Jacob Faithful, by Captain Marryat.
Captain Frederick Marryat was born July 10 1792, and died August 8 1848. He retired from the British navy in 1828 in order to devote himself to writing. In the following 20 years he wrote 26 books, many of which are among the very best of English literature, and some of which are still in print.
Marryat had an extraordinary gift for the invention of episodes in his stories. He says somewhere that when he sat down for the day's work, he never knew what he was going to write. He certainly was a literary genius.
"Jacob Faithful" was published in 1834, the fifth book to flow from Marryat's pen. The story tells the life and adventures of a boy who was born and brought up on a lighter (small river-barge) on the River Thames as it flows through London. It gives an extremely interesting contemporary picture of life in London and on the river in the early part of the nineteenth century.
This e-text was transcribed in 1998 by Nick Hodson, and was reformatted in 2003, and again in 2005.
JACOB FAITHFUL, BY CAPTAIN FREDERICK MARRYAT.
MY BIRTH, PARENTAGE, AND FAMILY PRETENSIONS—UNFORTUNATELY I PROVE TO BE A DETRIMENTAL OR YOUNGER SON, WHICH IS REMEDIED BY A TRIFLING ACCIDENT— I HARDLY RECEIVE THE FIRST ELEMENTS OF SCIENCE FROM MY FATHER, WHEN THE ELEMENTS CONSPIRE AGAINST ME, AND I AM LEFT AN ORPHAN.
Gentle reader, I was born upon the water—not upon the salt and angry ocean, but upon the fresh and rapid-flowing river. It was in a floating sort of box, called a lighter, and upon the river Thames, at low water, when I first smelt the mud. This lighter was manned (an expression amounting to bullism, if not construed kind-ly) by my father, my mother, and your humble servant. My father had the sole charge—he was monarch of the deck: my mother, of course, was queen, and I was the heir-apparent.
Before I say one word about myself, allow me dutifully to describe my parents. First, then, I will portray my queen mother. Report says, that when she first came on board of the lighter, a lighter figure and a lighter step never pressed a plank; but as far as I can tax my recollection, she was always a fat, unwieldy woman. Locomotion was not to her taste—gin was. She seldom quitted the cabin—never quitted the lighter: a pair of shoes may have lasted her for five years for the wear and tear she took out of them. Being of this domestic habit, as all married women ought to be, she was always to be found when wanted; but although always at hand, she was not always on her feet. Towards the close of the day, she lay down upon her bed—a wise precaution when a person can no longer stand. The fact was, that my honoured mother, although her virtue was unimpeachable, was frequently seduced by liquor; and although constant to my father, was debauched and to be found in bed with that insidious assailer of female uprightness—gin. The lighter, which might have been compared to another garden of Eden, of which my mother was the Eve, and my father the Adam to consort with, was entered by this serpent who tempted her; and if she did not eat, she drank, which was even worse. At first, indeed—and I may mention it to prove how the enemy always gains admittance under a specious form—she drank it only to keep the cold out of her stomach, which the humid atmosphere from the surrounding water appeared to warrant. My father took his pipe for the same reason; but, at the time that I was born, he smoked and she drank from morning to night, because habit had rendered it almost necessary to their existence. The pipe was always to his lip, the glass incessantly to hers. I would have defied any cold ever to have penetrated into their stomachs;—but I have said enough of my mother for the present; I will now pass on to my father.
My father was a puffy, round-bellied, long-armed, little man, admirably calculated for his station in, or rather out of, society. He could manage a lighter as well as anybody; but he could do no more. He had been brought up to it from his infancy. He went on shore for my mother, and came on board again—the only remarkable event in his life. His whole amusement was his pipe; and, as there is a certain indefinable link between smoking and philosophy, my father, by dint of smoking, had become a perfect philosopher. It is no less strange than true, that we can puff away our cares with tobacco, when, without it, they remain a burden to existence. There is no composing draught like the draught through the tube of a pipe. The savage warriors of North America enjoyed the blessing before we did; and to the pipe is to be ascribed the wisdom of their councils and the laconic delivery of their sentiments. It would be well introduced into our own legislative assembly. Ladies, indeed, would no longer peep down through the ventilator; but we should have more sense and fewer words. It is also to tobacco that is to be ascribed the stoical firmness of those American warriors, who, satisfied with the pipes in their mouths, submitted with perfect indifference to the torture of their enemies. From the well-known virtues of this weed arose that peculiar expression when you irritate another, that you "put his pipe out."
My father's pipe, literally and metaphorically, was never put out. He had a few apophthegms which brought every disaster to a happy conclusion; and as he seldom or never indulged in words, these sayings were deeply impressed upon my infant memory. One was, "It's no use crying; what's done can't be helped." When once these words escaped his lips, the subject was never renewed. Nothing appeared to move him: the abjurations of those employed in the other lighters, barges, vessels, and boats of every description, who were contending with us for the extra foot of water, as we drifted up or down with the tide, affected him not, further than an extra column or two of smoke rising from the bowl of his pipe. To my mother he used but one expression, "Take it coolly;" but it always had the contrary effect with my mother, as it put her more in a passion. It was like pouring oil upon flame; nevertheless, the advice was good, had it ever been followed. Another favourite expression of my father's when anything went wrong, and which was of the same pattern as the rest of his philosophy, was, "Better luck next time." These aphorisms were deeply impressed upon my memory; I continually recalled them to mind, and thus I became a philosopher long before my wise teeth were in embryo, or I had even shed the first set with which kind Nature presents us, that in the petticoat age we may fearlessly indulge in lollipop.
My father's education had been neglected. He could neither write nor read; but although he did not exactly, like Cadmus, invent letters, he had accustomed himself to certain hieroglyphics, generally speaking sufficient for his purposes, and which might be considered as an artificial memory. "I can't write nor read, Jacob," he would say; "I wish I could; but look, boy, I means this mark for three quarters of a bushel. Mind you recollects it when I axes you, or I'll be blowed if I don't wallop you." But it was only a case of peculiar difficulty which would require a new hieroglyphic, or extract such a long speech from my father. I was well acquainted with his usual scratches and dots, and having a good memory, could put him right when he was puzzled with some misshapen x or z, representing some unknown quantity, like the same letters in algebra.
I have said that I was heir-apparent, but I did not say that I was the only child born to my father in his wedlock. My honoured mother had had two more children; but the first, who was a girl, had been provided for by a fit of the measles; and the second, my elder brother, by stumbling over the stern of the lighter when he was three years old. At the time of the accident my mother had retired to her bed, a little the worse for liquor; my father was on deck forward, leaning against the windlass, soberly smoking his evening pipe. "What was that?" exclaimed my father, taking his pipe out of his mouth, and listening; "I shouldn't wonder if that wasn't Joe." And my father put in his pipe again, and smoked away as before.
My father was correct in his surmises. It was Joe who had made the splash which roused him from his meditations, for the next morning Joe was nowhere to be found. He was, however, found some days afterwards; but, as the newspapers say, and as may well be imagined, the vital spark was extinct; and, moreover, the eels and chubs had eaten off his nose and a portion of his chubby face, so that, as my father said, "he was of no use to nobody." The morning after the accident my father was up early, and had missed poor little Joe. He went into the cabin, smoked his pipe, and said nothing. As my brother did not appear as usual for his breakfast, my mother called out for him in a harsh voice; but Joe was out of hearing, and as mute as a fish. Joe opened not his mouth in reply, neither did my father. My mother then quitted the cabin, and walked round the lighter, looked into the dog-kennel to ascertain if he was asleep with the great mastiff—but Joe was nowhere to be found.
"Why, what can have become of Joe?" cried my mother, with maternal alarm in her countenance, appealing to my father, as she hastened back to the cabin. My father spoke not, but taking the pipe out of his mouth, dropped the bowl of it in a perpendicular direction till it landed softly on the deck, then put it into his mouth again, and puffed mournfully. "Why, you don't mean to say he is overboard?" screamed my mother.
My father nodded his head, and puffed away at an accumulated rate. A torrent of tears, exclamations, and revilings succeeded to this characteristic announcement. My father allowed my mother to exhaust herself. By the time when she had finished, so was his pipe; he then knocked out the ashes, and quietly observed, "It's no use crying; what's done can't be helped," and proceeded to refill the bowl.
"Can't be helped!" cried my mother; "but it might have been helped."
"Take it coolly," replied my father.
"Take it coolly!" replied my mother in a rage—"take it coolly! Yes, you're for taking everything coolly: I presume, if I fell overboard you would be taking it coolly."
"You would be taking it coolly, at all events," replied my imperturbable father.
"O dear! O dear!" cried my poor mother; "two poor children, and lost them both!"
"Better luck next time," rejoined my father; "so, Sall, say no more about it."
My father continued for some time to smoke his pipe, and my mother to pipe her eye, until at last my father, who was really a kind-hearted man, rose from the chest upon which he was seated, went to the cupboard, poured out a teacupful of gin, and handed it to my mother. It was kindly done of him, and my mother was to be won by kindness. It was a pure offering in the spirit, and taken in the spirit in which it was offered. After a few repetitions, which were rendered necessary from its potency being diluted with her tears, grief and recollection were drowned together, and disappeared like two lovers who sink down entwined in each other's arms.
With this beautiful metaphor, I shall wind up the episode of my unfortunate brother Joe.
It was about a year after the loss of my brother that I was ushered into the world, without any other assistants or spectators than my father and Dame Nature, who I believe to be a very clever midwife if not interfered with. My father, who had some faint ideas of Christianity, performed the baptismal rites by crossing me on the forehead with the end of his pipe, and calling me Jacob: as for my mother being churched, she had never been but once to church in her life. In fact, my father and mother never quitted the lighter, unless when the former was called out by the superintendent or proprietor, at the delivery or shipment of a cargo, or was once a month for a few minutes on shore to purchase necessaries. I cannot recall much of my infancy; but I recollect that the lighter was often very brilliant with blue and red paint, and that my mother used to point it out to me as "so pretty," to keep me quiet. I shall therefore pass it over, and commence at the age of five years, at which early period I was of some little use to my father. Indeed I was almost as forward as some boys at ten. This may appear strange; but the fact is, that my ideas although bounded, were concentrated. The lighter, its equipments, and its destination were the microcosm of my infant imagination; and my ideas and thoughts being directed to so few objects, these objects were deeply impressed, and their value fully understood. Up to the time that I quitted the lighter, at eleven years old, the banks of the river were the boundaries of my speculations. I certainly comprehended something of the nature of trees and houses; but I do not think that I was aware that the former grew. From the time that I could recollect them on the banks of the river, they appeared to be exactly of the same size as they were when first I saw them, and I asked no questions. But by the time that I was ten years old, I knew the name of the reach of the river, and every point—the depth of water, and the shallows, the drift of the current, and the ebb and flow of the tide itself. I was able to manage the lighter as it floated down with the tide; for what I lacked in strength I made up with dexterity arising from constant practice.
It was at the age of eleven years that a catastrophe took place which changed my prospects in life, and I must, therefore, say a little more about my father and mother, bringing up their history to that period. The propensity of my mother to ardent spirits had, as always is the case, greatly increased upon her, and her corpulence had increased in the same ratio. She was now a most unwieldy, bloated mountain of flesh, such a form as I have never since beheld, although, at the time, she did not appear to me to be disgusting, accustomed to witness imperceptibly her increase, and not seeing any other females, except at a distance. For the last two years she had seldom quitted her bed—certainly she did not crawl out of the cabin more than five minutes during the week— indeed, her obesity and habitual intoxication rendered her incapable. My father went on shore for a quarter of an hour once a month, to purchase gin, tobacco, red herrings, and decayed ship-biscuits;—the latter was my principal fare, except when I could catch a fish over the sides, as we lay at anchor. I was, therefore, a great water-drinker, not altogether from choice, but from the salt nature of my food, and because my mother had still sense enough left to discern that "Gin wasn't good for little boys." But a great change had taken place in my father. I was now left almost altogether in charge of the deck, my father seldom coming up except to assist me in shooting the bridges, or when it required more than my exertions to steer clear of the crowds of vessels which we encountered when between them. In fact, as I grew more capable, my father became more incapable, and passed most of his time in the cabin, assisting my mother in emptying the great stone bottle. The woman had prevailed upon the man, and now both were guilty in partaking of the forbidden fruit of the Juniper Tree. Such was the state of affairs in our little kingdom when the catastrophe occurred which I am now about to relate.
One fine summer's evening we were floating up with the tide, deeply laden with coals, to be delivered at the proprietor's wharf, some distance above Putney Bridge; a strong breeze sprang up and checked our progress, and we could not, as we expected, gain the wharf that night. We were about a mile and a half above the bridge when the tide turned against us, and we dropped our anchor. My father who, expecting to arrive that evening, had very unwillingly remained sober, waiting until the lighter had swung to the stream, and then saying to me, "Remember, Jacob, we must be at the wharf early tomorrow morning, so keep alive," went into the cabin to indulge in his potations, leaving me in possession of the deck, and also of my supper, which I never ate below, the little cabin being so unpleasantly close. Indeed, I took all my meals al fresco, and, unless the nights were intensely cold, slept on deck, in the capacious dog-kennel abaft, which had once been tenanted by the large mastiff; but he had been dead some years, was thrown overboard, and, in all probability, had been converted into savoury sausages at 1 shilling per pound weight. Some time after his decease, I had taken possession of his apartment and had performed his duty. I had finished my supper, which was washed down with a considerable portion of Thames water, for I always drank more when above the bridges, having an idea that it tasted more pure and fresh. I had walked forward and looked at the cable to see if all was right, and then, having nothing more to do, I lay down on the deck, and indulged in the profound speculations of a boy of eleven years old. I was watching the stars above me, which twinkled faintly, and appeared to me ever and anon to be extinguished and then relighted. I was wondering what they could be made of, and how they came there, when of a sudden I was interrupted in my reveries by a loud shriek, and perceived a strong smell of something burning. The shrieks were renewed again and again, and I had hardly time to get upon my legs when my father burst up from the cabin, rushed over the side of the lighter, and disappeared under the water. I caught a glimpse of his features as he passed me, and observed fright and intoxication blended together. I ran to the side where he had disappeared, but could see nothing but a few eddying circles as the tide rushed quickly past. For a few seconds I remained staggered and stupefied at his sudden disappearance and evident death, but I was recalled to recollection by the smoke which encompassed me, and the shrieks of my mother, which were now fainter and fainter, and I hastened to her assistance.
A strong, empyreumatic, thick smoke ascended from the hatchway of the cabin, and, as it had now fallen calm, it mounted straight up the air in a dense column. I attempted to go in, but so soon as I encountered the smoke I found that it was impossible; it would have suffocated me in half a minute. I did what most children would have done in such a situation of excitement and distress—I sat down and cried bitterly. In about ten minutes I moved my hands, with which I had covered up my face, and looked at the cabin hatch. The smoke had disappeared, and all was silent. I went to the hatchway, and although the smell was still overpowering, I found that I could bear it. I descended the little ladder of three steps, and called "Mother!" but there was no answer. The lamp fixed against the after bulk-head, with a glass before it, was still alight, and I could see plainly to every corner of the cabin. Nothing was burning—not even the curtains to my mother's bed appeared to be singed. I was astonished—breathless with fear, with a trembling voice, I again called out "Mother!" I remained more than a minute panting for breath, and then ventured to draw back the curtains of the bed—my mother was not there! but there appeared to be a black mass in the centre of the bed. I put my hand fearfully upon it—it was a sort of unctuous, pitchy cinder. I screamed with horror—my little senses reeled—I staggered from the cabin and fell down on the deck in a state amounting almost to insanity: it was followed by a sort of stupor, which lasted for many hours.
As the reader may be in some doubt as to the occasion of my mother's death, I must inform him that she perished in that very peculiar and dreadful manner, which does sometimes, although rarely, occur, to those who indulge in an immoderate use of spirituous liquors. Cases of this kind do, indeed, present themselves but once in a century, but the occurrence of them is too well authenticated. She perished from what is termed spontaneous combustion, an inflammation of the gases generated from the spirits absorbed into the system. It is to be presumed that the flames issuing from my mother's body completely frightened out of his senses my father, who had been drinking freely; and thus did I lose both my parents, one by fire and the other by water, at one and the same time.
I FULFIL THE LAST INJUNCTIONS OF MY FATHER, AND I AM EMBARKED UPON A NEW ELEMENT—FIRST BARGAIN IN MY LIFE VERY PROFITABLE—FIRST PARTING WITH OLD FRIENDS VERY PAINFUL—FIRST INTRODUCTION INTO CIVILISED LIFE VERY UNSATISFACTORY TO ALL PARTIES.
It was broad daylight when I awoke from my state of bodily and mental imbecility. For some time I could not recall to my mind all that had happened: the weight which pressed upon my feelings told me that it was something dreadful. At length, the cabin hatch, still open, caught my eye; I recalled all the horrors of the preceding evening, and recollected that I was left alone in the lighter. I got up and stood on my feet in mute despair. I looked around me—the mist of the morning was hanging over the river, and the objects on shore were with difficulty to be distinguished. I was chilled from lying all night in the heavy dew, and, perhaps, still more from previous and extraordinary excitement. Venture to go down into the cabin I dare not. I had an indescribable awe, a degree of horror at what I had seen, that made it impossible; still I was unsatisfied, and would have given worlds, if I had had them, to explain the mystery. I turned my eyes from the cabin hatch to the water, thought of my father, and then, for more than half an hour, watched the tide as it ran up—my mind in a state of vacancy. As the sun rose, the mist gradually cleared away; trees, houses, and green fields, other barges coming up with the tide, boats passing and repassing, the barking of dogs, the smoke issuing from the various chimneys, all broke upon me by degrees; and I was recalled to the sense that I was in a busy world, and had my own task to perform. The last words of my father—and his injunctions had ever been a law to me—were, "Mind, Jacob, we must be up at the wharf early to-morrow morning." I prepared to obey him. Purchase the anchor I could not; I therefore slipped the cable, lashing a broken sweep to the end of it, as a buoy-rope, and once more the lighter was at the mercy of the stream, guided by a boy of eleven years old. In about two hours I was within a hundred yards of the wharf, and well in-shore, I hailed for assistance, and two men, who were on board of the lighters moored at the wharf, pushed off in a skiff to know what it was that I wanted. I told them that I was alone in the lighter, without anchor or cable, and requested them to secure her. They came on board, and in a few minutes the lighter was safe alongside of the others. As soon as the lashings were passed, they interrogated me as to what had happened, but although the fulfilling of my father's last injunctions had borne up my spirits, now that they were obeyed a reaction took place. I could not answer them; I threw myself down on the deck in a paroxysm of grief, and cried as if my heart would break.
The men, who were astonished, not only at my conduct but at finding me alone in the lighter, went on shore to the clerk, and stated the circumstances. He returned with them, and would have interrogated me, but my paroxysm was not yet over, and my replies, broken my sobs, were unintelligible. The clerk and the two men went down into the cabin, returned hastily, and quitted the lighter. In about a quarter of an hour I was sent for, and conducted to the house of the proprietor—the first time in my life that I had ever put my foot on terra firma. I was led into the parlour, where I found the proprietor at breakfast with his wife and his daughter, a little girl nine years old. By this time I had recovered myself, and on being interrogated, told my story clearly and succinctly, while the big tears coursed each other down my dirty face.
"How strange and how horrible!" said the lady to her husband; "I cannot understand it even now."
"Nor can I; but still it is true, from what Johnson the clerk has witnessed."
In the meantime my eyes were directed to every part of the room, which appeared to my ignorance as a Golcondo of wealth and luxury. There were few things which I had seen before, but I had an innate idea that they were of value. The silver tea-pot, the hissing urn, the spoons, the pictures in their frames, every article of furniture caught my wondering eye, and for a short time I had forgotten my father and my mother; but I was recalled from my musing speculations by the proprietor inquiring how far I had brought the lighter without assistance.
"Have you any friends, my poor boy?" inquired the lady.
"What! no relations onshore?"
"I never was on shore before in my life."
"Do you know that you are a destitute orphan?"
"That you have no father or mother," said the little girl.
"Well," replied I, in my father's words, having no answer more appropriate, "it's no use crying; what's done can't be helped."
"But what do you intend to do now?" inquired the proprietor, looking hard at me after my previous answer.
"Don't know, I'm sure. Take, it coolly," replied I, whimpering.
"What a very odd child!" observed the lady. "Is he aware of the extent of his misfortune?"
"Better luck next time, missus," repled I, wiping my eyes with the back of my hand.
"What strange answers from a child who has shown so much feeling," observed the proprietor to his wife. "What is your name."
"Can you write or read?"
"No," replied I, again using my father's words: "No, I can't—I wish I could."
"Very well, my poor boy, we'll see what's to be done," said the proprietor.
"I know what's to be done," rejoined I; "you must send a couple of hands to get the anchor and cable, afore they cut the buoy adrift."
"You are right, my lad, that must be done immediately," said the proprietor; "but now you had better go down with Sarah into the kitchen; cook will take care of you. Sarah, my love, take him down to cook."
The little girl beckoned me to follow her. I was astonished at the length and variety of the companion-ladders, for such I considered the stairs, and was at last landed below, when little Sarah, giving cook the injunction to take care of me, again tripped lightly up to her mother.
I found the signification of "take care of any one" very different on shore from what it was on the river, where taking care of you means getting out of your way, and giving you a wide berth; and I found the shore reading much more agreeable. Cook did take care of me; she was a kind-hearted, fat woman who melted at a tale of woe, although the fire made no impression on her. I not only beheld, but I devoured, such things as never before entered into my mouth or my imagination. Grief had not taken away my appetite. I stopped occasionally to cry a little, wiped my eyes, and sat down again. It was more than two hours before I laid down my knife, and not until strong symptoms of suffocation played round the regions of my trachea did I cry out, "Hold, enough." Somebody has made an epigram about the vast ideas which a miser's horse must have had of corn. I doubt, if such ideas were existent, whether they were at all equal to my astonishment at a leg of mutton. I never had seen such a piece of meat before, and wondered if it were fresh or otherwise. After such reflection I naturally felt inclined to sleep; in a few minutes I was snoring upon two chairs, cook having covered me up with her apron to keep away the flies. Thus was I fairly embarked upon a new element to me—my mother earth; and it may be just as well to examine now into the capital I possessed for my novel enterprise. In person I was well-looking; I was well-made, strong, and active. Of my habiliments the less said the better; I had a pair of trousers with no seat to them; but this defect, when I stood up, was hid by my jacket, composed of an old waistcoat of my father's, which reached down as low as the morning frocks worn in those days. A shirt of coarse duck, and a fur cap, which was as rough and ragged as if it had been the hide of a cat pulled to pieces by dogs, completed my attire. Shoes and stockings I had none; these supernumerary appendages had never confined the action of my feet. My mental acquisitions were not much more valuable; they consisted of a tolerable knowledge of the depth of water, names of points and reaches in the River Thames, all of which was not very available on dry land—of a few hieroglyphics of my father's, which, as the crier says sometimes, winding up his oration, were of "no use to nobody but the owner." Add to the above the three favourite maxims of my taciturn father, which were indelibly imprinted upon my memory, and you have the whole inventory of my stock-in-trade. These three maxims were, I may say, incorporated into my very system, so continually had they been quoted to me during my life; and before I went to sleep that night they were again conned over. "What's done can't be helped," consoled me for the mishaps of my life; "Better luck next time," made me look forward with hope and, "Take it coolly," was a subject of great reflection, until I feel into a deep sleep; for I had sufficient penetration to observe that my father had lost his life by not adhering to his own principles; and this perception only rendered my belief in the infallibility of these maxims to be even still more steadfast.
I have stated what was my father's legacy, and the reader will suppose that from the maternal side the acquisition was nil. Directly such was the case, but indirectly she proved a very good mother to me, and that was by the very extraordinary way in which she had quitted the world. Had she met with a common death, she would have been worth nothing. Burke himself would not have been able to dispose of her; but dying as she did, her ashes were the source of wealth. The bed, with her remains lying in the centre, even the curtains of the bed, were all brought on shore, and locked up in an outhouse. The coroner came down in a post-chaise and four, charged to the country; the jury was empanelled, my evidence was taken, surgeons and apothecaries attended from far and near to give their opinions, and after much examination, much arguing, and much disagreement, the verdict was brought in that she died through "the visitation of God." As this, in other phraseology, implies that "God only knows how she died," it was agreed to nemine contradicente, and gave universal satisfaction. But the extraordinary circumstance was spread everywhere, with all due amplifications, and thousands flocked to the wharfinger's yard to witness the effects of spontaneous combustion. The proprietor immediately perceived that he could avail himself of the public curiosity to my advantage. A plate, with some silver and gold, was placed at the foot of my poor mother's flock mattress, with, "For the benefit of the orphan," in capital text, placarded above it; and many were the shillings, half-crowns, and even larger sums which were dropped into it by the spectators, who shuddered as they turned away from this awful specimen of the effects of habitual intoxication. For many days did the exhibition continue, during which time I was domiciled with the cook, who employed me in scouring her saucepans, and any other employment in which my slender services might be useful, little thinking at the time that my poor mother was holding her levee for my advantage. On the eleventh day the exhibition was closed, and I was summoned upstairs by the proprietor, whom I found in company with a little gentleman in black. This was a surgeon who had offered a sum of money for my mother's remains, bed and curtains, in a lot. The proprietor was willing to get rid of them in so advantageous a manner, but did not conceive that he was justified in taking this step, although for my benefit, without first consulting me, as heir-at-law.
"Jacob," said he, "this gentleman offers 20 pounds, which is a great deal of money, for the ashes of your poor mother. Have you any objection to let him have them?"
"What do you want 'em for?" inquired I.
"I wish to keep them, and take great care of them," answered he.
"Well," replied I, after a little consideration, "if you'll take care of the old woman, you may have her,"—and the bargain was concluded. Singular that the first bargain I ever made in my life should be that of selling my own mother. The proceeds of the exhibition and sale amounted to 47 pounds odd, which the worthy proprietor of the lighter, after deducting for a suit of clothes, laid up for my use. Thus ends the history of my mother's remains, which proved more valuable to me than ever she did when living. In her career she somewhat reversed the case of Semele, who was first visited in a shower of gold, and eventually perished in the fiery embraces of the god: whereas my poor mother perished first by the same element, and the shower of gold descended to her only son. But this is easily explained. Semele was very lovely and did not drink gin—my mother was her complete antithesis.
When I was summoned to my master's presence to arrange the contract with the surgeon, I had taken off the waistcoat which I wore as a garment over all, that I might be more at my ease in chopping some wood for the cook, and the servant led me up at once, without giving me time to put it on. After I had given my consent, I turned away to go downstairs again, when having, as I before observed, no seat to my trousers, the solution of continuity was observed by a little spaniel, who jumped from the sofa, and arriving at a certain distance, stood at bay, and barked most furiously at the exposure. He had been bred among respectable people, and had never seen such an expose. Mr Drummond, the proprietor, observed the defect pointed out by the dog, and forthwith I was ordered to be suited with a new suit—certainly not before they were required. In twenty-four hours I was thrust into a new garment by a bandy-legged tailor, assisted by my friend the cook, and turn or twist whichever way I pleased, decency was never violated. A new suit of clothes is generally an object of ambition, and flatters the vanity of young and old; but with me it was far otherwise. Encumbered with my novel apparel, I experienced at once feelings of restraint and sorrow. My shoes hurt me, my worsted stockings irritated the skin, and as I had been accustomed to hereditarily succeed to my father's cast-off skins, which were a world too wide for my shanks, having but few ideas, it appeared to me as if I had swelled out to the size of the clothes which I had been accustomed to wear, not that they had been reduced to my dimensions. I fancied myself a man, but was very much embarrassed with my manhood. Every step that I took I felt as if I was checked back by strings. I could not swing my arms as I was wont to do, and tottered in my shoes like a rickety child. My old apparel had been consigned to the dust-hole by cook, and often during the day would I pass, casting a longing eye at it, wishing that I dare recover it, and exchange it for that which I wore. I knew the value of it, and, like the magician in Aladdin's tale, would have offered new lamps for old ones, cheerfully submitting to ridicule, that I might have repossessed my treasure.
With the kitchen and its apparatus I was now quite at home: but at every other part of the house and furniture I was completely puzzled. Everything appeared to me foreign, strange, and unnatural, and Prince Le Boo, or any other savage, never stared or wondered more than I did. Of most things I knew not the use, of many not even the names. I was literally a savage, but still a kind and docile one. The day after my new clothes had been put on, I was summoned into the parlour. Mr Drummond and his wife surveyed me in my altered habiliments, and amused themselves at my awkwardness, at the same time that they admired my well-knit, compact, and straight figure, set off by a fit, in my opinion much too straight. Their little daughter Sarah, who often spoke to me, went up and whispered to her mother. "You must ask papa," was the reply. Another whisper, and a kiss, and Mr Drummond told me I should dine with them. In a few minutes I followed them into the dining-room and for the first time I was seated to a repast which could boast of some of the supernumerary comforts of civilised life. There I sat, perched on a chair with my feet swinging close to the carpet, glowing with heat from the compression of my clothes and the novelty of my situation, and all that was around me. Mr Drummond helped me to some scalding soup, a silver spoon was put into my hand, which I twisted round and round, looking at my face reflected in miniature on its polish.
"Now, Jacob, you must eat the soup with the spoon," said little Sarah, laughing; "we shall all be done. Be quick."
"Take it coolly," replied I, digging my spoon into the burning preparation, and tossing it into my mouth. It burst forth from my tortured throat in a diverging shower, accompanied with a howl of pain.
"The poor boy has scalded his mouth," cried the lady, pouring out a tumbler of water.
"It's no use crying," replied I, blubbering with all my might; "what's done can't be helped."
"Better that you had not been helped," observed Mr Drummond, wiping off his share of my liberal spargification from his coat and waistcoat.
"The poor boy has been shamefully neglected," observed the good-natured Mrs Drummond. "Come, Jacob, sit down and try it again; it will not burn you now."
"Better luck next time," said I, shoving in a portion of it, with a great deal of tremulous hesitation, and spilling one-half of it in its transit. It was now cool, but I did not get on very fast; I held my spoon awry, and soiled my clothes.
Mrs Drummond interfered, and kindly showed me how to proceed; when Mr Drummond said, "Let the boy eat it after his own fashion, my dear—only be quick, Jacob, for we are waiting."
"Then I see no good losing so much of it, taking it in tale," observed I, "when I can ship it all in bulk in a minute." I laid down my spoon, and stooping my head, applied my mouth to the edge of the plate, and sucked the remainder down my throat without spilling a drop. I looked up for approbation, and was very much astonished to hear Mrs Drummond quietly observe, "That is not the way to eat soup."
I made so many blunders during the meal that little Sarah was in a continued roar of laughter; and I felt so miserable, that I heartily wished myself again in my dog-kennel on board of the lighter, gnawing biscuit in all the happiness of content and dignity of simplicity. For the first time I felt the pangs of humiliation. Ignorance is not always debasing. On board of the lighter, I was sufficient for myself, my company, and my duties. I felt an elasticity of mind, a respect for myself, and a consciousness of power, as the immense mass was guided through the waters by my single arm. There, without being able to analyse my feelings, I was a spirit guiding a little world; and now, at this table, and in company with rational and well-informed beings, I felt humiliated and degraded; my heart was overflowing with shame, and at one unusual loud laugh of the little Sarah, the heaped up measure of my anguish overflowed, and I burst into a passion of tears. As I lay with my head upon the table-cloth, regardless of those decencies I had so much feared, and awake only to a deep sense of wounded pride, each sob coming from the very core of my heart, I felt a soft breathing warm upon my cheek, that caused me to look up timidly, and I beheld the glowing and beautiful face of little Sarah, her eyes filled with tears, looking so softly and beseechingly at me, that I felt at once I was of some value, and panted to be of more.
"I won't laugh at you any more," said she; "so don't cry, Jacob."
"No more I will," replied I, cheering up. She remained standing by me, and I felt grateful. "The first time I get a piece of wood," whispered I, "I'll cut you out a barge."
"That boy has a heart," said Mr Drummond to his wife.
"But will it swim, Jacob?" inquired the little girl.
"Yes, and if it's lopsided, call me a lubber."
"What's lopsided, and what's a lubber?" replied Sarah.
"Why, don't you know?" cried I; and I felt my confidence return when I found that in this little instance I knew more than she did.
I AM SENT TO A CHARITY SCHOOL, WHERE THE BOYS DO NOT CONSIDER CHARITY AS A PART OF THEIR EDUCATION—THE PECULIARITIES OF THE MASTER, AND THE MAGICAL EFFECT OF A BLOW OF THE NOSE—A DISQUISITION UPON THE LETTER A, FROM WHICH I FIND ALL MY PREVIOUS LEARNING THROWN AWAY.
Before I quitted the room, Sarah and I were in deep converse at the window, and Mr and Mrs Drummond employed likewise at the table. The result of the conversation between Sarah and me was the intimacy of children; that of Mr and Mrs Drummond, that the sooner I was disposed of, the more it would be for my own advantage. Having some interest with the governors of a charity school near Brentford, Mr Drummond lost no time in procuring me admission; and before I had quite spoiled my new clothes, having worn them nearly three weeks, I was suited afresh in a formal attire—a long coat of pepper and salt, yellow leather breeches tied at the knees, a worsted cap with a tuft on the top of it, stockings and shoes to match, and a large pewter plate upon my breast, marked with Number 63, which, as I was the last entered boy, indicated the sum total of the school. It was with regret that I left the abode of the Drummonds, who did not think it advisable to wait for the completion of the barge, much to the annoyance of Miss Drummond, and before we arrived met them all out walking. I was put into the ranks, received a little good advice from my worthy patron, who then walked away one way, while we walked another, looking like a regiment of yellow-thighed field-fares straightened in human perpendiculars. Behold, then, the last scion of the Faithfuls, peppered, salted, and plated, that all the world might know that he was a charity-boy, and that there was charity in this world. But if heroes, kings, great and grave men, must yield to destiny, lighter-boys cannot be expected to escape; and I was doomed to receive an education, board, lodging, raiment, etcetera, free, gratis, and for nothing.
Every society has it chief; and I was about to observe that every circle has it centre, which certainly would have been true enough, but the comparison is of no use to me, as our circle had two centres, or, to follow up the first idea, had two chiefs—the chief schoolmaster and the chief domestic—the chief masculine and the chief feminine—the chief with the ferula, and the chief with the brimstone and treacle—the master and the matron, each of whom had their appendages—the one in the usher, the other in the assistant housemaid. But of this quartette, the master was not only the most important, but the most worthy of description; and as he will often appear in the pages of my narrative, long after my education was complete, I shall be very particular in my description of Dominie Dobiensis, as he delighted to be called, or Dreary Dobs, as his dutiful scholars delighted to call him. As in our school it was necessary that we should be instructed in reading, writing, and ciphering, the governors had selected the Dominie as the most fitting person that had offered for the employment, because he had, in the first place, written a work that nobody could understand upon the Greek particles; secondly, he had proved himself a great mathematician, having, it is said, squared the circle by algebraical false quantities, but would never show the operation for fear of losing the honour by treachery. He had also discovered as many errors in the demonstrations of Euclid as ever did Joey Hume in army and navy estimates, and with as much benefit to the country at large. He was a man who breathed certainly in the present age, but the half of his life was spent in antiquity or algebra. Once carried away by a problem, or a Greek reminiscence, he passed away, as it were, from his present existence, and everything was unheeded. His body remained, and breathed on his desk, but his soul was absent. This peculiarity was well known to the boys, who used to say, "Dominie is in his dreams, and talks in his sleep."
Dominie Dobiensis left reading and writing to the usher, contrary to the regulations of the school, putting the boys, if possible, into mathematics, Latin, and Greek. The usher was not over competent to teach the two first; the boys not over willing to learn the latter. The master was too clever, the usher too ignorant; hence the scholars profited little. The Dominie was grave and irascible, but he possessed a fund of drollery and the kindest heart. His features could not laugh, but his trachea did. The chuckle rose no higher than the rings of the wind-pipe, and then it was vigorously thrust back again by the impulse of gravity into the region of his heart, and gladdened it with hidden mirth in its dark centre. The Dominie loved a pun; whether it was let off in English, Greek, or Latin. The last two were made by nobody but himself, and not being understood, were, of course, relished by himself alone. But his love of a pun was a serious attachment: he loved it with a solemn affection—with him it was no laughing matter.
In person Dominie Dobiensis was above six feet, all bone and sinews. His face was long and his lineaments large; but his predominant feature was his nose, which, large as were the others, bore them down into insignificance. It was a prodigy—a ridicule; but he consoled himself— Ovid was called Naso. It was not an aquiline nose, nor was it an aquiline nose reversed. It was not a nose snubbed at the extremity, gross, heavy, or carbuncled, or fluting. In all its magnitude of proportions, it was an intellectual nose. It was thin, horny, transparent, and sonorous. Its snuffle was consequential and its sneeze oracular. The very sight of it was impressive; its sound, when blown in school hours, was ominous. But the scholars loved the nose for the warning which it gave: like the rattle of the dreaded snake, which announces its presence, so did the nose indicate to the scholars that they were to be on their guard. The Dominie would attend to this world and its duties for an hour or two, and then forget his scholars and his school-room, while he took a journey into the world of Greek or algebra. Then, when he marked x, y, and z, in his calculations, the boys knew that he was safe, and their studies were neglected.
Reader, did you ever witness the magic effects of a drum in a small village, when the recruiting party, with many-coloured ribbons, rouse it up with a spirit-stirring tattoo? Matrons leave their domestic cares, and run to the cottage door: peeping over their shoulders, the maidens admire and fear. The shuffling clowns raise up their heads gradually, until they stand erect and proud; the slouch in the back is taken out, their heavy walk is changed to a firm yet elastic tread, every muscle appears more braced, every nerve, by degrees, new strung; the blood circulates rapidly: pulses quicken, hearts throb, eyes brighten, and as the martial sound pervades their rustic frames, the Cimons of the plough are converted, as if by magic, into incipient heroes for the field;—and all this is produced by beating the skin of the most gentle, most harmless animal of creation.
Not having at hand the simile synthetical, we have resorted to the antithetical. The blowing of the Dominie's nose produced the very contrary effects. It was a signal that he had returned from his intellectual journal, and was once more in his school-room—that the master had finished with his x, y, z's, and it was time for scholars to mind their p's and q's. At this note of warning, like the minute-roll among the troops, every one fell into his place; half-munched apples were thrust into the first pocket—popguns disappeared—battles were left to be decided elsewhere—books were opened, and eyes directed to them—forms that were fidgeting and twisting in all directions, now took one regimental inclined position over the desk—silence was restored, order resumed her reign, and Mr Knapps, the usher, who always availed himself of these interregnums, as well as the scholars, by deserting to the matron's room, warned by the well-known sound, hastened to the desk of toil; such were the astonishing effects of a blow from Dominie Dobiensis' sonorous and peace-restoring nose.
"Jacob Faithful, draw near," were the first words which struck upon my tympanum the next morning, when I had taken my seat at the further end of the school-room. I rose and threaded my way through two lines of boys, who put out their legs to trip me up in my passage through their ranks; and surmounting all difficulties, found myself within three feet of the master's high desk, or pulpit, from which he looked down upon me like the Olympian Jupiter upon mortals, in ancient time.
"Jacob Faithful, canst thou read?"
"No, I can't," replied I; "I wish I could."
"A well-disposed answer, Jacob; thy wishes shall be gratified. Knowest thou thine alphabet?"
"I don't know what that is."
"Then thou knowest it not. Mr Knapps shall forthwith instruct thee. Thou shall forthwith go to Mr Knapps, who inculcateth the rudiments. Levior Puer, lighter-boy, thou hast a crafty look." And then I heard a noise in his throat that resembled the "cluck, cluck" when my poor mother poured the gin out of the great stone bottle.
"My little navilculator," continued he, "thou art a weed washed on shore, one of Father Thames' cast-up wrecks. 'Fluviorum rex Eridanus,' [Chuck, cluck.] To thy studies; be thyself—that is, be Faithful. Mr Knapps, let the Cadmean art proceed forthwith." So saying, Dominie Dobiensis thrust his large hand into his right coat pocket, in which he kept his snuff loose, and taking a large pinch (the major part of which, the stock being low, was composed of hair and cotton abrasions which had collected in the corners of his pocket), he called up the first class, while Mr Knapps called me to my first lesson.
Mr Knapps was a thin, hectic-looking young man, apparently nineteen or twenty years of age, very small in all his proportions, red ferret eyes, and without the least sign of incipient manhood; but he was very savage, nevertheless. Not being permitted to pummel the boys when the Dominie was in the school-room, he played the tyrant most effectually when he was left commanding officer. The noise and hubbub certainly warranted his interference—the respect paid to him was positively nil. His practice was to select the most glaring delinquent, and let fly his ruler at him, with immediate orders to bring it back. These orders were complied with for more than one reason; in the first place, was the offender hit, he was glad that another should have his turn; in the second, Mr Knapps being a very bad shot (never having drove a Kamschatdale team of dogs), he generally missed the one he aimed at, and hit some other, who, if he did not exactly deserve it at that moment, certainly did for previous, or would for subsequent, delinquencies. In the latter case, the ruler was brought back to him because there was no injury inflicted, although intended. However, be it as it may, the ruler was always returned to him; and thus did Mr Knapps pelt the boys as if they were cocks on Shrove Tuesday, to the great risk of their heads and limbs. I have little further to say of Mr Knapps, except that he wore a black shalloon loose coat; on the left sleeve of which he wiped his pen, and upon the right, but too often, his ever-snivelling nose.
"What is that, boy?" said Mr Knapps, pointing to the letter A.
I looked attentively, and recognising, as I thought, one of my father's hieroglyphics, replied, "That's half-a-bushel;" and I was certainly warranted in my supposition.
"Half-a-bushel! You're more than half a fool. That's the letter A."
"No; it's half-a-bushel; father told me so."
"Then your father was as big a fool as yourself."
"Father knew what half-a-bushel was, and so do I: that's half-a-bushel."
"I tell you it's the letter A," cried Mr Knapps, in a rage.
"It's half-a-bushel," replied I, doggedly. I persisted in my assertion: and Mr Knapps, who dared not punish me while the Dominie was present, descended his throne of one step, and led me up to the master.
"I can do nothing with this boy, sir," said he, red as fire; "he denies the first letter in the alphabet, and insists upon it that the letter A is not A, but half-a-bushel."
"Dost thou, in thine ignorance, pretend to teach when thou comest here to learn, Jacob Faithful?"
"Father always told me that that thing there meant half-a-bushel."
"Thy father might, perhaps, have used that letter to signify the measure which thou speakest of, in the same way as I, in my mathematics, use divers letters for known and unknown quantities; but thou must forget that which thy father taught thee, and commence de novo. Dost thou understand?"
"No, I don't."
"Then, little Jacob, that represents the letter A, and whatever else Mr Knapps may tell thee, thou wilt believe. Return, Jacob, and be docile."
SLEIGHT-OF-HAND AT THE EXPENSE OF MY FEET—FILLING A MAN'S POCKETS AS GREAT AN OFFENCE AS PICKING THEM, AND PUNISHED ACCORDINGLY—A TURN OUT, A TURN UP, AND A TURN IN—EARLY IMPRESSIONS REMOVED, AND REDUNDANCY OF FEELING CORRECTED BY A SPELL OF THE RATTAN.
I did not quit Mr Knapps until I had run through the alphabet, and then returned to my place, that I might con it over at my leisure, puzzling myself with the strange complexity of forms of which the alphabet was composed. I felt heated and annoyed by the constraint of my shoes, always an object of aversion from the time I had put them on. I drew my foot out of one, then out of the other, and thought no more of them for some time. In the meanwhile the boys next me had passed them on with their feet to the others, and thus were they shuffled along until they were right up to the master's desk. I missed them, and perceiving that there was mirth at my expense, I narrowly and quietly watched up and down till I perceived one of the head boys of the school, who sat nearest the Dominie, catch up one of my shoes, and the Dominie being then in an absent fit, drop it into his coat-pocket. A short time afterwards he got up, went to Mr Knapps, put a question to him, and while it was being answered, he dropped the other into the pocket of the usher, and tittering to the other boys, returned to his seat. I said nothing; but when the hours of school were over, the Dominie looked at his watch, blew his nose, which made the whole of the boys pop up their heads, like the clansmen of Roderick Dhu, when summoned by his horn, folded up his large pocket-hankerchief slowly and reverently, as if it were a banner, put it into his pocket, and uttered in a solemn tone, "Tempus est ludendi." As this Latin phrase was used every day at the same hour, every boy in the school understood so much Latin. A rush from all the desks ensured, and amidst shouting, yelling, and leaping every soul disappeared except myself, who remained fixed to my form. The Dominie rose from his pulpit and descended, the usher did the same, and both approached me on their way to their respective apartments.
"Jacob Faithful, why still porest thou over thy book—didst thou not understand that the hours of recreation had arrived? Why risest thou not upon thy feet like the others?"
"'Cause I've got no shoes."
"And where are thy shoes, Jacob?"
"One's in your pocket," replied I "and t'other's in his'n."
Each party placed their hands behind, and felt the truth of the assertion.
"Expound, Jacob," said the Dominie, "who hath done this?"
"The big boy with the red hair, and a face picked all over with holes like the strainers in master's kitchen," replied I.
"Mr Knapps, it would be infra dig on my part, and also on yours, to suffer this disrespect to pass unnoticed. Ring in the boys."
The boys were rung in, and I was desired to point out the offender, which I immediately did, and who as stoutly denied the offence; but he had abstracted my shoe-strings, and put them into his own shoes. I recognised them and it was sufficient.
"Barnaby Bracegirdle," said the Dominie, "thou art convicted, not only of disrespect towards me and Mr Knapps, but further of the grievous sin of lying. Simon Swapps, let him be hoisted."
He was hoisted: his nether garments descended, and then the birch descend with all the vigour of the Dominie's muscular arm. Barnaby Bracegirdle showed every symptom of his disapproval of the measures taken; but Simon Swapps held fast, and the Dominie flogged fast. After a minute's flagellation, Barnaby was let down, his yellow tights pulled up, and the boys dismissed. Barnaby's face was red, but the antipodes were redder. The Dominie departed, leaving us together,—he adjusting his inexpressibles, I putting in my shoe-strings. By the time Barnaby had buttoned up and wiped his eyes, I had succeeded in standing in my shoes. There we were tete-a-tete.
"Now, then," said Barnaby, holding one fist to my face, while, with the other open hand he rubbed behind, "come out in the play-ground, Mr Cinderella, and see if I won't drub you within an inch of your life."
"It's no use crying," said I, soothingly: for I had not wished him to be flogged. "What's done can't be helped. Did it hurt you much?"
This intended consolation was taken for sarcasm. Barnaby stormed.
"Take it coolly," observed I.
Barnaby waxed even more wroth.
"Better luck next time," continued I, trying to soothe him.
Barnaby was outrageous—he shook his fist and ran into the play-ground, daring me to follow him. His threats had no weight with me; not wishing to remain indoors, I followed him in a minute or two, when I found him surrounded by the other boys, to whom he was in loud and vehement harangue.
"Cinderella, where's your glass slippers?" cried the boys, as I made my appearance.
"Come out, you water-rat," cried Barnaby, "you son of a cinder!"
"Come out and fight him, or else you're a coward!" exclaimed the whole host, from Number 1 to Number 62, inclusive.
"He has had beating enough already to my mind," replied I; "but he had better not touch me—I can use my arms."
A ring was formed, in the centre of which I found Barnaby and myself. He took off his clothes, and I did the same. He was much older and stronger than I, and knew something about fighting. One boy came forward as my second. Barnaby advanced and held out his hand, which I shook heartily, thinking it was all over: but immediately received a right and left on the face, which sent me reeling backwards. This was a complete mystery, but it raised my bile, and I returned it with interest. I was very strong in my arms, as may be supposed; and I threw them about like sails of a windmill, never hitting straight out, but with semicircular blows, which descended on or about his ears. On the contrary, his blows were all received straightforward, and my nose and face were soon covered with blood. As I warmed with pain and rage I flung out my arms at random, and Barnaby gave me a knock-down blow. I was picked up and sat upon my second's knee, who whispered to me as I spat the blood out of my mouth, "Take it coolly, and make sure when you hit."
My own—my father's maxim—coming from another, it struck with double force, and I never forgot it during the remainder of the fight. Again we were standing up face to face; again I received it right and left, and returned it upon his right and left ears. Barnaby rushed in—I was down again.
"Better luck next time," said I to my second, as cool as a cucumber.
A third and a fourth round succeeded, all apparently in Barnaby's favour, but really in mine. My face was beat to a mummy, but he was what is termed groggy, from the constant return of blows on the side of the head. Again we stood up panting and exhausted. Barnaby rushed at me, and I avoided him: before he could return to the attack I had again planted two severe blows upon his ears, and he reeled. He shook his head, and with his fists in the attitude of defence, asked me whether I had had enough.
"He has," said my second; "stick to him now, Jacob, and you'll beat him."
I did stick to him; three or four more blows applied to the same part finished him, and he fell senseless on the ground.
"You've settled him," cried my second.
"What's done can't be helped," replied I. "Is he dead?"
"What's all this?" cried Mr Knapps, pressing his way through the crowd, followed by the matron.
"Barnaby and Cinderella having it out, sir," said one of the elder boys.
The matron, who had already taken a liking for me, because I was good-looking, and because I had been recommended to her care by Mrs Drummond, ran to me.
"Well," says she, "if the Dominie don't punish that big brute for this, I'll see whether I'm anybody or not;" and taking me by the hand, she led me away. In the meantime Mr Knapps surveyed Barnaby, who was still senseless; and desired the other boys to bring him in and lay him on his bed. He breathed hard, but still remained senseless, and a surgeon was sent for, who found it necessary to bleed him copiously. He then, at the request of the matron, came to me; my features were indistinguishable, but elsewhere I was all right. As I stripped he examined my arms.
"It seemed strange," observed he, "that the bigger boy should be so severely punished; but this boy's arms are like little sledge-hammers. I recommend you," said he to the other boys, "not to fight with him, for some day or other he'll kill one of you."
This piece of advice was not forgotten by the other boys, and from that day I was the cock of the school. The name of Cinderella, given me by Barnaby, in ridicule of my mother's death, was immediately abandoned, and I suffered no more persecution. It was the custom of the Dominie, whenever two boys fought, to flog them both; but in this instance it was not followed up, because I was not the aggressor, and my adversary narrowly escaped with his life. I was under the matron's care for a week, and Barnaby under the surgeon's hands for about the same time.
Neither was I less successful in my studies. I learnt rapidly, after I had conquered the first rudiments; but I had another difficulty to conquer, which was my habit of construing everything according to my refined ideas; the force of association had become so strong that I could not overcome it for a considerable length of time. Mr Knapps continually complained of my being obstinate, when, in fact, I was anxious to please as well as to learn. For instance, in spelling, the first syllable always produced the association with something connected with my former way of life. I recollect the Dominie once, and only once, gave me a caning, about a fortnight after I went to the school.
I had been brought up by Mr Knapps as contumelious.
"Jacob Faithful, how is this? thine head is good yet wilt thou refuse learning. Tell me now, what does c-a-t spell?"
It was the pitch-pipe to cat-head, and answered I accordingly.
"Nay, Jacob, it spells cat; take care of thy head on the next reply. Understand me, head is not understood. Jacob, thy head is in jeopardy. Now, Jacob, what does m-a-t spell?"
"Chafing-mat," replied I.
"It spells mat only, silly boy; the chafing will be on my part directly. Now, Jacob, what does d-o-g spell?"
"Dog, Jacob, without the kennel. Thou art very contumelious, and deservest to be rolled in the kennel. Now, Jacob, this is the last time that thou triflest with me; what does h-a-t spell?"
"Fur cap," replied I, after some hesitation.
"Jacob, I feel the wrath rising within me, yet would I fain spare thee; if h-a-t spell fur-cap, pray advise me, what doth c-a-p spell, then?"
"Indeed, Jacob, thy stern as well as thy head are in danger; and I suppose, then, w-i-n-d spells windlass, does it not?"
"Yes, sir," replied I, pleased to find that he agreed with me.
"Upon the same principle, what does r-a-t spell?"
"Rat, sir," replied I.
"Nay, Jacob, r-a-t must spell rattan, and as thou hast missed thine own mode of spelling, thou shalt not miss the cane." The Dominie then applied it to my shoulders with considerable unction, much to the delight of Mr Knapps, who thought the punishment was much too small for the offence. But I soon extricated myself from these associations as my ideas extended, and was considered by the Dominie as the cleverest boy in the school. Whether it were from natural intellect, or from my brain having lain fallow, as it were, for so many years, or probably from the two causes combined, I certainly learned almost by instinct. I read my lessons once over and laid my book aside, for I knew it all. I had not been six months at the school before I discovered that, in a thousand instances, the affection of a father appeared towards me under the rough crust of the Dominie. I think it was on the third day of the seventh month that I afforded him a day of triumph and warming of his heart, when he took me for the first time into his little study, and put the Latin Accidence into my hands. I learnt my first lesson in a quarter of an hour; and I remember well how that unsmiling, grave man looked into my smiling eyes, parting the chestnut curls, which the matron would not cut off, from my brows, and saying, "Bene fecisti, Jacobe." Many times afterwards, when the lesson was over, he would fix his eyes upon me, fall back on his chair, and make me recount all I could remember of my former life, which was really nothing but a record of perceptions and feelings. He could attend to me, and as I related some early and singular impression, some conjecture of what I saw, yet could not comprehend, on the shore which I had never touched, he would rub his hands with enthusiasm, and exclaim, "I have found a new book—an album, whereon I may write the deeds of heroes and the words of sages. Carissime Jacobe! how happy shall we be when we get into Virgil!" I hardly need say that I loved him—I did so from my heart, and learned with avidity to please him. I felt that I was of consequence—my confidence in myself was unbounded. I walked proudly, yet I was not vain. My school-fellows hated me, but they feared me as much for my own prowess as my interest with the master; but still many were the bitter gibes and innuendoes which I was obliged to hear as I sat down with them to our meals. At other times I held communion with the Dominie, the worthy old matron, and my books. We walked out every day, at first attended by Mr Knapps the usher. The boys would not walk with me without they were ordered, and if ordered, most unwillingly. Yet I had given no cause of offence. The matron found it out, told the Dominie, and after that the Dominie attended the boys and led me by the hand.
This was of the greatest advantage to me, as he answered all my questions, which were not few, and each day I advanced in every variety of knowledge. Before I had been eighteen months at school, the Dominie was unhappy without my company, and I was equally anxious for his presence. He was a father to me, and I loved him as a son should love a father, and as it will hereafter prove, he was my guide through life.
But although the victory over Barnaby Bracegirdle, and the idea of my prowess procured me an enforced respect, still the Dominie's goodwill towards me was the occasion of a settled hostility. Affront me, or attack me openly, they dare not; but supported as the boys were by Mr Knapps the usher, who was equally jealous of my favour, and equally mean in spirit, they caballed to ruin me, if possible, in the good opinion of my master. Barnaby Bracegirdle had a talent for caricature, which was well-known to all but the Dominie. His first attempt against me was a caricature of my mother's death, in which she was represented as a lamp supplied from a gin-bottle, and giving flame out of her mouth. This was told to me, but I did not see it. It was given by Barnaby to Mr Knapps, who highly commended it, and put it into his desk. After which, Barnaby made an oft-repeated caricature of the Dominie, with a vast nose, which he shewed to the usher as my performance. The usher understood what Barnaby was at, and put it into his desk without comment. Several other ludicrous caricatures were made of the Dominie and of the matron, all of which were consigned to Mr Knapps by the boys as being the productions of my pencil; but this was not sufficient—it was necessary I should be more clearly identified. It so happened that one evening, when sitting with the Dominie at my Latin, the matron and Mr Knapps being in the adjoining room, the light, which had burned close down, fell in the socket and went out. The Dominie rose to get another; the matron also got up to fetch away the candlestick with the same intent. They met in the dark, and ran their heads together pretty hard. As this event was only known to Mr Knapps and myself, he communicated it to Barnaby, wondering whether I should not make it a subject of one of my caricatures. Barnaby took the hint; in the course of a few hours this caricature was added to the others. Mr Knapps, to further his views, took an opportunity to mention with encomium my talent for drawing, added that he had seen several of my performances. "The boy hath talent," replied the Dominie; "he is a rich mine, from which much precious metal is to be obtained."
"I hear that thou hast the talent for drawing, Jacob," said he to me, a day or two afterwards.
"I never had in my life, sir," replied I.
"Nay, Jacob; I like modesty but modesty should never lead to a denial of the truth. Remember, Jacob, that thou do not repeat the fault."
I made no answer, as I felt convinced that I was not in fault; but that evening I requested the Dominie to lend me a pencil, as I wished to try and draw. For some days, various scraps of my performances were produced, and received commendation. "The boy draweth well," observed the Dominie to Mr Knapps, as he examined my performance through his spectacles.
"Why should he have denied his being able to draw?" observed the usher.
"It was a fault arising from modesty or want of confidence—even a virtue, carried to excess, may lead us into error."
The next attempt of Barnaby was to obtain the Cornelius Nepos which I then studied. This was effected by Mr Knapps, who took it out of the Dominie's study, and put it into Barnaby's possession, who drew on the fly-leaf, on which was my name, a caricature head of the Dominie; and under my own name, which I had written on the leaf, added, in my hand, fecit, so that it appeared, Jacob Faithful fecit. Having done this, the leaf was torn out of the book, and consigned to the usher with the rest. The plot was now ripe; and the explosion soon ensued. Mr Knapps told the Dominie that I drew caricatures of my school-fellows. The Dominie taxed me, and I denied it. "So you denied drawing," observed the usher.
A few days passed away, when Mr Knapps informed the Dominie that I had been caricaturing him and Mrs Bately, the matron, and that he had proofs of it. I had then gone to bed; the Dominie was much surprised, and thought it impossible that I could be so ungrateful. Mr Knapps said that should make the charge openly, and prove it the next morning in the school-room; and wound up the wrong by describing me in several points, as a cunning, good-for-nothing, although clever boy.
MR. KNAPPS THINKS TO CATCH ME NAPPING, BUT THE PLOT IS DISCOVERED, AND BARNABY BRACEGIRDLE IS OBLIGED TO LOOSEN HIS BRACES FOR THE SECOND TIME ON MY ACCOUNT—DRAWING CARICATURES ENDS IN DRAWING BLOOD—THE USHER IS USHERED OUT OF THE SCHOOL, AND I AM NEARLY USHERED INTO THE NEXT WORLD, BUT INSTEAD OF BEING BOUND ON SO LONG A JOURNEY, I AM BOUND "'PRENTICE TO A WATERMAN."
Ignorant of what had passed, I slept soundly; and the next morning found the matron very grave with me, which I did not comprehend. The Dominie also took no notice of my morning salute: but supposing him to be wrapt in Euclid at the time, I thought little of it. The breakfast passed over, and the bell rang for school. We were all assembled; the Dominie walked in with a very magisterial air, followed by Mr Knapps, who, instead of parting company when he arrived at his own desk, continued his course with the Dominie to his pulpit. We all knew that there was something in the wind; but of all, perhaps, I was the least alarmed. The Dominie unfolded his large handkerchief, waved it, and blew his nose, and the school was into profound silence. "Jacob Faithful, draw near," said he, in a tone which proved that the affair was serious. I drew near, wondering. "Thou hast been accused by Mr Knapps of caricaturing, and holding up to the ridicule of the school, me—thy master. Upon any other boy such disrespect should be visited severely; but from thee, Jacob, I must add in the words of Caesar, 'Et tu Brute,' I expected, I had a right to expect, otherwise. In se animi ingrati crimen vitia omnia condit. Thou understandest me, Jacob— guilty or not guilty?"
"Not guilty, sir," replied I, firmly.
"He pleadeth net guilty, Mr Knapps; proceed, then, to prove thy charge."
Mr Knapps then went to his desk, and brought out the drawings with which he had been supplied by Barnaby Bracegirdle and the other boys. "These drawings, sir, which you will please to look over, have all been given up to me as the performance of Jacob Faithful. At first I could not believe it to be true; but you will perceive, at once, that they are all by the same hand."
"That I acknowledge," said the Dominie; "and all reflect upon my nose. It is true that my nose is of large dimensions, but it was the will of Heaven that I should be so endowed; yet are the noses of these figures even larger than mine own could warrant, if the limner were correct, and not malicious. Still have they merit," continued the Dominie, looking at some of them; and I heard a gentle cluck, cluck, in his throat, as he laughed at his own mis-representations. "Artis adumbratae meruit cum sedula laudem, as Prudentius hath it. I have no time to finish the quotation."
"Here is one drawing, sir," continued Mr Knapps, "which proves to me that Jacob Faithful is the party; in which you and Mrs Bately are shown up to ridicule. Who would have been aware that the candle went out in your study, except Jacob Faithful?"
"I perceive," replied the Dominie, looking at it through his spectacles, when put into his hand, "the arcana of the study have been violated."
"But, sir," continued Mr Knapps, "here is a more convincing proof. You observe this caricature of yourself, with his own name put to it—his own handwriting. I recognised it immediately; and happening to turn over his Cornelius Nepos, observed the first blank leaf torn out. Here it is, sir, and you will observe that it fits on to the remainder of the leaf in the book exactly."
"I perceive that it doth; and am grieved to find that such is the case. Jacob Faithful, thou are convicted of disrespect and of falsehood. Where is Simon Swapps?"
"If you please, sir, may I not defend myself?" replied I. "Am I to be flogged unheard?"
"Nay, that were an injustice," replied the Dominie; "but what defence canst thou offer? O puer infelix et sceleratus!"
"May I look at those caricatures, sir?" said I.
The Dominie handed them to me in silence. I looked them all over, and immediately knew them to be drawn by Barnaby Bracegirdle. The last particularly struck me. I had felt confounded and frightened with the strong evidence brought against me; but this re-assured me, and I spoke boldly. "These drawings are by Barnaby Bracegirdle, sir, and not by me. I never drew a caricature in my life."
"So didst thou assert that thou couldst not draw, and afterwards provedst by thy pencil to the contrary, Jacob Faithful."
"I knew not that I was able to draw when I said so; but I wished to draw when you supposed I was able—I did not like that you should give me credit for what I could not do. It was to please you, sir, that I asked for the pencil."
"I wish it were as thou statest, Jacob—I wish from my inmost soul that thou wert not guilty."
"Will you ask Mr Knapps from whom he had these drawings, and at what time? There are a great many of them."
"Answer, Mr Knapps, to the questions of Jacob Faithful."
"They have been given to me by the boys at different times during this last month."
"Well, Mr Knapps, point out the boys who gave them."
Mr Knapps called out eight or ten boys, who came forward. "Did Barnaby Bracegirdle give you none of them, Mr Knapps?" said I, perceiving that Barnaby was not summoned.
"No," replied Mr Knapps.
"If you please, sir," said I to the Dominie, "with respect to the leaf out of my Nepos, the Jacob Faithful was written on it by me on the day that you gave it to me; but the fecit, and the caricature of yourself, is not mine. How it came there I don't know."
"Thou hast disproved nothing, Jacob," replied the Dominie.
"But I have proved something, sir. On what day was it that I asked you for the pencil to draw with? Was it not on a Saturday?"
"Last Saturday week, I think it was."
"Well, then, sir, Mr Knapps told you the day before that I could draw?"
"He did; and thou deniedst it."
"How, then, does Mr Knapps account for not producing those caricatures of mine, which he says he has collected for a whole month? Why didn't he give them to you before?"
"Thou puttest it shrewdly," replied the Dominie. "Answer, Mr Knapps, why didst thou, for a fortnight at the least, conceal thy knowledge of his offence?"
"I wished to have more proofs," replied the usher.
"Thou hearest, Jacob Faithful."
"Pray, sir, did you ever hear me speak of my poor mother but with kindness?"
"Never, Jacob, thou hast ever appeared dutiful."
"Please, sir, to call up John Williams."
"John, Number 37, draw near."
"Williams," said I, "did you not tell me that Barnaby Bracegirdle had drawn my mother flaming at the mouth?"
"Yes, I did."
My indignation now found vent in a torrent of tears. "Now, sir," cried I, "if you believe that I drew the caricatures of you and Mrs Bately— did I draw this, which is by the same person?" And I handed up to the Dominie the caricature of my mother, which Mr Knapps had inadvertently produced at the bottom of the rest. Mr Knapps turned white as a sheet.
The Dominie looked at the caricature, and was silent for some time. At last he turned to the usher.
"From whom didst thou obtain this, Mr Knapps?"
Mr Knapps replied in his confusion, "From Barnaby Bracegirdle."
"It was but this moment thou didst state that thou hadst received none from Barnaby Bracegirdle. Thou hast contradicted thyself, Mr Knapps. Jacob did not draw his mother; and the pencil is the same as that which drew the rest—ergo, he did not, I really believe, draw one of them. Ite procul fraudes. God, I thank thee, that the innocent have been protected. Narrowly hast thou escaped these toils, O Jacob—Cum populo et duce fraudulento. And now for punishment. Barnaby Bracegirdle, thou gavest this caricature to Mr Knapps; from whence hadst thou it? Lie not."
Barnaby turned red and white, and then acknowledged that the drawing was his own.
"You boys," cried the Dominie, waving his rod which he had seized, "you gave these drawings to Mr Knapps; tell me from whom they came."
The boys, frightened at the Dominie's looks, immediately replied in a breath, "From Barnaby Bracegirdle."
"Then, Barnaby Bracegirdle, from whom didst thou receive them?" inquired the Dominie. Barnaby was dumbfounded.
"Tell the truth; didst thou not draw them thyself, since thou didst not receive them from other people?"
Barnaby fell upon his knees, and related the whole circumstances, particularly the way in which the Cornelius Nepos had been obtained through the medium of Mr Knapps. The indignation of the Dominie was now beyond all bounds. I never had seen him so moved before. He appeared to rise at least a foot more in stature, his eyes sparkled, his great nose turned red, his nostrils dilated, and his mouth was more than half open, to give vent to the ponderous breathing from his chest. His whole appearance was withering to the culprits.
"For thee, thou base, degraded, empty-headed, and venomous little abortion of a man, I have no words to signify my contempt. By the governors of this charity I leave thy conduct to be judged; but until they meet, thou shalt not pollute and contaminate the air of this school by thy presence. If thou hast one spark of good feeling in thy petty frame, beg pardon of this poor boy, whom thou wouldst have ruined by thy treachery. If not, hasten to depart, lest in my wrath I apply to the teacher the punishment intended for the scholar, but of which thou art more deserving than even Barnaby Bracegirdle."
Mr Knapps said nothing, hastened out of the school, and that evening quitted his domicile. When the governors met he was expelled with ignominy. "Simon Swapps, hoist up Barnaby Bracegirdle." Most strenuously and most indefatigably was the birch applied to Barnaby, a second time, through me. Barnaby howled and kicked, howled and kicked, and kicked again. At last the Dominie was tired. "Consonat omne nemus strepitu" (for nemus read schoolroom), exclaimed the Dominie, laying down the rod, and pulling out his handkerchief to wipe his face. "Calcitrat, ardescunt germani coede bimembres, that last quotation is happy." [cluck, cluck.] He then blew his nose, addressed the boys in a long oration—paid me a handsome compliment upon my able defence—proved to all those who chose to listen to him that innocence would always confound guilt—intimated to Barnaby that he must leave the school, and then finding himself worn out with exhaustion, gave the boys a holiday, that they might reflect upon what had passed, and which they duly profited by in playing at marbles and peg in the ring. He then dismissed the school, took me by the hand, and led me into his study, where he gave vent to his strong and affectionate feelings towards me, until the matron came to tell us that dinner was ready.
After this everything went on well. The Dominie's kindness and attention were unremitting, and no one ever thought of caballing against me. My progress became most rapid; I had conquered Virgil, taken Tacitus by storm, and was reading the Odes of Horace. I had passed triumphantly through decimals, and was busily employed in mensuration of solids, when one evening I was seized with a giddiness in my head. I complained to the matron; she felt my hands, pronounced me feverish, and ordered me to bed. I passed a restless night the next morning I attempted to rise, but a heavy burning ball rolled as it were in my head, and I fell back on my pillow. The matron came, was alarmed at my state, and sent for the surgeon, who pronounced that I had caught the typhus fever, then raging through the vicinity. This was the first time in my life that I had known a day's sickness—it was a lesson I had yet to learn. The surgeon bled me, and giving directions to the matron, promised to call again. In a few hours I was quite delirious—my senses ran wild. One moment I thought I was with little Sarah Drummond, walking in green fields, holding her by the hand. I turned round, and she was no longer there, but I was in the lighter, and my hand grasped the cinders of my mother; my father stood before me, again jumped overboard and disappeared; again the dark black column ascended from the cabin, and I was prostrate on the deck. Then I was once more alone on the placid and noble Thames, the moon shining bright, and the sweep in my hand, tiding up the reach, and admiring the foliage which hung in dark shadows over the banks. I saw the slopes of green, so pure and so fresh by that sweet light, and in the distance counted the numerous spires of the great monster city, and beheld the various bridges spanning over the water. The faint ripple of the tide was harmony, the reflection of the moon, beauty; I felt happiness in my heart; I was no longer the charity-boy, but the pilot of the barge. Then, as I would survey the scene, there was something that invariably presented itself between my eyes and the object of my scrutiny; whichever way I looked, it stood in my way, and I could not remove it. It was like a cloud, yet transparent, and with a certain undefined shape. I tried for some time, but in vain, to decipher it, but could not. At last it appeared to cohere into a form—it was the Dominie's great nose, magnified into that of the Scripture, "As the tower which looketh towards Damascus." My temples throbbed with agony—I burned all over. I had no exact notions of death in bed, except that of my poor mother, and I thought that I was to die like her; the horrible fear seized me that all this burning was but prefatory to bursting out into flame and consuming into ashes. The dread hung about my young heart and turned that to ice, while the rest of my body was on fire. This was my last recollection, and then all was blank. For many days I lay unconscious of either pain or existence: when I awoke from my stupor, my wandering senses gradually returning, I opened my eyes, and dimly perceived something before me that cut across my vision in a diagonal line. As the mist cleared away, and I recovered myself, I made out that it was the nose of Dominie Dobiensis, who was kneeling at the bed-side, his nose adumbrating the coverlid of my bed, his spectacles dimmed with tears, and his long grey locks falling on each side, and shadowing his eyes. I was not frightened, but I was too weak to stir or speak. His prayer-book was in his hand, and he still remained on his knees. He had been praying for me. Supposing me still insensible, he broke out in the following soliloquy:—
"Naviculator larvus pallidus—how beautiful even in death! My poor lighter-boy, that hath mastered the rudiments, and triumphed over the Accidence—but to die! Levior puer, a puerile conceit, yet I love it, as I do thee. How my heart bleeds for thee! The icy breath of death hath whitened thee, as the hoar-frost whitens the autumnal rose. Why wert thou transplanted from thine own element? Young prince of the stream—lord of the lighter—'Ratis rex et magister'—heir apparent to the tiller—betrothed to the sweep—wedded to the deck—how art thou laid low! Where is the blooming cheek, ruddy with the browning air? where the bright and swimming eye? Alas where? 'Tum breviter dirae mortis aperta via est,' as sweet Tibullus hath it;" and the Dominie sobbed anew. "Had this stroke fallen upon me, the aged, the ridiculed, the little regarded, the ripe one for the sickle, it would have been well—yet fain would I have instructed thee still more before I quitted the scene—fain have left thee the mantle of learning. Thou knowest, Lord, that I walk wearily, as in the desert, that I am heavily burdened, and that my infirmities are many. Must I then mourn over thee, thou promising one—must I say with the epigrammatist—