Front Page Titles (by Subject) Chapter I.: TIMES ARE CHANGED. - Illustrations of Political Economy, vol. 2
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Chapter I.: TIMES ARE CHANGED. - Harriet Martineau, Illustrations of Political Economy, vol. 2 
Illustrations of Political Economy (3rd ed) in 9 vols. (London: Charles Fox, 1832). Vol. 2.
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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.