Front Page Titles (by Subject) Chapter III.: SUSPICION. - Illustrations of Political Economy, vol. 5
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Chapter III.: SUSPICION. - Harriet Martineau, Illustrations of Political Economy, vol. 5 
Illustrations of Political Economy (3rd ed) in 9 vols. (London: Charles Fox, 1834). Vol. 5.
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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.