, would soon be looked upon as a dangerous person in politics by the country gentlemen round, so vehement were his complaints of the excessive taxation of which the government was enjoying the fruits, now that there was no war to be maintained, and every reason for a reduction of the public burdens, from the difficulties which the agricultural and manufacturing classes were encountering in consequence of the sudden contraction of the currency. Mrs. Berkeley was not at all sorry to see his energy directed into the channel of politics. It was better than dwelling perpetually on his private troubles, and she took particular care to show no signs of weariness when Lewis was instructed every evening on the iniquity of double taxation without acknowledgment, or when Henry Craig came to talk about household preparations, and was held by the button for an hour at a time, while the case of tax-paying labourers was discussed. It pleased her to see her husband's look of satisfaction when Lewis asked sensible questions, or showed the expected degree of astonishment, or confidently pronounced the king's ministers to be good-for-nothing chaps; or when Mr. Craig had a case in point to relate which would do to travel round the neighbourhood, growing in pathos and wonder at each delivery. She did not even shrink from the prospect of hearing the whole list repeated to Horace when he should come, so much happier did her husband seem when he had something to rail about, ready made for use, instead of having to invent public grievances, or to brood over private ones. If she could have foreseen all that would arise to be talked about during Horace's visit, she would have feared that there would be too much instead of too little excitement for her husband's comfort,
Horace had not been many hours under his father's roof when Henry Craig came up to see him. This was, in itself, the most natural thing in the world, as they had now long been friends, and were soon to be brothers; but Henry was peculiarly grave; and this was not exactly the occasion on which to appear so. He soon told the reason. He had received a letter from London, inquiring into the moral character of his parish, and requesting to know whether it was at all probable that any family in Haleham was connected with a company of forgers; and if not, whether he could account for a considerable number of forged notes having been traced back to Haleham persons.
Horace knew something about this. He had more than once, as a Haleham man, had the circumstance mentioned to him in the Clearinghouse, where a very sharp scrutiny was exercised into all small notes, from the present extraordinary prevalence of forgery.
“Well, Craig; what do you think?” exclaimed Mr. Berkeley.
“I do not know what to think, sir, in the face of such facts as my letter gives. We have either guilty or deluded people among us, that is very certain; and who they are, and whether deluded or guilty, it must be my business to find out. I hope Horace will help me.”
“O, I will help you; and you must trust me to do your business thoroughly. I had some experience in this sort of thing when I was a young man. I got together a mass of evidence about a forgery case,—the completest you ever knew; and, though it was no use after all, as far as the offender was concerned, it was a fine piece of experience for me. If such a thing had to be done over again, you could not do better than put it into my hands.”
“How did your labours fail before? What made them useless ?”
“The banker was a shabby fellow, and let the rogue go. He did worse than that. He recommended him to a firm in New York; actually shipped him off with a purse of money in his pocket, and a letter of recommendation in his hand, in which not a hint was given of his delinquency, but his character was set forth in such a light as to induce the New York people to take him.”
“Is it possible? And was this to escape the odium and expense of a prosecution?”
“The ostensible reason was that the young man was penitent. And so he might have been for aught I know; but his master knows best how he found that out; for there were but three days to be penitent in. He was shut up with a Bible, after the proofs of his guilt had been shown to him in such a state of completeness as to induce him to confess: and from that solitary room he was taken on board ship at the end of three days; so, penitent or not penitent, his master was perfectly inexcusable in getting rid of him as he did. He turned out very respectably, I have heard, which is an argument against hanging in such a case; but which does not alter the character of his master's conduct. So do not you be wrought upon, Henry, to follow the same method. Even if you find the guilty person under the same roof with yourself, play fairly by the laws and the public safety.”
Henry sighed, and observed that it was a difficult and painful matter to be concerned in, disapproving as he did of the wholesale sacrifice of human life made by the law for that species of crime, and yet being fully aware of the guilt and folly of connivance. It was fearful to think of the yearly amount of executions for forgery; —for a crime whose nature was so little understood that the forgers themselves were undoubtedly in some cases convinced that they were rendering a public service in multiplying money, and that strong sympathy for such offenders was excited in the majority of those who witnessed their punishment.
“I know no place more likely than Haleham to share such a delusion,” observed Mr. Berkeley. “Every person in it has been talking for these three years of the want of more money; so that it would not be very surprising if somebody should at last have made bold to manufacture a little.”
“It will be more surprising, some people say,” observed Horace, “if such a manufacture does not go on at an increasing rate, as long as II. notes are permitted to circulate. I do not know how it is with you in the country, but in London we are now accustomed to hear half the evils of our present commercial state ascribed to the circulation of small notes. If a country bank fails, it is owing to the facility with which issues are made through the channel of a small-note currency. If a case of forgery is mentioned, it would not have taken place if there had been no small notes. Some even go so far as to regard the late fall of prices as an unmixed good, and to anticipate a further fall as one of the benefits to result from the prohibition of small notes.”
“How do they account for the failure of country banks previous to 1792, when there were no notes under 5” asked Mr. Berkeley. “And why should not the forgery of 1I. notes be made so difficult as to be no longer worth while? And how is it that your wise speculators do not see the difference between the cheapness which arises from plenty, and that which is caused by a scarcity of the circulating medium? I thought the days were past when any one supposed this kind of cheapness to be a good thing.”
“It seems a pity,” observed Mr. Craig, “to deprive the people of so convenient a kind of currency, if its dangers can be avoided without its abolition. The tremendous increase of forgery is a terrible evil, to be sure; but it is inconceivable that, while the art of engraving is improving every day, a better form might not easily be invented. The very largest of the country banks have suffered little by the forgery of their small notes, because more pains are taken with the engraving; and as it is more hazardous to imitate those of the Bank of England, it seems pretty clear that the practice would cease if the difficulty were brought into a better proportion with the temptation. Will this be done, Horace? or will the small notes be abolished?”
“I rather think they will soon be abolished; and I am very sure that such a measure will not give the expected stability to our country currency, without further precautions. As my father says, there were no notes under bl. in 1792, and yet full one-third of the country banks then in existence failed. Country bankers should be compelled to give security for their issues. There is no other way of keeping the provincial currency in a healthy condition.”
“And then,” observed Mr. Craig, “it would be as easy to give security for It. as for 1l. notes: and I own I dread the inconvenience to the working classes of withdrawing this part of the currency, let cash payments be resumed as quietly and easily as they may. I suppose there is illegible no doubt of this resumption.”
“It will certainly take place within the year, notwithstanding abundance of prophecies that it will not, and wishes that it may not. I am not among the evil-boders, though I see what scope for complaint the measure will afford to those who are determined to complain. I see that it will add in some degree to the burdens of the labouring classes, and that, for years to come, it will be cried out upon as having increased the amount of taxation, discouraged productive industry, and thus materially injured our public interests: but as these evils are already existing from other causes, and can be only slightly in creased by the return to cash payments, I thin this the most favourable opportunity for gelling back to a convertible currency. It prices were now high, and must be immediately lowered by this measure; if a superabundant currency must be instantly checked; if paper at a depreciation of thirty per cent, were to be suddenly brought to a par with gold, I should lift up my voice as loud as any one against a return to cash payments as the most unjust and the most disastrous measure that was ever meditated; but we all know——”
“We all know,” interrupted Mr. Berkeley, “that prices have long fallen, that the currency is already contracted, and that paper is only three per cent, cheaper than gold, and that these things would have happened if there had been no more talk of cash payments. No wonder corn is cheaper, when we get so much more from abroad since the war ended, and Ireland also has improved in productiveness. No wonder wool is cheaper, when Germany and New Holland have sent us so much more, and of so much better quality than formerly. No wonder our colonial products are cheaper under the change of system by which we are more abundantly supplied. Those who hold themselves in readiness to ascribe the fall of prices to a deficiency in the supply of bullion, and to argue thence against a return to a convertible currency at this time, should look about them and see how great a fail will exist at all events, and how much it will hereafter be fair to attribute to the new Bill.”
Horace observed on the difficulty of satisfying a public which bad suffered by alterations in the currency. Many of those who were now protesting against the resumption of cash payments were the very same who were clamouring to have the one-pound notes withdrawn, in order to make our provincial circulation more safe, and forgery less common. These were opposed by some who thought the establishment of branch banks would answer the first purpose, and by others who believed that competition would drive out forgery. Never were so many plans afloat for the rectification of the whole business of the currency; and each plan was thought to involve a remedy for all the evils which had taken place under former systems. The first thing necessary seemed to Horace to be the putting an end to an irresponsible system; the next, the taking care that this action on the currency should be the final one. It might afterwards be ascertained whether the Bank of England should retain any or all of its exclusive privileges, or whether the business of issuing notes should be left free and open to competition, under the natural checks of public and private interest, or any further responsibility to which, by general agreement, the issues should be subjected. It might be left to a period nearer the expiration of the Bank Charter to canvass the advantages of the Scotch banking system as applied to England, and whether the issues should be made from a great national bank, or from many joint-stock banks, or by a chartered company. There were still nearly fifteen years in which to consider these questions; and during which, further fluctuations might possibly arise to indicate new truths on this most important subject. The great present object was to get into a condition for making progress towards a perfect monetary system; and the first great step was, as he believed, to bring the Bank of England into a state of responsibility once more,
“I wish,” observed Mrs. Berkeley, “that it was made a part of the responsibility of the Bank of England, that it should not tempt the people to forgery. To be sure, its privileges themselves constitute the greater part of the temptation, as there must always be the strongest inducement to forge notes which have the widest circulation; but I do wish that to these privileges was appended a condition that its notes should be more difficult of imitation.”
Horace thought that such precautions were better left to the interest of the parties concerned. The degrees of complication which should be put into the engravings of notes were not subjects for legislation.
“But it is so painful,” observed Mrs. Berkeley, “not only to be afraid of the money that passes through one's hands, but to be made suspicious of one's neighbours, or to be confounded with the dwellers in a suspicious neighbourhood. I do not in the least believe that anybody whom we know in Haleham has been intentionally implicated with forgers; but it is very painful to have such an idea put into one's mind.”
“Are you aware,” asked Horace of Mr. Craig, “whether any strangers have come to live in Haleham, of late, either openly or covertly?”
Mr. Craig had heard of none. The letter he had received had charged the regular shopkeepers with having held bad notes, and he had a great mind to go to such as had been mentioned to him, and ask where they got such notes.
“Aye, do, without loss of time,” said Mr. Berkeley, “and I will go with you. Trust me for sharpening their memories, if they happen to be at a loss. I have a sad memory myself, as my wife will tell you; but I have a method of making the most of other people's.”
Mr. Craig at first felt that he would rather have been without his bustling companion; but it was presently proved that Mr. Berkeley was peculiarly apt at the business of collecting evidence. He was so ready with suggestions, saw so far by means of slight indications, and adapted himself so well to the peculiar humours of the persons he talked with, that he enabled them to remember and comprehend twice as much as they would have done without his help. The linen-draper, who had not till now been aware tliat he had had a bad note in his hands, was so stupified at learning that one had been traced back to him, that he could not for some time remember from whom he had taken notes within a month, though notes were seldom seen now on his counter. It was Mr. Berkeley who, by happy conjectures, and by frequent returns to one or two fixed points of proof, led him to remember under what circumstances he gave change, in return for what purchase he gave it, when he gave it, and, finally, to whom he gave it. The shoemaker looked back to his books, and by the assistance of Mr. Berkeley's suggestions about dates, brought home the fact to the same, person of having paid him in a forged note. The butcher was too confused in the head to be sure of anything; but his stirring, clever wife of her own accord mentioned the same person as having taken change from him that very day.
“There is one other testimony,” observed Mr. Craig, “which would end all doubt as to whence the bad notes have come. If Mr. Pye knows that Mrs. Parndon has been paying such away we need inquire no further.” L 2
“Will he own it, if he does know it?”
“Certainly. He is both too simple and too upright to conceal what it is important should be known, though no man is more discreet in a matter of confidence.”
“Of which kind you do not consider these transactions to be?”
“I assuredly conceive Mrs. Parndon to be as much of a dupe as her shoemaker and butcher. You cannot suppose her guilty of fraud?”
“Nay; I do not know. If she hoarded gold, as I have reason to believe she did, she might——”
“Impossible, my dear Sir. Mrs. Parndon is a selfish and thrifty, but not a fraudulent, person; to say nothing of her having far too little courage to involve herself with sharpers. Shall we hear what Mr. Pye has to say?”
Mr. Pye leaned across his desk, with his hand behind his ear (for he had got thus far in acknowledging his deafness), to listen to the inquiry whether there was much bad money afloat at this time. He had been told that a good deal had been passed in Haleham, though none had come in his way but one note, which had been changed, long ago, by the person who innocently tendered it. He had not the least objection to tell who this person was? O no, not the least, since that note was not one of the present batch of bad ones, and in fact came from London. It was brought down by Mrs. Edgar Morrison; and he wished it was as easy to account for the appearance of the rest.
When Enoch saw the gentlemen look at one another, and heard from them that all the bad money was in course of being traced back to Mrs. Parndon, he stood aghast. He was not so blind as not to see that the probabilities of the case involved either Philip or Edgar, or both; and was chiefly anxious that the women of the family should be exempt from all suspicion of connivance. To his great discomfiture, he was requested by Mr. Craig to undertake the task of ascertaining from Mrs. Parndon from whence she drew her supplies of Money, and whether she had any of the same batch remaining. He would not consent to hold a conversation of this nature without a witness, and wished that Mr. Craig alone should attend him, as the very sight of so unusual a visitor as Mr. Berkeley might impede the disclosure which he now saw to be necessary to the vindication of his old friend's character for honesty. Mr. Berkeley therefore gave up with some unwillingness his intended visit to the widow, and staid behind to write to London a report of proceedings thus far, and to collect whatever additional evidence the town would afford.
“Well, gentlemen,” exclaimed Mrs. Parndon, as she rose up from weeding her flower-bed at the approach of her visitors, “I am always so glad when I see you two together. To see one's oldest friend and the clergyman keeping company tells well for both; which I am sure Mr. Craig will excuse my saying, since there is such a difference of years between himself and Mr. Pye.
But you will walk in and rest yourselves. O yes, I must not be denied. I saw each of you in the street yesterday, and thought you were coming; and, as I was disappointed of your coming near me then, I cannot let you go now without a word.”
She did not perceive that they had no thought of departing without a word; and she continued to multiply her inducements to come in as her friends looked more and more grave in contrast with her cheerfulness. She had no new designs of Hester's to show; for poor Hester had not been very strong of late, and had found drawing make her head ache; but there was a message for Mr. Pye in her last letter, and some inquiries about Miss Melea, which Mr. Craig might like to hear. They would think that she never had anything to offer to her visitors but her daughter's letters, but they knew a mother's heart, and——”
“But do you never hear from your sons?” asked Mr. Craig. “Does your daughter write her husband's and brother's news as well as her own?“
“They write, I dare say,” said Mr. Pye, “when times of business come round. On quarter-days, or once in the half-year, perhaps, when remittances have to be sent, Hester gives up the pen to one or other of your sons.”
“Not exactly so,” replied the widow; “for they have nothing to do with the sending of my pension. That comes from quite another quarter; but on birth-days and Christmas-days——Bless me, Mr. Pye, what can I have said that delights you so? You look as if you were going to dance for joy.”
“So neither Edgar nor Philip sends you money ! You have taken a load off my mind, I can tell you. But I was not going to deceive you, I assure you; I was going to tell you what we came for, as soon as I could get courage. But it is all right if you get your remittances from quite another quarter, as you say. Now you have only to tell us what that quarter is, and you are quite safe; for nobody suspected you. Of course, nobody could suspect you.”
Mrs. Parndon looked from one face to the other, as she sat opposite to them, unable to make out anything from this explanation of Enoch's rapture. Mr. Craig said, cheerfully,
“So far from wishing to do you any hurt, we come to put you on your guard, and help you to justify yourself in a matter in which you have evidently been imposed upon.”
And he proceeded to inform her of several bad notes having been traced back to her, expressing his conviction that nothing more would be necessary to clear herself than to give the date of the arrival of her quarter's money. It was hoped too that she had some left, in order that the remaining notes might be compared with those already issued.
The widow said there must be some great mistake somewhere. Her quarter's money never came in bank-notes; and all that she had lately used came from the hands of her daughter; so that those who suspected anything wrong were completely out in their reckoning. If the notes were bad, they came, like other bad things, from London; and she supposed no one would take the trouble of tracing them there.
Mr. Craig said he believed it would be necessary for Mrs, Morrison to say where she got them.
“I can tell you that.” replied the widow. “She got them from one who takes more banknotes in a month than I spend in a year. She got them from her brother Philip, I know, on account of a little business she did for me with him. But I shall be very sorry if Philip has to bear the loss, just when his business is falling off, as the says. It would be ‘a great loss, and I should be sorry it should fall upon him now.”
“He must do as you do,—recollect and tell where he got the notes,” observed Mr. Craig. “Your wisest way will be to show us any that you may have left of the same parcel, and to make a list of their numbers, and of the numbers of those you have parted with. By the help of this list, Philip will be able to trace the whole, I dare say.”
Mrs. Parndon was terrified at the idea of being cheated of any of her hoard. She brought out her pocket-book in a great hurry, and produced the remaining notes. There was a ten, good; a five, also good; eleven ones, of which two were good, and all the rest counterfeit. Even she herself now began to see the improbability that Philip had taken so much bad money from chance customers. She turned very pale, and sat down without saying a word.
Enoch buried his face in his hands, and Mr. Craig walked about the room considering what should be done next. At length Mr. Pye gave vent to some of his feelings. He drew near his old friend, and in an agitated whisper declared that Philip must have been taken in by some villain.
“That is very likely,” observed his mother. “He never could learn to tell a wise man from a foolish one, or an honest man from a knave. He was always stupid, and unlike the rest of his family; and, now, we shall all have to pay for his dulness.”
Mr. Craig now stopped his walk between the door and the window to observe that it was not yet proved that the notes came from Philip.
“No doubt of that,” said the widow; “no doubt of that; and I brought this mischief upon him. Not that I knew anything about bad notes. God forbid! That Philip knows best about, and must take upon himself. But if I had but done as I should have done,—if I had but sold my guineas when they were at the highest! I have blamed myself many a time since, for putting that off till I got very little more than they were worth when I laid them by; but I little thought how much harm would come of the delay. O dear! O dear! to think that it is through his own mother that he has got into trouble; and that it might all have been prevented, if I had made a better bargain, and an earlier one! O dear! O dear !”
Enoch besought her not to reproach herself so bitterly. He could not bear to hear it. She that had been the best of mothers——Indeed he could not bear it. How could she foresee what gold would be worth? and if Philip had got into the hands of sharpers, he would have sent out bad notes through other channels, if his mother had had no remittances to receive. Indeed, indeed, she must not blame herself.
Mr. Craig, who could neither approve of the mixed remorse of one of his companions, nor enter into the flattering sympathies of the other, once more interposed his doubts whether Philip had ever touched the notes on the table; and suggested that as it was certain that the officers of the law were on the track of the forgers, and communications by post would be more tardy than the occasion required, the widow should go up to her children, to be a comfort to them in case of impending misfortune, and a witness of the transaction, as far as she was implicated in it. He was sure that thus only could she obtain any peace of mind while the affair was being investigated. He supposed she would go without delay.
“. I go! Bless you, Sir, what could I do? I should be nothing but a trouble to them and everybody. I never had anything to do with such a matter in my life; and to have Philip repenting, and Hester crying, and Edgar looking so angry at me for bringing him into trouble. Bless you, Sir, I am not fit for all this. I am only just fit to sit quiet at home, and think as little as I can of the troubles that are stirring abroad.”
“What is Mrs. Morrison fit for, then? There she is, in the very midst of all these troubles; and is she to look in vain for a mother's support and sympathy?”
“Why, to be sure, poor Hester has been sadly delicate of late, they tell me; and it seems as if she ought to have some one with her. But it cannot be me, because I am sure I could do her no good. I shall write, of course, very often; but still it seems as if she should have somebody with her.”
And this was repeated in a louder voice to Mr. Pye, who took the intended hint; assuring the widow that she must not for a moment think of going, and then offering to undertake the journey himself. He explained,—
“You know I am but a poor sort of person to send. The people in London are too much for me now.”
O, dear ! how could Mr. Pye be so much too modest!
“Besides that I am growing old and fond of quiet,” said he, “there is another difficulty that spoils me for a man of business. I find I do not hear quite so well as I did, and this makes me afraid that I am blundering about my business; and that very being afraid makes my ears ring worse than ever; so that I look like an old fool, I know, instead of being fit to be a help to anybody.”
This was the first time Enoch had been known to say a word about his deafness. He was now a little confounded at nobody assuring him that it was too trifling to signify. Instead of making a pretty speech like this, Mr. Craig came and sat down to say that he believed Enoch might be of essential service to the family of his old friend, if he would go prepared to do business in the best manner in his power. If he could not hear without a trumpet, why not use one rather than make blunders, and fancy that he was looking like an old fool?
Mrs. Parndon interposed to protest against such an idea as anybody taking Mr. Pye for an old fool.
“I agree with you,” said Mr. Craig, “that it is impossible such a notion should enter any one's mind, if Mr. Pye does himself justice. His trumpet would be a perfect security.”
Enoch, much hurt, muttered something about not being bad enough for that yet. He would go, however, and do his best to comfort Hester, to examine into the facts, and to estimate the evidence; and would write to Mrs. Parndon every day during his stay. As she began to melt at this proof of friendship, and to allude to the pains of separation, Mr. Craig thought it was time to leave the old folks to their unrestrained lamentations, and hastened to consult the Berkeleys on the steps which Enoch should be advised to take, on his arrival in London.
“Well, Mr. Pye, so you will write to me every day? Nothing else, I am sure, would support me during your absence and in the midst of affliction.” Thus sighed Mrs. Parndon.
Enoch was much gratified, but ventured to speak of the higher supports of which he hoped she was not destitute now, any more than on former occasions of sorrow.
Mrs. Parndon hoped not; but she felt now as if she had never known sorrow before. She had never before felt quite desolate; but her daughter, being married away from her, was little better than no daughter at all; and now, if her only son should be disgraced and lost, what would become of her, declining in the vale of years, and weary enough of loneliness without such cares as would henceforth embitter her solitude? These considerations were set forth so variously and so movingly, that the timid Enoch was impelled to do what seemed to him afterwards a very rash thing, though the widow was always ready to assure him that no act could be called rash which had been meditated (as she was sure this had been) for many years. He actually proposed to relieve her of her loneliness and half her cares, and after his long bachelor life, to venture upon a new state for her sake. He had always desired, he protested, to keep himself loose from earthly ties, the more as he felt himself growing older; though it had cost him a frequent struggle when he bad felt himself sensibly affected by Mrs. Parndon's kindness; but now it seemed as if heaven had appointed him a further work before he was called away; and he trusted that, in consideration of this, he should be forgiven for resigning himself into a new bondage to the things of this world. Mrs. Parndon enlarged greatly on the advantage of this affair being settled at the present time, as all talk about any impropriety in their corresponding would be obviated by the relation in which they now stood to each other.
At such a crisis as this, Enoch could not, for shame, be touchy or obstinate, even about using a trumpet. He was prevailed on,—not to go and buy one: this was more than was expected or asked,—but to let Mrs. Parndon bring him an assortment into his little back parlour, where he might choose one just to have in his pocket ready for use, if he should meet with any little difficulties on the road, or among the busy, inconsiderate people in London.
With what a swimming head and full heart did Enoch take his way home, to pack up his shirts, and appoint some able substitute to act in his shop, under Mrs. Parndon's eye, in his absence ! What a mixture of ideas crowded in upon her, when she had watched him from the door, and returned for a few moments to ruminate in her arm-chair ! Her object gained!— the object of so many years, and through the occasion of what she ought to be feeling as a great misfortune. She tried hard to feel it so, and to be melancholy accordingly; but the old proverb about the ill wind would come into her head every moment; and in turns with it occurred an idea of which she really was half-ashamed— that as Parndon and Pye both began with a P, she should not have to alter the marks of her clothes when she married. It was one of the suitabilities which had frequently struck her while meditating the match; and it was too congenial with her sense of aptness not to give her pleasure, even in the first hour of her new prospects.
THE WIFE'S RECOMPENSE.
The event which Hester had long contemplated by day, and anticipated in dreams by night, was now impending. Justice had been more speedy in its motions than Mr. Pye; and when lie arrived at Hester's abode he found all in confusion. Edgar was lodged in Newgate; Philip had been taken into custody, but released, on its being clearly proved that he had not touched,—that he could not have seen, — Hester's letter to her mother, after she had enclosed in it the good money he had brought in exchange for the guineas. Edgar had intercepted it, and helped himself with a part of the contents, substituting notes, which he thought would do well enough for the Haleham people. Cavendish had been long under suspicion; and the whole gang had been marked out for observation for several weeks, before a great accession of evidence brought on the catastrophe, which every reasonable person concerned must have known to be inevitable. Those who were at work in Edgar's upper rooms were not aware how long they had been watched; how they were followed in the dark hours, when they let themselves in by private keys; how they were looked down upon through the skylight; and how, shut in as they were by oaken doors and a multitude of bolts, stray words of fatal import reached the ears of justice, and the jokes with which they beguiled their criminal labours were recorded against them. The skylight was as well guarded against the possibility of entrance as they had supposed; but it was found practicable to get so near it as to observe what was going on beneath it: and there were more persons than one who could swear as to which was the flannel jacket that Edgar wore; by what means he cleared his hands of the printing-ink he used; and what part of the delicate process was confided exclusively to him, on account of his peculiar skill. Hester's occupation was also well understood; but she was regarded as being under her husband's control, and neglected by the law as an irresponsible person.,
She was sitting, forlorn and alone, in her usual place, when her old friend came to seek her. In this house, where every thing had of late worn an air of closeness and mystery, all was now open to the day. Philip had never been visited by the idea of giving his sister more of his society than usual; he was at work in his shop, as on any other day of the year. The little footboy was the only person to hear and answer, if his mistress should call. The doors were either ajar or stood wide, — the locks and bolts having been forced in the process of storming the house, and nobody thinking of having them mended. Plaster from the walls strewed the passage; some rails of the staircase were broken; the marks of dirty feet were on all the floors. When Enoch went straight up to the top of the house, expecting to find Hester in the farthest corner of her abode, he was struck to the heart with a feeling very like guilt on seeing around him the wrecks of the unlawful apparatus. Broken jars of ink were on the floor, on which lay also the shivered glass of the skylight, and the crow-bar with which the door had been forced. A copper-plate remained on the grate over the extinguished coke fire in the furnace. The cupboards had been rifled; and the poker was still stuck in a hole in the wall above the fire-place, through which some fraements of notes had been saved from the burning, after the forgers had believed that they had destroyed in the flames every vestige of the article they were engaged in manufacturing. Enoch gathered himself up as he stood in the middle of this dreary place, afraid of pollution by even the skirts of his coat touching anything that had been handled by the gang. He almost forgot the forlorn one he came to seek in horror at the iniquities of her husband and his associates. At length he recollected that the last place where she would probably be found was in a scene like this, and he descended to the rooms on the first story, though with little expectation of finding anybody there, as the floors were uncarpeted, and the rooms thrown open, as if uninhabited. There, however, retired within a small dressing-room, the only furnished part of that story, he found his young friend sitting, surrounded by the apparatus of employment. She had pen and paper beside her: her work was on her knee; a pencil in her hand: an open book within reach. A slight glance would have given the idea of her being fully occupied; but a closer observation discovered to Mr. Pye that she was incapable of employment. Never had he felt compassion so painful as when he perceived the tremulousness of her whole frame, and met her swollen eyes, and gazed upon a face which appeared as if it had been steeped in tears for many days. She looked at him in mute agony, her voice being stifled in sobs.
“My poor, unhappy young friend !” cried Enoch, involuntarily adopting the action with which he used to soothe Hester's distresses in her childhood, and pressing her head against his bosom. “My poor child ! how we have all been mistaken about you, if this terrible news is true !”
“Oh ! it is all true,” she replied, “and I ought to bear it better; for I have been expecting it—oh ! so very long;—ever since, ever since,—oh! Mr. Pye, you did not know how miserable you made me that day”——
“I make you miserable, my dear ! I did not know that I ever made anybody unhappy; and I am sure I did not mean it.”
“O no, you could not help it. But do not you remember the bad note the day I left Haleham? I have never had a moment's peace from the hour you put that note into my hands. Nay, do not look so concerned: it was not that one note only; I have seen far, far too many since. I think I have seen nothing else for weeks; and they will be before my eyes, sleeping and waking, as long as I live;—I know they will. Oh, Mr. Pye, I am so wretched !”
Enoch could find nothing to say. Such an expression seemed to him very irreligious; but the countenance before him testified to its being too true. At length he hinted a hope that she found consolation in prayer.
“Mo,” replied Hester. “I am sure I must have been doing very wrong for a long time past; and that spoils the only comfort I could now have. But what could I do? I am sure I punished myself far more than I injured other people by keeping the secret so long. Edgar was my—my husband.”
Enoch pronounced a solemn censure on the man who had led an innocent being into guilt as well as misery.
“O do not, do not!” cried Hester. “If you had only seen his wretched look at me when they took him away by that door, you would be more sorry for him than for anybody. I do think that all that is past, and all that is to come, rushed into his mind at that moment; and I am sure you need not wish anybody a worse punishment than the recollection of any one day or night of this dreadful year. But to think of what has to come and I can do nothing—not the least thing —to save him !”
“Is there no explanation that you can give of any circumstance, my dear, that may be of use to him? Cannot you show how he was drawn in, or give an account of his employments, in a way to soften the case?”
Hester shook her head despairingly. She presently said— “I am sure I hope they will not ask me any questions. It would look ill if I made no answer; and if I speak, I never can say anything but the truth. I was always afraid from this that I should be the one to betray Edgar at last; but, thank God ! I am spared that.”
“He betrayed himself, it appears, my dear. So he is saved the misery of revengeful thoughts in his prison, I hope. How does he support himself?”
“He is very gloomy indeed; and—but I am afraid it is very wrong to think so much about this as I do—he does not love me again as I always thought he would when the time should come for his being unhappy. It was what I looked to through everything. If it had not been for hoping this, I could not have gone on. —O, it is so very hard, after all I have done, that he will not see me; or, if he does for a few minutes, it is almost worse than not meeting.”
“Not see you, my dear ! that is cruel. But let us hope that it is a sign of repentance. What do you intend to do? Will you go down to Haleham with me? or will you think it your duty to stay here till—till—your husband may wish at last to see you?”
Hester answered, somewhat impatiently, that she did not know what to do. What did it signify now what she did? She hoped it would please God to decide it for her, and not let her live on long in her present wretchedness. Not all Enoch's compassion could induce him to let this pass without rebuke. He schooled her very seriously, though kindly, upon her want of resignation under her griefs; and she bore the reproof with the docility of a child worn out by its tears, and ready to change its mood through very weariness of that which had been indulged. She could not yet see, however, that her next duty would lead her to Haleham, or say that she wished her mother to come to her. She must remain where she was, and alone, at least till the trial.
Enoch took care that she should not have more entire solitude than was good for her. He spent many hours of each day with her, striving to interest her in whatever might turn her thoughts from the horrors which impended. He did win a smile from her with the news of his intended relationship to her, and led her to inquire about Rhoda Martin, and a few other old companions in whose happiness she had been wont to feel an interest He did not despair of prevailing on her in time to settle among them. He did not venture to say anywhere but in his own mind, that her love for such a selfish wretch as Edgar must wear out; and, with her love, much of her grief. If she could be settled among the scenes of her happy youth, he did not despair of seeing her cheerfulness ‘return, and her worn spirit resuming the healthiness of tone which had given way under too protracted a trial. He was grieved to find that she was weak; but surely weakness never was more excusable than in her case; and there was hope that tender treatment might yet fortify her mind when her sore trial should be over, and the impression of present events in some degree worn out.
Mr. Pye's exertions were not confined to watching and soothing Hester. Everything that could be done towards providing for Edgar's defence, and preventing Philip's character from being injured, was achieved by the old man with a vigour and discretion which astonished all who judged of him by first appearances,—who looked at. his brown coat and close wig, and took him for a person too much given to enlarge upon one set of important subjects to have any talent to spare for matters of business.
In consideration of his exertions for her children, Mrs. Parndon waived her delicate scruples about being seen to interfere in Mr. Pye's concerns. She repaired to his abode every morning to rehearse her future duties; and the shop was never better conducted than while she superintended its business from the little back parlour. If it had not been for her own engrossing prospects, she would have severely felt the mortification of having Hester's marriage known to be an unhappy one. As it was, she had some trouble in bringing her spirits down to the proper point of depression, when it was at length ascertained that there was no room for hope; and that she must prepare to receive her miserable daughter, widowed in so dreadful a manner as to set all sympathy at defiance, and make even a mother dread to offer consolations which could appear little better than a mockery.
There was even a deeper curiosity in Haleham about the fate of Cavendish than that of Edgar. Cavendish's genius, however, proved equal to all emergencies. It ever appeared to rise with the occasion. By means best known to himself, he obtained tidings of the stirrings of justice in time to step quietly on board an American packet, and to be out of reach of pursuit before his accomplices and favourite pupil were stormed amidst their fortifications. His wife had hysterics, of course, in proportion to the occasion; and, of course, became eager in a short time to secure for her children those advantages of education and society which could only be found in another hemisphere. The family are now flourishing at New York, where, by their own account, are concentered all the talents and virtues requisite to a due appreciation of the genius of Mr. Cavendish, the accomplishments of Mrs. Cavendish, and the respective brilliant qualities of all the Masters and Misses Cavendish. The name of Carter is dropped, as it had been mixed up rather conspicuously with the an awkward affair of the forgery. The Carter estate is supposed to have vanished with it, as Mr. Cavendish's agent has no instructions about transmitting the proceeds.
Philip got out of the affair with as little injury as could be expected. Before the trial, he rubbed his forehead ten times a day, as the anxious thought recurred that his house was probably in too evil repute to be easily let. This objection was, however, speedily got over, as it was a convenient and well-situated abode: so that its owner is visited by only very endurable regrets fur the past. The opening of his private shop-door sometimes reminds him how odd it is that he should expect to hear Hester's footstep when she is as far off as Haleham, and he has occasionally a sigh and a mutter to spare for poor Edgar; but as he finds himself little the worse for the jeopardy he was placed in, he persuades himself that the less he thinks of uncomfortable things that cannot be helped, the better. He remembers enough, however, to make him cautious. It was exceedingly disagreeable to have to shut up shop, and be idle and melancholy on the day of the execution; and a terrible nuisance to have ballad-venders coming for weeks afterwards to cry Morrison's dying confession under the window, in hopes of being bought off. To guard against these things happening again, he looks sharp to detect in his lodgers any attachment to double oak-doors and grated sky-lights.
The first person who succeeded in obtaining access to Hester was Rhoda Martin. The reason of this was the peculiar sympathy which arises between companions on the apparent opposition of their fates. Rhoda had believed Hester prosperous while she herself was suffering; and now she was beginning to be happy just when her friend's peace seemed to be overthrown for ever. Rhoda was at last going to be married to her lover; and the relief from suspense was all the more enjoyed from its having of late appeared almost impossible but that times must grow worse with farmer Martin and all his connexions. All the farmers,—everybody who had more to sell than to buy,—were discontented with the times; and, above all, complaining that a fixed character had been given to their adversity by the operations of the Bank of England on the currency. Cash payments had been resumed; and just after, there was an evident relaxation of industry, an increase of difficulty in the various processes of exchange, and a consequent depression in all branches of manufactures and commerce. To what extent this would have happened without the return to cash payments, no one could positively say, though most allowed, because they could not deny, that there had been an increasing and disastrous rise in the value of money for a long time past, which must be referred to a former action on the currency.
There were some who, whatever they might think of the causes of the present pressure upon large classes of society, believed themselves bound in conscience to quit the letter in order to preserve the spirit of their contracts, and that the proper time for doing this was at the moment when the convertibility of the Bank of England paper was re-established. Among these was the land-owner who had Martin for a tenant. Generously forgetting that, in the days of a depreciated currency, his tenants had paid him no more than the nominal value' of his rent, he now proposed to them that they should pay him one-third less than that nominal value. This which, lie called justice, his tenants were nearly as ready as his admiring friends to call generosity; and all agreed in blaming the system under which justice assumed the character of generosity; or, in other words, under which injustice might take place as a matter of course.
No one was more sensible than Rhoda of the merits of her father's landlord on this occasion, for to them she owed the conclusion of her long suspense. A part of what her father would have paid as rent to a grasping or thoughtless landlord, he could now spare to enable his daughter to marry. A small yearly allowance was sufficient, in addition to Chapman's wages, to justify their coming together, hoping, as they did, that affairs would work round to a better and more stable condition, from people being convinced of the evils of a fluctuating currency, and resolved to let the circulating medium adjust itself perpetually, under such checks only as should be necessary as safeguards against fraud and rashness. Everybody hoped that the matter was so settled as to leave men's minds at liberty to decide, in the course of the next fourteen years, whether the peculiar privileges of the Bank of England should be renewed on the expiration of its charter, or whether any new system of issuing money should be resorted to which might obviate any recurrence of past evils, without introducing any fresh ones. The very badness of the state of affairs in 1819 afforded hope that nothing worse could happen before 1883. So Chapman married, hoping for a gradual rise of wages, in proportion to the gradual rise of prices which his father-in-law looked to from the safe and cautious expansion of the currency which circumstances would soon demand. They were far from anticipating more crises like those the country had undergone. They could not have believed, if they had been told, that in defiance of all the teachings of experience, there would ere long be another intoxication of the public mind from an overflow of currency, another panic, and, as a consequence, another sudden and excessive contraction. Still less would they have believed that the distress consequent on these further fluctuations would he ascribed by many to the return to cash payments in 1819.
Martin's landlord was not the only person in the neighbourhood of Haleham who behaved honourably about the fulfilment of a contract under changed conditions. Mr. Berkeley's creditors put an end to liabilities which he had declared every day for months past to be endless. With all his toil and all his care, the task of paying his debts seemed to become heavier and more hopeless with every effort. Not only did he feel like the inexperienced climber of a mountain, to whom it seems that the ascent is lengthened in proportion as he passes over more ground. In his case, it was as if the mountain did actually grow, while the unhappy man who had bound himself to reach the top, could only hope that it would stop growing before his strength was utterly spent. As welcome as it would be to such a climber to be told that ho had engaged only to attain a certain altitude, and having reached it, need go no farther, was it to Mr. Berkeley to be suddenly absolved from his liabilities in consideration of his having paid in fact, though not in name, all that he owed. The only hope that had for some time remained of his being released with perfect satisfaction to himself and his creditors lay in the recovery of a debt which had been owing to the family from abroad for a series of years. While money had been only too plentiful at home, it was not thought worth while to incur the expense of a foreign agency to recover a debt which would be paid in a depreciated currency; but now the case was altered: the agency would cost no more, and the recovered money would be full one-third more valuable; and efforts were accordingly made to obtain payment. But for the hope of this, Mr. Berkeley's spirits would have sunk long before. As it was, he took his way to D——with more and more reluctance week by week, and month by month. He said oftener by his own fire-side that he clearly foresaw his fate,—after a long life of honourable toil, to die in debt through the fault of the money-system under which he had had the misfortune to live. The best news his family looked for from him was that his affairs were standing still. I was much more frequently the case that disappointment came from some quarter whence money was looked for, and that part of a debt remained which it had been hoped would have been cleared off.
A few days before Melea's long-delayed marriage,—the day when Fanny was expected home for a short visit, a day when expectations of various kinds kept the family in a particularly quiet mood, Mr. Berkeley came home to dinner from D——, looking very unlike the Mr. Berkeley of late years. His wife was at work at the window, whence she could see some way down the road. Henry Craig was by Melea's side, comfortably established for the day, as it was impossible that he could depart without having seen Fanny. Lewis was gardening under the window, so busily that he never once looked up till desired to meet his uncle at the gate, and take his horse. Melea, half-rising, began her habitual involuntary observation of his mode of approach. She did not know how to interpret it. His hands were in his pockets, and his walk was slow, as usual; but he looked above and around him, which was a long-forsaken habit. He came straight in through the open doors, with his hat on, silently kissed his wife and daughter, pressed Craig's hand, and, sitting down by the table, rested his head on his arms and wept passionately. The dismay of the whole party was inexpressible. It was long before their soothings, their respectful and tender caresses, had any other effect than to increase his emotion; and before he could command himself to speak, they had had time to conceive of every possible misfortune that could befall them. Melea had passed her arm within Henry's, as if to ask his support under whatever might be impending, and was anxiously glancing towards her mother's pale and grave face, when the necessary relief came.
“Do forgive me,” exclaimed Mr. Berkeley, feebly. “1 have no bad news for you.”
“Then I am sure you have some very good,“cried Melea, sinking into a chair.
“Thank God ! 1 have. It is all over, my dear wife. We are free, and with honour. I need never set foot in D——again, unless I like. Ah! you don't believe me, I see: but they are the noblest fellows,—those creditors! Well, well: never mind if I did not always say so. I say so now. They are the noblest fellows !”
“For forgiving you the remainder of your engagements?”
“No, no. That is the best of it,—the beauty of the whole transaction. They say,—and to be sure it is true enough,—they say that we have paid everything, and more than paid; and that they could not in conscience take a farthing more. And yet the law would give them a good deal more;—more than I could ever pay.”
“So you are out of debt, my love,” observed Mrs. Berkeley: “not only free, but having paid in full. It is not freedom given as a matter of favour. Now we may be happy.”
“But surely,” said Melea, “we shall always regard it as an act of favour,—of generosity. I am sure I shall always wish so to regard it.”
“Certainly, my love: so shall we all. I shall never rest till I have told them my feelings upon it far more intelligibly than I could at the time. It was their fault that I could not. They overcame me completely.—But you have not heard half the story yet. They leave me my life-insurance, which I gave over for lost long ago; and they turn over that troublesome foreign debt to me to deal with as I think fit. When we have recovered that—-”
“Do you really expect to recover it?”
“Lord bless you ! to be sure I do. No doubt in the world of that; and a very pretty thing it will be, I can tell you. With that, and the debts that remain to be got in nearer home, we shall be quite rich, my dear; quite independent of our children's help, who will want for themselves all they can get. And then, this life-insurance! It is a pretty thing to have to leave to them. What a capital piece of news to tell Fanny when she sets her foot on the threshold to-night,—that she is not to leave home any more ! I thought of it all the way home.”
“My dear father!”
“My dear girl, what can be more rational ? You don't think I shall let her———You forget that I shall want her at home more than ever now. I shall have nothing to do henceforward, but what you put into my head. No more rides to D——,'thank God !”
“No,” said Melea, smiling; “we shall see you turn into the quiet old gentleman, I suppose; basking in the garden, or dozing in the chimney corner? Father, do you really suppose you will subside into this kind of life?”
“Why, I cannot tell till I try. To be sure, there is a good deal to be done first. The whole management of the jail yonder wants setting to rights, from the lowest department to the highest. Then, the funds of the Blind Charity—-”
“But you are never to set foot in D—— again, you know.”
“Aye, aye. That is on the side where the bank stands. Enter it by the other end, and it is not like the same place, you know. Surely, child, you cannot expect me to sit at home all day, catching flies to keep myself awake?”
Melea disclaimed any such wish or expectation.
“Poor Lewis must he taken better care of now,” continued Mr. Berkeley. “We must look about us to see how he is to be settled in life. What shall we do with you, Lewis? Choose anything but to be in a bank, my boy. Choose anything else, and we will see what we can do for you.”
“You need not choose at this very moment,” said Melea, laughing, observing that Lewis looked from his uncle to his aunt, and then to Mr. Craig. “My father will give you a little time to think about it, I dare say.”
“Why, one must; but it is rather a pity,” said Mr. Berkeley, half-laughing. “This is one of the days,—with me at least,—when one sees everything so easily and clearly, that it seems a pity not to get everything settled.”
Mr. Craig mentioned as a matter of regret that it was past twelve o'clock,—too late to have Melea married on this bright day. Mr. Berkeley joined in the laugh at his predilection for despatch.
It proved, however, that there was less need of haste in laying hold of a bright season than formerly. The brightness did not pass away from Mr. Berkeley's mind with the few hours which he had assigned as its duration. The next day and the next, and even Melea's wedding-day, brought no clouds over the future, as it lay before his gaze. He could even see now that the same changes which had injured his fortunes had not been without advantage to some of his family. Horace had saved more from his salary every year. Mr. Craig found his curacy an advantageous one in comparison with what it had formerly been, though there was no alteration in the terms on which he held it; and his school was made to answer very well, though its terms were nominally lowered to meet the exigencies of the time. Fanny and Melea had been able to contribute from their stipends more than they had anticipated to the comfort of their parents, besides having a little fund at their disposal when they took their places, the one at her father's fireside, and the other at the head of her husband's establishment. Some years before, the stipends of all would have barely sufficed for their own immediate wants. If their father suffered extensive injuries under the system which all saw was wrong, it was certain that his children derived some, though not a counterbalancing, advantage from it.
Other very bright lights spread themselves over Mr. Berkeley's future as often as he thought of the restoration of his daughters to his neighbourhood. All his convictions of the pitiableness of such a marriage as Melea's melted away in the sunshine of her countenance; and when he looked forward to the perpetual morning and evening greetings of his elder daughter, he declared that he expected to be perfectly happy till his dying day;—perfectly happy in a state far inferior to that which he had quitted for something better;—perfectly happy without the mansion, the rosary, the library, which he had found insufficient in addition to all that he now possessed. His family knew him too well to hope that he would ever he perfectly happy; but they perceived that there was hope of a nearer approximation to such a state than before his adversity; and this was enough for their happiness.
Mr. Pye and Mrs. Parndon had fixed the same day for their wedding that was to unite Mr. Craig and Melea. While the Berkeley family were amusing themselves with this coincidence, however, the fact got abroad, as such things do; and the consequence was that Enoch came in an agony of humility to beg pardon, and change the day. His only idea had been to defer it for a week or so, till Mr. Craig should have returned from his wedding excursion; but Mrs. Parndon proved, as usual, the cleverest planner of the two. She observed on the decorum of the older couple being married first, and on the advantage of deviating only one day from the proposed time, instead of a whole week. They were therefore married the day before the young people, and Mrs. Pye's seed-cake and currant-wine were pronounced upon before Mrs. Craig's doors were thrown open to the friends who came to wish her the happiness she deserved. There were smiles in abundance in both cases;—of wonder at the resolution with which Mr, Pye handled his trumpet, and of amusement at the pretty and proper bashfulness of his bride:—smiles also of true sympathy and joy in the happiness of the young pair, who by having been, as far as they could, the benefactors of all, had come to be regarded as in some sort the property of all. Even Hester felt as if they belonged to her, and must have her best wishes. Even she could smile when she offered those wishes; and the first long conversation she held was with Fanny on the past trials of these lovers, and on their future prospects. During this her temporary cheerfulness,—which afforded promise of a more permanent state of it,—there was not a grave face in any house in Haleham where the Craigs and the Berkeleys were known. It was a considerable time before Mr. Berkeley found the want of something to do. Congratulation was now a welcome novelty, the zest of which he owed to his past troubles; and every one who observed his quick step in the streets of Haleham, and his indefatigable vigour in acknowledging the attentions of its inhabitants, perceived how he enjoyed this novelty. He liked to be told that he had taken a new lease of life on the marriage of his daughter; and, except that of his many schemes none were of great magnitude, it might have appeared that he took the assurance for fact. His family were, however, fully aware that his plans were all such as might be easily resigned, though they gave an aspect of youthful activity to his advancing age.
Of Principles illustrated in this and the preceding Volume.
In proportion as the processes of exchange become extensive and complicated, all practicable economy of time, trouble and expense, in the use of a circulating medium, becomes desirable.
Such economy is accomplished by making acknowledgments of debt circulate in the place of the actual payment: that is, substituting credit, as represented by bank-paper, for gold money.
The adoption of paper money saves time by making the largest sums as easily payable as the smallest.
It saves trouble by being more easily transferable than metal money.
It saves expense by its production being less costly than that of metal money, and by its setting free a quantity of gold to be used in other articles of production.
A further advantage of paper money is, that its destruction causes no diminution of real wealth, like the destruction of gold and silver coin; the one being only a representative of value,—the other also a commodity.
The remaining requisites of a medium of exchange, viz.—that it should be what all sellers are willing to receive, and little liable to fluctuations of value,—are not inherent in paper as they are in metallic money.
But they may be obtained by rendering paper money convertible into metallic money, by limiting in other ways the quantity issued, and by guarding against forgery.
Great evils, in the midst of many advantages, have arisen out of the use of paper money, from the neglect of measures of security, or from the adoption of such as have proved false. Issues of inconvertible paper money have been allowed to a large extent, unguarded by any restriction as to the quantity issued.
As the issuing of paper money is a profitable business, the issue naturally became excessive when the check ot convertibility was removed, while banking credit was not backed by sufficient security.
The immediate consequences of a superabundance of money, are a rise of prices, an alteration in the conditions of contracts, and a consequent injury to commercial credit.
Its ulterior consequences are, a still stronger shock to commercial credit, the extensive ruin of individuals, and: an excessive contraction of the currency, yet more injurious than its excessive expansion.
These evils arise from buyers and sellers bearing an unequal relation to the quantity of money in the market.
If all sold as much as they bought, and no more, and if the prices of all commodities rose and fell in exact proportion, all exchangers would be affected alike by the increase or diminution of the supply of Money. But this is an impossible case; and therefore any action on the currency involves injury to some, while it affords advantage to others.
A sudden or excessive contraction of the currency produces some effects exactly the reverse of the effect of a sudden or excessive expansion. It lowers prices, and vitiates contracts, to the loss of the opposite contracting party.
But the infliction of reverse evils does not compensate for the former infliction. A second action on the currency, though unavoidably following the first, is not a reparation, but a new misfortune.
Because, the parties who are now enriched are seldom the same that were impoverished by a former change; and vice versâ: while all suffer from the injury to commercial credit which follows upon every arbitrary change.
All the evils which have arisen from acting arbitrarily upon the currency, prove that no such arbitrary action can repair past injuries, while it must inevitably produce further mischief.
They do not prove that liability to fluctuation is an inherent quality of paper money, and that a metallic currency is therefore the best circulating medium.
They do prove that commercial prosperity depends on the natural laws of demand and supply being allowed to work freely in relation to the circulating medium.
The means of securing their full operation remain to be decided upon and tried.