A GREAT EMERGENCY AND OTHER TALES.
JULIANA HORATIA EWING
London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, Northumberland Avenue, W.C. Brighton: 129, North Street. New York: E. & J. B. Young & Co. [Published under the direction of the General Literature Committee.]
LORD BISHOP OF FREDERICTON,
AND TO HIS DEAR WIFE
IN PLEASANT AND GRATEFUL MEMORY OF
A GREAT EMERGENCY.
I. Rupert's Lectures—The Old Yellow Leather Book
II. Henrietta—A Family Chronicle—The School Mimic—My First Fight
III. School Cricket—Lemon-Kali—The Boys' Bridge—An Unexpected Emergency
IV. A Doubtful Blessing—A Family Failing—Old Battles—The Canal-Carrier's Home
V. The Navy Captain—Seven Parrots in a Fuchsia Tree—The Harbour Lion and the Silver Chain—The Legless Giants—Down Below—Johnson's Wharf
VI. S. Philip and S. James—The Monkey-Barge and the Dog—War, Plague, and Fire—The Dulness of Everyday Life
VII. We Resolve to Run Away—Scruples—Baby Cecil—I Prepare—I Run Away
VIII. We Go on Board—The Pie—An Explosion-Mr. Rowe the Barge-Master—The White Lion—Two Letters—We Doubt Mr. Rowe's Good Faith
IX. A Coasting Voyage—Musk Island—Linnet Flash—Mr. Rowe an Old Tar—The Dog-Fancier at Home
X. Locks—We Think of Going on the Tramp—Pyebridge—We Set Sail
XI. Mr. Rowe on Barge-Women—The River—Nine Elms—A Mysterious Noise—Rough Quarters—A Cheap Supper—John's Berth—We Make Our Escape—Out into the World
XII. Emergencies and Policemen—Fenchurch Street Station—Third Class to Custom House—A Ship Forest
XIII. A Dirty Street—A Bad Boy—Shipping and Merchandise—We Stowaway on Board the 'Atalanta'—A Salt Tear
XIV. A Glow on the Horizon—A Fantastic Peal—What I Saw when the Roof Fell In
XV. Henrietta's Diary—A Great Emergency
XVI. Mr. Rowe on the Subject—Our Cousin—Weston Gets Into Print—The Harbour's Mouth—What Lies Beyond
A VERY ILL-TEMPERED FAMILY.
I. A Family Failing
II. Ill-Tempered People and Their Friends—Narrow Escapes—The Hatchet-Quarrel
III. Warnings—My Aunt Isobel—Mr. Rampant's Temper, and His Conscience
IV. Cases of Conscience—Ethics of Ill-Temper
V. Celestial Fire—I Choose a Text
VI. Theatrical Properties—I Prepare a Play—Philip Begins to Prepare the Scenery—A New Friend
VII. A Quarrel—Bobby is Willing—Exit Philip
VIII. I Hear from Philip—A New Part Wanted—I Lose My Temper—We All Lose Our Tempers
IX. Self-Reproach—Family Discomfort—Out on the Marsh—Victory
* * * * *
* * * * *
A GREAT EMERGENCY.
RUPERT'S LECTURES—THE OLD YELLOW LEATHER BOOK.
We were very happy—I, Rupert, Henrietta, and Baby Cecil. The only thing we found fault with in our lives was that there were so few events in them.
It was particularly provoking, because we were so well prepared for events—any events. Rupert prepared us. He had found a fat old book in the garret, bound in yellow leather, at the end of which were "Directions how to act with presence of mind in any emergency;" and he gave lectures out of this in the kitchen garden.
Rupert was twelve years old. He was the eldest. Then came Henrietta, then I, and last of all Baby Cecil, who was only four. The day I was nine years old, Rupert came into the nursery, holding up his handsome head with the dignified air which became him so well, that I had more than once tried to put it on myself before the nursery looking-glass, and said to me, "You are quite old enough now, Charlie, to learn what to do whatever happens; so every half-holiday, when I am not playing cricket, I'll teach you presence of mind near the cucumber frame, if you're punctual. I've put up a bench."
I thanked him warmly, and the next day he put his head into the nursery at three o'clock in the afternoon, and said—"The lecture."
I jumped up, and so did Henrietta.
"It's not for girls," said Rupert; "women are not expected to do things when there's danger."
"We take care of them" said I, wondering if my mouth looked like Rupert's when I spoke, and whether my manner impressed Henrietta as much as his impressed me. She sat down again and only said, "I stayed in all Friday afternoon, and worked in bed on Saturday morning to finish your net."
"Come along," said Rupert. "You know I'm very much obliged to you for the net; it's a splendid one."
"I'll bring a camp-stool if there's not room on the bench," said Henrietta cheerfully.
"People never take camp-stools to lectures," said Rupert, and when we got to the cucumber frame we found that the old plank, which he had raised on inverted flower-pots, would have held a much larger audience than he had invited. Opposite to it was a rhubarb-pot, with the round top of a barrel resting on it. On this stood a glass of water. A delightful idea thrilled through me, suggested by an imperfect remembrance of a lecture on chemistry which I had attended.
"Will there be experiments?" I whispered.
"I think not," Henrietta replied. "There are glasses of water at the missionary meetings, and there are no experiments."
Meanwhile Rupert had been turning over the leaves of the yellow leather book. To say the truth, I think he was rather nervous; but if we have a virtue among us it is that of courage; and after dropping the book twice, and drinking all the water at a draught, he found his place, and began.
"How to act in an emergency."
"What's an emergency?" I asked. I was very proud of being taught by Rupert, and anxious to understand everything as we went along.
"You shouldn't interrupt," said Rupert, frowning. I am inclined now to think that he could not answer my question off-hand; for though he looked cross then, after referring to the book he answered me: "It's a fire, or drowning, or an apoplectic fit, or anything of that sort." After which explanation, he hurried on. If what he said next came out of his own head, or whether he had learned it by heart, I never knew.
"There is no stronger sign of good-breeding than presence of mind in an—"
"—apoplectic fit," I suggested. I was giving the keenest attention, and Rupert had hesitated, the wind having blown over a leaf too many of the yellow leather book.
"An emergency," he shouted, when he had found his place. "Now we'll have one each time. The one for to-day is—How to act in a case of drowning."
To speak the strict truth, I would rather not have thought about drowning. I had my own private horror over a neighbouring mill-dam, and I had once been very much frightened by a spring-tide at the sea; but cowardice is not an indulgence for one of my race, so I screwed up my lips and pricked my ears to learn my duty in the unpleasant emergency of drowning.
"It doesn't mean being drowned yourself," Rupert continued, "but what to do when another person has been drowned."
The emergency was undoubtedly easier, and I gave a cheerful attention as Rupert began to question us.
"Supposing a man had been drowned in the canal, and was brought ashore, and you were the only people there, what would you do with him?"
I was completely nonplussed. "I felt quite sure I could do nothing with him, he would be so heavy; but I felt equally certain that this was not the answer which Rupert expected, so I left the question to Henrietta's readier wit. She knitted her thick eyebrows for some minutes, partly with perplexity, and partly because of the sunshine reflected from the cucumber frame, and then said,
"We should bury him in a vault; Charlie and I couldn't dig a grave deep enough."
I admired Henrietta's foresight, but Rupert was furious.
"How silly you are!" he exclaimed, knocking over the top of the rhubarb-pot table and the empty glass in his wrath. "Of course I don't mean a dead man. I mean what would you do to bring a partly drowned man to life again?"
"That wasn't what you said," cried Henrietta, tossing her head.
"I let you come to my lecture," grumbled Rupert bitterly, as he stooped to set his table right, "and this is the way you behave!"
"I'm very sorry, Rupert dear!" said Henrietta. "Indeed, I only mean to do my best, and I do like your lecture so very much!"
"So do I," I cried, "very, very much!" And by a simultaneous impulse Henrietta and I both clapped our hands vehemently. This restored Rupert's self-complacency, and he bowed and continued the lecture. From this we learned that the drowned man should be turned over on his face to let the canal water run out of his mouth and ears, and that his wet clothes should be got off, and he should be made dry and warm as quickly as possible, and placed in a comfortable position, with the head and shoulders slightly raised. All this seemed quite feasible to us. Henrietta had dressed and undressed lots of dolls, and I pictured myself filling a hot-water bottle at the kitchen boiler with an air of responsibility that should scare all lighter-minded folk. But the directions for "restoring breathing" troubled our sincere desire to learn; and this even though Henrietta practised for weeks afterwards upon me. I represented the drowned man, and she drew my arms above my head for "inspiration," and counted "one, two;" and doubled them and drove them back for "expiration;" but it tickled, and I laughed, and we could not feel at all sure that it would have made the drowned man breathe again.
Meanwhile Rupert went on with the course of lectures, and taught us how to behave in the event of a fire in the house, an epidemic in the neighbourhood, a bite from a mad dog, a chase by a mad bull, broken limbs, runaway horses, a chimney on fire, or a young lady burning to death. The lectures were not only delightful in themselves, but they furnished us with a whole set of new games, for Henrietta and I zealously practised every emergency as far as the nature of things would allow. Covering our faces with wet cloths to keep off the smoke, we crept on our hands and knees to rescue a fancy cripple from an imaginary burning house, because of the current of air which Rupert told us was to be found near the floor. We fastened Baby Cecil's left leg to his right by pocket-handkerchiefs at the ankle, and above and below the knee, pretending that it was broken, and must be kept steady till we could convey him to the doctor. But for some unexplained reason Baby Cecil took offence at this game, and I do not think he could have howled and roared louder under the worst of real compound fractures. We had done it so skilfully, that we were greatly disgusted by his unaccommodating spirit, and his obstinate refusal to be put into the litter we had made out of Henrietta's stilts and a railway rug. We put the Scotch terrier in instead; but when one end of the litter gave way and he fell out, we were not sorry that the emergency was a fancy one, and that no broken limbs were really dependent upon our well-meant efforts.
There was one thing about Rupert's lectures which disappointed me. His emergencies were all things that happened in the daytime. Now I should not have liked the others to know that I was ever afraid of anything; but, really and truly, I was sometimes a little frightened—not of breaking my leg, or a house on fire, or an apoplectic fit, or anything of that sort, but—of things in the dark. Every half-holiday I hoped there would be something about what to do with robbers or ghosts, but there never was. I do not think there can have been any emergencies of that kind in the yellow leather book.
On the whole, I fancy Rupert found us satisfactory pupils, for he never did give up the lectures in a huff, though he sometimes threatened to do so, when I asked stupid questions, or Henrietta argued a point.
HENRIETTA—A FAMILY CHRONICLE—THE SCHOOL MIMIC—MY FIRST FIGHT.
Henrietta often argued points, which made Rupert very angry. He said that even if she were in the right, that had nothing to do with it, for girls oughtn't to dispute or discuss. And then Henrietta argued that point too.
Rupert and Henrietta often squabbled, and always about the same sort of thing. I am sure he would have been very kind to her if she would have agreed with him, and done what he wanted. He often told me that the gentlemen of our family had always been courteous to women, and I think he would have done anything for Henrietta if it had not been that she would do everything for herself.
When we wanted to vex her very much, we used to call her "Monkey," because we knew she liked to be like a boy. She persuaded Mother to let her have her boots made like ours, because she said the roads were so rough and muddy (which they are). And we found two of her books with her name written in, and she had put "Henry," and Rupert wrote Etta after it, and "Monkey" after that. So she tore the leaves out. Her hair was always coming out of curl. It was very dark, and when it fell into her eyes she used to give her head a peculiar shake and toss, so that half of it fell the wrong way, and there was a parting at the side, like our partings. Nothing made Rupert angrier than this.
Henrietta was very good at inventing things. Once she invented a charade quite like a story. Rupert was very much pleased with it, because he was to act the hero, who was to be a young cavalier of a very old family—our family. He was to arrive at an inn; Henrietta made it the real old inn in the middle of the town, and I was the innkeeper, with Henrietta's pillow to make me fat, and one of Nurse's clean aprons. Then he was to ask to spend a night in the old Castle, and Henrietta made that the real Castle, which was about nine miles off, and which belonged to our cousin, though he never spoke to us. And a ghost was to appear. The ghost of the ancestor in the miniature in Mother's bedroom. Henrietta did the ghost in a white sheet; and with her hair combed, and burnt-cork moustache, she looked so exactly like the picture that Rupert started when she came in, and stared; and Mother said he had acted splendidly.
Henrietta was wonderfully like the picture. Much more like than Rupert ever was, which rather vexed him, because that ancestor was one of the very bravest, and his name was Rupert. He was rather vexed, too, when she rode the pony bare-backed which had kicked him off. But I think the pony was fonder of Henrietta, which perhaps made it easier for her to manage it. She used to feed it with bits of bread. It got them out of her pocket.
One of the things Henrietta could not do as well as Rupert was cricket. Rupert was one of the best players in the school. Henrietta used to want to play with us at home, and she and I did play for a bit, before breakfast, in the drying ground; but Rupert said, if I encouraged her in being unladylike, he would not let me come to the school matches. He said I might take my choice, and play either with girls or boys, but not with both. But I thought it would be very mean to leave Henrietta in the lurch. So I told her I would stick by her, as Rupert had not actually forbidden me. He had given me my choice, and he always kept his word. But she would not let me. She pretended that she did not mind; but I know she did, for I could see afterwards that she had been crying. However, she would not play, and Mother said she had much rather she did not, as she was so afraid of her getting hit by the ball. So that settled it, and I was very glad not to have to give up going to the school matches.
The school we went to was the old town grammar school. It was a very famous one; but it was not so expensive as big public schools are, and I believe this was why we lived in this town after my father's death, for Mother was not at all rich.
The grammar school was very large, and there were all sorts of boys there—some of gentlemen, and tradesmen, and farmers. Some of the boys were so very dirty, and had such horrid habits out of school, that when Rupert was thirteen, and I was ten, he called a council at the beginning of the half, and a lot of the boys formed a committee, and drew up the code of honour, and we all subscribed to it.
The code of honour was to forbid a lot of things that had been very common in the school. Lying, cheating over bargains, telling tales, bragging, bad language, and what the code called "conduct unbecoming schoolfellows and gentlemen." There were a lot of rules in it, too, about clean nails, and shirts, and collars and socks, and things of that sort. If any boy refused to agree to it, he had to fight with Thomas Johnson.
There could not have been a better person than Rupert to make a code of honour. We have always been taught that honour was the watch-word of our family—dearer than anything that could be gained or lost, very much dearer than mere life. The motto of our arms came from an ancestor who lost the favour of the King by refusing to do something against his conscience for which he would have been rewarded. It is "Honour before honours."
I can just remember the man, with iron-grey hair and gold spectacles, who came to our house after my father's death. I think he was a lawyer. He took lots of snuff, so that Henrietta sneezed when he kissed her, which made her very angry. He put Rupert and me in front of him, to see which of us was most like my father, and I can recall the big pinch of snuff he took, and the sound of his voice saying "Be like your father, boys! He was as good as he was gallant. And there never lived a more honourable gentleman."
Every one said the same. We were very proud of it, and always boasted about our father to the new nursemaids, or any other suitable hearer. I was a good deal annoyed by one little maid, who when I told her, over our nursery tea, that my father had been the most honourable of men, began to cry about her father, who was dead too, and said he was "just the same; for in the one and twenty years he kept a public-house, he never put so much as a pinch of salt into the beer, nor even a gill of water, unless it was in the evening at fair-time, when the only way to keep the men from fighting was to give them their liquor so that it could not do them much harm." I was very much offended by the comparison of my father, who was an officer and a gentleman of rank, with her father, who was a village publican; but I should like to say, that I think now that I was wrong and Jane was right. If her father gave up profit for principle, he was like my father, and like the ancestor we get the motto from, and like every other honourable man, of any rank or any trade.
Every time I boasted in the nursery of my father being so honourable, I always finished my saying, that that was why he had the word Honourable before his name, as men in old times used to be called "the Good" or "the Lion Heart." The nursemaids quite believed it, and I believed it myself, till the first week I went to school.
It makes me hot all over to remember what I suffered that week, and for long, afterwards. But I think it cured me of bragging, which is a mean ungentlemanly habit, and of telling everybody everything about myself and my relations, which is very weak-minded.
The second day I was there, one of the boys came up to me and said, with a mock ceremony and politeness which unfortunately took me in, "If I am not mistaken, sir, that esteemed lady, your mother, is an Honourable?"
He was nearly five years older than I; his name was Weston; he had a thin cadaverous face, a very large nose, and a very melancholy expression. I found out afterwards that he was commonly called "the clown," and was considered by boys who had been to the London theatres to surpass the best professional comic actors when he chose to put forth his powers. I did not know this then. I thought him a little formal, but particularly courteous in his manner, and not wishing to be behindhand in politeness, I replied, with as much of his style as I could assume, "Certainly, sir. But that is because my father was an Honourable. My father, sir, was the most honourable of men."
A slight spasm appeared to pass over Weston's face, and then he continued the conversation in a sadder tone than the subject seemed to require, but I supposed that this was due to his recalling that my father was dead.
I confess that it did not need many leading inquiries to draw from me such a narrative of my father's valour and high principle, as well as the noble sentiments and conspicuous bravery which have marked our family from Saxon times, as I was well accustomed to pour forth for the edification of our nursemaids. I had not proceeded far, when my new friend said, "Won't you walk in and take a seat?" It was recreation time, and the other boys were all out in the playground. I had no special friend as yet; Rupert had stuck to me all the first day, and had now left me to find my own level. I had lingered near the door as we came out, and there Weston had joined me. He now led me back into the deserted school-room, and we sat down together on an old black oak locker, at the bottom of the room.
How well I remember the scene! The dirty floor, the empty benches, the torn books sprinkled upon the battered desks, the dusty sunshine streaming in, the white-faced clock on the wall opposite, over which the hands moved with almost incredible rapidity. But when does time ever fly so fast as with people who are talking about themselves or their relations?
Once the mathematical master passed through the room. He glanced at us curiously, but Weston's face was inscrutable, and I—tracing some surprise that I should have secured so old and so fine-mannered a boy for a friend—held up my head, and went on with my narrative, as fluently as I could, to show that I had parts which justified Weston in his preference.
Tick, tack! went the clock. Click, clack! went my tongue. I fear that quite half-an-hour must have passed, when a big boy, with an open face, blue eyes, and closely curling fair hair, burst in. On seeing us he exclaimed, "Hulloh!" and then stopped, I suspect in obedience to Weston's eyes, which met his in a brief but expressive gaze. Then Weston turned to me.
"Allow me," said he, "to introduce Mr. Thomas Johnson. He bears a very high character in this school, and it will afford him the keenest satisfaction to hear an authentic account of such a man as your esteemed father, whose character should be held up for the imitation of young gentlemen in every establishment for the education of youth."
I blushed with pride and somewhat with nervousness as Mr. Thomas Johnson seated himself on the locker on the other side of me and begged (with less elegance of expression than my first friend) that I would "go ahead."
I did so. But a very few minutes exhausted the patience of my new hearer. When he had kicked a loose splinter of wood satisfactorily off the leg of one of the desks he began to look at the clock, which quickened my pace from my remoter ancestors to what the colonel of the regiment in which my father was an ensign had said of him. I completed my narrative at last with the lawyer's remark, and added, "and everybody says the same. And that is why my father had 'The Honourable' before his name, just as—" &c., &c.
I had no sooner uttered these words than Johnson started from his seat, and, covering his face with a spotted silk pocket-handkerchief, rushed precipitately from the school-room. For one brief instant I fancied I heard him choking with laughter, but when I turned to Weston he got up too, with a look of deep concern. "Mr. Johnson is taken very unwell, I fear," said he. "It is a peculiar kind of spasm to which he is subject. Excuse me!"
He hurried anxiously after his friend, and I was left alone in the school-room, into which the other boys shortly began to pour.
"Have you been all alone, old fellow?" said Rupert kindly; "I hoped you had picked up a chum."
"So I have," was my proud reply; "two chums."
"I hope they're decent fellows," said Rupert. (He had a most pestilent trick of perpetually playing monitor, to the wet-blanketing of all good fellowship.)
"You know best," said I pertly; "it's Weston and Johnson. We've been together a long time."
"Weston?" cried Rupert. "I hope to goodness, Charlie, you've not been playing the fool?"
"You can ask them," said I, and tossing my head I went to my proper place.
For the rest of school-time I wore a lofty and Rupert an anxious demeanour. Secure on the level of a higher friendship, I was mean enough to snub the friendly advances of one or two of the younger boys.
When we went home at night, I found my mother much more ready than Rupert to believe that my merits had gained for me the regard of two of the upper boys. I was exultingly happy. Not a qualm disturbed the waking dreams in which (after I was in bed) I retold my family tale at even greater length than before, except that I remembered one or two incidents, which in the excitement of the hour I had forgotten when in school.
I was rather sorry, too, that, bound by the strictest of injunctions from Rupert and my own promise, I had not been able, ever so casually, to make my new friends aware that among my other advantages was that of being first cousin to a peer, the very one who lived at the Castle. The Castle was a show place, and I knew that many of my schoolfellows were glad enough to take their friends and go themselves to be shown by the housekeeper the pictures of my ancestors. On this point they certainly had an advantage over me. I had not seen the pictures. Our cousin never called on us, and never asked us to the Castle, and of course we could not go to our father's old home like common holiday-making townspeople.
I would rather not say very much about the next day. It must seem almost incredible that I could have failed to see that Weston and Johnson were making fun of me; and I confess that it was not for want of warnings that I had made a fool of myself.
I had looked forward to going to school with about equal measures of delight and dread; my pride and ambition longed for this first step in life, but Rupert had filled me with a wholesome awe of its stringent etiquette, its withering ridicule, and unsparing severities. However, in his anxiety to make me modest and circumspect, I think he rather over-painted the picture, and when I got through the first day without being bullied, and made such creditable friends on the second, I began to think that Rupert's experience of school life must be due to some lack of those social and conversational powers with which I seemed to be better endowed. And then Weston's acting would have deceived a wiser head than mine. And the nursemaids had always listened so willingly!
As it happened, Rupert was unwell next day and could not go to school. He was obviously afraid of my going alone, but I had no fears. My self-satisfaction was not undone till playtime. Then not a boy dispersed to games. They all gathered round Weston in the playground, and with a confident air I also made my way to his side. As he turned his face to me I was undeceived.
Weston was accustomed—at such times as suited his caprice and his resources—to give exhibitions of his genius for mimicry to the rest of the boys. I had heard from Rupert of these entertainments, which were much admired by the school. They commonly consisted of funny dialogues between various worthies of the place well known to everybody, which made Weston's audience able to judge of the accuracy of his imitations. From the head-master to the idiot who blew the organ bellows in church, every inhabitant of the place who was gifted with any recognizable peculiarity was personated at one time or another by the wit of our school. The favourite imitation of all was supposed to be one of the Dialogues of Plato, "omitted by some strange over-sight in, the edition which graces the library of our learned and respected doctor," Weston would say with profound gravity. The Dialogue was between Dr. Jessop and Silly Billy—the idiot already referred to—and the apposite Latin quotations of the head-master and his pompous English, with the inapposite replies of the organ-blower, given in the local dialect and Billy's own peculiar jabber, were supposed to form a masterpiece of mimicry.
Little did I think that my family chronicle was to supply Weston with a new field for his talents!
In the midst of my shame, I could hardly help admiring the clever way in which he had remembered all the details, and twisted them into a comic ballad, which he had composed overnight, and which he now recited with a mock heroic air and voice, which made every point tell, and kept the boys in convulsions of laughter. Not a smile crossed his long, lantern-jawed face; but Mr. Thomas Johnson made no effort this time to hide a severe fit of his peculiar spasms in his spotted handkerchief.
Sometimes—at night—in the very bottom of my own heart, when the darkness seemed thick with horrors, and when I could not make up my mind whether to keep my ears strained to catch the first sound of anything dreadful, or to pull the blankets over my head and run the risk of missing it,—in such moments, I say, I have had a passing private doubt whether I had inherited my share of the family instinct of courage at a crisis.
It was therefore a relief to me to feel that in this moment of despair, when I was only waiting till the boys, being no longer amused by Weston, should turn to amuse themselves with me, my first and strongest feeling was a sense of relief that Rupert was not at school, and that I could bear the fruits of my own folly on my own shoulders. To be spared his hectoring and lecturing, his hurt pride, his reproaches, and rage with me, and a probable fight with Weston, in which he must have been seriously hurt and I should have been blamed—this was some comfort.
I had got my lesson well by heart. Fifty thousand preachers in fifty thousand pulpits could never have taught me so effectually as Weston's ballad, and the laughter of his audience, that there is less difference than one would like to believe between the vanity of bragging of one's self and the vanity of bragging of one's relations. Also that it is not dignified or discreet to take new acquaintance into your entire confidence and that even if one is blessed with friends of such quick sympathy that they really enjoy hearing about people they have never seen, it is well not to abuse the privilege, and now and then to allow them an "innings" at describing their remarkable parents, brothers, sisters, and remoter relatives.
I realized all this fully as I stood, with burning cheeks and downcast eyes, at the very elbow of my tormentor. But I am glad to know that I would not have run away even if I could. My resolution grew stubborner with every peal of laughter to bear whatever might come with pluck and good temper. I had been a fool, but I would show that I was not a coward.
I was very glad that Rupert's influenza kept him at home for a few days. I told him briefly that I had been bullied, but that it was my own fault, and I would rather say no more about it. I begged him to promise that he would not take up my quarrel in any way, but leave me to fight it out for myself, which he did. When he came back I think he regretted his promise. Happily he never heard all the ballad, but the odd verses which the boys sang about the place put him into a fury. It was a long time before he forgave me, and I doubt if he ever quite forgave Weston.
I held out as well as I could. I made no complaint, and kept my temper. I must say that Henrietta behaved uncommonly well to me at this time.
"After all, you know, Charlie," she said, "you've not done anything really wrong or dishonourable." This was true, and it comforted me.
Except Henrietta, I really had not a friend; for Rupert was angry with me, and the holding up at school only made me feel worse at home.
At last the joke began to die out, and I was getting on very well, but for one boy, a heavy-looking fellow with a pasty face, who was always creeping after me, and asking me to tell him about my father. "Johnson Minor," we called him. He was a younger brother of Thomas Johnson, the champion of the code of honour.
He was older than I, but he was below me in class, and though he was bigger, he was not a very great deal bigger; and if there is any truth in the stories I have so often told, our family has been used to fight against odds for many generations.
I thought about this a good deal, and measured Johnson Minor with my eye. At last I got Henrietta to wrestle and box with me for practice.
She was always willing to do anything Tomboyish, indeed she was generally willing to do anything one wanted, and her biceps were as hard as mine, for I pinched them to see. We got two pairs of gloves, much too big for us, and stuffed cotton wool in to make them like boxing-gloves, as we used to stuff out the buff-coloured waistcoat when we acted old gentlemen in it. But it did not do much good; for I did not like to hurt Henrietta when I got a chance, and I do not think she liked to hurt me. So I took to dumb-belling every morning in my night-shirt; and at last I determined I would have it out with Johnson Minor, once for all.
One afternoon, when the boys had been very friendly with me, and were going to have me in the paper chase on Saturday, he came up in the old way and began asking me about my father, quite gravely, like a sort of poor imitation of Weston. So I turned round and said, "Whatever my father was—he's dead. Your father's alive, Johnson, and if you weren't a coward, you wouldn't go on bullying a fellow who hasn't got one."
"I'm a coward, am I, Master Honourable?" said Johnson, turning scarlet, and at the word Honourable I thought he had broken my nose. I never felt such pain in my life, but it was the only pain I felt on the occasion; afterwards I was much too much excited, I am sorry that I cannot remember very clearly about it, which I should have liked to do, as it was my first fight.
There was no time to fight properly. I was obliged to do the best I could. I made a sort of rough plan in my head, that I would cling to Johnson as long as I was able, and hit him whenever I got a chance. I did not quite know when he was hitting me from when I was hitting him; but I know that I held on, and that the ground seemed to be always hitting us both.
How long we had been struggling and cuffing and hitting (less scientifically but more effectually than when Henrietta and I flourished our stuffed driving gloves, with strict and constant reference to the woodcuts in a sixpenny Boxer's Guide) before I got slightly stunned, I do not know; when I came round I was lying in Weston's arms, and Johnson Minor was weeping bitterly (as he believed) over my corpse. I fear Weston had not allayed his remorse.
My great anxiety was to shake hands with Johnson. I never felt more friendly towards any one.
He met me in the handsomest way. He apologized for speaking of my father—"since you don't like it," he added, with an appearance of sincerity which puzzled me at the time, and which I did not understand till afterwards—and I apologized for calling him a coward. We were always good friends, and our fight made an end of the particular chaff which had caused it.
It reconciled Rupert to me too, which was my greatest gain.
Rupert is quite right. There is nothing like being prepared for emergencies. I suppose, as I was stunned, that Johnson got the best of it; but judging from his appearance as we washed ourselves at the school pump, I was now quite prepared for the emergency of having to defend myself against any boy not twice my own size.
SCHOOL CRICKET—LEMON-KALI—THE BOYS' BRIDGE—AN UNEXPECTED EMERGENCY.
Rupert and I were now the best of good friends again. I cared more for his favour than for the goodwill of any one else, and kept as much with him as I could.
I played cricket with him in the school matches. At least I did not bat or bowl, but I and some of the junior fellows "fielded out," and when Rupert was waiting for the ball, I would have given my life to catch quickly and throw deftly. I used to think no one ever looked so handsome as he did in his orange-coloured shirt, white flannel trousers, and the cap which Henrietta made him. He and I had spent all our savings on that new shirt, for Mother would not get him a new one. She did not like cricket, or anything at which people could hurt themselves. But Johnson Major had get a new sky-blue shirt and cap, and we did not like Rupert to be outdone by him, for Johnson's father is only a canal-carrier.
But the shirt emptied our pockets, and made the old cap look worse than ever. Then Henrietta, without saying a word to us, bought some orange flannel, and picked the old cap to pieces, and cut out a new one by it, and made it all herself, with a button, and a stiff peak and everything, and it really did perfectly, and looked very well in the sunshine over Rupert's brown face and glossy black hair.
There always was sunshine when we played cricket. The hotter it was the better we liked it. We had a bottle of lemon-kali powder on the ground, and I used to have to make a fizzing-cup in a tin mug for the other boys. I got the water from the canal.
Lemon-kali is delicious on a very hot day—so refreshing! But I sometimes fancied I felt a little sick afterwards, if I had had a great deal. And Bustard (who was always called Bustard-Plaster, because he was the doctor's son) said it was the dragons out of the canal water lashing their tails inside us. He had seen them under his father's microscope.
The field where we played was on the banks of the canal, the opposite side to the town. I believe it was school property. At any rate we had the right of playing there.
We had to go nearly a quarter of a mile out of the way before there was a bridge, and it was very vexatious to toil a quarter of a mile down on one side and a quarter of a mile up on the other to get at a meadow which lay directly opposite to the school. Weston wrote a letter about it to the weekly paper asking the town to build us a bridge. He wrote splendid letters, and this was one of his very best. He said that if the town council laughed at the notion of building a bridge for boys, they must remember that the Boys of to-day were the Men of to-morrow (which we all thought a grand sentence, though MacDonald, a very accurate-minded fellow, said it would really be some years before most of us were grown up). Then Weston called us the Rising Generation, and showed that, in all probability, the Prime Minister, Lord Chancellor, and Primate of the years to come now played "all unconscious of their future fame" in the classic fields that lay beyond the water, and promised that in the hours of our coming greatness we would look back with gratitude to the munificence of our native city. He put lots of Latin in, and ended with some Latin verses of his own, in which he made the Goddess of the Stream plead for us as her sons. By the stream he meant the canal, for we had no river, which of course Weston couldn't help.
How we watched for the next week's paper! But it wasn't in. They never did put his things in, which mortified him sadly. His greatest ambition was to get something of his own invention printed. Johnson said he believed it was because Weston always put something personal in the things he wrote. He was very sarcastic, and couldn't help making fun of people.
It was all the kinder of Weston to do his best about the bridge, because he was not much of a cricketer himself. He said he was too short-sighted, and that it suited him better to poke in the hedges for beetles. He had a splendid collection of insects. Bustard used to say that he poked with his nose, as if he were an insect himself, and it was a proboscis but he said too that his father said it was a pleasure to see Weston make a section of anything, and prepare objects for the microscope. His fingers were as clever as his tongue.
It was not long after Rupert got his new shirt and cap that a very sad thing happened.
We were playing cricket one day as usual. It was very hot, and I was mixing some lemon-kali at the canal, and holding up the mug to tempt Weston over, who was on the other side with his proboscis among the water-plants collecting larvae. Rupert was batting, and a new fellow, who bowled much more swiftly than we were accustomed to, had the ball. I was straining my ears to catch what Weston was shouting to me between his hands, when I saw him start and point to the cricketers, and turning round I saw Rupert lying on the ground.
The ball had hit him on the knee and knocked him down. He struggled up, and tried to stand; but whilst he was saying it was nothing, and scolding the other fellows for not going on, he fell down again fainting from pain.
"The leg's broken, depend upon it," said Bustard-Plaster; "shall I run for my father?"
I thanked him earnestly, for I did not like to leave Rupert myself. But Johnson Major, who was kicking off his cricketing-shoes, said, "It'll take an hour to get round. I'll go. Get him some water, and keep his cap on. The sun is blazing." And before we could speak he was in the canal and swimming across.
I went back to the bank for my mug, in which the lemon-kali was fizzing itself out, and with this I got some water for Rupert, and at last he opened his eyes. As I was getting the water I saw Weston, unmooring a boat which was fastened a little farther up. He was evidently coming to help us to get Rupert across the canal.
Bustard's words rang in my ears. Perhaps Rupert's leg was broken. Bustard was a doctor's son, and ought to know. And I have often thought it must be a very difficult thing to know, for people's legs don't break right off when they break. My first feeling had been utter bewilderment and misery, but I collected my senses with the reflection that if I lost my presence of mind in the first real emergency that happened to me, my attendance at Rupert's lectures had been a mockery, and I must be the first fool and coward of my family. And if I failed in the emergency of a broken leg, how could I ever hope to conduct myself with credit over a case of drowning? I did feel thankful that Rupert's welfare did not depend on our pulling his arms up and down in a particular way; but as Weston was just coming ashore, I took out my pocket-handkerchief, and kneeling down by Rupert said, with as good an air as I could assume, "We must tie the broken leg to the other at the—"
"Don't touch it, you young fool!" shrieked Rupert. And though directly afterwards he begged my pardon for speaking sharply, he would not hear of my touching his leg. So they got him into the boat the best way they could, and Weston sat by him to hold him up, and the boy who had been bowling pulled them across. I wasn't big enough to do either, so I had to run round by the bridge.
I fancy it must be easier to act with presence of mind if the emergency has happened to somebody who has not been used to order you about as much as Rupert was used to order me.
A DOUBTFUL BLESSING—A FAMILY FAILING—OLD BATTLES—THE CANAL-CARRIER'S HOME.
When we found that Rupert's leg was not broken, and that it was only a severe blow on his knee, we were all delighted. But when weeks and months went by and he was still lame and very pale and always tired, we began to count for how long past, if the leg had been broken, it would have been set, and poor Rupert quite well. And when Johnny Bustard said that legs and arms were often stronger after being broken than before (if they were properly set, as his father could do them), we felt that if Gregory would bowl for people's shins he had better break them at once, and let Mr. Bustard make a good job of them.
The first part of the time Rupert made light of his accident, and wanted to go back to school, and was very irritable and impatient. But as the year went on he left off talking about its being all nonsense, and though he suffered a great deal he never complained. I used quite to miss his lecturing me, but he did not even squabble with Henrietta now.
This reminds me of a great fault of mine—I am afraid it was a family failing, though it is a very mean one—I was jealous. If I was "particular friends" with any one, I liked to have him all to myself; when Rupert was "out" with me because of the Weston affair, I was "particular friends" with Henrietta. I did not exactly give her up when Rupert and I were all right again, but when she complained one day (I think she was jealous too!) I said, "I'm particular friends with you as a sister still; but you know Rupert and I are both boys."
I did love Rupert very dearly, and I would have given up anything and everything to serve him and wait upon him now that he was laid up; but I would rather have had him all to myself, whereas Henrietta was now his particular friend. It is because I know how meanly I felt about it that I should like to say how good she was. My Mother was very delicate, and she had a horror of accidents; but Henrietta stood at Mr. Bustard's elbow all the time he was examining Rupert's knee, and after that she always did the fomentations and things. At first Rupert said she hurt him, and would have Nurse to do it; but Nurse hurt him so much more, that then he would not let anybody but Henrietta touch it. And he never called her Monkey now, and I could see how she tried to please him. One day she came down to breakfast with her hair all done up in the way that was in fashion then, like a grown-up young lady, and I think Rupert was pleased, though she looked rather funny and very red. And so Henrietta nursed him altogether, and used to read battles to him as he lay on the sofa, and Rupert made plans of the battles on cardboard, and moved bits of pith out of the elder-tree about for the troops, and showed Henrietta how if he had had the moving of them really, and had done it quite differently to the way the generals did, the other side would have won instead of being beaten.
And Mother used to say, "That's just the way your poor father used to go on! As if it wasn't enough to have to run the risk of being killed or wounded once or twice yourself, without bothering your head about battles you've nothing to do with."
And when he did the battle in which my father fell, and planted the battery against which he led his men for the last time, and where he was struck under the arm, with which he was waving his sword over his head, Rupert turned whiter than ever, and said, "Good Heavens, Henrietta! Father limped up to that battery! He led his men for two hours, after he was wounded in the leg, before he fell—and here I sit and grumble at a knock from a cricket-ball!"
Just then Mr. Bustard came in, and when he shook Rupert's hand he kept his fingers on it, and shook his own head; and he said there was "an abnormal condition of the pulse," in such awful tones, that I was afraid it was something that Rupert would die of. But Henrietta understood better, and she would not let Rupert do that battle any more.
Rupert's friends were very kind to him when he was ill, but the kindest of all was Thomas Johnson.
Johnson's grandfather was a canal-carrier, and made a good deal of money, and Johnson's father got the money and went on with the business. We had a great discussion once in the nursery as to whether Johnson's father was a gentleman, and Rupert ran down-stairs, and into the drawing-room, shouting, "Now, Mother! is a carrier a gentleman?"
And Mother, who was lying on the sofa, said, "Of course not. What silly things you children do ask! Why can't you amuse yourselves in the nursery? It is very hard you should come and disturb me for such a nonsensical question."
Rupert was always good to Mother, and he shut the drawing-room door very gently. Then he came rushing up to the nursery to say that Mother said "Of course not." But Henrietta said, "What did you ask her?" And when Rupert told her she said, "Of course Mother thought you meant one of those men who have carts to carry things, with a hood on the top and a dog underneath."
Johnson's father and grandfather were not carriers of that kind. They owned a lot of canal-boats, and one or two big barges, which took all kinds of things all the way to London.
Mr. Johnson used to say, "In my father's time men of business lived near their work both in London and the country. That's why my house is close to the wharf. I am not ashamed of my trade, and the place is very comfortable, so I shall stick to it. Tom may move into the town and give the old house to the foreman when I am gone, if he likes to play the fine gentleman."
Tom would be very foolish if he did. It is the dearest old house one could wish for. It was built of red brick, but the ivy has covered it so thickly that it is clipped round the old-fashioned windows like a hedge. The gardens are simply perfect. In summer you can pick as many flowers and eat as much fruit as you like, and if that is not the use and beauty of a garden, I do not know what is.
Johnson's father was very proud of him, and let him have anything he liked, and in the midsummer holidays Johnson used to bring his father's trap and take Rupert out for drives, and Mrs. Johnson used to put meat pies and strawberries in a basket under the seat, so that it was a kind of picnic, for the old horse had belonged to Mr. Bustard, and was a capital one for standing still.
It was partly because of the Johnsons being so kind to Rupert that Johnson Minor and I became chums at school, and partly because the fight had made us friendly, and I had no Rupert now, and was rather jealous of his taking completely to Henrietta, and most of all, I fancy, because Johnson Minor was determined to be friends with me. He was a very odd fellow. There was nothing he liked so much as wonderful stories about people, and I never heard such wonderful stories as he told himself. When we became friends he told me that he had never meant to bully me when he asked about my father; he really did want to hear about his battles and so forth.
But the utmost I could tell him about my father was nothing to the tales he told me about his grandfather, the navy captain.
THE NAVY CAPTAIN—SEVEN PARROTS IN A FUCHSIA TREE—THE HARBOUR LION AND THE SILVER CHAIN—THE LEGLESS GIANTS—DOWN BELOW—JOHNSON'S WHARF.
The Johnsons were very fond of their father, he was such a good, kind man; but I think they would have been glad if he had had a profession instead of being a canal-carrier, and I am sure it pleased them to think that Mrs. Johnson's father had been a navy captain, and that his portrait—uniform and all—hung over the horsehair sofa in the dining-room, near the window where the yellow roses used to come in.
If I could get the room to myself, I used to kneel on the sofa, on one of the bolsters, and gaze at the faded little picture till I lost my balance on the slippery horsehair from the intensity of my interest in the hero of Johnson Minor's tales. Every time, I think, I expected to see some change in the expression of the captain's red face, adapting it better to what, by his grandson's account, his character must have been. It seemed so odd he should look so wooden after having seen so much.
The captain had been a native of South Devon.
"Raleigh, Drake, my grandfather, and lots of other great sailors were born in Devonshire," Johnson said. He certainly did brag; but he spoke so slowly and quietly, that it did not sound as like bragging as it would have done if he had talked faster, I think.
The captain had lived at Dartmouth, and of this place Johnson gave me such descriptions, that to this day the name of Dartmouth has a romantic sound in my ears, though I know now that all the marvels were Johnson's own invention, and barely founded upon the real quaintness of the place, of which he must have heard from his mother. It became the highest object of my ambition to see the captain's native city. That there must be people—shopkeepers, for instance, and a man to keep the post office—who lived there all along, was a fact that I could not realize sufficiently to envy them.
Johnson—or Fred, as I used to call him by this time—only exaggerated the truth about the shrubs that grow in the greenhouse atmosphere of South Devon, when he talked of the captain's fuchsia trees being as big as the old willows by the canal wharf; but the parrots must have been a complete invention. He said the captain had seven. Two green, two crimson, two blue, and one violet with an orange-coloured beak and grey lining to his wings; and that they built nests in the fuchsia trees of sandal-wood shavings, and lined them with the captain's silk pocket-handkerchiefs. He said that though the parrots stole the captain's handkerchiefs, they were all very much attached to him; but they quarrelled among themselves, and swore at each other in seven dialects of the West Coast of Africa.
Mrs. Johnson herself once showed me a little print of Dartmouth harbour, and told me it was supposed that in old times an iron chain was stretched from rock to rock across its mouth as a means of defence. And that afternoon Fred told me a splendid story about the chain, and how it was made of silver, and that each link was worth twenty pounds, and how at the end where it was fastened with a padlock every night at sunset, to keep out the French, a lion sat on the ledge of rock at the harbour's mouth, with the key tied round his neck by a sea-green ribbon. He had to have a new ribbon on the first Sunday in every month, Fred said, because his mane dirtied them so fast. A story which Fred had of his grandfather's single-handed encounter with this lion on one occasion, when the gallant captain would let a brig in distress into the harbour after sunset, and the lion would not let him have the key, raised my opinion of his courage and his humanity to the highest point. But what he did at home was nothing to the exploits which Fred recounted of him in foreign lands.
I fancy Fred must have read some real accounts of South America, the tropical forests, the wonderful birds and flowers, and the ruins of those buried cities which have no history; and that on these real marvels he built up his own romances of the Great Stone City, where the captain encountered an awful race of giants with no legs, who carved stones into ornaments with clasp-knives, as the Swiss cut out pretty things in wood, and cracked the cocoa-nuts with their fingers. I am sure he invented flowers as he went along when he was telling me about the forests. He used to look round the garden (which would have satisfied any one who had not seen or heard of what the captain had come across) and say in his slow way, "The blue chalice flower was about the shape of that magnolia, only twice as big, and just the colour of the gentians in the border, and it had a great white tassel hanging out like the cactus in the parlour window, and all the leaves were yellow underneath; and it smelt like rosemary."
If the captain's experiences in other countries outshone what had befallen him in his native land, both these paled before the wonders he had seen, and the emergencies he had been placed in at sea. Fred told me that his grandfather had a diving-bell of his own on board his own ship, and the things he saw when he went down in it must have made his remembrances of the South American forests appear tame by comparison.
Once, in the middle of the Pacific, the captain dropped down in his bell into the midst of a society of sea people who had no hair, but the backs of their heads were shaped like sou'-wester hats. The front rim formed one eyebrow for both eyes, and they could move the peak behind as beavers move their tails, and it helped them to go up and down in the water. They were not exactly mermaids, Fred said, they had no particular tail, it all ended in a kind of fringe of seaweed, which swept after them when they moved, like the train of a lady's dress. The captain was so delighted with them that he stayed below much longer than usual; but in an unlucky moment some of the sea people let the water into the diving-bell, and the captain was nearly drowned. He did become senseless, but when his body floated, it was picked up and restored to life by the first mate, who had been cruising, with tears in his eyes, over the spot in the ship's boat for seven days without taking anything to eat.—"He was a Dartmouth man, too," said Fred Johnson.
"He evidently knew what to do in the emergency of drowning," thought I.
I feel as if any one who hears of Fred's stories must think he was a liar. But he really was not. Mr. Johnson was very strict with the boys in some ways, though he was so good-natured, and Fred had been taught to think a lie to get himself out of a scrape or anything of that sort quite as wrong as we should have thought it. But he liked telling things. I believe he made them up and amused himself with them in his own head if he had no one to listen. He used to say, "Come and sit in the kitchen garden this afternoon, and I'll tell you." And whether he meant me to think them true or not, I certainly did believe in his stories.
One thing always struck me as very odd about Fred Johnson. He was very fond of fruit, and when we sat on the wall and ate the white currants with pounded sugar in a mug between us, I believe he always ate more than I did, though he was "telling" all the time, and I had nothing to do but to listen and eat.
He certainly talked very slowly, in a dreary, monotonous sort of voice, which suited his dull, pasty face better than it suited the subject of his exciting narratives. But I think it seemed to make one all the more impatient to hear what was coming. A very favourite place of ours for "telling" was the wharf (Johnson's wharf, as it was called), where the canal boats came and went, and loaded and unloaded. We made a "coastguard station" among some old timber in the corner, and here we used to sit and watch for the boats.
When a real barge came we generally went over it, for the men knew Fred, and were very good-natured. The barges seemed more like ships than the canal boats did. They had masts, and could sail when they got into the river. Sometimes we went down into the cabin, and peeped into the little berths with sliding shutter fronts, and the lockers, which were like a fixed seat running round two sides of the cabin, with lids opening and showing places to put away things in. I was not famous in the nursery for keeping my things very tidy, but I fancied I could stow my clothes away to perfection in a locker, and almost cook my own dinner with the bargeman's little stove.
And every time a barge was loaded up, and the bargemaster took his post at the rudder, whilst the old horse strained himself to start—and when the heavy boat swung slowly down the canal and passed out of sight, I felt more and more sorry to be left behind upon the wharf.
S. PHILIP AND S. JAMES—THE MONKEY-BARGE AND THE DOG—WAR, PLAGUE, AND FIRE—THE DULNESS OF EVERYDAY LIFE.
There were two churches in our town. Not that the town was so very large or the churches so very small as to make this needful. On the contrary, the town was of modest size, with no traces of having ever been much bigger, and the churches were very large and very handsome. That is, they were fine outside, and might have been very imposing within but for the painted galleries which blocked up the arches above and the tall pews which dwarfed the majestic rows of pillars below. They were not more than a quarter of a mile apart. One was dedicated to S. Philip and the other to S. James, and they were commonly called "the brother churches." In the tower of each hung a peal of eight bells.
One clergyman served both the brother churches, and the services were at S. Philip one week and at S. James the next. We were so accustomed to this that it never struck us as odd. What did seem odd, and perhaps a little dull, was that people in other places should have to go to the same church week after week.
There was only one day in the year on which both the peals of bells were heard, the Feast of SS. Philip and James, which is also May Day. Then there was morning prayer at S. Philip and evening prayer at S. James, and the bells rang changes and cannons, and went on ringing by turns all the evening, the bell-ringers being escorted from one church to another with May garlands and a sort of triumphal procession. The churches were decorated, and flags put out on the towers, and everybody in the congregation was expected to carry a nosegay.
Rupert and I and Henrietta and Baby Cecil and the servants always enjoyed this thoroughly, and thought the churches delightfully sweet; but my Mother said the smell of the cottage nosegays and the noise of the bells made her feel very ill, which was a pity.
Fred Johnson once told me some wonderful stories about the brother churches. We had gone over the canal to a field not far from the cricketing field, but it was a sort of water-meadow, and lower down, and opposite to the churches, which made us think of them. We had gone there partly to get yellow flags to try and grow them in tubs as Johnson's father did water-lilies, and partly to watch for a canal-boat or "monkey-barge," which was expected up with coal. Fred knew the old man, and we hoped to go home as part of the cargo if the old man's dog would let us; but he was a rough terrier, with an exaggerated conscience, and strongly objected to anything coming on board the boat which was not in the bill of lading. He could not even reconcile himself to the fact that people not connected with barges took the liberty of walking on the canal banks.
"He've been a-going up and down with me these fifteen year," said the old man, "and he barks at 'em still." He barked so fiercely at us that Fred would not go on board, to my great annoyance, for I never feel afraid of dogs, and was quite sure I could see a disposition to wag about the stumpy tail of the terrier in spite of his "bowfs."
I may have been wrong, but once or twice I fancied that Fred shirked adventures which seemed nothing to me; and I felt this to be very odd, because I am not as brave as I should like to be, and Fred is grandson to the navy captain.
I think Fred wanted to make me forget the canal-boat, which I followed with regretful eyes, for he began talking about the churches.
"It must be splendid to hear all sixteen bells going at once," said he.
"They never do," said I, unmollified.
"They do—sometimes," said Fred slowly, and so impressively that I was constrained to ask "When?"
"In great emergencies," was Fred's reply, which startled me. But we had only lived in the place for part of our lives, and Fred's family belonged to it, so he must know better than I.
"Is it to call the doctor?" I asked, thinking of drowning, and broken bones, and apoplectic fits.
"It's to call everybody," said Fred; "that is in time of war, when the town is in danger. And when the Great Plague was here, S. Philip and S. James both tolled all day long with their bells muffled. But when there's a fire they ring backwards, as witches say prayers, you know."
War and the plague had not been here for a very long time, and there had been no fire in the town in my remembrance; but Fred said that awful calamities of the kind had happened within the memory of man, when the town was still built in great part of wood, and that one night, during a high gale, the whole place, except a few houses, had been destroyed by fire. After this the streets were rebuilt of stone and bricks.
These new tales which Fred told me, of places I knew, had a terrible interest peculiarly their own. For the captain's dangers were over for good now, but war, plague, and fire in the town might come again.
I thought of them by day, and dreamed of them by night. Once I remember being awakened, as I fancied, by the clanging of the two peals in discordant unison, and as I opened my eyes a bright light on the wall convinced me that the town was on fire. Fred's vivid descriptions rushed to my mind, and I looked out expecting to see S. Philip and S. James standing up like dark rocks in a sea of dancing flames, their bells ringing backwards, "as witches say prayers." It was only when I saw both the towers standing grey and quiet above the grey and quiet town, and when I found that the light upon the wall came from the street lamp below, that my head seemed to grow clearer, and I knew that no bells were ringing, and that those I fancied I heard were only the prolonged echoes of a bad dream.
I was very glad that it was so, and I did not exactly wish for war or the plague to come back; and yet the more I heard of Fred's tales the more restless I grew, because the days were so dull, and because we never went anywhere, and nothing ever happened.
WE RESOLVE TO RUN AWAY—SCRUPLES—BABY CECIL—I PREPARE—I RUN AWAY.
I think it was Fred's telling me tales of the navy captain's boyhood which put it into our heads that the only way for people at our age, and in our position, to begin a life of adventure is to run away.
The captain had run away. He ran away from school. But then the school was one which it made your hair stand on end to hear of. The master must have been a monster of tyranny, the boys little prodigies of wickedness and misery, and the food such as would have been rejected by respectably reared pigs.
It put his grandson and me at a disadvantage that we had no excuses of the kind for running away from the grammar school. Dr. Jessop was a little pompous, but he was sometimes positively kind. There was not even a cruel usher. I was no dunce, nor was Fred-though he was below me in class—so that we had not even a grievance in connection with our lessons. This made me feel as if there would be something mean and almost dishonourable in running away from school. "I think it would not be fair to the Doctor," said I; "it would look as if he had driven us to it, and he hasn't. We had better wait till the holidays."
Fred seemed more willing to wait than I had expected; but he planned what we were to do when we did go as vigorously as ever.
It was not without qualms that I thought of running away from home. My mother would certainly be greatly alarmed; but then she was greatly alarmed by so many things to which she afterwards became reconciled! My conscience reproached me more about Rupert and Henrietta. Not one of us had longed for "events" and exploits so earnestly as my sister; and who but Rupert had prepared me for emergencies, not perhaps such as the captain had had to cope with, but of the kinds recognized by the yellow leather book? We had been very happy together—Rupert, Henrietta, Baby Cecil, and I—and we had felt in common the one defect of our lives that there were no events in them; and now I was going to begin a life of adventure, to run away and seek my fortune, without even telling them what I was going to do.
On the other hand, that old mean twinge of jealousy was one of my strongest impulses to adventure-seeking, and it urged me to perform my exploits alone. Some people seem to like dangers and adventures whilst the dangers are going on; Henrietta always seemed to think that the pleasantest part; but I confess that I think one of the best parts must be when they are over and you are enjoying the credit of them. When the captain's adventures stirred me most I looked forward with a thrill of anticipation to my return home—modest from a justifiable pride in my achievements, and so covered with renown by my deeds of daring that I should play second fiddle in the family no more, and that Rupert and Henrietta would outbid each other for my "particular" friendship, and Baby Cecil dog my heels to hear the stories of my adventures.
The thought of Baby Cecil was the heaviest pang I felt when I was dissatisfied with the idea of running away from home. Baby Cecil was the pet of the house. He had been born after my father's death, and from the day he was born everybody conspired to make much of him. Dandy, the Scotch terrier, would renounce a romping ramble with us to keep watch over Baby Cecil when he was really a baby, and was only carried for a dull airing in the nursemaid's arms. I can quite understand Dandy's feelings; for if when one was just preparing for a paperchase, or anything of that sort, Baby Cecil trotted up and, flinging himself head first into one's arms, after his usual fashion, cried, "Baby Cecil 'ants Charlie to tell him a long, long story—so much!" it always ended in one's giving up the race or the scramble, and devoting one's self as sedately as Dandy to his service. But I consoled myself with the thought of how Baby Cecil would delight in me, and what stories I should be able to tell him on my return.
The worst of running away now-a-days is that railways and telegrams run faster. I was prepared for any emergency except that of being found and brought home again.
Thinking of this brought to my mind one of Fred's tales of the captain, about how he was pursued by bloodhounds and escaped by getting into water. Water not only retains no scent, it keeps no track. I think perhaps this is one reason why boys so often go to sea when they run away, that no one may be able to follow them. It helped my decision that we would go to sea when we ran away, Fred and I. Besides, there was no other road to strange countries, and no other way of seeing the sea people with the sou'-wester heads.
Fred did not seem to have any scruples about leaving his home, which made me feel how much braver he must be than I. But his head was so full of the plans he made for us, and the lists he drew up of natural products of the earth in various places on which we could live without paying for our living, that he neglected his school-work, and got into scrapes about it. This distressed me very much, for I was working my very best that half on purpose that no one might say that we ran away from our lessons, but that it might be understood that we had gone solely in search of adventure, like sea-captains or any other grown-up travellers.
All Fred's tales now began with the word "suppose." They were not stories of what had happened to his grandfather, but of what might happen to us. The half-holiday that Mr. Johnson's hay was carted we sat behind the farthest haycock all the afternoon with an old atlas on our knees, and Fred "supposed" till my brain whirled to think of all that was coming on us. "Suppose we get on board a vessel bound for Singapore, and hide behind some old casks—" he would say, coasting strange continents with his stumpy little forefinger, as recklessly as the captain himself; on which of course I asked, "What is Singapore like?" which enabled Fred to close the atlas and lie back among the hay and say whatever he could think of and I could believe.
Meanwhile we saved up our pocket-money and put it in a canvas bag, as being sailor-like. Most of the money was Fred's, but he was very generous about this, and said I was to take care of it as I was more managing than he. And we practised tree-climbing to be ready for the masts, and ate earth-nuts to learn to live upon roots in case we were thrown upon a desert island. Of course we did not give up our proper meals, as we were not obliged to yet, and I sometimes felt rather doubtful about how we should feel living upon nothing but roots for breakfast, dinner, and tea. However, I had observed that whenever the captain was wrecked a barrel of biscuits went ashore soon afterwards, and I hoped it might always be so in wrecks, for biscuits go a long way, especially sailors' biscuits, which are large.
I made a kind of handbook for adventure-seekers, too, in an old exercise book, showing what might be expected and should be prepared for in a career like the captain's. I divided it under certain heads: Hardships, Dangers, Emergencies, Wonders, &c. These were subdivided again thus: Hardships—I, Hunger; 2, Thirst; 3, Cold; 4, Heat; 5, No Clothes; and so forth. I got all my information from Fred, and I read my lists over and over again to get used to the ideas, and to feel brave. And on the last page I printed in red ink the word "Glory."
And so the half went by and came to an end; and when the old Doctor gave me my three prizes, and spoke of what he hoped I would do next half, my blushes were not solely from modest pride.
The first step of our runaway travels had been decided upon long ago. We were to go by barge to London. "And from London you can go anywhere," Fred said.
The day after the holidays began I saw a canal-boat lading at the wharf, and finding she was bound for London I told Fred of it. But he said we had better wait for a barge, and that there would be one on Thursday. "Or if you don't think you can be ready by then, we can wait for the next," he added. He seemed quite willing to wait, but (remembering that the captain's preparations for his longest voyage had only taken him eighteen and a half minutes by the chronometer, which was afterwards damaged in the diving-bell accident, and which I had seen with my own eyes, in confirmation of the story) I said I should be ready any time at half-an-hour's notice, and Thursday was fixed as the day of our departure.
To facilitate matters it was decided that Fred should invite me to spend Wednesday with him, and to stay all night, for the barge was to start at half-past six o'clock on Thursday morning.
I was very busy on Wednesday. I wrote a letter to my mother in which I hoped I made it quite clear that ambition and not discontent was leading me to run away. I also made a will, dividing my things fairly between Rupert, Henrietta, and Baby Cecil, in case I should be drowned at sea. My knife, my prayer-book, the ball of string belonging to my kite, and my little tool-box I took away with me. I also took the match-box from the writing-table, but I told Mother of it in the letter. The captain used to light his fires by rubbing sticks together, but I had tried it, and thought matches would be much better, at any rate to begin with.
Rupert was lying under the crab-tree, and Henrietta was reading to him, when I went away. Rupert was getting much stronger; he could walk with a stick, and was going back to school next half. I felt a very unreasonable vexation because they seemed quite cheerful. But as I was leaving the garden to go over the fields, Baby Cecil came running after me, with his wooden spade in one hand and a plant of chick weed in the other, crying: "Charlie, dear! Come and tell Baby Cecil a story." I kissed him, and tied his hat on, which had come off as he ran.
"Not now, Baby," I said; "I am going out now, and you are gardening."
"I don't want to garden," he pleaded. "Where are you going? Take me with you."
"I am going to Fred Johnson's," I said bravely.
Baby Cecil was a very good child, though he was so much petted. He gave a sigh of disappointment, but only said very gravely, "Will you promise, onyer-onner, to tell me one when you come back?"
"I promise to tell you lots when I come back, on my honour," was my answer.
I had to skirt the garden-hedge for a yard or two before turning off across the meadow. In a few minutes I heard a voice on the other side. Baby Cecil had run down the inside, and was poking his face through a hole, and kissing both hands to me. There came into my head a wonder whether his face would be much changed next time I saw it. I little guessed when and how that would be. But when he cried, "Come back very soon, Charlie dear," my imperfect valour utterly gave way, and hanging my head I ran, with hot tears pouring over my face, all the way to Johnson's wharf.
When Fred saw my face he offered to give up the idea if I felt faint-hearted about it. Nothing that he could have said would have dried my tears so soon. Every spark of pride in me blazed up to reject the thought of turning craven now. Besides, I longed for a life of adventure most sincerely; and I was soon quite happy again in the excitement of being so near to what I had longed for.
WE GO ON BOARD—THE PIE—AN EXPLOSION—MR. ROWE THE BARGE-MASTER—THE 'WHITE LION'—TWO LETTERS—WE DOUBT MR. ROWE'S GOOD FAITH.
The dew was still heavy on the grass when Fred and I crossed the drying-ground about five o'clock on Thursday morning, and scrambled through a hedge into our "coastguard" corner on the wharf. We did not want to be seen by the barge-master till we were too far from home to be put ashore.
The freshness of early morning in summer has some quality which seems to go straight to the heart. I felt intensely happy. There lay the barge, the sun shining on the clean deck, and from the dewy edges of the old ropes, and from the barge-master's zinc basin and pail put out to sweeten in the air.
"She won't leave us behind this time!" I cried, turning triumphantly to Fred.
"Take care of the pie," said Fred.
It was a meat-pie which he had taken from the larder this morning; but he had told Mrs. Johnson about it in the letter he had left behind him; and had explained that we took it instead of the breakfast we should otherwise have eaten. We felt that earth-nuts might not be forthcoming on the canal banks, or even on the wharf at Nine Elms when we reached London.
At about a quarter to six Johnson's wharf was quite deserted. The barge-master was having breakfast ashore, and the second man had gone to the stable. "We had better hide ourselves now," I said. So we crept out and went on board. We had chosen our hiding-place before. Not in the cabin, of course, nor among the cargo, where something extra thrown in at the last moment might smother us if it did not lead to our discovery, but in the fore part of the boat, in a sort of well or hold, where odd things belonging to the barge itself were stowed away, and made sheltered nooks into which we could creep out of sight. Here we found a very convenient corner, and squatted down, with the pie at our feet, behind a hamper, a box, a coil of rope, a sack of hay, and a very large ball, crossed four ways with rope, and with a rope-tail, which puzzled me extremely.
"It's like a giant tadpole," I whispered to Fred.
"Don't nudge me," said Fred. "My pockets are full, and it hurts."
My pockets were far from light. The money-bag was heavily laden with change—small in value but large in coin. The box of matches was with it and the knife. String, nails, my prayer-book, a pencil, some writing-paper, the handbook, and a more useful hammer than the one in my tool-box filled another pocket. Some gooseberries and a piece of cake were in my trousers, and I carried the tool-box in my hands. We each had a change of linen, tied up in a pocket-handkerchief. Fred would allow of nothing else. He said that when our jackets and trousers were worn out we must make new clothes out of an old sail.
Waiting is very dull work. After awhile, however, we heard voices, and the tramp of the horse, and then the barge-master and Mr. Johnson's foreman and other men kept coming and going on deck, and for a quarter of an hour we had as many hairbreadth escapes of discovery as the captain himself could have had in the circumstances. At last somebody threw the barge-master a bag of something (fortunately soft) which he was leaving behind, and which he chucked on to the top of my head. Then the driver called to his horse, and the barge gave a jerk, which threw Fred on to the pie, and in a moment more we were gliding slowly and smoothly down the stream.
When we were fairly off we ventured to peep out a little, and stretch our cramped limbs. There was no one on board but the barge-master, and he was at the other end of the vessel, smoking and minding his rudder. The driver was walking on the towing-path by the old grey horse. The motion of the boat was so smooth that we seemed to be lying still whilst villages and orchards and green banks and osier-beds went slowly by, as though the world were coming to show itself to us, instead of our going out to see the world.
When we passed the town we felt some anxiety for fear we should be stopped; but there was no one on the bank, and though the towers of S. Philip and S. James appeared again and again in lessening size as we looked back, there came at last a bend in the canal, when a high bank of gorse shut out the distance, and we saw them no more.
In about an hour, having had no breakfast, we began to speak seriously of the pie. (I had observed Fred breaking little corners from the crust with an absent air more than once.) Thinking of the first subdivision under the word Hardships in my handbook, I said, "I'm afraid we ought to wait till we are worse hungry."
But Fred said, "Oh no!" And that out adventure-seeking it was quite impossible to save and plan and divide your meals exactly, as you could never tell what might turn up. The captain always said, "Take good luck and bad luck and pot-luck as they come!" So Fred assured me, and we resolved to abide by the captain's rule.
"We may have to weigh out our food with a bullet, like Admiral Bligh, next week," said Fred.
"So we may," said I. And the thought must have given an extra relish to the beefsteak and hard-boiled eggs, for I never tasted anything so good.
Whether the smell of the pie went aft, or whether something else made the barge-master turn round and come forward, I do not know; but when we were encumbered with open clasp-knives, and full mouths, we saw him bearing down upon us, and in a hasty movement of retreat I lost my balance, and went backward with a crash upon a tub of potatoes.
The noise this made was not the worst part of the business. I was tightly wedged amongst the odds and ends, and the money-bag being sharply crushed against the match-box, which was by this time well warmed, the matches exploded in a body, and whilst I was putting as heroic a face as I could on the pain I was enduring in my right funny-bone, Fred cried, "Your jacket's smoking. You're on fire!"
Whether Mr. Rowe, the barge-master, had learnt presence of mind out of a book, I do not know; but before Fred and I could even think of what to do in the emergency, my jacket was off, the matches were overboard, and Mr. Rowe was squeezing the smouldering fire out of my pocket, rather more deliberately than most men brush their hats. Then, after civilly holding the jacket for me to put it on again, he took off his hat, took his handkerchief out of it, and wiped his head, and replacing both, with his eyes upon us, said, more deliberately still, "Well, young gentlemen, this is a nice start!"
It was impossible to resist the feeling of confidence inspired by Mr. Rowe's manner, his shrewd and stolid appearance, and his promptness in an emergency. Besides, we were completely at his mercy. We appealed to it, and told him our plans. We offered him a share of the pie too, which he accepted with conscious condescension. When the dish was empty he brought his handkerchief into use once more, and then said, in a peculiarly oracular manner, "You just look to me, young gentlemen, and I'll put you in the way of every think."
The immediate advantage we took of this offer was to ask about whatever interested us in the landscape constantly passing before our eyes, or the barge-furniture at our feet. The cord-compressed balls were shore-fenders, said Mr. Rowe, and were popped over the side when the barge was likely to grate against the shore, or against another vessel.
"Them's osier-beds. They cuts 'em every year or so for basket-work. Wot's that little bird a-hanging head downwards? It's a titmouse looking for insects, that is. There's scores on 'em in the osier-beds. Aye, aye, the yellow lilies is pretty enough, but there's a lake the other way—a mile or two beyond your father's, Master Fred—where there's white water-lilies. They're pretty, if you like! It's a rum thing in spring," continued Mr. Rowe, between puffs of his pipe, "to see them lilies come up from the bottom of the canal; the leaves packed as neat as any parcel, and when they git to the top, they turns down and spreads out on the water as flat as you could spread a cloth upon a table."
As a rule, Mr. Rowe could give us no names for the aquatic plants at which we clutched as we went by, nor for the shells we got out of the mud; but his eye for a water-rat was like a terrier's. It was the only thing which seemed to excite him.
About mid-day we stopped by a village, where Mr. Rowe had business. The horse was to rest and bait here; and the barge-master told us that if we had "a shilling or so about" us, we might dine on excellent bread and cheese at the White Lion, or even go so far as poached eggs and yet more excellent bacon, if our resources allowed of it. We were not sorry to go ashore. There was absolutely no shelter on the deck of the barge from the sunshine, which was glaringly reflected by the water. The inn parlour was low, but it was dark and cool. I felt doubtful about the luxury even of cheese after that beefsteak-pie but Fred smacked his lips and ordered eggs and bacon, and I paid for them out of the canvas-bag.
As we sat together I said, "I wrote a letter to my mother, Fred. Did you write to Mrs. Johnson?"
Fred nodded, and pulled a scrap of dirty paper from his pocket, saying, "That's the letter; but I made a tidy copy of it afterwards."
I have said that Fred was below me in class, though he is older; and he was very bad at spelling. Otherwise the letter did very well, except for smudges.
"Charlie and I are going to run away at least by the time you get this we have run away but never mind for wen weve seen the wurld were cumming back we took the pi wich I hope you wont mind as we had no brekfust and I'll bring back the dish we send our best love and I've no more to tell you to-day from your affectionate son FRED."
I saw Mr. Rowe myself very busy in the bar of the White Lion, with a sheet of paper and an old steel pen, which looked as if the point had been attenuated to that hair-like fineness by sheer age. He started at the sight of me, which caused him to drop a very large blot of ink from the very sharp point of the pen on to his paper. I left him wiping it up with his handkerchief. But it never struck me that he was writing a letter on the same subject as Fred and I had been writing about. He was, however: and Mr. Johnson keeps it tied up with Fred's to this day. The spelling was of about the same order.
"MR. JOHNSON. HONERD SIR.
"i rites in duty bound to acqaint you that the young genlemen is with me, looking out for Advenchurs and asking your pardon i wish they may find them as innercent as 2 Babes in the Wood on the London and Lancingford Canal were they come aboard quite unknown to me and blowed theirselves up with lucifers the fust go off and you've no need to trubble yourself sir ill keep my I on them and bring em safe to hand with return cargo and hoping you'll excuse the stamp not expecting to have to rite from the fust stoppige your obedient humble servant
As I have said, we did not suspect that Mr. Rowe had betrayed us by post; but in the course of the afternoon Fred said to me, "I'll tell you what, Charlie, I know old Rowe well, and he's up to any trick, and sure to want to keep in with my father. If we don't take care he'll take us back with him. And what fools we shall look then!"
The idea was intolerable; but I warned Fred to carefully avoid betraying that we suspected him. The captain had had worse enemies to outwit, and had kept a pirate in good humour for a much longer voyage by affability and rum. We had no means of clouding Mr. Rowe's particularly sharp wits with grog, but we resolved to be amiable and wary, and when we did get to London to look out for the first opportunity of giving the barge-master the slip.
A COASTING VOYAGE—MUSK ISLAND—LINNET FLASH—MR. ROWE AN OLD TAR—THE DOG-FANCIER AT HOME.
It was a delightful feature of our first voyage—and one which we could not hope to enjoy so often in voyages to come—that we were always close to land, and this on both sides. We could touch either coast without difficulty, and as the barge stopped several times during the day to rest the horse, Fred and I had more than one chance of going ashore.
I hope to have many a voyage yet, and to see stranger people and places than I saw then, but I hardly hope ever to enjoy myself so much again. I have long ago found out that Fred's stories of the captain's adventures were not true stories, and as I have read and learned more about the world than I knew at that time, I know now that there are only certain things which one can meet with by land or by sea. But when Fred and I made our first voyage in emulation of his grandfather there was no limit to my expectations, or to what we were prepared to see or experience at every fresh bend of the London and Lancingford Canal.
I remember one of Fred's stories about the captain was of his spending a year and a day on an island called Musk Island, in the Pacific. He had left the ship, Fred said, to do a little exploring alone in his gig. Not knowing at that time that the captain's gig is a boat, I was a good deal puzzled, I remember, to think of Mrs. Johnson's red-faced father crossing the sea in a gig like the one Mr. Bustard used to go his professional "rounds" in. And when Fred spoke of his "pulling himself" I was yet more bewildered by the unavoidable conclusion that they had no horse on board, and that the gallant and ever-ready captain went himself between the shafts. The wonder of his getting to Musk Island in that fashion was, however, eclipsed by the wonders he found when he did get there. Musk-hedges and bowers ten feet high, with flowers as large as bindweed blossoms, and ladies with pale gold hair all dressed in straw-coloured satin, and with such lovely faces that the captain vowed that no power on earth should move him till he had learned enough of the language to propose the health of the Musk Island beauties in a suitable speech after dinner. "And there he would have lived and died, I believe," Fred would say, "if that first mate, who saved his life before, had not rescued him by main force, and taken him back to his ship."
I am reminded of this story when I think of the island in Linnet Lake, for we were so deeply charmed by it that we very nearly broke our voyage, as the captain broke his, to settle on it.
Mr. Rowe called the lake Linnet Flash. Wherever the canal seemed to spread out, and then go on again narrow and like a river, the barge-master called these lakes "flashes" of the canal. There is no other flash on that canal so large or so beautiful as Linnet Lake, and in the middle of the lake lies the island.
It was about three o'clock, the hottest part of a summer's day, and Fred and I, rather faint with the heat, were sitting on a coil of rope holding a clean sheet, which Mr. Rowe had brought up from the cabin to protect our heads and backs from sunstroke. We had refused to take shelter below, and sat watching the fields and hedges, which seemed to palpitate in the heat as they went giddily by, and Mr. Rowe, who stood quite steady, conversing coolly with the driver. The driver had been on board for the last hour, the way being clear, and the old horse quite able to take care of itself and us, and he and the barge-master had pocket-handkerchiefs under their hats like the sou'-wester flaps of the captain's sea-friends. Fred had dropped his end of the sheet to fall asleep, and I was protecting us both, when the driver bawled some directions to the horse in their common language, and the barge-master said, "Here's a bit of shade for you, Master Fred;" and we roused up and found ourselves gliding under the lee of an island covered with trees.