"'Hoc jacet in tumulo, raptus puerilibus annis, Jacob Faithful domini cura, doloroque sui?'
"True, most true. Thou hast quitted the element thou so joyously controlledst, thou hast come upon the terra firma for thy grave?
"'Sis licet inde sibi tellus placata, levisque, Artifices levior non potes esse manu.'
"Earth, lay light upon the lighter-boy—the lotus, the water-lily, that hath been cast on shore to die. Hadst thou lived, Jacob, I would have taught thee the Humanities; we would have conferred pleasantly together. I would have poured out my learning to thee, my Absalom, my son!"
He rose and stood over me; the tears coursed down his long nose from both his eyes, and from the point of it poured out like a little rain-gutter upon the coverlid. I understood not all his words, but I understood the spirit of them—it was love. I feebly stretched forth my arms, and articulated "Dominie!"
The old man clasped his hands, looked upwards, and said, "O God, I thank thee—he will live. Hush, hush, my sweet one, thou must not prate;" and he retired on tiptoe, and I heard him mutter triumphantly, as he walked away, "He called me 'Dominie!'"
From that hour I rapidly recovered, and in three weeks was again at my duties. I was now within six months of being fourteen years old, and Mr Drummond, who had occasionally called to ascertain my progress, came to confer with the Dominie upon my future prospects. "All that I can do for him, Mr Dobbs," said my former master, "is to bind him apprentice to serve his time on the River Thames, and that cannot be done until he is fourteen. Will the rules of the school permit his remaining?"
"The regulations do not exactly, but I will," replied the Dominie. "I have asked nothing for my long services, and the governors will not refuse me such a slight favour; should they, I will charge myself with him, that he may not lose his precious time. What sayest thou, Jacob, dost thou feel inclined to return to thy father Thames?"
I replied in the affirmative, for the recollections of my former life were those of independence and activity.
"Thou hast decided well, Jacob—the tailor at his needle, the shoemaker at his last, the serving boy to an exacting mistress, and all those apprenticed to the various trades, have no time for improvement; but afloat there are moments of quiet and peace—the still night for reflection, the watch for meditation; and even the adverse wind or tide leaves moments of leisure which may be employed to advantage. Then wilt thou call to mind the stores of learning which I have laid up in thy garner, and wilt add to them by perseverance and industry. Thou hast yet six months to profit by, and, with the blessing of God, those six months shall not be thrown away."
Mr Drummond having received my consent to be bound apprentice, wished me farewell, and departed. During the six months the Dominie pressed me hard, almost too hard, but I worked for love, and to please him I was most diligent. At last the time had flown away, the six months had more than expired, and Mr Drummond made his appearance, with a servant carrying a bundle under his arm. I slipped off my pepper-and-salt, my yellows and badge, dressed myself in a neat blue jacket and trousers, and with many exhortations from the Dominie, and kind wishes from the matron, I bade farewell to them and to the charity-school, and in an hour was once more under the roof of the kind Mrs Drummond.
But how different were my sensations to those which oppressed me when I had before entered. I was no longer a little savage, uneducated and confused in my ideas. On the contrary, I was full of imagination, confident in myself, and in my own powers, cultivated in mind, and proud of my success. The finer feelings of my nature had been called into play. I felt gratitude, humility, and love, at the same time that I was aware of my own capabilities. In person I had much improved, as well as much increased in stature. I walked confident and elastic, joying in the world, hoping, anticipating, and kindly disposed towards my fellow-creatures. I knew, I felt my improvement, my total change of character, and it was with sparkling eyes that I looked up at the window, where I saw Mrs Drummond and little Sarah watching my return and reappearance after an absence of three years.
Mrs Drummond had been prepared by her husband to find a great change; but still she looked for a second or two with wonder as I entered the door, with my hat in my hand, and paid my obeisance. She extended her hand to me, which I took respectfully.
"I should not have known you, Jacob; you have grown quite a man," said she, smiling. Sarah held back, looking at me with pleased astonishment; but I went up to her, and she timidly accepted my hand. I had left her as my superior—I returned, and she soon perceived that I had a legitimate right to the command. It was some time before she would converse, and much longer before she would become intimate; but when she did so, it was no longer the little girl encouraging the untutored boy by kindness, or laughing at his absurdities, but looking up to him with respect and affection, and taking his opinion as a guide for her own. I had gained the power of knowledge.
By the regulations of the Waterman's Company, it is necessary that every one who wishes to ply on the river on his own account should serve as an apprentice from the age of fourteen to twenty-one; at all events, he must serve an apprenticeship for seven years, and be fourteen years old before he signs the articles. This apprenticeship may be served in any description of vessel which sails or works on the river, whether it be barge, lighter, fishing smack, or a boat of larger dimensions, and it is not until that apprenticeship is served that he can work on his own account, either in a wherry or any other craft. Mr Drummond offered to article me on board of one of his own lighters free of all expense, leaving me at liberty to change into any other vessel that I might think proper. I gratefully accepted the proposal, went with him to Watermen's Hall, signed the papers, and thus was, at the age of fourteen, "Bound 'prentice to a Waterman."
I AM RECOMMENDED TO LEARN TO SWIM, AND I TAKE A FRIENDLY ADVICE—HEAVY SUSPICION ON BOARD OF THE LIGHTER, AND A MYSTERY, OUT OF WHICH MRS. RADCLIFFE WOULD HAVE MADE A ROMANCE.
"Jacob, this is Marables, who has charge of the Polly barge," said Mr Drummond, who had sent for me into his office, a few days after my arrival at his house. "Marables," continued my protector, addressing the man, "I have told you that this lad is bound 'prentice to the Polly; I expect you will look after him, and treat him kindly. No blows or ill treatment. If he does not conduct himself well (but well I'm sure he will), let me know when you come back from your trip."
During this speech I was scrutinising the outward man of my future controller. He was stout and well-built, inclining to corpulence, his features remarkably good, although his eyes were not large. His mouth was very small, and there was a good-natured smile on his lips as he answered, "I never treated a cat ill, master."
"I believe not," replied Mr Drummond; "but I am anxious that Jacob should do well in the world, and therefore let you know that he will always have my protection, so long as he conducts himself properly."
"We shall be very good friends, sir, I'll answer for it, if I may judge from the cut of his jib," replied Marables, extending to me an immense hand, as broad as it was long.
After this introduction, Mr Drummond gave him some directions, and left us together.
"Come and see the craft, boy," said Marables and I followed him to the barge, which was one of those fitted with a mast which lowered down and hauled up again, as required. She plied up and down the river as far as the Nore, sometimes extending her voyage still farther: but that was only in the summer months. She had a large cabin abaft, and a cuddy forward. The cabin was locked, and I could not examine it.
"This will be your berth," said Marables, pointing to the cuddy-hatch forward; "you will have it all to yourself. The other man and I sleep abaft."
"Have you another man, then?"
"Yes, I have, Jacob," replied he; and then muttering to himself, "I wish I had not—I wish the barge was only between us, Jacob, or that you had not been sent on board," continued he, gravely. "It would have been better—much better." And he walked aft, whistling in a low tone, looking down sadly on the deck.
"Is your cabin large?" inquired I, as he came forward.
"Yes, large enough; but I cannot show it to you now—he has the key."
"What, the other man under you?"
"Yes," replied Marables, hastily. "I've been thinking, Jacob, that you may as well remain on shore till we start. You can be of no use here."
To this I had no objection; but I often went on board during the fortnight that the barge remained, and soon became very partial to Marables. There was a kindness about him that won me, and I was distressed to perceive that he was often very melancholy. What surprised me most was to find that during the first week the cabin was constantly locked, and that Marables had not the key; it appeared so strange that he, as master of the barge, should be locked out of his own cabin by his inferior.
One day I went early on board, and found not only the cabin doors open, but the other man belonging to her walking up and down the deck with Marables. He was a well-looking, tall, active young man, apparently not thirty, with a general boldness of countenance strongly contrasted with a furtive glance of the eye. He had a sort of blue smock-frock over-all, and the trousers which appeared below were of a finer texture than those usually worn by people of his condition.
"This is the lad who is bound to the barge," said Marables. "Jacob, this is Fleming."
"So, younker," said Fleming, after casting an inquiring eye upon me, "you are to sail with us, are you? It's my opinion that your room would be better than your company. However, if you keep your eyes open, I'd advise you to keep your mouth shut. When I don't like people's company, I sometimes give them a hoist into the stream—so keep a sharp look out, my joker."
Not very well pleased with this address, I answered, "I thought Marables had charge of the craft, and that I was to look to him for orders."
"Did you, indeed!" replied Fleming, with a sneer. "I say, my lad, can you swim?"
"No, I can't," replied I—"I wish I could."
"Well, then, take my advice—learn to swim as fast as you can for I have a strong notion that one day or other I shall take you by the scruff of the neck, and send you to look after your father."
"Fleming! Fleming! pray be quiet!" said Marables, who had several times pulled him by the sleeve. "He's only joking, Jacob," continued Marables to me, as, indignant at the mention of my father's death, I was walking away to the shore, over the other lighters.
"Well," replied I, turning round, "if I am to be tossed overboard, it's just as well to let Mr Drummond know, that if I'm missing he may guess what's become of me."
"Pooh! nonsense!" said Fleming, immediately altering his manner, and coming to me where I stood in the barge next to them. "Give us your hand, my boy; I was only trying what stuff you were made of. Come, shake hands; I wasn't in earnest."
I took the proffered hand, and went on shore. "Nevertheless," thought I, "I'll learn to swim; for I rather think he was in earnest." And I took my first lesson that day; and by dint of practice soon acquired that very necessary art. Had it not been for the threat of Fleming, I probably should not have thought of it; but it occurred to me that I might tumble, even if I were not thrown overboard, and that a knowledge of swimming would do no harm.
The day before the barge was to proceed down the river to Sheerness, with a cargo of bricks, I called upon my worthy old master, Dominie Dobiensis.
"Salve puer!" cried the old man, who was sitting in his study. "Verily, Jacob, thou art come in good time. I am at leisure, and will give thee a lesson. Sit down, my child."
The Dominie opened the Aeneid of Virgil, and commenced forthwith. I was fortunate enough to please him with my off-hand translation; and as he closed the book, I told him that I had called to bid him farewell, as we started at daylight the next morning.
"Jacob," said he, "thou hast profited well by the lessons which I have bestowed upon thee: now take heed of that advice which I am now about to offer to thee. There are many who will tell thee that thy knowledge is of no use, for what avail can the Latin tongue be to a boy on board of a lighter. Others may think that I have done wrong thus to instruct thee, as thy knowledge may render thee vain—nil exactius eruditiusque est— or discontented with thy situation in life. Such is too often the case, I grant; but it is because education is not as general as it ought to be. Were all educated, the superiority acquired or presumed upon by education would be lost, and the nation would not only be wiser but happier. It would judge more rightly, would not condemn the measures of its rulers, which at present it cannot understand, and would not be led away by the clamour and misrepresentation of the disaffected. But I must not digress, as time is short. Jacob, I feel that thou wilt not be spoilt by the knowledge instilled into thee; but mark me, parade it not, for it will be vanity, and make thee enemies. Cultivate thyself as much as thou canst, but in due season—thy duties to thy employer must be first attended to—but treasure up what thou hast, and lay up more when thou canst. Consider it as hidden wealth, which may hereafter be advantageously employed. Thou art now but an apprentice in a barge; but what mayest thou not be, Jacob, if thou art diligent—if thou fear God, and be honest? I will now call to my mind some examples to stimulate thee in thy career."
Here the Dominie brought forward about forty or fifty instances from history, in which people from nothing had risen to the highest rank and consideration; but although I listened to them very attentively, the reader will probably not regret the omission of the Dominie's catalogue. Having concluded, the Dominie gave me a Latin Testament, the Whole Duty of Man, and his blessing. The matron added to them a large slice of seed-cake and by the time that I had returned to Mr Drummond's, both the Dominie's precepts and the matron's considerate addition had been well digested.
It was six o'clock the next morning that we cast off our fastenings and pulled into the stream. The day was lovely, the sun had risen above the trees, which feathered their boughs down on the sloping lawns in front of the many beautiful retreats of the nobility and gentry which border the river; and the lamp of day poured a flood of light upon the smooth and rapidly ebbing river. The heavy dew which had fallen during the night studded the sides of the barge, and glittered like necklaces of diamonds; the mist and the fog had ascended, except here and there, where it partially concealed the landscape; boats laden with the produce of the market-gardens in the vicinity were hastening down with the tide to supply the metropolis; the watermen were in their wherries, cleaning and mopping them out, ready for their fares; the smoke of the chimneys ascended in a straight line to heaven; and the distant chirping of the birds in the trees added to the hilarity and lightness of heart with which I now commenced my career as an apprentice.
I was forward, looking down the river, when Marables called me to take the helm, while they went to breakfast. He commenced giving me instructions; but I cut them short by proving to him that I knew the river as well as he did. Pleased at the information, he joined Fleming, who was preparing the breakfast in the cabin, and I was left on the deck by myself. There, as we glided by every object which for years I had not seen, but which was immediately recognised and welcomed as an old friend, with what rapidity did former scenes connected with them flash into my memory! There was the inn at the water-side, where my father used to replenish the stone bottle; it was just where the barge now was that I had hooked and pulled up the largest chub I had ever caught. Now I arrived at the spot where we had ran foul of another craft; and my father, with his pipe in his mouth and his "Take it coolly," which so exasperated the other parties, stood as alive before me. Here—yes, it was here—exactly here—where we anchored on that fatal night when I was left an orphan—it was here that my father disappeared; and as I looked down at the water, I almost thought I could perceive it again close over him, as it eddied by: and it was here that the black smoke—The whole scene came fresh to my memory, my eyes filled with tears, and, for a little while, I could not see to steer. But I soon recovered myself; the freshness of the air, the bright sky overhead, the busy scene before me, and the necessity of attending to my duty, chased away my painful remembrances; and when I had passed the spot I was again cheerful and content.
In half-an-hour I had shot Putney Bridge, and was sweeping clear of the shallows on the reach below, when Marables and Fleming came up. "How!" exclaimed Marables; "have we passed the bridge? Why did you not call us?"
"I have shot it without help many and many a time," replied I, "when I was but ten years old. Why should I call you from your breakfast? But the tides are high now, and the stream rapid; you had better get a sweep out on the bow, or we may tail on the bank."
"Well!" replied Fleming, with astonishment; "I had no idea that he would have been any help to us; but so much the better." He then spoke in a low tone to Marables.
Marables shook his head. "Don't try it Fleming, it will never do."
"So you said once about yourself," replied Fleming, laughing.
"I did—I did!" replied Marables, clenching both his hands, which at the time were crossed on his breast, with a look of painful emotion; "but I say again, don't try it; nay, I say more, you shall not."
"Shall not?" replied Fleming, haughtily.
"Yes," replied Marables, coolly; "I say shall not, and I'll stand by my words. Now, Jacob, give me the helm, and get your breakfast."
I gave up the helm to Marables, and was about to enter the cabin, when Fleming caught me by the arm, and slewed me round. "I say, my joker, we may just as well begin as we leave off. Understand me, that into that cabin you never enter; and understand further, that if ever I find you in that cabin, by day or night, I'll break every bone in your body. Your berth is forward; and as for your meals, you may either take them down there or you may eat them on deck."
From what I had already witnessed, I knew that for some reason or other, Fleming had the control over Marables; nevertheless I replied, "If Mr Marables says it is to be so, well and good; but he has charge of this barge." Marables made no reply; he coloured up, seemed very much annoyed, and then looked up to the sky.
"You'll find," continued Fleming, addressing me in a low voice, "that I command here—so be wise. Perhaps the day may come when you may walk in and out the cabin as you please, but that depends upon yourself. By-and-by, when we know more of each other—"
"Never, Fleming, never!" interrupted Marables, in a firm and loud tone. "It shall not be."
Fleming muttered what I could not hear, and going into the cabin, brought me out my breakfast which I despatched with good appetite; and soon afterwards I offered to take the helm; which offer was accepted by Marables, who retired to the cabin with Fleming, where I heard them converse for a long while in a low tone.
The tide was about three-quarters ebb when the barge arrived abreast of Millbank. Marables came on deck, and taking the helm, desired me to go forward and see the anchor clear for letting go.
"Anchor clear!" said I. "Why, we have a good hour more before we meet the flood."
"I know that, Jacob, as well as you do; but we shall not go farther to-night. Be smart, and see all clear."
Whether Fleming thought that it was necessary to blind me, or whether it was true that they were only obeying their orders, he said to Marables in my hearing, "Will you go on shore and give the letters to Mr Drummond's correspondent, or shall I go for you?"
"You had better go," replied Marables, carelessly; and shortly after they went to dinner in the cabin, Fleming bringing me mine out on deck.
The flood tide now made, and we rode to the stream. Having nothing to do, and Marables as well as Fleming appearing to avoid me, I brought the Dominie's Latin Testament, and amused myself with reading it. About a quarter of an hour before dusk, Fleming made his appearance to go on shore. He was genteelly, I may say fashionably, dressed in a suit of black, with a white neckcloth. At first I did not recognise him, so surprised was I at his alteration; and my thoughts, as soon as my surprise was over, naturally turned upon the singularity of a man who worked in a barge under another now assuming the dress and appearance of a gentleman. Marables hauled up the little skiff which lay astern. Fleming jumped in and shoved off. I watched him till I perceived him land at the stairs, and then turned round to Marables: "I can't understand all this," observed I.
"I don't suppose you can," replied Marables: "but still I could explain it if you will promise me faithfully not to say a word about it."
"I will make that promise if you satisfy me that all is right," answered I.
"As to all being right, Jacob, that's as may be; but if I prove to you that there is no harm done to our master, I suppose you will keep the secret. However, I must not allow you to think worse of it than it really is; no, I'll trust to your good nature. You wouldn't harm me, Jacob?" Marables then told me that Fleming had once been well-to-do in the world, and during the long illness and subsequent death of Marables' wife, had lent him money; that Fleming had been very imprudent, and had run up a great many debts, and that the bailiffs were after him. On this emergency he had applied to Marables to help him, and that, in consequence, he had received him on board of the barge, where they never would think of looking for him; that Fleming had friends, and contrived to go on shore at night to see them, and get what assistance he could from them in money: in the meantime his relations were trying what they could do to arrange with his creditors. "Now," said Marables, after this narration, "how could I help assisting one who has been so kind to me? And what harm does it do Mr Drummond? If Fleming can't do his work, or won't, when we unload, he pays another man himself; so Mr Drummond is not hurt by it."
"That may be all true," replied I; "but I cannot imagine why I am not to enter the cabin, and why he orders about here as master."
"Why, you see, Jacob, I owe him money, and he allows me so much per week for the cabin, by which means I pay it off. Do you understand now?"
"Yes, I understand what you have said," replied I.
"Well, then, Jacob, I hope you'll say nothing about it. It would only harm me, and do no good."
"That depends upon Fleming's behaviour towards me," replied I. "I will not be bullied and made uncomfortable by him, depend upon it; he has no business on board the barge, that's clear, and I am bound 'prentice to her. I don't wish to hurt you; and as I suppose Fleming won't be long on board, I shall say nothing unless he treats me ill."
Marables then left me, and I reflected upon what he had said. It appeared all very probable; but still I was not satisfied. I resolved to watch narrowly, and if anything occurred which excited more suspicions, to inform Mr Drummond upon our return. Shortly afterwards Marables came out again, and told me I might go to bed, and he would keep the deck till Fleming's return. I assented, and went down to the cuddy; but I did not much like this permission. It appeared to me as if he wanted to get rid of me, and I laid awake, turning over in my mind all that I had heard and seen. About two o'clock in the morning I heard the sound of oars, and the skiff strike the side of the barge. I did not go up, but I put my head up the scuttle to see what was going on. It was broad moonlight, and almost as clear as day. Fleming threw up the painter of the skiff to Marables, and, as he held it, lifted out of the boat a blue bag, apparently well filled. The contents jingled as it was landed on the deck. He then put out a yellow silk handkerchief full of something else, and having gained the deck, Marables walked aft with the painter in his hand until the skiff had dropped astern, where he made it fast, and returned to Fleming, who stood close to the blue bag. I heard Fleming ask Marables, in a low voice, if I were in bed, and an answer given in the affirmative. I dropped my head immediately, that I might not be discovered, and turned into my bed-place. I was restless for a long while; thought upon thought, surmise upon surmise, conjecture upon conjecture, and doubt upon doubt, occupied my brain, until at last I went fast asleep—so fast, that I did not wake until summoned by Fleming. I rose, and when I came on deck found that the anchor had been weighed more than two hours, and that we were past all the bridges. "Why, Jacob, my man, you've had a famous nap," said Fleming, with apparent good humour; "now go aft, and get your breakfast, it has been waiting for you this half-hour." By the manner of Fleming I took it for granted that Marables had acquainted him with our conversation, and, indeed, from that time, during our whole trip, Fleming treated me with kindness and familiarity. The veto had not, however, been taken off the cabin, which I never attempted to enter.
THE MYSTERY BECOMES MORE AND MORE INTERESTING, AND I DETERMINE TO FIND IT OUT.—PRYING AFTER THINGS LOCKED UP, I AM LOCKED UP MYSELF.—FLEMING PROVES TO ME THAT HIS ADVICE WAS GOOD WHEN HE RECOMMENDED ME TO LEARN TO SWIM.
On our arrival off the Medway, I had just gone down to bed and was undressing, when I heard Fleming come on deck and haul up the boat. I looked up the hatchway; it was very dark, but I could perceive Marables hand him the bag and handkerchief, with which he pulled on shore. He did not return until the next morning at daylight, when I met him as he came up the side. "Well, Jacob," said he, "you've caught me, I've been on shore to see my sweetheart; but you boys ought to know nothing about these things. Make the boat fast, there's a good lad."
When we were one night discharging our cargo, which was for government, I heard voices alongside. From habit, the least noise now awoke me: a boat striking the side was certain so to do. It was then about twelve o'clock. I looked up the hatchway, perceived two men come on board and enter the cabin with packages. They remained there about ten minutes, and then, escorted to the side by Fleming, left the barge. When the barge was cleared, we hauled off to return, and in three days were again alongside of Mr Drummond's wharf. The kindness both of Marables and of Fleming had been very great. They lived in a style very superior to what they could be expected to do, and I fared well in consequence.
On our arrival at the wharf, Marables came up to me, and said, "Now, Jacob, as I have honestly told you the secret, I hope you won't ruin me by saying a word to Mr Drummond." I had before made up my mind to say nothing to my master until my suspicions were confirmed, and I therefore gave my promise; but I had also resolved to impart my suspicions, as well as what I had seen, to the old Dominie. On the third day after our arrival I walked out to the school, and acquainted him with all that had passed, and asked him for his advice.
"Jacob," said he, "thou hast done well, but thou mightest have done better; hadst thou not given thy promise, which is sacred, I would have taken thee to Mr Drummond, that thou mightest impart the whole, instanter. I like it not. Evil deeds are done in darkness. Noctem peccatis et fraudibus objice nubem. Still, as thou sayest, nought is yet proved. Watch, therefore, Jacob—watch carefully over thy master's interests, and the interests of society at large. It is thy duty, I may say, Vigilare noctesque diesque. It may be as Marables hath said—and all may be accounted for; still, I say, be careful, and be honest."
I followed the suggestions of the Dominie: we were soon laden with another cargo of bricks, to be delivered at the same place, and proceeded on our voyage. Marables and Fleming, finding that I had not said a word to Mr Drummond, treated me with every kindness. Fleming once offered me money, which I refused, saying that I had no use for it. I was on the best terms with them, at the same time that I took notice of all that passed, without offering a remark to excite their suspicions. But not to be too prolix, it will suffice to say that we made many trips during several months, and that during that time I made the following observations:—that Fleming went on shore at night at certain places, taking with him bags and bundles; that he generally returned with others, which were taken into the cabin; that sometimes people came off at night, and remained some time in the cabin with him; and that all this took place when it was supposed that I was asleep. The cabin was invariably locked when the barge was lying at the wharfs, if Fleming was on shore, and at no time was I permitted to enter it. Marables was a complete cipher in Fleming's hands, who ordered everything as he pleased; and in the conversations which took place before me, with much less restraint than at first, there appeared to be no idea of Fleming's leaving us. As I felt convinced that there was no chance of discovery without further efforts on my part, and my suspicions increasing daily, I resolved upon running some hazard. My chief wish was to get into the cabin and examine its contents; but this was not easy, and would, in all probability, be a dangerous attempt. One night I came on deck in my shirt. We were at anchor off Rotherhithe: it was a dark night, with a drizzling rain. I was hastening below, when I perceived a light still burning in the cabin, and heard the voices of Marables and Fleming. I thought this a good opportunity, and having no shoes, walked softly on the wet deck to the cabin-door, which opened forward, and peeped through the crevices. Marables and Fleming were sitting opposite each other at the little table. There were some papers before them, and they were dividing some money. Marables expostulated at his share not being sufficient, and Fleming laughed and told him he had earned no more. Fearful of being discovered, I made a silent retreat, and gained my bed. It was well that I had made the resolution; for just as I was putting my head below the hatch, and drawing it over the scuttle, the door was thrown open and Fleming came out, I pondered over this circumstance, and the remark of Fleming that Marables had not earned any more, and I felt convinced that the story told me by Marables relative to Fleming was all false. This conviction stimulated me more than ever to discover the secret, and many and many a night did I watch, with a hope of being able to examine the cabin; but it was to no purpose, either Fleming or Marables was always on board. I continued to report to the Dominie all I had discovered, and he agreed at last that it was better that I should not say anything to Mr Drummond until there was the fullest proof of the nature of their proceedings.
The cabin was now the sole object of my thoughts, and many were the schemes resolved in my mind to obtain an entrance. Fatima never coveted admission to the dreadful chamber of Bluebeard as I did to ascertain the secrets of this hidden receptacle. One night Fleming had quitted the barge, and I ascended from my dormitory. Marables was on deck, sitting upon the water-cask, with his elbow resting on the gunwale, his hand supporting his head, as if in deep thought. The cabin-doors were closed, but the light still remained in it. I watched for some time, and perceiving that Marables did not move, walked gently up to him. He was fast asleep; I waited for some little time alongside of him. At last he snored. It was an opportunity not to be lost. I crept to the cabin-door; it was not locked. Although I did not fear the wrath of Marables, in case of discovery, as I did that of Fleming, it was still with a beating heart and a tremulous hand that I gently opened the door, pausing before I entered, to ascertain if Marables were disturbed. He moved not, and I entered, closing the door after me. I caught up the light, and held it in my hand as I hung over the table. On each side were the two bed-places of Marables and Fleming, which I had before then had many a partial glimpse of. In front of the two bed-places were two lockers to sit down upon. I tried them—they were not fast—they contained their clothes. At the after part of the cabin were three cupboards; I opened the centre one; it contained crockery, glass, and knives and forks. I tried the one on the starboard side; it was locked, but the key was in it. I turned it gently, but being a good lock, it snapped loud. I paused in fear—but Marables still slept. The cupboard had three shelves, and every shelf was loaded with silver spoons, forks, and every variety of plate, mixed with watches, bracelets, and ornaments of every description. There was, I perceived, a label on each, with a peculiar mark. Wishing to have an accurate survey, and encouraged by my discovery, I turned to the cupboard opposite, on the larboard side, and I opened it. It contained silk handkerchiefs in every variety, lace veils, and various other articles of value; on the lower shelf were laid three pairs of pistols. I was now satisfied, and closing the last cupboard, which had not been locked, was about to retreat, when I recollected that I had not re-locked the first cupboard, and that they might not, by finding it open, suspect my visit, I turned the key. It made a louder snap than before. I heard Marables start from his slumber on deck; in a moment I blew out the lamp, and remained quiet. Marables got up, took a turn or two, looked at the cabin doors, which were shut, and opened them a little. Perceiving that the lamp had, as he thought, gone out, he shut them again, and, to my consternation, turned the key. There I was, locked up, until the arrival of Fleming—then to be left to his mercy. I hardly knew how to act: at last I resolved upon calling to Marables, as I dreaded his anger less than Fleming's. Then it occurred to me that Marables might come in, feel for the lamp to re-light it, and that, as he came in on one side of the cabin, I might, in the dark, escape by the other. This all but forlorn hope prevented me for some time from applying to him. At last I made up my mind that I would, and ran from the locker to call through the door, when I heard the sound of oars. I paused again—loitered—the boat was alongside, and I heard Fleming jump upon the deck.
"Quick," said he to Marables, as he came to the cabin-door, and tried to open it; "We've no time to lose—we must get up the sacks and sink everything. Two of them have 'peached, and the fence will be discovered."
He took the keys from Marables and opened the door; I had replaced the lamp upon the table. Fleming entered, took a seat on the locker on the larboard side, and felt for the lamp. Marables followed him, and sat down on the starboard locker;—escape was impossible. With a throbbing heart I sat in silence, watching my fate. In the meantime, Fleming had taken out of his pocket his phosphorus match box. I heard the tin top pulled open—even the slight rustling of the one match selected was perceived. Another second it was withdrawn from the bottle, and a wild flame of light illumined the deck cabin, and discovered me to their view. Staggered at my appearance, the match fell from Fleming's hand, and all was dark as before; but there was no more to be gained by darkness—I had been discovered.
"Jacob!" cried Marables.
"Will not live to tell the tale," added Fleming, with a firm voice, as he put another match into the bottle, and then relighted the lamp. "Come," said Fleming, fiercely; "out of the cabin immediately."
I prepared to obey him. Fleming went out, and I was following him round his side of the table, when Marables interposed.
"Stop: Fleming, what is that you mean to do?"
"Silence him!" retorted Fleming.
"But not murder him, surely?" cried Marables, trembling from head to foot. "You will not, dare not, do that."
"What is it that I dare not do, Marables? but it is useless to talk; it is now his life or mine. One must be sacrificed, and I will not die yet to please him."
"You shall not—by God, Fleming, you shall not!" cried Marables, seizing hold of my other arm, and holding me tight.
I added my resistance to that of Marables; when Fleming, perceiving that we should be masters, took a pistol from his pocket, and struck Marables a blow on the head, which rendered him senseless. Throwing away the pistol, he dragged me out of the cabin. I was strong, but he was very powerful; my resistance availed me nothing: by degrees he forced me to the side of the barge, and lifting me in his arms, dashed me into the dark and rapidly flowing water. It was fortunate for me that the threat of Fleming, upon our first meeting, had induced me to practise swimming, and still more fortunate that I was not encumbered with any other clothes than my shirt, in which I had come on deck. As it was, I was carried away by the tide for some time before I could rise, and at such a distance that Fleming, who probably watched, did not perceive that I came up again. Still, I had but little hopes of saving myself in a dark night, and at nearly a quarter of a mile from shore. I struggled to keep myself afloat, when I heard the sound of oars; a second or two more and I saw them over my head. I grasped at and seized the last, as the others passed me, crying "Help!"
"What the devil! Oars, my men; here's somebody overboard," cried the man, whose oar I had seized.
They stopped pulling; he dragged in his oar till he could lay hold of me, and then they hauled me into the boat. I was exhausted with cold and my energetic struggles in the water; and it was not until they had wrapped me up in a great-coat, and poured some spirits down my throat; that I could speak. They inquired to which of the craft I belonged.
"The Folly barge."
"The very one we are searching for. Where about is she, my lad?"
I directed them: the boat was a large wherry, pulling six oars, belonging to the river police. The officer in the stern sheets, who steered her, then said, "How came you overboard?"
"I was thrown overboard," replied I, "by a man called Fleming."
"The name he goes by," cried the officer. "Give way, my lads. There's murder, it appears, as well as other charges."
In a quarter of an hour we were alongside—the officer and four men sprang out of the boat, leaving the other two with directions for me to remain in the boat. Cold and miserable as I was, I was too much interested in the scene not to rise up from the stern sheets, and pay attention to what passed. When the officer and his men gained the deck, they were met by Fleming in the advance, and Marables about a yard or two behind.
"What's all this?" cried Fleming, boldly. "Are you river pirates, come to plunder us?"
"Not exactly," replied the officer; "but we are just come to overhaul you. Deliver up the key of your cabin," continued he, after trying the door and finding it locked.
"With all my heart, if you prove yourselves authorised to search," replied Fleming; "but you'll find no smuggled spirits here, I can tell you. Marables, hand them the key; I see that they belong to the river guard."
Marables, who had never spoken, handed the key to the officer, who, opening a dark lanthorn, went down into the cabin and proceeded in his search, leaving two of the men to take charge of Fleming and Marables. But his search was in vain; he could find nothing, and he came out on deck.
"Well," said Fleming, sarcastically, "have you made a seizure?"
"Wait a little," said the officer; "how many men have you in this barge?"
"You see them," replied Fleming.
"Yes; but you have a boy; where is he?"
"We have no boy," replied Fleming; "two men are quite enough for this craft."
"Still I ask you, what has become of the boy? for a boy was on your decks this afternoon."
"If there was one, I presume he has gone on shore again."
"Answer me another question; which of you threw him overboard?"
At this query of the officer, Fleming started, while Marables cried out, "It was not I; I would have saved him. O that the boy were here to prove it!"
"I am here, Marables," said I, coming on deck, "and I am witness that you tried to save me, until you were struck senseless by that ruffian, Fleming, who threw me overboard, that I might not give evidence as to the silver and gold which I found in the cabin; and which I overheard him tell you must be put into sacks and sunk, as two of the men had 'peached."
Fleming, when he saw me, turned round, as if not to look at me. His face I could not see; but after remaining a few seconds in that position, he held out his hands in silence for the handcuffs, which the officer had already taken out of his pocket. Marables, on the contrary, sprang forward as soon as I had finished speaking, and caught me in his arms.
"My fine, honest boy! I thank God—I thank God! All that he has said is true, sir. You will find the goods sunk astern, and the buoy-rope to them fastened to the lower pintle of the rudder. Jacob, thank God, you are safe! I little thought to see you again. There, sir," continued he to the officer, holding out his hands, "I deserve it all. I had not strength of mind enough to be honest."
The handcuffs were put on Marables as well as on Fleming, and the officer, allowing me time to go down and put on my clothes, hauled up the sacks containing the valuables, and leaving two hands in charge of the barge, rowed ashore with us all in the boat. It was then about three o'clock in the morning, and I was very glad when we arrived at the receiving-house, and I was permitted to warm myself before the fire. As soon as I was comfortable, I laid down on the bench and fell fast asleep.
ONE OF THE UPS AND DOWNS OF LIFE.—UP BEFORE THE MAGISTRATES, THEN DOWN THE RIVER AGAIN IN THE LIGHTER.—THE TOMS.—A LIGHT HEART UPON TWO STICKS.—RECEIVE MY FIRST LESSON IN SINGING.—OUR LIGHTER WELL-MANNED WITH TWO BOYS AND A FRACTION.
I did not awake the next morning till roused by the police, who brought us up before the magistrates. The crowd that followed appeared to make no distinction between the prisoners and the witness, and remarks not very complimentary, and to me very annoying, were liberally made. "He's a young hand for such work," cried one. "There's gallows marked in his face," observed another, to whom, when I turned round to look at him, I certainly could have returned the compliment. The station was not far from the magistrates' office, and we soon arrived. The principal officer went into the inner room, and communicated with the magistrates before they came out and took their seats on the bench.
"Where is Jacob Faithful? My lad, do you know the nature of an oath?"
I answered in the affirmative; the oath was administered, and my evidence taken down. It was then read over to the prisoners, who were asked if they had anything to say in their defence. Fleming, who had sent for his lawyer, was advised to make no answer. Marables quietly replied, that all the boy had said was quite true.
"Recollect," said the magistrate, "we cannot accept you as king's evidence; that of the boy is considered sufficient."
"I did not intend that you should," replied Marables. "I only want to ease my conscience, not to try for my pardon."
They were then committed for trial, and led away to prison. I could not help going up to Marables and shaking his hand, before he was led away. He lifted up his two arms, for he was still handcuffed, and wiped his eyes, saying, "Let this be a warning to you, Jacob—not that I think you need it; but still I once was honest as yourself—and look at me now." And he cast his eyes down sorrowfully upon his fettered wrists. They quitted the room, Fleming giving me a look which was very significant of what my chance would be if ever I fell into his clutches.
"We must detain you, my lad," observed one of the magistrates, "without you can procure a sufficient bail for your appearance as witness on the trial."
I replied that I knew of no one except my master, Mr Drummond, and my schoolmaster; and had no means of letting them know of my situation.
The magistrate then directed the officer to go down by the first Brentford coach, acquaint Mr Drummond with what had passed, and that the lighter would remain in charge of the river police until he could send hands on board of her; and I was allowed to sit down on the bench behind the bar. It was not until past noon that Mr Drummond, accompanied by the Dominie, made his appearance. To save time, the magistrates gave them my deposition to read; they put in bail, and I was permitted to leave the court. We went down by the coach, but as they went inside and I was out, I had not many questions asked until my arrival at Mr Drummond's house, when I gave them a detailed account of all that had happened.
"Proh! Deus!" exclaimed the Dominie, when I had finished my story. "What an escape! How narrowly, as Propertius hath it femininely, 'Eripitur nobis jumpridem carus puer.' Well was it that thou hadst learnt to swim—verily thou must have struggled lustily. 'Pugnat in adversas ire natator aquas,' yea, lustily for thy life, child. Now, God be praised!"
But Mr Drummond was anxious that the lighter should be brought back to the wharf; he therefore gave me my dinner, for I had eaten nothing that day, and then despatched me in a boat with two men, to bring her up the river. The next morning we arrived; and Mr Drummond, not having yet selected any other person to take her in charge, I was again some days on shore, dividing my time between the Dominie and Mr Drummond's, where I was always kindly treated, not only by him, but also by his wife and his little daughter Sarah.
A master for the lighter was soon found; and as I passed a considerable time under his orders, I must describe him particularly. He had served the best part of his life on board a man-of-war, had been in many general and single actions, and, at the battle of Trafalgar, had wound up his servitude with the loss of both his legs and an out-pension from the Greenwich Hospital, which he preferred to being received upon the establishment, as he had a wife and child. Since that time he had worked on the river. He was very active, and broad-shouldered, and had probably, before he lost his legs, been a man of at least five feet eleven or six feet high; but as he found that he could keep his balance better upon short stumps than long ones, he had reduced his wooden legs to about eight inches in length, which, with his square body, gave him the appearance of a huge dwarf. He bore, and I will say most deservedly, an excellent character. His temper was always cheerful, and he was a little inclined to drink: but the principal feature in him was lightness of heart; he was always singing. His voice was very fine and powerful. When in the service he used to be summoned to sing to the captain and officers, and was the delight of the forecastle. His memory was retentive, and his stock of songs incredible, at the same time, he seldom or ever sang more than one or two stanzas of a song in the way of quotation, or if apt to what was going on, often altering the words to suit the occasion. He was accompanied by his son Tom, a lad of my own age, as merry as his father, and who had a good treble voice and a good deal of humour; he would often take the song up from his father, with words of his own putting in, with ready wit and good tune. We three composed the crew of the lighter; and, as there had already been considerable loss from demurrage, were embarked as soon as they arrived. The name of the father was Tom Beazeley, but he was always known on the river as "old Tom" or, as some more learned wag had christened him, "the Merman on two sticks." As soon as we had put our traps on board, as old Tom called them, he received his orders, and we cast off from the wharf. The wind was favourable. Young Tom was as active as a monkey, and as full of tricks. His father took the helm, while we two, assisted by a dog of the small Newfoundland breed, which Tom had taught to take a rope in his teeth, and be of no small service to two boys in bowsing on a tackle, made sail upon the lighter, and away we went, while old Tom's strain might be heard from either shore.
"Loose, loose every sail to the breeze, The course of the vessel improve, I've done with the toil of the seas, Ye sailors, I'm bound to my love.
"Tom, you beggar, is the bundle ready for your mother? We must drop the skiff, Jacob, at Battersea reach, and send the clothes on shore for the old woman to wash, or there'll be no clean shirts for Sunday. Shove in your shirts, Jacob; the old woman won't mind that. She used to wash for the mess. Clap on, both of you, and get another pull at those haulyards. That'll do, my bantams.
"Hoist, hoist, every sail to the breeze, Come, shipmates, and join in the song, Let's drink while the barge cuts the seas, To the gale that may drive her along.
"Tom, where's my pot of tea? Come, my boy, we must pipe to breakfast. Jacob, there's a rope towing overboard. Now, Tom, hand me my tea, and I'll steer her with one hand, drink with the other, and as for the legs, the less we say about them the better.
"No glory I covet, no riches I want, Ambition is nothing to me. But one thing I beg of kind Heaven to grant—"
Tom's treble chimed in, handing him the pot—
"For breakfast a good cup of tea.
"Silence, you sea-cook! how dare you shove in your penny whistle! How's tide, Tom?"
"Three quarters ebb."
"No, it a'n't, you thief; how is it Jacob?"
"About half, I think."
"And you're right."
"What water have we down here on the side?"
"You must give the point a wide berth," replied I; "the shoals runs out."
"Thanky, boy, so I thought, but wasn't sure:" and then old Tom burst out in a beautiful air:
"Trust not too much your own opinion, When your vessel's under weigh, Let good advice still bear dominion; That's a compass will not stray."
"Old Tom, is that you?" hallooed a man from another barge.
"Yes; what's left of me, my hearty."
"You'll not fetch the bridges this tide—there's a strong breeze right up the reaches below."
"Never mind, we'll do all we can.
"If unassailed by squall or shower, Wafted by the gentle gales Let's not lose the favouring hour, While success attends our sails."
"Bravo, old Tom! why don't the boys get the lines out, for all the fishes are listening for you," cried the man, as the barges were parted by the wind and tide.
"I did once belong to a small craft called the Anon," observed old Tom, "and they say as how the story was, that that chap could make the fish follow him just when he pleased. I know that when we were in the North Sea the shoals of seals would follow the ship if you whistled; but these brutes have ears—now fish hav'n't got none.
"Oh well do I remember that cold dreary land, here the northern light, In the winter's night, Shone bright on its snowy strand.
"Jacob, have you finished your breakfast? Here, take the helm, while I and Tom put the craft a little into apple-pie order."
Old Tom then stumped forward, followed by his son and the Newfoundland dog, who appeared to consider himself as one of the most useful personages on board. After coiling down the ropes, and sweeping the decks, they went into the cabin to make their little arrangements.
"A good lock that, Tom," cried the father, turning the key of the cupboard. (I recollected it, and that its snapping so loud was the occasion of my being tossed overboard.) Old Tom continued: "I say, Tom, you won't be able to open that cupboard, so I'll put the sugar and the grog into it, you scamp. It goes too fast when you're purser's steward.
"For grog is our larboard and starboard, Our main-mast, our mizzen, our log, On shore, or at sea, or when harbour'd, The mariner's compass is grog."
"But it arn't a compass to steer steady by, father," replied Tom.
"Then don't you have nothing to do with it, Tom."
"I only takes a little, father, because you mayn't take too much."
"Thanky for nothing; when do I ever take too much, you scamp?"
"Not too much for a man standing on his own pins, but too much for a man on two broomsticks."
"Stop your jaw, Mr Tom, or I'll unscrew one of the broomsticks, and lay it over your shoulders."
"Before it's out of the socket, I'll give you leg-bail. What will you do then, father?"
"Catch you when I can, Tom, as the spider takes the fly."
"What's the good o' that, when you can't bear malice for ten minutes?"
"Very true, Tom? then thank your stars that you have two good legs, and that your poor father has none."
"I very often do thank my stars, and that's the truth of it; but what's the use of being angry about a drop of rum, or a handful of sugar?"
"Because you takes more than your allowance."
"Well, do you take less, then all will be right."
"And why should I take less, pray?"
"Because you're only half a man; you haven't any legs to provide for, as I have."
"Now, I tell you, Tom, that's the very reason why I should have more to comfort my old body for the loss of them."
"When you lost your legs you lost your ballast, father, and, therefore, you mustn't carry too much sail, or you'll topple overboard some dark night. If I drink the grog, it's all for your good, you see."
"You're a dutiful son in that way, at all events; and a sweet child, as far as sugar goes; but Jacob is to sleep in the cabin with me, and you'll shake your blanket forward."
"Now that I consider quite unnatural; why part father and son?"
"It's not that exactly, it's only parting son and the grog bottle."
"That's just as cruel; why part two such good friends?"
"'Cause, Tom, he's too strong for you, and floors you sometimes."
"Well, but I forgives him; it's all done in good humour."
"Tom, you're a wag; but you wag your tongue to no purpose. Liquor ain't good for a boy like you, and it grows upon you."
"Well, don't I grow too? we grow together."
"You'll grow faster without it."
"I've no wish to be a tall man cut short, like you."
"If I hadn't been a tall man, my breath would have been cut short for ever; the ball which took my legs would have cut you right in half."
"And the ball that would take your head off, would whistle over mine; so there we are equal again."
"And there's the grog fast," replied old Tom, turning the key, and putting it into his pocket. "That's a stopper over all; so now we'll go on deck."
I have narrated this conversation, as it will give the reader a better idea of Tom, and his way of treating his father. Tom was fond of his father, and although mischievous, and too fond of drinking when he could obtain liquor, was not disobedient or vicious. We had nearly reached Battersea Fields when they returned on deck.
"Do you know, Jacob, how the parish of Battersea came into the possession of those fields?"
"No, I do not."
"Well, then, I'll tell you; it was because the Battersea people were more humane and charitable than their neighbours. There was a time when those fields were of no value; now they're worth a mint of money, they say. The body of a poor devil, who was drowned in the river, was washed on shore on those banks, and none of the parishes would be at the expense of burying it. The Battersea people, though they had least right to be called upon, would not allow the poor fellow's corpse to be lying on the mud, and they went to the expense. Now, when the fields became of value, the other parishes were ready enough to claim them; but the case was tried, and as it was proved that Battersea had buried the body, the fields were decided to belong to that parish. So they were well paid for their humanity, and they deserved it. Mr Drummond says you know the river well, Jacob."
"I was born on it."
"Yes, so I heard, and all about your father and mother's death. I was telling Tom of it, because he's too fond of bowsing up his jib."
"Well, father, there's no occasion to remind Jacob; the tear is in his eye already," replied Tom, with consideration.
"I wish you never had any other drop in your eye,—but never mind, Jacob, I didn't think of what I was saying. Look ye, d'ye see that little house with the two chimneys—that's mine, and there's my old woman.—I wonder what she's about just now." Old Tom paused for a while, with his eyes fixed on the object, and then burst out:—
"I've crossed the wide waters, I've trod the lone strand, I've triumphed in battle, I've lighted the brand, I've borne the loud thunder of death o'er the foam; Fame, riches, ne'er found them,—yet still found a home.
"Tom, boy, haul up the skiff and paddle on shore with the bundle; ask the old woman how she is, and tell her I'm hearty." Tom was in the boat in a moment, and pulling lustily for the shore. "That makes me recollect when I returned to my mother, a'ter the first three years of my sea service. I borrowed the skiff from the skipper.—I was in a Greenland-man, my first ship, and pulled ashore to my mother's cottage under the cliff. I thought the old soul would have died with joy." Here old Tom was silent, brushed a tear from his eye, and, as usual, commenced a strain, sotto voce:—
"Why, what's that to you if my eyes I'm a wiping? A tear is a pleasure, d'ye see, in its way.
"How, miserable," continued he, after another pause, "the poor thing was when I would go to sea—how she begged and prayed—boys have no feeling, that's sartin."
"O bairn, dinna leave me, to gang far away, O bairn, dinna leave me, ye're a' that I hae, Think on a mither, the wind and the wave, A mither set on ye, her feet in the grave.
"However, she got used to it at last, as the woman said when she skinned the ells. Tom's a good boy, Jacob, but not steady, as they say you are. His mother spoils him, and I can't bear to be cross to him neither; for his heart's in the right place, after all. There's the old woman shaking her dish-clout at us as a signal. I wish I had gone on shore myself, but I can't step into these paper-built little boats without my timber toes going through at the bottom."
THE TWO TOMS TAKE TO PROTOCOLLING—TREATY OF PEACE RATIFIED BETWEEN THE BELLIGERENT PARTIES—LOTS OF SONGS AND SUPPER—THE LARGEST MESS OF ROAST MEAT UPON RECORD.
Tom then shoved off the skiff. When half-way between the lighter and the shore, while his mother stood watching us, he lay on his oars. "Tom, Tom!" cried his mother, shaking her fist at him, as he stooped down his head; "if you do, Tom!"
"Tom, Tom!" cried his father, shaking his fist also; "if you dare, Tom!"
But Tom was not within reach of either party; and he dragged a bottle out of the basket which his mother had entrusted to him, and putting it to his mouth, took a long swig.
"That's enough, Tom!" screamed his mother, from the shore.
"That's too much, you rascal!" cried his father, from the barge.
Neither admonition was, however, minded by Tom, who took what he considered his allowance, and then very coolly pulled alongside, and handed up the basket and bundle of clean clothes on deck. Tom then gave the boat's painter to his father, who, I perceived, intended to salute him with the end of it as soon as he came up; but Tom was too knowing— he surged the boat ahead, and was on deck and forward before his father could stump up to him. The main hatch was open, and Tom put that obstacle between his father and himself before he commenced his parley.
"What's the matter, father?" said Tom, smiling, and looking at me.
"Matter, you scamp! How dare you touch the bottle?"
"The bottle—the bottle's there, as good as ever."
"The grog is what I mean—how dare you drink it?"
"I was half-way between my mother and you, and so I drank success and long life to you both. Ain't that being a very dutiful son?"
"I wish I had my legs back again, you rascal!"
"You wish you had the grog back again, you mean, father."
"You have to choose between—for if you had the grog you'd keep your legs."
"For the matter of drinking the grog, you scamp, you seem determined to stand in my shoes."
"Well, shoes are of no use to you now, father—why shouldn't I? Why don't you trust me? If you hadn't locked the cupboard, I wouldn't have helped myself." And Tom, whose bootlace was loose, stooped down to make it fast.
Old Tom, who was still in wrath, thought this a good opportunity, as his son's head was turned the other way, to step over the bricks, with which, as I before said, the lighter had been laden level with the main hatchway, and take his son by surprise. Tom, who had no idea of this manoeuvre, would certainly have been captured, but, fortunately for him, one of the upper bricks turned over, and let his father's wooden leg down between two of the piles, where it was jammed fast. Old Tom attempted to extricate himself, but could not. "Tom, Tom, come here," cried he, "and pull me out."
"Not I," replied Tom.
"Jacob, Jacob, come here; Tom, run and take the helm."
"Not I," replied Tom.
"Jacob, never mind the helm, she'll drift all right for a minute," cried old Tom; "come and help me."
But I had been so amused with the scene, and having a sort of feeling for young Tom, that I declared it impossible to leave the helm without her going on the banks. I therefore remained, wishing to see in what way the two Toms would get out of their respective scrapes.
"Confound these—! Tom, you scoundrel, am I to stick here all day?"
"No, father, I don't suppose you will. I shall help you directly."
"Well, then, why don't you do it?"
"Because I must come to terms. You don't think I'd help myself to a thrashing, do you?"
"I won't thrash you, Tom. Shiver my timbers if I do."
"They're in a fair way of being shivered as it is, I think. Now, father, we're both even."
"Why you clapped a stopper over all on me this morning, and now you've got one on yourself."
"Well, then, take off mine, and I'll take off yours."
"If I unlock your leg, you'll unlock the cupboard?"
"And you promise me a stiff one after dinner?"
"Yes, yes, as stiff as I stand here."
"No, that will be too much, for it would set me fast. I only like it about half-and-half, as I took it just now."
Tom, who was aware that his father would adhere to his agreement, immediately went to his assistance, and throwing out some of the upper bricks, released him from his confinement. When old Tom was once more on deck and on his legs, he observed, "It's an ill wind that blows nobody good. The loss of my leg has been the saving of you many a time, Mr Tom."
It was now time to anchor, as we were meeting the flood. Tom, who officiated as cook, served up the dinner, which was ready; and we were all very pleasant; Tom treating his father with perfect confidence. As we had not to weigh again for some hours, our repast was prolonged, and old Tom, having fulfilled his promise to his son of a stiff one, took one or two himself, and became very garrulous.
"Come, spin us a good yarn, father; we've nothing to do, and Jacob will like to hear you."
"Well, then, so I will," answered he; "what shall it be about?"
"Fire and water, of course," replied Tom.
"Well, then, I'll tell you something about both, since you wish it; how I came into his Majesty's sarvice, through fire, and how the officer who pressed me went out of it through water. I was still 'prentice, and wanted about three months to sarve my time, when, of course, I should no longer be protected from sarving the king, when the ship I was in sailed up the Baltic with a cargo of bullocks. We had at least two hundred on board, tied up on platforms on every deck, with their heads close to the sides, and all their sterns looking in-board. They were fat enough when they were shipped, but soon dwindled away: the weather was very bad, and the poor creatures rolled against each other, and slipped about in a way that it pitied you to see them. However, they were stowed so thick, that they held one another up, which proved of service to them in the heavy gales which tossed the ship about like a pea in a rattle. We had joined a large convoy, and were entering the Sound, when, as usual, it fell calm, and out came the Danish gunboats to attack us. The men-of-war who had charge of the convoy behaved nobly; but still they were becalmed, and many of us were a long way astern. Our ship was pretty well up; but she was too far in-shore; and the Danes made a dash at us with the hope of making a capture. The men-of-war, seeing what the enemy were about, sent boats to beat them off; but it was too late to prevent them boarding, which they did. Not wishing to peep through the bars of the gaol at Copenhagen, we left the ship in our boats on one side, just as the Danes boarded on the other, and pulled towards the men-of-war's armed boats coming to our assistance. The men-of-war's boats pulled right for the ship to retake her, which they did, certainly, but not before the enemy had set fire to the vessel, and had then pulled off towards another. Seeing this, the men-of-war's boats again gave chase to the Danes, leaving us to extinguish the flames, which were now bursting out fore and aft, and climbing like fiery serpents up to the main catharprings. We soon found that it was impossible; we remained as long as the heat and smoke would permit us, and then we were obliged to be off, but I shall never forget the roaring and moaning of the poor animals who were then roasting alive. It was a cruel thing of the Danes to fire a vessel full of these poor creatures. Some had broken loose, and were darting up and down the decks goring others, and tumbling down the hatchways; others remained trembling, or trying to snuff up a mouthful of fresh air amongst the smoke; but the struggling and bellowing, as the fire caught the vessel fore and aft, and was grilling two hundred poor creatures at once, was at last shocking, and might have been heard for a mile. We did all we could. I cut the throats of a dozen, but they kicked and struggled so much, falling down [upon], and treading you under their feet; and one lay upon me, and I expected to be burnt with them, for it was not until I was helped that I got clear of the poor animal. So we stayed as long as we could, and then left them to their fate; and the smell of burnt meat, as we shoved off, was as horrible as the cries and wailings of the poor beasts themselves. The men-of-war's boats returned, having chased away the Danes, and very kindly offered us all a ship, as we had lost our own, so that you see that by fire I was forced into his Majesty's sarvice. Now, the boat that took us belonged to one of the frigates who had charge of the convoy, and the lieutenant who commanded the boat was a swearing, tearing sort of a chap, who lived as if his life was to last for ever.
"After I was taken on board, the captain asked me if I would enter, and I thought that I might as well sarve the king handsomely, so I volunteered. It's always the best thing to do, when you're taken, and can't help yourself, for you are more trusted than a pressed man who is obstinate. I liked the sarvice from the first—the captain was not a particular man; according to some people's ideas of the sarvice, she wasn't in quite man-of-war fashion, but she was a happy ship, and the men would have followed and fought for the captain to the last drop of their blood. That's the sort of ship for me. I've seen cleaner decks, but I never saw merrier hearts. The only one of the officers disliked by the men was the lieutenant who pressed me; he had a foul mouth and no discretion; and as for swearing, it was really terrible to hear the words which came out of his mouth. I don't mind an oath rapped out in the heat of the moment, but he invented his oaths when he was cool, and let them out in his rage. We were returning home, after having seen the convoy safe, when we met with a gale of wind in our teeth, one of the very worst I ever fell in with. It had been blowing hard from the South West, and then shifted to the North West, and made a cross sea, which was tremendous. Now, the frigate was a very old vessel, and although they had often had her into dock and repaired her below, they had taken no notice of her upper works, which were as rotten as a medlar. I think it was about three bells in the middle watch, when the wind was howling through the rigging, for we had no canvas on her 'cept a staysail and trysail, when the stay-sail sheet went, and she broached-to afore they could prevent her. The lieutenant I spoke of had the watch, and his voice was heard through the roaring of the wind swearing at the men to haul down the staysail, that we might bend on the sheet, and set it right again; when, she having, I said, broached-to, a wave—ay, a wave as high as the maintop almost, took the frigate right on her broadside, and the bulwarks of the quarter-deck being, as I said, quite rotten, cut them off clean level with the main chains, sweeping them, and guns, and men, all overboard together. The mizzenmast went, but the mainmast held on, and I was under its lee at the time, and was saved by clinging on like a nigger, while for a minute I was under the water, which carried almost all away with it to leeward. As soon as the water passed over me, I looked up and around me—it was quite awful; the quarter-deck was cut off as with a knife—not a soul left there, that I could see; no man at the wheel—mizzen-mast gone—skylights washed away—waves making a clear breach, and no defence; boats washed away from the quarters—all silent on deck, but plenty of noise below and on the main-deck, for the ship was nearly full of water, and all below were hurrying up in their shirts, thinking that we were going down. At last the captain crawled up, and clung by the stancheons, followed by the first lieutenant and the officers, and by degrees all was quiet, the ship was cleared, and the hands were turned up to muster under the half-deck. There were forty-seven men who did not answer to their names—they had been summoned to answer for their lives, poor fellows! and there was also the swearing lieutenant not to be found. Well, at last we got the hands on deck, and put her before the wind, scudding under bare poles. As we went aft to the taffrail, the bulwark of which still remained, with about six feet of the quarter-deck bulwark on each side, we observed something clinging to the stern-ladder, dipping every now and then into the sea, as it rose under her counter, and assisted the wind in driving her before the gale. We soon made it out to be a man, and I went down, slipped a bowling knot over the poor fellow, and with some difficulty we were both hauled up again. It proved to be the lieutenant, who had been washed under the counter, and clung to the stern-ladder, and had thus miraculously been preserved. It was a long while before he came to, and he never did any duty the whole week we were out, till we got into Yarmouth Roads; indeed, he hardly ever spoke a word to any one, but seemed to be always in serious thought. When we arrived, he gave his commission to the captain, and went on shore; went to school again, they say, bore up for a parson, and, for all I know, he'll preach somewhere next Sunday. So you see, water drove him out of the sarvice, and fire forced me in. There's a yarn for you, Jacob."
"I like it very much," replied I.
"And now, father, give us a whole song, and none of your little bits." Old Tom broke out with the "Death of Nelson," in a style that made the tune and words ring in my ears for the whole evening.
The moon was up before the tide served, and we weighed our anchor; old Tom steering, while his son was preparing supper, and I remaining forward, keeping a sharp look-out that we did not run foul of anything. It was a beautiful night; and as we passed through the several bridges, the city appeared as if it were illuminated, from the quantity of gas throwing a sort of halo of light over the tops of the buildings which occasionally marked out the main streets from the general dark mass—old Tom's voice was still occasionally heard, as the scene brought to his remembrance his variety of song.
"For the murmur of thy lip, love, Comes sweetly unto me, As the sound of oars that dip, love, At moonlight on the sea."
I never was more delighted than when I heard these snatches of different songs poured forth in such melody from old Tom's lips, the notes floating along the water during the silence of the night. I turned aft to look at him; his face was directed upwards, looking on the moon, which glided majestically through the heavens, silvering the whole of the landscape. The water was smooth as glass, and the rapid tide had swept us clear of the ranges of ships in the pool; both banks of the river were clear, when old Tom again commenced:—
"The moon is up, her silver beam Shines bower, and grove, and mountain over; A flood of radiance heaven doth seem To light thee, maiden, to thy lover."
"Jacob, how does the bluff-nob bear? on the starboard bow?"
"Yes—broad on the bow; you'd better keep up half a point, the tide sweeps us fast."
"Very true, Jacob; look out, and say when steady it is, boy.
"If o'er her orb a cloud should rest, 'Tis but thy cheek's soft blush to cover. He waits to clasp thee to his breast; The moon is up—go, meet thy lover.
"Tom, what have you got for supper, boy? What is that frizzing in your frying-pan? Smells good, anyhow."
"Yes, and I expect will taste good too. However, you look after the moon, father, and leave me and the frying-pan to play our parts."
"While I sing mine, I suppose, boy.
"The moon is up, round beauty's shine, Love's pilgrims bend at vesper hour, Earth breathes to heaven, and looks divine, And lovers' hearts confess her power."
Old Tom stopped and the frying-pan frizzled on, sending forth an odour which, if not grateful to Heaven, was peculiarly so to us mortals, hungry with the fresh air.
"How do we go now, Jacob?"
"Steady, and all's right; but we shall be met with the wind next reach, and had better brail up the mainsail."
"Go, then, Tom, and help Jacob."
"I can't leave the ingons, [onions] father, not if the lighter tumbled overboard; it would bring more tears in my eyes to spoil them, now that they are frying so merrily, than they did when I was cutting them up. Besides, the liver would be as black as the bends."
"Clap the frying-pan down on deck, Tom, and brail the sail up with Jacob, there's a good boy. You can give it another shake or two afterwards.
"Guide on, my bark, how sweet to rove, With such a beaming eye above!
"That's right, my boys, belay all that; now to our stations; Jacob on the look-out, Tom to his frying-pan, and I to the helm—
"No sound is heard to break the spell, Except the water's gentle swell; While midnight, like a mimic day, Shines on to guide our moonlight way.
"Well, the moon's a beautiful creature—God bless her! How often have we longed for her in the dark winter, channel-cruising, when the waves were flying over the Eddystone, and trying in their malice to put out the light. I don't wonder at people making songs to the moon, nor at my singing them. We'll anchor when we get down the next reach."
We swept the next reach with the tide which was now slacking fast. Our anchor was dropped and we all went to supper, and to bed. I have been particular in describing the first day of my being on board with my new shipmates, as it may be taken as a sample of our every day life; Tom and his father fighting and making friends, cooking, singing, and spinning yarns. Still, I shall have more scenes to describe. Our voyage was made, we took in a return cargo, and arrived at the proprietor's wharf, when I found that I could not proceed with them the next voyage, as the trial of Fleming and Marables was expected to come on in a few days. The lighter, therefore, took in another cargo, and sailed without me; Mr Drummond, as usual, giving me the run of his house.
I HELP TO HANG MY LATE BARGEMATE FOR HIS ATTEMPT TO DROWN ME—ONE GOOD TURN DESERVES ANOTHER—THE SUBJECT SUDDENLY DROPPED AT NEWGATE—A YARN IN THE LAW LINE—WITH DUE PRECAUTIONS AND PREPARATIONS, THE DOMINIE MAKES HIS FIRST VOYAGE—TO GRAVESEND.
It was on the 7th of November, if I recollect rightly, that Fleming and Marables were called up to trial at the Old Bailey, and I was in the court, with Mr Drummond and the Dominie, soon after ten o'clock. After the judge had taken his seat, as their trial was first on the list, they were ushered in. They were both clean and well dressed. In Fleming I could perceive little difference; he was pale, but resolute; but when I looked at Marables I was astonished. Mr Drummond did not at first recognise him—he had fallen away from seventeen stone to, at the most, thirteen—his clothes hung loosely about him—his ruddy cheeks had vanished—his nose was becoming sharp, and his full round face had been changed to an oblong. Still there remained that natural good-humoured expression in his countenance, and the sweet smile played upon his lips. His eyes glanced fearfully round the court—he felt his disgraceful situation—the colour mounted to his temples and forehead, and he then became again pale as a sheet, casting down his eyes as if desirous to see no more.
After the indictment had been read over, the prisoners were asked by the clerk whether they pleaded guilty or not guilty.
"Not guilty," replied Fleming, in a bold voice.
"John Marables—guilty or not guilty?"
"Guilty," replied Marables—"guilty, my lord;" and he covered his face with his hands.
Fleming was indicted on three counts;—an assault, with intent to murder; having stolen goods in his possession; and for a burglary in a dwelling-house, on such a date; but I understand that they had nearly twenty more charges against him, had these failed. Marables was indicted for having been an accessary to the last charge, as receiver of stolen goods. The counsel for the crown, who opened the trial, stated that Fleming, alias Barkett, alias Wenn, with many more aliases, had for a long while been at the head of the most notorious gang of thieves which had infested the metropolis for many years; that justice had long been in search of him, but that he had disappeared, and it had been supposed that he had quitted the kingdom to avoid the penalties of the law, to which he had subjected himself by his enormities. It appeared however, that he had taken a step which not only blinded the officers of the police, but at the same time had enabled the gang to carry on their depredations with more impunity than ever. He had concealed himself in a lighter on the river, and appearing in her as one diligently performing his duty, and earning his livelihood as an honest man had by such means been enabled to extend his influence, the number of his associates, and his audacious schemes. The principal means of detection in cases of burglary was by advertising the goods, and the great difficulty on the part of such miscreants was to obtain a ready sale for them—the receivers of stolen goods being aware that the thieves were at their mercy, and must accept what was offered. Now, to obviate these difficulties, Fleming had, as we before observed, concealed himself from justice on board of a river barge, which was made the receptacle for stolen goods: those which had been nefariously obtained at one place being by him and his associates carried up and down the river in the craft, and disposed of at a great distance, by which means the goods were never brought to light, so as to enable the police to recognise or trace them. This system had now been carried on with great success for upwards of twelve months, and would, in all probability, have not been discovered even now, had it not been that a quarrel as to profits had taken place, which had induced two of his associates to give information to the officers; and these two associates had also been permitted to turn king's evidence, in a case of burglary, in which Fleming was a principal, provided that it was considered necessary. But there was a more serious charge against the prisoner,— that of having attempted the life of a boy, named Jacob Faithful, belonging to the lighter, and who, it appeared, had suspicions of what was going on, and, in duty to his master, had carefully watched the proceedings, and given notice to others of what he had discovered from time to time. The lad was the chief evidence against the prisoner Fleming, and also against Marables, the other prisoner, of whom he could only observe, that circumstances would transpire, during the trial, in his favour, which he had no doubt would be well considered by his lordship. He would not detain the gentlemen of the jury any longer, but at once call on his witnesses.
I was then summoned, again asked the same questions as to the nature of an oath, and the judge being satisfied with my replies, I gave my evidence as before; the judge as I perceived, carefully examining my previous disposition, to ascertain if anything I now said was at variance with my former assertions. I was then cross-examined by the counsel for Fleming, but he could not make me vary in my evidence, I did, however, take the opportunity, whenever I was able, of saying all I could in favour of Marables. At last the counsel said he would ask me no more questions. I was dismissed; and the police-officer who had picked me up, and other parties who identified the various property as their own, and the manner in which they had been robbed of it, were examined. The evidence was too clear to admit of doubt. The jury immediately returned a verdict of guilty against Fleming and Marables, but strongly recommended Marables to the mercy of the crown. The judge rose, put on his black cap, and addressed the prisoners as follows. The court was so still, that a pin falling might have been heard:—
"You, William Fleming, have been tried by a jury of your countrymen, upon the charge of receiving stolen goods, to which you have added the most atrocious crime of intended murder. You have had a fair and impartial trial, and have been found guilty; and it appears that, even had you escaped in this instance, other charges, equally heavy, and which would equally consign you to condign punishment, were in readiness to be preferred against you. Your life has been one of guilt, not only in your own person, but also in abetting and stimulating others to crime; and you have wound up your shameful career by attempting the life of a fellow-creature. To hold out to you any hope of mercy is impossible. Your life is justly forfeited to the offended laws of your country; and your sentence is that you be removed from this court to the place from whence you came, and from thence to the place of execution, there to be hanged by the neck till you are dead; and may God, in his infinite goodness, have mercy on your soul!
"You, John Marables, have pleaded guilty to the charges brought against you; and it has appeared, during the evidence brought out on the trial, that, although you have been a party to these nefarious transactions, you are far from being hardened in your guilt." ["No, no!" exclaimed Marables.] "I believe sincerely that you are not, and much regret that one who, from the evidence brought forward, appears to have been, previously to this unfortunate connection, an honest man, should now appear in so disgraceful a situation. A severe punishment is, however, demanded by the voice of justice, and by that sentence of the law you must now be condemned: at the same time I trust that an appeal to the mercy of your sovereign will not be made in vain."
The judge then passed the sentence upon Marables, the prisoners were led out of court, and a new trial commenced; while Mr Drummond and the Dominie conducted me home. About a week after the trial, Fleming suffered the penalty of the law; while Marables was sentenced to transportation for life, which, however, previous to his sailing, was commuted to seven years.
In a few days the lighter returned. Her arrival was announced to me one fine sunny morning as I lay in bed, by a voice whose well-known notes poured into my ear as I was half dozing on my pillow:—
"Bright are the beams of the morning sky, And sweet the dew the red blossoms sip, But brighter the glances of dear woman's eye—
"Tom, you monkey, belay the warp, and throw the fenders over the side. Be smart, or old Fuzzle will be growling about his red paint.
"And sweet is the dew on her lip."
I jumped out of my little crib, threw open the window, the panes of which were crystallised with the frost in the form of little trees, and beheld the lighter just made fast to the wharf, the sun shining brightly, old Tom's face as cheerful as the morn, and young Tom laughing, jumping about, and blowing his fingers. I was soon dressed, and shaking hands with my barge-mates.
"Well, Jacob, how do you like the Old Bailey? Never was in it but once in my life, and never mean to go again if I can help it; that was when Sam Bowles was tried for his life, but my evidence saved him. I'll tell you how it was. Tom, look a'ter the breakfast; a bowl of tea this cold morning will be worth having. Come, jump about."
"But I never heard the story of Sam Bowles," answered Tom.
"What's that to you? I'm telling it to Jacob."
"But I want to hear it—so go on, father. I'll start you. Well, d'ye see, Sam Bowles—"
"Master Tom, them as play with bowls may meet with rubbers. Take care I don't rub down your hide. Off, you thief, and get breakfast."
"No, I won't: if I don't have your Bowles you shall have no bowls of tea. I've made my mind up to that."
"I tell you what, Tom; I shall never get any good out of you until I have both your legs ampitated. I've a great mind to send for the farrier."
"Thanky, father; but I find them very useful."
"Well," said I, "suppose we put off the story till breakfast time; and I'll go and help Tom to get it ready."
"Be it so, Jacob. I suppose Tom must have his way, as I spoiled him myself. I made him so fond of yarns, so I was a fool to be vexed.
"Oh, life is a river, and man is the boat That over its surface is destined to float; And joy is a cargo so easily stored, That he is a fool who takes sorrow on board.
"Now I'll go on shore to master, and find out what's to be done next. Give me my stick, boy, and I shall crawl over the planks a little safer. A safe stool must have three legs, you know."
Old Tom then stumped away on shore. In about a quarter of an hour he returned, bringing half-a-dozen red herrings.
"Here, Tom, grill these sodgers. Jacob, who is that tall old chap, with such a devil of a cutwater, which I met just now with master? We are bound for Sheerness this trip, and I'm to land him at Greenwich."