Front Page Titles (by Subject) Chapter II.: TO EACH HEART ITS OWN BITTERNESS. - Illustrations of Political Economy, vol. 5
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Chapter II.: TO EACH HEART ITS OWN BITTERNESS. - Harriet Martineau, Illustrations of Political Economy, vol. 5 
Illustrations of Political Economy (3rd ed) in 9 vols. (London: Charles Fox, 1834). Vol. 5.
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TO EACH HEART ITS OWN BITTERNESS.
It happened to be the pleasure of the governor of Irkutsk that the two divisions of the band of exiles should settle near each other. This was more than either had expected. A sentence to work in the mines is usually equivalent to one of complete separation from countrymen as well as country; for, as only a limited number of miners can be employed, in comparison with serfs and soldiers, the exiles condemned to the mines run a risk of isolation proportioned to the smallness of their numbers. In the present case, the risk was lessened by the station being one from which escape was out of the question. The miners of Ekaterinburgh may dream of getting away, even though they must cross the Uralian chain, and the whole of the interior of Russia, before they can see a friendly face, or set foot in a neutral country; and therefore they are watched, and not allowed to associate with such as speak a friendly language. But in the depths of eastern Siberia, 2000 miles further into the wilds than even the last-mentioned station, what hope of deliverance can exist? It is found the least troublesome and expensive way to leave the exiles alone, as long as they do their work and keep quiet; and there is no objection to letting them communicate, unless it should be found profitable or convenient to send on some of them a thousand miles or so, or into Kamtchatka. The governor had received intelligence from Peters-burgh that a party would soon be sent through his district to Kamtchatka, and hesitated for a short time whether he should not send on this procession, and keep the next that might arrive within his jurisdiction; but, as the officer could prove by documents which he carried that Owzin and his son and Andreas were to be miners, it seemed best to trust to another arrival for Kamtchatka, and to locate the present party where work was waiting for them.
A silver mine, near the western extremity of the Daourian range, and within hearing of the waters of the Baikal when its storms were fiercest, was the appointed station of Owzin and his little band of companions; while plots of ground, within sight of the lake, were marked out for the three who were to become crown peasants. c 2
The whole procession was permitted to stop for a while at the future abodes of the latter, before proceeding to the almost equally forlorn dwellings of the convict miners. They had little comfort to offer each other: but the new homes might be made somewhat less desolate by being entered in company.
They were miserable places. Log-huts, consisting of one room, were thought good enough dwellings for serfs. The holes between the rough-hewn logs were stuffed with moss, which hung out in shreds, leaving spaces for the biting wind to whistle through. A bench at one end, intended to be covered with a hide, and thus to constitute a bed, and a space built round with bricks, which was to be an oven, were all the preparations for warmth in one of the severest climates in the world. An earthen pan, to cook food in, was the sole utensil provided; but Ernest was told that he might make himself a wooden platter, bowl and spoon, when he had provided a plough and harrow, the first necessaries of all, as the season was getting on. All these were to be made of wood; the harrow being a mere hurdle, with the twigs bent downward to serve as teeth, and the plough being a wooden hook, pointed with iron, and with two sticks tied on the back as tillers. Where was the necessary wood to be obtained? asked one and another; for none was to be seen but fir and pine, and a few dwarf shrubs. The oak, hazel, plane, lime, and ash had disappeared long ago, and it was some weeks since they had seen elms and poplars. The officer only knew that other peasants had these utensils, and so the material must be within reach. It struck him that the best thing Ernest and his companions could do would be to take each a wife from among the women who would soon be sent to them for their choice. These native women could put them in the way of knowing and doing what they wanted; and it must be the best plan for their comfort, since the emperor's own clemency had suggested it.
Ernest ground his teeth in speechless fury at this proposal; but his friend Paul, who was not so apt to take things to heart, begged to know how they were to maintain their wives?
“The best fields we have passed, within some hundred miles,” said he, “bear only a little winter-rye, and a few straggling oats. The potatoes are no larger than gooseberries, and not a single fruit,—not even the sour crab we have all heard of, will grow in this region. When we have a plough and harrow, will they give us food?”
“Leave it to the women to find that out,” replied the officer. “You see people do live here, and so may you, if you choose to do as others do—marry, and sit down peaceably to praise the Emperor's mercy in sending you here, when he might have taken your lives.”
Some one now asked if they were not to be provided with rifles, powder, and ball, as their subsistence must mainly depend on the chase. When they could purchase them, was the reply; these things were always to be had at Irkutsk.
It was well that the governor had more humanity, and understood better the necessities of the case, than the Russian escort. With the promised assortment of native women, he sent the most needful articles for which the exiles had inquired; and Ernest's first pleasurable thought this day was of going alone into the woods with his gun, when the rest of the party should be gone, to relieve his bursting heart where none might witness his anguish. A disgusting scene, however, had to be gone through first.
On coming in from a survey of his miserable plot of ground, he found Paul amusing- himself with making acquaintance with new comers, who had arrived in company with the rifles and fowling-pieces, to be examined and selected after somewhat the same manner as they. The gray-haired Alexander gazed with a grave countenance of philosophical curiosity. Sophia looked more terrified than it might have been supposed she could now ever feel; and her mother, who sat retired with her and the wondering Clara, was pale, and evidently appalled at the new society she seemed likely to be placed in. She looked eagerly for her husband and son, who were not in the hut. As soon as they appeared, she said, in a low voice,—
“Husband, this is worse than all.”
“It would have been so to me, Lenore, if you had not come with me; and Sophia, too. Tad-deus will not have anything to do with these people while his mother and sister are with him.”
Taddeus turned from the group at the door with no less disgust than Ernest; but it was not to meet his sister's eye. This family had no further wish to stay. They chose their implements and arms, put them into the kibitka, and begged to proceed without delay. Their companion, Andreas, allowed them to guide his movements as they would. He had a ruling passion, which he could not at present gratify; and, till he could, he remained perfectly passive.
When the adieus were spoken, amid many hopes of soon meeting again, and before the creaking kibitka was out of sight, Ernest ran and shut himself into Paul's neighbouring hut, since he could not get undisturbed possession of his own. He closed the ricketty door of deal-boards, set his back against it, rested his forehead on the butt-end of the fowling-piece he carried, and struggled in body as he had long struggled in spirit. A driving rack of thoughts swept through his brain, like the storm-clouds that he was destined to see deform many a wintry sky. Providence,—whether there be one or not, or where now hidden?—an instant recall of the doubt'; Man,—why doomed to connexion with, to subservience to, man? Life,—what it is, from pole to pole—from nothing to eternity? His own life,—at his mother's knee, in college halls, in the field,—and all for this ! His home, with its civilization and its luxuries;—his beloved Warsaw, with, its streets thronged as in former days, and not, as now, resounding with the voice of weeping;—the gallant army filing from its gates, and his own brave regiment, first going forth in the solemnity of its heroism, then sadly falling away when hope was over,—his own words, little thought of at the time—“My poor fellows, it is over ! leave me, and save yourselves;”—all these, and a thousand other images, came in turbulent succession, almost as rapidly as the pictures of a whole life flit before the very eyes of a drowning man; and from each was breathed, as it passed, the same thought—“and all for this!” Then came efforts to endure,—to reconcile himself to be the bondsman of an enemy; and though in a desert, watched from afar with eyes of malicious triumph! As if actually at this moment beheld in his retreat from the throne of Petersburgh, Ernest drew himself up, and commanded his emotion. But again the remembrance of his country, more potent than any considerations for himself, unnerved him, and again his head sank upon his breast, and the conflict was renewed. He was roused from it by a voice at the opening which was meant to serve for a window.
“Come, Colonel, make the best of it, and take a wife while one is to be had, as I have done.”
“I am going to make the best of it,” replied Ernest, starting from his position, and examining the lock of his piece; “but I am not going to take a wife.”
“Well come among us, at any rate, instead of staying in this cursed cold place: the women have pot us a fire already. But, bless me ! you have found the secret of warming yourself,” he continued, as Ernest came out, the perspiration yet standing on his forehead. “I beg your pardon, from the bottom of my soul, Colonel, if I have gone too far about taking a wife; if I have touched upon—”
“You have not, indeed, Paul. I was no more likely to take a wife in Warsaw than here.”
“Well, I am glad of it; but I shall always need a forbearance I cannot practise. There does not seem much temptation to joke in Siberia; but see if I do not joke my friends away from me, even here, before five years are over.”
“Joke away, friend, and we shall all thank you if you can keep it up for five years. But, Paul, this marrying—it is no joke. You will not, surely, give into any of the Emperor's schemes; you will not bring among us—”
“I will not be chilled, and starved, and solitary, while I can get anybody to take care of me, and keep me company,” replied Paul; “and let me tell you, a Mongolian wife has accomplishments which are not to be despised by a man in my condition,—as you might see presently, if you would condescend to give a little attention to them.”
Ernest looked impatient, and was turning his steps towards the woods, when Paul laid a finger on his arm, saying,
“I do not mean their white teeth and black hair, though some of them braid it very prettily; nor yet, altogether, that they can handle the plough while one goes out shooting; but you have no conception what use they make of eye and ear, and smell and touch. They can tell in the darkest night when one comes within twenty miles of a hamlet, by the smell of smoke; and, when there is no fog, they will distinguish the tread of a bear, or the neighing of a horse, or detect the tiniest white mouse stealing to its hole, at distances that you would not dream of. Think what a help in sporting!”
“No matter,” replied Ernest; “I thought you had too much disgust at being a slave yourself to wish to have one of your own.”
“But, Colonel, did you ever know me use anybody ill?”
“Never, except yourself: seriously, I mean. I will not say what you have done in jest.”
“The jesting happens very well in the present case; for a merrier and more sociable set than these girls I never saw. But I really mean to be very kind to my wife; and you will soon see how fond she will grow of me, and what I shall make of her.”
“And when we go back to Warsaw—what then?”
“My dear fellow ! you do not expect that, surely?”
“I do! And at your peril say a single word against it,” said Ernest, vehemently, to his astonished companion. “Do you think I will live here? Here! hedged in with forests! buried in snow ! petrified in ice ! while the tyrant watches me struggling in his snares, and laughs! No! I shall go back to Warsaw !”
“But how?—tell me how?”
“How? Step by step, if I live; in one long flight, if I die. Oh! if it should please Providence that I should die in these wastes, I will wring from Him that which I have not hitherto obtained. I will open a volcano in these wilds that shall melt all the snows between yonder lake and our own river. I will make a causeway in one night through all the steppes, and in the morning every Pole shall be marching to Petersburgh to drag the dastard—”
“Come, come,” said Paul, “no more of this. I must take care of you for once, Ernest, and bid you be reasonable. You will take me for Nicholas next, and shoot me as you would him, or his likeness—a hyaena.”
“Have patience with me,” replied Ernest, resuming his calmness, “and leave me my own way of making the best of things, as you say. My way is to dream of going home, in the body or in the spirit.”
“Aye; but we shall be afraid to let you go out shooting alone, lest you should see the towers of Warsaw at the bottom of the Baikal, or be persuaded that a pull of your trigger will take you to them.”
“No fear, Paul. I am most religious when alone; and I shall best recover my faith where man is nut present to drown the whispers of Providence, or mar the signs He holds out in the skies and on the mountain tops. Even these heavens are measured out with the golden compasses; and the same sun which shines on the graves of our heroes fires the pines on yonder mountain steep, and unlocks its torrents in spring.”
“How much further will your faith carry you? To forgive Nicholas?”
Ernest drew a long breath between his teeth, but calmly replied—
“Perhaps even so far. Philosophy alone might lead me to this, if it could so enable me to enter into the constitution of a tyrant's mind as to conceive the forces under which it acts.”
“But, once allowing that it is acted upon by forces, known or unknown, you cannot withhold forgiveness? Your faith refers all forces to one master impulse, does it not?”
“It does; and therefore my faith, when perfected, will impel me to forgive,—even Nicholas. But no more of him now. Shall I bring you some water-fowl? Can your fair Mongolian tell you how much longer they will stay with us? Their flight must be very near.”
And without waiting for an answer, the badged Siberian serf strode into the pine-woods with a step very like that of a free man.