Front Page Titles (by Subject) Chapter V.: A HIGHLAND NIGHT. - Illustrations of Political Economy, vol. 2
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Chapter V.: A HIGHLAND NIGHT. - 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 NIGHT.
Scarcely a word was spoken in Ella's boat during the return. Her brothers began to revive their recollections of Angus, of what he had taught them, and how he played with them, and of whatever he said and did; but observing that Ella, instead of joining in their conversation, drew her plaid over her head and fixed her eyes, on the waters, they kept a respectful silence, and; even refrained from asking a single question on the important subject of her traffic with the master of the Mary. The wind still rose and increased the difficulty of rowing so much, that the lads would soon have been disposed to leave off talking, if no restraint had been upon them. At last, Ella observed poor Fergus wiping his brows, though the gale was chill.
“Fergus, give me the oar. I have been very thoughtless,—or, rather, over full of thought, — or you should not have toiled for me all this time. Take my plaid, for this breeze is wintry.”
She threw her plaid round him and gave him a slight caress as she passed to take his place.
“Sing, Fergus,” said his brother, “it lightens the way.”
As soon as he had recovered his breath, Fergus sang an air which Angus used to love to time for them with his oar when he took them out to sea for pleasure, before their days of toil began. Ella joined her voice, perhaps for the purpose of checking the tears which began to flow faster than at any time since the night of her parent's death. Apparently unconscious of them, she plied her toil and her song more vigorously when the boat neared the cove where they were to take in Archie. They looked out for him, hoping that the song might bring him down to the boat and prevent any loss of time in getting home. Nobody appeared, however, but one of Murdoch's girls, standing stock still on the ridge of the rock. Ella signed and beckoned, and her brothers shouted for Archie; to all which the lass made no other answer than shaking her head like a weathercock.
“Give me my plaid,” said Ella, who instantly stepped on shore and mounted to the farm. She could see nobody for some time, and when she did, it was only the girl who had watched her landing.
“Where are all the family, Meg?”
“All gone, except Archie; he's back again. Father and others are gone to the moor for peat, and mother is milking the cows a great way off.”
“And Archie? Call him, for we must be going.”
“He can't get out,” said Meg, grinning, and. pointing to Mr. Callum's apartment, the shutters of which were closed. “He's all in the dark, and he has been flogged for stealing the laird's birds, and I don't know how many eggs and feathers.”
Ella had scarcely patience to stand and hear the story. Archie, being left to himself, had wandered home and gained his rock. Callum had watched and followed him, and caught the poor boy with a solan goose in his bosom, eggs in his new basket, and a bunch of feathers in his cap. The steward had flogged Archie unmercifully with his cane, partly unaware, it must be hoped, of the true state of the case, since he had told the sufferer that his discipline was meant to teach him not to take what did not belong to him. He brought him back, closed the shutters of his apartment, pushed the boy in, and double-locked the door, telling the children who looked on in terror that they should be served in like manner if they attempted to speak to Archie till he should be released. He had now been shut up three hours, and Mr. Callum was not to be back till night. Ella shuddered when she heard that the boy had looked much flushed when he went in, and had screamed violently till, nobody taking notice, his cry had gradually sunk to a low moaning. She rushed to the door and called him in her gentlest voice. No answer. She sang as she was wont to do when he was ill; and then the moan was heard again.
“He will die unless I can get to him. I know that sound well. Run, Meg, and tell your father Archie will die, if we do not break the door that I may nurse him. Run for your life! —Hush! Archie, hush! I am coming, lad, and we will let in the light again, and you shall see how the sea is tossing. I am coming, Archie; be patient, lad.”
She flew to the cliff to beckon her brothers. In a few minutes, almost everybody came but the one most wanted, Mr. Callum. Everybody was very sorry of course: none more so than those who ought to have prevented this mischief They were willing to do anything,—to break door or window as soon as desired. But no proper tools were at hand, and the noise terrified Archie so extremely, that it was thought best to let things remain as they were till Callum's return, which could not be much longer delayed. Ella sent her brothers home directly, afraid that she should not he able to keep their tempers within bounds when the enemy should present himself. She waited, pacing up and down the steep rocky path which overlooked her own dwelling, as well as the way by which the steward was expected to approach.
After a while, she distinctly saw her brothers standing in conversation with a third person, beside the gate of the field. Supposing the stranger to be Callum, she watched with the utmost anxiety, expecting each moment to see the lads show some sign of wrath; but their gestures were not those of anger, nor did their companion, on a closer examination, look like the steward. At this instant a voice close behind her made her start.
“So you are come at last, Mr. Callum,” said she. “I hope it may be in time to prevent your committing murder. How do you propose to comfort us if you find Archibald dead?”
“Dead! Pooh, nonsense! let me tell you, madam, I came down just in time to prevent theft this morning. If the laird is pleased to let idle boys play on his estate, he gives no leave for them to steal the produce. I have not done with master Archibald yet; I mean to make a further example of him.”
“Ye'll be too late,” replied Ella, with a convulsed countenance. “One on whom God him-self has put the mark of innocence, one that has been ever under the guidance of good powers,— one that has only been kept here so long by being cherished, and no ill being suffered to come nigh him—is not one to live under your hands, Mr. Callum; and knowing this, I kept him out of your sight, till an evil day has laid him open to blame and punishment. Come, sir, and see if your work is not done; and if not, beware how you finish it!”
So saying, she strode onwards and beckoned him after her; but he stood still. Callum shared largely in the superstitions which abound in the islands, where the strongest and proudest minds are subdued by fears too absurd to affect children in more enlightened places. Connecting in a moment Archie's peculiarities, which he had been unable to understand, Ella's hints of his being the favourite of unseen powers, and all that was extraordinary in herself as she stood with flashing eyes, and a working countenance, and her tall form trembling with some other passion than fear, Callum resolved to be quit of her and the boy as soon as might be; but above all things to prevent their meeting in his presence, lest they should work some harm upon him.
“Come back, Ella,” said he, in a somewhat softer tone; “you will only do harm by going with me. The truth is, I have sent to the laird for his pleasure about the lad, as there happened to be a messenger going. I shall have an answer by the morn, and then I will release your brother,—if you stay out of my sight, not otherwise, I promise you: so go your ways home, and trust the boy with me for the night. You well may, for he never lay in a gentleman's room or on a gentleman's bed before, I'll be bound to say.”
All remonstrance, all entreaty was vain to alter Callum's pretended purpose: so Ella had recourse to a secret plan in her turn. She resolved to steal up to the farm as soon as it should be dark, and every one gone to rest, and to work on Mr. Callum's fears by means which she well understood. She now asked impatiently where the laird was. Not where she could reach him to lodge a counter-plea, the steward answered with a grim smile: he held that part of justice in his own hands. Ella could learn nothing more than she already knew,—that he must be near, as his answer would arrive by morning.
As she was going slowly down to the beach, she met Angus. “If ye have any friendship for us,” cried she, showing her surprise only by her raised colour, “if ye ever valued my father's blessing, help us now;” and she related what had just passed. Angus instantly replied that the laird was at Oban. If so, Ella said, the messenger's boat ought to be in sight; and she looked intently over the troubled expanse of waters, now heaving and tossing in an autumn gale as it they would swallow up the scattered islands.
“One might easily miss a small bark in such a sea,” said she, “and the gloom is settling fast. See how the mists are gathering about the Storr! The osprey will scarce find his nest, or the bark keep clear of shoals.”
“There he is!” cried Angus. “Just below, yonder, a boat shot out from behind the rock, and now she is labouring with the swell. She has only two rowers. Your brothers shall go with me, and we will reach the laird first.”
“Go, and my blessing on you,” said Ella. “Bring back justice and a word of kindness for Archie, and I will thank you for ever.”
No time was lost; and in a few minutes the two boats were seen rowing as close a race as ever had honour or profit for its object. Ella could not help wondering whether the steward was watching the struggle with all the anxiety that he deserved to feel, and all the shame of being discovered in a falsehood. It was impossible that an answer should return from Oban before the morning, and Callum's having said so was a new proof that he was frightened at what he had done.—The daylight was now failing fast: the Argyleshire mountains lost the red tinge which had been cast upon them from the western sky. All was gray and misty, and when Eila fancied for a moment that her brothers' boat had given up the race and changed its course, she supposed that her overstrained sight had deceived her, and retired slowly homewards to await the hour when she might make another attempt upon the farm.
It was a dreary night. The wind swept past in gusts, and hail pattered in hasty showers upon her shingled roof, as she sat beside her peat-fire, striving to compose her busy thoughts. She could settle to no employment, but looked out frequently to see if she could discover the moon's place in the sky, in order to form some idea of the time. At length, believing it was near midnight, she equipped herself for her expedition, strapping her plaid close about her, and carrying warm clothing for the boy. While doing this, she fancied she heard a footstep without. She paused, but supposed it could only be the rattling of the shingle as the waves retreated; but, not being perfectly convinced, she looked about cautiously through the darkness as she went forth, and listened intently. Before she had gone many paces, a sudden gleam of moonlight showed her the shadow of a man, standing up against the side wall of the cottage. She quickly retreated, but not through fear. She lighted a slip of pinewood and without ceremony held it up in the man's face. It was Callum.
“You are come to tell me that Archie is dead,” said Ella, with forced calmness. “No wonder you linger by the way.”
“He is not dead nor likely to die if, as you say, the good powers are fond of him. I have left him with them, for he is past my management.”
“You have carried him to the sands to be drowned,” cried Ella, snatching hold of his cloak which was dripping wet.
“It was more likely I should be drowned than he,” said Callum, sullenly. “He scrambled over to the rock as if he saw the fairies waiting for him, and I found my way back as I could, but the water was up to my knees.”
“How long since?”
“Not above five minutes.”
“There is time yet,” cried Ella, hastening in for food and a bottle of milk. While she was making her rapid preparations, Callum, who had followed her, proceeded with his explanations that, as he could do nothing with the boy, who would neither eat, speak, nor sleep, he thought it best to carry him back to his haunt and let those manage him that could; and he hoped it would be the last he should have to do with people of her sort. A half-smile passed over Ella's countenance; she made no reply, but pushed a seat beside the fire, set some barley-cakes and whisky on the table, pointed to the heap of fuel in the corner, and was gone, drawing the door after her. Callum had feeling enough to be stung with the reproach implied in these observances of hospitality. He pushed the food and drink from him and sat, with his hands upon his knees, muttering beside the fire. A thought struck him, he started up and ran after Ella, shouting,
“Let me hold the torch, lass, while you cross, and may be I can get over too and help to bring him home.” But Ella, who had already reached the low sand, waved him back contemptuously, and was half through the water before he arrived on the brink. Dashing, foaming, the tide did not look very tempting; and having seen Ella climb the opposite ledge, wring out her wet plaid and stride on, Callum returned, full of mortification, to the fireside.
The torch blew out before Ella reached Archie's hole. As soon as she came within hearing, she tried to attract his attention by the usual methods, but obtaining no answer, began to fear that he had been placed in some other recess of the Storr. She groped her way in, however, and stumbled over him near the entrance. He shrieked as she had never heard him shriek before, and a fierce pang of indignation shot through her heart at him who had first made this innocent being subject to fear. She succeeded in soothing the boy; she lavished on him all the tender words that came with her tears; she cooled his hot forehead; persuaded him to eat, and hoping to make him forget where he was, and that anything painful had passed, she told him tales till he fell asleep with his arms round her neck. She had soothed herself in soothing him, and was too well inured to cold and wet to be much affected by them; so that she too leaned against the wall of the little cave and slept.
It was some hours after, but while the dawn was yet very faint, that Archie roused her by starting up and running to the mouth of the cave. A red light flickered upon his face as he stood; and his sister following, saw a kelp fire flaming high upon the beach. The season for kelp burning was considered over; but a glance at the boat drawn up on the shingle and at the figures about the fire showed her what it meant. Her brothers were already home, and finding the cottage empty, and not knowing in what direction she was gone, had lighted this fire as the best signal which could intimate their return without alarming Mr. Callum, to whom a kelp fire was one of the commonest of all sights.
“See, Archie, there is Ronald feeding the fire, and Fergus stirring it. They have made the fire to light us home.”
But Archie did not clap his hands as usual at the sight of a kelp fire, and seemed disposed to hide himself in the cave. It was because a third figure stood between them and the light. It was the first time he had feared a stranger; and again Ella had to battle with her mingled compassion and indignation. She tried the experiment whether Archie had any recollection of Angus, of whom he had been very fond five years before. She tempted him to a baby game which Angus used to play with him but which had been laid aside as Archie grew taller. “Ah! Angus, Angus, I want Angus!” cried the boy, just as he used to do, and just as she wished to hear him, for the first time since Angus's departure.
“Do you want Angus? Well, there he is, standing beside Fergus. Call him and perhaps he will hear you.”
Poor Archie tried, but he was too much exhausted to make himself heard to any distance; nor did Ella succeed better, as the wind was against her. For a full hour, she saw the three figures pace the beach, and look intently in all directions before they perceived her; but at last the fluttering of her plaid became visible to them through the grey dawn, and they ran down to the brink of the water, which was still too deep to be crossed on foot, though too shallow for a boat. They waved their caps in token of having succeeded in their errand, and awaited in the utmost impatience the sinking of the water. When the first patch of sand was left dry, Angus plunged through, and, well knowing Ella's heart, gave his first attention to Archie. Ella gave him his cue: he hid his face with his bonnet, let Archie uncover it, as in old days, and was immediately known. Archie's loud laugh was like music to his sister's anxious heart. He put his arm lovingly round the neck of his old play-fellow, in order to his being carried home; and though feverish and evidently in pain, showed no greater signs of dulness and depression than on some former occasions of illness.
Ronald was impatient to tell his sister that they had found the laird by Angus having discerned his boat off one of the islands, half way between Garveloch and the shore. Callum's messenger, proceeding to Oban, had overshot his mark, and missed giving the first version of the tale which both parties were in haste to tell. The laird had pronounced no judgment, but would probably land. on Garveloch, in a day or two, and hear both sides of the question.
“Then,” said Ella, “thanks to your zeal, our point is gained.”