Front Page Titles (by Subject) Chapter III.: DEATH-CHAMBER SOOTHINGS. - Illustrations of Political Economy, vol. 9
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Chapter III.: DEATH-CHAMBER SOOTHINGS. - Harriet Martineau, Illustrations of Political Economy, vol. 9 
Illustrations of Political Economy (3rd ed) in 9 vols. (London: Charles Fox, 1834). Vol. 9.
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The text is in the public domain.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
Mr. Farrer seemed to be somewhat surprised to see that Henry's coat was still black and still glossy when he called, as he promised, to see his family. A vague image of a tattered shirt, a wallet and mouldy crusts, had floated before the old man's mind as often as he prophesied that Harry would come begging to his father's door; whereas Henry seemed to have nothing to complain of, did not ask for anything to eat, never mentioned money, and looked very cheerful. It was impossible to pronounce him paler than usual; and, what was more surprising, he made no mysteries, but told all that he was asked to tell, Nobody inquired whether he was married, and none but Jane desired to know where he lived. But the circumstance of his having obtained employment that would suffice for the present was related; and he endeavoured to explain to his father the nature of the literary occupations in which he was engaged; but when he had once acknowledged that they did not bring him in so much per week as his brother's labours afforded, Mr. Farter did not desire to hear anything more.
“Jaue, you will come and see me?” said Henry, wheu they were alone.
“My father says you had better come here”
“Well, so I shall; but you will look in upon me some day? I have something to show you.”
“Perhaps you can bring it here. My father——”
“Oh, he forbids your visiting me. Yes, I shall certainly come here, and soon. Do you know, Jane, I think my father looks ill.”
“He is harassed about business just now;— not about the part you have taken; for he said yesterday that people are better out of business in such times.”
“What is the matter? Does his custom fall off?”
“Very much; and his profits are less and less. Everything is so taxed,—everything that the common people must have,—(and they are the customers that signify most, from their number)—that they go without tea and sugar, and save iu soap and candles more than you would suppose; and besides, all this dearness makes wages rise every where; and we feel that directly in the fall of our profits. If things get much worse, we shall soon be laying by nothing. It will be as much as we can do to make the year's gains answer the year's expenses.”
“That will be a very bad thing if it comes to be the case of the whole nation, Jane: but I do not think that my father and you need mind it,— so much as you have both accumulated. It is a bad state of things, however. Have you seen Dr. Sav about my father?”
“Why, no. I think that be would be alarmed at my mentioning such a thing; and as I know
his ailments to be from an uneasy mind——
However, I will watch him, and if he does not get better,But he looks particularly ill today.”
“He does indeed.”
Morgan was waiting near the door when Henry went out.
“I take shame, Mr. Henry, my dear,”said she, “that I did not half beheve you in what you said, the morning you went away, about coming again, and going to be happy.”
“Well, Morgan, you beheve me now?”
“Yes, my dear, I do; and I feel, by your looks, that there is some great reason behind. Do you know, I should say, if it was not a strange thing to say, Mr. Henry,—I should say you were married.”
“That is a strange guess, Morgan. Suppose you come, some day, and see; and, if you bring Jane with you, so nmch the better.”
“Ah! my dear, you,it would be a wholesome change for her, so much as she goes through with my master. You may beheve me I hear her half the night, stealing about to watch his sleep, when by chance he gets any quiet sleep; and at other times comforting him.”
“Do you mean that he suffers much?”
“In mind, Mr, Henry. What can they expect whom God permits to be deluded about what they should seek? Be sure you take care, Sir, to provide for your own household; but I hope never to hear you tossing in your bed becanse of the doubt whether you will have three times or only twice as much gold as you can use.”
“Treat him tenderly, Morgan; and send for me whenever you think I can be of any use.”
“My dear, there is not a sick child crying for its broken toy that I would treat so tenderly as your father,—even if I had not Miss Jane before me for a pattern. I will send for you, I promise you; but it is little that any of us can do when it comes to be a matter of serious illness. We brought neither gold nor friends into this world, and 'tis certain we cannot carry them out; but what you can do for your father, you shall be called to do, Sir. However, as Michael says, if there comes a flow of custom to make his mind easy, he may be as well as ever.”
No such flow of custom came, and various circumstarnces concurred to lower Mr. Farrer's spirits, and therefore aggravate his disease. Within the next eight months, nearly a thousand bankruptcies bore testimony to the grievous nature of the burdens under which trade was suffering. Rumours of the approaching downfall of church and state were circulated with sufificient emphasis to shake the nerves of a sick man who had very little notion of a dependenee on anything but church and state. Besides this, he did not see that it was now possible for him to be well against New Year's Eye,—the festival occasion of those whose lives had afforded a subject of mutual money-speculation; and if he could not be well on this anniversary,he was convinced he should be dead. Every time that Henry went, he thought worse of his father's case, however flattering might be the physician's reports and assurances. There was no thought of removing him; for the first attempt would have been the death of him. Where he was born and bred, there he must die; and the best kindness was to wrap him in his great-coat, and let him sit behind the counter, ordering, and chatting, and weighing pennyworths, and finding fault with every body, from Mr. Pitt down to Sam the shop-boy.
The last morning of the year broke bright and cheery. When Morgan issued from the shop, dressed in her red cloak and round beaver over a mob-cap,—the Welsh costume which she continued to wear,—the copper sun showed himself behind the opposite chimney, and. glistened on the candies in the window and the icicles which hung from the outside cornice. Many a cheery sound was in the frosty air,— the laughtex of children sliding in the Row, the newsman's call, the clatter of horses' feet over the slippery pavement, and the jangle of cans at the stall where hot coffee was sold at the street-corner. All this was strange to the eyes and ears of Morgan, not only from her being unaccustomed to walk abroad, but from its contrast with the scene she had just left.
When she had quitted Mr. Parrer's sick chamber, the red daylight had begun to glimmer through the green stuff window curtain, giving a signal to have done with the yellow candlelight, and to speak some words of cheer to the pahent on the coming of a new day. Mr. Farrer had looked dreadfully ill in the flickering gleam of the fire, as he sat in the arm-chair from which his oppressed breathing forbade him to move; but in the daylight he looked absolutely ghastly, and Morgan felt that no time was to be lost in summoning Henry, under pretence of purchasing a gallon of wine.
Her master had called her back to forbid her buying wine while there was so much in the house; but she was gone beyond the reach of his feeble voice, and the other persons who were in the room were for the wine being bought. Dr. Say, an apothecary who passed very well for a physician in this neighbourhood, declared that homemade raisin wine was by no means likely to agree with the pahent, or support his strength; and Peek, the son-in-law, reminded the old gentleman that the cost of the wine would come out of his estate, as it was little likely that he would live to pay the bill.
“You yourself said,” uttered the old man in the intervals of his pantings, “you said, only last week, that few drink foreign wine that spend less than their six hundred a-year. I don't spend six hundred a-year; and Jane's raisin wine might serve my turn.”
“That was in talking about the taxes,—the tax that doubles the cost of wine. I don't see why people of three hundred a-year should not drink as much as those that spend six, if the cost of wine was but half what it is; especially if they be sick and dying.—And a fine thing it would be for the wine trade, seeing that there are many more people who spend three hundred a-year than six. So both the makers and the drinkers have reason to be vexed that for every gallon of wine that ought to cost five shillings, they have to pay ten.”
“Now, Mr. Peek, do not make my father discontented with his wine before he tastes it,”said Jane, observing the shade that came over the old man's face at the mention of the price.
“O, that need not be. He must have had wine for to-night, you know, if he had been well, and brandy into the bargain, if Jerry Hill and his brother had been alive.—But, sir, if you find fault with the wine-duty, what would you have? There is no help for it but an income tax, and. you don't like that, you tell me.—Dear me, Dr. Say, look how white he turns, and how his teeth chatter. He is failing very fast, andpoor soul!”
“Confound the income tax! The very talk of it has been the death of me,”Mr. Farter had still strength to say.
“Mr. Peek, I wish you would leave off talking about such things,”said Jane. “Do not you see that my father cannot bear it?”
“Why, dear me, Jane, don't you know that there is nothing he is so fond of talking about as that that he and I know most about? Why, he is never tired of asking me about what I meet with in the way of my business!”
“Well! tell him stories to amuse him, if you like; but don't threaten him with the income tax any more.”
“With all my heart. He shall carry none but pleasant ideas to his grave for me.—I say, sir, I should think you must sell a good many more candles since the duty came off, don't you? —Ah! I find the difference in some of the poorer houses I go into. A halfpenny a pound on tallow candles was a tax——”
“That prevented many a pahent of mine from being properly nursed,”said Dr. Say. “When people are just so poor as not to afford much candlelight, such a tax as that dooms many sick to toss about in the dark, frightened at their own fancies, when a light, to show things as they are, would have composed them to sleep. That was a bad tax: the rich using few tallow candles.”
“If that be bad, the others were worse;—that on cottages with less than seven windows! Lord! I shall never forget what work I used to have and to hear of about that tax. He must have been a perverse genius that thought of that tax, and deserved to be put into a cottage of two windows himself.—Do you hear, Mr. Farrer, that is over and gone; and I suppose you used to pay a tax upon Morgan that you are not asked for now?”
Mr. Farter now proved himself still able to laugh, while he told how he never paid a farthing for Morgan before the tax on female servants had been repealed. Morgan beheved herself to be the fifheth cousin of the family; and on the days when the tax-gatherer was expected,Farrer always contrived that Morgan should be seated at some employment found for her in the parlour, and called a relation of the family. Jane now understood for the first time why her father was upon occasion so strangely peremptory about the sofa cover being patched, or his shirts mended, by no one but Morgan, and nowhere but in the parlour. The repeal of these three assessed taxes, and of a fourth,—on carts and waggons,—was acknowledged to be an improvement on old management, however grievous might be the actual burdens, and the great one now in prospect.
In pursuance of his plan to give Mr. Farter none but pleasant ideas to carry to the grave, Peek proceeded to observe on the capability of the country to bear much heavier burdens than formerly. Arkwright alone had provided the means of paying a large amount of taxes, by endowing the country with the vast resources of the cotton manufacture.
“And what came of it all?”muttered Mr. Farrer. “There is Arkwright in his grave, just like any other man.”
“That's very true; and just as if he had had no more than his three hundred a-year all his days. But it was a noble thing that he did,— the enabling the country to bear up ia such times as we live in. For my part, I think the minister may very fairly ask for more money when such a piece of good luck has befallen us as our cotton manufacture turns out to be. I'm not so much against the war, since there is this way of paying for it.”
“You forget we are in debt, Peek. ‘Duty first, and pleasure afterwards,’ I say. ‘Charity begins at home,’ say I. Pay the debt first, and then go to war, if you must.”
Some other improvements will turn up, time enough to pay the debt, I dare say. When the war is done, the minister has only to find somebody, like Arkwright, that will make a grand invention, and then he can pay off the debt at his leisure.”
“No, never,”cried Fairer, in a stronger voice than Jane thought he could now exert. “You will see Arkwright in the next world before you see his like in this. I knew Arkwright. And as for the debt,—how is that ever to be paid? The country is ruined, and God knows what will become of nay little savings!”
And the old man wept as if he had already lost his all. It was always a melancholy fact to him that Arkwright, whom he had been wont to consider the happiest of men, had been obliged to go away from his wealth;—to die like other men. Peek attempted to comfort him, regardless of the frowning looks of Dr. Say, and of Jane's hints to hold his tongue.
“Why, all that requires to be taken care of will go to Jane, I suppose, though some of your things would be more suitable to my wife than to any single woman. That is a nice mattress; any indeed the bedding altogether is just what would suit our brown chamber, as I was saying to my wife. But I suppose Jane is to have all that sort of thing?”
“Mr. Peek, you will either go away or leave off talking in that manner,”said Jane, moving away the empty tankard from which he had drunk his morning ale.
“Mr. Farrer will enjoy many a good night in that very bed, when we have subdued the little obstruction that affects the breathing,” observed Dr. Say, soothingly.
“We all know better than that,”said Peek, with an ostentatious sigh. “It is hard to leave what it costs such a world of pains to get. I've heard you say, Mr. Farter, holy proud you were when you got a watch, as a young man. That's it, I suppose, over the chimney-piece; and a deal of silver there must be in it, from the weight. I suppose this falls to Jane too? It will go on, tick, tick, just the same as ever.”
Mr. Farrer forgot his pain while he watched Peek's method of handling the old watch, and followed his speculations about the disposal of his property.
“And do you think that singing-bird will miss you?” asked Peek, nodding to the siskin in its cage. “I have heard of birds that have pined, as they say dogs do, from the day of their master's death. But my children would soon teach your Teddy a merry ditty, and cure him of moping.”
“Jane, don't let ally body but Morgan move that bird out of the house: do you hear?” said farrer.
“It is nobody's bird but your's, father. Nobody shall touch it.”And Jane set Teddy singing, iu hopes of stopping Peek's speculations.
“And there's the old punch-bowl,”continued the son-in-law, as soon as there was again silence. “That will be yours of course, Jane?”
“O, our good friend will make punch many a time yet out of that bowl, when we shall have set up his appetite,”declared Dr. Say.
“No, no, Doctor, He will never make punch again in this world.”
There was a pause after this positive declaration, which was broken by Farrer saying to his daughter,
“You don't say anything against it. You don't think you had rather not have the things.”
Jane rephed in a manner which showed great conflict and agony of mind. She should feel like a child, if her father must leave her. She had never lived without him. She did not know that she could conduct herself and her affairs without him. She was in a terror when she thought of it, and her mind was full of reproach——
“Ah! you'll be marrying, next thing, and all my things will be going nobody Knows where.
But as for reproaching yourself,—no need of that, so far, for you have been a good daughter to me.”
Jane declared that she had no thoughts of marrying.
“Come, Doctor, which way are you going? Will you walk with me?” said Peek whose apprehensions about the final destination of the property were roused by the sentimental regards which Dr. Say began to cast upon Jane, when the conversation took this turn. Dr. Say was in no hurry; could not think of leaving his patient; would stay to see the effect of the wine,—and so forth. The old man stretched his feeble hand towards the doctor's skirt, amt begged him to remain.—One reason of his wish was that he felt as if he should not die whilst his doctor was by his side; and another was that he wished for the presence of a stranger while Henry was with him, and Henry was now coming up stairs.
“They say I am going, Harry; and now perhaps you will be sorry that you did not do all that I bade you.”
“I always have been sorry, father, that I could not.”
“I should like to know, Doctor, how one should manage one's sons now-a-days. Here's Harry won't follow my business for all I can say; and Mike is leaving the shop to take care of itself, while I am laid fast in this way. He was to have been back three days ago; and not a word have we beard of him, and don't know where to send to him. One must look to one's daughters, after all—though my father never had to say that of me. I was in the very middle of counting our stock of short moulds when I was called up stairs to see him die.—Well, Henry; I have left you nothing, I give you notice.”
“Indeed, father, I am able to earn what I want; and I have to thank you for this. You have given me already more than the wealth of tlle world; and I shall never forget it.”
“I don't very well know what you mean; but I can fancy about the not forgetting. I saw a moon over the church there——”
The old man was evidently wandering after some idea of what he had observed on the night after his father's death, and many nights since; and with this he mixed up some strange anxiehes about the neglect of the shop this day. Within a few minutes, Peek was gone to be a Job's com-torter to his dawdling wife, assuring her that she could not, by any exertion, arrive in Budge Row in time to see her father alive; Jane was trying to pacify the old man by attending behind the counter; while Dr. Say and Henry remained with the pahent. Henry did not choose to be alone with him, lest any fit of generosity should seize his father, and cause dissension among the more dutiful of the children.
A few more hours were spent in the restless, fruitless, disheartening cares which form the greatest part of the humiliation of the sick-room: the shutting out the light that is irksome, and then restoring it because the darkness is oppressive; the preparing food which is not to be tasted, and offering drink which cannot be swallowed; the changing the posture perpetually, because each is more uneasy than the last. A few hours of this, and of mutterings about Jerry Hill and his brother, which indicated that some idea of tlle day and its circumstances was present to the dymg man,—a few hours of extraordinary self-restraint to Jane, and anxiety to Morgan, and all was over.
Pahence came five minutes too late. She found the shop-boy standing with eyes and mouth wide, instead of attending to a customer. He could only relate that Morgan had just shown herself at the inside door, looking very grave, and that Miss Farrer had turned very white, and gone up stairs; so that he was sure his master was dead. The customer was officious in helping to half-close the shutters, and so obliging as to go elsewhere for what he wanted, spreading as he went the news of the death of the rich old fellow, Farter the grocer.
Where was Michael? This was a question asked many times before night-fall by one or other of the household. None could answer it; not even she who knew most about Michael's proceedings, and to whom Morgan condescended to go in person in search of information. The young woman was as much at a loss as any body, and so extremely uneasy that Morgan found in her heart to pity her.
Where was Michael? This was the question that returned upon Jane's mind and heart in the dead stillness of the night, when, by her own desire, she was sitting up alone beside her father's corpse. She wouht not hear of Henry's staying, and forbade Morgan's remaining beyond the usual early hours of the house.
She turned the watch with its face to the wall, when she had wound it up;,for she did not wish to know when midnight aud the new year came. It was a gusty night. and she hoped not to hear the church-clock sinke. She heard instead the voices of the party assembled in the house that day twelvemonth,—the httle party of friends whose hopes of wealth depended individually on the chance of surviving the rest. What would she not now give to be set back to that time! The intervening year had disclosed to her something that she did not fully know before,—that she was being devoured by the growing passion of avarice. She had felt joy at the death of Jerry Hill's brother, though the time had been when the bare idea of his death weighed upon her heart for days! She had been unable to tell her father that she did not wish for what he had to leave. And now,—what did she desire to hear about Michael? If he had formed bad connexions,—if he was playing a desperate game with smuggters,—if he should now marry the mother of his ehitdren, and thus distribute by wholesale the wealth his father had saved, and squander the large annuity which had fallen to him as to her, from their being the sole survivors of the lot of lives,—what, in such a risk, would be the best news she could hear of Michael? She started from her seat in horror as soon as she became conscious that she had entertained the question. She uncovered the face of the corpse. She had never before seen those restless features immoveable,—not even in sleep. The eyes had never before refused to look upon her, the lips to answer ta her. If he no longer cared for her, who should care? The feeling of desolation came over her strongly; and when her heart bounded for an instant at the thought of her wealth, and then sank, as a vivid picture came before her of Michael struggling and sinking in this night's stormy sea, she was completely overpowered. The light swam before her eyes, the corpse seemed to rise up in the bed; the gust that swept along the narrow street, and the clatter of hail against the window at the instant, terrified her unaccountably. Something grasped her tight round the throat; something pulled her clothes behind; something looked down from the top of the bed. Shrieks woke Morgan from the sleep which had just overtaken her, and brought her down in the dark, stumbling against the shivering shop-boy, who had come out upon the stairs because he dared not stay in his own room.
At the sight of Morgan, standing half dressed at the door, jane became instantly quiet. She sank into a chair, while Morgan walked straight to the bed; her first idea being that the old man was not dead, and that some movement of his had terrified her mistress. When she saw that all was still, she turned to Jane with an anxious look of inquiry.
“Morgan, Michael is dead; I think he is, I killed him; I am sure I did!”
“No, Miss Jane; there is some difference between wishing a man dead and Killing him!”
“How do you know? Who told you about it?” asked Jane, with chattering teeth.
“There is a light in your eyes, and a heat on your cheeks, that told me long ago more than you knew yourself. I have seen you grow a child again, my dear, when every body got to regard you as a staid woman.”
“No, no; I wish I was—I wish I was a child again.”
“Why, my dear, what can be more childish than grasping at what you cannot use, and giving up all that is precious for the sake of what you grow less and less able to enjoy?”
“God knows I have nothing left that is precious,”murmured Jane, sinking into tears.
“Yes, you have. Even they that did you the cruelest harm,—that turned your heart in upon itself for their own selfish ends, could not take from you all that is precious, as long as God. makes men into famihes. My dear, if you see nothing to make you forget your gold in what I saw this morning, you deserve nothing better than gold, and I shall consider you given over entirely. If you do not despise your money in comparison with your brother Henry and his lady, it is a pity you are their sister.”
“His lady! What lady?”
“His wife, ma'am; I saw her this morning, A pretty lady she is,—so young, and speaking English that I could hardly make out without the help of her bright face. And there was her fa ther ton, who could not speak to me at all, though he talked fast enough with his daughter. And Mr. Henry was very busy with his books and papers, in a corner of the room where they have hung up a curtain, that he may be, in a manner, by himself; for they have not overmuch room. You will see no gold by going there; but—”
“But why——? I am his sister, and he never
took me there; and——”
“You were too rich, Miss Jane, not to want more money; so they waited till you could not tax them with interfering with your dues. If you had asked, Mr. Henry would have told you every thing. As it is, he will bring his wife to-morrow, and you will be all the better friends for there being no talk of dividing money between yon.”
“Ah! Morgan,” said Jane, becoming calm in proportion as she was humbled, “you will leave me and go to them; you will leave me to such service as gold can buy!”
“Never, my dear. You must have some one to put you in mind what great things you can do, and what great things yon have done for one whom not even you could make happy, after all.” And she cast a sorrowful look upon the corpse. “You will want some one to hush you and bring you round again when you take such fits as you have had to-night; and this one of to- night will not be the last, nay dear, if you keep your mind and conscience on the rack about money. You will want somebody to help you to be thankful if Providence should be graciously pleased to lessen your wealth. And if the worst comes to the worst, my dear, you will want somebody to cover your sin before the world, and to watch privately for any fair moment for softening your heart. So I shall stay by you, and always maintain what a noble and tender heart you once had, up to this very midnight, Miss Jane.”
For the next hour,—while her father's remains lay at hand, and she was hearing of Henry, and meditating on his story,—Jane felt some of the disgust at mere wealth, as an object, that is often expressed, but which was a new feeling to her. Her mind gradually became confused while contemplating the uncertainty and emptiness of the life that lay before her; and she dropped asleep in her father's chair, giving her old friend opportunity at last to shed the many tears she had repressed under the appearance of sternness, when to be stern was the truest kindness. She afterwards preserved a much more distinct recollection than Jane of the conversation of the night.