Front Page Titles (by Subject) Chapter IV.: WHOM HAVE WE HERE? - Illustrations of Political Economy, vol. 2
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Chapter IV.: WHOM HAVE WE HERE? - 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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WHOM HAVE WE HERE?
Ronald had an opportunity of being dignified towards Mr. Callum long before the rent-day came round. The steward's curiosity led him to visit the tenants and see how they were attempting to improve their croft; and one day in October his boat was seen rounding the Storr, and making for the landing-place. Archie happened to be amusing himself on his island at the time, and Mr. Callum was observed by Ella to turn round as if watching the boy's proceedings up to the moment of landing. He looked by no means in his pleasantest mood.
“Good morning,” said he, as Ella awaited him at the door of the cottage. “Where are your brothers? I want your brothers.”
“Ronald is in the field. I will call him, if you will please to sit down. He will not detain you.”
“Let him alone, pray. The other lads will do as well.”
“Fergus is gone a trip to-day to sell his peat; we do not expect him till night.”
“To sell his peat! He had better take care of his own supply first, I think. You will want to use all you can get before the winter is over.”
Ella replied by opening a boarded window on one side of the cottage, through which was seen, at a little distance, a large well-built stack of peat. She next added some to her fire, that Mr. Callum might not have to complain that she grudged fuel in her hospitality.
“And pray how does Fergus manage to get peat enough for everybody? He keeps within his boundary, I hope.”
Ella was too much offended to answer otherwise than by pointing the way to the peat-land, where, however, the steward showed no inclination to go.
“I would have him take care what he is about,” continued Callum. “I have the laird's strict orders that the live turf is to be replaced over every inch from which peat is dug.”
Ella observed that it was for Fergus's interest to observe this rule on a land which he hoped to hold for a long time, since the peat could not otherwise be renewed.
“No need to tell me that, Ella; but these youngsters are in such a hurry to cut, especially when they can sell, that they forget the law. Remember, if I find a foot bare, the peat-land is forfeited.”
“Your threat is harsh, sir, and if you should act upon it, I should be obliged to appeal to the laird; but let us see whether Fergus has put himself in your power.” And she moved on.
“What is all this?” cried the irritable steward, as they walked up the little sloping beach towards the back of the tenement. “Your brothers get the fairies to help them, I think. Who ever saw barley growing out of a round shingle,—clean shingle without any soil?”
“My father saw it, as he used to tell us, in rocky places where soil was scarce; and when we found we could do little with our field this season, Ronald bethought himself of this plan; and it answers very well, you see. We laid down seaweed pretty thick, and dropped our seed into it, and now the manure is changed into food for us.”
“Poor grain enough,” said Callum.
“Not so good as we hope to raise in our field, but good enough to be acceptable to those who would otherwise have none.”
“And pray how long do you mean to let it stand? The wind will soon make it shed its grain, and then much good may the straw do you!”
Ella observed that it had been late sown, so that they were glad to let it stand to the last moment. The autumn was particularly serene and warm, so that the grain was still uninjured; but it was to be cut the next day but one, when she should have sold her fish and made room for her humble harvest.—What fish? and where was she going to sell it?—She had salted a cask of herrings, and was about to make a trip to the sloop from Glasgow now in the Sound to dispose of the produce of her fishing.
Callum muttered something about their taking good care of themselves; and the too great kindness of the laird not to ask rent for all they held. It should be done soon, he could promise them. —Whenever they had a neighbour who should follow the same occupations, Ella quietly observed, they should be willing to pay rent for the field, and the waters, and the peat-ground, and the kelping-shore.
“And why not sooner, if I chose to ask it?”
“Because it would answer better to us to move to some place in equal condition, where no rent would be asked.”
“And where will you find such an one, my lass?”
Ella mounted the rock near, and pointed to one island arid another and another where situations as good as this had not yet been taken possession of, and which the laird would be glad to see improved, provided he received the interest of the capital he laid out. Callum observed that she seemed to think herself very knowing, and asked where she got all this wisdom. When he found that the matter had been talked over and settled with the laird himself, he had nothing more to say on that subject.
He was not more fortunate on the next topic. He asked who it was on the Storr that was screaming like a sea-gull, and throwing his arms about as if he was going to fly across the Sound? Ella paused a moment before she replied that it was her brother Archibald; and then underwent a cross-questioning about the lad, and the reasons why he had not been introduced with the rest into Mr. Callum's august presence. An obvious mode of venting his spleen now presented itself. He insisted upon what Ella did not attempt to deny, that the Storr did not come within her boundaries, and followed this up by a prohibition to every one of the family to set foot on the rock. Ella was now truly glad that she had obtained the laird's special permission for Archie to haunt the rock as much as he pleased. Mr. Callum's temper was not improved by learning the fact. He did not pretend to doubt it; for, in the first place, he knew Ella to be remarkable for strict honour; and, in the next, she seemed so guarded on all points, that he began to think it prudent not to expose his authority to more mortifications.
Ronald now appeared, ready to show Mr. Callum what had been done in his department, as well as in Fergus's. Ella cautioned her brother by a look which he well understood, to keep his temper and restrain his tongue, and then returned to her occupations in the cottage. Callum resumed the subject of Archie, but could make little out of Ronald about him: for, besides that the tender respect in which they held the poor lad made them unwilling to speak of his peculiarities to strangers, Ronald knew his sister's desire to keep Archie out of Callum's notice. He was now rather more discreet than was necessary, and left an impression on the steward's mind that there was some mystery about the boy,—a mystery which must be penetrated.
He did not accept Ella's proffered hospitality, having already ordered his dinner at the farm; but he sauntered down again in the evening to see Fergus come home, and hear whether he had made a good bargain of his peat. A fit of superstition about the fairies came upon him again when he heard that not only was the present cargo sold among the inhabitants of a sandy island near, but so much more was wanted, that Ronald must borrow Murdoch's boat, the first convenient day, and accompany Fergus in their own in another trip to the same market. Callum laughed when Fergus said he had taken no money, his customers not being possessed of any coin; but he brought oatmeal, salt, and a light basket, or rather pouch, made of birch twigs and oatstraw, for Archie to carry eggs in. He was offered oil, but thought they had obtained enough from their fish to last the season. Ella approved his bargain, and said that oatmeal and salt, being both wanted, were more to her than money just now, and would save her a voyage. So Fergus was happy, and nothing remained to be wished but that Mr. Callum would go away. He paced the little beach as if he was waiting for something, and at last asked impatiently when the younger lad would come home.
“When the tide is low enough for him to cross; maybe in two hours.”
This was too long for a cross person's patience; so the steward departed without seeing Archie this time.
The morrow was to be a busy day,—the day of the first sale of salted herrings. As the cask was to be carried on board the sloop, Ella wished her brothers to go with her. She wanted their help, and also desired that they should gain such experience in that kind of traffic as would fit them for going without her on a future occasion: for she did not much like the idea of boarding the vessel and making her bargain among the sailors.
The lads embarked their cask, fitted, for the first time, the wooden key to the wooden lock of their door, carried Archie high and dry through the surf, and deposited him, laughing, beside his sister, and pulled stoutly round the point in the teeth of a strong and chilling wind. Archie was in one of his merry moods this day, which made his sister the less unwilling to leave him with the Murdochs at the farm till evening, which she was about to do. He laughed when the wind drove the spray in their faces, and mimicked the creaking of the oars in their sockets as they strained against the force of a rough sea. He made some resistance to being landed when they reached the cove below the farm, but took his sister's hand and ascended the cliff with her while repeating that he wanted to go on the sea again.
The Murdochs were good-natured people, when nothing happened to make them otherwise, and they declared themselves delighted to see Archie, and promised to take all possible care of him. Ella reminded them that the only care necessary was to give him his dinner, and see that he did not stray beyond the farm.
When the rowers got fairly out to sea, they were dismayed to find that the sloop had disappeared during the night. There was every reason to fear that they were a day too late for the market, and that the last vessel to be seen that season was now sailing away from them.
“If it be,” said Ronald, “we must take a voyage to the Clyde islands, or perhaps to Greenock; and I should not much mind that: Ella could do without us for a few days.”
“We must prevent such a waste of time,” said Ella; “so pull away southwards, and let us see if we cannot overtake the sloop. She cannot have gone far with this wind. The first of you that wearies, give me the oar.”
The boys continued their rowing in silence till Ella desired Ronald to make for a boat some way off and hail it. He did so.
“Holla! Which way lies the Jean Campbell?”
“Gone northwards before the wind.”
Northwards! Then she could not have completed her cargo yet; “but would she return through the same Sounds?” they asked the people in the other boat.
“Hardly likely,” was the answer; “but there is another coming up, the Mary of Port Glasgow. If ye clear the point, ye'll see her with all her sails set, unless she has stopped to take in kelp or herrings.”
Away went the boat again, and eager were the rowers to learn whether the market was yet open to them. In half an hour they came in sight of the Mary, not sailing before the wind as they expected; but rolling idly on the rough sea, while boats were making towards her from various points of the shores within sight.
When they came alongside, Ella spoke her errand; and on receiving and encouraging answer, would willingly have sent her brothers on board to manage their bargain, while she remained in the boat. But it was too important an affair for them to conduct, inexperienced as they were in traffic; and it was necessary for her to go on deck of the Mary. While talking with the master, and observing no one else, she did not perceive, as Ronald did, that a man on deck who looked like a passenger, was watching her closely, and drawing nearer to listen to what she said. Ronald placed himself beside his sister, and then the stranger looked down into the boat where Fergus remained.
“Will you make room for me, Fergus?” he asked. “Will you take me home with you to see your father and Archie?”
Fergus reddened all over; and when he made his reply, the stranger was moved also.
“Your father dead!” he exclaimed. “I never heard it. Let me come to you that you may tell me all.”
“You must ask Ella if there's room for you,” said Fergus; “besides, I don't know who you are.”
“Do you ever think of one Angus that you once knew?”
“Aye, often enough, and wonder if he be dead. Why, I do behave you are Angus, sir! Ronald, Ronald! See if this be not Angus back again.”
It was Angus; but so changed, that it was no wonder his younger friends did not know him after five years of absence. Ella knew him at a glance, when the sound of his name made her turn her head. She looked steadily in his face, aml asked, with a calm voice, what brought him among the islands again? —but her cheek was pale as ashes, and her hands trembled so that she could hardly hold the money which the impatient master was in a hurry to pay her. Angus, as agitated as herself, made no reply to her question, but leapt into her boat in order to assist her down. She drew back immediately.
“Ella! you will let me go home with you. We must not part almost before we have met. I am bound for Garveloch, and you must let me row you home.”
“You do not know our present home, Angus. If you choose to seek us there, you will find a welcome; but I cannot take you.”
Angus now grew pale. He turned quickly round upon Fergus,—
“Is Ella married?”
With a light step he sprang back into the Marv, whispering to Ella as he handed her down,
“I have much to say, and am eager to say it. For whatever reasons you refuse to let me go with you, you cannot prevent my following. Farewell now. You will soon see me.”
Ella turned back as she was departing to tell him that she had removed, and to describe where she might be found. Encouraged by this circumstance, Angus smiled, and Ella's stern countenance retaxed. — Never had she frowned as Angus did when he heard the seamen jesting on the fishwoman who carried herself as high as a princess to the master. “It is not the way of fishwomen,” quoth they, “even when they bring half a cargo, instead of one poor cask like that.”
Angus thought to himself that she was a princess,—the princess of fishwomen. He knew her well,—all her thoughts and all her feelings, in former days, and he saw already that she had lost none of her dignity under the pressure of her cares. He presently arranged with the master to meet the Mary at a certain point among the islands, within a few days, for the purpose of removing his luggage; and obtained a seat in a boat whose crew engaged to set him on shore in Garveloch.