Front Page Titles (by Subject) Chapter IX.: TROUBLES NEVER COME ALONE. - Illustrations of Political Economy, vol. 2
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Chapter IX.: TROUBLES NEVER COME ALONE. - 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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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.