"It appears then, Mary, that you wish to have two strings to your bow, in case of accident."
"Should the first string break, a second would be very acceptable," replied Mary. "But it is always this way," continued she, with increasing warmth; "I never can be in a situation which is not right; whenever I do anything which may appear improper, so certain do you make your appearance when least expected and least wished for—as if you were born to be my constant accuser."
"Does not your own conscience accuse you, Mary?"
"Mr Faithful," repeated she, very warmly, "you are not my father confessor; but do as you please—write to Tom if you please, and tell him all you have seen, and anything you may think—make him and make me miserable and unhappy—do it, I pray. It will be a friendly act; and as you are now a great man, you may persuade Tom that I am a jilt and a good-for-nothing."
Here Mary laid her hands on the table and buried her face in them.
"I did not come here to be your censor, Mary; you are certainly at liberty to act as you please, without my having any right to interfere; but as Tom is my earliest and best friend, so far as his interests and happiness are concerned, I shall carefully watch over them. We have been so long together, and I am so well acquainted with all his feelings, that I really believe that if ever there was a young man sincerely and devotedly attached to a woman, he is so to you; and I will add, that if ever there was a young man who deserved love in return, it is Tom. When I left, not a month back, he desired me to call upon you as soon as I could, and assure you of his unalterable attachment; and I am now about to procure his discharge, that he may be able to return. All his thoughts are upon this point, and he is now waiting with the utmost impatience the arrival of it, that he may again be in your company; you can best judge whether his return will or will not be a source of happiness."
Mary raised her head—her face was wet with tears.
"Then he will soon be back again, and I shall see him. Indeed, his return will be no source of unhappiness, if I can make him happy— indeed, it shall not, Mr Faithful; but pray don't tell him of my foolish conduct, pray don't—why make him unhappy?—I entreat you not to do it. I will not do so again. Promise me, Jacob, will you?" continued Mary, taking me by the arm, and looking beseechingly in my face.
"Mary, I will never be a mischief-maker; but recollect I exact the performance of your promise."
"Oh, and I will keep it, now that I know he will soon be home. I can, I think I can—I'm sure I can wait a month or two without flirting. But I do wish that I was not left so much alone. I wish Tom was at home to take care of me, for there is no one else. I can't take care of myself."
I saw by Mary's countenance that she was in earnest, and I therefore made friends with her, and we conversed for two hours, chiefly about Tom. When I left her she had recovered her usual spirits, and said at parting, looking archly at me, "Now, you will see how wise and prudent I shall be."
I shook my head, and left her that I might find out [my] old friend Stapleton, who, as usual, was at the door of the public-house, smoking his pipe. At first he did not recognise me, for when I accosted him he put his open hand to his ear as usual, and desired me to speak a little louder, but I answered, "Nonsense, Stapleton, that won't do with me." He then took his pipe out of his mouth, and looked me full in the face.
"Jacob, as I'm alive! Didn't know you in your long togs—thought you was a gentleman wanting a boat. Well, I hardly need say how glad I am to see you after so long; that's no more than human natur'. And how's Tom? Have you seen Mary?"
These two questions enabled me to introduce the subject that I wished. I told him of the attachment and troth pledged between the two, and how wrong it was for him to leave her so much alone. The old man agreed with me, and said, that as to talking to the men, that was on Mary's part nothing but "human natur'"; and that as for Tom wishing to be at home and seeing her again, that also was nothing but "human natur'"; but that he would smoke his pipe at home in future, and keep the soldiers out of the house. Satisfied with this assurance I left him, and taking another wherry went up to Brentford to see the Dominie.
CHAPTER FORTY ONE.
ALL THE LITTLE BOYS ARE LET LOOSE, AND THE DOMINIE IS CAUGHT—ANXIOUS TO SUPPLY MY TEETH, HE FALLS IN WITH OTHER TEETH, AND MRS. BATELY ALSO SHOWS HER TEETH—GIN OUTSIDE, GIN IN, AND GIN OUT AGAIN, AND OLD WOMAN OUT ALSO—DOMINIE IN FOR IT AGAIN—MORE LIKE A WHIG MINISTRY THAN A NOVEL.
I found the worthy old Dominie in the school-room, seated at his elevated desk, the usher not present, and the boys making a din enough to have awaked a person from a trance. That he was in one of his deep reveries, and that the boys had taken advantage of it, was evident. "Mr Dobbs," said I, walking close up to the desk, but the Dominie answered not. I repeated his name in a louder voice.
"Cosine of X plus AB minus Z minus a half; such must be the result," said the Dominie talking to himself. "Yet it doth not prove correct. I may be in error. Let me revise my work," and the Dominie lifted up his desk to take out another piece of paper. When the desk lid was raised, I removed his work and held it behind me.
"But how is this?" exclaimed the Dominie, and he looked everywhere for his previous calculations. "Nay," continued he, "it must have been the wind;" and then he cast his eyes about until they fixed upon me laughing at him. "Eheu! what do my eyes perceive?—It is—yet it is not—yes, most truly it is, my son Jacob. Welcome, most welcome," cried the old man, descending from his desk, and clasping me in his arms. "Long is it since I have seen thee, my son, Interea magnum sol circumvolvitur annum. Long, yes long, have I yearned for thy return, fearful lest, nudus ignota arena, thou mightest, like another Palinurus, have been cast away. Thou art returned, and all is well; as the father said in the Scripture: I have found my son which I had lost; but no prodigal thou, though I use the quotation as apt. Now all is well; thou hast escaped the danger of the battle, the fire, and the wreck, and now thou mayest hang up thy wet garment as a votive offering; as Horace hath it, Uvida suspendisse potenti vestimenta maris Deo."
During the apostrophe of the Dominie, the boys perceiving that he was no longer wrapped up in his algebra, had partly settled to their desks, and in their apparent attention to their lessons reminded me of the humming of bees before a hive on a summer's day.
"Boys," cried the Dominie, "nunc est ludendum; verily ye shall have a holiday; put up your books, and depart in peace."
The books were hastily put up, in obedience to the command; the depart in peace was not so rigidly adhered to—they gave a loud shout, and in a few seconds the Dominie and I stood alone in the school-room.
"Come, Jacob, let us adjourn to my sanctum; there may we commune without interruption. Thou shalt tell me thine adventures, and I will communicate to thee what hath been made known to me relative to those with whom thou wert acquainted."
"First let me beg you to give me something to eat, for I am not a little hungry," interrupted I, as we gained the kitchen.
"Verily shalt thou have all that we possess, Jacob; yet now, I think, that will not be much, seeing that I and our worthy matron did pick the bones of a shoulder of mutton, this having been our fourth day of repast upon it. She is out, yet I will venture to intrude into the privacy of her cupboard, for thy sake. Peradventure she may be wroth, yet will I risk her displeasure." So saying, the old Dominie opened the cupboard, and, one by one, handed to me the dishes with their contents. "Here Jacob are two hard dumplings from yesterday. Canst thou relish cold, hard, dumplings?—but, stop, here is something more savoury—half of a cold cabbage, which was left this day. We will look again. Here is meat—yes, it is meat; but now do I perceive it is a piece of lights reserved for the dinner of the cat to-morrow. I am fearful that we must not venture upon that, for the dame will be wroth."
"Pray put it back, sir; I would not interfere with puss on any account."
"Nay, then, Jacob, I see naught else, unless there may be viands on the upper shelf. Sir, here is bread, the staff of life, and also a fragment of cheese; and now, methinks, I discern something dark at the back of the shelf." The Dominie extended his hand, and immediately withdrew it, jumping from his chair, with a loud cry. He had put his fingers into a rat gin, set by the old woman for those intruders, and he held up his arm and stamped as he shouted out with the pain. I hastened to him, and pressing down the spring, released his fingers from the teeth, which, however, had drawn blood, as well as bruised him; fortunately, like most of the articles of their menage, the trap was a very old one, and he was not much hurt. The Dominie thrust his fingers into his capacious mouth, and held them there some time without speaking. He began to feel a little ease, when in came the matron.
"Why, what's all this!" said she, in a querulous tone. "Jacob here, and all my cupboard on the table. Jacob, how dare you go to my cupboard?"
"It was the Dominie, Mrs Bately, who looked there for something for me to eat, and he has been caught in a rat-trap."
"Serve him right; I have forbade him that cupboard. Have I not, Mr Dobbs?"
"Yea, and verily," quoth the Dominie, "and I do repent me that I took not thine advice, for look at my fingers;" and the Dominie extended his lacerated digits.
"Dear me! well I'd no idea that a rat-trap pinched so hard," replied the old woman, whose wrath was appeased. "How it must hurt the poor things—I won't set it again, but leave them all to the cat; he'll kill them, if he only can get at them." The old lady went to a drawer, unlocked it, brought out some fragments of rags, and a bottle of friar's balsam, which she applied to the Dominie's hand, and then bound it up, scolding him the whole time. "How stupid of you, Mr Dobbs; you know that I was only out for a few minutes. Why didn't you wait—and why did you go to the cupboard? Hav'n't I always told you not to look into it? and now you see the consequences."
"Verily my hand burneth," replied the Dominie.
"I will go for cold water, and it will ease you. What a deal of trouble you do give, Mr Dobbs; you're worse than a charity boy;" and the old lady departed to the pump.
"Vinegar is a better thing, sir," said I, "and there is a bottle in the cupboard, which I dare say is vinegar." I went to the cupboard, and brought out the bottle, took out the cork and smelt it. "This is not vinegar, sir, it is Hollands or gin."
"Then would I like a glass, Jacob, for I feel a sickening faintness upon me; yet be quick, peradventure the old woman may return."
"Drink out of the bottle, sir," said I, perceiving that the Dominie looked very pale, "and I will give you notice of her approach." The Dominie put the bottle to his mouth, and was taking a sufficient draught, when the old woman returned by another door which was behind us; she had gone that way for a wash-basin. Before we could perceive her, she came behind the Dominie, snatched the bottle from his mouth with a jerk that threw a portion of the spirits in his eyes, and blinded him.
"That's why you went to my cupboard, is it, Mr Dobbs?" cried she, in a passion. "That's it, is it? I thought my bottle went very fast; seeing that I don't take more than a tea-spoonful every night, for the wind which vexes me so much. I'll set the rat-trap again, you may depend upon it; and now you may get somebody else to bind your fingers."
"It was I who took it out, Mrs Bately; the Dominie would have fainted with pain. It was very lucky that he has a housekeeper who is careful to have something of the kind in the house, or he might have been dead. You surely don't begrudge a little of your medicine to recover Mr Dobbs?"
"Peace, woman, peace," said the Dominie, who had gained courage by his potation. "Peace, I say; I knew not that thou hadst in thy cupboard either a gin for my hand, or gin for my mouth; since I have been taken in the one, it is but fair that I should take in the other. In future both thy gins will not be interfered with by me. Bring me the basin, that I may appease my angry wounds, and then hasten to procure some viands to appease the hunger of my son Jacob; lastly, appease thine own wrath. Pax. Peace, I say;" and the old woman, who perceived that the Dominie had asserted his right of dominion, went to obey his orders, grumbling till she was out of hearing. The application of the cold pump-water soon relieved the pain of the good old Dominie, and with his hand remaining in the basin, we commenced a long conversation.
At first I narrated to him the events which had occurred during my service on board of the frigate. When I told him of my parting with Tom, he observed, "Verily do I remember that young Tom, a jocund, pleasant, yet intrusive lad. Yet do I wish him well, and am grieved that he should be so taken by that maiden Mary. Well may we say of her, as Horace hath of Pyrrha—'Quis multa gracilis te puer in rosa, perfusis liquidis urgit odoribus, grate, Pyrrha, sub antro. Cui flavam religas comam, simplex munditiis.' I grieve at it, yea, grieve much. Heu, quoties fidem mutatosque Deos flebit! Verily, Jacob, I do prophesy that she will lead him into error, yea, perhaps into perdition."
"I trust not, sir," replied I; but the Dominie made no answer. For half-an-hour he was in deep and serious thought, during which Mrs Bately entered, and spreading a cloth, brought in from the other room some rashers of bacon and eggs, upon which I made a hasty and hearty meal. The old matron's temper was now smoothed, and she welcomed me kindly, and shortly after went out for a fresh basin of cold water for the Dominie to bathe his hand. This roused him, and he recommenced the conversation.
"Jacob, I have not yet congratulated thee upon thy accession to wealth; not that I do not sincerely rejoice in it, but because the pleasure of thy presence has made me unmindful of it. Still, was it fortunate for thee that thou hadst raised up such a friend as Mr Turnbull; otherwise what would have been the result of thy boasted independence? Thou wouldst probably have remained many years on board of a man-of-war, and have been killed, or have returned mutilated, to die unknown."
"You were right, sir," replied I; "my independence was nothing but pride; and I did bitterly repent, as you said I should do, even before I was pressed into the king's service—but Mr Drummond never repeated his offers."
"He never did, Jacob; but as I have since been informed by him, although he was taken by surprise at thy being forced away to serve thy country, still he was not sure that you would accept them; and he, moreover, wished you fully to feel thine own folly. Long before you had made friends with him, he had attested the will of Mr Turnbull, and was acquainted with the contents. Yet, did he watch over thee, and had he thought that thy way of life had led thee into that which was wrong, he would have interfered to save thee; but he considered with Shakespeare that 'sweet were the uses of adversity,' and that thou wouldst be more schooled by remaining some time under her unprepossessing frowns. He hath ever been thy friend."
"I can believe it. I trust he is well, and his family."
"They were well and prosperous, but a little while ago, Jacob; yet I have seen but little of them since the death of Mr Turnbull. It will pain thee to hear that affliction at thy absence hastened his dissolution. I was at his death-bed, Jacob; and I verily believe he was a good man, and will meet the reward of one; yet did he talk most strangely, and reminded me of that remnant of a man you call old Tom. 'It's no use, old gentleman,' said he, as he lay in his bed supported by pillows, for he had wasted away till he was but a skeleton, having broken a blood-vessel with his violent coughing—'It's no use pouring that doctor's stuff down my throat; my anchor's short stay a-peak, and in a few minutes I shall trip it, I trust for heaven, where I hope there are moorings laid down for me.' 'I would fain comprehend thee,' replied I, 'but thou speakest in parables.' 'I mean to say that death has driven his harpoon in up to the shank, and that I struggle in vain. I have run out all my line. I shall turn up in a few minutes—so give my love and blessing to Jacob—he saved my life once—but now I'm gone.' With these last words his spirit took its flight; and thus, Jacob, did your benefactor breathe his last, invoking a blessing on your head."
I remained silent for a few minutes, for I was much affected by the Dominie's description; he at length resumed the conversation.
"Thou hast not yet seen the Drummonds, Jacob?"
"I have not," I replied, "but I will call upon them tomorrow; but it is time that I should go, for I have to return to London."
"Thou needst not, Jacob. Thine own house is at hand."
"My own house!"
"Yes; by the will of Mr Turnbull, his wife has been left a handsome jointure, but, for reasons which he did not explain, the house and furniture are not left to her, but, as residuary legatee, belong to thee."
"Indeed!—then where is Mrs Turnbull?"
"At Bath, where she hath taken up her residence. Mr Drummond, who hath acted in thy behalf, permitted her to take away such articles as she might wish, but they were but few, chiefly those little objects which filled up rather than adorned the drawing-room. The house is all ready for thy reception, and thou mayst take possession this evening."
"But why did not Mr Turnbull leave it to his widow?"
"I cannot exactly say, but I think he did not wish her to remain in this place. He, therefore, left her 5000 pounds at her own disposal, to enable her to purchase and furnish another."
I then took my leave of the Dominie, and it being rather late, I resolved to walk to the house and sleep there.
CHAPTER FORTY TWO.
IN WHICH I TAKE POSSESSION OF MY OWN HOUSE, AND THINK THAT IT LOOKS VERY ILL-FURNISHED WITHOUT A WIFE—TOM'S DISCHARGE IS SENT OUT, BUT BY ACCIDENT IT NEVER REACHES HIM—I TAKE MY NEW STATION IN SOCIETY.
On my arrival the front gates were opened by the gardener's wife, who made me a profound courtesy. The gardener soon afterwards made his appearance, hat in hand. Everything was neat and in good order. I entered the house, and as soon as possible rid myself of their obsequious attentions. I wished to be alone. Powerful feelings crowded on my mind. I hastened to Mr Turnbull's study, and sat down in the chair so lately occupied by him. The proud feeling of possession, softened into gratitude to heaven, and sorrow at his death, came over me, and I remained for a long while in a deep reverie. "And all this, and more, much more, are mine," I mentally exclaimed; "the sailor before the mast, the waterman on the river, the charity-boy, the orphan sits down in quiet possession of luxury and wealth. What have I done to deserve all this?" My heart told me nothing, or if anything, it was almost valueless, and I poured forth my soul in thanks to heaven. I felt more composed after I had performed this duty, and my thoughts then dwelt upon my benefactor. I surveyed the room—the drawings, the furs and skins, the harpoons and other instruments, all remaining in their respective places, as when I last had an interview with Mr Turnbull. I remembered his kindness, his singleness of heart, his honesty, his good sense, and his real worth; and I shed many tears for his loss. My thoughts then passed to Sarah Drummond, and I felt much uneasiness on that score. Would she receive me, or would she still remember what I had been? I recollected her kindness and good-will towards me. I weighed these, and my present condition, against my origin and my former occupation; and could not ascertain how the scale might turn. I shall soon see, thought I. To-morrow, even, may decide the question. The gardener's wife knocked at the door, and announced that my bed was prepared. I went to sleep, dreaming of Sarah, young Tom, the Dominie and Mary Stapleton.
I was up early the next morning, and hastened to the hotel; when, having arranged my person to the best of my power (but at the same time never so little to my satisfaction), I proceeded to the house of Mr Drummond. I knocked; and this time I was not desired to wait in the hall, but was immediately ushered up into the drawing-room. Sarah Drummond was sitting alone at her drawing. My name was announced as I entered. She started from her chair, and blushed deeply as she moved towards me. We joined hands in silence. I was breathless with emotion. Never had she appeared so beautiful. Neither party appeared willing to break silence; at last I faltered out, "Miss Drummond,"—and then I stopped.
"Mr Faithful," replied she; and then, after a break—"How very silly this is; I ought to have congratulated you upon your safe return, and upon your good fortune; and, indeed, Mr Faithful, no one can do so more sincerely."
"Miss Drummond," replied I, confused, "when I was an orphan, a charity-boy, and a waterman, you called me Jacob, if the alteration in my prospects induces you to address me in so formal a manner—if we are in future to be on such different terms—I can only say that I wish that I were again—Jacob Faithful, the waterman."
"Nay," replied she, "recollect that it was your own choice to be a waterman. You might have been different—very different. You might at this time have been a partner with my father, for he said so but last night, when we were talking about you. But you refused all; you threw away your education, your talents, your good qualities, from a foolish pride, which you considered independence. My father almost humbled himself to you—not that it is ever humiliating to acknowledge and attempt to repair a fault, but still he did more than could be expected from most people. Your friends persuaded you, but you rejected their advice; and what was still more unpardonable, even I had no influence over you. As long as you punished yourself I did not upbraid you; but now that you have been so fortunate, I tell you plainly—"
"That it is more than you deserve, that's all."
"You have said but the truth, Miss Drummond. I was very proud and very foolish; but I had repented of my folly long before I was pressed; and I candidly acknowledge that I do not merit the good fortune I have met with. Can I say more?"
"No; I am satisfied with your repentance and acknowledgment. So, now you may sit down, and make yourself agreeable."
"Before I do that, allow me to ask, as you address me as Mr Faithful, how am I to address you? I should not wish to be considered impertinent."
"My name is Miss Drummond, but those who feel intimate with me call me Sarah."
"I may reply that my name is Faithful, but those who feel intimate with me call me Jacob."
"Very true; but allow me to observe that you show very little tact. You should never force a lady into a corner. If I appear affronted when you call me Sarah, then you will do wise to fall back upon Miss Drummond. But why do you fix your eyes upon me so earnestly?"
"I cannot help it, and must beg your pardon; but you are so improved in appearance since I last saw you. I thought no one could be more perfect, but—"
"Well, that's not a bad beginning, Jacob. I like to hear of my perfections. Now follow up your but."
"I hardly know what I was going to say, but I think it was that I do not feel as if I ought or can address you otherwise than as Miss Drummond."
"Oh, you've thought better of it, have you? Well, I begin to think myself that you look so well in your present dress, and have become so very different a person, that I ought not to address you by any other name than Mr Faithful. So now we are agreed."
"That's not what I mean to say."
"Well, then, let me know what you did mean to say."
This puzzling question fortunately did not require an answer, for Mr Drummond came into the room and extended his hand.
"My dear Jacob," said he, in the most friendly manner, "I'm delighted to see you back again, and to have the pleasure of congratulating you on your good fortune. But you have business to transact which will not admit of any delay. You must prove the will, and arrange with the lawyers as soon as possible. Will you come now? All the papers are below, and I have the whole morning to spare. We will be back to dinner, Sarah, if Jacob has no other engagement."
"I have none," replied I; "and shall be most happy to avail myself of your kindness. Miss Drummond, I wish you a good morning."
"Au revoir, Mr Faithful," replied Sarah, courtesying formally, with a mocking smile.
The behaviour of Mr Drummond towards me was most kind and parental, and my eyes were often suffused with tears during the occupation of the morning. The most urgent business was got through, and an interview with Mr Turnbull's solicitor put the remainder in progress; still it was so late when we had accomplished it, that I had no time to dress. On my return, Mrs Drummond received me with her usual kindness. I narrated, during the evening, my adventures since we parted, and took that opportunity to acknowledge to Mr Drummond how bitterly I had repented my folly, and I may add ingratitude, towards him.
"Jacob," said he, as we were sitting at the tea-table with Mrs Drummond and Sarah, "I knew at the time that you were toiling on the river for shillings that you were the inheritor of thousands; for I not only witnessed but read the will of Mr Turnbull; but I thought it best that you should have a lesson which you would never forget in after life. There is no such thing in this world as independence, unless in a savage state. In society we are all mutually dependent upon each other. Independence of mind we may have, but no more. As a waterman, you were dependent upon your customers, as every poor man must be upon those who have more means; and in refusing my offers you were obliged to apply for employment to others. The rich are as entirely dependent upon others as the poor; they depend upon them for their food, their clothes, their necessities, and their luxuries. Such ever will be the case in society, and the more refined the society may be—the more civilised its parts—the greater is the mutual dependence. Still it is an error originating in itself from high feelings, and therefore must be considered as an error on the right side; but recollect how much you might have thrown away had not you, in the first place, secured such a friend as Mr Turnbull; and secondly, if the death of that friend had not so soon put you in possession."
I was but too ready to acknowledge the truth of these remarks. The evening passed away so rapidly that it was midnight before I rose to take my leave, and I returned to the hotel as happy in my mind, and as grateful as ever any mortal could possibly be. The next day I removed to the house left me by Mr Turnbull, and the first order I gave was for a wherry. Such was the force of habit, I could not do without one; and half my time was spent upon the river, pulling every day down to Mr Drummond's, and returning in the evening, or late at night. Thus passed away two months, during which I occasionally saw the Dominie, the Stapletons, and old Tom Beazeley. I had exerted myself to procure Tom's discharge, and at last had the pleasure of telling the old people that it was to go out by the next packet. By the Drummonds I was received as a member of the family—there was no hindrance to my being alone with Sarah for hours; and although I had not ventured to declare my sentiments, they appeared to be well understood, as well by the parents as by Sarah herself.
Two days after I had communicated this welcome intelligence to the old couple, as I was sitting at breakfast, attended by the gardener and his wife (for I had made no addition to my establishment), what was my surprise at the appearance of young Tom, who entered the room as usual, laughing as he held out his hand.
"Tom!" exclaimed I, "why, how did you come here?"
"By water, Jacob, as you may suppose."
"But how have you received your discharge? Is the ship come home?"
"I hope not; the fact is, I discharged myself, Jacob."
"What! did you desert?"
"Even so. I had three reasons for so doing. In the first place, I could not remain without you; in the second, my mother wrote to say Mary was taken up with a sodger; and the third was, I was put into the report for punishment, and should have been flogged, as sure as the captain had a pair of epaulettes."
"Well, but sit down and tell me all about it. You know your discharge is obtained."
"Yes, thanks to you, Jacob; all the better, for now they won't look after me. All's well that ends well. After you went away, I presume I was not in the very best of humours; and that rascal of a master's mate who had us pressed, thought proper to bully me beyond all bearing. One day he called me a lying scoundrel; upon which I forgot that I was on board of a man-of-war, and replied that he was a confounded cheat, and that he had better pay me his debt of two guineas for bringing him down the river. He reported me on the quarter-deck for calling him a cheat, and Captain Maclean, who, you know, won't stand any nonsense, heard the arguments on both sides; upon which he declared that the conduct of the master's mate was not that of an officer or a gentleman, and therefore he should leave the ship; and that my language to my superior officer was subversive to the discipline of the service, and therefore he should give me a good flogging. Now, Jacob, you know that if the officers don't pay their debts, Captain Maclean always does, and with interest into the bargain; so finding that I was in for it, and no mistake, I swam ashore the night before Black Monday, and made my way to Miramichi, without any adventure, except a tussle with a sergeant of marines, whom I left for dead about three miles out of the town. At Miramichi I got on board of a timber ship, and here I am."
"I am sorry that you deserted, nevertheless," replied I; "it may come to mischief."
"Never fear; the people on the river know that I have my discharge, and I'm safe enough."
"Have you seen Mary!"
"Yes, and all's right in that quarter. I shall build another wherry, wear my badge and dress, and stick above bridge. When I'm all settled, I'll splice, and live along with the old couple."
"But will Mary consent to live there? It is so quiet and retired that she won't like it."
"Mary Stapleton has given herself airs enough in all conscience, and has had her own way quite enough. Mary Beazeley will do as her husband wishes, or I will know the reason why."
"We shall see, Tom. Bachelors' wives are always best managed, they say. But now you want money to buy your boat."
"Yes, if you'll lend it to me; I don't like to take it away from the old people; and I'll pay you when I can, Jacob."
"No; you must accept this, Tom; and when you marry you must accept something more," replied I, handing the notes to him.
"With all my heart, Jacob. I never can repay you for what you have done for me, and so I may just as well increase the debt."
"That's good logic, Tom."
"Quite as good as independence; is it not, Jacob?"
"Better, much better, as I know to my cost," replied I, laughing.
Tom finished his breakfast, and then took his leave. After breakfast, as usual, I went to the boat-house, and unchaining my wherry, pulled up the river, which I had not hitherto done; my attendance upon Sarah having invariably turned the bow of my wherry in the opposite direction. I swept by the various residences on the banks of the river until I arrived opposite to that of Mr Wharncliffe, and perceived a lady and gentleman in the garden. I knew them at once, and, as they were standing close to the wall, I pulled in and saluted them.
"Do you recollect me?" said I to them, smiling.
"Yes," replied the lady, "I do recollect your face—surely—it is Faithful, the waterman!"
"No, I am not a waterman; I am only amusing myself in my own boat."
"Come up," replied Mr Wharncliffe; "we can't shake hands with you at that distance."
I made fast my wherry and joined them. They received me most cordially.
"I thought you were not a waterman, Mr Faithful, although you said that you were," said Mrs Wharncliffe. "Why did you deceive us in that way?"
"Indeed, at that time I was, from my own choice and my own folly a waterman; now I am so no longer."
We were soon on the most intimate terms, and I narrated part of my adventures. They expressed their obligations to me, and requested that I would accept their friendship.
"Would you like to have a row on the water? It is a beautiful day, and if Mrs Wharncliffe will trust herself—"
"Oh, I should like it above all things. Will you go. William? I will run for a shawl."
In a few minutes we were all three embarked, and I rowed them to my villa. They had been admiring the beauty of the various residences on the banks of the Thames.
"How do you like that one?" inquired I of Mrs Wharncliffe.
"It is very handsome, and I think one of the very best."
"That is mine," replied I. "Will you allow me to show it to you?"
"Yes, mine; but I have a very small establishment, for I am a bachelor."
We landed, and after walking about the grounds went into the house.
"Do you recollect this room?" said I to Mr Wharncliffe.
"Yes, indeed I do; it was here that the box was opened, and my uncle's— But we must not say anything about that: he is dead!"
"Yes; he never held his head up after his dishonesty was discovered. He pined and died within three months, sincerely repenting what he had attempted."
I accepted their invitation to dinner, as I rowed them back to their own residence; and afterwards had the pleasure of enrolling them among my sincerest friends. Through them I was introduced to Lady Auburn and many others; and I shall not forget the old housekeeper recognising me one day, when I was invited to Lady Auburn's villa.
"Bless me! what tricks you young gentlemen do play. Only to think how you asked me for water, and how I pushed the door in your face, and wouldn't let you rest yourself. But if you young gentlemen will disguise yourselves, it's your own faults, and you must take the consequences."
My acquaintances now increased rapidly, and I had the advantage of the best society. I hardly need observe that it was a great advantage; for, although I was not considered awkward, still I wanted that polish which can only be obtained by an admixture with good company. The reports concerning me were various; but it was generally believed that I was a young man who had received an excellent education, and might have been brought forward, but that I had taken a passion for the river, and had chosen to be a waterman in preference to any other employment; that I had since come into a large fortune, and had resumed my station in society. How far the false was blended with the true, those who have read my adventures will readily perceive. For my part, I cared little what they said, and I gave myself no trouble to refute the various assertions. I was not ashamed of my birth, because it had no effect upon the Drummonds; still I knew the world too well to think it necessary to blazon it. On the whole, the balance was in my favour; there was a degree of romance in my history, with all its variations, which interested, and, joined to the knowledge of my actual wealth, made me to be well received, and gained me attention wherever I went. One thing was much to my advantage—my extensive reading, added to the good classical education which I had received. It is not often in society that an opportunity occurs when any one can prove his acquisitions; and thus did education turn the scale in my favour, and every one was much more inclined to believe the false rather than the true versions of my history.
CHAPTER FORTY THREE.
THE DOMINIE PROVES STAPLETON'S "HUMAN NATUR'" TO BE CORRECT—THE RED-COAT PROVES TOO MUCH OF A MATCH FOR THE BLUE—MARY SELLS TOM, AND TOM SELLS WHAT IS LEFT OF HIM, FOR A SHILLING—WE NEVER KNOW THE VALUE OF ANYTHING TILL WE HAVE LOST IT.
I had often ruminated in what manner I could render the Dominie more comfortable. I felt that to him I was as much indebted as to any living being, and one day I ventured to open the subject; but his reply was decided.
"I see, Jacob, my son, what thou wouldst wish: but it must not be. Man is but a creature of habit; habit becomes to him not only necessity but luxury. For five-and-forty years have I toiled, instilling precepts and forcing knowledge into the brains of those who have never proved so apt as thou. Truly, it hath been a painful task, yet can I not relinquish it. I might, at one time, that is, during the first ten years, have met the offer with gratitude; for I felt the humiliation and annoyance of wearying myself with the rudiments, when I would fain have commented upon the various peculiarities of style in the ancient Greek and Latin authors; but now, all that has passed away. The eternal round of concord, prosody, and syntax has charms for me from habit: the rule of three is preferable to the problems of Euclid, and even the Latin grammar has its delights. In short, I have a hujus pleasure in hic, haec, hoc; [cluck cluck;] and even the flourishing of the twigs of that tree of knowledge, the birch, hath become a pleasurable occupation to me, if not to those upon whom it is inflicted. I am like an old horse, who hath so long gone round and round in a mill, that he cannot walk straight forward; and, if it pleases the Almighty, I will die in harness. Still I thank thee, Jacob; and thank God that thou hast again proved the goodness of thy heart, and given me one more reason to rejoice in thee and in thy love; but thine offer, if accepted, would not add to my happiness; for what feeling can be more consolatory to an old man near into his grave than the reflection that his life, if not distinguished, has at least been useful?"
I had not for some time received a visit from Tom; and, surprised at this, I went down to his father's to make inquiry about him. I found the old couple sitting in-doors; the weather was fine, but old Tom was not at his work; even the old woman's netting was thrown aside.
"Where is Tom?" inquired I, after wishing them good morning.
"Oh deary me!" cried the old woman, putting her apron up to her eyes; "that wicked good-for-nothing girl!"
"Good heavens! what is the matter?" inquired I of old Tom.
"The matter, Jacob," replied old Tom, stretching out his two wooden legs, and placing his hands upon his knees, "is, that Tom has 'listed for a sodger."
"'Listed for a soldier!"
"Yes; that's as sartain as it's true; and what's worse, I'm told the regiment is ordered to the West Indies. So, what with fever o' mind and yellow fever, he's food for the land crabs, that's sartain. I think now," continued the old man, brushing a tear from his eye with his fore-finger, "that I see his bones bleaching under the palisades; for I know the place well."
"Don't say so, Tom; don't say so!"
"O Jacob! beg pardon if I'm too free now; but can't you help us?"
"I will if I can, depend upon it; but tell me how this happened."
"Why, the long and the short of it is this: that girl, Mary Stapleton, has been his ruin. When he first came home he was well received, and looked forward to being spliced and living with us; but it didn't last long. She couldn't leave off her old tricks; and so, that Tom might not get the upper hand, she plays him off with the sergeant of a recruiting party, and flies off from one to the other, just like the ticker of the old clock there does from one side to the other. One day the sergeant was the fancy man, and the next day it was Tom. At last Tom gets out of patience, and wishes to come to a fair understanding. So he axes her whether she chooses to have the sergeant or to have him; she might take her choice, but he had no notion of being played with in that way, after all her letters and all her promises. Upon this she huffs outright, and tells Tom he may go about his business, for she didn't care if she never sees him no more. So Tom's blood was up, and he called her a damned jilt, and, in my opinion, he was near to the truth; so then they had a regular breeze, and part company. Well, this made Tom very miserable, and the next day he would have begged her pardon, and come to her terms, for, you see, Jacob, a man in love has no discretion; but she being still angry, tells him to go about his business, as she means to marry the sergeant in a week. Tom turns away again quite mad; and it so happens that he goes into the public-house where the sergeant hangs out, hoping to be revenged on him, and meaning to have a regular set-to, and see who is the best man; but the sergeant wasn't there, and Tom takes pot after pot to drive away care; and when the sergeant returned, Tom was not a little in liquor. Now, the sergeant was a knowing chap, and when he comes in, and perceives Tom with his face flushed, he guesses what was to come, so, instead of saying a word, he goes to another table, and dashes his fist upon it, as if in a passion. Tom goes up to him, and says, 'Sergeant, I've known that girl long before you, and if you are a man, you'll stand up for her.' 'Stand up for her; yes,' replied the sergeant, 'and so I would have done yesterday, but the blasted jilt has turned me to the right about and sent me away. I won't fight now, for she won't have me—any more than she will you.' Now when Tom hears this, he becomes more pacified with the sergeant, and they set down like two people under the same misfortune, and take a pot together, instead of fighting; and then, you see, the sergeant plies Tom with liquor, swearing that he will go back to the regiment, and leave Mary altogether, and advises Tom to do the same. At last, what with the sergeant's persuasions, and Tom's desire to vex Mary, he succeeds in 'listing him, and giving him the shilling before witnesses; that was all the rascal wanted. The next day Tom was sent down to the depot, as they call it, under a guard; and the sergeant remains here to follow up Mary without interruption. This only happened three days ago, and we only were told of it yesterday by old Stapleton, who threatens to turn his daughter out of doors."
"Can't you help us, Jacob?" said the old woman, crying.
"I hope I can; and if money can procure his discharge it shall be obtained. But did you not say that he was ordered to the West Indies?"
"The regiment is in the Indies, but they are recruiting for it, so many have been carried off by the yellow fever last sickly season. A transport, they say, will sail next week, and the recruits are to march for embarkation in three or four days."
"And what is the regiment, and where is the depot?"
"It is the 47th Fusiliers, and the depot is at Maidstone."
"I will lose no time, my good friends," replied I; "to-morrow I will go to Mr Drummond, and consult with him." I returned the grateful squeeze of old Tom's hand, and, followed by the blessings of the old woman, I hastened away.
As I pulled up the river, for that day I was engaged to dine with the Wharncliffes, I resolved to call upon Mary Stapleton, and ascertain by her deportment whether she had become that heartless jilt which she was represented, and if so, to persuade Tom, if I succeeded in obtaining his discharge, to think no more about her; I felt so vexed and angry with her, that after I landed, I walked about a few minutes before I went to the house, that I might recover my temper. When I walked up the stairs I found Mary sitting over a sheet of paper, on which she had been writing. She looked up as I came in, and I perceived that she had been crying. "Mary," said I, "how well you have kept the promise you made to me when last we met! See what trouble and sorrow you have brought upon all parties except yourself."
"Except myself—no, Mr Faithful, don't except myself, I am almost mad— I believe that I am mad—for surely such folly as mine is madness;" and Mary wept bitterly.
"There is no excuse for your behaviour, Mary—it is unpardonably wicked. Tom sacrificed all for your sake—he even deserted, and desertion is death by the law. Now what have you done?—taken advantage of his strong affection to drive him to intemperance, and induce him, in despair, to enlist for a soldier. He sails for the West Indies to fill up the ranks of a regiment thinned by the yellow fever, and will perhaps never return again—you will then have been the occasion of his death. Mary, I have come to tell you that I despise you."
"I despise and hate myself," replied Mary, mournfully; "I wish I were in my grave. Oh, Mr Faithful, do for God's sake—do get him back. You can, I know you can—you have money and everything."
"If I do, it will not be for your benefit, Mary, for you shall trifle with him no more. I will not try for his discharge unless he faithfully promises never to speak to you again."
"You don't say that—you don't mean that!" cried Mary, sweeping the hair with her hand back from her forehead—and her hand still remaining on her head—"O God! O God! what a wretch I am! Hear me, Jacob, hear me," cried she, dropping on her knees, and seizing my hands; "only get him his discharge—only let me once see him again, and I swear by all that's sacred, that I will beg his pardon on my knees as I now do yours. I will do everything—anything—if he will but forgive me, for I cannot, I will not live without him."
"If this is true, Mary, what madness could have induced you to have acted as you have?"
"Yes," replied Mary, rising from her knees, "madness, indeed—more than madness to treat so cruelly one for whom I only care to live. You say Tom loves me; I know he does; but he does not love me as I do him. O, my God! my heart will break!" After a pause, Mary resumed. "Read what I have written to him—I have already written as much in another letter. You will see that if he cannot get away, I have offered to go out with him as his wife; that is, if he will have such a foolish, wicked girl as I am."
I read the letter; it was as she said, praying forgiveness, offering to accompany him, and humiliating herself as much as it was possible. I was much affected. I returned the letter.
"You can't despise me so much as I despise myself," continued Mary; "I hate, I detest myself for my folly. I recollect now how you used to caution me when a girl. Oh, mother, mother, it was a cruel legacy you left to your child, when you gave her your disposition. Yet why should I blame her? I must blame myself."
"Well, Mary, I will do all I can, and that as soon as possible. To-morrow I will go down to the depot."
"God bless you, Jacob; and may you never have the misfortune to be in love with such a one as myself."
CHAPTER FORTY FOUR.
I AM MADE VERY HAPPY—IN OTHER RESPECTS A VERY MELANCHOLY CHAPTER, WHICH, WE ARE SORRY TO INFORM THE READER, WILL BE FOLLOWED UP BY ONE STILL MORE SO.
I left Mary, and hastened home to dress for dinner. I mentioned the subject of wishing to obtain Tom's discharge to Mr Wharncliffe, who recommended my immediately applying to the Horse Guards; and, as he was acquainted with those in office, offered to accompany me. I gladly accepted his offer; and the next morning he called for me in his carriage, and we went there. Mr Wharncliffe sent up his card to one of the secretaries, and we were immediately ushered up, when I stated my wishes. The reply was:—"If you had time to procure a substitute it would be easily arranged; but the regiment is so weak, and the aversion to the West Indies so prevalent after this last very sickly season, that I doubt if His Royal Highness would permit any man to purchase his discharge. However, we will see. The Duke is one of the kindest-hearted of men, and I will lay the case before him. But let us see if he is still at the depot; I rather think not." The secretary rang the bell.
"The detachment of the 47th Fusiliers from the depot—has it marched? And when does it embark?"
The clerk went out, and in a few minutes returned with some a papers in his hand. "It marched the day before yesterday, and was to embark this morning, and sail as soon as the wind was fair."
My heart sank at this intelligence.
"How is the wind, Mr G—-? Go down and look at the tell-tale."
The clerk returned. "East North East, sir, and has been steadily so these two days."
"Then," replied the secretary, "I am afraid you are too late to obtain your wish. The orders to the port-admiral are most peremptory to expedite the sailing of the transports, and a frigate has been now three weeks waiting to convoy them. Depend upon it, they have sailed to-day."
"What can be done?" replied I, mournfully.
"You must apply for his discharge, and procure a substitute. He can then have an order sent out, and be permitted to return home. I am very sorry, as I perceive you are much interested; but I'm afraid it is too late now. However, you may call to-morrow. The weather is clear with this wind, and the port-admiral will telegraph to the Admiralty the sailing of the vessels. Should anything detain them, I will take care that His Royal Highness shall be acquainted with the circumstances this afternoon, if possible, and will give you his reply."
We thanked the secretary for his politeness, and took our leave. Vexed as I was with the communications I had already received, I was much more so when one of the porters ran to the carriage to show me, by the secretary's order, a telegraphic communication from the Admiralty, containing the certain and unpleasant information, "Convoy to West Indies sailed this morning."
"Then it is all over for the present," said I, throwing myself back in the carriage; and I continued in a melancholy humour until Mr Wharncliffe, who had business in the city, put me down as near as the carriage went to the house of Mr Drummond. I found Sarah, who was the depository of all my thoughts, pains, and pleasures, and I communicated to her this episode in the history of young Tom. As most ladies are severe judges of their own sex, she was very strong in her expressions against the conduct of Mary, which she would not allow to admit of any palliation. Even her penitence had no weight with her.
"And yet, how often is it the case, Sarah, not perhaps to the extent carried on by this mistaken girl; but still, the disappointment is as great, although the consequences are not so calamitous. Among the higher classes, how often do young men receive encouragement, and yield themselves up to a passion, to end only in disappointment! It is not necessary to plight troth; a young woman may not have virtually committed herself, and yet, by merely appearing pleased with the conversation and company of a young man, induce him to venture his affections in a treacherous sea, and eventually find them wrecked."
"You are very nautically poetical, Jacob," replied Sarah. "Such things do happen; but I think that women's affections are, to use your phrase, oftener wrecked than those of men. That, however, does not exculpate either party. A woman must be blind, indeed, if she cannot perceive, in a very short time, whether she is trifling with a man's feelings, and base, indeed, if she continues to practise upon them."
"Sarah," replied I, and I stopped.
"I was," replied I, stammering a little—"I was going to ask you if you were blind."
"As to what, Jacob?" said Sarah, colouring up.
"As to my feelings towards you."
"No; I believe you like me very well," replied she, smiling.
"Do you think that that is all?"
"Where do you dine to-day, Jacob," replied Sarah.
"That must depend upon you and your answer. If I dine here to-day, I trust to dine here often. If I do not dine here to-day, probably I never may again. I wish to know, Sarah, whether you have been blind to my feelings towards you; for, with the case of Mary and Tom before me, I feel that I must no longer trust to my own hopes, which may end in disappointment. Will you have the kindness to put me out of my misery?"
"If I have been blind to your feelings I have not been blind to your merit, Jacob. Perhaps I have not been blind to your feelings, and I am not of the same disposition as Mary Stapleton. I think you may venture to dine here to-day," continued she, colouring and smiling, as she turned away to the window.
"I can hardly believe that I'm to be so happy, Sarah," replied I, agitated. "I have been fortunate, very fortunate; but the hopes you have now raised are so much beyond my expectations—so much beyond my deserts—that I dare not indulge in them. Have pity on me, and be more explicit."
"What do you wish me to say?" replied Sarah, looking down upon her work, as she turned round to me.
"That you will not reject the orphan who was fostered by your father, and who reminds you of what he was, that you may not forget at this moment what I trust is the greatest bar to his presumption—his humble origin."
"Jacob, that was said like yourself—it was nobly said; and if you were not born noble, you have true nobility of mind. I will imitate your example. Have I not often, during our long friendship, told you that I loved you?"
"Yes, as a child you did, Sarah."
"Then, as a woman, I repeat it. And now are you satisfied?"
I took Sarah by the hand; she did not withdraw it, but allowed me to kiss it over and over again.
"But your father and mother, Sarah?"
"Would never have allowed our intimacy if they had not approved of it, Jacob, depend upon it. However, you may make yourself easy on that score by letting them know what has passed; and then, I presume, you will be out of your misery."
Before the day was over I had spoken to Mrs Drummond, and requested her to open the business to her husband, as I really felt it more than I could dare to do. She smiled as her daughter hung upon her neck; and when I met Mr Drummond at dinner-time I was "out of my misery," for he shook me by the hand, and said, "You have made us all very happy, Jacob; for that girl appears determined either to marry you or not to marry at all. Come; dinner is ready."
I will leave the reader to imagine how happy I was, what passed between Sarah and me in our tete-a-tete of that evening, how unwilling I was to quit the house, and how I ordered a post-chaise to carry me home, because I was afraid to trust myself on that water on which the major part of my life had been safely passed, lest any accident should happen to me and rob me of my anticipated bliss. From that day I was as one of the family, and finding the distance too great, took up my abode at apartments contiguous to the house of Mr Drummond. But the course of other people's love did not run so smooth, and I must now return to Mary Stapleton and Tom Beazeley.
I had breakfasted, and was just about to take my wherry and go down to acquaint the old couple with the bad success of my application. I had been reflecting with gratitude upon my own happiness in prospect, indulging in fond anticipations, and then, reverting to the state in which I had left Mary Stapleton and Tom's father and mother, contrasting their misery with my joy, arising from the same source, when, who should rush into the dining-room but young Tom, dressed in nothing but a shirt and a pair of white trousers, covered with dust, and wan with fatigue and excitement.
"Good heavens! Tom! are you back? then you must have deserted."
"Very true," replied Tom, sinking on a chair, "I swam on shore last night, and have made from Portsmouth to here since eight o'clock. I hardly need say that I am done up. Let me have something to drink, Jacob, pray."
I went to the cellaret and brought him some wine, of which he drank off a tumbler eagerly. During this I was revolving in my mind the consequences which might arise from this hasty and imprudent step. "Tom," said I, "do you know the consequences of desertion?"
"Yes," replied he, gloomily, "but I could not help it. Mary told me in her letter that she would do all I wished, would accompany me abroad; she made all the amends she could, poor girl! and, by heavens, I could not leave her; and when I found myself fairly under weigh, and there was no chance, I was almost mad; the wind baffled us at the Needles, and we anchored for the night; I slipped down the cable and swam on shore, and there's the whole story."
"But, Tom, you will certainly be recognised and taken up for a deserter."
"I must think of that," replied Tom; "I know the risk I run; but if you obtain my discharge, they may let me off."
I thought this was the best plan to proceed upon, and requesting Tom to keep quiet, I went to consult with Mr Wharncliffe. He agreed with me that it was Tom's only chance, and I pulled to his father's, to let them know what had occurred, and then went on to the Drummonds. When I returned home late in the evening the gardener told me that Tom had gone out and had not returned. My heart misgave me that he had gone to see Mary, and that some misfortune had occurred, and I went to bed with most anxious feelings. My forebodings were proved to be correct, for the next morning I was informed that old Stapleton wished to see me. He was ushered in, and as soon as he entered, he exclaimed, "All's up, Master Jacob—Tom's nabbed—Mary fit after fit—human natur'."
"Why, what is the matter, Stapleton?"
"Why, it's just this—Tom desarts to come to Mary. Cause why?—he loves her—human natur'. That soldier chap comes in and sees Tom, clutches hold, and tries to take possession of him. Tom fights, knocks out sergeant's starboard eye, and tries to escape—human natur'. Soldiers come in, pick up sergeant, seize Tom, and carry him off. Mary cries, and screams, and faints—human natur'—poor girl can't keep her head up—two women with burnt feathers all night. Sad job, Mister Jacob. Of all the senses love's the worst, that's sartain—quite upset me, can't smoke my pipe this morning—Mary's tears quite put my pipe out,"—and old Stapleton looked as if he was ready to cry himself.
"This is a sad business, Stapleton," replied I. "Tom will be tried for desertion, and God knows how it will end. I will try all I can; but they have been very strict lately."
"Hope you will, Mister Jacob. Mary will die, that's sartain. I'm more afraid that Tom will. If one does, t'other will. I know the girl—just like her mother, never could carry her helm amidships, hard a port, or hard a starboard. She's mad now to follow him—will go to Maidstone. I take her as soon as I go back to her. Just come up to tell you all about it."
"This is a gloomy affair, Stapleton."
"Yes, for sartain—wish there never was such a thing as human natur'."
After a little conversation, and a supply of money, which I knew would be acceptable, Stapleton went away, leaving, me in no very happy state of mind. My regard for Tom was excessive, and his situation one of peculiar danger. Again I repaired to Mr Wharncliffe for advice, and he readily interested himself most warmly.
"This is, indeed, an awkward business," said he, "and will require more interest than I am afraid that I command. If not condemned to death, he will be sentenced to such a flogging as will break him down in spirit as well as in body, and sink him into an early grave. Death were preferable of the two. Lose no time, Mr Faithful, in going down to Maidstone, and seeing the colonel commanding the depot. I will go to the Horse Guards, and see what is to be done."
I wrote a hurried note to Sarah to account for my absence, and sent for post-horses. Early in the afternoon I arrived at Maidstone, and finding out the residence of the officer commanding the depot, sent up my card. In few words I stated to him the reason of my calling upon him.
"It will rest altogether with the Horse Guards, Mr Faithful, and I am afraid I can give you but little hope. His Royal Highness has expressed his determination to punish the next deserter with the utmost severity of the law. His leniency on that point has been very injurious to the service, and he must do it. Besides, there is an aggravation of the offence in his attack upon the sergeant, who has irrecoverably lost his eye."
"The sergeant first made him drunk, and then persuaded him to enlist." I then stated the rivalship that subsisted between them, and continued, "Is it not disgraceful to enlist men in that way—can that be called voluntary service?"
"All very true," replied the officer, "but still expediency winks at even more. I do not attempt to defend the system, but we must have soldiers. The seamen are impressed by force, the soldiers are entrapped by other means, even more discreditable: the only excuse is expediency, or, if you like it better, necessity. All I can promise you, sir, is, to allow the prisoner every comfort which his situation will permit, and every advantage at his court-martial, which mercy, tempered by justice, will warrant."
"I thank you, sir; will you allow me and his betrothed to see him?"
"Most certainly; the order shall be given forthwith."
I thanked the officer for his kindness, and took my leave.
CHAPTER FORTY FIVE.
I hastened to the black hole where Tom was confined, and the order for my admission having arrived before me, I was permitted by the sergeant of the guard to pass the sentry. I found Tom sitting on a bench notching a stick with his knife, whistling a slow tune.
"This is kind, Jacob, but not more than I expected of you—I made sure that I should see you to-night or to-morrow morning. How's poor Mary? I care only for her now—I am satisfied—she loves me, and—I knocked out the sergeant's eye—spoilt his wooing, at all events."
"But, Tom, are you aware of the danger in which you are placed?"
"Yes, Jacob, perfectly; I shall be tried by a court-martial and shot. I've made up my mind to it—at all events, it's better than being hung like a dog, or being flogged to death like a nigger. I shall die like a gentleman, if I have never been one before, that's some comfort. Nay, I shall go out of the world with as much noise as if a battle had been fought, or a great man had died."
"How do you mean?"
"Why there'll be more than one bullet-in."
"This is no time for jesting, Tom."
"Not for you, Jacob, as a sincere friend, I grant; not for poor Mary, as a devoted girl; not for my poor father and mother—no, no," continued Tom. "I feel for them, but for myself I neither fear nor care. I have not done wrong—I was pressed against the law and Act of Parliament, and I deserted. I was enlisted when I was drunk and mad, and I deserted. There is no disgrace to me; the disgrace is to the government which suffers such acts. If I am to be a victim, well and good—we can only die once."
"Very true, Tom; but you are young to die, and we must hope for the best."
"I have given up all hope, Jacob. I know the law will be put in force. I shall die and go to another and a better world, as the parson says, where, at all events, there will be no muskets to clean, no drill, and none of your confounded pipe-clay, which has almost driven me mad. I should like to die in a blue jacket—in a red coat I will not, so I presume I shall go out of the world in my shirt, and that's more than I had when I came in."
"Mary and her father are coming down to you, Tom."
"I'm sorry for that, Jacob; it would be cruel not to see her—but she blames herself so much that I cannot bear to read her letters. But, Jacob, I will see her, to try if I can comfort her—but she must not stay; she must go back again till after the court-martial, and the sentence, and then—if she wishes to take her farewell, I suppose I must not refuse." A few tears dropped from his eyes as he said this. "Jacob, will you wait and take her back to town?—she must not stay here—and I will not see my father and mother until the last. Let us make one job of it, and then all will be over."
As Tom said this the door of the cell again opened, and Stapleton supported in his daughter. Mary tottered to where Tom stood, and fell into his arms in a fit of convulsions. It was necessary to remove her, and she was carried out. "Let her not come in again, I beseech you, Jacob; take her back, and I will bless you for your kindness. Wish me farewell now, and see that she does not come again." Tom wrung me by the hand, and turned away to conceal his distress. I nodded my head in assent, for I could not speak for emotion, and followed Stapleton and the soldiers who had taken Mary out. As soon as she was recovered sufficiently to require no further medical aid, I lifted her into the post-chaise, and ordered the boys to drive back to Brentford. Mary continued in a state of stupor during the journey; and when I arrived at my own house, I gave her into the charge of the gardener's wife, and despatched her husband for medical assistance. The application of Mr Wharncliffe was of little avail, and he returned to me with disappointment in his countenance. The whole of the next week was the most distressing that I ever passed; arising from my anxiety for Tom, my daily exertions to reason Mary into some degree of submission to the will of Providence—her accusations of herself and her own folly—her incoherent ravings, calling herself Tom's murderer, which alarmed me for her reason; the distress of old Tom and his wife, who, unable to remain in their solitude, came all to me for intelligence, for comfort, and for what, alas! I dare not give them—hope. All this, added to my separation from Sarah during my attendance to what I considered my duty, reduced me to a debility, arising from mental exertion, which changed me to almost a skeleton.
At last the court-martial was held, and Tom was condemned to death. The sentence was approved of, and we were told that all appeals would be unavailing. We received the news on the Saturday evening, and Tom was to suffer on the Tuesday morning. I could no longer refuse the appeals of Mary; indeed, I received a letter from Tom, requesting that all of us, the Dominie included, would come down and bid him farewell. I hired a carriage for old Tom, his wife, Stapleton, and Mary, and putting the Dominie and myself in my own chariot, we set off early on the Sunday morning for Maidstone. We arrived about eleven o'clock, and put up at an inn in close proximity to the barracks. It was arranged that the Dominie and I should see Tom first, then his father and mother, and lastly, Mary Stapleton.
"Verily," said the Dominie, "my heart is heavy, exceeding heavy; my soul yearneth after the poor lad, who is thus to lose his life for a woman—a woman from whose toils I did myself escape. Yet is she exceeding fair and comely, and now that it is unavailing, appeareth to be penitent."
I made no reply; we had arrived at the gate of the barracks. I requested to be admitted to the prisoner, and the doors were unbarred. Tom was dressed with great care and cleanliness in white trousers and shirt and waistcoat, but his coat lay on the table; he would not put it on. He extended his hand towards me with a faint smile.
"It's all over now, Jacob; and there is no hope that I am aware of, and I have made up my mind to die; but I wish these last farewells were over, for they unman me. I hope you are well, sir," continued Tom to the Dominie.
"Nay, my poor boy, I am as well as age and infirmity will permit, and why should I complain when I see youth, health, and strength about to be sacrificed; and many made miserable, when many might be made so happy?" And the Dominie blew his nose, the trumpet sound of which re-echoed through the cell, so as to induce the sentry to look through the bars.
"They are all here, Tom," said I. "Would you like to see them now?"
"Yes; the sooner it is over the better."
"Will you see your father and mother first?"
"Yes," replied Tom, in a faltering tone.
I went out, and returned with the old woman on my arm, followed by old Tom, who stumped after me with the assistance of his stick. Poor old Mrs Beazeley fell on her son's neck, sobbing convulsively.
"My boy—my boy—my dear, dear boy!" said she at last, and she looked up steadfastly in his face. "My God! he'll be dead to-morrow!"
Her head again sank on his shoulder, and her sobs were choking her. Tom kissed his mother's forehead as the tears coursed down his cheeks, and motioned me to take her away. I placed her down on the floor, where she remained silent, moving her head up and down with a slow motion, her face buried in her shawl. It was but now and then that you heard a convulsive drawing of her breath. Old Tom had remained a silent but agitated spectator of the scene. Every muscle in his weather-beaten countenance twitched convulsively, and the tears at last forced their way through the deep furrows on his cheeks. Tom, as soon as his mother was removed, took his father by the hand, and they sat down together.
"You are not angry with me, father, for deserting?"
"No, my boy, no; I was angry with you for 'listing, but not for deserting. What business had you with the pipeclay? But I do think I have reason to be angry elsewhere, when I reflect that after having lost my two legs in defending her, my country is now to take from me my boy in his prime. It's but a poor reward for long and hard service—poor encouragement to do your duty; but what do they care? they have had my sarvices, and they have left me a hulk. Well, they may take the rest of me if they please, now that they—Well, it's no use crying; what's done can't be helped," continued old Tom, as the tears ran down in torrents; "they may shoot you, Tom; but this I know well, you'll die game, and shame them by proving to them they have deprived themselves of the sarvices of a good man when good men are needed. I would not have so much cared," continued old Tom, after a pause—"(look to the old woman, Jacob, she's tumbling over to port)—if you had fallen on board a king's ship in a good frigate action; some must be killed when there's hard fighting; but to be drilled through by your own countrymen, to die by their hands, and, worst of all, to die in a red coat, instead of a true blue—"
"Father, I will not die in a red coat—I won't put it on."
"That's some comfort, Tom, anyhow, and comfort's wanted."
"And I'll die like a man, father."
"That you will, Tom, and that's some comfort."
"We shall meet again, father."
"Hope so, Tom, in heaven—that's some comfort."
"And now, father, bless me, and take care of my poor mother."
"Bless you, Tom, bless you!" cried the old man, in a suffocating voice, extending both his hands towards Tom, as they rose up; but the equilibrium was no longer to be maintained, and he reeled back in the arms of me and Tom. We lowered him gently down by the side of his wife; the old couple turned to each other, and embracing, remained sobbing in each other's arms.
"Jacob," said Tom, squeezing me by the hand, with a quivering lip, "by your regard for me, let now the last scene be got over—let me see Mary, and let this tortured heart once more be permitted a respite." I sent out the Dominie. Tom leant against the wall, with his arms folded, in appearance summoning up all his energy for the painful meeting. Mary was led in by her father. I expected she would have swooned away, as before; but, on the contrary, although she was pale as death, and gasping for breath, from intensity of feeling, she walked up to Tom where he was standing, and sat down on the form close to him. She looked anxiously round upon the group, and then said, "I know that all I now say is useless, Tom; but still I must say it—it is I who, by my folly, have occasioned all this distress and misery—it is I who have caused you to suffer a—dreadful death—yes, Tom, I am your murderer."
"Not so, Mary, the folly was my own," replied Tom, taking her hand.
"You cannot disguise or palliate to me, dearest Tom," replied Mary; "my eyes have been opened, too late it is true, but they have been opened; and although it is kind of you to say so, I feel the horrid conviction of my own guilt. See what misery I have brought about. There is a father who has sacrificed his youth and his limbs to his country, sobbing in the arms of a mother whose life is bound up with that of her only son. To them," continued Mary, falling down upon her knees, "to them I must kneel for pardon, and I ask it as they hope to be forgiven. Answer me—oh! answer me! can you forgive a wretch like me?"
A pause ensued. I went up to old Tom, and kneeling by his side, begged him to answer.
"Forgive her, poor thing—yes; who could refuse it, as she kneels there? Come," continued he, speaking to his wife, "you must forgive her. Look up, dame, at her, and think that our poor boy may be asking the same of heaven to-morrow at noon."
The old woman looked up, and her dimmed eyes caught a sight of Mary's imploring and beautiful attitude; it was not to be withstood.
"As I hope for mercy to my poor boy, whom you have killed, so do I forgive you, unhappy young woman."
"May God reward you, when you are summoned before Him," replied Mary. "It was the hardest task of all. Of you, Jacob, I have to ask forgiveness for depriving you of your early and truest friend—yes, and for much more. Of you, sir," addressing the Dominie, "for my conduct towards you, which was cruel and indefensible—will you forgive me?"
"Yes, Mary, from my heart, I do forgive you," replied I.
"Bless thee, maiden, bless thee!" sobbed the Dominie.
"Father, I must ask of you the same—I have been a wilful child—forgive me!"
"Yes, Mary; you could not help it," replied old Stapleton, blubbering; "it was all human natur'."
"And now," said Mary, turning round on her knees to Tom, with a look expressive of anguish and love, "to you, Tom, must be my last appeal. I know you will forgive me—I know you have—and this knowledge of your fervent love makes the thought more bitter that I have caused your death. But hear me, Tom, and all of you hear me. I never loved but you; I have liked others much; I liked Jacob; but you only ever did make me feel I had a heart; and alas, you only have I sacrificed. When led away by my folly to give you pain, I suffered more than you—for you have had my only, you shall have my eternal and unceasing love. To your memory I am hereafter wedded, to join you will be my only wish—and if there could be a boon granted me from heaven, it would be to die with you, Tom—yes, in those dear arms."
Mary held out her arms to Tom, who falling down on his knees, embraced her, and thus they remained with their faces buried in each other's shoulders. The whole scene was now at its climax; it was too oppressive, and I felt faint, when I was aroused by the voice of the Dominie, who, lifting up both his arms, and extending them forth, solemnly prayed, "O Lord, look down upon these Thy servants in affliction; grant to those who are to continue in their pilgrimage strength to bear Thy chastening—grant to him who is to be summoned to Thee that happiness which the world cannot give; and O God most mighty, God most powerful, lay not upon us burdens greater than we can bear.—My children let us pray."
The Dominie knelt down and repeated the Lord's prayer; all followed his example, and then there was a pause.
"Stapleton," said I, pointing to Mary. I beckoned to the Dominie. We assisted up old Tom, and then his wife, and led them away; the poor old woman was in a state of stupefaction, and until she was out in the air was not aware that she had quitted her son. Stapleton had attempted to detach Mary from Tom, but in vain; they were locked together as if in death. At last Tom, roused by me, suffered his hold to be loosened, and Mary was taken out in a happy state of insensibility, and carried to the inn by her father and the Dominie.
"Are they all gone?" whispered Tom to me, as his head reclined on my shoulder.
"Then the bitterness of death is past; God have mercy on them, and assuage their anguish; they want His help more than I do."
A passionate flood of tears, which lasted some minutes, relieved the poor fellow; he raised himself, and drying his eyes, became more composed.
"Jacob, I hardly need tell my dying request, to watch over my poor father and mother, to comfort poor Mary—God bless you, Jacob! you have indeed been a faithful friend, and may God reward you. And now, Jacob, leave me; I must commune with my God, and pray for forgiveness. The space between me and eternity is but short."
Tom threw himself into my arms, where he remained for some minutes; he then broke gently away, and pointed to the door. I once more took his hand and we parted.
CHAPTER FORTY SIX.
IN WHICH, AS USUAL IN THE LAST CHAPTER OF A WORK, EVERYTHING IS WOUND UP MUCH TO THE READER'S SATISFACTION, AND NOT A LITTLE TO THE AUTHOR'S, WHO LAYS DOWN HIS PEN, EXCLAIMING, "THANK GOD!"
I went back to the inn, and ordering the horses to be put to, I explained to all but Mary the propriety of their now returning home. Mary was lifted in, and it was a relief to my mind to see them all depart. As for myself, I resolved to remain until the last; but I was in a state of feverish agitation, which made me restless. As I paced up and down the room, the newspaper caught my eye. I laid hold of it mechanically, and looked at it. A paragraph rivetted my attention. "His Majesty's ship Immortalite Chatham, to be paid off." Then our ship has come home. But what was that now? Yet something whispered to me that I ought to go and see Captain Maclean, and try if anything could be done. I knew his commanding interest, and although it was now too late, still I had an impulse to go and see him, which I could not resist. "After all," said I to myself, "I'm of no use here, and I may as well go." This feeling, added to my restlessness, induced me to order horses, and I went to Chatham, found out that Captain Maclean was still on board, and took boat off to the frigate. I was recognised by the officers, who were glad to see me, and I sent a message to the captain, who was below, requesting to see him. I was asked into the cabin, and stated to him what had occurred, requesting his assistance, if possible.
"Faithful," replied he, "it appears that Tom Beazeley has deserted twice; still there is much extenuation; at all events, the punishment of death is too severe, and I don't like it—I can save him, and I will. By the rule of the services, a deserter from one service can be claimed from the other, and must be tried by his officers. His sentence is, therefore, not legal. I shall send a party of marines, and claim him as a deserter from the Navy, and they must and shall give him up—make yourself easy, Faithful, his life is as safe as yours."
I could have fallen on my knees and thanked him, though I could hardly believe that such good news was true.
"There is no time to lose, sir," replied I, respectfully; "he is to be shot to-morrow at nine o'clock."
"He will be on board here to-morrow at nine o'clock, or I am not Captain Maclean. But, as you say, there is no time to lose. It is now nearly dark, and the party must be off immediately. I must write a letter on service to the commanding officer of the depot. Call my clerk."
I ran out and called the clerk. In a few minutes the letter was written, and a party of marines, with the second lieutenant, despatched with me on shore. I ordered post-chaises for the whole party, and before eleven we were at Maidstone. The lieutenant and I sat up all night, and, at daylight, we summoned the marines and went to the barracks, where we found the awful note of preparation going forward, and the commanding officer up and attending to the arrangements. I introduced the lieutenant, who presented the letter on service.
"Good heavens, how fortunate! You can establish his identity, I presume."
"Every man here can swear to him."
"'Tis sufficient, Mr Faithful. I wish you and your friend joy of this reprieve. The rules of the service must be obeyed, and you will sign a receipt for the prisoner."
This was done by the lieutenant, and the provost marshal was ordered to deliver up the prisoner. I hastened with the marines into the cell; the door was unlocked. Tom, who was reading his Bible, started up, and perceiving the red jackets, thought that he was to be led out to execution.
"My lads," exclaimed he, "I am ready; the sooner this is over the better."
"No, Tom," said I, advancing; "I trust for better fortune. You are claimed as a deserter from the Immortalite."
Tom stared, lifted the hair from his forehead, and threw himself into my arms; but we had no time for a display of feelings. We hurried Tom away from the barracks; again I put the whole party into chaises, and we soon arrived at Chatham, where we embarked on board of the frigate. Tom was given into the charge of the master-at-arms as a deserter, and a letter was written by Captain Maclean, demanding a court-martial on him.
"What will be the result?" inquired I of the first lieutenant.
"The captain says, little or nothing, as he was pressed as an apprentice, which is contrary to Act of Parliament."
I went down to cheer Tom with this intelligence, and taking my leave, set off for London with a light heart. Still I thought it better not to communicate this good news until assurance was made doubly sure. I hastened to Mr Drummond's, and detailed to them all that had passed. The next day Mr Wharncliffe went with me to the Admiralty, where I had the happiness to find that all was legal, and that Tom could only be tried for his desertion from a man-of-war; and that if he could prove that he was an apprentice, he would, in all probability, be acquitted. The court-martial was summoned three days after the letter had been received by the Admiralty. I hastened down to Chatham to be present. It was very short; the desertion was proved, and Tom was called upon for his defence. He produced his papers, and proved that he was pressed before his time had expired. The court was cleared for a few minutes, and then re-opened. Tom was acquitted on the ground of illegal detention, contrary to Act of Parliament, and he was free. I returned my thanks to Captain Maclean and his officers for their kindness, and left the ship with Tom in the cutter, ordered for me by the first lieutenant. My heart swelled with gratitude at the happy result. Tom was silent, but his feelings I could well analyse. I gave to the men of the boat five guineas to drink Tom's health, and, hastening to the inn, ordered the carriage, and with Tom, who was a precious deposit, for upon his welfare depended the happiness of so many, I hurried to London as fast as I could, stopped at the Drummond's to communicate the happy intelligence, and then proceeded to my own house, where we slept. The next morning I dressed Tom in some of my clothes, and we embarked in the wherry.
"Now, Tom," said I, "you must keep in the background at first, while I prepare them. Where shall we go first?"
"Oh, to my mother," replied Tom.
We passed through Putney Bridge, and Tom's bosom heaved as he looked towards the residence of Mary. His heart was there, poor fellow! and he longed to fly to the poor girl and dry her tears; but his first duty was to his parents.
We soon arrived abreast of the residence of the old couple, and I desired Tom to pull in, but not turn his head round, lest they should see him before I had prepared them; for too much joy will kill as well as grief. Old Tom was not at his work, and all was quiet. I landed and went to the house, opened the door, and found them both sitting by the kitchen fire in silence, apparently occupied in watching the smoke as it ascended up the spacious chimney.
"Good morning to you both," said I; "how do you find yourself, Mrs Beazeley?"
"Ah, deary me!" replied the old woman, putting her apron up to her eyes.
"Sit down, Jacob, sit down," said old Tom; "we can talk of him now."
"Yes, now that he's in heaven, poor fellow!" interposed the old woman.
"Tell me, Jacob," said old Tom, with a quivering lip, "did you see the last of him? Tell me all about it. How did he look? How did he behave? Was he soon out of his pain? And—Jacob—where is he buried!"
"Yes, yes;" sobbed Mrs Beazeley; "tell me where is the body of my poor child."
"Can you bear to talk about him?" said I.
"Yes, yes; we can't talk too much; it does us good," replied she. "We have done nothing but talk about him since we left him."
"And shall, till we sink down into our own graves," said old Tom, "which won't be long. I've nothing to wish for now, and I'll never sing again, that's sartain. We shan't last long, either of us. As for me," continued the old man with a melancholy smile, looking down at his stumps. "I may well say that I've two feet in the grave already. But come, Jacob, tell us all about him."
"I will," replied I; "and my dear Mrs Beazeley, you must prepare yourself for different tidings than what you expect. Tom is not yet shot."
"Not dead!" shrieked the old woman.
"Not yet, Jacob;" cried old Tom, seizing me by the arm, and squeezing it with the force of a vice, as he looked me earnestly in the face.
"He lives; and I am in hopes he will be pardoned."
Mrs Beazeley sprang from her chair and seized me by the other arm.
"I see—I see by your face. Yes, Jacob, he is pardoned; and we shall have our Tom again."
"You are right, Mrs Beazeley; he is pardoned, and will soon be here."
The old couple sank down on their knees beside me. I left them, and beckoned from the door to Tom, who flew up, and in a moment was in their arms. I assisted him to put his mother into her chair, and then went out to recover myself from the agitating scene. I remained about an hour outside, and then returned. The old couple seized me by the hands, and invoked blessings on my head.
"You must now part with Tom a little while," said I; "there are others to make happy besides yourselves."
"Very true," replied old Tom; "go, my lad, and comfort her. Come, missus, we mustn't forget others."
"Oh, no. Go, Tom; go and tell her that I don't care how soon she is my daughter."
Tom embraced his mother, and followed me to the boat; we pulled up against the tide, and were soon at Putney.