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Chapter II.: BEING ROMAN AT ROME. - Harriet Martineau, Illustrations of Political Economy, vol. 9 
Illustrations of Political Economy (3rd ed) in 9 vols. (London: Charles Fox, 1834). Vol. 9.
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BEING ROMAN AT ROME.
Moregan need not have exercised her old office of calling Hcnry the next morning. Her knock was heard at the accustomed hour; but Henry had been wakened long before by horns, bells, cries, and rumbling, which seemed to proceed from “above, about, and underneath,” and which made him wonder how, in his childhood, be could find it as difficult to open his eyes when told that the day was come, as to be persuaded to go to bed when he had laid hold of a new book. A certain childish question of Henry's was held in mirthful remembrance by his family, and brought up by his father every time that he showed his face at home,— “Why must one go to bed? One no sooner goes to bed than one has to get up again.” Such a happy oblivion of the many intervening hours was no longer found practicable in the little apartment that shook with every passing waggon; and how it could ever have been attained was at least as great a mystery now as the perpetual motion.
“Well, Harry,” said his father, “what a pity you should have troubled yourself to pull off your clothes, as you had to put them on again directly! Hey? But I thought you were of the same mind last night, by the time you sat up. What kept you up so late?”
“We had a great deal to say, father, after such a long absence. Jane had but little time for writing letters, you know, while I was away.”
“I think you might have your talk by daylight What are you going to do with yourself to-day?”
There was no lack of something to do this first day. First, there was seeing the shop,— being shown the new contrivance for obtaining half a foot more room behind the counter, and the better plan for securing the till, and the evidence of Michael's pretty taste in the shape of a vellow lamb of spun butter, with two currants for eyes, and a fine curly fleece, which might keep its beauty a whole fortnight longer, if this seasonable March weather should last. Opposite to the lamb was a tower of Babel, of cheese, which had been crumbling for some time. But, though the tower was infested with mice, it was the general opinion that it would outlast the lamb. Then, while Jane settled herself, aproned, shawled, and mittened, at her desk, there was a long story to be told,—a story really interesting to Henry,—of the perplexities which had been introduced into the trade by the fluctuations of the duties on various articles. When tobacco was sometimes to pay a tax of 350 percent., and then no more than 200, and then, on a sudden, 1200, how should custom be regular, and the trader know what to expect? A man must be as wise as a Scripture prophet to know what stock to lay in when there was no depending on custom. People would use twice as much tobacco one year as another; and a third more sugar; and a fourth more tea; or would drop one article after another in a way that no mortal could foretell.
Why not foretell? Was it not certain that when a tax on an article of consumption was increased, the consumption fell off in a definite proportion?
Quite certain; but then came in another sort of disturbance. When duties rose very high, smuggling was the next thing; and there was no calculating how smuggling might keep up the demand.
“Nor what new taxes it may lead to,” observed Henry. “If the consumption of taxed articles falls off, the revenue suffers; and if, at the same time, smuggling increases, new expenses are incurred for guarding the coast. The people must pay both for the one and the other; and so, the next thing is to lay on new taxes.”
“Ah!” groaned the old man. “They begin to talk of an income tax.”
Whatever Henry's opinion of an income tax might be, he was aware that few inflictions could be so dreadful to his father. Mr. Farrer, possessed, it was supposed, of nearly half a million, managed to pay less in taxes than most of his neighbours who happened to have eight hundred a ycar, and spent it. Mr. Farrer eschewed luxuries, except a few of the most unexpensive; he was sparing of comforts, and got off paying more to the state than any other man who must have common food, clothing, and house-room, His contributions must be prodigiously increased if he was to bc made to pay in proportion to his income. It was a subject on which none of his family dared to speak, even on this morrow of a piece of good fortune. The most moderate income tax would sweep away more than the addition gained by the dropping of the two lives in the joint annuity.
“They had better mend their old ways than try new,” said Michael. “If they knew how, they might get more by every tax than it has yielded yet. Peek says so. He says there is not a taxed article eaten or drunk, or used, t!mt would not yield more if the tax was lowered; and Peek ought to know.”
“And you ought to know, Mike, that you are the last man that should wish for such a change,” said his father, with a sly wink. Michael's laugh made his brother uneasy; he scarcely knew why.
“It is a great wrong, I think,” said Henry, “to keep the poorer classes from the use of comforts and luxuries that they might have, if the state managed its plan of taxation better.”
“Well, and so it is, Henry; and I often say so when I see a poor man come for his tobacco, and grumble at the price, and threaten it shall be the last time; and a poor woman cheapen her ounce of tea, and taste the butter and smell at the cheese, and go away without buying any of them. As long as good management would serve to satisfy such poor creatures as these, without bringing an income tax upon their betters, it is a shame there is no such management.”
“How much more would be consumed in your family, sir, if taxes on commodities were lowered as you would have them?”
“O, as for us, we have every thing we want, as far as I know. There might be little or no difference in our own family; but I know there would be among our customers. Shopkeepers would-wonder where all the crowd of buyers came from.”
“And the smugglers might turn tax gatherers, hey, father?”
“And there need be no more talk of an income tax,” said the old man; “let the French blazen their matters out as they will.”
Henry was not very sure of this, in his own mind. It seemed to him that the more support the state derived from taxes on commodities, the more clearly the people would see the injustice of levying the taxes upon those who were compelled to spend their whole income in the purchase of eommodities, while the rich, who chose to live very frugally and hoard, might escape the payment of their due share. A customer now came in; apd then the cheese-cellar had to be visited; and then Mr. Farrer wanted Henry to go with him to two or three neighbours' houses, where there was a due admiration of the blessings of a learned education on the one side, and on the other a prodigious self-complacency about the liberality, and the generosity, and the wisdom, and the glory of making one member of the family a great man, who should do honour to his kith and kin.
The evening was spent at Mrs. Peek's. Mrs. Peek was able to receive her family at home, though she had not yet left the house since her confinement. She was proud of having a brother who had been at college, though no one grumbled more at the expense than she did by her own fireside. She was unwilling to lose this opportunity of showing him off to some neighbours; and when the party from Budge Row entered Peek's house, at five o'clock, they perceived several shawls and calashes on the window-seat in the passage which was called the hail. One of Mr. Farrer's candles was flaring in this passage, and two in the waiting-room, as the children's play-place was called, and six in the parlour, it being Mrs. Peek's wish to have every thing smart for the reception of her genteel brother. The ample sofa and two arm-chairs were ranged on one side, and four chairs on the other. When the door was thrown open, the party in the ante-room saw two young ladies take flight from the sofa across the room; and by the time that all had entered the parlour, five maidens were wedged in a close rank, in front of the three chairs which were next Mrs. Peek's.
They stood looking shy during the introduction, and were made more awkward still by the old gentleman insisting, as he settled himself by the fire, that one of those young ladies should come and sit on the sofa beside him. None of them stirred.
“Miss Mills, suppose you take a seat on the sofa,” observed Mrs. Peek.
“No, thank you, ma'am,” said Miss Mills,
“Miss Anne Mills, won't you take a seat on the sofa?”
“No, ma'am, thank you.”
“Then, Miss Baker, or Miss Grace——. My fourth girl, Grace, is called after that young lady, Henry;—(Grace Baker is a great favourite of ours). Grace, my dear, you will sit on the sofa, I am sure. What! none of you!” (seeing the five edge themselves down on the three chairs.) “Dear me! and there's so much room on the other side! I believe I must go to the sofa, and then Henry will take my seat.”
Miss Mills looked disposed to fly back again to the sofa when Henry took his seat beside her, as directed. She twisted the tips of her gloves, looked down, said “Yes, sir,” and “No, sir,” to all he observed, and soon found she must go and ask Mrs. Peek after the dear little baby. At this unexpected movement, two out of the remaining four halfstarted from their chair, but settled themselves again with a muttered, “Now, how——!” and then the next began to twist her gloves and look down, leaving, however, full a third of a chair between herself and the scholar.
Nothing could be done till Mr. Peek came in, further than to tell Henry which of the young ladies could play and which could draw. Henry could only hope to hear them play, and to see their drawings; upon which Mrs. Peek was sorry that her piano was put away in a room up stairs till her girls should be qualified to use it; but she rang for a servant, who was desired to tell master Harry to step across for Miss Mills' sketch-book, and Master Michael to run to Mr. Baker's for Miss Grace Baker's portfoho.
“The blue portfolio, ma'am,” Miss Baker leaned forward to say on her sister's behalf.
“O! the blue portfolio, tell Master Michael.”
Mr. Peek came in, at length, rubbing his hands, and apologizing for having kept the ladies waiting for their tea; but it was the privilege of such a business as his to take, in some measure, his own times and seasons for doing things; and this afternoon he had been paying one of his official visits where he was least expected.
When Jane had stationed herself at the teatable, with a Miss Mills to aid her, and Peek had ordered one little table to be brought for himself and another for his father-in-law, he addressed his conversation chiefly to the latter, observing that the young scholar's part was to entertain the young ladies.
“You know the Browns,—the way they behaved to my wife and me about our nursemaid that they tempted away?” said Peek to Mr. Farrer.
“O yes; I hope you have served them out.”
“That I have, pretty well! They should have taken care what they were about in offending me. I can always make out what are their busy days, and then I pop in, and there is no end of the stock-taking I make them go through. What with measuring the canisters, and weighing, and peeping, and prying, I keep them at it a pretty time; and that is what I have been about this afternoon.”
“Can't you catch them with a pound of smuggled stuff?”
“Not an ounce. They know I would if I could; and that makes them take care and look sharp. What did you think of the last rummer of toddy you got here?”
“Capital! Had Brown anything to do with that?”
“Not he; but you shall have another to-night, since you liked the last so much; and Mr. Henry too, if he likes. But I suppose he will be too busy playing commerce with the ladies? That fine spirit was one of the good things that one gets by being gentle in one's vocation, as I tell Patience when she is cross; and then I hold back some nice present that I was thinking of giving her.”
“Aye, aye. A little convenient blindness, I suppose, you find your account in sometimes; and who finds it out, among all the multitude of articles that pay taxes? Yes, yes, that is one of the understood things in the business; as our men of your tribe give us to understand.”
“I hope you find them accommodating, sir?”
“Yes; now we know how to manage them. And they are wonderfully kind to Mike, considering all things.”
Mike assented, with one of his loud laughs.
Henry was listening to all this not the less for his civility in handing tea, and amusing his next neighbour. By taking in all that passed now and when he was seated at cards, after Mrs. Peek had made her excuses and withdrawn, he learned more than he had known before of the facilities afforded to the collector of taxes on commodities, of oppressing the humble, and teasing the proud, and sheltering the shabby, and aiding the fraudulent. He felt that he would rather be a street-sweep than such an exciseman as Peek. At best, the office was a most hateful one.
He grew less and tess able to give good counsel at cards, and to admire figures and landscapes, the louder grew Michael's mirth, and the more humorous Peek's stories of how lie treated his victims, the small tradesmen. He would not touch the spirit and water so strongly recommended, but bore rallying on preferring the more lady-like refreshment of negus and sweet cake. He roused himself to do what was proper in shawling Miss Grace Baker; but it was feared by his family that the young ladies would not be able to give so enthusiastic an account of him at home as might have been, if he had done himself justice. It was a great pity!
“What a clever fellow Peek is; he is made for his business! Eh, Harry?” observed Mr. Farrer, as they turned homewards, after having deposited the Misses Mills.
“He is made for his business as you say, father. What a cold night it is!”
“Well; I hoped you caught a bit of what Peek was saying; I thought it would entertain you. We'll have him some evening soon; and then I'll make him tell some stories as good as any you heard to-night, only not so new. Do you hear, Jenny; mind you fix Peek and Patience for the first afternoon they can name next week, and we will have them all to ourselves. Come, Mike, ring again. It is gone ten. I warrant Morgan and Sam are nodding at one another on each side the fire. Give it them well.”
Day after day was filled up in somewhat a similar manner, nothing being said of the purpose for which Henry was brought home, or of his future destination. He soon became more reconciled than at first to his strange position, not only from becoming familiarized with it, but because London was astir with rumours of strange events abroad, and with speculations on what curious chapters in the history of nations were about to be presented for men's reading. Mr. Farrer made no objection to his son's disappearance during the greater part of the day, as he was sure of bringing home all the news at the end of it. Sometimes he fell in with a procession going to plant the tree of liberty on Kennington Common; sometimes he had interesting tales to tell of the misfortunes of the emigrants, whom his father ceased for the time to compare to locusts devouring the fruits of the land, or to the wasps that swarmed among his sugars in summer. Henry could bring the latest tidings of the progress of the riots in the country on account of the high price of tbod, and of certain trials for sedition in which his heart seemed to be deeply engaged, though he let his father rail on at the traitors who encouraged the people to think that governments could do wrong. Henry saw all the reviews, and heard of all the embarkations of soldiers, and could tell how many new clerks were taken on at the Bank, and what a demand there was for servants at the government offices, and what spirits every body was in at Portsmouth and Birmingham, while no one knew what was to be done with the poor wretches who tried an ineffectual riot in the manufacturing districts from time to time. All this passed with Mr. Farrer for a very natural love of news, and was approved in as far as it enabled him to say to his superior customers, “My son who was at the University hears this,” or says that, or knows the other. But Jane saw that Henry the student was not interested in these vast movements of humanity as a mere amusement to pass the time. Not in pursuit of mere amusement was he often without food from breakfast-time till he returned by lamp-light. Not in pursuit of mere amusement was he sometimes content to be wet through twice in a day; sometimes feverish with excitement, and some-times so silent that she left him unquestioned to the deep emotions that were stirring within. She occasionally wondered whether he had any thoughts of entering the army. If he was really anxious to be doing something, this seemed a ready means; yet she had some suspicion that his patriotism was not of a kind to show itself in that way; and that if he fought at all, it would not be to avenge the late French King. However it might be, Jane felt her affection for this brother grow with her awe of his mysterious powers and tastes. She listened for his step when he was absent; intimated her dissent from any passing censure upon him uttered by his father; saw that dry shoes were always ready for him when he came in; received gratefully all that he had to tell her, and asked no questions. She struggled witil all the might that was to prove at last too feeble a barrier to a devastating passion, against the daily thoughts of food eaten and clothes worn by one who was earning nothing; satisfied herself that though Henry was no longer enjoying the advantages of college, he was living more cheaply than he could do there; and trusted, on the whole, that this way of life might continue some time.
One morning, Michael's cup of tea having stood till it was cold, the discovery was made that Michael was not at home. Mr. Farrer dropped, with apparent carelessness, the news that he would not return for two or three days; and when Jane had helped herself to the cold tea, in order that it might not be wasted, nobody seemed to think more of the matter.
Half an hour after breakfast, before Henry had closed a certain pocket volume in Greek which he had been observed to read in at all odd times, Mr. Farter put his head in at the parlour-dour, with
“I say, Harry, we are very busy in the shop to-day, and Mike away.”
“Indeed, sir! Shall I go out and find somebody to help you?”
“Very pretty! And you sitting here with nothing to do! Come yourself; I will help you to find Mike's apron.”
Henry first laughed, and then, after an instant's hesitation, pocketed his book, and followed his father. While he was somewhat awkwardly tying on his apron, his sister saw him through the tiny window which gave her, in her retirement a view of the shop; and she called out to know what he was doing.
“I am going to try to cut bacon and weigh butter as well as Michael.”
“Is it your own fancy?”
“My father put it into my head; but it is my own will to do it till Michael comes back.”
“There was no more to be said; but Jane reddened all over; and when she saw the tirst customer come in, and Mr. Farrer stand over Henry to see him guess at the weight of soap required, Jane lost all power of casting up the column of figures over which her pen was suspended.
It was told in many a neighbour's house that day that there was a new shopman at Farrer's, who was dead-slow at tying up parcels, and hacked sadly at the cheese, as if he did not know an ounce from a pound at sight. Henry was not aware how far he was from being worthy to rival Michael. It requires some practice to achieve the peculiar twirl and jerk with which an adroit shopman ties up and delivers a parcel so a fair dealer; and Henry knew nothing yet of the art of joking with the maidens and coaxing the matrons among his customers.
When weary, sick, and inwardly troubled to a degree for which he could scarcely account, he came in from seeing that the shutters were properly closed, anti from purifying himself from the defilements of the counter, his father bailed him with,
“Well done, Harry! You will do very well soon, and make up for the cheese you have crumbled to-day. You will manage not to spill so mueh sugar to-morrow, perhaps. And by the end of the year, we shall see what sort of a younger partner's share we can afford you.”
“You do not mean that I am to spend a whole year as I have spent to-day, father?”
“Indeed but I do, though; and as many more years as you have to live. My father made his fortune in this same business, and I mean my sons to do the same.”
Henry answered by handing his father the candle to light his pipe.
“I say, Harry,” the old man resumed, after a long silence, “you go into the shop to-morrow morning.”
“Certainly; till Michael comes back; if, as you said this morning, he returns before the end of the week.”
“And after he comes back. He will put you in the way better than I can, you'll find.”
“After he comes back, I hope to find means of using the education you have given me, father. It would be all lost if I were to be a grocer.”
Mr. Farrer could see nothing but loss in following any other occupation, and ingratitude in hesitating to accept a provision which would enable Henry to become, like his brother and sisters, a public creditor on very advantageous terms. He let his son more into the secret of his wealth than he had ever done before; and when he found this confidence of no avail to his purpose, was vexed at his communicativeness, grew very angry, threw down his pipe, and ordered the family to bed.
The next day, and the next, all went on so smoothly in the shop that each party hoped the other had relented. On the Friday evening, Michael returned, in high spirits, his talk savouring of the sea as his clothes did of tobacco. On Saturday morning, Henry was missing in his turn. Morgan appeared with red eyes to say that he had gone out with his blue bag very early, and had left the letter she now delivered to her master.
This letter was read, crmnpled up and thrown under the grate in silence, dane afterwards took possession of it; and found that Henry valued his education too highly not to make the best use he could of it; that he was quite of his father's opinion that it was a sin to remain at home in idleness; that he would therefore endeavour to obtain immediate employment and independence; that he would come and see his father as soon as he had anything to communicate, and should be always on the watch to repay by any duty and attention in his power the obligation he was under for the advantages he had enjoyed.
Morgan had no intelligence to give of where Henry was gone. He had left his love for his sister, and an assurance that he would see her soon and often. Morgan trusted she might take his word for his not feeling himself “put upon” or ill-regarded in the family. He had assured her that his feelings for them were as kind as ever, as he hoped to show, if occasion should arise. Might she believe this?
Jane trusted that she might;—would not let his chamber be disarranged just at present; and went to her place of business to start at every black coat that passed the window.