Front Page Titles (by Subject) Chapter VIII.: ARRANGEMENTS COMPLETED. - Illustrations of Political Economy, vol. 5
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Chapter VIII.: ARRANGEMENTS COMPLETED. - 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 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.