Front Page Titles (by Subject) Chapter VI.: THE LAND OF SIGNALS. - Illustrations of Taxation (1. The Park and the Paddock, 2. The Haycock, 3. The Jerseymen Meeting, 4. The Jerseymen Parting, 5. The Scholars of Arneside)
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Chapter VI.: THE LAND OF SIGNALS. - Harriet Martineau, Illustrations of Taxation (1. The Park and the Paddock, 2. The Haycock, 3. The Jerseymen Meeting, 4. The Jerseymen Parting, 5. The Scholars of Arneside) 
Illustrations of Taxation (1. The Park and the Paddock, 2. The Haycock, 3. The Jerseymen Meeting, 4. The Jerseymen Parting, 5. The Scholars of Arneside) (London: Charles Fox, 1834).
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THE LAND OF SIGNALS.
The Le Brocqs were more anxious than ever to leave London when they had seen their friendly countryman laid in the ground. In order to repay himself as far as he could for the troubles he had incurred in business, Le Brocq determined to carry with him to Jersey as much as he could convey of his manufactured article. The cider-makers of the islands would be very glad of his bottles, he knew, if he could sell them cheap enough; and he believed he could sell them cheap, and yet secure a profit by obtaining the drawback on exportation allowed by law. After all the experience he had had of the duty-paying in England, it still did not occur to him that there might be difficulty in recovering the duty which the law professed to restore. Nothing can be more evident than that when a tax is imposed on the consumption of any article, and is advanced by the maker of the article, the maker should be repaid what he has advanced when the article goes to be consumed by the people of another empire, or by those in some other part of the same empire who may be particularly exempted from the payment of the duty. Le Brocq imagined that all he should have to do would be to show how much duty he had paid upon the ware he wished to export, and to receive the sum back again. He even speculated on whether the government would allow him interest on the money he had advanced. He considered it his due; but he would not delay his departure on account of any disagreement of this kind. He would not put off till another day the conclusion of a business which he supposed might be transacted in ten minutes. He little thought that the keenest and most practised exporter would laugh as much at the idea of finishing the affair in a few minutes as at that of receiving interest for the duty advanced. It might be that because he was discovered to be a novice, he was more strictly dealt with than those who are acquainted with the regulations of the excise and customs; but he found himself much mistaken in his calculations. It is not for the benefit of the king’s interests, or for the credit of his service, that practised persons are comparatively little watched, while novices are well nigh persecuted under the perplexing system of the excise and customs. It is unjust and injurious, but perfectly natural;—natural, because no human patience, industry, and vigilance can be expected to be always equal to the disgusting labour of spying and detecting. It is natural that those who have been made fully aware of the dangers they incur by fraud should be left under the influence of fear to swear truly and pay duly, though unexamined. Honour is a word out of use upon these occasions; or is employed merely as a word. Fear is the influence to which his majesty’s officers trust, when they leave a practised trader to declare his own claims and responsibilities, and show how he wishes his business to be managed. Fear is the influence they invoke when they impress the inexperienced with awe, or worry him out of his temper, with a view to saving themselves future trouble. Fear is the influence above all unfavourable to the interests of a king, and the security of a government; and that which should be used, not for the levying of its support, but only for the deterring of its subjects from crime, against which all other precautions had previously been taken.
The officers succeeded in inspiring the Jerseyman with fear, insomuch that he presently doubted whether he could at last get away without leaving his bottles behind. While others, happier than he, paid down small sums with one hand, and received larger with the other, after gabbling over oaths which none but the initiated could understand, and witnessing certain entries made on their own declaration, Le Brocq had a much longer ceremony to go through. He had to swear that the bottles he wished to export were none of them under the weight of three ounces; that he had given due notice to the officer of excise of his intention to ship his wares; that the contents of the package corresponded with the document signed by the excise officer; that they were all marked with an E X; that none were broken; that none had been used; that no prohibited article was in the package; that the wares were packed according to law, without vacant spaces or other improprieties; that they were believed to be entirely of English manufacture, and that they had paid duty; and so on. He was next told, as a friendly warning, that if the package was not properly prepared for sealing, (i. e. with a hollow scooped out for the purpose,) the goods would be forfeited: if any brand or mark was erased, the goods would be forfeited, and the offender would be fined 200l.: if the package was not on board within twelve hours from the time of branding or sealing, it would be forfeited; and so on. Moreover, the searcher had power to open and examine the package; and if it was found that the exporter was not correct in every tittle of what he had sworn, he would be indicted for perjury. Le Brocq had as much horror of a false oath as any man; but he now felt how easily a timid or a hasty man might be tempted into one, for the sake of escaping as soon and as easily as possible from the inquisition of the excise. He felt the strength of the temptation to a trader to swear to the legal preparation of a box, the packing of which he had not superintended.
In the next place, he found that, so far from obtaining interest upon the duty he had advanced, he must be at some expense to recover the drawback. The debenture, or certificate of the customs’ officer that he would be entitled to the drawback, is on a ten-shilling stamp; and he who would recover the amount of one tax could do it only by paying another. To recover an excise tax, he must pay a stamp tax. The dismay of the Jerseyman, thus haunted by taxes to the last, was highly amusing to a fellow-sufferer who stood by, and who proclaimed his own worse fate. He was receiving back the duty upon four packages of goods, and each debenture cost him 11s. 6d.; making 2l. 7s. the cost of recovering 10l. But this was not the last discovery that Le Brocq had to make.
It appeared finally that, as the goods were intended for the Channel islands, the drawback could not be allowed till a certificate of the landing of the goods could be produced, signed by the collector and comptroller of the customs on the island where the ware was landed. Le Brocq was not the less disconcerted by this news for its being made evident to him that such an arrangement is necessary under a system of taxation by excise and customs. It was clear, as he acknowledged, that without such a precaution, the drawback might be obtained upon goods which were not really destined for the Channel islands: but the arrangement did not the less interfere with his private convenience.
What was to be done now? He had no inclination to leave the goods, or to forego the drawback; and there was no one here to whom he could commit his affairs. After a long consultation at home, it was agreed that Le Brocq should, after all, stay till cousin Anthony, or instructions from him, should arrive; and that Mrs. Le Brocq and Anna should proceed to the islands, conducting and conducted by Stephen. Stephen was not exactly the kind of escort that the family would have thought of accepting, some time before: but circumstances were now changed. He could guide them to Aaron: he could secure for them, by ways and means of his own, a remarkably cheap passage. He was now adrift, there being no longer a home for him at Mrs. Durell’s; and he promised, for his own sake as well as that of his companions, to make the most, instead of the least, of such sight as he had left. As he could not expect to meet with another Durell to house and cherish him, it was his interest to find his way back to his old comrades, and see what they could do for him. While offering his parting thanks and blessing to Mrs. Durell, he intimated to her that, though he could not see to write, she should hear from him in a way which he hoped would be acceptable;—an intimation which she received with about the same degree of belief that she had been accustomed to give to the protestations of others of her husband’s protégés.
Mild were the airs, and cloudless was the sky when the vessel which conveyed the Le Brocqs and their escort drew near the Swinge of Alderney, and when the Channel islands rose to view, one after another, from the sunny sea. The stupendous wall of rock which seems to forbid the stranger to dream of exploring Alderney, rose on the left; the little russet island of Berhou on the right; and, beyond it, the white towers of the three Casket lighthouses, each on its rock, and all gleaming in the sunset, rose upon Anna’s heart as well as upon her eye. To her surprise, she met with sympathy.
“’Tis not often,” said Stephen, “that I care about storm or calm. Wind and weather may take their own course for me. But I had a choice for this evening. I wished for a wind that would bring us here before sunset, and for a sky that would let the sun shine.”
“You see those white towers,” said Anna, who perceived that he twinkled and strained his eyes in that direction.
“See them! yes, indeed,” said Mrs. Le Brocq. “Those must be stone blind that do not get dazzled with all that glare. I like Jersey, with the green ivy hanging from the rock over the sea. I want to be at Jersey, with my Louise.”
“All in good time, ma’am,” said Stephen. “We must land somewhere else first, and find your Aaron. How like ghosts they stand!” he continued, still looking towards the Caskets. “And one taller than the rest.”
“You see that too,” said Anna. “Then I am sure you must see Berhou. We are coming nearer every moment. Hark to the splashing in the Swinge!”
“Ay, ay; I’ll listen with the best,” said Stephen. “And I can see something in the Swinge, though the dark island is all one with the sea to me.”
“Which dark island? And what do you see in the Swinge?”
“Berhou has nothing to mark it to my eye. I can just trace out Alderney against the sky; but the something white that is leaping and gleaming there, I take to be the foam of the waters in the Swinge. Ah! here we go!”
While the vessel pitched and rolled, and took her zigzag course, as if spontaneously, between the black points of rock which showed themselves above the white billows, and seemed to tell of a hundred dangers as formidable as themselves, Anna was sorry for him who, either physically or intellectually blind, could see nothing in Berhou. Neither man nor child was visible; no human habitation; no boat upon the strip of beach which the rocks and the sea spared between them; but the grey gull sat, spreading its wings for flight, and the stormy petrel, rarely met within sight of land, were here perceived to lose the mystery of their existence. While Anna observed them going forth and returning, and hovering over the fissures of the rock in which they make their homes, she found that Mother Carey’s chickens are probably hatched from the egg, like other birds, and not wafted from the moon, or floated from the sea depths,—the especial favourites of some unseen power. The slopes of down which showed themselves in the partings of the rocks, looked green in contrast with whatever surrounded them; though no hand of man brightened their verdure, and they were not even trodden by any foot but those of the wild animals who had the region to themselves. While she was thus gazing, and her mother would look at nothing because it was not Jersey, the master and one or two of his crew seemed to be watching the coast of the other island in the intervals of their extreme care to obviate the perils of the passage through the strait. At this moment, a breath of air brought the faint sound of chiming bells from Alderney. Stephen instantly turned to listen, and waited patiently till it came again, and Anna was sure that it was wafted from a churchsteeple, and not from any region of fancy.
“Master,” said Stephen, “you will not be able to land us in Alderney to-night, I am afraid.”
The master was just going to advise the party to proceed to Guernsey. The state of the tide was such that he could not engage to set any one on shore in Alderney. The party had better go on to Guernsey.
“The vraicking season begins to-morrow, master. You have no mind to lose all your passengers that might like to stay and see the vraicking. Well; that is fair enough. But we cannot go on to Guernsey, having no call there. You may set us ashore on Berhou.”
The master supposed he meant some other place. The honey-bees and the rabbits might make out a good night’s rest in Berhou, but there were no lodgings for Christians. Stephen knew better; and knew, moreover, that the master might feel well enough pleased at being spared performing his promise as to Alderney, to land the party, without objection, in a more practicable place. This was true. The master had not the least objection to their supping with the rabbits, and sleeping among the sea-fowl, if they chose. Moreover, if they found themselves starving by the time he came back that way, he would toss them some biscuit, if they would only hoist a flag of distress. Stephen did not care a whit for the master’s mockery of his plans, or for Mrs. Le Brocq’s complaints at being landed any where so far from her Louise. He showed so much respect to Anna’s doubtful looks and words as to assure her that he knew what he was about, and that no delay would arise from his choice of an uninhabited island for a temporary resting place. Anna had no choice but to trust him; but a feeling of forlornness came over her when, having landed the old lady, and seated her on the sands to recover her breath and dry her tears, she and Stephen stood to see the vessel recede in the strait, and at length enter the open sea beyond, leaving them out of reach of human voice and help.
“Could that bell be heard here from Alderney if the sea was quiet?” she asked.
“I dare say it might; but this sea is never quiet,” he replied. “Day and night, summer and winter, it plunges and boils as you see. You are thinking that the sound of a church-bell would be cheering in this solitude; but yonder bell keeps its music for the folks on its own island; and a merry set they will be to-night on the south side, watching the tide going down towards morning, that they may begin the vraicking.”
“And what are we to do next?” asked Anna, with a touch of the doleful in her voice which seemed to amuse Stephen.
“Catch Mother Carey’s chickens, and run after rabbits, to be sure. You know there is nothing else to live upon here. We shall have a merry life of it, shall not we?”
“I wish you would answer me, Stephen. My mother cannot bear joking. What are we to do next?”
“You must watch for the lighting of the Caskets, and eat a biscuit in the meantime.”
It was a comfort that some biscuits were secured; for Mrs. Le Brocq was never wholly miserable while eating, whatever she might be before and after. The sun was fast sinking behind the Caskets, so that it could not be long before their now dark towers would be crowned with a yellow gleam, and more of Stephen’s little plot would be unravelled. Anna suggested that if they had to go any where to look for a boat or a lodging, it would be better to move before twilight came on. She concluded they were not to sit here on a stone all night, looking at Alderney. Stephen begged pardon. He knew every step of the way so well that he had forgotten how much more important daylight was to his companions than to him. He rose from the vetch-strewn sand where he had laid himself at ease, loaded himself with what he could conveniently carry of the family luggage, saying that the rest might remain where it was, as there was no chance of rain before morning, and set forward over the heathery waste.
This was the first ground the party had trodden since they left London; and even Mrs. Le Brocq observed the difference between Lambeth pavement and the turf on which they were now walking, matted with fragrant heath, with patches between of blossoming thyme. Little white-tailed rabbits trotted in all directions to their burrows; and swarms of the celebrated honey-bee (called the leaf-cutter, from its hanging its cell in the sands with rose-leaf curtains) hovered and hummed over the thyme-beds and the briar-rose bush which was now closing its blossoms from the honey-searcher. The dash and roar of the strait were left behind, and the deepest silence succeeded. None of the party spoke while they proceeded with noiseless steps, Stephen leading the way, with his staff for his protection. He would go first and alone, lest he should lose his way by relaxing his attention. At last, his step slackened, and he felt the ground about him.
“Is there a bit of grey rock hereabouts, like a sofa?”
“There is a stone seat that you might fancy like a sofa, twelve yards from your right hand.”
“Give me your arm round to the other side of it. There! now there is a path downwards, almost from your feet, is not there?”
“Yes; a very steep path,—difficult to get down, I should think. The honeysuckles are like a hedge on either side. You smell the honeysuckles?”
“It was the honeysuckles that guided me, after we had half crossed the heath. You were too busy with the thyme to attend to them, I dare say; but the honeysuckles were what I was on the look-out for. If we have to go to Serk, you will find the air as sweet as Paradise with them.”
“Why should we go to Serk?”
“I may be able to tell you within an hour or two, or we may have to wait till morning. In the last case, I know of a snug cave where we will light a fire with a little of yonder furze; and it will be odd if we do not fall in with something good to eat and drink, and something soft to sleep upon.”
“I sleep in a cave!” exclaimed Mrs. Le Brocq. “I cannot do any such thing. I never slept in a cave in my life.”
“If you see any place that you like better, I am sure I am very glad,” replied Stephen. “Yonder sofa would not be a bad place on a soft summer’s night. Only, a brood of Mother Carey’s chickens might chance to flap their wings about you and startle you; or, if you woke, you might happen to find yourself in the middle of a circle of strangers, all smoking their pipes; and then you might wish yourself down with me in the cave. If you look round, ma’am, you will see no blue roofs in all the island,—unless they have altered it since I knew it.”
Mrs. Le Brocq shuddered as she said that it was too dark to see blue roofs or any thing else.
“And there are the Casket lights,” cried Anna. “Only two! yes; there is the third. Look, mother! like three red stars.”
“Now,” said Stephen, “one of you must be so good as to help me down this path,—just to the turning.”
Anna guided him, her mother calling out all the way, that they must not go far: she did not choose to be left alone.
While they were for a few minutes out of sight, she had recourse to her prayers, finding herself in too strong a panic for tears. Those nasty birds would come and pick out first her eyes and then Anna’s; and then they two would be more blind than Stephen, and could never get away; and their bones would lie stark and stiff on the cold ground. Before she had done praying that she might live to die in her bed, her companions re-appeared, to save her eyes for the present from the birds.
When Stephen and Anna had reached the first turn of the winding path, he desired to know what was to be seen beneath. “Scarcely anything,” replied Anna. “Between the Casket lights and these rocks, there is nothing but the dark grey sea.”
“And nothing under these rocks?”
“Only a little patch of sand, with nothing upon it; and the white birds sailing out and in. Not a boat on the sea, nor a living person on the land! What a place to bring us to, Stephen!”
“Not a living person on the land! Do you suppose there are any dead, Miss Anna? Do you see any white skeletons among the dark rocks?”
“The place gives one as horrible an idea as any you can speak,” Anna replied. “This is a place where a poor wretch may be cast ashore, and drag himself up out of sea-reach, and mark the sun set thrice while he is pining with hunger and cannot die, and beholding land far off where he cannot make himself seen or heard, till all is one dark cloud before his dying eyes, and his last terrors seize him, and there is no one to take his hand, and speak the word that would calm his spirit. O, Stephen, what a place to bring my mother and me to!”
“Ay, is not it? You are making up your mind to die here, I see. Come; this is all I have to show you yet. We may go up to the sofa again, and see whether your mother is dreaming about dead men’s bones, or crying because she cannot get away.”
Anna was not disposed to make any answer. She led the way back in silence, and said no more to her mother than to remind her that remonstrance was in vain. Nothing could well be more cheerless than the companionship of the party for the next half hour, while the stars were piercing the heaven, and the sea-birds dropping into the caverns below, and the night breeze going forth on its course, and whispering the rocks which stood as sentries over the restless tide. Mrs. Le Brocq sat bolt upright on the stone sofa; Stephen lay down on the turf, as if to sleep; and Anna walked backwards and forwards, harassed by uneasy thoughts. At the same instant, she stopped in her pacing, and Stephen half raised his head, as a watch-dog does at any sound brought by the night wind.
“What is it?” asked Anna.
Probably her half-breathed question did not reach Stephen; for he yawned, and laid himself down as before. Anna could only suppose that she had heard nothing. There was no use in asking her mother; for she must doubtless be fully occupied with the noise in her head, of which she complained at all times, and especially when under any sort of agitation.
In ten minutes more, Stephen jumped up, saying briskly,
“Now, Miss Anna, I must trouble you once more.”
“To do what, Mr. Stephen?”
“To prevent my being lost in the honey-suckles, that is all.”
With some unwillingness, Anna again made herself his guide down the path. When she reached the turn, she stifled an exclamation of astonishment.
“Out with it, Miss Anna!” said Stephen. “You see none but friends. What are they doing below?”
“They have set up a boat sideways, to prevent the fire being blown out; or, perhaps, to hinder its being seen from the sea. What a fire they are making! and every man has his pipe.”
“As is fitting for those that help so many to a pipe which they could not otherwise get. How many are there? Do you see any face that you know?”
“I can scarcely tell yet. The light flickers so! One—two—there are five, I think. O, Stephen!—it never can be,—yes, it is,—Mr. Prince, the shopkeeper at St. Peter’s, that—”
“Why should not it be Mr. Prince? The shopkeepers are as likely a set of men to be out on a vraicking eve as any. Is he the only one you know?”
“Yes. I see all their faces now. There is no other that I have ever known, I think. How very odd it is to see Mr. Prince look just as he used to do when he stood smiling behind his own counter!”
“He smiles, does he? Well; I hope you ladies will not be afraid to trust yourselves with Mr. Prince; I have no doubt he will be proud to take care of you back.”
“To St. Peter’s! But we do not want to go to St. Peter’s. Stephen, I believe we shall never make you understand how much we wish to get back to Jersey. I wonder you can trifle with us so.”
“Have patience,” said Stephen. “You well know that there is one thing that you desire even more than to get back to Jersey.”
“About Aaron. There he is! behind the boat!” cried she, passing Stephen, and flying down the steep pathway, as if she had thought it possible for Aaron now to escape her by running into the sea. Aaron had no wish to flee away. Before his sister had made her way through his companions, he had opened his arms to her; and he had no less pleasure in the meeting than herself.
He was all surprise at finding Anna apparently alone on a desert island; and she that he was not expecting her. He knew that his family meant soon to return to their farm; but he would as soon have expected to meet the queen of England in the wilds of Berhou as his sister Anna.
His mother there too!—And his father also? he inquired with an altered voice. His father not being of the party, he became extremely impatient to join his mother.
“That is the way by which I came down,” Anna explained. “There,—by yonder little opening. Let me show you. And poor Stephen: I forgot him;—he is there; and he can neither get up nor down by himself, and I left him alone. O, Aaron, how could you go away as you did?” And all the way up the ascent, Aaron had to justify himself for going away as he did. He scarcely paused a moment to greet Stephen; but ran on to find Mrs. Le Brocq. When the first tears and exclamations were over, the question was heard again,
“Aaron, how could you go away as you did?”
“Why, mother, is not being here much better than drudging on the tread-wheel, or even than doing nothing in a prison? I tell you, mother, if you did but know the pleasant sort of life I have been leading lately—Well; if that won’t do, let me tell you that it makes me so merry to see you and Anna standing here,—so free, and so far out of the reach of such fellows as Studley,—that I could find in my heart to whiff away all laws like the smoke from one of those tobacco-pipes.”
Anna thought that the use of laws was to enable people to stand free, and out of the reach of knaves and revengeful men.
“To be sure, such ought to be the purpose of laws; but is such the purpose and effect of the excise laws? Nobody knows better than I, and the other men below there, that the raising money for the state is necessary for the security and quiet of the people; but if the money is so raised as to spoil their security and quiet, who is not tempted to wish the laws at the devil, and let the state take its chance for money? It is a fine thing for us to be here, at any rate, under this open sky, and with plenty of meat and drink below. Come, mother; we will have a good supper to-night, without asking the king’s will about what we shall have, or paying for his leave to enjoy one thing rather than another. We have plenty of vraicking cakes from Alderney, and some fine French wine to drink with them.”
“O, Mr. Stephen,” cried Mrs. Le Brocq, “we are much obliged to you for bringing us here. Here is Aaron so free and happy! and vraicking cakes, and French wine! We are much obliged to you, Mr. Stephen.”
“Yes, we are indeed,” said Anna, heartily. “I beg your pardon, I am sure, for doubting what you were doing for us. But it did seem very forlorn. How well and merry Aaron looks, to be sure! If we were but certain it was all right!”
“How can it be wrong when we are all as merry as children let out of school?” Stephen asked. “I found out your evil thoughts of me, Miss Anna; but now, perhaps, you will trust me another time. I may chance to hear more in a church-bell than the news that the vraicking begins to-morrow.”
“Was it that bell that told you that Aaron would be here to-night? I never thought of that. I never could have guessed it.”
“I dare say not. Some people that have more interest in such matters than you, are no more aware than you of the sly little markets that are held in many a cove and cavern, when an oyster-fishing or a vraicking gives opportunity for many boats to meet together. Such a bell as that we heard in Alderney is a signal to more ears than it is intended for; and lights like those” (pointing towards the Caskets) “serve many eyes for a dial, to show the hour of meeting. Aaron, are there many foreigners off the islands just now?”
“Above fifty small sail of French off Guernsey this morning. The Guernsey folks are fine customers to the French now; which is no little help to our business. We can get anything to order; and when by chance other things fail, there is always corn and wine for the boldest of us to carry; and I, for one, have never had to wait for a port to get them into.—But come; there will be no supper left if we do not make haste down. We jumped ashore with fine appetites, and I would not trust any body with a cooked supper, after such a pull as we have had to-day. Besides, we have not overmuch time, for we must be off Little Serk before the first farmer is up and overlooking the sea. We have a private errand there.”
“And you are going to leave us—all alone!” exclaimed Mrs. Le Brocq.
“Not if you wish to go with us, mother. At Little Serk you will be all the nearer Jersey, you know. We will take good care of you. Come, Anna; you are not afraid of supping with my partners, are you?”
“O, no; and yet, if anybody had told me—But they do not look at all wild and terrible, as I thought people did when they broke the laws.”
“It depends much on what sort of people break the laws,” observed Stephen; “and that again depends on what sort of laws they are that are broken. When it is not the violent and cruel, but such people as thrifty shop-keepers—”
“I cannot help laughing,” said Anna, “to think of Mr. Prince. I am sure nobody could ever dream of being afraid of him. Mother, will you come down, and speak to Mr. Prince, and have some supper?”
“And he will tell us the best plan for getting to Jersey, I dare say. I wonder whether he has been in the way of hearing anything of Louise lately?”
The old lady made little difficulty about the descent; and she and her daughter were presently so far demoralized as to be supping with a company of smugglers, almost as comfortably as if they had been honest men.