Mark Seaworth, A tale of a young man's search for his sister and his identity, by W.H.G. Kingston.
This is an absolutely brilliant book, not least because it is a shining example throughout, of the use of good English. The story is exciting, and the telling of it made interesting, with its wealth of local detail. It was the first Kingston book we put online, and we shall be bringing you more books of Kingston's during the coming years. Definitely!
We have thoroughly enjoyed creating this e-book for you, and we hope that you will enjoy it as much as we have. This transcription was made during March 2003, by Athelstane e-texts.
"MARK SEAWORTH", A TALE OF A YOUNG MAN'S SEARCH FOR HIS SISTER AND HIS IDENTITY, BY W.H.G. KINGSTON.
Picture a wide expanse of ocean, smooth as a polished mirror, and shining like molten silver; a sky of intense blue, without a cloud or speck, forming a vast arch resting on the water; no land or rock in sight; the boundless sea on every side; the sun travelling slowly and majestically along the arch, and casting his burning rays upon the glittering plain below.
Let us pause and contemplate that scene. What grandeur and sublimity there is in it! What a magnificent edifice does it seem! When compared with it, how utterly insignificant and contemptible do all the works of man's hands appear! Then watch the sun sink with rays of glory in the west; the bright rich tinge glowing for a time, and gradually fading away before the obscurity of night; the stars coming forth and shining with a splendour unknown in northern climes; and then the moon, a mass of liquid flame, rising out of the dark sea, and casting across it a broad path of the silvery light. Watch the tranquil luminary glide also through her destined course, till once more the sun rushes upward from his ocean-bed in a sheet of fire, and claims supremacy over the world. This is one of the many grand and wonderful objects beheld by those who sail across the ocean, and amply does it repay for a long voyage those who have taste to appreciate its beauties.
Now let us return to the scene as I first described it, and, by looking closer into the picture, we shall observe a boat floating in its very centre. There are no masts or sails, nor are there any oars moving. The boat lies motionless like a log on the water. She is a large boat, a ship's launch; her gunwale seems battered in as if she had undergone some hard usage. Above it nothing is seen moving; and, at the first glance, it would seem that there are no human beings on board. On looking down into the boat, however, we discover several persons, but whether dead or alive it is difficult to say, they are so quiet and so silent. Towards the bow are the forms of two men. They are on their backs—one is at the bottom of the boat, the other stretched along the thwarts, in uneasy postures. Their eyes are open and glaring unmoved at the bright sun; their lips are parted, black, and dry; the hand of death has, alas! at all events, fallen on them; nothing living could present such an aspect. By their dress and their complexion they seem to be British seamen. There is a small breaker or keg in the boat, but the hung is out—it is empty. There is also a bag, containing some hard ship-biscuit; it is still half full, but there is no other provision.
In the after part of the boat there is a sort of awning, formed of a shawl stretched across the gunwale, with a mat on the top of it, so as to form a thick shade. Near it, with her back leaning against the side of the boat, sits a dark-skinned woman. She has a turban on her head, and massive gold ear-rings in her ears, and bracelets round her arms, and anklets of gold round her legs, and her loose dress is of gay-coloured striped cotton of delicate texture. She is alive, but faint and weak; and, by her dim eye and short-coming breath, death seems to be approaching with stealthy strides to claim her as his own. Still, the soul is struggling to triumph over the weakness of the flesh. With an anxious gaze she looks beneath the awning, for there is something there which claims her constant solicitude. She turns her gaze towards the forms of the two seamen—she does not seem to know that they are dead. A faint cry comes from under the awning. Again she looks towards the bow of the boat; she sees that her companions in misery are not watching her. She now stealthily draws from beneath the folds of her dress, where she has carefully concealed it, a bottle of water. Did she, then, while the seamen slept, steal the water from the cask to preserve the existence of those committed to her fostering charge, and far more precious to her, in her sight, than her own life? There can be no doubt she did so. She discovers that she is not observed. There is a small tin pannikin near her, and several pieces of biscuit. She crumbles the biscuit, as well as she can with her weak fingers, into the pannikin, and then pours upon them a few drops of the precious fluid. She looks at the water with longing eyes, but will not expend even one drop to cool her parched lips. She mixes the biscuit till it is completely softened, and then casting another furtive glance towards the bow, unconscious that the dead only are there, she carefully lifts up the awning. A low weak voice utters the word "Aya;" it is that of a child, some three or four years old perhaps; at the same time there is a plaintive cry from a younger infant. A smile irradiates the countenance of the Indian woman, for she knows that her charges are still alive. She leans forward, though her strength is barely sufficient to enable her to move, and puts the food into the mouths of the two children. The eldest, a boy, swallows it eagerly; for though somewhat pale, his strength seems but little impaired. The infant is a girl: she takes the mixture, so little suited to her tender years, but without appetite; and it would appear that in a very short time her career, just begun on earth, will be brought to a speedy close.
When the food is consumed, the nurse sinks back to her former position. She tries to swallow a piece of the biscuit, but her parched lips and throat refuse to receive the dry morsel, and the water she will not touch. Again the children cry for food, and once more she goes through the operation of preparing it for them as before; but her movements are slower, and she now has scarcely strength to carry the food to the mouths of the little ones.
The day passes away, the night goes by, the morning comes, and still the calm continues. The children awake and cry out for food. The nurse turns her languid eyes towards them, but her strength has almost gone; she even forgets for an instant the meaning of that cry. There is a struggle going on within her. At last her loving, faithful, and enduring spirit overcomes for a time the weakness of her body; she prepares the mess, and feeds the children. She gazes sorrowfully at the bottle—the last drop of water is consumed. She leans back, her bosom heaves faintly; the effort has been more than her failing strength would bear. She turns her eyes towards them; they are the last objects of any earthly thing she is destined to behold. A dimness comes stealing over them. Her thoughts are no longer under control, her arms fall by her side, her head droops on her chest, she has no strength to raise it. In a few hours more the faithful nurse will have ceased to breathe, and those young children will be left alone with the dead on the wild waste of waters.
But, reader, do not for one moment suppose that therefore they are doomed to perish. There is One above, the eternal, all-powerful God of goodness and love, who is watching over those helpless infants. His arm can stretch to the uttermost parts of the earth, and over the great waters: even now it is put forth to shield them, though we see it not. Even without a human hand to administer their food, in that open boat on the wide sea, over which a storm might presently rage, while billows may rise, threatening to overwhelm them, far away from land or living beings but themselves, those children are as secure, if so God wills it, as those who are sleeping on beds of down within palace walls; because, remember, reader, that He is all-powerful, and He is everywhere. Trust in Him; never despond; pray to Him for help at all times—in times of peace and prosperity, in times of danger and difficulty; and oh! believe that most assuredly He will help and protect you in the way He knows is best for your eternal happiness.
This is the lesson I would teach; for this is the lesson I have learned by means of all the difficulties and dangers I have undergone during the scenes of wild and extraordinary adventure which I have encountered in my course through life. Often and often, had I not been convinced of this great truth, I should have yielded to despair; and the longer I have lived, and the more dangers I have passed through, the more firmly convinced have I become of it. Often have I felt my own utter helplessness—the impossibility that the strength of man could avail me—when standing, it seemed, on the very brink of destruction; and in a way beyond all calculation, I have found myself rescued and placed in safety. It was for this reason that I have drawn the picture which I have exhibited to you. Ungrateful indeed should I be, and negligent of my bounden duty, did I not do my utmost to teach the lesson I have learned from the merciful protection so often afforded me; for know that I was one of those helpless infants! and the picture before us shows the first scene in my life, of which I have any record; and this is the moral I would inculcate—"That God is everywhere."
A large ship was floating on the ocean. I use the term floating, for she could scarcely be said to be doing anything else, as she did not seem to be moving in the slightest degree through the water. Some straw and chips of wood, which had been thrown overboard, continued hour after hour alongside. She was, however, moving; but it was round and round, though very slowly indeed, as a glance at the compass would have shown. The sea was as smooth as glass, for there was not a breath of air to ruffle it; there was, in fact, a perfect calm.
The ship was a first-class Indiaman, on her outward voyage to the far-famed land of the East; and she belonged to that body of merchant princes, the East India Company. In appearance she was not altogether unlike a frigate with her long tier of guns, her lofty masts, her wide spread of canvas, and her numerous crew; but her decks were far more encumbered than those of a man-of-war, and her hold was full of rich merchandise, and the baggage of the numerous passengers who occupied her cabins. Her sails, for the present, however, were of no use; so, having nothing else to do, for the sole purpose, it would seem, of annoying the most sensitive portion of the human beings on board, they continued, with most persevering diligence, flapping against the masts, while the ship rolled lazily from side to side. The decks presented the appearance of a little world shut out from the rest of mankind; for all grades, and all professions and trades, were to be found on board. On the high poop deck, under an awning spread over it to shelter them from the burning rays of the sun, were collected the aristocratical portion of the community. There were there to be found ladies and gentlemen, the sedate matron, and the blooming girl just reaching womanhood, the young wife and the joyous child; there were lawyers and soldiers, sailors and merchants, clergymen and doctors, some of them holding high rank in their respective professions. The captain, of course, was king, and his mates were his ministers; but, like the rest, he was bound by laws which he dared not infringe, even had he desired to have done so.
On the deck below were seen craftsmen of all sorts, occupied in their respective callings. Carpenters hard at work with plane and saw; blacksmiths with bellows and anvil; tailors and cobblers, barbers and washerwomen, painters and armourers, rope-makers and butchers, and several others, besides the seamen engaged in the multifarious duties in which officers know well how to employ them. Among the crew were seen representatives of each quarter of the Old World. There were Malays and other Asiatics, and the dark-skinned sons of Africa, mingled among the hardy seamen of Britain, each speaking a different jargon, but all taught by strict discipline to act in unison.
Besides the human beings, there were cattle and sheep destined for the butcher's knife—cows to afford milk to the lady passengers, the invalids, and the children—even horses were on board, valuable racers or chargers, belonging to some of the military officers; there were several head of sheep penned up in the long-boat; and there were pigsties full of grunting occupants, who seemed to be more happy and to have made themselves far more at home than any of their four-footed fellow-voyagers. Ranging at liberty were several dogs of high and low degree, from the colonel's thorough-bred greyhound to the cook's cur, a very turnspit in appearance; nor must I forget Quacko, the monkey, the merriest and most active of two-legged or four-legged beings on board. It might have puzzled many to determine to which he belonged, as he was seen dressed in a blue jacket and white trousers, sitting up on the break of the forecastle, his usual playground in fine weather, cracking nuts, or peeling an orange like a human being, while his tongue was chattering away, as if he had a vast amount of information to communicate.
Then there were poultry of every description: ducks and geese, and turkeys and cocks and hens, quacking, and cackling, and gobbling, and crowing in concert: indeed, to shut one's eyes, it was difficult not to suppose that one was in a well-stocked farm-yard; but on opening them again, one found one's self surrounded by objects of a very different character, to what one would there have seen. Instead of the trees, there were the tall masts, the rigging, and sails above one's head, the bulwarks instead of the walls of the barns, the black and white seamen with thick beards instead of the ploughmen and milk-maids, and the wide glittering ocean instead of the muddy horse-pond.
This was the scene on the upper deck: below, it was stranger still. There were two decks, one beneath the other, both with occupants; there were cooks at the galley fire, whose complexion no soot could make blacker, and servants in white dresses and embroidered shawls, running backwards and forwards with their masters' tiffins, as luncheons are called in India.
There were numerous cabins, many occupied by persons whose sole employment was to kill time, forgetting how soon time would kill them in return, and they would have to sum up the account of how they had spent their days on earth.
In the lower deck there were soldiers with their wives and children, and seamen, some sleeping out their watch below, and others mending their clothes, while a few were reading—a very few, I fear, such books as were calculated to afford them much instruction. Below, again, in the dark recesses of the hold, there were seamen with lanterns getting up stores and provisions of various sorts. In one place were seen three men—it was the gunner and his two mates. They had carefully-closed lanterns and list shoes on their feet. They were visiting the magazine, to see that the powder was dry. They were from habit careful, but custom had made them thoughtless of danger; yet one spark from the lantern would in a moment have sent every one of the many hundred living beings on board that ship into eternity. The flannel bags containing the powder were removed to be carried up on deck to dry, the door was carefully closed and locked, and the gunner and his mates went about their other avocations.
From long habit, people are apt to forget the dangers which surround them, though they are far greater than those in which the passengers of the good ship Governor Harcourt were placed at the moment the magazine was opened; and I am very certain that not one of them contemplated the possibility of being blown up, without an instant warning, into the air.
I have indulged in a somewhat long description of this little world in miniature, although I was not one of its inhabitants; but it was a scene not without interest, and I have had many opportunities of judging of the correctness of the picture which was given me by a friend then on board the Governor Harcourt. We will now return to the more refined groups sitting and lying about listlessly on the poop deck.
As among the party were several people who exercised a considerable influence over my career, a description of them is necessary. The person of most consideration, on account of his wealth and position, as well as his high character, was a gentleman verging upon sixty years of age. In stature and figure he was not what would be called dignified; but there was that in the expression of his countenance which made persons of discernment who studied his features feel inclined to love and respect him. The broad forehead, the full mild eye, and the well-set mouth, told of intellect, kindness, and firmness.
The careless and indifferent might have called him the stout old gentleman with yellow cheeks. I mean people—and there are many such in the world—who are unable to perceive the noble and good qualities in a man, and only look at his outward form and figure. If they hear a person called a great man, like Lord Nelson or the Duke of Wellington, they call him great also; but many would not be able to point out the real heroic qualities of these heroes. I cannot now stop to describe in what real heroic qualities consist, further than to assure my young friends that the great men I have instanced are not properly called heroes simply because they were commanders-in-chief when great battles have been gained. Napoleon gained many victories; but I cannot allow that he can justly be called a hero. My object is to show you the importance of not judging of people by their outward appearance; and also, when you hear men spoken of as great men, to ask you to consider well in what their greatness consists. But to return to my kind and generous benefactor,—for so he afterwards proved to me,—Sir Charles Plowden. In outward form to the common eye he was not a hero, but to those who knew him he was truly great, good, and noble. He was high in the civil service of the Honourable East India Company, all the best years of his life having been passed in the East.
A book was in his hand, at which his eye every now and then glanced; but he appeared to look at it rather for the sake of finding matter for thought, than for the object of getting rapidly through its contents.
At a little distance from him sat a lady, busily employed in working with her needle. She was young and if not decidedly pretty, very interesting in appearance. Though she was looking at her work, from the expression of her countenance it might be perceived that she was listening attentively to a gentleman seated by her side, who was reading to her in that clear low voice, with that perfect distinctness of enunciation, which is so pleasant to the ear. A stranger might have guessed, from the tone of tenderness, yet of perfect confidence, in which he occasionally spoke to her, and the glance of affection which she gave him in return, that they were husband and wife; nor would he have been mistaken.
They were Captain and Mrs Clayton, who were returning to India after their first visit to England since their marriage. His appearance and manners were very gentlemanly and pleasing, and he was a man much esteemed by a large circle of acquaintance. They had now been married about eight years, and had no children. Mrs Clayton had gone out to India at the age of seventeen with her father, a colonel in the army, and soon after her arrival she was won and wed by Captain Clayton, so that she was still a very young woman.
Sometimes, when she saw a happy mother nursing her child, she would secretly sigh that she was not so blessed; but, I am glad to say, she did not on that account indulge in the custom of bestowing any portion of her care and attention on puppy dogs and cats, as I have seen some ladies, both single and married, do in a most disagreeable manner. I, of course, desire to see people kind to dumb animals; but I do not like to see little beasts petted and kissed, and treated in every way like human beings, with far more care and attention bestowed on them than are given to thousands of the children in the back streets and alleys of our crowded towns. I trust that you, my young friends, will remember this when you have money or food to bestow; and, instead of throwing it away in purchasing or feeding useless pets, that you will give it to instruct, to clothe and feed those who are born into the world to know God, to perform their duty to Him, and to enjoy eternal life. Dreadful is it to contemplate that so many live and die without that knowledge, who might, had their fellow-men exerted themselves, have enjoyed all the blessings afforded by the gospel dispensation.
But I must go back to my history. Captain and Mrs Clayton were accompanied by a young lady, a distant relative, left without any other friends to protect and support her. She was a laughing, blue-eyed girl, and was now seated with several other young ladies of about the same age on a circle of cushions on the deck, shouts of merriment rising every now and then from the happy group. There were several other people who had been in India before—military and civil officers of the Company, merchants, lawyers, and clergymen; but I need not more particularly describe them.
Ellen Barrow, Mrs Clayton's charge, was not only sweetly pretty, but good and amiable in every respect. I do not know that she had what is called a regular feature in her face; but her sunny smile, and an expression which gave sure indication of a good disposition, made those who saw her think her far more beautiful than many ladies whose countenances were in other respects faultless. I praise her from having known her well, and all the excellencies of her character, as they were in after-years more fully developed. At present her most intimate friends would probably have said little more about her than that she was a nice, pretty-looking, happy girl.
There was another person on board, of whom I must by no means omit to speak, and that is Captain Willis. He was a very gentlemanly man, both in appearance and manners, as indeed he was by birth; nor had the rough school in which he was educated left a trace behind.
He was the son of a merchant of excellent family connections and his mother was, I believe, a lady of rank. When he was about the age of fourteen, both his parents died, leaving him perfectly penniless, for his father had just before that event failed and lost all his property. He had had, fortunately, the opportunity of obtaining an excellent education, and he had profited by it and this gave him an independence of feeling—which he could not otherwise justly have enjoyed. He was also a lad of honest spirit; his relations had quarrelled with his parents, and treated them, he considered, unjustly; so that his heart rebelled at the idea of soliciting charity from them, and he at once resolved to fight his own way in the world.
He had always had a strong predilection for a sea life, and he was on the point of going into the Royal Navy when his father's misfortunes commenced.
His thoughts consequently at once reverted to the sea; and the day after his father's funeral, he set out with a sad heart, and yet with the buoyant hope of youth cheering him on in spite of his grief, to take counsel of an old friend, the master of a merchantman, who had been much indebted to his father.
Captain Styles was a rough-mannered but a good man, and a thoroughly practical sailor. He at once offered every aid in his power; but Edward Willis, thanking him, assured him that he only came for advice.
"Do you want to become a seaman in whom your owners and passengers will place perfect confidence, and who will be able, if man can do it, to navigate your ship through narrow channels and among shoals, and clear off a lee-shore if you are ever caught on one; or do you wish just to know how to navigate a ship from London to Calcutta and back, with the aid of a pilot when you get into shallow waters, and to look after the ladies in fine weather, and let your first officer take care of the ship in bad?"
"I wish to become a thorough seaman," replied Edward Willis.
"Then, my lad, you must first go to the school where you will learn the trade," said Captain Styles. "I have an old friend, the master of a Newcastle collier. He is an honest man, kind-hearted, and a first-rate seaman. In six months with him you will learn more than in six years in a big ship. If you were younger, it would be different; for it is rough work, mind you. He is always at sea, running up and down the coast: sometimes to the north, and at other times round the South Foreland, and right down channel. Indeed, to my mind there is not a finer school to make a man a seaman in a short time. It's the royal road to a knowledge of the sea, though I grant it, as I said before, a very rough one."
Willis replied that he was not afraid of hard work, and would follow his advice. Accordingly he went to sea in a collier for three years; then he shipped on board a vessel trading to the Baltic, and next made a voyage to Baffin's Bay, in a whaler; after which he joined an Indiaman. Here, after what he had gone through, the work appeared comparatively easy. He now perfected himself in the higher branches of navigation, and from this time rose rapidly from junior mate to first officer, and finally, in a few years, to the command of a first-class Indiaman, where he was in a fair way of realising a handsome independence. Captain Willis's ship was always a favourite; and as soon almost as she was announced to sail, her cabins were engaged. I should advise those who go to sea at the age Captain Willis did, to follow his example; though for a very young boy, the school, I grant, is somewhat too rough a one.
Captain Willis was walking the deck, with his spy-glass in his hand, while every now and then he stopped anxiously to scan the horizon in every direction, in the hopes of discerning the well-known signs of the long-wished-for breeze.
"Well, Captain Willis, when is the wind coming?" asked one of the young ladies of the merry group I have described, as he passed them in his walk. "We have agreed that you sailors are very idle people, not to make your ship move faster. You do it on purpose, we are sure, to enjoy our society."
"The temptation would be great, ladies, I own," said the captain, bowing. "But, I assure you, it depends as much upon yourselves as upon me and my officers; and, I think, if you were all to set to work and whistle with a right good-will, you might soon bring the wind down upon us."
"Oh then we will all try," exclaimed the merry girls in chorus. "We see you want to get rid of us as soon as you can." Thereon they all began to try and whistle, and some succeeded very well, though the chorus was not very harmonious.
I suspect the worthy captain had long before perceived the undoubted signs of wind on the water, for there was a quizzical look in his eye as he spoke; and each turn he made he encouraged them to proceed, and to whistle louder and louder, assuring them it was certain to have a good effect.
Not many minutes had passed, during which the young ladies had tried to whistle till their mouths ached, when the voice of Captain Willis was heard ordering the crew to trim sails. With alacrity they flew to their posts at the joyful sound; and those who but a minute before were so silent and inert, were now all life and animation.
Still the ocean appeared as smooth and shining as before; but in the distance, away to the north-east, there was a line of dark-blue, which seemed to be gradually extending itself on either hand, and to be slowly advancing in the direction where the ship lay. The glassy surface of the water was every now and then slightly ruffled by gentle, scarcely perceptible breaths of wind, such as are called by seamen "cats'-paws," from their having, I suppose, no more effect in disturbing the water than would the paw of a cat. They came and went continually. Some of the more lofty and lighter sails of the ship bulged out for an instant, and then again flapped against the masts, and all was calm as before.
"If you please, young ladies, I must trouble you to whistle a little longer," said Captain Willis, with one of his most polite bows, and a merry smile lurking in his eye. "You see the good service you have already done; but the wind seems coy, and requires a longer wooing."
They all laughed very much, and declared that they could not whistle any more; but still they all essayed again; and sweet Ellen Barrow screwed her pretty mouth up till her lips looked, indeed, like two ripe cherries; and Captain Willis aiding them with his clear whistle, the wind was not long in answering the summons. The spokes of the wheel were seen once more to revolve in the hands of the helmsman, the sails bulged out more regularly, and if they fell back, they quickly again filled till every one drew steadily, and the huge ship moved slowly through the ocean on her proper course. It was pleasant to the passengers to hear the rippling sound of the water against the sides of the ship, and to see it bubbling up so briskly under her bows; and still more pleasant was it to feel the fresh air fanning the cheeks, and to know that it was wafting them on to their yet far distant bourne. The fresh air had a reviving effect on every one, and many who had sat silent and melancholy began to move about, and to laugh and talk with the rest of their companions.
About an hour after the breeze had sprung up, the captain was observed to turn his glass several times to a point on the starboard bow. He then handed it to his first officer.
"What do you make out of that, Mr Naylor?" he asked.
The answer was not heard.
"So I think it is," replied the captain. "Keep her two more points to the eastward of her course—steady so."
Immediately the head of the ship was turned towards a little spot which appeared upon the water, a long way off. The report that there was something to be seen called every one to the side of the ship, and all eyes were fixed on that small speck on the waste of waters. There were many speculations as to what it was. Some said that it was a dead whale, others a smaller fish; a few insisted that it was the hull of a vessel, and there was one party of opinion that it was the top of a rock in the ocean, and were congratulating themselves that they had met with it in daylight and fine weather.
"But what do you think it is, Captain Willis?" asked Ellen Barrow.
"Why, young lady, I think it is a boat; but I am not surprised that so many people, not accustomed to look at objects on the water, where there is nothing to compare them with, should be mistaken. Those who fancy that it is a whale or the hull of a vessel think it is much farther off than it really is, while those who suppose it to be a small fish, believe it to be much nearer than it really is. It is only by comparing things together that we can estimate them properly."
The breeze, although sufficient to fill the sails, was still very light, so that the ship moved but slowly through the water,—at the rate, perhaps, of a mile and a half or two miles in the hour, or, as sailors would say, two knots an hour. She was, therefore, a long time approaching the object. At last, Captain Willis, who had constantly kept his telescope turned towards it, pronounced it, without doubt, to be a boat.
"There appears to be no one in her, however," he observed; "at least, I see no one's head above the gunwale."
"How strange that a boat should be out there all alone!" exclaimed Ellen Barrow.
"Oh no; she has got adrift from a vessel, or has been driven off from some coast or other," answered Captain Willis.
"There looks to me, sir, as if there were some people in the boat, though they don't appear to be moving," sung out the third officer from aloft.
"Mr Simpson, man the starboard quarter-boat, and lower her as we come up with the boat. We must have her alongside, and overhaul her, at all events."
"Ay, ay, sir," replied the mate; and soon afterwards the boat's crew were seen coming aft to lower her into the water.
Numerous were the conjectures as to who could be in the boat, and where she could have come from; but of course no one could answer the question. The ship glided on slowly, for the wind was still very light. When she got a short distance only from the boat, the captain ordered the sails to be clewed up, and the gig to be lowered. Mr Simpson went away in her, and was soon alongside. He was seen to throw up his hands, as an expression of horror, as he looked into the boat. She was then made fast to the stern of the gig, and rapidly towed up to the ship.
"Be quick there on deck, and bring a chair," he exclaimed. "Here's a poor creature much in want of the doctor's help, if she's not gone too far for it already."
The side of the ship on which the boat appeared was crowded with the passengers, eager to see what it contained. The sight which met their eyes was indeed a sad one. In the fore part were two men lying on their backs with their faces upwards, and, from their ghastly expression, it was seen that they were both dead. There was another person, a dark-skinned woman, who, it appeared, the mate considered still living. A chair was speedily slung, and the mate having secured her into it, she was hoisted on deck.
The doctor was in waiting, and having placed her on a mattress on deck, he knelt down at her side to discover if any spark of life yet remained in her emaciated frame. He felt her pulse, and then calling for a glass of wine and water, he moistened her lips, and poured a few drops down her throat. It had the effect of instantly reviving her; she opened her eyes, and uttering a few strange words, she attempted to rise as if to search for something she expected to find near. For an instant she looked wildly around; but the effort was more than nature could bear, and, with a deep sigh, she sank again and expired. While some of the passengers had been witnessing this melancholy scene, others were engaged in watching the proceedings of the mate. Directly he had placed the poor black woman in the chair, he turned to examine the after part of the boat, over which an awning was carefully spread. Lifting it up, he uttered an exclamation of surprise and pleasure. Carefully placed on a bed formed on the stern-sheets, were two children—a little boy, some three or four years old, or perhaps five, and an infant which could scarcely for as many months have seen the light. The little fellow had been fast asleep. The voice of the mate awoke him, and looking up and seeing strange faces surrounding him, he began to cry.
"That's a good sign, at all events," cried the mate. "The baby does not seem much the worse either; send down the chair again, and we'll have them on deck in a trice." The chair was lowered, and placing himself in it, with the two children in his arms, he was hoisted up on deck. Scarcely had he reached it, than all the ladies hurried forward to catch a glimpse of the children, many of them almost quarrelling who should take charge of them.
"Stay, ladies," said Captain Willis, good-naturedly. "The children by right belong to me; and I must let the doctor see to them before anybody else begins nursing them."
In the meantime, however, Mrs Clayton had taken the infant out of the mate's arms, while the little boy was snatched away by Ellen Barrow and the rest of the young ladies, who kept fondling him among them, and showing that they would do their best to spoil him before the voyage was over.
Mr Hawkins, the surgeon, finding that his services were of no avail to the rest of those who had been in the boat, now appeared, and examined the baby as it lay in Mrs Clayton's arms.
"It seems to have been wonderfully sustained," he observed. "I can discover nothing the matter with it; and with some of the food our goat can supply, I have no doubt in a few days it will have perfectly recovered. Let me relieve you of the child, madam, and give it to one of the women-servants to nurse."
But Mrs Clayton showed no inclination to give up her charge. There were feelings rising in her bosom whose exquisite delight a fond mother, as she presses her first-born to her breast, can well appreciate. The lady gave an imploring look at her husband, which he well understood.
"Do as you wish, dearest," he whispered.
She returned him a glance full of grateful thanks.
"Captain Willis," she said, in a voice agitated with the fear that her request might be denied, "I will, if you will allow me, take charge of the poor deserted one, till its proper guardians can be found; and I daresay we shall be able to learn from the little boy who they are."
"To no one would I more gladly commit the infant than to you, madam," returned the captain. "And pray, consider her your property till claimed by others with greater right to her."
So it was settled; and Mrs Clayton did indeed prove an affectionate mother to the little foundling. Captain Willis, however, was much disappointed in not being able to obtain the information he expected from the elder child. The little fellow could speak very rapidly, but it was in a language neither he nor any of the young ladies could understand, though he seemed to comprehend what was said to him in English. They tried him with a variety of names to endeavour to discover the one belonging to him; but to none of them did he pay any attention.
On a sudden he began to cry to go to his Aya; but as he was kept out of sight of the dead body, and petted by the young ladies, who tried every means to please him, he was soon again pacified. He was then taken into the cabin, where two or three of the married ladies, who had children of their own, set to work to wash him and dress him in clean clothes. He kicked about in the tub of water, and seemed highly delighted, as if it was a luxury to which he was accustomed, while he also appeared fully to appreciate the advantage of clean clothes. He was rather thin, as if he had lived for a length of time on a short allowance of food; but when some broth, which had been got ready for him, was placed before him, he did not eat ravenously as if he had been long without food altogether. Indeed, I may as well here remark, that the mate had discovered a small piece of biscuit, softened by water, by his side when he took the children out of the boat, proving that the faithful nurse had given him the last morsel of food in her possession rather than eat it herself, in the hope of preserving his life. When he had swallowed the broth, he fell fast asleep in the arms of the lady who was holding him. The little fellow's perfect confidence in those surrounding him, while it won their hearts, showed that he had always been accustomed to kind treatment.
Mrs Clayton had also brought her little charge below, and was nursing it with the most tender care. It seemed, indeed, but a fragile little blossom; and it appeared surprising that it should thus have escaped from the hardships to which it had been exposed.
Meanwhile, on deck, Captain Willis and his officers, and some of the gentlemen passengers, were making every possible examination of the boat and the dead bodies, to endeavour to discover some clue, by which they might be able to trace to what ship they had belonged, or whence they had come. There was, unfortunately, little on their bodies to identify them. One of the men had fastened round his neck by a lanyard a knife, on the handle of which was roughly carved the initials J.S., and on his arm was discovered, marked by gunpowder, among a variety of other figures, the name of James Smith,—one, however, borne by so many people, that it could scarcely be said to serve as a distinguishing appellation. Sir Charles Plowden, notwithstanding, who was taking a great interest in and superintending the investigation, made a note of it in his pocket-book, and took charge of the knife.
There was no name on the boat, nor were there any oars in her, which have generally the name of the ship marked on them. The boat was pronounced not to be of English build; and the carpenter, after a long examination, declared it to be his opinion, that it might possibly be built by some Englishman, in a foreign place, and with foreign assistants, and with more than one sort of wood, with which he was not well acquainted. The canvas, which had served as the awning over the children, was certainly English, and the seams at the joins were exactly similar to the work of an English sail-maker. The nails used in the boat were English; but then, as the carpenter observed, English nails were sent into all parts of the world.
The complexion of the other seaman was very dark; a crucifix was found round his neck, and he had on a light-blue jacket, and his other garments were not of English make, so that there could be no doubt that he was a foreigner. In his pocket was a purse, containing several gold doubloons and other coins, showing how utterly valueless on some occasions, is the money for which men risk so much. How gladly would the poor wretch have given the whole of it for a crust of bread and a drop of water! There was also a little silver box in his pocket, containing the relic of a saint, equally inefficacious to preserve him, although an inscription on a piece of paper in it stated, that it would preserve the fortunate possessor from all dangers, either by sea or land.
In the Englishman's pocket there was an empty tobacco-box; but there was no paper or writing of any sort, to assist in identifying them.
The clothes of the nurse were not marked, nor was there found about her anything to aid the investigation; but on those of the children were found, nearly washed out, however, letters which were evidently the initials of their names. On those of the little boy were M.S., and on those of the baby E.S., which, with the strong resemblance in features, left little doubt that they were brother and sister.
Sir Charles, with an exactness which should be imitated under similar circumstances, noted down every particular—the appearance of the dead bodies, their height and size. He directed, also, that the clothes should be washed and carefully kept. The measurement of the boat was also made, and parts of her plankings and all the things she contained were taken out of her. She was herself too large to hoist in on deck.
The only thing remarkable about the children was, that round the neck of each was a gold chain and a locket containing light auburn hair; but there was no other inscription than the initials E.S.
Sir Charles desired that he might also take charge of these memorials. "If the children continue to wear them, they may be lost," he observed. "They may be valuable, as aiding to discover their friends, and should be carefully preserved." Indeed he neglected no means by which the important object could be obtained, of discovering, at a future period, the family of the little foundlings.
While these matters were being arranged, the wind had dropped again completely, and the sky had assumed a dull leaden hue, and a thick haze to the eastward rose up and looked like a line of high land. The boat was meantime left hanging astern, while the gig was again hoisted up on the quarter.
Sailors have a strong aversion to having dead bodies on board; and as there was no object to be attained by keeping those of the unfortunate persons who had been discovered in the boat, preparations were made to bury them that evening in the deep ocean. I will not now stop to describe the ceremony. They were sewn up in a clean canvas, with a shot fastened in at the feet, and a clergyman who was among the passengers, performed the funeral service. They were then launched overboard, and sunk for ever from the sight of men.
Scarcely had they reached the water than a low moaning sound was heard in the rigging, and the sails flapped heavily against the mast. Captain Willis cast a hurried glance to windward.
"Clew up—haul up—let fly everything—away aloft there—furl topgallant sails, close reef the topsails—be smart, my lads," he exclaimed in those sharp tones which showed that there was no time for delay. The attentive men flew to their proper posts—some to the tacks and sheets, the bunt-lines and clew-lines, others swarmed aloft like bees on the yards, and with vigorous arms hauled out the earings and secured the sails with the gaskets. They did their work manfully, for they well knew there was no time to lose.
Scarcely, indeed, was all along made snug, and they were coming down again, than the threatening blast struck the ship.
"Hold on for your lives, hold on!" exclaimed the captain. "Port the helm, port!"
Away she flew before the gale, upright and unharmed. In an instant, it seemed, the sea, before so calm and bright, became covered with a mass of foam, and then waves rose rapidly, one towering above the other, in quick succession. Two men were stationed at the helm, to keep the ship before the wind, as she ran on under close-reefed fore-topsail.
So engaged had Captain Willis and his officers been in getting the ship into proper order to encounter the gale, that they entirely forgot the boat towing astern. Fortunately no sea had yet risen high enough to drive her against the ship, or serious damage might have been effected. At last Sir Charles observed her, and called the attention of the first officer to her. In an instant his knife was out, and without waiting to consult the captain, he was cutting away at the tow rope. He was not a moment too soon, for some heavy black seas were seen rolling up like mountains astern. The last strands of the rope parted with a sharp snap, the boat was seen to rise to the top of a wave, and the next rolled her over and over, and she disappeared beneath the waters.
"Alas!" exclaimed Sir Charles, "sad would have been the fate of the poor children, had we not providentially come up in time to save them."
Reader, I was one of those poor children, thus providentially rescued from destruction; the other was my sister. Truly I have a right to say, God equally rules the calm or the tempest—equally in the one and the other does He watch over his creatures.
GOD IS EVERYWHERE.
The events I have described in the preceding chapters were afterwards told me by my friends, and I have faithfully given them in the words of the narrators. Of course the commencement of my narrative is somewhat conjectural; but there can be no doubt, from the circumstances I have mentioned, that the main features were perfectly true. The storm blew furiously all that night, and the ship ran on before it; but as day dawned its rage appeared expended, and by noon the waves subsided, and the wind gently as before filled the broad fields of canvas spread to receive it. I slept through it all, for the close air of the cabins, after having been exposed for so many days in the open boat, made me drowsy. I have a faint recollection of opening my eyes in the morning, and finding the sun shining in through the port, and the sweet face of Ellen Barrow hanging over me. When she saw me look up and smile, (for even then I thought such a face ought to be beloved, and must be kind and good, and I felt that I did love her), she covered me with kisses, and, forlorn little foundling though I was, I felt very happy. I have no distinct recollection of anything which happened in the boat; but I remember, as if it were yesterday, that lovely countenance, with the sun just tingeing her auburn locks as my waking eyes first fell on it; and though I do not suppose that I had ever heard of an angel, I had some indefinite sort of notion that she was one; at all events, that she was a being in whom I might place implicit confidence, and who would watch over me, and guard me from danger. I put out my little arms and threw them round her neck, and returned her kisses with right good-will.
Dear Mrs Clayton had faithfully fulfilled her promise of carefully nursing my little sister, by holding her half the night in her arms, during the raging of the storm, fearful that any harm should come to her new-found treasure; and it was only when the sea subsided, and the ship was more steady, that she would consent to place her in a little cot which had been slung by her side. In the afternoon all the passengers were again collected together on deck. We, of course, afforded the subject of general conversation and curiosity. Speculations of all sorts were offered as to who we could be—where we could have come from, and how it happened that we were in an open boat, in the condition in which we were found. I was asked all sorts of questions; but to none of them could I return a satisfactory answer. I had some indistinct idea of having been on board another ship, and of there being a great disturbance, and of my crying very much through fear; and I suspect that I must have cried myself to sleep, and remained so when I was put into the boat. Ellen Barrow had taken me under her especial protection, though everybody, more or less, tried to pet me, and I was very happy. Scarcely four-and-twenty hours had passed, it must be remembered, since, without food or human aid, we floated on the open ocean, the dying and the dead our only companions; and now we were on board a well-found ship, and surrounded by kind friends, all vying with each other to do us service. Sir Charles every now and then, as I passed him, patted me on the head; and as I looked up I liked the expression of his countenance, so I stopped and smiled, and frequently ran back to him. In this manner we shortly became great friends.
"I wonder what their names can be!" exclaimed Mrs Clayton, as those most interested in us were still sitting together in earnest consultation. "The boy's initials are M.S., and the little girl's E.S., that is certain. If we cannot discover their real names, we must give them some ourselves."
"Oh, let them be pretty ones, by all means!" cried Ellen Barrow. "I must not let my pet be called by an ugly name. Let me consider—it must not be romantic either, like invented names found in novels."
"I should advise you to choose the surname first for both the children, and then settle the respective Christian names," remarked the judge.
"Will you help us, Sir Charles?" asked Miss Barrow.
"No, my dear young lady—I propose that our committee abide by your choice, if I am allowed to have a word to say about the Christian name— so on your shoulders must rest the responsibility," was Sir Charles's answer.
"It must begin with S, that is certain," said Ellen Barrow, speaking as she thought on. "Something to do with the sea: Seagrave—I don't like that; Seaton—it might do. What do you think of Seaworth, Sir Charles? It is a pretty name and appropriate—Seaworth—I like Seaworth."
"So do I; and I compliment you on the selection," said the judge. "Let the surname of the children be Seaworth from henceforth, till the real name is discovered; and now for a Christian name for the boy. It must begin with M. I do not like long names, and I have a fancy for one in particular—I must beg that he be called Mark. I had a friend of that name, who died early. Do you object to it, Miss Ellen?"
"I had not thought of it, certainly," said Ellen Barrow. "I was going to propose Marmaduke; but let me try how it sounds in combination with Seaworth—Mark Seaworth—Mark Seaworth. A very nice name; I like it, and I am sure I shall like it very much in a short time." So, thanks to Sir Charles and Ellen Barrow, I was called Mark Seaworth.
Mrs Clayton now claimed the right of naming her little charge. It was a matter, however, of still longer consideration. Emily, and Eliza, and Elizabeth, and a number of others beginning with E were thought of, but none seemed to please.
"Give her the name of her mother, then," said Sir Charles.
"How do you know it?" exclaimed several voices.
"The mother of us all," replied the judge, smiling.
"Oh dear, yes! Let her be called Eva rather," exclaimed Mrs Clayton, delighted. "It is a sweetly pretty name, and not often used."
"I meant simply Eve; but Eva is an improvement on my idea," said Sir Charles.
"Eva, Eva," was pronounced in chorus by all the party; and by that name my little sister was afterwards christened. Thus this important matter was finally arranged.
Several days passed away without the occurrence of anything worthy of note, that I have heard of. My little sister slowly gained strength and health under the careful nursing of Mrs Clayton.
One fine day, sweet Ellen Barrow was, as usual, romping with me about the deck—now running after me—now catching hold of me to fondle me, and then letting me go for the sake of again chasing me; and though I struggled and screamed when she overtook me, I cannot say that I was either alarmed, or that I disliked the treatment I received. Sir Charles was calmly watching us all the time, with a smile on his countenance. At last the young lady, weary with her exertions, threw herself into a seat, while I came and nestled by her side. After looking at us for a few minutes he came nearer to her.
"My dear young lady," he said, "will you answer me a question?"
"A hundred, Sir Charles," she answered, "if you are kind enough to ask them; for I do not think you will prove a censorious father confessor."
"Well, then, as you give me leave, I may venture to ask you more than one," said Sir Charles. "In the first place, tell me what you propose doing with that little boy when you get ashore."
"Doing with him, Sir Charles? Why, I daresay Captain and Mrs Clayton will assist me in taking charge of him," replied Ellen Barrow, with a puzzled expression. "But I do not think, I own, that I had thought at all about the future."
"I thought not, my dear Miss Barrow," said Sir Charles, smiling. "The young seldom think of the future; but we old people are taught by many a severe lesson the importance of preparing for it. Now, as Captain and Mrs Clayton can scarcely wish to have the responsibility of taking charge of both your little pet and his sister, and as he has no claim on any here on board in particular, I have resolved to constitute myself his guardian till his natural protectors can be found. Captain Willis, who has a sort of legal right over him, consents to my wish; so I intend to take him with me when we land. Pray, therefore, make the most of him now you have him; but do not fix your heart on him entirely, for though I hope you may often see him, I cannot let you have him altogether."
"What! Sir Charles, do you really intend to adopt the dear little fellow?" exclaimed Miss Barrow with animation. "He will, indeed, be fortunate; but I should be very, very sorry if I thought that I was not to see him again," she added, while a tear stood in her bright eye, and, turning round she gave me a hug and a kiss, which I thought very good of her.
"Till his rightful guardians are found, I propose to take entire charge of him," said Sir Charles. "I will do my best to fulfil the important duty I have undertaken; it is not a light one, I own. It is not only to train up the boy to perform well his allotted task in this world, to fear God, to act honourably towards his neighbour, to overcome difficulties, and to secure a good place in the rank of fame and fortune among his fellow-men, but to prepare an immortal soul for eternity."
Well, indeed, did that good man fulfil his self-imposed duty and utterly beyond all return are the benefits I received from him.
Alas! that so few who have the charge of youth should think of their deep responsibilities as he did. How many private tutors I have met with, who think they have done their duty when they have taught their pupils the sufficient knowledge of Latin and Greek, and mathematics to enable them to enter the universities, without a thought beyond—without pointing out to them, clearly and unmistakably, whatever may be their station in life, that they must have responsibilities, and that they should so act in everything they do here, that they may be ever prepared for entering the life which is to endure for ever! I know that, let the tutor be ever so anxious to perform his duty, let the pupil be ever so ready to listen, times will come when good intentions and precepts may be forgotten; but such failings off should not damp the energies of either, but with sorrow for their derelictions, and earnest prayer for strength from above, they should rise to new exertions, and each year will afford to the tutor greater encouragement, as he sees in the lives of his pupils the fruit of his instruction.
What I wish you to remember is this, that every one of you—the poorest and humblest as well as the richest—may do a great deal of good to your fellow-creatures, if you will but try to find out the way; and also that you cannot devote yourself to amusement, as so many do, without committing a very grave fault, by neglecting the duties of which I have spoken; while I am very certain that you would lose an unfailing source of happiness, for which no other gratification can afford any recompense.
I beg you to think very deeply of what I have said; and now I will go on with my narrative.
Sir Charles at once set to work with my education, and Ellen Barrow was, under his directions, my instructress. I do not remember that I was much troubled with the sight of books; but she drew a number of pictures of various objects, and made me repeat their names, and then she cut out the alphabet in cardboard, by which means I very soon knew my letters. If I was sick she never attempted to teach me, so that all the means offered me of gaining knowledge were pleasurable, and I thus took at once a strong liking to learning, which has never deserted me. Before the termination of the voyage. I could express myself in English, so as to be understood as well as are most children of my age; and as Sir Charles would not allow me to be taught nonsense, I put a right signification upon the words I used.
One morning, at daybreak, a cry was heard from the mast-head of "Land ahead!" and so true had been the observations of Captain Willis, that a few hours afterwards, with a fine breeze, we were entering Table Bay, at the Cape of Good Hope.
The Cape of Good Hope colony is, as most of my young readers are well aware, now an English settlement. It once belonged to the Dutch; but we took it from them during the last war, when they sided with the republican French. It is most celebrated for its sheep pastures; but it also produces wine, and corn, and oil, and affords ample room for the establishment of numbers of our countrymen, who cannot find employment at home. The climate is very healthy; but there are very strong winds, and sometimes droughts which destroy the labours of the husbandman.
However, people who settle there become much attached to the country; and those fond of chasing wild beasts may gratify their tastes to the full in the interior; but they must remember that they cannot, at the same time, attend properly to their farming operations, which must, of necessity, be carried on in more settled districts. It is on many accounts a very valuable colony to Great Britain, and, among others, because it is on the high road to her extensive possessions in Australasia and that in its harbours the numerous shipping which sail thither may find shelter in time of war, and at all times may replenish their water and provisions. It affords a home to thousands of our countrymen, and it supplies the raw material, wool, to our manufacturers; and its inhabitants, by using a large quantity of British manufactures, afford employment to thousands of persons at home, who would otherwise of necessity be idle. By my calculations, every three or four Englishmen who go to one of our southern colonies, and are prosperous, afford employment to one person of those remaining at home; and we thus see how immediately the mother country is benefited by an extensive colonisation. Those very emigrants, or those who have taken their places, had they remained, it must be borne in mind, might have been idle and paupers; while the money which is now circulating, usefully affording employment to others, would have been employed in supporting them in idleness. However, the subject is irrelevant to my history: I mention it because I want to draw the attention of my young friends to the value of our colonial possessions, that when they become men, they may do their utmost to increase the prosperity of the colonies, being assured that they cannot turn their attention to a more patriotic subject.
We remained several days in Table Bay; during which time most of the passengers lived on shore, and some even ventured a considerable way into the interior. Cape Town extends along the shores of the bay at the foot of the far-famed Table Mountain, towards which the ground gradually rises from the waters. The streets are straight, regularly constructed, and run at right angles to each other. They are lined with elm and oak trees, which in summer afford a grateful shade.
There is a clean nice look about the place, which reminds one of an English town. I visited it many years after the time of which I am now speaking, for which reason I am able to describe it. The squares are well laid out, and the public edifices are numerous and substantial. The private houses are built chiefly of red brick or stone, with a terrace before the door shaded by trees. Here not only the Dutch, but the English, as was once the custom in the old country in days long gone by, delight to sit and work in the shade, when the sun is hot, or in the evening to enjoy the fresh breeze from the open sea.
There are upwards of 25,000 inhabitants, half of whom are white, the majority being Dutch or of Dutch descent.
Cape Town is strongly fortified. The entrance to the bay is commanded by a battery called the Mouille. There is a castle to the left of the town, and several other forts and batteries. The colony is divided into two provinces—the Western Province, of which Cape Town is the capital; and the Eastern Province, of which Graham's Town is the capital. Each province is divided into districts, many of which retain the old Dutch names; indeed, nearly all the places in the long settled parts are called by the appellations given them by the early possessors of the colony.
There are no navigable rivers; and as the country is wild and mountainous, the means of communication are not easy. To the east, about five hundred miles from the frontier, is the new settlement of Natal, which, from its beautiful climate, and many excellent qualities, promises some day to become a very valuable possession.
Having got our stores on board, the Blue Peter was hoisted, our passengers again collected in their accustomed places, full of all the things they had seen and heard, and once more we were ploughing the ocean towards the mouth of the wealth-bearing Hoogly.
Our voyage was most propitious, and, without any event worthy of notice, we approached the mouth of the Hoogly, on the shore of which stands Calcutta, the magnificent city whither we were bound. While still some way off the land the pilot came on board to take charge of the ship; and now, from the heavy responsibility which had so long weighed on the shoulders of Captain Willis, he was in part relieved, as the pilot became answerable for the safety of the ship. While we slowly glide up the placid stream, one of the mouths of the far-famed Ganges, the sacred river of the Hindoos, I will give a short description of it.
The Ganges is 1,500 miles long, and as far as 500 miles from the sea the channel is thirty feet deep, when, during the dry season, the river is at its lowest, while so great even there is its width, that it appears like an inland sea. At 200 miles from the ocean the Ganges separates into two branches; the south-east retaining the name of the Ganges, and the west assuming the appellation of the Hoogly; the delta, or triangular space between the two, being called the Sunderbunds.
Among the eternal snows of the lofty mountains of the Himalaya, 20,000 feet above the level of the sea, in latitude 30 degrees north, is found the source of this superb stream. It is said to issue out of the precipitous side of a lofty mountain, from beneath an arch 300 feet high, composed of deep frozen layers of snow, surrounded by icicles of gigantic magnitude. Such was, the mighty stream on which the good ship the Governor Harcourt was now floating.
On its eastern bank stands Calcutta, the City of Palaces as it is often called. My earliest recollections were of the clusters of columns, the long colonnades, and lofty gateways of its magnificent mansions. The residences are, for the most part, either entirely detached from each other, or connected only by long ranges of terraces, surmounted, like the flat roofs of the houses, with balustrades. The greater number of the mansions have pillared verandahs, extending the whole way up, sometimes to the height of three stories, besides a large portico in front, the whole having a very picturesque appearance, especially when intermingled with forest trees and flowering shrubs. The houses are built of brick, covered with cement, which looks like stone and as even the more ordinary buildings are spread over a considerable extent of ground, they have a very imposing effect, unlike any inhabited by persons of the same rank in England. But close even to the palaces of the most wealthy are to be seen wretched mud huts; and rows of native hovels, constructed of mats, thatch, and bamboos, often rest against their outer walls, while there are avenues opening from the principal streets, intersected in all directions by native bazaars, filled with unsightly articles of every description.
Sir Charles Plowden lived in a very large house, and though his own habits were very simple, the custom of the country required him to have a large retinue of domestics. Thus I was brought up in almost barbaric splendour, with a number of persons whose only business was to attend upon my wishes. My kind guardian, whenever his public duties permitted, had me with him, and himself superintended my education, which prevented the ill effects of the indulgence I was allowed. A sitting-room in India is very unlike one in England. The sofas, chairs, and tables are placed at a foot distance from the wall, on account of the reptiles which would otherwise find their way on to them. All the walls are pierced with doors, through which are seen, like ghosts, the servants, clad in flowing white garments, gliding about with noiseless feet in all directions. None of the inferior domestics keep themselves, as in England, in the background—the water-carrier alone confines his perambulations to the back staircases; all the others, down to the scullions, make their appearance in the state apartments whenever they please; and in Bengal even the lower orders of palanquin-bearers, who wear but little clothing, will walk into a room without ceremony, and endeavour to make themselves useful by dusting the furniture, setting it in order; at the same time, any of the upper servants would deem it highly disrespectful to their masters to appear without their turbans, or their other usual clothing.
The punkah, a necessary appendage of every house, is worthy of description. It is formed of a wooden framework, a foot and a half or two feet broad, hung in the centre of the room, and extending nearly its whole length. This frame is covered with painted canvas or fluted silk, finished round the edges with gilt mouldings. It is suspended from the ceiling by ropes, covered with scarlet cloth, very tastefully disposed, and hangs within seven feet of the ground. A rope is fastened to the centre, and the whole apparatus waves to and fro, creating, if pulled vigorously, a strong current of air, and rendering the surrounding atmosphere endurable, when the heat would, without it, be very disagreeable.
Captain Clayton was stationed up the country, where Mrs Clayton took my little sister, and Ellen Barrow accompanied them. I was very sorry to part from all my kind friends, as well as my little sister, and often used to ask when they were coming back again. I missed my sweet playmate, Ellen Barrow, very much; for among all my obsequious attendants, no one could romp with me as she did, or amuse me half so much. I loved her dearly, and had I never again seen her, I think I should never have forgotten her countenance.
I must be very brief with this part of my history, as the adventures I afterwards met with will, I doubt not, prove more interesting to my readers.
I must, however, while I am talking of India, recommend my young friends to make themselves well acquainted with the geographical position of the most important places in it. I have often, since coming to England, been asked if I knew Mr So-and-so of India, as if India was a town or an English county. A glance at the map will show the immense extent of the British possessions in the East. They are divided into three Presidencies, or Sub-governments—those of Bengal, Madras and Bombay. Connected with these are a great number of subsidiary and protected states. Some of the nominal rulers of these are tributary to the Company, others receive stipends from them; while a great many have British residents or envoys stationed at their courts, who advise them how to govern, and many have, besides, British troops, to keep them in order and their enemies in awe.
The vast extent of country between the Ganges and the Indus, with the Himalaya mountains on the north, may be considered as almost entirely British; at all events, British troops are stationed in all directions, and British travellers may move north and south, and east and west, without let or hindrance. Thus it may be seen, that it is very possible for people to reside all their lives in India and not to meet; at the same time, as the British move about a great deal, especially the military, who, in time of war, are brought much in contact, they certainly meet oftener, and hear more of each other than would be expected.
I feel assured that the rule of the British has proved a blessing to the people of India. Had it not done so, we should not, I think, have been allowed to keep possession of the country. At the same time, we might have proved a far greater blessing than we have been; for had we set a better example in religion and morality, I cannot but suppose that the divine truths of Christianity would have made greater progress among the inhabitants than they have. Very many of my readers may have their future fortunes cast in that land of wonders, and let me entreat them to remember the immense responsibility which rests on their shoulders. According to the example they set, so may the benighted natives be brought to perceive the beauty and excellence of true religion, or they may remain in their present darkness. Let me ask you a question: Who will be answerable for the ignorance and crimes of the poor natives— they who have never had the light presented to them, or you who might, by your example and precept, have offered it to them and would not?
In saying this, I at the same time advise you to respect the prejudices and customs of the people. You can never win people over to the truth by insulting their superstition, however gross. I only urge you to be, in your own lives, a bright example.
I now return to my history.
Several years of the time of my childhood passed away very happily. Sir Charles was placed as ruler over a large Province in the interior, and he took me with him. His residence was situated on some lofty hills, which were cool even in hot weather, so that I grew up strong and healthy. Some British troops were sent to the same place, under the command of Captain, now Major Clayton, and thus I was once more united to my kind friends and young sister. Ellen Barrow was so no longer; she had become Mrs Northcote; but was the same kind, lively creature as when I first remembered her. Major and Mrs Clayton had no children of their own; and they therefore loved my little sister even as if she had been their infant.
I must not omit to mention an occurrence which happened about this time, and is well worthy of note. My friends were residing in a sort of fort, situated on the hills, with a high wall surrounding the habitable portion. In the hot weather the windows are left entirely open, or are simply closed with a sort of venetian blind. The crib in which my sister slept was placed in a large apartment outside Major and Mrs Clayton's chamber, while beyond it were the sleeping-places of the nurses and other household domestics. It was used in the day-time as a sitting-room, and against the wall was a large and handsome mirror, and from the ceiling hung a lamp, which shed a soft and subdued light upon it. I am thus particular in describing the scene from the circumstances which follow. It was an hour or more past midnight, when Major Clayton was awakened, and from, to him, some unaccountable reason, he could not again compose himself to sleep. While he lay awake, he fancied that he heard a slight noise in the adjoining room, and throwing on his dressing-gown, he rose to discover what could have caused it. Think of his horror and amazement to see, in the centre of the apartment, as if about to spring on the cradle where the infant slept, a royal Bengal tiger of vast size! In a moment it might have seized the child, and before any human aid could have availed, it might have carried her away into the wild jungle. He stood almost paralysed, not knowing how to act. Had he moved to get his pistols from the next room, he might only have hastened the catastrophe he feared. He looked again; the fierce animal was lashing its tail and grinding its teeth with rage. Before its eyes, reflected in the mirror, was its own image, which it had beheld when just about to spring on its prey. It now stood, every moment its fury increasing, fancying that another of its species was there to contest the prize it had come to bear away. The major watched it with breathless anxiety; he was about to rush to the crib, at the risk of his life, to carry off the child, when the tiger sprung forward. Alas! It is too late, and the savage beast will destroy it; but no, the tiger expects to join combat with its rival, and with a loud crash the mirror is dashed into a thousand fragments. The animal, frightened by the unexpected event and the wounds it received, without an attempt to commit further injury, turned round and leaped out of the open window by which it had entered. A few springs carried it to the outer wall, which, though of great height, it surmounted, and before pursuit could be made it escaped. The noise aroused the whole household, who came rushing into the apartment from all sides, while Mrs Clayton clasped the still sleeping child in her arms, to assure herself that it was unharmed. Surely this was one of those evident inter-positions of Providence which occur to most of us, but are seldom acknowledged in a proper spirit of gratitude. It is another of the many signal proofs I have had to convince me that God is everywhere. This escape of their darling endeared little Eva still more, if possible, to her kind guardians. I ought to have said that both they and Sir Charles had taken every measure in their power to discover our relations and friends, but that hitherto they had totally failed in the search. Most certainly they would have made the discovery with deep regret had it tended to deprive them of us; but still this sense of right prompted them to spare no expense or trouble for that object. Sir Charles drew up a circular, addressed to the consuls, Lloyd's agents, and others, at all the ports from which the ship could have sailed, to have carried us to the neighbourhood of where we were found; but though several were missing, and were supposed to have been lost about that time, there were no proofs forthcoming that we had been on board one of them. Now and then our friends fancied that they had found the clue to our identity; but either the children inquired after were subsequently discovered, or it was proved that we could not possibly be them. Thus year after year passed away, and I was entirely dependent on Sir Charles, while my sister was in every respect the adopted child of Major and Mrs Clayton. Little Eva, from a sickly infant, had become a very beautiful child; but at the time of which I am speaking she was remarkably small for her age, so that she looked even younger than she really was. I, on the contrary, was rather taller and stouter than most boys of my age. My excellent guardian had taken great pains, not only to cultivate my mind, but also to give me a variety of manly accomplishments; and I could ride, shoot, and fence, sufficiently well to elicit a considerable amount of applause from all who saw me. At a very early age, mounted on an elephant, I used to accompany parties of officers on their expeditions against the tigers and wild boars of the jungle. One day I was thus engaged, when the elephant I was on, being some way from the rest, a tiger flew out and fastened on his trunk. In vain the mighty beast tried to shake off his savage assailant. He then endeavoured to kneel upon him and so to crush him; and I fully expected to be thrown over his head. My gun was, however, ready. I caught a sight of the tiger's eye; and, firing, sent a ball directly into it. In an instant his claws relaxed, and he fell to the ground dead. I gained great applause for the deed, and for the coolness I displayed; but I don't see how, having a gun in my hand, I could have acted otherwise than I did.
I must pass rapidly over the next few years of my life, though they were not uneventful. One day Sir Charles called me to him, and, taking my hand, he said kindly, "I have been considering, Mark, that it will be necessary to send you home in order to complete your education, which cannot be done out here to my satisfaction."
"Home!" I asked. "Where is that, papa? This is the only home I know."
"In England, my boy; that is my home, where I hope to return to end my days; and it should be your home also. I wish you to be brought up to think, and feel, and act as an Englishman, and that you can only do by mixing on equal terms with other English boys of your own age. In fact, you are too much of a man already; and I wish you to be rubbed back into boyhood again."
In reply, I tried to persuade him that I would endeavour to become in every respect what he wished, if he would allow me to remain with him; for I sincerely grieved at the thought of being separated from so kind a guardian; at the same time, I own that I could not help looking with very great satisfaction at the prospect of a visit to a land so full of wonders as I expected to find England. People are apt to think the country they have not seen much more wonderful than the one where they are residing. Before people travelled, as they do now, the most absurd stories of distant countries were reported and believed even by sensible men. It was supposed that races of men existed, some with their heads under their arms, others with three eyes, and that others, again, were of gigantic stature; indeed, the tales of the Arabian Nights appeared scarcely in any way to be exaggerations.
We were, at the time of which I speak, some way up the country; and as Sir Charles was about to proceed to Calcutta, I had the advantage of travelling in his society. An English gentleman is obliged to perform a journey in India in a very different way, to what he would in England. A family of moderate size has a hundred or more attendants, with numbers of elephants, and bullocks, and horses, and, in some districts, camels. It is a curious sight to see a party starting on the first morning of a journey; the palanquins, and hackeries, and carriages, and long strings of animals, varying in size from the mighty elephant to the little pony, defile out from among the houses of the town. As there are no inns or other buildings to afford shelter, it is necessary to carry tents, and cooking apparatus, and furniture and provisions; then all the upper servants have their attendants, and the guards theirs, in addition to the drivers of the animals; so, as may be supposed, a very few officers will require a whole army of followers. The more weighty articles are packed in hackeries, which are the small carts of the country, drawn by bullocks. Females, chiefly of the lower ranks, are conveyed in a similar rough vehicle, covered over at the top. Trunks are also slung across the backs of bullocks. Tents are carried by camels or elephants; and lighter articles, liable to fracture, are borne on the heads or over the shoulders of men. China and cooking apparatus are carried in large baskets hung on poles by four men, like a palanquin. The meter walks along with his dogs in a leash; the shepherd drives his sheep before him; and ducks and hens journey in baskets. There are spare horses led by grooms, and watermen and water-carriers march alongside their bullocks. Among the miscellaneous concourse appears the head-servant, or khansamah, mounted generally on some steed discarded by his master, while his inferiors either walk on foot, or get a lift in a hackery, or on the back of a camel; but all trudge along with cheerfulness, and alacrity.
Palanquins are sometimes like small four-post beds, with richly ornamented curtains, and supported by a long horizontal pole, borne by four men. Children are conveyed in a palanquin carriage, a curtained vehicle on wheels, not unlike the cage of a wild beast. The nurse sits on the floor with the baby on her knees, while the rest of the children may be seen looking through the bars which keep them in. It is drawn by bullocks; and as it moves floundering along over the heavy roads, it threatens to upset at every jolt.
It is surprising to see the rapid manner in which the multifarious materials, which compose the temporary city, are reduced to order. The spot so lately a silent desert is peopled, as if by magic, by crowds of human beings, and animals of every description. The ground on every side is strewed with packages, chests, and cloth bundles; while the men, moving about with violent gesticulations and loud exclamations, employ themselves in their well-known and allotted tasks. By degrees graceful forms arise, and richly-tinted pavilions, with gilded summits, glitter in the sunbeams, while gaudy banners flutter in the air. Long lines of canvas sheets appear, and spacious enclosures formed of kanauts secure the utmost privacy to the dwellers of the populous camp; while the elephants, who have trodden out the ground, and smoothed it for the chief's or master's tent, retire to their bivouac. Not only comfort, but even elegance is imparted to these temporary abodes, fitted up with such rapidity in the midst of the wildest jungle. Gay-coloured shawls form the roof and sides, rich carpets the floor, and soft couches run round the walls of the tented apartment.
Palanquins and carriages begin to arrive: the ladies find their toilet-tables laid out; baths are ready for the gentlemen; the khidmutghars are preparing breakfast, and the hookabadhars are getting the chillums in readiness; while the elephants, camels, bullocks, horses, and the other animals, as well as their drivers, and the tent-pitchers, coolies, and all those who have been employed in fatiguing offices, are buried in profound repose.
Day after day the same scene takes place, varied sometimes by a tiger or a wild boar hunt, when one is passing through a part of the country, where they are to be found.
The dinner in camp is usually as well supplied with the products of the larder as the repast served up in a settled establishment. Several very excellent dishes have been invented, which are peculiarly adapted to the cooking apparatus suited to the jungle.
Immediately after the dinner the khidmutghars, cooks, and mussaulchees pack up the utensils belonging to their department, and set forward with the tent, which is to be to-morrow's dwelling, leaving the bearers to attend at tea, their objection to doing duty at table extending only to repasts composed of animal food.
During our long journey, we were compelled to halt several times for a day or two, to refresh the weary frames of the men and cattle, toiling under the burthen of the camp equipage. The camp on those days used to present even a more busy scene than usual. The dobies were employed in washing and ironing their master's clothes, while the other servants and camp-followers were mending, making, and repairing garments, saddles, and harness, and tackle of all descriptions.
Part of our journey was performed by water down the Ganges, on hoard a budgerow. The name of this boat is a native corruption of the word barge. It is somewhat in appearance like an overgrown gondola—very picturesque, and not altogether inelegant. The interior is fitted up with sleeping apartments and a sitting-room, with an enclosed verandah in front, which serves to keep off the sun; the cabin is on all sides surrounded by venetians, which serve to keep off his burning rays by day, and to let in the air at night. On a small deck, left free at the bows, the boatmen stand, urging on the boat with long sweeps; while the roof of the cabin, or upper deck, as it might be called, is the chief resort of the servants and the rest of the crew. The helmsman is posted on a high platform at the stern, guiding the boat with a huge rudder; and the goleer, stationed at the bow, ascertains with a long pole the depth of the water. When the wind is fair, two large square sails are hoisted; and as the vessel draws but little water, they send her rapidly along. A baggage boat is always in attendance on a budgerow; she also carries the provisions and the servants, and the cooking apparatus. Besides these two boats, a smaller one, called a dinghee, is used to communicate between the two, or to send messages on shore. When the wind is contrary, or when there is none, and the banks of the river will allow it, the boats are towed along by sixteen or more men, dragging at a rope fastened to the mast-head.
I remember being particularly struck with the number and beauty of the lotus, floating on the waters of the Ganges, as also with other flowers, of scarlet, yellow, and white hues; while numberless others, of every tint, garnished either bank of the stream.
A remarkable feature of the Ganges is the fine Ghauts, or landing-places, one of which is to be found leading from the water even to the smallest village. They consist of five flights of steps, either of stone or chunam highly polished; and have, besides being most useful, a very handsome appearance. On either side are stone balustrades, and sometimes beautiful temples, mosques, or pagodas, according to the creed of the founders. At every time of the day, on the Ghauts, may be seen groups of bathers; while graceful female forms are continually passing and re-passing, loaded with water-pots, which are balanced with the nicest precision on their heads.
As we proceed down the river an infinite variety of scenes meets our sight—now overhanging cliffs, crowned by some beautiful Oriental edifice; then green woods and fields, with quiet villages seen among them; next a herd of buffaloes wallowing in the mud, their horns and the tips of their noses alone out of the water, or, perhaps, their keepers are about to drive them across the stream, for though fierce in appearance, they are as tame as oxen. The herdsmen mount on the necks of the strongest, and thus fearlessly stem the current, almost completely immersed in the water. We saw wide pastures covered with innumerable herds; forests, with their eternal shade; and indigo plantations, in charge of Europeans. Sometimes a gigantic elephant was observed under the shade of a tree, fanning off the flies with a branch of palm; others were pacing along, decked in gaudy trappings, and hearing their masters in howdahs through the fields or plantations.
The most elegant and picturesque buildings are the temples and habitations of the Brahmins, in situations remote from the busy haunts of men. Here the mistaken devotees of a barbarous faith spend their time in weaving garlands for their altars, or to deck the rafts which they commit to the holy stream.
Innumerable varieties of birds are seen, some flying in flocks, and others stalking along the reedy shore.
After leaving these wild and picturesque scenes behind, one comes suddenly upon one of the beautiful modern towns, built by the British, on the banks of the river, filled with superb palaces, well suited for the habitations of princes, though but the residences of the civil servants of the East India Company.
During the day the heat in the cabin is often very great; but as the sun declines, the temperature agreeably decreases. As the crew will not work at night, it is necessary, as it grows dark, to moor the budgerow to the shore. The moment this is done, a very active and animated scene commences; the domestics, whose services are not required on board, and all the crew, immediately disembark; fires are kindled for the various messes; those who are anxious for quiet and seclusion, light up their fagots at a considerable distance from the boat.
At length we arrived at Calcutta, where Sir Charles, to his great satisfaction, found Captain Willis, who was on the point of sailing for England in his old ship, the Governor Harcourt. I was, accordingly, forthwith committed to his charge, and consigned to the care of a brother of my kind guardian, the Reverend Mr Plowden. I parted from Sir Charles with much sorrow, which, I believe, was fully shared with him.
We were detained some days by contrary winds in the Hoogly; so that, by the time we got clear of the mouth of the river, we were tolerably well acquainted with each other. I made myself perfectly at home, and gained the friendship of all the passengers. I had none of that false shame or bashfulness about me which makes so many English boys appear to disadvantage among strangers, and prevents them from gaining the regard of their acquaintance, though I had perfect respect for my elders, and due deference for the opinions of those who, from their age and experience, I felt ought to know the world better than I could myself. I must not forget to mention that we came in sight of the far-famed temple of Juggernaut, on the coast of Orissa, in the district of Cuttack. The dark and frowning pagoda, rising abruptly from a ridge of sand, forms a conspicuous object from the sea, its huge shapeless mass not unlike some ill-proportioned giant, affording a gloomy type of the hideous superstitions of the land. This huge pagoda, half pyramid and half tower, is built of coarse red granite, brought from the southern parts of Cuttack, and covered with a rough coating of chunam.
The tower containing the idols, which is two hundred feet high, and serves as a land-mark to the mariner, stands in the centre of a quadrangle, enclosed by a high stone wall, extending 650 feet on each side, and surrounded by minor edifices of nondescript shapes. The magnitude of these buildings forms their sole claim to admiration; they are profusely decorated with sculpture, but of so rude a description as to afford no satisfaction to the beholder. The great temple of Juggernaut was erected in the twelfth century. The idols are of huge size and hideous shape. Krishna, the chief, in intended as a mystic representation of the supreme power; for the Hindoos assert that they worship only one God, and that the thousands of other images to which they pay homage are merely attributes of a deity pervading the whole of nature. Every one of the idols particularly venerated by the numerous tribes and sects of Hindostan, obtains a shrine within the precincts of the temple; so that all castes may unite in celebrating the great festival with one accord. The installation of the mighty idol upon his car, and his journey to a country residence, about a mile and a half distant only, though it occupies three days, is performed with numberless extraordinary ceremonies by his devotees. The car is a sort of platform, forty-three feet in height, and thirty-five feet square, moving upon sixteen wheels, each six feet and a half in diameter.
Though the ponderous wheels of Juggernaut no longer go crushing over the bodies of prostrate victims, the assembled crowd rush to the car with almost appalling fury and excitement. Pilgrims, however, come in vast numbers from all parts of the country to the temple, and thousands die from famine and exhaustion on the arid road across the sands which surround it. That the vile and dark superstitions I have been describing may disappear before the pure light of Christianity, should be the prayer of all believers; but we must remember, also, that the personal exertions and example of those who are called into that wonderful land are also required to effect that great object, and that they can in no way be excused if they neglect that duty.
This was the last glimpse we had of India. We did not even sight the Cape of Good Hope; and Saint Helena was the first land we made. We remained there two days, and everybody went to see the grave of Napoleon. I remember after dinner, on the day we again sailed, that there was a long discussion as to the right England had to keep him a prisoner. It was the opinion of all the older and most sensible men, that as he had been the greatest curse to Europe, and a constant source of annoyance and expense to our country, we were only performing our duty in taking the most effectual means to prevent him from committing any further mischief. In less civilised times, he would probably have been deprived of life by one of the many means once resorted to for that purpose.
The remainder of our voyage was as prosperous as the commencement, and we arrived safely in the Thames about four months after leaving Calcutta. As there was not a human being I knew in England, I was in no hurry to leave the ship; and I therefore waited till Captain Willis could accompany me to call on Mr Plowden. On first landing, and when driving through the streets, I was completely bewildered by the noise, and bustle, and apparent confusion going on around me. I wondered how the people could thread their way along the pavement, and more how they could venture to cross the road while carriages were dashing by at a rate so furious that I thought they must be constantly running into each other. After proceeding some miles to the west-end of London, we reached Mr Plowden's house. He received me very kindly; and after some conversation, he inquired whether I should like to go to school, or to live with a private tutor by myself. I replied, "To school, by all means," as I wished to see life, and to make friends. To school, therefore, it was settled I should go.