"'How's this?' says he; 'didn't you take this breaker up as I ordered you?'
"'Yes, sir,' replied I, 'I did, and gave it in charge to the little back thing; but madam was asleep, and the girl did not allow me to put it inside the door.' At that he began to storm, and swore that he'd find out the malefactors, as he termed the liberty men, who had emptied his breaker; and away he went to the house. As soon as he was gone we got hold of the breaker, and made a bull of it."
"How did you manage that?" inquired I.
"Why, Jacob, a bull means putting a quart or two of water into a cask which has had spirits in it; and what with the little that may be left, and what has soaked in the wood, if you roll it and shake it well, it generally turns out pretty fair grog. At all events its always better than nothing. Well, to go on—but suppose we fill up again and take a fresh departure, as this is a tolerably long yarn, and I must wet the threads, or they may chance to break."
Our pannikins, which had been empty, were all replenished, and then old Tom proceeded.
"It was a long while before we could pick up the liberty men, who were reeling about every corner of the town, and quite dark before I came on board. The first lieutenant was on deck, and had no occasion to ask me why I waited so long, when he found they were all lying in the stern sheets. 'Where the devil could they have picked up the liquor?' said he, and then he ordered the master-at-arms to keep them under the half-deck till they were sober. The next morning the purser comes off, and makes his complaint on the quarter-deck as how somebody had stolen his liquor. The first lieutenant reports to the captain, and the captain orders up all the men who came off tipsy.
"'Which of you took the liquor?' said he. They all swore that they had no hand in it. 'Then how did you get tipsy? Come now, Mr Short, answer me; you came off beastly drunk—who gave you the liquor?'
"'A black fellow, sir,' replied Short; which was true enough, as the mugs were filled by the black carpenter, and handed by him.
"Well, they all swore the same, and then the captain got into a rage, and ordered them all to be put down on the report. The next day the hands were turned up for punishment, and the captain said, 'Now, my lads, if you won't tell who stole the purser's grog, I will flog you all round. I only want to flog those who committed the theft, for it is too much to expect of seamen that they would refuse a glass of grog when offered to them.'
"Now, Short and the others had a parley together, and they had agreed how to act. They knew that the captain could not bear flogging, and was a very kind-hearted man. So Bill Short steps out, and says, touching his forelock to the captain, 'If you please, sir, if all must be flogged if nobody will peach, I think it better to tell the truth at once. It was I who took the liquor.'
"'Very well, then,' said the captain; 'strip, sir.' So Bill Short pulls off his shirt, and is seized up. 'Boatswain's mate,' said the captain, 'give him a dozen.'
"'Beg your honour's pardon,' said Jack Holmes, stepping out of the row of men brought out for punishment; 'but I can't bear to see an innocent man punished, and since one must be flogged, it must be the right one. It warn't Bill Short that took the liquor; it was I.'
"'Why, how's this?' said the captain; 'didn't you own that you took the liquor, Mr Short?'
"'Why, yes, I did say so, 'cause I didn't wish to see everybody flogged—but the truth's the truth, and I had no hand in it.'
"'Cast him loose—Holmes, you'll strip, sir.' Holmes stripped and was tied up. 'Give him a dozen,' said the captain; when out steps M'Alpine, and swore it was him, and not Holmes; and ax'd leave to be flogged in his stead. At which the captain bit his lips to prevent laughing, and then they knew all was right. So another came forward, and says it was him, and not M'Alpine; and another contradicts him again, and so on. At last the captain says, 'One would think flogging was a very pleasant affair; you are all so eager to be tied up; but, however, I shan't flog, to please you. I shall find out who the real culprit is, and then punish him severely. In the meantime, you keep them all on the report, Mr P—-,' speaking to the first lieutenant. 'Depend upon it, I'll not let you off, although I do not choose to flog innocent men.' So they piped down, and the first lieutenant, who knew that the captain never meant to take any more notice of it, never made no inquiries, and the thing blew over. One day, a month or two after, I told the officers how it was managed, and they laughed heartily."
We continued our carouse till a late hour, old Tom constantly amusing us with his long yarns; and that night, for the first time, I went to bed intoxicated. Old Tom and his son assisted me into my bed-place, old Tom observing, "Poor Jacob; it will do him good; his heart was heavy, and now he'll forget it all, for a little time, at all events."
"Well but, father, I don't like to see Jacob drunk," replied young Tom. "It's not like him—it's not worthy of him; as for you or me, it's nothing at all; but I feel Jacob was never meant to be a toper. I never saw a lad so altered in a short time, and I expect bad will come of it when he leaves us."
I awoke, as might be supposed, after my first debauch, with a violent headache, but I had also a fever, brought on by my previous anxiety of mind. I rose, dressed, and went on deck, where the snow was nearly a foot deep. It now froze hard, and the river was covered with small pieces of floating ice. I rubbed my burning forehead with the snow, and felt relief. For some time I assisted Tom to heave it overboard, but the fever pressed upon me, and in less than half-an-hour I could no longer stand the exertion. I sat down on the water cask, and pressed my hands to my throbbing temples.
"You are not well, Jacob?" inquired Tom, coming up to me with the shovel in his hand, and glowing with health and exercise.
"I am not, indeed, Tom," replied I; "feel how hot I am."
Tom went to his father, who was in the cabin, padding, with extra flannel, his stumps, to defend them from the cold, which always made him suffer much, and then led me into the cabin. It was with much difficulty I could walk; my knees trembled, and my eyesight was defective. Old Tom took my hand as I sank on the locker.
"Do you think that it was taking too much last night?" inquired Tom of his father.
"There's more here than a gallon of liquor would have brought about," replied old Tom. "No, no—I see it all. Go to bed again, Jacob."
They put me into bed, and I was soon in a state of stupor, in which I remained until the lighter had arrived at the Brentford Wharf, and for many days afterwards.
CHAPTER TWENTY ONE.
ON A SICK BED—FEVER, FIRMNESS, AND FOLLY—"BOUND 'PRENTICE TO A WATERMAN"—I TAKE MY FIRST LESSON IN LOVE, AND GIVE MY FIRST LESSON IN LATIN—THE LOVE LESSON MAKES AN IMPRESSION ON MY AURICULAR ORGAN— VERILY, NONE ARE SO DEAF AS THOSE WHO WON'T HEAR.
When I recovered my senses, I found myself in bed, and Captain Turnbull sitting by my side. I had been removed to his house when the lighter had arrived at the wharf. Captain Turnbull was then talking with Mr Tomkins, the former head clerk, now in charge. Old Tom came on shore and stated the condition I was in, and Mr Tomkins having no spare bed in his house, Captain Turnbull immediately ordered me to be taken to his residence, and sent for medical advice. During the time I had remained in this state old Tom had informed Captain Turnbull, the Dominie, and Mr Tomkins of the circumstances which had occurred, and how much I had been misrepresented to Mr Drummond; and not saying a word about the affair of Wimbledon Common, or my subsequent intemperance, had given it as his opinion that ill-treatment had produced the fever. In this, I believe, he was nearly correct, although my disease might certainly have been aggravated and hastened by those two unmentioned causes. They all of them took my part, and Mr Turnbull went to London to state my condition to Mr Drummond, and also to remonstrate at his injustice. Circumstances had since occurred which induced Mr Drummond to lend a ready ear to my justification; but the message I had sent was still an obstacle. This, however, was partly removed by the equivocating testimony of the young clerk, when he was interrogated by Captain Turnbull and Mr Drummond; and wholly so by the evidence of young and old Tom, who, although in the cabin, had overheard the whole of the conversation; and Mr Drummond desired Captain Turnbull to inform me, as soon as I recovered, that all was forgotten and forgiven. It might have been on his part, but not on mine; and when Captain Turnbull told me so, with the view of raising my spirits, I shook my head as I lay on the pillow. As the reader will have observed, the feeling roused in me by the ill-usage I had received was a vindictive one—one that must have been deeply implanted in my heart, although, till then, it had never been roused into action, and now, once roused, was not to be suppressed. That it was based on pride was evident, and with it my pride was raised in proportion. To the intimation of Captain Turnbull, I, therefore, gave a decided dissent. "No, sir, I cannot return to Mr Drummond: that he was kind to me, and that I owe much to his kindness, I readily admit; and now that he has acknowledged his error in supposing me capable of such ingratitude, I heartily forgive him; but I cannot, and will not, receive any more favours from him. I cannot put myself in a situation to be again mortified as I have been. I feel I should no longer have the same pleasure in doing my duty as I once had, and I never could live under the same roof with those who at present serve him. Tell him all this, and pray tell little Sarah how grateful I feel no her for all her kindness to me, and that I shall always think of her with regret, at being obliged to leave her." And at the remembrance of little Sarah I burst into tears, and sobbed on my pillow. Captain Turnbull, whether he rightly estimated my character, or fell convinced that I had made up my mind, did not renew the subject.
"Well, Jacob," replied he, "we'll not talk of that any more. I'll give your messages just in your own words. Now, take your draught, and try to get a little sleep."
I complied with this request, and nothing but weakness now remaining, I rapidly regained my strength, and with my strength, my feelings of resentment increased in proportion. Nothing but the very weak state that I was in when Captain Turnbull spoke to me would have softened me down to give the kind message that I did; but my vindictive mind was subdued by disease, and better feelings predominated. The only effect this had was to increase my animosity against the other parties who were the cause of my ill-treatment, and I vowed that they, at least, should one day repent their conduct.
The Dominie called upon me the following Sunday. I was dressed and looking through the window when he arrived. The frost was now intense, and the river was covered with large masses of ice, and my greatest pleasure was to watch them as they floated down with the tide; "Thou hast had a second narrow escape, my Jacob," said he, after some preliminary observations. "Once again did death (pallida mors) hover over thy couch; but thou hast arisen, and thy fair fame is again established. When wilt thou be able to visit Mr Drummond, and be able to thank him for his kindness?"
"Never, sir," replied I; "I will never again enter Mr Drummond's house."
"Nay, Jacob, this savoureth of enmity. Are not we all likely to be deceived—all likely to do wrong? Did not I, even I, in thy presence, backslide into intemperance and folly? Did not I disgrace myself before my pupil—and shalt thou, in thy tender years, harbour ill-will against one who had cherished thee when thou wert destitute, and who was deceived with regard to thee by the base and evil-speaking?"
"I am obliged to Mr Drummond for all his kindness, sir," replied I; "but I never wish to enter his house. I was turned out of it, and never will again go into it."
"Eheu! Jacobe, thou art in error; it is our duty to forgive as we hope to be forgiven."
"I do forgive, sir, if that is what is requested: but I cannot, and will not, accept of further favours."
The Dominie urged in vain, and left me. Mr Tomkins also came, and argued the point without success. I was resolved. I was determined to be independent; and I looked to the river as my father, mother, home, and everything. As soon as my health was reinstated, Captain Turnbull one day came to me. "Jacob," said he, "the lighter has returned: and I wish to know if you intend to go on board again, and afterwards go into the vessel into which Mr Drummond proposes to send you."
"I will go into no vessel through Mr Drummond's means or interest," replied I.
"What will you do then?" replied he.
"I can always enter on board a man-of-war," replied I, "if the worst comes to the worst; but if I can serve out my apprenticeship on the river, I should prefer it."
"I rather expected this answer, Jacob, from what you have said to me already; and I have been trying if I cannot help you to something which may suit you. You don't mind being obliged to me?"
"O, no; but promise you will never doubt me—never accuse me." My voice faltered, and I could say no more.
"No, my lad, that I will not; I know you, as I think, pretty well; and the heart that feels a false accusation as yours does is sure to guard against committing what you are so angry at being accused of. Now, Jacob, listen to me. You know old deaf Stapleton, whose wherry we have so often pulled up and down the river? I have spoken to him to take you as his help, and he has consented. Will you like to go? He has served his time, and has a right to take a 'prentice."
"Yes," replied I, "with pleasure; and with more pleasure, from expecting to see you often."
"O, I promise you all my custom, Jacob," replied he, laughing. "We'll often turn old Stapleton out, and have a row together. Is it agreed?"
"It is," replied I; "and many thanks to you."
"Well, then, consider it settled. Stapleton has a very good room, and all that's requisite on shore, at Fulham. I have seen his place, and I think you will be comfortable."
I did not know at the time how much Captain Turnbull had been my friend—that he had made Stapleton take better lodgings, and had made up the difference to him, besides allowing him a trifle per week, and promising him a gratuity occasionally, if I were content with my situation. In a few days I had removed all my clothes to Stapleton's, had taken my leave of Mr Turnbull, and was established as an apprentice to a waterman on the Thames. The lighter was still at the wharf when I left, and my parting with old Tom and his son was equally and sincerely felt on both sides.
"Jacob," said old Tom, "I likes your pride after all, 'cause why, I think you have some right to be proud; and the man who only asks fair play, and no favour always will rise in this world. But look you, Jacob, there's sometimes a current 'gainst a man that no one can make head against; and if so be that should be your case for a time, recollect the old house, the old woman, and old Tom, and there you'll always find a hearty welcome, and a hearty old couple who'll share with you what they have, be it good, bad, or indifferent. Here's luck to you, my boy; and recollect, I means to go to the expense of painting the sides of my craft blue, and then you'll always know her as she creeps up and down the river."
"And Jacob," said young Tom;—"I may be a wild one, but I'm a true one; if ever you want me in fair weather and in foul—good or bad—for fun or for mischief—for a help, or for a friend in need, through thick or thin, I'm yours, even to the gallows; and here's my hand upon it."
"Just like you, Tom," observed his father; "but I know what you mean, and all's right."
I shook hands with them both, and we parted.
Thus did I remove from the lighter, and at once take up the profession of a waterman; I walked down to the Fulham side, where I found Stapleton at the door of the public-house, standing with two or three others, smoking his pipe. "Well, lad, so you're chained to my wherry for two or three years; and I'm to initiate you into all the rules and regulations of the company. Now, I'll tell you one thing, which is, d'ye see, when the river's covered with ice, as it is just now, haul your wherry up high and dry, and smoke your pipe till the river is clear, as I do now."
"I might have guessed that," replied I, bawling in his ear, "without you telling me."
"Very true; but don't bawl in my ear quite so loud, I hears none the better for it; my ears require coaxing, that's all."
"Why, I thought you were as deaf as a post."
"Yes, so I be with strangers, 'cause I don't know the pitch of their voice; but with those about me I hear better when they speak quietly— that's human nature. Come, let's go home, my pipe is finished, and as there's nothing to be done on the river, we may just as well make all tidy there."
Stapleton had lost his wife; but he had a daughter, fifteen years old, who kept his lodgings, and did for him, as he termed it. He lived in part of some buildings leased by a boat-builder; his windows looked out on the river; and, on the first floor, a bay-window was thrown out, so that at high water the river ran under it. As for the rooms, consisting of five, I can only say that they could not be spoken of as large and small, but as small and smaller. The sitting-room was eight feet square, the two bed-rooms at the back, for himself and his daughter, just held a small bed each, and the kitchen and my room below were to match; neither were the tenements in the very best repair, the parlour especially, hanging over the river, being lop-sided, and giving you the uncomfortable idea that it would every minute fall into the stream below. Still, the builder declared that it would last many years without sinking further, and that was sufficient. At all events, they were very respectable accommodations for a waterman, and Stapleton paid for them 10 pounds per annum. Stapleton's daughter was certainly a very well-favoured girl. She had rather a large mouth; but her teeth were very fine, and beautifully white. Her hair was auburn—her complexion very fair, her eyes were large, and of a deep blue, and from her figure, which was very good, I should have supposed her to have been eighteen, although she was not past fifteen, as I found out afterwards. There was a frankness and honesty of countenance about her, and an intellectual smile, which was very agreeable.
"Well, Mary, how do you get on?" said Stapleton, as we ascended to the sitting-room. "Here's young Faithful come to take up with us."
"Well, father, his bed's all ready; and I have taken so much dirt from the room that I expect we shall be indicted for filling up the river. I wonder what nasty people lived in this house before us."
"Very nice rooms, nevertheless; ain't they, boy?"
"O yes, very nice for idle people; you may amuse yourself looking out on the river, or watching what floats past, or fishing with a pin at high water," replied Mary, looking at me.
"I like the river," replied I, gravely; "I was born on it, and hope to get my bread on it."
"And I like this sitting-room," rejoined Stapleton; "how mighty comfortable it will be to sit at the open window, and smoke in the summer time, with one's jacket off!"
"At all events you'll have no excuse for dirtying the room, father; and as for the lad, I suppose his smoking days have not come yet."
"No," replied I; "but my days for taking off my jacket are, I suspect."
"O yes," replied she, "never fear that; father will let you do all the work you please, and look on—won't you, father?"
"Don't let your tongue run quite so fast, Mary; you're not over fond of work yourself."
"No; there's only one thing I dislike more," replied she, "and that's holding my tongue."
"Well, I shall leave you and Jacob to make it out together; I am going back to the Feathers." And old Stapleton walked down stairs, and went back to the inn, saying, as he went out, that he should be back to his dinner.
Mary continued her employment of wiping the furniture of the room with a duster for some minutes, during which I did not speak, but watched the floating ice on the river. "Well," said Mary, "do you always talk as you do now? if so, you'll be a very nice companion. Mr Turnbull who came to my father, told me that you was a sharp fellow, could read, write, and do everything, and that I should like you very much; but if you mean to keep it all to yourself, you might as well not have had it."
"I am ready to talk when I have anything to talk about," replied I.
"That's not enough. I'm ready to talk about nothing, and you must do the same."
"Very well," replied I. "How old are you?"
"How old am I! O, then you consider me nothing. I'll try hard but you shall alter your opinion, my fine fellow. However, to answer your question, I believe I'm about fifteen."
"Not more? well, there's an old proverb, which I will not repeat."
"I know it, so you may save yourself the trouble, you saucy boy; but now, for your age?"
"Mine! let me see; well, I believe that I am nearly seventeen."
"Are you really so old? well, now, I should have thought you no more than fourteen."
This answer at first surprised me, as I was very stout and tall for my age; but a moment's reflection told me that it was given to annoy me. A lad is as much vexed at being supposed younger than he really is as a man of a certain age is annoyed at being taken for so much older. "Pooh!" replied I; "that shows how little you know about men."
"I wasn't talking about men, that I know of; but still, I do know something about them. I've had two sweethearts already."
"Indeed! and what have you done with them?"
"Done with them! I jilted the first for the second, because the second was better looking; and when Mr Turnbull told me so much about you, I jilted the second to make room for you: but now I mean to try if I can't get him back again."
"With all my heart," replied I laughing. "I shall prove but a sorry sweetheart, for I have never made love in my life."
"Have you ever had anybody to make love to?"
"That's the reason, Mr Jacob, depend upon it. All you have to do is to swear that I'm the prettiest girl in the world, that you like me better than anybody else in the world; do anything in the world that I wish you to do—spend all the money you have in the world in buying me ribbons and fairings, and then—"
"And then, what?"
"Why, then, I shall hear all you have to say, take all you have to give, and laugh at you in the bargain."
"But I shouldn't stand that long."
"O, yes, you would. I'd put you out of humour, and coax you in again; the fact is, Jacob Faithful, I made my mind up, before I saw you, that you should be my sweetheart, and when I will have a thing, I will, so you may as well submit to it at once. If you don't, as I keep the key of the cupboard, I'll half starve you; that's the way to tame any brute, they say. And I tell you why, Jacob, I mean that you shall be my sweetheart; it's because Mr Turnbull told me that you knew Latin; now, tell me, what is Latin?"
"Latin is a language which people spoke in former times, but now they do not."
"Well, then, you shall make love to me in Latin, that's agreed."
"And how do you mean to answer me?"
"O, in plain English, to be sure."
"But how are you to understand me?" replied I, much amused with the conversation.
"O, if you make love properly, I shall soon understand you; I shall read the English of it in your eyes."
"Very well, I have no objection; when am I to begin?"
"Why, directly, you stupid fellow, to be sure. What a question!"
I went close up to Mary, and repeated a few words of Latin. "Now," says I, "look into my eyes, and see if you can translate them."
"Something impudent, I'm sure," replied she, fixing her blue eyes on mine.
"Not at all," replied I, "I only asked for this," and I snatched a kiss, in return for which I received a box on the ear, which made it tingle for five minutes. "Nay," replied I, "that's not fair; I did as you desired—I made love in Latin."
"And I answered you, as I said I would, in plain English," replied Mary, reddening up to the forehead, but directly after bursting out into a loud laugh. "Now, Mr Jacob, I plainly see that you know nothing about making love. Bless me, a year's dangling, and a year's pocket-money should not have given you what you have had the impudence to take in so many minutes. But it was my own fault, that's certain, and I have no one to thank but myself. I hope I didn't hurt you—I'm very sorry if I did; but no more making love in Latin. I've had quite enough of that."
"Well, then, suppose we make friends," replied I, holding out my hand.
"That's what I really wished to do, although I've been talking so much nonsense," replied Mary. "I know we shall like one another, and be very good friends. You can't help feeling kind towards a girl you've kissed; and I shall try by kindness to make up to you for the box on the ear; so now, sit down, and let's have a long talk. Mr Turnbull told us that he wished you to serve out your apprenticeship on the river with my father, so that, if you agree, we shall be a long while together. I take Mr Turnbull's word, not that I can find it out yet, that you are a very good-tempered, good-looking, clever, modest lad; and as an apprentice who remains with my father must live with us, of course I had rather it should be one of that sort than some ugly, awkward brute who—"
"Is not fit to make love to you," replied I.
"Who is not fit company for me," replied Mary. "I want no more love from you at present. The fact is that father spends all the time he can spare from the wherry at the ale-house, smoking; and it's very dull for me, and having nothing to do, I look out of the window, and make faces at the young men as they pass by, just to amuse myself. Now, there was no great harm in that a year or two ago; but now, you know, Jacob—"
"Well now, what then?"
"O, I'm bigger, that's all? and what might be called sauciness in a girl may be thought something more of in a young woman. So I've been obliged to leave it off; but being obliged to remain home, with nobody to talk to, I never was so glad as when I heard that you were to come; so you see, Jacob, we must be friends. I daren't quarrel with you long, although I shall sometimes, just for variety, and to have the pleasure of making it up again. Do you hear me—or what are you thinking of?"
"I'm thinking that you're a very odd girl."
"I dare say that I am, but how can I help that? Mother died when I was five years old, and father couldn't afford to put me out, so he used to lock me in all day till he came home from the river; and it was not till I was seven years old, and of some use, that the door was left open. I never shall forget the day when he told me that in future he should trust me, and leave the door open. I thought I was quite a woman, and have thought so ever since. I recollect that I often peeped out, and longed to run about the world; but I went two or three yards from the door, and felt so frightened, that I ran back as fast as I could. Since that I have seldom quitted the house for an hour, and never have been out of Fulham."
"Then you have never been at school?"
"O, no—never. I often wish that I had. I used to see the little girls coming home, as they passed our door, so merrily, with their bags from the school-house; and I'm sure, if it were only to have the pleasure of going there and back again for the sake of the run, I'd have worked hard, if for nothing else."
"Would you like to learn to read and write?"
"Will you teach me?" replied Mary, taking me by the arm, and looking me earnestly in the face.
"Yes, I will, with pleasure," replied I, laughing. "We will pass the evening better than making love, after all, especially if you hit so hard. How came you so knowing in those matters?"
"I don't know," replied Mary, smiling; "I suppose, as father says, it's human nature, for I never learnt anything; but you will teach me to read and write?"
"I will teach you all I know myself, Mary, if you wish to learn. Everything but Latin—we've had enough of that."
"Oh! I shall be so much obliged to you. I shall love you so!"
"There you are again."
"No, no, I didn't mean that," replied Mary, earnestly. "I meant that— after all, I don't know what else to say. I mean that I shall love you for your kindness, without your loving me again, that's it."
"I understand you; but now, Mary, as we are to be such good friends, it is necessary that your father and I should be good friends; so I must ask you what sort of a person he is, for I know but little of him, and, of course, wish to oblige him."
"Well then, to prove to you that I'm sincere, I will tell you something; My father, in the first place, is a very good tempered sort of man. He works pretty well, but might gain more, but he likes to smoke at the public-house. All he requires of me is his dinner ready, his linen clean, and the house tidy. He never drinks too much, and is always civil spoken; but he leaves me too much alone, and talks too much about human nature, that's all."
"But he's so deaf—he can't talk to you."
"Give me your hand—now promise—for I'm going to do a very foolish thing, which is to trust a man—promise you'll never tell it again."
"Well, I promise," replied I, supposing her secret of no consequence.
"Well, then—mind—you've promised. Father is no more deaf than you or I."
"Indeed!" replied I; "why, he goes by the name of Deaf Stapleton?"
"I know he does, and makes everybody believe that he is so; but it is to make money."
"How can he make money by that?"
"There's many people in business who go down the river, and they wish to talk of their affairs without being overheard as they go down. They always call for Deaf Stapleton: and there's many a gentleman and lady, who have much to say to each other, without wishing people to listen— you understand me?"
"O yes, I understand—Latin!"
"Exactly—and they call for Deaf Stapleton; and by this means he gets more good fares than any other waterman, and does less work."
"But how will he manage now that I am with him?"
"O, I suppose it will depend upon his customers; if a single person wants to go down, you will take the sculls; if they call for oars, you will both go; if he considers Deaf Stapleton only is wanted, you will remain on shore; or, perhaps, he will insist upon your being deaf too."
"But I do not like deceit."
"No, it's not right; although it appears to me that there is a great deal of it. Still I should like you to sham deaf, and then tell me all that people say. It would be so funny. Father never will tell a word."
"So far, your father, to a certain degree, excuses himself."
"Well, I think he will soon tell you what I have now told you, but till then you must keep your promise; and now you must do as you please, as I must go down in the kitchen, and get dinner on the fire."
"I have nothing to do," replied I; "can I help you?"
"To be sure you can, and talk to me, which is better still. Come down and wash the potatoes for me, and then I'll find you some more work. Well, I do think we shall be very happy."
I followed Mary Stapleton down into the kitchen, and we were soon very busy, and very noisy, laughing, talking, blowing the fire, and preparing the dinner. By the time that her father came home we were sworn friends.
CHAPTER TWENTY TWO.
IS VERY DIDACTIC, AND TREATS LEARNEDLY ON THE VARIOUS SENSES, AND "HUMAN NATURE;" IS ALSO DIFFUSE ON THE BEST TRAINING TO PRODUCE A MORAL PHILOSOPHER—INDEED, IT CONTAINS MATERIALS WITH WHICH TO BUILD UP ONE SYSTEM, AND HALF-A-DOZEN THEORIES, AS THESE THINGS ARE NOW MADE.
I was rather curious, after the secret confided to me by Mary Stapleton, to see how her father would behave; but when we had sat and talked some time, as he appeared to have no difficulty in answering to any observation in a common pitch of the voice, I observed to him that he was not so deaf as I thought he was.
"No, no," replied he; "in the house I hear very well, but in the open air I can't hear at all, if a person speaks to me two yards off. Always speak to me close to my ear in the open air, but not loud, and then I shall hear you very well." I caught a bright glance from Mary's blue eye, and made no answer. "This frost will hold, I'm afraid," continued Stapleton, "and we shall have nothing to do for some days but to blow our fingers and spend our earnings; but there's never much doing at this time of the year. The winter cuts us watermen up terribly. As for me, I smokes my pipe and thinks on human natur'; but what you are to do Jacob, I can't tell."
"Oh, he will teach me to read and write," replied Mary.
"I don't know that he shall," replied Stapleton. "What's the use of reading and writing to you? We've too many senses already, in my opinion, and if so be we have learning to boot, why then all the worse for us."
"How many senses are there, father?"
"How many! I'm sure I can't tell, but more than enough to puzzle us."
"There are only five, I believe," said I; "first, there's hearing."
"Well," replied Stapleton "hearing may be useful at times; but not hearing at times is much more convenient. I make twice as much money since I lost the better part of my hearing."
"Well, then, there's seeing," continued I.
"Seeing is useful at times, I acknowledge; but I knows this, that if a man could pull a young couple about the river, and not be able to see now and then, it would be many a half-crown in his pocket."
"Well, then, now we come to tasting."
"No use at all—only a vexation. If there was no tasting we should not care whether we ate brown bread or roast beef, drank water or XX ale; and in these hard times that would be no small saving."
"Well, then, let me see, there's smelling."
"Smelling's no use whatever. For one good smell by the river's side there be ten nasty ones; and there is everywhere, to my conviction."
"Which is the next, Jacob?" said Mary, smiling archly.
"Feeling! that's the worst of the whole. Always feel too cold in winter, too hot in summer—feel a blow too; feeling only gives pain; that's a very bad sense."
"Well, then, I suppose you think we should get on better without our senses."
"No, not without all of them. A little hearing and a little seeing be all very well; but there are other senses which you have forgot, Jacob. Now, one I takes to be the very best of the bunch is smoking."
"I never heard that was a sense," replied I, laughing.
"Then you haven't half finished your education, Jacob."
"Are reading and writing senses, father?" inquired Mary.
"To be sure they be, girl; for without sense you can't read and write; and rowing be a sense just as well; and there be many other senses; but, in my opinion, most of the senses be nonsense, and only lead to mischief."
"Jacob," said Mary, whispering to my ear, "isn't loving a sense?"
"No, that's nonsense," replied I.
"Well, then," replied she, "I agree with my father that nonsense is better than sense; but still I don't see why I should not learn to read and write, father."
"I've lived all my life without it, and never felt the want of it—why can't you?"
"Because I do feel the want of it."
"So you may, but they leads no no good. Look at those fellows at the Feathers; all were happy enough before Jim Holder, who is a scholar, came among them, and now since he reads to them they do nothing but grumble, and growl, and talk about I don't know what—corn laws, and taxes, and liberty, and all other nonsense. Now, what could you do more than you do now, if you larnt to read and write?"
"I could amuse myself when I've nothing to do, father, when you and Jacob are away. I often sit down, after I've done all my work, and think what I shall do next, and at last I look out of the window and make faces at people, because I've nothing better to do. Now, father, you must let him learn me to read and write."
"Well, Mary, if you will, you will; but recollect, don't blame me for it—it must be all on your own head, and not on my conscience. I've lived some forty or fifty years in this world, and all my bad luck has been owing to having too much senses, and all my good luck to getting rid of them."
"I wish you would tell me how that came to pass," said I; "I should like to hear it very much, and it will be a lesson to Mary."
"Well, I don't care if I do, Jacob, only I must light my pipe first; and, Mary, do you go for a pot o' beer."
"Let Jacob go, father. I mean him to run on all my errands now."
"You mustn't order Jacob, Mary."
"No, no—I wouldn't think of ordering him, but I know he will do it— won't you, Jacob?"
"Yes, with pleasure," replied I.
"Well, with all my heart, provided it be all for love," said Stapleton.
"Of course, all for love," replied Mary, looking at me, "or Latin— which, Jacob?"
"What's Latin?" said her father.
"Oh! that's a new sense Jacob has been showing me something of, which, like many others, proved to be nonsense."
I went for the beer, and when I returned found the fire burning brightly, and a strong sense of smoking from old Stapleton's pipe. He puffed once or twice more, and then commenced his history as follows:
"I can't exactly say when I were born, nor where," said old Stapleton, taking his pipe out of his mouth, "because I never axed either father or mother, and they never told me, because why, I never did ax, and that be all agreeable to human natur'." Here Stapleton paused, and took three whiffs of his pipe. "I recollects when I was a little brat about two foot nothing, mother used to whack me all day long, and I used to cry in proportion. Father used to cry shame, and then mother would fly at him; he would whack she; she would up with her apron in one corner and cry, while I did the same with my pinbefore in another; all that was nothing but human natur'." [A pause, and six or seven whiffs of the pipe.]
"I was sent to school at a penny a week, to keep me out of the way, and out of mischief. I larnt nothing but to sit still on the form and hold my tongue, and so I used to amuse myself twiddling my thumbs, and looking at the flies as they buzzed about the room in the summer time; and in the winter, cause there was no flies of no sort, I used to watch the old missus a-knitting of stockings, and think how soon the time would come when I should go home and have my supper, which, in a child was nothing but human natur'." [Puff, puff, puff.] "Father and mother lived in a cellar; mother sold coals and 'tatoes, and father used to go out to work in the barges on the river. As soon as I was old enough, the schoolmissus sent word that I ought to learn to read and write, and that she must be paid threepence a week; so father took me away from school, because he thought I had had education enough; and mother perched me on a basket upside down, and made me watch that nobody took the goods while she was busy down below; and then I used to sit all day long watching the coals and 'tatoes, and never hardly speaking to nobody; so having nothing better to do, I used to think about this, and that, and everything, and when dinner would be ready, and when I might get off the basket; for you see thinking be another of the senses, and when one has nothing to do, and nothing to say, to think be nothing more than human natur'." [Puff, puff, and a pause for a drink out of the pot.] "At last, I grew a big stout boy, and mother said that I ate too much, and must earn my livelihood somehow or other, and father for once agreed with her; but there was a little difficulty how that was to be done; so until that was got over I did nothing at all but watch the coals and 'tatoes as before. One day mother wouldn't give me wituals enough, so I helped myself; so she whacked me, so I, being strong, whacked she; so father, coming home, whacked me, so I takes to my heels and runs away a good mile before I thought at all about how I was to live; and there I was, very sore, very unhappy, and very hungry." [Puff, puff, puff, and a spit.] "I walks on, and on, and then I gets behind a coach, and then the fellow whips me, and I gets down again in a great hurry, and tumbles into the road, and before I could get up again, a gemman, in a gig drives right over me, and breaks my leg. I screams with pain, which if I hadn't had the sense of feeling, of course I shouldn't have minded. He pulls up and gets out, and tells me he's very sorry. I tells him so am I. His servant calls some people, and they takes me into a public-house, and lays me on the table all among the pots of beer, sends for a doctor, who puts me into bed, and puts my leg right again; and then I was provided for, for at least six weeks, during which the gemman calls and axes how I feel myself; and I says, 'Pretty well, I thanky.'" [Puff, puff—knock the ashes out, pipe refilled, relighted, a drink of beer, and go on.] "So when I was well, and on my pins again, the gentleman says, 'What can I do for you?' and the landlord cuts him short by saying that he wanted a pot-boy, if I liked the profession. Now, if I didn't like the pots I did the porter, which I had no share of at home, so I agrees. The gemman pays the score, gives me half a guinea, and tells me not to be lying in the middle of the road another time. I tells him I won't, so he jumps into his gig, and I never cast eyes upon him since. I stayed three years with my master, taking out beer to his customers, and always taking a little out of each pot for myself, for that's nothing but human natur' when you likes a thing; but I never got into trouble until one day I sees my missus a-kissing in the back parlour with a fellow who travels for orders. I never said nothing at first; but at last I sees too much, and then I tells master, who gets into a rage, and goes into his wife, stays with her half-an-hour, and then comes out and kicks me out of the door, calling me a liar, and telling me never to show my face again. I shies a pot at his head, and showed him anything but my face, for I took to my heels, and ran for it as fast as I could. So much for seeing; if I hadn't seen, that wouldn't have happened. So there I was adrift, and good-bye to porter." [Puff, puff; "Mary, where's my 'baccy stopper?" Poke down, puff, puff, spit, and proceed.] "Well, I walks towards Lunnen, thinking on husbands and wives, porter and human natur', until I finds myself there, and then I looks at all the lighted lamps, and recollects that I haven't no lodging for the night, and then all of a sudden I thinks of my father and mother, and wonders how they be going on. So I thought I'd go and see, and away I went, comes to the cellar, and goes down. There was my mother with a quartern of gin before her, walking to and fro, and whimpering to herself; so says I, 'Mother, what's the matter now?' at which she jumps up and hugs me, and tells me I'm her only comfort left. I looked at the quartern and thinks otherwise; so down I sits by her side, and then she pours me out a glass, and pours out all her grief, telling me how my father had left her for another woman, who kept another cellar in another street, and how she was very unhappy, and how she had taken to gin—which was nothing but human natur', you see, and how she meant to make away with herself; and then she sent for more quarterns, and we finished them. What with the joy of finding me, and the grief at losing my father, and the quarterns of gin, she went to bed crying drunk and fell fast asleep. So did I, and thought home was home after all. Next morning I takes up the business, and finds trade not so bad after all; so I takes the command of all, keeps all the money, and keeps mother in order; and don't allow drinking nor disorderly conduct in the house; but goes to the public-house every night for a pipe and a pot.
"Well, everything goes on very well for a month, when who should come home but father, which I didn't approve of, because I liked being master. So I, being a strong chap, then says, 'If you be come to ill-treat my mother, I'll put you in the kennel, father. Be off to your new woman. Ar'n't you ashamed of yourself?' says I. So father looks me in the face, and tells me to stand out of the way, or he'll make cat's meat of me; and then he goes to my mother, and after a quarter of an hour of sobbing on her part, and coaxing on his, they kiss and make friends; and then they both turns to me, and orders me to leave the cellar, and never to show my face again. I refuses: father flies at me, and mother helps him; and between the two I was hustled out to find my bread how and where I could. I've never taken a woman's part since." [Puff, puff, puff, and a deep sigh.] "I walks down to the water-side, and having one or two shillings in my pocket, goes into a public-house to get a drop of drink and a bed. And when I comes in, I sees a man hand a note for change to the landlady, and she gives him change. 'That won't do,' says he, and he was half tipsy: 'I gave you a ten-pound note, and this here lad be witness.' 'It was only a one,' says the woman. 'You're a damned old cheat,' says he, 'and if you don't give me the change, I'll set your house on fire, and burn you alive.' With that there was a great row, and he goes out for the constable and gives her in charge, and gives me in charge as a witness, and then she gives him in charge, and so we all went to the watchhouse together, and slept on the benches. The next morning we all appeared before the magistrate, and the man tells his story and calls me as a witness; but recollecting how much I had suffered from seeing, I wouldn't see anything this time. It might have been a ten-pound note, for it certainly didn't look like a one; but my evidence went rather for than against the woman, for I only proved the man to be drunk; and she was let off, and I walked home with her. So says she, 'You're a fine boy, and I'll do you a good turn for what you have done for me. My husband is a waterman, and I'll make you free of the river; for he hasn't no 'prentice, and you can come on shore and stay at the public-house when you ar'n't wanted.' I jumped at the offer, and so, by not seeing, I gets into a regular livelihood. Well, Jacob, how do you like it?"
"Very much," replied I.
"And you, Mary?"
"O! I like it very much; but I want father to go on, and to know how he fell in love, and married my mother."
"Well, you shall have it all by-and-by; but now I must take a spell."
CHAPTER TWENTY THREE.
A VERY SENSIBLE CHAPTER, HAVING REFERENCE TO THE SENSES—STAPLETON, BY KEEPING HIS UNDER CONTROL, KEEPS HIS HEAD ABOVE WATER IN HIS WHERRY— FORCED TO FIGHT FOR HIS WIFE, AND WHEN HE HAD WON HER, TO FIGHT ON TO KEEP HER—NO GREAT PRIZE, YET IT MADE HIM A PRIZE-FIGHTER.
Old Stapleton finished his pipe, took another swig at the porter, filled, relighted, puffed to try it, cleared his mouth, and then proceeded:—
"Now, you see, Bartley, her husband, was the greatest rogue on the river; he was up to everything, and stood at nothing. He fleeced as much on the water as she did on the land; for I often seed her give wrong change afterwards when people were tipsy, but I made it a rule always to walk away. As for Bartley, his was always night-work, and many's the coil of rope I have brought on shore, what, although he might have paid for, he didn't buy it of the lawful owner, but I never seed or heard, that was my maxim; and I fared well till I served my time, and then they gave me their old wherry, and built a new one for themselves. So I set up on my own account, and then I seed, and heard, and had all my senses, just as they were before—more's the pity, for no good came of it." [Puff, puff, puff, puff.] "The Bartleys wanted me to join them, but that wouldn't do; for though I never meddled with other people's concerns, yet I didn't choose to go wrong myself. I've seed all the world cheating each other for fifty years or more, but that's no concern of mine; I can't make the world better; so all I thinks about it is to keep honest myself: and if every one was to look after his own soul, and not trouble themselves about their neighbours, why, then, it would be all the better for human natur'. I plied at the Swan Stairs, gained my livelihood, and spent it as I got it; for I was then too young to look out a'ter a rainy day.
"One night a young woman in a cloak comes down to the stairs with a bundle in her arms, and seems in a very great taking, and asks me for a boat. I hauls out of the row alongside of the yard, and hands her in. She trips as she steps in, and I catches to save her from falling, and in catching her I puts my hand upon the bundle in her arms, and feels the warm face of a baby. 'Where am I to go, ma'am?' says I. 'O! pull across, and land me on the other side,' says she; and then I hears her sobbing to herself, as if her heart would break. When we were in the middle o' the stream, she lifts up her head, and then first she looks at the bundle and kisses it, and then she looks up at the stars which were glittering above in the sky. She kisses the child once more, jumps up, and afore I could be aware of what she was about, she tosses me her purse, throws her child into the water, and leaps in herself. I pulls sharp round immediately, and seeing her again, I made one or two good strokes, comes alongside of her, and gets hold of her clothes. A'ter much ado I gets her into the wherry, and as soon as I seed she was come to again, I pulls her back to the stairs where she had taken me from. As soon as I lands I hears a noise and talking, and several people standing about; it seems it were her relatives, who had missed her, and were axing whether she had taken a boat; and while they were describing her, and the other watermen were telling them how I had taken a fare of that description, I brings her back. Well, they takes charge of her, and leads her home; and then for the first time I thinks of the purse at the bottom of the boat, which I picks up, and sure enough there were four golden guineas in it, beside some silver. Well, the men who plied at the stairs axed me all about it; but I keeps my counsel, and only tells them how the poor girl threw herself into the water, and how I pulled her out again; and in a week I had almost forgot all about it, when up comes an officer, and says to me, 'You be Stapleton the waterman?' and I says, 'Yes, I be.' 'Then you must come along with me;' and he takes me to the police-office, where I finds the poor young woman in custody for being accused of having murdered her infant. So they begins to tax me upon my Bible oath, and I was forced to tell the whole story; for though you may loose all your senses when convenient, yet somehow or another, an oath on the Bible brings them all back again. 'Did you see the child?' said the magistrate. 'I seed a bundle,' said I. 'Did you hear the child cry?' said he. 'No,' says I, 'I didn't;' and then I thought I had got the young woman off; but the magistrate was an old fox, and had all the senses at his fingers' ends. So says he, 'When the young woman stepped into the boat did she give you the bundle?' 'No,' says I again. 'Then you never touched it?' 'Yes, I did, when her foot slipped.' 'And what did it feel like?' 'It felt like a piece of human natur'.' says I, 'and quite warm like.' 'How do you mean?' says he. 'Why, I took it by the feel for a baby.' 'And it was quite warm, was it?' 'Yes,' replied I, 'it was.' 'Well then, what else took place?' 'Why, when we were in the middle of the stream she and her child went overboard; I pulled her in again, but could not see the child.' Fortunately for the poor girl, they didn't ask me which went overboard first, and that saved her from hanging. She was confined six months in prison, and then let out again; but you see, if it hadn't been for my unfortunately feeling the child, and feeling it was warm, which proved its being alive, the poor young woman would have got off altogether, perhaps. So much for the sense of feeling, which I say is of no use to nobody, but only a vexation." [Puff—the pipe out, relighted—puff, puff.]
"But, father," said Mary, "did you ever hear the history of the poor girl?"
"Yes, I heard as how it was a hard case, how she had been seduced by some fellow who had left her and her baby, upon which she determined to drown herself, poor thing; and her baby too. Had she only tried to drown her baby I should have said it was quite unnatural; but as she wished to drown herself at the same time, I considers that drowning the baby to take it to heaven with her was quite natural, and all agreeable to human natur'. Love's a sense which young women should keep down as much as possible, Mary; no good comes of that sense."
"And yet, father, it appears to me to be human nature," replied Mary.
"So it is, but there's mischief in it, girl, so do you never have anything to do with it."
"Was there mischief when you fell in love with my mother and married her?"
"You shall hear, Mary," replied old Stapleton, who recommenced.
"It was 'bout two months after the poor girl threw herself into the river that I first seed your mother. She was then mayhap two years older than you may be, and much such a same sort of person in her looks. There was a young man who plied from our stairs, named Ben Jones; he and I were great friends, and used for to help each other, and when a fare called for oars, used to ply together. One night he says to me, 'Will, come up, and I'll show you a devilish fine piece of stuff.' So I walks with him, and he takes me to a shop where they dealed in marine stores, and we goes and finds your mother in the back parlour. Ben sends for pipes and beer, and we sat down and made ourselves comfortable. Now, Mary, your mother was a very jilting kind of girl, who would put one fellow off to take another, just as her whim and fancy took her." [I looked at Mary, who cast down her eyes.] "Now these women do a mint of mischief among men, and it seldom ends well; and I'd sooner see you in your coffin to-morrow, Mary, than think you should be one of this flaunting sort. Ben Jones was quite in for it, and wanted for to marry her, and she had turned off a fine young chap for him, and he used to come there every night, and it was supposed that they would be spliced in the course of a month; but when I goes there she cuts him almost altogether, and takes to me, making such eyes at me, and drinking beer out of my pot, and refusing his'n, till poor Jones was quite mad and beside himself. Well, it wasn't in human natur' to stand those large blue eyes (just like yours, Mary), darting fire at a poor fellow; and when Jones got up in a surly humour, and said it was time to go away, instead of walking home arm in arm, we went side by side, like two big dogs with their tails as stiff up as a crowbar, and ready for a fight; neither he nor I saying a word, and we parted without saying good-night. Well, I dreamed of your mother all that night, and the next day went to see her, and felt worser and worser each time, and she snubbed Jones, and at last told him to go about his business. This was 'bout a month after I had first seen her; and then one day Jones, who was a prize-fighter, says to me, 'Be you a man?' and slaps me on the ear. So, I knowing what he'd been a'ter, pulls off my duds, and we sets to. We fights for ten minutes or so, and then I hits him a round blow on the ear, and he falls down on the hard, and couldn't come to time. No wonder, poor fellow! for he had gone to eternity." [Here old Stapleton paused for half a minute, and passed his hand across his eyes.] "I was tried for manslaughter; but it being proved that he came up and struck me first, I was acquitted, after lying two months in gaol, for I couldn't get no bail; but it was because I had been two months in gaol that I was let off. At first, when I came out, I determined never to see your mother again; but she came to me, and wound round me, and I loved her so much that I couldn't shake her off. As soon as she found that I was fairly hooked, she began to play with others; but I wouldn't stand that, and every fellow that came near her was certain to have a turn out with me, and so I became a great fighter; and she, seeing that I was the best man, and that no one else would come to her, one fine morning agreed to marry me. Well, we were spliced, and the very first night I thought I saw poor Ben Jones standing by my bedside, and, for a week or so, I was not comfortable; but, howsomever, it wore off, I plied at the stairs, and gained my money. But my pipe's out, and I'm dry with talking. Suppose I take a spell for a few minutes."
Stapleton relighted his pipe, and for nearly half-an-hour smoked in silence. What Mary's thoughts were I cannot positively assert; but I imagined that, like myself, she was thinking about her mother's conduct and her own. I certainly was making the comparison, and we neither of us spoke a word.
"Well," continued Stapleton, at last, "I married your mother, Mary, and I only hope that any man who may take a fancy to you, will not have so much trouble with his wife as I had. I thought that a'ter she were settled she would give up all her nonsense, and behave herself—but I suppose it was in her natur' and she couldn't help it. She made eyes and gave encouragement to the men, until they became saucy and I became jealous, and I had to fight one, and then the other, until I became a noted pugilist. I will say that your mother seemed always very happy when I beat my man, which latterly I always did; but still she liked to be fit for, and I had hardly time to earn my bread. At last, some one backed me against another man in the ring for fifty pound aside, and I was to have half if I won. I was very short of blunt at the time, and I agreed; so, a'ter a little training the battle was fought, and I won easy: and the knowing ones liked my way of hitting so much that they made up another match with a better man, for two hundred pounds; and a lord and other great people came to me, and I was introduced to them at the public-house, and all was settled. So I became a regular prize-fighter, all through your mother, Mary. Nay, don't cry, child, I don't mean to say that your mother, with all her love of being stared at and talked to, would have gone wrong; but still it was almost as bad in my opinion. Well, I was put into training, and after five weeks we met at Mousley Hurst, and a hard fight it was—but I've got the whole of it somewhere, Mary; look in the drawer there, and you'll see a newspaper."
Mary brought out the newspaper, which was rolled up and tied with a bit of string, and Stapleton handed it over to me, telling me to read it aloud. I did so, but I shall not enter into the details.
"Yes, that's all right enough," said Stapleton, who had taken advantage of my reading to smoke furiously, to make up for lost time; "but no good came of it, for one of the gemmen took a fancy to your mother, Mary, and tried to win her away from me. I found him attempting to kiss her, and she refusing him—but laughing, and, as I thought, more than half-willing; so I floored him, and put him out of the house, and after that I never would have anything more to say with lords and gemmen, nor with fighting either. I built a new wherry, and stuck to the river, and I shifted my lodgings that I mightn't mix any more with those who knew me as a boxer. Your mother was then brought to bed with you, and I hoped for a good deal of happiness, as I thought she would only think of her husband and child; and so she did until you were weaned, and then she went on just as afore. There was a captain of a vessel lying in the river, who used now and then to stop and talk with her; but I thought little about that, seeing how every one talked with her and she with everybody; and besides, she knew the captain's wife, who was a very pretty woman, and used very often to ask Mary to go and see her, which I permitted. But one morning, when I was going off to the boat—for he had come down to me to take him to his vessel—just as I was walking away with the sculls over my shoulder, I recollects my 'baccy box, which I had left, and I goes back and hears him say before I came into the door—'Recollect, I shall be here again by two o'clock, and then you promised to come on board my ship, and see—.' I didn't hear the rest, but she laughed and said yes, she would. I didn't show myself, but walked away and went to the boat. He followed me, and I rowed him up the river and took my fare—and then I determined to watch them, for I felt mighty jealous. So I lays off on my oars in the middle of the stream, and sure enough I see the captain and your mother get into a small skiff belonging to his ship, and pull away; the captain had one oar and one of his men another. I pulled a'ter them as fast as I could, and at last they seed me; and not wishing me to find her out, she begged them to pull away as fast as they could, for she knew how savage I would be. Still I gained upon them, every now and then looking round and vowing vengeance in my heart, when all of a sudden I heard a scream, and perceived their boat to capsize, and all hands in the water. They had not seen a warp of a vessel getting into the row, and had run over it, and, as it tautened, they capsized. Your mother went down like a stone, Mary, and was not found for three days a'terward; and when I seed her sink I fell down in a fit." Here old Stapleton stopped, laid down his pipe, and rested his face in his hands. Mary burst into tears. After a few minutes he resumed: "When I came to, I found myself on board of the ship in the captain's cabin, with the captain and his wife watching over me—and then I came to understand that it was she who had sent for your mother, and that she was living on board, and that your mother had at first refused, because she knew that I did not like her to be on the river, but wishing to see a ship had consented. So it was not so bad a'ter all, only that a woman shouldn't act without her husband—but you see, Mary, all this would not have happened if it hadn't been that I overheard part of what was said; and you might now have had a mother, and I a wife to comfort us, if it had not been for my unfortunate hearing—so, as I said before, there's more harm than good that comes from these senses—at least so it has proved to me. And now you have heard my story, and how your mother died, Mary; so take care you don't fall into the same fault, and be too fond of being looked at, which it does somehow or another appear to me you have a bit of a hankering a'ter—but like mother, like child, they say, and that's human natur'."
When Stapleton had concluded his narrative, he smoked his pipe in silence. Mary sat at the table, with her hands pressed to her temples, apparently in deep thought; and I felt anything but communicative. In half-an-hour the pot of beer was finished, and Stapleton rose.
"Come, Mary, don't be thinking so much; let's all go to bed. Show Jacob his room, and then come up."
"Jacob can find his own room, father," replied Mary, "without my showing him; he knows the kitchen, and there is but one other below."
I took my candle, wished them good night, and went to my bed, which, although very homely, was at all events comfortable.
CHAPTER TWENTY FOUR.
THE WARMTH OF MY GRATITUDE PROVED BY A VERY COLD TEST—THE ROAD TO FORTUNE MAY SOMETIMES LEAD OVER A BRIDGE OF ICE—MINE LAY UNDER IT—AMOR VINCET EVERYTHING BUT MY OBSTINACY, WHICH YOUNG TOM AND THE OLD DOMINIE IN THE SEQUEL WILL PROVE TO THEIR COST.
For many days the frost continued, until at last the river was frozen over, and all communication by it was stopped. Stapleton's money ran short, our fare became very indifferent, and Mary declared that we must all go begging with the market gardeners if it lasted much longer.
"I must go and call upon Mr Turnbull, and ax him to help us," said Stapleton, one day, pulling his last shilling out and laying it on the table. "I'm cleaned out; but he's a good gentleman, and will lend me a trifle." In the afternoon Stapleton returned, and I saw by his looks that he had been successful. "Jacob," said he, "Mr Turnbull desires that you will breakfast with him to-morrow morning, as he wishes to see you."
I set off accordingly at daylight the next morning, and was in good time for breakfast. Mr Turnbull was as kind as ever, and began telling me long stories about the ice in the northern regions.
"By-the-by, I hear there is an ox to be roasted whole, Jacob, a little above London Bridge; suppose we go and see the fun."
I consented, and we took the Brentford coach, and were put down at the corner of Queen Street, from thence we walked to the river. The scene was very amusing and exciting. Booths were erected on the ice, in every direction, with flags flying, people walking, and some skating, although the ice was too rough for that pastime. The whole river was crowded with people, who now walked in security over where they, a month before, would have met with death. Here and there smoke ascended from various fires, on which sausages and other eatables were cooking; but the great attraction was the ox roasting whole, close to the centre pier of the bridge. Although the ice appeared to have fallen at the spot where so many hundreds were assembled, yet as it was now four or five feet thick, there was no danger. Here and there, indeed, were what were called rotten places, where the ice was not sound; but these were intimated by placards, warning people not to approach too near; and close to them were ropes and poles for succour, if required. We amused ourselves for some time with the gaiety of the scene, for the sun shone out brightly, and the sky was clear. The wind was fresh from the northward, and piercing cold in the shade, the thermometer being then, it was said, twenty-eight degrees below the freezing point. We had been on the ice about three hours, amusing ourselves, when Mr Turnbull proposed our going home, and we walked up the river towards Blackfriars Bridge, where we proposed to land, and take the coach at Charing Cross.
"I wonder how the tide is now," observed Mr Turnbull to me; "it would be rather puzzling to find out."
"Not if I can find a hole," replied I, looking for one. "Stop, here is one." I threw in a piece of ice, and found that it was strong ebb. We continued our walk over the ice, which was now very rough, when Mr Turnbull's hat fell off, and the wind catching it, it blew away, skimming across the ice at a rapid rate. Mr Turnbull and I gave chase, but could scarcely keep up with it, and, at all events, could not overtake it. Many people on the river laughed as we passed, and watched us in our chase. Mr Turnbull was the foremost, and, heedless in the pursuit, did not observe a large surface of rotten ice before him; neither did I, until all at once I heard it break and saw Mr Turnbull fall in and disappear. Many people were close to us, and a rope was laid across the spot to designate the danger. I did not hesitate—I loved Mr Turnbull, and my love and my feelings of resentment were equally potent. I seized the bight of the rope, twisted it round my arm, and plunged in after, recollecting it was ebb tide: fortunate for Mr Turnbull it was that he had accidentally put the question. I sank under the ice, and pushed down the stream, and in a few seconds felt myself grappled by him I sought, and at almost the same time, the rope hauling in from above. As soon as they found there was resistance, they knew that I, at least, was attached to it, and they hauled in quicker, not, however, until I had lost my recollection. Still I clung to the rope with the force of a drowning man, and Mr Turnbull did the same to me, and we shortly made our appearance at the hole in which we had been plunged. A ladder was thrown across, and two of the men of the Humane Society came to our assistance, pulled us out, and laid us upon it. They then drew back and hauled us on the ladder to a more secure situation. We were both still senseless; but having been taken to a public-house on the river-side, were put to bed, and medical advice having been procured, were soon restored. The next morning we were able to return in a chaise to Brentford, where our absence had created the greatest alarm. Mr Turnbull spoke but little the whole time; but he often pressed my hand, and when I requested him to drop me at Fulham, that I might let Stapleton and his daughter know that I was safe, he consented, saying, "God bless you, my fine boy; I will see you soon."
When I went up the stairs of Stapleton's lodgings, I found Mary by herself; she started up as soon as she saw me.
"Where have you been?" said she, half crying, half smiling.
"Under the ice," I replied, "and only thawed again this morning."
"Are you in earnest, Jacob?" said she; "now don't plague and frighten me, I've been too frightened already; I never slept a wink last night;" I then told her the circumstances which had occurred. "I was sure something had happened," she replied. "I told my father so, but he wouldn't believe it. You promised to be at home to give me my lesson, and I know you never break your word; but my father smoked away, and said, that when boys are amused, they forget their promises, and that it was nothing but human natur'. Oh, Jacob, I'm so glad you're back again, and after what has happened, I don't mind your kissing me for once." And Mary held her face towards me, and returned my kiss.
"There, that must last you a long while, recollect," said she, laughing; "you must not think of another until you're under the ice again."
"Then I trust it will be the last," replied I, laughing.
"You are not in love with me, Jacob, that's clear, or you would not have made that answer," replied Mary.
I had seen a great deal of Mary, and though she certainly was a great flirt, yet she had many excellent and amiable qualities. For the first week after her father had given us the history of his life, his remarks upon her mother appeared to have made a decided impression upon her, and her conduct was much more staid and demure; but as the remembrance wore off, so did her conduct become coquettish and flirting as before; still, it was impossible not to be fond of her, and even with all her caprice there was such a fund of real good feeling and amiableness, which, when called forth, was certain to appear, that I often thought how dangerous and captivating a girl she would be when she grew up. I had again produced the books, which I had thrown aside with disgust, to teach her to read and write. Her improvement was rapid, and would have been still more so if she had not been just as busy in trying to make me fond of her as she was in surmounting the difficulties of her lessons. But she was very young; and although, as her father declared, it was her natur' to run after the men, there was every reason to hope that a year or two would render her less volatile, and add to those sterling good qualities which she really possessed. In heart and feeling she was a modest girl, although the buoyancy of her spirits often carried her beyond the bounds prescribed by decorum, and often called forth a blush upon her own animated countenance, when her good sense, or the remarks of others, reminded her of her having committed herself. It was impossible to know Mary and not like her, although, at a casual meeting, a rigid person might go away with an impression by no means favourable. As for myself, I must say, that the more I was in her company the more I was attached to her, and the more I respected her.
Old Stapleton came home in the evening. He had, as usual, been smoking, and thinking of human natur', at the Feathers public-house. I told him what had happened, and upon the strength of it he sent for an extra pot of beer for Mary and me, which he insisted upon our drinking between us—a greater proof of good-will on his part could not have been given. Although Captain Turnbull appeared to have recovered from the effects of the accident, yet it seemed that such was not the case, as the morning after his arrival he was taken ill with shivering and pains in his loins, which ended in ague and fever, and he did not quit his bed for three or four weeks. I, on the contrary, felt no ill effects; but the constitution of a youth is better able to meet such violent shocks than that of a man of sixty years old, already sapped by exposure and fatigue. As the frost still continued, I complied with Captain Turnbull's request to come up and stay with him, and for many days, until he was able to leave his bed, I was his constant nurse. The general theme of his conversation was on my future prospects, and a wish that I would embark in some pursuit or profession more likely to raise me in the world; but on this head I was positive, and also another point, which was, that I would in future put myself under an obligation to no one. I could not erase from my memory the injuries I had received, and my vindictive spirit continually brooded over them. I was resolved to be independent and free. I felt that in the company I was in I was with my equals, or, if there were any superiority, it was on my part, arising from education, and I never would submit to be again in the society of those above me, in which I was admitted as a favour, and by the major part looked down upon, and at the same time liable, as I had once been, to be turned out with contumely on the first moment of caprice. Still, I was very fond of Captain Turnbull. He had always been kind to me, spoke to me on terms of equality, and had behaved with consistency, and my feelings towards him since the accident had consequently strengthened; but we always feel an increased regard towards those to whom we have been of service, and my pride was softened by the reflection that, whatever might be Mr Turnbull's good-will towards me, he never could, even if I would permit it, repay me for the life which I had preserved. Towards him I felt unbounded regard; towards those who had ill-treated me, unlimited hatred; towards the world in general a mixture of feeling which I could hardly analyse; and, as far as regarded myself, a love of liberty and independence, which nothing would ever have induced me to compromise. As I did not wish to hurt Captain Turnbull's feelings by a direct refusal to all his proffers of service, and remarks upon the advantages which might arise, I generally made an evasive answer; but when, on the day proposed for my departure, he at once came to the point, offering me everything, and observing that he was childless, and, therefore, my acceptance of his offer would be injurious to nobody; when he took me by the hand, and drawing me near to him, passed his arm round me, and spoke to me in the kind accents of a father, almost entreating me to consent—the tears of gratitude coursed each other rapidly down my cheeks, but my resolution was no less firm—although it was with a faltering, voice that I replied, "You have been very kind to me, sir—very kind—and I shall never forget it; and I hope I shall deserve it—but—Mr Drummond, and Mrs Drummond, and Sarah, were also kind to me—very kind to me—you know the rest. I will remain as I am, if you please; and if you wish to do me a kindness; if you wish me to love you, as I really do, let me be as I am—free and independent. I beg it of you as the greatest favour that you can possibly confer on me—the only favour which I can accept, or shall be truly thankful for."
Captain Turnbull was some minutes before he could reply. He then said—"I see it is useless, and I will not tease you any more; but, Jacob, do not let the fire of injustice which you have received from your fellow-creatures prey so much upon your mind, or induce you to form the mistaken idea that the world is bad. As you live on, you will find much good; and recollect, that those who injured you, from the misrepresentation of others, have been willing, and have offered, to repair their fault. They can do no more, and I wish you could get over this vindictive feeling. Recollect, we must forgive, as we hope to be forgiven."
"I do sometimes," said I, "for Sarah's sake—I can't always."
"But you ought to forgive, for other reasons, Jacob."
"I know I ought—but if I cannot, I cannot."
"Nay, my boy, I never heard you talk so—I was going to say—wickedly. Do you not perceive that you are now in error? You will not abandon a feeling which your own good sense and religion tell you to be wrong—you cling to it—and yet you will admit of no excuse for the errors of others."
"I feel what you say—and the truth of it, sir," replied I "but I cannot combat the feeling. I will, therefore, admit every excuse you please for the faults of others; but at the same time, I am surely not to be blamed if I refuse to put myself in a situation where I am again liable to meet with mortification. Surely I am not to be censured, if I prefer to work for my bread after my own fashion, and prefer the river to dry land?"
"No, that I acknowledge; but what I dislike in the choice is, that it is dictated by feelings of resentment."
"What's done can't be helped," replied I, quickly, wishing to break off the conversation.
"Very true, Jacob; but I follow that up with another of your remarks, which is, 'Better luck next time.' God bless you, my boy; take care of yourself, and don't get under the ice again!"
"For you I would to-morrow," replied I, taking the proffered hand: "but if I could only see that Hodgson near a hole—"
"You'd not push him in?"
"Indeed I would," replied I, bitterly.
"Jacob, you would not, I tell you—you think so now, but if you saw him in distress you would assist him as you did me. I know you, my boy, better than you know yourself."
Whether Captain Turnbull or I were right remains to be proved in the sequel. We then shook hands, and I hastened away to see Mary, whom I had often thought of during my absence.
"Who do you think has been here?" said Mary, after our first greeting.
"I cannot guess," replied I. "Not old Tom and his son?"
"No; I don't think it was old Tom, but it was such an old quiz—with such a nose—O heavens! I thought I should have died with laughing as soon as he went downstairs. Do you know, Jacob, that I made love to him, just to see how he'd take it. You know who it is now?"
"O yes! you mean the Dominie, my schoolmaster."
"Yes, he told me so; and I talked so much about you, and about your teaching me to read and write, and how fond I was of learning, and how I should like to be married to an elderly man who was a great scholar, who would teach me Latin and Greek, that the old gentleman became quite chatty, and sat for two hours talking to me. He desired me to say that he should call here to-morrow afternoon, and I begged him to stay the evening, as you are to have two more of your friends here. Now, who do you think are those?"
"I have no others, except old Tom Beazeley and his son."
"Well, it is your old Tom after all, and a nice old fellow he is, although I would not like him for a husband; but as for his son—he's a lad after my own heart—I'm quite in love with him."
"Your love will do you no harm, Mary; but, recollect, what may be a joke to you may not be so to other people. As for the Dominie meeting old Beazeley and his son, I don't exactly know how that will suit, for I doubt if he will like to see them."
"Why not?" inquired Mary.
Upon a promise never to hint at them, I briefly stated the circumstances attending the worthy man's voyage on board of the lighter. Mary paused, and then said, "Jacob, did we not read the last time that the most dangerous rocks to men were wine and women?"
"Yes, we did, if I recollect right."
"Humph," said she; "the old gentleman has given plenty of lessons in his time, and it appears that he has received one."
"We may do so to the last day of our existence, Mary."
"Well, he is a very clever, learned man, I've no doubt, and looks down upon all of us (not you, Jacob) as silly people. I'll try if I can't give him a lesson."
"You, Mary, what can you teach him?"
"Never mind, we shall see;" and Mary turned the discourse on her father. "You know, I suppose, that father is gone up to Mr Turnbull's."
"No, I did not."
"Yes, he has; he was desired to go there this morning, and hasn't been back since. Jacob, I hope you won't be so foolish again, for I don't want to lose my master."
"Oh, never fear; I shall teach you all you want to know before I die," I replied.
"Don't be too sure of that," replied Mary; "how do you know how much I may wish to have of your company?"
"Well, if I walk off in a hurry, I'll make you over to young Tom Beazeley. You're half in love with him already, you know," replied I, laughing.
"Well, he is a nice fellow," replied she; "he laughs more than you do, Jacob."
"He has suffered less," replied I, gloomily, calling to mind what had occurred; "but, Mary, he is a fine young man, and a good-hearted, clever fellow to boot; and when you do know him, you will like him very much." As I said this, I heard her father coming up stairs; he came in high good-humour with his interview with Captain Turnbull, called for his pipe and pot, and was excessively fluent upon "human natur'."
CHAPTER TWENTY FIVE.
"THE FEAST OF REASON AND THE FLOW OF SOUL"—STAPLETON, ON HUMAN NATURE, PROVES THE FORMER; THE DOMINIE, IN HIS MELTING MOOD, THE LATTER—SALL'S SHOE PARTICULARLY NOTED, AND THE TRUE "READING MADE EASY" OF A MIND AT EASE, BY OLD TOM.
The afternoon of the next day I heard a well-known voice, which carolled forth, as Mary huddled up her books, and put them out of the way; for at that time I was, as usual, giving her a lesson:—
"And many strange sights I've seen, And long I've been a rover, And everywhere I've been, But now the wars are over. I've been across the line, Where the sun will burn your nose off; And I've been in northern climes, Where the frost would bite your toes off. Fal de ral, fal de ral, fal de ral de liddy."
"Heave a-head, Tom, and let me stump up at my leisure. It's like warping 'gainst wind and tide with me—and I gets up about as fast as lawyers go to heaven."
I thought when Tom came up first that he had been at unusual trouble in setting off his person, and certainly a better-looking, frank, open, merry countenance was seldom to be seen. In person he was about an inch taller than I, athletic, and well formed. He made up to Mary, who, perceiving his impatience, and either to check him before me, or else from her usual feeling of coquetry, received him rather distantly, and went up to old Tom, with whom she shook hands warmly.
"Whew! what's in the wind now, Jacob? Why, we parted the best friends in the world," said Tom, looking at Mary.
"Sheer off yourself, Tom," replied I, laughing; "and you'll see that she'll come to again."
"Oh, oh! so the wind's in that quarter, is it?" replied Tom. "With all my heart—I can show false colours as well as she can. But I say, Jacob, before I begin my manoeuvres, tell me if you wish me to hoist the neutral flag—for I won't interfere with you."
"Here's my hand upon it, Tom, that the coast is clear as far as I'm concerned; but take care—she's a clipper, and not unlikely to slip through your fingers, even when you have her under your lee, within hail."
"Let me alone, Jacob, for that."
"And more, Tom, when you're in possession of her, she will require a good man at the helm."
"Then she's just the craft after my fancy. I hate your steady, slow-sailing craft, that will steer themselves, almost; give me one that requires to be managed by a man and a seaman."
"If well manned, she will do anything, depend upon it, Tom, for she's as sound below as possible; and although she is down to her bearings on the puff of the moment, yet she'd not careen further."
"Well, then, Jacob, all's right; and now you've told me what tack she's on, see if I don't shape a course to cut her off."
"Well, Jacob, my good boy, so you've been under the water again; I thought you had enough of it when Fleming gave you such a twist; but, however, this time you went to sarve a friend, which was all right. My sarvice to you Mr Stapleton," continued old Tom, as Stapleton made his appearance. "I was talking to Jacob about his last dive."
"Nothing but human natur'," replied Stapleton.
"Well, now," replied old Tom, "I consider that going plump into the river, when covered with ice, to be quite contrary to human natur'."
"But not to save a friend, father?"
"No—because, that be Jacob's nature; so you see one nature conquered the other, and that's the whole long and short of it."
"Well, now, suppose we sit down and make ourselves comfortable," observed Stapleton; "but here be somebody else coming up—who can it be?"
"I say, old codger, considering you be as deaf as a post, you hears pretty well," said old Tom.
"Yes, I hear very well in the house, provided people don't speak loud."
"Well, that's a queer sort of deafness; I think we are all troubled with the same complaint," cried Tom, laughing.
During this remark, the Dominie made his appearance. "Salve Domine," said I upon his entering, taking my worthy pedagogue by the hand.
"Et tu quoque, fili mi, Jacobe! But whom have we here? the deaf man, the maiden, and—ehu!—the old man called old Tom, and likewise the young Tom;" and the Dominie looked very grave.
"Nay, sir," said young Tom, going up to the Dominie; "I know you are angry with us, because we both drank too much when we were last in your company; but we promise—don't we father?—not to do so again."
This judicious reply of young Tom's put the Dominie more at his ease; what he most feared was raillery and exposure on their parts.
"Very true, old gentleman; Tom and I did bowse our jibs up a little too taut when we last met—but what then?—there was the grog, and there was nothing to do."
"All human natur'," observed Stapleton.
"Come, sir, you have not said one word to me," said Mary, going up to the Dominie. "Now you must sit down by me, and take care of me, and see that they all behave themselves and keep sober."