I could not acknowledge that I agreed with the Dominie, although something in my breast told me that he was not wrong. I made no answer. The Dominie again spoke.
"Yes; it is a beautiful world for the Spirit of God is on it. At the separation of chaos it came over the water, and hath since remained with us, everywhere, but invisible. We see his hand in the variety and the beauty of creation, but his Spirit we see not; yet do we feel it in the still small voice of conscience, which would lead us into the right path. Now, Jacob, we must return, for I have the catechism and collects to attend to."
I took leave of the Dominie, and went to Mr Turnbull's, to whom I gave an account of what had passed since I last saw him. He was much pleased with my reconciliation with the Drummonds, and interested about the young lady to whom appertained the tin box in his possession. "I presume, Jacob, we shall now have that mystery cleared up."
"I have not told the gentleman that we have possession of the box," replied I.
"No; but you told the young lady, you silly fellow; and do you think she will keep it a secret from him?"
"Very true; I had forgotten that."
"Jacob, I wish you to go to Mr Drummond's and see his family again; you ought to do so." I hesitated. "Nay, I shall give you a fair opportunity without wounding that pride of yours, sir," replied Mr Turnbull; "I owe him for some wine he purchased for me, and I shall send the cheque by you."
To this I assented, as I was not sorry of an opportunity of seeing Sarah. I dined with Mr Turnbull, who was alone, his wife being on a visit to a relation in the country. He again offered me his advice as to giving up the profession of a waterman; but if I did not hear him with so much impatience as before, nor use so many arguments against it, I did not accede to his wishes, and the subject was dropped. Mr Turnbull was satisfied that my resistance was weakened, and hoped in time to have the effect that he desired. When I went home Mary told me that Tom Beazeley had been there, that his wherry was building, that his father had given up the lighter, and was now on shore very busy in getting up his board to attract customers, and obtain work in his new occupation.
I had not launched my wherry the next morning when down came the young gentleman to whom I had despatched the letter. "Faithful," said he, "come to the tavern with me; I must have some conversation with you." I followed him, and as soon as we were in a room, he said, "First, let me pay my debt, for I owe you much;" and he laid five guineas on the table. "I find from Cecilia that you have possession of the tin case of deeds which has been so eagerly sought after by both parties. Why did you not say so? And why did you not tell me that it was you whom I hired on the night when I was so unfortunate?"
"I considered the secret as belonging to the young lady, and having told her, I left it to her discretion to make you acquainted or not as she pleased."
"It was thoughtful and prudent of you, at all events, although there was no occasion for it. Nevertheless, I am pleased that you did so, as it proves you to be trustworthy. Now, tell me, who is the gentleman who was with you in the boat, and who has charge of the box? Observe, Faithful, I do not intend to demand it. I shall tell him the facts of the case in your presence, and then leave him to decide whether he will surrender up the papers to the other party or to me. Can you take me there now?"
"Yes, sir," replied I, "I can, if you please; I will pull you up in half an hour. The house is at the river's side."
The young gentleman leaped into my wherry, and we were soon in the parlour of Mr Turnbull. I will not repeat the conversation in detail, but give an outline of the young man's story.
CHAPTER THIRTY SIX.
A LONG STORY, WHICH ENDS IN THE OPENING OF THE TIN BOX, WHICH PROVES TO CONTAIN DEEDS MUCH MORE SATISFACTORY TO MR. WHARNCLIFFE THAN THE DEEDS OF HIS UNCLE—BEGIN TO FEEL THE BLESSINGS OF INDEPENDENCE, AND SUSPECT THAT I HAVE ACTED LIKE A FOOL—AFTER TWO YEARS' CONSIDERATION, I BECOME QUITE SURE OF IT, AND, AS TOM SAYS, "NO MISTAKE."
"The gentleman who prevented my taking off the young lady is uncle to both of us. We are, therefore, first cousins. Our family name is Wharncliffe. My father was a major in the army. He died when I was young, and my mother is still alive, and is sister to Lady Auburn. The father and mother of Cecilia are both dead. He went out to India to join his brother, another uncle, of whom I shall speak directly. He has now been dead three years, and out of the four brothers there is only one left, my uncle; with whom Cecilia is living, and whose Christian name is Henry. He was a lawyer by profession, but he purchased a patent place, which he still enjoys. My father, whose name was William, died in very moderate circumstances; but still he left enough for my mother to live upon, and to educate me properly. I was brought up to the law under my uncle Henry, with whom, for some years, I resided. Cecilia's father, whose name was Edward, left nothing; he had ruined himself in England, and had gone out to India at the request of my uncle there, whose name was James, and who had amassed a large fortune. Soon after the death of Cecilia's father, my uncle James came home on furlough, for he held a very high and lucrative situation under the Company. A bachelor from choice, he was still fond of young people; and having but one nephew and one niece to leave his money to, as soon as he arrived with Cecilia, whom he brought with him, he was most anxious to see me. He therefore took up his quarters with my uncle Henry, and remained with him during his sojourn in England; but my uncle James was of a very cold and capricious temper. He liked me best because I was a boy, and one day declared I should be his heir. The next day he would alter his intention, and declare that Cecilia, of whom he was very fond, should inherit everything. If we affronted him, for at the age of sixteen as a boy, and fourteen as a girl, worldly prospects were little regarded, he would then declare that we should not be a shilling the better for his money. With him money was everything: it was his daily theme of conversation, his only passion; and he valued and respected people in proportion to what they were supposed to possess. With these feelings he demanded for himself the greatest deference from Cecilia and me, as his expectant heirs. This he did not receive; but on the whole he was pleased with us, and after remaining three years in England, he returned to the East Indies. I had heard him mention to my uncle Henry his intention of making his will, and leaving it with him before he sailed; but I was not certain whether it had been done or not. At all events, my uncle Henry took care that I should not be in the way; for at that time my uncle carried on his profession as a lawyer, and I was working in his office. It was not until after my uncle James returned to India that he gave up business and purchased the patent place which I mentioned. Cecilia was left with my uncle Henry, and as we lived in the same house, our affections, as we grew up, ripened into love. We often used to laugh at the threats of my uncle James, and agreed that whoever might be the fortunate one to whom he left his property, we would go halves, and share it equally.
"In the meantime I still followed up my profession in another house, in which I at present am a partner. Four years after the return of my uncle James to India news came home of his death; but it was also stated that no will could be found, and it was supposed that he died intestate. Of course my uncle Henry succeeded as heir-at-law to the whole property, and thus were the expectations and hopes of Cecilia and of myself dashed to the ground. But this was not the worst of it: my uncle, who had witnessed our feelings for each other, and had made no comment, as soon as he was in possession of the property, intimated to Cecilia that she should be his heiress, provided that she married according to his wishes; and pointed out to her that a fortune such as she might expect would warrant the alliance of the first nobleman in the kingdom; and he very plainly told me that he thought it advisable that I should find lodgings for myself, and not be any longer an inmate in the same house as was my cousin, as no good would result from it. Thus, sir, we were not only disappointed in our hopes, but thwarted in our affections, which had for some time been exchanged. Maddened at this intimation, I quitted the house; and at the same time the idea of my uncle James having made a will still pressed upon me, as I called to mind what I had heard him say to my uncle Henry previous to his sailing for India. There was a box of deeds and papers, the very box now in your possession, which my uncle invariably kept in his bedroom. I felt convinced that the will, if not destroyed (and I did not believe my uncle would dare to commit an act of felony), was in that box. Had I remained in the house I would have found some means to have opened it; but this was no longer possible. I communicated my suspicions to Cecilia, and begged her to make the attempt, which would be more easy as my uncle would not suspect her of being bold enough to venture it, even if he had the suspicion. Cecilia promised, and one day my uncle fortunately left his keys upon his dressing-table when he came down to breakfast, and went out without missing them. Cecilia discovered them, and opened the box, and amongst other parchments found a document labelled outside as the will of our uncle James; but women understand little about these things, and she was in such trepidation for fear that my uncle should return that she could not examine it very minutely. As it was, my uncle did return for his keys just as she had locked the box and placed the keys upon the table. He asked her what she was doing there, and she made some excuse. He saw the keys on the table, and whether suspecting her, for she coloured up very much, or afraid that the attempt might be made at my suggestion, he removed the box and locked it up in a closet, the key of which, I believe, he left with his banker in town. When Cecilia wrote to me an account of what had passed, I desired her to find the means of opening the closet, that we might gain possession of the box; and this was easily effected, for the key of another closet fitted the lock exactly. I then persuaded her to put herself under my protection, with the determination that we would marry immediately; and we had so arranged that the tin box was to have accompanied us. You are aware, sir, how unfortunately our plan turned out—at least, so far unfortunately, that I lost, as I thought, not only Cecilia, but the tin box, containing, as I expect, the will of my uncle, of which I am more than ever convinced from the great anxiety shown by my uncle Henry to recover it. Since the loss he has been in a state of agitation, which has worn him to a shadow. He feels that his only chance is that the waterman employed might have broken open the box, expecting to find money in it, and being disappointed, have destroyed the papers to avoid detection. If such had been the case, and it might have been had it not fallen into such good hands, he then would have obtained his only wish, that of the destruction of the will although not by his own hands. Now, sir, I have given you a full and honest account of the affair, and leave you to decide how to act."
"If you leave me to decide, I shall do it very quickly," replied Mr Turnbull. "A box has fallen into my hands, and I do not know who is the owner. I shall open it, and take a list of the deeds in contains, and advertise them in the Times and other newspapers. If your dead uncle's will is in it it will, of course, be advertised with the others, and after such publicity your uncle Henry will not venture, I presume, to say a word, but be too glad not to be exposed."
Mr Turnbull ordered a locksmith to be summoned, and the tin box was opened. It contained the document of the uncle's purchase of the patent place in the courts, and some other papers, but it also contained the parchment so much looked after—the last will and testament of James Wharncliffe, Esquire, dated two months previous to his quitting England. "I think," observed Mr Turnbull, "that in case of accident, it may be as well that this will should be read before witnesses. You observe, it is witnessed by Henry Wharncliffe, with two others. Let us take down their names."
The will was read by young Wharncliffe, at the request of Mr Turnbull. Strange to say, the deceased bequeathed the whole of his property to his nephew, William Wharncliffe, and his niece, Cecilia, provided they married; if they did not, they were left 20,000 pounds each, and the remainder of the fortune to go to the first male child born after the marriage of either niece or nephew. To his brother the sum of 10,000 pounds was bequeathed, with a liberal arrangement, to be paid out of the estate, so long as his niece lived with him. The will was read, and returned to Mr Turnbull, who shook hands with Mr Wharncliffe, and congratulated him.
"I am so much indebted to you, sir, that I can hardly express my gratitude, but I am still more indebted to this intelligent lad, Faithful. You must no longer be a waterman, Faithful," and Mr Wharncliffe shook my hand. I made no answer to the latter observation, for Mr Turnbull had fixed his eye upon me: I merely said that I was very happy to have been of use to him.
"You may truly say, Mr Wharncliffe," observed Mr Turnbull, "that your future prosperity will be through his means; and, as it appears by the will that you have 9000 pounds per annum safe in the Funds, I think you ought to give a prize wherry, to be rowed for every year."
"And I will take that," replied I, "for a receipt in full for my share in the transaction."
"And now," said Mr Turnbull, interrupting Mr Wharncliffe, who was about to answer me, "it appears to me that it may be as well to avoid any exposure—the case is too clear. Call upon your uncle—state in whose hands the documents are—tell him that he must submit to your terms, which are, that he proves the will, and permits the marriage to take place immediately, and that no more will be said on the subject. He, as a lawyer, knows how severely and disgracefully he might be punished for what he has done, and will be too happy now to accede to your terms. In the meantime I keep possession of the papers, for the will shall never leave my hands until it is lodged in Doctors' Commons."
Mr Wharncliffe could not but approve of this judicious arrangement, and we separated; and, not to interfere with my narrative, I may as well tell the reader at once that Mr Wharncliffe's uncle bowed to circumstances, pretended to rejoice at the discovery of the will, never mentioned the loss of his tin box, put the hand of Cecilia into that of William, and they were married one month after the meeting at Mr Turnbull's, which I have now related.
The evening was so far advanced before this council-of-war was over, that I was obliged to defer the delivery of the cheque to Mr Drummond until the next day. I left about eleven o'clock, and arrived at noon; when I knocked at the door the servant did not know me.
"What did you want?"
"I wanted to speak with Mrs or Miss Drummond, and my name is Faithful."
He desired me to sit down in the hall while he went up; "And wipe your shoes, my lad." I cannot say that I was pleased at this command, as I may call it, but he returned, desiring me to walk up, and I followed him.
I found Sarah alone in the drawing-room.
"Jacob, I'm so glad to see you, and I'm sorry that you were made to wait below, but—if people who can be otherwise will be watermen, it is not our fault. The servants only judge by appearances."
I felt annoyed for a moment, but it was soon over. I sat down by Sarah, and talked with her for some time.
"The present I had to make you was a purse of my own knitting, to put your earnings in;" said she, laughing; and then she held up her finger in mockery, crying, "Boat, sir; boat, sir. Well, Jacob, there's nothing like independence, after all, and you must not mind my laughing at you."
"I do not heed it, Sarah," replied I; (but I did mind it very much) "there is no disgrace."
"None whatever, I grant; but a want of ambition, which I cannot understand. However, let us say no more about it."
Mrs Drummond came into the room and greeted me kindly. "When can you come and dine with us, Jacob? Will you come on Wednesday?"
"Oh, mamma! He can't come on Wednesday; we have company on that day."
"So we have, my dear; I had forgotten it; but on Thursday we are quite alone: will you come, then on Thursday, Jacob?"
I hesitated, for I felt that it was because I was a waterman that I was not admitted to the table where I had been accustomed to dine at one time, whoever might be invited.
"Yes, Jacob," said Sarah, coming to me, "it must be Thursday, and you must not deny us; for although we have greater people on Wednesday, the party that day will not be so agreeable to me as your company on Thursday."
The last compliment from Sarah decided me, and I accepted the invitation. Mr Drummond came in, and I delivered to him Mr Turnbull's cheque. He was very kind, but said little further than that he was glad that I had promised to dine with them on Thursday. The footman came in and announced the carriage at the door, and this was a signal for me to take my leave. Sarah, as she shook hands with me, laughing, asserted that it was not considerate in them to detain me any longer, as I must have lost half-a-dozen good fares already; "So go down to your boat, pull off your jacket, and make up for lost time," continued she; "one of these days mamma and I intend to go on the water, just to patronise you." I laughed and went away, but I was cruelly mortified. I could not be equal to them, because I was a waterman. The sarcasm of Sarah was not lost upon me; still there was so much kindness mixed with it that I could not be angry with her. On the Thursday I went there, as agreed; they were quite alone; friendly and attentive; but still there was a degree of constraint which communicated itself to me. After dinner Mr Drummond said very little; there was no renewal of offers to take me into his employ, nor any inquiry as to how I got on in the profession which I had chosen. On the whole, I found myself uncomfortable, and was glad to leave early, nor did I feel at all inclined to renew my visit. I ought to remark that Mr Drummond was now moving in a very different sphere than when I first knew him. He was consignee of several large establishments abroad, and was making a rapid fortune. His establishment was also on a very different scale, every department being appointed with elegance and conducive to luxury. As I pulled up the river something within my breast told me that the Dominie's prophecy would turn out correct, and that I should one day repent of my having refused the advances of Mr Drummond—nay, I did not exactly know whether I did not, even at that moment, very much doubt the wisdom of my asserting my independence.
And now, reader, that I may not surfeit you with an uninteresting detail, you may allow nearly two years to pass away before I recommence my narrative. The events of that time I shall sum up in one or two pages. The Dominie continued the even tenor of his way—blew his nose and handled his rod with as much effect as ever. I seldom passed a Sunday without paying him a visit, and benefiting by his counsel. Mr Turnbull was always kind and considerate, but gradually declining in health, having never recovered from the effects of his submersion under the ice. Of the Drummonds I saw but little; when we did meet, I was kindly received, but I never volunteered a call, and it was usually from a message through Tom that I went to pay my respects. Sarah had grown a very beautiful girl, and the well-known fact of Mr Drummond's wealth, and her being an only daughter, was an introduction to a circle much higher than they had been formerly accustomed to. Every day, therefore, the disparity increased, and I felt less inclined to make my appearance at their house.
Stapleton, as usual, continued to smoke his pipe and descant upon human natur'. Mary had grown into a splendid woman, but coquettish as ever. Poor Tom Beazeley was fairly entrapped by her charms, and was a constant attendant upon her, but she played him fast and loose—one time encouraging and smiling on him, at another rejecting and flouting him. Still Tom persevered, for he was fascinated, and having returned me the money advanced for his wherry, he expended all his earnings on dressing himself smartly, and making presents to her. She had completely grown out of any control from me, and appeared to have a pleasure in doing everything she knew I disapproved; still, we were on fair friendly terms as inmates of the same house.
Old Tom Beazeley's board was up, and he had met with great success; and all day he might be seen hammering at the bottom of boats of every description, and heard, at the same time, lightening his labour with his variety of song. I often called there on my way up and down the river, and occasionally passed a few hours listening to his yarns, which, like his songs, appeared to be inexhaustible.
With respect to myself, it would be more a narrative of feelings than of action. My life glided on as did my wherry—silently and rapidly. One day was but the forerunner of another, with slight variety of incident and customers. My acquaintance, as the reader knows, were but few, and my visits occasional. I again turned to my books during the long summer evenings, in which Mary would walk out, accompanied by Tom and other admirers. Mr Turnbull's library was at my service, and I profited much. After a time reading became almost a passion, and I was seldom without a book in my hand. But although I improved my mind, I did not render myself happier. On the contrary, I felt more and more that I had committed an act of egregious folly in thus asserting my independence. I felt that I was superior to my station in life, and that I had lived with those who were not companions—that I had thrown away, by foolish pride, those prospects of advancement which had offered themselves, and that I was passing my youth unprofitably. All this crowded upon me more and more every day, and I bitterly repented, as the Dominie told me that I should, my spirit of independence—now that it was too late. The offers of Mr Drummond were never renewed, and Mr Turnbull, who had formed the idea that I was still of the same opinion, and who, at the same time, in his afflicted state—for he was a martyr to the rheumatism—naturally thought more of himself and less of others, never again proposed that I should quit my employment. I was still too proud to mention my wishes, and thus did I continue plying on the river, apathetic almost as to gain, and only happy when, in the pages of history or among the flowers of poetry, I could dwell upon times that were past, or revel in imagination. Thus did reading, like the snake which is said to contain in its body a remedy for the poison of its fangs, become, as it enlarged my mind, a source of discontent at my humble situation; but, at the same time, the only solace in my unhappiness, by diverting my thoughts from the present. Pass, then, nearly two years, reader, taking the above remarks as an outline, and filling up the picture from the colours of your imagination, with incidents of no peculiar value, and I again resume my narrative.
CHAPTER THIRTY SEVEN.
A CHAPTER OF LOSSES TO ALL BUT THE READER, THOUGH AT FIRST TOM WORKS WITH HIS WIT, AND RECEIVES THE FULL VALUE OF HIS EXERTIONS—WE MAKE THE VERY WORST BARGAIN WE EVER MADE IN OUR LIVES—WE LOSE OUR FARE, WE LOSE OUR BOAT, AND WE LOSE OUR LIBERTY—ALL LOSS AND NO PROFIT—FAIR VERY UNFAIR—TWO GUINEAS WORTH OF ARGUMENT NOT WORTH TWOPENCE, EXCEPT ON THE QUARTER-DECK OF A MAN-OF-WAR.
"Jacob," said Tom to me, pulling his wherry into the hard, alongside of mine, in which I was sitting with one of Mr Turnbull's books in my hand; "Jacob, do you recollect that my time is up to-morrow? I shall have run off my seven years, and when the sun rises I shall be free of the river. How much more have you to serve?"
"About fifteen months, as near as I can recollect, Tom.—Boat, sir?"
"Yes; oars, my lad; be smart, for I am in a hurry. How's tide?"
"Down, sir, very soon; but it's now slack water. Tom, see if you can find Stapleton."
"Pooh! never mind him, Jacob, I'll go with you. I say, Jones, tell old 'human natur'' to look after my boat," continued Tom, addressing a waterman of our acquaintance.
"I thought you had come up to see her," said I to Tom, as we shoved off.
"See her at Jericho first," replied Tom "she's worse than a dog vane."
"What, are you two again?"
"Two indeed—it's all two—we are two fools. She is too fanciful; I am too fond; she behaves too ill, and I put up with too much. However, it's all one."
"I thought it was all two just now, Tom."
"But two may be made one, Jacob, you know."
"Yes, by the parson: but you are no parson."
"Anyhow, I am something like one just now," replied Tom, who was pulling the foremost oar; "for you are a good clerk, and I am sitting behind you."
"That's not so bad," observed the gentleman in the stern-sheets, whom we had forgotten in the colloquy.
"A waterman would make but a bad parson, sir," replied Tom.
"He's not likely to practice as he preaches."
"Again, why so?"
"Because all his life he looks one way and pulls another."
"Very good—very good, indeed."
"Nay, sir, good in practice, but still not good in deed—there's a puzzle."
"A puzzle, indeed, to find such a regular chain of repartee in a wherry."
"Well, sir, if I'm a regular chain to-day, I shall be like an irregular watch to-morrow."
"Why so, my lad?"
"Because I shall be out of my time."
"Take that, my lad," said the gentleman, tossing half-a-crown to Tom.
"Thanky, sir; when we meet again may you have no more wit than you have now."
"How do you mean?"
"Not wit enough to keep your money, sir—that's all!"
"I presume you think that I have not got much."
"Which, sir; wit or money?"
"Wit, my lad."
"Nay, sir, I think you have both: the first you purchased just now; and you would hardly have bought it, if you had not money to spare."
"But I mean wit of my own."
"No man has wit of his own; if he borrows it, it's not his own; if he has it in himself, it's mother wit, so it's not his."
We pulled into the stairs near London Bridge, and the gentleman paid me his fare. "Good-bye, my lad," said he to Tom.
"Fare-you-well, for well you've paid your fare," replied Tom, holding out his arm to assist him out of the boat. "Well, Jacob, I've made more by my head than by my hands this morning. I wonder, in the long run, which gains most in the world."
"Head, Tom, depend upon it; but they work best together."
Here we were interrupted—"I say, you watermen, have you a mind for a good fare?" cried a dark-looking, not over clean, square-built, short young man, standing on the top of the flight of steps.
"Where to, sir?"
"Gravesend, my jokers, if you ain't afraid of salt water."
"That's a long way, sir," replied Tom; "and for salt water, we must have salt to our porridge."
"So you shall, my lads, and a glass of grog into the bargain."
"Yes; but the bargain a'n't made yet, sir. Jacob, will you go?"
"Yes, but not under a guinea."
"Not under two guineas," replied Tom, aside. "Are you in a great hurry, sir?" continued he, addressing the young man.
"Yes, in a devil of a hurry; I shall lose my ship. What will you take me for?"
"Two guineas, sir."
"Very well. Just come up to the public-house here, and put in my traps."
We brought down his luggage, put it into the wherry, and started down the river with the tide. Our fare was very communicative, and we found out that he was the master's mate of the Immortalite, forty-gun frigate, lying off Gravesend, which was to drop down next morning and wait for sailing orders at the Downs. We carried the tide with us, and in the afternoon were close to the frigate, whose blue ensign waved proudly over the taffrail. There was a considerable sea arising from the wind meeting the tide, and before we arrived close to her we had shipped a great deal of water; and when we were alongside, the wherry, with the chest in her bows, pitched so heavily that we were afraid of being swamped. Just as a rope had been made fast to the chest, and they were weighing it out of the wherry, the ship's launch with water came alongside, and, whether from accident or wilfully, I know not, although I suspect the latter, the midshipman who steered her shot her against the wherry, which was crushed in, and immediately filled, leaving Tom and me in the water, and in danger of being jammed to death between the launch and the side of the frigate. The seamen in the boat, however, forced her off with their oars, and hauled us in, while our wherry sank with her gunwale even with the water's edge, and floated away astern.
As soon as we had shaken ourselves a little, we went up the side, and asked one of the officers to send a boat to pick up our wherry.
"Speak to the first lieutenant—there he is," was the reply.
I went up to the person pointed out to me; "If you please, sir—"
"What the devil do you want?"
"A boat, sir, to—"
"A boat! the devil you do!"
"To pick up our wherry, sir," interrupted Tom.
"Pick it up yourself," said the first lieutenant, passing us, and hailing the men aloft. "Maintop, there, hook on your stays. Be smart. Lower away the yards. Marines and after-guard, clear launch. Boatswain's mate."
"Pipe marines and after-guard to clear launch."
"Aye, aye, sir."
"But we shall lose our boat, Jacob," said Tom to me. "They stove it in, and they ought to pick it up." Tom then went up to the master's mate, which he had brought on board, and explained our difficulty.
"Upon my soul, I dar'n't say a word. I'm in a scrape for breaking my leave. Why the devil didn't you take care of your wherry, and haul a-head when you saw the launch coming?"
"How could we, when the chest was hoisting out?"
"Very true. Well, I am very sorry for you, but I must look after my chest." So saying, he disappeared down the gangway ladder.
"I'll try it again, anyhow," said Tom, going up to the first lieutenant. "Hard case to lose our boat and our bread, sir," said Tom touching his hat.
The first lieutenant, now that the marines and after-guard were at a regular stamp and go, had, unfortunately more leisure to attend to us. He looked at us earnestly, and walked aft to see if the wherry was yet in sight. At that moment up came the master's mate, who had not yet reported himself to the first lieutenant.
"Tom," said I, "there is a wherry close to, let us get into it, and go after our boat ourselves."
"Wait one moment to see if they will help us—and get our money, at all events," replied Tom; and we both walked aft.
"Come on board, sir," said the master's mate, touching his hat with humility.
"You've broke your leave, sir," replied the first lieutenant, "and now I've to send a boat to pick up the wherry through your carelessness."
"If you please, they are two very fine young men," observed the mate. "Make capital foretopmen. Boat's not worth sending for, sir."
This hint, given by the mate to the first lieutenant, to regain his favour, was not lost. "Who are you, my lads?" said the first lieutenant to us.
"Watermen, heh? was that your own boat?"
"No, sir," replied I; "it belongs to the man that I serve with."
"Oh, not your own boat? Are you an apprentice, then?"
"Yes, sir, both apprentices."
"Show me your indentures."
"We don't carry them about with us."
"Then how am I to know that you are apprentices?"
"We can prove it, sir, if you wish it."
"I do wish it; at all events, the captain will wish it."
"Will you please to send for the boat, sir? she's almost out of sight."
"No, my lads, I can't find king's boats for such service."
"Then we had better go ourselves, Tom," said I, and we went forward to call the waterman, who was lying on his oars close to the frigate.
"Stop—stop—not so fast. Where are you going, my lads?"
"To pick up our boat, sir."
"Without my leave, heh?"
"We don't belong to the frigate, sir."
"No; but I think it very likely that you will, for you have no protections."
"We can send for them, and have them down by to-morrow morning."
"Well, you may do so if you please, my lads; but you can not expect me to believe everything that is told me. Now, for instance, how long have you to serve, my lad?" said he, addressing Tom.
"My time is up to-morrow, sir."
"Up to-morrow. Why, then, I shall detain you until tomorrow, and then I shall press you."
"If you detain me now, sir, I am pressed to-day."
"Oh, no! you are only detained until you prove your apprenticeship, that's all."
"Nay, sir, I certainly am pressed during my apprenticeship."
"Not at all, and I'll prove it to you. You don't belong to the ship until you are victualled on her books. Now I sha'n't victual you to-day, and therefore you won't be pressed."
"I shall be pressed with hunger at all events," replied Tom, who never could lose a joke.
"No you sha'n't; for I'll send you both a good dinner out of the gun-room. So you won't be pressed at all," replied the lieutenant, laughing at Tom's reply.
"You will allow me to go, sir, at all events," replied I; for I knew that the only chance of getting Tom and myself clear was my hastening to Mr Drummond for assistance.
"Pooh! nonsense; you must both row in the same boat as you have done. The fact is, my lads, I've taken a great fancy to you both, and I can't make up my mind to part with you."
"It's hard to lose our bread this way," replied I.
"We will find you bread, and hard enough you will find it," replied the lieutenant, laughing; "it's like a flint."
"So we ask for bread, and you give us a stone," said Tom; "that's 'gainst Scripture."
"Very true, my lad; but the fact is, all the scriptures in the world won't man the frigate. Men we must have, and get them how we can, and where we can, and when we can. Necessity has no law; at least it obliges us to break through all laws. After all, there's no great hardship in serving the king for a year or two, and filling your pockets with prize-money. Suppose you volunteer?"
"Will you allow us to go on shore for half-an-hour to think about it?" replied I.
"No. I'm afraid of the crimps dissuading you. But I'll give you till to-morrow morning, and then I shall be sure of one at all events."
"Thanky for me," replied Tom.
"You're very welcome," replied the first lieutenant, as, laughing at us, he went down the companion-ladder to his dinner.
"Well, Jacob, we are in for it," said Tom, as soon as we were alone. "Depend upon it there's no mistake this time."
"I am afraid not," replied I, "unless we can get a letter to your father, or Mr Drummond, who, I am sure, would help us. But that dirty fellow, who gave the lieutenant the hint, said the frigate sailed to-morrow morning; there he is, let us speak to him."
"When does the frigate sail!" said Tom to the master's mate, who was walking the deck.
"My good fellow, it's not the custom on board of a man-of-war for men to ask officers to answer such impertinent questions. It's quite sufficient for you to know that when the frigate sails you will have the pleasure of sailing in her."
"Well, sir," replied I, nettled at his answer, "at all events you will have the goodness to pay us our fare. We have lost our wherry, and our liberty, perhaps, through you; we may as well have our two guineas."
"Two guineas! It's two guineas you want, heh."
"Yes, sir, that was the fare we agreed upon."
"Why you must observe, my men," said the master's mate, hooking a thumb into each armhole of his waistcoat, "there must be a little explanation as to that affair. I promised you two guineas as watermen; but now that you belong to a man-of-war, you are no longer watermen. I always pay my debts honourably when I can find the lawful creditors; but where are the watermen?"
"Here we are sir."
"No, my lads, you are men-of-war's men now, and that quite alters the case."
"But we are not so yet, sir; even if it did alter the case, we are not pressed yet."
"Well, then, you'll be to-morrow, perhaps; at all events we shall see. If you are allowed to go on shore again, I owe you two guineas as watermen; and if you are detained as men-of-war's men, why then you will only have done your duty in pulling down one of your officers. You see, my lads, I say nothing but what's fair."
"Well, sir, but when you hired us we were watermen," replied Tom.
"Very true, so you were; but recollect the two guineas were not due until you had completed your task, which was not until you came on board. When you came on board you were pressed, and became men-of-war's men. You should have asked for your fare before the first lieutenant got hold of you. Don't you perceive the justice of my remarks?"
"Can't say I do, sir; but I perceive there's very little chance of our being paid," said Tom.
"You are a lad of discrimination," replied the master's mate. "And now I advise you to drop the subject, or you may induce me to pay you 'man-of-war fashion.'"
"How's that, sir?"
"Over the face and eyes, as the cat paid the monkey," replied the master's mate, walking leisurely away.
"No go, Tom," said I, smiling at the absurdity of the arguments.
"I'm afraid it's no go in every way, Jacob. However, I don't care much about it. I have had a little hankering after seeing the world, and perhaps now's as well as an other time; but I'm sorry for you, Jacob."
"It's all my own fault," replied I; and I fell into one of those reveries so often indulged in of late, as to the folly of my conduct in asserting my independence, which had now ended in my losing my liberty. But we were cold from the ducking we had received, and moreover, very hungry. The first lieutenant did not forget his promise: he sent us a good dinner, and a glass of grog each, which we discussed under the half-deck, between two of the guns. We had some money in our pockets, and we purchased some sheets of paper from the bum-boat people, who were on the main-deck supplying the seamen, and I wrote to Mr Drummond and Mr Turnbull, as well as to Mary and old Tom, requesting the two latter to forward our clothes to Deal, in case of our being detained. Tom also wrote to comfort his mother, and the greatest comfort which he could give was, as he said, to promise to keep sober. Having entrusted these letters to the bumboat woman, who promised faithfully to put them into the post-office, we had then nothing else to do but to look out for some place to sleep. Our clothes had dried on us, and we were walking under the half-deck: but not a soul spoke to, or even took the least notice of us. In a newly-manned ship just ready to sail there is a universal feeling of selfishness prevailing among the ship's company. Some, if not most, had, like us, been pressed, and their thoughts were occupied with their situation and the change in their prospects. Others were busy making their little arrangements with their wives or relations; while the mass of the seamen, not yet organised by discipline or known to each other, were in a state of disunion and individuality, which naturally induced every man to look after himself without caring for his neighbour. We therefore could not expect, nor did we receive, any sympathy; we were in a scene of bustle and noise, yet alone. A spare topsail, which had been stowed for the present between two of the guns, was the best accommodation which offered itself. We took possession of it, and, tired with exertion of mind and body, were soon fast asleep.
CHAPTER THIRTY EIGHT.
THERE ARE MANY UPS AND DOWNS IN THIS WORLD—WE FIND OURSELVES IN THE DOWNS—OUR CAPTAIN COMES ON BOARD, AND GIVES US A SHORT SERMON UPON ANTIPATHIES, WHICH MOST OF US NEVER HEARD THE LIKE OF—HE SETS US ALL UPON THE GO WITH HIS STOP WATCH, AND NEVER CALLS THE WATCH UNTIL THE WATCH IS SATISFIED WITH ALL HANDS.
At daylight the next morning we were awakened with a start by the shrill whistles of the boatswain and his mates piping all hands to unmoor. The pilot was on board, and the wind was fair. As the frigate had no anchor down, but was hanging to the moorings in the river, we had nothing to do but to cast off, sheet home, and in less than half-an-hour we were under all sail, stemming the last quarter of the flood tide. Tom and I had remained on the gangway watching the proceedings but not assisting, when the ship being fairly under sail, the order was given by the first lieutenant to coil down the ropes.
"I think, Jacob, we may as well help," said Tom laying hold of the main tack, which was passed aft, and hauling it forward.
"With all my heart," replied I, and I hauled it forward, while he coiled it away.
While we were thus employed the first lieutenant walked forward and recognised us. "That's what I like, my lads," said he; "you don't sulk, I see, and I sha'n't forget it."
"I hope you won't forget that we are apprentices, sir, and allow us to go on shore," replied I.
"I've a shocking bad memory in some things," was his reply, as he continued forward to the forecastle. He did not, however, forget to victual us that day, and insert our names, in pencil, upon the ship's books; but we were not put into any mess, or stationed.
We anchored in the Downs on the following morning. It came on to blow hard in the afternoon, and there was no communication with the shore, except the signal was made, third day, when it moderated, and the signal was made "Prepare to weigh, and send boat for captain." In the meantime several boats came off, and one had a postman on board. I had letters from Mr Drummond and Mr Turnbull, telling me that they would immediately apply to the Admiralty for our being liberated, and one from Mary, half of which was for me, and the rest to Tom. Stapleton had taken Tom's wherry and pulled down to old Tom Beazeley with my clothes, which, with young Tom's, had been despatched to Deal. Tom had a letter from his mother, half indited by his father, and the rest from herself; but I shall not trouble the reader with the contents, as he may imagine what was likely to be said upon such an occasion.
Shortly afterwards our clothes, which had been sent to the care of an old shipmate of Tom's father, were brought on board, and we hardly had received them when the signalman reported that the captain was coming off. There were so many of the men in the frigate who had never seen the captain that no little anxiety was shown by the ship's company to ascertain how far, by the "cut of his jib," that is, his outward appearance, they might draw conclusions as to what they might expect from one who had such unlimited power to make them happy or miserable. I was looking out of the maindeck port with Tom, when the gig pulled alongside, and was about to scrutinise the outward and visible signs of the captain, when I was attracted by the face of a lieutenant sitting by his side, whom I immediately recognised. It was Mr Wilson, the officer who had spun the oar and sunk the wherry, from which, as the reader may remember, I rescued my friends, the senior and junior clerk. I was overjoyed at this, as I hoped that he would interest himself in our favour. The pipe of the boatswain re-echoed as the captain ascended the side. He appeared on the quarter-deck—every hat descending to do him honour; the marines presented arms, and the marine officer at their head lowered the point of his sword. In return, the omnipotent personage, taking his cocked hat with two fingers and a thumb, by the highest peak, lifted it one inch off his head, and replaced it, desiring the marine officer to dismiss the guard. I had now an opportunity, as he paced to and fro with the first lieutenant, to examine his appearance. He was a tall, very large-boned, gaunt man, with an enormous breadth of shoulders, displaying Herculean strength (and this we found he eminently possessed). His face was of a size corresponding to his large frame; his features were harsh, his eye piercing, but his nose, although bold, was handsome, and his capacious mouth was furnished with the most splendid row of large teeth that I ever beheld. The character of his countenance was determination rather than severity. When he smiled the expression was agreeable. His gestures and his language were emphatic, and the planks trembled with his elephantine walk.
He had been on board about ten minutes, when he desired the first lieutenant to turn the hands up, and all the men were ordered on the larboard side of the quarter-deck. As soon as they were all gathered together, looking with as much awe on the captain as a flock of sheep at a strange, mischief-meaning dog, he thus addressed them—"My lads, as it so happens that we are all to trust to the same planks, it may be just as well that we should understand one another. I like to see my officers attentive to their duty, and behave themselves as gentlemen. I like to see my men well disciplined, active, and sober. What I like I will have—you understand me. Now," continued he, putting on a stern look—"now, just look in my face, and see if you think you can play with me." The men looked in his face, and saw that there was no chance of playing with him; and so they expressed by their countenances. The captain appeared satisfied by their mute acknowledgments, and to encourage them, smiled, and showed his white teeth, as he desired the first lieutenant to pipe down.
As soon as the scene was over, I walked up to Mr Wilson, the lieutenant, who was standing aft, and accosted him. "Perhaps, sir, you do not recollect me; but we met one night when you were sinking in a wherry, and you asked my name."
"And I recollect it, my lad; it was Faithful, was it not?"
"Yes, sir;" and I then entered into an explanation of our circumstances, and requested his advice and assistance.
He shook his head. "Our captain," said he, "is a very strange person. He has commanding interest, and will do more in defiance of the rules of the Admiralty than any one in the service. If an Admiralty order came down to discharge you, he would obey it; but as for regulations, he cares very little for them. Besides, we sail in an hour. However, I will speak to him, although I shall probably get a rap on the knuckles, as it is the business of the first lieutenant, and not mine."
"But, sir, if you requested the first lieutenant to speak?"
"If I did, he would not, in all probability; men are too valuable, and the first lieutenant knows that the captain would not like to discharge you. He will, therefore, say nothing until it is too late, and then throw all the blame upon himself for forgetting it. Our captain has such interest that his recommendation would give a commander's rank to-morrow, and we must all take care of ourselves. However, I will try, although I can give you very little hopes."
Mr Wilson went up to the captain, who was still walking with the first lieutenant, and, touching his hat, introduced the subject, stating, as an apology, that he was acquainted with me.
"Oh, if the man is an acquaintance of yours, Mr Wilson, we certainly must decide," replied the captain with mock politeness. "Where is he?" I advanced, and Tom followed me. We stated our case. "I always like to put people out of suspense," said the captain, "because it unsettles a man—so now hear me; if I happened to press one of the blood-royal, and the king, and the queen, and all the little princesses were to go down on their knees, I'd keep him, without an Admiralty order for his discharge. Now, my lads, do you perceive your chance?" Then turning away to Mr Wilson, he said, "You will oblige me by stating upon what grounds you ventured to interfere in behalf of these men, and I trust your explanation will be satisfactory. Mr Knight," continued he, to the first lieutenant, "send these men down below, watch, and station them."
We went below by the gangway ladder and watched the conference between the captain and Mr Wilson, who, we were afraid, had done himself no good by trying to assist us. But when it was over the captain appeared pleased, and Mr Wilson walked away with a satisfied air. As I afterwards discovered it did me no little good. The hands were piped to dinner, and after dinner we weighed and made sail, and thus were Tom and I fairly, or rather unfairly, embarked in his majesty's service.
"Well, Tom," said I, "it's no use crying. What's done can't be helped; here we are; now let us do all we can to make friends."
"That's just my opinion, Jacob. Hang care; it killed the cat; I shall make the best of it, and I don't see why we may not be as happy here as anywhere else. Father says we may, if we do our duty, and I don't mean to shirk mine. The more the merrier, they say, and I'll be hanged but there's not enough of us here."
I hardly need say that, for the first three or four days, we were not very comfortable; we had been put into the seventh mess, and were stationed in the foretop; for although we had not been regularly bred up as seaman, the first lieutenant so decided, saying, that he was sure that, in a few weeks, there would be no smarter men in the ship.
We were soon clear of the Channel, and all hands were anxious to know our destination, which, in this almost solitary instance, had been really kept a secret, although surmises were correct. There is one point which, by the present arrangements, invariably makes known whether a ship is "fitting foreign," or for home service, which is, by the stores and provisions ordered on board; and these stores are so arranged, according to the station to which the vessel is bound, that it is generally pretty well known what her destination is to be. This is bad, and at the same time easily remedied; for if every ship, whether for home service or foreign, was ordered to fit foreign, no one would be able to ascertain where she was about to proceed. With a very little trouble strict secrecy might be preserved, now that the Navy Board is abolished; but during its existence that was impossible. The Immortalite was a very fast sailing vessel, and when the captain (whose name I have forgotten to mention, it was Hector Maclean) opened his sealed orders, we found that we were to cruise for two months between the Western Isles and Madeira, in quest of some privateers, which had captured many of our outward-bound West Indiamen, notwithstanding they were well protected by convoy, and, after that period, to join the admiral at Halifax, and relieve a frigate which had been many years on that station. In a week we were on our station, the weather was fine, and the whole of the day was passed in training the men to the guns, small arms, making and shortening sail, reefing topsails, and manoeuvring the ship. The captain would never give up his point, and sometimes we were obliged to make or shorten sail twenty times running until he was satisfied.
"My lads," he would say to the ship's company, sending for them aft, "you have done this pretty well; you have only been two minutes; not bad for a new ship's company, but I like it done in a minute and a-half. We'll try again." And sure enough it was try again, until in a minute and a-half it was accomplished. Then the captain would say, "I knew you could do it, and having once done it, my lads, of course you can do it again."
Tom and I adhered to our good resolutions. We were as active and as forward as we could be; and Mr Knight, the first lieutenant, pointed us out to the captain. As soon as the merits of the different men were ascertained, several alterations were made in the watch and station bills, as well as in the ratings on the ship's books, and Tom and I were made second captains, larboard and starboard, of the foretop. This was great promotion for so young hands, especially as we were not bred as regular sailors; but it was for the activity and zeal which we displayed. Tom was a great favourite among the men, always joking, and ready for any lark or nonsense; moreover, he used to mimic the captain, which few others dared do. He certainly seldom ventured to do it below; it was generally in the foretop, where he used to explain to the men what he liked. One day we both ventured it, but it was on an occasion which excused it. Tom and I were aft, sitting in the jolly boat astern, fitting some of her gear, for we belonged to the boat at that time, although we were afterwards shifted into the cutter. The frigate was going about four knots through the water, and the sea was pretty smooth. One of the marines fell overboard, out of the forechains. "Man overboard," was cried out immediately, and the men [became] very busy clearing away the starboard cutter, with all the expedition requisite on such an occasion. The captain was standing aft on the signal chest when the marine passed astern; the poor fellow could not swim, and Tom turning to me said, "Jacob, I should like to save that Jolly," and immediately dashed overboard.
"And I should like to help you, Tom," cried I, following him.
The captain was close to us, and heard us both. Between us we easily held up the marine, and the boat had us all on board in less than a minute. When we came on deck the captain was at the gangway. He showed his white teeth, and shook the telescope in his hand at us. "I heard you both; and I should like to have a good many more impudent fellows like you."
We continued our cruise, looking sharp out for the privateers, but without success; we then touched at Madeira for intelligence, and were informed that they had been seen more to the southward. The frigate's head was turned in that direction until we were abreast of the Canary Isles, and then we traversed east and west, north or south, just as the wind and weather, or the captain's like thought proper. We had now cruised seven weeks out of our time without success, and the captain promised five guineas to the man who should discover the objects of our search. Often did Tom and I climb to the mast-head and scan the horizon, and so did many others: but those who were stationed at the look-out were equally on the alert. The ship's company were now in a very fair state of discipline, owing to the incessant practice, and every evening the hands were turned up to skylark—that is, to play and amuse themselves. There was one amusement which was the occasion of a great deal of mirth, and it was a favourite one of the captain's, as it made the men smart. It is called, "Follow my leader." One of the men leads, and all who choose follow him: sometimes forty or fifty will join. Whatever the leader does, the rest must do also; wherever he goes they must follow. Tom, who was always the foremost for fun, was one day the leader, and after having scampered up the rigging, laid out on the yards, climbed in by the lifts, crossed from mast to mast by the stays, slid down by the backstays, blacked his face in the funnel, in all which motions he was followed by about thirty others, hallooing and laughing, while the officers and other men were looking on and admiring their agility, a novel idea came into Tom's head; it was then about seven o'clock in the evening, the ship was lying becalmed, Tom again sprang up the rigging, laid out to the main yard-arm, followed by me and the rest, and as soon as he was at the boom iron, he sprang up, holding by the lift, and crying out, "Follow my leader," leaped from the yard-arm into the sea. I was second, and crying out, "Follow my leader" to the rest, I followed him, and the others, whether they could swim or not, did the same, it being a point of honour not to refuse.
The captain was just coming up the ladder, when he saw, as he imagined, a man tumble overboard, which was Tom in his descent; but how much more was he astonished at seeing twenty or thirty more tumbling off by twos or threes, until it appeared that half the ship's company were overboard. Some of the men who could not swim, but were too proud to refuse to follow, were nearly drowned. As it was, the first lieutenant was obliged to lower the cutter to pick them up, and they were all brought on board.
"Confound that fellow," said the captain to the first lieutenant; "he is always at the head of all mischief. Follow my leader, indeed! Send Tom Beazeley here." We all thought that Tom was about to catch it. "Hark ye, my lad," said the captain; "a joke's a joke, but everybody can't swim as well as you. I can't afford to lose any of my men by your pranks, so don't try that again—I don't like it."
Every one thought that Tom got off very cheaply; but he was a favourite with the captain, although that never appeared but indirectly; "Beg pardon, sir," replied Tom, with great apparent humility, "but they were all so dirty—they'd blacked themselves at the funnel, and I thought a little washing would not do them any harm."
"Be off, sir, and recollect what I have said," replied the captain, turning away, and showing his white teeth.
I heard the first lieutenant say to the captain, "He's worth any ten men in the ship, sir. He keeps them all alive and merry, sets such a good example."
CHAPTER THIRTY NINE.
"TO BE, OR NOT TO BE," THAT IS THE QUESTION—SPLINTERS ON BOARD OF A MAN-OF-WAR VERY DIFFERENT FROM SPLINTERS IN THE FINGER ON SHORE—TOM PREVENTS THIS NARRATIVE FROM BEING WOUND UP BY MY GOING DOWN—I RECEIVE A LAWYER'S LETTER, AND INSTEAD OF BEING ANNOYED, AM DELIGHTED WITH IT.
In the meantime, Tom had gone up to the fore-royal arm, and was looking round for the five guineas, and just as the conversation was going on, cried out, "Sail ho!"
"Strange sail reported."
"Where," cried the first lieutenant, going forward.
"Right under the sun."
"Mast-head there—do you make her out?"
"Yes, sir; I think she's a schooner; but I can only see down to her mainyard."
"That's one of them, depend upon it," said the captain.
"Up there, Mr Wilson, and see what you make of her. Who is the man who reported it?"
"Tom Beazeley, sir."
"Confound that fellow, he makes all my ship's company jump overboard, and now I must give him five guineas. What do you make of her, Mr Wilson?"
"A low schooner, sir, very rakish indeed, black sides. I cannot make out her ports; but I should think she can show a very pretty set of teeth. She is becalmed as well as we."
"Well, then, we must whistle for a breeze. In the meantime, Mr Knight, we will have the boats all ready."
If you whistle long enough the wind is certain to come. In about an hour the breeze did come, and we took it down with us; but it was too dark to distinguish the schooner, which we had lost sight of as soon as the sun had set. About midnight the breeze failed us, and it was again calm. The captain and most of the officers were up all night, and the watch were employed preparing the boats for service. It was my morning watch, and at break of day I saw the schooner from the foresail-yard about four miles to the North West. I ran down on deck and reported her.
"Very good, my lad. I have her, Mr Knight," said the captain, who had directed his glass to where I pointed; "and I will have her too, one way or the other. No signs of wind. Lower down the cutters. Get the yards and stays hooked all ready. We'll wait a little, and see a little more of her when it's broad daylight."
At broad daylight the schooner, with her appointments, was distinctly to be made out. She was pierced for sixteen guns, and was a formidable vessel to encounter with the boats. The calm still continuing, the launch, yawl, and pinnace were hoisted out, manned, and armed. The schooner got out her sweeps, and was evidently preparing for their reception. Still the captain appeared unwilling to risk the lives of his men in such a dangerous conflict, and there we all lay alongside, each man sitting in his place with his oar raised on end. Cat's-paws of wind, as they call them, flew across the water here and there, ruffling its smooth surface, portending that a breeze would soon spring up, and the hopes of this chance rendered the captain undecided. Thus did we remain alongside, for Tom and I were stationed in the first and second cutters until twelve o'clock, when we were ordered out to take a hasty dinner, and the allowance of spirits was served out. At one it was still calm. Had we started when the boats were first hoisted out the affair would have been long before decided. At last, the captain, perceiving that the chance of a breeze was still smaller then than in the forenoon, ordered the boats to shove off. We were still about the same distance from the privateer, from three-and-a-half to four miles. In less than half-an-hour we were within gun-shot; the privateer swept her broadside to us, and commenced firing guns with single round shot, and with great precision. They ricochetted over the boats, and at every shot we made sure of our being struck. At this time a slight breeze swept along the water. It reached the schooner, filled her sails, and she increased her distance. Again it died away, and we neared her fast. She swept round again, and recommenced firing, and one of her shot passed through the second cutter, in which I was stationed, ripping open three of her planks, and wounding two men beside me. The boat, heavy with the gun, ammunition chests, etcetera, immediately filled and turned over with us, and it was with difficulty that we could escape from the weighty hamper that was poured out of her. One of the poor fellows, who had not been wounded, remained entangled under the boat, and never rose again. The remainder of the crew rose to the surface and clung to the side of the boat. The first cutter hauled to our assistance, for we had separated to render the shot less effectual; but it was three or four minutes before she was able to render us any assistance, during which time the other two wounded men, who had been apparently injured in the legs or body, exhausted with loss of blood, gradually unloosed their holds and disappeared under the calm, blue water. I had received a splinter in my left arm, and held on longer than the others who had been maimed, but I could not hold on till the cutter came. I lost my recollection, and sank. Tom, who was in the bow of the cutter, perceiving me go down, dived after me, brought me up again to the surface, and we were both hauled in. The other five men were also saved. As soon as we were picked up, the cutter followed the other boats, which continued to advance towards the privateer. I recovered my senses, and found that a piece of one of the thwarts of the boat, broken off by the shot, had been forced through the fleshy part of my arm below the elbow, where it still remained. It was a very dangerous as well as a painful wound. The officer of the boat, without asking me, laid hold of the splinter and tore it out; but the pain was so great, from its jagged form, and the effusion of blood so excessive after this operation, that I again fainted. Fortunately no artery was wounded, or I must have lost my arm. They bound it up, and laid me at the bottom of the boat. The firing from the schooner was now very warm; and we were within a quarter of a mile of her, when the breeze sprang up, and she increased her distance a mile. There was a prospect of wind from the appearance of the sky, although, for a time, it again died away. We were within less than half-a-mile of the privateer, when we perceived that the frigate was bringing up a smart breeze, and rapidly approached the scene of conflict.
The breeze swept along the water and caught the sails of the privateer, and she was again, in spite of all the exertions of our wearied men, out of gun-shot; and the first lieutenant very properly decided upon making for the frigate, which was now within a mile of us. In less than ten minutes the boats were hoisted in; and the wind now rising fast, we were under all sail, going at the rate of seven miles an hour; the privateer having also gained the breeze, and gallantly holding her own.
I was taken down into the cockpit, the only wounded man brought on board. The surgeon examined my arm, and at first shook his head, and I expected immediate amputation; but on re-examination he gave his opinion that the limb might be saved. My wound was dressed, and I was put into my hammock, in a screened bulk under the half-deck, where the cooling breeze from the ports fanned my feverish cheeks. But I must return to the chase.
In less than an hour the wind had increased, so that we could with difficulty carry our royals; the privateer was holding her own about three miles right a-head, keeping our three masts in one. At sunset they were forced to take in the royals, and the sky gave every prospect of a rough gale. Still we carried on every stitch of canvas which the frigate could bear; keeping the chase in sight with our night-glasses, and watching all her motions.
The breeze increased; before morning there was a heavy sea, and the frigate could only carry top-gallant sails over double-reefed top-sails. At daylight we had neared the schooner, by the sextants, about a quarter of a mile, and the captain and officers went down to take some repose and refreshment, not having quitted the deck for twenty-four hours. All that day did we chase the privateer, without gaining more than a mile upon her, and it now blew up a furious gale: the topgallant sails had been before taken in; the top-sails were close reefed, and we were running at the speed of nearly twelve miles an hour; still so well did the privateer sail, that she was barely within gunshot when the sun went down below the horizon, angry and fiery red. There was now great fear that she would escape, from the difficulty of keeping the glasses upon her during the night, in a heavy sea, and the expectation that she would furl all sail and allow us to pass her. It appeared, however, that this manoeuvre did not enter into the head of the captain of the privateer; he stood on under a press of sail, which even in day-time would have been considered alarming; and at daylight, owing to the steerage during the night never being so correct as during the day, she had recovered her distance, and was about four miles from us. The gale, if anything, had increased, and Captain Maclean determined, notwithstanding, to shake a reef out of the topsails.
In the morning, as usual, Tom came to my cot, and asked me how I was? I told him I was better and in less pain, and that the surgeon had promised to dress my wound after breakfast, for the bandages had not been removed since I had first come on board. "And the privateer, Tom, I hope we shall take her; it will be some comfort to me that she is captured."
"I think we shall, if the masts stand, Jacob; but we have an enormous press of sail, as you may guess by the way in which the frigate jumps; there is no standing on the forecastle, and there is a regular waterfall down in the waist from forward. We are nearing her now. It is beautiful to see how she behaves: when she heels over, we can perceive that all her men are lashed on deck, and she takes whole seas into her fore and aft mainsail, and pours them out again as she rises from the lurch. She deserves to escape, at all events."
She did not, however, obtain her deserts, for about twelve o'clock in the day we were within a mile of her. At two, the marines were firing small arms at her, for we would not yaw to fire at her a gun, although she was right under our bows. When within a cable's length we shortened sail, so as to keep at that distance astern, and the chase, after having lost several men by musketry, the captain of her waved his hat in token of surrender. We immediately shortened sail to keep the weather-gage, pelting her until every sail was lowered down: we then rounded to, keeping her under our lee, and firing at every man who made his appearance on deck. Taking possession of her was a difficult task: a boat could hardly live in such a sea and when the captain called aloud for volunteers, and I heard Tom's voice in the cutter as it was lowering down, my heart misgave me lest he should meet with some accident. At last I knew, from the conversation on deck, that the cutter had got safe on board, and my mind was relieved. The surgeon came up and dressed my arm, and I then received comparative bodily as well as mental relief.
It was not until the next day, when we lay to, with the schooner close to us, that the weather became sufficiently moderate to enable us to receive the prisoners, and put our own men and officers on board. The prize proved to be an American-built schooner, fitted out as a French privateer. She was called the Cerf Agile, mounting fourteen guns, of nearly three hundred tons measurement, and with a crew of one hundred and seventy men, of which forty-eight were away in prizes. It was perhaps fortunate that the boats were not able to attack her, as they would have received a very warm reception. Thus did we succeed in capturing this mischievous vessel, after a chase of two hundred and seventy miles. As soon as all the arrangements were made, we shaped our course, with the privateer in company, for Halifax, where we arrived in about five weeks. My wound was now nearly healed, but my arm had wasted away, and I was unable to return to my duty. It was well known that I wrote a good hand, and I volunteered, as I could do nothing else, to assist the purser and the clerk with the ship's books, etcetera.
The admiral was at Bermuda, and the frigate which we were to relieve had, from the exigence of the service, been despatched down to the Honduras, and was not expected back for some months. We sailed from Halifax to Bermuda, and joined the admiral, and after three weeks we were ordered on a cruise. My arm was now perfectly recovered, but I had become so useful in the clerk's office that I was retained, much against my own wishes: but the captain liked it, as Tom said and after that there was no more said about the matter.
America was not the seat of war at that period; and, with the exception of chasing French runners, there was nothing to be done on the North American station. I have, therefore, little to narrate during the remainder of the time that I was on board the frigate. Tom did his duty in the foretop, and never was in any disgrace; on the contrary, he was a great favourite both with officers and men, and took more liberties with the captain than any one else dared to have done; but Captain Maclean knew that Tom was one of his foremost and best men, always active, zealous, and indifferent as to danger, and Tom knew exactly how far he could venture to play with him. I remained in the clerk's office, and as it was soon discovered that I had received an excellent education, and always behaved myself respectfully to my superiors, I was kindly treated, and had no reason to complain of a man-of-war.
Such was the state of affairs when the other frigate arrived from the Honduras, and we, who had been cruising for the last four months in Boston Bay, were ordered in by a cutter, to join the admiral at Halifax. We had now been nearly a year from England without receiving any letters. The reader may, therefore, judge of my impatience when, after the anchor had been let go and the sails furled, the admiral's boat came on board with several bags of letters for the officers and ship's company. They were handed down into the gun-room, and I waited with impatience for the sorting and distribution.
"Faithful," said the purser, "here are two letters for you."
I thanked him, and hastened into the clerk's office, that I might read them without interruption. The first was addressed in a formal hand quite unknown to me. I opened it with some degree of wonderment as to who could possibly write to so humble an individual! It was from a lawyer, and the contents were as follows:—
Sir—We hasten to advise you of the death of your good friend Mr Alexander Turnbull. By his will, which has been opened and read, and of which you are the executor, he has made you his sole heir, bequeathing you, at the present, the sum of 30,000 pounds, with the remainder of his fortune at the demise of his wife. With the exception of 5000 pounds left to Mrs Turnbull for her own disposal, the legacies do not amount to more than 800 pounds. The jointure arising from the interest of the money secured to Mrs Turnbull during her life is 1080 pounds per annum, upon the three per cent, consols, so that at her demise you will come into 36,000 pounds consols, which at 76, will be equal to 27,360 pounds sterling. I beg to congratulate you upon your good fortune, and, with Mr Drummond, have made application to the Admiralty for your discharge. This application, I am happy to say, has been immediately attended to, and by the same mail that conveys this letter is forwarded an order for your discharge and a passage home. Should you think proper to treat our firm as your legal advisers, we shall be most happy to enrol you among our clients.
I am, sir, yours very respectfully, JOHN FLETCHER.
I must leave the reader to judge of this unexpected and welcome communication. At first I was so stunned that I appeared as a statue, with the letter in my hand, and in this condition I remained until roused by the first lieutenant, who had come to the office to desire me to pass the word for "letters for England," and to desire the sail-maker to make a bag.
"Faithful—why what's the matter? Are you ill, or—?" I could not reply, but I put the letter into his hand. He read the contents, expressed his astonishment by occasional exclamations. "I wish you joy, my lad, and may it be my turn next time. No wonder you looked like a stuck pig. Had I received such news the captain might have hallooed till he was hoarse, and the ship might have tumbled overboard before I should have roused myself. Well, I suppose we shall get no more work out of you—"
"The captain wants you, Mr Knight," said one of the midshipmen, touching his hat.
Mr Knight went into the cabin, and in a few minutes returned, holding the order for my discharge in his hand.
"It's all right, Faithful, here is your discharge, and an order for your passage home."
He laid it on the table, and then went away, for a first lieutenant in harbour has no time to lose. The next person who came was Tom, holding in his hand a letter from Mary, with a postscript from his mother.
"Well, Jacob," said he, "I have news to tell you. Mary says that Mr Turnbull is dead, and has left her father 200 pounds, and that she has been told that he has left you something handsome."
"He has indeed, Tom," replied I; "read this letter."
While Tom was reading, I perceived the letter from Mr Drummond, which I had forgotten. I opened it. It communicated the same intelligence as that of the lawyer, in fewer words; recommended my immediate return, and enclosed a bill upon his house for 100 pounds, to enable me to appear in a manner corresponding to my present condition.
"Well," said Tom, "this is, indeed, good news, Jacob. You are a gentleman at last, as you deserve to be. It has made me so happy; what do you mean to do?"
"I have my discharge here," replied I, "and am ordered a passage home."
"Better still. I am so happy, Jacob; so happy. But what is to become of me?" And Tom passed the back of his hand across his eyes to brush away a tear.
"You shall soon follow me, Tom, if I can manage it either by money or any influence."
"I will manage it, if you don't, Jacob. I won't stay here without you, that I am determined."
"Do nothing rashly, Tom. I am sure I can buy your discharge, and on my arrival in England I will not think of anything else until it is done."
"You must be quick, then, Jacob, for I'm sure I can't stay here long."
"Trust to me, Tom; you'll still find me Jacob Faithful," said I, extending my hand. Tom squeezed it earnestly, and with moistened eyes, turned away, and walked forward.
The news had spread through the ship, and many of the officers, as well as the men, came to congratulate me. What would I have given to have been allowed only one half-hour to myself—one half-hour in which I might be permitted to compose my excited feelings—to have returned thanks for such unexpected happiness, and paid a tribute to the memory of so sincere a friend? But in a ship this is almost impossible, unless, as an officer, you can retreat to your own cabin; and those gushings from the heart, arising from grief or pleasure, the tears so sweet in solitude, must be prostituted before the crowd, or altogether repressed. At last the wished-for opportunity did come. Mr Wilson, who had been away on service, came to congratulate me as soon as he heard the news, and with an instinctive perception of what might be my feelings, asked me whether I would not like to write my letters in his cabin, which, for a few hours, was at my service. I thankfully accepted the offer; and, when summoned by the captain, had relieved my overcharged heart, and had composed my excited feelings.
"Jacob Faithful, you are aware there is an order for your discharge," said he, kindly. "You will be discharged this afternoon into the Astrea; she is ordered home, and will sail with despatches in a few days. You have conducted yourself well since you have been under my command; and, although you are now in a situation not to require a good certificate, still you will have the satisfaction of feeling that you have done your duty in the station of life to which you have, for a certain portion of it, been called—I wish you well."
Although Captain Maclean, in what he said, never lost sight of the relative situations in which we had been placed, there was a kindness of manner, especially in the last words, "I wish you well," which went to my heart. I replied that I had been very happy during the time I had been under his command, and thanked him for his good wishes. I then bowed and left the cabin. But the captain did not send me on board the Astrea, although I was discharged into her. He told the first lieutenant that I had better go on shore, and equip myself in a proper manner; and as I afterwards found out, spoke of me in very favourable terms to the captain of the Astrea, acknowledging that I had received the education of a gentleman, and had been illegally impressed; so that, when I made my appearance on board the Astrea, the officers of the gun-room requested that I would mess with them during the passage home.
I went on shore, obtained the money for my bill, hastened to a tailor, and with his exertions, and other fitting-out people, procured all that was requisite for the outward appearance of a gentleman. I then returned to the Immortalite, and bade farewell to the officers and seamen with whom I had been most intimate. My parting with Tom was painful. Even the few days which I had been away, I perceived, had made an alteration in his appearance.
"Jacob," said he, "don't think I envy you; on the contrary, I am as grateful, even more grateful than if such good fortune had fallen to my own lot; but I cannot help fretting at the thought of being left here without you: and I shall fret until I am with you again."
I renewed my promises to procure his discharge, and forcing upon him all the money I thought that I could spare, I went over the side as much affected as poor Tom. Our passage home was rapid. We had a continuance of North West winds, and we flew before them, and in less than three weeks we dropped our anchor at Spithead. Happy in the change of my situation, and happier still in anticipation, I shall only say that I never was in better spirits, or in company with more agreeable young men than were the officers of the Astrea; and although we were so short a time together, we separated with mutual regret.
I INTERRUPT A MATRIMONIAL DUET AND CAPSIZE THE BOAT—BEING UPON DRY LAND, NO ONE IS DROWNED—TOM LEAVES A MAN-OF-WAR BECAUSE HE DON'T LIKE IT—I FIND THE PROFESSION OF A GENTLEMAN PREFERABLE TO THAT OF A WATERMAN.
My first object on my return was to call upon old Tom, and assure him of his son's welfare. My wishes certainly would have led me to Mr Drummond's but I felt that my duty required that I should delay that pleasure. I arrived at the hotel late in the evening, and early next morning I went down to the steps at Westminster Bridge, and was saluted with the usual cry of "Boat, sir!" A crowd of recollections poured into my mind at the well-known sound; my life appeared to have passed in review in a few seconds, as I took my seat in the stern of a wherry, and directed the waterman to pull up the river. It was a beautiful morning, and even at that early hour almost too warm—the sun was so powerful; I watched every object that we passed with an interest I cannot describe; every tree, every building, every point of land—they were all old friends, who appeared, as the sun shone brightly on them, to rejoice in my good fortune. I remained in a reverie too delightful to be wished to be disturbed from it, although occasionally there were reminiscences which were painful; but they were but as light clouds, obscuring for a moment, as they flew past, the glorious sun of my happiness. At last the well-known tenement of old Tom, his large board with "Boats built to order," and the half of the boat stuck up on end, caught my sight, and I remembered the object of my embarkation. I directed the waterman to pull to the hard, and, paying him well, dismissed him; for I had perceived that old Tom was at work stumping round a wherry, bottom up; and his wife was sitting on a bench in the boat-arbour, basking in the warm sun, and working away at her nets. I had landed so quietly, and they both were so occupied with their respective employments, that they had not perceived me, and I crept round by the house to surprise them. I had gained a station behind the old boat, where I overheard the conversation.
"It's my opinion," said old Tom, who left off hammering for a time, "that all the nails in Birmingham won't make this boat water-tight. The timbers are as rotten as a pear, and the nails fall through them. I have put in one piece more than agreed for; and if I don't put in another here she'll never swim."
"Well, then, put another piece in," replied Mrs Beazeley.
"Yes; so I will; but I've a notion I shall be out of pocket by this job. Seven-and-sixpence won't pay for labour and all. However, never mind," and Tom carolled forth—
"Is not the sea Made for the free— Land for courts and chains alone? There we are slaves, But on the waves Love and liberty's all our own."
"Now, if you do sing, sing truth, Beazeley," said the old woman. "A'n't our boy pressed into the service? And how can you talk of liberty?"
Old Tom answered by continuing his song—
"No eye to watch, and no tongue to wound us; All earth forgot, and all heaven around us."
"Yes, yes," replied the old woman; "no eye to watch, indeed. He may be in sickness and in sorrow; he may be wounded, or dying of a fever; and there's no mother's eye to watch over him. As to all the earth being forgot, I won't believe that Tom has forgotten his mother."
Old Tom replied—
"Seasons may roll, But the true soul Burns the same wherever it goes."
"So it does, Tom—so it does; and he's thinking this moment of his father and mother, I do verily believe, and he loves us more than ever."
"So I believe," replied old Tom—"that is, if he hasn't anything better to do. But there's a time for all things; and when a man is doing his duty as a seaman, he mustn't let his thoughts wander. Never fear, old woman: he'll be back again.
"There's a sweet little cherub that sits up aloft, To take care of the life of poor Jack."
"God grant it! God grant it!" replied the old woman, wiping her eyes with her apron, and then resuming her netting.
"He seems," continued she, "by his letters, to be over-fond of that girl, Mary Stapleton—and I sometimes think that she cares not a little for him; but she's never of one mind long. I didn't like to see her flaunting and flirting so with the soldiers, and at the same time Tom says that she writes that she cares for nobody but him."
"Women are—women! that's sartin," replied old Tom, musing for a time, and then showing that his thoughts were running on his son, by bursting out—
"Mary, when yonder boundless sea Shall part us, and perchance for ever, Think not my heart can stray from thee, Or cease to mourn thine absence—never! And when in distant climes I roam, Forlorn, unfriended, broken-hearted—"
"Don't say so, Tom—don't say so," interrupted the old woman.
"Oft shall I sigh for thee and home, And all those joys from which I parted."
"Aye, so he does, poor fellow, I'll be bound to say. What would I give to see his dear, smiling face!" said Mrs Beazeley.
"And I'd give no little, missus, myself. But still, it's the duty for every man to serve his country; and so ought Tom, as his father did before him. I shall be glad to see him back: but I'm not sorry that he's gone. Our ships must be manned, old woman; and if they take men by force, it's only because they won't volunteer—that's all. When they're once on board they don't mind it. You women require pressing just as much as the men, and it's all much of a muchness."
"How's that Tom?"
"Why, when we make love, and ask you to marry, don't you always pout, and say, 'No!' You like being kissed, but we must take it by force. So it is with manning a ship. The men all say, 'No;' but when they are once there, they like the service very much—only, you see, like you, they want pressing. Don't Tom write and say that he's quite happy, and don't care where he is so long as he's with Jacob?"
"Yes; that's true; but they say Jacob is to be discharged and come home, now that he's come to a fortune; and what will Tom say then?"
"Why, that is the worst of it. I believe that Jacob's heart is in the right place; but still, riches spoil a man. But we shall see. If Jacob don't prove 'true blue,' I'll never put faith in man again. But there be changes in this world, that's sartin.
"We all have our taste of the ups and the downs, As Fortune dispenses her smiles and her frowns; But may we not hope, if she's frowning to-day, That to-morrow she'll lend us the light of her ray.
"I only wish Jacob was here—that's all."
"Then you have your wish, my good old friend," cried I, running up to Tom and seizing his hand. But old Tom was so taken by surprise that he started back and lost his equilibrium, dragging me after him, and we rolled on the turf together. Nor was this the only accident, for old Mrs Beazeley was so alarmed that she also sprang from the bench fixed in the half of the old boat stuck on end, and threw herself back against it. The boat, rotten when first put up, and with the disadvantage of exposure to the elements for many years, could no longer stand such pressure. It gave way to the sudden force applied by the old woman, and she and the boat went down together, she screaming and scuffling among the rotten planks, which now, after so many years close intimacy, were induced to part company. I was first on my legs, and ran to the assistance of Mrs Beazeley, who was half smothered with dust and flakes of dry pitch; and old Tom coming to my assistance, we put the old woman on her legs again.
"O deary me!" cried the old woman—"O deary me! I do believe my hip is out! Lord, Mr Jacob, how you frightened me!"
"Yes," said old Tom, shaking me warmly by the hand, "we were all taken aback, old boat and all. What a shindy you have made, bowling us all down like ninepins! Well, my boy, I'm glad to see you, and notwithstanding your gear, you're Jacob Faithful still."
"I hope so," replied I; and we then adjourned to the house, where I made them acquainted with all that had passed, and what I intended to do relative to obtaining Tom's discharge. I then left them, promising to return soon, and, hailing a wherry going up the river, proceeded to my old friend the Dominie, of whose welfare, as well as Stapleton's and Mary's, I had been already assured.
But as I passed through Putney Bridge I thought I might as well call first upon old Stapleton; and I desired the waterman to pull in. I hastened to Stapleton's lodgings, and went upstairs, where I found Mary in earnest conversation with a very good-looking young man, in a sergeant's uniform of the 93rd Regiment. Mary, who was even handsomer than when I had left her, starting up, at first did not appear to recognise me, then coloured up to the forehead, as she welcomed me with a constraint I had never witnessed before. The sergeant appeared inclined to keep his ground; but on my taking her hand and telling her that I brought a message from a person whom I trusted she had not forgotten, he gave her a nod and walked downstairs. Perhaps there was a severity in my countenance as I said, "Mary, I do not know whether, after what I have seen, I ought to give the message; and the pleasure I anticipated in meeting you again is destroyed by what I have now witnessed. How disgraceful is it thus to play with a man's feelings—to write to him, assuring him of your regard and constancy, and at the same time encouraging another."
Mary hung down her head. "If I have done wrong, Mr Faithful," said she, after a pause, "I have not wronged Tom; what I have written I felt."
"If that is the case, why do you wrong another person? why encourage another young man only to make him unhappy?"
"I have promised him nothing; but why does not Tom come back and look after me? I can't mope here by myself; I have no one to keep company with; my father is always away at the alehouse, and I must have somebody to talk to. Besides, Tom is away, and may be away a long while, and absence cures love in men, although it does not in women."