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Chapter III.: THE FIRST EXCURSION. - 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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THE FIRST EXCURSION.
The laird's orders being too positive to be disobeyed, Ella aud her brothers were permitted to enter their new dwelling by the time the herrings began to appear from the deep seas to the north. As Ella was anxious to be preparing her resources against the rent day, she watched the first signs of the approach of the fish, determining to try the experiment of selling them fresh to the people at the other end of ber island, who, having no boats, could not fish for themselves. Ronald was going out to his usual labour in the field, one July morning, when he observed Elia looking first up to the sky and then abroad over the glittering Sound in which the islands lay, like vessels becalmed, aud beyond which arose the blue peaks of Argyleshire.
“The sun is bright over Lorn, Ella; were ye thinking of atrip to-day?”
“Indeed I was,—not with the nets,—time enough for that; but we might try with the hook and see if the shoals are near; but if the sun will not keep, out, we shall only lose our day.”
“What is Archie going to do?”
“Archie, my man,” said his sister, “will ye bring me some eggs this day? See, the fowl are waiting for ye.”
“We'll wait a bit,” said Ella to her brother: “if he does not come hack in half an hour, we may trust to the sun not to cheat us.” So Ronald looked out the rods and hooks, while his sister bustled about the cottage before she girded herself for the oar. While thus employed, she sang in the raised voice with which maidens sing in these islands. Ere long, she turned round and saw Archie sitting at the door-sill fastening a piece of string to a switch, in imitation of the rods Ronald was preparing.
“Well, Archie; have you quarrelled with the birds to-day, that ye are home, so soon? And where are my eggs?”
“The fowl must wait,” muttered Archie. “I can't play to-day.”
“Are ye ill, my lad?” enquired his sister, tenderly passing her hand over his forehead: but Archie withdrew himself and began switching himself with his new rod.
“Ye may go to the field, Ronald; I'm not for the sea to-day,” said Ella. Aud in less than an hour the sky was overcast, and summer storms swept over the Sound at intervals till night.
“We may always trust Archie,” observed Ronald. “He has a keener sight into the place of storms than we.”
The next day the birds did not wait in vain for Archie. He was stirring as soon as they, having stolen out from his sister's side at dawn, and crossed the bar of sand while the tide was yet low. When the sun peeped above the mountains of Lorn, as fair as on the preceding day, the little lad shouted and clapped his hands above his head; whereupon myriads of sea-birds rose fluttering round him, and wheeled, and dipped, and hovered with cries that would have dismayed a stranger, but which Archie always gloried in provoking. While they drove round his head like autumn leaves in a storm, the terns and gulls screaming, the auks piping, and the cormorants croaking, the boy answered them with shouts and waved his bonnet over his head. Then he clambered to the highest point he could reach that Le might watch the long files of solan geese, as they took their morning flight southwards, and be sure that they were out of sight before he filled his bonnet with their eggs.
His sister and Ronald observed him when they had pushed off from the beach, and were winning their way, each with a steady oar, to the deep waters beyond the bay.
“Fare ye well, Archie,” shouted Ronald in a voice which made the rocks ring again; but Arehie took no notice.
“He is too busy to mind. See how he peeps over yon ledge that neither you nor I dare climb. I wager he finds a prize there: he's dancing with pleasure. He has taken them all, and down he creeps,—aye, take care, my lad: that's it; now on his knees, and there finding a step with his foot. Ye see he never slips. Now he's down, I'll try to win a look.”
Ella sang with all the power of her lungs, and this time Archie turned, clapped his hands and stood still to watch the boat.
“He will not be home sooner than we,” said Ronald. “He is happy to-day, and he will wait for the afternoon ebb.”
“I have put some more bannocks in his hole,” said Ella, “and some fresh water, so he will want for nothing till night.”
“And the storm cast up so much weed yesterday,” said Ronald, “that he may float all the day, if he likes.”
This floating was Archie's favourite amusement, in the interval between the departure of the gannets in the morning and their return from the south at eve. There was a strong current round the Storr, from an eddy below the hole he called his cave quite round the point to a ledge of rocks on the other side of the promontory; which ledge being a favourable spot for embarkation, was called the quay. Archie's delight was to drop feathers, straws, weed, or eggshells, into the eddy, to watch them come up again after they had disappeared, and float round the point, and to find them again collected at the quay. Nobody could please him so well as by giving him a new substance to float; and he brought home many a gannet for the sake of the feathers, more than for the kind smile and stroke of the head with which Ella rewarded such enterprises. She was proud of Archie's feats in bird-catching; and if ever she spoke to a stranger on her domestic affairs, represented Archie as adding to the resources of the household, in no small degree. He seldom exerted himself to hunt the puffins out of their burrows in the rock, and had not sense or patience to manage snares: but such birds as were stupid enough to go on laying their eggs where they were taken away as soon as they appeared, and such as were tame enough to sit still anti be taken by the land, were Archie's prey. He twisted their necks as he had seen his brothers do, and pouched them in his plaid, and still conceived himself to be on terms of close friendship with the species, fancying that their morning, screams were cries of invitation to him, and returning the compliment at eve, by singing southwards from the highest point he could reach, if he thought them late in coming home.
Ella was not mistaken in thinking the herrings were come. There were so many stragglers ready to be caught with newly-tinned hooks, that it was evident a shoal was at hand, and that her nets might be brought into use within a few days.
“See there!” said Ella, when late in the afternoon she and her brother suspended their labour to eat and rest; “it brightens one's eyes to see such a spoil for one day.”
“And such fine fish too,” replied Ronald. “My heart misgave me this morning lest we should find them like what they were last year. It would be a good thing for such as we if we could judge of herring like cod, and know when we should find them well-fed and most fit to be eaten. Last year they were as lean as a moor, and now they are as plump as a barley-field.”
“Thanks be to Him that guides them in the deep waters,” said Ella: “there will be joy under many a roof this season.”
Ronald reverently uncovered his head. “I wonder,” said he, “that we see no more boats. Yon sloop is from Greenock, I wager; come to take up herrings and kelp. She may keep her anchor down long: for not a hook has been thrown in the Sound tall ours, that I could see, and yonder is the first kelp fire within sight this season.”
“Ye'll have one of your own, next season, Ronald, and, I doubt not, it will show light betimes. So willing as ve are to help in the, field and on the water, we owe ye our toil when the storms come. The field once laid out, and the profits of the fish safe pouched, and Fergus's peat stored, he and I will be your servants in our turn, Ronald, and cut and cull weed as fast as ye can draw it in. The rope is begun already.”
“Is it? How thoughtful ye are, Ella! When could ye find time to think of my rope?”
“O, there's ever time for what ought to be provided. I have thinned the pony's tail now and then for a long time, so that I have near hair enough; and when Archie was heavy one day, I thought I could work for you and sing to him at one time; and in the storm yesterday I twisted more. We shall have a long stout rope before the first large drift of weed, anti if ye crop the ledges as plentifully as they promise, we shall have a grand fire, one of the first of the season. How proud it will make me, Ronald, to help to row over your first venture of kelp!”
“Not so proud as it will make me to put the money into the pouch, Ella. To think that I help to pay the laird!”
“I wish it might be into his own hands,” said Ella. “I should like to make you the bearer of it then.”
“And if not,” said Ronald, “it will be honour enough to discharge ourselves of Mr. Callum. Ye have taught me my lesson there, Ella; and when the time comes, I'll show ye a picture of yourself as like as a lad can be to a tall woman. I'll go out beside the door when I hear the pace of his pony on the shingle, and fold my arms in my plaid, and make a reverence about half as low as to the laird, only stiffer. And I'll show the lap of the pouch and say, ‘Here are the laird's dues. Would it please you to count them now or when we have pledged your head and ours?’”
“Ye're a saucy lad,” said Ella: “you know he can't bear to hear that any one is head over him.”
“That is the very reason everybody puts him in mind of it,” replied Ronald. “Well; all this time Fergus is holding his pony, and you are spreading the beet cloth, and he is looking doubtful whether he shall come in, not liking the coldness of people so far below him, but smelling the hot goose very savoury.—So he comes in to count the dues at any rate, after which—”
“Now, Ronald, hold your tongue, or we shall have no dues to count. I've done my meal, and see where we have drifted, and the sun going down too.”
Ella plied both oars, while Ronald hastily devoured the rest of his bannock. When they got within easy reach of home, they once more drew in their oars and cast their hooks: but as it was with less success than before, Ronald again gave a loose to his tongue in a way which his awe of his sister would not have allowed if Fergus had not been absent, and if his being Ella's sole partner in an excursion of business had not established an unusual familiarity between them. After providing that Fergus should have his turn as rent-payer, he went on—
“I should like to make Archie do it for once. Do you think we could teach him his lesson?”
“I will not have him tried,” said Ella decidedly. “Archie is not made to hold a money-pouch, nor to have any worldly dealings.”
“Yet he brings in what helps to fill it.”
“And how innocently! It is his love for the things that God made that makes him follow sport. The birds are his playmates while they wheel round his head, and when he takes them on the nest, he has no thought of gain,—and evil be to him that first puts the thought into him! He strokes their soft feathers against his cheek, and watches the white specks wandering through the water like snow-flakes through the air. He does not look beyond the pleasure to his eyes and to his heart, and he never shall; and gold and silver are not the things to give pleasure to such an eye and such a heart, and he shall never know them.”
“Then he can never know how much he owes you, Ella, for the care you take of him. He little guesses how you have spun half the night to make his plaid, and won money hardly to find him a bonnet, and all the toil of your fishing, and grinding, and baking.”
“And why should he? He loves me, and all the better for not knowing why. He wears his plaid as the birds do their feathers; he feels it warm, aud never thinks where it came from. He finds his barley-cakes and fresh water in his cave as lambs find clover and springs in their pasture. I see him satisfied, and like that he should love me for what costs me no toil,—for singing when he is heavy, and for wearing what he brings me when he is merry. When he lays his hot head in my lap, or pulls my skirt to make me listen to the wind, I value his love all the more for its not being bought.”
“I see you always lure him out when Mr. Callum is coming,” observed Ronald.
“Yes; and for the same reason I let him hide himself among the rocks the day the laird was here—I have a constant fear that Mr. Callum would be for sending him away; and so I hinde our having any words about the lad. I am easier about that since the laird himself took notice of him so kindly: but Mr. Callum shall never lay a finger on his head, even to bless him, if I can help it. Better keep him innocent of the man entirely.”
“He is likely to be innocent of all but ourselves, and now and then the Murdochs; for he sees nobody else.”
“He has more companions than we have, too. He makes friendship where we only make war among living things. How he would handle these very fish that we stow away so carelessly! But come; we have caught the last we shall get to-day: let us make haste home and to rest. I must be stirring early and away to make the first winnings for the pouch, and Fergus shall have his turn with me to-morrow.”
Ella was determined to try for once whether she could not make her way by land to the north of the island. There was no road, and the difficulty of some of the passes was so great as to render thc journey as fatiguing as one of twenty miles. In a strait line, it would not have been so much as two miles; but the many and steep ascents trebled the actual distance, while some were nearly if not quite impassable. If she could once, with her pony, traverse the island, she might be able to judge whether it would afford any market for her fresh fish; and at the same time learn whether there were fertile spots to which her brothers might drive their cattle, and whether it would answer to load their pony with weed for manure or kelp from different parts of the shore.
It proved a toilsome experiment. She sold some of her fish at her own price; but there were so few families, and they could so seldom afford to buy food, that it seemed hardly likely to answer to give up a whole day of her own labour and the pony's for so poor a return, in addition to the previous day's labour in fishing. They found some patches of good grass among the dells, but too difficult of access to be of much use; and their examination of the shore convinced them that Ronald had possession of the best portion within the circuit of the island. —All this settled, the next object was to pre-pare for a trip to the Greenock sloop.