Some ten minutes after this, Mr Spinney handed the pot of porter to the curate, and subsequently to the rest of the party. They all took largely, then puffed away as before.
How long this cabinet-council might have continued, it is impossible to say; but "Silence," who was in "the chair," was soon afterwards driven from his post of honour by the most implacable of his enemies, a "woman's tongue."
"Well, Mr Forster! well, gentlemen! do you mean to poison me? Have you made smell and dirt enough? How long is this to last, I should like to know?" cried Mrs Forster, entering the room. "I tell you what, Mr Forster, you had better hang up a sign at once, and keep an ale-house. Let the sign be a Fool's Head, like your own. I wonder you are not ashamed of yourself, Mr Curate; you that ought to set an example to your parishioners!"
But Mr Dragwell did not admire such remonstrance; so taking his pipe out of his mouth, he retorted—"If your husband does put up a sign, I recommend him to stick you up as the 'Good Woman;' that would be without your head—Ha, ha, ha!"
"He, he, he!"
"He, he, he! you pitiful 'natomy," cried Mrs Forster, in a rage, turning to the clerk, as she dared not revenge herself upon the curate. "Take that for your He, he, he!" and she swung round the empty pewter pot, which she snatched from the table, upon the bald pericranium of Mr Spinney, who tumbled off his chair, and rolled upon the sanded floor.
The remainder of the party were on their legs in an instant. Newton jerked the weapon out of his mother's hands, and threw it in a corner of the room. Nicholas was aghast; he surmised that his turn would come next; and so it proved—"An't you ashamed of yourself, Mr Forster, to see me treated in this way—bringing a parcel of drunken men into the house to insult me? Will you order them out, or not, sir?—Are we to have quiet or not?"
"Yes, my love," replied Nicholas, confused, "yes, my dear, by-and-bye as soon as you're—"
Mrs Forster darted towards her husband with the ferocity of a mad cat. Hilton, perceiving the danger of his host, put out his leg so as to trip her up in her career, and she fell flat upon her face on the floor. The violence of the fall was so great, that she was stunned. Newton raised her up; and, with the assistance of his father (who approached with as much reluctance as a horse spurred towards a dead tiger), carried her upstairs, and laid her on her bed.
Poor Mr Spinney was now raised from the floor. He still remained stupefied with the blow, although gradually recovering. Betsy came in to render assistance. "O dear, Mr Curate, do you think that he'll die?"
"No, no; bring some water, Betsy, and throw it in his face."
"Better take him home as he is," replied Betsy, "and say that he is killed; when Missis hears it, she'll be frightened out of her life. It will keep her quiet for some time at least."
"An excellent idea, Betty; we will punish her for her conduct," replied Hilton. The curate was delighted at the plan. Mr Spinney was placed in an arm-chair, covered over with a table-cloth, and carried away to the parsonage by two men, who were provided by Betsy before Nicholas or Newton had quitted the room where Mrs Forster lay in a deplorable condition; her sharp nose broken, and twisted on one side; her eyebrow cut open to the bone, and a violent contusion on her forehead. In less than half-an-hour it was spread through the whole town that Spinney had been murdered by Mrs Forster, and that his brains were bespattered all over the shop windows!
"That she is mad, 'tis true: 'tis true, 'tis pity; And pity 'tis, 'tis true: a foolish figure; But farewell it, for I will use no art. Mad let us grant her then; and now remains That we find out the cause of this effect, Or rather say, the cause of this defect." SHAKESPEARE.
Mr Dragwell has already made honourable mention of his wife; it will therefore only be necessary to add that he had one daughter, a handsome lively girl, engaged to a Mr Ramsden, the new surgeon of the place, who had stepped into the shoes and the good-will of one who had retired from forty years' practice upon the good people of Overton. Fanny Dragwell had many good qualities, and many others which were rather doubtful. One of the latter had procured her more enemies than at her age she had any right to expect. It was what the French term "malice," which bears a very different signification from the same word in our own language. She delighted in all practical jokes, and would carry them to an excess, at the very idea of which others would be startled; but it must be acknowledged that she generally selected as her victims those who from their conduct towards others richly deserved retaliation. The various tricks which she had played upon certain cross old spinsters, tattlers, scandal-mongers, and backbiters, often were the theme of conversation and of mirth: but this description of espieglerie contains a most serious objection; which is, that to carry on a successful and well-arranged plot, there must be a total disregard of truth. Latterly, Miss Fanny had had no one to practise upon except Mr Ramsden, during the period of his courtship—a period at which women never appear to so much advantage, nor men appear so silly. But even for this, the time was past, as latterly she had become so much attached to him that distress on his part was a source of annoyance to herself. When, therefore, her father came home, narrating the circumstances which had occurred, and the plan which had been meditated, Fanny entered gaily into the scheme. Mrs Forster had long been her abhorrence; and an insult to Mr Ramsden, who had latterly been designated by Mrs Forster as a "Pill-gilding Puppy," was not to be forgotten. Her active and inventive mind immediately conceived a plan which would enable her to carry the joke much further than the original projectors had intended. Ramsden, who had been summoned to attend poor Mr Spinney, was her sole confidant, and readily entered into a scheme which was pleasing to his mistress, and promised revenge for the treatment he had received; and which, as Miss Dragwell declared, would be nothing but retributive justice upon Mrs Forster.
Late in the evening, a message was received from Newton Forster, requesting that Mr Ramsden would attend his mother. He had just visited the old clerk, who was now sensible, and had nothing to complain of except a deep cut on his temple from the rim of the pewter-pot. After receiving a few parting injunctions from Miss Dragwell, Mr Ramsden quitted the parsonage.
"I am afraid it's a very bad business, Mr Forster," replied the surgeon to Newton, who had been interrogating him relative to the injury received by Mr Spinney.
"Evident concussion of the brain; he may live—or he may not; a few days will decide the point: he is a poor feeble old man."
Newton sighed as he reflected upon the disaster and disgrace which might ensue from his mother's violence of temper.
"Eh! what, Mr Ramsden?" said Nicholas, who had been for some time contemplating the battered visage of his spouse. "Did you say she'll die?"
"No, no, Mr Forster, there's no fear of Mrs Forster, she'll do well enough. She'll be up and about again in a day or two, as lively as ever."
"God forbid!" muttered the absent Nicholas.
"Mr Forster, see if I don't pay you off for that, as soon as I'm up again," muttered the recumbent lady, as well as the bandages passed under her chin would permit her.
"Pray call early to-morrow, Mr Ramsden, and let us know how Mr Spinney is going on," said Newton, extending his hand as the surgeon rose to depart. Mr Ramsden shook it warmly, and quitted the house: he had left them about half-an-hour when Betsy made her appearance with some fomentations, which had been prepared in the kitchen. Out of revenge for sundry blows daily received, and sundry epithets hourly bestowed upon her by her mistress, the moment she entered she exclaimed, in a half-crying tone, "O dear, Mr Newton! there's such shocking news just come from the parsonage; Mr Spinney is just dead, and my missis will be hanged!"
Mrs Forster said not a word; she quailed under dread of the report being correct. Newton and his father looked at each other; their mute anguish was expressed by covering up their faces with their hands.
When Hilton and the curate arranged their plans for the mortification of Mrs Forster, it was considered advisable that Newton (who was not so easily to be imposed upon) should be removed out of the way. Hilton had already stated his intention to give him charge of the vessel; and he now proposed sending him for a cargo of shingle, which was lying ready for her, about fifty miles down the coast, and which was to be delivered at Waterford. At an early hour, on the ensuing morning, he called at Forster's house. Newton, who had not taken off his clothes, came out to meet him.
"Well, Newton, how is your mother?" said Hilton, "I hope you are not angry with me: I certainly was the occasion of the accident, but I could not bear to see your worthy father treated in that manner."
"I blush to acknowledge, Mr Hilton, that she deserved it all," replied Newton; "but I am very much alarmed about the condition of Mr Spinney. Have you heard this morning?"
"No; but between ourselves, Newton, doctors always make the worst of their cases. I never heard of a pewter-pot killing a man; he'll do well enough, never fear. I came to tell you that I've a letter last night from Repton, who says that the shingle must be delivered before the tenth of next month, or the contract will be void. He desires that I will send the sloop directly, or he must employ another craft. Now, I think you had better start at once; there's a nice fair wind for you, and you'll be down afore night."
"Why, really, Mr Hilton, I do not exactly like to leave home just now," replied Newton, thoughtfully.
"Well, as you please, Mr Forster," rejoined Hilton, with apparent displeasure. "I have offered you the command of the vessel, and now you object to serve my interests on the very first occasion, merely because there are a couple of broken heads!"
"I am wrong, most certainly," replied Newton; "I beg your pardon—I will just speak a word or two to my father, and be on board in less than half an hour."
"I will meet you there," said Hilton, "and bring your papers. Be as quick as you can, or you'll lose the first of the tide."
Newton returned to the house; his father made no objection to his departure; and, in fulfilment of his promise, Newton was ready to start, when he encountered Ramsden at the door.
"Mr Ramsden," said Newton, "I am requested by the owner of my vessel to sail immediately; but if you think that the life of Mr Spinney is seriously in danger, I will throw up the command of the vessel, rather than leave my mother under such an accumulation of disasters. I beg as a favour that you will not disguise the truth."
"You may sail this minute, if you please, Mr Forster; I am happy to be able to relieve your mind. Mr Spinney is doing very well, and you'll see him at his desk on the first Sunday of your return."
"Then I am off: good-bye, Mr Ramsden; many thanks."
With a lightened heart, Newton leapt into the skiff which was to carry him on board of the sloop; and in less than half an hour was standing away to the southward before a fine wind, to execute the orders which he had received.
Ramsden remained a few minutes at the door, until he saw Newton ascend the side of the vessel; then he entered, and was received by Betsy.
"Well, Betsy, you agreed to make Mrs Forster believe that Mr Spinney was dead; but we little thought that such would really be the case."
"Lord love you, sir! why, you don't say so?"
"I do, indeed, Betsy; but mind, we must keep it a secret for the present, until we can get Mrs Forster out of the way. How is she this morning?"
"Oh, very stiff, and very cross, sir."
"I'll go up to her," replied Ramsden; "but recollect, Betsy, that you do not mention it to a soul;" and Ramsden ascended the stairs.
"Well, Mrs Forster, how do you feel this morning? do you think you could get up?"
"Get up, Mr Ramsden! not to save my soul—I can't even turn on my side."
"Very sorry to hear it, indeed," replied the surgeon; "I was in hopes that you might have been able to bear a journey."
"Bear a journey, Mr Ramsden! why bear a journey?"
"I am sorry to inform you that Mr Spinney's gone—poor old man! There must be a coroner's inquest. Now, it would be as well if you were not to be found, for the verdict will be 'Wilful Murder.'"
"O dear! O dear!" exclaimed Mrs Forster, jumping out of her bed with fright, and wringing her hands: "What can I do?—what can I do?"
"At present it is a secret, Mrs Forster, but it cannot be so long. Miss Dragwell, who feels for you very much, begged me not to say a word about it. She will call and consult with you, if you would like to see her. Sad thing indeed, Mrs Forster, to be placed in such a situation by a foolish husband."
"You may well say that, Mr Ramsden," replied the lady, with asperity; "he is the greatest fool that ever God made! Everyone knows what a sweet temper I was before I married; but flesh and blood cannot bear what I am subjected to."
"Would you like to see Miss Dragwell?"
"Yes, very much; I always thought her a very nice girl;—a little wild—a little forward indeed, and apt to be impertinent; but still, rather a nice girl."
"Well, then, I will tell her to call, and the sooner the better, for when it is known, the whole town will be in an uproar. I should not be surprised if they attacked the house—the people will be so indignant."
"I don't wonder at it," replied Mrs Forster; "nothing can excuse such provocation as I receive from my husband, stupid wretch!"
"Good morning, Mrs Forster; do you think, then, that you could bear moving?"
"O yes! O yes! But where am I to go?"
"That I really cannot form an idea of—you had better consult with Miss Dragwell. Depend upon it, Mrs Forster, that I will be most happy to render you all my assistance in this unfortunate dilemma."
"You're very good," snarled Mrs Forster: and Ramsden quitted the room.
I have one or two acquaintances, to whom, if I wish a report to be circulated, I immediately impart the substance as a most profound secret; and I find that by these means it obtains a much more extensive circulation than if I sent it to the newspapers.
Ramsden was aware of Betsy's cackling propensities; and long before he quitted Mrs Forster, it was generally believed throughout the good town of Overton that Mr Spinney, although he had not been killed outright, as reported in the first instance, had subsequently died of the injuries received from this modern Xantippe.
Mrs Forster had half an hour to reflect upon her supposed awkward situation; and to drive away thought, had sent for Nicholas, whom she loaded with the bitterest invectives, when Miss Dragwell was announced.
"See, sir," continued Mrs Forster, "the condition to which you have reduced a fond and faithful wife—one that has so studied your interests; one—"
"Yes, indeed," added Miss Dragwell, who heard the attack as she ascended the stairs, and took up the cause of Mrs Forster to obtain her confidence—"yes, indeed, Mr Forster, see the consequences of your folly, your smoking, and your drinking. Pray leave the room, sir; I wonder how Mrs Forster can bear the sight of you!"
Nicholas stated, and was about to throw in a detached word or two, by way of vindication, when a furious "Begone!" from his wife occasioned a precipitate retreat.
"We have all been consulting about this sad business, my dear Mrs Forster," commenced Miss Dragwell; "and after much consideration have hit upon the only plan by which you may escape the penalty of the law. Yes, my dear ma'am," continued Miss Dragwell, in the most bland and affectionate voice, "it is unwise to conceal the truth from you; the depositions of my father and Mr Hilton, when they are called upon, will be such that 'Wilful Murder' must be returned, and you—(the young lady faltered, and put up her handkerchief)—you must inevitably be hanged!"
"Hanged!" screamed Mrs Forster.
"Yes, hanged—'hanged by the neck until you are dead! and the Lord have mercy upon your soul! 'that will be your sentence," replied the young lady, sobbing;—"such an awful, such a disgraceful death for a woman too!"
"O Lord, O Lord!" cried Mrs Forster, who was now really frightened. "What will become of me?"
"You will go to another and a better world, as my papa says in his sermons; I believe that the pain is not very great—but the disgrace—"
Mrs Forster burst into tears. "Save me! save me, Miss Dragwell!—Oh! Oh! that stupid Nicholas, Oh! Oh!"
"My dear Mrs Forster, we have all agreed at the parsonage that there is but one method."
"Name it, my dear Miss Dragwell, name it!" cried Mrs Forster, imploringly.
"You must pretend to be mad, and then there will be a verdict of insanity; but you must carry it through everything, or it will be thought you are shamming. Mr Ramsden is acquainted with Dr B—, who has charge of the asylum at D—. It is only nine miles off: he will take you there, and when the coroner's inquest is over you can return. It will be supposed then to have been only temporary derangement. Do you like the proposal?"
"Why, I have been mad for a long time," replied Mrs Forster; "the conduct of my husband and my son has been too much for my nerves; but I don't like the idea of actually going to a madhouse. Could not—"
"O dear, marm!" cried Betsy, running into the room, "there's a whole posse of people about the house; they want to take you to the town jail, for murdering Mr Spinney. What shall I say to them? I'm feared they'll break in."
"Go and tell them that Mrs Forster is too ill to be taken out of bed, and that she is out of her senses—d'ye hear, Betsy, tell them all she is stark staring mad!"
"Yes, I will, marm," replied Betsy, wiping her eyes as she left the room.
Miss Dragwell walked to the window. Although the report spread by Betsy had collected a crowd opposite the house, still there was no attempt at violence.
"I'm afraid that it's too late," said the young lady, turning from the window. "What a crowd! and how angry they seem to be! you must be hanged now!"
"O no! I'll be mad—I'll be anything, my dear Miss Dragwell."
"Well, then, we must be quick—don't put your gown on—petticoats are better—I'll dress you up." Miss Dragwell rummaged the drawers, and collecting a variety of feathers and coloured ribbons, pinned them over the bandages which encircled Mrs Forster's head; then pulling out a long-tailed black coat of her husband's which had been condemned, forced her arms through it, and buttoned it in front. "That will do for the present," cried Miss Dragwell; "now here's the cat, take it in your arms, go to the window, and nurse it like a baby. I'll throw it open—you come forward and make them a curtsey; that will spread the report through the town that you are mad, and the rest will then be easy."
"Oh! I can't—I can't go to the window, I can't, indeed."
"I'll open the window and speak to the people," said Miss Dragwell; and she threw up the sash, informing the gaping multitude that Mrs Forster was quite out of her senses, but perfectly harmless.
"Perfectly harmless, after killing a man!" observed one of the party below.
"They won't believe me, Mrs Forster; come, you must, or you will certainly be hanged."
Urged by her fears, Mrs Forster approached the window, and showed herself to the astonished crowd. "Curtsey to them," said Miss Dragwell, holding her handkerchief before her mouth.
Mrs Forster curtsied.
"Smile upon them," continued the malicious young lady.
Mrs Forster grinned horribly.
"Now dance your cat."
Mrs Forster obeyed the injunction.
"Now give a loud shriek, and toss the cat out of window."
Mrs Forster uttered a hideous yell, and threw the animal at the heads of the spectators, who retreated with alarm in every direction.
"Now burst into a fit of laughter, curtsey to them, and wave your hand, and that will be sufficient."
Mrs Forster obeyed the last order, and Miss Dragwell shut the window. In a few minutes the report spread that Mrs Forster had gone out of her senses; and the murder of Mr Spinney—a topic which was nearly exhausted—was dismissed for the time to dwell and comment upon the second catastrophe.
"Mad as the sea and wind, when both contend which is the mightier." SHAKESPEARE.
"So far we have succeeded, my dear Mrs Forster," said Miss Dragwell; "I will now return home, and come back as soon as I can with the post-chaise. Mr Ramsden's servant shall come with me to conduct you to the asylum, and I trust in a quarter of an hour to see you clear of these foolish people of Overton, who think that you are the party in fault: you had better remain in your room, and not appear again at the window; the crowd will disperse when they are tired of watching: good-bye, my dear Mrs Forster, good-bye."
Mrs Forster was in too sulky a humour to vouchsafe an answer; and Miss Dragwell quitted the house. Betsy had taken advantage of the turmoil and the supposed lunacy of her mistress to gossip in the neighbourhood. Nicholas Forster was in the shop, but took no notice of Miss Dragwell as she passed through. He appeared to have forgotten all that had occurred, and was very busy filing at his bench. There we must leave him, and follow the motions of the mischief-loving Miss Dragwell.
Upon her return, the party collected at the parsonage considered that they had proceeded far enough; but Miss Dragwell thought otherwise; she had made up her mind that Mrs Forster should pass a day or two in the Lunatic Asylum; and she felt assured that Mr Ramsden, through whose assistance her intention must be accomplished, would not venture to dispute her wishes.
Her father, with a loud Ha, ha, ha! proposed that Mr Spinney should appear as a ghost by the bedside of Mrs Forster, wrapped up in a sheet, with a He, he, he! and that thus the diversion should end; but this project was overruled by Mr Spinney, who protested that nothing should induce him again to trust himself, with a He, he, he! in the presence of Mrs Forster.
Ramsden, although well acquainted with Dr Beddington, who had charge of the asylum, was not sure that he would be pleased with their freak, and earnestly dissuaded his intended from proceeding any further.
"It is useless to argue, my dear George, I am Quixote enough to revenge the injuries of those who have been forced to submit to her temper; and moreover, I hope to effect a cure. Desperate diseases, you must be aware as a medical man, require desperate remedies. I consider that a termagant and a lunatic are during their paroxysms on a par, as rational behaviour in either party may be considered as a lucid interval. Let her, if it be only for one hour, witness herself reflected in the various distorted mirrors of perverted mind; and if she has any conscience whatever, good will spring from evil. I joined this plot from a love of mischief; but I carry it on from a feeling that favourable results will be produced."
"But, my dear Fanny—"
"I will have it so, Ramsden, so don't attempt to dissuade me; we are not married yet, and I must not be thwarted in my short supremacy. Surely you ought not to be displeased at my desire to 'tame a shrew.' I give a fair promise not to fall into an error which I so ardently detest: now, send for the chaise, write a letter to Dr Beddington, and leave me to arrange with Mrs Forster."
Ramsden, like many others when teased by a pretty woman, consented against his will; he wrote a letter to Dr Beddington, explaining circumstances, and requesting his pardon for the liberty which he had been persuaded to take.
Miss Dragwell, as soon as the letter was sealed, put on her bonnet, and taking Mr Ramsden's servant with her, stepped into the chaise, and drove to the house of Mr Nicholas Forster. She found Mrs Forster squatted on the bed in her ludicrous attire, awaiting her return with impatience.
"Oh! Mrs Forster, I have had such trouble, such difficulty; but Mr Ramsden has been persuaded at last. There is the letter to Dr Beddington, and Mr Ramsden's servant is in the chaise at the door: the sooner you are off the better; the people are so outrageous, and call you such shocking names."
"Do they?" replied Mrs Forster, whose wrath kindled at the information.
"Yes, indeed; and that wretch Betsy declares that she'll put the rope over your neck with her own hands."
"Does she?" cried Mrs Forster, her eyes twinkling with rage.
"Yes; and your husband, your foolish husband, says that he'll be able to make his improvement in the duplex, now that you'll be hanged."
"He does, does he?" replied Mrs Forster, catching her breath, and grinding her teeth as she jumped off the bed.
"Now, my dear Mrs Forster, it's no use minding what they say; all you have to do is to escape as soon as possible; the magistrate's warrant may arrive this minute, and then it will be too late; so come down at once:—how lucky that you have escaped! it must be a dreadful thing to be hanged!"
This last remark, always brought forward by Miss Dragwell when she had a point to carry, induced Mrs Forster to hasten downstairs to the post-chaise, which she found already occupied by Mr Ramsden's servant. As soon as she entered, it was driven off with speed in the direction already communicated to the post-boy.
We shall leave the town of Overton to recover its quiet,—for such a bustle had not occurred for many years,—and Miss Dragwell to exult in the success of her plot, while we follow Mrs Forster to her new quarters.
The chaise rattled on,—Mr Ramsden's servant crouching in a corner, as far as possible from Mrs Forster, evidently about as well pleased with his company as one would be in a pitfall with a tiger. At last it stopped at the door of the lunatic asylum, and the post-boy dismounting from his reeking horses, pulled violently at a large bell, which answered with a most lugubrious tolling, and struck awe into the breast of Mrs Forster.
When the door was opened, Mr Ramsden's servant alighted, and went in to deliver his letter to the doctor. The doctor was not at home; he had obtained his furlough of three weeks, and was very busy with his fishing-rod some thirty miles distant; but the keepers were in attendance, and, as Mr Ramsden's servant stated the insanity of Mrs Forster, and that she had been sent there by his master, they raised no objections to her reception. In a few minutes the servant reappeared with two keepers, who handed Mrs Forster out of the chaise, and conducted her to a receiving-room, where Mrs Forster waited some minutes in expectation of the appearance of Dr Beddington. In the meantime, Mr Ramsden's servant, having no further communication to make, left the letter for Dr Beddington, and returned in the chaise to Overton.
After a quarter of an hour had elapsed, Mrs Forster inquired of one of the keepers who had, much to her annoyance, taken a chair close to her, whether the doctor intended to come.
"He'll come by-and-bye, good woman. How do you feel yourself now?"
"Very cold—very cold, indeed," replied Mrs Forster, shivering.
"That's what the poor brutes always complain of—aren't it, Jim?" observed another keeper, who had just entered. "Where be we to stow her?"
"I sent Tom to get No. 14 ready."
"Why, you don't think that I'm mad!" cried Mrs Forster, with terror.
"So, softly—so—so," said the keeper next to her, patting her, as he would soothe a fractious child.
The violence of Mrs Forster, when she discovered that she was considered as a lunatic, fully corroborated to the keepers the assertion of Mr Ramsden's servant; but we must not dwell upon the scene which followed. After an ineffectual struggle, Mrs Forster found herself locked up in No. 14, and left to her own reflections. The previous scenes which had occurred, added to the treatment previous scenes which had occurred, added to the treatment which she received in the asylum, caused such excitement, that, before the next morning, she was seized with a brain fever, and raved as loudly in her delirium as any of the other unfortunate inmates there incarcerated.
"Who by repentance is not satisfied, Is not of heaven or earth; for these are pleased: By penitence the Eternal's wrath's appeased." SHAKESPEARE.
Mr Ramsden's servant returned to Overton, stating that the doctor was not at home, but that he had left Mrs Forster and the letter. The time that Dr Beddington was to be absent had not been mentioned by the keepers; and Mr Ramsden, imagining that the doctor had probably gone out for the evening, made no further inquiries, as he intended, in a day or two, to call and bring Mrs Forster back to her own house. On the third day of her removal he set off for the asylum; and when he discovered the situation of Mrs Forster, he bitterly repented that he had been persuaded to a step which threatened such serious results. To remove her was impossible; to assert to the keepers that she was in sound mind, would have been to commit himself; he therefore withdrew his letter to Dr Beddington, who was not expected home for a fortnight, and with a heavy heart returned to Overton. Miss Dragwell was as much shocked when she was informed of the unfortunate issue of her plot; and made a resolution, to which she adhered, never to be guilty of another practical joke.
In the meantime Newton Forster had made every despatch, and returned to Overton with the cargo of shingle a few days after his mother's incarceration. He had not been ten minutes on shore before he was made acquainted with the melancholy history of her (supposed) madness and removal to the asylum. He hastened home, where he found his father in a profound melancholy; he received Newton with a flood of tears, and appeared to be quite lost in his state of widowhood. The next morning Newton set off for the asylum, to ascertain the condition of his mother. He was admitted; found her stretched on a bed, in a state of delirium, raving in her fever, and unconscious of his presence. The frenzy of his mother being substantiated by what he had witnessed, and by the assurances of the keepers, to whom he made a present of half his small finances, to induce them to treat her with kindness, Newton returned to Overton, where he remained at home, shut up with his father. In a few days notice was given by the town-crier, that the remaining stock of Mr Nicholas Forster, optician, was to be disposed of by public auction.
The fact was, that Nicholas Forster, like many other husbands, although his wife had been a source of constant annoyance, had become so habituated to her, that he was miserable now that she was gone. Habit is more powerful than even love; and many a married couple continue to live comfortably together long after love has departed, from this most binding of all human sensations. Nicholas determined to quit Overton; and Newton, who perceived that his father's happiness was at stake, immediately acquiesced in his wish. When Nicholas Forster resolved to leave the town where he had so long resided, he had no settled plans for the future; the present idea to remove from the scene connected with such painful associations was all which occupied his thoughts. Newton, who presumed that his father had some arranged plan, did not attempt to awaken him from his profound melancholy, to inquire into his intentions; and Nicholas had never given the subject one moment of his thought. When all was ready, Newton inquired of his father, in what manner he intended they should travel?—"Why, outside the coach will be the cheapest, Newton; and we have no money to spare. You had better take our places to-night."
"To what place, father?" inquired Newton.
"I'm sure I don't know, Newton," replied Nicholas, as if just awoke.
This answer produced a consultation; and after many pros and cons, it was resolved that Nicholas should proceed to Liverpool, and settle in that town. The sloop commanded by Newton was found defective in the stern port; and, as it would take some little time to repair her, Newton had obtained leave for a few days to accompany his father on his journey. The trunk picked up at sea, being too cumbrous, was deposited with the articles of least value, in the charge of Mr Dragwell; the remainder was taken away by Newton, until he could find a more secure place for their deposit. On their arrival at Liverpool, with little money and no friends, Nicholas rented a small shop; and Newton having extended his leave of absence to the furthest, that he might contribute to his father's comfort, returned to Overton, to resume the command of the sloop. The first object was to call at the asylum, where he was informed that his mother was much less violent, but in so weak a state that he could not be admitted. Doctor Beddington had not returned; but a medical gentleman, who had been called in during his absence, stated to Newton, that he had no doubt if his mother should recover from her present state of exhaustion, that her reason would be restored. Newton returned to Overton with a lightened heart, and the next day sailed in the sloop for Bristol. Contrary winds detained him more than a fortnight on his passage. On his arrival, his cargo was not ready, and Newton amused himself by walking about the town and its environs. At last his cargo was on board; and Newton, who was most anxious to ascertain the fate of his mother, made all haste to obtain his clearance and other papers from the Custom-house. It was late in the evening before he had settled with the house to which the sloop had been consigned; but, as the wind and tide served, and there was a bright moon, he resolved to weigh that night. With his papers carefully buttoned in his coat, he was proceeding to the boat at the jetty, when he was seized by two men, who rushed upon him from behind. He hardly had time to look round to ascertain the cause, when a blow on the head stretched him senseless on the ground.
Now, my readers may probably feel some little distress at the misfortune of Newton, and have some slight degree of curiosity to know the grounds of this severe treatment. I, on the contrary, am never more pleased than when I find my principal character in a state of abeyance, and leave him so with the greatest indifference, because it suits my convenience. I have now an opportunity of returning to Mrs Forster, or any other of the parties who act a subordinate part in-my narrative; and, as Newton is down on the ground, and hors de combat, why, there let him lie—until I want him again.
Doctor Beddington returned home long before the recovery of Mrs Forster from her severe attack. As it may be presumed, he found her perfectly rational; but still he had no doubt of the assertions of his keepers, that she was insane at the time that she was sent to the asylum by Mr Ramsden. The latter gentleman kept aloof until the issue of Mrs Forster's malady should be ascertained: if she recovered, it was his intention to call upon Doctor Beddington and explain the circumstances; if she died, he had determined to say nothing about it. Mrs Forster's recovery was tedious; her mind was loaded with anxiety, and, what was infinitely more important, with deep remorse. The supposed death of Mr Spinney had been occasioned by her violence, and she looked forward with alarm, as great as the regret with which she looked back upon her former behaviour. When she called to mind her unfeeling conduct towards her husband,—the many years of bitterness she had created for him,—her infraction of the marriage vow—the solemn promise before God to love, honour, and obey, daily and hourly violated,—her unjust hatred of her only son,—her want of charity towards others,—all her duties neglected,—swayed only by selfish and malignant passions,—with bitter tears of contrition and self-abasement, she acknowledged that her punishment was just. With streaming eyes, with supplicating hands and bended knees, she implored mercy and forgiveness of Him to whom appeal is never made in vain. Passion's infuriate reign was over—her heart was changed!
To Doctor Beddington she made neither complaint nor explanation. All she wished was to quit the asylum as soon as she was restored to health, and prove to her husband, by her future conduct, the sincerity of her reformation. When she became convalescent, by the advice of Doctor Beddington, she walked in a garden appropriated for the exercise of the more harmless inmates of the asylum. The first day that she went out she sat down upon a bench near to the keepers who were watching those who were permitted to take the air and exercise, and overheard their discourse, which referred to herself.
"Why, what was it as made her mad—d'ye know, Tom?"
"They say she's been no better all her life," replied the other; "a rat would not live in the house with her: at last, in one of her tantrums, she nearly murdered old Spinney, the clerk at Overton. The report went out that he was dead; and conscience, I suppose, or summut of that kind, run away with her senses."
"Oh, he warn't killed then?"
"No, no: I seed him and heard him too, Sunday 'fore last, when I went to call upon old father; I was obligated to go to church, the old gemman's so remarkable particular."
"And what's become of her husband, and that handsome young chap, her son?"
"I don't know, nor nobody else either. The old man, who was as worthy an old soul as ever breathed (more shame to the old faggot, for the life she led him!) grew very unhappy and melancholy, and would not stay in the place: they disposed of everything, and both went away together; but nobody knows where the old man is gone to."
"And the young 'un?"
"Oh, he came back and took command of the sloop. He was here twice, to see how his mother was. Poor lad! it was quite pitiful to see how unhappy he was about the old catamaran. He give me and Bill a guinea apiece to be kind to her; but, about three days back, the sloop came into the harbour without him: they suppose that he fell off the jetty at Bristol and was drowned, for he was seen coming down to the boat; and, a'ter that, they never heard no more about him."
"Well, but Tom, the old woman's all right now?"
"Yes, she's right enough; but where be her husband, and where be her son? she'll never plague them any more, that's pretty sartain."
The feelings of Mrs Forster at the finale of this discourse are not easy to be portrayed. One heavy load was off her mind—Mr Spinney was not dead; but how much had she also to lament? She perceived that she had been treacherously kidnapped by those who detested her conduct, but had no right to inflict the punishment. The kind and feeling conduct of her husband and of her son,—the departure of the one, and supposed death of the other, were blows which nearly overwhelmed her. She tottered back to her cell in a state of such extreme agitation, as to occasion a return of fever, and for many days she was unable to quit her bed.
"When Britain first at Heaven's command Arose from out the azure main, This was the charter, the charter of the land, And guardian angels sung the strain,—— Rule Britannia, Britannia rules the waves, For Britons never shall be slaves."
We left Newton Forster senseless on the pavement leading to the quay at Bristol, floored by a rap on the head from a certain person or persons unknown: he did not, however, remain there long, being hoisted on the shoulders of two stout fellows, dressed in blue jackets and trousers, with heavy clubs in their hands, and a pistol lying perdu between their waistcoats and shirts. These nautical personages tumbled him into the stern-sheets of a boat, as if not at all sorry to rid themselves of his weight; and, in a continued state of insensibility, Newton was hoisted up the side of a cutter which lay at anchor about one hundred yards from the shore.
When Newton recovered his senses, his swimming eyes could just enable him to perceive that something flashed upon them, and in their weak state created a painful sensation. As he became more collected, he discovered that a man was holding a small candle close to them, to ascertain whether the vein which had been opened in his arm had produced the desired effect of restoring him to animation. Newton tried to recollect where he was, and what had occurred; but the attempted exercise of his mental powers was too much, and again threw him into a state of stupor. At last he awoke as if from a dream of death, and looking round, found himself lying on the deck attended by a female, who bathed his forehead.
"Where am I?" exclaimed Newton.
"Is it where you are, that you'd want for to know: an't ye on board of the Lively cutter, sure? and an't you between decks in her, and I looking a'ter ye, honey?"
"And who are you?"
"And who am I! Then, if I'm not somebody else, I'm Judy Malony, the wife of the boatswain's mate, and a lawful married woman."
"How did I come here?" continued Newton, raising himself on his elbow.
"You didn't come at all, honey, you were brought."
"Who brought me?"
"Who brought ye! it was either the gig or the jolly-boat; but I wasn't on deck at the time, so I can't upon my oath say exactly which."
"Then, pray can you tell me why I was brought here?" replied Newton.
"Sure I can guess, bating you don't know already. It was to sarve your king and your country, like a brave volunteer as you are."
"Then I'm impressed?"
"You may take your Bible oath of it, my jewel, and commit no perjury. It's a hard rap that ye got, anyhow; just a hint that ye were wanted: but plase God, if ye live and do well, 'twill be nothing at all to what ye'll have by-and-bye, all for the honour and glory of Ould England."
Newton, who during these remarks was thinking of his father's situation, and the distress he would suffer without his assistance, and then of the state in which he had left his mother, again sank on the deck.
"Why, he's off again!" muttered Judy Malony; "he's no countryman of mine, that's clear as the mud in the Shannon, or he'd never fuss about a rap with a shillelah;" and Judy, lifting up her petticoats first, gained her feet, and walked away forward.
Newton remained in a state of uneasy slumber until daylight, when he was awakened by the noise of boats coming alongside, and loud talking on deck. All that had passed did not immediately rush into his mind; but his arm tied up with the bandage, and his hair matted, and his face stiff with the coagulated blood, soon brought to his recollection the communication of Judy Malony, that he had been impressed. The 'tween decks of the cutter appeared deserted, unless indeed there were people in the hammocks slung over his head; and Newton, anxious to obtain further information, crawled under the hammocks to the ladder, and went up on deck.
About twenty sailors, well armed, were busy handing out of the boats several men whom they had brought on board, who were ordered aft by the officer in command. Newton perceived that most of them had not received much better treatment than he had on the preceding evening; some were shockingly disfigured, and were still bleeding profusely.
"How many have you altogether, Mr Vincent?" said the lieutenant to a stout master's mate with a tremendous pair of whiskers, which his loose handkerchief discovered to join together at his throat.
"And how many had we before?—twenty-six, I think."
"Twenty-seven, sir, with the young chap I sent on board last night."
"Well, that will do; it's quite as many as we can stow away, or take care of:—pass them all down below, forward; take up the ladder, and put on the grating until we are out of the harbour. As soon as the jolly-boat comes on board we'll up anchor."
"She'll be off directly, sir; I ordered her to wait for Johnson and Merton, who did not come down with us."
"Do you think they have given you the slip?"
"I should think not, sir. Here is the jolly-boat coming off."
"Well, pass the men forward and secure them," replied the lieutenant. "Overhaul the boat's falls, and bring to with the windlass."
Newton thought this a good opportunity to state that he was the master of a vessel, and, as such, protected from the impress; he therefore walked over to the lieutenant, addressing him, "I beg your pardon, sir—"
"Who are you?" interrupted the lieutenant, gruffly.
"I was impressed last night, sir;—may I speak to you?"
"No, sir, you may not."
"It might save you some trouble, sir—"
"It will save me more to send you down below. Mr Vincent, shove this man down forward; why is he at large?"
"He was under the doctor's hands, I believe, sir. Come this way, my hearty—stir your stumps."
Newton would have expostulated, but he was collared by two of the press-gang, and very unceremoniously handed forward to the hatchway; the grating was taken off, and he was lowered down to the deck below, where he found himself cooped up with more than forty others, almost suffocated for the want of air and space. The conversation (if conversation it could be called) was nothing but one continued string of curses and execrations, and vows of deep revenge.
The jolly-boat returned, pulling only two oars; the remainder of her crew, with Johnson and Merton, having taken this opportunity of deserting from their forced servitude. With some hearty execrations upon the heads of the offending parties, and swearing that by G—d there was no such thing as gratitude in a sailor, the commander of the cutter weighed his anchor, and proceeded to sea.
The orders received by the lieutenant of the cutter, although not precisely specifying, still implying, that he was to bring back his cargo alive, as soon as his Majesty's cutter Lively was fairly out at sea the hatches were taken off, and the impressed men allowed to go on deck in the proportion of about one half at a time, two sailors with drawn cutlasses still remaining sentry at the coombings of the hatchway, in case of any discontented fellow presuming to dispute such lawful authority.
Newton Forster was happy to be once more on deck; so much had he suffered during his few hours of confinement, that he really felt grateful for the indulgence. The sky was bright, and the cutter was dashing along the coast with the wind, two points free, at the rate of seven or eight miles an hour. She was what sailors term rather a wet one, and as she plunged through the short waves the sea broke continually over her bows and chesstree, so that there was no occasion to draw water for purification. Newton washed his face and head, and felt quite revived as he inhaled the fresh breeze, and watched the coast as the vessel rapidly passed each headland in her course. All around him were strangers, and no one appeared inclined to be communicative; even the most indifferent, the most stoical, expressed their ideas in disjointed sentences; they could not but feel that their projects and speculations had been overthrown by a captivity so anomalous with their boasted birthright.
"Where are we going?" inquired Newton of a man who stood next him, silently watching the passing foam created by the rapid course of the vessel.
"To hell I hope, with those who brought us here!" replied the man, grinding his teeth with a scowl of deep revenge.
At this moment Judy Malony came pattering along the wet deck with a kid of potato-peelings to throw over the bows. Newton recognised her, and thanked her for her kindness.
"It's a nice boy that you are, sure enough, now that you're swate and clean," replied Judy. "Bad luck to the rapparee who gave you the blow! I axed my husband if it was he; but he swears upon his salvation that it was no one if it wasn't Tim O'Connor, the baste!"
"Where are we going?" inquired Newton.
"An't we going to dinner in a minute or two?"
"I mean where is the cutter bound to?"
"Oh! the cutter you mane! If she can only find her way, it's to Plymouth, sure;—they're waiting for ye."
"Who is waiting for us?"
"Why, three fine frigates as can't go to sea without hands. You never heard of a ship sailing without hands; the poor dumb craturs can't do nothing by themselves."
"Do you know where the frigates are going?"
"Going to say, I lay my life on't," replied Judy, who then walked forward, and broke up the conversation.
The next morning the cutter ran into Hamoaze, and boats were sent on board to remove the impressed men to the guard-ship. There, much to his annoyance and mortification, Newton found that, with the others, he was treated as a close prisoner. The afternoon of the same day another vessel arrived from the eastward with a collection of offenders, who for a variety of crimes and misdemeanours had been sentenced to serve on board of a man-of-war. No distinction was made; all were huddled together, and treated alike, until summoned on the quarter-deck, when their names were called out for distribution to the several men-of-war. Each ship having a quota of seamen and pickpockets allotted to her in due proportion, the men were ordered down into the boats; and in less than an hour Newton found himself on board of a fine frigate lying in the Sound, with her fore-topsail loose, as a signal of her immediate departure.
"Tis roan's bold task the gen'rous strife to try, But in the hands of God is victory." ILIAD.
Newton, and the other men who had been selected for the frigate, on board of which they had been despatched (victualled the day discharged), were mustered on the quarter-deck by the first lieutenant, who asked them the questions, whether they were bred to the sea, and could take the helm and lead. Having noted down their answers, he stationed them accordingly, and they were dismissed. Newton would again have appealed, but on reflection thought it advisable to await the arrival of the captain. Beds and blankets were not supplied that evening: the boats were hoisted up, sentries on the gangways supplied with ball-cartridges to prevent desertion, and permission granted to the impressed men to "prick for the softest plank," which they could find for their night's repose.
At daylight the hands were turned up, the capstern manned, the frigate unmoored, and hove "short stay a-peak" on her anchor remaining down. The gig was sent on shore with two midshipmen, one to watch the men and prevent their desertion, while the other went up to the captain's lodgings to report her arrival, the topsails were loosed, sheeted home, and hoisted, the yards braced by, and Newton to his sorrow perceived that the captain's arrival would be the signal for immediate departure. The signal-man, on the look-out with his glass, reported the gig coming off with the captain; and in obedience to the orders he had received, the first lieutenant immediately hove up, and the anchor having been "catted and fished," the frigate lay-to in the Sound. As soon as the boat came alongside, and the captain had been received with the customary honours, he desired sail to be made on her as soon as the boat was hoisted up, and then descended to his cabin. In three minutes Newton perceived that all chance of release for the present was over; the courses and top-gallant sails were set, and the frigate darted past the Ram Head at the rate of ten miles per hour.
In about twenty minutes, after the messenger had been stowed away, the cables coiled in the tiers, and the ropes flemished down on deck, the captain made his appearance, and directed the first lieutenant to send aft the newly-impressed men. In few words he pointed out to them the necessity of their servitude; and concluded by recommending them to enter his Majesty's service, and receive the bounty to which they would become entitled; observing, that the men who did so would raise themselves in his good opinion, and as far as he had the power, would not be forgotten by him, provided that their general good conduct merited his favour. Some few accepted the terms, but the most of them positively refused. When Newton was addressed, he stated to the captain that he was master of a vessel, and exempted by law from the impress.
"It is easy to assert that," observed the captain; "but where are your proofs? your youth almost denies what you affirm."
"There are my papers, sir, my clearance from the Custom-house, and my bill of lading, which I had in my pocket, intending to sail a few minutes after the time that I was impressed."
"I observe," replied the captain, examining the papers, "they appear to be all correct. What is your name?"
"Then this is your signature?"
"It is, sir."
"Mr Pittson, desire the clerk to bring up a pen and ink."
The clerk made his appearance. "Now, sign your name." Newton obeyed, and his signature was compared with that on the bill of lading, by the captain and first lieutenant.
"Why did you not mention this before?" continued the captain.
"I attempted several times, but was not permitted to speak." Newton then stated how he had been treated when impressed, and afterwards by the officer commanding the cutter.
"You certainly were exempted from the impress, if what you state is true; and I believe it so to be," replied the captain. "It is a hard case; but what can I do? Here we are at sea, and likely to remain on a cruise of several months. You cannot expect to eat the bread of idleness on board of a man-of-war. You will do your duty wherever you are stationed. There is no disgrace in serving his Majesty in any capacity. I tell you candidly, that although I would not have impressed you myself, I am very glad that I have you on board; I wish I had fifty more of the same sort, instead of the sweepings of the gaols, which I am obliged to mix up with prime seamen."
"Perhaps, sir, you will have the kindness to send me back by the first homeward-bound vessel?"
"No, that I cannot do; you are on the ship's books, and the case must be referred to the Admiralty on our return: that it will be my duty to attend to, upon your application; but I hope before that you will have entered into his Majesty's service."
"And in the meantime my poor father may starve," said Newton, with a sigh, not addressing those around him, but giving utterance to his thoughts.
The captain turned away, and paced the quarter-deck with the first lieutenant. At last he was overheard to say, "It's a very hard case, certainly. Forster, can you navigate?" continued the captain, addressing Newton.
"Yes, sir, I can work up a dead reckoning, and take the sun's altitude."
"Very well, that will do. Mr Pittson, you may dismiss them. Are they put into messes?"
"It's twelve o'clock, sir," said the master, touching his hat, with his quadrant in his hand.
"Make it so, and pipe to dinner."
Newton was stationed in the foretop. In a few days the awkwardness arising from the novelty of the scene, and from the superior dimensions of every variety of equipment on board of the frigate, compared to the small craft to which he had been accustomed, passed away. The order which was exacted to preserve discipline, the precision with which the time was regulated, the knowledge of the duty allotted to him, soon made him feel that no more was exacted than what could easily be performed, and that there was no hardship in serving on board of a man-of-war; the only hardship was, the manner in which he had been brought there. Although he often sighed as he thought of his father and mother, he did his duty cheerfully, and was soon distinguished as a most promising young sailor.
Captain Northfleet was a humane and good officer, and his first lieutenant followed in his steps, and equally deserved the character. Before the ship's company had been six weeks together, they were in a tolerable state of discipline; and proved such to be the case, by acknowledging that they were happy. This, added to the constant excitement of chasing and capturing the vessels of the enemy, with the anticipation of prize-money, soon made most of those who had been impressed forget what had occurred, or cease to lament it as a hardship. The continual exercise of the guns was invariably followed up by a general wish that they might fall in with an enemy of equal force, to ascertain whether such constant drilling had been thrown away upon them. The Terpsichore received supplies of provisions and water from other ships, and for nine months continued a successful cruise.
Several prizes had already been captured, and sent home to England. The complement of the frigate was materially reduced by so many absentees, although some of her men had been brought out to her by other vessels, when a strange sail was discovered from the mast-head. A few hours sufficed to bring the swift Terpsichore alongside of the stranger, who first hoisted, and then immediately hauled down the tricoloured flag in token of submission. She proved to be a French brig, bound to the Cape of Good Hope, with ammunition and government stores. The third lieutenant, and all the midshipmen who could navigate, were already away; and this prize proving valuable, Captain Northfleet resolved to send her in. The difficulty relative to a prize-master was removed by the first lieutenant, who recommended Newton Forster. To this suggestion the captain acceded; and Newton, with five men, and two French prisoners to assist, was put on board of the Estelle, with written instructions to repair to Plymouth, and, upon his arrival there, deliver up the prize to the agent, and report himself to the admiral.
Captain Northfleet also returned to Newton the papers of his sloop, and gave him a letter to the admiral, stating the hardship of his case. At the same time that he informed him of the contents of his letter, he recommended Newton to continue in the service, promising that, if he took the vessel safe into port, he would put him on the quarter-deck, as one of the mates of the frigate. Newton thanked Captain Northfleet for his good intentions; and, requesting permission to reflect upon his proposal, took his leave, and in a few minutes was on board of the Estelle.
There was a buoyancy of spirits in Newton when he once more found himself clear of the frigate. He acknowledged that he had been well treated, and that he had not been unhappy; but still it was emancipation from forced servitude. It is hard to please where there are so many masters; and petty tyranny will exist, and cause much discontent before it is discovered, even where the best discipline prevails. The imperious behaviour of the young midshipmen, who assume the same despotic sway which is exercised over themselves, as soon as their superiors are out of sight and hearing, was often extremely galling to Newton Forster, and it frequently required much forbearance not to retort. However in strict justice this might be warranted, discipline would not permit it, and it would have been attended with severe punishment.
It was therefore with a feeling of delight that Newton found himself his own master, and watched the hull and canvas of the Terpsichore, as they gradually sank below the horizon.
The Estelle was a fine vessel, and her cargo not being all composed of heavy materials, was sufficiently light on the water to sail well. At the time of her capture, they were, by the reckoning of the frigate, about fourteen hundred miles from the Lizard. In a fortnight, therefore, with the wind at all propitious, Newton hoped to set his foot upon his native land. He crowded all the sail which prudence would allow; and, with the wind upon his quarter, steered his course for England.
The men sent with him in the brig consisted of two able seamen, and three of the gang which had been collected from the gaols and brought round from the eastward. Captain Northfleet spared the former, as it was necessary that a part of the crew should be able to steer and navigate the vessel; the latter, with the sincere hope of never seeing them again, taking it for granted that they would run away as soon as they arrived at Plymouth. With the two prisoners, they were sufficient to work the vessel.
During the first ten days the wind was generally in their favour; and the brig was not far off from the chops of the Channel, when a low raking vessel was perceived bearing down upon them from the N.W. Newton had no glass; but as she neared to within three miles, the vessel wore the appearance of a privateer schooner; but whether an enemy or not, it was impossible to decide. The Estelle had two small brass guns on her forecastle; and Newton, to ascertain the nation to which the privateer belonged, hoisted the French ensign and fired a gun. In a minute the privateer hoisted English colours; but as she continued to bear down upon them, Newton, not feeling secure, rove his studding-sail gear, and made all preparation for running before the wind, which he knew to be the brig's best point of sailing. The privateer had approached to within two miles, when Roberts, one of the seamen, gave his decided opinion that she was a French vessel, pointing out the slight varieties in the rigging and build of the vessel, which would not have been apparent to anyone but a thorough-bred seamen.
"We'd better up helm, and get the sail upon her. If she be French, she'll soon show herself by firing at us."
Newton was of the same opinion. The brig was put before the wind, and gradually all her canvas was spread. The privateer immediately shook out all her reefs, set her lofty sails, hoisted French colours, and, in a few minutes, a shot whizzed through the rigging of the Estelle, and pitched into the water ahead of them.
"I thought so," cried Roberts. "It's a Johnny Crapeau. A starn chase is a long chase, anyhow. The brig sails well, and there aren't more than two hours daylight; so Monsieur must be quick, or we'll give him the slip yet."
The privateer was now within a mile of them; both vessels had "got their way;" and their respective powers of sailing were to be ascertained. In half an hour the privateer had neared to three-quarters of a mile.
"I think our little guns will soon reach her," observed Newton. Williams, give me the helm. Go forward with Roberts and the men, and rouse them aft. Be smart, my lads, for she has the heels of us."
"Come along," said Roberts. "You, Collins, why don't you stir?—do you wish to see the inside of a French prison?"
"No," replied Collins, sauntering forward, "not particularly."
"Only by way of a change, I suppose," observed Thompson, another of the convicts. "You have been in every gaol in England, to my knowledge—haven't you, Ben?"
"Mayhap I have," replied Collins; "but one gentleman should never interfere in the consarns of another. I warn't whipped at the cart-tail, as you were, last Lancaster'sizes."
"No; but you had a taste of it on board of the Terpsichore. Ben, you arn't forgot that?" retorted Hillson, the other of the three characters who had been sent with Newton.
In a few minutes the guns were run aft, and the ammunition brought on deck. Newton then gave the helm to Williams, and served one gun; while Roberts took charge of the other. The privateer had continued to near them, and was now within their range. A smart fire was kept up on her, which she returned with her superior metal.
After the firing had commenced, the approach of the privateer was in some degree checked. The guns fired from the stern of the Estelle assisted her velocity through the water; while, on the contrary, the privateer, being obliged to yaw from her course that her guns might bear, and firing from the bow, her impetus was checked. Still the privateer had the advantage in sailing, and slowly neared the brig.
"There's no need of your coming aft so close upon us," said Roberts to the two Frenchmen who had been sent on board; "go forward, and keep out of the way. That 'ere chap is after mischief; he had his eye upon the amminition," continued the sailor to Newton. "Go forward—d'ye hear? or I'll split your d—d French skull with the handspike."
"Don't touch him, Roberts," said Newton.
"No, I won't touch him, if he keeps out of my way. Do you hear?—go forward!" cried Roberts to the Frenchman, waving his hand.
The Frenchman answered with a sneer and a smile, and was turning to obey the order, when a shot from the privateer cut him nearly in two. The other Frenchman, who was close to him, made a rapid descent into the cabin.
"That was well meant, anyhow," observed Roberts, looking at the dead body; "but it wasn't meant for him. Shall I toss him overboard?"
"No, no—let him lie. If they capture us, they will perceive it was their own doing."
"Well, then, I'll only haul him into the lee-scuppers, out of the way."
Another shot from the privateer passed through the cabin windows, and went forward into the hold. The French prisoner ran on deck with as much haste as before he had run below.
"Ay, it will be your turn next, my cock," cried Roberts, who had been removing the body to the gunnel. "Now, let me try my luck again," and he hastened to his gun. Newton fired before Roberts was ready. The topsail-sheet of the schooner was divided by the shot, and the sail flew out before the yard.
"That's a good two cables' length in our favour," cried Roberts. "Now for me." Roberts fired his gun, and was more fortunate; his shot struck away the fore-top-gallant-mast, while the royal and top-gallant sail fell before the topsail.
"Well done, my little piece of brass!" said Roberts, slapping the gun familiarly on the breech; "only get us out of our scrape, and I'll polish you as bright as silver!"
Whether the gun understood him or not, or, what is more probable, the short distance between the brig and the privateer made it more effective, more mischief took place in the sails and rigging of the schooner. Her topsail-sheet was, however, soon rebent, the sail reset, and her other casualties made good. She ceased firing her long gun, and at dusk had crept up to within a quarter of a mile, and commenced a heavy fire of musketry upon the brig.
"This is rather warm work," observed Williams at the helm, pointing to a bullet-hole through his jacket.
"Rather too warm," observed Collins, the convict. "I don't see why we are to risk our lives for our paltry share of prize-money. I vote for hauling down the colours."
"Not yet," said Newton, "not yet, my lads. Let us try a few shots more."
"Try!—to be sure," rejoined Roberts; "didn't I say before, that a starn chase was a long one."
"That only makes the matter worse," replied Collins; "for while we are to be peppered this way, I think the shorter the chase the better. However, you may do as you please, but I'm not so fond of it; so here's down below to the fore-peak!"
"Ben, you're a sensible chap, and gives good advice; we'll just follow you," said Hillson.
"Birds of a feather always flock together; so, Ben, I'm of your party," added Thompson.
The convicts then descended forward out of the fire of the musketry, while Newton and Roberts continued to load and fire, and Williams steered the brig. The Frenchman had already found his way below again, before the convicts.
The schooner was within two cables' length, and the fire of the musketry was most galling; each of the English seamen had received slight wounds, when, just as it was dark, one of the shots from the brig proved more effective. The main-boom of the schooner was either cut in two, or so much injured as to oblige them to lower her mainsail. The brig now increased her distance fast, and in a few minutes they lost sight of the schooner in the darkness of the night.
"Huzza!" cried Roberts, "didn't I tell you that a starn chase was a long one?"
Not a star was to be seen, the darkness was intense; and Newton consulted with Williams and Roberts as to what was their best plan of proceeding. It was agreed to haul up for a quarter of an hour, then furl all, and allow the privateer to pass them. This was put in execution: the convicts, now that there was no more firing, coming to their assistance. The next morning the weather proved hazy, and the schooner, who had evidently crowded sail in pursuit of them, was nowhere to be seen.
Newton and his crew congratulated themselves upon their escape, and again shaped their course for the Channel.
The wind would not allow them to keep clear of Ushant; and two days afterwards they made the French coast near to that island. The next morning they had a slant of wind, which enabled them to lay her head up for Plymouth, and anticipated that in another twenty-four hours they would be in safety. Such, however, was not their good fortune; about noon a schooner hove in sight to leeward, and it was soon ascertained to be the same vessel from which they had previously escaped. Before dusk she was close to them; and Newton, aware of the impossibility of resistance, hove-to, as a signal of surrender.
"Misery acquaints a man with strange bedfellows." SHAKESPEARE.
As the reader may have before now occasionally heard comments upon the uncertainty of the moon and of the sea, and also, perhaps of human life, I shall not venture any further remarks upon the subject; for were they even new, I should never have the credit of them. This is certain, that instead of finding themselves, as they anticipated to be in the next twenty-four hours, safely moored in the port of Plymouth, Newton and his comrades found themselves, before that time had elapsed, safely locked up in the prison of Morlaix. But we must not proceed so fast.
Although the Estelle had squared her mainyard as a signal of submission, the privateer's men, as they ranged their vessel alongside, thought it advisable to pour in a volley of musketry; this might have proved serious, had it not been that Newton and his crew were all down below, hoping to secure a few changes of linen, which, in a prison, might prove very useful. As it was, their volley only killed the remaining French prisoner, who remained on deck, over-joyed at the recapture, and anticipating an immediate return to his own country; by which it would appear that the "L'homme propose, mais Dieu dispose" of France, is quite as sure a proverb as the more homely "Many a slip between cup and lip" of our own country.
The boat of the privateer was sent on board: a dozen men, with their cutlasses flourishing over their heads, leapt on the deck of the Estelle, and found nobody to exercise their valour upon, except the body of their departed comrade; upon which they shouted for the "Sacre's God dams" to "monter." Newton and the rest obeyed the summons, with their bundles in their hands; the latter they were soon relieved of by their conquerors, who, to prove that it was not out of "politesse" that they carried their effects, at the same time saluted them with various blows with their cutlasses upon their backs and shoulders. Newton, who felt that resistance would only be an excuse for further aggression, bore with philosophy what he could not prevent, and hastened into the boat. The convicts also took their share with patience—they had been accustomed to "many stripes." Roberts and Williams, in spite of the remonstrances of Newton, with all the reckless spirit or English, sailors, would not submit so quietly. The first object which attracted Roberts' attention, as he came up the ladder, was the body of the remaining French prisoner.
"What! Johnny, so you're gone! Didn't I tell you that your turn would come next? I say, my hearties, you keep all your bullets for your friends," continued Roberts, addressing the privateer's men.
A few "sacres" and "f——s" was the reply, as one of them attempted to twitch his bundle out of his hand.—"Hold fast there, old chap, don't take what you never paid for."
A scuffle now ensued; which ended in Roberts, who found that he could not retain possession, shying his bundle at the foremost man, with such force as to lay him on the deck.—"Well, if you will have it, take it," cried Roberts.
"The beggars have chopped my fingers," growled Williams. "I say, Mounseer, don't make quite so free with that iron of yours, or I'll smash your top-lights."
"I wish I had three on 'em on Point Beach, one up and one down. I'd sarve you out, you d—d frog-eating sea-cooks!" said Roberts, squaring at the privateer's men with clenched fists.
This obstreperous conduct produced a shower of blows with the backs of the cutlasses. Williams, in a rage, wrenched a cutlass from one of the Frenchmen, and laid about him; while Roberts, with his fists, rushed within their guards, and laid two of them at his feet. At last they were overpowered and thrown into the boat, bleeding profusely from various cuts which they had received in the unequal scuffle. The privateer's people then shoved off and rowed on board of the schooner.
As soon as Newton and the other Englishmen were up the side, they were pushed aft; their persons were then searched, and every part of their apparel, which appeared to be of good materials, or little worn, was taken from them. Collins, the convict, was a good prize; he had put on shirt over shirt, stocking over stocking, and trousers over trousers, that the Frenchmen began to wonder if ever they should arrive at the "inner man." At last, he was uncased, an old pair of trousers thrown to him, and he was left without any other garment, shivering in the cold. Newton, who still retained his waistcoat and shirt, took off the former, and gave it to the convict, who whispered as he thanked him, "I don't care a fig, they have left me my old hat." As soon as the recapture was manned, the privateer bore up for the French coast, and before morning anchored in the rocky harbour of Morlaix. At daylight, the prisoners, who had received no refreshment, were handed into a boat, and on their landing, conducted by a party of gens d'armes to the prison. During their progress to their place of confinement Collins excited the amusement of the bystanders, and the surprise of his fellow-prisoners, by walking with his hands and arms raised in a certain position. After they had been locked up, he went to the barred window, and continued the same gestures to the people who were crowded about the prison, most of whom continued their mockery. Newton, who came forward to the window to request a little water for Roberts and Williams, who wished to quench their thirst and wash their wounds, which had not been dressed, inquired of Collins his reasons for so doing. "It is for your benefit as well as mine," replied Collins; "at least I hope so. There are freemasons in all countries."
A few minutes afterwards, one of the people outside came forward, and pointed out to the sentry that the prisoners were making signs for water. The gendarme, who had paid no attention to Newton, listened to the appeal of his countryman, who, upon the grounds of common humanity, persuaded him to allow them such a necessary boon. The water was brought, and, as the man walked away, a sign, unperceived by all but Collins, gave him to understand that his appeal had been understood.
"All's right," said Collins to Newton, as he quitted the grating. "We have friends without, and we have friends within." In about an hour some bread was brought in, and among those who brought it Collins perceived the person who had answered his signal; but no further recognition took place. At noon the door of the prison was again unbarred, and a surgeon came to dress the wounded men. He was accompanied by two or three others, deputed by the governor of the town to obtain intelligence, and the new acquaintance of Collins appeared as interpreter. While the surgeon dressed the wounds of Roberts and Williams, which, although numerous, were none of any importance, many questions were asked, and taken down when interpreted. Each prisoner was separately interrogated; Collins was one of the first examined. The questions put and answers given were carefully intermixed with more important matter. The person who acted as interpreter spoke English too well for a Frenchman: apparently he was a Dane or Russian, who was domiciliated there. He commenced with—
"No one understands English but me—but they are suspicious: be careful.—What is your name?"
"Comment?" said the French amanuensis, "John Co—lin. C'est bien; continuez."
"What is your rank—and in your Lodge?"
"Common seaman—master," answered Collins, adroitly.
"Comment?" said the party with his pen.
"Matelot," replied the interpreter.
"Demandez-lui le nom du batiment."
"What is the name of your ship?—how can we assist you?"
"Terpsichore—a boat, with provisions."
"Fregate croiseur Terpsichore."
"Does she sail well?—at what time?"
"To night, with a guide."
"Elle marche bien avec le vent large."
"Demandez-lui la force."
"What number of guns?—how can you get out?"
"Thirty-six guns.—I have the means."
"Trente-six canons," repeated the Frenchman, writing; "c'est bien—alors, l'equipage."
"How many men?—I will be here at dark."
"Two hundred and seventy men; but many away in prizes."
"Deux cents soixante-dix hommes-d'equipage; mais il y a beaucoup dans les batimens pris."
Newton and the others were also interrogated, the names taken down, and the parties then quitted the prison.
"Now, if we make a push for it, I think we may get off," said Collins to Newton and the rest, after the door had closed. "I never saw the prison in England which could hold me when I felt inclined to walk out of it; and as for their bars, I reckon them at about an hour's work. I never travel without my little friends;"—and Collins, taking off his old hat, removed the lining, and produced a variety of small saws made from watch-springs, files, and other instruments. "Then," continued he, "with these, and this piece of tallow stuck outside my hat, I will be through those bars in no time. French iron ar'n't worth a d—n, and the sentry sha'n't hear me if he lolls against them; although it may be just as well if Thompson tips us a stave, as then we may work the faster."
"I say, Bill," observed Hillson, "who is your friend?"
"I don't know—he may be the governor; but this I do know, for the honour of freemasonry, we may trust him and all like him; so just mind your own business, Tom."
"He said he would be here at dark," observed Newton.
"Yes,—I must prepare—go to the grating, some of you, that they may not look in upon me."
This unexpected prospect of deliverance created an anxious joy in the breasts of the prisoners; the day appeared interminable. At last, the shades of night set in, and a clouded sky with mizzling rain raised their hopes. The square in front of the prison was deserted, and the sentinel crouched close against the door, which partially protected him from the weather. In a few minutes a person was heard in conversation with the sentinel. "He must be coming now," observed Collins in a low tone; "that must be one of his assistants who is taking off the attention of the gens d'arme."
"Make no noise," said a voice in a whisper, at the outside of the bars.
"I am here," replied Collins, softly.
"How can you get out of the prison?"
"Get the sentry out of the way when we leave off singing; the bars will then be removed."
"Everything is prepared outside. When you get out, keep close under the wall to the right. I shall be at the corner, if I am not here."
The freemason then retired from the grating.
"Now, Thompson, not too loud, there's no occasion for it; two of us can work."
Thompson commenced his song; Newton took a small saw from Collins, who directed him how to use it. The iron bars of the prison yielded like wood to the fine-tempered instruments which Collins employed. In an hour and a half three of the bars were removed without noise, and the aperture was wide enough for their escape. The singing of Thompson, whose voice was tolerably good, and ear very correct, had not only the effect of preventing their working being heard, but amused the sentinel, who remained with his back to the wall listening to the melody.
Their work was so far accomplished. Thompson ceased, and all was silence and anxiety; in a few minutes the sentinel was again heard in conversation, and the voices receded, as if he had removed to a greater distance.
"Now, brother," said the low voice under the aperture.
In a minute the whole of the prisoners were clear of the walls, and followed their guide in silence, until they reached the landing-place.
"There is the boat, and provisions sufficient," said the freemason, in a low tone; "you will have to pass the sentries on the rocks: but we can do no more for you. Farewell, brother; and may you and your companions be fortunate!" So saying, their friendly assistant disappeared.
The night was so dark, that although close to the boat, it was with difficulty that its outlines could be discerned. Newton, recommending the strictest silence and care in entering, stepped into it, and was followed by the rest. Roberts, whose eyesight was a little affected from the wounds in his head, stumbled over one of the oars.
"Qui vive?" cried out one of the sentries on the rock.
No answer was made; they all remained motionless in their seats. The sentry walked to the edge of the rock and looked down; but not distinguishing anything, and hearing no further noise, returned to his post.
For some little while Newton would not allow them to move: the oars were then carefully lifted over the gunnel, and their clothes laid in the rowlocks, to muffle the sound; the boat was pushed from the landing-place into the middle of the narrow inlet. The tide was ebbing, and with their oars raised out of the water, ready to give way if perceived, they allowed the boat to drift out of one of the narrow channels which formed the entrance of the harbour.
The rain now beat down fast: and anxious to be well clear of the coast before daylight, Newton thought they might venture to pull. The oars were taken by him and Collins; but before they had laid them three times in the water, one of the sentries, hearing the noise, discharged his musket in the direction.
"Give way, now, as hard as we can," cried Newton; "it's our only chance."
Another and another musket was fired. They heard the guard turned out; lights passing on the batteries close to them, and row-boats manning. They double-banked their oars, and, with the assistance of the ebb-tide and obscurity, they were soon out of gun-shot. They then laid in their oars, shipped their mast, and sailed away from the coast.