"Sir, I beg your pardon a thousand times, and am very much your debtor. It is the most venomous snake that we have in the country. I trust you will accept my apology for a moment's irritation; and, at the same time, my sincere thanks." The colonel then summoned the servants, who provided themselves with bamboos, and soon despatched the object which had occasioned the misunderstanding. The colonel then apologised to Newton, while he repaired to the bath, and in a few minutes returned, having undergone this necessary ablution after a mango feast. His dress was changed, and he offered the appearance of an upright, gentleman-like, hard-featured man, who had apparently gone through a great deal of service without his stamina having been much impaired.
"I beg your pardon, my dear sir, for detaining you. May I request the pleasure of your name and the occasion of your providential visit?"
"I have a letter for you, sir," replied Newton, who had been intrusted with the one which Mr Revel had given to his daughters on their embarkation.
"Oh! a letter of introduction. It is now quite superfluous, you have already introduced yourself."
"No, sir, it is not a letter of recommendation in my behalf, but to announce the arrival of your three grand-nieces—daughters of the Honourable Mr Revel—in the Bombay Castle, the ship to which I belong."
"What?" roared the colonel, "my three grand-nieces! daughters of Mr Revel!"
"So I have understood from them, sir."
The colonel tore open the letter, in which Mr Revel very coolly informed him that not having received any answers to his former epistles on the subject, he presumed that they had miscarried, and had therefore been induced, in consequence of the difficulties which he laboured under, to send his daughters out to his kind protection. The colonel, as soon as he had finished the perusal of the letter, tore it into pieces again and again, every renewed action showing an increase of excitement. He then threw the fragments on the floor, stamping upon them in an ecstasy of rage.
"The d——d scoundrel!—the villain!—the rascal!—Do you know, sir, that when I was last in England this fellow swindled me out of a thousand pounds? Yes, sir, a thousand pounds, by G-d! promised to pay me in three weeks; and when I was coming back, and asked him for my money, he laughed at me, and ordered his servant not to let me in. And now he has sent out his three daughters to me—pawned them off upon me, laughing, I suppose, in his sleeve, as he did when he cheated me before. I'll not receive them, by G-d! they may find their way back again how they can;" and the colonel paced the room up and down, throwing his arms about in his fury.
Newton waited some time before he ventured to make any observation; indeed, he was so astonished at such an unheard-of proceeding, and so shocked at the unfortunate situation of Isabel, that he hardly knew what to say.
"Am I then to inform the young ladies that you will not receive them?"
"You don't know me, sir. When did I ever receive a woman into my house? They are all alike, sir. Plotted with their father, I'll answer for, with the hopes of getting husbands. Tell them, sir, that I'll see them d——d first! Swindling scoundrel!—first cheats me out of a thousand pounds, and then tries to cheat me into providing for his family!"
Newton paused a little, to allow the colonel's wrath to subside, and then observed—"I never was so much distressed as to be the bearer of your message. The young ladies are certainly no parties to their father's dishonesty, and are in a situation much to be pitied. In a foreign country, thousands of miles from their friends, without means of subsistence, or of paying their passage home. What is to become of them?"
"I don't care."
"That your indignation is just, Colonel Revel, I admit; but allowing that you will not receive them, how are they to return home? Captain Drawlock, I am sure, would give them a passage; but we proceed to China. Poor girls!" continued Newton, with a sigh. "I should like to make a remark, Colonel Revel, if it were not considered too great a liberty in a stranger."
"You have already taken a liberty which in all probability has saved my life. I shall be happy to listen to any remark that you may wish to offer."
"It was, sir, that, reprehensible as their father's conduct may be, common humanity, and a regard for your own character, will hardly warrant their being left thus destitute. They, at least, are your relations, and have neither offended nor deceived you; on the contrary, are, with you, joint victims of their father's deception."
"You appear to take a great interest in these young ladies," observed the colonel, sharply.
"If I had never seen them, sir, their present unfortunate dilemma would be sufficient. Knowing them intimately as I do, I must say that this intelligence will be, to one, at least, a death-blow. I would to God that I were able to assist and protect her!"
"Very handsome, then, I presume?" replied the colonel, with a sneer.
"She certainly is, sir; but it was not admiration of her beauty which occasioned the remark. If you knew her, sir, you would be as sorry to part with her, as you now appear to be to receive her."
The colonel continued to pace the room, but with less violence than before. Newton observed this, and therefore was silent, hoping that reflection would induce him to alter his resolution. In a few minutes, apparently forgetting the presence of Newton, the colonel commenced talking to himself aloud, muttering out a few detached phrases:—"Must take them in, by G-d! Couldn't show my face—no where—d——d scoundrel! Keep them here till next ship—till they are as yellow as gamboge, then send them home—revenge in that."
Thus did the old gentleman mutter loud enough for Newton to overhear. A few minutes more were spent in perambulation, when he threw himself into the chair.
"I think, my young acquaintance, you appear to be interested for these relations of mine; or at least for one of them."
"I certainly am, sir; and so is everyone who is acquainted with her."
"Well, I am glad to hear that there is one good out of the three. I have been put in a passion—no wonder; and I have said more than should be repeated. Were it known that these girls had been sent out to me in this way, the laugh would be raised against me, as it is known that I am not very partial to women; and it would also be of serious injury to them and their prospects. I have determined upon receiving them, for the best of all possible reasons—I can't help myself. You will, therefore, add to the obligations of this day, by saying nothing about what has been made known to you."
"Most certainly, sir; I will pledge you my honour, if it is requested."
"When I say not mention it, I mean to other parties; but to the girls, I must request you to state the facts. I will not have them come here, pawing and fondling, and wheedling me as an old bachelor, with a few lacs of rupees to be coaxed out of. It would make me sick; I detest women and their ways. Now, if they are informed of the real state of the case, that they are here only on sufferance; that I neither wished nor want them; and that I have been imposed upon by their scoundrel of a father, I may keep them at the other end of the bungalow, and not be annoyed with their company; until, upon plea of bad health, or some other excuse, I can pay their passage back again."
"Could you not state these facts yourself, sir?"
"No, I never meddle with women; besides, it is better that they should know it before they come here. If you will promise me what I now request, why, I will consent to give them house-room; if not, they may stay where they are. It will be but a few days' laugh at me, or abuse of me, I care little which."
"Well, sir, unpleasant as this intelligence must be, their present suspense is still more so. You will allow me to disclose it in as delicate a manner as possible."
"You may be as refined as you please, provided that you tell the exact truth, which I am convinced that you will, by your countenance."
"Then, I will take my leave, sir," replied Newton.
"Fare you well, my dear sir; recollect that my house is your home; and although not fond of the society of women, I shall be delighted with yours. The young ladies may be brought on shore to the hotel, and I will send a carriage for them. Good-bye,—What is your name?"
"Good-bye, then, Mr Forster, for the present;" and the colonel quitted the room.
"Then there were sighs, the deeper for suppression, And stolen glances, sweeter for the theft, And burning blushes, though for no transgression, Tremblings when met, and restlessness when left. All these are little preludes to possession, Of which young passion cannot be bereft, And merely tend to show how greatly love is Embarrassed, at first starting, with a novice."
It was in no very happy frame of mind that Newton quitted the colonel's house to execute his mission to the Miss Revels. That the two eldest, provided they were admitted, would not much take to heart either the conduct of their father or the coolness of their relation, he was pretty well assured; but he was too well acquainted with Isabel's character not to know that she would deeply feel the humiliating situation in which she was placed, and that it would prey upon her generous and sensitive mind. As, however, there was no remedy, he almost congratulated himself that, as the colonel's message was to be delivered, the commission had been placed in his trust.
Captain Drawlock, tired of waiting, had escorted the young ladies on shore to the hotel, anxiously expecting the arrival of Newton, who was conducted there by a messenger despatched to intercept him.
"Well, Mr Forster, is it all right?" said Captain Drawlock, on his appearance.
"The colonel's carriage will be here for the ladies in less than half an hour," replied Newton, evasively.
"Then, Miss Revels, as I am extremely busy, I shall wish you good-morning, and will have the pleasure of paying my respects before I sail. Allow me to offer you my best thanks for your company during our voyage, and to assure you how much your presence has contributed to enliven it. Forster, you will, of course, remain with the Miss Revels, and see them safe in the carriage;" and Captain Drawlock, who appeared to consider his responsibility over with the voyage, shook hands with them, and quitted the hotel.
"Mr Forster," said Isabel, as soon as Captain Drawlock was out of hearing, "I am sure, by your countenance, that there has been something unpleasant. Is it not so?"
"I am sorry to answer in the affirmative, and more sorry to be forced to impart the cause." Newton then entered into a detail of what had passed at the colonel's house. Isabel listened to it with attention, her sisters with impatience. Miss Charlotte, with an air of consternation, inquired whether the colonel had refused to receive them: on being informed to the contrary, she appeared to be satisfied. Laura simpered, and observed, "How very odd of papa!" and then seemed to think no more about it. Isabel made no observation; she remained on her chair, apparently in deep and painful thought.
A few minutes after the communication the colonel's carriage made its appearance, and Newton proposed that they should quit the hotel. Charlotte and Laura were all ready and impatient, but Isabel remained seated by the table.
"Come, Isabel," cried Charlotte.
"I cannot go, my dear Charlotte," replied Isabel; "but do not let me prevent you or Laura from deciding for yourselves."
"Not go!" cried the two sisters at once. Isabel was firm; and Newton, who did not think himself authorised to interfere, was a silent witness to the continued persuasions and expostulations of the two elder, and the refusal of the younger sister. Nearly half an hour thus passed away, when Charlotte and Laura decided that they would go, and send back the carriage for Isabel, who by that time would have come to her senses. The heartless, unthinking girls tripped gaily down to the carriage, and drove off. Newton, who had escorted them, retraced his steps, with a beating heart, to the room where he had left Isabel.
She was in tears.
"Do I intrude, Miss Revel?" said Newton, who could not repress his emotion at the sight.
"Oh, no! I expected and wished that you would return, Mr Forster. Do you think that you could find Captain Drawlock? I should feel much obliged if you would take that trouble for me."
"I will immediately go in search of him, if you wish it. Believe me, Miss Revel, I feel most sincerely for your situation; and, if it were not considered an impertinent question, I should ask you what may be your present intentions?"
"Acquainted as you are with all the circumstances, Mr Forster, the question is not impertinent, but kind. God knows that I require an adviser. I would, if possible, conceal the facts from Captain Drawlock. It is not for a daughter to publish a father's errors; but you know all, and I can therefore have no scruple in consulting with you: I do not see why I should. My resolution is, at best, a hasty one; but it is, never to enter the house of my relation under such humiliating circumstances—that is decided: but how to act, or what to do, is where I require advice. I am in a cruel situation. What a helpless creature is a woman! Were I a man, I could have worked my passage home, or have honestly obtained my bread in this place; but a woman—a young and unprotected woman—in a distant clime, and without a friend—"
"Do not say that you are without a friend; one who has at least the will, if not the power to serve you," replied Newton.
"No—not without a friend; but what avails a friend whose assistance I could not accept? It is to Captain Drawlock, therefore, that I must apply, and, painful as it may be, throw myself upon his generosity; for that reason I wished to see him. He may advise some means by which I may obtain a passage home. I will return in any capacity—as a nurse to children, as an attendant—anything that is creditable. I would watch over the couch of fever, pestilence, and plague, for months, rather than appear to be a party to my father's duplicity. Oh! Mr Forster, what must you think of the daughters, after what you have heard of the parent's conduct?"—and Isabel burst into tears.
Newton could contain himself no longer. "My dear Miss Revel, let me persuade you to compose yourself," said he, taking her hand, which was not withdrawn. "If you feel on this occasion, so do I most deeply—most deeply, because I can only lament, and dare not offer to assist you. The means of returning to your own country I can easily procure from Captain Drawlock; but would you accept it from me? I know—I cannot expect that you would; and that, under such circumstances, it would be insulting in me to offer it. Think, then, what pain I must feel to witness your distress, and yet dare not offer to assist one for whom—oh! my God—" ended Newton, checking his feelings.
"I feel the kindness and the delicacy of your conduct, Mr Forster; and I will candidly acknowledge, that, could I accept it, there is no one to whom I would more cheerfully be under an obligation; but the world will not permit it."
"What shall I do, Miss Revel?—shall I go for Captain Drawlock?"
"Stay a little while; I wish to reflect. What would you advise?—as a friend, tell me candidly, Mr Forster."
"I am indeed proud that you allow me that title. It is all that I ever dare hope for; but Isabel (I beg your pardon, Miss Revel, I should have said)—"
"Nay, nay, I am not displeased. Why not Isabel? We have known one another long enough; and, deserted as I feel, a kind word now—"
Isabel covered her face with her hand. Newton, who was standing by her, was overcome by the intensity of his feelings; gradually they approached nearer, until by, I suppose, the same principle which holds the universe together—the attraction of cohesion—Newton's arm encircled the waist of Isabel, and she sobbed upon his shoulder. It was with difficulty that Newton refrained from pouring out his soul, and expressing the ardent love which he had so long felt for her; but it was taking advantage of her situation. He had nothing to offer but himself and beggary. He did refrain. The words were not spoken; yet Isabel divined his thoughts, appreciated his forbearance, and loved him more for his resolution.
"Isabel," said Newton, at length, with a sigh, "I never valued or wished for wealth till now. Till this hour I never felt the misery of being poor."
"I believe you, Mr Forster; and I am grateful, as I know that it is for my sake that you feel it; but," continued she, recovering herself, "crying will do no good. I asked you for your advice, and you have only given me your arm."
"I am afraid it is all I shall ever have to offer," replied Newton. "But, Isabel, allow me to ask you one question:—Are you resolved never to enter your relation's house?"
"Not on the humiliating terms which he has proposed. Let the colonel come here for me and take me home with him, and then I will remain there until I can return to England; if not, I will submit to any privation, to any honest humiliation, rather than enter under his roof. But, indeed, Mr Forster, it is necessary that Captain Drawlock should be summoned. We are here alone: it is not correct: you must feel that it is not."
"I do feel that it is not; but, Isabel, I was this morning of some trifling service to the colonel, and may have some little weight with him. Will you allow me to return to him, and try what I can do? It will not be dark for these two hours, and I will soon be back."
Isabel assented. Newton hastened to the colonel, who had already been much surprised when he had been informed by his domestics (for he had not seen them) that only two ladies had arrived. The old gentleman was now cool. The explanation and strong persuasions of Newton, coupled with the spirited behaviour of Isabel, whose determination was made known to him, and which was so different from the general estimate he had formed of the sex, at last prevailed. The colonel ordered his carriage, and, in company with Newton, drove to the hotel, made a sort of apology—a wonderful effort on his part, and requested his grand-niece to accept of his hospitality. In a few minutes Isabel and the colonel were out of sight, and Newton was left to his own reflections.
A few days afterwards Newton accepted the colonel's invitation to dine, when he found that affairs were going on better than he expected. The old gentleman had been severely quizzed by those who were intimate with him, at the addition to his establishment, and had winced not a little under the lash; but, on the whole, he appeared more reconciled than would have been expected. Newton, however, observed that, when speaking of the three sisters, he invariably designated them as "my grand-niece, and the two other young women."
"Rich in the gems of India's gaudy zone, And plunder piled from kingdoms not their own, Degenerate trade! thy minions could despise Thy heart-born anguish of a thousand cries: Could lock, with impious hands, their teeming store, While famish'd nations died along the shore; Could mock the groans of fellow-men, and bear The curse of kingdoms, peopled with despair; Could stamp disgrace on man's polluted name, And barter with their gold eternal shame."
Gold!—gold! for thee, what will man not attempt?—for thee, to what degradation will he not submit?—for thee, what will he not risk in this world, or prospectively in the next? Industry is rewarded by thee; enterprise is supported by thee; crime is cherished, and heaven itself is bartered for thee, thou powerful auxiliary of the devil! One tempter was sufficient for the fall of man; but thou wert added, that he ne'er might rise again.
Survey the empire of India; calculate the millions of acres, the billions with which it is peopled, and then pause while you ask yourself the question—How is it that a company of merchants claim it as their own? By what means did it come into their possession?
Honestly, they will reply. Honestly! you went there as suppliants; you were received with kindness and hospitality, and your request was granted, by which you obtained a footing on the soil. Now you are lords of countless acres, masters of millions, who live or perish as you will; receivers of enormous tribute. Why, how is this?
Honestly, again you say; by treaty, by surrender, by taking from those who would have destroyed us the means of doing injury. Honestly! say it again, that Heaven may register, and hell may chuckle at your barefaced, impudent assertion.
No! by every breach of faith which could disgrace an infidel; by every act of cruelty which could disgrace our nature; by extortion, by rapine, by injustice, by mockery of all laws, or human or divine. The thirst for gold, and a golden country, led you on; and in these scorching regions you have raised the devil on his throne, and worshipped him in his proud pre-eminence as Mammon.
Let us think. Is not the thirst for gold a temptation to which our natures are doomed to be subjected—part of the ordeal which we have to pass? or why is it that there never is sufficient?
It appears to be ordained by Providence that this metal, obtained from the earth to feed the avarice of man, should again return to it. If all the precious ore which for a series of ages has been raised from the dark mine were now in tangible existence, how trifling would be its value! how inadequate as a medium of exchange for the other productions of nature, or of art! If all the diamonds and other precious stones which have been collected from the decomposed rocks (for hard as they once were, like all sublunary matter, they too yield to time) why, if all were remaining on the earth, the frolic gambols of the May-day sweep would shake about those gems, which now are to be found in profusion only where rank and beauty pay homage to the thrones of kings. Arts and manufactures consume a large proportion of the treasures of the mine, and as the objects fall into decay, so does the metal return to the earth again. But it is in Eastern climes, where it is collected, that it soonest disappears. Where the despot reigns, and the knowledge of an individual's wealth is sufficient warranty to seal his doom, it is to the care of the silent earth alone that the possessor will commit his treasures; he trusts not to relation or to friend, for gold is too powerful for human ties. It is but on his death-bed that he imparts the secret of his deposit to those he leaves behind him; often called away before he has time to make it known, reserving the fond secret till too late; still clinging to life, and all that makes life dear to him. Often does the communication, made from the couch of death, in half-articulated words, prove so imperfect, that the knowledge of its existence is of no avail unto his intended heirs; and thus it is that millions return again to the earth from which they have been gathered with such toil. What avarice has dug up avarice buries again; perhaps in future ages to be regained by labour, when, from the chemical powers of eternal and mysterious Nature, they have again been filtered through the indurated earth, and reassumed the form and the appearance of the metal which has lain in darkness since the creation of the world.
Is not this part of the grand principle of the universe?—the eternal cycle of reproduction and decay, pervading all and every thing—blindly contributed to by the folly and wickedness of man! "So far shalt thou go, but no further," was the fiat; and, arrived at the prescribed limit, we must commence again. At this moment intellect has seized upon the seven-league boots of the fable, which fitted everybody who drew them on, and strides over the universe. How soon, as on the decay of the Roman empire, may all the piles of learning which human endeavours would rear as a tower of Babel to scale the heavens, disappear, leaving but fragments to future generations, as proofs of pre-existent knowledge! Whether we refer to nature or to art, to knowledge or to power, to accumulation or destruction, bounds have been prescribed which man can never pass, guarded as they are by the same unerring and unseen Power, which threw the planets from his hand, to roll in their appointed orbits. All appears confused below, but all is clear in heaven.
I have somewhere heard it said, that wherever heaven may be, those who reach it will behold the mechanism of the universe in its perfection. Those stars, now studding the firmament in such apparent confusion, will there appear in all their regularity, as worlds revolving in their several orbits, round suns which gladden them with light and heat, all in harmony, all in beauty, rejoicing as they roll their destined course in obedience to the Almighty fiat; one vast, stupendous, and, to the limits of our present senses, incomprehensible mechanism, perfect in all its parts, most wonderful in the whole. Nor do I doubt it: it is but reasonable to suppose it. He that hath made this world and all upon it can have no limits to His power.
I wonder whether I shall ever see it.
I said just now, let us think. I had better have said, let us not think; for thought is painful, even dangerous when carried to excess. Happy is he who thinks but little, whose ideas are so confined as not to cause the intellectual fever, wearing out the mind and body, and often threatening both with dissolution. There is a happy medium of intellect, sufficient to convince us that all is good—sufficient to enable us to comprehend that which is revealed, without a vain endeavour to pry into the hidden; to understand the one, and lend our faith unto the other; but when the mind would soar unto the heaven not opened to it, or dive into sealed and dark futurity, how does it return from its several expeditions? Confused, alarmed, unhappy; willing to rest, yet restless; willing to believe, yet doubting; willing to end its futile travels, yet setting forth anew. Yet, how is a superior understanding envied! how coveted by all!—a gift which always leads to danger, and often to perdition.
Thank Heaven! I have not been entrusted with one of those thorough-bred, snorting, champing, foaming sort of intellects, which run away with Common Sense, who is jerked from his saddle at the beginning of its wild career. Mine is a good, steady, useful hack, who trots along the high-road of life, keeping on his own side, and only stumbling a little now and then, when I happen to be careless,—ambitious only to arrive safely at the end of his journey, not to pass by others.
Why am I no longer ambitious? Once I was, but 'twas when I was young and foolish. Then methought "It were an easy leap to pluck bright honour from the pale-faced moon;" but now I am old and fat, and there is something in fat which chokes or destroys ambition. It would appear that it is requisite for the body to be active and springing as the mind; and if it is not, it weighs the latter down to its own gravity. Who ever heard of a fat man being ambitious? Caesar was a spare man; Buonaparte was thin as long as he climbed the ladder; Nelson was a shadow. The Duke of Wellington has not sufficient fat in his composition to grease his own Wellington-boots. In short, I think my hypothesis to be fairly borne out, that fat and ambition are incompatible.
It is very melancholy to be forced to acknowledge this, for I am convinced that it may be of serious injury to my works. An author with a genteel figure will always be more read than one who is corpulent. All his etherealness departs. Some young ladies may have fancied me an elegant young man, like Lytton Bulwer, full of fun and humour, concealing all my profound knowledge under the mask of levity, and have therefore read my books with as much delight as has been afforded by "Pelham." But the truth must be told. I am a grave, heavy man, with my finger continually laid along my temple, seldom speaking unless spoken to—and when ladies talk, I never open my mouth; the consequence is, that sometimes, when there is a succession of company, I do not speak for a week. Moreover, I am married, with five small children; and now all I look forward to, and all I covet, is to live in peace, and die in my bed.
I wonder why I did not commence authorship before! How true it is that a man never knows what he can do until he tries! The fact is, I never thought that I could make a novel; and I was thirty years old before I stumbled on the fact. What a pity!
Writing a book reminds me very much of making a passage across the Atlantic. At one moment, when the ideas flow, you have the wind aft, and away you scud, with a flowing sheet, and a rapidity which delights you: at other times, when your spirit flags, and you gnaw your pen (I have lately used iron pens, for I'm a devil of a crib-biter), it is like unto a foul wind, tack and tack, requiring a long time to get on a short distance. But still you do go, although but slowly; and in both cases we must take the foul wind with the fair. If a ship were to furl her sails until the wind was again favourable, her voyage would be protracted to an indefinite time; and if an author were to wait until he again felt in a humour, it would take a life to write a novel.
Whenever the wind is foul, which it now most certainly is, for I am writing anything but "Newton Forster," and which will account for this rambling, stupid chapter, made up of odds and ends, strung together like what we call "skewer pieces" on board of a man-of-war; when the wind is foul, as I said before, I have, however, a way of going a-head by getting up the steam, which I am now about to resort to—and the fuel is brandy. All on this side of the world are asleep, except gamblers, house-breakers, the new police, and authors. My wife is in the arms of Morpheus—an allegorical crim. con., which we husbands are obliged to wink at; and I am making love to the brandy-bottle, that I may stimulate my ideas, as unwilling to be roused from their dark cells of the brain as the spirit summoned by Lochiel, who implored at each response, "Leave, oh! leave me to repose."
Now I'll invoke them, conjure them up, like little imps, to do my bidding:—
By this glass which now I drain, By this spirit, which shall cheer you, As its fumes mount to my brain, From thy torpid slumbers rear you.
By this head, so tired with thinking, By this hand, no longer trembling, By these lips, so fond of drinking, Let me feel that you're assembling.
By the bottle placed before me, (Food for you, ere morrow's sun), By this second glass, I pour me, Come, you little beggars, come.
"British sailors have a knack, Haul away, yo ho, boys. Of hauling down a Frenchman's jack 'Gainst any odds, you know, boys."
There was, I flatter myself, some little skill in the introduction of the foregoing chapter, which has played the part of chorus during the time that the Bombay Castle has proceeded on to Canton, has taken in her cargo, and is on her passage home, in company with fifteen other East Indiamen and several country ships, all laden with the riches of the East, and hastening to pour their treasures into the lap of their country. Millions were floating on the waters, entrusted to the skill of merchant-seamen to convey them home in safety, and to their courage to defend them from the enemy, which had long been lying in wait to intercept them. By a very unusual chance or oversight, there had been no men-of-war despatched to protect property of such enormous value.
The Indian fleet had just entered the Straits of Malacca, and were sailing in open order, with a fresh breeze and smooth water. The hammocks had been stowed, the decks washed, and the awnings spread. Shoals of albicore were darting across the bows of the different ships; and the seamen perched upon the cat-heads and spritsail-yard, had succeeded in piercing with their harpoons many, which were immediately cut up, and in the frying-pans for breakfast. But very soon they had "other fish to fry;" for one of the Indiamen, the Royal George, made the signal that there were four strange sail in the S.W.
"A gun from the commodore, sir," reported Newton, who was officer of the watch. "The flags are up—they are not our pennants."
It was an order to four ships of the fleet to run down and examine the strange vessels.
Half-an-hour elapsed, during which time the glasses were at every mast-head. Captain Drawlock himself, although not much given to climbing, having probably had enough of it during his long career in the service, was to be seen in the main-top. Doubts, suspicions, declarations, surmises, and positive assertions were bandied about, until they were all dispelled by the reconnoitring ships telegraphing, "a French squadron, consisting of one line-of-battle ship, three frigates, and a brig." It was, in fact, the well-known squadron of Admiral Linois, who had scoured the Indian seas, ranging it up and down with the velocity as well as the appetite of a shark. His force consisted of the Marengo, of eighty guns; the famed Belle Poule, a forty-gun frigate, which outstripped the wind; the Semillante, of thirty-six guns; the Berceau, ship corvette, of twenty-two, and a brig of sixteen. They had sailed from Batavia on purpose to intercept the China fleet, having received intelligence that it was unprotected, and anticipating an easy conquest, if not an immediate surrender to their overpowering force.
"The recall is up on board of the commodore," said Mathews, the first mate, to Captain Drawlock.
"Very well, keep a good look-out; he intends to fight, I'll answer for it. We must not surrender up millions to these French scoundrels without a tussle."
"I should hope not," replied Mathews; "but that big fellow will make a general average among our tea canisters, I expect, when we do come to the scratch. There go the flags, sir," continued Mathews, repeating the number to Captain Drawlock, who had the signal-book in his hand.
"Form line of battle in close order, and prepare for action," read Captain Drawlock from the signal-book.
A cheer resounded through the fleet when the signal was made known. The ships were already near enough to each other to hear the shouting, and the confidence of others added to their own.
"If we only had all English seamen on board, instead of these Lascars and Chinamen, who look so blank," observed Newton to Mathews, "I think we should show them some play."
"Yes," growled Mathews; "John Company will some day find out the truth of the old proverb, 'Penny wise and pound foolish!'"
The French squadron, which had continued on the wind to leeward until they could fetch the India fleet, now tacked, and laid up directly for them. In the meantime, the English vessels were preparing for action: the clearing of their lumbered decks was the occasion of many a coop of fowls, or pig of the true China breed, exchanging their destiny for a watery grave. Fortunately, there were no passengers. Homeward-bound China ships are not encumbered in that way, unless to astonish the metropolis with such monstrosities as the mermaid, or as the Siamese twins, coupled by nature like two hounds (separated lately indeed by Lytton Bulwer, who has satisfactorily proved that "unity between brethren," so generally esteemed a blessing, on the contrary, is a bore). In a short time all was ready, and the India fleet continued their course under easy sail, neither courting nor avoiding the conflict.
At nightfall the French squadron hauled to the wind; the conduct of the China fleet rendered them cautious, and the French admiral considered it advisable to ascertain, by broad daylight, whether a portion of the English ships were not men-of-war; their cool and determined behaviour certainly warranted the suspicion. It was now to be decided whether the Indiamen should take advantage of the darkness of the night to escape, or wait the result of the ensuing day. The force opposed to them was formidable and concentrated; their own, on the contrary, was weak from division, each ship not having more than sixty English seamen on board; the country ships none at all, the few belonging to them having volunteered on board of the Indiamen. In his decision Commodore Dance proved his judgment as well as his courage. In an attempt to escape, the fleet would separate; and, from the well-known superior sailing of the French squadron, most of them would be overtaken, and, being attacked singlehanded, fall an easy prey to the enemy.
In this opinion the captains of the Indiamen, who had communicated during the night, were unanimous, and equally so in the resolution founded upon it, "to keep together and fight to the last." The India fleet lay to for the night, keeping their lights up and the men at their quarters; most of the English seamen sound asleep, the Lascars and Chinese sitting up in groups, expressing, in their own tongues, their fear of the approaching combat, in which, whether risked for national honour or individual property, they could have no interest.
The morning broke, and discovered the French squadron about three miles to windward. Admiral Linois had calculated that if the fleet consisted only of merchant vessels they would have profited by the darkness to have attempted to escape, and he had worked to windward during the night, that he might be all ready to pounce down upon his quarry. But when he perceived that the English ships did not attempt to increase their distance he was sadly puzzled.
The French tricolour hardly had time to blow clear from their taffrails, when the English unions waved aloft in defiance; and that Admiral Linois might be more perplexed by the arrangements of the night, three of the most warlike Indiamen displayed the red ensign, while the remainder of the ships hoisted up the blue. This ruse led the French admiral to suppose that these three vessels were men-of-war, composing the escort of the fleet.
At nine o'clock the commodore made the signal to fill; and the French squadron not bearing down, the India fleet continued its course under easy sail. The French admiral then edged away with his squadron, with the intention of cutting off the country ships, which had been stationed to leeward; but which, since the British fleet had hauled their wind, had been left in the rear. It was now requisite for the British commander to act decidedly and firmly. Captain Timmins, an officer for courage and conduct not surpassed by any in our naval service, who commanded the Royal George, edged to within hail of the commodore, and recommended that the order should be given to tack in succession, bear down in a line-a-head, and engage the enemy. This spirited advice was acted upon; the Royal George leading into action, followed by the other ships in such close order that their flying jib-booms were often pointed over the taffrails of their predecessors.
In a quarter of an hour was to be witnessed the unusual spectacle of a fleet of merchant ships exchanging broadsides with the best equipped and highest disciplined squadron that ever sailed from France. In less than an hour was presented the more unusual sight of this squadron flying from the merchant ships, and the signal for a general chase answered with enthusiastic cheers.
That Admiral Linois might have supposed, previous to the engagement, that some of the British ships were men-of-war, is probable; but that he knew otherwise after they had commenced action, must also have been the case. The fact was, he was frightened at their determined courage and their decided conduct; and he fled, not from the guns, but from the men.
I do not know on record any greater instance of heroism on the part of British seamen; and I am delighted that Newton Forster was in the conflict, or of course I could not have introduced it in this work.
And now, those who read for amusement may, if they please, skip over to the next chapter. There are points connected with the India service which I intend to comment upon; and as all the wisdom of the age is confined to novels, and nobody reads pamphlets, I introduce them here.
When one man is empowered to hold in check, and to insist upon the obedience of a large proportion of his fellows, it can only be by "opinion" that his authority can be supported.
By "opinion" I mean the knowledge that he is so empowered by the laws of the country to which they all belong, and by which laws they will be punished, if they act in opposition to his authority. The fiat of the individual commanding is in this case the fiat of the nation at large; to contend with this fiat is not contending with the individual, but with the nation, to whose laws they must submit, or return to their country no more. A commander of a vessel, therefore, armed with martial law, is, in fact, representing and executing, not his own will, but that of the nation who have made the law; for he is amenable, as well as his inferiors, if he acts contrary to, or misuses it.
In the merchant service martial law is not permitted; the bye-laws relative to shipping, and the common law of the country, are supposed to be sufficient; and certainly the present system is more advisable than to vest such excessive power in the hands of men, who, generally speaking, neither require nor are fit to be entrusted with it. Where, as in the greater number of merchant vessels, the master and his subordinate officers compose one-third, if not one-half of the complement on board, nothing but the most flagrant conduct is likely to produce insubordination.
But in the East India service the case is different. The vessels themselves are of dimensions equal, if not superior, to our largest class of frigates, and they carry from thirty to forty guns; the property embarked in them is also of such an extent, that the loss almost becomes national: their commanders are men of superior attainments, as gentlemen and as officers; finally, the complement of seamen under their command is larger than on board of many of the king's ships.
The above considerations will at once establish that those bye-laws which afford protection to the well-governing of the merchant service in general, are not sufficient to maintain the necessary discipline on board of the East India ships. The greater the disproportion between the unit who commands and the numbers who obey, the greater the chance of mutiny. Sedition is the progeny of assembly. Even where grievances may be real, if there is no contact and no discussion, there will be no insubordination; but imaginary grievances, canvassed and discussed in assembly, swell into disaffection and mutiny. When, therefore, numbers are collected together, as in the vessels of the East India service, martial law becomes indispensable; and the proof of it is, that the commanders of these vessels have been forced to exercise it upon their own responsibility. A letter of marque should be granted to all vessels carrying a certain number of men, empowering the commanders, under certain sureties and penalties, to exercise this power. It would be a boon to the East India ships, and ultimately a benefit to the navy.
To proceed. The merchant ships of the Company are men-of-war; the men-of-war of the Company are—what shall I call them? By their right names—they are all Bombay Marine: but let me at once assert, in applying their own name to them as a reproach, that the officers commanding them are not included in the stigma. I have served with them, and have pleasure in stating that, taking the average, the vessels are as well officered as those in our own service; but let us describe the vessels and their crews. Most of the vessels are smaller in scantling than the run down (and constantly going down) ten-gun brigs in our own service, built for a light draft of water (as they were originally intended to act against the pirates, which occasionally infest the Indian seas), and unfit to contend with anything like a heavy sea. Many of them are pierced for, and actually carry fourteen to sixteen guns; but, as effective fighting vessels, ought not to have been pierced for more than eight. I have no hesitation in asserting that an English cutter is a match for any of them, and a French privateer has, before now, proved that she was superior. The crews are composed of a small proportion of English seamen, a small proportion of Portuguese sea-cunnies, a proportion of Lascars, and a proportion of Hindoo Bombay marines. It requires two or three languages to carry on the duty; customs, religions, provisions, all different, and all living and messing separate. How is it possible that any officer can discipline a ship's company of this incongruous description, so as to make them "pull together"? In short, the vessels and the crews are equally contemptible, and the officers, in cases of difficulty, must be sacrificed to the pride and meanness of the Company. My reason for taking notice of the "Bombay Marine" arises from an order lately promulgated, in which the officers of this service were to take rank and precedence with those of the navy. Now, as far as the officers themselves are concerned, so far from having any objection to it, I wish, for their own merits and the good-will that I bear them, that they were incorporated into our navy-list; but as long as they command vessels of the above description, in the event of a war, I will put a case, to prove the absurdity and danger which may result. There is not one vessel at this present time in their service which would not be sunk by one well-directed broadside from a large frigate; yet, as many of their officers are of long standing, it is very probable that a squadron of English frigates may fall in with one of these vessels, the captain of which would be authorised by his seniority to take the command of the whole of them. We will suppose that this squadron falls in with the enemy, of equal or superior force; can the officer in command lead on to the attack? If so, he will be sent down by the first broadside. If he does not, from whom are the orders to proceed during the action? The consequences would be as injurious as the arrangement is ridiculous.
The charter of the East India Company will soon expire; and if it is to be renewed, the country ought to have some indemnification for the three millions which this colony or conquest (which you please) annually draws from it. Now there is one point which deserves consideration: the constitutional protection of all property is by the nation, and as a naval force is required in India, that force should be supplied by the armaments of the nation, at the expense of the Company. I have already proved that the Bombay Marine is a useless and incompetent service: let it be abolished altogether, and men-of-war be sent out to supply their place. It is most important that our navy should be employed in time of peace, and our officers gain that practical knowledge without which the theoretical is useless. Were this insisted upon, a considerable force would be actively employed, at no expense to the country, and many officers become valuable, who now are remaining inactive, and forgetting what previous knowledge they may have acquired of their nautical duties.
At the same time, every East India ship should be compelled to take on board her whole complement of English seamen, and not be half manned by Lascars and Chinamen.
But I presume I must be careful how I attempt to legislate for that country, or I shall have two tame elephants sent after me by the man what puts his hair in papers!
"What singular emotions fill Their bosoms, who have been induced to roam, With flattering doubts, if all be well or ill, With love for many, and with fears for some!"
The China fleet arrived without encountering any further danger; the commodore and commanders of the several ships composing the fleet received that praise from their countrymen to which their conduct had so fully entitled them. As soon as the Bombay Castle had entered the basin of the East India docks, Newton requested, and easily obtained, permission to leave the ship. He immediately directed his steps to Greenwich, that he might ascertain if his father was in existence; for he had received no letters since his departure, although he had taken several opportunities to write. It is true that he had not expected any; he knew that his father was too absent ever to think about writing to him, and his uncle much too busy to throw away any portion of his time in unnecessary correspondence.
When we approach the dwelling containing, or supposed to contain, an object of solicitude, of whose existence we are uncertain, what a thrill of anxiety pervades the frame! How quickened is the throbbing of the heart! how checked the respiration! Thus it was with Newton Forster as he raised his hand to the latch of the door. He opened it, and the first object which delighted his eyes was his father seated upon a high stool smoking his pipe, in the company of two veterans of the hospital, who had brought their old bones to an anchor upon a large trunk. They were in earnest conversation, and did not perceive the company of Newton, who waited a little while, holding the door ajar, as he contemplated the group.
One of the pensioners was speaking, and continued:—"May be, or may not be, Mr Forster, that's dubersome; but if so be as how he is alive, why you'll see him soon, that's sartain—take my word for it. A good son, as you say he was, as soon as he can get over the side of the ship, always bears up for his parent's house. With the help of your barnacles, I worked my way clean through the whole yarn, and I seed the report of killed and wounded; and I'll take my affidavy that there warn't an officer in the fleet as lost the number of his mess in that action, and a most clipping affair it was; only think of mounseer turning tail to marchant vessels! Damn my old buttons! what will our jolly fellows do next?"
"Next, Bill! why there be nothing to do, 'less they shave off the beard of the grand Turk to make a swab for the cabin of the king's yacht, and sarve out his seven hundred wives amongst the fleet. I say, I wonder how he keeps so many of them craft in good order?"
"I knows," replied the other, "for I axed the very question when I was up the Dardanelles. There be a black fellow, a unique they calls him, with a large sword and a bag of sawdust, as always stands sentry at the door, and if so be a woman kicks up a bobbery, why plump her head goes into the bag."
"Well, that's one way to make a good woman on her; but as I was saying, Mr Forster, you mustn't be down in the mouth; a seaman as knows his duty, never cares for leave till all the work be done. I'd bet a yard of pigtail that Mr Newton—"
"Is here, my good fellow!" interrupted Newton. "My dear father!"
Nicholas sprang off his seat and embraced his son.
"My dear, dear boy! why did you not come to me before? I was afraid that you had been killed. Well, I'm glad to see you, Newton. How did you like the West Indies?"
"The East Hinges, you mean, Mr Forster.—Newton," continued the old pensioner, wiping both sides of his hand upon his blue breeches, and then extending it—"Tip us your daddle, my lad; I like to touch the flipper of one who has helped to shame the enemy; and it will be no disgrace for you to grapple with an old seaman, who did his duty as long as he had a pin to stand upon."
"With pleasure, my friend," replied Newton, taking the old man's hand, while the other veteran seized the one unoccupied, and, surveying Newton from top to toe, observed, "If your ship be manned with all such lads as you—why, she be damned well manned, that's all."
Newton laughed and turned to his father.
"Well, father, how are you?—have you been quite well? And how do you like your berth here?"
"Why, Newton, I get on much better than I did at Bristol."
"It be Liverpool he mean, Mr Newton; but your good father be a little damaged in his upper works; his memory box is like a sieve.—Come, Bill, we be two too many. When father and son meet after a India voyage, there be much to say as wants no listeners.—Good-bye, Mr Forster; may you never want a son, and may he never want a ship!"
Newton smiled his thanks to the considerate old pensioners, as they stumped out of the door, and left him alone with his father. The communications of Nicholas were as concise as usual. He liked his situation, liked his company, had as much work as he wished for, and had enjoyed good health. When Newton entered upon pecuniary matters, which he was the sooner induced to do by observing that his father's coat and smallclothes were in a most ruinous condition, he discovered, that although the old gentleman had provided himself with money from the bankers, during the first year, to purchase a new suit of clothes, latterly he not only had quite forgotten that there were funds at his disposal, but even that he had procured the clothes, which had remained in the chest from the day they had been sent home without having been tried on.
"Dear me! now I recollect, so I did; and I put them upstairs somewhere. I was busy at the time with my improvement on the duplex."
"Have you seen much of my uncle, sir?" inquired Newton.
"Your uncle!—dear me, no! I don't know where he lives; so I waited until you came back. We'll go tomorrow, Newton, or he may think me unkind. I'll see if his watch goes well; I recollect he said it did. But, Newton, tell me all about your voyage, and the action with the French ships."
Newton entered into a detail, during which he perceived by his father's questions that his memory had become more impaired, and that he was more absent than ever. He arranged to call upon his uncle the ensuing day; and then it was his intention, without communicating it to his father, to make every inquiry and advertise to ascertain the fate of his mother. This was a duty which he had long wished to repeat; but his necessities and want of time had hitherto precluded the renewal of the task.
Early the next morning, Newton and his father went up to London by the Greenwich coach; and a walk of a few minutes after they were put down brought them to the chambers of Mr John Forster.
"How do you do, Mr Scratton? Is my uncle at home?" inquired Newton.
Mr Scratton immediately recognised him, and very graciously replied, that his uncle was at home and would be very glad to see him, having talked very often of him lately.
Newton and his father were ushered into the parlour, where he found his uncle precisely in the same position as when he last saw him;—it would almost have appeared that he had not quitted his seat during Newton's tedious voyage.
"Nephew," said Mr John Forster, without rising from his chair, "I am very glad to see you.—Brother Nicholas, I am very glad to see you too.—Chairs, Scratton," continued the old lawyer, taking his watch off the table, and placing it in his fob. "Well, nephew, I am very glad to hear such good accounts of you. I saw Mr Bosanquet yesterday, and he told me that you had for your good conduct been promoted to the rank of second mate."
"It is more than I am aware of," replied Newton, much pleased with the information. "I am much obliged to you for the intelligence, as I am for your many other acts of kindness."
"Well, so you ought to be; it's no bad thing, as I told you before, to find out an uncle. By-the-bye, there has been some alteration in my establishment since we parted, nephew. I have a house in Lincoln's Inn Fields, and a spare bed, if you will accept of it. We dine at six; brother Nicholas, I shall be very happy to see you, if you can stay. It will be too late to go home after dinner, but you can share my nephew's bed."
"I shall be most happy to accept your kind offer for a few days, sir, if it does not incommode you," replied Newton.
"No; you will not incommode me there, but you do very much here, where I am always busy. So good-bye, my boy; I shall be at home at six. Brother Nicholas, you did not vouchsafe me an answer."
"About what, brother John?" replied Nicholas, who had been "in the clouds."
"Oh, I'll tell you all about it, father," said Newton, laughing. "Come away now—my uncle is busy." And Nicholas rose up, with the observation—
"Brother John, you appear to me to read a great deal."
"Yes, I do, brother."
"How much do you read a day?"
"I really cannot say; much depends upon whether I am interrupted or not."
"It must be very bad for your eyes, brother John."
"It certainly does not improve them," replied the lawyer, impatiently.
"Come, father, my uncle is very busy," said Newton, touching Nicholas on the arm.
"Well, good-bye, brother John. I had something to say—oh! I hope you are not displeased at my not coming to see you before?"
"Humph! not in the least, I can assure you, brother Nicholas; so good-bye. Newton, you'll bring him with you at six," said Mr John Forster; and he resumed his brief before they had quitted the room.
Newton was much surprised to hear that his uncle had taken a house, and he surmised whether he had not also been induced to take a wife. He felt an inclination to put the question to Mr Scratton, as he passed through the office; but checked the wish, lest it should appear like prying into his uncle's affairs. Being the month of February, it was dark long before six o'clock, and Newton was puzzled what to do with his father until that time. He returned to the Salopian Coffee-house, opposite to which they had been put down by the Greenwich coach; and taking possession of a box, called for some biscuits and a pint of sherry; and requesting his father to stay there until his return, went out to purchase a sextant, and some other nautical luxuries, which his pay enabled him to procure without trespassing upon the funds supplied by the generosity of his uncle. He then returned to his father, who had finished the wine and biscuits, and had his eyes fixed upon the ceiling of the room; and calling a hackney coach, drove to the direction which his uncle had pointed out as his residence.
Mr John Forster had already come home, and they found him in the dining-room, decanting the wine for dinner, with Amber by his side. Newton was surprised at the appearance of a little girl; and, as he took her proffered hand, inquired her name.
"Amber. Papa says it's a very foolish name; don't you, papa?"
"Yes, my dear, I do; but now we are going to dinner, and you must go to Mrs Smith: so good-night."
Amber kissed the old lawyer, as he stooped to her; and wishing the company good-night, she left the room.
"Brother John," said Nicholas, "I really had no idea that you were a married man."
"Humph! I am not a married man, brother."
"Then pray, brother, how is it possible for that little girl to be your daughter?"
"I did not say she was my daughter: but now we will go upstairs into the drawing-room, while they put the dinner on the table."
The dinner was soon announced; the cookery was plain, but good, the wine excellent. When the dessert was placed on the table, Mr John Forster rose, and taking two bottles of port-wine from the side-board, placed them on the table, and addressed Newton.
"Nephew, I have no time to sip wine, although it is necessary that I drink it. Now, we must drink fast, as I have only ten minutes to spare; not that I wish you to drink more than you like, but I must push the bottle round, whether you fill or no, as I have an appointment, what we call a consultation, at my chambers. Pass the bottle, brother," continued the lawyer, helping himself, and shoving the decanter to Nicholas.
Nicholas, who had been little accustomed to wine, obeyed mechanically, swallowing down each glass a gorge deployee, as he was awoke from his meditations by the return of the bottle, and then filling up his glass again. Newton, who could take his allowance as well as most people, could not, however, venture to drink glass for glass with his uncle, and the bottle was passed several times without his filling. When the ten minutes had elapsed, Mr John Forster took his watch from the table, replaced it in his fob, and rose from his chair. Locking up the remainder of the wine, he quitted the house without apology, leaving his guests to entertain themselves, and order tea when they felt inclined.
"My brother seems to be very busy, Newton," observed Nicholas. "What wine was that we have been drinking? It was very strong; I declare my head turns round;" and in a few moments more Nicholas dropped his head upon the table, and was fast asleep.
Newton, who perceived that his father was affected by the wine which he had been drinking, which was, in the sum total, a pint of sherry at the coffee-house before dinner, and at least a bottle during and after his meal, thought it better that he should be allowed to take his nap. He therefore put out the candles, and went up into the drawing-room, where he amused himself with a book until the clock struck twelve. According to the regulations of the house, the servants had retired to bed, leaving a light in the passage for their master on his return, which sometimes was at a very late hour, or rather, it should be said, at a very early one. Newton lighted a chamber-candlestick, and went down into the parlour to rouse his father; but all his attempts were in vain. The wine had taken such an effect upon him, that he was in a state of lethargy. Newton observed that the servant had cleared the table, and that the fire was out: and, as there was no help for it, he removed the chairs to the end of the room, that his father might not tumble over them if he awoke in the dark, and then retired to his own bed.
"Angels and ministers of grace defend us!
Be thy intents wicked or charitable, Thou com'st in such a questionable shape That I will speak to thee."
It was past two o'clock when Mr John Forster returned from his chambers, and let himself in with a pass-key. Having secured the street-door, the old gentleman lighted his candle from the lamp, which he then blew out, and had his foot upon the first step of the stairs, when he was startled by a loud snore from Nicholas in the dining-room; he immediately proceeded there, and found his brother, with his head still lying on the table.
"Humph!" ejaculated the lawyer. "Why, brother Nicholas! brother Nicholas!"
Nicholas, who had nearly slept off the effects of the wine, answered with an unintelligible sort of growling.
"Brother Nicholas, I say,—brother Nicholas,—will you get up, or lie here all night?"
"They shall be cleaned and ready by to-morrow morning," replied Nicholas, dreaming.
"Humph! that's more than you will be, apparently,—I say, brother Nicholas."
"Yes, brother," replied Nicholas, raising his head and staring at the candle. "Why, what's the matter?"
"The matter is, that I wish to go to bed, and wish to see you in bed before I go myself."
"Yes, brother John, if you please, certainly. Where's my bed? I do believe I have been asleep."
"Humph! I have no doubt upon the subject," replied John Forster, lighting another candle. "Come this way, brother Nicholas," and they both ascended the stairs.
When Mr John Forster arrived at the door of his own room, on the first storey, he stopped. "Now, brother Nicholas, are you quite awake? Do you think that I may trust you with the candle?"
"I should hope so," replied Nicholas; "I see that it is silver, but I hope I'm honest, brother John."
"Humph! I mean, can I trust you to put it out?"
"Yes, I think that you may. Pray, which is my room?"
"The first door on the left, when you are at the top of the stairs."
"The first door."
"Yes, the first on the left; do you understand?"
"Yes, brother, I do; the first door on the left."
"Very well; then I wish you a good-night."
"Good-night, brother," replied Nicholas, ascending the stairs as John Forster entered his room.
Nicholas arrived at the head of the stairs; but his brain was not very clear. He muttered to himself "I think I'm right—yes, I'm right—the first door—to the right—yes—that's it;" and instead of the room to the left, where Newton was, he walked into the one to the right, which appertained to the housekeeper, Mrs Smith.
The old lady was fast asleep. Nicholas threw off his clothes, put out his candle, and stepped into bed without waking the old lady, whom he supposed to be his son, and in a few minutes they snored in concert.
The morning dawned. The watchmen (London nightingales) ceased their notes and retired to their beds. The chimney-sweeps (larks of the metropolis) raised their shrill cry as they paced along with chattering teeth. Housemaids and kitchen-maids presented their back views to the early passengers as they washed off the accumulation of the previous day from the steps of the front-door.
"Milk below" (certainly much below "proof") was answered by the ascent of the busy cooks, when a knock at the door of Mrs Smith's room from the red knuckles of the housemaid, awoke her to a sense of her equivocal situation.
At her first discovery that a man was in her bed, she uttered a scream of horror, throwing herself upon her knees, and extending her hands before her in her amazement. The scream awoke Nicholas, who, astonished at the sight, and his modesty equally outraged, also threw himself in the same posture, facing her, and recoiling. Each looked aghast at each: each considered the other as the lawless invader; but before a word of explanation could pass between them, their countenances changed from horror to surprise, from surprise to anxiety and doubt.
"Why!" screamed the housekeeper, losing her breath with astonishment.
"It is!" cried Nicholas, retreating further.
"Yes—yes—it is—my dear Nicholas!"
"No—it can't be," replied Nicholas, hearing the fond appellation.
"It is—oh! yes—it is your poor unhappy wife, who begs your pardon, Nicholas," cried the housekeeper, bursting into tears, and falling into his arms.
"My dear—dear wife!" exclaimed Nicholas, as he threw his arms around her, and each sobbed upon the other's shoulder.
In this position they remained a minute, when Mr John Forster, who heard the scream and subsequent exclamations, and had taken it for granted that his brother had been guilty of some contretemps, first wiped the remaining lather from his half-shaved chin, and then ascended to the housekeeper's room, from whence the noise had proceeded. When he opened the door, he found them in the position we have described, both kneeling in the centre of the bed embracing and sobbing. They were so wrapt in each other, that they did not perceive his entrance. Mr John Forster stared with amazement for a few seconds, and thus growled out:—
"Why, what are you two old fools about?"
"It's my husband, sir,"—"It's my wife, brother John," cried they, both at once, as the tears coursed down their cheeks.
"Humph!" ejaculated the lawyer, and he quitted the room.
We must let the reader imagine the various explanations which took place between Nicholas and his truly reformed wife, Newton and his uncle, Amber, and everybody in the household, while we narrate the events which had brought about this singular denouement.
The reader may recollect that we left Mrs Forster in the lunatic asylum, slowly recovering from an attack of brain-fever, which had been attended with a relapse. For many weeks she continued in a state of great feebleness, and during that time, when in the garden, in company with other denizens of this melancholy abode (wishing to be usefully employed), she greatly assisted the keepers in restraining them, and, in a short time, established that superiority over them which is invariably the result of a sane intellect. This was soon perceived by Doctor Beddington, who (aware of her destitute condition) offered her a situation as nurse in the establishment, until the inspecting magistrates should make their appearance, with the promise that she might continue in it afterwards, if she thought proper. This proposal was accepted by Mrs Forster, until she might resolve what course to take, and she soon became a most invaluable person in the establishment, effecting more by lenient and kind treatment than the keepers were able to do by their violence. So completely changed was Mrs Forster in disposition, that so far from feeling any resentment against those who had been the means of her confinement, she acknowledged to herself that her own conduct had been the occasion of her misfortune, and that those who had contributed to open her eyes to her former insanity, were her best friends. She was humbled, and unhappy; but she kissed the rod. All that she now wished was to find out her husband, and by her future conduct to make reparation for the past. One of the gaolers, at her request, made every inquiry as to the part of England to which Nicholas had removed; but it was without success. All trace was lost; and Mrs Forster accepted the situation of nurse, until she might be enabled to prosecute her search, or obtain the intelligence which she desired.
For nine months Mrs Forster remained on the establishment, during which time she had saved a sum of money sufficient for her support and travelling expenses. She then resolved to search after her husband, whose pardon for her previous conduct seemed to be the sine qua non for which she continued to exist. She took leave of the doctor; and, strange to say, it was with feelings of regret that she quitted an abode, once the source of horror and disgust: but time reconciles us to everything, and she made a half promise to Dr Beddington, that if she could not hear any tidings of her husband, or should discover that he was no more, she would return to the situation.
Mrs Forster directed her course to London; why, or wherefore, she hardly knew; but she had imbibed the idea that the metropolis was the most likely place to meet with him. Her first inquiries were about any families of the name of Forster; but the Directory gave such an enormous list of Forsters, of all trades and callings, and in every situation in life, that she closed it with despair. She had a faint recollection that her husband (who was never very communicative, and least of all to her) had stated that he had a brother alive somewhere; but this was all that she knew. Nevertheless, she set about her task in good earnest, and called upon every one of the name in the middling classes of life, to ascertain if they were relations of her husband. There were many in high life whose names and addresses she had obtained from the Red-book; but to them she dared not apply. All she could do was to question the servants; but every answer was unsatisfactory; and Mrs Forster, whose money was nearly expended, had serious thoughts of returning to the lunatic establishment, when the advertisement in the newspapers, of Mr Scratton, for a housekeeper, which Mr John Forster had desired him to procure, met her eye. Unwilling to leave London, she applied for, and obtained the situation, having received an excellent character from Doctor Beddington, to whom she had written and explained her views.
Her heart leapt when she discovered that her master's name was Forster: and when she first saw him she could not but persuade herself that there was a family likeness. The germs of hope were, however, soon withered, when Amber, in answer to her inquiries, stated that Mr Forster had a brother lately dead, who had never been married, and that she never heard of his having another. Her fellow-servants were all as strange as herself, and Mrs Forster (who had assumed the name of Smith) was obliged to have recourse to that patience and resignation which had been so severely inculcated. The charge of Amber soon proved a source of delight; the control which she had over the household a source of gratification (not, as before, for the pleasure of domineering, but for the sake of exercising kindness and forbearance), and Mrs Forster was happy and resigned.
It may be surmised as strange, that during the period which she remained in this capacity, she had never heard mention of her husband or her son; but it must be remembered that Nicholas had never called upon his brother, and that Newton was in the East Indies; and, moreover, that Mr John Forster was just as little inclined to be communicative as her husband. Indeed, he never came in contact with his housekeeper, except to pay the bills, which was regularly once a month, when he called her down after dinner, and after the accounts were settled, offered her a glass of wine, as a proof of his being satisfied with her conduct. When Newton and his father arrived at the chambers on the day before the discovery, and were invited to dinner, his note of communication was as laconic as usual.
"Mrs Smith,—I have invited two gentlemen to dine with me to-day, six precisely.
"P.S.—Let the spare bed be ready."
Mrs Forster prepared everything as directed; and having done her duties below, retired to her room, where she usually sat with Amber. She did not therefore see the parties when they entered; and Amber, who had run down to meet her protector, heard nothing during her short stay in the room, to suppose that they were relatives of Mr John Forster. All that she had to communicate was, that the parties were an elderly gentleman and a very handsome young man.
Yet even this simple communication caused the pulse of Mrs Forster to accelerate. They might be her husband and her son. It was the first time that the spare bed had been ordered. Reflection, however, convinced her that her hopes were strung upon too slight a thread; and, musing on the improbability of not having ascertained during a year the fact of her master having so near a relative—moreover, her son was not in existence—she sighed, and dismissed the idea as ridiculous. Before the gentlemen had finished their wine, Amber was in bed, and Mrs Forster invariably sat at the side of it until her own hour of repose had arrived. A certain indefinable curiosity still remained lurking; yet, as she could not gratify it without intrusion (if the strangers were still up), she retired to bed, with the reflection that all her doubts would be relieved in the morning; and, after lying awake for some hours in a state of suspense, she at last fell into that sound sleep which is usually produced by previous excitement. How she was awakened from it, the reader has been already informed.
"It's rather awkward, Newton," said Mr John Forster, about ten days afterwards. "I cannot do without your mother, that's certain; but what am I to do with your father? Humph! Well, she must take charge of him as well as Amber. She must teach him—"
"Teach him what, sir?" replied Newton, laughing.
"Teach him what? Why, to leave my watch and spectacles alone. I dare not lay them down for a moment."
"I think we may teach him that, sir, if it is all that you require."
"I ask no more: then he may go about the house like a tame rabbit. When will your ship be ready, boy?"
"In about a fortnight, sir. I called upon Captain Oughton the day before yesterday, but he was not at home. His steward gave me the information."
"What is the name of the ship?"
"The Windsor Castle, sir."
"Why, all the India ships appear to be called Castles. Your last ship was the Bombay Castle, I think?"
"Yes, sir: there are a great many of them so named—they really are floating castles."
"And full of ladies. You 'castle your queens,' as they do at chess. Humph!"
A pun from Mr John Forster was a rarity: he never had been known to make one before: and Newton asserts that he never heard him guilty of it afterwards. It deserves, therefore, bad as it was, to be recorded.
"——but to stick to my route 'Twill be hard, if some novelty can't be struck out. Is there no Algerine, no Kamschatkan arrived? No plenipo-pacha, three-tail'd and three wived? No Russian, whose dissonant, consonant name Almost rattles to fragments the trumpet of fame?
POSTSCRIPT. By-the-bye, have you found any friend who can construe That Latin account, t'other day, of a monster? If we can't get a Russian—and that story in Latin Be not too improper, I think I'll bring that in."
A few mornings after this colloquy with his uncle, Newton was very busy perambulating the streets of London, in search of various requisites for his trip to India, when his hand was seized before he had time to call to mind the features of the party who shook it with such apparent warmth.
"My dear Mr Forster, I am so delighted to see you, so happy to hear of your gallant adventure with the French squadron. Mrs Plausible will be quite pleased at meeting her old shipmate; she often talks about you. I must make sure of you," continued the doctor, drawing from his pocket a large packet of cards, and inserting at the top of one Newton Forster's name with his pencil. "This is an invitation to our conversazione of to-morrow night, which you must do us the honour to accept. We shall have all the scientific men of the day, and a very pretty sprinkling of nobility, if not something more. However, you will see. Shall I tell Mrs Plausible that you will come, or will you disappoint her?"
"Why," replied Newton, "if I possibly can I will. I presume the hour is not very precise?"
"O no, from nine until two or three; but if you wish to see great people, about eleven is the exact time."
"Well, then," replied Newton, "the time which suits great people also suits me. I hope Mrs Plausible is quite well."
"Quite well, I thank you. Good-bye;" and Dr Plausible hurried off so quickly, that Newton was induced to look after him, to ascertain what could induce such precipitation. He perceived Dr Plausible shaking hands warmly with another gentleman, and after a few seconds the packet of cards was again pulled out of his pocket, and the pencil in requisition. It will be necessary to go back a little, to acquaint the reader with what had occurred since the acceptation of Dr Plausible by Miss Tavistock, when they were on board of the Bombay Castle. On their arrival at Madras, Miss Tavistock's early and dearest friend, who resided in the up-country, had commissioned an acquaintance to receive Miss Tavistock until they could make arrangements for her journey to the interior. By this female acquaintance Miss Tavistock was kindly welcomed, and received into her house; but Miss Tavistock's prospects having altered, so had all her devoted attachment to the friend of her early years. She wrote, announcing her intended change of condition, and regretting that Dr Plausible's affairs, requiring his immediate presence in England, would prevent her having the delight of embracing one, who was so entwined round her heart. The letter was nevertheless very cold, and Miss Tavistock was very much abused by her dearest friend, who, disappointed in her expectations, did not even condescend an answer. In a week Miss Tavistock was united to Dr Plausible; and in less than a fortnight afterwards they were on their passage home. Dr Plausible found that his wife's report of her circumstances was correct, and that now he had the means of keeping his carriage and of seeing company, in moderation. Shortly after their return, Dr Plausible took the lease of a house in a betwixt and between fashionable street, and not wishing to remain idle, attempted to get into practice as an accoucheur; for although the fortune brought by his wife was considerable, still, to keep his carriage in London, he was obliged "to sail nearer to the wind" in other points than he found agreeable: moreover he was ambitious. A night-bell, with "night-bell" in capital letters over it, that people might be aware in the broad day that it was a night-bell, which of course they could not read in the dark, was attached to one side of the street door. It was as loud as an alarum-bell, and when rung, was to be heard from No. 12 to No. 44, in the street where Dr Plausible resided.
There are little secrets in all trades; and one is, how to obtain practice as a medical man, which whole mystery consists in making people believe that you have a great deal. When this is credited, practice immediately follows; and Dr Plausible was aware of the fact. At first setting off, his carriage drew up to the door occasionally, and stood there for some time, when the doctor made his appearance, and stepped in. He then took a round of about three hours through every fashionable part of the town, sitting well forward, that everybody might see him, apparently examining his visiting-book. At times he would pull up at some distinguished person's door, when there were two or three carriages before him, and getting out, would go in to the porter to ask some frivolous question. Another ruse was, to hammer at some titled mansion, and inquire for another titled person, by mistake. This occupied the morning; after which Doctor Plausible returned home. During the first month the night-bell was rung two or three times a week by the watchman, who was fee'd for his trouble; but after that period it increased its duties, until it was in motion once, if not twice, every night, and his disturbed neighbours wished Doctor Plausible and his extensive practice at the devil. The carriage also was now rattled to the door in a hurry, and Doctor Plausible was seen to enter it with his case of instruments, and drive off with rapidity, sometimes twice a day. In the meantime, Mrs Plausible did her part, as she extended her acquaintance with her neighbours. She constantly railed against a medical husband; declared that Doctor Plausible was never at home, and it was impossible to say at what hour they might dine. The tables also were strewed with the cards of great and fashionable people, obtained by Doctor Plausible from a celebrated engraver's shop, by a douceur to the shopman, when the master was absent. At last, Doctor Plausible's instruments were used in good earnest; and, although not known or even heard of in the fashionable world, he was sent for by the would-be-fashionables, because they imagined that he was employed by their betters. Now it so happened that in the same street there lived another medical man, almost a prototype of Doctor Plausible, only not quite so well off in the world. His name was Doctor Feasible. His practice was not extensive, and he was encumbered with a wife and large family. He also very naturally wished to extend his practice and his reputation; and, after many fruitless attempts, he at last hit upon a scheme which he thought promised to be successful.
"My dear," said he, one morning to his wife, "I am thinking of getting up a conversazione."
"A conversazione, my love!—why, is not that a very expensive affair?"
"Why, not very. But if it brings me practice, it will be money well laid out."
"Yes, my love, if it does, and if we had the money to lay out."
"Something must be done. I have hardly a patient left. I have an idea that it will succeed. Go, my dear, and make up this prescription, and let the boy take it to Mrs Bluestone's. I wish I had a couple of dozen patients like her. I write her prescription, take my fee, and then, that I may be sure that it is properly made up, I volunteer to take it to the chemist's myself."
"Pray, what is the complaint of Mrs Bluestone, my love?"
"Nothing; she over-eats herself—that's all. Abernethy would cure her in twenty-four hours."
"Well, but, my love, about this conversazione?"
"Go and make up the prescription, my dear, and we'll talk the matter over afterwards."
They did so. A list of the people they were acquainted with was drawn out, the expense calculated, and the affair settled.
The first point to be considered was the size of the cards.
"These, my love," said Mrs Feasible, who came in from a long walk, with her bonnet still on, "these are three shillings and sixpence a hundred; and these, which are a size larger, are four-and-sixpence. Which do you think we ought to have?"
"Why, really, my dear, when one sends out so many, I do not see why we should incur unnecessary expense. The three-and-sixpenny ones are quite large enough."
"And the engraving will be fourteen shillings."
"Well, that will only be a first expense. Conversazione in old English, of course."
"And here, my love, are the ribbons for the maids' caps and sashes; I bought them at Waterloo House, very cheap, and a very pretty candle-light colour."
"Did you speak to them about their gowns?"
"Yes, my love; Sally and Peggy have each a white gown, Betty I can lend one of my own."
The difference between a conversazione and a rout is simply this:—in the former you are expected to talk or listen, but to be too ethereal to eat. In the latter, to be squeezed in a crowd, and eat ices, &c., to cool yourselves. A conversazione has, therefore, a great advantage over the latter, as far as the pocket is concerned, it being much cheaper to procure food for the mind than food for the body. It would appear that tea has been as completely established the beverage of modern scientific men, as nectar was formerly that of the gods. The Athenaeum gives tea; and I observed in a late newspaper, that Lord G—— has promised tea to the Geographical Society. Had his lordship been aware that there was a beverage invented on board ship much more appropriate to the science over which he presides than tea, I feel convinced he would have substituted it immediately; and I therefore take this opportunity of informing him that sailors have long made use of a compound which actually goes by the name of geo-graffy, which is only a trifling corruption of the name of the science, arising from their habit of laying the accent upon the penultimate. I will now give his lordship the receipt, which is most simple.
Take a tin pot, go to the scuttle-butt (having obtained permission from the quarter-deck), and draw off about half a pint of very offensive-smelling water. To this add a gill of vinegar and a ship's buscuit broken up into small pieces. Stir it well up with the fore-finger; and then, with the fore-finger and thumb, you may pull out the pieces of buscuit, and eat them as fast as you please, drinking the liquor to wash all down.
Now this would be the very composition to hand round to the Geographical Society. It is not christened geography without a reason; the vinegar and water representing the green sea, and the pieces of buscuit floating in it the continents and islands which are washed by it.
Now, my lord, do not you thank me for my communication?
But we must return to the conversazione of Doctor and Mrs Feasible.
The company arrived. There was rap after rap. The whole street was astounded with the noise of the wheels and the rattling of the iron steps of the hackney-coaches. Doctor Feasible had procured some portfolios of prints; some Indian idols from a shop in Wardour Street, duly labelled and christened, and several other odds and ends to create matter of conversation. The company consisted of several medical gentlemen and their wives, the great Mr B——, and the facetious Mr C——. There were ten or twelve authors, or gentlemen suspected of authorship, fourteen or fifteen chemists, all scientific of course, one colonel, half-a-dozen captains, and to crown all, a city knight and his lady, besides their general acquaintance, unscientific and unprofessional. For a beginning this was very well; and the company departed very hungry, but highly delighted with their evening's entertainment.
"What can all that noise be about?" said Mrs Plausible to her husband, who was sitting with her in the drawing-room, reading the Lancet, while she knotted, or did not.
"I am sure I cannot tell, Mrs Plausible."
"There, again! I'm sure if I have heard one, I have heard thirty raps at a door within this quarter of an hour. I'm determined I will know what it is," continued Mrs Plausible, getting up, and ringing the bell.
"Thomas, do you know what all that noise is about?" said Mrs Plausible, when the servant answered the bell.
"No, ma'am, I doesn't."
"Well, then, go and see."
The impatience of Mrs Plausible, during the absence of Thomas, increased with the repetition of the knocks.