NEWTON FORSTER OR, THE MERCHANT SERVICE
BY CAPTAIN MARRYAT
LONDON J.M. DENT AND CO. BOSTON: LITTLE, BROWN AND CO. MDCCCXCV 1832, 1895
Newton Forster, or the Merchant Service, first appeared in the Metropolitan Magazine, 1832. It is one of the novels which specially suggests a comparison between Marryat and Smollett, both authors having described acts of impressment with vigour and indignation.
Jeffrey, of the Edinburgh Review, wrote to Mrs Marryat, January 1832:——
"That I have read it [Newton Forster] all through in the week I have to finish the preparation of our Scotch Reform Bill (if you will forgive me for mentioning such a thing) is proof enough, I think, that my opinion is very favourable. It is certainly very entertaining, which I take to be the first virtue of a work of this description; but it is interesting as well as entertaining, and not only shows great power of invention, but a very amiable nature and a kind heart."
The Editor quoted on page 23 is presumably Marryat himself. At least the footnote occurs in the first edition, and was probably reprinted from the magazine, where the identity of editor and author was not so patent.
It is here printed from the first edition, in three volumes; motto: Honesty is the best policy. James Cochrane & Co., 1832. R.B.J. [Footnote 1: Thompson has been changed to Johnson and, in another place, Robinson to Robertson, in order to let the same characters act under one name throughout the book.]
The Merchant Service
* * * * *
"And what is this new book the whole world makes such a rout about? ——Oh! 'tis out of all plumb, my lord,——quite an irregular thing; not one of the angles at the four corners was a right angle. I had my rule and compasses, my lord, in my pocket——Excellent critic!
"Grant me patience, just Heaven! Of all the cants which are canted in this canting world——though the cant of hypocrites may be the worst, the cant of criticism is the most tormenting!"——Sterne.
What authors in general may feel upon the subject I know not, but I have discovered, since I so rashly took up my pen, that there are three portions of a novel which are extremely difficult to arrange to the satisfaction of a fastidious public.
The first is the beginning, the second the middle, and the third is the end.
The painter who, in times of yore, exposed his canvas to universal criticism, and found, to his mortification, that there was not a particle of his composition which had not been pronounced defective by one pseudo-critic or another, did not receive severer castigation than I have experienced from the unsolicited remarks of "d——d good-natured friends."
"I like your first and second volume," said a tall, long-chinned, short-sighted blue, dressed in yellow, peering into my face, as if her eyes were magnifying glasses, and she was obtaining the true focus of vision, "but you fall off in your last, which is all about that nasty line-of-battle ship."
"I don't like your plot, sir," bawls out in a stentorian voice an elderly gentleman; "I don't like your plot, sir," repeated he with an air of authority, which he had long assumed, from supposing because people would not be at the trouble of contradicting his opinions, that they were incontrovertible—"there is nothing but death."
"Death, my dear sir," replied I, as if I was hailing the lookout man at the mast-head, and hoping to soften him with my intentional bull; "is not death, sir, a true picture of human life?"
"Ay, ay," growled he, either not hearing or not taking; "it's all very well, but—there's too much killing in it."
"In a novel, sir, killing's no murder, you surely will admit; and you must also allow something for professional feeling—''tis my occupation;' and after five-and-twenty years of constant practice, whether I wield the sword or the pen, the force of habit——"
"It won't do, sir," interrupted he; "the public don't like it. Otherwise," continued this hypercritic, softening a little, "some of the chapters are amusing, and, on the whole, it may be said to be rather—that is—not unpleasantly written."
"I like your first and third volume, but not your second," squeaked out something intended to have been a woman, with shoulder-blades and collar-bones, as De Ville would say, most strongly developed.
"Well now, I don't exactly agree with you, my dear Miss Peego; I think the second and third volumes are by far the most readable" exclaimed another thing, perched upon a chair, with her feet dangling half way between her seat and the carpet.
"If I might presume upon my long standing in the service, Captain——," said a pompous general officer, whose back appeared to have been fished with the kitchen poker—"if I might venture to offer you advice," continued he, leading me paternally by the arm a little on one side, "it would be not again to attempt a defence of smuggling: I consider, sir, that as an officer in his Majesty's service, you have strangely committed yourself."
"It is not my defence, sir: they are the arguments of a smuggler."
"You wrote the book, sir," replied he, sharply; "I can assure you that I should not be surprised if the Admiralty took notice of it."
"Indeed, sir!" replied I, with assumed alarm.
I received no answer, except a most significant nod of the head, as he walked away.
But I have not yet arrived at the climax, which made me inclined to exclaim, with the expiring Lion in the fable——
A midshipman—yes, reader, a midshipman—who had formerly belonged to my ship and had trembled at my frown, ranged up alongside of me, and, with a supercilious air, observed—
"I have read your book, and—there are one or two good things in it."
Hear this, admirals and captains on half-pay! hear this, port-admirals and captains afloat! I have often heard that the service was deteriorating, going to the devil, but I never became a convert to the opinion before.
Gracious Heaven! what a revengeful feeling is there in the exclamation "O that mine adversary had written a book!" To be snarled at, and bow-wowed at, in this manner, by those who find fault because their intellect is not sufficient to enable them to appreciate! Authors, take my resolution; which is, never to show your face until your work has passed through the ordeal of the Reviews—keep your room for the month after your literary labour. Reviews are like Jesuit father confessors—guiding the opinions of the multitude, who blindly follow the suggestions of those to whom they may have entrusted their literary consciences. If your work is denounced and to be released at once from your sufferings by one blow from the paw of a tiger, than to be worried piecemeal by creatures who have all the will, but not the power, to inflict the coup de grace?
The author of "Cloudesley," enumerating the qualifications necessary to a writer of fiction, observes, "When he introduces his ideal personage to the public, he enters upon his task with a preconception of the qualities that belong to this being, the principle of his actions, and its necessary concomitants, &c, &c." That such preparation ought to be made, I will not deny; but were I to attempt an adherence to these rules, the public would never be troubled with any production of mine. It would be too tedious a journey in perspective for my wayward intellect; and if I calculated stages before I ordered my horses, I should abandon the attempt, and remain quietly at home. Mine is not a journey of that methodical description; on the contrary, it is a ramble hand-in-hand with Fancy, with a light heart and a lighter baggage; for my whole wallet, when I set off, contains but one single idea—but ideas are hermaphrodite, and these creatures of the brain are most prolific. To speak more intelligibly, I never have made any arrangement of plot when I commenced a work of fiction, and often finish a chapter without having the slightest idea of what materials the ensuing one is to be constructed. At times I feel so tired that I throw down the pen in despair; but t is soon taken up again, and, like a pigmy Ant, it seems to have imbibed fresh vigour from its prostration.
I remember when the "King's Own" was finished, I was as happy as a pedestrian who had accomplished his thousand miles in a thousand hours. My voluntary slavery was over, and I was emancipated. Where was I then? I recollect; within two days' sail of the Lizard, returning home, after a six weeks' cruise to discover a rock in the Atlantic, which never existed except in the terrified or intoxicated noddle of some master of a merchant vessel.
It was about half-past five in the evening, and I was alone in my after-cabin, quite alone, as the captain of a man-of-war must be, even when in presence of his ship's company. If being sent to sea has been pronounced by the officers and men to be transportation, being the captain of the ship may truly be designated as solitary confinement.
I could not send for any one to whom I could impart the intelligence—there was no one whom I could expect to sympathise with me, or to whom I could pour out the abundance of my joy; for that the service prohibited. What could I do? Why, I could dance; so I sprang from my chair, and singing the tune, commenced a quadrille movement,—Tal de ral la, tal de ral la, lity, lity, lity, liddle-um, tal de ral la, tal—
"Three bells, sir," cried the first lieutenant, who had opened my door unperceived by me, and showed evident surprise at my motions; "shall we beat to quarters?"—
"Certainly, Mr B—," replied I, and he disappeared.
But this interruption produced only a temporary cessation: I was in the height of "Cavalier seul," when his head popped into the cabin—
"All present, and sober, sir," reported he, with a demure smile.
"Except the captain, I presume you are thinking," replied I.
"Oh! no, indeed, sir; I observed that you were very merry."
"I am, Mr B—, but not with wine; mine is a sort of intellectual intoxication not provided for in the Articles of War."
"A what! sir?"
"Oh! something that you'll never get drunk upon, as you never look into a book—beat a retreat."
"Ay, ay, sir," replied the first lieutenant; and he disappeared.
And I also beat a retreat to my sofa; and as I threw myself upon it, mentally vowed that, for two months at the least, I never would take up a pen. But we seldom make a vow which we do not eventually break; and the reason is obvious. We vow only when hurried into excesses; we are alarmed at the dominion which has been acquired over us by our feelings, or by our habits. Checked for a time by an adherence to our resolutions, they gradually recover their former strength, until they again break forth, and we yield to their overpowering influence. A few days after I had made the resolution, I found myself, like the sailor, rewarding it by writing more indefatigably than ever.
So now, reader, you may understand that I continue to write, as Tony Lumpkin says, not to please my good-natured friends, "but because I can't bear to disappoint myself;" for that which I commenced as an amusement, and continued as a drudgery, has ended in becoming a confirmed habit.
So much for the overture. Now let us draw up the curtain, and our actors shall appear upon the stage.
"Boldly I venture on a naval scene, Nor fear the critics' frown, the pedants' spleen. Sons of the ocean, we their rules disdain. Hark!—a shock Tears her strong bottom on the marble rock. Down on the vale of death, with dismal cries, The fated victims, shuddering, roll their eyes In wild despair—while yet another stroke With deep convulsion rends the solid oak, Till like the mine in whose infernal cell The lurking demons of destruction dwell, At length, asunder torn, her frame divides, And crushing, spreads in ruin o'er the tides." FALCONER.
It was in the dreary month of fog, misanthropy, and suicide—the month during which Heaven receives a scantier tribute of gratitude from discontented man—during which the sun rises, but shines not—gives forth an unwilling light, but glads us not with his cheerful rays—during which large tallow candles assist the merchant to calculate his gains or to philosophise over his losses—in short, it was one evening in the month of November of the year l7—, that Edward Forster, who had served many years in his Majesty's navy, was seated in a snug armchair, in a snug parlour, in a snug cottage to which he had retired upon his half-pay, in consequence of a severe wound which had, for many years, healed but to break out again each succeeding spring.
The locality of the cottage was not exactly so snug as it has been described in itself and its interior; for it was situated on a hill which terminated at a short distance in a precipitous cliff, beetling over that portion of the Atlantic which lashes the shores of Cumberland under the sub-denomination of the Irish Sea. But Forster had been all his early life a sailor, and still felt the same pleasure in listening to the moaning and whistling of the wind, as it rattled the shutters of his cottage (like some importunate who would gain admittance), as he used to experience when, lying in his hammock, he was awakened by the howling of the blast, and shrouding himself in his blankets to resume his nap, rejoiced that he was not exposed to its fury.
His finances did not allow him to indulge in luxuries, and the distillation of the country was substituted for wine. With his feet upon the fender and his glass of whiskey-toddy at his side, he had been led into a train of thought by the book which he had been reading, some passage of which had recalled to his memory scenes that had long passed away—the scenes of youth and hope—the happy castle-building of the fresh in heart, invariably overthrown by time and disappointment. The night was tempestuous; the rain now pattered loud, then ceased as if it had fed the wind, which renewed its violence, and forced its way through every crevice. The carpet of his little room occasionally rose from the floor, swelled up by the insidious entrance of the searching blast; the solitary candle, which from neglect had not only elongated its wick to an unusual extent, but had formed a sort of mushroom top, was every moment in danger of extinction, while the chintz curtains of the window waved solemnly to and fro. But the deep reverie of Edward Forster was suddenly disturbed by the report of a gun, swept to leeward by the impetuosity of the gale, which hurled it with violence against the door and front windows of his cottage, for some moments causing them to vibrate with the concussion. Forster started up, dropping his book upon the hearth, and jerking the table with his elbow, so as to dash out the larger proportion of the contents of his tumbler. The sooty coronal of the wick also fell with the shock, and the candle, relieved from its burden, poured forth a brighter gleam.
"Lord ha' mercy, Mr Forster; did you hear that noise?" cried the old housekeeper (the only inhabitant of the cottage except himself), as she bolted into the room, holding her apron in both hands.
"I did, indeed, Mrs Beazely," replied Forster; "it's the signal of a vessel in distress, and she must be on a dead lee-shore. Give me my hat!" and draining off the remainder in his tumbler, while the old lady reached his hat off a peg in the passage, he darted out from the door of his tenement.
The door, which faced to seaward, flew open with violence, as Forster disappeared in the darkness of the night.
The old housekeeper, on whom had devolved the task of securing it, found it no easy matter; and the rain, blown in by the sweeping gale, proved an effectual and unwelcome shower-bath to one who complained bitterly of the rheumatics. At last her object was accomplished, and she repaired to the parlour to re-light the candle which had been extinguished, and await the return of her master. After sundry ejaculations and sundry wonders, she took possession of his arm-chair, poked the fire, and helped herself to a glass of whiskey-toddy. As soon as her clothes and her tumbler were again dry, she announced by loud snores that she was in a happy state of oblivion; in which we shall leave her, to follow the motions of Edward Forster.
It was about seven o'clock in the evening when Forster thus exposed himself to the inclemency of the weather. But a few weeks before how beautiful were the evenings at this hour; the sun disappearing beyond the distant wave, and leaving a portion of his glory behind him, until the stars, in obedience to the divine fiat, were lighted up to "shine by night;" the sea rippling on the sand, or pouring into the crevices of the rocks, changing its hue, as day-light slowly disappeared, to the more sombre colours it reflected, from azure to each deeper tint of grey, until darkness closed in, and its extent was scarcely to be defined by the horizontal line.
Now all was changed. The roaring of the wind and the hoarse beating of the waves upon the streaming rocks deafened the ears of Edward Forster. The rain and spray were hurled in his face, as, with both hands, he secured his hat upon his head; and the night was so intensely dark that but occasionally he could distinguish the broad belt of foam with which the coast was lined. Still Forster forced his way towards the beach, which it is now requisite that we should more particularly describe.
As we before observed, the cottage was built upon a high land, which terminated in a precipitous cliff about two hundred yards distant, and running in a direct line to the westward. To the northward the coast for miles was one continued line of rocky cliffs, affording no chance of life to those who might be dashed upon them; but to the southward of the cliff which formed the promontory opposite to Forster's cottage, and which terminated the range, there was a deep indent in the line of coast, forming a sandy and nearly land-locked bay, small indeed, but so sheltered that any vessel which could run in might remain there in safety until the gale was spent. Its only occupant was a fisherman, who, with his family, lived in a small cottage on the beach. He was an ally of Forster, who had entrusted to his charge a skiff, in which, during the summer months, he often whiled away his time. It was to this cottage that Forster bent his way, and loudly knocked when he arrived.
"Robertson—I say, Robertson," called Forster, at the full compass of his voice.
"He is not here, Mr Forster," answered Jane, the wife of the fisherman; "he is out, looking for the vessel."
"Which way did he go?"
Before an answer could be returned, Robertson himself appeared. "I'm here, Mr Forster," said he, taking off his fur cap, and squeezing out with both hands the water with which it was loaded; "but I can't see the vessel."
"Still, by the report of the gun, she must be close to the shore. Get some fagots out from the shed, and light as large a fire as you can: don't spare them, my good fellow; I will pay you."
"That I'll do, sir, and without pay; I only hope that they'll understand the signal, and lay her on shore in the cove. There's another gun!"
This second report, so much louder than the former, indicated that the vessel had rapidly neared the land; and the direction from which the report came proved that she must be close to the promontory of rocks.
"Be smart, my dear fellow, be smart," cried Forster. "I will go up to the cliff, and try if I can make her out;" and the parties separated upon their mutual work of sympathy and good will.
It was not without danger, as well as difficulty, that Forster succeeded in his attempt; and when he arrived at the summit, a violent gust of wind would have thrown him off his legs, had he not sunk down upon his knees and clung to the herbage, losing his hat, which was borne far away to leeward. In this position, drenched with the rain and shivering with the cold, he remained some minutes, attempting in vain, with straining eyes, to pierce through the gloom of the night, when a flash of lightning, which darted from the zenith, and continued its eccentric career until it was lost behind the horizon, discovered to him the object of his research. But a few moments did he behold it, and then, from the sudden contrast, a film appeared to swim over his aching eyes, and all was more intensely, more horribly dark than before; but to the eye of a seafaring man this short view was sufficient. He perceived that it was a large ship, within a quarter of a mile of the land, pressed gunnel under with her reefed courses, chopping through the heavy seas—now pointing her bowsprit to the heavens, as she rose over the impeding swell; now plunging deep into the trough encircled by the foam raised by her own exertions, like some huge monster of the deep, struggling in her toils and lashing the seas around in her violent efforts to escape.
The fire burnt up fiercely in the cove, in defiance of the rain and wind, which, after in vain attempting to destroy it in its birth, now seemed to assist it with their violence.
"She may yet be saved," thought Forster, "if she will only carry on. Two cables' length more, and she will be clear of the point."
Again and again was the vessel momentarily presented to his view, as the forked lightning darted in every quarter of the firmament, while the astounding claps of thunder bursting upon his ears before the lightning had ceased to gleam, announced to him that he was kneeling in the very centre of the war of the elements. The vessel neared the cliff in about the same proportion that she forged ahead. Forster was breathless with anxiety, for the last flash of electricity revealed to him that two moments more would decide her fate.
The gale now redoubled its fury, and Forster was obliged to cling for his existence as he sank, from his kneeling posture, flat upon the wet herbage. Still he had approached so near to the edge of the cliff that his view below was not interrupted by his change of posture. Another flash of lightning. It was enough! "God have mercy on their souls!" cried he, dropping his face upon the ground as if to shut out the horrid vision from his sight.
He had beheld the vessel within the surf, but a few yards distant from the outer rocks, thrown on her beam-ends, with both foresail and mainsail blown clear out of their bolt-ropes. The cry for succour was raised in vain; the wail of despair was not heard; the struggles for life were not beheld, as the elements in their wrath roared and howled over their victim.
As if satiated with its devastation, from that moment the storm gradually abated, and Forster, taking advantage of a lull, slowly descended to the cove, where he found Robertson still heaping fuel on the fire.
"Save your wood, my good fellow; it's all over with her; and those who were on board are in eternity at this moment," said Forster, in a melancholy tone.
"Is she gone then, sir?"
"Right on the outer ledge; there's not a living soul to see your beacon."
"God's will be done!" replied the fisherman; "then their time was come—but He who destroys, can save if He pleases; I'll not put out the fire while there's a fagot left, for you know, Mr Forster, that if anyone should by a miracle be thrown into the smooth water on this side of the point, he might be saved; that is, if he swam well:"—and Robertson threw on more fagots, which soon flared up with a brilliant light. The fisherman returned to the cottage, to procure for Forster a red woollen cap in lieu of the hat which he had lost; and they both sat down close to the fire to warm themselves and to dry their streaming clothes.
Robertson had once more replenished the fuel, and the vivid blaze glared along the water in the cove, when the eye of Forster was attracted by the appearance of something floating on the wave, and evidently nearing to the shore. He pointed it out to the fisherman, and they descended to the water's edge, awaiting its approach with intense anxiety.
"It's not a man, sir, is it?" observed Robertson after a minute's pause.
"I cannot make it out," replied Forster; "but I rather think that it is an animal—something living, most assuredly."
In another minute or two the point was decided; they distinguished a large dog bearing something white in its mouth, and making for the shore where they were standing. Calling to the poor beast to cheer him, for he evidently was much exhausted, and approached but slowly, they soon had the satisfaction of seeing him pass through the surf, which, even at this time, was not heavy in the cove, and, with the water pouring from his shaggy coat, stagger towards them, bearing in his mouth his burden, which he laid down at Forster's feet, and then shook off the accumulation of moisture from his skin. Forster took up the object of the animal's solicitude—it was the body of an infant, apparently a few months old.
"Poor thing!" cried Forster, mournfully.
"It's quite dead, sir," observed the fisherman.
"I am afraid so," replied Forster, "but it cannot have been so long; the dog evidently bore it up clear of the water until it came into the surf. Who knows but we might restore it?"
"If anything will restore it, sir, it will be the warmth of a woman's breast, to which it hitherto hath clung. Jane shall take it in her bed, between her and the little ones;" and the fisherman entered the hut with the child, which was undressed, and received by his wife with all the sympathy which maternal feelings create, even towards the offspring of others. To the delight of Forster, in a quarter of an hour Robertson came out of the cottage with the intelligence that the child had moved and cried a little, and that there was every chance of its recovery.
"It's a beautiful little girl, sir, Jane says; and if it lives, she will halve her milk between it and our little Tommy."
Forster remained another half-hour, until he had ascertained that the child had taken the breast and had fallen asleep. Congratulating himself at having been the means of saving even one little life out of the many which, in all probability, had been swallowed up, he called to the dog, who had remained passive by the fire, and rose up to return home; but the dog retreated to the door of the cottage into which he had seen the infant carried, and all attempts to coax him away were fruitless.
Forster summoned Robertson, to whom he gave some further directions, and then returned to his home, where, on his arrival, his old housekeeper, who had never been awakened from her sound nap until roused by his knocking at the door, scolded him not a little for being out in such tempestuous weather, and a great deal more for having obliged her to sit up and watch all night until his return.
"Creation smiles around; on every spray The warbling birds exalt their evening lay; Blithe skipping o'er yon hill, the fleecy train Join the deep chorus of the lowing plain: The glassy ocean, hush'd, forgets to roar, But trembling, murmurs on the sandy shore." FALCONER.
Forster was soon fast asleep after his night of exertion: his dreams were confused and wild; but I seldom trouble people about dreams, which are as naught. When Reason descends from her throne, and seeks a transitory respite from her labour, Fancy usurps the vacant seat, and in pretended majesty, would fain exert her sister's various powers. These she enacts to the best of her ability, and with about the same success as attends a monkey when he attempts the several operations connected with the mystery of shaving:—and thus ends a very short and conclusive dissertation upon dreams.
But, to use a nautical phrase, we must "heave-to" in our narrative awhile, as it is necessary that we should enter a little more into the previous history of Edward Forster; which we can now do without interruption, as the parties we have introduced to the reader are all asleep.
The father of Edward Forster was a clergyman, who, notwithstanding he could reckon up some twenty or thirty first, second, and third cousins with high-sounding titles, officiated as curate in a district not far from that part of the country where Forster at present was located. He was one of the bees of the Church, who are constantly toiling, while the drones are eating up the honey. He preached three sermons, and read three services, at three different stations every Sunday throughout the year; while he christened, married, and buried a population extending over some thousands of square acres, for the scanty stipend of one hundred per annum. Soon after he was in possession of his curacy, he married a young woman, who brought him beauty and modesty as her dower, and subsequently pledges of mutual love ad lib. But He that giveth, taketh away; and out of nearly a score of these interesting but expensive presents to her husband, only three, all of the masculine gender, arrived at years of maturity. John (or Jock as he usually was called), who was the eldest, was despatched to London, where he studied the law under a relation; who, perceiving that Mrs Forster's annual presentation of the living was not followed up by any presentation to the living, kindly took charge of and received him into his own house.
Jock was a hard-headed fellow, studied with great diligence, and retained what he read, although he did not read fast; but that which he lost in speed he made up by perseverance, and had now, entirely by his own exertions, risen to considerable eminence in his profession; but he had been severed from his family in early days, and had never been able to return to them. He heard, indeed, of the birth of sundry brothers and sisters; of their deaths; and lastly, of the demise of his parents,—the only communication which affected him; for he loved his father and mother, and was anticipating the period when he might possess the means of rendering them more comfortable.
But all this had long passed away. He was now a bachelor past fifty, bearish and uncouth in his appearance, and ungracious in his deportment. Secluded in his chambers, poring over the dry technicalities of his profession, he had divided the moral world into two parts—honest and dishonest, lawful and unlawful. All other feelings and affections, if he had them, were buried, and had never been raised to the surface. At the time we speak of, he continued his laborious, yet lucrative, profession, toiling in his harness like a horse in a mill, heaping up riches, knowing not who should gather them; not from avarice, but from long habit, which rendered his profession not only his pleasure, but essential to his very existence. Edward Forster had not seen him for nearly twenty years; the last time was when he passed through London upon his retirement from the service. Indeed, as they never corresponded (for there was nothing in common between them), it is a matter of doubt whether Jock was exactly aware which of his brothers remained alive; and had it been a subject of interest, he would, in all probability, have referred to the former letters of his father and mother, as legal documents, to ascertain who was remaining of his kin.
The next surviving son was yclept (there's something very consonant in that word) Nicholas. The Reverend Mr Forster, who had no inheritance to bequeath to his family except a good name, which, although better than riches, will not always procure for a man one penny loaf, naturally watched for any peculiar symptoms of genius in his children which might designate one of the various paths to wealth and fame by which it would be most easy for the individual to ascend. Now it did occur that when Nicholas was yet in womanish attire, he showed a great partiality to a burning-glass, with which he contrived to do much mischief. He would burn the dog's nose as he slept in the sun before the door. His mother's gown showed proofs of his genius by sundry little round holes, which were considerably increased each time that it returned from the wash. Nay, heretical and damnable as is the fact, his father's surplice was as a moth-eaten garment from the repeated and insidious attacks of this young philosopher. The burning-glass decided his fate. He was bound apprentice to an optical and mathematical instrument maker; from which situation he was, if possible, to emerge into the highest grade of the profession; but somehow or another, a want of ambition or of talent did not permit him to ascend the scale, and he now kept a shop in the small seaport town of Overton, where he repaired damaged articles of science—a watch one day, a quadrant or a compass another; but his chief employment and his chief forte lay in telescopes; and accordingly, a large board, with "Nicholas Forster, Optician," surmounted the small shop window, at which he was invariably to be seen at his employment. He was an eccentric person, one of those who had narrowly escaped being clever; but there was an obliquity in his mind which would not admit of lucid order and arrangement. In the small town where he resided, he continued to pick up a decent sustenance; for he had no competitor, and was looked upon as a man of considerable ability. He was the only one of the three brothers who had ventured upon wedlock. But of this part of our history we shall at present say no more than that he had an only child, and had married his wife, to use his own expression, because she suited his focus.
Edward Forster, the youngest, whom we have already introduced to the reader, showed strong nautical propensities; he swam nut-shells in a puddle, and sent pieces of lath with paper sails floating down the brook which gurgled by the parsonage. This was circumstantial evidence: he was convicted, and ordered off to sea, to return a Nelson. For his conduct during the time he served her, Edward Forster certainly deserved well of his country; and had he been enabled to continue in his profession, would in all probability have risen by his merit to its highest grades; but having served his time as midshipman, he received a desperate wound in "cutting out," and shortly after obtained his promotion to the rank of lieutenant for his gallant conduct. His wound was of that severe description that he was obliged to quit the service, and, for a time, retire upon his half-pay. For many years he looked forward to the period when he could resume his career:—but in vain; the wound broke out again and again; fresh splinters of the bone continually worked out, and he was doomed to constant disappointment. At last it healed; but years of suffering had quenched the ardour of youth, and when he did apply for employment, his services had been forgotten. He received a cool negative, almost consonant to his wishes: and returned, without feeling mortified, to the cottage we have described, where he lived a secluded yet not unhappy life. His wants were few, and his half-pay more than adequate to supply them. A happy contemplative indolence, arising from a well-cultivated mind, feeding rather upon its previous acquirements than adding to its store—an equanimity of disposition, and a habit of rigid self-command—were the characteristics of Edward Forster; whom I shall now awaken, that we may proceed with our narrative.
"Well, I do declare, Mr Forster, you have had a famous nap," cried Mrs Beazely, in a tone of voice so loud as to put an immediate end to his slumber, as she entered his room with some hot water to assist him in that masculine operation, the diurnal painful return of which has been considered to be more than tantamount in suffering to the occasional "pleasing punishment which women bear." Although this cannot be proved until ladies are endowed with beards (which Heaven forfend!), or some modern Tiresias shall appear to decide the point, the assertion appears to be borne out, if we reason by analogy from human life; where we find that it is not the heavy blow of sudden misfortune tripping the ladder of our ambition and laying us prostrate, which constitutes life's intermittent "fitful fever," but the thousand petty vexations of hourly occurrence.——We return to Mrs Beazely, who continued—"Why, it's nine o'clock, Mr Forster, and a nice fresh morning it is too, after last night's tempest. And pray what did you hear and see, sir?" continued the old woman, opening the shutters and admitting a blaze of sunshine, as if determined that at all events he should now both hear and see.
"I'll tell you all, Mrs Beazely, when I am dressed. Let me have my breakfast as soon as you can, for I must be off again to the cove. I did not intend to have slept so late."
"Why, what's in the wind now, Mr Forster?" said the old lady, borrowing one of his nautical phrases.
"If you wish to know, Mrs Beazely, the sooner you allow me to get out of bed, the sooner I shall be able to give you the information you require."
"But what made you stay out so late, Mr Forster?" continued the housekeeper, who seemed determined, if possible, to have a little information en attendant, to stay her appetite until her curiosity could obtain a more substantial repast.
"I am sorry to say, there was a vessel wrecked."
"Oh dear! O dear! Any lives lost?"
"All, I am afraid, except one, and even that is doubtful."
"O Lord! O Lord! Do, pray, Mr Forster, tell me all about it."
"As soon as I am dressed, Mrs Beazely," replied Mr Forster, making a movement indicative that he was about to "turn out," whether or no, and which occasioned Mrs Beazely to make a hasty retreat.
In a few minutes Forster made his appearance in the parlour, where he found both the kettle and the housekeeper boiling with impatience. He commenced eating and narrating until the respective appetites of Mrs Beazely and himself were equally appeased, and then set off for the abode of Robertson, to ascertain the fate of the infant.
How different was the scene from that of the night before! The sea was still in commotion; and as the bright sun shone upon its agitated surface, gilding the summits of the waves, although there was majesty and beauty in the appearance, there was nought to excite terror. The atmosphere, purified by the warfare of the elements, was fresh and bracing. The short verdure which covered the promontory and hills adjacent was of a more brilliant green, and seemed as if to bask in the sun after the cleansing it had received from the heavy rain; while the sheep (for the coast was one extended sheep-walk) studded the sides of the hills, their white fleeces in strong yet beautiful contrast with the deep verdure of nature. The smooth water of the cove, in opposition to the vexed billows of the unsheltered ocean; the murmuring of the light waves, running in long and gently curved lines to their repose upon the yellow sand; their surface occasionally rippled by the eddying breeze as it swept along; his own little skiff safe at her moorings, undulating with the swell; the sea-gulls, who but a few hours ago were screaming with dismay as they buffeted against the fury of the gale, now skimming on the waves, or balanced on the wing near to their inaccessible retreats; the carolling of the smaller birds on every side of him, produced a lightness of heart and quickened pulse, to which Edward Forster had latterly been a stranger.
He soon arrived at the cottage, where the sound of his footsteps brought out the fisherman and his wife, the latter bearing in her arms the little object of his solicitude.
"See, Mr Forster," said Jane, holding out the infant, "it's quite well and hearty, and does nothing but smile. What a lovely babe it is!"
Forster looked at the child, who smiled, as if in gratitude; but his attention was called away by the Newfoundland dog, who fawned upon him, and after having received his caresses, squatted down upon the sand, which he beat with his tail as he looked wistfully in Forster's face.
Forster took the child from the arms of its new mother. "Thou hast had a narrow escape, poor thing," said he, and his countenance assumed a melancholy cast as the ideas floated in his mind. "Who knows how many more perils may await thee? Who can say whether thou art to be restored to the arms of thy relatives, or to be left an orphan to a sailor's care? Whether it had not been better that the waves should have swallowed thee in thy purity, than thou shouldest be exposed to a heartless world of sorrow and of crime? But He who willed thee to be saved knows best for us who are in darkness;" and Forster kissed its brow, and returned it to the arms of Jane.
Having made a few arrangements with Robertson and his wife, in whose care he resolved at present to leave the child, Forster bent his steps towards the promontory, that he might ascertain if any part of the vessel remained. Stretching over the summit of the cliff, he perceived that several of the lower futtocks and timbers still hung together, and showed themselves above water. Anxious to obtain some clue to her identity, he prepared to descend by a winding and hazardous path which he had before surmounted. In a quarter of an hour he had gained a position close to the wreck; but, with the exception of the shattered remnant which was firmly wedged between the rocks, there was nothing to be seen; not a fragment of her masts and spars, or sails, not a relic of what once was life remained. The tide, which ran furiously round the promontory, had swept them all away, or the undertow of the deep water had buried every detached particle, to be delivered up again, "far, far at sea." All that Forster could ascertain was that the vessel was foreign built, and of large tonnage; but who were its unfortunate tenants, or what the cargo, of which she had been despoiled by the devouring waves, was not even to be surmised. The linen on the child was marked J. de F.; and this was the only clue which remained for its identity. For more than an hour did Forster remain fixed as a statue upon the rock, where he had taken his station with arms folded, while he contemplated the hoarse waves dashing against the bends, or dividing as they poured themselves between the timbers of the vessel, and he sank into deep and melancholy thought.
And where is the object exciting more serious reflection than a wreck?
The pride and ingenuity of man humbled and overcome; the elements of the Lord occupying the fabric which had set them at defiance; tossing, tumbling, and dancing, as if in mockery at their success! The structure, but a few hours past, as perfect as human intellect could devise, towering with its proud canvas over space, and bearing man to greet his fellow-man, over the surface of death!—dashing the billow from her stem, as if in scorn, while she pursued her trackless way—bearing tidings of peace and security, of war and devastation—tidings of joy or grief, affecting whole kingdoms and empires, as if they were but individuals!
Now, the waters delight in their revenge, and sparkle with joy, as the sun shines upon their victory. That keel, which with the sharpness of a scythe has so often mowed its course through the reluctant wave, is now buried—buried deep in the sand, which the angry surge accumulates each minute, as if determined that it never will be subject to its weight again.
How many seasons had rolled away, how many millions had returned to the dust from which they sprung, before the kernels had swelled into the forest giants levelled for that structure;—what labour had been undergone to complete the task;—how many of the existent race found employment and subsistence as they slowly raised that monument of human skill;—how often had the weary miner laid aside his tool to wipe his sweating brow, before the metals required for its completion had been brought from darkness;—what thousands had been employed before it was prepared and ready for its destined use! Yon copper bolt, twisted with a force not human, and raised above the waters, as if in evidence of their dreadful power, may contain a history in itself.
How many of her own structure must have been employed, bringing from the north, the south, the east, and the west, her masts, her spars, her "hempen tackle," and her canvas wings; her equipment in all its variety; her stores for the support of life; her magazines of quiescent death. And they who so fearlessly trod her decks, conscious of their own powers, and confident in their own skill; they who expanded her thousands of yards of canvas to the pursuing breeze, or reduced them, like magic, at the approaching storm—where are they now? How many sighs have been lavished at their absence! how many hearths would have been gladdened by their return! Where are the hopes, the fears, the ambition, and the pride; the courage and the enterprise; the love and the yearnings after their kin; the speculations of the present, and the calculations of the future, which occupied their minds, or were cherished in their bosoms? All—all wrecked!
[Footnote 1: We presume the gentleman means gunpowder.—ED.]
Days, weeks, and months rolled away; yet every step that could be taken to find out the name of the vessel proved unavailing. Although the conjecture of Forster, that she was one of the many foreign West Indiamen which had met with a similar fate during that tempestuous winter, was probably correct; still no clue could be gathered by which the parentage of the little girl could be ascertained. The linen was, indeed, marked with initials; but this circumstance offered but a faint prospect of discovery. Either her relations, convinced of her loss, made no inquiries, or the name of the vessel in which she had been a passenger was not known to them. The child had been weaned, and removed to the cottage, where it occupied much of the attention of the old housekeeper and Forster, who, despairing of its ever being reclaimed, determined to bring it up as his own.
Mrs Beazely, the housekeeper, was a good-tempered woman, long past the grand climacteric, and strongly attached to Forster, with whom she had resided many years. But, like all women, whether married or single, who have the responsibility of a household, she would have her own way; and scolded her master with as little ceremony as if she had been united to him by matrimonial bonds.
To this Forster quietly submitted; he had lived long enough to be aware that people are not the happiest who are not under control, and was philosopher sufficient to submit to the penal code of matrimony without tasting its enjoyments. The arrival of the infant made him more than ever feel as if he were a married man; for he had all the delights of the nursery in addition to his previous discipline. But, although bound by no ties, he found himself happier. He soon played with the infant, and submitted to his housekeeper with all the docility of a well-trained married man.
The Newfoundland dog, who, although (like some of his betters) he did not change his name for a fortune, did, in all probability, change it with his fortune, soon answered to the deserved epithet of "Faithful," and slept at the foot of the crib of his little mistress, who also was to be rechristened. "She is a treasure, which has been thrown up by the ocean," said Forster, kissing the lovely infant. "Let her name be Amber."
But we must leave her to bud forth in her innocence and purity, while we direct the attention of the reader to other scenes, which are contemporary with those we have described.
"A woman moved is like a fountain troubled, Muddy, ill-seeming, thick, bereft of beauty; And while 'tis so, none so dry or thirsty Will deign to sip, or touch one drop of it." SHAKESPEARE.
A man may purchase an estate, a tenement, or a horse, because they have pleased his fancy, and eventually find out that he has not exactly suited himself; and it sometimes will occur that a man is placed in a similar situation relative to his choice of a wife:—a more serious evil; as, although the prime cost may be nothing, there is no chance of getting rid of this latter speculation by re-vending, as you may the former. Now it happened that Nicholas Forster, of whom we have already made slight mention, although he considered at the time of his marriage that the person he had selected would exactly suit his focus, did eventually discover that he was more short-sighted in his choice than an optician ought to have been.
Whatever may have been the personal charms of Mrs Nicholas Forster at the time of their union, she had, at the period of our narrative, but few to boast of, being a thin, sharp-nosed, ferret-eyed little woman, teeming with suspicion, jealousy, and bad humours of every description: her whole employment (we may say, her whole delight) was in finding fault: her shrill voice was to be heard from the other side of the street from morning until night. The one servant which their finances enabled them with difficulty to retain, and whom they engaged as a maid of all work (and certainly she was not permitted by Mrs Forster to be idle in her multifarious duty), seldom remained above her month; and nothing but the prospect of immediate starvation could induce any one to offer herself in the capacity.
Mr Nicholas Forster, fortunately for his own happiness, was of, that peculiar temperament that nothing could completely rouse his anger: he was absent to an excess; and if any language or behaviour on the part of his wife induced his choler to rise, other ideas would efface the cause from his memory; and this hydra of the human bosom, missing the object of its intended attack, again lay down to rest.
The violence and vituperation of his spouse were, therefore, lost upon Nicholas Forster; and the impossibility of disturbing the equanimity of his temper increased the irritability of her own. Still Mr Nicholas Forster, when he did reflect upon the subject, which was but during momentary fits of recollection, could not help acknowledging that he should be much more quiet and happy when it pleased Heaven to summon Mrs Forster to a better world: and this idea ultimately took possession of his imagination. Her constant turbulence interfered so much with the prosecution of his plans, that, finding it impossible to carry them into execution, everything that he considered of moment was mentally put off until Mrs Forster was dead!
"Well, Mr Forster, how long is the dinner to wait before you think proper to come? Everything will be cold, as usual. (N.B. The dinner consisted of the remains of a cold shoulder of mutton.)—Or do you mean to have any dinner at all? Betty, clear away the table; I have my work to do, and won't wait any longer."
"I'm coming, my dear, I'm coming; only this balance-spring is a job that I cannot well leave," replied Nicholas, continuing his vocation in the shop, with a magnifying glass attached to his eye.
"Coming! yes, and Christmas is coming, Mr Forster.—Well, the dinner's going, I can tell you."
Nicholas, who did not want appetite, and who was conscious that if the mutton returned to the cupboard there would be some difficulty made in reproducing it, laid down the watch and came into the back parlour.
"Well, my dear, here I am; sorry to have kept you waiting so long, but business must be attended to. Dear me! why, the mutton is really quite cold," continued Nicholas, thrusting a large piece into his mouth, quite forgetting that he had already dined twice off the identical joint. "That's a fine watch of Mr Tobin's; but I think that my improvement upon the duplex when I have finished it—"
"When you have finished it, indeed!" retorted the lady; "why, when did you ever finish anything, Mr Forster? Finish, indeed!"
"Well, my dear," replied the husband, with an absent air—"I do mean to finish it, when—you are dead!"
"When I am dead!" screamed the lady, in a rage—"when I am dead!" continued she, placing her arms akimbo, as she started from the chair. "I can tell you, Mr Forster, that I'll live long enough to plague you. It's not the first time that you've said so; but depend upon it, I'll dance upon your grave yet, Mr Forster."
"I did not exactly mean to say that; not exactly that, my dear," replied Nicholas, confused. "The fact is that I was not exactly aware of what I was saying—I had not precisely the—"
"Precisely the fiddle-stick, Mr Forster! you did mean it, and you do mean it, and this is all the return that I am to expect for my kindness and anxiety for your welfare—slaving and toiling all day as I do; but you're incorrigible, Mr Forster: look at you, helping yourself out of your snuff-box instead of the salt-cellar. What man in his senses would eat a cold shoulder of mutton with tobacco?"
"Dear me, so I have," replied Forster, removing the snuff taken from the box, which, as usual, lay open before him, not into the box again, but into the salt-cellar.
"And who's to eat that salt now, you nasty beast?"
"I am not a beast, Mrs Forster," replied her husband, whose choler was roused; "I made a mistake; I do not perceive—now I recollect it, did you send Betty with the 'day and night glass' to Captain Simkins?"
"Yes, I did, Mr Forster; if I did not look after your business, I should like to know what would become of us; and I can tell you, Mr Forster, that if you do not contrive to get more business, there will soon be nothing to eat; seventeen and sixpence is all that I have received this last week; and how rent and fire, meat and drink, are to be paid for with that, you must explain, for I can't."
"How can I help it, my dear? I never refuse a job."
"Never refuse a job? no; but you must contrive to make more business."
"I can mend a watch, and make a telescope, but I can't make business, my dear," replied Nicholas.
"Yes, you can, and you must, Mr Forster," continued the lady, sweeping off the remains of the mutton, just as her husband had fixed his eye upon the next cut, and locking it up in the cupboard—"if you do not, you will have nothing to eat, Mr Forster."
"So it appears, my dear," replied the meek Nicholas, taking a pinch of snuff; "but I really don't—"
"Why, Mr Forster, if you were not one of the greatest—"
"No, no, my dear," interrupted Nicholas, from extreme modesty, "I am not one of the greatest opticians of the present day; although, when I've made my improve—"
"Greatest opticians!" interrupted the lady. "One of the greatest fools, I meant!"
"That's quite another thing, my dear; but—"
"No buts, Mr Forster; please to listen, and not interrupt me again in that bearish manner. Why do you repair in the way you do? Who ever brings you a watch or a glass that you have handled a second time?"
"But why should they, my dear, when I have put them in good order?"
"Put them in order! but why do you put them in order?"
"Why do I put them in order, my dear?" replied Forster, with astonishment.
"Yes; why don't you leave a screw loose, somewhere? then they must come again. That's the proper way to do business."
"The proper way to do my business, my dear, is to see that all the screws are tight."
"And starve!" continued the lady.
"If it please God," replied the honest Nicholas
But this matrimonial duet was interrupted by the appearance of their son, whom we must introduce to the reader, as he will play a conspicuous part in our narrative.
Newton Forster, for thus had he been christened by his father, out of respect for the great Sir Isaac, was now about seventeen years old—athletic and well-proportioned in person, handsome in features, and equally gifted in mind. There was a frankness and sincerity in his open brow, an honesty in his smile, which immediately won upon the beholder; and his countenance was but an index to his mind. His father had bestowed all his own leisure, and some expense, which he could ill afford, upon his education, trusting one day that he would rival the genius after whom he had been christened; but Newton was not of a disposition to sit down either at a desk or a workbench. Whenever he could escape from home or from school, he was to be found either on the beach or at the pier, under the shelter of which the coasting vessels discharged or received their cargoes; and he had for some years declared his intention to follow the profession of a sailor. To this his father had reluctantly consented, with the proviso that he would first finish his education; and the mutual compact had been strictly adhered to by each party.
At the age of fifteen, Newton had acquired all that could be imparted to him by the pedagogue of the vicinity, and had then, until something better should turn up, shipped himself on board of a coasting vessel, in which, during the last two years, he had made several trips, being usually absent about six weeks, and remaining in port about the same time, until another cargo could be procured.
Young as he was, the superiority of his education had obtained him the situation of mate of the vessel; and his pay enabled him to assist his father, whose business, as Mrs Forster declared, was not sufficient to "make both ends meet." Upon his return, his love of knowledge and active habits induced him to glean as much as he could of his father's profession, and he could repair most articles that were sent in. Although Newton amused himself with the peculiarities and eccentricity of his father, he still had a high respect for him, as he knew him to be a worthy, honest man. For his mother he certainly had none: he was indignant at her treatment of his father, and could find no redeeming quality to make amends for her catalogue of imperfections. Still he had a peculiar tact, by which he avoided any serious altercation. Never losing his own temper, yet quietly and firmly resisting all control, he assumed a dominion over her, from which her feelings towards him, whatever they may have been in his early years, were now changed into those of positive hatred. His absence this morning had been occasioned by his assistance being required in the fitting of a new main-stay for the sloop to which he belonged. "Please God what, father?" said Newton, as he came in, catching his father's last words.
"Why, your mother says that we must starve, or be dishonest."
"Then we'll starve, father, with a clear conscience; but I hope that things are not so bad yet, for I am devilish hungry," continued Newton, looking at the dinner-table, which offered to his view nothing but a table-cloth, with the salt-cellar and the snuff-box. "Why, mother, is it dead low water, or have you stowed all away in the locker?" and Newton repaired to the cupboard, which was locked.
Now Mrs Forster was violent with others, but with Newton she was always sulky.
"There's nothing in the cupboard," growled the lady.
"Then why lock up nothing?" rejoined Newton, who was aware that veracity was not among Mrs Forster's catalogue of virtues. "Come, mother, hand me the key, and I'll ferret out something, I'll answer for it."
Mrs Forster replied that the cupboard was her own, and she was mistress of the house.
"Just as you please, mother. But, before I take the trouble, tell me, father, is there anything in the cupboard?"
"Why, yes, Newton, there's some mutton. At least, if I recollect right, I did not eat it all—did I, my dear?"
Mrs Forster did not condescend an answer. Newton went into the shop, and returned with a chisel and hammer. Taking a chair to stand upon, he very coolly began to force the lock.
"I am very sorry, mother, but I must have something to eat; and since you won't give me the key, why—" observed Newton, giving the handle of the chisel a smart blow with the hammer—
"Here's the key, sir," cried Mrs Forster, with indignation, throwing it on the table, and bouncing out of the room.
A smile was exchanged between the father and son, as she went backwards, screaming, "Betty—I say, Betty, you idle slut, where are you?" as if determined to vent her spleen upon somebody.
"Have you dined, father?" inquired Newton, who had now placed the contents of the cupboard upon the table.
"Why, I really don't quite recollect; but I feel very hungry," replied the optician, putting in his plate to receive two large slices; and father and son sat down to a hearty meal, proving the truth of the wise man's observation, that, "Better is a dinner of herbs where love is, than the stalled ox and hatred therewith."
"Whate'er it be, 'Tis wondrous heavy. Wrench it open straight. If the sea's stomach be o'ercharged with gold, It is a good constraint of fortune, that It belches on us." SHAKESPEARE.
About three weeks after the events narrated in the preceding chapter, Newton Forster sailed in his vessel with a cargo to be delivered at the seaport of Waterford. The master of her was immoderately addicted to liquor; and during the time that he remained in port, seldom was to be found in a state of perfect sobriety, even on a Sunday. But, to do him justice, when his vessel was declared ready for sea, he abstained from his usual indulgence, that he might be enabled to take charge of the property committed to his care, and find his way to his destined port. It was a point on which his interest overcame, for a time, his darling propensity: and his rigid adherence to sobriety, when afloat, was so well ascertained, that his character as a trustworthy seaman was not injured by his continual intemperance when in harbour. Latterly, however, since Newton had sailed with him, he had not acted up to his important resolution. He found that the vessel was as safe under the charge of Forster as under his own; and having taken great pains to instruct him in seamanship, and make him well acquainted with the dangers of the coast, he thought that, as Newton was fully equal to the charge of the vessel, he might as well indulge himself with an occasional glass or two, to while away the tedium of embarkation. A stone pitcher of liquor was now his constant attendant when he pulled on board to weigh his anchor; which said pitcher, for fear of accidents, he carried down into the cabin himself. As soon as sail was on the vessel, and her course shaped, he followed his darling companion down into the cabin, and until the contents were exhausted was never sufficiently sober to make his appearance on deck; so that Newton Forster was, in fact, the responsible master of the vessel.
The wind, which had been favourable at the time of heaving up the anchor, changed, and blew directly in their teeth, before they were well out of sight of the port of Overton. On the third day they were stretching off the land, to meet the first of the tide, under a light breeze and smooth water, when Newton perceived various objects floating in the offing. A small thing is a good prize to a coaster; even an empty beaker is not to be despised; and Newton kept away a point or two, that he might close and discover what the objects were. He soon distinguished one or two casks, swimming deeply, broken spars, and a variety of other articles. When the sloop was in the midst of them, Newton hove-to, tossed out the little skiff, and, in the course of an hour, unknown to his captain, who was in bed sleeping off the effect of his last potations, brought alongside, and contrived to parbuckle in, the casks, and as many others of the floating articles as he could conveniently stow upon her decks. The boat was again hoisted in, by the united exertions of himself and his crew, consisting of one man and one boy; and the sloop, wearing round, reached in for the land.
It was evident to Newton that some large vessel had lately been wrecked, for the spars were fresh in the fracture, and clean—not like those long in the water, covered with sea-weed, and encircled by a shoal of fish, who finding sustenance from the animalculae collected, follow the floating pieces of wood up and down, as their adopted parent, wherever they may be swept by the inconstant winds and tides.
Newton examined the heels of the spars, but they were not marked with the name of the vessel to which they had belonged. The two casks had only initials branded upon their heads; but nothing could be found which would designate the owners of the property. A large trunk riveted his attention; but he would not open it until the master of the vessel came upon deck. Having ascertained by spiling that the contents of the casks were real Jamaica, he went down into the cabin to announce what he knew would be most grateful intelligence.
It was some time before Newton could rouse his stupefied senior.
"What spars? D—n the wreck!" growled old Thompson (for such was his name), as he turned his back in no very ceremonious manner, and recommenced his snore.
"There's a trunk besides, sir—a large trunk; but I did not open it, as you were not on deck. A large trunk, and rather heavy."
"Trunk!—well, what then? Trunk!—oh, d—n the trunk!—let me go to sleep," muttered the master.
"There's two large casks, too, sir; I've spiled them, and they prove to be puncheons of rum," bawled Newton, who pertinaciously continued.
"Eh; what?—casks! what casks?"
"Two puncheons of rum."
"Rum!—did you say rum?" cried old Thompson, lifting his head off the pillow, and staring stupidly at Newton; "where?"
"On deck. Two casks: we picked them up as we were standing off the land."
"Picked them up?—are they on board?" inquired the master, sitting upright in his bed and rubbing his eyes.
"Yes, they're on board. Won't you come on deck?"
"To be sure I will. Two puncheons of rum, you said?"—and old Thompson gained his feet, and reeled to the companion ladder, holding on by all fours, as he climbed up without his shoes.
When the master of the sloop had satisfied himself as to the contents of the casks, which he did by taking about half a tumbler of each, Newton proposed that the trunk should be opened. "Yes," replied Thompson, who had drawn off a mug of the spirits, with which he was about to descend to the cabin, "open if you like, my boy. You have made a bon prize to-day, and your share shall be the trunk; so you may keep it, and the things that are stowed away in it, for your trouble; but don't forget to secure the casks till we can stow them away below. We can't break bulk now; but the sooner they are down the better; or we shall have some quill-driving rascal on board, with his flotsam and jetsam, for the Lord knows who;" and Thompson, to use his own expression, went down again "to lay his soul in soak."
Reader, do you know the meaning of flotsam and jetsam? None but a lawyer can, for it is old law language. Now, there is a slight difference between language in general and law language. The first was invented to enable us to explain our own meaning, and comprehend the ideas of others; whereas the second was invented with the view that we should not be able to understand a word about it. In former times, when all law, except club law, was in its infancy, and practitioners not so erudite, or so thriving as at present, it was thought advisable to render it unintelligible by inventing a sort of lingo, compounded of bad French, grafted upon worse Latin, forming a mongrel and incomprehensible race of words, with French heads and Latin tails, which answered the purpose intended—that of mystification.—Flotsam and jetsam are of this breed. Flot, derived from the French flottant, floating; and jet from the verb jeter, to throw up; both used in seignoral rights, granted by kings to favourites, empowering them to take possession of the property of any man who might happen to be unfortunate, which was in those times tantamount to being guilty. I daresay, if one could see the deed thus empowering them to confiscate the goods and chattels of others for their own use, according to the wording of the learned clerks in those days, it would run thus:—"Omnium quod flotsam et jetsam, et everything else-um, quod findetes;" in plain English, "Everything floating or thrown up, and everything else you may pick up." Now, the admiral of the coast had this piratical privilege: and as, in former days, sextants and chronometers were unknown, seafaring men incurred more risk than they do at present, and the wrecks which strewed the coast were of very great value. I had a proof the other day that this right is still exacted; that is, as far as regards property unclaimed. I had arrived at Plymouth from the Western Islands. When we hove up our anchor at St Michael's, we found another anchor and cable hooked most lovingly to our own, to the great joy of the first lieutenant, who proposed buying silk handkerchiefs for every man in the ship, and expending the residue in paint. But we had not been at anchor in Plymouth Sound more than twenty-four hours, and he hardly had time to communicate with the gentlemen-dealers in marine stores, when I received a notification from some lynx-eyed agent of the present admiral of the coast (who is a lawyer, I believe), requesting the immediate delivery of the anchor and cable, upon the plea of his seignoral rights of flotsam and jetsam. Now, the idea was as preposterous as the demand was impudent. We had picked up the anchor in the roadside of a foreign power, about fifteen hundred miles distant from the English coast.
We are all lawyers, now, on board ship; so I gave him one of my legal answers, "that, in the first place, flotsam meant floating, and anchors did not float; in the second place, that jetsam meant thrown up, and anchors never were thrown up; in the third and last place, I'd see him d—d first!"
My arguments were unanswerable. Counsel for the plaintiff (I presume) threw up his brief, for we heard no more of "Mr Flotsam and Jetsam."
But to proceed:—The man and boy, who, with Newton, composed the whole crew, seemed perfectly to acquiesce in the distribution made by the master of the sloop; taking it for granted that their silence, as to the liquor being on board, would be purchased by a share of it, as long as it lasted.
They repaired forward with a pannikin from the cask, with which they regaled themselves, while Newton stood at the helm. In half an hour Newton called the boy aft to steer the vessel, and lifted the trunk into the cabin below, where he found that Thompson had finished the major part of the contents of the mug, and was lying in a state of drunken stupefaction.
The hasp of the lock was soon removed by a clawhammer, and the contents of the trunk exposed to Newton's view. They consisted chiefly of female wearing apparel and child's linen; but, with these articles, there was a large packet of letters addressed to Madame Louise de Montmorenci, the contents of which were a mystery to Newton, who did not understand French. There were also a red morocco case, containing a few diamond ornaments, and three or four crosses of different orders of knighthood. All the wearing-apparel of the lady was marked with the initials L.M., while those appertaining to the infant were marked with the letters J.F.
After a careful examination, Newton spread out the clothes to dry, over the cabin lockers and table; and depositing the articles of value in a safe place, he returned on deck. Although Thompson had presented him with the trunk and its contents, he felt that they could not be considered as his property, and he determined to replace everything, and, upon his return, consult his father as to the proper measures which should be taken to discover who were the lawful owners.
The sloop, under the direction of Newton, had continued her course for two days against the adverse, yet light breeze, when the weather changed. The wind still held to the same quarter: but the sky became loaded with clouds, and the sun set with a dull red glare, which prognosticated a gale from the N.W.; and before morning the vessel was pitching through a short chopping sea. By noon the gale was at its height; and Newton, perceiving that the sloop did not "hold her own," went down to rouse the master, to inquire what steps should be taken, as he considered it advisable to bear up; and the only port under their lee for many miles was one with the navigation of which he was himself unacquainted.
The vessel was under close-reefed mainsail and storm foresail, almost buried in the heavy sea, which washed over the deck from forward to the companion hatch, when Newton went down to rouse the besotted Thompson, who, having slept through the night without having had recourse to additional stimulus, was more easy to awaken than before.
"Eh! what?—blows hard—whew!—so it does. How's the wind?" said the master, throwing his feet outside the standing bedplace, as he sat up.
"N.W., veering to N.N.W. in the squalls. We have lost good ten miles since yesterday evening, and are close to Dudden Sands," replied Newton. "I think we must bear up, for the gale shows no signs of breaking."
"Well, I'll be on deck in a moment, my boy," rejoined Thompson, who was now quite himself again, and was busy putting on his shoes, the only articles which had been removed when he turned in. "Go you up, and see that they keep her clean, full and bye—and those casks well secured.—Dudden Sands—awkward place, too—but I've not been forty years a-boxing about this coast for nothing."
In a minute Thompson made his appearance on deck, and steadying himself by the weather topmast backstay, fixed his leaden eyes upon the land on the quarter.—"All right, younker, that's the head, sure enough;" then turning his face to the wind, which lifted up his grey curling locks, and bore them out horizontally from his fur cap, "and it's a devil of a gale, sure enough.—It may last a month of Sundays for all I know.—Up with the helm, Tom.—Ease off the main sheet, handsomely, my lad—not too much. Now, take in the slack, afore she jibes;" and the master ducked under the main boom and took his station on the other side of the deck. "Steady as you go now.—Newton, take the helm.—D'ye see that bluff?—keep her right for it. Tom, you and the boy rouse the cable up—get about ten fathoms on deck, and bend it.—You'll find a bit of seizing and a marling-spike in the locker abaft." The sloop scuddled before the gale, and in less than two hours was close to the headland pointed out by the master. "Now, Newton, we must hug the point or we shall not fetch—clap on the main sheet here, all of us. Luff, you may, handsomely.—That's all right; we are past the Sand-head and shall be in smooth water in a jiffy.—Steady, so-o.—Now for a drop of swizzle," cried Thompson, who considered that he had kept sober quite long enough, and proceeded to the cask of rum lashed to leeward. As he knelt down to pull out the spile, the sloop which had been brought to the wind, was struck on her broadside by a heavy sea, which careened her to her gunnel: the lashings of the weather cask gave way, and it flew across the deck, jamming the unfortunate Thompson, who knelt against the one to leeward, and then bounding overboard. The old man gave a heavy groan, and fell upon his back; the man and boy ran to his assistance, and by the directions of Newton, who could not quit the helm, carried him below, and placed him on his bed. In a few minutes the sloop was safe at anchor, in smooth water, and Newton ran down into the cabin. Thompson's head had been crushed against the chime of the cask; for an hour or two he breathed heavily; and then—he was no more!
"The Indian weed, unknown to ancient times, Nature's choice gift, whose acrimonious fume Extracts superfluous juices, and refines The blood distemper'd from its noxious salts; Friend to the spirits, which with vapours bland It gently mitigates—companion fit Of 'a good pot of porter.'" PHILLIPS.
"There a pot of good double beer, neighbour. Drink—" SHAKESPEARE.
The next day the remains of old Thompson were carried on shore in the long-boat, and buried in the churchyard of the small fishing town that was within a mile of the port where the sloop had anchored. Newton shipped another man, and when the gale was over, continued his voyage; which was accomplished without further adventure.
Finding no cargo ready for him, and anxious to deliver up the vessel to the owner, who resided at Overton, he returned in ballast, and communicated the intelligence of Thompson's death; which, in so small a town, was long the theme of conversation, and the food of gossips.
Newton consulted with his father relative to the disposal of the trunk; but Nicholas could assist him but little with his advice. After many pros and cons, like all other difficult matters, it was postponed.—"Really, Newton, I can't say. The property certainly is not yours, but still we are not likely to find out the lawful owner. Bring the trunk on shore; we'll nail it up, and perhaps we may hear something about it by-and-bye. We'll make some inquiries—by-and-bye—when your mother—"
"I think," interrupted Newton, "it would not be advisable to acquaint my mother with the circumstance; but how to satisfy her curiosity on that point, I must leave to you."
"To me, boy! no; I think that you had better manage that, for you know you are only occasionally at home."
"Well, father, be it so," replied Newton, laughing: "but here comes Mr Dragwell and Mr Hilton, to consult with us what ought to be done relative to the effects of poor old Thompson. He has neither kith nor kin, to the ninety-ninth degree, that we can find out."
Mr Dragwell was the curate of the parish; a little fat man with bow-legs, who always sat upon the edge of the chair, leaning against the back, and twiddling his thumbs before him. He was facetious and good-tempered, but was very dilatory in everything. His greatest peculiarity was, that although he had a hearty laugh for every joke, he did not take the jokes of others at the time that they were made. His ideas seemed to have the slow and silent flow ascribed to the stream of lava (without its fire): and the consequence was, that although he eventually laughed at a good thing, it was never at the same time with other people; but in about a quarter or half a minute afterwards (according to the difficulty of the analysis), when the cause had been dismissed for other topics, he would burst out in a hearty Ha, ha, ha!
Mr Hilton was the owner of the sloop: he was a tall, corpulent man, who for many years had charge of a similar vessel, until by "doing a little contraband," he had pocketed a sufficient sum to enable him to purchase one for himself. But the profits being more than sufficient for his wants, he had for some time remained on shore, old Thompson having charge of the vessel. He was a good-tempered, jolly fellow, very fond of his pipe and his pot, and much more fond of his sloop, by the employment of which he was supplied with all his comforts. He passed most of the day sitting at the door of his house, which looked upon the anchorage, exchanging a few words with everyone that passed by, but invariably upon one and the same topic—his sloop. If she was at anchor—"There she is," he would say, pointing to her with the stem of his pipe. If she was away, she had sailed on such a day;—he expected her back at such a time. It was a fair wind—it was a foul wind for his sloop. All his ideas were engrossed by this one darling object, and it was no easy task to divert him from it.
I ought to have mentioned that Mr Dragwell, the curate, was invariably accompanied by Mr Spinney, the clerk of the parish, a little spare man, with a few white hairs straggling on each side of a bald pate. He always took his tune, whether in or out of church, from his superior, ejecting a small treble "He, he, he!" in response to the loud Ha, ha, ha! of the curate.
"Peace be unto this house!" observed the curate as he crossed the threshold, for Mrs Forster's character was notorious; then laughing at his own wit with a Ha, ha, ha!
"He, he, he!"
"Good morning, Mr Forster, how is your good lady?"
"She's safe moored at last," interrupted Mr Hilton.
"Who?" demanded the curate, with surprise.
"Why the sloop, to be sure."
"Oh! I thought you meant the lady—Ha, ha, ha!"
"He, he, he!"
"Won't you sit down, gentlemen?" said Nicholas, showing the way from the shop into the parlour, where they found Mrs Forster, who had just come in from the back premises.
"Hope you're well, Mr Curate," sharply observed the lady, who could not be persuaded, even from respect for the cloth, to be commonly civil—"take a chair; it's all covered with dust; but that Betsy is such an idle slut!"
"Newton handles her as well as any man going," observed Hilton.
"Newton!" screamed the lady, turning to her son, with an angry inquiring look—"Newton handles Betsy!" continued she, turning round to Hilton.
"Betsy! no; the sloop I meant, ma'am."
Newton burst out into a laugh, in which he was joined by Hilton and his father.
"Sad business—sad indeed!" said Hilton, after the merriment had subsided, "such an awful death!"
"Ha, ha, ha!" roared the curate, who had but just then taken the joke about Betsy.
"He, he, he!"
"Nothing to laugh at, that I can see," observed Mrs Forster, snappishly.
"Capital joke, ma'am, I assure you!" rejoined the curate. "But, Mr Forster, we had better proceed to business. Spinney, where are the papers?" The clerk produced an inventory of the effects of the late Mr Thompson, and laid them on the table.—"Melancholy thing, this, ma'am," continued the curate, "very melancholy indeed! But we must all die."
"Yes, thank Heaven!" muttered Nicholas, in an absent manner.
"Thank Heaven, Mr Forster!" cried the lady,—"why, do you wish to die?"
"I was not exactly thinking about myself, my dear," replied Nicholas—"I—"
"Depend upon it she'll last a long while yet," interrupted Mr Hilton.
"Do you think so?" replied Nicholas, mournfully.
"Oh! sure of it; I stripped her the other day, and examined her all over; she's as sound as ever."
Nicholas started, and stared Hilton in the face; while Newton, who perceived their separate train of thought, tittered with delight.
"What are you talking of?" at last observed Nicholas.
"Of the sloop, to be sure," replied Hilton.
"I rather imagine that you came to consult about Mr Thompson's effects," observed Mrs Forster, angrily—"rather a solemn subject, instead of—"
"Ha, ha, ha!" ejaculated the curate, who had just taken the equivoque which had occasioned Newton's mirth.
"He, he, he!"
This last merriment of Mr Dragwell appeared to the lady to be such a pointed insult to her, that she bounded out of the room, exclaiming, "that an alehouse would have been a more suitable rendezvous."
The curate twiddled his thumbs, as the eyes of all the party followed the exit of Mrs Forster; and there were a few moments of silence.
"Don't you find her a pleasant little craft, Forster?" said Hilton, addressing Newton.
Nicholas Forster, who was in a brown study about his wife, shook his head without lifting up his eyes, while Newton nodded assent.
"Plenty of accommodation in her," continued Hilton.—Another negative shake from Nicholas, and assentient nod from Newton.
"If I thought you could manage her, Forster," continued Hilton—"tell me, what do you think yourself?"
"Oh, quite impossible!" replied Nicholas.
"Quite impossible, Mr Forster! Well, now, I've a better opinion of Newton—I think he can."
"Why, yes," replied Nicholas! "certainly better than I can; but still she's—"
"She's a beauty, Mr Forster."
"Mrs Forster a beauty!" cried Nicholas, looking at Hilton with astonishment.
Newton and Hilton burst into a laugh. "No, no," said the latter, "I was talking about the sloop; but we had better proceed to business. Suppose we have pipes, Mr Forster; Mr Dragwell, what do you say?"
"Ha, ha, ha!" roared the curate, who had just taken the last joke.
"He, he, he!"
"Why, yes," continued the curate, "I think it is a most excellent proposition; this melancholy affair requires a great deal of consideration. I never compose so well as I do with a pipe in my mouth: Mrs Dragwell says that she knows all my best sermons by the smell of them; d'ye take?—Ha, ha, ha!"
"He, he, he!"
The pipes, with the addition of a couple of pots of porter, were soon procured from the neighbouring alehouse; and while the parties are filling them, and pushing the paper of tobacco from one to the other, I shall digress, notwithstanding the contrary opinion of the other sex, in praise of this most potent and delightful weed.
I love thee, whether thou appearest in the shape of a cigar, or diest away in sweet perfume enshrined in the meerschaum bowl; I love thee with more than woman's love! Thou art a companion to me in solitude. I can talk and reason with thee, avoiding loud and obstreperous argument. Thou art a friend to me when in trouble, for thou advisest in silence, and consolest with thy calm influence over the perturbed spirit.
I know not how thy power has been bestowed upon thee; yet, if to harmonise the feelings, to allow the thoughts to spring without control, rising like the white vapour from the cottage hearth, on a morning that is sunny and serene;—if to impart that sober sadness over the spirit, which inclines us to forgive our enemy, that calm philosophy which reconciles us to the ingratitude and knavery of the world, that heavenly contemplation whispering to us, as we look around, that "All is good;"—if these be merits, they are thine, most potent weed.
What a quiet world this would be if everyone would smoke! I suspect that the reason why the fairer sex decry thee is, that thou art the cause of silence. The ancients knew thee not, or the lips of Harpocrates would have been closed with a cigar, and his forefinger removed from the mouth unto the temple.
Half an hour was passed without any observation from our party, as the room gradually filled with the volumes of smoke, which wreathed and curled in graceful lines, as they ascended in obedience to the unchangeable laws of nature.
Hilton's pipe was first exhausted; he shook the ashes on the table. "A very melancholy business, indeed!" observed he, as he refilled. The rest nodded a grand assent; the pipe was relighted; and all was silent as before.
Another pipe is empty. "Looking at this inventory," said the curate, "I should imagine the articles to be of no great value. One fur cap, one round hat, one pair of plush breeches, one—; they are not worth a couple of pounds altogether," continued he, stuffing the tobacco into his pipe, which he relighted, and no more was said. Nicholas was the third in, or rather out. "It appears to me," observed he;—but what appeared is lost, as some new idea flitted across his imagination, and he commenced his second pipe without further remark.