Front Page Titles (by Subject) Chapter IV.: A LODGE IN THE WILDERNESS. - Illustrations of Political Economy, vol. 5
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Chapter IV.: A LODGE IN THE WILDERNESS. - 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 LODGE IN THE WILDERNESS.
It does not follow that Sophia had lost her senses because she talked of shouting money.— of re-plenishing the funds of the little company by means of rifle and powder. It only follows that their money was not made of gold and silver.
“I think, Paul,” said Taddeus, “you change your arms as often as a court-lady varies her dress. The last time we met, you were carrying a lance twice as long as yourself, and to-day you have a bundle of arrows.”
“According to our game should be our arms. When we begin to hunger for bear's flesh, I carry a lance, and bring old Alexander with me to teach the creature to squat on its hind legs, convenient for a thrust. I tell him he will be qualified to lead one about the streets of Warsaw by the time we get back. To-day, I come out for skins,—sables if I can get them; and am my wife's pupil for the occasion. She made these arrows,—blunt, you see, so as not to injure the skins, and she is to bring down the first we see. She carries my rifle, however, that we may not lose the chance of other game by the way.”
“Are your sable-skins for sale or exchange?”
“O, for sale, to be sure. Our money system must extend very much before we shall want so valuable a medium. The inhabitants of a poor hamlet can get on a long time with copper and silver before they begin to want gold: and mouse, ounce, and hare skins may serve us at present as well as sables could do. But how do your neighbours take to your plan of exchange by a medium .? Do they see that it is more convenient than barter?”
“Many do; and this is the reason why we are in want of more skins, as Sophia told you. The man who was vexed with us for not taking a whole sheep, when we really did not want to have more than a quarter of one, and had nothing so valuable as a whole one to give in return, was more angry than ever when we first offered him a hare-skin for a quarter of his mutton, and told him that you would give him a wicker seat and basket for the same hare-skin. And his wife thought us fools for offering to take three or four ounce-skins in exchange for two of Clara's mats. But now they begin to find it convenient for those who have little merchandise to barter away, to make some one article a sort of rough measure of the value of the rest.”
“The women like the plan, I will answer for it,” said Paul. “Instead of having to carry the carcase of a whole sheep about with them, with a bench and a bundle of clothing, perhaps, in addition, with the chance of having to convey them all home again, because nobody may happen to want just these things at this very time, and in these very quantities, they have now only to tie up their package of skins, and go out bargaining, trusting that those who want mutton will come in like manner to them. O. yes: the burden-bearers mutt find their account in there being, at last, a medium of exchange.”
“But how is it that they had had none before.?” said Taddeus. “One would have thought that the burden-bearers, at least, would have been driven to such a device long ago.”
“Burden-l earers have more bright ideas than their lords allow them to make use of,” observed Paul. “I will ask my good lady whether the ever thought of such a thing, while she roved about, in the south at her mother's heels.”
And Paul beckoned to his wife, Emilia, (for so he had called her,) and by means of gesticulations and gibberish, of which Taddeus could make nothing, learned from her that the men of the southern tribes valued their possessions at so many horses, or so many sheep, and that they had no other measure.
“As clumsy folks as the patriarchs themselves,” pronounced Paul, “though the world is so many ages older. Only conceive what a method for rovers to carry their purses! Instead of a pocket-book, or a money-bag, or even a package of skins, to have to transport herds of horses, and droves of sheep spreading half a mile square. Why, a rich man must keep a dozen salaried purse-bearers, instead of having his wealth in his pocket, or under lock and key.”
“Do not forget the advantage,” replied Taddeus,—“no small one in the deserts of Asia,— of being able to eat one's money when one is hungry, which is not the case with gold and silver, nor even with our skins.”
“True; but still they might easily have other denominations of money for common use on small occasions.”
“Even as we may, if necessary. At present, our money serves either for use or exchange. We can either make mittens of our mouse-skins, and leggings of our hare-skins, or give them in return for fish and rye-bread; and hereafter—”
“Hereafter,” interrupted Paul, “the Siberians may grow civilized enough to have money that is fit for nothing but to be money, like the paper-medium of our merchants; but it will hardly be in our time. There is gold and silver money still in every country in Europe, and gold and silver are used for ornaments and dinner-services as well as for coinage. But my good woman has something more to tell us. Do look at her now, and say whether you ever saw a European wife wait so prettily for leave to speak.”
Taddeus had no pleasure in witnessing the slavish delight testified by Emilia when her lord seemed disposed to attend to her. He turned away from seeing her loaded with caresses with nearly as much disgust as if they had been stripes; and his thoughts glanced proudly and painfully towards the daughters and sisters of the heroes of Poland. He was in a reverie when Paul called him to look at a little ornament of virgin silver which Emilia carried at the end of each of the thick braids of hair which hung down on either side her head.
“She says,” continued Paul, “that the women carried on exchanges among themselves which their lords had nothing to do with. These bits of silver, with a very few of gold, are liked the best; then come bright pebhles, and lastly, flakes of something which I take to he the semi-transparent mica that we were talking of making windows of.”
“Their lords might, for once, have condescended to receive a lesson from them,” observed Taddeus. “The ladies used the more convenient media, in my opinion.”
“I think we might take the hint,” said Paul. “I question whether we shall not soon find our-selves in difficulties, not only as to the quantity but the quality of our money. Our skins get sadly worn by passing from hand to hand; and our neighbours will refuse to take them when the hair is all off, and they look like nothing better than bits of old leather.”
“Besides,” observed Taddeus, “there are no means of keeping those of the same denomination of equal value. One mouse's skin may be as good as another, at first; but it depends on how much each circulates, and on what care is taken of both, whether they are equally fit to be made mittens of at the close of the season. There will be endless trouble whenever our neighbours begin to look sharp, choose which mouse's skins they will take in exchange, and which not.”
“There is another clanger,” responded Paul, “though a distant one. The seasons here do not affect all animals alike, and a winter that may freeze our poor little mice in their holes, may do no harm to the ounces or hares. Now, if it should happen that we could for a whole year get no mice, and double the number of hares, our whole commerce will become perplexed. No one will know whether he is rich or not, if the value of his money is totally changed; and little Clara may find that she can buy more with a single mouse's skin than her father with the twenty hare-skins he will have been hoarding for years !”
“It js very difficult to devise a kind of money that is steady in its value,” replied Taddeus. “Metals will always prove the best, I should think.”
“Yes; because they may be divided into very small portions; and they are little subject to wear and tear; and they carry great value in small bulk, so as to he convenient in removal.”
“So far so good. All this is true of such chance bits as are dangling at your wife's shoulders; bits found near our smelting-house, or in the beds of rivers. But to make them as useful as they may be made, they must be coined. Without this, they cannot be marked out into denominations, nor, if they could, would their value remain steady. We could only determine the denomination of jagged, misshapen pieces of silver like those by perpetual weighing; and there would be many gradations between the weights required. And the circumstance of a thief running away with a handful, or of some lucky person picking up a dozen pieces in a day, would change the value, both of each denomination, and of all together, in a way which can scarcely take place where the process of coining has to be gone through, before the metals can be used as money.”
Paul thought that beauty was a quality which should be taken into consideration in the choice of all things that man meant to possess himself (if, from a wife to a pair of mittens. Now, he thought gold and silver by far the prettiest commodities that car. pass for any length of time from hand to hand.
“Clara would give it against you there,” replied Taddeus. “She is a great admirer of bright feathers, and would think such bunches of them as the Indians use as pretty a kind of money as need be devised. She had a fine assortment of them in her little cabinet at home. She was wondering, the other day, poor child, whose hands they were in now, and saying how gaily they would dress up the screen that she is weaving, to stand between the door and the oven. She thinks our mouse-skins very soft and pretty, too, and would like of all things to have a snow-white hare for a favourite, that she might cherish its beautiful coat.”
“Look, look !” cried Paul, “there is a Persian duck among the reeds. If I can get it for Clara, she need not wish for a prettier bunch of feathers than it will make. Shall I use powder, or try my arrows? I give you warning that we shall have a terrible din if I fire, whether I hit my mark or not.”
“Try the arrow first, for the feathers' sake. You can but fire at last.”
The arrow whizzed from Paul's inexperienced hand over the back of the beautiful bird, just touching the tuft on its head. It setup a scream, which caused a plashing in all the marshes fora mile round, and roused innumerable woodcocks from their nests among the reeds. Emilia, out of patience that such a hubbub had ensued upon the failure of an arrow made by her, snatched the bow, and shot without more ado, while the things of the bird were yet spread. The duck sprang convulsively out ot the water, plumped in again, and sank; but the lady was already up to the middle in the water. She, too, dived, and presently reappeared with the prey between her teeth, seized upon two more unfortunate birds which happened'to be within reach, strangled them, shook the water from their oily plumage, and laid them down at her husband's feet. Then she returned for the arrow which had been first shot, found, and presented it, and retired behind the sportsmen, wringing her hair and garment, and being ready for further orders. Paul could not restrain his admiration at all this. Unlike the Indian who awaits such performances from his squaw in profound gravity, and takes no notice when they are done, he clapped, shouted, looked as if he was going to jump in after her, and rewarded her, wet as she was, with a kiss and a hearty shake of the hand, when the adventure was over.
Taddeus seemed to admire the duck more than the lady.
“What a splendid creature 1” said he. “What size! What proportions!”
“Ave, has she not? And such an eye, too !”
“So you can pet over the slant up from the nose. I think nothing of it; but, Alexander—”
“Beak, I should rather say. How jet black that beak is! And the crest that rose and fell in its terror. And the plumage ! Clara had not a finer rose colour in all her cabinet.”
“O, you are talking of the duck ! I thought you meant Emilia; and I am sure there is the most to admire in her of the two. But you have not seen half her accomplishments yet. There was no room for her to swim in that pond. She swims beautifully. You shall see her in some broad reach of the Selinga some day, when she goes to watch the beavers. She might help them to build. On my honour, she can stay in the wafer for hours together, and keep under to frighten me, till I expect never to see her again. 0, you have no idea yet what she can do.”
“She can see in the dark like an owl, you say, and track game like a pointer, and fetch it like a spaniel, and hearken like a deer, and run like an ostrich. Now, tell me what she can do like a woman.”
“Cook my dinner, and keep my house warm, and wait upon me.”
“So this is to be a woman, is it?”
“Yes; and a few other things. To scrape lint and nurse the wounded was proper woman's employment down in Poland yonder. As for the other things you value so much,—the power of thinking, and reasoning, and all that,—where is the Polish woman that would not now be better without it?”
“In the same way, I suppose, as their husbands and brothers would be better without either thoughts or feelings. Polish men would be happier now as savages than as enslaved heroes, and, in like manner, women would he better;is nu-ie animals than as rational beings; therefore, patriotism is to be eschewed by the one sex, and rationality by the other. This is your reasoning, is it not .?”
“Let us have no reasoning, pray. AH I mean is, that I am sorry to see your mother look so wasted, and your sister so haggard; and that I wish they could be as happy as my little woman. There! she has started a sable.”
And Paul, who had talked more gravity this, day than any day since the loss of the last battle in which he fought, bounded off to his sport. He was not recoverable, for five minutes together, till near nightfall, going hither and thither, taster than Taddeus could follow him, and having not a word to spare while taking aim, or beating about for a new prey. He was very careful of his friend, however, making signs to Emilia that she was to attend upon and aid him to the utmost. At first, Taddeus would rather hae been left to himself, and found it difficult to receive the lady's kind offices thankfully; but they really were offices of kindness, and so modestly and gently urged, that his repugnance gave way, and he soon submitted to have his infirmity relieved by one who was certainly a far belter help in guiding, walking, and preparing for sport, than either his mother or sister could have been.
To his own surprise, he was not the first to think of returning home, though he had presently obtained all the game he wanted. While he was still moving onwards, and Paul was roving, nobody knew where, Emilia began to look about her, and up into the sky, with a countenance of some anxiety, ami a gesture implying that she either felt very cold, or expected soon to feel so. It had not been one of the most Irving days Taddeus had known. The sun, very low in the sky. had shone with a dim, hazy light, in which, however, there was some warmth. There had been little wind, and that little had not told of frost. The heavens were grey and there was a very dark line to windward; but this was so visual, as was the moaning among the firs which now began to make itself heard, that Taddeus would have taken no particular notice of it if Emilia had not appeared to do so. Communication by language not having yet been established between him and his supporter, he could not make out the extent of her tears, till she at length slipped from under the arm which leaned on her shoulder, climbed a neighbouring pine like the nimblest of the squirrels that harboured near, and uttered a peculiar call, which could be heard to a vast distance, from its unlikeness to any of the deep and grave sounds of a northern wilderness. She came down, and pointed the way back; refusing, by signs, to wait for Paul, and seeming confident that he would immediately follow. He did not appear, however, and again she climbed, and again she called, more loudly and hastily, as volumes of black clouds unrolled themselves before the wind, and seemed to sink as well as spread. Taddeus saw that she apprehended snow, but was not fully aware how very soon the atmosphere, in its now approaching state, becomes incapable of transmitting sound to any distance; and that if Paul vas to be warned homewards by the cry, it must be immediately. It was not long; before he came, considerably out of humour at finding; that both his companions were safe and well. He had concluded that some accident had caused such repeated alarms, and was vexed to have been called off from very tempting chase.
“Call, call, call !” he exclaimed; “they came as thick as an English traveller's calls at an hotel; and all for nothing. I wonder the jade dared to take such a liberty with me. She made my heart turn over; I can tell you that. I thought of nothing less than that a bear had hugged one of you. Before I was frightened, I would not hear her, for you never saw such a beautiful animal as I was at the heels of. A black fox, if you will believe me; but you won't; nor any body else, for black foxes are oftener seen than caught; and so one is winked at for a tale-telling traveller, if one says what I am saying now. But it was a black fox, as sure as that is a white hare over your shoulder; and I should have had him in another minute, if that jade had not sent a call that went through me when my shot should have gone through him. His coat would have been a fortune to me. My hut would have been a palace presently, in comparison with Ernest's, to say nothing of the glory of being the first of you to shoot a black fox. And to have been called off just because there is snow in the air ! As if snow was as rare here as it is at Timbuctoo!”
And thus the disappointed sportsman went on growling,—not so that his wile could understand linn. She only comprehended that, for some unknown cause, her potent lord was displeased with her. This was enough to make her look very penitent. She scarcely glanced at the threatening sky, when Taddeus pointed it out as her excuse, and stood, looking the quintessence of a slave, till motioned to to lead the way.
She led them nearly as straight as the arrow flies;—a mode of proceeding more practicable in that country than in many less wild. The forests were not tangled, like those of a southern region, but composed of multitudes of stems, bare to the height of some feet from the ground. There were few small streams in the plains; and those few were rendered passable by stepping-stones, the precise situation of which Emilia seemed to know by instinct. Though it was now nearly dark, she did not, in one instance, fail to arrive in a straight line with the passage over the stream: nor did she once pause, as if perplexed, when her companions saw nothing but a wilderness of wood around them. There was no hope of star-light guidance this evening.
The clouds hung so low that they seemed to rest on the tops of the stunted firs: and they slowly rolled and tumbled, as if they were about to en-wreath and carry up those who were moving beneath them. It was time now, Paul perceived, to cease his grumbling;, as something more important was on hand than the chase of a black fox. On issuing from a wood, a blinding, suffocating mass of snow was driven in their faces, and compelled them all to turn their backs if they wished to breathe. Not the more for this would Emiha allow them one moment's pause; and perceiving; that the lame Taddeus, who had long had some difficulty in proceeding in the usual manner, was utterly unable to walk back wards, she snatched his handkerchief from his neck, hung it over his face like a veil, seized both his hands, and pulled him on thus blind-folded.
“Surely said Taddeus, “we had better climb a tree, and wait till the drift is past.”
“Aye, and have our feet frozen off, to say nothing of noses and ears,” replied Paul. “And supposing we lived till morning, how are we to get home through snow three yards deep, maybe, and not frozen to walking consistence? No, no; our only chance, if we have one, is in getting on as far as the rocks, at any rate. But God knows I can't keep this up long.”
Paul had more to say; for the last thing he ever thought of was leaving off talking; but his companion could no longer hear him. The snow, falling noiselessly as the light, yet stifled all sounds, and the last words of Paul's which were heard, came like murmurs from under a pillow. When these had ceased for some little time, Taddeus addressed him, and got no answer. Growing uneasy, he put out his hand to fee; for him. Paul was certainly not within some yards. Uttering now her first exclamation of fear, Emilia sprang back upon her footsteps, motioning to Taddeus not to stir, and in two minutes returned with her husband, who had tripped and fallen, and been half buried in snow before he could recover himself. In order that this might not happen again, his wife slipped her girdle, and tied it round his arm, holding the other end herself, and dragging on their lame friend as before.
“This will never do,” said Taddeus, resolutely stopping short. “You two will be lost by lagging with me. I shall go back to the wood, and fare as I best may till the storm is over; and God speed you !”
Paul answered only by pushing him vigorously on, setting his back against Taddeus's, so that the breadth of only one person was opposed to the drift, and one made a path for all. This was an amendment; but Taddeus was still convinced that the two would get on better without him, and again he stiffened himself against being driven forward.
“I am going back,” said he, very distinctly. “If the plain is passable in the morning, you will come and look for me. If not, never mind. You know I cannot be sorry to get quit so easily of such a life as mine.”
Paul growled impatiently; but, for once, Taddeus was too nimble for them. He had played them the slip, and they groped after him for some minutes in vain.
“It does not much matter,” muttered Paul to himself. “It is only being found a few feet further from one another eight months hence, when the snow melts. Emilia and I will stay together, however; we will keep one another warm as long as we can. This not so very cold now, though, to my feeling, as it was; and yet I can scarcely tell whether Emilia grasps me or not. This the sleepiness that is so odd. One might choose a better time for going to sleep, though there is a big, soft, feather-bed about us. But 1 don't believe I can keep awake two minutes longer. Holla! there! that's that? Why 1 is this Poland again? Aye, home: yes, yes. Why, mother, you have seen me faint before, and you did not scream so then. But it is so dark. Bring lights. Have you no lights? Eh, what? I can't hear you. My ears;—how they ring? Lights, I say”! Eh? Good-night, mother. I'm sleepy. I.... I can't.... good-night.”
And Paul ceased his muttering, having sunk down in the snow some moments before. Emilia did not cease to scream in his ear, to attempt to raise him, to chafe his limbs, and warm his head in her bosom. lie made feeble resistance, as if angry at being disturbed; and in keeping this up lay the only chance. Before he became quite passive, a new hope crossed her. For one moment the drift slackened, ceased; and in that moment came tidings that help was not far off.
There was yet neither gleam nor sound; but Emilia detected that there was wood-smoke in this air. She at once gave over her chafing, and shouting into the cars of the dying man, lifted him on her back, and struggled forward in the direction of the fire. It was not so difficult for her to do this as it would have been to Sophia, for she had been accustomed from childhood to bear heavy burdens of skins, and to bring faggots from the woods. Before she was quite exhausted, she not only was encouraged by a scent of turpentine which reached her, but could distinguish a red gleam through the veil of falling snow.
Her appearance was somewhat startling to those who had kindled the fire. They were Siberian merchants,—that is, itinerants, who knew as well as any people in the world how to keep body and soul together in all weathers. They present company consisted of three who were just finishing their yearly circuit, and, having been detained on the road by the, great increase in the number of their customers, in consequence of the Emperor's accession of convict subjects, had found the autumn close upon them while they were yet some way from their several homes. They were now encamped for the night, and seemed to have no other anxiety amidst this terrific wilderness than that the frost should immediately follow the snow, in order that the plains might be passable. They had banked up the snow in a circle round them, and lighted a huge fire within. A bear skin, stuck upon poles, made a sort of tent covering, and cue at a time was employed to prevent its becoming-too heavily laden by the drill. The others lazily fed the fire, as they lay on hides within the heat of it, and smoked their pipes and drank brandy as calmly as if they had been under the best roof in Tobolsk. The glittering of the white wall in the background, the sparkling of the snow-flakes as they drizzled thick and slanting over the darling blaze, had less of a domestic character than the retreat in which the merchants alternately dozed and gossiped. The place altogether looked very tempting to Emilia as she emerged from the utter darkness, and stood dripping with her load in the presence of the shoveller. The man swore, the dogs leaped up, the dozers roused themselves: and, though vexed at the interruption, they could not refuse a place by their fire to the wanderers.
More than this, however, they would not do. They were impenetrable about poor Taddeus's fate; and as they would not stir, Emilia was exposed to a sad struggle between duty and inclination. Her husband began to revive almost immediately, and she believed that there was yet time to save his friend, if she could bring herself to leave the further cure of Paul to the merchants.
She did her duty. Pointing out to the smokers the method in which they were to proceed, and in which they were indeed much practised, she seized a handful of brands, some of which might, she hoped, escape being quenched, called the dogs without ceremony, and stalked forth again the way she had come, the brands casting a scanty red light for a few moments only before she disappeared.
The shoveller nearly forgot his duty in looking out and listening, for he was better aware than his mates below what Emilia had to contend with. He began to give her over, and his companions to swear at the probable chance of losing their dogs, before there was any sign of motion near.
“Keep that man quiet, can't ye .” the watchman cried. “I want to listen.”
“He won't, be still,” they replied. “His pains and twitches are on him. We have warmed him too soon. You should see him floundering like a duck in the water. Listen how he moans.”
“Move him farther from the fire, then, and make him hold his tongue. I could not hear the dogs two yards off with such a screeching coming up from between you.”
As soon as Paul began to collect his ideas, he kept his pain more to himself, and began to listen as eagerly as any body for sounds from afar.
“I see something; but it cannot be the light she carried,—it is so high up in the air,” proclaimed the watchman. “It is coming this way, however. No: it is out. Aye; there it is again. It was a thick wreath that hid it. Now, where is it gone?”
Paul scrambled up on his hands and knees, intending to play the watchman too; but he could not yet stand. His feet were as numb as ever, though his ancles burned with pain. The light was not out, and it came riding in the air, dimly dancing, and then steadily blazing again. It was preceded by one of the dogs, leaping backwards and forwards between the little camp and the party behind. The other dog did not do the same, being otherwise engaged. He was the torch-bearer.
When Emilia had been led by the dogs to the place where Taddeus lay, and had reared him up insensible from under the drift, she found she could not charge herself with both the body and the light, the one of which was nearly as indispensable as the other. She carried Taddeus as she had carried her husband, and made one of the tractable dogs mount to the top of all with a flaming torch in his mouth; and thus they proceeded, the drift sometimes being nearly as thick as ever, and threatening to plunge them in darkness; and sometimes slackening so as to allow gleams and flickering to point out her former footsteps.
She could think no more of Taddeus when she saw her husband dizzily falling back as often as he attempted to rise, and groaning with his torments. She was in consternation when she had examined his ancles and feet; and seizing a large knife and an earthen bowl that lay near, she disappeared behind the fire. A fearful howl from each of the dogs gave the next tidings of her. The merchants swore that they would cut the animals' tongues out if this bark brought any more strangers in upon them. They presently saw that their dogs would never howl more. Emilia appeared with a bowl full of reeking blood in one hand, and the carcasses of the two poor animals in the other: and immediately proceeded, as if she saw and heard nothing of the fury of the merchants, to pour the warm blood down the throats of Paul and Taddeus, and to cover up their feet in the bodies winch she had slain and ripped up tor the purpose. When the enraged owners seized her two braids, and pulled them as if they would have divided lier scalp, she quietly lifted the great knife to either side of her head and severed the hair. When they griped her by the shoulders, as if they would have shaken her to pieces, she ducked and disappeared behind the bearskin. When one of them wrenched the knife from her, and made a thrust in his passion, she leaped through the fire, and took up a position, with a flaming pine-splinter in each hand, which they did not choose to brave. As soon as Paul could make himself heard, he offered the value of many dogs, if they would let his wife alone; and, as the animals could not be brought to life again, the owners saw that their best wisdom would be to make as good a bargain as they could.
Paul not only offered this high compensation under immediate apprehension for his wife's safety, but thankfully confirmed the. bargain when she was sitting securely beside him, or helping him to use his stiff limbs, by leading him to and fro in the little space beside the fire. He felt that he should be paying for the restoration of his own feet, and perhaps of Taddeus's life; for he much doubted whether either limbs or life could Lave been saved by other means than Emilia had so promptly adopted, and the efficacy of which she, in common with other natives, well knew. The suspicion never crossed him that he might not be able to fulfil his engagement, and that these men were now in possession of the very wealth he had promised them.
The whole party not only lived till morning, but were of better cheer when the day dawned than they had been twelve hours before. The two sportsmen were weak and stiff, and not a little dispirited when they looked out upon the dreary waste around, and pondered how they were to reach horn;; but the danger and the fearful battling with the elements were over.
The sky was still dark, hut the air so serene, that if a solitary snow-flake had found its way from the clouds, it would have sauntered and danced through the air like a light leaf in autumn, There were no such flakes, however, and all the snow that the atmosphere of the globe could be charged with seemed to be collected within view. Snow was heaped on the eastern mountains, and tumbled in huge masses among the stark, black rocks at their base;—snow was spread to a vast depth upon the steppe, as far as a horizon which it made the eyes ache to attain, clearly distinguishable as it was from the leaden sky;—snow was spread, like a cushioned canopy, over the black woods which extended northwards for many miles. Amidst this waste of whiteness, black waters lay here and there in pools, or in wide reaches of rivers; and in other parts there was a rushing of the currents, and a smashing and tumbling of the young ice, which had begun to form, but was already giving way at the touch of light and of more temperate airs. All this was dreary enough; but the smoke of the smelting-house could be seen far off: home was visible, if they could but reach it.
The merchants travelled back with the party, in order to receive the promised compensation for their dogs; and Paul was not a little amused with the accounts they gave of their mode of traffic.
“You must have a troublesome journey of it sometimes, friend,” he observed to the man next him, who had, like all his brethren of the craft, picked up enough of the languages of the various people he dealt with to be able to carry on something like a conversation “You must have a troublesome journey in such weather as this,” said Paul to him; “but you are free from the danger of being rubbed, as people of your trade are in some countries. It is very hard, when they have disposed of their wares, and begin to enjoy the lightness of their load, and the goodly look of the gold and silver they carry in their bosoms, to be stopped in the dark and robbed, or to wake in the morning and find their pouch as empty as their packs. You are never so robbed, I suppose?”
The Siberian indulged his scorn at the idea of gold and silver, and thought that those who carried their wealth in such small compass deserved to lose it. How much better, he urged, was a pack of skins, or a drove of black cattle, or a sledge-load of rye-flour, which no man could hide in his bosom and slip away with! Though Paul thought robbery a bad thing, he did not consider the not being subject to it the very first quality in money. He asked why the merchant mentioned three kinds of money; and whether all his customers did not agree to use the same.
“Oh, no ! Some give us all things that they make or grow in return for our tea from China, and the pepper we buy from abroad, and the clothing we bring from Tobolsk. Others give us only skins; others only cattle; others, again, only rye.”
“That is, they use these articles respectively as money.”
“Yes; and what we take as money in one district we sell as merchandise in another.”
“So you use no coin at all.”
“Not here. We travel along a vast line;” and he stretched his arms ea;-t and west with a most important look. “In the west, we do as they do in the west,—we pass the Emperor's coin. In the east, we do as they do in the east, —we make no objection to whatever gain they put in our way.”
“But do they make no objection? It seems to me that there must he perpetual objections. One says, ‘Give me wool for rye.’ ‘I have rye enough,’ says the shepherd. ‘What do you want most?’ asks the cultivator. ‘Fish.’ So the cultivator goes to the fisherman, and says, ‘Give me fish for rye.’ The fisherman wants no rye, but skins; so, even if the hunter happily wants rye, the cultivator has to manage three bargains before he can get his wool. This seems to me a system open to many objections,”
“Yes; the people are as long in exchanging their fish and their furs as in catching and curing them. But what is that to us? We reckon upon spending twice as much time where there is barter as where there is sale; but we make our gain accordingly.”
“Aye, to the injury of your customers: they lose their time in bargaining, and by not dividing their labours; and they also pay you largely for the loss of your time. Truly, they are losers in every way. Why do not you teach them to use money?—then you would finish your traffic, and get home before these storms could overtake you.”
The merchant laughed, and said that some ways were better for some kinds of people, and others for others. The thing that took the most time, after all, was the measuring quantities of different articles against one another, and agreeing upon their value. Every man could tell how much trouble and expense his own article had cost him, and nobody could judge in the same way of his neighbour's: a third party was necessary to decide between them.
“Oh, aye; and you merchants are the third party, and so have the pronouncing upon the value both of the goods you buy and the goods you sell. It may be very profitable to you to keep exchange in this rude state; but it would be a prodigious convenience and saving to the people to have the value of their produce measured, and made somewhat steady, by a standard which should not vary very much.”
The merchant thought things had better go on as they were. Gold and silver coins were much more valuable among the wise people that lived westwards than among the simple folks to the east.
“As gold and silver, certainly,” said Paul; “for savages have little notion of their being valuable. Even my wife there wore as much gold as a duchess would have been glad of, the first time I saw her, and would have given it all away for as many steaks of horse-flesh as she carried ounces of precious metal. But, as money, some such article would be useful to savages in the same way as to civilized people. It would save their time and labour, and prevent their being cheated by you, “Mr. Merchant.”
The merchant still remained an enemy to innovation: like all who profit largely by things as they are. So Paul pursued,
“I assure you I can speak to the want savages have of money. Even in our little company, inhabiting only five huts in all—”
“You are not going to call us savages,” sternly interrupted Taddeus, who had just joined his friend.
“O yes, I am. What would you have more savage than our way of passing last night? or our huts? or our implements? or all about us on this side Irkutsk?”
“That has nothing to do with the matter. You are talking of a social arrangement, and its subjects; and when the subjects are civilized, you cannot show by their example how the arrangement suits a savage state. I suppose you allow that we, as Poles, are civilized.”
“Savage; absolutely savage,” persisted Paul. “Why now, who can look more savage than Ernest when you catch him talking to the spirits of the Charmed Sea, or whoever else it is that sets him raving there? Where was there ever a savage, if it is not Andreas when any one alludes to his iron chest at Warsaw? Or your own sister, for that matter,—ten times a day she looks as savage as—”
“As your wife,” said Taddeus, moved beyond his patience.
“Just so; only my wife is more like a faithful dog, and your sister like a hunted tiger-cat. But, as I was saying, Mr. Merchant, even in our little company, we presently found we could not get on without a medium of exchange.” And he explained their device of skins of three several values. The merchant seemed more amused than he could well account for, and asked if all were so honest that nobody stole this kind of money.
“It is never stolen entire,” replied Paul. “Such a theft would be detected at once in so small a society as ours.”
“Even supposing,” interrupted Taddeus, “that there was a Pole among us who would steal.”
“Take care how much you answer for, friend,” said Paul. “I was going to say, that though no entire skin has been abstracted, some expert fingers have been at work clipping. A curious mouse-skin came into my hands lately, made of cuttings from the jags and edges of other mouse-skins.”
“Indeed ! I should not have thought an article of so low a denomination worth the labour.”
“Some people,—you know who I mean,— think no labour too much for gain. Besides, this wag probably a first experiment; and if it had succeeded, there would have been a rising up early, and sitting up late, to make patch-work hare-skins or sables,—if we should ever attain to high a denomination of money.”
“Well; but what did you do to the miser; for I conclude you mean him? He is no Pole, remember; he does not like to be considered so, so and we may as well take him at his word.”
“Since I could not threaten him with the ancient punishment of counterfeiters of the current money, namely, pouring it molten down the throat, I came as near to it as 1 could. I fried a bit of the tail, and made him eat it, on pain of being pilloried at the mouth of the mine. Then I let him burn the rest, and told him he should be watched, and not get off so easily the next time he was caught clipping and manufacturing money. I dare say he cursed our medium for not being metal. You may melt metal, and nobody knows how many clippings a lump is made of; but piece a skin as neatly as you may, and daub over the inside as cleverly as Andreas himself, and the seams still remain visible to the curious eye. The public has the advantage over counterfeiters where leather money is used.”
“And bow many advantages knaves hare over the public where leather money is used, we may live to see,” observed Taddeus. He was right: it was not necessary for them to be many hours older to ascertain this point.
They were yet at a considerable distance from home when they heard shouts ringing among the rocks before them, and saw one or two dark figures moving among the snow in the plain. The young men answered the shouts, and made signals, the most conspicuous they could devise. The merchants at once became exceedingly inquisitive about the exact situation of Paul's abode; and having learned it, were suddenly in far too great a hurry to go any farther. As for the promised payment, the sportsmen were welcome to the dogs, unless indeed they would give their arrows and a rifle, and the game they carried, in consideration of the loss. Paul sighed over his valuable new arrows, Taddeus over his only rifle, and both over the skins which they were conveying home to be made money of, and which they had managed to retain with that view through the whole adventure. They could not refuse, however, considering what the martyred dogs had done for them; so they surrendered their goods, and returned from this memorable sporting expedition much poorer than they set out; and the merchants retired precipitately in the opposite direction.
At an abrupt turn of the rock they came upon Sophia, who was alone, busily engaged in tracking the path they had followed after parting from her the preceding day, and sounding in the snow. Sometimes she looked intently into the black stream which flowed sullenly by, and then renewed her sounding, so eagerly, that she did not perceive the approach of the young men and Emilia. Their footsteps could not be heard. She started when they came close up to her, and said, with an indescribable expression of countenance,—
“O, you are safe, are you?. We have all been out since dawn to look for you. You will find my mother farther on. They would not spare my father from the mine.—So you are safe, after all!”
“You are disappointed,” said Taddeus, in a low and bitter tone. “You hoped to see me no more. You were praying to find my body in those waters.”
“I do not pray,” said Sophia, pettishly.
“Not to demons?” asked her brother.
“What and where are they?” inquired she, laughing. And she turned to go home without objecting to her brother's construction of what she had been doing.
“I wish Emilia had let me alone last night,” thought Taddeus. “No; there is my mother. What would become of her with poor Sophia for her only child?”
And as he shuffled forward painfully to meet his mother, he felt that there was yet something to live for, even if Poland should not be redeemed.