Front Page Titles (by Subject) Chapter VII.: THE WIFE'S RECOMPENSE. - Illustrations of Political Economy, vol. 5
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Chapter VII.: THE WIFE'S RECOMPENSE. - 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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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.