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Chapter II.: A HIGHLAND FARM. - Harriet Martineau, Illustrations of Political Economy, vol. 2 
Illustrations of Political Economy (3rd ed) in 9 vols. (London: Charles Fox, 1832). Vol. 2.
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A HIGHLAND FARM.
There was such a bustle at the farm as had not been seen for many a day. At the first alarm of company landing, the girls of the family unyoked themselves from the harrow which they were drawing over the light, sandy soil, and hastened into the house, where their mother had already begun her preparations. One of them set about fanning the smouldering peat fire with the torn skirt of her woollen petticoat, while the other climbed upon the settle to take down one of the regiment of smoked geese which hung overhead from a pole, in somewhat the same kind of arrangement in which they had once winged their flight through the upper air. Lean, black, and coarse, the bird would have been little tempting to the appetite of a stranger; but as all the approaching company were not strangers, it stood a fair chance of being eaten with relish. The mother, while calling to one or another to bring out a cheese front the press, and barley-cakes from the cupboard, was now engaged in bringing potatoes to light from under her own bed, and taking off the cream from pans which were hidden from common observation by a curtain of peat-smoke.
The goose being set to boil, and the potatoes ready to be put into the same pot in due time, (possibly in order that the oil from the bird might save tho trouble of buttering them when they came to table,) the readiest of the two maidens hastened to exhibit the snow-white cloth of ancient home manufacture, which covered, on rare festivals, the table in Callum's apartment. By the time it was spread out to view, it displayed, besides all its varieties of pattern, a further diversity, not intended by the original designer. Here a streak of yellow oil imbibed from the goose; there a brush of mould from a potatoe; here a few harmless drops of cream, and there a corner dabbled in more fragrant whisky, were all new for the occasion. The next thing to be done, was to unpack the baskets of provisions which, out of consideration for the stomachs of the strangers, had been sent in the boat by the laird's housekeeper. What jostling of helpers, what jingling of bottles, what spilling of everything that could be spilt, what soiling of all that was solid! It was well for those who were to eat, that they saw nothing of this household preparation; if they had, neither the fresh sea-breeze, nor the exercise they had taken, would have availed to give a relish to thier meal. To beguile the impatience they began to feel for their dinner, some surveyed the farm, some seated themselves on a bench beside the door, to regale their eves with the splendid view of sea and islands which presented itself: and these occasionally conversed with the farmer's sons,—two boys, who stood staring at a little distance, and were, after much, perseverance, prevailed upon to speak.
“What is your name?” asked a lady of the younger boy.
He put three fingers in his mouth and stared, but made no reply; and it was some minutes before it appeared that his name was Rob.
“Well; now you haw told me your own, name, tell me the name of that island, that looks so black with the shadow of the cloud upon it.”
“No, no. Hachanu lies the other way, and we have just come from it. Use your eyes, my man. How should you know which I mean if you stand with your back to it?”
“It's Garveloch, maybe.”
“Nay; this is Garveloch that we stand upon. One would think it had no frame, by the little you know about it.”
“It has not any name,” cried the boy brightening.
“Well; why could not you say so before? Do you ever go there?”
“I have been there.”
“What do you go there for?”
“Father takes me in the boat.”
“And what do vou do when you get there?”
“We go and then we come back again.”
“I suppose so: but do you fish, or get eggs, or visit your friends, or what?”
Rob laughed, stared, and then looked at his brother, who conveyed with some trouble that nobody lived there. The lady next tried to make something of him.
“What do you go to that desert island for, my lad?”
“Why was you wanting to know?”
“Only out of curiosity. If your errand there is a secret, say so, and I will not ask you.”
The boy laughed, and said they went sometimes for one thing and sometimes for another; and this was all that could be made out.—What was the distance? was the next question.
“It may be twelve mile.”
“Twelve! it cannot be so much surely.”
“Maybe tis five.”
“I do not believe it is more than two.”
“Indeed, I'm thinking ye're right.”
“You do not seem to know much about the matter”.
“Indeed, I know nothing about it.”
And so forth, upon every subject started: nor did their father appear much more enlightened in his way.
“The cattle seem to have done your field a world of mischief,” observed an English gentleman, “and no wonder, with such a pretence of a fence as that. How long has it been broken down?”
“Indeed I can't remember.”
“Not this year, or last,” said his landlord, “for I remember advising you three seasons ago to make your boys clear the ground of these stones, which would have built up your wall presently.—You said you would, and I suppose you still mean to do it some day.”
“O aye, some day; and I have spoken to the lads many a time.”
“Speaking does not seem to have done much good.”
“Indeed, your honour's right.”
“Set about it yourself, I advise you, and then perhaps they will work with you, if you can't prevail upon them by other means.”
“May be I will some day.”
“I see no stock except a shaggy pony or two, or the few black cattle on the moor there,” observed the English gentleman.
“There are both pigs and poultry, if you could find out where they ark,” said the laird laughing.
The gentleman looked round in vain, and then applied to fanner Murdoch himself.
“Do ye think we've no more cattle than them:” asked he proudly. “There are many more of the kine down below fishing.”
“Cattle fishing! What do you mean?”
“I just mean what I say,—the kine are getting fish for themselves in the pools below, and the pigs——”
The laird explained to his friend that all domestic animals, even horses, relish fish when their other food is poor of its kind; and that it is the custom of the native cattle to go down to the beach at low water, and help themselves out of the pools in which fish have been left by the retiring tide.
“Well, Murdoch; and your pigs and poultry, —where are they? Do your pigs live on wild ducks, and your fowls on sea-weed?”
“Na, na, ” said Murdoch. “Where should. they be but yonder? Ye'll see them when ye go in to dinner.”
“What! in the house?”
“To be sure,” said the laird. “As soon as you enter, the pig will run between your legs, and the fowls will perch upon each shoulder, and then you will be asked where the poor beasts could be better. If ever accident should oblige you to sleep in a farm-house hereabouts, examine your bed lest a sucking-pig should have taken possession before you, and in the morning, look for eggs in your shoes before you slip your feet into them,— But see, you must make acquaintance with these domestics out of doors for once. Here comes the old grunter, and there are the fowls fluttering as if they liked the day-light no better than bats.”
In honour of the guests, the house was cleared of live stock, and their banishment was a sign that dinner was ready at last. —The meal was conducted with tolerable decency, as in addition to the boatmen who waited on the guests, Callum had arrived to keep things in order, and do the honours of his apartment. By dint of swearing at one, flinging his Highland bonnet at another, and coaxing a third, he procured a change of trenchers, when his guests turned from fish to fowl, and thence to cheese. This change did not much matter to those who ate of the provisions of the farm-house, for everything had a smack of the sea. The cream was fishy, the cheese was fishy, and the barley bannocks themselves had a salt and bitter flavour as if they had been dipped in sea-water; so at least the English gentlemen thought, remembering how the cattle fed, and having seen the land manured with sea-weed. As it was certainly pure fancy as far as the barley-cakes were concerned, it might have been so in the other cases; but he turned with much greater relish to the provisions which had been brought from the mainland.
Ella arrived before the meal was over, and waited outside till the laird could Speak with her. His first question, when he took his seat on the bench beside the door, and his tenant stood before him, was, what had made her brothers so unlike the boys within, and most of the other lads belonging to the islands? He knew that they had been early taught industry by their father's example; but who had instructed them to husband that industry, to make use of eyes, ears, and understanding as well as limbs? Who had made them intelligent and skilful as well as laborious?
“How does your honour know they are so?” asked Ella, for once following the Highland fashion of answering one question by another.
“I saw at a glance that they were intelligent, and Ronald told me enough while we were waiting for you to show that you know better how to live with a little than these cousins of yours with much. How did you all learn?”
“Did Ronald tell you about Angus?” asked Ella, her eye for the first time sinking under that of the laird.
“Merely that Angus taught you the management of a boat, as he had learned it iu dangerous places abroad. Angus is a relation, I suppose, or only a friend?”
“A friend; and he taught us all many things that are little thought of here. My father ever said we should do well if we had Angus at hand to advise us.”
“I suppose he will come and advise you again, Ella, at such an important time as this. Will you not send for him? Can I carry any message to the mainland, for I hear that it was from over the water that he used to come.”
Ella answered in a somewhat stern voice, that if ever he came again it must be from over the water, for that he had been in foreign parts for five years, and nothing had been heard of him for long.
“Five years! then he could not have taught her brothers much, so young as they must have been when he went away.” Ella replied that he taught her whatever her father could not, and her brothers learned of her.
“Perhaps,” said the laird, “if his friends expected to hear of him, something prevented his sending to them.”
“No doubt,” replied Ella.
“What do you imagine it could be, Ella?”
“Perhaps he is dead,” said she quietly, but still looking on the ground.
“You do not suppose he has forgotten his old friends? yet, such things do sometimes happen, Ella.”
She made no answer; and the laird saw by the deep colour which made itself seen through her weather-worn complexion, that he had gone too far. He was very sorry; and now wondered at his own slowness in perceiving the true state of the case, but there was so little in her appearance to suggest the idea, and she seemed so wholly devoted to her brothers, that he had fancied the connexion with Angus one of pure friendship,—of that friendship which bears in the Highlands a character of warmth, simplicity, and familiarity, not very common in some other places.
“To relieve Ella, the laird spoke immediately of business, relating what was to be done to make the cottage and field tenantable, and explaining to her that, twenty shillings a year being the interest upon the capital laid out, twenty shillings a year was the sum he would take, if she thought she could pay it.—Ella had no doubt of it.
“Try it for a year.” said the laird, “and then if either party is discontented, we can change our terms, I hope you will meet with no disturbance from any one, and that you may find all your little plans answer well, so that you may be able to pay rent whenever the time comes for neighbours to settle down beside you and increase the cost of the place you hold. That time will come, I give you warning; and when it comes, I hope you will be rich enough to meet it.”
“Surely, your honour, we hope to improve the land, so to be able to pay more than for the fencing; but how are we to improve the sea, or the ledges where we cut weed?”
“You cannot improve them, Ella; but if you are in a more favourable situation than your neighbours for obtaining their produce, you must expect to pay for the advantage. If I were to ask a rent to-day for the fishing in your bay, neither you nor others would pay it; you would say ‘I will go to some other situation as good, where there is no rent to pay,’ and you would settle yourself down in Hachanu or elsewhere, and keep all you could obtain. But when all these best situations are taken possession of, other comers say to me, ‘We will pay you a part of what we get if you will let us have a line of shore that shelves conveniently for our kelping, or where fish is plentiful.’”
“And then,” said Ella, “we must pay as much as they offer, if we mean to stay; or take up with a worse situation if we will not pay. Well; I doubt not we can pay your honour duly when that time comes, over and above the twenty shillings for the house and fences. It may bc in fish or kelp, instead of money, but we will manage to pay, if Mr. Callum be not bard upon us.”
“I shall tell Callum to receive my interest in any shape that it may suit you best to pay it; in fish, or in kelp, or in grain, or even in peat. This is but fair considering how far you are from any market. As for the real rent, do not trouble your head about that at present. It will be long before you will be called on for any; and I only mentioned it to show you what you have to expect if you grow rich.”
“Will our growing rich make us liable to pay what your honour calls real rent? You will excuse my asking, but I like to know what is before us.”
“Your growing rich will tempt people to come and try their fortune; and then, as I said, the best situation must pay for being the best. Is not this fair?”
“To be sure; your honour would not ask any thing unfair.”
“That is not enough, Ella. If there should be a new laird by that time—”
“God forbid!” exclaimed Ella. “A new laird would not come to Garveloch in this way, like your honour, or listen to what your people have to say.”
“But answer me,” said the laird, smiling, “Would you object to pay rent, in the case I speak of, whoever might be laird?”
“Surely no,” replied Ella, “unless I could better myself by moving; which I could not do if all situations as good as my own were taken up.”
“And how much would you be willing to pay?”
“Let's see. If we had over and above, at the end of the year, two barrels of herrings and half a ton of kelp, we'll say,— I would find out how much we should have over and above, in the same time, in the next best place; and if it was one barrel of herrings and a quarter of a ton of kelp, I would pay the difference,—that is one barrel of herrings and a quarter of a ton of kelp, rather than move.
“Very right; and then you would be as well off in the one place as in the other. There would still be a fair profit on both.”
“And I am sure your honour would not ask more than our profits would come to.”
“There would be little use in my asking even if I wished it, Ella; for it would not be paid. Your neighbour would not settle beside you, unless the place answered to him; and it I demanded more of you than the difference between your profits and his, you would, of course, move to a situation like his?”
“I should be sorry to move,” said Ella, looking downwards to her new place of abode, “but, in such a case, I must.”
“Such a case will not occur, Ella; for we are not so foolish as to let our farms and cottages stand empty from our asking more rent than they can pay.”
“I am not afraid, sir, of having to give up our place. Whenever there is a rent, it will be small at first, I suppose?”
“Yes, and it will grow very slowly in a wild place like this, and it may be years before it bears any at all. In the meanwhile, tell your brothers what I have been telling you.”
Ella promised and then proceeded to the one thing more she had to say. It was a request one Archie's behalf,—a petition that he might amuse himself as he pleased upon the Story, a high rock, formed like a pyramid, that stood out from one point in the bay in which Ella's cottage stood. This rock was an island at high water, being joined to Garveloch only by a strip of sand, which was overflowed twice every day. Myriads of Bed-birds haunted this rock; and Archie having once found his way to these, his favourite companions, could not, his sister believed, be kept from going continually. The laird gave ready permission, only offering a caution against the perils of the tide, rising and falling as it did perpetually in the very path. Of this, Ella had no fear; for not the most skilful seamen could be more cautions, or appear more knowing than Archie, when be had to do with the tide. His sister observed that he had never put life or limb in the way ot peril; and this caution so peculiar to children in Archie's state, went far to confirm the island superstition that the poor boy was under special invisible protection, and therefore screened from ill usage at the hand of man, as well as from natural perils.
The Storr being yielded to Archie as freely as the rocks to Ronald and the peat-moss to Fergus, Ella's business was done, and her gratitude secured,—gratitude offered as soon as deserved, and in greater abundance than the laird thought the occasion required, however Mr. Callum might complain of the absence of this prime qualification of a tenant. Ella's gratitude was not eloquent, but the laird saw enough of its effects upon her countenance and manner to wonder at the degree of satisfaction caused by the present arrangement. He kindly bade Ella farewell, and while she rapidly descended the rocks by one path, he sought his party by another.
He found his companions in great consternation, and the boatmen looking about on the beach, as if for something which had been dropped. What were they looking for,—a bracelet, a brooch, or was it a watch ? Ornaments and valuables should not be trusted abroad on such expeditions.—O it was nothing of that kind: it was the boat they were looking for! The boat! and did they expect to find it among the shingles, or hidden under the sea"–weeds ? Who had drawn it up on the beach or moored it in the cove ? Nobody could lay claim to the praise of such a service; the boat had been left to itself, and bad, of course, drifted down the Sound with the tide, and was probably dashed to pieces. “While the responsible persons were bandying reproach, the English gentleman began to anticipate the fade he had been warned of, —a pig for his pillow, and eggs in his shoes, if indeed he couhl hope for the luxury of a bed. or of liberty to put off his clothes. The laird ordered the only measure now in their power, to borrow the boat in which Ella and her brothers were about to return home. The farmer promised to house his relations for the night, and to send them back when his boat should return the next morning.
After waiting more than an hour, the people appeared at a great distance on the beach bearing the boat, instead of on the sea, being borne by the boat. The farmer explained that this was, perhaps, the shorter way, as the jutting rocks must have compelled them to make a wide circuit.
“Where are the oars?” said the laird, as they approached; whereupon they once more looked around them, saying, they thought the oars had been safe enough though the boat was gone. It was not the case, however, and more messengers were dispatched for Ella's oars. The ladies began to shiver and look at each other, when one of their companions observed it could be terribly late and very dark before they could get home.
“Late, but not dark,” said the laird; “you forget how long our twilight lasts. We shall be able to see our way till midnight.—Come, make haste with your stowage, my good man. But look here! how are you to row? The pins are out that should fix your oar,.”
They had disappeared since morning, Fergus said, and he could not imagine how; he and his brother never pretended to how without, and it was not they who had loosened the pins. It was of more importance to supply the pins than to find who had taken them. Fanner Murdoch sent his boys to pull some teeth out of his wooden harrow, and, after another hour, they were fitted in, the boat launched with the ladies in it, and all apparently ready at last. No sooner, however, had the little vessel left the cove, than it was found to be a pity that there was no sail, as the wind seenwed likely to be favourable, and might make up for lost time. In the midst of doubt and debate, the rowers put back, waving their bonnets to Murdoch and his party, who were ascending the rock.
“What's our will?” cried all on shore.
“A sail! a mast!” answered all in the boat. One went one way and another another, to find a pole for the mast, and a broomstick for the yard, and blankets to make a sail. There was no step for a mast, nor provision for a rudder; but no matter! The pole was tied with twine to one of the benches, and an oar was held at the helm, while the blankets were pinned together with wooden skewers, and managed by means of a scarlet garter tied to the corner, and thus transferred from the knee of one of the boatmen to his hand. The preparations being completed, the progress of the party was again watched by Ella, who anxiously observed the length of the shadows from the rocks upon the bay. When the boat emerged from the shadow and was caught by the wind, it appeared likely to be blown due north, and the party might have been landed very wide of their destination, if a little puff of wind had not carried the sail overboard, and obliged the men to take to their oars after all. It was evident, from there being no delay, that nobody was lost or injured, and Farmer Murdoch was, therefore, at liberty to laugh when he saw his blankets, with their scarlet ornaments, gently floated down the Sound, and seeming to excite the curiosity of the sea birds, which made a dip, in their evening flight homewards, to look at this new marine production.