WEAL AND WOE
TIMES ARE CHANGED.
About ten years before the period at which our story opens, the laird of Garveloch had transferred his property in that and the neighbouring isles to a large Fishing Company. The terms of the bargain were advantageous to both parties. The laird was to receive, m addition to the annual rent which his island-tenants had been accustomed to pay, and which did not amount to more than sixty guineas a year all together, a sum of several hundred pounds in consideration of the improvements to be effected on the property. As there was little prospect of such improvements being effected, to the extent of some hundreds of pounds, by himself or his poor tenants, the transaction was evidently a profitable one to him; while the Company reasonably expected that the changes they were about to introduce would much more than repay their advance—an expectation which was not disappointed.
Among the numerous fishing stations established by this opulent Company, there was one in Islay. A warehouse was erected, where salt for curing the fish, hemp for making nets, timber for boat-building, staves for cooperage, and all materials necessary for the apparatus of an extensive fishery, were stored. A curing-house, a building-yard, and a cooperage were at hand; a pier, around which there was a perpetual traffic of boats, stretched out into the sea. A little town had risen round these buildings, where but a few years before there had been only a congregation of sea-fowl. Where their discordant cries alone had been heard, there now prevailed a mingling of sounds, not more musical to the ear perhaps, but by far more agreeable to the heart. the calls of the boatmen, the hammer of the cooper, the saw of the boat-builder, the hum from the curing-house, where women and girls were employed in gutting, salting, and packing the herrings, and drying the cod, die shouts and laughter of innumerable children at “lay among the rocks,—all these together formed such a contrast to the desolation which prevailed ten years before, that the stranger who returned after a long absence scarcely knew the place to be the same.
Nor was the change less remarkable in others of the islands. Rows of dwellings stretched along many a favourable line of beach, and huts peeped out of a cove here and there, where no trace of man had been formerly seen, but an occasional kelping fire. On Garveloch a fishing village had arisen where the dwelling of Angus and Ella had for some years stood alone. The field which they had cultivated from the year of their marriage till the establishment of the Fishing Company, was now covered with cottages; and a row of huts, most of them with a patch of ground behind, stretched from the bar on the one hand, to the promontory which had been Ronald's on the other. Angus and Ella lived in the old house; but it was Angus so much enlarged and improved as to look like a new one: it was the best in the village; and it was made so for comfort, not for show. There were nine children to be housed; and both their parents knew enough of comfort to see the necessity of providing room and ventilation if they wished to keep their large family in health and good habits. They had worked hard, and on the whole successfully; and though the perpetual calls upon them prevented their laying by much in the form of money, they had been able to provide their dwelling with more convenient furniture, and their children with more decent clothing, than was usually thought necessary in the society of which they formed a part.
Angus's vessel had yielded him all the profit he had expected, and more. Before the Company was established, he had usually had business enough committed to him to make it answer to cross the Sound twice a week; and since the fishing station had been opened ia Islay, he had made a double use of the Flora, as his boat was now called, The possession of a decked vessel had enabled him to share the herring bounty; and he now gave his principal attention to the fishery, only following the coasting trade in spring and autumn,—the intervals of the herring seasons.
As they possessed so great a treasure in this boat, now of the rank of a herring-buss, Angus and Ella thought they could afford to give the old boat to Fergus for a wedding present, and thus enable him to fish for cod on his own account, instead of being a hired fisherman on board one of the Company's vessels. Those who had only open boats were excluded from the herring fishery by the bounty, which was granted to the produce of decked vessels only, and which therefore gave an advantage to such produce in therefore market which could not be contested; but there was a fair sale for cod, however caught; and now that a market was always open at hand, the possession of a boat seemed to Fergus to afford a prospect of a certain and sufficient maintenance. He married at one-and-twenty, a year after the opening of the station in Islay, and in consequence of it; for he fell in love with a girl who had come with her family to settle at the station as fishers. Janet was young and giddy, and quite willing to leave her father, who was only a hired fisherman, for a husband who had a boat of his own; and, after a short courtship, the young folks settled down in a cottage within a stone's throw of Angus's house. They bad made a shift to get on till now, though their family increased every year; and as they had never suffered actual want, they began to think they never should, and to smile at some of Ronald's wise sayings. Fergus declared that, if one or two seasons of extraordinary plenty would come, so as to enable him to get a new boat, he should have no anxiety remaining. He had been anxious when he had only one child to feed; and he was apt to be anxious at times now that he had five: but if he was but sure of being able to continue his fishing, he would trust that Providence would feed them as they bad hitherto been fed. But if these rare seasons should not come, Ronald observed, what was to be done? for the boat was wearing out fast. it must be patched and mended to the last, Fergus replied, and he must still hope for extraordinary profits some happy year. He said nothing, though he probably thought much, of the consequences of a season of failure.
Ronald was free from all cares of this kind, though he had had his share of trouble in other ways. He was a single man and engaged in a good business, and therefore well provided for as to external comfort. He was a cooper at the station in Islay, and as casks were wanted as long as fish were caught, he had reason to suppose himself supplied with employment as long as the establishment should be kept up. He was truly happy to be able to afford assistance to her who had carefully tended his youth, and received Ella's eldest boy with the intention of teaching him his trade. The trouble from which we have mentioned that Ronald suffered arose from disappointment in an attachment he had formed and long cherished. He had loved a maiden who came in the train of the company, but his friend Cuthbert had won her, and after having made her happy for a few short years, had been taken from her by an accident at sea, leaving her with four children, and no possessions but such as his industry had earned. The widow Cuthbert lived in Garveloch, and supported her little family by net-making. She was respected by all her neighbours, and loved as much as ever by Ronald, all who, however, conducted himself towards her as the widow of his friend, rather than as the object of his early and long attachment.
The widow Cuthbert was regarded as the lady of the island, though she was no richer, no better dressed, and, for all her neighbours knew, no better born than any around her. She was better educated; and this was her title to distinction. No one else, except Angus, had seen so much of the world; and even he could not make a better use of what he had learned. There was a sober truth in the judgments she formed of people and of circumstances, which was all the more impressive from the modesty with which she held her opinions, and the gentleness with which she declared them. Those opinions were respected by all, from the highest to the lowest, —from Ella down to Meg Murdoch. Her management of her little family was watched by all who cared for the welfare of their children, and her skill and industry in her occupation were marvelled at by those who did not attempt to imitate her.
It would have amused an attentive observer to see how a distinction of ranks was already growing up in the little society of Garveloch, where none had originally brought wealth enough to authorize such distinction. Next to the widow Cuthbert ranked the farmer and his family—the Duffs, who were looked up to fi'om their great importance as corn-growers to the society. The produce of their fields being much in request, they had enlarged their farm, and improved it to a great extent. By means of the more ample supplies of manure afforded by the curing of so much fish, and through the help of the better implements mid modes of tillage which their prosperity enabled them to use, their land produced twice as much as when they had entered upon the farm, fifteen years before. They had every inducement to go on increasing its productiveness; for corn still fell short, and supplies were brought now and then from other islands to make out till harvest. Of late, indeed, the demand had somewhat lessened, as an Irish family had set the example of growing potatoes in their patch of ground, and many of their neighbours had done the same, with the hope of saving the expense of oat and barley meal. Among these were the former tenants of the farm, the Murdochs, who, haying failed in all their undertakings, now had recourse to what they supposed an easy and nearly infallible method of getting a living. They had sunk from year to year, and there was little hope of their rising again when they began to place their dependence on potato tillage. They now filled a station as much below that of Ella and her husband as Ella's had been supposed below theirs on the day of her father's funeral. Murdoch had not parted with any of his pride or jealousy as he parted with his worldly comforts. He still looked with an evil eye on Angus; and, when disposed to vent his complaints or seek counsel, went to new comers in preference to old neighbours. He was particularly intimate with the O'Rorys, who lived in a cottage next to his own, and who were of an age and in circumstances too unlike his own to come into comparison with him in any way.
Dan O'Rory was a lad of twenty, who had brought over his yet younger wife to seek employment in the Garveloeh fishery, as there was none to be had at Rathmullin. He had not yet been able to make interest for wages on board one of the busses, and he had no boat of his own; so he dug up and planted his potato-ground, and was content, talking of future doings, but caring little as yet whether they ever came to pass. One evil of their coming to pass, indeed, would be that there would be no longer time for talk, which Dan loved full as well as did Noreen, his wife.
One day, when Noreen was tired of her husband, and had gently turned him out of his cabin, he strolled to Murdoch's door, and lay down to bask in a July sun, his head resting on the wooden step, his fingers stuck into his hair, and his feet reposing among the fishy remains which lay as usual strewed round the door, and saluting more senses than one of the passers by. Hearing a step on the shingle, Dan half opened his eyes, aud saw Murdoch approaching with a leaky barrel on his shoulder, from the seams of which the red pickle was dropping down his clothes and meandering over his face.
“Them are the briny tears for which ye'll be never the worse,” cried Dan. “I'd weep such tears every day, if the powers would give me leave.”
“Get up, Dan, can't ye, and let me come in at my own door.”
“With all the pleasure in life,” said Dan, pushing the door open, and withdrawing himself as little as was necessary to let Murdoch pass.
“Eh! it's the herrings back again! O, father, what will ye do for the money? What good does the bounty do to them that can't sell their fish?” resounded from the inside of the cottage in shrill tones of anger.
Murdoch swore at the bounty and the Company, and its officers, and at those who, he said, supplanted him.
“Well, but what did they say this time?” inquired his wife. “I took the largest barrel we had,—if it did not hold thirty-two gallons, there's not one in the island that does.”
“They did not dispute that this time; how should they? But they say. not a cask that leaks shall be branded for the bounty.”
“Never deny the leaking,” said Dan, looking in from the door. “Your own head is pickled as fine as if it stood for the bounty.”
Murdoch took no notice of him, but went on impatiently. “And for the rest of the complaint, I may thank you, wife, or Meg, or both of ye. There is not a fish clean gutted in the barrel; there is not one untainted with the sun; and besides, the cask is half full of salt. You women may raise the rent-money as well as you can, for I shall never do it if this is the way you help me.”
Meg began to complain that the boat was so foul that the fish were tainted before they came ashore; that her mother had given her something else to do when she should have been curing the fish; that Rob had carried off the knife, so that she was obliged to gut them with her fingers; and that, as her mother would have a large barrel and her father would not catch more fish, what could be done but to fill up the cask with salt? The quarrel was beginning to run high, when Dan interfered to divert the course of the storm.
“I wonder,” said he, “ye submit to be troubled with the villains that carry themselves so high. I'd leave them to catch their own fish, and keep cool and comfortable at home.”
“We must live, Dan; so you talk only nonsense.”
“True, neighbour; all that are not gentlemen must live. But there's nothing in life easier than to live without their help; and I'd be proud to do it, if it were only to see them standing and standing all day, and many days, to see the shoals go by, and never a boat out to catch a fish for them. I'd go ten miles any day to see them stand idle, with all their sheds and cranes, and the new pier with the boats lying about it as if all the world was asleep. There would be easy work for a summer's day!”
“Easy enough for them, Dan, but hard enough for us that have not our pockets full of money like them.”
“Never mind the money; where's the money that will buy such a sunshine as this?”
“If people like the sunshine as well with bare limbs and an empty stomach, Dan, I have nothing to say to them. For my part, I begin to feel the north wind chilling, now I am growing old; and I can't fish till I have had my morning meal.”
“O, the morning meal is the pleasantest thing in nature when it gives one no trouble; and if you would do as I do, you would have one every day in the year, without giving a triumph to them villains. Just bestir yourself to plant your potatoes, and then you are provided without more words. O, people should go to old Ireland to learn how to live!”
“I thought Ireland had been a bad place to live in.”
“Devil a bit, neighbour. It is the cheerfullest, brightest land the saints reign over,—glory to them for it!”
“Then what brought you here?”
“Just somebody told Noreen's father that one might fish guineas in these seas; so he had us married, and sent us over; but, as I tell Noreen, there is less gold here than at Rathmullin, seeing that the sun shines one half less. But we make ourselves content, as they do in Ireland; and that a man may do all the world over—let alone a woman that has a gentle cratur like me for a husband.”
“But how would you have me make myself content, when I can't sell my fish either fresh or salted? I thought you had more feeling for your neighbours, Dan.”
“I! God help me, I'm as tinder-hearted as a lord's lady. It is because I am so tinder-hearted that I would have nobody bother themselves. Just give a man a cabin, and a bit of ground, and a spade, and a girl for a wife to crown all, and why should he trouble himself till the stars fall out of tim sky?”
“And is that the way you do in Ireland?”
“Just so; and that is why Ireland is better than any other land.”
“But I have more to provide for than my wife,” said Murdoch, casting a look towards his little field.
“Make Rob dig it for you the first year,” said Dan; “and if there is potatoes enough, well and good; and if not, is go fish for what is wanting, or let Rob get a potato-ground for himself.”
“But we shall want clothes, and money for rent.”
“Tell the Company you'll work out the rent, or sell your boat for it, or beseech the saints that love to help. Any way better than bother vour-self.”
“Anything rather than bother myself,” repeated Murdoch to himself, under the united provocations of heat, fatigue, disappointment, and jealousy. “I'll be free of them all, and never trouble myself to offer another fish to any man breathing. I can get fowl to help out our potatoes, and then we shall do well enough.”
At this moment he saw farmer Duff approaching, and gave the hint to Dan, that he should observe how the farmer would behave when it should appear that he was to have no more custom from either family.
Duff declined the seat offered him by Murdoch's wife, as his first desire was to get to windward of that which strewed the ground where Meg had been curing fish. He asked Murdoch to walk a little way with him; but as Murdoch declined, Duff took the liberty of closing the door, and attempting to open the shutter which occupied the unglazed window.”
“I live on the height, you know,” said he, “and out of the way of your kind of business, so that I may seem to you over nice; but I was going to offer to relieve you of this litter. I have been round the village to engage for all the offal of the season, and I will take up yours at the same price with the rest.”
“I can't spare it, farmer.”
“Well, just as you please; but I really hope We ll, going to remove it directly, for your health's sake.”
“I trust my health will serve me to sow and gather many a crop that shall cost me less than your oatmeal, and be more wholesome than the pickles in yonder barrel. I have done with herrings for ever. Do you know any one that wants a boat, farmer?”
“More than you have boats to sell There's Dan, for one. Dan, you mean to be a fisher-man?”
“Perhaps I may, if the station offers me a place in a buss without any trouble; but I could not bother myself with a boat. Murdoch and I are content to be easy with our potatoes, no offence to you, I hope.”
“None whatever. The only offence in the case is the offence of a wet season, if such a one should come;—where will the offence bc then?”
“After a wet season comes a dry,” said Dan; “and the powers will preserve us to witness it.”
“Let me see your boat,” said Duff. “Your relation Fergus was looking at his this morning as if he thought it would bear little more patching.”
“Mine is nearly as old as his, but it will last a few fair seasons yet, I expect. I will make him the offer of it.”
Duff was going there now; and having no more time to spare, Murdoch and he set off together, leaving Dan to bask as before, or to vary his amusements by watching the flow of the tide.
As they went, they looked in on Ella, with whom Duff wished to negociate as with Murdoch. Ella was in the shed built for a curing-house, surrounded by her children, three or four of whom were assisting her in her employment of salting and packing herrings, and the rest amusing themselves with playing hide and seek among the barrels.
“What a store of new barrels!” exclaimed Murdoch: “You must lose much by the old ones.”
“Not at all,” replied Ella: “they serve for our coasting trade when they will no longer do for the Company. If we often got such a cask as this,” pointing to one beside her, “we should seldom have to buy. Kenneth made that.”
“Your boy Kenneth!” exclaimed Murdoch. “Impossible'!”
“He has been well taught by his uncle,” said Duff, “and has good materials. See, the staves are half an inch thick, and even throughout, and the flags laid between the seams at both ends, and the hoops as regular and well fastened as Ronald himself could have made them.”
“You will only waste such a barrel,” said Murdoch, “if you let the children touch the fish. My Meg has wasted tons of fish and bushels of salt.”
Little Annie, who was sprinkling the salt at this moment, turned very red, and looked at her mother as petitioning for a defence. Ella smiled as she invited Murdoch to look and see how evenly the fish were packed, and told him that there was a trial of skill among the children this day, and that it was to be determined, when her husband came home, whether Annie's salting was worthy of Kenneth's barrel.
“Kenneth is not to see till all is done,” said Annie; “he is helping uncle Fergus to mend his boat, and uncle Fergus says he will make it last much longer than any body else could do but uncle Ronald.”
“Ronald sent him this very morning, when he was most wanted,” said Ella. “His father should have seen the landing. He brought me this barrel as a present, and he himself thought of bringing his tools and some staves in case Fergus's boat wanted mending, which it did sadly. You will excuse our going on with our work, neighbours, for you know it will not do to lose time in this weather, but the little ones will get you all you want if you will step within. Go, my little maids, and set out the bannocks and the cheese, and I will bring the whisky.”
Duff could not stay, however, longer than to settle when to send his pony and panniers for the offal.
“Surely that cannot be little Kenneth!” exclaimed Murdoch, when, guided by the echo of hammering among the rocks, they came in sight of a fine tall lad repairing a boat. “Yes, it is Kenneth, so like his father, and just as handsome!”
Kenneth looked modestly happy when his uncle declared that he did not want to purchase Murdoch's boat, as he believed his own would be the best of the two by the time Kenneth went back to Islay.
Murdoch wondered why his children gave nothing but trouble while they were young, and did little but damage now that they were grown up, while other people made a profit of theirs. He took a poor price, paid in produce, from a. cottager for his crazy boat, and went home wishing that he had sent Rob to learn something at the station, as he could teach him nothing at home.
At a late hour of this night, the young widow Cuthbert was still busy, as she had been all day, at her employment of net-making. The song with which she lulled her infant to sleep had long ceased, and she pursued her work in perfect silence by the dim light of her solitary lamp; her thoughts were alternately with the children who lay sleeping around her, and with the husband whose place of long repose was beneath the waters. As often as a little hand stirred above the coverlid, or a rosy cheek was turned upon its pillow, the anxious mother gazed and watched, and as often as the gust swept past, or a larger billow broke upon the shingle, her heart throbbed as if she was still awaiting the return of him who should never more return. She started, at length, on hearing a tap at her door.
“It is only Ella,” said a voice from the outside; and the widow hastened to open the door. “Your husband, your husband!” she exclaimed; “no ill to him I trust. You are not in fear for him, Ella?”
“He is safe home, thank Him who guides the storms!” replied Ella: “but it is a gusty night.”
“Ye look cold and your plaid drips,” said the widow, setting down the lamp, and applying more fuel to her smouldering fire. “What brines ye here so late, Ella?”
“Only a message from Angus about the nets, which I should have left till the morn, but that Kenneth and I saw a glimmer beneath your door, and I knew I should find you at your occupation. We press you too close for your work, Katie. It's an ill thing for sad hearts to watch so late. Better that we should do without our nets, than that you should look as you do now.”
“'Tis for my bairns,” said Katie, “or I would not undergo it. O, Ella! I have been jealous of you these two hours past, if, as I supposed, you were on the rock looking out.”
“No wonder, Katie; and yet I could have found in my heart to be jealous of Fergus's wife, and all the wives that were serving their husbands by the fireside, instead of breasting the wind, and mistaking every jet of the surge for a sail, as I have been doing since the sun went down. But I had Kenneth to while away the time with, and help to keep in the light. He showed me how they hoist the lanterns at the station, and our signals will be better managed from this night forward. O Katie, you must see Kenneth, and I must tell you all that his uncle has done for him.”
“But your husband,” interrupted the widow; “how long was he? and in what style did his boat come ashore? and which of you first saw him? and——”
“Now, Katie, why will ye be ever asking such questions as you know it wounds me to answer? I have told you he is home safe. He has brought such a store of fish, that, busy as the curers have been on board, there is as much left for the lassies and me to do to-morrow as we can finish before the twenty-four hours are gone. And that reminds me of the nets: Angus must have those tie ordered within three days, he bids me tell you; but let us look about for some one to help you, instead of your toiling with your fingers, help and harassing your spirits through the night.”
“We must toil while the season lasts,” replied Katie; “and as for the wear of spirits,” she continued smiling, “that is all fancy, and must be got over. I have nothing now to tremble for—no need to listen and look out, and I must learn not to heed the storm further than to be thankful that my bairns have about them all that makes a storm harmless. If this was a time of hardship, Ella, like some that have been known here, how I might have envied some who were kept watching, not by cold or hunger, but only by having more employment than they could finish in the day!”
“It is a rich season, indeed,” said Ella. “The shoals are such as Angus never saw before, for the multitude and the quality of the fish; and what is more, the crops arc coming up kindly, and farmer Duff says that he reckons on the best harvest he has had since he took the farm.”
“Thank God!” exclaimed Katie. “This plenty may prevent the price from rising, and nothing else could. It almost frightens me sometimes when I see the numbers that are growing up, to think how we are to get oat and barley meal for them all.”
“If you had been here all the sixteen years since I first came to this bay,” said Ella, “you would wonder at the change, and be thankful to see how improvements have risen as wants increased. Now trim your lamp, and go on with your business; it will be some time yet before my husband and Kenneth have finished with the boat and come for me.—Surely you make your meshes more than an inch wide;—no, the exact measure.—Well, that is one of the improvements I speak of.”
“It was folly, indeed,” replied Katie, “to use such nets as I used to make—nets that caught the fry and let the full grown go free. That was the quickest way to make every season worse than the last. Then there are the boats, so much safer from having pumps, so much more favourable to the fish from be, ng cleaner, and so much better built, that our fishers need not lose their time in short trips, but can push out into the deep seas, and stay many days together. All these things, help to make fishing profitable.”
“Besides,” said Ella, “they help farming, which is of as much importance to us as the fishing. Corn from abroad is so dear, that we should be little better off than before, if farmer Duff did not grow more than Murdoch once did.”
“The people in the other islands and in Lorn want all they can grow as much as we,” replied Katie, “for their fishery grows with ours. bleat and bannocks are as dear in all the countries round as they were here last year.”
“Then we may thank farmer Duff for all the pains he has taken with the soil of his fields all the stock of his pastures. He reaps just double what he reaped fifteen years ago.”
“And so he had need, for there are more than double the number of mouths to feed. Besides the strangers that have come to settle, look at the families that have grown up. Where Mr. Callum used to spend a few days now and then, there is Mary Duff's husband and her five bairns; then there are your nine, Ella— how your household is increased!”
“There lies one brother under the gray stone,” said Ella, “and Ronald seeks his bannocks elsewhere; but there is Fergus's tribe as well as my own; and setting one against Murdoch's son that died, and another against his daughter that went off with the soldier, there is still more than double the number by far.”
“Even supposing,” added Katie, “that Murdoch's daughter does not come back upon her father with her children, which I have heard is likely. But, Ella, Duff's farm ought to yield double and double for ever, if it is to go on to feed us, for our children will marry and have their little tribes as we have. If you and I live to be like many grandmothers in these islands, we be shall see our twenty or thirty grand-children, and perhaps our eighty or ninety great-grand-children.”
“And then,” replied Ella, “may God keep us from the poverty that weighs on such! May we never see our strong men wasting on shellfish and weeds, and our aged people dropping cold and hungry into their deathbeds, and our young mothers tending their sickly infants, knowing that food and warmth might save them, and unable to bring them either the one or the other!”
“Do not let us think of it,” said Katie, looking round upon her domestic comforts. “Providence has blessed us thus far, and let us not be too keen to foresee the evil day that man's power cannot remove.”
Ella was silent. Katie proceeded,—
“Surely man cannot remove that day, Ella, though you say nothing. Let farmer Duff' do all he can; let every foot of land be tilled that will nourish an ear of barley, still the day may come; and what else can man do?”
Ella made no direct reply. Presently she observed that Dan and his wife seemed not to care for thc evils of such a time, since they lived by choice on the poorest food, and provided themselves with nothing that they could lose in the worst of seasons.
“They are content, always content,” observed the widow; “and they say they have all that is necessary; and they wonder that we can trouble ourselves to obtain anything that is not necessary: but I tell them we do not; I think a chimney, and a window, and bedding, and decent clothes all necessary for the children.”
“Unless you would have them live like pigs in a sty,” observed Ella. “When God gave us the charge of these little ones, he gave us no leave that ever I heard of to expose them to sickness and hardship, and to corrupt them by letting them live like brutes. By making them helpless and quick in their feelings, he has shown as plainly as if he sent a prophet to tell us, that we are to tend them as carefully and keep them as innocent as ever our labour and forethought can help us to do. Whenever I see a little one grovelling in dirt, or pining in want, or given to vice such as it should not even have beard of, I always feel as if God's plain-spoken message had been at some time misunderstood; either that the trust has been wrongly undertaken or wrongly managed.”
“I knew you thought so, Ella; and yet what can we say when parents see and mourn all this, and cannot help themselves?”
“We can only say that if both father and mother have considered and judged for the bet, and worked hard, and denied themselves, no fault rests with them. Where the fault lies in such a case is a thing that Angus and I have talked over many a time. But such a case does not concern those we were speaking of—those who are content with destitution, when they might have comfort.”
The widow looked on her children and sighed.
“Nay,” said Ella, smiling, “there is no need for you to sigh. You might carry your bairns to Inverary, and match them with the duke's, and not a stronger, or fairer, or more innocent would you find among them all.”
“May it please Providence to keep them so!”
“Why should you fear? You have comfort about you, and a prospect of abundance. Keep your tears for a darker day, if there be such in the years to come.”
“Every day is dark to me now,” thought the widow; but she kept down a feeling that seemed ungrateful. Ella went on, anxious to cheer her.
“I watched your little Hugh this morning, as he and my younger ones were playing on the sands, and 1 thought he looked as if he was made to carry his own way through the world. You should have seen him managing the dragging of the pool with the ragged net Angus gave the children. You would have thought he had been to the station to take a lesson of the superintendent, by his direction of the rest.”
“Aye, I am afraid he is overbearing,” replied the mother.
“Not at all; only spirited. If you keep him innocent with such a spirit as he has, he may be anything; he may be like Ronald himself, who is so fond of him. O, he is not overbearing. I saw him let go the net the moment little Bessie was frightened at your dog that jumped upon her; and he carried her through the water that was too deep for her to wade, as soon as ever she began to cry for me. Now I think of it, Ronald did take him to the station once, surely.”
“Yes; not very long ago, the last time he was here; and Hugh saw the superintendent as you suppose, and has been full of imitation of all that he saw ever since.”
“He may be superintendent himself some day or other, Katie. But does not he love Ronald very much?”
“Very much; as he ought to do.”
“All my children do,” replied Ella. “It is always a happy time when uncle Ronald comes. The same man that the officers respect above all who are under them is as much beloved by the little ones as if he were a soft-hearted girl.”
“You had the making of Ronald, and I give you joy of your work,” said the widow.
“Ah, Katie, that is the way you always silence me about Ronald,” said Ella, smiling.
“Well, then, tell me about Fergus: he is your work too.”
“You know all I can say about him,” said Ella, sighing. “You know my pride in him, and that this very pride makes me the more grieved when I see hi's temper harassed and soured by care, as I feel it must go on to be, more and more. I am always in dread of a quarrel with one neighbour or another; and more than ever now, in the high fishing season.”
“Surely he has less care now than at other times,” observed the widow. “There is just now abundance for every body.”
“True; but this is the time for revenge. If Fergus has carried himself high towards any neighbour, or given the sharp words that are never forgotten, now is the time for his nets to be cut, or his boat set adrift, or what he has fished in the day carried off in the night.” “There are those in Garveloch, I know,” said Katie, “who can bring themselves to do such things.”
“Let us mention no names, Katie; but thus it is that men shame their race, and spurn the gilts they little deserve. To think that we cannot enjoy a plentiful season in peace and thankfulness, but that some must injure, and others complain! These are times when we should leave it to the osprey to follow a prey, and to the summer storms to murmur. Hark! there is Angus's step outside; and time it is, for it cannot be far from midnight.”
The widow invited Angus in to warm himself by her now bright fire; but it was time for rest. Kenneth had gone home an hour before.
“He would find supper on the board,” said Ella; “and now, Angus, you will be glad to do the same.”
Katie promised the nets within three days; and as soon as she had closed the door behind her guests, sat down again for one other hour to help the fulfilment of her promise, and then slept all the better for having watched till the wind went down.
KINDRED NOT KINDNESS.
It was not very long before Ella's fears on account of her brother Fergus were in part realized, though the evil day was deferred by an arrangement offered by Angus and eagerly accepted by his brother-in-law. The herring fishery being peculiarly abundant this year, Angus wanted more help on board his vessel; and as it was expected that the cod would be plentiful in proportion, Angus might in his turn assist Fergus, when the herring shoals were past, and the cod which follow to make prey of them should become the chief object of the fishery. Fergus laboured from July to October for a certain share of the herring produce; and Angus was to go out with Fergus in all the intervals of his coasting trips during the late autumn and winter. While Fergus was on board Angus's vessel, all went well; for Angus had no enemies. He might spread his nets to dry on the beach, He and his youngest child was guard enough to set over them. He never left his fish on board all night, while he was at home, thinking it wrong to put such a temptation to theft in the way of any one; but if he had, no harm would have been done out of malice to himself, as was too frequently the practice in this fishery. Poor Fergus was not so secure, as he had found before, and was destined to find again. Like most men of hasty tempers, who are besides subject to care, he had enemies among those who did not know how to make allowance for him, and were not disposed to forgive harsh expressions which the offender was apt to forget that he had used. Dan, easy and content as he seemed to be, had the selfishness common to lazy people; and there is no more inveterate enemy to good-will than selfishness. Dan was not, like many of his countrymen, ready with his oaths and his cudgel at a moment's warning, if anything went amiss; but Dan could drawl out the most provoking things imaginable, and enjoy their effect upon an irritable person, and show that he enjoyed it; and having thus encouraged a quarrel, in which he did not give his adversary the satisfaction of bearing his share heartily, he let it drop; but had no objection to see it carried on by somebody else. He amused himself with watching what befel Fergus, and with laughing at every little distress which arose subsequent to a certain dispute which had once occurred between them. He did no harm with his own hands, but people knew that he did not object to seeing it done; and such sympathy affords great advantage to the doers of mischief. Among these was Rob Murdoch, a doer of mischief by nature as some said,—at all events by habit, and very often by express will. Rob had never felt at case with Ella or any of the family since the day of his upsetting the boat; though there was never a look or word from any of them which could have made him uncomfortable, if his own consciousness had not. He was always ready to suppose offence, and found no difficulty in creating it where he was not liked, and only tolerated on account of long not neighbourhood and distant relationship. He kept out of Ella's way, for he was mightily afraid of her. He hated Angus, having been formerly taught by his father that Angus was a traitor who intended to supplant him, and the impression remained on his stupid mind long after the cause had been removed. Ronald was out of his way entirely; and Fergus was therefore the only one exposed to his poor spite, while he was the one least able to disregard it. The time had been when Fergus would have scorned the idea of being moved by anything Rob could say; but Fergus was more easily moved than formerly, and it stung him to hear Rob predict, as he lounged on the shore, that the wind would be contrary when Fergus wished it fair; to be met on his return from an unsuccessful expedition with the news that everybody else had caught a vast deal of fish; and, above all, to see the enemy fretting the children into a passion, which was a frequent pastime of Rob's when tie had nothing better to do. Out of these provocations arose quarrels; and out of quarrels, Rob's desire of revenge; a desire which he could gratify only in a small way as long as Fergus worked for his brother-in-law. Rob asked several times for the loan of Fergus's boat during the herring season; and as he made the request in his father's name, it was not refused; but when it was found that the boat received some injury each time, Fergus very reasonably desired Rob to repair the mischief as often as he caused it. Being too lazy to do this, the loan was denied to him, and then he made bold to use the boat without leave when he knew that Fergus was absent; and the exclamations of the children having brought their mother out to see what was the matter, the ill-will was not lessened by the addition of a woman's tongue. No terms were kept after the railing bout between Rob and Janet on the sands: they regarded and acted towards each other as enemies from that day forward.
Angus offered Fergus a benefit, as he called it, to finish off the season with; that is, all the fish caught in the last trip were to be Fergus's; and to the winnings of this trip he looked for the means of finally making up his rent, and of improving the clothing of the children before the winter. The signs of the weather were anxiously watched by himself and his family, the nets were carefully repaired, the casks looked to, more salt brought in from the station, and every preparation completed the evening before, when the nets and stores were carried on board, and all made ready for starting at dawn. It was a misty morning, such as would not have tempted either Janet or Ella abroad if this had been any other trip than the last of the season: but as it was, they attended their husbands down to the shore, with their children flocking about them. As it was too foggy to let them see the vessel at fifty yards distance from the beach they presently returned, walking so slowly, that before they reached home the mists had partly dispersed at the appearance of the rising sun, and opened a prospect along the shore.
“There's Rob turning the point,” cried one of the little ones.
“Rob at this time of the morning? Impossible!” said Ella. “They that have no more to do than he are not stirring so early. It is he, however. Look, Janet, how he peeps at us from behind the rock! I will go and speak with him, for he has no quarrel with me, and I do not forget we are cousins.”
It was not so easy, however, to catch him. When he saw Ella approaching, he withdrew from sight; and when she turned the point, he was already high up among the rocks, on a path which he could not have reached without exercising more activity than was his wont.
“I believe the man thinks,” said Ella to herself, “as Mr. Callum used to do, that I am a witch, for he flees me as a fowl flees the hawk. If I could but win his ear for half an hour, there might be an end of this ill-will between him and Fergus, which is a scandal to relations, and to those who, living far from war, ought to live in peace.”
Where enmity once creeps in, it is difficult to preserve peace with any of the parties concerned. After having missed Rob, Ella found that Janet was offended at her having sought him; and it was with some difficulty that she brought her sister-in-law to acknowledge that a quarrel has done quite enough mischief when it separates two families, and that no advantage call arise from its involving a third.
Before many hours had elapsed, the children came running to their mother, crying—
“The boat! the boat! She is warping into the Bay. Father will be on shore presently.”
“It cannot be our boat!” said Ella, turning pale, however, as she spoke. “It must be one of the station boats.”
A glance showed her that it was indeed her husband's vessel coming in already, instead of three or four days hence, as she had expected. Her only way of accounting for this quick return was by supposing that some accident had happened on board. The wind was contrary, so that it must be some time before the crew could land, and Ella was not disposed to wait for tidings. She commanded her children not to go out and tell Janet, who, being busy within doors, might not know of the return; and then went down to the place where Murdoch's old boat was lying, obtained a hasty leave to use it and help to launch it, seized the oars and pushed off, and was presently alongside her husband's vessel. Fergus was already half over the side, ready to jump down to his sister, and impatient to gain the shore, while Angus in vain attempted to hold him back.
“Push off, Ella!” cried Angus. “Do not come near till I bring him to reason.”
Seeing that her husband and brother were both safe, Ella repressed her anxiety to know what had happened, and by one vigorous pull shot off out of Fergus's reach. He threw himself back into the vessel, and trod the little deck like one in a towering passion.
“My husband! my brother!” cried Ella, in a tone which reached the hearts of both, “you have not quarrelled?”
“O no! nor ever shall,” said Angus, laying his hand on Fergus's shoulder, “and least of all this day.”
“Do you think I could fall out with Angus?” said Fergus. “No! I must be sunk indeed before I could do that. It is he who has kept me from ruin till now, and it is he who would make me think I am not ruined to-day.”
Ruined!—The truth was soon told. Fergus's nets were destroyed. They had been safe the night before. This morning, when he was preparing to throw them, he found them cut almost to shreds. If he had had money to buy more, they could not be provided in time. The season was over; his benefit was lost; and with it went all hopes of making up his rent by the day it would become due, and of supplying the additions he had proposed to the comforts of his little ones.
Ella's suspicions lighted upon Rob even before she heard Fergus declare that it could be nobody else. A sudden thought having struck her, she came alongside once more, and having communicated with her husband in a tone which Fergus could not overhear, she again departed, shaping her course for Murdoch's dwelling.
Rob was lying on the beach asleep, as she expected; and beside him was Dan, also asleep. If they had been awake, they would not have seen Angus's vessel which was now behind the point to their right. Ella stepped on shore and wakened Rob, saying,
“I see you have no business of your own this bright noon, Rob; so come and take an oar with me.”
Rob started up when he saw who was standing over him. He wished his tall cousin far over seas, or anywhere but at his elbow.
“Ask Dan,” said he. “Dan! here's my cousin Ella wants a trip. Take an oar with her, will ye?”
“No,” replied Ella. “Let Dan finish his dream.”
“Meg is stouter than I at the oar,” pleaded Rob.
“It is you that I want, and that this moment,” said Ella, pointing his way to the boat, towards which Rob shuffled unwillingly, like a school-boy going in search of the rod with which he is to be whipped.
Instead of giving him an oar, Ella took both; and as he sat opposite her with nothing to do, he felt very silly, and this feeling was a bad preparation for what was to follow. When they were fairly beyond the breakers, Ella rested on her oars, and, looking her companion full in the face, asked him where he had passed the previous night. Rob looked up to the sky, back to the shore, and around upon the waters, and then scratching his head, asked,
“What was that ye said, cousin Ella?”
“You heard what I said.”
“Well; where should I have passed the night?”
“That is for you to answer. I ask again where you were when the moon set last night?”
Rob shuffled in his talk as well as in his gait. He told how he oftentimes spent his time on the rocks rather than bear the smell of putrid fish under his father's roof; and how Meg had foretold a bad night, and it turned out fine; and many other things that had nothing to do with Ella's question. She let him go on till, by turning the point, they came in sight of the Flora standing south-west. She directed his attention to it, saying that the Flora was her object. Rob swore a deep oath and demanded to be set on shore again, cursing himself for having come without knowing whither he was to be taken. Ella's steady eye was still upon him when she asked the reason of this sudden horror of meeting his cousins and boarding their boat: adding,
“I fancy it is not so very long since you were on board the Flora of your own accord.”
Rob had sense enough to see that he only betrayed himself by showing eagerness to get back, and therefore held by showing his peace till they approached the Flora, when he hailed Angus, requesting him to help Ella on board; and then said to his companion,
“I'll take the boat straight back with pleasure, cousin, with your thanks, I suppose, to Duncan Hogg for the use of it.”
“Not yet,” said Ella; “I have more to say to you. Now, Rob, tell me honestly whether you were at home all last night, and here the mischief may end; but if you will not give an account to us, you must to the magistrate at the station. If you are innocent you can have no objection to clear yourself; if you are guilty, depend upon it you will meet with more mercy from your cousins than from a stranger who comes to execute justice?”
“As sure as ever anything happens, you always suspect me,” muttered Rob. “What care I what happens to Fergus, or what he makes of his benefit?”
“O then, you know what has happened,” observed Ella, “and yet I have not told you.”
Rob, finding that he only gave new occasion of suspicion by everything he said, took refuge in sullen silence, got on board at Ella's command, and sat immovably looking at the sea as they steered for Islay, having fastened the little boat to the stern of the Flora.
Rob's courage or obstinacy failed him when the station became visible, the white house of Mr. M'Kenzie, the magistrate, appearing at some little distance above and behind the pier, the cooperage, the curing house and the village. Ella, who watched an opportunity of saving the culprit from a public exposure, was by his side the moment he showed an inclination to speak.
“If ye will only just say ye are willing to make reparation, and will never play such an unkind prank again,” said she, “I will intercede with Fergus to forgive you.”
“What may be the cost of the nets?”
“More than you can make up without hard work; but it may be made up; and I would fain set ye home, Rob, without having seen the magistrate's face.”
Rob muttered that he did not see why he should be brought to justice more than others that did the same trick. It was but a prank; and when they were boys and no magistrate within reach, nobody talked of justice.—Ella reminded him that Mr. Callum had united all the offices of law and justice in his own person when the island was inhabited by few except themselves; but that circumstances had now changed, and relations multiplied, and that property must be protected from the player of pranks as well as from the thief.
Fergus, touched by the kindness of his brother and sister, controlled his passion, and received Rob's submission with more grace than it was tendered with, agreeing to take compensation as the offender should be able to give it, provided nets could be obtained at the station on promise of future payment.
LOOKING BEFORE AND AFTER.
None of the party left the station without having seen the face of the magistrate. He was in the store-house when Fergus went to make his application for nets.
“What makes you want so many feet of netting at once?” asked Mr. Mackenzie; “and in such a hurry too. I hope yours have not been destroyed?”
“Indeed but they have, your honour; and another such loss would destroy me.”
“The law must be put in force in its utmost rigour,” declared the magistrate; — whereupon Rob hastily withdrew to the cooperage, where he might be out of sight. “Scarcely a day passes,” continued Mr. Mackenzie, “without information of some act of violence or another. How do you suppose this happens, Mr. Angus?”
“Through jealousy, I believe, sir. We seldom hear of thefts——”
“I beg your pardon, Mr. Angus. I have had several complaints within a few days of depredations on the fishing grounds in the locks where the cod are just showing themselves.”
“I rather think even these thefts must arise from revenge more than from a desire of gain; for there is or ought to be no want at present through the whole extent of the fishery. Some, like my brother Fergus, are reduced to difficulty by the destruction of their implements; but in such a season as this, there can be no absolute distress for any who are willing to work.”
“I scarcely know which is the most painful,” replied the magistrate; “to see men snatching bread out of one another's mouths through jealousy and spite, or under the impulse of pressing want. The worst of it is, the last usually follows the first. This enemy of your brother's, who has been injuring him now without a pretence, may plead starvation in excuse for some other act of violence hereafter.”
“I trust you are mistaken, sir,” replied Angus. “I trust the miseries of poverty that I have seen elsewhere are far from our shores.”
“The first sign of their approach, Angus, is when men begin to fancy their interests opposed to each other,—which the interests of men in society can never be. Fair competition leads to the improvement of the state of all; but the jealousy which tempts to injure any interest whatever is the infallible token that distress is at hand. You have seen enough of the world to know this to be a general truth, Angus. Why do you dispute it in the present case?”
“Perhaps my own interest in the issue blinds me,” returned Angus. “I have seen enough in other countries of what you describe to make me melancholy when I witness men pulling one another's fortunes “to pieces instead of building up the prosperity of the whole by labouring together at that of every part. Whether I hear of different classes in a commercial country petitioning for impediments to be thrown in one another's way, or see (as I saw in Canada) jealous neighbours levelling one another's fences in the dark, or laying siege to them in the day-time, I feel sure that destruction is ready to step in and beggar them all, whether it be in the shape of a prohibitory duty imposed by government, or of wild cattle that come to trample down the corn on which the quarrellers depend.”
“You once told us of some who united to make a road,” said Ella, who had now joined her husband. “That was wiser than pulling down fences.”
“Where all helped to give each other the fair advantage of a road,” replied her husband, “a flourishing settlement presently arose among the fertile fields. Where the fences were levelled, there was soon no need of fences. Some who had dwelt within them lay under the sod, hunger having cut short their days, and others were gone in search of food, leaving their fields to grow into a wilderness once more.”
“Theirs was indeed the lowest degree of folly that can be conceived.”
“Not quite,” observed Mr. Mackenzie. “I can fancy a lower, though I do not ask you to receive it as fact. This letting in of wild cattle to trample the corn took place when but few wanted to be fed, and those few had immediate resources. If, instead of this act of folly, the perpetrators had waited till hundreds and thousands were in expectation, with an appetite which the most ample harvests could not satisfy, and had set fire to the produce at the very season when it was most wanted, under the idea of vexing the holders of the land, what would you say then?”
“There is nothing to be said, sir, but that such would be an act of mere madness,—too evidently madness to be committed by more than an individual, and that individual an escaped maniac.”
“The school of ignorance is the innermost court of Bedlam,” replied Mr. Mackenzie; “and while there are any patients remaining in it, it is possible that corn-stacks may be burned by discontented people with the notion of revenging the wrongs of the starving. But I put it only as a possibility, you know.—Can it be, Angus, that you do not see the tendency of the acts of violence that are disturbing this very district? Do you not see distress and ruin in full prospect if they are not checked, and if, moreover, the temper of the people be not directly reversed?”
“Our resources are so improved that I would fain hope the best; and yet our numbers increase in full proportion, so that we had not need waste any of our capital.”
“I think not indeed. I have been visiting every station on the coast and in the islands, and I find the same state of things everywhere,—-a prosperity so unusual in these districts, that the people think their fortune secure for ever, while they are hastening, by every possible means, the approach of distress.”
“I hope you find the farms and pastures improving with the fishery?” observed Angus.— “Everything depends upon the food keeping pace with the employment.”
“The farms are improving to the utmost that skill and labour can make them improve. There is the powerful stimulus of an increasing demand, while there are increasing facilities of production. There is more manure, there are better implements, and more cattle; so that some farms produce actually double what they did when the fishery began.”
Angus shook his head, observing that this was not enough.
“They have done their best already in the way of increase,” said he. “They may be improved for some time to come, and to a great degree; but each improvement yields a less return: so that they will be further and further perpetually from again producing double in ten years; and all this time the consumers are increasing at a much quicker rate.”
“Not double in ten years surely?” said Ella.
“Certainly not; but say twenty, thirty, fifty, a hundred, any number of years you choose;— still, as the number of people doubles itself for ever, while the produce of the land does not, the people must increase faster than the produce. If corn produced corn without being wedded to the soil, the rate of increase might be the same with that of the human race. Then two sacks of barley might grow out of one, and two more again out of each of those two—proceeding from one to two, four, eight, sixteen, thirty-two, sixty-four, and so on.”
“If capital could be made to increase in this way, I see, Angus, that there could never be too many people in the world, or in our little world, Garveloch.”
“Or if, on the other hand, human production could be kept down to the same rate with the production of our fields, we need have no fear of a deficiency of food. If the number of producers increased only in proportion to the increase of food, there would be no distress of the kind our islands were formerly afflicted with, and may be afflicted with again. But nobody thinks of establishing such a proportion; and in the meanwhile, food is yielded, though in larger quantities, in less and less proportions, while the eaters go on doubling and doubling their numbers perpetually.”
“Then, to be sure, it is madness to destroy one another's means of living,” cried Ella. “It seems the first duty of everybody to increase the production of food; and yet, here we are, cutting one another's nets to pieces, and driving the fish away on which we depend for our subsistence!”
“You do not wonder now,” said Mr. Mackenzie, “at my grief for the ignorance of the people, and my disgust at the quarrels that have such consequences. I assure you the season is actually lost in some of the northern lochs; for, not only are some fishers left without nets or lines, but the fish have made no stay, being alarmed by tumult; and it is but too probable that they will not return.”
“And all this time,” continued Angus, “these very quarrellers go on marrying early, and raising large families—that is, they bring offspring into the world while they are providing as fast as possible for their future starvation.”
“There is no need to do here as the Romans did,” said Mr. Mackenzie, “and as many other nations have done—no need to offer bounties for the increase of population.”
“I think not indeed,” said Ella. “It seems a thing to be checked, rather than encouraged.”
“All depends on time and circumstances, Ella. When Noah and his little tribe stepped out of the ark into a desolated world, the great object was to increase the number of beings, who might gather and enjoy the fruits which the earth yielded, in an abundance overpowering to the few who were there to consume. And the case is the same with every infant nation which is not savage.”
“Savages do not value or subsist upon the fruits of the earth so much as upon the beasts of the field,” said Ella;—” at least so Angus told me of those who have retreated from before us in America.”
“Savages care for little beyond supplying the pressing wants of the moment,” replied Angus. “They make no savings; they have no capital; and their children die off as fast as poverty and disease can drive them out of the world. There is no growth of either capital or population among savages.”
“Those have indeed a poor chance for life and health,” said Mr. Mackenzie, “whose parents feed at the best on raw roots and berries, who sometimes keep themselves alive by swallowing grubs and worms, and at other times fast for a week together. Shrunk, deformed, and weakly themselves, their offspring are little likely to survive a scarcity, even if it were possible to rear them under the most favourable circumstances.”
“It is absurd,” said Angus, “to doubt the rate at which the human race increases on account of the decrease of numbers among savages. The whole question is concerning the proportion which capital and population bear to each other; and it cannot therefore be tried where no capital exists.”
“I suppose,” observed Ella, “that flocks and herds are the first capital which a tribe possesses in any large quantity. How do numbers increase among people who seek pasture but do not till the ground?”
“Such tribes are most numerous where pastures are fine, and weak where the natural produce of the earth is scanty. But each continues a tribe, and cannot become a nation while following a pastoral life. Their flocks cannot multiply beyond a certain point unless the food of the flocks is increased; and they who subsist upon the flocks cannot, in like manner, multiply beyond a certain point, unless the flocks on which they feed are multiplied.”
“But they not only do not increase,” observed Mr. Mackenzie, “they are lessened perpetually by one or another of the unfortunate accidents to which their condition subjects them. Pastoral tribes are particularly prone to war. Instead of keeping possession of a certain territory on which they always dwell, they rove about from one tract of country to another, leaving undefended some which they call their own;—another tribe takes possession; and then comes a struggle and a destructive war, which reduces their numbers. Many of these tribes live in a state of continual hostility, and therefore dwindle away,”
“But when they begin to settle and till the ground,” said Ella, “I suppose their numbers increase again.”
“Yes; the Jews, after they were established in Canaan, became an agricultural nation, and multiplied very rapidly. It was made, both by their laws and customs, a point of duty to marry and to marry young; and when the check of war was removed, their small territory became very thickly peopled.”
“I suppose it was to repair the waste of war,” said Ella, “that the bounty on population was offered among the Romans.”
“Not only from this cause,” replied Mr. Mackenzie, “but to repair the breaches made in other ways. In the early days of Rome, the population was too large for the capital in intervals of peace, as appears from the law of their king Romulus, that no child should be exposed to die in the desert before three years of age—a proof that it had been the previous practice to expose children under that age. In after times —in the days of Roman glory—the population was apt to decrease, even in times of peace, from the faults in the distribution of property. The land had fallen into the hands of a few great proprietors, and was not tilled by free labour. Swarms of slaves were brought in from all conquered countries, and they alone were employed where free labour should have claimed a share of labour and reward; and there was therefore no subsistence for a middling and lower class of free people. Their numbers dwindled so as to alarm their rulers and give occasion to express laws for the encouragement of population. If, instead of passing laws to promote early marriages, and offering privileges to those who had a certain number of children, the Roman emperors had allowed liberty to the people they governed to labour and subsist, there would have been no complaint of a deficiency of numbers, but rather an inquiry, as there is among us, how all that are born are to be fed?”
“But do you mean, sir,” said Angus, “that there were not children born to the lower classes of the Romans, or that they were born and died through want?”
“Multitudes that were born died immediately, from being exposed; and besides this, marriage was less practised during these ages of the Roman empire than among the same number of people in any other country.”
“The laws were not of much use then.”
“And how can we wonder, when it was actually the custom to give away corn gratis to thousands upon thousands who had no means of earning it! What inducement has a man to marry, when he must either expose his children, or see them die at home, or take his chance of a gratuitous dole of food for them? The laws, if they acted at all, would not act upon these large classes, but upon those of a higher rank, who would marry if there were no law.”
“If in any country,” observed Ella, “there are no laws to encourage or to check marriage, it seems as if that country ought to afford a fair example of the natural increase of numbers.”
“Nay,” said her husband, “human laws have little influence in this case, while the natural laws which regulate the production of life and of capital are seldom suffered to act unchecked. Leave the people of any country as free as you please to marry or not as they like, still, if capital is controlled in any way, the population is controlled also.”
“Where then,” inquired Ella, “does capital act the most freely? Where in the world may we see an example of the natural proportions in which men and subsistence increase?”
“There has never been an age or country known,” replied Mr. Mackenzie, “where at once the people have been so intelligent, their manners so pure, and their resources so abundant, as to give the principle of increase an unobstructed trial. Savage life will not do, because the people are not intelligent. Colonies will not do, because they are not free from vicious customs. An old empire will not do, because the means of subsistence are restricted.”
“A new colony of free and intelligent people in a fertile country affords the nearest approach to a fair trial,” observed Angus. “In some of the best settlements I saw in America, the increase of capital and of people went on at a rate that would scarcely be believed in an old country.”
“And that of the people the fastest, I suppose?”
“Of course; but still capital was far a-head, though the population is gaining upon it every year. When the people first went, they found nothing but capital—all means of production and no consumers but themselves. They raised corn in the same quantity from certain fields every year. There was too much corn at first in one field for a hundred months; but this hundred became two, four, eight, sixteen hundred, and so on, till more and more land was tilled, the people still spreading over it, and multiplying perpetually.”
“And when all is tilled and they still multiply,” said Ella, “they must improve their land more and more.”
“And still,” said Angus, “the produce will fall behind more and more, as every improvement, every outlay of capital yields a less return. Then they will be in the condition of an old country like England, where many are but half fed, where many prudent determine not to marry, and where the imprudent must see their children pine in hunger, or waste under disease till they are ready to be carried off by the first attack of illness.”
“May this never be the case in Garveloch!” cried Ella.
“The more waste of capital there is,” said Mr. Mackenzie, “the sooner will that day come.”
“But our islands are now in the state of a new colony, like that Angus was speaking of,” said Ella. “Want must be far from us at present.”
“Except that we have not a fertile soil or a good climate,” replied her husband. “It is true we do not depend entirely on corn;—we had not need for our home supply can never be large. We have the resource of fish, but it is so precarious a resource, that we ought to keep some means of subsistence in reserve. If the herrings should desert us for a season or two, and the harvest fail, some of us must starve, or all be half-starved, unless we have a stock in reserve.”
“Poor Fergus!” exclaimed Ella. “No wonder he was grieved and angry this morning! Five children and no capital stored up! He may well watch the seasons and tremble at a storm.”
“I am sorry,” observed Mr. Mackenzie, “that he will not give up the name of the offender who has injured him. It is necessary to the public safety that this wanton destruction of property should be put an end to; and I give it in charge to you, Angus, to see that full compensation is made, or that the culprit is delivered into my hands to be made an example of. If it had been generally known that I am here to administer the law, I would not have yielded this much; but as I have only just arrived, and am but beginning to make known the law, I do not insist on an information being laid this time. Henceforward I always shall; for connivance at an offence is itself an offence.”
MORE HASTE THAN GOOD SPEED.
Fergus meanwhile was consulting Ronald as to the best mode in which Rob's labour could be applied towards repairing the damage he had caused. He was too stupid and awkward to be entrusted with any occupation in which he would not be overlooked by some more competent person; and Ronald knew, though he did not say so, that there would be perpetual danger of a quarrel if Rob became Fergus's assistant in fishing. Ronald, therefore, kindly offered to give Rob some inferior employment about the cooperage, providing for his support out of his wages, and paying the rest over to Fergus till the whole debt should be cleared. Rob, to whom all labour was disagreeable alike, sulkily consented, and swore at himself and everybody else when he saw the Flora clear out from the little harbour, and leave him behind to repair by the labour of weeks and months the mischief he had done in two short hours. He had not only the cost of the nets to pay, but the amount which Fergus would have cleared by the benefit he was now prevented from taking.
While he was involuntarily saving during this winter, his neighbours in Garveloch were going on as variously as might be expected from the difference in their knowledge, in their desires, and in their habits. The Company was prosperous in a very high degree, and so, therefore, might their labourers of every rank have been; but in this society, as in all, some were wise and some were foolish; some provided for a time of darkness, and some did not.
None were more provident than Angus and Ella, or provident in a wiser manner. Seeing so clearly as they did the importance of an increase of capital in a society which was adding to its numbers every day, they reflected and consulted much on the modes and rates of increase of capital differently applied, and saw that the interest of the Company, and of every individual employed by it, was one and the same. Since capital grows from savings only, there seemed no hope that that of the Company should keep pace with the demands upon it; but something might be done by increasing the value of the capital,—by making it secure, by lessening the attendant expenses, by using every possible method of making production easy and rapid. If all the corn that was raised in the islands had been used for seed-corn, instead of nine-tenths of it being eaten; if all the fish had been turned into its market-price on the spot, without any expense of curing, packing, and conveying, this capital would still have doubled itself much more slowly than the number of people who were to subsist upon it; and when their subsistence and all attendant expenses were subtracted, the process became much slower. Yet it was a favourable time and a favourable set of circumstances for capital to grow in. The property was secure, being under the protection of law well administered, and under the management of an united body of directors. The expenses were small, the position of the different stations being advantageous, and the required apparatus very simple. Production was at the same time easy; for the herrings came regularly, and the seasons had thus far been favourable. Here, then, capital might grow, if ever or anywhere; and it did grow: but the demands upon it grew still faster; and therefore Angus and Ella guarded the capital of their employers as if it had been their own, while they added to their private store as fast as was consistent with a due enjoyment of the fruits of their labour. Though they had nine children, they were at present in more favourable circumstances for saving than some of their neighbours who had few or none. Dan and his Noreen, for instance, saved nothing; how should they, when their hut scarcely protected them from the rain and snow, or their clothing from the chilling winds,—when there was not even the slightest preparation made for the tender little one that was soon to come into their charge? There can be no saving expected from those whose commonest wants are not supplied. The Murdochs were in nearly as poor a condition; and since they had never managed to avoid sinking, even in their best days, it was scarcely likely that they should now. Fergus toiled and toiled, and just continued to keep his place in the little society, but he could do no more. The consumption of his family just equalled the supply afforded by his labour, so that he could not, with all his efforts, set apart anything to begin saving upon. His nest-egg (whenever he thought he had one) had always disappeared before the day was out. There was nothing for it, but hoping that good seasons and full employment would last till his boys' labour should more than equal their consumption, and should not only release him from the charge of their maintenance, but assist in the support of the little ones, who must be nearly helpless for years to come.
If this society had been constituted like that of Rome, of which we have spoken, there would have been little or no saving, and therefore no provision for an increase in the number of its members. Where society is composed of a few very rich people and a multitude very poor, the least saving of all is made. The rich only can save in such a case, and they do not perceive a sufficient motive for doing so. They reckon on being always rich, and do not see why they should not enjoy their wealth to the utmost, year by year. Where society is composed of a few moderately rich and many sufficiently supplied with necessaries, there is a much better chance of an accumulation of capital, since the majority of the people have then a hope of raising their children to the rank of the moderately rich. They are free from the recklessness of the miserably poor, and from the thoughtless extravagance of the possessors of overgrown wealth. To this middling class belonged Angus, the widow Cuthbert, Ronald and the Duffs; and they therefore made the largest savings in proportion to their earnings. Mr. Mackenzie spent all his income, having no children, and feeling himself provided for for life. The naval superintendent, captain Forbes, a spirited young officer, was so far from attempting to save, that he flung his money about during his flying visits to the stations till he had none left, and barely escaped debt. But Duff, who was not placed beyond the danger of bad seasons, widow Cuthbert, and Angus, who had children dependent on them, and Ronald, who regarded the families of Ella and Fergus with strong affection, had motives to save, and did their full share towards making the capital of the society grow.
One day the next spring, Ronald appeared before his sister's door.
“Welcome, brother!” exclaimed Ella. “Is it a leisure day with you? and are you come to spend it with us?”
“It is a leisure day, and the last I shall have for long; and I am come to tell you why, and to consult with Angus about a little business of his. This is the reason that I came myself instead of sending Kenneth.”
“I began to think you never meant to come, you have been so considerate in sparing Kenneth. But sit ye down,—aye, outside the door if you like, for it is a true spring day,—and Angus will be up from the boat presently.”
Angus was soon seen hastening to meet Ronald, who then told his news. Captain Forbes had arrived at the islay station in high spirits. A new market for their produce was unexpectedly opened in the West Indies. It was his belief that all the fish they could possibly prepare during the season would be insufficient to meet the sudden demand; and he came to see how many boats could be mustered, and how many labourers could be withdrawn from other employments to aid in the fishery.
“Now is Fergus's time,” said Ella, “for getting his two boys hired at the station. They are young, to be sure; but as so many labourers are wanted, their services will be received, I dare say.”
“Now is Rob's time for clearing off his debt to Fergus,” observed Angus; “for I suppose, Ronald, wages will rise at the cooperage. More barrels will be wanted than you can easily prepare.”
“No doubt,” replied Ronald. “Now is your time, Angus, for building the platform you were talking of last year; and I came to offer what help I can. I will spare Kenneth for a week now to work with you; and I give you notice that you must take him now or not at all. And if there should be any difficulty about the little capital wanted for the work, I have a few pounds which are much at your service.”
Angus thankfully accepted the offer of his boy's help, but had no occasion to borrow money. He should lose no time, he said, in erecting his platform, if the tidings Ronald brought should prove correct. Much time and labour in lading and unlading his vessel might be economized by the employment of a crane; and he thought he could not invest his savings better than in making such a provision at the commencement of a busier season than had ever been known in Garveloch.
Ella's apprehension was that the demand would be only temporary. On this head Ronald could give her no satisfaction, as he did not know enough of the circumstances to judge: but he thought that all who were called upon to use only their labour, or a small capital which yields a quick return, might rejoice in this sudden prosperity without any fear of consequences; and even Angus's investment of fixed capital would be perfectly safe. If it was doubtful the year before whether the erection of a platform and crane would not be worth while, it could scarcely fail to answer now, when there was to be a large addition to the profits of an ordinary season, even if that addition should be only temporary. Angus proposed going to the spot to take measurements, and make an estimate of the expense.
“If you will wait till noon is past,” said Ella, “I can go with you. I must be taught your plan, Angus, that I may answer for you when you are absent.”
Another object in this delay was to set her brother at liberty to go where she knew his heart was all this time. While she was finishing her household business, uncle Ronald went down with some of the little ones to launch a tiny boat,— a present from Kenneth,—in one of the pools on the beach. Their mother heard their shouts of glee, and thought within herself that there were no festival days like those when her brother or her boy came from the station.
In a few minutes the children were playing without their uncle's assistance. He had gone to the widow Cuthbert's. Katie frankly held out her hand as he entered, and bade him welcome to Garveloch. She was just spreading the table for dinner, and invited him to sit down with herself and the children: but when he declined, she made no ceremony, but called the little ones from their play; and the meal went forward as if no guest had been there, except that Katie conversed freely with her friend Ronald.
“Hugh is much grown,” observed Ronald. “I did not know him at first when he came to see me land.”
“I knew you though,” cried Hugh, “and I went to see whether you brought me a tub like the one you gave Bessie. I want a tub for my fish when I catch any.”
“I will make you a tub bigger than Bessie's, and Kenneth shall bring it.”
“I wish you would bring it,” cried Hugh. “You promised me a boat the last time you came, a long, long while ago, and you never sent it.”
“Yes, indeed I did, Hugh, and I thought Kenneth had given it to you.”
Katie explained that it had been delivered safe, but had strangely disappeared before Hugh had seen it; and that as he never asked about it, she had not vexed him with explaining what had happened.
“Why did not you ask me for another?” said Ronald. “I do wish you would be free with me as an old friend.”
“Indeed I always am,” replied Katie. “I would ask a favour of you as easily as of Angus or Fergus.”
After a moment's pause, Ronald told his tidings of the prospect of a busy season, and offered to purchase hemp for the widow and send it by Kenneth, before the price should rise, if she had not already a sufficient stock for her net-making for the year. Katie thankfully accepted his services, and looked so cheerfully round upon her children, when she heard of the approaching prosperity, that Ronald was glad he had taken courage to come and tell her.
When the meal was over, Katie took up her employment and seemed far from wishing that Ronald should go; but she kept little Hugh beside her to show Ronald how he was learning to help his mother in her work.
By the time several subjects of mutual interest had been talked over, Ronald recollected that the hour was long past when he ought to have met Angus on the beach, and he rose to go, offering to look in again in the evening before his departure; to which Katie made no objection.
Dinner was over at Angus's house, but Ella, who guessed where her brother was, would not have him called.—She suspected the truth,— that he came to observe whether there was any chance of his winning Katie at last, and to consult his sister, in case of being unable to discover for himself how Katie felt towards him. He was rather disheartened by the interview. She was so frank and friendly in her manner that he could not believe she felt any of the restraint he laboured under—anything more than the regard which she testified to his sister and brother. Ella could not contradict him. She was far from thinking the case a hopeless one; but she believed that time and patience were still and would long be necessary. She assured her brother that precipitation would probably ruin all; and that his best chance was in quietly waiting till he should have further opportunities of winning upon her. This determined Ronald not to speak at present, as, in his impatience of suspense, he had nearly resolved to do.
When the little party went down to the place where Angus proposed to erect his new building, several loungers gathered round to watch what was going to be done. Ronald was looked upon as so awfully learned a man, especially when using his rule and frowning over his calculations, that strangers,—such strangers as were in Garveloch,—did not venture to speak to him. They made their inquiries of the children in preference.
First came Noreen lagging along the shore in the gray cloak which she was supposed never to put off, as she had never been seen without it, winter or summer. Wrapt in it, and hanging over her arm, head downwards, was her baby, feebly crying, as usual, and as usual disregarded; for nothing short of a shrill scream seemed to be thought by Noreen worthy of attention. Her cap was nearly the same colour as her cloak, and her hair did not tend to ornament her further than by helping to conceal a black eye.
“Annie, darling, and how busy you all seem! And you nursing the babby as if you'd had one in your arms all your days, my darling.”
“I dare not hold him as you hold your's,” said Annie. “Look! the little thing's face is as black——O look!”
“As black as your eye,” cried Bessie.
“Is it my eye, darling? O, it's a trifle that Dan gave me,—the villain,—when the spirits were in him.”
“What! did Dan strike you.?” cried Annie, who was old enough to know that husbands and wives should not fall out like children.
“Strike me, darting! Yes, and the babby too. O, you should have heard the babby bawl as loud as me.”
“Is not Dan very sorry?” asked Annie, coaxing the unfortunate infant.
“Is it sorry the ruffian would be? Not he; and why should he? 'Twas the spirits that made him a villain for the time; but he is the mildest husband of a noon-time that ever was seen. So, darling, don't you go and dream he isn't a good enough man for me. Heaven's blessing on him!—He never bothers me as your father would, Annie. We're just content, without all the measuring and building, and salting and packing, that you have to do at the father's bidding, my darling. What's all this trouble about now?”
Annie was too anxious to defend her father to answer the question immediately; so Noreen turned round to the little ones who were jumping from the ledges of rock.
“And what's all this trouble about, jewels?”
“The captain is coming! the captain is coming!” cried they.
“Is it the captain going to have a new house on Garveloch?” cried Noreen. “O Dan, up to the gentleman as soon as he comes, and get the money others got before you last time; and when ye get it, don't be making a beast of yourself or a martyr of the babby, but remember the rent, jewel.”
Dan found it much easier to remember the rent than to pay it, and had rather give his wife a black eye in private than be lectured by her in public; and he therefore looked sulky and bade her run after the captain if she chose, for that he would not bother himself for any reason in life. —Ella, who had overheard all, explained that there was no reason, as far as the captain was concerned; but that if Dan would bother himself to go out fishing, the rent would be no longer a trouble.
With all their recklessness and indolence, these people had pride; and when they heard that everybody was likely to prosper this summer, Noreen began to talk of holding up her head, as she had a right to do, equal to any of them that little thought what her relations were at Rathmullin.
Dan esteemed it mighty provoking that the bread was taken from within his teeth by them that were born to nothing but what they got with their dirty hands. If he had had a word with the captain as soon as others, he might have coaxed him into letting him have a boat; but it was always the way,—while he was content at home and just thinking of nothing at all, some vagabond or another stept into his shoes.
Ronald refrained from calling Dan to account for his term of abuse, knowing it to be in such frequent use in Ireland as to have lost much of its offensiveness. He assured Dan that the captain had work for everybody just now, and urged his making application to be hired without delay.
Murdoch stared with astonishment when he found that Angus was actually going to take down his curing-shed and remove it to the place where the stage was to be erected. It seemed to him as well as to Dan vastly too much trouble and expense; but Angus had taken into account the damage the fish sustain by being much exposed and shifted about previous to curing; and he believed that the expedition and security with which the produce would be hauled up, prepared, and shipped again, would soon repay him for what he was about to do.
The business of months seemed to be transacted in Garveloch this afternoon, on the strength of the tidings which Ronald brought. All doubtful matters (except the one which most nearly concerned Ronald) were brought to a decision. Angus decided, as we have seen, on making a large venture of fixed capital. Farmer Duff decided on hiring some more labourers while there was any chance of his getting them. Fergus decided on offering the labour of his two eldest boys at the station, believing that there would be work for all. however young. More than a few parties decided that their courtship should end in immediate marriage, and never doubted the perfect propriety of making use of a season of prosperity for the purpose. Dan decided on putting his hand to the oar at last. All who wished to hire labour decided on looking abroad for labourers, and betimes, if they wished to make good terms. All who had labour to let began to consider how high they might venture to fix its price.
This was no deceitful promise of prosperity,— to those at least who did not expect too much from it. The sanguine and the ignorant, who are ever ready to take an ell where an inch is given, supposed that their island was enriched for ever. They heard of wages rising higher and higher, and never suspected they might fall. They saw that the only thing at present wanted was a greater number of labourers, and imagined that when their tribes of children were grown up, all would be right,—wages as high, food as plentiful as now, and as great an increase of employment as there would be of labour. It was well that all did not keep up their expectations to this pitch,— that some were aware how precarious was the present prosperity. A single bad season, the opening of a few more fishing stations, a change in the diet of the West India slaves,— any one of these, or many other circumstances, might reduce the Garveloch fishery to what it had been; while the numbers of those who depended upon it for subsistence were increasing with a greater and a greater rapidity.
The least sanguine, however, could not resist the feeling of exhilaration excited by what passed before their eyes: nor was there any reason that they should. Prudence and foresight do not interfere with the rational enjoyment of blessings; they rather add to it by imparting a feeling of security. The youngest and giddiest could not relish more than Angus and his wife the freedom from care they now enjoyed, the sight of plenty around them, and the knowledge that none need be idle, none need be poor; and if these, the young and the giddy, bestowed little thought on the probable issue of their present state, and escaped the anxiety with which they ought to have regarded the future, neither did they share the satisfaction of making provision for a season of storms.
The captain alighted in Garveloch, now and then, in his flight round the station. He was always in a prodigious bustle, and he made every body he met as fidgetty as himself about the impossibility of getting labourers enough for the work to be done. Wherever he went, it was suggested to him that people might be hired from some other place, from which other place he had just heard that there was also a deficiency of labour.
Some people thought they might be satisfied with having as large a trade as their numbers could manage; but the captain was not satisfied without taking all that offered. Men and their families were brought from a distance, all the boys that could handle an oar or help to draw a net received wages; all the girls assisted their mothers to cure; so that, at this time, the largest families were tile richest. These circumstances acted as an encouragement, and the captain's sanguine expectation that the demand would continue operated as a direct bounty on population; and, in consequence, numbers increased in Garveloch as rapidly as in any new colony of a fertile country.
The seasons which are favourable to the fishery,—in respect of weather,—are favourable to the harvest also. Farmer Duff reaped abundant crops the next two seasons, which unusual abundance just served to feed his customers. What would have been done in case of an average or an inferior crop having been yielded, few troubled themselves to determine. They had enough, and that was all they cared for.
Kenneth could not often be spared during these two seasons; but he came to attend the christening of a little brother and of two cousins. The only troubles he had to relate were of the difficulty of supplying the orders for barrels, and of the passion the captain was in when fish were spoiled for sale by being packed in old casks. The magistrate had the least to do of anybody. Hard times are the days of crime. There were still occasional quarrels; complaints of oppression on one side and sauciness on the other, and of a few acts of malice still perpetrated by people as stupid and helpless as Rob; but the crimes to which men are stimulated by want were not at present heard of. Were they over for ever?
A DREARY PROSPECT.
A time of leisure, as grievous to the most reckless and indolent as to the superior members of the society, came round ere long. First appeared hardship in the shape of an average crop; for the people having increased their consumption up to the amount of a remarkably abundant harvest, were of course stinted when the soil yielded only the usual return. No very disastrous consequences followed at first. There was much complaint and a little dismay when it was found that supplies must not be looked for from the neighbouring districts, since there also the season had been only moderately favourable, and there were mouths enough to feed in each place to leave no supplies over for Garveloch. The Garveloch people therefore were obliged to eat some of their fish instead of selling it, and to pay a very high price for their barley and oatmeal. Those who were able to give this price were willing to do it, seeing that the rise of price was a necessary consequence of the comparative scarcity; that farmer Duff must pay himself for the outlay on his land, whether its produce were ample or scanty; and that its dearness alone could make the supply last till the next harvest came round. Those who were too poor to buy abused the farmer, saying that his crop was not scantier than it had been in many former years when he had sold it much cheaper, and that he was making use of a dispensation of Providence to fill his own pocket. They were slow to perceive that it was themselves and not the farmer who had made the change; that they had caused the increase of demand and the consequent rise of price.
It would have been well if nothing worse than the occurrence of an average season had happened. The number of people brought by a sudden. demand for labour might have lessened. Some might have departed elsewhere, and others have devised plans for a new introduction or better economy of food; and after a short period of hardship, the demand for food might have gradually accommodated itself to the supply; for their society was not like the population of an overgrown district, where there may be mistakes in ascribing effects to causes, and where the blame of hardship may be laid in the wrong place. The people of Garveloch might survey their little district at a glance, and calculate the supply of provision grown, and count the numbers to be fed by it, and by this means discern, in ordinary circumstances, how they might best manage to proportion their resources of labour and food. But if any had endeavoured to do this, their expectations would have been baffled by the event, unless they had taken into the account the probability of bad seasons—a probability which the truly wise will never overlook.
A few seasons after the period of prosperity of which we have spoken, the dawn of a June morning broke as gloomily as if it had been November. Scudding clouds, from which came gushes of hail, swept over the sky and brushed the tallest points of rock as they passed. The wind came in gusts as chill as the wintry blasts, and before it the vexed ocean swelled and heaved, while its tumbling mass of waters seemed to forbid man to approach, much more to trust the frail workmanship of his hands to its overwhelming power. The night-light still glimmered from some of the dwellings in Garveloch, the islands of the Sound were not yet visible from the heights, and the peaks of Lorn were but beginning to show themselves against the eastern sky, when Angus came out stealthily from his dwelling, softly closed the door, drew his plaid about him, and paced down to the beach. He was proceeding to get out his boat, when his son Kenneth approached.
“Father,” said he, “you are not going to trust yourself at sea to-day?”
“Help must be had, Kenneth. I must cross at the risk of my own life, or more will be lost. I have here the last of my savings; and since money is worth no more than pebbles in Garveloch, I must carry it where it may buy us food.”
“And my mother——”
“Your mother is in the inner room, where she has been up with Jamie all night. I heard him very loud just now. His fever runs high, so that she will not miss me perhaps for hours. She neither saw nor heard me come out.—Now, Kenneth, say nothing about going instead of me. You know that my experience of the sea is greater than yours, and the best skill is little enough for such a voyage as mine is like to be”
“But my mother must soon know,” urged Kenneth.
“Surely. Tell her that I hope to be back to-morrow night, with that which may ease her nursing. Farewell, my boy.”
Kenneth was a brave, high-spirited youth. His heart was full when he saw his father put off among the stormy breakers, and he therefore said nothing. He helped to guide the boat to the last moment, wading as deep and struggling with the waves as long as he possibly could, till his father made a commanding sign that he should return. There was no use in speaking amidst the thunder of the waters. Kenneth wrung out his plaid, and climbing the rock, sat down, unheeding the wind, to watch his father's boat, scarcely visible in the grey light, as it won its weary way among the billows. Bitter thoughts rose fast within him;—his father in peril at sea; his mother worn with care and watching; his beloved little Jamie, the youngest of the large family, and their darling, sinking under the fever; all the others changing from what they had been, some in health, some in spirits, some in temper, and he unable to do anything to help them. Dismissed with others from the station because his labour was not now worth the food he consumed, he had come home to be, as he thought, a burden, but as his parents declared, a comfort, to his family amidst their cares, and daily looked round, and ever in vain, for some means of assisting them. As he now thought of the fruitlessness of all his efforts, tears rose and blinded him so that he could no longer discern any object at sea. As fast as he dashed them away they rose again, till he no longer resisted them, but let them flow as they had never flowed since childhood.
As he sat with his face hid in his plaid, he was roused by the pressure of his mother's hand upon his shoulder. She had spoken from a distance, but the roaring of wind and waters and the screaming of sea-fowl were more powerful than her voice, and her appearance took Kenneth by surprise—a surprise at which she smiled.
“Mother!” he cried, as he started up, and a burning blush overspread his face; “if I were a good son, it would be my part to smile when I found you with sinking spirits.”
Ella smiled again as she answered—
“And when my spirits sink, I will look to you for cheer. Meantime, never fancy that tears are unworthy a brave man, or always a sorrowful sight to a mother. It is God's will, Kenneth, that there is cause for tears; and since there is cause, it is no pain to me to see them fall. If God calls you and me hither to look out upon a second year's storms, he knows that it is as natural for the heart as for the cloud to drop its rain; and never think, my boy, that I shall be a harder judge than he.”
“But what brought ye out, mother, so early, into the cold?”
“I came to seek the cooling wind. Jamie fell asleep, and Annie came to take her turn beside him; and finding Angus gone, take and my head hot and weary, I thought I should find more rest on the rock than in my bed. I see the boat, Kenneth. I know your father's purpose, and I guess you were praying just now for his safe return.”
“And, O mother! I had some distrustful thoughts in the midst of my prayer. If he should not return, and even while he is gone, I can do nothing. Here I am, eating my daily portion, which I never helped to earn; being a burden when I thought—proud as I was—that I should be your main joy and help. O mother! this humbles one sadly. I never thought to be so humbled.”
“Who that is humbled ever sees the stroke before it comes, Kenneth? Look round, and mark. Where many a smoke rose, only a short year since, from those cottages below, the fires are quenched, and with them is quenched the pride of those who revelled in plenty. Now, many are gone, and have left but four bare walls for us to remember them by. Some are gone to lie cold under yonder gray stones, and some few have found their way back over the sea. Those that remain have lost their pride: it was blown away with the cold ashes of their last fire; and it will not come back while they sit hungry and shivering. Which of these thought any more than you that they should be so humbled? When I gloried in my Jamie, as the brightest and handsomest of my children, I did not expect that he would be the first I should lay in the grave.”
“Must he die, mother?”
“I take such to be God's will, Kenneth; but I once had a lesson, as you know, against reading his pleasure too readily. They that I thought lost came to dry land, and another lay under the water when I thought him safe on the hard rock. Since that day, I have ever waited for the issue; and so I will now. We will hope that Jamie may live, and we will be ready to part with any who were but just now in life and strength.”
“It is but little we know, indeed,” replied Kenneth. “It seems but yesterday that yon sea was almost as busy as a thronged city, with a hundred vessels following the shoals, and then crowding homewards with a full cargo; and now this year and last, not a boat has gone out, not a gleam of sun, not a blink of moonlight has been upon the sea; and as to the land, it is more changed still. Where the barley-fields were as green as a rich pasture three years ago, there are only a few straggling blades, just enough to tempt a man with thoughts of what a harvest is. This is a change we little feared to see.”
“And yet,” said Ella, “many did foresee, and all might have foreseen. When was there ever a time that the seasons did not change? Here we have been too slow to learn God's will. We knew that the same storms that took away our occupation must cut off our harvest; we knew that such stormy seasons come from time to time; and yet we acted as if we were promised plenty for ever. Our children look up to us for food, because we have given them no warning that it should cease; and they are right. But if we look up to God in the same manner we are wrong; for the warning was given long ago.”
“I have heard uncle Ronald speak of it,” replied Kenneth. “He has often feared that scarcity would come; but he told me that father, and widow Cuthbert, and the Duffs, would never be taken by surprise.”
“If it had not been for our savings,” replied Ella, “we should have had worse things to undergo than may be in store for us. Instead of trembling for Jamie, I might have been mourning the half of my children. Instead of grieving to see you wasting, Kenneth—how thin ye are grown!—I might have been— ” She stopped.
“If I am thin, mother,” Kenneth replied, “it is with care; and my care is that I can do nothing for bread for myself and you.”
“I will take you at your word,” replied his mother, with a smile. “We will try whether you will grow stouter for your conscience being at rest. But, mind, it shall be but a moderate trial, and I will share it with you.”
Kenneth looked eagerly to his mother for an explanation of what was in her mind. Ella told him that there was positively no more grain to be bought before harvest. Farmer Duff had very wisely kept back enough for seed-corn, in case of the crop failing utterly, and had very reasonably laid up a sufficient store for his own household; and none was now left over. Ella's remaining store was not sufficient to afford even a stinted allowance to the whole family for the three months still to come; and she now, therefore, proposed that neither she nor her son should touch barley or oatmeal, but give up their share to the younger and tenderer members of the family.
Kenneth was grateful to his mother for her confidence. She had hitherto concealed the fact of the supply being nearly exhausted, in the hope that Kenneth, like the rest, would eat and think little of the future; but she now saw that ne would be made happier by being allowed to share her sacrifices, and she therefore called upon him to do so.
Kenneth was not yet satisfied. It was not enough to be permitted to save food; he must find out how to obtain it.
” Not enough!” exclaimed his mother, mournfully. “My boy, ye little know what it is, and ye never can till the trial is made. Ye little know what it is to lie down at night cold and aching, and to toss about unable to sleep, when sleep seems the one thing that would give ye ease, since ye cannot have food. Ye little think what sleep is when it comes,—how horrible fancies are ever rising up to steal away the sweetness of rest-—how all that ye see and all that ye touch turns to food, alland that turns back again before ye can get it to your mouth; or, worse still, to fancy ye are driven by some evil power to strangle and devour whatever is most precious to you. Ye little think what it is to wake with a parched mouth and hands clenched, so that they are like an infant's all the day after, and the limbs trembling and the sight dim, as if fifty years had come over ye in a night. Ye little know, Kenneth, what it will be to loathe the food you and I shall have, and to see the thoughtless little ones crumbling the bannocks and eating them as if they were to be had as easily as the hailstones that have beat down the crops. Wait a while, my boy, before you say all this is not enough.” “You know too well, mother, what it is. Can it be that you have been fasting alone already?”
“I learned all this,” said Ella, evading the question, “when I was nearly as young as you. There was a scarcity then, and we had a sore struggle. My father was never well after that season. There was no need, thank God, to stint the lads as we stinted ourselves; and, as for me, the only harm,” she continued, smiling, “was, that your father found me less comely when he came back than I had been when he went away. There is also this good,—that there is one among us who has gone through evil times, and knows how to abide them.”
“Teach me, mother. How shall I get such food as we may live on?”
“There will be no positive want of food yet, my boy, though it will be such as will not nourish us like that we have been used to. We must try shell-fish, without bannocks or potatoes; merely shell-fish, day after day; and the strongest soon grow weak on such diet.”
“I would rather give up my share, sometimes,” said Kenneth, “than gather them at the cost of what I see. I have been glad you were at home when the tide went down, and I would not let the little ones come and help, lest they should learn to fight like the hungry people on the shore. Dan, that ever kept his eyes half-shut at noon, now watches the first falling of the water, and builles every one, if it be Noreen herself, that sees a shell before he snatches it.”
“Their potatoes have not come up,” observed Ella, “and they begin to be pinched the very first, because they had nothing to give for meal.”
“And then,” continued Kenneth, “the Murdochs have got the ill-will of all the neighbours, by their stripping every child they meet of whatever he may be carrying home. The very babies are learning to curse Meg Murdoch.”
“And so you took their part,” said Ella, smiling, “and let them strip you in turn. You are right not to let your little brothers go down with you to learn theft and covetousness; but you must not go on giving away your own share, now that you will have no bread at home.”
“Then there are the fowl,” said Kenneth. “They are not food for the delicate, to be sure, at this season; but we must try whether they will not nourish us till better days come. The worst of it is that very few are left, and those are the oldest and toughest.”
“The neighbours that are poorer than we have been everywhere before us,” said Ella. “But they are welcome. Since they trusted to chance, the first chances are their due. My eyes are dim with watching yon boat, and I can see nothing: is it still there, or has the mist come over it?”
Ella had scarcely withdrawn her gaze for a moment from her husband's struggle with the winds and waves. Kenneth, who had not thus strained his sight, could just discern the speck rising and falling on the dreary waste of waters.
“I see her still winning her way, mother; but you will scarce make her out again.”
“I will not try now, but go home.”
“And to bed,” said Kenneth. “You are weary and half-frozen, standing on this point as if ye came to meet the storm. Promise me you will rest, mother!”
“Perhaps I will if Jamie is still asleep. And do you hasten down, Kenneth, and gather whatever the tide may have thrown up. Now, don't part with all you get for your own share. I have called upon you for self-denial; and part of that self-denial must be not to give all the help you have been accustomed to yield.”
“That is the worst part of it,” said Kenneth; “but I remember, mother, that my first duty lies at home. O, if there were no hardship, how much less greedy and quarrelsome should we be! It is not in men's nature to quarrel for shell-fish every time the tide goes down.”
“Remember,” said Ella, “that better things also arise out of hardship. Do none learn patience? Do none practise self-denial?”
“But we have not known extreme hardship, mother.”
“True. May the day never come when I shall see my children looking with jealousy upon one another! The jealousy of the starving is a fearful sight.”
Kenneth's first trial of his new resolution awaited him when he went down to the shore to gather shell-fish. His appearance was usually a signal for the children, who were driven away by some one of the tyrants of the neighbourhood, to come down and put themselves under his protection. They had learned to reckon on his share being divided among them; for, while there was food at home, he could not find in his heart to refuse the little half-starved creatures their piteous requests. One found that some of her pickings were mere empty shells; another pleaded that she had no breakfast on the mornings when it was her turn to look for fish; and another declared that his father would beat him if he did not carry home his bonnetful. One or all of these pleas usually emptied Kenneth's store. One set of claimants had never yet been refused,— his cousins. Fergus's two eldest boys, who had earned good wages, and hoped to earn them again when the fishery should be resumed, were thrown back on their own resources in the interval. It was melancholy to see them wandering about the island in search of anything that might be rendered eatable, and at times reduced to beg of their cousin Kenneth as many shell-fish as he could spare. Kenneth felt that nothing but absolute famine could drive him to deny them; and he was therefore glad to perceive that they were not on the shore this morning. He gave notice to the little ones, who now gathered about him, that he could henceforth only help them by defending their right to whatever they could pick up. He must share equally with them from this day, and he hoped they would not ask that which he could no longer give. And now began the scenes which he was henceforth daily to witness among the children, and in time, upon a larger scale, among the parents. All the petty arts, all the violence, all the recklessness, to which the needy are tempted, began to show themselves first among those whose habits of self-control were weakest; and afforded a specimen of what might be looked for when the parents should be driven by want beyond the restraint of principles and habits which had been powerful in the absence of overwhelming temptation.
One of tile little boys uplifted a vehement cry. “Willie has snatched my bonnet! O, my bonnet, my bonnet! It was fuller to-day than it has ever been yet.”
“That is the very reason,” cried Willie, a stout lad, who felt that he could carry everything among the little ones by strength of arm. “You never had enough before to make it worth while taking them. Now I have got them, I will keep them.”
Kenneth, who was the representative of justice, struggled with Willie, and got back the property; but the lad vowed vengeance for his drubbing, especially against the complainant, who henceforth had no peace. All parties being left discontented, it was plainly a great evil that there had been temptation to recur to what Willie called the right of the strongest.
One of the little girls was found hidden behind a rock, eating all that had been collected for the family at home. Many cried “Shame!” and vowed she should never again be trusted within reach of more than her own share; to which she answered, that she should eat when she was hungry, and that those who had enough might supply her brothers and sisters. This child would have had a rate levied upon all the more provident, for the relief of her fellow-paupers.
Two lads having quarrelled about the share due to one, the most hungry threw the whole back into the sea, by way of revenge as he declared. One would have thought he had heard Mr. Mackenzie speak of the possible, though extreme, case of men burning stacks because there was not enough corn.
Even this reckless boy was less provoking than one party, pre-eminent in poverty and dirt, who could not be persuaded to give over their sport, happen what might. They called together whatever animals could eat small-fish, and put this food down the mouths of dogs and ponys,—both of which eat fish in the islands.
“How can you,” said Kenneth, “bring more eaters down to the shore when we have too many already?”
“We must have our play,” answered they. “Ours is the age for play, as we have heard our father say; and we are so cold and hungry almost all day, that it is very hard if we may not amuse ourselves when we can.”
There was no use in pointing out to them that they were doing all they could to increase their own hunger; they only answered that they would have their sport as long as they could get it, and immediately whistled for more dogs.
To judge by their acts, these children did not perceive that, though they could not determine the quantity of fish which should be within reach, it was their fault that tile number of eaters was needlessly increased. Tile half-starved multitudes of an over-peopled kingdom might take a lesson from their folly.
“Can this be the place,” thought Kenneth, “can this be the children, where and among whom there was so much cheerfulness but a few seasons ago? How happy we all used to be picking up our fish! And now, some still laugh louder than ever; but the mirth of the destitute is more painful to witness than the grave looks of more who have something left. O, for peace and plenty once more!”
THE DISCIPLINE OF THE TEACHABLE.
As Ella slowly took her way homewards, she caught a glimpse of two men coming up the winding path she was descending. Forgetting the impossibility that Angus should be already returned, and seeing that one was Fergus, she supposed that her husband and brother were coming to meet her. On her turning a point, they were in full view. It was Ronald instead of Angus. Terror seized the anxious wife, who was weakened by watching and care.
“O Angus, Angus!” she cried, in tones which made the rocks ring again. “O, he is lost, and ye are come to tell me!”
Before her brothers could reach her, she had sunk down, unable to keep her hold of the rock, while the earth seemed to swim round and quake beneath her. She was lost in a fainting-fit before a word of comfort could reach her car.
“This must be fasting as well as care,” said Ronald, as he chafed her hands, while Fergus sprinkled water over her face. “Never before was Ella seen to sink, much less upon a false alarm. It must be sore suffering that could bring her to this.”
Fergus's tears were falling fast while he replied,—
”‘Tis die parent's heart that suffers, Ronald.’ Tis for her little Jamie that she has watched and struggled till she faints, spirit and body together.”
“She is coming round,” said Ronald. “There is colour in her lips. Now see if her spirit does not rally as soon as her limbs, or sooner. She will be more surprised at herself than we are.”
“Hush! she opened her eyes just now. Raise her a little more.”
“Why, Ella,” said Ronald, smiling, as he leaned over her, “ye never gave me such a greeting before. Why are ye so sorry to see me to-day?”
‚Is nothing the matter?” asked Ella steadily. “I dreamed there was;—something about Angus.”
“It was only a dream, as far as I know. I have but just landed, and I came to you for news of Angus and all of you.”
By this time Ella had started up, and refusing further assistance, supported herself by leaning against the rock.
“I thought Fergus looked sad, I thought he looked wretched,” she continued, gazing wistfully into her younger brother's face.
“May be ye're right, Ella; but it was not for you. A man has enough to make him look grave in times like these. But I did not mean to frighten you.”
“Times like these make us all selfish,” said Ella, “and that is the worst of them. There was a time, Fergus, when I should have been quicker-sighted to your sorrow than my own.— But come with me to shelter before yon cloud bursts. I have been too long from my sick child already. Come with me both of ye, and take the poor welcome I can give. O, it is a comfort, Ronald, to see ye here!”
Her step was little less firm, as her brothers observed, than their own. At her own door she charged them to make no one uneasy by speaking of her fainting-fit. It was a strange fancy, she said, which would not come over her again.
“Mother, how white you look!” exclaimed Annie, as they entered.
“I am cold, my lass. The wind is piercing on the heights; so put some more peat to the fire, and see how you can make your uncles comfortable while I go to Jamie.”
Jamie was still in his uneasy sleep. He lay on his back, his mouth open and parched, as if not a drop of liquid had ever touched his tongue, his breathing irregular, his bony fingers sometimes twitching, sometimes drooped with an appearance of utter helplessness. While his mother passed her hand over his temples, and watched his pulse and his countenance, she did not perceive that any one had followed her into the chamber. Presently she heard stifled sobs, and saw that Fergus was kneeling at the foot of the child's crib, hiding his face in his plaid.
“God help you! God comfort you!” she heard him say.
“You think he will die, Fergus; and you tremble for your own two sick children. But hope—at least till you see them as ill as Jamie. I have hoped till now.”
Fergus's grief became more violent. His two infants had died in the night. The fever had made quicker work where its victims were already weakened by want. Fergus came to bid his brothers to the funeral.
Ella led him out of the chamber, and placed herself by him, but so that she could see all that passed by her child's bedside. She was more than ever thankful that Ronald had come, when he succeeded in gaining Fergus's attention to what he had to say on the present state of affairs.
He could give little comfort about the prospect of an early supply of grain from the neighbouring islands, as there was a nearly equal degree of distress throughout. The season that was unfavourable to one, was so to all; and the same causes which stopped the fishery laid waste the land. But though immediate relief was not to be looked for, it was hoped that help was on the way. Memorials to government had been sent from the different stations, and Captain Forbes was now making a circuit of the islands in order to estimate the degrees of distress, and to judge how best to apply the funds the Company proposed to set apart for the relief of the inhabitants. He would soon be in Garveloch, and presently alter it was possible a vessel might arrive with pease, potatoes, or grain. Ronald had no sooner heard of this prospect of relief than he made his way over the stormy sea to cheer his sister and brother with the news. There was doubtless another, Ella observed, whom he would wish to tell, though she was thankful to say that widow Cuthbert suffered less from the pressure of the times than any family in Garveloch, unless it was the Duffs.
Ronald took no notice of this at present; he reserved what he had to say about Katie till Fergus should be gone; and proceeded to explain that he had endeavoured in vain to make a purchase of meal that he might bring with him. There was none to be had for love or money. But as those who could pay best were served first, he had received a promise that he should purchase a portion of the first cargo that passed the station. He desired that it might be equally divided between the families of his sister, his brother, and the widow Cuthbert, and that some one should be on the watch to secure the package addressed to Fergus, as soon as the sloop should approach. Before he even thanked his brother, Fergus anxiously inquired when the supply would come? There was no knowing. It might be a fortnight; it might be two months. He did feel and express himself grateful, however, and said something, to which Ronald would not listen, about repaying, in happier days, that part of the debt which could be repaid, and then rose to go and tell his wife that food was or would be on the way. Ronald called him back as he was going out at the door, to entreat that he would never revive the subject of payment.
“I have only myself to work and care for,” he said, “and whatever is left over is the natural portion of my kindred. You would inherit it at my death, 'you know, Fergus; and it is only putting it into your hands when you really want it, instead of waiting till it might be less acceptable to you and yours.”
Upon this ensued, as soon as Ronald and his sister were quite alone, a conversation relating to the widow Cuthbert. It was long and earnest, and interrupted only by the attentions necessary to the little patient. The child, on waking, knew his uncle Ronald, and submitted to be soothed and quieted by him while Ella sat spinning beside the crib.
They were thus engaged in the afternoon when Katie entered. She brought a nourishing mess for little Jamie, as she had done more than once before since his illness began. She was surprised to see Ronald, for visitors were rare in such a season of storms. She declared herself vexed at having entered without warning, when she saw him preparing for immediate departure; but he said he must be at the station before night, and had remained too long already; and as his sister did not press his stay, Katie said no more about it, but took his offered hand, and cheerfully confirmed what Ella had told him of the health and comfort of her family. There was no need to ask after her own, for she looked, perhaps from the force of contrast with every body else, more fresh in health and easy in spirits than in many former days when less care prevailed.
“Go, my dears,” said Ella to the children in the outer room,” and help your uncle with his boat, and then ye can watch him away round the point; and mind ye mark whether any other vessel is in sight. And yet Angus said he should not be back this day.”
“And now,” said Katie, when she had done watching how her friend coaxed little Jamie into swallowing the food she brought, “you must let me have my own way entirely, Ella; for you know me for a wilful woman”
“Let me hear your will before I promise, Katie.”
“My will is to change house and family with you to-night. You must put my children to bed for me, and eat my supper, which you will find in the cupboard, and then lie down in my bed, and sleep till the sun is high. You can trust me to nurse Jamie, I know, from what you said when my Hugh struggled through the measles; and you may quite depend on it, Kenneth says, that your husband will not return to-night.”
Ella had no foolish scruples about accepting this neighbourly offer. She had watched many nights, and was so nearly exhausted, that this was a very seasonable help, she thought, to the better performance of her duties the next day. She had been ever ready to give similar assistance to her neighbours in like cases; and knowing the pleasure of doing friendly acts, she would not refuse it to Katie. She therefore agreed at once, adding,—
“I am sure you would not offer this if you had any fear of your children taking the fever from me or you.”
“Certainly not, Ella. You know nobody was more eareful than I when the small-pox was in the island; and I offended several neighbours by not letting my children so much as speak with theirs; but this kind of fever is not given and taken, as I have good reason to be sure.”
In a little while, seeing that Ella was moving about as if to prepare for her comfort during the evening and night, she called her to come and sit down, and not trouble herself with any more cares this day.
“That which Will do for you,” she said, “will do for me; and if I want anything, there will be Annie to tell me where to find it.”
“l'm willing enough to sit down with ye,” said Ella, when she had fed the fire, aud resumed her spinning, “because—”
“Because you cannot stand; is not that it, Ella? You still look as white as if you had seen a ghost. So you took Ronald for a ghost this morning?”
“Fergus should not have told you that silly story. No; I am willing to be alone with you, because I have much to say about Ronald. You need never more look as you do now, Katie. I am going to lay a different plea before you this day; and if ye will grant it, it will be my last.”
Katie bent over her work, and made no reply; so Ella proceeded.
“You know as well as I how long Ronald has loved you, and how sore a struggle your marriage was to him, and that there have been times since when he has hoped; but you have never known, as I have, how tossed in mind he has been for more than three years past. He has come and gone, and come again, Katie, watching your feelings, and waiting for what he thought your pleasure, till he often lost all power of judging what he should do, and how he should speak to you.”
“I am sure,” said Katie, “it was as far from my wish as from my knowledge that his mind should be so tossed. I never willingly left any one in uncertainty, and I have far too much respect for Ronald, far too much——”
“Neither he nor I ever had such a thought, Katie, as that ye would trifle with him or any man. If he had, ye would soon have seen an end of his love. The uncertainty was no fault of yours, and it was only from particular causes that it lasted so long. He has said many a time that if you had been a young girl, he would have spoken out and known your mind at once; but your husband was his friend, and there was no measuring what your feelings might be now, and he feared above all things wounding them; and so he lingered and lingered and never spoke, till circumstances have decided the matter he could not decide for himself. He wishes you to know, Katie, that you may lay aside all fear of him. He gives you his word of honour he will never sue you; and if, as he suspects, he has occasioned you uneasiness, he entreats your pardon, and hopes you will dismiss it all from your mind.”
“Is this the plea you spoke of?” asked Katie.
“No; the plea I spoke of may be, perhaps, more easily granted. Let me entreat for him that you will regard him freely as an old friend, as a brother. He will think no more of marriage; and I know nothing would make him so happy as being able to watch over and help us all equally. Your children love him, Katie; and if you will only do as I do, give him a welcome when he comes and a blessing when he departs, and ask him for aid, and take what he offers, and let him keep watch upon your children for their good, there may be an end of all difficulty, and my brother may be happier than he has been for many a year. It will ever be painful to be like strangers or common acquaintance; and you have his word of honour,—and whose word is so sure?—that he will not seek to be more than friend; the only way for his peace and your ease is to be really friends,—as if ye were both the children of the same parents. Let Ronald be your friend as he is mine.”
“I am not aware,” said Katie, “of either act or word which need make me scruple to give and take friendship in the way you wish. But, Ella, you must answer me one question plainly; is it anything in myself which made Ronald change his views? I should not have asked this if you had not said that he gave up marriage altogether; but since I know that his thoughts are not turning upon any one else, I should like to be told. whether he has less esteem for me than before I married?”
“If he had, would he seek your friendship as he does? If he esteemed or thought he ever should esteem you less, he would just keep away from Garveloch, and tell nobody why, unless perhaps myself. No: he feels as he ever did; and lest you should doubt me, I will tell you all I know of his conscience and his judgment on this matter. It is the state of society in the islands, Katie, that makes him and other thoughtful men give up the intention of marrying.”
“And some that are not thoughtful too, Ella. I could tell you of more than one that would fain have had me when there was prospect that my boys would be a little fortune to me,— I mean when labour was scarce,—that have now slunk away, and will never hold out a hand to me again, I dare say, till my family promise to be a profit instead of a burden.”
“You do not take Ronald to be one of these!” cried Ella indignantly. “You cannot think that he is one to come forward and go back as your fortune waxes and wanes, whether that fortune be your children or your savings! It is not for himself only, but for you and your children, and for us and for society, that he thinks and acts as he does.”
Katie did not doubt it.—Ronald was far from selfish.
“If all was bright with us again in a single month,” said Ella, “he would keep in the same mind; for he sees that prosperity can never last long among us, while we make no provision against the changes that must ever befall, while seasons are sometimes stormy and our commerce liable to variations. We have made an abundant season and a brisk demand into curses, by acting as if they were always to last; and now we want many such as he to soften our miseries, which he could not do if he were burdened like us.”
“But it is hard,” observed Katie, “that he must deny himself because his neighbours are imprudent.”
“Yet his lot is best, Katie. It is sweet to him to help us in our need; and he is spared the sorrow of seeing his little ones pine for that which he cannot give. Yet he cannot but feel that he bears more than his share in giving up marriage altogether. If there were no O'Rorys to marry at eighteen, and if most others had the prudence to wait some years longer than they do, all who wish might marry and deserve no blame.”
“But who thinks of praise or blame about the act of marrying?” said Katie. “I own that they ought. When one looks round and sees how sin and sorrow grow where hunger prevails, one cannot think any man guiltless who overlooks the chance of his increasing the poverty of society. But how few consider this! Those who think themselves conscientious, go no farther than to consider whether they are marrying the right person. They spend no thought on the time and the manner, or on their duty to society.”
“It is so even here,” said Ella, “where we can trace the causes of distress: and in great cities, where it is easy to lay the blame in the wrong place, and where the people become the more reckless the poorer they grow, the evil is much greater. There children are born whose youthful parents have neither roofs to shelter, nor clothes to cover them; and the more widely poverty spreads through the multitude of labourers, the faster is that multitude doubled. You have seen enough of cities, Katie, to know that this is true.”
“Yes; and all this is done in the name of Providence. I always expected next to hear Providence blamed for not giving food enough for all this multitude.”
“Such blame would have been as reasonable as the excuse,” said Ella. “But how slow we are to learn the will of Providence in this case, when it is the very same that we understand in other cases! Providence gave us strength of limbs and of passions: yet these we restrain for the sake of living in society. If a man used his hands to pull down his neighbour's house, or his passion of anger to disturb the society in which he lives we should think it no excuse that Providence had given him his natural powers, or made him enjoy their exercise. How is it more excusable for a man to bring children into the world, when there are so many to be fed that every one that is born must help to starve one already living?”
“Since Providence has not made food increase as men increase,” said Katie,” it is plain that Providence, wills restraint here as in the case of other passions.”
“And awful are the tokens of its pleasure, Katie. The tears of mothers over their dead children, that shrunk under poverty like blossoms withering before the frosts, the fading of the weak, the wasting of the strong, thefts in the streets, sickness in the houses, funerals by the wayside—these are the tokens that unlimited increase is not God's will.”
“These tell us where we are wrong, Ella. How shall we learn how we may be right?”
“By doing as you have done through life, Katie; by using our judgment, and such power as we have. We have not the power of increasing food as fast as our numbers may increase; but we have the power of limiting our numbers to agree with the supply of food. This is the gentle check which is put into our own hands; and if we will not use it, we must not repine if harsher checks follow. If the passionate man will not restrain his anger, he must expect punishment at the hands of him whom he has injured; and if he imprudently indulges his love, he must not complain when poverty, disease, and death lay waste his family.”
“Do not you think, Ella, that there are more parties to a marriage than is commonly supposed?”
“There is a party,” replied Ella, smiling, “that if it could be present, would often forbid the banns; and it is this party that Ronald has now consulted.”
“You mean society.”
“Yes. In savage life, marriage may be a contract between a man and woman only, for their mutual pleasure; but if they lay claim to the protection and advantages of society, they are responsible to society. They have no right to provide for a diminution of its resources; and therefore, when they marry, they form a tacit contract with society to bring no members into it who shall not be provided for, by their own labour or that of their parents. No man is a good citizen who runs the risk of throwing the maintenance of his children on others.”
“Ah, Ella! did you consider this before your ten children were born?”
“Indeed, Katie, there seemed no doubt to my husband and me that our children would be well provided for. There were then few labourers in Garveloch, and a prospect of abundant provision; and even now we are not in poverty. We have money, clothes, and furniture; and that we have not food enough is owing to those who, having saved nothing, are now far more distressed than we are. Let us hope that all will take warning. My husband and I shall be careful to teach those of our children who are spared to us how much easier it is to prevent want than to endure it.”
“You and I will do what we can, Ella, to make our children prudent in marriage; and if all our neighbours would do the same, we might look forward cheerfully. But so few take warning! And it is so discouraging to the prudent to find themselves left almost alone!”
“Nay, Katie; it is not as if all must work together to do any good. Every prudent man, like Ronald, not only prevents a large increase of mischief, but, by increasing capital, does a positive good. Every such act of restraint tells; every such wise resolution stops one drain on the resources of society. Surely this knowledge affords grounds for a conscientious man to act upon, without doubt and discouragement.”
“How differently is honour imputed in different times!” said Katie, smiling. “The times have been when they who had brought the most children into the world were thought the greatest benefactors of society; and now we are honouring those most who have none. Yet both may have been right in their time.”
“A change of place serves the same purpose as change of time,” replied Ella. “If Ronald were in a new colony, where labour was more in request than anything else, he would be honoured for having ten children, and doubly honoured for having twenty. And reasonably too; for, in such a case, children would be a gift, and not a burden to society.”
“It is a pity, Ella, that all should not go there who are too poor to marry properly, and have no relish for the honour of a single life. Dan and his wife would be a treasure to a new colony.”
“If they and their children would work, Katie; not otherwise. But the poor little things would have a better chance of life there. If Noreen stays here, she may be too like many a Highland mother—she may tell of her twenty children, and leave but one or two behind her.”
“My heart aches for those poor infants,” said Katie. “One would almost as soon hear that they were put out of the way at their birth, as see them dwindle away and drop into their little graves one after another, before they are four years old. I have often heard that neither the very rich nor the very poor leave such large families behind them as the middling classes; and if the reason is known, it seems to me very like murder not to prevent it.”
“The reasons are well known, Katie. Those who live in luxury and dissipation have fewer children born to them than any class; but those that are born are guarded from the wants and diseases which cut off the families of the very poor. The middling classes are more prudent than the lowest, and have therefore fewer children than they, though more than the luxurious; and they rear a much larger proportion than either.”
“One might look far, Ella, among the lords and ladies in London, or among the poor Paisley weavers, before one would find such a healthy, hearty tribe—”
“As yours,” Katie would have said; but seeing Ella look upon her little Jamie with a deep sigh, she stopped short, but presently went on—
“It seems to me that a lady of fashion, who gives up her natural rest for feasting and playing cards all night long in a hot room, and lets herself be driven about in a close carriage instead ot taking the air on her own limbs, can have no more wish to rear a large healthy, family than Noreen, who lets her babe dangle as if she meant to break its back, and gives the poor thing nothing but potatoes, when it ought to be nourished with the best of milk and wholesome bread. Both are little better than the mothers in China. O Ella! did your husband ever tell you of the children in China?”
“Yes, but I scarcely believed even his word for it. Who told you?”
“I have read it in more books than one; and I know that the same thing is done in India; so I am afraid it is all too true. In India it is a very common thing for female children to be destroyed as soon as born.”
“The temptation is strong, Katie, where the people are so poor that many hundred thousand at a time die of famine. But child murder is yet more common in China, where no punishment follows, and nothing can exceed the distress for food. In great cities, new-born babes are nightly laid in the streets to perish, and many more are thrown into the river, and carried away before their parents' eyes.”
“It is even said, Ella that there are persons whose regular business it is to drown infants like puppies.”
“O horrible! And how far must people be corrupted before they would bear children to meet such a fate!”
“There is nothing so corrupting as poverty, Ella; and there is no poverty like that of the Chinese.”
“And yet China is called the richest country in the world.”
“And so it may be. It may produce more food in proportion to its bounds—it may contain more wealth of every sort than any country in the world, and may at the same time contain more paupers. We call newly-settled countries poor countries because they contain comparatively little capital; but the happiness of the people does not depend on the total amount of wealth, but on its proportion to those who are to enjoy it. What country was ever poorer than Garveloch twenty years ago? Yet nobody was in want. What country is so rich as China at this day? Yet there multitudes eat putrid dogs and cats, and live in boats for want of a house, and follow the English ships, to pick up and devour the most disgusting garbage that they throw overboard.”
“Suppose such should be the lot of our native kingdom,” said Ella, shuddering. “Such is the natural course of things when a nation multiplies its numbers without a corresponding increase of food. May it be given to all to see this before we reach the pass of the Chinese!-—and even if we never reach it—if, as is more likely, the evil is palliated by the caution of the prudent, by the emigration of the enterprising, and by other means which may yet remain, may we learn to use them before we are driven to it by famine and disease!”
“It is fearful enough, Ella, to witness what is daily before our eyes. God forbid that the whole kingdom should be in the state that Garveloch is in now!”
“In very many towns, Katie, there is always distress as great as our neighbours' now; and so there will be till they that hold the power in their own hands—not the king, not the parliament, not the rich only, but the body of the people, understand those natural laws by which, and under which they subsist.”
Many would be of Ella's opinion, if they could, like her, see the operation of the principle of increase within narrow bounds; for nothing can be plainer, nothing more indisputable when fully understood, in large societies, the mind of the observer is perplexed by the movements around him. The comings and goings, the births, deaths, and accidents, defy his calculations; and there are always persons at hand who help to delude him by talking in a strain which would have suited the olden time, but which is very inappropriate to the present state of things. In every city, however crowded with a half-starved population, there are many more who do their utmost to encourage population than can give a sound reason for their doing so; and while their advice is ringing in the ears, and their example is before the eyes, and there is no lack of inaccurate explanations why our workhouses are overflowing, our hospitals thronged, and our funeral bells for ever tolling, it is difficult to ascertain the real state of the case. But when the observation is exercised within a narrow range, the truth becomes immediately apparent,—it becomes evident that since capital increases in a slower ratio than population, there will be sooner or later a deficiency of food, unless the more vigorous principle of increase be controlled. If the welfare of a nation depended on the hare not reaching the goal before the tortoise, there might be some who would insist till the last moment that they moved at an equal pace, and ought, therefore, to be let alone; but there would be some who, trusting to their own eyes, would take precautionary measures: they might let the hare run till she overtook the tortoise, but then they would put on a clog. If any complain that this is not a fair race, the answer is that the hare and the tortoise were not made to vie with each other in speed; and if we set them to do it, we must manage the competition with a view to the consequences.
Ella and Katie, sensible and unprejudiced, and rendered quick-sighted by anxiety for their children, were peculiarly qualified for seeing the truth when fairly placed before them. Their interest in Ronald, as well as in their own offspring, gave them a view of both sides of the question; and there remained not a doubt, after calculating numbers and resources, that there must be some check to the increase of the people, and that the prudential check is infinitely preferable to those of vice and misery.
Of the griefs attending the latter, Ella could form some idea— thought her feelings were not embittered by self-reproach—when she looked in the face of her sick child, who was now resting his aching head on her bosom. She could not leave him, though it was growing late, till he closed his heavy eyes, and let her lay him on his pillow. Then Annie came to bear the widow company for an hour or two; and Ella went to pass the night in her friend's dwelling.
“We shall never have any reserves in our confidence henceforth, Ella,” said Katie, smiling'. “There has been but one subject on which I was not always glad to hear you speak; and now that one is settled for ever.”
Ella was glad that Katie had thus spoken, for she had not been perfectly sure of her friend's state of feeling. She now gazed affectionately on that youthful face, touched but not withered by early sorrow, and kissed the forehead of the friend she loved like a younger sister, and whom she could not have regarded as such more tenderly if they had been made sisters by marriage.
THE DISCIPLINE OF THE UNTEACHABLE.
Angus was restored safe to his home; but his return was melancholy enough. He was blown over the Sound by a storm, and landed at the moment that the funeral train who bore the bodies of Fergus's two children were winding up the rocks to the burial-place. The anxious father was naturally possessed with the idea that this was the funeral of the child he had left so ill; and be was confirmed in the supposition by seeing none of his family on the beach to await his arrival. Kenneth and his brothers were among the mourners, and Angus therefore found his wife and the girls alone when, with a throbbing heart, he entered his own dwelling. Ella met him with a calm but sad countenance, which, together with the silent awe with which the children looked up to him, answered but too plainly the question he would have asked. Little Jamie had died a few hours before in his mother's arms. The last words he spoke had been to call for his father.
“O, why was I not here?” exclaimed the mourning parent, laying his cheek to that of his boy, as if the cold body could be conscious of the caress. “It must have been an evil spirit that decoyed me away.”
“Alas, then, your voyage has been in vain!” said Ella. “You have brought no bread.”
Angus shook his head mournfully, and cast down the pouch of useless money that came back as full as it went out. The scarcity extended through all the neighbourhood, and no food was to be bought at any price. Ella saw her husband's look of despondency, and rallied. She reminded him that they had a stock of meal, though a scanty one, and she held out the hope, suggested by Ronald's information, that a sloop would soon arrive with food enough to afford a temporary supply to all the inhabitants.
It had been agreed between Fergus and his sister that a constant watch for this vessel should be kept from daybreak till dark by the elder children of each family. Annie was now at the post in the absence of Kenneth, and Ella tempted her husband out with her, to pronounce whether the look-out was well chosen. She saw that his grief was too new to allow him to receive the condolence of neighbours who might step in on their return from the funeral She was glad she had done so when she saw Annie putting back the hair which the stormy wind blew over her face, and evidently straining her sight to discern some object at sea. Angus had his glass with him, and in the intervals of the driving mists, he plainly perceived a sloop coming up from the south.
“Away with you, with me for your helper!” cried Ella. “We will be at sea before any one knows what is coming; and then we shall escape contention, and the sight of contention. And you, Annie, tell none but your uncle and Kenneth where we are gone. If it should not be the right sloop, it would be cruel to raise false hopes.”
“Besides, mother, the people would tear ye to pieces, or at least the boat—they are grown so savage.”
“They would very likely fancy we were going to snatch their share, instead of to receive a regular purchase. Farewell, my lass,” she continued, as they reached the boat; “Kenneth will soon be with you, and ye may give us a smile when we land, if yon be the vessel we take her for.”
“But, O father, the squalls are so rough! I fear to let you go.”
“Never fear, Annie. The Flora knows the greeting of a summer squall. She will win her way out hardly enough; but you will see her bounding back as if she was racing with the gale.”
There were many loungers on the beach when Angus and Ella cleared out. Some were invalids, who could not be kept within their cheerless homes even by the chill and boisterous weather. Many were idlers; and all made sport of what they thought the useless toil of going to sea at such a time. Their jokes would have been painful and perhaps irritating to Angus if he had not had reason to hope that relief was on the way to himself and them.
“Did ye bring home such a cargo this morning that ye are tempted to try your luck again?” cried one.
“Make haste!” exclaimed another, “or ye'll scarcely find the shoal. It's a brave summer day for casting a net.”
“Or for angling,” observed a third. “Where are your lines, neighbour? Nothing like a smooth sea for ladies' fishing.”
“Ye must treat us each with a supper when you come back, Angus,” said a fourth, “unless indeed the, fishes should make a supper of you.”
“I trust there may be a supper for every one in Garveloch this night,” observed Ella, as one final shout reached the rolling and pitching vessel; and these cheering words were the last she she spoke, as all her husband's attention and her own was required to direct their rough and somewhat perilous course.
Never was such a commotion excited in Garveloch as upon the spread of the tidings that a vessel had arrived at the quay with a certain quantity of grain and an ample supply of pease. The eagle was startled from her nest by the uproar. The more shrill grew the blast, the louder rose the voices; the higher swelled the tide over the bar, the greater was the eagerness to cross it as the shortest way to the quay. The men sent their wives home for whatever little wealth they had to offer in exchange, in case the food was to be purchased and not given, while they themselves hastened to secure the point whence they might best bid or entreat. Here a poor invalid, putting forth his utmost power to keep up with his competitors, was jostled aside or thrown down by the passers by. There a band of children were beginning a noisy rejoicing for they scarcely knew what; some among them half-crying in the midst of their shouting from hunger and pain, which would not be forgotten. The only quiet people in the island were Angus's family, and their ill-thriving neighbours round the point.
When the Flora, dimly seen in the twilight, came bounding in as her master had foretold, no one awaited her on the beach but those who had watched the whole expedition, Fergus, Kenneth, and his sister. The expected supply of meal was safe, and Fergus lost no time in conveying it out of sight, and into a place of safety.
“I brought down the money', father,” said Kenneth, producing the pouch, “that you might buy more at the quay, if you wish it, before it is all gone.”
“No, my boy,” said Angus. “We have enough for the present, and I will neither take what others want more than we, nor raise the price by increasing the demand.”
The Murdochs and O'Rorys were the last to know what had happened, as little was heard of the tumult beyond the point. They were extremely and almost equally wretched, and were far from attempting to soften their distresses by sympathy and neighbourly offices. Those who are most heedless of adversity in prospect, do not usually bear it best when it comes; and so it proved in the instance of both these families. Murdoch, who, when he might have been prosperous, was too lazy to do more than trust he should get through well enough, now cast all the blame of his destitution on Dan's assurances that it would be the easiest thing in life to live, if he would only grow potatoes. Dan, who was content any way when causes of discontent were only in prospect, forgot there was such a thing as content when the natural consequences of his recklessness came upon him. It had been a terrible day when the absolute want of food had driven both to dig up their seed potatoes. Murdoch had foresight enough to be appalled at the prospect of the long destitution which this measure must cause. Dan laughed at him for supposing that anything better could be done in a season so wet that every root would rot in the ground instead of growing; but he did not the less grumble at “the powers” for giving him nothing better to eat than half-rotten roots, that afforded no more strength than his own puny infant had and was losing day by day. Noreen often looked rueful with two black eyes, and did not insist so vehemently as formerly on her Dan being “the beautifullest husband in nature;” and as for the child, its best friends could only hope it would follow Noreen's former dangling “babbies,” and be laid in peace under the sod.
The first news these neighbours had of the arrival of the vessel from the station was from Kenneth, who goodnaturedly remembered to run and give them the information in time to afford them a fair chance in the scramble. Murdoch seized his staff and was off in an instant.
“Stay, neighbour,” cried Kenneth, who was not aware of the extent of Murdoch's poverty; “the buyers have the first chance you know. Better not go empty-handed.”
Murdoch thought he was jeering, and shook his stick at him with a gesture of passion, which Kenneth could not resent when he saw how the old man's limbs shook, and how vain were his attempts at unusual speed.
Dan jumped up at the news, snatched his baby, and gave it a toss which was enough to shake its weak frame to pieces, seized upon Noreen for a kiss in answer to the shriek with which she received the child, snatched the pot in which the last batch of rotten potatoes was boiling, and threw out its contents into the puddle beside the door, and ran off, laughing at his wife's lamentations for the only bit of food she had had to put between her teeth this day. Kenneth now perceived that Dan could bestir himself upon occasion; and indeed the Irishman's glee was so obstreperous, that it might have been supposed his mirth was owing to his favourite “sperits,” if it had not been known that he had been long without the means of procuring himself that indulgence.
Such a man's mirth is easily turned to rage. On reaching the sloop, which was fast emptying of its contents, Dan found that he stood a worse chance of a supply than anybody in Garveloch, except Murdoch, who still lagged behind. To come empty-handed and to come late was a double disqualification; and to be kept at a distance by force put Dan into a passion which was only equalled by his neighbour's, when he also arrived at the scene of action. It was the policy of the bystanders to turn their rage upon each other. As soon as an opening appeared among the group on the quay, through which the sloop might be approached, they pushed the old man forward, and held Dan back, urging that a hearty youth like him, and a stranger, would not surely force his way before an old man, who had been born and bred in the place; but Dan kicked, struggled, dealt his blows right and left, and at last sprang upon Murdoch, snatched off his bonnet, and buffeted him about the face with it.
“You graceless wretch!” exclaimed all who were at leisure to look on.
“Let him uncover gray hairs that helped to make them gray,” said Murdoch, in a voice of forced calmness. “It was he that lured me to poverty, and now let him glory in it.”
“It's owing to your gray hairs I did not beat you blind this minute,” cried Dan. “I'd have you keep a civil tongue in your head, if you'd have your eyes stay there too.”
“I would peril my eyes to say it again,” cried the old man. “It was you that lured me to poverty with saying that Ireland was the brightest and merriest land under the sun, and the only country where a man may live and be content without trouble.”
“By the holy poker, so it is, barring such reprobates as you are in it.”
“You told me that I spent my labour for nothing, and worse than nothing, when I grew oats and barley. You told me that I might get three times as much food out of the ground, by growing potatoes instead. You—”
“All true, by the saints, villain as you are to doubt my word! There's three times the victuals in an Irishman's field, and three times the childer in his cabin, and three times the people on the face of the blessed land, that there is where the folks are so mighty high that they must have bread.”
“And three times the number die,” said a voice near, “when a bad season comes.”
“And what if they do?” cried Dan: “tis a blessed land for all that, with a golden sun to live under, and a green turf to lie under.”
“It's a vile country,” cried Murdoch, emboldened by hope of support from the bystanders. “Your children are as hungry as cannibals, and as naked as savages. When the sun shines, you thank the powers and lie still in your laziness—”
“There's reason for that,” interrupted Dan. “There are so many to do the work, we can't settle who is to begin; and so we're content to take no trouble; and this is the most your Rob and Meg have learned of me.”
“And then when there comes a blank harvest, you fight over one another's graves.”
“Sure the powers forgive the sin,” cried Dan.
“Craving stomachs drive to blows, and then the priest is merciful.”
“More merciful than you are to one another when the fever comes, cruel savages as you are! If your own mother took the fever, you would turn her into a shed by the road side, and let her tend herself. You would go quietly smoking your pipe past the very place where your own father lay dying, and never speak a word or move a finger for him.”
“Tis false as to not speaking a word. We pray for them in the fever day and night; and many's the mass I have vowed against I grow richer. The fever is a judgment of Heaven, and where is the good of catching it if we can help it? They that sent it will take care of them that have it, and what is our care to theirs?”
“Shame! shame!” was the cry from all sides; and some who were on their way home with a pan full of meal or a basket full of pease, stopped to listen why.
“Shame! shame!” cried Dan, mimicking the shouters. “You just don't know what you're talking about; for them that have the fever don't cry shame.”
“Not in their hearts?”
“Never a bit;—and don't I know that had an uncle in the fever twice, and moved him for fear we should fall down in it too? Didn't he come crawling out the first time when we were bringing a coffin and supposing him dead, and did not he help the wail for himself before we saw him among us? and would he have wailed in a joke, if he had cried ‘shame!’ in his heart? and who such a judge as himself?”
“What happened the next time, Dan?”
“The next time 'twas his ghost in earnest that went to the burial; and a pretty burial it was. O, there's no place like old Ireland for care of the dead! We beat you there entirely, you unnatural ruffians, that never give so much as a howl to your nearest flesh and blood!”
The listeners thought it better and more natural to help the living than to honour the dead. It did not seem to occur to either party that it was possible to do both, The dispute now ran higher than ever, Murdoch laying the blame on Dan of having made all his resources depend on a favourable season, and Dan defending everything Irish, down to poverty, famines, and pestilential fevers; the first a perpetual, and each of the others a frequent evil. A fight was beginning, when order was restored by an authority which might not be resisted. Mr. Mackenzie was on board, having taken this opportunity of visiting several islands which were under his charge as a magistrate. Seeing the uproar on the quay likely, to increase every moment, he stepped on shore, ordered two or three stout men to part the combatants, and gave poor old Murdoch into the care of Angus, who was standing by, desiring that his wants should be supplied, and that he should be sent home out of the reach of provocation from Dan. Angus looked kindly after the interests of his old master, now so humbled as not to resist his help; and then sent a neighbour with him to guard him from robbery on his way home. It might have been thought that Rob would have been the fittest person to undertake this natural duty; but Rob was nowhere to be seen. He had appeared one of the first on the quay, and had bought a supply of food with a little silver crucifix which he had contrived to steal from Noreen, and which she had kept, through all her distresses, as a sort of charm. Rob was now hidden in a snug corner, eating a portion of his provision, and drinking the whiskey for which he had exchanged the rest.
Mr. Mackenzie accepted Angus's invitation to spend the night under his roof. He agreed all the more readily from perceiving that he could gratify the feelings of the parents by taking part in the funeral of their child the next day; by carrying his head to tile grave, as the expression is.
Mr. Mackenzie would know from Angus all that he could tell of Murdoch's history, and of what had happened to Dan since he settled in Garveloch. The present state of the island was a subject which always made Angus melancholy. The place was so changed, he said; there were many people that you would scarcely believe to be the same as before their distresses began.
“Such is always the case, Angus, where there are more people than can live without jostling. People act upon opposite maxims according to their circumstances. If there is abundance for every body, they are very ready to cry, ‘The more the merrier;’ if the provision is scanty, they mutter, ‘The fewer the better cheer,’ and each snatches what he can for himself.”
Ella was at this moment distributing the evening meal. At these very words she placed before her son Kenneth a barley-cake,—the first he had tasted for some time,—with a smile which he well understood. He had known something of the sufferings his mother had described as the consequence of their mutual resolution not to touch the food on which they usually subsisted; but, till this evening, he had supposed the trial only begun, and felt almost ashamed to be released so soon. As he broke his bread, a blush overspread his whole face; and when he next looked up, he met Ella's eyes filled with tears. Mr. Mackenzie observed, but did not understand; and Angus himself would have found it difficult to explain, though Kenneth's altered looks caused a suspicion that he had exercised more than his share of self-denial.
“I have seen so much of the snatching you speak of, and of defrauding too,” said Angus, when all but himself and his guest had withdrawn, “as to make me think we are now little better off than in cities, compared with which I used to think our island a paradise. There has, I believe, been crime enough committed within the circuit of a mile from this place, to match with the alleys and cellars of a manufacturing city. The malice of the people in their speech, the envy in their countenances, the artifices in their management, the violence of their actions, are new to this place and these people, I hoped to have kept my children out of sight and hearing of these things for ever.”
“Never nourish such a hope, friend,” said Mr. Mackenzie, “unless you can keep want out of sight and hearing too. Virtue and vice depend not on place, but on circumstance. The rich do not steal in cities, any more than the starving respect property in a retired island like this. lf we could increase our supply of necessaries and comforts in proportion to the wants and reasonable desires of all, there would be little vice; and if we did no more than rightly estimate and administer the resources we already possess, we might destroy for ever the worst evils of which society complains.”
“Surely, Sir, it might be done, if society were but animated with one mind. It is in the power of few, I suppose, to increase the supply of necessaries and comforts perpetually and very extensively; and no power on earth can do it so as to keep pace with the constant demand for them.”
“Certainly, if that demand be unchecked.”
“I was going to say, Sir, that it is in the power of every one to help to equalize the demand. It seems to me, that whoever acts so as to aggravate want, becomes answerable for the evils caused by want, whether he injures his neighbour's capital, or neglects to improve his own, or increases a demand upon it which is already overwhelming.”
“You will be told, friend, if you preach your doctrine to unwilling ears, that one set of vices would rage only the more fiercely for those which result from want being moderated.”
“I know,” replied Angus, “that some are of opinion that there is always a balance of vices in society; that, as some are extinguished, others arise. This seems to me a fancy that nobody can prove or show to be reasonable.”
“I am quite of your opinion, Angus; and if I were not, I am sure I should find it difficult to assert that any set of vices could be more to be dreaded than those which arise from extreme poverty. I would not draw a comparison in favour of any acknowledged vice over any other; but I can conceive of no more dreadful degradation of character, no more abundant sources of misery, than arise out of the overpowering temptations of want. You have seen instances, I doubt not, among the lower, as I among the higher classes, of the regular process by which honourable feelings are blunted, kindly affections embittered, piety turned into blasphemy, and integrity into fraud and violence, as the pressure of poverty becomes more and more galling.
“I have seen so much of this, Sir, as to make me believe that very few, if any, pass through the trial of squalid and hopeless poverty with healthy minds. Moreover, I believe such poverty to be the hot-bed of all vices. I shall never be convinced, unless I see it, that any vice in existence will be aggravated by the comforts of life being extended to all, or that there is any which is not encouraged by the feelings of personal injury, of hatred towards their superiors, or recklessness concerning their companions and themselves, which are excited among the abject or ferocious poor.”
“Evil seems to be an admonition of Providence to men to change that part of their conduct which brings on that evil,” observed Mr. Mackenzie; “and happy are they who take the warning in time, or remember it for their future guidance. Extensive fires warn men not to build houses of wood; pestilence may teach cleanliness and ventilation; and having thus given their lesson, these evils become rare, or cease. What, therefore, may famine teach?”
“Care not to let eaters multiply beyond the ordinary supply of food. I hope we people of Garveloch shall take the warning. I am sure it is distinct enough.”
“Yes, Angus. You ate up the unusual supply of two abundant seasons. An average one produced hardship. An unfavourable one has brought you to the brink of a famine. This is Providence's way of admonishing.”
TROUBLES NEVER COME ALONE.
The sufferings of the islanders were not yet over, as all foresaw who were accustomed to watch the succession of events. The natural consequence of a famine in former days was a plague; and it is still too well known in Scotland and Ireland that sickness follows scarcity. Garveloch went through the natural process. There never was such a winter known there as that which succeeded the scarcity. Rheumatism among the aged, consumption among the youthful, all the disorders of infancy among the children, laid waste the habitations of many who thought they had never known sorrow till now. Many a gray-haired matron, who used to sit plying her distaff in the chimney-corner, and singing old songs to the little ones playing about her, had been shaken by the privations of the summer, and now lay groaning in the torments of the disease which was soon to take her hence, although, with due care, so vigorous a life might still have been preserved for a few years. Here, a father who was anxious to be up and doing for his children, on the sea or at the station, was in danger of coughing his life away if he faced the wintry air, and fretted in idleness within his smoky cottage. There, a mother who had hungered through many a day to feed her children, now found that she had broken down her strength in the effort, and that she must leave them to a care less tender than her own. In other cases, the parent and her little ones seemed hastening together to another world, and two or three of one family were buried in the same grave. The mortality among the children was dreadful. The widow Cuthbert could scarcely believe her own happiness when she saw all her little family daily seated at the board in rosy health and gay spirits, when not a neighbour had been exempt from loss. She would scarcely suffer her boys out of her sight; and if accidentally parted from them, trembled lest she should hear complaints or see traces of illness when she met them again. There had been sickness in Ella's family, but none died after little Jamie. Ronald kept watch over them all. Many were the kind presents, many the welcome indulgences he sent or carried to the sick members of his sister's and brother's family this year. Katie needed no such assistance. If she had, she would have freely accepted it; but frequent inquiries and much friendly intercourse served quite as well to show the regard these friends bore to each other.
The supplies of food were still so precarious as to make every body anxious except those who could purchase a store. Now and then a boat with provisions came from a distance, and the cod-fishing turned out tolerably productive to those who had health and strength to pursue the occupation. So much was wanted, however, for immediate consumption, that business nearly stood still at the station. Kenneth had been recalled thither when there seemed to be a prospect of employment for him; but he had now made the last barrel that would be wanted before next season, and began to be very melancholy. He sauntered along the pier, around which there was no busy traffic; he lounged about the cooperage, taking up first one tool and then another, and wondering when the hammer and the saw would be heard there again. Many a time did he count the weeks that must pass before he should be once more earning his maintenance, and reckon how large was the debt to his uncle which he was incurring by his present uselessness. Ronald could not succeed in making him cheerful for a day together, or in inducing him to employ himself; and he began to fear that either illness was creeping on the young man, or that his fine spirit was broken by the anxiety he had undergone and the miseries lie had beheld, He would have sent him over to Ella, whose influence was all-powerful with her son; but Ella had cares enough at home just now. Having messages from Kenneth as frequently as usual, she was not more than usually anxious concerning him.
Angus's activity and cheerfulness never gave way. He ascribed their power to his wife's influence; while she found a never-failing support to her energies when he was present. She owned to Katie how easily she could give way to despondency when he was absent for days together, and how she felt strong enough to do and bear anything when his boat came in sight again. The fact was, they did owe to each other all they believed they owed. There was a lofty spirit of trust in Ella, as animating to her husband as his experience in life and devotion to his home were supporting to her. Katie looked with a generous sympathy on the enjoyment of a happiness of which she had been deprived, and wished no more for herself than that she might be as secure from trials with her children as she believed Angus and Ella to be. No sorrows could, she told Ella, be inflicted by the children of such parents—by children so brought up as theirs. Ella never admitted this assurance without reservation; for she knew too much of human life to expect that any one of its blessings should be enjoyed for ever without alloy.
It was during the absence of her husband on one of his trading excursions that the children came crowding round the door, to ask Ella to come and listen to the new music some gentlemen in fine clothes were playing as they went up the pass. Katie was brought out by her little people at the same moment. The children climbed the height to get another view of the strangers, and their mothers followed. A recruiting party was ascending between the rocks at the same moment that more companies than one were leaving the burying-ground, The children clapped their hands and began to dance to the booming drum and the shrill fife; but Ella immediately stopped them.
“Don't ye mark,” she said, “there's Rob and Meg Murdoch coming down the hill? Would ye like to see anybody dancing in your sight when you have just laid your father's head in the ground?”
“I saw Rob drunk this very morn, mother, and he danced as if his father had been there looking on.”
“If Rob behaves as if he had no feeling, that is no reason why you should seem to think he has none.”
“Look at Meg!” cried another child. “She is laughing as if it was a bridal instead of a funeral.”
Ella was shocked, though not much surprised, to see Meg run forward to meet the soldiers, as if they were old acquaintance, and linger behind with them when her party, including her stupid brother, had cracked their joke and passed on. It occurred to her that Meg's brother-in-law might be among the soldiers and she said so by way of excuse; but immediately called the children down from the height, unwilling that such an example of unfeeling levity should remain before their eyes. They were naturally somewhat unwilling to lose sight of the scarlet coats, having never beheld any before.
“Ye will see such often enough, now, my dears,” said their mother, sighing. “These people know how to choose their time. The fife is ever merriest when the heart's music is hushed; and whenever people are at their wit's end with want and sorrow, the red-coats come and carry away such as are glad to drown thought and seek change instead of waiting for it.”
“Yes, indeed,” replied Katie: “a funeral at the top of the hill, and a recruiting party going to meet it, is natural enough; and so it would have been to see lads made to drink in the king's name when their stomachs were craving food. I wondered we had had no recruiting before; for the worse the times, the more are ready to leave home behind them, and go and serve the king.”
The children understood nothing of all this but that they should see the soldiers again, which indeed was the point which most concerned them at their age. They listened long for the drum—they took turns as scouts to watch which way the soldiers went, and to give notice if they should approach. Now they were traced up to Duff's farm, heard to play before the door, and seen to be invited in. After a while, they proceeded with a few followers at their heels, by a roundabout way to the Murdochs' cove. Meg was their guide, walking in front, arm-in-arm with a soldier—a fashion of marching to which it was supposed she had been just drilled. The music being heard approaching behind the rocks, the children scampered off to meet it; and after a considerable time, during which shouts arose which made the mothers wish their boys at home again, the children appeared as the advanced guard of the procession, waving their bonnets, and pretending to march like the grand folks behind them. It was soon apparent that all present were not as happy as they. Meg indeed laughed so as to be heard above the music, and one or two raw lads looked full of pride and heroism, and took off their bonnets from time to time to look at the gay ribbons with which they were ornamented; but all the bustle and noise—nothing remarkable perhaps in an English city, but very astonishing in Garveloch—could not call off attention from a woman's rage, or drown the screams of a woman's scolding voice. The vixen was Noreen; and if ever a vixen had an excuse for her violence, it was she at this moment; for Dan, the husband for whom she had, as she declared, left the beautifullest home of the beautifullest country in the world—Dan, whom she had defended through thick and thin, for having “kilt” her and “murthered” her “babbies,” —Dan, who had said so often that a man needed nothing in life more than a cabin and a potato-ground, and an “iligant” wife, had enlisted, and was going to leave her and her last remaining child to starve. Had not he a cabin? she wanted to know; and had not he a potato-ground, as good as any at Rathmullin? and had not he called her his “iligant Noreen “before the fancy came across him to break her heart?
Since it did not please Dan to answer her questions, no one else was bound to do so. It was difficult to say whether he was drunk or not. He kissed his wife in return for her cuffs, and behaved like a madman; but such was his way when he was roused to mirth.
Shocked at the sight, Ella was about to withdraw, when Katie expressed her wonder whether this scene was to be acted in all the islands. She had connexions in more than one, and began to be anxious lest some of them should be tempted to go abroad. Ella therefore accosted the sergeant, a good natured-looking man, and asked if his recruiting was likely to be prosperous among the islands? He found the people very loyal, he replied, and many fine young men ready to serve their king and country. He should visit every place in the district in turn, and had already made a pretty wide circuit. He had this morning come from Islay.
“You would scarce enlist many there,” observed Ella, “A few months ago would have been your best time for Islay; now the fishery begins to open a prospect again.”
“I beg your pardon, madam; we have been particularly successful in Islay.” And he pulled out a list of names, displayed it hastily, and was about to put it up again, when Katie snatched it, and after the first glance looked at her friend with such a gaze of anguish as at once told Ella the truth.
“Is Kenneth's name there?” she asked, in a low, hoarse voice.
“That young man,” said the sergeant, who had been speaking to one of his people, and did not perceive Ella s emotion, “that young man to whose name you point—and a very fine youth he is, six feet and half an inch—belongs to this place. He is to come over this afternoon to take leave of his family, and proceeds with me in the morning.”
Ella retreated hastily towards her own door; she turned round on reaching the threshold, and motioned to Katie not to follow her; but Katie would not be repulsed. With streaming eyes she attempted to make her way by gentle force. Ella recovered her power of speech.
“Leave me, Katie. I can speak to no one but Angus. “O Angus! why are you away? O! how shall I tell the news when he comes back?”
When Katie had led her friend into the inner room, she left her to her grief, thinking that the best kindness was to keep watch that no one intruded. The widow felt as if her own heart was bursting when audible tokens once or twice reached her of the fearful conflict which rent the mother's heart. In the fervour of her love and compassion for Ella, she was full of indignation against him who had caused all this misery; and when this indignation had reached its highest pitch, the latch of the door was uplifted, and Kenneth stood before her. His pale countenance, with its expression of mournful determination, might have disarmed her anger at a moment of less excitement; but Katie would not bestow on him a second glance or a greeting.
“Where is my mother?” he inquired. “My father, I find, is absent.”
“Seek her yourself,” replied Katie, pointing to the chamber. “If you did not fear to wring her heart, you will scarce shrink from seeing her grief.”
“She knows then!” said Kenneth. “I would fain have told her myself—”
“You need not covet the task,” replied Katie, her features working convulsively. “You would have cast yourself into the sea before now if you had seen her take the tidings.” And the widow gave vent to what was boiling in her mind.
Kenneth did not at first interrupt her; and when he attempted explanation, was not allowed to proceed. Katie had never before been so unreasonable as now on her friend's behalf.
“Make way!” said Kenneth, at length, in strong emotion. “My mother will hear me.”
Ella at this moment threw open the door of the chamber, and stood, still trembling but erect, and spoke calmly.
“Katie!” she said, “I thought you had known Kenneth and me better. He has ever been dutiful: why then condemn him unheard? I have told you my confidence'in him; and is it kind, then, to make a mockery of my trust?”
Katie's anger was now all turned against herself. She cast an imploring look at them both, and rushed out of the house before they could detain her.
“Bless you, mother, for trusting me!” cried Kenneth.
“But O, my boy, what a sore trial to my trust! What has possessed ye, Kenneth, that ye must leave us? When we have suffered together so long, and were beginning to hope together again, what could make ye plunge us into a new trouble?”
“It was hastily done, mother, but done for the best, and not from discontent with home, or a love of wandering. I could not see so clearly as you that times are about to mend. I could not endure to be a burden to uncle Ronald, and my heart was sick with hoping and hoping, and finding nothing to do after all. Then there are so many brothers growing up to fill my place; and my going will make room for one of them at the station. And then there was the bounty too. I thought I should have had pleasure, mother, in giving you the first purse of money I ever had; but nothing will give me any pleasure again if you think I have been wilfully wrong.”
“Not wilfully wrong, Kenneth; I never thought you could be that—not even in the first moment when—”
She could not proceed. Her son continued:
“I would fain hear ye say more, mother. O, can ye tell me that you think me right?”
“Do not let it weigh with you, my son, whether I think you judged rightly or not. You felt dutifully and kindly, and you have as much right to judge of your duty as I. You shall never want my blessing nor your father's. It is to your wish to do your duty that we give our blessing; and it will therefore follow you over the world.”
Kenneth had much to say on duty to one's country, and on the question who could best be spared to serve in her armies; in the pursuit of which argument he brought the proof round to himself. His mother, feeling that the deed could not be undone, encouraged his feelings of patriotism, sanctioned his desire to fulfil a public duty, and contented herself with the silence of dissent when she thought him mistaken.
“Mother,” cried Kenneth, at length, bursting into tears, “you make a child of me by treating me like a man. I knew you would be patient, I knew you would be indulgent, but I scarcely hoped that even you could so soon, so very soon, give me the rights I have been so hasty to claim. if you had blamed me, if you had spoken with authority, I could have commanded myself better when it comes to the have last.”
“We are all weak,” murmured Ella, melting also into tears. “God forbid we should judge one another! We are least of all fit to do so when our griefs are tossing so as to wreck our judgments. Authority, Kenneth! No; this is not the time for me to use it. If it were merely whether ye should cross to Islay to-day or tomorrow, I might have spoken unawares with authority; but when the question is, what your duty in life is to be, and when that question is already decided, all that a mother can do is to give her blessing.”
The many dreary hours of this night were too few for what had to be said and done by the elder members of this mourning family. Soon after daybreak Angus returned; so that Kenneth had not the additional misery of departing in uncertainty whether he should be followed by his father's blessing. Angus had in his young days been sent abroad by a spirit of adventure; so that he was even better prepared than Ella to sympathise in Kenneth's feelings and convictions. He commanded himself when the event was first told him; accompanied his son to a considerable distance; and from the hour of his return spoke to none but Ella of the blank the wanderer's absence caused, or of the anxiety with which he watched for tidings of the war.
A Recruiting party was, as Ella had foretold, a frequent sight in Garveloch as long as the distress lasted; and one of the present consequences to her and her husband of the favourable season which followed was, that the red-coats ceased to appear, and the hated sound of the drum and fife to make them start. As soon as the fishery was resumed, there was work enough for all who remained on the island, and therefore little encouragement to serve the king out of his own dominions. News of Kenneth came very rarely—about as often as rejoicings for a victory. Some of Angus's neighbours were wont to come and tell him of such events as if they were certain of bringing welcome news, provided he knew that his son was safe. Fergus's lads, especially, who regretted that they were too young to enlist at the same time with Kenneth, seemed disposed to take the first opportunity of doing so that might occur, and to have no doubt that the best service they could render to their island was to leave it.
“How can you suppose,” said Angus to them one day, “that I can rejoice in the slaughter you tell me of? How can you imagine it can give me pleasure to look forward to our strong youths leaving our shores?”
“I thought, uncle,” said one— “I am sure I heard somebody say you believed that we wanted thinning, and that war must therefore be a very good thing.
“I said so,” said Captain Forbes, who stood within hearing. “You think, Angus, that there are too many people for the supply of food; and therefore the more that die, the better cheer there is for those who remain. Did you not tell Mr. Mackenzie so?”
“Better say at once, sir, that we ought to pray for a pestilence. Better send for our enemies to slaughter us as fast as they can, sparing only a proper number to enjoy what we leave behind.”
“But I am sure you used to complain of our numbers, Angus, and ascribe our distress to them.”
“But it does not follow, sir, that I would have them removed by violence. All I wish is, that society should be as happy as it can be made; and it would be somewhat strange to inflict the extremest misery with this view. I never had such a thought, I assure you, as of running into a greater evil to avoid a lesser.”
“Many people, however, think occasional wars and plagues very good things to keep down the population.”
“So I have heard, but I think very differently. The one circumstance which, above all others, cheers me respecting the state of society, is that population is, to a considerable extent, checked by better means than formerly. There are fewer lives lost by war, plagues, and the accidents of common life, while the increase of population is not in proportion to the removal of these dreadful checks.”
“How do you account for this?”
“Marriage is less general, and takes place at a later age—at least among the middling classes, whose example will, I trust, be soon followed by their poorer neighbours. Whenever any one class gains a clear understanding of the reasons why a thing has been, and why it should no longer be, there is room for hope that other classes will in time enter into their views, and act accordingly. There is hope that governments will in time cease to make war and encourage population,—that is, to call people into existence for the purpose of cutting one another's throat. There is hope that the poor will in time be more eager to maintain than to multiply their families; and then, lads, there will be no more drumming and fifing in Garveloch, and no need to wander abroad in search of danger and death, in order to show patriotism.”
“When will that be, uncle?”
“I am no prophet; but I will venture to prophesy that it will happen somewhere between the third and the thirty-thousandth generation from the present—that is, that it will take place, but not yet.”
“You have said a great deal,” observed the captain, “about the reasons why there should no longer be want; but you slipped quietly enough over the reason why there has ever been want.”
“It was not my intention to do so,” said Angus, smiling, “for it appears very clear to me. It was growing need which urged men towards all the improvements which have ever taken place. The appropriation and security of property, improvements in government, art, and sciences—in short, all the institutions of society took their beginning from the growing wants of men; and those growing wants were caused, of course, by increase of numbers. This is quite enough to satisfy us that the principle of increase is a good one; while, if we see that our institutions can now be preserved and improved under other and higher kinds of stimulus, it is time that we were controlling the principle within the bounds of reason and happiness.”
“It is done for us when we do not look to it ourselves,” the captain replied, sighing as he cast a glance around him. “How full is the burying-ground,—how empty are the houses compared with what they were but a few months ago! It reminds me of some of the places in the east, where we were ordered to march in the rear of the plague. They will soon be filled again, if the fishery does well. That is a comfort.”
“And it reminds me that I have no time to lose,” observed Angus. “Will you be my passenger to the station, captain?”
Nobody had time to lose this season in the island, but those who were willing to run the risk of future scarcity. Labour was in great request, and, of course, well paid. Angus found ample employment for his crane, and received very good interest for the capital laid out upon it. His younger sons worked it with as much zeal as Kenneth had shown in its construction; but their father, proud as he was of them, thought in his inmost heart that no other of his flourishing tribe equalled the eldest, or could make up for his loss; and the haunting dream of the night, the favourite vision of the day, was of Kenneth's return, to leave his native land no more. This was Angus's meditation while plying the oar, and this his theme in his own chimney corner. It was much to hear of Kenneth's honour and welfare, but while no hope of peace came with the tidings, they were not perfectly satisfying.
The only person to whom the improvement in the times brought any trouble was the widow Cuthbert. Her former lovers—not Ronald, but those who had broken off acquaintance with her when her young family seemed a dead weight in the scale against her own charms—now returned, and were more earnest than ever in their suit. Katie had discretion enough to be aware that the only respect in which she had become a more desirable match than before was in the growth of her boys, whose labour might soon be a little fortune to her, if she chose so to employ it. She was therefore far from being flattered at becoming so much in request, and honoured and valued the disinterested friendship of Ronald more than ever.
The present time, even with the drawback of Kenneth's absence, was the happiest period of Ronald's life. He made his little home at the station sociable and comfortable, by gathering his nephews and nieces about him; and his visits to Garveloch became more frequent and more welcome continually when his prosperous business allowed him leisure for the trip. Fergus, weighed down with care, had grown old before his time; and to Ronald's assistance it was owing that his family preserved their respectability till the lads were able to take on themselves a part of the charge which had been too heavy for their father.
Ella was the last of the family to show the marks of change. Her mind and heart were as remarkable for their freshness in age as they had been for their dignity in youth. Inured to early exertion and hardship, she was equal to all calls upon her energies of body and spirit. She was still seen, as occasion required, among the rocks, or on the sea, or administering her affairs at home. She was never known to plead infirmity, or to need forbearance, or to disappoint expectation. She had all she wanted in her husband's devotion to her and to his home, and she distributed benefits untold from the rich treasury of her warm affections. She had, from childhood, filled a station of authority, and had never abused her power, but made it the means of living for others. Her power increased with every year of her life, and with it grew her scrupulous watchfulness over its exercise, till the same open heart, penetrating eye, and ready hand, which had once made her the sufficient dependence of her orphan brothers, gave her an extensive influence over the weal and woe of Garveloch.
Summary of Principles illustrated in this volume.
The increase of population is necessarily limited by the means of subsistence.
Since successive portions of capital yield a less and less return, and the human species produce at a constantly accelerated rate there is a perpetual tendency in population to press upon the means of subsistence.
The ultimate checks by which population is kept down to the level of the means of subsistence are vice and misery.
Since the ends of life are virtue and happiness, these checks ought to be superseded by the milder methods which exist within man's reach.
These evils may be delayed by promoting the increase of capital, and superseded by restraining the increase of population.
Towards the one object, a part of society may do a little; towards the other, all may do much.
By rendering property secure expenditure frugal, and production easy, society may promote the growth of capital.
By bringing no more children into the world than there is a subsistence provided for, society may preserve itself from the miseries of want. In other words, the timely use of the mild preventive check may avert the horrors of any positive check.
The preventive check becomes more, and the positive checks less powerful, as society advances.
The positive checks, having performed their office in stimulating the human faculties and originating social institutions, must he wholly superseded by the preventive check before society can attain its ultimate aim—the greatest happiness of the greatest number.
printed by william clowes, stamford-street.