Front Page Titles (by Subject) Chapter I: NO NEWS FROM THE PORT. - Illustrations of Political Economy, vol. 7
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Chapter I: NO NEWS FROM THE PORT. - Harriet Martineau, Illustrations of Political Economy, vol. 7 
Illustrations of Political Economy (3rd ed) in 9 vols. (London: Charles Fox, 1834). Vol. 7.
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NO NEWS FROM THE PORT.
Walter was so busy trenching in his garden, one late autumn afternoon, that he paid no attention to any thing that passed on the other side of the hedge. Tram after train of coal-waggons slid by on the rail-road from the pit to the staithe, and from the staithe to the pit, and he never looked up, till a voice from one of the vehicles shouted to him that he was a pretty ferryman to let a passenger stand calling for his boat, for minutes together, while he gave no heed. Walter just turned to the cottage to shout, in his turn, “Father, the boat!” and then went on with his trenching.
The days were gone by when Walter used to uprear himself from his weeding or pruning, or stand resting on his spade, to watch his father putting off for the opposite bank, or speculate on who the passengers might be, whence they came, and whither they might be going. His garden was a tempting place whence to overlook the river, sloping as it did down to the very bank; but Walter had now too much to do and to think about to spare. time for the chance amusements of former days. His father had duly and perpetually assured him in his childhood that “the hand of the dihgent maketh rich,” and that “if a man will not work, neither should be eat;” but. though these quotations had their effect, there were thoughts in Walter's mind which were yet more stimulating to his exertions.
He threw down his spade in no little hurry, however, when, in a few minutes, he heard him-self called from behind. His cousin Effie was running up the slope of the garden, crying,
“Walter! Walter! is my father here? You need not be afraid to tell me. Is my father here?”
“Your father, no! I have not seen him since church, last Sunday.”
“Well, uncle Christopher said just so; but I got him to set me over, I was so unwilling to believe you did not know where my father was. O, Walter! cannot you give the least guess where he is? I dare not go back to my mother without news.”
Walter's grieved countenance showed that he would afford news if he had any to impart. He hesitatingly mentioned the public-house.
“O, there is not a public-house between this and Newcastle, nor all over Shields, where one or other of us had not been before twelve o'clock last night. I did not know whether to be glad or sorry that he was not in one of them. Now I should be glad enough to see him in almost any way.”
“Before twelve o'clock last night! How long have you missed him?”
“He quitted the keel, they say, just at dark, when she came alongside the collier,—only be-cause he had broken his pipe, and went to get another; but he did not come back.”
Walter was silent; but Effie could interpret his thought.
“It is certain the press-gang was out last night,” she observed.
“Where is the tender stationed?” asked Walter, pulling down his shirt sleeves, and looking round for his coat.
“Just in the river's mouth; but there is no getting at her. Half the boats in Shields have been hanging about her; but, there being only women in them, they do but, make sport for the officers. Nobody but an officer or two is to be seen on deck—”
“Ay, ay; the other poor creatures are kept close enough down below. I suppose, if there are few but women in the boats, her business is done, and she will make little further stay.”
“There is not a seaman to be seen in all Shields since the day before yesterday, they say; and so the jail has been half emptied to make up the number. Walter, you must not think of going to look for my father. There has scarcely a keel passed all this day, because the men will not venture to the port any more, while the tender is there. You will not think of going, Walter? I am not quite sure that it is safe for you to be working here, full in sight from the river. From the other side I saw you as plain as could be.”
“Why, Effie, what do you think they could make of a gardener on board a king's ship?”
“What they make of other landsmenillegible I suppose. “Tis certain they have got some who never were on ship-board in their lives.”
Yes, indeed. So I do wish you would work, in you must work, under the hedge, or behind that plot of hollvoaks. Do you know I saw you stop and take off your cap, when you came to the end of this ridge, and then stool—”
“What! while your head was full of your tather; bless you!” murmured Waher, in a low fone, and with a blush of satisfaction.
“Is not it my duty to think of you first?” asked Effie; “and if it was not, how could I help it?”
Walter was in no hurry to answer this, and Effie went on.
“As to saying it, I cannot help that either; and why should I? It makes me wonder to see Bessy Davison pretending that her lover is the last person in the world that she thinks of or cares about, when she knows what a sin and shame it would be to pretend the same thing when he is her husband—which he is almost— for they are to be married next week.”
“I am sure we are much more like being husband and wife than they are, Effie; I wish we were going to be married next week.”
“I cannot talk about that, Walter, till I have heard something of my father, and made out what is to become of my mother, if he is really gone; but he may get back. There have been some set ashore again two days after they were carried off.”
Walter did not say what he knew, that those who were thus returned to their homes were persons unfit for the king's service:—a poor tailor who might, by long training, have become a sail-maker, but would never be capable of more arduous service; a ploughman, who was gaping with amazement at the first sight of the sea, when he was surprised and carried off; and a pedlar, who seemed likely to bie in a week for want of a wider walking range than the deck of a tender. Eldred was too good a man for the kings purposes, as Walter knew, to be set at liberty again on the same footing with such helpless creatures as these.
“What will your mother do, Effie, if your father should really be away a year or two, or more?”
“Eh! I cannot say. There has been no time—Walter, if you could have seen her, all last night, it would have half broke your heart.”
“I am sure it has half broken yours. You look sadly worn, Effie.”
“O, I am used to her—to her ways of feeling and doing. But she did sob and complain so grievously, we were wholly at a loss what to do with her—poor Tim and I, for Adam was not to be found. I sent to his master's to beg leave for him for a few hours, but he was out of bounds, and so I had no help. For a long time she kept blaming my father, till I was pained that Tim shouht hear all she said. When I had got him to bed, I left off trying to reason with her, which I know l am too apt to do. But, Walter, I am afraid to meet her again; and that is why I am lingering here, doing no good.”
“But what will she do!” Walter again inquired.
“I suppose we must all get work, as those do who have no father to work for them,” replied Effie.
“We had better marry at once,” said Walter, who seemed quite able to prove his point, that it would, be a relief to Mrs. Eldred to see her daughter settled at once, instead of having to go back to the pit-mouth, where she had worked in her childhood, and where all parties had believed she would never need to work again.
“It never came into my mind till now,” said Effie, after considering her lover's proposal for a moment; “but I will think about it as I go home, and try to find out what we ought to do.”
Waiter's blush of satisfaction returned while he said something about his wonder how people had any comfort of each other who were off and on, and pretending, like Bessy and her lover, not to understand each other, instead of being straightforward, and agreeing on what was right and fit, so that they might depend on each other without drawback. It was difficult enough sometimes, at best, for people that had consciences to settle their minds so as to be at pcace; and to perplex one another further was, in his opinion, but a poor sign of love. He might feel this the more strongly from his being too timid and undecided. He knew he was; and if Effie could but be aware what a blessing it was to him to be never made sport of—never put off with false reasons—
Effie coloured with indignation at the idea of any one taking advantage of Walter's modesty to make sport of him. In her own heart she daily felt, (and sometimes she relieved herself by saying so,) that there was no one virtue she should like so much to have as Waher's modesty, and that there was no one thing she feared so much as learning to abuse it, by accepting the supremacy he was willing to allow her. Walter's objection, as far as he chose to make any, was that she was too tractable; while his father entertained an idea much more serious. He doubted whether they had grace enough between them to secure a blessing upon their union.
“Uncle Christopher seems too busy to speak to me to-day,” observed Effie. “He has always been engaged with his invention when I have come lately; but I thought to-day he would have come out to advise with me what we must do about nay father.”
“He is bringing his invention to a point,” replied Walter, “and he will soon be ready to take it to London, and look after a patent for it. This fills his mind at present; but you need not doubt his feeling very much for you all, as soon as he can listen to what I shall tell him,”
“But what will he say to your notion of marrying next week—of your marrying while Adam is not out of his apprenticeship yet?”
“He can only say that Adam is an apprentice, and l am not. You and l may be as glad as we please, between ourselves, that I am a gardener, and not a rope-maker.”
“Ah! you would have had another year to serve, trom this time, and then to set up for your self. But, surely, gardening is a much more difficult business to learn than rope-making. Why should Adam be obliged to spend seven years in learning to twist hemp into ropes, when you learned long ago a great deal about the seasons, and the soils, and the nature of different kinds of plants, and how to manage a vast number of them? I should have thought that it would take more time and pains to learn to produce fine peaches, and such capital vegetables as yours, than to become a good ropemaker.”
“So should I; but all works ot tillage have been mixed up together under the name of unskilled labour; and all that belong to manufactures, as skilled labour, which requires apprenticeship; so that the man who grows the finest grapes that care and knowledge ever produced, is held by the law to be a less skilled workman than one who dabs brick-clay into a mould all the summer through. If I were to turn pippin-monger instead of pippin-grower, I should have inquiries in plenty after my seven years of apprenticeship, and should be liable to suffer for not having served them. But I am a gardener, and never was bound to a master, and am now free to turn my hand to any occupation that comes near my own, if my own should fail, which is a sort of security for you, Effie, that it gives me pleasure to think of.”
“Security!” said his father, who had at length found time to come out and inquire into the afflictions of his niece and her family. “It is the notion of young people, who have not seen God's ways in his works, to talk of security. Of what use is the watchman's waking, unless the Lord keeps the city?”
“Indeed, uncle,” said Effie, “we want no teaching to-day about change and danger. Yesterday at this time we were looking for my father home from work, and now I much fear.—”
“Fear nothing, child. Fear is sinful.”
“O, but, uncle, do you think you yourself could help it if Walter was gone, and you did not know where? Would not you fancy him shut down in that horrible tender? And could you help being afraid that he was miserable, being afraid that he would be ill, being afraid that you would be unhappy for many a long year, for want of him?”
“I dare say you think,” said uncle Christopher, seeing that Effie bit her lip to repress her tears,— “I dare say you think that I am a cruel old man, who has no compassion for what other people are feeling. Worldly people would say—”
“O, never mind what people would say who do not see and hear us: but I do not think you cruel, uncle. Only—”
“Only what?” inquired uncle Christopher, setting his hps in a prim form, as he always did when he expected to hear something unaeceptable about himself.
“Only,—very pious people expect other people to feel exactly as they do, aud make out that every difference is a difference of trust in God. Now, I trust in God that my father will be supported, and my poor mother—”
She was obliged to stop a moment, and then went on,
“But all this trust does not make me the less afraid that they will have to be unhappy first.”
Uncle Christopher shook his head with a condescending smile and sigh. This was what he called trust with a reservation; but prayed that the true faith might grow out of it in time. He could suggest nothing to be done, Eldred's recovery being quite hopeless, he considered, if he was on board the tender. All that uncle Christopher could promise, was to go and pray with the widowed wife, on the Sabbath morning; —the day that he could not conscientiously give to his own engrossing pursuit,—the invention for which he hoped to take out a patent.
Walter had no intention of waiting till Sunday. He was going now, but that Effie would not allow it. The press-gang was before her mind's eye, whichever way she turned ; and she had no apprehension so great as of her lover falling in with it. Nowhere could he be so safe as in his father's premises,—ferrymen being everywhere exempt from impressment, He parried her request of a promise not to show himself in his garden so as to be an object of observation from the river, and now saved his father the trouble of depositing Effie on the other side. He had a few words to say to her while they were crossing. His advice was not to harass herself with running about from place to place in search of her father, (who could have no motive for concealing him self from his family,) but to acquiesce in his being made a defender of his country against his will, and to hope that he would prove a faithful and valiant seaman amidst the perils and honours of war.
Effie thought that the very way to prevent this was so to treat a man as to make him hate the government he served, and to paralyze his arm by that sickness of heart which must come over him as often as he thought of his deserted wife and unprovided children. She believed a ready will was the soul of good service, on sea or land.
She had no very ready will to go home to her mother without tidings. She lingered to see her lover recross the river, being aware that he was an inexperienced ferryman, and that the tide was now running very strong. A barge was coming up, in fine style, and it seemed likely that Walter would have landed in time to watch its course, like herself, and perhaps to suspect, as she did, that certain of his Majesty's agents were in it, seeking whom they might entrap. But Walter mismanaged his boat, causing it to make a zigzag course, till he brought it very near the barge, and then seeming to lose his presence of mind so as to put himself directly in the way of being run down. Effie was in momentary expectation of witnessing the clash, and there was a movement on board the barge which terrified her no less.
“They have found him out to be no ferryman,” was her agonized thought. “They will carry him off too, and then my mother and I shall be widows together!”
She ran to the water's edge, and would probably have tried to walk through it, if the boats bad not parted so as to allow her breathing time again. She was then struck with the improbability of the gang offering violence to the manager of a ferryboat, while in the actual discharge of his office; but this conviction did not at once restore strength to her shaking limbs, or remove the deadly sickness from her heart.
She was usually fond of this walk,—for other reasons than that Walter was at one end of it: but to day everything appeared disagreeable. The rustling of the autumn wind in the leafless clump of trees under which she had to pass teazed her ear. She tried to find a path where she might walk without making a commotion among the dead leaves. When it became necessary to cross the rail-road, it seemed to her that it was the most difficult thing in the world to escape the trains of waggons. She felt pretty sure of being run over before she got home. The smoke from the colliery half stifled her, and the voices from the rows of cottages were more shrill and unfeeling than she had ever heard them before. the river side had been cold; the colliery was too warm; and the wind, or something else, prevented her getting forwards. She could almost have declared that her feet were tied.
While site was toiling on, somebody touched her shoulder. She turned, in attitude to run away; but it was only her eldest brother.
“What! did I frighten you, lass?” cried Adam, gaily.
“O, Adam! It would be well if you never did worse than frightening me in this way.”
“Hoot, toot ! you are coming round to the old story of my having my indentures broke. Let them be broke, if my masters so please! I know my business well enough,—I knew it three years ago well enough to make my bread like another man; and so it is no wonder I am tired of working so long for another, when I am as fit as I ever shall be to work for myself.”
“But the disgrace,—the loss,—if you have your indentures broke!” exclaimed she. “How are you to get on a footing with those who have served their time properly, if you cannot submit to the law?”
“I wish I had been born where there is no such law,” declared Adam. “If I had been a Manchester or a Birmingham man, my apprenticeship might have been as long or as short as any business requires, Or if I had been an American I might have learned rope-making without being bound at all.”
“In America, I have heard tell,” replied Effie, “the people are mostly well to do in the world, and can take their manhood upon them earlier than the youths here may do. They can set up for themselves, and marry, and have their rights earlier than here, where there are so many in proportion to the means of living. As to Birmingham and Manchester,—I do not know what is the character of the working youths there,— but I have heard it said that long apprenticeships are good for the morals of the young people.”
“Then I must be a much more moral person than Walter—Eh, Effie? But I should like to know what there is in my being bound to tread the length of the rope-walk so many times a-day, for my master's profit, that is good for my morals. I hardily think that it, is good for one's morals to be running off as often as one can slip the noose, and sulky and grumbling all the while one is under a master's eye.”
Effie did not see the absolute necessity of either playing truant or sulking. She thought a well-disposed youth should be grateful for being under the eye of a master at a time of life when guardianship was peculiarly needfull.
“All very well two hundred years ago, Effie, —at the time of such apprenticeships as our great grandfather used to tell us of,—when the apprentices used to sit in the same room, and eat at the same table with their masters, and walk behind them to church. But times are changed now. I could tell you such things as you little dream of, if I chose to prove to you how much management our masters have over our pleasures aud our morals. What is it to them what we do with ourselves When work is over? And as for the time that the wheels are turning, the masters must be clever men if they get half as much work out of their oldest and best apprentices as out of any one of their journeymen?”
“How were apprentices so different in our great grandfather's time?”
“I dare say it might be more difficult to learn arts at that time; and so a longer apprenticeship might be wanted. Neither was there such a rush to get one's bread as there is now; nor, consequently, so much provocation at being kept out of it at a great expense to everybody, when one is capable of shifting for one's self. You cannot wonder, Effie, at my flitting from time to time, when a chance offers of winning a penny, or When I can amuse myself, instead of toiling for nothing.”
“But I do wonder, Adam. You forget what you owe your master for teaching you your trade; and you forget what you forfeit, if you have your indentures broke.”
“Not I. I paid my master long ago for everything but the meat and drink that I would rather earn for myself. And you need not begin to talk of how foolish we should all be in marrying too early if our being bound till twenty-one did not prevent it. It may chance that worse things than early marriages happen when high spirited apprentices are led or driven into a disposition for idleness. In my mind,—the best way to keep a young man steady and sober is to let him work, as soon as he is fit for it, with tlle hopefulness which comes from working for one's self. You will see how steady I shall be as soon as I have something to work for.”
“And if your master casts you off, mean time?”
“Then I must go somewhere away from yon great town, where one can do little without a title of apprenticeship. When the Deep Cut is made,—as they say it certainly will be,—ropes will be wanted there in plenty, for ships that will put in. l'll go and settle near the Deep Cut.— Tis a fine place,—that sluice that is to be. Tommy Thorn and I got over to see it in one of our trips; and there was—”
“Tell me nothing about it now,” said Effie: “but go home to your master, that I may tell my mother that you are there: and so carry her some little comfort in her misery.”
“Misery! what misery?”
“Ah! Now you are almost the only person within five miles that does not know what an affliction has befallen your; own kin. I kept putting off the telling you, being at last hopeless—”
“And I saw how you had been crying, but thought Walter might have been either rough or particularly tender. But O, Effie, what is it? Is poor little Tim—”
Tim was well again: and Adam was horrorstruck at finding the family misfortune so much greater than he had anticipated. When he learned that Cuddie was absent,—making his first voyage in a collier to London.—he was full of remorse that his mother had been left without the support of either of her eider sons on such an occasion. Instead of going home to his master, he must first see his poor mother; and when Effie recollected that such a visit might serve as a plea of excuse to his master, and give his indentures another chance, she made no further opposition.
Effie found little promise of comfort on approaching home. About the spout or staithe, whence coals were shot from the waggons into the keels on the river, were gathered groups of people telling and hearing of one and another neighbour who had not returned when expected. This news rendered Eldred's restoration less probable than ever, and all that could be hoped was that Mrs. Eldred was already prepared for this.
If she was, she did not look out the less eagerly for her daughter, or show less disappointment when she found there were no tidings.
“It was silly of me to trouble you for any,” she declared. “I am the last person ever to get tidings that I want. I am the last person to be helped by anybody,”
“Do not you think—” —Effie began, but checked herself, in consideration of the trouble of spirit that her mother was in. The poor woman went on,
“One would think the time was gone by for your father to have the notion of deserting his family. He had better have done it years ago, when I was more fit for the charge. I am worn out now. But I always said there would be no rest for me till I was in the grave.”
“Is there no one who asks us to come and he will give us rest?” inquired one who was sitting beside the hearth, with little Tim on his knee. It was Mr. Severn, the clergyman, one of poor Tim's best friends. Tim was only six years old; but he had lost his sight by an accident at the coal-pit, two years before. He was not an unhappy child at any time; but he was seldom so happy as when Mr. Severn's cheerful voice and steady step came near, or when there was something new to be told or taught, which required that Tim should stand between the gentleman's knees, or sit with an arm over his shoulder. He heard Mr. Severn's question now, and asked who made that promise. The answer brought his mother to tears; but whether they were tears which would do her good seemed doubtful to those who watched with alarm the force of her emotions.
“Mother, you cannot think,—surely you cannot think that nay father has left us of his own accord?” remonstrated Adam.
“if he has, it is you that have helped to send him away. No man was prouder than your father that no vagabond ever belonged to him; and many a time of late has he prophesied that you woul'd turn out a vagabond;—many a time, I can tell you, Adam, when he has heard of your being missed from your work. I hope you will take it to heart, Adam.”
“Mother! mother! this is not the time,” said Effie, in a terror lest Adam should quit the cottage, never to return. “Mother, my father never spoke harshly about Adam, I am sure.”
“Harshly! no. He never spoke harshly to anybody in his life, and always let any one talk him over, and do what they would with him; and that is the case now, I'l1 answer for it. I thought I had brought up my sons free from his fault; and now they are to break my heart in another way, I suppose. Well! among one and another, I shall soon be in my grave.”
“How is Cuddie to break your heart, mother? I wonder what is the matter with him, good lad!” said Adam, with an affectation of coolness.
Effie east an imploring look at him, and at the same moment Tim began to make his voice heard,—
“O, don't go! don't go! Sir, sir; don't go !”
“I must, my dear boy. I will come back again when—”
“When my mother does not insult me before you, sir,” said Adam. “But you will hardly find me here next time, after what you have heard to-day.”
“yes, Adam, I trust I shall. I shall forget what I have heard, because it was said in a moment of irritation; and you will remember, I trust, that your mother is in deep affliction, and that her words should not be reckoned too strictly against her,—least of all by her son.”
“I cannot be spoken of in this way,” cried Mrs. Eldred. “I have been accustomed to have people against me, all nay days; but I cannot hear myself so spoken of to my children, by anybody, Mr. Severn.”
“Tell us, then, how we shall think of you,— how we shall pray fur you in your sorrow?”
“As one that was able to bear whatever it might please God to lay upon her,” she replied. Her violent weeping did not interrupt her declarations that she could go to the pit-mouth, and work for her living, and preserve the independence and good name she had always sought for herself and her children. She spoke proudly of her family, though she had just betore been bitter against them. She talked of her strength, though she had so lately declared herself worn out. She did not want any comfort but what her own mind could supply her with, well as people meant, she did not doubt, by coming to comfort her. She forgot how she had complained, just before Mr. Severn entered, that nobody eared for her, and that she might bear her troubles as well as she could, without sympathy.
Mr. Severn, who abhorred officious interference, kindly wished her strength and comfort according to her need, and was departing, when little Tim, who bad bustled after him to the door, reached out a hand to catch the gentleman by the skirt of his coat, missed his aim, and fell from the door-step. He merely slipped on his hands and knees: but the boy was first startled by the fall, and then thoroughly alarmed by his mother's passion of terror. Any child must have concluded himself very much hurt, white his mother was sobbing over him so piteously.
“Indeed, mother, I don't think he has hurt himself.”— “Do but let him walk across the room.”— “He does not seem to be in any pain,” —urged the son and daughter, in vain. Mr. Severn touched Adam's arm, and made a sign to let the paroxysm exhaust itself. Effie quietly placed a cup of water within reach, and closed the door against any prying eyes that might be near. The time had been,—but it was now long past,—when her mother's emotions had invariably opened the flood-gates of her own tears. Her heart was still heavily oppressed when she witnessed passion; but it was now only quiet grief that touched her sympathies. When the sobs were hushed, and only gentle tears flowed over poor Tim, Effie could refrain no longer, but became the most sorrowful weeper of the two. Adam did not know what to do with himself, and therefore did the best thing that remained. He took his mother's hand, and signified a hope of being a greater comfort to her than he had been. He mentioned Cuddie; and here was something pleasant for every one to speak of. Mr. Severn considered Cuddie one of the most promising lads in the parish. Mrs. Eldred told how early she had discovered and pointed out to his father what Cuddle might become; but plaintively added a supposition of his being impressed during the voyage. All, with one voice, reminded her how young he was, and how unlikely it was that his Majesty should pick out lads of seventeen for impressment, when an ample supply of full-grown men might be obtained. Tim had his little story to tell of what Cuddie was to do for him when he came back; and his mother smiled, and blessed the boy aside for forgetting his terrible fall so easily. In ten minutes more, Mr. Severn left her, fully convinced that it would be much easier to count her troubles than her blessings; that Providence has a wise and kind purpose in all that it inflicts; and that the best welcome she could offer her husband on his return would be the sight of what she had done in his absence for his sake.