Front Page Titles (by Subject) Chapter V.: THE CASTLES AT HOME. - Illustrations of Political Economy, vol. 4
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Chapter V.: THE CASTLES AT HOME. - Harriet Martineau, Illustrations of Political Economy, vol. 4 
Illustrations of Political Economy (3rd ed) in 9 vols. (London: Charles Fox, 1834). Vol. 4.
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THE CASTLES AT HOME.
It was very well for a man of Castle's irritable temper to be made a shepherd, instead of a labourer at home, within sight and hearing of all the bustle and difficulty occasioned by much pressure of work and few hands to do it. He could not have borne to be, as his wife said, driven from pillar to post,—called off from one thing before he had done it, to do something else to which he was altogether unaccustomed. It suited him much better to be out upon the downs after the sheep; though even in that quiet place he had his troubles. The sheep-walk was too extensive to be under the management of one person; and Castle's brother-shepherd was not a very congenial companion. He was a gentleman convict;—a young man who had gamed away his little fortune, and then taken to swindling, for which he had been transported. Being unequal to hard work, and having no mechanical skill, he was sent out to tend sheep; an employment as little suitable as might be to his social dispositions and active habits. The two reluctant companions agreed only in their inclination to grumble.
“They call this a fine scene,” observed the young man, “but it does not suit my taste. I had rather see our sheep in the Smithfield pens than on these downs. Then one misses the London cries, however much the magpies chatter here. As for the cooing of the doves, It really depresses the spirits. People talk of the stars being so brilliant here,—like golden lamps; but I like real lamps better. A row of them in Pall Mall is worth a hemisphere of stars.”
“I don't know much about lamplight,” replied Castle, “having been too poor to burn candles at home, and so going to bed in the twilight; but this place is so lonesome, I sometimes wonder whether it is in the world or out of it. All this view is like an old deserted park, to be sure; but where is the squire's house, or the church steeple, and the children coming out of school? There is no public-house far or near; and no parson or his lady to speak a word to one: only a young man that comes to read prayers on Sundays in a shed or on the green, and away again to do the same thing somewhere else. Not such a thing have I seen since I came as a carriage with ladies in it; and they say there are no hunts. With all the game there is here, no scarlet jackets ever come in sight from the woods.”
“That is the worst of it,” responded the other grumbler. “We have all the dulness of a country life without its solace of amusement. It was really too tantalizing lately, to see a kangaroo hunt which I could not join. If they would let me take my turn, I might be of some use to them as an experienced huntsman. I should like to hunt opossums till I could get skins enough to make your pretty daughter a cloak worthy to be worn; and——”
Castle here moved off impatiently, having too much paternal pride to listen to convict wooing on Ellen's behalf: The young man followed him, continuing,
“The snipe-shooting is very choice, I'm told, in the marshes yonder. I must have leave when winter comes on, to go and try my luck. But the hunts are the best things,—more spirited perhaps than you are aware of.”
“Hunts! hunts!” cried Castle. “I see neither deer nor fox. An odd sort of hunting, if you mean killing any of these leaping things, with their queer ways. Why, the little ones don't run beside their dams, as is natural, but she pops them into her bag, and off she hops, as if she had only two legs. The first I saw, I thought she had happened an accident, and had her fore legs cut short; and I thought she got on wonderfully well considering; and then in a minute appeared a whole herd of them, with their young in their bags.”
“It is a pretty sight to see them come down from the woods at sunrise to feed in the plains. Then is the time to hide behind a thicket, and make sure of one's game. Which do you prefer, as a bottom dish, kangaroo or bandicoot? In a pie, properly seasoned, it is difficult to say which is the best. I have given many a hint down below that either is much more palatable to me than rations of salt meat.”
Castle, who thought no man need desire more in the way of diet than to eat meat every day, looked with contempt on the grimaces of his companion over his ample supply of beef, wheaten bread, and cider.
“If you want to hunt,” said Castle, “I wish you would kill off the vile beasts that have been making havoc among my lambs. I might have got at one, but I was downright scared with its ugliness.”
“Was it the hyena or the devil?”
“O, the devil, to judge by its looks. It is as big as a middle-sized dog, with the head of an otter, crowded with teeth. It moved very slow, but I could do no better than stare at it.”
“They call it the devil here,” replied the gentleman. “You should dig little pits, and set your dogs upon it when it has fallen in. It will go on worrying your lambs, unless you keep on the watch.”
“Another thing that puts me out,” observed Castle, “is that the beasts are one below another here, as if they were bewitched. In England, we have a horse of one size, and a dog of another, and a rat of another; and none of them is like the rest; but here we have a big kangaroo, and a kangaroo the size of a dog, and another no bigger than a rat and these last are no real kangaroos. I declare it makes my hair stand up to see a rat leaping like a real kangaroo: just as it would to see a mouse shaking its mane and trotting and cantering like a horse. I have not been used to such freaks, and this is a country I can't understand.”
“I hope to understand it better,” replied the convict. “I was always fond of roving, and in time I may have explored farther than we can see from these green hills that we both find so dull. What do you mean to do when you get free?”
“They may settle that that got me bound,” replied Castle, testily. Then, struck with a sense of his own ingratitude, he added, “To be sure, if there is no squire's house, there is no workhouse either; and if I see no acquaintance, there is nobody to taunt me with misfortune; but, on the contrary, they make much of me at home. And there's.——”
“What; my little Susan! Yes, they make a handy little thing of her already, and——”
“I mean the other handy one, Ellen.”
“She will do well enough, Sir, I assure you. She has a fine spirit and a steady mind of her own, and a proud brother to take care of her; and that is better than a broken-down father; though it should go hard with me but I would protect her, Sir, if there was no one to do it better.”
So saying, Castle walked off, showing by his manner that he was not sociably disposed.
His wife was much more altered within a short time by her change of circumstances than he. The first thing that seemed to affect her favourably was the use that was made of her little daughter in the household arrangements. When the farmer's wife found that her new domestic was indolent and indifferent, she endeavoured to make the best of a poor bargain by squeezing as much work as she could out of Susan. The child was willing enough, and proud to find herself of so much use; but her mother was jealous on her account, and began for the first time to show symptoms of tenderness for her. She not only argued in her defence, but helped her when she was more disposed to proceed with her work than to “go and play;” words which had little charm for a child whose associations with play were those of hunger, scolding, mockery, and all the miseries of pauper life. When the farm servants rose at daybreak to go forth for the day, Susan was always ready to jump up at the first word, to replenish the wallets and fill the cans, though her mother turned round in bed, and muttered that it was too soon to get up. She needed no reminding about tending the house-lamb, and feeding the poultry, and dusting as much of the coarse furniture as she could reach. After breakfast, if any one would lift her upon the dresser, or lay the utensils and the bowl of water on the floor, she would wash up without breaking anything: and she was always at hand to carry messages into field or farm-yard, or to help with dinner and supper, or to carry letters to the spot where they were to be deposited in readiness for the postman's weekly call; and when not able to do anything better, she could scare away the crows and cockatoos from the fields and garden. Her mother thought this a hard life for a little girl: but Susan was stout, rosy, and merry; and the farmer himself found a few minutes now and then to take her on his knee and teach her the alphabet, in preparation for the time when a schoolmaster could be brought within reach. The first thing Mrs. Castle did heartily was washing up, one day when Susan had nearly scalded her fingers. She took more and more of the child's work from her, and still Susan turned to something else; so that ere long, both were pretty fully employed; and in proportion as the once reckless and lazy pauper became interested in the occupations going on around her,—in proportion as she bestirred herself to get the baking done while the house was clear of the men, and the washing over in time to have a chat in the evening,—she grew like the active and tidy housewife she would never have become in her own land.
A circumstance which hastened this change was the opportunity she now bad of gratifying one taste,—almost the only taste she ever had, and which seemed to have died out under the hardships of her condition: a taste for gardening. When a girl, she had had a garden; and as long as her husband had owned an acre of ground, she took possession of a corner of it for her pinks and roses, under pretence of growing vegetables for the family. From that time to this, nobody had heard her mention fruit or flowers; but Ellen bore in mind her love for them now when the remembrance might be turned to some purpose. She mentioned, in her step-mother's presence, that her master was trying what he could do in the management of vines, for the growth of which the climate was peculiarly favourable; and that whether he got any wine or not, his trouble would be more than repaid by his profits from his other fruits. The peaches, to be sure, were not of the best sort, though so plentiful as to lie rotting on the ground, alter bushels had been thrown to the pigs; but the apricots, and yet more the raspberries, which grew to such a size and in such quantity as no English person would believe without seeing them, were likely to prove a good speculation, being sent to a distance in the form of jam. Sugar being remarkably cheap in this country, there was little risk in trying a batch of sweetmeats, which were to be sent to India for sale by a vessel from Launceston. The idea was caught up as Ellen expected it would be; and as the farmer and his wife did not take to the scheme of fruit-growing as heartily as was desired, the emigrant family tried whether they could not get a garden of their own. The small part of their wages which they were yet at liberty to use was applied to the purchase of a plot of ground, and Frank found time to work in it, and Ellen procured wherewith to stock it, and their step-mother haunted it early and late, before and after work,—and Castle himself relaxed his brow, and spoke in a tone that was not querulous, as he looked round upon that which, however small, was so much more than he had ever expected to possess again,—a family property.
“Look at father,” whispered Ellen to her brother. “I have not seen him and her arm-in-arm since I was no bigger than Susan.”
“He is like a prisoner that has been quite shut up coming for the first time into the gaol court,” said Frank. “The feel of the air makes him push his hat up from over his eyes. Only set him quite free, and he will uncover his brows, and lift up his head like a man.”
“And so he ought, “replied Ellen,” since it is for no fault of his own that he has been bound down to poverty.”
“Ah! poverty is a cold and dreary prison, Ellen. That puts me in mind,—have you seen, i wonder, any thing that has surprised you very much lately,—any thing that you would like to tell me if you were sure of not being overheard, or of not being thought fanciful?’
“The word ‘prison’ put me in mind of something that I have been wanting to talk to you about almost this month past.—I don't know how to believe my own eyes about it, but I am sure I have seen Jerry in our farm-yard at night, and lurking about among the sheds before most of our folks are stirring in the morning.”
“Aye; but was he all alone, Ellen?”
“Bob was never with him, that I could see; but he seemed to me to be waiting for somebody off our premises, and I thought it must naturally be me. So twice I ran out to catch him; but once I was crossed by two of our people that I don't choose to come in the way of; and the other time he was whispering with the same two, so that I dared not go near. How could he get liberty? and what could he be about?”
“Something very deep, I am afraid,” replied her brother. “As to the liberty,—it is no difficult matter for convicts who behave pretty regularly to get hours of liberty at the beginning and end of the day; and the lads being employed on roadmaking so near, accounts for our getting a glimpse of them sometimes. But what I am uneasy about is Jerry's having so much to say to the convicts at your place and mine;—for I have seen him at Stapleton's oftener than you have among your people. I am afraid of some plot—”
“O, mercy!” cried Ellen; “what sort of a plot?”
“That is more than I can say. Sometimes they plot, I hear, for nothing worse than to escape; but some have had to do with the natives, (who are little better than wild beasts), and have brought them down upon the farms, setting them to steal and even to murder; for which they pay the poor savage creatures by helping themselves with their wives.”
Ellen trembled while she asked whether any of the natives could be in the neighbourhood.— Her brother hoped not, as the government had declared that they were driven back among the mountains, where they must soon die out as their wild cattle had done: but as long as any convicts were disposed to bush-ranging,—and some did actually escape every year,—he could not, for his part, feel quite secure. He thought he should speak to Stapleton about it. Meanwhile, he desired Ellen to drop not a syllable that should alarm her father, or anybody else.
“I hope, sister,” he continued with some hesitation, “I hope Harry Moore has no acquaintance, more or less, with Jerry, or any other such people.”
Ellen's eyes flashed as they used to do when she was a passionate little girl at school.
“Harry!” she cried. “Harry Moore have any sneaking doings! Harry Moore keep bad company! You don't know Harry a bit better than tile very first day,—the day when you thought he might be a convict himself.”
“No need to be angry, Ellen. He might just know him enough, you see, to say ‘How d'ye do?’ when they meet, and to judge how often Jerry might fairly be here.”
“After all,” said Ellen, sighing, “it is my father's own son that I flew off about his being acquainted with; so there is no need for me to be so proud. No; Harry does not know either of the lads, even by sight; but I shall tell him what you have been saying, though nobody else, Frank.”
“Certainly. Conceal nothing that weighs upon your mind from Harry, any more than if he was your husband already. I look to him to help me to keep an eye upon Bob, who may be made something of, they say, little hope as there is for Jerry. Bob works, within bounds at spare hours, instead of roving into the bush, or prowling about the settlers farms, where he has no business. Bob must be saving money fast, unless he has unseen ways of spending it. He works hard, and is well paid for his extra labour. He may have the advantage of me, after all; and settle on a place of his own before me.”
“Because he got a free passage as a punishment. That is really very hard, Frank.”
“Harry Moore will be the first at liberty, however, Ellen; and that I am glad of on your account. I am soon to begin building you a house, at over hours; and you may depend on my doing my best to have it all complete by the time the six months are gone.”
“Six months!” cried Ellen.
“Why, I do not mean that you need wait till then. You may fairly marry as soon as you like;—and many in our own country would be glad to have that said to them. I only mentioned six months as the time when Harry would be all his own master. Then I shall hope to see you milking a cow of your own.——Meantime, till I have found out more about Jerry, be cautious how you get out of reach of those that will take care of you.”
Ellen sighed, and smiled, and wondered which was the strangest world,—the one she had left behind, or the new one which seemed, after several months, nearly as foreign as when she had entered it. She had no doubt which was the pleasantest. How could she, when a vague fear and thorough dislike of some of the people in the neighbourhood were the only set-off against the prosperity of all whom she loved, and her own bright prospects with such a husband as Harry Moore had promised to be?