"They took your money and laughed at you. Two pair of griffins, a lion, half-a-dozen leopards, and a hand with a dagger, wouldn't 'ave cost a farthing more. But what can you hexpect from an 'og?"
"But if I was cured, I should be what you were—Bacon."
"I won't demean myself, Mr Turnbull."
"That's right, my dear, don't; there's no curing you. Recollect the motto you chose in preference to mine."
"Well, and a very proper one—'Too much familiarity breeds contempt'— is it not so, Master Faithful?"
"Yes, madam, it was one of our copies at school."
"I beg your pardon, sir, it was my hown hinvention."
Rap, tap, rap, tap, tap, tap, tap.
"Mr and Mrs Peters, of Petercumb Hall," announced the butler. Enter Mrs Peters first, a very diminutive lady, and followed by Mr Peters, six feet four inches without his shoes, deduct for stooping and curved shoulders seven inches. Mr Peters had retired from the Stock Exchange with a competence, bought a place, named it Petercumb Hall, and set up his carriage. Another knock, and Mr and Mrs Drummond were announced. Compliments exchanged, and a pastile lighted by Mrs Turnbull.
"Well, Drummond," said Mr Turnbull, "what are coals worth now?"
"Mr Turnbull, I've got such an 'eadache."
This was of course a matter of condolence from all present, and a stopper upon Mr Turnbull's tongue.
Another sounding rap, and a pause. "Monsieur and Madame de Tagliabue coming up." Enter Monsieur and Madame de Tagliabue. The former, a dapper little Frenchman, with a neat pair of legs, and stomach as round as a pea. Madame sailing in like an outward-bound East Indiaman, with studding sails below and aloft; so large in her dimensions, that her husband might be compared to the pilot-boat plying about her stern.
"Charmee de vous voir, Madame Tom-bulle. Vous vous portez bien; n'est-ce pas?"
"Ve," replied Mrs Turnbull, who thus exhausted her knowledge of the French language while the Monsieur tried in vain, first on one side, and then on the other, to get from under the lee of his wife and make his bow. This was not accomplished until the lady had taken possession of a sofa, which she filled most comfortably.
Who these people were, and how they lived, I never could find out: they came in a fly from Brentford.
Another announcement. "My Lord Babbleton and Mr Smith coming up."
"Mr T, pray go down and receive his lordship. (There are two wax candles for you to light on the hall table, and you must walk up with them before his lordship," said the lady aside.)
"I'll be hanged if I do," replied Mr Turnbull; "let the servants light him."
"O, Mr T, I've such an 'eadache?"
"So you may have," replied Mr T, sitting down doggedly.
In the meantime Mr Smith entered, leading Lord Babbleton, a boy of twelve or thirteen years old, shy, awkward, red-haired, and ugly, to whom Mr Smith was tutor. Mrs T had found out Mr Smith, who was residing near Brentford with his charge, and made his acquaintance on purpose to have a lord on her visiting list, and, to her delight, the leader had not forgotten to bring his bear with him. Mrs Turnbull sprang to the door to receive them, making a prepared courtesy to the aristocratical cub, and then shaking him respectfully by the hand. "Won't your lordship walk to the fire? Isn't your lordship cold? I hope your lordship's sty is better in your lordship's eye. Allow me to introduce to your lordship's notice Mr and Mrs Peters—Madame and Mounsheer Tagleebue—Mr and Mrs Drummond, the Right Honourable Lord Viscount Babbleton." As for Mr Turnbull and myself, we were left out as unworthy of introduction. "We are ready for dinner, Mr Turnbull."
"Snobbs, get dinner dressed up," said Mr T to the butler.
"O, Mr T, I've such an 'eadache."
This last headache was produced by Mr T forgetting himself, and calling the butler by his real name, which was Snobbs; but Mrs Turnbull had resolved that it should be changed to Mortimer—or rather, to Mr Mortimer, as the household were directed to call him, on pain of expulsion.
Dinner was announced. Madame Tagliabue, upon what pretence I know not, was considered the first lady in the room, and Lord Babbleton was requested by Mrs Turnbull to hand her down. Madame rose, took his lordship's hand, and led him away. Before they were out of the room, his lordship had disappeared among the ample folds of Madame's gown, and was seen no more until she pulled him out, on their arrival at the dinner-table. At last we were all arranged according to Mrs Turnbull's wishes, although there were several chops and changes about, until the order of precedence could be correctly observed. A French cook had been sent for by Mrs Turnbull; and not being mistress of the language, she had a card with the names of the dishes to refresh her memory, Mr Mortimer having informed her that such was always the custom among great people, who, not ordering their own dinners, of course they could not tell what there was to eat.
"Mrs Turnbull, what soup have you there?"
"Consummy soup, my lord. Will your lordship make use of that or of this here, which is o'juss."
His lordship stared, made no answer; looked foolish; and Mr Mortimer placed some soup before him.
"Lord Babbleton takes soup," said Mr Smith, pompously; and the little right honourable supped soup, much to Mrs Turnbull's satisfaction.
"Madame, do you soup? or do you fish?"
"Merci, no soup—poisson."
"Don't be afraid, madame; we've a French cook: you won't be poisoned here," replied Mrs Turnbull, rather annoyed.
"Comment, my chere madame, I meant to say dat I prefer de cod."
"Mr T, some soup for Madame. John, a clean plate for Lord Babbleton. What will your lordship condescend to make use of now?" (Mrs Turnbull thought the phrase, make use, excessively refined and elegant.)
"Ah, madame, votre cuisine est superbe," exclaimed Monsieur Tagliabue, tucking the corner of his napkin into his button-hole, and making preparations for well filling his little rotundity.
"Ve," replied Mrs Turnbull. "Mrs Peters, will you try the dish next Mr Turnbull? What is it?" (looking at her card)—"Agno roty. Will you, my lord? If your lordship has not yet got into your French— it means roast quarter of lamb."
"His lordship is very partial to lamb," said Mr Smith, with emphasis.
"Mr Turnbull, some lamb for Lord Babbleton, and for Mr Peters."
"Directly, my dear.—Well, Jacob, you see, when I was first mate—"
"Dear! Mr Turnbull—I've such an 'eadache. Do, pray, cut the lamb. (Aside.) Mr Mortimer, do go and whisper to Mr Turnbull that I beg he will put on his gloves."
"Mrs Peters, you're doing nothing. Mr Mortimer, 'and round the side dishes, and let John serve out the champagne."
"Mrs Peters, there's a wolley went o' weaters. Will you make use of some? Mrs Drummond, will you try the dish coming round? It is—let me see—chew farsy. My Lord Babbleton, I 'ope the lamb's to your liking? Monshere Tagliabue—William, give Monshere a clean plate. What will you take next?"
"Vraiment, madame, tout est excellent, superbe! Je voudrais embrasser votre cuisinier—c'est un artiste comme il n'y a pas?"
"Ve," replied Mrs Turnbull.
The first course was removed; and the second, after some delay, made its appearance. In the interim, Mr Mortimer handed round one or two varieties of wine.
"Drummond, will you take a glass of wine with me?" said Mr Turnbull. "I hate your sour French wines. Will you take Madeira? I was on shore at Madeira once for a few hours, when I was before the mast, in the—"
"Mr Turnbull, I've such an 'eadache," cried his lady, in an angry tone. "My lord, will you take some of this?—it is ding dong o' turf—a turkey, my lord."
"His lordship is fond of turkey," said Mr Smith, dictatorially.
Monsieur Tagliabue, who sat on the other side of Mrs T, found that the turkey was in request—it was some time before he could help himself.
"C'est superbe?" said Monsieur, thrusting a truffle into his mouth. "Apparemment, madame, n'aime pas la cuisine Anglaise?"
"Ve," replied Mrs Turnbull. "Madame, what will you be hassisted to?" continued Mrs T.
"Tout de bon, madame."
"Ve; what are those by you, Mr Peters?" inquired the lady in continuation.
"I really cannot exactly say; but they are fritters of some sort."
"Let me see—hoh! bidet du poms. Madame, will you eat some bidet du poms?"
"Comment, madame, je ne vous comprends pas—"
"Monsieur Tagliabue, expliquez donc;" said the foreign lady, red as a quarter of beef.
"Permettez," said Monsieur, looking at the card. "Ah, c'est impossible, ma chere," continued he, laughing. "Madame Turnbull se trompait; elle voudrait dire Beignets de pommes."
"Vous trouvez notre langue fort difficile, n'est-ce pas?" continued madame, who recovered her good humour, and smiled graciously at Mrs T.
"Ve," replied Mrs Turnbull, who perceived that she had made some mistake, and was anxiously awaiting the issue of the dialogue. It had, however, the effect of checking Mrs T, who said little more during the dinner and dessert.
At last the ladies rose from the dessert, and left the gentlemen at the table; but we were not permitted to remain long before coffee was announced, and we went up stairs. A variety of French liqueurs were handed about, and praised by most of the company. Mr Turnbull, however, ordered a glass of brandy as a settler.
"Oh! Mr Turnbull, I've such an 'eadache!"
After that the party became very dull. Lord Babbleton fell asleep on the sofa. Mr Peters walked round the room, admiring the pictures, and asking the names of the masters.
"I really quite forget; but, Mr Drummond, you are a judge of paintings I hear. Who do you think this is painted by?" said the lady, pointing to a very inferior performance. "I am not quite sure; but I think it is Van—Van Daub."
"I should think so too," replied Mr Drummond, drily; "we have a great many pictures in England by the same hand."
The French gentleman proposed ecarte, but no one knew how to play it except his wife; who sat down with him to pass away the time. The ladies sauntered about the room, looking at the contents of the tables, Mrs Peters occasionally talking of Petercumb Hall; Mr Smith played at patience in one corner; while Mr Turnbull and Mr Drummond sat in another in close conversation; and the lady of the house divided her attentions, running from one to the other, and requesting them not to talk so loud as to awake the Right Honourable Lord Viscount Babbleton. At last the vehicles were announced, and the fashionable party broke up, much to the satisfaction of everybody, and to none more than myself.
I ought to observe that all the peculiar absurdities I have narrated did not strike me so much at the time; but it was an event to me to dine out, and the scene was well impressed upon my memory. After what occurred to me in my after life, and when I became better able to judge of fashionable pretensions, the whole was vividly brought back to my recollection.
THE TOMKINSES' FETE CHAMPETRE AND FETE DANSANTE—LIGHTS AMONG THE GOOSEBERRY-BUSHES—ALL WENT OFF WELL, EXCEPTING THE LIGHTS, THEY WENT OUT—A WINDING UP THAT HAD NEARLY PROVED A CATASTROPHE—OLD TOM PROVES THAT DANGER MAKES FRIENDS BY A YARN, YOUNG TOM BY A FACT.
I remained with Mr Drummond about eight months, when at last the new clerk made his appearance—a little fat fellow, about twenty, with a face as round as a full moon, thick lips, and red cheeks. During this time I frequently had the pleasure of meeting with old and young Tom, who appeared very anxious that I should rejoin them; and I must say that I was equally willing to return to the lighter. Still Mr Drummond put his veto on it, and Mrs Drummond was also constantly pointing out the very desirable situation I might have on shore as a clerk in the office; but I could not bear it—seated nearly the whole day—perched up on a high stool—turning over Debtors, contra Creditors, and only occasionally interrupted by the head clerk, with his attempt to make rhymes. The new clerk came, I expected my release, but I was disappointed. Mr Drummond discovered him to be so awkward, and the head clerk declared that the time was so busy, that he could not spare me. This was true; Mr Drummond had just come to a final arrangement, which had been some time pending, by which he purchased a wharf and large warehouses, with a house adjoining, in Lower Thames Street—a very large concern, for which he had paid a considerable sum of money. What with the valuations, winding up of the Brentford concern on the old account, etcetera, there was much to do, and I toiled at the desk until the removal took place; and when the family were removed, I was still detained, as there was no warehouseman to superintend the unloading and hoisting up of goods. Mr Tomkins, the head clerk, who had been many years a faithful servant to Mr Drummond, was admitted a partner, and had charge of the Brentford wharf, a species of promotion which he and his wife resolved to celebrate with a party. After a long debate, it was resolved that they should give a ball, and Mrs Tomkins exerted all her taste and ingenuity on the occasion. My friend Tomkins lived at a short distance from the premises, in a small house, surrounded with half an acre of garden, chiefly filled with gooseberry-bushes, and perambulated by means of four straight gravel walks. Mr and Mrs Drummond were invited, and accepted the invitation, which was considered by the Tomkinses as a great mark of condescension. As a specimen of Mr Tomkins's poetical talents, I shall give his invitation to Mr Drummond, written in the very best German text:—
"Mr and Mrs T—- Sincerely hope to see Mr and Mrs Drum- Mond, to a very hum- Ble party that they in- Tend to ask their kin To, on the Saturday Of the week ensuing: When fiddles they will play, And other things be doing."
Belle Vue House.
To which jeu d'esprit Mr Drummond answered with a pencil on a card—
"Mr and Mrs Drum- Mond intend to come."
"Here, give Tomkins that, Jacob; it will please him better than any formal acceptation." Mr and Mrs Turnbull were also asked; the former accepted, but the latter indignantly refused.
When I arrived with Mr and Mrs Drummond many of the company were there; the garden was what they called illuminated, that is, every gooseberry-bush had one variegated lamp suspended above the centre; and, as Mr Tomkins told me afterwards, the lamps were red and yellow, according to the fruit they bore. It was a cold, frosty, clear night, and the lamps twinkled as brightly among the bare boughs of the gooseberry trees as the stars did in the heavens. The company in general were quite charmed with the novelty. "Quite a minor Wauxhall," cried one lady, whose exuberance of fat kept her warm enough to allow her to stare about in the open air. The entrance porch had a dozen little lamps, backed with laurel twigs, and looked very imposing. Mrs Tomkins received her company upon the steps outside, that she might have the pleasure of hearing their praises of her external arrangements; still it was freezing, and she shivered not a little. The drawing-room, fourteen feet by ten, was fitted up as a ballroom, with two fiddlers and a fifer sitting in a corner and a country-dance was performing when we arrived. Over the mantle-piece was a square of laurel twigs, inclosing as a frame this couplet from the poetical brain of the master of the house, cut out in red paper, and bespangled with blue and yellow tinsel—
"Here we are to dance so gay, While the fiddlers play away."
Other appropriate distichs, which I have now forgotten, were framed in the same way on each of the other compartments. But the dining-room was the chef d'oeuvre. It was formed into a bower, with evergreens, and on the evergreen boughs were stuck real apples and oranges in all directions, so that you could help yourself.
"Vell, I do declare, this is a paradise!" exclaimed the fat lady who entered with me.
"In all but one thing, ma'am," replied Mr Turnbull, who, with his coat off, was squeezing lemons for the punch—"there's no forbidden fruit. You may help yourself."
The bon-mot was repeated by Mr Tomkins to the end of his existence, not only for its own sake, but because it gave him an opportunity of entering into a detail of the whole fete—the first he had ever given in his life. "Ah, Jacob, my boy, glad to see you—come and help here— they'll soon be thirsty, I'll warrant," said Mr Turnbull, who was in his glory. The company, although not so very select, were very happy; they danced, drank punch, laughed, and danced again; and it was not till a late hour, long after Mr and Mrs Drummond had gone home, that I quitted the "festive scene;" Mr Turnbull, who walked away with me, declaring that it was worth a dozen of his party, although they had not such grand people as Mrs Tagliabue, or the Right Honourable Lord Viscount Babbleton. I thought so too; every one was happy, and every one at their ease; and I do believe they would have stayed much longer, but the musicians took so much punch that one fiddler broke his fiddle, the other broke his head in going down the steps into the garden, and the fifer swore he could blow no longer; so, as there was an end to the music, clogs, pattens, and lanterns were called for, the shawls were brought out of the kitchen, and every one went away. Nothing could go off better. Mrs Tomkins had a cold and rheumatism the next day; but that was not surprising, a minor Wauxhall not being seasonable in the month of December.
A week after this party we removed to Thames Street, and I performed the duty of warehouseman. Our quantity of lighters was now much increased, and employed in carrying dry goods, etcetera. One morning old Tom came under the crane to discharge his lighter, and wishing to see me, when the fall had been overhauled down to heave up the casks with which the lighter was laden, instead of hooking on a cask, held on by his hands, crying, "Hoist away," intending to be hoisting himself up to the door of the warehouse where I was presiding. Now, there was nothing unusual in this whim of old Tom's, but still he ran a very narrow chance, in consequence of an extra whim of young Tom's, who, as soon as his father was suspended in the air, caught hold of his two wooden stumps, to be hoisted up also; and as he caught hold of them, standing on tiptoe, they both swung clear of the lighter, which could not approach to within five feet of the buildings. The crane was on the third story of the warehouse, and very high up. "Tom, Tom, you rascal, what the devil are you about?" cried the old man, when he felt the weight of his son's body hanging to him.
"Going up along with you, father—hope we shall go to heaven the same way."
"More likely to go to the devil together, you little fool; I never can bear your weight. Hoist away, there, quick."
Hearing the voices, I looked out of the door, and perceiving their situation, ordered the men to hoist as fast as they could, before old Tom's strength should be exhausted; but it was a compound moving crane, and we could not hoist very fast, although we could hoist very great weights. At last, as they were wound up higher and higher, old Tom's strength was going fast. "O Tom, Tom, what must be done? I can't—I can't hold on but a little longer, and we shall be both dashed to pieces. My poor boy?"
"Well, then, I'll let go, father; it was all my folly, and I'll be the sufferer."
"Let go!" cried old Tom; "no, no, Tom—don't let go, my boy; I'll try a little longer. Don't let go, my dear boy—don't let go!"
"Well, father, how much longer can you hold on?"
"A little—very little longer," replied the old man, struggling. "Well, hold fast now," cried young Tom, who, raising his head above his arms, with great exertion shifted one of his hands to his father's thigh, then the other; raising himself as before, he then caught at the seat of his father's trousers with his teeth; old Tom groaned, for his son had taken hold of more than the garments; he then shifted his hands round his father's body—from thence he gained the collar of his jacket—from the collar he climbed on his father's shoulders, from thence he seized hold of the fall above, and relieved his father of the weight. "Now, father, are you all right?" cried Tom, panting as he clung to the fall above him.
"I can't hold on ten seconds more, Tom—no longer—my clutch is going now."
"Hang on by your eyelids, father, if you love me," cried young Tom, in agony.
It was indeed an awful moment; they were now at least sixty feet above the lighter, suspended in the air; the men whirled round the wheel, and I had at last the pleasure of hauling them both in on the floor of the warehouse; the old man so exhausted that he could not speak for more than a minute. Young Tom, as soon as all was safe, laughed immoderately. Old Tom sat upright. "It might have been no laughing matter, Mr Tom," said he, looking at his son.
"What's done can't be helped, father, as Jacob says. After all, you're more frightened than hurt."
"I don't know that, you young scamp," replied the old man, putting his hand behind him, and rubbing softly; "you've bit a piece clean out of my starn. Now, let this be a warning to you, Tom. Jacob, my boy, couldn't you say that I've met with an accident, and get a drop of something from Mr Drummond?"
I thought, after his last observation, I might honestly say that he had met with an accident, and I soon returned with a glass of brandy, which old Tom was drinking off when his son interrupted him for a share.
"You know, father, I shared the danger."
"Yes, Tom, I know you did," replied the father; "but this was sent to me on account of my accident, and as I had that all to myself, I shall have all this too."
"But, father, you ought to give me a drop, if it were only to take the taste out of my mouth."
"Your own flesh and blood, Tom," replied his father, emptying his glass.
"Well, I always heard it was quite unnatural not to like your own flesh and blood," replied Tom; "but I see now that there may be reasons for it."
"Be content, Tom," replied his father, putting down the glass; "we're now just square. You've had your raw nip, and I've had mine."
Mr Drummond now came up, and asked what had been the matter. "Nothing, sir—only an accident. Tom and I had a bit of a hoist."
As this last word had a double meaning, Mr Drummond thought that a cask had surged, when coming out of the lighter, and struck them down. He desired old Tom to be more careful, and walked away, while we proceeded to unload the lighter. The new clerk was a very heavy, simple young man, plodding and attentive certainly, but he had no other merit; he was sent into the lighter to rake the marks and numbers of the casks as they were hoisted up, and soon became a butt to young Tom, who gave him the wrong marks and numbers of all the casks, to his interrogations.
"What's that, boy?" cried the pudding-faced fellow, with his pencil in one hand and his book in the other.
"Pea soup, 13," replied Tom; "ladies' bonnets, 24. Now, then, master, chalk again, pipe-clay for sodgers, 3; red herrings, 26." All of which were carefully noted down by Mr Grubbins who, when the lighter was cleared, took the memoranda to Mr Drummond.
Fortunately, we had checked the number of the casks as they were received above—their contents were flour. Mr Drummond sent for young Tom, and asked him how he dared play such a trick. Tom replied very boldly, "that it was meant as a good lesson to the young man, that in future he did his own work, and did not trust to others." To this Mr Drummond agreed, and Master Tom was dismissed without punishment.
As the men had all gone to dinner, I went down into the lighter to have a little chat with my old shipmates. "Well, Jacob," said old Tom, "Tom's not a bit wiser than he was before—two scrapes to-day, already."
"Well, father, if I prove my folly by getting into scrapes, I prove my wit by getting out of them."
"Yes, that may be true, Tom; but suppose we had both come down with a run, what would you have thought then?"
"I suspect, father, that I should have been past thinking."
"I once did see a thing of that kind happen," said old Tom, calling to mind former scenes in his life; "and I'll tell you a yarn about it, boys, because they say danger makes friends."
We sat down by old Tom, who narrated as follows "When I was captain of the main-top in the La Minerve, forty-four gun frigate, we were the smartest ship up the Mediterranean; and many's the exercise we were the means of giving to other ship's companies, because they could not beat us—no, not even hold a candle to us. In both fore and main-top we had eight-and-twenty as smart chaps as ever put their foot to a rattling, or slid down by an a'ter backstay. Now, the two captains of the foretop were both prime young men, active as monkeys, and bold as lions. One was named Tom Herbert, from North Shields, a dark, good-looking chap, with teeth as white as a nigger's, and a merry chap he was, always a-showing them. The other was a cockney chap. Your Lunnuners arn't often good seamen; but when they are seamen, there's no better; they never allow any one to show them the way, that's for sartin, being naturally spunky sort of chaps, and full of tricks and fun. This fellow's name was Bill Wiggins, and between him and Herbert there was always a jealousy who should be the smartest man. I've seen both of them run out on the yard, in fine weather, without holding on nothing, seize the lift, and down to their station, haul up the earing, in no time; up by the lift again, and down on deck, by the backstay, before half the men had time to get clear of the top. In fact, they often risked their lives in bad weather, when there was no occasion for it, that one might outdo the other. Now, this was all very well, and a good example to the other men: the captain and officers appeared to like these contests for superiority, but it ended in their hating each other, and not being even on speaking terms, which, as the two captains of the top, was bad. They had quarrelled often, and fought five times, neither proving the better man; either both done up, or parted by the master-at-arms, and reported to the first lieutenant, so that at last they were not so much countenanced by the officers, and were out of favour with the captain, who threatened to disrate them both if ever they fought again. We were cruising off the Gulf of Lyons, where sometimes it blows hard enought to blew the devil's horns off, though the gales never last very long. We were under close reefed fore- and main-top sails, storm stay-sail and trysail, when there was a fresh hand at the bellows, and the captain desired the officers of the watch, just before dinner to take in the fore-top sail. Not to disturb the watch below, the main-top men were ordered up forward to help the fore-top men of the watch; and I was of course aloft, ready to lie out on the lee yard-arm—when Wiggins, who had the watch below, came up in the top, not liking that Herbert should be at work in such weather without he being there too.
"'Tom,' says to me, 'I'll take the yard-arm.'
"'Very well,' say I, 'with all my heart; then I'll look to the bunt.'
"Just at that time there came on a squall with rain, which almost blinded us; the sail was taken in very neatly, the clew-lines, chock-a-block, bunt-lines and leech-lines well up, reef-tackles overhauled, rolling-tackles taut, and all as it should be. The men lied out on the yard, the squall wore worse and worse, but they were handing in the leech of the sail, when snap went one bunt-line, then the other; the sail flapped and flagged, till away went the leech-lines, and the men clung to the yards for their lives; for the sail mastered them, and they could do nothing. At last it split like thunder, buffeting the men on the yard-arms till they were almost senseless, until to windward it wore away into long coach whips, and the whole of the canvas left was at the lee yard-arm. The men laid in at last with great difficulty, quite worn out by fatigue and clinging for their existence; all but Wiggins, who was barred by the sail to leeward from making his footing good on the horse, and there he was, poor fellow, completely in irons, and so beaten by the canvas that he could hardly be said to be sensible. It takes a long while to tell all this, but it wasn't the work of a minute. At last he made an attempt to get up by the lift, but was struck down, and would have been hurled overboard if it hadn't been that his leg fell over the horse, and there he was, head downwards, hanging over a raging sea, ready to swallow him up as soon as he dropt into it. As every one expected he would be beat off before any assistance could be given, you may guess that it was an awful moment to those below who were looking up at him, watching for his fall and the roll of the ship, to see if he fell clear into the sea, or was dashed to pieces in the fore-chains.
"I couldn't bear to see a fellow-creature, and good seaman in the bargain, in that state, and although the captain dare not order any one to help him, yet there were one or two midshipmen hastening up the fore-rigging, with the intent, I have no doubt, of trying to save him (for midshipmen don't value their lives at a quid of tobacco), so I seizes the studding sail halyards, and runs up the topmast rigging, intending to go down by the lift, and pass a bowling knot round him before he fell, when who should I meet at the cross-trees but Tom Herbert, who snatched the rope out of my hand, bawling to me through the gale, 'This is my business, Tom.'
"Down he goes by the lift, the remainder of the canvas flapped over him, and I seed no more until I heard a cry from all below, and away went Herbert and Wiggins, both together, flying to leeward just as the ship was taking her recovery to windward. Fortunately they both fell clear of the ship about two feet, not more, and as their fall was expected, they had prepared below. A master's mate, of the name of Simmonds, and the captain of the forecastle, both went overboard in bowling knots, with another in their hands, and in a minute or two they were all four on board again; but Herbert and were both senseless, and a long while coming to again. Well, now, what do you think was the upshot of it? Why, they were the best friends in the world ever afterwards, and would have died for one another; and if one had a glass of grog from the officers for any little job, instead of touching his forelock and drinking it off to the officer's health, he always took it out of the gun-room, that he might give half of it to the other. So, d'ye see my boys, as I said before I began my yarn, that danger makes friends.
"'Tis said we vent'rous die hard, When we leave the shore, Our friends may mourn, lest we return To bless their sight no more. But this is all a notion Bold Jack can't understand; Some die upon the ocean. And some die upon dry land."
"And if we had tumbled, father, we should have just died betwixt and between, not water enough to float us. It would have been woolez wous parlez wous, plump in the mud, as you say sometimes."
"Why, yes, Tom. I've a notion that I should have been planted too deep ever to have struck," replied the old man, looking at his wooden stumps.
"Why, yes, father, legs are legs, when you tumble into six foot of mud. How you would have dibbled down, if your daddles hadn't held on."
"Well then, Tom, recollect that you never sell your father for a lark again."
Tom laughed, and catching at the word, although used in a different sense, sung—
"Just like the lark high poised in air.
"And so were you, father, only you didn't sing as he does, and you didn't leave your young one below in the nest."
"Ay, it is the young uns which prevent the old ones from rising in the world—that's very true, Tom. Holla, who have we got here? My service to you, at all events."
THE ART OF HARD LYING MADE EASY, THOUGH I AM MADE VERY UNEASY BY HARD LYING—I SEND MY RULER AS A MISSIVE, TO LET THE PARTIES CONCERNED KNOW THAT I AM A REBEL TO TYRANNICAL RULE—I AM ARRAIGNED, TRIED, AND CONDEMNED WITHOUT A HEARING—WHAT I LOSE IN SPEECH IS MADE UP IN FEELING, THE WHOLE WOUND UP WITH MAGNANIMOUS RESOLVES, AND A LITTLE SOBBING.
It was the captain of the American schooner, from out of which we were then taking the casks of flour.
"We've no sarvice in our country, I've a notion, my old bobtail roarer," said he. "When do you come alongside of my schooner, for tother lading with this raft of yours? Not to-night, I guess."
"Well, you've guessed right this time," replied old Tom; "we shall lie on the mud till to-morrow morning, with your permission."
"Yes, for all the world like a Louisiana alligator. You take things coolly, I've a notion, in the old country. I don't want to be hanging head and starn in this little bit of a river of your'n. I must be back to New York afore fever time."
"She be a pretty craft, that little thing of yours," observed old Tom; "how long may she take to make the run?"
"How long? I expect in just no time; and she'd go as fast again, only she won't wait for the breeze to come up with her."
"Why don't you heave-to for it?" said young Tom.
"Lose too much time, I guess. I have been chased by an easterly wind all the way from your Land's End to our Narrows, and it never could overhaul me."
"And I presume the porpoises give it up in despair, don't they?" replied old Tom, with a leer; "and yet I've seen the creatures playing across the bows of an English frigate at her speed, and laughing at her."
"They never play their tricks with me, old snapper; if they do, I cuts them in halves, and a-starn they go, head part floating on one side, and tail part on the other."
"But don't they join together again when they meet in your wake?" inquired Tom.
"Shouldn't wonder," replied the American captain.
"Pray, captain, what may be that vessel they talk so much about at New York?" Old Tom referred to the first steam vessel, whose qualities at that time had been tried, and an exaggerated report of which had been copied from the American papers. "That ship, or whatever she may be, that sails without masts, yards, or canvas; it is quite above my comprehension."
"Old country heads can't take it in. I'll tell you what—she goes slick through the water, a-head or a-starn, broadside on, or up or down, or any way; and all you have to do is to poke the fire and warm your fingers; and the more you poke, the faster she goes 'gainst wind and tide."
"Well, I must see that to believe it, though," replied old Tom.
"No fear of a capsize, I calculate. My little craft did upset with me one night, in a pretty comfortable heavy gal; but she's smart, and came up again on the other side in a moment, all right as before. Never should have known anything about it, if the man at the wheel had not found his jacket wet, and the men below had a round turn in all the clews of their hammocks."
"After that round turn, you may belay," cried young Tom, laughing.
"Yes, but don't let's have a stopper over all, Tom," replied his father. "I consider all this excessively divarting. Pray, captain, does everything else go fast in the new country."
"Everything with us clean slick, I guess."
"What sort of horses have you in America?" inquired I.
"Our Kentucky horses, I've a notion, would surprise you. They're almighty goers; at a trot, beat a North West gal of wind. I once took an Englishman with me in a gig up Allibama country, and he says, 'What's this great churchyard we are passing through?' 'And stranger,' says I, 'I calculate it's nothing but the milestones we are passing so slick.' But I once had a horse, who, I expect, was a deal quicker than that. I once seed a flash of lightning chase him for half-an-hour round the clearance, and I guess it couldn't catch him. But I can't wait no longer. I expect you'll come alongside to-morrow afore meridian."
"Ay, ay, master," replied old Tom, tuning up—
"'Twas post meridian, half-past four, By signal I from Nancy parted, At five she lingered on the shore, With uplift eyes and broken-hearted."
"I calculate you are no fool of a screamer," said the American, shoving off his boat from the barge, and pulling to his vessel.
"And I calculate you're no fool of a liar," said young Tom.
"Well, so he is; but I do like a good lie, Jacob, there's some fun in it. But what the devil does the fellow mean by calling a gale of wind—a gal?"
"I don't know," replied Tom, "unless for the same reason that we call a girl a blowing."
Our conversation was here interrupted by Mr Hodgson, the new head clerk, of whom I have hitherto said nothing. He came into the establishment in the place of Mr Tomkins, when we quitted the Battersea wharf, and had taken an evident dislike to me, which appeared to increase every day, as Mr Drummond gave me fresh marks of his approbation. "You, Faithful, come out of that barge directly, and go to your desk. I will have no eye-servers under me. Come out, sir, directly."
"I say, Mr Quilldriver," cried old Tom, "do you mean for to say that Jacob is an eye-sarver?"
"Yes, I do; and want none of your impertinence, or I'll unship you, you old blackguard."
"Well, then, for the first part of your story, my sarvice to you and you lies; and as for the second, that remains to be proved."
Mr Hodgson's temper was not softened by this reply of old Tom. My blood was also up, for I had borne much already; and young Tom was bursting with impatience to take my part. He walked carelessly by the head clerk, saying to me as he passed by, "Why, I thought, Jacob, you were 'prentice to the river; but it seems that you're bound to the counting-house. How long do you mean to sarve?"
"I don't know," replied I, as I walked away sulkily; "but I wish I was out of my time."
"Very well, sir, I shall report your behaviour to Mr Drummond. I'll make him know your tricks."
"Tricks! you won't let him know his tricks. His duty is to take his trick at the wheel," replied old Tom; "not to be brought up at your cheating tricks at the desk."
"Cheating tricks, you old scoundrel, what do you mean by that?" replied Mr Hodgson, in a rage.
"My father means ledgerdemain, I suppose," replied young Tom.
This repartee from a quarter so little expected sent off the head clerk more wroth than ever.
"You seemed to hit him hard there, Tom," said his father; "but I can't say that I understand how."
"You've had me taught to read and write, father," replied young Tom; "and a'ter that, a lad may teach himself everything. I pick up every day, here and there; and I never see a thing or a word that I don't understand but I find out the meaning when I can. I picked up that hard word at Bartlemy fair."
"And very hard you hit him with it."
"Who wouldn't to serve a friend? But mark my words, father, this won't last long. There's a squall blowing up, and Jacob, quiet as he seems to be, will show his teeth ere long."
Tom was correct in his surmise. I had not taken my seat at my desk more than a minute, when Mr Hodgson entered, and commenced a tirade of abuse, which my pride could no longer allow me to submit to. An invoice, perfectly correct and well-written, which I had nearly completed, he snatched from before me, tore into fragments, and ordered me to write it over again. Indignant at this treatment, I refused, and throwing down my pen, looked at him determinedly in the face. Irritated at this defiance, he caught up a directory, and threw it at my head. No longer able to command myself, I seized a ruler and returned the salute. It was whizzing through the air as Mr Drummond entered the room; and he was just in time to witness Mr Hodgson struck on the forehead and felled to the ground, while I remained with my arm raised, standing upon the cross-bar of my high stool, my face glowing with passion.
Appearances were certainly against me. Assistance was summoned, and the head clerk removed to his chamber, during all which time I remained seated on my stool before the desk, my breast heaving with tumultuous feelings. How long I remained there I cannot say, it might have been two hours; feelings long dormant had been aroused, and whirled round and round in a continual cycle in my feverish brains. I should have remained probably much longer in this state of absorption, had I not been summoned to attend Mr Drummond. It appeared that in the meantime Mr Hodgson had come to his own senses, and had given his own version of the fracas, which had been, to an unjustifiable degree, corroborated by the stupid young clerk, who was no friend of mine, and who sought favour with his principal. I walked up to the drawing-room, where I found Mr and Mrs Drummond, and little Sarah, whose eyes were red with crying. I entered without any feeling of alarm, my breast was too full of indignation. Mrs Drummond looked grave and mournful, Mr Drummond severe.
"Jacob Faithful, I have sent for you to tell you that in consequence of your disgraceful conduct to my senior clerk, you can no longer remain under my roof. It appears that what I have been a witness to this day has been but a sequel to behaviour equally improper and impertinent; that so far from having, as I thought, done your duty, you have constantly neglected it; and that the association you have formed with that drunken old man and his insolent son has led you into this folly. You may say that it was not your wish to remain on shore, and that you preferred being on the river. At your age it is too often the case that young people consult their wishes rather than their interests; and it is well for them if they find those who are older, and wished them well, to decide for them. I had hoped to have been able to place you in a more respectable situation in society than was my original intention when you were thrown upon me, a destitute orphan; but I now perceive my error. You have proved yourself not only deceitful but ungrateful."
"I have not," interrupted I, calmly.
"You have. I have been a witness myself to your impropriety of conduct, which, it appears, has long been concealed from me; but no more of that. I bound you apprentice to the river, and you must now follow up your apprenticeship; but expect nothing farther from me. You must now work your own way up in the world, and I trust that you will reform and do well. You may return to the lighter until I can procure you a situation in another craft, for I consider it my duty to remove you from the influence of those who have led you astray, and with the old man and his son you will not remain. I have one thing more to say. You have been in my counting-house for some months, and you are now about to be thrown upon the world. There are ten pounds for your services," (and Mr Drummond laid the money on the table). "You may also recollect that I have some money belonging to you, which has been laid by until you shall be out of your apprenticeship. I consider it my duty still to retain that money for you; as soon as your apprenticeship is expired you may demand it, and it shall be made over to you. I trust, sincerely trust, Jacob, that the severe lesson you are now about to receive will bring you to a sense of what is right, and that you will forget the evil counsel you have received from your late companions. Do not attempt to justify yourself; it is useless." Mr Drummond then rose and left the room.
I should have replied, had it not been for this last sentence of Mr Drummond's, which again roused the feeling of indignation, which, in their presence, had been gradually giving way to softer emotions. I therefore stood still, and firmly met the glance of Mr Drummond as he passed me. My looks were construed into hardness of heart.
It appeared that Mr Drummond had left the room by previous arrangement, that he might not be supposed to be moved from this purpose, and that Mrs Drummond was then to have talked to me, and to have ascertained how far there was a chance of my pleading guilty, and begging for a mitigation of my sentence; but the firm composure of innocence was mistaken for defiance; and the blood mounting to my forehead from a feeling of injustice—of injustice from those I loved and venerated— perhaps the most poignant feeling in existence to a sensitive and generous mind—was falsely estimated as proceeding from impetuous and disgraceful sources. Mrs Drummond looked upon me with a mournful face, sighed, and said nothing; little Sarah watching me with her large black eyes, as if she would read my inmost soul.
"Have you nothing to say, Jacob," at last observed Mrs Drummond, "that I can tell Mr Drummond when his anger is not so great?"
"Nothing, madam," replied I, "except that I'll try to forgive him."
This reply was offensive even to the mild Mrs Drummond. She rose from her chair. "Come, Sarah," said she: and she walked out of the room, wishing me, in a kind, soft voice, a "good-bye, Jacob," as she passed me.
My eyes swam with tears. I tried to return the salutation, but I was too much choked by my feelings; I could not speak, and my silence was again looked upon as contumacy and ingratitude. Little Sarah still remained—she had not obeyed her mother's injunctions to follow her. She was now nearly fourteen years old, and I had known her as a companion and a friend for five years. During the last six months that I had resided in the house we had become more intimately acquainted. I joined her in the evening in all her pursuits, and Mr and Mrs Drummond appeared to take a pleasure in our intimacy. I loved her as a dear sister; my love was based on gratitude. I had never forgotten her kindness to me when I first came under her father's roof, and a long acquaintance with the sweetness of her disposition had rendered the attachment so firm, that I felt I could have died for her. But I never knew the full extent of the feeling until now that I was about to leave her, perhaps for ever. My heart sank when Mr Drummond left the room—a bitter pang passed through it as the form of Mrs Drummond vanished from my sight; but now was to be the bitterest of all. I felt it, and I remained with the handle of the door in my hand, gasping for breath— blinded with the tears that coursed each other rapidly down my cheeks. I remained a minute in this state, when I felt that Sarah touched my other listless hand.
"Jacob!" she would have said, but before half my name was out she burst into tears, and sobbed on my shoulder. My heart was too much surcharged not to take the infection—my grief found vent, and I mingled my sobs with those of the affectionate girl. When we were more composed, I recounted to her all that had passed, and one, at least, in the world acknowledged that I had been treated unjustly. I had but just finished, when the servant interrupted us with a message to Sarah, that her mother desired her presence. She threw herself into my arms, and bade me farewell. I released her, she hastened to obey her mother, but perceiving the money still upon the table, she pointed to it. "Your money, Jacob!"
"No Sarah, I will not accept it. I would accept of anything from those who treat me kindly, and feel more and more grateful to them; but that I will not accept—I cannot, and you must not let it be left here. Say that I could not take it."
Sarah would have remonstrated, but perceiving that I was firm, and at the same time, perhaps, entering into my feelings, she again bade me farewell, and hastened away.
The reader may easy imagine that I did not put off my departure. I hastened to pack up my clothes, and in less than ten minutes after Sarah had quitted me, I was on board the lighter, with old Tom and his son, who were then going to supper. They knew a part of what had happened, and I narrated the rest.
"Well," replied old Tom, after I had finished my story, "I didn't know that I have done you any harm, Jacob, and I'm sorry that Mr Drummond should suppose so. I'm fond of a drop, that's true; but I appeals to you, whether I ever force it on you—and whether I don't check that boy as much as I can; but then, d'ye see, although I preach, I don't practise, that's the worst of it; and I know I've to answer for making Tom so fond of grog; and though I never says anything about it, I often think to myself, that if Tom should chance to be pressed some of these days, and be punished for being in liquor, he'll think of his old father, and curse him in his heart, when he eyes the cat flourishing round before it strikes."
"I'll curse the cat, father, or the boatswain's mate, or the officer who complained of me, or the captain who flogs me, or my own folly, but I'll be hanged if ever I curse you, who have been so kind to me," replied Tom, taking his father's hand.
"Well, we must hope for the best, my dear boy," replied old Tom; "but, Jacob, you've not had fair play, that sartain. It's very true that master did take you as an orphan, and help you to an education; but that's no reason why he should take away your free will, and after binding you 'prentice to the river, perch you up on a high stool, and grind your nose down to the desk. If so be he was so kind to you only to make you a slave, why, then, there was no kindness at all, in my opinion: and as for punishment without hearing what a man has to say in his own defence—there's ne'er a Tartar in the sarvice but would allow a man to speak before he orders him to strip. I recollect a story about that in the sarvice, but I'm in no humour to spin a yarn now. Now, you see, Jacob, Master Drummond has done a great deal for you, and now he has undone a great deal! I can't pretend to balance the account, but it does appear to me that you don't owe him much; for what thanks is there if you take a vessel in tow, and then cast her off, half-way, when she most needs your assistance? But what hurts me most is his saying that you sha'n't stay in the lighter with us; if you had, you shouldn't have wanted, as long as pay and pension are forthcoming. Never mind—Tom, my boy, bring out the bottle—hang care: it killed the cat."
The grog did not, however, bring back old Tom's spirits; the evening passed heavily, and we retired to our beds at a seasonable hour, as we were to drop down to the schooner early the next morning. That night I did not close my eyes. I ran over, in my mind, all that had occurred, and indignation took full possession of my soul. My whole life passed in review before me. I travelled back to my former days—to the time which had been almost obliterated from my memory, when I had navigated the barge with my father. Again was the scene of his and my mother's death presented to my view; again I saw him disappear, and the column of black smoke ascend to the sky. The Dominie, the matron, Marables, and Fleming, the scene in the cabin—all passed in rapid succession. I felt that I had done my duty, and that I had been unjustly treated; my head ached with tumultuous and long suppressed feelings. Reader, I stated that when I was first taken in hand by Mr Drummond I was a savage, although a docile one, to be reclaimed by kindness, and kindness only. You may have been surprised at the rapid change which took place in a few years; that change was produced by kindness. The conduct of Mr Drummond, of his amiable wife and daughter, had been all kindness; the Dominie and the worthy old matron had proved equally beneficent. Marables had been kind; and, although now and then, as in the case of the usher at the school, and Fleming on board the lighter, I had received injuries, still, these were but trifling checks to the uninterrupted series of kindness with which I had been treated by everybody. Thus was my nature rapidly formed by a system of kindness assisted by education; and had this been followed up, in a few years my new character would have been firmly established. But the blow was now struck, injustice roused up the latent feelings of my nature, and when I rose the next morning I was changed. I do not mean to say that all that precept and education had done for me was overthrown; but if not overthrown, it was so shaken to the base, so rent from the summit to the foundation, that, at the slightest impulse in a wrong direction, it would have fallen in and left nothing but a mixed chaos of ruined prospects. If anything could hold it together it was the kindness and affection of Sarah, to which I would again and again return in my revolving thoughts, as the only bright star to be discovered in my clouded horizon.
How dangerous, how foolish, how presumptuous it is in adults to suppose that they can read the thoughts and the feelings of those of a tender age! How often has this presumption on their part been the ruin of a young mind, which, if truly estimated and duly fostered, would have blossomed and produced good fruit! The blush of honest indignation is as dark as the blush of guilt, and the paleness of concentrated courage as marked as that of fear, the firmness of conscious innocence is but too often mistaken as the effrontery of hardened vice, and the tears springing from a source of injury, the tongue tied from the oppression of a wounded heart, the trembling and agitation of the little frame convulsed with emotion have often and often been ascribed by prejudging and self-opinionated witnesses to the very opposite passions to those which have produced them. Youth should never be judged harshly, and even when judged correctly, should it be in an evil course, may always be reclaimed;—those who decide otherwise, and leave it to drift about the world, have to answer for the cast-away.
THE BREACH WIDENED—I TURN SPORTSMAN, POACHER, AND DESPERADO—SOME EXCELLENT NOTIONS PROPOUNDED OF COMMON LAW UPON COMMON RIGHTS—THE COMMON KEEPER UNCOMMONLY SAVAGE—I WARN HIM OFF—HE PROPHESIES THAT WE SHALL BOTH COME TO THE GALLOWS—SOME MEN ARE PROPHETS IN THEIR OWN COUNTRY—THE MAN RIGHT AFTER ALL.
"Hollo! in the lighter there—I say, you lighter boy!" were words I heard, as I was pacing the deck of the vessel in deep cogitation Tom and his father were both in the cabin; there could be no doubt but that they were addressed to me. I looked up, and perceived the grinning, stupid, sneering face of the young clerk, Gubbins. "Why don't you answer when you're called to, heh?" continued the numbskull. "You're wanted up here! Come up directly."
"Who wants me?" replied I, reddening with anger.
"What's that to you? Do you mean to obey my order or not?"
"No, I do not," replied I; "I'm not under the orders of such a fool, thank God; and if you come within my reach, I'll try if I can't break your head, thick as it is, as well as your master's."
The lout disappeared, and I continued to pace up and down.
As I afterwards discovered, the message was from Mrs Drummond, who requested to speak to me. Sarah had communicated the real facts of my case, and Mrs Drummond had been convinced that what I had said was correct. She had talked with her husband; she pointed out to him that my conduct under Mr Tomkins had been so exemplary that there must have been some reason for so sudden a change. Sarah had gone down into the counting-house, and obtained the invoice which the senior clerk had torn up. The correctness of it established the fact of one part of my assertions, and that nothing but malice could have warranted its having been destroyed. Mr Drummond felt more than he chose to acknowledge; he was now aware that he had been too precipitate; even my having refused the money assumed a different appearance; he was puzzled and mortified. Few people like to acknowledge that they have been in error. Mr Drummond, therefore, left his wife to examine further into the matter, and gave her permission to send for me. The message given, and the results of it have been stated. The answer returned was that I would not come, and that I had threatened to break the clerk's head as well as that of Mr Drummond; for although the scoundrel knew very well that in making use of the word "master," I referred to the senior clerk, he thought it proper to substitute that of Mr Drummond. The effect of this reply may easily be imagined. Sarah was astonished, Mrs Drummond shocked, and Mr Drummond was almost pleased to find that he could not have been in the wrong. Thus was the breach made even wider than before, and all communication broken off. Much depends in this world upon messages being correctly given.
In half-an-hour we had hauled out of the tier and dropped down to the American schooner, to take out a cargo of flour, which old Tom had directions to land at the Battersea wharf; so that I was, for the time, removed from the site of my misfortune. I cannot say that I felt happy, but I certainly felt glad that I was away. I was reckless to a degree that was insupportable. I had a heavy load on my mind which I could not shake off—a prey upon my spirits—a disgust at almost everything. How well do I recollect with what different feelings I looked upon the few books which Mr Drummond and the Dominie had given me to amuse my leisure hours. I turned from them with contempt, and thought I would never open them again. I felt as if all ties were now cut off, and that I was again wedded to the Thames; my ideas, my wishes, extended no farther, and I surveyed the river and its busy scene as I did before I had been taken away from it, as if all my energies, all my prospects were in future to be bounded by its shores. In the course of four-and-twenty hours a revulsion had taken place, which again put me on the confines of barbarism.
My bargemates were equally dull as I was; they were too partial to me, and had too much kindness of heart, not to feel my situation, and anger at the injustice with which I had been treated. Employment, however, for a time relieved our melancholy thoughts. Our cargo was on board of the lighter, and we were again tiding it through the bridges.
We dropped our anchor above Putney Bridge a little after twelve o'clock, and young Tom, with the wish of amusing me, proposed that we should go on shore and walk. "Ah! do my lads, do—it will do you good, Jacob; no use moping here a whole tide. I'll take care of the 'barkey. Mind you make the boat well fast, and take the sculls into the public-house there. I'll have the supper under weigh when you come back, and then we'll have a night on't. It's a poor heart that never rejoices; and, Tom, take a bottle on shore, get it filled, and bring it off with you. Here's the money. But I say, Tom, honour bright."
"Honour bright, father;" and to do Tom justice, he always kept his promise, especially after the word had passed of "honour bright." Had there been gallons of spirits under his charge he would not have tasted a drop after that pledge.
"Haul up the boat, Jacob, quick," said Tom, as his father went into the cabin to fetch an empty bottle. Tom hastened down below forward and brought up an old gun, which he put under the stern sheets before his father came out on the deck. We then received the bottle from him, and Tom called out for the dog Tommy.
"Why, you're not going to take the dog. What's the use of that? I want him here to keep watch with me," said old Tom.
"Pooh! father; why can't you let the poor devil have a run on shore? He wants to eat grass, I am sure, for I watched him this day or two. We shall be back before dark."
"Well, well, just as you please, Tom." Tommy jumped into the boat, and away we went.
"And now, Tom, what are you after?" said I, as soon as we were ten yards from the lighter.
"A'ter, Jacob, going to have a little shooting on Wimbledon Common; but father can't bear to see a gun in my hand, because I once shot my old mother. I did pepper her, sure enough; her old flannel petticoat was full of shot, but it was so thick that it saved her. Are you anything of a shot?"
"Never fired a gun in my life."
"Well, then, we'll fire in turns, and toss up, if you like, for first shot."
We landed, carried the sculls up to the public-house, and left the bottle to be filled, and then, with Tommy bounding before us, and throwing about his bushy tail with delight, ascended Putney Hill, and arrived at the Green Man public-house, at the corner of Wimbledon Common. "I wonder where green men are to be found?" observed Tom, laughing; "I suppose they live in the same country with the blue dogs my father speaks about sometimes. Now, then, its time to load."
The bowl of a tobacco pipe, full of powder, was then inserted, with an equal dose of shot, and all being ready we were soon among the furze. A half penny decided it was my first shot, and fate further decided that a water-wagtail should be the mark. I took good aim, as I thought, at least I took sufficient time, for I followed him with the muzzle of the gun for three or four minutes at least, as he ran to and fro; at last I fired. Tommy barked with delight, and the bird flew away. "I think I must have hit it," said I; "I saw it wag its tail."
"More proof of a miss than a hit," replied Tom. "Had you hit it he'd never have wagged his tail again."
"Never mind," said I, "better luck next time."
Tom then knocked a blackbird off a furze bush, and loading the gun, handed it to me. I was more successful than before; a cock sparrow, three yards distant, yielded to the prowess of my arm, and I never felt more happy in my life than in this first successful attempt at murder.
Gaily did we trudge over the common, sometimes falling in with gravel-pits half full of water, at others bogs and swampy plains, which obliged us to make a circuit. The gun was fired again and again; but our game-bag did not fill very fast. However, if we were not quite so well pleased when we missed as when we hit, Tommy was, every shot being followed up with a dozen bounds, and half a minute's barking. At last we began to feel tired, and agreed to repose a while in a cluster of furze bushes. We sat down, pulled out our game, and spread it in a row before us. It consisted of two sparrows, one greenfinch, one blackbird, and three tomtits. All of a sudden we heard a rustling in the furze, and then a loud squeal. It was the dog, who, scenting something, had forced its way into the bush, and had caught a hare, which having been wounded in the loins by some other sportsman, had dragged itself there to die. In a minute we had taken possession of it, much to the annoyance of Tommy, who seemed to consider that there was no co-partnership in the concern, and would not surrender his prize until after sundry admonitory kicks. When we had fairly beaten him off we were in an ecstasy of delight. We laid the animal out between us, and were admiring it from the ear to the tip of his tail, when we were suddenly saluted with a voice close to us. "Oh, you blam'd young poachers, so I've caught you, have I?" We looked up, and beheld the common-keeper. "Come—come along with me; we've a nice clink at Wandsworth to lock you up in. I've been looking a'rter you some time. Hand your gun here."
"I should rather think not," replied I. "The gun belongs to us, and not to you;" and I caught up the gun, and presented the muzzle at him.
"What! do you mean to commit murder? Why, you young villains!"
"Do you want to commit a robbery?" retorted I, fiercely; "because if you do, I mean to commit murder. Then I shoot him. Tom."
"No, Jacob, no; you mustn't shoot men," replied Tom, who perceived that I was in a humour to keep my word with the common-keeper. "Indeed, you can't," continued he, whispering to me; "the gun's not loaded."
"Do you mean to refuse to give me up your gun?" repeated the man.
"Yes I do," replied I, cocking the lock; "so keep off."
"Oh! you young reprobates—you'll come to the gallows before long, that's certain. Do you refuse to come with me?"
"I should rather think we do," replied I.
"You refuse, do you? Recollect I've caught you in the fact, poaching, with a dead hare in your possession."
"Well, it's no use crying about it. What's done can't be helped," replied I.
"Don't you know that all the game, and all the turf, and all the bog, and all the gravel, and all the furze on this common belong to the Right Honourable Earl Spencer?"
"And all the blackbirds, and all the greenfinches, and all the sparrows, and all the tomtits too, I suppose?" replied I.
"To be sure they do—and I'm common-keeper. Now you'll give me up that hare immediately."
"Look you," replied Tom, "we didn't kill that hare, the dog caught it, and it is his property. We sha'n't interfere in the matter. If Tommy chooses to let you have it, well and good. Here, Tommy, this here gentleman says," (and Tom pointed to the keeper) "that this hare," (and Tom pointed to the hare) "is not yours; now will you 'watch it,' or let him have it?"
At the word 'watch it,' Tommy laid down with his fore-paws over the hare, and showing a formidable set of ivories, looked fiercely at the man, and growled.
"You see what he says; now you may do as you please," continued Tom, addressing the man.
"Yes—very well—you'll come to the gallows, I see that; but I'll just go and fetch half-a-dozen men to help me, and then we'll have you both in gaol."
"Then, be smart," replied I, jumping up and levelling the gun. Tommy jumped up also to fly at the man, but Tom caught him by the neck and restrained him. The common-keeper took to his heels, and as soon as he was out of gun-shot, turned round, shook his fist, and then hastened away to obtain the reinforcement he desired.
"I wish the gun had been loaded," said I.
"Why, Jacob, what's come over you? Would you have fired at him? The man is only doing his duty—we have no business here."
"I think otherwise," replied I. "A hare on a common is as much mine as Lord Spencer's. A common belongs to everybody."
"That's my opinion, too; but, nevertheless, if he gets hold of us, he'll have us in gaol; and therefore I propose we make off as fast as we can in the opposite way to which he is gone."
We started accordingly, and as the keeper proceeded in the direction of Wandsworth, we took the other direction; but it so happened that on turning round, after a quarter of an hour's walk, we perceived the man coming back with three or four others. "We must run for it," cried Tom, "and then hide ourselves." After ten minutes' hard run we descended into a hollow and swampy place, looking round to see if they could perceive us, and finding that they were not in sight, we plunged into a thick cluster of furze bushes, which completely concealed us. Tommy followed us, and there we lay. "Now they never will find us," said Tom, "if I can only keep the dog quiet. Lie down, Tommy. Watch, and lie down." The dog appeared to understand what was required; he lay between us perfectly still.
We had remained there about half-an-hour when we heard voices. I motioned to Tom to give me the powder to load the gun, but he refused. The voices came nearer; Tommy gave a low growl. Tom held his mouth with his hands. At last they were close to the bushes, and we heard the common-keeper say, "They never went over the hill, that's for certain, the little wagrants; they can't be far off—they must be down in the hollow. Come along."
"But I'm blessed if I'm not up to my knees in the bog," cried one of the men; "I'll go no further down, dang me!"
"Well, then let's try the side of the bog," replied the keeper, "I'll show you the way." And the voices retreated, fortunately for us, for there had been a continual struggle between us and the dog for the last minute, I holding his forepaws, and Tom jamming up his mouth. We were now all quiet again, but dare not leave our hiding-place.
We remained there for half-an-hour, when it became nearly dark, and the sky, which had been quite clear when we set out, clouded over. Tom put up his head, looked all round, and perceiving nobody, proposed that we should return as fast as we could; to which I agreed. But we were scarcely clear of the furze in which we had been concealed when a heavy fall of snow commenced, which, with the darkness, prevented us from distinguishing our way. Every minute the snow-storm increased, the wind rose, and hurled the flakes into our faces until we were blinded. Still we made good way against it, and expected every minute to be on the road, after which our task would be easy. On we walked in silence, I carrying the gun, Tom with the hare over his shoulder, and Tommy at our heels. For upwards of an hour did we tread our way through the furze, but could find no road. Above us all was dark as pitch; the wind howled; our clothes were loaded with snow; and we began to feel no inconsiderable degree of fatigue.
At last, quite tired out, we stopped. "Tom," said I, "I'm sure we've not kept a straight course. The wind was on our starboard side, and our clothes were flaked with snow on that side, and now you see we've got it in our quarter. What the devil shall we do?"
"We must go on till we fall in with something, at all events," replied Tom.
"And I expect that will be a gravel-pit," replied I; "but never mind, 'better luck next time.' I only wish I had that rascal of a common-keeper here. Suppose we turn back again, and keep the wind on the starboard side of us as before; we must pitch upon something at last."
We did so, but our difficulties increased every moment; we floundered in the bogs, we tumbled over the stumps of the cut furze, and had I not caught bold of Tom as he was sliding down he would have been at the bottom of a gravel-pit. This obliged us to alter our course, and we proceeded for a quarter of an hour, in another direction, until, worn out with cold and fatigue, we began to despair.
"This will never do, Tom," said I, as the wind rose and roared with double fury. "I think we had better get into the furze, and wait till the storm is over."
Tom's teeth chattered with the cold; but before he could reply, they chattered with fear. We heard a loud scream overhead. "What was that?" cried he. I confess that I was as much alarmed as Tom. The scream was repeated, and it had an unearthly sound. It was no human voice—it was between a scream and a creak. Again it was repeated, and carried along with the gale. I mustered up courage sufficient to look up to where the sound proceeded from; but the darkness was so intense, and the snow blinded me so completely, that I could see nothing. Again and again did the dreadful sound ring in our ears, and we remained fixed and motionless with horror; even the dog crouched at our feet trembling. We spoke not a word—neither of us moved; the gun had fallen from my hand; the hare lay at Tom's feet; we held each other's hand in silence, and there we remained for more than a quarter of an hour, every moment more and more sinking under the effects of cold, fatigue, and horror. Fortunately for us the storm, in which had it continued much longer we should, in all probability, have perished, was by that time over; the snow ceased to fall; the clouds were rolled away to leeward; and a clear sky, bespangled with a thousand twinkling lights, roused us from our state of bodily and mental suffering. The first object which caught my eye was a post within two yards of us. I looked at it, followed it up with my eyes, and, to my horror, beheld a body suspended and swinging in chains over our heads.
As soon as I recovered from the shock which the first view occasioned, I pointed it out to Tom, who had not yet moved. He looked up, started back, and fell over the dog—jumped up again, and burst out into as loud a laugh as his frozen jaws would permit. "It's old Jerry Abershaw," said he, "I know him well, and now I know where we are." This was the case; Abershaw had, about three years before, been hung in chains on Wimbledon Common; and the unearthly sound we had heard was the creaking of the rusty iron as the body was swung to-and-fro by the gale. "All's right, Jacob," said Tom, looking up at the brilliant sky, and then taking up the hare, "we'll be on the road in five minutes." I shouldered the gun, and off we set. "By the Lord, that rascally common-keeper was right," continued Tom, as we renewed our steps; "he prophesied we should come to the gallows before long, and so we have. Well, this has been a pretty turn out. Father will be in a precious stew."
"Better luck next time, Tom," replied I; "it's all owing to that turf-and-bog rascal. I wish we had him here."
"Why, what would you do with him?"
"Take down old Abershaw, and hang him up in his place, as sure as my name's Jacob."
OUR LAST ADVENTURE NOT FATAL—TAKE TO MY GROG KINDLY—GROG MAKES ME A VERY UNKIND RETURN—OLD TOM AT HIS YARNS AGAIN—HOW TO PUT YOUR FOOT IN A MISCHIEF, WITHOUT HAVING A HAND IN IT—CANDIDATES FOR THE CAT-O'-NINE-TAILS.
We soon recovered the road, and in half-an-hour we were at Putney Bridge; cold, wet, and tired, but not so bad as when we were stationary under the gallows; the quick walking restored the circulation. Tom went in for the bottle of spirits, while I went for the sculls and carried them down to the boat, which was high and dry, and nearly up to the thwarts with snow. When Tom joined me, he appeared with two bottles under his arms. "I have taken another upon tick, Jacob," said he, "for I'm sure we want it, and so will father say, when he hears our story." We launched our boat, and in a couple of minutes were close to the lighter, on the deck of which stood old Tom.
"Boat ahoy! is that you, lads?" cried he.
"Yes, father, all's right," replied Tom, as we laid in our oars.
"Thank God!" replied the old man. "Boys, boys, how you frightened me? where have you been? I thought you had met with some disaster. How have I been peeping through the snow-storm these last two hours, watching for the boat, and I'm as wet as a shag and as cold as charity. What has been the matter? Did you bring the bottle, Tom?"
"Yes, father; brought two, for we shall want them to-night if we go without for a week; but we must all get on dry rigging as fast as possible, and then you shall have the story of our cruise."
In a few minutes we had changed our wet clothes and were seated at the cabin-table, eating our supper, and narrating our adventures to the old man. Tommy, poor fellow, had his share, and now lay snoring at our feet, as the bottles and pannikins were placed upon the little table.
"Come, Jacob, a drop will do you good," said old Tom, filling me one of the pannikins. "A'ter all, it's much better being snug here in this little cabin than shivering with fear and cold under old Abershaw's gallows; and Tom, you scamp, if ever you go gunning again I'll disinherit you."
"What have you got to leave, father, except your wooden legs?" replied Tom. "Your's would be but a wooden-leg-acy."
"How do you know but what I can 'post the coal?'"
"So you will, if I boil a pot o' 'tatoes with your legacy—but it will only be char-coal."
"Well, I believe you are about right, Tom; still, somehow or other, the old woman always picks out a piece or two of gold when I'm rather puzzled how to raise the wind. I never keeps no 'count with her. If I follow my legs before she, I hope the old soul will have saved something; for you know when a man goes to kingdom come, his pension goes with him. However, let me only hold on another five years, and then you'll not see her want; will you, Tom?"
"No, father; I'll sell myself to the king, and stand to be shot at, at a shilling a day, and give the old woman half."
"Well, Tom, 'tis but natural for a man to wish to serve his country; so here's to you, my lad, and may you never do worse! Jacob, do you think of going on board of a man-of-war?"
"I'd like to serve my apprenticeship first, and then I don't care how soon."
"Well, my boy, you'll meet more fair play on board of a king's ship than you have from those on shore."
"I should hope so," replied I, bitterly.
"I hope to see you a man before I die, yet, Jacob. I shall very soon be laid up in ordinary—my toes pain me a good deal lately!"
"Your toes!" cried Tom and I both at once.
"Yes, boys; you may think it odd, but sometimes I feel them just as plain as if they were now on, instead of being long ago in some shark's maw. At nights I has the cramp in them till it almost makes me halloo out with pain. It's a hard thing, when one has lost the sarvice of his legs, that all the feelings should remain. The doctor says as how it's narvous. Come, Jacob, shove in your pannikin. You seem to take it more kindly than you did."
"Yes," replied I, "I begin to like grog now." The now, however, might be comprehended within the space of the last twenty-four hours. My depressed spirits were raised with the stimulus, and for a time I got rid of the eternal current of thought which pressed upon my brain.
"I wonder what your old gentleman, the Dominie, as you call him, thought, after he got on shore again," said old Tom. "He seemed to be mighty cut up. I suppose you'll give him a hail, Jacob?"
"No," replied I, "I shall not go near him, nor any one else, if I can help it. Mr Drummond may think I wish to make it up again. I've done with the shore. I only wish I knew what is to become of me; for you know I am not to serve in the lighter with you."
"Suppose Tom and I look out for another craft, Jacob? I care nothing for Mr Drummond. He said t'other day I was a drunken old swab—for which, with my sarvice to him, he lies. A drunken fellow is one who can't, for the soul of him, keep from liquor when he can get it, and who's overtaken before he is aware of it. Now that's not the case with me; I keep sober when there's work to be done; and when I knows that everything is safe under hatches, and no fear of nothing, why then I gets drunk like a rational being, with my eyes open—'cause why?—'cause I chooses."
"That's exactly my notion of the thing," observed Tom, draining his pannikin, and handing it over to his father for a fresh supply.
"Mind you keep to that notion, Tom, when you gets in the king's sarvice, that's all; or you'll be sure to have your back scratched, which I understand is no joke after all. Yet I do remember once, in a ship I was in, when half-a-dozen fellows were all fighting who should be flogged."
"Pray give us that yarn, father; but before you begin just fill my pannikin. I shoved it over half-an-hour ago, just by way of a hint."
"Well then," said old Tom, pouring out some spirits into Tom's pannikin, "it was just as follows. It was when the ship was lying at anchor in Bermuda harbour, that the purser sent a breaker of spirits on shore to be taken up to some lady's house whom he was very anxious to splice, and I suppose that he found a glass of grog helped the matter. Now, there were about twenty of the men who had liberty to go on shore, to stretch their limbs—little else could they do, poor fellows for the first lieutenant looked sharp after their kits to see that they did not sell any of their rigging; and as for money, we had been five years without touching a farthing of pay, and I don't suppose there was a matter of threepence among the men before the mast. However, liberty's liberty after all; and if they couldn't go ashore and get glorious, rather than not go on shore at all, they went ashore and kept sober perforce. I do think, myself, it's a very bad thing to keep the seamen without a farthing for so long—for you see a man who will be very honest with a few shillings in his pocket is often tempted to help himself, just for the sake of getting a glass or two of grog, and the temptation's very great, that's sartain, 'ticularly in a hot climate, when the sun scorches you, and the very ground itself is so heated that you can hardly bear the naked foot to it. [This has been corrected; the men have for some time received a portion of their pay on foreign stations, and this portion has been greatly increased during Sir James Graham's administration.] But to go on. The yawl was ordered on shore for the liberty men, and the purser gives this breaker, which was at least half full, and I dare say there might be three gallons in it, under my charge as coxswain, to deliver to madam at the house. Well, as soon as we landed, I shoulders the breaker, and starts with it up the hill.
"'What have you there, Tom?' said Bill Short.
"'What I wish I could share with you, Bill,' says I; 'it's some of old Nipcheese's eights, that he has sent on shore to bowse his jib up with, with his sweetheart.'
"'I've seen the madam,' said Holmes to me—for you see all the liberty men were walking up the hill at the same time—'and I'd rather make love to the breaker than to her. She's as fat as an ox, as broad as she's long, built like a Dutch schuyt, and as yellow as a nabob.'
"'But old Tummings knows what he's about,' said a Scotch lad of the name of M'Alpine; 'they say she has lots of gold dust, more ducks and ingons, and more inches of water in her tank than any on the island.'
"You see, boys, Bermuda be a queer sort of place, and water very scarce; all they get there is a Godsend, as it comes from Heaven; and they look sharp for the rain, which is collected in large tanks, and an inch or two more of water in the tank is considered a great catch. I've often heard the ladies there talking for a shower:—
"'Good morning, marm. How do you do this fine morning?'
"'Pretty well, I tank you, marm. Charming shower hab last night.'
"'Yes, so all say; but me not very lucky. Cloud not come over my tank. How many inches of water you get last night, marm?'
"'I get good seven inches, and I tink a little bit more, which make me very happy.'
"'Me no so lucky, marm; so help me God, me only get four inches of water in my tank; and dat nothing.'
"Well, but I've been yawing again, so now to keep my course. As soon as I came to the house I knocked at the door, and a little black girl opens the jalousies, and put her finger to her thick lips.
"'No make noise; missy sleep.'
"'Where am I to put this?'
"'Put down there; by-and-by I come fetch it;' and then she closed the jalousies, for fear her mistress should be woke up, and she get a hiding, poor devil. So I puts the breaker down at the door, and walks back to the boat again. Now, you see, these liberty men were all by when I spoke to the girl, and seeing the liquor left with no one to guard it, the temptation was too strong for them. So they looked all about them, and then at one another, and caught one another's meaning by the eye; but they said nothing. 'I'll have no hand in it,' at last says one, and walked away. 'Nor I,' said another, and walked away too. At last all of them walked away except eight, and then Bill Short walks up to the breaker and says—
"'I won't have no hand in it, either;' but he gave the breaker a kick, which rolls it away two or three yards from the door.
"'Nor more will I,' said Holmes, giving the breaker another kick, which rolled it out in the road. So they all went on, without having a hand in it, sure enough, till they had kicked the breaker down the hill to the beach. Then they were at a dead stand, as no one would spile the breaker. At last a black carpenter came by, and they offered him a glass if he would bore a hole with his gimlet, for they were determined to be able to swear, every one of them; that they had no hand in it. Well, as soon as the hole was bored, one of them borrowed a couple of little mugs from a black woman, who sold beer, and then they let it run, the black carpenter shoving one mug under as soon as the other was full, and they drinking as fast as they could. Before they had half finished, more of the liberty men came down; I suppose they scented the good stuff from above as a shark does anything in the water, and they soon made a finish of it; and when it was all finished, they were all drunk, and made sail for a cruise, that they might not be found too near the empty breaker. Well, a little before sunset I was sent on shore with the boat to fetch off the liberty men, and the purser takes this opportunity of getting ashore to see his madam, and the first thing he falls athwart of is his own empty breaker.