Front Page Titles (by Subject) Chapter VII.: WELCOME TO SUPPER. - 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 VII.: WELCOME TO SUPPER. - 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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WELCOME TO SUPPER.
The party was off Little Serk, as Aaron willed, before the first farmer was abroad on the upland to overlook the gleamy sea. Two of the company had hastened over the heath, while the others were at supper, to bring the larger packages which had been left behind; and all had put off beneath the moon some time before midnight. Mr. Prince had found a little leisure for being civil to his former customers, though he had much to do, as well as his companions, in stowing in one of the caverns the goods he had brought from France, and loading the boat with the packages deposited there by some friendly vraickers and lobster-fishers.
It was not that in these islands any danger attended traffic of any kind; except in the one article of spirits which had not paid duty. There were here no guards patrolling the sands, or perched upon the steep, to look for thieves in every bark that cleaved the blue expanse, and anticipate murder when the twilight spread its shadows. There were here no questionable abodes,—spy-stations,—niched in places convenient for overlooking the traffic of housewifes with the fishermen who furnished their tables. Here there were no deadly struggles in the darkness, the comrade going down in deep waters, with the bitter consciousness that he was thrown overboard lest his wounds should lead his companions into danger; or left unclaimed upon the beach, while wife or parents are secretly mourning, and longing to give the exposed body the respectful burial which strangers will not yield. No such extraordinary arrangements deform the simplicity and mar the peace of the society of these islands; but, while the coasts of France and England cannot enjoy the same freedom, the islanders are tempted to share in the frauds and the perils of their neighbours. Not content with having corn, wine, and tobacco at their natural cost of production and carriage, they are willing to help others to the same privilege; and will continue to be so willing as long as, by their office of go-between, they can make a profit by the bad legislation of the two kingdoms within whose embrace they lie. There is no remedy for this but rectifying the faults of French and English commercial legislation. As long as taxes are levied by raising the prices of necessary articles so high as to make smuggling profitable, the island boats will steal along the shores, or cautiously cross the straits on the dishonest errands of a mediator between two defrauders; they will land their passengers short of their point, because they have something besides passengers on board; they will make a show of lobsters to hide tea and tobacco. To impose restraints on them, similar to those by which they now profit in pocket and suffer in morals, would only increase the evil by enlarging the field of temptation, and adding the demand of the islands to that of the two neighbouring coasts. There is no remedy but in putting all on an equality, not of restraint, but of freedom.
The lord of Serk and his people had not yet opened their eyes on the morning sunshine, when the boat containing Aaron and his party ran under the perpendicular rocks of the island, and several voices announced that they had arrived at their destination. No landing-place was visible; but the women had by this time become inured to wonders, and resigned to whatever of romantic might come in their way. They asked no questions, even when their boat grated against the rock, and moved uneasily in the ripple without being intended to make any progress. They made no objection when desired to lay hold of a rope which dangled from a ledge thirty feet above their heads; and quietly submitted to be hauled up they knew not whither. Up and down, forward and round-about they went, now seeing a cask taken up from a store-cavern, now dropping a message in a lonely cottage; and at last sitting down to repose in a cavern which was lighted only from a natural opening at the top, upon which the blue sky seemed to rest as a roof. Here the echoes were already awake with the blows of the mattock and the grating of the saw. Here boat-building went on, early and late; for a certain Englishman had found out how well the islanders are off for timber,—the best of timber, which pays no duty; and many a good bargain he made by going forth in a worn-out vessel, and coming home in a boat of Serk workmanship. Aaron was right in supposing that here he should pick up the means of conveying his mother and sister home with their heavy wares. Here he insisted on their resting, after their many fatigues and long watching; but it was not that he might himself repose. He had still a little trip to make.
“My dear, you will be tired to death,” said his mother. “I never knew you work all night in Jersey.”
Aaron laughed, and said that people are seldom tired to death when they work at no bidding but their own: and, as for working at night—
“It is a bad practice, Aaron, depend upon it,” said his sister. “Honest work is done by daylight.”
“Carry your objections to those who taught me to work at night,” answered Aaron. “And not me only, but hundreds more. They are but few who would naturally work when their part of the world is supposed to be asleep;—the nurse beside the sick-bed, and the watchmen that walk the streets of cities; the beacon-keeper that trims the lamps in his high tower, and the helmsman that fixes his eyes upon those lights far out at sea. All but these are supposed to be at rest when God has set his stars for night-lamps, and drawn the darkness about us for a curtain: but there are some who contradict his decree that night is the time for rest;—and they are such as make harsh and unjust laws.”
“But for laws,” said Anna, nearly as she had said before, “we might be subject to the robber by night, and the violent man by day. Without laws, none of us could lie down and sleep in peace.”
“Without some wholesome laws: but, if it were not for certain unwise and cruel laws, thousands more of us would lie down and sleep in peace. Ask the country justice in England, whose business it is to enforce the laws, how often it happens that labourers who cannot get work during the day because their superiors have a monopoly of bread, toil unlawfully all the night because their superiors have a monopoly of game. He may dispute the wickedness; but he will not deny what comes of digging pitfalls for men, lest they should set springes for birds. Ask, — (nobody could have told better than poor Durell)—ask any exciseman what time is chosen by certain traders for their traffic, and makers for their work; and he will tell you of the burning, and the boiling, and the distilling, and the packing and removing that take place by night. He will tell you that the noblest works that men can do, and that they ought to do proudly in the daylight, are done by night, because the law has fixed a sin and a shame upon them. To make improvements in human comfort is turned into a sin and shame, when those improvements are made too expensive by a tax; therefore they are tried by night. The exchange of the fruits of men’s labour is made a sin and a shame, when a tax comes in to make such an exchange unprofitable: therefore it is done by night. These innocent things being made a sin and a shame is the reason why tax-gatherers prowl about, like so many robbers, when the sun is down; and why the better men whom they entrap are carried to prison in the morning, to come out blasted and desperate, as if they had committed a crime against God’s majesty instead of against the king’s treasury.”
Mrs. Le Brocq stared in astonishment at her son. With a little hesitation, she asked him whether he had not adopted a new vocation, and turned preacher. The kindness of his manner to her, and the eloquence of his speech, concurred to impress her with the idea. He smiled as he answered, that there would be no lack of preachers or of eloquence upon this subject, if every one who had suffered were allowed to bear witness. A voice would rise up from all the land, and go forth over the sea, if every Briton who is injured by the mode in which he is obliged to pay his contribution to the state, might speak his mind.
But still,—Aaron talked so differently from what he used to do,—so freely,—so cleverly.
“There is all the difference in the world, mother, between— But I do not wish to say anything disrespectful of my father: so I will only mention that the reason why it is found to be prudent for governments to allow people to speak out, is because nothing makes men more eloquent than a sense of wrong; and the stronger the eloquence that is suppressed, the more doggedly will the sense of wrong show itself in some other way. A whole nation can mutter and be sullen, as I used to be; and its muttering and sullenness may prove of more importance than mine. Now I have got an occupation of my own, and am under nobody’s management, I could preach (as you would say) very strongly both to parents and governments about not being spies and meddlers,—that is to say,” (recollecting his father) “about not interfering more than is pleasant with the doings of their children and subjects. To make wise and merciful general laws, and then leave the will and actions free in particular instances, is the only true policy,—the only kind of government which is not in its nature tyranny.”
“But how do you apply that to the paying of taxes?” inquired Stephen. “How is the state to raise money on such a plan of government?”
“Far more easily than in any other way, in my opinion. Under a general rule that property is to pay such or such a proportion of tax, there is the least possible room for partiality and oppression; for the derangement of people’s affairs, and interference with people’s actions. There is an open and honest calling to account, at times that are fixed, in a manner that is established, and for purposes that are well understood: while, by meddling as excisemen and customhouse officers meddle, the king is defrauded of the affections of his people; the state is wronged in purse and reputation; and its agents are made masters to teach multitudes a livelihood which need never have been heard of. Which of us would naturally have dreamed of living by defrauding the government, for whose protection we were ready to pay our share?”
“Then you will not go on as you have been doing lately,” said Anna. “You will go home with us, and serve the government as you yourself think the government ought to be served.”
“I will see you home, and do my father’s errand at the custom-house,” replied Aaron. “The States shall never have cause to complain of me, as long as they go on to take our taxes as they do now. As for cheating them, I could not if I would: and I am sure I have no desire to do it while they treat me like a man, and ask no more from me than is due from a subject.”
“I am sure I hope they will go on to do so.”
“You may well wish it. If ever they begin meddling with your cider or soap-making, or setting spies upon me when I buy tobacco or hemp, I shall be off to some country,—Turkey may be,—where taxes are demanded and not filched.”
“Turkey! I thought that was a horrible country to live in.”
“So you would find it in many respects; but it is wise and free in its mode of taxation; and the effects of this one kind of wisdom and freedom on the happiness of the people, our neighbours on the north and south would do prudently to study and admit. However, yonder lies Jersey; as good a place as Turkey in this respect, and better in many others; so I have no present wish to sail eastwards.”
It seemed to Mrs. Le Brocq this afternoon that nothing more was necessary to happiness than to be sailing southwards, with Aaron trimming the sail, Anna looking as tranquil as if she had never been in an excise court or a prison, and the beloved island rising on the sight, in which was Louise, probably with a pretty baby in her arms;—a pretty baby, of course, as every thing belonging to Louise must be pretty. How cheerful looked that picturesque coast from Grosnez to Rozel, as promontory after promontory came into view, tapestried with verdure, or crested with cairns or church towers, and casting each its dark shadow to hide its eastern cove from the declining sun! How busy were those coves to-day! how unlike their usual solitude and stillness! At almost every other time, it was a wonder to see more than a solitary loiterer on the narrow path whose precarious line circled the rocks, and penetrated the bays, now winding up to the steep, now dipping to the margin of the water; and, as for the yellow sands, they were left printless from tide to tide while the islanders were busy about their farmsteads. But now, all was as animated as if the land was joyful at the Le Brocqs’ return. Carts were standing in the water to receive the vraic; and the red-capped boy who rode the horse, or the white-sleeved man who wielded his rake in the vehicle, looked bright in the evening sunshine. Here and there, a horse might be seen swimming home from a distant mass of rock, guided by a youth or maiden mounted on the heaped panniers. Boats were plying from point to point; and on every ledge where marine vegetation could be supposed to flourish without danger of molestation, children might be seen tugging at the tenacious weed, while their fathers did more effectual execution with their scythes. There was not an exposed place all along this coast where the lobsters could safely come up this day to sun themselves; and when the infant crabs should next propose to play hide-and-seek in what was to them a sort of marine jungle, they would find their moist retreat stripped and bare, and must betake themselves again to the tide. High on the beach might be seen parties busy at their work, or busier at their recreation,—spreading and tossing the ooze as if it were hay, or broaching the cider cask, and distributing the vraicking cakes. Mrs. Le Brocq once nearly upset the boat, by lifting up her ponderous self with the view of hailing the mowers on shore;—a feat about as practicable in her case as shaking hands with one on the top of Coutances cathedral. She was glad to reseat herself, and be no worse, and try to wait patiently till the boat should have rounded Archirondel tower, and given her up to tread one of the green paths from St. Catherine’s bay to the ridge, on the other side of which was Louise.
From that ridge might be seen the farm-house, just as was expected. It did not seem to have lost an ivy-leaf, nor to have gained so much as a lichen on its pales. The pigeons looked the very same. The fowls strutted and perched exactly as formerly; and the brook trotted over the stones as if it had never grown tired all these many months.
“Who could have thought we had been away?” was Anna’s first exclamation. Her mother was toiling on too fast to reply; but Aaron gave an unconscious answer to her thought when he presently overtook them, and delivered the result of the observation he had lingered on the ridge to make with his boat glass.
“Who do you think is in the porch, mother?”
“And who else?—No, not her husband, nor Victorine; but her baby. There is a bundle on her arm; I am sure it must be her baby. Charles is out vraicking, no doubt; and Victorine is milking, I see, behind there. Not so fast, mother, if I may advise. Let me go first. She will be less surprised to see me; and I think she cannot be strong yet, or she would have been out vraicking too.”
It was, in fact, Louise’s first evening out of doors after her confinement. What an evening it was!—Anna relieving her of all household cares; her mother overflowing by turns with affecting narrative and admiration of the infant; Stephen giving a droll turn to every thing; and no paternal restraint to spoil the whole! It was a pity that night was near, and that it would come to put a stop to the interesting questions and answers that abounded.
“When do you gather your apples, love? I have been thinking we must soon be setting about your cider.”
“But, mother, only think of your coming away from London without seeing the king!”
“My dear, your father did write to him: so it is not as if we had had nothing to do with him.”
“And what was the answer like?”
“Bless me, Anna! we never thought more of the king’s answer. But, really, my head was so full of things, I never recollected to send to inquire at the post-office. However, your father will be more mindful, I dare say. Well, Louise, I cannot think how you managed with the calf, to have such a misfortune happen, my dear. I never failed with one all the time I lived here.”
“And you say you never so much as tried in Lambeth. I do wonder you did not manage it, one way or another.”
“Nobody keeps cows there, love, but the brewers; and then the poor beasts live on the grains, and seldom taste fresh grass. They flourish, in a way, too. A great brewer near us had one brought in, intending that it should have the range of the paved yard, on Sundays, when the gates were shut: but the creature had fattened on the grains so that when the people would have let her out, she could not turn in her stall. When they had thinned her a little, so that she might get exercise, it was thought that the fumes of the liquor had affected her head, she capered about so among the casks. But I never heard but what she yielded very good cream, which you do not always see in London.”
“I wonder how they get cream at all, if, as you say, there are no cows but one in each brewery. Perhaps the excise makes the difficulty with taking some of the cream for the king; as they say the tithing man does for the parson.”
Aaron had not heard of an exciseman being yet instructed to thrust himself between the cow and the milk-pail; but he should not be surprised any day to hear of its being made part of an excise officer’s duty to peep in at a dairy lattice, and see what the milk-maids were about with their skimming dishes. Did not he hear horses’ feet outside? Could it be Charles? No; Charles was not coming home to-night. What old friend could it be? And he ran out to see.
“An old enemy,” the guest expected to be called. It was Janvrin, the tax-gatherer. Every body was struck with the strangeness of the circumstance that he should appear on this particular night,—to a party who had had so much to do with taxes since they had met him last. There was something much more astonishing to him in the cordiality of his reception.
“The last time I saw you all here,” said he, “you certainly wished me at the Caskets, or somewhere further off still; and now, you are heaping your good supper upon me, as if I were come to pay money, and not to ask it.”
“For our former behaviour,” replied Aaron, “you may call him to account,”—pointing to Stephen. “You heard him say what taxation was in England,—just paying a trifle more for articles when they were bought;—such a mere trifle as not to be perceived. He is not laughing in his sleeve now as he was when he told that traveller’s tale. It is to our having taken him at his word, Janvrin, and made trial of English taxation, that you owe your different reception to-night.”
Stephen expressed his sorrow that his words had taken so much more effect than he had intended. He really would try,—he would do his very best, to avoid telling travellers’ tales for the future.
“The oddest thing is,” said Janvrin, “that there are some who are no travellers that tell the very same tale. There are dwellers in England,—even speakers in her parliament, who ought to know the condition and interests of the people, who go on to insist that the filching system,—the taxing of commodities,—is the best way of raising a revenue. The wonder to me is why the mouths of such men are not stopped,—how such taxes come to be borne.”
“Because it is the ignorant who have to bear the worst of the burden,” Stephen thought. “The payment is made unconsciously by those who pay in the long run. The trader feels the grievance at first, and makes an outcry; but when the time comes for him to repay himself out of his customers’ pockets, he drops his cry, and nobody takes it up. It saves some people much trouble that all should be hush. But the time cannot be far off when honest men will be set to inquire, and then—”
“And what then?”
“They will report that the truest kindness to the people will be rather to preserve the worst direct tax, be it what it may, that was ever devised, than to go on taxing glass and soap, and many other things nearly as necessary.”
“If the people are so little aware as you say, I am afraid that day is a long way off.”
“I think it is near at hand; and for this reason; that there has been a beginning made with the excise taxes. The government has set free candles, beer, cider and perry, hides and printed goods. What should hinder their going on to glass and soap, now that the mischief begins to be understood?”
“Especially,” said Janvrin, “when they find what it is to have fewer officers to pay, and smaller regiments of spies to provide for, and less trouble in delivering money backwards and forwards, as they have to do now with drawbacks and import duties, and all such troublesome things. It is a pity they should not come here, and see what it is to have houses made of free bricks, and filled with furniture made of untaxed wood, and cleaned with home-made soap, and—but I need not tell the present company what it is to live in Jersey, before or after living in England. The English may have heard a little of our meadows, our cattle, and our fruits, the like to which they cannot make in a season, at their will; but they can hardly have heard much of our taxation, or else they would come and live here by thousands;—or rather, mend their own plans so as not to be beaten by us in butter-selling in their own markets,—not to be obliged to us for helping them underhand with such corn and oil and wine as we do not want,—not to reflect with shame that we have in proportion five newspapers to their one, and one tax-gatherer to their ten.”
“The comptroller at St. Heliers might well advise me not to go to England,” said Aaron. “He knew well what he meant in saying it. I shall tell him so to-morrow; and the more because I was inclined to take it ill at the time.”
“Saying, I suppose, ‘What’s that to you?’ Hey, Mr. Aaron?”
“Just so. I have had my answer, I assure you. I hope he knows as well how different his office is from that of an English custom-house officer. When he has done his search about wine and spirits, he may put his hands in his pocket and amuse himself. I well remember his doing so, of old. In England, there is not a package that comes on shore that is not suspected; and scarcely a thing that is brought over to be sold for touch or taste, that is not taxed or to be taxed.”
“That is going too far for any body’s interest. If the English would have no customs for protection, but only for revenue, they would presently find out what would bear customs duty without doing harm to any or all. They would tax outwards only what their country produced so much better than other countries that others would go on to buy, notwithstanding the tax; and inwards nothing at all. When China taxes her own tea, and Russia her own tallow, timber, and hides, and England her own iron and slates, and each country, in like manner, its own best produce, and nobody’s else, the curse of the customs will cease from off the earth.”
“Meantime, if the duties were proportioned to the natural prices of articles, and made to fall with the price, instead of rising—”
“Some of our islanders must change their occupation; or fish lobsters in earnest instead of pretence. Then there would be an end of the crowning curse of smuggling.”
Aaron and Stephen made no answer,—the one applying himself once more to his plate, and the other pressing the tax-gatherer again to eat. An interval was left for Louise to repeat to him, while Victorine stood open-mouthed to hear, some of the wonders of life in Lambeth;—the non-existence of cows, the dearth of baked pears and vraic, and the actual presence of a river in which nobody thought of washing clothes. This reminded Victorine to make haste and put away every stray article of apparel before Stephen retired to rest.