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Chapter III.: A WOUNDED SPIRIT. - 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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A WOUNDED SPIRIT.
If Owzin and his family had been offered a choice whether to be attached to the soil as serfs, or to work in the silver mine by the mouth of which they were located, they would have found it difficult to make their decision. Amidst the manifold woes of both positions, each had some advantages over the other. The regular amount of labour required of the miners,—labour in which there was room for the exercise of intelligence,—was a relief rather than a burden to overwrought minds and sinking hearts; while they might not have had resolution to appoint for themselves, and execute, a daily task on plots of land for whose improvement they were responsible only at the end of the season. On the other hand, they were exposed to the control of Russian task-masters; and it was all a chance whether they would be tyrannical, or whether they would appreciate and reward skill and industry. Again, the dwellings of the miners were somewhat less wretched than those of the cultivators, and were situated, high and dry, among picturesque rocks, instead of standing alone in the midst of a marsh, or on the borders of dreary fir-woods. On the other hand, again, the cultivators could supply themselves with necessaries from their own resources, while the miners suffered much for some time from the want of all but the commonest necessaries, and seemed likely to be always exposed to the inconveniences attending the rudest state of barter. Those who had been long settled had agreed upon plans of mutual accommodation as to providing furniture, clothing, and food; but it was difficult for new comers to obtain a share of the compact; both because an increased demand is rather a trouble than an advantage, in a very rude system of barter, and because it must be some time before they could have any thing to change away which their neighbours would be willing to take. Of all the silver which passed through their hands, not one grain was to become their property; nor, if it had, would it have been of any use to them: for no coin was circulated in this wild region, and metal in its native state is neither fit for ornament nor for a medium of exchange. The neighbouring peasantry cared nothing for silver, further than as something which was valued by great people at a distance, and gave consequence to the region they inhabited, and brought new settlers into it. They knew nothing of the use of money, and merely exchanged with one another so much rye every year for so much cloth, coarsely woven from wool that came from the south in exchange for skins. In like manner, rough-hewn deal benches went for game or bear's flesh; and no one article was fixed upon which might maintain a tolerably steady value, and change away for all other things. Such a plan would have simplified their commerce considerably, and have admitted strangers to share it; but they did not wish to have their commerce simplified, and strangers must shift for themselves as they best might.
The little company of Poles were some time in learning to do this cleverly; and they endured more hardship than they need have done. If they had been voluntary settlers, seeking their fortunes, they would have found the elements of prosperity even here; but they were perpetually suffering under a sense of injury; and there was a spirit of listlessness, if not unwillingness, in them about improving their state, which protracted their inconveniences in a way that one or two of the more buoyant-minded of the party did not scruple to call very foolish. Paul, in the one settlement, and Andreas, in the other, were the first who rallied, and began to stimulate their companions to ingenuity and forethought; and they had efficient helpers,—the one in his native wife, and the other in his little daughter Clara. Ernest cared for nothing but solitude; and of Owzin's family, the only one who seemed fit for a state of adversity—of this kind of adversity, at least, —was Lenore. Each morning before it was necessary to be stirring,—hours before the day began to break,—Owzin rose from his bed of disturbed sleep; disturbed, not by the hardness of the planks, or the ill-odour of the hide on which he slept, or by the suffocating smoke with which it was necessary to fill the hut to keep out the cold; not by these, for Owzin had been a soldier, and had learned to sleep in any temperature, and on the bare battle-field; but by cruel thoughts, which came back all the more vividly at night, for being driven off amidst the toils of the day. Lighting his torch of pine-wood, he went forth before the night-fogs were dispersed, or while the stars glittered like steel through the biting air, and was always the first to arrive at the shaft, and to bury himself in the dark chambers of the mine. Taddeus soon followed to the smelting-house, which was the province of his labours. There, amidst heat and toil, the father and son could lose in part the sense of their misfortunes for hours together; for nothing is so beguiling as labour: at least, when that of the head must aid that of the hands, which is the case in most mining operations.
The women were far more unhappily circumstanced. Though they wanted almost every thing, there was little for them to do, from the absence of materials. They looked around them upon a scene of discomfort which they could not remedy, and felt themselves as helpless as ladies of their rank often are in much happier circumstances. When Taddeus had been attended to the smelting-house by his anxious mother, who always went with him to carry his food and ease his painful steps, and when Sophia had meanwhile ventilated the hut and removed the sleeping-skins, little employment remained, but to collect more wood to burn, more moss to stop up crevices, and to see how nearly their stock of food was consumed. Their clothes began to drop to pieces; but they had neither spinning-wheel, distaff, nor wool. The draught under the door seemed to cut off their feet at the ancles, and the floor was damp, although the oven was always kept heated; but carpets were a luxury unheard of, and not a yard of matting was to be seen nearer than Irkutsk. There was one little person, however, who did not see why these things need be; and that was Clara. She had the advantage of childhood in being able to accommodate herself to a new set of circumstances, and she had learned from her father how to make the most of whatever came to hand,—though their object was different enough; her's being the pleasure of enterprise, and his pure avarice.
The case of Andreas was, in his own opinion, a desperately hard one; and he secretly advanced as nearly as he dared towards cursing Providence for it. He cared no more than the babe of six months, who ruled over Poland, and what character its government bore; and during many months, while the struggle was pending, he preserved, and with ease, a strict neutrality. At last, however, an army contract, which he had peculiar means of supplying with profit to himself, was offered by the patriots. This appeal to his ruling passion overcame him. He was one of the first of the inhabitants of Warsaw that the Russians laid hold of; and he who had never had a patriotic thought in his life, who would have prayed for the Emperor or the Diet as mammon pointed to the one or the other, was punished in the same degree with those who were really guilty of loving their country. It was very hard thus to lose all the gains and scrapings of nearly twenty years, and to be deprived of the prospect of making any more. It was very hard that his property, of all men's, should be confiscated, when, of all men, he cared most for the property and least for the cause. From his feeling his misfortune so acutely, and being absorbed in it during the journey, his daughter felt it little. For many weeks, he never once reproached her with wasting anything, or being idle, and she was therefore happier than usual during the long journey; for she minded cold and fatigue little in comparison with her father's watchfulness. Nor did her spirits sink when arrived at her future home, for it was less dull than the one at Warsaw. There she was closely mewed up, to be kept out of mischief; and from the day that she had lost her dear mamma, she had never known what companionship was. Here, she had liberty at first to do what she pleased; and when some degree of restraint followed, from her father resuming certain of his old feelings and ways, it was compensated for by an increase of consequence. She began by wandering abroad to watch the field mice to their holes, and pulling rushes to weave baskets in play. Her father, seeing the capabilities of both these amusements, employed her in stripping the nests of these mice of their winter store of onions and other roots, in collecting rushes enough to cover the floor when dried, and even in attempts to weave them into a sort of matting. When Clara thus found her sports turned into work, she consoled herself with being proud of it, and thought she had good reason to be so when she saw even the wise and grave Lenore adopting her little plans, and trying to make matting too. Sophia also began to follow her when she went into the woods to pull moss at the foot of the trees, or climbed rocks to see how the wild birds built, that she might know where to look for eggs in spring. Sophia was sometimes moody and sometimes kind, but the little girl had always been used to moodiness in her father, and to kindness no one was more sensible; so that, on the whole, she would rather have Sophia's companionship than not.
As for Sophia, anything like enjoyment was out of the question for one whose mind was so embittered as hers. Unable to be soothed by her mother's tenderness, yet obliged to regard her with high respect, she felt relieved to be out of her presence; and yet the solitude of these wildernesses was oppressive to her restless spirit; so that the society of a child was welcome as a refuge from something more irksome still, and the child's pursuits beguiled her of more minutes and hours than anything else could have done. She too began to look for a mouse's nest, now and then, and to learn to distinguish the traces of game and wild animals. Her mother perceived this with pleasure, and hoped that she discerned in it a means of interesting her unhappy son and daughter in one object, and of bringing them into something like their former state of intercourse. If she could but once secure their remaining together, without witnesses, for a few hours, so as to be tempted to free communication, she thought it impossible but that they must understand one another, and mutually forgive.
It was a thing agreed upon that Owzin, Taddeus, and Andreas should go out in turn in pursuit of game, for the common good, before or after the hours of work at the mine. On holidays, which were not very rare occasions, they were at liberty to unite their forces for a hunt on a larger scale; but, in the common way, it was thought better for one only to go, as the fatigue of their daily labour was quite enough for the strength of those who were new to the occupation. Owzin preferred making excursions quite alone; and as he could have no four-footed helper, chose to have none at all. Andreas presently found that the attendance of his little daughter would be very convenient to him, and he therefore speedily trained her to perform the part, not only of gamekeeper, but of spaniel. She not only carried the powder, and bagged the game, but plunged among the reeds to disturb the fowl, and waded in the shallow water to bring out those that had fallen wounded or dead. Few fathers would have thought of exposing a child thus to cold and wet; but Andreas had a great idea of making Clara hardy, as well as of shortening his own work as much as possible, and he therefore wrapt her in skins which could be changed with little trouble when she had been in the water, and obliged her, on emerging, to start a hare, or take some such exercise to warm her. Though it was by no means desirable that Sophia should undergo discipline of this kind, it was that poor Taddeus, lame and fatigued, should have a companion and helper: and when his mother had accompanied him once or twice, it was naturally Sophia's turn. She looked astonished and indignant at being asked, and replied that she had rather he should take Clara.
“Clara had her share yesterday,” said Lenore; “and I must see that our little hand-maiden is not wearied out among us all. Besides, Taddeus wants more help than she has strength to give. He should be relieved of his gun, and wants a shoulder to lean upon in difficult places.
“If my father would but have taught me to load and fire,” exclaimed Sophia, “I might have gone alone; for there is such a quantity of game that very little sporting skill is required.”
“Ask your brother to give you a lesson to day,” replied Lenore, “and then you and Clar may save our harder workers the toil they undergo, partly for our sakes. But I shall hardly like your going alone till, by some means or other, better guns are to be had.”
“Papa says that his misses fire three times out of four,” observed Clara.
“I do not like the idea of a bear-hunt while this is the case,” said Lenore. “It is a fearful thing to miss fire when within reach of the gripe of a bear.”
“As Poland has found,” said Sophia gloomily. “It is an ugly hug that the monster gives; but some manage to get a knife into its heart while it is at the closest.”
“My child,” said her mother, mournfully, “why are your thoughts for ever set upon revenge? Why—”
“Revenge !” cried Sophia, clenching her small fingers, and looking upon them with contempt. “No, mother; it is folly for us to think of revenge. If I had been a soldier,—if I had made the false promise to serve the Emperor for twenty-five years,—if I had taken the false oath of allegiance forced upon these loyal new soldiers, I might have thought of revenge: I might have stolen through forests, crept across the steppes, waded, dived,—made my way like Satan into Eden, to dog the Emperor's heels, and get within reach of his heart's-blood. But a woman in eastern Siberia cannot do all this, and must not think of revenge. But hatred is left, mother;—women and slaves can hate !”
“I cannot,” replied Lenore.
“I am sorry for you, mother. There is a pleasure in it; and, God knows, we have few pleasures left.”
“What pleasure, Sophia?”
“The pleasure of changing everything about one to one's own mood; of staining these snows, and blasting these pine woods, and dimming the sun and stars.”
“The pleasure of a child that beats the floor, of an idiot that grinds his teeth: the pleasure of spite. My poor child! is this your best pleasure?”
“Mother, all is changed in the same way, and at once, so that there is no struggle, like the child's or the idiot's. I never was so calm in my life as I have been since we left Warsaw.”
“Because you hate all. You say there is no struggle.”
“I hate all that has to do with the Emperor. This waste of snow, and these woods are his.”
“And the sun and stars?”
“The sun and stars of Siberia, mother ; and every thing that moves on his territory.”
“Yes, my dear: I see it all. You hate Andreas.”
“Who would not? The mean-souled, cringing wretch!”
“And Taddeus?—you hate Taddeus, Sophia.”
Sophia was some time before she answered; but, as Lenore continued to look steadily in her face, she at length said, in a low voice,
“Mother, I loathe him. When he is away, I can turn my thoughts from it: but when I am with him,—that limp of his,—his voice,—they make my heart sick.”
“Grief made your heart sick, my child; and you cannot separate that grief from the sight of your brother's lameness, or from the voice which told you the tidings. These things are not Taddeus : though, alas ! he suffers from your hatred as if they were. But, Sophia, how is this wounded spirit of yours to be healed?”
“O ! let nobody think of healing it, mother. I am happier as it is. I am happier than you. You rise with swollen eyes when I have been sleeping. Your countenance falls when you hear me laugh; and you are altered, mother, very much altered of late. It would be better for you to be as calm as I am.”
“And for your father? Would it be better for all if each grew indifferent? The easiest way then would be to live each in a cave alone, like wild beasts.”
“Much the easiest,” exclaimed Sophia, drawing a long breath, as if impatient of confinement beneath a roof. “1 am so tired of the whole domestic apparatus,—the watching and waiting upon one another, and coaxing and comforting, when we all know there can be no comfort; the—”
“I know no such thing. There is comfort, and I feel it. But I will not speak to you of it now, my dear, because I know you cannot enter into it.”
“Not now, nor ever, mother.”
“Yes, Sophia; hereafter. You cannot suppose that your present feelings are to last through your existence?”
An internal shudder was here visible which gave the lie to what the sufferer had said of the enviableness of her calm state of feeling. Her mother continued,—
“Just tell me what you are to do with such a spirit as yours in the next world?”
“How do we know that there is another world?” cried Sophia, impatiently.” I know you told me so when I was a child, and that you think so still. But I see nothing to make one believe it; but the contrary. What is worn out, drops to pieces and is done with. What-ever is weary goes to sleep and is conscious of nothing, and so it will he with us and the world about us. We shall soon be weary enough, and it is folly to pretend that we shall therefore go somewhere to be more lively and active than ever. The world is wearing out very fast: so everybody hopes, unless it be the Emperor. Let it fall to pieces then, and be done with, and the sooner the better.”
“It will outlast your unbelief, my child.”
“No, mother; mine is not a fickle,—it is a progressive mind. A year ago, if we had been coming here, I should have expected to see some such sights as Clara apprehends, when she looks fearfully round her. J should have watched for flitting spirits among the rucks, and have sung hymns in the woods, and fancied they were heard and answered, because there are echoes about us. I am wiser now, and shall not go back into the old state. I see things as they are, bleak and bare, and soulless. You will not find me among the worshippers of the Charmed Sea. I leave such worship to the peasants.”
“And another kind of worship to us to whom all things are not bleak and bare. But, Sophia, how far is your mind to be progressive, and why, if there is so soon to be an end of it?”
Sophia was not prepared with a very clear answer to this. She denied that, by progression, She meant anything proceeding regularly, according to a plan. All that she meant was that she once believed a great many things that she did not know, and now she only believed what her senses taught her.
“And do you believe what actually passes before your eyes ?” inquired her mother.
“Why, one would think,” said Sophia, half laughing, “that you knew what passed within one. Do you know, mother, all the things that I see are often so like shadows or dreams, that I am obliged to touch and grasp them before I am sure that I am awake.”
“I knew it, my dear. Your life is like the adventure of a sleep-walker: but are not you aware how sure sleep-walkers sometimes are that they know better what they are about than those who are awake ? I do not ask you to take my word on any matters of faith. I only ask you to believe the word of one who has never deceived you, that there is calmness to be had without hating, and comfort without superstition,”
“If you mean to tell me so from your own experience, mother. I must believe you: but if you are going to tell me that Ernest is calm and Paul comfortable, that is a different thing.”
“I can tell you of myself, my child. I am not happy, and it would be mocking Providence to pretend to be so; but I am not without comfort. You speak of swollen eyes; but tears flow from other causes than grief. Night is the time for devotion, and there are some who can seldom look up into the starry heavens without the homage of emotion. You say my countenance falls when you laugh: and I dare say it is true, for your laugh now gives me more pain than any sound I hear. But even this is not a hopeless pain. I believe that everything proceeds according to a plan,—the progression of your mind, as well as of yonder morning star towards its setting,—the working out of your suffering, and of Cyprian's punishment—”
At the mention of the name, Sophia flinched as if pierced through the marrow. The next moment, she gazed fiercely at her mother, who met her eye with a mild look of compassion.
“I have done wrong, my child, in avoiding all mention of this name so long. Nay: hear me. We each know that he is perpetually in our thoughts: that every foot-fall is taken for his, every deep tone felt to thrill us like his: every—”
“Stop, mother, stop. Nobody can—nobody dares—he is mine; and if any one—”
“No one shall speak his name lightly, my love; but you cannot prevent our remembering him. You would not wish it.”
“Yes, I would have him forgotten,—utterly.”
“No, Sophia, that cannot be. It was on my shoulder that you first wept your confession that you loved him; it was to me that you both came, when your love was not too engrossing for sympathy; and by me, therefore, shall your love never be forgotten. If it were forgotten, how could I trust for forgiveness for you? You will ask me why I should either hope or pray for you. It is because I have faith; and I have faith because I have not, like you, been tried beyond my strength. I have your father left me, and my deprivations are therefore nothing to yours; nothing to make my heart sick, if yours were less so.”
Sophia grieved her mother by coldly entreating that she might not add to her sorrows in any way. She was so far from being; tried beyond her strength, that at present she did not feel herself tried at all. Nobody could have less occasion for effort, for strength. That was all over long ago, She must beg that she might occasion no uneasiness. Nothing could be further from her wish.
“I tale you at your word,” said Lenore, with a calmness which was the result of strong effort, for she saw that the moment for indulging tenderness was not yet come. “I take you at your word. If you wish to save me uneasiness, go with Taddeus to-day.”
“O, certainly. It will he a very creditable clay to begin, too: a fine day for sport, if we can but get out before the fogs come on. Those fogs are so choking, and this smoke too ! Between the two, one can scarcely breathe anywhere. What is there wanting to be done before I go? Is there nothing that I can do to save you trouble?”
Lenore shook her head, and said no more.
“One thing besides,” said Sophia, returning from the door; “I go with Taddeus because you wish it: but if he dares to whisper so much as—”
“He will not.”
“You are sure ?”
“Quite sure. I advised him not, and I have his promise.”
“Why was I not assured of this before? It might have saved you much pain.”
“Who could venture, my dear?”
“You have ventured, you see, and where is the harm?” asked Sophia, with a stiff smile. As she turned away again, she thought within herself,—
“If I could feel in any way as I used to do, I should be full of remorse for treating my mother so coldly. But it cannot hurt her, as I am also different towards every body else. No;it cannot hurt her: and so—it does not signify. Nothing signifies.”
Yet at this very moment Sophia felt her flesh creep at the sound of Taddeus's limping tread approaching.
“I am going with you, Taddeus,” said she, lightly, “and you are to teach me to load and fire;” and she talked on till out of her mother's hearing, when she became suddenly silent.
She was not the less obsequious to her brother, watching every motion, and offering attentions which were painful to him from being overstrained. Presently they saw their little friend Clara in an odd situation, which afforded some relief to their formality. She was doing battle with a large bird, the Russian turkey, which had been caught in a snare laid by Andreas. Clara had been walking round and round at a safe distance, pondering how best to attack the creature, whose flapping wings and threatening countenance might well seem alarming to a little girl.
“Stand aside, my dear, and I will dispatch him,” said Taddeus, and the turkey forthwith ceased its clamour.
“I will carry him home; lie is too heavy for you,” said Sophia, “and you will go with Taddeus. You know so much better—”
“I can't go to-day,” replied the child. “I went yesterday, and there is a great deal indeed to do at home.” And the little house-keeper gave a very sage account of the domestic duties that lay before her.
Sophia would not listen to some, and promised to discharge others; but, seeing that the child looked distressed, Taddeus declared that she should go where she liked, slung the big bird over her shoulders, and sent her tripping homewards.
In the midst of the next wood they saw somebody moving among the firs at a distance. Sophia changed colour, as she always did on distinguishing a human figure in unfrequented places. Another soon appeared, whose aspect left no doubt as to who the first was. They were Paul and his wife.
“Well met!” cried Sophia, disengaging herself from her brother, and running on to meet them. “You three will take care of one another admirably; and, Paul, your wife will carry Taddeus's gun when he is tired, and you will see him safe on the way home; and the game may lie any where that he chooses to put it till the evening, and I will go for it. And O, Paul, we want some more money sadly, and you must give us some, for our guns are not to be trusted to shoot it. You see we cannot get more money without better guns, nor yet better guns without more money.”
And Sophia took flight without any resistance from her brother, who could not indeed very reasonably require her to be the companion of Paul's wife in a sporting expedition.