Percival Keene, by Captain Marryat.
Captain Frederick Marryat was born July 10 1792, and died August 8 1848. He retired from the British navy in 1828 in order to devote himself to writing. In the following 20 years he wrote 26 books, many of which are among the very best of English literature, and some of which are still in print.
Marryat had an extraordinary gift for the invention of episodes in his stories. He says somewhere that when he sat down for the day's work, he never knew what he was going to write. He certainly was a literary genius.
"Percival Keene" was published in 1842, the nineteenth book to flow from Marryat's pen.
This e-text was transcribed in 1998 by Nick Hodson, and was reformatted in 2003, and again in 2005.
PERCIVAL KEENE, BY CAPTAIN FREDERICK MARRYAT.
A few miles from the town of Southampton there is an old mansion-house, which has been for centuries known as Madeline Hall, in the possession of the de Versely family. It is a handsome building, surrounded by a finely timbered park of some extent, and, what is more important, by about 12,000 acres of land, which also appertain to it. At the period in which I commence this history, there resided in this mansion an elderly spinster of rank, named the Honourable Miss Delmar, sister of the late Lord de Versely and aunt to the present earl, and an Honourable Captain Delmar, who was the second son of the deceased nobleman. This property belonged to the Honourable Miss Delmar, and was at her entire disposal upon her decease.
The Honourable Captain Delmar, at the time I am speaking of, commanded a frigate employed upon what was designated channel service, which in those days implied that the captain held a seat in the House of Commons and that he voted with the ministry; and further, that his vote might, when required, be forthcoming, the frigate was never sea-going, except during the recess. It must be admitted that H.M. ship Paragon did occasionally get under weigh and remain cruising in sight of land for two or three days, until the steward reported that the milk provided for the captain's table was turning sour; upon which important information the helm was immediately put up, and the frigate, in a case of such extreme distress, would drop her anchor at the nearest port under her lee. Now as the Paragon was constantly at Spithead, Captain Delmar was very attentive in visiting his aunt, who lived at Madeline Hall; ill-natured people asserted, because she had so fine an estate in her own gift. Certain it is, that he would remain there for weeks, which gave great satisfaction to the old lady, who liked her nephew, liked attention, and was even so peculiar as to like sailors. But it must be observed that there was another person at the mansion who also liked the captain, liked attention, and liked sailors; this was Miss Arabella Mason, a very pretty young woman of eighteen years of age, who constantly looked in the glass merely to ascertain if she had ever seen a face which she preferred to her own, and who never read any novel without discovering that there was a remarkable likeness between the heroine and her pretty self.
Miss Arabella Mason was the eldest daughter of the steward of the old Lord de Versely, brother to the Honourable Miss Delmar, and was much respected by his lordship for his fidelity and his knowledge of business, in the transaction of which he fell, for he was felling trees, and a tree fell upon him. He left a widow and two daughters: it was said that at his death Mrs Mason was not badly off, as her husband had been very careful of his earnings. Mrs Mason, however, did not corroborate this statement; on the contrary, she invariably pleaded poverty; and the Honourable Miss Delmar, after Lord de Versely's death— which happened soon after that of his steward—sent both the daughters to be educated at a country school, where, as everything that is taught is second-rate, young ladies, of course, receive a second-rate education. Mrs Mason was often invited by the Honourable Miss Delmar to spend a month at Madeline Hall, and used to bring her eldest daughter, who had left school, with her. Latterly, however, the daughter remained as a fixture, and Mrs Mason received but an occasional invitation. It may be inquired in what capacity Miss Arabella Mason remained at the Hall; she was not a servant, for her position in life was above that of a menial; neither was she received altogether in the saloon, as she was of too humble a grade to mix with gentry and nobility; she was, therefore, betwixt and between, a sort of humble companion in the drawing-room, a cut above the housekeeper in the still-room, a fetcher and carrier of the honourable spinster's wishes, a sort of link between the aristocratic old dame and her male attendants, towards whom she had a sort of old maidish aversion. However this position might be found useful to her mistress, it must be admitted that it was a most unfortunate position for a young, thoughtless, and very pretty girl, moreover, who was naturally very lively, very smart in repartee, and very fond of being admired.
As the Honourable Captain Delmar was very constant in his visits to his aunt, it was but natural that he should pay some little attention to her humble companion. By degrees the intimacy increased, and at last there were reports in the servants' hall, that the captain and Miss Bella Mason had been seen together in the evergreen walk; and as the captain's visits were continually repeated during the space of two years so did the scandal increase, and people became more ill-natured. It was now seen that Miss Bella had been very often found in tears, and the old butler and the older housekeeper shook their heads at each other like responsive mandarins; the only person who was ignorant of the scandal afloat was the old lady spinster herself.
I must now introduce another personage. The Honourable Captain Delmar did not, of course, travel without his valet, and this important personage had been selected out of the marine corps which had been drafted into the frigate. Benjamin Keene, for such was his name, was certainly endowed with several qualities which were indispensable in a valet; he was very clean in his person, very respectful in his deportment, and, after the sovereign of Great Britain, looked upon the Honourable Captain Delmar as the greatest person in the world. Moreover, Benjamin Keene, although only a private marine was, without exception, one of the handsomest men that ever was seen and being equally as well made and well drilled as he was handsome in person, he was the admiration of all the young women. But Nature, who delights in a drawback, had contrived to leave him almost without brains; and further, he was wholly uneducated—for he was too stupid to learn—his faculties were just sufficient to enable him, by constant drilling, to be perfect in the manual exercise, and mechanically to perform his duties as a valet.
Ben always accompanied his master to the hall, where the former was at one and the same time the admiration and laughter of all the servants. It hardly need be observed, that the clever and sprightly Miss Arabella Mason considered Ben as one much beneath her, that is, she said so on his first arrival at Madeline hall; but, strange to say, that two years afterwards, just at the time that reports had been raised that she had been frequently discovered in tears, there was a change in her manner towards him; indeed some people insinuated that she was setting her cap at the handsome marine: this idea, it is true, was ridiculed by the majority; but still the intimacy appeared rapidly to increase. It was afterwards asserted by those who find out everything after it has taken place, that Ben would never have ventured to look up to such an unequal match had he not been prompted to it by his master, who actually proposed that he should marry the girl. That such was the fact is undoubted, although they knew it not; and Ben, who considered the wish of his captain as tantamount to an order, as soon as he could comprehend what his captain required of him, stood up erect and raised his hand with a flourish to his head, in token of his obedience. Shortly afterwards, Captain Delmar again came over to Madeline Hall, accompanied as usual, by Ben, and the second day after their arrival it was made known to all whom it might concern, that Miss Arabella Mason had actually contracted a secret marriage with the handsome Benjamin Keene.
Of course, the last person made acquainted with this interesting intelligence was the Honourable Miss Delmar, and her nephew took upon himself to make the communication. At first the honourable spinster bridled up with indignation, wondered at the girl's indelicacy, and much more at her demeaning herself by marrying a private marine. Captain Delmar replied, that it was true that Ben was only a private, but that every common soldier was a gentleman by profession. It was true that Bella Mason might have done better—but she was his aunt's servant, and Keene was his valet, so that the disparity was not so very great. He then intimated that he had long perceived the growing attachment; talked of the danger of young people being left so much together; hinted about opportunity, and descanted upon morals and propriety. The Honourable Miss Delmar was softened down by the dexterous reasoning of her nephew; she was delighted to find so much virtue extant in a sailor; and, after an hour's conversation, the married couple were sent for, graciously pardoned, and Mrs Keene, after receiving a very tedious lecture, received a very handsome present. But if her mistress was appeased, Mrs Keene's mother was not. As soon as the intelligence was received, old Mrs Mason set off for Madeline Hall. She first had a closeted interview with her daughter, and then with Captain Delmar, and as soon as the latter was over, she immediately took her departure, without paying her respects to the mistress of the Hall, or exchanging one word with any of the servants; this conduct gave occasion to more innuendoes—some indeed ascribed her conduct to mortification at her daughter's having made so imprudent a match, but others exchanged very significant glances.
Three weeks after the marriage, the Parliament having been prorogued, the admiral of the port considered that he was justified in ordering the frigate out on a cruise. Ben Keene, of course accompanied his master, and it was not until three months had passed away that the frigate returned into port. As usual, the Honourable Captain Delmar, as soon as he had paid his respects to the admiral, set off to visit his aunt, accompanied by his benedict marine. On his arrival, he found that everything appeared to be in great confusion; indeed an event was occurring which had astonished the whole household; the butler made a profound bow to the captain; the footmen forgot their usual smirk when he alighted. Captain Delmar was ushered in solemn silence into the drawing-room, and his aunt, who had notice of his arrival received him with a stiff, prim air of unwonted frigidity, with her arms crossed before her on her white muslin apron.
"My dear aunt," said Captain Delmar, as she coldly took his proffered hand, "what is the matter?"
"The matter is this, nephew," replied the old lady—"that marriage of your marine and Bella Mason should have taken place six months sooner than it did. This is a wicked world, nephew; and sailors, I'm afraid, are—"
"Marines, you should say, in this instance, my dear aunt," replied Captain Delmar, insinuatingly. "I must confess that neither sailors nor marines are quite so strict as they ought to be; however, Ben has married her. Come, my dear aunt, allow me to plead for them, although I am very much distressed that such an event should take place in your house. I think," added he, after a pause, "I shall give Mr Keene seven dozen at the gangway, for his presumption, as soon as I return on board."
"That won't mend the matter, nephew," replied Miss Delmar. "I'll turn her out of the house as soon as she can be moved."
"And I'll flog him as soon as I get him on board," rejoined the captain. "I will not have your feelings shocked, and your mind harassed in this way, by any impropriety on the part of my followers—most infamous— shameful—abominable—unpardonable," interjected the captain, walking the quarter-deck up and down the room.
The Honourable Miss Delmar continued to talk, and the honourable captain to agree with her in all she said, for an hour at least. When people are allowed to give vent to their indignation without the smallest opposition they soon talk it away; such was the case with the Honourable Miss Delmar. When it was first announced that Bella Keene was safely in bed with a fine boy, the offended spinster turned away from the communication with horror; when her own maid ventured to remark that it was a lovely baby, she was ordered to hold her tongue; she would not see the suffering mother, and the horrid marine was commanded to stay in the kitchen, lest she should be contaminated by meeting him on the stairs; but every day softened down her indignation, and before a fortnight was over the Honourable Miss Delmar had not only seen but admired the baby; and at last decided upon paying a visit to the mother, who was now sufficiently recovered to undergo a lecture of about two hours' length, in which the honourable spinster commented upon her indecency, indiscretion, inconsiderateness, incorrectness, indecorum, incontinence, and indelicacy; pointing out that her conduct was most inexcusable, iniquitous, and most infamous. The Honourable Miss Delmar having had such a long innings then gave it up, because she was out of breath. Bella, who waited patiently to make her response, and who was a very clever girl, then declared, with many tears, that she was aware that her conduct was inexcusable, her faults had been involuntary, and her sorrow was inexpressible; her inexperience and her infatuation her only apology; that her infelicity at her mistress's displeasure would inevitably increase her sufferings; assured her that she was not incorrigible, and that if her mistress would only indulge her with forgiveness, as she hoped to inherit heaven she would never incur her anger by committing the same fault again. Satisfied with this assurance, the Honourable Miss Delmar softened down, and not only forgave, but actually took the child into her lap that Bella might read the Bible which she had presented her with. Reader, the child who had this great honour conferred upon him, who actually laid in the immaculate lap, on the apron of immaculate snowy whiteness of the immaculate Honourable Miss Delmar, was no other person than the narrator of this history—or, if you please it, the Hero of this Tale.
That my mother had so far smoothed things pretty well must be acknowledged; but it was to be presumed that her husband might not be pleased at so unusual an occurrence, and already the sneers and innuendoes of the servants' hall were not wanting. It appeared, however, that an interview had taken place between Ben and Captain Delmar shortly after my making my appearance: what occurred did not transpire, but this is certain that, upon the marine's return to the kitchen, one of the grooms, who ventured to banter him, received such a sound thrashing from Ben that it put an end to all further joking. As Ben had taken up the affair so seriously, it was presumed that if there had been anticipation of the hymeneal rites he was himself the party who had been hasty; and that now he was married, he was resolved to resent any impertinent remarks upon his conduct. At all events, the question now became one of less interest, as the scandal was of less importance; and as Ben had made known his determination to resent any remarks upon the subject, not a word more was said, at all events when he was present.
In due time I was christened, and so completely was my mother reinstalled in the good graces of her mistress, that as Captain Delmar had volunteered to stand my sponsor, the Honourable Miss Delmar gave the necessary female security; at the particular request of my mother, the captain consented that I should bear his own Christian name, and I was duly registered in the church books as Percival Keene.
There is no security in this world. A dissolution of Parliament took place, and on the following election the Honourable Captain Delmar's constituents, not being exactly pleased at the total indifference which he had shown to their interests, took upon themselves to elect another member in his stead, who, as Captain Delmar had previously done, promised everything, and in all probability would follow the honourable captain's example by performing nothing. The loss of his election was followed up by the loss of his ship, his majesty's government not considering it necessary that Captain Delmar (now that he had leisure to attend to his professional duties) should retain his command. The frigate, therefore, was paid off, and recommissioned by another captain who had friends in Parliament.
As Ben Keene belonged to the marine corps, he could not, of course, remain as valet to Captain Delmar, but was ordered, with the rest of the detachment, to the barracks at Chatham; my mother, although she was determined that she would not live at barracks, was not sorry to leave the Hall, where she could not fail to perceive that she was, from her imprudent conduct, no longer treated with the respect or cordiality to which she had been previously accustomed. She was most anxious to quit a place in which her disgrace was so well known; and Captain Delmar having given her his advice, which coincided with her own ideas, and also a very munificent present to enable her to set up housekeeping, took his departure from the Hall. My mother returned to her room as the wheels of his carriage rattled over the gravel of the drive, and many were the bitter tears which she shed over her unconscious boy.
The following day the Honourable Miss Delmar sent for her; as usual, commenced with a tedious lecture, which, as before, was wound up at parting with a handsome present. The day after my mother packed up her trunks, and with me in her arms set off to Chatham, where we arrived safely, and immediately went into furnished lodgings. My mother was a clever, active woman, and the presents which she had at different times received amounted to a considerable sum of money, over which her husband had never ventured to assert any claim.
Indeed, I must do Ben Keene the justice to say that he had the virtue of humility. He felt that his wife was in every way his superior and that it was only under peculiar circumstances that he could have aspired to her. He was, therefore, submissive to her in everything, consenting to every proposal that was made by her, and guided by her opinion. When, therefore, on her arrival at Chatham, she pointed out how impossible it would be for one brought up as she had been to associate with the women in the barracks, and that she considered it advisable that she should set up some business by which she might gain a respectable livelihood, Ben, although he felt that this would be a virtual separation a mensa et thoro, named no objections. Having thus obtained the consent of her husband, who considered her so much his superior as to be infallible, my mother, after much cogitation, resolved that she would embark her capital in a circulating library and stationer's shop; for she argued that selling paper, pens, and sealing-wax was a commerce which would secure to her customers of the better class. Accordingly, she hired a house close to the barracks, with a very good-sized shop below, painting and papering it very smartly; there was much taste in all her arrangements, and although the expenses of the outlay and the first year's rent had swallowed up a considerable portion of the money she had laid by, it soon proved that she had calculated well, and her shop became a sort of lounge for the officers, who amused themselves with her smartness and vivacity, the more so as she had a talent for repartee, which men like to find in a very pretty woman.
In a short time my mother became quite the rage, and it was a mystery how so pretty and elegant a person could have become the wife of a private marine. It was however, ascribed to her having been captivated with the very handsome person and figure of her husband, and having yielded to her feelings in a moment of infatuation. The ladies patronised her circulating library; the officers and gentlemen purchased her stationery. My mother then added gloves, perfumery, canes, and lastly cigars, to her previous assortment and before she had been a year in business, found that she was making money very fast, and increasing her customers every day. My mother had a great deal of tact; with the other sex she was full of merriment and fond of joking, consequently a great favourite; towards her own sex her conduct was quite the reverse; she assumed a respectful, prudish air, blended with a familiarity which was never offensive; she was, therefore, equally popular with her own sex, and prospered in every sense of the word. Had her husband been the least inclined to have asserted his rights, the position which she had gained was sufficient to her reducing him to a state of subjection. She had raised herself, unaided, far above him; he saw her continually chatting and laughing with his own officers, to whom he was compelled to make a respectful salute whenever they passed by him; he could not venture to address her, or even to come into the shop, when his officers were there, or it would have been considered disrespectful towards them; and as he could not sleep out of barracks, all his intercourse with her was to occasionally slink down by the area, to find something better to eat than he could have in his own mess, or obtain from her an occasional shilling to spend in beer. Ben, the marine, found at last that somehow or another, his wife had slipped out of his hands; that he was nothing more than a pensioner on her bounty a slave to her wishes, and a fetcher and carrier at her command, and he resigned himself quietly to his fate, as better men have done before.
I think that the reader will agree with me that my mother showed in her conduct great strength of character. She had been compelled to marry a man whom she despised, and to whom she felt herself superior in every respect; she had done so to save her reputation. That she had been in error is true but situation and opportunity had conspired against her; and when she found out the pride and selfishness of the man to whom she was devoted, and for whom she had sacrificed so much,—when her ears were wounded by proposals from his lips that she should take such a step to avoid the scandal arising from their intimacy—when at the moment that he made such a proposition, and the veil fell down and revealed the heart of man in its selfishness, it is not to be wondered that, with bitter tears, arising from wounded love, anger, and despair at her hopeless position, she consented. After having lost all she valued, what did she care for the future? It was but one sacrifice more to make, one more proof of her devotion and obedience. But there are few women who, like my mother, would have recovered her position to the extent that she did. Had she not shown such determination, had she consented to have accompanied her husband to the barracks, and have mixed up with the other wives of the men, she would have gradually sunk down to their level; to this she could not consent. Having once freed herself from her thraldom, he immediately sunk down to his level, as she rose up to a position in which, if she could not ensure more than civility and protection, she was at all events secure from insult and ill-treatment.
Such was the state of affairs when I had arrived at the important age of six years, a comic-looking, laughing urchin, petted by the officers, and as fall of mischief as a tree full of monkeys. My mother's business had so much increased, that, about a year previous to this date, she had found it necessary to have some one to assist her, and had decided upon sending for her sister Amelia to live with her. It was, however, necessary to obtain her mother's consent. My grandmother had never seen my mother since the interview which she had had with her at Madeline Hall shortly after her marriage with Ben the marine. Latterly, however, they had corresponded; for my mother, who was too independent to seek her mother when she was merely the wife of a private marine, now that she was in flourishing circumstances had first tendered the olive branch, which had been accepted, as soon as my grandmother found that she was virtually separated from her husband. As my grandmother found it rather lonely at the isolated house in which she resided, and Amelia declared herself bored to death, it was at last agreed that my grandmother and my aunt Amelia should both come and take up their residence with my mother, and in due time they arrived. Milly, as my aunt was called, was three years younger than my mother, very pretty and as smart as her sister, perhaps a little more demure in her look, but with more mischief in her disposition. My grandmother was a cross, spiteful old woman; she was very large in her person, but very respectable in her appearance. I need not say that Miss Amelia did not lessen the attraction at the circulating library, which after her arrival was even more frequented by the officers than before.
My aunt Milly was very soon as fond of me as I was of mischief; indeed it is not to be wondered at, for I was a type of the latter. I soon loved her better than my mother, for she encouraged me in all my tricks. My mother looked grave, and occasionally scolded me; my grandmother slapped me hard and rated me continually; but reproof or correction from the two latter were of no avail; and the former, when she wished to play any trick which she dared not do herself, employed me as her agent; so that I obtained the whole credit for what were her inventions, and I may safely add, underwent the whole blame and punishment; but that I cared nothing for; her caresses, cakes, and sugar-plums, added to my natural propensity, more than repaid me for the occasional severe rebukes of my mother, and the vindictive blows I received from the long fingers of my worthy grandmother. Moreover, the officers took much notice of me, and it must be admitted, that, although I positively refused to learn my letters, I was a very forward child. My great patron was a Captain Bridgeman, a very thin, elegantly-made man, who was continually performing feats of address and activity; occasionally I would escape with him and go down to the mess, remain at dinner, drink toasts, and, standing on the mess-table, sing two or three comic songs which he had taught me. I sometimes returned a little merry with the bumpers, which made my mother very angry, my old grandmother to hold up her hands, and look at the ceiling through her spectacles, and my aunt Milly as merry as myself. Before I was eight years old, I had become so notorious, that any prank played in the town, any trick undiscovered, was invariably laid to my account; and many were the applications made to my mother for indemnification for broken windows and other damage done, too often, I grant, with good reason, but very often when I had been perfectly innocent of the misdemeanour. At last I was voted a common nuisance, and every one, except my mother and my aunt Milly, declared that it was high time that I went to school.
One evening the whole of the family were seated at tea in the back parlour. I was sitting very quietly and demurely in a corner, a sure sign that I was in mischief, and so indeed I was (for I was putting a little gunpowder into my grandmother's snuff-box, which I had purloined, just that she might "smell powder," as they say at sea, without danger of life or limb), when the old woman addressed my mother—
"Bella, is that boy never going to school? it will be the ruin of him."
"What will be the ruin of him, mother?" rejoined my aunt Milly; "going to school?"
"Hold your nonsense, child: you are as bad as the boy himself," replied granny. "Boys are never ruined by education; girls sometimes are."
Whether my mother thought that this was an innuendo reflecting upon any portion of her own life, I cannot tell; but she replied very tartly.
"You're none the worse for my education, mother, or you would not be sitting here."
"Very true, child," replied granny; "but recollect, neither would you have married a marine—a private marine, Bella, while your sister looks up to the officers. Ay," continued the old woman, leaving off her knitting and looking at her daughter, "and is likely to get one, too, if she plays her cards well—that Lieutenant Flat can't keep out of the shop." (My granny having at this moment given me an opportunity to replace her snuff-box, I did not fail to profit by it; and as I perceived her knitting-pin had dropped on the floor, I stuck it into the skirt of her gown behind, so that whenever she looked for it, it was certain ever to be behind her.)
"Mr Flat is of a very respectable family, I hear say," continued my grandmother.
"And a great fool," interrupted my mother. "I hope Milly won't listen to him."
"He's an officer," replied my granny, "not a private."
"Well, mother, I prefer my private marine, for I can make him do as I please; if he's a private, I'm commanding officer, and intend so to be as long as I live."
"Well, well, Bella, let us say no more on the old score; but that boy must go to school. Deary me, I have dropped my needle."
My grandmother rose, and turned round and round, looking for her needle, which, strange to say, she could not find; she opened her snuff-box, and took a pinch to clear her optics. "Deary me, why, what's the matter with my snuff? and where can that needle be? Child, come and look for the needle; don't be sticking there in that corner."
I thought proper to obey the order and pretended to be very diligent in my search. Catching aunt Milly's eye, I pointed to the knitting-needle sticking in the hind skirts of my grandmother's gown, and then was down on my knees again, while my aunt held her handkerchief to her mouth to check her laughter.
A minute afterwards, Ben the marine first tapped gently, and then opened the door and came in; for at that late hour the officers were all at dinner, and the shop empty.
"There are three parcels of books for you to take," said my mother; "but you've plenty of time, so take down the tea-things, and get your tea in the kitchen before you go."
"You haven't got a shilling, Bella, about you? I want some 'baccy," said Ben, in his quiet way.
"Yes, here's a shilling, Ben; but don't drink too much beer," replied my mother.
"Deary me, what can have become of my needle?" exclaimed my grandmother, turning round.
"Here it is, ma'am," said Ben, who perceived it sticking in her skirt. "That's Percival's work, I'll answer for it."
My granny received the needle from Ben, and then turned to me: "You good-for-nothing boy; so you put the needle there, did you? pretending to look for it all the while; you shall go to school, sir, that you shall."
"You said a needle, granny; I was looking for a needle: you didn't say your knitting-pin; I could have told you where that was."
"Yes, yes, those who hide can find; to school you go, or I'll not stay in the house."
Ben took the tea-tray out of the room. He had been well drilled in and out of barracks.
"I'll go down in the kitchen to father," cried I, for I was tired of sitting still.
"No, you won't, sir," said my mother, "you naughty boy; the kitchen is not the place for you, and if ever I hear of you smoking a pipe again—"
"Captain Bridgeman smokes," replied I.
"Yes, sir, he smokes cigars; but a child like you must not smoke a pipe."
"And now come here, sir," said my granny, who had the lid of her snuff-box off, and held it open in her hand; "what have you been doing with my snuff?"
"Why, granny, have I had your snuff-box the whole day?"
"How should I know?—a boy like you, with every finger a fish-hook; I do believe you have; I only wish I could find you out. I had fresh snuff this morning."
"Perhaps they made a mistake at the shop, mother," said aunt Milly; "they are very careless."
"Well, I can't tell: I must have some more; I can't take this."
"Throw it in the fire, granny," said I; "and I'll run with the box and get it full again."
"Well, I suppose it's the best thing I can do," replied the old woman, who went to the grate, and leaning over, poured the snuff out on the live coals. The result was a loud explosion and a volume of smoke, which burst out of the grate into her face—the dinner and lappets singed, her spectacles lifted from her nose, and her face as black as a sweep's. The old woman screamed, and threw herself back; in so doing, she fell over the chair upon which she had been sitting, and, somehow or another, tripped me up, and lay with all her weight upon me. I had been just attempting to make my escape during the confusion—for my mother and Milly were equally frightened—when I found myself completely smothered by the weight of my now almost senseless granny, and, as I have before mentioned, she was a very corpulent woman. Had I been in any other position I should not have suffered so much; but I had unfortunately fallen flat on my back, and was now lying with my face upwards, pressed upon by the broadest part of the old woman's body; my nose was flattened, and my breath completely stopped. How long my granny might have remained there groaning I cannot tell; probably, as I was somewhat a spoiled child before this, it might have ended in her completely finishing me; but she was roused up from her state of half syncope by a vigorous attack from my teeth, which, in the agony of suffocation, I used with preternatural force of jaw from one so young. I bit right through everything she had on, and as my senses were fast departing, my teeth actually met with my convulsive efforts. My granny, roused by the extreme pain, rolled over on her side, and then it was that my mother and aunt, who supposed that I had made my escape from the room, discovered me lifeless, and black in the face. They ran to me, but I still held on with my teeth, nor could I be separated from my now screaming relative, until the admission of fresh air, and a plentiful sprinkling of cold water brought me to my senses, when I was laid on the sofa utterly exhausted. It certainly was a narrow escape, and it may be said that the "biter was nearly bit." As for my granny, she recovered her fright and her legs, but she did not recover her temper; she could not sit down without a pillow on the chair for many days, and, although little was said to me in consequence of the danger I had incurred, yet there was an evident abhorrence of me on the part of the old woman, a quiet manner about my mother, and a want of her usual hilarity on the part of my aunt, which were to me a foreboding of something unpleasant. A few days brought to light what was the result of various whisperings and consultations. It was on a fine Monday morning, that Ben made his appearance at an unusually early hour; my cap was put on my head, my cloak over my shoulders; Ben took me by the hand, having a covered basket in the other, and I was led away like a lamb to the butcher. As I went out there was a tear in the eyes of my aunt Milly, a melancholy over the countenance of my mother, and a twinkling expression of satisfaction in my grandmother's eyes, which even her spectacles could not conceal from me: the fact was, my grandmother had triumphed, and I was going to school.
As soon as I was clear of the door, I looked up into Ben's face and said, "Father, where are we going?"
"Well," replied he, "I am going to take you to school."
"School! What am I going to school for?" replied I.
"For biting your grandmother, I expect, in the first place, and to get a little learning, and a good deal of flogging, if what they say is true! I never was at school myself."
"What do you learn, and why are you flogged?"
"You learn to read, and to write, and to count; I can't do either— more's the pity; and you are flogged, because without flogging, little boys can't learn anything."
This was not a very satisfactory explanation. I made no further inquiries, and we continued our way in silence until we arrived at the school door; there was a terrible buzz inside. Ben tapped, the door opened, and a volume of hot air burst forth, all the fresh air having been consumed in repeating the fresh lessons for the day. Ben walked up between the forms, and introduced me to the schoolmaster, whose name was Mr Thadeus O'Gallagher, a poor scholar from Ireland, who had set up an establishment at half-a-guinea a quarter for day scholars; he was reckoned a very severe master, and the children were kept in better order in his school than in any other establishment of the kind in the town; and I presume that my granny had made inquiries to that effect, as there were one or two schools of the same kind much nearer to my mother's house. Ben, who probably had a great respect for learning, in consequence of his having none himself, gave a military salute to Mr O'Gallagher, saying, with his hand still to his hat, "A new boy, sir, come to school."
"Oh, by the powers! don't I know him?" cried Mr O'Gallagher; "it's the young gentleman who bit a hole in his grandmother; Master Keene, as they call him. Keen teeth, at all events. Lave him with me; and that's his dinner in the basket I presume; lave that too. He'll soon be a good boy, or it will end in a blow-up."
Ben put down the basket, turned on his heel, and left the schoolroom, and me standing by the throne of my future pedagogue—I say throne, because he had not a desk, as schoolmasters generally have, but a sort of square dais, about eighteen inches high, on which was placed another oblong superstructure of the same height, serving him for a seat; both parts were covered with some patched and torn old drugget, and upon subsequent examination I found them to consist of three old claret cases without covers, which he had probably picked up very cheap; two of them turned upside down, so as to form the lower square, and the third placed in the same way upside down, upon the two lower. Mr O'Gallagher sat in great dignity upon the upper one, with his feet on the lower, being thus sufficiently raised upon an eminence to command a view of the whole of his pupils in every part of the school. He was not a tall man, but very square built, with carroty hair and very bushy red whiskers; to me he appeared a most formidable person, especially when he opened his large mouth and displayed his teeth, when I was reminded of the sign of the Red Lion close to my mother's house. I certainly never had been before so much awed during my short existence as I was with the appearance of my pedagogue, who sat before me somewhat in the fashion of a Roman tribune, holding in his hand a short round ruler, as if it were his truncheon of authority. I had not been a minute in the school before I observed him to raise his arm; away went the ruler whizzing through the air, until it hit the skull of the lad for whom it was intended at the other end of the schoolroom. The boy, who had been talking to his neighbour, rubbed his poll, and whined.
"Why don't you bring back my ruler, you spalpeen?" said Mr O'Gallagher. "Be quick, Johnny Target, or it will end in a blow-up."
The boy, who was not a little confused with the blow, sufficiently recovered his senses to obey the order, and whimpering as he came up, returned the ruler to the hands of Mr O'Gallagher.
"That tongue of yours will get you into more trouble than it will business, I expect, Johnny Target; it's an unruly member, and requires a constant ruler over it." Johnny Target rubbed his head and said nothing.
"Master Keene," said he, after a short pause, "did you see what a tundering tump on the head that boy got just now, and do you know what it was for?"
"No," replied I.
"Where's your manners, you animal? No 'If you plase.' For the future, you must not forget to say, 'No, sir,' or, 'No, Mr O'Gallagher.' D'ye mind me—now say yes—what?"
"Yes, what! you little ignoramus; say 'yes, Mr O'Gallagher,' and recollect, as the parish clerk says, 'this is the last time of asking.'"
"Yes, Mr O'Gallagher."
"Ah! now you see, there's nothing like coming to school—you've learn't manners already; and now, to go back again, as to why Johnny Target had the rap on the head, which brought tears into his eyes? I'll just tell you, it was for talking; you see, the first thing for a boy to learn, is to hold his tongue, and that shall be your lesson for the day; you'll just sit down there and if you say one word during the whole time you are in the school, it will end in a blow-up; that means, on the present occasion, that I'll skin you alive as they do the eels, which being rather keen work, will just suit your constitution." I had wit enough to feel assured that Mr O'Gallagher was not to be trifled with, so I took my seat, and amused myself with listening to the various lessons which the boys came up to say, and the divers punishments inflicted—few escaped. At last, the hour of recreation and dinner arrived, the boys were dismissed, each seized his basket, containing his provisions, or ran home to get his meal with his parents: I found myself sitting in the school-room tete-a-tete with Mr O'Gallagher, and feeling very well inclined for my dinner I cast a wistful eye at my basket, but I said nothing; Mr O'Gallagher, who appeared to have been in thought, at last said—
"Mr Keene, you may now go out of school, and scream till you're hoarse, just to make up for lost time."
"May I take my dinner, sir?" inquired I.
"Is it your dinner you mane?—to be sure you may; but, first, I'll just look into the basket and its contents; for you see, Mr Keene, there's some victuals that don't agree with larning; and if you eat them, you'll not be fit for your work when your play-hours are over. What's easy of digestion will do; but what's bad for little boys' stomachs may get you into a scrape, and then it will end in a blow-up; that is, you'll have a taste of the ferrule or the rod—two assistants of mine, to whom I've not yet had the pleasure of introducing you—all in good time. If what I've hear of you be true, you and they will be better acquainted afore long."
Mr O'Gallagher then examined the contents of my basket; my aunt Milly had taken care that I should be well provided: there was a large paper of beef sandwiches, a piece of bread and cheese, and three or four slices of seed-cake. Mr O'Gallagher opened all the packages, and, after a pause, said—
"Now, Master Keene, d'ye think you would ever guess how I came by all my larning, and what I fed upon when it was pumped into me? Then I'll tell you; it was dry bread, with a little bit of cheese when I could get it, and that wasn't often. Bread and cheese is the food to make a scholar of ye; and mayhap one slice of the cake mayn't much interfere, so take them, and run away to the play-ground as fast as you can; and, d'ye hear me, Master Keene, recollect your grace before meat—'For what we have received, the Lord make us truly thankful.' Now, off wid you. The rest of the contents are confiscated for my sole use, and your particular benefit."
Mr O'Gallagher grinned as he finished his oration; and he looked so much like a wild beast, that I was glad to be off as fast as I could. I turned round as I went out of the door, and perceived that the sandwiches were disappearing with wonderful rapidity; but I caught his eye: it was like that of a tiger's at his meal, and I was off at redoubled speed.
As soon as I gained the play-ground, which was, in fact, nothing more than a small piece of waste land, to which we had no more claim than any other people, I sat down by a post, and commenced my dinner off what Mr O'Gallagher had thought proper to leave me. I was afraid of him, it is true, for his severity to the other boys convinced me that he would have little mercy upon me, if I dared to thwart him; but indignation soon began to obtain the mastery over my fears and I began to consider if I could not be even with him for his barefaced robbery of my dinner; and then I reflected whether it would not be better to allow him to take my food if I found out that by so doing he treated me well; and I resolved, at all events, to delay a little. The hour of play was now over, and a bell summoned us all to school; I went in with the others and took my seat where Mr O'Gallagher had before desired me.
As soon as all was silent, my pedagogue beckoned me to him.
"Now, Mr Keene," said he, "you'll be so good as to lend me your ears— that is, to listen while I talk to you a little bit. D'ye know how many roads there are to larning? Hold your tongue. I ask you because I know you don't know, and because I'm going to tell you. There are exactly three roads: the first is the eye, my jewel; and if a lad has a sharp eye like yours, it's a great deal that will get into his head by that road; you'll know a thing when you see it again, although you mayn't know your own father—that's a secret only known to your mother. The second road to larning, young spalpeen, is the ear; and if you mind all people say, and hear all you can, you'll gain a great many truths and just ten times as much more in the shape of lies. You see the wheat and the chaff will come together, and you must pick the latter out of the former at any seasonable future opportunity. Now we come to the third road to larning, which is quite a different sort of road; because, you see, the two first give us little trouble, and we trot along almost whether we will or not: the third and grand road is the head itself, which requires the eye and the ear to help it; and two other assistants, which we call memory and application; so you see we have the visual, then the aural, and then the mental roads—three hard words which you don't understand, and which I shan't take the trouble to explain to such an animal as you are; for I never throw away pearls to swine, as the saying is. Now, then, Mr Keene, we must come to another part of our history. As there are three roads to larning, so there are three manes or implements by which boys are stimulated to larn: the first is the ruler, which you saw me shy at the thick skull of Johnny Target, and you see'd what a rap it gave him; well, then, the second is the ferrule—a thing you never heard of, perhaps; but I'll show it you; here it is," continued Mr O'Gallagher, producing a sort of flat wooden ladle with a hole in the centre of it. "The ruler is for the head, as you have seen; the ferrule is for the hand. You have seen me use the ruler; now I'll show you what I do with the ferrule."
"You Tommy Goskin, come here, sir."
Tommy Goskin put down his book, and came up to his master with a good deal of doubt in his countenance.
"Tommy Goskin, you didn't say your lesson well to-day."
"Yes I did, Mr O'Gallagher," replied Tommy, "you said I did yourself."
"Well then, sir, you didn't say it well yesterday," continued Mr O'Gallagher.
"Yes I did, sir," replied the boy, whimpering.
"And is it you who dares to contradict me?" cried Mr O'Gallagher; "at all events, you won't say it well to-morrow, so hold out your right hand."
Poor Tommy held it out, and roared lustily at the first blow, wringing his fingers with the smart.
"Now your left hand, sir; fair play is a jewel; always carry the dish even."
Tommy received a blow on his left hand, which was followed up with similar demonstrations of suffering.
"There sir you may go now," said Mr O'Gallagher, "and mind you don't do it again; or else there'll be a blow-up. And now Master Keene, we come to the third and last, which is the birch for the tail—here it is—have you ever had a taste?"
"No, sir," replied I.
"Well, then, you have that pleasure to come, and come it will, I don't doubt, if you and I are a few days longer acquainted. Let me see—"
Here Mr O'Gallagher looked round the school, as if to find a culprit; but the boys, aware of what was going on, kept their eyes so attentively to their books, that he could not discover one; at last he singled out a fat chubby lad.
"Walter Puddock, come here, sir."
Walter Puddock came accordingly; evidently he gave himself up for lost.
"Walter Puddock, I just have been telling Master Keene that you're the best Latin scholar in the whole school. Now, sir, don't make me out to be a liar—do me credit,—or, by the blood of the O'Gallaghers, I'll flog ye till you're as thin as a herring. What's the Latin for a cocked hat, as the Roman gentlemen wore with their togeys?"
Walter Puddock hesitated a few seconds, and then, without venturing a word of remonstrance, let down his trousers.
"See now the guilty tief, he knows what's coming. Shame upon you, Walter Puddock, to disgrace your preceptor so, and make him tell a lie to young Master Keene. Where's Phil Mooney? Come along, sir, and hoist Walter Puddock: it's no larning that I can drive into you, Phil, but it's sartain sure that by your manes I drive a little into the other boys."
Walter Puddock, as soon as he was on the back of Phil Mooney, received a dozen cuts with the rod, well laid on. He bore it without flinching, although the tears rolled down his cheeks.
"There, Walter Puddock, I told you it would end in a blow-up; go to your dictionary, you dirty blackguard, and do more credit to your education and superior instruction from a certain person who shall be nameless."
Mr O'Gallagher laid the rod on one side, and then continued—
"Now, Master Keene, I've just shown you the three roads to larning, and also the three implements to persuade little boys to larn; if you don't travel very fast by the three first, why you will be followed up very smartly by the three last—a nod's as good as a wink to a blind horse, any day; and one thing more, you little spalpeen, mind that there's more mustard to the sandwiches to-morrow, or else it will end in a blow-up. Now you've got the whole theory of the art of tuition, Master Keene; please the pigs, we'll commence with the practice to-morrow."
My worthy pedagogue did not address me any more during that day; the school broke up at five, and I made haste home, thinking over all that had passed in the school-room.
My granny and mother were both anxious to know what had passed; the first hoped that I had been flogged, the second that I had not, but I refused to communicate. I assumed a haughty, indifferent air, for I was angry with my mother, and as for my grandmother, I hated her. Aunt Milly, however, when we were alone, did not question me in vain. I told her all that had passed; she bade me be of good heart, and that I should not be ill-treated if she could help it.
I replied, that if I were ill-treated, I would have my revenge somehow or another. I then went down to the barracks, to the rooms of Captain Bridgeman, and told him what had occurred. He advised me to laugh at the ruler, the ferrule, and the rod. He pointed out to me the necessity of my going to school and learning to read and write, at the same time was very indignant at the conduct of Mr O'Gallagher, and told me to resist in every way any injustice or tyranny, and that I should be sure of his support and assistance, provided that I did pay attention to my studies.
Fortified by the advice and protection of my two great friends, I made up my mind that I would learn as fast as I could, but if treated ill, that I would die a martyr, rather than yield to oppression; at all events, I would, if possible, play Mr O'Gallagher a trick for every flogging or punishment I received; and with this laudable resolution I was soon fast asleep, too fast even to dream.
When my aunt Milly called me in the morning, that I might be up and have my breakfast in time for school, I felt as if two years had passed over my head during the last twenty-four hours. I had never witnessed tyranny until the day before, and my blood was heated with indignation: I felt myself capable of anything and everything.
My anger was about as great towards my mother and grandmother for having sent me to such a place, as it was against Mr O'Gallagher. Instead of going up and kissing my mother, I paid no attention to either her or my grandmother, much to the mortification of the former and surprise of the latter, who said, in a very cross manner, "Where's your manners, child? why don't you say good morning?"
"Because I have not been long enough at school to learn manners, granny."
"Come and kiss me before you go, my child," said my mother.
"No, mother; you have sent me to school to be beat, and I never will kiss you again."
"Naughty, good-for-nothing boy!" exclaimed my granny; "what a bad heart you must have."
"No, that he has not," cried my aunt Milly. "Sister should have inquired what sort of a school it was before she sent him."
"I made every inquiry," replied my granny; "he can't play tricks there."
"Won't I?" cried I, "but I will; and not only there but here. I'll be even with you all; yes, I'll be even with you, granny, if I die for it."
"Why, you audacious wretch, I've great a mind to—"
"I dare say you have, but recollect I can bite; you'd better be quiet, granny, or, as the master says, 'it will end in a blow-up.'"
"Only hear the little wretch," said my granny, lifting up her hands; "I shall see you hanged yet, you ungrateful child."
"I'm not ungrateful," replied I, throwing my arms round Milly's neck, and kissing her with fervour; "I can love those who love me."
"Then you don't love me?" said my mother, reproachfully.
"I did yesterday, but I don't now; but it's time for me to go, aunt; is my basket ready? I don't want father to take me to school, I can do without him, and when I don't choose to go any more, I won't; recollect that, mother." So saying, I seized my basket and quitted the room. There was a long consultation, I found, after my departure: my mother, when my aunt had informed her of Mr O'Gallagher's conduct, wished to remove me instantly; my grandmother insisted upon it that there was not a word of truth in what I had said, and threatened that if I did not remain at that very school, she would leave Chatham, and take my aunt with her. As my mother could not part with aunt Milly, the consequence was, that my grandmother gained the day.
I arrived in good time, and took my seat near my master. I preferred doing this, as I had had a long conversation with Captain Bridgeman who told me that although Mr O'Gallagher had put the ruler down as punishment Number 1, the ferrule Number 2, and the birch as Number 3, and of course they were considered to be worse as the number rose, that he considered it to be the very contrary, as he had had them all well applied when he was at school; he ordered me, therefore, never to hold out my hand to the ferrule, by which refusal I should, of course, be flogged; but he assured me that the birch, especially when it is given often, was a mere nothing. Now I considered that the surest way to avoid the ruler was to sit close to my master, who could then have no pretence for sending it at my head; the fact was I had determined to save the more noble portions of my body, and leave Mr O'Gallagher to do what he pleased with the other: to do him justice, he lost no time.
"Come here, Mr Keene," said he, "where's your manners? why don't you say good morning to your preceptor? Can you read at all?"
"D'ye know your letters?"
"Some of them—I think I do, sir."
"Some of them—I suppose about two out of six-and-twenty. It's particular attention that's been paid to your education, I perceive; you've nothing to unlearn anyhow, that's something. Now, sir, do you think that a classical scholar and a gentleman born, like me, is to demane myself by hearing you puzzle at the alphabet? You're quite mistaken, Mr Keene, you must gain your first elements second-hand; so where's Thimothy Ruddel? You, Timothy Ruddel, you'll just teach this young Master Keene his whole alphabet, and take care, at the same time, that you know your own lessons, or it will end in a blow-up; and you, Master Keene, if you have not larnt your whole alphabet perfect by dinner time, why you'll have a small taste of Number 2, just as a hint to what's coming next. Go along, you little ignorant blackguard; and you, Timothy Ruddel, look out for a taste of Number 3, if you don't larn him and yourself all at once, and at the same time."
I was very well pleased with this arrangement; I had resolved to learn, and I was doubly stimulated to learn now, to save poor Timothy Ruddel from an unjust punishment.
In the three hours I was quite perfect, and Timothy Ruddel, who was called up before me, was also able to say his lesson without a blunder very much to the disappointment of Mr O'Gallagher, who observed, "So you've slipped through my fingers, have you, this time, Master Timothy? Never mind, I'll have you yet; and, moreover, there's Master Keene to go through the fiery furnace." Just before dinner time I was called up; with my memory of many of the letters, and the assistance I had received from Timothy Ruddel, I felt very confident.
"What letter's that, sir?" said Mr O'Gallagher.
"A B C D E."
"You little blackguard, I'll dodge you; you think to escape, you?"
"V, X, P, O."
Much to Mr O'Gallagher's surprise I said them all without one mistake. Instead of commendation I received abuse. "By all the powers," exclaimed my pedagogue, "but everything seems to go wrong to-day; my hand has been completely idle; this will never do; didn't you tell me, Mr Keene, that you didn't know your letters?"
"I said I knew some of them, sir."
"If my memory is correct, Mr Keene, you told me that you knew two out of twenty-six."
"No, sir, you said that."
"That's just as much as to tell me, your preceptor, a classical scholar, and a Milesian gentleman to boot, that I lie, for which I intend to have satisfaction, Mr Keene, I assure you. You're guilty in two counts, as they say at the Old Bailey, where you'll be called up to some of these days, as sure as you stand there; one count is in telling me a lie, in saying you did not know your alphabet, when it's quite clear that you did; and, secondly, in giving me the lie, by stating that I said what you said. You thought to escape me, but you're mistaken, Mr Keene; so now, if you please, we will just have a taste of Number 2. Hould out your hand, Mr Keene: d'ye hear me sir? hould out your hand."
But this I positively refused to do. "You won't, won't you? Well, then, we must increase the punishment for our contempt of court, and at once commence with Number 3, which we intended to reserve till to-morrow. Come along, Phil Mooney, there's fresh mate for you to carry, and come out Number 3, here's fresh ground for you to travel over."
Phil Mooney and the birch soon made their appearance: I was hoisted by the one and scourged by the other.
The first taste of the birch is anything but agreeable; I could only compare it to the dropping of molten lead. I tried all I could to prevent crying out, but it was impossible, and at last I roared like a mad bull; and I was as mad as a bull, and as dangerous. Could I have picked up any weapon at the moment that I was dropped from the shoulders of Phil Mooney, it would have gone hard with Mr O'Gallagher. My rage was greater than my agony. I stood when I had been landed, my chest heaving, my teeth set fast, and my apparel still in disorder. The school was dismissed, and I was left alone with the savage pedagogue, who immediately took up my basket, and began to rummage the contents.
"Make yourself decent, Mr Keene, and don't be shocking my modesty, and taking away my appetite. Did you mention the mustard, as I desired you? Upon my faith, but you're a nice boy and do justice to the representations of your grandmother, and when you see her you may tell her that I did not forget the promise she exacted from me. You forgot all about the mustard, you little blackguard. If Phil Mooney was here I would give you another taste to freshen your memory for to-morrow; however, to-morrow will do as well, if the mistake's not corrected. Here, take your victuals, and good appetite to you, you little monster of iniquity."
Mr O'Gallagher tossed me some bread but this time reserved the cheese for his own eating. I had adjusted my dress, and I therefore left the school-room. I could not sit down without pain, so I leant against a post: the bread remained in my hand untouched; had it been the greatest delicacy in the world I could not have tasted a morsel; I was giddy from excess of feeling, my thoughts were rapidly chasing each other when I heard a voice close to me; I looked round, it was Walter Puddock, who had been flogged the day before.
"Never mind, Keene," said he, kindly; "it hurts at first, but the more you get it the less you care for it; I don't mind it a bit now; I cries, because he goes on flogging till you do, and it's no use having more than you can help."
"I didn't deserve it," replied I.
"That's not necessary; you'll get it, as we all do, whether you deserve it or not."
"Well, I'll try to deserve it in future," replied I, clenching my fist; "I'll be even with him."
"Why, what can you do?"
"Wait a little, and you'll see," said I, walking away, for an idea had come into my head which I wished to follow up.
Soon afterwards the bell rang, and we returned to the schoolroom. I was put under the tuition of another boy, and took care to learn my lesson. Whether it was that he was tired with the exercise, for he flogged and ferruled a dozen during that afternoon, or that he thought that my morning dose had been sufficient, I received no more punishment on that day.
As soon as school was dismissed, I went straight to the rooms of Captain Bridgeman, and told him how I had been treated. As soon as he heard it, he exclaimed, "This is really too bad; I will go with you, and I will consult with your aunt Amelia."
It so happened that aunt Milly was alone in the shop when we arrived, and after a detail of what had passed, she told Captain Bridgeman that my grandmother had put me to that school out of feelings of ill-will for the tricks I had played, and had threatened that if I were removed she would leave Chatham and take her away with her. My mother required assistance in the shop, and was afraid to affront my grandmother, who was a very dictatorial, positive old woman, and would certainly keep her resolution; but that rather than I should be treated in such a barbarous manner she would insist upon my mother taking me away, or would herself leave the place.
"It would never do for you to leave us, Miss Amelia," replied Captain Bridgeman, "there are but few attractions in this place, and we cannot spare you; the whole corps would go into deep mourning."
"I don't want to leave the school," interrupted I; "I would not leave it till I am revenged, for all the world. Now, I'll tell you what I want to do—and do it I will, if he cuts me to pieces. He eats my sandwiches, and tells me if there's not more mustard to-morrow, he'll flog me. He shall have plenty of mustard, but he shall have something else. What can I put into the sandwiches, so as to half kill him?"
"Not a bad idea, my little Percival," said Captain Bridgeman; "I'll just ask the doctor how much calomel a man may take without a coroner's inquest being required."
"Yes, that will do nicely," said my aunt; "I'll take care he shall have mustard enough not to perceive it."
"Well, I'll go to the barracks and be back directly," said Captain Bridgeman.
"And I'm ready for the flogging as soon as the sandwiches are down his throat," replied I, laughing, "I don't care a fig for it."
Captain Bridgeman soon returned with forty grains of calomel, which he delivered into aunt Milly's hands. "That is as much as we dare give the strongest man without running great danger; we'll try the effect of that upon him, and if he don't improve, I think I shall go up to the school myself and threaten him."
"As for that," replied aunt Milly, "I'm sure that sister, if she hears what's going on, as she cannot take Percival away, will order her husband, Ben, to go up and thrash him."
"Not a bad idea, Miss Amelia, we'll try that if we find it necessary; at all events, we'll see who can persecute most."
"Granny has told him to treat me ill," said I, "that's very clear, from what he said; never mind, I'll make her sorry for it."
"Oh Percival! you must not do anything to granny," said aunt Milly, looking very archly; "I must not hear anything of the kind."
The next morning I set off with a full conviction that I should be flogged before night, and notwithstanding that, as full of joy as if I was going to the fair.
The morning passed as usual; I said my lesson, but not very well; I was thinking so much of my anticipated revenge, that I could not pay attention to my teacher, who was, as usual, one of the boys.
"Master Keene," said Mr O'Gallagher, "we'll let the account stand over till the evening, and then I'll give you a receipt in full; I may have one or two lines to add to it before the sun goes down; you'll not escape me this time, anyhow."
The boys went out at the dinner hour, leaving me, as before, to wait for my basket, after the tyrant had helped himself. I stood by him in silence while he was rummaging its contents.
"Now, Mr Keene, I'll see if you've remembered my particular injunction relative to the mustard."
"I told my aunt to put more mustard, sir," replied I, humbly, "it she that cuts the sandwiches."
"Well, then, if your aunt has not complied with your request, see if I don't flay you alive, you little imp of abomination."
The sandwiches were pulled out of the paper and tasted. "Down on your knees, Mr Keene, and thank all the blessed saints that your aunt has saved you from at least one-half of what I intended to administer to you this blessed afternoon, for she has doubled the mustard, you tief," said Mr O'Gallagher, speaking with his mouth as full as it could hold. Down went sandwich after sandwich, until they had all disappeared. Oh! what joy was mine! I could have tossed up my cap and leapt in the air. Having received the bread and cheese, for he permitted me to have the latter on this occasion I went out and enjoyed my meal, delighted with Mr O'Gallagher's having fallen into the trap I had laid for him.
The bell summoned us in, and all went on as usual for the first two hours, when I thought Mr O'Gallagher changed countenance and looked very pale. He continued, however, to hear the lessons, until at last I perceived him pass his hand up and down and across his stomach, as if he had had a twinge; a few minutes afterwards, he compressed his thick lips, and then put his hands to his abdomen.
"Ah! he begins to feel it now," thought I; and sure enough he did; for the pain increased so rapidly that he lost all patience, and vented his feelings by beating with his ruler, on the heads of the whole class of boys standing up before him, till one or two dropped down, stunned with the blows. At last he dropped the ruler, and, pressing both hands to his stomach, he rolled himself backwards and forwards, and then twisted and distorted his legs till he could bear the pain no longer; and he gave vent to a tremendous Irish howl—grinning and grinding his teeth for a few seconds, and then howling again, writhing and twisting in evident agony—while the perspiration ran off his forehead.
"Och! murder! I'm poisoned sure. Lord save my sinful soul! Oh—oh— oh! eh—eh—eh! mercy, mercy, mercy, mercy, mercy! Oh holy St. Patrick! I'm kilt entirely:"—and so subdued was he at last by the pain, that he burst out into a flood of tears, crying and roaring like a child.
Again the paroxysms came on—"Murder, murder, murder!" shrieked the wretch at the highest pitch of his voice, so that he was heard at some distance, and some of the neighbours came in to inquire what was the matter.
Mr O'Gallagher was now in a fainting state, and leaning against the table, he could merely say in a low voice, "A doctor—quick—a doctor."
The neighbours perceiving how ill he was, led him out of the school-rooms into his own apartment, one going for a doctor, and the others telling the boys they might all go home, a notice of which they gladly availed themselves.
I need hardly say, that I made all the haste I could to communicate the successful result of my trick to Milly and Captain Bridgeman. The medical man who was summoned, gave Mr O'Gallagher some very active medicine, which assisted to rid him of the calomel; of his having taken which, of course, the medical man was ignorant. The violence of the dose was, however, so great, and left him in such a state, that Mr O'Gallagher could not leave his room for three days, nor resume his seat in the school until a week had elapsed, during which I remained at home plotting still further mischief.
Mr O'Gallagher resumed his occupations, and I was again sent off to school. When I entered the school-room I found him looking very pale and cadaverous; as soon as he saw me his lips were drawn apart, and he showed his large white teeth, reminding me of the grinning of a hyena; he did not, however, say anything to me. My studies were resumed; I said my lesson perfectly, but was fully prepared for punishment. I was, however, agreeably disappointed; he did not punish either me or any of the other boys.
I afterwards found out the reason was, that, although necessity compelled him to re-open his school as soon as he could, he was too weak to undergo the fatigue of following up his favourite diversion.
When the dinner-hour arrived, and the boys were dismissed, I waited patiently to see what he would do with my basket, which stood beside him. "Take your basket, and eat your dinner, Master Keene," said he, walking out of the school-room into his own apartments. I could not help saying, "Won't you have the sandwiches, sir?"
He turned round and gave me a look so penetrating and so diabolical, that I felt sure that he knew to whom he had been indebted for his late severe illness.
From this day forward Mr O'G never interfered with the contents of my basket and I had my dinner all to myself. The shock which had been given to his constitution was so great, that for three or four months he may be said to have crawled to his school room, and I really began to think that the affair would turn out more serious than was intended; but gradually he regained his strength, and as he recovered his vigour, so did he resume his severity.
But I was a great gainer during the three or four months of quiet which reigned during Mr O'Gallagher's convalescence. Since I have been grown up, I have often thought, and am indeed confirmed in my opinion, that we lose rather than gain by being educated at too early an age. Commence with one child at three years, and with another at seven years old, and in ten years, the one whose brain was left fallow even till seven years old, will be quite as far, if not further advanced, than the child whose intellect was prematurely forced at the earlier age; this is a fact which I have since seen proved in many instances, and it certainly was corroborated in mine.
In six months I could read and write very fairly, and had commenced arithmetic; true, I was stimulated on by the advice of Captain Bridgeman, the love I bore my aunt Milly, and the hatred which I had for my master, which made me resolve that I would not deserve punishment on that score.
It was in May that I administered the dose to Mr O'Gallagher; in September he was quite well again, and the ruler, the ferrule, and the rod, were triumphantly at work. It is useless to say how often I was punished, for it was every day; always once, sometimes twice; I became completely callous to it, nay, laughed at it, but my mind was ever at work upon some mischief, in the way of retaliation.
I put little pancakes of cobblers' wax on Mr O'Gallagher's throne, and he had the pleasure of finding himself stuck fast by the breeches when he rose up to punish. I anointed the handle of the ferrule and rod with bird-lime; put dead cats under the claret cases, which composed his seat of authority, so that the smell would drive him distracted before he found it out. I drew up with a squirt, all the ink which was in the inkstands fixed in the writing-desks, so as not to be taken out of the sockets, and made good the deficiency with water, which put him to no little expense.
I once made him almost frantic, by rubbing his handkerchief which always laid by his side, and with which he was accustomed to wipe his face every five minutes (for he was profuse in his perspiration), with what is called cow-itch: not being aware of what was the cause, he wiped his face more and more, until he was as red as a peony, and the itching became intolerable.
On such occasions he never inquired who was the party, but called me and Phil Mooney. I, on the other hand, never said a word in way of expostulation. I took my flogging, which was as severe as he could give it, as a matter of course, quite satisfied with the exchange.
As Walter Puddock had told me, and, as I have no doubt, the Eton boys will confirm, after a certain quantity of flagellations, the skin becomes so hard as to make the punishment almost a matter of indifference and so I found it. So passed the time until the month of November, when I was fully enabled to pay off my worthy pedagogue for all that I was indebted to him.
The boys had been saving up all their money to purchase fireworks for the celebrated 5th of November—a day on which it was said that certain persons, finding it impossible to reform the Lords and Commons, had determined to get rid of them at once: why they have not been in similar danger every year since the first attempt was made, I know not; certain it is, that it is the only reform measure that can ever be effectual. Guy Fawkes and his confederates, whether Popish or Protestant, from the disregard of human life, certainly proved themselves the founders of a party, still existing, whose motto is, "Measures and not Men."
But to proceed: Mr O'Gallagher had never before attempted to interfere with the vested rights of urchins on that day; being, however, in a most particular irascible humour, instead of a whole, he made it known that there would only be a half, holiday, and we were consequently all called in for morning lessons instead of carrying about, as we had intended, the effigy of the only true reformer that ever existed in this country.
This made us all very sulky and discontented in the first place, and our anxiety to get out of school was so great, that the lessons were not very perfect in the second. The ferrule and rod were called out and liberally administered; but what was our horror and dismay when Mr O'Gallagher, about an hour before dinner, announced to us that all the squibs and crackers, with which our pockets were crammed, were to be given up immediately; and that, as we had not said our lessons well, there would be no half-holiday, the whole school were in mute despair.
One by one were the boys summoned up to the throne of Mr O'Gallagher, and their pockets searched by Phil Mooney, who emptied them of their pyrotechnical contents, all of which were deposited on the dais of Mr O'Gallagher's throne, which, I have before observed, was composed of two empty claret cases turned upside down, surmounted by another, on which Mr O'Gallagher sat, all three covered with old green baize.
By the time that the whole school had been rifled, the heap of fireworks was very considerable, and Mr O'Gallagher, to prevent any of them being recovered by the boys, lifted up the claret case on which he sat, and which was on the top of the other two, and desired Phil Mooney to put them all underneath it. This was done; Mr O'Gallagher resumed his seat, and the lessons continued till the dinner hour arrived, but, alas! not the half-holiday or the fireworks.
The boys went out; some mournful, some angry, some sulky, some frightened; a few, a very few, declaiming against such injustice.
I was in a rage; my blood boiled; at last my invention came to my aid, and, without considering the consequences, I determined how to act.
As it was an hour and a half before school would commence, I hastened home, and, having spent all my money, begged aunt Milly to give me some; she gave me a shilling, and with that I bought as much gunpowder as I could procure, more than a quarter of a pound.
I then returned to the school, looked into the school-room, and found it empty; I quickly raised up the claret case, under which the fireworks had been placed, put the powder under it, leaving only sufficient for a very small train, which would not be perceived in the green baize covering; having so done, I left the school-room immediately, and rejoined my companions. I had a piece of touch-wood, as all the boys had, to let off their fireworks with, and this I lighted and left in a corner until the bell should summons us into school.
Oh! how my heart beat when I heard the sound, so full was I of anxiety lest my project should fail.
Once more we were all assembled. Mr O'Gallagher surveying, with the smile of a demon, the unhappy and disappointed faces of the boys, was again perched upon his throne, the rod on one side, the ferrule on the other, and the ruler, that dreaded truncheon of command, clenched in his broad fist.
I had the touchwood lighted and concealed in my hand; gradually I moved downwards, until at last, unperceived by Mr O'Gallagher, I was behind him, and close to my train of gunpowder. I gave one look to ascertain if he had observed me; his eye was roving over the school for some delinquent to throw his ruler at; fearful that he might turn round to me, I no longer hesitated, and the touchwood was applied to the train.
Ignorant as I was of the force of gunpowder, it was with astonishment, mingled with horror, that I beheld, in a second, the claret case rise up as if it had wings, and Mr O'Gallagher thrown up to the ceiling enveloped in a cloud of smoke, the crackers and squibs fizzing and banging, while the boys in the school uttered a yell of consternation and fear as they rushed from from the explosion, and afterwards, tumbling over one another, made their escape from the school-room.
The windows had all been blown out with a terrible crash, and the whole school-room was now covered by the smoke. There I stood in silent dismay at the mischief which I had done. The squibs and crackers had not, however, all finished popping, before I heard the howling of Mr O'Gallagher, who had fallen down upon the centre school-room table.
I was still in the school-room, half-suffocated, yet not moving away from where I stood, when the neighbours, who had been alarmed by the explosion and the cries of the boys, rushed in, and perceiving only me and Mr O'Gallagher, who still howled, they caught hold of us both, and bore us out in their arms. It was high time, for the school-room was now on fire, and in a few minutes more the flames burst out of the windows, while volumes of smoke forced through the door and soon afterwards the roof.
The engines were sent for, but before they could arrive, or water be procured, the whole tenement was so enveloped in flames that it could not be saved. In an hour, the locale of our misery was reduced to ashes. They had put me on my legs as soon as we got clear of the school-room, to ascertain whether I was hurt, and finding that I was not, they left me.
I never shall forget what my sensations were, when I beheld the flames and volumes of smoke bursting out; the hurry, and bustle, and confusion outside; the working of the engines, the troops marched up from the barracks, the crowd of people assembled, and the ceaseless mingling of tongues from every quarter; and all this is my doing, thought I—mine— all mine.
I felt delighted that I had no partner or confederate; I could, at all events, keep my own secret. I did, however, feel some anxiety as to Mr O'Gallagher, for, much as I detested him, I certainly had no intention to kill him; so after a time, I made inquiries, and found that he was alive: and in no danger, although very much bruised and somewhat burnt.
No one could explain how the catastrophe occurred, further than that Mr O'Gallagher had collected all the squibs and crackers from the boys, and that they had exploded somehow or another—most people said that it served him right. My grandmother shook her head and said, "Yes, yes, gunpowder will go off, but—" and she looked at me—"it requires a match to be put to it." I looked up very innocently, but made no reply.
Mr O'Gallagher's favourite expression, to wit, "that it would end in a blow-up," proved, as far as his school was concerned, literally true. He had not the means of procuring another suitable tenement in Chatham, and as soon as he had recovered from the injuries he had received, he quitted the town.
It was not until he had left, that I ventured to make known to Captain Bridgeman, and my aunt Milly, the trifling share I had in the transaction; and they, perceiving the prudence of keeping my secret, desired me on no account to let it be known to any one else.
As soon as it was ascertained that Mr O'Gallagher was gone, my grandmother insisted upon my being sent to another school, and on this occasion my mother made the inquiries herself, and I was despatched to one much nearer home, and being treated well, not only played fewer tricks, but advanced rapidly in my education; so rapidly indeed, that my grandmother began to think that I was not so bad a boy as I used to be.
As she treated me more kindly, I felt less inclined to teaze her although the spirit of mischief was as undiminished as ever, and was shown in various ways.
I may as well here observe, that out of the many admirers of my aunt Milly, there were only two who appeared to be at all constant in their attention. One was Lieutenant Flat, who was positively smitten, and would have laid his pay and person at her feet, had he received anything like encouragement; but my aunt disliked him in the first place, and, moreover, had a very strong feeling towards Captain Bridgeman.
Mr Flat was certainly a very fine-looking soldier, being tall, erect, and well-made, but he was at the same time not over-brilliant; he was, as an officer, the very sort of person my father Ben was as a private.
But the other party, Captain Bridgeman, did not come forward; he appeared to be in doubt, and not at all able to make up his mind.
The fact was, that my mother being married to a private, made any match with the sister objectionable to the whole corps, as it would be derogatory that one sister should be the wife of a private, and the other of an officer. Ben would have been able to say, "My brother-in-law, the captain of my division," which would never have done; and this Captain Bridgeman felt, and therefore resisted, as well as he could, the inroads which my aunt's beauty and mirth had made into his heart. My aunt was exactly a person to suit Captain Bridgeman as a helpmate, had it not been for this unfortunate alliance of my mother's.
Lieutenant Flat was too stupid and indifferent to the opinion of the other officers, to care anything about what they thought; he would have married Milly long before, but my aunt, who had made up her mind to marry an officer, did not yet despair of obtaining the captain; and although she would not positively dismiss Lieutenant Flat, she merely kept him as a sort of reserve, to fall back upon when every other chance was gone.
I should like, if I possibly could, to give the reader some idea of my mother's circulating-library and sort of universal commodity shop: it was a low-windowed building, one story high, but running a long way back, where it was joined to a small parlour, in which we generally sat during the day, as it was convenient in case of company or customers, the little parlour having a glass door, which permitted us to look into the shop.
In the front windows, on one side, were all the varieties of tapers, sealing-wax, inkstands, and every kind of stationery, backed by children's books, leather writing-cases, prints, caricatures, and Tonbridge ware. In the other windows were ribbons, caps, gloves, scarfs, needles, and other little articles in demand by ladies, and which they required independent of their milliners.
At the entrance were sticks and canes; on the counter a case of gold and more moderate-priced trinkets. On the shelves of the millinery side were boxes of gloves, ribbons, buttons, etcetera. On the opposite side, perfumes, cigars, toothbrushes, combs, scented soaps, and other requisites for the toilet.
About ten feet on each side of the shop was occupied with the above articles; the remainder of the shelves were reserved for the circulating-library.
At the back of the shop were some seats round a small table, on which was laid the newspaper of the day, and on each side of the parlour-door were hoops, bats, balls, traps, skittles, and a variety of toys for children.
My mother usually attended to the millinery, and my aunt Milly to what might be termed the gentlemen's side of the shop; the remainder of the goods and circulating-library were in the hands of both.
There were few hours of the day in which the chairs at the counter and round the table were not taken possession of by some one or another, either reading the paper or a book, or talking, to pass away the time. In fact, it was a sort of rendezvous, where all who met knew each other, and where the idle of our own sex used to repair to get rid of their time. Captain Bridgeman and Mr Flat were certainly the two most constantly to be found there, although few of the marine officers were a day without paying us a visit.
Such was the locale; to describe the company will be more difficult, but I will attempt it.
My mother, remarkably nicely dressed, is busy opening a parcel of new books just arrived. My aunt Milly behind the counter, on the gentlemen's side, pretending to be working upon a piece of muslin about five inches square. Mr Flat sitting near the table, fallen back in his chair, apparently watching the flies on the ceiling. Captain Bridgeman, a very good-looking man, very slight, but extremely active, is sitting at the counter opposite to where my aunt is standing, a small black cane, with a silver head to it, in his hand, and his gloves peculiarly clean and well-fitting. He has an eye as sharp as an eagle's, a slight hook to his nose, thin lips, and very white teeth; his countenance is as full of energy and fire as that of lieutenant Flat is heavy and unmeaning.
"Miss Amelia, if I may take the liberty," said Captain Bridgeman, pointing with his cane to the bit of muslin she is employed upon; "what are you making? it's too small for any part of a lady's dress."
"It is quite large enough for a cuff, Captain Bridgeman."
"A cuff; then you are making a cuff, I presume?"
"Indeed she is not, Captain Bridgeman," replies my mother; "it is only to keep herself out of mischief. She spoils a bit like that every week. And that's why it is so small, Captain Bridgeman; it would be a pity to spoil a larger piece."
"I really was not aware that such a mere trifle would keep you out of mischief," said the captain.
"You know," replied Aunt Milly, "that idleness is the root of all evil, Captain Bridgeman."
"Flat, do you hear that?" says Captain Bridgeman.
"What?" replies Flat.
"That idleness is the root of all evil; what an evil-disposed person you must be."
"I was thinking," replied Flat.
"I suspect it's only lately you've taken to that. Who or what were you thinking about?"
"Well, I believe I was thinking how long it would be before dinner was ready."
"That's very rude, Mr Flat; you might have said that you were thinking about me," replied my aunt.
"Well, so I was at first, and then I began to think of dinner-time."
"Don't be offended, Miss Amelia; Flat pays you a great compliment in dividing his attentions; but I really wish to know why ladies will spoil muslin in such a predetermined manner. Will you explain that, Mrs Keene?"
"Yes, Captain Bridgeman: a piece of work is very valuable to a woman, especially when she finds herself in company with gentlemen like you. It saves her from looking down, or looking at you, when you are talking nonsense; it prevents your reading in her eyes what is passing in her mind, or discovering what effect your words may have upon her; it saves much awkwardness, and very often a blush; sometimes a woman hardly knows which way to look; sometimes she may look any way but the right. Now a bit of muslin with a needle is a remedy for all that, for she can look down at her work, and not look up till she thinks it advisable."
"I thank you for your explanation, madam; I shall always take it as a great compliment if I see a lady very busy at work when I'm conversing, with her."
"But you may flatter yourself, Captain Bridgeman," replied my mother; "the attention to her work may arise from perfect indifference, or from positive annoyance. It saves the trouble of making an effort to be polite."
"And pray, may I inquire, Miss Amelia, what feeling may cause your particular attention to your work at this present moment?"
"Perhaps in either case to preserve my self-possession," replied Amelia; "or perhaps, Captain Bridgeman, I may prefer looking at a piece of muslin to looking at a marine officer."
"That's not very flattering," replied the captain; "if you spoil the muslin, you're determined not to spoil me."
"The muslin is of little value," said Amelia, softly, walking to the other side of the shop, and turning over the books.
"Mr Flat," said my mother, "your subscription to the library is out last month; I presume I can put your name down again?"
"Well, I don't know; I never read a book," replied Mr Flat, yawning.
"That's not at all necessary, Mr Flat," said my mother; "in most businesses there are sleeping partners; besides, if you don't read, you come here to talk, which is a greater enjoyment still, and luxuries must be paid for."
"Well, I'll try another quarter," replied Mr Flat, "and then—"
"And then what?" said my aunt Milly, smiling.
"Well, I don't know," says Flat. "Is that clock of yours right, Mrs Keene?"
"It is; but I am fearful that your thoughts run faster than the clock, Mr Flat; you are thinking of the dress-bugle for dinner."
"No, I was not."
"Then you were thinking of yourself?"
"No, I wasn't, Mrs Keene," said Flat, rising, and walking out of the shop.
"I'll tell you," said he, turning round as he went out, "what I was thinking of, Mrs Keene; not of myself,—I was thinking of my bull pup."
My mother burst out a laughing as the lieutenant disappeared. "I was not far wrong when I said he was thinking of himself," said she, "for a calf is a sort of bull pup."