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15.The Musical Banks
On my return to the drawing-room, I found that the Mahaina current had expended itself.
The ladies were just putting away their work and preparing to go out. I asked them where
they were going. They answered with a certain air of reserve that they were going to the
bank to get some money.
Now I had already collected that the mercantile affairs of the Erewhonians were
conducted on a totally different system from our own; I had, however, gathered little
hitherto, except that they had two distinct commercial systems, of which the one appealed
more strongly to the imagination than anything to which we are accustomed in Europe,
inasmuch as the banks that were conducted upon this system were decorated in the most
profuse fashion, and all mercantile transactions were accompanied with music, so that
they were called Musical Banks, though the music was hideous to a European ear.
As for the system itself I never understood it, neither can I do so now: they have a code in
connection with it, which I have not the slightest doubt that they understand, but no
foreigner can hope to do so. One rule runs into, and against, another as in a most
complicated grammar, or as in Chinese pronunciation, wherein I am told that the slightest
change in accentuation or tone of voice alters the meaning of a whole sentence. Whatever
is incoherent in my description must be referred to the fact of my never having attained to
a full comprehension of the subject.
So far, however, as I could collect anything certain, I gathered that they have two distinct
currencies, each under the control of its own banks and mercantile codes. One of these
(the one with the Musical Banks) was supposed to be THE system, and to give out the
currency in which all monetary transactions should be carried on; and as far as I could
see, all who wished to be considered respectable, kept a larger or smaller balance at these
banks. On the other hand, if there is one thing of which I am more sure than another, it is
that the amount so kept had no direct commercial value in the outside world; I am sure
that the managers and cashiers of the Musical Banks were not paid in their own currency.
Mr. Nosnibor used to go to these banks, or rather to the great mother bank of the city,
sometimes but not very often. He was a pillar of one of the other kind of banks, though he
appeared to hold some minor office also in the musical ones. The ladies generally went
alone; as indeed was the case in most families, except on state occasions.
I had long wanted to know more of this strange system, and had the greatest desire to
accompany my hostess and her daughters. I had seen them go out almost every morning
since my arrival and had noticed that they carried their purses in their hands, not exactly
ostentatiously, yet just so as that those who met them should see whither they were going.
I had never, however, yet been asked to go with them myself.
It is not easy to convey a person's manner by words, and I can hardly give any idea of the
peculiar feeling that came upon me when I saw the ladies on the point of starting for the
bank. There was a something of regret, a something as though they would wish to take