In the merry month of May, when every heart flourisheth and rejoiceth, it happened there befel a great misfortune, the which stinted not till the flower of the chivalry of all the world was destroyed and slain.
And all was along of two unhappy knights named Sir Agravaine and Sir Mordred, that were brethren unto Sir Gawaine. For these two knights had ever privy hate unto the queen, and unto Sir Launcelot. And Sir Agravaine said openly, and not in counsel, "I marvel that we all be not ashamed to see and know how Sir Launcelot cometh daily and nightly to the queen, and it is shameful that we suffer so noble a king to be ashamed." Then spake Sir Gawaine, "I pray you have no such matter any way before me, for I will not be of your counsel." And so said his brothers, Sir Gaheris and Sir Gareth. "Then will I," said Sir Mordred. And with these words they came to King Arthur, and told him they could suffer it no longer, but must tell him, and prove to him that Sir Launcelot was a traitor to his person.
"I would be loth to begin such a thing," said King Arthur, "for I tell you Sir Launcelot is the best knight among you all." For Sir Launcelot had done much for him and for his queen many times, and King Arthur loved him passing well.
Then Sir Agravaine advised that the king go hunting, and send word that he should be out all that night, and he and Sir Mordred, with twelve knights of the Round Table should watch the queen. So on the morrow King Arthur rode out hunting.
And Sir Launcelot told Sir Bors that night he would speak with the queen. "You shall not go this night by my counsel," said Sir Bors.
"Fair nephew," said Sir Launcelot, "I marvel me much why ye say this, sithence the queen hath sent for me." And he departed, and when he had passed to the queen's chamber, Sir Agravaine and Sir Mordred, with twelve knights, cried aloud without, "Traitor knight, now art thou taken!"
But Sir Launcelot after he had armed himself, set the chamber door wide open, and mightily and knightly strode among them, and slew Sir Agravaine and twelve of his fellows, and wounded Sir Mordred, who fled with all his might, and came straight to King Arthur, wounded and beaten, and all be-bled.
"Alas!" said the king, "now am I sure the noble fellowship of the Round Table is broken for ever, for with Launcelot will hold many a noble knight."
And the queen was adjudged to death by fire, for there was none other remedy but death for treason in those days. Then was Queen Guinever led forth without Carlisle, and despoiled unto her smock, and her ghostly father was brought to her to shrive her of her misdeeds; and there was weeping and wailing and wringing of hands.
But anon there was spurring and plucking up of horses, for Sir Launcelot and many a noble knight rode up to the fire, and none might withstand him. And a kirtle and gown were cast upon the queen, and Sir Launcelot rode his way with her to Joyous Gard, and kept her as a noble knight should.
Then came King Arthur and Sir Gawaine, whose brothers, Sir Gaheris and Sir Gareth, had been slain by Sir Launcelot unawares, and laid a siege to Joyous Gard. And Launcelot had no heart to fight against his lord, King Arthur; and Arthur would have taken his queen again, and would have accorded with Sir Launcelot, but Sir Gawaine would not suffer him. Then the Pope called unto him a noble clerk, the Bishop of Rochester, and gave him bulls, under lead, unto King Arthur, charging him that he take his queen, Dame Guinever, to him again, and accord with Sir Launcelot. And as for the queen, she assented. And the bishop had of the king assurance that Sir Launcelot should come and go safe. So Sir Launcelot delivered the queen to the king, who assented that Sir Launcelot should not abide in the land past fifteen days.
Then Sir Launcelot sighed, and said these words, "Truly me repenteth that ever I came into this realm, that I should be thus shamefully banished, undeserved, and causeless." And unto Queen Guinever he said, "Madam, now I must depart from you and this noble fellowship for ever; and since it is so, I beseech you pray for me, and send me word if ye be noised with any false tongues." And therewith Launcelot kissed the queen, and said openly, "Now let me see what he be that dare say the queen is not true to King Arthur—let who will speak, and he dare!" And he took his leave and departed, and all the people wept.
IV.—The Passing of Arthur
Now, to say the truth, Sir Launcelot and his nephews were lords of the realm of France, and King Arthur and Sir Gawaine made a great host ready and shipped at Cardiff, and made great destruction and waste on his lands. And Arthur left the governance of all England to Sir Mordred. And Sir Mordred caused letters to be made that specified that King Arthur was slain in battle with Sir Launcelot; wherefore Sir Mordred made a parliament, and they chose him king, and he was crowned at Canterbury. But Queen Guinever came to London, and stuffed it with victuals, and garnished it with men, and kept it.
Then King Arthur raised the siege on Sir Launcelot, and came homeward with a great host to be avenged on Sir Mordred. And Sir Mordred drew towards Dover to meet him, and most of England held with Sir Mordred, the people were so new-fangled.
Then was there launching of great boats and small, and all were full of noble men of arms, and there was much slaughter of gentle knights; but King Arthur was so courageous none might let him to land; and his knights fiercely followed him, and put back Sir Mordred, and he fled.
But Sir Gawaine was laid low with a blow smitten on an old wound given him by Sir Launcelot. Then Sir Gawaine, after he had been shriven, wrote with his own hand to Sir Launcelot, flower of all noble knights: "I beseech thee, Sir Launcelot, return again to this realm, and see my tomb, and pray some prayer more or less for my soul. Make no tarrying but come with thy noble knights and rescue that noble king that made thee knight, for he is straitly bestood with a false traitor." And so Sir Gawaine betook his soul into the hands of our Lord God.
And many a knight drew unto Sir Mordred and many unto King Arthur, and never was there seen a dolefuller battle in a Christian land. And they fought till it was nigh night, and there were a hundred thousand laid dead upon the down.
"Alas! that ever I should see this doleful day," said King Arthur, "for now I come unto mine end. But would to God that I wist where that traitor Sir Mordred is, which hath caused all this mischief."
Then was King Arthur aware where Sir Mordred leaned upon his sword, and there King Arthur smote Sir Mordred throughout the body more than a fathom, and Sir Mordred smote King Arthur with his sword held in both hands on the side of the head, that the sword pierced the helmet and the brain-pan. And Sir Mordred fell dead; and the noble King Arthur fell in a swoon, and Sir Lucan and Sir Bedivere laid him in a little chapel not far from the sea-side.
And when he came to himself again, he said unto Sir Bedivere, "Take thou Excalibur, my good sword, and throw it into that water." And when Sir Bedivere (at the third essay) threw the sword into the water, as far as he might, there came an arm and a hand above the water, and met and caught it, and so shook and brandished it thrice; and then the hand vanished away with the sword in the water.
Then Sir Bedivere bore King Arthur to the water's edge, and fast by the bank hovered a little barge, and there received him three queens with great mourning. And Arthur said, "I will unto the vale of Avillon for to heal me of my grievous wound, and if thou never hear more of me, pray for my soul." And evermore the ladies wept.
And in the morning Sir Bedivere was aware between two hills of a chapel and a hermitage; and he saw there a hermit fast by a tomb newly graven. And the hermit said, "My son, here came ladies which brought this corpse and prayed me to bury him."
"Alas," said Sir Bedivere, "that was my lord, King Arthur."
And when Queen Guinever understood that her lord, King Arthur, was slain, she stole away and went to Almesbury, and made herself a nun, and was abbess and ruler as reason would.
And Sir Launcelot passed over into England, and prayed full heartily at the tomb of Sir Gawaine, and then rode alone to find Queen Guinever. And when Sir Launcelot was brought unto her, she said: "Through this knight and me all the wars were wrought, and through our love is my noble lord slain; therefore, Sir Launcelot, I require thee that thou never look me more in the visage."
And Sir Launcelot said: "The same destiny ye have taken you unto I will take me unto." And he besought the bishop that he might be his brother; then he put a habit on Sir Launcelot, and there he served God day and night, with prayers and fastings.
And when Queen Guinever died Sir Launcelot buried her beside her lord, King Arthur. Then mourned he continually until he was dead, so within six weeks after they found him stark dead, and he lay as he had smiled. Then there was weeping and dolor out of measure. And they buried Sir Launcelot with great devotion.
* * * * *
The Household of Sir Thomas More
Anne Manning, one of the most active women novelists of Queen Victoria's reign, was born in London on February 17, 1807. Her first book, "A Sister's Gift: Conversations on Sacred Subjects," was written in the form of lessons for her brothers and sisters, and published at her own expense in 1826. It was followed in 1831 by "Stories from the History of Italy," and in 1838 her first work of fiction, "Village Belles," made its appearance. In their day Miss Manning's novels had a great vogue, only equalled by her amazing output. Altogether some fifty-one stories appeared under her name, of which the best remembered is "The Household of Sir Thomas More," an imaginary diary written by More's daughter, Margaret. After appearing in "Sharpe's Magazine," it was published in book form in 1860. It is wonderfully vivid, and is written with due regard to historical facts. It is interesting to compare it with the "Life of Sir Thomas More," written by William Roper, Margaret More's husband, with which it is now frequently reprinted. Miss Manning died on September 14, 1879.
I.—Of the Writing of My Libellus
Chelsea, June 18.
On asking Mr. Gunnel to what use I should put this fayr Libellus, he did suggest my making it a kinde of family register, wherein to note the more important of our domestic passages, whether of joy or griefe—my father's journies and absences—the visits of learned men, theire notable sayings, etc. "You are ready at the pen, Mistress Margaret," he was pleased to say, "and I woulde humblie advise your journaling in the same fearless manner in the which you framed that letter which so well pleased the Bishop of Exeter that he sent you a Portugal piece. 'Twill be well to write it in English, which 'tis expedient for you not altogether to negleckt, even for the more honourable Latin."
Methinks I am close upon womanhood. My master Gonellus doth now "humblie advise" her he hath so often chid. 'Tis well to make trial of his "humble" advice.
...As I traced the last word methoughte I heard the well-known tones of Erasmus, his pleasant voyce, and indeede here is the deare little man coming up from the riverside with my father, who, because of the heat, had given his cloak to a tall stripling behind him to bear, I flew upstairs, to advertise mother, and we found 'em alreadie in the hall.
So soon as I had obtayned their blessings, the tall lad stept forth, and who should he be but William Roper, returned from my father's errand overseas! His manners are worsened, for he twice made to kiss me and drew back. I could have boxed his ears, 'speciallie as father, laughing, cried, "The third time's lucky!"
After supper, we took deare Erasmus entirely over the house, in a kind of family procession. In our own deare Academia, with its glimpse of the cleare-shining Thames, Erasmus noted and admired our cut flowers, and glanced, too, at the books on our desks—Bessy's being Livy; Daisy's, Sallust; and mine, St. Augustine, with father's marks where I was to read, and where desist. He tolde Erasmus, laying hand fondlie on my head, "Here is one who knows what is implied in the word 'trust.'" Dear father, well I may! Thence we visitted the chapel, and gallery, and all the dumb kinde. Erasmus doubted whether Duns Scotus and the Venerable Bede had been complimented in being made name-fathers to a couple of owls; but he said Argus and Juno were good cognomens for peacocks.
Anon, we rest and talk in the pavilion. Sayth Erasmus to my father, "I marvel you have never entered into the king's service in some publick capacitie."
Father smiled. "I am better and happier as I am. To put myself forward would be like printing a book at request of friends, that the publick may be charmed with what, in fact, it values at a doit. When the cardinall offered me a pension, as retaining fee to the king, I told him I did not care to be a mathematical point, to have position without magnitude."
"We shall see you at court yet," says Erasmus.
Sayth father, "With a fool's cap and bells!"
This morn I surprised father and Erasmus in the pavillion. Erasmus sayd, the revival of learning seemed appoynted by Heaven for some greate purpose.
In the evening, Will and Rupert, spruce enow with nosegays and ribbons, rowed us up to Putney. We had a brave ramble through Fulham meadows, father discoursing of the virtues of plants, and how many a poor knave's pottage would be improved if he were skilled in the properties of burdock and old man's pepper.
Grievous work overnighte with the churning. Gillian sayd that Gammer Gurney, dissatisfyde last Friday with her dole, had bewitched the creame. Mother insisted on Bess and me, Daisy and Mercy Giggs, churning until the butter came. We sang "Chevy Chase" from end to end, and then chaunted the 119th Psalme; and by the time we had attained to Lucerna Pedibus, I heard the buttermilk separating and splashing in righte earnest. 'Twas neare midnighte, however. Gillian thinketh our Latin brake the spell.
Erasmus to Richmond with Polus (for soe he Latinises Reginald Pole), and some other of his friends.
I walked with William juxta fluvium, and he talked not badlie of his travels. There is really more in him than one would think.
To-day I gave this book to Mr. Gunnel in mistake for my Latin exercise! Was ever anything so downright disagreeable?
Yesternighte, St. John's Eve, we went into town to see the mustering of the watch. The streets were like unto a continuation of fayr bowers or arbours, which being lit up, looked like an enchanted land. To the sound of trumpets, came marching up Cheapside two thousand of the watch and seven hundred cressett bearers, and the Lord Mayor and sheriffs, with morris dancers, waits, giants, and pageants, very fine. The streets uproarious on our way back to the barge, but the homeward passage under the stars delicious.
Poor Erasmus caughte colde on the water last nighte, and keeps house. He spent the best part of the morning in our Academia, discussing the pronunciation of Latin and Greek with Mr. Gunnel, and speaking of his labours on his Greek and Latin Testament, which he prays may be a blessing to all Christendom. He talked of a possible Index Bibliorum, saying 'twas onlie the work of patience and Industrie. Methoughte, if none else would undertake it, why not I?
Dr. Linacre at dinner. At table discourse flowed soe thicke and faste that I might aim in vain to chronicle it, and why should I, dwelling as I doe at the fountayn head?
In the hay-field alle the evening. Swathed father in a hay-rope. Father reclining on the hay with his head in my lap. Said he was dreaming "of a far-off future day, when thou and I shall looke back on this hour, and this hay-field, and my head on thy lap."
"Nay, but what a stupid dream, Mr. More," says mother. "If I dreamed at all, it shoulde be of being Lord Chancellor at the leaste."
"Well, wife," sayd father, "I forgive thee for not saying at the most."
Erasmus is gone. His last saying to father was, "They will have you at court yet;" and father's answer, "When Plato's year comes round."
To me he gave a copy—how precious!—of his Greek Testament.
A forayn mission hath been proposed to father and he did accept. Lengthe of his stay uncertain, which caste a gloom on alle.
II.—Father Goeth to the Court
May 27, 1523.
'Tis so manie months agone since I made an entry in my Libellus, as that my motto, Nulla dies sine linea, hath somewhat of sarcasm in it. In father's prolonged absence I have toiled at my Opus (the Index Bibliorum), but 'twas not to purpose, and then came that payn in my head. Father discovered my Opus, and with alle swete gentlenesse told me firmly that there are some things a woman cannot, and some she had better not do. Yet if I would persist, I shoulde have leisure and quiet and the help of his books.
Hearing Mercy propound the conditions of an hospital for aged and sick folk, father hath devised and given me the conduct of a house of refuge, and oh, what pleasure have I derived from it! "Have I cured the payn in thy head, miss?" said he. Then he gave me the key of the hospital, saying, "'Tis yours now, my joy, by livery and seisin."
I wish William would give me back my Testament.
Yesterday, father, taking me unawares, asked, "Come, tell me, Meg, why canst not affect Will Roper?"
I was a good while silent, at length made answer, "He is so unlike alle I have been taught to esteem and admire by you."
"Have at you," he returned laughing, "I wist not I had been sharpening weapons against myself."
Then did he plead Will's cause and bid me take him for what he is.
Will is in sore doubte and distresse, and I fear it is my Testament that hath unsettled him. I have bidden him fast, pray, and use such discipline as our church recommends.
I have it from Barbara through her brother, one of the men-servants, that Mr. Roper hath of late lien on the ground and used a knotted cord. I have made him an abstract from the Fathers for his soul's comfort.
The king took us by surprise this morning. Mother had scarce time to slip on her scarlet gown and coif ere he was in the house. His grace was mighty pleasant to all, and at going, saluted all round, which Bessy took humourously, Daisy immoveablie, Mercy humblie, I distastefullie, and mother delightedlie. She calls him a fine man; he is indeed big enough, and like to become too big; with long slits of eyes that gaze freelie on all. His eyebrows are supercilious, and his cheeks puffy. A rolling, straddling gait and abrupt speech.
Tuesday, October 25.
Will troubleth me noe longer with his lovefitt, nor with his religious disquietations. Hard studdy of the law hath filled his head with other matters, and made him infinitely more rationall and more agreeable. I shall ne'er remind him.
T'other evening, as father and I were strolling down the lane, there accosts us a poor, shabby fellow, who begged to be father's fool. Father said he had a fancy to be prime fooler in his own establishment, but liking the poor knave's wit, civilitie, and good sense, he agreed to halve the businesse, he continuing the fooling, and Patteson—for that is the simple good fellow's name—receiving the salary. Father delighteth in sparring with Patteson far more than in jesting with the king, whom he alwaies looks on as a lion that may, any minute, rend him.
1525, July 2.
Soe my fate is settled. Who knoweth at sunrise what will chance before sunsett? No; the Greeks and Romans mighte speak of chance and fate, but we must not. Ruth's hap was to light on the field of Boaz, but what she thought casual, the Lord had contrived.
'Twas no use hanging back for ever and ever, soe now there's an end, and I pray God to give Will and me a quiet life.
Father hath had some words with the cardinall touching the draught of some foreign treaty. "By the Mass," exclaimed his grace, nettled, "thou art the verist fool in all the council."
Father, smiling, rejoined, "God be thanked that the king, our master, hath but one fool therein."
The cardinall's rage cannot rob father of the royal favour. Howbeit, father says he has no cause to be proud thereof. "If my head," said he to Will, "could win the king a castle in France, it shoulde not fail to fly off."
...I was senseless enow to undervalue Will. Yes, I am a happy wife, a happy mother. When my little Bill stroaked dear father's face just now, and murmured "Pretty!" he burst out a-laughing, and cried, "You are like the young Cyrus, who exclaimed, 'Oh, mother, how pretty is my grandfather!'"
I often sitt for an hour or more, watching Hans Holbein at his brush. He hath a rare gift of limning; but in our likeness, which he hath painted for deare Erasmus, I think he has made us very ugly.
III.—The Great Seal is Resigned
Events have followed too quick and thick for me to note 'em. Father's embassade to Cambray, and then his summons to Woodstock. Then the fire in the men's quarter, the outhouses and barns. Then, more unlookt for, the fall of my lord cardinall and father's elevation to the chancellorship.
On the day succeeding his being sworn in, Patteson marched hither and thither, in mourning and paper weepers, bearing a huge placard, inscribed, "Partnership dissolved," and crying, "My brother is dead; for now they've made him Lord Chancellor, we shall ne'er see Sir Thomas more."
Father's dispatch of business is such that one day before the end of term he was told there was no cause or petition to be sett before him, a thing unparalleled, which he desired might be formally recorded.
Here's father at issue with half the learned heads in Christendom concerning the king's marriage. And yet for alle that, I think father is in the right.
He taketh matters soe to heart that e'en his appetite fails.
He hath resigned the Great Seal! And none of us knew it until after morning prayer to-day, when, instead of one of his gentlemen stepping up to my mother in her pew, with the words, "Madam, my lord is gone," he cometh up to her himself, smiling, and with these selfsame words. She takes it at first for one of his manie jests whereof she misses the point.
Our was but a short sorrow, for we have got father to ourselves again. Patteson skipped across the garden, crying, "Let a fatted calf be killed, for this my brother who was dead is alive again!"
How shall we contract the charges of Sir Thomas More? Certain servants must go; poor Patteson, alas! can be easier spared than some.
A tearfull morning. Poor Patteson has gone, but father had obtained him good quarters with my Lord Mayor, and he is even to retain his office with the Lord Mayor, for the time being.
1533, April 1.
The poor fool to see me, saying it is his holiday, and having told the Lord Mayor overnight that if he lookt for a fool this morning, he must look in the glass.
Patteson brought news of the coronation of Lady Anne this coming Easter, and he begs father to take a fool's advice and eat humble pie; for, says he, this proud madam is as vindictive as Herodias, and will have father's head on a charger.
Father bidden to the coronation by three bishops. He hath, with curtesie, declined to be present. I have misgivings of the issue.
Father summoned forth to the Council to take the oathe of supremacie. Having declared his inabilitie to take the oathe as it stoode, they bade him take a turn in the garden to reconsider. When called in agayn, he was as firm as ever, and was given in ward to the Abbot of Westminster until the king's grace was informed of the matter. And now the fool's wise saying of vindictive Herodians came true, for 'twas the king's mind to have mercy on his old servant, and tender him a qualified oathe, but Queen Anne, by her importunate clamours, did overrule his proper will, and at four days' end father was committed to the Tower. Oh, wicked woman, how could you!... Sure you never loved a father.
Mother hath at length obtaynd access to dear father. He is stedfaste and cheerfulle as ever. He hath writ us a few lines with a coal, ending with "Sursum corda, dear children! Up with your hearts."
The Lord begins to cut us short. We are now on very meagre commons, dear mother being obliged to pay fifteen shillings a week for the board, meagre as it is, of father and his servant. She hath parted with her velvet gown.
I have seen him, and heard his precious words. He hath kist me for us alle.
Dear little Bill hath ta'en a feverish attack. Early in the night his mind wandered, and he says fearfullie, "Mother, why hangs yon hatchet in the air with its sharp edge turned towards us?"
I rise, to move the lamp, and say, "Do you see it now?"
He sayth, "No, not now," and closes his eyes.
He's gone, my pretty! ... Slipt through my fingers like a bird upfled to his native skies. My Billy-bird! His mother's own heart! They are alle wondrous kind to me....
Spring comes, that brings rejuvenescence to the land and joy to the heart, but none to me, for where hope dieth joy dieth. But patience, soul; God's yet in the aumry!
IV.—The Worst is Done
By reason of Willie minding to be present at the triall, which, for the concourse of spectators, demanded his earlie attendance, he committed the care of me, with Bess, to Dancey, Bess's husband, who got us places to see father on his way from the Tower to Westminster Hall. We coulde not come at him for the crowd, but clambered on a bench to gaze our very hearts away after him as he went by, sallow, thin, grey-haired, yet in mien not a whit cast down. His face was calm but grave, but just as he passed he caught the eye of some one in the crowd, and smiled in his old frank way; then glanced up towards the windows with the bright look he hath so oft caste up to me at my casement, but saw us not; perchance soe 'twas best.
...Will telleth me the indictment was the longest ever heard: on four counts. First, his opinion concerning the king's marriage. Second, his writing sundrie letters to the Bishop of Rochester, counselling him to hold out. Third, refusing to acknowledge his grace's supremacy. Fourth, his positive deniall of it, and thereby willing to deprive the king of his dignity and title.
They could not make good their accusation. 'Twas onlie on the last count he could be made out a traitor, and proof of't had they none. He shoulde have been acquitted out of hand, but his bitter enemy, my Lord Chancellor, called on him for his defence, whereat a general murmur ran through the court.
He began, but a moment's weakness of the body overcame him and he was accorded a seat. He then proceeded to avow his having always opposed the king's marriage to his grace himself, deeming it rather treachery to have withholden his opinion when solicited. Touching the supremacy he held there could be no treachery in holding his peace, God only being cognizant of our thoughts.
"Nay," interposeth the attorney generall, "your silence was the token of a malicious mind."
"I had always understood," answers father, "that silence stoode for consent," which made sundrie smile.
The issue of the black day was aforehand fixed. The jury retired and presentlie returned with a verdict of guilty; for they knew what the king's grace would have 'em doe in that case....
And then came the frightful sentence....
They brought him back by water ... The first thing I saw was the axe, turned with its edge towards him.
Some one laid a cold hand on mine arm; 'twas poor Patteson. He sayth, "Bide your time, Mistress Meg; when he comes past, I'll make a passage for ye." ...
O, brother, brother, what ailed thee to refuse the oath? I've taken it! ... "Now, Mistress, now!" and flinging his arms right and left, made a breach, through which I darted, fearless of bills and halberds, and did cast mine arms about father's neck. He cries, "My Meg!" and hugs me to him as though our very souls shoulde grow together. He sayth, "Bless thee, bless thee! Kiss them alle for me thus and thus." ... Soe gave me back into Dancey's arms, the guards about him alle weeping.
I did make a second rush, and agayn they had pitie on me and made pause while I hung upon his neck. He whispered, "Meg, for Christ's sake don't unman me. God's blessing be with you," he sayth with a last kiss, then adding, with a passionate upward regard, "The chariot of Israel and the horsemen thereof!"
I look up, almost expecting a beautific vision, and when I turn about, he's gone.
Alle's over now.... They've done theire worst, and yet I live. Dr. Clement sayth he went up as blythe as a bridegroom, to be clothed upon with immortality.
They have let us bury his poor mangled trunk; but as sure as there's a sun in heaven, I'll have his head!—before another sun has risen, too. If wise men won't speed me, I'll e'en content me with a fool.
Quoth Patteson: "Fool and fayr lady will cheat 'em yet."
At the stairs lay a wherry with a couple of boatmen. We went down the river quietlie enow—nor lookt I up till aneath the bridge gate, when, casting up one fearsome look, I beheld the dark outline of the ghastly yet precious relic; and falling into a tremour, did wring my hands and exclaim, "Alas, alas! That head hath lain full manie a time in my lap, woulde God it lay there now!" When o' suddain, I saw the pole tremble and sway towardes me; and stretching forth my apron I did, in an extasy of gladness, pity, and horror, catch its burthen as it fell.
Patteson, shuddering, yet grinning, cries under his breath, "Managed I not well, mistress? Let's speed away with our theft, but I think not they'll follow hard after us, for there are well-wishers on the bridge. I'll put ye into the boat and then say, 'God sped ye, lady, with your burthen.'"
I've heard Bonvisi tell of a poor Italian girl who buried her murdered lover's heart in a pot of basil, which she watered day and night with her tears, just as I do my coffer. Will hath promised it shall be buried with me; layd upon my heart, and since then I've been easier.
He thinks he shall write father's life, when we are settled in a new home. We are to be cleared out o' this in alle haste; for the king grutches at our lingering over father's footsteps, and yet when the news of the bloody deed was taken to him, he scowled at Queen Anne, saying, "Thou art the cause of this man's death!"
Flow on, bright shining Thames. A good, brave man hath walked aforetime on your margent, himself as bright, and usefull, and delightsome as you, sweet river. There's a river whose streams make glad the city of our God. He now rests beside it. Good Christian folks, as they hereafter pass this spot, will, maybe, point this way and say, "There dwelt Sir Thomas More," but whether they doe or not, Vox Populi is no very considerable matter. Theire favourite of to-day may, for what they care, goe hang himself to-morrow in his surcingle. Thus it must be while the world lasts; and the very racks and scrues wherewith they aim to overcome the nobler spiritt onlie lift and reveal its power of exaltation above the heaviest gloom of circumstance.
Interfecistis, interfecistis hominem omnium anglorum optimum.
* * * * *
Poet, dramatist, and novelist, Alessandro Francesco Tommaso Manzoni was born at Milan on March 7, 1785. In early manhood he became an ardent disciple of Voltairianism, but after marriage embraced the faith of the Church of Rome; and it was in reparation of his early lapse that he composed his first important literary work, which took the form of a treatise on Catholic morality, and a number of sacred lyrics. Although Manzoni was perhaps surpassed as a poet by several of his own countrymen, his supreme position as novelist of the romantic school in Italy is indisputable. His famous work, "The Betrothed" ("I Promessi Sposi"), completed in 1822 and published at the rate of a volume a year during 1825-27, was declared by Scott to be the finest novel ever written. Manzoni died on May 22, 1873.
I.—The Schemes of Don Rodrigo
Don Abbondio, cure of a little town near Como, was no hero. It was, therefore, the less difficult for two armed bravos whom he encountered one evening in the year 1628 to convince him that the wedding of Renzo Tramaglino and Lucia Mondella must not take place, as it did not suit the designs of their master, Don Rodrigo. Renzo, however, was by no means disposed to take this view of the matter, and was like to have taken some desperate steps to express his disapproval. From this course he was dissuaded by Fra Cristoforo, a Capuchin, renowned for his wisdom and sanctity, who undertook to attempt to soften the heart of Don Rodrigo.
The friar was held in affectionate esteem by all, even by Rodrigo's bravos, and on his arrival at the castle he was at once shown into the presence of its master.
"I come," said he, "to propose to you an act of justice. Some men of bad character have made use of the name of your illustrious lordship to alarm a poor cure, and dissuade him from performing his duty, and to oppress two innocent persons—"
"In short, father," said Rodrigo, "I suppose there is some young girl you are concerned about. Since you seem to think that I am so powerful, advise her to come and put herself under my protection; she shall be well looked after. Cowled rascal!" he shouted. "Vile upstart! Thank the cassock that covers your cowardly shoulders for saving them from the caresses that such scoundrels should receive. Depart, or—"
In the meantime, plans were being discussed in Lucia's cottage.
"Listen, my children," said Agnese, her mother; "if you were married, that would be the great difficulty out of the way."
"Is there any doubt," said Renzo; "if we were married—At Bergamo, not far from here, a silk-weaver would be received with open arms. You know my cousin Bartolo has wanted me to go there and make my fortune, as he has done. Once married, we could all go thither together, and live in blessed peace, out of this villain's reach."
"Listen, then," said Agnese. "There must be two witnesses; all four must go to the priest and take him by surprise, that he mayn't have time to escape. The man says, 'Signor Cure, this is my wife'; the woman says, 'Signor Cure, this is my husband.' It is necessary that the cure and the witnesses hear it, and the marriage is then as valid and sacred as if the Pope himself had blessed it."
"But why, then," said Lucia, "didn't this plan come into Fra Cristoforo's mind?"
"Do you think it didn't?" replied she. "But—if you must know—the friars disapprove of that sort of thing."
"If it isn't right, we ought not to do it."
"What! Would I give you advice contrary to the fear of God; if it were against the will of your parents? But when I am satisfied, and he who makes all this disturbance is a villain——Once it is done, what do you think the father will say? 'Ah! daughter; it was a sad error, but it is done.' In his heart he will be very well satisfied."
On the following night Don Abbondio was disturbed at a late hour by a certain Tonio, who came with his cousin Gervase to pay a small debt. While he was giving him a receipt for it, Renzo and Lucia slipped in unperceived. The cure was startled on suddenly hearing the words, "Signor Cure, in the presence of these witnesses, this is my wife." Instantly grasping the situation, and before Lucia's lips could form a reply, Don Abbondio seized the tablecloth, and at a bound wrapped her head in it, so that she could not complete the formula. "Perpetua!" he shouted to his housekeeper. "Help!"
Dashing to an inner room, he locked himself in, flung open the window, and shouted for help. Hearing the uproar, the sexton, who lived next door, shouted out, "What is it?"
"Help!" repeated the cure. Not being over desirous of thrusting himself blindly in upon unknown dangers, the sexton hastened to the belfry and vigorously rang the great bell. This ringing the bell had more far-reaching consequences than he anticipated. Enraged by the friar's visit, Rodrigo had determined to abduct Lucia, and sent his bravos to effect his purpose that very night. At the very moment that the bell began to ring they had just broken into Agnese's house, and were searching for the occupants. Convinced that their action was the cause of commotion, they beat a hasty retreat.
The discomfited betrothed—still only betrothed—hastily rejoined Agnese, who was waiting for them in the street. As they hurriedly turned their steps homeward a child threw himself into their way.
"Back! Back!" he breathlessly exclaimed. "This way to the monastery!"
"What is it?" asked Renzo.
"There are devils in your house," said the boy, panting. "I saw them; Fra Cristoforo said so; he sent me to warn you. He had news from someone at the castle; you must go to him at the monastery at once."
"My children," said Fra Cristoforo on their arrival, "the village is no longer safe for you; for a time, at least, you must take refuge elsewhere. I will arrange for you, Lucia, to be taken care of in a convent at Monza. You, Renzo, must put yourself in safety from the anger of others, and your own. Carry this letter to Father Bonaventura, in our monastery at Milan. He will find you work."
II.—The Riot of the Hungry
Fra Bonaventura was out when Renzo arrived to present his letter.
"Go and wait in the church, where you may employ yourself profitably," was the porter's advice, which Renzo was about to follow, when a tumultuous crowd came in sight. Here, apparently, was matter of greater interest, so he turned aside to see the cause of the uproar.
The cause, though Renzo did not at the time discover it, was the shortage of the bread supply. Owing to the ravages of war and the disturbed state of the country, much land lay uncultivated and deserted; insupportable taxes were levied; and no sooner had the deficient harvest been gathered in than the provisions for the army, and the waste which always accompanies them, made a fearful void in it. What had attracted Renzo's attention was but the sudden exacerbation of a chronic disease.
Mingling with the hurrying mob, Renzo soon discovered that they had been engaged in sacking a bakery, and were filled with fury to find large quantities of flour, the existence of which the authorities had denied. "The superintendent! The tyrant! We'll have him, dead or alive!"
Renzo found himself borne along in the thickest of the throng to the house of the superintendent, where a tremendous crowd was endeavouring to break in the doors. The tumult being allayed by the arrival of Ferrer, the chancellor, a popular favourite, Renzo became involved in conversation with some of the rioters. He asked to be directed to an inn where he could pass the night.
"I know an inn that will suit you," said one who had listened to all the speeches without himself saying a word. "The landlord is a friend of mine, a very worthy man."
So saying, he took Renzo off to an inn at some little distance, taking pains to ascertain who he was and whence he came. Arrived at the inn, the new companions shared a bottle of wine which, in Renzo's excited condition, soon mounted to his head. Another bottle was called for; and the landlord, being asked if he had a bed, produced pen, ink, and paper, and demanded his name, surname and country.
"What has all this to do with my bed?"
"I do my duty. We are obliged to report everyone that sleeps in the house."
"Oh, so I'm to tell my business, am I? This is something new. Supposing I had come to Milan to confess, I should go to a Capuchin father, not to an innkeeper."
"Well, if you won't, you won't!" said the landlord, with a glance at Renzo's companion. "I've done my duty."
So saying, he withdrew, and shortly afterwards the new-found friend insisted on taking his departure. At daybreak Renzo was awakened by a shake and a voice calling, "Lorenzo Tramaglino."
"Eh, what does this mean? What do you want? Who told you my name?" said Renzo, starting up, amazed to find three men, two of them fully armed, standing at his bedside.
"You must come with us. The high sheriff wants to have some words with you."
Renzo now found himself being led through the streets, that were still filled with a considerable number of last night's rioters, by no means yet pacified. When they had gone a little way some of the crowd, noticing them, began to form around the party.
"If I don't help myself now," thought Renzo, "it's my own fault. My friends," he shouted, "they're carrying me off because yesterday I shouted 'Bread and Justice!' Don't abandon me, my friends!"
The crowd at once began to press forward, and the bailiffs, fearing danger, let go of his hands and tried to disappear into the crowd. Renzo was carried off safely.
His only hope of safety now lay in getting entirely clear of Milan and hiding himself in some other town out of the jurisdiction of the duchy. He decided to go to Bergamo, which was under Venetian government, where he could live safely with his cousin until such time as Milan had forgotten him.
III.—The Unnamed's Penitence
Don Rodrigo was now more determined than ever to accomplish his praiseworthy undertaking, and to this end he sought the help of a very formidable character, a powerful noble, whose bravos had long been the terror of the countryside, and who was always referred to as "The Unnamed."
Lucia, having been sent one day with a note from the convent where she had found refuge to a monastery at some little distance, found herself suddenly seized from behind, and, regardless of her screams, bundled into a carriage, which drove off at a great pace.
When the carriage stopped, after a long drive, Lucia was hurried into a litter, which bore her up a steep hill to a castle, where she was shut up in a room with an old crone. After a while a resounding knock was heard on the door, and the Unnamed strode in.
Casting a glance around, he discovered Lucia crouched down on the floor in a corner.
"Come, get up!" he said to her.
The unhappy girl raised herself on her knees, and raised her hands to him.
"Oh, what have I done to you? Where am I? Why do you make me suffer the agonies of hell? In the name of God—"
"God!" interrupted he; "always God! They who cannot defend themselves must always bring forward this God. What do you expect by this word? To make me—"
"Oh, signor, what can a poor girl like me expect, except that you should have mercy upon me? God pardons so many sins for one deed of mercy. For charity's sake, let me go! I will pray for you all my life. Oh, see, you are moved to pity! Say one word; oh, say it! God pardons so many sins for one deed of mercy!"
"Oh, why isn't she the daughter of one of the dogs who outlawed me?" thought the Unnamed. "Then I should enjoy her sufferings; but instead—"
"Don't drive away a good inspiration!" continued Lucia earnestly, seeing a certain hesitation in his face.
"Perhaps some day even you—But no—no, I will always pray the Lord to keep you from every evil."
"Come, take courage," said the Unnamed, with unusual gentleness. "Have I done you any harm? To-morrow morning—"
"Oh set me free now!"
"To-morrow I will see you again."
When he left her, the unhappy girl flung herself on her knees. "O most holy Virgin," she prayed, "thou to whom I have so often recommended myself, and who hast so often comforted me! Bring me out of this danger, bring me safely to my mother, and I vow unto thee to continue a virgin! I renounce for ever my unfortunate betrothed, that I may belong only to thee!"
The Unnamed retired for the night, but not to sleep. "God pardons so many sins for one deed of mercy!" kept ringing in his ears. Suppose there was a God, after all? He had so many sins in need of pardon.
About daybreak a confused murmur reached his ear from the valley below; a distant chiming of bells began to make itself heard; nearer bells took up the peal, until the whole air rang with the sound. He demanded the cause of all this rejoicing, and was informed that Cardinal Boromeo had arrived, and that the festival was in his honour.
He went to Lucia's apartment, and found her still huddled up in a corner, but sleeping. The hag explained that she could not be prevailed upon to go to bed.
"Then let her sleep. When she wakes, tell her that I will do all she wishes."
Leaving the castle with rapid steps, the Unnamed hastened to the village where the cardinal had rested the previous night.
"Oh," cried Federigo Boromeo, "what a welcome visit is this. You have good news for me, I am sure."
"Good news! What good news can you expect from such as I?"
"That God has touched your heart, and would make you His own."
"God! God! If I could but see Him! If He be such as they say, what do you suppose that He can do with me?"
"The world has long cried out against you," replied Federigo in a solemn voice. "He can acquire through you a glory such as others cannot give Him. How must He love you, Who has bid and enabled me to regard you with a charity that consumes me!" So saying, he extended his hand.
"No!" cried the penitent. "Defile not your hand! You know not all that the one you would grasp has committed."
"Suffer me to press the hand which will repair so many wrongs, comfort so many afflicted, be extended peacefully and humbly to so many enemies."
"Unhappy man that I am," exclaimed the signor, "one thing, at least, I can quickly arrest and repair."
Federigo listened attentively to the relation of Lucia's abduction. "Ah, let us lose no time!" he exclaimed breathlessly. "This is an earnest of God's forgiveness, to make you an instrument of safety to one whom you would have ruined."
IV.—In a Lazzeretto
Thanks to his cousin, Renzo was enabled to earn very good wages, and would have been quite content to remain had it not been for his desire to rejoin Lucia. A terrible outbreak of plague in Milan spread to Bergamo, and our friend was among the first to be stricken down, his recovery being due more to his excellent constitution than to any medical skill. Thereafter, he lost no more time, and after many inquiries he succeeded in tracing Lucia to an address in Milan.
Secure in an alias, he set out to the plague-stricken city, which he found in the most deplorable condition. Having found the house of which he was in search, he knocked loudly at the door and inquired if Lucia still lived there. To his horror, he found that she had been taken to the Lazzeretto!
Let the reader imagine the enclosure of the Lazzeretto, peopled with 16,000 persons ill of the plague; the whole area encumbered, here with tents and cabins, there with carts, and elsewhere with people; crowded with dead or dying, stretched on mattresses, or on bare straw; and throughout the whole a commotion like the swell of the sea.
"Lucia, I've found you! You're living!" exclaimed Renzo, all in a tremble.
"Oh, blessed Lord!" cried she, trembling far more violently. "You?"
"How pale you are! You've recovered, though?"
"The Lord has pleased to leave me here a little longer. Ah, Renzo, why are you here?"
"Why? Need I say why? Am I no longer Renzo? Are you no longer Lucia?"
"Ah, what are you saying? Didn't my mother write to you?"
"Ay, that indeed she did. Fine things to offer to an unfortunate, afflicted, fugitive wretch who had never done you wrong."
"But, Renzo, Renzo, you don't think what you're saying! A promise to the Madonna—a vow!"
"And I think better of the Madonna than you do, for I believe she doesn't wish for promises that injure one's fellow-creatures. Promise her that our first daughter shall be called Maria, for that I'm willing to promise, too. That is a devotion that may have some use, and does no harm to anyone."
"You don't know what it is to make a vow. Leave me, for heaven's sake, and think no more about me—except in your prayers!"
"Listen, Lucia! Fra Cristoforo is here. I spoke with him but a short while ago, while I was searching for you, and he told me that I did right to come and look for you; and that the Lord would approve my acting so, and would surely help me to find you, which has come to pass."
"But if he said so, he didn't know———"
"How should he know of things you've done out of your own head, and without the advice of a priest? A good man, as he is, would never think of things of this kind. And he spoke, too, like a saint. He said that perhaps God designed to show mercy to that poor fellow, for so I must now call him, Don Rodrigo, who is now in this place, and waits to take him at the right moment, but wishes that we should pray for him together. Together! You hear? He told me to go back and tell him whether I'd found you. I'm going. We'll hear what he says."
After a while, Renzo returned with Fra Cristoforo. "My daughter," said the father, "did you recollect, when you made that vow, that you were bound by another promise?"
"When it related to the Madonna?"
"My daughter, the Lord approves of offerings when we make them of our own. It is the heart, the will that He desires. But you could not offer Him the will of another, to Whom you had pledged yourself."
"Have I done wrong?"
"No, my poor child. But tell me, have you no other motive that hinders you from fulfilling your promise to Renzo?"
Lucia blushed crimson. "Nothing else," she whispered.
"Then, my child, you know that the Church has power to absolve you from your vow?"
"But, father, is it not a sin to turn back and repent of a promise made to the Madonna? I made it at the time with my whole heart——" said Lucia, violently agitated by so unexpected a hope.
"A sin? A sin to have recourse to the Church, and to ask her minister to make use of the authority which he has received, through her, from God? And if you request me to declare you absolved from this vow, I shall not hesitate to do it; nay, I wish that you may request me."
"Then—then—I do request it!"
In an explicit voice the father then said, "By the authority I have received from the Church, I declare you absolved from the vow of virginity, and free you from every obligation you may thereby have contracted. Beseech the Lord again for those graces you once besought to make you a holy wife; and rely on it, He will bestow them upon you after so many sorrows."
"Has Renzo told you," Fra Cristoforo continued, "whom he has seen here?"
"Oh, yes, father, he has!"
"You will pray for him. Don't be weary of doing so. And pray also for me."
Some weeks later, Don Abbondio received a visit, as unexpected as it was gratifying, from the marquis who, on Rodrigo's death from the plague, succeeded to his estates.
"I come," said he, "to bring you the compliments of the cardinal archbishop. He wishes to have news of the young betrothed persons of this parish, who had to suffer on account of the unfortunate Don Rodrigo."
"Everything is settled, and they will be man and wife as soon as possible."
"And I request that you be good enough to tell me if I can be of any service to them."
* * * * *
And here we may safely leave Renzo and Lucia. Their powerful protector easily secured Renzo's pardon, and shortly afterwards they were happily married and settled in Bergamo, where abundant prosperity came to them; and, furthermore, they were blessed with a large family, of whom the first, being a girl, was named Maria.
* * * * *
Mr. Midshipman Easy
Frederick Marryat, novelist and captain in the navy, was born in London on July 10, 1792. As a boy he chiefly distinguished himself by repeatedly running away from school with the intention of going to sea. His first experience of naval service was under Lord Cochrane, whom he afterwards reproduced as Captain Savage of the Diomede in "Peter Simple." Honourable though Marryat's life at sea was, it is as a graphic depictor of naval scenes, customs, and character that he is known to the present generation. His first story, "Frank Mildmay" (1829), took the reading public by storm, and from that time onward he produced tale after tale with startling rapidity. "Peter Simple" is the best of Captain Marryat's novels, and "Mr. Midshipman Easy" is the most humorous. Published in volume form in 1836, after appearing serially in the pages of the "Metropolitan Magazine," of which Marryat was then editor, the latter story immediately caught the fancy of the public, and considerably widened his already large circle of readers. "Mr. Midshipman Easy" is frankly farcical; it shows its author not only as a graphic writer, but as one gifted with an abundance of whimsical humour and a keen sense of characterisation. Opinions may differ as to the actual merits of "Mr. Midshipman Easy," but it has more than served its author's purpose—it has held the public for over seventy years. Captain Marryat died on August 9, 1848.
I.—Mr. Easy Joins His Majesty's Service
Mr. Nicodemus Easy was a gentleman who lived down in Hampshire. He was a married man, and in very easy circumstances, and having decided to be a philosopher, he had fixed upon the rights of man, equality, and all that—how every person was born to inherit his share of the earth—for his philosophy.
At the age of fourteen his only son, Jack, decided to go to sea.
"It has occurred to me, father," he said, "that although the whole earth has been so nefariously divided among the few, the waters at least are the property of all. No man claims his share of the sea; everyone may there plough as he pleases without being taken up for a trespasser. It is, then, only upon the ocean that I am likely to find that equality and rights of man which we are so anxious to establish on shore; and therefore I have resolved not to go to school again, which I detest, but to go to sea."
"I cannot listen to that, Jack. You must return to school."
"All I have to say is, father, that I swear by the rights of man I will not go back to school, and that I will go to sea. Was I not born my own master? Has anyone a right to dictate to me as if I were not his equal?"
Mr. Easy had nothing to reply.
"I will write to Captain Wilson," he said mournfully.
Captain Wilson, who was under considerable obligations to Mr. Easy, wrote in reply promising that he would treat Jack as his own son, and our hero very soon found his way down to Portsmouth.
As Jack had plenty of money, and was very much pleased at finding himself his own master, he was in no hurry to join his ship, and five or six companions whom he had picked up strongly advised him to put it off until the very last moment. So he was three weeks at Portsmouth before anyone knew of his arrival.
At last, Captain Wilson, receiving a note from Mr. Easy, desired Mr. Sawbridge, the first lieutenant, to make inquiries; and Mr. Sawbridge, going on shore, and being informed by the waiter at the Fountain Inn that Mr. Easy had been there three weeks, was justly indignant.
Mr. Sawbridge was a good officer, who had really worked his way up to the present rank—that is, he had served seven-and-twenty years, and had nothing but his pay. He was a good-hearted man; but when he entered Jack's room, and saw the dinner-table laid out in the best style for eight, his bile was raised by the display.
"May I beg to ask," said Jack, who was always remarkably polite in his address, "in what manner I may be of service to you?"
"Yes sir, you may—by joining your ship immediately."
Hereupon, Jack, who did not admire the peremptory tone of Mr. Sawbridge, very coolly replied. "And, pray, who are you?"
"Who am I, sir? My name is Sawbridge, sir, and I am the first lieutenant of the Harpy. Now, sir, you have your answer."
Mr. Sawbridge was not in uniform, but he imagined the name of the first lieutenant would strike terror to a culprit midshipman.
"Really, sir," replied Jack. "What may be your exact situation on board? My ignorance of the service will not allow me to guess; but if I may judge from your behaviour, you have no small opinion of yourself."
"Look ye, young man, you may not know what a first lieutenant is; but, depend upon it, I'll let you know very soon! In the meantime, sir, I insist that you go immediately on board."
"I'm sorry that I cannot comply with your very moderate request," replied Jack coolly. "I shall go on board when it suits my convenience, and I beg that you will give yourself no further trouble on my account." He then rang the bell. "Waiter, show this gentleman downstairs."
"By the god of wars!" exclaimed the first lieutenant. "But I'll soon show you down to the boat, my young bantam! I shall now go and report your conduct to Captain Wilson, and if you are not on board this evening, to-morrow morning I shall send a sergeant and a file of marines to fetch you."
"You may depend upon it," replied Jack, "that I also shall not fail to mention to Captain Wilson that I consider you a very quarrelsome, impertinent fellow, and recommend him not to allow you to remain on board. It will be quite uncomfortable to be in the same ship with such an ungentlemanly bear."
"He must be mad—quite mad!" exclaimed Sawbridge, whose astonishment even mastered his indignation. "Mad as a March hare!"
"No, sir," replied Jack, "I am not mad, but I am a philosopher."
"A what? Well, my joker, all the better for you. I shall put your philosophy to the proof."
"It is for that very reason, sir, that I have decided upon going to sea; and if you do remain on board, I hope to argue the point with you, and make you a convert to the truth of equality and the rights of man. We are all born equal. I trust you'll allow that?"
"Twenty-seven years have I been in the service!" roared Sawbridge. "But he's mad—downright, stark, staring mad!" And the first lieutenant bounced out of the room.
"He calls me mad," thought Jack. "I shall tell Captain Wilson what is my opinion about his lieutenant." Shortly afterwards the company arrived, and Jack soon forgot all about it.
In the meantime, Sawbridge called at the captain's lodgings, and made a faithful report of all that had happened.
Sawbridge and Wilson were old friends and messmates, and the captain put it to the first lieutenant that Mr. Easy, senior, having come to his assistance and released him from heavy difficulties with a most generous cheque, what could he do but be a father to his son?
"I can only say," replied Sawbridge, "that, not only to please you, but also from respect to a man who has shown such goodwill towards one of our cloth, I shall most cheerfully forgive all that has passed between the lad and me."
Captain Wilson then dispatched a note to our hero, requesting the pleasure of his company to breakfast on the ensuing morning, and Jack answered in the affirmative.
Captain Wilson, who knew all about Mr. Easy's philosophy, explained to Jack the details and rank of every person on board, and that everyone was equally obliged to obey orders. Lieutenant Sawbridge's demeanour was due entirely to his zeal for his country.
That evening Mr. Jack Easy was safe on board his majesty's sloop Harpy.
II.—On Board the Harpy
Jack remained in his hammock during the first few days at sea. He was very sick, bewildered, and confused, every minute knocking his head against the beams with the pitching and tossing of the sloop.
"And this is going to sea," thought Jack. "No wonder that no one interferes with another here, or talks about a trespass; for I am sure anyone is welcome to my share of the ocean."
When he was well enough he was told to go to the midshipman's berth, and Jack, who now felt excessively hungry, crawled over and between chests until he found himself in a hole infinitely inferior to the dog-kennels which received his father's pointers.
"I'd not only give up the ocean," thought Jack, "and my share of it, but also my share of the Harpy, unto anyone who fancies it. Equality enough here, for everyone appears equally miserably off."
But when he had gained the deck, the scene of cheerfulness, activity, and order lightened his heart after the four days of suffering, close air, and confinement from which he had just emerged.
Jack dined with the captain that night, and was very much pleased to find that everyone drank wine with him, and that everybody at the captain's table appeared to be on an equality. Before the dessert had been on the table five minutes, Jack became loquacious on his favourite topic. All the company stared with surprise at such an unheard-of doctrine being broached on board of a man-of-war.
This day may be considered as the first in which Jack really made his appearance on board, and it also was on this first day that Jack made known, at the captain's table, his very peculiar notions. If the company at the captain's table were astonished at such heterodox opinions being started, they were equally astonished at the cool, good-humoured ridicule with which they were received by Captain Wilson. The report of Jack's boldness, and every word and opinion that he had uttered—of course, much magnified—were circulated that evening through the whole ship; the matter was canvassed in the gun-room by the officers, and descanted upon by the midshipmen as they walked the deck. The boatswain talked it over with the other warrant officers, till the grog was all gone, and then dismissed it as too dry a subject.
The bully of the midshipman's berth—a young man about seventeen, named Vigors—at once attacked our hero.
"So, my chap, you are come on board to raise a mutiny here with your equality? You came off scot free at the captain's table, but it won't do, I can tell you; someone must knock under in the midshipman's berth, and you are one of them."
"I can assure you that you are mistaken," replied Easy.
At school Jack had fought and fought again, until he was a very good bruiser, and although not so tall as Vigors, he was much better built for fighting.
"I've thrashed bigger fellows than he," he said to himself.
"You impudent blackguard!" exclaimed Vigors. "If you say another word, I'll give you a good thrashing, and knock some of your equality out of you!"
"Indeed!" replied Jack, who almost fancied himself back at school. "We'll try that!"
Vigors had gained his assumed authority more by bullying than fighting; others had submitted to him without a sufficient trial. Jack, on the contrary, had won his way up in school by hard and scientific combat. The result, therefore, may easily be imagined. In less than a quarter of an hour Vigors, beaten dead, with his eyes closed and three teeth out, gave in; while Jack, after a basin of water, looked as fresh as ever.
After that, Jack declared that as might was right in a midshipman's berth, he would so far restore equality that, let who would come, they must be his master before they should tyrannise over those weaker than he.
III.—The Triangular Duel
Jack, although generally popular on board, had made enemies of Mr. Biggs, the boatswain, and Mr. Easthupp, the purser's steward. The latter—a cockney and a thief—had even been kicked down the hatchway by our hero.
When the Harpy was at Malta, Jack, wroth at the way the two men talked at him, declared he would give them satisfaction.
"Mr. Biggs, let you and this fellow put on plain clothes, and I will meet you both."
"One at a time?" said the boatswain.
"No, sir; not one at a time, but both at the same time. I will fight both or none. If you are my superior officer, you must descend to meet me, or I will not descend to meet that fellow, whom I believe to have been little better than a pickpocket!"
Mr. Biggs having declared that he would fight, of course, had to look out for a second, and he fixed upon Mr. Tallboys, the gunner, and requested him to be his friend. Mr. Tallboys consented, but he was very much puzzled how to arrange that three were to fight at the same time, for he had no idea of there being two duels. Jack had no one to confide in but Gascoigne, a fellow-midshipman; and although Gascoigne thought it was excessively infra dig. of Jack to meet even the boatswain, as the challenge had been given there was no retracting, and he therefore consented and went to meet Mr. Tallboys.
"Mr. Gascoigne," said the gunner, "you see that there are three parties to fight. Had there been two or four there would have been no difficulty, as the straight line or square might guide us in that instance; but we must arrange it upon the triangle in this."
Gascoigne stared. He could not imagine what was coming.
"The duel between three can only be fought upon the principle of the triangle," the gunner went on. "You observe," he said, taking a piece of chalk and making a triangle on the table, "in this figure we have three points, each equidistant from each other; and we have three combatants, so that, placing one at each point, it is all fair play for the three. Mr. Easy, for instance, stands here, the boatswain here, and the purser's steward at the third corner. Now, if the distance is fairly measured it will be all right."
"But then," replied Gascoigne, delighted at the idea, "how are they to fire?"
"It certainly is not of much consequence," replied the gunner; "but still, as sailors, it appears to me that they should fire with the sun—that is, Mr. Easy fires at Mr. Biggs, Mr. Biggs fires at Mr. Easthupp, and Mr. Easthupp fires at Mr. Easy, so that you perceive that each party has his shot at one, and at the same time receives the fire of another."
Gascoigne was in ecstasies at the novelty of the proceeding.
"Upon my word, Mr. Tallboys, I give you great credit. You have a profound mathematical head, and I am delighted with your arrangement. I shall insist upon Mr. Easy consenting to your excellent and scientific proposal."
Gascoigne went out and told Jack what the gunner had proposed, at which Jack laughed heartily. The gunner also explained it to the boatswain, who did not very well comprehend, but replied, "I daresay it's all right. Shot for shot, and d—— all favours!"
The parties then repaired to the spot with two pairs of ship's pistols, which Mr. Tallboys had smuggled on shore; and as soon as they were on the ground, the gunner called Mr. Easthupp. In the meantime, Gascoigne had been measuring an equilaterial triangle of twelve paces, and marked it out. Mr. Tallboys, on his return with the purser's steward, went over the ground, and finding that it was "equal angles subtended by equal sides," declared that it was all right. Easy took his station, the boatswain was put into his, and Mr. Easthupp, who was quite in a mystery, was led by the gunner to the third position.
"But, Mr. Tallboys," said the purser's steward, "I don't understand this. Mr. Easy will first fight Mr. Biggs, will he not?"
"No," replied the gunner; "this is a duel of three. You will fire at Mr. Easy, Mr. Easy will fire at Mr. Biggs, and Mr. Biggs will fire at you. It is all arranged, Mr. Easthupp."
"But," said Mr. Easthupp, "I do not understand it. Why is Mr. Biggs to fire at me? I have no quarrel with Mr. Biggs."
"Because Mr. Easy fires at Mr. Biggs, and Mr. Biggs must have his shot as well."
"But still, I've no quarrel with Mr. Biggs, and therefore, Mr. Biggs, of course you will not aim at me."
"Why, you don't think that I'm going to be fired at for nothing?" replied the boatswain. "No, no; I'll have my shot, anyhow!"
"But at your friend, Mr. Biggs?"
"All the same, I shall fire at somebody, shot for shot, and hit the luckiest."
"Vel, gentlemen, I purtest against these proceedings," remarked Mr. Easthupp. "I came here to have satisfaction from Mr. Easy, and not to be fired at by Mr. Biggs."
"So you would have a shot without receiving one?" cried Gascoigne. "The fact is that this fellow's a confounded coward."
At this affront, Mr. Easthupp rallied, and accepted the pistol offered by the gunner.
"You 'ear those words, Mr. Biggs? Pretty language to use to a gentleman! I purtest no longer, Mr. Tallboys. Death before dishonour—I'm a gentleman!"
The gunner gave the word as if he were exercising the great guns on board ship.
"Cock your locks! Take good aim at the object! Fire!"
Mr. Easthupp clapped his hand to his trousers, gave a loud yell, and then dropped down, having presented his broadside as a target to the boatswain. Jack's shot had also taken effect, having passed through both the boatswain's cheeks, without further mischief than extracting two of his best upper double teeth, and forcing through the hole of the farther cheek the boatswain's own quid of tobacco. As for Mr. Easthupp's ball, as he was very unsettled and shut his eyes before he fired, it had gone heaven knows where.
The purser's steward lay on the ground and screamed; the boatswain threw down his pistol in a rage. The former was then walked off to the hospital, attended by the gunner, and also the boatswain, who thought he might as well have a little medical advice before going on board.
"Well, Easy," said Gascoigne, collecting the pistols and tying them up in his handkerchief, "I'll be shot, but we're in a pretty scrape; there's no hushing this up. I'll be hanged if I care; it's the best piece of fun I ever met with."
"I'm afraid that our leave will be stopped for the future," replied Jack.
"Confound it, and they say that the ship is to be here six weeks at least. I won't go on board. Look ye, Jack, we'll pretend to be so much alarmed at the result of this duel, that we dare not show ourselves lest we should be hung. I will write a note and tell all the particulars to the master's mate, and refer to the gunner for the truth of it, and beg him to intercede with the captain and first lieutenant. I know that although we should be punished, they will only laugh; but I will pretend that Easthupp is killed, and we are frightened out of our lives. That will be it; and then let's get on board one of the fruit boats, sail in the night for Palermo, and then we'll have a cruise for a fortnight, and when the money is all gone we'll come back."
"That's a capital idea, Ned, and the sooner we do it the better."
They were two very nice lads.
IV.—Jack Leaves the Service
At the end of four years at sea, Jack had been cured of his philosophy of equality. The death of his mother, and a letter from the old family doctor that his father was not in his senses, decided him to return home.
"It is fortunate for you that the estate is entailed," wrote Dr. Middleton, "or you might soon be a beggar, for there is no saying what debts your father might, in his madness, be guilty of. He has turned away his keepers, and allowed poachers to go all over the manor. I consider that it is absolutely necessary that you should immediately return home and look after what will one day be your property. You have no occasion to follow the profession with your income of L8,000 per annum. You have distinguished yourself, now make room for those who require it for their subsistence."
Captain Wilson approved of the decision, and Jack left the service. At his request, his devoted admirer Mesty—an abbreviation of Mephistopheles—an African, once a prince in Ashantee and now the cook of the midshipmen's mess, was allowed to leave the service and accompany our hero to England as his servant.
From the first utterances of Jack on the subject of liberty and equality, he had won Mesty's heart, and in a hundred ways the black had proved his fidelity and attachment. His delight at going home with his patron was indescribable.
Jack had not written to his father to announce his arrival, and when he reached home he found things worse than he expected.
His father was at the mercy of his servants, who, insolent and insubordinate, robbed, laughed at, and neglected him. The waste and expense were enormous. Our hero, who found how matters stood, soon resolved what to do.
He rose early; Mesty was in the room, with warm water, as soon as he rang.
"By de power, Massa Easy, your fader very silly old man!"
"I'm afraid so," replied Jack. "How are they getting on in the servants' hall?"
"Regular mutiny, sar—ab swear dat dey no stand our nonsense, and dat we both leave the house to-morrow."
Jack went to his father.
"Do you hear, sir, your servants declare that I shall leave your house to-morrow."
"You leave my house, Jack, after four years' absence! No, no, I'll reason with them—I'll make them a speech. You don't know how I can speak, Jack."
"Look you, father, I cannot stand this. Either give me carte blanche to arrange this household as I please, or I shall quit it myself to-morrow morning."
"Quit my house, Jack! No, no—shake hands and make friends with them; be civil, and they will serve you."
"Do you consent, sir, or am I to leave the house?"
"Leave the house! Oh, no; not leave the house, Jack. I have no son but you. Then do as you please—but you will not send away my butler—he escaped hanging last assizes on an undoubted charge of murder? I selected him on purpose, and must have him cured, and shown as a proof of a wonderful machine I have invented."
"Mesty," said Jack, "get my pistols ready for to-morrow morning, and your own too—do you hear? It is possible, father, that you may not have yet quite cured your murderer, and therefore it is as well to be prepared."
Mr. Easy did not long survive his son's return, and under Jack's management, in which Mesty rendered invaluable assistance, the household was reformed, and the estate once more conducted on reasonable lines.
A year later Jack was married, and Mesty, as major domo, held his post with dignity, and proved himself trustworthy.
* * * * *
"Peter Simple," published in 1833, is in many respects the best of all Marryat's novels. Largely drawn from Marryat's own professional experiences, the story, with its vivid portraiture and richness of incident, is told with rare atmosphere and style. Hogg placed the character of "Peter Simple" on a level with Fielding's "Parson Adams;" Edgar Allan Poe, on the other hand, found Marryat's works "essentially mediocre."
I.—I am Sacrificed to the Navy
I think that had I been permitted to select my own profession in childhood, I should in all probability have bound myself apprentice to a tailor, for I always envied the comfortable seat which they appeared to enjoy upon the shopboard. But my father, who was a clergyman of the Church of England and the youngest brother of a noble family, had a lucrative living, and a "soul above buttons," if his son had not. It has been from time immemorial the custom to sacrifice the greatest fool of the family to the prosperity and naval superiority of the country, and at the age of fourteen, I was selected as the victim.
My father, who lived in the North of England, forwarded me by coach to London, and from London I set out by coach for Portsmouth.
A gentleman in a plaid cloak sat by me, and at the Elephant and Castle a drunken sailor climbed up by the wheel of the coach and sat down on the other side.
I commenced a conversation with the gentleman in the plaid cloak relative to my profession, and asked him whether it was not very difficult to learn.
"Larn," cried the sailor, interrupting us, "no; it may be difficult for such chaps as me before the mast to larn; but you, I presume, is a reefer, and they ain't not much to larn, 'cause why, they pipe-clays their weekly accounts, and walks up and down with their hands in their pockets. You must larn to chaw baccy and drink grog, and then you knows all a midshipman's expected to know nowadays. Ar'n't I right, sir?" said the sailor, appealing to the gentleman in a plaid cloak. "I axes you, because I see you're a sailor by the cut of your jib. Beg pardon, sir," continued he, touching his hat; "hope no offence."
"I am afraid that you have nearly hit the mark, my good fellow," replied the gentleman.
At the bottom of Portsdown Hill I inquired how soon we should be at Portsmouth. He answered that we were passing the lines; but I saw no lines, and I was ashamed to show my ignorance. The gentleman in a plaid cloak asked me what ship I was going to join, and whether I had a letter of introduction to the captain.
"Yes, I have," replied I. And I pulled out my pocket-book, in which the letter was. "Captain Savage, H.M. ship Diomede," I read.
To my surprise, he very coolly took the letter and proceeded to open it, which occasioned me immediately to snatch the letter from him, stating my opinion at the same time that it was a breach of honour, and that in my opinion he was no gentleman.
"Just as you please, youngster," replied he. "Recollect, you have told me I am no gentleman."
He wrapped his plaid around him and said no more, and I was not a little pleased at having silenced him by my resolute behaviour.
I stayed at the Blue Posts, where all the midshipmen put up, that night, and next morning presented myself at the George Inn with my letter of introduction to Captain Savage.
"Mr. Simple, I am glad to see you," said a voice. And there sat, with his uniform and epaulets, and his sword by his side, the passenger in the plaid cloak who wanted to open my letter and whom I had told to his face that he was "no gentleman!"
I thought I should have died, and was just sinking down upon my knees to beg for mercy, when the captain, perceiving my confusion, burst out into a laugh, and said, "So you know me again, Mr. Simple? Well, don't be alarmed. You did your duty in not permitting me to open the letter, supposing me, as you did, to be some other person, and you were perfectly right, under that supposition, to tell me that I was not a gentleman. I give you credit for your conduct. Now, I think the sooner you go on board the better."
On my arrival on board, the first lieutenant, after looking at me closely, said, "Now, Mr. Simple, I have looked attentively at your face, and I see at once that you are very clever, and if you do not prove so in a very short time, why—you had better jump overboard, that's all."
I was very much terrified at this speech, but at the same time I was pleased to hear that he thought me clever. My unexpected reputation was shortly afterwards strengthened, when, noticing the first lieutenant in consultation with the gunner, the former, on my approaching, said, "Youngster hand me that monkey's tail."
I saw nothing like a monkey's tail, but I was so frightened that I snatched up the first thing that I saw, which was a short bar of iron, and it so happened that it was the very article which he wanted.
"So you know what a monkey's tail is already, do you?" said the first lieutenant. "Now don't you ever sham stupid after that."
A fortnight later, at daylight, a signal from the flagship in harbour was made for us to unmoor; our orders had come to cruise in the Bay of Biscay. The captain came on board, the anchor weighed, and we ran through the Needles with a fine breeze. Presently I felt so very ill that I went down below. What occurred for the next six days I cannot tell. I thought I should die every moment, and lay in my hammock, incapable of eating, drinking, or walking about.
O'Brien, the senior midshipman and master's mate, who had been very kind to me, came to me on the seventh, morning and said that if I did not exert myself I never should get well; that he had taken me under his protection, and to prove his regard would give me a good basting, which was a sovereign remedy for sea-sickness. He suited the action to the word, and drubbed me on the ribs without mercy until I thought the breath was out of my body; but I obeyed his orders to go on deck immediately, and somehow or other did contrive to crawl up the ladder to the main deck, where I sat down and cried bitterly. What would I have given to have been at home again! It was not my fault that I was the greatest fool of the family, yet how was I punished for it! But, by degrees, I recovered myself, and certainly that night I slept very soundly.
The next morning O'Brien came to me again.
"It's a nasty slow fever, that sea-sickness, my Peter, and we must drive it out of you."
And then he commenced a repetition of yesterday's remedy until I was almost a jelly. Whether the fear of being thrashed drove away my sickness, I do not know, but this is certain, that I felt no more of it after the second beating, and the next morning when I awoke I was very hungry.
II.—I am Taken Prisoner
One morning at daybreak we found ourselves about four miles from the town of Cette, and a large convoy of vessels coming round a point. We made all sail in chase, and they anchored close in shore under a battery, which we did not discover until it opened fire upon us. The captain tacked the ship, and stood out again, until the boats were hoisted out, and all ready to pull on shore and storm the battery. O'Brien, who was the officer commanding the first cutter on service, was in his boat, and I obtained permission from him to smuggle myself into it.
We ran ashore, amidst the fire of the gunboats which protected the convoy, by which we lost three men, and made for the battery, which we took without opposition, the French artillerymen running out as we ran in. The directions of the captain were very positive not to remain in the battery a minute after it was taken, but to board the gunboats, leaving only one of the small boats, with the armourer, to spike the guns, for the captain was aware that there were troops stationed along the coast who might come down upon us and beat us off.
The first lieutenant, who commanded, desired O'Brien to remain with the first cutter, and after the armourer had spiked the guns, as officer of the boat he was to shove off immediately. O'Brien and I remained in the battery with the armourer, the boat's crew being ordered down to the boat to keep her afloat and ready to shove off at a moment's warning. We had spiked all the guns but one, when all of a sudden a volley of musketry was poured upon us, which killed the armourer, and wounded me in the leg above the knee. I fell down by O'Brien, who cried out, "By the powers, here they are, and one gun not spiked!" He jumped down, wrenched the hammer from the armourer's hand, and seizing a nail from the bag, in a few moments he had spiked the gun.
At this time I heard the tramping of the French soldiers advancing, when O'Brien threw away the hammer and lifting me upon his shoulders cried, "Come along, Peter, my boy," and made for the boat as fast as he could. But he was too late; he had not got half-way to the boat before he was collared by two French soldiers and dragged back into the battery. The French troops then advanced and kept up a smart fire; our cutter escaped and joined the other boat, who had captured the gunboats and convoy with little opposition.
In the meantime, O'Brien had been taken into the battery with me on his back; but as soon as he was there he laid me gently down, saying, "Peter, my boy, as long as you were under my charge, I'd carry you through thick and thin; but now that you are under the charge of these French beggars, why, let them carry you."
When the troops ceased firing (and if O'Brien had left one gun unspiked they must have done a great deal of mischief to our boats), the commanding officer came up to O'Brien, and looking at him, said, "Officer?" to which O'Brien nodded his head. He then pointed to me—"Officer?" O'Brien nodded his head again, at which the French troops laughed, and called me an enfant.
Then, as I was very faint and could not walk, I was carried on three muskets, O'Brien walking by my side, till we reached the town of Cette; there we were taken to the commanding officer's house. It turned out that this officer's name was also O'Brien, and that he was of Irish descent. He and his daughter Celeste, a little girl of twelve, treated us both with every kindness. Celeste was my little nurse, and we became very intimate, as might be expected. Our chief employment was teaching each other French and English.
Before two months were over, I was quite recovered, and soon the time came when we were to leave our comfortable quarters for a French prison. Captain Savage had sent our clothes and two hundred dollars to us under a flag of truce, and I had taken advantage of this to send a letter off which I dictated to Colonel O'Brien, containing my statement of the affair, in which I mentioned O'Brien's bravery in spiking the gun and in looking after me. I knew that he would never tell if I didn't.
At last the day came for us to leave, and my parting with Celeste was very painful. I promised to write to her, and she promised to answer my letters if it were permitted. We shook hands with Colonel O'Brien, thanking him for his kindness, and much to his regret we were taken in charge by two French cuirassiers, and so set off, on parole, on horseback for Toulon.
From Toulon we were moved to Montpelier, and from Montpelier to Givet, a fortified town in the department of Ardennes, where we arrived exactly four months after our capture.
III.—We Make Our Escape
O'Brien had decided at once that we should make our escape from the prison at Givet.
First he procured a plan of the fortress from a gendarme, and then, when we were shown into the room allotted to us, and our baggage was examined, the false bottom of his trunk was not noticed, and by this means various instruments he had bought on the road escaped detection. Round his body O'Brien had also wound a rope of silk, sixty feet long, with knots at every two feet.
The practicability of escape from Givet seemed to me impossible. The yard of the fortress was surrounded by a high wall; the buildings appropriated for the prisoners were built with lean-to roofs on one side, and at each side of the square was a sentry looking down upon us. We had no parole, and but little communication with the towns-people.
But O'Brien, who often examined the map he had procured from the gendarme, said to me one day, "Peter, can you swim?"
"No," replied I; "but never mind that."
"But I must mind it, Peter; for observe we shall have to cross the River Meuse, and boats are not always to be had. This fortress is washed by the river on one side; and as it is the strongest side it is the least guarded—we must escape by it. I can see my way clear enough till we get to the second rampart on the river, but when we drop into the river, if you cannot swim, I must contrive to hold you up somehow or other. But first tell me, do you intend to try your luck with me?"
"Yes," replied I, "most certainly, if you have sufficient confidence in me to take me as your companion."
"To tell you the truth, Peter, I would not give a farthing to escape without you. We were taken together, and, please God, we'll take ourselves off together, directly we get the dark nights and foul weather."
We had been about two months in Givet when letters arrived. My father wrote requesting me to draw for whatever money I might require, and also informing me that as my Uncle William was dead, there was now only one between him and the title, but that my grandfather, Lord Privilege, was in good health. O'Brien's letter was from Captain Savage; the frigate had been sent home with despatches, and O'Brien's conduct represented to the Admiralty, which had, in consequence, promoted him to the rank of lieutenant. We read each other's letters, and O'Brien said, "I see your uncle is dead. How many more uncles have you?"
"My Uncle John, who is married, and has already two daughters."
"Blessings on him! Peter, my boy, you shall be a lord before you die."
"Nonsense, O'Brien; I have no chance."
"What chance had I of being lieutenant, and am I not one? And now, my boy, prepare yourself to quit this cursed hole in a week, wind and weather permitting. But, Peter, do me one favour. As I am really a lieutenant, just touch your hat to me, only once, that's all; but I wish the compliment, just to see how it looks."
"Lieutenant O'Brien," said I, touching my hat, "have you any further orders?"
"Yes, sir," replied he; "that you never presume to touch your hat to me again, unless we sail together, and then that's a different sort of thing."
A week later, O'Brien's preparations were complete. I had bought a new umbrella on his advice, and this he had painted with a preparation of oil and beeswax. He had also managed to procure a considerable amount of twine, which he had turned into a sort of strong cord, or square plait.
At twelve o'clock on a dark November night we left our room and went down into the yard. By means of pieces of iron, which he drove into the interstices of the stone, we scaled a high wall, and dropped down on the other side by a drawbridge. Here the sentry was asleep, but O'Brien gagged him, and I threw open the pan of his musket to prevent him from firing.
Then I followed O'Brien into the river. The umbrella was opened and turned upwards, and I had only to hold on to it at arm's-length. O'Brien had a tow line, and taking this in his teeth, he towed me down with the stream to about a hundred yards clear of the fortress, where we landed. O'Brien was so exhausted that for a few minutes he remained quite motionless. I also was benumbed with the cold.
"Peter," said he, "thank God we have succeeded so far. Now we must push on as far as we can, for we shall have daylight in two hours."
It was not till some months later that, after many adventures, we reached Flushing, and procured the services of a pilot. With a strong tide and a fair wind we were soon clear of the Scheldt, and next morning a cutter hove in sight, and in a few minutes we found ourselves once more under the British pennant.
Once, in the West Indies, O'Brien and I had again come across our good friend Colonel O'Brien and his daughter Celeste. He was now General O'Brien, Governor of Martinique; and Celeste was nineteen, and I one-and-twenty. And though France and England were still at war, before we parted Celeste and I were lovers, engaged to be married; and the general raised no objection to our attachment.
On our return from that voyage a series of troubles overtook me. My grandfather, Lord Privilege, had begun to take some interest in me; but before he died my uncle went to live with him, and so poisoned his mind against me that when the old lord's will was read it was found that L10,000 bequeathed to me had been cancelled by a codicil. As both my brothers and my other uncle were dead, my uncle was enraged at the possibility of my succeeding to the title.
The loss of L10,000 was too much for my father's reason, and from lunacy he went quietly to his grave, leaving my only sister, Ellen, to find a home among strangers.
In the meantime, O'Brien had been made a captain, and had sailed for the East Indies. I was to have accompanied him, but my uncle, who had now succeeded to the title, had sufficient influence at the Admiralty to prevent this, and I was appointed first lieutenant to a ship whose captain, an illegitimate son of Lord Privilege, was determined to ruin me. Captain Hawkins was a cowardly, mean, tyrannical man, and, although I kept my temper under all his petty persecutions, he managed at last to string together a number of accusations and, on our return, send me to a court-martial.
The verdict of the court-martial was that "the charges of insubordination had been partly proved, and therefore that Lieutenant Peter Simple was dismissed his ship; but in consideration of his good character and services his case was strongly recommended to the consideration of the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty."
I hardly knew whether I felt glad or sorry at this sentence. On the one hand, in spite of the fourteen years I had served, it was almost a death-blow to my future advancement or employment in the service; on the other, the recommendation very much softened down the sentence, and I was quite happy to be quit of Captain Hawkins and free to hasten to my poor sister.
I hurried on shore, but on my journey north fell ill with fever, and for three weeks was in a state of alternate stupor and delirium, lying in a cottage by the roadside.
My uncle, learning of my condition, thought this too favourable an opportunity, provided I should live, not to have me in his power. He sent to have me removed, and some days afterwards—for I recollect nothing about the journey—I found myself in bed in a dark room, and my arms confined. Where was I? Presently the door opened, and a man entered who took down a shutter, and the light streamed in. The walls were bare and whitewashed. I looked at the window; it was closed up with two iron bars.