Front Page Titles (by Subject) Chapter VII.: INNOVATIONS. - Illustrations of Political Economy, vol. 2
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Chapter VII.: INNOVATIONS. - 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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“Stand back, sir!” cried the laird to Callum, as soon as the boat brought him within speaking distance. “I always doubt the soundness of a plea which is urged in such a hurry.”
Callum, though much dismayed, ventured to reply that his enemies had told their tale first.
“Through no good-will of yours, Callum. I saw the race between your messenger's bark and theirs. It grieves my heart to find that, even in a remote corner of the world like this, men cannot live in peace. Angus, I am surprised to find you engaged in a contentious appeal.”
Angus replied that he was as unwilling as any one to quarrel; but that he would never submit to see the helpless injured.
“I was thinking,” said the laird looking about him, “that he who has the most cause for complaint is the only absent one.—Ella, where is the lad whom Callum took upon him to chastise?”
“Archie is at home.”
“Not dead or dying, I hope?”
“He is already much recovered, and—”
“What! neither half-killed, nor even shut up in the dark? How little a doleful story may come to when told at noonday instead of midnight!”
“Much remains to be told,” Ella quietly replied.
“Well, call the boy, and let us hear it at once”
Ella replied that he was asleep, and that she could not awake him, even at his honour's bidding.
Callum ventured to observe that the old laird would not have suffered himself to be kept from his rest at midnight, and be told the next noon that he must wait the waking of a child. Angus replied that blame should fall where it was due. It was he who had encouraged the lads to seek justice, even at an unseasonable hour; and, though he knew Ella would not wake Archie this day for the king himself, it was he who had told her that the laird would not desire it at the peril of the boy's health.
“You told her right, Angus; and Callum may leave the care of my own dignity to myself. And now to business; for I see I must be judge this morning.”
So saying, the laird proceeded up the beach. All pressed upon him such hospitality as they had to offer; a resting-place, food, whisky;— and some presented the primitive conveyance of their broad shoulders on which to ascend the steep. He declined accepting any of these favours at present, and pointed to a spot on the skirts of the moor, sheltered from the wind by the remaining wall of a ruined hermitage, and graced and sanctified in the eyes of the people by the stone cross of rude workmanship which retained its place in the building. If the laird had been internally ruffled by the occurrences which had brought him hither, his unpleasant feelings vanished in the presence of the monumental remains which he loved to contemplate. As soon as he had chosen for his place a slab of grey stone under which some one lay buried, half a dozen plaids were ready to sweep away the sand and rubbish which bestrewed it; and the judge took his seat amidst as much deference as if it had been the woolsack.
“Murdoch!” said the laird, “you seem to be in great trouble, and as you are the oldest tenant, you have a right to speak first. What is the matter?”
“More than your honour can remedy; but if ye'll please to be merciful, Providence may bring me through yet.”
“Well; let us hear. You cannot pay your rent, I suppose. Are we to have that old story over again?”
“Even so, your honour. We have had such high winds lately that they have been the ruin of me. My seed, both barley and rye, is clean blown away with the soil; and the wall is down, and I have nobody to help me to build it up, for the boys are both tossing in their cribs at this moment, and the Lord only knows whether they will ever come out again except to be laid underground.”
“This is a sad story, Murdoch.” And the laird turned to Callum to ask if the fever was in Garveloch. Callum knew of no sickness in any other house.
“As to your wail,” continued the laird, beginning with the least painful part of the subject, “I feared this accident would happen one of these days. You had not built it up, I suppose? —No!—It seems strange that, while your fields were encumbered with stones and your wait tottering for want of support, you should not have remedied both evils by the simple act of building up your fence. As to the looseness of the soil,—how did you treat it this season?”
Murdoch twirled his bonnet in his hands and looked foolish. “Did you send in the track of the cattle to collect manure?”
“Yes,” replied Callum, “that I can testify; they collected a large heap independent of the weed. It darkened the whole window as it lay piled up beside the house.”
“And when was it put into its proper place,— into the ground?”
Murdoch again looked foolish, and Callum again answered for him.
“In very good time, sir. You may be sure I would not let it remain where it might breed a fever.”
Murdoch being called on to explain why his land was in bad condition if properly manured, owned that he had moved the dung-heap to please Mr. Callum; but not having time to manure his fields, had stowed away the dung in the shed next the room where the family lived—All the farmer's misfortunes were now accounted for. The laird told him that he was unwilling to add to the distress of a man in misfortune, but reminded him how frequently he had been warned that he must quit his farm if his own bad management prevented his having his rent ready.
“I will give you one more chance,” he continued. “I will provide you with seed (it is not yet too late) on condition that you employ at your own cost such labour on your farm as shall bring it into as good condition as when you took it. You shall not be asked for rent till you have reaped your next crop; and then you may pay it in kind or in money as you like best. This is the utmost indulgence I can allow you, and it is enough; for, if you manage well, you may easily pay for the necessary labour and make up your rent too.”
Murdoch did not know, he said, how he was to hire labour; it was the dearest thing that could be had in Garveloch.—This would have been true a few days before, but it was not thecase now. It occurred to Angus that he might so recommend himself to the laird by the management of Murdoch's farm as to obtain employment for himself on advantageous terms the next year. The laird knew a great deal about Angus, and respected his general character very highly, but was not acquainted with his capabilities as a man of business; and the young man rightly believed that if he could testify his skill and industry, he might secure a comfortable settlement under the laird. He offered his services to Murdoch for more moderate wages than would have been asked by any other man within reach, and they were of course gladly accepted. When the laird had declared his intention of sending for medicine and advice the two boys, Murdoch's affairs were settled for the present.
Ella next approached to request permission to pay her half-year's dues into the laird's own hands. He smiled, and said she need pay only once a year, and might keep her money till Midsummer; but he frowned when she answered that she had rather deal directly with himself, if he would allow it, and take the opportunity while he was at hand, as the money was ready. He declared his displeasure at all quarrels between his steward and his tenants, and was not slow in laying blame on both parties. His decision, when he heard the whole story, was far from satisfactory to anybody. He secured good treatment to Archie indeed, and full liberty to do as he liked, but Archie's family thought him much too lenient towards Mr. Callum. Callum was still less pleased to find that he had been in the wrong. from first to last.
Angus, to prevent a further outbreak of ill-humour, hastened to bring forward his plea. It was of a nature to please the laird. He complained of the absence of intercourse between the islanders and the people on the mainland, and pointed out the evils arising thence to all parties: the deficiency of some articles of production, and the impossibility of disposing of the surplus of others; the disadvantage caused to the islanders, whether they bought or sold, by their ignorance of market prices, and the difficulties in the way of social improvement occasional by such seclusion. He had strong in his mind other difficulties and other woes which had arisen out of this absence of communication; but as he kept these to himself, they only served to animate his eloquence when speaking of mere matters of business.
“What you say is very true,” observed the laird. “You have here more peat than you can use, while in some of the neighbouring islands, the people are half frozen in winter for want of fuel: and Callum tells me that Murdoch's harvest having failed last year, two or three families were obliged to subsist on shell fish for nearly two months, till the men were too weak to work, and several children might have died if Callum had not come his rounds earlier, so as to send for potatoes just in time to save them. He tells me too that the kelp manufacture is mere child's play compared with what it might be made, if a fair market were opened.”
“I wish your honour would be pleased to step down to the shore yonder and see what might be made of the kelping,” said Ronald.
“I will, presently. But, Angus, why does nobody make the voyage to Oban? Who prevents it?”
Angus supposed that nobody was sufficiently aware of the advantage: the passage, too, was a dangerous one for the island boats, which were, in his humble opinion, quite unfit for such heavy seas, especially if they had cargoes to take.
“Then why not have a proper vessel Angus? If it went at regular times to and from Oban, and if, moreover, it touched at some of the neighbouring islands so as to discharge their errands likewise, it might surely be made to answer to any one who would undertake the speculation. Why do not you try?”
Angus was strongly disposed to make the attempt, if he could be guaranteed from loss; but it would not do to venture his little capital in the purchase of a boat, unless he were pretty secure that it would not be laid by after a few trips. The laird was willing to enter into the proposed guarantee, so assured was he that the interest of the islanders would induce them to keep up the communication if it was once begun. After some consultation, it was agreed that the new boat should be started the next summer, as soon as Angus should have concluded his engagement with the farmer, and before the fishing and kelping seasons began. It was to make the circuit of the island on a particular day of the week, and to touch wherever custom was likely to be obtained within a reasonable distance. The sale of produce might either be conducted by Angus, or its owners might cross with him and manage their business themselves, as they chose; and the laird engaged that a newspaper should be regularly forwarded to Oban, which should contain the commercial information most useful to its tenants.
“You look very grave, Ella,” said the laird, when this matter was settled. “You are thinking that this new plan will bring neighbours around you and oblige you to pay rent?”
“No doubt it will, your honour; but I am not afraid. Prices must rise before that comes to pass; and if prices rise, I can afford to pay rent.”
It was a very different consideration which made Ella look grave. She was thinking of the summer storms that sweep the sound, and of the perils of the boisterous sea which lay between Garveloch and Oban. She fancied what the anxiety would be of pacing the shore or breasting the wind on the heights as midnight came on, to watch long and in vain for her husband's return; or to see his boat pitching or driving on the waves, or half swallowed up by them. She shook off these selfish fears, however, and listened to what the laird was saying to her brothers. He was warning them to make the most of their tenure while they had the whole produce to themselves, and not to be in too great a hurry to sell. It might be an important advantage to them to store their produce till a favourable time for selling; viz. in the interval between a rise of prices and the establishment of a rent upon their ground. He ended by proposing to view Ronald's line of shore.
Ronald pointed out that, as the sea-weed was to be cut only once in three years, and as it had never yet been made use of in this place, he must profit by this first season at the expense of all the labour that could be spared. He and his brother and sister now gave their chief attention to it, gathering with great care whatever unbruised sea-weed of the right kind was thrown on shore, and cutting diligently at low-water whenever the sea was sufficiently calm to allow of the weed being properly landed when the tide came in. The hair rope, twisted by Ella, was now brought into use. It was laid at low-water beyond the portion cut, the two ends being brought up and fastened on the shore; and when the whole floated at high-water, the ends were drawn in, and all the weed they enclosed was landed at once. Ronald pointed out several inlets where the weed grew plentifully, sheltered from the and remarked on the advantage of a gradual slope of the shore both for cutting and landing the weed, and for drying it when landed. He showed the situation he had chosen for his fire, and the nook in which he meant to stack the weed as it became dry. The laird, having a mind to discover how much the lad knew about his business beyond the mere preparation of the article, asked him a few questions.
“Would it not answer to you, Ronald, to give up some of this large crop to your sister's land for manure?”
“If there was no other manure to be had: but there is plenty of weed thrown on shore after a storm, good enough to lay upon land, but too much bruised to serve for kelp. At present, at least, we have enough for both purposes.”
“Whenever your crop becomes scanty, will you give over kelping, or let the land lie fallow?”
“We must take care of the land in the first place, I suppose, because we are sure of making something by that; but the price of kelp rises and falls so often, that we can never tell what we shall make by it. Angus says, that if more barilla is brought to London from abroad than usual, we may find any day that a cask may sell for next to nothing.”
“But if very little barilla comes from abroad, it may sell very high.”
“Yes, sir: but we should not know that till the time came for selling, and it would not do to neglect the land in the meanwhile, so little else as we have to depend on. Ella is welcome to help herself out of my stack, as often as the land wants it; but that is not the case just now.”
“How many tons of weed must you have to make a ton of kelp?”
Ronald smiled at the idea of his dealing with so large a quantity as a ton. They that made for the laird, he said, reckoned that twenty-four tons, properly dried, made a toll of kelp; and this might sell for any sum between 7l. and 20l. according to the state of the market. It was not for him to think of ever making a sum like the lowest of these in one season: but he did think it would be possible, whenever he should have the advantage of knowing how to deal direct with Greenock, to make so much as to be able to improve the moorland on which the pony was now grazing. If he could see that ground turned into a barley field, he thought he should have nothing more to wish.
“Surely,” said the laird, “there must be much waste in the burning in such a hole as this;— merely a pit, dug in the sand and lined with stones, It would not be difficult to make a kiln, and Fergus could furnish you with peat, if he has enough to spare to sell, as I am told he has; could not you make a saving in this way?”
“We might in one respect, your honour; but we should lose more in another. As it is, the weed is its own fuel entirely; in the other way we should be at the expense of peat, you see.”
“It would have been well if some greater kelp-burners had seen this as clearly as you do, Ronald; and then they would have been saved the expense of building kilns which they cannot afford to use. But one great evil is got rid of by the use of kilns.”
“Your honour means the smell: but a little care may prevent that being a great evil to any but those who tend the fire, and they get used to it.—When we lived northwards, we always had three places at least where we might burn, according as the wind was; and if it so happened that the smoke would blow towards the cottage, Ella used to take Archie, and sometimes my father, to a place in the rocks where they might sleep in their plaids.”
“And no great evil,” said Ella, “in summer nights when the red twilight gleamed on the peaks till midnight, I shall do it again when the wind is perverse, and the kelping must go on. The worst of it is that and Archie loves sleep no better than I on such nights.”
“Is he frightened at being away from home?”
“O, no: but he watches the fires till they smoulder. If it is calm for a few minutes, so that the tall flame can shoot up from among the smoke, you might think you saw that very flame in his eyes.”
“He is ever on the watch for such fires,” said Fergus. “It was but lately that he pointed to the northern lights one clear evening, and told me that kelping time was come again over the sea.”
“Why do you not carry him somewhere out of sight of the fires?” asked the laird. “Does he know the purpose of the removal too well to be satisfied?”
“He does, your honour: and, more than that, he must not be crossed in his love of what is beautiful to the eyes that God gave him. God has given him pleasures of his own, and he shall never be stinted in them by me.”
Ella would not have spoken of Arehie if Mr. Callum had been present. Finding himself not wanted on the shore, he had gone up to the farm to inspect the condition of the family; and now returned to say that the boys were so ill of the fever, that he strongly advised the laird not to enter their dwelling. Ella had, therefore, the honour of entertaining her landlord, which she did as courteously as any mistress of castle and park could have done. She formally invited Mr. callum also, but he abruptly excused himself, and hastened away.
Archie was still asleep when they returned to the cottage. As the laird stood over him, and observed his flushed face, he offered that the doctor, whom he should immediately send, should examine Archie before he proceeded to the farm; but this Ella declined.
“He wants rest and soothing,” said she, “and that no strange face should cross him till he has forgotten the last night. There is nothing that gives ease so well as sleep like his; and there are none that can soothe him like myself, if I may say so; and no man shall so much as stroke his head these many days.”
In her heart she added, “Unless it be Angus.”
The laird had no opportunity of showing that he took her hint, for the time arrived for his departure before Archie awoke.